Author Note: This story actually has two authors. I wrote this first part, intending it as a short standalone piece that I'm not sure I would have even posted to FFN, but then the person I wrote it for wrote a what-if continuation. She has given me permission to post her part as well, so many thanks to Jodie, my partner in crime.

Two Glasses on the Table

By Burenda

"So, what'll it be?"

The voice was familiar, the same barmaid from the day before. Kunsel had noticed that she'd started making a point of picking his table when he came in. Smiling, he met her eyes - blue, but not blue enough. More like the ocean instead of the sky.

She never flinched, just smiling right back. Maybe she was used to serving men with SOLDIER eyes.

"I think you know," he answered, a rueful acknowledgement that he'd noticed the routine that he was making, and that she'd become part of it somehow.

She nodded, not bothering to deny her memory. "It'll just take a minute," she said, then stepped away, neatly dodging a drunk's wandering hand as she headed over to deliver the order. True to her word, she was back soon after that with two glasses balanced on her tray. Condensation beaded down the sides, making the amber liquid seem to sparkle in the light.

"Two of the usual," the woman stated lightly, setting them both on the table. "Think your friend will show up today?"

"He better," Kunsel joked, flashing the barmaid a grin he didn't really feel. He reached for his glass and raised it to make his point. "This is his favorite. He's going to get jealous if he misses out on it."

"I'll make sure to scold him when I see him, then." The woman's answering grin was impish. "He's missed a lot of them already, hasn't he?"

"Yeah..." Kunsel's smile faded, his eyes dropping to the glass next to his hand. "Yeah, he has. He's gonna owe me for that, big time."

Sensing his mood, the woman took her cue to slip away. No one worked in a bar for long without learning when a customer wanted to be left alone with his thoughts. Even when he stood up, one glass on the table empty, one still sitting full, she didn't say anything while he paid his tab.

But she was part of his routine, so when he started to walk away...

"Sir, your friend's drink..."

He turned, and he was smiling again, even past the ache in his throat.

"It's okay." He lifted a hand to wave. "I'm still waiting for him."