"So how's your job going?"
"It's, um." Violet swallows and decides to put the phone down, setting it onto speakerphone instead. "It's okay? My boss trusts me enough now to bitch about other people at work, so I guess that's a good sign."
Casey laughs, tinny on the cheap speaker. "Anything you can share?"
Violet chews her lip, sprawling out on the couch and staring at the ceiling. "Like... he's mad that a new project just fell into our laps, and he didn't get it. And the guy who got it is making bad decisions about it."
"Bad... psych decisions?"
"Yeah, like, everyone wants what's best for the patient, but people disagree on what the best thing is."
"I know what you mean," Casey says. "Sometimes I'm installing floorboards, and I'm like, 'What can I do to ensure these floorboards recover from the trauma of installation?'"
Violet covers her laughter.
"'Is it possible these floorboards need a level of expertise that I can't provide? Should I refer them to a specialist who focuses on oak?'"
"Fuck you," Violet says lovingly.
"'And how do I make sure I don't accidentally share any personal medical information with the other floorboards?'"
"Younger brothers are never meant to shut up."
Violet was really good at being a personal assistant. She could keep calm in difficult situations, she kept her planner clutched to her chest like a Bible, and most of all, she had a knack for figuring her bosses out. Some appreciated it when she would bring them lunch because they were too busy to escape the office. Some wanted her to guard the door against three very specific people and do little else. It wasn't about being everything. It was about fitting in wherever there were gaps.
10% filing clerk, 10% receptionist, 80% security guard.
15% delivery girl, 85% personal therapist.
25% scheduling manager, 25% workplace negotiator, 10% email drafter, 40% couples counselor.
The work made sense but the money wasn't good. When a government contractor wanted a new assistant, she aced the interview and got put in for a clearance to make sure there wouldn't be any "specific" documents she wouldn't be able to handle. When the contractor went under, at least her bank account was in the black again. And at least she still had the clearance.
Clearances can open a lot of doors.
SHIELD, Violet discovers, is kind of internally known for hiring orphans and single people, preferably both. There are lots of other weird caveats, especially depending on which department you work in, but after the first winter she discovers that she's not nearly the only one that doesn't have any particular plans for the holidays. It's not incredibly surprising. Being unattached means it's all the easier to become married to your job.
Violet describes her work as "helping a group of people that help government employees with maintaining their mental health." It's just enough information to give the general gist, and with so many people coming back from overseas wars with thousand-yard stares, everyone nods and assumes she means something about veterans. They're kind of right.
The next morning is tedious. The follow-up work from yesterday's appointments takes less than an hour, and Dr. Mitchell's meeting goes over by half an hour. When he's finally out, he drops his tablet on his desk, crooking his finger at her. Lunch, this means. Where I shall complain at length about what I just endured.
Violet gets up and gets her bag together. Dr. Mitchell may think that he bores his PA during these sessions, but really, Violet loves work talk. Especially recently.
"So it went over because of-"
"Because of Petroff giving a completely unnecessary summary of his cell regeneration process." Mitchell waves his fork back and forth in a dismissive manner. "Waste of time. Scientifically fascinating, yes. Relevant to the meeting, no."
Violet hunches over her salad and stuffs another bite into her mouth. (The day she learned that her boss did not care if she ate politely or not was a day she valued him more than words could say.) "So," she manages, finally swallowing, "did you manage to convince them to change the recovery plan?"
"No." Mitchell stabs at his pasta. "I really think it's because Hendricks hasn't had a project handed to him before. Now that he's got it he's refusing to let anyone else give any input."
"Hm." Violet looks around, checking the white noise levels and how much room they have to themselves before leaning in. "So what's the current plan?"
Mitchell looks like he wants to throw himself off a cliff. He leans in a bit. "If he survives the thawing process, they're going to recreate a 1940's hospital room."
Violet blinks and tries to follow along. "Like... The Truman Show?"
Mitchell squints in the way that means she has said or done something overly youthful.
"Like, a fake world for him," she explains. "That we'd be watching. Why does he want to do that to him?"
"It's to 'prevent shock'," Mitchell says, using his fingers for quotation marks, before spearing a tortellini and sighing while he chews it. "Gradually divulging more and more of the truth will lead to distrust. It's a bad plan."
"It's a terrible plan," Violet hisses, lowering her voice as some red-badges walk by. "Wh-why can't they, um, can't they dose him with something and explain it to him gently?"
"His metabolism isn't predictable, Ms. Wells."
"Yes, but if we're assuming he's going to physically recover from - from his current state, are we really concerned that he could OD on some happy drugs?"
Dr. Mitchell leans back and sighs. "Every day I remember you telling me in your interview about how much you'd learned from your Psychology minor in undergrad. And every day you say something like 'happy drugs'."
Violet flaps her hands. "A fake room!"
"She left another message on my phone." Casey doesn't sound cheerful tonight. He sounds tired. "I was thinking about what you called it last time... sweeping?"
"Rug-sweeping," Violet says quietly, already knowing where this is headed.
"Rug-sweeping." There's a pause on the phone, punctuated by a long breath. "It was this weird, like, third person thing. 'Your mother misses you very much.'"
"You know she's calling herself that to manipulate you."
"Yeah, just. I don't know how you can just let go like you did."
"I had two foster homes before her. You didn't. You never got any practice letting go." Violet cradles the phone and looks down at her feet. "Don't let her guilt you into calling her back. You don't owe her that."
A beat. "She sounds lonely."
"Did you write that list I told you to write?"
"Yes." There's a shuffling of papers. "I didn't put it up, though. I had a date over last night, and I didn't," he laughs. "I didn't want some crazy-looking list pinned up in my bedroom."
Violet giggles, imagining it. "'Oh, that? That's just the list of ways someone has wronged me.'"
"No, no, do the voice!"
Violet snorts and calms herself down so she can do her best Smaug impression. "That's just the lisssst. Of ways someone has wrrr...I can't do it if you're laughing!"
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I love your Smaug."
Violet wipes at her face. "My Smaug loves you too."
Friday. Someone brings in cookies from a local delicatessen.
"I wonder how many things around here have been here since the 40's?" Violet asks, gently wiping crumbs off her fingertips and onto a small paper towel.
Dr. Mitchell looks up with a raised eyebrow, considering. "Do I really look old enough to know?"
"No, I just." Violet backtracks. "I mean you've grown up here, and most places have one of those 'Est. 1896' things on the window, you know, to brag about how old they are."
Dr. Mitchell rolls his eyes and shakes his head, turning his attention back to his tablet. "Buildings brag about their age, people are supposed to conceal it. Quite the double-standard."
Violet considers telling him the new gray in his beard makes him look distinguished, but decides it sounds a bit too personal, or worse, flirtatious. "It's unfair," she agrees instead. "But if it makes you feel any better, you're nowhere near as outdated as our new patient."
"Not our patient. Hendricks's patient." He chews the inside of his cheek. "Perhaps that's for the best. If I was in charge of his recovery road map you'd probably add things like 'local cookies' when I wasn't looking."
"Comfort food isn't a terrible idea." She considers it. "Fewer risks than the Truman idea, to be honest."
"I'm going to start calling it 'The Truman Idea' in meetings." Dr. Mitchell huffs out a sigh. "Hendricks is in his thirties. He'll probably get the reference and be suitably shamed."
"Day four of 'Eagle Watch'," Violet says on Thursday, tilting her head at Dr. Mitchell over coffee. "You really still think he's gonna come out of that coma?"
"I'm surprised you don't, actually." Dr. Mitchell shrugs his shoulders. "After surviving the conditions he has for that long, a little brain activity kicking back up should be cake."
"You always say brains are more complicated than the rest of the body," Violet points out.
Dr. Mitchell just shrugs again, adding more cream to his mug.
Violet is cleaning up Metzger's notes when Mitchell, in a move Violet has never seen in her life, walks out of his meeting room ten minutes before his appointment is over. His phone is at his ear and he's talking in a low voice as he walks into his office and locks the door.
Violet blinks, checks the clock twice, and takes her headphones off and gets up. Poking her head into the interview room, she discovers that there is indeed a client sitting there, looking baffled and somewhat hurt.
"Agent Whitehall, right?" She asks gently.
"Yes," Agent Whitehall replies. His face is blotchy as if he was very recently crying. Whatever that phone call is, it must be incredibly urgent.
"I'm so sorry about that. I'm Dr. Mitchell's assistant, Violet. I've never seen him leave an appointment before... can I get you anything while you wait for him to come back?"
Agent Whitehall swallows and sits up a little straighter, managing a smile. "I can't blame him," he says. "I think I recognized the voice on the other end. I'd've got up too."
"Oh," Violet says, deciding it might not be appropriate to ask for more information. She twines her fingers together. "Can I get you some water or coffee?"
"Just water'd be great." He hiccups. "Thanks."
"Of course." She scurries to the water cooler, filling up a cup just as she hears Mitchell's office door unlocking again. He looks like he wants to talk to her, but waits until she's delivered the cup and shut the interview room door again.
She lifts her eyebrows. "Dr... Mitchell?"
He pockets his phone and gets her tablet from the desk, handing it to her. "I need you to delicately reschedule with Agent Whitehall in there. And meet me in Fury's office as soon as you're done."
The door is soundproof, so Violet doesn't hear anything until she's let in. Mitchell waves her in and directs her to the chair in front of the Director's desk. Fury himself is leaning forward on his elbows, rubbing his temples and in the middle of a sentence. Violet scurries in and sits, careful not to interrupt whatever in god's name this is.
"...even more of a liability than his file suggested he'd be, so you can understand why I'm reluctant to put him in the hands of someone with no security experience."
"This isn't a security issue, Director Fury." Mitchell sighs and stands next to the chair Violet's sitting in. Realizing she's not getting an explanation why she was summoned, she pulls out the scheduling/note-taking app on her secure phone and waits for what she needs to input. "And if we continue to treat this situation as something about containment we're going to get nothing but containment breaches."
security/containment concerns, Violet taps on the screen. She'll get full context later.
"This is Ms. Wells?" Director Fury asks, as if he has finally realized she's appeared in the room.
"Yes," she says, and gets up to reach her hand across the desk to shake his. "Great to meet you, sir."
He nods tiredly and shakes her hand. His skin is cold as if he's been outside recently. "Please sit down." She does. He resumes talking to Dr. Mitchell. "What equipment are you asking for?"
"None," Dr. Mitchell says.
Dr M says no eqpmnt necessary, Violet taps on the screen.
"Doctor, you're asking me to leave the greatest find of the last ten years un-monitored?"
"Your 'find' has a habit of resisting authority and control. His file is very clear - he's a collaborative leader. Asking him to follow our protocol or trust us after the breach is going to fail, no matter our organization's back-story. We can't fall back on Carter's name to guilt him into compliance."
Fury waves his hand impatiently. "Do not worry that I am going to take any of Hendricks's advice on this project anymore."
"The whole point is that he's looking for strategy now," Mitchell says emphatically. "We need him to find nothing. We need him to see that our mistake was an aberration, need to dissuade him from making connections between our organizations and ones he's fought with in the past."
Dr. Fury lifts one eyebrow, as if that may have been over the line. Dr. Mitchell holds up his hands.
"We need a solution that won't risk feelings of being manipulated or of being spied upon."
captain steve rogers, Violet taps with shaking fingers.
There's a long silence. Director Fury takes in a long breath and lets it out in a slow sigh. Violet looks over her notes and tries to contextualize the conversation. Eventually, she realizes Fury is looking at her.
"Ms. Wells," he says, voice a little gentler now, "I imagine you're a bit confused."
She clears her throat. "I... assume the patient has revived successfully," she says, "and that the project's ownership has changed from Dr. Hendricks to Dr. Mitchell."
"The project's ownership has changed because I just had to chase the patient all the way to Times Square," Fury says in a gravelly sort of way that makes Violet suspect, with an edge of fear, that Hendricks is either fired or possibly dead. "So what we now have is a revived patient with a great deal of mistrust towards us."
Violet opens her mouth, and it hangs open a moment while she thinks of the right thing to say. "Well, Dr. Mitchell is an excellent choice. He's got lots of experience with patients dealing with trust issues. And combat experience," she adds as an afterthought. "Dr. Mitchell handles most all of the appointments with Agents who see active duty."
"I know what Dr. Mitchell does here, thank you, Ms. Wells." Fury manages to say it in a way that it actually sounds nice. "But he's actually decided, in what I'm gonna call a Hail Mary, that the project should be handled by someone else."
She blinks. "Um. Who?"
Chapter 3: Day 1
Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments so far! :D I don't think I've posted serious OC stuff since I was maybe thirteen, so it's a little bit out of my comfort zone. I appreciate the love.
"I can't do this," Violet hisses, painfully aware of the security cameras in the elevator. Dr. Mitchell looks down at her and makes a face when he realizes she's talking out of the side of her mouth. "Why did you do this? Why didn't you tell me this was your plan?"
"I didn't have a plan," Dr. Mitchell says, decidedly not trying to hide his voice or his face from the cameras. He actually looks calmer than she's seen him in almost a week. "I knew Hendricks's idea was bad, but I didn't realize it would backfire this spectacularly. Or in less than five minutes after the patient woke up. It's a good plan, though. You've got the perfect background for it."
"You think he's gonna want a lot of copies made?"
"Don't sell yourself short, Ms. Wells, it's very unseemly." He pats her on the shoulder. "You cheer me up and bring me food and explain technology to me all the time. This shouldn't be extraordinarily different."
"I've never had a boss that was frozen for the better part of a century! What if I fuck up too? God. Pardon my language."
Dr. Mitchell waves it away. "Then he'll dislike you. Much more preferable than him deciding that SHIELD is a Hydra offshoot trying to-"
"Is that really what he thinks?"
"We have no idea what he thinks right now. He came back in a car and went startlingly close to selectively mute." The doors open and Violet takes in a floor she's never been to before. Dr. Mitchell steps out and heads left, down a long hallway full of doors that look resemble those of high-end hotel rooms. "Your card's been updated. You can access his room now. Answer anything up to Level 2 clearance. Focus on catching him up on the basics of daily life. I'm going to work on getting you both cleared for a field trip sometime in the next few days, if he's up for it."
Violet holds out a hand, stopping Mitchell's card from swiping across the scanner. He stops and waits for her.
"Are you going to be sick?"
"Just need a minute," she mumbles.
"Of course." Dr. Mitchell pockets his card and stands patiently, taking in the occasional hurried SHIELD agent jogging in one direction or another down the hall. About forty seconds pass.
"Ready for your new boss?" Mitchell quips.
"Okay. Go get 'em." He pats her on the shoulder and turns to leave - she makes an aborted move to grab his arm.
"You're not c...? Okay. Um. Bye." Violet takes a deep breath and swipes her card, listening to the unfamiliar new Level 7 beep. She turns the handle, stops, then uses her other hand to belatedly knock on the door.
"Come in," says the voice she's heard in black-and-white films. Her stomach turns and she opens the door.
The lights are dimmed, which is startling at first. It really does look like a comfortable hotel room, completely devoid of any personal items or even a suitcase, and the desk chair has been pulled up to the window. The man's silhouette is still. He's just... looking out over the city.
Dark room. Not getting up when a possible threat comes in. Not even looking. Probably shock, or something like it. Violet takes a deep breath and steps in, shutting the door behind her.
"More tests?" Rogers - the patient - the client? Her boss? - asks, and she shakes her head before realizing how pointless that is.
"Um, no, sir." Something about her voice makes him turn around, and where she expected some sort of tissue damage, some kind of visual indication that he'd basically been dug out of the ground recently, he looks just like the pictures. His eyes track her movements as she walks to the center of the room and yes, he's definitely physically healthy by everything she can detect. "My name is Violet. I'm your, um, your temporary assistant while you get acclimated. To the. The century." She holds her tablet against her chest and sticks out her hand. To her surprise, he gets up to shake it.
"Temporary," he echoes, brows coming together a little. His affect is sort of flat for how much he's just been through. "For how long?"
"Until you don't need my help anymore? Or until you'd like me to go." Violet shrugs, trying not to stare. He's huge. He's tall. He's very broad. It's disconcerting. "Don't worry, you won't be putting me out of a job or anything. I work down on level 5, usually."
"And what do they do on level 5?"
"Psychological appointments and exams," Violet says, barely finishing the words before she realizes she'll have to couch that in something. "Nowadays psychologists are considered helpful for all sorts of people. Including soldiers."
"Of which SHIELD has a lot, I expect."
"Just like its parent organization did," Violet agrees. "We've got really good people working for us, but everyone needs someone to talk to now and again, you know?"
"And that's why that Fury guy sent you here?" He jerks his chin. "To listen to me?"
"Fury tried to send my boss here, actually, and my boss sent me instead." She tries to smile and fails. Something about him is deliriously intimidating, and she's trying to get a handle on what his body language means. His face.
"Sounds like your boss has better stuff to do than babysit."
"I think he thought he'd make a shitty babysitter, actually." Her language makes him raise an eyebrow, which she decides to count as a win. "I've been a personal assistant for a while, so... I'm happy to listen if you wanna talk, but I'm not gonna write you up if you just want me to bring you sandwiches and show you how to use the TV."
"I can make my own sandwiches, thanks." Steve glances over at the television across from the bed, frowning at the edges of it. Violet realizes he's looking for knobs. "And I'll figure out the television too."
"You helped win a war. Nobody thinks you can't do this stuff yourself in time." She sets her tablet down and gets the remote from the bedside table. In a moment of epiphany, she offers it to him instead of pressing anything herself. He frowns at it before reading the button names, then looking to the television and back to the remote. Presses the power button. His mouth twitches as a documentary comes on.
"You never had color, right?"
"What? Oh. No." He stares at the screen for a while - birds in flight, in V formation - before looking down at the remote and scrutinizing it some more. "And all our buttons were attached."
Smiling hesitantly, she gives him a moment of fiddling with the buttons. He raises the volume up and down, visibly surprised when the change is displayed on the bottom of the screen, then mutes it. He notices the word MUTE appear in the corner of the screen, then looks back to the birds on the screen.
Body language, face, shape of mouth. Brows. The lines around his eyes.
"I'm really sorry," Violet says. "About your friends."
He looks at her sharply. "What?"
She fights the urge to step back a little, swallowing instead. "If I... I mean, I'm not the same as you, but if I woke up and all that time had passed, I think I'd miss my brother. Even if he'd had a good life, I'd be sad that I wasn't there."
There's a brief silence. He seems to deflate a little. "I don't even know what kind of lives they had."
"I could find out for you."
"Yeah." His voice sounds tight. "I suppose you've got everything on file here."
"That or the internet," Violet says, tilting her head apologetically when he looks at her with confusion. "I'll, um. I'll teach you that one whenever you're ready."
Chapter 4: Day 2 & 3
"How'd that date go, anyway?"
Casey makes a confused noise. "Huh?"
"You said a few days ago you had a date over," Violet reminds him. "What's she like?"
"She was okay."
"Was," Violet repeats back, dramatically. "Already over?"
"She was being weird, I dunno. I wasn't into it." A dog barks in the background. Casey hmms. "Your boss still bitchin'?"
"About what? Oh. No." Violet swallows. "The project's under different management now so it's..."
"It's going okay, I think."
"As long as your boss is in a good mood. Your boss is happy, you can relax."
"Agreed." She looks at the corner of her apartment - she's taken the shopping bags and consolidated them into one. The receipts are already stuffed neatly into an envelope for Accounting to look at. "I'm, like. Helping with it?"
"The big project?" Casey sounds impressed.
"It's not a huge deal. I haven't gotten promoted or anything."
"So you're doing high-level work but they don't wanna pay you high-level money. Pssh."
"It was really last-minute. Shuffling stuff around. I'm not doing anything super different from what I normally do, just for different people."
"Okay." Casey sounds appeased. "Don't let 'em overwork you, okay?"
Steve opens the door for her this time, and blinks at the bags in her hand. "Let me take some of those," he says, reaching a hand out.
"You - okay," she says, and hands him the grocery bag with the drinks in it. He walks in and drops it on the small kitchenette, removing each item and looking over it in turn. The cans get a particular level of attention. "So, I brought you the really basic stuff you asked for, so you don't have to rely on getting food sent up anymore. I also brought you some, um, some weird stuff."
"To 'acclimate' me," Steve says, tilting his head at the plastic jug of milk before putting it in the fridge.
"Everyone needs to learn about Cheez Wiz at some point in their lives." Violet smiles hopefully, not giving up when he doesn't look up or respond. "Coca-Cola probably tastes a little different from how you remember it." She puts the other bags on the desk and starts pulling out items.
"'Gummy... Worms,'" Steve reads, frowning at a brightly-colored bag. "Why did they think this was something I needed?"
"Whoever picked this stuff out."
"I picked this stuff out," Violet says, sounding a little embarrassed. He looks up sharply, studying her. She flushes and continues. "I meant what I said yesterday. Doct- My boss, he called for a non-interference rule and Fury agreed to honor it." She gestures to the bags. "I mean, they'll find out what I got you when I turn in my expense reports for the month, but. It's just me right now."
He continues reading her face. Flushing further, she stands there and takes it. "You're telling the truth," he says at length.
"That's my job." She holds up the pocket calculator from the drugstore. "I looked it up, and these weren't around until, um, the seventies. So I thought this would be a really easy way to start."
He squints at the buttons from across the room. "It calculates?"
"And is conveniently called a calculator." She hands it over to him. "There are lots of devices that are even smaller now that can do this and way more, but you still see them on office desks and stuff. They're cheap now."
He pushes a few buttons, eyes flicking up from the readout to the symbols. "C is Clear," he deducts, "so M is... Memory. Okay." His eyebrows lift. "What's the black rectangle for?"
"The what?" She steps forward, looking at the spot he's pointing at. "Oh! That's the solar panel."
Steve gives her an unamused look. "They hired you to make jokes?"
"It is," she insists. "Just a tiny one. It doesn't take a lot of power to, um, to run it. So if you leave it by a window for a while every now and again, you're good."
"You just said these were cheap now. I'm seventy years in the future, not seven-hundred."
Violet shrugs. "Bigger solar panels are still really expensive. Like, some people build them on their roofs to be more eco-friendly, um, ecologically-friendly, but it takes a lot of years for it to pay itself off."
Steve gives her another one of those searching looks, then nods, putting the calculator down. "What else am I learning about today?"
"Phones," Violet says, going back to her bag.
"Telephones?" Steve eyes her. "We had telephones in my day."
"You had those telephones." She points to the one plugged into the wall. "Well, you had... I guess you had rotary phones. These, um. Let's start with these." She picks the cordless from the stand and hands it to him. "Green button, the phone number you want, then green button again. Red button to hang up."
He frowns. "No operator?"
"In 99.9% of all situations, nobody ever uses operators anymore."
He nods. "And all the other buttons?"
"We'll tackle voicemail later."
"Is it what it sounds like?"
Steve takes a breath and nods, handing it back. She puts it in the cradle. "So, those are called cordless phones. They're for houses and business. Buildings, I should say. They're for buildings."
"What else would have a phone?"
"Before I blow your mind, let's take a snack break."
His mouth twitches upward. "Do I have to eat worms?"
Her chest swells a little. "No, but if you don't eat any, I'll feel obligated to cut them out of my expense report."
Dr. Brendan Mitchell: Is it going all right?
Violet Wells: yes
Violet Wells: can you bring some things to lunch, please?
Dr. Brendan Mitchell: Whatever you need.
Violet Wells: unclass files for Morita, Jones, etc. color-changing pen (there's one in my desk), scotch tape, and an unclass tablet for him to practice on
Dr. Brendan Mitchell: You're assembling a fully-outfitted office desk. Are you sure you don't need any sticky notes?
Violet Wells: no I remembered those
Steve's eyebrows rise as he digs through the next day's assortment of bags. Carefully, he picks out the sketching journal. "Well, this looks familiar."
Violet flushes a little. "I don't know much about sketching," she admits. "I got some HBs and... I don't know. Different types of pencils. Sharpener. And a weird eraser that feels like gum. I hope it's the right thing. You do pencil sketches, right?"
"From the documentary I watched about myself last night, I'm surprised you can't recite my art preferences by heart." Steve makes the puffy, brief sigh that she's learned means he's slightly overwhelmed.
"I'm Canadian. We got lots of world history in school, but we didn't focus so... ardently on you guys during our World War II curriculum as they do here." She smiles apologetically.
"SHIELD lets in foreigners?" Steve sounds interested. Violet is reminded, proudly, that they haven't talked much about SHIELD. He's more or less allowed her to direct their time and focus on skill-building.
"Same as SSR," she says, nodding.
He 'hmms' and flips the sketchbook open, setting it down on the first clean page and working the plastic-and-cardboard container of pencils open carefully. "Where in Canada?"
Her heart sinks a little. "Near Toronto," she answers dutifully, watching him line up the pencils before throwing the packaging into the waste basket.
"Toronto was nice when I was growing up," Steve says. "Still pretty good?"
"I wouldn't know." She smiles tightly. "We never went."
There must be something in her expression, because he looks at her for a fraction of a second and then just nods, moving on to unwrapping the sharpener.
Chapter 5: Day 3 & 4
"Like a typewriter," Steve echoes, looking doubtfully at the QWERTY keyboard on the screen.
"But no white-out." She points to the backspace button. "That, um, that will actually remove the character instead of just letting you type over it."
He looks uncomfortable, but he begins tapping away anyway, first getting through the alphabet and then beginning to examine the optional keys in the corners.
"I can bring in a keyboard tomorrow," she offers. "Tablets are all flat, but um, bigger computers usually have a screen and then a keyboard, which is more buttony like you're used to."
"I'll adapt." He taps the happy face button cautiously, head tilting when the emojis appear. "...do the different colored hearts mean different things?"
Violet steps into Dr. Mitchell's office, closing the door behind her.
"Everything going okay?"
"Yes." Violet smiles awkwardly. "Um, I'd like to buy him a Kindle."
Dr. Mitchell blinks, shrugging. "I don't see any reason you need to run that by Security. Go buy one."
"It's just, I only have a debit card."
He looks at her, assessing her in the way she knew would make her feel a bit sick. "Ms. Wells, you don't have eighty dollars?"
"I do," she says weakly, but he's already holding up a hand and looking at his desk calendar.
"...but it's the 29th," he finishes. "Rent at the end of the month."
"You don't have rent and eighty dollars." He looks at her with a mixture of amazement and indignation, finally taking off his glasses and wiping them idly against his sweater. "Are you still paying off your brother's medical bills?"
"That, and," she swipes her hand through her bangs. "You know, student loans. Together, it's kind of hefty." She takes a breath. "I know it's a headache to get someone here a corporate card, and I'd never ask you to pay out of pocket, I, I'd save the receipt so you could send it on to-"
Dr. Mitchell holds up his hand and opens a drawer in his desk, pulling out a wallet.
When she comes in the next morning with more bags but not smiling, Steve notices immediately.
"Good news and weird news," she says, dumping the shopping bags on their usual spot on the desk. Steve, used to this pattern now, has already moved his sketchbook and tablet to the side to make room for this. "Which do you want to hear first?"
"You pick," he says, feigning lightheartedness. She watches him shut the door after her and sighs.
"Good news. You asked about the gyms here? The PT people use them almost around the clock. Um, PT stands for physical therapy. So, it'd be easy to write something up to clear out the gym rats, but not the patients."
"That's good news?"
"It means I'm justified in looking outside the building for an exercise solution for you." She pulls out a print-out from a website - getting sign-offs on granting him internet access has been slow. "This place is about ten minutes away, and it's a really old-school kind of place. No modern machines. A boxing ring, punching bags, jump ropes, and the owner's willing to give us access after 8 pm close for a good price as long as we don't trash the place."
Steve looks through the webpage printouts. "This is really thoughtful."
"Yes. Now the weird." Violet sighs. "I, like, can't not tell you this. You can go on your own, and stay til 5 in the morning if you really want to - the first guy opens the place at 6 - but if you do this, they will bug the place." She watches something harden behind his eyes. She kind of saw that coming. "Nobody's told me their security plan, but I mean, you mean a lot to them and you're a high-value acquisition for any number of..." She trails off. "Please don't look at me like that."
"I'm an acquisition now?"
"You would be for the people who might want to kill you or kidnap you." Violet's fingers curl worryingly at the handle of the shopping bag, making it crinkle. "I know you don't like all this stuff. I don't love it either. But it's not because SHIELD wants to see every time you scratch your nose, it's because they want to make sure nothing happens to you."
Steve folds his arms across his chest and looks out the window. "I guess this shouldn't even feel 'weird' by now," he says quietly.
"There's one more thing." Ripping the band-aid off, she reaches in and pulls out the other print-outs. "Fury says it's been long enough that I should start giving him reports on you."
Still looking out the window, Steve's eyebrow raises a fraction of an inch.
"He's looking for things like major depressive episodes or other signs of psychological instability. Because, I mean, because if something's really hurting you, then I can't, you know, help you with that."
"And what are you going to tell them about me?"
Violet scoots into his line of vision just enough to hold up the forms. "I already wrote it." She waits until he takes them reluctantly. "You get to see them first. And, I mean, if there's something you really don't like, I'll take it out."
His eyes scan the paragraphs quickly, then flick back up to her. "And you think Fury's really going to accept a co-authored report?"
Violet shrugs. "I won't lie. But, I mean, I think I've got it pretty right here, and there's nothing here I think you'd want to hide, but you also deserve a chance to see it first."
Steve goes back to reading. "Doesn't mention any previous associates by name or refer to them indirectly," he quotes, voice worryingly flat.
Violet flushes. "Well, you don't."
Steve says nothing. Flips a page. His expression hardens further and he hands it back to her. "Send him whatever you want. Seems like you got a really good handle on me."
"Don't, I." Violet takes the papers back and tries to think of a response that isn't emotional. "I really am trying to be your patient advocate here."
"I appreciate all your help so far."
It doesn't sound like it. She stands by the desk, looking to the door and wondering if she should leave. Something about her internal distress must have made it to her face despite her best efforts, though, because after a moment Steve starts looking through the bags, pulling out the new pencils and holding up the blu-ray case and trying to determine its function.
"He's figured out the train map, he's got a wardrobe now, he loves his Kindle, and he's gone to two separate physicals and proven that there's none of the cellular damage we were supposed to be freaking out about." Violet slumps in the chair across from Dr. Mitchell's desk and scrubs at her face. "I should be happy. But I'm running out of everyday devices to throw at him. He breezed through my social vocab update primer."
"Social vocab?" Dr. Mitchell echoes curiously.
She rolls her eyes. "Oriental," she supplies as example. "Fairy."
Mitchell fights off a cringe. "I think I get the idea... and he responded positively? Or at least neutrally?"
"He's mad desegregation happened so late." Violet snorts. "Thinks resistance against marriage equality is a violation of separation of church and state. If someone in PR has been prepping for a nightmare scenario if he ever gets near a microphone it's going to be because he's going to call us out on Guantanamo."
Dr. Mitchell leans back. "Us," he repeats.
"Yes, us. He doesn't feel like he's an 'us'. Even in his own country. He doesn't feel connected." Violet bites her lip, allowing herself a few seconds to work up to it. "The gym's good for him, but he needs human interaction too. I've set up a couple possible itineraries."
"Fury commented to me that he was disappointed in how vague your two write-ups have been."
Violet looks up, eyes narrowing a little. "And those two issues are related?"
Mitchell shrugs neutrally and looks at the clock. He'd never explicitly say that Fury would refuse to loosen the leash until he had the intel he wanted, but he could certainly imply it.
"I'll try to get something voluntarily." She sighs and lets her head tilt back against the back of the chair. "Do your patients ever make you feel like you're stuck between a rock and a hard place?"
"Their best interests on one side, the best interests of the organization on the other?" He watches her nod. "Often. But not how you might think."
Violet frowns. "Like how?"
He shrugs. "People who dedicate their lives to helping people often lose focus of their own self-worth. They'll want to re-enter the field before they're ready. They see themselves as disposable objects to be used to save human lives."
Violet takes this in. "And if you go against their wishes and bench them anyway? Even when it's for their own good?"
"They don't know what to do with idleness." Mitchell shrugs. "Fury has something in the works for him, but I've got no details and no time table. But when the project's ready, he's not going to be patient about getting Rogers on board."
And Rogers might join even if he shouldn't, Violet finishes in her mind. "I haven't conducted any miracles. He's still on edge waiting for someone to dangle a pocket watch in front of him and get him to sign some kind of lifetime contract."
"Idleness may push his distrust aside." Mitchell leans forward. "I'll try to warm Fury up to the idea of field trips. We don't have a say on when he starts working, but we can at least make sure he's as stable as possible when that time comes."
Violet swallows. "When he starts working?"
Dr. Mitchell doesn't say anything. He doesn't look happy.
Chapter 6: Day 5
The few times I write an OC, especially an OFC, I am surprised and pleased when people are supportive.
So thank you, supportive people, for supporting me. And Violet. <3
Violet presents the notebook to him with a comical amount of pomp and circumstance.
"No longer will you have to remember every single thing you want to catch up on," she says in a deep, serious voice. To her private joy, he grins a little. "This tiny book comes with an appropriately tiny pencil. Fits in most pockets."
"I'll carry it with me everywhere," Steve promises with an ironic glint in his eye.
She lifts her chin up a little. "You can carry it to lunch." She pretends not to notice when his eyebrows shoot up.
"Lunch," he echoes, intrigued but not letting himself get too hopeful. "We takin' a trip down to the canteen?"
"Rogers, I am taking you out." She pulls out another print-out, handing him the photos and reviews of the cafe. "Sandwiches. Wraps. Pre-approved location with minimal chaperoning."
He glances up from the photos. "Chaperoning."
"Hanging out at sniper distance to make sure nobody picks you up and throws you in a bag. Please be excited. Come on." It's supposed to be an airy joke, but she finds she means it a bit too much; she wants that excitement back in him. The barely-contained somberness has been hard to watch the last couple of days. "We're gonna take the train there. We can go window-shopping afterward if you want."
Something in his eyes softens. "Ms. Wells, you sure know how to treat a fella."
"You have a three-block radius of approved travel space," Fury had said one hour earlier, and Violet had nodded hard enough she felt her head was going to tumble off her shoulders. "You will use your work phone to text Sobel and Rumlow if your charge requests to move outside that radius."
"Yes, sir," Violet said. "And I will wait until I get approval to leave that radius."
Fury nodded, satisfied, and leaned forward at his desk. "I am trusting you and this goodwill strategy, Ms. Wells. See that you do well."
Steve spends the first couple minutes being concerned someone's going to recognize him, but before long the city draws him in and he forgets to be worried.
"It's hard to describe," he says after the first couple blocks, eyes lingering on small details: neon signs in second-floor windows, clusters of bicycles locked up and still wet from the light rain earlier. The door to a pizzeria opens as someone walks out with a takeaway box and the smell wafts over them both, making Steve's face light up. He looks at her questioningly.
"Three health code violations in the last eight months," Violet says softly enough that nobody else should be able to hear, and Steve actually laughs.
"Has this been your workload lately? Looking up places within walking distance that are good enough for the 'national treasure'?"
"National what?" She shoots him a challenging look. "Some of us don't have the miracles of science protecting us from the risk of food poisoning. I'm not eating there."
Steve laughs again. It's a nice sound.
"So," he says, looking around, higher and higher, until he's looking at the distant rooftops. "If I had to guess, I'd say... there?" He points to the top of a building that boasts acupressure and ginseng.
"Huh? Oh." Violet pulls out her phone quickly. "I can ask them." Sobel and Rumlow probably know better than to just text her with a 'Yes' or 'No' before she texts them to ask, but if they do, Steve will either know or be reminded that they're listening in. She doesn't want this good mood damaged. "What makes you say there?"
"You start figuring out the logic of different spots. Not terribly different from what we used to..." He trails off, then braves it and pushes forward. "What we used to do back in Europe. Sometimes Barnes would have to move locations in the middle of a skirmish. If I could guess where he'd moved to, I could keep drawing enemies to where he'd have a good shot."
Something in Violet's mind practically lights up in surprise, and with incredible effort she manages not to make a big deal of it by looking shocked. "Good strategy," she says instead, receiving a text message back almost as soon as she's sent hers. "Sobel says you're right, and he says hi."
The conversation tapers off when they get into the lunch break crush of the station. Violet texts Rumlow to say they caught their train and should be there on time. Steve reads the advertisements on the walls, lingering on an ad for an art school. Violet wonders what he's thinking about.
"Have you already filled a whole page in that thing?" Violet makes a show of leaning over to see what he's written as the walk light comes on. Steve rolls his eyes and pocket the notebook, striding forward.
"From the posters, HIV and C++."
"Horrible life-threatening disease, computer coding language."
Steve nods. "From overheard conversations... apple store?"
"Apple is a brand of electronics."
"Makes much more sense than a specialty grocery store," Steve admits, and Violet laughs hard enough to snort, which is possibly the least dignified thing she's done in front of him so far. He doesn't seem bothered - he's looking at the rooftops again, which to all appearances is normal tourist behavior. "We're walking straight for another two blocks, right? And then a left?"
"Yes," Violet says, already pulling out her phone. Steve points, and Violet doesn't even bother to describe the building in the text.
Rumlow: he's good
"Two for two," Violet says, and gives a little smile to the top of the building obscured by the sunlight behind it. She doesn't actually know Rumlow at all, but he seemed nice enough in the briefing and she'd really like Steve to start thinking of the SHIELD agents he doesn't know yet as potential colleagues.
"Oh," Steve says, suddenly remembering. "Airbrush tanning?"
"Um, a specialized..." Violet chews her lip. "Like, a pressurized... brush... that paints your skin to make you look tan."
Steve's eyebrows lift. "Well, I don't know what the notebook's for. You can answer everything."
"One day you're gonna get get sick of me and want to leave the nest on your lonesome," Violet mock-confides. "And besides, one day you're going to overhear someone talking about, like, a 'Prince Albert', and I won't tell you what that is."
Steve shoots her a suspicious glance before pulling out his book and scribbling something down.
"Ignore. The. Numbers."
Steve sits ramrod straight and refuses this direct order by continuing to scrutinize the right hand column of the menu.
"Ignore them. They're not what you think they are."
"Fifteen dollars," Steve reads aloud, distastefully.
"I'm not even paying for this. It's all getting comped."
"So the taxpayers are-"
"Quit it!" Violet spots the waitress hovering nearby - she waves her away for the second time. "If you don't pick something you actually want I'm going to order you the most expensive thing on the... order you two of the most expensive thing on the menu."
Steve's mouth twists. "What happened to the economy?"
"Oh my god, don't go there. The sodas cost two fifty but at least the unemployment level's fallen below the legal drinking age."
There's a beat, and Steve's expression shifts, smiling in a sort of victory. "I think this is the first time you've actually relaxed enough to be yourself."
Violet leans back. "What?"
Steve runs his finger down the menu. "If I get an appetizer and a soup and a sandwich, would you help me with the appetizer?" He quirks his lips. "Will that look like we're on a date? I don't want to embarrass you."
"Friends share food," Violet says dazedly, trying to catch up with the conversation. "Let me, um." She waves the waitress over.
Chapter 7: Day 5 & 6
"That's unbelievable," Steve murmurs, glancing at something over Violet's shoulder.
Violet analyzes his tone: a sort of wonderment. "Finally spot your first gay couple?" She glances in the reflection of the cafe window, analyzing. It takes her a moment to realize he must be talking about the white guy sitting with the black girl. Their fingers are interlaced at the center of the table, idly squeezing while they both read the specials. "Oh! Yeah, that too."
Steve laughs quietly. "You're so dismissive. I love it."
Violet flushes. "I-"
"No, I mean it, I love it." Steve's dipping his head, grinning. "It should be that way. People shouldn't have to think twice about things like that."
Violet nods. "It's not all the way better, but... it's definitely better than it was last time you were around." She smiles at him, taking a small risk: "It must have been weird for Jones in Europe, right? I mean, I guess good-weird..."
Steve nods in agreement, none of the usual walls coming up. "By the time I'd met him he'd gotten through most of his culture shock. It was strange for all of us - well, for the Yanks, at least - but Jones was the one who'd really been restricted by it. Getting to go to the same bars together, not having to split up... it was nice." His eyes stay on the table, getting a little lost. "We used to say if we all got back alive, we'd keep doing it. Here. Dougan and Bucky and I would take turns hauling out anybody who gave us trouble about it."
"That paints a nice picture." Violet says softly. "Bartender bringing everyone a fresh round. Sergeant Barnes carrying a guy over his shoulder and throwing him in the gutter for giving you shit. ...oh my god, there's that smile again! Why do you like it so much when I curse?"
"It's one of the new things that I like," Steve says, hiding his mouth behind his hand. "Thank you, ma'am." He takes the Coke the waitress has put on the table and sips. "And I do like some things that've stayed the same."
This is a good conversation. Violet plays with her straw wrapper and tilts her head. "What else has stayed the same?"
He pauses thoughtfully, giving it some real thought. "People," he says finally. "Deep down. They're still the same."
"The Director says you did a really good job on your excursion." Dr. Mitchell invites her to sit down, and she does.
"He said they'd record audio but not review it later."
"He said he'd record domicile audio but not review it later," Mitchell says with an air of someone who isn't completely on board with the distinction.
Violet lets her head drop forward in a display of exhaustion. "Okay. Fine." She sighs. "I talked to the two Security guys afterward. One of them said something I hadn't thought of - can we get him classes?"
"Classes," Mitchell repeats uncertainly.
"Um, judo, or whatever... I don't know." Violet makes uncertain gestures in the air. "Whatever the SHIELD ops agents usually train in. If he learns super fast there's no reason not to get a few cleared trainers in to show him to... do whatever kicks and punches have been invented since the forties."
Mitchell looks at her in the way she's come to know means he's studying her. "You're coming to accept that he's going to go into the field."
"No matter what he does, it's gonna be something," Violet says. She rolls her eyes as Mitchell doesn't respond, letting her reflect on her sentence. "You know what I mean. He's not gonna go on to just do fundraising or whatever. He wants to go out and do good. Fighting classes. Um, guns? You know, Agent stuff."
"You think he's ready for that?"
Violet lifts an eyebrow. "I have a special folder in my receipt binder to account for all the busted punching bags at the gym we let him visit. Steve has no problem training."
"But fighting might be different," Mitchell finishes.
"Fighting for us might be different. Trusting us enough to carry our banner." Violet looks away and sighs. "I know Fury wants a sparkling bill of mental health and for the guy to be drinking our Kool-Aid by the gallon, but he's never gonna get either. I don't think this guy has ever been 100% okay or 100% obedient."
"And you always insisted you wouldn't make a good clinician."
"I wouldn't. Not here." Violet looks back at him. "If he was my patient - really my patient - I'd be writing a script for six uninterrupted months in his own apartment. With painting and kickboxing classes. Real social reintegration. Not this field trip stuff."
"You never know, Ms. Wells. If circumstances permitted, that might have been an option."
"But circumstances do not permit. Time table." Violet sighs. "I know you can't tell me. Honestly, I don't care what it is."
"Maybe he'll get it one day."
"Sure. With more chaperones." Violet holds up a hand. "No, not chaperones. Undercover chaperones. Make one a lady neighbor! Make it extra manipulative, name her Sarah. No, make her a nurse."
"It's easy," Violet insists, a little emotional now. "Once you realize the playbook is results-based you just think of every single suggestion I've had to knock down or accept on him. It's not about him as a person. It's about what we can get him to do."
"That's an unusual amount of negativity for you."
"And you're in doctor mode." Violet leans forward plants her chin in her hands, elbows on her knees. "Even your choice to put me in was tactical. It wasn't just for him. It was so Steve would have a friendly smiley guile-less face for SHIELD. He can stare at me all day and look for alternate motives and find none. So he can apply that conclusion to everyone he hasn't met."
Mitchell's voice is quieter now. "Violet."
She doesn't look up.
"I promise you, you aren't the only one here who's doing as much for him as they possibly can."
"He needs real help." Violet pushes her thumbs into the corners of her eyes. "I can't get him to do that yet. I can't get him to talk to someone like you."
"So get him to talk to you."
"That's not the same."
"For now, it'll have to be enough."
"This," Fury says, holding up his tablet, "is good. Stellar work. Top of the class."
Violet's mouth twitches. "The level of detail or the actual content?"
"Both." He scrolls down to the bottom. "You say he's interested in the combat training but he wants to keep his gym time. Explain."
"I think the gym time is his... 'him' time," Violet says. "Familiar-ish surroundings, familiar-ish task, gets to be in his own head."
"A peaceful time for him. Wherein he causes regular property damage."
"Gym equipment doesn't cost that much," Violet wheedles. "And he's been doing it less."
"As I can see, from my copy of your well-notarized receipts." Fury's eyebrow arches as he hits the button for the file attachment. "I'm not concerned about costs, Ms. Wells. Your salary combined with weekly bodega trips, takeout and punching bag replacements is not even a blip on my radar."
"So you're satisfied with his rate of improvement," she ventures hopefully.
"Moderately satisfied," Fury allows. "What I want is your concerns. You're holding them back and I don't think it's to save your own skin - I think it's for his. You think you're protecting him."
"The one thing that worries you most about him," Fury says, pointing. "I want the one thing that concerns you above all things."
"There's not much to be concerned about, con, considering his circumstances and his-"
Violet takes in a breath. She's had three one-on-one meetings with this man but he's still terrifying. "If pressed, I," she wrings her hands behind her back. "Well, one of the first things I brought him were hard copy files of all his colleagues. They're in the corner of his desk."
"And the corner of his desk symbolizes something in your field? His relationship with his father, perhaps?"
"He-" She lowers her head. "He hasn't touched them. They're exactly where I left them. Over a week ago."
Fury says nothing for a long time, either mulling this over or waiting for her to say more. "And this concerns you the most," he says, finally.
Casey rolls his eyes on the face-chat. "Okay. Okay. Rephrasing." He holds up his hand for a moment to think. "What has alternate universe Violet been doing?"
Violet thinks, rolling her head in circles. "Um, alternate universe Violet is... babysitting a foreign type person."
"He's not a shmancy person, but he's very, very foreign."
"Is he from one of those countries where they treat women like shit?"
"I thought he was, but he's proven me wrong." Violet smiles. "He's nice! His security needs are exhausting but I think he likes it here."
"How long is he staying?"
Violet bites back a laugh. Forever, she thinks. "With my company, I'm not sure. But we're trying to make nice."
Casey smiles. "They're trusting you with big stuff. I don't get how it lines up with your regular day job there, but it sounds good."
"I think it's good." She leans forward, inspecting the picture. "Are you losing weight?"
"Huh? No. New binder." He reaches under his shirt and tugs the elastic, making a snapping sound. "Makes me look thinner, though, right?"
"It does." She mock-squints. "You were about to make me go all grandmother on you. I'd send you cans of soup."
Casey laughs. "Soup with butter broth?"
"Oh, god." Violet covers her mouth.
"And a big dab of lard floating on to-"
"CASEY, THAT IS GROSS."
"What's it like growing up in all of this?"
Violet looks up from the pizza box. "Like, the technology and stuff?"
Steve gestures to his tablet, which, as of yesterday evening, is internet-enabled. "The access to everything... I mean, what is school like, when everything's just in your pocket?"
"It wasn't pocketable when I was school, but a lot of schools did have computer labs." She gives herself a moment to pull a slice out and put it on one of the dishes from the tiny kitchenette. "Computers back then were, like." She gestures out the sizes. "The computer itself would be this big, now they can be smaller, but it's the monitors that've gotten, like, flat, they used to be super boxy and get really hot and eat up the power bill... remember the TV thing I showed you? It's basically the same as that."
Steve grins. "You really don't wanna talk about growing up, huh?"
Violet's mouth tilts and she gets up to go to the fridge and get a soda. Comes back. "Back then you had to have money to get a computer in your house. Or a cell phone. Not super rich, but you had to have money."
"A nurse's salary wasn't much," Steve offers. "Meant a lot of watered-down soup and haircuts at home."
Violet forces down the rising feelings. "So you never had a cell phone either, huh?"
"You know, I don't think I ever did."
Violet stares at herself in the bathroom mirror and thinks about outcomes.
He's said he thinks she acts fake. The longer he thinks that, the slower he'll be to come around.
(Does she want him to come around?)
The bugs in Steve's room auto-log everything. There might be someone assigned to listen live in case of an incident. If there is, that person doesn't give two shits about her story and has a clearance even higher than hers. He or she won't care about her sob story.
The longer she dodges around stuff the longer he'll wonder what else she's keeping from him. Right?
"I've been an ass," Steve says, as soon as she comes out and sits back down. She blinks. "You don't like talking about personal things, and I've been rude to push."
Is her face still blotchy? Without thinking, Violet reaches up to touch her cheek.
But he's looking down at his pizza crust. "I know you've got your bosses on your back trying to get every last detail about... what I'm thinking, or how I'm feeling, or if I'm a flight risk again." He laughs humorlessly. "And I haven't exactly been spilling my heart out to you."
"You don't need to," Violet cuts in without thinking. "I mean, you don't have to. You." She swallows thickly. "Just tell me what you want to tell me. And if you ever want someone else, someone actually qualified in-" His expression makes her stop.
"I added a whole new page of stuff to my list last night watching television," Steve says, tapping the small notebook on the desk. "And then I used Google to find every single thing."
"You Googled them," Violet says encouragingly, smiling. Grateful for the topic shift.
"I Googled them," Steve repeats dutifully, nose scrunching a little. "...do I have to say it that way?"
Chapter 8: Day 7 & 8
Violet doesn't tell him about her own list. It's on her work phone's notepad function. Two lists, really.
S- Electro-swing. Starbucks. Michael Jackson. Modern board games. MORE ANIMATED FILMS
V- Betty Grable? Helen O'Connell? Eddie Duchen (sp?)
"I watched two last night by Miyazaki. They're very political." Steve starts taking the blu-ray discs out of their pile and putting them back in their cases as instructed.
"I thought you'd like that," Violet says. Steve nods, smug, as if pleased that she's discovered another thing that never quite made it into the documentaries.
There's a driving simulator in one of the training bays for learning evasive maneuvers. Violet figures out a way to book it by proxy, since she's not an Agent, so Steve can start getting used to driving modern cars. Or perfect facsimiles, anyway.
"You never drove in a city, did you." She holds her tablet closer to her chest as if the objects on the "windshield" screen might actually cause a collision.
"Nope," Steve says, and throws it into reverse so he can back up enough to actually be able to see the red light he almost ran. "Didn't drive til the army."
"When you were swerving around landmines and outrunning Nazis at a hundred miles an hour?"
He frowns. "Nothing that dramatic." He leans forward, waiting until the green light on the screen turns on to start moving forward at a more careful pace. "Mostly just dirt roads. No stop signs or traffic lights there."
"Well, make sure you look out for messenger bikes."
"Why do I feel like I know this thing is a fake car but you don't?"
"Just get in the other lane!" She gestures pushing him left. "Don't get on the highway yet. Highways are hard."
"Old music playlist," Violet says, scrolling down and pointing to it. "New music playlists."
"A playlist is like an album," Steve says uncertainly, taking the iPod when it's offered to him. "Except it's an arrangement made by anybody?"
"Yes. So this has, um," She taps the screen, trying to remember. "Edith Piaf, and then the next one is Glen Miller, and then Andrew Shaw."
"Artie Shaw," Steve corrects, smiling.
"Artie Shaw," Violet repeats. "The new music playlists are by, um. This one's chill, this one's upbeat, this one's workout."
"Chill means relaxed, and workout means.... I literally listen to it when I work out?"
"Yes. Workout playlists are a big thing." Violet pulls out the earbuds to show him. "You've seen all the people out in the world with these in? They use them to listen to and talk on their phone, or to listen to music."
"I don't know if I'm gonna do that, but I'll certainly listen to it." Steve turns the iPod over a few times and smiles. "Why are there so many articles on the internet about de-cluttering your apartment when everything fits into these things?"
"Never underestimate humanity's love of stuff." Violet grins. "We find a way to buy more than we need and fill our apartments to the brim."
Steve nods in assent, thinking about it. "I like to think I'd be an exception, but I've never had the wallet to find out... speaking of, the backpay you were talking about."
"Yes," Violet says, waiting for it.
"Did that finally make it through the red tape?" He leans back. "Or am I still too dead?"
"It's a matter of dead and only not dead to very select people," Violet says, wincing apologetically. "But I think I can talk to someone about fronting you the money while we wrestle with the VA."
"That's not necessary, I just." Steve looks away, bothered by something. Maybe by the idea of owing someone? "Trying to figure out how to get back on my feet again, I guess."
"Independence is important to you," Violet says, reminding herself of Dr. Mitchell. "Hey, you can add credit to your MTA card all by yourself now. That makes you more capable than half the people visiting the city."
"Leaps and bounds," Steve intones solemnly.
"No, really." Taking a risk, she reaches out with her shoe and swats his shin. "You're doing great."
He looks down at his leg, then at her. His eyes soften a little in a way she can't make sense of. "Is that what they're saying?"
"That's what I'm saying." He doesn't respond, so she keeps looking away, then at the iPod in his hands. "And for as long as I'm running this crazy ship, what I say does actually mean something, so."
He gives her a small salute. "Captain," he acknowledges dutifully.
"Everything going alright?"
Violet quirks a brow, waggling her work phone before setting it down on the table next to her tray. "I got an email from one of the equipment guys saying he checked the logs, and the ATM simulator hour I booked was clearly wasted, and he's reporting me."
Dr. Mitchell's first bite of sandwich stays unchewed in his mouth for a moment as he works this out. "Ah," he says finally, smiling.
"Yeah." Violet laughs. "Apparently if you use it to make deposits and withdrawals and never try to hack it for emergency cash, the record logs display that as a terrible session and flag it."
"You could always say you were training the new Amish gentleman in the office."
Violet laughs. "No, the guy was super rude and said he was going to push this as far up the chain as he could. Let him complain all the way to Fury... and get told to mind his own business and get back to work."
"There's that mean streak I so rarely see, Ms. Wells."
She shrugs, unwrapping her sub. "I'm trying to be more confident. Is it working?"
"The weirdest thing?" Steve chews his lip. "Jogging's up there."
"...jogging," Violet echoes uncertainly.
Steve nods and jerks his chin toward a guy running in place as he waits for the light to change. "I don't know when this public exercising became common, but it's just... unusual, to say the least."
"It's kind of become a social activity." Violet leans her elbows on the cafe table, mulling it over. "I mean, you see the chicks with the earbuds, but people go as couples, too. Or go and jog to meet people."
Steve shakes his head disbelievingly, smiling.
"It's true!" Violet grins. "You'll see. One day you might even cave and try it."
Steve gets a little disillusioned by a Malcolm X biography drawing connections between his struggles and modern issues, so Violet uses Steve's tablet to pull up Google Maps. He figures it out within a few moments, zooming in and clicking around, and once she points out the draggable person icon his eyes get wide.
"The entire world?" He asks faintly.
"Major cities," she corrects. "They hired some people to drive around in special cars with cameras attached. Tokyo will be on there in detail, but like... Nowheresville Michigan, they probably just drove through and got pictures of the major highway."
"So this is all like a snapshot of... those days. Or weeks."
"Months, probably, but yeah." She smiles. "It's free. Anyone with computer access can use it."
Steve's mouth quirks, fingers tapping intermittently on different parts of the screen. "I know you're trying to make me fall in love with the twenty-first century, but I watched a documentary last night on credit cards. You've got your work cut out for you." She just nods, understanding, and gives him some more time to immerse himself. When she glances over, he's 'in' Poland. "How do you live with all this information vying for your attention?"
"We've developed pretty short attention spans," She mock-confides. When he smiles, she does too.
Chapter 9: Day 9 & 10
TWs for mentions of some disturbing subjects. See the notes at the end for further, spoilery details.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I got... your new driver's license from the DMV kiosk downstairs. And some boring paperwork you need to show your SSN and stuff have been reactivated. This is your 'officially not dead' stuff, um, you'll probably never need to show it to anyone but it's good to have on hand just in case. I got you a little accordion folder thing to put it all in."
"Officially not dead," Steve muses, waiting for her to unpack the rest of her bag.
"It's taken a while to get everything through without, um, alerting anyone to the changes. We don't want a notification to go off at the New York DMV saying 'okay, Captain America's driver's license is confirmed!' or some file clerk getting your stuff and just, you know, immediately calling the papers because SHIELD is trying to get the documentation to show you're alive."
Steve looks away.
"Yeah, nobody here is planning on keeping you secret forever, but I'm personally advocating for at least a little more time when you can ride the train and go window shopping without getting mobbed."
He smiles. "Personal assistant and security adviser."
"I'll be putting it on my resume," Violet jokes, carrying the groceries to the fridge. "Soon I'll be ditching this place and starting my freelancing career as an... anachronistic rehabilitation specialist."
"Is there a lot of business for that?" Steve asks.
"They're thawing cavemen out all the time now. Eventually one's going to be fully revived and someone will need to teach him about bus fare and modern phone etiquette."
Steve grins at first, then blinks, getting up from his chair and going to find his phone. "Oh, jeez. I'm sorry."
"Three text messages ignored," Violet singsongs. "For 18 hours. A modern person might feel very hurt, sir."
Steve digs his phone out of a pile of books, looking at it and frowning. "The last two pictures are just pictures of you looking sad."
"That's me being disappointed in you for failing my test."
He's back to grinning. "You should stop pretending to be somebody else," he says. "The real you is pretty funny."
Casey looks exhausted when he logs on.
"I should have listened to you," Casey opens with, and Violet closes her eyes and keeps herself from clawing at her own face, knowing what's coming.
"I'm sorry, Case."
"She called me and I did not answer it, but I did not delete the voicemail."
Violet takes a deep breath. "And she said?"
"That she was feeling too sick to go to work, so she was home. Allll alone." In the grainy picture, Casey is leaning back in his chair until he's almost out of the picture. "And if I was a good ... daughter, I'd have moved back in. To help take care of her."
"She's a hypocrite and a manipulative piece of trash," Violet says quietly.
"I know." Casey says.
"Even if she is actually feeling sick it's not your fault."
"And you're not responsible for taking care of her."
"She doesn't get to kick you out and then invite you back when her boyfriend ditches her and stops paying her bills."
Casey makes pained, groaning sound, sitting back up.
"You're gonna hate me."
"You didn't call her."
"No. No." He takes a deep breath. "I'm kind of jealous of you."
"It's terrible, and I feel really shitty about feeling that way, just..." He starts gesturing. "She doesn't try to call you, she doesn't play these mind games with you, and so you don't get... this." He scowls. "I know you have your own shit. It's not like she was ever good to you either. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize." Violet leans forward on her elbows. "None of this is your fault. Remember that. You deserved a real parent."
Casey nods slowly, then looks up, eyes a little wet. "You too," he says, fiercely. "You deserved a mom. And a dad, too. And lots of brothers and sisters, and..."
"I've got a great brother."
"You deserve a brother that doesn't call you up and dump all his problems on you and... ugh." Casey rubs at his face. "Sorry. Tell me something good?"
Violet takes a breath and considers it. "I've got one," she says finally. "Give me a minute."
"Translating to unclassified," Casey intones in a mock-computer voice, smiling weakly.
"Okay." She looks at the camera and smiles. "Today I was escorting the foreign guy."
Casey tilts his head a little. "Is foreign guy cute?"
Violet waves her hands emphatically. "Not relevant. Not relevant."
"Very old," she adds, as an afterthought.
"Okay." Casey nods. "Escorting the foreign guy."
"Yes." She nods. "We were getting food. And you know how New York is, guys, um, they catcall pretty often. Well, apparently that's common where this guy comes from, but it's not okay, or at least he doesn't think so, and he got in the other guy's face about it...." Violet smiles as Casey peals into laughter. "My old guy was telling him off for being disrespectful and stuff,"
"He likes you!"
"No. Yes, but no. He's used to me now. We're bros." She laughs. "And he's old but he's pretty big and intimidating, like, still fit, so this asshole on the corner, like, mutters something under his breath and crosses the street to get away from him... it was amazing. And then the foreign guy apologized for yelling for me because this is, like, a world where I'm capable of standing up for myself and he should have respected that."
"Oh my god, Violet."
"Yeah! So, work is pretty interesting right now."
"How long is this thing going on?"
"Don't know." She frowns. "Couldn't say even if I knew, actually."
Violet crosses her legs and reaches for the bowl of popcorn, placing it in her lap for a few moments to pick at it. "Can I ask you something?"
Steve frowns, eyes flicking away from the movie. "Yes?"
"When you put.... sorry, tell me if this isn't okay, I've just always wondered. When you put the Howling Commandos together, the Army was still segregated."
It looks like he knows where this is going. "The American Army was, yes."
"Was it hard to get everyone to sign off on Jones and Morita?"
Steve tilts his hand back and forth, gaze finally sliding back to the television. "The SSR sort of wrote its own playbook. When we were in Europe, we got to do as the Europeans did. There were a lot of Americans in the SSR, but... most of 'em didn't care about things like that."
Violet nods. "That's cool. Were there a lot of people who felt that way?"
"Um." Steve's mouth twitches. "Probably more than you think, but most of 'em never did anything about it, so it didn't count for much."
"You mean, like. White people who didn't stand up for black people."
"We generally called them cowards, for short," Steve remarks. "I like this, but I'm confused." He points to the animated cat. "Is there a specific reason it has six legs and it's a bus?"
"It's not a reference to anything, it's just..." She wiggles her fingers. "Children's story stuff, I guess."
Steve nods agreeably.
"I'm trying to get him to open up more. I've got a few little things." She looks at her hands in her lap. "I'm doing it part because I think it'll help him and part because I think it'll make Fury happy. I feel kind of guilty about it."
"Well, you haven't booked an appointment with me, so I'm not obligated to remind you that you're in a difficult position and doing your best." Dr. Mitchell doesn't look up from his tablet. "I also don't need to suggest that you follow your instincts on how hard to push him, considering your gut has been on a winning streak lately."
"I'm glad you're not giving me advice," Violet says wryly.
"Me too," Dr. Mitchell says. "It would be very tiresome to listen to my employee's problems."
"I can only imagine."
They're listening to an old album, with Steve sketching the skyline outside, when she finally gets the nerve.
"Dr. Mitchell says people get into the habit of putting on a fake 'face' when they have to do it too often." She doesn't look over at him, but he looks slightly uncomfortable, then seems to realize, she guesses, that she's talking about herself. "So it's not personal, when I get kinda fake. I dunno. I'm just trying to be professional."
Steve looks at her sidelong. "Does Dr. Mitchell know why you do it? Do you talk to him?"
"He's my boss," she says as explanation, and Steve nods. "He knows some things. He knows I'm still paying off some bills from when my brother had to come down and stay with me for a while when I was in college. He... had to go to the hospital, and the ER was really expensive."
"And you're paying that?"
"Casey was fifteen, he didn't have any money," Violet replies, and then, flushing, realizes he must mean her parents. "No, it. It had to be me." Say it. Just get it over with. "My foster mother never would've paid it, I don't think, and it wasn't worth telling her. She'd have never let him live it down."
Steve's expression is careful. "He got himself hurt."
"He hurt himself." Violet stares at the window, not really looking at it. "She... found out some stuff she didn't like about him and threw him out. He was too young for that. He was freaking out." Steve doesn't say anything. "I don't know. Neither of us care that we kept that from her, at least I don't, but I lied to him about how much it cost. I said it was just a couple thousand, that I'd pay it off in a couple months."
"And it was more than that?"
"I'm still paying it off." She swipes her thumb under her eye absently, finding it (thankfully) dry. "I'm not upset. It was my fault, I was completely insensitive. I'd never seen him so messed up before so when he was just sitting around in my dorm being so quiet I didn't do anything. I thought that was just how he got over things. And... then I started asking him to look around for some work. So he could pay for some of his own food, things like that, and so I could get some time to myself in my own dorm, and I just... I wasn't thinking. I didn't realize how that could sound to him after he just got kicked out of somewhere else."
"He was fifteen. I fucked up."
"And you were how old?"
She swallows. "Eighteen."
Steve puts his pencil down, looking at her seriously. She studiously does not meet his eyes. "I've known people who blamed themselves every time someone they cared about got hurt. They always meant well, but it exhausted them. You can't save everyone from everything."
"He's my little brother. It's my job."
"And it sounds like your foster mom was giving you her job too, right?"
Violet looks away.
He nods, looking back down at the paper in front of him. "You're trying your best. And you're not insensitive." He picks up his pencil again, working on his sketch a moment before handing it over. She takes it, confused, before realizing that in very faint writing he's written something in the space to be shaded.
You help me get away from thoughts like that all the time.
(TWs: Transphobia! Thoughts and actions involving self-harm! Be aware.)
Chapter 10: Day 11
"I think now that I don't work with him every day, my boss has kinda thinks of me as a colleague."
"What's that mean?"
"You know what a colleague is, dummy."
Casey rolls his eyes. "I mean, what's that mean for how he treats you?"
"He took me out for lunch the other day. It was nice. Professional, not... weird." She grins. "He gets some info on the work I'm doing with the foreign guy and he says I'm doing a good job and he's gonna try to put in another request for a raise."
Casey's grin flashes. "So you can finally buy something for your sad-ass apartment?"
Violet looks over her shoulder, then scowls. "My apartment's fine."
"It's got nothing in it."
"The camera's facing my face and the window. How would you know?"
"Because you always make sure that the camera's facing a damn window." He mock-pokes her through the screen. "I know space is more expensive down there, but that doesn't mean you can't treat yourself to something every now and again."
"Maybe I drink Starbucks every day."
"There is no way you blow your money on expensive coffee every day. I know you."
"New York has changed me, dear brother. I now own a tiny expensive dog. And, and a, um. And Ugg boots."
"You have an empty apartment and a foreign old man you babysit from Mondays to Fridays. Get. Yourself. Something. Nice." He waggles his eyebrows. "Or at least update your Amazon wishlist so I can get you something. I have a paycheck now! I can't afford to ship you things from here, but I could totally get you something that way."
"What I want is for you to spend your paycheck responsibly and fill up that pantry closet thing you have now."
Casey levels a glare at her, and all of a sudden the camera shakes as he picks up his laptop, walking to the kitchen and showing off a small set of shelves with blurry sacks of rice, cans of soup, and other things Violet can't quite identify. "You have rubbed off on me. I promise. We could get eight feet of snow tomorrow and I'd be fat and happy with like twenty days worth of boring food."
Something in Violet's chest loosens. "That's really great," she says honestly.
"I'm okay," Casey says slowly, angling the camera back to him. "Work is hard but it's paying for rent. And food, and gas, and even a few beers. I. Am. Okay."
"I'm really glad."
"Now quit worrying and buy yourself a goddamn plant."
Violet frowns at her tablet. "Okay, so you remember the shared schedule thing on here..."
Steve looks up. "Yes? ...sort of?"
"It looks like your instructor didn't schedule another appointment. When did you set it for? I can put it in myself and invite him to it."
He looks away. "I didn't schedule another appointment."
Violet blinks. "You don't wanna go again?"
Steve gets up from his chair by the window, pacing a little. "Maybe another time."
She takes a moment to mentally translate this. "Well, right now there's no other trainers in the area with a high enough clearance to meet with you, so I'll set up an alert to tell me when one of them is in town. Sound good?"
"If it's not too much trouble. Thank you."
"No problem." She pulls up the list she made earlier. "Yeah, one's in Moscow, one's in... Kansas City, for some reason... oh, this guy's in Unspecified. I hear Unspecified is nice this time of year."
Steve snorts. "Great night life."
Violet nods. "I always heard I needed to try the local beers, but I'm not much of a drinker." She finishes setting up the alert. "Was there stuff like that in the SSR?"
"Like what?" His tone is pretty neutral. Good.
"Like, 'Where's Smith?' 'Oh, Smith is... out of town.' 'When'll he be back?' "Oh... eventually.'"
Grinning, Steve shrugs his shoulders. "I think I was usually the guy that was 'out of town'."
"Makes sense." Violet sets her tablet down. Wanting to quit while she's ahead, she changes gears to something that'll hopefully be a little easier: "So what didn't you like about the guy?"
Steve blinks. "The trainer? Um. I don't know, I just." He rubs the back of his neck, making an obvious retreat by disappearing to the kitchenette for something in the fridge. "He was nice enough. Don't get him fired or anything, please."
Violet snorts. "You have a really inflated idea of my power around here." She hears the clink of a plate - he's putting some food together. On a hunch, she grabs her tablet back from the table and starts pulling up Montwill's profile. His background looks solid, from what she's permitted to see. She's never met him, but she's also never heard anything bad about the guy.
She double-takes at his security photo, eyes widening. He... he looks a lot like the photos she's seen of Gabe Jones, actually.
"I'm making a sandwich, do you want anything?"
Violet jumps in her chair. "No," she says, voice cracking a little. "But I'll take a soda. If that's okay."
Violet looks over at the pile of folders on the corner of the desk. Still in a perfect untouched stack. "Not really."
"Motown. I think you'd like Motown."
"I'll put it on the list."
They're almost at their stop when Violet looks up suddenly from her phone and curses under her breath.
Steve turns, immediately alert. "Everything alright?"
She scowls. "I... was wrong. Your music is catchy."
He frowns at first, then realizes what's happened and smiles delightedly. "What song you got stuck in your head?"
Violet rolls her eyes, letting her head fall back. "Taaaaangerine," she croons, intentionally badly.
Steve laughs, shaking his head and looking around. "Hey, I think I know where we're headed."
"We could be going anywhere."
"Well, we're at least passing by Grand Central."
"Why do I try to do surprises for you? They never work. You've been away from this city for forever and you still have this internal GPS that drives me nuts."
"Sorry." Steve ducks his head and grins.
"Well, there's a cafe that has outdoor seating and you can sit and draw it all you want, Mr. I'm Tired of the Architecture Outside My Window." She sighs. "Although that sounds way less exciting now that it's not a surprise anymore."
"No, no, that sounds really-" Steve stops. "I don't, um, I didn't bring my sketch book."
Violet holds up her satchel. "I nabbed it."
"No respect for personal property."
She narrows her eyes, leaning in closely. "In France, you stole two trucks."
He looks caught out. "Huh?"
"From a farm. When you were chasing after some..." She hesitates. "...guys... and your jeep broke down."
Steve looks a little affronted. "That's in one of those documentaries?"
"No, it's in your in-depth file. I started combing it for gems like that for whenever you start acting like you never bent some rules or morals back in your hey-day."
"You're becoming sort of incorrigible."
"I learned it from watching you." She jabs him in the side. "C'mon, this is our stop."
An hour later, Violet slumps against the booth in the cafe and crosses her arms.
"I really appreciate the thought," Steve says earnestly.
Violet looks out at the sudden midday shower as if it has personally offended her. "There was a ten percent chance of rain today. Ten. And even that wasn't supposed to start 'til two."
Steve opens his sketchbook and turns it around. "I got a decent amount done before it started; it wasn't a total loss."
"We can come back here again sometime. The coffee's nice." He shrugs. "I mean, if you want to."
"Yeah, whenever you want." She pulls up her phone. "Also. There's, um, I'm trying to get... it's hard, but a lot of museums here do private showcase things and SHIELD's event planner guy is being really lame about replying to my emails, but I think we can swing something where I can sneak you into Guggenheim for a late-night viewing. That'd be cool, right? We have some weird connections like that for, like, visiting dignitaries who need a ton of security and stuff."
Steve straightens up. "Are you serious?"
Violet nods. "Yeah! There's also the MOMA and, you know, bigger places, but I think the security detail to clear the place and everything would be way harder..."
His face is worth all the paperwork so far.
The City Reliquary Museum has some stuff from the 1939 World's Fair. She doesn't want to mention that one until or unless she can get it cleared.
Chapter 11: Day 13
"They're supposed to be very low-maintenance," Violet says, eyeing the succulent and turning it around in its pot.
"Don't you want something less... spiky? They've got regular looking flowers in the stall over there." Steve is looking across the farmer's market, taking his cap off a moment to push his hair from his eyes. Violet shrugs.
"Yeah, but flowers don't always bloom, and they're needy."
"These never bloom. If you're gonna buy it and put it in your apartment, don't you want it to be pretty?"
"This is pretty." Violet's becoming more certain of her purchase as she defends it. "Different kind of pretty."
"Is your brother going to be satisfied if you buy that windowsill guard instead of something with petals?"
"He knows me well enough to see this is a victory." She pulls out her wallet.
Violet frowns and shakes her head.
Dr. Mitchell sighs. "Try."
She shrugs. "Functioning... PTSD survivor. I don't know. He's doing better but at the same time he's, I mean, he's doing better mostly at covering up whatever he's not talking about."
"Why do you think so?"
"I talked with Parnell and Rumlow and Kim, all of whom have worked with the trainer he ditched. They all say he's a perfectly good guy. I'm 90% sure Steve stopped seeing him because he looks like one of his dead friends."
Dr. Mitchell rubs his chin and leans back.
"I know, I know, anyone who had a friend who died wouldn't want to be reminded of him. But I'm not sure Steve knows why he... or at least, he's not admitting to himself that that's why he didn't like him. Or wasn't comfortable around him. He's still not touching those folders."
"Because?" Mitchell prompts.
"Because he knows the folders will tell him that they're dead. Right now he can kind of... live in the present? But also refer to the past like it wasn't half a century ago, like he might see them all again sometime, maybe."
"See, your deductions are perfectly adequate. You don't need my advice."
"I do need your advice. I don't know what to do from here. Do I just keep showing him how to do stuff and ignore the fact that there's a giant... problem? Do I poke the problem and try to get him to vent all over me even though I might not be able to fix it?"
"Nobody ever 'fixes it' for someone, Violet."
"But I can't... adequately... help him. Deal with it."
"I sure as hell don't want to risk it. 'Steve, put the iPod down and tell me you accept that you saw your best friend die! And that your other buddies have died too! Oh, by the way, your lady pal? She's not dead, but man, she is in bad shape and that might make you feel even worse, I don't know, but if you want I'll talk with Fury about setting up the saddest field trip in existence so you can fly down and see her...'"
Mitchell looks at her.
"Do I try again to get him to talk to you? Or someone? The second time I started to suggest it he freaked out and got up and started talking about how he was glad I told him about Pratchett because he read like eighty pages the night before, and that sounds like pretty standard redirection except he left grip marks on the chair from where his hand had been. They were deep. I had the damn thing replaced while we were out getting tacos."
Mitchell continues not to say anything.
"Come on, throw me a lifeline here. All I want to do is the right thing."
"That's a really, really good start."
Violet allows herself one irritated glare in his direction.
"No," Fury says again.
Violet swallows her nervousness and sits up straighter in her chair. "Maybe," she says gently, "I mean, I don't have the details, but I know we've bought buildings and rent them out to local Agents and persons of-"
"He stays here," Fury repeats.
Violet looks down at her lap. "Why?" She asks finally.
"You are on a need-to-know status in your own project, Ms. Wells. You know that."
"If you want him nearby, you can have him nearby." She gestures out, west. "I know at least two apartment buildings that belong to us that are within five minutes walking distance. Barton stays at one when he's in town and the other's used for-"
"While I am impressed by what you've been able to pick up from people's psych files as you've been organizing them, I am not interested in your theories for advancing Captain Rogers's desires for the wind in his hair. He is safest here."
She changes tack. "He's not advancing here. Every time I've gotten him something new he can do, he's happier. And he's less suspicious about why we're keeping him here. Hell, I even explained why there's no internet chatter on his breakout to Times Square-"
"-and I need you to take a moment and appreciate that we suppressed public information on a public medium and I actually managed to get him to accept that it was for his own safety and that we were acting in his best interests, to let him come out in his own time. That's huge, sir."
"Do you have trust falls scheduled for next week?"
She bites her cheek.
"While I have interest in his well-being, it is not my top interest at this point. He is an asset we need at hand for upcoming issues and I do not want to have to go to retrieve him only to find he's out tasting the local delicacies or taking in a show when we need him most."
"So track his phone!" Violet throws her hands up. "I put in a request for a SHIELD mobile device and the request got routed to Stevens. Stevens does the phones for the offsite Agents. It's gonna get chipped anyway, isn't it?"
"You're drawing a lot of conclusions."
"I'm not an Agent, but I work here. I know how things go."
"You need to keep that habit of jumping to conclusions in check," Fury says slowly. "It might take you places you aren't welcome."
Violet forces herself to look him in the eye. "If we keep him here too long, we'll lose what we've gained. I know you want to turn him into an Agent or... or something like it. For something that I don't know about. If it's so compartmentalized that you can't tell me, that means it's even more critical. Invest in what you've gained. Give him enough space to come sign up."
"You really think he'll come sign up if we let him go?"
"When he's ready, I think he will."
"We don't have the luxury of time waiting around until he feels he is emotionally and spiritually at peace enough to join up."
"And you don't have the luxury of keeping him on in that little apartment until the timer dings and you need him." Violet realizes that wherever this new-found courage is coming from, it might be misplaced, but it's too late. "He doesn't need anything fancy. Give him a one-bedroom. With a view. You know he's already asked about his backpay. That's his money, his income to do with what he will. Wait if you want, wait until he asks outright and we say no, he'll give up on us and stomp out and buy his own place and I can promise you it'll be in Brooklyn. That won't be walking distance if you want to drop by and try to recruit him on the fly."
Fury is looking at her. That one eye is boring holes into her very being and she can feel herself dying from within. Slowly, she shrinks back into the chair, unable to take back her outburst but equally unwilling to do it.
"He's rubbing off on you," Fury says finally. "Dismissed."
"Are you okay?"
Violet chews her lip, and takes long enough to answer that Steve mutes the TV. "Do you ever leave a meeting with someone and feel like it's a 50/50 that you've pissed them off for the last time?"
Steve makes a 'huh' sound and leans back in his chair. "More often than you might think, actually."
Violet knows the building is going to collapse before it does, but there's nothing to be done. Everyone has started screaming over the sound of the crumbling supports beneath them. Some are trying to make it to the rooftop exit, trying to outrun the inevitable. Violet just looks up at the sky, hands still in the warm earth of the planter, and breathes in deeply.
It's moments, hours, god knows later when she feels something pushing the rubble off of her. It's dark. Muffled. Just the sound of metal on metal on concrete. Scraping. She didn't realize how difficult it was to breathe until something is lifted off her ribs. She doesn't have time to wonder if it took a chunk of her with it before she's being pulled out by an iron grip. She sees sunlight again.
The world is still moving. Most of the screaming has stopped. Her view is upside-down, her head limp, but she can feel herself being carried over to the grass.
That's her. That's her name. The grass feels prickly and cold underneath her, and someone's hands are arranging her body. Tipping her head up. Shading her face with theirs.
"I know you," Violet says wonderingly.
Steve looks strange. He's aged so much. The hoodie is unlike him, but she smiles because he looks silly, because he looks so worried, because she would know him no matter what silly thing he wore. He smiles back but he still looks scared.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
"I should be asking you that," he says hoarsely. His voice. It's absolutely still him. "Listen, Violet. Are you with me?"
It's that tense voice. It's a Working voice. She hasn't heard another person use it in so long. "I'm here," she says back. She's not very audible, but the tone is right.
"You don't remember who pulled you out. You didn't see me."
"Even if you see me again, I-" Something happens far away and Steve looks toward it. His cheek is smeared with ash and grime. "You didn't see me."
"Okay," she agrees, a little dreamily. "You're always working these days."
Steve looks down at her, surprised, smiling weakly.
Violet coughs. "Is Unspecified nice, this time of year?"
He ducks his head. "It's. Beautiful, actually."
Not planning on any other Endgame content, so please stop asking.
Sincere thanks to everyone who's cheered this story on and proven that female OCs can get a positive reaction from fic readers. You've really warmed my heart since I made Violet 4 years ago and I hope you like this brief glimpse into the pair's final interaction.