It was Veteran's Day, his 'team' was avoiding him like the plague, and Steve Rogers was completely okay with that. He was grateful they were staying at a distance, and it would have worked really well for him if everyone else in this stupid place would do the same. Staying at the Stark Tower didn't bode well for someone who just wanted everyone to go away.
Not that there were too many people besides the six of them and Pepper here at any given moment, but the mornings were always busier and this one was no exception.
He hadn't slept in over three days, and while he didn't need as much sleep as everyone else it was taking a toll on him. Not to mention the countless hours in the gym (which had been enhanced for his superior strength) that probably hadn't helped. As such, Steve decided to use exhaustion as an excuse for the fact that the numerous salutes he received as he wandered this morning made him want to cry. But he hadn't cried since his last lifetime and he wasn't going to start now.
So when an older man Steve knew he knew but couldn't place practically cornered him in the hallway, he was pretty sure he was suffocating. He was half listening, heard the quite repetitive spiel about Captain America and hero and soldier, but couldn't focus on anything until a booming voice took over every sense he had. He forced himself to turn his head to the left where he was greeted by two men, both of whom had been giving him a look of trepidation until he glanced their way.
"Gentlemen!" Thor exclaimed, false enthusiasm as he slapped the other man on the back leaving Steve eternally grateful. The demigod nodded almost imperceptibly towards Steve, then towards Clint, and then turned all his attention towards the older man who had been rattling on, "Might you show me around the upstairs laboratory? I could use a brilliant mind for a tour!"
The man was too flabbergasted by Thor's unexpected praise to realize that the words were entirely fabricated, and he smiled perhaps even wider if possible. He allowed one more look at Steve again, his face falling serious for a brief moment, "Happy Veteran's Day, sir. Thank you, Captain," before he turned and followed Thor down the hall and to an elevator.
The words were so sincere Steve couldn't breathe.
He wasn't really sure what had happened, but he was pretty sure there was a muttered swear and then firm hands were practically shoving him through a sliding door and onto a wooden chair, "Take a damn breath!"
Okay, so there was a good chance Steve had been holding his breath, and when he finally exhaled he felt a little dizzy. It wasn't something he had felt since he was getting beat up in a back alley, and it was nice to think that he might still be that guy. And with Clint standing over him with a worried eye, he reminded Steve so much of Bucky that he couldn't physically keep looking at him.
Steve breathed deeply, the air trapped in tight lungs, "Yeah. Yeah, sorry."
Clint looked at him for another moment and then nodded, satisfied, and pulled up another chair- close enough to Steve for comfort but not closer than he knew the other man wanted. After giving Steve an appraising look, Clint sighed, rested one arm on the table and scraped at the peeling wood, "Stark has been working on getting them all out of here for the day. They're a bit…"
Clint fixed him with a look that Steve couldn't quite place, "I was going to say proud. But yeah, that too."
Steve snorted and flexed his hands impulsively on his knees, his body finally rebelling after not having sat this still in nearly three days, "Yeah. Proud," he paused and looked away from the other man, "It's not the same, you know? As it was."
"It's been seventy years. I don't think it's supposed to be the same."
It was such a simple answer for such a complicated situation, but it was more of the truth than Steve thought he had been told in a very long time.
"You should get some rest. I mean, you do need sleep, don't you? At least a little bit."
Steve shrugged, "Can't sleep. Not today. I used to always do something on this day- I was usually the only one left behind who could." He'd like to pretend that wasn't bitterness in his voice, because he'd give anything to go back to those days. To Bucky and to Peggy and even to scrawny Steve getting his ass kicked in every alley in Brooklyn. Because here he was larger than life to these people and to the press, yet he still felt smaller than he ever had.
Clint nodded slowly, "Well nowadays you won't be alone in celebrating. Or mourning. I don't know what the hell we are, a team or whatever, but I know that we're all pretty much set in never being left behind."
The words made Steve feel oddly… warm. He and Clint weren't particularly close, were probably friends by default but he was a good man and it was nice talking to someone so human after spending so much time talking to Tony Stark. He was sure that somewhere deep down Stark was just as human as the rest of them, but he and Steve spent way too much time at each other's throats to see much of it. It was a reassuring thought actually, and one he didn't wholly object to: being part of some sort of group.
Especially when he had absolutely nothing else.
"Yeah," Steve agreed, clearing his throat and pretending there wasn't so much emotion there, "I know. It's strange, I guess, being without them," if Clint didn't know which them he was referring to, he didn't ask and Steve was grateful, "Being with all of you who know me as…" he looked down at his hands in his lap and made some weird gesture that he meant to encompass his whole body, "This. Pre-serum wasn't so, uh," he snorted and the sound was entirely unamused, "Impressive."
Clint frowned and Steve really didn't know why he had kept talking. God knows Clint probably hadn't prepared for the pep talk he was going to have to give.
"Sorry," Steve smirked nervously and ran a hand through his hair, dropping it back into his lap, "Let's just do something to, to celebrate today, yeah?"
"Yeah," Clint agreed slowly, "I think that's a good idea. And I get you're done with this and that's fine, I'm just going to throw something out there, Cap."
The familiar nickname always had an implication of respect that left Steve feeling oddly pressured. Conversely, the lack of the inflection would probably leave him feeling empty and he really needed to make up his mind.
Clint didn't wait for an invitation to continue, "I'm going to take it they didn't just choose you randomly off the streets to be good ol' Captain America. So that leads me to believe that there was something impressive there before the serum," he finished with a pointed look and then stood, clapping Steve on the shoulder, "Come upstairs when you're ready and we'll find a fitting way to show our honor."
And he was gone from the room before Steve could say or do anything except sit there feeling dumbstruck. That warmth from before, that feeling of a team and being part of something, was back full force and Steve was suddenly and overwhelming grateful for Clint- for all of them, really. He smirked again, and this time there wasn't any resentment or bitterness there. And when he stood, it was with honest to God wholeness that he hadn't had in… longer than he cared to admit. Maybe even seventy years.
Whether it be tomorrow or the next day or the next week, he was sure he would mourn them again. Mourn everything he lost and everything he never knew. But today, he would celebrate Veteran's Day and everything they had achieved- everything the whole world had achieved while he'd been "doing time as a capsicle".
Maybe this whole team thing, these new friends in this new time, wasn't going to be so bad after all.