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I Forgot To Remember To Forget

Chapter Text

Things were going terribly wrong.

They were getting beat, and bad. The situation couldn't be explained and neither could their lack of finesse. It started out as a usual run in with a couple of under educated thugs, then turned into something entirely different. It seems the thugs were just a mere decoy to something much bigger and sinister.

It had been cliche. The wrong doers were trying to rob a bank. Five men wearing white and cartoon-ish masks came out with sacks of money, knocking civilians out of the way as they burst out of the revolving doors. Just when the bad guys had thought they got away The Avengers, in all their glory, showed up. The men stopped dead in their tracks and dropped the sacks to the ground.

Having thought that was a surrender, each Avenger walked up to a man to escort them downtown. They pulled off their masks and grabbed them by the arm, but to their surprise the men wouldn't budge. They seemed to be frozen in place and their eyes were blank. Completely white.

"What the hell?" Clint asked confused.

The man Clint had a hold of snapped his head towards him and attacked him. Clint was knocked to the ground off guard as the other Avengers were also attacked. They didn't know what was happening and in a flash they were fighting to their fullest.

**************

The Avengers stumbled into Stark Tower with their tails between their legs. Bruce was holding up his pants with both hands as Tony threw the broken remains of his suit to the ground with a clang. Steve clutched at his side and fell to his knees. Clint came up behind Steve and hooked his arms under Steve's to pull him to his feet. He had one arm slung over his shoulders and one around Steve's waist.

For a second they both froze and stared at eachother. They were exhausted and if Clint wasn't dead set on helping Steve, he'd be collapsing right now. And Clint envied Thor's stamina, because he showed no signs of pain or fatigue.

They all collapsed onto the sofas with heavy sighs and lead feet. Steve took off his helmet and threw it on the coffee table. His feet throbbed and he just wanted to sleep forever.

"What the hell happened out there?" Bruce asked flustered.

"It appears we were soundly beaten," Thor said flatly. Everyone looked to Thor for saying something they didn't want to hear, something they didn't want to believe.

"Impossible," Steve muttered under his breath.

"Better start believing it, gentlemen, 'cause I don't think this guy's done yet." Tony got up and walked away. "I'm going to lie down."

"I should probably go too," Bruce whispered to no one in particular.

Steve caught Bruce's eye as Bruce went to pass him and perhaps leered a little. Steve was still sore about the whole Tony thing and he was still kind of jealous of Bruce. Inside Steve felt little clarity, because soon Bruce would be forgotten by Tony just as he was. Steve felt bad for relishing in Bruce's fate, but he couldn't help it.

They left silently and Steve was still reeling from the previous events.

"What the fuck happened?" Steve asked aloud. "What was that?!"

Thor and Clint flinched a little at Steve's angry and confused inflection. They figured Steve was taking the defeat a little too hard, but then again...

"We never lose. How did we lose?" Steve rambled to himself.

"It was unforseen, my friend. Do not let such petty foes advance into your sanity," Thor encouraged lightly. "We'll see him soon enough and then you won't have so much weight on your conscience."

"He's right, Stevie. We'll get 'em next time," Clint said and cupped a hand over Steve's shoulder with a light squeeze. "Don't beat yourself up."

Steve smiled internally to himself and thought of the gym. He thought of the punching bag. Yeah, beat myself up, Steve thought sarcastically. Didn't sound like a bad idea though.

"I'm gonna go. If I can even get up," Steve strained.

Clint jumped on his unsteady feet and leant a hand to Steve. Thor came over to help too, wrapping and arm around his chest and lifting. When Steve was on his feet, he teetered then stilled under Clint's and Thor's careful hands. He straightened himself a little and made his way down the hall.

Thor looked to Clint and nodded once. Clint got the hint and followed quietly after Steve. He watched Steve limp down the hallway hastily and he wondered why Steve was in such a rush and when Steve hooked a left he knew. Steve was heading to the gym.

Clint waited outside the door for five minutes just to see what Steve would do. He didn't hear anything. He couldn't hear the impact of fists landing against the punching bag. Clint slowly peered in and noticed Steve was getting ready to tape up his knuckles for a long winded punching session.

Clint leaned further into the doorway with a smug grin on his face. "I see you're abusing yourself again."

"Christ Clint!" Steve practically yelped. He jumped and turned toward Clint's amused face and shook his head. "You scared the shit out of me."

"Sorry," Clint chuckled. He stepped into the room, just a few feet from Steve and smiled heartily.

"Do you want to go a round, or something?"

"Me? No," Clint replied.

"Then what do you want?" Steve asked a little annoyed. He really needed to punch out his aggression right now and Clint was interfering.

At that moment Clint wanted to say 'You, I want YOU Steve', but he couldn't. He didn't know why the words failed him and got stuck on the flat of his tongue. He just stood there awkwardly quiet and flicked his eyes between Steve and the ground.

Clint could feel something in his hand, then remembered he had brought Steve's helmet as an excuse to talk to him. He lifted his arm by reflex and extended the helmet to Steve.

"Your helmet," Clint stated, "You left it on the coffee table."

Steve reluctantly took the helmet from him, their hands touching in the process. They both shivered at the contact and their eyes dilated. Steve couldn't place the sensation that formed in the pit of his stomach, but if he had to guess it'd have to be butterflies.

Clint smiled and Steve's heart thumped a little in his chest as he noted that particular smile in his head. He wanted to remember that smile. It was charming, giddy, and handsome. But above all, it was genuine. Steve was beginning to think Thor was the only happy one around here, but then again there were a lot of things Steve didn't see. It made him think of their defeat earlier and how much he wanted to punch, but his side stung and Clint was distracting him efficiently.

"I think I should," Steve started to say, then hissed in pain as he clutched to his side.

Clint rushed to his other side and steadied Steve on his feet. He eyed the place where Steve had clutched at and noticed a red stain on his suit.

"Are you alright?" Clint asked concerned.

"I'm fine," Steve protested at Clint's prodding hands. He swatted his hands away with a groan. "Stop."

"You're hurt."

"Am not."

"And Bleeding."

"Am not!" Steve repeated more loudly and frustrated.

Clint started to giggle at Steve's persistence to be juvenile. Steve's face was twisted in a mix of pain and defiance.

"What's so funny?" Steve gritted.

"Steve..."

"Why are you laughing at me?"

"Steve."

"What?!"

"You're acting like a child," Clint said matter-of-factly.

Steve's mouth snapped shut with an audible pop and Clint chuckled at Steve's dumbfounded expression. Steve huffed out a strained sigh and rolled his eyes at Clint. Steve couldn't help it if he was being willfully juvenile. He was too stubborn to let go of his pride.

"Alright, I'm being childish. Can I get back to my workout now?" Steve said a little annoyed.

"No can do, Cap," Clint said. "You have to get that side checked out."

Steve crossed his arms over his chest and looked up at the ceiling ruefully. He wanted to decline again, but he caved and agreed to Clint's insistence. Clint had a way of getting under his skin in an all too good way.

Steve unwrapped the boxing tape from his hands and let it fall to the ground. He followed Clint into the hallway and stayed close behind him as he lead the way to his room. Something inside him fluttered, but made his stomach ache all the same. Steve was going to see Clint's room, nobody has ever seen his room. The excitement was radiating off of him.

Steve flicked his eyes over to Clint. He was a little shorter than Steve, perhaps by a few inches. He was strong, but not as defined as him or Thor. And he wondered how old he was. Certainly not as old as himself or Thor. That thought made his lips curl at the sides. Steve felt old even though he was still technically 25 years old.

Clint stopped in front of the door to his room. Steve bit his lip and shuffled on nervous feet, clearing his throat quietly in anticipation. The door clicked open and Clint stepped inside. Steve took a long look around to take in every aspect of the room, from the decor all the way to the dirty underwear on the ground.

"And you were saying I was childish," Steve remarked cheekily at Clint's dirty laundry. "It looks like a teenager's living in here."

Clint blushed and hurried to dispose of his source of embarrassment. Steve watched with amusement as Clint scrambled and bent over to pick up his clothes. Once Clint was done he disappeared into the bathroom to retrieve gauze and peroxide.

"Take your suit off," Clint ordered.

Steve shivered a little at those words, but complied anyway. He unbuckled his belt and straps and stripped himself carefully. Clint watched until Steve was only in his boxers and under shirt.

"Help?" Steve asked, with the most innocent look on his face.

Clint stepped forward and set the medical supplies on the bed. He lifted the shirt up over Steve's head slowly and tossed it to the ground. Taking a good look at Steve's wound he figured it wasn't deep, but it bled an awful lot. Clint left the room again and came back with a wet cloth.

"On the bed," Clint murmured. "Lay down."

Steve sat on the edge and reclined backwards. He felt Clint's weight settle next to him and the tentative brush of the wet cloth. He swallowed at the contact, lying still as Clint cleaned him up. Pressing gently against the cut, Clint scrubbed away the remains of fresh and dried blood.

He couldn't help but look at Steve's body. It was impressive to say the least, a beautiful specimen of the male form. Clint raked his eyes over the bruises that stained Steve's flawless body. His hand absently continued to clean the cut, but his focus was elsewhere. He couldn't help it.

Steve made a sound as if asking what was holding him up,and Clint shook his head mentally. Clint set the cloth aside and picked up the peroxide.

"This might sting a bit," Clint warned. A hit of uneasiness tainting his voice.

Licking his lips, Steve bit his lip in concentration and waited. Clint uncapped the bottle and tipped it sideways slowly. When it hit Steve's wound it made him hiss and buck up at the burning sensation. Steve writhed with his back arching off the bed, Clint's hands trying to sooth and put pressure on the cut at the same time. It wasn't working because Steve howled at the sharp stabbing pain in his side.

At that most unfortunate moment, Thor happened to pass by and hear Steve groaning loudly. He grinned so wide it hurt his cheeks and he wondered if they were doing what he thought they were doing. Shaking his head, he walked down the hall and disappeared.

"Hold still. Don't be a baby."

"It stings! Stop pushing on it!" Steve howled.

"You want me to kiss it and make it feel better?" Clint asked sarcastically.

"Would you?"

Steve wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. Him and Clint chortled and Clint went back the patching Steve up. He placed the gauze over the cut and taped it down with medical tape. Clint made a pleased smile and bent down over Steve's body. He pressed his lips over the covered patch on Steve's ribs and smiled up at Steve.

He thought about sitting up, but Steve was frozen in place underneath Clint. Clint's hands were planted on either side of Steve's body that caged him in a vulnerable position. He could feel Clint's breath ghosting over his abdomen and hip and Steve tried not to twist the situation into something dirty. In the intimate closeness of eachother, Steve tried to think of something other than right now.

"Did you call me Stevie earlier?" Steve said to the ceiling.

Clint looked up at Steve with hooded eyes. He did call him Stevie earlier and wondered why he was bringing it up now. Clint didn't say anything. He was too hot and bothered and his mouth was filled with cotton.

"Bucky used to call me Stevie." Steve's gaze was fixed on a spot on the ceiling, memories of Bucky clouding his mind.

Clint moved off of Steve and crawled up on the bed next to him. He rested on his left side with an elbow planted in the mattress and a hand propping his head up.

"What was he like?"

"He was handsome," Steve tittered. "Brave, tough. Someone who would always have your back. Someone who expected nothing from you in return. Just an all around good guy."

There was no bitterness or regret in Steve's voice. No jealousy or contempt. It sounded like love to Clint's ears and he figured if Bucky was still alive, him and Steve would be together. He sometimes wished Bucky was here, maybe then Steve wouldn't have made any bad choices. Like being with Tony or pushing himself too far when he worked out.

Clint's eyes drifted over Steve's face. He wanted to reach out and cup Steve's face in his hands and kiss him, but he'd feel bad if he took advantage of the situation. So he didn't.

"What happened?" Clint asked quietly, as if people were listening outside the door.

Steve took a deep shaky breath and exhaled slowly. "He fell. I couldn't save him and he fell. Not like it mattered. He still wouldn't be here with me."

"It matters and you know it."

Steve still wouldn't meet Clint's eyes. It was like he was ashamed of himself, but at the same time needing to get something off his chest.

"You loved him," Clint stated. "I may not know much about Bucky, but I can tell you love him. Whenever you say his name you get this look, like he's the only person that exists."

"Sounds like you know from personal experience," Steve said. He turned his head toward Clint and frowned. "Who broke your heart?"

"No one yet. Although, I think I'm in the process of getting hurt."

"You're too sweet to get hurt. You're a good guy."

Clint swallowed thickly past the lump that was forming in his throat. Good guy. Like Bucky, he thought.

Steve stared up into Clint's eyes and smiled. He hasn't felt relaxed like this in a long time, let alone around another person. He inched up and pecked Clint softly on the lips. His cheeks heated up and he blushed when Clint winked at him.

And somewhere during the intense eye contact, Steve fell asleep in Clint's arms. Clint rested his head on top of Steve's and buried his nose in his hair. This alone felt amazing. If he could hold Steve like this forever, that'd be just fine. A hand came to card through Steve's hair and fingers curled around to play with it.

***************

Clint woke up the next morning with limbs tangled around his body and he remembered Steve had fallen asleep in his bed yesterday. Clint slowly peeked over at his clock. It was 6:23am and he groaned slightly. He felt Steve snuggle closer to him and muttered the name 'Bucky' under his breath. His heart almost broke at the word.

He looked down onto Steve's face to see that he was smiling, dreaming about Bucky perhaps. Clint didn't mind if he was dreaming about someone or somewhere else, he only cared about Steve feeling better. His hand was against Steve's chest and moved down to his stomach. He snaked his hand up under the rim of Steve's shirt and traced his fingers along the warm skin.

Steve sighed and nosed at the point of Clint's shoulder and neck. Clint continued to rub and tickle Steve's abdomen, earning him content soft sounds that almost sounded like moans. Steve's hips pressed closer to Clint's and Clint felt the telltale stirring in Steve's groin.

Shame washed over Clint. He only wanted to touch Steve, to feel his warmth, but his touch had been too gentle and whatever Steve was dreaming about only added to the stimulate. Clint muttered a word the sounded like 'fuck' and felt Steve shift uncertainly beside him. He looked down at Steve again and noticed he was awake.

With his hand still under Steve's shirt, he pulled away fast and snapped upright. Clint couldn't feel more guilty or embarrassed at the moment and behind him the mattress dipped and shifted. He had his legs dangling over the side, trying to think of a way to explain what he was doing to Steve's unconscious body.

"Sorry," Clint blurted out. It was all he could say right now.

Steve's hand came to rest on Clint's shoulder and squeezed only slightly. If Clint were facing him, he'd see that Steve was blushing behind a smile. Steve inched closer on his knees and planted a subtle kiss to the back of Clint's sleep mussed head.

"It's alright. I should be sorry," Steve giggled. "That doesn't usually happen when someone touches me there," Steve said referring to his over zealous libido.

"Must be an erogenous zone," Clint chuckled nervously.

"Where's your's?"

If Clint was drinking something right now he'd either spit it out or choke on it. His face got warm and he felt like hiding his head in sand. Steve could feel that Clint had tensed up and giggled softly.

"I'm only kidding, Clint."

Steve got up from the bed stiffly and hissed when he remembered his cut. He staggered to the bathroom to wash his face and do his business. He looked in the mirror at himself. He eyed his covered wound, his many bruises, and his face. He stared at this person staring back at him and smiled. He smiled because he felt like it. Like he finally accepted this person. He didn't know whether it was because of Clint or a good night's sleep. Even though Clint was the reason why he had slept so well.

He shut off the sink and walked back into the room. Clint had changed his clothes while he was gone and had folded Steve's suit neatly on the bed. He went to grab it and said thanks. Thanks for helping him yesterday, for folding his suit, for holding him.

Steve went to the door to leave and pass out in his own bed, but Clint stopped him with a hand wrapped around a bicep. Steve turned sideways to face him with a hopeful expression. Clint's lips twitched nervously and his lashes fluttered a little more than usual.

"Steve?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you want to do something with me tomorrow?"

Steve swallowed and turned a little pink.

"Are you asking me out, Clint?" Steve inquired with a bright grin.

"If I said yes, would you say yes?" Clint asked slyly. They both chuckled and blushed like a pair of teenagers.

"I'd love to, Clint."

Steve pecked Clint on the lips and winked before turning to leave the room. He left Clint standing there with a wide grin on his face as he walked down the hall. When he got to the end of it he swore he heard something resembling a shriek of giddiness and smiled to himself.

Steve practically floated down the halls, humming a nameless tune to himself and enjoying each intake of breath as if it was even more better than before. He didn't know why he had this new found happiness, but the promise of tomorrow made his heart skip and sing all at once. Steve honestly couldn't help it.

When Steve finally got to his room, put his suit away, and changed, he plopped down onto his mattress and sighed contently as he relaxed.

For the next two hours, Steve dreamt about Bucky. He dreamt about the one of many snowball fights they had, in which Steve tragically lost. But this time, it was different. Someone stood beside him throwing snowballs at Bucky, helping him win. He couldn't make out the face of his savior, but if he had to guess he'd guess it was Clint.

Chapter Text

~3 days earlier~

Things were going terribly wrong.

They were getting beat, and bad. The situation couldn't be explained and neither could their lack of finesse. It started out as a usual run in with a couple of under educated thugs, then turned into something entirely different. It seems the thugs were just a mere decoy to something much bigger and sinister.

It had been cliche. The wrong doers were trying to rob a bank. Five men wearing white and cartoon-ish masks came out with sacks of money, knocking civilians out of the way as they burst out of the revolving doors. Just when the bad guys had thought they got away The Avengers, in all their glory, showed up. The men stopped dead in their tracks and dropped the sacks to the ground.

Having thought that was a surrender, each Avenger walked up to a man to escort them downtown. They pulled off their masks and grabbed them by the arm, but to their surprise the men wouldn't budge. They seemed to be frozen in place and their eyes were blank. Completely white.

"What the hell?" Clint asked confused. The man Clint had a hold of snapped his head towards him and attacked him. Clint was knocked to the ground off guard, retracting his bow quickly to strike his target and missing tragically. The man in white he had a hold of grabbed his beloved bow and snapped it in two, his heart plummeting just a little and his anger spiking. He kicked himself up off the ground and lunged forward, almost turning into his own little Hulk. It wasn't long before he was on the flat of his back again, hearing Steve make a strained gasp.

Steve tried to swing his shielded arm, but it was caught in a firm grip behind his back and nearly twisted too far for comfort. He grunted out and strained to twist out of the clutch to gain the upper hand, but failed and was thrown into the metal hand rail. His back slammed hard against it, but it wasn't enough to hurt him, let alone daze him. Getting to his feet, he arched back his shield and threw it. It flew around, wildly bouncing off the man in white and flying back to him. Steve chucked it again, but this time the man had inexplicably caught Steve's shield in mid flight and clanked loudly when it was dropped. The man lunged at Steve with a knife and sliced his side, making him halt at the sudden jolt and clutch at it in agony.

Thor swung Mjölnir viciously at his foe, but disappearing before any damage could be dealt. Thor spun around and almost lost his balance when he was struck from behind, but it took a lot more than that to over throw the God of Thunder. He noticed that Steve had been slammed to the ground without his shield and was taking a beating, but he couldn't move. The hands that were secured to his biceps somehow stopped him. A petrifying sensation washed over his body, starting from the arms then through his whole being. It was almost as if Mjölnir had been placed on him.

Tony took flight to gain a better advantage. Soaring high above the others and targeting them all on his radar, his suit ready to fire. But when his power source had been mysteriously depleted, he fell from the sky with a clatter. His suit refused to cooperate and it was long before his foe had jumped on top of him and clawed at the red and gold armor with blinding speed. Piece by piece, his armor was shredded and flung all around him.

Before Bruce could turn into the Hulk, he was rendered conscious. But the Hulk inside him fought and refused to be subdued. But the Avengers were dealing with a higher power and as of right now, they were losing. With Thor frozen in place, Clint and Steve knocked to the ground, and without their Hulk, Tony knew they were doomed.

They were all being soundly beaten and all were helpless against their adversaries. The Avengers had been defeated.

~Present Day~

"I have gathered some information concerning your last confrontation with," Nick Fury paused and looked up from his folder, giving them all a once over before continuing, "the men in white."

There was a smirk playing on Fury's lips and Steve couldn't really blame him for making fun of them. Not only were they defeated, but how they had explained the situation to Fury was borderline juvenile; like a kid telling their parents about the monster in their closet. The whole scenario was cheesy at best, but no one was laughing, especially not Nick Fury.

Fury threw the folder down onto the big round table, papers and snapshots spreading over the top and covering the S.H.I.E.L.D Eagle insignia. His face was stern, as it always was, and he crossed his arms over his chest, his right eye scanning the men seated at the table.

"So," Bruce pipped up after a long pause, from both Fury and the others. "What EXACTLY are we dealing with, Colonel?"

"A tyrant," he stated flatly, sounding more board than displeased. "Calls himself the Arbiter."

"And was he one of these men we fought?" Clint asked, pointing to a still image of a security shot.

"No, those were simple pawns in his plan."

"And what is his plan?" Bruce inquired.

Fury fell silent and bowed his head, as if he were at a loss for words. They have never seen Nick Fury like this, uncertain and anxious. For all the things he knew and all the secrets he kept, everyone was surprised when Nick Fury simply shrugged and sighed. They knew he wasn't going to sugar coat the truth, why would he?

"As of now?" Fury asked rhetorically. "He has no plan. He's all over the place. The important thing is, is that he hasn't killed anyone... Yet. Your mission is to bring him down before he does."

"So what's this looney capable of?" Tony asked with a yawn, not seeming to be interested in this mission at all. Even after he had his ass handed to him.

"Mind control for sure. Illusions. Momentary paralysis," Fury rattled off smoothly. He began to pace back and forth in front of the table, his hands clasped together behind his back.

"Psychokinesis," Bruce muttered to himself in disbelief, a hint of fascination in his voice giving him a slight inflection.

"Maybe," Fury nodded.

The Avengers were all silent after that, their eyes flickering between eachother. The tension could be cut with a knife and the mood of the once wise cracking Mr. Fix-it, Tony Stark, was drastically diminished over the past few days. Everyone's spirits had been crushed when they came home defeated that day, not knowing what the hell it was at the time and now regretting that they did.

Everyone could tell Bruce was angry, whether it was because of the fight or just himself in general and Clint was bitter about the recent termination of his beloved bow. It had been the only one he ever needed, let alone used and Steve sympathized at the loss of something special.

Thor probably took it the worst, even more than Steve. The God of Thunder was the mightiest warrior on his planet and he was never defeated so easily, unless it involved a silly girl with a taser. That smile that lit up a room, eyes creasing in glee, that booming laugh, were all gone and that was the worst of it all.

Steve couldn't stand the Asgardian being distraught. He had talked to Thor on several occasions about Bucky and Loki, about their undying love that could never be. Whether it was forbidden or just impossible. Steve knew all about him and Loki, most people did, but the way Steve saw it was different from how Tony would probably see it. People would call it sick, maybe even pathetic, so quick to assume that Thor would just bend over backwards for Loki and take over the world.

But Thor wouldn't. No matter how much he loved Loki, he'd never go against his own beliefs. Despite his stubborn pride, Thor's hope was failing for this team and Steve couldn't help but think this was all a bad idea. Steve could see it in all their faces, the will to stop at nothing to protect humanity was suddenly wiped from their character.

"So what's the plan?" Clint was anxious now and a little on edge, each bit of news more worse than the last. "If brain washed cronies can take us down without so much as breaking a sweat. Not to mention that he's just causing mayhem because he can. How the hell are we supposed to beat him?"

"By not having a plan," Steve said to himself, drawing his fellow member's attention in his direction.

"Mr. Rogers?" Fury notified, wanting to hear more of Steve's thoughts.

"If we're unpredictable, we might have a chance."

"Do you know how crazy that sounds?" Bruce remarked dryly.

"It's not crazy!" Clint defended, giving Bruce an unsavory look. He could see Thor smile out of the corner of his eye and give a small chuckle, while Bruce turned pink. "Let him finish."

Steve was smiling inside and blushing profusely for Clint standing up for him. "If this guy knows what we're going to do before we do it then our best strategy is to not have one. To be unpredictable."

Tony shrugged to himself as he and the others considered this idea. Bruce crossed his arms, turning his head from everyone else and getting into one of his 'moods'. Bruce was angry, but he wasn't showing it. He was all about organization and planning in advance, but Steve had flipped the situation on it's head and everyone was beginning to take interest in it. He scoffed to himself.

"A plan without planning," Tony stated curiously. He liked how that sounded. That's how he liked to function and he wondered if he was rubbing off on Steve. Or it could just be his ego getting to him.

"A genius non-plan my friend," Thor rumbled, slapping a hand on Steve's shoulder and shaking him playfully. "I shall enjoy going into battle, blind, with you!"

"Exactly," Bruce mumbled lowly, hoping no one heard it, but at the same time wanting them to. Everyone's head turned to Bruce, hearing the distaste in his voice as he pouted and sank in his chair like a child. "We'll be blind."

"And so shall our foe! He will not see us coming. That is why it'll work!"

"Mr. Rogers has a point," Fury agreed. "It's not a bad idea."

"You can't really be siding with him, Colonel?!" Bruce said baffled, standing up abruptly and not noticing it at first. He anger was bubbling up and his heart rate sped up almost to the point of no control.

"Mr. Banner. I'm going to need you to calm down now," Fury said, voice even. Fury approached Bruce slowly, putting his hands out in front of him and trying to be as calming as possible.

Bruce unclenched his fists and lowered his shoulders, realizing his voice had raised and his blood pumped thick in his veins. He took a deep breath and looked around the table, his teammates, his friends, staring wide eyed at him with worry across their features. Bruce sat back down, slouching slightly, then lowered his head in defeat.

"I'm sorry, sir," Bruce conceded.

"We'll discuss this more later," Fury announced. "Gentlemen." He nodded and stormed out of the room, his dominating presence leaving the tension filled room.

Steve peeked an eye at Bruce, quickly averting his gaze when Bruce turned to him. Bruce eyeballed Steve for a long moment, wondering why he had snapped at his plan. It could be that Tony talked about Steve frequently, it could be that he was jealous, or maybe it was the fact that Steve's plan was better than anything he'd ever come up with. Perhaps it was all of the above.

Thor stood up from his chair and announced he was going to make lunch, causing everyone to squirm in their seats. Tony snorted to himself while Clint followed Steve to the kitchen to watch Thor destroy their already good tasting food with that silly grin of his.

"So what's on the menu today?" Clint asked as he sat down at the counter.

"Asgardian Vegetable Soup," Thor beamed brightly. He pulled out tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, and ground beef. He started boiling water and chopping everything up,

"If it's vegetable soup, why is there meat in it?" Clint smirked cheekily.

"In Asgard, beef is considered a vegetable. Only animals that have to be wrestled into submission and beaten to death qualify as meat," Thor chuckled.

And when the soup was finished and Thor had served everyone, they each took a hesitant bite and to their surprise, it wasn't half bad. Thor didn't know how to cook Earth food, but when it came to Asgardian cuisine he was a five star chef. Tony and Bruce had snuck off somewhere, so Clint, Steve, and Thor indulged in the pleasures of small talk and friendly banter. They forgot all about what they had learned about their foe earlier and just enjoyed the day.

**************

"You know, this isn't so bad for a first date," Steve remarked with fondness.

Clint had chosen a picnic in a secluded part of Central Park. Steve was laying down on the checkered blanket, his eyes closed, with a huge grin on his face. Clint was reclined back on his elbows, staring down at Steve with an amused twinkle in his eye and the longing to reach out and touch him.

"So this is a date then?" Clint asked sarcastically, laughing when Steve opened an eye. Clint turned toward Steve propped up on one elbow, he stuck his hand out and put it upon Steve's chest. He made random little circles with his index finger, making Steve shiver and blush simultaneously. Clint rested his palm flat on Steve's stomach and stroked gently, hearing the faint hum of purring as if Steve was approving.

"Only if you play by the rules," Steve giggled, snatching Clint's wrist and moving the hand off of his stomach.

"Rules? What kinda game did you have in mind?" Clint joked suggestively with a wink, then reaching out to touch Steve again. His wrist was grasped again and pushed aside.

"The one where you don't jump me in the middle of Central Park," Steve said sarcastically.

"No one's around."

"That's not the point."

"Not into outdoor sex?"

Steve's neck flushed at the mention of sex involving him and Clint. He didn't want to get any ideas, at least not now, and he sure as hell didn't want it to happen in Central park. Steve knew they were secluded, but anything could happen while they were engaged in sexual acts. Someone might accidentally find them, or Nick Fury could call them up for an emergency.

"Shut up, Bird brain," Steve jabbed playfully.

Clint chuckled heartily and shook his head, sitting up to reach into the cooler they had brought. He dug around until he found a beer, popping it open and taking a gulp. He grabbed another one for Steve and extended it to him, but Steve raised an eyebrow in amusement. Steve pushed the beer away lightly, giggling at Clint's confused expression.

"I don't drink."

"Why not?"

"I can't get drunk, Clint."

"Because of..." Clint trailed off, waving his arms around Steve to get his point across. Steve nodded and he sighed. "Damn."

Clint put it back in the cooler, grabbing a Monster instead. Steve eyed the can curiously, from the green slash marked logo to the condensation running down the side and dripping over Clint's fingers. To Clint's surprise Steve pushed away again, shaking his head and looking a little flustered. Clint huffed out small laugh and continued to hand it to Steve who refused to take it.

"I told you I don't drink," Steve strained, pushing at Clint who was now on top of him and giggling.

"Steve, it's a Monster," Clint chortled.

"I don't care what it's called. There's no point in drinking it if I can't get drunk," Steve huffed.

Setting the Monster on the blanket beside them, Clint grabbed Steve by the wrists and pinned them above his head. Steve kicked and fought back against Clint, knowing that this was just a game, but not wanting to lose either.

"Steve, it's an energy drink," Clint chuckled, sitting further onto Steve's lap. "Calm down, Cap."

Steve pushed his hips up and raised Clint into the air, gaining the upper hand and pushing Clint off of him. Clint tossed the cold can at Steve with a smirk, earning him a little huff of frustration and the snap of the tab popping open. He watches Steve take a sip, his eyes lighting up at the acidic tang of the yellow-ish green liquid. Steve has never tasted this before.

Soon after, Steve had managed to drink four of them in a row. It was almost like showing Thor Starbuck's or like a little kid on Christmas who had gotten everything he asked for. Can after can was grabbed and then discarded into a plastic bag so they could recycle them later. Clint wanted to tell Steve to slow down, but he was laughing toi much at Steve's jittery enthusiasm.

"You might wanna slow down there, Cap," Clint warned with a grin. "Or you'll end up having to piss in the bushes."

Steve resisted like a five year old and continued to drink. About halfway through his sixth Monster, Steve paused as he felt his bladder getting full and constricting when he tried taking another sip. He made a face and Clint guffawed hysterically when he was proven right, watching Steve stand up abruptly and running to the nearest shrubbery.

Having relieved himself, Steve came back to the blanket with an embarrassed little blush coloring his cheeks. Clint could only be amused. Steve sat down on the blanket next to Clint and smiled nervously when he saw the empty crushed cans in the bag.

"Told ya so," Clint murmured.

Clint grabbed Steve's ankles and pulled him halfway into his lap, Steve's legs draped over his thighs. Steve's arms automatically wrapped around Clint's neck and put his forehead to the archer's. He stared at Clint under heavy eye lids and sighed into Clint's touch, feeling those agile hands glide up his sides. It almost made Steve squeal in laughter as the light touch of fingertips tickled his ribs.

Inching forward, Clint pressed his lips to Steve's in a soft, barely there kiss, closing his eyes as if it made him feel Steve's lips even more. Steve made a soft sound and Clint kissed him again, this time more lingering and wet. Clint eased Steve backwards to lay him down, crawling up between Steve's open legs.

Steve took one of Clint's hands and wrapped it around his own wrist, making Clint pin it above his head once again. Clint got the hint and pinned the other. He bent down and claimed Steve's lips again, breaking away only to whisper hotly into his ear.

"You like struggling don't you?" Clint observed with a sly little glint in his eye.

It was true, Steve didn't mind struggling once in awhile. He thought it made things a little more hot than they already were and if Clint didn't mind roughing him up a bit then that was even better. Steve like it sweet, but once in a while he liked it sour too. He nipped at Clint's jaw, wanting him to touch, move, bite, anything that Steve could get his hands (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Clint trailed his tongue up the side of Steve's ear and bit at the top, causing Steve to arch up into his chest. Steve's wrists flexed under his hands and he gripped a little harder to limit the movement. Clint reached Steve's neck, trailing kisses along his throat and biting at the tendon almost hard enough to make Steve bleed. Steve hissed at the pain and struggled against Clint's grip, arching and squirming underneath him by reflex.

Their lips connected again and this time it wasn't so soft, breathing was forgotten and the only thing that remained was eachother's mouths. They fought for control over the kiss, Steve losing miserably, while Clint grinded into Steve's pelvis, sending a jolt up his spine.

Steve didn't want this to happen here and he cursed his body for betraying him when Clint had gone back to the spot he had bitten, sucking a darker mark into the flushed skin. He whimpered when he felt Clint's 'hard evidence' against his own and willed himself not to moan, afraid that Clint would take that as an invitation. Steve pulled away from Clint, as much as he could, and caught his breath, momentarily trying to stall.

"What's wrong?" Clint distressed, looking all too worried at Steve's sudden reluctance.

"Nothing."

"Am I being too rough?"

"No, no, no," Steve reassured as Clint released his wrists and got off of him. Steve sat up quickly and reached out to Clint, grabbing his bicep and squeezing lightly.

"I just thought that's what you wanted..."

"It is. I'm fine, Clint."

"I don't kn--"

"I'm fine! I promise," Steve interrupted quickly. "I'd just rather do this in bed." Steve beamed widely as he watched the worry melt from Clint's face. He pecked Clint on the lips and said, "Come on. Let's pack this stuff up."

***************

"Am I going too fast?" Clint breathed, on top of Steve.

When they got back to Stark Tower and stumbled into Clint's room, clothes were practically ripped from their bodies. Steve had crawled backwards on Clint's bed, watching as Clint made his way up his naked body. They had kissed briefly, a sudden wave of nervousness washing over them as their bare parts brushed for a short second.

"I want this," Steve confirmed, then corrected, "I want you, Clint."

Steve gasped when two of Clint's fingers pushed into his mouth, demanding entry. A moan escaped around Clint's fingers and Steve sucked lightly, licking and getting them wet for what was to come. Clint's other hand went down to stroke Steve's cock, making Steve stop his licking for the briefest of seconds and placed his thumb just below the head with gentle firmness.

Steve made a whining sound as Clint's wrist twisted with just the right amount of pressure, sucking hard on the fingers in his mouth to muffle the moan that proceeded.

"I won't hurt you like Tony. I promise," Clint whispered into Steve's ear, meaning every word. "Tonight's about you, Stevie."

The word 'Stevie' had slipped out by accident, but Clint figured it would better if Steve was as comfortable as possible. Even if that meant Steve thinking about Bucky instead of him. He pulled his fingers out of Steve's hot mouth and placed them at his entrance, pushing forward with caution. Steve opened his legs wider and accepted Clint's fingers, moaning past his slick lips as he was breached.

Clint pressed them against Steve's prostate, earning mewls and tiny thrashes below him. He pulled them out and pushed back into Steve shallowly, scissoring steadily and being careful. Clint bent down, kissing a line to Steve's belly button then further, his tongue leaving a shiny trail from Steve's stomach to his crotch.

Jumping when Clint's tongue probed his slit, Steve keened loudly and thrusted up into Clint's mouth, then pulled away. A hand to Steve's hip let him know it was okay to do that and he relaxed once again, waiting for Clint's mouth. The head of his cock was between Clint's lips as his tongue swirled around, collecting precome.

He dipped down further, taking more of Steve's cock into his mouth and thrusted his fingers against his prostate, relentlessly over stimulating Steve. Clint reached his limit when the head had hit the back of his throat and he pulled off slowly with his tongue pressing on the underside, then going back down.

Steve raised his hips up into Clint's mouth on a down stroke, making him choke just slightly. Clint's left hand wrapped around the base to limit himself and now Steve wasn't so sure how quick he'd last at this rate. Not only was there a hand stroking firmly at the base of his cock, but a hot mouth bobbing on him while two fingers pressed rhythmically against his prostate.

Clint bobbed a little faster, settling into a comfortable rhythm with his mouth and hands. He had Steve moaning his name over and over like a mantra and he knew was close, because Clint could feel his pulse quicken against his tongue. Clint went down all the way, removing his hand to get Steve into his throat and stilled there as long as he could stand.

His fingers thrusted in and out fast, twisting and expanding in random motions to bring Steve closer. Pulling off with only the tip in his mouth, Clint withdrew the fingers and gripped Steve's aching cock. Clint's hand was a blur and Steve was thrashing and moaning when he finally came.

Steve shook as Clint's tongue flicked over the slit while he was still coming, stomach clenching with the release of his orgasm. As far as Steve was concerned he hadn't made a mess, or rather, Clint hadn't let him make a mess. Clint crawled up to Steve and kissed him with tongue, the salty remains of his own release coating his mouth as well. Steve thought he'd come again just by Clint sharing his seed.

Clint licked at Steve's chin when some had escaped from their joined lips and made a contented chuckle to himself. Steve reached for Clint's hard cock, but he pulled away with a shake of his head. Steve flushed and lowered his head as if he had done something wrong, but Clint reassured Steve that he was alright. Instead, Steve curled up against Clint, tugging the covers over them in the process.

"Don't worry, Stevie. I'm making love to you tomorrow," Clint informed. "Tonight I wanted to make YOU feel good." He stroked Steve's cheek and kissed the top of his head, lingering to inhale his scent.

Steve's heart swelled and wanted to burst. He felt silly for noticing the difference, but Steve had somewhat fell for Clint when he said 'making love' instead of the shrewd 'fucking' Tony would say to him. Clint cared and wanted something real, not just a quick fuck in the dark and he had let Steve come without expecting anything in return. And as Steve's train of thought had mashed into sleep, he cuddled closer to Clint. Not wanting to let go.

Not for Tony. And not for tomorrow.

Chapter Text

"Where the hell is he?"

"Obviously not here, Hawk," Tony replied.

"Fury said he'd be here. They've been tracking his every move," Steve insisted.

"There's no one else here, Cap. We're just standing around like a bunch of assholes. Disorganized and half expecting," Bruce scoffed sourly.

Thor sighed heavily and rubbed at his eyes, yawning just a little and trying not to lose hope for their official unofficial plan. So far, things weren't going too well and the super villain, or lack thereof, wasn't helping at all. It left everyone to wonder if this Arbiter guy was a myth or not and that their defeat just days ago was some freak occurrence. But something sinister had to be at work here, because it didn't explain how those men were able to out whit the mightiest of heroes in the world.

Tony sat down on the curb, his metal armor making the slightest of noises as he did so, and opened up his face guard. He thought he might as well take rest, since it was so apparent that this Arbiter clown wasn't showing up anytime soon. Figures, Tony thought. Finally when they get some intel on this Bigfoot, he's no where to be found. Very convenient, but even worse for Steve, looking (and probably feeling) like a damn fool in front of his teammates who had so much faith in him.

It was such an intense atmosphere that Clint and Thor could practically feel the battle warring silently between Steve and Bruce. The slightest of facial twitches and shuffling feet almost giving everything away. Bruce wasn't happy and everyone knew it, everyone knew the animosity was bubbling up in him, but Bruce had to keep a level head. If he didn't, he'd tear the super soldier in half and nobody wanted that.

Clint could see that scenario playing out in his head and a smirk stretched his lips in amusement. To pick a fight with The Hulk would be pure madness, a death sentence, and if you didn't particularly feel like dying then you'd steer clear of the green guy. Clint wondered if he could die. He couldn't commit suicide, because HE wouldn't let him and The Hulk was virtually indestructable. Clint almost felt jealous of everyone else, after all he only had arrows.

"You shouldn't doubt your abilities. You might actually start believing it," said an unpleasantly raspy voice, addressing Clint.

Thor spun around on his feet at the ready with Mjölnir in hand and the others followed suit soon after. Tony's face mask came down with a clink and Steve's grip tightened on his shield, Clint arching his new bow back with an arrow ready. They all stood there, uncertain, mouths gapping in dumbfounded bewilderment, not believing the sight of their foe for a second.

He looked like a mere teenager, clothes plain and nothing remarkable about him at all, besides his voice. He sounded ten times older than he looked and it left them to wonder when a man behind a curtain would pop out. But instead of a dramatically illustrated comic book villain, it was a boy who stood at average height with brown hair and a baby face, not even a pimple marked him and there were no visible scars.

The kid jumped down from the ledge he was perched on and walked over to The Avengers nonchalantly as if he had absolutely nothing to fear. He walked around Clint, circling him in a quick study then stopping in front of him, the arrow pointing directly at his head. He smirked fondly.

"Go for it. Shoot me. Take my head off," Arbiter challenged.

"No problem,," Clint said evenly, stretching the arrow back and fingers ready to let go.

Steve came up beside Clint and intervened before Clint was able to do anything he'd regret. Clint shot Steve a disbelieving glare, reluctantly obliging the silent order.

"That's not how we do things," Steve informed both Clint and Arbiter. He gave Clint an apathetic look and turned his gaze toward the kid that was the root of all their uneasiness. "We believe in a fair fight."

Arbiter chuckled with a mocking smirk, walking up to Steve to get in his face as if to intimidate the super human. His lips expanded over his teeth in a shark-like grin, seeming to enjoy himself a great deal.

"Then you might as well multiply. Because we are no where near being evenly matched, Captain Rogers," Arbiter grinned.

"Then you underestimate us," Tony retorted, walking up casually. "You see, we're not afraid of any tricks you got up your sleeve and we don't take kindly to bed wetting punks like you."

"So you have two options, kid," Bruce continued, "Either come quietly..."

"Or you'll have to answer to us," Thor finished. "And believe me young rebel, you'd prefer the former and not the latter."

"Just like you prefer Loki over Jane?" Arbiter smiled as he saw the Asgardian's baffled look, then continued to read Steve next. "Or how Captain Rogers prefers the dead over the living?"

"You might wanna cool your little power trip, pillow biter," Tony said firmly.

"What do you possibly have that can harm me?" Arbiter chortled arrogantly.

And as if reading everyone's mind, The Avengers all smiled from ear to ear in quiet anticipation for the most memorable, matter-of-fact threat no one dared to hear. Tony grinned behind his face mask.

"We have a hulk."

But as soon as Bruce tried to get angry and turn into The Hulk, nothing happened. He was still Bruce Banner, still clad in his button up shirt and beige khakis, still the scientific nerd that spent most of his time in a lab. Bruce panicked, eyes darting to everyone else in shock and frantically looked at his arms and skin that remained the same color.

Arbiter smiled, laughing at the obvious set up he gave Tony, because he knew the crass armor wearing billionaire couldn't resist saying it. He took in the uncertain and worried furrows of the men, relishing in the moment. Arbiter got off on watching people squirm and he was just getting warmed up.

"What's wrong Mr. Banner? Doesn't the big scary monster want to come out and play?" Arbiter condescended juvenilely. "Oh, that's right. You found a cure, didn't you Mr. Banner."

He wasn't asking, he was telling and the absurdity of the false statement sent The Avengers, including Bruce, reeling with confusion. They all knew very well that Bruce wasn't cured and him turning into a big green Arnold Schwarzenegger was proof enough. Although, it didn't explain why Bruce wasn't able to turn now and for once, he wished the big guy would come out. But he wouldn't.

"You're crazy. There is no cure," Bruce said.

"He's gone, Mr. Banner. You're not sick anymore. You're free."

Arbiter put a comforting hand on Bruce's shoulder, trying to seem as trustworthy and friendly as possible. Bruce looked to the ground considering this too-good-to-be-true news, faintly smiling to himself and giving into the specious fantasy. Arbiter was somehow infecting Bruce's mind, making him believe every lie that came out of that poisonous mouth.

"Take your hand off of him," Tony growled, lifting his his palm at Arbiter as his repulsor ray whirred up in preparation.

"Maybe you should take your own advice, Mr. Stark. Maybe stop fraternizing your fellow members and stop breaking hearts. Maybe you need a taste of your own medicine?" Arbiter asked rhetorically. "What do you say? Broken heart?"

Tony howled out an agonizing scream, reverberating through his armor and making his ears ring. He crumpled to the ground, metal striking the concrete with a loud clang and hands clutching at his chest as if he couldn't breath or having a heart attack. Thor went to swing Mjölnir at Arbiter, but when he was gripped tightly by the wrist, his body gave out and froze to the very spot.

Clint arched his bow back and let the arrow fly through the air, missing Arbiter just barely. He was so fast that Clint couldn't keep up with his arrows and when Arbiter got up close and personal again, he heard that menacing laugh once again before the next taunt was thrown.

"Not much use when you're wielding a shattered bow, is it Mr. Barton," Arbiter mocked, his words becoming reality as the bow appeared to be, in fact, broken. He knocked Clint to the ground with a headbutt, causing a temporary stun and leaving the man with a slightly swimming head.

Clint grunted and Steve came to stand in front of him like a human shield, raising his actual shield to his chest with a determined chin. He saw his teammates around him, defeated, and he'd be damned if he let Arbiter get inside his head. Steve had to hurry up, because time was running out, Tony was slowly suffering and perhaps dying from some sick twisted faux heart attack Arbiter was making true. But what could he do?

He was just a man.

Arbiter backed up and moved around to his left side to circle him, Steve turning towards him with each step. Steve could hear Bruce mumbling something to himself and Tony moaning out pained grunts and his pulse sped up, truly afraid of not being able to save them. Arbiter smiled and Steve flinched, taking a strong stance for what could happen next.

"How does it feel, Captain Rogers? Not being able to save your friends? Feel familiar?"

"You can't break me, Arbiter."

"Is that so?" Arbiter questioned fondly, enjoying the challenge Steve was posing. "Perhaps my silver tongue isn't enough to persuade you. Maybe visual stimulate is required," Arbiter observed.

Steve lowered his shield when Arbiter took on a familiar form he knew from years ago, a shape that he thought he'd almost forgotten entirely. A smile that grabbed hold of him and left him reeling with unbridled joy. Steve's eyes teared up at the corners fogging his vision just a little, his feet moving on their own accord toward the figure.

"Bucky?"

Clint rubbed at his head, slightly dazed from the blow he had just taken and looked at Steve who was buying into one of Arbiter's tricks. He tried for words, but fumbled in his hazy state, unable to find the right syllables at the moment. His head throbbed and he willed himself to get over it, because Thor, Bruce, and Tony needed him. Steve needed him. Clint couldn't get to his feet but managed to slur a sentence.

"He's not real! That's not the real Bucky," Clint groaned.

Steve looked to Clint, worry brushing his features and then back to the imitation Bucky, trying to believe Clint, but unable to see past the lie that tempted him with a fantasy he wished was real.

"I'm real," the fake Bucky reassured. "You saved me. I never fell. I owe you everything and more." Bucky's voice went low at the last two words, sounding and looking intimate as he invaded Steve's space and mind with meaningless promises.

"Buck--"

"Shhh. I'm here now and that's all that matters."

The faux Bucky embraced Steve warmly, the contact becoming Steve's only reality as he accepted this lie. Clint struggled to his feet and pleaded for Steve to snap out of it, telling him that the real Bucky was dead and that he would forgive Steve if he could, but Steve was too engrossed in the moment. Too caught up in the vile sweet nothings being mumbled into his ear and the arms wrapped around his body.

It was useless, Clint couldn't get through to Steve and their time was almost over. Tony would die any moment now, but the only person that could do something about it was being played like a fiddle. Clint fell to his knees, wanting to cry and yell out, but he didn't have the energy. What good would it do anyway? It was hopeless.

Bucky smiled through his deceiving mask of illusion and softly saying, "I love you, Stevie." That word. That poison convincing Steve even more. "I. Love. You."

Steve's face was unreadable, hearing those words and analyzing them for authenticity then smiling brightly. He huffed a breathless laugh, eyes creasing in glee as he pulled the fake Bucky closer. Steve cupped his face so that they were exactly face to face.

"You don't know how long I've waited to hear those words, Buck," Steve laughed weak, the tears building up. He put a hand on Bucky's shoulder and squeezed it lightly. "And now that I hear them, I..."

"It's okay, Stevie. You can say it," imitation Bucky encouraged.

"I don't believe them," Steve said flatly. "Those words are not real. They're poison!"

Arbiter's facade was diminished to scowl as the appearance of Bucky faded and he was no longer to sway Steve's mind. Before Arbiter could do anything else, Steve's hand had gripped the side of his neck, scratching harshly. Arbiter fell to the ground with a gargled noise and thrashed about the ground like a fish out of water.

Clint stared, not knowing what the hell had happened and what Steve had done to defeat Arbiter, but it seemed that Bruce had stopped mumbling, Thor was no longer frozen in time, and Tony had stopped moving. He looked to Steve who stood over Arbiter, those icy eyes on fire with a mixture of pain, anger, and triumph. Steve turned to Clint and offered a hand to him, pulling upward when Clint took it.

Steve unclenched his other hand, revealing a small red jewel that lay in his palm as if trying to covey what Steve thought it possibly was. Clint gave him a look, silently questioning him and getting a pleading look from the super soldier.

"Later," Clint said, knowing exactly what Steve was thinking and respecting his privacy until when they were alone and able to talk about what was going through Steve's head at the time.

"Friends? I believe Tony is not well," Thor worried.

"He's not moving," Bruce confirmed.

Reluctantly, Steve broke free of Clint's intense stare and hurried to Tony's side, old habits dying hard as his feelings took over. He hunched over Tony just like before when they battled Loki, his face mask open and not twitching in the slightest of ways like it should. Steve cursed himself for not being faster, truly believing that he had not been fast enough to save Tony.

"Wake up, Tony. It wasn't funny the first time, so it's definately not funny the second time around," Steve said as his breath quaked subtly.

"Then why are you smiling?" Tony groaned out, his sarcasm not failing even in a serious moment like this.

"I'm not smiling," Steve huffed, relieved that Tony was okay. "That's not funny, Anthony Stark."

"Hmm, must've missed the punchline."

"So we won right?" Bruce asked precariously. "Bad guy's taken care of and what not?"

"Not yet," Steve said, "We need to take him back to Fury first."

**************

When they brought Arbiter back to Fury they found out all sorts of things, including what that jewel was. It seems the Arbiter's real name was Damian Orgon and that he was just an ordinary kid that went to school, had some friends, and lived with his mom and dad. He was a teenager leading a normal life until he stumbled across an artifact that granted the bearer supernatural powers, hence the psychokinesis.

At this particular juncture, Fury was unable to to tell the others where this jewel came from exactly, but vowed to find out out one way or another. Not one of them doubted Fury for a moment on that subject.

Tony walked up to Steve, giving him a small smile then embraced him tightly and-- were those tears? Was Tony actually crying? Tony buried his face in the juncture of Steve's shoulder and neck. He heard Tony inhale deeply then exhale, Tony nosed his neck affectionately, Steve giving in and wrapping his arms around Tony's waist.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut, letting old habits die hard as memories that he'd rather forget surfaced. The glowing spot on Tony's chest pressed up against Steve's and it only reminded Steve of how Tony had almost died. He didn't want to hear or see those pained wails again, he wanted to block all that out.

"Thank you," Tony whispered, not wanting anyone to hear him. Tony was grateful, but he still had a reputation to hold up and showing weakness wasn't an option. Tony and his damn pride. Not wanting to let go of it even in the face of death. "I owe you my life."

"Don't be so hasty," Steve chuckled, "I just got done saving it." Tony smiled against his neck, body quaking with silent chuckles.

"He's great, ya know. Clint. He's something else. He's everything you deserve."

"I know," Steve said. He opened his eyes, absently looking at a wall as his heart thumped at the raw admission. Steve knew that this thing they had was once and for all over and that Tony was approving of Clint. As if Steve needed his blessing in the first place. "He even appreciates me."

Those words tumbled out and smacked Tony square in the face, shame washing over him at the mostly true statement. Tony had treated Steve well, but he had neglected Steve's basic emotional needs by thinking of himself before him. The comment hurt, feeling as if he had failed Steve and being thankful enough that Steve had such a pure heart and didn't hold a grudge.

Steve pulled back and let go of Tony. He nodded once, accepting the unspoken truce between them with a tiny smile. Steve could finally let go of all the pent up anger and jealousy and love he held toward Tony, ready to make Clint his main priority.

Tony kissed Steve on the cheek and left the room alone. Bruce didn't follow him this time. Instead, Bruce strode up to Steve, giving him an apologetic expression and clasped his hands together. Bruce wasn't as eager to hug Steve, but his eyes conveyed what his voice failed to do and it was apparent that something was eating Bruce from the inside out.

He watched Bruce rake a hand through his dark hair and studied the almost subtle foot shifts and nervous ticks. It seemed that Bruce was apologizing in his own stubborn way and Steve could see how hard it was for him to say it. Always insecurity and a challenge between them, first Tony and now whit. Bruce didn't want Steve to be the big hero, but he respected him too damn much.

Steve flashed him a small smile, blinking once to acknowledge Bruce's weird little apology and chuckling when Bruce sighed and took off down the hall (possibly going to the lab). It seemed things were finally going back to the way they were from last week and now Steve felt a little more content, knowing everything was square.

Things were finally going to be normal (as normal as it could be) and Steve's thoughts were cemented when he heard the boisterous laughter of Thor. Nick Fury was slapped on the back by the enthusiastic God of Thunder, smiling fondly but at the same time not at all. Fury was amused, if anything, him and Steve happy to see Thor back to his old self.

Thor trotted merrily over to Clint, scooping him up in strong arms and squeezing the life out of the archer, eliciting grunts and pushed out breaths. Clint groaned out to Thor for him to stop and Thor set him down with a throaty chortle, turning to Steve with a mischievous grin. Just like Loki, Steve mused thoughtfully.

When Thor got closer Steve stuck his hands out in front of him, silently wishing he had his shield for the over zealous Asgardian. Thankfully Thor backed up playfully and Steve giggled, loving that bearded grin for everything it was worth. Thor skipped off to the kitchen, announcing that he was going to prepare a traditional Asgardian feast. Steve cringed internally.

"You did well, Captain Rogers," Fury congratulated, disappearing soon after like he always seemed to do.

Stark Tower was quiet, but there was an unmistakable thrum of energy surging through the atmosphere and everyone and everything was finally at peace. Steve realized he was alone with Clint in the main room and they made eye contact for a brief second before Steve led Clint to his room. They walked the halls idly, not talking because the silence was just as fitting for them.

Clint reached over, grasping Steve's right hand in his and looked over to make sure this was okay, smiling when Steve winked. Steve started swinging their joined hands as if they were a couple of teenagers, lightening the somewhat mediocre, but no less content, mood. Clint pulled Steve by the hand and gave him a quick kiss when they reached Steve's bedroom door, parting and walking inside.

Steve went to sit on the edge of his bed, elbows resting on his knees as Clint came over to sit beside him after closing and locking the door. Clint waited patiently, wanting Steve to take as much time as he needed before telling Clint what had passed through his mind when Arbiter had posed as Bucky. He needed Steve to know that he cared and that he would be understanding under any circumstances.

Steve spoke sooner than Clint would've thought.

"He didn't trick me, Clint," Steve murmured. His face was to the ground, face expressionless as he took a deep breath. "I knew it wasn't Bucky. Even when he said my name and how he loved me. I wanted him and his words to be real so much, but..."

Clint rubbed a soothing hand up and down Steve's back as if trying to say it was alright and that he could take his time. He inched closer to Steve, placing his other hand a knee and squeezing it reassuringly.

"But he already was," Clint finished. "He was real and he did love you."

"He WAS and he DID," Steve confirmed, the past tense words being outlined and given an inflection to illustrate their importance.

"That whole time he thought he had you, but you were just playing into his little game," Clint huffed in amusement. "You gave him exactly what he thought would happen, then turned it upside down."

"Well, letting him trick me was too predictable. I had to do the unthinkable," Steve smirked cheekily.

Clint smirked along with him, but something else didn't add up...

"How did you know?" Clint inquired after a beat.

"When he was busy taunting and being arrogant I noticed that weird gem thing just near the back of his neck. Figured it might be the source of his power or something."

"And you were right," Clint stated, the awe of his tone not suppressed one bit. Clint smoothed a hand through Steve's hair and caressed his cheek lovingly.

"I could've been wrong too," Steve clarified.

"That's our job, Steve. We take risks all the time to protect others, no matter what the cost. You saved us, Steve. YOU saved US."

Steve let Clint cup his face and kiss it all over, letting those words sink in and realizing he was right. Steve did save them. He was able to locate and exploit Arbiter's weak spot just in time to save his friends, the ones he loved more than anything. He knew he'd never let himself live down Bucky's death, but today Steve was able to save four lives and possible many more.

Clint locked his lips over Steve's, erasing any thought that Steve might be thinking at the moment, and licked his way into the other man's warm mouth. This alone was enough for both of them to recognize the bittersweet surrealism of their reality and then embracing it with eager mouths and muffled noises being exchanged from tongue to tongue. Steve sighed as Clint kissed him more slowly and deeply, making every movement of tongue count as he showed Steve exactly how much he loved him.

He planted one more moist kiss to Steve's lips and smiled genuinely at the Captain.

"Come on," Clint declared, "Let's go watch Thor blow up the kitchen."