Steve's just finishing his second order of blueberry crumble when a somewhat familiar and beleaguered form slides into the other side of his booth. He places his fork down beside his plate and gives his full attention to the smirking man in the dark glasses and worn tee shirt.
"Agent Barton," Steve says with a prim nod of his head, "fancy meeting you here." He's not sure how S.H.E.I.L.D found him when even Steve is a little unclear about where he actually is - still Pennsylvania, probably - but he's not surprised that Fury changed his mind about just letting him go without any kind of government approved chaperone.
"Hey, Cap," Barton says. His voice is easy, but there's a definite tension to his jaw and shoulders. The approach of Steve's waitress is met with a subtle flinch, then an exaggerated grin. The waitress, to her credit, seems unimpressed with Barton's charm. Or maybe, like Steve, she can sense how brittle it all is.
Hollow pleasantries are exchanged, and Barton asks for a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie. Steve asks for his bill.
"You gotta love places like this," Barton says, placing his glasses on the table and glancing around the little diner. "From one ocean to the other, you can always find someplace to get coffee and apple pie." He cranes his neck and looks towards the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen. "I wonder if they have patty melts."
"Hmmm." Steve studies him for another few seconds. "Would you like to switch?" he asks.
Barton looks startled for a second before his face smooths out again. "Pardon?"
"Seats," Steve says, motioning across the Formica table. "So you're facing the door?"
There's a subtle relaxing of Barton's form, and the smile that flashes over his face seems genuine. "Nah," he says. "Thanks for the offer though."
The waitress returns and maybe she wasn't so immune to Barton after all - the slice of pie she places in front of him has a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. This time Barton's smile has none of the artifice of before.
"Awesome," he says before picking up a spoon and digging in.
Steve lets out a little huff of amusement. Barton's definitely cute, and Fury might be more of a bastard - and more knowledgeable - than Steve thought. Still, if Steve could be so easily swayed by a handsome face, he never would have accomplished anything during the war.
"I'm not going to change my mind," Steve says. "So you can enjoy your pie and coffee and head back to New York."
Barton doesn't say anything - he's too busy chewing - but he does raise his eyebrows.
"I mean it," Steve says. "I'm available for emergencies, and disasters, and, and alien invasions, but I'm not working for S.H.E.I.L.D full time. And nothing Nick Fury can do, or say, and no one he can send, will make me change my mind."
Barton swallows and nods. "Good for you." He shrugs. "Fury's not such a bad guy really. Relatively speaking, anyway. And he's loads better than the people he's supposed to answer to. But it's good for you to assert your independence. Healthy, or whatever." Barton's eyes flick down to his plate. "Wow, this is really good pie."
"So, wait," Steve says, "you're not here to recruit me?"
"Nope," Barton says. "I'm actually here because I need, uh... heh, I need a favor." He smiles wanly.
Steve can't help but be intrigued. "I'm not helping you hide any bodies," he says.
Barton barks out a sharp, little laugh. "It's good to know you've got a sense of humor under all that patriotic stoicism, Cap." There's the tiniest smile on Barton's face. "And, for the record, I've never needed help hiding a body."
"Good to know," Steve says with a smirk. "So what do you need help with?"
"I, uh..." Barton sighs and scratches at the side of his face. Then he fiddles with his fork, spoon, coffee cup, and a salt shaker.
Steve waits patiently.
"Agent Romanoff is being sent on a new assignment," Barton finally says.
"So soon?" Steve asks. It's only been two weeks since the Battle of Manhattan, and Steve would have thought that helping to stop a demi-god and a bunch of aliens would have warranted at least a month of downtime.
"Nat likes to keep busy," Barton says. "For that matter, so do I. Unfortunately, the esteemed headshrinkers at S.H.E.I.L.D don't think I'm fit for active duty yet, or whatever. Which is ridiculous. And they're not sure I should be left unsupervised. Which is completely ridiculous."
"Is it?" Steve asks.
"Of course," Clint scoffs.
Steve shifts his eyes to the condensation on the side of his water glass. "I knew men during the war..." He shifts a bit and he can feel his face frown. "It was called battle fatigue back then. The docs thought it had something to do with long deployments, but they didn't see what we saw. Sometimes all it would take was one fight going bad, or one person being lost..." Steve let his eyes rest back on Barton's face. "It's easy for trauma to make a person behave recklessly."
Barton gives him a slow, lazy grin. "Aw, Cap, I've always been reckless."
"Yeah," Barton says, his attention momentarily back on his disappearing slice of pie, "I've been that too."
"Clint." Barton rolls his eyes. "C'mon, man. You're not my handler, and if this whole Avengers thing pans out, we're gonna become friends eventually."
Steve tries not to smile. "Is that so?"
"Hell, yeah," Barton says. "I'm adorable, like a kitten or one of those dwarf rabbit things. Resistance is futile, dude, seriously."
Steve shakes his head. "Clint," he says, "as your future friend and current teammate, let me say that if S.H.E.I.L.D's doctors, who are probably very knowledgeable and well-trained, think you need help, it might be because you actually need help. And I may not know all the nuances of life in this-" Steve grimaces as the words 'new century' pop into his head. He clears his throat. "Anyway, these days, isn't there much less stigma attached to, you know, being, um..."
"Off my nut?" Clint supplies.
"Traumatized," Steve says firmly.
"Traumatized." Clint chuckles. "Look, Cap, you don't know my story, but the condensed version is that I've been dealing with shit being thrown at me my whole life. I learned a long time ago how to roll with life's sucker punches and how to get the fuck back up after someone bigger and meaner than me knocks me down. Which, I would think, if the stories are true, would be a trait you would appreciate."
"Yeah, I always got back up," Steve says quietly, "but most of the time there was a hand helping me and brushing me off."
"A friend, right?" Barton asks. "Which is what we're going to be, which is why I'm here." He grins and holds out his hands. "This is like synergy or something."
"I don't know what that means."
"Yeah," Clint says, the grin dropping from his face, "I don't either. But it sounded good, right?"
Steve rubs a hand over his eyes. "Clint-"
"Ha! You called me Clint. Progress."
Steve will not be charmed by this man. He just won't. "Why me?" Steve asks.
"That's usually the best policy."
Clint smirks. "Talk about adorable."
Steve will not blush in front of his man either. "There have to be other people beside Agent Romanoff who are better suited for..." He doesn't want to say 'dealing with you', but he really can't think of any other way to end that sentence.
"Other people," Clint says. He smiles, but it's a rough thing, and his eyes stay so somber. "Besides Fury and Hill, there are only a handful of people at S.H.E.I.L.D who are still willing to look me in the eye, and they're way too busy to waste time babysitting me. There's Tony Stark and, while I'm all for using humor as a defense mechanism, I'm not sure I could deal with him in large doses right now. I think Doctor Banner has enough issues of his own without me piling mine on top of them. Thor's still on Asgard and is, you know, the brother of the guy who mindfucked me in the first place. And, of course, Coulson is still dead, so..." Clint eyes drop to his hands. "I don't want to be here; I don't want to ask this of you, but if you turn me away then I'm going to have to go back to the helicarrier and I really don't know if I can deal with everybody looking at me like I'm... like I'm just gonna... I just don't..."
"I haven't said no," Steve says.
"You haven't said yes either," Clint shoots back.
Steve drums his fingers on the table top. He thinks about what he's been doing since he woke up. He thinks about being needed. He thinks about being lonely. He thinks that Clint Barton could be a temptation, but that he could also be a friend, now and not just in the future.
"Okay," Steve says, breathing out. "Okay."
"Really?" Clint looks hopeful, but still wary. Or maybe that should be weary.
"Yep," Steve says. "But we're not going back to New York. Not yet, anyway. You're going to have to come with me."
"Roadtrip," Clint says. "Nice. I'm driving."
Steve opens his mouth to say how that wasn't going to happen since he's traveling on a motorcycle and to ask if Clint would be riding with him - which wouldn't be awkward at all - or if he knew where they could get a sidecar - which would be hilarious - when an odd sort of expression steals over Clint's face. It looks almost like... almost like guilt.
"Now, don't freak out," Clint says.
Steve whips his head around to the window and rises out of his seat enough to see the parking lot. His motorcycle's gone.
"Nat took your bike," Clint says.
Steve thumps back into his seat. "Wha-"
"She rode down here with me, and she's gonna ride your bike back to New York. It'll be waiting for you in the garage at Stark's tower."
"She was supposed to wait until I gave the go ahead, but I guess she figured I was taking too long convincing you, and she got impatient."
"About a minute after I sat down. Which I'm still not pleased about, Natasha." Clint raises a hand to his left ear. "Oh, that's nice. Very ladylike."
"Is that her?" Steve asks. "You have her on comms? Give me your earbud."
"You don't just ask for another man's earbud, Cap," Clint says with a grimace. "Gross." His eyes go distant for a moment. "She said she's gonna take real good care of and treat it like... Oh, geez, Nat, I'm not telling Captain America that. For fuck's sake."
Steve raises a hand and rubs at the bridge of his nose. He hadn't developed a non-concussion caused headache since he received the serum, but damn if he couldn't feel one forming now right behind his eyes.
"Uh oh," Clint says. "I've seen that look before."
"You don't say," Steve says. He rolls his shoulders back and looks Clint straight in the eye. "I don't appreciate being played Agent Barton."
"Did you just... Did you just use modern slang? Correctly?" Clint looks floored.
Steve had decided weeks ago to stop being offended whenever anyone seemed amazed at evidence of how well he was adapting to this time. He couldn't quite hold in a sigh, though. "Just out of curiosity," he asks, "what would you have done if I had said no?"
"Uh, improvise?" Clint grins. Steve's head throbs.
Their waitress chooses that moment to return. She tops off Clint's coffee and takes the money Steve's left on top of his bill. He tells her to keep the change even as the part of him that remembers what it as like growing up in a depression rails against leaving that much as a tip. He's getting better about not flinching at the location of decimal points, though. Baby steps.
"C'mon, Cap," Clint says once they're along again, "we can either focus on the what-ifs, or we can look towards the future. Speaking of, were you just tooling around the highways and byways, or do you have a specific destination in mind?"
Steve decides to not push and goes along with the subject change. "Both, actually. Before the serum I had never been outside the city. Then, during the USO tour, I went all over the place, but the schedule was so tight I barely got to see anything that wasn't framed by a bus or train window." Steve glances out the window again. "I want to see everything I can, while I can."
Clint's eyes narrow slightly. "You planning on going somewhere?"
"Not planning, no. Then again, I didn't plan on crashing a plane into the ice and staying frozen for 70 years either."
Clint nods once, sharply. "So, have you done anything fun, or has it all been about sampling fine cuisine?"
"I saw the Liberty Bell," Steve says, brightening a bit. "I visited a few museums. Oh, I went to Eastern State Penitentiary and saw Al Capone's cell. That was fun."
Clint looks doubtful. "Fun. Uh huh." He uses his fork to rearrange some crumbs left on his plate. "And the specific destination?"
"There are a couple," Steve says.
Clint blinks. "So, this is a feel good kind of trip then."
"I want to pay my respects," Steve says. "Not everyone is there, of course. Dernier and Falsworth are buried over in Europe, but Arlington seems like a good place to start."
"Fuck," Clint says, the curse coming out easy and effortlessly - Steve doesn't know if he's ever going to adapt to that. "I... It hasn't even been two months for you, hasn't it? Since... I keep forgetting that."
Steve shrugs. He understands.
"And after Arlington?"
"After I pay my respects to the dead, I'm going to concentrate on the living," Steve says. "Jones is in a nursing home in Virginia, and Morita is in out California." Steve swallows back the other name that's been haunting him since he got the gumption to ask one of the agents to run a computer check for him.
Clint chokes on a mouthful of coffee. "Some of your guys are still alive?! I... Uh... Not to be rude, or morbid, or anything, but considering how old they have to be, should you maybe go see the ones who are still kicking before you hit the cemetery?"
"I'm working up to it," Steve says crossly. "How about I'll confront my issues if you confront yours?"
Clint's face shutters. "So, Arlington, huh?"
"Yeah," Steve says. "Arlington."