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Brought To His Autumn

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Bucky kind of wishes he still smoked, but that was something Steve nixed almost immediately after Bucky came back from Iraq to crash in Steve and Peggy’s front room; his arm full of metal pins, his head still full of sand, and wearing scars like an ill-fitting suit. “If you’re going to get better,” Steve had said, “the smoking might as well go too,” and Bucky had been too bone-tired to argue.

He misses it now. It calmed his nerves. Gave him something to do with his hands other than fiddle with the strap of (not) his bag.

“It’ll be fine, Buck,” Wanda says from where she’s stood next to him. “You’re worrying over nothing.”

Bucky shoots her a disbelieving look, but doesn’t reply, and Wanda just shrugs and leans against Viz on her other side.

He’s a grown-ass man. This should not be as terrifying as it is. But he’s been pulled back to this bar after three weeks, like it’s this beacon of light glowing in Brooklyn and he’s a moth than can’t help but fly to the light, even if it burns him. And that’s a stupid comparison. On the other hand, the address isn’t hard to find. He could have just posted this stuff back. But then…

Three weeks ago, he’d all but bolted from this building straight to Manhattan where he’d proceeded to spill every little detail to Wanda because she, of all people, wouldn’t judge. Because Wanda gets those weird in-between things that people are and can be, better than anyone else Bucky knows, and he absolutely couldn’t sit on this – absolutely couldn’t – because it’d thrown him so badly he’d felt like his skin was peeling off; like his head was a puzzle that had been shaken up and, to his surprise, everything had fallen back into a different configuration showing him a picture he never expected.

Wanda understands that. Sort of. He’s fairly sure that she hadn’t freaked out when it happened to her though. Wanda’s a very together sort of person.

“James,” and it’s Viz’ voice this time. “Would it be easier if we came back another time?”

Bucky leans back against the wall, tipping his head up to look at the tops of the building opposite and shaking his head. This is never going to be easy. Once his brain decides something is going to be a problem there’s not much he can do to persuade it otherwise.

“Then we shall wait until you are ready.”

Bucky doesn’t pretend he understands Viz. Viz is this almost alien being who’s so sure of himself that Bucky can’t help but not understand him.

Viz is also the reason Bucky knew that Wanda would be able to deal with anything Bucky threw at her. Not because Viz is difficult, but because Viz is Viz.

See, Bucky went to college late – after the army. Stark Industries had head hunted him while he’d been on tour, singled him out of his SpecOps team and offered to pay for his college tuition in exchange for being eternally indentured as StarkSec or whatever they call it. However, private security generally requires two working arms so the whole idea went to pot after his run in with a roadside IED. It was a bit of a bummer, but he’d had larger things to worry about at the time so he’d not thought about it too much. Turns out though, that someone at SI had done their research, seen his high school diploma and everything else he’d done for his SpecOps team – namely, keep their kit working – and decided that it would be very much worth their while to train him in product design and engineering. So Stark Industries put him through college anyway.

So James Barnes attended NYU on a full ride, and largely just made people nervous because he was at least five years older than everyone else, was very good at improvising explosives despite his arm almost always being in a sling, and sometimes, when someone made a loud and unexpected noise around him, he’d twitch, or topple a chair, or go for a firearm he no longer carried.

And into this fucking mess walked Wanda, whose flatmate was on his course and – well. Wanda no longer spoke to the flatmate, but Bucky sure as hell hadn’t been able to get rid of her. Wanda was patient and kind and most importantly not Steve, so wouldn’t look at him with that happy-sad-understanding expression that seemed permanently carved onto his face. Which meant that Bucky would get shitfaced with her and tell her fucking everything.

Like how sometimes he’s terrified there’s never going to be a day where he can’t feel sand in the back of his throat. Like how sometimes he thinks he can feel the metal in his arm and it makes him want to claw the damn thing off. Like how he likes guys and girls and he’s never been as comfortable with that as people seem to think he should be. Like how he’s so in love with his best friend that sometimes he can’t fucking breathe.

The last two might be connected.

They’d sit on the floor of her tiny shoe-box bedroom drinking horrible Eastern European vodka and he’d spill his fucking guts, and it would feel like he was purging his entire body of something dark and viscous in a way that his weekly VA meetings didn’t even come close to. Wanda would hold him as he cried and patiently tell him that it would get better, that there wasn’t anything wrong with him, that Steve must be fucking blind because even Peggy knew that Bucky loved him.

Then, one day, her shoe-box room was lit up with the bright-spark happiness of Wanda saying in a hushed voice, “I’ve met someone.”

And that someone was Viz. Viz, who’d thought long and hard about whether he identified as male, who had pink and purple hair and painted nails, who didn’t like to be touched, who wasn’t all that interested in sex, who looked so other that Bucky found him constantly baffling.

Viz, who thought Wanda hung the moon. And Wanda fucking adored him.

And the thing is…

The thing is, Bucky always thought he was the weirdest person he knew. All his friends were straight, he wasn’t part of any LGBT communities in college, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had still been in full force when he’d been in the army. And then he met Viz and suddenly Bucky wasn’t the oddest person he knew.

And then he met a woman that reminded him sort-of-but-not-really of Peggy, who introduced him to a guy that sort-of-but-not-really reminded him of Steve, and all those little boxes in Bucky’s head that he used to sort out who he was and what he wanted burst open and scattered their contents all over his brain.

“Fuck,” he mutters, knuckling between his eyebrows. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

Bucky attempts to slide down the wall, but it’s all exposed red brick and it catches on his leather jacket, making him judder. It hurts, but no more than anything else does right now.

“I can’t do this,” he says, low and broken. It’s a fucking bar and he can’t walk into it.

Wanda kneels down in front of him, heedless of the dirty Brooklyn sidewalk, and takes his hands in hers.

“We can come back another day,” she says, gentle and sincere, like this isn’t a major fucking waste of her Sundays off. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Wanda,” Bucky replies, small but deadly serious, “I can’t do this.”

Wanda frowns, scrunching up her pretty nose and Bucky thinks, why couldn’t it have been you? But then he’d just be falling for another person with no interest in him and it already hurts too much from just Steve. She lets go of his hands to cup his jaw instead, leaning in until their foreheads touch.

“Yes,” she says, “you can.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Don’t do this to yourself, Bucky,” she says, quiet and fierce. “Don’t.”

Bucky feels a hand on his shoulder and, startled, looks up to find Viz gently brushing his fingertips over the leather of his jacket. Viz gives him a small smile and Bucky has to fight the urge to press his cheek to Viz’ fingertips, because he knows Viz wouldn’t be comfortable with that.

The problem is that Bucky wants Clint and Natasha in a bright hot way that he’s never felt before and that absolutely terrifies him. It’s so much more present than what he feels for Steve, which is like a bruise now, one he can’t stop pressing.

“It’s weird,” Bucky whispers, not looking either of them in the eye.

“We are all weird,” Viz says before Wanda can answer. One fingertip presses gently against the side of Bucky’s neck before almost immediately withdrawing. “If it helps, think of it this way.” Viz waits until Bucky looks up at him before he continues. “You got my share of wanting to be touched.”

The comment startles a slightly strangled laugh from Bucky.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Wanda reminds him. “You can just leave the bag.”

But Bucky doesn’t want to do that. He wants Clint to grin at him like he’s happy to see him. He wants Natasha to smirk at him like she’s planning something.

He wants to know that neither of them hate him for sticking his nose into their business.

That’s the kicker really; he hadn’t been able to cope with the idea of Natasha depriving herself of something so freely given and – for fairly obvious reasons – had hated the idea that Clint might carry a torch for her for years without ever knowing his affections were returned. Natasha might have been wilfully oblivious to how Clint felt about her, but to anyone else it was incredibly obvious and Bucky just couldn’t let that lie. So he’d stuck his fucking nose in and is now desperate to know that they don’t hate him for it. And even if they do, he could probably cope as long as they’ve got together or something. Just – something. There needs to be less people in the world like him; endlessly pining over someone completely unavailable.

The problem is that people who are secure in themselves make Bucky feel off kilter because he’s not, at least in some areas. At SI it’s different, because he knows what he’s doing and can speak with authority. Same with the army and with college even, certain aspects of it at least. But while Bucky is a natural flirt there are people who trip him up because they just… know who they are and are comfortable with it. And Bucky’s not, not really. Girls are fine, but anyone else and Bucky can’t help wonder if they do what he does, endlessly worrying that you’re doing the right thing, that you’ve earned the label you picked out for yourself.

Which is bullshit. He knows it’s bullshit. But he does it anyway.

Add to that the fact that he’s totally gone on his best friend, can’t fucking hate his wife because she’s fucking stellar, and occasionally, when he’s drunk and completely lacking in self-control, fantasises about both of them and wakes the next morning feeling guilty and horny, and Bucky Barnes’ head is practically a bag of cats. Cats with PTSD, no less.

“How have I ever got anything done?” Bucky moans only slightly melodramatically, tipping his head back to rest against the wall. “Ever.”

“By being intelligent, eloquent, and quick-witted,” Viz says gently and Bucky straightens up to find Viz crouched down next to Wanda, his thigh brushing her side.

“And attractive,” Wanda adds, smiling at him.

Clint had called him pretty. Bucky hadn’t thought that would do it for him, but Clint sounded so awed that he couldn’t help but like it.

“Jesus.” Bucky huffs out a laugh after a moment. “Y’all have way more faith in me than I do.”

Wanda snorts. “’Y’all’. Listen to yourself.” She punches him gently on the arm. “But seriously Bucky, you enjoyed yourself with them. And on top of that, you said they were nice, respectful, great in bed, and invited you back. Don’t get hung up on shoulds and shouldn’ts. It ruins the fun and stresses you out. They said come back if you want to. You want to, so go back.”

“But what if they hate me now?” He’s being unreasonably childish and difficult, he knows, but he still asks.

“Do you think you were right?”

Well, Natasha had said ‘I think I love you’ and Clint had looked to her for confirmation on practically everything while staring at her like she hung the moon. Damn straight he was right.

“Yes.”

“Then they won’t hate you.”

Bucky’s silent for a moment but however much he tries he can’t help but ask, “And what if they don’t want me anymore?”

It makes him feel small and pathetic, but… Steve is enough.

Wanda takes his hand. “I can’t say they definitely will,” she says gently, “but, by your own admission, they slept with a lot of people while they were also sleeping with each other. I don’t see any reason for that to suddenly change.”

Bucky stares at her for a long moment, trying to find the lie in her eyes but failing. He nods reluctantly. Part of him thinks that shouldn’t be reassuring, but it is nonetheless.

“C’mon,” she says, standing without letting go of his hand, so he’s forced to scramble inelegantly upright or risk toppling Wanda into the wall. She runs her hands through his hair and straightens his leather jacket before beaming at him like a proud mother.

“Excellent. Now,” she holds her hand out to Viz and he gently hooks the tips of his fingers around hers, “let’s get inside before it gets too busy.”

 

Bucky hadn’t really been paying attention to the interior of Slings & Arrows the last time he was here, distracted as he was by Natasha, caught like a fish on the hook of her smirk. He looks now though, an intense sort of scrutiny in no way masking how desperately he wants to look towards the bar to see if Clint’s there.

The chairs are mismatched; wooden church chairs and plastic school chairs side by side with plush wingbacks, old cinema seats, and cracked leather sofas. There are old diner bar stools lining the bar and all of the tables are uneven, scrubbed wood and heavy wrought iron. Festoon lights are strung from the exposed beams running the entire length of the room and the bare brick walls are covered in what look like lovingly framed old circus posters, archery equipment, and large guilt mirrors.

And behind the bar, completely unnoticed by him the last time though he’s not sure how, is an enormous sign painted onto what looks like plywood that says ‘we adhere to a strict NO BULLSHIT policy’. Somehow he manages to clock that without registering who’s serving. It’s a skill. Or cowardice.

One or the other.

“Nice bar,” Viz says, entirely free of inflection. Bucky can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or not. It’s a problem he has with Viz.

“I like the lights,” Wanda replies. “And look!” She points towards a table near one of the large windows. “That chair’s made out of road signs!”

Wanda laughs in delight and Viz shoots her a fond look before asking, “Is your guy on the bar?”

So now Bucky has to look over.

There’s no flash of blond hair behind the bar and Bucky searches frantically for any sign of Clint in the room. He recognises the young black kid behind the bar from last time – did someone say his name was Miles? Is he making that up? – but the other guy is an older black guy with a don’t-fuck-with-me expression. They seem to be the only two guys working.

It sort of stops Bucky in his tracks; he’d never even entertained the possibility that Clint wouldn’t be here. It’s his bar, so of course he would be here, right? But he’s not. He’s really, really not and there’s no Natasha here either, sitting elegantly at the bar getting free drinks.

An awful, yawning emptiness opens in his chest. He hadn’t even thought to think of this. And what if that means they’re – ?

“I am going to take that as a no,” Viz says, when Bucky’s been silent for too long.

Bucky turns to leave and immediately Wanda grabs him around the shoulders.

“Nuh-uh,” she says. “You said he lived in this building. We’re gonna ask.”

“No we’re not,” Bucky mumbles, trying to break her grip.

“Yeah we are.”

Wanda steers him towards the bar, Viz bringing up the rear with a smirk that makes Bucky want to snarl at him. This isn’t funny, okay? This is – he’s not sure what it is actually. Awful. Tragic. Definitely making him want to crawl into his bed and cry. Fuck this.

“Hey,” he hears as Wanda pushes him onto a bar stool, “what can I get you?”

“Whiskey, I guess,” Bucky says. Wanda and Viz can order their own damn drinks.

“Sure,” and it’s the young one – Miles? – that’s serving him. Bucky’d rather it was the other guy. “Coming right – wait.”

Bucky’s head snaps up at the change of tone.

“What?”

Maybe-Miles squints at him. “You’re – you’re the guy from three weeks ago.”

Bucky gives him what he’s very sure is his best caught-in-the-headlights expression.

“You are!” Maybe-Miles sounds way more pleased about this than Bucky would have expected. “Oh my God, wait right there.”

And Maybe-Miles rushes away to the other end of the bar and picks up a fucking wall mounted phone while giving the other guy a double thumbs up. What follows is a brief but very animated conversation that includes the phrase ‘yes, really’ at least three times, something Bucky can only say with confidence because Maybe-Miles says it very loudly.

The other guy hands Bucky his whiskey.

“On the house,” he says, in an incredibly deep voice. “Yours are on the house too.” He looks at Wanda and Viz as he speaks. “Don’t get used to it.”

He turns away to pick up another order and, just as he does, the door to the back crashes open and Clint Barton skids into the room wearing shitty jeans and a t-shirt that’s more hole than shirt. Bucky’s chest squeezes painfully at the sight of him. He’d forgotten how… alive Clint was.

Clint’s eyes scan the room rapid-fire, catching Bucky’s gaze almost immediately. An enormous grin steals over his face then and he throws his hands up into the air, yelling “Fuck yes!” loud enough to make Maybe-Miles jump and half the room turn in the direction of the bar.

“You came back!” Clint scrambles around the bar and all but throws himself at Bucky. “You fucking came back.”

He’s almost pulling Bucky from the bar stool, but Bucky hardly notices because he’s suddenly engulfed in the smell and feel of Clint and he’s not really sure what to do, arms caught awkwardly in an almost-hug.

“How the fuck did you get hotter?” Clint demands once he lets Bucky go. He gives Bucky a blatant once over, that makes Bucky flush, before grinning hugely. “And Natasha owes me ten bucks. Oh man, today is a good day.”

Bucky just stares at him.

“Hi,” he says inanely, once he’s finally able to get his brain online again. “I – you’re not wearing shoes.”

Clint’s bare feet poke out of the ratty ends of his jeans. They look so delicate and vulnerable that it makes Bucky feel like crying.

Clint curls his toes and Bucky’s gaze snaps back up to meet his. “Yeah,” Clint says gently. “Wasn’t gonna waste time with shoes when you were downstairs, was I?”

Bucky guppies for a moment.

“I brought your clothes back,” he blurts out, immediately regretting every decision that’s ever got him to this point. “I mean – I.”

His teeth click together as he snaps his mouth shut and he frowns angrily at the bar.

“Hey,” Clint says, softer again. He licks his lips and Bucky almost stops paying attention. “Hey, gorgeous.” Clint’s hand comes up to grip the juncture between his shoulder and neck. “You okay?”

Bucky gives a strangled laugh and turns his face to press his nose into Clint’s wrist. “No,” he says softly, “I don’t think I am.”

Clint’s thumb strokes against the hinge of his jaw. “You never seem to be alright when I’m around.”

“You make me not alright.” Bucky forces the sentence out between stubborn lips, because if he doesn’t say it now he’ll never work up the courage to say it and if he doesn’t say it everything will get screwed up. And he’s in fucking public! Jesus Christ, how is this happening? How does Clint make him feel so off kilter and simultaneously so safe that he can just fucking say things like that in public?

“Do you want me to go?” Clint asks, and Bucky can’t even fucking look at him because that tone of voice implies way too much tenderness in his face and nope. But also, nope.

“Why the fuck would I turn up here if I wanted you to leave?” he snaps.

“He’s been very indecisive recently,” Wanda cuts in before Clint can reply and wow, Bucky had completely forgotten she and Viz were here. Also, fuck you Wanda.

“Woah hey, sorry.” Clint turns, probably, just like Bucky, not even noticing that Wanda and Viz were carefully blocking them from the view of the general public. “I didn’t mean to be rude there. Clint Barton.”

He removes his hand from Bucky’s shoulder to shake Wanda’s and Bucky immediately misses its warmth.

“Wanda Maximoff,” Wanda says, “and this is Viz.” Clint holds out his hand to shake again. “He’s not big on touching.”

“Oh, okay.” Clint gives him a little dorky wave. “Nice to meet you, man.”

“And you.”

Bucky can feel Clint looking between the three of them for some kind of explanation; to their presence, to his weird behaviour, to everything, but Bucky can’t say and Wanda won’t without Bucky’s say-so, so instead an awkward silence descends. Bucky would love to do something about it, but his brain isn’t cooperating, so he doesn’t.

“Well,” Clint says after a moment. “It’s my day off today and Natasha had to run some errands so she won’t be here until” – he waves his hand vaguely – “later. I dunno. You want to come up?” Clint looks between the three of them. “All of you? I can offer really good coffee.”

Wanda looks like she’s going to refuse, but Bucky sends her a desperate look when Clint’s not looking at him and she relents.

“For a little while, that would be lovely,” she replies, nudging Viz gently, and Clint grins, directing them towards the same door Bucky went through last time he was here. Clint waves to Maybe-Miles and the other guy behind the bar and, before the door swings closed behind them, Bucky hears the other guy say, “That man’s ability to get laid is astounding.”

Bucky blushes and, even though it’s not strictly true in this instance, he can’t help but agree.

“Woah there.” Bucky’s pulled back into the present by Clint suddenly hefting a squirming kid up onto his hip. “What’re you doing, hmm?”

The kid’s tiny, probably two or three, with enormous chocolate eyes and dark chocolate skin and – yup, actually also just covered in chocolate. He’s wearing a Batman t-shirt.

“You’re gonna scare the crap out of your momma,” he says, tickling the kid and making him giggle, “and then she’s gonna come up and yell at me, and we don’t want that, do we Mikey? Eh? Do we?”

Clint tickles the kid until he’s shrieking with delight.

“Detour,” Clint announces, pushing open the third floor door. “And I’ve got to get that lock fixed. Won’t keep you out of the stairwell, but at least it’ll keep you off the fire escape.”

The landing on this floor is strewn with kid’s toys and one of the apartment doors is open, the noise of a TV filtering through from inside.

“Simone!” Clint calls, pushing a toy truck aside with his bare foot. “Found a little monkey on the stairs!”

“Michael Lewis!” A woman with a harried expression and flour-covered hands emerges from the apartment, navigating her way around the discarded toys with practiced ease. “What have I told you about playing on the fire escape?”

“He was actually on the stairs,” Clint says with a smile, passing Mikey over to his mother.

“Still,” Mikey’s mother says, frowning as she settles Mikey on her hip, “you’ve gotta fix the fire exit door, Clint.”

Clint rubs at the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I know, Simone. I’m getting the locks today.”

“Locks, plural?”

“The back exit to the bar needs a new one.” Simone raises an eyebrow. “And the bar exit onto the stairwell.”

Simone shakes her head. “It’s a wonder you never get burgled,” she says with a smile. “Anyway, we’re making cookies, so I gotta leave you. See you, Clint.”

She smiles a goodbye to Clint and nods at Bucky, Wanda, and Viz before hustling a second kid, who’d been peering around the doorframe, back into the apartment and closing the door.

“Okay guys,” Clint wheels around, pointing a finger at each of them in turn. “Remind me to text Natasha to pick up locks.”

Viz looks a little startled and Wanda is smiling like she’s trying not to laugh.

“You’re not allowed to laugh at me,” Clint says indignantly to Wanda. “I’ve only just met you.”

“Sorry,” she says, not sounding at all repentant.

“Yeah, yeah,” Clint replies with a smile, leading them back into the stairwell and up to his apartment. “Make yourself at home. I’ll make coffee. James can point you towards the bathrooms if you need them.”

Wanda smirks at Bucky as she heads for the couch and Bucky can’t help but blush. He’d felt like a fucking sexual deviant, telling Wanda about Clint and Natasha, and here Clint is making causal references about it to people he’s literally known all of fifteen minutes. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it at all but he wants to… he’s not even sure. Stand close to Clint, to Natasha, in the hope that that ease and confidence seeps through into his bones. Bucky’s comfortable with most things; he could command in the army, was told he had great leadership qualities, he carries his responsibilities at Stark Industries lightly, but when it comes to this he feels laughably out of his depth. Women are easy, women are fine, but anyone else…

Maybe, he suddenly thinks, it’s Steve. It’s all mixed up with Steve and gets pushed into the ‘don’t touch and don’t think about’ area of his head. Or – or, like, women are fine but any guy is cheating on Steve (which is dumb because he’s not even with Steve) so everything even remotely related to that gets shoved away into the ‘don’t touch’ pile, only to be poked at when he’s feeling stable enough. Or when fucking gorgeous redheaded women approach him at work functions.  And, of course, this leads to him freaking the fuck out while stood in a one night stand’s front room with two of his closest friends three weeks after the fact.

“Hey Bucky,” Wanda’s voice sounds like it comes from very far away, “you alright?”

“Hmm?”

“Come sit down.” Wanda gently steers him towards the couch, pushing him until he sits. Clint appears with coffee, handing mugs to Wanda and Bucky and placing Viz’ on the table. He then grabs an enormous mug for himself, collapses gracelessly into an armchair, jeans stretching over his thighs, and proceeds to gently coax everyone into easy conversation with almost minimal effort.

Slowly Bucky relaxes. It almost seems counterintuitive to be tense or stressed when Clint’s around, laughing and joking and being so totally at ease with himself. Wanda tells him about her psychotherapy studies, Viz enthuses about his new found love of cooking, and Bucky carefully navigates around the ball of anxiety the past three weeks have been to instead explain – as much as he can – about the new tech that’s in the pipelines, developed through Stark Industries new partnership with Shield.

“Oh yeah,” Clint says, slouching back in his chair. “Nat mentioned something about that.”

“Isn’t she in Legal?” Bucky asks.

“I have no idea.” Clint shrugs, grinning. “The woman’s a mystery.”

“Do you not have to call her?” Viz cuts in.

“What?”

“The locks?”

“Oh shit, yeah!” Clint laughs. “And I was half way through doing fucking laundry.”

Laundry seems too mundane for this, for Clint, like he should have been doing something far more exotic. But, to dispel this notion, Clint drags out a plastic hamper full of damp clothes and proceeds to haphazardly hang up his laundry on a battered clothes rack like this is the most normal thing he  could be doing while entertaining people he’s only just met. Halfway through, he sends them an apologetic look before clamping his mobile between his ear and shoulder and calling Natasha. So, while Wanda and Viz debate the merits of record stores in Queens and Harlem – and how the conversation veered onto that topic, he has no idea – Bucky eavesdrops on Clint’s conversation like the creeper he’s stopped pretending he isn’t.

“Hey, Tash. Can you do me a favour?”

There’s a short silence, in which Clint hangs a pair of very nice boxer briefs over the clothes rack. They make Bucky think of three weeks ago and he fights not to blush.

“No, nothing like that.” Another pause. A smile. “C’mon give me some credit. I just need to you pick up three locks.” A pair of jeans follows the boxers. “From Carson’s. You know Carson’s?” The pull of Clint’s t-shirt across his shoulders as he moves is sort of hypnotic. “No, on the corner of Madison and Throop.” Clint’s smile is sort of soft. It makes Bucky’s chest ache. “Yeah, yeah, next to that weird vintage shop.” An octopus sock dryer thing is produced from seemingly nowhere and Clint starts clipping socks onto it. It’s purple with a sharpie eye patch over one eye. “Two of those electric pin pads and a push bar fire exit… thing. Whatever he thinks is best. I can install it.”

“You’re staring.” Wanda leans over and whispers into his ear, making him jump ever so slightly.

“I know,” Bucky replies, but he doesn’t stop.

“Oh,” Clint continues, “and I have a surprise for you when you get back.” Here he throws Bucky a quick smile, like he knew Bucky was watching all along. His eyes cut away as Natasha presumably answers and he snorts out a laugh. “Fuck no, gimme some credit.” A roll of the eyes. “Jesus, that was one time. Are you ever – ?” Natasha must cut him off. “You’re a cruel and unusual woman.”

Clint dumps the last of his laundry on the rack and disappears into the downstairs bathroom, his voice fading out, presumably to hang up the octopus. The drying rack he leaves to the right of the TV.

“…ridiculous, I’ll pay you back. It’s for the bar. How long do you think you’ll...?” Clint’s voice goes indistinct again as he takes the plastic hamper back into the laundry room next to the front door. Why he didn’t just hang his clothes up in there, Bucky has no idea.

“We’ll leave when Natasha turns up,” Wanda says quietly.

“But – ” Bucky doesn’t want to leave when Natasha turns up. Bucky’s not sure he wants to leave ever. Or at least, not yet.

“No,” Wanda says with a smile. “We.” She gestures between herself and Viz.

“Oh.”

Clint must have finished his conversation while in the laundry room because he emerges with his hands free and a big smile.

“Natasha should be with us in half an hour or so. You guys want to stay for dinner? We were going to order pizza.”

Bucky opens his mouth to say something, but Wanda beats him to the punch. “I’m sure Bucky would happily stay, but Viz and I have to get back to Manhattan.”

“Works for me. You happy to stay?” This time Clint seeks out Bucky’s gaze, looking caught somewhere between hopeful and demanding.

“Yeah,” Bucky replies, sounding much surer than he feels. But then Clint might make him feel off kilter but he also makes him feel more confident. Bucky’s life is a mess of contradictions apparently.

“Cool.”

Clint grins at him rather stupidly and Bucky can feel Wanda’s amusement coming off her in waves. Even Viz looks amused by everything.

“So hey,” Clint says after a moment, dropping his gaze before looking at Wanda and leaving Bucky feeling momentarily bereft. “Why d’you call him Bucky?”

Bucky groans and Wanda snorts out a laugh, but neither of them answer, so eventually Viz explains.

“It’s from his middle name. James Buchanan Barnes.”

Only his family, Steve, and Wanda call him Bucky nowadays. He was Barnes in the army and by the time he came out again ‘Bucky’ didn’t fit right anymore. It made him feel young in a way that didn’t marry well with the fucked up arm and nightmares he now found himself with. Wanda only called him Bucky because she’d found it amusing to do so, and then it stuck.

To everyone else he’s James.

That being said, there’s probably some long and psychologically interesting reason as to why he still thinks of himself as ‘Bucky’, even if he doesn’t really like other people calling him that.

Clint scrunches up his face. “Wasn’t James Buchanan a president?”

“Yup,” Bucky says. “The probably gay one.”

“Or bisexual,” Wanda chimes in.

“Or asexual,” Viz adds.

“Fitting, if you think about it,” Wanda continues and Bucky glares at her. “If he was bisexual.”

Clint gives Bucky a teasing grin. “Bucky,” he says, like he’s testing it out. “Bucky. Buck.”

Suddenly his grin turns wolfish and Bucky absolutely knows what’s coming.

“No,” he says, trying to ward it off, “not you too.”

“Buck,” Clint says and there’s something in his voice now, something that makes Bucky’s skin prickle. Clint tilts his head to one side, like he’s considering something, and then, in a tone of voice completely inappropriate for current company, he says, “Buck me.”

Bucky feels his heart rate pick up and he must be bright red because he can feel the heat in his cheeks, but he doesn’t look away from where Clint’s eyes are boring into his. The joke is old, so fucking old, almost everyone makes it at some point, but Bucky’s never heard it the way Clint makes it sound; filthy and full of promise.

Their staring match is interrupted by Wanda giggling.

“Sorry,” she says, covering her mouth with her hand, her eyes bright with happiness. “Sorry, sorry.”

Bucky shoots her a fond look, but can’t help the way his gaze is drawn back to Clint; Clint, who’s smiling and rubbing the back of his neck, an embarrassed flush gracing his cheeks. Bucky stares. He’s never imagined Clint could get embarrassed by anything. He’s invited people for threesomes while in crowded bars and aired his boxers in front of people he’s only just met. He doesn’t do embarrassed.

The blush staining Clint’s cheeks makes Bucky want to kiss him stupid.

“Do you not own a dryer?”

Viz’ question is so out of left field that everyone just turns to stare at him, completely uncomprehending. Then Wanda breaks out into uncontrollable giggles, reaching out to place her hand on his leg before remembering at the last moment and gripping the armrest instead.

“Oh Viz,” she says, between giggles.

“What?”

“That was a moment, buddy,” Bucky says with an embarrassed smile. “You ruined a moment.”

“I think Wanda actually ruined the moment,” Clint points out.

“I think,” Wanda cuts in, eyebrow raised and a smirk on her lips, “the moment needed ruining or it was going to get inappropriate real quick.”

Clint barks out a laugh at that and shoots Wanda an oddly fond grin, for all that they’ve known each other for less than a day.

“You sound like Katie,” he says, and the name pings in Bucky’s mind. It takes him a moment to figure out why though, before he remembers Natasha pointing her out three weeks ago; the girl from behind the bar, the one who’d approved. Bucky wonders if they’ve slept together and if it would bother him if they had. Or if it should.

“How so?” Wanda asks, as if she has any idea who Katie is.

“Barton!” Clint snaps in an appalling imitation of a woman’s voice. “Less of the eye-fucking!” It startles a laugh out of Bucky and Clint grins at him. “She’s terrible. Always ruining moments. She approved of you though.”

Bucky fights not to blush. He knew this already, there’s no need to blush. But then, best friend approval wasn’t something he’d passed on to Wanda. The knowledge makes her laugh delightedly again. He’s definitely blushing.

“I know,” he says quietly, his eyes skittering to Clint’s face and away again.

“Hey now, don’t be like that. Katie has great taste. You should meet her girlfriend.”

There’s a scraping noise that indicates a key turning in the front door and Clint’s smile becomes, if possible, even brighter.

“Tasha!” Clint calls joyously, twisting in his chair to face the door. “Today’s a beautiful day! You owe me ten bucks!”

Natasha comes down the corridor from the front door carrying several large bags, like she’s been clothes shopping from expensive stores. She’s wearing skinny black jeans, ankle boots and an overlarge dark red knitted sweater. It’s so far from what he last saw her wearing that she almost looks like an entirely different person. She’s hardly paying attention to Clint, or anyone in the room really, so focused as she is on wrangling her many bags onto the kitchen counter. But she has enough wherewithal to snark back, “I bought you locks, Barton, I owe you jack shit.”

Clint doesn’t reply. He just keeps staring at her, ridiculous grin on his face, until the silence stretches long enough for Natasha to look up.

Clint tips his head in Bucky’s direction and suddenly Natasha's bright, piercing gaze is holding his and not letting go. Bucky feels caught, like a rabbit in headlights. Or maybe like a snake with a snake-charmer; Natasha can play any tune and Bucky will follow. Her eyes travel the length of his body, just as they had the first time they met, and he suddenly feels more comfortable, more confident. Women he can do, women he understands. Natasha doesn’t throw him for six the way Clint does.

“Hey.”

He lets a small smirk curl around his lips and from somewhere that sounds very far away he hears Viz say, “There we go.”

“I see Clint was wrong. You’d’ve had no problem borrowing my jeans, would you?”

Bucky likes his jeans tight; black jeans, black boots, black leather jacket. White t-shirt. Viz had once jokingly said his parents should have named him James Dean Barnes.

“Well, they’d’ve been a bit short,” Bucky says with a grin and there’s a chorus of snorts from around the room.

Natasha digs into her bag, only breaking eye contact for a short moment, to bring out her purse and extract ten dollars. She then saunters over to Clint – and her jeans are so tight it’s almost obscene – and slaps the money into his waiting palm before running a hand through his hair and leaning down for a kiss. When they finally part, Bucky gives the money a pointed look and raises an eyebrow in question.

“I bet you ten dollars,” she says, shaking the hand still caught in Clint’s hair to indicate that she’s quoting him, “James normally dresses like a groupie’s wet dream.”

“No Wanda,” Viz says suddenly, catching Wanda’s eye with a knowing smirk on his face, “you don’t understand. They’re like a wet dream – ”

“ – come to life.” Wanda finishes the sentence for him and Bucky blushes so hard he’s sure he’s burst something vital. The studied casualness of his posture crumbles until he’s burying his head in his hands, regretting everything he’s ever told them in confidence because they are the worst.

Suddenly, Bucky hears a choking sound and he peers through his fingers and the haze of mortification just in time to watch Clint collapse into hysterical laughter, tears streaming down his face, which slowly turns so red it makes his blond hair practically glow. He’s laughing so hard he’s having trouble breathing and Bucky would hate him for it if he didn’t look so honestly delighted; laughing at him, yes, but not meanly.

Next to Clint, Natasha is lit up with glee, her smile so big it’s threatening to take over her whole face.

“These ones,” she exclaims dramatically, pointing at Viz and Wanda. “These ones I like. Natasha Romanov.” She moves around the little coffee table, enough to reach out a hand for Wanda to shake. “Very pleased to meet you.”

“Wanda Maximoff," Wanda replies, holding onto Natasha’s hand just long enough to say, “and this is Viz. He's not big on touching.” 

Viz gives Natasha a regal nod, something Bucky is almost a hundred per cent sure only Viz can make look not at all patronising. 

“And we should be going,” Wanda continues. “We have other important things to do that don’t involve embarrassing Bucky to the best of our ability.”

Wanda stands up and collects her bag.

“I’m sure we’ll see you again though,” she says, giving Bucky a knowing look.

Natasha offers to see them out while Clint tries in vain to regain his composure and, as they leave, Wanda turns and catches Bucky’s eyes for a brief second, eyes wide, expression clearly saying holy crap you were right.

Of course Bucky is right. When has be ever been wrong about stupidly attractive people?

“Have fun,” Viz says as he exits. “Wear condoms.”

Bucky groans, dropping his head back into his palms, and Clint cracks up again.

“I like them,” Natasha says as she saunters back to the couch to sit next to Bucky. “They’re cute. We should hang out.”

“Please never do that,” Bucky says through his fingers.

“Why?” Natasha settles herself against him and Bucky can feel her heat through the leather of his jacket. “I like you blushing.” Her fingertips graze his cheekbones and Bucky feels like he’s just touched a livewire. His eyes snap to hers and he drops his hands.

Her gaze is steady and unwavering. Bucky feels like she’s looking right into him.

“Hey,” she says, clearly speaking to Clint even though her eyes never leave Bucky’s face. “Come over here.”

Bucky turns towards Clint somewhat reluctantly. He seems to have regained a modicum of composure, though a smile is still stretched wide over his still-red face. There’s nowhere for him to sit that’s closer than the chair he’s already occupying, so Bucky figures he’ll just sit on the coffee table, but he doesn’t. Instead, Clint saunters over to him, as much as you can saunter in two feet of space, pushes Bucky back against the couch with his hands on his shoulders and then straddles his thighs.

Bucky makes a noise somewhere between a surprised yelp and a groan and Clint pushes his thumb against his bottom lip.

“Viz seems nice,” Clint says, like that’s a normal thing to talk about when you’re practically molesting someone’s mouth. “Interesting. He’s never liked to be touched?”

“He said – ” The words slur around Clint’s thumb, but Clint doesn’t move it and for a moment Bucky can’t continue. Then he swallows, tries again. It’s no less mangled this time round either, but Clint’s pupils are wide so Bucky no longer cares. “He said I got his share.”

It’s not really an answer, but it’s the one Bucky has for now.

Natasha slides her hand up the back of his neck, her palm cupping his skull and her fingers scratching though his hair. Bucky goes almost boneless.

“Yeah,” Clint says. “That sounds about right.”

Bucky’s breathing is going ragged at the edges, but Clint and Natasha both seem entirely composed. It’s startling. Not necessarily that they can remain composed – Bucky assumed they could, they seem so worldly; experienced – but that it doesn’t disconcert him. Or… it does, but – comfortably. He feels safe.

“I’m real glad you showed up,” Clint says, low. He shuffles on Bucky’s lap a little, settling, before removing his thumb and replacing it, quick as anything, with his mouth. It’s a brief kiss, more a press of lips than anything else, but it makes Bucky’s breath hitch and his entire body tingle.

He is so out of his depth.

“But,” Clint continues and the tension that had fled Bucky’s body as soon as Natasha's hand found its way into his hair comes back with a vengeance. Natasha runs her thumb over the hinge of his jaw. He assumes she means for him not to worry, but his head isn’t listening. “I think we’ve gotta talk before something more happens.”

Oh God.

Clint moves as if to get off his lap, but Bucky’s not having it; his hands shoot out to curl over the waistband of his jeans, the backs of his fingers pressing into the taut skin of Clint’s stomach.

Clint stills.

“I’m staying here?” He asks and Bucky nods jerkily, not entirely able to look him in the eye.

“Okay,” Clint says and his weight settles more firmly across Bucky’s thighs again. “Okay.”

Bucky doesn’t let go though.

There’s a brief, tense silence. Bucky can tell that Clint and Natasha are having one of the weird silent discussions, but he still can’t quite look at either of them so instead he stares at a spot just over Clint’s shoulder and waits until they’re done. It’s not like he could vocalise anything coherent right now anyway, so he might as well just shut up.

Steve and Peggy also have whole conversations like that. Sometimes about him – especially in the early days when he still lived with them and his nightmares kept everyone awake – but also about married people things. He guesses it’s something that comes with the territory of knowing someone that well.

He used to do it with Steve all the time. But then – well. He still does, but it’s not quite the same. There’s Peggy – and that’s not blame, it’s just an acknowledgement – but mostly it’s all down to him. They once got drunk, him and Steve, and Steve had asked him what had changed. Bucky couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t sometimes I want you so bad I can’t even look at you so he’d stayed silent; faked incomprehension. Bucky’s pretty sure Steve chalks it up to his PTSD and Bucky hates, hates, hates that he’s grateful for the excuse.

“Hey, James.” Natasha's voice comes to him as if through thick fog, and it takes Bucky a moment to register it and turn to her way. She smiles, an attempt to soften the blow he’s sure, but her question still hits like a gale in his ribs. “Why are you here?”

Bucky’s not even remotely prepared to answer that question. There are about seventeen different possible answers and he’s not even sure if any of them are the right answer, or even if there is a right answer – if it isn’t just a hundred and one little things that together make it feel as though the ache in his chest will only relent with proximity. That he’ll only feel steadier if he’s within touching distance of one or the other, like leaning against a wall while drunk; just for a while, until the ability to walk returns.

That analogy might be better if the wall could turn around and explain why you suddenly felt the need to get drunk. Which in Bucky’s experience, it never has.

Bucky opens his mouth to say something, anything, but his throat is dry and he can’t think of what would be true but wouldn’t involve oversharing to a terrifying degree with people he’s aware, intellectually at least, he doesn’t know at all, really. His teeth click together as he shuts his mouth again and he must look so fucking lost because Clint moves his hands from his own thighs onto Bucky forearms and squeezes, looking understanding and a little sad.

“Okay,” he says gently, “a slightly easier question then: what do you want to happen, right now?”

To watch the two of you make out, he thinks inanely, which he’s aware actually means; to not think.

“Don’t make me leave,” he says instead, unable to look at either of them.

“Wasn’t planning to, darling,” Natasha says softly.

How is it, Bucky wonders, that he can lead people into battle but he falls apart when faced with this.

Bucky drops his head against the back of the couch, forgetting for a moment that Natasha's hand is still in his hair. She hisses slightly, digging her nails into his scalp, and he lifts his head quickly, muttering a guilty, “Sorry”.

“It’s okay,” she says quietly, sliding her hand around until she can curl her fingers into the collar of his leather jacket. Her thumb sweeps over his collarbone and the movement is calming enough that he leans back again. He notices that Natasha's other hand is curled around Clint’s calf. Grounding.

Maybe he’s not the only one who’s nervous.

He stares at Clint’s high ceiling. There’re cobwebs up there and idly Bucky wonders how anyone could be bothered to tidy their ceilings anyway. He certainly never has.

Steve does though, sometimes, with a feather duster and everything. Peggy laughs at him, calls him a kept man even though they both work, Peggy at NYU and Steve at the local high school. The one time Bucky had witnessed the interaction a part of him had wanted to climb into the middle of it, have it directed at him.

The problem is, Bucky only ever dates women, and he only ever dates women because without fail he imagines Steve in place of any man he’s ever slept with and the guilt of that sticks to him like tar. The problem is that all those relationships he has with those women, who have always been perfectly nice, don’t last because he always feels like something is missing. Bucky knows he’s bi, but it’s not like he’s ever really thought about it much. It’s as though someone handed him a piece of paper when he was in senior year saying, “You’re bisexual,” and he’d felt like it fit well enough so he’d never questioned it. But if there’s anything he’s learnt from Wanda and Viz, as well as his own experience, it’s that things are often not that obvious.

Clint and Natasha are really fucking confusing.

The actual problem is though, that not once did Bucky imagine Clint to be Steve. And not once did Natasha make him feel like he was missing something. And he has the distinct impression that both of those things are because he was with Clint and Natasha. ClintandNatasha. They come as a set. Clint can’t be Steve because he comes with Natasha. Natasha is enough because she comes with Clint.

Bucky doesn’t feel even remotely prepared for whatever the fuck he’s just found himself in.

“I want – ” he starts, opening his eyes and sitting a little straighter – or as much as he can with Clint still in his lap. Clint and Natasha both turn to look at him and their gaze stops whatever words were trying to escape his mouth.

“Wait,” he says instead, trying unsuccessfully to rally his thoughts. He frowns at the pull of Clint’s jeans over his thighs, frustrated at his own ineloquence, and starts again. “Have you – do you know…? Shit.”

He has no idea what he’s trying to say and it seems ridiculous to him that he’s having this much trouble considering that he’s met both Clint and Natasha only once before. He’s not even run into Natasha at work in the past three weeks.

He’s trying to have a serious relationship discussion with two people he’s only met once before. Bucky’s life is a joke.

“I don’t… we don’t really know each other,” he finally starts. “I’ve met you both once before and we didn’t – we didn’t talk much. Mostly we just – ”

“Fucked,” Clint says with a smirk. Natasha hits him on the arm, but his interruption actually goes some way to calming Bucky’s nerves.

“Yeah.”

Bucky blows out a breath through his nose before continuing. “And I’m… like, I do that sometimes, one night stands. Not like that but – you know? It’s not, not completely out of character. For me. But.”

You’ve been blown up by an IED in a fucking warzone, Bucky thinks, you can fucking do this.

“You” – and he looks from one to the other so they know he means both of them – “you’re like… different, you know?” And he’s going to have to explain why, because it explains so much of why he’s a fucking basket case right now.

“I have this friend,” he says, and he sees Clint and Natasha exchange a look that is way too close to knowing for Bucky’s liking. “Known him since I was three. Looking at him was like looking through a dirty window that was slowly being cleaned, you know? You guessed the outline and the cleaner the window got, the clearer the outline until everything’s revealed and it’s not even a surprise. He doesn’t know it, but he’s probably fucked up every relationship I’ve ever had.”

Bucky knows he doesn’t have to say how or why. Clint and Natasha's faces say they know already.

“I don’t see him when I look at you,” Bucky says after a moment, his voice small and forced out through stubborn lips. “Do you – do you know what that even feels like?”

He still can’t quite look at either of them, focussing back on the way Clint’s jeans stretch over his thighs instead, but then Clint says, “Jesus, kid,” in a way that sounds almost broken and Bucky has to look at him just to check that it’s real.

He looks sort of wrecked. His blush has finally faded and his eyes are huge and injured in a way Bucky didn’t expect and he’s so focussed on that look that he’s almost surprised to feel Natasha move, her hands sliding around his neck until she’s wrapped around him, hugging him tight. She kisses the juncture of his neck and shoulder, her knee digging into his side. It’s awkward and sort of painful and he’s not sure he ever wants to move. Bucky turns his face into her hair, inhaling the warm honey smell of her shampoo and is taken by surprise again, this time by Clint, rising so he can get closer to Bucky, wrapping his arms around both him and Natasha. Bucky’s grip on Clint’s waistband slackens, his hands sliding until they’re up and under Clint’s t-shirt, his skin smooth and warm and Bucky doesn’t want to let go, ever.

“I want,” Bucky chokes out into Natasha's hair, “to try. This. Whatever – whatever this is.”

“Okay.” Natasha this time. “Okay, James.”

“And,” Bucky continues, because there have been way too many feelings recently and he needs to feel a little more in control of himself, “I want to watch you two make out.”

And to know you don’t hate me for butting into your shit, he thinks. But he can’t bring himself to ask that. Not yet.

Clint pulls back at that. His smirk isn’t as big as it was, but it’s there.

“Oh really?” he asks with a laugh. “I dunno about that. Tasha?”

“Hmm.” Natasha hums against his neck. She gives him one last kiss before pulling away. Her eyes are slightly damp, but her composure is impeccable. “I’m not sure I want to kiss Barton.” She gives Clint a calculating look. “He’s a bit of a dick.”

“Aww you love me,” Clint shoots back with a grin and Bucky’s eyes widen almost against his better instincts.

“Yeah.” Natasha draws the word out. “I guess I do.”

She turns to Bucky. “And I guess we’ve you to thank for that.” Bucky doesn’t get far enough to actually say the word ‘why’ before Natasha continues. “Figures that the person who gets through to us is also the person we wanted to come back.”

“What?” Bucky almost chokes on the word.

“You’re different too, you know?” Natasha says gently and then she leans in and presses her lips against his slack mouth. Bucky doesn’t have the presence of mind to kiss back, his mind still whirling at what Natasha just said.

“Aww, look at that Barton,” Natasha says, a laugh trapped in her voice. “Apparently I’m not compelling enough.”

“No, you – ” Bucky starts but he’s cut off immediately.

“Maybe we should give him something to pay attention to then,” Clint replies.

Bucky can feel Clint’s muscles move under his skin as he leans across him, cradling Natasha’s face in one hand before sliding his mouth over hers. It hurts Bucky’s knees and the angle is all wrong, but damn if he can’t look away.

There are innumerable things Bucky remembers about that night three weeks ago; a kaleidoscope of images to look back on, beat off to, get lost in, and he’s not saying he has a favourite, or that one things could be designated ‘the hottest’, but he can at least admit that if he could have wished for anything, he would have wished for better lighting in Clint’s hallway as Clint pushed Natasha against the wall and proceeded to devour her in a way that all the porn he has ever seen has never even managed to get close to in terms of sheer, unbridled lust. Mostly he’d seen indistinct flashes of tongue and teeth as they caught the low light, everything else hidden in shadow in a way that made the whole scene more alluring, not less. But still, in the bright sunlight of a Sunday afternoon, Bucky can admit that he prefers this sight.

They’re incredibly close to his face, close enough that he can feel the movement of their bodies and definitely close enough to hear the obscene noises that they make as they part and reconnect. Natasha’s hand, the one that isn’t still curled around Bucky’s neck, is buried in Clint’s hair, rucking it up over and over until it’s an unmitigated disaster, while Clint is constantly pulling her closer and closer, causing her knee to push further into Bucky’s side.

Bucky can feel himself hardening in his jeans, something that hadn’t happened yet today, even with Clint sitting on his lap and molesting his mouth – too nervous, he guesses. But he’s interested now and these jeans are not conducive to hard-ons, even if they make his ass look magnificent. There’s not much he can do about it right now, but shifting Clint off him will definitely be a good start. He pushes at Clint’s waist, savouring the twitch of his stomach muscles and the heat of his skin before Clint takes the hint, clambering off his lap without ever breaking contact with Natasha. Normally that move looks awkward as fuck but Clint makes it look as smooth and easy as anything.

And then Clint climbs into Natasha's lap instead and Bucky honestly wasn’t expecting that.

He’s too big, really, and he’s definitely pretty heavy, but neither of them seem to care; they just push closer to each other, open their mouths wider, Natasha's hand finally falling form its place around Bucky’s neck. Clint’s tugging at Natasha’s sweater – and yes – but Natasha seems to have other ideas.

“Hey,” she says, and it comes out raspy, low, almost slurred against Clint’s mouth. “Hey, wait.”

Clint looks stupid when he pulls away, his eyes glazed and his mouth swollen and pink. Bucky groans. He wants so badly to shove his hands down his jeans, but he can’t work out if that’s crossing a line or not.

“What?” Clint manages, but Natasha just shakes her head again. Instead she stares at Clint, the two of them having another one of their silence conversations, though this time Natasha ends it by signing something Bucky obviously doesn’t understand and wow, he had completely forgotten that Clint was deaf.

Some very small, task orientated part of his mind makes a mental note to look up American Sign Language as soon as possible.

Clint groans, a little overdramatic, and pitches sideways off Natasha’s lap to land on the couch on her other side.

“Wha – why d’you stop?” Bucky asks, and wow. Way to sound childish, well done. But still, why. They we just getting started and Bucky could probably have watched them until they were a sweaty naked writhing heap beside him on the couch. That image flashes across his mind and his breath hitches, his dick jumping in his jeans.

“Because Tash is no fun,” Clint grumbles, but he sounds playful. Mostly.

Because,” Natasha replies pointedly, whacking Clint on the thigh, “this isn’t – we have to go about this… differently.”

Bucky looks at her nonplussed.

“Look,” and she swipes her fingers gently under Bucky’s eye, “like you said, we don’t know each other all that well – or at all, really. And that’s fine, we can work on that, but the problem is you’re hot as fuck, and Clint’s hot as fuck, and – ”

“Natasha's hot as fuck,” Clint cuts in.

Natasha shoots him a look.

“What? You weren’t gonna say it.”

Natasha rolls her eyes at that and Clint grins in return.

“Yes, well, whatever. We’re hot, we like to fuck. It would be really easy for us to just… do that, now, but.” She sighs, seemingly casting around for the right words. “You want to try this right?”

She looks at Bucky and for a moment all the breath in his lungs freezes, because as a thought that is terrifying. But then he nods, because of course he does.

“And we want to try.” She gestures at herself and Clint, who’s wearing an expression Bucky can’t for the life of him decipher. “But…”

She trails off. Clearly her inability to articulate what she means is frustrating to her, but Bucky thinks he understands. They sleep with a lot of people. If the three of them start this… relationship, like that, with sex rather than anything else, it’s more likely to not turn out how they want it.

Bucky nods again. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

His pants are still really uncomfortable though.

“Natasha's always the sensible one,” Clint says after a moment. “It’s as useful as it’s annoying.”

Natasha smacks him on the thigh again, but she’s smiling. “It’s so you can have a break.”

“I’m never sensible,” Clint replies with a grin.

“You run your own business.” Natasha's tone is pointed and from what Bucky can see she’s looking at Clint with a stubborn expression that implies that she’s not now, nor ever, going to back down from whatever point she’s trying to make.

“Yeah, like you don’t have an important job.”

“Yes, but I don’t run my own business.”

Clint frowns like he’s pissed, then waves away her statement. “Whatever. So, now the sexing is off the table, are we gonna have to do boring getting to know you crap? Because I can totally start. My porn name would be Buster St James.”

Bucky’s brain scrambles to cope with the change of subject, trying to figure out just how that’s got anything to do with ‘getting to know you crap’ before it clicks and he starts laughing. And laughing and laughing and laughing. Natasha's looking at both of them like they’ve lost their minds but Bucky hardly cares.

“Buster St James!” he chokes out. “Of fucking course you’d be Buster St James.

“Well, what’d yours be?” Clint asks, sitting up and grinning, so pleased with himself.

And Bucky starts laughing again.

“I don’t get it,” Natasha says, bemused.

“No really,” Clint says again, “what would yours be?”

And Bucky calms down just enough to gasp out, “Lady Amity,” before collapsing back into laughter and taking Clint with him.

“Guys!” Natasha slaps her hands down on both of their thighs, trying to sound stern but mostly sounding amused. “Share with the class.”

“It’s a stupid kids’ thing,” Clint says after a moment, his laughter dying down enough to allow him full sentences. He pushes at Natasha until she overbalances and falls into Bucky. “C’mon, I wanna lie down.”

Natasha rolls her eyes and sits up again, and Bucky thinks she’s not going to play along, but instead she grabs his thigh, pulling up and around until he’s leaning against the arms of the couch, his legs spread in a way that makes it easy for her to slot between them. Clint pulls at his boots, removing both before crawling between Natasha legs and lying across her front, his head resting on her chest.

“How’s it a stupid kids’ thing?” Natasha asks once they’re settled, and Bucky chuckles again.

“Oh, you know. Name of your first pet and the street you grew up on makes your porn name.” Bucky sees Clint slide his hand under Natasha sweater and yup, that’s a great idea. He moves to do the same but instead his hand finds Clint’s back and well, that’s just as good. “We had this fucking awful boxer mix thing that dad called Buster, ‘cause of course he did, and I grew up on St James Street.”

“Lady was our cat,” Bucky adds. “My sister Becca got to name her, which is fucking favouritism if you ask me ‘cause I’m three years older than that girl and I’ve never got to name shit.”

“What would you have named her?”

“Optimus Prime.”

“Yeah,” Clint snorts, “that’s why you’re not allowed to name shit.”

“Because Lady is so much better,” Bucky scoffs. “And Optimus Prime is a great name.”

“Yeah, for a robot.”

“Spoilsport.” Bucky pokes Clint in the back, making him squirm and Natasha complain.

“How ‘bout you Tash?” Clint asks, tilting his head just enough to be able to catch her eye.

“Irina Pyatnitskaya,” and there’s a pause where Bucky’s sure they’re all thinking the same thing. Sounds like a real person. Not that good, as far as childish porn names go, and definitely not as good as Buster St James.

“Irina was my aunt’s Russian Blue,” Natasha continues. “Pure-bred, obviously. A beautiful cat. She had to be put down before we came here. She was too old to deal with the move.”

“To New York?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah. Well, the States.”

“Wait. Where are you from?”

Natasha gives him an odd look. “Didn’t ‘Pyatnitskaya’ clue you in? Or the Russian?”

“You’re actually Russian? As in, you were born there?”

“Yeah.” Natasha drags the word out in confusion.

“When did you move? You have practically no accent.”

So Natasha tells them about leaving Russia aged eleven with her aunt and uncle – though she doesn’t explain why it’s her aunt and uncle that take her, rather than her parents, and Bucky doesn’t ask – and Clint tells them about his adventures in San Francisco in his (very) early twenties, mentioning nothing of his life prior to being about eighteen. Bucky pays them back in kind; talking about his New York childhood, his sister and his parents and Steve. Every now and again Clint complains about the shortness of the couch, but none of them move and it’s only when Natasha states – halfway through a story of Clint’s about some customer in the early days of Slings & Arrows – that she’s starving, that any of them realise it’s almost half nine at night and the promised pizzas were never ordered.

“Man,” Clint laughs as he levers himself off Natasha and the couch in search of his phone. “I’m a terrible host. Beer?”

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky replies, Natasha grunting in the affirmative without making any move to get off him.

Bucky watches as Clint rummages around in the fridge for beers, phone clamped between his shoulder and ear as he orders ‘the usual but bigger’ from some pizza place that clearly knows him pretty well. He’s oddly graceful as he moves – or he is until he walks into the corner of the breakfast bar, which causes him to swear under his breath. Bucky snorts and Clint grins at him, wandering back over and holding a bottle of fancy-ass looking IPA out to him.

Clint’s a bartender after all. Figures he’d have fancy-ass stuff.

“Thanks.”

“No worries man.” Clint nudges Natasha on the shoulder with another bottle, while taking a swig from his own. The line of his throat and the bob of his Adam’s apple are almost hypnotic and Bucky hastily takes a drink himself just to force himself to look away.

“C’mon Tash,” Clint coaxes, nudging her on the shoulder again.

“Comfy.”

“Alcohol,” Clint counters.

Natasha grumbles, but she sits up. Bucky’s front immediately feels cold without her lying on him and the sudden increased blood flow to his legs gives him a pretty severe case of pins and needles. He hisses quietly through his teeth.

Natasha has pillow creases on her cheek from his t-shirt and Bucky can’t help but smooth his thumb over the largest, mapping out its ridges and troughs. She holds his gaze as he does it, the blue of her eyes almost startlingly clear.

“What’s your tattoo of anyway?” Clint asks.

Bucky removes his hand from Natasha's face, his thumb just catching the corner of her mouth, but Clint grabs it before he can return it to his lap, tracing the edge of the tattoo at his wrist.

He’s sat on the coffee table now, just like Bucky’d first expected him to.

“Sort of… bionic arm. Abstract. Steve designed it for me.”

Clint pushes the sleeve of his jacket up to the elbow, following the lines along his skin in much the same way Natasha did three weeks ago.

“So…” Clint drawls out after a moment. “You have, tattooed on you forever, something designed by the straight guy you’re in love with.”

Well, when he puts it like that it sounds stupid.

“…Yes.”

Clint smiles at him, more fond than warranted. “You’re an idiot.”

Bucky laughs and it hurts less than he thought it might. “No argument here.”

Clint traces the lines up to his elbow, pushing at the leather to go further until Bucky grumbles, “Jesus, gimme a minute,” and shrugs out of his jacket.

“My plan all along,” Clint quips with a smug smile, his fingers back on Bucky’s skin almost immediately, tracing up, up, up to his shoulder, pushing his t-shirt sleeve out of the way until his skin runs clear again. “‘S fucking beautiful though.”

His hand moves back down to the wrist, tracing the lines on the back of his hand, the tattooed rivets on his knuckles that makes it looks like the design is adhered to his skin rather than drawn.

“You ever wanted to get another one?”

“Who says I haven’t?”

Both Clint and Natasha snort out laughs.

“Are we forgetting the part where we’ve both seen you buck-ass nude?”

Bucky blushes, hard.

“No,” he says after a while. “I don’t – this does everything I wanted, you know?”

“How so?” Natasha asks.

He shrugs. “It hides the scars,” he says after a moment, uncomfortable. “That’s… it’s the only reason I got it.”

“Well,” Clint says in a ridiculously reasonable tone of voice. “That and it makes you look hot as fuck.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “That wasn’t really high up on my list of reasons.”

“Bullshit,” Clint replies easily. “Look at you. You wear jeans so tight they make my eyes water and even I could tell your suit was fucking expensive. Fuck’s sake, you wear matching socks,” he indicates at Bucky’s feet. “You know exactly what you look like and how you want to come across. Of course that was a reason.”

Bucky glares at him and Clint grins back well aware that there’s no counter argument because of course Bucky’d thought about it. ‘Bucky’ may not have survived its brush with the Army but his love of guitar bands and Johnny Cash sure as hell had, so he’d dug through his closet at his parents place and rescued all the tight jeans and band t-shirts he could find and still fit into. He’d bought leather jackets on his injury pay and grew his hair out (for a while at least, until Peggy told him he looked homeless and as he was living in her home currently she wasn’t overly pleased with the insinuation), and used the eyeliner Becca bought him as a joke because ha, joke’s on you Becca. The only part of the Army he kept with him were his boots and, when he was feeling particularly stable, his dog tags, which Steve laughed at him for because, “Seriously Buck, only you would wear a memento of something you didn’t like because it goes with your aesthetic.”

So yes, he’d known damn well what he was doing when he asked Steve to design a full sleeve tattoo. He’s just a little pissed that Clint could tell so easily.

“Shut up,” he mutters and in retaliation Clint kisses him on the mouth, just a quick press of lips.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Pizza’s here!” Clint says, draining the last of his beer and getting up from the coffee table. “I say we watch some dumb action movie, eat pizza, and make out until bedtime. You’re staying the night, right?”

Bucky assumes Clint’s talking to Natasha, so it’s only when she nudges him and gives him an encouraging look that he realises that he’s not. Bucky really, really wants to but, “What the hell, man? No! I’m working tomorrow.”

He hears some indistinct mumbling and then Clint comes back from the front door carrying a huge bottle of Coke and a tower of boxes which definitely aren’t pizzas, being trailed by a guy carrying what definitely are and who’s being really unsubtle when it comes to checking Clint out.

“So?”

So? So I gotta get to Manhattan! And I can’t go dressed like this.”

Clint directs the pizza guy to put his stuff on the coffee table and Natasha immediately starts opening boxes. “I can lend you clothes,” he replies easily, holding out a hand to Natasha, who slaps ten dollars in his palm.

He then turns and waves his hand under Bucky’s nose as well. “Ten dollars,” he says. “Pizza fund.”

“Where would I even sleep?” Bucky asks, passing the money over, and both Clint and Natasha give him the same ‘are you shitting me’ look in reply. The pizza guy is right there. Who the fuck talks about these sorts of things with company?

“James,” Clint says patiently, though there’s laughter in his voice too. “Just accept that you’re gonna be aggressively cuddled by me and Nat tonight.”

The pizza guy chokes on nothing, his eyes huge.

“Oh shit man,” Clint turns to him like he’d forgotten he was there. “Here you go. Didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”

The pizza guy takes the money almost mechanically, giving Clint one last look laced with longing – and wow that kid has it bad – before turning and leaving the apartment, closing the front door with a quiet click.

“You have got to stop fucking with that poor kid,” Natasha says once the pizza guy has left. “You’re just being mean now.”

Clint waves her away. “He’ll get over it. He’s a practically a baby, loads of time to find some guy who wants to date his skinny ass.”

“Still, though.” And the note of reprimand in Natasha's voice must get through this time because Clint just looks at her for a moment before saying, “Yeah, I guess.”

There’s a beat of silence where both Clint and Natasha grab slices of pizza and Bucky stands there like an unmoored boat, his brain completely unable to process what just happened. Distantly Bucky can tell that something not-all-that-great is about to happen, but it feels like moving through jello, trying to prevent it, and even if he could move fast enough it would be frictionless, sliding through his fingers and carrying on regardless.

“Pizza?”

Clint holds out one of the boxes to him. It looks like some sort of BBQ meat feast. Bucky stares at it and then up at Clint.

“You okay?”

“You just – talk about it. With. With other people right there.”

His fingers are tingling. That’s really not a good sign.

“What?”

Right there. How – ?” His voice cracks and he takes a shuddery breath before trying again. “How are you so – ?”

Alright with it.

If Bucky starts this, he’ll have to tell Steve. He’ll have to tell Peggy and his parents and Becca and, and. Work colleagues. Maybe. But. He’ll… he’ll have to tell his parents. And like, Becca knows he’s bi, they occasionally veg out watching films and rank all the actors out of ten for attractiveness, and his parents have probably guessed because there’s only so long you can moon over your best friend as a teenager before your folks cotton on, but. He’ll have to say it. And not only that, he’ll have to say, ‘oh hey mom and dad, not only am I definitely bisexual but here, meet my boyfriend and my girlfriend who also frequently have sex with people who aren’t me or each other’. And then he’ll have to explain why that arrangement doesn’t bother him (and Christ, he hopes it never bothers him) and then deal with them worrying his self-esteem is so low he’s happy to let this partners sleep with other people. But he’ll.

He’ll have to tell people.

He’s only ever told one person about his sexuality and, by extension, about Steve and that’s Wanda, and he was really fucking drunk at the time. Becca and Peggy both guessed, Wanda told Viz, and while he’s sure his parents have guessed, they’ve never asked and he’s never confirmed. Steve, the idiot, remains a beautiful, oblivious meatball.

“Hey,” and it’s Natasha, quiet as anything. Bucky hadn’t even noticed she’d steered him, oh so gently, to sit back on the couch. “Hey, you’re alright. You’re alright, James.”

Bucky takes a huge, shuddering breath, down to the bottom of his lungs. He holds it, counts to seven because he can’t make ten, lets it out, and tries not to cry.

And before he can tell anyone, he has to work it out. Is this the truest expression of being bisexual? Is he something more? Will people accept him?

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Through the cloud of brewing panic-slash-anxiety, he distantly notes Natasha wrapping herself around him from his left and Clint doing the same from his right. They hold him, silently, tighter than comfortable but just as tight as he actually needs, as he tries in vain to control his breathing.

“This is stupid,” Bucky mutters – mostly to himself, but not really – as soon as he has air to do so. “I don’t know you.”

“Sometimes you just know,” Natasha says, and it sounds like the worst answer, but really it’s the right one.

Still, Bucky snorts.

There’s a long silence and Bucky gets the impression that Natasha and Clint are having one of their silent conversations again, but he doesn’t look at them to check. God, nearly having a panic-slash-anxiety attack is so embarrassing.

“I read this thing once,” Clint says after he and Natasha have apparently reached some form of agreement over Bucky’s head. “This guy – a British journalist, but, you know, a Muslim – was on a train somewhere. Looks over and sees this woman – white, blonde, you get the idea. He looks over and he thinks yes. She’s the one. So he asks to sit with her, and they talk, and he misses his stop, and he goes to wherever she’s going. And they get together, and his family hates it and when they get married only his sister and mom turn up. But the wife-to-be learns Urdu, so she can talk to her mother in law and… it works out. They’re still together, I think.”

He kisses Bucky gently on the cheek. “Sometimes you just know.”

“Did you?” Bucky asks quietly. “Have you?”

And Bucky’s looking at him this time, so he sees the glance Clint throws Natasha’s way and his heart sinks.

Clint’s fingertips brush against his hairline while Natasha's arms tighten around him.

“James, I didn’t even know I could fall in love until about six months ago.”

Something in Bucky stutters before starting up again as usual. “What?”

Clint laughs, wryly. “I’m nearly thirty four. I’ve never been in a romantic relationship before, never had a boyfriend or girlfriend. People would talk about that butterflies-in-the-stomach, stars-in-your-eyes feeling and I figured I was weird ‘cause I’d been sleeping with people since I was fourteen and never felt that.”

Natasha huffs out a laugh.

“Yeah I know,” Clint rolls his eyes. “I’m a fucking slut, so sue me.”

“Hey.” The humour from Natasha's tone is instantly gone and she lets go of Bucky to glare at Clint. “What have I said about you and that word?”

Clint glares at her, but she glares right back and eventually he drops his gaze. Bucky wants to ask what the hell is going on, but his brain is having trouble processing the barrage of information Clint’s decided to trust him with so all that happens is that he opens and closes his mouth a couple of times, probably looking stupid as hell.

“Whatever,” Clint continues eventually. “So I figured I was aro.”

He looks at Bucky as if to say you know what that is, right? and Bucky nods because that was one of the things he’s learned from Viz.

“And that’s fine, you know. I could deal with that. I had great friends, I had great sex. What-the-fuck-ever, right? And then this one,” he waves his hand at Natasha and she smiles, small and smug, from where she’s tucked back up against Bucky’s side, “walks into my bar and I super want to fuck her, because who wouldn’t. But then she’s fun and funny and as blasé about relationships as I am and she sticks around, until three years or so later I’m sleeping with some woman and think this would be so much better if Tasha were here and freak the fuck out because everything feels swoopy and weird when I think of her and I have no fucking clue what that means.”

Clint shrugs like a revelation like this isn’t a world shattering event.

“Cue a bunch of super embarrassing conversations with Katie-Kate.”

He shuffles a bit, the space between Bucky and the arm of the couch not really big enough to fit him, managing to sit in such a way that means he can actually look Bucky in the face without either of them having their necks at awkward angles. It means he’s not holding Bucky anymore, but his thigh is warm against Bucky’s own and, when Bucky takes his hand, Clint grips back firmly.

“At the risk of sounding like a motivational poster, life is a learning process. No-one outside of Tasha knows themselves inside and out aged twenty two.”

“You were a blind spot,” Natasha says, in a way that makes Bucky think she’s choosing not to argue that statement for Clint’s benefit, not hers.

“I’m an enigma,” Clint says happily. “An enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in – ”

“Bandages,” Natasha cuts in.

“Fuck off.”

“In the four years I’ve known Clint,” Natasha turns to Bucky as she speaks, “I’ve had to pick him up from the hospital six times.”

“Shut up.”

“Normally because he got in a fight with someone – ”

“God, shut up.”

“ – and Kate refuses to deal with him on painkillers.”

“What’s Clint like on painkillers?” Bucky asks.

Clint groans into his hands.

“Loopy,” Natasha says with a smirk, “and horny.”

Bucky laughs and it shakes something loose in his chest. Suddenly, it’s easier to breathe. He tips his head to rest on Clint’s shoulder, Clint leaning into him in return and Natasha still holding him tight. He suddenly feels tired, the left over adrenaline from the narrowly avoided panic attack leeching out of his body to leave him feeling muzzy.

“So.” Clint draws out the word, clearly unsure what to follow it with. “Pizza?”

Bucky huffs out a laugh and nods, taking a slice of the BBQ meat feast from the box Clint proffers.

“And then you’re staying the night, right?”

He really shouldn’t. It’ll be blatantly obvious to his team that he hasn’t been home if he turns up in something other than his usual narrow-legged suits (and screw Clint for being right about Bucky being image conscious) and he’s not sure how he’d explain it away. He has at least three changes of clothes at Steve’s and his team know this, but being in Red Hook is literally the only reason he can think up right now. On the other hand, his head feels less scrambled, he feels less confused, and that’s all down to Clint and Natasha being calm and supportive and here.

He doesn’t want to let go of that yet.

“Yeah,” he says, smiling down at his hands before looking up and meeting each of their gazes in turn.  “Yeah, okay.”