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That Which Wanders is Unaware

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1700 HOURS





Golden, a flash of something golden. Is it a metal? Or just the color? Wait, it's changing, there's a cliff? Yes, now I can see a cliff, it looks like it's sinking into the clouds, or is it rising from them instead?... there are birds too, flocking through the mists...of a waterfall? Yes, it is a waterfall. And green. I can see the color green. I know it's important, but what it is though? What's gree... "Nora?"

Hearing my name spoken I jerk up so quickly it almost makes my neck pop. I hadn't even realized I zoned out, let alone so much that I missed the sound of someone walking into the break room on me.

Worse still is the place I apparently took my mini vacation in. There is now a lovely circular smear on the vending machine glass where my forehead used to be.

Well, this is certainly embarrassing. It's definitely not the proudest moment in my short history is a S.H.I.E.L.D agent, that's for certain. I also think, given who was 'lucky' enough to find me like this and that he looks a little concerned only makes my shame that much worse.

While trying to rub away the matching red circle from my forehead I turn to a man I've come to call my friend. "Oh! Erik! Hi, I'm sorry, I was just..." I try to think of something that resembles a logical explanation to tell him about why he walked in on me having a very serious moment with a vending machine, but I don't think that's possible.

"...uhm, yeah, I was... just... working on my... court... jester... routine." I finish lamely, pouting a little that my mind failed to come up with something to save my pride, and accepting the simple fact that I got caught looking like a fool.

The overriding expression of concern on his face fades into more of a disbelieving smirk at my lame attempt to lighten the mood. "Well, that certainly an interesting argument, I might have to try that one."

Then Erik's humor slips back a little to show the lingering concern once more as he lives up to his kind predictability.

It doesn't surprise me as much as it did in the beginning, still I find it a little strange when people are genuinely unselfish. I'm not sure exactly where it comes from, but for some reason I just developed this belief that people were naturally inclined to be more callous and self-centered, than kind and caring.

I'm very glad though that I have been thoroughly proven wrong in that regard by most everyone that I've met in my life. Even if sometimes their persistence can be a little annoying, I know it's because they really do care.

"Are you feeling alright? They have you been letting you get enough sleep lately haven't they?" He asks, and I can already see the scolding father routine building about how I shouldn't let them take advantage me even as I assure him of my stability.

"Well, have you been eating enough? You haven't been skipping meals have you?" At this he actually gives me a reprimanding look, like he just assumed I was guilty of such a thing.

"Okay first of all Mister..." I return the scolding look with a finger wave, but we can both tell from my smirk, I'm not serious at all. "...don't lecture me about skipping lunch, when I know for a fact you worked through yours today." He at least has the decency to look a little embarrassed that I apparently caught that.

"And secondly, I don't need you to worry about my weight, I have a dietician for that thank you very much." My pseudo superior look fades to just straight amusement. "She asks me for recipes all the time."

Erik is guilty of that sin is well, only while Shannon is willing to cook for herself when I share a recipe with her, he apparently has no skills in the kitchen and tries to convince me that it is safer for everyone in a mile radius if I just do it for him.

Though most of the men in my life seem to have same problem navigating the perils of the kitchen, he is the only one who has tried complicated scientific equations that are way over my head to convince me. The others just ask, a lot.

"Yes, well that's a 'Privilege of Age' my dear, I can scoff at socially enforced dietary norms." He throws back, using his ever shifting argument of age against me again. He isn't old enough for me to be allowed to worry about him, but apparently is old enough to get away with the very same things he lectures me about by calling them 'Privileges of Age'.

"But in all seriousness my dear, are you okay? You've seemed a little out of sorts lately?"

"Yes. I'm..." Well I would have said fine, if not for the sudden sharp twinge that appeared behind my eyes, taking away all my credibility with a wince. "...thoroughly annoyed with the Powers of the Universe. Thank you, your timing is exceptionally inappropriate as always." It's either that or my body disagreeing with the climate control again.

My moment of glaring disdain at the ceiling tiles is ended by the sound of Erik's chuckle. Looking away from the unseen creature of spite that may or may not be out to ruin my day I find Erik is also shaking his head with a large grin touching his cheeks. "You know dear, is a scientific authority, it's probably not a good idea to talk to invisible entity's around me. I might begin to question your sanity."

That gets a rather unrestrained laugh out for me for a few seconds, before I calm it back down. "Oh I'm sorry. I thought you were the one who brags, rather proudly I might add, that you had a hangover omelet made by the God of Thunder."

"Correction..." He says back with a smirk. "They were scrambled eggs and I have witnesses." To that statement we both share a small laugh, just for the absurd fact that these things are actually real in our lives, but then the conversation quickly shifts back to the everyday mundane.

"So you're done for the day I take it?" I hear his question, directed more at the back of my head then my face, as I turn back to the vending machine. When I notice that it still has my forehead print on it I mentally rename it the 'vending machine of shame', but still don't bother to draw more attention to it by cleaning it off.

Instead I just proceed to take my banana muffin quickly from its jaws. Despite my apparent skill in the kitchen, ever since I was introduced to this cheaply made treat its been one of my guilty pleasures.

I also make a point to avoid adding talking to machines to the list of embarrassing and unusual things I've done in the last few minutes. Choosing instead to finish getting the snack and turn around before I answer that question. "Yep..." Is well is the question I know will be coming after it. "...and don't worry, I didn't forget."

Apparently my culinary skill extends to coffee-making as well, at least according to Erik. He claims I make the best coffee ever but I really think it's just because I make sure the pot never runs out while I'm here. This wouldn't be the first time he checks to make sure I started a fresh one before I leave, and I know it won't be the last. "Your cup's already full."

I've gotten into the habit of doing that too. At the end of the my shift the last of the previous pot goes into a small travel mug, or a larger thermos depending on how much is left, so I can start brewing more. Then if I don't see him in here, I just bring it to him when I say goodbye for the evening and I have to say goodbye in the evening.

I thought I was being considerate at first, when he seemed particularly busy with something I would leave the coffee waiting for him in the fridge, or let one of the security guards bring it to him so I wasn't distracting him but after the third time that happened he actually tracked me down and told me he didn't care if it was against protocol, he wanted to see me at least once each and everyday.

Because of that I thought perhaps he felt some sort of attraction to me, but when I brought that up I couldn't have a that kind of relationship with anyone he turned a couple shades of pink and said while he was honored that I cared enough about his feelings to turn him down properly, he considered me a bit out of his league as well as age range, and he honestly didn't want anymore than to be my friend.

That conversation happened in here, and is what led to us really establishing our coffee little exchange tradition, but usually when we meet in here at the end of the night he likes to prepare it himself. He has this notion in his head that making me do it is somehow taking advantage of me. It wasn't an argument worth fighting over, so I let him win it even if I find it just silly really.

That's what he is doing right now, or trying to at least. After seeing him open one of the cupboard doors only to frown and move on to the next I offer my help. "Left side, behind the filter packets." His hands stop for a second as he processes my words, then opens the correct cupboard and succeeds in his hunt for the sugar. "Thank you dear."

Allowing him the time to prepare his coffee just the way he likes it, I take advantage of the ticking clock as well. I have a lonely pack of muffins in my hand that's just begging to be devoured, and neither of us are in any real hurry.

Once he finishes making his coffee with three sugars and five creams he joins me at the table leaning against its edge right along with me despite ignored my concern for the state of his back. Another one of those darn 'Privilege's of Age" topics.

"So are you planning on heading back to the lab than?" He makes this idle conversation as an excuse to change the subject before it comes up and to let me finish my cheap sugar rush.

"Yes sir." I tell him, doing my best to not talk with my mouth full by shoving what I'm chewing to the side of my cheek while at the same time avoiding letting my mouth look like a lopsided chipmunk impression. "I have one more stop before I'm home free."

And there's the 'but he's dangerous Nora' look... I can always see the exact instance when Erik recognizes who I'm talking about. He is my friend, but that doesn't mean that my other friends are automatically his friends is well. It's something we just don't bring up anymore. We're both adults and we came to an understanding about it. He accepts that nothing he says will ever change the kind of relationship I have with the 'Hawk' as he calls him, and I accept that he will never see Clint beyond his job description.

I figured that out the first day I got here. After what felt like hours of mission statements, emergency protocols and escape routes, and individual assignments later I was finally stepping out of that room with my shiny new I.D and a shrink wrapped square with my S.H.I.E.L.D uniform in my hand, and then there he was just leaning against the wall with a smirk and a casual hey kiddo.

I actually squeaked and almost dropped my stuff, I was that happy to see him. It had been almost a year since the last time he had been more than a voice or an image on my screen. I wasn't embarrassed by sound then, and I'm not embarrassed by the memory of it now. Even his snort of a chuckle when I did that didn't embarrass me, behind his extra casual facade he knew I was probably going to do that.

Not long after I found myself hearing my name being called and I turned around to see Dr. Selvig, a very nice older gentleman I was once in charge of showing around the S.H.I.E.L.D base I was stationed at. I was happy to see him too, but I was a little less happy to see him when he told me that he heard that the 'Hawk' had taken me somewhere, and wanted to know if he hurt me. It shrank a little more behind a blanket of annoyance when he said if I'd been intimidated into saying nothing I could tell him.

So I did, I told him that I would be the last person in the world that Clint would ever hurt, and if he had a problem with him he could take it up with him, then walked off to meet the approaching form of Clint and see the surprise he said he had waiting for me, which turned out to be a pretty big surprise.

Erik's features were set in a whether sour scowl then, like they are now, but unlike then they fade quickly with resignation.

"So do you want me to walk you back?" He asks as I finally finish my muffin, right down to the crumbs off my fingers. "Sure, why not." I answer pushing up of the table with a bit of a skip as I travel over to the garbage can to get rid of the wrapper.

By the time I finish with that he has already picked up my purse for me, and has beaten me to the door. He is very determined about that too, he always has to hold the door for me, and he even goes so far is to bow and say ladies first sometimes, just to make me smile. Like right now.