She approaches Steve in a coffee shop while Steve waits for Clint to finish placing the order. She's old, but still holds herself straight. Her hair is white and held back in a bun. There's something regal and defiant in her eyes as if to let the entire world know that yes, I am here.
"Excuse me," she talks with an accent. Not heavy, lost over many years in America but Steve can hear it because he's heard it before. For a short time he was surrounded by it.
"Yes?" He sets aside his paper as a younger woman comes up and stammers out an apology for her grandmother but eventually she falls quiet, seeing her words have no impact.
"You were there, weren't you?" It's framed as a question but Steve knows it's a statement. She remembers him with a calm certainty.
"Where, ma'am?" He doesn't recognize her but he knows that doesn't mean much.
"I recognize you," she says and her hands shake slightly as she touches his cheek as if needing to make sure he was real. He can see Clint taking a few steps forward but Steve stops him with a slight wave of his hand. "You were there, in Dachau."
His breath catches in his throat because that he remembers. She has to be almost as old as he is, but unlike him, her age shows in the bend in her back and the creases in her face. He remembers thin wrists clothed in rags and numbers and sticks that had once been people held together with paper thin skin. A strong enough gust and they would shatter and fall apart and turn to dust. Her eyes glisten with unshed tears and he takes her hand in his, it’s warm and slender. Her fingers wrap around his and hold on in a way the twigs never could. He doesn’t recognize her but he knows what she was.
“I…” he trails off because ‘sorry’ is not enough and there are no other words because he knows the numbers and no one can apologize for that.
She squeezes his hand. “Thank you.”
“I wish I could have done more, gotten there sooner.”
“Bubbe,” the younger woman murmurs, laying a hand on her shoulder as a single tear tracks down her grandmother’s cheek. She’s obviously torn between trying to end this now and respecting the older woman’s wishes.
“There is a song, we sing it around now, for Pesach, it says that if God had just taken us from Egypt then dayenu. It would have been enough,” she squeezes his hand again and he lifts it to press a kiss to her knuckles, because it seems right because she’s noble and a survivor. “You came when you did, you didn’t have to be there at all. Dayenu.”
“Th-thank you,” he stammers. He offers her a napkin and she carefully dabs at her eyes, as her wrist turns, he sees the numbers carelessly inked into her skin. Faded but permanent, a burden and a badge of honor. She lets herself be led away but she looks happy and Steve is left baffled at the table. He was thanked back then, thanked by smiles and songs and desperate pleas for bread. Thanked with fear and death and waving flags. This is something more this is a memory that’s been carried for 67 years and it’s more then survival, it’s a life. Clint slides into an empty seat and watches her go. He sets one cup in front of Steve and waits, sipping at his coffee. “She wanted to thank me,” he finally explains, looking at the other man.
Clint arches an eyebrow. “For anything in particular?”
Steve swirls the cup around absently, watching droplets splash out of the opening, staining shiny white plastic. He could tell Clint what he saw and Clint has surely seen enough movies and pictures to have a clear image but he can never really know. The coffee suddenly feels like too much and he pushes it away. “For doing enough.”