It was a cold summer day, not an ideal set up to begin with. However, Ned the pie-maker and the two closest to him were making the best of a slow business day with tea and a particularly rich cherry pie that Olive had ‘invented’ by pouring nearly half a pint’s worth of sherry into the pie Ned was about to cover with uncooked crust. The pie-maker and two lovely ladies (Emerson spent too much time with them already to be wasting his wednesday eating yet another pie when he could be enjoying a mid-afternoon nap and Digby, although in the room could not partake in any pie and so was asleep at Chuck’s feet.)
“Mmm, I think we should add it to the menu.” Olive exclaimed, diving into the dish for another bite. “There is really nothing a boring, cold afternoon needs more than calories and booze.”
Chuck smiled with a fork in her mouth and even Ned snorted softly and shot a shy grin from beneath his impressive brows.
“What would we call it?” Chuck asked after swallowing her last bite.
“Hmm, well sherry always reminds of the holidays, it could be seasonal pie.” Olive nattered happily, smiling widely at Ned. “How about ‘The Merry Sherry Cherry Christmas Pie’?”
“It’s not even Halloween yet.” Ned observed fairly.
“It’s perfect, I love it.” announced the alive-again beauty to her roommate. She then rested her elbows on the booth, just utterly content to be as she was in that perfect moment.
Unfortunately that moment ceased to exist when the door of the Pie-Hole opened and a fierce wind brought in an even fiercer looking guest into the bright-palleted eating establishment. Their coat stopped moving as the door closed and the awkward silence was the only thing to be heard after the wind was locked outside. The guest’s sharp gaze turned to the three slightly intimidated persons sitting on stool at the counter, Ned on the other side suffering a brief moment of direct eye contact. He felt the urge to busy himself with needles tasks in the kitchen.
After only just a moment, Olive broke out of her quite surprise and beamed at the stranger. “Why hey there, darling, welcome to the Pie-Hole as in ‘shut your’ - but in this case ‘open your’ ‘cause it’s real good.” she chirped, snapping into waitress mode.
The figure gave small, polite smile of acknowledgement. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I am special agent Romanoff and need to have a private discussion with your pie-maker.” the figure in question had a look of resolve about her as she continued to examine the reaction of the man in question.
“Well if you’ve got yourself a pie query he’s is your man,” Olive said fondly, shooting a smile back at him with he tried and failed miserably to return.
“Thank you, but I am more interested in how Miss Charlotte Charles here is, in fact, here and not decomposing in a casket in Coeur d’ Coeur cemetery.” she said gesturing to Chuck who’s previously curious visage has dropped and her face flushed.
“Uh oh,” muttered Olive and she and Chuck looked back at Ned with thinly veiled panic in their eyes.
Ned’s eyes were like saucers and he looked from the three women who were all looking back at him. Not knowing what to do and certainly not knowing how to respond to Olive’s shocked look, Chuck’s desperate one or the expectant raised eyebrow of the red-haired stranger, Ned could only splutter. He only vaguely remembered the feeling of breathlessness and dizziness before he dropped behind the counter into a dead faint.
When Ned was seated upright with a frozen cup-pie from the kitchen’s freezer pressed to his head and looking stubbornly at the table in front of him, the party of four has taken residence in a booth. Olive had the forethought to shut the blinds and change the sign to read ‘closed’.
Ned and Chuck shared a stunned silence, each wishing so desperately they could hold one another’s hand underneath the table for reassurance.
“My apologies,” said Agent Romanoff, “I didn’t mean to cause alarm. I work for an agency that is particularly interested in you, Ned. May I call you, Ned?”
“Sure,” he replied weakly.
She eyed his silence for a moment before turning to Chuck who flinched as she regrettably realised she was the one being addressed. “We’ve been monitoring your case for quite sometime now, unsure of how to proceed. Even in my line of work, it isn’t every day I meet someone who is supposed to be dead.”
“You...you knew Chuck was alive?” Ned asked in a small voice.
“Of course, when a girl jumps out of her coffin after being visited by you, well, we can draw our own conclusions.”
The three looked severely puzzled.
“Allow me to explain. I work for S.H.E.I.L.D, an agency that addresses and minimises threats both local and foreign in ways that the rest of the world simply does not. When a field worker received reports of a nine year old who - well let’s say, managed to do some things nine year olds shouldn’t be doing - a routine investigation lead to our discovery of you, Ned.” She explained.
Ned looked up for the first time, his mouth hung open as if to interrupt but no sound came from him.
“You have a fairly standard surveillance file at this time. I will not hide the fact that there were a number of people who were more than ready to have you brought in, however the higher powers that were didn’t see you as a threat...that, and a bigger issue became more of a focus.”
“What?” Chuck and Olive said in unison. A protective kind of bravery woke Chuck’s words from her in concern, now far more angled towards her Ned then herself. Ned failed to repress a shudder as a certain childhood nightmare crept its way into the forefront of his mind. Peice by peice.
“I would now like to discuss an issue in private, if possible.” said Romanoff, still with a pleasant air but with a tone that the certain people at the table would have no chance of arguing against. Chuck sent a look at Ned, who answered with both a panicked “Please don’t leave me” and “I’ll be okay” expression.
Olive and Chuck retreated to the kitchen where they could talk in hushed murmurings. Both peered out from behind delicious pies with concern.
Ned fiddled with his sleeve edge and stole quick glances at the woman in front of him as she stared coolly back. She bore no hint of aggression but Ned knew the information she held could be the undoing of Chuck’s very existence (and his for that matter)
“I am here today to talk to about the Avengers initiative.” she said simply.