“Alright people! That is a wrap!” Director Phil Coulson announced as he clapped his hands at the people on stage. It was late Wednesday night and everyone at the SHIELD Dinner Theater was there to either finalize the dinner menu for the weekend, prep the kitchen, or to take part in the final dress rehearsal for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The entire cast sighed with relief, happy to go home and relax before the show’s opening night on Friday. It had been a long couple of months filled with grueling dance rehearsals, led by choreographer and stunt man Clint Barton, costume fittings with Madame Natasha, and voice lessons with Angie Martinelli, a former Broadway star and co-founder of SHIELD Dinner Theater. While cast and crew realized that all the work they put into this would be worth it in the end, but it was hard to be excited after putting in a 13-hour day. The only person that was not looking forward to going home was Skye, the shows leading lady and a new addition to the theater. She was discovered by none other than Director Coulson (or DC as she called him) singing cover songs at a coffee shop that he frequented. As the newest cast member among a tight knit group, she was eager to please and constantly trying to prove that she deserved the part of Rosemary. Jemma Simmons, her best friend, fellow actress, and new flat mate, was the only one that could drag her away from the stage for some rest.
“Skye! Stop dancing around and let’s go! My feet ache and Leo and I want to finish that episode of Dr. Who tonight,” Jemma grumbled from the wings of the stage. She had managed to make it to the dressing rooms rather quickly after rehearsal ended and change within a few minutes, eager to spend the rest of the night unwinding from a stressful day. Standing beside her was her equally grumpy boyfriend of six months, Leo Fitz. He was a technical genius and in charge of all lighting and special effects, so he too had been up early for the dress rehearsal. The only difference was that he must come in again tomorrow to fix a few problems with the equipment, unlike Jemma and Skye, both who have the day off.
“Can’t we leave her behind? I want to be able to enjoy the rest of the evening with you without hearing her constantly sing Rosemary, under her breath.”
“It is her first show, Fitz,” Jemma gave Leo a light smack to the shoulder. “She is just nervous and wants to do well. I remember that you went around muttering lighting cues the first show you oversaw.” Leo’s ears reddened in embarrassment at the reminder.
Skye, still wearing her rose colored 1950s dress and nude T-strap pumps, turned around at the sound of her friend’s voice and gave a sheepish smile. Jemma and Leo (everyone called them Fitzsimmons) were her first real friends at the dinner theater and when they discovered that she lived in a van, did not hesitate to offer the spare room in their flat. As a kid in foster care with a lot of failed placements, Skye never truly had a place to call home, so when the couple made the offer, she felt as if she had to do everything in her power to show them how grateful she was. Normally she’d have rolled her eyes at their running commentary and did as they asked, but this time Skye couldn’t bring herself to exit the stage. As Jemma pointed out, it was her first production ever and she felt an obligation to make sure everything was perfect. Sure, everyone was super welcoming (although there were a few exceptions) and Skye managed to win them all over with her sarcastic charm, but there was an added pressure that came with performing a lead role.
“Sorry guys, but I think I will stay a little while longer. I keep messing up this one combination in the final number. Go home without me. Enjoy a night in with just you two.”
“You heard her Jemma, a night just us two. Let us head home. Goodnight Skye!” Leo said in a rush, relishing the idea of having the apartment to themselves to indulge in certain activities. While he loved Skye like a sister, sometimes it was rough sharing a space with the younger girl when he was trying to have a romantic night with Jemma.
Not one to be deterred, Jemma bit her lip and remained planted in her spot. “Are you sure, Skye? You shouldn’t overwork yourself and risk injury.”
“I will be fine Jemma. But thanks for your concern. Go before Fitz explodes,” she laughed at the sight of the over eager Scottish man trying to drag his girlfriend away.
With a hurried goodnight, the young couple made a hasty exit, leaving Skye to herself on stage. The bright stage lights have been turned off but there was enough recess lighting on throughout the establishment to allow the 24-year-old to see. Most of the restaurant was quiet; save for the occasional clang of pots and pans coming from the kitchen where head chef, Sam Wilson, was experimenting with new dishes, or the soft whispers of Nick Fury, current owner of SHIELD, and Maria Hill, restaurant manager, as they discussed stock in their joint office located on the second floor. This was Skye’s favorite time of day. The leftover energy from rehearsal lingered, but now there was a sense of anticipation for the upcoming performance mixed in; which left the young actress tied up in knots.
For twenty minutes, Skye practiced the dance moves until she felt her calf muscles burn from the constant movement. She stopped working to sit down at the edge of the stage, swinging her legs as she sipped her large bottle of water. Looking out at all the empty tables, Skye then closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like when it was filled to the brim with customers. The picture she painted in her mind was very vivid. On the top deck, where a few special guests could sit if they paid a hefty price, she could see Tony Stark and his wife, Pepper Potts-Stark (both loyal patrons of SHIELD), mingling with Fury as they are served by their friend and one of the staffs favorite employees, Thor Odinson. Down below, Skye’s other friends, Antoine ‘Trip’ Triplett and Lincoln Campbell, would chat with guests and flit between the kitchen and restaurant floor; carrying orders of mouthwatering food and delicious drinks as they go. Then-
“Hey there, Skye. Are you here all alone?” a masculine voice spoke, breaking Skye’s daydream. Opening her eyes, Skye recognized the speaker to be Grant Ward, another waiter and an overall tool bag. Grant used to be a part of Skye and her small group of friends, but when she turned him down for a date, he became obsessive and creepy; claiming that they were soul mates and using that as an excuse to stalk her after work. He had even beat up Lincoln when he found out that the two were set to go on a date. Lincoln ended up spending 3 days in the hospital to recover from a serious concussion, effectively snuffing out any romantic notions between the two.
“What do you want? Don’t you have someone else you can bother?”
“There is nobody but you, Skye. I love you.” Grant replied as he made his way closer, only stopping once he was right in front of her, arms resting next her on the stage, successfully caging her in place.
“Well I sure as hell don’t feel the same about you. You can take your love and shove it up-“
“Is he bothering you, doll?” a deep, rough voice asked. Both Skye and Grant turned their heads to see Bucky Barnes, best friend of Steve Rogers (the lead of the musical AND Skye’s love interest) and one of the techies working backstage, moving towards them.
His appearance startled Skye. To the young female, Bucky was the embodiment of everything she wanted in a man but knew she would never have. After all, what would a former army veteran, animal rescuer, and all around good guy want with a damaged orphan such as herself? He made it very clear during her first week that he wanted nothing to do with her; she had introduced herself to everyone but when Skye reached him, he made no move to acknowledge her.
So why was he speaking to her in such a familiar tone now?
“Back off Barnes,” Grant growled. As scared as she was, Skye was thankful that he had turned to face Bucky, thus removing his arms from around her. It made hopping off stage and tiptoeing around tables to reach Bucky’s side much easier. While she was confused about his actions, Skye knew that staying near him was the safe option.
“I don’t think so buddy. Everyone knows that you were the one to beat up Lincoln, so there is not a chance in hell I would trust you around a dame, especially the leading lady of the show.”
“I would never hurt Skye!”
“You hurt me when you hurt Lincoln. I would never go out with someone that hurts my friends,” Skye spat out.
Grant was surprised for a moment when he realized that she moved from her original spot, but quickly found his anger again at the sound of Lincoln’s name. “He shouldn’t have tried to take what is mine.”
“God!” Skye exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation. “Do you even hear yourself right now? I am not some object to belong to you. I am a human being that can make her own damn choices. And for the final time, I choose to NOT go out with you. I will n e v e r forgive you.”
“What the hell is goin’ on here?” Nicky Fury asked from his office. Maria stood behind him, glaring down at the group- mainly at Ward- with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Ward was harassing Ms. Skye, Sir.” Bucky supplied with a smirk. He loved how Ward tensed at the sound of the boss’s voice, knowing the fact that when Fury got involved, it was never a good sign.
“What did I tell you? The next time you stepped a toe out of line, your ass is gone. Consider it gone, Ward. You are fired.”
“You can’t fire me!”
Fury glowered at the waiter. He had hired him to complete the favor he owed John Garrett- a former friend of his- but never liked the younger man. Of course, at the time he did not know that Garrett had become a corporate spy for Hydra Entertainment, but once Garrett’s betrayal came to light, Fury thought he had the perfect excuse to fire the psychotic waiter. Alas, no evidence could be found that Grant worked with them so Fury had to settle for waiting until now to finish taking out the trash.
“I think I can. My restaurant, my decision. Now go before I call security to escort you out.” Grant visibly paled at that threat. Security was just one man by the name of Wade Wilson- who was legendary for being touched in the head and for having a habit of carrying around kitchen knives and throwing them at people that A.) he didn’t like (which included Grant) or B.) Fury told him to. With that threat hanging over his head, Ward made a quick exit, not even stopping to look back at Skye.
“Well, I think that is enough excitement for tonight. Skye, go home and rest up. I don’t want to see you until Friday afternoon. Barnes, a word please?”
Shaken up by the small encounter with Ward, Skye rushed to do as Fury ordered. Logically, she knew that Grant Ward was a messed-up person, but she had never personally seen that side of him until tonight. As she changed out of her costume and into jeans and blue flannel shirt, she contemplated calling Mack, another friend and co-worker, to pick her up and escort her home. He was a solidly built guy of 6’4 that looked intimidating but was really just a giant teddy bear. Ultimately, Skye decided against it since she remembered that he was at home with his heavily pregnant wife, Elena.
As she walked to the entrance, Skye pulled out her phone and googled taxi services. She was so engrossed in her search that she didn’t notice that Bucky was standing in by the doorway, and ended up bumping straight into him. Since he was more solidly built, Skye was the one to end up sprawled on the floor; her phone sliding a few feet away and the contents of her purse spilling out in front of Bucky. To say that she was mortified was an understatement.
“I am so sorry! I got caught up with my phone and didn’t see you there,” Skye explained as she collected her fallen items (none of which were too embarrassing).
Bucky bent down to help the younger girl with her task. As he did so, he took the chance to admire her in a ruffled state. It wasn’t often that the excitable actress was less than put together- or at least when it was unintentional. She has been known to do comedic exercises that depended on her being in a disastrous state; leaving her to have a reputation for her comedic prowess as well as sarcastic nature. Truth be told, it was one of the first things besides her obvious beauty that drew the army veteran to her.
“No harm, no foul. It’s not like you accidentally dropped magnets on my prosthetic,” he joked, waiving his metal arm in emphasis. A couple weeks ago, there was a prank war among the theater crew that resulted in absolute chaos. Sam Wilson, whom Bucky had a friendly rivalry with, ambushed him while napping backstage by arranging a bunch of small fridge magnets on state-of-the-art prosthetic arm. There were over 30 magnets that ranged from cat butts to alphabet letters that spelled out crude words. When Bucky woke up, he chased Sam around the dining room while threatening to kill him.
Skye remembered the incident fondly and giggled at the memory. “You never know, I could have some cat butt magnets on hand that I have been waiting to stick on you.”
“I like to see you try doll,” Bucky said as he held his hand out. Skye only paused for a minute before taking it, relishing the feel of his fingers curving around hers as he helped her to her feet. Bucky’s sudden change in behavior still confounded her, but she wasn’t going to question it and ruin whatever was going on.
“I think I will pass. Poor Sam was traumatized when you got back at him. Plus, I need to head home. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble with Fury.”
The teasing moment between the two abruptly ends at the reminder of their boss.
“That is actually what I was waiting on you for.”
Surprised, Skye looks up at the older male. “You were waiting for me?”
“Yeah,” Bucky replied sheepishly, suddenly feeling a shy. “I figured with Ward wondering about, most likely trying to catch you alone, it would do you good to have some back up on your way home.”
“Oh,” was all Skye managed to say. The thought of Ward waiting on her was sobering, but not something she was a stranger to. She invested in a taser (recommended by Darcy) and pepper spray to keep on hand always, just in case he tried anything. 911 was even the listed as number one on her speed dial. It is safe to say that Skye was well prepared.
“That is really nice of you but I can handle it myself. I have managed creeps like him my entire life. It’s no biggie.”
Now, Bucky didn’t consider himself a violent guy or one that angered quickly, but something about the brunette actress’s jaunty attitude rubbed him the wrong way. It bothered him when he first met her, but he soon got over it once he realized that she was just a guarded young woman trying to make ends meet. The rational part of his mind said that she has a right to say no, but the devil on his shoulder whispered that it was his duty to keep her safe. It was the latter that won the argument.
“With respect, I don’t think you could handle Ward. He is much more dangerous than you give him credit for.”
“I can’t handle him? Well, let me tell you, Mr. Stone-faced-soldier,” Skye poked his firm chest in emphasis. “I have successfully taken down guys with S.I.N.G before. I don’t need some guy that has ignored me since the beginning of the production to suddenly become my knight in shining armor.”
“You’re being stupid. Do you think he won’t hurt you just because he likes you? Hate to break it to you doll, but Grant Ward only cares about getting what he wants. It doesn’t matter how he gets it.” Bucky had quickly become frustrated with this conversation. Why couldn’t she understand that it was okay to rely on him?
Skye was also feeling the same, but the difference was that she was annoyed how he refused to understand that it is her choice- not his. “Why do you care? We are not friends. In fact, you never spoke to me before today!”
“It’s my job-“
“No, it is not your job,” Skye hissed. “You don’t know me and shouldn’t feel an obligation to watch out for me. Technically, that’s for Wade to handle. You are probably only doing this because Fury told you to.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions, doll. Fury did not-“Skye glared at him, silently challenging him to finish the sentence. “Okay, Fury did ask but I was going to escort you home anyways!”
“And why would you do that? Hmm? God, this bull is not what I need before the show.” Before another word can be spoken, a bright yellow taxi pulled up to the front entrance and the driver honked the horn, signaling that it was time for Skye to go. “Just forget about it Barnes. As I said, I am capable of getting myself home.”
With those last words, Skye rushed to the front door, eager to escape the confrontation, all while internally cursing herself for ruining any chance she had with the army vet. She is so focused on getting out of the building that she almost doesn’t hear Bucky’s frustrated reply.
“I’m doing this because I like you!”