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Reading the Signs

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Clint saw the Koosh coming at his head, and he grabbed it well before it stood any chance of hitting him and flicked his wrist to aim it back. He knew perfectly well that Nat wouldn't let it hit her, ignoring the fact a ball of floppy rubber strings couldn't possibly hurt, but they both knew it was the principle of the thing. But she'd started it, so clearly she deserved to have to expend the molecule of energy to dodge it.

It came right back at him and Clint turned his head to glare at her – then stared. The Koosh hit him smack in the face, of course, but he let it fall to the floor.

Bucky signed at him, "What the fuck, Clint."

"What.. what the me what the fuck? What the you what the fuck?" Clint argued back, because when had Nat given anyone else the idea that it was okay to throw Kooshes at Clint to get his attention.

That was her argument, of course, that Clint could leave his hearing aids whenever he felt like it and she could get his attention when she needed it. That had never once been the reason she threw one, but it had always sounded good when someone had yelled at them for reckless or childish behavior when they were supposed to be working. (Clint had always wondered why no one asked why Clint didn't have his hearing aids in if they were supposedly working, but he had a feeling that every single supervisor assigned to them back at SHIELD knew better than to point out the obvious.)

"Tasha gave me a bag of those, said I should use them when you weren't wearing your hearing aids," Bucky signed and Clint glared at him harder.

"Because standing in front of me is so hard," he signed back. But he put his phone down and stood up. He was losing horribly at Crisis Clown Attack anyway and he needed to let his level five Baker regenerate. "What's up?" he asked, still signing because Bucky had asked him to help him practise.

"Can you--" Bucky stopped and Clint waited patiently. Bucky was picking up ASL pretty damn fast, not too surprising for a super-soldier who already had a couple dozen languages in his head. But he was still picking up the vocabulary and he preferred to have Clint wait for him rather than just speak out loud.

Tony had downloaded an app for Bucky's phone, the same one he'd apparently given Steve to help him learn ASL. Clint had seen the app, ostensively to check its accuracy, but mostly because the dude in the videos was cute and funny.

Bucky didn't have to pull out his phone this time, though, and he finally managed to say, "Would you come with me to the bookstore."

"Sure." Clint didn't ask why Bucky didn't just order books online; he didn't want to get an hour-long rant about how nobody went anywhere and did things anymore – though mostly the rants came from Steve and the long sulks came from Bucky. But every once in a while Bucky would rant while Steve sulked, and it was easier to just go play tour guide to the 21st century. It wasn't like Clint minded hanging out with Bucky or Steve, even if sometimes the questions got a little socially inappropriate and Clint wanted to carry around a "Rated R" sign to flash when they used words that had new meanings nowadays.

Bucky opted to walk, which wasn't completely surprising. Tony had standing orders that they could take a car whenever they wanted, as long as it wasn't any of the ones they weren't allowed to have. He'd started listing them off then just said JARVIS would let them know. Clint suspected that any car that cost more than $100,000 they weren't allowed to touch. (Tony didn't tell them that he didn't have any cars that cost less than half a million and it was more about which car needed a fresh coat of paint soon as to which they were allowed to touch and potentially destroy. Clint was pretty sure Tony had bought the Pinto just to say they could borrow it.)

But Clint didn't mind walking, and the bookstore Bucky liked wasn't more than a few blocks away. They spent the walk arguing and comparing rooftops around the world, arguing mostly because Bucky was a clearly inferior sniper who needed proximity to hit anything.

They did agree on a few buildings as being really good perches, with vague plans to someday go and try them out together and compare. When they reached the bookstore, Clint hung back a little to let Bucky head for whatever department he wanted, prepared to simply field questions. Bucky had a ton of books already, which made it a little strange that he'd asked Clint to come along, but Clint didn't mind the chance to hang out with him. Bucky stopped right inside, however, and just looked around.

Clint waited, forcing himself not to tense up – if Bucky was about to have a Really Bad Day then Clint...was woefully unprepared. He didn't even have a Hulk-Strength knock-out gas arrow on him, because months had gone by and he'd been hanging out with Bucky off and on the whole time and not once had anyone warned him that the Winter Soldier might make an unexpected appearance.

He did realise he hadn't grabbed his hearing aids, so he tapped Bucky carefully on the arm and asked, "Do you know what you're looking for?"

Bucky looked at him oddly. Embarrassed, maybe? "I...don't know," he signed back. "What do you--" and he stopped, clearly unable to think of the sign he wanted.

Clint shrugged. "I don't read much, to be honest." For some reason, that made Bucky blink at him, and his face suddenly lost all expression. But Clint just said, "Give me a topic and maybe I can help you find something?"

"You don't read?" Bucky asked, looking confused and still sort of annoyed.

"I can read," Clint said, clarifying himself, just in case Bucky wasn't following the signs and thought Clint had told him he was illiterate and not just supremely uninterested. "But it's not my thing. Phil used to force me to read in order to make me find something I liked. He insisted that I just hadn't found my genre." Clint rolled his eyes and made the sign for 'gag me with a spoon' which, on second thought, might not be something Bucky had learned yet. He hastily said, "Sorry, old slang, please don't choke me in the bookstore."

Bucky was frowning at him, and Clint hoped he'd brought his phone to translate.

"The closest I got to reading for fun was comics," he admitted. He knew where the Humor section was, so he waved at Bucky to follow him. Clint led him over – dismayed to find the Humor section had shrunk over the years from three sections of Peanuts and BC and Garfield comics to books with bathroom jokes, collections of essays, and a handful of books with actual comic strips in them.

He spotted a few Bloom Counties, and pulled one out. He handed it over and Bucky flipped it open, face clearing as he figured out what Clint was going on about. "You have these?" Bucky asked a minute later.

"Not anymore. Lost them when SHIELD-- Well, I didn't exactly have time to clear out my room when Loki grabbed me."

Bucky looked dismayed, suddenly. "Sorry, Clint, I shouldn't have--"

Clint waved him off. He still didn't like to think about it, or talk about it, or acknowledge to himself that any of that entire episode had happened. But he'd got used to ignoring it and everything associated with it, so it wasn't hard to jam it all down again and smile at Bucky.

"It's easier with you anyway," he said, glancing around to see if anyone was watching them, like kids with phones or Hydra spies. He didn't think either of them would miss being watched, but he looked again anyway. He didn't see anyone watching their hands, which meant their conversation was probably reasonably private. Bucky never made him feel like he should have fought harder to prevent what he'd been forced to do – and he didn't make Clint feel like he had to say that shit out loud, either.

Bucky just looked at him for a moment, then said "Yeah," though he didn't sign it or nod. He looked back at the book. "So.. this one?"

Clint shrugged. "Like I said, I don't much care about reading. It was just something for Phil to make sure I was a well-rounded, healthy and stable human being." He grinned like a proper maniac, which made Bucky laugh like he'd hoped. "You like science fiction and stuff though, right? You need something new to read?"

But Bucky just put the book back on the shelf, seeming reluctant to go check the sections he frequented. "I was just," he began, then stopped. He made a couple of signs, which Clint deduced was him trying to say he wanted to get a gift.

Oh, well, yeah, Clint realised. What do you get the super-soldier who has nothing, and insists he likes it that way? Clint knew Steve didn't like the same books Bucky did, and now suddenly this whole excursion made more sense. He hadn't, of course, really known that Bucky and Steve were together, but he'd suspected it since the moment he'd seen the two of them standing next to one another.

From the moment he'd met Bucky, he knew they were probably a thing, if not already, then eventually. Clint wanted to ask if this was a seduction gift or an established relationship gift, but he didn't. Neither Steve nor Bucky had announced anything to the group, which meant this might well be a seduction gift.

He had an idea and waggled his fingers at Bucky to follow him. Bucky did, and Clint led him to the biography section. There had to be something... Clint scanned quickly, then spotted it. He grabbed a big coffee-table book on musicians of the 20th century. He handed it to Bucky, who was looking confused.

"I think this will be good," he said, carefully not saying that Steve would like it. Bucky hadn't confessed to courting anybody, so Clint had to pretend he didn't know a thing.

Bucky looked at him doubtfully, but thumbed through it, glancing over the pages. Clint could see the photos Bucky flipped past, from even before Steve and Bucky's time, right through it, and towards the present-day. Bucky looked at him, still dubious. He started to put it back on the shelf, and Clint said, "He already has a bunch of art books, right? So maybe music--" He stopped himself, because hadn't he just been lauding himself for not saying anything? Clint wanted to smack himself in the face, but refrained.

"You think I'm looking for something for Steve?" Bucky asked, his expression incredulous.

"Uh, no? I don't know anything, honest?" Clint looked around, as though maybe Nat had followed them to practise being stealthy and could leap out and rescue him now. If she had followed them, though, it wasn't likely she would rescue him from his own stupid, unless he was about to actually be murdered.

Expression closing down, Bucky put the book back on the shelf, and the way his shoulders slumped made Clint feel like he'd somehow managed to kick a dog. He could see Bucky's mouth moving, but his face was angled down and Clint couldn't even begin to make out any of the words.

They ended up leaving, no books in hand, and Bucky striding along the sidewalk like the Winter Soldier had decided there would be no more books today or ever. Clint followed along, wondering if he should risk asking if Bucky wanted to stop for a donut or slice of pizza, but he didn't want to risk having to endure Bucky actually telling him what was going on. Clint was absolutely horrible at relationships – just ask any of his exes, both married to and not.

It was part of the reason why he'd quickly told himself to ignore his stupid crush on Bucky in the first place. Not just because it was damned obvious how Steve felt about the man, but because Clint didn't want the entire Avengers team to be after his ass if and when he broke Bucky's heart. (Although to be fair, Bobbi wasn't so much heart-broken as she was completely willing to shoot him in the leg the next time she saw him, but also she'd married him twice, so whose fault was the second divorce anyway.)

He liked Bucky too much to mess things up by trying to have a relationship with him, even if he'd been available. So he hung out with the guy, argued with him about how the Burkovy Building was the worst choice ever as Roof #1, and despaired of ever convincing him to stop ordering vegetables on his pizza.

They got back to the Tower a lot faster than they'd left, and as soon as they got inside, Bucky slipped through a stairwell doorway and Clint just let him go.


Over the next couple weeks, Clint figured that things hadn't gotten any better with Steve. Either Bucky had given up, or Steve had pissed him off, because Bucky kept coming to him to go grab a burger or pizza, and even took Clint to the hot dog stand which was Steve's absolute favorite. When Clint tried to ask Nat if Steve was in trouble with Bucky, she just stared at him like she'd forgotten every word of English she'd ever learned, then ignored him for two days.

But it was nice, hanging out with Bucky, even if it was making Clint want more than he could ever ask for. Bucky had gotten over whatever mood he'd been in at the bookstore, no more signs of despair or annoyance over his choice of boyfriend. Clint kept an eye out for Steve to come for him, but it wasn't like Clint was interrupting Steve and Bucky's time together.

Of course, Steve and Bucky spent a lot of time together in the gym, which Clint liked to avoid on principle.

But whatever was going on between them, or not going on, Bucky didn't seem to be angry or frustrated, so Clint just agreed whenever Bucky came around and asked him if he wanted to hang out and watch cartoons or Dog Cops or the show about zoos saving animals on shoestring budgets, which had already prompted somebody not-named-Stark to make some anonymous donations.

A couple times, when Steve wasn't around and JARVIS said that he wasn't due back for awhile, Clint had asked Bucky. They spent a lot of their time at the range, proving once again that no matter what Bucky and JARVIS and the targeting computer said, Clint was still the best marksman in the world. Bucky just had to practise with a bow and arrow, so they could be more evenly matched before Clint wiped the walls with him.

Everything was good, and fine, and Clint was happier than he'd been in a really long time, until he walked into the main living area and found Steve and Tony kissing.

Clint froze in place. Tony raised an eyebrow at him from over Steve's shoulder, clearly not bothering to hurry up his embrace, but finally he broke away from Steve and asked, "Did you need something, Yue Fei?"

"That's it, now I know you're having JARVIS give you a list of names to call me," Clint said, folding his arms and glaring.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Tony retorted, looking innocent and completely failing to look or sound like he actually cared. He hadn't let go of Steve, who turned a little and looked over at him.

"Clint? Did you need something?"

"I... you--" Clint stopped. Tony and Steve were kissing. They'd been spending a lot of time together, at very...opportune times. Like. "You two are dating," he said, not meaning to say it out loud because probably they'd been dating for a long time. Which meant-- "Holy fuck am I dating Bucky?"

Which, okay. Wow. Good wow, bad wow? Clint had no idea, because wow. That made absolutely no sense, and explained exactly why Bucky kept asking him...out on dates.

If you counted blowing shit up for fun, and running across rooftops, and combat training with Nat, they'd had fifty dates already.

Tony and Steve were looking at him, Tony like he couldn't believe Clint could walk and talk at the same time and Steve like he didn't know if he needed to yell or pat him on the head.

Clint realised that just yesterday Bucky had asked him if he wanted to come up to Bucky's place to watch a movie, and he'd been really antsy and coy about it, and Clint had just said yes and blathered on about movie titles and holy shit, that was Bucky making a move.

No, Bucky had made his move about four months ago when he'd eyed Clint holding his bow. Clint was just supremely, very horribly awfully bad at this sort of thing. The first time Bobbi had got him back at her place, she'd gotten half-undressed before he'd twigged that she'd invited him for a reason.

He waved a hand. "Gotta go, carry on!"

Clint turned and ran for the elevator. He didn't even have to ask before the elevator was moving for the 78th floor – apparently JARVIS knew where Bucky was and wasn't above eavesdropping on Clint's disastrous love life. "JARVIS, please never tell me if there was a betting pool," he asked, then the doors were sliding open and Clint was running.

He stopped at Bucky's door and realised he had no plan. He had no idea what to say, maybe he needed to-- oh the door was opening and Bucky was standing there, wearing nothing but pajama pants and a sardonic smile.

"Hi," Clint managed.

"Steve just called and told me," Bucky said, because of course. "He was very smug about the fact I am no longer as smooth and charming as I used to be, because you didn't have a clue."

"Uh, sorry?" Clint rubbed a hand along the back of his head, feeling the ghost of Nat thumping him hard. "I mean, I'd like to, very much."

Bucky was still smirking at him, which was honestly a really good look on him. "I figured. I thought you already did," he added, looking for the first time a little apologetic instead of edible. Smug, Clint corrected himself. Edibly smug, maybe. Was that a thing? It was with Bucky, he decided.

"Just tell me when our anniversary is," Clint asked him, then took a step forward. Bucky stood his ground, letting Clint move all the way in, until he tilted his head just enough for Clint to kiss him easily. "Next time, you can just start with that," Clint pointed out. "I'm really pretty easy."

"I'll keep that in mind," Bucky said, and he slipped a finger through a belt loop on Clint's jeans and tugged him forward.