Steve's new life had turned out very strangely.
Becoming friends with a god and an assassin super spy had come far more easily than Steve had ever expected. His journeys with Thor had expanded to occasional full afternoon trips on trains and buses further and further out, exploring the rest of New York state with plans to expand even further in time. Natasha, in addition to frequently hunting Steve down in the SHIELD training center (and he did mean hunting - she never just walked up and said 'hello', she instead jumped him from behind, or above, or below, or possibly just out from thin air - he'd believe it), had started showing up for their excursions too, using the excuse that she just liked riding on trains. However, Natasha tended to spend most of the trips listening closely to the stories Steve and Thor would tell, often without paying attention to a single sight passing by. Sometimes she would request other stories and even a re-tell here and there, and Steve and Thor always obliged her, thrilled beyond measure when - very, very extremely rarely - Natasha would tell a story herself.
Because of the increased frequency of the time Natasha spent with himself and Thor, Steve wasn't particularly surprised when, on a Monday a week or two after she had first hung off of Steve's neck and tried to break his spine, Natasha appeared for their two hour train trip to the Catskill Mountains with Clint Barton tagging along behind her.
Steve's first thought at laying eyes on the man was that Agent Barton really looked like he needed a day out. Steve wasn't too certain where the two agents were staying, but he was pretty sure that Agent Barton hadn't left wherever it was in far too long. He was walking almost sluggishly when he and Natasha approached, more slouched than he had been at Loki's departure. There were dark circles under his red eyes, pale face making him look even more exhausted.
Steve recognized the look.
As soon as Agent Barton had stopped beside Natasha, Steve stuck out his hand.
"Agent Barton," he said with a smile, "it's good to see you again."
Agent Barton eyed Steve's hand for a moment before shaking it loosely. "Cap," he said tonelessly. He attempted a grin, more like a vague quirking of his lips, but it looked as tired as his eyes.
"Please," Steve said, smiling as confidently as he could despite the nervousness creeping up in the face of Barton's indifference. Had Natasha forced him to come? Steve was sure the trip out would do Clint good, but so far this wasn't exactly a positive reaction. Steve still felt that persistent need to try, though, and he just hoped he wasn't coming off as puppy dog pathetic (a new nickname from Natasha, bestowed the last time they'd walked past a bakery that Steve had desperately wanted to go into). "Call me Steve. I'm definitely not Cap right now."
Barton blinked a little, almost sleepily. "I kinda prefer Cap," he said.
Steve couldn't help it when his smile slipped a notch, and knew he'd been caught when Natasha's eyes narrowed and Barton's eyes flicked down before back up to meet Steve's.
"That's perfectly fine," he said, attributing the tightness in his throat to the fact that Thor had just clapped him a little too hard on the back to indicate the arrival of the train. "Whatever you're comfortable with. And ow, Thor."
"My apologies, friend Steve!" Thor bellowed at his usual 125 decibels, and Steve used the distraction to turn away from Barton's gaze, which had quickly become searching. "But the train arrives! Let us hurry!"
The car they chose was empty save for them, which was nice for their journey up. Most of the ride was spent in a companionable silence. The Esopus Scenic Train was an open top car, and Steve found himself sitting beside Thor for the first part of the journey, the two of them examining the beautiful colors of fall as Agent Barton and Natasha huddled together behind. Thor seemed happy, actually lowering his vocal range to somewhere below the approximate sound of a jackhammer, and Steve found himself smiling and laughing a lot, his nervousness from before done away in the face of Thor's content. Halfway through the trip, Thor decided to get up and shuffle around, and suddenly Steve found himself beside Natasha instead on the small two-seater bench. He may have stammered a little embarrassingly at first, but Natasha had taken it in stride, pointing out various sights as they passed. Eventually Steve stopped blushing and actually relaxed into the press of her shoulder against his as the two of them murmured appreciation of the beautify around them. It was pleasant, and when Natasha gently rested her chin on his shoulder, Steve felt his own content.
When they'd all found themselves shifting around again after they'd all gotten up to examine a passing sight (Thor had insisted they all do so, because apparently he wasn't entirely familiar with just how many squirrels inhabited their world and had mistakenly thought the sight was a rare one), Steve was a little more discomfited to find himself next to Agent Barton. Steve had put on his best I'm-not-nervous-at-all smile when Barton had hesitantly lowered himself to sit beside him, though Steve had quickly turned back to the landscape. He was surprised, then, when Barton promptly tapped Steve on his shoulder to draw his attention back.
"Uh," Barton began awkwardly, fingers twisting together as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on the back of the bench in front of them. "Look, Cap. I just... I wanted to say thanks."
Oh. That wasn't what Steve had been expecting. "Okay. Um, for what?"
Barton shrugged, not looking at Steve. "I did some really bad things when Loki put himself in my brain. I just... I had no control, I had no idea how to stop what I could see myself doing, but I can't help but feel I should have tried harder, you know?"
Steve did know. Regardless of rationality, he'd had that thought many times concerning his own actions, his own fate. It didn't matter for a soldier that there was nothing to be done. To admit that was unthinkable; it hinted at the chaos they strive so hard to prevent, and so the possibility of nothing being left to do cannot be acknowledged. Steve should have done more to stop the plane. He should have tried harder. He should have been more capable, more aware. So yeah, Steve knew that feeling with familiarity. But Clint still wasn't really looking at him, so he just remained silent.
Clint turned his head, watching the trees go by with a blank expression. "I still don't know how many people I killed. Natasha's blocked all access from me, no idea how, the woman is a ninja, but you..."
Clint swallowed. Steve braced himself, not entirely sure what was coming.
But then Clint turned to actually look at Steve. "You recruited me anyway. Just like that. I hadn't even been Loki free for an hour, but when Natasha vouched for me, and I said I was okay, you trusted the two of us. It's like there wasn't even a doubt in your mind that I would be trustworthy, that none of it had been my fault." Clint shrugged, the movement more like a bunching of his shoulders under his black tee, making him look small. "That's not something I've been hearing a lot of lately. So, thanks. Thanks, Cap." An actual smile, then. "Thanks for believing in me."
Steve swallowed, fighting the blush he knew was creeping up his cheeks at the kind words, and grinned back at him. "Always, Agent."
Clint made a face. "Seriously though, call me Clint. I'm not on duty right now - I'm on a train looking at trees and purple mountain majesties."
Steve laughed. "Only if you call me Steve, too."
Clint shook his head. "Nah. You're still Cap. The part in your hair is too perfect for anything else."
And then, thought Steve, even as he reached up self consciously to touch his hair, sending Clint into a peal of laughter, there were three. And Steve was pretty darn happy.