He barely feels the impact as his shield connects with the guy’s face but there is a satisfying crunch all the same. He follows it up with a straight punch and the operative catapults backwards. Ahead there are three or four more, hesitant about engaging him, but not backing away either. He stands his ground, wiping blood from his knuckles and he’s pretty sure it’s not his own.
They seem to come to some unspoken agreement and advance, wary. It’s a foolish move and they know it as well as he does. It makes their movements sloppy, too guarded and it only takes seconds for Steve to take them out, sweeping the first’s legs from under him and using the second’s gun on the third. The corridor is silent when he looks up, deserted.
“Keep moving Captain.” The voice says close in his ear, rough with static. It’s a sign that Coulson’s got him covered, he knows agents have his back and his team is on the way. Rounding the corner he takes out a scout who’s way less stealthy than he thinks he is but breathes a small sigh of relief anyway when he reaches the exterior of the complex and Iron Man announces his presence, all flair and no finesse. It seems to be a make or break move, pairs of hired guns emerge from the warehouse doorways into the courtyard, responding to the threat.
They fight back to back for a moment, any pretence at stealth blown now the gold and red is on the field and he catches a flash of green in the distance, roaring. When a masked man he hadn’t clocked drops to the floor at his feet, gun falling from his hands, there’s an arrow in his throat.
“Thor?” He says into the comm, “Have you found it?”
There’s a pause before Thor’s reply. “There were many in wait.” He sounds slightly out of breath but Steve can hear that he’s grinning. “None remain but their device is not here.”
“It’s here!” Natasha cuts in over the channel. “By the waterfront, they’re rigging it to do something but I can only see..” A static burst cuts her off and Steve presses the unit into his ear, trying to make sense of the jumble of syllables and white noise that is all he can get from her.
“Damn it, Stark can you…?”
“I’m on it.” Tony says, powering thrusters and rising slightly. “Don’t wait up.”
Steve hauls himself up a ladder onto the roof and catches sight of Hawkeye, perched on the lip of the next building over. The marksman throws him a cocky salute and they run parallel to each other for a few buildings, a corridor apart before the avenue runs out for Clint. He stops at the low wall where it drops down onto the boardwalk and looses an arrow into the pack of mercs that fires tranq-darts in a circular spread when it hits, dropping them like flies before they had registered his appearance. It clears the way for Steve and he drops from the roof onto concrete, trying to get his bearings.
Something huge explodes on Steve’s near side. It’s powerful enough to set his ears ringing, popping and crackling with pressure. Beyond the ruins Thor picks himself up out of the wreckage and shakes his head to clear it. They grin at each other and Steve claps him on the back. Wherever Natasha is, she must be close.
Coulson’s voice comes over the comm, whatever it was they detonated backfired, it just wiped out half their own forces. Natasha cuts in, she made it to the encampment before they deployed it, controlled the blast to stay contained in the compound. Steve suppresses a flush of warmth for the wrong reasons, possessive and fiercely proud. My team, not my girl. The rest of the enemy ground teams are dissipating, melting back into the abandoned docks. Already there are hit squads entering the passageways for clean up. Agents have pulled up to the courtyard where Clint shot the mercs, hauling the unconscious bodies onto the back of a riot van.
He’s first on the scene to the compound, already he can hear the response helicopters passing over, looking for a place to set down. He clears a mangled steel panel from the rubble and peers through the dust. He knows Natasha is alive in here, she sounded pretty upbeat when she reported in. He hears a familiar whirr of robotics and Tony calls out to him from the other side of the impressive scorched crater.
“Cap, over here!”
He takes the most direct route to them, over several boulders and the remains of a truck and sees Tony has his helmet back, waving away concrete dust with one hand. Natasha is on the ground beside him, clutching her shin above an ankle and looking seriously pissed off.
“You guys ok?” Steve says, crouching beside her.
“There’s not much left of this base,” Tony replies, “I’m gonna see if there’s anything up there.”
Steve nod as Tony’s helmet clicks back into place and he fires up thrusters. “I’ll let you know if there’s anything useful.” Tony continues, voice now hollow and slightly digitised by the helmet’s filter. Steve moves to shield Natasha from more dust and debris as Tony takes off, but they end up coughing anyway.
“I might need some R&R after this one Cap.” Natasha says when they’re all clear, her tone isn’t apologetic, she knows her limits. She reaches up to brush her fingers against his eyebrow, a sharp sting telling him there’s something there and her fingers come away bloody.
“Can you stand?” He asks. She shakes her head.
“Best not try, I can’t tell if it’s broken or not.”
“We took some alive.” Steve says, he sinks down to sit beside her. “Unconscious, so no cyanide nightcap for them.” She nods in grim satisfaction and Steve knows there’s a good chance she’ll be involved in the interrogations, injuries or not. “I hope they have good, usable intel.” He continues.
She releases her grip on her ankle and reaches out to touch his face again. Her fingers are cool on his skin, her gaze clear and unwavering, an invitation. He leans over to brush his lips against hers and they stay like that for a moment, just sharing space.
It’s been like this ever since. He hasn’t been to her room since that night and while she hasn’t pushed, hasn’t asked, her quiet invitations and Clint’s thoughtful glances carry a clear message. When are you coming back?
Debrief is swift and efficient, it wasn’t a long battle, or a particularly bloody one, although Natasha’s ankle is pretty tightly bound and there’s a definite limp when she walks, they know she’s be out of action a few days at least. Bruce is suffering the familiar effects of coming down out of a transformation. He’s a little disoriented and Tony, staying close, points out key points on his handout with a sooty finger. He can’t contribute much to these meetings but it was decided very early on that leaving him out was not an option.
Steve tries to focus on what Coulson is saying, the main force is still in hiding, they can expect to see a resurgence in the next few weeks, intel have it in hand. He hands his own statement to Coulson personally at the end of the meeting, written in script almost as neat and careful as Phil’s own. The others will likely email theirs later, much later in Clint’s case, probably.
He makes his way to the kitchen past an entire floor of post-threat chaos. He’d once asked Coulson just how much work was involved in these events, how much paperwork. He’d gotten a stony glare, before the amicable face Coulson wore to work was readjusted. “There are realms of filing cabinets and whole acres of storage servers Cap, it’s a light-less land, where legal secretaries and insurance salesmen stalk the unwary. I don’t even think the Avengers would survive it.” Steve had only ducked his head, mollified and apologetic. He knew Coulson wasn’t the only one responsible for clean up, there were whole departments for it, but the man liked a job done right, and Steve knew there wasn’t much sleep in his immediate future. He made a mental note to bring him a coffee before he turned in, maybe some donuts, as a thank you.
The elevator doors nearly shut before an arm is shoved through and Clint slides in.
“Couldn’t wait?” Steve says, radiating professional authority.
“I’d rather ride with you.” Clint says simply. He strips off his arm guard as they ascend, unwinding the leather strips. Steve likes the way it leaves a criss crossed mark across his skin. Barton’s transformation from Hawkeye to Clint is a gradual process and probably one of the most pronounced of all of them. Steve wonders where Hawkeye puts Clint to become as calm, as utterly in control as he is on the field. By the time Clint has returned to his room, showered and changed into civilian clothing the marks on his arm will have faded and so will Hawkeye.
“I’m cooking tonight.” He says, wanting to draw a little of Clint out of the persona, food is definitely one way to get Clint’s attention. It’s a good call, his eyes light up and he grins.
“Good news, anything special?”
“Couple of roast chickens, maybe ratatouille.”
“Awesome, want help?”
Steve nods “Sure, if you don’t mind.”
The elevator comes to a halt and a scan of the capsule identifies them. “Welcome home Mr Rogers, Mr Barton.” JARVIS says before the doors slide silently open.
There’s something to be said for simple chores. Steve stirs the pot again, letting it simmer. Already it smells delicious. It’s a North African recipe supplied by Agent Hill when he was experimenting with the near infinite cuisines and cultures now available in the city. It’s vegetarian, for Bruce, the chickens are roasting in the oven below for the others.
Clint has been picking at the ingredients for the last half an hour, the two of them weaving in and out of each other’s way as they work. It’s an easy silence, only the local sports channel on the window screen in the background, barely loud enough to hear.
The soapy bubbles seem to get everywhere as he’s cleaning up their mess and he suspects, despite Clint’s laughing denial, that once again he’s used too much of the violent green liquid. There had been a suggestion that Tony had ordered it initially as a friendly jab at ‘the other guy’ but honestly, it smelled way better than the blue variety and they’d just kept ordering the same brand.
He definitely doesn’t startle when Natasha presses up against his back, even limping she’s silent when she moves. He grips the spatula a little tighter under the water in surprise. She slips her hands around his waist, along his wrists, until she’s taking the sponge from him. He rubs small circles on the back of her hands as she works.
Steve realises Clint has stopped moving, he’s leaning against the counter, standing on one hip. He’s gnawing at his lip like he wants to say something and Steve can’t quite meet his gaze. His touch falters on Natasha’s skin and she presses tighter into him, turning her hands palm upwards in the bubbles to grasp his. There’s an unspoken conversation here, an issue they’re too cautious to raise and one he doesn’ have the words for. Shoot the elephant in the room, it’s blocking the light! His voice sounds like an angry buzzing in his head, but he can’t, doesn’t know how he’s supposed to ask to return, how to tell them that he wants to watch them again, wants to touch, to know. He sighs and lets Natasha take over the sponge, placing items to dry on the board beside the sink to dry whenever she hands him one.
He wakes that night with sweat pouring down his temples.
Even as the dream fades he can still feel the ghost of skin under his fingers, the press of soft flesh against his back, his lips, his thighs. He lets his head drop heavily back to the pillow and asks JARVIS to bring up the lights a little.
He’s uncomfortably hard. Beneath the sheets just the friction of the comforter is enough to make him want to press his hips upwards. He gives in and tries it, sighing softly when he’s rewarded with a small wave of pleasure. He palms himself through his sweatpants, loose fabric wrapping around his shaft with his fingers.
Needing more friction his tucks his hand under the elasticated waistband and sighs again when skin meets skin. He fights only for a second to not remember Natasha’s mouth around him, to keep Clint’s taught muscles and sly fingers from his mind as he brings himself off, needy and frantic.
He feels disgusting after, but the heat in his belly isn’t nearly quenched. He rises to clean himself up, feeling strung out and frustrated. Splashing water on his face helps a little, but he needs to work off something dark, something hot and tight. He stares at himself in the mirror for a moment, heart pounding from the rush. What do you want? A happy ever after? Were you ever going to get that anyway? He thinks of the sensation of dropping, staring down the ice as his plummets down wards, driving Johann Schmidt’s warplane into the landscape. Not many people get a second chance.
Thor is doing something a little like bench presses when he gets down to the training suite. The Asgardian has trouble keeping Earth hours, even now. Time is not measured the same way in any of the nine realms, apparently. It’s not unusual to find him training down here at any time of day, Steve doesn’t exactly know why, there’s little Thor has to do to keep up his condition in this atmosphere.
“It is good to stay active.” Thor shrugs when he brings it up. “I enjoy it!”
Steve can’t argue with that and there’s no one better for holding the bag when he wants to lay hard into something. He appreciates it when Thor braces his weight against it and takes the stress of the impacts.
“Something is troubling you.” Thor says, “Your thrust is not as sure as it usually is.”
Steve doesn’t disagree, he’s having trouble focusing.
“How do you cope?” He says through gritted teeth, between punches. “You’re as out of place here as I am, maybe more.”
Thor steps back a little pushing forward against the force of Steve’s blows. “I learn, I adapt.” He says, “I have learned to take opportunities where I find them.”
“Where you find them?”
Thor nods. “In a world as strange to me as this, I cannot foresee what will or will not teach me yet more about my place in it.” Steve rarely sees the warrior so solemn and he pauses in his assault of the bag to listen. “On Asgard,” Thor continues, “I had everything at my command, it is my world and I am set to take my place on its throne. Here, I am a protector, a guardian, just as you are. I cannot let any chance to learn more about what it is that I protect pass me by.”
“Like trying toffee.” Steve says wryly.
“Like the toffee,” Thor agrees with a grimace, Fury had offered him one, and Thor had stuck his teeth together for a good few minutes. If it had been anyone but Fury Steve wasn’t sure it would have gone down as well as it did.
“More so,” Thor continues, “I wish to know what it is that I fight for.”
“Jane.” Thor’s face is impassive. “What do you fight for Captain Steve Rogers?”
Sundays are the quietest days for the tower. Steve finds a measure of comfort in the knowledge that even now there are some things that people hold dear. Family time, time away from work and time to rest is still sacred it seems. There is only a skeleton staff inhabiting offices and labs as he picks his way through the offices allocated to SHIELD administration.
He feels the appreciative eyes of young interns and communication technicians as he approaches Coulson’s office. It’s taken a while to get used to them, knowing it’s as much the uniform as the man that they want. He was embarrassed by it at first, then mildly flattered. When he realised the difficulties of actually getting to know anyone he found it only wearing, now he barely notices it and something inside feels like that should be very very wrong.
He knocks on the glass door and Coulson waves him in. He looks very tired, if a little amused when Steve hands him a cardboard cup, still steaming gently.
“What is this for?”
“A thank you.” Steve doesn’t really feel like embellishing more than that. He has no doubt Coulson’s hard work is rewarded, probably with more work, but there’s a suspicion that actually for Coulson working hard is a reward in and of itself. Steve just wants him to know that he’s grateful.
He finds Natasha and Clint curled up together upstairs on the huge couch in front of the TV. He hands them their own cups; vanilla latte for Natasha because her sweet tooth is undeniable and iced mocha frappuccino for Clint because no matter how he might insist he drinks a real man’s beverage Steve will never forget walking past the local Starbucks and spotting him hiding out wearing sunglasses with a newspaper and a whipped cream topped monstrosity at his elbow.
He makes a move to sit in the armchair across from them, a puffed, hideously soft thing that’s like sitting in a cloud but Natasha grabs his wrist and twists landing him squarely between the two of them on the couch. She lifts her legs into his lap and it’s easier to massage the soles of her feet than to argue. He lifts the edges of her pants delicately, checking her ankle. There’s a deep bruise there, not broken but banged up bad, it’s just beginning to yellow at the edges.
“You should see the rest of me.” She says, eyes on the screen. There’s nothing but a vague interest in the movie written on her face.
“He has, sweetheart.” Clint says, equally as deadpan and suddenly Steve feels very much like he wandered into an ambush. “I think he liked it.”
Steve swallows, he’s sure this is a make or break moment but they’re alone here together, they’re safe and warm and inviting and… damn it. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Yeah I liked it.”
They watch a little more of the film in comfortable silence, or at least, Natasha and Clint do. Steve can’t help but feel he just opened a can of worms he’s not going to be able to close. Huge, building swallowing worms that might rampage through the empty ruins of his life. You’re spending too much time around Banner. He feels closed it, fidgety. He doesn’t know how to ask them if this is normal, if he missed some kind of revolution about sexuality, about how he’s supposed to deal with this, what they want from him.
When the credits roll, following a deeply contrived and unsatisfying end to a very low budget movie Natasha stretches out. Steve stands to help her to her feet and she only wobbles slightly as she readjusts her balance.
“Do you want to?” She says as Steve sets her right. He can’t help feeling like she’s playing up the vulnerable angle a little. He’s sure he’s seen her take guys twice his size down with injuries worse than this. The question leaves him a little lost.
“Do I want to..?”
Her grin is feline, dangerous and utterly irresistible. “See the rest of me.”
Hell yes. “Uhh..”
For the second time Steve feels his control over himself skip neatly out of his reach. He lets Natasha guide him down the corridor towards her room and he tries not think about how he’s not at all uncomfortable that Clint is close on their heels.
He slips one strap of Natasha’s top down over her shoulder. It comes to him easily, his hands don’t falter as he lifts her arms and pulls it over her head. She’s warm and smooth and he can feel her heart beating where he’s pressed against his chest.
“No bruises here.” He says as he kisses her collarbone, trails his lips up the curve of her neck. He’s willing to play this game for a while, it gives him something to focus on. He makes a show of checking every inch of her as they undress, helping her balance when she slips out of her pants. He follows her cue, laying beside her on the bed. It smells of her and a little of something more masculine and entirely of home.
She lets him trace her curves with his fingertips, laughing breathlessly when he tickles her by accident. He notices that under the cool air her nipples are standing proud and he swallows what remains of his reservations, leaning over her to take one in his mouth. She inhales sharply and guides his hand to rest on her hip.
“It’s OK,” she says “harder.”
She feels tiny under him, not fragile but perfectly formed. He takes her advice and sucks harder, biting down a little and dragging his tongue over it. She moans in response and arches her back and suddenly Steve is very aware of what he’s doing. He shifts his weight on the bed and his erection presses up against her thigh.
“I want to touch you.” He says, “I don’t know..” He falters, unsure of how best to phrase the question.
Clint answers it for him, joining them on the bed and tapping the inside of Natasha’s thigh. “Gimme room.” He says, making her roll her eyes. She does what he asks though, spreading her legs.
Steve watches as Clint follows the line of Natasha’s body, dipping his fingers and drawing lazy circles in a way that makes her sigh happily. He presses two fingers inside her and withdraws them slowly, repeating the motion two or three times before adding a thumb for her to buck up against gently. Nothing about it is rushed but Steve still notices the pink flush that creeps up Natasha’s chest, like she’s been training.
When Clint sits back, shifting up the bed to sit beside Natasha Steve takes over, following Clint’s example. He feels the way she tightens around his fingers whenever he brushes the pad of his thumb over her clit and does it again. She watches him with dark eyes murmuring encouragement, some of it in Russian. He has to fight the urge to laugh when he looks at Clint for translation and he just shrugs, unable to help.
She’s so wet, so easy for him to move his fingers inside her. He briefly imagines how it would feel to slide into her and nearly loses it. He breathes deep against her belly and tries to calm down. When he looks up Clint is holding a condom out for him. He stares dumbly at it for a moment before realising when he means. His hand shakes in anticipation when he reaches out to take it.
“You know what?” Clint says, drawing his hand back a little. “Would you let me?”
Steve doesn’t know what to say. His eyes flick between them, Clint patient, Natasha is chewing on one fingernail, eyes bright. Can’t go on pretending there isn’t another guy in here. He nods and kneels up, giving permission.
Clint’s hands are warm and calloused, his touch is sure and when he rolls the condom down over Steve’s length he tightens his grip slightly making Steve push up into his grip almost imperceptibly. He imagines doing the same for Clint, or not, just touching. The realisation that he wants it is a small epiphany and he relaxes. Clint’s gaze travels over his body, mutual then, he’s not just here for Natasha.
She pulls Steve down to meet her, their tongues sliding together as he covers her body with his own. She wraps her legs around his back and guides him into her. He steadies himself, bracing his knees against the mattress and leaning up on his elbows. She doesn’t move at first, letting him adjust to the sensation. When, eventually, staying still becomes too much he begins to move, delicately, uncertain.
Her hands are on his shoulders, his arms, his face, everywhere is her, and he can’t stop tasting her. He kisses any patch of skin he can reach, her temple, her forehead, lips and wrists as they move together. She wriggles slightly and tilts her hips, changing the angle of his thrust and suddenly Steve’s world goes white. They hold there for a second, and she smooths his hair, calming, sure.
“Thank you.” She murmurs, and he can only mumble in agreement, his words all fled or turned traitor.
“That was…” Clint looks like he doesn’t have much speech in him either interesting He’s tugging at his t-shirt and Steve can see the bulge in his jeans.
When he returns from the bathroom Clint is naked, Natasha carding her fingers through his hair. “We waited,” she says, “thought you’d like to..”
“Yeah.” Steve says, and Clint doesn’t need telling twice. He gathers Natasha into his lap and she cries out in indignation when he bottoms out in one move.
“Don’t complain.” Clint says through gritted teeth, “Steve had you so fucking ready.”
She grins, and leans back, bracing her hands on the bed and Steve sinks onto the bed beside them, watching. Neither of them last long, it’s frantic and a little desperate and Steve gets a sense of just how much Natasha can take. It’s like Clint is still pulling punches though and he imagines what they must be like after a mission, releasing pent up aggression on each other like he does with the sandbag downstairs. The thought is intoxicating.
Clint isn’t subtle when he comes, Natasha following him over the edge mere moments after. He grips her hips and thrusts upwards, grunting possessively. She collapses against his chest, patting at Steve’s thigh as well.
They’re all bundled back on the couch when Clint gets the call. Steve is still impressed at how far cartoon animation has come and doesn’t take his eyes of the screen when Clint rises to answer his phone.
There are just a few “Yes Sir”s and an “understood” before he ends the call and grabs his shoes from under the couch.
“Call in from Coulson, I have to head up his surveillance team in Arizona, there’s some kind of anomaly. We’re heading out tonight but we shouldn’t be more than a couple of days.”
Natasha waves him on and Steve feels like the one that always has to say it. “Be safe.”
Clint laughs, “They won’t even see me.” And Steve knows it’s probably true.
As he jogs off towards the elevators Natasha turns her face into Steve’s shoulder.
“Stay with me tonight?”
And Steve knows this time he’ll stay with her until Clint comes home, maybe longer.