Note - I don't own The Avengers. I wrote this for my great friend, 02cents, who is a bit of a Steve fangirl and wanted a story where he asked one of the team for advice about dating. This is what I came up with. Chronologically, this fits in before Stumbling through the Dark. Also, I want to thank everyone for all their reviews on my other stories - you guys have been awesome.
Guys' Night Out
It was one of those nights – quiet, lonely, boring – the kind where Clint started to question his existence. Life … the universe … the usual shit. "Maybe I should just get a dog," he said to the empty apartment. A canned laugh track on a Friends repeat was his only answer. He squinted at the TV, trying to remember when Friends had even started. Last he remembered, he was watching a baseball game, the Mets losing and his mind drifting.
Shaking his head, he muted the TV and stretched out on the old couch, punching the pillow a few times to get the lumps into just the right spot. Still wearing the jeans and t-shirt he had on all day, he settled in for his umpteenth night crashing on the couch. He was almost asleep when he heard a knock at his door.
Groaning, Clint rolled off the couch, bracing his hand on the coffee table to push himself up onto his feet. He turned on the lamp on his way, hoping to cover up the fact he was about to fall asleep at ridiculously early time on a Saturday night. He preferred to keep his pathetic life a secret.
When he opened the door to his apartment, the last person he expected to see on the other side was Steve.
There were several reasons why Clint just stood and stared blankly at the super soldier filling his doorway - first of all, it was after eleven and for some reason he pictured Steve tucked into bed with a warm glass of milk by nine. Second of all, the only person who ever dropped by his apartment now that Coulson was gone was Natasha and that was to nag him to death. And finally, he didn't even think Steve liked him. Ever since the mess downtown, they'd basically been on the level of two people who happened to work in the same office – a friendly nod here or there, maybe a quick mention of the weather, and that was it.
It was on his to-do list – "Get to know Rogers" – but the list was long and ever since the mind-fuck, he considered it a good day if he got out of bed before noon, showered by three and maybe ate something by six, let alone saw another living soul and actual had a meaningful interaction with them.
"Um. Can I come in?" Steve asked, looking awkward as hell.
"Oh, yeah, sure. Come on in." He took a step back and gestured for Steve to step forward.
Steve made his way across the tiny cramped living space to the couch, dodging an old pizza box, three month old gun magazines and some scattered clothes.
"Don't mind the mess. I gave the cleaning lady the year off," Clint offered, somewhat embarrassed at the state of his life.
"Year or decade?" Steve asked and Clint raised an eyebrow at the joke. Maybe the dude wasn't as dull as he thought.
"So what brings you to my door, Cap?" As far as he knew, Steve was staying at Stark Tower, or as Tony had taken to calling it lately, Avengers Tower. Tony promised to design a floor for each of them, so they could live under one roof like some fucked-up dysfunctional family. He wasn't sure what he thought of the whole plan – he was used to being alone and the thought of adding half a dozen roommates to his life, even if they were spread out in a billion dollar high rise, didn't seem like such a great idea.
Steve jammed his hands into the pockets of his bomber jacket and gave Clint a look that made him think Steve might puke. Clint took a step back, just in case. "I need some advice," Steve said.
"From me?" You could have knocked him over with a feather.
Steve sank onto the couch and Clint sat down on the coffee table, saying a silent prayer that it wouldn't collapse under his weight.
"There's this girl …" Steve looked so anxious, wringing his hands together, still looking like he was going to vomit his guts out. This was not how conversations about girls were supposed to start.
"Beer," Clint interrupted, jumping up from the seat he'd just taken. "I know this great bar, just a couple of blocks away."
"What?" Steve asked, clearly confused.
Clint grabbed a gray hooded sweatshirt off the floor and shrugged it on over his battered Led Zepplin t-shirt – so vintage it was actually a concert he'd attended. He found his Chucks under the card table that doubled as his kitchen table and hopped around as he pulled them on without untying them. "We can't discuss chicks while sitting around like a couple of … well … chicks. No offense, Steve, but I don't want to have a heart to heart on my couch in the middle of the night while watching Sex and the City."
"Oh, I didn't think …" Steve's voice trailed off.
"Come on, it'll be fun."
It took Steve's eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dim lighting and a few minutes to adjust to the loud music and the racket of pool balls crashing together. The place was surprisingly full for so late at night and Clint laughed when he told him that.
"Cap, around here, eleven is not late at night. It's early."
Steve took the beer the agent was handing him. Clint had made a beeline for the bar when they entered and gotten the bar tender's attention immediately. Steve would have probably stood at the corner and waited patiently for the man to notice him. Not Clint, he plowed right in and got what he wanted.
They grabbed a table and Steve tilted his head, trying to pick up the lyrics of the song in the midst of all the other noise. Something about a days passing you by. He knew the feeling.
"Springsteen," Clint offered, rattling off the facts. "Glory Days. Nineteen …" his voice trailed off as he did the calculations in his head. "Eighty-three? No, eighty-four. Off of Born in the USA. A kickass album."
Steve shook his head with a sigh. "I can't tell if any of this music is new or old or good or bad."
Clint took a swig of his beer. "Well, they play this on the oldies stations now, which I don't agree with. If you ask me, nothing after 1980 should be considered old."
"Well, wasn't that …"
Clint held up his hand. "Don't say it, Cap. Just don't"
"Thirty years ago?" Steve said with a grin and Clint dropped his head to the table.
"Thanks for reminding me," he groaned dramatically. He sat back up and twisted his neck from side to side, working out the kinks. He picked up his beer and tapped it against Steve's bottle and toasted, "To the olden days."
Steve held up his drink and sighed, studying the unfamiliar label. "I can't even get drunk."
Clint gave him a confused look.
"The serum," Steve explained as he took a sip.
"Did they tell you that before they talked you into doing the experiment?"
Steve grinned. "Let me guess, you would have said no?"
"Well … it would have certainly given me pause, let's put it that way," Clint admitted wryly.
Steve looked at the bottle, trailing a finger through the condensation that had collected on it. "Didn't matter much at the time, but man, there were times with my men, after a firefight, that I would have given anything to get drunk with them."
Steve let his gaze wander a bit, taking in the crowd, marveling at how much had changed while he was frozen in time. He'd been scared to death to talk to women back then, he couldn't imagine what it would be like to talk to one now.
Steve could barely make out the pool table in the back, but he thought he saw a familiar figure step up to the table with a cue, he squinted and leaned back in his chair, trying to see around the giant tree of a guy who had stepped into his line of sight. Before he could confirm his suspicions, Clint asked a question, breaking his concentration.
"So a girl, huh?"
Steve turned back around. "What? Oh, yeah, a girl."
"And you picked me to talk to?" Clint leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.
Steve studied him for a second – he really didn't know him too well, but he seemed like a good guy. Even after everything that had happened with Loki, stuff that would have sent even the strongest men running for the hills, Clint had stood by them and fought with them and become a part of the team. He was a great man to have watching your back. He knew him as a soldier, but he'd realized a little while ago that he didn't know him as a friend.
"Bruce is doing some Doctors Without Borders volunteer work and Tony is … Tony."
"So, last resort then?" Clint laughed but Steve felt his stomach drop when he realized how it had sounded.
"No, I didn't mean …" Steve said in a rush but Clint waved him off.
"No worries, I know I haven't exactly been around much. I guess I missed some quality bonding time."
Steve noticed the dark circles around his eyes and just the general tiredness that radiated off the man. He looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders and Steve suddenly felt like the worst Captain in the world. He should know when one of his men wasn't doing well, when one of his men was clearly suffering.
"So this girl, she got a name?" Clint asked and Steve felt his chest tighten at the thought of her. He took a large gulp of his beer to stall.
"Grace," he finally said, feeling the blush creep into his cheeks. After the serum, after everything that had happened to him, thinking of girls still turned him into an eighty pound weakling. Pathetic, he chastised himself.
"Is she hot?" Clint asked.
"Pretty. She's pretty," Steve said. "She's, um, a nurse with S.H.I.E.L.D. We've talked a few times."
"Yeah …" Clint prodded, with a grin.
Steve shrugged. "I don't know. I may be reading things wrong."
"Well, how did things work before?"
"You know – before. Back when you were the coolest guy on the face of the earth and had your face plastered on trading cards, comic books and recruiting posters – shit like that."
"You know about the trading cards?"
Clint's expression changed, softened somewhat. "Coulson. He showed them to me, oh, roughly a hundred times."
"Mint," Steve said with a sad smile.
"Just some foxing on the edges," Clint added with a grin but the look in his eyes betrayed his pain.
Steve sighed. "Wish I'd had a chance to sign them."
"He was a good guy. You would've liked him." Clint picked up his nearly empty beer bottle and finished it in one gulp. Steve pushed his away, not thirsty anymore.
"You didn't answer the question," Clint said, steering the topic to less depressing pastures.
"How did things work before?" Steve repeated and Clint nodded. Steve shook his head and laughed. "They didn't."
"Seriously?" Clint looked him up and down and Steve knew he was seeing what was on the outside – the manufactured super soldier who was supposed to represent some faded, outdated American ideal. He couldn't see the insecure guy lurking beneath whose palms grew clammy at the thought of asking a woman to dance and who didn't have a meaningful conversation with a person of the opposite sex until he was well into his twenties and terrified out of his mind.
An image flashed from his memory and he closed his eyes, trying to capture it. Like Coulson's trading cards, there was foxing around the edges and he was afraid his time with her face was growing short, that he would soon forget. "There was one woman," he said wistfully.
Clint leaned forward in his chair. "Yeah?"
Steve opened his eyes and smiled. "Yeah. But that was a lifetime ago. Unless Stark develops a time machine, I'm going to have to leave her in the past."
"You've got to get back in the saddle again."
Steve furrowed his brow. "What?"
"Grace. That was her name, right?" Clint asked and Steve nodded. "So you ask her out."
Steve's stomach didn't like that one bit and did a nervous flip. He swallowed heavily. "Um … I don't think …"
Clint rolled his eyes. "You don't need to think. Just ask. The worst she can say is no and, honestly, I think you've got a pretty good shot at this."
"What makes you say that?"
Clint looked at him like he'd sprouted horns or a third eye. "Um … you're Captain America."
"Oh, that," Steve said, feeling kind of stupid. "That shouldn't matter."
"You'll make it not matter on the date when you show her that there's more to you than a shield and spandex."
"It's not spandex," Steve explained and Clint raised an eyebrow. "It's not," Steve insisted.
"Whatever you say. Anyway, I think Hawkeye's Love Line is closed for the evening." Clint pushed his chair back from the table and nodded toward the back corner. "Let's grab some darts."
"Gee, wonder who will win that one?" Steve said with a laugh.
Somehow, Steve was winning. Clint was swaying slightly on his feet, which didn't make sense since he'd only had one beer. And nearly every dart he threw went wide and missed the bullseye. One even hit the wall.
"We should get a game going," Clint said loudly and Steve was starting to doubt his friend's sanity.
"Doesn't seem like a good idea to me," he said but Clint rolled his eyes at him.
"I can take any fool in this place with my eyes closed."
A guy who had been standing behind them for a while now stepped up. "That so?" he asked and Clint nodded.
"How does twenty sound?"
"Twenty sounds like a guy who's a pussy and scared to loose a few bucks, if you ask me." Clint said, his words slurring slightly.
Clint grinned. "That's more like it." He threw the first dart … and it bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. "Just need to warm up," he said and Steve shook his head.
The archer, who supposedly never missed, proceeded to lose a game of darts. The guy reached out to grab his winnings but Clint stopped him, putting his hand over the money. "Double or nothing."
The guy laughed. "Seriously?"
Clint just stared back at him.
The guy eventually shrugged. "Sure, why not? Since you like losing so much."
Steve really shouldn't have been shocked when the next dart Clint threw was dead center. And he certainly shouldn't have been shocked when the next two joined it. "Looks like you're warmed up now," Steve said, trying to hide his grin.
The guy was pissed off now, but instead of starting a fight over the hundred he'd lost, he stalked away to join his friends, grumbling about lucky shots.
"Hustling darts," a voice said behind them. "Classy."
"How did the pool game go, Tasha?" Clint asked, not turning around as he gathered the darts from the board.
"Just here with Pepper, not trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting drunks."
Clint stepped back and threw another bullseye – this time he really did have his eyes closed. Steve was starting to think his own personal winning streak was over.
"Girls' night out?" Clint asked and Natasha crossed her arms over her chest. She was in a black tank top and jeans and Steve realized she was the woman he'd glimpsed earlier. He knew he'd recognized that red hair.
"Yes, which you knew already because I told you. Just like I told you what bar we were coming to."
"Oh, did you tell me that? Huh." He shook his head and tapped his temple. "Must have entered my subconscious or something, because I honestly don't remember."
Steve's gaze darted between the two of them – picking up something underlying the tension, something he couldn't quite identify.
Natasha narrowed her eyes at her partner. "Your subconscious is full of shit and we both know it."
"Maybe my subconscious was worried that you two ladies would be out late at night in New York City, in a shitty neighborhood with no protection."
"Protection?" Natasha took a step forward, her gaze cool and steady. "Oh, yeah – and just who is going to wind up being your protection when that guy and his friends jump you in the alley for hustling him out of a hundred bucks?"
Steve awkwardly raised his hand and Clint gave a shit-eating grin. That time he threw two darts at once as he said, "Can't get much better backup than Captain freaking America."
"Is that what you two are doing out here? Trolling for bar fights. Nice, Barton."
"For your information, Steve and I are out for …"
"Guys' night," Steve supplied.
"Guys' night," Clint nodded and patted Steve on the back.
Pepper joined them, holding two pink drinks, which Clint made a face at. Natasha gave him a warning glance as she took the one Pepper was offering her. "Thanks," she said.
"I promise you'll love it," Pepper said.
Clint watched as she took a tentative sip. He knew her drink of choice – vodka, straight up. No frills, no fuss. Perhaps a bit cliché with her being Russian and all, but in some instances, you could take the girl out of Russia …
"Yum," she said with about as much enthusiasm as someone facing a firing squad.
Pepper rolled her eyes and laughed. "Trust me, two more of these and you won't care what they taste like."
Natasha eyed her dubiously. "If you say so …"
"Fancy meeting you two here," Pepper said, her eyes sparkling as she welcomed the new additions to the group. She looked at Steve. "Isn't it past your bedtime."
"Ha!" Clint said, slapping a hand on his leg. "I knew it."
Pepper gave him a look that he figured Tony knew well. "I was kidding."
"Sure you were."
Steve cleared his throat. "So, is pool still the same? You still hit the balls with the stick?"
"Something Nat excels at, by the way," Clint added and Natasha gave him the finger.
"It's still the same game, Cap," she said, ignoring her partner.
"Well," Steve said with a shrug, "since I'm apparently already up past my bedtime …"