Author's notes:

I have written fanfic for over 20 years but not in this fandom and never on a site not under my own control. However, after watching the Marvel Universe movies with my husband, a plot bunny invaded my head and insists on being recorded. I have hopes that it will not become the epic saga so many of my stories turn into. It is not complete, and I have no set schedule of when I'll add updates, but I will do my best to update it regularly and finish it in a timely fashion.

This is set before Winter Soldier.

Megan took a deep breath as she tucked her wallet back into her purse and picked up her tray, scanning the cafeteria for a spot to sit down and eat lunch. Steeling herself, she headed towards the end of the farthest table and the lone figure that sat there. "Mind if I join you?" she asked shyly.

Blue eyes looked up at her in surprise and he shook his head once, gesturing to the seat across from him as he continued to chew his food.

"You're braver than I am," Megan said as she gestured at his plate. "I couldn't tell what that was supposed to be. I figure they couldn't mess up a salad even though I'll be starving in an hour and raiding the vending machines shortly thereafter." She eyed it cautiously, "So… what is it?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sure, but it tastes better than it looks."

"It wouldn't be hard." Stretching her hand out to him she smiled and said, "I'm Megan."

"Steve," he answered shaking her hand.

"Nice to meet you, Steve." Megan lowered her eyes and watched him with her peripheral vision while she focused on her food. "Some assembly required," she muttered under her breath as she opened various packets and spread the contents on her salad. "I can't believe S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't have a proper salad bar so we don't have to wrestle with all these packages."

"Nat's theory is that the packets are a test of how patient we are."

Megan smiled, glancing up at him. "Clearly, I have failed that test. I need to make time to go shopping tonight and go back to packing my lunches. Overpriced mystery glop and stress tests are not what I had in mind for lunch."

"If you usually pack, that would explain why I haven't seen you here before."

"I'm new, and temporary at that. It's only my second week here and yes, I've been eating my lunch elsewhere and reading at my desk until my hour is up. I'd rather just go back to work after I eat and leave earlier, but the boss insists we have to take the hour. I understand she doesn't make the rules, but that doesn't mean I have to like them." Megan mentally slapped herself for rambling and put her attention back on her plate.

"Eating together can build camaraderie," Steve offered.

"Says the man I found eating by himself," Megan countered, looking pointedly at all the empty seats that were around them.

Steve ducked his head, blushing slightly as he took another bite of food.

"You're right, you know." Megan admitted. "But for a shy introvert, it's also really hard to get to the point where you're comfortable enough to build camaraderie."

Steve's eyebrows shot up. "You're shy?"

Megan nodded. "On my way down here, I was sure I was going to throw up. But I set a goal of eating lunch with other people at least once a week. And I'll probably use every strategy in my arsenal to survive it. Being the new kid in town is really hard for me. I don't mind being alone. But I'm alone too much these days and the only way I can change that is to force myself out of my comfort zone. Since I moved to D.C., I haven't made any new friends and I know that's not good. So with this new job, I figured I'd start with lunch once a week and go from there. It can't get any harder with practice and I'm praying it gets easier."

"You've cleaned every corner of your apartment and read to fill the hours between getting home and going to bed," Steve said softly, his eyes confessing and asking at the same time.

"You turn on the TV just to hear someone talk and shut it off in disgust it's so stupid. Music can help, but sometimes it feeds the bad mood. Weekends off are the worst..."

"…because you have two whole days to fill," he finished for her.

"It's pathetic." She ate another bite then smiled at him. "I'm shy; what's your excuse?"

Steve shook his head with a soft smile of his own, "Lunch isn't long enough to list them all."

"Challenge accepted," Megan shot back. "Celebrity status, very inconvenient. You can't know if they want your autograph or are waiting to ask for a picture. That's just here. Out in public has to be worse since they didn't get the "Avoid the Hero Worship" talk at orientation. Add in a huge helping of Everything's Changed, and you end up deciding staying home is easier. Irregular work hours? Makes it hard to join any clubs or take any classes. How am I doing?"

"They talk about me at orientation?"

Megan nodded, nothing his look of horror. "You get a whole slide in the unending PowerPoint presentation. But you take a good picture, so at least we had that to look at. Most of the other slides were full of words. And then they pretty much read the slides to us after giving us packets with them all preprinted. I hate that. And I'll shut up before I give you my 10-minute rant about how PowerPoint is abused by most presenters. But yes, they talk about you at orientation." Megan gestured to the empty chairs. "Do you want me to suggest they add a second slide about not treating you like a pariah?"

Steve's eyes widened in alarm, "No! Even one slide about me is too many. Still, it does explain some things I've noticed." He studied her intently before taking another bite. "Why didn't it keep you away?"

Megan pointed at herself, "Shy introvert. I told you I'm using every trick in my arsenal." His gaze was still puzzled, so she continued, "Don't take this the wrong way, but one way I cope is trying to find someone who looks more miserable than I feel and talking to them."

Steven nodded thoughtfully, "I'll have to try that sometime."

"You'd be surprised how well it works. It doesn't fix the nausea ahead of time, but at least I'm keeping food down."

"You said you're only here temporarily. What do you do?"

"I'm a molecular biologist. I can't talk about the projects I'm working on, but basically, I tinker in the lab all day. My background is mainly with viruses, but I've also had some experience working with bacteria. I came in through a temp agency for an expansion in the biology division. With any luck, in 3 months they'll decide they want to hire me full time and I decide I like working here. Until then, it pays the bills and gives me more experience to put on my resume. Beats doing the traditional postdoc." She shrugged and took another bite.

"What's a postdoc?"

"Generally, you work in an academic lab under the supervision of another professor to prove you can do independent work. You have a lot of pressure to publish results and even get your own grants in a two to three year time frame. But the pay is lousy and the hours are insane. Universities are producing too many Ph.D. graduates, so often employers require at least one and sometimes two postdocs before they'll hire you for a 'real' job. I refuse to play their game. I'm ready to have a bit of a life."

"If there are too many graduates, why do the schools keep admitting students to their programs? That doesn't make sense." Steve shook his head. He rubbed his forehead, "Everything today is so complicated."

"Not really. It all comes down to money. Universities rely on the money the professors bring in from grants. To get the grants, the professors have to get a lot of publications. That means you need a small army of researchers doing all the work. The least expensive researchers are graduate students." Megan shrugged. "Money makes the world go round. Are you saying it didn't used to be like that?"

"Money and power always go together. It's just when I was growing up… maybe I just understood it better."

"So, where did you grow up? City kid or country boy?"

"You haven't read my biography? I thought it was required reading of all S.H.I.E.L.D employees," Steve gave her a wry smile.

"Nope," Megan laughed and shook her head. "I'm sorry. I have a stack of books by my bed but I don't have a single book about you in it. I hope that doesn't permanently damage your fragile ego."

Steve pretended to think carefully for a moment before replying, "I'll manage somehow."

"Whew. For a minute there, I was afraid I was going to lose my job!"

"It won't affect you, but I am going to find out why my life story isn't required reading for all new hires. Someone hasn't been doing their job."

"Don't give them any ideas! They'll probably take the thickest book and turn it into another PowerPoint presentation. I can see it now." She shuddered. "They'll have to add a whole wing to the medical division to handle all the new concussion cases."


"Everyone will either fall out of their chairs in a stupor or bang their heads on their desk to end the suffering. I was about five minutes from the latter as it is. Please, don't pursue this. I'm begging you!"

Megan's step was light as she walked back to the lab section of S.H.I.E.L.D. The longer they had chatted over lunch, the more Steve had opened up and kidded around with her. They'd kept the conversation light, talking about favorite books, orientation by HR, and the hazards of cafeteria food. When it had been time to put their trays away, Steve had taken hers and asked her if she'd join him for lunch tomorrow. He'd then suggested they each bring a favorite book for the other to read. She'd immediately agreed and was actually looking forward to going home this evening so she could paw through her bookshelves and pick something to lend him.

"Dr. Buchwald?"

A deep voice pulled her to the present and she turned to find a man in military uniform striding towards her. "Yes?"

"Just what do you think you were doing back there in the cafeteria?" He scowled at her as he stopped in front of her, closer than most would find polite.

"Eating lunch." Megan raised her eyebrow in her best Spock imitation. "Is there a problem? I'll be back to my station well before my lunch hour is up and I've been told that the lunch break is mandatory." Something about him set her on edge, but she refused to step backwards. If he thought crowding her a bit was going to intimidate her, he'd never gone to graduate school.

"You need to be very careful about the company you keep and the message it sends."

"The company I keep? Mister… Ross," Megan read his last name off of his uniform and avoided any mention of rank. She knew nothing about reading uniform insignia and didn't want to insult him by using the wrong title. "I ate lunch in the at S.H.I.E.L.D cafeteria with another employee. The message it sends is that I am trying to build professional relationships outside of my department. In the civilian world, we call that networking and being cordial."

His stern look became a sneer. "And you just happened to start with Captain America?"

"Correct." She kept her gaze as neutral as possible, and mentally counted seconds. When she reached sixteen, he finally broke the uncomfortable silence.

"I'm watching you, Dr. Buchwald. Don't forget it."

"Noted," Megan replied blandly. "Will you be joining me in the ladies room?" she added, pointing to the door they were standing beside as she moved to open it. She paused to allow him to answer but he just glared at her and took a step back. "Well then, good day." Megan slipped inside and darted into the first available stall. Maybe she'd read too many spy novels, but after only seven work days at S.H.I.E.L.D., she was already uncomfortable in her new job for reasons she couldn't always put her finger on. Mr. Ross's veiled threat was just the latest incident. The only question was what, if anything, she was going to do about it.