Standard disclaimers apply. Just something in the written to mark the passing of Veteran's Day, Remembrance Day or Armistice Day depending on where you reside. Given the Marvel 616 universe writes Coulson as an Army Ranger, this opened a door. Not sure it's any damn good, but I felt like writing it.
Intellectually, Steve knew Barton was Army. He had read the briefings during the Loki affair in the solitude of his apartment, although he had little frame of reference for terms like CIA Special Activities Division, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta or USAISA; 75th Ranger Regiment had at least an air of familiarity to it. So Rogers knew Clint had been a GI most of his life, served well if the files are anything to go by, it just didn't really register. He was still Agent Barton, not Sergeant First Class Barton.
It really sank in the day of Philip J. Coulson's funeral, a bright but surprisingly cool summer day in Virginia. The sun fell on the southeast section of Arlington National Cemetery, while Steve tried to focus on the half-mast flag in the distance rather than the rows upon rows of white marble; the sheer scale of it all since he had last stood across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial was overwhelming. It was distasteful to say, but process of the funeral proved a welcome distraction. The drums beat and refrain of the horns from the military band, the cadence of the marching of the escort platoon, the rustle of the flags in the breeze of the color guard, and the hoof strikes from horses of the caisson section. Steve could lose himself in the steps of the boys bringing the flag draped coffin to the grave site.
It is here that Barton is a serviceman sinks in for Steve, when even the clean lines of his dress uniform, regulation haircut and fruit salad on his chest in the limousine earlier didn't register clearly. As the casket team stretch the flag out, the stars and stripes perfectly level as the NCOIC backs away and the chaplain steps forward. While the rest of the Avengers fidget, not anything particularly disrespectful but noticeable, the shift of clothing, a puff of breath.
Steve and Clint are statues through the chaplain's service, as he speaks with Isaiah's words.
"I heard the Lord say: Who shall I send and who will go for us? I answered: Here I am, send me."
They are unflinching during the three rifle volleys fired into the clear summer sky, solemn as the bugler wails Taps into the air; they feel the weight of those three shell casings folded into the flag and handed to the stoic old woman seated closest to the head of the casket. Duty, Honor, Country. The others shoes aren't as polished, don't stand quite the straight, salutes aren't quite as whip sharp and practiced as Barton and Rogers,; Steve doesn't feel so alone, standing there in the front row of the mourners.
Later when the crowd from the funeral has dissipated somewhat, the civilians mostly, Steve and the rest of the Avengers (and Major Maria Hill, USMC) finds themselves led by Barton and a crowd of tan beret-ed soldiers to a dive bar in DC. Fury, his four stars gleaming in the sunlight, had passed the address to Barton during the blur of exchanged handshakes and salutes after the funeral. They swarm the place, ordering round after round, the motto decorating Phil's grave marker shouted in chorus with each shot guzzled down.
"RANGERS LEAD THE WAY."
These men may never know how Phil died, or what he did when he left the Afghanistan to follow Nick Fury and SHIELD, but they don't need to. They knew Phil as a damn fine soldier, a good man, and that he went down fighting is all they need to hear. Steve finds himself fitting in here, because the stories told are familiar, the atmosphere and weight of them. He may have never fought in a desert, felt the sand and heat but he understands these men, can share stories of his war with them. Steve sees Barton smile in honest for the first time, his uniform slightly disheveled, arm slung around Romanoff as he listens to a Sergeant named Johnson tell Thor a tale about the Son of Coul; he may not grasp all the small details but the important parts come through; bravery, sacrifice, honor. These things are universal.
The sun dips out of the sky as Stark pretty much pays for the crowd to clean off the top shelf behind the bar; Thor is having the medals, ribbons and badges on the Army dress uniform explained to him. The god of thunder casts an eye around the table, remarks that Barton has more Rogers, and is not Steve Midgard's most honored warrior? Which brings a wave of laughter and shouts from the crowd. It's true, Barton has a load of ribbons, oak leaf clusters, stars and other bits across his chest that outstrips Steve's. Clint looks suspiciously like he might be blushing as he hides his face in Natasha's hair, though he clears his throat, and gets to his feet.
Barton raises a glass, looks a little glassy eyed as he says shiny bits of metal and ribbon are not the judge of a man's character. Phil didn't have a boatload of decorations, most of the guys in this room don't, doesn't mean Phil wasn't a big damn hero. The world may never know or get what they do, recognition and reward may never come but as long as people like the ones in this room understand; that is all that really matters, everything else is just window dressing. Medals won't console Coulson's poor mom on a lonely Boston night, the grave in Arlington won't make the ground he is buried in softer or warmer. All there is the things he did and the memory of them; and what they mean to the people around him. So the best anyone can hope for, is to be like Phil, be remembered well because they tried to do something worthwhile.
Steve may very well be a man lost in time, but this right here, a bunch of soldiers drinking, trading stories, and honoring one of their own. It feels timeless. Rogers is telling Stark a story about his father, Tony actually seems to be enjoying it. Hill is giving as good as she is gets from a few of Phil's old Army buddies, while a Corporal wants is try to talk Bruce into an arm wrestling match so he can say he beat the Hulk. Thor is engaged in a battle of wills over some large mugs of beer with a thick shouldered, barrel chested shoulder with a prosthetic leg. Steve catches Barton's eye, he has retreated to a corner with Natasha, his jacket draped over her shoulders. She is whispering something in his ear, tossing looks towards Rogers.
Barton beckons him over, Rogers works his way across the room, as he gets closer he finds something recognizable sitting on the table in front of them. Those damn trading cards, these ones in much better shape than the last ones he saw. Natasha slides a pen across the table, explains they want to auction them, sell them, something. Give the money to Phil's mom, or charity or something; haven't really figured it out but they should do something, something good in Phil's name. Congressmen practically fought with each other to be the first to nominate Steve for the Medal of Honor, and while Phil will never get that kind of recognition, they could use the fame to do something worthwhile for him. Steve pops the cap off the pen, smiles, thinks Barton is a damn fine example of this man's Army, damn fine.