Thor and Steve are definitely not hiding in a Denny's restaurant.
Because Thor doesn't hide and Steve doesn't run away from his problems, so, they are definitely not there because it's one of the few places that Tony and his increasingly complex set of extraction tools would never think to find Thor and Mjolnir, or because Agent Hill would never think to look for Steve 'gets lost within two blocks of HQ' Rogers outside of the main facility. No. It's obviously because they're both hungry, and this is a restaurant, and it's nice to eat out sometimes.
Steve's not entirely sure when America decided everything needed a Hollywood-style sign to advertise its existence, but the big yellow banner loudly proclaiming Denny's over the doorway is definitely… noticeable. He and Thor both look over their respective menus. Thor is frowning as if the laminated pages in front of him are some kind of complex interstellar equation. Steve is just kind of bewildered.
A lot of the things on the menu seem perfectly normal. But every once in a while he sees something like the 'Moons Over my Hammy's', and a quiet part of his brain wonders if they really have space food. And if not, what a 'moon' is supposed to be (because Tony's latest definition wouldn't really fit – right?).
Thor's brow furrows as a server brings a plate full of pancakes to a table near theirs.
"That is breakfast food," he declares, "It is four o'clock."
Steve looks at the menu.
"Looks like they serve breakfast all day here," he replies.
He still can't get used to it, all the abundance everywhere. The scent of real, actual bacon, freshly cooked, is a little bit shocking. At least in Shield's current ground HQ the food is pretty bland. Out here in the future, he feels like he's at a constant risk of sensory overload.
Thor stares at him.
"Jane assured me that restaurants serve their food on a schedule," he replies. "That is why the Golden Arches did not have any of the little round sausages at noon."
They look back down at the menu. After a few minutes, Thor smacks a hand down on the table hard enough to make him jump. But he's grinning.
"Server!" he bellows. "We wish to order breakfast!"
Everyone in the restaurant turns to stare at them. The waitress gapes.
Steve kind of shrinks down a little bit behind his menu. But when the poor woman in her nice blue shirt comes around to take their order, he straightens a bit, and with an air of determination, orders the 'Moon Over My Hammy's'.
"What is that?" Thor wonders, after she's given them both a long look – up and down – and then flushed pink and hurried off.
"I don't know," Steve replies with a shrug. He takes a sip of his water. "Figured I'd find out."
The next time they go to the Denny's, they are definitely not both hiding from Fury. That would be ridiculous, because Thor is a god and Steve is a legend, and Fury is just a government agent with an eye-patch and a lot of guns and no weather powers or genetic engineering that they know of.
"There appears to be a map on the back of these pages," Thor notes, turning his menu over in his hands.
Steve looks and, sure enough, there's a map of the U.S.A. right there, with a few little yellow-outlined letter D's scattered throughout. The top reads, in bright, comic-style letters: "Denny's Across America!"
"Seems like Denny really got around," he notes.
"Indeed," Thor replies. "One wonders how he was able to found so many establishments. Perhaps he and the ones called Ronald McDonald and Wendy possessed a similar capacity for fast travel?"
"Heck if I know." He'd be willing to believe almost anything at this point. After all, he's having breakfast for lunch with a Norse god.
When their waiter comes by, Steve orders the All-American Grand Slam and Thor gets something that comes cooked in a big black skillet and covered with eggs. Between the two of them they drink enough coffee to drown a small village.
Steve thinks about the map on the menu, and wonders if he'll ever really understand his country again.
The third time, it's a different Denny's.
Mostly because they're in Colorado. They're in Colorado because that's where Loki's spell tossed them. SHIELD's got an extraction team on the way and there was an update that Loki did his 'smirk-and-disappear' routine after Hulk made an appearance, but in the meantime they're beat-up and tired and Thor has a weirdly good memory, so they stumble off and it's not long before Steve sees a familiar yellow sign up ahead.
It's eight in the evening, and the outfits earn them some strange looks. The woman who takes their order shakes a little and doesn't look at either of them in eye. She mostly stares at Steve's shield, until he quietly moves it under the table.
"I'll have the country-fried steak," Steve orders.
Thor looks at him like he just grew another head. He glances at the server, and then leans forward carefully.
"Perhaps you have forgotten, Steve Rogers, but they serve breakfast all day here," he says with a meaningful look.
If that's supposed to be code for something, Steve's lost.
"I've never had country-fried steak," he says.
"Steak is all well and good," Thor concedes. "But there are still breakfast offerings available! Look!" He points at the pictures of flapjacks and sausages on the open page of his menu. "Truly there is no finer meal, and here it is not constrained by the mandates of chronology. We are in a place where, should one wish it, it is always breakfast."
Steve stares at him. His ribs hurt, his head hurts, his feet hurt, there's still a vague ringing sound in one of his ears, and he's pretty sure his suit's holding itself together with sheer willpower at this point, it's got so many rips, burns, and tears in it.
"I want the country-fried steak," he replies.
Thor lets out a heavy breath.
"As you will. I shall have the Ultimate Omelette and a Banana French Toast Skillet. And coffee!"
The waitress nods, and writes down their order.
Then she turns around and drops to the floor in a dead faint.
The Denny's in Texas, not far from the helicarrier's top secret maintenance and refueling station, is small but very nice. Everything in it looks new, and their seats crinkle and squeak a little bit as they slide into their booths. Thor's nose twitches.
"It smells too strongly of floor polish in here," he grumbles in a half complaint, but nevertheless smiles at their waiter when he comes to take their orders. Thor gets something that looks like a steak covered in eggs with more eggs and toast on the side.
"Breakfast may also include steak," he informs Steve pointedly.
Steve gets a club sandwich.
Thor looks vaguely wounded about the whole thing, until Steve sighs, and holds up part of his sandwich.
"It's got bacon on it," he demonstrates.
"Ah! I see!" the God of Thunder declares, immediately brightening. "It is breakfast but not. Most clever! You Midgardians are quite resourceful with food."
"Well, we try," Steve replies, with the practice of a man who's almost getting used to being addressed with 'you Midgardians'. At least it's nicer than 'you mortals', which always makes him think about his own lifespan and the complicated mess of it, and how the scientists don't seem to know if he'll live to a normal age or well past it even though he's not frozen anymore.
"It still does not compare to the succulent roasted frostboar we have in the waning seasons of Asgard, or Idunn's golden apples," Thor tells him. "But then, little can."
"Back home, I never got food like this," Steve replies. "It would be too expensive and pretty hard to come by besides. I only ever ate in a restaurant twice before I came here."
"You shall have to come and feast in the halls of Asgard," Thor decides.
"I don't know. If that boar's as good as you say, it might just do me in."
Thor smacks the table and grins.
"A fine way to go!" he declares.
Steve grins back.
"I can think of worse," he agrees.
The fifth time they're back in New York, but it's a different Denny's. This one's bigger and louder and full of families.
Steve stares so long at the kids running around, playing and laughing in their brightly-coloured shirts and toting plastic dinosaurs and airplanes around, that Thor orders for him.
When his plate comes, it's got some flatbread wrapped around bacon and scrambled eggs, and little slices of red and green, with a mountain of hashbrowns on the side. There's also melted cheese oozing out of the ends. It looks sort of like the 'wrap' he saw Pepper eating once, or like a skinnier, breakfast-themed version of the shawarma he can barely remember eating.
"What is it?" he wonders. The green bits look vaguely dubious to him. He figures the red is tomato, though.
"A Bacon Avocado Wrap," Thor replies. "You are a brave man. Try it!"
Reaching across the table, he claps Steve on the shoulder.
Steve narrows his eyes at him. Then he pushes his plate forward slightly.
"Alright," he says. "But you have to try it, too."
Thor pales ever-so-slightly. Then he grins, and gestures to his own enormous platter of waffles, ham, bacon, sausage, and toast.
"But I already have more than enough food, I could not hope to-"
"That's okay," Steve interrupts. "We can split it."
Then he steals one of Thor's waffles and replaces it with half of his Bacon Avo… his thing.
Thor huffs, and narrows his eyes in turn.
"…Very well," he agrees.
They stare across the table at one another.
Steve picks his half of the thing up, and stares at it. He can't just pick off the green bits now. Now it's a matter of principal, and besides, he's no stranger to eating disgusting things. Bucky tried to cook once. He'd succeeded in giving the pig who contributed to the can of pork and beans a proper cremation.
Thor also lifts his half. A few bits of egg and cheese ooze out, dragging a solid, yellow-and-green square slowly down to the plate along with them.
Steve sucks in a breath – it's always better when you hold your breath – and then the table shakes. Movement flashes out of the corner of his eye, and he looks down to see a little kid sitting on the floor, pressing a hand against his forehead.
He drops his food back onto his plate.
"Hey there, buddy," he says. "You okay?"
Thor also follows suit, bending down from his great height to all but stick his head under the table.
"Is the child injured?" he asks.
The little boy looks up at both of them, his hand still fixed to his head.
Then he bursts in a sudden explosion of tears and screams.
Thor flinches and hits his head against the table hard enough to rattle the plates. Steve whips his head up, and starts scanning the room for any kind of maternal figure before looking back down, and trying desperately to come up with something to stop the abrupt fountain of red-faced distress at the base of their table. He doesn't have any of the things that normally help him with kids. No shield, no costume. No pretty chorus girls with candies in their bags.
"Hey, hey, come on there, little soldier," he tries. "It's not that bad, just a bump on the head."
Thor peers down at the boy in obvious distress.
"Head injuries are very dangerous for the average Midgardian," he says.
"It was just a bump," Steve assures him.
"Are you certain? Perhaps we should call in for emergency medical assistance."
The boy keeps screaming.
"No," Steve replies, feeling a headache of his own coming on. "It's okay, Thor. Kids run into stuff all the time."
A few minutes later, a harried-looking woman with three more in tow appears out of the woodwork, and hauls the boy up by the arm. She dusts him off and looks at his head, and then, with barely a glance at Thor or Steve, herds him back into the throngs of happily dining families. Somewhere else, another kid starts crying, and then there's a crash as a chair topples over.
Steve looks at Thor.
Thor looks at Steve.
They both look back down at their plates.
"…It's probably cold now," Steve says.
Thor nods readily.
"Indeed." He pokes his flatbread with a finger. "Stone cold," he replies. Even though Steve can still see a little wisp of steam rising from the top.
"It's probably not good cold," he notes.
"I have heard that about avocados," Thor informs him with another nod.
They look back up at one another.
Then, almost in unison, they move the strange food off to one side of their plates, and start digging into the waffles.
Their waitress stops by.
"Did you want me to heat these up for you?" she asks, pointing at their plates.
Steve and Thor share another glance. Thor fiddles with his fork and looks down at the smooth, white table.
"…Sure, thank you," Steve replies, with a sigh.
The sixth time, it's six o'clock in the morning after a full night of trying to stop evil clones from demolishing the city, and they're tired and hungry again. So after they stop off long enough to shower and change, he meets Thor in the hallways of the emergency SHIELD facilities, and they nod and head out.
Bruce stops them on the way.
"Where're you two going?" he wonders, still wearing the tattered remains of his shirt and holding up his busted pants with one hand.
"Denny's," Thor helpfully replies.
Bruce blinks at them.
"Okay," he says, and watches them go with in utter bewilderment.
The seventh time, they're back in New York. It's lunch, and they've got nothing better to do, so when Jane tells Thor that she'll be in the lab all day he drags Steve out. They go back to the first Denny's – or the 'usual one', as he's starting to think of it.
Thor calls their waitress over and points to something on his menu.
"This says that I might 'build my own' Grand Slam. What does this entail?" he asks. "Will I be required to cook the meal myself?"
Their current waitress doesn't even blink. She just gives him a bland look and rattles off an explanation that Steve only half listens to, while Thor's eyes just get bigger and bigger. When Thor puts down his order, it seems to involve a lot of the word 'ham' and very expansive hand gestures.
Steve gets a sandwich called the 'Super Bird'.
"Did you not hear?" Thor asks afterwards, looking between the departing waitress and Steve as if a grievous crime has just been committed. "You can construct your own breakfast platter! Out of anything you desire off the list!"
"I want to know why it's called the 'Super Bird'," Steve tells him.
Thor sucks in a deep breath, clearly ready to begin explaining to him – in depth – the Many Wonders of the Breakfast Menu, when a neat pair of black shoes click over the slightly sticky floor towards them, and a crisp, dark suit stops right by their table. Silence has descended over the restaurant.
Steve looks over to see Tony grinning at the two of them.
"Ha!" he says. "Barton owes me twenty bucks. He thought Bruce must've imagined it, but I knew there was something about the allure of all-American greasy food that would call like the siren song of heart failure to the two of you."
Steve puts his head in his hand.
"Tony-" he begins.
"I'm sorry, I'm not interrupting, am I? Is this some kind of special bonding thing I'm encroaching on?"
Thor smiles at him.
"Of course not, Man of Iron!" he declares. "You are more than welcome to join us."
Steve sighs, and squeezes over to one side of the booth. Tony slides in next to him. He looks very out-of-place in the diner, with his suit and his sunglasses, and even when he takes off the sunglasses and loops them over one of his pockets, it's not any better. Steve has seen Tony in t-shirts and jeans. He just never seems to walk around in public in them.
"So, this is… kitschy," Tony observes. "And orange. Wow. Pecan pancakes? Talk about fancy."
The entire restaurant is still staring at them. Tony's usually the only one who can draw instant recognition outside of costume, even far away. He doesn't seem to notice. Steve tries to ignore it, too, and follows Tony's line of sight to the glossy picture in the menu.
"They put all kinds of things in pancakes," he says.
"Of course they do," Tony replies. "And I bet you can even get your waffles with fruit and whipped cream on top." He flags down the waitress and orders the pancakes, while Thor gives Steve a pointed look, which clearly says 'behold, even Man of Iron knows the benefits of all-day breakfast'.
When their orders come, Tony produces a tiny flask from his pocket and dumps it into his water glass.
"It's not even one o'clock," Steve feels compelled to point out, disapproving.
"Hey, don't you know the saying? It's five o'clock somewhere," Tony replies, with a sharp tone seeping into his glibness.
"I do not understand this saying," Thor replies.
"Don't worry about it, big guy." He takes up a forkful of his pancakes, examines it for a second, and then stuffs it into his mouth.
Steve looks at his own plate. He can't quite remember what it was called, or why he was interested in it. It's just a big toasted sandwich. But it's not bad.
"Wow," Tony says. Thor beams. "This food tastes like cardboard. Seriously? All the places you could eat in New York, and this is the joint you two settle on?"
Thor's smile falters. Steve finds himself curling rather defensively around his plate.
"It's not bad," he says.
"They will serve breakfast at any time of the day," Thor adds.
Tony raises his hands, fork still gripped between his fingers.
"Hey, no, I get it. Awesome. But listen, this is New York, you guys. You can get any kind of food you want here."
Steve and Thor glance at one another.
"Yes. Such as all-day breakfast," Thor says, nodding and using the tone of voice he typically reserves for particularly slow-witted bystanders and crazy people who aren't his brother.
"My sandwich has and interesting name," Steve points out, still with one arm acting as a shield between it and Tony's criticisms.
"What, really? I would have figured you more for the all-American platters or something," Tony replies. He twirls his fork between his fingers. "Tell you what, there's this curry place about two blocks from here – quality stuff. You'll love it. We'll go there next time."
Steve glances at Thor.
"…Sure," he says. "We can do that."
"Of course, Man of Iron. We may certainly eat at your 'curry place' sometime."
Tony grins at them, and then cuts off another square of his pancakes. Steve and Thor share another look, reaching a silent agreement of their own, and then turn back to their own food. It's not that either of them have a problem with Tony. Even Steve has graduated from frustration to a kind of fond exasperation.
It's just that he doesn't get it. But that's fine. Contrary to what he seems to think, Steve is pretty sure that the world won't end even if Tony Stark doesn't understand something.
The eighth time, they take the subway to a different Denny's in the city. Between the two of them and a particularly helpful old lady who says Steve looks like her grandson, they manage to figure out how it works, and only miss their stop once. The Denny's they come out at looks like it's been there for a while, and it's technically attached to a nearby hotel, but no one bats an eyelash at him and Thor.
Steve looks around as they take their seats.
"How many of these do you suppose we've been to by now?" he wonders.
"I have not kept count," Thor admits. "How many are there?"
They both check for the maps on the backs of their menus, but there aren't any. Instead there's just the deserts listed. Steve frowns, and when their waiter comes by, he asks if he knows. The man gives him a blank look and shrugs.
"Like a thousand or something?" he replies.
"There cannot be that many," he insists.
Steve's not so sure. They place their orders – Thor wants a platter full of meat and eggs with maple syrup on the side, Steve decides on a cheeseburger that earns him a look of pitied bafflement – and opt to keep their menus to flip through them and see if there's any more information in there. They puzzle over what the '55+' means and what 'tilapia' might be, but otherwise there don't seem to be any hiding maps or statistics lurking in the margins.
"I will ask Darcy," Thor says decisively. "She shall find it with the Google. I am certain that the server was incorrect; there cannot be a thousand."
"I don't know," he replies. "Numbers sure seemed to get a lot bigger while I was gone."
Thor frowns a little bit, his expression turning contemplative.
"Indeed," he agrees. "Midgard is certainly quick to change. When last I was here, things still seemed to operate upon a perfectly serviceable barter system, and much of the wilderness remained unexplored. I cannot imagine what it would be like if Asgard were to shift so quickly, that any travelers away for a handful of decades would only return to find it much changed in their absence."
"It's a good thing that it changes," Steve replies, a little half-heartedly. He knows it's true.
Thor shakes his head.
"I do not think it is either good or bad. I think it is merely something which is."
"But if Midgard didn't change, then we'd probably still be stuck with sticks for weapons and huts for houses. The chitauri would have killed a lot more people when they came," he feels compelled to point out. "And we'd never have cars, or planes, or scientists who could figure out rainbow bridges into space."
Thor nods in consideration.
"That is true," he agrees.
"Even Asgard must have changed to get to where it is now, right?" Steve asks.
"Asgard has changed little in my lifetime," Thor replies. Then he pauses, and something like a cloud passes over his eyes. For a second, Steve's worried that he's accidentally shoved his foot in his mouth. But it's gone almost as soon as it was there to begin with. Thor shakes his head a little, and then smiles.
"Perhaps one day Midgard shall reach the apex of its existence, and slow down," he says.
"Maybe," Steve replies, as the waiter brings them their orders.
The tenth time, they're out in the remote cousin of nowhere, somewhere close to the Canadian border. They're all standing around a ruined field of splinters and flaming military wrecks where a bunch of trees and some road used to be, dead on their feet and staring at Hulk, who's sleeping curled up in the middle of the chaos with Tony clutched under one arm like a flashy red teddy-bear, and a pretty brunette who'd been airlifted in sitting by his head, making soothing noises as she pats him.
"Are you okay?" Steve calls in a paradoxical whisper.
Iron Man throws him a thumb's up, despite the way his suit keeps shooting out alarming sparks of light every few minutes. Natasha comes to a stop beside him, breathing heavily and leaning a little on her knees. She produces her phone from the belt of her suit and holds it up in front of them.
"Say cheese," she pants.
Tony transforms his 'thumb's up' into a considerably less polite gesture.
Their intended extraction vehicle had managed to turn into a flaming wreck somewhere between General Ross opening fire on Hulk and the brunette woman flinging herself at him. Steve's not entirely sure what's going on, and he doesn't like to think that the military's involved, but they're too tired to piece it together right that second. The transport they do have doesn't have room for everyone plus Hulk. As the resident super-humans (apart from the one who's green and napping) Thor and Steve volunteer to make their own way back to civilization.
Thor flies up until he sees the highway, carting Steve like a sack of potatoes. It's never comfortable flying with another person. It doesn't matter if it's Tony or Thor, Steve doesn't know where to put his hands, and the only way to get carried without making a scene that looks like a very weird wedding photograph always leaves his ribs bruised.
So when Thor spots a Denny's nestled in a little town along the highway, Steve doesn't object to taking a break and landing.
"I have been thinking," Thor says, after their waitress musters up the courage to approach, and manages not to pass out or do anything except blush to the roots of her hair and nod a lot.
"Oh, good," Steve replies, for lack of a better response. He rests his head against the table surface, which is tacky but cool. It feels like he's just spent six hours running around and yelling at some lunatic that missiles don't work on Hulk. Which is probably because he did. This would be the first time that someone in a uniform has just flat-out ignored everything he said to them.
It's not a fun experience.
"I have been thinking," Thor repeats. "That we ought dine at all of them."
Steve lifts his head and stares blearily up at him.
"All of them?" he asks.
"Yes," Thor replies decisively. His cape is a tattered mess, and there are large scorch marks on his armour. Steve knows they'll be gone the next time he picks up Mjolnir, but they're still a little disconcerting to see. Especially when combined with the 'I have a plan' gleam in his eye.
Steve is wary of that gleam. It usually means so many bad things from so many, many people.
"All them what?" he wonders.
"All of the Denny's!" Thor says, as if it's obvious. "The map said that they were scattered across America, yes? And Midgard has changed a great deal since the last time either of us explored it. So, here is my thought – we shall quest across the land and find every Denny's, and dine there, and in so doing become better acquainted with this realm."
Steve stares at him.
"You want to travel the country," he says.
"And find every Denny's."
"And eat there."
Thor nods a final time, crossing his arms over his chest.
"It is a good idea for a quest," he says, just a hint of defensiveness creeping into his tone.
Steve lowers his head back onto the table.
"Sure, Thor. Why not," he mumbles, too tired to even bother coming up with an argument. His eyes are closed again, so he misses the triumphant grin that lights up Thor's face.
Thor turns up in a slightly dilapidated van, dressed in jeans and red t-shirt that says 'It's Hammer Time!' on it. He lurches to a halt in front of Steve's apartment building, leaving a trail of honking vehicles, cursing, shaking fists, and one particularly white-faced pedestrian in his wake.
"Um," Steve says. "I thought I was going to go get a rental?"
"Jane has loaned me the use of her van!" Thor informs him cheerfully. "She says that SHIELD has promised to reimburse her. I do not know what it means, but it is convenient that we have a vehicle now!"
Steve looks back down the street. Then he stares up into Thor's innocently smiling face, eyes alight with the excitement of a quest.
"Move over. I'm driving," he says.
"You Midgardians, always insisting on being the one to drive. Such a strange preoccupation," Thor replies, but he indulgently moves over to the next seat. As he climbs in, Steve notices that he's got something in his hand. A long, wide piece of paper with a seam down the middle.
"What's that?" he asks.
"Darcy Lewis was able to obtain for me a copy of the Denny's map," Thor explains. "It holds the objects of our quests along it."
As Steve leans over to look, Thor points at a little 'D' dot in particular.
"There are several Denny's in New Mexico," Thor says. "I should like to see them!"
Steve can't help but grin a little at his enthusiasm, and carefully restarts the engine.
"Guess we know where we're aiming for, then," he replies.
Thor grins back at him.
The eleventh time ends up being Steve's favourite, because by then, it's something familiar.