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I'll Keep You Safe Here With Me.

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The lights are blinding. He can barely see a thing through the glare that has lit them up, open and exposed. The white circle pins them in place, the thudding of the helicopter above their heads reverberating through his chest. People are bellowing at them, telling him to get down, to lower his weapon. Sirens are wailing. The rain continues to fall, a mist visible in the bright lights that are pointing mercilessly at them.

Clint stands his ground. He keeps his bow raised, muscles protesting as he stands straight up at full draw, pointing it at the people who are surrounding them, guns drawn. Water drips from his hair; it’s soaked through, plastered to his forehead. His clothes are all sodden, clinging clammy and wet to his skin. There’s blood mixed in with the water as well, orange-red rivulets running down his face and arms.

Behind him, Bucky’s harsh breathing is still audible. He’s on his knees, shoulder pressing heavily into the back of Clint’s legs. He’s holding his right arm tightly to his chest with his left, shaking in what Clint assumes is pain. He’s still bleeding.

“Stand down,” a modulated voice echoes through the night, amplified by speakers. More white lights dance across the ground, sweeping searchlights. “The Winter Soldier is under arrest. Stand down.”

“Go,” Bucky manages to say, voice thick with pain. “Barton-”

“Not a fucking chance,” Clint replies, and doesn’t budge an inch. “They’re not having you.”

“Barton-”

They are not having you,” he snarls, because despite having next to no fucking clue how he’s ended up here, he knows that much without a doubt. It’s all flashing through his mind, memories and questions alike. How did he end up here, surrounded by what looks like an entire fucking Spec Ops unit, all with guns pointing straight at him? How did he end up here with Bucky fucking Barnes slumped against his legs, bleeding out over the sidewalk? The last few months are a blur to him, time and days bleeding together, and all he can surmise from it is that somewhere along the line he got to the point where he’s willing to defend Bucky Barnes with his life-

One of the Spec Ops soldiers breaks away from the line. He steps slowly, boots audible as they advance heavily across the wet asphalt. His gun is raised.

Clint swallows. Blinks water out of his eyes. 

“Barnes, I think we’re finally fucked.”

 


 

Four months earlier.

 

Clint nurses his beer between his hands, rolling the glass between his palms. The label is starting to peel off and it’s not even cold anymore but he doesn’t really care. Beer is beer after all, and his grimy surroundings are infinitely better when viewed through both alcohol and sunglasses. 

He drains the bottle, gestures to the barkeep for another. He sets the empty bottle on the bar, nudging it over until it’s perfectly in line with the other empty ones. The barkeep just passes another one over without question or comment, and Clint grunts in thanks.

He can’t actually remember the last time he spoke to another person. He doesn’t have to even ask for a drink in this shithole anymore; he just turns up, sits at the bar and the guy immediately passes over another of the same beers that Clint has been drinking for the better part of a month.

Even the super-nice guy who had been staying in the room next to his in the motel had stopped with the pleasantries after he’d found Clint throwing up on the doorstep one morning a couple of weeks back. Clint can’t say he really blames him.

Behind him, there’s the sharp clack of balls knocking together on the pool table; he doesn’t quite suppress the automatic flinch, but he does resist the urge to turn around and check that the sound isn’t anything else more threatening. He can hear the murmur of conversation, glasses clinking together, the rush of a tap running somewhere and he hates it. He was always alert to sounds in his environment, but he’s only been this hyperaware and discomfited by it since New York. 

“-and for you all of you Avengers fans out there, news about town is that the team that saved New York from an alien invasion a year ago are reassembling once again. Captain America was seen entering Stark Tower in the early hours of this morning-”

Through the jarring layers of sound, the voice of the news anchor cuts through with a sudden clarity, not louder but more obvious than the rest. Clint looks up at the TV that’s on the wall behind the bar without thinking about it. The overly-perky news anchor is gone, replaced by wobbly second-rate footage of Steve Rogers walking into Stark Tower, greeted at the door by Tony himself. Steve is looking tired, ignoring the reporters who are calling out to him and the flashes of the cameras, allowing Tony to steer him into the tower with a hand in the small of his back.

“Dude, you alright?”

Clint realises he’s been staring at the television for almost a full minute, beer bottle suspended in front of his face, about an inch from his mouth. He blinks and lowers the bottle, shaking his head and looking away from the TV. The news anchor is back, speculating about when the rest of the Avengers are going to show up in New York.

“Yup,” he says easily, flicking his thumb over the label of the bottle and avoiding eye contact. “Turn that shit off, will you?”

The guy reaches for the remote and flicks the channel over to a basketball game without comment. Either he has no idea who Clint actually is, or he’s the most tactful barkeep on the West Coast. Either way, Clint doesn’t give a shit. He’s just glad that the channel was changed so he didn’t have to see if his name was included on the speculative list of reassembling Avengers.

He takes a mouthful of his beer, thinking about what it means that Steve has gone to New York, to Tony. Especially after the mess that Steve was dragged through in DC, with SHIELD and the Winter soldier. Is it a one-off? Are the others aware, or involved?

God, he hopes that they don’t expect him to go back, because he’s not going to. 

He finishes his beer and signals for another. He takes it without a word, hunching his shoulders and staring down at the bar in front of him.  Across the room a chair screeches on the floorboards as it's pushed back and Clint flinches, this time hard enough so that his hand jerks and slops beer all over his wrist. He curses, setting the bottle down and flicking his hand to get the worst off. He wipes the rest on his jeans and takes a deep steadying breath; his temper often rises without warning these days, catching him unawares and leaving him furious over such simple things that he honestly despairs with himself.

Movement in front of him makes him jerk back again, elbow snapping up defensively as if he’s blocking a blow. It’s just the barkeep though, and all he does in dump a dishcloth and another beer in front of Clint, even though he’s not yet finished the last one. Clint would make a joke about the presumption, but he can’t be bothered.

“Jumpy,” the barkeep comments. “You a soldier or something?”

Clint considers telling him to fuck off, but then just picks up the dishcloth and wipes his hands properly, tossing it back onto the bar. “Do I look like a soldier?”

“You look like you’ve had a rough time,” the barkeep says, taking the dishcloth back. “Seen a few guys get back from a tour with that look. You know. Jumpy.”

Clint just shrugs, picks up the beer. “Maybe I’m just a jumpy kind of guy.”

The barkeep looks up at him from where he’s absently wiping down the bar with the dishcloth, and Clint recognises polite disbelief when he sees it. The guy doesn’t challenge Clint on it though, he just shrugs and says “maybe,” and moves down the bar to serve someone else.

Clint watches him go, and reaches for his beer again.

 


 

Ten yards. Ten yards really isn’t that far, is it? Clint takes another unsteady step across the parking lot, and then has to hastily step sideways to keep from overbalancing. He hops unsteadily on one foot, and vaguely thinks this would be easier if he didn’t have his hands shoved in his jacket pockets and wasn’t wearing sunglasses at three AM. 

He can see the bright lights of the motel sign easily enough, even if the letters keep sliding out of focus. Eh, it doesn’t matter, he’s been more drunk than this before and managed to hit a nickel sized target from ninety yards. All he’s got to manage tonight – this morning – is getting back into his motel room, should be a piece of cake.

He steps forwards again, the world around him rolling lazily past even though he’s not turning his head or moving his eyes. He has to pause for a moment, staggering sideways and checking his hip against the tailgate of a pickup that’s parked in the lot. A truck blares past on the road behind him, lights sweeping over the parking lot momentarily before vanishing again, moving on through the night.

He breathes in and out deeply through his mouth, head swimming. He looks up, squinting as he tries to pick out his door amongst the nine he can see in front of him.

“Another night of five star accommodation,” he slurs, sweeping an arm out at the motel, listing backwards and feeling the tailgate handle of the pickup pressing into his spine. “Phil, if you’re watching me, you better not be doing the frown. Who am I fucking kidding, of course you're frowning. Remember the frown when you picked me up after that night in the storm drain. And that night I slept in a ditch. And under that bar in Portland, and the fire escape in New Jersey. Wow, why did you put up with me?”

Of course, there is no answer. Sometimes Clint can imagine what the reply would be, memories of Phil’s voice shaping new phrases and answers in his mind. This time there’s nothing but an aching silence, throbbing in time with the alcohol that’s pounding against the inside of his skull.

Grunting with effort, he pushes himself away from the pickup. He makes it three steps and then he trips up the kerb. He manages to wrench a hand out of his pocket just in time to prevent himself smashing face first into the sidewalk, but he lands heavily and painfully on his shoulder and still manages to scrape his face against the concrete.

He starts to laugh, thinking of the look that would be on Phil’s face if he could see him now. Ignoring the pain in his shoulder and chin, he pushes himself onto his back, still laughing. Above him, the sky slowly revolves, stars waltzing lazily across the inky expanse. 

Still laughing. he closes his eyes, feels tears slide down from the corners of his eyes, across his temples and into his hair.

“What do I do, Phil?”

The only answer he receives is silence.

 

 


 

 

Clint wakes up the next afternoon feeling like he’s been hit by a truck, and wearily acknowledging that he has no-one to blame but himself. He drags himself into a sitting position on the edge of his bed, hissing in pain as his shoulder protests the movement. God, his stomach is churning and his head is pounding and his chin is stinging. He remembers falling in the parking lot the night before and groans softly, shaking his head and then wishing he hadn’t. 

It takes another hour sleeping, three cups of coffee, four glasses of water, more advil than strictly advisable and a shower before he’s feeling vaguely human again. He perches on the edge of his bed again, towel draped over his head as he roughly towels it dry. The TV is on in the background, a comforting murmur of noise that is preferable to silence.

He’s reaching back over the bed to grab his shirt when his ears snatch the phrase ‘Winter Soldier’ from the television. He automatically turns around, but all he sees is the same footage that’s been circulated a thousand times over already, with a few wide shots of the areas of the city that are still wrecked. He listens for a moment, but quickly surmises that it’s nothing more than another ‘why the hell isn’t Captain America here fixing this mess, look at our roads and buildings which got wrecked, never mind that he saved us all from death at the hands of a highly evolved terrorist organisation, whose taxes are paying for the damage’ debate.

It’s so stupid, that some people actually think the physical destruction is the big issue here.

Clint watches the rest of the news report dispassionately, knowing he should care more than he does. He can’t. The news report cuts away from the recording of some senators speech about accountability, recapping on the actual events of DC and once again showing footage of Steve fighting the Winter soldier on the streets. The footage is from a cell-phone, shaky in places but clear enough for everyone to see every punch and kick, every flash of metal in the sun. Hell, by this point Clint has the fight memorised blow-by-blow, he’s watched it that many times. He’s even fucking dreaming about it, though he’s not complaining. If he dreams about that then he’s not dreaming about Loki and Phil.

He abruptly reaches out and turns the TV off. Maybe once upon a time, Clint would have been able to help. He would have been there with Steve and Natasha, and been able to actually do something. Maybe, if New York had never happened.

He stops himself there. New York had happened, Loki had happened, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He’s perfectly content with his motel-hopping, identity falsifying, Avenger-avoiding life at the moment, and he has no intention of changing it anytime soon.

 

 


 

 

Of course, the universe hates Clint Barton. He’s no sooner started thinking about the Avengers again – fucking Steve Rogers, unable to keep his damn face off the news for five god damn minutes– when his policy of avoidance abruptly becomes a hell of a lot harder. 

It’s a week since the drunken falling in the parking lot incident and he’s in a shitty diner in the town that the motel is on the edge of, eating a burger that he’s pretty sure is solely responsible for every case of heart disease in the local area. It’s dark out already, and the waitress keeps giving him ‘please go home so I can clear up and go home too’ looks. Clint doesn't care; by his watch he’s got another thirty minutes before the place officially closes, so until then he’s going to stay exactly where he is, eating his burger and reading a newspaper that someone left behind on the counter.

There’s nothing in the paper that’s at all interesting, except the picture on page four. It shows Steve climbing into Tony’s Audi outside of a restaurant in New York that’s so upmarket that Clint probably wouldn’t be allowed to step through the door. Steve is dutifully ignoring the paparazzi, face turned away and towards Tony, who is already in the driver’s seat. Tony’s got his hand on the wheel, head and shoulders ducked as he leans over towards Steve, expression impatient. His mouth is open, clearly midway through saying something to Steve.  

Clint is looking at the picture, distantly contemplative, when his phone buzzes in his pocket. It hasn’t been used for weeks, and he’s often wondered why he bothers carrying it anymore anyway. Coffee cup in one hand, he pulls it out, willing to bet that it’s just his service provider-

Time to stop running. Come back in.

It’s from Natasha.

He slowly puts his cup down. He stares at the screen, and he doesn’t feel anything. He’s not glad, not panicked, not anything. He carefully runs his thumb over the screen, trying to work out what to do. Should he go back? Should he message her and get her to come and pick him up, take him to New York to work with Tony and Steve, to be part of the team that he nearly killed less than a year ago?

He turns his phone off. He turns it over in his hands and slides the back of the case off, before taking the battery out of the back. He twists the sim free and snaps it in half, and then scoops up all the pieces and shoves them into his pocket. With his other hand he pulls out his wallet and drops a twenty on the table before grabbing his backpack and leaving the diner, stepping out into the night. 

He breathes out deeply, glancing left and right along the sidewalk. He spots what he’s looking for about eight or nine yards away, and walks over to the storm-drain without hesitating. He pulls the remains of the phone out of his pocket and drops it down the hole at his feet. He hears it clatter against the concrete, and then nothing.

He stares down at the drain for a moment, and then walks away.

 


 

Clint goes back to the motel. He doesn’t rush, even though he knows that Natasha might already be looking for him. Part of him thinks that she’ll interpret his lack of reply to her message as his decision to not come back in, and she’ll let it go. Another part of him thinks she’ll never let it go and will attempt to drag him back even if he’s kicking and screaming. 

Time to take his Avenger-avoiding to the next level.

He kicks the door shut behind him; it doesn’t latch but he doesn’t bother to go back and close it properly, because all he’s going to do is grab all his stuff and hightail it out of there as soon as possible. He snatches up his jacket and shoves it roughly into his bag, then vaults over the bed and opens the cupboard, pulling his bow and its case out. He drops the case onto the bed and opens it one handed to check all his arrows are there-

A noise makes him look up, and he freezes in place, hands still on the case.

There’s a figure standing in his doorway, still as a statue.

Clint stares at the figure, and the figure stares back. Whoever it is, they’re wearing dark jeans and a hooded top, the hood pulled up and casting his face in shadow. Bright eyes glint in the light, and so does the stranger’s left hand.

The stranger’s left hand.

Clint barely thinks; he lunges forwards and grabs an arrow even as he hears advancing bootsteps. Adrenaline screaming through his system, he nocks the arrow and wheels around to shoot; the arrow flies true and hits the stranger in his shoulder, just above his collarbone. The stranger jerks back with the impact, but then he’s moving again, and Clint is grabbing another arrow but the stranger is almost as quick as he is. The second arrow also flies true, but it hits the other shoulder but with a metallic clink and then falls away, then the stranger is right there; there’s a flash of silver through the air and Clint instinctively turns away and then there’s a shock of dull pain- 

Gasping, he kicks out violently and sends the stranger staggering backwards. He looks down to his right and he sees blood, fuck, that’s a lot of blood, his shirt is torn and there’s blood soaking through the purple material, running down his arm in thin scarlet rivers, dripping off his wrist. Oh fucking god no, not his shoulder, if that thing has gone anywhere near his fucking rotator tendons then he’s done for, and he won’t even be a guy with good aim anymore, he’ll just be a guy-

In absolute agony, he struggles to his knees again and tries to reach out for another arrow, and why does he never go into shock when he gets shot or stabbed, why does it always fucking hurt so fucking much? He manages to get another arrow nocked, but a hand grabs his bow and pushes it up and back, and a second, metal hand shoots out and grabs his throat. He chokes and lets go of his bow with one hand to try and prise the metal off- 

“Stop,” a voice snarls, and Clint’s usually unreliable sense of self-preservation tells him he doesn’t have a choice because he can’t move and he can barely breathe; all he’s going to get by fighting is more injured. Spots dancing in front of his eyes, he deliberately goes limp and stops fighting, and abruptly finds himself nose to nose with the Winter Soldier.

The fingers on his throat are still tight enough to make drawing breath difficult, and the Winter Soldier’s other hand is still, keeping the bow out of range. He’s crouched down in-between Clint’s legs, and he’s wearing jeans and a goddamn hoodie, eyes bright and jaw covered in days’ worth of stubble. The arrow is still sticking out of his shoulder but he barely seems to notice.  Clint can only desperately think that he should have shot him somewhere much more lethal. 

It’s shocking to see him this close without the mask he’d been wearing during the fight in DC; it sends a shiver down Clint’s spine as he acknowledges that beneath the uniform the Winter Soldier is just a guy like the rest of them. A guy with dark hair and light eyes, who people could pass by on the street without a second glance. 

There’s a long, tense, painful moment and then to Clint’s shock the Winter Soldier slowly relaxes his fingers and lets go of his neck.

They sit there, faces only two feet apart, neither moving. The moment stretches out, pulling tense like a drawn bowstring. Clint breathes shallowly, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulder, trying to work out how to get out of this alive. He can feel blood still trickling sluggishly down his arm, running down to his elbow and dripping onto the carpet.

The Winter Soldier is the first to move. He shifts backwards, away from Clint, glancing at his shoulder for a moment before reaching up with his metal hand and grasping the shaft of the arrow that’s embedded in his shoulder. He breathes out through his nose and then pulls the arrow out of his shoulder in one smooth slide. He throws it aside, and it clatters against the wall. Blood slowly seeps through the grey t-shirt that he’s wearing.

“You know Captain America,” the Winter Soldier breaks the silence, voice rough and low. “You’re the one they’re calling the Missing Avenger.”

Chest shuddering as he draws in another painful breath, Clint tries to think. ‘I’m not an Avenger,’ is what he wants to say, but he can’t draw a deep enough breath.

There’s noise outside; light footsteps and voices and then a scream, piercing through the air like a blade. The Winter Soldier whips around and Clint looks up, and they see a young woman standing a little way back from the doorway, staring into the room and looking horrified, before turning and fleeing, calling out for someone in a frantic voice.

Blya,” the Winter Soldier curses harshly, and then looks back at Clint, eyes boring into him. “I need you to come with me.”

Clint’s head swims, he opens his mouth. Feels his stomach roil. “Fuck you,” he manages to say, hoping that it fully conveys his violent objections to being jumped and stabbed by a wanted fugitive.

The Winter Soldier recoils slightly, just enough for Clint to notice. Something flickers over his face, something broken and bent out of shape, and in his eyes is the barest hint of desperation. Wait, this is the guy that caused such carnage in DC, that put Steve and Nat through seven degrees of hell? The most infamous assassin this side of the Second World War, looking like he’s about to break down at Clint’s feet? 

Breathing heavily, Clint looks at him, perplexed frown dipping his brows, lips parted in question. “Who are you?”

It’s the wrong thing to say. The Soldier’s face shutters, and he draws back, standing up and looking down at Clint, expression not betraying a single thought. For one wild moment Clint thinks he's going to be left there, but then the soldier bends down and grabs him under his arms, hauling Clint up. Gasping in pain and trying to find his feet, Clint stumbles, gripping hold of his left arm with his right hand just under where the wound is, trying not to think about it- 

“Don’t touch it,” the soldier says curtly, and he shoves Clint back against the wall, propping him against it. Then he’s turning away and grabbing Clint’s bag, swinging it onto his shoulder. He bends down and grabs Clint’s bow; he examines it for a second and then pushes it against Clint’s chest so that he’s got no choice but to grab it in one fumbling, blood-stained hand. The Soldier then scoops up the arrows that litter the carpet, packing them back into the case quickly and efficiently before snapping it shut and standing up.

“Move,” he commands, and when Clint doesn’t move he reaches out and grabs his shirt again, shoving him across the room towards the door. Clint tries to dig his heels in but finds himself unceremoniously hauled out of the room and into the dark parking lot, and the Winter Soldier drags him over to a the closest car, a black sedan, propping him up against the passenger door as he makes short work of the locks.

“Get in,” the Soldier says, and Clint’s bow is pulled from his hands, and then he’s shoved into the passenger seat of the car, every jolt of his arm absolute agony up and down, right from his neck down to his fingertips. Hands grab his ankles and swing his legs into the car, pushing them over so he doesn’t slide straight back out of the door into the dirt. His vision is going blurry around the edges and exhaustion and shock and pain and blood-loss are all bearing down on him like freight trains. 

He hears the driver’s door open and slam, the thump of bags being thrown in the back. The engine rumbles to life beneath him, and his head lolls back against the seat and somewhere vaguely in the back of his mind he’s thinking I’ve just been kidnapped by the damn Winter Soldier.

Fuck it. Being kidnapped doesn’t really matter if you’re going to die of blood-loss anyway.

A cold hand touches his face and a warm one is on his neck, checking for a pulse. He tries to reach up and shove it away, but unconsciousness is right there, dragging him under into nothingness.

 


 

Clint feels the rumbling of the car beneath him, his body moving and swaying fractionally with the motion. He feels light headed, drunk and dazed. His arm is on fire. His hand is numb. He thinks he opens his eyes once to see the interior of a car, a hooded figure with the steering wheel gripped tightly in metal hands. The figure looks at him and his eyes are bright, too bright, bright ice-blue like he’s looking in a mirror with Loki standing at his shoulder. 

Sometimes he thinks he’s still, sometimes he thinks he’s dead, and then he’s back in the car and the world is tearing away from him as the engine roars and eats up the miles. He’s pushed and pulled by strong hands, his own body limp and uncooperative, unattached to his mind.

Phil is there, sad and pale in his dreams, but Clint is sucked away from him down into the blackness again. Natasha takes his place, furious and deadly. A figure with eyes that aren’t too bright hovers in front of him, and he remembers things pushed into his mouth, his jaw held shut until he swallows. Water against his dry lips.

The chaos in his fevered mind slowly gives way to sleep. The screaming in his head fades back into nothingness, and the world settles back into weariness and silence.

 


 

Clint slowly tries to open his eyes, head pounding and whole body aching. He feels shaky and weak, but no longer sick and feverish. The light makes pain spike in the back of his skull so he shuts his eyelids again, swallowing hard and letting his other senses do the work. He’s once again lying on his back on a bed; the mattress is lumpy and the blanket scratchy, and he feels like he hasn’t eaten or had a drink in weeks. His shoulder aches and throbs in time with his heartbeat, but he can wriggle all of his fingers so he supposes that’s something. His shirt is gone; he can tell by the way he feels the rough blankets against his shoulder blades. There’s a constriction around his shoulder and chest that doesn’t quite feel right. Clumsily, he reaches up with his left hand to carefully touch his fingertips to his shoulder, and with one touch realises that the constriction he feels is a bandage, wrapped neatly and tightly around his upper arm, shoulder and chest. 

Oh yeah. Being stabbed by the Winter Soldier, that would explain it.

Though he doesn’t quite have an explanation for why he’s bandaged up and lying on a bed, rather than bleeding out in the bottom of a ditch somewhere. Has someone found him? Did the Soldier leave him behind somewhere, did he somehow get away? He tries to sift through his recent memories of what has happened since he was attacked and kidnapped, but he finds he can’t even work out how long ago it was, never mind discerning which memories are real and which are products of his fevered state of semi-unconsciousness. 

“Welcome back,” a rough voice says tiredly, and Clint goes very, very still. Well, that answers his earlier questions then.

He swallows thickly, wishing violently that he could hope that Phil Coulson was on the way to fish his sorry ass out of this mess and wondering how the hell this is his life.  “Not a dream, then,” he says hoarsely. 

“No,” the voice says quietly, unapologetically. The Soldier sounds exhausted, rough around the edges, and it takes Clint’s mind a couple of moments to realise that that doesn’t sit quite right. 

Clint slowly opens his eyes again, blinking hard. He shifts and frowns; he can’t move his feet properly and there’s something uncomfortable and cold pressing against the skin of his ankles. He looks down and belatedly realises his feet are cuffed together.

Oh no.

Clint hears rustling, shuffling and a click, then the sharp smell of cigarette smoke. He looks over again and sees the soldier is sitting on his ass against the door, knees brought up to his chest and cigarette held between his non-metal fingers. His eyes are on Clint, his face tired and otherwise expressionless. He’s still wearing the same hooded jacket with the hood pulled up, despite how warm it is.

Clint looks away, swallowing thickly. Shit. Fucking shit, how does he even get into these messes? He’s been kidnapped by the Winter Soldier and cuffed to a bed in a goddamn motel room, and the worst part of it is that he doesn’t have a clue why. He’s not an Avenger anymore, he didn’t go near DC, he had nothing to do with it. What could the Winter Soldier possibly want with him?

He breathes out deeply and tries to rally his thoughts, collecting what he knows and what he doesn’t know and forming as complete a picture as he can. He knows he’s being held by the Winter Soldier. He knows the Winter Soldier blew up half of DC on behalf of Hydra. He knows the winter Soldier did his damnest to kill Captain America, but didn’t manage it. Everything else he’s heard since is just rumour and speculation, so he’s not going to count it. He also knows that the Soldier has, for some reason, managed to track his non-existent trail across the country. Oh yeah, and he’s also insanely quick and strong and has shown willingness to stab people.

With that in mind, things are looking pretty dire right about now. The only conclusions he can draw is that he still doesn’t have a fucking clue why he’s here, and that he’s quite probably in some serious trouble.

He looks up around the room, cataloguing his surroundings. His heart leaps as he spots his bow against the wall, propped up in the corner, but the relief is short lived. He’s injured, tired and weak. There is one door out of the room, which the soldier is sitting in front of, and one window which is narrow and high. That combined with the fact his feet are cuffed together puts his chances of escape at around zero. He can almost hear Phil’s voice in his head. Plan A, escape. Plan B if plan A is not an option; pacify, gain information, play along, then escape. Plan C if A and B are not options, sit tight and let us come and get you. 

 “You need any painkillers?”

The quiet voice catches Clint off guard. He looks over again, relaying the words in his head to check he just heard that right, feeling wrong-footed. “What?” he manages to say, and he pushes himself up into a sitting position, hating how vulnerable he feels lying on his back. “Do I want any - why are you-?  What?” 

The soldier looks away, cigarette smoke curling out of his mouth and around his face, around the hood of his jacket. The blinds are drawn across the window in the room, creating strips of mellow light which fall across the soldiers face, alternating with soft stripes of shadows. He flicks the ash off the end of the cigarette, reaches up with his metal fingers and pushes his unkempt hair back out of his face under his hood. His movements are all slow and deliberate, almost lazy. He reminds Clint of a big cat, lethargic movements hiding a quick side, a deadly side.

“I didn’t plan to hurt you,” he says, and his voice is New York American, a hint of some suburb creeping in around the edges. “You were just quicker than I thought you’d be, and I thought you’d be shooting to kill.”

There’s a thousand things Clint could say in response to that. Something about only killing on sight when his boss gives him the order. Maybe something about Avengers not condoning killing, but then he’s not an Avenger anymore so it’s not worth saying anyway. He just shrugs instead, and then hedges his bets and swings his legs off the edge of the bed so he’s sat facing the soldier. The carpet is coarse and rough under his bare feet and the cuffs around his ankles clink, the metal of the bands pressing unforgivingly into his skin. 

The soldier watches him, eyes tracking Clint’s movements, but he doesn’t object or even respond. Clint shifts, running his hands down his thighs and feeling like he’s trapped in a cage with a wild animal. Yeah, the guy seems calm enough now, but Clint doesn’t think it’d take a lot for him to snap.

“I thought you were shooting to kill,” Clint finally says, a counter to the soldier’s previous comment. “Stabbing to kill, whatever.” 

The soldier doesn’t reply straight away. He takes a deep drag on his cigarette, chest rising, holds his breath for a moment and then exhales heavily, eyes still on Clint. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he finally says. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Yeah, no, not believing that,” Clint says. “You are aware of what you did in DC, right?”

The soldier shuts his eyes for a long moment. He lifts the cigarette to his mouth again but then appears to change his mind, lowering his hand. He rubs at his brow with his metal fingertips, and then nods, eyes still covered by his hand. 

“It,” he says, and his voice cracks, his chin trembles. He stops, nostrils flaring as he breathes in and out heavily, trying to compose himself.  “It was my mission,” he finally says with a heavy exhale, and then lowers his hand. His eyes are too bright, and Clint doesn’t understand what‘s going on here, not one bit.

He keeps quiet, and watches as the soldier seems to get it together, slowly moving. He extinguishes the cigarette by crushing the end between two metal fingers, tossing it into the trashcan before leaning forwards and reaching for a duffel bag that’s on the floor next to the bathroom door. Clint tenses but all the solder pulls out is a newspaper, battered and torn. The soldier carefully folds it in half, and then stands up, holding it out to Clint.

Against his better judgement, Clint takes it, reaching out with his uninjured arm and wordlessly taking the paper. He sets it on his knee and looks down at the picture that’s splashed across the page. It’s the Avengers in New York during the battle; Cap is in the middle at the front, flanked by Iron Man and Thor. Natasha and the Hulk are visible on the edge of the picture, and right behind Cap is Clint, easily visible between Steve and Tony’s shoulders. 

Someone has taken a marker pen to the page and circled both Steve and Clint.

“What is this? Targets?” Clint forces himself to say, voice shaky. His heart is fluttering like a frightened bird as he looks down on the picture, trying not to think about New York, trying not to let his mind wander back there. He shakes his head and pulls himself together as best he can.

“Not targets,” the soldier says, stepping back and sinking to the floor again, sitting in exactly the same spot he had occupied before. “I need to know everything there is about Captain America.”

Clint swallows, looks up. The wave of panic is fading, shoved mercilessly into submission somewhere deep in his chest. “You want,” he begins to repeat, confused and blindsided. “No, I’m not helping you to hunt down-”

“I don’t want to hurt him,” the soldier interrupts. “Trust me-”

“Trust you? I’ve seen the footage bro, what you did,” Clint says. “And now you’re saying you won’t hurt him?”

Too quick to properly process, the soldier surges to his feet and steps forwards again. Clint flinches, but the soldier simply drops onto one knee at Clint’s feet, reaches out with the metal hand, grabs the chain of the cuffs and snaps it with one efficient tug. He stands up again and moves backwards, eyes on Clint’s. He walks backwards and then slowly sits down again.

Clint shifts his feet, now completely thrown. He looks down at the broken cuffs and then up at the soldier again, unable to fully comprehend the action, clearly saturated with intention and subtext. It’s about trust, he thinks. This guy wants me to trust him, he’s trying to show that I can.

“Why do you want to know about Cap?” he asks again, helplessly. “You tried to kill him.”

“My mission was to kill the Captain,” the soldier says, and something flickers in his eyes again, the something that’s bent and broken. “I tried. But something happened- I’d been told to kill him, he was my mission, but something else was telling me I shouldn’t and I need to know,” he breaks off, shaking his head. “I need to know why.” 

Silence follows his words. Clint doesn’t know what to say, what to do. He wants to check the box that says ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ because with this whole situation is starting to reek of crazy, and he wants nothing to do with it.

Christ, a few days ago his only worry was keeping out of Natasha’s immediate range and getting through the days, and now he’s here, tangled up in this whole mess of a situation that he wants to be as far away as possible from. This is Steve’s mess by the sounds of things, not his.

“Why didn’t you go direct and find Cap?” Clint breaks the silence, still sounding somewhat helpless. “Why do you need me?”

The soldier moves again, turning his face towards the window, strips of shadow sliding across his face as he moves, highlighting his cheekbones and the lightness of his eyes. He looks exhausted, Clint thinks. Oddly vulnerable.

“I don’t want to hurt him,” the soldier says again, and what is this, the third time he’s repeated that he’s not going to hurt anyone? “I need to know more before I see him again.” 

“Then why me?” Clint says, looking at the newspaper again, the black circle scrawled messily around his face. Fuck, it seems like a lifetime ago that he stood there, shoulder to shoulder with heroes. Almost like it happened to someone else.

“I figured one of the Avengers would know most about him,” the soldier says, and lifts an eyebrow at Clint. “You were the one I could get to without anyone noticing. You’re already missing.” 

Clint thinks about his phone clattering down the dark maw of the storm drain and clenches his eyes shut, leaning forwards on his elbow and resting his forehead against his knuckles. Way to go Barton, he thinks dully. Fucking genius play. This is why you’re not going back to the Avengers, you moron.

“Do I have a choice?” 

The question hangs there in the tense space between them, and Clint looks up at the soldier. He’s already watching Clint, and he looks sadly across at him like he wishes the answer could be different.

“No,” he says quietly, and then breathes out heavily, looking away like he can’t maintain eye-contact for that long. “We need to move. Do you need any painkillers?”

By this point, Clint is too exhausted to even find the question disconcerting. “There’s Advil in my bag, if you’ve still got it.”

The soldier nods and then gets to his feet. “It’s in the car.”

“I suppose I should be getting in the car then, if that’s where the drugs are,” Clint says dully, too weary, too tired of everything to resist. He presses his knuckles into the mattress behind him and pushes forwards, unsteady on his feet. A wave of dizziness passes over him, and he sways slightly before he gets his bearings and balance again. He lifts his eyes and sees the soldier has moved; he’s now standing by the door with the duffel bag in one hand and Clint’s bow in the other. His eyes carefully track Clint’s movements, and Clint knows he should be more bothered by that-

The soldier shifts the bag up onto his shoulder and steps forwards towards Clint, hand extended. Clint automatically jerks back and so does the soldier, like he’s startled by Clint’s sudden movement. He looks lost for a moment, and then his face shadows.

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

Clint waits for the proffered hand to lower, waits for the soldier to step back. “Yeah, you can keep saying it but it doesn’t mean I’m going to believe you.”

The soldier stares at him for a moment and then turns on his heel, roughly opening the door and striding out. Clint waits for a moment and then, shirtless and barefoot, follows.

Chapter Text

The car journey is the tensest Clint has ever known. The soldier drives with an outward facade of calm, not overly fast or slow, every movement and decision careful and discreet.

They’ve been driving for hours and neither has said a word. Judging by the position of the sun in the sky it’s late afternoon, the sky a blue and cloudless expanse above their heads, baking the earth below. Clint’s shoulder is itching and throbbing, the uncomfortable sensation of a healing wound. He vaguely recalls shooting the soldier when they’d first come face to face and he momentarily wonders if his shoulder is healing, then decides he doesn't care.

For the first few hours, Clint just stares out of the window, watching the scenery whip by. He’s tired and hungry and thirsty, but he doesn’t say anything. Any interaction just seems like too much effort; these days he barely feels like he has enough energy to get out of bed, let alone for conversing with a wanted assassin who is quite probably twelve shades of crazy. 

Small towns come and go. The terrain turns rough and rugged, earthy red outcrops of rock rising on either side of the highway, boxing them in. A river appears on their left, slowly and lazily following the road, tucking right up close and following them for miles and miles. The late afternoon sun glints off its calm green-brown surface, when it’s not cast in shadow by the rocks that continue to rise up on the opposite side of the highway. Eventually, they leave the company of the river and cliffs, the highway opening up onto an open plain that seems endless, stretching on and on towards the feet of the mountains in the distance. Clint doesn’t care about the view; he’s too hot and the car is sweltering now that there’s no shade. The clean grey t-shirt he’d pulled on as he’d climbed into the car earlier is already soaked in sweat, sticking uncomfortably to his back and to his sides under his arms. He wants his sunglasses out of his bag, this time with the legitimate reason of wanting to shield his aching eyes from the sun rather than just wanting to hide and avoid eye contact from the world.

Movement makes him flinch without thinking; the soldier leans back and reaches into the back seat and shoves his right hand into the duffel bag that’s there, zip open. Without taking his eyes off the road, he rummages around for a moment and then pulls out a bottle of water and holds it out to Clint without looking at him.

Clint stares at him a moment, because really? Taking fluids from an assassin slash kidnapper? Not high on any list of smart moves.

After a good ten seconds, the soldier seems to realise that Clint isn’t going to take the bottle. He glances over and frowns, as if insulted by Clint’s lack of trust, then lets go of the wheel for a second to crack the top off, dropping the lid into the groove beside the parking brake that’s got a few loose quarters sliding around in the bottom of it. He lifts the bottle to his mouth and takes a deep swallow, before passing it over to Clint again.

This time, Clint takes it. He drinks deeply, almost draining the bottle and immediately feeling a hundred times better. He tries not to feel grateful. He knows what Stockholm Syndrome is, knows how easy is it is for a captive person’s mind to instinctively go to finding the best out of the situation, even when they’ve been treated much worse than he has been. His mind keeps lingering on Phil’s voice outlining Plan B in his ‘this is important, stop goofing off and listen to me, Barton,’ tone of voice. Pacify, gain information, play along, then escape. Well, Clint has managed to pacify the soldier, and is playing along quite happily. The only part of the scheme he hasn’t invested in is finding out more information, because frankly he thinks the less he knows about this whole clusterfuck of a situation, the better off he’ll be.

He just wants to be left alone.

However, being alone unfortunately requires the ‘escape’ part of the situation to come to fruition. He’s already acknowledged that he can’t fight his way out of the situation, not unless he gets his hands on his bow. It’s in the back seat, but the case holding his arrows are all in the trunk, so that’s no good, unless the soldier leaves him unattended for long enough to jimmy the lock and break in.

So, if fighting is out, then running is in. He’s not slow by any stretch of the imagination, and he’s worked with Natasha for years so his evading skills are pretty high. Though, the Winter Soldier has managed to track him down out of fucking nowhere, so maybe trying to hide from the guy is a useless ploy anyway.

Signalling for help out of the window? Nope. He doesn’t want to get stabbed again and he certainly doesn’t want to bring the wrath of the soldier down on anyone else. Just because he doesn’t care anymore doesn’t mean he’s a heartless dick.

Clint lifts the bottle to his mouth again, drinking the last mouthful of water and watching a gas station whip by on the edge of the interstate. Yes. Stopping for gas would be an ideal time to make a break for it; even if the soldier can go forever without fuel, the car certainly can’t. He’d have at least a minute to get out and get away - if there’s other cars about he could hijack one, or even jump passenger and make someone drive him away. Not exactly ethical, but he needs to get away.

Do it, he hears Phil’s calm voice saying. Sort immediate issues first, fix collateral later.

Clint shuts his eyes, swallowing thickly. He rests his temple against the window, feeling the buzzing vibrations in his skull and wishing it would be enough to shake out all the memories and lingering shadows. He breathes out heavily, keeps his eyes shut. He thinks over all his different options of escape, and again curses himself for dropping his phone down that drain. Natasha - or even Stark - could trace a phone in their sleep, if they were so inclined.

Thinking about Natasha’s text message, he wonders if anyone is actually trying to track him down. Most of him hopes not; the only part that hopes they are is the part that wants to get away from the fucking Winter Soldier, and if that doesn’t confirm that he’s a terrible person then he doesn’t know what else will.

He opens his eyes again, squinting as he waits for his vision to focus in the brightness of the afternoon light. He looks over at the soldier who is still driving, focussed on the road ahead, wherever they’re going. Clint stares at the wheel until his eyes blur and he has to blink. The thought swims to the surface of his mind, unbidden. He could just reach over and yank the steering wheel and that would be that. The car would veer off the road, maybe hit a barrier or a sign. The tyres would screech and the brakes would lock, assuming the soldier would slam them on in an attempt to stop the car. Clint would cling onto the wheel with every bit of strength he had left. Maybe it’d roll, flipping over and over in a horrific cartwheel of rending metal and shattering glass. And when it finally heaved itself to a stop, broken and bent on the verge, that would be that. No guarantee that they’d be alive, but at least they’d have stopped.

Clint sits up, lifting his head from the window and acknowledging that it just doesn’t seem worth the effort, and part of him keeps thinking about Phil and his stupid lectures about acceptable risk and how angry he’d be if Clint totalled himself in a crash. Not that it matters anyway, because Phil is dead and dead guys can’t be mad about shit. Natasha though - she’s still alive and would probably kill him if he totalled himself in a car crash. Though, who knows, she might just be grateful if he managed to take out the Winter Soldier on the way out.

Getting maudlin, Barton, he thinks, feeling close to disgusted with himself. 

Thankfully, his thoughts are cut short as he realises the car is slowing down. He looks up and sees a red and yellow Shell sign, and his stomach lurches in anticipation. The soldier remains as calm as ever, signalling and taking the car off of the highway and into the forecourt of the gas station. Beyond the gas station is a retail park; there’s a motel and a convenience store, a couple more buildings that look like they’ve seen better days. Clint stays still, not giving any any sign of reaction other than mild curiosity, because this could well be his chance to make a break for it. There are plenty of cars around, and he’d have no problem stealing one as long as he got enough time. Getting keys from someone would be even better, even though he doesn’t particularly want to scare civilians to death by stealing their car keys from their persons. Pickpocketing would be the best option, but it would require some quick thinking and good timing-

The car rolls under the roof of the gas station and the soldier turns off the ignition, taking the keys before reaching over into his duffle bag again. Clint glances over to see what he’s doing, and then his stomach sinks, the anticipation sliding away like retreating shadows in the morning sun.

“Really?”

The soldier twists back around and holds out his free hand, beckoning. Clint thinks about resisting and then just sighs wearily and presents his hand to the soldier with a bad grace. The soldier efficiently snaps one loop of the handcuffs around his wrist and then leans over Clint to loop the other cuff around the hand bar under the door handle.

Clint thinks he’s more annoyed at himself that he didn’t realise something like this would happen. He holds his breath, because it’s been months since anyone got this far into his personal space, and it feels distinctly uncomfortable, and not just because the soldier is a killer.

“Don’t open the window,” the soldier says as he leans back, pushing his hair out of his face. “Don’t talk to anyone.”

“Or?” Clint asks.

The soldier doesn’t miss a beat. He reaches back into his duffel bag and pulls out a dark navy baseball cap, slipping it on with the peak pulled low. “Or I’ll deal with anyone you communicate with and put you in the trunk.”

“No communicating, gotcha,” Clint says, saluting him with the free hand. The soldier stares at him for a moment like he can’t quite work Clint out, and then gets out of the car, slamming the door behind him.

“Fuck,” Clint says, and discreetly turns his attention to the cuffs, sliding his eyes down to his right without moving his head. The one around his wrist is so tight that he probably won’t be able to slip it without removing a lot of skin or damaging his thumb, and the one attached to the car door is holding firm too. Short of dismantling the door or skinning himself, he’s stuck. Picking the lock is his next option, which should be easy enough despite the fact the soldier has double locked the cuffs; the only thing he needs is something to do the job with, a pin or paperclip or something. Breathing out slowly, carefully, he looks up and around; the soldier is on the other side of the car dealing with the refuelling, and he’s not currently looking at Clint but he’d definitely notice if he did glance over and Clint was attempting to escape.

So despite his heart going double time and impatient jitters running through him, Clint sits tight and waits for the soldier to finish refuelling, the telltale clunk and the click of the gas tank cap being screwed into place. Clint half expects him to simply get back in the car and drive off, but he doesn’t; he briefly glances through the window at Clint and then shoves his left hand into the front pocket of the hooded sweatshirt before walking towards the store. Clint isn’t all that surprised; stealing gas in a stolen car is a stupid way to draw unwanted attention. 

Clint watches the soldier walk away, sitting perfectly still. The moment the soldier's hand touches the glass door of the store, Clint surges into motion, searching for something he can use to pick the cuffs. He checks the compartment in the dash, then the cupholders, the compartments in the door, all to no avail. He swears, frustrated, and then reaches down to grope under the seat-

His fingers touch something small and metal, and he pinches it between his fingers and pulls it out, resisting the urge to crow in triumph as he comes up with a bobby pin. Universe, you are forgiven, he thinks distractedly as he looks up, stretching the pin out and then bending the tip into the right angle. He looks around for the soldier, but he’s still inside so Clint turns his attention back down to the cuffs. Clint has maybe thirty seconds to get out of these cuffs and out of the car. He wastes no time in starting on the lock, jamming the pin into the lock, twisting it around and feeling for the catch- 

“Come on, come on,” he mutters, twisting and shoving, and he’s done this a thousand times and the only person that can slip a pair of cuffs quicker than him is Natasha-

The lock snicks free, and Clint’s heart leaps just as the driver’s-side door opens again.

Clint shuts his eyes and resists the urge to swear in every language he knows.

“You’re good,” the soldier comments as he climbs back into the car. He swings a plastic bag over into the footwell by Clint’s feet and slams the door shut behind him.

“Fuck you,” Clint replies hollowly. He unhooks the cuffs from his wrist, letting them fall back against the door, clinking against the plastic. The soldier starts the car up again, and Clint feels despondency wash through him again as the car rumbles to life and moves back out onto the highway, quickly picking up speed.

Clint slumps back into the seat, and with that feels strangely like that was his only chance that’s just slipped through his fingers. Dammit, if he’d just been quicker-

Same old story.

He shoves the thought away. He’s not going there.

“So,” he says, more because he wants a distraction from the dangerous slide of his thoughts for a moment rather than because he actually wants to talk. “Where does the Winter Soldier get money for gas?”

“Stole it,” the soldier replies.

“Should have guessed,” Clint replies. “You steal the outfit too?”

“Yep.”

There’s not a lot to say to that, really. Shifting in the seat to try and dispel the ache in his ass from sitting for too long, Clint leans back against the door and props his elbow on the window ledge, looking over at the soldier, because if he thinks about the soldier then he doesn’t have to think about himself. As an assassin, the soldier probably has a well-honed sixth sense that will tell him that Clint is looking, but Clint is pretty much beyond caring. If some guy wants to kidnap him for vague Captain-America related reasons, then he can put up with Clint staring.

The guy looks tired, Clint thinks. Focussed, but tired. And not just physically; he looks exactly how Clint feels, weary and fed up, like he can’t really be bothered any more. The only thing that contradicts the assessment is the fact that the soldier made the effort to kidnap Clint as part of whatever his insane Steve-related scheme is.

In another world, the guy would be good looking, Clint thinks as he studies his profile. Dark haired, light eyed, strong cheekbones and jawline. There’s something else about him as well, and not just the aura of menace that he exudes. There’s a dull, brooding edge to him, something pained and broken that Clint spotted when he first encountered him. It’s almost enough to make Clint distantly curious about what’s going on here; from what he’s seen and heard there seems to be something more than just a mission, especially regarding the situation with Steve. It’s not his usual - his old - sense of curiosity though. Without enough energy to follow through, it just seems pointless and muted, idle wonderings rather than any sort of spark.

“Why a bow?”

The soldier doesn’t look at him as he speaks, and Clint doesn’t look away, eyes still fixed on his face.

“Because I’m good with it.”

The soldier nods at that, as if that’s enough, as if being good with a weapon is enough of a reason to use it. “That why they call you Hawkeye?” he asks, and Clint again catches the edge of an accent in his voice, something that wouldn’t sound out of place in New York. It makes him sort of wonder where the guy is from.

“Ten points to the assassin,” he says tiredly, and then surprises himself by asking, “do you have a real name?”

It’s only because he’s looking right at him that Clint notices the slight hitch in the soldiers breathing, the way his hands tighten almost imperceptibly on the steering wheel. He doesn’t answer and Clint continues to watch him, now genuinely a little curious.

He looks away, back out of the front of the car, watching the road being drawn in under the wheels. The car is eating up the miles and his one chance of escape is receding into memory. Long minutes pass and it’s clear the conversation is over. The car lifts and sways over an uneven bump in the road, and Clint winces, shifting again to try and get comfortable. He needs to get out of here before his ass goes completely numb and never recovers. 

Wait a minute. Maybe it’s not about getting information, or even escaping. Maybe it’s about giving information. The soldier wanted to know about Captain America; if Clint tells him what he wants to know - nothing that will put Steve in danger, obviously - then maybe the soldier will let him go.

“When’s this asking about Captain America going to start then?” he asks casually, shifting and putting his feet up on the dashboard. “That’s what you want, right?” 

“Not now,” the soldier says, and there it is again, that strange haunted look flickering across his face. It vanishes quickly though, and Clint sees his eyes flick up into the rearview mirror. “When it’s safe.” 

Clint opens his mouth to object, but finds he can’t quite summon up enough energy. The guy sounds paranoid as hell - they’re in a stolen car on a highway in pretty much the middle of nowhere, how can it not be safe? And given how desperate the guy was to get hold of Clint in order to find out about Steve?

‘I need to know why.’

The soldier’s earlier words echo in Clint’s memory, and he turns them over, thinks what it could mean. There’s something not quite right with this whole thing; he’s thought it before but now he’s finding that he’s actually interested about it instead of just idly acknowledging it. What else was it that the soldier had said, back in the motel room where he’d woken up? That Captain America had been his mission, but something had stopped him-

So, the soldier was told to kill Steve, but bottled it for some reason that even he doesn’t know- 

The soldier didn’t want to kill Steve. He was told to kill Steve. And he didn’t.

Clint’s breath catches in his chest, and his throat seizes up with a frightening tightness. He tries to draw a breath and can’t, can only make a rough noise in the back of his throat, because he can’t breathe. Sound is sliding away from him, all he can hear is his pulse and a dull roaring in his ears, a piercing whine growing louder and louder.

The soldier didn’t want to kill Steve. He was told to kill Steve. And he didn’t.

Clint’s fingers scrabble uselessly for the door handle, blinded by the need to get out. All he can see is Loki, and his eyes are bright blue, and he’s drawing his bowstring back to his chin, looking at the helicarrier with dispassionate eyes, calculate the angle and wind speed and resistance, knowing that the arrow he looses will blow the helicarrier out of the air, taking Natasha and the others - the Avengers - with it.

Clint doesn’t want to kill them. He’s been told to kill them. He lets the arrow fly.

“Hawkeye! God damn it - Hawkeye!”

Someone is shouting his name, alarmed. Loki is smiling at him, asking him all about Natasha, wicked intent in his eyes. Clint tells him everything. Something screeches, he jolts forwards, he can’t breathe and he’s going to die, he surrenders everything he knows, everything he’s asked to surrender- 

There’s a thud, a creak of metal. Hands grab his arms and pain shoots through his arm. He tries to lash out but he can’t see, can’t tell who is in front of him. He’s being dragged, pulled away. A falling sensation, his back scraping roughly against something, and Loki is not taking him anywhere, he’ll kill him before he lets him take him anywhere ever again-

Something presses down hard on his shoulder and he gasps in pain, sucking in a breath of air so fresh it hurts. With the gasp of oxygen, he surges back into consciousness proper; the roaring in his ears pops and gives way to sound, his eyes focus on the face that’s in front of him, and he doesn’t even care who it is because it’s not Loki.

“Hawkeye, look at me,” the soldier commands. He’s got his flesh and bone hand clenched in the front of Clint’s shirt, the metal one wrapped around his bicep with thumb digging cruelly into the wound on his shoulder. It’s the pain that’s keeping Clint grounded, the bright sensation too real to ignore, forcing him to gasp in air to try and keep the pain away. Clint complies without a thought, looking into the soldiers eyes. Grey, so grey. Not blue. Not glowing, just grey and piercing, holding him there as effectively as the pain.

He nods jerkily, still gasping for air. He looks left and right, and somehow he’s sat on his ass on a grass verge, back against the car. The car is still running, rumbling softly behind him, engine gently juddering. His arm twitches, a convulsive jerk, and then warm fingers grab his chin and force his face around. 

“Hawkeye,” the soldier repeats loudly. “Look at me.”

Clint nods and does. He draws in a deep shuddering breath and then lets it out. The next one comes much more easily, and the tightness in his chest abates. He can hear the car now, over the sounds of his own breathing and pulse. He can feel more than just the pain in his shoulder too; the rough prickle of grass beneath his palm, the unforgiving hardness of the metal behind his shoulder blades, the pull of fabric where the soldier has his shirt fisted in his grip. He can smell grass and dirt and sweat, the smell of the running engine and the heat in the air.

His breathing slowly returns to normal, evening out. He doesn’t look away from the soldier’s face though; he feels an irrational fear that if he does, the panic will return. They’re sat out of the sun in shadow of the car, but his eyes are still bright in the gloom. He looks almost concerned; maybe he’s worried that if Clint dies then he’ll have to go and kidnap another Avenger.

“Okay?” the soldier says after a while. On the road behind them a car drives past, the engine rumbling and coughing, a jarring sound against his senses.

Clint nods again, the motion now almost automatic. The soldier lets go of him, glancing at his shoulder and almost looking apologetic. “I thought, the quickest way to stop a panic attack...that was a panic attack, right?”

Clint nods wordlessly, slowly dipping his head once. He’s never spoken to anyone about the crippling attacks that creep up on him at intervals and knock his ass to the floor, and he can’t quite comprehend that it’s the Winter Soldier that’s there with him, talking about it and looking genuinely worried.

What the hell, universe?

“Why do you look worried?” Clint asks before he can stop himself, and his voice sounds strange to his own ears, like it belongs to someone else. He’s trembling still.

The soldier sits back on his heels, running his hand over his mouth. “You just - one minute you were fine and then…” he trails off, looking troubled. “Thought you were having a seizure.”

Clint laughs, the sound choppy and rough. “No,” he says, starting to feel more like himself with every passing moment. The piercing waves of emotion he felt whilst in the grips of the panic attack are fading, leaving nothing but the same apathy and indifference that have sat in his chest for months. He’s glad; he’s been so long avoiding feeling anything that when he actually does it’s horrid, unnatural.

He wishes Phil were here.

He shoves the thought away and attempts to move, reaching behind himself and grabbing hold of the car, wanting to haul his ass up off the floor. The gaze that had grounded him during his panic attack is now far too piercing and knowing, and Clint hates it.

“No,” the soldier says, and the metal hand shoots out and grabs Clint’s uninjured shoulder. “Sit still.”

“Screw you,” Clint says, and without thinking he grabs the soldier’s wrist and shoves him away. The soldier pulls his hands back, holding them up in a gesture of surrender, sitting back on his heels again and resting his forearms across his knees. He eyes Clint contemplatively, rubbing at his mouth again.

“Trigger?” he finally asks. A breeze ruffles his hair, blowing errant strands across his face. The hood of his jacket is down, and it makes him look completely different.

Clint scowls. “Screw you,” he repeats, and hauls himself to his feet. The sunlight he straightens up into is like a punch to the face, and he has to screw up his eyes momentarily, cursing under his breath. He can feel his temper starting to bubble just under his skin, fractious and intractable. “I assume we’re getting back in the car, or do I get to start running?”

The soldier doesn’t move. He looks at Clint, somewhere between wary and curious, obviously disconcerted by both the panic attack and Clint’s attitude. “What’s going on?”

“You tell me what’s going on with you and I’ll tell you what’s going on with me,” Clint snaps back testily, and the soldier goes tense, his shoulders drawing tight.

“Get in the car.”

“You know, actually, no,” Clint says defiantly, feeling acidic and belligerent and rapidly losing control of himself and his handle on the situation. It feels both horrendous and wonderful, painful and exhilarating, this steady rising temper that’s been shoved out of existence for so long. “Let’s do this right here. There’s no-one for a hundred goddamn miles. You want to know about Steve, you start asking, or I’m walking.”

The words hang there in the air, a clear challenge. Clint reckons he’s pretty close to being stabbed again, but by now he’s so over this shit. He’s an awful person who caused the death of good people, who almost killed the goddamn Avengers, just because he was weak minded and didn’t have the strength to fight of mind tricks from an Asgardian dickwad. He’s tired, he’s fed up, and he cannot find the energy to give one more fuck about that, or this. He wants to be left alone. He wants Phil Coulson back.

The soldier shakes his head, and his gaze is iron. Hard. Cold. Brittle. “Get in the car.”

No,” Clint bites out, snarling and bitter.

The soldier takes a step forwards, menacing. “Get. In. The. Car.”

“Start asking!” Clint yells back, his voice cracking. He feels raw and unguarded after his panic attack, shaky on his feet and with humiliation licking around the edges of the anger he feels. “Come on, what are you waiting for?!”

“No!” the soldier snaps back, and he’s falling to pieces just like Clint, all his control gone, splintered like shards of glass, sharp and painful.

“Why not?!” Clint shouts, arms spread in question. “Why the fuck would you kidnap me to find out about Captain America, and then refuse to ask anything about Captain America?! If you don’t want to kill him, which I’m actually finding it harder and harder to believe-”

“Bucky.”

The hoarse word hangs there in the air between them, in the breach created by the interruption, and Clint is pretty sure the world has just stopped, because what did he just say? The soldier is looking at Clint with bright, confused, miserable eyes like he’s about to cry. A breeze ruffles his hair again; they barely notice. They stand, six feet apart, unmoving. After what feels like a lifetime, the soldier swallows, his throat moves and Clint can only stare in absolute shock as he opens his mouth, lower lip trembling, and says it again.

“I think I’m Bucky Barnes.”

Chapter Text

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

It’s not the smartest thing Clint has ever said, but considering the circumstances he thinks he can be forgiven. He stares at the Winter Soldier who is just standing there and staring back, looking like he’s taken a heavy blow to the head. His eyes are bright and his mouth is slightly open, and he looks confused and miserable and completely and utterly lost.

“You’re – you’re Bucky? Bucky Barnes?”

“I don’t know,” the soldier finally replies. “I – I think-”

He breaks off, lifts his metal hand up to his face and covers his mouth, breathing harshly. He shakes his head fractionally and steps back jerkily before letting his hand fall. “He called me Bucky,” he says, and it sounds like he’s wrenched the confession out from the depths of his chest. “And I knew him.”

“How is that even possible?” Clint asks faintly. His brain is doing the maths, working out when Cap went down, when he was part of the Howling Commandos. Bucky Barnes would be at least ninety by now - he wasn’t even supposed to be alive, he’d been killed in action before Steve had taken a nose-dive into the Arctic, but this guy doesn’t look older than thirty-

“I don’t know,” the soldier says again, agitated and broken, and he takes another step back and sinks to the ground, clutching his head in his hands. “It’s all so mixed up in here, I don’t know anything, I don’t remember-”

Clint just stands there like an asshole, staring at the most infamous assassin this side of the Second World War as he sits on the floor with his head in his hands, having what looks like a complete breakdown. The name Bucky Barnes is echoing around his head, and he’s trying to figure out how the hell this guy could possibly be Bucky fucking Barnes.

“Bucky Barnes died in nineteen forty something,” Clint says, more to himself than the soldier.

“Captain America seems to be convinced otherwise,” the soldier says bitterly. He shakes his head and then shoves his hand into his pocket, leaning back and pulling out a crumpled packet of cigarettes. He lights one and takes a deep drag, resting his elbows on his knee and covering his eyes with his metal hand. Distantly, Clint wonders if he could dive into the car and drive off, but it’s only a fleeting thought which is well and truly over-ridden by his sense of what the fuck? 

Clint cautiously takes a step closer, and then crouches down next to the soldier, squatting back on his heels. He has no idea what to do, what to say.

“You don’t remember anything?”

“Not properly,” the soldier says. “I think Hydra have been wiping my memory.”

Clint’s mouth falls open, working uselessly for a moment. “You had no idea who Captain America was when you went after him, did you?”

“He was my mission,” the Soldier says quietly, miserably. “I was following orders, I didn’t-”

Clint’s stomach roils and his breath catches in a spasm of fear, the words cutting like a knife. He forces himself to breathe, feeling his hands trembling. Just following orders, echoes in his mind and he stares at the soldier. There’s no way he knows, surely? It’s got to be some sort of twisted coincidence that he picked Clint to kidnap, right? That is if he’s telling the truth-

The soldier raises his hand to his mouth to take another drag on the cigarette, and Clint realizes that he believes him. There’s no way this is an act, what would the guy gain from telling Clint this? To get him on side, maybe to gain sympathy, to excuse what he did?  God, Clint is utterly lost.

Still balancing on the balls of his feet, he rubs at his mouth with his hand. “Look up,” he says, and the soldier does. He lifts his chin and pushes his hair back from his face. He looks somewhere between defiant and worried as Clint looks over his face. He’s got the same coloring as Bucky Barnes, Clint concedes, but he hasn’t exactly ever spent time looking at pictures of Barnes, so he wouldn’t really know how closely they compare.

The soldier shifts again, slowly, not taking his eyes from Clint. He slips his hand into the other pocket and pulls out a piece of paper. It’s folded over and creased, and he hands it to Clint wordlessly.

Clint takes it and unfolds it. It’s a page ripped out of a book, and its part of an article about the Howling Commandos. There’s a picture of two soldiers looking over a map that’s spread out on the hood of a jeep, both looking thoughtful. The caption underneath reads ‘Captain Steve Rogers and Sergeant James ‘Bucky’ Barnes.’

It’s him.

Clint doesn’t even have to look twice. He stares down at the picture, of the man standing shoulder to shoulder with Cap. He’s spent enough minutes studying the soldier’s face in the past two days to know without a doubt that it’s the same person in the picture.

Holy shit.

“That’s definitely you, unless you’ve been cloned or ever had an identical twin,” Clint says, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. “What the fuck happened to you?”

“I don’t know,” the soldier – Bucky – says, sounding exhausted. “I don’t remember. I just got this feeling.”

Clint startles at the inflection in the words, the same edge he’d heard before, and he starts to laugh. “You’ve got a Brooklyn accent,” he says, and he’s still laughing, edging close to hysterical. “You’ve got a fucking Brooklyn accent, oh my fucking god.”

He’s laughing so hard he has to sit down properly, shifting back onto his ass and pressing his palm to his forehead. God, he was trying to avoid the Avengers and now he’s been kidnapped by Captain America’s childhood friend who also happens to be a wanted assassin. The universe must seriously have it in for him because this is just unreal.  His voice tremors, the laughter catching on the edge of a sob. He wanted out, he really just wanted to be as far away from this as he could be, and now he’s smack bang in the middle of it-

There’s a rustle, and he looks up to see Bucky – and the name fits, even with everything Clint knows, it just fits – now holding out a cigarette to him. He takes it without question, and then the soldier tosses over a clipper lighter. Clint lights the cigarette and takes a deep drag, holding the smoke in his lungs. Bucky climbs to his feet and Clint instinctively tenses, bracing himself, but all Bucky does is lean into the car to turn the engine off.

The silence that follows is oh-so loud. Bucky shuts the car door and then sits back down where he’d been sat before, staring down at a spot somewhere in front of him without blinking. He seems almost defeated in a strange way, so very different to the guy that has stormed into Clint’s motel room with blazing eyes and a knife in hand. It’s almost as if the admission has somehow broken him, leaving him vulnerable in a way he wasn’t when he was simply the Winter Soldier.

Bucky Barnes.

Jesus.

Not for the first, second or even third time, Clint thinks about his phone clattering down the storm drain. It’s a half-hearted part of him that wishes he hadn’t done it, because he knows that if he’d kept it the Soldier would have found it and destroyed it anyway.

He flicks the cigarette, takes another drag, eyes still on Bucky. He tries to think of the man in front of him as just a soldier, as Captain America’s right hand man. As Steve’s best friend. He can’t do it; all he can think of is the footage of the Winter Soldier on the streets of DC, the staggering blows that Steve had been desperately trying to block.

He wonders how clearly Bucky remembers trying to kill the man that was his best friend, and a lump forms in his throat as he thinks of the helicarrier, of Natasha.

Fuck the universe, and fuck irony.

He clears his throat, wonders what the hell to say. Is there anything he can say? He doesn’t know if this guy is more Winter Soldier than Bucky Barnes right now. Hell, he doesn’t know if Bucky even knows.

“You really don’t remember anything.”

Bucky lifts his head, sniffing. He wipes his fingers under his nose, clears his throat with a rough sound. “No,” he says. “But I get these feelings, like I should. And sometimes when I look, it’s like I see double. Like pictures flicking over what I’m seeing, like a broken movie reel.”

Clint raises an eyebrow. “You must remember movie reels then, to make that comparison.”

Bucky looks startled for a moment, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. It hits Clint like a sucker-punch, just how human it makes him look.  “I don’t ever remember watching a movie,” he says, and he sounds broken as he pinches the bridge of his nose between metal fingers. “See?”

“Not in the slightest,” Clint says, because he has no idea what’s left in the tattered remains of Bucky Barnes’s mind, let alone how memory loss via Hydra works. He’s pretty sure they didn’t have a magical glow-stick to work him over with.

They sit in silence for long minutes. Clint finishes his cigarette and tosses the butt away, still watching Bucky. A strange part of him wants to see more expressions on Bucky’s face, wants the blank indifference to give way to those looks of shock or confusion. He rubs absently at his sternum, not sure if the feelings of curiosity and wanting are brand new, or just old ones that he’s been missing for a while.

Clint heaves out a sigh, shutting his eyes and rubbing his hand over his face. This is just – it’s too much for him, way too much.

“You need to call Steve.”

Bucky blinks, seemed to re-awaken. “No,” he says, and looks up, glancing around. “We need to go,” he says, climbing to his feet.

Clint stares at him, feeling wrong-footed and off balance. “What? You’re-” he begins, but Bucky doesn’t seem to be listening. He just walks around the other side of the car and climbs in, ignoring Clint’s protests.

Clint scrambles to his feet. He leans in to the passenger side of the car, hands curled around the frame of the door. “Hey,” he says. “You can’t be serious? We’re still going?”

“Yes,” Bucky says, sounding tired. “Get in.”

“No, I can’t just-” Clint tries. “You’ve gotta go and find Steve.”

“No,” Bucky shakes his head, adamant.

“He’s probably looking for you,” Clint insists. “Fuck, if he knows who you are, he could help you work it out-”

I don’t know who I am,” Bucky snaps. “And I’m not going to find him. Nothing’s changed.”

“Everything’s changed!” Clint exclaims. “Bro, seriously.”

Bucky’s metal hand shoots out, grabs Clint by the front of his shirt and wrenches him forwards right into the car so they’re almost nose to nose. Clint manages to keep himself upright, barely, throwing out a hand onto the seat and one onto the dash, and his whole body freezes because Bucky is too close to him, in his personal space and he’s going to throw up-

“Get in the car,” Bucky snarls, and Clint is nodding because he will do anything to get out of that iron grip right now-

Bucky must trust him as a man of his word because he lets go of Clint’s shirt, allowing him to scramble back, breathing heavily. Clint considers running for it but his legs have turned to jelly, sour remnants of panic leaving him feeling weak and close to humiliated.

Shaking his head, he swings into the car and slumps down into the seat. He slams the door and presses his hand to his brow, cursing under his breath. He wants a drink so very badly, and his stomach is tied in knots.

The car rumbles to life and pulls away off the verge, and Clint distantly thinks he should have taken a gamble and run whilst he’d had a chance.  Though it suddenly doesn’t seem quite so simple as getting away anymore, now that this guy isn’t just the Winter Soldier. Fuck, he’s not just the bad guy – he’s Steve’s best friend, a war hero, a guy who gave his life whilst fighting alongside Captain America in the war.

Who somehow has ended up as an assassin for Hydra.

Clint thinks about the phrase brainwashing and his stomach roils. He glances over at Bucky and feels a disconcerting stab of pity, because if the poor bastard is right and his memory has been wiped by Hydra, then he’s missing seventy years of his life.

Clint only lost a few days, and that had been bad enough. Though he still remembers everything he did in HD quality, and he hates himself for wondering if it would be better if Loki had wiped his memory.

The car eats up the miles, steadily tracking across the interstate. They’re going North-East, Clint has worked out, though he’s not yet sure why. The sun fades, the bright blue of the sky turning inky violet, slashed with orange. Other people would probably call it beautiful, but Clint’s in no place to appreciate the damn view.

There are so many questions in his mind that it almost hurts. He might even find the energy to ask them if he honestly thought he’d get an answer. As it stands, he lets the questions rattle around in his mind, wondering and waiting.

He just doesn’t get it. Why isn’t this guy running straight back to Steve? Clint doesn’t know Steve that well at all but he doesn’t think he’s the type of guy to hold a grudge. Yeah, the Winter Soldier did a number on him, but if Steve has any idea who he actually is-

Clint forces himself to stop. He doesn’t know Steve, he doesn’t know Bucky. He’s got no idea how they’d really react to anything, so there’s no point even guessing. Hell, he doesn’t know how he’d react in a situation like this; if Phil suddenly popped up out of nowhere and tried to kill him – Clint can’t even finish the thought. It’s too much for him to even contemplate.

The sun has fully set and the moon is high in the sky when something in the car begins to makes a faint clicking noise. Clint twitches as it happens again, and again, and he feels his hands ball into fists. It’s quiet but it feels like the noise is scratching at the inside of his brain, ticking and ticking and fucking ticking-

The car slows down, pulls over. The clicking stops as the engine dies and Clint slumps back into his seat, silently cursing himself. He can hear Bucky shifting in the seat next to him, the click of his metal fingers against the interior of the car not as jarring as the clicking of the engine had been.

“You didn’t like the noise,” Bucky says.

“I don’t like a lot of things,” Clint replies indifferently, looking up and realizing that they’ve pulled up in the lot of a beat up diner. “But I do like shitty diner food.”

Bucky blinks at him, like he’s not heard anyone make a joke in years. He frowns, and then looks between Clint and the diner, thinking hard.

“Don’t cuff me,” Clint says. “Let’s go in.”

Bucky shakes his head. “You crazy?”

“They will probably have seen us,” Clint reasons. “It’ll be weird if we both don’t go in.”

“Weirder than this?” Bucky says, and holds up his left hand.

“You managed fine in the gas station,” Clint persists. “Come on.”

Bucky shakes his head again. “Too risky,” he says, and it’s clear he doesn’t trust Clint enough to listen. “I’ll get you something.”

Clint slumps back down into his seat, lets out a half-hearted noise of protest and Bucky leans over him to grab the cuffs that are still looped around the door handle.

“Aw, really?”

“I’ve got double the reason to cuff you now you know who I might be,” Bucky says as he snaps the cuff around Clint’s  wrist. He reaches into the back to grab some money of out his bag, and Clint can see the strength in his body as he stretches, the compact muscle and power in every line.

He leaves Clint in the car. Clint groans and slumps down in his seat, trying to get some feeling back in his ass. He’s been in this car for seven hours straight, not including the three minute toilet break he’d been allowed a few hours ago. He’d half expected Bucky to handcuff him for it, but Bucky had just turned away and let Clint piss in peace. He wouldn't exactly call it a trusting gesture though; there was clearly no point in Clint trying to make a break for it on foot considering Bucky was faster, stronger, and had a car which was full of weapons. 

Sighing, Clint rubs at his temples, trying to shift the headache that’s throbbing behind his temples. He wants a drink. In fact, he wants several drinks. Enough drinks so that he stops thinking about Bucky fucking Barnes for ten minutes.

Bucky soon returns with a paper bag in hand, and Clint sits up, eager to get his hands on something to eat. He looks up as Bucky gets in and the desire for food immediately dies in his chest; Clint stiffens in his seat as Bucky slams the door, because the look on his face is a hundred percent Winter Soldier and last time he looked like that Clint got stabbed. Bucky shoves the paper bag at Clint without even looking at him. The smell coming from the bag is glorious but Clint barely notices it. In Bucky’s left hand is a newspaper, and he’s clenching it so tightly his arm is juddering.

Clint doesn’t say a word. Keeping his hand low he tests the resistance of the cuff around his wrist, pulling carefully against it, feeling his adrenaline starting to spike as he edges towards fight or flight mode.

Bucky draws in a shuddering breath, looking down at the paper in his hand. He stares at it for several long moments and then turns to Clint. He wordlessly straightens the paper out and then holds it up so Clint can see the picture-

Steve and Tony. Again. This time a snapshot of them walking side by side down a red set of stairs, both in sharp black tux’s that probably cost more than all of Clint’s possessions. Steve has his hands tucked casually in his pockets, his face turned towards Tony and Tony has one hand behind him, tucked in the small of Steve’s back as he speaks.

“Who is that,” Bucky asks, voice cracking. “Who is he with?”

“Tony Stark,” Clint replies, catching the words ‘seen leaving Charity Gala together’ in the caption beneath the picture. When he receives no sign of understanding, he tries again. “Iron Man.”

That name, Bucky recognizes. “The red and gold armour,” he says tightly. “From the picture.”

Clint nods, looking at the photo. If he were still with the Avengers would he be doing the same sort of thing? God, it’s like life for them hasn’t even stopped, but how can it all just stop when you’re Iron Man and Captain America?

“Why is he with him?” Bucky asks, demands. “Tell me.”

“Jesus, they’re just friends,” Clint says. “Calm down-”

“I can’t!” Bucky shouts. “God, I want to go and – and punch that guy, and I don’t even know why.”

“Lots of people probably want to punch Tony Stark,” Clint mutters, but Bucky is so angry he doesn’t even hear him.

“It’s like there’s this thing in my chest that needs to go and check he’s okay,” Bucky rants. “Like, what if this Stark guy is a threat to him – which makes no fucking sense because my orders were to take the Captain down at all costs, and now there’s something in here that wants to go and do anything to make sure he’s okay and I don’t fucking know why!”

The last word is punctuated by a violent punch to the center of the steering wheel, and Clint finds that he’s moved away as far as he can possibly get, back pressed against the door and his cuffed wrist twisted awkwardly behind him.

Bucky moves violently again and Clint flinches, but Bucky just gets out of the car, leaving the door open. He swears, kicks at the wheel of the car and then storms off across the lot, before halting and shoving shaking hands into his pockets, pulling out his cigarettes.

Holding his breath, Clint watches him. He lights the cigarette and then just stands there, one hand on top of his head, staring up at the night sky. Jesus, it must be agony having all those emotions thrashing around inside your head and having no idea why you’re feeling them. Clint genuinely has no idea how he’s doing it.

Long minutes tick by in silence, the only sound from the occasional traffic on the road nearby, and the muted sounds from inside the diner. Bucky finishes his cigarette and flicks the butt away, and then turns back towards the car. He seems calmer, less tension in the lines of his body. Ducking into the driver’s side, he leans over Clint and undoes the cuffs.

“Thanks,” Clint says, and then wonders why he’s thanking the guy when he’s the one who cuffed him to the damn door in the first place. Feeling resigned, he rubs at his wrist with other hand, and then looks at the crumpled bag of food that’s still on his knee.

“Can we eat now?”

Bucky breathes out heavily and nods, not meeting Clint’s eyes. He climbs back out of the car and walks around to sit on the lid of the trunk, leaning back against the back window.

Clint hesitates for a moment and then follows. He’s been in that car for what feels like a lifetime, and he’s still aching and tired. He grabs the bag of food and climbs out of the car, walking slowly round and leaning back against the trunk. Rifling through the bag, his stomach growls as he liberates two neatly wrapped burgers. He takes one out and sets it on the trunk next to his hip, and then grabs the second and holds it out towards Bucky.

Bucky takes it without question, though still doesn’t look at him. He slowly unwraps the burger, and Clint watches the dexterity of his metal fingers as he does. Bucky takes a large bite of the burger and chews slowly, eyes still focussed somewhere in front of him. Now his anger is gone he seems much more defeated.

A bike snarls past on the road and Clint tenses at the sharp roar of the engine, hands juddering. He blows out a breath, shaking his head at himself.

“You’re jumpy.”

He jolts at Bucky’s voice, nearly dropping his burger and cursing himself. “Thanks.”

“What’s made you so jumpy?”

Clint recalls a similar conversation with a bartender a lifetime ago. “How do you know I’ve not always been jumpy?”

“You’re a superhero,” Bucky replies evenly.

“Do I look like a fucking superhero?” Clint asks acerbically, eyes flicking back and forth across the space in front of them. He twists around, eyes sweeping the diner and the parking lot. Sits back again and can’t quite quell the urge to check again. As he turns back there’s a bang, and he pushes away from the car, whipping around, but it’s just a diner employee coming out of the back door with a garbage bag in hand. His hand is starting to tremble again, a nervous tic that he can’t quite suppress. Fuck, he should get back in the car-

Bucky slides off the trunk lid in an easy, oddly graceful motion and Clint takes an automatic step back. He opens the back door of the car and reaches in, and Clint tenses as he withdraws with Clint’s bow in hand.

Bucky looks at it, looks at Clint, and then holds it out.

“I’m not getting you the arrows,” he says bluntly. “But I thought you’d feel better with it nearby.”

Clint’s mouth falls open in shock. He frowns, confused, and when he doesn’t take his bow Bucky just steps forwards and presses it against him. Automatically, Clint reaches up and grasps it in his hand, and almost immediately he relaxes, the nervous judders receding like they’ve been washed away by hot water.

Worryingly, he feels a lump in his throat. “Thanks,” he manages.

Bucky merely hops back up onto the trunk and picks up his burger again. Clint blows out a breath, looking up at the sky with his fingers tightening around the familiar shape in his hand.  He feels his pulse slow, his breathing even out. He doesn’t understand it one bit, but he’s grateful.

Belatedly, he realizes he’s still standing about two feet away from the car. Suddenly feeling tired, he slowly sets his burger and bow down on the trunk and then hops up next to Bucky, though leaves a good two feet of space between them. He lays his bow across his legs, fingers resting on the upper limb.

They finish their burgers in silence, and Clint immediately feels better for having eaten.  He brings his legs up, sitting cross legged and hunched over his bow, holding it in both hands.  He can’t work it out; firstly because he doesn’t know why Bucky would let him have it, and secondly he doesn’t get how Bucky would know that it would make him feel better. Maybe it’s like if someone took away his arm, Clint thinks vaguely. He’d probably be jumpy too if he didn’t have it.

It’s almost peaceful now, sitting there in the dark. The diner is bright behind them, and in front of them Clint can see the road, and the woods beyond, the trees as still and silent as shadows. The slope of the land means he can just about make out a faint glow of light beyond the far edge of the woods, some miles away. Presumably a town of some sorts, polluting the night sky with light.

A scrunching noise next to him makes Clint look around, but it’s just Bucky balling up the empty burger wrapper and tossing it onto the floor. “So,” Bucky says, quietly. “Iron Man.”

“Thought you wanted to know about Steve Rogers,” Clint replies, and Bucky twitches minutely.

“Iron Man,” he says carefully. “Is he a threat?”

“Only to himself,” Clint says, and Bucky frowns at him. “He’s a billionaire. Owns Stark Industries. They pretty much make all the good tech in the world. He got himself captured in Afghanistan years ago, built a suit of armour when he escaped. Got pretty attached to being in a suit of armour, and became Iron Man.”

“He still got the suit of armour?”

Clint shrugs. “Last I heard he blew them all up.”

“But?”

“But I’d give up my bow if he never builds another one again.”

“How dangerous is the amour?”

“Very,” Clint says. “But not to Steve.”

Once again, Bucky doesn’t answer. He’s back to staring distantly into space. “Steve,” he says quietly, as if he’s trying the word out, and shuts his eyes, nostrils flaring as he exhales sharply.

“You should go find him,” Clint says. “Look, the best place for you to be is with is probably the Avengers-”

“Why aren’t you with the other Avengers?” Bucky asks suddenly, and that shuts Clint right up. He clenches his jaw and looks up at the sky, hating that the guy has got a point. He holds his bow to him, wishing he could go and shoot a few rounds to help calm himself down, but there’s no way that Bucky will let him have the arrows, especially considering Clint shot him the last time he had them.

The sound of a car behind them on the forecourt draws their attention; they both look round, and they both freeze as they spot the black and white of a patrol car.

Chyort,” Bucky bites out, but doesn’t move. “Hide the bow. Do not move or say anything,” he says in an undertone, and fishes his cigarettes out of his pocket, quickly pulling two out. Clint capitulates, sliding the bow behind them and laying it flat in the groove between the trunk and the back window so it can’t be easily seen. He takes a cigarette as Bucky passes one over, lighting it quickly when the lighter is also offered. Bucky lights his own cigarette and shoves his left hand into his pocket, leaning back against the window again.

“Do not move,” he says again, without looking at Clint, lifting the cigarette to his mouth.

Clint’s heart is skipping too quickly to be comfortable. The almost-threat in Bucky’s voice is enough to keep him there for now, but the urge to run is growing steadily stronger. If he legs it for the patrol car now, he can get their attention and get away from the soldier, but the soldier has already threatened to deal with anyone Clint tries to communicate with-

And he’s not the soldier anyway. He’s Bucky Barnes. Fuck.

He takes a drag on his cigarette as the patrol car stops, engine and lights turning off. Despite being told not to move, Clint turns his head and watches as two cops climb out, looking around the lot. Clint’s breath catches in his chest.

“Which way are they going?” Bucky murmurs.

“Looking around, and now walking towards the diner,” Clint says with a shrug, looking back at Bucky, his outwards façade of calm betraying the jittering inside his chest. He can hear the low voices of the cops across the lot, chatting amicably as they walk towards the door. They step into the light of the diner, one of them with his hand on the door.

“Do not try and communicate,” Bucky says quietly, easily, and Clint wants to tell him to go fuck himself.

“Hang on, just want to check something.”

He can barely hear the words but they seem like a shout across the parking lot. One of the cops, a tall heavy set man, breaks away from the door and starts walking over the lot towards them. Clint starts swearing to himself, because this is going to get nasty if Bucky decides to be more Winter Soldier than Bucky Barnes. Fuck, what if they recognise him? Clint knows he’s no Steve Rogers or Tony Stark but he was still plastered all over the news after New York-

“Evening, gents.”

Bucky sits up, turns around. Clint looks around too, keeping quiet.

“What’re you up to?” the officer asks, all casually friendly as he looks them over.

“Having a smoke,” Bucky shrugs.

“This your car?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “We in trouble?”

“No, no,” the officer says, peering in to the back window of the car. His eyes are moving quickly, and then he frowns as he looks into the front. Clint belatedly realizes what he’s looking at; the cuffs which are still attached to the inside of the passenger door.

“You boys got ID?” the officer asks, and he glances over his shoulder, gives his partner a subtle nod. The other officer steps away from the diner and starts walking across the lot.

“In my bag,” Clint says, because it’s true, he’s got his ID but it’s got his real damn name on, and everyone by now knows Clint Barton is Hawkeye and if the cops make a fuss-

“Get it,” the officer says, and Clint slides off the trunk.

“What about – what’s that?”

The officers voice goes sharp. His eyes are on Clint’s bow.

“My bow,” Clint says. Bucky’s eyes have gone hard, staring down at the floor in front of him. “I’m an archer. Shooting competitions and stuff.”

“Okay, hand it over,” the officer says. Clint reaches for it, and Bucky stands up suddenly. The officers take a step back, one of them reaching reflexively towards the handgun on his hip. Clint freezes, and Bucky seems to blink and realize he’s moved, looking around like he’s not sure what his body just did.

“ID, please son,” the officer says slowly and deliberately.

“I don’t have any,” Bucky says, and the officer draws his handgun, countenance immediately changing.

“Hands where I can see them,” he barks. “Turn around, put your hands on the trunk.”

Bucky moves but doesn’t take his hand out of his pocket. He’s looking down still, eyes darting left to right. He’s fucked and he knows it; he takes his hand out and they’re instantly going to know who he is, and they’ll probably try and arrest him or they might even just shoot him-

“Put your hands on the car!” the officer shouts, and the other steps forwards, hand on his gun in its holster. “Do it! Now!”

And both the officers are shouting at Bucky, and Clint steps back with his bow clutched in his hand, breathing shallowly. Bucky is standing still as a statue, and the officers keep yelling, and then he slowly, slowly takes his hands out of his pockets and holds them up above his head.

There’s a beat of awful, awful silence.

“Fuck,” one of the officers gasps. “Call for backup, call for backup,” he says, and then levels the gun right at Bucky’s head. “Get on your knees right now. Drop. Hands on your head, get down on your knees or I will shoot you, do you understand-”

Bucky is still staring down at the ground, and Clint braces himself for an explosion of violence but it doesn’t come. Bucky doesn’t look remotely like the Winter Soldier right now; there’s no coiled strength ready to break free, no anger and purpose lurking in his lazy movements. It’s like he’s utterly forgotten who he is, and he’s confused and doesn’t know what’s happening-

He drops to his knees, hands still held up above his head.

Clint stares at him, and something strange is churning in his stomach. His fingers tighten around his bow. If he just lets this play out then he’ll be able to slip away and just figure out what the hell he’s doing, slip back into the shadows without being dragged along on this insane ride-

The second officer is calling dispatch over his radio. He’s telling them that they’ve apprehended a terrorist. The first officer is reaching for his cuffs with one hand, gun still pointing between Bucky’s eyes.

Bucky swallows thickly. His eyes dart over the concrete in front of him, bright and lost and suddenly so, so alone, clearly expecting to be left to the wolves. He breathes out unsteadily, and Clint knows he should just go, because if Bucky gets taken in then Steve will find out, and he’ll come and help Bucky, of course he will-

“Don’t move,” the officer says, and Clint watches as he slowly steps towards the Winter Soldier.

Bucky Barnes blinks, mouth open like he wants to say something but can’t remember what. His jaw tremors, and he looks up at Clint with a helpless expression on his face. Something jolts in Clint’s chest, and he realises suddenly that he can’t.

This is the worst idea I’ve ever had, Clint thinks in some distant part of his brain, and takes a deep breath.

In one smooth movement that feels almost like it’s in slow-motion, he clenches his bow in both hands, steps forwards and swings over his shoulder like he’s going for a home run. The bow whips around and catches the cop in the face with a sickening crack. The other cop lets out a strangled yell and his hand goes for the gun at his hip-

“Bucky, go!”

Clint moves without thinking, his body pure instinct; he lets go of the bow with one hand and snaps it up in a second, vicious, one-armed swing, knocking the second cop clean off his feet. He hits the ground hard and the first cop is staggering to his feet, spitting blood from his mouth and screaming for backup into his radio-

Bucky is there in an instant, lunging forwards and punching the guy in the side of the head. The cop slumps backwards, knocked out cold. The second cop scrambles back away from them in the dirt, looking panicked and fumbling for his gun.

Bucky is on him in seconds. There’s a dull crack and the thump of a body falling to the floor.

Oh god, oh god, oh fucking god, Clint is thinking, and there’s a shout from across the lot, and two men are standing in the doorway of the diner, stepping out and advancing on them. There are four or five diners all pressed up against the window, clearly watching everything- 

“Go!”

Bucky grabs the back of Clint’s shirt and tries to pull him away.

“No, wait!” Clint says, wrenching free. He dives to the car and wrenches the trunk open, grabbing his case with his arrows. Bucky curses but then opens the back, grabbing both his duffel bag and Clint’s backpack.

“Hey, stop! You two, stop!”

“Now can we run?” Bucky yells, pushing away from the car. 

“Way ahead of you!” Clint shouts back, taking off at a sprint. Bucky is right next to him, and they’re running and running, out of the lights of the diner and the lot and into the darkness. Bucky is fractionally quicker and Clint just follows as he pelts across the road and vaults the barrier, staggering slightly on the other side and heading for the trees. He can still hear shouts behind them but he doesn't stop, he just runs and runs and runs, following Bucky into the darkness.

 

Chapter Text

They walk for hours and hours, through the woods and out the other side, miles away from the diner and instead into a sprawl of suburban industrial buildings. Bucky leads the way, marching determinedly on, eyes alert and constantly looking around. Clint follows him wordlessly, still not entirely sure what he’s just done. His internal monologue keeps going from blank and silent to hysterically edging towards a panic attack and then back again. There doesn’t seem to be an in-between.

He thinks about stopping. He thinks about running. In his more panicked moments he thinks about swinging his bow for a third time, knocking Bucky out cold and leaving this whole sorry mess behind. He thinks about silently drawing an arrow from his case. How easy it would be to hit Bucky in the back of the neck, that stretch of skin that’s uncovered and unprotected, right in front of him.

He doesn’t. He just dazedly follows Bucky, bow clutched tightly in his hand, case in the other.

You’ve totally got Stockholm Syndrome, he thinks as they duck along another narrow concrete alley. It’s dark and quiet, the only sounds made by their feet on the ground. You’re being an idiot.

Even though, it doesn’t stop him following Bucky. He’s got his hood pulled up again and is moving quickly and discreetly, melting in and out of the shadows like a ghost. Clint knows better than to break silence at moments like this so just does his best to keep up and keep hidden.

He has no idea what time it is when Bucky finally stops, bootsteps slowing in front of a heavy door set into the side of one of the concrete buildings. They’re right on the edge of the industrial suburbs now; a couple of streets over the warehouse-style units give way to back gardens and small town houses. It sets him on edge being closer to civilization again, but he doesn’t argue as Bucky easily breaks the lock on the door and hauls it open with a metallic groan that sounds far too loud.

Clint ducks in after him, exhaustion not far enough away. He blinks hard in the darkness and quickly ascertains that the warehouse they’ve just broken into is deserted, full of metal crates and containers. Along one wall several forklifts sit silently.

“Sit down,” Bucky says quietly, heaving the door shut again, mechanical arm whirring slightly. The orange light that spills in through the windows from the streetlamps across the road catches on his arm, shining in the darkness.

“Sit – sit down,” Clint repeats blankly, because Bucky is talking like they haven’t just attacked a bunch of cops in front of a load of witnesses. “Sit down? – you sound like you’re pulling a chair out for me in a goddamn restaurant!”

Bucky takes a step towards him, a strip of light from the high windows sliding over his face. “Keep your voice down.”

“I just attacked the cops!” Clint says, his voice cracking as it gets louder. “I just attacked the fucking cops, and now I’m on the run with the Winter Soldier-”

“Barton-”

“Oh my god,” Clint says blindly. “Oh my god, the government are going to have me shot. First, first the helicarrier and now this-”

He can’t breathe quickly enough. Either that, or his lungs have suddenly gotten too small in the past twenty seconds. He stumbles back, falling and hitting the floor hard. His case clatters to the floor next to him. “They are – going – to string – me up-”

“Barton!”

The voice is like a whipcrack, loud and sharp. “Barton, breathe,” Bucky says, and he’s there kneeling on the floor next to him. Clint shakes his head, trying to hunch over, trying to shut him out.

“Barton, you’re hyperventilating,” Bucky says, voice calm but strained. “You need to slow down.”

“What am I – even doing?” Clint asks, voice muffled into his knees. “What was I – fucking thinking?”

“Barton,” Bucky says, and Clint feels fingers touch his shoulder. He jerks back, trying to gasp in another breath and almost choking.

“Barton, just stop,” Bucky says, and he reaches out again and grabs both of Clint’s shoulders to keep him still. “Look at me. Look at me, dammit.”

Clint does. He meets grey eyes, which look vaguely panicked. Bucky nods at him, hands tightening on Clint’s shoulders. “Breathe in, and out,” Bucky says. “Right down to your stomach, stop with the little sissy breaths, come on.”

Clint shudders, managing a breath that actually feels like it touches the inside of his ribs, pushing weakly against the underside of his sternum.

“That’s it. Right down to your diaphragm,” Bucky says, and lets go of Clint’s shoulder with his real hand, pressing his fingertips to Clint’s stomach, next to his bellybutton. “Here. To here, and out through your mouth. In, and out.”

Clint nods and does as he says. He can hear Bucky breathing deeply and evenly and tries to match his breathing; it works, and he soon finds that he’s breathing more normally again. His head still hurts though, and he feels on the very edge of control, shaky and anxious. He feels a distinct sense of unease and confusion as well, because now that’s twice this guy has helped him though a moment of sheer panic and he still doesn’t get it.

He nods to indicate he’s okay and Bucky lets him go, sitting back on his heels and watching him intently.

“Where,” Clint begins, clears his throat. “Where did you learn how to do that?”

Bucky looks away, down to his left. He frowns slightly, blinking slowly. “I – I don’t know,” he says slowly, brows dipping in momentary confusion, like he feels like he should know the answer to that but can’t quite grasp hold of it.

“Well. Thanks,” Clint says, and Bucky looks up at meets his eyes again.

“Well, I kinda think I owe you.”

Clint laughs roughly, brokenly. “Yeah.”

Silence falls between them for long moments. The panic is receding, leaving Clint with the heavy echo of what he’s just done. The thought that he’s now stuck with the Winter Soldier – with Bucky – doesn’t feel as sharp and dangerous as it did a few minutes ago, and he feels a flicker of something in his chest that tells him he’s done the right thing.

He looks up, sees Bucky sitting there with his knees up, arms wrapped around them and face half hidden. The flicker grows stronger.

“What’s the plan?” Clint asks quietly.

“Sleep for a couple of hours,” Bucky says, and unfolds his arms and legs, moving slowly and deliberately. “I’ll get us another car. Move on.”

Clint exhales heavily, exhaustion creeping up on him. “Okay,” he says, and watches as Bucky pushes himself up onto his knees, reaching over and picking up Clint’s case. He doesn’t say anything, just slides it over behind him, and then reaches for his duffel bag.

The sound of the zip is loud in the warehouse, as is the rustle of fabric, and a familiar clink-

Clint’s stomach sinks as Bucky pulls out a pair of cuffs. Strangely, that hurts more than it should.

“Feet,” Bucky says, reaching out.

“Really?” Clint says. “I save your ass and you’re still going to cuff me?”

He expects Bucky to just look at him with the usual flat glare, gaze threatening, but he doesn’t. He looks at the cuffs in his hand and seems to deflate slightly, shoulders slumping.

“Part of me says I should,” he says, but he doesn’t sound certain.

“The Winter-Solider flavoured part?” Clint says, and Bucky does scowl at that. He runs a hand over his mouth, thinking hard. He doesn’t say anything for a few minutes, looking like he’s lost in thought.

“You didn’t have to hit that cop,” he eventually says.

“I know,” Clint grimaces. “You know, if Steve ever finds out I did that he’ll be real disappointed.”

Bucky starts at Steve’s name, and then shakes his head. “I should trust you.”

Clint sighs. The effort it’s taking Bucky to even talk about trust is almost cringe-worthy, but he supposes that it means a lot for someone like him to even be trying. “Cuff me if it helps,” he says, and doesn’t offer any further explanation. Bucky stares at him like he can’t work Clint out, grey eyes bright in the shadows, the orange light soft on his face. He shifts slowly and moves over, crouching next to Clint’s legs. Clint wordlessly lifts a leg, and Bucky cautiously takes hold of his ankle with his metal hand, pushing up Clint’s pant leg just enough to snick the cuff around his ankle. He looks up at Clint’s face before he slowly lowers Clint’s leg and reaches for the other. He deftly locks the other cuff around Clint’s ankle and sets his foot back on the floor, oddly gently.

He looks up, and something in Clint’s mid-section jolts as their eyes meet for a moment. Almost immediately, Bucky looks away, grabbing the case of arrows before standing up and walking over across the warehouse floor, quickly vanishing into the shadows.

Clint is taken aback for a second as he watches him go, but then he realizes that he’s presumably doing a sweep of the perimeter and checking that they’re at least secure, if not safe. He listens hard, but can’t hear Bucky moving around. It’s a good ten minutes before he returns, sliding back out of the shadows like a ghost.

“All clear,” Bucky says quietly as he returns. He crouches down next to Clint, sitting back on his heels and dropping Clint’s arrow case next to his feet. He looks as exhausted as Clint feels. It feels oddly final, them being here together, though he supposes he’s kind of thrown in his lot with Bucky now.

“Oh good,” Clint says. “I can pass out in peace then.”

Bucky nods. “Get some rest,” he says to Clint. “Sleep for a couple of hours.”

“What about you?” Clint asks. “You look like you’re about to fall down.”

Bucky shakes his head, and then seems to reconsider. He moves Clint’s case out of reach and then grabs his bag, pulling it over. He mirrors Clint’s pose and leans back against the side of a container, heading falling back against unforgiving metal. He looks down at his boots, and his face is cast almost completely in shadow from the overhang of the hood, only his mouth and chin visible.

“Sleep,” he says.

Clint watches him for a long moment, but Bucky doesn’t move. His breathing is easy and even, and Clint can’t tell if he’s fallen asleep or if he’s just exceptionally good at being still.

Exhaustion is creeping in at the edge of his mind; he can feel his eyes fluttering closed.  He shouldn’t. This is still the most fucked up situation he’s ever been in, and he shouldn’t be trusting this guy let alone trying to help-

His eyes slide shut. And he sleeps.

 


 

You will tell me, won’t you Barton? A silken whisper in his ear, with an easy smile. A shrug in return. Why wouldn’t I? Nonplussed. You will tell me everything I ask, everything you know, the voice says, and there’s an edge to it, an edge of ice-

Clint jerks awake with a gasp, lurching up and smacking his head against something hard and solid with an echoing clang. He swears, reaches up to grab at his head, groaning. The sharp movement makes dull pain flare in his shoulder as well; the stab wound aches and itches.

“Morning.”

He jolts up again at the sound of a rough voice, but exhales as he sees Bucky sitting there and watching him. Bucky’s hunched over with his hands shoved in his jacket pocket, looking rather small and sad. Next to his knee are two Styrofoam cups and a paper bag.

“Breakfast?” Clint asks, rubbing his throbbing head and trying to distract himself from the lingering unease of his dream.

Bucky nods, and he slowly picks up one of the cups and the paper bag, and hands them over to Clint. He takes them without hesitating, delving into the bag and pulling out a cream cheese bagel. The thought of turning it down doesn’t even cross his mind, and he wolfs it down in record time, washing it down with the lukewarm coffee.

He finishes his drink, looks up at Bucky who is still just sitting there, expression blank. As Clint watches he blinks and frowns, and then looks up.

“I’ve got us a car,” he says, sounding tired. The unspoken ‘so get up and lets go’ is clear.

“Where’s my bag? And my case?” Clint asks, looking around. His bow is still there, next to his hip, but the case is nowhere in sight.

“In the trunk,” Bucky says, and he pushes himself to his feet, stepping over to Clint before kneeling down next to his feet. Clint sits back as Bucky pulls the key to the cuffs out of his pocket and reaches for his ankles, pushing his pant leg up so he can get at the lock. He’s just as efficient and careful as he was the night before, but he doesn’t meet Clint’s eyes, even as he sets his second leg free and then stands up, shoving the cuffs into his pocket.

“Come on.”

Clint doesn’t argue. He follows Bucky outside and blinks in the early morning sunlight. By his guess, it’s no later than seven AM. They climb wordlessly into the car that’s parked right outside the warehouse door; a nondescript blue Honda. It looks newer than their last ride, and Clint is just crossing his fingers for working air-con.

“Where are we going?” he asks as he slams the passenger door and leans back to slide the bow onto the back seat. He itches absently at his shoulder through his shirt and the bandages that are still wrapped around his chest.

“Drive for a few hours, then find a motel,” Bucky says.

“Oh good,” Clint says, the relief evident in his tone. “Not gonna lie; the novelty value of going to the bathroom on the side of the interstate is really wearing off.”

“I’ve had worse,” Bucky says, almost to himself rather than Clint, and he twists around to watch as he puts the car in drive and reverses out, before taking the car back to the road.

“Who did you steal this from?” Clint asks.

“Used car garage,” Bucky replies, eyes on the mirror as they re-join the main road. “We’ll need to swap it in a couple of days at the most.”

Clint nods, knowing he’s right. If we don’t get caught before then, he thinks to himself, mind already back on the events of the day before. The cops had seen Bucky’s hand, had said they had apprehended a terrorist – there was no way that they didn’t know who he was. His only saving grace was the fact that they hadn’t recognised him; he can only imagine the fallout that would have come if they’d realised it was the Missing Avenger who had assaulted both those cops before merrily running away with the goddamn Winter Soldier. Could he be taken down for assault with a deadly weapon, considering he’d hit them with his bow? It’s not like he’d actually shot them with it, but still.

He stares out of the window as the scenery whips by. Shouldn’t have done it, part of him thinks as he watches the flat expanse of fields stretch out either side of them. He wonders what Phil would have said about his stunt yesterday, but finds himself unable to work it out. Phil may have been furious that he’d attacked two cops, told him that he should have turned the Winter Soldier over and gone home. He might have understood; he understood Clint well enough, so maybe he would have understood Bucky as well. Between him and Natasha, Phil always did seem to have a thing for a good case of redemption. And besides, Bucky is Captain America’s best friend. Phil would probably have shot the cops down himself, considering that.

They drive for four hours without stopping, before Bucky takes the car off the interstate and onto the edge of a town so small that it barely be called one. Clint’s wary; small communities often keep a better eye on the comings and goings of strangers, but the motel is close enough to the interstate that they will probably be able to stay a day or two without anyone paying them too much attention.

The car stops in the lot. Bucky kills the engine and Clint reaches for the door handle automatically, but Bucky reaches out with his right hand, holding it out in a clear stop gesture.

“No,” he says, and Clint is nonplussed for a moment before Bucky reaches into his pocket, pulling out the pair of cuffs that he’d used to restrain Clint’s feet the night before.

“Aw, no,” Clint protests. He’s aching and sweaty and the bandages around his chest are itching and clammy and he just wants to go in and have a shower. “I’ll behave, I swear-”

He reaches for the door handle, and Bucky moves shockingly quickly, lunging over and grabbing his wrist, forcing it up and away from the handle. Clint gasps in pain and instinctively swings around with his other hand but he’s still not functioning properly and Bucky is far too quick for him. Bucky grabs him and wrenches him around, smacking his head into the dash and twisting his arm up behind him.

“Okay, okay,” Clint gasps, vision swimming. “Uncle, uncle, I give. Barnes, let up-!”

Bucky lets him go all at once, so quick that Clint doesn’t catch his weight quickly enough and headbutts the dash again. Cursing, he pushes himself up, twisting his body around so he’s leaning back against the door as far as he can go, facing Bucky.

“Jesus, what was that?” he manages, palm pressed to his forehead.

“I thought-” Bucky snaps, and then breathes out. “You attacked.”

“I attacked?” Clint says incredulously. “You attacked first!”

“No, I went to stop you getting out!”

“You got in my personal space!”

Bucky opens his mouth, looking honest to god confused. Clint swears under his breath and turns away because he does not want to be explaining to a dysfunctional assassin why he can’t stand people being close. Fucking hell, his head hurts.

“Look. I know you’ve been through hell lately. I know you don’t trust people,” he says, forcing himself to keep calm. “You were fucking kidnapped and brainwashed by Hydra, why would you? But I attacked two cops for you yesterday, and you haven’t lost any memories since then, so will you please cut me some goddamned slack.”

Bucky stares at him, eyes wide and bright and grey. Feeling defiant and frustrated and maybe even a little wounded by the lack of trust, Clint stares back fiercely. Bucky swallows and averts his eyes, looking down at his knees. He opens his mouth to speak, halts and seems to think through what he’s going to say, and then glances up at Clint again.

“Why did you help me?”

The question is quiet, his voice barely more than a mumble. Clint grimaces at the directness of the question, looks away out of the front of the car. “I’m a crazy person?”

“That’s not an answer.”

“Maybe I don’t have an answer, okay?” Clint says tiredly. “Look. Before, when I just thought you were the Winter Soldier, I wanted nothing more than for someone to shoot you. But then-” he stops, shakes his head. “You’re Bucky Barnes. You need help, not a firing squad.”

Bucky blinks at him. “And,” he begins, swallows, looks away. His eyebrows lift in an attempt at nonchalance, but he’s miles away, betrayed by the thickness of his voice and the tightness of his shoulders. “And you’re going to help?”

“Well, like I said. I assaulted an officer of the law for you, what more do you want?” Clint says.

Bucky smiles. It’s a weak hitch to the corner of his mouth, barely there, but Clint still notices it. It fades quickly, washed away in despondency and uncertainty. He looks down for a moment, then back up at the motel. His eyes are bright, too bright.

“Stay here,” he says, and then he’s climbing out of the car and slamming the door, left hand already hidden in his pocket as he walks away, shoulders hunched and head down.

Clint blows out a breath as he slumps back in his seat and watches him go. He can’t quite believe that Bucky actually listened to him, much less decided to leave him in the car unattended and unrestrained. Something flickers in Clint’s chest, but he’s not quite sure what the feeling is. He’s spent so long feeling nothing but tired and indifferent that he’s not always sure what these feelings are that keep creeping up on him.

What feels like an age later – long enough to make him begin to worry that something has happened – Bucky reappears, a key in his hand. He gets halfway across the lot and then nods to Clint, holding up the key, and Clint chooses to interpret that as his go ahead to get out of the car.

Stretching his arms up above his head, he tries to shift the ache in his lower back. He lets his arms flop to his side and then opens the back of the car, pulling out their bags and his bow. Buck joins him, tense and quiet, and takes the bags, leaving Clint with his bow. Clint doesn’t comment, just keeps his fingers tightly clenched around the riser as he follows Bucky across the parking lot and to a nondescript door with a crooked number three on the door. Bucky unlocks the door and ushers Clint inside, and Clint gropes along the wall until he finds a light switch, two out of the three light bulbs blinking on. The walls are an off-yellow colour, the two single beds covered in garish yellow and orange patterned blankets. Clint gives exactly no fucks about the décor though; as long as the place has neither cockroaches nor a history of murder then he’s cool with it.

“Wait here,” Bucky says, and Clint stands still as Bucky double locks the door and then checks the entire room. Not only the doors and windows, but under the beds and the corners and in nearly every possible space that something could be hidden.

Clint knows there’s literally no chance of anyone knowing that they were going to be here in this shitty motel room, but he doesn’t say anything. If it keeps the Winter Soldier part of Bucky Barnes settled then he’ll take it. He just kinda hopes that Bucky doesn’t rip apart the mattresses too.

“We’re okay,” Bucky finally says, sounding exhausted, and Clint mildly wants to object to the ‘we’ part of this whole endeavour.

“Can I use the bathroom now?” Clint asks, and Bucky just nods, picking up his bag and swinging it onto the bed next to him, unzipping it and digging through with his metal hand.

Because it’s not weird that I’m having to ask permission to go to the bathroom, Clint idly thinks, but he doesn’t say anything, just drops his bow onto the bed closest to him and then pads over to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Once it’s closed, he leans back against it, breathing out heavily and feeling thankful to be alone, if only for a few minutes. He’s not going to push it though; Bucky might seem more and more like Bucky with every hour that passes, but that incident in the car earlier shows he’s still definitely got a streak of Winter Soldier in there. His wrist and his forehead still hurt.

There’s a dull thud from the room, easily discernable through the thin walls and door. Clint glances over and then turns away. Stepping up in front of the mirror, he reaches back and grabs the neck of his shirt, pulling it forwards over his head and grimacing as it sticks to his skin. He drapes it over the edge of the sink and then reaches slowly for the edge of the bandage that’s still neatly wrapped around his torso and shoulder; he finds the end and pulls it free, carefully unwrapping it and revelling in the sensation of air against his sweaty skin.

The last of the wrapping falls free from his upper arm, and he grimaces at the sight of the angry red mark on his shoulder, and then he does a double take. Reaching across with his other hand, he looks down and touches his arm just below the healing wound, frowning because there are stitches in his arm, the wound has been neatly stitched up-

Bucky had stabbed him, and then stitched him up.

How did he miss that? He thinks back to the days after he was taken, but all he remembers is the dizzying fever, the pain. Actually, considering that a little more – if he were in a bad enough way to not remember anything, to be so out of it that he wouldn’t notice someone stitching him up, then how is he still standing?

Thoughtful, he looks up at his reflection in the mirror again, running his fingers over the stitched wound. It still aches a little, but he’s confident it will heal with no lasting effects other than a couple of inches of scarring.

Another noise from the adjoining room has him glancing towards the door a second time. He wonders if Bucky is purposefully making sounds for him to hear, or if he’s just let his guard down a little.

Deciding he doesn’t care, he turns his attention to the tiny shower stall. There are a couple of towels folded on a rickety looking shelf and that's good enough for Clint. He reaches in and turns it on, unable to wind the wherewithal to care about the lukewarm temperature or shitty water pressure.

He strips and leaves his clothes in a pile on the floor, kicking them away so they don’t get drenched by the spray of the shower. He steps in and shudders out a breath, shutting his eyes and bracing his hands on the wall either side of him, ducking his head under the spray. He takes a moment to just breathe, to try and work out what he’s doing and what’s going on in the tangled mess inside of his head.

The panic from yesterday has definitely gone; he doesn’t feel like he’s about to go hysterical again anytime soon. Though he doesn’t think he’s slipping back into his previous state of world-weariness and ennui, the blankness that he’d spent so many days travelling with. Everything feels sharper somehow, more in focus. More real.

He’s not sure if it’s a welcome sensation or not.

He pushes himself away from the wall, drags a hand down his face. Maybe what he told Bucky earlier is true; maybe he doesn’t have an answer.

He washes the sweat and grime from the past week away, feeling better the moment he does. Stepping out of the shower, he roughly towels himself dry and gets dressed again, idly wondering that Bucky hasn’t yet checked in on him yet. It’s not like he could get far anyway; the only window in the bathroom is high and narrow and he’d have a job to fit through it.

He could though. If he pulled the whole window fitting out, he could get through the gap.

He drapes the towel around his shoulders and heads for the door. Running his fingers through his damp hair, he steps out of the bathroom and falters in the doorway because Bucky is standing there shirtless, his back to the door. His shirt is held loosely in his left hand, and the first thing Clint notices is the scars where his metal arm joins to his shoulder. A close second is the compact muscle of his frame, the strength that’s easy to spot even when he’s standing at rest. Bucky is looking down at something on his own chest, and as he turns Clint realises he’s examining the spot where he shot him. It’s a small circular wound that looks to be healing well, but Clint knows it’s pretty deep and probably still hurts. Guilt threatens to creep up on him, but hey, Bucky stabbed him so he guesses they’re about even.

Bucky looks up, notices Clint looking. His expression shutters slightly, looking wary.

“Does it hurt?” Clint asks, his voice quiet.

Bucky glances down at his arm, flexing his metal fingers around the fabric of his shirt. “No.”

“No, I meant where I got you,” Clint says, tapping his chest in the spot where Bucky has the mark on his.

Bucky looks completely thrown for a moment, but then he shakes his head. “No,” he says, and quickly pulls his shirt back over his head. He runs his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his face. Seeming to hesitate for a moment, he glances towards Clint again and then walks over to the bed furthest from the door. He sits next to his bag and pulls his legs up, sitting cross legged as he unzips it and rifles through it.

Clint sits on the bed opposite him. He glances back at the door behind him and shifts around, sitting with his back against the headboard instead. He looks to Bucky again, watching him as he goes through his bag. He pulls out his jacket, tosses it onto the bed beside him, before pulling out a black bundle of fabric, tied up with a shoelace. He deftly unties the shoelace and Clint catches the glint of steel as the wrap rolls out.

Bucky methodically checks the knives; Clint counts six in total. Some look to be army issue or similar, some look more like kitchen knives. Oddly, Clint doesn’t feel threatened in the slightest. Bucky doesn’t seem to mind the scrutiny; at any rate he doesn’t object to Clint sitting and silently watching him.

James Buchanan Barnes, Clint thinks idly as he watches Bucky pull another wrapped bundle out of the bag. He wonders what that name actually means to this guy anymore, if it feels like his name or just words in the air. God, the few days he’d spent without his own identity still haunt him, even though he’s mostly himself again these days.

A fierce spark of something that feels like protectiveness flickers in his chest. He has to help Bucky get himself back; he knows too much of what it’s like to be lost. The only question is how. Clint will ready admit that he has a pretty limited knowledge of Steve Rogers; he can expound on the guys fighting style and leadership qualities and how he can cleave through a six deep wall of Chitauri soldiers without breaking step, but he doesn’t actually know that much about him. By the looks of things, Tony Stark is turning out to be the one with the knowledge of Steve Rogers, purely because of the amount of time they seem to have spent together lately. Hell, by all accounts Steve lives with Stark now. Though going to Stark for answers would be a recipe for disaster, considering a) Iron Man and b) how high profile Stark is. Besides, if Bucky wants to know about Steve but wants to avoid Steve, he can’t go anywhere near Stark if Steve is glued to his side.

The issue still stands though. Bucky needs information, and probably more than Clint can give him. But fuck it; Clint is a resourceful person and if he doesn’t have what he needs then he’ll go and get-

The answer is suddenly right there, effortless.

“How would you feel about going back to DC?”

Bucky’s hands falter visibly on the handgun he’s in the process of disassembling. “What?” he asks, looking up at Clint with his expression somewhere between confused and wary.

“You still want to know about Steve, right?” Clint asks quietly.

“Steve,” Bucky echoes, and then nods, a single jerky dip to his chin.

“Okay,” Clint says. “There’s a place I think you need to go.”

“In DC,” Bucky says cautiously.

“Yeah, in DC,” Clint says, and pauses. “The Smithsonian.”

Comprehension of a sort dawns over Bucky’s face. “The – the museum?” he says, sounding confused.

“Yeah,” Clint says, and decides to just go for it. “There’s a Captain America exhibit. The story of his life.”

Bucky stares at him. “His – his whole life?” he asks, voice rough.

Clint nods. “I’ve never been,” he says. “I just know it’s there. But yeah. Every piece of information, every picture, every piece of film footage that they could get their hands on is there.” He pauses, meets Bucky’s eyes. “There’s probably even information about you.”

Bucky jerks back, an automatic flinch. “But,” he begins, struggling. “About – about me?”

“Bucky Barnes was Steve Rogers’ best friend,” Clint says, and his stomach clenches because it looks like it’s actually hurting Bucky to hear this. Maybe Clint should have waited until he didn’t have a gun in his hands to start talking. Way to go, Barton.

He continues anyway. “Bucky Barnes was his best friend, his second-in-command during the war. You were important to him. You are important to him.”

Bucky has gone pale, just enough for Clint to notice under the stubble that covers his jaw. He swallows, his fingers clenching on the pieces of metal in his hands. “Was his best friend,” he repeats without inflection, and he looks like he could fucking cry. “He can’t be,” he says roughly, shaking his head.

“Why, because you don’t remember him, or you don’t want to think about the fact you tried to kill him?”

Bucky stands up violently, and Clint breathes in sharply, adrenaline spiking momentarily, but Bucky just stands there, metal fist clenched. “I-” he begins and he swears. “Don’t,” he says tightly, and then turns his back on Clint, reassembling the gun with frightening efficiency before wrapping it back up again and shoving it into his bag.

“Do you remember him?”

“Don’t,” Bucky snaps, and his whole back shudders, his head dipping for a moment before he straightens up, pulling himself together. He breathes in audibly, lifting his right hand to wipe across his face.

“Look, if you won’t go to Steve – which I still think you should do, by the way – you should do this,” Clint says. “It might – I don’t know, jog your memory or something. Confirm something you think you know.”

Bucky is silent for a long, long moment. “I’m not going back to Steve,” he says finally, turning around. His eyes are red, but his expression is determined and calm. Strong.

“But-”

“I’m not goin’ back to Steve,” Bucky repeats, and there’s so much resolve and stubbornness in the single sentence that Clint gives up.

“Smithsonian, then?” he asks, but Bucky doesn’t answer. He heaves out a sigh and picks up one of the knives, leaning down to stash it in his boot. He pulls his jacket on and picks up his baseball cap, pushing his hair back again before shoving it onto his head.

“I’m going to get some food,” he says. “Stay here.”

Clint nods, but Bucky doesn’t move. He’s staring at his bag again, clearly caught up in some indecision in his head.

“You need to cuff me again?” Clint ventures, and Bucky breaks out of his stupor and nods. He digs through the bag and pulls out a pair of cuffs, which he tosses over to Clint. He catches them out of the air reflexively, and pulls his feet up onto the bed, hitching up the legs of his pants so he can snick the cuffs around his ankles.

Job done, he leans back against the headboard, watching as Bucky pads forwards and reaches for the cuffs. He doesn’t flinch as Bucky checks them with a few gentle tugs, metal fingers clicking against the metal.

“Do you need anything?” Bucky asks as he leans back.

“Advil,” Clint replies promptly. “And caffeine. And alcohol.”

Bucky looks at him curiously, like he can’t work out if Clint is joking or not. He seems to think better of answering through, and simply leaves the room without looking back. Clint hears the scrape and click of him locking the door from the outside, and then silence.

“You’re an idiot, Barton,” he says aloud to himself, staring down at his bare feet. He could probably get out of the cuffs easily enough, if he could just find –

He stops as he looks around and spots that Bucky has left both their bags on the other bed. Clint’s bag doesn’t have much in it, just dirty clothes and his ID, the wrap of money stashed in the bottom, but Bucky’s bag definitely has at least five knives and a gun inside. 

And Bucky has left them with Clint.

Clint stares at the bag for so long his vision starts to blur. He blinks hard, looks at his feet, looks back to the bag. The possibilities that open up with the things he knows are in that bag – and that’s not counting anything that he doesn’t yet know about – are almost endless.

He looks away, slumps further down on the bed. He reaches behind his head to pull the pillow around and stares at the ceiling. He feels – he doesn’t know. Part of him feels like it could cry, but he doesn’t understand why. Part of him wants to sleep.

Well, sleeping is definitely the easier option out of the two, he thinks tiredly, and he lets his eyes slide shut.

 


 

The noise of the key in the door wakes Clint with a jerk, sitting up on the bed and trying to twist around before remembering the cuffs around his ankles. He flails for a moment and then rights himself, sitting up against the headboard and watching carefully as Bucky comes in. He’s got a couple of carrier bags in his hand and looks fairly calm, which immediately sets Clint’s nerves at ease. 

“Any trouble?” Clint asks, and Bucky glances back at him as he locks the door again. He shakes his head and then walks around the end of the bed Clint has occupied, before perching on the edge of the mattress. He drops the bags next to his feet, pulling out what Clint guesses to be two wrapped sandwiches and several bottles of water. A bag of Doritos follows, and then Clint’s mouth falls open as Bucky empties the second bag onto the bed, revealing two packs of Advil, three cans of Monster and a six pack of bottled Budweiser. 

“You actually did,” Clint says, staring at the bottles of beer.

“I actually did,” Bucky agrees, and for a moment he doesn’t sound anything like the Winter Soldier. “I probably shouldn’t have.”

“No backsies,” Clint says immediately, holding out a hand. “Beer, please.”

Bucky obliges, pulling one of the beers free from the cardboard case. Clint is about to make a comment about the bottle opener that’s on his keys in the bottom of his bag, but Bucky simply flicks the cap off with his metal fingers and hands it over.

A rough, startled laugh escapes Clint’s mouth, and he presses his hand to his face, trying to stop. His shoulders shake and he feels another laugh bubbling up inside him, and he can’t remember the last time he laughed properly-

“What?” Bucky asks, wary.

Clint takes a deep breath in, shakily exhaling as he composes himself. “I just,” he tries, bites his lip. “I guess whoever built that didn’t have that in mind.”

Bucky looks to the beer bottle, to his hand, and then back again. He blinks slowly, and then the corner of his mouth hitches in a fleeting, faint smile. “I guess not,” he says with a quirk of his brow that Clint has never seen before. It’s a well-worn gesture, a faint hitch to his brow and tilt to his chin that again has Clint looking twice and feeling not as wary. Not as distant.

Smile fading into the usual look of blankness, Bucky reaches for another beer and thumbs the cap off. He lifts it to his mouth, and then hesitates and lowers it again, rubbing the back of his neck with his metal hand.

“Can you remember ever having a beer?” Clint asks.

Bucky shakes his head, and then lifts the bottle and takes a swig. He swallows, closing his eyes. A pained frown flickers across his forehead and Clint wonders if it’s because he’s remembered something or because he doesn’t and he’s disappointed.

He doesn’t ask. Bucky takes another swallow and then leans around, grabbing one of the wrapped sandwiches and pushing it towards Clint.

“Have at it,” he says quietly, and Clint nods and leans forwards to snag the sandwich. He sits back with it, leaning against the headboard. He’s about half way through it when Bucky wedges his beer between his knees and pulls the key to the cuffs out of his pocket, leaning over towards Clint’s feet. Clint sits perfectly still as Bucky uses the fingers of his metal hand to hold the cuffs steady, quickly unlocking them and tugging them free.

They sit and finish their food in silence that’s not exactly comfortable, but doesn’t feel as tense as things have before. Clint doesn’t really mind; he’s been so used to sitting alone that he’s actually glad to not have to fill the gap with conversation, and instead just idly watches Bucky and sits and thinks.

He wonders if he would have liked Bucky Barnes if he’d met him when he was nothing more than Bucky Barnes. If he’d not got this whole tangled mess surrounding him, what would he have been like? Clint reckons he’s starting to see flashes of him through the burden of the Winter Soldier, and Bucky must be seriously strong willed to be already clawing himself back. It’s been what – a few weeks since DC, and he could well have been in Hydras hands for seventy years? Jesus, if he’s already made this much progress, then Clint honestly dreads to think what Hydra must have done to him in order to keep the Bucky Barnes part squashed out of reach.

His thoughts are disturbed by Bucky passing him another beer, and he belatedly notices that the one in his hands in empty. He takes it with a nod and Bucky just pulls himself out another as well, flicking the lid off with his thumb.

It could easily be an hour before either speaks again, and it’s Bucky who breaks the silence. He drains the last of his beer, setting the bottle with the other two on the floor, and then stands up, stretching. Clint distractedly watches the pull of muscle under his shirt, and now he knows exactly what it would look like uncovered.

“Type of superhero are you, anyway?”

Clint looks up in mild surprise. Bucky is moving back towards the other bed, shoving the bag up by the pillows into the corner. He leans down to take the knife out of his boot and stashes it under his pillow.

“A pretty bad one,” he says with a shrug.

Bucky sits down heavily, rubbing his eyes with his fingertips. Clint wonders if the beer is affecting him at all. “Can’t be that bad if you were fighting with – with those guys.”

“The Avengers?”

Bucky doesn’t reply straight away. He pulls his feet up and twists around, lying down with his metal hand tucked behind his head. That can’t be comfortable, Clint thinks idly, but he doesn’t comment. Bucky’s real hand rests on his stomach, fingers softly tapping on his abdomen.

“Kinda name is that?”

Clint shrugs. “Doesn’t matter about the name,” he says. “We were a good team.”

Were a voice in his head echoes, and his stomach clenches, pain made up of guilt and sadness and regret rolling through him. He’s not part of that team anymore.

“Is – is Steve in charge?”

Bucky is staring at the ceiling, his hand now still. His voice is quiet and soft and Clint wonders why he’s asking. Does he know? Does he think that Steve would be in charge, has he got memories of Steve being in charge? Or does he just feel it in whatever scrambled part of his memory that he’s got left?

“No-ones technically in charge,” Clint says honestly. “But he led us in New York. Gave the orders. Was pretty good at it too. I mean, we’re collectively not the most…reliable bunch. I mean, we’re used to doing our own thing, making our own calls. But he led us, and we let him.”

Bucky nods jerkily, still staring up at the ceiling. Clint doesn’t know if that’s the answer he wanted to hear, if it helped, if it seemed right to Bucky or if it’s just left him more confused about who Steve is, who Steve is to him-

Fuck. If only the guy would just go back to Steve.

Clint opens his mouth, closes it again. There’s literally no point asking about Steve again, he’s been over this with himself countless times already. He blows out a breath, tries something else. “Decided about the Smithsonian?”

Bucky blinks, and then very pointedly rolls over without answering, putting his back to Clint.

Sighing, Clint finishes his beer and drops the bottle to the floor. He rolls over onto his side, eyes on Bucky’s back as he shifts around to get comfortable. It’s the middle of the day and he’s already spent an hour or so asleep but hey, he’s actually on a bed and he’s not cuffed up and he’s full of food and beer so he’s not going to pass up an opportunity.

Bucky hasn’t moved at all. Clint wonders if he’s asleep. He can feel his eyelids getting heavy, body obviously aching for more rest. He probably should feel a little more wary, considering Bucky has a knife under his pillow, but he doesn’t.

He blinks slowly, Bucky’s still form going in and out of focus. He shuts his eyes and sleeps.

Chapter Text

“Barton. Barton. Barton.”

Clint jerks awake with a jolt, scrambling up into a sitting position. It takes him a moment but then he realises where he is and all the fight goes out of him in a breath, shoulders slumping.

“Fuck,” he curses under his breath, and then blinks hard, frowning. It’s warm and there’s bright light shining in around the edge of the curtains, and has he only been asleep for an hour? He looks over to see Bucky pulling on his baseball cap over shower-damp hair, jacket on the bed next to him.

“What time is it?” he asks groggily, rubbing at his eyes.

“Seven AM,” Bucky says, and points over towards the rickety table. There’s two take-out cups and a pack of chocolate chip muffins and Clint doesn’t think he’s ever been happier to see caffeine in his life.  “Eat.”

“Seven AM?” Clint echoes as he shuffles off the edge of the bed, slowly moving his shoulder back and forth to check his level of mobility. All seems good, though he’ll need to get those stitches out some time soon, and he doubts Bucky is going to check him into the ER.

“You slept for seventeen hours,” Bucky fills in, answering the unspoken question.

Clint’s mouth falls open. Seventeen hours? That’s the longest he’s slept without being blackout drunk in weeks. And he managed it whilst six feet away from a highly trained Soviet Operative who had a knife under his goddamn pillow.

You are a tragedy, Agent Barton, we’ve been through this, Phil’s almost amused voice echoes in his head. Accept it like the rest of us have and get on with it.

Yeah, there is definitely something wrong with him.

Wrong or not, his appetite hasn’t diminished in the slightest. He grabs a cup of coffee and tears open the pack of muffins and demolishes one in what is probably record time. He’s barely gotten halfway down his coffee when he looks around to see Bucky pulling on his jacket and picking up his bag, slinging it onto his shoulder.

“Get your stuff,” he says quietly as he picks up Clint’s case before stepping over, leaning past Clint to pick up the second cup of coffee. He leans in so closely that his shirt brushes Clint’s shoulder, and Clint automatically leans away, just enough. Bucky either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care; the look on his face this morning would suggest it’s the latter. He looks distant again, more closed off than he was the day before. His jaw is clenched tightly and he doesn’t look in the mood for small talk.

Clint nods and gets to his feet, collecting his bag and his bow. Bucky doesn’t hang about; the moment Clint has his possessions in hand they make for the door, out into the lot and towards the car. There’s a slight breeze this morning, patches of cloud rolling idly across the sky. Clint hopes that means the day will be cooler, because he doesn’t fancy driving all the way to DC in sweltering heat.

He slings his bag into the rear seats, slides his bow in with a little more care and then slumps into the passenger seat, half-drunk coffee still in hand. Bucky puts the case in the trunk, his bag in the back and then climbs into the driver’s side without so much as a word.

Everything is as Clint expected, until they reach the place where they should join the interstate heading east. Bucky doesn’t even hesitate at the intersection before pulling the car onto the westbound lane, going back the way they’d came.

“You do realise you’re driving west,” Clint says, staring out of the window and feeling something close to dismay settle in the pit of his stomach.

“Yes,” Bucky says shortly.

“I thought we were going to DC.”

“We’re not,” Bucky says, terse and agitated. His fingers are clenched tightly on the steering wheel.

“But-”

“We are not going to DC,” Bucky says, and there’s an ominous cracking sound from the plastic casing of the wheel. He lets go of it, frustration crossing his face as he takes hold again in a gentler grip. “Fuck.”

“Come on,” Clint protests. “You won’t go to Steve, you won’t go to DC. My knowledge of Steve Rogers is pretty basic, so you need to-”

“I’ll find out about him another way,” Bucky says, cutting Clint off mid-protest.

“How?”

“I don’t know, alright?!” Bucky shouts, and then takes a deep breath. He leans back against the driver’s seat, shaking his head and clenching his jaw so tightly that it looks like it could break. The look reminds Clint forcibly of Steve, but he’s not going to be dumb enough to say that out loud.

Utterly stymied, Clint stares out of the window and tries to work out what the fuck is going on. The Smithsonian would be a great place for Bucky to start getting the information he needs. The information that he’s apparently desperate enough to kidnap Clint for.

He looks over at Bucky, and beneath the tension he thinks he can see confusion. It’s not much, just in the way Bucky’s eyes occasionally blink too quickly, the turn of his mouth and the worried frown that creases his forehead. He keeps biting his lip as well, a nervous tic that Clint hasn’t seen yet. Though he supposes that there’s a lot of Bucky Barnes he hasn’t seen yet; he’s been glued to his side for a full week, though Clint was unconscious for quite a large percentage of that, so really he’s only known Bucky a few days.

A fact that makes him a little confused when he thinks about the shit that’s gone down in those few days.

So whilst Clint thinks this driving away from the East Coast business is the stupidest decision Bucky has made since kidnapping him, he keeps his mouth shut and waits it out. He doesn’t know what’s going through Bucky’s mind at all, why he’s suddenly fleeing from the very idea of finding out more about Steve. Well, he hasn’t kicked Clint out of the car so he can’t have given up entirely on his crazy scheme – unless he’s just keeping Clint with him so Clint doesn’t tell everyone where the Winter Soldier is and what he’s been doing, who he is.

Wait it out, he tells himself again. Don’t do anything dumb, and wait it out.

He waits for four days.

It takes Bucky four days to utter another word. He just drives steadily west, purposefully away from DC and New York and Steve, the same brooding expression on his face. Clint lets him do it without argument, mostly because he feels Bucky should work through his on his own, and also because he’d have no idea where to even start helping if he decided to.

They settle into a routine of sorts; drive, grab a motel, eat, sleep, repeat. Bizarrely, it’s the best Clint has looked after himself in months. He’s eating on a regular basis, drinking less than he was (though that’s definitely not by choice; some days he wakes up and would literally sell Bucky’s left arm to get his hands on a beer or twelve) and generally sleeping better, even though he still spends every night with his feet cuffed together.

Despite the fact he’s looking after himself marginally better, that doesn’t necessarily mean he looks better; he’s been wearing the same clothes for nigh on a week and he hasn’t shaved in longer than he cares to remember. Between him with his scruffy-blond beard and his sunglasses, and Bucky with the baseball cap, hooded jacket and beard, they’re starting to look less than presentable.

In fact, they look like utter trash. Clint is only bothered because he knows that the members of the public they cross paths with probably clap eyes on them and instantly think ‘they totally stole that car.’

Towards the end of the fourth day of silent travel, it’s the weather that forces them to stop. The air has been growing heavier and more humid the further west Bucky seems determined to go. Clint feels the heat and the threat of storms on his back like a physical burden, pressing down on his nerves and making him irritable and jumpy. Only Bucky’s silent presence next to him keeps him from flipping his lid or losing control.

He tells himself it’s because he doesn’t want to set Bucky off, doesn’t want to embarrass himself with yet another panic attack in front of the guy.

It’s late one evening when the pressure finally rolls over. Large drops of rain start to spit against the windshield, and in the distance a flash of lightning tears across the sky, illuminating the underbelly of the dark clouds. Clint swears under his breath and leans forwards, just as a rumble of thunder sounds in the distance.

“Looks big,” he says quietly.

“Yeah,” Bucky replies as the raindrops start to increase in frequency, plunking over the bodywork of the car. Clint glances at him, because it’s literally the first word Bucky has uttered in days. Another sheet of lightning lights up the sky and Clint silently counts the gap between the light and the growl of thunder. Outside the car, dust is starting to be whipped up by the wind, the ground rapidly becoming pockmarked with darker spots.

Soon the rain is coming down so hard that the wipers can barely keep the windshield clear, and there appears to be a small river running down the side of the road, sucked down the storm drains embedded in the sidewalk. The lightning is coming more and more regularly, and the wind would be strong enough to buffer the car if they weren’t sheltered by buildings either side.

He’s just wondering if they’re just going to power on through and out of the town when the car slows. Out the front he sees the bright red light of a motel sign, blurred through the rain-streaked window.

“We stopping?” he asks, watching the rivulets of water glint red as they slip down the window, drops refracting the light momentarily before turning dark and dull once more.

Bucky nods, and without a word he kills the engine and climbs out of the car into the rain. As usual, Clint waits in the car for Bucky to get them a room, sitting and listening to the thunder and lightning. He briefly thinks of Thor, and then immediately thinks of Loki and grits his teeth. He knows it’s not fair on Thor to feel resentful of him just because his so-called-brother is a massive fucking cretin who deserves shooting in every orifice-

Clint realizes his fists are clenched, nails digging into his palms. He forces himself to breathe out, unclenching his hands. Another crack of thunder shudders through the air and he jumps a mile, swearing violently and feeling his heart thudding inside his chest. The next flash of lightning looks far too blue, and he feels his stomach heave.

“Fuck this,” he snaps. He shoves the car door open and steps out into the rain, feet splashing into a puddle which immediately soaks through the canvas of his shoes. It’s cold and wet and it sucks, it sucks so much. Cursing under his breath, Clint opens the back door and grabs his bow, slinging it over his shoulder with the string across his front. He grabs both his bag and Bucky’s bag and then falters because Bucky has got the goddamn car keys so he can’t get any further.

“Aw, fuck,” he says, leaning forwards heavily. He’s drenched already, shirt sticking to him and hair plastered to his head.

Over the sound of the rain he hears splashing footsteps, and he looks up to see Bucky jogging back over the parking lot, going straight through the puddles in his boots. He’s shaking his head at looking at Clint, confused.

“Why you standin’ around in the rain?”

“Because I’m a dumbass,” Clint replies tiredly, unable to think of a smarter comeback. Another roll of thunder rumbles and he twitches, shutting his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the lightning.

“Room eleven,” Bucky replies, stepping past Clint to lock the car, taking one of the bags from him. “Come on.”

They find the room tucked right around the back of the motel, a spacious clean space with two double beds and a small kitchenette area, complete with tiny table and two chairs. The bathroom is also a welcoming sight, clean and fresh and with a shower that Clint is pretty sure he won’t catch anything from. Before he can take advantage of the room and get out of his sodden clothes, Clint patiently stands by the double locked door and waits for Bucky to finish his customary sweep of the room. He’d help, but he kinda thinks at moments like this Bucky needs to be in charge, to do it himself.

“Done,” Bucky finally says, pushing his hair back from his face. It’s getting so long now, and it’s wet from the rain, errant strands sticking to his forehead and cheeks.

Clint steps away from the wall, propping his bow up in the corner and dropping his bag onto the bed, and then hastily grabbing it and putting it on the floor as he spots the wet patch it's already leaving on the top blanket. Outside, more thunder crashes across the sky but it doesn’t bother him now he’s inside; in here it’s warm and dry and the light is yellow, not blue so it’s okay. And bizarrely, part of him is thinking Bucky checked the room so it’s got to be safe, like Bucky’s sweep for bugs could at all protect him from the things he still fears in the back of his mind. Oh well, it’s a comforting thought regardless of its illogicalness, so he’s going to hold onto it. 

Bucky is occupied over by the second bed, checking his bag as he usually does whenever they get inside a motel room. He’s a creature of habit, Clint has noticed, likes the order and routine.

Clint reaches down for his bag but stops as his wet shirt pulls uncomfortably across his shoulders. Grimacing, he straightens up and reaches back to pull the sodden fabric up over his head, wiping his face on the damp material before walking across the room and hanging it on the back of one of the chairs. He turns to Bucky to try his luck with getting an answer about what they’re going to do about food, but the words die in his throat. Bucky is already looking his way, eyes fixed on Clint’s bare torso and blatantly staring.

Bucky blinks and looks away quickly. “Your shoulder,” he says, half turning away and reaching for his bag again, and he seems almost embarrassed, like Clint caught him doing something he shouldn’t have been. “We should take the stitches out.”

Back of his neck feeling warm, Clint glances down at his shoulder. “You gonna help me out?” he asks before he can think about a way to divert from the subject, and part of him is cheerfully pointing out that he’s an idiot, because that’s the Winter Soldier he’s just asked to come near him with something sharp and pointy.

There’s a long moment of silence. Bucky’s fingers play over the zip of his bag. “Trust me?” he finally asks offhandedly, still not looking at him.

Clint looks at him, wondering if they’re just talking about the stitches. “Yeah,” he says, casually shrugging a shoulder. “You got them in, I assume you can get them out.”

Bucky nods, and feeling strangely hyperaware of himself, Clint sits down on the edge of the bed. He leans down and unlaces his sodden shoes, toeing them off and pulling his socks off as well. They’re also soaked and a weird shade of not quite grey. He can easily imagine the look of ‘really, Clint?’ that Natasha would be wearing if she were to clock eyes on them, and a pang goes through his chest.

Natasha is forgotten as Bucky kneels down silently next to Clint, setting a small black case with a zipper along three sides next to him. He deftly opens it up and Clint sees a first aid kit of sorts, with scraps of bandages, tweezers, some sterile dressings and what looks like a roll of nylon thread. Bucky roots through and comes up with a thin pair of scissors, with long tapering blades.

He kneels up, scissors in his right hand and his eyes on Clint’s shoulder. There are still wet strands of hair tangled across his forehead, his cheekbones; Clint can even see water clinging to his damn eyelashes. Bucky looks up and their eyes meet for a moment; Clint hastily averts his eyes because Bucky is suddenly very close to him and he's not sure he likes how it feels.

“Sorry,” Bucky says quietly, and Clint glances up again. “Personal space, right?”

“It’s fine,” Clint says, breathing out slowly, meeting Bucky’s eyes for a moment. Daring to examine the feeling in his stomach a little closer, he figures that he's…not exactly okay with Bucky being so close, but it’s not as bad as he anticipated. Less on edge, less like he wants to kick out and get Bucky away from him right fucking now. This is Bucky Barnes, for god’s sake. Captain America trusted him with his life, and apart from the one minor stabbing incident – and the brief tussle where he face-planted Clint into the dash – he hasn’t actually done anything to cause Clint concern. Even the whole kidnapping thing seems different now; it’s not exactly like he stole Clint for dastardly super-villain type reasons.

Reaching out, Bucky grasps Clint’s shoulder with his left hand, the metal wet and cold. His fingers curl over the ridge of his shoulder and his thumb presses against Clint’s clavicle, keeping him in place. It’s the first time Clint has been up close and personal with the arm in a moment of relative calm, and a thrill goes through him as he feels the pressure applied by Bucky’s fingertips. He doesn’t doubt for a second that Bucky could crush him with that grip, if he so chose.

Outside, thunder rumbles again, deep and loud. The rain is still lashing against the window.

“Here we go,” Bucky murmurs, and leans in with the scissors. Clint looks up over the top of Bucky's head as he deftly snips through the stitches, working them loose with the scissors and then gently pulling them free with his metal fingers. The tugging sensation Clint can feel under his skin isn’t pleasant, but he deals with it and soon it’s over.

“I remember doing that before,” Bucky says out of nowhere as he gently prods at the scar that’s been left behind with his thumb. He sits back on his heels, eyes still on Clint’s shoulder.

“For who?” Clint asks.

Bucky’s brow furrows. “Not sure,” he says slowly. “I think…” He cuts himself off, shaking his head and pressing his fingers to his mouth, contemplative. Long moments pass, but he doesn’t say anything else. He seems lost in thought, a million miles away.

“Barnes?”

“You think I should go to DC,” he says suddenly, still looking at Clint’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Clint says honestly, wary of the abrupt change in conversation and not quite ready to feel hopeful. “I think it’s currently the place with the most information about you.”

“About Captain America,” Bucky amends quickly.

“And you,” Clint says slowly, and a pained look flashes through Bucky’s eyes. “You do want to find out about yourself, don’t you?”

Bucky doesn’t answer. He continues to stare at Clint’s shoulder, lost.

“Barnes,” Clint says quietly, and grey eyes snap to his. “Who is this actually about? Is it – is it Steve you wanna know about, or are you just telling me that because you don’t want it to be about you?”

Bucky still doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t break gaze with Clint.

“Are you just telling yourself that it’s not about you?” Clint continues, and Bucky finally looks away. He gets up, taking his medical kit with him and going to his bag, dropping the black case back in and pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He rummages around for the lighter and then walks across the space to the small table and chairs, sitting down heavily. He lights the cigarette and leans forwards with his elbows on the edge of the table, metal hand pressed to his forehead.

“What – what if I’m not-” he begins, stops to take a drag on the cigarette. He exhales, the smoke rushing out as he breathes. “What if I find out about Bucky Barnes, and it doesn’t fit?”

He presses his lips together hard, eyes bright, and Clint feels – god he doesn’t know. It’s such a strong rush of emotion that he can barely process it, a raw tangle of pity and sympathy with a fierce rush of protectiveness threaded inbetween.

“Hey,” he says, and gets up, walking over and pulling out the other chair, sitting down opposite him. “You are Bucky Barnes,” he says in a tone that brooks no argument. “Do not let what they did to you make you doubt that. You’ve got to own who you are, the good parts and the shitty parts and even the parts you’d really rather everyone forgot.”

“Easy enough to say when you know who you are,” Bucky replies, tone deprecating and too close to broken, rolling the cigarette between his fingers.

“You are Bucky Barnes,” Clint says again. “Whatever your ridiculous full name is - James Buchanan Barnes-”

“One oh seventh,” Bucky says vaguely, without thinking, and then freezes in place. Clint rears back in surprise, looking at him with his mouth hanging open. 

“What was that?”

Bucky stares back, looking thunderstruck. “I don’t know.”

“The one oh seventh? That’s a military unit, an old unit, did you just remember that?”

Bucky just stares and stares and stares, cigarette forgotten in his hand. Smoke lazily drifts towards the ceiling, unnoticed.

“Was it on that picture you had?” Clint presses.

“Just said my name,” Bucky replies faintly. He looks down at the cigarette that’s still clamped between his fingers and laughs shakily. “My name.”

“James Buchanan Bucky Barnes,” Clint repeats.

Bucky swallows thickly, throat clicking. He bites at his bottom lip again, then lifts the cigarette to his mouth, eyes still fixed on it. Clint gets the impression that it’s so Bucky doesn’t have to look at him. He takes a deep drag, hand remarkably steady.

“So,” he says as he lowers his hand, holding his breath in his chest. “Smithsonian.”

“Smithsonian,” Clint agrees, and Bucky exhales again, closing his eyes for a long moment.

“Okay.”

Clint raises his eyebrows. “Okay?”

“Okay.”

“So we’re now going to spend three days driving back across the country, in the direction we just came,” Clint says cautiously, though he can’t ignore the relief he feels because Bucky is finally taking a step in the right direction. And having one of the most badass sons of bitches on the planet take your advice does fill Clint with a vague sense that he does have a purpose on said planet. He’s nearly even proud.

“I guess we are,” Bucky says and sighs heavily. “We’ll wait the storm out and then go.”

“Okay,” Clint says, because he’s not going to push Bucky and he doesn’t want to go out in the rain anyway. He wants a warm shower and to sleep properly for a while, to stay safe inside until he’s sure the last lingering threads of unease have vanished from his system.

Bucky leans back in his chair again, lifting the cigarette to his mouth and tipping his head back, looking at the ceiling and using his other hand to push his hair back from his face. Clint’s eyes track along the long line of his throat, down to the hollow between his collarbones, just visible above the neck of his shirt.

Clint leans forwards, folding his arms atop the table and resting his face on them, fingers curled around his own bare shoulders. He continues to watch Bucky, even as he sighs and tips forwards again, rubbing at his brow.

“Hey, Barton?”

“Hmm?” Clint lifts his eyes. Bucky’s are closed, metal fingers pressing into his brow. His throat moves again as he swallows.

“Thanks.”

Clint blinks slowly at him. “You’re welcome,” he says quietly, the words mumbled into his forearm.

Bucky stubs the cigarette out, chewing absently at his lower lip. His eyes look bright and clear, and his expression is quietly contemplative, but not quite as blank as it has been previously.

Lower back aching, presumably from the amount of time spent in the car, Clint pushes himself back from the table so he can sit up and stretch, rocking his chair back onto two legs. The motion draws Bucky’s attention.

“Good balance,” he comments, and Clint raises an eyebrow and carefully lets go of the table with the hand that was previously keeping him steady.

“Show-off,” Bucky says, and Clint lets the chair rock forwards again, the legs hitting the floor with a bang that makes Bucky flinch.

“Sorry.”

Bucky just shakes his head. “Should get out of those wet clothes,” he says, standing up and pushing his chair back. “You got anything dry to wear?”

“Nothing clean and dry,” Clint says, scratching at his beard and pulling a face as he does. “It’s cool. Jesus, I need a shave before small creatures start living on my face.”

Bucky just stares at him with the same ‘not completely sure if you make sense to me,’ expression that Clint has come to be quite familiar with, and then he moves away into the bathroom without another word. Staying where he is, Clint listens to the sounds of the shower turning on, footsteps easily discernible through the thin walls.

“Bucky Barnes,” he says absently to himself, and then gets up. He goes over to the bed that Bucky hasn’t already appropriated, grabbing his bag on the way over. He strips out of his jeans and lays them over the end of the bed before collapsing down atop the blankets in his boxers. He half-heartedly thinks about getting a different pair of jeans or at least a shirt out of his bag, but quickly thinks fuck it. All the clothes he’s got are filthy, and it’s hot and sticky, and if Bucky has a problem with Clint lounging about in his underwear then he can say something about it. Until then though, Clint is going to assume that bonding over minor surgery and resurfacing memories means he’s A-Okay to be half naked, and will stay as such until he’s informed otherwise.

He falls asleep there on his face, wakes up in the morning to the smell of coffee and the sound of running water. The storm is gone, and the light shining through the window is bright and fresh.

He sits up and stretches, and belatedly realises that he can stretch full because there are no cuffs around his ankles. Huh, that’s new. Maybe Bucky didn’t want to wake him after he fell asleep; maybe he didn’t want to go anywhere near Clint when he was only in his underwear. Eh, either way, he’s not complaining. Yawning, he turns around to grab his jeans from where he left them-

He pauses, frowning. His jeans are gone from the end of the bed, and in their place is a neat pile of new clothes. Two pairs of grey sweatpants, four identical purple T-shirts. Next to them are a packet of disposable razors and a can of shaving foam. It doesn’t take a genius to work out they’re probably stolen, but he’s much more preoccupied with the fact that Bucky went out and stole him new clothes and things to shave with because he made one half assed complaint the night before.

And the shirts are purple.

Confused and not altogether sure he knows what to do about it, Clint just gets up and follows his nose to where there are two cups of coffee on the table, next to Bucky’s lighter and cigarettes.

Caffeine, he thinks. Things will make sense when I pour caffeine on them.

He’s halfway down the cup and absently scratching at his crotch when Bucky emerges from the bathroom, fully dressed in a new pair of sweats and a clean grey T-shirt. He turns around and freezes as Bucky halts dead, eyes going wide. For a moment, Clint thinks he’s gone Winter Soldier all over again, but as Bucky glances down and back up, Clint realises that it’s actually because he’s standing there in his damn underwear with his hand down the front of said underwear.

Smooth, Barton. Smooth as fuck.

“Morning,” Clint says, grimacing and casually taking his hand out of his shorts.

“Morning,” Bucky replies, automatic. His eyes dart down and back up again, and Jesus, he looks so uncomfortable. Surely if the guy was in the army he’d be used to being around guys doing guy things, and it’s not like Clint was standing there jerking off in the middle of the room, right?

“Leaving in an hour,” Bucky finally says to the carpet, and Clint suddenly hates Hydra even more than he did, because Bucky is so damn uncomfortable and awkward, and he clearly has no idea how to act around a friend.

“Sure,” Clint says, and glances back at the neat pile of stuff on the end of the bed. “Thanks, by the way.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and his eyes flicker up to Clint’s, uncertain.

“Shower,” Clint says, and then blinks and tries again. “I’m going to shower,” he says, and quickly grabs a new pair of sweats and a T shirt, along with the shaving supplies, vanishing into the bathroom and kicking the door shut behind him. He dumps the clothes on the shelf next to the shower and sets the supplies on the edge of the sink, staring at himself in the mirror.

“Tragedy,” he informs his reflection matter of factly, and then reaches out for the tap.

Half an hour later, he’s showered and shaved, and is tugging on his new clothes. They fit well enough, and he’s not going to lie; being in fresh clean clothes feels pretty damn good. He might have to convince Bucky to stop by a laundromat so he can shove their dirty stuff through a washer, because as much as he appreciates the gesture, Bucky can’t really be stealing new clothes every time they run out.

He looks up at his reflection again, brushing his fingers over soft purple cotton and wondering what the hell has happened in the last fortnight for him to be having feelings about a goddamn T-shirt of all things.

“Stockholm Syndrome,” he murmurs, rubbing his now smooth chin, but it’s half-hearted at best.

A soft knock on the bathroom door draws his attention away from his reflection. He waits for the door to open, but the seconds tick by and nothing happens, he realizes that Bucky is probably waiting for him, just in case he catches Clint doing something else that he doesn’t know how to deal with.

“Yeah, coming,” he says, grabbing his stuff and opening the door. Bucky is standing right outside the room, and he seems to falter as Clint steps out of the bathroom.

“You look different.”

Clint reaches up to rub his hand over his jaw. “Losing a month’s worth of facial fuzz will do that to a guy,” he says. “Bad?”

“Different. Good,” Bucky says, and then frowns like he doesn’t know why the hell they’re talking about Clint’s face. He looks to the door and then back to Clint, opening his mouth and shutting it again. He seems to be hesitating, and Clint’s not as stupid as he likes to make out; he knows exactly why Bucky is suddenly dithering.

“Don’t think about it,” he says. “Just go.”

Bucky twitches and scowls, turning away without another word. He efficiently packs everything up and tosses the key to the motel room onto the table, walking out without looking back. Clint follows without complaint, because whilst Bucky seems jittery, it’s not in a way that makes Clint think he’s going to get stabbed, so he’s going to roll with it. He’s still not entirely convinced that Bucky is actually going to drive East when they get back in the car – a black Chevvy Impala this morning, and Clint knows he really should be bothered about the amount of stuff that Bucky has stolen since they’ve been together – but doesn’t want to say anything in case he sets him off.

“Ready?” Clint asks, pushing his sunglasses up his nose and leaning on the roof of the car. Bucky stands on the driver’s side, gnawing on his lip and staring across the lot at nothing.

“Barnes?”

“Yes,” Bucky says, and refocuses, galvanized into action. He swings into the car and Clint follows suit, shoving his bag and his bow into the back before turning back around, slouching down with his feet on the dash. He’s not going to say anything out loud, but he’s genuinely nervous that Bucky isn’t going to follow through on his resolution from their conversation the day before, that he’ll refuse to go anywhere near DC and the Smithsonian.

The car rumbles into life, juddering as it rolls out of the lot. Clint stares determinedly out of the window, pointedly not looking at Bucky because he doesn’t want to make him feel pressured, or like he’s being forced to do anything. His stomach twists up in a knot as the car reaches the intersection-

Bucky turns the car onto the eastbound highway, and Clint sinks back into his seat, the faintest of smiles hitching the corner of his mouth for a moment.

“And you can shut the fuck up,” Bucky mutters, scowling as he leans his elbow on the edge of the window, propping his head on his fist.

“Didn’t say a word,” Clint replies. On impulse, he winds the window down so he can feel the fresh air on his face, the warmth of the sun on his skin, and in that moment, things don't exactly feel good, but Clint wouldn't say it feels utterly hopeless anymore, either.

 

Chapter Text

It takes them a full week to get back to DC. Mostly because for some reason, Bucky seems to have put a limit of the amount of consecutive hours they spend in the car, opting instead for regular rest stop and motel breaks so they can sleep and eat. Sure, there is one morning where Bucky wakes up looking murderous and abruptly starts driving in the wrong direction again, but it only takes Clint six hours to convince him to stop and turn around.

It’s not bad, exactly. Clint still has moments where he feels desperate to get away, to slink away into the shadows and hide away from the bright light and the rest of the world, but it never lasts long. Something else seems to be filling the old empty spaces.

It’s late on a Tuesday night when they finally stop, about an hour out of central Washington. It makes sense to not go any closer to begin with, seeing as DC is still sort of moderately trashed and the emergency services and some branches of the armed forces are all over the joint, helping with clean up. It’s going to be risky enough as it is, sending Bucky right back into the middle of it, but Clint knows from watching him for the last two and a half weeks that he’s got serious skill in the art of appearing innocuous and unremarkable.

The motel Bucky pulls them into is one of the nicer ones they’ve stopped at lately, and Clint is pretty sure that no-one has ever been murdered here. Not that his levels of suspicion about how murdery a place is works as any real review, but hey. The lights outside are all working, the yellow glow welcoming and warm.

“Are we going up in the world?” Clint calls to Bucky as he climbs out of the car, watching Bucky walking back across the parking lot towards him, having already been to book the room. He’s wearing a black baseball cap and a recently acquired dark grey jacket, and Clint wishes he wouldn’t because even though the sun has all but set it’s sweltering, and even looking at him wearing something with sleeves on is making Clint feel a thousand times hotter than he actually is.

“What?” Bucky asks, reaching out to catch his duffel bag as Clint tosses it over.

“This place is nice,” Clint says, fishing the rest of their stuff out of the back seat. “We being classy?”

“We wouldn’t be classy even if we were in the goddamn Ritz,” Bucky says distractedly, locking the car. “Room eight, come on.”

Clint follows him, watching his back with a small contemplative smile on his face, because Bucky has been saying things like that more and more over the past few days, odds and ends that could almost be jokes. More and more of Bucky Barnes is starting to come through the front he’s got up, and the guy he’s starting to see is someone that Clint thinks he would have been friends with, in another world. He’s still not entirely sure how Bucky Barnes matches up with Steve Rogers, but he’s not exactly seen either of them in a moment of actual down-time.

They step into the room, lights blinking on, and Clint takes a moment to look around as Bucky does the usual sweep. It’s a pretty large, airy space with two double beds, a couch, small coffee table and large TV mounted on the wall.

“So,” Clint says as Bucky gives him the nod and he’s able to step away from the wall. “You going in the morning?”

Bucky swings his bag onto the bed, sitting down beside it and beginning his usual weapons check routine. Slinging his bag and arrow case onto the floor, Clint flops backwards onto the other bed. He keeps his bow in hand, it out in front of him and pulling at the string, feeling the comforting pull of tension beneath his fingertips.

“Barnes?”

He looks over and Bucky meets his eyes for a moment, before shaking his head. “Don’t know,” he admits, and takes his baseball cap off, throwing it onto the bed and running his fingers through his hair.

Clint looks back up towards the ceiling, pulling at the bowstring again. He needs to find some place where he can shoot, really. He hasn’t let loose an arrow since he shot Bucky, and before that, it had been pushing weeks. Too long. “We going closer?”

“No,” Bucky tells him. “We got this room for a few days.”

“You’re spoiling me,” Clint says, and lowers his bow, looking over again. Bucky has a knife in hand, turning it over and over in his fingers and chewing his lip. He’s hesitating, Clint realizes.

“Don’t think,” Clint tells him. “Just go.”

“I’m gonna go,” Bucky says, and Clint must look suitably sceptical because Bucky huffs and tosses the knife to his other hand, snatching it deftly out of the air. “I will go,” he insists. “Just.”

He doesn’t say any more, but Clint doesn’t push him any further. He doesn’t know how far he can get away with pushing, so he’ll give him a couple of days to try and work through it. If he doesn’t, or if he makes any move to go in the wrong direction again, Clint will think of a plan B to stop him.

“You want food?” Bucky asks, when it seems he’s assured that Clint isn’t going to badger him any further.

“Yeah. Pizza,” Clint says on a whim. “And maybe some beer if you’re feeling it. As long as you don’t steal it.”

Bucky doesn’t dignify that with a response, but Clint didn’t really expect him to. He just glances back once and then leaves Clint alone, locking him in as he usually does. He doesn’t bother with the cuffs this time, which has been happening more and more often the longer they spend together. Even with the increased level of trust, on some nights Bucky will still wordlessly hand over the cuffs, expression edged with frustration and guilt. On those nights he’s quieter, more withdrawn. Clint wears the cuffs without argument.

But today, he is uncuffed and free to wander the room. As such, he heads straight for the bathroom, intending to have a shave and a shower in peace. He can’t help but notice how it feel different to any other day or night they’ve spent together; there’s a note of something almost like finality in the air, like it’s the end of something. Clint supposes it is, really. If Bucky goes to the Smithsonian and gets his answers, then that’s this whole debacle concluded. Clint doesn’t know what will come after that; he guesses they’ll go their separate ways, either onto something new or back to whatever they were doing before this.

The thought doesn’t quite sit right, and he doesn’t really know why.

Bucky returns within the hour, carrying two huge pizza boxes with a six-pack balanced on top. Clint has turned the main light off and the room is lit only by the TV and the glow of the lamp in the corner, and he half expects Bucky to insist on better visibility and turn the lights back on again. To Clint’s relief he doesn’t; he just looks around a couple of times and then balances the boxes and beer on one palm as he turns to lock and secure the door.

“Everything okay?” Clint asks from his position on the couch, and Bucky looks over, eyes meeting Clint’s for a moment. He blinks quickly and then nods, looking away.

“No trouble,” he says, and checks the door one last time before walking slowly over to Clint, setting the boxes and the beers on the coffee table in front of him. Fuck, it smells glorious.

“That okay?” Bucky asks, straightening up. His left hand catches the light from the lamp in the corner, glinting warm and gold.

“Better than okay,” Clint says, sitting up and reaching hungrily for the first pizza he can get his hands on. “I smell cheese and meat, that’s a win whichever way you look at it.”

The corner of Bucky’s mouth hitches for a small, fleeting moment. “I’m going to go,” he says, and gestures towards the bathroom. “Shower. Before I eat.”

“Won’t eat it all, promise,” Clint says around a mouthful of pizza. “Hey, before you go-”

He balances his slice on his knee, reaches over to grab a bottle of beer. He doesn’t even need to ask; Bucky leans over the back of the couch and holds the neck of the bottle steady with his flesh and bone fingers, flicking the cap off with the metal ones.

“Thanks.”

“Welcome,” Bucky replies quietly, and Clint looks up at him but he’s already moving away, walking towards the bathroom. He turns the light on and it floods out into the room, a neat rectangle of clean light on the carpet and falling across his form before he steps inside and carefully shuts the door behind him.

Clint turns his attention back to the TV, leaning back heavily against the cushions of the couch, slumping down and kicking his feet up onto the coffee table. He can faintly hear the noise of the shower running through the bathroom door, but it’s actually kinda soothing. He feels almost relaxed; he’s got beer and pizza, the noises in the background aren’t making him twitch, and there’s an assassin in the bathroom that will help neutralise any threats with extreme prejudice if needs be.

Clint steadily eats his way through half a pizza, absently watching the TV but not really paying much attention. Bucky’s been in the bathroom for longer than usual; normally he’s in and out within minutes. The shower has stopped running and Clint can’t hear anything, but he’s not going to go and knock in case he startles Bucky and ends up being stabbed again.

Ten minutes later, and the bathroom door opens again. Clint looks up and around, and it only takes him a moment to work out what’s different about Bucky.

He’s not wearing the hooded jacket.

He’s wearing just a t-shirt, a plain white thing that leaves his arm on show. Clint frowns and looks away, back to the TV, because Bucky always wears the hoodie, he never lets Clint get more than a glimpse of the arm-

Bucky reaches up, pushes his damp hair away from his face. He walks around to the opposite end of the couch to Clint and sinks down onto it, sitting with his back against the arm of the couch and his feet pulled up in front of him. His feet are bare and that’s another something new. It makes him look completely different. Breakable.

Clint reaches down and pulls another beer free, passing it over to Bucky. Bucky takes it without comment, heaving out a sigh and letting his head fall sideways to rest against the back of the couch, face tilted towards the television. He doesn’t comment on the shitty nature documentary that Clint has been watching instead of any of the news channels, just stares into a space somewhere in front of him, lost and distant.

Clint looks from Bucky to the half-eaten pizza in front of him, and then back again. Bucky’s made no move towards it, but he’s eaten barely anything in the past few days, only an odd snack here and there. Winter Soldier or not, he’s still a guy and the guy needs to eat.

Setting his bottle aside, Clint reaches for the pizza box, picking it up and turning with it, nudging Bucky’s raised knees with the edge of it. Bucky blinks, staring down at the pizza like he’s not quite sure what’s going on.

“Eat,” Clint says quietly. The lights from the TV cast dancing shadows over Bucky’s face, and his expression is unreadable as he stares at the pizza box like he’s working out how to disarm it. The seconds tick by and Bucky doesn’t budge an inch, and Clint starts to wonder if he’s even still there in the moment with him.

“Barnes,” Clint says quietly, and Bucky flinches as if Clint had shouted. “Don’t make me hand-feed you,” Clint says. “That’s just gonna be awkward for both of us.”

Bucky’s mouth twitches, and he exhales heavily, the tension breaking free and sliding loose. He nods, and slowly lowers his knees so Clint can push the pizza box into his lap. Satisfied, Clint sits back, and as he does Bucky shifts further and Clint feels the press of toes against his leg, warm and solid.

The couch suddenly feels like it’s shrunk by at least a foot, and Clint is all at once hyperaware of his own body, of Bucky’s position next to him. Bucky doesn’t seem to have even noticed the contact; he’s quietly eating through the rest of the pizza, eyes flicking between the food and the television. The touch is excruciatingly simple and it makes Clint feel confused, and then small and pathetic because he’s confused by it, his skin prickling all over with a warm flush. He swallows thickly, because he’d normally be edging away from anyone who got so close to him, silently maintaining the barrier of space around himself, but this time it feels different. He’s not entirely sure he wants Bucky to move, and he can’t work out why.

Neither move again until Bucky has finished the pizza, leaning over to set the empty box back on the table. He settles back into the arm of the couch, shifting down marginally and throwing his left arm up behind his head, pillowing his head against it. His feet press more firmly against Clint’s thigh, toes pushing under the weight of it. Without thinking, Clint moves in response, shifting his leg slightly. Bucky’s feet end up comfortably pressed under his thigh, and Clint deliberately does not think about what that means for either of them.

“Why we watching shit about crocodiles anyway?” Bucky’s tired voice breaks the silence, all faint New York drawl, complete with a huge yawn at the end of the question.

“Because it was the first channel I got to that wasn’t news,” Clint replies honestly. He looks around, grabs two more beers and holds them out. Bucky pulls his arm free from behind his head and pulls the caps off, taking one wordlessly before settling back once more.

“You don’t like the news?”

“No,” Clint says. “And didn’t think I’d run the risk of there being something about Steve or the Avengers on there.”

To his credit, Bucky doesn’t flinch too badly at the mention of Steve’s name. He rolls his head around to face Clint, meeting his eyes. “What if,” he begins, stops. His eyes flicker down for a moment and then he finds Clint’s again. “If it’s not,” he tries, has to start over. “If what I think and remember doesn’t fit, then it’s bad. If it does all fit, it’s just as bad.”

Because either you will still have no idea who you are, or you’ll have to come to terms with the fact you did try and kill your best friend, Clint thinks silently. He doesn’t say it aloud though, because Bucky already knows, is already walking around with that terrible weight on his shoulders. Besides, he doesn’t want to talk about trying to kill your best friend, because if he does he might starting thinking about how he tried to do exactly the same, and he’s got all those nasty thoughts and feelings on pretty secure lockdown at the moment. He’s not going to give them any leeway, do anything that might set them free again.

Turning his attention back to Bucky, he studies him for a moment, not sure what he can say to make it better. He’s not going to lie and tell the guy it’s going to be fine, because they both clearly know that either way, it’s going to hurt.

“Then we deal with it,” he finally replies. Bucky holds his gaze and then he nods, a quick jerk of his chin as if he actually believes Clint. He breathes out, finally looks away.

“Put something else on,” he says, thumb flicking at the label of his beer bottle, and Clint knows that that was all the talk about the Smithsonian he’s going to get.

He reaches for the remote, very aware of Bucky’s feet underneath his leg as he does. He flips quickly through the channels and finds the beginning of an old action film, settling on that so he doesn’t have to risk going through any more channels. He settles in to watch, mind only partly on the film in front of him

Neither of them speak again for the duration of the film, but Clint finds it doesn’t matter. He keeps thinking of Bucky apologising for getting in his personal space when he was taking his stitches out, and wonders if Bucky Barnes is at all touchy-feely, or if he’s a respectable distance kind of guy. Clint can answer for the Winter Soldier easily enough, but he’s not sure about Bucky

He looks over with a vague, half-formed notion of mentioning it to Bucky, but his heart jolts in his chest and the words are lost.

Bucky is asleep

Clint’s sure of it; his mouth is slightly open and he’s breathing deeply and evenly, and Clint can just about make out the movement of his eyes under the lids, rapid side to side movements as he dreams. His arms are folded loosely across his stomach and there’s a small frown between his eyebrows, and Clint wonders what he’s dreaming of, and then decides he probably doesn’t want to know.

Slowly and carefully, he eases up off the couch. He looks down on Bucky for a moment and then grabs his own jacket from where it’s draped over the arm, carefully laying it over Bucky’s bare feet. He quickly dances back a couple of steps, holding his breath and waiting to see if Bucky stirs, hoping he’s not going to freak out and go Winter-Soldier at him if he does-

Bucky sleeps on. Clint breathes a sigh of relief, grabs the remote to turn the television off and then pads over to his own bed. He falls face first onto it, has enough presence of mind to grab a pillow and pull it down towards him, and is asleep in minutes.

 


 

When he wakes in the morning, Bucky is gone. There sun is shining brightly through the window, he can hear the sound of a radio outside, everything is calm and peaceful and he’s most definitely alone. There’s no coffee or breakfast left for him this morning, but that’s the last thing on his mind as he sits up and looks around the room. All of Bucky’s belongings are there; the only thing missing seems to be Bucky himself.

Heart thudding strangely against his sternum, Clint wonders if he’s gone out for breakfast or to steal more stuff, or if he’s gone to the Smithsonian.

Half of him hopes it’s the latter, because that’s the whole point of this twisted adventure. The rest of him is vehemently hoping that he hasn’t, because he doesn’t think the reaction is going to be a pretty one. What if Bucky doesn’t remember anything at all? He’ll be frustrated and angry, and Clint knows that a frustrated and angry Bucky Barnes is a dangerous Bucky Barnes.

But then again, like Bucky himself said yesterday, if he does remember that’s going to be just as bad.

Blowing out a breath, he gets up and slouches into the bathroom, stomach feeling tied up in a knot. The second hand anxiety and worry he’s feeling is almost overwhelming, and amongst it he feels a sharp stab of pity. His own problems now seem insignificant compared to what Bucky is going through, and he thinks one of the feelings stirring in the pit of his stomach is something that could be guilt.

Fuck it, he thinks tiredly. He doesn’t even know what he’s feeling anymore. It’s all so tangled up and confusing after so long feeling next to nothing.

He shoves the thoughts aside, goes and sprawls out on the couch again. He reaches for the pizza that they didn’t eat last night, dragging a slice out of the box and ignoring the Coulson voice in his head that tells him that ‘pizza for breakfast is not an acceptable option for a grown man, Barton.’ Grabbing the remote, he turns the TV back on and abruptly freezes because the channel that has been playing films late last night is now showing a second hand news report and the universe obviously still hates him because Steve Rogers’ face is once again plastered all over the fucking screen.

There’s a bizarre moment in which Clint feels grateful that Bucky isn’t there to see it, but then his brain reminds him that Bucky might be in the Smithsonian looking at pictures of Steve right now anyway.

The news anchor is talking about the ‘carnage in DC’ once again, and about the new Avengers' response to it, and Clint guesses it’s official then, the Avengers are a team once more.

“-with Captain America finally breaking his silence over the events of DC, with a statement to be issued later today-” the man says, and Clint is no genius but he would bet his bottom dollar that Stark and his assorted PR and legal teams have had something to do with that.

“-scheduled for a meeting with the President in just a few days time-”

Clint chokes on his mouthful of pizza. Coughing, he thumps a hand to his chest and catches the words ‘Washington DC,’ and his brain immediately starts up a steady mantra of ‘shit, shit, shit, shit,' because he doesn’t think Bucky will take that news well at all. Jesus, he’s not taking the news well at all - the thought of being in the same state as Steve makes him want to hide away somewhere, because he will not face Captain America after what he did-

His eyes catch a glimpse of red hair, and his heart breaks all over again. Natasha. Standing behind Steve Rogers in a gorgeous suit, next to a man with dark skin and serious eyes, talking quietly. It’s the guy from the fight in DC, Clint realizes, though he’s still none the wiser about who it actually is.

He feels a lump in his throat, and snatches up the remote to change the channel. He gets some Spanish-language soap opera that he can only half understand but he doesn’t care; seeing the best friend he ever had out there without him hurts this time, hurts in a way he thought he was beyond.

“Not your best friend anymore,” he mutters to himself, tossing the half eaten slice of pizza back into the box, appetite gone.

And whose fault is that? a voice whispers in his head, and he shakes his head violently because he can’t tell if it’s his own voice, Phil’s or Loki’s.

“Stop,” he says aloud, getting up and walking over to his bed, grabbing his bow from where it’s propped up against the tiny nightstand. “Get back in the game, Barton. Barnes needs you today, get your shit together.”

Combined with the comforting weight of his bow in hand, the pep-talk works. To a degree, anyway. He shoves his own thoughts and worries away and focuses on Bucky instead, though the anxiety he felt doesn't quite recede completely.

Returning to the couch, he sits with his bow in hand and wondering how long Bucky is going to be. He honestly doesn't know. The guy could step through the front door of the Smithsonian, see a picture of himself and instead think ‘yep, that’s me alright.’

Or he could be wandering that damn museum for hours, confused and alone.

Sighing, Clint shuts his eyes, pressing the tip of the upper limb of his bow under his chin. His mind drifts away from an image of Bucky’s confused and miserable face, to the expression he wore when he was sleeping last night. It’s strange; when he’d first been kidnapped, Bucky hadn’t trusted him to take a leak without supervision, and now he was falling asleep next to Clint like it was something he’d been doing for years. Clint can’t quite wrap his head around it; yeah, he knows that Bucky is starting to trust him after he wiped out the cops, but now it’s something else entirely, and as far as Clint is aware, he’s done nothing to earn that level of trust.

Hell, if Bucky knew what Clint had done, he probably would still be cuffing him every night.

What are you willing to do, Agent Barton? a voice whispers somewhere in the back of his mind, and Clint stamps down  ruthlessly on the memory. No, he thinks viciously. He’s not going there, he’s already said he’s not going there today. Fuck. He needs something to do, something to keep his hands and mind busy.

After an hour, Clint has changed the channel around a thousand times, checked the set up for his bow, cleaned all his arrows and talked himself out of going through Bucky’s stuff.  Time seems to have slowed down just to fuck with him, and with every minute that passes, the knot in his stomach winds fractionally tighter. He finds himself getting irritated by it, and the more irritated he gets the more his mind goes back to that damn voice that still lurks in the back of his mind. Sounds start to jar against the inside of his skull once again; in the room next door someone is talking on their cell and every time Clint hears them laugh he wants to storm out of the room, kick their door down and shoot the goddamn cell out of their hand.

He’s just about talked himself out of it when he notices that something in the room is humming, and he’s just about ready to rip every electrical appliance out of the wall to make it stop when he hears bootsteps just outside the room.

There’s the rough scrape of the locks and then the door is shoved inwards, hard enough to make it crash against the wall behind it. Bucky steps in, expression wild for a moment, and then his eyes lock on Clint and he literally shudders, breathing out heavily and shutting his eyes.

All of Clint’s anxiety vanishes, as if someone reached into his brain and pulled it out. There’s no place for it when suddenly he’s faced with Bucky looking like that, like he’s about to break apart at the very seams.

“Barnes?”

Bucky shakes his head, turns and shuts the door, locks it. He presses his palms to the door, dropping his head between his arms. His whole back shudders.

Clint stands up slowly.

“Barnes?”

“I knew he was smaller,” Bucky says, his voice raw and grating, and he curls his hands into fists. He slams them against the wood, a noise that’s half sob, half scream tearing from his throat.

“Shit,” Clint breathes, and without thinking he’s walking over. He reaches Bucky just as he slides down the door, hunched in on himself. He presses his forehead against the door and he’s crying, he’s actually crying and Clint doesn’t know what to do-

He kneels down behind him, chest feeling too tight and painful. Tentatively, he reaches out and places his palm between Bucky’s shoulder blades. Bucky jerks violently and Clint hastily takes his hand away, but doesn’t go far. He has to do something, because the guy is still there sobbing and he doesn’t even know how it must feel to be him right now.

I knew he was smaller.

God, Clint feels like he could cry himself. Bucky obviously remembers Steve, has seen something in the Smithsonian that’s confirmed what he thought he knew, and now he probably knows that he tried to kill someone who was his best friend-

Without thinking, Clint reaches for him again. He grasps Bucky’s shoulder and pulls him around, and this time Bucky lets himself be pulled. He’s got his hands pressed to his face as he sobs, and he twists around, falling into Clint with his shoulder pressing into his side and his face buried in Clint’s chest. The unexpected slump of weight against him nearly sends Clint sprawling back across the floor but he manages to keep upright, clinging onto Bucky with an arm tightly wrapped around his neck and the other holding his head to his chest.

Bucky’s whole body shudders and Clint has a moment in which a panicked voice in his head yells‘You’ve got the Winter Soldier in a headlock you fucking moron,’ and he debates letting him go, but he feels fingers brush against his chest, metal fingers fisting in the fabric of his shirt, and he finds he can’t.

“I got you,” he says, and he’s shocked at how unsteady his own voice is.

“Shut up, Barton,” Bucky manages to choke out, but he doesn’t let go.

Clint acquiesces, and closes his mouth. He rests his chin atop Bucky’s head and waits for the sobbing to subside, his own eyes prickling and throat feeling suspiciously tight.

It doesn’t take long. After only a couple of minutes Bucky has it toned down to wet breathing and the occasional sniffle. He coughs, and then sits up, pushing against Clint’s chest with his metal hand and avoiding Clint’s eyes. Unexpectedly, he doesn’t go far. He pulls his knees up to his chest and loops his arms around them, holding tightly onto his wrist with his metal hand. Clint lets him go, sitting cross legged next to him, elbows on his knees and chin cupped in his palms.

The room is quiet. Clint can still hear the jackass next door talking on his cell, but closer to him he can hear Bucky’s uneven breathing

“Did it help?”

His voice is quiet, but the question still sounds far too loud. Bucky wipes his nose on the back of his right hand, still staring down at the floor. “Don’t know if that’s exactly the word I’d use,” he says, and his chin trembles violently. “All-” He begins, voice cracking. “My stuff was in there. My coat, my goddamn rifle. Letters-”

He breaks off again, covering his eyes with his hand. He clenches his jaw and his nostrils flare as he breathes deeply, trying to get himself under control.

“Letters? To you or from you?”

Bucky drops his hand, and his face has completely shuttered. He doesn’t answer, and then pushes himself to his feet and walks over to his bag. Clint watches him go, wondering if this is it, if it’s all over now he’s gotten his answers, but all Bucky does is open the bag and pull out his cigarettes.

He walks to the door, pausing for a moment before he unlocks it and pulls it open, stepping out into the sunlight. He leaves the door wide open, stepping forwards and sitting down on the edge of the concrete walkway that runs in front of the doors, slumping down heavily and resting his elbows on his knees, head in his hands.  

Clint doesn’t get up, just sits and watches him through the doorway. Bucky’s words echo in his mind, and from the comment he can tentatively conclude that Bucky has just had a lot of confused thoughts and memories suddenly made very real.

Hopefully, when he’s calmed down a little, he’ll be able to take solace from that fact. At least he can now start to know who he is, the uncertainty of not knowing taken away so he can start setting things right-

If there is any way to set it all right. Clint still doesn’t know how Bucky went from Bucky to the Winter Soldier, only that it was at the hands of Hydra. There’s an explanation out there, for what they did to him, but he doesn’t know if Bucky knows what they did.

He does know it’s still hard to justify your actions to yourself, even when you have a crystal clear explanation that says why you did it. Doesn’t change the fact you let it happen, by not being strong enough, quick enough.

It’s at the moment that he catches himself thinking about helping Bucky find out what Hydra did to him, that he clocks on to the fact he’s got no intention of leaving Bucky’s side. Going to the Smithsonian has had an impact on him for sure, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle. There’s so much more left to figure out, and Clint doesn't have it in him to let Bucky go off by himself.

They’ve already come too far for that.

He’s on his feet before he's even consciously decided to move. Leaving his bow behind, he follows Bucky’s path out into the sunlight, squinting as he does. Eyes on the horizon beyond, Clint slowly sits down next to Bucky. Bucky lifts his head but doesn’t look at Clint, just takes a cigarette out of the packet and lights it, quickly shoving his left hand into his pocket when he’s done.

“Need gloves, really,” he says tonelessly, taking a drag and holding the smoke in his lungs, eyes closed.

“You’re not wearing gloves in this heat,” Clint replies, slipping his hands into his own pocket and hunching forwards, his shoulder brushing against Bucky’s as he does. “Maniac.”

“I’ve had worse,” Bucky says and exhales in a rush, the smoke spiraling lazily up above their heads.

“Bet you have,” Clint replies, and on impulse he reaches over for the cigarette. Bucky hands it over without question, and Clint lifts it to his mouth, taking a deep drag. He aches to ask Bucky about what he saw, about everything, but he knows now is not the time. Bucky doesn't need the third degree now, he just needs Clint to shut up.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Clint is wondering if he should tell Bucky that Steve will be imminently arriving in DC. He decides against it straight away; the last thing he’d want if the roles were reversed is to have that dropped on him right now. He thinks he probably should feel guilty about keeping the news quiet, but he doesn’t.

Bucky reaches over to take the cigarette back, his whole left side pressing into Clint’s. “You said,” he begins, rolling the cigarette between two fingers and watching the smoke curling around his fingers. “We’d work it out.”

Clint feels like it’s a question, not just a reminder of the words he said. And if it is a question, he knows that it’s a more important one than it could first appear.

“Yeah,” he says, and sits up slightly, still gazing out over the car park and the landscape beyond. “We will.”

Bucky doesn’t answer, but Clint doesn’t mind. They just sit there together, shoulder to shoulder on the edge of the concrete, chain smoking Bucky’s cigarettes and staring off into the distance.

Chapter Text

It takes Clint hours to fall asleep that night. Bucky hasn’t said a word since they went inside again, having smoked the last of the pack of cigarettes. Clint had let him have his silence, keeping a careful eye on him from a distance. He’d put a film on and Bucky had joined him on the sofa, sitting exactly as he had done the night before with his feet tucked up against Clint’s thigh. He had barely looked at the television, instead just staring down at his knees, every now and then absently flexing the fingers of his left hand. When the film had ended, he’d gotten up wordlessly and gone over to climb into bed, his back to Clint. Clint had watched him for a moment, feeling like there was something he should be doing, before giving up trying to pinpoint what exactly that was and going to his own bed.

It’s those metal fingers that are in Clint’s mind as he drifts on the edge of sleep. Metal fingers and bright blue eyes and walking through long metal corridors, knife in hand and someone else’s intent in his mind-

He wakes sharply with a drawn in breath, shifting up the bed as his hand reaches out for his bow-

It hits a warm body instead and Clint jumps a mile. He scrambles up onto his elbows, ready to kick out at the body as hard as he fucking can.

And then he realizes it’s Bucky, sitting on the edge of his bed in the darkness like some sort of fucking idiot.

“Fucking hell,” he gasps, arms shaking. “You scared the shit out of me, you jerk.”

“Sorry,” Bucky says, and his voice is quiet and strained. Clint slowly breathes out, blinking hard as his eyes become accustomed to the dark.

He sits up, rubbing at his eyes with his fingertips and trying to forget about the sick acidic feeling in his stomach. “You okay?”

Of course he’s not okay, you dumbass, he tells himself, because that much if obvious. It’s at that moment that Clint notices that Bucky is shirtless as well; even with the lack of light he can see the line where the metal plate of his shoulder turns to angry scarred skin. Either Bucky isn’t aware that Clint can see him pretty clearly, or he knows and he doesn’t care anymore. He’s just sitting there, leaning forwards with his arms braced on his knees, wrists loose. From the angle he’s at, Clint can see the metal hand but not the normal one, and he’s still not sure how it looks so human, fingers curled gently as his hand hangs limp in front of him.

“I remember him on the ground,” Bucky says, without Clint even having to say anything. “He was fighting. Guy twice his size. Looked at me like I’d wrecked his birthday when I sent the guy packing. Like he coulda handled it himself.”

“Steve?” Clint asks, and for a moment he’s a little disconcerted because imagining a guy twice Steve’s size has him immediately thinking of the Hulk, but then he clocks that Bucky must be remembering before.

“Steve,” Bucky nods, and he frowns, mouth slightly open and eyes distant and faintly confused. “He was smaller,” he says. “So different.”

“We’re all different these days,” Clint says quietly, and Bucky laughs, a short broken sound. He dips his head, splays his hands out in front of him, curls the left into a fist.

“Yeah,” he says, and doesn’t offer anything more.

Clint watches him silently. He feels an urge to sit up, to put a hand on Bucky’s shoulder or gently touch the small of his back. He won’t though, because Bucky is vulnerable and edgy and he doesn’t want him to react badly by touching him without permission or warning.

“It’s still not,” Bucky begins, and he rubs at his forehead. “It’s still not right.”

“You got seventy years of fuckery to undo,” Clint reminds him. “Not gonna happen overnight.”

Bucky nods slowly, but he seems miles away.

“Barton?”

“Yeah?”

“Did something happen to you?” Bucky asks, and he turns his face towards Clint so he’s almost looking at him, expression vulnerable and lost and confused.

Clint’s chest goes tight. “No,” he lies. “Makes you say that?”

“You’re not with the other Avengers,” Bucky says, brow furrowing. “The panic attacks.” He turns further, eyes finding Clint’s in the darkness. Clint feels a prickle go down the back of his neck. “You understand,” Bucky adds softly, and Clint has to look away.

“Nothing happened,” Clint says, and he looks back up and immediately regrets it; Bucky’s eyes are on his, his gaze long and hard, quite clearly not believing him.

“Barton-”

“Nothing happened to me,” Clint repeats. “We’re helping you, remember? This isn’t about me.”

Bucky frowns at that, like he’s heard it before and he can’t quite pinpoint where from. Clint suspects he’s going to be getting a lot of that in the days to come. “We gotta help both of us,” he says, confused.

“Don’t need helping,” Clint replies easily. “Barnes, seriously. I’m fine.”

“You’re a liar,” Bucky says quietly, and the words are like a slap.

Clint didn’t expect that anything Bucky Barnes had to say would ever hurt him, let alone that much.

“You didn’t kidnap me to talk about my shit,” he snaps. “Back off.”

“Fine,” Bucky says indifferently, turns his head away.

Clint breathes out, presses the heels of his palms to his eyes, hard enough to make bright spots dance across his vision. “I don’t,” he begins, and is appalled at how shaky his voice is. “Look, it doesn’t matter,” he says, clearing his throat and taking his hands away. He looks up, and Bucky is just quietly watching him, and he almost looks sad.

“You remember anything else?” Clint asks, and he knows asking about that just to get the attention away from him is a dick move, but he doesn’t care. He’d rather Bucky stabbed him again than ask any more questions about what happened.

“Not sure,” Bucky says quietly, and Clint just feels more of an ass because Bucky isn’t snapping back at him for asking. But then again, Bucky started this whole thing, he wants to know about himself. Clint has never expressed any desire to talk about what happened to him, doesn’t need anything fixing or looking at, so he’s perfectly within his rights to tell Bucky to back off.

“Time is it?”

“Just gone four,” Bucky replies.

“Fuck,” Clint groans, and slumps back down into his pillows. He wishes it were later, and then he could get up without it looking weird, because he’s really not in the mood to go back to sleep.

Bucky moves suddenly, and Clint flinches, his hand automatically twitching up as if to grab an arrow from his quiver.  He curses himself silently, and watches as Bucky walks over to the couch, vaulting neatly over the back of it and reaching for the remote. The TV turns on a moment later, a wash of sound that soothes the tension of the previous silence.

“How do I find a film?” he asks without turning around.

Breathing out slowly, Clint gets up off the bed. He grabs his pillow and pads over to the sofa, sliding on next to Bucky. “Give it,” he says quietly, and Bucky tosses the remote over, shifting down into the arm of the sofa and pulling his feet up.

It feels like a peace offering of sorts, though it’s all tangled up in something else as well. Clint is grateful for the intervention, though he suspects Bucky knows he won’t be able to sleep and part of him hates that Bucky can read him so easily. The rest of him almost feels relieved that he didn’t have to spell it out, or find some way to hide what he was feeling.

He finds a film, and breathes out deeply, shifting sideways and pulling his feet up to mirror Bucky’s pose. Bucky shifts again, and then to Clint’s surprise he stretches his legs out the length of the couch, feet resting against Clint’s hip. Clint hesitates for a moment and then a tired voice in the back of his head thinks ‘fuck it,’ and he does the same, stretching his legs out alongside Bucky’s and wedging his feet in-between Bucky’s hip and the back of the couch. 

He doesn’t get to sleep again, but he dozes as the film plays in the background, and all he feels is a strange sort of comfort that’s enough to keep the nightmares and anxieties far enough away for him to breathe.

Bucky doesn’t sleep either, but he watches the film with quiet, calm eyes. His arms are folded across his lap, the tips of his metal fingers just touching Clint’s shin.

 


 

Eyes still closed, Clint frowns, forehead creasing and brain still fuzzy with not-quite sleep. He can hear a strange noise, a soft metallic tapping, faint enough so that he can’t work out what it is, audible enough to make irritation crawl under his skin. 

He rolls sideways and buries his face in the back cushions of the sofa. He hadn't been sleeping, but he’s still unwilling to open his eyes and actually make an attempt to be fully awake.

As he settles though, he realizes that he’s alone on the couch and he hadn’t been when he’d closed his eyes.

He pushes himself up, rubbing sleep from the corner of his eyes with his fingers and then opening them blearily. He’s got a headache blooming and his neck aches, but he barely pays any attention. He looks around; Bucky is nowhere to be seen

“Barnes?”

There’s no answer, but Clint hears the same odd noise through the half-open bathroom door, soft metallic tics of sound that he can’t quite place.

Frowning, he gets up and pads quietly over to the bathroom. He raps his knuckles against the door and pushes it so it swings open.

Any words that were about to take shape die in his throat and his mouth closes. Bucky is standing there with his back to him, wearing nothing but a pair of sweats and holding a pair of scissors in his real fingers. Chunks of brown hair are scattered all over the floor, all in the sink, loose strands clinging to his shoulders. He’s all but done – his hair is now almost as short as it was in the photo he’d shown to Clint all that time ago. It’s a haphazard job at best, rough and uneven, but there’s no mistaking the intent.

Clint’s breath catches in his chest as Bucky slowly looks up in the mirror, the eyes of his reflection meeting Clint’s. His gaze is clear and bright, so different now his face isn’t shadowed by his hood or his hair. He’s shaved as well, and Clint can see the clean lines of Bucky’s jaw, the light on his cheekbones.

Clint swallows, throat feeling dry, because if things had been normal and he’d been out in a bar or something and seen someone like Bucky he’d have stopped whatever he was doing in favor of staring. You’re staring now, you moron, his brain tells him in alarm, and fuck, yes, yes he is.

“What’re you staring at,” Bucky mutters, looking away from Clint and down at the sink, half reprimand and half question.

“You look different.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and he lifts his metal hand to run it over the top of his head, almost self-consciously. “No shit.”

Clint’s mouth hitches in a weak smile. Bucky pulls his fingers through his hair above his ear, an irritated frown crossing his face as his fingers pull at a chunk of hair that’s still longer than the rest.

“You want a hand?”

Bucky looks up again, grey eyes piercing. “What?”

“You’re not even,” Clint says, and he steps forwards, gesturing to the back of Bucky’s head.

“Not easy to do,” Bucky mutters.

“I know,” Clint says and nods towards the bathtub. “Sit.”

Bucky’s eyes flick up to his again, because handing Clint the scissors requires a hell of a lot of trust on his part, and that’s not to mention the fact he’ll have to let Clint into his personal space for this to work. But really, it’s Clint who has always had the issues regarding personal space; Bucky has been the one actually initiating touches between them, been the one seeking out contact with Clint.

Maybe the issue in Clint’s mind is that he’s not objecting to or drawing away from the touches anymore, not even the ones from the metal hand.

Fuck it.

He reaches out, puts his hand on Bucky’s shoulder and guides him to sit on the edge of the tub. Bucky goes compliantly, swinging his feet around so they’re in the tub and his back is to Clint. He holds up the scissors and Clint takes them from his hand.

“You know what you’re doing?” Bucky asks, voice low.

“Mhhm,” Clint nods somewhat absent-mindedly, reaching out and sifting his fingers through the jaggedly cut hair on the back of Bucky’s head. “Me and my brother sometimes cut each other’s hair when we were kids.”

He blinks, fingers stilling for a moment before pulling back, unsure as to where the hell that had just come from. He mentally shrugs, steps closer. His shirt is almost brushing Bucky’s shoulder blades.

“Have at it then,” Bucky says quietly.

Clint nods and lifts the scissors. He threads his fingers up through Bucky’s hair again so he can cut into it carefully and evenly, making sure that it lies flat and smooth. It’s been years since he’s done this, but the movements feels familiar and easy, and Bucky sits as still as a statue, which is an infinite improvement on how his brother used to be.

Neither speaks, but it’s okay. The only noise is the sound of their breathing, the soft snip of the scissors. Bucky lets himself be gently pushed, tilting his head where Clint needs him as he tidies up the sides.

“Turn around,” Clint says quietly, and Bucky complies, swinging his feet out of the tub and turning to face Clint, holding onto the edge with both hands. Clint steps forwards between his knees.

“How’m I lookin?” Bucky asks, lifting his eyes up to Clint’s. God, he looks so different.

“Good,” Clint says, pushing his fingers into Bucky’s hair, up over his forehead. “How short you want it?”

“Don’t care,” Bucky says, eyes still on Clint’s face. “I just. I wanted it gone.”

Clint nods, and doesn’t say anything. It’s all too obvious why Bucky has suddenly decided to get rid of the long hair, and even though Clint personally thinks it’s not your appearance who makes you who you are, it obviously matters to Bucky so he’s going to keep his trap shut.

“Now I look like the scruffy one again,” Clint says when he thinks he’s finished. He clamps the scissors between his lips to hold them, frowning slightly as he slides both hands into Bucky’s hair, checking it’s even on both sides.

“I’d say you should just shave again, but you’re probably a lost cause,” Bucky says, and Clint stares flatly down at him.

“Your hair is literally in my hands,” he says around the scissors, then reaches up to take them in hand again. “Don’t be a wise-ass.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything else, but the corner of his mouth curls upwards weakly, fleetingly. Clint notices, and a warmth that’s somewhere between pride and affection blooms in his chest. It feels strange, almost alien in the way it pushes against his insides and makes him feel like he’s breathing all wrong. Jesus, after all this time just feeling nothing, and now he’s got anger and guilt and sorrow and this all crashing the party, like his chest is now the go-to zone for an emotional free for all.

“Done,” he says, and without thinking he brushes his hand over Bucky’s bare shoulder, knocking away the errant strands of hair.

Bucky doesn’t seem to mind. He nods and stands up, shoulder brushing Clint’s as he rubs at the back of his neck, shaking his left arm to dislodge as much of the hair as he can. He steps over and looks in the mirror, and Clint hears him suck in a sharp breath, stilling in place. He looks up and sees Bucky staring at his reflection, eyes wide.

“Okay?” Clint asks quietly, and Bucky nods shortly, jerkily. He’s still staring at himself, and as Clint watches he reaches up to touch his face, metal fingers skimming his jaw.

His throat moves as he swallows, and Clint suddenly feels like he’s an intruder on a private moment. He sets the scissors down on the edge of the sink and edges out of the room without looking back. He walks over to the couch and a moment later he hears the bathroom door click quietly shut, then the noise of the shower starting up.

Clint shakes his head violently, blowing out a breath. What the hell is wrong with him? Bucky is – Bucky is Bucky , the Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers’ best friend and heartache, he’s not Clint’s anything-

He thinks of the way Bucky’s eyes met his, reflected in the bathroom mirror, and he curses under his breath.

He walks over to his bed, throwing himself on it and reaching for his bow, clutching it in both hands like it’s a life belt. He wants to go and shoot things, he wants to spent six straight hours doing nothing but shooting things, only having to think of aim and trajectory and angles, not about Bucky and the way he rested his metal fingers against Clint’s leg-

“Get a grip, Barton,” he mutters at himself, screwing his eyes shut and knocking the flat limb of his bow against his forehead. It doesn’t help, though he didn’t really expect it to.

It’s no-where near long enough later that Bucky re-emerges, dressed in sweats and a clean grey T-shirt. He’s rubbing at the back of his head again, and when Clint looks up and meets his eyes his mouth hitches in another one of his almost smiles, and Clint feels his stomach try and turn over.

“Thanks,” Bucky says quietly. Clint sits up, setting his bow aside again. 

“Don’t mention it,” he says with a shrug.

Bucky sits on the edge of his own bed, pulling his boots and jacket on. He reaches for his wallet, sliding it into his pocket before grabbing his baseball cap and pulling it down low so his eyes are in shadow.

“Come on,” he says to Clint, and he stands up and walks to the door.

“What?”

“Come with me. Breakfast,” Bucky says.

“What?” Clint says again, because this is different. They never leave the room together, not unless it’s to leave for the next motel. It’s always Bucky going out to fetch supplies and food, with Clint safely on lockdown.

Maybe it’s not just Clint who feels the way things have changed.

“Extra pair of eyes,” Bucky shrugs, hand resting on the doorknob, but he’s not meeting Clint’s eyes in the way he usually does now, and he seems a little unsettled. Clint considers him thoughtfully for a moment; Bucky has never needed an extra pair of eyes since they started out on this road trip, so what’s changed now?

The trip to the Smithsonian, a voice in his head says. It doesn’t take a genius to work it out; after watching him since he got back – hell, even before that – it’s clear to see that Bucky is vulnerable and unsure. Maybe it’s not about having an extra pair of eyes to look out; maybe it’s as simple as wanting a friend by his side.

“Sure,” Clint says, reaching for his boots. In all honestly, he wants to spend some time on his own to try and work through the muddle of thoughts in his head, to try and work out what all these emotions are fucking doing to him, but Bucky is still waiting at the door and Clint knows he’s not gonna let him go by himself.

He laces his boots, grabs his sunglasses and shoves them onto his face, following Bucky to the door. It does cross his mind that maybe he should mention what he heard about Steve potentially turning up in DC, but he doesn’t want to set Bucky off. Besides, he’s spent the last however long either staring at the interior of a car or a motel, and actually going outside might be a welcome respite from the usual routine.

He’s outside and watching Bucky lock up the room before he can think about it anymore. His fingers twitch and he shifts uneasily, wishing he had his bow, but he knows full well that Bucky won’t be leaving the room unarmed, so as long as he sticks close to him he should be okay.

Forgoing the car, they walk across the car park side by side, falling into step together as they go. It’s early enough to not be too warm, and there aren’t many people about. Clint keeps glancing at Bucky out of the corner of his eye; he can’t help it. He just looks so different. And it’s not just his actual appearance; it’s the way he’s standing just that little bit straighter, not leaning forwards with his hair hiding his face.

They walk for about twenty minutes, and then Bucky leads them across the road and into a small, beat up diner. The sun pours in through the windows at the front, and it’s small and unobtrusive. There are a couple of tables occupied already; an elderly couple both sat reading a book on either side of a table by the door, a pot of coffee between them, and a table over by the wall taken by a family. The mom and dad are looking more exhausted than Bucky and Clint, and there are four children ranging between about seven and one, all clamoring for attention and swinging on their chairs. On one hand Clint doesn’t like that it could potentially mask other sounds that he needs to hear, but on the other it’s taking the focus away from them pretty nicely.

Bucky heads away from the occupied tables and towards a booth next to the window. A risky position, but it will allow him a good view of the street. Clint follows, turning to nod at the waitress behind the counter, who waves back at him and then gives him a thumbs up.

Clint sends her one back and then slides into the booth opposite Bucky watching as he leans back against the cheap vinyl, breathing out and turning his face towards the window with his eyes closed. Without opening them, he reaches up with his right hand to pull his baseball cap off, tossing it onto the table top, and wow, Clint is never going to stop being poleaxed by the new look. The angle of the light coming in through the window and spilling over his face makes his eyelashes stand out against the pale of his cheekbones, long and dark.

“Doing okay?” Clint asks easily. He doesn’t take his own sunglasses off; it’s way too bright and he’s not really sure where he’s supposed to be looking anymore.

Bucky nods once, a long slow dip of his chin, and then he exhales heavily and opens his eyes. The light makes his eyes appear startlingly bright, the grey piercing in a way that hits Clint right in the chest. He stares out of the window at nothing, gnawing absently on his bottom lip and tapping his fingers against the table.

He’s so beautiful to fucking look at that Clint doesn’t know what to do with himself, and he’s honestly despairing that he’s even thinking that, because it’s ridiculous.

Stockholm Syndrome, he tells himself firmly, and a voice that sounds horribly like Phil points out that ‘even if a case of Stockholm Syndrome might make you feel empathy and understanding towards your captors, it possibly wouldn’t go as far as making them seem attractive. And anyway, it’s not like you’re really a captive anymore, are you?’

Clint is starting to feel horribly out of his depth here.  

“What can I get you boys?”

They both look up as the waitress walks over to their table, a middle aged brunette with a warm but tired smile.

“Coffee,” they both say at the same time, and she laughs softly. Clint waits for a fraction of a second, but there’s no recognition or suspicion on her face, so he allows himself to relax marginally.

“Gottit,” she says. “I’ll get that and then come back see if you want anything to eat, okay?”

“Thanks,” Clint says, and she turns away, heels clacking softly on the floor. He looks around and Bucky has gone back to staring out of the window, looking miles away.

“Hey,” Clint says, and Bucky blinks, comes back to him. “Back to twenty-fourteen, bro.”

Bucky doesn’t move for a moment, and then he turns his eyes towards Clint. “I’m okay,” he says, voice low and quiet.

Clint nods, reaches out to push the laminated menu aimlessly back and forth across the table. “Even after yesterday?” he ventures, and he looks across at Bucky, because he’s wearing his sunglasses and that means Bucky can’t actually meet his eyes.

Bucky slowly nods again. “No,” he says conversely to the slow dip and rise of his chin. “But,” he adds, seems to search for some words. “I feel like. Who I am.”

“Feeling more like yourself?”

“I think so,” Bucky says. “Before, I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t, but now I’ve got something to go on. Got something to work with,” he says, and his hand rubs up over the back of his head again. “Feeling less lost, I guess.”

“Well, it’s a start,” Clint shrugs. “You’ve got your name, at least.”

He remembers coming back to himself, and being able to think without a doubt that ‘I am Clint Barton,’ and it being perhaps the most comforting thing he’d ever felt. When he was – when Loki had him, his name hadn’t even mattered.

“And Steve,” Bucky says, still cautious around the shape of the word. “He,” he begins, and swallows. “He was my friend.”

“Is,” Clint corrects, and Bucky twitches and reaches out to pull the menu out from under Clint’s fingers, staring down at it.

“Shouldn’t be. After what I did to him.”

And there it is; guilt so strong that Clint is honestly surprised Bucky is still upright. But then again, Bucky is so strong in ways Clint didn’t think existed anymore; all of this crap pressing down on his shoulders and he’s still standing, still getting up off his ass and walking on. Even when he does get knocked down for a moment – and Clint remembers the shuddering of Bucky’s shoulder against his chest as he sobbed – he gets right back up again and carries on. He’d actually make a pretty good Avenger come to think of it – the other five are all actually built in the same mode. Built to get up and carry on.

Clint wonders how good Bucky’s aim is. He could probably take Clint’s spot on the team.

“Steve will still be your friend,” he hears himself saying. He knows it’s true; Steve Rogers had trusted him after everything he’d done and on nothing more than a recommendation from Nat, so of course he’s going to forgive and trust Bucky, it’s what the man does.

“Should probably have let him finish me when we were fighting,” Bucky says without inflection.

The bottom drops out of Clint’s stomach. He feels something like fury twist in his gut and he’s about to open his mouth and fucking let rip at Bucky for even thinking it, but the waitress is back with their coffee. She seems to notice the tension across the table and silently pours them each a cup, sliding them over and smiling gently before vanishing again without a word.

“You ever say that again and I am out of here,” Clint says once she’s out of earshot, low and furious. “You didn’t go to all this trouble to just – to just give up, and I am not being the guy who got himself kidnapped for someone who is going to give up. I am not the guy who is technically a fugitive for someone who is just going to give up. So shut the fuck up, right now.”

Bucky stares at him, and then he reaches out and pulls Clint’s sunglasses off of his face. Clint lets him, glaring at him across the table and feeling too warm and bent out of shape. Bucky sets the shades on the table next to his hat, looking down at them. It’s so small that Clint nearly misses it; his mouth trembles and twists, face scrunching up for a second as he fights something back.

“Would you ever give up?” he asks the table top, and Clint knows he’s talking about what happened to Clint, even though he doesn’t know what it is.

“No,” Clint says shortly. “I owe too many people too many debts to give up.”

“That how you see it?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why aren’t you with them, making it up to them?”

“Why aren’t you?” Clint counters.

“Scared I’ll hurt them again,” Bucky admits, and there he goes again, being honest and open in the moments that Clint expects nothing but resistance, more of a fight. “Scared they won’t forgive me. Or that they will, and I’ll wreck it by not wanting them to.”

And Clint stares across the table, because the words hit him right where it hurts, pulling him open and raw in a way nothing has managed in so, so long. Not even thoughts of Phil hurt this badly. Fuck, in that moment he doesn’t know if he hates Bucky Barnes or not, doesn’t know how far he would go to make him stop.  

Not knowing what else to do, he reaches for his coffee, taking a mouthful and not caring how hot it is. He leans over and snatches his sunglasses back, and Bucky doesn’t stop him as he shoves them back onto his face.

“We’re both pretty messed up, right?” Bucky says quietly, and suddenly all Clint’s anger slides away.

“Yeah,” he says tiredly. “Yeah, we are.”

They sit in silence after that, steadily drinking their coffee. Clint feels infinitely better once he’s got some caffeine in his system, though he is glumly acknowledging that the stupid part of his brain that is growing steadily more attached to Bucky Barnes isn’t some sort of temporary breakdown caused by a lack of caffeine and alcohol.

“Ready to order?” the waitress reappears at their table.  Bucky looks up, a tired smile playing around the corner of his mouth that Clint can only spot as fake by how much time he’s spent with the guy. It’s slightly disconcerting how he can just shove away whatever thoughts and feelings actually belong to him, playing the part of a tired, regular guy who is friendly enough to keep everyone chilled, but not enough to make himself memorable.

“Special breakfast platter and a refill,” Bucky says. He looks over and kicks Clint’s ankle under the table when Clint doesn’t speak right away. “You having the same?”

“Yeah,” Clint says. “Sounds good.”

“You got it,” she says, and leaves them in peace. The silence from before returns, and it’s remarkably easy considering that they were on the verge of a fight not twenty seconds ago. Bucky slouches down in the booth a little, both hands slipped into the pockets of his jacket, and as Clint wonders how he’s going to eat breakfast one-handed, he feels Bucky’s ankle knock against his under the table. He automatically shifts his feet away but moments later feels Bucky’s boot against the side of his calf, and realizes that it was deliberate. This time when he moves, it’s to hook one of his boots under Bucky’s ankle, so the weight of Bucky’s leg rests atop his own. Above the table, Bucky seems to relax minutely, leaning back into the booth again and shutting his eyes.

Their breakfast arrives and Clint’s mouth is watering before it even hits the table. He’s starving, and he digs in without hesitation or comment. Bucky isn’t as enthusiastic; he eats slowly and steadily, pausing every now again with that distant look crossing his face.

“You’re looking lost again,” Clint says as he reaches for his coffee.

Bucky pokes listlessly at his breakfast. “Don’t know what to do now,” he says, scraping the tines of his fork across his plate, shooting Clint an apologetic look as he twitches at the sound. “I figured I had to find an Avenger to tell me about Steve, and I was convinced that would fix it.”

“You know the Avenger that actually knows most about Steve?” Clint says, setting his mug down beside his plate.

“Stark,” Bucky says, and he frowns and puts his fork down, rubbing at his forehead just above his eyebrow. “There’s something about him, I can’t quite work it out. Like I should know him, but that’s not right.”

Clint picks up a slice of toast, taking a huge bite. “You knew his Dad,” he says, and Bucky rears back, eyebrows shooting up. “He was part of Project Rebirth. Was about during the war.”

Bucky clacks his jaw shut. “Fuck,” he says. “So I don’t actually know Stark? This Stark?”

“Not that I know of,” Clint says. “But he’s not the Avenger who knows most about Steve.”

“The red-head?” Bucky ventures, cautious. “Or the man with the wings?”

“No and no,” Clint says. “Steve.”

Bucky sighs, shaking his head. The usual cloud that crosses his face whenever the going-back-to-Steve idea is voiced doesn’t appear though. Instead, he just blinks down at the table, looking a bit dejected.

“Not going back to Steve,” he says quietly, and then catches Clint off guard by saying, “not yet.”

“Not yet?”

“Not yet.”

Clint nods at that, because hey, progress. A flicker of guilt runs through him because here they are talking about Steve and he has still kinda missed out a pretty vital piece of information concerning Steve, one that is definitely important seeing as Bucky still wants to avoid the guy, at least for a while.

“You know where he is right now?”

Bucky stares at him, nonplussed. “New York, with Stark.”

Clint pulls a face, almost a grimace. Bucky notices – of course he does – and sits back, alert. Under the table, his foot shifts against Clint’s but doesn’t pull away. He looks more animated than he’s done since before they arrived in DC, almost like the Winter Soldier again with the coiled purpose under his skin, but altogether less threatening.

“What? Barton, what?”

“I don’t want to tell you,” Clint says. “You’ll be mad and there’s knives on the table.”

“There’s a knife in my boot,” Bucky hisses across the table at him. “Barton.”

“Word on the street is that he’s coming to DC,” Clint admits. “Meeting with the President.”

Bucky stares at him. “Fuck,” he says, and he’s gone so tense he looks as if he might snap. “Fuck.”

“DC is a big place,” Clint says. “Barnes, calm down.”

“Calm down?” Bucky snaps, and then looks around, lowering his voice. “You bastard.”

“I had nothing to do with it!” Clint replies incredulously. “Did you miss the part where I’m avoiding the fucking Avengers as well?”

“And why is that?” Bucky asks suddenly, and Clint scowls at him.

“Fuck off,” he says pointedly, and picks his coffee back up. He can feel Bucky watching him across the table.

“We need to go,” Bucky says, voice low and insistent.

“We will,” Clint says, feeling belligerent and awkward. “After my coffee.”

“Barton.”

The word is half threat, half plea, and when Clint looks at him again Bucky is somewhere between lunging across the table and grabbing him, or bolting for the door. His eyes are bright and vaguely panicked, and that’s a new one. There’s no blank, controlled Winter Soldier deliberateness in that look. No, that’s Bucky Barnes through and through.

“Okay,” Clint relents, and takes one last mouthful of coffee, because even if they’re fighting and he feels like being a dick, he’s not cruel.

“Thank you,” Bucky snaps, and he pulls his wallet out, tossing some bills onto the table top. “Let’s go.”

They walk back to the motel without speaking. Bucky’s jaw is set in a way that means trouble, so Clint wisely chooses to keep his trap shut. He stands by his decision not to tell him about Steve until now, though a little part of him wonders why he told Bucky about him at all. If by some stroke of fate Steve had stumbles across them in DC, that would have been the problem solved, right?

“Barnes-”

“Don’t,” Bucky bites out, and Clint shuts his mouth again, waiting as Bucky unlocks the door. He looks angry, and Clint sort of understands why he would be, even though he thinks it’s a tad unfair in that he could have decided to say nothing at all. He is throwing his lot further in with Bucky with every choice he makes, and even if he doesn’t want credit for it, he’d still like Bucky to cut him some slack.

It takes them all of five minutes to get packed up and loaded into the car, and then they’re off again. Clint feels oddly sad as they pull away from the motel, thinking about Bucky curled up on the floor near the door with his hands fisted in Clint’s shirt, about cutting Bucky’s hair in the bathroom, about the couch and the shitty films they’d watched.

They drive for almost six hours, this time heading south. Clint sits in the passenger seat with his bow leant up against his front, watching the scenery roll by and wondering where they’ll end up next. They don’t have a plan anymore, and it’s strange to still be here even if they don’t have an aim or a goal.

It’s barely mid-afternoon when they reach their next stop. They go through the routine seamlessly – Bucky checks them in, Clint gets the bags, Bucky checks the room, Clint figures out how to work the TV. They both shower, they eat the food Bucky picked up at a 7-Eleven when they stopped for gas, they check their respective weapons.

However, Bucky doesn’t join Clint on the couch when he sits down and flips aimlessly through the channels. He keeps his distance, tense and brooding, sitting on his bed with his back against the wall. He’s like a thunderstorm; his mood turning the whole atmosphere brittle and heavy.

Clint tells himself he doesn’t care. Bucky can be as pissed off at him as he likes – as long as he doesn’t stab him – because Clint knows he hasn’t done anything wrong.

After two films and an episode of some British soap opera on a channel that Clint didn’t even know existed, Clint gives up on waiting for Bucky to get over it and join him. He strips off for bed right there in the room, pointedly not giving a shit that the last time he was in his underwear in front of Bucky it was awkward as hell, and sprawls out atop the covers with his face turned away from the other bed.

It takes him a while to fall asleep, but when he does he distantly realizes that he’s listening to the sound of Bucky’s breathing only a few feet away.

 


 

He wakes up with a metal hand over his mouth and a body leaning over his.

Panic and adrenaline slice through him, razor sharp, and he immediately tries to shove the hand away, but Bucky holds firm, leaning his weight over Clint and shaking his head violently.

“Don’t,” he mouths, eyes on Clint’s. “Someone outside.”

Clint immediately stops struggling. He nods, heart thudding against his sternum. Jesus, for one wild moment he thought that he’d really pissed Bucky off with the whole not telling him about Steve thing. Bucky slowly takes his hand away, eyes still on Clint’s as he leans back slightly, his chest lifting away from Clint’s. Clint looks over to the door but there’s nothing that he can see there, or at the window.

He turns back to Bucky. “How many?” he mouths, and Bucky holds up three fingers. As he does, Clint hears a dull shuffle and a thud, a low voice outside.

“Hydra?”

Bucky nods. “Probably.”

Right, probably. That might be enough for Bucky, but it’s not enough for Clint. He looks around, reaches over for his bow and slowly takes it in hand. Bucky looks at him, looks at the bow, looks at him again, and then nods.

Silently, they both clamber off the bed. Bucky slips into the bathroom, moving like a shadow. There’s nothing Bucky Barnes in his movements; that’s 100% Winter Soldier, and it jars against Clint’s senses, seeing the new-look Bucky Barnes still moving and breathing like the Solider. Clint was right after all – outwards appearances don’t really mean jack.

There’s another thud outside, and the sound of the door handle being tested. Clint swears silently and moves over to Bucky’s bed, dropping to his stomach and reaching underneath for his case. He drags it out, flips it open and pulls out three arrows-

The click of the door opening is the loudest sound Clint has ever heard.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, he thinks, and rolls over onto his back. Down in the narrow gap between the beds, he’s hidden from view from the door, but it won’t stay that way if the intruders actually come into the room. Great, he thinks. Fighting Hydra in my fucking underwear.

Craning his neck back, he looks to where he can just see Bucky around the edge of the bathroom door. Bucky’s eyes are bright and alert, a knife held up ready in his hands and body coiled like he’s about to pounce.

“Don’t,” Clint mouths to him, breathing out slowly through his mouth and listening hard as the intruders step into the room. Bucky edges back slightly, looking up and then back down at Clint. He holds up three fingers again, then moves his hands slowly, a series of gestures that Clint recognizes.

Three enemies. All armed. Three pistols. Stay where you are.

Clint holds his own hand up in an okay gesture. Bucky nods and he moves so slightly, bending his knees and bringing the knife up. Where the fuck is his gun? Jesus, if he jumps out and tries to take on all three guys he’s going to get hurt; he’s not even wearing a shirt for god’s sake-

Clint looks up at him again, catching his attention and mouthing his question silently. “You sure they’re Hydra?”

Bucky nods.

“You get one,” Clint mouths, signalling with his fingers as he does. “I can get two.”

Bucky hesitates for a moment and then he nods again, accepting. Clint slowly puts one arrow on the floor and then nocks the other two onto his bow as quietly as he can. The footsteps are getting closer, and he knows he only has seconds. He looks up one last time, nods at Bucky.

The knife sails through the air. It hits the guy on the left in the neck and he drops to the floor with a choked gasp, blood gushing down his front as his fingers scrabble uselessly at the hilt of the knife. His compatriots swing around, guns raised, and in the second that they’re facing towards the guy and away from Clint, he’s got them.

Up onto his knees, fingers on the string, lean back, fingers into just the right place, draw and loose-

The two remaining guys hit the floor with heavy thumps, each with an arrow in an eye socket. Bucky is out of the bathroom in an instant, vaulting over the bed and making sure all three men are out.

“Please tell me they’re Hydra,” Clint says the moment Bucky gives the all clear, getting to his feet.

Bucky nods curtly. Clint watches as he yanks his knife free from the guys neck, and then roughly grabs his collar and pulls it down. Glinting in the moonlight is a tiny black button with a red logo on, a skull with eight curling tentacles beneath.

“Oh, thank fuck for that,” Clint says, stooping down to grab his pants from the floor, where he’d abandoned them earlier. He tugs them on quickly, looking around for his shirt. “Barnes, we need to get out of here.”

“Oh, you think,” Bucky snaps, and he looks around. “We need to burn it.”

“What? No! We can’t burn down the entire motel-”

“There will be others coming to find out why they haven’t gotten back,” Bucky snarls, and he’s on his feet again, wiping the knife off and vaulting back over Clint’s bed. “I am not leaving them a trail to follow-”

“I know,” Clint says, and steps after him, grabbing his elbow. Bucky whips around, looking as dangerous as Clint has ever seen.

“I’m not going back,” Bucky snaps.

“I know,” Clint repeats. “But you cannot burn this place down, Barnes. There are families staying here. And I know you well enough by now to know that even if Winter Soldier you is on a mission, Bucky Barnes is not going to go there.”

Bucky stares at him, and something frustrated and vulnerable flashes over his face for a moment, like he’s going through his own private battle.

“Leave them with the Hydra pins.” Clint says. “Leave them here for the cops. They don’t know who you are, let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Bucky nods. “Pack up our stuff,” he instructs, and Clint gladly obliges because he’d much rather be in charge of the bags than the dead guys. As he locates his shirt and pulls it on, he feels faint nausea stirring in his stomach, and he can’t pinpoint why. He doesn’t think it’s because he killed the guys, because if they’re members of Hydra then they need to be taken out, and he knows for a fact that if they has been caught unawares they would be the ones that are lying on the floor dead.

“Come on,” Bucky calls, voice low. Clint swings his backpack onto his shoulder, grabs his case and Bucky’s bag. He follows Bucky and they steal across the lot, getting into the car and pulling away quickly.

“We’re going to have to swap the car,” Bucky says, and Clint nods.

He looks over at Bucky, staring out front as the car speeds away from the motel, and he realizes why he feels so strange. He was right before, it’s not the fact he killed the Hydra goons, it’s the fact that when he took the shot, all he had to go on was a nod from Bucky Barnes.

And he’d done it anyway. 

He feels his chest go tight, because he swore he’d never do that again, never use his talents to kill people just because he was told to, and he’s just done it again-

“Barton.”

Bucky’s voice makes him jump and he looks over at him, trembling head to foot.

“Are you okay?” Bucky asks, and his hand moves like he wants to reach out and take hold of Clint somehow, looking over quickly before flicking his eyes back to the road. “Barton?”

Clint nods jerkily, but Bucky doesn’t let it go. He looks around and then eases the car off the road onto the verge, killing the engine and turning to look at Clint properly.  He’s somewhere between wary and confused.

“You had to kill them,” Bucky says carefully. “You didn’t have a choice.”

And Clint grits his teeth because he knows what Bucky means but he’s not helping in the slightest.

“I did have a choice,” he snaps, and Bucky rears back.

“They would have killed-”

“I know!” Clint shouts. “I know they would have killed us, so I killed them first and I don’t care about that, I care that it was my choice to do it, I didn’t do it because you fucking told me to-”

He breaks off, turning away from Bucky and staring determinedly out of the window. His eyes feel too hot and his throat is too tight and why can he never just stop talking?

He can hear Bucky breathing, the inhale before he speaks again. “What happened to you?”

“Shut the fuck up,” he replies, and he’s horrified because his voice is wavering and he sounds like he’s about to fucking cry.

“Barton-”

Clint gets out of the car. He shoves the door open and climbs out before Bucky can grab him, slamming it behind him and storming away along the verge, not even caring that he’s not got his bow or his bag, just filled with a blind need to get away-

“Barton!”

He hears the driver's door opening behind him, the dull thud of it shutting again and the Bucky’s footsteps on the concrete.

“Barton-”

“Leave me alone,” Clint snaps back. “You got what you wanted-”

“Barton, don’t just-” Bucky snaps back, and a hand grabs roughly at the back of his arm. Clint wheels around without thinking, shoves Bucky hard enough to send him back a fraction of a stumbling step.

“Get off-”

“What, you just gonna walk away?” Bucky shouts over him as Clint turns on his heel and starts walking again, though he doesn't make any move to grab him again. “That’s it? One question about what’s wrong with you and suddenly you’re outta here?”

“There is nothing wrong with me!”

“Bullshit!” Bucky shouts. “Jesus, Barton - I don’t care-”

Clint stops and turns around to face him, fists clenched and ready to swing if Bucky dares take so much as a step towards him. “Then why ask?”

“You’re the only friend I’ve got!” Bucky yells. “And friends need each other, and god knows I’ve been needing a hell of a lot of you since I found you, so you better get your act together and need me too!”

All the fight goes out of Clint as the words echo in the space between them. He stares at Bucky who stares back, chin lifted and fists clenched, glaring at Clint like he could happily take a swing for him.

He opens his mouth to speak but knows his voice is going to crack the moment he does. He has to look away from Bucky because he’s right; he’s the only friend in the world Bucky Barnes has, and when he thinks about it, Bucky is the only person on the planet than Clint can stand to be anywhere near, and he doesn't think it’s anything to do with him having no choice anymore-

Turning on his heel so he doesn't have to face Bucky any longer, he breathes out through his mouth, lifts his hands and presses his palm over his mouth, his other arm wrapped around his middle. The night air is cold on his skin; he can feel the prickle of cooling sweat across his arms and the back of his neck.

Bucky is silent for a long while, and then Clint hears him move, stepping closer. Fingers brush the back of his arm and then slide between his elbow and his ribs, his hand curling around his bicep, palm against his arm and knuckles pressing into his side. Bucky’s thumb is pressing against the back of his arm, a gentle grip.

“You were the one who made the right call there,” he says. “I would have jumped all three of them.”

“You would have gotten shot,” Clint replies.

“Maybe. I’m quick.”

“Yeah, I know that,” Clint says. The fingers on his arm tighten marginally, and he feels Bucky pulling against him. He lets himself be tugged around, though stares resolutely out at the ground in front of him instead of looking at Bucky.

“I know you didn’t do it because I told you to,” Bucky says, and Clint presses his lips together, hard.

“I trusted you when you said they were Hydra,” he says.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and his hand moves, sliding down Clint’s arm until he’s got hold of his wrist. “You did.”

And Clint looks at Bucky’s fingers wrapped around his wrist, and then up at bright grey eyes, and suddenly it doesn’t seem like what Loki did at all. It feels more like Phil Coulson.

“Can’t have people telling me what to do,” Clint hears himself say, words tumbling free without permission. “Won’t have people telling me who to kill.”

“Me either,” Bucky says. His thumb moves against the skin of Clint’s wrist, and Clint has an urge to lean over and bury his face in Bucky’s shoulder, to cling onto him and let Bucky keep him safe for just one goddamn minute, because doing this by himself is so tiring, it’s hard and lonely-

Swallowing, he looks away again, breathing sharply in through his nose. He remembers the way Bucky had curled into him after he’d got back from the Smithsonian, and wishes he had an excuse to break down and do the same, but he can’t. Bucky is in no place to be dealing with Clint’s mess as well as his own, and besides, Clint has done just fine by himself up until this point.

“You can't go anyway,” Bucky mutters. “Your bow is in my car.”

“Not your car,” Clint says, and his eyes feel too warm. Bucky’s hand lets go of his wrist and slides down, touching the back of his hand, his knuckles. He doesn’t pull away, and Bucky’s fingers push through his, curling around and holding on tightly.

Clint squeezes the fingers back, refusing to look up at Bucky, because if he does then he is going to start bawling like a baby, no doubt about it. God, he misses this. He misses people, he misses company, he misses his friends-

He exhales heavily, shakily. “I can’t go back,” he says, and Bucky’s fingers tighten on his.

“Neither can I,” he says, and Clint laughs, the sound thick and wobbly.  He lifts his free hand, wipes under his nose, breathing in sharply.

“Well would you look at that,” he says, and his voice sounds steadier than it was. “What a coincidence.”

“If that’s what we’re calling it,” Bucky says, and he steps back, tugging at Clint’s hand. “Gonna get back in the car?”

It’s a question, not an order, and Clint can appreciate just how much that has changed.

“Might as well,” he says, and steps after Bucky. “Where we going this time?”

“No idea,” Bucky says, and together they walk back towards the car. Bucky doesn’t let go of his hand.

Clint doesn’t let go of him either. 

Chapter Text

They carry on.

They move across the country in the same way they had before, though for now they’re avoiding motels and built up areas, sleeping in the car and stopping only at small rest-stops. Clint doesn’t really mind; he prefers knowing that they'll be harder to track this way, though he does miss the comfort of the motel rooms, the moments where they sat together watching films like they were just two guys hanging out, not feeling like the fugitives they technically are.

Fall starts to creep in as the days pass, most obvious when they start driving north. The air around them goes colder, sharper, the stifling heat pulling away. The greenery of the landscapes they pass are slowly turning orange and brown, and rain starts to fall more frequently than before. One morning they wake up and it’s cold enough for Bucky to promptly go out and return with two new coats; a thick, waterproof bomber jacket for Clint and a long woollen coat for himself. Clint would object to the latest demonstration of obvious thievery but he knows there's pretty much no chance of Bucky getting caught, so he can't even call him out for unnecessary risk. Besides, the jacket is probably the warmest thing he’s ever owned that isn’t adorned by a SHIELD logo. And the coat Bucky stole for himself - it’s so unlike anything that Clint imagined him in, though Clint does realize it’s probably pretty close to what Bucky would have seen or worn back in the forties.

Their luck holds out, and no more Hydra agents emerge from their nests to try and murder them in their sleep. Still, they remain cautious, and the only times they venture into larger towns or cities is to duck into libraries, or even the occasional internet café. Bucky seems keen to keep up with news across the country, and for a while Clint thinks it's because of the whole not-telling-you-I’ve seen-Steve-on-the-news-thing, but the longer it goes on, the more Clint thinks it’s not about that. He once asks Bucky what he's looking for, but he’d just distractedly said ‘shut your yap, Barton,’ and Clint hasn’t bothered to ask since. The fight they sort of had about the whole Steve issue has been all but forgotten. Clint ponders on it for a while, but then just figures that if they are actually friends now, it’s just one of those things. Friends get mad at each other, they get over it.

It’s a rainy, dull night in late September when they find themselves in a Laundromat somewhere in Minnesota. It's been weeks since the attack in the motel room, and the threat that is probably still out there feels far enough away for them to almost relax. The Laundromat is all bright lights and gleaming tiles, a stark contrast to the dull grey of the outside world. Several of the machines are on and rumbling away, but they are the only people actually inside.

Bucky is sitting on one of the cheap plastic chairs that run down the middle of the room, scowling half-heartedly Clint. The hood of his jacket he’s wearing is pulled up over his head, and he’s steadily eating his way through an entire tube of Pringles. Clint is perched on top of one of the empty machines, tossing skittles into his mouth. He’s shirtless and his feet are bare, humming to himself and idly watching the TV in the corner. The owner of the place keeps ducking in and out, a disapproving frown on his face as he looks them over.

“We need to get moving,” Bucky says for the third time, in a moment where they’re alone. He glances around to check there’s no-one entered the room before shaking out another handful of Pringles into the palm of his metal hand. “Barton.”

“I heard you,” Clint says. “I just don’t know what you want me to do. We’ve got- ” he pauses, leans over to check the top of the machine. “Eight minutes until our stuff is dry. Then we can go.”

“Okay, okay,” Bucky says, scowling again as he shoves another Pringle into his mouth. His mouth moves like he wants to argue some more, and then he just sighs, the scowl subsiding into a faint frown. “You wanna get a motel tonight, or you happy to stay in the car?”

“Either,” Clint says honestly. “Motel might be nice though. Clean sheets to go with clean underwear.”

He holds a skittle up in his fingers, lifting an eyebrow at Bucky. Bucky immediately nods and reaches out; Clint flicks it across at him and he catches it easily, popping it into his mouth. Clint holds out his hand.

“Pringle?”

“No deal,” Bucky replies, licking flavoring off of his metal fingers.

“I gave you a skittle!”

“And I appreciate it."

Clint glares at him. “I hope your tongue gets caught in-between those plates.”

Bucky just smiles, a small, amused hitch to the corner of his mouth as he looks down and shakes out more Pringles into his hand. Clint narrows his eyes and shoves his fingers into his packet of skittles. He pulls one out, lines it up and flicks it across the room; it hits Bucky right on the nose, making him jerk in surprise.

“You’re an ass,” he scowls.

Clint isn't remotely fazed. “You’re an ass. Give me a Pringle.”

Bucky shakes his head, exasperated, but does deign to hold out the tube. Clint slides off the edge of the machine and steps forwards to take it, snatching it out of Bucky’s hand and shoving his hand in. He comes up victorious, a stack of six or seven Pringles in hand, dancing back out of the way as Bucky stands up and holds out his hand.

“Give it,” he threatens, and Clint holds the tube out for Bucky to swipe back. He sits down with it held protectively to his chest and Clint bites back a smile as he hops back up onto the machine, shimmying back so he can lean against the wall, closing his eyes and breathing out deeply.

It’s not always this easy. Some days Bucky won’t say a word, his face tense and his movements full of jagged, strained anger. Some days Clint broods, wants nothing more than to be left alone with his thoughts and memories. The worst days are the ones where they both pull away. It takes longer to get back when that happens.

Some says are difficult in other ways. They’re the days where Bucky slides close, pressing his shoulder against Clint’s as they sit side by side on the trunk of the car. The nights where they fall asleep in the back of the car, Bucky’s feet in Clint’s lap. The moments when his hands are shaking, and the only thing that stops it is finding Clint’s fingers and holding tightly onto them with his own.  

Those days are difficult because it’s clear that they are the only friend in the world that the other has – and Clint has long accepted the truth of what Bucky had yelled in his face the night he had his meltdown on the side of the interstate – and moments like that sometimes make things in Clint’s mind feel different.

But today, today is fine. They’re well rested, well fed and both in the mood to be vaguely sociable, as long as that only extends to each other and they don’t have to interact with anyone else.

“So I was thinking,” Bucky says, reaching up to scratch his forehead and then frowning when he gets flavoring all over his skin. He wipes it away with the back of his hand. “We need to get hold of a computer of our own.”

Clint cracks an eye open. “Why? Internet café’s not doing the job?”

“Be easier,” Bucky says with a shrug.

“What if it gets traced?” Clint points out. “Having anything electronic on us just opens us up to being tracked. And don’t forget who Steve is with.”

Bucky scowls at that. A trashy magazine they’d spotted a couple of days ago on a newsstand had Steve and Tony plastered over the front cover, standing side by side outside another restaurant in New York. According to news reports and what they’ve gleaned from dipping into social media, Steve has been on the move more and more lately, though he always returns to Stark Tower within a few days. Bucky had very much not wanted to talk about the picture of Steve with his arm around Tony Stark’s shoulders, and that had been fine by Clint.

“But if they don’t know it’s ours?”

“I dunno, I’m not smart enough to figure all that out,” Clint says. “I’m just pointing out that it’s something to consider. You’re the brains of this outfit.”

Bucky just gives him a look, the same ‘you are not as dumb as you pretend to be,’ look that Phil used to give him. It 's so familiar that it actually hurts, even though there is no way Bucky is doing it on purpose. Fending away the emotions that get stirred up in the depths of his chest, Clint slides off the edge of the machine again, turning his back to Bucky and drumming his fingers on top of the machine. Takes a few steadying breaths, reaches for his packet of skittles and shoves another handful into his mouth before turning around again.

He’s just in time to see Bucky’s eyes slide away from his bare back, looking down at his own hands instead. He shifts a little and Bucky’s eyes flick back up for the briefest of moments, almost too quick to notice.

If Clint had any shame left, he’d probably blush. But he doesn’t, so he won’t. He’ll just carefully file the observation away alongside the couple of other times he’s caught Bucky looking at him, and wonder if Bucky’s ever caught him looking back.

Bucky drums his metal fingers against the bottom of the Pringles can, a dull metallic clicking sound. “I’m starting to get a bit suspicious,” he says with a frown. “All this time and only the one time anyone has caught up with us.”

“We’ve been sleeping in the car since then,” Clint points out, though he actually agrees. “Most of the time in the middle of nowhere. The longest we’ve stayed anywhere is a couple of hours.”

Bucky nods slowly. “I remember following people,” he ventures. “It was always easy.”

“Well, you kinda have a specific skill set that not many others have,” Clint says slowly, because whilst Bucky often mentions something he recalls about Steve, or about growing up, he rarely talks about his time as the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t know if it’s by choice, or if those memories are just buried that bit deeper.

“Do you think Steve is looking?”

“Yes,” Clint says immediately, though in the back of his mind he’s not a hundred percent sure what’s going on there. If Natasha is with Steve, then he doesn’t understand how she’s not found them yet. He’s pretty sure that he could be hiding in the middle of the Amazon rainforest and she’d somehow track him down. And that combined with the tech that Stark has at his disposal…it doesn’t quite add up.

Behind him, the machine thunks and then whirrs down, finally stopping. “Excellent,” Clint says, jumping off the machine and pulling the dryer open. “Clean clothes, gimme.”

He reaches for his bag, pulls it open and empties the contents of the dryer into it. He snags a purple shirt as he does and pulls it over his head, relishing the clean warm fabric against his skin.

“Fuck, could we be any more white trash right now,” he says, delving through for a pair of socks. “Getting dressed in a Laundromat and about to spend another night in a hooker motel. Living the dream.”

“What, you’re saying this isn’t the pinnacle of the American Dream?” Bucky replies, all faux surprise and sarcasm, and Clint snorts with laughter.

“Haven't a clue,” he says, shoving his feet into his shoes. “Steve's the authority on all things American. You should go find him and ask.”

“Shut up,” Bucky says evenly, the same way he does whenever Clint mentions Steve in such a casual way. Clint’s still hoping that one day Bucky will simply go ‘okay then,’ and turn the car in the direction of New York. 

He laces up his boots and pulls his jacket on, watching as Bucky pulls his long coat over his jacket, still with the hood up. They grab their bags and leave the Laundromat, stepping out into the rain. Clint pulls a face as he turns the collar of his jacket up; his sneakers are not remotely waterproof, and he can already feel his water starting to seep in, cold against his toes.

Bucky walks close, head ducked against the rain and shoulder brushing Clint’s. He’d walking so close that Clint thinks that he’d be reaching for Clint’s hand if he thought he could get away with it. He’s not sure why that is; Bucky has been pretty level all day, so why he’d suddenly take a nose dive is beyond Clint. Maybe it was the questions about Steve, or the conversation about potentially being tracked. Maybe he’s just lost somewhere in his own mind, caught up in a memory or sensation that he’s not quite wrapped his head around yet.

He’s grateful to get into the car and out of the rain, is even more so that they’re going to be sleeping in actual beds for the first time in nearly three weeks. Bucky seems to be thinking along the same lines, because they drive for barely fifteen minutes before he’s pulling them off the road and into the parking lot of a motel with a flashing vacancy sign outside. By the time they get there, the rain has increased tenfold and they both get drenched in the short dash across the lot to the building.

“Fuck,” Clint curses as they finally get into their room. “My feet are soaked. I need boots.”

“Is that a hint?” Bucky asks, dropping his bag by the door, kicking it shut and then and looking at Clint expectantly.

“No,” Clint immediately replies, stepping back towards the wall. Bucky nods gratefully and starts on his sweep of the room. “You aren’t allowed to steal anything else.”

“I’m stealing a laptop tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Clint says, watching as Bucky lifts the mattresses and checks behind the headboards. “After that, you’re not allowed to steal anything else.”

 Bucky just shakes his head and disappears into the bathroom. “But you keep getting wet feet,” his voice calls from the bathroom, and there’s a dull thud and a scraping sound. Silence follows for a few seconds, and then he re-appears with a towel in hand. He tosses it across the room to Clint, who catches it reflexively.

 “Okay?”

 “Yeah,” Bucky replies, and shucks his coat, carefully hanging it on the edge of the bathroom door. He strips out of his hooded jacket as well, metal arm gleaming brightly in the light. Clint follows suit, draping the towel over his head as he takes his coat off, followed by his sodden sneakers and his socks. He only hesitates for a moment before stripping out of his jeans as well; the bottom couple of inches are soaked through and cold against his skin. He leaves them on the floor, padding over towards the television. He turns it on, grabs the remote and turns back to clamber onto his bed, sitting back against the headboard with his feet stretched out in front of him.

“This was a great idea,” he says through a yawn. “Bed, how I have missed you.”

Bucky huffs out a soft sound that’s almost a laugh. Clint smiles weakly and shuts his eyes, letting the sounds of the television and Bucky doing his weapons check wash over him, background noise that’s comforting rather than jarring. The minutes bleed into each other and Clint lets himself doze, knowing Bucky is awake enough to be watching the door.

Footsteps coming his way draw him away from his almost-slumber; he opens his eyes just as Bucky sits down on the edge of his bed, his weight dipping the mattress next to Clint’s hip. He looks away, leaning forwards with an elbow on his knee, running his hand over the back of his neck. He’s taken his shirt off, and Clint’s eyes flicker over the metal plate that’s embedded into his shoulder, the way the plates shift and separate as Bucky moves, further layers of metal and circuitry visible in the shadows between.

“I remember yelling at – at Steve for getting himself shot,” he says, stumbling over the name in a way he hasn’t for a while. “In a forest. Italy. He hid from me.”

Clint recognizes the tone of his voice, the careful unsure edge that Bucky gets when he’s speaking about Steve. He’s been doing this more and more recently; coming out with odd things he remembers and sharing it with Clint. Not all of it, not by a long shot; just the parts that he can actually get past his teeth.

“Why did he hide from you?”

“Because I wanted to yell at him for getting shot,” Bucky says, like it’s obvious.  

Clint laughs shortly, taking himself by surprise. He blinks, taps the remote against his mouth. “You’ve remembered a lot from before,” he says, voicing the tentative thought he’d had whilst in the Laundromat. “The forties. Nothing from being the Winter Soldier.”

Bucky shrugs. The plates shift, the dark gaps gaping wider for a moment until he relaxes.

“Unless you’re just not talking about what you remember,” Clint begins.

“No,” Bucky interrupts. “I don’t,” he begins, and heaves out another deep breath. “Those memories are…blurrier. Nastier. Painful.”

His voice cracks on the last word. Clint reaches out without thinking, grasping Bucky’s shoulder. It’s only when he feels cool metal under his palm that he realizes what he’s done.

Bucky turns his head sharply, breathing in through his nose. Clint doesn’t take his hand away, and Bucky makes no move to break his fingers.

“Can you feel it?” Clint asks, the question out of his mouth before he even really thinks about it. He tenses, wondering if he's just crossed a line, breaking the unspoken taboo in regards to Bucky's arm. 

Bucky licks his bottom lip, cleft forming between his brows. “Pressure,” he finally says, and the moment the word is out, the tension vanishes. “I know your hand is there, how hard it’s gripping. But it doesn’t feel like anything.”

Clint nods. “So it doesn’t hurt?”

“No,” Bucky says. “Why you asking?”

Clint shrugs. “Wouldn’t want to think you were in pain.”

“No, it’s fine,” Bucky says. He purses his lips for a moment and then sighs again. “I hate it half the time," he admits, words rushed like he wants them out as quickly and painlessly as possible. "The things I’ve done with it, the people who made it…But then I’ve got two hands to work with. Lot of guys haven’t got that.”

“You are not real,” Clint says matter-of-factly, and Bucky turns to frown at him, uncertain. “No, no,” Clint says. “I just. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

Bucky snorts, shakes his head. “Wouldn’t say that.”

He moves then, shifting around so Clint has to move his hand back. He expects Bucky to stand up and walk away. What he doesn’t expect is for Bucky to clamber onto the bed next to him, sitting right next to him and leaning sideways so his head rests on Clint’s shoulder, body a warm line against his side.

Clint presses his lips together, hard. He stares out at the television, throat gone tight. Bucky’s head is a warm weight on his shoulder, and it’s confusing and welcome and wrong all at once.  Bucky’s legs are stretched out in front of him alongside Clint’s, the dark material of his jeans a stark contrast to Clint’s bare legs.

Clint feels the tension, trembling in his chest. It’s like a breath caught under his ribs, in the back of his throat, and he can’t stand it, he needs to get away-

Bucky’s hand moves, just enough so that his fingers brush against Clint’s wrist.

Clint exhales shakily and the tension disappears like something has unravelled inside of him. The next breath in is easy, his ribs expanding properly, though his eyes feel too warm and bright. Bucky’s weight on his shoulder turns from an unwelcome weight into a comforting pressure. Bucky needs him, and that thought is enough to ease the jagged edges in his mind, smoothing the sudden frantic whirring of his thoughts into something calmer.

 “You really think Steve is still looking,” Bucky murmurs, barely audible over the television.

 “He’s a better guy than I am and I’d be looking for you,” Clint replies quietly.

 Bucky doesn’t reply. He just absently rubs his cheek against Clint’s shoulder, stubble scratching against Clint’s skin. Clint swallows, because it feels like an electric current is running between them, some sort of static tension in the air. He aches to reach out and thread his fingers through Bucky’s, to hold them tightly between his own. He wants to see what Bucky would do, if Clint turned his head and pressed his mouth to Bucky’s hair, if he reached out to gently tip Bucky’s chin up-

No, he tells himself firmly, feeling shaky and unsure. Bucky is – Bucky is not Clint’s, he’s not there for Clint to make a move on, to think about like that. He’s just a guy looking for some comfort after all the shit he’s been through. That’s it. 

He doesn’t move away.

They sit side by side, watching whatever is on the television without really seeing it. Clint can’t stop thinking about the body next to his, the friend that’s leaning on his shoulder like Clint’s actually good for something. It’s only hours later when the room has gone dark and the motel has gone quiet that he realizes Bucky’s somehow gone and fallen asleep against his shoulder that he thinks that actually he is good for something.

It’s a little disconcerting really, to have that level of trust put on his shoulders again. He supposes it’s because Bucky’s standards for friendship are pretty low, considering the company he’s kept over the past seventy years. Either way, Clint feels it like warmth in his stomach, a sort of easy contentment that is almost enough to drown out the indifference.

Eyes on their feet, stretched out in front of them, he considers just shutting his eyes and going to sleep exactly where he is. He decides against it pretty quickly; he doesn’t want to wreck this new feeling by pushing it past its limits, and there’s also the small issue that his neck is starting to ache and his ass has gone completely numb.

It’s a shame to disturb him, really. Bucky is breathing easily and evenly, his eyes moving under their lids as he dreams. The light from the television flickers over his face, grey and bright.

“Barnes,” he murmurs, and he reaches up and gently nudges Bucky’s cheek with his knuckles. “Hey, sleepyhead.”

Bucky stirs, forehead creasing in a frown, and then his whole body goes rigid, tense. There’s a split second in which Clint faintly hears the whirring of the metal plates in his arm, and he opens his mouth to speak-

Bucky lets out a sudden, strangled gasp and he twists around violently, body erupting into motion. Without warning, the back of his hand catches Clint’s temple and Clint’s head snaps to the side with the force of the blow. Ears ringing, he instinctively throws up an arm in front of his face as Bucky shouts something in what sounds like Russian, voice cracked and furious. Dazed, Clint tries to sit up but Bucky is on him, grabbing him by the neck with his metal fingers and shoving him down onto the bed.

Clint grabs at his wrist with both hands, trying to draw in a breath. Bucky’s face comes into focus, blurred around the edges, and his eyes are wild and bright and a thousand miles away. His face is contorted in rage, and oh Christ, what had he been dreaming about before Clint woke him up, how sharp and painful must it be inside his head right now-

“Barnes,” Clint tries to choke out, futilely trying to prise the metal fingers from his neck. “Bu-”

Bucky makes an inhuman noise in the back of his throat, his eyes bright and wild. The fingers tighten, and Clint feels his lungs burning as he tries to draw in a breath, bright spots of light dancing in front of his eyes-

All at once he lets go. Clint gasps, the air rushing into his lungs feeling sharp and cold. He coughs, dragging in rasping breaths, rolling over onto his side as the weight vanishes from his legs.

Bucky’s voice slices through the air, raw and grating. “Oh god, Barton-”

Clint pushes himself up onto an elbow, curling a palm around his undoubtedly bruised throat. “Fuck,” he manages hoarsely. He can breathe though, and god he never thought he would appreciate oxygen as much as he does right now. “I’m okay.”

 “You’re-” Bucky says, voice incredulous and steadily rising in volume and pitch, anger and shock and panic all twisting together. “You’re okay? I nearly-”

There’s shuffling footsteps, a thud. Clint looks up to see Bucky has backed up as far as he can go, his back against the wall and hands clenched into fists at his sides. He’s shaking from head to toe, his gaze wild and unfocused.

Shit.

“You didn’t mean to,” Clint says, dropping his hand from his throat. “Hey, don't sweat it, wasn't your fault-”

He stops talking because Bucky isn’t even listening. His eyes are bright with tears and he looks beyond horrified at what he’s just done. He’s still trembling, and Clint can hear the mechanics in his arm whirring as he convulsively clenches and unclenches his fist.

“Barnes,” Clint says again, and his eyes flick to the door and back again. Bucky is far too close to it.  “Barnes, listen to me.”

Bucky’s eyes snap to his. “I nearly broke your neck,” he says, the words tumbling out in an untidy rush. “I was trying to strangle you-”

“No you weren’t,” Clint says. “What were you dreaming about?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bucky shouts at him, and he reaches up with both hands to grip onto his hair. “I was trying to fucking kill you-”

“No you weren’t!” Clint shouts back as best he can, his raw voice catching hoarsely. “You would never-”

“How can you say that, I just-”

“You were having a fucking nightmare and I woke you up! It was not your fault!”

Bucky opens his mouth, but no words come out. He draws in a shuddering breath, and much more of this and he’s going to lose it. He’s either going to flip out, cry or bolt, and Clint can’t even tolerate the thought of Bucky walking out, not now-

Clint stands up, holding a hand out, fingers spread like he’s reaching for something to hold onto. “Barnes,” he says quietly, and it breaks his heart the way Bucky tenses all over again, looking like a rabbit in the headlights. “Barnes. I don’t care. Just – don’t go. Please, just-”

He takes a step. “You didn’t mean to,” he says. “Yeah, it hurt. No, I don’t blame you. Just – just say sorry and give me a fucking hug or something-”

Bucky blinks and his eyes meet Clint’s again. This time, they look more human. No less pained, though. “Not touching you again,” he says, and his eyes dart towards the door. Clint has to clench his jaw tightly, chin trembling almost imperceptibly because Bucky can't go, not now-

“Don’t say that,” Clint replies, a half laugh that’s way too close to tears slipping free. “Don’t.”

“I will not hurt you again,” Bucky says, but he sounds more broken now, the fight slowly bleeding out of him as Clint takes another step.

“Hurt me more if you went away,” Clint says. “Barnes. You’re the only person – remember when you yelled at me, told me I had to need you too? This is it. I need you.”

“But I hurt you-”

“Yeah, and I need you to come and put it right,” Clint tells him, voice wavering. His hand is still outstretched. “Need you more than you hurt me.”

And something clicks. Bucky makes an aborted move forwards, jerky and unsure. His chin trembles, he presses his lips hard together and exhales sharply. Hesitant, Clint steps forwards again, and then again and again until Bucky is within arms reach-

Bucky draws in a shuddering breath and right before his eyes, Clint watches him pull himself together through nothing but sheer force of will. His jaw clenches tight as he shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath in, exhaling through clenched teeth. He opens his eyes and steps forwards, reaching for Clint’s wrist and wrapping metal fingers around it. He pulls him close, hauling him into a rough hug. Clint goes willingly, surging forwards and collapsing into him. Holding Clint's hand to his chest, Bucky wraps his real arm around Clint’s shoulders and pulls him in close so Clint’s face is buried in his shoulder. Clint wraps his free arm around Bucky, hand sliding into the small of Bucky’s back, bare skin warm under his palm.

“I got you,” Bucky says, and his mouth pressed to Clint's temple, the words whispered against warm skin. “You’re okay, I got you.”

“Shut up,” Clint says, because he's almost dizzy with relief and Bucky is bare and warm against him; It feels horrifyingly intimate and still he doesn't want to let go. The actions are almost too much by themselves, and if Bucky starts talking as well, Clint doesn’t think he’ll be able to stand it.   

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says. “Fuck, Barton-”

“I’m alright,” Clint tells him, not lifting his face away from the curve of Bucky’s shoulder, eyes clenching shut. “Just bruised. Should have known better than to wake you up like that.”

“I was dreaming about Hydra,” Bucky says abruptly. “I woke up and I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what I was-”

“I know,” Clint says, brow furrowing as he fights back a painful surge of emotion, a small frantic part of him inwardly begging Bucky to shut up, to stop fucking talking-

“I did so much,” Bucky says, and his arm tightens around Clint’s shoulders. By now Clint thinks that Bucky is clinging to him just as much as Clint is Bucky. His voice strains like he wants to force the words back in. “I did so many terrible things. I can’t go back to Steve – god, the things I did. I killed so many people–”

“You didn’t know what you were doing,” Clint says, and the words tumbling free from Bucky are still edging closer and closer to things in his own heart that he’s not going to talk about, the things that make the world vanish from under his feet in a chest-crushing void of panic, that make his lungs stop working and fear rise like bile in the back of his throat-

He coughs, forcing a breath in and wresting the dangerous slide of his thoughts back into place. Tell him, a voice in his head shouts, and it sounds like Phil. He’ll understand, even if no-one else will. Tell him, you idiot.

“Barton?” Bucky says, and his voice is rough and almost concerned. He sounds miles away, echoing and distant. “Hey, you’re shaking-”

Strong hands pull Clint back and he doesn't want to go, he wants to stay curled up safe and warm against Bucky for the rest of forever. His neck aches, a dull throbbing that’s made worse by the way his throat has gone tight, and he can feel his tenuous grip on control sliding away from him like water down a storm-drain-

“Move,” Bucky says, and he’s pushing Clint over towards the bed, making him sit down. Clint goes without a fight, almost like he’s in trance, mind not wanting to connect with the rest of the world. Everything is a thousand miles away, and Clint doesn't care, doesn't want to go back. Bucky crouches down in front of him and pushes Clint’s chin up with his real fingers, metal hand resting on Clint’s knee. “Hey, Barton, stay with me,” Bucky says, and now he really does sound worried. “Wait there.”

He rises, pads quickly into the bathroom. Distantly Clint hears the tap turn on. He lifts a hand to rub at his forehead and he realises how badly it’s shaking. He hadn’t even noticed.

Bucky comes back into the room with a small, damp towel in his hand. He kneels down in front of Clint again and shoves at his knees, wedging himself between Clint’s legs. Clint’s knees brush his ribs as he rises up and nudges Clint’s chin up again, gently placing the cold towel against his aching neck.

The cold drags Clint forcibly back into full awareness, a sharp breath in that seems to jerk him back into the moment. He hadn’t noticed how far away he was slipping until he was back; he’s now hyper aware of Bucky kneeling between his legs, body only a few inches from Clint’s. He’s aware of the sound of the TV, the foggy wash of sound  crystallizing into something real. The room is still dark, only lit by the white light from the television, shining bright and grey on Bucky’s arm and glinting off of his eyes, still fixed on Clint’s face.

He’s very close, Clint thinks somewhere in a distant part of his mind. Close enough so that Clint can see how bright his eyes are, can see the lights of the television flickering over his face, can see the faint stubble on his jaw.

Bucky adjusts his hold on the towel slightly and the barest touch of his fingers against Clint’s neck has him wanting to lean in and bridge the gap between them.

He swallows painfully. Bucky’s eyes are still on his, holding his gaze in a way that is way too open and real. Everything feels too close to the surface, and Bucky is still right there next to him, looking at him like that-

“Come on,” Bucky says, and he eases back, lifting Clint’s hand and getting him to hold the cold compress on his neck himself. The moment between them fades. “Lie down. You look exhausted.”

Clint doesn’t have it in him to argue. He lets Bucky shove him over onto the bed, lying down on his side. Bucky sits on the edge of the bed and takes the cold compress from him, turning it over and reapplying it to Clint’s neck.

“Thank you,” Clint mumbles and Bucky nods and he doesn’t exactly relax, but some of the lingering tension seems to ease from his frame.

“Shouldn't be thanking me," he says, somewhat shortly. "I did it.”

“Don’t care,” Clint mutters, words forming before he’s had chance to think about them. “You’re fixing it.”

Bucky almost smiles at that, a faint contemplative hitch to the corner of his mouth. "Guess I am," he says quietly. His eyes slide over Clint’s face and with his free hand he reaches out. He hesitates for a fraction of a second, just long enough for Clint to notice, and then he slides his metal fingers through Clint’s hair.

Clint shuts his eyes, feeling tears threatening behind his closed eyelids. He aches for Bucky to carry on, to stay close, but he’s in danger of falling apart under these hands, and he’s not sure he can afford to.

He suddenly feels very, very tired. Of what, he’s not sure.

Bucky continues to stroke his fingers through Clint’s hair, and Clint feels himself edging towards sleep, body and mind both exhausted. It’s not lost on him that several weeks ago he wouldn't have trusted anyone to be in his personal space, and now he’s being looked after by and falling asleep in the hands of an assassin who tried to throttle him not half an hour ago.

He’s only vaguely aware of the bed shifting as Bucky finally moves, of the cold towel being lifted away from his neck. He hears the rustle of clothing but doesn't think much of it, and then feels a body lying down next to his, only a few inches away.

For a moment, he distantly wonders if he should push himself back towards wakefulness, but the thought is gone almost as soon as it’s formed, drifting away into unimportance. He breathes in and out deeply and grunts sleepily in the back of his throat as he feels fingers gently touch his neck.

The fingers move, and then there’s a palm on the side of his neck, thumb stroking at his jaw. He relaxes and shifts closer to the source of warmth. He vaguely registers bare legs brushing against his own, a blanket being dragged across him, the gentle press of a mouth against his temple and then he’s gone, slipping willingly into the darkness.

 

Chapter Text

Clint slowly feels himself waking up, mind sliding from nothingness into a vague consciousness that gradually becomes aware that he’s very warm, very tired and very close to someone else. From his half-asleep realizations, his first proper thought emerges as a groggy and perplexed ‘what the hell?’ and he has a brief moment of panic before the memory part of his brain properly engages and informs him that the warm weight in the bed next to him is Bucky.

Next to him is sort of a misnomer though. More like sort of next to him, sort of wrapped up around him like a clingy octopus. Clint is curled up on his side with his knees drawn up, his left arm tucked up against his chest. His right arm is slung forwards over Bucky’s waist, forearm resting comfortably in the dip just above his hipbone. Apparently it’s not just him who has somehow developed a penchant for cuddling; Bucky is wrapped just as impossibly around him. His chin is resting on top of Clint’s head, his right arm is slipped under Clint’s pillow and his left arm is draped over his shoulder.

He doesn’t think he’s ever woken up so confused in his life, and yes he is including the time he woke up to find that an entire building had been demolished around him while he’d been knocked out. Bucky is warm and solid and strong, and this is the last place he should feel safe, considering everything that’s happened between them, not just the strangling incident the night before. God, if that’s not proof of what a train wreck they are, he doesn’t know what is.

Bucky is also obviously awake, because where his left arm is curled around Clint’s shoulder, his fingers are resting on Clint’s back between his shoulder blades and his metal fingertips are stroking gently against the material of Clint’s t-shirt, a constant back and forth drag that Clint has no hope of ignoring.

He doesn’t want Bucky to know he’s awake. He remembers the night before all too clearly, and he wishes he had no recollection of the abject fear he’d felt in that moment where it looked like Bucky was going to bolt.  He doesn’t blame Bucky for what happened at all, and he’s hoping that Bucky won’t slide back into feeling guilty.

Feigning sleep, Clint shifts slightly, eyes still closed. His neck aches from where Bucky had grabbed him and from not lying properly atop the combination of pillow and arm, and Bucky’s metal arm is a heavy weight on his shoulder. His head is pounding, and he thinks he’s probably got a hell of a bruise on his temple from where Bucky backhanded him.

His thoughts derail all over again as Bucky’s fingers slide up his back to the neck of his shirt, back down to rest between his shoulder blades. Clint fights a shiver, keeping his breathing even because his mouth is open and almost right against the skin of Bucky’s bare collarbone. God, he’s so close he can almost taste him.

He doesn’t know what to do.

His first option is to get up and move away as soon as possible, because having another person so close feels terrifying, and not in a scared of being bodily injured kind of way. With every moment that they get physically closer, he feels himself edging closer in other ways too, and he’s not sure he can handle it. Even as he thinks it, his mind again turns back to that feeling when he thought Bucky was going to leave over what he did. God, the thought of Bucky being somewhere without Clint slices like a knife, cutting at places that Clint didn’t think anyone would ever get to again. 

He swallows, unconsciously nosing closer to Bucky so his nose brushes against his skin. He smells of skin and sweat and metal, and Clint thinks that what he said last night was true, that he’s beginning to need Bucky more than this could potentially hurt.

 God, he’s so screwed.

 “You okay?”

Bucky’s soft voice breaks his thoughts, and Clint’s pretend-to-be-asleep plan collapses like a poorly constructed tower of cards. He should have known that Bucky would be able to tell the moment he was awake. He debates replying, but he thinks the moment he hears his own voice then everything will seem way too real, so he settles for just nodding, head still tucked under Bucky’s chin.

“Got a black eye,” Bucky murmurs. Clint shrugs half-heartedly, because he really doesn’t care.

They lapse back into silence. Bucky makes no move to put any distance between them, and Clint helplessly feels himself shifting closer again.

He should probably stop fighting this.

You don’t even know he wants you, a cruel voice in the back of his head reminds him, and it’s true. Bucky could be completely oblivious to whatever it is that Clint’s feeling, just seeking closeness and comfort from a friend. He doesn’t know Bucky well enough to gauge what this is.

There’s a brief moment of silence, and then Bucky moves, but it’s to pull Clint closer, both arms wrapping around his shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” he says quietly.

Clint wants to say silent, but he knows that he’s got to acknowledge the apology with more than just another nod. “It’s okay,” he says, voice hoarse. “All of my friends have beat me up at some point.”

“I bet you usually deserve it,” Bucky says, and then he lets go of Clint, shifting back. “You didn’t deserve that-”

“If we start trying to work out who deserves what, we’ll be here forever,” Clint says, and he moves too, sensing that the moment is over. He pulls back and sits up, lifting a hand to his head and gingerly touching his temple. He looks up at Bucky and his stomach jolts; Bucky is sitting up with his fists planted on the mattress either side of his hips, and he’s sleepy and rumpled and is already looking straight at Clint.

Maybe the moment isn’t as over as he thought.

Their eyes meet and Bucky looks away, clearing his throat. For a moment it looks like he’s going to speak, but then he just clambers up off of the bed and pads towards the bathroom, scratching at the back of his head.

Clint watches him go, eyes flicking down across Bucky’s shoulders and to the dip of his back just above where his sweatpants are riding precariously low on his hips. As Bucky pushes the bathroom door open with his left hand, he reaches back to hitch his sweatpants up, rubbing at his back just above the base of his spine, where the curve of his ass begins. Clint looks away immediately, pressing his lips together hard as he feels a tell-tale nervous swoop in the pit of his stomach, a faint warmth in his groin.

“Shit,” he mouths, leaning forwards with his elbows on his knees with his head in his hands. Oh god no, he thinks desperately, because this is really not the fucking time for his sex drive to make a comeback.  Since New York he hasn’t had any desire or inclination to have sex, hasn’t even really thought about it, but he put that down to the fact he couldn’t even bear to be in the same room as anyone he knew, couldn’t trust anyone he didn’t know. The thought of letting someone close enough for sex was wearying at best, and downright frightening at worse.

But you know Bucky and you trust Bucky, he starts to think, before another part of him very loudly says are you actually kidding?! He can almost hear Phil shouting ‘CLINT, NO,’ because he cannot be thinking about Bucky like that -

 God. Steve is going to kill him.

Well, he doesn’t know that for certain, but he’s pretty sure there might be something in the bro code that says it’s not okay to be sleeping with your teammate’s long-lost best friend turned assassin, without either asking some sort of permission or even making an effort to tell said teammate that you’re sleeping with his long-lost best friend turned assassin.

Not that they’re even sleeping together like that. Not that they’re going to sleep together like that, because Clint may be an idiot sometimes but he’s not that stupid.

“Calm down, Barton,” he mutters to himself, and pushes his fingers back through his hair before rubbing at the injured side of his face. He takes a deep breath and pulls himself together.

Ignore it and it will go away, he tells himself. No more looking, no thinking, and no lying on the dude when he’s not wearing a shirt.

There’s the sound of the toilet flushing and then taps running in the sink, a few muffled footsteps and then Bucky comes back out of the bathroom. He seems completely oblivious to Clint’s predicament, wandering back over and sitting on the edge of the bed with one foot tucked up underneath him. There’s a small frown on his face, and he’s gnawing absently at his lip. 

For a moment, it looks like he’s going to say something, but then he just gets up again and walks over to the other bed, grabbing his shirt and pulling it on. “We need to move on today,” he says. “I don’t want to spend two nights in a row in the same place.”

“Alright,” Clint says, and clambers off the bed, yawning and scratching his stomach below his bellybutton. “Are you still planning on stealing more shit today?”

“Yes,” Bucky says, quickly pulling his jacket on and then sliding his coat over the top, pulling out the hood. “Why, you want anything?”

“No,” Clint says.

Bucky looks at him. “Boots?”

“No,” Clint says, insistent. “Don’t get yourself caught over something dumb like that.”

“Okay,” Bucky says easily, and Clint shakes his head because Bucky is blatantly not listening to him. He walks over to the window, shifting the curtain and looking out. “You shower and get packed up, I’ll meet you in the car in sixty minutes.”

“Don’t get caught,” Clint says. Bucky just gives him a flat look and tugs the hood up over his head.

“Keys are on the counter,” he says, and then he’s pulling his own boots on and then he's gone.

Clint watches the door close and then flops backwards onto the bed, bouncing slightly on the mattress. He plants his palms over his eyes and then promptly hisses in pain as he presses too hard on the bruise that surrounds his eye. Taking his hand away, he rests one on his stomach and lets the other dangle off the edge of the bed, still trying to work out exactly how he’s ended up at this point in his life.

Natasha would have a field day if she knew, Clint thinks dully. The words sting in a way they haven’t before, sharp and acidic against his insides. Before it always felt like she was gone, out of his reach in some way, across a divide that he wasn’t going to be able to bridge. But now, it feels like…almost like he misses her.

A part of him wants to lie there all day, but he can’t seem to get the hang of just sitting around in indifference anymore. It’s almost like his brain feels like it’s woken up, full of thoughts and feelings that he had long given up on. It’s not exactly welcome, and he still thinks that he’d be better off alone. Well, most of him thinks that.

Listening to the awake part of himself, he gets up and heads to the bathroom. He takes his time showering and shaving,  getting rid of the few days of stubble on his jaw and resolutely not thinking about how Bucky’s metal fingers might feel dragging against smooth skin.  

Fifty-eight minutes later and he’s clean and presentable and almost all packed up. All their clothes and stuff are in Bucky’s duffel bag; the only thing left out is his bow, but he can’t quite bring himself to put it away. He sits on the edge of the bed he and Bucky shared with his bow laid across his knees, fingers resting on the cold metal of the riser. He stares down at it, and out of nowhere he suddenly wonders if Bucky knows how many lives it’s taken.

It’s only because Loki is a twisted fuck that none of the Avengers have been added to the tally. If he’d wanted Clint to take them out while he had a chance instead of waiting for his big dramatic showdown, they wouldn’t have been able to do shit about it. Well, not that he could have taken Banner out, now he knows what he knows. But the others; Natasha is quick but not as quick as an arrow; the same goes for Steve, though if anyone had reflexes capable of dodging a shot from the bow, it’d be him; Stark – he’d probably stand there thinking that his goddamn suit of armor would be enough to protect him, like Clint didn’t have armor piercing arrows, like Clint hadn’t already picked out nine weak spots that he could get through without even pausing.

He thinks of how he’d once wished he’d killed the Winter Soldier when he had a chance. Thinks of the arrow sinking into Bucky’s shoulder, how he’d been aiming to slow him down, how he’d not even been shooting to kill. He thinks of the hydra agents, dead before they even knew Clint was there.

He’s starting to think too quickly. He’s breathing shallowly. He hasn’t even noticed.

Would you ever give up? 

Bucky’s question echoes in his mind, breaking through the tumult of confusion. Clint shuts his eyes, fingers tightening on his bow.

I owe too many people too many debts to give up.

Though how he can ever hope of making it up to them is beyond him. What he did – What he let happen cost the lives of good men, nearly cost the lives of thousands more. It cost him Phil.

Scared I’ll hurt them again. Scared they won’t forgive me. Or that they will, and I’ll wreck it by not wanting them to.

He’s on his feet before he can think about it, bow in hand. He grabs his case and pulls an arrow out, nocking it on the string and pulling back to full draw. He’s holding his breath, his eyes are closed. His entire body is tense, and it’s not a compound bow but he can still stay like this for a hell of a long time, and if Loki comes through that door he’s going to nail him right between the eyes.

“Barton.”

But what if it’s Natasha that comes through the door, and he’s not quick enough? What if his hands move quicker than his eyes and brain can recognize her? What if it’s Steve that comes through the door and Clint shoots Captain America down?

“Barton?”

This thing in his hands is deadly, he’s always known that it’s deadly, but now he doesn’t know what the right call is, and he can’t be trusted with it-

“Barton. Clint.”

A soft voice, sliding under his skin like sunlight through water. Gentle hands. One on his forearm, one on the back of his neck. Someone is very close, and he’s got life and death in his hands and why are they standing so close? He can’t be trusted-

“I got you,” the voice says. “The room’s clear, Barton. No-one in here but you and me. Relax that thing when you’re ready.”

Bucky.

The suffocating pressure that Clint hadn’t even noticed creeping up on him slides away; sunlight stealing over the landscape as clouds recede, green fields and grey asphalt lightening as darkness gives way to brightness. Bucky is standing right up close, so close that his body brushing Clint’s. His hands are still on him, one warm and one cool.

“There you go,” Bucky says, voice low and deliberate. “Barton, put the bow down. Come on, whatever it is, it’s in your head. I got you.”

Clint shudders, and then he slowly lowers the bow, relaxing the string and taking it out of full draw.  He’s trembling from head to foot, shaky and out of sorts. Bucky gently pushes his arm down all the way, and Clint wishes that they were still in bed, that he’d never gotten up, that he’d never had to start thinking-

He opens his mouth to say something, to apologize, to tell Bucky to get away, but he can’t. His breath catches on the edge of tears, and he’s horrified and humiliated that he’s this out of control again.

Strong hands pull his bow from his grip, and then he’s being pushed down, made to sit. He goes without resistance, slumping onto the edge of the bed and covering his face with shaking hands.

He hears Bucky moving around in front of him, then a voice close to his face, soft and sighing. “You are a mess.”

Clint makes a noise that was probably supposed to have been a laugh. “Tell me about it.”

“Hey,” Bucky says, and he tries to pull Clint’s hands away from his face. This time the noise Clint makes is an angry one; he shoves Bucky away with one hand, pushing hard on his shoulder. A normal person would have been knocked back on their ass considering the crouch that Bucky is in, but he manages to stay balanced, rocking easily back onto the balls of his feet before shifting so he’s on his knees instead of crouched down. This time he doesn’t try and get at Clint’s face again; he just wraps his arms around his shoulders and holds him tight. Somehow, that’s okay.

“It gets you too, huh?” Bucky says, and his hand is stroking over the back of Clint’s neck.

“It’s my bow and I’m afraid of it,” Clint bites out before he can even think about stopping himself. “I’m afraid of me.”

“Welcome to the club,” Bucky says blandly and Clint chokes on a laugh. He takes a deep breath, focusses on the feel of metal fingers stroking over the back of his head, until he feels less like he’s about to shake apart at the seams.

“I’m okay,” he finally says, letting his chin dip until it nearly touches his chest, and he’s relieved to find it’s not a lie. Bucky’s hand follows, sliding down to rest against the back of Clint’s neck. “I’m alright. Just got lost for a moment.” 

Bucky nods. “It’s easy to do,” he says, and he slides his hand around so his fingers are tucked under Clint’s jaw. He just stays there for a moment, signalling his intent before he pushes Clint’s chin up. “Back with me?”

Clint meets his eyes for a fleeting second, but has to avert his gaze. “Yeah,” he says, staring down at Bucky’s thighs, the denim stretched taught over muscle.

“Good,” Bucky says. “You need a moment?”

“No,” Clint says, and takes a deep breath. “No, I’m good. Let’s go.”

Bucky doesn’t hesitate or ask any more questions regarding Clint’s ability to get up and move. He just nods and stands up, a single easy, graceful movement. He grabs the bags but leaves Clint to carry the bow and his case of arrows, trailing behind as they leave the room and get into the car.

Clint throws himself into the passenger seat, immediately reaching to make sure the heaters are on. His fingers are almost completely steady as he fiddles with the dials, and he frowns absent-mindedly. A few weeks ago, a panic attack like that would have left him on his ass for hours, if not days, and he’s already walking and talking and able to think in a straight line.

Bucky slides into the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind him and reaching for the heaters, dropping his fingers away when he realizes they’re already on. He slides the keys into the ignition and then stops, humming in the back of his throat and twisting around in his seat. “Oh yeah, here,” he says, and he reaches into the back and grabs a box, shoving it over towards Clint. Clint takes it with the faintest edge of a smile, because he already knows what’s in it and he doesn’t have the heart to tell Bucky off for stealing stuff.

“How do you know my shoe size?”

“I don’t,” Bucky says, starting up the ignition. “I got them small so if they don’t fit then all I have to do is cut your toes off.”

Clint snorts, pulling the box open. Inside are a pair of heavy-duty black boots, not too different from his old SHIELD ones. He runs his fingers over the thick material and then nods.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Bucky says. “You can owe me.”

“I have thirty-eight dollars to my name,” Clint says, pulling one of the boots out and sliding his fingers under the laces, tugging them loose. “And Steve kind of blew up the only people in the world willing to employ me.”

Bucky snorts. “Wasn’t just Steve,” he says quietly.

“Hurrah for teamwork,” Clint deadpans, and Bucky just shakes his head, shooting him a flat look out of the corner of his eye.

They settle into a comfortable silence as the car – a Toyota CUV that’s the most comfortable and expensive thing that they’ve borrowed yet – eats up the miles. Clint relaces his boots and puts them on, then slumps down and just lazily watches the scenery go by, tucking his hands into the pockets of his jacket and propping his feet up on the dash. They drive for hours but he doesn’t question it, trusting that Bucky has some sort of plan even if he’s not all that forthcoming about it.

It's late afternoon and he’s half way asleep when the car screeches to a halt, nearly throwing him off the edge of his seat. Heart leaping into his throat, he scrambles to sit up, grabbing hold of his bow-

“Sorry,” Bucky says, not sounding at all sorry. Leaving the car running, he gets out and walk away, leaving the door open.

“You asshole!” Clint shouts after him, and then belatedly looks around to get his bearings. The CUV is parked on a road that’s little more than a track, in front of a chain-link fence, the gate of which is held together by a rusted chain and padlock.  To his right is a steep, rugged slope covered in trees and undergrowth; to his left a pretty impressive drop into what looks like an abandoned quarry.

“The hell are we?” he shouts, peering around. He watches as Bucky strolls up to the fence and yanks the chain free with his left hand. He grabs the gate and hauls it back, and then walks back towards the car.

“Bro, this is like the set up to a bad horror film,” Clint says as Bucky gets in and shuts the door. “Why are we here? Hang on – we’re not about to find a bunch of displaced Hydra agents hiding in the woods, are we?” 

“No,” Bucky says, and doesn’t offer any more. He drives the car for another few minutes until they round a bend. The track opens up into an overgrown grassy space; at the far end there’s a set of run-down timber buildings that look like they've been there for years but also like they’d fall down in a strong wind at any moment.

Clint looks around warily, not entirely comfortable with being somewhere he doesn’t know, somewhere so remote. Bucky kills the engine and climbs out of the car, turning to look at Clint.

“Come on,” he says, jerking his chin. “Bring your bow.”

“What? Why?”

“Just bring it.”

“You said there were no Hydra agents,” Clint says, and Bucky gives him an odd look.

“There aren’t,” he says. “Come on.”

He walks away, looking around as he does. His right hand is held close to his hip, ready to grab at whatever weapons he’s got stashed on his person today.  Clint grits his teeth as Bucky walks away towards the buildings, and then curses under his breath and follows him out of the car. He hesitates and then unpacks his quiver and arrows from his case, not entirely trusting their luck. Eyes still scanning the area, he slips his quiver onto his back, pulling a single arrow out and silently nocking it onto his bow.

It’s so, so quiet. Eerily so. The grass around them is up to his knees, damp against the denim of his jeans. He feels strangely out of place yet like he belongs somewhere like this. He can’t work out it it’s because he feels like he deserves to be alone, or if it’s because he needs the peace.

Bucky is still walking away, the grass swishing gently as he strides through it. His chin is tipped up as he looks around, and as Clint watches he reaches out to trail his real fingers along the top of the grass. In that moment he looks utterly carefree and relaxed, like the rest of the word doesn’t matter. Like it barely even exists.

Clint slowly takes the arrow off of the bowstring, slips it back into his quiver. He takes a deep breath and follows Bucky. The anxiety he feels is still swirling in the pit of his stomach, though he knows if he stays close to Bucky it probably won’t edge into panic or anger or anything too unmanageable.

Stopping a good way away from the rotting timber buildings, Bucky waits for Clint to catch up to him, standing with his feet apart and his arms folded contemplatively over his chest. 

“What you looking at?” Clint asks, looking around. The place still looks to be utterly deserted, and he’s none the wiser as to why Bucky has bothered to bring them here.

Bucky juts his chin at the rotting building, his expression contemplative.  “Could you hit that beam above the door from here?”

Something uneasy and defensive twists in Clint’s chest, and he doesn’t like what Bucky is suggesting. “The fuck are you on about?”

“That thing,” Bucky says, and he nods towards the bow. “It’s the most important thing to you on the damn planet and I’ve never seen you shoot it just because you can.” 

“Stop playing fucking therapist,” Clint says shortly, and he turns on his heel and starts to walk away. “You’re either grossly under or over qualified.”

“I bet you couldn’t.”

Clint stops. He stares down at his feet, breathing out through his mouth even as his fingers tighten on his bow. “That’s not going to work.”

“It’s only about three inches wide,” Bucky muses contemplatively.

“Barnes, stop,” Clint says, and he can feel his throat going tight, anger making the back of his neck hot. He’s practically told Bucky that he doesn’t want to shoot, that he doesn't trust himself with the bow, so why is he fucking pushing-

“That’s about seventy feet,” Bucky continues in the same maddeningly casual voice. “And you’re out of practice.”

“It’s seventy four and a half feet, and fuck you,” Clint replies, his voice cracking.

“Hit it,” Bucky challenges.

“Fuck you,” Clint says again.

“Hit it!” Bucky insists.

“I’ll hit that if you go and see Steve,” Clint snaps back.

Bucky takes a violent step towards him, but Clint doesn’t so much as flinch. Bucky steps right up to him, his face only a few inches from Clint’s, eyes flashing.

“Shut up, and shoot,” he breathes, low and threatening. His breath is hot on Clint’s face. “I’ve seen the footage from New York. And I know you. Now shoot.”

He steps back, and his eyes are still fixed on Clint’s face. Clint doesn’t break his gaze, and slowly the sharp edges inside seem to melt away. It’s still so quiet, and he can feel the cold of the breeze lifting his hair, tugging at his jacket. He blinks, and in the back of his mind he’s working out how strong the gusts are, how that’s going to affect trajectory and flight, all those numbers and calculations that he knows are happening but can never quite fully explain or grasp-

-and even though he’s doing exactly what Bucky wants, he’s reaching back for an arrow. It’s nocked on the bow before he’s even thought about it, and he only has to glance once at the target.

He breathes in, the string goes back, it brushes his nose.

He lets fly.

“Son of a bitch,” Bucky says, sounding impressed. 

Clint exhales, and lowers his bow. He slowly looks up, and he sees the arrow embedded in the middle of the beam. “Happy now?” he asks quietly. “Just because I’m an emotionally incompetent idiot whose best friend in the world is a piece of trash ex-hydra assassin, doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how to shoot.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Piece of trash ex-hydra assassin?”

“Utter trash,” Clint says. “I should shoot you.”

“Again?” Bucky challenges, but then he smiles. He looks right at Clint and smiles. “Bet you can’t do it twice.”

Clint shakes his head, knowing that resistance is futile. “Go get the car,” he says, reaching back to grab another arrow. “Pull it up and take a seat.”

Bucky lifts an eyebrow. “You gonna give me a show?”

“Yep,” Clint says. “And I’m also going to make you fetch every arrow.”

“No deal,” Bucky says, stepping back. “I will clap appropriately if you do anything impressive though.”

“I’ll take it,” Clint says. He nocks the arrow on his bow, breathing in and out softly and wondering if he can really let himself enjoy this again. He hears the swishing of the grass as Bucky walks away, and then stands up straight, lifting the bow once more.

 


 

“You now have…five hundred and ninety four and a half points,” Bucky says lazily as Clint returns with a fistful of arrows, picking his way through the grass and across the uneven ground.  

“What fucking scoring system have you been using?”

“You could have earned five nine five points, but I docked you a half for complaining,” Bucky tells him from where he’s still reclining on the hood of the CUV, leaning back against the windshield with an arm tucked behind his head. In his metal fingers is a knife, and he’s dexterously flipping it over and over, the blade glinting as it catches the last of the light. Bucky’s face is lit by the same mellow light, orange and warm across his skin, a contrast to the chill in the air.

“Fuck off,” Clint says as he shoves all but one arrow back in his quiver.

“I’m taking ten points for that,” Bucky says.

“You’re hilarious,” Clint deadpans. “You should have left your sense of humor back in the forties, it's just too good for this decade.”

“Don’t even know if it is from the forties,” Bucky says as Clint rapidly nocks an arrow, lifts the bow and shoots. The arrow sails true and Clint feels the corner of his mouth kick up, already reaching for the next.

“What do you mean?” he asks. His eyes watch a leaf spiral down towards the ground, blown from one of the trees over by the buildings. He hums contemplatively and nocks the arrow, waiting and watching.

Bucky exhales slowly. “Well, I’m not just going to be that guy from the forties, am I?” he says, and it sounds like a bit of a question. “I won’t just go back to that.”

“Bucky Barnes Two Point Oh,” Clint says, and shrugs. “Hey, even if you don’t end up exactly as you were, I wouldn’t sweat it. You’re not all bad.”

“You think it’s that easy?”

“I don’t think there’s any point making it complicated,” Clint says. He spots another leaf drift down, and doesn’t hesitate. He draws, looses, and the leaf is snatched out of the air by the arrow, gone in a blink.

“Not bad,” Bucky says. “Lucky you weren’t working for the good guys when they were trying to take me out.”

“Lucky I’m not a good guy anymore,” Clint says indifferently.

Bucky just tosses the knife up, snatching it out of the air. “Clint Barton, two point oh?”

“Something like that,” Clint says, and decides to quickly turn the conversation away from himself and back to Bucky. “Hey, how much do you remember from the forties, anyway? You must have remembered enough if you’re able to compare then and now.”

“Quite a lot,” Bucky says slowly. “Some of it is still fuzzy. Some of it’s like glass.”

 Clint doesn’t ask if that means it’s clear or sharp and breakable. He thinks it’s maybe all three. “What do you remember then?”

Bucky balances the knife on the tip of a metal finger. Clint watches his hand move, admiring the skill for a moment before turning back to his target.

“I liked dancing.”

Clint feels his eyebrows lift. “Dancing?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says with a deprecating smile. “Going out, drinking, dancing, having a good time. Making people laugh. Didn’t so much like being by myself.”

“Doesn’t sound much like you,” Clint concedes, even as a part of him is pointing out that Bucky kidnapped him and hasn’t left his side since. Not exactly the mark of a true loner.

 “Hard to tell,” Bucky says. He rolls his head lazily sideways, into the light. He blinks slowly, eyelashes dark smudges against his cheekbones.

 Clint looks away. “What else?”

 “Playing cards,” Bucky says, eyes half-lidded. “Cheating at cards. Being out-cheated by Steve.”

 Clint turns and points an arrow at him. “Captain America does not cheat at cards.”

 “He does,” Bucky says with such certainty, but then it fades. “I think he did. He used to. When we’d play, and none of the guys would ever suspect…”

 “Back to you,” Clint says, because that’s Bucky’s troubled-Steve-expression, and he doesn’t like seeing it. “What else do you remember?”

Bucky hesitates. He turns his face away from Clint and the setting sun, staring down at the target so his face is half shadowed. “I remember shooting a woman between the eyes, while her kid cried in a crib in the corner of the room.”

Clint doesn’t move, the words slowly sinking in. He blinks, refocusing on his target, and then releases the arrow. It sinks into the door, exactly where he wanted it.

“Where?” he asks neutrally, reaching back for another arrow.

“Europe,” Bucky replies, just as calmly.

“Feel guilty?” Clint asks.

“Yes,” Bucky replies, but then surprises Clint by adding, “but also no. Like, I don’t know what she did to deserve it, if anything. She might have been a terrorist. She might have been in possession of intel that could have seen hundreds more die. She could have nothing more than a revenge hit. I don’t know.”

Clint doesn’t say anything to that. He just takes it in, nocking the next arrow on his bow, fingers playing over the string.

“I don’t get why you don’t remember everything,” he finally says. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “Maybe someone messed with my head somehow.”

Clint shivers. He draws his last arrow.

“Any requests?”

Bucky sits up, looking from Clint down to the buildings. “Yeah,” he finally says, and slides off the hood. “Get ready.”

Clint knows what he’s going to do before he’s even moved. He draws the string back just as Bucky pulls his arm back and hurls the knife through the air. Clint watches, follows, breathes-

There’s a sound crack as the arrow hits the knife, sending both spinning off in different directions.

“Hundred points,” Bucky says, and Clint laughs shortly.

“Wondered what it was going to take to impress you,” he says, and Bucky shoots him an amused look.

“You all done?” he asks. “Running out of light.”

“Yeah,  I think so,” Clint says. “You hungry?”

Bucky nods. “You go collect and I’ll find some food.”

Clint salutes him sloppily and walks away to collect his arrows. He can hear birds in the trees around them singing as the last of the day fades away, and a part of him wishes that he could stay here forever. Out here, he feels more like himself than he has done in months.

It’s not as painful as he thought it might be.

He gathers up the arrows – finds the last one and Bucky’s knife after ten minutes of searching – and heads back to Bucky.  By the time he gets there, Bucky is sitting back on the hood of the CUV with some packaged sandwiches next to his hip and two bottles of beer wedged between his thighs.

Clint hops up next to him without a word, handing Bucky’s knife back before sliding his bow and quiver onto the roof of the car and then sitting back next to Bucky, crossing his legs at the ankle. He silently takes the beer that Bucky offers him, shoving his free hand into the pocket of his jacket and leaning back, closing his eyes and feeling the last of the light on his face.

They drink their beers and eat in companionable silence. Clint wonders if they’re going to stay here for the night or move on; he doesn’t see much point going any further if the place is safe, and he’s actually loathe to leave this quiet spot they seem to have found.

“Want any more food?” Bucky asks a while later. The sunlight is gone, the sky streaked in beautiful shades of orange and purple. Behind them, everything is turning grey and dark.

“Nah, I’m good,” Clint says, hearing how lazy his voice sounds. He shifts down, ducking the lower half of his face into the collar of his jacket to keep warm.

“How’s your neck?” Bucky asks.

“Alright,” Clint says honestly. “Bruised. Okay.”

Bucky nods, and Clint lifts his face again as Bucky sits up. He braces his feet flat on the hood of the CUV, the metal shifting beneath his weight as he does, and hunches forwards over his knees.

“I know you said it was okay,” he says abruptly, and he tilts the beer bottle still in his hand back and forth in his hand, watching the liquid lap up the inside of the glass. “But I want to – I need to say this now.”

“Okay,” Clint says, cautious. “Say what now?”

Bucky still doesn’t look at him. He flexes metal fingers, tapping them against the neck of the bottle.

“You can go if you like.”

The words catch Clint completely off guard. “What?” he asks, and he knows how incredulous he sounds. After last night – after everything Bucky has said, how far they’ve come, he’s now saying that Clint can just go? He pushes himself into a sitting position, the metal of the car cold under his palm.

“Barnes?”

Bucky blinks, seems to come back to himself. “You can,” Bucky says, breaking off. He exhales sharply, reaching up to rub at the corner of his eye with his fingers. “You can go, if you want. I should never have kidnapped you in the first place.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Clint says, and Bucky looks up at that, and Clint catches the faintest edge of something vulnerable behind the set expression. “You should have asked nicely. Jesus, I’m not going anywhere, you fucking idiot.”

He snorts with derisive laughter, shaking his head and staring out across the landscape in front of them, eyes on the streaks of violet that are smeared across the horizon. “If you’re not going, I’m not going. I’m not here because I think I’ve got no other choice.”

“Why are you here, then?” Bucky asks, sudden. He’s staring at Clint like he’s just remembered something he’d forgotten. 

“Beats me,” Clint replies, and he glances to Bucky and gives him a tired smile. “Must be your charming personality and brilliant people skills.”

Bucky’s mouth hitches weakly. “You know, I was telling you earlier about what I remembered?” he says, looking away again.

“About the woman?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and then seems to decide against saying anymore. “Nothing,” he says, shaking his head and shifting on the hood of the car, sliding back again so he’s sat hip to hip with Clint.  He pulls one leg up and rests his elbow on it, burying the lower half of his face in his forearm.

It’s an easy, almost casual dismissal, so Clint lets it go. Bucky seems settled enough; he’s sitting quietly and his face is calm, eyes open and gazing out over the scenery around them. After a while he shifts so he’s slumped down next to Clint, legs stretched out alongside Clint’s, foot bumping the side of Clint’s boot. It’s just like how they sat on the bed in the motel room the night before, and as such it’s no surprise when  Bucky leans even further to the side, wordlessly resting his head against Clint’s shoulder.

It’s dark when he finally speaks again; the moon is pale in the sky, shining weakly in-between the banks of clouds that roll lazily across the sky, blue and grey and cold.

“What would you say if I said I want to go after Hydra?”

Clint turns to look at him. Bucky draws back, lifting his head up off of Clint’s shoulder. They’re both now leaning back against the windshield, faces turned towards each other so they can talk face to face, and Clint feels his stomach dip as he realizes how very close they are.

“You want to go after them?” he asks. “The guys who probably want to kill you?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, brows drawing together as he looks down. “I hate this waiting around shit. I want to get it done. And if I have to go to them to get it done, then that’s what I’m gonna do.”

“Makes sense, I guess,” Clint says. “You’re gonna do what you’ve gotta do.”

Bucky lifts grey eyes to Clint’s. “You’re coming with me, right?" 

The directness of the question throws Clint off guard for a moment, hitting him like a dizzy punch. “You meant it, didn't you? You're giving me the choice.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says quietly. “I’m asking.”

He doesn’t have to say any more. Clint gets it.

“I’m in.”

Bucky nods in easy acceptance of his answer, and that means more to Clint than he was expecting. Bucky exhales, breath misting faintly in front of his face. “This isnt going to be fun.”

“Because it’s been all sunshine and rainbows so far.”

Bucky huffs out a breath through his nose. “I mean it. I don’t know far I’ll have to go to find answers.”

Clint shrugs. “Well, you’re avoiding the Avengers, I’m avoiding the Avengers. You hate Hydra, I hate Hydra. Might as well avoid and hate together.”

Tilting his head, Bucky looks at Clint like he can’t quite work him out.  “That sounds stupid.”

“Sounds right up your street,” Clint replies, smiling weakly at Bucky. Bucky huffs out a soft laugh, nodding his head and apparently conceding the point. His eyes meet Clint’s and his smile fades into something uncertain and thoughtful, something that makes Clint’s heart quicken, thudding against his sternum. Without permission, his brain thinks back to that moment earlier where Clint had told himself that he couldn't be sure that Bucky even wanted him, that there was probably nothing more than friendship and comfort.

The way Bucky is looking at him tells him that there is something more. 

Slowly, so slowly, Bucky shifts, propping himself up on an elbow. Clint stays perfectly still, swallowing as his eyes flicker over Bucky’s face. He’s still reclining, and he should feel so vulnerable lying back with Bucky leaning up over him, and he does but at the same time he’s never felt safer.

Bucky reaches out with his metal fingers, and Clint exhales shakily as Bucky traces them over his chin, up along his jaw. There’s no joking about now, nothing remotely funny. His mouth has gone dry and this is the stupidest thing he’s ever done in the history of his dumb life.

He should object. All the reasons and thoughts he’s had about keeping his distance from Bucky try to make themselves known, fleeting thoughts of Natasha and Steve and the tangled mess inside Bucky’s head, the tattered remnants of his own self that isn’t sure can cope with this right now.

Rational thinking fails him. Every objection slides away, meaningless in the face of Bucky being way too close. He’s breathing unsteadily and he’s moving so painfully slowly, like Clint will bolt if he makes any sudden movements. God, Bucky must be able to hear his heart, it’s thudding so goddamn loud. 

Clint shuts his eyes and his breath catches in his chest as Bucky’s mouth brushes his. Bucky is trembling, Clint can feel him shaking, but his fingers are pressing against Clint’s jaw and he kisses him again, catching Clint’s lower lip between his own.

He reaches up, sliding his hand onto the back of Bucky’s neck. Bucky jolts back slightly, and then presses his forehead against Clint’s, screwing his eyes tightly shut and breathing hot against Clint's mouth, so close that Clint can taste him. He shudders through a breath and then he’s kissing Clint again, quick fleeting kisses like he doesn’t know how to stop.

Clint doesn’t want him to stop. he holds on tightly to the back of Bucky’s neck, breathing shallowly as he returns every kiss. God, he feels - he actually feels, and that’s more than he ever thought he’d manage again. Bucky makes a rough noise in the back of his throat and then he’s opening his mouth over Clint’s, tentatively touching Clint’s bottom lip with his tongue. It’s too much and not enough, and Clint wishes he could stay here hidden in Bucky for the rest of his damn life.

Clint is pretty used to giving up and giving in, but it’s never felt quite like this.

 

 

Chapter Text

For the second morning in a row, Clint wakes up wrapped in Bucky Barnes’ arms. This time, they’re not warm and comfortable in a motel bed; they’re lying in the back of a CUV, on the uncomfortable ridges where the seats have been flattened down. He supposes they’re lucky; in the last car they had to sleep half-sitting up in the seats and his legs had ached for days afterwards.

It’s cold. Before Clint even opens his eyes he can hear the rain pattering against the roof of the car, and Jesus fuck it’s cold.

He pulls his jacket over his neck, holding it tightly against him and wishing it were four times bigger and actually a blanket. Hating the way the air feels cold and clammy against his skin, he buries his face into Bucky’s shoulder blade, exhaling damp, warm breaths against his shirt and feeling thankful it’s not the metal one that he’s pressing against. Bucky grunts sleepily and shifts, pulling Clint’s arm more securely around his middle and pushing his feet back against Clint’s under their makeshift covering of coats.

If he weren't lying there with Bucky right now, he’d assume that the night before had been a wonderful, terrible dream. The moments in which he’d tried to talk himself out of thinking of Bucky like that seem like a distant memory - years ago instead of days. And hey, he supposes that that answers his questions about whether Bucky had been watching him back, because he doesn't think Bucky would really have just kissed him on the spur of the moment. It’s not like either of them have exactly got anything to lose, but it’s a risk for them both. Letting someone close is one thing; getting emotionally attached is something else entirely.

Stockholm syndrome, a voice in his head singsongs. Clint tells it to shut the fuck up.

He’s still not warm. The parts of him that are pressed against Bucky’s are okay, but his back and his arm and his face are freezing. Jesus, he doesn’t know where they plan on going on their Hydra-Hunt, but he hopes it’s south.

He breathes out slowly against Bucky’s shoulder, shivering slightly as he thinks back to the previous evening. With the strange prickle down his spine comes a wave of uncertainty, sitting low and uncomfortable in his stomach. What if Bucky regrets it? What if he hasn't thought it through properly? Is he going to wake up and flip out - or worse, leave?

Fear rises like bile in his throat. He’s thrown in his lot with Bucky now and he knows it, and he’s been stupid enough to put himself in the position where Bucky could easily tear him down just by walking away, and god, how unfair of him to get into this with Bucky when Bucky is supposed to be recovering, when he barely knows who he is-

He slides his arm from around Bucky’s middle and sits up, pushing his coat away. The cold, damp air is uncomfortable and he feels his skin prickling with gooseflesh. He looks away from Bucky, pulling his knees up and resting his arm across them, hiding the lower half of his face in the crook of his elbow. Swallowing thickly, he rubs his hand over the back of his head.

Behind him, Bucky stirs. Clint hears him sit up, pushing the coats aside and stretching, arm whirring and clicking faintly as it recalibrates. He presses his lips together and shuts his eyes, bracing himself, retreating away from the potential twist of pain.

There’s a long moment, and then Bucky shifts up close and wordlessly slides his arm around Clint’s middle, pressing up against his back and leaning against Clint’s shoulder.

The fear turns into uncertainty.

“You’re freaking out, aren't you,” Bucky says quietly, the words mumbled into Clint’s shirt.

“Thought you would be,” Clint replies, and now the panic is abating he’s silently cursing himself for being such a fucking idiot, for automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion. See, this is why he doesn’t do feelings.

“Why would I be?”

Because I’m a waste of space, Clint thinks. Because you never actually wanted me for anything other than Steve-finding and Hydra-hunting.

He doesn't say either of the thoughts out loud. Instead, he says, “Because you’re from the forties and from what I know that was a pretty bad time to go around being gay.” 

Bucky hums contemplatively. “Is it still nineteen-forty?”

“No,” Clint replies.

“Then shut up,” Bucky says simply. He sighs against Clint’s shoulder, absently rubbing his nose against the fabric.

They sit there in silence for a moment. Bucky’s arm is still around Clint’s middle, thumb stroking against his ribs. Clint finds himself relaxing into the hold, shutting his eyes and listening to the quiet sounds of the rain on the roof of the car and Bucky breathing behind him. He wonders if they’ll stay here for a while or if they’ll have to move on; considering Bucky’s pronouncement that he’s going to actively hunt down any remnants of Hydra, he doesn’t think that he’ll want to wait.

Going after Hydra. In one way, it seems like a spectacularly dumb idea, and this is coming from Clint. On the other…destroying what’s left of the bastards might be their way of actually doing some good, and starting to make up for the things that they did.

Nat would understand, he thinks suddenly. Nat would probably do the same if she were in his position. He doesn’t know what Phil would say, though. Probably something about this not being Clint’s mess, and to leave it well alone.

He thinks about what Phil would say if he knew what had happened between him and Bucky, and his throat goes tight. He ducks his head, pressing his forehead against his arm where it still rests across his knees.

“You want to go get breakfast?”

The question is quiet, almost uncertain, and strangely it makes Clint feel better, reminds him that it’s not just him that’s out of his depth here. They both need each other, though he’s still not entirely certain how Bucky could ever feel like he needs him.

Clint lifts his head, scrapes his hand down over his face. “Yeah,” he says, sounding as tired as he feels.

Bucky is silent for a moment. “How about…” he says slowly. “Drive through and then to a motel?”

“Thought we were avoiding motels now?” Clint asks.

Bucky half shrugs. “You’re cold.”

Clint feels an odd sort of tightness in his throat. God, it’s so stupid, Bucky changing the plan and doing something that they have been actively avoiding just because Clint is cold.

He wants to reply. He can’t.

Bucky doesn’t seem to need an answer though. He eases his arm from around Clint’s middle, and then his hand comes up to squeeze Clint’s shoulder for a moment, the touch firm and reassuring. He moves away, stashing the gun he’d had out overnight back in his bag and then clambering through into the driver’s seat.

Clint watches him go, wondering briefly if he should protest. He still feels cold and clammy though, and a small selfish part of him wants to say yes, to let Bucky drive him to the nearest motel so he can be warm and comfortable, if only for an hour or two.

Clint packs up their coats and then heaves the rear seats back up, clicking them into place before climbing through to join Bucky up front. Everything out front is grey and dull, like the clouds have sunk down from the sky to rest on the ground. Anything could be out there in the mist, and Clint hates it, because what’s the point in having better than average eyesight if you can’t see more than twenty feet in conditions like this?

“Hey.”

Clint looks up towards Bucky, who studies him for a moment and then reaches out. One hand on the steering wheel, he takes Clint’s chin gently in his fingers and then leans over and kisses him. His mouth is warm and soft, and Clint feels the kiss shiver down his spine, electric in the pit of his stomach. His breath catches in his chest and everything around him seems to fade away, if only for a moment.

A small, soft sound escaping from his throat, Bucky eases back, nudging Clint’s nose with his own as he goes. He doesn’t comment or explain, just settles back into the seat and turns the ignition on. The car rumbles to life beneath them, and Bucky sorts out the wipers and lights before easing them back and taking them away from the clearing.

So, not a one off, then, Clint thinks as he watches out of the passenger window, looking down at the quarry that’s next to the track on just the other side of the fence.  The thought leaves him feeling somewhere between dazed and confused, because what’s happening here between them feels like a good thing, like it could carry on being a good thing, and that doesn’t happen for him.

It feels strange. It had always been in the back of his mind that his and Buck’s dysfunctional relationship was probably becoming a tad co-dependent, but now he’s aware of it in a way he never has been. He’s aware of them

They drive back out of the quarry site and re-join the main road, and with the heaters on the car soon warms up and Clint feels himself edging towards sleep again. He dozes comfortably, dreaming of a warm shower and a bed, trusting Bucky to keep him safe enough so that he can actually appreciate it.

 


 

“Better?”

Clint looks as he wanders through from the bathroom, rubbing the towel over his hair. Bucky is sitting barefoot and shirtless in a chair at the table, having already been through the shower, and is now staring intently at the laptop that he’s got set up in front of him. There’s a cigarette nestled between the fingers of his metal hand, resting against the tabletop. He looks so focused on whatever it is he’s doing that if he were anyone else, Clint would be surprised that he noticed him coming out of the bathroom at all. The laptop is connected to both the wifi and a printer that Clint had no idea they had, though he does know without a doubt that it too is most definitely stolen. There’s also a map of the United States spread out on the bed nearby, but Clint doesn’t have the faintest idea where he got that from.

“Yeah,” Clint says honestly, hitching up his sweats. He walks over to sit on the edge of the bed, pushing the map over. It’s a small room, and the furniture is all close enough together that he ends up sitting with his knees brushing Bucky’s thigh. The bed he’s currently sitting on the edge of also happens to be the only one in the room, a fact that has been turning over restlessly in Clint’s mind since they arrived, a faint anxious, anticipatory twist in the pit of his stomach. 

He’s not about to say anything about it though. Yawning, he loops the towel around his shoulders, rubbing his fingertips across his forehead and pushing up into his hair. Wordlessly, Bucky passes over a cup of coffee and Clint takes it gratefully, holding it between both palms and close to his face, the steam warming his freshly shaven face.

God, it feels good to be clean and warm.

He leans forwards, uncurls one hand and reaches for one of the wrapped burgers that are on the table, just behind the laptop screen. He’s eaten two already but he quite honestly could eat plenty more.

“Not that one,” Bucky says distractedly, rubbing at the juncture of his metal shoulder as he lifts the cigarette to his mouth. “Pickles.”

Clint drops the burger back to the table top, picks up the other. “What’re you doing?” he asks, taking a mouthful of coffee and then setting the mug aside so he can unwrap the burger.

“Something,” Bucky mumbles around the cigarette, now clamped between his lips, fingers moving over the keys of the laptop. His metal fingers click sharply against the keys, an easily discernible contrast to his normal hand. “Give me a minute.”

Clint concedes, trusting that Bucky will tell him when he’s ready. Getting comfortable, he pulls on leg up onto the bed, tucking his foot beneath him and then leisurely finishes his coffee and burger, listening to the oddly soothing tap of Bucky’s fingers on the keyboard. The cold nights spent in the car seem a hundred years away, the threat of Hydra nothing but a shadow in the past.

They’re not though. And however clean, warm and safe Clint feels isn’t going to change that.

“Okay,” Bucky says, leaning back in the chair and frowning at the laptop. He crushes the cigarette into an empty mug and absently rubs at his collarbones and Clint has to blink and tell himself not to stare. Though maybe staring is allowed now? He’s not sure, and Bucky isn’t the easiest guy to read, not all of the time to all people, anyway.

“I can remember numbers,” he finally says. “Lots of numbers. For ages, I couldn’t work out what they were.”

He turns the computer screen around and shows Clint a screen full of numbers, typed into a document. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Some are separated by dashes, some by full stops, some with brackets. Leaning forwards, Clint scans them, instinctively looking for patterns the way Phil taught him, the way Nat showed him-

Sharp eyes spot something. A single 'E' sitting in the middle of a chain of numbers. Huh. He supposes the map on the bed makes more sense now.

“It took me a while to work it out,” Bucky begins to explain, but Clint is already there.

“Co-ordinates,” Clint interrupts. “If you split them up, they’re co-ordinates.”

Bucky stares at him, the same impressed expression on his face that he’d worn when Clint had taken that first shot the day before. “You’re not nearly as dumb as you pretend to be,” he says, looking back to the screen.

“Why, thank you,” Clint replies, and untucks his foot from beneath him so he can move closer to the screen. Brow furrowing, he concentrates on the lists of numbers, looking at the sets to see if there’s any he recognises. 52.9413- 1.059645.8678- 24.6268E 37.1138-76.7789 39.17878.1546... They blur into one never ending list, hundreds upon hundreds of possible combinations of one, two and three digit numbers, hundreds upon hundreds of locations.

There’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, even to him.  “Jesus, these are spread all over the damn globe.”

“I know,” Bucky says, and he doesn’t sound as frustrated as Clint would have expected him to be. More thoughtful. “And I’m not convinced all of them are useful.”

“What do you think they are?”

“Extraction points, ammo dumps, bases, communication hot-points,” Bucky reels off. “They could be anything.”

“Targets?”

“Could be,” Bucky concedes, and he turns the laptop back towards him. “From what I remember though, they only gave me one at a time. Why would they give me hundreds?”

“I don’t know,” Clint says slowly. “Are we going to check some of them out?”

Bucky nods. His eyes are on the laptop, brow furrowed as he taps at the keyboard. “Those that are close enough,” he says. “But first we’ve got to actually work out what the hell the co-ordinates are. I mean, some of them are clear sets, but for most of it I don’t know where one set starts and finishes. Like this-” he says, tapping his fingers against the screen.  Point zero five? Point zero five nine? Point zero five nine six?”

“Yeah, I get it,” Clint says with a grimace, rubbing at his brow. “What do we do?”

“Try all of them,” Bucky says. “See where they are, mark them on the map, see if there’s anything at the locations. Go from there.”

Fuck, that’s a hell of a job - it could take them weeks. Clint hums thoughtfully, because actually time is something they have plenty of. Besides, if this is what they need to do so Bucky can get back at Hydra, then that’s what they’re going to do. With that in mind, Clint nods, gets up and grabs his coffee mug, holding his hand out for Bucky’s with a grim smile. Bucky hands it over, eyebrows raised in question.

“I think we’re going to need a lot more coffee.”

 


 

“Okay, so that last one hits St Louis,” Clint says slowly, eyes scanning the map that’s spread out on the floor. Sitting on the corner of the bed, he bends forwards and marks a spot on the map with a marker.  “Industrial complex?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and Clint grabs a post-it and scribbles down the details, sticking it to the map. Hours and hours of tedious work, and they’ve got twenty-seven locations pinned onto the map. “You got any more out of that list?”

“Yep,” Clint says, sitting up and twisting around to grab the sheaf of paper he’s been looking at between finding locations on the map. He holds it up, hears Bucky push his chair back and step over, taking the sheaf of paper from him. His free hand brushes over Clint’s bare shoulder as he does, stroking gently down his arm.

Clint glances up at him as he does it, but Bucky is already moving away to sit back at the computer. He’s been doing that all day, casual touches that Clint never would have dreamed could come from the Winter Soldier.  

It’s not actually as disconcerting as Clint would have expected, though he still doesn't quite understand what's going on here.

“Okay, first one,” Bucky mutters, tapping the numbers Clint had pulled out into the computer. “Shit – New York. Barton, another one in New York." 

“Thought so,” Clint says grimly, peels off another post-it. “Where’s this one?”

“Wall street,” Bucky says. “Dammit.”

Clint looks up, watches the frustration steal over Bucky’s features. That’s five in New York now as well as four in DC. Not really a good sign seeing as these numbers were unwittingly handed to Bucky by Hydra. He knows that there are countless other reasons for Bucky’s aversion to New York as well; the fact it’s so busy, that the locations are prominent places that they would have trouble stealing into.

The fact Steve is there.

“Hey, you think we should actually check some of these out?” Clint says. “If we do all this work and find out that they’re actually just the location of Hydra’s favourite Starbucks-”

Bucky heaves out a sigh. He gets up again and moves over, sitting on the bed just behind Clint. He leans forwards, resting his cheek against the side of Clint’s shoulder, close enough so that his chest brushes Clint’s back.

“Probably,” he mutters as he scans the map, and Clint fights a shiver as Bucky absently rubs his cheek against his arm, stubble a rough drag. “Keep going for now. We’re not going anywhere today.”

He gets up and settles back at the laptop. Clint concedes and goes back to the pages of printed numbers, spotting any that can be easily worked out, scribbling on the page with a pencil as he works.

It’s easy, working with Bucky. Surprisingly so. They work in silence for the most part, talking when they need to in quiet voices, passing information back and forth. Clint mostly works on looking at the numbers, but Bucky is amenable to suggestions and assistance, sometimes asking Clint’s option, getting him to clarify something or to decipher what it is he’s scrawled on the printed pages Bucky hands him. He has a fair few questions about different cities and locations as well, not always trusting his own knowledge to be up to date.

Considering Clint didn’t think he’d ever work with anyone again, it’s going surprisingly well. It reminds him of working with Natasha in a way; quiet purpose and easy collaboration. Though there is the subtle difference in that he’s not the butt of a joke every sixty seconds, and he never spent any time wondering if Natasha was going to kiss him.

Well, he did once, but he’d been shot and had a broken leg and she’d looked so worried that he’d almost been convinced that she would. Though that might have been blood-loss.

But Bucky. Bucky stands behind Clint with his hands on his shoulders, rests fingertips on his knee as they’re looking at the screen together, leans into his side as he stands next to him. It’s distracting as all hell, and there are points where Clint can barely think about anything other than Bucky’s hands on him, wondering whether Bucky will ever lean in and close the distance between them.

He hates to hope, but he can't quite bring himself to stamp down on it as ruthlessly as he has been doing over the past months.

They work for another few hours, until Clint’s eyes are hurting and he’s feeling close to exhausted. He tosses the papers he had in his hand aside, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. Glancing over, he sees that Bucky is still staring at the laptop with a look of such intensity that if Clint didn’t know better he’d think Bucky was about to kill it.

Regardless, that look of tight strain across Bucky’s face means that he’s probably had enough.

“Hey,” Clint calls, standing up and stretching. “I think the laptop is getting a little scared of the way you’re glaring at it.”

Bucky just grunts in reply, not looking up. His elbows are braced on his table, hands curled into fists and knuckles pressed against his temples.

“Okay, yeah,” Clint says, and he steps over. “You’re done.”

Bucky shakes his head tersely. “Got to work this out.”

“You have worked plenty out,” Clint says. He hesitates for a moment and then decides fuck it. He doesn’t think Bucky will stab him for it. He’s like, ninety-five percent sure.

He reaches for the laptop, shuts the lid. Bucky jerks back in shock and looks up with a glare, pressing his palms down on top of the laptop to stop Clint lifting it from the table.

“Let go,” he says, eyes narrowed.

“You’ve been staring at that thing for twelve hours,” Clint says, also not letting up his hold on the sides of the laptop. “You need to take a break.”

Bucky frowns at that, anger giving way to uncertainty. “Twelve hours?”

Clint doesn't like the way he suddenly seems unsure. “Yeah,” he says, a little awkwardly. “You didn’t realise?”

Bucky shakes his head jerkily.

“Sleep. Four, five hours,” Clint suggests. “Then we can get right back on it.”

Bucky seems to consider that. “You need to rest as well,” he finally says, getting up. “Pack up the map.”

Without another word he walks over into the tiny bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Clint does as he’s asked and folds up the map, collecting their various pieces of paper and stacking them neatly on the table, turning the laptop and printer off properly. Phil would be proud, he thinks vaguely. He’s normally a ‘leave the paperwork on the floor and hand it in covered in coffee’ type of a guy.

He turns the lights off, turns towards the bed, and abruptly stops.

One bed.

He looks from the bed to the bathroom door, back to the bed again. Bucky had said that he needed to get some rest, and that would imply sleep, and there’s not even a couch in this tiny room so that only leaves the bed for both of them, unless Bucky’s planning on sleeping out in the damn lot.

Uncertain desperation twists in his stomach, a vague feeling that he’s out of his depth here. God, battling Hydra he can get on board with. Working out what’s acceptable between him and Bucky is a whole different ball game.

He rubs his fingers over his brow again. Yes, they’d spent last night curled up together in the back of the car, but that was out of necessity, because of space and how cold it was.

But what he can’t completely put down to necessity is the way Bucky had held onto him. Kissed him as well, after. But that was this morning and he hasn’t made a move towards Clint since, not counting the touches, the causal brushes of his hands over Clint’s skin-

Shutting his eyes, Clint forces himself to stop thinking. He’s too tired for this.

The bathroom door opens and he looks up as Bucky steps over. There’s a moment in which a strange mix of anticipation and worry spike together in his stomach, and he stands there feeling a little helpless because he doesn't know what to do-

Bucky steps right up to him, and without word nor warning, he reaches up and slides his hands onto Clint’s neck. Clint’s stomach swoops and he swallows, eyes meeting Bucky’s in the dimness. Bucky’s thumbs rub against the underside of his jaw and his eyes flicker over Clint’s face, carefully assessing.

Please, Clint thinks suddenly and helplessly, and the word is lodged somewhere under months of guilt and loneliness, buried under broken pieces and sharp edges.

Bucky leans in fractionally, eyes still searching. If Clint were braver he’d be the one leaning in, but he’s not and he won’t - he can’t put himself in such a vulnerable place. He looks down, away from that searching gaze, that gaze that already knows too much, that knows exactly how it feels to be utterly unmade-

Bucky is far too close. He dips his chin, breath warm and unsteady across Clint’s lips. God, if he’s going to then Clint needs him to do it now, before he turns himself inside out with too much thinking -

And then Bucky’s mouth is on his, warm and wet and perfect. Clint’s breath catches and every thought just stops. His hands move reflexively upwards, fingers brushing Bucky’s hips, just touching, barely holding on.

Oh. Well that answers a lot of questions then.

Bucky pulls back with a soft exhale. “Sleep,” he says against Clint’s mouth. Clint nods without even making a conscious decision to do so, and then on impulse leans back in slightly again, just enough so that their mouths touch once more. Bucky makes a soft sound in the back of his throat, thumbs stroking along Clint’s neck as he kisses him back.

“Sleep,” he says again, the word mumbled right into Clint’s mouth. “You were the one insisting we rest.”

He lets go of Clint and turns to check the window, leaning against the wall and looking out behind the curtain, a sliver of light bright on his face. Clint knows he could be there for anywhere between twenty seconds and twenty minutes, so without another thought, he gets into the bed, climbing beneath the covers and pulling them up over his shoulder.

His head is spinning, and it’s not because he’s actually in a proper bed for the first time in god knows how long. God, Bucky is less than five feet away and he somehow feels like he misses him, panicked and nervous and all bent out of shape.

He burrows down into the pillow, wishing he would stop thinking, wishing he would stop feeling. He hasn’t felt like this since New York; it’s like he’s a raw nerve, too exposed and frayed.

Bucky moves, the curtains rustling slightly and Clint’s breath shudders out, uneven and caught up behind his ribs. He tries to even it out, feeling an urge to get up of the bed and sleep on the damn floor- 

The urge vanishes as he feels Bucky sliding onto the bed behind him. Some of the earlier worry bleeds away as Bucky settles behind him, his arm sliding around Clint’s middle as he shifts up close. His feet brush against Clint’s and Clint curls back into him.

They lie still for a few long moments, and then Bucky shifts, pressing his metal palm to Clint’s shoulder. Clint understands the intention and acquiesces, rolling over onto his back, turning his head to look at Bucky, shifting his head atop the pillow.

Bucky’s eyes meet his and he exhales, leaning in to press his mouth to Clint’s shoulder. It’s warm and damp and oddly comforting.

“Okay?” he asks. His hand lifts up, fingers pressing against the scar on Clint’s shoulder from where he stabbed him.

Clint breathes out slowly, lifts his free hand to rub his sternum. “Think so,” he says honestly.

“Don’t mind this?” Bucky asks, and he shifts against Clint so there’s no misunderstanding what he’s talking about.

Clint thinks about it. It’s not that he minds, exactly - he thinks the issue is the uncertainty, the not fully understanding. “I’m just a little surprised that you want...this.”

Bucky lifts an eyebrow at that, mouth twisting contemplatively. “I guess…” he starts slowly. “I first found you and I didn’t know hardly anything. I didn’t feel like anything, just like...well, an asset. But now I kinda do. And I feel like I know things I like and I don’t, what I want to do and what I don’t.”

Clint feels a lump in his throat, has to look up at the ceiling. He laughs shortly, the sound wobbly. “You’re certainly more talkative than you were.”

Bucky’s mouth half lifts and he rubs his nose against Clint’s shoulder. “Guess I am,” he says, and breathes in and out deeply. “I want this,” he says in that horribly direct way that occasionally breaks through the layers of distance and reservation. “You.”

“Oh,” Clint says, and his stomach is twisting because Bucky is saying these things and he shouldn’t be - he doesn’t know what Clint has done, the things he did-

“You shouldn’t,” he says before he can stop himself.

“What?”

“You shouldn't want me. You don’t know what-” he begins and has to stop, unable to get the words out. God, why are they talking about this, why did he bring it up, how stupid can he fucking get-

Gentle fingers on his chin stop his thoughts, and Bucky turns his face back towards him. “I know,” he says. “Feeling like you don’t deserve shit. But this - this is me and you. We’re not - How the fuck am I in any place to judge you? How the fuck - come on.”

And he’s almost close to ranting, inarticulate and unable to get full sentences out, but Clint doesn’t even care because it’s just like when Bucky yelled at him on the side of the interstate; it somehow makes no sense at all and more sense than anything ever has-

He nods. That’s all he can manage, but it’s enough. Bucky stops talking.

“You,” he begins and then halts again. He sighs, palm flattening against Clint’s shoulder as he pushes himself up onto one elbow, looking at Clint like he did the day before, lying on the hood of the car. His expression has gone careful again, thoughtful. It’s a look that Clint thinks is somewhere halfway between Bucky Barnes and Winter Soldier, but that's okay. He’ll take Bucky as everything he is today, broken parts and all.

“Okay,” Clint says, because he knows he needs to say something, nodding jerkily. “Yeah. It’s. It’s okay.”

And it’s awful and not nearly enough, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Bucky nods and leans down, kissing Clint gently. He pulls back, just enough.

“Still with me?” he whispers.

Clint thinks about the map, the impending possibility of danger when they finally choose a target and make a move. “Not going anywhere,” he replies. Bucky exhales like he’s relieved, and then lays back down with his head on Clint’s shoulder.

“Okay?”

Clint pauses. “Hang on,” he says, and before he can second guess himself he moves, shoving at Bucky so he can get his arm under his neck. He settles with his hand resting on Bucky’s metal shoulder.

Breathing out deeply, Bucky’s rests his head on Clint’s shoulder, his arm thrown over Clint’s waist. He settles easily, and Clint thinks distantly of nights alone in a bed with feet handcuffed together, nights spent curled up on motel couches with Bucky’s feet pressing into his thigh, nights spent curled up on the back seats of a stolen car.

He turns his head, gently presses his mouth to Bucky’s temple. For tonight he doesn’t have to examine this any further, doesn’t have to worry. Neither does he have to think about Hydra, worry about where they are going to go next, what will happen when they decide their next move.

No, for now, none of that matters. He closes his eyes, he holds Bucky close, and he sleeps.

Chapter Text

It takes Bucky four days to decide their next move.

Four days of tedious, arduous work, and the map is starting to look like it belongs to some crime-scene obsessed amateur. Which Clint supposes, they kind of are, if you disregard the amateur part. Either way, they’ve got all they can out of the numbers that Bucky has remembered, and Bucky has had to admit that it’s now time to actually do something with it. 

Clint thinks they should just pick the closest location and go, but that’s not his call to make.

Not that the waiting around has been completely unbearable. Working with Bucky continues to be easy, and Clint almost feels useful again, a vague sense of purpose and direction slowly making itself known. Thinking about the fact that soon they might be able to make a move against Hydra fills him with something that's fairly close to determination.

Bucky has elected to let them stay in the motel, which has been a pleasant turn of events. The weather outside remains cold and sharp, rain falling with increasing frequency from dull grey skies. Clint doesn’t think he’ll ever under-appreciate pillows or blankets ever again. 

Or Bucky.

Six months ago, if anyone would have told Clint that he’d be sharing a bed with - comfortably and voluntarily, at that - and frequently kissing someone, he would have laughed in their face.

If someone would have told him that that person would be the goddamn Winter Soldier, he would have suggested they get their head checked.

But here he is. Reclining on a bed in a motel room in nothing but his boxers, watching Bucky as he glares down at the map, hands braced on the back of his head. He’s wearing nothing but a pair of sweats, which are riding precariously low on his hipbones.

Clint might have to admit that he’s developing a bit of a fixation with Bucky’s hipbones. And possibly the rest of him as well, but that’s neither here nor there.

It’s hard to ignore the twist inside his chest that’s been sitting there since he doesn’t know when, growing harder to ignore with every passing day. Bucky is being - well, he’s being so nice. Clint doesn’t even have a better word to cover it, because really Bucky has been treated so badly and been through so much that Clint wouldn’t hold it against him if he were to be hostile towards every fucking human being on the planet for the foreseeable future.

But he’s not. He’s nice to Clint, considerate in the strangest of ways. He’s so gentle as well, in the way he touches Clint, like he’s something fragile that is worth taking care of. It’s also there in the way that he seems to know when Clint is finding it hard, too much. In those moments, where Clint feels like he’s about to crawl out of his skin, when he can hardly stand to look at his own reflection, Bucky just knows. He knows and he backs off without saying a word, only to return later with a questioning look in his eyes, waiting for a nod before he strokes hands over Clint’s shoulders or leans in to kiss him.

Clint supposes it’s the same as the way in which he can tell Bucky isn’t okay. It’s never much, but he can always tell when a shadow begins to steal over his face, mood turning brittle and dark. In those moments, Clint knows not to ask, knows to stay quiet until Bucky comes back, hands silently reaching out for Clint.

Part of him is beginning to wonder if it would ever help if Clint went to him first, instead of waiting for Bucky to come back.

He doesn't quite dare try it and find out. He doesn’t mind touching Bucky - far from it. Sometimes the feel of warm skin and cold metal close to him is the only thing that stops him going completely insane. But to be the one to make the move? Strangely, he doesn't feel like he’s earned the right, doesn’t feel like it’s something he’s allowed to do. Besides all of that, he still remembers the time that Bucky had face-planted him into the dash of a car when he’d moved without warning.

Mouth flickering in a rueful twist, he sighs and looks up at Bucky’s face. Bucky has been deliberating over the map for hours and Clint can appreciate thorough planning on occasion, but now he’s more than ready for Bucky to just decide and then come to bed.

“What you thinking?”

“Shut up, Barton,” Bucky replies distractedly, biting at his lower lip.

Clint rolls his eyes but does, continuing to watch with a mild amount of exasperation, leaning back and balancing an arrow on the tip of a forefinger. He flips it over and uses it to scratch an itch just underneath the waistband of his boxers; by this point he’s pretty much over being self-conscious about not being fully dressed. Putting on clothes when he’s actually in a warm room seems like a stupid thing to do, so he’s mostly been wearing only sweats or sitting around in his underwear. The fact Bucky has rarely deigned to put on a shirt over the past few days goes a long way to ease any lingering insecurity.

Bucky continues to stare down at the map, eyes narrowed. Clint sighs, turning the arrow over in his fingers, eyes tracing the line of Bucky’s shoulder and down his chest, to his narrow hips. He knows by now that Bucky is well aware of his staring, but seeing as Bucky keeps looking at him as well, it doesn’t seem to really matter.

God, Bucky is beautiful. Scarred and broken and all twisted out of shape, and still one of the best things Clint has ever had the privilege to look at. It takes him by surprise some days, a sharp shock in the pit of his stomach as he realizes just how much he wants him. It sits in the pit of his belly, stirring restlessly every time they kiss, every time Bucky’s hands ghost over his skin.

It’s frustrating, in some ways. He knows it’s there, but he can't do anything about it. He almost feels like a passenger in his own life, which is okay in some ways but not in others.

God, he can all but hear Nat telling him to get a grip. Phil would just shake his head and tell Clint that he causes him enough grief without bringing his train wreck of a love-life onto the table.

Bucky moves to idly rub at his hipbone, and his arm gleams brightly in the lights as he moves. Clint doesn't notice it as much as he used to, but he’s never going to stop being slightly awed by it. He wonders what Tony Stark would do if he ever clapped eyes on it. Cry, probably. Great big tears of jealousy and technological joy.

Clint mentally shakes himself. Tony will only ever get to see Bucky is if Bucky ever agrees to go back to Steve, and for now that’s not an option.

His thoughts focus back to the issue at hand when Bucky makes a move towards the map, reaching out with metal fingers. Oh good - Clint is more than glad that Bucky is finally getting a move on and making up his mind, because the waiting is starting to make him feel edgy.

Bucky hesitates, and then he pulls his fingers back. His eyes skirt towards Clint then away, restless and unsettled.

Clint frowns. Hang on, something’s not right here. Bucky is now looking more hesitant than careful; it’s faintly discernible in the way his eyes dart around, the faint crease of his brow. It’s an indecisive, lost look that Clint hasn’t really seen since the day Bucky told him who he was. Clint doesn’t know what the cause of it is, but now he’s looking for it he can sense Bucky is getting more agitated with every moment that passes.

“Barnes?” he asks cautiously.

“I-” Bucky begins, faltering momentarily before turning to Clint and saying, “I’m not exactly used to being the one making these calls.”

The admission hit Clint like a punch to the gut, a fierce rush of protectiveness and anger rushing through him. He’s off the bed before he knows it. Completely ignoring the fact he’s only in his boxers and Bucky is only wearing those low riding sweats, he walks over, treading right over the map. The paper rustles beneath his feet but that’s not important right now. Bucky lifts his face to meet Clint’s eyes, and Clint catches the edge of uncertainty and desperation in his gaze, and without even thinking about it, he leans in and kisses him.

Bucky makes a startled sound and Clint slides his hands onto his waist, holding on. Bucky relaxes under his hands, slipping a hand onto Clint’s shoulder, the knuckles of his other hand brushing his stomach.

There’s words somewhere, Clint knows. Reassurance and comfort and a whisper to calm down, to relax. They’re lost in the way Bucky exhales shakily against his mouth, a soft grunt of sound before he’s kissing Clint back, more urgently than before. His arms wind around Clint’s neck and Clint keeps his hands on Bucky’s sides, smoothing against warm skin.

Breathing heavily, Clint pulls away, screwing his eyes closed and resting his forehead against Bucky’s. He doesn't let him go though, keeps his hands exactly where they’re needed on Bucky’s waist.

“We’ll go to the closest one from here,” he says, and he doesn’t know why he’s saying it, only that he feels he needs to. Bucky doesn’t respond in any way, just holds onto Clint, arms still tight around his neck. “Plan a route that will take us to three or four different targets, the ones that are closest. We can get supplies or anything we’re gonna need as we go. Stay in the car for a few days, not a problem.” He exhales, palms sliding around Bucky’s waist to his back. “But for now, you’re going to sleep for a couple of hours. You’re human, Barnes. You need to sleep.”

“I’ve gone longer with less,” Bucky murmurs. “Asset, remember.”

Clint frowns at that, turns his face to kiss Bucky’s arm, the closest piece of skin available. “Not anymore,” he says. “Don’t even think it.”

Bucky doesn’t reply. He slowly pulls back, arms sliding from around Clint’s neck. His hands stay on his shoulders though, grip gentle. “You need anything before we go?”

“I’m set.” Clint says. He’s got enough arrows for a decent fight and his bow is ready to go.

“Okay,” Bucky says, and Clint isn't entirely surprised when Bucky reaches for him again, pulling him close with hands on his hips. “So. Closest target to us.”

He turns around, pulls Clint off of the map. They both crouch down next to it, Bucky rubbing his mouth with his metal hand. 

“We’re here,” he says slowly, reaching out and pressing a finger to a spot on the map. Clint nods and glances over the scrawls and scribbles made in marker-pen.

“So we go here,” he says slowly, and taps his finger against a black X marked nearby. “Couple of hours away,” he says. “Then we can go here, here and then here.” He drags his finger along in a vague path, connecting four of their targets. “And if we’ve not found anything by the time we get to this last one, we regroup and think where to go next.”

Bucky nods slowly. “Okay,” he says. “We probably need an actual strategy for when we get there.”

“We get close enough for us to scope the place out, in daylight preferably,” Clint suggests. “And then we can come up with a proper strategy. These might still end up just being ammo drops or contact points or anything.”

“We should probably double check the locations,” Bucky says, and looks towards the laptop. “See which buildings we might have to go into. Work out entrances, what cover we’ll have-”

“Or we could just wing it,” Clint says. “I trust you to make the call when we actually see what we’re dealing with.”

Bucky laughs shortly. A slow smile creeps over his face, one that dawns like comprehension, a pleased and uncertain recall of long forgotten memories. “Or we could do that,” he says, and then he nods, standing up. “Pack it up. We’ll be going early.”

Clint salutes him and grins as Bucky knocks him with his knee before moving away to shut down the laptop and stowing it away in his bag. Clint quickly packs up the map and slides it into the bag next to the laptop, making sure they haven't lost any post-its. Job done, he collapses onto the bed and feels Bucky’s weight next to him a moment later.

“Move,” Bucky says, pushing at Clint so he can drag the blankets out from beneath them.

“Yes, Sergeant Barnes Sir,” Clint drawls lazily, and then gasps as he feels a sharp pinch to his elbow, metal fingers nipping hard. He turns to look at Bucky indignantly. “Fucking ouch!”

“Don’t call me that,” Bucky says neutrally, sliding under the covers.

“Message received,” Clint says, pulling a face and rubbing at the spot on his inner elbow as Bucky throws the blankets over him. He doesn't ask why Bucky was objecting; by the look on his face, he doesn’t think that he wants to talk about it. Though he supposes it’s the same as Bucky calling him Agent Barton or Avenger - both things he isn’t anymore.

“Sorry,” he murmurs as Bucky pushes at him, getting him to roll onto his side. Bucky settles behind him, left arm sliding around Clint’s waist.

“Shut up, Barton,” Bucky mumbles into the back of his neck. He heaves out a breath, warm against Clint’s skin. “Sleep.”

Clint nods in vague agreement and reaches out to click the lamp off, before covering Bucky’s metal hand with one of his own. Even though this is the same way they’ve settled down to sleep for the past few days, tonight feels different. There’s an indefinite anticipatory tension in the air, keeping everything taut and faintly on edge. They don’t need to talk about it, but Clint knows it’s there.

Eyes open in the darkness, he stares at the wall in front of him for a long time, faded and grey in the night. Behind him, Bucky breathes easily and evenly, and Clint can’t help but wonder if he has the same sense of anticipation about the impending raids, or if having a mission actually feels normal to him. Maybe the thought of going out and killing unknown Hydra agents - targets - actually settles easily into Bucky’s mind, appeases the parts of him that are more Winter Soldier than James Barnes.

Or maybe the thought of actually making a move without orders, without permission is keeping Bucky up just like it’s keeping Clint up. Maybe the fact that it’s their choice to go and do this feels like a wonderful and terrible burden to him too. 

He doesn't know. He doesn’t ask.

 


 

 

The car eats up the miles of the highway, rumbling along and passing few other vehicles in the day’s first feeble moments of light. Clint watches out of the rain streaked window as they pass huge swathes of open farmland, dull green grazing lands and tired brown fields where crops have long been harvested. Every so often they pass sections of woodland, trees decked in muted autumn colors, faded under the cloud-smothered sky. Banks of dark, pulpous leaves line the sides of the highway, saturated in the rain that doesn’t seem to want end.

This time, Clint doesn’t sleep. He has his bow with him, resting between his legs and up to his shoulder, pressing against the side of his cheek. It’s an undeniable comfort, one he quietly needs today.

He can’t work out if he wants their first target to be a hit or not. He thinks Bucky needs it to be.

Their route takes them further away from big cities and civilization, away from the flat farmlands and into rolling hills that are dominated by woodland. Clint periodically checks the printed map that he’s got resting on his knee, but Bucky seems to have the route memorized and doesn’t hesitate at all.

By the time they stop, Clint’s stomach is a twisted knot under his sternum, but he feels calm. Ready. Like the moment in a stakeout just before he looses a long held arrow; a sniper’s sense of serenity amidst chaos. He’s spent so much time and energy telling himself that he’d never do anything like this again, that he’s honestly a little disconcerted that he’s finding it so easy to settle back in.

A distant part of him wonders why he’s doing this for Bucky when he couldn’t do it for SHIELD or Natasha, but he doesn't let himself think about it in any more depth.

Bucky pulls the car up onto the shoulder of the road, wheels crunching on gravel. He kills the engine and the car goes silent, nothing to hear but the rain and wind against the bodywork and windows. They haven’t seen any other traffic since they left the main highway, and Clint almost feels like they’ve stepped out of time. The heavy cloud and rain combined with the isolation makes him feel like the rest of the world might as well be a thousand miles away.

“I‘m going to do recon,” Bucky says, watching carefully out of the front. “You stay here. Watch for anyone or anything that comes up this road.”

Clint turns to look at him, not entirely okay with Bucky going by himself. Bucky glances over and must see something in Clint’s face.

“I’m only going to look,” he says, and it almost sounds like a promise. “I’ll be three, four hours at the most. If there’s anything there, I'll come back for you.”

“You better,” Clint says. “No whaling on Hydra without me.”

The corner of Bucky’s mouth hitches briefly, but it’s clear he’s not in the mood for joking about. He takes the keys out of the ignition and tosses them to Clint, before opening the car door and climbing out. He pulls his hood up over his head and then he’s gone, slamming the door behind him and leaving Clint alone.

The moment Bucky is out of sight, the anticipation starts to edge towards nerves, curling uncomfortably in Clint’s stomach. He literally has no idea of what Bucky might find in the buildings that they know are in the woods beyond them, and he wishes that he’d gone with him. Scouting was always part of his job, and he vaguely feels like he should be using his skills to their advantage.

He despises waiting, but knows how to do it. It’s not exactly like he’s just waiting for the right moment here - he’s utterly out of the loop, can’t do anything but sit there, letting his mind play through all of the possible scenarios and outcomes.

Whilst considering these outcomes, nagging in the back of his mind is a thought about how out of practice he is; the only shooting he’s done since New York has been the incident with the Hydra agents who tried to jump them and the day Bucky had practically bullied him into shooting at the quarry.

In retrospect, he’s ridiculously thankful that Bucky did that. At least he knows he’s still got it. Though a very Natasha-sounding voice is pointing out that shooting at leaves in relative peace and quiet is very different to going head to head with hostile forces. Jesus, he hasn’t even thought about fighting hand to hand, though he supposes that that’s Bucky’s area of expertise

And he’s still not entirely sure how it has come about, but he trusts Bucky to take care of them both.

He breathes in and out deeply and stares out of the window, shifting to get comfortable. He puts his feet up on the dash and settles in for a long wait. The sound of the rain keeps him from relaxing entirely, the wind driving against the car in uneven bursts of noise, fluctuating in volume. 

It’s a shock when Bucky returns barely an hour later.

He climbs into the car and slams the door behind him. He’s soaked through, looking tense and angry. 

“Nothing there,” he says shortly. “Abandoned building.”

Clint stares at him, stomach sinking. "Nothing at all?”

“Nothing. No people, no files, no furniture, not even a door on the goddamn front,” Bucky bites out, barely restrained fury in his tone. He takes a deep, steadying breath. “Next one.”

Disappointment curls thick and heavy in Clint's stomach, but he nods and hands over the next map. Bucky stares at it for a good five, six minutes and then shoves it back at Clint, starting up the car and pulling away.

They stay silent as the car tracks it way across the state. Bucky doesn’t even speak as they stop for gas and to grab food from the 7-11. He just carries on, looking tense and brooding. Again, Clint wonders if it would help if he were to reach out for him, but he doesn't quite dare. he just sits silently as the minutes tick by, the nerves slowly returning with every mile.

Half a day of driving and they reach the next location. Bucky leaves Clint in the car again, going to scope the place out-

He returns after only twenty minutes, looking like thunder.

Clint’s stomach sinks as Bucky gets back into the car without a word, gripping the wheel so tightly that the plastic cracks under his left hand. This time, he doesn't even explain what was or wasn't there. He just holds his hand out for the next map, which Clint hands over without a word.

It’s getting dark by the time they pull up on the third location, and Clint is starting to worry. If none of this works out, he doesn’t know what they’ll do. Bucky has seized onto the idea of taking out Hydra like a lifeline, and if it’s suddenly wrenched out from under him, there’s no telling how he’ll react.

The waiting is infinitely harder this time around.

After several long, torturous hours, Clint’s sharp eyes see a figure moving close to the car. The figure raises its left hand and Clint relaxes as he recognizes Bucky’s silhouette.

Bucky gets back into the car, and Clint’s stomach swoops because his face looks so blank, eyes back at the thousand yard stare that Clint hasn’t witnessed in weeks. Something has happened, because that’s the cold stare of the Winter Soldier, staring out into the fading light.

“Barnes?”

Bucky blinks, the faintest flicker underneath the mask. He turns his head a fraction towards Clint, the barest of indications that he’s being acknowledged.

Finally Bucky speaks. “They’re there.”

A prickle goes down Clint’s spine. “Hydra?”

Bucky doesn’t so much as blink. “Yes.”

“You’re sure?”

“Old warehouse. Two buildings, possibly underground activity. At least ten agents, maybe more. They’ve got weapons, and it looks like they’re trying to set up a communications post.”

“You know they’re definitely Hydra,” Clint says, and Bucky nods. “How?”

Bucky looks down, shadows playing over the hard lines of his face. "Apparently I don't forget faces that easily."

A thrill of foreboding crawls through Clint’s gut. “When do we go?” he asks quietly.

“Tonight,” Bucky says. “We go tonight.”

 


 

 

It’s so quiet. 

There’s nothing to hear but the soft pattering of rain against the last autumn leaves that cling to the dark branches around them. Their footsteps are barely audible, muffled by the soft ground beneath their feet as they steal through the woodland like a pair of shadows.

Clint can hear his own breathing and the steady thud of his pulse. He’s hyper aware of the hard metal of his bow held tightly in his hand, cold and real in his fingers. His hands and face are freezing, exposed to the frigid air and the rain. The black hooded jacket he’s wearing offers little protection against the elements, but that’s not important.

He follows just behind Bucky, eyes fixed on his back. He’s got a handgun stashed in his belt and what Clint recognizes as a Dragunov rifle in his hand, resting up against his shoulder. He’s got several knives on him as well, and Clint knows all too well how beautifully deadly they can be in Bucky’s hands.

The only light they’re offered comes from the moon, which is barely visible, a blurred smear of light under the clouds. It’s enough for Clint to be able to see his way, enough for him to see the expression on Bucky’s face, shadowed by the hood of his jacket. He’s not wearing the armor that he’d worn when he was the Winter Soldier; Clint doesn't even know if he still has it, and he’s never asked.

The only thing that Bucky has voluntarily brought with him from his time as the Winter Soldier are the black shadows around his eyes in lieu of a mask, dark smears of paint that make his eyes stand out, bright and grey. Even with his shorter hair, it gives him a menacing sense of purpose, and Clint can't help be reminded of their first days together.

Even though he’s not asked - and he sure as hell isn’t going to - he thinks he knows why Bucky has chosen to do it, and he feels no envy for the Hydra agents who will recognize that face tonight.

Considering what they did to Bucky, the things they made him do, he feels an utter lack of compassion as well.

With every step they take, every minute that passes, Clint feels something winding tighter and tighter inside his chest, brittle and twisted. It’s not a comfortable feeling but it’s keeping him going, driving him onwards with a grim sense of purpose. Bucky feels it too; Clint can tell by the look on his face.

Inexplicably, Clint finds himself thinking of Steve. The hard look in his eyes as he’d spotted Clint skulking behind Natasha on the helicarrier. The nod that had come even after the hesitation, the ridiculous trust that he’d shown even though Clint had done nothing to earn it.

He forces his next breath out deep. He can’t think of that.

It’s after almost an hour of silently stealing towards their target when Bucky finally stops. Without glancing back, he signals for Clint to come closer. Clint steps up next to him so they’re shoulder to shoulder, eyes quickly scanning and assessing the situation.

He draws in a sharp breath. In front of them the trees thin out before ceding way to a narrow road. Beyond that, an open grassy space and then the complex; square concrete buildings, rusted metal frames and curved walls that remind Clint of an old water treatment plant. It’s lit by floodlights, a muted orange glow over the concrete, long deep shadows being cast in every direction.

It’s big.

And it’s most definitely occupied.

There's a large set of metal bay doors set into the largest building, shutters pulled up and light spilling out across the gravel in front. The light breaks as it hits a chain link fence beside the road, slicing into warped diamonds across the ground. Several trucks are parked outside, grey and nondescript, just as Bucky described earlier.

Even with the late hour, Clint can hear voices, faintly carrying through the rain and cold air. Inside the open door, a shadow moves and stretches, a silhouette dragging across one of the inner walls. It’s joined by a second, then a third.

Two hundred and eighty-five feet from them to the open door. Two hundred and eighty-five feet from them to Hydra.

He’s not going to ask Bucky if he’s sure. The look on his face says it all.

Bucky taps Clint’s shoulder twice and then shifts backwards. Clint nods and stays put as Bucky retreats backwards into the trees. Clint turns his head to watch him go, quickly swallowed up by the darkness beyond. Clint is left alone.

Slowly, Clint shifts and starts to move, edging forwards. He knows it will take Bucky around ten minutes to get to where he needs to be, so he doesn’t rush. He just edges forwards step by careful step, reaching over his shoulder to take an arrow from his quiver, silently nocking it onto his bow.

He stops in the shadow of a larger tree, eighty feet from the doors. Thirty-five feet from the road. Twenty-six feet from the fence.

Close enough.

He watches impassively until several figures appear in the doorway, walking towards the trucks. The feeling in his chest snarls and twists against his sternum and in that single moment he realizes that it’s anger.

Anger at what happened to Bucky. Anger at what Hydra did to Steve and Natasha. Anger at what happened to SHIELD, the way they’ve had everything they knew ripped up from under their feet. That good men – that some of the best men – gave their lives for an organisation that was rotten to the core.

His fingers tighten on his bow. Rain drips from the hood of his jacket onto his face, damp and cold. His breath mists in the air in front of him; short, rapid exhales. His heart rate is quickening.

A loud buzzing sounds from the complex. Another shutter starts to roll up, the metal creaking and whining. Several more black-clad figures duck underneath, carrying boxes over to the trucks. They start loading them, and Clint can hear muted conversation and the sharp tone of orders. One agent climbs into the largest truck, and it rumbles to life, engine juddering and groaning loudly. The shutter reaches the top of the bay door with a loud, echoing clank. He can see more agents moving about now; Clint can count eighteen of them, all working to load wooden boxes and crates onto the trucks.

Clint steps forwards, eyes fixed on the men and women that are working. He watches as one of the agents peels away and goes over to a control box inside the doors, pressing her hand to a button on the wall. With another grinding clunk, the bay doors start to move again, sliding slowly downwards. Clint’s fingers pull on his bowstring and the world around him slows to a halt, even as the work continues in front of him. His pulse thuds in his ears, and it feels like everything around him takes a deep breath, slowing down and waiting-

The crack of a single gunshot fractures the stillness.

The agent closing the bay doors jerks and stumbles. Her hand falls unsteadily from the button, and she hits the ground a second later.

There’s an alarmed shout, and then panic starts to spread through the agents. Two rush over to the fallen woman and then someone is yelling, and weapons are being drawn-

Clint steps forwards, and in one smooth motion he draws the arrow and fires.

A second agent hits the floor with their chest pierced by an arrow, just as another shot rings out. A third agent drops heavily from the back of the truck, and it’s then the Hydra agents start firing indiscriminately back, shooting blindly into the darkness as they back up into the bay doors, bellowing commands and orders and questions at one another.

Clint keeps walking. He grabs another arrow and shoots without hesitating, and the agents are so busy firing in the direction that Bucky’s shots came from that it’s almost child’s play for Clint to pick off the agents at the back. He’s dropped eight of them and is on the edge of the trees before they even realize that something else is amiss. One agent turns in his direction, but before he can do more than raise his weapon he’s gone, body jolting backwards as a bullet tears through his temple.

The four agents that are left turn tail and run, ducking back into the complex. Stepping out onto the road, Clint notices with grim satisfaction that they’ve left the bay doors open.

Movement to his right draws his attention. Bucky appears from the trees further up the track, gun in hand and held up by his shoulder. He doesn’t bother running, just strides almost lazily onto the road and towards the complex. A prickle goes down Clint’s spine and his stomach twists, because Bucky is walking like he can’t think about anything else but getting his hands on the rest of the agents in the building, like this mission is the only thing he can focus on. It’s not just the purpose in his movement though, it’s the way he’s moving unhurriedly, an easy and casual threat of violence in everything he does. It’s like he never remembered being Bucky Barnes at all.

The impression intensifies as Bucky reaches the chain-link fence that runs around the complex. He barely even pauses, just grabs hold of it with his left hand and wrenches a section free, hauling it aside. Clint changes course slightly, moving towards the gap that Bucky has made for them.

He catches up with Bucky beside the bay doors. He’s standing beside the body of one of the agents, staring impassively down at her face. Her body is twisted at an awkward angle and she looks almost surprised, eyes wide and mouth open, the side of her face spattered with blood.

“She was there,” Bucky says tonelessly as Clint comes to a standstill next to him. “When they gave me my last mission. To take out Captain America at all costs. She was at the briefing.”

Clint doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t think there is anything to say.

“Barton?”

Clint looks up and meets Bucky’s eyes. “You okay?” Bucky asks and Clint pauses for a moment, because this isn’t the Winter Soldier asking, that’s one hundred percent Bucky Barnes even though the face and voice still screams Winter Soldier. God, Steve Rogers better not be hoping to get the old Bucky Barnes back, because in that moment Clint realizes that no matter how much of Bucky comes back, the Winter Soldier is part of him now.

“Yeah,” he says, with a slight frown, because it’s true.

This is his choice, and that makes it easy.

Bucky nods curtly and then his head snaps around as there’s a shout from somewhere inside the building, further inside. He swiftly slings the strap of his rifle over his chest so the gun rests against his back, and then points to the left. Clint immediately moves inside, ducking behind a stack of crates and swiftly moving towards the back wall. The bay is perfect for cover - if you have half a mind to use it properly - full of crates and boxes, and there are two more smaller bay doors along the back wall, along with three personnel doors, faded blue and edged with rust.

Keeping low, he nocks another arrow and walks quickly and quietly towards the left hand doors. Bucky moves around from the right, and Clint can hear voices coming closer, footsteps against the concrete-

The door bursts open and Clint feels a rush of scorn as the agents run in, not even slowing down to look both ways. Mouth twisting in contempt, he shoots without pause. The first agent tumbles to the floor, momentum carrying them forwards in an untidy sprawl of limbs, and then Bucky is there. The second agent doesn’t stand a chance; Bucky’s metal fist connects with the underside of his jaw, snapping his head back. The third agent manages to fire a shot that is wildly off target, and then Bucky grabs his arm and twists viciously. The sound of breaking bones should be enough to turn Clint’s stomach, and the agent’s scream abruptly stops as Bucky grabs hold of him and snaps his neck in one fluid movement.

He drops the body to the floor, breathing heavily. Clint looks for a moment, and then decides that if guilt hasn’t kicked in by now, it probably won’t at all.

Maybe he should be worried about that.

“I thought I had it bad when you stabbed me,” he calls as he doubles back, swiftly collecting up all of his arrows. He’s not exactly got ammunition to spare, and he doesn’t want to leave any evidence for people to potentially track.

“Joke later,” Bucky says, and he hauls the bodies of the dead agents out of the way. “Come on.”

Arrows all accounted for, Clint jogs back to Bucky. Bucky moves on without a word, still at the same meandering pace from before. It sends a shiver down Clint’s spine. There’s deliberate menace in every minute action, every flick of his eyes and curl of his fingers, and being on the same side as that vicious power - being protected by that power - is an awe-inspiring and terrifying rush.

They walk deeper into the complex, following long concrete corridors and checking rooms as they pass. Many are empty, but some are full of computers and equipment, or more crates of weapons.

The next agents they come across aren’t as incompetent as the last group. It’s just when Clint thinks they’ve already wiped everyone out that Bucky rounds a corner and a shot rings out, hitting the concrete just beside his head. Bucky stops dead and so does Clint; he curses under his breath, unable to see around the corner and assess the situation.

“Stop,” a voice barks. “The next one will be between your eyes. Weapon on the floor.”

Bucky stares down at the floor for a moment and then he turns, briefly catching Clint’s eyes. Clint understands in a heartbeat; they don’t know he’s there. Eyes still locked with Bucky, he nods, and Bucky slowly kneels down, placing the gun on the concrete.

Slowly reaching back so his hand is hovering above his quiver, Clint waits until he hears footsteps moving across the concrete, waits until he knows they are only a few feet away.

“Three,” Bucky mutters.

“What?” the agent demands. "What did you say?"

Clint grabs three arrows. He spins around the corner and shoots two simultaneously; the third follows a fraction of a second later.  One falls down dead, the other two crumple with gasps of pain, clutching at the shafts of arrows, embedded in chest and shoulder.

Bucky is on them in seconds, knife in hand. One vicious slash and one is down, and then he turns on the other.

Clint sees the moment that recognition flashes over the man’s face. One hand still clutching the arrow in his shoulder, he throws the other out in front of him, face going pale. “No,” he chokes. “No, no – they said you died, they said you-”

Bucky walks slowly towards him, expression blank. The knife glints in his hand.

Clint doesn’t look away, even though part of him knows he should. He knows that he should feel something, some guilt or distaste or compassion.

Job finished, Bucky walks away towards the door, tucking his knife back into the strap on his thigh. Clint reaches forwards and pulls his arrows out of the now-still bodies of the agents. He wipes them on his jacket and slots them back in his quiver, before following Bucky to the door. Bucky edges close, metal fingers reaching for the handle.

He holds up his other hand in a stop gesture. Clint nods, and Bucky leans close to the wall, barely breathing as he peers through the tiny gap . The light from inside slides over his face, a narrow strip across his eye and down his jaw.

Silently he holds up a single finger, then gestures to himself.

One guy. I’ll take him.

Clint nods and draws an arrow, stepping back and covering as Bucky closes his fingers around the handle, reaching for his knife with the other. 

He moves frighteningly quickly, pulling the door open and hurling the knife in one quick move. The guy has barely started to turn when the knife sinks into the meat of his shoulder and he staggers back, falling untidily to the floor. Gasping, he tries to scramble back, twisting around to try and get back on his feet.

“You-” he chokes as Bucky drops to his knees beside him and grabs him by his throat, yanking him forwards. His eyes are locked on Bucky’s face, anger and pain twisting his expression into something ugly.

“You’re not – this isn’t what you were programmed-”

He breaks off, face going purple as Bucky’s fingers tighten.

“Programmed?” Bucky says, voice as dangerous as Clint has ever heard. “What the fuck do you mean, programmed?”

The guy meets Bucky’s eyes. His chest heaves in and out as he tries to breathe, and his face screws up in contempt just before he spits in Bucky’s face.

Bucky stares at him, and then something inside seems to snap. Anger contorts his features and in one violent motion he brutally squeezes his metal fingers together.

Everything is silent for a long moment, until Bucky lets go of the man’s throat and stands up. Blood drips from his fingertips onto the floor, and he wipes his face with the back of his real hand. Clint watches him carefully.

“Barnes?”

Bucky jerks at the call of his name and then exhales, dropping his hand from his face. “Make sure you get all of your arrows,” he says curtly to Clint. “If anyone finds one it’s as good as a calling card."

Clint nods. “We leaving?”

“We’ll strip the computers on the way out,” Bucky says by way of confirmation. “Gather anything useful and take it with us.”

Clint nods. He looks over at the body on the floor behind Bucky. “And what about the not useful stuff?”

“Burn it,” Bucky says, face hard. He doesn’t even bother to look around. “We burn it all.”

 


 

Breathing heavily, Clint slowly comes to a standstill just in front of Bucky where he stands motionless at the top of the hill, standing up on a raised hillock of dirt. The rain has stopped but the air is cold and the smell of blood and smoke catches in the back of his throat. His body aches, scraped knuckles stinging and the shallow cut across his forehead burning dully.

Bucky holds out a hand and Clint reaches for it, grasping on tightly. Bucky hauls him up onto the mound beside him, his boots scraping and slipping on the wet dirt.

He turns and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Bucky, staring back down the slope. The fire rages below them, the complex engulfed in angry orange flames and spewing out acrid black smoke into the night sky.

Twenty-nine dead Hydra agents.

And he knows it’s just the beginning.

He shifts, shoulder knocking against Bucky’s. He reaches up and wipes his face with the back of his hand, and as he drops his arm back to his side, he feels metal fingers brush the back of his hand. Without looking away from the wreckage below, he pushes his knuckles between Bucky’s so their fingers are loosely linked.

He feels as well as hears Bucky exhale heavily next to him, and then Bucky turns towards Clint, reaching up with his other hand to grasp hold of the material of Clint’s jacket. He seems calm, but the tightness of his fingers belies how much he needs to hold on to something right now. Without turning his face away from the carnage below, Clint turns his body further into Bucky's, raising his free hand to cup Bucky’s elbow, grip rough and tight.

It’s cold and he’s soaked and covered in blood and gasoline, and now he’s stopped the exhaustion is starting to creep in. He wants to crawl away, to sleep for days and then think about what he’s just done. He wants to hide away from everything, to decide if this counts as the beginnings of absolution, or if it is a step further away from it.

He thinks he already knows which it is. Despite everything they’ve done tonight, his heart feels less burdened by the weight of everything he did.

Breathing out heavily, he stays exactly where he is next to Bucky. He blinks slowly and tightens his grip on Bucky’s arm, silently watching as the complex burns on.

Chapter Text

“I’m just saying. Can’t we have one night without blowing things up? Just one?”

Bucky doesn’t even bother to look at Clint where he’s lounging on the bed, propped up on an elbow and watching Bucky as he works. He’s still crouching down with his fingers on the map, cigarette nestled between the fingers of his real hand and sending lazy spirals of smoke into the air. “We didn’t blow up anything yesterday, or the day before.”

“That should go on your resume. Can manage seventy-two hours without blowing things up.”

“I’d rather put on ‘can blow up four hydra bases in four weeks’ thing,” Bucky says vaguely, and then sighs and stands up. Mindful of the cigarette in his hand, he clambers onto the bed and edges forwards on his knees, reaching out to push against Clint’s shoulder. Clint goes easily, rolling onto his back and smirking up at Bucky. Bucky doesn't smirk back, just leans down and catches Clint’s mouth in a kiss. He tastes of beer and cigarettes and Clint sighs into the kiss, reaching up to thread his fingers into Bucky’s hair. It’s getting longer already, curling over his ears and tumbling across his brow untidily.

“Alright,” Clint says against Bucky’s mouth. Bucky bites his bottom lip, dragging it between his teeth and Clint huffs out a sound that’s half laugh and half groan. “Behave,” he murmurs as Bucky pulls back to lift the cigarette to his mouth.

“What? I was just stopping you from saying something stupid,” Bucky says. He leans over Clint to crush the cigarette into the ashtray on the rickety nightstand; his shirt is tight enough so that Clint can see the taut line of muscle between shoulder and chest, more pronounced as Bucky stretches. He resists for about two seconds before leaning up to press his mouth to it, hands sliding onto Bucky’s sides over his shirt.

Planting his fists into the bedding to make balancing easier, Bucky dips his head, looks down at Clint. “Now who’s not behaving?”

Clint laughs and flops back onto the pillows. “I was just going to say, we’ve been working our asses off for the past four weeks. I think we’ve earned a night off.”

“Hydra aren’t going to take a night off,” Bucky frowns.

“Barnes,” Clint insists. “Come on.”

Bucky sighs, rubs at the back of his head. “Fine,” he finally says. “One night.”

Clint throws his hands in the air in celebration and Bucky snorts. He kisses Clint hard and then climbs off the bed to pack up the map and check the door and single window. It won’t take him long; the room they’re staying is certainly compact. The bed takes up the majority of the space, and the only other furniture is a stand with an ancient television and the tiny stand next to the bed. There’s barely enough floor space for the map, and that's only because their bags are all stacked up against the bathroom door.

Shutting his eyes, Clint drags the pillow more comfortably under his head and exhales heavily, glad to be able to stop and breathe, if only for an evening. It’s been four weeks since they destroyed their first Hydra base, and the intel from the computers they’d stripped combined with their research quickly led them to base after base. One had been empty when they’d arrived. The other two hadn’t.

Four weeks of blood. Clint says he’s lost count of the amount of Hyda agents they’ve killed, but in truth he knows exactly how many it is.

He still doesn’t feel any guilt, and he’s almost over wondering why that is. Those people made their choices, decided to stay with Hydra even after they were revealed by Cap. In his eyes, if they’re deciding to still side with Hydra, then they deserve everything they get.

And that’s without thinking of what they did to Bucky.

With every target they eliminate, Clint is silently more and more impressed by Bucky’s sheer willpower and resilience. He’s coming face to face with these people who ruined his life, who stole his life from him, and he doesn’t falter for a second. More than that, he seems to be getting better with every passing day. He’s still the Winter Soldier - he’s never not going to be - but that part of him seems to be integrating seamlessly with the scraps of personality that come back alongside his memories.

It’s in his ability to communicate and the tentative smiles Clint sometimes sees, the dark edge of dry humour that’s becoming more apparent. He tells Clint more as well, talking about the splintered memories that are coming back a few at a time. Sometimes they come back whole and in perfect clarity; other times they’re fragments, unable to be placed in space or time. They don’t talk about it, but the question of what exactly happened to his memory still hangs over them.

As does the fact Clint has still not told Bucky anything about what happened to him.

“You with me?”

Clint startles as Bucky clambers back onto the bed, shoving at him with his knees. He must have assessed them as safe because he’s relaxed and easy, looking at Clint rather than at the exits.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Just thinking.”

“About the base in Michigan?”

Clint groans, covering his face with his hands. The damn base in Michigan - the one that had been empty when they got there. Well, more than empty - there’d been clear evidence of a fight and recent one at that; bullet holes in the walls, broken glass and bloodstains on the floor. Bucky’s been fixated on it since they moved on, and apparently he isn’t letting it go any time soon.

“No, Barnes. It’s our night off. I was thinking about Oreos.”

Bucky hums noncommittally, sitting cross legged on the bed next to Clint’s hip. “Who do you think cleared it?”

Clint groans again, louder and more deliberate. “You’re really going to make me talk about Michigan again? Buck, there is little to no chance that we are the only people trying to take down Hydra. They wrecked DC. They nearly wrecked the world. It could be the army, spec ops, anyone leftover from SHIELD who wasn’t a snake-”

“Steve?”

Clint stops ranting and takes his hands away from his face. “I guess it could be,” he admits slowly, as always a little wary about Bucky mentioning Steve without Clint being the one to bring him up. “But it also could be the army, spec ops, anyone leftover from SHIELD who isn’t a snake. Hell, the WSC may have drafted a team from overseas by now.”

Bucky appears to think about that, pulling contemplatively at his lower lip, brows furrowed. Clint lets him think it through, giving him the time he might need. After a while he seems to come to some sort of conclusion, shrugging the lingering worry about Steve away.

“So, night off it is then,” he says, and he stretches out and lies down next to Clint, body close and warm even through his clothes. “What do you do on a night off?”

“Watch TV. Drink beer. Shoot things. Eat pizza,” Clint shrugs. “Anything but dealing with paperwork and bad guys.”

“Pretty glamorous for an Avenger,” Bucky snorts, propping his head on his fist.

“I’m not an Avenger,” Clint reminds him, wriggling to get comfortable, slipping his hands behind his head.

“You keep sayin’,” Bucky says, and he yawns widely and reaches out to rest his palm on Clint’s stomach. “So we’ve eaten already tonight. And this dump hasn’t exactly got room to swing a cat around, unless you wanna go outside and shoot-”

“Fuck that,” Clint says vehemently, because it’s bitterly cold outside and he has no intention of going out into it if he doesn’t have to.

“So that leaves us with option A,” Bucky says, and leans down to press a kiss to Clint’s stomach, against the fabric of his t-shirt. It’s an odd gesture, but one that has the corner of Clint’s mouth hitching up as Bucky pads over to the television, turning it on and grabbing the remote.

“Trashy talk show or documentary about how they build cruise liners?”

“Trashy talk show all the way,” Clint says, and Bucky snorts and clambers back onto the bed beside him, stretching out lazily like a big cat, burying his face into Clint’s shoulder and exhaling heavily, breath seeping warm and damp through his shirt. It’s comfortable and easy, and it seems a million years ago that Clint found this sort of intimacy terrifying, that he was shrinking away from Bucky’s touch, tense and uncertain. Now, if he goes more than a day without having Bucky pressed against him in some way shape or form, he feels like he’s missing something.

Though it does come with some unwelcome side effects, Clint muses, even as he strokes his hand up and over Bucky’s shoulder, brushing along the hair that curls over his ear. Mainly being that Clint is finding it harder and harder to keep his arousal at bay. Despite how well they both seem to be doing, Clint knows they’re both in no place to be going there. Everything they do together is all mixed up with vengeance and violence, and they’ve now got a sense of purpose, a direction. To do anything that might mess that up seems like a dumb idea at best.

Besides, the thought of being so vulnerable - mentally and physically - is enough to make Clint think ‘maybe I’ll pass.’

It doesn’t stop him wanting though.

“People in the twenty-first century are awful,” Bucky mutters as whoever is guesting on the talk show tries to make their point more obvious by raising their voice and repeating it at a louder volume and at a higher pitch. Someone else responds with an equally loud and aggressive tone, and Clint can't exactly argue the point with Bucky, considering the evidence at hand.

“We’re not all bad,” he opts for saying, flicking Bucky’s ear with his fingers. Bucky lifts his head with a faint scowl, which fades as he meets Clint’s eyes.

“Guess not,” he replies simply. “Hey, you know there’s something else we can do on a night off?”

Distracted, Clint looks away from the TV. “Yeah?”

Bucky shifts, moving up the bed and propping himself up on an elbow, leaning over Clint. “Yeah,” he says, lowering his forearm onto the pillow so he can tease Clint’s hair between his fingertips.

“That was smooth as fuck,” Clint can't help but grin up at him, though his pulse is quickening, heart skipping inside his chest. “Where the fuck did you learn that?”

Bucky shrugs, a casual lift of his shoulder. “Born with it,” he says, eyes crinkling at the corners, and Clint feels like his heart could burst out his damn chest, because he never thought he’d see Bucky so free and easy, and he’s strangely grateful that he’s been able to witness it-

And then Bucky leans down and kisses him and he abruptly stops thinking. Bucky’s other hand comes up to cup his cheek, thumb stroking along his skin as he kisses him again, gentle and open mouthed. Clint’s breath catches in the back of his chest, and his hand comes up without permission, fingertips dragging across Bucky’s chest and the other hand holding onto his arm. He exhales shakily as Bucky pulls back fractionally, licking his lower lip before leaning back in and kissing him again.

Bucky doesn’t pull away, and the minutes bleed together as they lie there kissing, hands gentle and cautious as they touch arms chests, faces. Clint feels the ever present arousal coalescing, heat thrumming through his body and pooling in his groin. Fuck, they’ve kissed before but never like this, lazy and warm and without anything else to think about, and Clint’s mind is stuttering over the thought, wondering where this is leading and if he should be panicked by the potential answers.

It’s hard to feel panicked in Bucky’s hands though, even as he pulls Clint onto his side so they’re pressed together. Bucky pulls away so he can slip his arm under Clint’s neck, bending his arm and pulling him in close. His other hand slips onto Clint’s waist, strokes back and forth and then dips lower to slide under his shirt, fingers brushing against the warm skin of his belly. Clint can’t hide the gasp, the way he shivers at the touch, Bucky’s palm resting fully on his waist.

He wants to respond in kind, slide his hands up the front of Bucky’s shirt, to curl around his bare shoulders.

He’s having difficulty remembering why he shouldn’t.

Because it will make things messy, his brain tells him. Because you’ve got to be careful.

Bucky’s breath hitches; his knee slides forwards and nudges slightly between Clint’s legs. He pushes forwards, lifting up slightly to lean over Clint, kisses turning ragged and desperate.

And something inside Clint gives way. Everything is already a mess, he realises. The entire world is a mess, the deal with the Avengers is a mess, they are making a literal mess of the Hydra agents they comes across-

Actually, it’s everything apart from him and Bucky. This, this is actually the one thing he can have that’s not a godawful mess.

And this is his choice.

He reaches up blindly, holding onto the back of Bucky’s neck as he surges up to meet him, licking his way into Bucky’s mouth and wresting the control from him. Bucky grunts in surprise as Clint twists around, pushing Bucky onto his back on the bed and sliding over him. Without thinking, he throws a knee over Bucky’s waist, splaying his fingers over Bucky's abdomen as he leans in and kisses him. This time it’s Bucky’s hand that’s on the back of his neck, metal fingers gripping hard.

Oh god. He wants him so badly he can taste it. He wants to be able to strip them both bare and roll across the tangled sheets of this piece of shit motel room, wants to forget about everything that’s ever happened and lose himself in Bucky’s touch-

Without warning, Bucky suddenly sits up, shoving Clint off of him. He falls back heavily onto the bed, and barely has time to process what’s happened before Bucky is up, grabbing a gun off of the nightstand and pressing himself against the wall beside the window. His face is a mask of concentration, eyes darting around as he looks behind the edge of the curtain.

Chest heaving, Clint sits up, brain not quite caught up. “What-?”

Bucky makes a violent ‘shut the fuck up,’ gesture with his hand and Clint falls silent. He can’t hear anything over the sound of the television but he trusts Bucky’s judgement, so gets up and silently reaches for his bow-

“Nothing,” Bucky says, even as Clint is reaching for his arrow case. He steps away from the window, though glances to the door and back again.

“Sure?” Clint asks and Bucky nods.

“Yeah,” he says, with a deprecating twist to his mouth. “I guess I was a bit distracted by you, let my guard down a bit and then got jumpy.”

Clint props his bow back against the wall. “You want to take guard shifts?”

“No,” Bucky says quickly. He looks to the window one last time and then clambers back onto the bed, shuffling over on his knees. He holds out his metal hand and Clint takes it, allows himself to be pulled back onto the bed with him.

“I was enjoying that,” Bucky says as Clint settles in front of him, both of them kneeling up.

Humming, Clint slides his hands onto Bucky’s shoulders. “Yeah?”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky says, and his hands slide onto Clint’s waist, around to the small of his back, holding him close. “And I don’t think that was all that bad seeing as I can’t remember kissing anyone since nineteen forty-four.”

Clint blinks, and then he laughs. He tries to hold it in but he can’t. He’s laughing and laughing, leaning forwards and burying his face against Bucky’s t-shirt, helpless. Bucky strokes his hands up his back, cups Clint’s face in his hands and makes him look up.

“I could probably do with some more practice.”

Clint breaks down into laughter again. His cheeks hurt and his stomach feels like Nat has just jabbed him right in the diaphragm but he can't help it. He can't remember the last time he laughed so much.

“Fucking smooth as fuck, Barnes,” he says when he can draw a breath, tilting his chin up and grinning.

“I’m not good at this,” Bucky says suddenly, dragging his fingers over Clint’s bottom lip. “Being with other people.”

Clint considers that for a moment, shrugs. “You’re doing okay,” he says, and it’s a gross understatement for how far Bucky has come, and Clint wishes he could take the stupid words back, wishes he could articulate it better than that-

“Yeah?” Bucky asks offhandedly, and maybe the inadequate comment was actually exactly what he needed to hear.

“Yeah,” Clint says and then Bucky leans in and kisses him again. Clint hears the soft satisfied sound slip from his throat but he doesn’t have time to be embarrassed by it, because Bucky is pressing even closer, one hand lifting up to cup the back of Clint’s neck again. Breathing turning shallow, Clint slides his hands down Bucky’s chest and to his waist, and then after a moment of hesitation slides his palms under Bucky’s t-shirt, smoothing over warm skin.

Bucky gasps, stomach muscles tensing and then relaxing. Pulse quickening, Clint drags his hands up, pushing Bucky’s shirt up as he goes. There’s not even a part of him that’s objecting to this, no voice in the back of his mind that’s telling him this is a bad idea. He just wants.

Bucky seems to be on the same page, because he leans back and reaches down for the hem of his shirt. He lifts and Clint helps him pull it up and over his head, leaving his hair ruffled. Breathing heavily, he throws the shirt carelessly aside and reaches for Clint again; Clint sits back and pulls Bucky forwards so he’s straddling his knees, hands on Clint’s neck as he leans down to kiss him breathless.

Oh god. If Bucky’s letting Clint remove clothes, what else is he going to allow? Even as he thinks it, Clint feels metal fingers pulling at his shirt. He hastens to help and yanks it forwards up over his head, and Bucky’s mouth is back on his the moment it’s off. He groans in the back of his throat as he runs his hands up Bucky’s bare back, a thrill going through him at the feel of compact muscle and strength beneath his palms-

Bucky abruptly pulls away, head snapping back towards the window. He freezes in Clint’s lap and Clint is painfully aware of how hard he is inside his jeans, how Bucky is sitting right on his crotch.

How Bucky has stopped.

“Stay there,” Bucky mutters, and he climbs off of Clint’s lap and heads to the window again, gun already back in hand.

Clint opens his mouth to protest, but manages to bite it back. He’s still not sure if Bucky has genuinely heard something or if this is just one of those nights where he won’t settle, but as always he’s going to assume it’s the first until he knows they’re definitely not at risk. Trying to get his breathing under control, he reaches for his bow again.

“No, I got this,” Bucky says from by the window. He carefully nudges the curtain back a fraction, orange glow of streetlights sliding over his face. He looks left and right and then belatedly seems to realize he’s just left Clint hanging.

“Damn,” he says, dropping his hand from the curtain. He looks to Clint, apologetic and torn. “Sorry. It’s nothing, but I just-”

He moves back towards Clint again, but only gets halfway before he’s freezing, turning his head around to the window again.

One of those nights where he’s not going to settle, Clint silently tells himself. They’re few and far between these days; normally Bucky is pacified with a thorough check of the area and a sweep of the room, but every now and again he gets twitchy enough to not sleep, to be constantly prowling and checking every little rustle and murmur.

Clint can’t really blame him, and never begrudges him the fact. Though a part of him wishes that Bucky could switch off a little just for tonight, and then he’s hit with just how damn selfish that is. Bucky will be on edge if he’s not one hundred percent convinced they’re secure and Clint knows that. What’re you gonna do, distract him with sex? he asks himself. Get a grip, Barton.  

“Hey, don’t worry,” he says aloud. “You need to watch.”

“No,” Bucky says, but something like guilt is stealing over his features. “I want you.”

The direct honesty hits Clint in the same way it always does, as does the way Bucky now definitely looks guilty. He swallows, shakes his head, forces his voice light. “You need to watch.”

“Barton-” Bucky begins helplessly. and his eyes flick from Clint’s face down to where his dick is probably clearly visible, pressing against his zipper.

Clint gets up off the bed, trying to surreptitiously adjust himself and probably failing. “Don’t sweat it,” he says. “Watch. I’ll feel safer if you do.”

Bucky blinks and then nods. Clint tries to smile but only manages a weak lift to the corner of his mouth. He turns away and steps over their bags into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He gropes for the light switch and turns it on with the telltale flicker and plunk of cheap fluorescent lighting.

Bracing his hand against the edge of the sink, he looks at himself in the mirror and curses softly under his breath. It’s not just his dick that gives away how much he wanted Bucky in that moment; his cheeks are red, mouth swollen from kissing, the faint hint of stubble burn on his chin.

God. He hasn’t felt anything like it in months. It might just be the fact that it’s been so long, but he feels like he’d give pretty much anything to get Bucky to fuck him right now.

You can’t, he tells himself, staring his reflection down. You’re being selfish.

With the adrenaline and arousal fading, rationality is starting to kick back in. Alongside that is a steadily growing sense of disbelief, because they’re in the middle of a fucking assault against hydra and he’s thinking about getting laid? And at the expense of their safety? Jesus - Bucky might be hyperaware of noise tonight - paranoid, if the word wasn’t so ugly - but another time the threat might be real, and if they’re too distracted by each other they could end up dead.

Not to mention the fact that Bucky is clearly uncomfortable with letting his guard down. And Clint had wanted to push for it anyway, just because he’d managed a fucking hard on for the first time in weeks.  

It’s like a bucket of ice water over his head. Clint looks away from his reflection, now utterly disgusted and angry at himself. What the hell was he thinking? He’d been right before - sex will just make everything messy between them. Bucky clearly isn’t in the right place to even think about it, no matter what Clint wants.

The thought leaves him feeling strangely hollow.

“You alright?” Bucky’s voice calls from the next room, and for fucks sake, he still sounds guilty. Clint wishes he’d stop it, that he’d turn on his fucking Winter Soldier emotionless robot voice.

“Yeah,” he calls back. “Everything okay out there?”

“Yeah,” Bucky replies, then pauses. “You coming out?”

“In a minute,” Clint says. “Just washing up.”

“Okay.”

Clint exhales heavily, reaches for the taps and turns them on, flinching irritably at the way the pipes groan. He dips his fingers into the cold water, refusing to look back up at the mirror.

You are not having sex with him, he tells himself, and even the voice in his head sounds bitter. Get over it.

 


 

Clint wakes up to the smell of coffee and cigarettes, and the sound of Bucky moving about in the bathroom. He’s has a shit nights sleep, hyperaware of Bucky curled up behind him, feeling every tiny point of contact acutely. In the few pockets of sleep he managed to snatch, he’d dreamt of kissing Bucky again, tangled together and grinding feverishly against one another. He’d woken up disoriented and in a mild panic, convinced for a moment that he’d actually done it in his sleep. 

But no. Thankfully Bucky had slept on, none the wiser to Clint’s half awake, over aroused state.

Rolling over and exhaling heavily, unwilling to leave the warmth of the bed, Clint thinks back to what Bucky had said the day before, that he’d enjoyed what they’d been doing, that he’d wanted it. Clint is willing to admit that he may have thought about that statement more that strictly necessary. What did it even mean anyway? That he wanted to kiss Clint, that he’d wanted more?

Well, either way, it isn’t going to happen. The fact Bucky had been able to settle down and sleep was telling enough; it was clearly just letting his guard down as they were kissing that had been the problem.

“Will you cut my hair again soon?” Bucky’s voice calls from the bathroom, and Clint throws the open bathroom door a bemused smile. He hasn't made so much as a sound, so it looks like the Winter Soldier sense is still in good order.

“Yeah,” Clint calls back. “If you give me today off.”

“No,” Bucky calls back simply, and then he pads through from the bathroom, wiping a towel over his freshly-shaven face. His chest is bare and Clint deliberately doesn’t think about how it felt pressed up against his own. “Get up. We’ve got a target.”

“We’ve always got a target,” Clint grumbles, but gets off the bed and heads towards the coffee, shivering slightly in the cooler air. He grabs his jacket off the back of the chair and pulls it on, leaving it unzipped.

“This one’s different,” Bucky tells him, and Clint is immediately interested. Sipping at his coffee, he turns and raises his eyebrows at Bucky expecting him to elaborate.

“A person,” Bucky says. “Not a building. I know where she is, where she’s working, where she’ll be.”

“And how do you know all this? Hang on - if she’s Hydra then why is she still working? Has she not gone underground like the rest of them-?”

“She’s a Senator’s aide,” Bucky tells him. “Referred to in code. But I know her face, and I know what she did.”

“Like Stern,” Clint says. “Jesus. They’re everywhere.”

“Not for long,” Bucky says with a small twisted smile. “We need to be out of here in half an hour.”

“What’s the plan?”

Bucky walks across the room to pick up the second coffee, free hand sliding over Clint’s waist as he reaches past in a casual, possessive touch. Warmth twists in Clint’s chest and the back of his neck heats as he thinks about the night before, and he edges back just enough so that it doesn’t look deliberate.

“Find her, follow her, eliminate her,” Bucky says, dropping his hand from Clint’s waist. “I’ll go long range. You tell me when I’ve got a clear shot. If necessary you get her into a place where I’ve got a clear shot.”

“Clear shot?” Clint asks.

“No civilian casualties,” Bucky replies without inflection. “One shot. Done.”

“Neat and tidy,” Clint says. “Very Captain America.”

Bucky snorts. “Believe me. There is nothing clean and tidy about the way Captain Collateral Damage goes about Hydra.”

There’s a beat of silence. Clint looks cautiously at Bucky who has stilled in place, mug of coffee held in front of his face. His expression is blank, and then he swallows and it gives way to the tiniest frown.  

“When…” he says, breaking the silence. “When this is all over. If - you should get to know him properly.”

It’s the closest thing Bucky has ever come to talking about the future, and even if it’s vague and halting Clint is going to take it as a fucking win. He doesn't want to make a big deal about it though, just nods. It’s only after he’s sort of agreed that he realizes that means Bucky is expecting him to go back to the Avengers when they're done.

It leaves him feeling oddly panicked. He hasn’t thought about what they’ll do when they’re done with this, and suddenly he’s contemplating having to part ways with Bucky, to not have this-

Bucky reaches out and takes Clint’s coffee mug from him, and sets both of them down on the small table. Turning to face him, he exhales softly and then reaches out, cupping Clint’s face in his hands. Eyes flickering over Clint’s face, he rubs his thumbs gently over his cheekbones. Even though he’s sworn that he’s not going to go there with Bucky, Clint’s thrown off by the gentleness and directness of the touch, and before he can think about it his palms are on Bucky’s waist and he’s swaying closer.

Grey eyes flick down to Clint’s mouth and his stomach skips. Oh that’s just unfair, he thinks distantly, but Bucky doesn’t kiss him. Grip gentle but firm, he tilts Clint’s face down and presses their foreheads together, eyes closing as he sighs.

Clint isn’t sure what Bucky is trying to tell him, but he thinks it might be important.

“Talk later,” Bucky murmurs, rolling his forehead against Clint’s. “Target first.”

Clint smiles weakly, and blinks as Bucky lets go of him and leans back. “Your priorities are messed up.”

“Okay, lets sit down and have a long and detailed chat about our feelings,” Bucky says, and his tone has suddenly gone very pointed. “You first.”

Clint pulls a face. “Target first,” he says, and Bucky rolls his eyes.

“Get ready,” he says. “Half an hour.”

“You got it,” Clint says. Bucky looks at him for a moment and then before Clint can step away he leans back in and kisses Clint hard, snatching the breath from his lungs. His hands grip tightly at Clint’s arms and when he pulls back he’s pink cheeked and Clint is breathless, clutching Bucky’s elbows.

“What was that for?” Clint croaks.

Bucky shrugs.”Wanted to,” he says effortlessly. “Like doing things I want.”

He slowly leans in and kisses the corner of Clint’s mouth as if to prove a point, and then lets him go and steps away to get dressed and assemble his weapons. Without thinking, Clint reaches up to touch his mouth, distractedly thinking that this not going there with Bucky thing is going to be way harder than anticipated.

Mission, he tells himself firmly. Focus on that.

It helps. A little.

 


 

 

“Barton? Can you hear me?” 

Clint glances left and right before he crosses the road, cell phone tucked between his shoulder and ear as he juggles a Starbucks cup and pastry between his hands. It’s fairly busy; lots of office workers seem to be heading out for lunch, bustling past each other and looking harried. It's a fairly busy area of the city, the business district merging with the world of politics in a sprawling medley of high rises and old stone buildings which are framed by narrow grassy lawns and open space.

“Yes, I can still hear you. Hows the bluetooth working for you?”

“It’s a piece of trash,” Bucky replies tersely.

“What you get for working on a twenty dollar budget,” Clint sing-songs. “I’m just passing the library. You should be able to see me in three, two…”

“Got you,” Bucky says. “Don’t drop your coffee.”

“I won’t,” Clint says, and then curses as he nearly does exactly that. “I’m gonna sit down before I prove you right.”

Heartbeat quickening slightly, he sits down on the nearest bench to him, setting the coffee down next to his hip so he can hold the phone safely in his hand. From his perch on the end of the bench, he can see both the building that houses the senators office and the edge of the building that Bucky is on top of, which is perfect. “Still good?”

“Still good,” Bucky confirms. “She should walk past you in about four minutes.” 

“So what am I supposed to do until then, make small talk with you?” Clint says, slouching down onto the bench and glancing around. No-one is so much as looking his way, which is a bonus. He shoves the still-wrapped pastry in his pocket and then picks up the coffee with his free hand, grateful for the warmth.   

“Well you can either make small talk with me or sit alone and look suspicious,” Bucky says vaguely, and Clint hears the sharp click of a sniper sight being adjusted.

“We’re not good at small talk,” Clint muses.

“Possibly because we’ve got fuck all crossover in pop-culture references?” Bucky says. “Just keep talking to me, Barton.”

Jesus, fuck. What the hell is Clint supposed to say? He’s silent for a few moments, thinking about what the hell he can talk about that won’t draw unnecessary attention or piss Bucky off. Last night, maybe? He vehemently calls a veto on the suggestion before his brain has even properly processed the thought; he will not be talking to Bucky about how much he wanted to bang him, he’d rather get stabbed again, thanks.

At a momentary loss, he sighs heavily, knowing that anyone looking will just assume that he’s either listening to whoever is on the other end of the phone, or that he’s lost for words. What would he talk about if it wasn’t Bucky on the end of the phone? What if it were someone else?

“I’ve done this before you know,” he suddenly says, and he’s got no idea where this sudden urge has come from, this half considered idea. “Exactly like this. I was bait, someone followed me and then my partner took them out from long range.”

Bucky doesn’t reply, but Clint can hear him breathing evenly and calmly on the other end of the phone.

“Strike Team Delta,” Clint says, with a huff of a depreciating laugh. “Two of us against the world. Well, not really. Not like me and you, but you get it.”

He pauses, takes a sip of his coffee. Bucky still doesn’t respond. “I miss her,” he finds himself saying, and it hurts but it’s easier like this, with Bucky not looking at him with his usual intense gaze. “She was my best friend, before everything went to hell.”

Not just her, he thinks silently. Even if he’s somehow managed to spill about Nat, he most certainly won’t be telling Bucky about Phil; even thinking about him is still akin to having a razor lodged inside his chest.

He swallows hard. “Actually, she was more often bait,” he says. “I mean, she could get anyone to follow her without even saying anything. And I remember some asshole at SHIELD saying that it was low for her to use her sexuality to get what she wanted from marks, and she just smiled at him and said ‘the day men stop sexualizing me on sight is the day I’ll stop using it.’ Man, she might as well have kicked him in the balls. But yeah, she would get people in place, I would go long range. Sedatives mostly. Only a couple where it was an out.”

He stops talking. Thinks of Natasha emerging from the stairwell, single arrow in one hand, the other reaching up to pull off the blonde wig she’d been wearing. The small smirk as she’d walked over and handed the arrow back, taking Clint’s backpack to get out her change of clothes.

Fucking hell, he misses her so much that it hurts.

“Mark,” Bucky says quietly, and Clint looks over, eyes scanning his surroundings.

“Got it,” he says, breathing in and out and shedding his thoughts of Natasha like loosing an arrow. “I’m gonna head towards the coffee shop.”

“Acknowledged.”

Clint gets up, and as he turns to drop his coffee cup into the bin he spots the woman they’re after, black hair shining in the weak sunlight as she walks briskly along the sidewalk, talking to a man at her side who is tapping away on a mobile phone as he listens. She looks like any of the other hundred office workers that are in the area, polished and busy and far too important to be looking Clint’s way. The man at her side is easily six foot tall, broad shouldered and dark haired.

“Company,” Clint says casually into the phone. He shoves his free hand into his pocket and starts walking, watching the woman on the other side of the road in his peripheral vision.

He’s gone into mission mode, just the way Phil and Nat taught him; there’s nothing to focus on except the target. His fingers ache for his bow, wanting it in his hand, needing the pull of the string against his fingers.

“Acknowledged,” Bucky replies tersely. “Guy better move.”

“The guy not part of it?”

“I don’t know,” Bucky replies. “But I’ll shoot him if I have to.”

“Whoa, whoa, what happened to the clean and tidy?” Clint protests. “If you don’t know, then don’t.”

Bucky doesn’t reply.

“I’m serious,” Clint insists. “You dont want to do that.”

“I’ll do whatever’s necessary.”

Shit, Clint thinks, because he know Bucky well enough by now to know that he doesn’t want to kill anyone who is innocent, that since he's become more Bucky Barnes than Winter Soldier his conscience has started kicking in. He’s just desperate to eliminate hydra, and that’s fucking with his judgment.

Time for Clint to think fast.

Please don’t let me get shot, he prays to no-one in particular, and then he crosses the road, heading towards the target and the man at her side. Glancing around, he pulls his hood up over his face, still holding the phone to his ear.

“Barton, what the hell are you doing?” Bucky snaps.

“Making sure you don't end up doing something you're going to regret,” Clint says without elaborating, and then he hangs up and shoves the phone into his pocket. The target and the man at her side are walking straight towards him now, still deep in conversation-

Leaning slightly to the right, Clint purposefully knocks his shoulder into the man’s, and in one swift movement his wallet is out of his pocket and in Clint’s possession. He mutters an apology and visibly shoves the wallet into his own pocket, quickening his pace and walking away-

“Hey! Hey you!”

He’s relieved to hear the angry shout, but doesn’t stop walking. He ducks his head and weaves through the crowd, doing his best impression of someone trying to get away. he just needs the guy to follow him, to get him away from the woman's side before Bucky takes the shot.

“Hey! You - stop that guy, he took my wallet!”

Ducking into an alley, he breaks into a run. The alley splits midway down; one avenue leads to the street at the other end so he takes the second, which leads into a boxed in square, home to a few abandoned dumpsters and a pile of rotting cardboard boxes. It’s his lucky day though; not only is it hidden from the eyes of the public, but against one wall there’s a rickety looking fire escape which stretches the full height of the building, up to the rooftops.

Without waiting to think, he sprints over and grabs hold of the rusted metal, swinging himself up onto the first landing with little effort, the metal clanking and groaning under his weight. Heart pounding in his chest, he jumps up and grabs at the next level, hauling himself up with a grunt of effort-

There’s a crack, and for a single, wild moment, part of his brain thinks the fire escape has broken. A larger part of his brain recognises the sound and when he feels searing, burning pain across his side he knows the larger part was right; the sound was a gunshot and he’s just been shot.

Oh fuck.

His fingers slip and he tries to grab for the edge of the fire escape but it’s no use. He falls and hits the ground hard on his back, his shoulders taking the brunt of the impact. He feels the impact in every bone in his body, a shock that leaves him reeling and gasping for air. White spots dance in front of his eyes even as his vision goes dark and blurry around the edges, the world around him moving in slow motion, sound distorted and echoing.

Okay. Well this is bad.

Gasping, he rolls onto his side, eyes clenched tightly shut against the pain. It’s sharp and angry in his his side, dull and relentless in the rest of his body. Shit - he’s got to get up, got to fix this and put it right. Bucky needs him to finish the mission, Bucky needs him to get up-

Before the thought has even fully registered, he feels hands grab his jacket and roughly drag him to his feet. He can’t hold back the strangled cry of pain, which cuts off in his throat and he’s slammed back against the wall, hack smacking off the brick and jarring painfully.

No, he thinks fiercely, grappling with the hands that have got hold of him, shoving at the weight and trying to twist free. He needs his bow, there’s a knife in his boot that he should have got out but he needs his bow. He’s got to get back to Bucky, he can't fail him, not now.

“Nice try, Avenger,” a voice snarls far too closely to his face, and fuck, this is really, really bad. If they know who he is then they’ll be wondering where the others are, they might start looking at where he’s been and who he’s with-

The click of a gun stops his thoughts in their tracks.

He blinks and a face swims into view - it’s the guy, the one who had been flanking the target, the one whose wallet he had stolen.

Man, he must be really pissed about the wallet.

Clint chokes on a laugh, tasting blood in the back of his mouth. A voice somewhere is telling him that this is not fucking funny Barton, and when it doesn’t sound like himself it sounds like Phil and Natasha and Bucky. It's also not lost on him that he was trying to get this guy out the way so that Bucky didn't end up shooting him, and the sheer fucked up irony of it all forces another choked laugh out of him.

“What’s so funny?” the man snarls, and he presses the barrel of the gun to Clint’s forehead, the cold metal digging in right between his eyes.

The hysterical urge to laugh vanishes, and in it’s place wells up something very much like fear. His stomach swoops violently. His legs can barely hold him up and he’s still in agony from being shot the first time. He’s got no hope of fighting his way out but he’s got to-

He swings at the guy, but can’t get any momentum or leverage. The guy’s lips part in surprise and then he laughs, easily shoving Clint back up against the wall and pressing the gun between his eyes again.

Evidently taking some sort of twisted pleasure in toying with Clint, the man doesn't do what he should and shoot Clint straight away. Instead he traces the gun across Clint's forehead to his temple, and a satisfied smile curls on his lips-

-and then his eyes fly open and his whole body jerks against Clint’s, mouth falling fully open. There’s a strange twisting tearing sound, a thick wet crunching and then the man drops to the floor, going down hard and messy.

With the weight against him no longer there, Clint feels his knees give and he staggers forwards, only to be shoved back against the wall, pinned in place with a metal hand in the center of his chest.

Bucky.

“Idiot,” Bucky snarls, right there in front of him and he’s angry, god he’s fucking furious. There’s a knife held in his real hand, dripping blood onto the concrete. Clint looks from it to the body and far too late puts two and two together. Bucky has brutally gutted the man, literally sliced him open from the bottom of his back all the way up to the base of his neck, one violent tear that’s gone through everything; clothes, skin, muscle and bone. There’s a pool of crimson slowly spreading out underneath the body, creeping over the concrete. The gun lies forgotten by the man’s shoulder.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” Bucky demands, stowing the knife away. “Ti Durak-”

He grabs hold of Clint’s jacket and shoves him angrily against the wall. “I could fucking kill you-”

Clint chokes on a gasp. Fumbling, he tries to reach down at press his hand against the wound on his side, instinctively wanting to put pressure on it. Fuck, Bucky is beyond furious - of course he is, Clint went off mission without so much as a word, he jeopardized everything they set out to do. Man, in trying to protect Bucky's conscience he got himself shot and wrecked the entire goddamn mission-

His vision is going swimmy again.

“You never do that again,” Bucky snarls, and Clint hasn’t seen him so angry in weeks. “You fucking hear me-?”

“I got shot,” Clint blurts, and Bucky abruptly stops. The anger turns into something else, bleeding away into something harder to pinpoint.

“What?”

“Only a little bit,” Clint says, blinking hard. He’s starting to shake, his limbs trembling uncontrollably. “Did you get the target?”

Bucky’s mouth opens but Clint doesn’t hear the response. The blackness creeps in again but this time it’s not so bad. Bucky’s here. Yeah, he’s mad, but angry Bucky is better than no Bucky.

Clint feels like he should tell him that, but everything around him is fading and all he can do is blindly reach for Bucky’s arm before he passes out, the world around him sliding from his grasp.

Chapter Text

There’s something cold and damp on his forehead, soothing as it gently presses against his brow. His throat clicks on a swallow and he frowns as he exhales heavily through his nose, swimming slowly back into consciousness. Despite the dull throbbing in his torso he actually feels comfortable, lying on something soft and with warm blankets pulled over him.

“Wake up, Barton,” a voice says, and he remembers.

“Not if you’re just going to kill me,” he mumbles, voice hoarse like sandpaper, hands clumsy and uncoordinated as he pulls them out from under the blankets. He reaches up slowly and then rubs away the sleep from his eyes before opening them. Judging by the light it’s late evening; weak, pale light stretches in through the windows, reaching out across the floorboards towards them.

He’s lying on a couch, that much he knows. The only other fact he knows it that Bucky is there.

He’s kneeling down beside the couch on bare floorboards, washcloth in hand. He’s quiet and still, expression contemplative and tired.

“Where are we?” Clint asks, looking around. It looks like they’re in someone’s house, but it’s oddly bare; the only furniture is the couch he’s lying on and an empty bookcase in the corner. He contemplates the details for a moment and then he sees that there are cobwebs in every corner, dirt across the walls and the windows look like they need washing.

“Shush,” Bucky says. He turns and puts the washcloth down and reaches for a bottle of water. Cracking the top off, he holds it towards Clint’s mouth, indicating he should drink. Clint reaches for the bottle with clumsy fingers, but Bucky doesn’t let go. He slides his metal hand under Clint’s head to help him lift up, still guiding the bottle with his other hand as Clint drinks.

Clint would object, but he’s exhausted.

“Painkillers?” Bucky says quietly and Clint nods. Bucky reaches behind him again and comes back with a bottle of tablets; he efficiently opens it and shakes two into his metal hand, and before Clint can stop him he’s pressing them into Clint’s mouth and then bringing the bottle of water back.

Clint takes several deep swallows and then falls back, breathing heavily. A faint memory sluggishly stirs in the back of his mind, something strange yet familiar that’s just settled into place.

“When you stabbed me,” he says, barely open eyes on Bucky’s face. “You did this then.”

Bucky nods, one single jerky dip of his chin as he takes a drink from the bottle and recaps it.

“You didn’t even know me then,” Clint says.

Bucky stares down at the bottle in his hand. His jaw clenches slightly and his nostrils flare as he breathes out slowly and unsteadily. He swallows, and then drops the bottle of water and turns to Clint.

“I need to check the wound,” he says, and reaches for the blanket. Clint lets him do it, lying still as Bucky flips the blanket back and shuffles along so he’s bent over Clint’s midsection, reaching out to peel back a dressing that’s taped to his skin.

Clint hisses between his teeth, looking down as Bucky carefully touches his skin just to the side of the wound. The moment he sees it relief floods through him because it’s not actually a full on bullet hole in his stomach, but the deep gash of a graze along his side. It’s been stitched together and there’s an expanse of angry red skin around it, which looks more like road rash than anything else.

“Told you I only got shot a little bit,” he says, and Bucky’s head snaps up to him and suddenly he looks furious.

“You-” he snaps, and then reigns it in with considerable effort. Anger still radiating from every line of his body, he covers the wound back up and throws the blanket back over Clint. His hands are shaking.

“Barnes?” Clint says, unsettled. He tries to push himself into a sitting position, gritting his teeth against the waves of pain that spread from his side.

“For fucks sake, will you lie still?” Bucky shouts, and he gets up and storms away several steps. He reaches up and grabs his hair in his hands. “What the fuck do I have to do to get you to care about yourself for one fucking minute?!”

“Jesus, Barnes, calm down!” Clint protests, and he utterly ignores Bucky and shoves himself up into a sitting position, leaning back against the couch cushions. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“You!” Bucky bellows, and Clint has never heard him so loud, has never seen him lose his temper like this. “You went off mission and you got yourself shot!”

Clint’s stomach drops, something cold and uncomfortable settling in his gut. He opens his mouth to reply but what can he say? Bucky’s absolutely right. He did go off mission, he did fuck everything up. Bucky stares at him and then shakes his head in something that could be disgust or disappointment, turning his back on Clint and facing the window.

God, he’d known it even as the mission had been going so wrong, he’d known that Bucky was going to be furious with him. It just hurts more than he was expecting now that it’s happening.

“I’m sorry,” he forces out. He feels cold all over, shivering slightly. “I know I fucked up. I shouldn’t have gone off mission without telling you, but I had to get that guy away from you. If he’d been innocent, and you’d shot him-”

Bucky slowly turns on the spot. “What are you talking about,” he says quietly. His expression has closed off, gone dark and dangerous.

“You would have never forgiven yourself if you’d killed him and he was innocent,” Clint says, forcing the words out of his still-dry throat. “That’s why I made the call, and I know I fucked the mission-”

“You think I’m mad because you went off mission,” Bucky interrupts him.

“You said,” Clint says, feeling wrong footed. “You said I went off mission-” 

“And you got yourself shot!” Bucky shouts. “Jesus, Barton, I thought you were going to die!”

And Clint notices it all at once. The way Bucky’s eyes are too bright. The minute tremble of his chin. The way his fists are clenched at his sides.

“You got shot,” Bucky repeats, and his voice is too thick and wavering, and Clint has never heard anything like it. “You were shot trying to protect my fucking non-existent honor and I thought you were going to die and I can’t do this without you. I need you. I fucking still need you.”

“Barnes-”

“Shut up,” Bucky says viciously, pointing a metal finger at Clint. “You shut up. Because the worst fucking thing is that you don’t even – you thought I was mad because you’d – fuck you, Barton. Fuck you.”

Even as he says it he’s moving again, and he’s striding over to Clint and reaching for him, hands on either side of his face. “I-” he says, and his eyes dart over Clint’s face. He swallows thickly, cuts himself off.

Clint doesn’t know what to say. It feels like the very foundations of his already uncertain world have been pulled out from underneath him. He knows exactly what Bucky is trying to say with every word that he leaves out, with the desperate way he’s looking at Clint, like he’s something wonderful and terrible all at the same time.

“Hey, I’m okay,” he says, and he lifts his hands to curl his fingers around Bucky’s wrists, holding him in place. “Thanks to you. I’m okay.”

“You need to care,” Bucky says, fierce and urgent. “You need to care about yourself because what’s the fucking point in me caring if you don’t.”

Clint pulls his head away, looks down as the words hit too close to home. “Don’t.”

Bucky steps back, hands dropping to his sides. His jaw works, mouth twisting slightly as he contemplates Clint, tiny movements that he only ever lets free when they’re alone. The silence stretches out between them like the shadows, brittle in the wake of the argument.

“You ever gonna tell me, or what?”

Bucky’s quiet and dejected voice shatters the silence, and the world stops. He’s not even pretending to skirt around the issue, and Clint knows exactly what he’s talking about.

“Stop looking at me like that,” Clint snaps without thinking, feeling twisted up in all the worst ways. “Stop fucking asking. Thought you were the Winter Soldier? Didn’t think you were programmed to love.”

The words hang there in the air between them, bitter and scornful.

Clint wishes he could take it back the moment he’s said it.

“You might be fucked up. You might be lost,” Bucky says after a silence that presses far too heavily against them, voice hard and cutting. “But I didn’t think you were cruel.”

He turns on his heel and walks out of the room. His footsteps fade, and Clint hears the click of a door somewhere deeper in the house. Reeling from how awfully wrong it’s all gone so goddamn fast, he feels his chin tremble and grits his teeth against it, cursing under his breath and clenching his shaking fists. His eyes feel too warm and bright, and he tips his head back against the cushions of the couch, glaring at the ceiling as he tries to keep everything in, locked away where it needs to be.

Bucky doesn’t come back. The light fades and surrenders to the shadows that creep up on him, sat motionless on the sofa. His side aches dully, an angry throbbing that pulses in time with his heartbeat. His mind is stuck on what he said to Bucky, and he doesn’t know which the lower blow was; the crack about him not being able to love or the part about him being programmed.

Maybe they’re equally as terrible.

He feels the guilt and the fear somewhere in a distant part of his mind, shoved away just like thoughts of Phil. He doesn’t want them to become any sharper; he knows they’ll be too raw and ugly and painful and he just can’t.

Part of him restlessly whispers that Bucky will be fine without him now, a dejected and tired part of him that’s already given up. The part that felt most at home in shitty bars under a haze of drunkenness, drifting aimlessly from place to place.

The other parts, the ones that are closer to those feelings he’d rather not acknowledge are angrier, fiercer. They tell him that Bucky needs him, that Bucky said he still needs him.

Though that was before Clint opened his stupid fucking mouth and said those things.

He sits motionless for hours, drifts into an uneasy sleep, uncomfortable and disturbed. He never fully settles and half formed nightmares flit behind barely conscious eyelids, sharp edges of blue and mocking voices that fill him with fear.

It’s a dark and lonely place. He probably deserves to be left there.

 


 

The sound of footsteps on wooden floorboards impress on his consciousness, triggering the shift of eyelids, the sharp inhale of waking breath. He cracks his eyes open and sees cold winter sunlight flooding the room, stark and intrusive.

Pushing himself up, the bottom drops out of his stomach as Bucky walks over, dropping to his knees at the far end of the couch and reaching for their bags. Bucky’s name is on the top of his tongue, underneath an apology that’s burning a hole in his chest. Memories from yesterday are still too clear, worse than the horrible throbbing pain in his side.

“I’m going out,” Bucky says before Clint can gather the courage to speak. His voice is flat and emotionless, and for one moment Clint wonders if he’s about to have his feet cuffed together. “Stay put. I’ll be back by midnight.”

Tell him, you fucking idiot, he tells himself, and it’s not Natasha or Phil or anyone else that would be saying that to him, it’s his own voice echoing angrily in his mind. Apologize and tell him what happened.

The words smolder and die, bitter ash in his mouth. He swallows, and watches with increasing desperation as Bucky gathers his things. A gun. Two knives. The cell phone from yesterday.

“Did you get her,” Clint blurts. “The target.”

Bucky doesn’t even look at him.

“Yes,” he says without inflection, and then he’s gone. He actually walks away and leaves Clint alone on the couch, the window he climbs out of snicking closed and making Clint flinch.

He tries to breathe, tries to calm the fuck down and think, but the sound of the window closing echoes in his ears, jarring. He presses the heels of his hands over his ears and tries to make it stop, tries to tell himself that it’s okay.

But it’s not. Because Bucky has laid everything bare for Clint, told him everything, opened up to him in ways that were probably terrifying.

He’s killed for Clint.

And Clint is too fucking scared to extend him the same courtesy. He’s still running, he realizes. Running from what happened and not acknowledging it, treating it like a bad joke with an even worse punchline.

Fuck, what does it say about him that the goddamn Winter Soldier has managed to drag himself back up onto his feet after seventy years of fuckery, and he can’t even bring himself to think back to under a week of being out of control? Though there was the difference that Bucky can only remember certain flashes of it. Clint can remember every single second in excruciating detail.

Despite the pain in his side, he drags himself up off of the sofa, unable to stay still any longer. Using the walls to prop himself up and taking shaking steps, he forces himself to look around the house they’re in. It’s just an abandoned property, with a front yard full of gnarled trees and overgrown shrubbery, a layer of dust of everything inside. It’s as if it’s been forgotten, left behind at the world outside keeps on turning.

Even though his side is on fire and he’s pretty sure he’s going to throw up, Clint makes himself check every room. Despite what he’s done and the wreckage of the relationship between them, he’s pretty sure that Bucky wouldn’t have left him anywhere unsafe.

Though maybe now that Clint has shown his true colours, Bucky won’t give a damn if Hydra come in and slit his throat while he’s alone and vulnerable.

Thinking that Bucky wouldn’t care hurts more than thinking about being killed. Clint isn’t even surprised, just wearily accepting.

He’s way in over his head here, and he knows it.

He stumbles to a stop in the last room he checks, one tucked away in the corner of the house. The dust has been disturbed, and there are blankets tucked away in the corner, which look like they've been recently moved.

Eyes feeling too warm, Clint swallows hard and turns away.

He makes it back to the couch and falls onto it with a grunt of pain. He manages to down some painkillers and then he’s slipping away again into restless sleep, a small part of him wondering if Bucky will even return.

Bucky does. The sun has set and everything inside and out is so cold; Clint’s breath causes a mist in front of his face every time he exhales. Bucky comes back in through the window, stealing in like a ghost. There’s blood on his wrist and Clint doesn’t want to know where he’s been.

Bucky’s eyes are on him the moment he enters the room. His expression is still carefully guarded and it makes Clint want to scream. There’s a man in there that is full of life and minuscule expression, flickers of humor and love and despair-

-and Clint has managed to push him away just because he’s a fucking coward.

“You moved,” Bucky says, walking forwards and taking off the backpack he’s been wearing. He kneels to open it and takes his gun out of his jacket and the knives from his boots, stashing them away.

Clint just nods, teeth chattering. Bucky’s eyes lift and then away. Without a word he gets up and leaves, and for a wild second Clint thinks he’s going out again, but then he returns with the blankets from the other room. He motions for Clint to lean forwards and wraps one around his shoulders, kneeling to shake the other out over his knees.

He makes to stand but Clint has hold of him before he knows what he’s doing, desperate fingers grasping onto his sleeve. Bucky looks at Clint’s hand with a frown, like he’s surprised it’s there. It’s a dispassionate, curious look that has Clint wondering if he’s about to lose the hand.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out. “I’m so sorry.”

And Bucky cracks. The expression shifts as the shadows play across his face, dipping his chin and breathing out heavily.

“Tell me what you’re sorry for,” he says, and in a single second he’s gone from blank faced and composed to so, so vulnerable. God, the fact he even allows himself to go there - he’s so strong, strong in ways Clint isn’t.

“Barton?”

Clint hasn’t answered. He blinks and realizes he’s not said anything, and Bucky is waiting, he’s actually giving Clint the chance to put it right.

And Clint doesn’t even know where to start. It’s such a mess, the fact he’s so sorry for making that stupid fucking comment, that he’s terrified because Bucky loves him and he thinks he loves him back, that he misses Phil and Natasha and he’s too scared to think about what happened, full of shame and regret and guilt. He doesn’t even know how they got here and he’s not good enough, he’s never good enough, and he wants Bucky to tell him what to do, he wants Bucky to leave and not come back-

He’s so, so scared of it all.

He’s scared of being controlled again, he’s scared of himself, scared of these feelings that shouldn’t be there, the feelings that are way too strong.

Scared of the things he doesn’t deserve. Scared of what he might deserve for what he did.

Scared of not being strong enough.

And he opens his mouth, and his throat is too tight. He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know-

“Go to sleep, Barton,” Bucky says quietly, shattering the silence.

“Barnes-”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says flatly, tired. He sits back on his heels, tugs his jacket free from Clint’s fingers. “I get it. You don’t want to talk. I’m not gonna make you.”

He exhales heavily, rubs at his eyes with his metal fingers. “We’re okay, alright? Just - just get some sleep.”

“We’re alright?” Clint echoes, and what does that even mean, does it mean that Bucky doesn’t hate him, does that mean they can go back to that place from the day before, warm hands and mouths, stolen kisses in the muted light?

Bucky shuts his eyes for a second, and when he opens them they’re clear. Unwavering.

“I’ve spent too long with everything on unequal footing,” Bucky says. “I won’t go there again. Even with you.”

He stands up. He leaves.

Clint stares ahead at the wall, unblinking. He manages to keep everything locked down in place long enough to hear the door along the corridor close, and then he gives up.

He gives up, and he cries. He buries his face in his hands and sobs, and he doesn’t even know what exactly it is he’s crying over, barely aware of the sensation of having something he needs in his fingertips effortlessly snatched away.

 


 

 

He wakes up alone, to the smell of coffee. 

A single cup is on the floor next to the couch, still faintly warm. There’s a bread roll in a paper bag next to it, and a snickers bar. Underneath the coffee is a folded piece of paper, and Clint stares at it for a long moment, unwilling to reach out for it. His head aches and his nose is all stuffy from crying all goddamn night; he’s pretty sure his eyes are still red and puffy.

Well, at least Bucky isn’t here to see it.

Slowly, he reaches out for the drink and the note. His side aches, stitches pulling as he stretches, but it’s not as painful as yesterday. It already itches slightly, the telltale tingle of a healing wound.

Carefully wedging the coffee cup between his knees, he takes a deep breath and unfolds the piece of paper, bracing himself-

Target. Twenty four hours. Don’t leave. Stay safe.

All his breath escapes in a shaky, opened-mouth exhale, brows furrowing in a surge of emotion. He presses the back of his hand to his mouth to keep more tears at bay, feeling like they’re lurking far too close to the surface.

Stay safe.

He stares at the two words, hardly daring to read more into the carefully printed letters. Bucky didn’t need to write that, did he? Or is it not about Clint staying safe, and more about not fucking up any more missions?

But yesterday - Bucky said it wasn’t about the fact Clint had fucked up the mission, it was the fact he’d been shot, that he’d been hurt.

Without thinking, Clint screws up the note and drops it to the floor. Closing his eyes, he slumps back into the sofa, wishing it would all just go away.

He manages to get himself up to the bathroom, socked feet cold on the floorboards. He’s not in the jeans he’d been wearing when he was shot, nor the t-shirt. He’s in a new shirt and sweats, yet more evidence of Bucky caring for him.

After an epic struggle with the stairs, he finds himself staring at his reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink. He looks exhausted, dark rings beneath his eyes and several days’ worth of scruffy stubble on his jaw. He’s pale, far too pale, and there’s dried blood from somewhere on one of ears.

Almost in a daze, he reaches out and presses his fingers to his reflection. His reflection stares back, silent. It’s like he doesn’t even know who he’s looking at. He thought he’d been getting better, making progress, but now he’s not so sure.

You might be fucked up. You might be lost. But I didn’t think you were cruel.

He closes his eyes.

I’ve spent too long with everything on unequal footing. I won’t go there again. Even with you.

And there it is. Everything they’ve built so far, how far they’ve come is now tumbling down around him because Bucky is right, it’s not equal between them. He remembers the moment on the side of the interstate, Bucky yelling at him that they needed each other. Remembers the time Bucky had woken and nearly strangled him, how Clint had begged him not to go because he needed him more than Bucky had hurt him.

He’s got to tell him.

If he wants to keep Bucky, he has to tell him.

He tightens his grip on the edge of the sink, shaking his head jerkily. Telling means more remembering, telling means admitting. Telling means dealing with it.

Briefly, he thinks about leaving. He’s still got the cellphone from the mission in his bag, a show of trust from Bucky that’s almost unfathomable, considering how he’d been when they’d first met. All it would take is a single texted word and Natasha would be able to find him-

Though Clint knows Natasha, and he knows who she’s with. If she really wanted to find him, she’d have done it by now.

So why hasn’t she?

Bitterly, Clint thinks of the days when he would have given anything to be out of Natasha’s way, unable to be found or traced. That was easier than the gnawing twist of doubt in his stomach that whispers that she doesn’t care about finding him anymore.

He can feel tears threatening again, feeling backed into a corner. If he can’t stay with Bucky and he can’t go to Natasha, where can he go? The police, maybe. Just wander into a police station and admit that he attacked those cops. Though that may raise questions about who he was with, where the Winter Soldier is.

Wiping his fingers under his eyes, he laughs helplessly when he catches himself thinking that the one person he’d actually want to hand himself over to is Steve. Captain America - Bucky’s best friend. Clint trusts Steve with his life, and there’s no history there, no feelings, nothing to make him doubt and fear. Steve would just deal with him as he saw fit to deal with him, taking it completely out of Clint’s hands.

Enabling him to run away from it all again.

The thought hits like a deluge of cold water, a punch to the stomach. He stares at himself, not quite processing that all these half-assed thoughts about surrendering mean that he’d be running away from Bucky. Fucking hell, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean he should run away - and he wants to stay with Bucky. Bucky needs him, Bucky loves him-

It’s like the first real breath he’s taken since Bucky left.

“Quit being a coward,” he breathes, staring his reflection down. “Clint Barton.”

His reflection shapes the words back at him, an echo of his name that’s far more important than he ever remembered. He reaches up, slaps his palm to the mirror. “Get a grip, Clint Barton,” he says, and the words are stronger, easier.

He lets his hand fall away from the cold glass, leaving a smear of disturbed dust in its wake. He meets his own eyes, careful. “Get a grip, Hawkeye,” he whispers, and his reflection whispers it back.

 


 

 

Clint is remarkably calm by the time Bucky returns. It’s been just under Bucky’s estimated twenty-four hours, and he’s already gone through a pretty exhausting cycle of talking himself in and out of his half-assed plan.

Bucky steps into the room, looking somewhat warily at Clint, eyes on his bow that’s in his hands.

“Any trouble? What happened?” he asks as he sheds his backpack.

“Nothing,” Clint says, fingers pulling at the bowstring, the resistance under his hands grounding and reassuring. Even if this all goes terribly wrong, he’ll still have this and no-one can take that away from him.

Bucky pauses for a moment, looking as if he’s trying to decide whether to accept the answer or not, and then he breathes out and nods, sinking to the floor beside the couch and looking at Clint. His hair tumbles untidily across his brow and there’s something that could be ash smeared over his jaw.

“You okay?” he asks, keeping his hands on his bow rather than giving into the urge to touch Bucky.

Bucky nods. “No injuries,” he reports. He looks at Clint for a moment and then seems to give up, getting to his feet again. It’s almost as if sitting close to Clint is his default, and he’s still not quite registering that it’s not quite the same right now. He looks a little lost, honestly, fatigue making it easier to spot.

Clint’s fingers tighten on his bow. His pulse quickens. He so damn scared.

But Bucky is leaving the room and Clint can’t let him walk away, can’t let him go on thinking that Clint doesn’t trust him, that Clint doesn’t love him and fiercely and unreservedly in return.

“Barnes.”

Bucky stops, metal hand on the doorjamb. He doesn’t turn around.

Clint swallows thickly, sets his bow aside and pushes himself to his feet. He’s unsteady but it’s easier, standing. Besides, now they’re both on their feet. Equal and all that.

“I’m sorry I put myself in danger. It’s not fair of me to thank you for having my back if I’m not even gonna bother doing the same.”

The words hang between them, just one out of many sets that Clint knows he’s got to get out there tonight. He waits, anxiety twisting in his chest as he waits for the response before he continues.

Bucky slowly turns. Grey eyes catch the pale moonlight that slices in through the unboarded section of window, the rest of his face in shadow. He’s silent, dangerous.

The most fucking beautiful thing Clint has ever seen.

“I know you care-” he begins, but then Bucky interrupts him, smashing all of Clint’s carefully thought out steps with one devastating blow of honesty.

“What’s the point of me loving something if it’s going to be a punk and get itself killed.”

It’s barely a question, more a fact. Something that Bucky seems wearily resigned to and Clint can barely think because he’d known it, he knows that Bucky loves him but to have it said so directly to him makes him feel like he’s out of his depth, out maneuvered.

“The something knows it’s a punk and won’t do that anymore?” Clint tries weakly and then before he can even think about whether it’s a good idea or not, “because the something loves you back and it took him this long to get that?”

Bucky freezes. He goes so still that he might as well be carved from stone. “Don’t lie to me,” he says, and it’s not so much an accusation but a plea.

“Can’t,” Clint says, and his throat is going tight.

“Lies of omission,” Bucky replies and Clint really, really needs him here to hold onto.

He shivers in the cold air. Shifts one his feet, toes scrunching up on the bare floorboards. “I’m scared that you’ll go once you know more about me.”

Bucky meets his gaze. “Can it be any worse than the things I’ve done?” he asks quietly.

“I’d say it’s probably about even,” Clint says. He’s trying to keep his voice light but it cracks straight down the middle, even as a flicker of hope kindles in his chest because if anyone is going to understand its Bucky, if anyone will get it it’s the Winter Soldier-

“Barton,” Bucky says, and he steps closer, slow and uncertain. “Clint. What happened to you?”

Clint shuts his eyes, and he makes himself talk.

“I was possessed,” he says, and he wishes he could say it without having to hear the words. It feels like his heart is screaming in protest. “Brainwashed. I was working for SHIELD on a high clearance surveillance job. The bad guy, the one responsible for the battle of New York - he had, uh. I don’t know. But he managed to get into my head.”

He doesn’t open his eyes. He’s shaking from head to toe, his pulse drumming in his ears.

“I killed twenty-two SHIELD agents. Eight security guards in Germany. And I knocked the helicarrier out of the sky, let a hostile team on board which killed fifty six more people. Tried to kill my best friend. I fucking stole the iridium which allowed him to open that goddamn portal in the sky. I don’t even know how many people died when that opened and the Chituari came through, but it’s because of me that it happened. If I hadn’t - if I’d been stronger, if I’d fought back-”

His voice breaks and he can’t do it anymore, he needs to get away. He blindly turns, but then there’s a hand around his wrist, pulling him back. He shoves Bucky away with a broken noise of protest but Bucky’s so much stronger than he is, but he fights anyway, fights like he should have done against Loki-

“I got you,” Bucky says, and his voice is calm and strained and safe, whispered in Clint’s ear. They somehow end up on the floor, Clint is curled into Bucky and Bucky has his arms around him, holding him against him, one hand on the back of his head.

He’s crying again. Sobbing like Bucky did after he’d been to the Smithsonian, but Bucky just holds his tight and safe, and it’s the relief that’s the most agonizing to deal with, the fact that Bucky is still here.

He doesn’t know how long they sit there. He knows that at some point he stops crying, but Bucky doesn’t let him go. His breathing evens out, soothed by the thump of Bucky’s heartbeat under his temple. He still feels panicked, scared that it’s out there now and outside of his control, but the feeling is calmed by Bucky’s quiet presence, his silent support.

God, but Clint loves this man.

It’s Bucky who finally breaks the silence. “I remember you said I was over grossly under or over qualified to play at being your therapist,” he says, and his chin is resting atop Clint’s head, hand smoothing down his back. “I get that now.”

“I didn’t even mean anything by it,” Clint says, voice hoarse and thick. “Just wanted you to shut the fuck up.”

Bucky huffs out the faintest trace of a laugh. “You wanna talk about it?”

“No,” Clint says. “But now you know.”

Bucky shifts, pulling Clint in more comfortably and winding an arm around his waist. “I always wondered,” he says. “You always got me.”

“Consider this the first meeting of the brainwashed superheroes club,” Clint says, and Bucky laughs softly.

“You a superhero again, now?”

“I am if you are,” Clint says. Bucky doesn’t reply, just breathes out deeply. The quietness rolls back over them, the only sound in the room is their breathing.

Side starting to ache, Clint shifts and sits up, his palm on Bucky’s chest. Even though he knows he’s done the right thing by telling Bucky, it’s not over by any means; there’s still such a tangled mess of problems in them both, and he knows that’s not going to just away with a few confessions.

He thinks it might start to help, though.

“This is hard for me. To convince myself that I - that I matter in all of this. That I matter to someone.”

Bucky watches him carefully, and then he just leans in and kisses him, hands lifting to carefully cradle Clint’s jaw. It’s too much, too soon and Clint has to turn his face away, even though he's grateful for the answer.

“Stay with me,” he blurts out, because he wants to kiss Bucky, god he does, but he’s still so on edge and desperate-

Bucky simply nods. He shifts away to efficiently strip out of his boots and pants, and clambers onto the couch, pulling Clint with him. They settle with Bucky on his back and Clint tucked into his side, head resting on his shoulder. Bucky’s arm is curled around Clint’s shoulders and he takes Clint’s hand and presses it to his stomach, covering it with his metal one.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says into the darkness, voice steady. “For what happened to you.”

Clint swallows, rubs his face against the warm skin of Bucky’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for the both of us,” he replies, and feels Bucky tighten his grip on him fractionally.

He’s still scared. He’s still a mess.

But right now, he’s safe and he’s loved, and that easily counts for more. 

He breathes out, closes his eyes, and he sleeps.

 

Chapter Text

Clint wakes up still lying atop Bucky, shivering and cold. The blankets they’ve been using have slipped down his back so he reaches with a groggy hand to pull them back up over his shoulder, burying his face in Bucky’s neck and sliding his hand around his waist. Bucky grunts in his sleep and then he’s shifting too, slowly waking up.

“Sorry,” Clint says hoarsely.

“Don’t be,” Bucky replies and then yawns, body stretching taut under Clint’s before relaxing back into the cushions. His hands move under the blanket and find their way under Clint’s shirt, smoothing up the skin of his back.

Clint relaxes into the touch, eyes drifting shut again. The fight from yesterday seems like a thousand years ago, something from another life. He’s fucking glad; not being this close to Bucky had been excruciating.

He can’t begrudge the fight too much though; he’s now closer to Bucky than he’s ever been, a huge chunk of uncertainty washed away in the face of their admissions, good and bad alike.

In a way, he can barely believe it; he told Bucky what he did and Bucky’s still here, and not only is he still here but he’s back in Clint’s arms. In retrospect, Clint should have realized that Bucky wouldn't judge him on what happened though, considering their crossover in experiences.

He feels...he doesn’t know. Not emptier, though that is the first word that comes to mind. Less tangled up in a way. Cleaner inside his own head. It’s like the admission has removed a whole block of anxiety that he didn’t even know was there, leaving more space and time for calmer thoughts.

They lie there quietly for a while, silent and comfortable. Clint doesn’t feel the need to say anything; what he said yesterday was enough and he’s at peace with that, able to simply lie there and appreciate Bucky’s company in silence. Bucky seems to be thinking along the same lines; he stays awake but remains quiet, hand stroking over Clint’s lower back in a gentle, slow drag.

The sun has fully risen and the room is bathed in stripes of weak light when Bucky finally shifts so he’s the one propped up on an elbow, pushing Clint’s shoulder so he rolls onto his back. He reaches up and pushes Clint’s hair back from his brow; it’s getting untidily long now, just like Bucky’s.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, and Clint feels the back of his neck going warm. “Though I think I owe you an apology.”

Clint frowns, because as far as he’s concerned Bucky has nothing to apologize for, at least not to him. “What?”

Bucky’s mouth twists. “I shouldn’t have forced you into-”

“No, whoa, whoa,” Clint says, wanting to shut that down before it can go any further. He pushes himself up onto his elbows, closer to Bucky. “You did right. I needed to say it out loud.”

“But. I made you say it for me, not for-”

“Hey,” Clint says, and he reaches out to put his palm on Bucky’s cheek, thumb stroking against rough stubble. “You did the right thing. It wasn’t fair. And I’d been holding out on you. Not that I ever want to talk about it ever again. But. I did say it for me and - and I’m glad you know.”

Bucky sighs, reaches up to press his palm to the back of Clint’s hand. He looks like he wants to say more, but thinks better of it and just nods, accepting.

“Never again?”

“Never, ever again,” Clint says seriously, and then shrugs. “Maybe. Not now.”

And it seems good enough for Bucky, who nods much more easily this time. He traces his fingers down the back of Clint’s hand and his gaze flicks from Clint’s eyes down to his mouth, fleeting but oh-so easy to read. A shiver works its way down Clint’s spine and he tilts his chin up fractionally, just enough for the movement to be a reply.

Bucky leans in and kisses him without a hesitation. Breathing heavily, he pulls back, mouth hovering millimeters away from Clint’s and then he presses forwards again, hands moving to rest on either side of Clint’s neck.  

God, Bucky kisses like he’s never going to get another chance. It’s open mouthed and slightly desperate, though he’s still cautious, pulling away every so often. It’s a heady mix of passionate and uncertain, and today Clint can’t think of a single reason to stop-

Shit.

He gasps out a curse as he curls further forwards, and the wound on his side abruptly protests, a sharp stabbing pain that demands he lie back down right fucking now.

“Barton? Oh, hell-” Bucky immediately moves back, shoving Clint back into a prone position with his metal hand, the other on his hip keeping him still.  

“I’m alright,” Clint says, wincing slightly as he tries to relax back into the cushions, willing his abdomen not to tense up. “Just stretched too far for the stitches.”

“Let me check,” Bucky says, looks down at his stomach and raises a questioning eyebrow; Clint nods and Bucky reaches down to lift his shirt, eyes on the dressing on his side.

He pulls it back with nimble fingers, carefully checking. “Looks okay,” he says. “Lucky this time.”

Clint nods. “No infection?”

“No,” Bucky says. “Like I said, you were lucky.”

“Oh good,” Clint says. “Didn’t feel like losing another three days of my life fevering and freaking out.”

“Hmm, I don’t really want to waste another three days on looking after you when you’re fevering and freaking out,” Bucky says, and then hastily looks up to meet Clint’s eyes, uncertain.

Clint smiles weakly, a faint hitch to the corner of his mouth. He knows Bucky’s joking. He’s glad Bucky’s joking, that he feels comfortable enough to go back to how they were before Clint made a mess of things. Well, almost back to where they were.

Bucky holds his gaze, the uncertainty fading. He slowly shifts so he’s kneeling beside the couch, leaning over to dig new clean dressings out of his bag. Clint lies still and allows him to carefully change the dressing, watching him and feeling utterly safe in Bucky’s hands. With the uncertainty gone, it allows Clint to really appreciate the touch against his skin, the care and intimacy in the gesture.

It’s baffling, honestly. That he’s here with a man who loves him, despite everything.

It’s an unfamiliar yet strangely warming thought.

Bucky finishes up with the dressing, gentle smoothing his hand over the edges and then across Clint’s stomach, thumb dragging across the trail of hair leading from his bellybutton down to the waistband of his sweatpants.

Clint shivers, breath catching audibly in his chest. Bucky’s eyes lift to his, and then very deliberately uses his other hand to push Clint’s shirt up even further. It’s somewhere between nervous and reverent the way he does it, inching the material back so gradually. He swallows, and then leans down to press his mouth right to the dip below Clint’s sternum, on the soft vulnerable place between his ribs.

That’s all he does. He kisses his skin and then pulls back, unapologetic grey eyes finding Clint’s.

Dazedly, Clint recalls something about a resolution to not go there with Bucky. Though that whole train of thought was before the getting shot, dropping the L-bomb and admitting all about Loki thing, so maybe it’s redundant now.

Bucky exhales heavily, moves so his chin is propped on Clint’s hip, fingers splayed out on his stomach.

“Don’t stop.”

It was his voice but Clint’s not entirely sure that it’s him that just said that, low and rough and wanting. Bucky nods jerkily, and then he leans down and kisses Clint’s stomach again, his breath hot over his skin, a stark contrast to the chill of the air.

“I remember,” Bucky breathes against him, and he shifts to gentle trace his nose along Clint’s hipbone, visible above the waistband of his sweats. “I remember wanting. So bad.”

“You get lucky a lot in between missions?” Clint asks, and it’s such a stupid fucking thing to say, his sense of humor is awful, but Bucky just laughs.

“I don’t know,” he says. “It’s mostly from before.”

He kisses Clint’s hipbone again, and Clint should hate this, should hate lying back in such a vulnerable position, but he doesn’t. In fact, he’s not even ambivalent about it; he’s catching himself being glad that he’s here in Bucky’s hands, not under Bucky’s control but with Bucky’s strength to help keep him safe, even when he’s letting go.

“I’ll stop if you want,” Bucky says, all twisted Brooklyn sounds and breathless want. “But I fuckin’ want you so bad. And I-”

“You like doing what you want now,” Clint finishes for him, though he doesn’t admit that he’s still finding it hard to get that he’s what Bucky wants.

Bucky nods. “I like doing what I want,” he repeats quietly, and leans down to kiss Clint’s skin again. His breath hitches and his brow furrows, and Clint wonders if he’s remembering, or if it’s just the sheer overwhelming sensation of doing this again. God, he’s feeling just as blindsided as Bucky looks, body electric and nerves on fire. He’s getting hard already, just from the wet warmth of Bucky’s mouth across his abdomen, the sensation of having him so close. He squirms restlessly, shoulders rolling back into the cushions.

Strong hands pin his hips down to the couch, and he opens his mouth and looks down just as Bucky leans over and presses an open mouthed kiss to the growing outline of his dick through his sweats, breathing heavily against him.

“Jesus, Barnes-” Clint gasps, shocked. Bucky leans back, licking his bottom lip. Taking a gamble on his stitches holding out, he pushes himself up onto his elbow. “Where the fuck have your nineteen-forties sensibilities gone?”

Bucky actually snorts with derisive laughter at that. His fingers curl around the waistband of Clint’s sweatpants. “Who taught you about the forties, pal?”

“The TV,” Clint replies unsteadily. “Never did much school.”

“Seems like TV has a lot to fuckin’ answer for, from where I’m standing.”

He tightens his grip and starts to ease Clint’s sweats down, but Clint’s brain isn’t moving quick enough to fully process what Bucky is saying, still hung up on the fact this was illegal when Bucky lived properly as Bucky, and surely there has to be some part of him that thinks ‘I shouldn't’, that’s caught up in the shame and guilt of the time-

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to,” Bucky insists, impatient. He looks exasperated for a moment, and then his expression goes wicked, one dark eyebrow lifting slightly. “You’re acting like this is something I never did before.”

That stops Clint short. “Have you?”

Bucky’s smirk grows bolder. “Steve once threw a guy out of a bar for calling me the best cocksucker in the 107th,” he says. “Didn’t have the heart to tell him it was true.”

And Clint is done. He’s gasping in a laugh of disbelief and delight, and it promptly cuts off into a gasp of an entirely different kind because Bucky has pulled his sweats down in the front just far enough, and, and-

The first touch of his mouth is fucking exquisite. Clint throws an arm up over his eyes and cries out, hips jerking back away from the sensation. His free hand clenches into a fist at his side, fingernails digging into his palm. He can feel Bucky’s tongue against him, the heat of his breath.

His pulse thuds in his ears, and he lets his arm slip away from his eyes, up above his head. He stares blankly at the ceiling, mouth hanging open and brow furrowed in tormented pleasure, breath coming in gasps. He realizes he’s shifting his hips in tiny circles but he’s not convinced he’s got enough willpower to stop. Uncurling his fist, he threads shaking fingers into Bucky’s short hair, hoping that Bucky won’t object.

He doesn’t. He groans and then Clint feels his mouth his closing fully around him, and he can’t hold back the strangled cry as Bucky sucks at him, deeper and harder. Oh god, oh fuck, he never thought he’d feel anything like this again.

“Oh, fuck,” he chokes out as Bucky lets go of his hip with his real hand to hold his dick steady as he works it. The moment the curse is out there he can barely catch his breath, like his tenuous control has been shattered, something frantic catalyzed in the pit of his stomach. Oh god, it feels so fucking good, it feels fucking amazing and he’s going to come like this, oh god, he’s actually going to-

“Barnes, come here, get up here,” Clint is saying without thinking, words tumbling out in a breathless rush. He drags Bucky up and Bucky throws out a hand to steady himself, ending up straddled over Clint, fists in the cushions either side of his head. He’s breathing heavily, mouth swollen and wet, eyes dark. Clint reaches for Bucky’s shirt without hesitating, and Bucky pushes himself up onto his knees so he can strip it off, throwing it aside.

“Here,” Clint breathes, hooking his arms under Bucky’s shoulders and pulling him down, letting his knees fall wide as Bucky settles on top of him.

“Your side,” Bucky pants, but Clint shakes his head.

“It’s good, I’m good,” Clint insists. “I fucking love you, you know that?”

It’s out before he can even think about it, but Bucky just looks momentarily surprised, and then he leans down and kisses Clint hard. He lowers his weight onto him, forearms resting either side of his head and fingers curling around into his hair.

“Even if I’m a killer?” he murmurs between kisses.

“Yeah,” Clint breathes back. “The Bucky parts. The Winter Soldier parts.”

Bucky groans, lowering his head and kissing Clint’s neck, pushing at his jaw to make him tilt his head back. Clint does, eyes fluttering shut and mouth falling open, a moan caught and suspended in his chest. He drags in a shuddering breath, fingers digging into Bucky’s back as he rolls his spine, pressing his chest up to Bucky’s.

It’s Bucky’s breath that’s hitching this time, even as he bites at Clint’s neck. It hurts and leaves Clint reeling; Bucky is possibly the most dangerous man he’s ever met and here he is, pinned down and vulnerable and utterly at the mercy of all of that strength.

“Shit,” he breathes, even as he unconsciously turns his head further to the side, a silent plea for more. Bucky obliges, and fuck he’s probably leaving marks everywhere, but Clint can’t bring himself to care, not when Bucky is beginning to unconsciously roll his hips against Clint’s.

“Yes,” Clint pants, and one of his hands is on Bucky’s hip, guiding him to move faster. His side hurts but he doesn’t care, he wants this more than it hurts.

“Fuck,” Bucky bites out, voice wrecked. Clint slides his free hand onto the back of his neck, fingers tangling in sweat damp hair as Bucky’s movements become stronger, more deliberate. Clint can feel how hard he is even through layers of clothing as they rub artlessly against one another, every push and drag making Clint’s heart pound and his toes curl.

Clint’s attention is drawn by Bucky sliding a hand between them; for a wild moment he thinks he’s about to get incredibly up close and personal with those metal fingers. However, he doesn't make to touch Clint; he moves jerkily and Clint is confused for a moment until Bucky is shifting back, pulling his pants open and shoving them down. He looks wild, completely taken over by desire and need.

It’s a good look on him.

“Roll over,” Bucky manages to say. “On your side.”

Clint obeys before he’s even processed the request, shifting onto his good side and watching as Bucky slides in behind him, his back against the couch and his chest pressed to Clint’s back. He pushes his metal arm under Clint’s neck, bending it so his fingers are on Clint’s jaw, pushing his face back so he can lean over his shoulder and kiss him. Clint is only too happy to let him, a strange thrill uncurling in his belly at the realisation that he has no idea what is happening, that he’s just got to let go and let Bucky do as he will-

And his brain promptly freezes as Bucky uses his real hand to roughly tug Clint’s sweats down, leaving them around his thighs. He would panic at being so on display, but Bucky is turning his face so he can kiss him again, mostly panting into his mouth as he shifts behind him-

And then he feels Bucky’s erection hot and hard against the small of his back, and Bucky guides himself between Clint’s thighs, breathing unsteadily against the back of his neck.

“Okay?” he asks, sliding his real hand onto Clint’s hip. It’s shaking.

“You’ll be more okay if we had lube,” Clint manages to reply.

“It’s been seventy years, I’m not exactly gonna be picky,” Bucky replies, voice strained, and he’s already moving, rocking back and forth slowly and steadily. He swears, and momentarily lets go of Clint’s hip; Clint hears him spit into his hand and oh my god, how desperate can they get? Though he supposes they are fucking in an abandoned house whilst on the run from both the cops and Hydra. Standards are pretty low all around.

But it doesn’t seem to matter; Bucky slides back into place slicker and wetter than before, and he’s nudging at Clint’s chin again. It’s awkward to have his neck turned around but Clint couldn’t give a damn. He returns every shaky kiss, reaching back to hold onto the back of Bucky’s head, fingers threading into his hair again. God, his heart feels too big for his chest, his emotions bubbling too quick under his skin. He’s too close to both tears and laughter; holding tightly to Bucky is the only thing keeping him here, keeping him safe.

“You feel-” Bucky breathes against his mouth, and he shoves forwards harder, and Clint aches to have him inside properly. The thought intensifies as Bucky’s hand lets go of his hip, reach around to take him in hand. He works him slowly, carefully, and Clint can feel sweat beading along his spine, on his shoulder blades where Bucky’s chest is pressed to him. Even the metal arm feels hot under his neck, the fingertips burning against his jaw-

“Bucky,” Clint whispers, wrecked and vulnerable, and Bucky’s groan echoes deep in his chest. Clint feels hot wetness slicking the inside of his thighs and every scrap of air leaves his lungs as white-hot pleasure uncurls from the pit of his stomach, hitting him like an electric shock. His whole body goes tense, caught in Bucky’s hands and his throat clicks on a desperate gasp, wordless.

 


 

“Barton? You with me?”

Clint hums sleepily, mouth curving into a faint smile as Bucky’s hand traces over his shoulder. He shifts contentedly as a kiss is pressed to the back of his shoulder blade.

“Not an answer,” Bucky says, and starts to move, making to sit up behind him.

“Stop,” Clint groans, grabbing at the blankets that are covering them and flapping his hand vaguely back at Bucky. He finds a hip and holds onto it, though he’s got no hope of keeping Bucky in place if Bucky really wants to move. “I may have low standards but I still have minimum afterglow and snuggling time.”

“Low standards? Should I be offended?” Bucky says, but he heaves out a sigh and lies back down. He nudges at Clint so he can slip his metal arm back under his neck, folding his arm across his collarbones and holding onto his shoulder. He settles down behind Clint again, chest pressing warm against Clint’s spine, legs tangling together.

It’s ridiculously intimate and Clint fucking loves it.

Satisfied, he lets go of Bucky’s hip and slides his hand down his thigh as far as he can reach, enjoying the feel of muscle under his palm.

“How strong actually are you?” he asks without opening his eyes, words slightly slurred.

“Very,” Bucky replies.

“Not an answer.”

“Punk,” Bucky says, but the bite is taken out of his words as he sighs and gently kisses Clint’s neck. He stays there, mouth resting against Clint’s skin, hand under the blankets and tracing gently up and down over his hip and the top of his thigh and back again.

God, Clint can still remember the days where Bucky having his feet touching Clint as they sat on the couch together was a big deal.

“We have to go soon,” Bucky murmurs against Clint’s neck, though he doesn’t make any effort to move.

Clint nods. “I know,” he says, yawning. “Just enjoying this.”

“Me too,” Bucky says, metal thumb stroking Clint’s shoulder. “Feels safe.”

“Shit, I didn’t even think about that,” Clint says, and he lifts his head, looks belatedly to the window. “Fuck.”

“I had it,” Bucky says. He shifts contentedly and rests his head against Clint’s, temple against his ear. He pushes a thigh between Clint’s legs, impossibly close. “Wouldn’t have gone there if we weren’t safe.”

Clint reaches up to hold onto Bucky’s metal arm where it’s braced across his chest. “That’s some impressive multitasking.”

“What’re you on? My attention was all on you.”

Clint laughs. “Smooth as fuck, Barnes. You’re a true player under that murder-eyed exterior.”

“Don’t tell anyone, it’ll ruin my rep.”

Clint grins. “Don’t want anyone to know the Winter Soldier is a secret snuggler?”

“Don’t want anyone to know,” Bucky says. “It’s easy with you. Don’t even want to think about anyone else.”

Clint hums at that, presses his mouth to Bucky’s metal wrist. “Not thought any more about going back to Steve?”

The question hangs there for a moment. Bucky’s hands don’t stop their stroking though, and he doesn’t pull away.

“Thought about it,” he finally says. “Not yet.”

Clint doesn’t press it. Not with things the way they are between them now; he knows he and Bucky have turned a corner together, but having that as common knowledge to the other Avengers, to Steve...the thought leaves him cold and hollow, and he shifts back into Bucky’s embrace, seeking comfort and warmth.

They don’t speak for a long time, but it doesn’t matter. Bucky stays exactly where he is, thumb still rubbing against Clint’s shoulder, occasionally straying near to the scar left from where he stabbed him all those months ago.

Finally, Bucky breaks the silence, body stretching behind Clint’s like a lazy big cat. He yawns, and then gently shakes Clint. “Hungry?”

“Yeah,” Clint says. “Take it we’re all out of food in here?”

“Yeah, we might have-”

The sentence cuts off abruptly. Bucky’s head snaps up and his whole body goes tense. His hand moves and he covers Clint’s mouth, and Clint instinctively holds his breath, going very, very still.

And he hears it. A faint rustle, and the snap of branches.

“Get dressed,” Bucky whispers, tense. He lets go of Clint and quickly reaches for his own clothes, climbing into his pants and dragging his shirt over his head before going for his backpack.

Clint doesn’t need to be told twice. He grabs his sweats and shirt and frantically pulls them on because he will not be fighting Hydra in his fucking underwear again, thanks. Bucky has a gun in hand even as Clint shoves his feet into his boots, padding barefoot across the floorboards to the window. His shoulders are tense, whole body coiled and ready. Trusting him to watch the window, Clint hurriedly grabs the rest of their abandoned clothes and packs them away, zipping the bags up before going for his bow.

It’s in his hands with an arrow nocked within seconds. Silently, he ducks across the room and slots himself into the doorway so he can see the corridor beyond, watching the far end just in case there’s anything out the back of the house as well.

A soft tap draws his attention. He turns his head to look at Bucky, who signals to him.

Twelve. All armed.

Clint curses under his breath. Hydra?

I don’t know, Bucky signs, leaning back against the wall and looking out quickly. He glances back to Clint, and then jerks his head away from the window towards the backdoor.

Nodding, Clint moves back across the room to grab their bags, slinging the straps over his shoulders so he’s got both hands free for his bow. Bucky grabs his boots and steals from the room and along the corridor into the empty kitchen; Clint follows a step behind, heart thudding in his chest.

“They’re making a perimeter,” Bucky mouths as he edges towards the window, looking out. “Not cops.”

“Plan?”

“Put your jacket on. Cover your face if you can,” Bucky breathes, pulling his boots on and lacing them up quickly. “Weapons in hand.”

Clint nods and does as bid; he puts his jacket on and zips it up, grabbing one of Bucky’s shirts to tie around the lower half of his face in a makeshift scarf.

“What about you?” he asks, pulling it down far enough so Bucky can hear him.

“They’re going to know who I am,” Bucky says grimly. “You, we can hide.”

And that makes sense, even if Clint doesn't exactly like it. He nods again and pulls the material up over his face, his breath warm and clammy against the fabric. Bucky gestures to the window and Clint nods, watching carefully as he steps forwards and takes hold of the board that covers the space where the glass used to be.

In one swift movement, Bucky rips the board free. It makes way too much noise, a splintering of wood and a metallic whine of nails as it’s torn down, but Clint can’t hang about to regret it. He’s through the window in one swift vault, injured side protesting the athletic movement even as his feet land safely on the other side of the window.

Bucky is right behind him. He lands with a crunch of broken glass, and they’re in the backyard of the property, just as overgrown as the rest-

There’s a shout from somewhere behind them, and Clint barely has time to process it before the crack of gunfire follows. He keeps running, the ground underfoot hard and frozen, covered in seasons’ worth of dead leaves and broken branches. There’s woodland beyond the back fence of the yard, and that’ll provide better cover if they can just get there. Bucky is just behind him as the duck into the trees, and Clint’s mouth is in his heart because this is different, this feels like they’re being hunted-

Movement to his left catches his eye, too late. He’s already past the danger but Bucky isn’t; a woman in a black uniform with a gun steps out from behind a tree, straight into Bucky’s path. He doesn’t even slow down; the gun is kicked straight out of her hands and he grabs her by the throat, throwing her down onto the ground. She cries out and scrabbles at his fingers, kicking out to try and let him go.

“Stop,” Bucky snarls. Clint hears a crack and spins around; another black-uniformed guard is there, gun raised-

Clint shoots him. The arrow goes straight into his hand and he cries out and drops the gun, and Clint is on him, whipping his elbow around and catching the guy full in the face, knocking him out cold. Panting, he grabs the arrow and yanks it from the man’s limp hand, nocking it back onto his bow.

“Who are you?” Bucky hisses as Clint backs up towards them, scanning the wood for any further danger. “Tell me or I assume you’re Hydra and break your neck.”

The woman goes limp, evidently figuring out that she has no hope of twisting free from the grip she’s in. “10th Special Forces,” she pants. “You break my neck they’re still bringing you in. You’re surrounded.”

“Spec Ops,” Clint curses, turning around and stepping forwards. “The fucking military. Let’s go.”

Bucky doesn’t move. He remains crouched down on one knee, staring at the woman, fingers still clenched tight around her neck. “We should kill her.”

Clint’s stomach swoops. “Not an option,” he says forcefully. “They’re probably trying to take down Hydra too. Leave her.”

Bucky remains motionless for a heartbeat longer, and then he roughly lets go of the woman and stands up. She doesn’t move and Clint is fucking glad she’s obviously got a modicum of sense, because he’s managed to get Bucky off of her once but he’s not sure her luck will hold out if she tries anything stupid. Bucky stoops to picks up her gun and snaps it into several pieces, dropping them to the ground beside her.

“Do not follow me,” he tells her, and she just stares defiantly back, even as Bucky turns from her, grabbing Clint’s jacket at the shoulder and pulling him away. They push on through the undergrowth and luckily come across no more Spec Ops units; obviously the place wasn’t as surrounded as the soldier claimed, though Clint isn’t going to take that as a cue to relax.

The woodland is barely that, and it only takes them a couple of minutes to see the edge, another battered chain link fence that half-heartedly tries to separate the trees from the sidewalk. There’s houses beyond, just visible through the gaps in the undergrowth.

Overhead, his ears catch the faint sounds of a thudding helicopter and he swears out loud. They need to get out of here and now, but they’ve got no hope out outrunning a fucking helicopter, and by the sounds of it they’ve only got around minute before its right above them.

They break free from the woods onto a suburban street, easily pushing through the worn out fence. Old cars line the cracked sidewalk; the fences in front of the tired houses are missing or fallen. Not the best neighbourhood, but Clint has never been so happy to find himself in the wrong end of a town, because less money means less security, and less security means more things to steal.

Clint runs straight over to the first car that looks suitable, an old beat up motor that looks the exact type of thing that Barney used to take for a joyride when they were younger. Panting, he stops himself with hands on the cold metal, peering inside.

“What are you doing?!” Bucky shouts. “Barton!”

Clint ignores him, swings the duffel bag around to pull a knife out of the side pocket. Thanking Bucky’s abundant supply of weapons, he uses it to deftly jimmy the door open. No alarms sound, no one calls out from the houses, so he throws the bags inside and tosses his bow in as well, before climbing in and leaning over the steering wheel and feeling underneath for the wires he needs.

“Barton!”

Bucky appears, deadly furious. He’s got a knife in hand and looks ready to stab Clint if he doesn’t get his ass into gear.

“Give me two seconds,” Clint pants, still yanking wires free under the console.

“We don’t have two seconds!” Bucky shouts.

“Yes, we, do,” Clint says, and in several deft twists the engine rumbles to life. “Get in!”

Bucky stops arguing and climbs into the car over Clint, throwing himself into the passenger seat. Clint slams the door and guns the engine; the car pulls away in a screech of tires, exhaust spitting smoke into the frigid air.

“Where is that chopper?” Clint asks, sharp eyes on the road. He puts his foot down, watches the speedometer climb.

“Circling back towards the house,” Bucky says, craning his neck to look up at the sky. “Drive faster, Barton.”

“No way,” Clint says, tension twisting his insides into knots. “I’m not getting pulled over by the cops when we’re trying to get you away from Spec Ops. That’s like every bad action film twist ever.”

Bucky doesn’t reply, just carries on watching the sky above as Clint drives, manoeuvring the car deftly but discreetly through the streets. They’ve got limited time in this vehicle, he knows from experience, so they’re just going to have to get as far as they can as soon as they can, and then dump it for something else.

Somehow, they make it.

The sound of the chopper fades into the distance, and no cars – marked or otherwise – pull up behind them. They leave the town and drive for a solid couple of hours, before stopping on the edge of a city to swap the cars. Clint leaves it to Bucky; feeling a flicker of guilt as they swap from one car to another taken from the back of a used car lot. If he ever gets out of this in one piece, he’ll find out whose car it was that he’s just stolen and go and apologise.

To his surprise, Bucky wordlessly hands over the keys when they’re loaded up and climbs into the passenger seat. Unsure about the reason for this shift in responsibility, Clint takes the wheel without comment, glancing at Bucky out of the corner of his eye as they leave the city behind.

They drive for almost seven hours, only stopping for gas and to risk picking up some food from a 7-11. They eat as they drive, Bucky wordlessly unwrapping food and uncapping drinks and passing them over to him.

The day fades away. The light gives way to the encroaching night, and as they head further north flakes of snow start to drift down from low hanging clouds, drifting lazily through the air and smearing gently across the windshield. It’s warm enough in the car, but the closing darkness and the steadily increasing snow awaken an uneasy edge in Clint’s chest. He’s never been a fan of snow, but after having Loki’s ice-cold influence entrenched in his brain, it’s definitely more pronounced.

“Next town,” Bucky says, voice barely audible over the soft squeak and thump of the windshield wipers. “We’ll stop.”

He sounds exhausted, curled up against the door with his temple resting against the window. Clint doesn’t question the order, and within an hour they’re pulling into a hotel that’s right on the edge of the interstate, a huge square block building that's not exactly welcoming. Clint doesn’t give a fuck; he just wants to be inside.

The room they end up in is definitely minimalist; a single bed and nightstand, no television or comforts to speak of. The light in the bathroom is broken and the carpet is worn thin beneath their boots, but it’s in a good position on the top floor of the building, with a clear view down onto the entrance and slip road. Bucky seems to be more comfortable the moment they’re in and the door is locked, quickly checking the room before taking guard at the window, looking down onto the road beyond.

Clint lets him. He washes up in the bathroom and pulls on a sweater against the cold, trying not to let the falling snow outside bother him. Sitting on the corner of the mattress in the darkened room, he can’t help but think of Phil, wondering what he’d be saying about all of this. He’d be proud that Clint made the call not to kill the soldier today, that much he knows. But the other things he’s done might not sit as well.

You’re doing the right thing, he thinks suddenly and surprisingly resolutely. Bucky isn’t innocent by any means, but he’s definitely not accountable, and Clint knows he’ll protect him as best he fucking can. He’ll defend him with his last breath if it comes to it.

And as for the whole issue of sleeping with him – well, Phil was always going on about how Clint should possibly stop acting like an emotionally compromised teenager and settle down. Yes, he is kind of doing it with a highly trained soviet operative who could kill him in his sleep and is wanted by the government, but it still counts.

It makes him slightly uneasy thinking about what Steve would say if he were to find out. It seems almost a betrayal in a way – Cap vouched for him when push came to shove in New York, and how is Clint repaying him? By sleeping with his best friend instead of taking said best friend back to Steve.

Where’s your loyalty lie, Barton? He asks himself silently. Bucky or Steve?

It’s a pretty easy question to answer now, all things considered. What happened between him and Bucky that morning sits in his chest, warm and untouchable, even in the wake of almost being caught. It's the first really good memory that Clint had made recently, and he only wishes that they could have stayed in that moment longer, tangled in each other without the rest of the world interrupting.  

Pushing the thoughts away, he gets up and fetches his bow, sitting it across his knee and carefully taking it apart, checking each individual part before putting it back together. When he’s finished, he sets it on the bed next to him. He quietly contemplates Bucky, who hasn’t moved so much as a muscle.

It still frightens Clint in a way. That Bucky knows. That he said it out loud, managed to gather enough courage to get the words out. To admit what happened, instead of ignoring it.

“Hey,” Clint says quietly. Bucky doesn’t acknowledge that Clint has spoken, so Clint goes up to him, standing behind him and pressing close, hands slipping onto his hips and mouth pressing against his shoulder. Bucky doesn't jerk away, doesn't go tense under his hands and Clint is relieved, even more so when Bucky speaks without prompting. 

“Need to watch,” Bucky says, not even blinking.

“I know,” Clint says quietly. “I’m glad you’re watching.”

Bucky heaves out a sigh, chest expanding and back pressing against Clint’s chest. He leans back fractionally into Clint, absently covering one of Clint’s hand with his metal one. “I knew the authorities would be after me as well,” he says quietly. “It’s just…”

The thought never coalesces. He just shrugs and rubs at his brow with his fingers, continuing to watch the steadily falling snow.

“They won’t give up.”

It’s not a question.

“No,” Clint says quietly. “You’re still the Winter Soldier, and you were part of Hydra. A lot of people don’t know what happened to you. Even if they did, they’ll want to bring you in. You’re a loose end for them at the moment.”

“I’m not part of Hydra,” Bucky says. “Not anymore.”

“I know that,” Clint says simply. “And you know that. Steve knows that.”

Bucky nods jerkily, and he reaches back to tug Clint’s arm around his middle, fingers slotting between Clint’s. “I’m not giving up either.”

Clint smiles at that. “Didn’t think you would.”

Bucky leans back, just enough. Clint takes the hint and rocks forwards to kiss the side of his face before settling back in place with his chin on Bucky’s metal shoulder. The bed is a tempting option, but for now he stands there close to Bucky, watching the snow fall outside the window, the world outside turning still and white as the night stretches on.

 

Chapter Text

Their luck holds out.

No spec ops teams arrive to surround the hotel that night, nor the night after. They move on after that, packing up the car in four inches of snow, glancing uneasily at the steel-white sky and hoping that the weather holds out.

It’s back to business after that. Bucky wants to look into something in North Dakota, and Clint very much wants to go a bit further south. Florida, possibly. Maybe even Mexico. Yeah, a beach in Mexico with a beer and no fucking Hydra agents in sight would be a nice change of pace right now.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t magically wake up in a secluded beachside resort with the sound of waves in his ear. He wakes up groggily to the sound of their hotel-neighbors having a loud argument through the wall, and snow-muffled interstate traffic. Bucky is kicking him under the covers, telling him to get up and get the stuff packed up, because they’re going to tackle another target in an hour.

Propping himself up on an elbow and rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Clint watches as Bucky stands by the counter in the corner of the room, staring down at something and drinking coffee from a chipped mug. He’s wearing nothing but his boxers and looking at him is making Clint feel cold.

“An hour? Does that mean I can stay in bed for a bit longer?”

“No, because the target is forty minutes away and I don’t want to rush moving in. Park up, gear up and then heading in on foot,” Bucky says without even looking up. "I told you, there's a lot indicating that there's something important here."

“Okay,” Clint sighs, pushing his fingers through his hair and squinting towards the window. “How much sleep did you actually get last night?”

“Few hours,” Bucky says, finally looking up. He refills his mug of coffee and pads over towards Clint, holding it out. “Please tell me you actually noticed me getting into the bed?”

“Well, yeah,” Clint says, taking the mug gratefully. “Though being in the bed does not necessarily mean you’re sleeping.”

“I’m fine,” Bucky says, sitting on the edge of the bed with one foot tucked up underneath him. “You were muttering, though.”

Clint looks down at the mug, a little taken aback at Bucky saying it so directly. “Yeah,” he says, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck, then noticing how awkward he’s being and dropping his hand. “Sorry.”

“Dreams?” Bucky asks.

Clint shrugs. “It’s cold,” he says. “When – when it happened. It was cold. In my head.”

He has to stop, shrugging again. His throat feels tight and his mouth twists depreciatingly, trying to distract himself by sipping his drink.

Bucky stands up, the mattress shifting as he gets up. “Get dressed then,” he says. “Get warm.”

“Jesus, I’m alright,” Clint says a forcefully, and he winces at his own tone. “I’m mostly alright?”

The bed dips again as Bucky sits back down. Metal fingers reach out and he takes the mug from Clint, setting it down on the nightstand.

“Maybe,” he says as he turns back. “Maybe I should quit with the patronizing advice and keep my trap shut, huh?”

“Maybe you should,” Clint says with a weak smile.

“And maybe you should get dressed and get warm,” Bucky says, but he’s clambering onto the bed, closer to Clint. He reaches past him and grabs the blankets, pulling one up and around Clint’s shoulders. He holds the edges in both hands just in front of Clint’s chin, and uses his leverage to pull him forwards so he can kiss him.

“I need you on this one,” he says. “Head in the game, Barton.”

Clint nods, breathing deeply and then reaching across for the mug again. He knows he’ll be better when he’s up and moving; it’s always first thing in the morning that’s hardest, when the cold seems to permeate the very air and prickles uncomfortably against his skin. It’s when the world is closest to that blue-edged indifference, the real part of him frozen solid as Loki’s part did the work.

He startles as he feels the mug being taken from him yet again, and Bucky’s metal fingers tapping softly against his cheek. “You’re drifting,” Bucky says, more firmly. “Get up.”

And Clint doesn’t argue. He shakes away the thoughts and climbs out of the bed straight away, cursing at the temperature. He quickly finds his clothes and doesn’t even bother going into the bathroom to change, knowing that the linoleum floor will be horrid against his bare feet. He does half turn away as he drops his boxers and shimmies into a new pair, but he guesses that he and Bucky are beyond modesty anyway.

Now that’s a memory that makes him feel warm. He and Bucky haven’t done anything since, but it doesn’t matter. It’s there between them, an actual pleasant memory to dwell on with every fleeting kiss and touch of a hand.

Fully dressed, he zips his jacket right up, reclaims his coffee and walks over to where Bucky is back poring over the paperwork on the counter. It’s a section of a map with several roads highlighted, scribbles jotted on in Bucky’s near intelligible handwriting.

Their near brush with the army hasn’t diminished Bucky’s determination to wipe every hint of Hydra from the planet; if anything it’s made him more resolute. Clint hasn’t asked or commented, but he thinks it might be the thought that they might be stopped by the authorities. It doesn’t quite feel as desperate as a last stand yet though, so Clint’s going to go with it.

“Which one?” Clint asks, leaning an elbow on Bucky’s back, resting his weight on him as he rocks forwards to look more closely.

“This one,” Bucky replies, tapping a metal finger onto the paper. “We stop here, and then walk here to get in.”

“Yes sir,” Clint says. Bucky shoves at him with an elbow, irritable.

“Don’t.”

Clint pulls a face and mouths ‘yes sir,’ and then hastily steps back as Bucky kicks out behind him, catching him in the shin.

“Take this seriously,” Bucky says, not even looking up.

“I am,” Clint says, rubbing his shin with his other foot, wobbling slightly as he tries to balance. “Just because I act like I’m not serious. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

Bucky pauses at that, lifts his chin and regards him contemplatively. It’s a strangely appraising look, one that’s searching for something, or maybe working out what to do with something already found.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Bucky shrugs, and straightens up, folds the map up. “Steve said something like that to me, once. Called me up on not being serious.”

“Steve said that to you? Actually, I can believe that he said that. Though I can’t believe you were doing anything that wasn’t serious.”

A faint, sad smile plays around Bucky’s mouth. “A lot has changed,” he says, and then he’s all business again, striding across the room and grabbing his shirt from where it’s hanging on the edge of the door, puling it on then climbing into his jeans. “Get the gear,” he says as he locates the rest of his clothes. “Let’s go.”

Clint obeys, and within ten minutes they’re in the car. Bucky is driving again, looking alert and intense. Clint’s glad; his expression has been drifting troubled more often since they had to run from the army, so to see him refreshed and refocused is a good sign.

It seems no time at all that they’re climbing out of the car and trudging across open snow-covered fields towards their target. It’s in an old industrial complex, huge abandoned warehouses that are shrouded in snow, standing blank and silent.

Their breath mists in the air in front of them, the stillness fractured by the crunch of snow beneath their boots. Clint follows behind Bucky, sharp eyes scanning the landscape for any sign of movement. Bucky seems to think this is an important target judging by the intel, but as far as he’s told Clint he’s not sure about why it‘s important.

Bucky zeroes in on the warehouse that their intel has led them to. It looks just as abandoned as the rest of them, no outward indicators that mark it as different. As they approach, Clint feels calm and determined, even if the last mission he joined Bucky on went so very wrong he’s not going to let it stop him this time around.

The warehouse has three huge shutters in the front; Bucky avoids them in favor of heading to a smaller access door on the side. It’s sheltered here, nothing beneath their feet but concrete, a brief respite from the biting wind. It takes Bucky all of thirty seconds to deal with the door, and then they’re slipping inside, blinking hard as their eyes adjust to the light.

There’s a flurry and scatter of birds flying up into the roof as Clint pulls the door shut behind him. Other than that, the place looks to be utterly empty of life. It’s huge inside, towering stacks of shelves standing in silent rows. Some are empty, whereas others are piled high with boxes and pallets. Above their heads is a metal walkway, suspended from the ceiling and crossing the expanse of the warehouse. At the far end, Clint can see some sort of mechanical rig, probably used for lifting heavier boxes and crates onto the higher stacks.

“Forwards,” Bucky whispers. “On me.”

Clint nods, following closely behind. They slowly move around the end of one of the rows, Clint turning on his heel to cover their backs as Bucky continues to move forwards. Clint cranes his neck up, looking at the walkway above their heads. He’s got a single grappling arrow in his quiver that he could use to get up, but he’s guessing there’s some easier way up there that workers without access to grappling hooks would have used.

Towards the back of the warehouse the shelves get taller, stacked with huge metal containers. Looking around to check that Clint has got his back, Bucky slowly reaches out and pulls at the handles on the front of one of the containers that sits on floor level. It opens easily with a dull clunk and whine of metal.

It’s empty.

Bucky’s expression doesn’t give away anything. He steps back away from the container, lifting his eyes to carefully scan the rest. Apparently not interested in checking any more, he keeps moving, step after deliberate step along between the towering stacks. He’s in hunting mode, every motion careful and deliberate.

Towards the end of the row, a small internal structure comes into view, tucked away in the corner. It’s got a long open window along the side and an open door at the far end, revealing the office style space within. A set of metal stairs flank one side, leading up onto the walkways beyond. Underneath the metal stairs is a second doorway, and it immediately draws Clint’s attention. He’s got an eye for perspective, and judging by the dimensions of the internal space, he’s pretty sure that the door doesn’t lead inside like the other.

Bucky must have also noticed the second door, because he’s already stalking towards it, eyes hard. Clint follows a pace behind, walking backwards to make sure they’re covered.

The door is locked, but just like anything else locked it merely slows Bucky down for half a second. Still holding his bow at full draw, Clint watches over his shoulder as Bucky deftly flips a knife out of his belt and deals with the lock.

He looks at Clint, Clint nods and turns to face the door and with one swift kick the door is open.

“Son of a bitch,” Bucky mutters, reaching out to catch the door as it thuds against the wall behind and bounces back.

Beyond the door, the floor gives way to a concealed set of stairs which drop down into the ground. At the bottom of the stairs is a heavy set metal door, barely visible in the darkness, more oppressive than the gloom of the warehouse behind them.

“Be ready,” Bucky says, voice low. “On me.”

“Got it,” Clint says, and Bucky slowly takes the first step-

They hear it at the same time. They both wheel around as they hear a thud, and then the sound of the door they’d come in through opening.

“Go!” Bucky hisses. Clint doesn’t need to be told twice. Keeping low, he heads straight for the staircase, instinctively wanting to get higher than any potential threats. He hears Bucky move behind him, going in the opposite direction and ducking into the darkness of the stacks.

Clint ends up on the walkway above the warehouse, tucking himself at the very end, pressed against the wall. He’s mostly in shadow, and he knows from experience that anyone at ground level will have a job to see him. Craning his neck around, he tries to spot where Bucky has gone; movement out of the corner of his eye catches his attention; a glint of metal fingers in-between two of the huge crates, around twenty feet away. He nods and Bucky retreats into the shadows, perfectly concealed.

More sound from the doorway; the groan of metal and the faintest of footsteps. Clint holds his breath, arrow held loosely between his fingers. There are people moving into the warehouse, not making a huge amount of effort to be quiet-

“Dammit.”

The entire world stops as one of the new arrivals curses, voice carrying clearly through the silence.

And Clint is frozen in place, heart slamming up into the base of his throat in a painful thud of sensation because he knows that voice.

It’s Steve fucking Rogers.

“What?” a second voice asks, one that Clint doesn’t recognize. “We been beaten to the line again?

“Yeah,” Steve sighs, and from his perch Clint can only sit and watch as his shadow appears, silhouette outlined on the floor as he steps forwards. His shield is in hand and oh my god Steve is here and he’s less than eighty feet away from Bucky-

Bucky bolts.

Clint sees him move, running from his hiding place between the crates and sprinting across the floor towards the door that leads underground. Clint’s stomach lurches but Bucky is gone, across the space and down through the door, and shit, Clint needs to follow-

“Hear that?”

And this time it’s not the world that stops, but Clint’s heart, because there’s a third voice and he knows that voice better than his own.

“Yeah,” Steve says, and Clint hears his feet on the floor, slow even footfalls. Clint screws his eyes shut, pressing his back against the wall and trembling from head to foot.

“Probably pigeons. Again,” the second male voice says pointedly.

“Shut up, Sam,” Steve says, still moving, and it clicks into place. Sam – Sam Wilson, the guy from DC, the one who was there and fought Hydra alongside Steve. Oh fuck, does that mean the rest of the Avengers are here? If Stark has turned up with his tech there’s little to no chance of them remaining undiscovered.

“My, my, you’re grumpy today,” Natasha says, somewhere between mocking and teasing. “Stark not put out before you leave?”

“Fuck off,” Steve tells her, and Clint would laugh and cry at the fact that Captain America is telling someone to fuck off, but he would literally give anything to be anywhere else right now. His palms are clammy and he’s still shaking, and he should have fucking run after Bucky-

“Whoa, Cap,” Sam says, and he’s edging around the warehouse too, though he sounds significantly less stressed than Steve does. “Maybe you should have stayed at home today.”

“Maybe Natasha should have stayed at home like I told her to,” Steve bites out, moving closer. Clint draws in a shaky breath and slowly opens his eyes, and his throat goes tight because Steve is right there in his line of sight. He’s in civilian gear, jeans and boots and a heavy black jacket, black fingerless gloves on his hands. Somehow, it doesn’t look odd that he’s holding the shield out of uniform, the gleaming red white and blue still somehow a part of him.

“Maybe Steve shouldn’t try and tell Natasha what to do,” Natasha sing-songs from further away and Clint both desperately wants to see her and hopes he doesn’t have to.

Steve turns his head away from the offices below Clint’s perch, back towards the others. “Maybe you and Stark shouldn’t have been keeping fucking secrets from me,” he says angrily. “I don’t know what you’re playing at-”

“Well, this mission is fucked,” Sam says pointedly. “If there are any snakes about, they’ll hear this a mile away.”

“It was for your own good,” Natasha says.

“Tell me how keeping surveillance data from me was for my own good?”

“Sam, tell Steve how keeping surveillance data from him was for his own good.”

“Oh hell no,” Sam says, and he finally appears at the end of a row, gun in hand and also wrapped up in a heavy duty black jacket, not too different from the one Clint is wearing. “Leave me out of this. I’ll be over here checking for intel and you know, doing the job.”

“You would have gotten obsessed,” Natasha says to Steve. “Well, more obsessed. Look, we were streamlining for you. We didn’t realize that any of the data we kept aside would be useful-”

“And you call me a bad liar,” Steve replies tightly. He carries on moving, treading below Clint’s hiding space. Clint catches the edge of his expression, angry and frustrated, and none of this makes sense. He gathers that between them Nat and Stark haven’t been giving Steve all the information – he’s about as willing as Steve to buy Nat’s ‘we didn’t realize’ line – but what he can’t work out if why. Why would Nat try and keep Steve away from Hydra-

Unless it’s not Hydra Steve is actually looking for.

Fuck. He twists his head around, looks over to the door that Bucky had escaped down. He doesn’t even know if that’s a dead end or not – has Bucky somehow gotten out of the building?

The thoughts crumble and vanish as he looks back, because there she is. All in black, red curls dim and muted in the gloom, poised and perfect.  She walks up to Steve, reaching out to touch his elbow, and he jerks away irritably, stalking towards the offices. Clint is torn between shock that Cap is really that pissed and fear that he’s going to go down those steps and find Bucky, because Clint doesn’t know a lot but he knows Bucky isn’t ready to be found-

A faint buzz sounds; Clint holds his breath and watches as Steve stops in place and pulls a cell phone out of his jacket. He makes an angry sound and shoves it back in his pocket; there’s a pause of all of a second, then a beeping noise. Natasha pulls out a cell of her own, waving it at Steve.

“Your boyfriend is calling me. This is a problem.”

“He’s your teammate. Not a problem.”

“He’s calling me because of you. Yes, a problem,” she says, and then answers the phone. “Stark.”

“Tell Steve to get his head out of his ass and pick up his cell.” Tony Stark sounds exasperated, voice remarkably clear even over the speaker. Natasha lifts and eyebrow at Steve and Sam throws his hands up in the air. Clint feels a bizarre pang of sympathy for the guy.

“Go fuck yourself,” Steve replies calmly.

“You want my help or not?” Tony snaps. “Because I’m watching four pretty shifty looking Humvees heading your way.”

“Shit,” Steve curses. “How long? Tony-”

“Sixty seconds, tops. They’re coming in on the East road in convoy.”

“Be my eyes,” Steve says, and Natasha tosses the phone over to him without him having to ask. “Sam, you take the West corner, Nat, meet them at the door-”

“On it,” Nat says, and she’s gone before Clint can even blink. Fuck, if that’s Hydra coming in on their location then they are royally screwed, because between that and Cap, he and Bucky have got next to no chance of getting out of here unscathed.

He can hear engines, the thud of car doors, shouting voices. Whoever has arrived is not going for stealth at all, and Clint’s frantically trying to work out if it is Hydra or someone else, and if they’re here for them or for Cap-

The explosion hits without warning. One minute Clint is on the walkway surveying the scene and trying to work out what the fuck to do, and the next there’s a brilliant flash and a dull roar and then everything is chaos. One of the front doors has been blown and two of the towering stacks nearby have collapsed in a deafening crashing and shrieking of metal. The walkway jars beneath him, tilting dangerously to the side and he lets out a strangled cry as he’s thrown off of the edge. He throws a hand out and manages to grab hold of one of the rails; swinging dangerously in mid-air.

Gasping, Clint hauls himself back onto the remnants of the walkway. There’s a fire steadily growing in ferocity towards the front of the warehouse and through the acrid black smoke he can see black-masked soldiers running in through the hole where the door used to be-

Out of nowhere, the shield hits the first soldier right in the face. Steve appears, leaping to grab it out of the air and swinging it viciously upwards into the jaw of the next. Man, if he was pissed before it’s nothing on how furious he is now, brutally cleaving his way through the first wave-

There’s the rattle of gunfire and Steve is forced to duck; an answering shot from behind him shows that either Sam or Natasha escaped the explosion, and Clint needs to go and help right fucking now.

For a split second, he freezes. He’s got Natasha in one direction and Bucky in the other, and he doesn’t know what to do. Bucky isn’t ready to be found but that was before this happened, and if Nat or Steve get hurt he’s going to be the one to blame. Breathing heavily, he tightens his grip on his bow and straightens up. This is his choice. Whatever he decides to do, this is his choice, and he’ll live with the consequences, knowing that he made this choice entirely of his own volition.

Get a grip, Hawkeye.

It’s enough. 

He reaches back for an arrow, and he fires. A hydra agent stumbles and falls mid step, crashing to the ground with the shaft of the arrow buried deep in their chest. He doesn’t so much as blink before reaching for the next arrow, picking off another.

The arrows are as good as calling cards, but it doesn’t matter. It can’t matter; his own issues are not more important than the life of two Avengers.

The smoke is playing hell with his visibility. He manages to take out four agents, can hears shouting and screams through the flames. They’re climbing higher and higher up the stacks, and he needs to get Bucky and get him the hell out of there. Though, if Bucky knows Steve is in danger, Clint doesn’t know what he’ll do-

There’s the screaming, grinding sound of another stack collapsing. Clint swears and quickly uses his grappling hook to attach a line to the railings. He vaults over the top rail and slides to the ground, not bothering to unhook the line. Coughing, he uses his forearm to cover his mouth and nose and heads blindly towards the door through the smoke. He shoves through it with his shoulder and almost falls; he manages to right himself to stagger down the stairs, reaching out to try and find the second door-

He crashes through it, coughing. Immediately, he turns to shove it closed again before turning to look for Bucky-

He’s right there.

He’s standing there in the middle of the room, in front of some sort of chain link fence that splits the room in two.

“The hell are you doing?” Clint demands, momentarily thrown. “Come on, we need to go, like yesterday. It’s fucking chaos up there-”

He trails off when Bucky doesn’t so much as move a muscle. Confused and slightly worried, Clint glances behind him and then cautiously edges in next to him, looking at the space beyond the fence.

Dated computer terminals. A chair that looks like a doctor’s chair, surrounded by strange equipment. Something that could be a generator.

“What the hell is this?” Clint breathes as his eyes take in extra details. The heavy restraints on the arms of the chair. The metal trolley covered in medical equipment, scalpels and syringes. The equipment surrounding the chair which is starting to look more and more like it was designed for some sort of torture-

There's the sound of rending metal and Clint jumps a mile. It's Bucky's hand, clenching in the metal fencing hard enough to break several links. He's starting to hyperventilate, rapid breaths snatching in and out.

“Barnes!”

“That's how they did it,” Bucky says, eyes fixed unblinkingly on the chair. “That's how they wiped my memory.”

“That chair was for you?!” Clint asks in horror, slings his bow over his chest. “Jesus, Barnes – let go of the fence, come on-”

He grabs hold of Bucky and tries to pull him back away from the fence. Bucky resists for a moment and then goes limp, staggering backwards as Clint hauls him away. They get as far as the stairs before Bucky jerks back into life, shoving Clint away viciously.

“Get off.”

“Barnes-”

“Shut up,” he snarls, and he grabs the front of Clint’s shirt and shoves him back against the concrete wall. His eyes are bright and dangerous, and he looks a breath away from losing all control. “Shut, up.

Clint holds his hands up either side of his shoulders, breathing shallowly. Bucky is pressed against him, chest to chest, and Clint is very aware that he is hanging onto his control by a thread.

“Hey,” he whispers. “It’s me. I got you.”

Bucky’s eyes dart down then back to Clint’s face, troubled and lost.

“Don’t you start drifting on me,” Clint says, and Bucky swallows hard. “Hey, remember this morning? You kicked me to get me out of bed, and I wouldn’t go. It’s me, Bucky. It’s Clint. Come on, get with me buddy, because there’s a shit storm heading our way and we need to get out of here.”

And it’s like lights turning on behind Bucky’s eyes. He blinks and sways back slightly, and he swallows. “Steve,” he says, sounding broken, and he looks back towards the chair and makes a noise that’s somewhere between a scream and a snarl, agonized-

“We gotta go, Barnes, come on,” Clint says, sounding on the wrong side of desperate, and he grabs hold of Bucky’s arms. “There’s a fire, we’ve got to go-”

He drags Bucky towards the door, and Bucky stumbles after him. Seeing him stagger is more terrifying than the prospect of coming face to face with Cap, than Hydra, than the fire that’s raging above their heads. He grabs Bucky’s metal arm and hauls it over his shoulders, half dragging Bucky up the stairs. The moment they’re through the top door they’re surrounded by smoke again, and Clint can hear the roaring of the fire and feel the heat of it on his face. He doesn’t know where anyone else is but all he can think of is getting Bucky away from this fucking hell-hole-

Somehow, he gets them to the door and out. Bucky is coughing weakly as Clint hauls them free, holding onto tightly to Bucky’s metal wrist. He hears gunshots behind them and desperately wants to know which side has fired them, but in the wake of finding that, that thing in the basement, he knows his priority is Bucky.

“Come on, Barnes,” he pants, looking left and right. “Move your damn feet. I am not getting shot again, come on, move quicker-”

He keeps up the relentless talking as he pulls Bucky along between the warehouse and the next one over, away from the noise and chaos. Bucky is mostly holding his own weight now but his head is hanging low, his breathing shallow. Just a little further and they’re out of the complex and can make a break for it across the field the way they came in-

A single shot rings out, bullet cracking off the corner of the warehouse just above Clint’s head. He ducks and wheels around, staggering sideways with Bucky’s weight-

Before Clint can even think about reaching for his bow, there’s another shot and he jolts in surprise. His brain automatically goes through a panicked rush of ‘was that me, no, I’ve not got a gun, was that aimed at me, have I just been fucking shot again?’ before he sees Bucky’s arm extended, gun held in his real hand. It’s shaking.

The soldier behind them slowly keels to the floor. They don’t move again.

Bucky drops the gun to the floor with a clatter. His breathing is coming harshly, back heaving under Clint’s arm.

“Barnes?”

“Where’s Steve?” Bucky asks, voice thick. “Where is he?”

“I don’t know, I couldn’t see-”

“Did he get out?”

“I don’t know-”

Bucky makes a noise that’s horribly like a sob. He’s shaking even worse now, trembling from head to foot.

“Make sure he’s safe,” Bucky says, and he’s begging. “Barton.”

“I’ve got to get you out of here-”

“No, not without him – not without knowing-”

“Alright, come on-” Clint says, but Bucky shakes his head, pushes Clint away. His cheeks are wet.

“I can’t,” he says, broken. “Don’t let him see me, I just – I need to know he’s safe-”

“Okay,” Clint says, and he lifts Bucky’s arm from around his neck, leans him back against the wall. “Don’t fucking move. I’ll be back. Barnes, look at me,” he says, snapping his fingers in front of Bucky’s face to get his attention. “Don’t move.”

And Bucky nods, ashen. Clint stoops to grab the gun and presses it back into Bucky’s hand. Bucky swallows thickly and seems to pull himself together enough to take the gun and nod.

Clint doesn’t wait about. He unhooks his bow from his back and nocks one of his remaining arrows, running back the way they’d came, towards the smoke. He can hear the fire but there hasn’t been any more shots, and he hopes that means it's over.

He slows down when he’s towards the end of the building, stepping into the smoke. It burns his eyes and catches in the back of his throat, but he’s got to do this for Bucky. He can’t deny the huge part of him that’s screaming for news of Natasha; he knows Steve survived the initial explosion, but she was going to head them off at the doors, putting her right in the way.

Pressing his back against the outside of the warehouse, he edges slowly forwards, something dreadful curling in the pit of his stomach.

He’s lucky his legs hold him up, considering how strong the relief is that washes over him. Standing by one of the Humvees that are parked about fifty feet from the burning warehouse are Steve, Sam and Natasha, all in one piece and looking none of the worse for wear.

Thank fuck.

Clint exhales shakily, feeling like he could laugh or cry, maybe both. As he watches, Sam pulls open the door of the Humvee and climbs in; Steve leans on the door next to him, expression grim. Natasha leans over to pull her cell from Steve’s pocket and steps back, turning on the spot as she idly taps her thumb over the screen-

And she looks up, directly at Clint.

Clint’s heart stops. His eyes meet Natasha’s and in that single moment he wants to run to her and run away from her, because in those bright eyes is everything he did wrong. She was the one who got him back even when he’d cost them Phil, and he doesn’t know if he can handle what will come now she’s found him-

She blinks slowly, still holding his gaze, and then she turns away. Clint’s stomach roils as he waits for her to turn to Steve and Sam, but she doesn’t.

She doesn’t.

Instead, she turns towards the warehouse, walking forwards a few steps before stopping. She slips her phone into her pocket, folds her arms over her chest and watches the fire raging.

Clint runs.

He staggers back, managing to right himself at the last moment. He’s got no idea what Natasha’s game is, why she’s not come after him when she knows he’s there. It frightens him that he doesn't have the answers, but right now that’s overridden by the need to get back to Bucky. For whatever the reason, Natasha is clearly giving him a window to get away, and he’s going to take it. Heart pounding, he sprints back to where he left Bucky, and is relieved to find him still there, standing against the side of the warehouse.

“They’re fine,” he pants. “All three of them got out, not a scratch.”

Bucky swallows and nods jerkily, eyes too bright. “Get me the hell out of here,” he says, voice uneven.

“You got it,” Clint says, and he reaches for Bucky’s hand. “Come on.”

And this time, Bucky nods and straightens up himself. He’s steadier on his feet, but he doesn’t let go of Clint. He’s looking lost and confused and Clint feels the usual wave of protectiveness rise in his chest as he pulls Bucky away from the wall, away from the destruction and towards safety.

  


 

Bucky seems to have pulled himself together by the time they find a motel to stay in. Clint had taken over driving as they’d gotten away from the fuck up of a mission, shoving Bucky into the passenger seat and telling him to keep his gun in hand. Bucky hadn’t even argued, just sat there staring blankly out of the window as the car ate up the miles and the hours ticked by.

But he’d gotten himself out of the car and gone to get the room like he usually did, helped Clint with the bags and checked the room like he usually did.

Dropping his bag onto the bed, Clint watches in silence as Bucky finishes his check of the room. They’ve not said a word to each other since they left the complex but it doesn’t matter. Clint had spent the first hour of the journey barely able to think, let alone formulate a sentence.

Between Hydra, Steve, Natasha and that fucking chair, they’ve both got plenty to be thinking about.

Clint sits heavily on the edge of the bed, running a hand over the back of his neck. He slowly reaches down to unclip his bracer and tabs, pulling them from his hands and dropping them onto the bed next to him. His fingers are remarkably steady, considering.

Bucky divests himself of his weapons and his jacket. He’s moving slowly, exhausted. He’s not hurt, but Clint wants to keep an eye on him all the same. He’s been through hell today, in more ways than one.

Bucky must sense him watching because he turns towards him. He seems to hesitate for a moment and then steps over, reaching towards Clint. He slides his metal hand onto the back of Clint’s head as he pushes his way between Clint’s knees, holding his head to his stomach. Clint makes himself move, sliding his hands onto Bucky’s hips and breathing in deeply. It’s the contact he’s been aching for since they pulled away from the complex; the restless churning of his stomach eases slightly and his heart seems to settle back into place.

“Okay?” he murmurs, and tilts his face up, resting his chin on Bucky’s abdomen. Bucky meets his eyes and then nods slowly, though Clint isn’t convinced. There’s something vacant about him, things not quite connecting up behind his eyes. He looks a million miles away.

“Barnes?”

Bucky nods again. His expression doesn’t change, but he uses his free hand to absently brush his fingers through the hair above Clint’s ear. He breathes out slowly and does it again, before leaning forwards to press a kiss to the top of Clint’s head. He pulls back, hand sliding across Clint’s shoulder in an unconscious movement. Wordless, he turns away and pads towards the bathroom, closing the door behind him. There’s a long pause, and then the sound of the shower starting up.

Clint blows out a breath, rubbing his face hard. His shoulder aches a little from the almost fall from the walkway, but other than that he’s okay. Remarkable, really, considering.

Sitting there alone without Bucky in close proximity, his mind starts to wander again. He knows he’s hovering on a fine line in his mind - on one side of the battle is his usual tactic of brutally boxing down all his feelings and triple locking it, ignoring it and thinking about something else. The other side is infinitely more painful, because the other side means actually thinking about what’s happened here today, picking it apart and trying to work out how he feels.

He’s on his feet before he knows it, pacing restlessly back and forth in the scant space the room provides, almost like he’s psyching himself up. He hears a thump from the bathroom but ignores it, coming to a standstill with his hands on his head and clenching his jaw.

“Fuck, Nat,” he breathes out, dropping his hands. “What the hell are you playing at?”

He walks to the tiny window, hopping up onto the table that’s pushed against the wall and sitting on it, hunching against the window frame so he can see out. He pulls his feet up, ducking his head and looking out, red light from the motels neon sign lighting up his face. He knows Bucky would tell him to get away from the window but right now he needs to see the sky.

He wishes he had Phil here to talk him through it. He can imagine him rolling his eyes and telling Clint that if anyone has a hope of working Natasha out it was him, so asking for help is pretty redundant.

He breathes out, watching the glass fog up. He reaches up to swipe a finger through it, trying to put all the pieces together. It’s not actually all that difficult; he is now pretty convinced that Natasha has known where he’s been all along. The conversation between her and Steve points towards the fact that she’s deliberately been hiding intel from Steve. But Steve wouldn’t be trying to find Clint, he'd be trying to-

Nat knows he’s with Bucky.

The moment the thought registers, he knows it’s true. The reason she’s been trying to keep Steve away, the holding back of data, the fact she let him go earlier. She knows he’s with Bucky and for whatever reasons she wants to keep Steve away from Bucky, and is trusting Clint with him.

Which makes literally no sense at all. The only rationale she had offered was to stop Steve becoming more obsessed - but if he’s dragging his team this far north following scraps of information about Hydra, he’s already pretty obsessed. And if she wanted him to stop obsessing over finding Bucky, surely the quickest way to do it is to help him find Bucky, as soon as possible.

And by the sounds of things, Stark is also on board with keeping Bucky away with Steve, though Clint doesn't know if that’s deliberate or if he’s just guilty by association. Tony isn't stupid by any means, but he’s not a match for Natasha’s manipulation if she wanted something from him.

He sighs, pressing his temple to the cold glass. Momentarily stumped by Natasha’s motives, his mind drifts back to their find earlier, to the horrendous find in the basement of the warehouse. That chair with the restraints and the equipment. He swallows, nausea roiling in his stomach, trying not to imagine Bucky strapped in, subjected to the syringes and scalpels that glinted on the trolley nearby, trying not to imagine what the machines did, how painful they might have been as they wiped his mind again and again.

He doesn’t know what this means for them now. Bucky now has more answers, and whilst Clint doesn’t suspect he’ll want to give up on tackling Hydra, but will it make a difference to how he feels about Steve? Bucky was never certain that Steve would even bother looking for him, and now he has hard evidence to the fact.

And now it seems that the net is closing around them from all angles. Clint grimaces at the thought, rubbing his face. It’s starting to feel like they are reaching a point of no return, a last stand, and he wonders how far they are going to push it before they stop.

If they are going to stop at all.

He knows he made the call to step up and help today, to protect Steve and Nat as best he could. But when it came down to it, he chose to leave with Bucky, to get Bucky away from Steve. It’s not lost on him how many weeks he spent wishing he could send Bucky back to Steve, and now when the opportunity actually presented itself…

He chose Bucky.

He’s starting to think he’ll always choose Bucky, no matter what the other hand is.

“Fuck,” he mutters, swiping at his eyes which are feeling far too warm. He knows he’s emotionally and physically drained, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to sit here crying in the damn dark.

“Get a grip, Hawkeye,” he mutters, and then swallows a choked laugh, pressing his fingertips to his eyes. Thinking back on everything, it’s almost unbelievable how he’s come from an unwilling hostage to this.

He lifts his head, breathing in and out to keep the emotions under check. He can’t afford to let go tonight; Bucky’s the one who’s going to need the strength this time around.

Speaking of, Bucky has been in the shower for almost twenty minutes, which is way longer than he normally allows. Frowning, Clint gets up off the table, reaching back to pull the curtain over the window before padding towards the bathroom. The water is still running and the light is on inside, but he can’t hear any other sounds, not even a squeak of tile or soft thud of movement.

He presses his palm to the door, hesitating. Bucky seemed okay after they’d gotten away but something isn’t settling right for Clint. The vacant expression and the almost detached way he’d touched Clint earlier, and now the amount of time spent in the bathroom? It might just be that Bucky wants some space, but now Clint won’t be able to settle until he’s checked on him.

For a moment he wonders if walking in whilst Bucky is showering is crossing some sort of line, but he reminds himself that this is pretty much necessary after the day they've had and how off Bucky had seemed. Besides they’ve had sex already. Boundaries are all shot to hell anyway.

He pushes the door open and stops dead in the doorway, throat seizing up with alarming swiftness.

Bucky is decidedly not okay.

He’s curled up in the bottom of the shower, still in his boxers. He’s leaning into the wall, face hidden against the tiles. Clint can still see half of his face; he’s staring blankly at nothing, not even blinking as the water drips down his face.

Words fail him. Clint tries, but he can't find them. His chin trembles fractionally, and he feels the tears from earlier threaten to make themselves known. He fights against the wave of panic and fear, shoving them well out of the way and trying to draw on some strength instead.

He steps forwards, exhales slowly and does his best to keep his voice steady. “Bucky?”

Bucky doesn’t move.

Clint doesn’t even consciously make a decision about what to do next. He just finds himself reaching down and unbuckling his belt, shoving his jeans down and off. He strips off his shirt with shaking hands, and then steps forwards over into the shower.

Thankfully the water is still hot. Throat still twisted up, he shifts around so he’s next to Bucky and slides down the cold tile so he’s sat next to him. The water pelts down onto his head and he’s soaked in moments but he barely notices. Reaching for Bucky, he pulls him around; Bucky goes without a fight, slumping sideways into Clint and resting his head on his shoulder.

“I got you,” Clint says, pushing an arm behind Bucky’s head and holding him close, palm on his forehead. He reaches across with his other arm and holds tightly onto Bucky’s knee. It’s cramped and uncomfortable but he doesn’t give a damn.

Bucky draws in a deep breath, shuddering. “They took everything away from me,” he says, voice expressionless.

“Yeah,” Clint says, and he presses his mouth to Bucky’s temple, shutting his eyes against the spray of the water. “But you’re taking it back.”

Bucky doesn’t speak again. He’s trembling minutely as he twists, pressing his face into Clint’s throat, breathing shaky and uneven. Clint doesn’t say anything either, he just sits there at Bucky’s side, stroking a hand over his wet hair and hoping that just being there is enough.

Chapter Text

Clint doesn’t sleep.

After getting Bucky out of the shower and dried, he had simply pushed him into bed and slid in next to him, pulling Bucky up close. Bucky had gone without argument or resistance, tucking himself into Clint with his head under his chin, breath warm on Clint’s collarbones. He'd been uncoordinated and clumsy, trembling even as he slipped into an exhausted slumber.

And now the night has retreated and Clint is still awake, still holding Bucky close as he sleeps.

The sunrise has already come and gone, the first hints of weak sunlight edging in around the edge of the curtains, bleeding with the dull light from the lamp on the nightstand. The morning is slowly slipping away from them but Clint can’t bring himself to care.

He sighs, shifting a little and turning his face to press his mouth to Bucky’s hair. He’s still dead out asleep, body lax in Clint’s arms. He’s frankly amazed that Bucky even managed to get any sleep, but he was so out of it last night that maybe he should have expected it. Either way, he’s not going to wake him up, despite the fact it’s nearing midday.

It had been hard. Seeing Bucky so utterly out of sorts wasn’t something that Clint had been prepared for. Though Bucky hadn’t been prepared to see that fucking chair, the evidence of what Hydra had been doing to him. Knowing that had allowed Clint to shove aside his own fear and panic and step up to take care of Bucky for once.

He’s not quite proud of himself for it, because it was something he had to do. More than anything, he thinks he’s grateful that Bucky allowed himself to be taken care of and trusted Clint to do it.

Clint’s still turning everything over in his mind, restless cogs that won’t stop revolving, though not quite moving together smoothly. Natasha is at the front of his thoughts, and part of him aches to go back to her. The rest of him doesn’t know if he’s ready; the thought of it being just him and her is just about bearable, but to see Steve and the rest of the Avengers – he can’t do it.

Nat might have her reasons for letting Clint run around with Bucky – whatever the fuck they are – but he suspects Steve might be less willing to understand. If he’s doing his damnest to find Bucky – he’ll probably be fucking furious with Clint for not handing him over or encouraging him to go back.

He wonders if he’s selfish. He’s not forced Bucky to go back because he can recognize that he also doesn’t want to be made to go back. And he loves Bucky and he’ll do whatever Bucky needs, but the thought of disappointing Steve makes something from a long time past cringe, an old feeling in his gut that he hates.

He doesn’t know how much Steve knows. He could have seen him during the fight. Could have found an arrow. Nat could have told him.

Which means now we have Hydra, Spec Ops and Captain America on our heels, Clint thinks silently.

Even as he thinks it, Bucky stirs. He makes a soft sound in the back of his throat and Clint carefully moves his hands out of the way just in time for Bucky to jolt awake, scrambling upright and out of the bed, grabbing a knife from the nightstand as he goes.

“Easy,” Clint says, still lying prone. “Just me.”

Still half crouched with the knife held out in front of him, arm in front of his face and blade pointing towards Clint, Bucky blinks and then looks from the bed to the window and then the door. He straightens up, looking unsure and then darts to the window, apparently not caring that he’s naked. He peers out past the curtains, and then his shoulders relax slightly, and he flips the knife in his fingers into a less aggressive grip.

“Shouldn’t have let me sleep,” he says, even as he’s setting the knife back on the table and clambering back into the bed.

“You needed it,” Clint says, shifting and making space for Bucky to settle again, arms wrapping around his shoulders. It’s the wrong thing to say. Bucky stiffens next to him, frame going tense all over again.

“You do not get to make my choices for me,” he snaps.

“I don’t,” Clint says. “But you can’t stop me taking care of you, you fucking idiot.”

Bucky turns his glare on him, but Clint isn’t fazed. He knows that Bucky is only saying this because of yesterday, because of what they found. “I get it, alright?” he says. “But you’re here with me because it’s your choice, and I’m here with you because it’s my choice. And it’s my choice to look after you when you need it, just like you do the same for me. I’m not Hydra, Buck.”

Bucky looks away at that, glare morphing into something less challenging and more troubled. “I know that,” he mutters. “I just – I need to be strong, I need to not let them win-”

“They aren’t winning,” Clint says simply.

Bucky nods jerkily. “I want to kill all of them,” he says without apology.

Clint just shrugs. “Course you do.”

And Bucky nods again and then he’s sliding back down under the covers again, leaning back against the headboard and pulling at Clint so he’s half lying on him, head resting on Bucky’s side, tucked in against his ribs.  

They’re silent for a long while. Bucky sits gently carding his fingers through Clint’s hair, and Clint allows it, blinking sleepily. He feels more relaxed now Bucky is awake, that he’s got through that first hurdle. After seeing him so vacant yesterday he was slightly worried that Bucky would be out of tune again today, but he seems completely back to his old self.

It’s Bucky who finally breaks the silence. “Yesterday, he says, thoughtful. “Do you think Hydra were there looking for us, looking for Steve or just coming back to the base?”

“I don’t know,” Clint says truthfully.

Bucky hums. “And what about Steve?” he asks calmly, barely a stumble over the name.

“I don’t know,” Clint repeats. “He could have been there following intel about Hydra. Though he could have been there following intel about you. Wilson – the other guy – he said something about being beaten to it again, which makes me think they were after Hydra, but I’m not so sure.”

“Did they say anything else?”

“What, after you’d – gone underground?” Clint asks, remembering that Bucky wouldn’t have heard any of the conversation between Steve and Nat. “There...they had a bit of an argument. Steve and Natasha.”

“Natasha Romanov,” Bucky says. “The spy. Your friend.”

“Yeah,” Clint says, and takes a deep breath. “I think she’s deliberately been keeping Steve off our tail.”

Bucky goes very still. “What?”

Clint tells him everything. The overheard conversation, the encounter with Natasha at the end. He tells Bucky every detail he can remember, and Bucky strokes his fingers through Clint’s hair and it makes it easier to get it all out. When he’s done, he falls silent, letting Bucky absorb what he’s heard. He tries not to over think it, to not second guess Bucky’s silence.

“So she let you go on purpose?” Bucky asks, sounding suspicious. “And you think that she knows you’re with me.”

“Yeah,” Clint says, shrugging.

Bucky frowns, turning his head atop the pillow to look at the window. “Why would she do that?”

Clint rolls over into his side, props his chin on Bucky’s chest. He’s warm under his hands. “Nat has history with the Russians, too,” he says. “Maybe she gets it.”

“But her loyalty lies with Steve.”

“Actually, if it lies anywhere it lies with me,” Clint says, surprising himself by even saying it. “And so if you’re with me and she knows some of your past...I don't know.”

“What, she’s trusting you to bring me around? To get through to the Winter Soldier, get me compliant enough to come in?”

“Probably?” Clint says, though he’s not convinced that that’s it. “I don’t know. They might come after us today for all I know.”

They lapse into silence again, thoughtful. Clint’s half thinking about what it would be like if he and Bucky did go to Steve and Nat, how much progress they’d make hunting Hydra together. Though if that’s not what Steve’s priority is…besides, Steve and Bucky ever working together again is a fragile dream at best. It could take months, years for the bridges to be rebuilt.

Though it could be as simple as them coming face to face again. Puzzle pieces effortlessly snapping into place.

It’s an option they’ve probably got to start thinking about more seriously, in light of everything that’s happening around them.

“Barton?”

Clint looks up and Bucky looks back, part exasperated. Clearly he’s been trying to get Clint’s attention for a while.

“Huh?”

Bucky just rolls his eyes, flicks at Clint’s ear. “Get dressed. Can’t lie here all day.”

Clint whines, burying his face in Bucky’s abdomen. “Can.”

“We can’t,” Bucky says seriously. “We’ve had too many close calls lately to risk.”

“I know, I know,” Clint sighs, because there’s no arguing that fact. He rolls onto his back, allowing Bucky to clamber out of the bed and set about getting dressed. It’s like the night before never happened; he’s nothing but alert and awake today. Clint watches him for a moment, silently wondering how on earth one person can be as strong as Bucky is.

“Funny, I seem to remember telling you to get up and get dressed,” Bucky says as he laces his boots, sitting on the end of the bed, shoulders shifting under his shirt in a very distracting way.

Clint groans and pushes himself up into a sitting position. “I’m getting, I’m getting,” he yawns, and reaches grudgingly for his jeans. “I hate being cold.”

“Now that I didn’t know,” Bucky says thoughtfully, and grins as Clint kicks at him. “What, you thought you were the only smartass around here?”

“I thought you were nice to me,” Clint grumbles, setting into his jeans, hopping on one foot as he does and almost losing his balance.

“I’ll be nice when you’re dressed,” Bucky offers, and stands up, heading towards the window.

Clint continues to get dressed, and he wants to be thinking about what they’re going to do next but his brain is still caught up on yesterday, the same questions uneasily coming back around, unsatisfied with their current answers. It’s the question of Steve that now lingers in his mind, and the thought that maybe he’s going to have to push Bucky in that direction. Which in turn means Clint is going to have to very quickly get used to the idea of going back as well.

“Barton.”

Bucky’s voice is sharp and hard and makes Clint look up instantly. Bucky is still staring out of the window.

“Get dressed quicker,” Bucky says. “We’re about to have company.”

“Fuck – you fucking serious?” Clint asks, grabbing his boots and hurriedly shoving his feet into them. “Is this going to be our fucking wake-up call from now on?”

“Less bitching, more getting dressed,” Bucky snaps, pushing way from the wall and quickly going to grab his bag, shoving all of his things away. He retrieves a knife and a gun from the bag. “We’re going out the fire escape. End of the corridor.”

Clint’s stomach lurches. “Who is it?” he asks, tying his boots as quickly as he can, grabbing his jacket and pulling it on.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says, shoulder his backpack and pulling his hood up. “Though I don’t think Hydra would have the balls to come after us in the daylight.”

“Unless they’re desperate,” Clint says as he quickly shoves the rest of his things away and grabs his bag and his bow. Bucky heads to the door, pulling it open a fraction and peering out. Clint watches him intently, breathing out in relief as Bucky nods curtly and opens the door wider. They steal down the corridor towards the window at the end; Bucky presses his shoulders into the wall and edges forwards so that he can look out of the window at the end.

“Clear,” he says to Clint. There aren’t any sounds from the rest of the building; no noises on the stairwell or movement of the elevator, and Clint hopes that it’s because whoever it is hasn’t caught up with them, rather than them being good enough to get up to them without being seen or heard. They don’t wait around to find out which it is; Bucky easily snaps the lock off of the window and tosses it to the floor, shoving the window up. It goes with a thud and a blast of frigid air sweeping inside. Clint barely notices though; he’s running on adrenaline and focused on the need to get away.

Their luck is in; they manage to get out of the fire escape and onto the slippery-wet metal fire escape before anyone makes it to their floor. There isn’t anyone waiting for them at the bottom either, which makes Clint think that they’re woefully inadequate or – like he thought earlier- desperate.

They deftly jump down from the lowest level of the fire escape and Bucky leads the way around the corner of the building towards the parking lot. Stepping carefully through the shadows, Bucky presses himself close to the wall, edging forwards step by careful step.

“Shit,” he murmurs as he comes to a stop, right on the corner of the building, keen eyes watching the activity in the parking lot around the edge of the brick.

Clint stays where he is, against the wall just behind Bucky. “What?” he asks, hand on Bucky’s shoulder and leaning forwards, craning his neck to try and see.

“Patrol cars too,” Bucky says, and reaches up to shove Clint back. “They’re surrounding our car, guns on it.”

“Fuck,” Clint sighs. “I think I left a packet of Oreos in the back.”

Bucky leans back and levels him with a clear ‘really, Barton?’ look. It’s so reminiscent of Phil that Clint feels a mad urge to laugh.

“Okay, what do we do?” he whispers, once he’s sure the urge has passed.

Bucky thinks for a moment. “Isn’t there an employee’s parking lot around the back?”

Clint nods, smiling grimly. “Yes, yes there is.”

Three minutes later and they’re pulling away from the hotel and onto the interstate, driving in a heavy grey SUV. Clint is at the wheel again, with Bucky keeping a careful and vigilant watch over the roads nearby. Nothing pulls up behind them, no sirens wail in the distance. Clint is relieved they’ve managed to get away scot free, but is still a little disconcerted that they’re being tracked down so easily.

“Dammit,” Bucky finally says, sinking down into the passenger seat and rubbing his face.

“I know,” Clint says. “What do we do?”

“Drive,” Bucky says tersely. “Get away from that, find somewhere to eat and then think about what the hell we’re going to do.”

Clint nods in agreement. Despite his earlier thoughts he’s still not entirely sure what the best option for them would be right now. The more he thinks about that the safest place for Bucky would be with Steve, the more he feels uneasy about it. Going back to Natasha no longer seems absolutely terrifying or impossible – but he saw with his own eyes how angry Steve was at Natasha and Tony for keeping him away from Bucky. How furious is he going to be with Clint, considering that Clint has been actively keeping Bucky from him? Not by omitting data, not by leading him slightly in another direction – but very deliberately choosing to help Bucky stay away.

After several hours of driving, they pull into a diner on a retail park. It’s dark already, the night drawing in with shocking speed. They’re careful even under the protective cloak of the darkness, watching carefully as they park the car round the side of the diner, checking everything is secure of hidden before heading in. It’s mostly empty; a tired looking trucker at one table, a young couple with a toddler at another. A loud TV talks to itself on the wall, cheerfully announcing sports scores and predictions, not at all minding that it's audience is completely uninterested. Bucky directs them to a table against the wall, with a clear view of the window. They sit down in silence; Clint waves the waitress over for coffees.

Outside, it starts to rain. It taps softly against the windows underneath the noise of the traffic and the faint bustle from the kitchen, collecting in droplets and sliding silently down the panes. Clint watches despondently, hands wrapped around his cup of coffee and shoulders hunched.   

Bucky looks similarly lost. He keeps sliding between what Clint calls his Winter Soldier face – the blank expressionless one – to something much easier to read. He’s agitated, confused. It’s there in the biting of his lip, the troubled frown and the way his eyes keep skittering from place to place.  He’s trying to make a decision, and it looks like he can’t.

“Hey,” Clint says softly, wanting very much to reach over and touch. “Talk to me.”

Troubled eyes lift to his, and Bucky sighs.  “They’re closing in on me,” he mutters, restlessly tapping his fingers against the table, metal muted by the gloves he’s wearing.

“You’re going after Hydra on intel that is probably not classified anymore,” Clint reminds him. “They’ll have worked out what you’re doing.”

Bucky doesn’t reply, just stares at the table in front of him. His expression has gone back to blank, giving nothing away. Clint’s starting to work out that it’s a defense mechanism, just like he reverts to lashing out like an asshole when things get too much.

“You want to stop?” he asks carefully, watching Bucky for any flicker of response.

Bucky shakes his head, and then shrugs. “I don’t know,” he admits, faltering. “I want Hydra gone. But I don’t want to be found. I don’t know.”

“Work out which you want more,” Clint says. “And fast. Much more of this and we will be up shit creek. There’s two of us and we’ve got Hydra, spec ops, the cops and Steve on our tails.”

“But you think – you think she’s keeping him away from us?”

“I think she was,” Clint says. “But if he’s found out that’s what she’s doing,” he pauses, wondering if he should continue, and then decides fuck it. “And if Steve is involved with Stark, and gets him to hand over full use of his tech, we’re not going to stay hidden at all.”

“Not while we’re here,” Bucky says slowly, vaguely. “The world’s a big place.”

“We going overseas?”

Bucky frowns. “You would come with me if I wanted to?”

They both know the answer is yes, but Clint just shrugs. “As long as it’s someplace warm.”

“Russia,” Bucky says.

Clint shakes his head. “Nope. Then you’re on your own.”

He smiles as he says it though, and Bucky smiles weakly back. It’s fleeting; fades within moments as he stares down at his coffee, a million miles away. Around the edge of the blankness, this time Clint can sense a lingering tension, a storm cloud brewing around Bucky’s edges. He’s still troubled, and now Clint thinks he’s worked out what by. Bucky’s feeling cornered; the choice to escape instead of standing ground to fight earlier wasn’t that remarkable at the time, but in hindsight it shows a lot.

Clint drinks his coffee, gets a refill, orders a stack of pancakes and eats half of them before Bucky speaks again. He blinks slowly and then reaches for Clint’s fork; he surrenders it without argument and lets Bucky demolish a couple of the pancakes before he returns the fork, flipping it deftly over in his fingers and holding it out handle first.

“They’re after me,” he says out of nowhere, just as Clint is using the edge of the fork to tear up another pancake.

“What’s your point?”

Bucky’s mouth twists, he bites his lip. “They’re not after you.”

“Pretty sure by this point they are after me as well,” Clint shrugs.

“I should hand myself in.”

The words stop everything in their tracks, a lightning strike through the previous calm. Clint stares at Bucky. The fork drops to the table and then off of the edge onto the floor with a clatter.

“You fucking what?”

“You got hurt. People are getting hurt,” Bucky says, and he sounds tired, turning his face towards the rain-streaked window. “Maybe it’s time to stop.”

“No,” Clint says without thinking. “No. This isn’t you talking. You’re – you’re sleep deprived or something. Still screwy from yesterday.”

Bucky shakes his head. “Hydra nearly killed Steve and his two friends because they were after me. You could have died in that fire.”

“You don’t even know they were after you, they were just as likely after Steve anyway,” Clint replies shortly, not liking where this conversation is going.

“They called me the Asset, remember,” Bucky says. “Pretty sure they won’t want to surrender me without a fight.”

“Will you stop,” Clint demands, feeling wrong footed and annoyed and angry. “Stop talking about them. You go back to Hydra over my dead body.”

“I go back to Hydra over my own dead body,” Bucky says shortly. “I meant – I meant the army. Spec ops. Something.”

“No,” Clint snaps. “If you were going to hand yourself in anywhere, it should have been to Steve yesterday. But you didn’t. You ran away from him.”

Bucky’s chin snaps up at that, faint anger in his eyes. “I don’t want him to see me. He can’t see me, not after everything I've done.”

“Yeah, and so you’re considering that handing yourself into the government is a better option. Are you even listening to yourself right now?”

“I don’t want any more people to die-”

“You absolute fucking hypocrite,” Clint hisses over him. “I did not fall in love with you for you to fucking give up.”

That stops Bucky short. His affronted expression quickly slides into one edges with guilt, and – now Clint knows what to look for – fear.

“Then you go to Steve,” he suddenly says. “Tell him I’m fine. Tell him-”

“No,” Clint objects. “No. You tell him your goddamn self. And if you think – if there’s even the slightest chance he knows where I am? I am not turning up without you because he’ll fucking kill me.”

Bucky opens his mouth to reply, to argue, to concede. Clint never finds out which. Even as the words start to take shape on Bucky’s lips there’s a deafening crack and the entire window on the front of the diner shatters, the world wiped out into a blur of frosted white webs.

There’s a scream, panicked shouting and they’re up out of the seats as fast as they can. Clint throws his arm up to cover his face and Bucky is doing the same; the table falls with a crash even as more shots sound through the air and the glass falls from the window, a deafening cascade of sound. More screaming; Clint’s ears are ringing. His heart is up in his throat, all the air punched out of him. He looks up as they run towards the door, leaping over abandoned chairs, boots crunching on glass and crockery.

“Get out of the way!” he yells as at the terrified couple who are half upright, the woman dragging the man towards the door by his elbow, the young child screaming in his arms. “Get down!”

And thank fuck, they do as they’re told, ducking behind the counter as Bucky and Clint sprint for the door. There’s yet more gunfire, and Clint can hear more screaming and things shattering behind them, even as they duck out into the rain outside.

“Get in!” Bucky bellows, and Clint scrambles into the car, not even closing the door fully before Bucky’s gunning the engine, the tyres screaming in protest and water spraying everywhere.

“What the fuck was that?” Clint yells, twisting around to look behind them, heart racing. “Who is – whoa!”

He ducks as a shot cracks off of the back of the car; four black Humvees are also screeching away from the diner, clearly intent on chasing them.

“They’re right on us!”

“Then fucking shoot them!” Bucky shouts. Clint swears and clambers trough to the backseat, even as there’s another shot, fracturing the back window.

“Just for the record, I’m not trying to get shot,” he yells back as he unpacks his bow, fingers deft. The car screeches around a corner and he throws out a foot to brace himself, almost sent sprawling backwards. “But the likelihood is looking pretty high.”

“Shut up,” Bucky snarls. “And shoot them.”

“Yes boss,” Clint pants. Keeping hold of his bow, he reaches over and presses the control to open the rear side window. The rain is whipped into the car instantly, stinging and cold against his face.

“The hell are you doing?” Bucky bellows, and he looks in the mirror and must realise what Clint is about to do. “Absolutely fucking not, Barton!”

“Can’t shoot from in here,” Clint pants.

“You can with a gun!” Bucky yells. The Humvees behind them are gaining, more power and speed despite their huge bulk, menacing and hungry in the darkness.

“Yeah, well; I’m Hawkeye,” Clint says, and in one movement he’s got his bow in hand and is half out of the window, soaked in moments. He uses the strength in his thighs to keep himself steady as he sits on the edge of the window, twisting back so he can draw the bow-

A bullet pings off of the roof next to him but he doesn’t so much as blink. He breathes in, and then exhales and lets fly.

The arrow flies true. It goes straight through the windshield of the Humvee and into the skull of the driver; the car fishtails wildly and then ploughs straight off the edge of the interstate.

“Ha! Not even bulletproof glass!” Clint crows. “Hydra on a fucking budget- whoa!”

He grabs hold of the edge of the window as the car swerves violently, almost losing his grip. Shoving his bow through first, he slides back into the car, panting and shaking water off of his face.

“Kinda piece of shit driver are you?”

“Are you fucking crazy?” Bucky yells. “Now is not the time for your sense of fucking humour to make a comeback!”

“I’d say it’s the best time,” Clint pants, looking up and meeting Bucky’s eyes in the mirror. He’s exhilarated and terrified and running on pure adrenaline. “Might not get another chance.”

“You are a reckless fucking jerk and I’m going to kill you-”

Another volley of gunfire cuts him off. Clint instinctively ducks down into the footwell and covers his head. The car swerves and he lets out a strangled yell, but then Bucky is pulling it straight and picking up speed again. They tear past other cars, blaring horns and spraying water, the SUV sliding dangerously on the drenched tarmac.

“Fucking hell,” Clint gasps, clambering up again. The car is still going, though rattling and groaning ominously. “Barnes, you okay?”

Bucky grunts in reply. Clint leans between the seats and his stomach lurches as he sees dark red wetness staining Bucky’s sleeve, visible as the overheads lights that slide by.

“You’re hit,” he breathes, horrified. “Barnes, you’re hit.”

Bucky nods jerkily, eyes still on the road. “See how bad,” he says, voice still strong and clear. “Get my knife.”

Clint nods frantically and does as he’s told. He quickly grabs a knife from the bag in the back and Bucky holds out Clint’s arm so he can cut open the sleeve. It’s a through and through on his bicep, bleeding heavily.

“Shit,” Clint curses. “Through and through.”

“Tie it off,” Bucky says, and Clint nods and reaches through to the back, grabbing a shirt and shredding it into strips. Even as he’s doing it, his ears catch a dull thudding and whining in the air above them.

“We cannot catch a fucking break,” he says, and he wants to laugh but he can’t. He roughly ties the strips around Bucky’s arm and it’s terrifying; Bucky is the Winter Soldier and he’s not as vulnerable as the rest of them, he can’t be. But here is his blood on Clint’s hands, stained dark and red in the muted light.

“Get your bow,” Bucky says the moment Clint has tied up his arm the best he can. “Get that Humvee off our ass.”

Nodding tersely, Clint climbs unsteadily back through to the back, grabbing his bow in blood stained fingers. He’s about to scramble back out the window when there’s a deafening roar and then the Humvee behind them lights up in a ball of orange flame, lifting clear off the floor and flipping nose over tail, a horrendous screech of grinding metal as it slides across the road on its roof.

“What the fuck did you do?” Bucky shouts.

“Wasn’t me!” Clint yells back, astounded. He looks wildly around for the source of the explosion and then in the darkness sees more lights tearing up from the rear, just as several powerful lights catch them up, sweeping over the highway and darting jerkily back and forth-

“We got more company!” he yells. “Buck, the army-”

There’s the flash of gunfire and he throws up an arm, but it’s not aimed at them. It’s another vehicle, firing on the Humvee behind them, and the soldiers in the Humvee are firing back.

“Shit, shit, shit, armoured troop carriers,” Clint says. “Barnes, we’re in fucking trouble.”

“We’re not,” Bucky retorts. “If the army are keeping Hydra busy then we can-”

Clint never finds out what they can. Bucky stops mid-sentence and Clint whips around to see what has silenced him.

It happens far too slowly. Clint sees a set of lights heading towards them on the interstate, shining bright and fractured through the beads of water on the windshield. He slowly registers that it’s coming way too fast, and that they’re going to collide-

Bucky jerks the wheel to the side. The car dives off of the side of the road in a lurch that makes Clint’s stomach swoop. The sound from the rest of the world are abruptly muffled, like he’s underwater or a thousand miles away; he hears himself gasp and then he’s snapped violently to the side as the car skids and then rolls.

Sound comes back in a terrifying, painful rush. There’s the screaming and crunching of metal as the car rolls twice, three times. Everything is dark and Clint is thrown around like a rag doll; he smacks his head against something and his vision blinks out like a light.

When he comes to, the car has stopped. It’s on its roof and Clint is lying on his side, agony in every muscle and bone. Groaning, he shifts and tries to move. His left ankle is burning, a deep dull throbbing pain. His head is throbbing painfully. He blinks and raises a shaking hand to wipe rain out of his eyes, and it comes away red.

There’s a soft groan from somewhere nearby. Bucky, he thinks, frozen all over again. Oh fuck, where is he, is he alive, is he okay-

It’s with monumental effort that Clint manages to drag himself out of the wreckage, through the gap where the window should have been. He pulls himself around to the driver’s side, crawling on his hands and knees through soaking wet grass.

“Bucky,” he tries to say, voice coming out with a flare of pain in his ribs. “Barnes.”

“Barton,” a voice replies, and Clint laughs with choked, hysterical relief as Bucky emerges from the driver side front window, pulling himself with his metal arm. He makes it out and tries to stand but staggers against Clint, falling into him.

“How are you even in one piece?” he asks Clint, and his voice is thick and heavy. “Clint-”

“Dumb luck,” Clint tells him shakily, turning his face up so he can see him. Bucky looks in a bad way, face pale and pinched against the pain. “Come on, we gotta go.”

As if to prove his point, he dully hears the thudding of the chopper over their heads, and the faintest wail of a siren. It's raining harder than ever; he’s already drenched and cold but that doesn’t fucking matter. All that matters is getting Bucky out of here.

“Gotta get-” he tries to say, and he half crawls back into the car, reaching about desperately. He finds his quiver first and wrenches it free, and then moments later his fingers close around the familiar metal of his riser. Heart pounding and stomach churning like he’s about to throw up, he pulls the bow free.

It’s in one piece.

“Dumb fucking luck,” he says, and with fumbling hands he straps his quiver on and takes his bow in hand, taking a deep breath before he hauls himself to his feet. The pain in his ankle threatens to drop him back to the ground; his head swims dizzily and he blinks hard to clear away the darkness at the edge of his vision. He takes a staggering step and his ankle holds, throbbing dully and protesting the weight. Clint ignores it, reaching to grasp hold of Bucky’s metal hand and heave him up. Bucky stumbles slightly but rights himself quickly, drawing in a shuddering breath.

“You with me?” Clint asks. Bucky nods, but then he’s going tense and trying to turn around and shit, Clint hears it too – voices and movement in the trees beside the verge, darting lights and the barking of a dog and someone is coming-

“Go,” Bucky says. “Barton, go-”

And they’re both stumbling and staggering away from the wreckage, away from the noise. Clint can only limp and Bucky has his metal hand locked around the bullet wound on his right bicep, face a rigid mask. Together, they manage to get back up the verge, stumbling onto rain drenched asphalt. There’s the screech of brakes and Bucky grabs Clint’s shoulder and tries to shove him in the other direction, but then there’s more lights and more engines, and there’s suddenly a bright circular light lighting them up where they stand-

They’re trapped.

Seeming to be almost in slow motion, more and more vehicles are pulling up, and now there’s another circular light joining the first. Bucky steps up behind him, fingers grasping at Clint’s elbow, and then his legs give out and he hits the ground hard, still clutching his arm-

Thoughts still slow and halting, nothing quite making sense and the world still fading dangerously at the edges, Clint does the only thing he knows to do. He steps back so he’s standing right in front of Bucky and he reaches back for an arrow, nocking it and pulling back to full draw.

Somewhere in the vague dizziness in his mind, he realizes that it's the military out there; they must have won the firefight back there because the soldiers piling out of the vehicles and surrounding them are Spec Ops soldiers. He should be relieved that it's not Hydra but he can't be; he has no idea what the Spec Ops soldiers' orders are concerning the Winter Soldier. And there is the fact they're all armed to the teeth, which isn't great any way he looks at it.

Spec Ops, Hydra. Whatever. It makes no difference. Whoever it is in front of him, he will not let them have Bucky.

Even as he thinks it, he hears a murmur of his name from behind him, a soft broken plea that inexplicably seems louder than the chaos around him. It’s like a jump start; all at once the swimmy greyness snaps away and he’s standing there fully aware, senses back online with jarring clarity.

The lights are blinding. He can barely see a thing through the glare that has lit them up, open and exposed. The white circle pins them in place, the thudding of the helicopter above their heads reverberating through his chest. People are bellowing at them, telling him to get down, to lower his weapon. Sirens are wailing. The rain continues to fall, a mist visible in the bright lights that are pointing mercilessly at them.

Clint stands his ground. He keeps his bow raised, muscles protesting as he stands straight up at full draw, pointing it at the people who are surrounding them, guns drawn. Water drips from his hair; it’s soaked through, plastered to his forehead. His clothes are all sodden, clinging clammy and wet to his skin. There’s blood mixed in with the water as well, orange-red rivulets running down his face and arms.

Behind him, Bucky’s harsh breathing is still audible. He’s on his knees, shoulder pressing heavily into the back of Clint’s legs. He’s holding his right arm tightly to his chest with his left, shaking in what Clint assumes is pain. He’s still bleeding.

“Stand down,” a modulated voice echoes through the night, amplified by speakers. More white lights dance across the ground, sweeping searchlights. “The Winter Soldier is under arrest. Stand down.”

“Go,” Bucky manages to say, voice thick with pain. “Barton-”

“Not a fucking chance,” Clint replies, and doesn’t budge an inch. “They’re not having you.”

“Barton-”

“They are not having you,” he snarls, because despite having next to no fucking clue how he’s ended up here, he knows that much without a doubt. It’s all flashing through his mind, memories and questions alike. How did he end up here, surrounded by what looks like an entire fucking Spec Ops unit, all with guns pointing straight at him? How did he end up here with Bucky fucking Barnes slumped against his legs, bleeding out over the sidewalk? The last few months are a blur to him, time and days bleeding together, and all he can surmise from it is that somewhere along the line he got to the point where he’s willing to defend Bucky Barnes with his life-

One of the Spec Ops soldiers breaks away from the line. He steps slowly, boots audible as they advance heavily across the wet asphalt. His gun is raised.

Clint swallows. Blinks water out of his eyes.

“Barnes, I think we’re finally fucked.”

Bucky can’t even reply; he’s in too much pain. Clint refuses to even contemplate moving, because if he dies protecting Bucky then so fucking be it-

The soldier stops.

Slowly, so slowly, he lowers his gun. It falls from his hand, hitting the ground with a clatter. He takes another step, and his hand reaches up to push away the goggles on his face, yanking back the balaclava to reveal blue eyes and a shock of blond hair-

Steve.

It’s Steve Rogers, standing there in a fucking Spec Ops uniform, rain running down his face. His jaw is set, determined and his expression is fierce and unwavering.

“You gonna stand down?” he asks Clint, and Clint shakes his head jerkily.

“Nope.”

“Good,” Steve replies tersely, and then he stoops to grab the gun and then walks right towards Clint, stepping around him and standing beside Bucky, bringing the gun up and pointing it at the other Spec Ops officers.

“This one’s Avengers’ business,” he says calmly. “We’ll take it from here.”

And there’s a familiar whine and a flash of red and gold out of the corner of Clint’s eye, and out of fucking nowhere Iron Man lands to his left with the usual crunch of asphalt. The rain runs freely down the suit as he straightens up, catching the lights from the patrol cars and sparking off a thousand blue and red reflections.

“You heard him,” Tony’s voice says, and he raises both hands, repulsors flaring in warning. “We called dibs.”

And Clint could fucking cry, his heart swelling in his chest because they’re standing there with him, and they’ve got his back and they’re going to help protect Bucky. It’s still chaos; the sweeping lights are fixed on them, juddering slightly as the helicopters loom overhead, the modulated voices still calling out for surrender, officers shouting instructions and moving around them-

“Okay, stand down. Officers stand down. Target ceded to Captain Rogers, stand down. Hold position, lower weapons.”

It’s the best thing he’s ever heard. Clint would fucking cheer for the fact that everyone seems to be willing to do as Captain America wills, but he's too busy reeling from shock. Steve nods curtly and moves closer to Bucky, kneeling down and reaching for him, a hand on his shoulder.

“No,” Clint tries, lowering his bow and turning unsteadily. “Cap, he’s hurt-”

“He’s got him,” Tony’s voice says, and then, “whoa!” as Clint’s legs finally give out. Armored hands catch his elbows and keep him upright, and he’s struggling to stand up again, to check on Bucky.

“Calm it, Legolas,” Tony says firmly, grip unyielding. “I got you. Steve’s got him-”

Clint twists so he can see Bucky. He’s slumped against Steve, and his eyes are closed, face deathly pale and turned up into the rain.

“No,” he chokes. “Barnes-”

“He’s alive,” Tony says. “He’s alive. Come on, don’t make me knock you out, work with me here-”

Steve stands up, lifting Bucky easily with him, cradling him in his arms. The metal arm swings at his side, fingers limp.

“No, he’s hurt-” Clint manages, and then he feels everything going faint as the blood drains from his head, everything going swimmy as he sinks underwater, the world around him echoing and muffled. He tries to reach out but his arm won’t move, and he fights against it but can’t. He slumps back against armored hands as consciousness slides from his grasp, still trying to reach for Bucky.

 


 

And there’s dull fluorescent light glinting off red hair. Clint blinks again and frowns, and that’s not right-

“Wake up, Clint.”

Natasha.

Clint forces his eyes open, coughing as he surges back into consciousness proper.  He tries to sit up but Natasha is holding him down with a hand on his shoulder, and she’s looking at him with a small wobbly smile on her face-

“Why’re you crying?” he asks, tongue too thick in his mouth, words slurred.

“Idiot,” she breathes, and leans down to kiss his forehead. She leans back, checks an IV drip that’s hanging near her head. For a moment Clint wonders why she’s attached to an IV and then he realizes that it’s for him; he’s in the back of an ambulance and he’s attached to an IV.

“You’re the idiot,” he murmurs, swallowing and wincing as he does, throat too dry. “Couldn’t even catch me.”

She raises an eyebrow at that, reaching out to stroke her fingers over his forehead. “I could have caught you hundreds of times, Zoloto.”

“Knew it,” Clint says with a tired smile, one that feels lopsided and aches. “You let me go.”

She inclines her head, a barely there nod. “I did.”

“Why?”

“I worked out who you were with. Worked out that he wasn’t going to hurt you. Thought maybe you could work through some things together.”

Clint narrows his eyes. “That simple?”

“Simple things for simple creatures,” Natasha says.

“I might be simple but Bucky’s not,” Clint says, and then something seems to click in his brain as Bucky’s name slips out of his mouth, because he’s here safe in the back of an ambulance and Bucky isn’t there.

“Clint, no!”

He pushes Nat away and sits up. There’s a tugging at his arm and he yanks out the IV, tossing it aside. “Bucky,” he says, struggling to swing his legs off of the side of the side of the trolley. “Where is he-”

“Clint, wait-”

“Where is he?!” Clint yells, and stops, breathing heavily. Outside the open ambulance door, the rain continues to fall, a soft mist in the darkness. There are still flashing lights; he can’t have been out that long.

“He’s with Steve,” Natasha says gently.

“Nope,” Clint says, barely thinking. “He’s with me.”

He gets up and this time Natasha doesn't try and stop him. Ankle aching in protest, he clambers unsteadily from the back of the ambulance, realising belatedly that he’s barefoot, ankle already bound up tightly. He looks around and his eyes lock on another ambulance standing twenty feet away; he’s limping over, feet padding through the freezing water on the concrete.  

He stops just outside, hesitating.

Bucky is there, sitting up on a trolley and leaning into the corner of the ambulance, knees drawn up and arm tucked up protectively against his chest. His right arm is bandaged neatly up, the bullet wound taken care of. His metal hand is outstretched, held gently in both of Steve’s. Steve is talking to him, softly, quietly, and Bucky is listening. His eyes are half open, tired but calm.

He’s safe.

He’s with Steve and he’s safe.

Part of Clint quietly says ‘that’s enough.’ All that time wishing that Bucky would go to Steve, and he’s finally got him there. He’s done enough, he’s kept him safe and now he can hand him over.

The rest of Clint tells that bit of him to shut the fuck up; he did not get stabbed and shot and mauled by Hydra to give up Bucky now, not even for Captain fucking America.  

Besides. He knows what Bucky wants.

He reaches out and grabs hold of the door, hauling himself awkwardly up onto the step, still not quite inside and balancing his weight on his good leg. Steve and Bucky turn as one, but Clint’s focus is all on Bucky. He meets his eyes and wants to tell him everything, that he’s here, that he loves him, that he’s got going anywhere-

Bucky slides his hand from Steve’s and reaches out towards Clint, metal fingers gleaming dully in the interior lights.

Heart skipping inside his chest, Clint tears his eyes from Bucky to Steve, instinctively seeking something - permission, perhaps. Forgiveness, maybe.

And Steve gives it. His brow is furrowed and he’s clearly unsure and trying to make sense of what’s going on here, but he breathes out and nods. He looks back towards Bucky one last time and then he’s climbing towards the back of the ambulance, catching Clint’s shoulder as he does.

“Thank you,” he murmurs. “For keeping him safe.”

And that’s nowhere near right for everything they’ve been through together, but Clint’ll take it right now. Fears about Steve’s anger vanishing, he nods and reaches up to pat Steve’s chest, wordless. Steve half smiles and then jumps down from the back, boots splashing in the rain. Ever the gentleman, he turns and grasps Clint’s upper arm, helping him up into the back of the ambulance and shutting the door behind him.

It’s quiet and dark inside, lights dimmed. The rain drums quietly off of the metal and glass, and Bucky is still waiting, hand outstretched.

Dripping water everywhere, Clint edges forwards and takes it, holding metal fingers tight in his own. Bucky draws him in and he goes willingly, sitting on the edge of the trolley. Careful to avoid Bucky’s arm, he leans over and kisses him, tasting Bucky’s trembling mouth beneath his.

“He’s glad I’m back,” Bucky says, voice trembling. “He’s not even mad.”

“I told you he wouldn't be,” Clint murmurs, resting a hand on Bucky’s thigh. “Just relax. They’ve got us.”

“They - but-” Bucky begins, swallowing hard. “The woman, and the man from DC-”

“I reckon,” Clint interrupts him, though he feels close to tears himself, over emotional and so fucking relieved he could pass out all over again. “They’re all up for this forgiveness stuff. I guess we’re just gonna have to let them, and not fuck it up by not wanting them to.”

And the words sink into Bucky’s pain and panic, and he meets Clint’s eyes, fear fading. Still holding Clint’s gaze, he licks his lip and slowly nods.

“And we forgive ourselves, right?” he says almost inaudibly.

“At some point we might,” Clint says with a weak and tired smile. “Stop worrying. We’re safe. The rest comes later.”

Bucky nods jerkily again, and motions for Clint to come closer. Clint obliges, moving aching limbs so he can settle on the trolley with him. Bucky lies on his back and Clint settles into his side, resting his head on Bucky’s metal shoulder and ignoring the pain in his ribs, in his ankle.

Metal fingers stroke unsteadily against his hair and he breathes out shakily, pressing his mouth to the scarred skin where Bucky’s shoulder meets his metal arm. Bucky lets him, eyes drifting closed as they lie there, curled up together, safe and warm.

He’s vaguely aware of the doors opening again, of voices around them. He recognises Nat’s soft murmur first so doesn’t panic, just places his trust back in her and the rest of the team. Steve’s deep tones are also easy to distinguish, in murmured conversation with Tony and Sam.

He doesn’t open his eyes. He just turns his face into the curve of Bucky’s neck, holds him close.

“Hey Hawkeye,” a voice calls, sounding amused. “Gonna get back in your own ambulance?”

He doesn’t bother to reply. There’s laughter and the sound of repulsors, and then the front doors opening and closing. The back of the ambulance dips slightly as someone climbs on board.

“Okay,” Steve’s voice says from somewhere close and distant at once, even as the ambulance rumbles to life, the back doors slamming shut. “Can I take you two home now?”

And Clint exhales deeply, turns his chin up so he can look at Bucky. Bucky’s eyes are already on him, calm and grey and oh-so familiar. He dips his chin, and attempts a weak smile, and Clint knows it doesn’t matter where they go as long as he’s with Bucky.

“Actually, home sounds good,” Clint says, because really, with the team there to protect him and Bucky safe here at his side, he’s pretty much all out of reasons to keep running. “Lead the way, Cap.”