He stared after Hawkeye's departing back. Torn between wanting to do something, anything, to stop the other from leaving and thinking that no matter how painful, it was better this way. After all, Hawkeye couldn't be hurt because of him if he wasn't around.
It was about a week after the young hacker had finally been dealt with that Tony found himself nervously pacing the sidewalk outside a small beach side café. Dressed in a pair of faded, though high quality jeans and a white t-shirt he felt and looked far from the usual confident businessman.
"Tony," he heard a voice from behind offer in greeting. He turned around to look at the blond. Clint was dressed similarly to himself, but seemed, to Tony at least, far more at ease in the clothing and the surroundings than he himself did.
"Hello Clint," the billionaire offered in return, hoping that he'd managed to keep at least some of his feelings hidden, though he doubted he could completely hide the painfully raw hope from colouring his voice. And he had to admit that the pacing had probably given away his nervousness.
"Lets go sit down," Clint said, his voice sounding more subdued than normal.
They waited for the waiter to arrive to take their orders before saying anything more, both of them noticeably uncomfortable.
"You look good." Tony thought it a fair observation, being as it was barely a week since the other had lied dying in Tony's very own lab. Also the blond really did look good, but then that wasn't exactly anything new.
"Thanks to you," the other acknowledged. "But don't think I owe you anything for that," he added with a familiar edge of anger in his voice.
"Wouldn't dream of it."
They fell into another uncomfortable silence, broken only by the waiter delivering their respective coffees.
"Look," Clint finally broke the silence. "I told you I'd think about it. I have." Still that ever present anger simmered just below the surface. "It's not that I can't forgive you. Maybe if we'd just been friends I already would have."
Tony looked at the angry young man. He wasn't very good at reading people, at least not those he really cared for. That had been proven again and again. But he thought he knew quite well what Clint was telling him.
"But you won't, will you?"
"God Tony, you're probably the most self centred person I've ever met. If a meteor was about to hit Earth I'm sure you'd find someway of making it your fault."
"I…" Tony started, not really sure what he was supposed to say.
"Just listen for a minute," Clint cut him off. He pulled a hand through his blond hair and looked at Tony earnestly. "I really have thought about this," his voice suddenly sounded uncharacteristically weary. "See, you always think everything's your fault. That you have to take care of everything by yourself, so you keep the people around you in the dark. I know you're trying to protect us… You've no idea how condescending it is, do you? Always thinking you know what's good for us better than we do." Where Tony might have expected to find anger in Clint's voice the only thing he could hear in it was a tired hurt.
"You didn't see it coming at all, did you? Us leaving." Clint chuckled dryly, a painful humourless sound. Tony was sure he could see the other man blinking back tears. "Do you have any idea how long we thought about it, how long I… Walking away was the hardest thing I ever did, but I… I couldn't… I can't…" Clint's voice broke as he turned his head away from Tony.
Tony could feel tears stinging his own eyes and he wanted more than anything to close the distance between them and just hold the other man. He didn't have the right.
"I hoped… we all did," Clint continued, swiping angrily at the tears that had escaped his eyes, "that maybe you'd realise that you can't go on like this. Stupid, huh?"
"I didn't know," Tony said helplessly. "I…"
"And you still don't. Just look at Julia, hanging around hoping that you'll… At least I stopped fooling myself."
The blond turned to look at Tony again. "Like I said, I could forgive, but how long before you did it all over again? And again? I won't put myself through that, not anymore. Not even for you babe."
"I'm sorry," Tony said, knowing it didn't matter. Knowing he really didn't deserve forgiveness.
"I know, babe. I know." He'd never heard the always so cocky man sound so utterly miserable. "So I'm going to tell you this once. Go home and think about it. I don't know if you can act any differently than you do, but you better find out. Knowing you, you'll probably decide it's all for the best, that you should be alone." The look in Clint's blue eyes was pleading. "If you do, then just please let us go. Me, Julia…" His shaking voice trailed off.
He stared out at the quietness of space. He'd decided he needed room to think and where better to find room than space.
If nothing else he owed Clint to actually think about what he'd been told. Owed it to all of his friends he supposed. And it wasn't like he could really deny any of Clint's words.
At least with Force Works, with Clint he had the excuse of not realising what he was doing. He should have, but he didn't. With Julia, and even Jim, he didn't have even that lame excuse. He knew how much he was hurting them, Julia especially. But he couldn't make himself let go, he should, but if he did then he would be completely alone.
He stared into the vast emptiness and finally admitted that there was nothing he feared as much as being utterly alone. But he couldn't stand seeing his friends hurt.
He clenched his hand into a fist. And yet by trying to protect them he kept hurting them even more.
His thoughts wandered to Clint. The thing between them had come as a complete surprise. It hadn't even had time to develop into anything real, before… before he'd screwed it all up. It had all still been so tentative that they hadn't even told any of the others, especially considering the situation with Julia and Wanda.
And then, angry and hurt by what he'd seen as a betrayal from his friends and especially from Clint, he had led Julia to believe that… There really was no excuses for the things he'd done. He didn't deserve friends or forgiveness.
He laughed at that. Maybe Clint knew him too well.
Clint woke to the sound of someone banging on his door. The sound was impossible to ignore and finally he got up. Briefly he thought about putting something on, but then decided that whoever it was could just live with seeing him in his boxers.
He opened the door an blinked. Then blinked again, wondering if he was still asleep.
"Come in then, before you wake up the neighbours," he told Ironman.
What the heck was Tony doing here at this time and wearing the armour?
The moment the door closed Tony had yanked off his helmet.
"I should be alone. I don't deserve any of you. I just keep getting you hurt. Keep hurting you." The sudden laugh sounded slightly hysterical. "I will be alone. Sooner or later."
Clint rubbed his eyes and wished for a cup of coffee.
He watched as Tony started pacing the room, wringing the helmet in his hands.
"Tony?" He asked, but the man didn't even seem to hear him.
"And I deserve it. I deserve being alone."
"Babe?" He tried again.
"I'm scared." Tony said and stopped abruptly. He looked at Clint with tears falling down his cheeks. "I don't want to be alone."
"Oh, for god's sakes…" he mumbled to himself and then closed the distance between them. The metal of the armour felt cold against his bare skin, he should have put something on after all. He ignored it and held on to the sobbing man.
Tony woke with a warm, hard body wrapped around him tightly enough that it left no doubt at to the gender of the person. It didn't take long for his memories of the previous night to sort themselves out. He cringed in embarrassment and for a moment he considered leaving before Clint ever woke up.
To his credit he dismissed the thought almost instantly, knowing he couldn't do that to the other man. Knowing that if he did any chance he might still have with Clint would be gone forever.
Seeing as there was nothing else to do he closed his eyes and let himself enjoy the moment. Who knew if he'd ever have the chance again.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed before he could feel Clint stirring. He definitely hadn't missed a certain part of the other man stirring.
"Morning babe," the blond said with voice rough from sleep. He didn't seem as if he was about to move though and Tony was afraid to do anything that might remind the other man of his anger toward Tony.
"Relax," Clint said. "I'm not about to throw you out now." He did pull away though, but stayed in the bed.
Tony turned around and faced the other man. "I'm sorry about…"
"What are friends for?" He smiled dismissively. Then the smiled slipped. "You always keep everything inside. All I wanted was for you to talk to me, talk to anyone. Do you think I would have turned you away now?"
"So where does this leave us?"
"What? After you fell asleep, crying in my arms?" Clint asked, grinning. "I really don't know," he answered his own question, the amusement slipping away. "I'm not sure that it changed anything."
"I miss you," Tony admitted. "I… I'd ask for one more chance, but…" he closed his eyes. "I'm afraid I'll just screw up again." And he would, he knew that. He wouldn't mean to, but something would happen and…
"Damn you," Clint whispered. "Damn you and your fucking selfish…" He drew a deep breath. "Look at me babe," Clint demanded and didn't continue before Tony was looking into his eyes. "Of course you will and at some point I'll do something just as stupid. It happens. And we'll fight. A lot. But that doesn't mean you just give up."
Tony couldn't help the smile that grew on his face. "So you are giving me another chance?"
"Of course I am," Clint answered sounding annoyed. "But don't think it'll be easy. And you talk to me babe. I don't care if we damn well schedule a time for it, but you talk to me."
"I'll try," Tony said quietly, tears once more running down his cheeks.
Weeks had gone by with the tentative agreement between the two men settling into something real. It was still awkward at times. Neither of the two were very good at relationships to start with and putting the two of them together was a difficult thing at best.
This thing between them was still so very fragile. They still hadn't told anyone about it, preferring to take their time trying to sort things out between themselves. Trying to find out if this would work at all.
Both of them kept rather busy schedules. Superheroing was bad on a social life after all and days would pass where they wouldn't see each other. This was Tony admitted to himself not such a bad thing. They needed the space, he doubted either of them would ever be comfortable being around each other constantly. And while Tony enjoyed the time spent with Clint, even the more painful moments, afterwards he was always emotionally wrung out. Perhaps in time the emotional turmoil would lessen, but for now he truly needed the time away from Clint and he thought the other man probably felt the same.
That was not to say that they didn't keep in contact during the times when they couldn't see each other. It had turned out that Clint had meant what he said about scheduling time for talking if they had to.
Clint really did expect him to talk. Tony had to admit that the man was more successful at making Tony share his thoughts and feelings than anyone else ever had been. That was because the aggravating blond simply refused to be subtle about it. He'd just demand Tony talked, and after a few times of having to hear the words "either you talk, or I walk" Tony had come to realise that there wasn't much of a choice, not one he was willing to make anyway.
Not every time they talked was some sort of emotional confession of course. Sometimes they just talked about what they'd done during their respective days, about good memories, about dreams and of a multitude of other harmless subject that all too easily turned serious. And sometimes they just were.
It was, Tony supposed quite like what a relationship was supposed to be.