When Steve brings Bucky back to the tower for the first time, Clint’s first thought is that Tony Stark’s pride and joy is quickly becoming less of a very tall and expensive ‘fuck you’ in the faces of investors who don’t believe in self-sustaining energy, and more of a superhero rehabilitation center. It’s barely been twelve months since New York and the tower is already filling up with various mentally damaged waifs and strays.
Clint is sat at the breakfast bar in the communal open plan kitchen and lounge area with a pack of peanuts in hand, throwing them across the room into an empty, plastic orange juice bottle when he first sees James Buchanan Barnes. The elevator doors open and he looks up to see a tired and harried looking Steve Rogers steering a dark-haired stranger into the room, one hand clamped on their elbow.
Immediately on alert, Clint fights down the urge to grab his bow; the stranger is giving off a distinct and unmistakable air of trouble. His dark hair is long and unkempt, hanging around his chin and shadowing his face. Unkempt appearance aside, it’s his eyes that are setting off the major mental alarm bells; despite the dark shadows under them, they’re astoundingly bright and alert and darting rapidly around the room. He looks tightly wound, like a coiled spring pushed to breaking point, and Clint recognizes the tells of nervous jitters being forced into submission.
“-don’t care, you think I’m letting you out of my sight then you got another thing coming,” Steve is saying tersely, and then looks up and jumps as he spots Clint perched on the worktop. “Whoa, shit, hey Clint,” he says, grimacing. Clint sends him a pointed look and his shoulders slump a little. “This is Bucky,” he finally admits. “Bucky, meet Clint.”
Clint takes in Steve’s somewhat shifty demeanor and the hurried approach. He looks over the stranger again, and with a start he realizes he knows exactly who it is.
He knows the face from both a SHIELD report and a photo that’s taped to Steve’s bedroom wall, and he’s heard Steve say the name Bucky a handful of times, soft and sad. He’s also heard more than one person refer to the Winter Soldier, often in fear or anger or both. The name is a curse in the corridors of SHIELD, a whisper that leaves people uneasy and double checking over their shoulders as they leave the building. Christ, Clint knows what’s happened with the mission to deal with the Winter Soldier, and yeah, he knows that the Winter Soldier is technically once again Bucky Barnes, but that doesn’t mean he expects the guy to turn up in the lounge without any warning.
Especially when, according to all other reports, the former Winter Soldier is under armed guard in SHIELD custody, and will be for some length of time, the span of which can be estimated at being between eternity and forever.
Clint stares for another couple of seconds, trying to work out if he should be more bothered by the fact one of the most ruthless and dangerous assassins the world has seen is within ten feet of him. “Does Tony know you’ve adopted another reformed villain yet?”
Steve looks from Bucky to him, distracted. “He was never a villain - you were never a villain,” he says wearily. “Buck, come on-”
“Jesus, Steve, that’s my real arm,” Bucky complains, trying to pull away. “Remember you’re not scrawny anymore, jerk.”
The accent is unmistakably Brooklyn in that it’s vague and hard to pinpoint, a medley of stolen sounds and attitude, and some of the hostile front around Bucky shatters as the words come out. He doesn’t seem half as threatening when he’s scowling at Steve and drawling, sounding like he’s come straight out of the Borough in the 1940’s. Clint still wouldn’t pick a fight with the guy though, and it’s half to do with the manic edge in his eyes and half to do with the other arm, the one Clint knows about and that Steve isn’t gripping onto.
Steve looks down, startled, and then lets go of Bucky’s elbow. “Get moving and I wouldn’t have to,” he replies.
Clint flicks another peanut at the bottle. “Does Fury know you’ve adopted another reformed villain?”
Jarvis chooses that moment to interrupt. “Captain Rogers, Director Fury is calling and insisting quite persistently that you pick up your phone and, I quote, ‘fucking well explain yourself’. Agent Coulson and Agent Romanov have just entered the building and are on the stairs, and Sir is also aware of your return and is on his way up from the workshop in the elevator.”
Steve shuts his eyes for a long moment. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters, breathing out heavily, nostrils flaring. “So much easier to sneak around in our time.”
Bucky snorts. “So much easier to sneak around when you were five foot nothin’.”
Steve gives him a shove. “Move,” he says tersely. “Before everyone gets here.”
Clint frowns at him. “Does anyone know you’ve adopted another reformed villain?”
Bucky stares at him. “Who the fuck is this joker?” he asks, just before Steve grabs his collar and bodily hustles him from the room and towards the stairs. It’s oddly reassuring to see despite the indignant scowl on Bucky’s face as he’s manhandled; if Captain America can push him about so easily then there’s probably nothing to worry about.
“Clint Barton, nice to meet you,” Clint says to the empty air, and flicks another peanut across the room to land perfectly in the bottle. Quietly contemplating how long it’s going to take for the rest of the Avengers to lose their collective minds, he also debates whether to be impressed or alarmed by Steve’s apparent Machiavellian streak; if his suspicions are correct, it appears that Steve has liberated Bucky from SHIELD holding facilities without permission and brought him back to the tower to keep an eye on.
A small smile hitches the side of his mouth as he recalls the exact same thing happening to him eight and a half months ago. God. Between him and Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers appears to be an absolute sucker for hopeless cases.
Clint hears the elevator doors open again. “Where is he?” a loud voice demands. “The lying son of a fuck says he can’t work his phone and then he texts me to say oh sorry I missed dinner, FYI I’ve just broken my cybernetically enhanced cyborg BFF out of SHIELD, bringing him home, hope you don’t mind? I’m going to kill him, super-soldier or not-”
“Coulson and Natasha are on the way up,” Clint says, and Tony about turns back towards the elevator, swearing violently and still ranting.
Clint snorts tiredly and mentally adds Tony Stark to the list of hopeless cases that Steve Rogers appears to be an absolute sucker for.
The tower is in uproar. Barnes is safely ensconced in Steve’s rooms, a floor below Clint’s, and Steve is refusing to let anyone anywhere near him. He’s not in Captain Mode; that requires a certain amount of objectivity and control. Instead, he’s in full on Steve Rogers doesn’t like to be told what to do mode, and it’s proving vastly entertaining to watch.
Fury is yelling at Steve. Maria Hill is glaring at Steve and also occasionally yelling at him. Natasha is glaring at Steve, and that’s enough to make most grown men piss their pants. Tony is alternating between yelling at Steve and yelling at Fury for yelling at Steve. Bruce and Clint are the only sensible ones, and are staying well out of it, sitting on the sofa and drinking coffee. Clint’s finding it hard enough to follow the argument anyway; not everyone is facing him and even with his hearing aids in tip-top working order, he still finds it difficult to sort out the layers of sound in the multitude of voices. Eh, he could just turn them off so he doesn’t have to listen full stop.
“He’s staying,” Steve repeats adamantly.
“The Winter Soldier is under arrest,” Hill says impatiently. “The WSC say he is to remain in SHIELD custody.”
“Bucky Barnes is not,” Steve shoots back. “None of your action points take into count the fact he is not the Winter Soldier anymore.”
“They’re the same person!” Tony says incredulously. Steve shoots him a glare, and Tony throws his hands up in the air. “I’m just saying!”
“Legally, they’re not the same person,” Steve says, and Clint watches Hill’s lips go thin. She retorts with something that Clint doesn’t catch, but Steve is ignoring her anyway. “The Winter Soldier is defined specifically as an assassin who is under the influence of the Red Room. Bucky is no longer under the influence of anything, so he’s not the damn Winter Soldier. Your paperwork says so.”
“You are a pain in my ass, Captain,” Fury says, shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “First Barton and then Barnes. Are you trying to get me to arrest you as well?”
“You know I’m right,” Steve says stubbornly, folding his arms across his chest. “You can’t have him.”
“Do I get a say in this?” Tony interjects. “This is my tower, you know.”
“NO,” Steve, Hill and Fury all shout, and Tony holds his hands up again, looking offended.
“Jesus Christ, okay, okay.”
Steve doesn’t budge an inch. Fury and Hill try threats, bribes and compromises, and Steve doesn’t so much as move. After almost an hour of wrangling, Fury appears to give up. Tony looks like he’s being torn between glee that Steve has out-stubborned Fury, and being annoyed that Steve hasn’t listened to him or included him in his plans.
Fury and Hill leave soon after, without Barnes but with a promise from Steve that he will monitor him at all times and check in with SHIELD every day to assure them he’s not having any Winter Soldier awakenings. Natasha goes with them, and pointedly and noticeably doesn’t say goodbye to any of the others. Bruce vanishes back to his lab, leaving Clint to witness one of the tensest standoffs between Tony and Steve that they’ve ever let anyone see.
Tony is still looking distinctly unimpressed, Steve is looking defiant. They’re standing two feet apart and probably about two seconds away from starting up the shouting again.
“I think it was a good call,” Clint says, just to break the tension before they break each other.
Both faces snap around to look at him. Steve looks thankful; Tony looks furious.
“You would, seeing as you still technically belong in lockup as well,” he snarls, and then storms away. Clint doesn’t care; he knows Tony often doesn’t mean the things he says when he’s angry, and frankly he’d rather take a cheap shot like that than let Tony say something he’ll regret to Steve.
“Thanks,” Steve sighs, staring at the closed elevator doors with his hands behind his head, fingers interlaced and expression troubled.
Clint gives him a vague thumbs up. “No problem, Mon Capitan.”
“Honestly think I did the right thing?”
Clint shrugs. “Probably. Who knows?”
Steve sighs again, still staring at the elevator doors even though he knows Tony won’t come back. He drops his hands to his sides and turns towards the stairwell, and as he goes Clint hears him mutter something that could be “definitely not me.”
That night, Clint re-reads the Winter Soldiers file.
It isn’t pretty.
Leaning forwards with his elbows on the small desk that’s in the corner of his room, he stares down at the list of known activity, wondering if Barnes had had his soul removed along with his arm. He blows out a breath and leans back, rubbing his mouth with his fingers. Stuck in the back of his mind is the look that had flickered over of Natasha’s face when she’d found out about Barnes being in the tower; the disbelief and fury that he was sure no-one else had spotted. The fact he’d also spotted the anxiety in her eyes showed just how well he knew her, despite what she often claimed.
Jesus. He looks over the list again, and can’t help but feel uneasy, a cold prickle walking down his spine even though it’s one of the warmest nights of the year so far. He figures that Natasha has left the tower and gone to stay at SHIELD because of the old scars left by her relationship with Barnes, not because she genuinely thinks he’ll hurt her, but still. Some of the things he’s done makes Clint wonder what the hell Steve was thinking when he went to bust his ass out of SHIELD-
But then he closes the document and slams the lid of the laptop shut. If anyone read his up to date file, they would probably be insisting that someone neutralize him as well.
“So, how are things?”
Doctor Beckett is alright as far as therapists go, Clint supposes. She’s persistent without being overly annoying, calm without being patronizing. She’s dealt with Tony Stark before so Clint knows she’s not a moron, and she’s also dealt with Bruce Banner, which means she commands a certain level of respect. She’s got chin length curly hair in a lovely shade of mahogany, and a fairly pretty face with keen eyes.
Clint still hates her guts and wants to shoot her in the mouth. He wouldn’t, but only because he’s currently not allowed to bring his bow onto SHIELD premises. Apparently it scares the junior agents.
“I hear you have a new housemate,” she says easily, crossing her legs and brushing down her grey pencil skirt. Her entire outfit is black and grey, except for a simple chain of bright green beads at her neck, glossy and expensive looking. Clint spots that her handbag, down on the floor near a filing cabinet, is the same shade of green.
“Isn’t that classified?” Clint asks, and she shrugs, an elegant arch of one slender shoulder.
“We both work for SHIELD,” she says, and her mouth twitches. “I won’t tell you anything you don’t have clearance for.”
Clint sends her the most withering look he can manage. She just smiles like she’s happy he’s doing that rather than staring blankly at the wall like he did for the first four months of therapy. He heaves out a breath and sinks down into the chair, head lolling on the warm leather.
“Steve broke his cybernetically enhanced cyborg BFF out of jail and brought him home,” he says dismissively. “He has a thing for hopeless cases.”
“Are you one of these hopeless cases?” she asks neutrally.
Clint thinks about still being suspended, the days of endless boredom and frustration. He thinks about the frequent nightmares, the occasional panic attacks, the days where he is still so fucking fed up that he can’t bring himself to get out of bed.
He lifts his head and flashes her a grin. “I am the hopeless case, baby.”
Bucky doesn’t emerge from Steve’s rooms for a full six days after Fury grudgingly allows Steve to get his way. Clint doesn’t care either way; he’s going to do his damnest to keep out of this one because between Steve, Tony and Natasha, the whole situation could all too easily blow up in their faces.
It’s dinner time on a Saturday night when he finally does appear. It’s awkward, even though it’s only pizza and beer, spread out haphazardly on the island counter with everyone crowded around. The TV is on in the background, some shitty reality show that Tony usually likes to put on just to see the sheer disbelief on Steve’s face.
The lights gleam dully on Bucky’s metal arm, and Clint so badly wants to say something because everyone is deliberately not saying anything about it. Bucky looks completely at home with a piece of robot attached to his shoulder, and his movements are easy and sinuous, like it’s still flesh and blood simply covered in armour.
Steve hates the metal arm, it’s easy enough to work out. He won’t touch it, won’t talk about it, won’t even look at it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
Tony, on the other hand…well, Clint suspects that the mechanical arm is the only part of Bucky Barnes that Tony likes.
Bucky is leaning against the worktop near the fridge, and he’s wearing a white wife-beater which instantly draws attention to his arm, like a big shiny fuck you to everyone else in the room. His hair has now been cut in a brutally short buzzcut, and he’s looking clean and presentable and still like a complete thug. His expression is guarded and sullen, like he’s resentful that Steve has dragged him out of his room to where there are real people he has to interact with. Clint hasn’t failed to notice how he’s positioned himself just behind Steve. He wonders if Bucky has even noticed.
Steve sure as hell hasn’t. He’s sat on a stool at the island counter, leaning forwards with one elbow resting on it. His cheek is propped up on his fists and his eyes are half closed, his pizza forgotten in front of him. He’s so tired he’s not even paying attention to Tony, and Tony is evidently dealing with that by being horrendously passive aggressive to Steve and everyone else in the vicinity. Even Bruce is looking fed up of his bullshit, and Bruce has a higher Tony-tolerance level than Steve, which is saying something.
Clint stands next to the oven – which as far as he’s aware has never been turned on – leaning against the counter with his hood pulled up over his head and a bottle of beer pressed to his mouth. Yeah, he looks a tad menacing and Tony says he looks ‘antisocial’ but he’s had a shitty day so he can fuck off and keep his opinions to himself. He’s tired; he hasn’t slept properly in just over a week and he spent an hour this morning crammed into the paltry excuse for a vent in his room, back pressed against the stupid air filtration unit that stops him crawling off into the walls, bow in hand.
He taps his beer bottle against his lips, hunches his shoulders and shoves his free hand further into the pocket on the sweatshirt, thankful that Bucky is there because for once it means no-one is paying attention to him and his frayed nerves.
Bucky looks up and sees Clint watching him. His lip pulls back in a sneer before he looks away, and Clint watches how he shifts slightly, rocking from side to side on the balls of his bare feet, the motion setting him a fraction of an inch more securely behind Steve.
“So, not in the mood for talking, I take it?” Beckett finally says after twenty-two minutes of silence. Clint can hear the smile in her voice and has to give her some credit for being so inhumanly patient with him, again. He thought she’d last nine, maybe ten minutes tops before trying to make him talk.
“I call it the Bucky,” Clint says, drumming his fingers on his stomach, his other arm slung behind his head over the back of the chair. “He doesn’t say shit and no-one tries to make him, so I thought I’d see if it got me off the hook.”
Beckett raises her eyebrows, gives Clint the fond exasperated look that she seems to have reserved especially for when he’s being more of a nuisance than normal. Clint used to hate how expressive she was, how she even had looks other than the standard ‘you are a particularly interesting patient’ therapist face. Nowadays, he doesn’t really care.
“His SHIELD therapist will try and make him talk,” Beckett says. “We’re a remarkably patient bunch, even for the likes of you lot.”
“He has a SHIELD therapist?” Clint asks, and starts laughing, because the image of Bucky Barnes sitting in a leather armchair in a calm cream and brown room, having a meaningful and rational conversation doesn’t quite sit right. “Shit. That just seems…so normal.”
Beckett hums in agreement. “They asked me to take him on,” she says. “I said no.”
Beckett shrugs, smiles. “I already had you, and didn't really feel like starting a club for mind controlled superheroes.”
“Ha, put that on your resume.”
“Besides, I didn’t think it was right that you two were being lumped together and considered for the exact same treatment process. You're both different,” Beckett continues, and Clint looks at her suspiciously.
“How can you say that if you don't know him? Hell, from your point of view we’re exactly the same. What’s the line in the file? Unwilling participant in destructive action against allies? A victim of forcible indoctrination, induced to give up basic beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas?”
Beckett rolls her eyes at him. “Well, that’s ten bucks you just lost me, I had money on you never reading the paperwork we gave you.”
“Well I did,” Clint says. “And I bet you another ten bucks that Barnes’s file says exactly the same thing as mine.”
“I’m not taking that bet.”
“I knew it.”
Beckett looks at him patiently. “Even if it does, it doesn’t mean anything on paper. You're both human, aren't you?
Clint hums noncommittally. “He's part cyborg.”
“Yes, fine, we're both human.”
Beckett smiles, calm and patient. “Then you're different.”
Clint opens his mouth, wanting to protest and deny but not sure how to go about it, when there’s a rapping at the door. They both turn to look at the door and then back at each other.
Clint shrugs. “I didn’t invite anyone, did you invite anyone?”
“Hello?” Dr Beckett calls, and the door immediately opens. Clint groans when he’s sees that it’s Fury, followed closely by Natasha.
“I’m sorry, group therapy is at four,” Beckett says, perfectly straight faced, and Clint hates her a teensy bit less than he did.
“Doctor Beckett,” Fury nods. “Sorry to interrupt, but we need to borrow Agent Barton.”
She nods, but raises an eyebrow. “The therapist part of me says he still has thirty one minutes left, and wonders if it’s appropriate to be referring to him as Agent Barton when he’s still refused clearance for active duty,” she says, and Clint doesn’t know if he should be grateful or offended.
“And the non-therapist part of you?” Natasha asks, face perfectly impassive.
“Says take him, he’s a pain and thinks he’s too smart for this.”
“Fuck you, Doc,” Clint says cheerfully, and clambers out of the chair. “Let the borrowing commence.”
He leaves the room without another word, and hears Fury apologizing wearily to Dr Beckett before the door is closed and he hears footsteps behind him.
“Идиот,” Natasha says, and Clint stops, turns to face her. She’s not smiling, not really, and there’s the ghost of something in her eyes, something Clint isn’t going to claim to understand. He leans against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and watching cautiously as Fury joins them.
“I have a proposition for you,” he says without preamble.
“No,” Clint replies straight away, and Fury just stares at him, face impassive.
“We need help with the good Captain,” he says, as if Clint never said anything. “Or should I say, for the good Captain.”
Clint frowns. Looks from Fury to Natasha.
“He’s not coping with Barnes,” she says, straight to the point. Her jaw is clenched tight, and Clint doesn’t need to ask why she doesn’t get involved take Bucky off of Steve’s hands. That is a nest of snakes he wants nowhere near, thanks very much.
“Arrest him again, then,” Clint says with a shrug, but even he knows that they’d have to go through Steve first, and that’s not a fight many people could win. Hell, it’s not a fight many people would want to even think about.
“We can’t,” Fury says. “Well, we probably could, but Rogers has a point. Legally, there’s a distinction between Barnes and the Winter Soldier.”
“No offense Sir, but I never thought the legal distinction of a name would get in your way.”
Fury laughs at that, a rough bark of sound. “It wouldn’t. But in this case, I’m letting it, seeing as next to Rogers is probably the best place for Barnes. Rogers will look after the Bucky Barnes part, and Captain America will able to take on the Winter Soldier if necessary.”
“I thought you just said he wasn’t coping.”
“Not on his own,” Fury admits, and then looks Clint directly in the eye. “And it just so happens that one of his new housemates is the only person in a hundred clicks who may have any idea what he’s going though.”
The penny drops.
Clint groans, presses his fingers to his eyelids. “No. I’m not buddying up with him on grounds of forced mind-control. Just, no. Steve is his best friend-”
“Steve was there when he died,” Natasha cuts in, and her eyes show how much saying it hurts her. “He’s chock full of survivors guilt, and he’s exhausted.”
Ah, survivors guilt. Clint’s current new best friend, he knows him well.
“There’s an ass-load of unfinished business between them,” Fury finishes. “They’ll get through it. Rogers is too stubborn for this to go any other way. But at the moment, it’s too much for one man. They need a break from each other.”
“Not a break,” Natasha corrects. “Room to breathe. To be there for each other, without dragging each other down.”
Clint shakes his head again, slumping against the wall. Frankly, he doesn’t really give a shit about Bucky Barnes; he doesn’t know him, and what he’s seen of him lately has just revealed a sullen, tense soldier with massive PTSD and attachment issues. Doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs.
“For the Captain,” Fury says seriously, and Clint feels his arguments slipping away like water through loosely cupped fingers.
“God Bless America,” he says, miming waving a flag and keeping his voice an absolute monotone.
Fury smiles grimly. “Good. Keep me updated,” he says, and turns on his heel, calling out over his shoulder. “And for god’s sake, do not let Stark get involved.”
Aw, fucksticks. Tony. Clint hadn’t even considered that variable when he’d agreed to try and help-
“Wait! Hang on-” he yells, but they’ve already gone, shoulder to shoulder and not looking back.
Clint lowers his bow, staring at the makeshift target that he’s set up at the other end of the gym. He hums to himself, cocking his head contemplatively, surveying the results for a moment, then walks the length of the room to collect his arrows.
“Nice,” a voice says, and Clint wheels around to see Bucky standing in the doorway, arms folded and expression grudgingly impressed. He’s wearing a sweatshirt that must belong to Steve, because whilst Bucky isn’t small by anyone’s standards, he’s practically swimming in it. Clint notices his feet are bare again.
It’s been less than twenty-four hours since he was accosted by Fury and told to do something about Bucky Barnes. It wasn’t until after he’d agreed – for Steve’s sake, he wants it noted – that he realized he hadn’t got any clue as to what to actually do.
“Good aim,” Bucky ventures, still just standing there and watching.
“Good?” Clint says flatly, pointing at the target and the two arrows which are firmly embedded in the newspaper he pinned to the boss. “You need a better adjective than good.”
Bucky wanders forwards, eyes darting around the room as he edges closer. Clint recognizes the instinctive persons, risks, targets, exits sweep. “Who’s the fucker on the target?”
Clint snorts as he pulls the arrows out of the fucker’s eyes. “An old friend,” he says casually, tapping the tip of the arrows against the photograph. “I wasn’t allowed to shoot him for real.”
“You in the habit of shooting your friends?” Bucky asks. “Or just the ones that screw with your mind?”
Clint’s hand falters as he swings his bow over his shoulder. “Either you read the file, or Steve told you,” he says.
“Stevie told me,” Bucky says, and Clint gives him a look, because calling Captain America Stevie just seems ridiculous. “And then I read your file.”
“Well, good for you,” Clint says, and walks back to the shooting line. Bucky follows him, standing about six feet away, dark eyes intense. He looks tense and almost anxious, and Clint wonders what’s got him so on edge.
“Any requests?” Clint jerks his head towards the target as he nocks an arrow on the string. “Ears? Nostrils? Horns? I’ve been aiming for his eyes for the last half hour, could do with a change.”
Bucky looks surprised that Clint is even asking, his face wary and mistrustful. He opens his mouth to speak, but Jarvis interrupts before he can.
“Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers has just returned to the tower.”
Bucky shuts his mouth abruptly and turns on his heel, leaving Clint alone in the gym. Clint ponders the swift exit for a moment and realises that a) Bucky was so edgy because Steve had left the tower and he was therefore alone, b) he’s been waiting for Steve to get back, going so far as to get JARVIS to notify him the moment Steve returned, and c) instead of waiting alone he’d opted to come and invades Clint’s space, and he doesn’t even know Clint.
Guy must really not want to be on his own right now.
Complete opposite to Clint, who hadn’t wanted anyone anywhere near him for the first few months after New York. But actually, Bucky has had months on his own, evading SHIELD’s and Steve’s relentless search. Maybe he’s over that now. Maybe he’s more Bucky than Winter Solider, and maybe Bucky likes company, craves it-
Clint shrugs, turning back to the target and raising his bow. He doesn’t know shit about Bucky, really.
“Just you and me again, buddy,” he says with a grim smile, and he pulls the string back and lets the arrow fly.
“What you looking at?”
Tony jumps a mile at the sound of Clint’s voice, eyes jerking up from the tablet he was staring at, whipping around and looking very much like he wants to throw something at him. Clint’s lucky he wasn’t wearing the suit; Tony tends to fire and then think when things catch him off guard as Iron Man.
“Fucking hell, spies,” Tony snaps, rubbing at his chest, just above the arc reactor. “This is exactly my point,” he says, waving the tablet about.
“What point?” Clint asks, turning his attention back to the TV screen and the controller in his hands. He un-pauses the game, picking up where he left off on his twelfth round of slaughtering aliens. Funny really; he sometimes forgets he’s actually done this in real life.
“Nothing,” Tony says, and Clint just snorts and carries on playing.
“See, now you can stay,” Tony says vaguely, and Clint hears him walk closer. “You don’t ask questions. I like that.”
Clint frowns, screwing his face up. “You’re doing something that Steve is going to yell at you for.”
“Am not,” Tony replies immediately. “Is this a new thing, we judge our actions around whether Steve would yell about it or not?”
“You’re definitely doing something that Steve would yell at you for,” Clint observes flatly, eyes on the TV screen. “Can you go away so that when he starts yelling I’m not here?”
“Will you relax,” Tony replies, sounding put-out. “I know what I’m doing.”
“You know what you’re doing unless what you’re doing involves Steve,” Clint says, thumbs flicking rapidly over the controller.
“I object to that,” Tony says, sounding offended.
“You object to what?” a new voice calls out from the doorway.
There’s the sound of something breaking, a dull thud, and Tony starts cursing. Clint looks up to see Steve standing in the doorway and frowning. Tony is looking between Steve and the broken mug on the floor, next to the tablet he’s obviously just dropped.
“And you! Worse than the damn spies! Stop making me jump,” Tony snarls, and he bends down to scoop up the tablet, but Steve is already staring at it and the look on his face is making Clint want to find the nearest vent post-fucking-haste.
“Hand it over,” Steve says quietly, steel in his eyes and voice, and Jesus, what has Stark been looking at to make him react like that? Clint’s next thought is to take his hearing aids out but Steve’s voice is so deep and can get pretty loud, so there’s next to no point anyway.
Tony ignores him and turns away, towards the coffee machine.
“Tony, I swear to God,” Steve says, getting louder, and he walks over and reaches for the tablet. In your average situation as such, Clint’s money would be on that he’s just found evidence of Tony cheating, but he knows how hopelessly gone Tony is for Steve, even if he vehemently denies it.
“Back off,” Tony snaps. “None of your business.”
“If you’ve bugged my rooms it is my damn business!” Steve shouts, furious. Shit, Tony Stark is the smartest moron Clint has ever met, because it sounds just like he’s been spying on Bucky, and by extension he’s been spying on Bucky and Steve.
“I’m keeping an eye on your friend,” Tony replies, looking like he doesn’t care in the slightest. It’s the wrong thing to say, Steve goes very, very still and that’s a warning sign most people don’t pick up on. They think he’s most dangerous when he’s moving and shouting. Clint knows better. And so should Tony.
“He does not need anyone but me to keep an eye on him,” Steve says, voice rising like a thunderstorm. “You absolute bastard, Tony – what the hell were you thinking!?”
Clint doesn’t want to hear any more. He leaves the game running, the sound of blasting and shrieking aliens a cover as he edges off the couch and slips towards the stairwell, head down. He can hear Tony snapping and Steve yells something back, and he looks up and promptly has a heart attack because Bucky is right there in front of him at the foot of the stairs.
Bucky steps back and holds his hands up, metal glinting in the light. He stares at Clint and then lowers his right hand, pressing his finger to his lips in an indication for him to be quiet. Steve and Tony are now in full-on argument mode, and it’s not pretty to listen to. Steve has just called Tony a selfish son of a bitch, and Tony is calling Steve a hypocrite.
Slowly, Bucky lowers his hand and his fingers curl into a fist; his expression is intense and he’s evidently listening hard. In the kitchen there’s the screech of a chair and a dull thud. Steve tells Tony to either put the suit on or step away. Tony tells Steve to shut the fuck up.
Slightly disconcerted by the ferocity of the argument – they’ve not argued like this in months, - Clint shakes his head and silently turns away, climbing the stairs and moving past Bucky who doesn’t so much as blink. He just stands there listening, countenance troubled and brooding, dark eyes for once still.
Clint hears a smash, a curse, and Tony bellowing “fine, walk away, I was fed up of your self-righteous expression anyway,” and wonders if Bucky has any idea whatsoever about what’s going on between Steve and Tony. At the top of the stairs, he turns and pauses. Bucky is now sat on the second to last step, head resting against the wall and arms hunched into his sides, still listening.
Not knowing what he can do, Clint leaves him there and walks away.
Clint watches Bucky walk into the gym several hours later, looking around like he’s lost something. Or maybe just looking lost, Clint isn’t sure. Setting down the packet of M&M’s that he’s eating in lieu of lunch, he leans forwards and looks down, hands curling around the edge of the metal strut he’s perched on, high above the floor of the gym.
He frowns as Bucky calls out his name, still looking around. Bucky is looking for him? He can’t imagine why, unless it’s something to do with the argument they both witnessed earlier.
“Look up,” he finally calls back, and Bucky wheels around, craning his neck to look up at him.
“Why are you in the roof?” Bucky asks, sounding suspicious.
“I see better from a distance,” Clint replies with a tired smile, the words old and familiar on his tongue.
“How did you even get up there?” Bucky asks, wandering over so he’s almost directly below him. “You got superpowers I don’t know about?”
In reply, Clint pushes the rope off the edge of strut, letting it slither to the floor, held in place next to his hip by a grappling arrowhead lodged firmly into the metal.
Bucky cocks his head contemplatively, nodding before looking back up at Clint. He hesitates for a moment, flesh and blood hand reaching out to grab the rope. “Can I come up?”
Clint’s never had anyone request to share one of his perches before; he’s not sure how he feels about it. The vents and the roof and the high spots are his, where he can just sit and be alone with his thoughts. But he’s pretty sure that Bucky isn’t going to want to talk to him about any of the stuff he normally actively avoids, so maybe it’s okay.
Bucky nods and gives the rope an experimental tug. Seemingly satisfied, he jumps at it, pulling himself up in a quick and impressive show of upper body and arm strength. He reaches the top and his right hand curls around the strut; Clint reaches out for him and helps haul him up. They end up sitting side by side, hips touching and feet dangling down. Without Clint asking, Bucky reaches over and pulls the rope back up, coiling it neatly next to him.
“Can see why you like it up here,” Bucky concedes, dark eyes flickering around the room below them.
“People don’t bother me,” Clint says.
“Sorry,” Bucky says, but Clint shakes his head.
“It’s fine,” he says, staring down at the boxing ring. There’s a towel hanging off the ropes, left there by someone earlier in the day. Steve, presumably. He glances at Bucky, but Bucky is just staring down at the floor below them. “Were you looking for me?”
“Yeah,” Bucky admits. “Wanted to ask about,” he begins and then blows out a breath, reaching up to rub at the join between his metal arm and his shoulder. “Wanted to ask about Steve.”
“Just Steve, or Steve and Tony?” Clint asks.
Bucky doesn’t answer straight away. He’s frowning, and he looks miserable, Clint thinks, under the straight face and the squared jaw. It’s in his eyes, clear enough for anyone who wants to bother – or who dares - to look twice.
“He’s – I got most of my memories of him back,” Bucky says. “Of him being how he used to be. Of him being the Captain, when he got all juiced up during the war.”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says, and then, “Tony.”
“Yeah, he takes some getting used to.”
“Looks like Steve got pretty used to him,” Bucky mutters, and there’s the hint of something strange in his voice that Clint can’t quite identify.
“You could say that,” Clint says. It hadn’t actually been that much of a shock when they’d found out that something had been going on between Steve and Tony, just a sense of about damn time.
“The way they were talking to each other,” Bucky says, distracted. He runs a hand over his head. “What – are they like, fellas together?”
Clint nods. “Have been for almost a year,” he says, and Bucky blanches.
“But-” he says, and then laughs, sounding strangled. “He never could even talk to a gal, and he spends months making doe-eyes at Carter and then I get back and he’s suddenly queer and shacked up with another fella?”
“He’s not queer,” Clint says dismissively. “It’s just – Tony.”
Bucky doesn’t seem to hear him. “I can’t,” he says. “I just – every time we get separated, I get back and he’s taken another giant leap in another goddamn direction, and I keep missing it.”
“Project Rebirth,” Clint says, understanding.
“I wasn’t even there,” Bucky says, mouth turned down unhappily. “Jesus, I’m never there. I just keep playing catch up.”
“He’s glad you’re here,” Clint shrugs. “It sucks, but what can you do?”
Bucky breathes out deeply, dipping his head. “Why the fuck am I even talking to you about this?” he says suddenly. “I swear, all I wanted was to know about Steve and Stark.”
Clint laughs. “You’ve read my file. You know I’m the only person in the building as monumentally fucked up as you are.”
Bucky looks up at that, face still and eyes intense. And then slowly, slowly, his mouth curves in an almost smile, not quite there but still enough for Clint to notice.
“You know it’s kinda refreshing to have someone agree it’s fucked up instead of insisting that everything’s fine.”
“Amen to that,” Clint says solemnly, and Bucky laughs.
They both simultaneously look down as the door to the gym slides open, and Steve steps inside. Clint nudges Bucky and holds a finger up over his lips and Bucky nods in understanding. Steve wanders forwards, looking around.
Bucky looks at Clint, but doesn’t say anything, still saying quiet. Clint leans over him to pull an M&M out of the packet and then sits up straight and takes aim. He glances at Bucky to see if he’s going to object, but Bucky just nods, not quite smiling but looking quietly amused.
With a deft flick of his wrist, the M&M sails through the air, and it hits Steve right on the cheekbone.
“Sniper shot,” Bucky shouts down at him as he jerks around with a hand half raised, looking up in shock. “You’re dead.”
Steve laughs, abrupt and surprised and relieved that he hasn’t actually fallen victim to a sniper. He shakes his head and peers up at them, looking a little bemused, presumably at finding them sat up there together. He doesn’t look unhappy about it though. Just tired. Steve always looks tired at the minute. “I’m assuming Clint takes the credit for that one?”
“Yes, yes he does,” Bucky says, and he shoves the rope off of the metal beam, letting it slither to the floor. He swings down off the beam in a graceful movement that catches Clint by surprise, momentarily swinging from the beam by his left arm whilst he wraps his ankles around the rope and grabs hold with his real hand. “Catch you later, Barton.”
Clint watches him slide down the rope and walk over to Steve, low voices already discussing something that Clint can’t hope to hear clearly. They get to the door and Steve walks out without looking back.
Bucky pauses in the doorway, turns to look up at Clint. He hesitates, metal hand on the doorframe, and then salutes him before following Steve.
“You’re welcome,” Clint says, and shoves another M&M into his mouth before pulling the rope back up.
“You’re not as funny as you think you are.”
Clint gives Beckett his best innocent face. Her voice sounds miles away, and Clint’s lucky that he’s used enough to doing without that he can still work out what she’s saying, even though he misses half the sounds.
“Put them in,” Beckett says.
“Put what in?”
“Clint. I’m not starting the hour until you are listening properly,” she says. “I will work through lunch. I will cancel my other appointments. And you will sit there whilst I watch TV with the volume turned down low and not tell you why I’m laughing.”
“You’re evil. You and Natasha were separated at birth,” Clint says, and leans back to fish his hearing aids out of his pocket.
“Subjects ability to make jokes has returned,” Beckett says dryly, picking up her pen. She pauses, mouth twisted contemplatively. “Subjects ability to try and make jokes has returned.”
“Evil,” Clint says, fitting the aids back in place. “And not funny.”
“You feel my pain,” she deadpans, voice crisp and lovely and a thousand times clearer. “Now. I assume things are going well if you’re being obnoxious enough to try and sneak into a therapy session with your hearing aids.”
“How did you know? I can still hear you if I don’t have them in.”
“I’m a SHIELD agent, remember?” she points out, and then gives in and explains. “Your eyes. You were looking around way more than you usually do, presumably to compensate for not being able to hear fully.”
“One point to the devil lady,” Clint says, and reclines back in the chair, a hand resting on his stomach. “You know, Fury asked me to do a job.”
It’s the first time he’s volunteered information in one of their sessions, but Beckett doesn’t miss a beat. “A mission?”
“No,” he says. “Just…a favour I guess.”
“And what is that favour?”
“To help Steve out with Bucky,” Clint says, and Beckett nods contemplatively.
“Why does he need help?”
“Because he’s literally on channel Bucky twenty-four seven,” Clint says. “And Fury reckons he can’t cope.”
“Do you think he can cope?”
“I think he can,” Clint says with a shrug. “He’s Captain America, right? And he’s Barnes’ best friend. If anyone can cope with him, it’s Steve.”
“What do you think of Barnes?”
Clint shrugs again. “He’s…he’s not what I expected. Just a guy. A guy with a chip on his shoulder. Sorry, a cyborg with a chip on his shoulder.”
“He’s not a cyborg.”
“He is too a cyborg.”
Beckett holds up her hands. “Fine. Have it your way,” she says, and then meets Clint’s eyes easily. “Tell me more about this cyborg that you’re going to help out.”
Clint holds up his hands. “Nu-uh. I’m not getting involved,” he says. “Barnes is homicidal, Steve is a hot mess right now and Tony is Tony.”
“So you’re not going to help.”
“I don’t need to help,” Clint emphasises. “Steve will realise that he doesn’t need to hold Bucky’s hand twenty-four hours a day, go back to spending time with Stark and everyone’s happy.”
“Okay,” Beckett says, and seems to accept his answer. “Okay, let’s move on. Are you still spending disproportionate amounts of time shooting pictures of Loki?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
Beckett smiles at him, and if she wasn’t a therapist he’d swear it was almost fond. “Okay. Fifty minutes left. Tell me all about that.”
It’s a week since Clint has seen Bucky when he finally claps eyes on him again; it’s late one night when he slouches into the communal kitchen with his bow in hand and find Steve and Bucky sat at the table together, Bruce standing a little way away at the cooker. The smell of spice is heavy in the air and it makes Clint’s stomach rumble.
“Hey, Clint,” Bruce says, grunting as he hefts over a heavy pan full of something over to the table. “You joining us for dinner?”
“Nah,” Clint says, scratching his chin with the tip of his bow, hitching up his sweatpants and walking over to the fridge. “I’m good.”
“What was that, yes you will actually eat something other than Cheetos today?” Steve replies pointedly.
“Don’t knock Cheetos,” Clint says, though he does deign to reroute and sit down at the table, pulling out the chair next to Bucky.
“They’re not exactly a major food group,” Steve points out.
“They totally are. They changed them to caffeine, alcohol and Cheetos in ninety-six. I think you missed that.”
Bruce smiles and Steve just shakes his head at him. Bucky seems to miss the joke completely and instead is staring at Clint’s bow, which he props up against his knee.
“Why have you brought your bow to dinner?”
The real reason is that Clint is going through a phase where if he doesn’t have it in hand, he gets so anxious he starts to twitch. He doesn’t say that though.
“In case Steve tries to feed me vegetables and I have to stop him with extreme prejudice.”
Bucky snorts with laughter and reaches for his beer. “Sounds like Steve.”
“I hate to break it to you, but this does contain vegetables,” Bruce says as he ladles out a portion of curry and slides the bowl over to Clint.
“Is it hot enough to burn off my tastebuds?” Clint asks, reaching for a fork and inhaling deeply. Good god but Bruce can cook.
“Not today,” Bruce says apologetically as he doles out more portions. “Bucky isn’t used to spicy foods.”
Even though it’s an easy, casual comment that holds literally no weight to it, Bucky shifts uncomfortably, as if he doesn’t want the focus brought round to him. Clint knows the feeling all too well.
“Ah well,” Clint shrugs. “Where’s Nat?”
“Out,” Steve says. “I think she’s-”
“Wow. There you are.”
Steve is interrupted by Tony’s loud voice calling across the room, sounding distinctly unimpressed. Steve frowns, and turns to look at him, confused. Tony is dressed in a sharp charcoal grey suit, bright red tie standing out against a crisp white shirt.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve begins, but Tony interrupts him again, voice cold and cutting.
“Really, that’s what you’re going with? ‘Hey Tony?’”
Clint can’t help it; he glances over at Bucky who is looking like a trapped animal, body tense and eyes wide as he tracks the brewing tension. He glances up and meets his eyes quickly; Clint grimaces, shaking his head just once before looking back down at his food.
“We were meant to meet at seven,” Tony says, voice now far too casual. “You know, our dinner reservation? The one you made?”
Steve’s expression goes from confusion to realization to guilt quicker than he can throw the shield.
“Shit,” he swears, pushing his chair back and standing up, looking mortified. “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Tony says abruptly, pulling his phone out of his pocket and tapping away with his thumbs, obviously and deliberately not looking at Steve. “Remember that the next time you give me shit for being late, Captain Hypocrite.”
He turns on his heel and walks off. Steve stares after him for a moment, and makes an abortive move as if to follow, then he glances down to his left before seeming to change his mind. He sits down again, shaking his head and reaching for a fork, silently accepting the bowl that Bruce pushes his way.
“You going to go after him?” Bruce asks calmly, neutrally.
Steve doesn’t answer straight away. He pokes at his food, brooding, and then takes a mouthful. “No,” he says, glancing at Bucky before he carries on eating. He manages a few mouthfuls, and then puts his fork down, rubbing his temples.
“Jarvis didn’t remind me,” he says, and he doesn’t need to explain what that means.
Clint continues with his own food, feeling his stomach sink. Balls. Fury was right; Steve is so wrapped up in fixing things with Bucky that he’s not coping with anything else. Hell, he’s managing to make such a mess of things that Jarvis is apparently no longer talking to him, and that takes some serious doing. Hell, Clint called Jarvis Overlord Skynet for six weeks and Jarvis still talks to him.
On impulse, he looks over at Bucky. Bucky is gnawing on his bottom lip, looking at Steve with his expression grateful, though tempered with something that might be guilt.
“Steve,” Bucky says, and Clint only catches the word by seeing his mouth move.
“Not going anywhere,” Steve automatically replies, and reaches out to clasp Bucky’s shoulder, smiling weakly at him. The relief that rolls off of Bucky is tangible, and no wonder he’s been glued to Steve’s side since he got here.
Clint finishes the rest of his dinner in silence, though he doesn’t miss the way Steve occasionally glances at Bucky, expression torn.
“Agent Barton, Sir requests your presence in the workshop.”
Clint rolls his eyes towards the ceiling, not bothering to move from his face down position on the couch in his quarters. It’s dark, the only light coming from the TV. “Tell him I’m busy,” he slurs, still staring at the screen.
“Sir has already asked what you are currently occupied with, and I have told him you are simply lying on the couch watching reruns of House.”
“You’re a snitch,” Clint grumbles, and pushes himself up, groaning as his neck clicks. “What time is it?”
“Four thirty AM,” Jarvis says.
“What?” Clint asks, a little taken aback. He grabs his bow and makes towards the door, hitching his sweatpants up and not bothering to find a shirt.
When he gets into the workshop, Tony is sitting at his desk, slouched back in his chair with a tumbler of what looks like whiskey in hand. He’s still in his suit trousers, white shirt and red tie, though the shirt is rumpled, the sleeves rolled up and the tie pulled loose. Not a good sign. Clint keys in his code and the door opens, and he steps in cautiously.
“What’s up? Skybot said you wanted me.”
“Upgrades,” Tony says, and picks something up off the desk, spinning his chair around to face Clint. His eyes are suspiciously bright, and Clint isn’t sure how much he’s had to drink. He hates being around Tony when he’s drunk like this; he trusts Tony but it still sets him on edge.
Clint steps forwards and his brows shoot up in surprise as he sees what can only be two minute in-ear hearing aids held in Tony’s fingers. He walks forwards and takes them, looking at them closely.
“You did these tonight?”
“You’ll get fourteen thousand hertz at about 16 decibels with those, instead of the thirteen thousand five hundred at twenty that you get at the minute,” Tony says vaguely. “Quite a jump on paper, but I guess you’ll have to tell me how much difference it makes.”
“Should be able to hear Hill whispering that she’ll throttle me across the table,” Clint says, impressed. “But only if Fury isn’t threatening me at the same time.”
Tony snorts, eyes fixed on his monitor. “Still having trouble with background noise?”
“Sometimes,” Clint says. “Thanks.”
Tony doesn’t respond, and against his better judgement, Clint steps up behind him, looking warily at the monitors. Tony doesn’t bother to hide what’s on his screen, and Clint’s stomach sinks as he sees a video feed. On the video feed he can see Steve asleep on the couch, stretched out on his back with an arm thrown behind his head and his feet in Bucky’s lap. Bucky is also asleep, slumped in the corner of the couch with his legs kicked out, feet on the coffee table. His flesh and blood hand is resting on Steve’s ankle, his metal one resting on his stomach.
It looks nothing but comradely to Clint, but he can imagine what it looks like from Tony’s point of view. What it feels like from Tony’s point of view.
“They’re just friends, you know that, right?” Clint says uneasily.
“Yeah, sure,” Tony says with a dismissive shrug. “I know. I know that, he’s just got back and found his long lost best friend - who he has kissed before by the way – and they need each other to get through this, and I’m getting stood up for dinner and am making you new hearing aids at three AM.”
“He won’t be happy that you’ve still got the place bugged,” Clint opts for saying, and then mentally slaps himself. Really, Barton? Way to make him feel better.
And now Tony’s eyes are way too bright, and the hand holding the glass trembles. “Steve can do what he likes,” he shrugs, and his eyes go back to the video feed. “No skin off my nose.”
And it’s an utter lie, and Clint doesn’t know how Tony even managed to get the words past his teeth. Maybe he’s drunk enough to convince himself he doesn’t care.
“Go to bed, Tony,” Clint says, and he reaches past him and swipes his hand through the holographic monitor, shutting it down. Tony blinks but doesn’t argue, just lifts his tumbler to his mouth, taking another swallow.
“Thanks for these,” Clint says, holding up the hearing aids, and then he turns around and walks away, not knowing what else to do. He gets to the top of the stairs and has to stop, sighing and pressing the top of his bow to his forehead.
“So much for staying out of it, Barton,” he mutters, and heads back to his bed to try and get some sleep.
Clint wakes up the next afternoon, with nothing on his mind except getting coffee. He’s slept for a few hours, but feels groggy and disoriented, and doesn’t know if it’s because he’s not had enough sleep or because he actually managed to pass out for a while. Either way, he knows he needs caffeine post haste, and he’s also desperate to go and shoot something. It always helps ground him, bring him back to where he’s meant to be. That moment at full draw, body in perfect position and eyes locked on a target, in perfect control over his bow and the flight of the arrow – it’s what keeps him sane. Well, relatively, anyway.
Yawning and scratching his chest just above the strap of his quiver, he steps out of his room and looks up, and literally comes nose to nose with Bucky who is standing in the hallway right outside Clint’s door like some sort of serial killer. Clint jumps so badly it feels like he’s been hit in the heart by a truck, and before he can even process that it’s Bucky, he’s got an arrow nocked and drawn and is pointing it straight at Bucky’s face, and Bucky jumps back and drops into a crouch, whipping a knife out of his boot and holding it up, arm across his face and his wrist turned out, the blade pointed at Clint.
They both stay perfectly still, weapons drawn. Clint’s heart is pounding in his ears, and slowly his brain comes back online.
“So,” he says shakily, drawing the word out. “You gonna put the knife down?”
Bucky blinks at him. “You gonna put the bow down?”
“I don’t know. You gonna try and give me a heart attack again?” Clint asks, and Bucky grimaces. Eyes still on Clint’s, he slowly moves and slides the knife back into his boot.
“Sorry,” he says, voice low. He holds his hands up in a capitulating gesture. “Reflex, I think.”
Clint curses, and lowers his bow, relaxing the string. “I could have shot you,” he says angrily, taking the arrow off of the bow. “What the hell are you doing, lurking in the corridor?”
Bucky’s expression goes mildly affronted. “You’re the one who opened the door armed,” he says.
“You’ve got a knife in your boot!” Clint shouts. “Apparently you go everywhere armed!”
“Don’t tell Steve,” Bucky says suddenly. “He’ll freak if he- he thinks I’m-” he breaks off, looking down at his boots, expression torn and miserable.
Clint eyes him warily. His heart-rate is slowly returning to normal, and he reaches over his shoulder to shove the arrow back in his quiver. “Where is Steve, anyway?” he asks.
“With Stark,” Bucky replies. “Went to find him this morning.”
“They’re actually talking?” Clint frowns.
“Yelling, I think,” Bucky says, looking down at the floor and shaking his head. “I could hear them through the door and wanted to go punch Stark, but if I punch him with this then I’ll probably kill him,” he says, holding up his left hand.
Clint chokes on a laugh. “Hit him with your right hand, then?”
“Thought about it,” Bucky says with a shrug, folding his arms across his chest. “But I reckon it might make Steve sad, even if Stark is a giant asshole to him.”
“He’s not always an asshole to him,” Clint begins, and stops. “Sorry, I’m not caffeinated enough for this conversation. Kitchen. Come on, move it, Terminator.”
“Terminator?” Bucky repeats, and Clint has a moment to think ‘ah, shit’ as he realizes what he’s just said. He braces himself, but Bucky just scowls. “You can fuck off.”
“You understood that reference?” Clint asks cautiously, very aware of the fact that Bucky still has a kitchen knife stashed in his boot.
“No, but I feel like if I did I’d still be telling you to fuck off,” Bucky says irritably, though he does follow Clint along the corridor, down the stairs and into the kitchen.
“I think if you’d understood it, you’d have stabbed me,” Clint says vaguely, and makes a beeline for the coffee machine.
“And you still made the joke?” Bucky asks, and he steps up next to Clint, opening a cupboard and pulling out two mugs.
“Yeah, I have an unreliable sense of self preservation,” Clint says as he lays his bow on the counter and takes the mugs from Bucky. “Thanks.”
Bucky turns to the refrigerator and pulls it open, reaching for the milk. He slides it down the counter towards Clint, who catches it and nods in thanks again. Bucky watches him, leaning against the counter. “You’re the only person who makes jokes at me. With me,” he says. “I try with Steve, but he just…”
“Does the ‘stop goofing around this is serious?’ face?” Clint asks, and Bucky smiles weakly, a small hitch to the corner of his mouth that fades quickly back into something quiet and sad.
“No,” he says, looking contemplative, distant. “Looks upset. Somewhere between happy and upset.”
“He’s an emotional soul,” Clint says. “He just hides it under a strong jaw and freedom.”
Bucky opens his mouth like he wants to say something else, but he seems to think better of it. He falls silent, expression going brooding and troubled. Clint doesn’t call him on it, just finishes making coffee and passes one over to Bucky. Bucky blinks and then seems to come back to the moment and takes it wordlessly.
Clint leans back against the counter, blows out a breath. He looks at Bucky and then down at his coffee and takes a sip. He taps his fingers against his elbow, looks around the room and tries to think of something to say. Steve. He should talk about Steve, that’s common ground. Actually no, talking about Steve makes Bucky look sad, and he’s trying to avoid that. Fuck, he should have told Fury to get someone else to do this stupid job, Clint has no idea how to deal with Bucky Barnes. They’ve been in each other’s company for ten minutes this morning and they already nearly killed each other, not to mention the horrendously inappropriate joke that Clint has been lucky to get away with.
“Hey, you wanna go shoot things?”
Bucky looks up at him, wary. “Shoot things?”
“Yeah. You wanna go shoot things.”
Bucky shakes his head. “Not allowed a gun,” he says shortly.
Clint raises an eyebrow. “Neither am I,” he says, and nods pointedly at his bow, which still rests on the kitchen counter.
“You’d let me try your bow,” Bucky says, flat and disbelieving.
“Only if you promised not to break it with your cyborg hand,” Clint says. “You used to be a sniper, right?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, and he looks a little taken aback that Clint knows that. “Back with the Commandos.”
“Same principles, different mechanism,” Clint says. “I’ll even find a picture of Tony for you to aim at.”
“You kidding me?” Bucky asks, a faint Brooklyn drawl creeping into his voice. “And risk Steve having a full on panic attack because he thinks I’m going to assassinate his boyfriend?”
Clint takes a gulp of his coffee, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. “Would you assassinate his boyfriend?”
Bucky sends him a dirty look. “Would I have handed myself in to SHIELD if I thought I was going to assassinate anyone?”
“Would Steve have brought you here if he thought you were going to assassinate anyone?” Clint replies immediately, and Bucky opens his mouth and then abruptly shuts it again.
Bucky narrows his eyes even further. “I might assassinate you.”
“You can’t,” Clint replies. “If anyone gets to kill me, it’s Agent Coulson. He called dibs a few years ago on a mission.”
Bucky laughs at that, the sound rough and unused. Still half smiling, he shakes his head and looks at Clint, amused. “Okay, who is Agent Coulson and why would he want to kill you?”
“Agent Coulson is a badass son of a bitch who loves me dearly despite me being a monumental fuck up,” Clint says, and turns around to grab his bow. “His words, not mine. You’ll have met him when you handed yourself in.”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “It’s all a bit…I remember a lot of guys in combat gear, and then remember Steve coming in, but that’s about it.”
“Tough break,” Clint says, and jerks his head towards the door. “Come on. Let’s go teach you how to use this. Fury’ll probably have a heart attack if he finds out, but I’m tagging that in the pro column.”
“You are a strange person,” Bucky observes as he follows Clint out of the room.
“Says you, Robocop.”
“Really,” Bucky just sighs. “Is this another reference I might stab you for?”
“Quite possibly,” Clint muses. “Though my ace is the fact that Steve likes me, so unless you want to make Steve sad…”
“No stabbing, gotcha,” Bucky replies and Clint feels a reluctant smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“And shoulders back, breathe out, and release,” Clint says calmly, and the arrow flies true, snapping through the air and hitting the gold circle, dead center of the target. He lowers the bow, looks at Bucky who is sat on the floor of the gym, leaning back on his hands and scowling.
“Oh yeah, just like that,” he grouches.
“Just like this,” Clint says, and without taking his eyes off Bucky, he whips another arrows out of his quiver, nocks it, draws it and lets it fly; he doesn’t have to look to know that it’s sunk into the target right next to the first.
Bucky’s mouth falls open, and then he scowls again. “Show-off.”
Clint looks around to check, and yep; so close to the first arrow he’ll be surprised if it hasn’t scratched it, or knocked a fletching loose. “Come on,” he says, and holds the bow out. “Try again.”
Bucky huffs, but gets to his feet and takes the bow from Clint. He’s left eye dominant, so holds the riser in his flesh and blood hand, metal fingers playing over the string. He’s got a determined look on his face underneath the scowl, and is actually turning out to be a pretty good pupil.
“Stand side on,” Clint recites as Bucky gets into position. “Feet apart. Bend your knees, back straight.”
“You don’t bend your knees and put your back straight,” Bucky grumbles at him.
“I can do this upside-down, falling from a building, or upside-down while falling from a building,” Clint says. “You are still a little baby archer.”
“Walk before you can run, right?” Bucky says, lifting the bow as Clint has taught him. “Didn’t think you guys would set much by that.”
“We don’t,” Clint says. “But if I’m going to show a dangerous man how to use a dangerous weapon, then I’m going to teach him properly to maximize full dangerosity.”
“Do you even hear the things that come out of your mouth?” Bucky frowns. He breathes in, draws the string back to his chin.
“Elbow up,” Clint says, watching him critically. “Back elbow up.”
The arrow flies. Hits the target in the blue ring, about twelve inches from the arrows Clint shot. “Damn,” Bucky says, lowering the bow.
“I’m actually impressed they’re on the target,” Clint says, holding out another arrow. “Come on, try again.”
Bucky takes the arrow and nocks it onto the bow. Flexes his fingers, lifts it. His eyes focus as the string goes back.
“Elbow up,” Clint repeats with a frown, eyes on the arm drawing the string, and he steps forwards and presses his palm to the underside of Bucky’s back elbow, pushing it up so it’s in line with his shoulders-
Bucky jerks away from him like Clint burnt him, coming out of full draw as he whips around his face him. The arrow clatters to the floor.
“Whoa,” Clint says, holding his hands up and taking an automatic step back. “Sorry, should have asked before I poked.”
“No, you-” Bucky says, apparently too poleaxed to find an end to the sentence. “You touched-”
He’s unconsciously flexing the fingers of his metal arm, and Clint realizes what the fuss is about. “Shit, sorry,” he says. “Do you not – is it a bad touch area?”
Bucky glances at his left arm, like he’s not sure. “No,” he finally says. “I just – people avoid it.”
“It’s an arm,” Clint says slowly, not quite getting it.
“It’s a cybernetic arm that could kill you.”
Clint just stares at him. “Steve, Thor and Natasha could all kill me with their bare hands if they felt like it,” he says matter-of-factly. “Doesn’t mean I’m going to avoid them.”
Bucky stares at him for long moments, and then he huffs, turning away and stooping down to pick up the arrow. “Come on, show me what I’m doing,” he says, something tight and tremoring in his voice, not quite hidden by the flippancy. He stands side on to the target.
“Can I move you?” Clint asks as Bucky lifts the bow and draws it. Bucky nods once, a quick jerky affirmative, and Clint slowly steps forwards and presses his fingertips to the underside of Bucky’s metal arm, pushing it up.
“You feel that?”
“In my back,” Bucky replies.
“That’s it,” Clint says, still holding the arm in position with the pressure of his fingertips. “Now breathe out, keep your front elbow tucked in-”
Bucky releases the arrow and it hits the target in the red, around six inches from Clint’s.
“Better, Clint says, approving, and steps back. Bucky looks at the target. His eyes are discerning, carefully observant.
“Not good enough yet,” he says.
Clint nods. “Alright. Let’s keep going.”
Bucky nods, and takes the arrow that Clint hands him. He curls his metal fingers around it, looking down for a moment before nocking the arrow on the bow. He takes a deep breath, shifts his stance and then lifts the bow, puling it to full draw.
“Don’t talk, concentrate,” Clint says, folding his arms across his chest, but his curiosity gets the better of him within about two seconds. “What?”
“Thanks,” Bucky says, and he lets the arrow fly.
Bucky vanishes after their impromptu shooting lesson. He hands the bow back with a sort of smile and another thank you, and when asked Jarvis informs Clint that he’s gone back to lurking in Steve’s rooms. Clint doesn’t know why he’s choosing to hide there instead of his own room, and he doesn’t know how Tony feels about Bucky once again latching onto Steve’s side. He doesn’t really want to find out.
He’s tempted – only a little – to go and find Bucky, to start a conversation with him, to maybe invite him to shoot more stuff. Though he’s got a hunch that if Bucky wants him he’ll come find him.
His hunch proves absolutely correct a few days later. He’s in his room attaching fletchings to a new set of arrows when his phone flashes at him; a familiar blue light that tells him Jarvis has a message for him.
“What’s up, Jarvis?” he asks as he puts down the glue and reaches for the phone. A line of text appears on the screen.
Someone is trying to get your attention. You may want to turn your ears on.
“May want to turn your ears on,” Clint mimics in his best approximation of a British accent, dropping the arrow and pushing himself up off the floor. “What was Stark thinking when he programmed you.”
Another line of text appears.
Clearly he was thinking about how best to utilize me to annoy and frustrate his fellow Avengers.
Clint snorts, dropping the phone to the top of his nightstand and picking up his hearing aids. Slipping them in, he immediately realizes what Jarvis had meant; someone is knocking very softly on his door.
He debates asking Jarvis who it is, but even as he considers it he works it out. Natasha wouldn’t bother knocking if she was in the building, Steve would knock loud enough for him to hear in case he weren’t wearing his aids, and Bruce and Tony would tell Jarvis to tell Clint to come to them instead of gracing his floor with their presence.
Which leaves one suspect.
He pauses momentarily. Even though he’d thought about the possibility of Bucky coming to find him, he still finds himself surprised by it. They’re not exactly friends. Though maybe being able to get through a few conversations without killing does make a friendship in Bucky’s eyes.
With that thought in mind, Clint opens the door and sure enough, Bucky is there wearing sweatpants, a hooded jacket and a scowl.
“Took you long enough,” Bucky says, sounding irritable. “I knew you were in there.”
“You have to knock louder,” Clint says. “Or did you miss the part where I’m mostly deaf?”
Bucky’s scowl gives way to a confused look. “Steve says you hear just fine with your hearing aids in.”
“I hear mostly alright with the hearing aids in, and I don’t wear them all the time,” Clint shrugs. “You alright?”
Bucky looks at him, taken aback. “But – why wouldn’t you? Doesn’t it – if you can’t hear?”
Clint understands the missing words in the confused question. It’s Bucky asking how he can bear to be vulnerable, even for a moment.
“You still going everywhere armed?”
Bucky frowns again. “Never mind,” he says, and turns to go.
“Hey,” Clint says, and he reaches out and puts his hand on Bucky’s shoulder. He freezes on the spot. “What’s up? You don’t ever lurk without a reason.”
“Steve,” Bucky says abruptly. “He’s been gone a while.”
Ah. There it is. Clint knows Steve is in the building, and if he’s not with Bucky and Bucky feels he can’t go to him, that must mean he’s with Tony.
“Alright, come in,” Clint says, pushing away the little bit of him that’s protesting against letting a mass murderer into his safe space. “Ignore the mess.”
He turns on his heel and pads back into his room. There’s a pause of silence and then he hears footsteps follow and the muted thud of the door closing.
“Wow, I don’t know if I can,” Bucky says, and Clint turns to see him looking at the – well, the mess that Clint has spread over the carpet and the coffee table.
“That’s enough from you, Terminator,” Clint says, dropping back into his spot by the coffee table and reaching for the glue again. He picks up the arrow shaft in his other hand then pauses, looking at Bucky. “You gonna take a seat or what?”
Bucky shrugs, eyes darting around the room in his usual sweep. They settle on the bows that are hung on the wall, the partially assembled crossbow in the corner. Clint isn’t yet sure that it’s a great idea to show Bucky where an easily accessible range of weapons is, but hey. It’s a bit late to think of that now.
Stepping carefully, precisely, Bucky wanders over towards the crossbow like he’s treading a path across a minefield. He glances over his shoulder and then reaches down for it.
“Careful. She bites even when she’s not got all of her pieces,” Clint says, pretending not to watch.
Bucky nods, lifting the crossbow and peering through the sight. “Why don’t you use it?”
“Less control,” Clint says simply.
Bucky nods, puts the crossbow down. Clint won’t lie; he feels a little relieved when it’s back against the wall, though he knows that if Bucky wanted to hurt people he could probably do it without the help of so much as a paperclip. He looks around again and then walks over to the panel on the wall that allows Clint to control the temperature and light, overseen by Jarvis, of course.
“These things are crazy,” Bucky mutters, barely loud enough for Clint to hear. It’s only because the rest of the room is so quiet that Clint catches it at all. “The future is fucking weird.”
Clint snorts with laughter. “You’re fucking weird.”
Bucky turns a half-hearted glare on him, though it fades quickly into what could be a rueful smile. “You get the points for telling it like it is again,” he says with a sigh.
“Why, Steve insisting you’re not weird?”
“I think weird is putting it nicely,” Bucky says, and he drops his hand from the panel and walks over to sit beside Clint, picking up an arrow shaft and turning it dexterously between his fingers. “Dunno. Steve’s been helping me out,” he tells Clint. “Giving me the important information. Context.”
“Probably good to have someone with the pocket guide to being defrosted in the twenty-first century,” Clint muses, carefully gluing a fletching into place.
“Well, Steve did it alone. I’ve got Steve.”
“Steve wasn’t entirely alone,” Clint says casually. “He had us.”
“And I’m sensing the ‘And Tony’ on the end of that sentence,” Bucky grumbles. Clint barely resists the urge to roll his eyes or wince. Even if Tony is currently a hot mess, there’s no denying everything he’s done for Steve over the years. Everything Steve’s done for him.
“I think you’d like him,” Clint says with a one shouldered shrug. “If you’d stop fighting over Steve for two minutes.”
“What are you, a fucking girl?” Bucky says scornfully. “We’re not fighting over Steve.”
“Uh-huh,” Clint says, disbelieving. “That’s exactly what you’re doing. And you’re not allowed to use being a girl as an insult. Steve will rant about sexism for days if he catches you. And Natasha will probably stab you.”
Bucky snorts. “She won’t stab me, she’s scared of me.”
Clint pauses, thrown by the comment. “I don’t think she’s scared of you. I think you remind her of the past. And she doesn’t like that.”
Bucky hums noncommittally at that, falls silent. He carries on turning the arrow between his fingers, metal fingers clicking softly against the metal. Clint glances at him every now and again in-between fixing fletchings and nocks, but Bucky seems lost to the world. A million miles away. Caught in a daydream.
Clint lets him. He just continues with his work and wonders if this counts for enough to tell Fury that it's mission accomplished.
“So, not going to pretend to ignore me today?”
Clint slumps down in the brown leather chair, turning a nickel over and over between his fingers, restless.
“You think I’m an idiot for not wearing my hearing aids all the time?”
Beckett looks at him for a moment, like she’s working out exactly where he’s going with the sudden and unprecedented question, blurted out without warning. “I think you’re an idiot when you try and sneak into therapy without them. Why do you ask?”
“Barnes,” Clint says. “He goes everywhere with a knife in his boot. Like everywhere. He’s always armed. And he asked why I didn’t have my hearing aids in.”
He stops talking, but Beckett is watching him like she’s waiting for the rest. He huffs, flicking the nickel up and snatching it out of the air. “He looked at me like I was insane. Crazy for not wearing them.”
“Do you think you’re crazy for not wearing them?”
“No, I don’t know, that’s why I asked you,” Clint insists. “What am I even paying you for.”
“You are paying me nothing,” Beckett remarks. “But I imagine I am being paid to not spoon feed you every little thing, and to help you reach conclusions yourself in a natural way which will enable you to make progress.”
“I will tip you if you spoon feed me every little thing.”
“What with, a nickel?” Beckett remarks. “Come on, Clint. You know this.”
“I know nothing,” Clint announces.
Beckett ignores him. “When did he ask you about your hearing aids?”
Clint screws up his face, trying to keep track of the days. “Day before yesterday. Steve was busy so he knocked on my door. I think he wanted company but he can’t ask for company like a normal person because he’s a terminator.”
Beckett ignores the terminator crack. “Did you let him in?”
Clint rolls the coin across his knuckles. “Well yeah,” he says, thrown by the question. “He’s not really a terminator you know, he’s not dangerous.”
“I love how you make out that I’m the one insisting he’s a terminator,” Beckett sighs. “You don’t think he’s dangerous?”
Clint pauses, thinks about that for a moment. When he first saw Bucky he would have put money on him hurting someone or something, but now he’s not so sure. “Dunno,” he says. “Maybe not. Maybe. Maybe in the right context?”
It’s the wrong words but Beckett seems to understand. “Sounds familiar,” she says with a small smile, and Clint feels a flush work up his neck.
“You don’t tip enough to get me to shut up,” Beckett says with another smile. “So. Back to the story. You let him in.”
“Yeah, I let him in. I was fixing up some arrows and he poked around a bit then found my crossbow and then he sat down and whoa, please don’t tell Fury I still have my crossbow.”
Beckett rubs at her forehead, pained. “You know you’re not supposed to have the crossbow.”
“It’s not working, if that counts for anything?”
He sends her what he hopes is a winning smile and she sighs again. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
“You’re hitting on me. I’m uncomfortable. I need another therapist, we can’t continue this working relationship when you clearly want all up in this.”
“You’re cute in a tragic kitten found in a dumpster kind of way.”
“Words hurt, doc.”
Beckett just rolls her eyes. “Back to your story,” she says. “How was it, hanging out with Bucky?”
“Whoa, we didn’t hang out. We just sat around not talking,” Clint says, and then backtracks over what he’s just said. “Does that count as hanging out? I mean, we-” He stops abruptly, because he knows he’s not technically meant to be shooting, and Bucky certainly isn’t. And even if she’s turning out to not be a complete asshole, Beckett is still a SHIELD agent.
“You did what?” she presses. “Had lunch together? Braided each other’s hair?”
Clint sends her a dirty look. “I could construe that as a crack about my sexuality and fire your ass.”
“Stop deflecting,” Beckett says firmly.
“You’ll tell Fury on me.”
“What did you do?”
“I took him shooting with me,” Clint admits. “In the gym. I showed him how to use my bow. We talked a bit, I touched his robot arm and don’t you dare make a joke about that.”
Beckett eyes him thoughtfully, doesn’t rise to his bait or laugh. She just watches him with calm brown eyes, breathing out slowly. Eventually, she just sits back and almost smiles. “Clint Barton, I think you made a friend.”
Clint shakes his head. “I’m just doing what Fury told me. For Steve.”
Beckett hums, unfolding her long legs and crossing them the opposite way. “I’m sure.”
Actually, scratch what he thought before. Clint fucking hates her and still wants to shoot her in the mouth.
Clint jumps a mile at the sound of his name, jerked violently out of his half-awake daze. His elbow slips off the edge of the counter and he lurches forwards, smacking his mouth painfully on the polished marble. He claps a hand over his mouth, cursing. Pushing himself upright, he looks wildly around and comes nose to nose with Bucky.
“I’m alright,” Clint says, though when he lifts his palm from his mouth it comes away bloody. He winces, puts his hand back. “I’m mostly alright. I was napping.”
Bucky gapes at him a moment, and then turns to look around the kitchen. He grabs up a cloth and hands it over to Clint who nods gratefully and presses it to his lip.
“Fanks,” he mutters, prodding his teeth with his tongue to make sure all of his teeth are there. Thankfully, they are.
“No problem,” Bucky says slowly. He hovers like he can’t make up his mind whether to stay or not. “Why were you napping at the kitchen counter?”
“I didn’t plan on it,” Clint says defensively. “I made it most of the way to coffee…”
He trails off and looks over his shoulder. There’s a recently made pot of coffee sat happily on the counter behind him, probably wondering why he hasn’t pounced yet. Okay, there is probably a way that he could come across as even more tragic, but he's not entirely sure what else he'd have to do at this point. He doesn't often feel embarrassment these days, but there's something about being such a dumbass in front of Bucky, who's never seen Clint being amazing to balance it out. Though Bucky has never seen Clint fuck up or be possessed either, which is an oddly reassuring thought.
Bucky snorts, the sound somewhere between derisive and amused. “Sounds like you’re sleeping about as well as I am.”
He moves around Clint and goes over to the coffee pot, reaching for two mugs. Clint watches him carefully, wondering if the offhand comment is an invitation to talk about it, or if it was just something Bucky wanted to say and not expand on. He chooses to assume it’s the latter, sticking with his so far tested theory of ‘if Bucky wants, he will.’
A minute later and Bucky is sliding a mug of coffee in front of him, wordless. Clint grunts in thanks and reaches for it, gingerly lifting the cloth away from his mouth.
“You’re a clutz,” Bucky says flatly as he perches on one of the barstools at the island counter, a mug held in his own flesh and blood hand.
“Yeah, I got that,” Clint replies. “How bad does it look?”
“Worried about your pretty face?” Bucky asks, startling a laugh out of Clint. Bucky in turn looks surprised, and looks down at his mug like all the answers are held somewhere in sugary caffeinated liquid.
Clint decided to roll with it. “You think I’m pretty?”
Bucky lifts pale grey eyes to his, mouth curling in uncertain amusement. Like he’s hardly daring to join in. “Were pretty ‘till you went and busted out half your teeth.”
Clint fakes affront. “Still got ‘em all so still pretty,” he says, and bares his probably blood-stained teeth at Bucky. That startles an actual laugh out of Bucky, and Clint grins back-
“Wow, that’s a disturbing sight to wake up to. Not that I’m waking up, but that’s not the point. The point is what the hell have you done to your face, Barton?”
Bucky and Clint simultaneously look up to see Tony wandering across from the elevator. He’s barefoot, wearing grease stained jeans and a white tank. He’s got the easily spottable look of Tony Stark after a seventy-hour workshop bender, and that is either brilliant news or a cause for alarm.
According to Bucky, it’s the latter. The change is astounding; his shoulders go back slightly, his whole body going tense. He goes perfectly still, and the easy relaxed movements from only seconds ago vanish, now more obvious and meaningful when compared with their absence.
Tony’s eyes slide over Bucky and then away. His expression is blank, something hard curling around the corners of his mouth.
Oh fuck, where is Steve, Clint thinks silently.
“You should see the other guy,” Clint says as Tony wanders towards the coffee pot, utterly ignoring Bucky. There’s something off about him, in his slow lethargic movements, very different to the over-wound Tony-on-a-bender that Clint knows. He seems drunk, but it’s ten in the morning and that’s a new low considering how well Tony’s been doing.
“So, you have a good night?”
Tony’s voice is casual, which definitely sets off alarm bells in Clint’s mind. His back is to them, busy making a drink.
Clint looks to Bucky, confused. “A good night watching trash TV and fixing my crossbow?”
Bucky’s metal hand clenches into a fist, and he looks at Tony’s back, a dark cloud stealing over his face. Shit. Starting to panic slightly, Clint wonders if Jarvis will get it if he signs ‘send help’.
Worth a shot.
“What’s it to you?” Bucky says slowly, and Tony starts to laugh. It’s a horrid, broken sound, and it jars against Clint’s nerves like breaking glass.
“Just making friendly conversation,” Tony says, finally turning around.
Bucky meets his eyes. “Yeah, actually,” he says flippantly. “I did. How about you?”
Clint expects Tony to bite back. What he doesn’t anticipate is Tony seeming to deflate, all the fight knocked out of him. He lowers his chin, eyes averting.
“Could have been better, I guess,” he says with a half a shrug. “Though I guess you need him more. I get that.”
And with that, he picks up his cup of coffee and leaves without another word, jaw clenched tightly and eyes suspiciously bright. The elevator doors closing punctuate his exit.
The kitchen is silent. Even the coffee pot has stopped, possibly knowing that now is not the moment.
“What the actual fuck?” Clint says, unable to bear the judgmental silence. “Not fighting over Steve my ass.”
“We’re not fighting over Steve,” Bucky snaps back.
“Sorry, were you part of that conversation or not?” Clint retorts. “You heard what-”
The elevator doors open again and for a wild moment Clint thinks it’s Tony, coming back to get the last word in, but it isn’t. It’s Steve, looking harried and rushed, striding over in his workout gear.
“What’s the problem?” he asks, zeroing in on Bucky and looking concerned, close to panicked. He glances up at Clint. “Jarvis said you needed – what happened to your face?”
Score one to Jarvis, Clint silently thinks, also wondering what the hell you get an AI as a thank you gift. “I bashed it on the counter,” he says, waving a dismissive hand. “No-ones fault but my own.”
“I didn’t do it,” Bucky says, and Clint feels a strange twist of pity as he listens to Bucky reassure Steve that he’s not been the one to hurt Clint. “Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”
“Yeah, but Tony’s not,” Clint says, and Steve’s head snaps up to him. “He just came in half drunk and looking like he’s not slept in days, making cracks about last night?”
Steve’s expression goes hard, jaw clenching to chase something else away. Worry, maybe. Guilt, perhaps.
“Steve?” Bucky asks, and Steve jerks, irritated.
“What happened last night?” Clint presses.
“Nothing,” Steve says, folding his arms across his chest, but he’s not meeting Clint’s gaze.
“Is Captain America allowed to lie?” Clint asks, and Steve turns a glare on him.
“I am not lying,” he bites out. “Why are you suddenly getting involved? No offense Clint, but it’s none of your business, and I don’t exactly see what you could achieve by trying to get involved.”
And ouch. Steve knows exactly what to say in what tone of voice to make someone feel like shit. “Whatever,” Clint says. Fury and his mission can go fuck themselves. “I’m out.”
And he gets up and walks away, snatching up the cloth and pressing it back to his lip and leaving his coffee untouched on the counter.
Clint shuts his eyes, breathing in and out deeply. The late afternoon air is warm and fresh in his lungs, the breeze tugging at his hair, his shirt. He leans back against the gleaming metal behind him, solid and unwavering.
Below him, New York continues to hum, alive and bustling and oblivious to his presence, perched high on the top of Stark Tower.
His bow is in his hand, solid and real under his fingers. He needs that right now.
He’s wearing his hearing aids and so is just able to discern the faint sound of the door opening and heavy footsteps treading along the roof towards him. He rolls his head on his shoulders and sees Bucky stepping slowly closer, moving cautiously. As Clint turns his head, Bucky slows down and lifts his hand in an uncertain sort of wave.
Clint mentally sighs. Bucky’s clearly asking for permission to come over, and whilst Clint doesn’t want anything to do with Steve and Tony in their current state, he doesn’t have the heart to take it out on Bucky.
“You’re good at finding my hiding places,” Clint calls to him, and Bucky starts moving again. He walks over, looking around in his usual assessment of risks before sitting down next to Clint, not objecting to the concrete.
“Could do with a few myself,” Bucky mutters. “I needed...”
Bucky frowns. “Can you hear me?”
“Hearing aids present and accounted for,” Clint says, tapping his ear even though Bucky can’t see them. “Just don’t mumble.”
“I,” Bucky begins, and steels himself. “I think I’m mad at Steve.”
“I think everyone is mad at Steve,” Clint says. “Why are you?”
“Last night,” Bucky says, drumming his metal fingers against the concrete by his boot. “We watched films. Old ones. It was good. I couldn’t fall asleep. Was panicking, thought about running. Thought about running a lot. So he stayed up with me. Calmed me down. Kept me safe.”
“Curse that Captain America, giving up his free time to take care of you. Oh yeah, I’m totally mad too-”
“It was his and Stark’s anniversary,” Bucky interrupts, and that shuts Clint right up. He stops blathering, lost and feeling something close to despair at Steve.
“Year since their first date,” Bucky says, voice monotone. “Were meant to go away. Steve cancelled.”
“Of course he did,” Clint grimaces, rubbing at his forehead. “He tell you this?”
Bucky nods. “Just now. And so I’m mad. I think. I don’t know.”
Clint sighs. “And that explains Stark on a bender and his attitude this morning,” he groans. “Oh, fuck you for being right, Romanov.”
“Nothing,” Clint says dismissively. He tips his head back against the metal with a thunk. “Oh man. I might go away for a bit. I want no-where near this shit-storm.”
“Take me with you then,” Bucky says humorlessly. “Steve might stop fuckin’ up so much if I’m not about.”
“If I could get you past the one-eyed guard dog, I would,” Clint tells him, and Bucky laughs softly, the sound not strong enough to last, or hold back the worried frown that creases his brow.
“Some days I think I should,” Bucky says.
“Go again,” Bucky says. “But I can’t leave Steve. Not again. I won’t. Not for anything or anyone.”
He says it with such a determination that it leaves Clint in awe at the bond between Steve and Bucky, unbreakable even after seventy years. And he’s ninety-nine percent sure that it’s nothing but the bromance of the ages, but from experience he knows that the one percent can often come back around to bite him in the ass.
“You and Steve were never a thing, were you?”
Bucky sends him a withering glare. “God, no,” he says. “Jesus. Me and Steve? What the fuck is wrong with you-?”
“Whoa, whoa,” Clint says, holding his hands up in surrender. “Just checking! And Stark said that you two had kissed before, which is a bit misleading.”
The glare intensifies. “Once. When we were drunk, on a dare. What is this, gossip hour?”
Clint shrugs. “Something like that.”
He shifts to get comfortable again, tipping his face up into the faint warmth of the fading sun, eyes drifting lazily closed. Bucky seems content enough to abandon the conversation and just sit for a while; through half lidded eyes Clint watches him absent-mindedly flexing the fingers of his metal hand.
He’s vaguely wondering if Bucky’s metal arm makes any noise that he can’t hear, when Bucky’s voice breaks the peace, contemplative.
“I still don’t get it,” he ventures, testing the weight of the words on his tongue. “Steve and Stark. It doesn’t work.”
Clint sighs, rolling his head to the side to look at Bucky. He’s not dumb enough to point out that its Bucky’s appearance which means that Steve and Tony are at loggerheads; that’s not fair to say. “When it doesn’t work, it’s catastrophic, I’ll give you that. But when it does…I dunno. They’re good for each other. It’s probably ridiculously codependent and all that other shit Doctor Phil goes on about, but it works. All their worst things, the worst sides of them. Anger, frustration, whatever it is. They keep the other one in line. Tony will know when Steve is about to blow his lid, helps him work it out. Steve will know when Tony is getting too wrapped up in his own head and is about to do something dumb.”
Bucky mutters something that Clint doesn’t catch.
“Missed that,” he says, and Bucky looks up, apologetic.
“Nothing,” he says, turns his face up into the sunlight for a moment. “Steve is so stubborn still.”
“Yeah, he is,” Clint shrugs. “And I don’t know if it’s what you’re looking for bro, but without Tony here I think he would have lost his way. Future’s not exactly what he expected, right?”
“No,” Bucky says, so quietly that Clint only catches it by the way his mouth moves. “He always wanted the best. He gets so angry that the world isn’t the best.”
“You seem to be coping alright though?” Clint ventures, and Bucky laughs humorlessly.
“Oh, I’ve grown up with the world,” he says, sounding somewhere between bitter and accepting. “I know the nasty shit lurking just below the rest of it. I was part of that. I never expected the future to be bright and shiny and good. Steve did.”
Clint nods. “Hey, do you think this deep and meaningful conversation will get me an out of therapy this week?”
Bucky glances at him. “They make you go, too?”
“Oh yeah,” Clint says. “I‘m like a nine on the messed up scale.”
Bucky’s eyes meet his. “What am I then? A ten?”
“Twenty-three and a half,” Clint replies promptly, and Bucky dips his head. His shoulders start to shake and it takes Clint a moment to realize he’s laughing.
“You’re still telling it like it is,” Bucky says. “It’s nice.”
“I do what I do,” Clint says gravely, and Bucky almost smiles.
They lapse into silence after that, oddly comfortable. Clint’s thoughts wander between helplessly wondering how Captain America is managing to make such a fuck up of things, and how he really hasn’t considered Bucky dangerous since those first few days. Not even though he’s got a knife in his boot. Man, it must suck for him – Steve clearly still thinks he’s dangerous or can’t be left alone.
“Are we friends, or what?”
“Eh?” It’s not Clint’s most eloquent sentence, but he thinks it conveys his confusion pretty well at Bucky’s abrupt and unexpected question. “Me and you?”
Bucky nods. “You don’t mind me,” he shrugs, as if that’s enough.
“You’re tolerable,” Clint agrees. “Yeah. I’ll write ‘Barnes and Barton BFF’ on my notebooks when we go back inside.”
Bucky tilts his head like Clint will make better sense from a different angle. “BFF?”
“Best friends forever,” Clint says, and then something occurs to him. “Hey, you’re not just hanging around me because of the whole mind control thing, right? You said you’ve read my file.”
Bucky shifts, resting his elbows on his knees and looping the fingers of his metal hand around his other wrist. He seems to think about it for a minute, then shrugs. “Nah,” he says. “Maybe to start with.”
He’s honest, Clint’ll give him that.
“And now it’s not to start with?”
“Well, you can deal with Steve and Stark on a daily basis, you must be doing something I can learn from,” Bucky says, and then pauses. “And also you’re a clutz with a pretty face.”
Clint laughs, the sound snatched away into the air, tossed into the sky above the city. “That’s what gets you going?”
“Oh yeah,” Bucky deadpans. “So hot.”
And Clint is laughing again, putting his bow down so he can clutch at his sides, laughing even harder when Bucky rolls his eyes and tentatively smiles down at his hands, pleased.
Beckett was right, Clint thinks when he’s stopped laughing, when they’re sitting side by side and watching the sun sink lower over the skyline of Manhattan, skyscrapers turning into blinking silhouettes in the fading light. He has made a friend.
Still doesn’t mean she’s right about anything else.
It’s almost three AM when Clint realizes that he’s utterly ignored his own resolution to not get involved with Fury and his stupid mission. True, he’s gone nowhere near Steve or Tony since the FUBAR situation at breakfast, but becoming best friends forever with Bucky does kinda mean he’s part of it all now. Inextricably tangled. Wrestled into a headlock and made to stay.
He sighs, absently scratching his own sternum and staring up at the ceiling, lit only by the flickering of the TV. Sleep is eluding him yet again, ice-blue coldness too close for comfort when he closes his eyes.
It does help that he likes Bucky, he muses. He’s not what Clint expected at all, though his file was helpfully remiss concerning anything to do with Bucky’s personality. Nothing about the sly wit or deadpan humor. Nothing about how honest he is. Nothing about how strong he is, even at his weakest and most vulnerable.
He’s a good man, Clint reckons. Underneath the whole murder scowl and all that.
The pale flickers of light on the ceiling suddenly wash blue, and Clint turns his head to see his phone flashing at him from the coffee table. He props himself up onto an elbow on the couch and reaches for it, frowning.
It’s Steve. Calling him at three AM.
He flicks the answer button with his thumb. “I can’t hear you, before you start.”
Steve looks tired. He rubs his eyebrow with a thumb and then signs to Clint. ‘Can I talk to you?’
Clint frowns. “Now?”
“Please,” Steve says, signing along as he speaks.
Clint groans. “It’ll cost you a cup of coffee.”
Steve frowns. “Get here before I order you to get here,” he mouths and signs, and then the call cuts out.
“Get here before I order you to get here,” Clint mimics, pushing himself up off the sofa, hitching his sweatpants up. He pads to the door, stops and goes back for his bow, pausing and snatching up an arrow instead. Twirling it between his fingers he wanders down through the quiet halls towards the communal kitchen, wondering half-heartedly what he’d be doing at 3am if he didn’t live with a bunch of goddamn crazy-ass superheroes.
Steve is sitting at the counter when he gets there, elbows braced on the edge and head dipped low. He looks absolutely shattered, barely keeping himself upright and awake. There are two mugs in front of him, and he wordlessly pushes one over as Clint approaches.
“Thanks,” Clint replies. “You look like you need to go to bed.”
Steve murmurs something in reply, and Clint moves around to sit on the stool next to him, tapping his shoulder and indicating that they need to be face to face.
Steve obliges. “Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aids?” he asks, still signing along as he goes.
“Well, it’s three AM,” Clint replies. “Was trying to sleep. Don’t worry about the signing, you’re close enough to make most of it out.”
“I will if you need me to,” Steve says and signs, and Clint wants to smack him upside the head.
“You don’t need to,” he says.
“Stop,” Clint says. “Seriously. You have probably wasted enough energy running around after Tony and Bucky. Don’t need to be mother-henning me as well.”
Steve laughs at that, a rough broken huff of air through his nose. “I’m sorry I was such an ass earlier,” he says clearly, swallowing hard. He reaches for his mug of coffee, strong fingers tracing listlessly around the edge.
“Was only trying to help,” Clint says.
Steve grimaces. “I know, I know,” he says tiredly. “I just. Tony was on my back and I’d spent the whole night talking Bucky away from climbing out the damn window and I lost it. I’m sorry.”
And Clint knows him well enough to know that Steve won’t stop until Clint accepts the apology.
“It’s alright,” he says, and leans forwards to grasp Steve’s shoulder for a brief moment. “Apology accepted.”
Steve nods, and then straightens up in his seat, turning to look at Clint. “That’s not the only thing I needed to talk to you about.”
Clint lifts his mug and takes a sip. “I’m all ears.”
“Why did Bucky come and find you on the roof?”
“To talk about stuff?” Clint shrugs. “I dunno.”
Steve’s eyes don’t leave him, and Clint feels oddly like he’s being X-rayed. “You know if he does anything or says anything…” Steve says slowly. “That’s a cause for concern. You have to let me know.”
Clint thinks about the knife that Bucky has stashed in his boot that he doesn't want Steve to know about. Thinks about Bucky’s comments about not sleeping. About the bitter expression on his face when he’d described missing everything with Steve.
“Yeah, I will,” he says with another shrug. “I mean, he’s not threatened to murder anyone, so-”
“Don’t,” Steve cuts him off, looking pained and haunted, dark shadows beneath his eyes more pronounced as he dips his chin for a fraction of a second. “Just. I know he’s tried to speak to you a couple of times. You have to let me know if he says anything that doesn’t sit right. And if he lapses back into Russian you let me know straight away.”
“He’s been speaking Russian?”
Steve nods slowly, troubled. “Yeah. When he’s - well, he’s had a few moments where he’s been pretty out of it.”
Clint feels a twist of foreboding in his gut. “Out of it?”
Steve shakes his head. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he says, and Clint can spot the lie from a mile off.
“Is this a genuine nothing to worry about, or a ‘there is a problem but I’m handling it’ nothing to worry about?”
Steve laughs hollowly. “Probably the latter,” he admits. “It’s alright. I’ll help him deal with it. The jerk’s been through a lot at the hands of Hydra. Wasn’t expecting him to be completely in one piece when I found him.”
Clint hums in vague agreement and takes another sip of his coffee. He’s got a few different options here; he could agree and tell Steve everything Bucky has said that could be considered news-worthy. He could refuse to tell Steve anything on grounds of Steve invading Bucky’s privacy. He could agree and then not tell Steve jack – unless it’s something really off, like threats or lapses into foreign languages – because Steve really doesn’t need any extra stress about Bucky, considering the mess he’s currently making.
Option three it is, then.
“I’ll let you know if he does anything drastic,” Clint says, which technically isn’t a lie. “Hey, you know that time I was possessed by Loki?”
Steve looks at Clint ruefully. “Yes, I seem to remember something about that.”
“Well. I’m like, the current pro in brainwashing. I’m happy to talk to Bucky about it, you know. If he needs someone.”
Steve’s chin tremors, just slightly. “Thanks, Clint,” he says, and clears his throat. “But I’ve got him. No sense dumping any more shit on you, you’re still recovering.”
That takes Clint by surprise. “I’m not-” he begins, but he probably can’t quite deny it, what with the therapy and all. “Bro, it’s okay. You’ve got Tony and Bucky and I don’t know how you’d deal with one of them, let alone-”
“Thanks, but it’s okay. A few more weeks and it’ll all blow over anyway. When the WSC actually decide what’s happening, that’ll be a weight off my mind.”
“Who haven’t decided what?”
“The WSC. They’re going through all of the evidence. Assessing Bucky. Deciding if he’s being arrested or not. Fury and Nat are on it, but I dunno. They won’t let me help.”
“Good. Look at you. You’re dead on your feet.”
Steve laughs, but he’s shaking his head. “I would probably be finding it easier if Tony weren’t trying to push me to breaking point,” he admits. “I think he wants out, but wants me to be the one to do it.”
And now that’s more than alarm bells, that’s police sirens and emergency evacuations and blue flashing Jarvis-level shutdown warnings. “Have you asked him about this?”
Steve shakes his head, and then grimaces. “Look at me, sittin’ here at three am and sharing my woes. Ridiculous.”
“I can swap the coffee for whiskey and pretend to be a bartender if it helps?”
“You can go to bed, is what you can do,” Steve says with a tired smile. “Jarvis tells me how little you’ve been sleeping.”
“Jesus, is there anyone in this tower you’re not being Mom to?”
Steve sends him a flat look. “Go to bed, Clint.”
“You go to bed,” Clint says. “You’re the one that’s calling me at three am. You clearly need the sleep.”
“I’m a super-soldier. You are not,” Steve says, and pushes his chair back, standing up. “Go to bed before I make you.”
“Hostile work environment,” Clint says. “I’m telling Coulson.”
“God, you sound just like-” Steve begins and then abruptly stops, all trace of amusement sliding from his face. He turns his face away, jaw clenching as he fights back something he doesn’t want Clint to see. He says something but seeing as he’s standing side on, Clint doesn’t catch it and can only watch as Steve leaves the room without looking back.
“Well, that could have gone better,” he mutters to himself. He stands up to leave with his coffee in hand, and then backtracks and picks up Steve’s as well.
“Waste not,” he says. “Shut the kitchen down, Jarvis. We’re all going to pretend to sleep and stare at the ceiling for hours instead.”
He doesn’t hear a response, but as he leaves the light blink out behind him, the tower finally falling into slumber even if it’s inhabitants won’t.
“So, how is your mission going?”
Clint makes a noise that’s half sigh, half whine and slumps forwards over the table, forehead resting against the smooth, cool wood. The sun is just starting to shine through the windows, bright though not yet warm.
“Not a mission,” he mumbles. He hears Natasha sitting down, and then something bumps the top of his head. He sits up and feels slightly appeased when he finds it’s an extra large coffee, tendrils of steam rising lazily up into the air. He knows it’s Natasha’s way of buttering him up so she gets what she wants out of the encounter, but he’s not fancying her chances today. Yeah, he has coffee but he’s still here at the asscrack of the day and not in bed where he wants to be.
“It’s nine am, it’s hardly the asscrack of the morning,” Natasha replies as she sips at her own latte, sitting back in her chair. “And I’m not manipulating you, Clint,” she adds, and shit, that must mean he’s mumbling out loud again. He yawns widely, propping himself up on his elbow and rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles.
“Yeah you are,” he says. “You’re always manipulating everyone. Especially me.”
Natasha just raises her eyebrow in a beautiful and annoying show of exasperated disbelief, crossing her legs elegantly and looking altogether too gorgeous seeing as it’s the asscrack of the morning.
“Actually, you’re probably the person I manipulate the least,” she says lightly, and then pulls a face. “And it doesn’t ever seem to work too well on Steve.”
“Find his weak spot and he’s easy,” Clint says half-heartedly, picking up his mug and taking a gulp, not caring that his tastebuds are probably not going to survive this encounter.
“Oh, the weak spots are easy. Especially as he has two,” Natasha says. “And as far as manipulating the weak spots themselves...One is so easy it’s not even fun, and the other is out of my league.”
That jump-starts some of Clint’s brain cells. “Out of your league? What? Bucky? Are you kidding me?”
Natasha turns her face towards the window, early morning sunlight casting a warm glow over her face, eyes bright. “I don’t know him as Bucky,” she says. “I know him as the Winter Soldier.”
She smiles as she says it, but it’s sad and lost and Clint thinks it’s genuine. He debates calling her bluff or making a quip, but she is far far smarter than he is and he knows it’s probably not worth the attempt. So instead, he decides to just dive in headfirst. He’ll either get a straight answer or he won’t.
“Why won’t you come to the Tower when he’s here?” he ventures cautiously. “He thinks you’re scared of him.”
“Aren’t we all?”
Clint is taken aback. “I’m not?”
Natasha frowns, either at what he said or the way it came out like a question. “Really. He’s one of the most deadly people on the planet.”
“And so are you, and so is Steve, and so is Bruce,” Clint says, nonplussed.
“He’d different, and you know he is.”
“Yeah, but I’m not scared of him,” Clint says, insistent. “He’s like Steve but surlier and angrier and more fun.”
Natasha turns her face away from the sunlight to meet his eyes. “You really do like him.”
“Yeah,” Clint says, deciding he’s got nothing at all to gain by denying it. “And I want to know what happened between you two. If it’s got you running, it’s something big, Tasha.”
She blinks slowly. “I’m scared of him.”
“Bullshit,” Clint challenges. A woman on a nearby table frowns over at him and he hastily lowers his voice. “Bullshit. You’re not scared of anyone.”
“I met him a few times as the Winter Soldier,” Natasha suddenly says, voice so quiet that even with his hearing aids Clint misses a couple of words and only catches them by lip reading. “Each time I tried to get him where I wanted, I couldn’t. It frightened me. Someone I couldn’t manipulate. Of course I didn’t know that he was routinely having his memory wiped, so any groundwork I laid down was gone. He was a blank slate. Nothing for me to work against. So, he was out of my league.”
“Groundwork?” Clint asks suspiciously. “Come on, you’re giving me nothing here. What actually happened?”
“A few somethings,” she says. “A lot of nothings. And certainly nothing he remembers.”
Clint sighs, rubbing his temple. “That’s just maddeningly unhelpful.”
“You don’t need to know,” she says. “You just need to know there’s reasons why I can’t help you with this.”
“Please,” Clint whines, giving up the pretense. “It’s going awful, Nat. Everyone is mad at Steve, Steve is running on empty-”
“I know, that’s why we bought you in to help,” Natasha says.
“I am helping-”
“Are you actually doing anything or are you just on damage control after things go wrong?”
Clint stops abruptly. “Maybe the last one?” he ventures, and Natasha sighs at him, takes another sip of her drink.
“Tell me honestly,” she says. “Do you think that Steve is scared of Bucky?”
Clint is about to say no, but he remembers the way Steve spoke about him a few nights ago, when he said he’d had to talk Bucky down from running off again.
“He’s scared for him...scared of what he might do.”
“And you’re not,” she presses.
“No. I mean, I don’t want him to hurt anyone, but he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do to get past this, right? No-one can do it for him.”
“And you say that because you know how he feels,” Natasha says, and Clint feels discomfort claw it’s way up his spine, mind recalling cold and blue. “And you are the only person who isn’t afraid of him.” She reaches out, takes his hand. “And from a person that also has a history as being used as a weapon...that probably means the world to him.”
And Clint is strangely humbled and confused by what she’s saying, not quite believing it. He’s the second biggest mess in the tower, he’s not cut out for this. But if what Nat is saying is true and he’s the best person to help Bucky - and if he can help Steve and stop everything falling apart -he knows his bullshit has to take a back seat.
“What do I do, Nat?” he asks, helpless.
Natasha lets go of his hand. “You keep being there for him,” she says. “And for both of their sakes, you get him away from Steve as soon as possible.”
Clint nods, swallowing past the weird constriction in his throat. “Alright. Get him away from Steve. Not sure either of them’ll go for it, though.”
Natasha looks at him simply. “You make them.”
Make them, Clint thinks as he reaches for his coffee again. Make an emotionally volatile Captain America and his brainwashed best friend do something they don’t want to. Piece of cake.
“Drink up,” Natasha says quietly. “You’ve got therapy in half an hour.”
Clint’s stomach sinks a further couple of notches. “What, you mean this wasn’t it?” he says dully. “Breakfast with you talking about feelings and then an hour with Beckett talking about feelings? Just what I always wanted.”
“Okay, so everyone is mad at Steve and Bucky is apparently trying to climb out of the window and escape and Tony is drinking too much and I’m pretty sure Natasha is trying to manipulate me but she’s convinced that I’m the one to fix this mess.”
Beckett pauses mid-sentence at Clint’s interruption, looking momentarily like she’s deciding whether to humor him or not. “We were talking about Loki’s motives?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Clint says dismissively, because he knows she loves getting him to talk about Loki in any context other than ‘I want to shoot his face.’ “But we’ve been over that like a million times. In the past, let it go, Hakuna Matata. Right now everyone is mad at Steve. And Steve is Captain America, so he’s pretty important.”
“You want to talk about the fact everyone is mad at Steve? Or one of the other things that you just blurted at me?”
“Yes to which one, Clint.”
“Steve. Let’s talk about Steve.”
“Okay. Tell me about why everyone is mad at Steve.”
Clint screws up his face, thinking hard. “Because he brought a potential threat into the tower without clearing it with anyone. Because he has history with the potential threat and it’s making Stark jealous. Or insecure, one of the two. Um, because he won’t leave the potential threat unattended for five minutes – well, actually. He lets him hang out with me.”
“So, this potential threat…” Beckett trails off, the question clearly obvious.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Clint says irritably, and then feels bad for being snippy and then also like he shouldn’t give a damn because it's only Beckett and he doesn’t even like her anyway.
Beckett sighs. “So why are you mad at Steve?”
“I’m not,” Clint says, wrong footed.
“Oh, you said everyone. I assumed that included you.”
“No,” Clint says, testing the shape of the words on his tongue. “No, I’m not mad at him.”
“What’s going on here, then?” Beckett asks, and she’s calm and kind and Clint wishes that he could carry on pretending not to like her. “You’re obviously hung up on the fact that people are angry at Steve for what he’s doing.”
“Well, he’s obviously doing it in the least sensible way ever,” Clint says. “Him and Stark both.”
He pauses, picking at a loose thread on the arm of the chair, fingers scratching against the leather.
“No-one complained when he rescued me and brought me home. And I was still a potential threat. SHIELD hadn’t cleared me. For all they knew I would go all blue-eyed on them at any moment.”
“So why do you think Steve brought you home anyway?”
Clint shrugs, and then quietly says, “because he trusts me.”
Beckett nods. “I think he does. And maybe that’s why Natasha thinks you can help sort the problem. Though I have to stress, it is not your responsibility to fix this.”
“Fury and Natasha seem to think it is,” Clint mutters. “I know. I know it’s not on me. But I made the choice that I want to help. And that’s good, right? Making choices and shit.”
“Yes, making choices is great, Clint.”
Clint shifts uncomfortably. “This is stupid.”
Beckett ignores him. “Okay, back to Steve trusting you. It’s good that you recognise that.”
“Well I think he does,” Clint amends. “I dunno. My judgement is screwy as all hell.”
“I’d wager it’s pretty good.”
“Stop making bets on me or I’m telling on you.”
Beckett smiles. “Tell me what is happening right now that shows that he trusts you.”
“Leaving Bucky with me,” Clint says. He nods and sighs, trying to sort out what thought it is that’s making him feel so uncomfortable and twisted up.
“I guess…” he says slowly. “I guess…if Steve didn’t trust us. We’d still be in lock up. Possibly. I don’t know. I mean, he stuck his neck out for both of us…and it’s not easy. He’s risking his reputation on rescuing us fuck-ups.”
He shrugs again, helpless. Beckett just watches him for a moment. “Clint, have you ever stopped to think how you felt about being rescued by Steve? I mean, you call it rescued. Broken out. Whatever.”
Clint stares down at his feet. “Sometimes think he shouldn’t have,” he says. “Because I did kill those people. And I’m still not cleared for duty, so there’s still that.”
“How do you feel about Steve rescuing Bucky?”
“He made the right call,” Clint says without pause. “It wasn’t Bucky’s fault.”
Beckett hums thoughtfully. “So now I pitch to you, how can you be glad that Steve rescued Bucky because it wasn’t Bucky’s fault, but not glad he rescued you, when by your own admission, you and Bucky were victim to the same wrong? Brainwashing. Forcible indoctrination.”
Clint stares at her, and the twisted feeling in his stomach knots painfully tight for a moment and then relaxes, pinned into place.
“I hate you so much,” he mutters, rubbing at his forehead.
“You hate the fact that befriending Bucky means facing up to forgiving yourself.”
“No, see, I’m pretty sure it’s just you.”
Beckett smiles at him, equal parts fond and exasperated. “Hate me all you like. You know I’m right.”
“You know I’m right,” Clint mimics, slouching down in the chair, so far that his chin nearly touches his chest. “Doc?”
“I like Bucky.”
“I know you do,” she says simply.
Clint scowls and folds his arms across his chest. “You tell anyone and I’ll be forced to shoot you.”
Beckett rolls her eyes. “Your secret is safe with me.”
“No, no, no. Left, around there. Don’t shoot untill-”
“I wanna shoot, I’m gonna shoot, I ain’t waiting for you.”
“This is a co-op mission, Barnes.”
“And you’re too slow, Barton. Whoa - did you just shoot me?”
“Not a lot.”
There’s a sudden flash of bright orange light and the next thing Clint knows his avatar is being flung across the screen in an undignified flailing of arms and legs, hitting the floor in a crumpled heap, ammo and weapons spilling out over the floor. The sound of aliens cackling gleefully nearby just adds insult to injury.
“Well that was unnecessary,” Clint grumbles, dropping the controller to his lap and scowling as he watches Bucky’s avatar jog merrily across the screen, rocket launcher balanced happily on his shoulder.
“You’ll respawn in like ten seconds,” Bucky says, eyes still glued to the screen. “Stop whining.”
“Yeah but now I’ve lost the sniper rifle,” Clint grouches.
“Worth it,” Bucky says, and then grins as a flash of yellow light heralds the reappearance of Clint’s character. “There you go! Back in the game. Come on. Let’s go blow the shit out of some aliens.”
“I’ve created a monster.”
“Video games are great,” Bucky says happily, and Clint snorts with laughter as he picks up the controller and starts moving again.
When Clint had first shown Bucky the X-box under the half-hearted plan of finding him something to do, he’d seemed utterly unimpressed, pointing out that’d he’d lived his life as a first person shooter so why would he make a game out of it. Clint had utterly ignored him and started playing, watching Bucky watching out of the corner of his eye.
He’d been very wary about Call of Duty, even more so about Battlefield. Grand Theft Auto had earned him raised eyebrows and something between interest and disbelief. Need For Speed had also caught Bucky’s attention, though he’d still declined Clint’s offer to show him how to play.
A week later and Clint had shown him Halo and that had been it. No going back.
“Tank, tank over the crest of the hill,” Bucky nudges Clint with his elbow and Clint elbows him back, distracted.
“Yeah I know, I know, you got any grenades?”
“No, all out. Rocket launcher only,” Bucky says.
“Okay you go straight on and I’ll go around. Distract it.”
“Gottit,” Bucky says, leaning forwards as he concentrates. His fingers move deftly over the controller, metal digits moving just as easily as his real ones.
“Well, you two make quite a team,” a quiet voice says from the doorway. Bucky looks up immediately, and then back towards the television.
“Hey Stevie,” he says. “Sorry, got distracted.”
“Don’t apologize,” Steve says, resting his shoulder against the doorjamb and folding his arms across his chest. “Nice to see you having fun.”
“Having a blast,” Bucky says, and grins as his character aims the rocket launcher at the tank and blows it sky high with one deft shot. Clint laughs, slumping back into the couch and covering his face with his hands.
“Take that back, oh god.”
“Never,” Bucky grins. He twists around to look at Steve and Clint catches the edge of Steve’s fond smile as he watches Bucky, relieved in his tiredness.
“Hate to break up the party Buck, but your therapist is here.”
Bucky sighs. “Barton, go to therapy for me.”
“Sure,” Clint says, looking back at the screen and making his avatar throw grenades steadily closer to Bucky’s stationary one. “I can pretend to be you. Scowl a lot and say how I’ve fallen madly in love with Hawkeye who is totally the best Avenger-”
He stops as Bucky smacks him smartly upside the head, hard enough to jar him forwards slightly. He sits up, an indignant laugh on his lips as he rubs at the back of his head.
“I don’t have enough brain cells left for you to do that.”
“Tryin’ to slap the sass out of you,” Bucky says. “Though if it didn’t work on Steve I ain’t got a chance in hell of it working on you.”
Clint grins, imagining an exasperated Bucky Barnes smacking a scrawny and obstinate Steve Rogers around the back of the head seventy years ago. By all accounts, Steve’s smart mouth was definitely something that pre-dated the serum.
He looks up to make a comment along those lines to Steve, but Steve is looking between him and Bucky, expression laced with a mild curiosity. It doesn’t fade as Bucky passes the controller back to Clint and climbs off the couch, walking beside Steve to the elevator. He turns to salute Clint as he steps backwards into the elevator, a jaunty action that is seems almost cocky. Steve ushers him into the lift and steps in beside him, and the last thing Clint sees is him looking thoughtfully back towards him.
Clint ponders on the appraisal for a moment and then just shrugs, going back to the game.
Clint startles, head snapping up off the couch as the door to his apartment swings open, hitting the wall behind with a just audible bang. Bucky stalks in a moment later, wearing sweats and a scowl. He mutters something, but before Clint can point out that he’s not got his hearing aids in, Bucky is kicking the door closed and then marching over, shoving Clint’s feet up and slumping onto the couch.
“Good evening, how are you, nice to see you and I can’t hear,” Clint says, making no effort to move even though his knees are pushed up by his chest and he can’t actually see Bucky. He feels him shift and then Bucky grabs hold of an ankle and pulls Clint’s legs out straight again so his feet are in Bucky’s lap.
He sits staring at the TV with his head resting on his fist, elbow on the arm of the couch. His metal hand stays on Clint’s ankle, holding on. By the flickering light of the TV Clint can see his put-out expression, the tension in his frame.
“What’s up, Grumpy-Cat?” Clint asks.
Bucky’s mouth moves but Clint doesn’t catch it. Clint digs his heel into Bucky’s thigh and Bucky scowls and looks over.
“Deaf, remember?” Clint says and Bucky sighs.
“Sorry,” he says, and to Clint’s utter surprise he lifts his head off his fist, instead pressing his hand to his chest and circling it in the sign for sorry.
“That’s sign,” Clint says, taken aback. Bucky rolls his eyes and settles back into his previous position, blinking at the TV. He exhales heavily and then turns his face towards Clint, meeting his eyes.
“Therapy sucks,” he says. “Don’t wanna talk about it. Just. Can I just- I need to-”
“Don’t hurt yourself,” Clint replies. “Hang out as long as you like. But if you’re going to hang out-”
He kicks his leg so Bucky lets go of his ankle, and then stands up. He walks through his bedroom and snags his hearing aids, and then hauls the blankets off his bed. Almost tripping, he drags them behind him through to where Bucky is still sitting on the couch, and unceremoniously dumps them on Bucky’s head. Bucky flails and drags them off, glaring indignantly.
“The hell you playing at?”
“If we’re sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves and bitching about therapy, we’re gonna do it right,” Clint says as he slips his hearing aids in.
“Not feeling sorry for myself,” Bucky scowls, swiping at the blankets and shoving them away. Short fuse today, it seems.
“Well you’re obviously in a snit about something,” Clint says with a shrug, bends over to grab a displaced cushion and throws it at Bucky’s head. “So deal with it.”
Bucky looks like he;s going to argue, but then he just deflates, all the fight going out of him. He slumps into the couch, pulling his feet and the cushion up and turning back towards the TV.
“Can we order take out?”
Clint grins. “Anything you want.”
“So there’s four of these films?” Bucky says with a frown as he balances an M&M on his metal thumb. He nudges Clint’s knee with his toe. “Do they all feature a middle aged cop running around with no shoes?”
Clint swallows his mouthful of pizza and then turns his face towards Bucky, eyes still turned towards the TV. Bucky flicks the M&M straight into his open mouth.
“Nah,” he says. “In the fourth one the middle aged cop blows up a helicopter with a car. Wearing shoes, though.”
Bucky snorts derisively. “Who needs a car to blow up a helicopter? I could blow up a helicopter with a paperclip.”
“I don’t doubt you,” Clint says finishing off the slice. He turns his face towards Bucky and opens his mouth for another M&M; Bucky dutifully obliges and Clint crunches it down with a grin. “Hey, we could turn this into a national sport.”
“All our years of sniper training comes down to whether I can feed you candy from three feet away without moving?” Bucky says.
“Well, you’re doing fuck all else with those years of training,” Clint says lazily, and the next M&M hits him on the temple. “Hey, that’s a waste of good candy,” he protests, plucking the M&M off of the blanket and popping it into his mouth.
“I want to do more with my training,” Bucky suddenly says. He’s holding an M&M between metal fingers, rolling it back and forth and staring at it like it holds the secrets to the universe. “Feel utterly useless sat here like some sort of broken part.”
And wow, that's honest and pretty fucking deep. And borne from nothing more than a tasteless joke about throwing candy around. Clint opens his mouth, closes it again. He tries again but still can’t find the words; gives up and scratches the back of his head awkwardly.
“Dont say anythin’ you’ll just hurt yourself,” Bucky sighs, all faint Brooklyn attitude. “I just wanted to say it.”
And Clint just nods, because Bucky is right, he’s going to make a mess of whatever he tries to say. But it’s still right there, the fact Bucky is choosing him to say these things to. He wonders if he’s so open with Steve, or if Steve tries to make him talk, extending the conversation with reassurance and empty platitudes-
A soft knock at the door snaps him out of his musings. Bucky must be pretty relaxed because he doesn’t twitch or tense up, just rolls lazy eyes towards the door and calls ‘yeah,’ like it’s his goddamn room.
The mystery visitor turns out to be the good Captain himself, which really isn’t all that shocking. He steps in, shutting the door carefully behind him and pads over, perching on the arm of the couch just behind Bucky, looking towards the TV. Bucky wordlessly holds up the bag of M&Ms. Steve digs his hand in without question, throwing a few into his mouth. He looks broody and tired, Steve is always tired these days and why is he not asleep?
“You guys okay?”
“Mmhm,” Clint says, and gestures vaguely towards the TV. “Die Hard.”
Steve nods, eyes on the TV but not really seeing. “You coming?” He asks Bucky quietly. Bucky tips his head back, leaning on Steve’s thigh.
“Asleep,” Steve says, and Bucky nods and passes the bag of M&M’s back to Clint, clambering out of the blanket nest. Clint feels oddly abandoned.
“You can leave him here you know, I’ll look after him,” Clint says, and fends off a swat from the metal hand.
“Don’t need looking after, punk,” Bucky says. “See you tomorrow.”
He leaves the room after Steve with a half-salute in Clint’s direction. Clint waves back lazily and stretches himself out on the sofa, making use of the extra space now Bucky is gone.
“Hey, Jarvis,” he says absently as he digs his shoulders into the cushions to get comfortable. “What does Steve’s schedule look like around now?”
“Captain Rogers gets up around six am for his usual run, and then spends the day working or with Sir,” Jarvis states. “When Sir goes to sleep, Captain Rogers spends the night with Agent Barnes to ensure his safety.”
“When does he go to sleep?” Clint asks, confused.
“When Agent Barnes is asleep. Agent Barnes normally falls asleep around three AM,” Jarvis says matter of factly. “Then sleeps until late morning, and then either exercises, sits in Captain Rogers’ room or comes to find you.”
“Holy shit, so Steve isn’t sleeping at all?”
“He manages a few hours a night,” Jarvis says, and then there’s a pause. “Though I suspect he cannot keep this up indefinitely. Sir is monitoring his vitals and is worried about his levels of stress and anxiety.”
“Then why doesn’t Sir say something?” Clint asks, astounded.
“I am not at liberty to discuss this with you, Agent Barton,” Jarvis replies, and it sounds like a reprimand. But then, after a pause, “But if I were, I would surmise that Sir is loathe to part with what little time he has with Captain Rogers, and is also at a loss about any other ways to keep Agent Barnes safe.”
Clint grimaces, Natasha’s word’s come back to haunt him, and he sighs.
“So, if I could get Bucky away from Steve for a little bit, you’d infer that as a good idea.”
“For your own safety, no,” Jarvis says. “Agent Barnes is still suffering from nightmares and has super-human strength. But for Captain Rogers sanity, and in order to preserve Sir’s happiness, then yes.”
“He wouldn’t hurt me,” Clint says dismissively. “Jarvis, why do I always end up running in and playing hero where I’m clearly in over my head?”
“I believe that doing as much is how you define yourself as a hero,” Jarvis says. “And I can only conclude that your self-preservation instincts are incredibly low, if not completely non-existent.”
Clint snorts with laughter. “Jarvis, if you had a body I would high-five you.”
“The intention is good enough and certainly appreciated, Hawkeye,” Jarvis says, and he might only be a disembodied robot voice but Clint would swear he sounds almost fond. Which means either Jarvis is cleverer than Clint ever anticipated, or that Tony Stark does indeed have a heart.
Clint wakes up the next morning after a series of disjointed and confusing dreams about arm-wrestling with Bucky, feeling small and out of place and like he’s about to crawl right out of his skin. It takes him a moment to realize it’s because it’s cold, and after everything that happened he loathes the sensation with every fiber of his being.
“Jarvis, crank it up,” he says, wincing as he realizes he’s fallen asleep with his hearing aids in. His left ear aches, and both feel sticky and clammy and horrible. He sits up and takes the hearing aids out, feeling instantly relieved at the sensation of fresh air.
“Dammit,” he mumbles, because he’s not feeling great and being able to hear is going to be a necessity today. If he can’t he’s going to spend the entire day twitching and paranoid. His brain offers him two solutions; the first is to go get Bucky and appoint him Clint’s personal bodyguard for the day. The second is to go wake up Tony and get his old behind-the-ear aids as a stand in. They’re not perfect, and they’re nowhere near as good as his current ones, but they’re not as full on as the in-ear aids, so it’ll take the edge off the anxiety as well as giving his ear canals a bit of a breather.
Waking up Bucky isn't something he wants to do, considering how little Jarvis says he's sleeping, so he goes for option two. A quick text based query to Jarvis lets him know that Tony is already in the workshop, which is a bonus. Unless Tony is in the workshop because he’s pulled an all night bender, and then Clint wants nowhere near it.
Humming tunelessly - and feeling stupidly impressed with himself for managing to get out of his room without his bow - Clint jogs down the steps to the workshop and then stops dead at the bottom, cursing Jarvis for not warning him.
Tony is sitting on the floor of the workshop, and sitting slumped against him is Steve, tucked safely in between Tony’s knees. Tony is stroking a careful hand over Steve’s head, holding him tight with his other arm. Steve’s shoulders are shaking and it’s only when Clint spots the white-knuckled grip he’s got on Tony’s shirt that he puts two and two together and comes up with Steve is crying.
Crying isn’t really the word for it though. He’s full on sobbing, ugly unstoppable sobs that wrack his whole body and steal his breath from his lungs. Tony is looking too bright-eyed himself, swallowing thickly, and shit, Clint didn’t know it was this bad. He’s never seen anything like it.
Fully intending to get the hell out of there, he takes a hasty step backwards. Evidently the universe hates him because he misjudges the distance and trips over the bottom step, falling backwards onto his ass on the stairs. Tony’s head snaps up and he looks right at him; Clint mentally slaps himself, offering an apologetic and sheepish wave as he clambers to his feet. He jerks his thumb back up towards the stairwell in an indication that he's going to leave, and Tony says something in reply. Clint shrugs helplessly and takes a step back, but Tony lets go of Steve to hold both hands up and signs wait at him through the glass. Clint’s first thought is what, first Bucky and now Tony signing at him? but that quickly turns to shit, shit, shit, because Tony is saying something to Steve, and Steve is hurriedly getting to his feet and walking towards the back of the workshop, dragging his hand over his face.
Clint throws his hands up in the air in exasperation as Tony walks over to let him in. “I would have gone,” he says, looking uneasily after Steve.
“I know. What’s up?” Tony asks, tone abrupt but not unfriendly.
“Have you still got my old BTE’s?” Clint asks, and Tony sends him a pained look.
“What did you do to the new ones?”
“Just slept in them, want to give my ears a breather.”
Looking at him curiously, Tony cocks his head. “Why not just go deaf for the day?”
Clint shrugs, evasive. “Not an option today.”
Tony mutters something that Clint doesn’t catch, but seems to realize what he’s done straight away. “Everyone is having a shit day, it seems,” he says, and walks over to one of the cabinets. He digs around in a drawer that’s labelled Hawkeye - and that doesn’t leave Clint feeling a little odd at all - and then comes up with his old hearing aids. Well, he says old, but they certainly weren’t purple last time he wore them.
“What did you do?” he asks as he slips them on. They feel strange behind his ears after so long, but he’s just relieved to have them.
“Well I wasn’t just going to upgrade the one set, was I?” Tony says, and glances back towards the rear of the workshop.
“I love you,” Clint announces as he switches them on and Tony’s voices comes though amazingly clear. Hell yeah he upgraded them, this is awesome. He can hear just as well with these as the new ones.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Surprised you haven’t helped Barnes find the torches and pitchforks yet.”
“Shut up,” Clint advises him with a roll of his eyes. “It’s not all about you, you egotistical moron. This is more complicated than that.”
To his surprise, Tony’s shoulders just slump. “Yeah, I know,” he says morosely, and aw no, don’t look like that, Tony. He looks over his shoulder and then back at Clint. “Go and check on Barnes,” he mouths suddenly. “He pitched a fit last night. Steve isn’t dealing so well.”
Clint nods. “You take a supersoldier and I’ll take a supersoldier?
Tony’s expression clears, the relief obvious. “I don’t hate him,” he mouths, almost muttering, but Clint has had enough practice lip reading to catch it. “Just.”
“Yeah. Just.” Clint says. “I’m on it.”
He leaves the workshop feeling like something important has just happened. With Tony admitting that he doesn’t hate Bucky and Steve actually going to Tony for emotional support - it’s not perfect yet but it’s a start.
Which actually could mean a perfect window for Clint to step up and actually do something, instead of just retroactively trying to fix the mess. His stomach is twisted into an uncomfortable knot, and he’s not sure if it’s the pressure of stepping up or the worry about Bucky pitching a fit that’s got him all tied up and anxious. What does that even mean, anyway? Pitching a fit could be anywhere from forgetting where he is for a moment to trying to murder Steve. Though if it were on the murdery end of the scale, he suspects Tony wouldn't be so blase about sending Clint in. Unless maybe Tony thinks that Clint has sided with Bucky and would be quite happy with murdery things happening to him-
Nah. Tony’s not that malicious or that devious. Wears his heart on his armor. His emotionally stunted, red and gold, Steve-Rogers shaped heart.
Clint has been in Steve’s quarters before but never while Bucky’s been in there, but if Bucky feels he can waltz into Clint’s rooms without so much as a how do you do, then Clint considers that a two way street. He shoves the door open noisily and wanders in, not wanting Bucky to be startled.
“Buckaroo,” he sing-songs. “Time to get up, Princess.”
He holds his breath as he steps into Steve’s living space and finds it empty. The worry is about to hit a level nine and a half but then he hears movement through the open bedroom door and then a hoarse voice calls out.
“Fuck off, Clint.”
Clint laughs. “Aw, you’re grumpy in the mornings,” he says lightly, and without waiting for invitation he shoulders open the door to the bedroom. It’s dark, windows tinted so heavily they’re almost completely opaque. Bucky is sitting up on Steve’s bed, back against the headboard and blanket wrapped around his shoulders. His metal hand rests atop his short hair, and his eyes are open and dull.
“Knew you liked blankets,” Clint says easily, and moves to sprawl on the end of the bed.
“Steve send you?” Bucky asks, ignoring the joke. He doesn’t seem to want to look at Clint, which is fine by Clint. This is gonna be awkward enough without eye contact.
“No,” Clint hums. “Tony did. Was worried.”
And Bucky’s eyes snap up to Clint’s and it’s not actually all that awkward.
“Bullshit,” he says, challenging.
“Nope,” Clint says, and yawns massively. “I went down to get my hearing aids, Steve was upset, Tony said he’d look after Steve if I came and checked on you.”
“Doesn’t mean he’s worried about me,” Bucky says, rubbing his hand over the top of his hair again. Man, the guy needs throwing through a shower or hosing down at the very least. “Means he’s worried I’m going to go Winter Soldier on everyone.”
“As much as Tony has a low tolerance for my charm, he wouldn’t have sent me up here if he thought you would hurt me,” Clint points out. “And I was definitely worried about you.”
Bucky just sighs, lowering his eyes again. “I kind of forgot where I was for a moment,” he says quietly. “Was half asleep and Steve knocked me awake and I was asking him if everything was okay, why he’d woken me up, if he needed me.”
Bucky’s mouth twists. “I was speaking in Russian,” he says. “Steve asked me to talk in English and I just - I couldn’t for a moment. He looked terrified.”
“You’d just woken up,” Clint reasons. “You’re allowed to be confused when you just wake up. Have you seen me in the mornings? I can’t speak English either.”
And Bucky smiles.
It’s faint and it’s wavering but he does, and Clint bites back his grin even as he’s mentally throwing himself a parade. Purple ticker tape and arrow-adorned floats included. Unlimited coffee for all attendees and banners that say Hawkguy is the best.
Wait, what? Oh man. Even in his own head everyone gets his name wrong.
“Come on,” he says, blinking himself out of the first annual Clint Barton is the best Avenger parade and swinging a hand out to knock against Bucky’s blanket-covered knee. “Stop moping and come get coffee. We can sit on the roof, if you like.”
Bucky nods, exhaling heavily and moving to extricate himself from the blankets. “Is Steve okay?” he asks, and the way his voice sounds honest to god breaks Clint’s heart a little. He contemplates shoving Bucky back into the blankets and bringing the coffee to him.
“Nah, he’s upset,” Clint says honestly. “But Tony’s got him. He’ll be alright.”
Bucky stares at the floor for a moment and then he nods jerkily. He climbs to his feet, blanket falling from his shoulders. He’s not wearing a shirt and even in the dimness Clint can see the angry scarring around his left shoulder. He doesn’t speak, but Clint doesn’t mind; he’s following without complaint, and his feet are bare so he’s probably also unarmed, which Clint is going to take as a win.
They do end up on the roof, sat in the sunlight in the same spot where they’ve sat before. Bucky wedges himself in close to Clint, shoulder to shoulder with knees pulled up, cradling his mug in his hands. Clint loses track fo time as they sit together in silence, but he doesn't mind. He's half dozed off by the time Bucky speaks, voice quiet and a little sad.
“I can’t stay here.”
Clint shakes his head. “You really think Steve is going to let you go?”
“That’s exactly why I need to go,” Bucky says morosely. “I’m hurting Steve.”
“I can categorically state that you will hurt him more by leaving,” Clint says, and nudges at Bucky with his elbow. “And I’d miss your stupid face too.”
Bucky snorts. He blinks slowly and then closes his eyes, turning his face up into the sun. “Steve loves Stark, don’t he?”
“I’d place my bets on yes,” Clint says. “And by yes I mean utterly and completely. They’re stupid for each other.”
“Utterly stupid,” Bucky echoes absently. “I told Steve to go and spend time with Stark. He wouldn’t.”
“Because he wants to do right by you,” Clint says, and then pauses. “I might have an idea if you wanna hear it.”
“Yeah?” Bucky says, rolling his head towards Clint and opening his eyes. “Am I about to be amazed by the genius of Clint Barton?”
“Probably not,” Clint says, and then decides fuck it. “Come crash with me. I got the space and like I said, I like your stupid face. Would be good to have some company.”
Bucky doesn’t say anything at first. He just stares at Clint, thoughtful. “Think Steve’ll go for it?” he finally asks, looking down at his coffee mug.
“Well, as much as I love the man, it’s not his decision,” Clint says. “It’s yours. I’m offering. It’s up to you. You stay in the building, Steve will undoubtedly monitor you through Jarvis so he doesn’t freak out, but he doesn’t have to babysit you twenty-four seven. You don’t need that.”
“I probably do, I’m not exactly safe,” Bucky begins, face twisting bitterly.
“Bullshit,” Clint interrupts. “If you weren’t, I wouldn’t spend time with you. And hey, technically I’m not safe either, but you don’t seem to have a problem with hanging out with me.”
And Bucky doesn’t seem to have a counter to that. He continues to stare down into his coffee, apparently lost in thought. Clint lets him; he’s pitched his idea and now Bucky is the one to make the choice, because Clint doesn’t know a lot but he knows that making the decision for yourself is important, even if it’s hard-
Clint blinks, startled by the speed of the response. “What?”
Bucky looks up at him, amused. “I said okay. Just - we talking a coupla nights ‘till Steve eases up, or are we talking more permanent?”
“As long as you need,” Clint says. “One night. Ten. A billion. Up to you.”
“Sign me up for a billion, then,” Bucky says lazily, turning his face back into the sun and yawning. He relaxes back against the side of the building, the breeze ruffling his short hair. “Thanks, Clint.”
“You’re welcome,” Clint says easily. His heart is fluttering a little oddly in his chest, and it feels like a rush of adrenaline but not quite the same. He can’t quite believe that worked so well - one half-assed conversation with Bucky and he’s somehow ended up with a roommate.
Definitely a good call to tell Bucky it was his choice and not Steve’s, he muses. Beckett will be proud of him for that one. Not that he’ll admit that he used what she taught him to help solve the problem of Bucky, because she’ll do that damn proud smile at him and he’s not sure he can handle it.
Though he might actually be a little proud of it himself. Not that he has to say it out loud, but yeah. He’s actually done something good for once.
Clint is also pretty proud of the plan he comes up with for pitching the idea of operation-new-roomates to Steve. It involves talking to Tony, waiting for an opportune moment to talk with Steve about how Bucky is doing, and then talking about how his therapist thinks spending time with Bucky is good for him. He’s even mentally rehearsed a speech. It’s a good speech. Steve likes a good speech, so that can only play in Clint’s favor.
And then obviously Bucky ruins everything.
He and Clint only come down from the roof when they’re both too hungry to stay out there any longer. They wander down to the communal floor to find Steve cooking and Tony sitting at the counter talking at him about some sort of redesign of the jet.
When Bucky and Clint appear, Tony stops talking, Steve automatically turns around, and Bucky says, “Hey Steve, I’m going to bunk with Barton from now on.”
Clint can only stand there and gape as his carefully constructed plan goes down in flames. He’s not the only one. Steve rears back like Bucky has made a move to punch him, and Tony’s mouth falls open in shock.
“Way to go, Barnes,” Clint says with a dejected slump of his shoulders. “I had a speech planned and everything.”
“No point bullshitting around the fact,” Bucky says, eyes still on Steve. “Steve?”
Steve visibly collects himself. “Why?” he asks, voice carefully neutral.
“You know why,” Bucky says quietly.
“No, I don’t think I do,” Steve says, and he’s starting to sound angry now, a blatant and easy to spot cover for the upset he’s feeling. “I’m breaking my neck tryin’ to keep you safe-”
The volume rises, Clint flinches and Tony stands up, saying Steve’s name in a low voice. It looks very much like it’s going to erupt into a full scale Rogers-meltdown, but then Bucky simply walks over and pulls Steve into a hug.
All the fight goes out of Steve. His rigid, angry posture melts and he slumps into Bucky.
Clint looks over and meets Tony’s eyes for a fraction of a second, before Tony looks away. His face is impassive, but it’s so clear to see his desperation and his worry hidden just below the surface, the anxious part that feels he has no place in this.
“You rescued me,” Bucky says to Steve. “What’s this? Third time now? And I told you. End of the line, pal. But you’re killin’ yourself worrying about me, and it needs to stop.”
“Anything goes wrong and the WSC will have you-” Steve begins, drawing back from Bucky.
“And if anything goes wrong you’re going to hurt Clint, and he’s pretty much the most breakable person in this damn tower-”
“Hey,” Clint interrupts, slightly insulted.
“Barton’s not exactly a damsel in distress,” Tony interjects with a frown. “You’re insulting him by thinking he couldn’t handle it.”
And Clint is slightly taken aback by Tony’s advocacy, but there’s no time to comment or dwell on it, because Steve isn’t retorting or getting more stressed and argumentative, he’s just looking from Clint to Bucky, clearly unsure.
“I suggested it,” he ventures, treading so very cautiously in the face of Steve's uncertainty. “Steve, I wouldn’t have said anything if I thought he would hurt me.”
“It’s not Bucky that would hurt you,” Steve says emphatically.
“You need to stop that shit as well,” Bucky suddenly says with a scowl. “There’s no Bucky versus Winter Soldier thing here, pal. There’s me, and you need to deal with it.”
And wow, Bucky might as well have punched Steve. His jaw sets and he meets Bucky’s eyes, unwavering and angry.
“You are Bucky Barnes,” he says tightly. “No matter what shit happened to you.”
“I know,” Bucky replies. “But that shit did happen to me, and that shit is as much a part of me as the Bucky Barnes part.”
“Steve-” Tony tries to interject, but he’s cut off by the sudden and insistent beeping of the alarms over the intercom.
Bucky moves quicker than Clint has ever seen him. In fact, he’s not entirely sure how it happens; he just knows that one moment he’s watching the stand off between Bucky and Steve and then next moment there’s a flurry of movement and then he ends up on his ass on the floor with Bucky standing in front of him, crouched protectively with his back to Clint and a knife in hand.
Where the hell did that one even come from? Out of his goddamn underwear?
“Whoa, whoa, it’s just the Avengers alert, chill,” Tony says. “Jarvis, that’s enough buddy!”
The alarms go silent. “Situation in Illinois,” Jarvis says calmly. “Intelligence from SHIELD and CIA servers. Urgent response needed, low level threat.”
“Got it,” Tony says. “Thanks, J.”
“No danger, Buck,” Steve says, but he sounds cautious and not entirely sure of himself. “We’re good.”
Bucky glances from Steve to Tony and then around the room. He seems to accept Steve’s word for it because he nods and puts the knife down and then turns and holds out his metal hand to Clint.
Clint takes it and lets Bucky haul him to his feet. “What the hell?” he complains.
“Sorry,” Bucky says, shrugging a little awkwardly. “There was a threat. I didn’t think.”
“Already established that I’m not a damsel in distress,” Clint says, rubbing his ass where he hit the floor. “Don’t need protecting.”
“I know,” Bucky insists. “I said sorry. Instinct I guess.”
“Great,” Clint says, pulling a face. “Guys, I seem to have an over-protective assassin imprinted on me like a lost baby duckling.”
“A fuckin’ what?” Bucky asks, affronted.
“Baby duckling,” Clint informs him. “My ass hurts.”
Bucky scowls at him and Clint pulls a face back. And then realizes they have an audience; Steve and Tony are standing shoulder to shoulder staring at them. Tony looks amused and intrigued; Steve looks thoughtful and taken aback, the same as he did when he found Bucky and Clint playing video games.
“Don’t you two have a world to go and save?” Clint points out. “Illinois?”
Tony looks at Steve. “Your call,” he says. “I can go.”
“Is Clint not going?” Bucky asks suddenly.
“No Clint is not going,” Clint answers firmly before Tony and Steve can. Steve doesn’t say anything, but for some unknown reason, Tony looks at him sharply, expression shrewd.
Steve breathes out, chest visibly moving as he exhales. He looks to Bucky and Clint and then swallows hard. When he speaks, his voice is steadier than Clint expected.
“We both go,” he says to Tony, and then turns back to Bucky and Clint. “You two look after each other, yeah?”
And holy shit, Steve is going to leave the building without Bucky, he’s going to leave him here with Clint and trust that he’ll be okay. For Steve to make that call - Clint doesn’t even know how hard it must be for him to do it.
“Sir, yes sir,” Clint says, snapping a salute. Bucky shoves at him irritably, and then nods at Steve.
“Thanks, Stevie,” he says quietly, and Steve manages a weak smile.
“Call me, if you need anything,” he says. “I mean it, Buck.”
“I swear on the grave of mama Barnes,” Bucky says. “Steve, go. We’re good here. I won’t go nowhere, and Clint’ll keep me company.”
“As long as you promise not to push me over again,” Clint says.
“I said sorry!”
“Wow,” Tony says, brows raised. “And I thought we were dysfunctional.”
Steve sends him an exasperated look and Tony just looks back. Some meaningful wordless exchange must happen between the two of them because Steve sighs and looks at the floor. There’s a moment of silence; Steve doesn’t look willing to move and Tony doesn’t look willing to make Steve move, and wow this is already getting awkward-
Clint clears his throat. “Illinois?” he says again, and Steve and Tony both startle into action.
“Yeah, okay,” Steve says, and steps towards the elevator. “Do not leave the tower, you two,” he says. “And keep your phones on you.”
“Yes Mom,” Clint says, and Steve turns a half-hearted glare on him.
“Don’t push it, Clint,” he says in admonishment, and Clint signs sorry at him.
“Stay safe,” Steve says, and then he and Tony are gone
It takes around half an hour to move Bucky into Clint’s quarters, and most of that time is spent hauling a mattress up from one of the empty guest suites and dumping it in Clint’s living space, pressed up against the wall in the corner where the crossbow used to live. With that addition it becomes pretty cramped, but Clint isn’t bothered.
“You sure you don’t want to be in the bedroom?” Clint asks as he tosses Bucky over a pillow. “I don’t mind being out here.”
“No,” Bucky says simply, catching the pillow with his metal hand and setting it carefully on top of his mattress. “Fine here.”
“Guess you know best,” Clint shrugs, and steps back to flop down onto the couch, shoved over against the wall to make space for Bucky. “You wanna play Halo?”
“Yeah, think I kinda do,” Bucky says as he throws a blanket across the mattress and straightens it out, all military corners and efficiency. “Any update on the others?”
“No, Jarvis will fill me in if needed,” Clint says, and stretches a leg out to toe the on button of the games console. “He knows to update me on anything serious.”
“Good system,” Bucky says, and he flops down onto the couch next to Clint. “What’s with these?” he asks suddenly, reaching out. A metal finger gently touches Clint’s hearing aid and he screws up his face, leans away.
“BTE’s,” he says. “Uh, behind the ear hearing aids. I have in-ear ones, but I slept in them and my ears felt kinda gross.”
“I like them,” Bucky says, and he twists around to the side of the couch and leans over, coming back up with the crossbow in his hand. He braces it against his knees and pulls thoughtfully at the cable. “Though it’d kinda give away a weak spot straight off the bat.”
Clint shrugs. “It’s common knowledge that I’m deaf,” he says. “Well, hearing impaired. If we’re fighting bad guys who know of the Avengers, there’s a pretty high chance that they’ll know I’m deaf anyway.”
Bucky nods, understanding. “People often go for my arm when we’re fighting,” he says.
Clint snorts with laughter. “That arm is many things, but a weak spot it isn’t.”
“Not if you’re fighting hand to hand,” Bucky shrugs, turning the crossbow over and peering at the mechanism underneath. “Though if you’ve got any weapons that can disturb electrical relays it can fuck it up pretty bad.”
“Like Tony,” Clint shrugs. “Hit him with an EMP and he goes down like a lead balloon.”
Bucky raises his eyebrow. “Did you really just tell me how to take out Iron Man?”
Clint rolls his eyes. “Yes. I did. And no, I don’t regret it and no, I don’t think i shouldn’t have said it.”
“You‘re very trusting.”
“I’m actually really not,” Clint says, handing Bucky over a controller as he picks up his own. “I think everything is out to get me. Here, log into the saved game.”
“You got it,” Bucky says mildly, putting the crossbow down by his feet and trading for the controller. “Hey, why didn’t you go with them to Illinois?”
Clint goes very still, fingers frozen on the controller. His initial thought is to reply with ‘because i didn’t want to,’ or ‘I couldn’t be bothered,’ but he’s not sure the words will make it out past his teeth. “Not cleared for active duty.”
Bucky hums at that, thoughtful. “Because of the Loki thing.”
It’s not a question. Clint swallows hard, staring at the TV. “Because of the Loki thing. Still a risk factor involved.”
“What, you think there’s a risk factor? Or other people think there is?”
Clint shifts uncomfortably, Beckett’s words about trust and forgiveness stirring restlessly in the back of his skull. “A bit of both,” he says with a shrug that’s supposed to be casual but probably gives him away. “At first SHIELD said no. When Steve came and broke me out they said fine, as long as he abides by certain constraints. No missions, no weapons, no intel to be handed my way. Shit like that.”
“Well, you’re failing admirably on the no weapons front,” Bucky snorts and Clint feels a tiny bit better.
“Yeah, my therapist keeps threatening to rat me out to Fury,” Clint says. “I dunno. They imposed their sanctions, and I’ve never argued them, I guess. Not a lot of good I’d do on missions right now anyway.”
“Meaning that Steve doesn't want a guy who flinches at loud noises and freaks out when the temperature drops below sixty on his team. Not to mention that said useless guy is also extra useless because he’s deaf.”
And Bucky doesn’t laugh. Shit. Clint maintains his straight-forwards gaze towards the TV because if he looks over and sees Bucky looking at him with pity or anything stupid he’s not sure he can handle it. He’s over the fact he’s fucked up; he doesn’t need anyone else trying to change his mind or make him see things differently.
“It’s no big deal,” he continues with a shrug and fucking hell mouth, why won’t it just quit it and stop digging this emotionally-awkward hole already. “Kinda over the fact. Loki did me in. End of the line as far as my superheroing goes.”
Grey eyes continue to watch him shrewdly, and he waits for Bucky to say something-
Bucky climbs up off the couch, and he vanishes into Clint’s room, of all places. Momentarily confused, Clint leans up on the back of the couch and opens to his mouth to call after Bucky, but the words die in his throat as Bucky re-emerges with Clint’s blanket in his arms. He pads over and kneels on the couch, leaning over to swing the blanket around Clint’s shoulders, pulling it around him with an unexpected gentleness.
“If we’re sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves,” Bucky says carefully, pulling the blanket up over Clint’s head like a hood. “We’re gonna do it right.”
And he doesn't demand that they talk about Clint’s little outburst, doesn't look worried or pitying or even remotely bothered. He just pats him on top of his head, grins as Clint frees a hand to slap him away, and then presses a controller into his blanket covered stomach.
“Play,” he says simply. “I’m gonna worry about that punk until he gets back. Distractions needed.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Clint says. Bucky kicks at him and Clint grins, pushing the blanket back from his forehead a little as he settles into play, a weight that he wasn’t fully aware of lifting from his shoulders as he does.
“You know you don’t have to sit up with me all night. You can go to bed.”
Clint looks up as Bucky speaks, voice lazy and low. They’re slumped down on the couch watching reruns of The Walking Dead on Netflix, shoulder to shoulder. Bucky seems to be a fan of the blood and gore that the show is happy to dole out in spades, though is very critical of some of the less refined fighting styles. (“I coulda killed that zombie in one move, I’m telling you. They’re going about it all wrong. A baseball bat? What is he thinking?”) As well as being Bucky’s official zombie apocalypse sounding board, (I’m telling you, we hole up here, you take sniper position and I fight hand to hand, we’ll get by. Piece of cake.) Clint is also in charge of refreshments; he has a bowl of chips balanced on his abdomen, and every so often Bucky gropes his way over to grab a handful and shove them into his mouth. Clint is covered in crumbs but he doesn’t care.
“I’m enjoying sitting up with you,” Clint says absently. “Though I don’t know if I’m really sitting up any more.”
“Okay, you don’t have to slouch down with me all night,” Bucky says.
Clint shrugs. “Then I’m good.”
“I’m serious,” Bucky insists. “I don’t need babysitting.”
“Captain America says you do so I’m not-” Clint jerks his head away as Bucky reaches up to pinch his ear. With the metal fingers. “Ow, ow, ow! Hearing aid, hearing aid!”
Bucky lets go of his ear. Clint leans away from him and shoves at him indignantly, rubbing at his ear. Bucky shoves him back even harder and the bowl of chips nearly goes flying. In the ensuing scuffle, Bucky ends up with the bowl of chips in hand and Clint in a sort of headlock, trying in vain to wriggle free without hurting his ears or damaging his hearing aids.
“Uncle,” he pants, slumping against Bucky, utterly deadweight. “I give.”
Bucky laughs and eases his grip. He shoves at Clint and Clint ends up laid on his side with his head on Bucky’s knee. Bucky settles the bowl of chips on the arm of the couch and his metal palm rests on Clint’s shoulder.
Huh. Well that’s new. And weird, right? It should be weird.
Bucky shifts to grab the blanket from behind Clint, hauling it free and draping it over Clint’s side. His hand settles back on Clint’s shoulder and Clint promptly decides he can put it with weird because this actually feels pretty nice. He’s warm, he’s scrunched up like he would be in the vents and Bucky’s hand is a definite weight on his shoulder which also kinda makes him feel safe.
“Don’t fall asleep on me,” Bucky says.
“You were the one put me horizontal and wrapped me up in a blanket,” Clint points out. “Chip me.”
He opens his mouth and Bucky obliges and shoves a chip in his mouth. Clint mumbles a ‘fanks’ and continues to blink slowly at the TV. Bucky settles back, slouching down into the couch and resting his elbow on the arm, propping his head up on his fist.
His hand stays on Clint’s shoulder, thumb absently stroking back and forth over the material of his shirt. It feels pretty nice, and Clint thinks that this being roomies with a trained assassin thing could actually turn out pretty alright. He gets petted and fed chips and in the back of his mind is the thought that he doesn’t need to be hyper vigilant of the exits because the trained assassin who likes to pet him and feed him chips will also help keep an eye on the place.
Yeah, it’s pretty nice.
It’s over an hour and what seems like several hundred decapitated zombies later when Bucky speaks again, low voice breaking the comfortable silence that’s fallen between them.
“Hey, can we check in on Steve?”
Clint nods. Bucky’s not mentioned Steve since he left, and he’s actually pretty surprised he lasted this long before asking. “Sure thing. Jarvis, any updates?”
“The Captain and Sir have arrived on site in Illinois, both are uninjured and not in any life-threatening danger.”
“Not any life threatening danger?” Bucky echoes, sounding unimpressed. “How about regular danger.”
“If I were to alert you every time the Captain was in regular danger whilst on a mission, I’m afraid I would not get much else done.”
Bucky huffs out a laugh at that. “Guess you’re right,” he says, and settles back down into the couch. He heaves out a sigh so heavy that his whole body lifts and falls under Clint’s weight. His hand drifts from Clint’s shoulder up over his neck and then to his hair, absently twisting some between his fingers. Clint’s brows go up but before he can vocalize his sense of ‘what the hell?’ Bucky snatches his hand away.
“What the hell?” he says, sounding confused. “Dammit, I’m sorry. Treatin’ you like some sort of pet cat-”
Clint starts to laugh. “I don’t scratch, you’re alright.”
“Didn’t ask permission,” Bucky says.
“We’re good,” Clint says, patting his knee and settling his head back down on Bucky’s thigh. “I’m okay with this.”
Bucky doesn’t move for a long moment, and then he slowly nods. His brow furrows a little but then he nods again, more decisively, and then reaches up to continue running his fingers through Clint’s hair.
“You’re not worried I’m gonna hurt you?”
“Nah,” Clint says.
“Not even after I put you on your ass in the kitchen?”
Clint snorts. “Well, technically, weren’t you trying to protect me?”
Bucky hums noncommittally, but doesn’t stop petting Clint’s hair. Smiling, Clint blinks lazily at the television, absently staring at it without really watching. He’s not entirely sure what’s going on with the zombies and why someone is now missing a leg, but he’s not unduly bothered. He’s quite content to just sit and be, to sink into the sensation of being relaxed and not utterly on edge.
It’s late – really late, even by Clint’s standards – when Bucky’s hand goes still, resting on Clint’s neck. Clint blinks and carefully edges out under the hand, twisting around so he can see Bucky.
He’s asleep. Eyes closed, lips slightly parted, slumped back against the cushions. His whole body is lax, sprawled out like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Clint smiles tiredly and slowly pushes himself up, doing his very best not to move too quickly and jostle Bucky awake. Once he’s free and clear, he dances back several steps, holding his breath.
Bucky sleeps on. Clint exhales in relief then hastily steps back as Bucky twitches. What do amnesiac assassins dream of, anyway? Murder and destruction? Or dumb shit like not being able to find your keys and getting lost in the grocery store like normal people?
Eyeing Bucky carefully and absently rubbing his aching neck, Clint just hopes that whatever it is doesn’t tread into nightmare territory. He’s a little apprehensive; he knows that Bucky has had night terrors, and Bucky can be freaking terrifying when he’s awake, let alone when he’s semi-conscious and not altogether lucid.
Eh. He seems pretty chilled. Clint can only hope he stays that way.
Clint wakes up to the sound of screaming.
It takes him a moment to realize it’s his own. Heart hammering and throat raw, he scrambles out of the bed, throwing the covers aside and pressing his sweat-soaked back to the wall. Someone had been reaching for him, cold hands around his neck, something sharp and twisted pressing into his sternum-
“Clint! Clint, are you alright-?”
Gasping, Clint looks up as he distantly hears Bucky’s shout, muffled and low like he’s underwater. The door crashes back and Bucky tears into the room, skidding through the doorway in nothing but his boxers and socks, a gun in hand. He levels it at Clint and then the window; his jaw is set and his eyes intent as he looks around, gun aiming into every corner and dark spot as he checks them off.
“I’m alright,” Clint manages to say, voice shaky and weak. He waves a hand at Bucky, hoping he’ll cease and desist before something or someone gets shot. He takes a wobbling step sideways, leans down and grabs his hearing aids, slipping them on. The moment he does he feels the panic start to edge away, soothed by the fact he can hear the rest of the world rather than just his own heartbeat thudding sickly against the inside of his skull. He takes a deep breath, tries to steady himself. “Buck, I’m fine-
“Then what’s with the screaming?” Bucky asks, edging into the room with the gun still held aloft. He turns quickly to check behind the door and then stalks over to the walk-in wardrobe, nudging the door with his toe before whipping around the edge of the doorframe.
“It’s alright, Bucky,” Clint protests weakly, already feeling like an utter moron. “Bucky. Bucky, come out of the damn closet, I’m fine.”
Bucky comes out of the closet, looking suspicious. He looks at Clint and frowns, and finally lowers the gun. “Did you have a nightmare?”
He sounds utterly incredulous, and it makes Clint feel even more like an idiot. “Yes, alright, I had a nightmare,” he huffs out, rubbing his face with his hand. “Christ, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you up-”
“No big deal,” Bucky says with an awkward shrug, scratching at his hairline with the barrel of the gun. He looks down away from Clint, now starting to look a little uncomfortable. “Just. I’m normally that guy.”
“What was I thinking,” Clint mutters, feeling his face and neck going red, a deep flush of awkward embarrassment. “Bringing you in here, I’m just going to make you worse-”
“Hey, whoa,” Bucky says suddenly. Clint hears footsteps and then Bucky is right there in front of him. “You get nightmares too, who cares. Nice to know I’m not the only fucked up one in this tower."
Clint huffs out a laugh, pushing his fingers up over his sweaty forehead and into his hairline. He jerks back slightly as Bucky raises a hand; Bucky just raises an eyebrow and keeps his hand – thankfully not the one holding the gun – very still. Clint pulls a face that he hopes conveys ‘I’m a twitchy mess, I’m sorry’ and then nods. Bucky simply reaches out and simply runs his thumb along Clint’s cheekbone.
“Upset?” he asks, and Clint realizes that there must have been tear tracks on his face. Aw, come on dignity, he thinks forlornly. There must be a little left somewhere, right?
“No,” he lies. “Can’t even remember what I was dreaming about.”
Bucky stares at him.
“Okay, it’s the same shit I always have bad dreams about. I don’t wanna talk about it.”
“Alright,” Bucky says simply. He turns the gun over in his hands, looking down at it for a moment. “Hey. Do you wanna go shoot stuff in the gym? Get your bow, teach me some more, maybe?”
“So you didn’t go on the mission to Illinois.”
“No, I didn’t,” Clint says to the windowpane, eyes tracking one of the droplets of water that lazily meanders its way towards the bottom. Everything is gloomy and grey outside today and he doesn’t like it. “You know I’m not cleared for duty.”
“I also suspect that if you were inclined to go, that wouldn’t matter one bit,” Beckett says. She’s in navy blue today, fingernails painted a bright orange that Clint needs Natasha to tell him if it works or not. She reliably informs him that he has terrible taste, and he believes her.
Clint shrugs, stilted and tight. “Didn’t want to go.”
“Nope,” he says, popping the P. He thinks about Bucky asking him why he wasn’t going, thinks about the strange look Tony had given him when he’d rebuffed the question.
“So the team went without you.”
Clint rolls his eyes, because he’s an idiot but he’s not a total idiot and he knows what she’s trying to do here. “Yes, the team went without me. And don’t ask me how that makes me feel. That’s so cliché.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
Clint turns away from the bleak view to scowl at Beckett, who just shrugs. “It’s my job, Clint. I have to poke at all the things you’d rather run away from.”
“I do not run away,” Clint replies indignantly.
Beckett leans forwards and picks up her pen. “Subject still in denial about his state of denial.”
“I am not in denial,” Clint says, and turns back to the window. “There’s just stuff I don’t want to talk about.”
Beckett doesn’t reply, and Clint huffs, frustrated. He flicks his fingernails against the glass, soft taps of sound. “If I’ve decided I don’t want to talk about it, that’s a choice, right?”
“You’re missing the point,” Beckett says. “I would wholeheartedly agree that you don’t need to talk about what you’re feeling if you were capable of processing it and coming to terms with it alone. At the minute, you’re not.”
“A lot of survivors of trauma feel a lot of things they don’t understand, Clint. It helps you to talk through things to get you to understand. When you’re saying you don’t want to talk about it, you’re really saying you don’t want to deal with it. That’s different.”
Clint sighs, slumps forwards and presses his forehead against the window.
“Is that what I am, a survivor?”
“You tell me.”
Clint shrugs. He doesn’t know what he is. He rolls his brow against the cool window and then pushes back, circling the room and looking at the pictures on the walls for the thousandth time before his feet take him back to the armchair he normally sits in. He falls into it, knocking a cushion to the floor. He shrugs, listening to the sound of the rain.
“Bucky moved in.”
He says it without thinking about it. Rubs at his brow as he realizes that yes, he did say that out loud, and now he’s probably expected to talk about it. “Moved in with me. Well, he’s got a bed set up in the lounge in my quarters.”
“When was this?”
“A week ago,” Clint says, and he bends over to retrieve the cushion that sits by his feet. “Steve went on mission and left him with me.”
“So you moved him in? Or he moved himself in? Or was it Steve’s idea?”
“Well, I invited him to move in before the mission. Steve was pretty pissy about it. Upset, I think. But Steve wasn’t sleeping, and he and Tony were still on the rocks so, yeah. I asked him if he wanted to come bunk with me for a bit and he said yeah."
Beckett seems to consider that for a moment, and then looks up at Clint, meeting his eyes. “Do you see Bucky as your mission?”
The question is very direct and Clint is utterly taken aback by it. “No,” he says, and then more determined, “No, he’s not a mission. I mean, Nat and Fury asked me to help out like it was a mission, but it’s not. He’s my friend.”
Beckett just watches him placidly, waiting for more.
“I like him,” Clint admits. “I really like him. He gets me. Having him around makes me feel safe.”
“That’s good,” she says gently. “You’re allowed to like things, Clint. And you deserve to feel safe.”
Clint pulls a face, wraps his arms around the cushion, holding it to his chest. “He’s messed up, like me,” he says. “But he doesn’t make me feel like that’s a bad thing. I dunno. It is a bad thing, having your brain fucked with is definitely a bad thing. But he just…knows that. Doesn’t try and make me feel better about it.”
“He accepts it?”
“Yeah,” Clint says, and runs his hand over the cushion. “It helps.”
Beckett smiles quietly at him. “I’m glad.”
Clint’s life really is strange. He tends to lose perspective of that sometimes, until he’s doing something like jumping from a helicopter alongside a man wearing a Kevlar version of the American flag, or when he’s filling in paperwork and listing Stark Tower as his place of residence, or when he’s catching a lift down the wreckage of Park Avenue sitting on the shoulder of an enormous green rage monster.
Or when he’s up at four AM and sharing a bowl of Cheerios with an amnesiac assassin and prodding at said assassin’s metal hand with his fingers.
“So can you feel this?” Clint asks curiously, pressing his thumbs down on the tip of Bucky’s forefinger. His hand lays palm up on the table between them, next to the chipped Iron Man bowl they’re eating out of.
Bucky shovels a spoonful of cereal into his mouth, looks down at where Clint is poking him. “Pressure,” he says through his mouthful. “My brain knows you’re touching it, but it don’t feel much like I’m being touched.”
He shrugs his right shoulder as the explanation tails off; Clint sees the muscles shift under the thin t-shirt Bucky is wearing. It’s one of Steve’s, an ironic ‘I heart New York’ shirt that Steve wears unironically and unashamedly. A gift from Tony, Clint seems to remember, but he’s not about to say that out loud in front of Bucky. Wondering if Tony knows that Bucky has been raiding Steve’s wardrobe, Clint hitches the blanket he’s wearing like a hood further up over his head. He’s only wearing that and a pair of sweats, and he can feel the chill of the air con on the skin of his face, chest and feet. He’d feel under-dressed but Bucky is only wearing his boxers, his socks and the stolen t-shirt, so really Clint is the less ridiculous of the pair of them.
“It moves as well as your real hand,” he says, and Bucky lifts it, flexes his fingers absently, staring down at the metal that’s shining dully in the light.
“Yeah, until it doesn’t,” he says deprecatingly. “When Stevie bought me here, he said there was someone who’d be able to do maintenance on it. Fix it up if anything went wrong.”
“Well he wasn’t lying,” Clint says. “You trust Tony to touch it?”
Bucky shrugs. “Steve trusts him,” he says, but Clint hears the unspoken ‘but I’m not sure I do,’ that’s obvious in the hitch of his shoulder, the twist of his mouth.
“I trust him to make my ears,” Clint says, reaching up and tapping the hearing aids. He's still wearing the BTE's; Bucky has admitted that he finds it easier when he knows if Clint can hear or not, and the in-ear hearing aids are all but impossible to spot. It's a small concession to make, so Clint doesn't mind.
Bucky’s eyebrows go up slightly. “Yeah,” he says slowly, like he’d not thought of that. “Yeah, I guess. But they’re not attached to you. I’d have to be there in person."
“So not so much that you don’t trust him, more that you don’t want to hang out with him?"
Bucky’s mouth turns down. “We’re not exactly pals.”
He reaches out to take the spoon from Clint. Clint shoves over the bowl and he takes it without question, curling his real hand around it. Listening to the forgotten murmur of the TV in the background, Clint watches him for a moment, taking in the way the plates shift and separate as his joints move, the darker gaps between the shining metal.
“What’s it even made out of?”
Bucky shrugs. “Beats me,” he says. “I just know it’s bulletproof and waterproof and that’s all I care about.”
Clint snorts with laughter. “It’s pretty neat.”
Bucky stares down at the bowl of cereal. “You’re the only one who thinks so,” he says. “Steve hates it.”
“Yeah, he probably does,” Clint says ruefully. “It is a big shiny reminder of the fact you got hurt, that you’ve been through shit. Gonna take him a while to get through that.”
Bucky nods. “You ever think Steve should be in therapy?”
“Oh god yes,” Clint says fervently. “And Tony and Bruce and Nat and probably everyone.”
Bucky pulls a face at that. “So you have to be fuckin’ mind controlled to get a ticket into therapy these days?”
“Apparently,” Clint shrugs. “Hey, you gonna teach me more knife throwing tricks today?"
Sighing, Bucky apparently lets go of the whole ‘being forced into therapy’ issue and nods. “Yeah, if you want,” he says. “Rather go outside though.”
“What, on the roof?”
“No, outside,” Bucky says. “I wanna go see what Brooklyn is like. If it’s how I remember it.”
He trails off, pushing the spoon around the bowl and suddenly looking very small and sad. Clint watches him, feeling pity mingled with something else. It feels like regret, but that doesn’t make much sense.
“You’re not allowed out, right?
Bucky shakes his head. “No,” he says. “I’m not allowed to leave the tower, I’m not allowed any form of electronic communication, not allowed weapons. Shit like that.”
“How the hell can they police that?” Clint asks incredulously.
“They can’t. Which is why the WSC want me back in SHIELD custody. There’s a hearing or something. I dunno.”
“What, they’re gonna take you away again?” Clint asks. “Hell no.”
Bucky just shrugs again, smiling bitterly. “It’s Steve versus SHIELD versus the WSC,” he says. “I ain’t getting a say in it.”
“You’re not being locked up,” Clint says. “You haven’t done anything- Well, you have. But you were brainwashed, that doesn’t count-”
“Could say the same to you,” Bucky says with a crooked grin, and Clint pauses mid-rant.
“Oh shut up. You sound like my therapist.”
Bucky grins at him. “I’m up shit creek,” he says matter-of-factly. “Fuck all I can do about it. Just gotta have faith in Steve getting me out of this mess. Not betting much on it, but still. I guess the least I owe him is to hope.”
“What will you do if he does get you out of this mess?”
Bucky shrugs. “I dunno. Follow him around and watch his six for the rest of his dumb life? I got the skills, might as well use ‘em.”
Clint laughs at that. He looks at Bucky who pulls a face at him and Clint grins, reaching up again to pull the blanket up over his head.
“What about you?”
“What about what about me?”
“You gonna get your name cleared? Steve says you’re still under consideration too.”
Clint looks away, uncomfortable. He resists the urge to grab the edge of the blanket and pull it down over his face. He knows he’s still under consideration, but the thought of actively getting himself considered is something…well, he’s never thought about it.
“Was just waiting it out,” he mumbles. “They’ll make up their mind.”
“If I deserve to be cleared so do you,” Bucky says slowly, brow furrowed.
“Yeah, yeah,” Clint says, flapping his hand at him. “I know.”
Bucky stops talking but eyes him suspiciously. Clint studiously looks away from him, not liking how knowing and understanding the gaze is.
“And why are you two awake at four AM?”
A voice rings out across the room and Bucky jumps a mile, whipping around and grabbing the nearest thing he can use as a weapon, which just so happens to be the spoon. Clint also feels his heart slam up into the base of his throat and shoves back off his chair, sending it crashing to the ground as he stoops down to grab his bow. He straightens up with an arrow nocked and drawn before he even processes who it is standing there in front of the elevator.
“God damn it, Steve!”
Bucky is the first to recover. He scowls and throws the spoon back onto the counter with a clatter, and then is striding over towards Steve, who is looking tired but okay, still fully in uniform with his helmet in hand. The suit looks dirty but Clint can’t see any blood or tears, which means maybe Steve managed a mission without actually getting shot. Huh, miracles do happen
“Yeah, what he said,” Clint echoes, heart still pounding. “I think my heart just gave out.”
“You’re fine,” Steve says as Bucky reaches him, stepping forward and pulling him into a rough hug, his helmet knocking against Bucky’s shoulder blade. His eyes close for a moment and Clint spots the way his brow furrows, the flicker of emotion that plays over his face. He exhales heavily and then his eyes blink open, expression clearing. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to catch you off guard.”
“Yeah well, you’re an asshole,” Bucky says, pulling back and grasping hold of Steve’s shoulder with his metal hand. Steve flinches slightly and Bucky immediately lets him go. “Are you okay?” he asks, other hand patting at Steve’s chest, eyes tracking over him restlessly. He looks concerned, as well as apologetic about the hand. Desperate to know Steve is okay.
Steve smiles faintly, pats Bucky’s shoulder and eases him back. “I’m okay, Buck,” he says warmly. “Take it easy, no injuries.”
Bucky steps back, though his eyes don’t stop darting over Steve’s figure. “Are you sure?”
Steve cocks a quizzical eyebrow. “Buck, where are your pants?”
Bucky ignores the question “Are you sure?” he repeats, insistent.
“Yes, I’m sure. The mission went fine, just crowd control really,” Steve says and looks up at Clint, taking in his similar state of attire. “Why are you both up at 4am wearing not a lot?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Bucky says. Steve takes a step and Bucky automatically turns with him. They walk over to the counter; Bucky strides around the side of the counter to pour a cup of coffee, which he presses into Steve's hands. He takes it gratefully, leaning back against the counter as Bucky slides back onto his stool next to Clint.
“So, not sleeping?” he asks, sipping at his coffee. “Have you been okay?”
Bucky nods. “Peachy. Just worried about your punk ass. What even was the mission?”
“Just picking up AIM stragglers,” Steve says. “Seriously, have you been alright?”
“Yes, I told you I’m fine, you’re the one that’s been off fightin’”
“I’m always off fighting, it’s no big deal. You’re the one we’re meant to be looking after, and I left you here-"
“Oh god, you two are ridiculous,” Clint breaks in, exasperated. “Steve, we’ve been fine. Coupla sleepless nights but that’s it. Buck, he’s clearly alright. Chill."
Bucky and Steve both look at Clint, then at each other, and then back at Clint. “Alright,” Steve laughs, the first to concede. “I was just worried. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Don’t need to worry about me,” Bucky says, and jerks a metal thumb towards Clint. “Clint had my back the whole time.”
“Knew he would,” Steve says simply and Clint feels a twist of embarrassment, the back of his neck going too hot. He’s never quite sure how to take compliments from Captain America, especially when he’s pretty sure he’s not earned them.
“Gonna start up a assassin day care center,” he says. “Thousand bucks a day."
Steve’s brows shoot up and he looks mildly affronted at what is admitted a rather poorly pitched joke, but Bucky just cackles with delighted laughter. “I’ll pay you in Cheerios,” he grins, and Steve’s put out expression fades away into something less defensive, more uncertain.
There’s a moment of silence as Steve drinks his coffee. He's wearing his telltale 'I'm gonna say something even if it kills me' look. Clint and Bucky glance at each other and then away; Bucky obviously recognizes the expression too.
Finally, Steve speaks, trying to sound casual and unconcerned. “So, you staying with Clint then?”
Ah. So there it is. Clint busies himself fiddling with the end of his bow as Bucky looks down at the table. He nods. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “It’s working out pretty well.”
Steve looks down at the cup of coffee in his hands and Clint internally winces because aw, he doesn’t want to steal Captain America’s best friend and make him cry. That wasn't his intention at all.
Luckily, Jarvis chooses that exact moment to pipe up.
“Captain Rogers, Sir is asking for your assistance in removing his suit. He is having trouble with-”
“The bent plate, yeah I got it,” Steve says, and heaves out a breath and straightens up. He looks from Bucky to Clint and then he smiles. It’s quiet and fleeting but honest, and Clint is both relieved and grateful to see it. “You two good if I go?”
“Yes,” Bucky and Clint say in tandem. Steve nods and then heads to the elevator without any more hesitation and without looking back.
Bucky watches him go, looking tense. He runs a hand over his short hair. “You think he’s upset?”
“A bit. Tony’ll look after him,” Clint says absently. “He’s just worried about you. Wants to looks after you."
Still rubbing his palm over his hair, Bucky slowly nods and then seems to take himself by surprise with a massive yawn. “Fuck me, I’m tired,” he says. “Can we go back to bed?”
Clint isn’t sure he can sleep, but he’s not convinced it’ll be impossible either. He fights down a yawn of his own and nods.
“My place or yours?”
Bucky grins wickedly at him. “Jeez, buy me dinner first.”
“I shared my Cheerios,” Clint points out, collecting up his bow and slipping it over his shoulders, rearranging his blanket as he does.
“What kinda guy do you take me for,” Bucky asks with a snort. “I aint putting out for a bowl of Cheerios, no Sir.”
“I’ll make pancakes when we wake up again? Hawkeye special?”
Bucky nods. “Now you’re talking,” he says, and sidles up to Clint, slipping his arm through the crook of Clint’s elbow. “Your place it is then, pretty boy.”
Clint laughs, shaking his head as they start to walk towards the elevator. “Come on then Terminator. Let’s plug you in, get you recharged.”
Clint is woken by something hard being rapped painfully against his forehead. Arms flailing, he sits up in shock, looking around wildly to find out what it is-
It’s Bucky. Standing there in his goddamn underwear and waving Clint’s phone in front of his face. “Your phone,” he mouths with a glare. “Keeps ringing.”
“Fuck you, you fucking scared me to death, you fucking terminator,” Clint says in a rush of breath, flopping back onto the bed, bouncing slightly on the mattress. He hears the deep rumble of Bucky saying something, but since he’s not got his hearing aids in he has no clue what it is.
Bucky reaches out and pulls on Clint’s ear, hard. Clint knocks him away, sitting up and scowling at him. “Jeez, what’s your problem this morning?”
“Answer your fucking phone,” Bucky snaps, and tosses it onto the bed. “It keeps buzzing and it’s driving me fucking crazy.”
Clint doesn’t snap back; Bucky is looking incredibly edgy and even though he’s better than ever, Clint knows there are still moments where he finds it hard. And there are moment where he finds it really hard. And in the moments where Bucky is finding things really, really hard Clint promptly thinks ‘what the hell am I doing I am not cut out for this I need Steve oh fuck I’m giving him back to Steve.’
He never does though. Bucky is still sleeping on the floor in Clint’s apartment and they’re spending a hell of a lot of time together. Sure, Bucky goes off alone every now and again, and still spends hours at a time with Steve, but it’s not like he is glued to Steve’s side anymore.
Clint isn’t entirely sure that Steve is at the point of being grateful yet. But he’s at the point where he longer looks like he’s about to fall down where he’s standing, and he’s actually sleeping back in the penthouse with Tony, so that’s a thing.
Tony is definitely grateful. Clint deduces as much from the weird conversation they have one morning, in which Tony says maybe Clint doesn’t belong in lock up, and that he’s making him a new set of zipline arrows which will ‘be able to carry Thor after eating a full Thor-sized Thanksgiving dinner.’
It wasn’t Tony being grateful that made Clint feel all small and bent out of shape, a horrid lump in his throat. He thinks it was probably the fact that Tony was making him equipment, which immediately had him thinking about how it’ll be useful in a mission, and then he remembered that he doesn’t do missions anymore.
At his hip, the phone starts buzzing again. Bucky swears and stalks away, slamming the door behind him. Clint flinches and then picks up his hearing aids, slipping them in and answering the phone.
“Barton. It’s Fury.”
Clint barely suppresses the groan. “Good morning.”
“I hate to break it to you Barton, but it’s one twenty-three in the afternoon.”
“Afternoon then,” Clint grumbles.
“I’ve been trying to reach you all morning.”
“You know? Then why didn’t you answer the goddamn call?”
“I didn’t know it was ringing, Bucky brought it in and told me it’d been ringing,” Clint says acerbically. “I’m not an Avenger, or an active agent. I don’t have to have any emergency communication on me - I’m free to ignore my phone as much as I damn well want.”
There’s a long pause. “Well you got out of bed on the wrong side,” Fury finally says breezily, his casual tone just making Clint more irritable.
“I’m not out of bed so suck it,” Clint mutters. “What do you want?”
“I want you to come in for a debrief,” Fury says. “Keep me up to date on your mission.”
“It is not a mission,” Clint says automatically.
“Well then how about a catch up between friends?”
“I have a new best friend now. He’s a terminator and he lives on the floor of my apartment and steals my cereal. We have pillow fights in our underwear and braid each others hair while talking about our woes.”
“He lives where?”
“In my apartment with me.”
“Well, I am impressed,” Fury says, and he actually sounds it. “You moved him in with you? How did you manage that? Wait - you haven’t slept with him, have you? Because that’s really gonna mess up my paperwork.”
Clint gapes, sputtering indignantly. “What is it with you SHIELD type people and making insinuations about my sexuality? Stop it.”
“Is that a lack of denial I hear, Agent Barton?”
“I am not sleeping with him!” Clint shouts down the phone, and then freezes because oh hell he doesn't know where Bucky is and he hopes to hell he didn’t just hear him shout that. “I am not sleeping with him, are you crazy?” Clint hisses into the phone.
“Well excuse me,” Fury says. “You were the one who moved him in. And I seem to remember you having a thing for maladaptive dangerous types.”
“You’re trying to push my buttons,” Clint says. “I don’t know why, but stop it.”
“Would I ever do such a thing?” Fury asks, the innocent act not fooling Clint in the slightest. “I thought we were just having a friendly chat here.”
“I did what you asked. I got him away from Steve a bit. Job done,” Clint says.
“I may need to extend that favor,” Fury says, and Clint groans, throwing an arm up over his eyes.
“No, no, no, no, no.”
“All I need,” Fury says over him. “Is for you to keep close to Barnes now you’ve got him on side, and keep him out of trouble. The WSC are still trying to have him re-arrested and I need him to keep his nose clean until I can convince them to leave him alone.”
That gets Clint’s attention. He moves his arm, blinks up at the ceiling. “Wait, what? last time you were here you were trying to get Steve to hand him back over.”
“I’ve reconsidered,” Fury says. “I arrest Barnes, then I lose the trust of Captain America, and I then lose the Avengers. I’m not about to risk that.”
“So, nothing on the fact that Bucky doesn't deserve to be arrested at all?”
“Whether he does or doesn't, I leave to you,” Fury says. “Whether it’s strategic or not, that’s my game.”
Clint loses his patience. “He is my friend, will you stop treating him like a damn chess piece?” he snaps into the phone, and then he hangs up and throws it across the room. Cursing under his breath, his throws his arm back over his eyes, wishing that Fury would just back off.
He jerks his head up off the pillow; Bucky is standing in the now open doorway, temple resting against the frame and expression quiet. He looks tired rather than angry now, mouth turned down and eyes troubled.
“Did you hear that?” Clint asks with a grimace, sitting up and scratching his shoulder, hunching forwards over his knees.
Bucky pushes away from the doorframe and strides over. To Clint’s shock, Bucky climbs onto the bed and tucks himself against Clint, slipping his hands under Clint’s arms. His hands - one warm and one cold - settle on Clint’s back, on his shoulder blades. Startled and unprepared for the sudden slump of weight against him, Clint rocks slightly to regain his balance and then wraps his arms back around Bucky, returning the hug.
Clint guesses he heard it.
“Thank you,” Bucky says quietly, face pressed into Clint’s shoulder.
Clint huffs out an almost laugh. “Don’t mention it,” he says, and then pauses. “But without wanting to sound like an idiot...what are you saying thank you for?”
“Bein’ a friend,” Bucky says. “Not treatin’ me like a problem. Or a mission. And you are an idiot.”
And this time the lump in his throat isn’t from the worry-guilt-panic-uncertainty he feels whenever he thinks about not being an Avenger. It’s from something else.
“You got it,” Clint says thickly, voice low. He clears his throat. “You still want pancakes?”
“Hell yes,” Bucky says, but he makes no attempt to move. “Hey, what was the deal? If you make me pancakes I have to put out, right?”
Clint laughs quietly. “I’ll leave that entirely up to you, Robocop.”
“Back the fuck off, get out of here!”
“You fuck off!”
“I mean it pal, get out of my space-”
Laughing, Clint backs up towards Bucky, reaching out to shove him backwards, doing his damnest to keep the ball away from him. Bucky lunges for it but Clint is just quick enough to keep it away from him, sneakers squeaking on the floor of the gym.
“You little shit,” Bucky says, but Clint can hear the grin in his voice so he knows he’s not in any real danger.
“A little shit who is-” Clint dances back out of range of elbows and knees and one-handedly hurls the ball back over his head; it flies across the gym and sinks through the hoop. “- eight points ahead of you.”
“You’re just showing off now,” Bucky says, jogging over to get the ball. He picks it up and tosses it from hand to hand, attempts to spin it on the end of a metal finger. It slips off and he catches it with a scowl, before tossing it back over to Clint. Clint snatches it out of the air, spins around on one foot and throws the ball up under his leg with a “hup”. It sails neatly across the gym and drops straight through the hoop.
Bucky catches it in both hands as it drops through the hoop and stares at him. “Are you fucking kidding me.”
Clint grins at him. “Jealous.”
Bucky throws the ball back. “Do that again.”
Laughing, Clint does. Bucky catches the ball again and then starts to laugh himself. “Remind me never to play horse against you. That is twisted.”
“So is your outdated lingo,” Clint says and jogs over. Bucky starts dribbling the ball away from him, a glint in his eyes. Clint darts towards him but Bucky simply twists away, shoving Clint back with his metal hand.
“Playing dirty, huh?” Clint grins and he’s lunging for the ball and trying to snatch it away. It’s all elbows and knees, shoving and jostling and dirty attempts at tripping, and Clint can’t remember the last time he had so much fun. Maybe when he and Bucky were throwing knives at pictures of Loki, but that was fun in a kind of grim way.
“Aha!” he crows as he manages to snatch the ball away from Bucky, twisting around and throwing it towards the hoop before Bucky can steal it back. As he does, a metal hand snags the back of his shirt, pulling him around and sending him sprawling to the floor; he ends up on his back, skidding over with his feet in the air but it doesn’t matter because the ball has gone through the hoop anyway.
“You fucking shit,” Bucky says again, but he’s laughing, reaching down to grasp hold of Clint’s hand. Clint takes his hand and lets Bucky haul him up; the strength is staggering, and Clint ends up tripping forwards and into him.
“Whoa, easy,” he says, patting Bucky’s shoulder with one hand and using the other to check his hearing aids haven’t been knocked loose by his tumble. Damn BTE’s; he’s always thinking they’re going to fall off even though they never do. “Watch the strength there, bro.”
“Gotta get one up on you somehow,” Bucky says, letting him go with a friendly shove and then pushing his fingers through his hair. It’s getting longer now; no longer the brutally short buzzcut but something that seems to be fond of sticking up all over the place. Another few weeks and it’ll be at the sort of effortlessly tousled bed-head-slash-sex-hair that hipsters would kill for. “You’re a quick little bastard.”
“You’re just slow, old man.”
Bucky’s eyebrows fly up in affront, and he aims a swat at the back of Clint’s head which he dodges, cackling with laughter at how put-out Bucky looks. Looking determined, Bucky leans in again and Clint catches hold of his metal wrist, forcing his hand away; Bucky retaliates by wrapping an arm around his middle and trying to tip him over. Both of them stagger slightly as Clint throws his weight in the opposite direction-
“Not trying to out score Clint, are you?” a voice calls out, and he’s saved from Bucky’s attempts to smack his brain out of alignment by Steve and Tony walking into the gym side by side. Bucky promptly lets him go with another shove and abruptly turns on his heel; for a moment Clint think’s he’s going to bail but he simply goes to collect the ball. Clint salutes Steve as he walks over, earning himself an exasperated smile.
“He’s trying and failing,” Clint says.
“Fuck you,” Bucky replies easily. Tony’s brows lift but he doesn’t say anything, just slips his hands into his pockets and looks casually around the room. Bucky walks up, slowly and deliberately bouncing the ball with each step, eyes darting to Tony in a very telling way. Steve holds his hands out and Bucky throws it over before coming to a halt next to Clint, resting his metal elbow on Clint’s shoulder. He doesn’t put any weight onto him though, so it’s obviously for show or to prove a point or something.
Clint doesn’t speak fluent assassin, so he’s got no idea what it could be.
“You wanna play?” Bucky asks Steve, and then pauses. “Two on two?”
Tony snorts, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “You have clearly yet to learn to never play against Barton in sports that require accuracy.”
“Not about to ask the man to play darts,” Bucky replies, and Tony concedes with a tip of his head. It’s not friendly; it’s possibly what Clint would call neutral but that’s probably cause for a damn parade in itself. He can just imagine the headlines; ‘Winter Soldier and Iron Man converse without attempted murder; Captain America incapacitated by pure joy.’ Smothering a grin of his own, he glances at Steve; his smile is one of gratitude and relief as he looks between Bucky and Tony. Tony is looking down at his phone, and Bucky is looking studiously at the floor, obviously trying to pretend that he’s not breaking his neck trying to be nice to Tony.
“So, you up for it?” Clint says. “I’ll play against all of you.”
“Like fuck you will,” Bucky says. “Your scrawny ass against two super soldiers and Iron Man? You’d get flattened.”
Steve laughs, but he’s shaking his head. “Can’t,” he says, looking genuinely disappointed. “Off to a meeting with someone from the WSC about your case.”
Bucky sighs, arm slipping off of Clint’s shoulder. “Again?”
Steve nods, apologetic. “Did you do your evaluation?”
Bucky jerks his chin in affirmation. “Shrink sent it already,” he says offhandedly, and reaches out to take the ball back. He turns his back on Steve and Tony, bouncing the ball harder than strictly necessary.
Steve sighs, and then looks up at Clint, a wordless request for help. Slightly taken aback that Steve is even asking, Clint replies with a quick jerk to his head. With the affirmation, Steve’s eyes follow Bucky for a moment longer, but then he lifts his chin and turns towards Tony. “Good to go?”
Tony turns his face towards Steve, though his eyes are on fixed his phone. “Yeah, I just have to-”
“Wait, you’re both going?” Clint asks, somewhat taken aback.
“No, I’m going into SHIELD for my regular four minutes of consultant work,” Tony says. “I’m not part of Barnes’ case.”
“Gotcha,” Clint says, somewhat relieved to hear that Tony is keeping out of it. “Alright then, see you later.”
Steve and Tony leave, side by side. As they step out of the gym, Steve turns to say something to Tony and Tony smooths his palms over Steve’s shoulders, fingers curling in his jacket before pulling him in a for a gentle kiss. Steve nods and then they’re continuing on their way out, Steve’s hand tucked in the small of Tony’s back.
“Come on, lost your nerve?”
Clint slowly wheels around to face Bucky, who is staring at him intently, chin dipped, eyes dark.There’s something off in his stance, a tension across his shoulders. It’s not quite a challenge, but it’s close.
Clint debates calling Steve back, but Steve needs to go and deal with the WSC case. And besides, he trusts Bucky not to hurt him, even if he is looking about a seven on the murder-eyes scale.
He walks up to Bucky, who lifts the ball up over his head, smirking at him. The murder-eyes dial down to a regular four, so Clint just raises his eyebrows and steps even closer so they’re almost nose to nose. “Not a chance,” he says. Bucky’s smirk grows bolder and he straightens his arms again so the ball is behind Clint’s head, his arms either side of his face.
“Of you?” Clint replies. “Nah.”
Bucky leans right in so the tip of his nose brushes Clint’s. “Yeah?”
Clint starts to laugh. “Yeah. Now throw the ball, Barnes.”
Bucky’s eyes flicker over his face, and then he pulls away slightly. “Whatever you say, Barton.”
He lifts his arms away and twists around, throwing the ball towards the hoop. Clint dives after him and the game starts up anew. It’s more intense this time around - less scrappy, but Bucky seems to suddenly have lost any lingering reservations about personal space and is much more hands on. They’re talking less too; the only sound is their harsh breathing and the squeak of their shoes, the occasional grunt and the rattle of the backboard.
“I give,” Clint finally says after his thirty-eighth basket, sinking to the floor, panting. “I’m done.”
He hears the backboard rattle and the swish of the net, and then the ball thudding away across the floor. He throws his arm up over his eyes and tries to catch his breath, chest heaving and shirt sticking to his back with sweat.
“Just gettin’ started,” Bucky says, but he sounds breathless. Clint feels a foot nudge his hip, and then lifts his arms away from his face to see Bucky standing over him, a foot either side of him, ankles pressing into his hips. He reaches down and closes his fingers around Bucky’s ankles, thumbs rubbing at the skin above his socks.
“I dunno, I lost count,” Clint says, closing his eyes again. Bucky shifts on his feet and Clint takes that as a cue to let go of his ankles, letting his arms flop out. “Oh man, I’m dying. I’m not a super soldier.”
“Need to work on your stamina,” Bucky says, and Clint cracks an eye open to see the grin back on Bucky’s face.
“My stamina is fine.”
“Is it now?” Bucky smirks at him, and Clint feels a flush warm his cheeks at the innuendo.
“Is the Terminator allowed to make sex jokes?”
Bucky rolls his eyes, stepping over Clint and dropping to the floor, kicking his legs out and leaning back on his elbows. “Hey, you’re the one assuming that was a sex joke,” he drawls. “You know, Steve about choked when I mentioned sex the other day.”
“Says he wasn’t expecting it,” Bucky says, scratching at his bellybutton. “I dunno. I’m allowed to make jokes, right? Shrink says so. And he says that winding Steve up is actually a good thing. Finding my sense of humor.”
“Sure Steve loves that.”
Bucky snorts. “I gotta do three things I want to do this week,” he says. “Things that Steve didn’t suggest. I dunno, something about agency.”
“Ohh yeah, that speech,” Clint says. “Had that. Find yourself. Trust your own desires. Exercise agency and make a choice of your own, and trust that choice.”
“Did it work for you?”
“Nah, turns out it’s hard to teach me the lesson about agency when I don’t give a shit about how things turn out,” Clint says. “Hey, Clint, make your own choices. Nah, I’d rather not thanks.”
Bucky smiles, a fleeting hitch to the corner of his mouth. “You do give a shit about things.”
Clint shrugs. “Getting there.”
Bucky twists around so he’s lying next to Clint, both of them staring at the ceiling. The air-con is cold on his sweaty skin, and he can feel his pulse slowly returning to resting rate, his breathing evening out. It’s kinda nice really, having the company. Someone standing at his side who understands what it’s all like. Well, lying at his side, but whatever.
“I want to go out.”
Bucky’s quiet voice breaks the companionable silence between them. Clint turns his head so he can look at him, careful not to knock his hearing aid on the hard floor. “You’re not allowed, right?”
“You’re not allowed a crossbow,” Bucky replies, still absently rubbing at the skin just below his belly button. “I want to see what I remember, what it’s like. And this is something that Steve definitely didn’t suggest.”
“Steve might have a heart attack,” Clint says. “But seriously. You could get in real shit for that.”
“I’m in real shit anyway,” Bucky says to the ceiling. “I won’t stab anything. Come on.”
“Come on?” Clint says. “Wait, how am I involved with this?”
Bucky rolls his head to the side. “You’re not gonna let me go alone, are you?”
Clint sighs. “You know that Nick Fury has asked me to keep you out of trouble? While he and Steve get you out of trouble with the WSC?”
Bucky nods. “Yeah, I heard you on the phone,” he says, and rolls onto his side so he’s propped up on an elbow. He reaches out, presses his metal hand to the center of Clint’s chest. “C’mon, Clint,” he wheedles. “Be a pal. Come on. For your new best buddy, come on.”
“Oh god, I liked you better when you were scowling,” Clint says, mouth twitching.
“Please,” Bucky says, and he rolls over even further so he’s almost back on his front, but half draped over Clint. He props his chin on Clint’s chest and looks up at him through beseeching eyes. “I’ll let you buy me a beer.”
Lifting an eyebrow, he tries to replicate Bucky’s unimpressed stare, but Bucky just meets his eyes belligerently and then starts to laugh. Clint’s own laughter bubbles free from his chest, and Bucky ducks his head so his face is hidden in Clint’s chest.
Okay, this is weird. He’s lying on the floor of the gym with the goddamn Winter Soldier lying over him like some sort of human blanket, begging him to go out for a beer.
And if Bucky’s behavior is a nine on the strange scale, he’s definitely a ten. He’s letting a person that he’s only known a few weeks - and who possesses superhuman strength- practically pin him to the floor, a metal hand on his chest nonetheless.
And he doesn’t mind.
Actually, if anything, there’s a small hesitant part of him that feels almost proud. Look, it says. You helped get Bucky here. He’s better and better everyday and that’s on you. He’s not sure if it’s his own voice or Beckett’s, but he does know that this is nothing like a mission. This feels good.
Bucky drums his fingers against his chest. “You buy me a beer and I’ll put out.”
“You were putting out for pancakes the other day.”
Bucky grins at him, eyes bright and wicked. There’s still something dark and murdery lurking there, and Clint’s willing to bet there always will be. But it’s less, now. Something that Bucky can maybe live with.
“I’ll put out for a lot of things. You’re just shit at collecting your dues.”
Clint rolls his eyes. “Get the fuck off then. Let me up and we’ll go.”
Bucky grins and lifts up, back onto his side. Reaches out and claps Clint on the cheek. “Come on then. What you lying around for? We got a city to go and see.”
“I need a drink.”
Bucky stands with his feet apart, arms folded tight across his chest. His expression is like a thundercloud, swirling restless and angry as he stares up at the golden arches in front of them. Clint stands a little way back, huddled down into his jacket against the cold and vehemently hoping that Bucky isn’t about to go Winter Soldier on the McDonald’s that he’s screeched to a halt in front of.
They’ve spent hours wandering around Brooklyn; Bucky had been surprisingly verbose, commenting on their surroundings, telling Clint about the few things he remembers, cursing at taxi-cabs and muttering mutinously every time he sees anyone wearing anything with the word ‘Yankees’ emblazoned on it. Steve does exactly the same, and Clint kinda finds it hilarious how they’ve both taken the uprooting of their beloved Dodgers one hundred percent personally.
Anger at the state of baseball aside, Bucky’s foray into the great wide world of modern day Brooklyn has gone way better than Clint thought he would - no violent fits or mental breakdowns - but he seems to have gotten halfway down Grand and suddenly hit a block. What the McDonald's stood in front of them ever did to offend him, Clint hasn’t a clue.
“A drink?” he asks, folding his arms across his chest and squinting up at the building. Hydra don’t have shares in McDonald’s, right?
“A strong drink,” Bucky says, eyes narrowing slightly. “Vodka.”
“That bad, huh?” Clint says.
“This used to be a theater,” Bucky says slowly, unconsciously turning his face towards Clint so he can see his mouth. “Saturday afternoons. Not the big movies, the famous ones. Just old ones. B reels, that sorta shit. And Steve got beat up down there once,” he says, pointing at the alley that runs down the side of the building. “He was running his mouth, backchatting this guy for being rude to his girl.”
“Sounds like Steve,” Clint muses. “You remember that?”
Bucky nods. “Mostly,” he says. He folds his arms over his chest, looking down unhappily. “Though I don’t always know if I’m rememberin’ right. I’d ask Steve but he gets twitchy about it.”
“Yeah. He’s not exactly what you’d call emotionally flexible.”
Bucky pulls a face. “I need a drink for this conversation. And to deal with this,” he says, jerking his head towards the building.
Clint nods, because Bucky doesn’t look like he’s joking, nor like he’s willing to compromise. And if he’s thinking about Bucky’s wellbeing and the security of having his limbs attached to his body, Clint is not entirely willing to get between that expression and what it wants. “Okay,” he says, holding hands up to pacify. “Okay. Keep your lid on. I think I know a place.”
The bar is a safe haven from the outside world; soft and quiet and warm, polished wooden tables gleaming in the low light. It’s just started to rain outside, and Clint is grateful to be inside. There’s a few people already inside but it’s not crowded which suits their needs just fine. It’s a friendly place, and there used to be a dartboard somewhere at the back. He hopes it’s still there; he’s not above showing off. Especially considering Bucky’s earlier comment about not playing darts with him.
“Afternoon, Hawkeye,” a loud and cheerful voice says from behind the bar. “Long time no see.”
“That’s because I live in Manhattan now,” Clint grins at the barkeep, a familiar face named Thomas. He’s young and bubbly with a handsome face; deep hazel eyes and a carefully maintained scruffy beard and long hair pulled back into a messy bun. It’s the sort of style that Clint really doesn’t get; hours spent making yourself look like you got ready in five minutes. He actually gets ready in five minutes but according to Natasha that’s not a style, that’s him being a lazy ass.
“Bed-Stuy not good enough for you anymore?” Thomas asks with his usual smile.
Clint shakes his head. “Nope, nothing but the high life for me these days.”
“You lived in Bed-Stuy?” Bucky asks from behind him. He’s looking intently around the place, a familiar risk assessment that Clint lets him get on with.
“Still have an apartment there,” Clint says. “Steve doesn’t want me staying there. Reckons I need to be where there’s enough security to keep certain people off my back.”
“Maybe your therapist should tell you to do things that Steve hasn’t told you to do,” Bucky mutters, so quietly that Clint only just catches it.
Clint shrugs. “Tower has unlimited food, a shooting range and free beer,” he says. He doesn’t say that having Jarvis and Steve around helps his nerves marginally, because that would be severe overshare.
“Well beer isn’t free here, I’m afraid,” Thomas says. “What’re you having?”
“Bottle of whatever’s local for me, and a bottle of vodka for him,” Clint says. Thomas lifts his eyebrows and Bucky kicks the back of his leg.
“A whole bottle. What, you want a glass with that or should I just stick a straw in the top? I’m not giving you a whole bottle, Hawkeye.”
“I won’t drink it. It’s this guy,” Clint says, jerking his thumb of Bucky. “He can handle it.”
“You said you could handle your drink last time-”
“He’s an Avenger friend,” Clint says meaningfully. “He can handle it.”
“Oh, okay,” Thomas says, with a curious look at Bucky before he turns towards the back shelves, pulling down a bottle of Russian Standard. “On your head be it.”
Clint takes the drinks and Bucky stalks over to a booth in the corner. Clint only spots the glare when he slides in opposite him.
“‘Avenger friend?’” Bucky scoffs. “What are you, some kind of dumbass?”
“Hey, you wanted the booze. I supplied.”
“I am not an Avenger,” Bucky says. “Don’t start tellin’ people I am. I’m trying to keep a low profile, remember?”
“Alright, I’m sorry,” Clint says, rolling his eyes.
“And you’re the one insisting you’re not on the team any more,” Bucky adds a little cuttingly. “But here you are answerin’ to Hawkeye and name dropping-”
“Come on, what was I supposed to do? Tell the guy who serves me beer my pitiful ‘kicked out of the Avengers’ story? I’d rather just let him call me Hawkeye.”
Chewing at his lip, Bucky just watches him carefully for a moment. He reaches for the bottle of vodka and the glass, cracks the top off and finally looks away as he pours himself a glass. “Did you actually get kicked out of the Avengers?”
“I’m not cleared for duty. So yeah,” Clint says and reaches for his own beer.
“Yeah but why though? You’re pretty compos mentis,” Bucky says slowly.
“Yeah I am now,” Clint says. “Still wouldn’t trust me with a weapon in my hand though. Not out in the field.”
“What, they don’t trust you or you don’t trust you?”
“God, you sound like my therapist. Drink your goddamn vodka,” Clint says. “I thought we were drowning your sorrows today?”
Bucky half-smiles. It’s a sad, rueful downturn of his mouth, but he does deign to shut up and drink his vodka instead. He knocks it back easily, several long swallows before setting the glass down and grimacing slightly, licking his bottom lip.
“I knew it woulda changed,” Bucky says, turning his face towards the front of the bar, the steadily darkening streets that they can see out of the window.“But it’s different when it’s your stuff that’s changing, you know? And you know when you’re trying to remember something and the pieces just won’t sit right…”
He trails off. Clint’s mouth twists. “Sorry,” he says. “It sucks.”
“Yeah it does,” Bucky says, and reaches for the bottle, pouring himself another healthy measure.
“Hey, can you actually get drunk?” Clint asks. “Steve can’t.”
“Sucks to be Steve,” Bucky says. “I can. Takes a lot, but I can.”
“It’d be reckless and irresponsible to let you get drunk,” Clint says, watching Bucky’s throat move as he drains his glass again.
“Yeah, utterly,” Bucky says.
“I’d be doing a shitty job of looking after you.”
“Nah. You’re respecting my agency, ain'tcha?”
“Fury will probably string me up.”
“Yep. Ten out of ten will kick your ass.”
Their eyes meet briefly, and Bucky’s mouth starts to curve into a grin. He pours himself another drink and lifts it, leaning forwards over the table with an elbow on the edge, eyes turning wicked and challenging. It’s a roguish look, still ragged around the edges.
Clint lifts his own bottle and clinks it against Bucky’s glass. “Here’s to being reckless and irresponsible. Just promise me you’ll keep your knife in your boot.”
Bucky’s grin goes wider. “How do you know if I have a knife in my boot?”
“Because I’m not an idiot,” Clint says, and he can’t help but grin back. “Now drink up, Robocop.”
“You have low standards.”
“That’s three bottles. I think Thomas wants to marry you.”
Bucky pulls a face. His eyes are dark and his cheeks are slightly flushed, and his hair is sticking up and rumpled from where he’s been running his hands through it. He’s even gone as far as to take his gloves and jacket off, rolling the long sleeves of the cotton shirt he’s wearing up to his elbows. His metal arm is shining in the glow of the late-night orange lights, and Clint keeps getting distracted by it.
“Not a chance,” Bucky says, too loudly. “You think I’m gonna marry some skinny meatball who looks like he spent ten hours on his hair?”
“Shhhh,” Clint starts to say, laughing. He reaches out as if he can stop Bucky’s ranting by flapping at him. “He’ll hear you, he’ll hear you.”
Bucky grabs his hand, pulls it aside. “I’m gonna marry a good girl and settle down,” he says seriously, fingers tight around Clint’s wrist, chest pressed into the edge of the table, eyes wide and earnest.
“No,” Bucky starts to laugh and lets him go, pushing the hand away and sitting back, slumping into the corner of the booth. “No, I’m really not. Hey, for as shit as the future is, at least I can-”
What Bucky can never materializes, as he’s abruptly cut off by Clint’s phone ringing, happily rattling it’s way over the tabletop, screen lit up. They both look down, and Clint lifts his hands up in a vague gesture of surrender as he reads the words ‘Steve Rogers’ on the screen.
“Oh no,” he says, filled with a sudden sense of foreboding and a hefty smack of guilt. “Bucky, answer it.”
“You answer it,” Bucky replies indignantly, and then grimaces. “Ah, shit. He’ll be mad.”
“He won’t be mad, he’ll be worried! Answer it!”
“You answer it, it’s your fucking phone!”
Clint whines, but does reach down to jab at the phone screen like he’s scared it’ll bite him, answering the call and putting it onto speaker before tentatively speaking.
“Clint, where the hell are you?”
Shit. Steve is mad.
“In my defense, it was Bucky’s idea,” Clint begins.
“Is he with you?” Steve asks, sounding caught between being pissed off and worried.
“Yes, I got him,” Clint says. “He’s fine, we went for a drink, we’re just out in Brooklyn-”
“He’s not allowed to leave the tower!”
“Technically I’m not meant to be in the tower either,” Bucky says lazily, picking his drink up with his metal fingers. “Technically you started this, because you broke me out of containment.”
There’s a long, pregnant pause.
“Buck, are you drunk?”
“No,” Bucky says, even as he sips at his vodka.
“Fucking hell, Bucky-” Steve says despairingly, and it sounds like he’s gearing up for either a bout of Rogers-indignant rage or tears, but then there’s a thud and the sound of another voice, and Steve sounding upset. There’s more noise and commotion, and then another voice comes over the speaker.
Clint and Bucky share a raised eyebrow glance over the top of the phone.
“Tony?” Clint says, perplexed.
“The one and only,” Tony replies. “You’re out in Brooklyn, right? Stay out. Have fun.”
“You not tellin’ me to get back and behave?” Bucky interrupts suddenly, tilting his glass back and forth between his fingers. “No ‘don’t shoot anyone’ pep-talk?”
“You know what’s at risk more than me,” Tony says. “You fuck up, you pay for it. So don’t.”
“Aw, I didn’t know you cared.”
“I care about not being asked to pay bail for you two at the end of the night, because god knows no-one else can afford it,” Tony says with a snort. In the background they hear Steve yell something at Tony, and for a moment Tony’s voice goes distant as he speaks back to Steve, sounding impatient. “Whatever,” he says, voice returning. “Alright. I mean it - have some fun and get back safe. See you later.”
The phone beeps and the screen goes black. Bucky and Clint both stare down at it.
Clint breaks the silence. “Wow. He does care.”
Bucky breathes out heavily through his nose, nostrils flaring. “You know, I actually think he does,” he sighs, reaching for the bottle and upending the last of it into his glass. “Great.”
“Steve sounded pretty upset,” Clint ventures. “You wanna go back?”
Bucky drains his drink, coughs slightly and then sets his glass down with a decisive thud. He looks at Clint, then leans up across the table, taking Clint’s head in his hands and pulling him towards him so they’re almost nose to nose. His thumbs dig into his jaw, his fingers pressing against Clint’s hearing aids.
“I want you,” Bucky says, eyes flicking back and forth between Clint’s. “To get me another drink.”
He pushes Clint back with a grin and Clint stands up, saluting him. “Sir, yes, Sir,” he says.
“Tell the barkeep he’s a fat-head,” Bucky says.
“You want more booze or not?” Clint asks. “Leave the man alone.”
Bucky mutters something that sounds like ‘I’ll leave him alone if he leaves you alone,’ but that doesn’t make sense to Clint because Thomas has been nothing but nice to him. Even gave him a free beer after his fourth, and not one of the shitty mass-produced ones either, one of the limited edition bottles from the local brewery.
“What?” Bucky replies, staring at him belligerently.
“Nothin’,” Clint says. Bucky pulls a face at him and slumps back into the corner of the booth, fingers ticking restlessly against the table. Clint watches him for a moment, and then goes back towards the bar to get their drinks.
“Hawkeye, please, don’t-”
“I’m fine,” Clint says expansively, flapping his hand at Thomas, trying to shoo him and his concerns away.
“Yeah, guy,” Bucky drawls from where he’s lounging back against the dartboard, beer in hand. “He’s fine.”
“If you hit him-”
“I won’t,” Clint says. “I am the founding member of the Super Secret Snipers’ Club. I never miss.” He wheels around to grin at Bucky, staggering slightly as he does. “Tell him I never miss.”
“He never misses,” Bucky says, and he’s talking to Thomas but he’s looking at Clint. “Well, he’s good at missing the point.”
“Har fucking har,” Clint says, and pulls his makeshift blindfold back down over his eyes. It's a tie he'd liberated from a business-type looking guy a while back, navy and expensive feeling. “Stand still.”
Thomas groans, some girls nearby can be heard gasping, a male voice is frantically calling his friend over to watch-
Clint throws the darts, one after the other. He throws all six and then lifts the blindfold to scattered applause to see Bucky still lounging back against the dartboard, six arrows in a perfect halo around his head.
“Boom,” he says, throwing his hands in the air. “The incredible Hawkeye, here all week.”
“Shut up, you fucking meatball,” Bucky says.
“Oh I’m a meatball now?” Clint says indignantly and walks over to reclaim his darts. Bucky stands perfectly still, but as Clint leans in to pull out the first dart his metal hand shoots out and grabs Clint’s shirt, pulling him up close. Not entirely one hundred percent sober, Clint stumbles and with a ‘whoa’ ends up slumped against Bucky’s chest, hands either side of his shoulders.
“That bar guy wants to take you home,” Bucky says quietly, eyes locked on Clint’s.
“What, Thomas?” Clint says, and goes to turn his head, but Bucky is quicker and reaches up to grab his chin in his free hand so he can’t look around.
“You gonna go home with him?” Bucky asks, and whoa he’s very close.
“No,” Clint says. “I didn’t - how do you know he wants to-”
“You are fucking clueless,” Bucky says, and he sounds angry but that makes no sense. His fingers tighten on Clint’s shirt and Clint can taste his breath on his face, vodka and all.
“You’re fucking drunk,” Clint replies, and way to state the obvious but he feels like it needs to be made crystal clear. Bucky’s probably so drunk he doesn’t even remember that he’s drunk.
“Don’t go home with him,” Bucky says, voice low and wow, that’s an oddly sexy sound coming out his mouth. “Promise me you won’t.”
“I’m not going to,” Clint insists. “Why would I?”
Bucky’s mouth works like he wants to say something, jaw clenched tight. He lets go of Clint’s shirt to press his palm to his chest instead, distractedly smoothing out the crumpled material. He’s now looking lost and confused, brows drawing together and making him look annoyed. Shit. Clint needs to do something to get rid of that look, he’s pretty sure he could but he doesn’t know how-
“Alright boys, out past curfew, you are grounded for a month, TV privileges have been revoked.”
Clint and Bucky both turn their heads in sync to see Tony and Steve weaving their way through the bar. Clint hastily steps back from Bucky, hopping back on his heel and nearly tripping. He manages to right himself on the bar, and looks up at Steve.
“I’m not drunk.”
“Terrible liar,” Steve says, but he’s smiling. Oh thank god, Steve is smiling, but why is he smiling, he was mad a few hours ago and he was worried about Bucky. “You had fun?”
“You not mad?” Bucky ventures, sounding just as worried as Clint feels.
Steve sighs, tapping his fingers against the bar. “No,” he says. “I was mad you’d not told me you wanted to go out, but then it was pointed out I would have probably tried to stop you without even giving you the chance, and you need to get out and do stuff for yourself.”
“Wow,” Bucky says, blinking at him, and then looking to Tony. “Did you teach him that?”
“I may have done,” Tony shrugs. “Couldn’t keep him away for ever, though. Did buy you two a few hours.”
“Hey,” Bucky says, looking surprised. “You’re not a total dick.”
Tony just smiles, shaking his head. “Right back at you, Terminator. Maybe you’re not a hundred percent asshole.”
“He’s great,” Clint says, reaching for his beer bottle, which Steve promptly lifts out of his hand and drains himself. Well, that’s just unfair, but Clint isn’t sure that he’s got enough co-ordination right now to fight Steve about it. He experimentally reaches out and Steve passes the bottle back; he makes a triumphant sound that turns into a whine when he realizes that it’s empty. He goes to put it on the table but somehow misses the edge of it; he grabs for the bottle but overbalances and staggers sideways. He’s only saved from an undignified encounter with the floor by Steve grabbing hold of him; he ends up sort of slumped over with his feet sliding away from him, held awkwardly up by Steve’s grip on his upper arm.
“Clutz,” Bucky says, laughing. He goes to lean on the bar and his elbow slips off the edge; he looks startled and then turns to glare at the bar like it’s the one to blame and Clint laughs so hard he starts to cough, gasping weakly for air.
“Okay,” Steve says. “I’m making the call. Time to go home.”
He hauls Clint up and tries to set him upright. Clint manages it for about three seconds and is rather proud of himself, up until the point where he realizes he’s slowly teetering backwards. Tony reaches out and grabs the front of his shirt, pulling him forwards and allowing him to regain his balance.
“I vote we feed them more booze,” Tony says, a slow grin unfurling. “This is gold.”
“Bucky, don’t kill the bar,” Clint says, trying to grab for Bucky’s elbow. “Thomas will be mad.”
“Shut the fuck up about Thomas,” Bucky snaps, turning his glower on Clint. Steve’s eyebrows fly up so fast that Clint is surprised they don’t catapult off into orbit. The mental image is admittedly pretty funny and he starts to laugh, however this is probably not the reaction Bucky was looking for.
“You fuckin’ promised,” he says, pointing a metal finger at Clint. “You’re not going home with that fuckin’ piece of work-”
“I’m not,” Clint says, and it’s really quite important that Bucky know this. He reaches out to gently pet Bucky’s hand, nearly pitching himself forwards as he sways. “I’m not, I’m coming home with you-”
“Yeah, definitely time to go,” Steve suddenly says, and fucking hell he’s loud.
“Oh no, Captain America voice,” Clint gasps, and the scowl melts from Bucky’s face as he starts to laugh. “We’re in trouble, we’re in so much trouble.”
“Tony, help me out here before I do something drastic”
“Gottit, Cap,” Tony says, and steps forwards and grabs Clint. He hauls his arm over his shoulder and starts to lead him from the bar. Clint’s happy enough to be led, and his brain tells him not to wave bye at Thomas as they go, because he somehow knows that Bucky will be pissed if he does and then Steve will be even more pissed if Bucky goes Winter Soldier while they’re out in public.
“You’re a good bro,” he says happily to Tony as he’s hauled out of the bar. He spots Tony’s Audi parked right outside and cheers.
“Well having you around is making me rethink my standards,” Tony says vaguely. “Come on, Hawkguy.”
“Hey, I’m not a bad bro,” Clint says indignantly, stumbling slightly. Jeez, it’s a good job Tony is Iron Man and used to carrying out all that iron. He’s got strong shoulders. Good for leaning on.
Tony rolls his eyes. “I can’t actually believe I’m saying this, but I know. I meant you raised the bar, Clint.”
“Oh,” Clint says in surprise as Tony props him up against the car and pulls open the door. “Alright. Thanks. And shotgun.”
Tony laughs, and shoves him into the car. He climbs into the driver’s seat and then leans across to buckle Clint in. “Come on kiddo, safety first,” he says as he wrestles the belt across his shoulder.
“God, you sound like - sound like Steve,” Clint says, voice catching on the edge of a hiccup.
“You throw up in my car and I’m going to make you clean it up,” Tony says, twisting around distractedly. “Where the hell- oh.”
The back door opens and Clint hears Bucky’s explosive tones, mid rant. “- a fuckin’ McDonalds, Steve. Our theater! And they fuckin-”
“Yeah, I know,” Steve says wearily, bodily shoving Bucky into the car and climbing in after him, slamming the door on the lights and sounds of the night, sealing them safely in muted darkness. “Been through this already, Buck.”
“And the old library! Where the fuck did that go? And our fucking apartment? The whole building is gone!”
Steve just manhandles him into place and belts him in. “This why you started drinking, huh? Drinking because you’re disappointed, you’re like a broken fuckin’ record.”
“Don’t talk to me about the fuckin’ Dodgers, Buck. I swear to god-”
“Oh my god, he went Brooklyn,” Clint whispers to Tony as he starts the engine and pulls away, the speed pressing Clint back into his seat. “It’s contagious.”
“No, not contagious, he does it in bed as well,” Tony says. “Let’s hope I’m not going to go all Pavlovian response to it.”
“Oh god,” Clint says, frantically trying to not think about that at all, reaching for the door handle. “I’ll walk home.”
“Clint don’t you dare!” Steve shouts from the back, and Clint lets out an undignified ‘urk’ as a hand grabs his collar and yanks Clint away from the door, pulling him between the two seats over the centre console. “We’re moving, you jackass.”
“Alright, alright,” Clint protests, trying to wriggle free. “Uncle, I give.”
“You’ll have shotgun privileges revoked,” Tony says, shoving at Clint with his elbow. “Now sit in that seat and behave for five minutes.“
“I don’t know if anyone cares,” Bucky pipes up, pressing a hand against Steve’s chest and pushing back against him, trying to sit up. Clint starts to laugh because come on, this is funny. He’s outdrank the goddamn Winter Soldier, he needs a fucking medal.
“Cares about what?” Steve prompts, and Bucky slumps sideways.
“About the fact I’m going to throw up,” Bucky manages.
Tony hits the brakes so hard that Clint flies forwards, jerked into his place by his seatbelt. He’s slumped so low that his ass slides off the seat and he ends up half on, half off it, almost in the footwell with the seatbelt digging in under his chin and clearly trying to strangle him. The car has barely screeched to a stop before Steve moves with lightning speed, leaning over and yanking the door handle, shoving the car door open and pushing Bucky’s upper body out of the door just in time for him to throw up everywhere.
Clint struggles back into his seat, still laughing. Steve has one hand pressed firmly between Bucky’s shoulder blades and with the other he’s pinching the bridge of his nose and looking like he’s barely keeping his temper contained. The whole thing just makes Clint laugh harder, so hard he’s worried he might follow suit and puke.
“Shut up,” Bucky’s voice gasps, sounding strangled. “Shut up, you fucking punk.”
He retches again, and Clint clutches at his sides, feeling tears in his eyes.
“Oh my god,” Tony says, and he’s twisted around in his seat, one hand still on the wheel. His mouth is slack and hanging half-open, and he’s staring at Bucky like he’s a god-damn revelation. “Oh my God, is this what it feels like to be this guy and not that guy? I need to call Happy and tell him. Steve, call Pepper. Call her right now – take a picture, she needs to see this.”
“I am not calling Pepper, it’s three AM,” Steve says tiredly. “You finished puking yet, moron?”
“You’re a moron,” Bucky’s voice mutters. Steve apparently takes this as a yes and hauls Bucky back into the car, leaning across him to slam the door. “Shuddup, Clint.”
“You shut up, you state,” Clint laughs, settling back into his seat and whipping his sleeve over his face. “Oh man, that was funny.”
Bucky kicks the back of his seat in response. Tony looks like he’s still trying not to laugh as he deftly weaves the car through the traffic back towards the tower. Steve is looking like he wants to laugh but isn’t quite sure how, and Clint is neither a genius nor able to think in a straight line right now, but he thinks that Steve is glad to have Bucky being sociable and happy, but he’s worried it’s going to go south. Maybe even sad that he wasn’t part of it.
Aw, Clint doesn’t want to make Captain America sad.
“You can come next time,” he says earnestly, and twists around to pat Steve’s knee. Steve looks taken aback, but then Bucky rolls back his way and pats at his shoulder.
“Yeah, you come. Bitch about Brooklyn with me,” Bucky says. “And help me beat Barton at something.”
Steve finally smiles properly. It’s been a long time since Clint saw that smile, and he drops his head back against the seat, relieved. Steve ducks his chin, looks up to meet Tony’s eyes in the mirror. Whatever he sees he likes, because he smiles more and reaches out to squeeze Bucky’s shoulder.
“Alright, you’re on.”
Clint grins to himself as his eyes slide shut. Mission that wasn't even a mission? Accomplished.
“Come on, you.” Clint hears a voice speaking at him, and then the door is opening and Steve is there, presumably to extricate him from the passenger seat. He jerks his head up off his fist, squinting at Steve through blurry eyes. Aw, he could just sleep here, really.
“I’m sorry I got your best friend drunk without you,” he says.
Steve shakes his head. “It’s fine. He needs a friend other than me,” he says, and his mouth is curved softly. “Someone other than me. Though you need to be careful with him.”
“Wha?” Clint asks, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and trying to wake his brain up. “Because he’s all post traumaticky? He’s alright. He doesn’t even keep knives in his shoes anymore, I swear.”
Steve blinks, looking pained, and then appears to let it go. “Maybe I should talk to you about it when you’re sober.”
“Okay, Cap,” Clint agrees, and then tries to climb out of the car. He finds that he can’t and has a brief moment to panic that he’s suddenly become paralyzed from the waist down before Steve leans in and unclips his belt for him.
“Bucky went up already,” Steve says and helps haul Clint out of the car. “Saying something about putting out for beer?”
“He keeps saying that,” Clint says bemusedly. “He needs new jokes.”
Steve sighs. “Maybe you double check that it’s actually a joke?” he says, and pushes Clint in the direction of the elevator. “Get a move on.”
Clint meanders into the elevator, frowning slightly. Bucky is joking about putting out for beer and pancakes and cereal, right? He’s not actually expecting to have to have sex in exchange for anything? Oh god, Hydra didn’t brainwash him into thinking he’s a hooker did they?
It’s only when Steve stares at him in something torn between laughter and horror that Clint realizes he’s said that out loud.
“No, Hydra didn’t-” Steve begins. “Oh fucking christ, Clint. You need to talk to Bucky.”
“I always talk to Bucky,” Clint says, and wobbles as the elevator starts to move. He grabs hold of the handrail because if he falls Steve with either laugh or do disappointed face and he’s not sure his ego can take either right now.
“Talk to him about - your friendship,” Steve tries. “About how he feels about you.”
Now Clint is utterly lost. “What?”
“You heard me,” Steve says firmly.
“I heard nothing, I’m deaf.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll talk to him,” he says, and then pauses. “Or you could just tell me?”
“Not my place to tell,” Steve says firmly as the elevator slides to a gentle stop on Clint and Bucky’s floor. “But talk to him, and be careful with him. I know in the past coupla weeks he's been acting like he’s all back to normal and like he doesn’t need a hand, but he’s not.”
“Gottit,” Clint says with a knowing and understanding nod, even as his brain is saying ‘I really don’t gottit.’ The poor thing is sounding quite bewildered about the entire state of affairs.
But Steve is nodding gratefully and the elevator doors are sliding closed, as Clint is walking through to the lounge-slash-Bucky’s room, only stumbling into the wall once. Or maybe twice, but it’s hard to tell if they were two separate stumbles or one long extended fall. Either way, he manages to not end up on his ass, and is mentally congratulating himself as he pushes away from the wall. Bucky isn’t anywhere in the lounge area, but as Clint stumbles to a halt he hears a shout from the bathroom.
“Can’t hear you, I’m deaf,” he yells back, and then Bucky leans back out of the door with his toothbrush hanging out of his mouth. “Mmm-rrff-rm,” he repeats impatiently, and then ducks back into the bathroom.
“Well that certainly clarified things,” Clint says, bending down to pull his shoes off, staggering and hopping from foot to foot as he deals with his unreasonably tricky laces. He gets his feet free and when he straightens up Bucky is coming out of the bathroom, sans toothbrush. He’s methodically running the tip of his tongue over the edge of his teeth and for some reason, it makes Clint’s stomach flip over.
“Steve says I have to ask about your putting out jokes,” he blurts out.
Bucky slowly wanders over. “Why?” he asks, folding his arms across his chest.
“Um,” Clint says, not altogether intelligently. “Would you really put out for beer?”
Bucky steps closer. And closer. He ends up a hairs breath from Clint, almost nose to nose. Clint can see the faint light from the bathroom glinting in his eyes and on his arm. He can smell toothpaste on Bucky’s breath, can see that his bottom lip is wet.
He’s really close.
Clint swallows thickly. His head is spinning, and Bucky is jealous of Thomas and he’s way too close and Steve has said things and the room is dark and quiet-
-and Bucky is kissing him.
His hands are curled around Clint’s hips and his mouth is pressing against Clint’s, cautious. He’s breathing heavily, pulling back just enough so there’s a space between them, breath warm and uneven over Clint’s face. He swallows and then he’s leaning in again, nose bumping Clint’s as he gently touches their lips together, this time lingering for long, airless seconds, breath catching and stolen.
Well. This is not what he was expecting. His chest tightens against a strange blooming sensation of vulnerability, and he reaches up without thinking, fingertips touching Bucky’s jaw. He can taste Bucky, sharp mint and the lingering bite of alcohol. Oh god, they’re kissing and Clint is the one moving this time, catching Bucky’s upper lip between his own, and Bucky’s breath is hitching as his mouth moves against Clint’s.
Oh holy shit, they’re kissing.
“Whoa,” Clint croaks out, jerking his head back, lifting his hands from Bucky’s face. “Whoa, we’re being a bit too bro there, bro.”
“This is not a bro thing,” Bucky says. “Please tell me you’re not still missing the fucking point.”
“I thought we were bros,” Clint says, helpless.
“Stop saying bro,” Bucky says. “This is not bro - goddamn it - I’m kissing you for a fucking reason, you dick.”
And he sounds angry and stressed now, and suddenly all the times he’s been angry and stressed tonight make sense. Suddenly all the time they spend together makes more sense and holy fucking shit Steve knows and Fury is going to lose his fucking mind-
Clint tells his brain to shut the fuck up, and he leans in and kisses Bucky again. Bucky’s hands slide up his back, pressing them closer together. Clint lets out a muffled grunt against Bucky’s mouth but his hands are finding a home on Bucky’s neck.
“Okay. Not bros, but we’re really drunk.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, and his hand is dragging heavily across Clint’s spine, pushing him against him. Clint shifts his balance and Bucky pushes a leg between his; Clint’s breath catches and he pulls back from Bucky, breathing heavily. He's never thought about being this close to Bucky - to anyone - since Loki, but it's nice. It's warm and Bucky is solid and safe and real under his hands.
“We’re really drunk,” he says again. Bucky’s breathing is as labored as Clint’s and a distant, fuzzy part of his brain is thinking, wow, I did that.
“Okay,” Bucky says, and he traces his nose down Clint’s jaw. “Okay. Stay with me?”
“Um,” Clint says again, because that's a wide, sweeping statement that seems huge and daunting and fucking terrifying. “You mean?”
“I mean get in the bed with me and sleep,” Bucky says, and that doesn't seem so scary. In fact, that sounds like the best idea ever.
“You got it,” Clint grins. “I’m being the big spoon.”
“Like hell you are,” Bucky says, and gives Clint a shove towards the corner of the room with the mattress in. Clint obediently goes, stripping out of his jeans and socks before falling face first onto the mattress. He grunts as Bucky flops down next to him, and a metal hand settles in the middle of his back, between his shoulder blades.
“Hey, were you jealous of Thomas?” Clint asks, lifting his head from the pillow.
“I will smother you,” Bucky replies.
“You were,” Clint grins into the pillow, tucking his elbows underneath him and rocking side to side slightly. “You totally were.”
“Shut up or fuck off,” Bucky says. Clint starts to laugh, but it's quelled when he feels Bucky shift and then fingers gently touching his ear. He goes very still, stomach dipping with something he can't quite identify as Bucky carefully takes his hearing aid off. Silently, Clint rolls his head the other way, allowing Bucky to gently remove the other. The world is plunged into silence, but Bucky drops back to the mattress, burying his face into Clint’s shoulder, and suddenly it doesn't feel quite as lonely as it used to.
Breathing deep and even, Bucky sets his metal hand back on Clint's back, a heavy weight. Clint exhales heavily and turns his face into Bucky's shoulder, breathing in the scent of his skin. One last deep breath and he relaxes, sinking quickly and willingly into sleep.
“You look beautiful this morning.”
Clint makes a noise that’s half whine and half grunt, burrowing his face further into his knees. He’s curled up in his regular therapy armchair, slumped sideways with his hood up over his face and his arms wrapped around his legs. He feels like ten shades of death right now, and is rapidly taking back his assessment that he could handle his booze better than Bucky could handle his.
“I should probably make some sort of note about this,” Beckett’s voice says. “I can deduce that you are hungover, but the reasons why aren’t clear. If it’s a self-pity coping mechanism thing, then I will definitely be making notes. If it’s something else, I might just laugh. Here.”
Clint manages to lift his head from his knees to see Beckett standing right next to him, holding out a cup of coffee towards him. He shuffles around so he can take it.
“Not friends,” he mumbles, even though he’s mentally putting her in the category of ‘angel who comes bearing caffeine in my hour of need.’
“No, Clint. I’m your therapist. I’m just making sure you don’t die in my office. I don’t fancy filling out all the paperwork that will inevitably come my way if that happens.”
Clint glares over the top of the coffee cup. Though she has given him coffee so he doesn’t actually bitch at her. Oh, man. He just wants to be back in his bed, sleeping this off.
“So. Intervention time?”
“No,” Clint says, voice rough. “I went out with Bucky. We drank a lot.”
“Okay, from what you have told me of Bucky, that could still mean intervention time.”
Clint shakes his head, then immediately wishes he hadn’t. He presses the heel of his palm to his forehead, willing his brain to stop sploshing around inside of his skull. “No, we were good. He wanted to go out and see the world. McDonald’s pissed him off so we went for a drink. Steve and Tony picked us up. We behaved.”
Mostly, his brain supplies, thinking of Bucky’s body pressed against his, shaky kisses in the darkness.
“You sound unsure,” Beckett comments, leaning against the edge of her desk and picking up a cup of her own. “You and Bucky were good friends, last time we spoke.”
“We kissed,” Clint says abruptly, shutting his eyes and rubbing between his nose. “Last night. I thought we were just friends, and apparently I’m a dumb shit because we’re not.”
There’s a long pause. Clint looks up to see Beckett watching him carefully.
“Tell me about that.”
“I don’t know, what’s there to tell? We went out, we got drunk, we made out.”
“How do you-”
“How do I feel about it?” Clint asks. “Somewhere between panicked and panicked?”
“Well, that’s better than apathetic. Why panicked?”
“You know why I’m panicked.”
“Of course I do. That’s easy. But I’m not here to spoon-feed you.”
“I’m dying. You could spoon feed me just this once.”
Beckett sips at her coffee. “Okay, I’m going to give you this one today, considering the state you’re in. I think this feeling of panic is you feeling emotionally vulnerable because you’re interacting with another person on a level you haven’t since your trauma. You trusted another person enough to get drunk with them. Should I remind you about your previous pathological fear of losing control?”
“I’d rather you didn’t.”
“You’re here talking to me about your feelings for another person. Would you have done that six months ago?”
Clint silently shakes his head. “No,” he admits. “Wouldn’t have even gone there.” He looks down into his mug, hoping the coffee holds the answers. “I stopped in his bed last night,” he says. “Let him take my hearing aids out. Didn’t even think twice.”
Beckett just smiles at him, a half hitch of her mouth that’s rather knowing. The look is altogether too caring and somehow very final.
Clint’s mouth twists, unsure if he wants to smile back or pull a face at her. He does feel a strange sense of calm in response to her words and that look, almost like he’s turned a corner. “Does this mean I’m done with the therapy?”
“Oh, god no,” she says emphatically, standing up and shaking her head. The lovely, poignant moment is promptly gone, and Clint scowls at her as she moves to sit in the chair opposite him. “Amazing progress aside, you’re going to be stuck with me for quite some time.”
“I hate you,” he informs her.
“I know you do,” she says, crossing one leg over the other and seeming supremely unconcerned.
He huffs and closes his eyes again, curling up and allowing the scent of the coffee and the calm of the office soothe his hangover. Bucky had woken him up with a glass of water, some advil and a kick to the shins, matter of factly informing him that he had therapy in an hour so he better get his ass moving.
It had been a strange morning really. Clint had been groggy and not altogether with it, and Bucky had been tired and lethargic but not too hungover, and neither of them had mentioned the whole kissing thing. They’d just got up as normal, stumbling through morning routine with Bucky laughing at Clint’s hungover state. Clint had left for therapy, leaving Bucky playing Halo on the couch, eyes glued to the screen and grunting a concommital goodbye as Clint left.
“You always knew I liked Bucky,” he finally says after a lengthy silence. “I told you weeks ago.”
“I only believed what you told me,” she says gently. “And if you feel different about Bucky now, I’ll believe you in that, too.”
“Are you paid to nose in on my love life?”
“I’m paid to figure out if you’re in the parameters of usual, healthy feelings or if any of your intrusive thoughts or dissociation are going to get in the way of you living your life.”
“Kinda think Bucky is a fucking idiot for liking me?” Clint says. “Is that intrusive or dissociative?”
“Why is he an idiot?”
“I’m paranoid, I don’t trust anyone, I jump at loud noises, I’m unemployed,” Clint lists. “Want me to go on?”
“Add self-sabotaging to the list,” Beckett says and Clint glares at her.
“I’m not, it’s just facts.”
Beckett takes a moment. She doesn’t look annoyed or disappointed or anything, just likes she’s turning over what he’s said. “Whether you and Bucky are - well, wherever that goes, look at what you’ve achieved. You said you let Bucky take your hearing aids off. That clearly shows a level of trust. And allowing him to be there while you were sleeping is an astounding step for you. You’ve come a long way from the vents, Clint.”
“I know,” Clint says, and he actually thinks he does.
“You deserve to be happy, Clint,” Beckett replies.
“Oh god, don’t say that,” Clint says. “This is me we’re talking about. Ten out of ten, I will fuck it up. And even if by some miracle I don’t, there is a pretty hefty chance Bucky is going to jail anyway.”
Beckett’s mouth curves up. “Interesting.”
“I didn’t mention Bucky,” she says. “I just said be happy. You made the connection between happiness and being with Bucky. Which I will neither condone nor condemn, just to make professional lines clear.”
Clint stares at her, replays the conversation in his mind, and then realizes that she’s right.
“Oh fuck off, devil lady,” he says and buries his face back into his knees. His face is warm with heated embarrassment and oh god, why is he not in denial about this whole thing? He just wants to go back to Bucky and kiss him again but what if it was just a drunken thing ? Oh man, he needs help.
“Forty two minutes left,” she replies easily. “And jokes aside, you’re really not looking great. You want to call it a day or do you want more coffee?”
Wordless, he holds out his mug without even looking up. She takes it from his hand and he curls up even tighter. “And you can shut up.”
She just laughs. “I didn’t say a word.”
Clint manages to make it home again after therapy, just. He dozes off in the cab and almost falls on his ass when he scrambles out in a rush, but he makes it into the tower with no further incident. He’s hoping to just be able to slip away and nap in the peace of his bedroom, but like a dumbass - and with Beckett’s parting lecture about staying healthy and hydrated fresh in his mind - he heads to the communal floor to find sustenance.
What he finds is Bucky and Steve sat at the counter, going over what looks like reams of paperwork. All very official stuff that Clint wants nowhere near. But it’s either look at the paperwork or look at Bucky and looking at Bucky is making his stomach do weird twisty things again.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Steve calls loudly as Clint tries to discreetly about turn and press the button for the elevator again. “How are you feeling?”
“Nnnf,” Clint says, slumping against the wall next to the elevator.
“Self-inflicted,” Steve sing-songs, and Clint groans.
“Don’t do the judgmental face, please don’t do the judgmental face.”
“This is not my judgmental face, this is my finding this hilarious face.”
Clint jumps a mile as he feels fingers touch the back of his elbow; he whips around to see Bucky standing back with his hands held up in surrender, looking apologetic. “Ohhhhh, don’t do that,” Clint says, holding a hand to his stomach. “No sudden movements.”
Bucky’s mouth twitches. “You gottit, pal,” he says. “Come on. I’ll get you coffee.”
“Doc already gave me coffee,” Clint says, even as he allows Bucky to curl his metal fingers around his elbow and steer him towards the kitchen area. His brain catches up with what Bucky just said, and his mind stumbles on the word ‘pal.’ Is Bucky calling him that deliberately? Is that a subtle reference to their conversation last night? Is Bucky regretting kissing him and re-establishing bro boundaries?
Aw, man. He didn’t even think about the possibility of Bucky not actually liking him. The panic returns full force, and he inwardly curses Beckett for making him believe in himself.
“Sit,” Bucky says, and pushes Clint into a chair. “Water, juice and dry toast coming up.”
Okay. What does Bucky making him breakfast mean? Anything? Nothing? Clint has no idea. He wouldn’t personally class toast as a declaration of any sort, but Bucky hates most people and maybe for him making toast is a big deal.
“Leave him to suffer,” Steve says absently as he looks over one of the pieces of paperwork. “Maybe he’ll learn his lesson.”
Clint scowls as he watches Bucky pour him a glass of water and slide it over before reclaiming his coffee and leaning back against the counter. “One, never, and two, you’re Captain America, you’re not supposed to be a dick.”
Steve snorts. “Lucky I’m not in uniform then.”
“Glad to see your sense of humor came back since you started getting laid again,” Clint mutters, and then internally winces, but before he can smack himself upside the head Steve just laughs.
“Damn right,” he says without an ounce of shame, and Bucky gags into his coffee. He pulls a face, wiping his wrist across his mouth and then starting to laugh.
“Just because me and your boytoy have worked out that we don’t hate each other doesn’t mean I want to know.”
“You’re making jokes about it? Wow, seems like I’m not the only one in a good mood,” Steve says with a smirk and a raised eyebrow. Bucky scowls and aims a kick at him, but Steve is quick enough to twist away. Clint feels like he should also be objecting to Steve’s wise-assery, but there is the fact that it’s keeping Bucky’s attention on him instead of Clint.
“Say it,” Bucky says, eyes narrowed. “I dare you.”
“Contrary to what Tony sometimes thinks, I do not have a deathwish,” Steve says, still looking over the papers. “And you’re perfectly capable of winding yourself up without my help.”
“My shrink says I have to create an identity for myself outside of your opinions and influence,” Bucky tells Steve, pointing at him with a metal finger. “Which I translated as licence to tell you to fuck off.”
“Alright then,” Steve says easily, though he does reach out to bat the metal finger away. “Go for it.”
“Fuck off, Stevie.”
Steve just laughs, starting to gather up some of the papers, and this is probably the happiest that Clint has seen him in months. “Now I am torn, because I have to go out but don’t want to give you the satisfaction.”
Clint goes very still in his chair, sipping quietly at his water and feeling a vague sense of panic. If Steve leaves that leaves him and Bucky alone and unsupervised and last time they were unsupervised Clint ended up with Bucky’s tongue in his mouth, and now he’s not entirely sure what’s going on with that.
“Stubborn punk,” Bucky says to Steve. “Get out of here. Go do your Captain business. Shout about freedom. Punch a Nazi in the face, whatever the fuck you do these days.”
“Be good,” Steve says, and taps his fingers onto the remaining papers. “And look over this stuff, Buck.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky yawns. “I will.”
Steve claps him on the shoulder, says goodbye to Clint and then leaves, striding towards the elevator and out of sight. Clint watches him go, idly scratching at his hearing aid. Silence falls over the communal area, and Clint wishes he weren’t deaf so he’d be able to hear the humming of the appliances or Bucky breathing or something.
He sips at his water some more, tries to think of something to say. Should he talk about last night? Should he act cool? Though that might be pretty redundant because recent history would put him at the human equivalent of a car crash, and car crashes aren’t that good at acting cool anyway.
His stomach sinks with every passing second. The whole deserving a happy ending bullshit that Beckett made him talk about seems utterly ridiculous now.
Why the fuck is he wearing these dumbass BTE’s if Bucky isn’t talking to him anyway?
He shifts on his chair. Bucky is still just standing there, arms folded and drinking his coffee like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Bullshit. Even not counting Clint, he’s got an absolute fuckton to give a shit about.
Oh fuck this.
He gets up and slouches away towards the elevator. Bucky says something but he doesn’t catch it, and just carries on shuffling, feeling oddly despondent-
He jumps a mile as out of nowhere two hands land on his hips from behind. He twists around but before he can even say anything, Bucky has grabbed his wrist, crouched down and picked Clint up over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift.
“What the shit?!” Clint yelps, kicking out. “Bucky!”
“Steve said you would try and hide from me,” Bucky says loudly, walking backwards towards the lounge area. “Consider this an intervention.”
Clint tries to pull his wrist free, with absolutely no success. He squirms violently but Bucky is a lot stronger than he is, and just unceremoniously dumps Clint onto the couch. Clint tries to scramble up but he’s uncoordinated and Bucky is climbing onto the couch and sitting on his goddamn feet.
“You are not going anywhere,” Bucky says. “We got shit to talk about.”
Clint twists around, trying to pull his feet free, all to no avail. “Are you fucking kidding?”
“Nope. Now talk to me, Barton.”
“You weren’t talking to me!” Clint says. “I thought-”
Bucky glares at him. “You probably shouldn’t think.”
Clint pulls a face, but he doesn’t say anything. He squirms half-heartedly but Bucky just folds his arms across his chest.
“What’s with the slinking off act?”
“You were-” Clint tries. “The whole face thing. I thought you were regretting it because we were drunk and now we’re not.”
Bucky blinks at him. “Oh my god you need so much therapy.”
“Well, no shit,” Clint says grumpily. “Get off my fucking feet.”
“Alright, unbunch your panties,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes and moving off of Clint’s feet. He grabs the TV remote and flicks it on, leaning back and indolently kicking his feet up onto the clean glass of the coffee table. It’s dismissive and casual, except for how it’s not; if Bucky didn’t want to be around him, then he’d have walked away. He doesn’t really do passive aggressive all that well. Just straight-out aggressive.
So there’s a reason he’s still sitting there. He’s waiting for something.
Clint’s stomach goes back to being all dumb and fluttery.
Considering his past record, Clint gets his act together remarkably quickly. He shoves away all his doubts and puts his mental big-boy pants on. Taking a deep breath, he sits up, shifts along the couch until he’s sitting next to Bucky, close enough so that their thighs bump together. He reaches around so he can cup Bucky’s chin in his hands, turning his face towards him and then leaning in and kissing him.
The bottom promptly drops out of his stomach as Bucky kisses him back, catching Clint’s lower lip between his own, metal fingers reaching up to brush his jaw. It’s startlingly familiar but so different - he’s sober so his head isn’t spinning and he’s not about to fall down, and Bucky tastes of coffee instead of toothpaste and vodka, and it’s so gentle, nothing like before-
Bucky breaks away from him, resting his forehead against Clint’s temple. Clint feels an inexplicably strong urge to kiss him again, but he takes the cue from Bucky and doesn’t press for more.
“You’re better when you’re not running away,” Bucky says.
“Stop,” Clint pleads. “No more therapy. I’m done with therapy today.”
Bucky’s mouth quirks in a smile. He shoves Clint back and then clambers onto the couch properly, lying back with his head pillowed on the armrest. He beckons to Clint who obliges and slowly edges closer, wondering if he’s getting this right. Bucky just crooks his finger impatiently when Clint hesitates, and Clint shuffles close enough so that Bucky can snag his wrist and pull him over. Clint ends up slumped over Bucky in a rather undignified sprawl, but it doesn’t matter because Bucky is pulling a blanket over his back and telling him to relax. He does, settling with his head on Bucky’s chest, one of his knees thrown over Bucky’s thigh, Bucky’s arm curved around with his hand resting on Clint’s shoulder.
“Sleep,” Bucky’s voice says as he turns the TV on, lowering the volume and flicking the subtitles on. “I got my eyes on things.”
“I know you do,” Clint says, and then, “get my hearing aids?”
Bucky doesn’t reply, just reaches over and carefully unclips Clint’s hearing aid, gently lifting his head up so he can nimbly remove the other. Clint settles his head back on Bucky’s chest and feels the thump of his heartbeat, blinking slowly at the TV before letting his eyes slide shut, drifting into sleep.
It takes Clint a while to get used to waking up with someone in his bed. Well, more accurately, on someone else’s mattress. Apart from the usual issues of blanket stealing and jostling knees and elbows, there’s his whole PTSD thing to consider. One night he wakes up screaming, but Bucky is there in an instant, holding him tight and wiping sweat and tears from his face.
There’s also a night where Bucky is the one freaking out. He wakes up shouting furious Russian, scrambling out of the bed with knife in hand. Clint just sits still and waits for the fog to clear, and then takes Bucky out to an all-night pizza place when he’s cognizant enough to be both horrified and apologetic. It takes him a while to get over it, but he does.
There’s also lots of nights where he wakes up with Bucky’s hands on him, mouth hovering over his own. He never kisses Clint; he always waits until Clint wakes up enough to close the gap between them.
They still eat cereal at three AM and shoot pictures of Loki. They occasionally eat dinner with the rest of the team, and it’s good. There’s still a tension in the air, but Clint can tell it’s different. It’s the looming trial and the uncertainty over what’s going to happen to Bucky that causes the pressure, the heavy and oppressive atmospheres that roll in like thunderclouds. It weighs most heavily on Steve; Bucky seems able to ignore it, to brush it off and almost accept it. Steve, not so much. He fights it tooth and nail. Every spare moment he has seems to be taken up with meetings or going over paperwork. It’d be enough to push him to breaking point all over again, but there is the not-so subtle difference in that he has Tony actually being supportive rather than a jealous, passive-aggressive asshole.
And when Tony decides he’s going to help, he certainly goes for it. Late one night over a round of beers on the rooftop, Steve confides in Clint about the amount of money Tony has put into Bucky’s case, the contacts he has found, the behind-the-scenes wrangling that he’s been doing. The sort of stuff that Steve isn’t altogether great at. Clint asks Tony about it one time and he simply shrugs it off, telling Clint that ‘yeah well Steve will be happier when his pet terminator is safe, and when Steve’s happy I get laid. Utterly selfish.’
Clint calls bullshit. Tony threatens to have Jarvis change all the captions on the TV screens to Taylor Swift lyrics. He doesn’t though, so Clint takes it as a win.
“I’m just sayin’, it’s sloppy story telling and bad science,” Bucky says, halfheartedly tossing a piece of popcorn towards the screen, leaning back and propping his feet up on the seat in front of him. “I want my ten bucks back.”
Clint snorts, shoving his hand into the bucket of popcorn and tossing it in the general direction of his mouth. Only a few pieces miss; one ends up inside his jacket. “You’re calling bad science, mister genetically engineered super-soldier?”
“Yeah, compared to me this is bullshit,” Bucky says, emphatically hurling another piece towards the screen. It lands just to the left of the a couple a few rows ahead of them, who are sat with phones in hand, quite clearly not paying the film any attention either.
“Not gonna lie, I have no idea what’s going on,” Clint shrugs. “Can’t hear it.”
Bucky frowns. “Doodads not working?”
“No, they’re working fine,” Clint yawns. “Just. Layers of sound. Voices, sound effects, soundtrack. All kinda mushes into one at points.”
“That why you keep just nodding vaguely when I say something?” Bucky asks. “Thought you were getting bored of me.”
“You? Never,” Clint says, reaching down into his jacket to extract the popcorn. He inspects it, shrugs and then tosses it into his mouth.
“Good,” Bucky says, licking his metal thumb. It gleams in the light from the screen, flickering blues and oranges as the action plays out.
“Heard you and Steve yelling something out this morning,” Clint says. Bucky says something in reply but Clint misses it and he curses. “Shit, still can’t hear you.”
Almost immediately, Bucky moves, standing up and kicking at Clint’s feet. Clint gets the hint and stands up; Bucky edges past him and beckons for Clint to follow. Clint does, pulling his hood up over his head and Bucky leads the way down the gangway and out of the screen, pulling the heavy doors at the end open before ducking out. He looks both ways and then jerks his head to the right, the opposite direction to the exits. Clint lifts his brows, confused. Bucky rolls his eyes and reaches for Clint’s sleeve, taking it in hand and tugging him along. He leads them to the next screen, happily ignoring the ‘closed for sound system upgrades’ sign on the door.
“Erm, Buck, I don’t think there’s a movie showing in here,” Clint says as he cautiously steps in, finding the place deserted, soft lights on and bathing the room in warm light.
“You couldn’t hear me,” Bucky says, letting go of Clint’s sleeve. “Besides, that movie was shit.”
“So why don’t we go home?”
Bucky shakes his head, wandering up the aisle and looking around the room, checking for exits and vulnerable spots. He heads right to the back and slides into the back row, putting his boots onto the back of the chair in front of him.
“Hear me now?” he asks as Clint comes to join him, dropping into the seat next to him.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Sure I did,” Bucky says, slouching down lazily into the chair. “No way were you getting away with not paying attention to that shit-show when I had to.”
“You were barely paying attention,” Clint says, reaching over for more popcorn. “You were complaining about it.”
“I can multi-task,” Bucky says, and then yawns. “Don’t wanna go back. SHIELD want readings on my arm. Steve wants Stark to do it.”
Clint’s brain pauses for a moment as he takes stock of what’s just been said. Bucky hasn’t spoken much about the fuckery of the SHIELD hearing. He seems to reserve time with Clint for getting away from all that; a distraction, or a comfort.
“Why do they want readings?”
Bucky shrugs moodily. “They want to know what I’m capable of in cold, hard, figures,” he says with a curl of his lip. “Steve says it’s a concession we can afford to make. Show of faith.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think they can go fuck themselves,” Bucky says. “And I think someone at SHIELD has got Steve by the balls. Threatening him with worst case scenarios to try and push him into making concessions.”
“Won’t work,” Clint says. “Will it?”
Bucky’s expression goes bitter. “He’s suggesting I let someone from SHIELD have access to all the specs for my arm. He’s not thinking straight.”
Clint doesn’t really know what to say. Bucky seems almost disappointed that Steve is suggesting any sort of compromise, but whether that’s more to do with protectiveness over his privacy, Clint doesn’t know.
“There, there?” he tries, patting Bucky’s arm. Bucky just rolls his eyes so hard that it probably hurt.
“You are awful at this,” Bucky says. “Good job you’re a good kisser.”
Clint ponders that for a moment. “You wanna do that instead?”
Bucky taps his chin in mock-thoughtfulness. “Well, we are in the back of the movies,” he says. “Would be dumb not to, really.”
“Alright,” Clint shrugs, and turns his body towards him as Bucky leans in and kisses him.
“I’m just saying, that if they didn't want us fooling around in there they should have locked the door,” Clint says as they leave the theater, shoving his hands in his pockets and squinting in the cold autumn sunlight. He’s not remotely embarrassed about being caught fooling around; he just hopes that the story doesn’t get spread and make the press. Not that he thinks anyone is remotely interested in what Hawkeye is up to these days, but he’d prefer not to give Steve an aneurysm if he can help it.
“Like a locked door would stop me,” Bucky says pointedly, and Clint snorts with laughter, bewilderedly pulling his hand back out of his pocket and holding up the piece of popcorn that’s somehow made a home there.
“This stuff is everywhere, I swear to god. It’s probably even in my-”
He abruptly stops as a figure steps away from leaning against the car that’s parked right outside. “Probably where?” Natasha asks casually, arms folded across her chest, a large, lidded coffee cup in her hand.
“Erm, in my shoes?” he tries lamely. At his side, Bucky has gone very still. “You okay?”
“Looking for you,” Natasha says simply, and then nods at Bucky, addressing him in a calm voice. “Can I borrow Clint for a while?”
Bucky shrugs. “As long as you give him back in one piece,” he says, and there’s an edge to it. Almost like a challenge.
“Give him back to you?” Natasha asks, a very faint hitch to the corner of her mouth and a narrowing of her eyes catching Clint’s attention and setting off alarm bells. He doesn’t know exactly what he should be concerned about right now; it’s more of a pavlovian reaction to that particular expression on Nat’s face.
“Yeah, no scuffs and no scratches,” Bucky says. “Have him back by tonight.”
Natasha raises an eyebrow, bored. Though whether it’s an act or not, Clint can’t tell. He’d try and work it out, but he’s a tad preoccupied figuring out if he should be bothered about Nat and Bucky talking about him like he’s not even there.
“Is that the deal?” Natasha asks, sipping at her drink.
“You bet your ass it’s the deal,” Bucky says shortly, and then to Clint, “See you later.”
“Alright,” Clint says, utterly nonplussed by the whole exchange. “Later.”
Bucky lifts his hand in a wave, tugging his hood up over his head before walking away. He doesn't look back and Clint feels a little forlorn. He was banking on going home and carrying on with their epically handsy make-out session that had been oh-so rudely interrupted by an annoyed sound-engineer. But no, the universe hates him and he’s now got to talk about feelings and missions with Nat. Fabulous.
“Get in,” she says, and he sighs and climbs into the car, slamming the door behind him in a childish but very satisfying display of how put-out he is.
“Oh I’m sorry, did I ruin the moment?” Natasha asks as she slides into the driver's seat and shuts the door. She passes over the coffee cup and he takes a sip, nearly burning his tastebuds off as he does.
“Yes,” Clint mutters, and then rapidly decides ‘oh fucking balls,’ because Nat doesn’t know that he’s-
“So, you’re sleeping with him.”
Okay. So she knows.
“I am not,” Clint says as the car rumbles to life. There’s a pause and then he slumps even further down into the seat. He might as well just get it over with. Quickly and hopefully less painfully. Like ripping off a band-aid. “We share a bed. But we’re not. Well, technically we’re sleeping together then. But we’re not.”
“Waiting until the third date?” Natasha asks slyly as she waves the car through the traffic at a speed that would make lesser mortals close their eyes and pray. “You gentleman. Did Steve give you that advice? Because he and Tony were definitely sleeping together on the first date.”
“They were sleeping together before the first date and no I’m not and no he didn’t.”
“Taking it slow?”
Clint scowls at her. “Shut up. My sex life is none of your business.”
Natasha just smiles. A trademark ‘everyone’s business is my business’ smirk that Clint really shouldn't try and argue with. “You left home without your bow.”
“So?” he asks. “I had a trained assassin at hand. Didn't need it.”
“My, my, you are in deep,” Natasha says, and she actually sounds surprised. “I wasn't expecting that.”
“Nat, stop it,” Clint pleads. It comes out perilously close to a whine.
“You have popcorn in your hair as well as your ass,” she replies, and he gives up.
She drives them to his old apartment in Bed-Stuy, of all places. Leads the way and lets them in with a key like it’s her damn apartment. Clint follows her in, still carrying her coffee and feeling a little disoriented. He’s not been here in months, not since Steve broke him out, but it’s like he never left. Old hearing aids on the coffee table. Targets set up at the far end of the room. Shoes haphazardly strewn across the floor. A coffee mug that is probably now housing an ecosystem or a sentient being left on the counter. He edges towards it cautiously, not knowing if he should be more worried about that or whatever is going to be living in the fridge.
“You haven’t been back.”
“Pretty sure SHIELD are monitoring the place,” he says distractedly, poking the mug away towards the end of the counter and setting Natasha’s drink down a safe distance away from it.
Natasha shakes her head. “They gave up when Steve took you back to the tower. It’s a place of interest, but they’re not monitoring.”
“Good to know,” Clint says. “Why are we here?”
Natasha shrugs, slides onto one of the stools at the counter and picks up her drink, cradling it in both hands. “Just wanted to catch up on your mission.”
“It’s not a mission,” Clint says. “I told Fury that. So I’m not reporting back anymore. He’s fine. Things in the tower are fine.”
“Thanks to you,” Natasha says quietly.
Clint shrugs. “Right place, right time,” he says. “I didn’t exactly do much."
Natasha sighs. “I do hope your therapist is working on your appalling sense of self worth.”
Clint grins at her. “She’s trying.”
Natasha sighs again, smooths her fingertips over the counter. “I miss you,” she says quietly. “The you who used to be proud of how good he was.”
“Well then I got brainwashed and killed a bunch of people,” Clint says. “Kinda leaves a bad taste.”
“If the Winter Soldier can bounce back from what happened then so can you,” Natasha says. “Clint. You took on helping a man that no-one else would. You’ve had such an impact on his life. Steve is so grateful to you, you don’t even know.”
Clint tries to reach for her coffee cup.“You been talking to Steve?”
She moves it out of range just before his fingertips can touch it. “Of course I have. Just because I’ve been keeping my distance doesn’t mean I’m letting you boys out of my sight. And well done to you for utterly ignoring the important parts of what I’m saying.”
“It’s a gift.”
“You obviously care very much for Bucky. Can you please start caring about yourself too. He’s not the only one under consideration.”
Clint pulls a face. “Don’t remind me.”
“They have nothing on you, Clint. All you’d have to do is probably attend a hearing, give your side. SHIELD know what happened to you, they just have to make it official-”
“You could be back on the team within a few weeks-”
“Nat, I said no.”
Natasha leans forwards and takes his head in her hands, fingers spread either side of his ears so she doesn’t knock his hearing aids. “You listen to me, Clint Barton.”
“I’m listening,” he says. Her fingers tighten ever so slightly, applying just enough pressure to his cheekbones and temples. “Okay, I’m listening intently.”
“Stop being an ass,” she says. “You’re no longer that man who hides in the vents, who can’t even make it out of his room without his bow. You don’t need Steve to keep you safe. You’re not looking over your shoulder for Loki anymore.”
Clint feels a lump in his throat. “When you put it like that.”
“Ask for the paperwork, Hawkeye,” she says. “Steve needs you back on the team.”
“I’m not out because I’m choosing-”
“Yes, you are,” she says. “Fury is literally waiting for you to ask.”
“He’ll be waiting a while.”
“Clint,” she snaps, clearly irritated with him.
“Alright, alright! I’ll think about it. Now can you let me go? I can’t talk properly when I’m scared my skull is going to be crushed.”
Natasha clicks her tongue at him, a disapproving, annoyed sound, but she does let go of him. “You don’t think about it, and I’m going to make it so Steve knows that you could be back on the team with one signature.”
“Don’t,” Clint says, alarmed. “Nat, I said I’ll think about it.”
They fall into an uncomfortable and strained silence. After a minute or two she silently pushes the coffee cup over to him and he takes a few welcome sips before pushing it back. Though as she reclaims the drink, a small smile curving her mouth, he realizes he has no idea why she actually kidnapped him from outside the theater. Was it really to tell him to get himself cleared? Is she really putting in all the effort to get him to rejoin the Avengers?
“Did Fury make me your mission?”
“Maybe,” Natasha says, tracing her fingers around the edge of her cup. “Maybe I’m just doing it because I love you.”
“Ugh, gross,” Clint says and Natasha flicks cream at him, still smiling.
He doesn't make it back until gone midnight. Natasha makes him evict the living coffee cup from his apartment and then they get take-out, curled up on his couch watching Sleepless in Seattle on his battered old TV. Funny, despite Natasha’s protestations that love is for children, she certainly watches a lot of rom-coms. ‘To remind myself of why I don’t go there,’ she says when Clint points it out. He’s not sure if it’s bullshit or not, but she’s armed with chopsticks so he doesn’t say it out loud.
They talk about Bucky. He doesn’t find out anything more about what happened between Bucky and Nat, but she assures him it’s a closed chapter. Nothing that was anything more than the missions. She’s brutally honest; tells him that it maybe could have been a something. If the time was right, if circumstances had been different, it might have been.
It’s not that that leaves him feeling weird though. It’s her comments about how she’s glad it was Clint and not her.
He’s not gonna lie. He’s pretty glad too.
The tower is quiet by the time he returns. Bruce is in the kitchen, picking through a bowl of what looks like chana dal and tapping away on a tablet.
“Evening,” he says, glancing up as Clint comes in, shedding his jacket and throwing it over the back of a chair. “Could I take some blood from you tomorrow?”
“What, no small talk?” Clint asks. “What do you want blood for? I thought you were a physicist.”
“Well, I’m applying physics,” Bruce says. “Looking into combating bioweapons - you’re right, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ask for blood without context.”
“The context would help, that’s for sure,” Clint says. “Where is everyone?”
“Steve and Tony have gone out for dinner, Bucky went to bed,” Bruce says. “He said he wasn’t going to wait up for you. He sounded a little tense. More tense than he has been lately.”
“Alright, thanks Bruce,” Clint says, and heads up towards his floor, feeling a little guilty. Bucky had asked for him to be back and he technically wasn’t because it’s past midnight. Not that he will ever let anyone tell him to do like that, but he knows Bucky gets twitchy as fuck when there’s an unknown variable.
Despite what Bruce said about Bucky saying that he wasn’t going to wait up, Clint half expects Bucky to be up when he gets to his floor. He’s disappointed; when he gets there the lights are all off and there’s a Bucky shaped lump under the blankets that are atop the mattress. Clint wastes no time stripping off and crawling under the blankets with him, pressing his face to Bucky’s shoulder.
Bucky grunts and rolls over, shifting to make space. “You have a perfectly good bed.”
“I like it down here,” Clint mutters, nuzzling into Bucky’s side and pushing at his arm until Bucky lifts up, enabling Clint to pillow his head on his shoulder. Bucky makes a grudging noise but wraps his arm around Clint’s shoulders regardless.
“What did the Widow want?”
“Okay, you have to not call her that,” Clint says tiredly, tipping his head back to look at Bucky, just able to make out his profile in the dim light. He reaches up to brush his finger against the cleft in Bucky’s chin, just visible beneath his stubble. Bucky turns his head to look at Clint and takes hold of his fingers, pressing them to his lips.
“Why?” he asks around Clint’s fingers, dragging the pads of Clint’s fingertips against his lower lip. “S’what I know her as.”
“Because you are here now, as part of this,” Clint says, watching his fingers against Bucky’s mouth. “And we know her as Natasha.”
“Part of what?”
“I don’t know. This whole thing we’ve got going here. The superhero rehabilitation center. The most dysfunctional family in the world.”
Bucky bites his lower lip, takes Clint’s fingers away, folding his own around them. He looks like he wants to say something and then thinks better of it. He reaches over and carefully takes Clint’s hearing aid out, then pushes his face to the other side so he can get at the other. He pushes Clint off of him so he can lean over and drop the hearing aids to the floor and then settles on his side facing Clint, his hand pillowed under his face
“I might not be part of this much longer,” he says, and Clint looks from his mouth up to his eyes, a worried frown creasing his brow.
“The hearing,” Bucky mouths and Clint’s stomach sinks. He doesn’t know what to say, so instead he wriggles forwards and kisses the corner of Bucky’s mouth. As he pulls back Bucky reaches up and pushes his fingers through Clint’s hair, and nods as if that were the answer he was looking for.
“You’ll be fine,” Clint mouths and then Bucky is kissing him again, hard and urgent. Clint kisses him back, lets Bucky roll him onto his back, a metal hand slipping down to hold onto his hip. Bucky presses over him, still hungrily kissing him like he’s not going to get another chance.
The day Clint ends up with an amnesiac cyborg assassin for an official boyfriend is also the day he’s on the wrong end of a pretty humiliating beatdown during sparring. It’s an hour in and twelve-nothing to Bucky when he finally admits defeat, face down on the mats with both arms twisted up behind his back, wrists held easily in Bucky’s iron grip.
“Uncle, Uncle, I give.”
“You are,” Bucky says with a grin, taking his knee out of Clint’s back and standing up, “shit at this.”
Clint groans, planting his hands onto the mat on either side of his body but making no attempt to stand up. “I’m out of practice,” he says. “And you’re a super-soldier.”
“You are a top SHIELD agent and an Avenger,” Bucky says, walking away to snatch up his bottle of water, cracking off the top. “You should not be as easy to pin.”
“Told you, I’m out of practice,” Clint says, and manages to get up onto his knees, sitting back on his heels and wincing, tipping his head back. Something in his brain reminds him of the conversation he’d had with Nat, about getting himself cleared and reinstated. He scowls, not liking being made to think about it. “And I’m not a SHIELD agent. Or an Avenger.”
“Good, because with form like that you wouldn’t last two minutes,” Bucky says cuttingly. He walks up to Clint and holds out the bottle of water. “Come on, get up.”
“No,” Clint says, swiping the bottle of water from him and draining it, crunching the plastic in his hand and tossing it aside before slumping back down onto the mat. “I’m done.”
“No,” Clint says, throwing an arm up over his eyes. “I’m done, Buck. Give me a break.”
“Oh come on,” Bucky wheedles. “You’re the only one I’m allowed to spar with.”
“Much more and I won’t be able to shoot or sit for a week,” Clint says. “Go and ask Steve.”
“Who’s gonna tell SHIELD?”
“No, I mean he won’t,” Bucky says. “He - he’s not ready. Says he can’t yet, not after us fightin’ before.”
Oh. Clint hadn’t thought of that. He lifts his arm, squints up at Bucky who is standing over him, arms folded across his chest. “I would if I could,” he says regretfully. “But seriously, I think my bruises are getting bruises.”
Bucky sighs but then nods. He drops down onto the mat next to Clint, sitting cross legged for a moment and then shifting around so he’s lying on his back, head pillowed on Clint’s stomach. Clint absently reaches down to twist Bucky’s hair between his fingertips, combing his hand through sweat-damp strands.
“Are we a thing, or what?”
Clint’s stomach promptly turns itself over, because wow. “Depends what a thing is,” he says slowly. His brain is already in oh my god holy fuck mode because that sounds like Bucky asking for commitment and something solid and real and that’s-
Bucky reaches up and pinches his hip, hard. Clint yelps and tries to squirm away, but Bucky just rolls over and props his chin on Clint’s chest. “You know what I mean, asshole.”
“I’m sorry,” Clint says. “I just didn’t have you pegged as wanting a thing kinda guy.”
It’s a dirty trick, making it out to be about Bucky’s issues when it’s really his fear of vulnerability that’s making him hesitate. Luckily, Bucky doesn’t call him on it.
“Maybe I am, maybe i’m not,” Bucky says, eyes turning down. “I just know what I want right now.”
Clint looks up at the ceiling, unwilling to meet stormcloud eyes. “Your hearing is in a week. If it all goes South.”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says quietly. “We’d work it out.”
“Are we talking I’d wait for you to do your time while gazing wistfully out of the window, or are we saying I’d join Steve in his predictable and probably life endangering scheme to break you out again?”
“Could do both if you really wanted,” Bucky says. Clint laughs softly, and then lifts his head so he can look at Bucky. He beckons him up and Bucky obligingly shifts, crawling up Clint’s body so they’re nose to nose. Bucky almost smiles at him, and the way his stomach flips again helps Clint to promptly decide fuck it. All his stupid insecurities can fuck off.
“No-one else I trust like you,” Clint says honestly. “We’re a thing.”
“Just like to know,” Bucky says, and he leans down to kiss him. Clint can’t help but smile, and then he’s laughing into the kiss, doing his best to stop, and Bucky mumbles ‘shut up, you punk,’ into his mouth, rolling them over on the mats and kissing him breathless.
“So, I’ll tell you something good I did if you make me coffee.”
Beckett eyes Clint with amusement. Her hair is down today, loose curls over her shoulders. “The coffee was a one time thing,” she says. “You are not dying today. You are always welcome to get up and get yourself a drink.”
“Everyone’s dying everyday, doc. It’s the state of the universe.”
“Philosophy will not get you coffee.”
“Worth a shot,” Clint yawns. He stretches, heels digging into the carpet before he lets himself relax, flopping back into the chair with a grunt, scratching at his stomach. “So, the weather sucks, huh?”
“Yes, indeed it does,” Beckett says, glancing at the rain-heavy sky outside the window. “Are you coping with the shorter days?”
Clint nods. “Yeah, I’m good,” he says. “Tony replaced all the lights in the tower with those ones that beam out like magic light or whatever. A pre-emptive looking out for Steve thing, though obviously he won’t admit it out loud. Hey, who’s a worse patient, me or Tony?”
“You know I’m not allowed to talk about anyone else I’ve worked with,” Beckett admonishes. “And I’m still waiting because you clearly have something to tell me but you’re already trying to divert by talking about the weather and Tony Stark.”
“I’m not diverting!” Clint protests, and then has a moment to think. “Okay, I might be a little. But I am going to tell you. It’s just...weird.”
“I have been your therapist for quite some time. Weird is the default setting.”
Clint pauses, shifts in his seat a little, picking at the seam of the arm of the chair. “I have a boyfriend.”
Beckett just smiles at him. “Well done.”
“Well. It wasn’t me. Bucky beat me up and then asked if we were a thing.”
Beckett blinks at him. “Considering the parts of your history that are on file, I have to write that down.”
Clint’s mouth falls open. “Hey! That’s - that’s not fair,” he says, because shouldn’t therapists be all no prior judgement and shit like that? And he’s not even here to talk about his family and all that ancient history, he’s here to talk about the whole Loki-thing.
“We were sparring,” Clint says, slightly exasperated. “He beat me. It was embarrassing. And then he asked me if we were a thing.”
“Maybe next time lead with the word sparring, Clint,” Beckett responds, her exasperation easily beating his. She’s way better at it than he is, dammit. “I worry enough about you.”
Clint slowly grins at her. “You were worried about little old me?”
“It’s my job to worry about you,” Beckett replies, but Clint doesn't believe that her worry is purely under the remit of her job, not at all. “Do you want to tell me more about your boyfriend?”
“He’s pretty cool but he’s not as cool as me,” Clint says, to no discernible response. “Come on, that’s a classic.”
“You were banned from memeing during therapy, if you remember?”
“Much therapy. Such waste of time.”
“Sorry, do you have any breadsticks I can shove in my purse, I have to go-”
Clint throws his hands up in the air, rolling his eyes. “I like it, alright? It’s just the same. But now I always know he’s got my back and I can have his. I don’t need to wait to ask.” He pauses, walks his fingertips down his thigh to his knee. “And. And, if we’re being all serious about it, then I’d say that I feel kinda proud. Of myself. I...I’m allowed to be happy with him.”
Beckett smiles. “That’s good, Clint.”
Clint just shrugs like it’s no big deal. “He’s probably going to jail.”
“You seem very relaxed about that.”
Clint considers that, scratching at the back of his head. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” he says. “I’m not allowed anywhere near it. Bucky’s worried though. He was worried about me and him not working out because he might be locked up again.”
“But you two decided to be a thing anyway?”
Clint nods again. “Told him I’d either wait for him or help Steve break him out.”
Beckett sighs. “Of course you did,” she says. “It seems that Bucky is putting a lot of trust in you. He’s leaning on you quite heavily for support in a very difficult time of his life. How are you with that?”
Clint is ready to dismiss it, but he doesn’t. “Well…” he says carefully. “I got into this knowing I was gonna have to take some weight. So now it’s the same deal, but with added sex?”
Beckett blinks at him. “Well, at least you’re being positive.”
Clint grins. “You know me, doc. A regular little ray of sunshine.”
Clint can hear yelling the moment he steps foot on the communal floor. It’s starting to become a bit of a depressingly regular thing; he leaves the building for five damn minutes and everyone starts fighting. He can pick out Steve’s deep tones even when he’s not wearing his hearing aids, but it takes him a moment of hard listening to work out that the second yelling voice isn’t Tony, but Bucky.
Not wanting to get in the middle of what sounds like an epic super-soldier throw-down, he steps back into the elevator and is about to run for cover when his brain re-engages and remembers that Bucky is now his boyfriend, which possibly means he should go and at least see what the yelling is all about. Or maybe it means he should respect Bucky’s boundaries and let him handle it himself.
Luckily, he’s saved from having to make an actual decision by the sound of footsteps stomping his way, and then Bucky appears with a murderous scowl in place.
“Tell Steve to go fuck himself,” he snaps, and then he’s shouldering past Clint into the elevator and viciously stabbing at the buttons, not even looking back as the doors slide shut.
Clint stands there and blinks. “Hi honey, I’m home,” he calls, nonplussed. He debates going after him, but he doesn't think that even his winning charm or nakedness will do much to appease Bucky when he’s that mad. He heads into the communal area, hoping that Steve can shed some light on the situation.
Steve’s head snaps up as Clint edges into the room, but his angry frown softens slightly as he sees that it’s Clint. “Did he storm out?” he asks. Clint nods, spreading his hands out in an approximation of ‘what the fuck.’
“Don’t look at me like that,” Steve says, somewhere between reproachful and annoyed.
“What did you do? That’s like a nine on the murder eye scale,” Clint says. “He hasn’t been a nine since he told me about Albstadt.”
Steve looks momentarily taken aback. “He told you about that?”
“I just said, didn’t I? You’re not the only one he talks to, you know.”
Steve rears back and there is a brief moment where Clint thinks fuck, I’ve offended Captain America, oh god, but then it vanishes. So the fuck what if he has? He’s Clint Barton. He was probably put on this planet to shoot things and offend people by being honest. He meets Steve’s gaze and folds his arms across his chest, standing his ground.
“I guess not,” Steve says slowly, and then exhales heavily and rubs at his forehead. “He’s pissed me off.”
“I think the feeling is mutual,” Clint says, and walks over into the kitchen area, opening the fridge and peering inside. Is it too early for beer? He’s been good and done therapy today so he guesses he’s earned it. “What’s gone on?”
Steve grunts noncommittally and wanders over, reaching past Clint to grab a beer for himself. He flicks the top off and sits down heavily at the counter, running a hand over his head. “He won’t let Tony look at his arm. You know there’s something up with his thumb?”
Clint does know, of course he does. The bruise on the inside of his thigh is a tender reminder of the spasm that’s developed in Bucky’s metal thumb - and his first finger too, but apparently Steve doesn’t know that.
“Well, that’s maybe because it’s his arm?” Clint suggests.
“It’s hurting him-”
“Yeah, it probably is,” Clint says. “That’s his problem.”
“Tony could fix it in seconds!”
“Hey, remember when you had a piece of technology attached to you that was easy to fuck with?” Clint interrupts.
Steve’s eyes flick to Clint’s ears and then away. “That’s not fair.”
“Yeah it is,” Clint says. “You’ve got no idea what it’s like. And besides, that’s his arm, bro. It’s a part of him - it’s like asking you to let someone poke and prod at you to document all your serummy shit when you’ve had nothing put people poking and prodding and abusing you for the last seventy years.”
And Steve doesn't have a single response to that. He just looks at Clint for long seconds - for way too long, Clint doesn’t do prolonged eye contact with people unless he’s going to kiss them - and then breathes out, mouth hitching crookedly.
“You are nowhere near as dumb as you pretend to be,” he says a little ruefully, thumb picking at the label on his beer bottle. “And I think maybe I need to apologise to Bucky.”
“Well, Bucky needs to pull his head out of his ass and start trusting the rest of the team too,” Clint says. “But maybe you shouldn’t be trying to get him to let Tony prod at his arm when you’ve already wound him up by suggesting SHIELD should be allowed specs for it.”
Steve presses the heel of his palm to his forehead. “And considering he told you about Albstadt, I shouldn’t be surprised he told you I did that.”
Clint shrugs. “People like to share their woes with me. It’s a gift and a terrible burden.”
Steve doesn’t find it funny. “I’ve told him why I did it,” he says mulishly. “And I’m not going to apologize for it.”
Clint rears back a little. “You’re not?”
“No,” Steve says. “They’re going to string him up without some concessions. I’m trying to find a compromise.”
“Since when the hell did you ever compromise?” Clint asks. “You and Tony nearly killed each other because you weren’t-”
“That’s not the same.”
“Sure it’s not,” Clint says. “Bro, you sure picked a shitty time to start giving in to other people.”
Steve’s jaw clenches. “Maybe you need to back off.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have taught me to stick to my principles,” Clint replies, picking up his beer and standing up.
Steve makes a move as if to stand up, but before he can there’s a crack and then the table is flooded with beer and broken glass. “Fuck,” he curses, lifting his hand up and shaking shards of glass from it. “ Dammit .” He’s bleeding, red droplets mixing with the beer on the table.
“Whoa,” Clint says, and steps forwards, hastily grabbing a towel. “Here, Steve-”
“Clint I got it,” Steve says, snatching the towel from him. Intending to help, Clint follows and reaches for him with his hands outstretched but Steve yanks back. “Clint, I said I got it, back off .”
Clint steps back, holding his hands up in surrender. Steve huffs, pressing the towel to his hand, brow creased in an annoyed frown. It’s a little strange to see, mostly because it’s Tony who is usually on the receiving end of it. And now Clint thinks about it, Steve’s never spoken to him like that before. Huh, it’s kinda refreshing to know that Steve’s stopped pussyfooting around him. He gets to be yelled and frowned at just like everyone else.
The silence stretches out. Clint watches the beer dripping slowly from the tabletop onto the floor, the gleaming of the shards of green glass. Steve just stands there, holding the towel to his hand and glowering down at it like it’s to blame for everything going wrong.
“You know you’re not alone in this, right?” Clint finally says cautiously. “You don’t have to compromise with the government or SHIELD. We’ll back you up, whatever it takes.”
Steve doesn’t reply, so Clint just collects his beer and silently ducks out of the room, not entirely sure if he’s helped or just made everything worse.
Jarvis reliably informs him that Bucky is in their room - wow, when did it officially become their room?- and that Clint should be careful as Bucky is playing with his knives and being rather reckless with his aim.
Clint actually has some self preservation instincts, no matter what Fury and his shrink say, so instead of going silently into the room he kicks the door open, letting it bang against the wall. “Can I come in without being stabbed?” he yells.
“You are not fucking funny,” a voice snaps back. Clint rolls his eyes and edges in, carefully peering around the corner just in time to see Bucky hurl a knife at the dart board. The poor thing is looking a little worse for wear.
“I’m hilarious,” Clint says, wandering in and dropping onto the mattress, careful not to spill his beer. He manages, mostly.
“Not now,” Bucky bites out, lining up and throwing another knife. It sinks into the board right next to the first.
Leaning back on his elbows, Clint licks the drops of spilt beer off his wrist. “Well, can you hurry up and stop being pissy at me? Steve’s mad at me too and I’m not sure I can handle the both of you.”
Bucky pauses, flipping a third knife over in his hand. “Why is Steve mad at you?”
“I told him to back off about your arm,” Clint says. “Don’t be mad - I know you can handle it, but I-”
He abruptly breaks off as Bucky turns around and heads straight for him, clambering onto the mattress and sitting across his waist, knees digging into Clint’s ribs. There is a moment of not quite alarm when Bucky reaches up with his knife still in hand, but all he does is sink it into the wall above Clint’s head so he’s got both hands free to gently cup Clint’s face.
“You told Steve to back off?”
Unsure, Clint nods. “Yeah? Are you mad?”
Bucky huffs at him. “Do I look mad?”
“No,” Clint says. “You’re not even murder-eyeing anymore.”
Bucky’s mouth hitches in a sort-of smile. “You,” he begins, and then leans in and kisses Clint. “You got in a fight with Captain America for me?”
“Nah, I just told Steve Rogers he was being an ass,” Clint says, and Bucky leans in and kisses him again, his hands running over Clint’s hair.
“I am not mad,” Bucky says. “You are the only person who is thinking about me in this mess.”
“Everyone is thinking about you,” Clint says, still unsure. “Steve wants what’s best-”
He stops talking because Bucky is shaking his head. “It’s not the same,” he says, and his eyes are flicking over Clint’s face. “You’re different.”
“Well maybe that’s why you’re going out with me and not Steve?” Clint suggests and Bucky sits back, looking mildly exasperated.
“Yeah, that’s the only reason,” he says, and then sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I feel like I need to hit something.”
Clint blinks at him, shifting his shoulders to get comfy and resting his beer bottle on Bucky’s thigh. “If you’re propositioning me, not so smooth.”
“If I were propositioning you, you’d know about it,” Bucky retorts. “Considering how shit you were at picking up any idea that I even liked you, I’d probably just go for sticking my hand down your pants.”
“Well if you’re going to do that, can you lead with the real hand?” Clint asks. “The metal one gets cold.”
Bucky retaliates by leaning back and slipping his metal hand up Clint’s shirt, pressing his palm against Clint’s abs. Clint gasps and flails, but Bucky has the strongest thighs on the planet and easily resists Clint’s attempts to buck him off.
“You bastard,” Clint gasps, curling up as much as he can, shoulders hunching in. “Get off.”
“No, I don’t think I will,” Bucky says, and he slips his other hand up under Clint’s shirt as well, warm skin a stark contrast to the chilled metal. His fingertips trace along Clint’s ribs and Clint finds himself shivering for an entirely different reason. He meets Bucky’s eyes, stomach dipping as Bucky bites his lower lip.
“Okay, I’m getting a vibe here,” Clint says, voice low. “Are we about to get naked?”
“Wow, your skills of deduction are fuckin’ astounding,” Bucky deadpans, and then his expression goes slightly wicked. “I wasn't planning on it, but now you mention it...”
Clint replies by reaching up and wrapping his palm around the back of Bucky’s neck, pulling him down so he can kiss him. Bucky’s hands press heavily on his sides before he shifts his weight, and Clint’s breath catches as he presses more heavily against his lap. He manages to put his beer aside on the floor next to the mattress without looking, and the moment his hand is free it finds a home low down on Bucky’s back, thumb brushing at his belt.
Bucky makes a pleased noise in the back of his throat, and Clint replies with a gasp as he deliberately grinds down against him, and Bucky is grinning against his mouth, breathless laughter that Clint wants to hear more of. He’s half wondering if Bucky is just doing this because he wants to be distracted from his fight with Steve, but he’s not sure he entirely believes the voice in his head that’s telling him that Bucky wouldn’t be doing this if he weren't upset and stressed-
And then he promptly stops thinking as Bucky suddenly pushes a hand between them, pressing his palm against Clint’s crotch, cupping him through his jeans. Clint outright whines , his breath catching in his throat, and then he’s mentally cursing himself and wondering how the hell he ever managed to have sex before without either injuring or embarrassing himself. Luckily, Bucky doesn't seem to care about him making ridiculous noises or forgetting what to do with his hands, because he’s just rubbing at Clint artlessly through his jeans, and then his fingers are on Clint’s belt and Clint is torn between pressing forwards into the touch and shifting his hips back so Bucky can get his pants open-
And then the universe decides to kill his luck with a stone-cold headshot once more because there’s a brisk knock on the door, and then he hears it opening and footsteps heading their way. Bucky wrenches back, slumping sideways off of Clint’s lap, his shoulder hitting the wall with a thud.
“Whoa, whoa, not decent-” Clint yell, and then he hears Steve cursing and then the door slamming shut again.
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ, Steve!” Bucky says, wiping his mouth and looking genuinely angry. “What the hell?!” he bellows at the door. “Ain’t you ever heard of fuckin’ privacy?”
“Whoa, calm down,” Clint says, pushing himself up into a sitting position and adjusting himself with a wince. “He didn’t mean to.”
“I’m gonna fucking kill him,” Bucky mutters mutinously, kicking the blankets aside and climbing to his feet. Clint grabs for him but Bucky pulls free, storming out of the room and wrenching the door open, already yelling.
“Huh!? What’s your fucking problem?”
“I wasn’t expecting you to be screwing in the middle of the living room!”
“Why you coming up here anyway? I told you I didn't want to talk to you!”
The voices are getting angrier and more difficult to follow considering the overlapping in the yelling, and Clint is torn between shimmying out of his window so he doesn't have to deal with it, and intervening so Bucky and Steve don’t end up ripping each others heads off. This is insane ; they were attached at the hip not a few weeks ago - they’ve been best friends for seventy years - and now they’re fighting worse than Steve and Tony were.
“Hey, hey, just stop it!” Clint yells as he strides down the corridor. He pushes past Bucky and plants himself in-between the pair of them, a hand on each of their chests. “Stop, this is crazy!”
They both start yelling again, protesting and blaming the other, and Clint shoves them both with his palms.
“Seriously! I can’t hear two people yelling at once so just shut the fuck up!”
Miraculously, they do shut up, though they're still glaring at each other.
“You’re making me be the voice of reason again, I fucking hate you both,” Clint says. “Jesus. Steve you obviously came in for a reason, what do you want?”
“To say sorry!”
Steve yells the words and then visibly reigns himself in as silence follows his outburst. He exhales heavily, rubbing at his temple. “I wanted to say sorry,” he tries again, sounding significantly less angry. “I’m. I’m stressed out and I’m exhausted and I’m - I’m fucking scared. And I’m making compromises in all the wrong places. I should never have said anything about your arm. I’m sorry.”
By the time he’s finished, he actually sounds sorry, and Clint is doing his very best not to gape at him because it sounds suspiciously like Steve has listened to what he said.
Man, he’s getting good at this helping out business.
“It’s my arm, Steve,” Bucky says, sounding pained. “If people know how it works, they could screw around with it.”
“I know, I know,” Steve says, sounding pained. “I just - this fucking hearing. Everything you’ve been through comes down to two hours-”
“Yeah, I know,” Bucky says. “But you gotta stop with the concessions. My life, my call.”
“You’re a self-sacrificing idiot, though,” Steve says, and Clint literally has to bite his tongue to stop himself both laughing out loud and making some sort of pot-meet-kettle comment.
“Says you,” Bucky snorts, and oh good, thank fuck Bucky said something so Clint doesn’t have to. He folds his arms across his chest. “Steve, I’ve got several very compelling reasons to fight this. I’m not gonna let them take this all away from me, trust me.”
Steve looks at Clint and then back to Bucky, and finally, he seems to relent. “You know me,” he says, mouth turning down deprecatingly. “I don’t like bullies.”
Bucky smiles crookedly. “I know. You getting into fights that ain’t yours is your most annoying quality.”
Steve almost smiles back. “You mean heroic, right?”
“No, I mean annoying,” Bucky says. “But you have your uses, I guess.”
“Charming,” Steve says dryly. “Now, are we gonna carry on yelling or shall we go talk it out somewhere more comfortable? Unless you two want to...”
He trails off with a shrug and a gesture towards the bedroom door. Clint balks a little, because it’s one thing to be sleeping with Captain America’s best friend, and another thing entirely for the man to be talking about it where people can hear.
Bucky lifts a questioning eyebrow at Clint, mouth turning in contemplation like he’s not quite decided either way.
Clint rears back hastily. “No!” he says. “We’re okay. We’re done.”
“Well I certainly wasn't,” Bucky says. “But if you were, I need a damn medal. Two minutes and I didn’t even get your pants off.”
Clint isn’t sure who goes the brighter shade of pink; him or Steve.
Half an hour later and they’re all sitting in the penthouse of all places, drinking beer and not-watching the game on the obnoxiously large TV that’s in the living area. It’s all sleek lines and amazingly expensive decor, and Clint could get used to being up here. Even Bucky relaxes after three beers and twenty minutes of peering around suspiciously, his feet pulled up and his arm slung over Clint’s shoulders.
They talk about the hearing some more. Steve continues to fret. Bucky continues to tell him to stop selling him short. Clint just sits there. He hasn’t got much to say on the subject, but he somehow knows that Bucky feels better for him being there.
Tony appears later with more beer, wearing ripped jeans and nursing a burnt finger. Bucky tells Steve to fret over that instead and Steve just flips him off. Tony just grins slyly at Steve, telling him that the Terminator has a point, dropping onto the couch and kicking his feet up into Steve’s lap in a not so subtle request for a foot-rub.
“You hurt your finger, not your feet,” Steve says, though he’s utterly undermining himself and probably reinforcing Tony’s belief that he can get whatever he wants, because his fingers are already kneading at the arch of Tony’s foot.
“Mm,” Tony says absently, phone in hand and thumbs flicking rapidly over the screen. “I’m summoning Bruce. Are Thor or Natasha back on the planet yet?”
“No and no,” Steve says with a sigh. “She’s stopped replying to my texts.”
“You’re saying it like you wouldn’t expect it from her,” Tony says, eyes still on his phone.
“She’s busy,” Clint says. “For every mission we know about she’ll be running three more.”
“I just like to know what my team are doing,” Steve says. “I don’t like people keeping things from - from the team.”
“Oh please, you don’t like people keeping things from you,” Tony says with a snort, and Clint feels Bucky twitch next to him, but Steve is just shaking his head at Tony, fond and amused.
“Then if you know it, don’t do it,” Steve shrugs. “You can’t keep things from Captain America, Tony. It’s unconstitutional.”
Clint and Bucky both laugh as Tony looks up from his phone, indignant. “I thought it was Natasha giving you the run around? I learned my lesson about keeping things from you, how is this now all about me?”
“Isn’t everything?” Steve shoots back, and Tony just digs his heel into Steve’s stomach.
“Unfortunately, no,” he says as Steve grabs his ankle, effortlessly stopping his attempts to kick him. “Everything should always revolve around me, but it doesn’t. I’m working on it, but the world has yet to co-operate.”
“You can have my share of attention if you like,” Bucky says unexpectedly. “I’m kinda over it.”
Tony swigs from his beer and then points it at Bucky. “No, see, I’m not in the market for the kind of bad press you’re currently dragging around,” he says unapologetically. “I know they say all press is good press but I call bullshit on that notion.”
“Tell me about it,” Bucky says. “I ain’t had any good press since nineteen forty-four.”
“So, here’s to the world not giving us what we want,” Tony says, raising his beer, cocking a sardonic eyebrow.
“Nah,” Bucky says slowly. “Maybe for the world giving us things we never knew we wanted.”
Tony’s eyes immediately flick to Steve and then away. “Yeah, maybe I’ll toast to that,” he says with a shrug. Clint twists his head around to look at Bucky, a joke about him being a sap there and ready to go, but when he sees the look on Bucky’s face he decides against it. Bucky looks at him for a moment and then simply leans down and kisses him, and when he pulls back Clint can feel a strange helpless warmth in his chest.
“Yeah, I’ll drink to that,” he says.
“Me too,” Steve says quietly, and the four of them silently lift their drinks, bottles glinting in the light.
Trusting people to be in my personal space, Clint lazily thinks to himself as he slowly drags his fingers up and down Bucky’s spine. Check.
He should probably tell Beckett about this. Just walk into his next session and announce ‘hey Doc, I got naked with someone and let them all up in my space without freaking out.’ That’d serve her right for prying into his life all the time. Though on second thoughts, she’d probably just nod, pull the interested therapist face and ask for more details.
“Urgh,” he mumbles sleepily, and then feels Bucky lift his head from where it’s pillowed on his chest. His metal hand is tucked under his cheek, palm flat against Clint’s sternum, but this time it’s nicely warmed up so he not about to object.
Also, being a kind of human pillow for Bucky as he dozes makes Clint feel good in a weird inexplicable way.
“Wha?” Bucky asks, voice rough and puzzled, and Clint is confused for a moment before he realises the grossed out sound his brain made actually came out of his mouth.
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking about telling my therapist about my sex life and then regretting it.”
Bucky makes a noise a lot like the one Clint made, settles down for about three seconds and then lifts his head again.
“You tell your therapist about me?”
Clint cracks an eye open. “....no?”
“She works for SHIELD, Clint, you better be careful with what you’re saying-”
“Hey, chill,” Clint says through a yawn. “I talk about my feelings and lame stuff like that. Nothing top secret. Nothing even remotely secret.”
Bucky rolls over a little, hooking a leg over Clint’s and resting his weight more heavily onto him. Now leaning on Clint’s bare chest, he starts absently tracing shapes on his collarbones with his metal finger. “Feelings and stuff?”
“Yeah, I have them,” Clint says, shifting slightly and letting the pillows that are stacked up behind him take his weight. He slides his hands up Bucky’s back, pressing his mouth to tousled, sweat-damp hair.
“Why don’t you share with the class,” Bucky says. “If you share with your shrink you can share with me.”
Clint pauses, the bottom half of his face still buried in Bucky’s hair. He slowly pulls back. “Are you fishing?”
“I put myself out there all the time,” Bucky says with a shrug, not seeming remotely embarrassed. “Your turn.”
“You are, you’re fishing,” Clint says in disbelief. He laughs shortly and reaches up as Bucky scowls and lifts his hand to swat at him; he catches his metal wrist and pulls his hand down, kissing his fingertips. Bucky resists only marginally; if he really wanted out of Clint’s grip he’d be out, no questions asked.
Instead, he just sighs and presses at Clint’s lower lip with his metal thumb. “You’re a closed book some days.”
Yes, because a megalomaniac demi-god once got into my brain and took every private thought I had and now I can’t stand people knowing too much, he thinks. He doesn’t say it, but Bucky is still looking at him, waiting for a reply.
“Uh, Loki,” he says, stumbling over the words. “Um. He kind of ruined privacy for me.”
Bucky’s thumb drags against Clint’s lip. “Makes sense,” he says quietly. “Hydra only ever got rid of my thoughts. Didn’t read them.”
Clint just shrugs, tries to brush it off. Thoughts aren’t turning into words, and he looks up at the ceiling, feeling lost and vulnerable and wishing his bow was within reaching distance.
“Hey,” Bucky says quietly, and he cranes his neck up for a kiss. “Sorry.”
“Why’re you sorry? Don’t be sorry,” Clint says, obliging and gently kissing him. “I know I - I dunno. Nat says I’m emotionally stunted. Loki made it worse. But. I like you, you know I like you. We’re a thing. I wouldn’t be naked if I didn’t like you.”
“That is…” Bucky says slowly. “Strangely reassuring?”
“I mean it,” Clint says. “I wouldn’t get naked with anyone else.”
Bucky starts to laugh. “I fuckin’ hope not,” he says. “Okay, I’ll take that as a sign of your devotion.”
“What’s going on? What’s with the fishing?”
Bucky doesn’t reply straight away. He exhales heavily and kisses Clint again, his stubble scratching against Clint’s chin.
“Three days to go,” he says. “I might be in supervillain supermax by Friday.”
Clint lets the words sink in. Not too far though, because he promptly makes himself stop thinking and shoves the beginnings of unease away. Bucky seems to be waiting for a reply though, so he just makes a noncommittal noise. “Nah.”
“You can’t just ignore the fact it’s going to happen,” Bucky says, and Clint would beg to differ because that’s exactly what he’s been doing and will carry on doing. “And that it could go tits-up.”
“You’ve changed your tune,” he says, tightening his arms around Bucky. “Yesterday you were all up in Steve’s grill telling him it was going to be fine.”
“Well, I have to, don’t I?” Bucky says, rubbing his cheek against Clint’s chest, stubble scratching at his skin. “He can’t handle thinking anything bad’s gonna happen to me.”
“What, and I can?”
Bucky lifts his chin, looks Clint in the eye. He reaches up, cups Clint’s face. Clint turns his face to press a kiss to the inside of Bucky’s wrist, not entirely sure how this man has turned him into such a sap.
“You know you have to,” Bucky says quietly, fingers gently stroking at Clint’s jaw, just below his ear. “You’re both on opposite ends of the spectrum here. He does nothing but think about it. You don’t think about it at all.”
Clint shrugs. Bucky makes a soft sound in the back of his throat and curls further into Clint, bare legs sliding against Clint’s under their blankets.
“You thought about it at all?” he asks, eyes closed.
Clint blinks, absently stroking Bucky’s hair. “No,” he says honestly. “I’m not a master tactician. I just deal with things as they happen.”
Bucky hums at that, and then presses his mouth to Clint’s collarbone, breath hot and damp on his skin. “Distract me some more?”
“Yeah, I think I can manage that,” Clint says, and leans down to kiss him.
Clint leans back against Bucky’s chest, eyes closed and face towards the weak autumn sunlight. The air is cold on his face, but his mug is warm between his hands and Bucky is warm behind him, his real arm tucked around Clint’s middle. Bucky’s thighs are either side of his hips, solid and strong, and Clint’s feet are dangling off the edge of the building, swinging lazily in space.
They’ve been up here for hours but haven’t said a word. They haven’t spoken all morning; Bucky had silently woken Clint before sunrise, climbing out of bed and leaving the room without a word. Clint had had a few moments of sleepy confusion followed by a slowly encroaching sense of dread, his brain stalling somewhere between oh god the hearing it’s the hearing today and he’s gone without saying goodbye, he’s gone .
And then Bucky had walked back into the room with two coffees held in one hand, metal fingers looped securely through both handles, his free hand extended towards Clint. Clint had been so relieved to see that he was there and not gone that he’d crawled out of the mattress without a second thought, silently getting dressed and then taking hold of Bucky’s patiently waiting hand.
They’d watched the sun slowly awaken over Manhattan, the sky turning pale and yellow as the streets far beneath them grew busier. He’d slowly lost feeling in his foot from the cold and the way it was hanging, but he didn’t care. He cared about the fact he was alive and free, and that Bucky was choosing to spend what could be his last morning there with Clint.
It’s nearing midday when Bucky gently kisses the side of Clint’s face and draws his attention. Clint turns his head to the side as Bucky hooks his chin over his shoulder, both arms sliding around his middle and squeezing gently.
“You okay?” Clint signs to him, and Bucky nods slowly.
“Gotta go soon,” he says.
“Nah,” Clint says on reflex, and then feels Bucky’s arm tighten around his middle. Bucky says something to him but Clint doesn’t catch it, but by what he can see of Bucky’s face it’s something that falls somewhere between irritated and angry.
Despite the fact they’re boyfriends and all that, Bucky gets irritated with him quite a lot and Clint usually shrugs it off. Which doesn’t at all explain why he’s suddenly got a lump in his throat and why he feels so small and pathetic.
“I can’t hear you,” he says, and he can’t hear it very well but he just knows his voice sounds all weird and dumb-
Bucky rears back and pushes Clint around so they’re more face to face. “Hey,” he says clearly. “Hey, what’s with the face? Clint, what’s wrong?”
“I think I’m thinking about it,” Clint says unsteadily.
“Well you left that a bit late,” Bucky says, leaning in and bumping their foreheads together before pulling back so Clint can read his lips. “Jesus Clint, I’m leaving in like five-”
Clint shakes his head, not wanting to hear it.
“Fucking hell,” Bucky says. “And you haven’t even got your ears in. Shit. Alright, you read my lips. Whatever happens, you ain’t getting rid of me. I am not giving up on you. They lock me away, I’m breaking straight back out again and coming to get you.”
Clint blinks at him. “What, and we spend life on the run?”
“Wouldn’t be that bad,” Bucky shrugs, though he’s smiling tiredly. “You’re the only thing in this century that keeps me sane. I’m not giving you up.”
And oh my god, he’s saying things, big scary huge things and they’re normally the sort of thing that would send Clint running for the hills but right now it’s almost exactly what he wants to hear.
“You seem to be investing a lot in this,” he says. “You are aware that I am ten out of ten trash, right?”
Bucky shrugs. “What can I say. When I fall, I fall hard. Even if it is for trash.”
“You are a terrible judge of character.”
Bucky nods. “Probably. But even if I am, it doesn't matter. You remind me what it’s like to be real. To feel everything. To be me.”
“Oh jeez,” Clint says, looking down and feeling his cheeks go pink. “Uh. I mean. Words? I have them, I know some-”
“Just tell me you love me back and we’ll call it quits.”
Clint goes very still. Waits for the terrifying drop. Waits for the scared parts of him that still feel cold and blue to protest.
It doesn't come, and huh. That's something.
“Yeah, I love you back,” he says quietly, and Bucky breathes out heavily, leaning back in to rest his forehead against Clint’s again, his eyes slipping closed. It’s like he’s relaxing now he’s heard it. It hits Clint with no small amount of trepidation that Bucky is really invested here, like really blatantly obviously one hundred percent invested, which means he doesn't have the option of backing out.
Not that he wants to, but he doesn't think he’s ever done anything in his life without thinking of ‘after’ or ‘when it goes wrong’. Bucky is making him feel like that’s not even an option.
Bucky draws back and turns away, looking behind them; Clint looks up over his shoulder and his heart drops as he sees Steve is standing there on the roof, hands in his jacket pockets and waiting patiently.
“Alright,” Clint says quietly. “Have fun.”
“You’re an asshole,” Bucky says, and kisses him roughly on the forehead. “Don’t wait up.”
He gets up, careful not to knock Clint off the side of the building, and then leans down to kiss Clint on top of his head before walking quickly away.
Clint doesn't watch him go.
“Why, oh why, do you insist on sitting in the roof?”
Clint shakes himself out of his reverie - but not too hard, considering he’s on a fairly narrow beam almost eighteen feet in the air - and looks down from his perch to see Tony standing below him, arms folded across his chest and face lifted up quizzically.
“I see better from a distance,” he replies absently. “What’s up?”
“They just arrived,” Tony says, tossing his phone from hand to hand. “We won’t hear from them until after it’s over. You want me to hijack a feed?”
Clint blinks, momentarily taken aback. “You can do that?”
Tony stares at him flatly. “Can you hit a dime from ninety feet?”
“Alright, dumb question,” Clint concedes. He thinks about it for a moment, imagining what it would be like to sit and watch the hearing happen via a monitor. “No. I don’t want to watch. I can’t do anything.”
“An exercise in feeling helpless,” Tony agrees. “You wanna come down and help me drink a bottle of scotch?”
“You know I don’t like you when you’re drunk,” Clint says, and then winces. “Sorry. I’m stressed out. Not filtering so well.”
“I never expect you to filter, don’t sweat it,” Tony shrugs. “Okay. Well I’m stressed out and am not remotely interested in exploring any other coping strategies. You can be in charge of the bottle? And I give you full licence to tell Steve on me if I get out of line.”
“Is this for me or for you?” Clint asks him through narrowed eyes, slightly suspicious of how insistent Tony is being.
“Both?” Tony says, voice tilting up like a question. “Come on. Please. Steve will yell at me if I get drunk alone.”
“Steve will yell at you anyway, and probably at me too,” Clint grouches, but he’s pushing the rope off of the beam and hooking his ankle around it.
“Well, if he’s mean to you just tell on him to your boyfriend,” Tony says like it’s obvious.
With a deft movement, Clint flicks the rope so the end snaps towards Tony’s knees, making him abruptly take a step back. “Since when did I become utterly helpless?”
“I’m not saying you’re helpless, I’m saying your boyfriend is a badass.”
Clint pauses, and an unwilling smile starts to tug at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, my boyfriend is pretty cool,” he says.
Tony grins back. “But he’s not as cool as me,” he finishes. “Though we are competing with super-soldiers. We should start a club. Guys who are physically inadequate compared to their boyfriends.”
Clint snorts, grabbing his bow and swinging it over his shoulder, swinging down off the beam and slithering neatly down the rope. “What are you talking about, I’m two hundred pounds of pure American corn-fed muscle.”
“Whatever you tell yourself to get to sleep at night,” Tony says, watching as Clint steps back from the rope. “Now come on. Let’s go ignore the problems in our lives by drinking expensive liquor.”
“Well, when you put it like that,” Clint says with a crooked and tired smile. “Lead the way.”
Two and a half hours later, they’ve drank a bottle of scotch - only one, Clint had put his foot down about that and Tony had actually listened - played several games of poker and talked themselves in and out of ordering take-out around a thousand times.
They’re on their eighth hand and on their third debate over pizza versus Thai when Tony’s phone rings.
The screen shows a picture of Steve.
Clint goes very still, cards immediately forgotten in his hand. Tony’s face goes carefully blank and he slowly sits up, putting his glass and own hand of cards aside. He looks up at Clint, waiting. Clint nods jerkily and Tony reaches for the phone, thumbing the screen and answering the call as a voice call, putting it onto speaker.
“Yeah,” he says.
“He’s been cleared,” Steve says soberly, and Tony’s brows shoot up. Clint leans forwards, heart thudding madly and brow drawing into a confused frown.
“Then why do you sound like that?” he asks.
There’s silence on the other end of the line, and then Steve speaks again.
“He’s cleared as long as he doesn’t stay with us anymore. He’s not allowed in the tower. He’s not allowed anywhere where there’s intel he could get at. He’s been given an apartment in Brooklyn.”
Steve sounds utterly heartbroken. Steve sounds exactly how Clint feels.
“He’s not allowed here at all?” Tony asks roughly. “What if I lock him out, secure everything-”
“We tried that,” Steve says. “He’s the Winter Soldier, Tony. Getting at classified intel is something he’s been trained to do. And besides, they’re not happy having him in the Tower when there’s so many weapons accessible.”
“I could fix that,” Tony says quickly. “Keep all the weapons-”
“And they WSC don’t want him near me,” Steve bites out, and Tony abruptly stops talking. “Weapons or not, they know he was told to kill me, nevermind that he’s not under anyone’s fucking influence anymore-”
“Steve, I know,” Tony says, standing up and shifting from foot to foot. “We know, we’ll figure it out. Just - where are you know? Where is he?”
“I don't know,” Steve says, and there’s a strain in his voice that sounds close to breaking point. “We left the hearing and I turned around and he was fucking gone.”
“What?” Clint says, and the world around him stops. Just fucking hits pause on the remote and stops, everything hanging there until he blinks and remembers to breathe and makes himself speak. “He’s what? ”
“Gone,” Steve says, sounding lost and betrayed and hurt all at one. “Clint, he’s gone.”
Thank you to everyone who joined in with this fic and wasn't an asshole about it. I love you all <3
Bucky is not as hard to find as he should be.
Steve comes back to the tower, under strict orders from the WSC to not attempt to contact James Buchanan Barnes. No longer the Winter Soldier, but still not someone they trust. Despite the threats, Steve only agrees to come back after Clint calls him and tells him that he’ll go out and find Bucky, do not piss off the WSC or give them any reason to arrest Bucky again.
Muttering vehemently about the WSC and the government and Steve and the weather and his fucking walkabout boyfriend, Clint gets the address for Bucky’s new Brooklyn apartment from Steve and sets off out into the rain. Steve is adamant that Bucky won’t be there, but Clint ignores him because he’s not about to take advice from someone who managed to lose his goddamn boyfriend.
When he finds the apartment building, he’s thwarted by a door with a security code and no buzzer for apartment 9B, which funnily enough is the one he wants to get to. If it were any old building he’d be able to jimmy the box and trip the door, but seeing as SHIELD and the WSC have set this building up to contain the ex-Winter Soldier he doesn’t think it’ll be that easy. Not wanting to be electrocuted or blown up - and not trusting that the rest of the building is clear of undercover SHIELD agents who might try and stab or shoot or tell on him - he gives up on the front and heads to the back.
There’s no fire escape, so Clint adds that to his list of things that he’s mentally bitching about and shoots a line up to the roof. Wiping rain out of his eyes and cursing his numb fingers, he starts the relatively easy but still awkward task of scaling up the side of the building.
He heaves himself onto the narrow ledge of the window to apartment 9B and peers through rain spattered glass. His heart promptly skips as he spots a familiar figure sitting inside, their back to the window. Swallowing hard, he reaches out and tentatively knocks on the glass.
Bucky jumps a mile. He whips around, metal fist raised like he’s ready to fight the thing that dared make a noise. His eyes dart around wildly for a moment and then his whole body slumps as he spots Clint, closing his eyes for a long moment and muttering what looks like several curse words.
Clint winces as another sheet of driving rain pelts him, and he belatedly thinks about his hearing aids as the left one decides that it doesn’t approve of the water and stops working. He knocks on the window again a little more urgently, and this time Bucky steps forwards and opens the window.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he snaps as he shoves the window up and grabs hold of Clint, hauling him inside. He leans out, looks up and down and then curses again, grabbing hold of the line and roughly yanking it free, pulling it inside the window before slamming it shut.
“Looking for you,” Clint says, shaking his head violently to try and get the water out of his hair. “You wandered off, Steve is freaking out.”
“I’m not allowed to be near Steve any more,” Bucky says. “So I came home.”
“This is not your home,” Clint says, looking around. It’s nice enough, all modern and clean, simply decorated and furnished with everything Bucky could need. It doesn’t feel right though, and it’s nothing like their mess of a room in the tower. There’s no mattresses on the floor or weapons on the coffee table, for a start.
“Is now,” Bucky says indifferently. “Wait there.”
He steps back, walks out of the room through an open doorway. Clint watches him go, reaching up to take his hearing aids off, grimacing as he does. He sits down on the pristine couch and sets about taking the batteries out, checking that they’re not too waterlogged and carefully drying them off on his shirt.
Movement catches his eye and he looks up as Bucky walks back in with a towel in hand.
“I’m deaf,” he says, holding up his hearing aids. “Bear with me.”
Bucky nods and slowly comes around to sit on the coffee table in front of him, next to where he’s reassembling his hearing aids. He reaches out and drapes the towel over Clint’s head, rubbing half-heartedly at his hair.
Clint bats him away so he can put his hearing aids back in; to his relief both of them turn on without a hitch. “Stark can make them ultra sensitive and purple, but apparently not waterproof.”
“And Steve wanted that guy to look at my arm,” Bucky says, and then sighs, rubbing at his eyes.
“How you holding up?” Clint ventures.
“Peachy,” Bucky says. “I’m not allowed to hang out with my best friend because I tried to kill him, I’m not allowed to live in the one place that I actually liked, I can’t leave the city and if I do anything wrong I’ll be on the wrong end of a manhunt.”
“Oh no, don’t get me wrong,” Bucky says, standing up. “I mean, they could have arrested me on the spot today. And at least they’re happy that I’m not a brainwashed assassin anymore, right? That’s something.”
Clint opens his mouth and then has no idea what to say, so helplessly shuts it again. Damn you words, he thinks as he watches Bucky stalk towards the kitchen area, heading for the brand new Keurig that sits on the counter.
“And I’m allowed to be in society, just not near sensitive information,” Bucky carries on loudly, gesturing at nothing. “I mean, there’s civilians in this building, so they obviously either trust me to not kill everyone, or they don’t give a shit about the people that live here too. I just have to be on a very fucking short leash for the foreseeable. No big deal. I was on a shorter leash before.”
“Bucky,” Clint says, getting up as well. “Come on.”
“What?” Bucky asks, turning to face him. He looks tired somehow. “You want me to cry about it? We knew this was going to be shit, and it is, but it could be worse. I could be dead, or in some gulag in Siberia.”
He turns back to press a button on the coffee maker and then sighs heavily, stretching out a hand towards Clint. Though he’s still not convinced, Clint steps forwards and takes it, allowing himself to be pulled in.
“I could be locked up right now,” Bucky says, voice low and quiet. “I’m not, I get to be here with you.”
“But,” Clint tries. “So many compromises, Buck. You’re having to give up your freedom-”
“Didn’t exactly have much anyway.”
“You’re having to give up Steve.”
That stops Bucky. His brow creases, troubled. “They were debating it but we ran out of time,” he says, sounding unsure. “They’ll ease up on that.”
“I just,” Clint begins, feeling lost. “This isn’t what I wanted for you. This isn’t fair.”
“Hey, don’t you start getting upset,” Bucky says, and loops an arm around his waist. “It is what it is. I’m just grateful it’s not worse.”
He leans in and kisses Clint gently, and as their lips touch Clint can concede that yes he is happy that Bucky has been cleared, but he's still not jumping for joy about the huge concessions that the WSC are imposing. It’s a farce, really - they’ve cleared him but they’re still treating him like a liability, a threat.
Bucky looks at him like he wants to say something more and then thinks better of it. He kisses Clint again and then gently eases back. “You taste like scotch.”
“I was with Tony,” Clint says with a shrug.
“Steve hates him drinking.”
“Yeah, well. He’s not going to stop him until Tony wants to stop,” Clint says. “He’s alright. I was in charge of the bottle.”
Bucky snorts and extricates his arms, turning around and reaching up to open a cupboard, pulling two mugs down. “That doesn’t fill me with confidence seeing as when we went drinking you fed me five litres of...”
He trails off, words slowing down and then stopping completely, hand frozen on the cupboard handle. He’s gone utterly still, poised in place like a wild animal mid-hunt.
Bucky slowly reaches into the cupboard. Clint watches as he pushes at the back panel, metal fingers pulling at something in the corner. There’s a snapping sound, the splintering of wood, and then Bucky violently yanks his hand back. A mug goes crashing to the ground and shatters, and Bucky turns to Clint with a barely visible wire in his hand, something that looks like a fibre optic cable.
It’s a camera. Clint knows, he’s seen them before. He’s put them in all sorts of hiding places while working for SHIELD, though he certainly is not responsible for this one.
They both stare at the wire. It sits there silently, pinched between Bucky’s fingers, unaware of what its presence means. Clint is connecting the dots and his stomach is sinking-
Bucky moves in one violent, jarring motion. He grabs hold of the cupboard and rips the whole thing from the wall, sending mugs and plates smashing to the ground. Clint lets out a strangled yell, jumping back out of the way as Bucky hurls the cupboard across the room; it hits a framed print of the New York skyline, the glass cracking like a gunshot.
“Bucky, no! ”
Bucky is evidently thinking something more along the lines of ‘Bucky, yes,’ because he utterly ignores him, wrenching the next set of cupboards from the wall. Clint strides forwards, grabbing for his arm but Bucky simply shoves him back out of the way, hard enough to send him tripping and falling back, banging the back of his head on the coffee table as he goes down in an ungainly tangle of limbs. Bucky doesn’t even pause, just wrenches the final cabinet from the wall to the sound of shattering glass, before turning his anger on the appliances. His face is contorted with rage, and Clint finds himself scrambling back out of the way, turning over to stagger to his feet and lunging for the bedroom door.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,” he says as his back hits the edge of the bed, thinking wildly as the sounds of destruction carry on. There’s a deafening bang and holy shit, is he throwing the couches around?
Call Steve, is his first thought, and then he promptly remembers that Steve isn’t supposed to be near Bucky, and besides, Steve will freak the fuck out if he knows that Bucky is freaking the fuck out. Tony? No, too close to Steve. Natasha? No, Bucky doesn’t trust Natasha in the slightest-
And he’s a fucking moron because he’s left his bow in the other room and underneath the adrenaline he can feel a throbbing pain in the back of his head starting to make itself known.
“Please don’t leave the apartment, please don’t leave the apartment,” Clint prays aloud. If Bucky keeps his violence contained to those four walls then he can deal with that, but if he goes out on a rampage he’s going to get himself arrested and then he’ll be put in supervillain supermax and Clint will be stuck seeing him on supervised visits.
Bucky seems to run out of steam after about ten minutes of banging and crashing and turning the apartment inside-out. There’s one final cracking sound and then silence. Clint looks up at the door, waiting carefully and wondering if he should go and see what the damage is.
Before he can think about getting to his feet, the door is pushed open and Bucky silently steps in. He crouches down in front of Clint and holds his hand out in front of him.
In it are twelve fibre optic cameras.
“And I’ve not even looked in here yet,” Bucky says. “Or the bathroom.”
He holds his hand out and pulls Clint up, leading him back into the lounge. Clint hisses through his teeth as he surveys the damage, stepping over the remnants of the bookcase.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” he says, wincing as he looks at the couch, which is now in the kitchen and leaning precariously against the fridge.
“Shut up,” Bucky says. “Just, fuck . I should have expected this. No way would they trust me in a building full of civilians-”
“I know, okay,” Clint says, reaching for Bucky’s shoulder and pulling him around. Bucky lets him, and Clint pulls him in for a rough hug, their feet crunching in broken glass as they shift.
They manage about ten seconds before Bucky’s head snaps up off of Clint’s shoulder and he goes tense all over again. Clint is about to ask what the problem is but then he hears it; sirens, growing louder and louder.
“Oh, shit,” he curses, and runs over to the window. Blue lights revolve and wash over his face, shining off of the neighboring building. “Oh fucking shit. Bucky, it’s the cops.”
“Well, my day just keeps getting better and better,” Bucky says, walking over to peer over Clint’s shoulder.
“Now you shut up,” Clint says in despair, grasping his hair in his hands. “Fuck, someone must have called them when they heard all the noise-”
“Well, I managed two hours,” Bucky says deprecatingly and Clint turns and shoves at him.
“Will you stop? ” he says. “Right. Bedroom. Out the window. Go.”
Bucky pauses momentarily; his eyes flick to the window and back to Clint, and then he nods like he’s convincing himself to do it. “Okay,” he says roughly. “Okay, let’s go.”
Clint grabs his bow and they make a run for it, vaulting over the felled bookcase and bursting into the bedroom. Bucky walks up and over the bed and grabs the window, slamming it up and looking down. “You go first,” he says, and Clint leans out the window with his bow in hand, shaking his head to get the water out of his eyes before shooting a line vertically upwards.
“There, go,” he says, ducking back into the room.
“Nu-uh, you go,” Bucky says impatiently.
“No, you go!”
“Clint! Get out the fucking window before I throw you out!”
“No, listen,” Clint insists. “The cops are here. The place is wrecked. SHIELD are going to come before long. I’ll take the hit, just go.”
“I’ll say it was me - this could be enough for you to get arrested again!” Clint says. “Just go, alright?”
“You’re an idiot,” Bucky says, but he grabs hold of Clint by the back of his neck and hauls him in for a kiss before letting him go and ducking out of the window.
“Don't wait up,” he says and then he’s gone, sliding down the line and out of sight.
Wondering what the hell he’s thinking, Clint slams the window shut and dives back into the wreckage of the lounge just in time to hear a banging on the door and a voice calling things like ‘NYPD,’ and ‘reports of a disturbance.’
He sighs, walks over to the door and unlocks it from the inside before walking back into the middle of the room, standing between the remnants of the Keurig and a potted plant. He sets his bow down and lifts his hands up above his head.
“Yeah, come in,” he yells back. The door bangs open and several police officers edge in, guns raised and looking around intently. The one at the front grinds to a halt, looking perplexed.
“Um, I’m an Avenger?” Clint tries, and the first officer lowers his gun, nose wrinkling in confusion.
“ Hawkguy? ”
Clint sighs, letting his head rock forwards so his chin is almost touching his chest. Great. Just great.
Clint flails awake at the shout of his name, almost pitching himself off the bench he’s dozing on. He looks up and scrambles upright as he sees Tony standing there in the doorway to his cell, phone in hand and sunglasses on even though the lighting in here is pretty awful.
“You had one job,” Tony says flatly. “One job. Find Bucky. Not cause a disturbance, get arrested and cost me thousands of dollars to bail you out.”
“I’ll pay you back,” Clint says, and then thinks about his bank balance. “In love?”
“Come on,” Tony says. “Steve is now having kittens about you and Bucky, so thanks for that.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose,” Clint says, following Tony out of the cell and jumping slightly at the huge tank of a police officer that’s looming just outside the door, probably making sure he doesn’t cause any trouble. “Where’s my bow? Did you get my bow?”
“Your bow and your shoes are in my car,” Tony says. “Your paperwork is done.”
“That was quick.”
“It worries me that you have been arrested enough to have a basis for comparison.”
“Like you’ve never been arrested,” Clint remarks.
“This is your night of shame, let’s not make it about me,” Tony says airily, clapping an officer on the shoulder as they pass. “Thanks for sorting this out, much obliged. Now remember what we said if any reporters come sniffing? Hawkeye and his lapse in judgement, Iron Man and his selfless altruistic deeds, coming for his friends in moments of crisis.”
“You gottit,” the officer says with a grin. Clint rolls his eyes and heads for the doorway.
“See you later, Hawkguy!”
He ignores the call and shoulders out of the doorway, instantly groaning as his shoeless feet are promptly soaked through by the wet sidewalk. At least Tony has parked with all his usual consideration, right outside the doors in the area that’s marked strictly no parking.
He blanches a little as he sees Steve sitting in the driver seat.
“What?” Tony says, pushing past him. “You got me drunk this afternoon, I can’t drive.”
“He’ll be mad,” Clint mutters, and shuffles over to the car feeling like a wayward teenager about to be given a talking-to by his parents. Dammit. He’d rather pick Bruce and Thor as his stand-in-Avenger parents; they don’t have the same knack of making him feel guilty like Steve does.
Soggy and tired, he climbs into the back of the car and slams the door. The rain plunks down over the bodywork and he hunches down, trying to make himself invisible as Tony climbs into the passenger seat.
“What happened?” is the first thing Steve asks, and Clint looks up, immediately annoyed by the questioning and the tone of voice.
“Hawkguy smashed up an apartment,” Tony says before Clint can say anything smart. “Neighbors called the cops. Iron Man was a hero and bailed him out.”
Clint looks up to bitch at Tony, but doesn’t quite make it as he sees Steve staring at him. “Bucky wrecked the apartment,” he says, and Clint nods. “You took the blame,” he adds and Clint nods again. Steve sighs, turns back to face forwards. “And you were right about where he’d be.”
“Not that I’m not loving the revelations, but you’ve parked my car in a no-parking zone,” Tony says. “You’re breaking the law , Steve.”
Steve gives Tony a dirty look but does put the car in drive and pull away with rather more speed and force than Clint was expecting. The tyres don’t screech but he bets it’s a close thing, hastily throwing out a hand to brace against the door.
“Okay, now I’m sure you’re breaking the speed limit too.”
Steve ignores him. That seems to be happening a lot tonight. “So he got away? Where did he go?”
“I have no idea,” Clint says, his stomach twisting slightly as he says it. It’s not too bad though, he’s got faith in Bucky’s keeping-out-of-trouble abilities.
Steve glances back over his shoulder, jaw going tight. “So you lost him.”
Clint rears back, offended. “You lost him first!”
“Okay, okay, let’s just say we all lost the Terminator and move on from there,” Tony interjects. “Clint, did you arrange a rendezvous?”
“Nope,” Clint says. “I was kinda of winging it. He won’t leave the city though.”
“How do you know?” Steve asks.
“Well, I got him to run and let me take the hit,” Clint shrugs. “Means he’s not interested in getting arrested tonight. He’ll show up.”
“Unless he gets himself arrested first.”
“Please,” Clint says, gesturing down at himself. “He’s got all this to come back for. He’s not going to do anything dumb.”
“Well, what do you know,” Tony says. “The fate of your best friend rests on the irresistibility of Hawkeye’s abs.”
Clint perks up. “You think my abs are irresistible?”
Tony shrugs. “On a scale of one to Steve, I’d say they’re a solid nine.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Can you two stop fucking around for ten seconds?” Steve insists. “This is serious.”
“I know this is serious, I did just get arrested,” Clint says. “Again. He’ll show up, Steve.”
Steve’s hands tighten on the steering wheel and there’s an ominous cracking noise. Tony looks over and just shrugs it off; apparently Steve breaking parts of one of his ultra-expensive cars isn’t a big deal to him. Though whether it’s because currently Steve can do no wrong, or because to him these things are a dime a dozen, Clint doesn't know.
“So what do we do?”
Clint watches the wipers flick back and forth across the window and then blinks; Steve glances expectedly over his shoulder and Tony twists around to face him, and he realises that the question was for him. He’s not even an Avenger anymore and Captain America and Iron Man are looking at him for the answers to a pretty problematic problem.
Tony nods slowly. “I fully endorse any plan that starts with um.”
“Back to the tower,” Clint says. “He knows my number. He’ll call me when he gets a chance. And if you’re still stressing we can use the city-wide surveillance tech you have, right?”
“What surveillance tech?” Tony glares at Clint, pulling his sunglasses down his nose.
“...the surveillance tech that you don’t have?”
Steve sighs. “I know about the tech, Tony.”
“Okay, I didn’t lie about it, because you asked about surveillance within the tower-”
“If you are going to help me find Bucky, I’m not going to be mad,” Steve says and then frowns. “Why would you assume I’d be mad anyway?”
“Okay, that is a whole different fight for a whole different day,” Clint interjects, leaning forwards between the two seats, hoping that by sticking his head between them he can get in the way of any potentially brewing arguments. “Can we focus on finding Bucky?”
“Finding Bucky. Story of my fuckin’ life,” Steve mutters under his breath, and Clint can only pat him sympathetically on the shoulder, wondering if he has the energy to laugh.
Tony sits watching the feeds that Jarvis is scrolling through, cup of coffee in hand. Steve hovers over his shoulder and Clint is vaguely proud of how Tony is handling that; having a Captain America lurking anxiously over your shoulder is enough to drive anyone insane.
“He’s not been on any of the transport out of the city as far as we can tell,” Tony says, eyes flicking back and forth with speed.
“Good,” Clint says, his cell trapped to his ear by his shoulder, tossing an M&M into his mouth and sighing. “Bad is that Natasha is still not picking up.”
“Where even does she go?” Steve says, reaching down and taking Tony’s mug from him, helping himself to a mouthful before giving it back. “I’ve asked her where she’s been staying-”
“Amateur,” Clint says, glancing over. “You think we’re having a hard time finding Bucky, you try finding Natasha when she doesn’t want to be found.”
“I’m going out there,” Steve says, shaking his head at the screens and turning away. “I’m going looking.”
“Whoa, whoa, you’re not allowed,” Tony says, which is a mistake because even though Steve stops, his shoulders go tight. Clint’s fingers twitch with the urge to take out his hearing aids before the shouting starts.
“I’m not allowed? ”
“The WSC might arrest him if they find you together!”
“The WSC can go and fuck themselves!”
“Sir, if I may,” Jarvis interrupts smoothly, and if he weren’t a disembodied robot voice Clint would kiss him. “I believe I have some information which may be helpful.”
Attention piqued, Clint sits up straighter, dropping his cell from his ear. Tony gives up on arguing with Steve, shaking his head and blowing out a breath. “Alright, hit me.”
“Before Barnes and Captain Rogers left for the hearing, he requested information from the private servers.”
Clint goes very still, as does Steve. “What did he ask for?”
“Agent Barton’s home address.”
Clint scrambles to stand up. Why, he’s not entirely sure, but he just can’t be sitting down now. “Did you give it to him?!”
“No. As the servers are deemed high-risk, I told him I wasn’t at liberty to pass on that information to him.”
Tony groans. “Holy shit, Jarvis, the one time you actually do as you’re told.”
“Excuse you, Sir,” Jarvis says, sounding indignant. “I am always very vigilant about security and the safety of everyone within the tower, and information from-”
“Okay, okay, lecture later,” Tony says. “Jarvis, send him Hawkeye’s address. Has he got his cellphone on him?”
“Sending now,” Jarvis says. “It has been delivered to his cell, so if he has it with him, he will have the information straight away.”
“Alright, let’s go,” Steve says, striding towards the door. His jaw is set in a very determined, heroic way and Clint resists the urge to make a joke and swoon, because Steve is possibly not in the mood. “Get your asses back in the car. We’ve got a dumbass to go and find.”
Heart pounding, Clint races up the stairs of his apartment building, cursing the broken elevator. Steve and Tony are still parking the car; he’d jumped out a few minutes ago at a set of lights, cutting behind the next-door building to get there ahead of them. Tony had been yelling something about child-locks as he’d jumped out and nearly been squashed flat by a passing cab, dodging across three lanes of traffic. Only nearly though; he’s still in one piece and determined to find Bucky, hoping against hope that Bucky will be here, that Bucky will meet him here when he gets the address-
Clint bursts into his apartment and skids to an abrupt stop, hands falling to his sides.
“Hey,” Bucky says through his mouthful of pizza, swallowing and licking his metal fingers. He’s lounging on the couch with his feet kicked up onto the coffee table. “Took you long enough.”
“Jarvis sent you my address like fifteen minutes ago,” Clint says flatly, reaching up and trying to brush the rain from his hair.
“Yeah, I’ve been here for hours,” Bucky says, reaching forwards and picking up his beer.
“Well, you seemed utterly unbothered by the prospect of being arrested,” Bucky shrugs. “So I gathered you’d been arrested before. Went to the nearest police station, asked around, flirted, got your address.”
“You went - you flirted to get my address?” Clint says, momentarily stalling. “You’re - the Winter Soldier flirts to get information?”
“Well, as of this morning I’m not the Winter Soldier anymore,” Bucky says. “And I have a unique skillset that isn’t limited to shooting and stabbing. I’ve been flirting for intel since nineteen forty, pal.”
“Steve is going to flip when he gets here and finds you sitting around like it’s nothing,” Clint tells him. “They’ve already had to bail me out of jail today, his stress levels are reaching critical.”
“He’ll get over it,” Bucky yawns. “And if he doesn’t, I got my big strong man here to defend my honour.”
He sends Clint a winning smile. Clint sighs as he faintly hears the thudding of super-soldier footsteps on the stairwell, audible even with his hearing aids.
“I took a hit for you once today,” he says, walking over and slumping onto the couch next to Bucky. It creaks faintly in protest and he winces; his apartment has nothing on the luxury of the tower. “I’m not taking a hit for you when Steve Rogers is mad.”
“Just this once?” Bucky asks, pouting.
“Not a chance,” Clint snorts, reaching out to take the pizza from Bucky. The footsteps grow louder and then they both look up as Steve appears in the doorway, Tony right behind him. The panic on Steve’s face is promptly replaced by a look of abject incredulity.
“Are you kidding me?!”
Bucky sighs, looks at Clint. “Please?”
“Nope,” Clint says, and leans forwards and snags Bucky’s beer. “You deal with this one on your own.”
The apartment is in uproar. Bucky is standing behind the counter, arms folded across his chest. Clint is perched on the counter next to him, eating the rest of the pizza that Bucky didn’t get through. Tony and Steve are standing shoulder to shoulder over by the television, and Steve is once again in full on Steve Rogers doesn’t like to be told what to do mode. Tony is finding this vastly entertaining, biting his lip and trying not to laugh.
From his crossed-arm stance in front of the door, Fury is yelling at Bucky and Steve. Maria Hill is glaring at Bucky and Steve and also occasionally yelling at them. Bucky is alternating between glaring at everyone and making mutinously bitchy comments at Fury. Tony is actually keeping his mouth shut and his sarcastic comments out of it for once.
The conversation looks like it’s going to carry on chasing its own tail if someone doesn’t step in soon. By the reasoning that they’re the only two not yet involved, Clint is starting to suspect it’s going to have to be him or Tony. Neither of them have good track records for dealing with delicate decisions without resorting to a) shooting things or b) explosions, but it’s starting to seem like it may come to that.
Jumping out of the window is starting to seem like a real option.
“He is not allowed in Avengers tower,” Fury says for the millionth time. “I’m sorry, but while Jarvis and all of Stark’s secrets are in the servers there, he’s not allowed in.”
“Tony could tell Jarvis to lock him out,” Steve says for the million and oneth time.
“Not to mention it’s full of weapons,” Hill says over him. Jesus. She’s small but she’s loud. “Look, Captain. We’re sorry, but he can’t stay with you.”
“You can’t just say he’s free to go and then insist on spying on him!” Steve snaps back. “That’s unfair. It’s black and white here; you let him go or you don’t.”
“Things are never black and white, and how do you still not understand that?” Fury says, exasperated.
“He has to be monitored,” Hill says. “I’m sorry, Barnes, but-”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Bucky says wearily. “I get that. Though maybe if we’d agreed to monitoring terms that you’d fucking stick to, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“The cameras were a precaution.”
“A breach of privacy!”
And here they go again. Tony looks at Clint and grimaces, jerking his head towards Fury and accompanying the motion with a meaningful eyebrow waggle that Clint thinks is a hint to step in. Clint shakes his head and Tony looks at him in a different but probably no less meaningful way, brows lifting further up towards his hairline.
Clint turns away from him. He can’t get involved here, he’s not even an Avenger. He’s got no standing with the WSC or SHIELD, so he can’t-
He feels fingers touch the back of his arm, cool and solid. He glances around; Bucky looking his way, troubled. It’s a barely-there expression but Clint can read it all the same, knows that this argument is starting to get to him.
Clint sighs, rubbing at the back of his neck and then nods almost imperceptibly at Bucky, before sliding off the counter. His stomach feels tied up in a knot, and he knows what he has to say, but it’s been so long and all of his demons are raising their bastard little blue heads and whispering, telling him that he has no place here, that his voice can’t be trusted.
Fuck it. He can do this.
He takes a settling breath, makes the choice and trusts that he’s making the right one.
“Hey Nick, can I be an Avenger again?”
The argument promptly stops dead. Everyone turns to face Clint, and it feels like the room collectively holds it breath. Oddly, Clint feels like he’s taken his first real breath in forever.
Fury blinks. “You want to be an Avenger again?”
And despite the past year, despite the wearying battles he’s been fighting with himself, despite telling Beckett - and himself - that he’d never ever be an Avenger again, he actually finds that it’s pretty easy to shrug, nod and say, “Yeah.”
Fury appraises him for a moment, a steady few seconds of staring, and then he nods. This time it’s Hill’s eyebrows that are shooting up her forehead, turning to look at Fury as if he’s suddenly gone insane.
“Yes,” Fury says. “Approved. Effectively immediately. You agree, Captain?”
“Yes,” Steve says instantly, mouth hitching in a small, proud smile that Clint does his very best to ignore. He’s still got shit to do here, he can’t be going all weird just because Captain America is pleased with him. Damn Steve and his stupid face.
“Can I be reinstated as a SHIELD agent too?”
“Is clearance level seven high enough to be solely responsible for monitoring the Winter Soldier?”
Fury cocks his head. “Probably not.”
“Can I be promoted?”
“Welcome to level eight, Hawkeye.”
“Awesome,” Clint says brightly. “Hey, Buck. Wanna move in?”
Bucky stares at him. “What.”
Clint shrugs, looks around at everyone, hoping for some backup and getting none. “Well, I’m an Avenger again. And a level eight SHIELD agent, who is an expert in monitoring ex-assassins. So maybe you move in, and I monitor you instead of the cameras.”
“Oh, really?” Bucky says, starting to sound interested.
“Yeah, aren’t you the SHIELD agent who first brought the Black Widow in?” Steve chips in. Next to him, Tony is grinning, a huge ‘yes, we win this round’ smile that is so gleeful that Clint is surprised that neither Fury nor Hill have threatened to shoot it off his face.
“Why, yes I am,” Clint says in mock surprise and turns to Bucky, jabbing him with a finger. “Which means you will be a piece of cake in comparison.”
“You can’t just be sleeping with someone and claim it’s monitoring,” Hill says pointedly.
“Uh, yeah I can,” Clint says. “In fact, it’ll be better that way. He’ll be in my bed like eighty percent of the time, easy job.”
Bucky snorts. “Eighty percent?”
“Alright, ninety if you do most of the work. I’m not a supersoldier.”
Looking pained, Fury waves his hand to cut the conversation. “Details aside,” he says loudly. “It could work. As far as the WSC want and need, it could work.”
Hill doesn’t look remotely sold. “We pitch to the Council that we let Hawkeye, who has been cleared for active duty for around ten seconds, monitor the Winter Soldier.”
“Ex-Winter Soldier,” Bucky and Steve say at the same time, and Tony starts to laugh.
“Yes, that’s exactly what we pitch,” Fury says. “He won’t be in the tower. He won’t be near Captain Rogers. He won’t be near any weapons, save for the bow. And the WSC think Hawkeye is a pain in the ass anyway, so they won’t be all that bothered by the risk.”
Clint’s face falls. “Wait, what?”
“Shush,” Bucky says, now looking intently at Fury. “Hey, if he monitors me, that means you don’t, right? No cameras. No listening devices. And I will find them if you even try-”
“You agree to meet with SHIELD on a regular basis,” Fury counters. “Once a month. Touch base with us. No wandering off.”
“I’ll go where I damn well please.”
“You tell us before you go. Twenty-four hours notice if you’re planning on leaving the state, for twelve months.”
Bucky narrows his eyes. “I still don’t have to give you squat about my arm.”
“You nominate Stark to be sole mechanic for your arm.”
Bucky rears back in affront, and Fury just sighs. “It might need maintenance, and Stark is both the best man for the job, and someone I trust to keep sensitive data about it away from people neither I or you would want to have it.”
Bucky looks to Tony, who shrugs. “Hey, I’ve danced this dance before, Robocop, you’re not the only one with fancy tech that people have tried to steal. I wouldn't do that to you.”
Bucky seems to think that over. “The suits?”
“That’s what I said!” Tony exclaims, and turns to Steve. “See, he agrees-”
“The issue is not that you think the government are assholes, it’s that you called a senator an asshole to his face. ”
Tony rolls his eyes. “You’re missing the point,” he says to Steve, and then looks at Bucky. “Cross my heart, hope to die, I will never share any specs, data or juicy gossip about your arm with anyone. Not even Steve.”
Steve’s brows fly up at that, but miraculously he keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t object. Bucky’s mouth twists and then he nods curtly.
“I want it in writing,” he says, and Fury nods.
“You got a deal.”
Bucky steps forwards and holds out his hand. Fury shakes it, and then steps back. “Alright,” he says. “Barton - nine am tomorrow morning for paperwork.”
“You don’t get to level eight without filling in vast quantities of paperwork, Hawkeye,” Fury says. “Consider it your penance for leaving the Avengers a man down for so long.”
“Didn’t exactly miss me,” Clint mutters and Tony throws his hands in the air, all animated exasperation as he turns towards Steve.
“Has he had enough therapy that we can tell him that the ‘poor me, nobody likes me’ act is both bullshit and boring?”
Steve hums at that. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Alright,” Tony says. “Hawkeye, get over it. We missed you. We want you back. The team can function without you but it’s not as good and it’s not as easy. And no-one else appreciates my witticisms quite like you.”
“I just said I was coming back!”
“For my sake, not your own,” Bucky chips in, and Clint glares at him.
“Whose side are you on?!”
Bucky just looks at him, nonplussed. “Yours, dumbass.”
“None of you are my therapist, so you can all shut up,” Clint says to the room at large. “But it’s actually becoming pretty clear that everything goes to shit without me around.”
“And that’s a tragic indictment of the state of affairs,” a voice from the doorway drawls, and Clint turns around to see Nat standing there, leaning against the doorjamb and looking supremely unconcerned.
“And where the hell have you been?” Tony demands. “Finding people who don’t want to be found is your job, we needed you!”
“No you didn’t,” Natasha says with an elegant shrug of one shoulder. “Clint had it.”
“Well, I’m about done. The knowledge that the fate of the Avengers rests in the hands of Hawkeye is a lot to deal with,” Fury says. Next to him, Hill’s mouth twitches like she’s not sure if she wants to laugh or not. Fury looks around at them all one last time and then appears to either be satisfied or give up; he heads for the door at any rate.
“Nine AM, Barton,” he says, and then sweeps out of the door with Hill just behind, the door clicking shut behind them with a strange but welcome sense of finality.
“Okay. Now have we got everyone? No-one else to bail out or track down?” Tony asks, breaking the silence. There’s a pause and then Steve starts to laugh, shoulders shaking and a broad palm coming up to cover his eyes.
“Oh god,” Clint says in an undertone. “We broke Steve.”
“You two are going to be the death of me,” Steve says through his laughter. “Oh god. Clint, you can keep him. Get him out of my fucking hair.”
“Hey,” Bucky says, sounding insulted. “Well, go fuck yourself, pal.”
“Come here,” Steve says, and he striding across the room and pulling Bucky into a rough hug. Bucky rolls his eyes but goes willingly, hooking his chin over Steve’s shoulder and squeezing him right before letting him go, patting his shoulder.
“So. Hawkeye is back and everything is rosy?” Natasha asks as she walks over to the fridge and pulls a beer out.
“Hawkeye is back and we may have found a compromise,” Clint says. “Sure, help yourself to my beer.”
“Grab me one, Nat,” Steve calls, and flops back onto the couch with a groan. It creaks even more ominously than before, obviously not cut out for holding super-soldiers. “Buck, you need to get everything that’s just been said in writing-”
Bucky looks flatly at Tony and gestures to Steve. Tony seems to understand, nodding and promptly sitting down next to him, placing a hand over Steve’s mouth.
“Thanks,” Bucky says, as Steve glares at him.
“No problem,” Tony replies, grinning as Steve knocks his hand away. “Hey, you gonna let me fix your thumb now?”
Bucky goes as far as to offer him a shrug - hey it’s not a no, and that’s progress - and turns to Clint. “So, I live with you now?”
Clint grins at him. He can't help it; he's an Avenger again and he's got Bucky and he's fucking happy, damnit. “You lived with me anyway.”
“We both lived with Stark.”
“Alright, fine. You live with me now.”
Bucky watches as Natasha crosses the apartment, sitting down on the other side of Steve and passing him a beer. Tony is preoccupied jabbing at buttons on the TV remote and eyeing it warily like he deeply distrusts any tech that’s not voice controllable or holographic. Bucky waits until Natasha is comfortably settled and talking to Steve before walking over and standing next to Clint, close enough to touch.
“Thank you,” he says quietly.
“Why?” Clint asks, a little taken aback.
“For getting me out of this mess,” Bucky says, and the honesty in his voice is a little scary, but not too scary. Just the right amount of scary, Clint thinks. “For stepping up. You got me - well. You didn’t get my life back, because that’s long gone. But you’ve given me a chance.”
Clint shrugs, though he can feel his neck going warm, happiness at the praise and thanks settling warm and comfortable under his sternum.
“No big deal.”
“Who’re you kidding,” Bucky snorts. “I know how much you’ve done. I get it, alright. And I’m gonna make it up to you.”
“Nah," Clint says. "Just keep yourself out of trouble. Don’t go out of your way. Just - when it’s my turn to fuck up, come rescue my ass?”
Bucky smiles at him, a crooked, rough-around-the-edges quirk to his mouth as he links his fingers through Clint’s. “Alright,” he says, and Clint trusts that promise with everything he has. “You’re on.”
“So. Here you are.”
From his perch on the back of the armchair, Clint reaches out and takes the piece of paper from Beckett, exhaling slowly as he looks it over. “So this is it? I’m done? Free? Out of your clutches?”
Beckett sits back in her chair. “You are out of my hair. Not my concern anymore. Free to do whatever the hell you want.”
“No no, you don’t get to dump me, I’m dumping you,” Clint insists.
“I signed you off, ergo you have been dumped,” Beckett says, and then smiles. “Congratulations, Hawkeye.”
“Fuck you,” Clint replies, fiddling with his hearing aid. “You’ll miss me.”
“Every moment of every day,” Beckett says, perfectly straight faced.
Clint sends her a withering look. “Well I’m sure you’ll hear all about me from Steve, anyway.”
Beckett narrows her eyes at him. “I’m ninety-nine percent sure you’re not supposed to know about that.”
“Please. I’m a level eight SHIELD agent, I know things. And I'm also sleeping with his best friend,” Clint grins. “And besides, he’s not technically a patient, right? Informal drop ins?”
“I can neither conform or deny,” Beckett sighs. “You, Clint Barton, are trouble.”
“Of course I am,” he says happily, looking down at the paperwork in his hand. “Bad news and free to go.”
“Remember your targets,” Beckett says.
“Be honest about feelings of inadequacy and talk to people about it, value myself as part of a team, accept I’m allowed to be happy with Bucky,” Clint rattles off. “Check, check and check.”
“Good,” Beckett smiles. “Now you are free to go.”
Clint cheers and hops down off the armchair. He folds up the paperwork and shoves it in his pocket, then pauses, looking around.
Standing up, Beckett looks at him. “Hmm?”
“Now I’m not a patient,” Clint says and then pauses, feeling a bit like an idiot. “We should go for a beer sometime. You’re not completely a devil-lady.”
Beckett’s face breaks out into a smile, a wide happy look that he's not seen before. “Oh, Clint,” she says, laughing. “I would love to. But now you are not my patient, I am going to spend the next six weeks ranting about you to my girlfriend in a very unprofessional manner.”
“Maybe some day. When I’m over the part where I feel that I still need to help you.”
Eh, Clint can live with that. “Yeah, okay,” he shrugs, and looks out of the window. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Beckett says. “Now get the hell out of my office. I’m going home to drink several bottles of wine.”
Clint’s mouth falls open a little. “I wasn’t that bad!” he says indignantly. “I’m going to make a complaint. You’re being unprofessional and mean to me.”
“Okay. Then I tell Fury about your plan to take Bucky out to Iowa without permission.”
Beckett just looks at him, perfectly innocent. “I am allowed to report anything that is deemed a threat to human life. Gosh, the Winter Soldier running around in rural Iowa? Seems pretty dangerous to me.”
Clint narrows his eyes at her. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“You wouldn’t dare complain about me.”
“Stalemate,” Clint says, and turns towards the door. “Fine. You’ve been great, I owe you big time and I take back my offer for a beer, devil-lady.”
“Goodbye, Clint,” Beckett calls after him, laughter in her voice. Clint waves and leaves the office without looking back.