Bruce wasn’t sure what to expect, after the Red Vines - and he always felt strange, having that as the name attached to what had happened when Clint had talked with him. There was a part of him that wanted to change the title, to something more appropriate, like when Clint had opened up to him, spilled his soul to him, but then it felt like they were the protagonists in some strange Nicholas Sparks novel.
He was not surprised that Clint remained elusive for the next few days. He was surprised when the archer walked into the lab, apologetic looking, with a bag full of Thai food instead of dropping it down from an air duct in the ceiling. “JARVIS said you hadn’t been out in a while and had run out of peanut butter,” Clint said, opening the desk drawer where he knew Bruce kept some plates.
“Huh,” said Bruce - he was always surprised what information the AI offered up about people. Though he supposed that his falling out with the empty peanut butter jar had been spectacular enough to warrant mentioning. “Pad Thai?”
“And panang,” said Clint. “And Kanya said they make a really good jungle curry, so I thought we could give that a try.”
“Kanya? You’re on a first name basis with the-”
“I don’t really cook,” Clint said, opening up the takeout boxes and releasing the perfect, fragrant smells into the air. Bruce sighed.
“Thanks,” he said, picking up a spring roll and taking a container of dipping sauce.
“Sure,” Clint said. They ate in silence for awhile - Bruce was sure that Clint was having the same problem that he was, which was, what do you say, in this situation? None of it seemed really adequate. It made Bruce wish, possibly for the first time, that he was Thor - I am very sorry to only now find out that you and the Son of Coul were shield brothers for some time, Clint, he said, wrapping Clint into one of his deep hugs. I understand why you mourn so, for he must have been an appreciative and considerate lover. Bruce felt bad, but he primarily categorized Thor as a Muppet.
“Natasha made me an appointment with a psychiatrist not at SHIELD,” Clint said, slowly. “He gave me sleeping pills, and switched me to ativan.”
“What did you tell him you did for a living?” Bruce asked.
Clint grinned. “Stunt performer in movies,” he said. “Sort of explains the medical history.”
“It would,” Bruce replied, suddenly aware of the dark circles under Clint’s eyes. “Sometimes you need a chemical to run a little interference,” he said. Clint arched an eyebrow, and Bruce looked down. “Hulk eats that stuff like M&Ms,” he mumbled - because he knew Clint knew, someone had to have told him about Bruce’s admission in the lab on the Helicarrier.
“It’s a good mental image,” Clint said. “Hulk want all the drugs!”
“He talks like an internet fandom meme?” Bruce replied, and the smile that almost spread across Clint’s lips was a genuine one.
“Yes,” Clint said. “Yes, he does.” He picked up some pad thai with his fork and cocked his head at Bruce. “So. Both of my Mandatory Counselors said that I need to get out more. Besides saving the world.” Bruce nodded - it was reasonable advice, he supposed, considering they probably didn’t know about Clint’s recent decision to inhabit the air ducts. “So...” He glanced down.
Oh, thought Bruce, and supposed it made sense - they were, sort of, friends. If he had to list, like a fifth grade girl, who he was closest to in the Avengers, Clint would follow Tony. And yet most of it had been based on silent communication and a mutual - what, exactly? - before the other day, when... “Clint,” said Bruce, and it felt odd to say his name. “Would you like to go see the movie about the Scottish-”
“Oh, Brave?” Clint said, trying to be nonchalant. “Yeah, if you don’t...I mean, it’s a kids movie, but it’s...”
“I like the Pixar movies,” Bruce replied. “It opens on Friday, right?” Clint nodded, and Bruce nodded, and looked back down at his curry. Huh, he thought, so what was that? A friend, doing something with their friend - it was what adults did, right? All of those people who went to go see movies had to have companions, of some sort, if they weren’t...dates. Which this obviously wasn’t - because.
Still, it had been years since Bruce had gone to a movie - anything he had wanted to see, before this, Tony had got a hold of and they had watched it in the movie theater room he had. I thought it would have the chairs, Steve had said, and Tony had looked at him, and then at the plush leather couches and recliners, and just shook his head.
“Great,” said Clint. “It’s about an archer. And bears.” Bruce just smiled at him.
At Brave, they sat next to each other in the large multiplex near Union Square, each with their own buckets of popcorn and soda. The movie was enjoyable, and, as they went back to the tower, Bruce listened as Clint discussed how pleased he was with the accurate portrayal of archery in the movie.
The next week they were all whisked to Guangzhou, where The Host became reality and a whole family of tentacled, bone-jawed fish things emerged from the local water supply and decided to terrorize, then eat, the local population.
Bruce woke up with Clint sitting next to him in a hole, surrounded by - from what Bruce could ascertain from the smell - the remains of several of the creatures. He felt nauseous, and then watched as a tentacle, complete with barbed lined suckers, began to flop towards him. Clint pulled out his bow and shot it with an arrow, almost lazy. “How you feeling, big guy?” he asked. He handed him one of the spare pairs of gym shorts that most of the Avengers had thankfully taken to carrying with them on their missions. Clint turned away, pretending to be interested in something off in the distance - although, who new?
“Blergh,” said Bruce, as he dressed.
“Everyone else is following the last one back to what they hope is its lair,” said Clint. “They want to make sure there aren’t a bunch of eggs - and, don’t worry. Tony mentioned something about taking samples. For science.”
“I feel ill,” Bruce said, and then turned his head, fully expecting to throw up. Instead, he just gagged a little and had a water bottle pressed into his hand. “Please tell me Hulk didn’t decide now was time to try sushi.”
“Don’t think so,” said Clint. “Oh - that’s probably it,” he said, and pulled an arrow out his quiver and pointed it at Bruce’s stomach, where a bit of mottled green flesh was stuck to him. Bruce grimaced, and Clint used the arrow to flick it off. “They really, really stink,” he said. “But, just so that you know, Nat threatened to break anyone’s fingers who tried to make fish jokes. I’m sort of hoping Stark is stupid enough to take her up on it, but - Thor electrocuted all the eggs,” he said, pressing a hand to his ear to indicate he was listening over the comm.
“Glad you pulled watch the naked guy in the hole duty?” Bruce asked. Clint stood, and offered him his hand.
“Any time,” he said. “Hopefully we can beat them back to the Helicarrier, and use up all the hot water.” He seemed unusually pleased with this idea, and Bruce had to grin - he could be so...innocent? sweet? childish? Something like that, but in a completely charming way that was infectious.
“Do you think smug allusions to being a vegetarian fall under the ambit of fish jokes?” Bruce asked, as they both strode out of the hole and Clint called for someone to come and pick them up.
The next Friday, Clint found a theater that was showing all three of the Star Wars movies, with intermissions for snacks. Bruce didn’t think much of it, since everyone ended up coming along. The Friday after there was an independent comedy that had a limited release, and then there was The Dark Knight Rises, and it was only after that, as they walked back to the Tower, that Bruce realized something might be going on. And by then, of course, it was too late for him to try and broach some conversation - because he would seem inconsiderate, and awkward, and how, exactly, did you start that, anyway? So, I know your partner just died and you have a lot of guilt about it but...what is this, exactly?
So, instead, he watched as Clint got out of the elevator at the floor his bedroom was on and almost held his hand up to make a sad little wave, then thought better of it and foisted it into his pants. “Night, Bruce!” Clint said, amiably, and Bruce mumbled back his response.
A few weeks later, Bruce found himself accosted in the hallway. Normally he knew when Tony was coming - but he must have been taking his training sessions with Natasha seriously.
“Bruce,” said Tony, wrapping an arm around his waist and setting his head on Bruce’s shoulder, “there’s an important matter that we need to discuss. In the kitchen.”
“Oh god,” he said. “Is this a house meeting?”
“Look at you, with the pop culture knowledge. Have you been watching America’s Next Top Model?” Tony asked, and he had that dangerous grin on his face that Bruce knew meant that he wasn’t totally confident that he was right about something - but that he was going to forge ahead under the assumption that he was. “Here he is, guys. Cap, hand Bruce his tea,” Tony said.
Steve held a very large mug of strongly brewed black tea up to Bruce, who smiled at him, and looked at all of the Avengers, assembled. All save one. “Uhm, I’m not sure if this is entirely appropriate-” he said. He remembered Clint’s face from the day that his air duct nest had been discovered, and then, even with him present, Bruce hadn’t wanted to talk about his mental state.
“No, no, nothing like that,” Tony said.
“It’s Clint’s birthday tomorrow,” Natasha said.
“It will be our first birthday, to celebrate, as a group,” Steve said, his tone suggesting he was taking this very seriously and that it might be a blow to his conception of himself as group leader if something went wrong. Bruce sighed.
“If you are concerned how the Hawk may receive a traditional birthday celebration, perhaps we could engage in an Asgardian style festivity - I think that Clint would very much enjoy the traditional hunt and slaying of a beast which is in season, not to mention the subsequent blood cleansing ritual,” Thor said.
“Yeah, no,” said Tony. Thor appeared dejected, and Steve pat him on the shoulder. “It’s a good idea, really, but it might be hard to find a beast in season in Manhattan - I mean, a rat? But that's not very satisfying - and I’m not really too keen on a blood cleansing ritual in the tower.”
“It is traditionally done in the forest. The beast is put in a tree, and the celebrant guts it and bathes in the resulting flow.” Thor said. Even Natasha grimaced.
“There aren’t too many forests around,” Tony said, looking at Bruce - apparently, he was supposed to be the voice of reason in all of this.
“We could just take him out for dinner?” Bruce suggested.
“No,” Natasha said. “That’s what...that’s what they usually did.”
“So I thought, you know-” Tony began, as Thor opened his mouth.
“Party, booze, strippers, laser light show?” Bruce finished.
“Honestly, that whole party party thing? So over that now, and it’s really unfair to continue to categorize me as such. I am in a monogamous relationship, people.” Tony crossed his arms and stared at all of them. "And I'm not currently dying," he said, mostly to Natasha.
“OK, so you thought party, booze, and laser light show,” Bruce said. “Why don’t we just get a cake? That’s what people do.”
“In offices,” Tony said. “It’s not like he’s Clint from accounting.”
“I’m concerned that any acknowledgement might...but then, on the other hand, neglecting to acknowledge the occasion...” Steve said, and his brow was furrowed.
Bruce ran a hand through his hair. “Cake?” he said, again.
“I believe my suggestion would be the least free of controversy-” Thor interjected, and Tony began to talk, again, Steve furrowed his brow further. It occurred to Bruce that they had likely been debating this for awhile before Tony had been sent out to wrangle him in. He looked over at Natasha, who arched her eyebrow, indicating-
“Hey, guys,” Clint said. “Thinking about what to do tomorrow?” His face was largely expressionless, but it seemed to Bruce that he appreciated the debate.
“Thor wants to take you out to hunt a beast and then have you bathe in its blood,” Tony said. Thor stared at him, and then shrugged.
“Huh,” said Clint. “So, no bouncy castle?” Tony’s eyes lit up, but Bruce shook his head. There was no way that was a good idea. “Seriously, though - I was just going to get drunk? Watch some shit movie?” He paused, and looked at Bruce. “Cake would be good, though. I like red velvet.”
Steve frowned, slightly, and Bruce could almost visualize the thought bubble over his head - oh, man, even the cake flavors are different.
“Well, OK,” said Tony. “I guess that takes all the fun out of it, Barton, thanks for sneaking up on us - were you in the air ducts most of the time?” Clint grinned at him, and then looked at Natasha, who did the perfect eyebrow arch again.
“You said I could,” Clint replied.
“Well, yes, I suppose I did, but - there are certain things-”
“Between a man, and a woman, that should be kept private?” Clint interjected. Tony ignored him and asked JARVIS to ensure that cake and booze were ready for tomorrow evening.
Bruce couldn't sleep, that night, and he began to prepare something in case the need came up - not that they ever talked about anything really serious after that one time. But, as far as Bruce was concerned, that was all the more reason to be ready, since this was also a time when there would be emotions, feelings, reminders. Clint, I know what it’s like to have a birthday without someone...I mean, not exactly like this, but to have everything change and have them gone and... It was, really, pretty shit, but it was something, he supposed. Between his mother, and Betty, he figured he could cobble together something approximating empathy for the situation at hand.
Of course, the whole night went off without incident - remarkable, given the amount of booze consumed. Bruce realized, as they watched the second movie, that he might have been a little stupid agonizing over something to say. One interaction didn't make him the go to person for personal conversations. Clint probably talked with Natasha. After all, she had known him and Coulson. Who was he, really, in the scheme of things? The guy that offerred the quietest place to sleep in the Tower. It was presumptuous, of course, to think that he would be...well, a bit of a wreck, forever, and maybe, Bruce thought, whatever they had had served its purpose. Clint still brought him food, and they still went out for a movie on Friday, but Bruce had noticed that he was only napping in the air duct once or twice a week.
“Let’s start this right,” Tony said, as soon everyone had their alcoholic beverages of choice - Tony had even splashed some rum in Steve’s coke, saying that he needed to be a full participant. Tony raised his glass. “To Clint Barton, a man who dreamed of using an anachronistic weapon to become the best damn assassin spy-” Tony paused, and glanced at Natasha, “-with a dick - in the world, and did it. Happy Birthday.”
“To the Hawk!” Thor said, and everyone clinked their glasses. Bruce stood next to Clint, and glanced out the side of his eye at the younger man. He was smiling, present, he seemed remarkably fine.
“What the fuck are we going to do with a cake that size?” Clint asked, as Steve carried out an enormous red velvet cake with a cluster of question mark candles on it. “And why is there-”
“Apparently, your actual date of birth is only accessed for people above my pay grade,” Stark said. “Make a wish!”
“When I looked up your birthday rituals today I was told there was a traditional ballad-” Thor began.
“Uhm, that’s OK,” said Clint, who closed his eyes for a moment and then blew out the candle. Bruce leaned in to get a look at the decoration on the cake, and grinned - there was a large hawk on a tree branch, holding some kind of bloody carrion in its one claw. The feathers had been rendered with a slight purple sheen to them, which was a nice touch.
“Steve drew it,” Tony said.
“Apparently,” Steve said. “You can bring in a drawing and they can just print it right on a cake. It is pretty...cool. And the animal in its talon, that’s referencing your hunt, Thor.” He smiled. Bruce suppressed the urge - one that he had experienced several times before - to pat Steve on his perfect blonde head.
“Ah! A touching reminder of how we might have celebrated as warriors in my realm,” Thor said, clapping Steve hard on the shoulder. “Thank you, Captain.”
“I definitely want the head,” Clint said, and Natasha suddenly had a knife - no surprise there - and began to cut.
After they had finished with their first pieces - or, in Thor and Steve’s case, sections - of cake, Thor said, “And now we shall watch the traditional movies about defecation?” He frowned when everyone laughed. “Have I misunderstood what was said, yesterday?”
“Yes, sorry,” Clint said, and it was rare to see him smiling like that - again, credence to Bruce’s theory that Thor was a Muppet and that Clint was.. “I meant shit, like silly - silly movies. Nothing serious, just sit back, watch it, enjoy it, laugh-”
“I see,” said Thor. “I was not aware of that usage of the word. This is most illuminating. Pray tell, what shit movie have you chosen for tonight?”
“Ghostbusters,” Clint said.
“Excellent choice,” said Tony, “But first, don’t you want to see your present?” Bruce glanced at the rest of the group and was relieved to see that they all appeared to be confused. That was not promising.Tony had a good heart, especially towards his friends, but while he put on a good front there was a part of him - the genius part, Bruce supposed, and he knew, he suffered from it as well - that sometimes read social cues completely wrong.
Tony grinned at Clint, and then they all had no choice but to follow him as he led them into the communal living room/movie theater room, which, as the sight of the largest television in the Tower and the largest bar, was where they spent most of their time together. Tony opened the door to the living space with a flourish - not auspicious, Bruce couldn’t help but think -and said, “Tada!”
“What. The. Fuck,” Clint said - so, not a great start, and it took a moment for all of them to make it through the door and get a good look at what was now in the center of the room - the leather couches and chairs that had previously occupied the space had been moved to the walls.
It was a nest. A nest bed thing* - what appeared to be a soft, structured wool created the twigs to make up the structure of the nest, and it was filled with large, soft, amorphous pillows. “It’s big enough to fit ten people!” Tony said.
The worry in the room was palpable, but then Clint took a few quick steps and launched himself into it in a seated position - Bruce marveled at how easy he made it look. He knew that Clint was fit, and had acrobatic skills, but he almost never got to see him perform in the field.
Clint sunk into the pillows, and had a smile on his face. “It’s a nest,” he said.
“Verily,” said Thor.
“Is it comfortable?” Natasha asked.
“Very,” Clint said. “Does it have...lumbar support?”
“Oh,” said Tony. “It was built by architects. They assured me it was ergodynamic.”
“Great,” said Clint. “This is...well. Thank you. I’m not sure how to get out of it.”
“As it is now clear that you enjoy this gift, might I suggest that we determine whether Tony’s assertion of its capacity is correct and watch our shit movie from here?” Thor asked. “Unless you think such an act is intrusive.”
Oh, Bruce thought, and he looked over at Tony and gave him a soft smile. Tony arched his eyebrows and winked. Note - give Stark more credit for symbolic gestures. And ability to read social cues.
“The only issue is the lack of cup holders,” Clint said. “I don’t want any spills, because then my - the nest is going to smell like booze.”
“I think if you spend enough time in it, Barton, it will naturally acquire that scent,” Natasha said. She seemed to realize, then, that everyone was waiting for her, having decided that as Clint’s oldest friend, she should be the first to dive in. She handed the bottle of vodka she had carried over with her to Tony and stepped in. “Squishy,” she said, reaching her hand out for the vodka. "And don't even...go there, Stark. I know you're tempted." Tony gave her a who, me look and she responded with one of those smiles that could cut glass in its own right.
“Not going to bite,” Clint said, and he laughed as Tony threw himself in sideways. Steve followed, and then Thor, and the demi-god spread himself across the back of the nest and sighed.
“This is a must wondrous thing,” he said.
“Come on, big guy,” Clint said, and he reached a hand out for Bruce.
Bruce took it, knitting his hands into Clint’s, and allowed the archer to help him into the nest. Bruce misjudged how deep the pillows were in relation to the edge and tumbled into Clint and landed a little bit on top of him. “Sorry,” he said.
Their eyes met, and Clint looked down, and then away as Bruce did his best not to scurry off of the other man. He tried to settle in between Clint and Steve with the same grace everyone else seemed to have as they maneuvered into the structure. It was difficult to get into a position where he didn’t touch Clint, and so finally he just ceded to the nest and didn’t fight against the contact between their legs. “Beer,” Clint said, handing Bruce a bottle. Someone - likely Thor - had hoisted a twenty-four rack into the nest with them. Bruce smiled at him, softly, as he accepted it, and then looked away.
This is bad, he thought. And also patently ridiculous, because here he was with a team of superheroes sitting in a giant nest and acutely realizing, that he was falling for someone who had lost his lover of over half a decade five months ago. It could be worse - but not much, and he decided it wouldn't really be productive to come up with those permutations. Still, what was he supposed to do? Sorry your boyfriend's dead. Have any interest in fucking someone who turns into an giant green rage monster on occasion?
Before Bruce could mentally slink down into a familiar grey place, Clint lifted his beer. “Thanks, everyone,” he said. “It’s been a good birthday."
"And we haven't even watched the movie yet!" Tony said. He glanced at Bruce from across the pile of limbs and a look in his eye that indicated he might be overly pleased with himself. Bruce just raised his beer bottle at him as Clint instructed JARVIS to start the movie.
I love this part of the description on the website: Ready to to be used, to be played in, and be worked in. With its 4.50 m diameter the big version can host up to 16 people at once, offering a comfortable and sensual soft space, various siting positions, configurations for informal meetings and social exchange.
I knew it needed to feature - it continued the sort of crack!tones the whole nesting thing had in the first story. Also, I really, really want one.
“Did you get a chance to eat anything?” Clint asked, poking his head into Bruce’s lab. Bruce shook his head - he hadn’t even realized that it was Friday.
“No,” he said. “I’ve been...reversing the polarity.” He waved his hand over the work bench and sighed. Clint grinned at this.
“There’s a place near the theater I thought we could try,” he said. “It has a lot of vegetarian options.” He gave Bruce a shrug.
“Sure,” Bruce said. “Just gave me a few minutes to, ugh, change...and I’ll meet you downstairs?” Clint nodded, and walked out of the room.
Bruce took his glasses off and wiped them on his shirt, and sighed - he was just...doing what, exactly? Being a friend - helping someone that he could empathize with, and it wasn’t like there were too many options, out there. And it wasn’t like he was trying anything. It was unrequited, and it hurt, a little - possibly more - but he wasn’t hurting anything. He was pretty certain someone would have interceded, if he was. And besides, Clint was sleeping in his bed, which was a huge improvement. Bruce sighed again, and then went through the door to his personal quarters and threw on a shirt that wasn’t stained, slightly wet, and smelling faintly of chemicals and cleaning solvents.
The restaurant, as promised, had plenty of vegetarian options - and was also a buffet, which eased Bruce’s anxiety as soon as he saw it. There was something about being served that just screamed date to him, and also took him back to a lot of evenings with Betty - they had both been capable cooks, but more often than not it was takeout or going out. “Bruce - are you alright?” Clint asked, as they took their seats.
“Yes, sorry. Just thinking about something Tony sent me - I mean, it’s not a big thing, but...got distracted.”
“That’s fine,” Clint said. “I was, too - scoping out all exit points, marking potential threats, looking for where it would be good to mount an assault or stake a defense, possible weapons, and then I glanced over and - so, no worries.” Bruce had to smile at the casual way the archer related what he had just processed.
“Canes, to start,” Clint said. “The elderly do have their uses.” Bruce smiled at that as they sat down.
“Something to drink?” a server asked.
“Do you still do pitchers?” Clint asked, and cocked his head at Bruce. “Sam Adams?”
“That works,” Bruce said. The server nodded and told them to go up at their leisure. The question - so, you’ve been here before? - hung in the air between them, and Bruce made a sort of coughing sound.
“I’ve been, ugh, researching buffet restaurants for when we take the kids on field trips - ugh, Steve and Thor. Both times Nat and I have taken them out, we’ve been politely asked not to return.” He sort of laughed, and then grimaced. “Thor is the definition of can’t take him anywhere,” he said.
“He’s sort of-” Bruce said, and then stopped, realizing what he was about to say.
“It’s between you and me, Dr. Banner,” Clint replied.
“Muppet,” Bruce mumbled, and grimaced. Clint’s mouth opened, though, and his laugh was full and long. At one point, he squeezed his eyes shut.
“Verily,” said Clint. “I can see it, in my head, some fuzzy peach thing with the helmet and the hammer...that’s good,” he said. He exhaled, and smiled again. “Food?”
“Sure,” Bruce said, and as they walked, he felt his throat tighten slightly because Clint and Natasha were taking Steve and Thor out - he wasn’t the only one who’d been asked or invited on these excursions, it wasn’t just...for all he knew, Clint and Tony went out drinking. He knew that he should be relieved, but instead he just felt deflated.
Over dinner the conversation was easy. It was always surprising easy, with Clint, despite the differences between them. There were the various quirks of their teammates to discuss - Clint wanted proof that Steve wasn’t a robot, which wasn’t something that Bruce had considered until that point but had to admit there was some merit to the suggestion. There was an anecdote about the time Clint and Natasha had to take out an actual robot overlord, in Columbia, and Bruce told him about the time he had been in Columbia. It was nice for these things to be natural.
“Shit,” Clint said, looking at his watch. “We might miss the previews - and don’t shrug at me, Banner, the previews, sometimes, are the best part.”
“Well, hopefully not tonight,” Bruce said, and their eyes met and there was something in the way that Clint looked at him that made Bruce have to look away - it was Clint’s movie choice, he realized, some action flick that they tended to deposit in late summer and early fall. Bruce looked down and reached for his wallet, and tossed his share onto the bill the waitress brought them.
They debated the merits of the various action sequences on the way home - Bruce, from a purely scientific perspective, Clint, from experience. This time, in the elevator, Clint clapped him on the shoulder before he stepped out onto his own floor. “Thanks,” he said. “It’s good to feel normal...sort of, you know?”
The door closed before Bruce could reply, so instead he just leaned against the side of the elevator and waited to go up the next two floors. Stupid, he told himself. Stupid.
He wasn’t surprised to find Natasha perched on his work table when he entered the lab the next morning, bleary-eyed and a little foggy from lack of sleep. “Do you sleep?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
“I made you some tea,” she said, and nodded her head at the mug sitting to her right. Bruce took it and sat down on his stool.
“So,” he said. “You have need of a physicist?”
“Do you like him?” she asked. Bruce had to look away from her gaze - he had no idea how he was supposed to answer this, and he wasn’t entirely sure what would result from a wrong answer. He knew Natasha, after what had...it wouldn’t be anything physical, but really, he’d almost rather be punched.
Before he could say anything, though, she said, “Good.”
“Good?” he asked. She nodded.
“He’s had...enough, don’t you think?” she asked, and Bruce sort of nodded as she slipped off of the table and took her own mug of coffee with her.
He would spend the morning trying to puzzle out the whole point of the visit - tacit endorsement? Warning? Acknowledgement of reciprocation? Green light? Cryptic warning? It really just added to his understanding of how Natasha Romanov had become so good at what she did.
At some point, Tony and JARVIS interrupted him - Tony had discovered something, or thought he discovered something, that was incredibly important and needed Bruce’s input. For science! They might need, Bruce thought, a button, or something - the sort of prize you used to find in a Cracker Jacks box.
Bruce widened his eyes, though, when he saw Tony, covered in grease smears and with his hair at strange angles - so he had actually discovered something. “This would dramatically cut down on power loss,” he said. “I mean, Thor can’t strike me with lighting every time, you know?”
“Yeah, no, definitely could work,” Bruce said. He knelt down beside him. “But what about those Hulk pants?”
“I am not Tim Gunn, Bruce, I know next to nothing about synthetic fiber. You know this - and besides, isn’t it a moot point, now? Everyone’s seen your junk.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said, glancing down.
“I didn’t mean to be derogatory - it’s a common term, you know, for...” Tony waved the hand he was holding a wrench in. “Kids use it all the time. Actually, though, Steve hasn’t seen it, he always averts those pretty virgin eyes of his-”
It went on, for hours probably, as they both began to pull at wires and Bruce sat and did calculations on the whiteboard while Tony handled the more practical end of things. Then JARVIS cut in, again. “Mr. Thor would like to enter, sir,” he said.
“JARVIS, we’ve talked about this, he’s not Mr. Thor - that’s his first name, right? He’s Mr. Odinson, if he’s anything-”
“The God of Thunder would like to enter, sir,” JARVIS replied. Tony rolled his eyes at Bruce.
“Tell him that we’re very busy and important.”
“I did, sir. He specifically would like to speak with Dr. Banner.”
“Huh,” Tony said, and arched an eyebrow at Bruce. “Pray tell, did he telleth you abouteth what?”
“No, sir,” JARVIS replied. Tony grinned, and then told the computer to let him enter.
“What?” he said to Bruce, when the physicist sighed. “What could he possibly want...that’s so urgent? I’m curious!” He held his hands up. “Hey, Thor.”
“Bruce,” Thor said, and his stance was formal. “I think it best if you accompany me.” He glanced at Tony, and then nodded at Bruce to punctuate this.
“Uhm, sure, OK? Why?” Bruce said.
“I believe it best not to discuss-”
“You know that JARVIS is everywhere, right? And I can make him tattle on you? Plus the cameras-” Tony interjected.
“The Widow indicated you might be best suited for the task,” Thor said. Well played, Bruce thought. Natasha was the only one of them that Tony legitimately feared.
“I’ll be back,” Bruce said, but Tony was shaking his head at him with an expression of disgust. “Thor-” Bruce said, once they had exited the lab.
“You and the Hawk have become close, have you not?” Thor asked, and Bruce just thought, really? Thor and Natasha? Was he being that - embarrassingly - obvious? He nodded, because it was very hard to lie to Thor when the demi-god was so naturally honest.
“Good,” Thor said. “Then the Widow was right, and you are best suited to this task.” They walked in silence as Thor led him to the door of what was once the entertainment room but had quickly, over the course of the week, become the nest room.
“Oh, good,” Natasha said. She was leaning against the door, and there was a slight smile on her face. “Clint’s drunk, and won’t come out.”
“So you want me to go get him?” Bruce asked.
Natasha scowled, as though she were speaking to a particularly slow child. “He won’t come out because...he’s private. He doesn’t let a lot of people in.”
“Oh,” Bruce said. He pushed his glasses up. “I see. Uhm, JARVIS, can you ask Clint if I can come in?” A moment passed, and rather than respond, the AI merely opened the door to the nest room. Natasha waved at him, and Thor nodded, and Bruce thought, my life is ridiculous, and all of this is real.
“Clint?” Bruce said. A hand stuck up out of the nest bed, barely visible over the sides. “Do you...can I come...”
“Yeah, whatever,” Clint said, and Bruce sighed audibly. “Yes.”
Bruce looked down into the bed, where Clint was sprawled along with a large bottle of Natasha’s vodka. Well, half a bottle of Natasha’s vodka. There was a movie playing on the screen that he didn’t recognize, and Clint had muted it. “Hey,” Bruce said, again.
Clint peered up at him. “Are you judging me?” he asked.
“No,” Bruce replied - had he drank the entire half of the bottle? And, if so, in how long? He was a little relieved to see an empty box of crackers next to the archer, but still.
“Then get in the nest,” Clint said, waving his hand at Bruce.
Bruce sort of rolled in, this time, having determined over the past week that it was the best approach for dealing with the nest bed and not looking like a complete ass. Clint was seated in the middle, staring up at the ceiling.
“Clint?” Bruce said, hugging the side of the nest and pulling himself up into a seated position.
“Yes?” Clint said, turning and looking at him for the first time. Bruce frowned, slightly, at his red swollen eyes, but didn’t comment on it.
“You’re just going to stay in here?” Bruce asked, not entirely sure what he should say - or his goal, really. Natasha had said Clint wouldn’t come out, but she hadn’t indicated whether he was supposed to get Clint out, or-
“I think so,” Clint said. “I like it. It’s squishy.”
“You’ll run out of booze at some point,” Bruce said, and he took the bottle of vodka and took a long swig of it.
“Especially if you keep drinking it,” Clint said. He made grabby hands at the bottle, which Bruce held beyond his reach. Clint didn’t move, and sighed instead as Bruce took another drink. “That’s not water.”
“I’m aware,” Bruce said. “It’s vodka - pretty nice vodka, too. Natasha regularly lets you raid her stash?”
“Yeah, she’ll be upset about that. But I know a guy - there’s a Russian liquor store in Queens, somewhere. I’ll get her some more.” He didn’t say anything for a long while, after that, and so Bruce sat and sipped the vodka and watched the various explosions on the television screen, trying to discern what movie it was. Finally, Clint said, “So you don’t have, like, a mission?”
“No,” Bruce replied. Clint studied him, and sighed.
“This sucks,” he said, waving his hand around. “I mean, I like the nest. I appreciate the gesture. I understand the gesture. But it’s not the same.”
“No,” Bruce said. “It’s not - not even close.” There were plenty of empty platitudes he could dispense, but he decided to save those for later.
“This sucks,” Clint said, and for the first he turned and looked at Bruce. “It really sucks.”
“Yeah,” Bruce said. He didn’t have much else to offer except a slightly perplexed face.
“I mean, I like all of you guys and...I appreciate everything, but no one knew us - well, Natasha did-” and Clint leaned in closer to Bruce, looked around conspiratorially, and said, “-but she’s Natasha, you know?” Bruce gave a short nod. “I don’t know, it’s like...” he sighed, and grabbed for the vodka bottle. Bruce took it back, and took another sip, when Clint was done.
“You OK, big guy?” Clint asked.
“I haven’t drank vodka since college and I am starting to remember why,” Bruce said.
Clint nodded at this, almost sage. “Yeah. But Nat drinks it like water, so...” He shrugged his shoulders. “We’re friends, right?”
“Of course,” Bruce said, though for a moment he wasn’t sure if Clint was asking a different question - but he wouldn’t be, would he? In the context of this conversation?
“Good,” Clint said. “I mean, you get it. I think.”
“I do,” Bruce said. “I mean, not exactly. But.”
Clint nodded. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and it was only just beginning to look on the wrong side of scruffy. His skin looked a little grey, as well - completely different from the person that Bruce had had dinner with and seen a movie with the night before.
“Sometimes it’s like...it’s OK, and then there’s sometimes where I forget it happened - and it just hurts so fucking much,” Clint said, and his eyes started to well up slightly and Bruce did the only thing he could think to do, which was reach and take Clint’s hand and squeeze it. He nodded his head. “And I did it.”
“No,” Bruce said. “You can’t tell yourself that.”
“But I did,” Clint replied.
“But you can’t tell yourself that,” Bruce said, again. “Or else you won’t...you just have to keep...breathing.”
Clint didn’t say anything, and while he turned his head away from Bruce, he kept their hands interlocked. When he turned back, it appeared he had used his other hand to wipe his eyes. “You should be a Mandatory Grief Counselor,” he said.
“I don’t know,” Bruce said, and he reached into his pocket and handed Clint a folded handkerchief.
“Huh,” Clint said, taking it. “You would have one.”
“They come in...handy,” Bruce said, and he had to grimace at the choice of word. It got Clint to smile, at least.
As with the other time when there were emotions, and sharing, this was not mentioned - by Bruce, by Clint, by the rest of the team. Eventually, after talking about unrelated things for another half hour, Clint decided to let Natasha and Thor in - since he had drunkenly decided that Thor really needed to see Labyrinth. No one disputed this, Steve came with bottles of water, and soon pizza and beer made an appearance when Tony entered and hurtled himself into the nest bed - and nearly into Thor’s lap.
“Can I just sleep here?” Clint asked, after Labyrinth led to The Princess Bride when Tony mentioned he knew an excellent drinking game related to the movie - and only allowed Clint to play if he did it with water.
“Is that directed at me?” Tony asked. “Because I just told you that you can’t sleep in the air ducts. And I was the one who-”
“K,” Clint said, and turned his head to the side - very close to Bruce’s shoulder - and promptly passed out. Bruce pressed his lips together, not entirely drunk enough to deal with the rest of them and what they might want to insinuate from-
“Well, let’s at least get his shoes off,” Natasha said, finally. “Bruce, maybe you should stay?” She shrugged her shoulders, as though she was not fussed by this, and Bruce nodded at her.
He didn’t notice until the next day when he went to go and wipe his glasses that Clint had never given his handkerchief back. He didn’t bring this up, either.
* * *
Two days later they were in Buffalo, where a large quantity of the Jotuns that Loki hadn’t managed to exterminate decided that they wanted to play at taking over earth again. “Can we talk about why they are using Buffalo as the launching pad for their invasion?” Tony demanded, as they sat in the Quinjet.
“I was under the impression it was a land of much snowfall,” Thor replied, crossing his arms.
“Buffalo!*” Tony replied, as though this meant something.
Thor had assured Bruce that he could hold back, after a rather long-winded explanation about the time he had invaded Jotunheim, so Bruce had sat in the Quinjet with Hill and gained a greater degree empathy for those who had to listen to the Team on the comms.
The last thing he remembered, before waking up bundled in a sleeping bag, was Natasha saying, “What the fuck are those?”
Followed by, “Aye, I slew one of those beasts-”
And then, “One! One is singular!”
And, lastly, “Ugh, Bruce? Would appreciate some assistance, here,” from Steve.
“So,” Clint said, when Bruce woke up in the back of the Quinjet, wrapped in a very thick sleeping bag. “You warm enough?”
“Uhm, yeah, this is kind of luxurious,” he said, stretching himself out a little bit and regretting it.
“Hulk caught me,” Clint said, rather casually. “Tony and I are starting a club.”
“Huh,” Bruce said. This did not surprise him in the least, but he tried his best to keep his face neutral.
“He seemed pissed, too. He sort of rammed me into a snowbank and said, Birdie no fly! and then...hulked off to smash some more.” Clint nodded, as though this was something that happened to him semi-regularly. Bruce supposed it was, really, and had to remind himself that he had slept with the man not two nights ago in a giant nest bed.
“Well. That was rather restrained of him, wasn’t it?” Bruce asked, and Clint grinned at him and clapped him on the shoulder.
*I am from Buffalo, and I currently live here. And yes, I'd Rather Be Snowed In.
Clint and Natasha were sent on a SHIELD mission for a month, and Bruce keenly noticed the absence while doing his best to act as though everything was fine - beyond the general strangeness of not having the two assassins around the Tower. All of the cliches were true, though, and it made him realize how much time he did spend with the archer and how he valued it and...well, everything else.
Somehow he got roped into helping Tony build Natasha a better, and more compact widow’s bite. It had started, as most of Tony’s ideas did, after over thirty hours without sleep.
Bruce found him sitting on the kitchen counter, holding the coffee machine while Steve made omelets. “So...you really made Pepper an omelet to tell her you were dying?” Steve asked.
“Look, next time you’re dying, we’ll see how you handle it,” Tony said, taking down almost an entire coffee mug and narrowing his eyes at Steve. “Wait, that’s it, isn’t it? You’re going to hold your swan song nose dive over my omelets, aren’t you?”
Steve looked appalled. “You’ve...heard that?” Tony nodded, and something darkened across his face. Bruce could imagine the scenario - he had constructed what he thought was a pretty decent facsimile, in his brain, of Tony’s relationship with his father from the various quips, sarcastic comments, bitter diatribes, and the few brief moments of real emotional reflection that Tony had emitted over the past months.
“Tony...” Bruce said, grappling for something - anything - to end the conversation. “Why are you molesting the coffee machine?”
“It’s an inanimate object, Banner, I don’t think molesting can apply,” Tony said, narrowing his eyes. “Besides, it’s my precious, and I’m trying to think, and then Steve had the audacity to come in here and try and make an omelet and then taunt me about-”
“What were you trying to think about?” Bruce asked. Steve gave him a relieved smile as he flipped his omelet.
“Electrical current manipulation,” Tony said. “An energy pressure modulator that would - oh! For the Widow’s Bite. It would be perfect if we could...if we could...”*
“A pressured injector system?” Bruce said. “But that would be difficult to make, that compact, and generate the necessary energy for-”*
Tony flew off of the counter with little grace, in a move reminiscent of what Bruce had often seen Clint do when he needed to flee his perch when he thought Natasha was nearing - after he drank her vodka, or forgot to put fabric softener in her laundry, or ate all of her imported Russian chocolate.
Tony, in this case, landed near Bruce and pulled him into a hug. “Oh, Bruce,” he said. “You have such a beautiful brain.”
“I think you need to go to sleep, Tony,” Bruce said, and glanced at Steve, who nodded, as if to say, I would agree with you out loud but that would guarantee that Tony will not do this thing.
“After we play with the injector system, Bruce, we can-”
“Is it feasible?” Steve asked, which was basically his way of asking Bruce if he would agree to babysit Tony through the process and ensure that there was a minimum amount of damage to property and bodily integrity.
“It could be...” Bruce murmured, with Tony still attached to him. “But I don’t think playing around with electricity is a good idea right now.”
“Thor can help!” Tony said.
“Bedtime,” Bruce replied.
“Only if you meet me in the lab in six hours,” Tony said. He had finally detached himself, but was very close to Bruce. His eyes were narrowed in an approximation of a serious, threatening face. Bruce glanced over to Steve and could tell the other man was trying hard not to laugh.
“Fine,” Bruce said, and Tony nodded.
As he left the kitchen, he said, “Fuck you and your omelet, Sandra Dee.”
“Tony, really? That was a sub-par insult. Bed.” This, out of everything, was what finally ended up convincing Tony.
Eight and a half hours later, Tony met Bruce in the lab with a sort of sheepish expression - he tended to reserve these for Bruce, after these episodes. “So. Widow’s Bite,” he said, and Bruce nodded.
Bruce did his best to keep up with Tony, though when it came down to the actual putting together of the device he took a few steps back and scribbled some equations and other things that had been bothering him on paper or whiteboard or whatever else he could find. It reminded him of the notes that he used to leave for Clint, and it made him wonder how the archer was doing - and whether he was safe. The last mission he had been on had ended with him getting shot in the leg. He tried to downplay that, too, which only made Bruce more concerned. Just a flesh wound, he said, grinning at Bruce. You should have seen me after Almaty.
He and Tony also became acutely aware of how much Natasha and Clint had contributed to the care and feeding of Thor and Steve - it was only a matter of days before the two of them began to ask to enter the lab, and Bruce often caught them wandering the halls, looking lost and more than a little bit bored. Bruce, and occasionally Tony, did his best with movies and Mario Kart and Tetris - the only two video games he really knew how to play - but at a certain point, it wasn’t enough.
“Clint mentioned that he and Natasha took them on field trips,” Bruce said, after Thor began to threaten JARVIS when he refused to let him into the lab.
“Seriously?” Tony asked, looking up from the wiring he was rigging. “Like - to the zoo? Oh, fuck, Bruce, we totally need to take them to the zoo.”
Bruce stupidly assumed that they would be going to the Bronx Zoo, and sighed when he found himself on Tony’s private jet, bound for San Diego.
“This is much better than the transportation SHIELD provides us,” Thor said, after eating most of the snacks from the cabinet nearest him.
“Tell me about it, big guy,” Tony said, vodka and tonic in hand. “I’ve tried to tell them-”
“This isn’t in any way equipped for disaster or incidence response,” Steve said.
“Are you going to be a party pooper?” Tony asked. “Are we going to have to turn the plane around and not get Happy Meals tonight, Captain?” Steve sighed, and looked at Bruce, who just shrugged his shoulders.
The zoo was, predictably, a hit - Thor was particularly taken by all of the bears, for some reason, as well as the meerkats. Steve wandered off with his sketchbook and, not surprisingly, found himself blushing as a very attractive zoo keeper came around to talk to him. They had dinner at the full service restaurant in a private room overlooking a waterfall.
Tony and Steve fell asleep on the way home, and Bruce sort of looked awkwardly at Thor before getting into an interesting conversation about his experiences when he first fell to earth and was told several amusing anecdotes about his adventures with the Warriors Three and Sif. “It sounds like Fandral and Tony would really hit it off,” Bruce said.
“Aye,” said Thor. “I had not thought of that - they would be well suited to one another’s company.” He paused, for a moment, and then leaned in to speak to Bruce, almost conspiratorially. “I have often thought of inviting the Lady Sif for a, I believe you call them, long weekend? I believe her and Natasha would find much amusement in one another.” His grin was almost wicked, and all Bruce could do was scratch his head. “Of course, I am aware that on Midgard you are more - I do not wish to be insulting - strict when it comes to your choice of partners.”
“Well, ugh, some people are,” Bruce said, not really sure if he was the one to be hosting This Very Special Episode. “Some aren’t - like...” he blushed, slightly, but went for it, “I’ve been with women, and men.”
“Ah,” Thor said, nodding. “And the Hawk had a long-term partnership with the Son of Coul.” Bruce nodded, and felt his throat tightening slightly - because he’d been here, before, with Thor. There was part of him that wondered if the whole discussion hadn’t been started for his benefit. “I can see you care greatly for him, Bruce.”
“I - well, I guess we’ve sort of...”
“I understand your trepidation,” Thor said. “But I believe the Hawk cares for you very much, as well. I have never lost a partner, though I have lost...” he pressed his lips together, and sighed, “...but I recognized, when I came to stay in Tony’s domain, that I was being offered new opportunities for companionship, and while they would not replace what I had lost, I would cherish them nonetheless.”
“Huh?” said Tony, stirring, and Bruce grimaced, really not wanting him to get involved in the conversation.
“Do not worry, Tony! I was merely discussing with Bruce how I strongly desire to adopt a polar bear.”
Tony scrunched his face at this. “You do know it won’t actually live in the tower, right?”
“We certainly have room for one,” Thor said, and he smiled at Bruce.
Oh god, Bruce thought, and it was almost too much to consider, but here was proof - he’s been trolling us all along.
The next morning, Tony had a grin on his face when he met Bruce in the lab. “There’s something you haven’t been telling me, Dr. Banner...” he said. “Want to talk about why Thor’s Google searches this morning included how long after your partner leaves this realm before you may copulate again? and how long to wait after your partner greets death before starting a new relationship?”
“You check Thor’s Google searches?”
“Are you kidding?” Tony asked, “It could be one of the most successful Internet memes of all time - it's beautiful - but that’s not the point, the point is...you’ve been struck by Cupid’s arrow, haven’t you?”
“How do you know it’s not Thor?”
“He’s dating Jane, I knocked Steve out of the equation immediately, because he’s Steve, I know it’s not me, and Natasha...besides, you were the one who got sent in to diffuse the Nest Bed situation.” Tony grinned at him.
“If you continue to make cupid jokes I am going to stop speaking to you,” Bruce replied.
“OK, I’m sorry - you’re right, it’s not...I was trying to make it light-hearted, but.”
“Did that just come out of your mouth?” Bruce asked, trying hard not to be amused.
“I am capable of feelings,” Tony replied. “I’m probably the worst person to ask for advice on this.”
“So you just wanted confirmation,” Bruce replied.
“OK, that makes me sound like I’m not capable of feelings-” Tony said, and he sighed. “JARVIS only tells me the funny things Thor searches for, not the personal ones.”
“Let’s just work on the project, OK?” Bruce said, because he didn’t want to be further annoyed with Tony and suspected they weren’t going to go anywhere different. And besides, his head hurt from the various interventions. He just wanted - he wasn’t sure what he wanted, really, because as much as he liked...he didn’t want to be some consolation prize, or a rebound, or to stir up things that were best left as sediment at this point.
After a few hours of working in silence, Tony looked up at him and said, “Bruce - I know you’ll do the right thing. You’re a good person.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said, and smiled at him.
* * *
Hill called them to let them know that Natasha and Clint had returned from their mission, and that both were still in SHIELD medical, waiting to get cleared. Tony immediately summoned Happy to drive the four other Avengers over, ranting the entire way about how he didn’t appreciate SHIELD abusing his ninja spy assassins.
Natasha had several cuts that had been poorly stitched, at some point over the month, and were healing, and others that were fresh and appeared infected. She also had a bullet graze her arm, a black eye, and a missing front tooth. “It’s fine,” she said, when Steve looked horrified at her smile. “SHIELD has a great dental plan.”
“Lisa needs braces!” Tony managed, and then excused himself for coffee.
Clint was in worse shape, but stable - he had cracked ribs, innumerable bruises, a huge gash on his thigh, and, much to his annoyance, a freshly broken wrist. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?” he demanded, as the four of them stood in his room.
“It’s not the first time,” Natasha said, having joined them at that point.
“We will have more time for adventures, Hawk,” Thor said. “It was not the same in your absence, though Tony was most kind and took us to the San Diego zoo.”
“Fuck you, Stark!” Clint said, “We were going to go to Prospect Park next.”
I've never been to the San Diego zoo, but my local paper featured it today in the travel section. I have pretty much spent the entire day singing the Jacking it in San Diego song from South Park (the dance at :40 kills me. Every. Time.)
**standard disclaimer - I am a lawyer/political science major. All science courtesy of technobabble generators.
“Clint,” Bruce said, turning to the air duct. “I don’t want to be a mother hen-”
“That’s Steve’s job,” Clint called down from the vent.
“Right, but you’re really not supposed to be moving around...you might pop those stitches,” Bruce said. Not to mention the wrist, but that was a sore - haha - subject. Bruce knew he shouldn’t be impressed that Clint was able to make it this far in the duct work, him being one of the world’s deadliest assassins, but he was nonetheless.
“Yeah,” Clint replied. “I just...wanted to sleep.”
Bruce inhaled, not sure how to respond to that - it was too close to their original conversation, where Clint confessed that he didn’t like sleeping alone and that it was that which had driven him into the air ducts. “OK,” he said. “Uhm...I don’t know if you like it, or not...but I’ve been DVRing True Blood in the Nest Room.”
He didn’t get a response to this, and so he turned back to his computer, hoping he hadn’t caused any offense. A few moments later he heard the soft sound of screws hitting the floor, and he turned just as Clint dropped out of the air duct.
“Ow,” he said, and Bruce walked over to him, grimacing, and offered him a hand up off his ass. “Sorry.”
“For what?” Bruce asked, and Clint shrugged and winced again. “They gave you painkillers, right?”
“Yeah. I guess I’m due for some more - I hadn’t really been paying attention.” Bruce tried not to frown at this. Clint had only been home for twenty-four hours, and Bruce knew he was the type of person who wouldn’t respond well to nursing. So he had been polite, but kept his distance. Last he had checked, Natasha was sleeping in bed with Clint and they were watching a cartoon called Avatar. Using some of his super-spy skills to determine what Bruce was going to ask, Clint said, “She’s at the dentist. Tony made her go - said she was creeping him out.”
“Right, OK. You want to watch it?” Bruce asked.
“That’s why I came down,” Clint replied. Bruce smiled. “Season 5, right?”
“Well, I’ve got them all,” Bruce said.
“I didn’t take you for a vampire sex sort,” Clint replied. Bruce shrugged his shoulders.
“Brain crack?” he said. “There’s a reason they show it during the middle of the summer.”
“It’s Skarsgaard, isn’t it?” Clint asked, as they headed out of the lab and towards the nest room.
“I’m sorry?” Bruce asked, and he was mad that it was apparent he was flustered by the question because, OK, yes, that was a little bit a part of it.
“It’s cool,” Clint said. “I agree. And normally I don’t go for blondes.” He gave Bruce a slight smile that was difficult to interpret, and Bruce gave him a slight, probably equally enigmatic, smile back.
Bruce helped Clint into the nest bed and then went and grabbed snacks and drinks for them. Clint downed two painkillers with his beer and then passed the bottle over to Bruce. “Ugh, yeah - I don’t know,” Bruce said. “Usually they don’t do much-”
“That was anti-depressants and whatnot, right?” Clint said. “And what were you trying to take them for?” He raised his eyebrow, slightly, and grimaced - but Bruce shook his head, indicating that he hadn’t gone too far. Clint nodded, almost as if to say, happens to the best of us. Bruce couldn't help but add, in his own head, or the worst.
“We’ll see,” Bruce said, and took two of them and drowned them with a beer as well. Recreational, he thought, though he wasn’t sure if it would reach the Other Guy, even though he could reach Bruce - scratching at the surface, digging, clawing at bits of his grey matter and letting him know how he felt about most situations when Bruce's heart rate accelerated or his adrenaline began to run slightly more than normal. It probably helped that the Hulk's feelings, no matter the situation, were generally uniform.
“Maybe we can do Season 2? But fast-forward through all the maenad stuff, except at the end, where it actually gets interesting?” Clint said. He had his wrist on one of the pillows of the nest bed with an ice pack on top of it.
“Sure,” Bruce said.
“I mean, I’m not interrupting?” Clint asked - strange to bring that up now, Bruce thought, but he didn't say anything.
“I’m on salary,” Bruce replied, and shrugged his shoulders. Clint grinned, and offered his beer up, and beer clinked it.
They watched, primarily in silence, though there were certain things that came up for debate- is Sookie desirable because of some intrinsic quality, or is just the faerie blood thing? and how long would Jason have to work out to get his abs to look like that? Bruce quietly drank, and was amused when the pills actually kicked in.
“I now understand why people like these, recreationally,” he said to Clint, at some point.
“Yeah? This is good,” Clint said. “I don’t think I’ve ever got someone high before - recreationally.” Bruce grinned at him, and they settled deeper into the nest bedding.
“What the fuck are you watching?” Tony asked, at some point - both of them seemed to have prepared themselves for his eventual incursion, though, since Clint looked as non-phased as Bruce was.
“The second season of True Blood, sir,” JARVIS said, before Bruce and Clint could reply.
“With beer,” Clint said, holding up his bottle in his good wrist.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “How far into it are you?” he asked.
“Mmm - third? Fourth episode?” Bruce said, glancing at Clint, who shrugged his shoulders. Both of them laughed.
“Is this a private thing?” Tony asked, and there was a smirk creeping across his face.
“No,” Bruce and Clint replied.
“But you’ll have to get food,” Clint said. "If you want to watch, I mean."
“Pizza,” said Bruce.
“Are you two...high? Do you really have a giant bag of weed?” Tony asked.
“Giant bottle of Percocet,” Clint said, and held his bottle up and rattled it.
“Hmmm. Indeed,” Tony said. “I’ll order some pizzas - do you need anything else?”
Thor wandered in - probably by following the smell of pizza - and it was perfectly timed for the flashback to when Viking Eric was made into a vampire. “Ah! A most accurate depiction of a funeral pyre,” he said, taking up his general space along the back of the nest. “A most noble people.”
“You would think that,” Clint said, and Thor looked affronted. “I mean, they worshipped you and all.”
“It was a misunderstanding,” Thor said.
Natasha came in after she had looked for all of them elsewhere, and gave them a frightening smile when Tony demanded to see the work of government contract dentists. “I’m disappointed in you,” he said. “I thought for sure you would get a gold tooth or one emblazoned with a spider or something.”
“That’s not very discreet, Tony,” Natasha replied. “Did you guys not invite Steve?”
“Is True Blood really rated for Steve?” Tony asked, but Natasha had already ducked out of the room. She returned with Steve a few moments later.
“Vampire sex?” he asked, as he wedged himself between Natasha and Bruce. “Really?” It was a tone that Bruce found he saved for his biggest moments of disappointment with what the future had come to, and Bruce could almost hear an older man’s voice saying, I fought in the war so you all could watch vampire sex!
The only thing he thought was an appropriate response was to reach over and pat him on the head. Everyone stared, for a moment, and Bruce grinned. He had wanted to do that for so long.
“Clint and Natasha are picking because they were injured in the line of...the greater good,” Tony said, finally.
“I didn’t pick-” Natasha began, but Clint raised his good hand up and shook his head. “Fine, whatever, I’m certainly not opposed to it.” She looked over at Steve as if to say, sorry. He shook his head.
“It’s fine, whatever, I mean, there’s been worse-”
“What have we watched that was worse?” Tony asked.
“Inception,” Steve said, and Thor nodded at this. “I mean, what the hell was going on? They’re in someone’s dream and they all have a lot of guns and...really? Really?” He gave Bruce a side-eye, and Bruce looked down at the hands that he had folded in his waist and smiled at Steve.
“It’s a modern classic-” Tony said.
“Do you understand what happened?” Bruce asked, because he certainly hadn’t - though he also generally didn’t have the patience for those kinds of films. He wanted to be entertained, not have a movie demand an intellectual exercise from him just so he could have conversation rights amongst others. “As long as we’re on the same page,” he said, when Tony didn’t respond.
“Can we get back to the vampire sex show, please?” Clint asked. Since they had been joined by the others, they weren’t able to fast-forward through the portions about the maenad, despite how Bruce and Clint tried to offer a summary of what was happening.
Bruce knew, from what Clint had said earlier, that he was probably going to end up spending the night with Clint in the nest bed. It didn’t bother him - he was glad that he could help, even though he didn’t understand what, exactly, he did to make things more palatable for the archer. But it did bother him, because he wanted things that he knew he wasn’t in a position to take - despite all the advice that he was getting from the others on that score.
As the evening wore on, the others began to slip away - Natasha first, because she was still exhausted from the Op, and then Steve, who always went to bed at the end of the evening news, and then Tony and Thor, the latter only because Tony made it very obvious that it might be time for Thor to leave. Bruce tried to meet Thor’s eyes during the exchange, looking for the Thor that had dispensed emotionally complex advice to him, but all he saw was a twinkle - a fucking twinkle. He supposed that one became skilled at hiding certain things, growing up with Loki. Not that it really bothered Bruce - Thor could continue trolling Tony for as long as he liked. It was almost more fun to be in on the joke.
“Bruce,” Clint said, as they turned on the Daily Show. “You’ve been a really good friend, and I appreciate it - it’s more than I deserve.”
Bruce instructed JARVIS to mute the program and studied Clint, not sure what direction they were going to go in following that statement.
“I don’t want you to think - I don’t even know what to think, except for stupid cliche things they say in movies, and...” he rolled over, so that he was facing Bruce, wincing slightly even though he was supported by the massive amount of pillows in the nest bed.
Then Clint kissed him, soft, tentative, brushing his lips against Bruce’s own, and the contact was too much and Bruce lost the sense of restraint that he was normally so good at maintaining. He pressed harder, got Clint to open his mouth, got their tongues involved. It did not go on for long, both of them ceding back when it seemed they realized exactly what they were doing.
“Fuck,” Clint said. “I just - I don’t want to hurt you. And I can’t guarantee I won’t.”
“I know,” Bruce said, looking directly into the other man’s eyes. “Let’s just watch TV, OK? And go to sleep?”
“Together?” Clint asked - the last time Bruce had slept with him in the nest bed they had rolled to opposing sides of the structures and pulled blankets over themselves.
“If you want.”
“If you want,” Clint said.
“I do,” Bruce replied. Clint gave him a slight smile and asked JARVIS to unmute the television. Then he put his head on Bruce’s chest, and Bruce stroked his hair until he was asleep.
The nest bed was surprisingly comfortable. So was Clint.
Shit, Bruce thought, because - shit. They had kissed. He was pretty sure of it - it would be better, if they hadn’t, but he was fairly certain their limbs were currently wrapped up together. Bruce inhaled. He had never meant for that to happen. He had decided it was going to be a crush, and a really inconvenient one, and no matter all of the counsel he got from the others, he wasn’t going to - it had only been six months. Six months, and the relationship had been six years.
“I kissed you, you know,” Clint said, picking his head up so that he could peer at Bruce.
“Oh. Yes.” Bruce said. He reached his arm out, trying to find where his glasses had wound up - largest downside to the nest bed was the sheer size and the amorphous, amoeba-like properties of the pillows.
Clint handed Bruce his glasses. “I rolled over on them - so I put them in my pocket to keep them safe.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said.
“Do you want to go get breakfast?” Clint asked. His hair was rumpled, and he looked - adorable probably wasn’t a word that was applied to Clint Barton all that often, but it fit, in this instance. It didn’t hurt that his pajama pants had a wide variety of dinosaurs on them.
“Like, go out and get breakfast?” Clint asked. “It’s still actual breakfast time, but we could wait, until later, and get brunch, which I’m told is quite popular in New York-”
“Breakfast sounds good,” Bruce said, and Clint smiled at him.
“I should probably change out of my dinosaur pants,” Clint said, extracting himself from Bruce and wincing. “You didn’t happen to roll over the giant bottle of percocet in the night and put it in your pocket?”
“It’s here,” Bruce said, extending his arm to reach the bottle. “Bright orange - easy to spot.”
“I’ll meet you at the elevator in ten?” Clint asked, and Bruce nodded.
He watched the other man exit the room and then rubbed at his face. Maybe he was making this too complicated - that would be what Tony would say, at least, which was why he hadn’t asked Tony. Or Natasha Love-Is-For-Children Romanov, though she had made vague threats in his direction - so maybe she hadn't exactly told the truth to the super villain in the Hulk tank. There was no way to know, with her, though.
Bruce rubbed his face again. It was telling that the best advice, thus far, had come from Thor, who had only lived on this planet/dimension/realm for...six months, give or take a few days in New Mexico. Bruce sighed.
They didn’t really talk as they walked - Clint’s diner of choice was a few blocks over. “I think breakfast is the best meal,” Clint said, as they left the tower. “I used to love, at the orphanage, when we had breakfast for dinner. Life would be remiss without waffles. And french toast.”
“I agree,” Bruce said, though he was concerned about why Clint was babbling.
“They have french toast with vanilla ice cream,” Clint said, raising an eyebrow, and Bruce nodded. It recalled Natasha, a few nights ago - and Bruce couldn’t remember what the archer had done, to get this response - yelling Barton, I swear to god, you are a giant twelve year-old! “Which I am going to order.”
“That sounds good,” Bruce said, and shoved his hands in his pocket, not sure what else to contribute. Clint stared straight ahead, suddenly awkward. Hawkward, Bruce thought, then, No. It was the sort of joke that fraternity brothers would repeat at each other from movies, adopting it as some kind of battle cry.
Once seated, they also ordered coffee and juice. It was only after the waitress walked away that Clint sighed and glanced out the window.
“I did kiss you,” he said. “I wanted to.” Bruce nodded and poured some milk into his coffee. Clint was absently stacking the sugar packets into a small fortress around his mug. “I’ve wanted to, for awhile, and I meant what I said - I don’t want to hurt you, but I feel like...I can’t guarantee it.”
“I know,” Bruce said.
“I know - you’re a big boy, Bruce, I’m not presuming...and fuck, I didn’t mean that to sound like - well, like Tony. I’m sorry. It’s just - and I don’t want this to be, like, all about...but it is, you know?”
Bruce nodded, hoping that they were on the same page.
“We talked about it - we had to be realistic, with what both of us did. And it was...I mean, I knew, right? What could happen to him, what could happen to me? I’d dealt with that part of it, or, at least, I thought I had.” Clint finally opened a sugar packet and dumped it into his coffee. “But I was...I was part of it, and that was not something I thought would ever happen. Or, at least, not - like, not an accident.”
Bruce took a sip of his coffee as Clint worried some of the flesh on the inside of his cheek - it was something he did when he was trying to think of what to say. I was part of it. Bruce had tried not to smile - it was good, that he still wasn’t blaming himself, and not because Bruce wanted...
“And then...and, you know, there’s all that bullshit people say, like, he would want you to be happy or, sometimes, we find things places when we least expect it and...” he shrugged his shoulders and looked at Bruce, pressing his lips together.
“Oh, fuck - do you want me to say something?” Bruce asked, and he tugged at his glasses so he could wipe them. “I don’t know. There’s nothing...there’s no answer, is there? I mean, there are some, but...I’m not going to presume anything, I - I want you to-”
“That’s not fair, though, is it?” Clint said. Bruce shrugged. “Bruce. You’re never fair to yourself.”
“I don’t want to intrude-”
“I know what I want,” Clint said. “But then I feel guilty, because - isn’t it too soon? Shouldn’t I still be wearing black? I can’t - isn’t it not fair to him, to just..?” He slumped his shoulders. “But then, if - well, I mean, we have to presume, here, that there is some afterlife where the dead do the whole Lovely Bones thing...I’d be up there, like, dooooo it, Phil!”
Bruce was fairly certain that this was the first time that Clint had used Coulson’s name in front of him, and before he could interrogate what this meant, Clint resumed speaking.
“But maybe I’m just being selfish.” Clint paused, eyes widening, and Bruce turned to see their waitress headed towards them with french toast, ice cream, bacon, and vegetarian sausage for Bruce. “Oh, god, I could eat this every day, but then I’d be of no use to anyone,” Clint said, and the waitress grinned at him. “Here’s the thing, though - I’m not asking for answers, or your thoughts, or...I just want you to know. Since it’s only fair.”
“Oh,” Bruce said, suddenly understanding. He dusted his french toast with powdered sugar and then put maple syrup on it - he was pleased to see that it was real maple syrup. “So, this is informed consent, then?”
“Yes,” Clint said, spooning some ice cream onto his french toast and then eating a large piece of it. “For when this eventually blows up-”
Bruce took his free hand and shook his head. “I try not to enter into...things unless I’m fairly confident at their probability of success.”
“Is that how you and Stark talk to each other? No wonder you’re so fond of science!” Clint said. He squeezed Bruce’s hand, then let go. “It won’t be perfect.”
“Nothing is,” said Bruce. “But there are lots of different metrics for success...” Clint raised his forehead.
“Your ice cream is going to go melty if you keep it next to your coffee.”
Bruce tried to think of something to say - Clint had been so raw, and honest, it was difficult for him to...and so, instead, he told the archer about how Tony tracked Thor’s google searches, and how Tony had ambushed him the morning after the zoo when some interesting phrases caught his attention.
Clint’s mouth was slightly open at the revelation - “Can you imagine?” he asked, when Bruce was finished. “It would...so, so, much win. But - does this mean he’s saving mine, because..?”
“Apparently, he only has JARVIS tell him about the interesting and funny ones,” Bruce replied. "Of Thors. I hope."
“This implies JARVIS has some sort of filter programmed - by Tony - to make those choices. Am I the only one concerned that that thing is going to go fucking Skynet on us? And it would be worse than Skynet because, again, programmed by Tony.”
“It might be what saves us - Tony likes people, so JARVIS likes them to. He needs something to banter with.”
“He’d just keep Tony’s disembodied head around to banter with, is what would happen,” Clint said, and Bruce snorted at the image. “So, what you’re saying...wait, Thor knows that..?”
Bruce leaned in, even though he doubted there was anyone in the diner he would be eavesdropping - it just seemed appropriate. He told Clint of the discussion he had with Thor on the jet. “I think he’s been trolling us all along.”
“Fuuck,” Clint said. He glanced off to the side, considering this. “It’s - oh, man. Well, he wins...whatever, if that’s the case. But I’m going to go with a fifty/fifty situation, it just makes me more comfortable.”
“Whatever you need to get by,” Bruce said.
“So this...” Clint waved his hand over the table, possibly indicating what was transpiring between them, though it was difficult for Bruce to get a read on things at that point since they seemed to be transitioning back to serious - they’d made a good effort at it, but they weren’t going to be able to run forever.
Bruce furrowed his brow, closed his eyes for a moment, and said, “I’m not really sure what to say, because everything I think of makes me sound like a thirteen year-old girl, but...I like you, and, if you want - and I completely understand, everything, I think-”
“I would,” Clint said. He smeared some half melted ice cream onto his french toast. “I just feel like a dick. Also about that part about living in the air ducts.”
That had been just two months ago, Bruce realized - and, if he had been unsure of things before, he wasn’t, with that realization, because even when he looked at it objectively like that he still wanted to try this. Of course, it was easy for him to make that decision - he wasn’t the one with the dead partner from a long-term, committed relationship. “It happens,” Bruce said. “I mean, I-”
Clint snorted. “That’s one of the good things about this whole Avengers Initiative, and then the Tower, right? You think, dude, I am fucked up, but then you just have to look around and you realize, oh. Not just me. Or, comes with the territory. Or whatever it takes to make you feel better.”
Bruce nodded. He had definitely not thought about it openly like that before, though he recognized he had tacitly taken comfort in the idea, like when he had found Tony asleep at one of his tables, a full plate of dinner next to him and his pants inexplicably - at least as far as Bruce was concerned - off. “Look, I’m not - I want you to be comfortable, Clint, so I want you to-”
“You know,” Clint said, spearing the last of his French Toast, “some people might tell you’re making a poor choice, there, with your health and safety, putting things in my hands.” He paused. “Are you going to finish that?”
“Yes,” Bruce said, and Clint shrugged his shoulders before turning to his bacon.
“God, I’m glad I didn’t say anything stupid like, let’s take this slow...” Clint said into Bruce’s neck as Bruce tugged at the hem of the shirt he was wearing.
“Yes,” Bruce said. “That would have been terrible.”
They had found their way back to Bruce’s room after kissing in the elevator - and, where the kiss the night before had been tentative and careful, this one had distinct purpose on Clint’s part. “Oh...” Bruce said, and pressed the button for his floor. “Is that presumptuous?” he asked.
“Not in the least,” Clint replied.
Then they made their way to Bruce’s bed, and Clint leaned back on his elbows as he took Bruce in, and then the room. “Not what I expected,” he said.
“Hmm?” Bruce asked, putting a hand on Clint’s chest as he positioned himself between the archer’s legs.
“I don’t know - I just guess I thought you wouldn’t have so much...” Clint shrugged, and Bruce glanced around - there were three batik prints from various places he had been, a few candleholders, and the bedside table had what could be called, at best, trinkets from grateful patients. And then he had bought some generic black and white photography prints in the meantime, because he hadn’t really liked the feel of the empty room.
“I didn’t,” Bruce said. “But I guess...I didn’t like all the white, on the walls.”
“I painted mine,” Clint said. “Natasha helped - and before you say anything, no, it's not purple, I don't know where that started-"
Bruce smiled at him, and leaned down to kiss him. Clint took the opportunity to tug Bruce on top of him and to get both of them on the bed. Bruce straddled Clint and smiled down at him. The archer looked even more rumpled than this morning, and sated - presumably, hopefully, not just from french toast and vanilla ice cream. “But we can...go slow, if you want..."
“I think we’ve already been going pretty slow,” Clint replied, locking eyes with Bruce.
Bruce nodded, though there was a part of him that was issuing a warning - he had done plenty of reading on this, of course, knew that in a lot of cases after you lost a long-term partner there was an overwhelming desire to be touched again. I don’t want to hurt you - but I can’t guarantee I won’t... Internally, Bruce sighed - he was an adult, he was making an adult decision, and besides, he had already made it, before they got to this point. He was just second-guessing himself because it felt like the right thing to do.
“Bruce?” Clint asked.
Bruce kissed him to break up the monologue in his head - he had interrogated just about every facet of the problem over the past week or so. And this was where he had wanted to end up.
Clint reached up and unbuttoned Bruce’s shirt and then placed a hand on his chest. He raked his fingers through Bruce’s chest hair and smiled, softly.
Bruce knew he shouldn’t be surprised by his strength - but he was, especially with how easy it was for Clint to just roll Bruce onto his back while he simultaneously took his own shirt off. “That was...impressive,” Bruce murmured, and Clint grinned at him.
“I try,” Clint said. His chest was largely smooth, with hair mostly scattered around his sternum. Bruce ran a finger over his nipple and Clint bit at his lower lip before licking it. “Bruce - what do you..?”
“I’m...flexible,” Bruce replied, and they were laying on their sides, now, and Bruce was able to wrap an arm around Clint.
“Huh,” Clint said. “Me too.” He pursed his lips before he kissed at Bruce’s neck, pulling slightly and then scraping his teeth against the skin. He moved down, no doubt leaving marks, and Bruce clutched at his ass as Clint swiped his tongue across Bruce’s collarbone and then moved his head down so he could flick his tongue on a nipple.
“I-” Bruce stuttered, as Clint bit at his nipple, and then moved to the other. One of Clint’s hands was working his fly open, and Bruce moaned as Clint palmed his erection.
“I never thought you for commando, doctor,” Clint purred, and Bruce shrugged.
“Practical,” he said, kissing Clint hard. He had learned, early on, that there was nothing worse than transforming while wearing constricting undergarments.
“If you...if you could fuck me..?” Clint said, his voice soft as he slipped Bruce out of his pants.
“Yes,” Bruce said, and Clint grasped his cock again before pulling his own pants off.
Bruce knew that it was not the best reaction to have, but he couldn’t help the snort and then giggle that escaped when he saw Clint was wearing Hulk boxers.
Clint pouted - a good look for him, really, especially with his lips plump from kissing. “I thought it would be...seductive,” he said. “Like girls who shave initials into their pubes.”
“Oh god,” Bruce said, and Clint grinned at him. “I can’t believe-”
“I bought the whole set,” Clint said. “Nat’s mad they don’t make Black Widow ones - I’m sorry, did I ruin the mood?”
“Hardly,” Bruce said, and he ran a finger along the underside of the boxers before he pulled them down Clint’s legs. The archer’s cock was already leaking slightly, and Bruce moved his mouth down Clint’s hard, toned midsection and massaged the inside of the other man’s thighs.
“Oh, fuck, Bruce, that feels...” Clint said, and then moaned as Bruce took the tip of Clint’s cock into his mouth. He put his hands on the outside of Clint’s thighs and applied light pressure as he used his tongue to lick and swirl around the sensitive parts. “Bruce - are you, because I’m-”
“Mmmhmm,” Bruce murmured as he slid down the shaft, and Clint issued a low moan in response to this. Bruce moved up and down faster and gently pressed a thumb against Clint’s perineum.
“Oh, god...” Clint moaned, and Bruce took his orgasm down easily, moving gently until Clint was done. He planted a kiss next to his naval before kissing him on the mouth. “That was...unexpected.” Clint closed his eyes, and Bruce brushed some of his hair out of his face. “These are going to be my lucky underwear, from now on.”
Bruce rolled his eyes, and then raised his eyebrows when Clint’s hand palmed his erection. “The drawer,” Bruce managed, and Clint grinned.
“You shouldn’t be so surprised - I am a ninja.”
“I don’t think you’re technically a ninja,” Bruce replied, and then a lubed hand replaced the one that had held a proprietary stake over his erection.
“I don't think it's regulated,” Clint said, voice soft as he kissed into Bruce’s neck and rolled on his side so they were facing each other. Bruce used a hand to guide Clint up to kiss him on the mouth.
Bruce traced his finger first before breaching inwards. Clint moaned into the kiss, and he placed a hand on Bruce’s chest and, once again, ran his fingers through Bruce’s chest hair. Bruce worked slowly, suddenly conscious of things, again - a casual thought, at first, he’s so tight, it must have been awhile and then the more sensible part of his brain supplying the rest - a little over six months, in fact. “That’s good, Bruce, I can take more,” Clint said, and Bruce realized he’d almost slowed his motions to a stop.
He drifted over Clint’s prostate, and Clint moaned once again - he was more expressive than Bruce was used to, and he wasn’t surprised by this. “Bruce, please,” Clint said. It was hard to refuse this, his voice was almost keening, and so Bruce slipped two fingers in and began to open him.
Clint trailed his hand down from Bruce’s chest and cupped his cock, then his balls, and then returned to stroke him. “Fuck, Clint,” Bruce said.
“I want you,” Clint said. “You’re so...” he trailed off, and Bruce kissed him again. Clint was good with his mouth - another thing that was not a surprise. Bruce had watched his mouth often, these past months, and the ways that he twisted it into a multitude of expressions indicated that he would know what to do with it, when the time came.
“You’re a good kisser,” Bruce said, and then winced. Clint grinned at him.
“Yeah?” he said. “Good.” Bruce slid three fingers in, then, and Clint gasped and then arched to meet Bruce's touch. He was hard again. Bruce could feel him against his thigh, and he moaned himself - that he had done that, that he had got that response.
Clint reached behind and grabbed his hand, and, as soon as Bruce pulled out, he rolled onto his back and pulled his legs back much further than Bruce had ever seen anyone do, exposing - Bruce moaned at the sight of him, laid out like that.
He sunk in, slowly, and both of them issued soft sounds as Bruce pushed in for the first few inches. “Bruce,” Clint said, and then nothing else, and he draped one leg over Bruce’s shoulder and wrapped the other around his waist, pulling him closer.
Bruce held, when he bottomed out, letting all of his senses come back together - Clint, beneath him, the feel of his skin against the other man’s, how both of them smelled faintly of diner and bacon, Clint’s panting. He pulled back, and almost fully out, and slid back in. “Are you-?”
“God, yes, like that,” Clint said, and Bruce wasn’t entirely sure that it felt good for the other man - but this generally wasn’t an argument that you started at this point in things.
Clint clenched against him, and Bruce shifted and rolled his hips and Clint moaned, deeper, more instinctually, and Bruce smiled down at him and accelerated his thrusts. “There, there, there..!” Clint said, and he was bucking against Bruce in perfect rhythm and, with the pace they were setting, Bruce knew it was unlikely that he would last much longer.
So he pulled out, and Clint huffed at him, and Bruce set the pace slower, but deeper, taking a few strokes before he began to hit Clint’s prostate again. He began to stroke him against this pace, and then gradually built back to where they had been. “Fuck, Bruce!” Clint said, and Bruce flicked his wrist and drew his thumb along Clint’s head as the archer came again.
Bruce came a few moments - a few hard thrusts - later, and then collapsed down onto Clint, his breath heavy.
Clint’s hand was in Bruce’s hair, stroking it, and Bruce slowly slipped out of Clint and sighed.
“You feel so good,” Clint said.
“Yeah,” Bruce replied, still a little dazed. “You too.” He pulled his head up and kissed Clint on the cheek. Clint smiled, softly, and then sighed. “Are you..?”
“Yeah,” Clint said. “Sorry. I just...”
Bruce rolled over to Clint’s side and wrapped an arm around him, held him as tight as he could. “Clint, I just...I’m not sure if I’m going to say this right, so bear with me? I don’t expect you to not talk about...about Phil. He’s part of you, and I would never want...I’m not...I know I’m not him, and that works both ways, I guess - I'm not a replacement, and we can...I can share.”
“Really?” Clint said, and his eyes were wide and soft.
“Of course,” Bruce said. “This isn’t, ugh, black and white. I know that.”
Clint kissed him - languid and soft, just with his lips. They laid together, in silence, for a long while. Then Clint said, “We should get you some Hulk boxers too.”
“I think I’m OK,” Bruce said.
“Yeah, but did you see the butt?” Clint asked, and he pulled out from under Bruce and rolled onto his stomach so he was able to rummage at the pile of their clothing - it gave Bruce an excellent view of his unadorned ass, which...Bruce sighed, and Clint held the boxers up in triumph. “See?” he said.
The front and back were printed with little cartoon Hulks, but superimposed over the back was Smash! Bruce squeezed his eyes shut and fought laughter - because if he did, if he relented, he was definitely going to find himself with a pair. “Tasteful,” he managed, finally. “Do the other pairs have sayings..?”
“Unfortunately, no - and that’s something, isn’t it? You’re the only one with a catch-phrase!” He rolled over onto his stomach and put his arms behind his head and smiled at Bruce.
And so, that's all for this installment...I wanted to thank everyone who read, and gave kudos, and especially everyone who commented. Neither this nor On Nesting were the easiest for me to write and all of the encouragement with each chapter and for a sequel, generally, was really wonderful and helpful. So thank you, again.