The book is reaching the final reveal. Clint’s leaning forward slightly as he turns the page, waiting to find out if he’s right about the identity of the suspect or if it’s going to actually surprise him for once. He has to resist the urge to skip to the end of what seems to be a one-hundred page monologue from the detective to see the name of the bad guy, though. Or girl. He actually thinks it’s the sister who did it, so he’s hoping for it to not be a bad guy because he really hates being wrong. He’s almost there, hunching forward more over the book as he tugs it closer and reads the words leading up to the denouement.
And then he feels an elbow hit his ribs, hard. He glances to his right and scowls when he sees Natasha sitting beside him. She knows better than to interrupt him when he’s got a new mystery novel. Since she’s sitting around calmly looking perfectly at ease, he knows the world isn’t ending, so there better be a damn good explanation for this. “What?”
“You’re ignoring me.” She arches a brow before glancing at the book he’s holding. Before he can bitch at her, she cuts him off. “This is important,” she said, her tone a mixture of curiosity, amusement, and suspicion.
It’s the last emotion that he detects in her voice that wins the battle between ‘being pissy’ or ‘letting it go’. “What’s important?”
“He’s staring again.” Her eyes shift to stare at a point of his shoulder before focusing on him again. The action happens so fast that he knows no one else would have noticed.
If Clint needed any proof that they’d had too much down time since this whole Avengers thing had been put together, he’s got it now. Natasha is becoming paranoid. Well, more paranoid than she usually is, at least. He doesn’t even need to look over to know who she’s talking about. It’s Steve. It’s always Steve. She seems to be convinced that Captain America himself is plotting something involving Clint, which is a pretty ridiculous idea.
The thing is, Clint trusts her more than anyone in his life. It used to be an honor shared by Coulson, but, well, he tries not to think about the huge empty place that’s been gaping in his heart for months. That’s the problem with letting people get close, with creating his own family over the years. Losing one hurts more than being tortured for twenty-four days by a half dozen guys who aren’t amateurs, which is something he can actually say from experience. When he sees her eyes narrow, he realizes he’s drifting into that weird sad grieving place that makes them both uncomfortable because neither of them knows how to deal with losing someone they love.
“Maybe we can ask Fury for an assignment.” Clint knows the suggestion is pointless, since it seems that being Avengers means a lot of stupid publicity and blogs devoted to loving or hating or wanting to fuck them. Sometimes all together. Which, well, he can understand, he guesses, but it’s still weird. It’s also made the whole ‘undercover’ part of their job with S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much impossible. Hence the twitchiness that Nat’s experiencing, which leads to paranoid delusions about their teammate plotting something against Clint.
And of all the teammates to distrust, she had to choose Steve for some reason. Steve who has become a good friend over the last few months. Steve who is definitely Clint’s favorite since he doesn’t count Nat in that competition. Not that they’re supposed to have favorites, being a team and everything, but they all do. Even if no one actually discusses it, except Tony who changes favorites like he changes socks, they all know there are preferences. Six people who aren’t alike means there’s always going to be clicking and different ways of getting along. Clint likes all of them, sure, but he likes hanging out with Steve the most. So Nat’s whole ‘he’s obviously plotting something evil because he stares at you’ thing is frustrating since he’d hoped maybe they’d get along now that she’s staying in one place for more than a couple of days at a time.
It’s too bad, really, that she can only be distracted with sparring, eating out, looking after him, and watching him read for so long because that would make things easier. It’s also too bad that Pepper’s been in California because she’s always good at distracting Nat, though Clint isn’t sure what her techniques are nor does he really want to ask because it might involve nudity, which is one of the best distractions for Nat and not something he can use since, well, she’s become like his sister and, yeah. Not going there. Besides, they tried that once, early on, and it seemed to confirm they were too much alike in too many ways for it to ever work. He’s glad, since sex is sex and family is forever. Not even death changes it.
The feel of soft fingers against his cheek pulls him out of the mood before he even realizes he’s drifted back into it. Nat just shakes her head once before stroking the curve of his jaw. “Don’t.” One word spoken with a firmness that shouldn’t even be possible in a whisper, but it grounds him and anchors him here. He reaches out to tug on a stray curl and smiles slightly, knowing that she understands everything he’s saying.
The sound of a chair scraping against the floor is startling. It’s particularly loud in the silence that’s surrounded them. He drops his hand and turns his head, catching the sight of Steve’s back as he leaves the room. The chair is against the wall, and Clint wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t leave a mark since it sounded like Steve had shoved it back with more force than necessary. His sketchbook isn’t on the table, which means he isn’t planning on coming back soon. If he’d just remembered something urgent or had to make a run for the bathroom, he’d have left his pencils and sketchbook because that’s his favorite window on this floor to look out to draw whatever it is he’s always sketching. Clint frowns as he tries to figure out if he should follow Steve or if it’s a ‘needs time alone’ type of thing.
“What the hell?” he mutters, turning to look at Nat. She’s staring at the empty doorway with an odd expression on her face, and he frowns because it isn’t familiar to him. He can’t read it, not even when she looks at him and stares him like he’s a bug on one of Bruce’s microscopes.
Suddenly, she barks out a laugh. It’s short but spontaneous, and he suspects there might have been a snort coming if she hadn’t caught herself in time. “Finish your book.”
“Nat.” He doesn’t bother asking her what she’s got going on in her head right now. She wouldn’t tell him, and he’s annoyed that he’d even have to ask. “Nineteen-hundred hours? I’m in the mood for asa kitfo.”
Nat tilts her head slightly, considering his request, before she shrugs a shoulder. “There’s a place in Brooklyn.” Her lips twist into a brief smile before she’s off the couch and out of the room without giving him time to agree.
“Fury has got to find her something to do,” Clint grumbles before opening his book and finding his place again. He doesn’t even bother to hide his triumphant ‘a-ha’ when he reads the culprit’s identity.
If actions really do speak louder than words, Steve and Clint are saying a lot. It's too bad neither one of them is good at listening.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. I really appreciate it! Hope you enjoy part 2!
The sound of his fist hitting the punching bag isn’t as satisfying as Steve hoped it would be. It’s the only way he can let out the restless energy that’s consuming him, though, so he’s got to make it work. His skin feels itchy, like it’s not fitting right, and he’s already tried getting rid of it by running. Five miles hadn’t helped, so he figured punching something repeatedly might. He isn’t sure what he’s feeling, so it’s kind of hard to fix it. No, that’s a lie.
Darn it. Now he’s lying to himself on top of all the other mess he’s creating in his life.
Groaning, he leans his head against the punching bag and wonders if he’d knock some sense into himself if he started using his head on it instead of his fists. He tries once or twice, but he still feels the same. Must not work. Maybe he should try it a little harder.
“Regardless of what Stark might have told you, that isn’t how you use that piece of equipment, Rogers.”
Steve stiffens when he hears the quiet voice behind him. Not only has she managed to catch him by surprise, but she sounds like she’s laughing at him. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Since the beginning, he’s trusted her to have his back. Regardless of anything else, he’s impressed with her skills and knows she’s loyal to the team. The loyalty mostly seems to be to Clint, but it extends to the rest of them a little more with every passing day. As the leader of their rag-tag group, he should be happy that she’s becoming a more solid part of the group. And he is, in a way, but he can’t help being a little selfish, too, and missing how it was when she used to only drop in occasionally or when they had missions.
When he hears her deliberately clear her throat, he blinks at the bag and straightens up. “Stark didn’t tell me this was how you used the bag,” he says, cringing slightly when he hears the sharpness to his tone. It’s not like she’ll miss that, and he tries to think of a reason to explain it if she confronts him about his behavior towards her.
“I know.” Natasha has the enviable ability to make words sound like weapons. She doesn’t actually say all that much, but, when she does, she’s always careful with them and gives them power. Steve’s always thought it was a pretty great skill, but this is the first time he’s been on the receiving end.
It’s easy for him to accept the words at face value. After all, she’s got to know Stark can be an ass but that it’s mostly for show. Somehow, he knows she isn’t talking about that. It doesn’t mean that he does know what she’s talking about, though. Steve counts to ten in hopes that it helps him calm down and get a hold of his frustration. It doesn’t really work but he at least feels prepared to face her. He finally turns to look at her and is about to ask what it is she knows but he can’t do more than stare when he sees what she’s wearing. Or not wearing, since there’s more skin on display than that one website Tony set as his default webpage home when he first got a laptop.
“You’re frustrated, Captain. You need a little release, don’t you?” Natasha prowls towards him, and Steve unconsciously takes a step back. She isn’t walking. She’s moving in a way that’s very sexual, and she’s looking at him like he’s a slice of chocolate cake. While he’s had people look at him like that before, he can’t remember anyone being this obvious about it. It’s disturbing, not only because that sort of attention bothers him but because it’s Natasha. His teammate. She’s never once given him this type of interest before. Usually, she takes orders, ignores him, or gives him these odd guarded looks that he doesn’t understand.
“Uh, Natasha, I, uh, I really need to go now.” He’s proud of himself for not sounding as anxious as he’s feeling. She’s an attractive woman, but he isn’t interested in what she seems to be offering. Even if he was, he wouldn’t be interested in it this way.
“Captain, I can help you with your problem.” She’s talking in a husky purr that would probably have most men willing to do whatever she asked, but he isn’t most men. Even without his confusing whatever that’s been on his mind for weeks, he wouldn’t want to use her in such a way. Besides---
“What about Clint?” He frowns as he realizes that she doesn’t seem to have any problem offering herself sexually despite her relationship. He knows times have changed and that people aren’t always as traditional when it comes to intimacy, but he can’t really see Clint involved in a, what did Pepper call it? Right. An open relationship.
“What about him?” Natasha arches a brow and moves in a way that makes him worried that her breasts might fall out of her top. If he wasn’t feeling so angry at the moment, he’d be offering her his fleece jacket because she has to be cold with so few clothes on. The gym is always kept at a lower temperature than the rest of the floors they use.
“Does he know you’re doing this?” Steve is trying not to sound judgmental or like a sanctimonious prick, which Tony seems to enjoy calling him whenever he gets too critical about these modern times. It’s just. It’s Clint. And he knows that Clint is a faithful partner because they’ve spent hours talking since the team started living together, and he hates the thought of being part of something that might hurt him.
She reaches out so fast that Steve doesn’t even have time to blink. Her fingers are on his chin as he forces him to look at her. Her smile is menacing as she leans in close. “Clint doesn’t matter. You need release, and I’m here. I’ll make you feel real good, Captain.”
“Doesn’t matter?” Steve ignores the rest of what she says because he’s unable to believe what he’s hearing. “He’s your partner! His thoughts on you trying to--to—uh, be intimate with other men should matter.”
Her laugh catches him by surprise. It’s hollow, he can tell the difference between sincerity and not, but she’s still smiling and looking seductive. “He isn’t my lover, Captain. He’s too soft for me,” she says as she drags her thumb along his jawbone. “I live for today, not the future. He wants more than one night, and that’s all I want. We aren’t compatible. You and I, though, are different. You need what I can give you.”
Steve doesn’t see any reason she’d lie, which means she and Clint aren’t in a relationship. The world is tilting on its axis because those four words change everything he thought was reality. When he hears the rest of her words, he feels the anger returning. “I’m afraid that you’re wrong, Natasha. I don’t need anything from you.” He reaches up to grip her wrist and pulls her hand away from his face. “I want a future when I choose to be intimate with someone. You should go now, find someone more compatible. Someone who isn’t soft.”
When he lets go of her wrist, she steps back and just looks at him. Her lips twist into a smile, one that isn’t at all like the ones she’s been flashing since interrupting his training slash jealous snit. “Good answer, Captain.” She changes her position, and suddenly she’s no longer the prowling sexual creature who was offering herself to him. Even with the lacking of clothing, she’s more familiar to him. She nods once, and he gets a strange sensation of approval, before she turns and walks away. He stares after her, feeling confused and a little lost because what was that? She stops when she reaches the door but she doesn’t turn to face him. “There’s a time to watch and a time to act, Steve. Contrary to cliché sayings, good things don’t always come to those who wait,” she says before leaving the room.
Steve rubs the back of his neck and considers asking Jarvis if he’d recorded that entire encounter so he can replay it in case it’d make sense then. He doesn’t, since doing so would also likely alert Tony and he’d never hear the end of turning down what Natasha had offered. Really, it doesn’t matter what that was about. Maybe she was bored and thought he was a different kind of guy than he is or maybe she just isn’t good at dealing with non-secret spy type people. The main thing is she’s not Clint’s lover. He’s relieved about that, even if it doesn’t really change anything. With a shake of his head, he grabs his stuff and heads back to his room so he can take a shower.
If actions really do speak louder than words, Steve and Clint are saying a lot. It's too bad neither one of them is good at listening.
Sometimes, Clint wishes that his costume included a mask. Not only would it make the whole ‘undercover isn’t possible anymore, sorry’ thing Fury bitched about, like it was his and Nat’s fault instead of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s poor thinking, null and void, but it would make it impossible for anyone to recognize him. He’s lucky that he’s not the most popular Avenger, that honor goes to Steve if you ask network news and Thor if you go by Tumblr, but he’s still one of six who have saved the world a time or three over the past few months. That means he occasionally gets stared at when he’s on a subway at six in the morning.
Steve, on the other hand, can just put on an old Dodgers ball cap that looks older than Clint and get away with being another face in the crowd. An extremely attractive and eye-catching face, sure, but not the staring and whispered ‘is it? Nah not on the subway. But yes it has to be. Maybe we should ask? Or maybe not’ conversations that Clint’s heard more than a dozen variations of since that People cover story that was done after the whole invasion alien slash Loki thing. Normally, he can handle the PR shit. Learned how to be a showman in the greatest show on Earth, after all. But there are some days he wishes he could just put on a cap and fade into the crowd.
“I hate you.” He nudges Steve with his elbow. When Steve looks at him, Clint crosses his eyes and sticks his tongue out at him. “I want a new costume. I’ve decided to go for the whole face mask-man of mystery thing you’ve got going on.”
“I want a helmet like Thor’s then,” Steve says matter-of-factly. “With wings.”
“Not Nat’s catsuit? You’re depriving the world, Captain. You and leather is a match made in kinky fangirl heaven.” Clint has to bite the corner of his lip to keep from smiling when Steve starts to blush. He kind of hopes there’s never a time when he can’t make Steve blush when he talks about kinky fangirls because it’s nice to see someone not cynical and too worldly for their own good who isn’t under the age of twelve.
“Says the man talking about covering up his face?” Steve shifts and stares at the subway map opposite them, probably trying to figure out if they’re nearly at their stop since this particular car smells a lot like urine and vomit, not particularly appetizing this early in the morning. Or at any time, really. Steve might be distracted, but Clint’s pretty proud of him for making a comeback, even if his cheeks are even more flushed than before.
“Yeah, I know. The world just wouldn’t be the same without my gorgeous face spamming Tumblr.” Clint snorts and rolls his eyes. He knows he’s hot compared to some people and not as hot as others; he just happens to be part of a team who are part of that latter group. Of course, his ass does have its own Twitter, so he can’t really complain. He shoves Steve again and grins. “Nice to know I’ve got one fanboy, at least.”
“Do I need to sit on the other bench? I think your ego is starting to overtake this one.” Steve glances at him and smiles, looking almost smug. Clint can’t help but smile because, really, who could glare, even pretending, when Steve’s grinning like a naughty schoolboy? Selfishly, he likes that he gets to see this side of Steve because it means Steve trusts him enough to relax and just be himself instead of the serious and stoic Captain America that most of the world gets to see. Hell, he’s not even sure if their own teammates are aware that Steve can and does curse sometimes just like normal people.
“Someone’s sassy this morning.” Clint reaches over to grab the cap off his head and ruffles his hair. “I like it. Now c’mon. We’re getting out at the next stop and walking because this smell is going to make me puke if we stay on this train much longer. And just cause I’m a nice guy, I’m letting you buy me a cup of coffee.”
“It does smell in here.” Steve leans over, putting his hand on Clint’s thigh in order to grab the cap back. He straightens up quickly and puts the hat back on his head. “Anyway, it’s your turn for coffee. I bought last time. You might not remember since it was ages ago, but. Yeah. Your turn.”
Clint arches a brow when Steve’s smile fades slightly and tries to remember the last time they grabbed coffee during one of their Clint and Steve Early Morning Field Trips in NYC, or CASEMFT if he’s going for the abridged version, which is what he’s privately dubbed their outings once they became more regular and not occasional. It hasn’t been that long, just about a week, which, yeah, it’s been longer than he realized but Nat’s been around a lot and he’s been hanging with her and Steve was doing some stuff with Tony and Bruce so, it’s been like six days. Maybe it seemed longer to Steve because hanging with Tony and Bruce definitely would make days seem longer, especially if they went into their Science Genius crap that always made his eye start twitching after a while. “That’s right. You got me that cinnamon mocha frap thing at the place in Chelsea. Man, that was good. But, okay, coffee’s on me. Might even get you a doughnut if you’re a good boy.”
Steve smiles slightly. “I’m always a good boy. Captain America and all that, remember?”
Clint laughs. “Nah, I think there’s a wild side in there somewhere. Just got to find it.” He gets to his feet as the train starts to slow down and watches Steve stand up and turn to get his backpack. When he realizes he’s staring, he walks closer to the door to wait. “Let’s go, bad boy. We’ll grab some caffeine and hit the park. Think we might head to the lake today, yeah? Bet you can find some good sketching opportunities there.”
The doors slide open before Steve can answer, and Clint leads the way through the small crowd on the platform who obviously have sucky jobs if they have to get there this early. Steve’s actually the more imposing one, but he’s always too polite to just cut a path through everyone so Clint takes the lead whenever they’re in groups of people. Besides, he likes to survey the scene wherever they are so he can protect if necessary. While taking his bow with him on a casual outing isn’t possible, he’s tried and it just isn’t practical, he does have a gun in his left boot and a knife in his right. Be prepared is his motto, and he wasn’t even a damn boy scout.
It doesn’t take long to get a coffee and pastry from the closest non-Starbucks they find. Thor hates the place since the one in Bumfuck, New Mexico kicked him out after a caffeine high made him knock a few things down, and Clint believes in solidarity amongst his team. Besides, if he wants a large, he wants a large. Not a grande whatever the fuck they call it and charge twice as much for. Steve’s all about supporting small business, and that’s not even PR shit, so it all works out.
He and Steve walk in a comfortable silence as they eat their pastry and enjoy the early morning awakening of the city. When they reach the entrance to Central Park, it’s like making an escape from the activity happening around them. The trees are all green and healthy, which means he really has to fight the urge to climb them. Steve always seems to relax whenever they visit the park, which is probably one reason it’s become a popular destination during their morning outings. Clint can understand it because there’s something nice about communing with nature, especially when it’s so close and convenient. It smells better here, too, especially after spending so long on the urine scented train. He looks at Steve and grins when he sees him staring up at the trees instead of paying attention to where they’re walking. It’s a nice feeling to be trusted to guide him, to know that someone believes he’ll keep them safe enough to lose themselves in nature.
He’s missed this, he realizes. While he loves Nat, she’s his sister from another mister as the kids say these days, he’s gotten in the habit of spending time with Steve, and it’s a good feeling to get back to the routine. It’s become one of the highlights of his day since his brain scramble, after all. He had actually worried, at first, that the main reason he’d been gravitating towards Steve was because Phil had been such a huge fan and Phil was gone.
But it wasn’t that now, if it maybe sort of had been back at the beginning. Steve was comforting because of that connection to a dead man that he didn’t even realize, but it had made sense to Clint. Now, and, really, since after the second or third time they hung out, it was because Steve was comforting all on his own. And he wasn’t hard on the eyes, either, so it was like an added visual bonus, being friends with him. Like Nat only with the occasional wet dream.
“I remember that.” Steve’s voice pulls Clint from his thoughts, and he looks over where Steve’s nodding. “Bucky and I went there a few times, before the war. It was fancy but not too much, you know? Plus there was this dance floor, and he liked flirting with the girls.”
“I never went, before they closed it.” Clint looks at Tavern on the Green and tries to imagine it with a dance floor and music playing while a young pre-serum Steve danced with pretty girls. “Dancing’s fun, though. Did you do the Charleston while wearing a fedora?”
Steve punches his shoulder, and Clint groans as if it hurts worse than it does. “I’m not that old. Try the Lindy Hop and foxtrot. Bucky could do all the swing dances, but I was never able to really keep up with most of those. Too many breathing issues.” He shrugs. “I enjoyed watching.” He pauses and gives Clint a look. “And I feel comfortable with that statement because I know Tony would turn it into some inappropriate comment but you’ll let it go because I actually caught it before you could.”
“You’re learning, Grasshopper.” Clint nods solemnly before tugging on his arm. “And, just to remind you, you might be older in technical years but I’m still like a decade older than you. You’re just a fresh faced kid. Now, tell me more about the dancing and fancy food. Was it all glamorous like in those old movies you’re always making me watch?”
“Making you?” Steve frowns. “I thought you enjoyed those.”
“Teasing, Steve. I do like them. Except Casablanca because it ripped my heart out and I’m still not healed. Stupid Rick and his stupid selfless love.” Clint hmphed and pouted when he thought about it. Before Steve could say anything to defend the movie, he shook his head. “Nope. I’m not ready to hear the logical reasons why he chose how he did. Sorry. I can’t listen to reason when it comes to that movie.”
“I think we might need to limit your bonding time with Tony. You’re becoming melodramatic.” Steve runs ahead to avoid the punch Clint’s aiming at his shoulder, so Clint has to chase him, obviously. They’re laughing when they reach a fork in the path, and Clint leads them to the left.
“You’re lucky I’d finished my coffee already,” he says, tossing the empty cup in a trash bin they pass. “And you’re the one telling Tony that he’s limited in bonding time. Hey, he’ll probably kidnap me and take me somewhere sunny and exotic just to piss you off, so warn away. I could use a beach and crystal blue water in my future.”
Steve shakes his head. “You’re right. I’ll tell him that he’s a good influence so he needs to spend more time with you. Reverse psychology usually works on children.”
“And there’s the Sassy Steve that’s been making appearances all day. I’m starting to think maybe Tony’s the bad influence on you.” Clint grins because he knows that he’s one of the few people who ever gets to see this side of Steve. The real Steve is only just now starting to even make appearances with the rest of their team, but Clint’s known him for months. He figures that means he deserves to be smug.
“What’s that?” Steve points to the pile of flowers in their path ahead. It looks like bouquets of flowers, not something planted by the park services, which is a little strange.
Clint jogs forward to find out. While it’s always good to hit Central Park with Steve, it does keep him pretty distracted with all the potential hiding places bad people of the evil variety might be lurking. “Oh! I’ve heard about this but hadn’t ever seen it. It’s Strawberry Fields. See, it says Imagine, like the song.” He points at the mosaic on the ground and looks at Steve, seeing the clueless look on his face. “John Lennon. Man, Tony and I are going to have a chat. He’s probably forced you to hear every single by AC/DC but he’s never introduced you to Lennon?”
“Tony has interesting taste in music.” Steve makes a face as he reaches Clint. “Who’s Lennon and what’s Imagine?” He crouches down by the outside of the circle to touch the petals of a bright pink flower that Clint realizes is part of a peace sign.
“He was a Beatle. The band not a weird animorph thing. He was killed back like, God, thirty something years ago? I was a kid, but I remember hearing about it. Some crazy nutbag shot him not too far from here.” Clint couldn’t remember much more about the whole thing because he’d been pretty young and hadn’t paid much attention. He knew the song, though. “Imagine was this song he wrote. It’s good.”
“Someone killed him and he was in a band so they created this place for him?” Steve looks confused, which makes him scrunch his nose up in a pretty adorable way. Clint blinks and shrugs as he looks down at the circle.
“Can’t really explain people and what turns people into heroes for them, you know? People really liked him, and he became this symbol, I guess.” Clint sits down right there on the ground instead of going to one of the many nearby benches.
Looking at the circle, he starts to hum softly and sings the lyrics when he starts to remember them. He mixes a couple of things up, he’s pretty sure, but he gets through it and looks up to see Steve that is sitting next to him and staring at him. He shrugs a shoulder. “About peace and stuff. Think this is some kind of peace garden thing, you know? Send a good message to the world about loving instead of fighting. Kinda weird to hear a hired killer singing it, I figure, so I’ll download it when we get home so you can hear the real version but, yeah. It’s good.”
“You’re not a hired killer.” Steve reaches over to squeeze his shoulder. “It’s pretty. The song, I mean. And your voice. It--you don’t have to download it because I liked your version plenty.”
Clint grins and ducks his head. “Whatever. Lennon does it better. I’ll introduce you to the Beatles, too. Fuck. I bet Tony’s never even let you meet Elvis, has he?” He shakes his head before he stands up and offers Steve a hand to help him get up. “Don’t worry, Steve. I’ll take care of rounding out your musical education. The lake’s this way. Figure the light’s good for your sketching by now, and I’m feeling lazy so I think I might just lie around while you get artsy, yeah?”
Steve smiles and shifts the strap of his backpack. “Sure. Maybe we can go to the Met again before we head home? We haven’t been in a couple of weeks so they’re probably worrying about us by now since I think you’ve befriended every single employee in the whole place. Then you can educate me however you want, Clint. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Not all of them, Mr. Exaggeration. Besides, it’s my charming personality and your baby blues that have got us backstage access to those oil paintings you wanted to see.” Clint rubs the back of his neck before he nudges Steve. “Looking forward to it, Steve. Now c’mon. I’ll race you to the lake. First one there gets to choose where we eat lunch.”
Thanks so much for everyone who's read and left kudos or comments. I really appreciate the support and hope y'all are enjoying reading this as much as I enjoy writing it!
If actions really do speak louder than words, Steve and Clint are saying a lot. It's too bad neither one of them is good at listening.
As always, thank you to everyone who is reading this and to those who have left kudos/comments. I hope y'all are enjoying it!
The general consensus amongst his teammates is that there’s no point in cooking if you can get delivery or eat out. Steve can’t really understand that thinking, even with the rather substantial salary that S.H.I.E.L.D. pays him for doing a lot of nothing. It feels dishonest to accept the money most of the time, but he understands that it’s paying for the risk to their lives that happens whenever they get called in because those are always major incidents. Still, he’s a soldier and that’s par the course of being a soldier. Since Tony doesn’t charge rent and there aren’t many expenses to this odd life he’s leading now, Steve donates a large part of his salary to several charities.
There are a lot of things he’s been getting used to in this modern world, since it’s still hard to remember that it’s a different century, much less so many decades in the future. No rations, no shortages, but there’s still hunger and the poor and homelessness. He’s told Clint about his disappointment in various areas because he’d foolishly hoped that the world would become a better place, especially so many years later, but there’s still poverty and prejudice and discrimination everywhere. Granted, some things have certainly improved, but it’s nowhere near what he’d have expected if asked back in his own time.
The cooking thing is one of the most frustrating, not that he lets the others know. The convenience of having someone else cook is part of this new world, he supposes, but he’s still stuck in memories of scraping by with little money and making the most of what he’s got in the cabinets. So he cooks when he can, and the others gravitate to the kitchen to eat whatever he makes, so maybe the convenience isn’t really a replacement for a good home cooked meal once in awhile. Tonight, he isn’t making something for everyone, though.
“What time is it, JARVIS?” He really does need to get a clock for the kitchen because it’s still odd to rely on a disembodied voice to tell him something so basic.
“Twenty-two minutes since the last time you asked, Captain.”
Steve rolls his eyes because only Tony would program his mechanical voice technology to be sarcastic. “So it’s six fifteen?”
“Six eighteen. Do you wish to be alerted at a certain time, Captain?”
“Seven o’clock. Clint’s supposed to be home around seven.” It’s been the longest weekend. Natasha actually got an assignment from S.H.I.E.L.D. and left Thursday for a few days, but then Thor showed up because Jane was at a conference in some country that hadn’t even existed when Steve was alive before. Thor had ruined his plans to hang out with Clint all weekend without having to share him with Natasha. Instead of spending time with his friend, Steve got stuck on his own while Thor and Clint went camping. He’d been invited, of course, but they were planning to hunt, and he really did hate camping, so he’d declined. He had no idea how bored he’d get being mostly on his own, and he knew he’d go next time. Besides, the images that Clint kept sending him on his phone had him wishing he’d gone this time.
“It will be nice to have Master Clint back home,” JARVIS says. Steve frowns at the ceiling because it almost sounds as if the AI is affectionate.
“You know that Tony doesn’t like you calling him Master Clint,” Steve mutters.
A soft huff of laughter startles him, and he turns to find Bruce leaning against the doorframe. “Evening, Steve.” Bruce smiles as he straightens up and enters the kitchen. He lowers his voice. “You shouldn’t tease JARVIS about his crush. It already makes Tony uneasy. I think he worries that JARVIS is going to leave him for Clint one of these days.”
Steve snorts and runs his fingers through his hair. “It probably doesn’t help that Clint flirts with JARVIS,” he points out with a wry smile. That’s the thing. Clint’s friendly with everyone, even inanimate objects, and Steve isn’t sure if it’s flirting or just his personality. It’s a lot like Bucky, when he thinks about it, but they share several similarities, along with a ton of differences. At the end of the day, he’s decided that he’d rather be the guy that Clint’s himself with than one of the ones who gets the flirty casualness. And it’s becoming more obvious to him every day that JARVIS isn’t the only one with a crush on Clint.
Bruce laughs and shakes his head. It’s a nice sound considering it isn’t one Steve heard often when they first moved in here. “I think it’s better for all of us that Clint doesn’t go away that often anymore. Tony’s been locked up in the lab working on designs for that flying car he’s working on in order to get you to be truly impressed with our technology, and I know he’s not sleeping well because Clint’s the one who usually gets him to sleep. And I can’t remember when I ate last.” His smile is sheepish as he shrugs.
“What flying car?” Steve turns before Bruce can see his smirk because, really, Tony’s too easy sometimes. Besides, another disappointment in this time was no flying cars. He opens the fridge and gets the bowl of leftover pasta he had last night. “Here. It’s better cold.”
Bruce takes the bowl and fork that Steve hands him. “Thanks, Steve. I’ll drop the flying car since you’ve bribed me with food.” He sits down and gets comfortable. “What are you making now?”
“Mac and cheese.” Steve gets back to work because he needs to get it in the oven. “Baking it, like my mom used to make. At least, I hope I remember everything for the recipe.”
“Master Clint enjoys bacon bits sprinkled on top,” JARVIS says, and Steve swears he can hear smugness in his tone. He can feel Bruce looking at him at the same time he can feel warmth starting to spread from his neck to his face.
“I, uh, thanks, JARVIS,” he mumbles, concentrating on the Mac and Cheese. He’s got time to get it baked before Clint’s due home, but he wants it done early so he can make sure it’s good.
“Mac and cheese, huh?” Bruce is chewing a bite of pasta when Steve glances over his shoulder.
“Thought it might be good.” He doesn’t tell Bruce that it’s Clint’s favorite food or that they’ve talked about comfort foods that always make them feel better. He knows from Clint’s text that morning that he’s managed to catch the sniffles from camping out, so he thought mac and cheese would be a good welcome home meal.
Bruce murmurs agreement and asks questions about the recipe and Steve’s mom in between bites of the pasta. By the time Steve’s got it in the oven and is washing dishes, Bruce finishes the bowl. “That was delicious. Thanks again, Steve.” Bruce squeezes his shoulder. “I’m sure Clint’s going to enjoy the mac and cheese. I’d just suggest hiding it until Thor’s gone to his room.”
“I’m not-I mean, it’s just dinner.” Steve feels awkward as he glances at Bruce and sees him smiling slightly. “But maybe I should order some of that curry that Thor enjoys so much. Just in case.”
“Good idea. Get enough for Tony and Pepper because you know they’ll be here if there’s a team dinner happening.” Bruce tilts his head slightly. “Get enough for me, too. The pasta was great, but I could still eat a little more.”
“I’ll have JARVIS let everyone know when it’s time for dinner,” Steve promises. He knows Bruce probably isn’t that hungry, but the companionship of the team gatherings is something they all seem to appreciate in one way or another even if none of them is particularly vocal about admitting that. After Bruce leaves the kitchen, Steve finishes the dishes and tries to change his mindset of having a quiet night hanging out with Clint to a family dinner, minus Natasha, of course. With a sigh, he looks at the oven timer and wonders again why Tony got an oven without a clock. “JARVIS, what time is it?”
“Master Clint will be home in eighteen minutes, Captain.”
I've been trying to post a chapter a day, but I'm actually posting a second chapter today because I'm not sure I'll be able to post one tomorrow. I also wanted to mention that there's been a rating change. I'm almost finished writing this, and it's going to wrap up with ten parts & teen rating. I am planning to write a sequel, though, that will have a higher rating.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s only Wednesday, but it feels like this week is dragging on forever. Clint knows it’s because of the camping trip last weekend, since he apparently can’t make it through a weekend of sleeping outside without catching a cold. He blames months of being coddled and only going on assignment when some moron or another threatens to take over the world. His endurance is going to shit, and he’s getting lazy. Well, not lazy, necessarily, since he’s still training and spending time practicing, but it still feels like he’s become a man of leisure.
Why else would he get the sniffles just because Thor had insisted they go skinny dipping and then sleep ‘under the wide sky, Brother Clint’. Thor has mastered the art of the puppy dog eyes, second only to Steve, and it’s impossible to tell him no because it’s like punching a muppet when his face crumbles up. Besides, Clint has to reward him whenever he actually uses his name instead of Eye of the Hawk or some other random name. He’s pretty sure that Thor does it now just to mess with everyone, but it never hurts to practice the rewarding good behavior thing.
Steve looks at him when he sneezes. “I feel fine,” he says before he can be asked, again, if he’s sure he’s okay to be outside and shouldn’t he be taking it easy. “It’s just a sneeze. The warm air is good for me, Steve.”
“I still think you shouldn’t be out in crowds because your immune system is weakened due to the cold.” Steve gives him a worried yet adorable look, and Clint isn’t sure he’s ever even seen that before. Trust Steve to create something even more difficult to resist than his usual expression.
“I’m not sick.” Clint still refuses to admit anywhere other than inside his own head that he’s been dealing with a cold. Sickness is something other people deal with, after all, and he generally ignores anything that isn’t likely to kill him until it goes away. “Anyway, I needed a break. It’s still another week or so until Jane gets back, so it’s safer to steal you away for a while than it is to deal with a missing-Jane Thor.”
“You didn’t steal me if I came willingly,” Steve says. “But I can understand needing some space. I don’t think Thor’s let you get more than six feet away from him all week.”
“Nah. It’s not that bad. I get to go to the bathroom alone.” Clint laughs before sneezing again. “You know how he gets. All mopey and muppet-faced. I cheer him up with my sparkling wit and charming disposition.”
“You’re his favorite.” Steve actually pouts, which makes Clint smile. “Between him and Natasha, it’s impossible to get you alone at all.”
“I don’t think Thor has a favorite, actually.” Clint isn’t sure the big guy could even fathom choosing one over another. It’d probably make him think about his childhood or Loki or other complicated things that none of them can really ever understand. Hell, Clint still has trouble realizing that Thor is actually a God and many hundreds of years old, especially when he starts going on about the merits of cotton candy for breakfast.
Steve snorts. “You’re probably right.” He moves closer when the crowd on the platform pushes their way into the train. “Damn it, Clint. There are a lot of people on this train, and they’ve all got germs. If you make yourself sicker, I’m not making you chicken noodle soup again.”
“But Steve, it’s delicious soup,” Clint whines, leaning in closer so their conversation won’t be overheard. He closes his eyes briefly and inhales, enjoying Steve’s scent. It’s masculine and fresh with an underlying citrus that he can’t quite place.
“Are you sniffing me?” Steve clears his throat, and Clint’s eyes quickly open. There’s a faint flush on his neck and cheeks, but he doesn’t look upset.
“Citrus.” Clint licks his lips and straightens up. “Thought I smelled it and was trying to place it. Smells good.”
“Orange and something spice. Pepper gave it to me as a welcome to the tower gift. Some kind of aromatherapy stuff?” Steve smiles sheepishly. “I didn’t want to be rude so I tried it. Shampoo, I mean. It’s shampoo that Pepper gave me. I liked it and had her get me another bottle. I could, uh, have her get one for you next time, if you want?”
“Oh, right. Sure. That’d be great.” Clint couldn’t really explain that the reason he thought it smelled good was because of the extra scents that came from Steve himself without sounding like one of those weird creepers who treat him like a sex object. Finding a friend hot was one thing, but there were lines that shouldn’t be crossed, like weird creeper sniffing lines that Clint’s a little too close to at the moment. Fortunately, he hears their stop announced, so he stands up and grabs Steve’s arm. “This one is us.”
By the time they make it through the crowds and reach topside, Clint’s convinced that walking might have been easier. It takes longer, but the subway station is packed this time of evening. People running errands after work or maybe even going to work, tourists out getting in the way, and college kids starting their bar crawls early because it’s a weeknight. The one good thing about all the people is that no one pays him and Steve any attention. The bad thing is that it’s a lot of risky areas for him to monitor, just in case.
“If it’s this crazy when we finish doing whatever this surprise is, I’m going to splurge on a cab,” Steve says, making a face as they walk away from the subway exit. “Speaking of, you never have told me what this surprise is.”
“If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise.” Clint’s relieved that Steve seems to have forgotten the awkward sniffing episode or he’s being the nice guy he is by letting it go. Whatever the reason, he’s just glad his lapse isn’t going to make things strange. “You just have to trust me.”
“I do trust you, asshole.” Steve punches his arm with enough force to get his attention. “More than anyone else. And I don’t really care what the surprise is because I’m just glad to get away from everyone for a little peace and quiet.”
Clint can’t help but grin at that because he knows it’s true or Steve wouldn’t have bothered to say it. “Your terms of endearment leave a lot to be desired, snookums,” he says. “Though I do think we need to mention them in the next S.H.I.E.L.D. PR thing we’re forced to do. I want to hear reports of people fainting in surprise that Captain America knows how to cuss.” He punches him in the shoulder. “The way they go on sometimes, you’d think you were a former priest instead of a solider. Bet you five bucks that there’s fanfic about that, in fact. According to Tony, there’s fanfic about everything. Hell, I didn’t even know what it was until recently, but it must be popular. And I’m glad I’m able to help you escape the insanity of the tower occasionally.”
“Tony probably reads it.” Steve shakes his head. “I don’t understand it, but it isn’t hurting anyone, so who am I to complain? Just don’t ask Tony about it because I’d probably end up with porn text messages or something equally annoying.”
“He wouldn’t do that shit if he didn’t think it bothered you. You like pushing his buttons, Steve. It’s like how I think Thor likes messing with us, and how Nat casually mentions ways she could kill us all without breaking a nail. Like a sign of affection.” Clint looks at their surroundings and frowns when he sees a bank where a small music store had been last time he’d been in this area. “I really wish Phil was here to see us all together. I mean, we’re family, you know?”
“I know,” Steve says quietly. “I wish he was here, too, because I’d have liked the opportunity to get to know him. He was important to you.”
“Like a brother. Better than the one I was born with, that’s for sure.” Clint runs his fingers through his hair and focuses on the sidewalk ahead of them. “We’re almost there. It’s just up this way.”
“If I knew where we were going, I’d be able to help you find it.” Steve looks around curiously, and Clint laughs.
“You’re going to find out the surprise soon enough, Captain Impatience.” He got the idea after talking to Thor over the weekend, and he’s hoping that it’s a good surprise. It should be fun, especially since he’s never done anything like it before. He resists Steve’s puppy dog slash pout combination for the entire block it takes to arrive at their destination. When they reach it, he opens the door that leads to the stairs that’ll take them to the second floor.
“A dance studio?” Steve arches a brow and looks from the door to Clint and back again a few times. “We’re dancing?”
“Yep. A swing dance class.” Clint shrugs. “I saw it advertised on a bulletin board at the coffee shop we went to last week and decided to surprise you with it.” When Steve doesn’t make a move towards entering the building, Clint bites his bottom lip and loses some of his confidence. “We don’t have to, if you don’t want to.”
“No! I mean, I want to. It’s just…a surprise.” Steve puts his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shuffles from one foot to the other. “I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it. Do we, uh, get assigned partners or what?”
“I dunno. I’ve never been, and you’ll be better at dancing than I will since I’ve never even tried this style. We can partner up, if you want. You’re bigger than me, so I guess I can let you lead. Or we can see if anyone needs a partner, if you’d rather dance with a woman.” Clint hasn’t really thought that far ahead, in all honesty. He’d just remembered the way Steve had mentioned not being able to swing when he was younger and stuff and wanting to give him a chance to do it now.
“I want you.” Steve steps inside and started up the stairs before Clint can answer him. He follows behind and takes the opportunity to admire Steve’s ass. It might not have a Twitter account like his, but it definitely deserves one of those photo Tumblr things with nothing but pictures devoted to it because it’s an amazing ass.
The dance studio is a decent size, and the class has an eclectic mix. Clint’s glad to see that they aren’t the only ones there, and it’s also good to know they’re not the only same sex partners, either. The others are probably romantically involved, but there are other combinations that seem to just be friends, too. Their instructors introduce themselves as Nathan and Sylvia Royston, both of whom appear to recognize both him and Steve, but they don’t treat them any different. That makes them awesome in Clint’s book.
An hour later, he isn’t so sure how awesome they are anymore. “I think I’m going to crawl down the stairs when this class is over,” he whispers to Steve after they finish doing steps for something called Bal-swing that had so much fast footwork that his feet feel sore already.
“You’re a natural, so stop complaining. With a few lessons, you’ll probably even be better than Bucky was,” Steve says. “No pouting either. You know you’ve got good moves, Clint. Meanwhile, I was alive when these were popular and still have to count and keep getting distracted.”
“Now who’s whining?” Clint can’t help but point out as they move to the music and pick up speed as Harry James gets the orchestra going so fast it’s ridiculous. He’s having fun, even if he knows he’s going to be sore later, and Steve’s graceful despite his mutterings. Steve just grins at him as they do the rock steps, kick steps, and all the other terms that have muddled together in his head until he can’t keep them apart. It’s a something Shag, which made Nathan crack a joke about England and orgies, and there are so many steps that Clint’s surprised that he and Steve haven’t tripped each other yet.
“We’re kicking ass.” Steve smiles when he nods towards the girls dancing beside them who have messed up. Captain America he may be, but Clint’s seeing a small competitive streak appearing tonight.
“And taking names.” Clint focuses on doing it right and they end up laughing together when the dance is over. He’s sucking in some much needed breaths while Steve is flushed but having no trouble breathing even after the workout they’ve had over the last hour and a half.
It’s their last dance of the night, and they move into position for their favorite of the dances they’ve learned during the class. They don’t even have to ask each other, which is pretty awesome. Their favorite was the same, and they’re soon doing the Lindy Hop while In the Mood plays. When the class is over, he and Steve talk briefly to Nathan and Sylvia, who convince them to agree to come back for a West Coast Swing class that’s taught on Friday evenings.
By the time they get back outside, it’s after eight, and Clint’s sweaty, tired, but happy. He’s still sneezing, and he thinks he might have overdone it just a little, but he doesn’t care because Steve’s grinning and relaxed and hasn’t stopped talking about the music and dancing since they left the studio. Clint gets them a cab because there’s no way he can deal with the subway after that lesson, and he smiles at Steve as he opens the door to the car. “So, good surprise?”
“Great surprise.” Steve squeezes his shoulder. “I can’t wait to do it again. But right now, you’re starting to look dead on your feet, so we’d better get you home and fed so you can rest. Well, as much Thor and Nat will let you.”
“We have to stop at a Duane Reade before we go home so I can buy some Twinkies. Hulk loves those things, and I owe him a box for sparring with Thor tonight. I needed a distraction so I could steal you away, you know?”
“We’ll get him two boxes. You just have to take the blame when Bruce finds out.”
Clint follows Steve into the cab and gets comfortable. “Sure, I can do that. It’s a fair exchange,” he says, tapping his fingers against his thigh as he begins to hum In the Mood. When he sees Steve smiling at him, he returns the smile. “And maybe after we eat, you can teach me about some of the music you like.”
Thanks again to everyone reading this fic! I appreciate the kudos/comments that let me know y'all are enjoying it. Hope y'all like this chapter!
I actually managed to find time to post so y'all get two in one day. As always, I hope y'all are enjoying it!
It’s impossible to get the lips right. Steve’s already reached a wall when it came to capturing the expression he wants in the eyes, but now he’s getting frustrated trying to sketch the way Clint’s mouth looked when he was kicking out during the Lindy Hop. It’s a memory that Steve wants to commit to paper. Most of his sketches are random things he works on when he’s trying to decompress or relax, but there are some things he draws because he wants to remember them. He has memories of the old days, of Bucky and Peggy and Howard and the rest, but he still regrets that his sketch book hadn’t crashed with him. He knows it probably wouldn’t have survived like he had, yet it’s the thing he misses most besides the people themselves.
With a low groan, Steve puts the pencil against the table and leans his head back. He can see Clint in his head, he just can’t get that onto the paper. He focuses more on the memory, paying particular attention to the lips and the way they quirk slightly to the left when Clint’s amused. His fingers start to twitch as he concentrates, which means he has to pick up the pencil and try again. This time, he manages to get the lips right. When he finishes, he lightly drags his thumb over the sketch to get the shading right.
“America’s Captain! I hear the melodious sounds of King Elvis.”
Steve isn’t startled, too much, when Thor’s loud voice suddenly disturbs his focus on the sketch. He quickly closes the book and looks up, arching a brow when he sees Thor dressed for going out. Thor rarely bothers to wear shoes unless he’s leaving the tower, so he’s either coming home or leaving. “King Elvis?”
“Yes! Brother Clint enjoys him very much. I do not understand what a Jailhouse Rock is, but the tune is memorable.” Thor grins and Steve can’t not see the vision of him as a muppet. Damn Clint for putting that into his head.
“I think it’s an action, not a thing.” Steve notices Thor grin slide into a smirk and realizes there’s definitely some merit to Clint’s belief that Thor’s often just messing with them. The current song playing is Can’t Help Falling In Love, which fit his mood and provided a calming soundtrack to the sketch. Now, he’s a little embarrassed that he’s got it playing on repeat. “JARVIS, you can pause the playback.”
“Of course, Captain.”
“So, have you been out?” Steve asks, not entirely sure what to say when Thor simply stands there smiling at him.
“No. Brother Clint and I are going to buy supplies for our culinary desires. The Man of Iron is coming, too. Clint said I should invite you to come along. Will you come with us, America’s Captain?”
“Tony’s going shopping?” Steve isn’t sure that Tony’s ever gone shopping since they’ve all lived together. The thought of him and Thor in a store together tells him exactly why Clint made sure to include him. He’s going to need help babysitting. “Sure. I can do that. And, please, call me Steve.”
“It will be an adventure, Steve!” Thor slings his arm around the back of Steve’s neck as they leave the room. “Clint has told me that it is different here than when I shop with my beloved Jane. He also said that you will explain to me about a budget and how I will have to follow that during this quest.”
Steve is going to kill Clint. That’s all there is to it. And Clint knows it because he’s smiling this smug smile when they join him and Tony in the lobby. He’s just had to spend the entire elevator ride trying to explain about budgets and spending to a man who can’t comprehend limits to money despite not having any sort of income outside of what S.H.I.E.L.D. pays them.
“Glad you could join us, Steve.” Clint winks at him when he glares and silently promises retribution, which distracts him from the plans to plot revenge.
“Captain! Damn, I owe Legolas a hundred bucks. I told him you wouldn’t want to come with us.” Tony doesn’t look all that disappointed as he bounces back on his heels.
“Tony’s never been grocery shopping before,” Clint says, stepping beside Steve as they leave the building. He lowers his voice. “He also needs a diversion because Pepper had to unexpectedly fly out to a meeting in London. She asked if I could entertain him until she gets back tomorrow night.”
“And you thought shopping for groceries was the way to go?” Steve watches Thor and Tony walk ahead of them. They’re talking about something that requires big hand gestures that almost hit several passerby in the head, not that that means anything. It could be anything from favorite cookies to the meaning of life.
“It’s Manhattan. You know we’re going to have to go to about four or five places to get everything, so there won’t be enough time for his attention to wander too much.” Clint shrugs. “Besides, everything we bought the other day seems to have disappeared.”
“It’s only been three days.” Steve shakes his head. “You can tell we’ve had a full house. I don’t see where it all goes, though, when delivery is the food of choice for most of them.”
“Nope. That was before a certain captain started cooking delicious stuff all the time. Now, people wait to see if you’re cooking, and I’ve even caught Bruce using the oven the other night.” Clint smiles. “You’re a good influence, Steve Rogers. Much to the ire of delivery people in our neighborhood. I bet they’ll start an anti-blog or something.”
Steve snorts and ducks his head as he grins. “You’re an idiot,” he mutters. “You’re the only one who has stopped eating delivery constantly, and that’s mostly because I make you help me with dinner.”
“You don’t make me. I do it because I enjoy it.” Clint nudges him with his arm. “Besides, it’s fun and there are usually leftovers. When Thor isn’t visiting, at least. Speaking of, it looks like I need to run interference. Tony’s got that ‘I’m causing trouble ha-ha’ smile on his face. You want him or Thor?”
“You.” Steve looks up and makes a face. “But since I can’t choose you or neither, I’ll go with Tony. Thor is playing us half the time, I’ve realized, and that is disconcerting. Yes, you were right about that, so no ‘I told you so’ like a bratty child.”
“I’d rather have you, too,” Clint says, leaning in close and lowering his voice. “Just don’t tell the others because I can’t handle Tony in a competitive mood or muppet-faced Thor right now. By the way, remind me that we’re going to have to plan some payback against Bruce. I found out that he had Thor watch “Babe”, so now I’m being lectured about eating that poor friendly pig every time I even think about bacon.”
Steve barely stifles his laugh. “I did warn you to be alert for retribution after the Hulk and box of Twinkies incident the other day.”
“C’mon. How was I to know that Hulk liked smashing them, not eating them?” Clint laughs as he speeds up to fall beside Thor, who he easily distracts from whatever Tony’s trying to provoke him with this time.
When Tony sees that he’s lost Thor’s attention, he stops walking and waits for Steve to catch up. “Robin Hood interrupted a really good story,” he says. “I didn’t even get to the part about the goat, the Swedish twins, and Rhodey losing his pants.”
“I thought you said it was a good story?” Steve keeps his expression neutral when Tony gives him a suspicious look. He’s learned over the months that it’s easy to be a little sarcastic with Tony as long as he looks serious. Clint’s actually instigated a few conversations back at the tower just to hear Steve ‘get his snark on’, as he calls it, and to see if Tony ever catches on to what he’s actually saying instead of just how he’s saying it.
“It’s a great story. Even better when Rhodey’s around to threaten me if I tell it.” Tony grins. “Not that I’m scared of him. The only ones who actually scare me are Natasha and Clint. Spy assassins are a lot deadlier than military men. If either of them wants to kill us? We’d just go to sleep and never wake up.”
“They’re not going to kill us. Well, you might have to worry more than the rest of us.” Steve isn’t always sure how Tony’s mind works, since he can be such a genius sometimes yet so random at other times. “Besides, Clint isn’t that scary.”
Tony snorts. “Nah, of course you don’t think so, but he’s deadly, Cap. Don’t let those pretty eyes and sheepish smile fool you. You know how smart he is when it comes to planning and fighting or else you wouldn’t have made him your back-up.”
“I’m not fooled, and his appointment as second in command was a mutual decision between Fury and all of us,” Steve reminds him. It isn’t like Tony wanted the responsibility, since he’d been the one to suggest Clint in the first place not even a few hours after that first battle had been over. “We’re all deadly, so it’s fortunate that we’re a team.”
“Being family isn’t automatic loyalty or security.” Tony frowns as they follow Thor and Clint into the cheese shop that’s the only one around with Natasha’s favorite kind. Before Steve can even reply, Tony suddenly smiles. “But that’s the family you’re born with, not the family you choose. We’ve all had the fucked up childhoods, I think, so it’s only fair that we now get to see what the fuss is really all about it.”
Steve watches Tony start poking and touching everything within sight. Clint slaps his hands a few times in between answering questions that Thor is asking. He should probably step forward and help because Tony and Thor together is a little like dealing with curious toddlers, but he’s content to stay out of the way and just watch. Clint handles the men well, and Steve knows without a doubt that he’s already cased the place to determine every exit and risk to them. Tony’s right. Clint is deadly, especially when they’re on a mission, and it’s that intensity and skill that first caught his attention. It’s the whole package, though, that gets Steve all confused and feeling things he’s never really felt before.
When they finally check out, Tony’s handing two bags to Thor and rejoining Steve. “I can’t believe there’s an entire store with nothing but cheese! I always just get this stuff delivered, so I had no idea. Do you think there’s a store with nothing but olives? Pepper loves olives.”
“I don’t know.” Steve doesn’t bother to think about it because Tony’s already got his phone out searching the internet for olive stores. He feels a hand on his bicep and turns to see Clint walking past him. He reaches out to squeeze his shoulder, smiling when Clint grins at him. When he drops his hand, he glances back over to see Tony staring at him. “Did you find one?”
“Hmm?” Tony blinks slowly and his gaze moves quickly from Steve to the others and back again. “Yes. It’s a store with nothing but pickles and olives. I want to go later. Natasha likes those nasty sour pickles so we can get her a barrel or two while we’re there.”
Steve isn’t sure how Tony knows what type of pickles Natasha likes, but he’s supportive of anything that might put her in a good mood. It’s been a couple of weeks since that awkward moment in the gym, and he’s still a little uncomfortable around her because he still doesn’t really understand what happened. She’s been doing some stuff for Fury, at least, so she hasn’t been clinging to Clint so much and, when she’s been around, she hasn’t been glaring at him as often, either.
“I bet you a hundred bucks that Thor starts crying if we see any dead pigs at the butcher shop,” Tony says. “I told Bruce that “Babe” was a bad choice, but he wouldn’t listen to me. I mean, I’m all for avenging the Twinkie Incident, I still can’t get sticky whatever that stuff is in those things out of the wall, but not if it involves bacon. Clint told me he actually found Thor petting a package of the stuff muttering about ‘that’ll do, pig’. Thor’s already slightly unstable, so Bruce shouldn’t be contributing to that even more. He isn’t my favorite right now.”
“You just want me to accept a sucker’s bet so you don’t have to pay Clint out of pocket for this morning’s bet. Also, I think we might need an intervention because you’re betting a lot lately.” Steve puts his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shrugs a shoulder. “When we get home, I’ll try to clean that stain off the wall. There’s no need for retaliation or anything. Clint thought Hulk liked eating them, not, uh, smashing them.”
“Hulk likes to smash everything.” Tony is smirking when Steve glances at him. “And there’s no need to clean the wall. That’s what housecleaning services are for. I’ll be sure to let Clint know that you were willing, though.” He waggles his eyebrows and leers before suddenly stumbling forward. Steve moves quickly and catches him before he can fall. “Damn sidewalk. The city needs to take better care of these streets.”
“I think they do as well as they can,” Steve says. He sees Tony roll his eyes and pull out his phone again. “You know, it’s not easy to keep the maintenance up in a city with this many people. They’re hard working people who are limited by their budget and time.”
A clicking noise stops his lecture, and he sees Tony lowering his phone from where he’d been aiming at the back of Thor and Clint. “What? Clint’s ass is looking mighty fine in those jeans. That twitter account devoted to it will be all over this photo.” Tony grins before snapping another one. “Don’t give me that disappointed look, Rogers. There are thousands of people out there who can only admire it via the sneaky photos that I so generously post for them. You can’t be selfish and keep that amazing thing all to yourself.”
They arrive at the butcher shop before Steve can ask Tony what he means about selfishness and keeping anything to himself. Tony just winks and gives him another leer before following Thor inside. Clint is waiting for him, giving him a curious look and slight smile, so Steve shakes his head and returns the smile as he enters the store ahead of him. This time, they can let Tony deal with Thor while they buy some stuff for dinner the next few nights.
The battle is pretty tame compared to some of what they’ve faced since becoming the Avengers. It’s just a woman who wants to control the world and decided Myrtle Beach was the place to unleash the weird creatures she created. Clint knows the world is a fucked up place. He’s seen some of the darkest sides of it that can be imagined, after all. But he’s never realized how often genius borders on insanity until he started working with S.H.I.E.L.D. His missions pre-Avengers were often focused on terrorists or corrupt governments, but he still got to see some stuff that he had thought only existed in Roger Corman movies. Now, any job he goes on could be out of one of those movies.
It’s probably bad that he’s feeling nostalgic for the days when he just had to sit still and shoot some dictator in the head instead of dealing with aliens, biologically engineered creatures, and robots.
At least it isn’t New York City this time. Manhattan really needs a break from the destruction and danger before everyone decides to move to the Midwest. If not for the dead creatures around them, this might almost be scenic. There’s a beach and ocean, after all, beside the strip of buildings they’ve been fighting around. The fight’s just about over, with Steve trying to reason with the crazy lady while Thor and Tony keep the remaining creatures corralled. That’s not too easy since Hulk’s decided they need to be petted.
“Our lives are too unreal to even be a movie,” he mutters, not even turning to look at Nat. She’s ridiculously quiet, but he can generally feel her even if she’s being super silent. Outside of battle, she can catch him by surprise sometimes, but not when they’re in fighting mode.
“There’s a movie about small hairy creatures and elves fighting a large eye. This is not as improbable as that.”
“Only you would call hobbits small hairy creatures.”
“I believe in providing accurate descriptions.”
“You just know I like hobbits.”
“I never said that accurate descriptions were my only reasoning.”
“I really hope Tony tells us those creatures were evil or robotic in some way. We had to kill a lot of them.”
“Robots do not bleed, do they?”
“I don’t think so, which means we have to hope for evil. Killing genetically altered creatures isn’t a bad thing if they’re evil.”
“They were trying to kill us. That is the only justification that you need.” There’s a pause. “You have never needed to rationalize this.”
Before is unspoken. Clint shrugs. “That’s not what I’m doing now, either. It’s just…they look sort of like a weird fox-elephant thing, and I always liked working with elephants at the circus. Not that we had many of them, just two old ones who were gentle and tired.” He watches Steve finally get the woman to give herself up, relaxing minutely when she’s got cuffs around her wrists and is a safe distance away from Steve. “I’d rather not have slaughtered victims of some crazy lady if they were just obeying orders because she controlled them and told them what to do.”
Nat grips his chin and turns his head to face her. Her eyes are blazing, and she’s scowling at him as she snaps out something in Russian that he doesn’t understand. He’s picked up the language in bits and pieces over the years, but he isn’t fluent by any means. He recognizes enough to know she’s giving him her version of a ‘get your head out of your ass and stop’ talk.
“You’ve got a scratch on your forehead.” He doesn’t need her to scold him because he knows those creatures aren’t the same thing as his own Loki experience. Even if they were, he has to protect the innocent people they were threatening. He doesn’t feel guilty, anyway. He’s just feeling twitchy.
Nat stops her tirade and huffs out a breath as she glares at him. Her lips twist slightly into a victorious smile. It’s a reprieve, he knows, but he can get behind riding the post-battle adrenalin rush. “It is just a scratch. You look much worse than I.”
“We already knew that.” Clint licks his thumb before reaching over to gently wipe the smear of blood off her forehead. He arches a brow, asking her if she’s injured and if she’s okay.
She tilts her head to the left, which means she’s fine and uninjured. “You disobeyed orders,” she says, her gaze moving to his right arm before returning to his face. “Your captain is not going to be happy with you.”
“The order was wrong.” He glances over to see Steve speaking to Sitwell, who is wiping his glasses with the end of his tie. It still feels wrong to be working with him, like a constant reminder that it should be Phil. At least it’s someone Phil trusted who is working with the team and not someone new. When Steve looks up and frowns at him, Clint looks away. “If Hulk tries to take one of those creatures home with us, I call dibs on not telling him no.”
Nat makes a face at him before she straightens up and smirks. “I am going to go check in with Sitwell.”
Before Clint can ask her what she’s checking in about, he hears a voice behind him. “Clint Barton! What the hell do you think you were doing?” Nat leaves him to deal with Steve on his own, the traitor.
The fact that Steve’s actually using his full name lets him know he’s probably in for a lecture-Captain style. He turns to face Steve and squares his shoulders. “I was protecting my team, Captain.”
“You had an order to remain in position. You’re our eyes up there.” Steve motions to the roof of the building where Clint had been perched.
“They had you surrounded in that sandwich shop. My eyes aren’t any good when you’re in a building. I made a decision for the safety of the team, and I stand by it. Sir.” Clint can feel a muscle in his cheek start to twitch as he stands at attention and meets Steve’s gaze head-on.
Steve actually growls as he takes a step closer to Clint. “You crashed through a window and scared me half to death when they swarmed around you. I had the situation under control.”
“I stand by my choice,” he repeats, staring into Steve’s eyes. They look even bluer than usual, and his pupils are slightly dilated. Clint blinks and notices the faint flush on his cheeks, the soft huff of his breathing, and the way his lips are pursed tightly. It’s tempting to look away, but Clint holds his position.
“You stubborn--“ Steve just stares at him, and Clint knows he’s counting to ten despite the silence. He lowers his voice. “You’re a stubborn asshole.”
“Never pretended otherwise.” He isn’t sure why there’s a problem. They won, none of them died, and they managed to stop the crazy woman before there were many civilian casualties.
“Natasha, Mommy and Daddy are fighting. Make them stop.” Tony walks up to them and takes his helmet off. Natasha looks at them curiously before shaking her head and wandering over to join Thor instead.
“Tony, not now,” Steve warns, not looking away from Clint.
“Yes, now. I get it. You’re pissed because Legolas didn’t listen. From what I’ve heard, this is more common than not, so you better get used to it.” Tony looks at Clint and points a finger at him. “And you. You need to listen and stop thinking that your life is forfeit in exchange for, oh, everyone else’s. Now, you two need to kiss and make up before the kids get nervous.”
Tony punches Steve lightly in the shoulder then does the same to Clint before he walks off, already calling out to Hulk and telling him there’s a no pet policy at the tower. It’s unfortunate that the shoulder he hits is Clint’s right one, which is already starting to feel sore. He can’t keep the flinch from his face as he reaches up to rub his arm.
“What’s wrong?” Steve is instantly interrogating him, which is why Clint had pulled on the old jacket he found at the sandwich shop in the first place. It’s not like his uniform hides all that much. Now that Tony’s unknowingly brought attention to it, Steve’s going to probably give him another lecture.
“Nothing.” Clint can’t look at Steve when he lies because he knows he wouldn’t be able to manage it then.
“Liar,” Steve says softly. “Talk to me, Clint. Are you injured?”
Clint sighs and makes a face. “Just a little.” He finally looks at Steve. “My right arm didn’t like getting to know that shop window all that much.”
Steve reaches over and tugs the jacket down his arm. “Did I mention how stubborn you are? You put that coat on so we wouldn’t see, didn’t you? It’s not weakness to admit to needing help, Clint. Some of those cuts still have glass in them.”
“It’s not as bad as it looks. I’m mostly sore,” he admits, looking at the various cuts made by the shattered window. Most are shallow, but a couple went deeper. “I’d do it again.”
“I know you would.” Steve touches his bare shoulder, his fingers lightly brushing against his skin. “Come on. Let’s get these fixed up.”
Clint follows Steve away from the destruction, watching him grab a first aid kit from an SUV before leading the way to the nearby beach. When they get far enough away from the battle zone, Steve sits down on the sand and motions for Clint to join him. He sits down and listens to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore. The air smells like ocean, the unmistakable scent of salt water and wet sand that he likes. The only thing missing is the added aroma of suntan lotion. He grabs a handful of gritty sand, letting it go slowly. “Tide must be in.”
“Sounds like it.” Steve gets the jacket off of him before he carefully begins to pick out pieces of glass with a pair of tweezers. “You know, Tony’s right. And I’ll deny saying that if he ever finds out I did. You could have died today, Clint. Those beasts were attacking you faster than you could shoot them, and I couldn’t do a damn thing to help. I already lost my best friend once because I couldn’t save him. It can’t happen again.”
“Steve, I could die every time I take a shower or go for a run.” Clint watches Steve’s hands as he takes care of the wounds. There’s not a lot of light, but Steve doesn’t falter at all as he removes the glass. He knows about Bucky, of course, and he feels a little guilty when he realizes the reason Steve was probably the most upset wasn’t just because he disobeyed an order. “I’m not going to sit around doing nothing if I can help my team. I saw an opportunity and took it. You have to trust me to know my limitations. I can save myself, if it comes to it.”
“You know I trust you.” Steve looks at him. “I just--you need to know that you aren’t expendable. I--we can’t lose you. Any of us could die at any time, either from an accident or during one of these missions, but it doesn’t mean you have to dare death to come for you every time we’re out on one of these things.”
“No daring death. Got it, Captain.” Clint has to look away from Steve’s intense gaze. He stares out at the dark ocean and licks his dry lips. “I’ll try to be more careful, Steve.”
“That’s all I ask, Clint.” Steve’s fingers stroke the curve of his shoulder before Clint feels the tweezers pulling out glass again. They don’t say anything else, but it’s not an uncomfortable silence. He listens to the sound of Steve breathing and the ocean and feels himself starting to relax as he comes down from the post-battle high. When Steve finishes cleaning up the cuts, neither of them makes a move to rejoin the clean-up happening behind them. Instead, they sit quietly on the sand and steal a moment for themselves before they have to get back to the others.
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If actions really do speak louder than words, Steve and Clint are saying a lot. It's too bad neither one of them is good at listening
Someone’s been baking. The kitchen smells like chocolate, and it doesn’t take long to find the plate piled high with brownies that’s been put between the microwave and blender. Steve crosses the room to see if there’s a name on them or if they’re free for the taking. They’ve all learned to label anything they don’t want shared, so food without labels means anyone can have it.
“Jarvis, who made brownies?” he asks, curious about who’s been using his kitchen. Well, not his, but he’s sort of taken ownership since it was practically collecting dust with all the delivery food and eating out that happened around here.
“I am not at liberty to say, Captain. Doing so would put me at risk of being infected with a virus.”
“Natasha baked brownies.” Steve doesn’t need confirmation from JARVIS because she’s the only one who would have threatened unleashing a virus. Bruce and Clint both use the kitchen sometimes, and Tony would have made sure to brag to everyone if he’d bothered cooking. He isn’t sure why she decided to bake, and he wonders if he should try to find her to make sure everything’s okay. He’s their team leader, after all, and he wants everyone to know they can come to him if they have problems.
They’ve been back from Myrtle Beach for a couple of days, so he doesn’t think Natasha’s got any remaining issues from that battle. With a shake of his head, he grabs a plate from the cabinet. Even if something’s wrong, he isn’t the one she’d talk to about it. It’s just brownies, and he’s probably worrying over nothing. She’s Clint’s best friend, though, so he’s a little more aware of her issues than others maybe. Well, now that he knows it’s just friends and not the romantic situation he’s believed it to be previously. Not that he’s ever treated her differently, even when he was jealous.
Steve makes a face before putting two brownies on the plate and grabbing two bottles of water from the refrigerator. Maybe it’s good for him that he can now admit to the jealousy, but that doesn’t really clear up anything else. He’s not stupid, so he knows about crushes and infatuations. He knows about attraction, the mental kind as well as the physical. In the old days, he’d had crushes and been attracted to a few different women, so it’s not really new to him, in some ways.
In other ways, it’s like a confusing mess of feelings and desires that makes all those previous infatuations pale in comparison. Steve’s worked through the realization that he was feeling those things for another man, mostly, but he still feels like he’s Dorothy with his past being plain old black and white Kansas and his now being the full Technicolor magnificence of vivid color and intense emotions. He never much liked that movie, either, so the fact that he’s comparing himself to Dorothy for it to make sense to him is somewhat frustrating.
This whole thing snuck up on him, and it was easier to compartmentalize and ignore when he honestly thought Clint and Natasha were in a relationship. Steve can do the quiet yearning and pining thing. It’s how he spent most of his life before, since he never had the courage to act on his feelings or, well, he crashed before anything could happen with Peggy. Ever since he found out that Clint’s single and, according to Natasha, not interested in one night stands, he’s having trouble keeping his feelings locked away and disregarding them. It’s scary, though. He knows that he’d rather face a dozen Loki attacks or infiltrate a HYRDA base with no back-up than admit to Clint that he’s falling for him. Because he can call it a crush all he wants, but Steve knows it’s more than that even if he isn’t sure exactly what it is.
It’s funny to him that he’s still a coward, regardless of what physical form he possesses. It might be easier if Bucky were here to give him advice. Steve knows Bucky wouldn’t care that it was a man making him feel all twisted up and weird like this, just so long as the person appreciated Steve and didn’t hurt him. Bucky’d know what he should do because he’d been a flirt but he’d also had a few relationships over the years. And that’s what Steve wants, if he’s completely honest with himself. He wants Clint like Tony’s got Pepper and Thor’s got Jane and he just wants so many things he can’t even identify them all.
Since Myrtle Beach, Steve can’t stop thinking about it. He’s always been able to keep his head clear and focus on not feeling mixed up about Clint, even if it’s been getting more difficult since knowing he isn’t technically off limits. Clint being single doesn’t really change the fact that Steve’s sure he wouldn’t feel the same and wouldn’t be interested in figuring out whether they could be something more or not, but it’s made those boundaries start to crumble, and that’s made it more difficult to resist the ‘what if’ thoughts that he entertains during the middle of the night when the bed feels so empty and cold.
It all just makes his head hurt. That’s probably why he tries not to think about it. He ends up standing in the kitchen lost in thought when he could be doing something more productive. Steve focuses on not thinking as he leaves the kitchen and heads up to the roof. He knows that’s where Clint is because he checked the other usual places before going to the kitchen. He hadn’t known there were brownies, but they’ll be better than the handful of packaged cookies he’d intended to grab. When he reaches the roof, he finds Clint sitting and staring out across the city. There’s a paperback book on the table beside him, but he isn’t reading it.
“Was there this much smog back in the day?” Clint doesn’t even turn his head to see who it is, but he somehow knows that it’s Steve anyway.
“Not this much. It was hazy back then, but we never really noticed or didn’t know what to call it.” Steve shrugs before walking over to sit down. He put the plate and water bottles on the table. “I thought you might want a snack. I didn’t see you around lunch time.”
“I was up here. Should have come down, but I needed some time to think.” Clint looks over and smiles when he sees the brownies. Some of the tension in his shoulders eases. “Nat must have forgiven me. Those are one of my favorites.”
“You two are fighting?” That might explain the sudden baking. Steve’s actually relieved that he was right about the behavior being abnormal enough for Natasha to indicate something being wrong, but he’s also glad that she must have worked it out so he doesn’t have to risk upsetting her by trying to comfort her.
“Kind of.” Clint glances at him then back at the brownie. “You know I was meeting her for training after we got back from our walk? Well, it turned into an argument. She called me out on some shit that I didn’t want to deal with, and I made it worse by telling her to mind her own business. Things just escalated from there. She knows me too well, so the words always hit target, and I never miss, either.”
“Is something wrong?” He’s worried that he’s been so wrapped up in his infatuation, keeping it secret while also selfishly enjoying every minute they spend together, that he’s failed to realize Clint’s going through something that might need a friend.
“No. It’s seriously nothing.” Clint leans back in the chair and stares at the sky. Steve’s fingers twitch because he wishes he had his sketchbook and a pencil right now. The profile is breathtaking, with the fading light from the sunset as backdrop and a faint flush on Clint’s neck that’s probably from being out in the sun for so long.
“It isn’t ‘nothing’ if you’re fighting with Natasha about it.” Steve breaks off a piece of the brownie and chews on it. It’s a really good brownie. “You don’t have to tell me about it, though. I thought we were--anyway, I know about keeping things private.”
Clint looks at him. “Nat’s been like my sister for years. Sometimes, family fights about stupid shit. She just brought up something that she’d noticed and wouldn’t drop it when I made it clear I didn’t want to talk about it. If it was anything that I thought was important, you know you’d be the only one besides her that I’d talk to about it. You’re my best friend, Steve.”
Steve nods and twists the cap off the water bottle. The fact that Clint says he’s his best friend and second to Natasha in his life is a special thing. He knows what that means, and it matters a lot more than his own ‘what if’ scenarios involving a romantic relationship between them. Clint’s trust is not easily given, so Steve has to be careful to never break it. “Well, if you do ever want to talk, you know I’m here.”
“Ditto.” Clint smiles before grabbing one of the brownies and eating it. “These are so good. You can’t ever let her know that you know she made them unless she tells you. She’s weird about stuff. Like the rest of us.”
Steve watches him eat the brownie and lick his fingers after, which is a bad idea because his body can’t help but react. He looks away, drinking half the lukewarm water in a couple of gulps. He’s got that restless feeling again, like his skin doesn’t fit properly, and he knows he needs to go work off the energy. Standing up, he runs his fingers through his hair. “I, uh, I need to go the gym. Haven’t been today.”
“Oh, hey. I’ll go with you. My sparring session ended before I could ever work up a sweat, so maybe we can spar? Just don’t go easy on me. I always know when you, Thor and Nat are holding back. I might just be a human, but I can take what you give me.”
Clint’s words do nothing to help Steve’s physical reaction. There’s a voice in his head that sounds like Bucky telling him just what he should give to Clint. He might be a virgin, but he isn’t unaware about sex and the methods of it, so his imagination can take over where his experience stops. The mechanics of two men having sex is a little more uncertain, but he can figure out enough to fuel the dreams he’s had about Clint. And thinking about sex is definitely not what he should be doing right now.
“I won’t take it easy on you,” he says, hoping a good round of sparring will release enough of his pent up frustration to calm him down. “I might be bigger, but I know you could kill me with a paperclip if needed.”
“I’m going to stop off in my room to change, but I’ll meet you in the gym in ten minutes.” Clint reaches up to squeeze his shoulder. “Thanks for the brownie and the talk, Steve. Now get ready to get your ass kicked.”
“You can try, Clint. It might very well be your ass that gets kicked, though.” Steve goes down to his own room to change into a pair of loose gym shorts and a white tank. If the sparring doesn’t help him concentrate, he’s going to try the punching bag after. If that fails, too, he’ll have to resort to a shower.
He reaches the gym first, and he’s glad to see that no one else is using it. He and Clint actually don’t spar very often, so he’s looking forward to having to focus and keep up because Clint’s quick and graceful when he fights without weapons. Steve starts his stretching to get ready for the workout. He’s bent over when he hears Clint enter the room. When he straightens, he turns around and sees that Clint’s changed into a pair of sweatpants and a faded old t-shirt that’s snug around his biceps.
“I see you started without me. Don’t worry. I’ll catch up fast.” Clint starts stretching, and Steve keeps getting distracted from his own pre-fight routine by just how flexible Clint is and how easy he makes the stretches look. They don’t talk as they get ready, but it doesn’t take long before they’re standing opposite each other, ready to go.
“On three?” Steve arches a brow and waits for Clint’s nod. He starts to count. When he hits three, they both move. He twists to the side to avoid a punch, and they’re off. Clint’s a capable opponent. Even if he isn’t some chemically enhanced superhero or an alien God, he’s got a lot of power and control. It’s impossible to overlook the height difference when they’re sparring, even if it’s something Steve doesn’t pay much attention to outside of the gym. He’s got quite a few inches on Clint, which he finds more of a disadvantage than not when they’re fighting.
When Steve manages to land a hit that sends Clint to the mat, he wipes his sweaty face on the bottom of his shirt after making sure he’s okay. Clint gets to his feet and grins. “Best two out of three? Loser has to make dinner.”
“Sure.” Steve watches Clint pull the t-shirt over his head and use it to wipe his face and chest. Mouth suddenly dry, he goes over to grab a bottle of water from the fridge in the corner.
How is he supposed to focus with all that bare skin on display? Clint’s sweatpants are riding so low on his hips that he’s surprised they haven’t fallen off yet. Steve’s never paid much attention to hipbones before, but he thinks he could fill a sketchbook with tributes to Clint’s. There are scars on his back and others on his chest that Steve wants to touch and hear about. The muscles, freckles and trail of hair on his lower belly are more unnecessary distractions. He’s beautiful and totally unaware of the effect he’s having on Steve.
“Give me one of those?” Clint walks up behind Steve and makes a grabby hands motion towards the fridge. He’s too close, the scent of sweat and Clint mixing together in an aroma that has Steve biting back a whimper. He gets a bottle of water for him before moving away, needing some space and time to think before they go another round.
“You’re so fast on your feet that it’s challenging me to keep up with you. I like facing off against someone who makes me improve myself.” Steve glances at him and sees Clint smiling at him.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet, Cap. I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to be cooking dinner tonight.” Clint finishes off his water and tosses the empty bottle in the trash. “You rested up enough for round two, kid?”
“Kid my ass.” Steve downs the rest of his water before moving back to the mat. It becomes obvious very quickly that Clint’s planning to win this round. He’s using the walls and even some of the gym equipment to do spins and jumps that have Steve practically just standing there watching. He’s never seen Clint this acrobatic during sparring, and he’d admire it a lot more if he weren’t the opponent.
“C’mon, Steve. Don’t just stand there and give me this win.” Clint laughs as he uses the climbing rope to pretty much fly over Steve’s head, somehow managing to land on his feet and still sweep his leg behind Steve’s.
When Steve feels the mat behind him, he just lies there and blinks up at the ceiling. Finally, he sits up and rolls his eyes. “Fine. We’re tied now. I didn’t just give you that win, either. What the hell was all that?”
“Me trying to win?” Clint flutters his eyelashes and fails at looking innocent. “Circus training. I don’t use it when sparring usually, but I wanted to….” He trails off and runs his hand over his face. “I thought you might be impressed.”
“I am. It was almost like you were flying a few times.” Steve wipes his face again before pulling off his tank and throwing it on the floor. It’s damp with sweat, which makes the material clingy and annoying when he’s trying to concentrate. When he looks up, Clint’s staring at the wall and drumming his fingers against his thigh. “You haven’t won yet, so you’d better be thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, old man.”
“Old man?” Clint snorts and shakes his head. “You just hope you have moves like this when you’re my age. And you’re the one who needs to worry about dinner. On three?”
Steve nods and moves into position. When the count of three is called, they move. It’s even more physical and intense than the previous rounds because they’re both competitive and want to win. It’s exhilarating to be fighting like this, twisting and punching and using the walls to really get into it. They each successfully land a few hits, fists and hands sliding against bare skin, and Steve knows he isn’t breathing hard due solely to exertion.
By the time he finally manages to get Clint on the mat, Steve crawls over him and straddles him, pinning him down even as he bucks up to try to get free. “Give up,” he says, panting as he shifts his body to pin him more fully. He looks at Clint’s face, leaning closer as he uses his weight to keep him secure. “Say it, Clint.”
“Not yet.” Clint bucks up again and tries to free his wrists from Steve’s grip, but it’s no use. Steve isn’t moving, even if Clint’s too stubborn to admit defeat yet. “I’m not giving up yet, Steve.”
Clint keeps writhing beneath him, and Steve starts to notice that his body is reacting. Oh God. He’s getting hard. Clint’s thigh is pressed against him, so he has to be feeling it as he moves around. A rush of heat spreads over Steve’s face as he unconsciously seeks more friction. Clint’s panting and muttering curses and his eyes are shining and his lips are wet and--Steve lets him go and quickly scrambles to his feet. He’s mortified when he realizes what’s happened. Did Clint notice? He’s freaking out and doesn’t know what to do or what to say because he doesn’t know if Clint knows or not. “Sorry. I need to--you win. I have to go.”
“Huh?” Clint gets to his feet and gives him a confused look. “I didn’t win. I was just being stubborn about admitting it. Steve, what’s wrong? You’re acting weird.”
Steve laughs, feeling a little hysterical as he tugs on his hair and looks anywhere but Clint. How did he not feel him pressed hard against his thigh? He isn’t acting like he did, but maybe he’s trying to save Steve the embarrassment of talking about unexpected erections. “Nothing’s wrong. It’s all fine. I’m okay. I need to go. I’ll talk to you later.”
Before Clint can say anything, Steve grabs his discarded shirt and practically races out of the room. He needs a shower. A cold shower. He isn’t sure if he should laugh or cry when he reaches the elevator that’ll take him upstairs to his room. He might be a super soldier and lead a team of superheroes, but he’s still the same scared guy he used to be, running away from feelings he can’t control.
He’s still a coward.
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The last few days have been horrible. Steve’s been avoiding him. They share the same living space and normally spend a lot of time together, so the fact that it’s been a few days since Clint can remember even seeing him is obvious. There hasn’t been any mission to prep for that would be taking up Steve’s time, and they still see each other whenever they’re hanging out with others, which means it must be intentional. Steve’s deliberately staying away from him.
The thing is, Clint thinks he knows why, and that just makes it even worse since it’s his fault. He had to go and make everything awkward by rutting against Steve like some oversexed teenager when they’d been sparring the other day. It’s not like Clint planned to do it, but he couldn’t stop his arousal even when he was trying to think of the least sexy things in the world. Steve must have felt his dick, must have known Clint was hard, and he must have been disgusted by it. That’s why he’d left the gym so fast even after Clint had tried to pretend nothing had happened. That’s why he didn’t want to have anything to do with Clint now.
Clint wishes he could get angry about it. The anger would be nice because that’s something he could channel into shooting targets or even going to a bar to pick a fight. Who does Steve think he is that he can just wash his hands of their friendship because of a damn hard on? Hell, Clint could have lied and said it was just a reaction he got to fighting. Steve hadn’t even given him the chance. Hadn’t given him any type of chance. And that’s why the anger wasn’t happening. It’s tough to get angry when he’s feeling disposable and worthless. Not good enough.
He shouldn’t be surprised. He’s never good enough. No one ever loves him or wants to keep him. His own father didn’t think he was worth anything so why should anyone, especially Steve Rogers? He’s used to being abandoned, which is why he’s flown solo for so many years. It had taken Phil years to work his way inside, and Nat was the only other person who ever tried. Now, Phil’s gone, and he’s only got Nat to have his back no matter what.
Sure, he knows the rest of the team is becoming a family, and he likes them all, wants them to be part of his life now they’ve earned his trust, but he’s been closest to Steve, so he’s feeling burned and upset and anxious. What if Steve is so repulsed at the idea of Clint being aroused by him that he makes Fury choose? Clint knows how that’d go, with him being off the team and everyone forgetting him as easily as Barney did. And, really, if Steve keeps ignoring him, he thinks he’d rather be sent away because this hurts, more than he thought possible considering it’s just a friendship coming to an end.
An end. Those words make him nauseous. He should have kept the walls up and reinforced them, especially after the mind scramble, instead of letting Steve in so easily. Not that he’d had any idea that he’d start to care and want more. Sex was physical release, after all, and the relationship thing wasn’t something he’d been able to experience. Not because he hadn’t wanted to but because no one wanted more than the sex. Trust him to decide Captain fucking America was the prince in his fairytale. A fairytale he knew he’d never have and shouldn’t even want.
No. He knows he’s wrong. Steve might be surprised or even disgusted, but he isn’t going to force Clint off the team. Their friendship might not be what it’s been, but Steve isn’t going to let this ruin them. Not after he’s lost so much and so many people. Clint needs to get over himself, but he’s just not sure how to feel or what to do to fix it. He needs to stop thinking that it can’t be fixed. He’s a stubborn asshole, after all, and he isn’t going to let this destroy one of the best friendships he’s ever had.
With that in mind, Clint climbs down from the ledge where he’s been sitting. It’s getting late, so he knows the others are probably starting to think about dinner. Steve hasn’t cooked since the Gym Incident, which the rest of the team has started to notice. There’s been Thai and Curry delivered two different nights, and Bruce finally cooked up some vegetable stir fry last night because Steve’s spoiled them all without even realizing it. Clint figures maybe he’ll make some grilled cheese for everyone tonight. Nothing fancy mostly because his heart isn’t in it, but he can fry up some bacon and cut some tomatoes to add to them. Thor will probably mutter about the bacon, but he’s finally getting over the whole talking pig thing.
The kitchen is empty when Clint gets there. After asking JARVIS what time it is, he decides it’s not too early to make food. There are currently seven of them at the tower, so he gets an entire loaf of bread since he also has to consider that Thor and Steve eat more than the rest. Once he knows how much bread, he calculates who likes only cheese, who likes tomatoes, who likes bacon, and who likes all three. Fortunately, this is something he’s made before so he’s got the routine down pretty well.
He’s counting out slices of bacon when the knife on the counter beside him disappears. “If you’re going to play with that, at least use it to cut tomatoes.”
“You look like shit.” Nat grabs the bag of tomatoes, and Clint glances at her as she sets up an area beside him.
“You look gorgeous.” He blows her a kiss but his heart isn’t really in the teasing. From the look she gives him, she knows it, too.
She bumps her hip against his and arches a brow, staring at him instead of the tomatoes she’s slicing perfectly.
He shakes his head, not in the mood to get into it, especially after he’s pulled himself out of the sulky mood he’s been in since last night passed with another meal minus Steve’s appearance.
She sighs but doesn’t push him. Instead, she cuts the tomatoes then gets the blocks of cheese out of the fridge. After washing the knife, she starts slicing the cheese for the sandwiches, which lets Clint focus on getting the bacon cooked.
“JARVIS, play some tunes.” Clint closes his eyes when he hears The Beatles singing about not buying love. If Nat wasn’t there most likely watching him, he’d have asked JARVIS to play something different.
“Is this acceptable, Master Clint?” JARVIS asks.
“Fine. Thanks, JARVIS.” Clint opens his eyes and focuses on the bacon. It smells good, and he isn’t that surprised when Thor soon comes into the kitchen.
“Ah. I thought I smelled the delicious aroma of bacon, Clint.” Thor walks over to inhale the sizzling bacon and pats Clint on the shoulder.
“You’re okay with the bacon?” Clint asks, wanting to make sure there’ll be no hysterics.
“Of course. I know now that the film Bruce Banner had me watch was not entirely accurate.” Thor shrugs. “Tony Stark gave me the most interesting book to read, and I saw the difference.”
“Stark gave him Animal Farm,” Nat says, smirking slightly when Clint glances at her.
“Napoleon was villainous.” Thor glares at the bacon as if it potentially belongs to the character in the book.
Clint owes Tony, he realizes, since he obviously got Thor off the “Babe” kick. “I’m sure he was,” he agrees despite never having read the book. He knows what it’s about, but most of his reading has been for pleasure since he never did the whole school thing.
Thor nods solemnly before he grins widely. “How may I help, Clint?”
“You can butter the bread, if you’d like. Just spread it on one side.”
Thor happily begins his task while Nat hums along to the music. By the time Bruce wanders in, the bacon is finished, and Clint’s started on the sandwiches. Bruce scans the kitchen before going to the cabinet and getting down a bowl. “I’ll whip up a quick instant chocolate mousse for dessert.”
He knows that Tony’s in the lab and Pepper’s finishing paperwork, so they’ll come in soon enough, but he misses Steve. When he’s got a pan of grilled cheeses cooking, he goes to the pantry. “JARVIS, could you please tell Steve we’re cooking and he’s welcome to join us?” He isn’t sure if Steve will come in or not, but he figures it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Nat and Thor are sitting at the kitchen table throwing peanuts at each other and trying to catch them with their mouths while he and Bruce finish up the food when Steve enters the kitchen. He’s got his sketchbook in his hand and there’s a pencil tucked behind his ear. Clint gives him a hesitant smile when their gazes meet, and Steve slowly returns it before ducking his head and shuffling over to the table. After he puts his sketchbook down, he looks at Clint. “Hey,” he says softly. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Taste this.” Bruce offers a spoonful of mousse and waits for his nod of approval.
Steve walks over to Clint and stares at the plate piled high with food. “That’s a lot of sandwiches.”
“There are a lot of us.” Clint glances at him then back at the pan. He isn’t sure if things are okay now or if they’re still awkward and weird. He can’t read Steve right now. It’s more like Steve’s nervous and sheepish, which doesn’t really make sense since Clint’s the one who got turned on and ruined things.
“I, uh, I could have helped. Haven’t cooked lately.” Steve shrugs a shoulder and taps his fingers against the countertop behind him.
“It’s fine. You deserve some nights off. Besides, the delivery people in the area welcomed the resurgence of orders, I’m sure.” He can do this. He can play it cool and pretend that there’s not a strange tension between them.
“Mom, Dad, kids! Is it time for dinner?” Tony asks, entering the kitchen and immediately going to the bowl of mousse Bruce is finishing. His hand gets slapped before he can stick his finger into it, and he pouts before batting his eyelashes at Pepper, who looks unimpressed. “Bruce hit me.”
“You deserved it. Don’t put your hands in food everyone’s going to eat, Tony.” Pepper greets everyone before crossing to the cabinet. “We’ll set the table since it looks as if everything else is done. Tony, take these to the dining room.”
“Yes, ma’am. Have I mentioned how sexy you are when you get bossy?” Tony grins when she rolls her eyes at him but takes the plates without complaint.
“Twice today already,” Pepper says, patting him on the head before leading the way into the formal dining room. The kitchen table is great for casual breakfasts or hanging out, but they usually use the dining room when it’s anything more.
Clint smiles and looks at Steve, surprised to find him staring at Clint instead of watching the show. “Can you hand me that plate? I think these are done.”
Steve blinks then grabs the plate. “They look good.”
“Eh, it’s simple but filling.” He puts the last of the sandwiches on the plate and turns off the burner. “If you want, you can take those on in to the table. Everyone’s favorites are all mixed together.”
“I can do that.” Steve leaves the kitchen, and Clint feels someone watching him. He doesn’t even turn around because he knows it’s Nat. Instead, he focuses and wipes down the counter. Dishes can wait until after dinner.
“These are very good, Captain.” Clint glances up to see Thor looking through Steve’s sketchbook. As far as he knows, no one has ever touched that book, much less looked at the sketches. Thor meets his gaze and grins. “The likeness is uncanny. It is like a photograph, only not.”
“Thor, I don’t think Steve wants anyone looking--“ Clint doesn’t finish his warning before Tony and Steve come back into the kitchen.
“We need drinks,” Tony says. “Oh! Are we finally able to look? Why wasn’t I told? I’ve been trying to see in there for months.”
“What?” Steve looks at Thor, and Clint watches his eyes widen and his face flush. Tony’s got the book now, and he’s careful with it, but he’s looking at every page.
“Damn, Mom. Dad really captures you well.” Tony stops flipping through the pages eventually and carefully closes the sketchbook. He looks at Steve. “My dad had this doodle that you did of your team, back then, that he’d framed and put on the wall of his office. You’re even better now. You shouldn’t keep this talent to yourself. You could put most of these in a show, call it something romantic and catchy, and people would love it.”
“Do you…do you have that doodle still?” Steve asks. His face is even redder than it was, and Clint wishes he’d been able to get the book from Thor before someone else had the chance to see something Steve wanted to keep private.
“Yep. I’ll give it to you after dinner. It’s yours, so you should have it.” Tony looks at Clint then and smiles. “You should tell him to consider the art show idea. I know it might be strange seeing your face on display, but he’s got talent.”
“My face?” Clint looks from Tony to Steve and back again. “What are you talking about? And I think Steve’s able to make his own decisions, especially about something as personal as sharing his art work.”
“I’m talking about this.” Tony holds the book up and looks confused. He stares at Clint before slowly turning his attention to Steve. “Hold up. He doesn’t know? I thought you two were just private, and I’ve been so proud of myself for not teasing you. But I was wrong, wasn’t I?” He curses. “Fuck. You mean, all this time, I thought you were having sex everywhere and you weren’t? But why not? It’s so obvious you both want to be.”
“Tony, just stop it!” Steve shakes his head and looks at Clint. The expression on his face is one of embarrassment and vulnerability, which makes Clint’s heart clench. “I’m so sorry.” That’s all he says before he leaves the room, not even apologizing when he bumps into Bruce on his way out of the kitchen.
Nat sighs and smacks Tony upside the back of his head before she takes the sketchbook from him. “Don’t,” she warns when he opens his mouth.
Tony looks upset and guilty as he walks over to Pepper and hugs her. “I honestly didn’t know. I thought they’d been doing it for months. I would never have intentionally done that to anyone, especially not Steve.”
Pepper strokes his hair. “I know, Tony, but we’ve talked about thinking before you speak.”
“We should eat,” Bruce suggests, looking at Nat and giving a nod towards Clint that isn’t subtle at all. She waits until the rest leave the kitchen before she walks over to Clint.
“You need to go after your captain.” She hands him the sketchbook. “Look at that and maybe you’ll finally see.” She kisses his cheek before going to join the others in the dining room.
Clint rubs the back of his neck with his free hand before he looks down at the book. There’s a conflict happening in his head right now because he doesn’t want to violate Steve’s privacy by looking without permission, but he also knows he needs to look so he can figure out what’s just happened. “Sorry, Steve,” he finally whispers before he opens the book.
As he looks, he ends up sliding down the cabinet until he’s sitting on the floor, the book balanced against his legs. There are sketches of everything in the book. Sketches of their teammates, people at S.H.I.E.L.D., one of Phil that has him biting his lip, and then random stuff like plants and places. The thing is, mixed in with all those other sketches are sketches of him: him reading, playing video games with Thor, looking out the window, shooting arrows, doing anything and even nothing at all. His eyes are quick sketches on various pages, and he isn’t sure how he knows they’re his but he just knows. As he goes through the pages, the detail and emotion becomes more recognizable, too. Clint knows he doesn’t really look like that; the sketch man is beautiful because that’s how the artist sees him. That’s how Steve sees him.
With that realization, Clint gets to his feet and squares his shoulders. He rolls his eyes when he passes the dining room and gets various thumbs up and cheering on from his teammates, but he doesn’t let that distract him. He needs to go after Steve and find out if what he’s seeing in these sketches is the truth or merely wishful thinking.
Hope y'all are enjoying it! The last part should be up tomorrow, I hope.
Well, it's finally finished! I had so much fun writing this story, which is probably evident in the 20k+ written in like two weeks. I adore this pairing, and I'm grateful for all of y'all that have taken the time to read and leave comments/kudos. Writing in a new fandom is scary, especially after two years of basically having writer's block, so the encouragement (silent and vocal) is so appreciated. I also couldn't have finished this without the support of Flora, Sulla and Eey, who kept me motivated. I truly hope that y'all enjoy this last chapter and the story as a whole!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“JARVIS, don’t tell anyone where I am.” Steve knows better than to go to his room after the humiliation that’s just happened in the kitchen. If someone decides to check on him, that’s the first place they’ll go. The gym is out, too, and Clint’s probably going to take over the roof so he can think about how he’s supposed to respond to the fact Steve’s got feelings for him.
Any other areas are either personal bedrooms or public living areas where anyone could stumble upon him, so Steve has to get creative about where to hide, because that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s never noticed anyone using this linen closet before, so he figures it’s the best bet for now since he doesn’t feel like leaving and dealing with strangers. Trust Tony to have closets the size of studio apartments. Right now, Steve’s glad for it, though.
“I will do my best, Captain.” Steve guesses that JARVIS can’t lie to Tony, so he just hopes that’s not who gets sent after him.
He can’t believe he’s been so careless. It’s difficult to blame Tony, either, which makes it more frustrating. After all, Steve’s the one who left his sketchbook on the table and was foolish enough to draw Clint so many times. If he’d realized what was going to happen, he’d have tried to react better than he had, but it’s not like he had a plan in mind for being confronted with his infatuation in front of the entire team. He’s never thought about the possibility of anyone finding out because he’s always intended to keep it a secret. Well, as much of a secret as it could have been when Clint had felt his physical reaction to their sparring the other day.
It’s really crummy that the future hasn’t managed to invent a time machine yet. At times like this, he wishes he could just go back a few days and make sure he didn’t make such a mess of stuff. He picks at a loose thread on a green towel and bites his lip when he realizes that his first thought involving time travel involved fixing things with Clint, not going back to his own time to save Bucky and be with his friends. There’s a part of him that feels guilty for being so selfish, but he isn’t sure which choice is the selfish one.
No, that’s a lie. While Steve knows he’d save Bucky and live a long life surrounded by his old friends if he’d had the chance, he’s given up on that fantasy to face reality. He had to do that all those months ago, when he wanted nothing more than for all this to be a bad dream. He’s gone through the grieving process, worked through the fact that he’s still here even after offering God a trade-off of going to back to his old body if it meant being back in his own time, and he’s been settling into this new life. He’s made a family for himself, even if there have been some rocky moments here and there, and he’s actually started to fall in love.
Which brings him back to the reason he’s hiding in the linen closet. Clint. It always seems to come back to Clint somehow. Steve knows this is going to be awkward. How can it not be? Sure, it might be okay to pretend that whole sparring reaction hadn’t happened, but that was just between them. This time, everyone was there. They all know that he’s got it bad for Clint, which means there’s going to be looks of pity and weirdness from his other teammates, too. And Clint can be an asshole, but he’s not going to be a jerk to Steve. There’s no doubt in his mind about that, regardless of how Clint decides to let him down and reject the idea of taking their friendship to another level.
The closet might be a good hiding place, but it isn’t exactly comfortable. Steve sits there until his butt gets sore and he feels his legs going to sleep. He isn’t sure how long it’s been, but it’s probably long enough that he can sneak back to his room without worrying about facing any of his teammates. By tomorrow, maybe he’ll be ready to act like he isn’t embarrassed and mortified. Tonight, he’s knows he wouldn’t be able to do it. He’s not that great an actor, after all. He’s managed to avoid Clint for a few days, so he knows it’s possible even if they’ve been some of the worst days of his new life. The others, well, he’ll just have to deal with them if they say anything. Maybe they’ll all ignore it and pretend like nothing happened. That’d be swell.
When he can’t hide any longer, he pushes himself to his feet and pulls the loose thread off the towel. He doesn’t want it to snag next time it’s washed and rip a hole in the fabric. Steve opens the door and feels like someone’s punched him in the gut when he sees Clint sitting against the wall opposite the closet door.
“So, you finally decided to come out of the closet?” Clint’s lips quirk slightly, but there isn’t any humor in his expression. “That actually has a double meaning, for once.”
“JARVIS, what happened to our deal?” Steve asks, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he resists the urge of going back into the closet and hiding again.
“I cannot lie to Master Clint, Captain.” JARVIS somehow manages to sound offended at the very idea, which has Steve almost apologizing before he remembers that it’s an AI and not a real person. Even if he sometimes seems to be.
“You asked him to lie for you? Really, Steve. What would the press think about their Golden Boy doing such things?” Clint leans his head against the wall and looks up at Steve.
“I didn’t--damn it. Who cares about the press?” Steve runs a hand over his face before he shuts the closet door and leans against it. “What do you want, Clint?”
“Now there’s a question with a lot of different answers.” Clint isn’t looking away from him, and Steve now understands what his targets must feel like with that intense gaze focused solely on them. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Steve grimaces. “Do we really have to talk about this? I think my quota of humiliation has been surpassed this week. Can we continue this conversation next week when I’m starting fresh?”
“Not talking has got us where we are now.” Clint points at Steve and then points at the floor. “Sit your hot ass down now because I’d rather not have to tie you up and force this chat to happen.”
Steve sits. He doesn’t doubt for a second that Clint wouldn’t tie him up if he tried evading him. Unfortunately, the images that thought brings to mind aren’t the ones that he’s thought about lying in bed at night, either. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you in front of everyone,” he says quietly. He wants to get that out of the way so Clint knows he never intended to put him on the spot like this.
“Embarrassed me?” Clint repeats slowly, still studying him like he’s prey. “You didn’t embarrass me, Steve. Far from it. So, I had no idea that you were into guys. Thought you were strictly a female-only kind of guy. When did that change?”
“I, uh, what?” Steve is trying to figure out why Clint isn’t embarrassed, but now he wants know about something pretty personal that doesn’t really have an answer. He can feel warmth spreading on his neck as he shrugs a shoulder. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve noticed guys before, like I know Bucky was good-looking and that Thor’s attractive. It never really meant more than that. I like women, but I guess I also like men?”
“It’s called bisexual.” Clint reaches up to rub the back of his neck. “That’s the label, if you want to bother with one. I’ve fucked men and women before, enjoy it, I just prefer men overall.”
“Oh.” Steve fidgets a little and starts to wrap that loose green thread around his finger just to have something to do with his hands. “I haven’t. With either one.” It’s only fair to be honest, he figures, since Clint’s certainly being candid.
“Never?” Clint arches a brow and stretches his legs out, kicking Steve’s leg lightly. “Not ever?”
“Nah.” Well, this is definitely working into the embarrassment quota for the next month. Steve’s entire face feels warm, and he bets he’s bright red because he just doesn’t talk about this sort of thing. It doesn’t bother him, really, and he’s not scared of sex or so straitlaced that he doesn’t want have it one day. It’s just that he never had the chance before, and he thinks something that intimate should be shared with someone he wants to have breakfast with after. “Never had the chance, then I never had the time.”
“If I needed any further proof that dames in your time were crazy, I’ve now got it.” Clint shakes his head. “How could you have not had a chance?”
“Because I didn’t always look like this?” Steve says, wincing when he hears the sharpness to his tone.
“Well, yeah, but that’s just pretty packaging. Very pretty, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not all there is.” Clint frowns. “You’re smart, funny, loyal, talented, and your eyes are gorgeous. None of that stuff’s caused by the super soldier thing. I stand by my argument that women were just nuts back then.”
“You…” Steve ducks his head because he can’t remember anyone ever saying that sort of thing about him before. “You’d think so even if I was a third this size and sick all the time?”
“Wouldn’t change who you are inside, Steve.” When Steve looks up, Clint’s staring at the ceiling. “So, you’re into guys then. And you, uh, well. I looked through your sketchbook. I wasn’t going to, but Nat seemed to think I needed to.”
“It’s okay.” He stretches his legs out and kicks at Clint’s leg so he’ll look at him. “There’s nothing I’m ashamed of in there.”
“Yeah?” Clint reaches out to grab his foot and squeezes his toes. “You need to tell me, Steve. I’m sitting here trying to find the words to ask, but I can’t. I’m not that great with words, not like this, and I’ve got to know.”
“I’m a fool,” Steve says, blinking when Clint starts to pull away. He reaches out to grab his hand. “I mean, that song. Elvis? Only fools rush in. I’m a fool.” It seems that he’s not good with words like this, either. What a pair they make. “I, uh, I have feelings for you, Clint. I can deal with them, though. If it makes you feel awkward or--“
Lips pressed against his stop him from talking. Steve’s eyes widen, and he isn’t really sure if he’s supposed to return the kiss or if he shouldn’t do anything. But then Clint’s tensing up and pulling back, so Steve moves his other hand to the back of Clint’s head and doesn’t let him go. He presses forward this time, noses bumping together but lips finally meeting, and he tightens his grip on Clint’s hand before they’re kissing and it isn’t a dream because he can feel blunt fingernails digging into his palm.
It’s a chaste kiss, but it still makes his heart beat double-time and his tummy feels like it’s doing somersaults. This is what Bucky tried to describe to him but could never find the words to do it justice. It isn’t Steve’s first kiss, but it feels like it should be because it’s unlike anything he’s ever felt. It’s intimate and sweet, especially when he knows Clint’s got experience and is probably not used to being this gentle with his partners. When they finally separate, Steve licks his lips and reluctantly lets go of Clint’s neck.
“Thought I’d show you instead of messing it up with words.” Clint’s actually flushed, and he’s grinning crookedly, just staring at Steve while his fingers begin to stroke his palm. “I’m not feeling awkward, by the way.” His smile fades as he sighs. “But I don’t know if I can give you what you need, Steve. I’ve never…sex is sex, but you’re more than that, you know? I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then don’t.” Steve is finally realizing that he isn’t the only one who is feeling this way, and he’d been ready to suffer in silence with quiet yearning but there’s no way in hell that he’s going to let go if there’s actually a chance he can have this with Clint. He’s tired of being a coward and being selfless. It’s time to be selfish for once.
“It’s not that easy. You deserve more. I’m trying to be a better man here, so you shouldn’t make it so difficult.” Clint looks exasperated, which makes Steve start to smile.
“Stop pouting. You’re already the best man I know. Don’t make me threaten to get Fury to arrange more of those therapy sessions for you so you can work through your lack of self-esteem when it comes to relationships.” Steve watches Clint roll his eyes but there’s a slight smile on his lips so the threat had payoff.
“No more therapy, thanks.” Clint leans forward to rest his forehead against Steve’s. “What if it goes wrong? What if I hurt you without meaning to? What if it works better in theory and not reality?”
“The world can’t be lived in a bunch of what if moments. That’s something I’ve had to learn, Clint, and I’m not going to base my happiness on that,” Steve says. “If it doesn’t work, at least we’ll have tried. I think we’re good enough friends that we won’t let it ruin that. Like you and Natasha, right? I want to try, if you do.”
“I want to. I’m just a little freaked out and not sure I even know how to try,” Clint admits. “But you’re right. Life’s too short to dwell on what might happen.”
“I don’t know what to do, either, so we’ll just figure it out together.” Steve tilts his head and rubs his nose against Clint’s. “So, what do you say, Clint? Are we going to do this?”
“Looks like you’re not the only fool, Steve.” Clint presses their lips together in a quick kiss before he smiles. “Yeah, we’re doing this. Buckle up, baby. This could be a bumpy ride.”
Again, thank you for the comments/kudos! I hope y'all enjoyed the story and Clint/Steve as much as I loved writing it and them. And, if any of y'all are interested, I've actually started writing the sequel already, and I hope to start posting that soon.