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The Archer and the Monster

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There are few things in life that Clint enjoys more than the feel of his bow in hand. The whisper of feathers against his cheek, the string drawn taut under his fingertips, the familiar sound of an arrow slicing through the air and hitting its target. It’s tactical and precise and he knows how it’s going to go, time and time again. He likes a hot shower after a particularly rough day of getting tossed around in the city with his teammates, the feeling of his muscles loosening, unclenching under the brutal heat and steam that swells in the tiled room on his floor of the mansion. He likes a cold beer when he’s kicking his bare feet up on the railing of his balcony on a balmy summer night, enjoying the breeze as much as the ensuing silence, even if he’s not alone.

But this, this might take the proverbial cake. Bruce on top of him, on his knees, ass pressing tight against where his cock is threatening to stir up, rocking like he can’t quite control himself. Clint has a fistful of curls in one hand, knuckles hot where they’re pressed against his sweating scalp, and another on his bare hip. Bruce’s shirt is rucked up, just a bit, just far enough out of the way to allow the contact of Clint’s blunt nails on his skin. Bruce is starting to sweat under the hard press of Clint’s palm as he presses down harder and harder in an attempt to quell the rocking motions of Bruce’s hips against his own.

He can barely hear over the muffled moans and smothered inhales as their noses press into one another’s cheeks. The rasp of stubble, the wet sounds of their mouths pulling free when the lack of oxygen becomes too great and one of them breaks away to draw in a ragged breath before diving back in to resume their fevered kissing, it’s all enough to drown out the steadily increasing beep beep beep of Bruce’s watch as his heart rate rises.

Bruce is all seemingly tightly bundled control, keeping his hands on Clint’s neck, a fingertip always over the hammer of his pulse as if to monitor it without realizing, or flattened over his chest. His fingers curl every so often with the roll of his hips, bunching the thin fabric of Bruce’s worn sleep shirt in his sweaty palm. The feel of his nails rakes fire down Clint’s chest straight to his groin.

It’s a sobering moment when Bruce lifts his hand to cup the hinge of Clint’s jaw and the frantic whine of his heart monitor shrills through the bone, right to his ear. Clint’s heels are dug into the bed, hips lifted just slightly into the warm, solid weight of Bruce against his groin, frozen in place while Bruce sucks on his tongue. It’s nothing but stark fear that rushes down his spine like cold water when he realizes what it is he’s hearing.

Clint turns his head, pulling away from Bruce’s swollen lips to mouth along his jaw to his ear.

“Stop, stop,” he breathes, voice thick in his throat.

He loosens the hand in his hair to cup the back of his head and pushes gently until Bruce lowers his forehead to Clint’s shoulder. Bruce tries to pull back but Clint tightens his grip at the nape of his neck and holds him there.

It’s a long few moments of ragged breathing before Bruce finally slumps down with a barely contained groan. Clint stares up at the ceiling, watching the fan blades rotate slowly overhead, trying to calm his heart down along with Bruce.

When the insistent pulse of his watch slows to something resembling a normal pace, Clint smoothes his hand down to Bruce’s neck and around his chest to his back. His shirt clings to his shoulder blades where his skin is damp with sweat and he groans like he hasn’t stretched his limbs in a week when he sits upright, both hands planting themselves on Clint’s chest.

Bruce doesn’t say anything for a long time and Clint can’t bring himself to open his mouth again. He drops his hands to Bruce’s thighs and rubs his thumbs back and forth in a slow, repetitive fashion. It’s meant to soothe but Bruce eventually takes hold of his wrists and flattens his hands on his thighs. Clint’s gaze flicks to the numbers dropping steadily on Bruce’s watch face and breathes a shaky sigh.

“I should go,” Bruce eventually murmurs, voice just as hazy and thick as Clint’s.

“No,” Clint rasps immediately, fingers tightening on Bruce’s legs. “Stay.”

Bruce’s dark eyes meet his own and he expels a quiet breath. “I shouldn’t,” is all the protest he breathes as Clint grips his waist and turns them slowly.

Bruce makes himself comfortable on his side as Clint reaches for the sheet and tugs it up to their waists. He leaves a safe distance between the two of them that Clint inwardly scoffs at and closes it with a hand on Bruce’s back, urging him in closer. Bruce is silent, his hands lying in the non-space between them on the bed while Clint traces slow, nonsense patterns over his cooling back.

It’s just a shade of awkward before Bruce finally nudges his knee forward to rest between Clint’s. It’s like someone let the tension out between them and Clint folds his arm around Bruce’s back and leans in to kiss his forehead, slow and careful as Bruce’s fingers bunch in his shirt.

“We’ll make it work,” Clint promises quietly, not for the first time, just a whisper against his sticky forehead. Bruce doesn’t acknowledge it save for the way he settles in as close as he dares to Clint, and allows Clint to move him even closer.

There are few things Clint dislikes more than being unable to fix something. And while Bruce is far from broken, his parts just don’t know how to work the correct way anymore. And Clint can’t accept the disappointment in Bruce’s eyes whenever he realizes that.

 

--

 

Clint doesn’t often wake up alone. He’s not a deep enough sleeper for Bruce to be able to shrug out from underneath his arm and move to the edge of the bed without it waking him. He nearly wakes up alone almost every single morning, but he doesn’t often say anything in favor of watching the way Bruce plants his hands on the mattress beside his thighs and inhales slow and deep.

Clint sleeps with a window cracked, no matter the weather, because Bruce likes the smell of fresh air and the cold bite of the breeze that filters in off of the Atlantic, despite the masses of buildings between Stark Tower and the water. It’s a cloudy morning over Manhattan and Bruce is shaded in dark grays against the weak sunlight. Clint watches the way his back expands and contracts with his lungs for a few long, silent minutes before he stands and pads barefoot into the connecting bathroom.

The start of the shower has Clint rolling over onto his back and staring up at the ceiling. The fan blades are still moving sluggishly overhead and he follows the rotations until he loses count and rubs the heels of his hands against his eyes so hard that he sees spots.

Bruce is a minimalist at heart and a conservationist in motion. His showers are quick and precise, no lingering under the hot spray to loosen his muscles or enjoy the way the steam wakes him up. He’s in and out and Clint hates it because he can never manage to drag himself out of bed before Bruce is out, standing on the mat, toweling himself off.

He does, however, push himself up onto his elbows when Bruce comes out, chest bare and the same sweats he was wearing last night sitting low on his hips. His hair is still damp, hanging longer in loose, wet curls, dripping onto his shoulders. He catches Clint’s gaze and offers him a small smile.

“I’m sorry about last night,” he says quietly and Clint closes his eyes, shaking his head before he kicks the covers off and moves to sit on the edge of the bed. He rubs hard at his eyes again and the spots appear quicker this time.

“I hate it when you do that.”

“Sorry.”

Bruce,” Clint stresses, turning on the bed, drawing his leg up. “Don’t. It’s not your fault.”

Bruce tugs one of Clint’s shirts on, keeping his head down and his gaze focused on his wrist as he fumbles with the clasp of his watch. It’s a Stark Industries prototype, like nothing Clint has ever seen before. It monitors all of Bruce’s vitals, not just his heart rate, but his stress levels, his red blood cell count, his immune system capabilities, everything. Tony seems to think tracking Bruce’s every bodily function, feeding it through JARVIS into his stats system will help Bruce keep the lid on uncontrolled Hulk transformations.

Clint thinks it’s ugly.

“I’m gonna head up to the roof,” Bruce says, finally snapping it in place.

“You want some company?” Clint asks, just like he does every morning that he manages to talk Bruce into from the night before.

And just like every other morning before it, Bruce offers a gentle smile, self-depreciative at best, and rubs at the back of his neck. “Alone time,” he says gently.

Clint nods. “I’ll have your decaf waiting.”

Bruce nearly stumbles a step forward, like he wants to go to Clint, maybe press a good morning kiss to his lips, but he turns abruptly and slides open the door. He disappears from sight before it clicks shut with a barely audible snicket, and Clint heaves a sigh before he lies back on the bed again.

The fan continues to rotate overhead.

 

--

 

Bruce does meditation exercises and basic yoga every morning on the roof of Stark Tower. He’s just breathing, sitting cross-legged with his palms on his knees, eyes closed, focusing on the steady beat of his heart over the noise of morning traffic below. It’s still a little too early to be rush hour but it will be soon and Bruce will pack it in not long after. For now, he just breathes. Slow, deep in and even slower, controlled out.

The far-off blast of Iron Man’s repulsors threaten to snap him out of it, but Bruce just breathes on, counting the beats of his heart against his ribcage.

The heavy metal clink of Iron Man’s feet touching down on the flight pad to his right is both familiar and disruptive. But Tony doesn’t say anything. He’s still for a moment before the clunk of his boots down the stairs rattles through his calm reserve. Bruce can both hear and sense him well enough without opening his eyes to watch the whirring manacles strip him of his armor before he heads inside to the promenade.

Bruce draws in another breath in the silence and envisions himself pushing down the Hulk, separating his red blood from his green blood and choosing his identity. He supposes it’s too much to ask that the silence remain, however, as he hears the exchange of air behind him when Tony opens the door and steps out.

His shoes are quiet as he makes his way toward Bruce. The granite beneath his feet betrays no sound as he comes to a stop off to Bruce’s left. He’s silent for longer than Bruce expects before he nudges Bruce with the toe of his sneaker and he has to look up at the bottle of water Tony is offering him. He accepts it with a smile, squinting against the sunlight fighting tirelessly to break through the heavy cloud cover.

“Thanks.” He rolls the bottle between his hands, feeling it begin to sweat already under his warm palms. “Rough night or early morning?”

“Both,” Tony says, taking a drink of his own water. He’s not looking down at Bruce anymore but they don’t need to be eye level for Bruce to see the dark circles ringing his eyes and the way his veins stand out over normally tanned skin. “Testing out the Mark VIII.”

“I thought you said it was pulling too much from the arc reactor,” Bruce says, setting aside the unopened bottle and stretching his legs out in front of him. He slowly leans over and takes hold of his toes, pressing his nose to his knee and breathing slowly, relishing the strain in his back muscles as they loosen.

Tony waits until he’s sitting upright again before he continues. “You’d be surprised what eight undisrupted hours of energy-drink fueled recalibrations can do.”

Tony holds out a hand and Bruce accepts the help up, brushing off stray bits of gravel that cling to his sweats before leaning over to pick up the bottle of water. “You sleeping any better?”

Tony shrugs. “A couple hours here and there.” Bruce gives him a concerned look that is made a little less effective considering that the sun has managed to break through the clouds and shines directly into his eyes. He squints against it, holding up a hand to his brow. “Don’t look at me like that,” Tony cuts him off before he can even begin, “you’re a far cry from a shrink, Banner.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m incapable of listening,” Bruce says as they begin to head toward the door.

Tony claps a hand on his shoulder and shakes him a little before grabbing the door handle and holding it open for him to pass through first. “They’re just dreams, Bruce. Last I checked, those can’t hurt you.”

“Yeah, well, if you’d have told me a couple of years ago that I’d be living with a god from another realm and enough gamma radiation poisoning to kill a herd of elephants in my veins I would have told you you were crazy.”

Tony pushes him through the doorway with a hand between his shoulder blades. “I’m not crazy.” Bruce shoots him a sideways look and Tony rolls his eyes but he’s grinning when he does. “Not legitimately anyway. Look, worry about the nest Barton’s going to construct for you to lay your eggs in any day now and leave the inner workings of my psyche to me.”

Bruce doesn’t further any other offers to listen because, in the short few months that he’s known Tony, he’s come to understand him extremely well. He knows he’d only be shot down, so he accepts the ruffle of his curls when Tony departs from the elevator on his personal floor and nods when Tony gives him a small salute.

“Get some sleep.”

“Sure thing, Jade Jaws.”

The doors slide closed and Bruce thumbs the button for the common floor where he knows Clint will be waiting with a cup of hot, black coffee with just a splash of 1% milk; just the way he likes it. He leans back against the mirrored wall behind him and closes his eyes, counting the number of breaths it takes for the elevator to descend.

 

--

 

Clint has never been a morning person. Before he began rolling the dice on whether or not he could talk Bruce into staying the night with him, he was the type to laze around in the morning and put off getting up until the last possible moment, then grumble into his coffee at the kitchen table. Now, he wakes when Bruce does and heads for the common floor before anyone else in the Tower is even awake (save Stark, if he’s been up all night, which is an increasingly common occurrence). He still grumbles into his coffee, but before too long, Bruce comes in from his morning meditation and kisses him on the forehead, if they’re alone.

It’s worth dragging himself out from the warm cocoon of his blankets for that one, lingering moment.

Thor is up bright and early, for whatever reason, this morning, opening his second package of pop tarts since he joined Clint a few minutes ago, when Bruce walks in. His eyes flicker from Clint to the Asgardian and back before he makes a beeline for the refrigerator, reaching out to squeeze Clint’s bicep as he passes.

Clint can feel the deep furrow of his brow when he’s cheated out of his morning PDA and reaches up to take hold of his own shirt stretched across Bruce’s chest.

“Hey,” he says quietly, drawing him back. Bruce’s eyebrows inch up toward his hairline while Clint just stares expectantly.

Bruce’s eyes move to Thor again before he says, “Clint.”

“He doesn’t care.”

Bruce huffs a quiet breath before he leans in to peck a quick kiss just above Clint’s eyebrow. Thor says nothing and Clint practically preens as he lets go of Bruce’s shirt. Clint pulls out the chair beside him and moves the mug of coffee he’d prepared just a minute or so before Bruce entered the kitchen over for him. He sits down beside Clint with half of a grapefruit. Clint stirs his coffee one final time before he sucks his spoon clean and hands it over for Bruce to use to section the fruit off.

Thor watches them with an indiscrete smile on his face, to which Clint raises his eyebrows over his own cup of coffee.

They’ve been silent for a while, Clint with his foot hooked around Bruce’s ankle but otherwise not touching, when Thor gets up and leaves. Clint turns to Bruce after a moment and waits until Bruce turns his head in his direction.

“Hey,” Clint says, bumping his knee against Bruce’s thigh.

“Hey,” Bruce says back.

“Tony made me some new arrowheads. He said he’s got them laid out in the archery range for me to try.”

Bruce takes the spoon from his mouth. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Says there’s some weird ones. I’m kind of dying to check them out. You want to come watch?” Clint asks, keeping his voice quiet, unassuming, should Bruce decide he has more pressing things to tend to in his lab. He drops his gaze a moment before looking up again.

“You sure I won’t be in the way?” Bruce finally asks, leg beginning to move in an unconscious, nervous motion.

“Never,” Clint assures, corner of his mouth lifting in a smile when Bruce nods and agrees.

 

--

 

Bruce stands back at a safe distance while Clint fires off one of the new arrows Tony has created for him. He doesn’t feel the that space between himself and Clint is necessary, considering what a master marksman the archer is, but Clint insists, so he keeps back along the wall while Clint looses the arrow. It sinks into the very center of the target and, for a moment, nothing happens, then suddenly it sparks and blue tendrils of electricity lash out, sizzling loudly after the initial shock, burning the cover of the target away to nothing but black ash.

Clint pushes his glasses up into his hair and turns to look at Bruce, eyebrows drawn up a bit as though he’s mildly impressed.

“What was that one?” Bruce asks across the distance.

Clint glances at the labels affixed before each neat row of arrows on the table to his right. “Live Wire,” Clint calls back. “I like it.”

“I can feel the static in the air from here.”

Clint laughs and Bruce smiles, leaning back against the wall again. It’s a smooth, repetitive motion of an action taken so frequently and thoroughly that it’s become first nature: Clint selects an arrow from the table, examines it a moment before he nocks it, eyes the target exactly thirty meters from where he stands and then raises and draws his bow. Bruce holds his breath at the fluidity of the motion, so natural and simple, like an extension of Clint himself as he anchors the fletching against his cheek, steadies and then releases.

It’s dead center each time, each new target, even though he doesn’t move his footing from his place near the table.

Bruce watches as target after target is destroyed or enveloped in purple flame or a net that expands and contracts just before impact, capturing the target and squeezing it until it breaks under the pressure. Tony has some interesting ideas for the new arrowheads and Clint seems to appreciate them all in some form or another.

He’s tried one of every single beta row before he turns to Bruce and tilts his head. “Come here,” he says when Bruce doesn’t move from his position against the wall.

Bruce can feel the way his heart leaps in his throat and the way his feet turn to lead when he pushes away from the wall. Clint has his glasses pushed up again, his bright eyes pulling Bruce in like a meteor on a collision course with a planet. He feels about the same, unable to stop and terrified of the impending impact.

But Clint just sets his bow against the table and begins to strip away his bracer. “You ever tried archery before?”

Bruce huffs a laugh. “You’re kidding, right?”

Clint’s eyebrows draw together. “I’m serious. Never?”

Bruce shakes his head. “I don’t think I have the temperament for it.”

“What temperament is that?”

“Patience, rather. Or the accuracy.” Bruce glances at the rows of arrows lining the table and traces the edge with his fingertip. “The… Other Guy is kind of messy.”

Clint makes a quiet but derisive sound and sets his bracer and finger tab down beside his bow. “We’re not talking about the Other Guy,” Clint says, making vague motions with his fingers toward Bruce’s hand. He lifts his arm uncertainly and Clint begins unbuttoning his cuff and then smoothly rolling the fabric up to his elbow. “You had a perfectly good t-shirt on a while ago,” he’s grumbling.

“I feel more put together when I’m in a button-down,” he explains, even though he knows that Clint is well aware. His voice feels thick and awkward in his throat, suddenly, watching Clint’s calloused fingers roll his sleeves up, feeling the warm touch of his hands on Bruce’s forearms. His mouth feels suddenly dry and he swallows hard against it, heart beginning to hammer against his ribcage.

When Clint turns to pick up his bracer again, Bruce takes a quick, worried glance at his watch and the elevated numbers of his heart rate.

Clint is frowning when he looks up again and, for a moment, Bruce is worried that he’d caught the look he’d been giving his monitor. “What?” he asks quietly, just this side of defensive.

“You’re right handed, right?”

“Yeah,” Bruce says, feeling his forehead bunch a bit with confusion.

“Well, shit,” Clint sighs, tossing the leather arm guard down again. “You’re probably right eye dominant. I’m left; we’ll shoot from opposite sides.”

Bruce has little desire to learn this particular skill, but the idea of Clint wanting to share it with him, teach it to him, his most intimate and practiced art, has him wanting it very suddenly. “I could be both,” he says softly.

Clint’s hands turn on his bare forearms and he holds steady a moment. Bruce can feel the throb of his heart begin to gather steam. He takes a slow breath and prays that Clint doesn’t notice or feel the slight shake that rocks through him.

He does, though, of course he does. Clint turns his arm to look at his watch and the blinking warning resting against his wrist. He meets Bruce’s gaze levelly, however and rubs his thumbs against the pulsing point of pressure just beneath the skin.

“Relax,” Clint says quietly. It makes Bruce’s arms prickle with goosebumps despite the fact that the range is a little overly warm. “I’ll show you how,” Clint continues. “I won’t let you hurt yourself. It’s easier than it looks, I promise.”

Bruce releases a breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding when Clint mistakes his anxiety for nerves. Clint claps his hands against Bruce’s arms and picks up his bracer. He moves closer to Bruce, elbow bumping at his chest, as he fits it down over Bruce’s exposed forearm.

“How’s it feel?” he asks. “Snug?”

Bruce flexes his fingers and moves his arm back and forth a bit, bending it. “A little loose.” He fights the urge to flush after he says it. All of his time in a lab coat doesn’t give him many opportunities to get into the gym but he likes to think he doesn’t paint the weak, nerdy scientist picture either.

Clint doesn’t seem to care, either way. He tightens it a little and looks up through his eyelashes at Bruce. He doesn’t speak but it’s the quiet, non-assurance that soothes more than any potential words. Clint barely moves away to collect his tab. “Other hand.” Bruce holds his arm up and allows Clint to affix the leather caps over his fingers. “The bowstring,” he says, voice quiet and even as he adjusts the strap around Bruce’s wrist, “it’ll skin your fingers or your forearm if you’re not careful.”

He looks up and Bruce’s throat tightens as his breath catches in his throat. “Comforting.”

Clint grins a little. “That’s what these are for,” he says, clasping his hands around each leather piece and squeezing. “And me.” He takes his bow in hand and then holds it out to Bruce.

“Are you sure about this?” Bruce forces himself to ask. Clint’s bow is a personal, private tool of his own design, like a piece of his own body more than a shining example of the highest end archery equipment.

Clint huffs a little and places his bow in Bruce’s left hand. “I wouldn’t offer if I wasn’t sure.”

It feels just as intensely personal as Bruce had thought it would when he looks down at his own hand, fingers encased in Clint’s well-worn leather tabs and the sleek flex of his bow in his hand. Clint returns from the table with an arrow, which he affixes a standard arrowhead to.

“No explosions?” Bruce asks.

“Not yet,” Clint grins. “We’ll work up to that.” He gives the arrow to Bruce and moves around behind him. Bruce tries to hold himself steady, counting his breaths even as Clint presses against his side, hands on his hips. “Turn,” he urges gently, using one booted foot to position Bruce’s. “Straighten your back.” Bruce’s heart begins to pound once more. “Just relax, okay?” Clint says, bringing a hand up to his chest and flattening it over his sternum. There’s no way that Clint isn’t feeling the race of his heart right now and it’s as exposing and embarrassing as it always has been, but there’s still something comforting about it. About trusting Clint with it and not expecting a knife in his back at any moment.

Bruce inhales slowly and blows it out just as calmly, closing his eyes for a few moments to gather his wits and tighten the reigns. Clint says nothing until Bruce straightens against him, feeling Clint’s heart beating steadily against his back.

“Ready?” Clint asks after a moment. Bruce nods and Clint steadies his hands, shows him where to put his fingers and how to place the arrow. “When you raise and draw, it’s one motion,” Clint tells him, hands on Bruce’s as he guides him through the it. “Arm up,” then, “fletch against your cheek.”

“I’m going to skin my face,” Bruce says but follows the motion regardless.

Clint laughs against the back of his neck and Bruce turns his head, unable to keep down the smile playing at his lips. Clint’s eyes flick to his mouth and then back up. “You won’t.”

“You’re awfully confident in me,” Bruce tells him.

Real or imagined, Bruce isn’t certain, but he thinks he can feel the way Clint’s fingers tighten almost immeasurably on his arms. “Yeah, you should be too.”

Clint is so temptingly close and Bruce wants to close the distance, drop the arrow and meet his mouth, but he turns instead, straightening his spine again and drawing once more. “Okay?” he forces himself to ask.

Clint’s hand guides his bow arm down a little. “Fantastic,” Clint murmurs.

“What am I aiming at?” Bruce asks. “Or how, rather?”

“By sight.”

Bruce tries not to roll his eyes. “I figured that.”

“Just focus on the target. See the very center and focus only on that." Bruce’s arm begins to shake with the strain of the string pulled taut. Clint’s fingers fold over his own and he strokes his index finger along the staunch feathers just once before he guides Bruce through the release. “Just relax your fingers.”

Bruce misses the target completely but not by much. He lowers Clint’s bow, face tensing with disappointment but Clint’s warm, bare hands slide over the crooks of his elbows and he sets his chin down on Bruce’s shoulder. “That was good,” he assures seriously.

“I missed it.”

“So did I, the first time.” He squeezes Bruce’s arms and it sends an awful thrill shooting down into Bruce’s stomach. “You’ll get better. Especially with me as your instructor.”

Bruce huffs a laugh. “You really think I need to learn this when I have you to do it?”

“I think you’ll appreciate the level of control it’ll give you over your sight,” Clint says quietly.

Bruce goes still and Clint leans in to press a lingering kiss to his pulse. It doesn’t do anything to calm his heart but the gesture is somehow soothing nonetheless. Clint moves away to get another arrow and Bruce’s back straightens suddenly at the shock of cold. He watches Clint, his hands and his legs, the way he carries himself, the way he selects an arrow, the way he smiles when he catches Bruce looking at him. It all makes his blood rush faster but he doesn’t begin to relax again until Clint is pressed against his back once more, guiding him steadily through the motions.

 

--

 

Most days around the Tower are like this, calm and domestic. Clint spends hours in the range every single day, practicing and trying out the new arrows Tony seems to have a knack for creating and a never-ending list of strange quirks to give to each of them. Clint likes it. He likes experimenting with them, picking and choosing and reporting back to Stark with his opinions and preferences.

Half of the time, he doesn’t think Tony even listens to him, waving him off when he gives a less than stellar review on one. But the next morning whichever arrow he didn’t take a shine to will be gone, and in its place a new batch, more lethal than the last.

Never let it be said that Stark doesn’t have a mind for weapons manufacturing.

It’s better now, with Bruce there. Clint delights in teaching him how to shoot, being able to close the distance between them in a way that doesn’t tend to send Bruce’s heart rate skyward. He likes it, his chest to Bruce’s back, correcting his posture, hands on his hips as Bruce looses arrow after arrow, actually hitting the target now when he does.

It thrills him, watching Bruce improve in this. It’s deeply intimate to share this with him and he knows that Bruce knows it as well. And at the same time, it’s difficult to be so close to him, for Bruce to have such a firm foothold in his mind, and to not be able to press even closer. He wants more, he’s dying for it, but if the closest intimacies they can share are Bruce’s forearm in his bracer and Clint’s steady words of encouragement in his ear, then he’ll take it.

The pain of being so close and so terribly far from what he wants, is worth it. Because Bruce is someone that he wants to keep beside him, someone that he wants to protect and care for, and if this is how he can have him, then this is how he’ll take him.

That and the occasional stolen kiss Clint can turn slowly toward more until Bruce’s heart monitor beeps urgently at his wrist.

They practice like they’re attempting to build up stamina. Oddly enough, it seems to work. Bruce rarely initiates but he has yet to push Clint away. They’re alone on Clint’s private floor, seated close together on the couch in his media room when Clint tips Bruce’s head back and kisses him gently on the lips. The slower they start, the longer they seem to be able to go.

Bruce moans softly when Clint parts his lips with his tongue, sinking into the warm, wet heat of his mouth. A hand fisted gently in his curls tugs Bruce’s head back against the cushion and he strokes the other down his chest, carefully and slowly until it rests on his hip.

Clint has made an art form of not pressing Bruce for more. He lets Bruce be the one to turn the press of their lips hard, to nip at his bottom lip. He doesn’t give an insistent tug on Bruce’s hip, but rather lets Bruce be the one to shift his weight and lift he knee up over Clint’s thigh, settle himself against his lap. He lets Bruce lead, tip his head back and kiss him harder. Clint slows him down, moves his hands from Bruce’s jaw to settle at his waist. He keeps them steady, keeps Bruce from rocking against him when he starts to get hard. He doesn’t want it to stop, none of it.

Bruce slides his thumbs over the stubbled line of Clint’s jaw, up to the hinge and over his ears. Clint finds himself opening his eyes and watching Bruce in the darkness of the room. The television flicks blues and whites across the ceiling, exaggerating shadows along the wall and painting Bruce in soft hues. His face is tense, eyes pinched shut, but Clint doesn’t have long to examine his face because Bruce breaks off from his mouth to attach his lips at Clint’s pulse.

He sucks hard and Clint finds himself gasping at the sudden sharp sensation against his skin. He pants out a soft breath that might have been Bruce’s name, and judging by the tight grip of fingers against his chest, he thinks it must have been. Clint cradles the back of his head, fingers twisting in soft curls as Bruce worries a mark into his skin. He tips his head to the side and allows it and Bruce squirms in closer, sucking harder as Clint sighs and pushes into the pressure of Bruce’s mouth.

“That’s it,” he finds himself rasping harshly. Bruce’s hips jerk forward suddenly, the stirring press of his dick against Clint’s stomach has him fumbling a hand to the small of Bruce’s back and holding him there. “That’s it,” he murmurs again, “keep going.”

Bruce’s groan is shaky at best. His hands tense and he sucks harder, the sharp pull at his skin making Clint wince against the pressure, but he allows it. The idea of walking around with Bruce’s mark on his neck ignites some primal spark deep in his belly that he doesn’t want to douse.

Clint doesn’t notice the way Bruce’s hips begin to rock against him until his weight presses heavily upon the trapped length of his cock against his thigh. He inhales sharply and Bruce rears back as though he’s been slapped across the face. He’s flushed, even in the dark light of the room, hair knotted where Clint was gripping his curls, lips damp and parted, looking dazed, as though he hasn’t been aware of anything he’s done in the past few minutes.

Clint leans his head back against the cushion and looks up at him. Bruce isn’t shorter by much more than an inch, but it’s still different to be looking up at him and not have Bruce’s skin be green, stretched tight over an impossible mass of muscle. He exhales shakily and closes his eyes a moment, willing his arousal to subside.

He’s not expecting the rock of Bruce’s hips when it comes and his eyes snap open as his hands shoot out to grip Bruce around the waist, holding him still. Bruce looks just as surprised as Clint feels.

“Should we stop?” he asks, voice thick and awkward sounding in his throat.

They stare at one another a moment before Bruce turns his wrist and glances at his watch. Clint can’t help but look too. It isn’t beeping yet; the numbers glowing back still relatively low, considering. Clint raises his eyebrows a bit and braces himself for the inevitable removal of Bruce from his lap.

He’s more surprised than he thinks he should be when Bruce says, “No,” shaking his head and grinding his hips down into Clint’s. “No.”

Clint sucks in a breath and closes his eyes when Bruce leans in closer, lips already parted for the press of Bruce’s mouth against his own. He threads his fingers through Bruce’s curls again and guides him in, closer, harder, resuming their poorly controlled descent. It feels so good and so incredibly right to have Bruce atop him, their hips rocking slowly, both of them hard and Bruce’s tongue in his mouth. It’s like it should be.

Clint winces inwardly at the thought and pulls harder at Bruce’s hair, leaning up to meet him easier. The result is a heavier downward push from Bruce and Clint groaning into his mouth. Bruce sucks in a breath and kisses him harder, hands tightening around Clint’s neck.

It feels good, so good at first. He’s always liked a little squeeze, the breathy sensation of too little oxygen to heighten the high, a too hard tug at his hair or a slap across the face. It can all be intensely good and Clint likes to think he’d try anything once, given the right partner. And Bruce is the right partner.

But then it’s not good. It’s too tight and Clint can’t inhale properly when he tries. He jerks underneath Bruce and tries to pull back, but Bruce holds him tight, fingers digging painfully into his neck.

“Bruce,” he tries to gasp but he doesn’t have the air for it.

Panic sets in and he bucks under him, hands tugging and pushing to try to force Bruce off of him when the sharp trill of his heart monitor breaks through it all.

Fuck.

Bruce,” he tries again, frantically pulling at Bruce’s hair as his airway is rapidly closed off. Bruce is going to crush his trachea, or his neck, if he doesn’t get him off. Clint is panicking when Bruce’s fingers suddenly loosen and he rears back, stumbling on his feet.

Clint sucks in a huge, gasping breath that burns and chokes him. He turns, gripping the armrest as he falls into a coughing fit, his entire body shaking as he fists his hands in the fabric. His throat aches violently, raw and sore beyond speaking when he forces himself to look at Bruce.

His only thought is a fierce and sudden, no, that he cannot give voice to.

Bruce is clutching his own head, breathing wildly out of control, staggering on his feet from side to side, shaking and twisting. His skin darkens before Clint’s eyes and his back arches convexly. Clint stumbles from the couch, nearly falling over his own feet in the process. He grabs Bruce’s forearms and forces words through his abused throat, tears springing to his eyes as he does.

“Bruce,” he rasps, “no, baby, no. Breathe. Please breathe. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” He squeezes Bruce’s arms as the other man thrashes against his grip. “Relax, Bruce, look at me, look at me.”

Clint is frozen in place when bright, unnaturally green eyes meet his own and he knows with a certain, horrible clarity that Bruce is gone.

An impossibly large hand pulls back, tearing from his grip, and smashes against his side, sending him hurtling into the wall. The impact is jarring and intense, his head slamming back, and for a moment, Clint feels nothing. Then the pain crashes into him like a head-on collision and he can’t help it, he cries out and slumps, dazed against a mocking indent of his own body hewn into the plaster. His vision goes dark and for a long, quiet moment he knows nothing but the darkness behind his own eyelids.

“Clint?” Bruce’s voice is sheer panic and there is a sharp pain that ignites in his shoulder and blossoms out across the back of his head when someone takes hold of his biceps. “Clint!”

Clint forces his eyes to open and looks dazedly up at Bruce. His shirt is split at the seams, stretched too wide at the hem, like a man several sizes too big had attempted to put it on. A hand on his chin tips his head up and Clint meets Bruce’s dark gaze. His eyes are wide and filled with fear; he looks close to tears. “Clint?” he asks softly.

Clint releases a breathy exhale that could pass for a questioning sound. His throat still throbs violently and his head feels like it’s splitting open in the back.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce rushes. “Are you okay? Can you move?”

“Fine,” Clint forces himself to grind out. “’s okay.”

Bruce lets out an incredulous laugh and kneels down between his haphazardly spread thighs. “Jesus, I’m so sorry, Clint.”

“You didn’t—” Clint attempts to assure him in a quiet whisper. “’s okay. ‘m all right.”

He takes Bruce’s hand when his fingers slip between Clint’s own and he squeezes. “I’m so sorry,” Bruce says again.

Clint is willing aside the pain in order to speak when there comes a rush of footsteps and suddenly Tony is there, a darkly shadowed form against the hall light.

“What the hell happened?” he asks, stepping into the room. “JARVIS said you were changing.”

Bruce looks up at the ceiling as though the AI might be lurking in visible form above them and Clint lets his head fall back against the dented plaster. His entire body hurts; he feels like he’s been thrown in front of a semi.

“Please help me,” Clint finally rasps out when Bruce remains silent and Tony doesn’t make a move toward either one of them.

They both snap out of it at the same time and Tony squats down beside him. “You good to move? Your spine and everything in tact?”

“I think so,” Clint whispers, throat absolutely on fire.

Bruce looks positively miserable on top of his palpable shame. “I’m so sorry,” he says again, reaching out to take hold of Clint’s arm while Tony goes for the other.

Clint knows pain again, sickeningly bright, and he hisses out a sharp, “Wait, wait, fuck,” and slaps at Tony’s grip on him with his other hand. “My shoulder’s dislocated.”

“You sure?”

Clint would punch Tony in the face if he could make a fist. “Yes, I’m fucking sure.”

“No need to get testy, mother bird.”

“Fuck you.”

“No thanks.”

Bruce makes a strange sound and feeds his arm underneath Clint’s operable one. “Can we get him up, please?” he interrupts.

Tony shrugs and helps balance him once Clint has staggered to his feet, leaning heavily on Bruce. He sucks in a breath and holds it. He hasn’t been this banged up in a long time, and that is saying something. Absolutely everything inside of him hurts; he realizes in this moment what it must feel like to bear the full brunt of a Hulk attack: pure pain.

Bruce is staring worried holes into the side of his head but Clint can barely keep his eyes open through the pained wince his eyes are narrowed to as they lead him toward the couch.

“Hold on,” Tony tells him as Bruce guides his hand to the back of it. “On three.” Tony places the heel of one hand on the front of Clint’s shoulder and his fist against his shoulder blade. Clint nods and takes a slow breath, arm beginning to shake with the pain of it. “One—” Tony pushes hard.

The sound of his joint moving back into place nearly triggers Clint’s gag reflex and he muffles a shout, leaning forward as Tony lets go, only to find Bruce’s hand on his chest, keeping him upright. Clint half expects Bruce to shy away from his gaze but he doesn’t. His eyebrows are knitted together in worry and he keeps close to Clint’s side. Everything about his body language is embarrassed but beyond that is clear and potent worry.

“You okay?” he asks quietly.

Clint nods. “I’m fine.” He pats Bruce’s hand before he squeezes his fingers and then turns to look at Tony who is watching them expectantly.

“So,” Tony starts. “You wanna explain here or down in the infirmary?”

“Infirmary,” Clint and Bruce acknowledge at the same time.

Tony gestures toward the door and Bruce moves, pulling Clint’s (mostly) uninjured arm over his shoulder. Clint could get along without it but he leans into Bruce, curling his fingers in the stretched sleeve of his shirt. He allows Bruce to help him carry his own weight as much for the assistance as to soothe Bruce’s tangible worry.

“I’m okay,” he assures once they’re in the elevator, descending rapidly toward the nearest infirmary, but Bruce doesn’t meet his gaze for the first time. Clint leans his head over until his temple rests against the top of Bruce’s head. He wants to say more but with Tony beside them, watching them intently and listening all the same, all he can do is reiterate. Bruce just worries his bottom lip and doesn’t look up.

 

--

 

Bruce finds it difficult, for the first time since he met Clint, to look him in the eye, even when the first time had been right after the capture of Loki and he’d been completely naked. Clint had been the one to drape a blanket over his shoulders until Tony could come up with something for him to wear. He still remembers pulling the fleece against his chest and looking sheepishly up at the archer, mumbling his thanks. Clint had just clasped his shoulder and squeezed, offering a gentle, easy smile.

Now, however, now Clint is leaning on him, trusting Bruce to bear his weight as he gingerly settles on the side of an uncomfortable-looking hospital bed. Tony is off, bustling around, making a racket of opening up cupboards and drawers, speaking to JARVIS while Bruce stands beside the bed.

Clint is still cradling his shoulder, making the pain still present wildly obvious. Clint has a poker face the likes of which Bruce has never seen before, and Bruce is struck firmly with the realization that he is either in nearly intolerable pain or that he trusts Bruce enough to show him any level of pain he’s experiencing. Either scenario twists his gut unpleasantly because Bruce is responsible for the starburst of black and blue already spidering out from underneath Clint’s short sleeve, down his arm. He drops his head further and pinches his eyes shut, rubbing at them with his thumb and forefinger.

Clint’s hand on his neck at the join of his shoulder makes him look up without thinking. There are deep, intense lines of pain etched across Clint’s forehead and creasing the corners of his eyes but Clint still smiles at him, the corners of his mouth lifting briefly and then dropping when Bruce doesn’t return it.

“That wasn’t your fault,” Clint says quietly, even though Tony is still making a racket on the other side of the room.

Bruce glances at him before over at Clint, drawing in a slow breath and letting it out even slower. He rubs at his wrist where his heart monitor should be, feeling next to naked without it. “How was that not my fault?”

“I should have stopped,” Clint says, keeping his voice to a low murmur meant for Bruce’s ears only.

Bruce licks his bottom lip and shakes his head. “I should have stopped. I know me… I know him better than you do. I knew better. And you got hurt because of it.”

Clint’s shaking his head, moving his hand to cup the joint of his jaw, but Tony approaches and Bruce takes hold of his wrist and lowers his hand. Clint gives him a wounded look but Bruce keeps his eyes on Tony as he fills a syringe with a clear liquid, holding the cap in his mouth as he eyes the dosage.

“All right, Barton,” he says, mumbling around it as he flicks the needle, getting all of the air bubbles to the surface and forcing them out with a measured push of the plunger. “Choose your vein.”

Clint holds out his left arm and squeezes his hand into a fist. Bruce watches as his veins stand out against his tanned skin. Tony rubs an alcohol swab over the crook of his elbow and then injects him easily.

Clint hisses in a breath and closes his eyes. Bruce can’t help but put his hand over Clint’s other one, lying limply in his lap. Tony disposes of the needle and comes back with thin roll of medical tape.

“You do that a lot?” Clint asks, as Tony affixes a cotton swab to the injection site and tapes it down.

“You’d be surprised how much pain this thing can cause,” Tony says, tapping a finger against the glowing reactor in the middle of his chest. “Not so much anymore, but it’s never pleasant to get hit in it.” Tony leans against the bed, glancing at Bruce’s hand on Clint’s before he looks up again. “You need stitches?”

Clint reaches back to gently feel around his scalp for any wayward laceration he might not have been aware of but his fingers come away free from blood and Bruce rubs at his face again. Clint takes hold of his wrist and pulls his hand away.

“I think I’m good,” Clint finally says. “My head still hurts like a motherfucker though.”

“The morphine’ll get to that.” Tony crosses his arms loosely over his chest and Bruce mentally steels himself against the inquisition he knows is coming. “So. You two wanna explain why I almost had to rebuild my Tower for the second time this year?”

Bruce rolls his lips inward to bite at them. He’s felt remarkably at ease around Tony since they first met, but this is a level of privacy he’s not sure he’s willing to share yet, or even able to give voice to. This is something he shares privately with Clint and no one else. He doesn’t know the correct way out of this situation, especially not with Tony looking at the both of them so intently. He’s a little surprised when Clint makes the decision for them.

“Tell him.”

Bruce’s eyebrows knot together and he shakes his head minutely. “Clint,” he says quietly. “What do you want me to say?”

Clint squeezes his fingers reassuringly around Bruce’s wrist and turns to Tony. “We were — things got a little… out of control.”

Tony’s eyebrows inch upward. “Oh?” Then a moment later they fall, bunching together. “Oh. And… what? Your heart rate got too high?”

Bruce scrubs a hand over his face but he nods. “Yeah,” he says with a sigh. “It always does.”

“We always stop before it gets to that point,” Clint tells him, reaching up to cup the back of Bruce’s neck. The touch feels strangely foreign and a little bit like Clint is petting a wayward animal but it’s not unwelcome so Bruce doesn’t shrug him off.

Tony’s eyes flick back and forth between the two of them as he does the proverbial math and then his mouth drops open a little. “You mean you two haven’t…”

“No,” Clint says before Tony can find an appropriately vulgar verb to fill the silence.

“Never?”

“No.”

“Not even… anything?” Tony looks aghast at the idea.

No,” Clint stresses, irritation edging in on his voice, painting it dark as he turns to look at Tony again.

Bruce runs his hand through his hair and sighs, drawing Tony’s attention. “I haven’t been able to have sex since the accident.”

Tony merely blinks at him a moment before he says, “That was years ago.”

“I know.” Ordinarily Bruce feels like his face would be flushed and he’d be unable to properly meet either of their gazes but, as it stands, with Clint banged up beside him because of the Other Guy and Bruce’s own lack of control, he just can’t bring himself to be embarrassed. “Trust me, I know.”

“But—”

Tony,” Clint says loudly, just this side of snapping.

“It’s okay,” Bruce tries to assure him, putting a hand on his thigh as Clint blinks sluggishly; the morphine must be starting to kick in.

“No it’s not,” Clint says, reaching down to cover it with his own as he looks to Tony, swaying just slightly. “This isn’t your business.”

Tony’s arms fold against his chest. “Sure,” he agrees too easily. “Why don’t you lay down before you pass out and hit your head again?”

Clint goes down readily as Bruce helps him lift his legs up onto the bed. They remain bent and sprawled at awkward angles as Clint’s eyelids fall shut. He mumbles to Bruce, fingers still closed around the sleeve of his shirt, even as he seems to drift off. Bruce is reluctant to prize his arm from Clint’s grip. He sets his hand gently down beside his hip and straightens out Clint’s legs before he turns to Tony, who has backed away to sit on a rolling stool by the table nearest the wall.

Bruce lets out a slow breath, feeling his chest begin to tighten with anxiety. He rubs subconsciously at his wrist where his heart monitor should be and quietly makes his way over.

Tony is adjusting a small row of glass vials in order from tallest to shortest, staring down intently when Bruce leans against the table. He feels as though he’s on the defensive for the first time, the first real time, since he’s met Stark. Tony has been wildly accepting of him and his abnormality from the moment they truly met, and then had taken him in when he really had nowhere else to go. He’s protected him from S.H.I.E.L.D., lying on his behalf ever since Bruce took up residence in the Tower. Tony has done nothing but help him and now Bruce feels suddenly awkward and uncomfortable under his gaze and it tightens his stomach uncomfortably. He folds his arms and looks down when Tony glances up.

“You should have told me.”

“Told you what? That I can’t get hard without the Other Guy rearing his head?” Bruce asks, feeling the back of his neck begin to heat. He picks at his sleeves but keeps his gaze steady on Tony’s. This is something he’s lived with for years now, since the accident, and it’s only recently become a problem he’s looked to solve, but he’s not ashamed of it or himself.

Tony holds his hands up and leans back against the table, one foot rolling him back and forth a few inches. “Why not?”

“Because it’s not any of your business.”

“You wrecking my Tower is my business,” Tony says, tapping his fingertip against the table. He doesn’t sound angry, however. He looks nothing beyond exasperated, really.

“It won’t happen again,” Bruce says, feeling tense as his voice comes out terser than he’d intended.

Tony’s lips purse as he falls into thought, finger tapping harder and louder a moment before he stands. “You’re right, it won’t. Because I’m going to fix this.”

Bruce feels his mouth drop open and he stumbles over a few aborted sentences before he shakes his head. “Tony, you can’t fix it.”

Tony has a look in his eye, one Bruce has become familiar with over the past couple of months. He knows that look of solid determination and how his eyes light when the cogs increase their pace in his ever-working mind. “Of course I can fix it,” he dismisses, keeping his voice down, aware of Clint lying across the room. His gaze flicks over, landing on the sleeping archer several feet away, before he looks back to Bruce. “We can fix it.”

“No. Tony—”

“Hear me out,” he says, waving his hands a little between them as Bruce shakes his head.

“No, you’re not listening to me.”

“Just… think about it. If you and I go in on this together, there’s nothing we can’t figure out,” Tony says, voice tinged with just the slightest hint of excitement. The thrill of a new problem presenting itself to one of the world’s greatest minds is a challenge that Tony cannot back down from. Bruce isn’t sure if he should feel touched or mildly offended that Tony sees his sex life as the issue at hand. He tries to feel neither, running both hands through his hair, cheeks puffing up as he blows out a breath. “You’re my friend,” Tony says seriously, “let me do this for you.” When Bruce can do nothing more but bite at the inside of his lower lip, Tony switches to another tactic. “Come on,” he says quietly, taking hold of Bruce’s shoulders and turning him toward Clint. “What about him?”

“Low blow.”

“It’s not a blow, it’s the truth. You two have been doing your thing for what? Four months now?” Bruce finds himself nodding as his eyes crawl over Clint’s unusually prone form. This isn’t a way Bruce is used to seeing him and it unnerves him as much as it shames him that he’s the one who put Clint on that bed. “That’s patience I don’t know another man alive to hold.” Tony lets go of him and steps into his line of sight. “It can’t be that hard to fix. We just need to keep your heart rate steady.”

“And how are we going to do that?” Bruce asks sardonically. He winces internally the moment the words leave his mouth because Tony’s lips part in a grin.

He grasps Bruce again. “We’ll figure it out. I promise.” He claps him on the shoulders twice before he gestures to Clint. “Might wanna keep it hushed up, though. Something tells me mother bird won’t approve too much.” Bruce has a feeling that Tony is much closer to the truth than either himself or Clint would like. He glances over one more time before back to Tony. He nods and Tony squeezes his shoulder once more. “Good man,” he assures, stepping around Bruce and heading for the door. “When he gets back to archery practice, meet me in my lab. We’ll run some blood work and see what we can come up with.”

Before Bruce has a moment to get a word in, Tony has left the room, the glass door closing silently behind him. The idea of having his blood draw and tested, even if it’s for his own proposed benefit, terrifies him on some deep, primal level he doesn’t think belongs entirely to himself. He can feel the distant fear he knows is not only his own.

Bruce feels like he’s just gone a few rounds with Natasha for how exhausted he is. He considers going back to his room to try to catch some sleep, but the idea of Clint down here, waking alone and aching, isn’t a thought that Bruce can easily push aside.

With a quiet sigh, he pulls the most comfortable looking chair in the room over to the side of Clint’s bed and settles down for the night.

He sleeps fitfully and his dreams are little more than poorly disguised nightmares.

 

--

 

Tony draws four vials of Bruce’s blood the next evening and then disappears into his lab. Bruce insists on coming with him, helping him, but something inside of him is truly terrified at the prospect of his blood outside the confines of his veins. The idea of Tony touching it, exposing himself to the radiation, anything… it scares him. This man is his first friend, his first real companion in so many long and lonely years and he can’t dispel the nagging worry that something might happen and Tony will suffer the consequences for merely trying to help him.

“I’ve got this under control, you know,” Tony tells him as he subjects one of the samples of Bruce’s blood to mass spectrometry. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

“Gamma radiation doesn’t exactly follow the rules.” He tries to keep the self-depreciative tone from his voice but he doesn’t think he quite manages it.

Bruce rubs at the blank space on his wrist and then runs his thumb up his exposed forearm to the place where Tony had drawn his blood, already healed with no sign of needle mark in sight. Tony’s eyes follow the movement and then he pushes away from the table and whirring machine to the nearest desk. He rifles through for a moment before he draws out a small box and tosses it to Bruce.

“I assume Mr. Hyde broke the other one last night,” Tony says, rolling himself back to the table as the machine slows and then finally stills. “JARVIS, pull up the mass-to-charge ratios.”

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS says and the table lights up before him. Bruce glances up from where he’s affixing the new heart monitor to his wrist and shakes his curls back from his eyes.

Tony speaks again before Bruce can even fully absorb the data in front of him. “You’re toxic.”

Bruce huffs a breath and straightens, folding his arms against his chest. “I told you.”

Tony turns to him. “Yeah, you did. Now we work around it.” Bruce rubs at his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “Think of your bird.”

“You can’t work around it, Tony. I’m infectious to him. Being with me in any capacity… anything that would bring him into contact with my DNA would hurt him.” Bruce rolls his lips into his mouth and bites down. He knew that Tony’s efforts were likely completely futile but the hope, the small, awful part of him that had dared to hope for something, not even a cure, but a way to be close to someone again, had blossomed and now he’s weighted and wilting as though Thor had placed Mjölnir on his chest.

“I can work around anything,” Tony says with a dismissive wave of his hand. He reaches up to swipe his finger across the information displayed above the table and strikes something out. Bruce can’t bring himself to look, because trying to make himself understand it would be an attempt to bring back his hope.

“Clint wouldn’t like this.”

“He’ll love it if we get it right.”

Bruce sighs heavily and it draws Tony’s gaze to him. “I can’t do this. I can’t help you. He’ll be angry.”

Tony eyes him a moment before he shrugs. “Do whatever you want but I don’t think this is anything a mild sedative and a couple of condoms can’t fix.”

Bruce feels his cheeks heating but he turns away instead. “Forget it, Tony,” he says, purposefully making his way toward the door. He knows this isn’t the last he’s heard of it, however. If the silence from Tony’s end weren’t telling enough then the knowledge that he’s working with one of the smartest, most stubborn men on the planet is.

He lets the door close quietly behind him and makes his way back toward Clint’s floor.

 

--

 

Clint’s eyes clench against both the sweat running into his eyes and strain in his aching forearms. He has a full gym available to him with the highest end work out equipment (which he does take full and decent advantage of) but sometimes the bar he had placed across the top of his closet doorway offers more of a worthwhile distraction than anything else.

He likes the simplicity of it, hoisting himself, dependant on nothing but his own strength to draw himself up. It’s nothing but him and the force of gravity working against him as he grits his teeth and touches his chin to the top of the bar for the hundredth time. He lowers himself back to his feet with a breath of relief, grabbing the towel he’d thrown over a nearby chair to wipe his face and rub through his hair.

Bruce is watching him over the top of his book, sitting up against the headboard in the sweats he sleeps in and a well-loved Beatles shirt. Clint grins at him as he makes his way over, flopping down carelessly on the bed and turning over until his head is resting on Bruce’s thigh and he’s staring up at the ceiling.

“You stink,” Bruce says, turning a page and then marking his place.

“You weren’t complaining while I was working out,” Clint says, tipping his head back to glance up at Bruce, offering him a teasing grin and a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.

Bruce ruffles his damp hair, seemingly unconcerned with the way Clint’s sweat is seeping into the fabric of his sleep pants. “True enough,” he finally offers.

Clint turns back to the ceiling, closing his eyes to the sensation of Bruce carding slow, careful fingers repeatedly through his hair. His bare chest begins to cool in the air-conditioned room and he runs a hand absently down his stomach to rest at the waist of his own sweats.

“I wish you weren’t leaving,” Bruce says quietly.

Clint’s eyes crack open again and he looks back to Bruce. “It’s only for a week.”

Bruce isn’t looking at him however and his hand drops to rest gently over Clint’s throat. “Doesn’t change the fact that I wish you weren’t leaving.”

Clint rubs his head back and forth a moment before he rolls over onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows and looks up at Bruce. The bedside light isn’t blinding but he finds himself squinting a little against it as he stares at Bruce’s haloed form.

“I wish you were coming with me,” Clint says quietly, reaching out to trace a finger over the dark outline that his sweaty head left on Bruce’s thigh. “You could, if you wanted to.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea and you know that,” Bruce says quietly.

Clint looks up again, rubbing at his chin now with his hand. “Yeah, I know what you think.” He rolls over and sits up on the edge of the bed, bringing the towel up to wipe at the freshly formed beads of sweat dotting his hairline.

Behind him he can hear Bruce sigh. “Going into an open conflict is a stupid idea, Clint. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s turning a blind eye to me right now but I’m one giant mistake away from going on the run again.”

Clint turns quickly to look at him. “I won’t let that happen.”

“You can’t control everything, Clint,” Bruce says, setting his book aside and taking his glasses off, folding and setting them gently atop the battered hardcover.

“I can protect you.”

Bruce smiles like he’s trying not to but can’t seem to help himself. “I don’t need you to protect me, Clint. I need to stay out of volatile situations. Trust me, I know how just how much stress my body can handle.”

Clint draws his knee up and rests his elbow on his thigh. He’s settling in for the long haul but Bruce has apparently learned the signs too well and he gets up from the bed before Clint can protest further. “It’s just a recon mission, Bruce. You wouldn’t even have to leave camp.”

“Then why go?” Clint stands and paces around to meet him at the foot of the bed. Bruce has his arms folded against his chest but he doesn’t look defensive. “If I’m not going to be useful then I’ll stay here and help Tony with some things. Or get back to my research.”

Clint feels something cold slither its way down his spine. “Your research,” he repeats.

“Yeah.”

“Your gamma research,” Clint says, looking for a confirmation but hoping for a denial. “Your super solider gamma research.”

Bruce waves a hand at him and shakes his head. “Don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what?”

“I gave my life over to that project, Clint,” he starts, but Clint is all too ready to cut him off, anger welling up rapidly within him as quickly as panic sets in.

“You don’t have to do that anymore,” Clint says loudly, just the soft side of yelling. “Steve fucking Rogers is two floors down. Just go ask him for a sample of his blood. What’s there to fucking research?”

“Don’t yell at me,” Bruce snaps. “I am not a child.”

“No, but you’re a fucking idiot.” Clint rips the towel from around his shoulders and throws it to the floor. He doesn’t wait for Bruce’s response and he slams the door behind him, unwilling to hear whatever bullshit excuse Bruce has apparently conjured up to make continuing his work with the serum seem necessary and rational.

Clint washes with quick precision, anger still boiling helplessly in his stomach. He can’t enjoy the relaxing of his muscles or allow the steam to sap his remaining energy and tire him for bed. He punches the wall of the shower and immediately regrets it as the tile gives nothing and pain shoots up his arm.

“Fuck,” he spits. “Fucking stupid.”

He turns the water off and steps out. It’s quick work to dry off and redress when he’s still brimming with the helpless fury and overwhelming worry Bruce seems to be able to draw from him with little effort.

He’s not surprised to find his room empty, and checking with JARVIS confirms that Bruce has vacated Clint’s floor for the silence of his own. He heaves a sigh and heads for the elevator.

 

--

 

Bruce is expecting Clint to follow him, despite it not being his intent in having left to draw Clint up to his floor. He needs a moment to breathe and lower the slightly elevated spike of his heart rate but Clint gives him neither, barging in without so much as a call on the com to tell him he’s coming up.

Clint looks only slightly murderous but the set of his shoulders is sagging and his eyes are tired. Bruce knows that he’s worried, he accepts it, not truly thinking himself entirely deserving of the strong feelings Clint harbors for him. He doesn’t need coddling, however. He got along just fine before the accident and has learned to control himself to the best of his ability since then. He doesn’t need the concern or the ferocity with which Clint looks out for him but no part of him protests the tiny, weak need in his brain to allow Clint to pull him into a painful hug the moment he’s within reach.

“You make me fucking crazy,” Clint murmurs against his graying temple, pressing a hard kiss to his skin through his hair.

“The feeling’s mutual,” Bruce assures gently, running his hands up Clint’s back, feeling the well defined contours of muscle hidden by a soft layer of cotton. Clint always feels so good to him. He likes to think it isn’t weakness that draws him in or keeps him here, but the natural, masculine scent of the archer has him sinking into the touch, as weak as anything Bruce has ever hated himself for being.

Clint tips his head back and kisses him hard and chaste. It lingers but doesn’t go further. He strokes at Bruce’s hair a moment leans in to press their foreheads together.

“Please don’t do this,” Clint implores gently.

Bruce feels his hackles go up but Clint continues to pet at his unruly curls, attempting to soothe him. “Clint,” he begins with a sigh.

“I get it,” Clint tells him. “I understand that that project was your life, but you don’t need it anymore, Bruce. You don’t need the serum and even if you did, we’ve got the original super soldier here. He’d help you if you asked him.”

Bruce leans back but Clint pulls him in again with a hand on the back of his neck. “Clint, stop.”

“Listen to me,” Clint tries. “How do you think Steve would react if he found out what you were doing?” Bruce inadvertently drops his gaze but Clint follows it, dipping his head down to catch Bruce’s eyes again. “He’d flip. And rightly so. It’s his life and you want to experiment with it.”

“Replicate it,” Bruce corrects.

“Fine. Replicate it. But ask him to help. Ask him for his blood and for god’s sake, don’t do it if he says no.”

Bruce is quiet for a moment. He almost doesn’t think that Clint has a right to ask this of him. It’s true, he doesn’t need the serum. The idea has long-since been scrapped in his mind when he fell victim to his own gamma radiation. He hasn’t even thought about it in the past few years, focusing instead on helping people rather than attempting to aid the government in building a perfect army.

“It’s not that I even really want to finish the project,” Bruce finally says, meeting Clint’s gaze evenly. “I gave everything for it. I just want to finish what I started.” Clint’s lips part and Bruce can see the protest forming on his tongue before he even takes a breath to voice it. “You’re right, though. I can’t do this without Steve knowing.”

“You can help people, Bruce,” Clint tells him, hand sliding down to cup the back of his neck. “You can do so much more than… this.”

“You’re right,” Bruce agrees, watching when Clint draws away, eyebrows furrowing together.

“I am?”

Bruce huffs a laugh. “I can do other things.” At Clint’s silence he feels himself prompted into speaking and continues. “I can work on fixing myself.”

After an elongated silence, Clint narrows his eyes and shakes his head. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

Bruce laughs louder this time. “There’s plenty wrong with me.”

“Bruce—”

“I can’t have sex with you,” Bruce says, voice quiet but even. “I can’t touch you, hell, I can’t even kiss you for long periods of time.”

Clint shakes his head again. “That’s not—”

“I’ve never had my hands on you. I want it,” Bruce’s voice drops, barely above a whisper as he continues. “I want it so bad, Clint. And I can’t have it.”

Clint’s eyes are eerily bright in the relative darkness of the hall. “People live without sex, Bruce. I have two hands.”

“So do I, but I can’t use them.” Clint’s touch falls away and he rubs a hand over his face, leaving it clasped over his mouth as he watches Bruce. He looks frustrated and Bruce knows that he’s biting his tongue but he doesn’t let him voice his thoughts. “I can’t touch you, Clint. It makes me insane to have you so close to me and know that that’s all I can have.”

“You’re not broken, Bruce,” Clint tells him, voice tinged with the ferocity that lies just under his skin.

“Part of me is,” Bruce contradicts. “And I might be able to fix it.”

“How?” Clint says, though it’s clearly an exasperated protest. “How are you gonna do that?”

“Tony thinks—”

Clint snorts. “Right, Tony. Listen to him over me.”

“He thinks he can counteract my heart rate,” Bruce presses on as though Clint hadn’t spoken. “He thinks he can stop me from changing.”

“You’re not a lab rat, Bruce,” Clint snaps.

“It’s my body, Clint,” Bruce tells him, pushing Clint’s hands away from him and taking a step back. “I care about you, I really do, but this isn’t your decision. It’s mine and if Tony can help, if I can help myself live a normal life, then that’s what I’m going to do.” Clint’s mouth opens like he wants to say something but Bruce finds that he doesn’t want to hear another word. Instead, he leans in and presses his lips to Clint’s, allowing it to linger as Clint returns the pressure, his fingertips ghosting along the crooks of Bruce’s elbows before Bruce steps back and turns away entirely, heading down the hall toward his bedroom. Both Natasha and Clint leave in the morning for recon in Baltimore and he would love to spend the final few hours of quiet they have together but he’s suddenly in no mood for it.

“Bruce,” Clint says quietly, unmoved from where Bruce left him.

“I’ll see you when you get back,” Bruce says quietly, a clear dismissal if ever there was one.

Clint looks as though he’s about to protest, but instead he turns on his heel and heads back to the elevator. Bruce stands in the doorway to his bedroom and watches until Clint steps out of sight.

 

--

 

Clint tries to go back down to his floor, he honestly, truly does, standing stock still in the elevator with his thumb dead center over the button with the bow and arrow on it for a good minute. He goes back and forth with himself, half of his mind telling him to trust in Bruce and just go back to his room, get some sleep before he and Natasha fly out in the morning. The other half of his mind rages against the idea of Tony trying to help Bruce change himself, as though he isn’t good enough the way he is now.

Clint jams the button for Tony’s private lab and slams himself back against the mirrored wall behind him. He feels petulant and childish but the rage building in his stomach and beneath his ribs has him storming out of the elevator as soon as the gap between the doors can accommodate him.

He doesn’t know the access code to Tony’s private workstations but when he bangs on the glass wall, Tony looks over at him and then strides over to let him in. Stark looks exhausted, his hair rumpled and clumped in places where he’s obviously fisted a hand in it and tugged.

“Where’s the fire, Legolas?”

“Shut up,” Clint snaps.

Tony’s eyebrows shoot up and he shifts his weight, inadvertently cocking his hip a little. “You know, they make medication for these monthly issues,” Tony says, arms crossing against his chest. “Works wonders I hear.”

“What did you say to Bruce?” Clint demands, not rising to the bait.

“I think the real question is why haven’t you said it?” Tony counters.

“What are you talking about?”

Tony shrugs. “He told you about what we’re doing, or what I’m doing, rather, since he’s afraid of how you’ll react, and I can see you’ve handled it like a champ so far.”

“He’s not broken, Stark,” Clint growls, taking a step closer.

“Please,” Tony says, putting his hand to Clint’s chest, keeping him where he stands. “Don’t come down to my lab, in my Tower, where you live for free, might I add, and threaten me.” Clint forces himself to take a breath and Tony drops his hand, turning to head back to his table. “Besides, I never said he was broken, you did. He just needs a little fixing.”

Clint follows him and uses his knee to keep Tony from turning his chair back toward the interface he has pulled up in front of him. “He’s fine the way he is.”

Tony stares at him for a long moment, eyes narrowed, searching Clint’s own and Clint doesn’t even dare to blink. He’s not willing to back down from this; Bruce already thinks lowly enough of himself without the help of anyone else, least of all his own friends.

Eventually Tony leans back against his chair and puts a hand on the table. “You think this is about you.”

“Why else would he be doing this?”

“For himself,” Tony counters easily as he stands again. “And you’re not willing to give him the space to sort that out properly.”

Clint leans back, his blood running more than a little cold. “I don’t want him to change anything for me.”

“He’s not doing anything for you. He’s doing it for himself. You ever think about why he’s so angry all the time? The man hasn’t had an orgasm in three years, it’s no wonder he’s on edge.”

Clint blinks, suddenly at a loss of what to say. “He doesn’t need to do this,” he says quietly.

“Yeah he does, Barton. He wants a normal life and he can’t have it because he’s got fucking Godzilla living just under his skin and there’s no taking that away. But if he can find a way to have sex with you, for whatever reason he might find that appealing, then I say he should take it. Orgasms are a small thing to ask for in the grand scheme of things when you have the ability to tear down Manhattan if you ever lose your temper.”

Tony turns from him then and drops back down in his seat, pulling himself up to the table again and reaching up to swipe his finger over the bright blue lines of text that Clint finds himself unable to focus on. He reaches up to rub at his eyes when his sight blurs.

“Fuck,” Clint murmurs against his palm, scrubbing his hand over his face and up into his hair. “Fuck, I don’t know what to do.”

“He’s a big boy, Barton. Let him make his own decisions. Especially when they can only benefit you,” Tony says, still not looking at him.

“And what if you’re wrong? What if both of you are wrong about this and there isn’t a way to fix it?” Clint asks, staring off across the lab into Tony’s workspace. There are half-finished bits of machinery lying on tables and the floor while a diagnostic runs along the far wall. Clint could read it if he really tried, despite the distance, but his eyes are burning and his head is beginning to pound.

Tony still doesn’t look up at him when he says, “I’m never wrong.”

“Well you better make goddamn sure you’re right about this, because if you fuck him up in any way, I’ll put an arrow right through your trachea.”

Tony shrugs off the threat with a wave of his hand. “He’s my friend,” he offers easily. “I wouldn’t give him something unless I was sure it was going to work.” When Clint can’t think of anything else to say that won’t incite another argument or anything that could be termed unthreatening, he just turns to leave, the door closing near silently behind him.

In the elevator, his thumb hovers over the bow and arrow for a long time again before he finally moves over one and presses the outline of a blocky fist instead.

 

--

 

Bruce wakes when he feels his mattress shift. Clint is quiet and careful as he climbs in under the covers and moves in behind him. Despite the close proximity, though, Clint doesn’t close the distance.

Bruce gives up the pretense of sleep and fumbles behind himself for Clint’s hand. He leads it around his waist and shifts around to move back as Clint presses up against him. Clint’s fingers are cold against the bare skin of his stomach where he pushes up under the hem of his shirt but Bruce doesn’t mind.

Clint presses soft lips to the back of his neck and settles against the pillow without a word.

Bruce falls asleep to the steady rise and fall of his chest against his back.

 

--

 

Clint leaves with Natasha in the morning for Baltimore and Bruce finds himself weighted down with an oppressive sort of lethargy he can’t seem to shake. He watches the sun rise through the open shades and reminds himself that he’s missed his opportunity for pre-rush hour yoga on the roof when the honking begins far below. It isn’t until late morning that he finally flips the covers back and slides out of bed.

He showers slowly, standing under the spray with his eyes tightly closed, focusing on the fact that Clint will be gone for a week but the countdown until he returns has already begun as well. It’s not that he hangs his ability to function or his happiness on Clint’s proximity to him, but he knows well enough that he feels better when the archer is around. And that soothes the discontented growl the Other Guy emits constantly through his brain.

Bruce towels off, dresses and heads out to his personal kitchen to make himself a cup of decaf. Normally he spends his mornings in the common kitchen but without Clint there as a buffer he feels raw and his nerves edge along a fine line of discomfort, so he keeps to himself until he heads down to Tony’s lab.

Tony waves him in with a command to JARVIS to open the door. He looks as though he hasn’t slept yet but before Bruce can make a comment on it, Tony takes the offered mug of coffee Bruce holds out and furrows his brows at him.

“You look like hell.”

“Yes, thank you for pointing that out,” Bruce says, reaching up to run a hand through his unruly hair. He keeps meaning to have it cut, but the occasional irritation of his curls in his eyes is a small price to pay for the sensation of Clint’s fingers carding through it.

Tony stands and stretches his back, making a face at the coffee in his cup. “Decaf?” he asks.

“I don’t have the caffeinated kind in my kitchen,” Bruce tells him.

Tony shrugs after a moment and takes another drink. “I need to sleep soon anyway.” He sets the mug down and rubs his palms against his pant legs. “Okay, so,” he says, turning back to the data projected above the table. “From what I can gather, I think all we need is a mild sedative for you to be able to get your jollies with bird man.”

Bruce’s eyebrows bunch together. “You’re a poet, Tony.”

“I know, now focus,” he says, drawing Bruce closer. Bruce reaches for his glasses, hanging at the neck of his shirt before he leans over. “Your heart rate hits two hundred and it’s wrath of the Titans out there. But, if we sedate you lightly it should keep you calm enough to complete the act without squishing Barton.”

Bruce watches as the diagnostic runs before him. A proposed heart rate is monitored, jumping along steadily. Tony queues up another chart and Bruce reads this as well. “You think it’ll keep my stress levels down long enough?”

“Why, you planning on a sex marathon or something?”

Bruce pulls his glasses off and drops his gaze. He doesn’t flush but he only manages not to do so by occupying himself with cleaning his lenses on the hem of his shirt. “How long will it last?”

“I’m not sure. We’d have to run tests, get your heart rate up after JARVIS finishes producing the sedative.” Tony turns and leans against the table, arms folded and one foot propped up on its heel, rocking back and forth.

“You’re already making it?”

“Should be done within the hour.”

Bruce feels suddenly dizzy. “That’s… soon.”

Tony studies him a moment and then shrugs. “We should wait until I sleep a little first anyway. You might want to lie down for a while too. You’re gonna be running for a long time.”

“Running?” Bruce asks, hooking his glasses back over the throat of his shirt by the arm.

“On a treadmill. Get the heart rate up and keep it up,” Tony tells him, clapping him on the arm. “You’re rugged and manly and all but I’m not having sex with you to test this out.”

Bruce huffs a breath. “Thanks.” Bruce meets Tony’s gaze when he asks, “What if this doesn’t work and I… can’t control my reaction?”

“It’ll work,” Tony assures him.

Bruce doesn’t bother to argue. He knows full well that he should voice his concerns over everything, numerous as they are, but the idea of Clint coming home to Manhattan, home to him, and being able to tumble into bed together, Clint fucking him senseless like he’s been dying for the past few months, it has him nodding, regardless of the anxiety twisting his stomach into knots.

“Go. Nap. Prepare,” Tony tells him, shooing him off with both hands.

Bruce goes silently.

 

--

 

Bruce hasn’t done a lot of physical running lately. Metaphorical running, yes, but he hasn’t physically had to run anywhere since he escaped the Army in Harlem.

Now, with his shirt off and sweat running in steady rivulets into his eyes and his throat dry and sore from breathing through his mouth, legs screaming at him, he wishes he had. He’s not exactly built in the image of the gods like some of them (literally are) but Bruce isn’t in bad shape by any stretch of the imagination. He’s kept up with his strength training and taken up yoga to remain limber but this is pushing his limits.

The Holter monitors attached to his chest relay his vitals to JARVIS and back to Tony, who is watching them closely from a nearby computer screen.

“Push it harder,” Tony tells him, “you’re almost there.”

Bruce had removed the heart monitor from his wrist when they began and now he isn’t sure what his beats per minute is averaging, but he knows it’s wildly elevated. His heart is pounding against his ribcage and it feels like he’s very nearly at his limit. Bruce drops his head a moment and gathers up the energy to increase his pace. His feet throb with every step and his lungs are beginning to ache for more oxygen than they’re being allowed.

“What am I at?”

“Just keep going,” Tony assures him.

Bruce grits his teeth and closes his eyes hard for a moment before he opens them again and pins them on a discoloration on the wall across from him. He watches it and breathes and focuses on pushing himself harder and further. He imagines Clint coming home to him, improved over what he was when he left. He envisions himself as he could be, the way Clint would touch him without hesitation, the possibility right there in front of him.

“Two hundred,” Tony calls.

Bruce blinks sweat out of his eyes and fights the sudden jump of panic that threatens to seize his legs. He keeps running and tries not to think about anything at all, even as his mind chants a constant flow of please, no, please.

“Two hundred and two,” Tony calls again. “Hold it there.”

“Fuck,” Bruce finds himself breathing. They’re doing it. He’s really doing it.

He fights the bone-weary exhaustion and keeps going, one foot in front of the other, over and over and over until Tony finally says, “Good, we’re good. You can stop.”

Bruce grabs hold of the handles on the treadmill and puts his feet on either side of the moving mat and thumbs the machine off. Tony is coming over to him even as he steps shakily down to the floor. He very nearly collapses and Tony grabs hold of his arm.

“Okay, okay,” Tony says, “just hold on a second.” He peels the leads from Bruce’s newly shaved chest and then directs him toward a nearby chair. A cold bottle of water is pressed into his hand and Bruce takes an appreciative drink, draining half of it in one go.

“I haven’t run like that in years,” Bruce rasps.

“Your alter ego runs enough for both of you,” Tony says, turning his screen around to show Bruce the results. “You held steady at two-oh-five for a good three minutes.”

Bruce leans forward for a better look, still rubbing sweat from his vision with the back of his arm. “I’ll be damned,” he breathes. “You did it.”

Tony hops up to sit on the edge of the desk, legs kicking idly back and forth. “Told ya,” he says.

Bruce looks down at his hands; they shake slightly, his heart still pounding wildly as he comes down from the rush. “Somehow I just can’t believe it was that easy,” Bruce tells him quietly.

Tony makes a face but ultimately just shrugs. “We’ll test you again tomorrow, try it out after it’s worn off. See what the results look like. That’s all we can do.”

“Right,” Bruce breathes, turning the sweating bottle in his hand. “Right.”

 

--

 

They test the sedative the next morning after Bruce has worked his way through his yoga routine. He gets his heart up to two hundred and one and keeps it there for five minutes before Tony tells him he can stop running. They skip the next day and Bruce runs the day after that. And the day after that.

He feels such outrageous hope that this is it. This isn’t the cure he’s been searching for but a beacon of light in the murky darkness that has clouded his life for the past three years. This is something to hold onto, to make this bearable, just as much as Clint is. He wants it, wants this all so badly to work, and it seems to be. Both Tony and JARVIS are positive about the whole experiment and Bruce can’t deny the results when they’re staring him right in the face.

He has pushed his body past the point of no return and there isn’t a single sign of the Other Guy threatening to break loose from his control. It’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time, and he can hardly contain his excitement to thoroughly try it out once Clint comes home.

They aren’t allowed to speak when Clint is off on recon, so it’s been six days of complete radio silence, with only S.H.I.E.L.D.’s assurances that nothing has gone wrong and both he and Natasha are alive and kicking. It’s always tense, Bruce never likes to relinquish that much control when he already has so little, to just let Clint go and wonder if the lingering goodbye kisses Clint presses to his lips are the last he’ll ever feel.

Clint is a smart, strong bastard, however, and he always comes back. He might be a little worse for wear every few missions, but he always comes home to Bruce in one working piece. And that’s enough.

 

--

 

Clint winces when he prods the line of stitches over his eyebrow. It’s nothing serious (being thrown through a pane of glass seems to be becoming a semi-regular occurrence since he officially joined forces with the Avengers), not too deep and nothing the available medical staff couldn’t take care for him on the flight home. It’s bruising badly, however, deep purple blossoming out over his forehead toward his temple. It didn’t swell much, though, so he thanks the powers that be for small favors and turns from the mirrored wall of the elevator when it slows to a stop at Bruce’s floor.

“Honey, I’m home,” he calls, setting the case containing his bow and quiver down in the hall, not having stopped by the armory to drop it off for a good cleaning in his haste to return to Bruce.

There’s a slight racket from the living room before Bruce appears, tablet in hand and glasses on. It’s late and he’s dressed for bed, looking comfortable and welcoming as he smiles and begins to close the distance between them. Clint stops him from voicing concern over his future battle scar by taking his face in both hands and leaning in to kiss him.

“You’re home early,” Bruce murmurs against his mouth, arms winding around his neck.

Clint presses another, gentler kiss to his lips before kissing along his jaw and then burying his nose in Bruce’s curls. He breathes deep the smell of home and closes his eyes. “Didn’t need the full week,” he says belatedly.

Bruce holds on to him until Clint leans back and then his fingertips are on his chin, turning his head so that Bruce can get a better look at his stitches; the only light between them from Bruce’s tablet.

“What happened?”

“I lost a fight with a window,” Clint says, taking hold of his hand and pressing a kiss to his knuckles. “Came home looking all manly for you.”

“My hero,” Bruce deadpans.

“Six stitches isn’t anything,” Clint assures him. “Looks worse than it is.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.” He kisses Bruce’s forehead and lets it linger, his fingers twisting through the hair at the nape of his neck. “Now, I just want a shower and to get in bed with you. Tasha doesn’t cuddle like you do.” Bruce gives him a rather unimpressed look and Clint laughs, leaning in to kiss him again. “I’ll meet you in your room,” he says when he pulls away squeezing the back of Bruce’s neck.

Bruce nods and steps aside, allowing Clint to walk passed him toward the bedroom. He hears a quiet, “I’ll be there,” that sounds just the slightest bit hesitant but Clint is sore still and smells like an airplane. He’s eager to wash away the remnants of their mission and the past six days spent away from Bruce.

He doesn’t linger in the shower, washing himself hurriedly and stepping out to a clean pair of sweats and one of Bruce’s old band shirts lying on the counter. Bruce is sitting on top of the covers, tablet on his thighs and glasses perched on his nose still. He looks up when Clint comes out of the bathroom, flicking off the light behind him as he does.

Bruce sets aside the small touch screen and Clint crawls up the bed from the foot to collapse on his front with an arm around Bruce’s waist and his cheek pressed to his stomach. Bruce’s fingers are gentle as they spear through his hair, stroking at the damp strands slowly as Clint closes his eyes, practically purring at the sensation. It’s easy and simple in ways it hasn’t been with anyone else in so many years, to just let himself relax, to let Bruce touch him and trust that he won’t take a knife (literal or metaphorical) in the back when he lets his guard down.

He’s tired and he could easily fall asleep like this, but Bruce’s stomach is tense beneath him and he takes a deep breath every so often, as though he’s about to speak, but nothing follows. Clint doesn’t press him on it, though. He waits until Bruce finally mumbles his name and draws his head up.

Clint looks at him, eyebrows pulled together questioningly as Bruce slides down the bed to be at eye level with him. He licks his bottom lip and Clint’s eyes follow the movement. Before he can even think to do it, Bruce is leaning in to kiss him. Clint’s hand moves to the back of his head without second thought to pull him closer. Bruce parts his lips easily when Clint presses with his tongue, moaning harshly as Clint leans up over him.

Bruce’s hands move from his neck to fist in the fabric of his shirt. Clint realizes dimly that Bruce is trying to pull him over on top of him. It’s not a position they often find themselves in; Bruce needs the extra element of control and Clint has no problem relinquishing it to him.

When Clint attempts to pull back, Bruce makes a disgruntled sound and reaches for the back of his neck again, murmuring a rough, “Come on,” against his lips.

Clint moves then, balancing his weight on his forearms, bracketing either side of Bruce’s head, as he straddles Bruce’s thigh. It only takes a few more insistent tugs and Bruce is lifting his hips to meet Clint’s before Clint is groaning into his mouth and sinking down on top of him.

Bruce’s hands move to his back, running over the bumps of his shoulder blades and tracing the shape of his muscles as they move lower. Clint’s breathing is quickly becoming heavier as he kisses Bruce harder. Clint can feel a definite sort of frenzy that has been distinctly lacking in their previous encounters. Bruce has always tempered himself, keeping a slow, measured pace to ensure that it lasts as long as possible. But this feels feverish almost, desperate and something Clint can’t hope to control for much longer.

He’s half-hard when Bruce’s fingers make their way under his shirt to paw at his back, and that’s when Clint breaks the kiss, turning his head to pant against Bruce’s cheek.

“Wait,” he breathes, reaching behind himself to take hold of one of Bruce’s wrists, bringing his hand up to press it against the mattress beside his head. He supports his weight on the other arm and looks down at Bruce. “Slow down, okay?” Clint tells him, thumb rubbing gently against his wrist. It only occurs to him then that the skin is bare, no trace of his heart monitor. Clint moves again, rising to his knees to look at the other and his brow furrows in confusion when he doesn’t see it there either. His heart begins to beat harder. “Where’s your monitor?”

“I took it off,” Bruce says, voice uncharacteristically hoarse.

“Why?” Bruce swallows and then lets out a breathy, nervous laugh that has something in Clint’s chest both tightening and loosening at the same time. “Bruce…” Clint stresses.

“I was running.”

The answer makes his eyebrows furrow. “Running,” he repeats.

“Yeah.”

“Why?”

Bruce shifts his weight beneath him and traces the tips of his fingers over the dimples at the small of Clint’s back. The sensation has Clint arching down against Bruce rather than back against it, because this needs to stop; he’s already half-hard and they’ve barely even kissed yet.

“Tony finished the sedative,” Bruce says softly.

“What sedative?” Clint’s mind reels, attempting to grasp something he knows he is sorely missing. But looking down at Bruce now, the relative calm of his body beneath his own coupled with the inherent fear lying just beneath the surface of those deep, brown eyes, it all rapidly falls into place. “You took a sedative to keep your heart rate down?”

Bruce nods, fingers flexing on the hand Clint still has pressed to the mattress. “Yeah.” Clint stares, open-mouthed, and he can’t seem to stop and form a coherent thought. “It worked,” Bruce finally says, laughing a little desperately directly afterward. Clint’s eyes feel as though they’re straining too hard and he tightens his grasp on Bruce’s wrist until Bruce winces and glances up at Clint’s forearm, veins standing out and arm beginning to shake. “Say something,” Bruce finally rasps.

Clint makes an incredulous sound at first, unable to find his tongue before he shakes his head and forces himself to speak before he’s had a chance to organize his thoughts into any semblance of order. “You… it worked?” Bruce nods and Clint sits back on his knees, pulling his weight entirely off of Bruce, leaving him lying, looking small where Clint kneels beside him.

He finally sits up and turns himself to face Clint, who is staring at him as though he’s never seen him before. “I got my heart rate up passed two hundred four of the last six days and nothing happened.”

Clint scrubs a hand over his face. “Nothing happened?”

“I didn’t change. I couldn’t even feel him wanting out,” Bruce says before he closes his eyes a moment. “Not any more than usual, I mean.”

Clint suddenly feels at a terrible loss. He’d known Bruce and Tony were going to go ahead with the project (even though it leaves more than a bitter taste in Clint’s mouth to think of Bruce in those terms) but it hadn’t occurred to him that it would be right now, that Bruce would be ready to try it out with him the moment he returned from recon. There’s a cold pit in his stomach that Clint isn’t sure that he can overcome with ease.

“Bruce, I… you didn’t tell me.” He glances up and Bruce looks absolutely fearful and it does nothing but tighten the tendrils of dread working their way through his body. “You should have told me. Anything could have happened to you.” He reaches out and cups Bruce’s cheek with his hand and Bruce closes his eyes, sinking into the familiar touch with a quiet sigh.

“Nothing happened,” he assures. “Tony was with me.”

I should have been with you.”

Bruce’s eyebrows draw together. “It made you uncomfortable.”

“It still does,” Clint says, brushing his thumb against Bruce’s bottom lip, but he doesn’t pursue the train of thought any further. Bruce looks far too dependant on Clint’s reaction right now and the last thing he wants is to force Bruce away. So instead, he pulls him in for a kiss.

Bruce responds instantly, eagerly in ways he hasn’t been allowed to since Clint first kissed him on the roof four months ago. Then, the taste of wine on Bruce’s tongue had driven him for more and now, the soft curls around his ears and the hopeful moans he’s letting slip have Clint leaning him backward on the bed. Bruce’s hands clutch at the back of his neck while Clint stretches him out, moving his thigh between Bruce’s as he kisses him slowly.

“We can do this,” Bruce rasps against his mouth when Clint pulls back to draw a much needed breath. He strokes his hand over Bruce’s curls as the other man looks up at him, fingers scraping over the stubble on his jaw. “Right?”

Clint watches him a moment before he nods. “If it gets to be too much…” Clint trails off, murmuring against his jaw.

Bruce shakes his head and leads Clint back into another kiss, more frenzied than the last, pushing his tongue into Clint’s mouth and pulling him down as he arches his hips. “I have done this before,” he rasps with a laugh. “Been a while but I actually used to do this with some regularity.”

“That lab coat really turns some cranks, huh?” Clint asks, smiling against Bruce’s cheek, nipping gently at the bristled skin.

Bruce laughs breathily beneath him. “You have no idea.”

“Well, you’ll have to put it on for me sometime.”

Bruce nods and kisses at his open lips again. “Anything.”

Clint doesn’t hesitate then, kissing Bruce hard before he kneels up and tugs his shirt off. He’s still warm and a little damp from the shower, and Bruce’s hands immediately move to his chest, touching him brashly. Rough fingertips skate over his abs and up to thumb over his nipples. Clint lets out a quiet groan before he’s leaning over Bruce to bite at his lips, fingers going to the hem of his shirt. He tugs and Bruce arches his back, allowing Clint to strip it off and away.

Bruce isn’t older than him by much but Clint is still struck by how nice his body is. Before his accident, Clint knows just how much time he’d spent in a lab, never having to really exert his body like the rest of them. He’s all firm muscle under soft, tan skin; Clint’s fingers trace over his chest as he leans down, kissing him light and easy, pinching at his nipple. Bruce arches up and Clint presses their foreheads together.

“You shaved your chest.”

“Had to,” Bruce murmurs. “I had leads stuck to me.”

Clint hums against his mouth and nudges his head to the side to bite down his jaw to his neck, sucking lightly against his pulse, feeling it flutter as it elevates, and for once, it’s not a concern. He sucks harder. “I like it,” he rasps, leaving behind one final bite before he shifts his weight to his knees and starts slowly making his way down Bruce’s chest, nipping with his teeth and laving his tongue over the spots he leaves sore.

“Clint…” Bruce pants, arching up when Clint bites his nipple and pinches the other.

He’s responsive, Clint finds himself thinking with a relatively new sort of wonder. Bruce has never been allowed to let them get beyond simple touches, almost always above the clothing to make it last as long as possible. He’s never been allowed to respond, to make noise, to push into Clint’s touch or press his head back against the mattress and moan.

Clint keeps his eyes open, focusing on Bruce every inch of the way down his body. He traces the less defined muscles of his stomach and the sharper cut of his hips, paying special attention to the dip of his navel with his teeth and tongue, listening to Bruce’s moans get louder.

“That’s it,” he finds himself rasps against soft skin. He drags his hand up Bruce’s thigh, stopping to squeeze as he goes. “That’s it, Bruce.”

Clint stops with his teeth pressed to the tense muscle of Bruce’s stomach when he cups a hand around his dick, soft and apparently too sensitive. Bruce sucks in a breath and shakes his head back and forth quickly.

“Sorry,” he pants, lifting his head to look down at Clint. “Sorry, I’m… it’s been a while.”

Clint presses a line of gentle kisses along the waist of Bruce’s sweats. “It’s okay,” he assures, squeezing gently at his cock. “Just relax, all right? I’ve got you.”

Bruce nods and tips his head back, eyes falling shut and fingers feeding through Clint’s short hair as he curls his fingers under Bruce’s waistband and pulls his sweats down. He’s careful, aware of the unpleasant drag of fabric over sensitive skin.

He moves over, parting Bruce’s thighs further as he kneels between them, dragging his hands up and down his sides as he sucks wet kisses over his stomach. There’s a soft exhale of his name from above him and Clint moves closer, lying himself out between Bruce’s legs. The fingers in his hair tighten as Clint lifts his flaccid cock and gives him a few squeezing tugs.

“I’ll get you hard,” Clint promises, taking his hand back to lick it and then fist the base of it again.

Bruce lets out a sound that is more than a little hysterical and covers his eyes with his hand. “Please,” he pants, arching his hips just slightly off the bed. Clint licks his lips and presses them to the head. Bruce cries out sharply and fists a hand in his hair, suddenly pulling him away. “Wait,” he gasps, twisting himself toward the nightstand. “Wait, I’m… we need a condom.”

Clint reaches for his arm and pulls him back, his other hand still tight around Bruce’s dick. “It’s a blowjob, Bruce,” he says gently.

“No, I’m…” he trails off and looks down but not at Clint. “I’m radioactive. You can’t… we need a condom.”

Bruce’s face is flushed and he looks so incredibly uncomfortable that Clint just wants to press him back down to the bed and kiss the shame right out of him. Instead, he moves his hand to Bruce’s chest and urges him back down. “Let me get you hard first,” he says, stroking his thumb over Bruce’s sternum, “then condom.”

It’s a moment before Bruce nods, murmuring a quiet, “yeah, okay. Okay.”

“Good,” Clint says, moving to settle between Bruce’s thighs again, kissing at the stretch of muscle that connects his thigh with his hip. “Gonna make you feel so good, baby.”

Bruce lets out a strangled sound as Clint fits his lips over the head of his dick. He sucks carefully, rolling his tongue over the head and squeezing gently at the base. It’s not the first time he’s had to work a partner up before. Bruce is glorious beneath him, hands grasping at his hair, tugging just sharply enough to make Clint moan as he bobs his head. Bruce arches his back and pants softly, moving restlessly under Clint’s ministrations.

Clint is absolutely throbbing in his sweats as he twists his hips against the bed, searching for friction to relieve some of the pressure, take the edge off. Bruce’s fingers card through his hair again and again, looking the picture of lust above him, but he’s not getting hard. Clint’s brows draw together and he pulls off of Bruce, working his soft length carefully with his hand. It’s been a while, literal years, since Bruce has had anyone touch him, or even been able to touch himself; it only makes sense that he’s a little nervous.

“How’s that feel?” Clint asks, voice pitched lower than it was the last time he spoke.

Bruce’s lips part and he groans. “It’s… it’s good.”

Clint licks his lips and then prods at the slit of Bruce’s cock with the tip of his tongue, listening to him whine and watching him arch into the touch. “Just good?”

“No,” Bruce pants, shaking his head back and forth as his fingers tighten in Clint’s hair. “Oh… Clint, please,” he whispers.

Clint leans down to take him in his mouth again, sucking harder this time, moving quicker, even though it’s difficult. Bruce hasn’t hardened at all and his cock slips out of Clint’s mouth too easily. He makes up for what he can’t do with his fist, squeezing and twisting around the base until Bruce suddenly pushes him off by his forehead.

“Wait,” he rasps, “Clint, stop.”

Clint lifts his head immediately, hand loosening around his dick. “What’s wrong?”

Bruce’s face is flushed and sweaty in the soft light from the bedside table. His chest is heaving and his hips are twisting a little. He looks fucking beautiful. Then his eyes meet Clint’s and the bottom drops out of his stomach.

“It’s not working,” he pants. “I’m not — I can’t…” he trails off and reaches down to take hold of Clint’s wrist. Clint lets go and allows Bruce to draw his hand away.

Bruce doesn’t look at him, sitting up and turning to sit on the edge of the bed with his feet on the floor. He buries his face in his hands and slumps in on himself. Clint’s chest tightens.

“It’s okay,” he says seriously, moving to follow, pressing his lips to Bruce’s bare shoulder, hand coming to rest on his thigh. “It’s been a long time. You just… need to get used to it again.” He strokes his fingers through Bruce’s sweat-damp curls and kisses his shoulder again, letting it linger.

Bruce drags a hand down his face to cover his mouth for a moment before he leans his forearms on his thighs and lets his hands hang limply between his knees. “I don’t think that’s it.”

Clint follows the thought easily but he doesn’t want to confirm it, instead putting his forehead down on Bruce’s shoulder. “You’re fine,” Clint says quietly.

“I’m not. The…” he laughs. “The fucking sedative must be slowing my blood flow too much.” He looks down between his thighs and rubs a hand over his face again. “I can’t get hard while it’s in my system.”

Clint reaches for Bruce’s hand and he’s relieved when Bruce lets him take it instead of shying from his touch. “Small kink in the plans.”

Bruce laughs again. “That’s an understatement.” He rests his forehead in the hand Clint isn’t occupying and stares off across the room. Clint finds himself at a loss; he has no idea what to say in this situation, even though he’d previously been against the idea of Bruce attempting to cure himself of the heart rate issue. He feels responsible for the sagging set of Bruce’s shoulders and the disappointment and humiliation he can feel rolling off of Bruce in tangible waves.

“It’s okay,” he assures again. “You’ll figure this out.”

Bruce blinks tiredly and rubs his hand back through his hair before he sits up again. Clint puts a hand on his cheek and draws Bruce’s gaze to his own.

“I need a shower,” Bruce says quietly.

“You want me to come with?” Clint offers, trying to keep the hope from his voice.

Bruce shakes his head, however and Clint doesn’t think he manages to disguise the hurt in his eyes when Bruce pulls away from him. “I need to be alone,” he says gently, leaning in to press a chaste, fleeting kiss to Clint’s mouth before standing and dropping Clint’s hand.

Neither of them says a word as Bruce quietly closes himself in the bathroom, leaving Clint behind to stare after him.

 

--

 

The humiliation Bruce feels telling Tony the next morning that the sedative has counterproductive side effects is nothing compared to the degraded, hopeless feeling he’d experienced when he’d gotten out of the shower the night before to find an empty bed. It’s easier to tell Tony that the medication he’d produced for him left him unable to form an erection than think about the fact that he’d slept alone last night.

Tony looks off-put, pulling up his proposed results on the sedation and trying to figure out where he went wrong. He assures Bruce that he’ll figure it out, he’ll make it work as intended and have something new ready for him by the morning.

Bruce is too exhausted to offer anything further, not actually having slept much at all in the absence of Clint from his bed last night. He clutches his mug of coffee to his chest and returns to his floor without looking for the archer. It’s better this way, he tells himself. Clint is likely disappointed and angry with Bruce for leaving him sitting on the edge of his bed, hard and Bruce perfectly capable of helping him out for the first time since they met.

He spends hours alone in his lab, wandering aimlessly rather than doing much of anything. He has a thesis to read and data of his own to go over, but he finds himself pushing his rolling chair back with one foot and forth with the other, doing nothing more than staring at the Stark Industries logo glowing back at him from his computer screen. His eyes begin to hurt after a while and he takes his glasses off, rubbing hard until spots appear beneath his lids. He finally abandons his lab in favor of sitting on the couch, watching the weather channel until he falls asleep.

When he wakes, it’s to the sound of rain beating down on the windows. It takes him a moment to realize where he is, slumped down against the leather of his own couch, the meteorologist on screen completely drown out by the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Bruce sits forward to grab the remote from the coffee table and turn the television off. He stands and his back cracks, wincing as he takes a few tentative steps, making certain that his feet aren’t asleep before he trusts them with his weight.

Dimly, he wonders if Thor is responsible for the storm overhead, but it’s not cause enough to have him actively seek out an answer.

He moves to his bedroom where a quick glance at the clock tells him he’s slept through most of the day and it’s well into evening. He feels stiff and uncomfortable, so he brushes his teeth and changes into a different pair of jeans. He doesn’t know where he’s going when he gets into the elevator but having a drink sounds like the best idea he’s had in a while. Bruce thumbs the button to the promenade and leans back against the wall of the elevator with his eyes closed until it slows to a stop.

The storm outside wanes after a while and Bruce watches it intently, nursing the same beer he’d opened when he first reached the floor. The only indication as to how long he’s been sitting on the floor, watching the rain taper off into nothing more than a light sprinkle, being the warm bottle in his hand. It’s a while still before he sets it aside and pushes himself to his feet.

The granite is wet and warm under his bare toes as he makes his way out into the drizzle. Rain patters quietly against his cheeks, causing him to squint as he looks off across the horizon at the darkened sky above the city lights. Bruce pads silently toward the glass railing and leans against it. It’s still warm, despite the summer rain and he’s not at all uncomfortable with the fading roil of thunder, despite the restless pacing of the Other Guy in his blood.

He hears the door behind him open after an indeterminate amount of time, the rain, slowing even further doing nothing to mask the quiet sound of Clint’s light gait. Bruce thinks he would recognize the weight of Clint’s footfalls in a room with no sound.

Clint leans on the rail beside him, not making any sort of contact or sound for a long, long time. Lightning blossoms in the distance, the worst having passed already, and they both watch it fade rapidly out. Eventually, Clint reaches over to take hold of Bruce’s smallest finger with his own.

Bruce glances over at him then and Clint offers him a small smile. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly, voice as tired as the rest of him looks.

“For what?”

“For leaving you alone last night.” Bruce swallows and looks away but he turns his hand over and allows Clint’s fingers to lace through his own; they both squeeze. “I thought you probably wanted some space or something. But I should have asked before I just left.”

“It’s okay,” Bruce tells him, turning again to meet his eyes. “I shouldn’t have left you alone like that either. I should have… I could have gotten you off, at least.”

Clint pulls a face and Bruce smiles despite himself. “I wouldn’t have been able to get off if you weren’t there with me.” He smiles again when Clint leans over to press his lips to his eyebrow and then again to his cheek.

The feeling of content isn’t lasting, though, and the moment Clint looks away, Bruce’s head falls between his shoulders, looking down at the street below.

“I feel bad.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“I don’t think I’m meant to be put back together,” Bruce says seriously, voice quiet. Clint smacks the back of his head with his free hand and Bruce jerks away. “Ow,” he says, eyebrows furrowing. “What was that for?”

“Don’t say stupid shit,” Clint tells him, wrapping both hands around Bruce’s now, his thumbs rubbing back and forth against the steady beat of his pulse. The heart monitor is back in place but Clint just thumbs underneath it like it doesn’t exist at all.

Bruce closes his eyes. “I’m not okay with this, Clint. I’m not okay with not physically being able to be with you.”

“Physically we’re together right now,” Clint tells him matter-of-factly.

“You know what I mean.” Clint looks at him evenly. “Sexually. Doesn’t it bother you?”

Clint shrugs like it’s a non-issue; Bruce figures that after all this time, with Clint still standing by his side, it must be. “Not really. I have… strong feelings for you,” Clint says, seeming to fumble over his wording. “Really strong. And if this is all we can have then that’s… that’s all right with me. Because I like being with you and talking with you and making your coffee, showing you how to use my bow. Coming home to you after recon missions. It’s all a lot better than it is worse.”

“You sound like we’re married.”

“I’d make a good husband,” Clint grins. Bruce lets himself smile and Clint brings his hand up to kiss his knuckles.

“I worry,” Bruce admits quietly. “About everything. About you and… him. And me.”

Clint is silent for so long that Bruce forces himself to look over at Clint. He’s staring off at the sky again as the rain begins to pick up slightly. He drops his gaze after a moment and starts speaking before he’s even meeting Bruce’s eyes again.

“If you do something crazy, I’m going to follow you,” he says, voice low and serious. Clint wasn’t present on the plane when Bruce had admitted to swallowing a bullet, but Clint isn’t blind and he’s seen the thin, silvery scars that lace up Bruce’s wrists. He’s never had to tell Clint but he’s felt the silent understanding, the forgiveness and gratefulness in the way he kisses the silky ridges of skin.

“I jump, you jump?” Bruce asks, drawing Clint’s attention from his hands to his face again.

He huffs a laugh. “That’s a little more Titanic than I was going for but that’s the gist of it, yeah.”

Bruce leans over to bump his shoulder against Clint’s and Clint nudges back companionably. They fall into an easy silence, Clint still holding Bruce’s hand in both of his, tracing his fingertips along the snaking lines of his veins over the skin of his wrist, and Bruce rests his head in his other hand to watch.

It begins to rain harder before too long, though, and Clint finally stands and ushers them back inside. Bruce doesn’t protest when Clint takes them down to his floor and for once, he doesn’t even blink in hesitation when Clint suggests that they shower together. He hasn’t had a dose of the sedative all day long but he doesn’t plan on doing anything more than simply warming up with the archer. It’s easier than it should be to unhook his heart monitor and set it down on the counter and then let Clint strip him of his wet clothes, kissing him gently every so often.

He falls asleep naked and sprawled on his stomach with Clint half resting on his back, cheek pressed to his shoulder blade. The room is cool but he’s warm where Clint is touching him and sleep follows easily.

He doesn’t dream.

 

--

 

Clint has to go back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in the morning for a debriefing and to file paperwork on his injury. He’s up and dressed before Bruce even rolls over onto his back to grumble at the lack of warmth behind him. Clint watches him wake, rubbing at his eyes and yawning, dragging fingers through his unruly mass of curls, blinking slowly up at him as Clint knots his tie.

“Where are you going?” he asks tiredly.

Clint grabs a pair of socks and his dress shoes from the floor before sitting on Bruce’s side of the bed. “Debriefing,” he says, tugging his socks on.

Bruce watches him, still completely naked from the night before, looking sleep-ruffled and cozy as Clint ties his shoes. “You look handsome,” he offers after a moment.

“I try.” Clint grins at him and flicks imaginary motes of dust from his shoulders. Bruce rolls his eyes and moves, tugging the sheet over his lap as he brings himself within touching distance. Clint turns and lets Bruce adjust the knot of his tie and then smooth his collar down over it.

Clint takes his hand when it drops and presses a kiss to each of his fingertips. Bruce is the one to lean in and kiss him softly, letting their foreheads linger together a moment longer before Clint’s phone starts buzzing on the nightstand.

Bruce pulls away to grab it. “Coulson,” he says, handing it over.

“The car’s probably here.” He holds a finger up to his lips before he answers. “Yeah?”

“Good morning, Barton.”

“That’s Agent Barton, Phil.”

“And Agent Coulson to you, sunshine.” Clint grins. “There’s a car waiting for you at Stark Tower.”

“Tell the driver to keep his pants on; I’ll be down in a minute.”

“Today, Barton.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Clint mumbles, ending the call before looking at Bruce. He brings a hand up to brush through the graying hair at his temple before he leans in to press a quick kiss to his lips. “I’ll be back soon,” he says, standing and grabbing his jacket from a nearby chair. “Do me a favor?” Bruce’s eyebrows rise in question. “My bow’s still up on your floor, will you take it down to the armory for me?”

“Sure,” Bruce says with a smile.

“We can shoot later, if you want. It needs a little love before that though.” He adjusts his collar and holds out his arms, making a questioning face.

“Very nice,” Bruce confirms.

Clint tucks his phone into his pocket and pats himself down for his wallet. “Later, babe.”

Bruce’s quiet goodbye follows him out the door.

 

--

 

Bruce gets around and heads up to his floor to grab Clint’s bow case and quiver and then heads down to the armory. Clint doesn’t actually keep his bow here, but whenever he needs to clean it, he takes it down to the safety of this room, behind thumbprint and ocular identification and their own individual secret codes. Tony has the room locked down to everyone but the Avengers themselves. Bruce has nothing of his own to leave here, but he still has access because, as Tony said with a simple shrug, he’s part of the team.

He sets Clint’s cases down in front of his stall where his suit hangs under spotlights, reaching up to touch the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on the chest before he goes. Sometimes he feels more comfortable with all of this than others, knowing that Fury knows he’s here but all of them pretending like they haven’t heard from him since the Chitauri failed to invade.

Being alone here, with everyone else’s battle gear surrounding him, without a spot to really call his own, only serves to make him feel the depths of which he is divided from the rest of them. He hurries out and makes a beeline for Tony’s lab.

He literally runs into Steve on the way out of the elevator. Hands come up to steady him but Steve pushes passed him with a muttered apology as soon as he knows that Bruce isn’t going to topple over. Bruce barely gets out an apology of his own before the doors slide shut, Steve repeatedly pushing one of the buttons on the panel without looking up at him.

Tony is standing in the midst of his workspace, both hands laced together on the back of his head. His face is flushed and he looks angry, stock still but for the rise and fall of his chest. Bruce knocks quietly and Tony turns abruptly to look at him. Agitation is clear on his face but it slips away quickly when he sees Bruce, apparently expecting Steve when he turned.

He makes his way over to open the door.

“Hey,” Tony says, walking away before Bruce can even cross the threshold.

“Hey,” he repeats. “Everything all right?”

Tony lets out a loud exhale and scratches at his hair before he drops his hand to his hip. “Fine. Great.”

“Yeah? Because I just ran into Steve. Literally. And he wouldn’t even look at me.”

“Fuckin’ Steve,” Tony mutters, pacing back to his computer desk. He slumps down in the chair and presses his forehead against his palm.

When Bruce has watched him for longer than is comfortable, he finally comes around to lean against the desk, careful not to knock any of the monitors around him.

“Tony?” he asks quietly.

Tony drops his hand and sighs, clearing his throat before he looks up at Bruce. He takes a breath and lets it out slowly. “I told him what we’re doing.”

“You what?” Bruce feels incredibly uneasy at the idea of Steve knowing about him and Clint. They don’t hide it and Bruce is so wildly far from ashamed, but Steve hasn’t noticed because he hasn’t wanted to notice and Bruce knows how very telling that is about a man’s stance on certain issues. He folds his arms against his chest and shifts awkwardly. “Why?”

“Because I can’t figure out what’s keeping you from springing one and short of infusing the sedative with Viagra I don’t know how to fix it.”

Tony’s blunt reply settles as rapidly as a sinking stone in Bruce’s stomach. His arms fold even tighter against his chest and he drops his gaze with a quiet, “oh.”

“Sorry,” Tony says immediately, rubbing at his eyes.

“So what does Steve have to do with anything?” he forces himself to ask, like he hasn’t just had the inevitable bombshell dropped on him that he won’t ever be able to really have sex with Clint.

Tony sighs again and taps his fingers against the armrests of the chair. “I thought maybe if I explained the situation to him that he’d… let me experiment with his blood. See if there’s something in his DNA that could help you out.”

Bruce feels his eyes widen. “Jesus, Tony.”

“Don’t get righteous.”

“I’m not but…” he finds himself trailing off because this is practically the reverse of the fight he’d just had with Clint about continuing his gamma research. And he’d been on the other side (Tony’s current side) of the fence before this. He sighs and looks off, away from Tony because he’s not sure he can meet his gaze at the moment. He feels suddenly embarrassed about a lot of things and none of them seem either rational or curable. His heart beats harder in his chest and he brings a hand up to absently rub at it over his shirt.

“I take it he said no,” Bruce finds himself saying, even though he knows the answer already.

Tony follows the movement and turns the chair to face him, leaning on his thighs with both forearms. “I think he just needs to think on it. Let it settle. Think about how much it could help you two.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the nature of my relationship with Clint, does it?” he asks, lifting his eyes to Tony’s.

Tony bites at the corner of his lip and sits back in his chair. “Steve’s a good guy,” he says after a long moment of silence in which Bruce lowers his gaze again. “He’s also a guy from the forties.”

“I know,” Bruce tells him, pushing away from the desk.

“He’s also your friend.”

Bruce isn’t aware of moving until he finds himself at the door. Tony hasn’t said anything else but Bruce hesitates anyway, turning to look over his shoulder at him. Tony is still sitting in the chair but he’s not looking at Bruce, staring at his hands instead.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce says before he registers the words forming on his tongue.

Tony looks up, brows drawn together in confusion. “For what?”

“For dragging you into this.”

“I forced myself into this,” Tony reminds him and Bruce looks down at his bare feet a moment before back at the other man. “I’ll find a way to make it work, with or without Steve’s help.”

The unyielding confidence in him, the way Tony remains determined to help Bruce out of this, make it easier for him, it loosens the knot that has been forming in his chest since he attacked Clint last week, ever so slightly. He finds himself smiling despite the embarrassing nature of the situation.

“No Viagra,” he says as he pushes the door open.

Tony grins as he holds his hands up but he promises nothing.

Bruce heads for the elevator.

 

--

 

Clint doesn’t actually end up finishing with the S.H.I.E.L.D. debriefing and incident reporting until late in the afternoon. It’s not exactly how he’d planned on spending most of his day after being shot at two nights previous. He checks and double-checks his statement before signing and dating, drawing an arrow through the cross of his T because he knows how much Coulson hates it. He sits through the required checkup and eye examination before having his stitches removed and then allows the requisite shrink session that follows.

He’s irritated and hungry by the time he makes it back to the Tower through two traffic jams and a heat wave the chauffeured car’s air conditioning can’t seem to handle. Bruce isn’t on his floor when he heads up to change into a more comfortable pair of jeans and t-shirt. JARVIS tells him that Bruce is currently up on the promenade alone. Clint stops to make himself a quick sandwich before he takes the elevator all the way up.

It’s still hot and incredibly humid, August making itself known through outlandishly high temperatures that the incoming Atlantic breeze does nothing to quell. Bruce is sitting on the Iron Man landing pad with his feet dangling over the edge. It makes Clint’s stomach twist uncomfortably but he grabs them each a beer and makes a slow, careful walk of it to lower himself to sit beside him.

“This is terrifying,” Clint tells him without looking down.

Bruce huffs a quiet laugh and takes the offered beer after Clint has twisted off the cap and tossed it to the street far below.

“Litter bug,” Bruce comments mildly before taking a sip.

Clint makes the mistake of leaning over to look and sits up with a shudder. “I’m not afraid of heights by a long shot, but this just seems dangerous.”

“That’s funny, coming from you.” Bruce looks at him, squinting in the dying afternoon light. “How many buildings have you thrown yourself off of since I met you?”

“Four,” Clint answers immediately. “And all with good reason. This,” he tips his bottle toward the void before them, “is unnecessary.”

“If you fell, I’d save you,” Bruce says, clinking his beer against Clint’s and taking another drink.

“My giant, green hero,” Clint murmurs, putting his free hand on Bruce’s head and pulling him in to kiss his temple.

Bruce drops his gaze to his lap and smiles, picking at the label on his bottle. “So how was the debriefing?”

“Boring. You know the only time I like to be debriefed is by you.” Bruce snorts and Clint grins around the mouth of his beer.

“You’re ridiculous,” Bruce tells him, looking over with an easy smile. Clint watches him for a while in silence. The wind up here is fairly strong, but not enough to pose a threat, just enough to blow Bruce’s curls around. The setting sun casts him in warm hues of orange and pink, making his tanned skin appear even darker. He looks calm and peaceful, if not happy, with a small smile on his lips, taking a drink of his beer every so often, thigh pressed companionably against Clint’s own. Bruce looks at him again after a minute or two of easy silence. “What?”

“Nothing,” Clint says with a shake of his head. “Just looking.”

“At what?”

“At you.”

Bruce rolls his eyes but the smile on his face grows a little wider. “You really are weird.”

“Am not.”

“And childish.”

“You love it.” Bruce shakes his head. “You do too,” Clint says, reaching over to turn Bruce’s face toward his own with a single finger under his bearded chin. Bruce is still smiling when Clint kisses him.

It’s only after Clint pulls away, stroking a hand down the back of Bruce’s head that he says, “Yeah, I do.”

“You do what?”

“Love you.”

Clint loses his breath for a moment before he leans in to press his mouth to Bruce’s, letting it linger, pulling his bottom lip between his own for a moment before he leaves a series of gentle, slow kisses on his lips.

“Me too,” he murmurs quietly, scratching his fingers over the stubbled skin beneath them.

“Can you say it?” Bruce asks in a voice that’s barely above a whisper.

“I love you,” Clint says with none of the hesitation that has ever tainted those words in the past. It’s simple and easy because it’s just the plain and honest truth. And he has no problem confirming it with Bruce. Especially when Bruce is smiling against his mouth and looking for all the world like Clint’s just whispered the meaning of life to him.

This is how it should be, always.

 

--

 

Their schedules are too irregular to dedicate the same night every week as a movie night, but they try. Bruce is a classic movie fan, favoring black and white films over Clint’s action-heavy choices. Clint’s fairly adaptable and not very picky. Anything, really, that gets Bruce snug against his side and a bowl of extra buttered popcorn on their thighs is good enough for him. Even if he has suffered through more Clark Gable movies than any human being should ever have to.

Clint hasn’t been paying attention to anything since the movie started. He’s far more concerned with the jet-black curl he’s found at the crown of Bruce’s head that he can stretch out and release to take its former shape. Bruce makes contented noises every so often and Clint continues to wind the spring of hair around his fingers.

Thor joins them early on and poses questions every once in a while and laughs louder than is necessary at anything he deems humorous. It makes Clint grin and he can feel Bruce’s body shake with silent laughter.

Tony wanders in after a while, however, and interrupts with a loud, “Good, there you are.”

Bruce sits up away from Clint to look over the back of the couch at him. Thor casts a disgruntled look in his direction but remains silent. “Me?”

“Yeah, come here,” he says, gesturing for Bruce to follow him, already heading back out into the darkened hallway.

Bruce heaves a quiet sigh but gets to his feet all the same. Clint can’t help the deep furrow of his brows when he takes hold of his hand as Bruce goes to step over Clint’s legs, propped up on the coffee table.

“It’s movie night,” he offers quietly.

“It’ll just be a second,” Bruce assures him, squeezing his hand and attempting to let go.

Clint hangs on to his two smallest fingers however and stands to follow. Bruce doesn’t protest, even if Tony gives him a somewhat curious glance when they’re standing just outside the media room.

“What’s up?” Bruce asks as Clint lays a heavy arm across his shoulders.

“I think I’ve tweaked the sedative just the right amount,” Tony says. “It’s ready to go any time you want to try it again.”

“Shouldn’t you be running tests on your magical medicines before you start giving them to people?” Clint can’t quite keep the accusatory tone from his voice.

Tony throws a heavily unimpressed look his way. “This isn’t about you, Barton.”

“It is when you’re screwing around with him,” he says, inclining his head in Bruce’s direction.

Tony heaves an incredible sigh and shakes his head, meeting Bruce’s eyes only. “If you want to come by tomorrow, after I get back from that press junket, we can get you back on the treadmill. JARVIS is already running preliminaries so we’ve just got to get you hooked up again and we’re good to go.”

Bruce licks his bottom lip in a look akin to hesitation before he looks at Clint and then back to Tony. “Can he come?”

Tony’s gaze is hardly short of scathing but he shrugs. “Whatever you want to do.”

“I’ll be there.” Clint speaks before Tony can talk over his head again.

“Oh glorious day,” Tony intones lightly. He claps Bruce on the bicep before he turns and heads off down the hall again.

“Get some sleep!” Bruce calls after him. Tony raises a hand over his head but doesn’t otherwise offer a response. Clint turns to Bruce, but the other man is shaking his head. “You shouldn’t do that, Clint. You shouldn’t rile him up. He’s trying to help me.”

Clint bites back what he knows will only irritate Bruce further on the matter and instead tugs him close with the arm still around his shoulders. He presses his lips to Bruce’s forehead and ruffles the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Come on,” he says after a moment. “Thor probably lost track of what was going on the minute we left.”

Bruce allows the conversation to drop and they return to the couch to find that Thor has cleaned out the bowl of popcorn. He looks up when they resume their positions on the couch.

“This is most delicious,” he tells them before sucking the butter off of his forefinger.

Bruce laughs audibly and Clint can’t help but think how nice it looks to see him so open.

 

--

 

Bruce is warm and comfortable, lying on his side, his arm over Clint’s stomach and Clint’s fingers tangled loosely in his hair. He can hear Clint’s heart beating, his slow, even breaths, and it soothes him, even though he’s not quite relaxed enough to sleep. His mind is on the morning and testing the newest version of Tony’s sedative. He’s nervous but not enough that he’s actually scared.

He shifts, bringing his knee up to rest over Clint’s thigh and Clint strokes over his hair again, pressing his fingertips to Bruce’s forehead and tipping it back. Bruce meets his bright eyes in the dark.

“You okay?” Clint asks quietly.

Bruce nods and Clint lifts his head from the pillow to press a slow, easy kiss to his lips. Bruce might be uneasy about the possible results of tomorrow’s tests but this — everything — with Clint makes it worth the trepidation and risk.

Clint’s fingers move over his hairline in a gentle stroke. “You sure?”

“I’m good,” he promises.

Clint hesitates a moment and Bruce knows what’s coming before he even opens his mouth. As much as he revels in Clint’s concern for him, he can’t quite bring himself to relish the fact that Clint keeps bringing it up.

“You don’t have to do this,” Clint says quietly.

“You know that I do,” Bruce says, rolling off of him and onto his back.

Clint follows him, moving his weight quickly to rest on top of Bruce underneath the sheet. They’re both clad in sweats and t-shirts but the touch of Clint’s body to his is absolutely electric regardless. Clint takes hold of both of his wrists and presses them gently to the pillow on either side of Bruce’s head. He kisses him, tongue seeking and teeth pressed against his lips. Bruce arches into the touch, fingers curling against his own palms; he wants to touch but he knows better than to go down that particular road, so he accepts the kiss and keeps his eyes shut when Clint breaks away and presses their foreheads together.

“If you’re determined to do this,” Clint murmurs, voice barely above a whisper, “then I want to know that you’re doing it for you. Not me.”

Bruce opens his eyes again and Clint shifts on top of him, hands still gently holding his wrists down, looking at him intently.

“I’m doing it for both of us,” Bruce tells him honestly.

“I don’t need this, Bruce. What I need is for it to be about you.”

Bruce feels a sudden pang of guilt at the guilt coloring Clint’s expression. He bites his lip and then licks it, watching Clint track the movement. “It is about me. It’s about how much I want my old life back, or my old body, at least. My control and my sanity. Not being a fugitive would be nice.” Clint’s fingers tighten on his wrists. “But I can’t lie and say it’s not about you too. I want to be with you, Clint. In every way I can. You’re a part of it but you’re only a factor in the equation.”

Clint drops his head and when he looks up again he’s smiling lightly. “Always with the science.”

“I’m a scientist,” Bruce reminds him, flexing his fingers under Clint’s grip until Clint lets go and Bruce can trace his fingertips up Clint’s stubbled cheeks into his hair. Clint closes his eyes at the touch. “And you’re like a cat.”

“I like to be pet,” Clint says with a grin, cracking his eyes open again. He takes hold of one of Bruce’s hands and presses a kiss to his palm, then fits their fingers together. He sighs after a moment and sinks down to the side, easing his weight off of Bruce and Bruce follows, facing him, Clint still holding his hand.

“Are you okay with this?” Bruce asks quietly.

Clint is silent for long enough that Bruce’s stomach begins to twist unpleasantly but eventually he nods. “If it’s what you want.”

“Don’t tell me you wouldn’t be happy if we could have sex,” Bruce says seriously.

“I’d be fucking delighted,” Clint confirms, leaning in to press a kiss to the tip of his nose. “But I just… I want you more than all of that. It’s important to me that you understand it.”

“I do understand.” Bruce can’t help the smile that accompanies the statement or the way it spreads when Clint smiles back. He lets himself be pulled closer with an arm around his back and settles in, Clint’s knee tucked between his own.

Clint doesn’t say a word and Bruce falls asleep to the feel of his fingertips tracing nonsense patterns over his shoulder blades.

 

--

 

Despite meaning every single word he’s said to Bruce on the matter of his and Tony’s sedative experiment, he’s still incredibly uneasy now that he’s here in Stark’s lab, watching Tony attach Holter leads to Bruce’s chest. He’s sitting on a table nearby, cleaning his bow because his hands are restless, fingers aching for the touch and weight of its familiarity. He glances up every so often and Bruce is almost always looking at him. Clint tries to look supportive and calm but he’s not at all sure that he succeeds.

Clint is a little surprised when Tony injects him with the sedative. He’s not quite sure what he was expecting but to see Tony tie off his arm and wait for his veins to rise wasn’t quite it. He grips his bow tight but Bruce doesn’t even flinch.

Tony situates himself at the computer nearest the treadmill and starts speaking to JARVIS. Bruce can’t go far with the leads stuck to his chest so Clint moves in closer. He’s unhooking his heart monitor from his wrist and Clint sets his bow down on a nearby table and takes over.

He swallows down anything he might say about Bruce being certain about this. He trusts Tony, and Clint does too, but this is different than new arrowheads that need beta testing or some new restaurant he wants to try out. This is Bruce and this is life and death and Clint can’t pretend to be entirely comfortable.

“Don’t leave, okay?” Bruce asks quietly when Clint tucks the watch into his pocket.

He looks up, eyebrows drawn together. “I won’t,” he assures. “Don’t… you know, die or something.”

Bruce puts a hand on the side of his neck and Clint kisses him hard until Tony clears his throat loudly. “Save it for the victory celebration,” Tony calls. “There’ll be plenty of time for that once we’ve got this serum down.”

Clint grips the back of Bruce’s neck and presses a lingering kiss to his forehead. Neither of them says a word when Bruce pulls back. Clint picks his bow up and sits on the edge of the table.

“Whenever you’re ready, sir,” JARVIS says and Tony gives Bruce the thumbs up. He starts to run and Clint checks his limb bolts.

 

--

 

Bruce runs for what seems like hours. Clint is endlessly patient but he finds himself moving closer to Tony, wanting to watch the heart monitor on the screen. The green lines shoot across too quickly and Clint’s focus is drawn to the steadily rising number in the top corner of the screen.

Tony doesn’t say anything but he angles the screen slightly in Clint’s direction.

His hand begins to sweat as the number rapidly approaches two hundred beats per minute. He glances up at Bruce with every rising digit. Bruce’s face is glistening with sweat and he’s panting, exhausted, but he pushes on, staring at a spot on the far wall, oblivious to either of them.

“One ninety-nine,” Tony calls out but Bruce doesn’t acknowledge. His feet pound the treadmill in an almost mechanical fashion, focused and out of his own thoughts.

Clint flexes his hand and wipes his palm on his thigh before transferring his bow to the other to do the same.

“Two hundred.”

Clint holds his breath but nothing happens. His heart beats wildly against the inside of his ribcage in anticipation but Bruce just keeps running. He doesn’t look at either of them and Clint gets the distinct impression that Bruce hasn’t even heard Tony. His brow furrows and he leans forward incrementally. Tony taps at something on the screen and JARVIS responds but Clint isn’t listening. The number on the screen jumps suddenly to two-oh-eight and Clint’s stomach clenches in a sudden wave of panic.

Bruce’s face is tense and his hands are suddenly gripping the hand bars.

“Slow it down,” Tony calls. The heart monitor spikes to two-twelve, then two-seventeen and Tony stands suddenly, the chair rolling away behind him. “Bruce,” he calls loudly, “stop”.

Clint watches a moment, stunned into immobility from absolute horror when Bruce suddenly lurches sideways and staggers off of the treadmill. He’s clutching his head and crying out loudly, slamming back into the wall with his shoulder.

Tony fumbles for something beside him, shoving Clint out of the way with a shout of, “Move!” He’s tearing the cap off of a pre-filled syringe and sprinting around the desk toward Bruce.

Clint jumps when Bruce throws Tony into a bank of monitors, suddenly spurred into action, snapping back to himself, to the horror of the situation. Bruce is changing quickly, body moving and twisting, growing, and Clint can hear the tear of fabric and muscle as he expands, skin turning an unnatural shade. He nearly drops his bow in his panic, turning to Tony who is struggling up from the floor.

“Barton!” Tony yells, “Get the fuck out of here!”

“Stay down!” Clint shouts, holding his hand out, “Don’t move, don’t say anything!”

A sudden silence settles over the room and Clint feels the hair on the back of his neck prickle. He turns his head slowly to find Bruce — the Hulk — standing where Bruce was only a few moments ago, hunched against the ceiling, not quite tall enough to accommodate his height. Hulk is staring at Clint and he feels the fear in his stomach clench even tighter.

Bruce had explained this to him once, how it is to be the Other Guy. If he gives in to the anger and allows it to take over then he’s more in control; he can see what Hulk sees and sense his thoughts. It’s easier to relax and change back, get himself under control then. But if he loses it and the Other Guy snatches his hard-won self-control from Bruce’s desperate fingers, then he’s trapped inside. Bruce is not in command and there is no trace of him in the angry eyes pinning him down right now.

Hulk doesn’t move and Clint can scarcely breathe. He growls suddenly, baring his teeth and Clint’s fingers clench reflexively on his bow.

He glances down at his hand and then back at the Other Guy. He watches Hulk watch him and he slowly holds his empty hand up, fingers spread to show he’s not holding anything.

“What are you doing?” Tony hisses.

Hulk snarls and hunches down further, growling again, lips stretched tightly over his bared teeth.

“Shut up,” Clint whispers, not taking his eyes off of the Other Guy, holding his gaze even though his heart is throbbing in his chest, blood rushing so quickly passed his ears that he can hardly hear a thing. “Bruce,” he says, slowly bending to place his bow on the ground. Hulk roars, taking a step forward, looking every bit the caged, wild animal. “Bruce,” Clint says again, louder this time, and it seems to stop him, even as his fists tighten and Clint can hear the sound of his skin stretching tight over his knuckles. “It’s me,” he says. “It’s Clint.”

Hulk makes an guttural, angry sound in the back of his throat, but he hasn’t made a move toward Bruce or Tony and Clint hopes wildly that Bruce is in there somewhere, holding the reins however tightly he can. “It’s okay,” he says, putting his foot on his bow and nudging it out of reach.

The Other Guy practically roars and Clint clenches his eyes but doesn’t move to cover his ears against the sound. “Hey,” he says, drawing Hulk’s attention back to himself. “Hey, it’s okay. It’s me, Bruce.” He holds out his hand slowly and Hulk watches him. “It’s just me.” He continues the repetition as he takes a careful step forward. The Other Guy doesn’t move but he continues to snarl and clench his fists. He’s angry, Clint can sense it and see it in every motion, every muscle, but he’s not attacking. He’s standing still and Clint presses onward.

“Bruce,” he says again, “you in there?” There is no response and Clint takes another tentative step forward. “You’re okay,” he assures, “I won’t hurt you.”

Clint swears he sees some flash of understanding in Hulk’s eyes but his face tightens again instantly and he growls low in his throat. “Hey,” Clint chastises quietly, “Jade Jaws, you remember me, right? We’re friends.” There’s a definite spark behind Hulk’s expression this time and Clint follows the line. “You remember, don’t you? You do, I can tell.” Hulk still isn’t moving.

Behind him he hears Tony’s muttered, “You’re insane.”

He ignores him in favor of shushing the Other Guy when he makes a high-pitched sound in Tony’s direction. The move seems to surprise Hulk, and after a moment, he huffs a sound that intones amusement. Clint’s knees feel too loose as he presses on.

“Yeah, you remember. My Jade Jaws, right? You and me. We fought together.” Hulk makes another quieter sound and Clint takes a step that puts him within striking distance. He holds out his hand again.

The Other Guy stares him down for so long that Clint feels like he might be sick if neither one of them breaks the stalemate; he doesn’t want to take another step out of fear that it might make Hulk feel too crowded. So he stands there, arm outstretched, unblinking and holding his breath until Hulk reaches out a single finger to prod at Clint’s head.

“Cupid,” he says quietly, voice rumbling before he huffs a sound that is suspiciously close to a laugh.

Clint nearly collapses when the Other Guy begins to stroke at his head with two of his fingers.

“Cupid,” Clint confirms.

Hulk rumbles something low and content as he continues to pet Clint like a giant cat from the top of his head down to the base of his spine.

It’s a couple of long, silent moments before Tony gets quietly to his feet. Hulk snarls and hunkers down, putting his knuckles to the floor, one arm blocking Clint. He startles but when it becomes clear that the Other Guy is protecting him (from Tony, no less), he puts his hand on Hulk’s arm and pats gently.

“Ease up, buddy,” Clint says. Hulk makes an angry noise but he doesn’t make a move toward Stark, so Clint counts it as a win. “You remember Tony, right?” he asks, unsure if Hulk does, in fact, remember him. He’s not sure if the Bruce half of him is strong enough to overpower the instinctive drive of the Other Guy or not.

Hulk doesn’t respond. Tony moves carefully over toward his desk again, taking care not to limp, even though Clint can see the tense lines on his forehead and the way he favors his left foot to the right. He has another syringe of the original sedative in his hand and two empty ones in the other. He gets as close as he dares, even though the Other Guy seems to understand, or remember, that Tony won’t hurt him, and rolls the syringe along the ground to him.

Hulk growls quietly at that but allows Clint to reach down and retrieve it.

“You gonna let me give this to you, buddy?” he asks, pulling the cap off and flicking it aside. Hulk stares down at him. “It’ll help,” he promises.

Hulk tilts his head to the side as if contemplating it. “Help,” he repeats.

“Yes,” Clint says.

“Help. Cupid, help.”

“Yes,” Clint assures him, putting a hand on his massive forearm.

The Other Guy doesn’t do more than growl lightly as Clint injects him in the nearest vein. He has serious reservations that this tiny needle is enough to relax Hulk enough to allow Bruce to take back over, but eventually, he lowers himself to sit and makes a quiet sound in the back of his throat.

“You okay, buddy?” Clint asks, hand on his knee.

Tony’s voice startles him when he says, from just to his left, “You think he’ll let me draw his blood?”

“What?” Clint asks, looking at him.

“I need a sample of his blood. I might be able to isolate whatever’s causing his mutations,” Tony says, drawing closer.

Clint closes a hand on his bicep and holds him in place. “Don’t.”

“You wanna do it?” he asks, offering the empty syringe to Clint, who resists the urge to smash it under his foot.

“You fucked up. Again. And now you want me to give you the okay to take the big guy’s blood so you can, what? Fuck up a third time?” Clint tries to keep his voice even, doesn’t want to upset the Other Guy.

“It’s called trial and error for a reason, Barton. Banner’s a scientist, he understands that better than anyone,” Tony says, yanking his arm free.

“Yeah, and look where that got him,” he says, gesturing at the dazed-looking giant before them.

“At least he had the balls to go all in on something he believed in,” Tony snaps. “Have you ever done that?”

Clint makes another grab for him but Tony eases himself to his knees and starts murmuring to Bruce as he eases the needle into his most prominent vein. Hulk makes a quiet keening sound but doesn’t otherwise protest. Tony caps the syringe and repeats the process with the other. Clint doesn’t realize that he’s placed a hand on Hulk’s knee until the Other Guy begins stroking two fingers down his back again.

Tony has gotten to his feet and is transporting Hulk’s blood to a cryorefrigerator on the other side of the room by the time the Other Guy starts to shift, his body shrinking and twisting back into its original shape. It looks and sounds painful, Bruce’s expression pulled tense and his breathing uneven as he slumps against the wall. His shirt has been ripped to pieces and his sweats are pooled around him in strips of stretched and torn fabric. Clint grabs a nearby towel and then sinks to his knees beside him.

Bruce’s head lolls to one side as Clint covers him for the sake of modesty that Bruce probably isn’t coherent enough to insist upon. Clint gently cradles his head and turns Bruce’s face toward his own.

“Hey,” he murmurs, “Bruce, hey, look at me.” With obvious effort, Bruce forces his eyes open to meet Clint’s. There’s a deep line of pain across his forehead that Clint seeks to soothe away with a gentle swipe of his thumb and a chasing kiss. “I’ve got you.”

Bruce closes his eyes and Clint guides his head toward his shoulder. He’ll move him when Bruce’s breathing evens out into something less obviously pained. He settles in beside him to wait and cards a hand gingerly through his hair.

 

--

 

The transformation takes a lot out of him. He’s always sore and tired afterward, usually opting to just collapse into a bed, if he safely can. Normally he’s on the run, however, and he has to stay awake, sometimes for days at a time, just to be certain that no one has followed him to wherever he winds up. His main concerns are always the basest ones of food and shelter, seeking out clothing and a place to hide himself away from the world.

For the first time since the accident, he doesn’t have to do that. Clint hoists him up as soon as Bruce regains his composure and helps him dress. He apologizes to Tony, who apologizes back, looking guiltier than Bruce feels.

Clint leads him to his floor and lays him on the bed, helping him strip down to nothing and then covering him up. Bruce passes out before Clint can climb in beside him, but when he wakes a few hours later, he’s still there beside him, staring up at the ceiling in silence.

He’s not in a great deal of pain (his legs hurt more from running on the treadmill than from the mutation itself) but Clint insists on helping him into the bathroom and sitting him on the edge of the tub while it fills. Clint looks worn and hasn’t looked him in the eye since the Other Guy let go back in the lab. He feels small and uncharacteristically self-conscious sitting here naked in front of Clint and he doesn’t like it.

Once the water is deep enough, Bruce climbs in before Clint can offer to help. He’s silently relieved when Clint tugs his own shirt off and sets about undressing. The bathroom is silent but for the rustle of fabric and Bruce closes his eyes. The tub is achingly hot and it begins loosening his muscles instantly. The water sloshes dangerously when Clint climbs in and Bruce cracks his eyes open.

Clint is looking right at him, worry etched into every line of his face, creasing his eyes at the corners. Bruce is disgustingly tired of seeing people look at him like that, let alone Clint. He sits forward and holds out a hand, taking hold of Clint’s bicep. He moves easily through the water, turning and moving back until Bruce has him nestled between his thighs, Clint’s back to his chest and his hands pressed to his firmly muscled stomach.

Bruce is silent, head tipped back against the edge of the bathtub, perfectly content to just sit here while the water relaxes him. Clint sighs as he leans the back of his head to Bruce’s shoulder. When Bruce cranes his neck to look, Clint’s eyes are shut and the stress on his face has lessened greatly.

He trails a wet hand up over his chest to his neck and lets his fingertips rest over Clint’s steady pulse. When fingers slot through his own, he tightens them and holds on for all that he’s worth. Clint brings Bruce’s fingers to his mouth and kisses them as he has so many times before.

“You called me Cupid,” he says eventually.

Bruce is surprised into letting out a quiet laugh. “What?”

“The Other Guy did. He called me Cupid,” Clint explains.

Bruce’s forehead bunches. “He recognized you?” Clint nods. “That’s… strange. I wasn’t there. At all. Not at first anyway.” He shakes his head to himself.

“You were in there.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were,” Clint counters. “I could see it in his eyes.”

Bruce tightens his fingers, unwilling to argue the point either way. “I’m just glad he didn’t hurt you.”

“Me too,” Clint murmurs. “I didn’t think he would, though.”

Bruce brings his other arm up to fold over Clint’s chest and Clint’s free hand breaks the surface of the water to curl over his forearm, steam rising from his skin.

“You’re crazy,” Bruce comments belatedly.

Clint shrugs. “Heard that before.”

Bruce presses a kiss to the top of his head. “I’d never forgive myself if he hurt you.”

“He won’t. He knows me, you know me. I’m not scared of him or you. I trust you both.” Clint shifts between his legs, bringing his own knees up until they rise above the water. They both lapse into silence for so long that Bruce nearly falls asleep; and by the slow, steady fall and rise of Clint’s chest, he nearly does as well.

“I’ve been thinking,” Bruce murmurs against his temple. Clint makes an inquisitive noise but doesn’t open his eyes. “I want you to fuck me.”

Clint’s eyes open wide then and he turns his head, body moving enough that some of the water splashes out onto the floor as he shifts to meet Bruce’s eyes, gaze critical and searching. “What?” he asks quietly.

“You heard me. If I take the original sedative again then I’ll be fine.”

“No.”

“Clint, you’re not being reasonable.”

“There’s nothing reasonable about that,” Clint says, pulling away to turn and face him. He doesn’t move to the other side of the tub but situates his feet on either side of Bruce’s hips and places his hands on his thighs. “I can’t do it,” he says quietly, fingers squeezing gently. “Don’t ask me to take something like that from you when you’re not getting anything out of it.”

“How can you possibly think I wouldn’t get anything out of it, Clint?” Bruce asks seriously. “Making you feel good makes me feel incredible. Just because I can’t come doesn’t mean I won’t feel anything. Sex isn’t just about dicks and orgasms.”

Clint has the decency to look slightly ashamed, dropping his gaze to the water between them. He shakes his head though and meets Bruce’s eyes. “I can’t. I… I don’t think I can, Bruce.”

“What if I just blew you?”

“Bruce, don’t.”

“You’re being irrational,” Bruce presses. “You say you want this with me but I’m offering you something — asking you for something — and you won’t even consider it.”

Clint lifts a damp hand to rub over his face. “Bruce… this… all makes me really uncomfortable.”

Bruce feels his cheeks heat at the rejection implied at Clint’s lack of enthusiasm and he looks away. “I make you uncomfortable.”

“Don’t twist what I said,” Clint says seriously, voice tingeing on angry. “Me fucking you or you putting your mouth on my dick when you can’t get hard doesn’t exactly appeal to me. I want to make you feel good.”

Bruce heaves a sigh and runs both wet hands through his hair, matting it down as he does. “I told you already, it isn’t just about the ability to get off.”

Clint surprises him by leaning forward to grasp the back of the neck, pulling himself in closer, his toes touching Bruce’s back. He kisses him briefly and Bruce doesn’t respond, keeping his eyes open. Clint sighs this time, pressing their foreheads together.

“Let me just… make that work in my head,” he says, pointing vaguely at his own temple.

“You’ll think about it?” Bruce asks, unsure that he’s willing to believe it.

Clint nods, placing his hand back on Bruce’s neck and tracing the shape of his jaw with his thumbs. When Bruce closes his eyes under the touch, Clint leans forward to presses a chaste kiss to his lips. “Promise,” he murmurs eventually.

Bruce kisses back.

 

--

 

Clint’s phone buzzes loudly on the nightstand, jerking him from a light doze. He flails his hand out blindly to snatch it from the bedside table; Bruce shifts, head dead weight on Clint’s other arm, making his fingers tingle in sleep.

The caller ID reads FURY and Clint pinches his eyes shut, exhaling deeply before he answers.

“Barton,” he says, voice thick with disuse. Bruce goes tense against him and Clint tugs at what he can reach of his curls with idle fingers.

“Director Fury,” comes the gruff greeting. “We’re calling you in.”

Clint stares up at the ceiling, knowing that Bruce is listening. “Now?”

“You and Agent Romanoff will be picked up and report for duty at the New York base,” Fury says, ignoring him.

“Where are we going?” Clint hates to be pulled out of bed like this but he doesn’t have much of a choice. S.H.I.E.L.D. knows Bruce is hiding out here in Stark Tower and Fury knows some extent of how far Clint will go to protect him and he is not nearly above using that against him. Clint despises him for it but he agrees every time.

“Boston.”

Clint sighs. “Yes, sir.”

“You have one hour,” Fury says, voice clearly agitated before the line goes dead.

Clint tosses his phone to the nightstand and murmurs a quiet, “Fuck me,” to the silence of the room.

Bruce shifts again and Clint turns, pressing him over onto his back and kissing him soundly. They lose several minutes with Bruce’s fingers in his hair and Clint trying desperately to memorize the smell and feel of him, sleep-warm and familiar. The last thing Clint wants to do is pull back but time is ticking and he needs to get packing; his mind is already scrolling through the list of things he needs to gather, including the newest batch of arrowheads Tony has created for him, down in the armory.

Bruce looks resigned already when Clint leans back, tracing a finger over his eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“Boston,” Clint tells him.

“How long?”

“Don’t know. Not long, probably. If they’re calling me and Tasha in now then they need something done by tomorrow.” He kisses Bruce soundly on the mouth and then sits up with a groan, rubbing at his eyes with the heels of his hands. He sighs when Bruce follows, pressing a kiss to his bare shoulder.

Bruce doesn’t move from the bed while Clint dresses, tugging on his suit with practiced hands and precise movements. He gathers his bow and quiver near the door and then sits down beside Bruce on the bed to lace up his boots. Clint hasn’t been called away in the middle of the night since early along in the first month he and Bruce had put a name on this thing between them. It wasn’t any easier then than it is now to turn to him and kiss him goodbye.

“Don’t do any more experiments with Stark until I get back,” Clint says seriously. “If things go sideways, I want to be there.”

Bruce nods, a small smile lifting the corner of his mouth. “Come home soon,” Bruce tells him quietly, eyes unusually subdued.

Clint squeezes the back of his neck and lets his lips linger. “Promise,” he says before he stands and leaves without looking back.

The lump in his throat isn’t easy to swallow.

 

--

 

Bruce has every intention of keeping his promise to Clint about not letting Tony inject him with anything new while he’s off on mission with Natasha, but he doesn’t let that stop him from seeking him out the next day. Tony is in the common gym, boxing with Happy when Bruce finds him. He’s sweat-soaked and sagging against the ropes when Happy shouts a greeting to him.

Tony turns and waves him in, telling Happy to take five before he climbs through the ropes and grabs a bottle of water and a towel to dry his hair. The arc reactor seems to glow brighter than usual and Bruce stares at it a moment before looking up at Tony who is watching him.

“New reactor?” he asks.

“New casing.” Tony taps it and a vaguely metallic sound resonates. “Vibranium. Partially, anyway. Almost all of it is in Cap’s shield but dad left me a little gift.”

“Lucky you,” Bruce says. “It’s indestructible, right?”

Tony covers it with his hand. “It would appear so.”

“Steve doesn’t seem to have any issues.”

“It stood up to Thor’s hammer with no problem,” Tony says, taking another drink. “So,” he says, apropos to nothing, “I was examining your blood this morning. You’re an interesting fella.”

Bruce feels his cheeks heat slightly. “That’s what they tell me.”

“Your blood is incredibly unstable. It’s remarkable that you have the amount of control you do,” Tony says as he unwraps his hands.

“We’re talking about the Other Guy’s blood, here, right?”

“One in the same, but yes. Same chemical makeup as yours.”

“I’ve studied my own blood before, Tony,” Bruce says, folding his arms against his chest. “Believe me, if there was something that could be done to change it back, I’d have done it by now.”

Tony holds up a hand and moves to pick up a digital file from a nearby table. “True, but I don’t think the key is changing it. Just stabilizing it.”

He hands Bruce the file and Bruce queues it up. A bright module of his own DNA spins slowly before him. He fishes his glasses from his front pocket as Tony reaches a hand out and spins it faster. Small blue enzymes emerge from the reader and attach themselves to the model of Hulk’s green strand, thickening it into something more stable.

“What is that?” he asks, the chemical mixture reading something he isn’t familiar with; he squints, leaning in closer. “CA50?”

Tony waits until Bruce looks up at him. “Steve’s blood. Or what I assume Steve’s blood would do. My dad left behind enough research on the super soldier serum that I can approximate what Rogers’s DNA looks like but without actually having a sample I can’t be sure.”

Bruce takes his glasses off and hands the digital file back to Tony. “So theoretically, you think that Steve’s genetic code might hold the stabilization element missing from mine.”

“Theoretically.”

Bruce runs a hand through his hair and shakes out his curls. “Theoretically that’s a nice idea but unless Steve gave you a blood sample and you just didn’t tell me, this won’t actually happen.”

“Give him time to come around,” Tony says.

“You sound awfully sure of him.”

“You’re not?” Tony asks, looping the towel around the back of his neck and tugging it tightly by the ends.

Bruce shrugs a bit. “I hate to sound the cynic but I’m just trying to keep my hopes at a reasonable level after the last two attempts.”

Tony takes a breath and lets it out loudly, putting both hands on Bruce’s shoulders. “I swear, on all that is good and holy, I will not let you go through the rest of your life without ever having another orgasm.”

Bruce huffs a laugh and Tony pats his shoulders. “Thanks. I think.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Tony says, tossing down his towel and heading back toward the ring. “Thank me after you rock Big Bird’s world. Just don’t tell me all the gritty details afterward.”

Bruce shakes his head and ignores the grin Happy appears to be fighting as he turns to leave. His own work is piling up in his lab and he might as well take advantage of time he’s not able to better spend with Clint. He heads silently toward the elevator.

 

--

 

Boston is a nightmare. A routine mission, not unlike the dozens, hundreds, of others both he and Natasha have been on, turns into an all-out firefight on the streets of Charlestown. Clint takes a bullet in the bicep and another grazes his shoulder. He hasn’t been shot in a long, long time and the pain is startling and terrifying. It doesn’t break his concentration or stop him from loosing arrow after arrow as he and Natasha head for cover.

The situation falls under S.H.I.E.L.D. control soon after and Clint is taken, bruised and bloodied to have the bullet embedded in his arm removed.

The pain is moderate; he’s experienced far, far worse in his time as an assassin but it’s still not an ideal situation. He’s put on temporary leave of duty and sent back to the city.

Natasha stays behind and the flight home is both lonely and rough. It’s raining heavily when they take off and Clint feels like he hasn’t slept in a week. His thoughts have been racing ever since they were discovered and launched into impromptu battle. It’s frightening how Bruce had been the only thing lurking in the back of his mind, behind the instinct to fight, to survive. The need to live to return to Bruce had tainted every single thought. And he realizes, as he sits alone in the back of the plane, staring out at the storm clouds gathering over the city below, thick with rain and flashes of light crackling through them, that if he were to die, he would have left Bruce alone.

The thought sits heavily in his stomach, making him nauseous. His stomach is tight with it and he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He can’t stop the train of thought, leaping all over his brain from one horrible instance to the next. He’s never felt Bruce, truly felt him. He’s never seen him spread out and breathless beneath him in bed. He’s never felt their skin, sticky with sweat, pressed together, or held Bruce down while rocking between his spread thighs. He’s never gotten off with Bruce before, never physically been able to experience that shared desire.

He doesn’t want to die wondering and he doesn’t want to leave Bruce behind to deal with Clint’s hesitance and an absence of his touch in Bruce’s memory.

He’s nearly sick with the revelation that he could truly leave Bruce alone with the world clawing at his back. His own mortality doesn’t faze him but this does and it’s enough to leave him anxiously wiggling his leg the entire flight back to Manhattan, however short that it is.

When they land, it’s raining in the city, dark storm clouds quilt the sky, heavy with rain and rumbling thunder that dulls the noise below. Clint’s arm throbs steadily with his heartbeat but it’s easily ignored. He holds his bow case across his lap, fingers tight over the corners, focusing on how he breathes until the chauffeured car pulls to a stop outside of Stark Tower. He practically stumbles out onto the rain-slicked sidewalk and slings the bag containing his quiver over his shoulder. The driver hands him his personal effects and Clint offers him a muted thanks before he makes his way into the building.

He actually has no concept of how late it’s gotten until he steps into the elevator and asks JARVIS where Bruce is.

“Doctor Banner is sleeping in his private quarters, Agent Barton.”

Clint glances up at the ceiling but quickly looks away when his own bruised-looking eyes stare back down at him. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

“Shall I wake him for you?”

“That’s all right,” Clint says as the elevator slows to a crawl. “Actually, if you want to just turn a blind eye to us for a while, that’d be great.”

“Of course, Agent Barton,” comes the unfazed reply.

The doors slide open to a darkened entryway and Clint steps out. He drops his bags in a much less orderly manner than he usually would, using the toe of his boot to edge them in along the far wall. He places his bow case to the side and when he straightens, a sharp bolt of pain through his freshly sewn wound has him sucking in a breath and cradling his bicep. He closes his eyes and takes a few, slow breaths but it doesn’t help.

He jumps at the quiet, “Clint?” that comes from his left. He turns to see Bruce, backlit by the ever-present lights of the city from the windows down the hall. His sweats are too long, pooling over his feet, and his shirt is wrinkled from sleep. He looks tired and concerned the longer Clint doesn’t respond. A flash of lightning fills the hall for the briefest of moments and then they’re both moving. “Clint, what happened?” Bruce asks.

Clint’s only response is to meet him halfway and kiss him hard. His hand comes up to grip the back of Bruce’s neck, eating the noise of surprise right out of his mouth. Bruce’s hands rise to frame his face as he kisses back with surprising urgency, feeding off of Clint’s frenetic need. He clenches his eyes and pulls Bruce in closer, flush against his chest, never more thankful for their nearly even heights than he is right now. Clint never wants to let him go. He wants to stand here memorizing the damp feel of Bruce’s tongue sliding over his lips and the way he lets out tiny, breathy whimpers on nearly every exhale, the feel of Bruce’s curls between his fingers and the steady beep of his heart monitor, no matter how disruptive it might be. It’s all smaller parts of Bruce that make up the greater picture and he can’t bring himself to dislike any of them.

He sucks in a sharp gasp of air when Bruce’s hand clenches on his bicep, forcing him to pull away.

“Careful, careful,” he breathes as he presses their foreheads together.

Bruce’s hands are already working, unzipping his S.H.I.E.L.D. issue jacket and pushing it carefully down his arms. Clint stands still, eyes closed, memorizing the worried inhales and the rapid rise and fall of Bruce’s chest against his own. He brings a hand up to cradle the back of his neck and keep him close as Bruce rolls up his shirt sleeve, every bit the steady hands of a doctor as he does.

“What happened?” he breathes, trying to lean back to look Clint in the eye.

Clint holds him there, shaking his head slowly back and forth. “Boston was a bust. I took one in the arm and another grazed my shoulder.” Bruce’s fingers tighten on him and he takes in a worried breath.

Clint,” he whispers. “Does it — are you okay? Is Natasha okay?”

Clint doesn’t fight the small smile that lifts his lips. “Tasha’s fine. She’s still there. S.H.I.E.L.D. took the situation but sent me out. I’m on medical leave.”

Bruce’s hands return to his jaw, angling Clint’s head to look him in the eye. “Are you okay?”

Clint nods, dipping down to take Bruce’s mouth in a fierce kiss. He pulls him closer yet with his good hand and presses in with his tongue. Bruce tastes like peppermint and sleep. He’s still so warm from bed and his body finds just the right way to meld against Clint’s own. He wants him so badly, in every single way, and this time he doesn’t stop himself from reaching down to lift him by his thighs.

Bruce makes a startled noise and tightens his arms around Clint’s neck. Bruce is barely shorter than he is and they weigh nearly the same, but Clint doesn’t feel it, nor the stinging pain in his arm as he carries him back into his bedroom and lies him down on the bed.

Bruce’s eyes are impossibly dark, pupils blown wide, his heart monitor going crazy as Clint kneels between his legs and runs his hands up Bruce’s thighs. He kisses him soundly before murmuring, “Take the sedative,” against his lips.

Bruce is rendered immobile for one long moment before he makes a strained noise and twists over onto his side, pulling himself up the bed to reach into the bottom drawer of his nightstand for the pre-filled syringe he’s had stashed there for Clint doesn’t know how long. Clint follows him, hands at his hips, pushing his shirt up his chest and leaning down to trail sharp, teeth-laced kisses across his skin. Bruce’s chest is heaving as he stuffs a pillow under his head and runs a hand through Clint’s hair.

He allows the rough scratch of Clint’s bearded jaw over his chest for a few more seconds before he’s pushing at his forehead. “Clint,” he rasps, “hold on. I can’t inject myself with this while you’re doing that.”

Clint leans up to kiss him hard before he reaches over to turn on the bedside light. Bruce struggles upright as Clint sits back on his heels and watches Bruce strip his own shirt off. His hands shake as he uncaps the needle with his teeth and spits it to the floor. He’s as steady as he can be when he injects himself at the crook of his arm.

Clint listens to his heart monitor begin to slow almost immediately. Bruce sets the used syringe down on his bedside table and reaches for Clint with desperate hands. Clint goes easily, pressing him back down, fitting their hips together with a hand on Bruce’s thigh. He rocks down carefully, aware that Bruce isn’t at all responding where he himself is already achingly hard. Still, Bruce arches into him, reaching up to touch but Clint takes hold of his hand and fits their fingers together for a moment. He stops to kneel up again and unhook the clasp of Bruce’s heart monitor.

Bruce lets out a pathetic sound when Clint smoothes his thumbs over the bare skin and then kisses it, raking his teeth over the pale strip of skin and dark, contrasting veins. Clint tugs his shirt up over his head and Bruce’s fingers are on his chest immediately.

“You’re beautiful,” Bruce surprises him by breathing into the thick air between them.

Clint presses Bruce’s palm flat over his heart and closes his eyes for a brief moment. He could have lost this and that aches more painfully than any bullet ever could. “You’re all I could think about,” Clint whispers with the air of confession. He leads Bruce’s hand down his stomach to the waist of his pants and then stills. “Never having this, never giving it to you when you asked me. I’m sorry,” he rasps, looking down to meet Bruce’s gaze.

“Don’t apologize to me. Not for that. Not ever,” Bruce tells him, pulling his hand free and running it over the rough fabric of Clint’s standard issue black pants. He shakes at the touch, Bruce’s palm warm and solid over the hard line of his cock. It’s not the first time Bruce has touched him but it feels wildly more important than the first uncertain touches they’d traded early on. He pushes into it, sinking his teeth into his bottom lip, and then Bruce is fumbling at the clasps.

Clint has to pull away entirely to divest himself of his clothes. Bruce does the same with only a lift of his hips and his sweats are kicked off and away; Clint watches him, all tanned skin and eager hands. Clint is on him again the moment he’s free of his pants and boots, rocking carefully between his thighs. Bruce might not be hard but he responds like he is; he’s nothing but breathy whimpers and steady pushes of his hips, fingers tight in Clint’s hair as he sucks at his tongue and strokes at his cock.

Clint pulls away to bury his face in Bruce’s neck, panting as a lightly calloused hand learns the length of him, stroking slowly from base to head, trailing fingers through precome and lifting them to his mouth to taste. Clint’s throat is dry and he can barely swallow as he watches.

“Fuck,” he finds himself breathing, chasing Bruce’s fingers with a kiss he can taste himself in. “Fuck, fuck, do you have anything?”

Bruce nods and gestures at the bedside table again. Clint leans over him to rifle through the bottom drawer, still standing open, until he finds a small bottle of oil. Bruce’s hand cups and squeezes his balls while the other pulls at his dick. It’s dry and just this side of painful but Clint is frozen over him, propped up on his good arm, rocking into the touch with jerky movements of his hips, panting softly.

“Clint,” Bruce breathes after a moment, drawing his attention upward again. “Fuck me. Please.”

Clint nods when he presses a kiss to the corner of Bruce’s mouth. He uncaps the oil and coats his fingers liberally. It doesn’t feel like it’s him working his fingers into Bruce, opening him up and listening to him pant. He can feel the lines that Bruce’s fingernails are raking across his back and the hot rush of breath against his neck but he can hardly believe that this is happening, let alone right now.

Bruce is ready far sooner than Clint anticipates, pulling his legs apart to rest over Clint’s thighs while he fumbles with a condom. Bruce’s fingers are cool against his overheated chest, stroking his skin slowly while he rolls the latex down. He grips himself for a moment, both to secure the condom and make sure that he isn’t about to go off early, and then guides himself forward.

Clint has seen some of the world’s most amazing sights, perched in some of the most sacred and holy of places, climbed and swam and run through the harshest and most lush landscapes that the planet has to offer, but still, nothing has ever enraptured him the way Bruce does when he presses inside of him. Bruce arches beneath him, body bending beautifully to accommodate the stretch of Clint’s cock. His chest is flushed, even in the dark, and he moans Clint’s name like he’s breathing out salvation.

He wishes that he could say he took his time and worked Bruce over more thoroughly than anyone before him could possibly have. But when he’s in as far as he can go, his balls tight and his thighs shaking, he can hardly hold himself back. He fucks Bruce hard, his movements as frantic as his thoughts; nothing but the need to feel and experience this, to take Bruce, inside and out, to make him his own and never let him forget who he belongs to makes any sense.

His arm throbs and he keeps his weight supported on the other as he leans to one side, watching his cock sink into Bruce, over and over again, eyes closing at the tell-tale sounds, shuddering up along his spine.

“Feel so good,” he slurs, adjusting himself over top of Bruce again. The thighs around his waist hitch up further and Bruce tips his head back, panting through open lips.

“Don’t stop,” Bruce breathes. “Please. Clint.”

“I won’t. I won’t, I’m here. I’m here.” It sounds like feverish nonsense to the rational part of his brain, but to the lingering thoughts of leaving all of this behind in a firefight, it makes all the sense in the world. He feels wild and nearly out of control, thrusting harder and harder, pushing Bruce up the bed until his own forearm is the only thing keeping the top of his head from connecting with the headboard.

And all the while, Bruce’s hands are steady on his back, gripping and soothing, running over his straining muscles and tracing lines of ownership through the sweat slicking his skin. Clint is a shaking, panting mess over top of him and Bruce holds him up and holds him together, murmuring rasping words of encouragement against his temple.

His orgasm hits him suddenly, the quick, coiling heat at the base of his spine spreads rapidly and he’s pushing into Bruce hard and fast, hips bucking nearly out of his control as he comes, filling the condom. He feels completely out of his own mind as he sinks down on top of Bruce and loses track of himself in an onslaught of darkness that befalls him.

When he opens his eyes again, he’s lying on his back in Bruce’s bed. Rain is pounding steadily against the windows still and he turns his head groggily to look. Bruce is beside him a moment later, practically glowing in the warm light from the lamp behind him. He’s dressed in his sweats again and Clint is covered by the sheet. He feels pleasantly warm and completely sated as Bruce leans over to kiss him softly, stroking a hand over his cheek.

“You’re heavier than you look,” Bruce tells him when he sits up again.

Clint struggles up on shaking arms to sit against the headboard and Bruce pulls the covers up further and sits facing him. Clint looks down at his arm when Bruce reaches for it; his wound is leaking blood through the bandage.

“Damn,” he breathes.

“Hold still, let me change it,” Bruce says, reaching for his glasses before he sets to work. The incision is throbbing harder than before but Clint doesn’t mind; all of the pain is worth it, he doesn’t need to remind himself. He tips his head back against the wall and watches as Bruce cleans and rewraps his arm with careful precision.

“Thanks, doc,” Clint says quietly when Bruce has returned from throwing his bloody gauze away.

Bruce offers him a smile that is just this side of shy and climbs under the covers with him. Clint wraps his good arm around Bruce’s shoulders and pulls him close. They sit in silence for a long time, listening to the thunder rumble angrily overhead, before Bruce turns his head and kisses his jaw.

“I’m glad you changed your mind,” Bruce says softly, voice still hoarse.

Clint lifts an eyebrow when he turns to look at him. “That sounds suspiciously like a thank you.”

“It’s not.”

Clint tips his head back to look him in the eyes and then presses a chaste kiss to his lips. “I’m glad I did too,” he says eventually.

Bruce doesn’t say anything further, just settles in with his arm heavy over Clint’s hips and his head on his shoulder. Clint doesn’t have the energy, nor the desire, to move him once he falls asleep.

 

--

 

A few days later Clint wakes Bruce when he gets out of bed to get ready for his debriefing at the field office in the city. He starts physical therapy today, in addition to having to file his incident report. Bruce ties his tie for him and Clint presses an easy kiss to his lips before picking up his bag and heading out.

Bruce isn’t sure when he’ll be home, so he spends most of the morning at his computer with a cup of coffee steaming nearby. He’s analyzed the information left to Tony by his father several times and corrected slight miscalculations in the approximation model of Steve’s DNA. He feels guilty in a way he can’t shake that he shouldn’t be doing this without at least discussing it with Steve. The Captain hasn’t spoken to him since they ran into one another as Steve fled Tony’s lab a couple of weeks ago and Tony hasn’t brought it up recently.

Bruce rubs a hand over his face and yawns into his palm. Clint hasn’t been sleeping well since he returned from Boston and Bruce finds it difficult to sleep knowing that Clint is lying awake beside him, watching the light on the ceiling become brighter and brighter.

Eventually, though, he showers, dresses and heads off in search of Tony. He finds him in the common kitchen with a spoon sticking out the side of his mouth and a look of intense concentration on his face as he reads something.

“You cooking?” Bruce asks, drawing Tony’s amused gaze.

“Leftovers,” he states, pointing at the bowl with his spoon. “Potatoes. You want?”

Bruce glances at the clock and then shakes his head. “It’s ten in the morning.”

“Potatoes are good any time,” Tony informs him, hopping up to sit on the counter as Bruce rummages for a knife to cut his usual grapefruit in half with.

Considering how in depth Tony has been helping him, diving right into the midst of Bruce’s body malfunctions without so much as being asked, Bruce feels remarkably awkward in bringing it up. He’s leaning against the opposite counter as Tony scrapes his bowl of mashed potatoes clean when he clears his throat, keeping his eyes lower, on the arc reactor, as he speaks.

“So, uh…” Tony’s eyebrows go up, a clear sign of interest as he dumps his dish into the sink beside him. “You know the night Clint came home? After he was shot.”

“Yeah.”

“We, uh…” he trails off, shifting his weight from one foot to the next, and when he looks up, Tony has a knowing grin on his face.

“You what?”

Bruce clears his throat and straightens up. “We had sex.”

“Did you complete the act?”

“He did, I didn’t,” Bruce says.

“Did you…” Tony waves his hand in a circle a few times, “were you interested?”

Bruce sighs and pokes at his fruit, appetite abandoning him suddenly. “I wasn’t hard at any point.”

Tony nods, pursing his lips while he thinks. “Well, we’re halfway there,” he says, sliding off of the counter and clapping Bruce on the shoulder. “We’ll get you there, buddy,” he promises. “Now eat your breakfast so you can grow up big and strong.”

Bruce kicks him lightly in the shin when he walks away; Tony’s laugh seems to linger as he goes.

 

--

 

It rains on and off for a few days, the sky never seeming to have its fill of blanketing the city in perpetual shades of black and gray. Clint doesn’t need to leave except to go to physical therapy, but he declines further help after only a few sessions. He’s better off strengthening his muscles with his work on the archery range, so that’s what he does.

Bruce watches him, day after day, and Clint gets him back beside him, his bow in Bruce’s hands. He still loves this, directing Bruce and guiding his form, watching him loose arrows that hit the target, closer to the mark in the center than not. Bruce gains confidence with his improving skill and Clint beams with pride when Bruce turns to smile at him over his shoulder.

There’s a tiredness to him, though, ever darkening circles under his eyes and a shakiness to his normally steady hands. Clint knows it’s because of him that Bruce forces himself to stay awake at night. It’s not nightmares that plague him (when he falls asleep deeply enough to dream), but rather a restless inability to shut his brain down long enough to sleep. The required shrink appointments don’t seem to help much to relieve the lingering stress either. He’s exhausted beyond his limits but it’s Bruce beside him that encourages him to press onward, same as anything else.

It’s still raining steadily when they stretch out on the couch in the common media room together. They start out on their sides, with Clint between the cushions and Bruce’s back against his chest, watching an old film Bruce has dredged up from somewhere. Clint hasn’t been paying attention since it started, his eyes closing before the opening credits had even finished rolling across the screen. He focuses on counting the steady beats of Bruce’s heart through contact with his palm until Bruce turns suddenly to face him.

Clint winds up on his back with Bruce half on top of him, cheek to his chest and one leg between his own. Clint’s fingers find their way into his hair as Bruce settles and he strokes his curls with gentle hands until Bruce falls asleep. Clint finds himself watching the rain outside, through half-opened blinds, rather than the television. He’s warm and comfortable with Bruce’s bare toes touching his own and the comfortingly even beating of his heart.

He dozes lightly until the movie ends and fumbles for the remote when the end credits begin to scroll to much louder music. Clint glances down at the top of Bruce’s head and then hits the menu button to check the time. It’s close to midnight but there isn’t a single part of Clint that wants to rouse Bruce and lead him to bed. Clint is tired but he knows he’s going to be awake for a while longer and Bruce has slept so sparingly since he returned from his last mission.

Clint squints at the remote in the flashing darkness from the menu screen and hits play again. He settles into the plush cushions beneath him and wraps an arm more securely around Bruce, the fingers of his other hand going back to his hair.

It hasn’t been more than a few minutes when the hall light comes on. Clint turns his head toward the doorway and waits. Steve appears a few seconds later, seemingly not paying attention to his surroundings, when he staggers to an abrupt stop at the side of the couch where their feet lie.

“Hey,” Clint murmurs quietly, when Steve does nothing more than stare in silence; his fingers still continue stretching out the springs of Bruce’s hair. Steve says nothing, eyes flicking between the two of them in something like hesitance and concern. “You wanna watch?” Clint asks, keeping his voice low. “I just restarted it. Bruce isn’t sleeping well lately so I don’t wanna move him yet.”

Steve’s mouth drops open and his lips seem to move over silent words he can’t find the sense to voice. Clint’s brows knit together when Steve begins backing up.

“No… no thank you,” he stutters. “I — I need to go.” And with that, he turns and stumbles quickly from the room.

Clint is left to stare after him in silence, unclear on what has just happened and not at all certain that he wants to know. He merely tightens his arms around Bruce and squirms down beneath his weight enough that he can tuck Bruce’s head under his chin and close his eyes.

He’ll deal with it later.

 

--

 

As the time since the incident in Charlestown stretches onward, Clint begins to relax. Bruce has never been shot before but the Other Guy has been shot at more times than he could ever hope to count. He doesn’t know the physical pain of it but Bruce has his own share of emotional trauma baggage and he’s had no problem offering his silent support to Clint during the night by keeping a waking vigil beside him.

Still, he’s relieved when Clint starts to smile more, returns to the archery range for practice and recreation, rather than just to rebuild muscle strength. He’s happier, more himself, and Bruce doesn’t realize how subdued he himself had become until his own mood improves.

Clint sits on the bathroom counter while Bruce adjusts the knot of his tie and straightens imaginary wrinkles from his suit jacket and then pulls him close by the lapels for a kiss. His final mandated psychiatric evaluation is today, before he can be cleared for active duty again, and there’s a smile that lingers on his face even through the press of their lips.

Clint smacks him on the ass before heading out the door. “Make good science today,” he says.

Bruce jumps and swats at his hand, unable to suppress his grin and the light flush dusting his cheeks. “I always do.”

Clint winks and heads off down the hall.

Bruce meets up with Tony on the promenade. He’s standing in the middle of the outdoor landing with his hands on his hips. There’s a bluetooth headset in his ear and he’s talking a mile a minute to either Pepper or JARVIS, but Bruce isn’t sure which; there aren’t many people (or artificially intelligent life forms) who are willing to give Tony a level dose of reality like the two of them are.

He turns when he hears Bruce’s quiet footsteps over the granite. “Look, I’ve gotta go.” There’s a lengthy pause in which Tony rolls his eyes rather dramatically and begins to take the earpiece out. “I don’t care, Pepper.” And then without waiting for a response, “I’m losing you. Losing you. Pepper. Oh no, Pepper.” He turns and hurls the earpiece over the edge of the building without hesitation.

Bruce laughs. “You couldn’t just turn it off?”

“She’d keep calling,” Tony says, like that makes any sort of sense. He shrugs and claps a hand on Bruce’s shoulder, shaking him a little as his free hand spans out before them. “I had an idea. Couldn’t wait.”

Bruce allows himself to be tucked under Tony’s arm and pulled tight to his side. He listens as Tony lays out his plan for newer, less expensive solar panels that would rebuild the city’s power grid and reduce energy costs, along with carbon emissions by thirty percent. “At least,” he stresses, shaking Bruce a little as he does. “At least thirty.” Then he lets go and starts walking. “Come,” he calls, “to the lab, Robin.”

Bruce follows with a shake of his head, easy-going smile still in place as Tony slows a step to allow Bruce to keep pace with him.

They lose hours together, buried under computer screens and interfaces lying out endless data streams before them. Bruce’s eyes burn after a while and he finally has to sit back and remove his glasses. Tony is at work at one of his tables, already soldering away at something.

“Tony,” he calls, rubbing at his eyes. “Lunch?” he asks when he looks up.

Tony shrugs, waving him off. “You go ahead. I can’t eat when I get going. When the genius flows, it’s best not to interrupt it.” He ducks his head to get closer to whatever he’s working on, soldering gun making minute melds under his careful hands.

“I’ll bring you something back,” Bruce promises, pushing back his chair and standing. His back cracks unpleasantly and he entertains idle thoughts about eliciting a backrub from Clint as he heads for the door. Tony offers no response, already wrapped back up in his own head, so Bruce goes alone.

The common kitchen is just one floor down from where he and Tony are tinkering in his workspace, so he heads there. Steve is sitting at the table with a half-empty cup of coffee and a newspaper folded open to the sports section in front of him. He’s staring off into space when Bruce comes in. Steve blinks and then follows his movement, lowering his hand from where his chin had been resting on it.

“Hey,” Bruce says, going directly to the sink to wash his hands. Somehow his hands had wound up as covered in grease as Tony’s, despite barely having done more than point out where a few wires should be connected.

“Hey,” Steve offers. “I made coffee.”

“Thanks.” Bruce focuses on washing beneath his fingernails. He feels a distinct sort of unease, not because he dislikes Steve at all, but because he isn’t sure how Steve’s view of him has been altered over the past couple of weeks. They haven’t spoken at all, let alone been left in the same room together with no one else to act as a buffer.

He can see Steve sit back in his chair and reach forward to pick at the corner of the newspaper. He still doesn’t have much of an affinity for the tablets and computers that come standard as a resident of Stark Tower. Tony has spent endless hours badgering him to catch up with the times but always seems to back off just before Steve gets truly upset with it.

Bruce shuts off the water and dries his hand on a dishtowel before he turns to the refrigerator. He’s making himself a sandwich when he hears the scrape of Steve’s chair against the hardwood floor. He glances up out of reflex before back down at what his hands are doing, spreading sprouts over his bread.

Steve comes around to rinse out his cup and set it in the sink. Bruce can feel the mounting tension within him, simply by proximity. He takes a breath every few seconds like he’s getting ready to say something, but when Bruce steals himself against whatever it might be, Steve remain silent.

Finally, though, when Bruce has his back turned to the refrigerator again, Steve speaks.

“Doctor Banner, can I ask you something?”

Bruce’s hand tightens briefly on the handle before he turns. “Of course. And it’s Bruce, Steve.”

“Right, sorry.” Steve still has trouble dropping the formality of titles. He says it’s the Army in him but Bruce knows the make of a person who is just downright respectful.

Bruce leans against the opposite counter, his sandwich forgotten as he folds his arms loosely against his chest, keeping it from becoming defensive posture. Steve mirrors him but with his palms curled around the edge of the counter, fingers tapping against its underside restlessly.

“What’s on your mind, Steve?” Bruce asks, knowing full well where this conversation is headed. He just hopes he has his hands on at least one of the reins as they go.

Steve looks uncomfortable and he doesn’t meet Bruce’s eyes at first. “It’s personal.”

“I figured.” Bruce makes a gesture with his hand. “Go ahead.”

Steve spends several silent moments biting at his bottom lip before he wipes a hand over his mouth and lets it fall back to the counter again. He takes a breath and looks directly at Bruce. “You and Barton,” he starts, letting the bottom right out of Bruce’s stomach, “you two… “

“We what?” Bruce asks. He’s not trying to be petty or childish but if Steve has a legitimate question or is attempting to understand something here then Bruce is going to need him to give voice to whatever it is. He’s as patient as he absolutely can be but he’s not going to coddle anyone, even if that person had been asleep through a couple of sexual revolutions.

Steve’s fingers tighten on the counter and Bruce can see him loosen them deliberately, moving his arms to fold against his chest and shifting his footing. “You two, you’re… together, right?”

“That’s right,” Bruce says quietly, holding Steve’s gaze when it meets his own again. Steve doesn’t seem to have anticipated the conversation going much further because he falls into silence and doesn’t seem capable of forming another coherent thought. Bruce’s eyebrows draw together. “This bothers you?” he asks, taking a shot in the not-so-dark.

“No,” Steve surprises him by saying instantly. “Not… it doesn’t.” He rakes a hand through his hair and runs it down to rub at the back of his neck. “It really doesn’t.”

“Are you trying to convince me or yourself?” Bruce asks, voice still gentle.

Steve looks at him for a long, silent moment before he shakes his head. “This must sound bad.”

“Well, you’ve avoided me like the plague since Tony spoke to you about it.” Bruce shrugs. “There’re only so many ways that can be taken.”

“Doctor Bann— Bruce,” he corrects himself, “I just needed to think.”

“And what sort of conclusion did you draw?”

Instead of answering, Steve moves to another track. “Can I ask you something else?” Bruce shrugs. “Do you love him? Really love him?”

“I do,” Bruce says without hesitation.

“And… nothing is… missing between you two?” Steve seems genuine in his questioning, voice tinged with just the slightest bit of desperation, as though he possesses a true need to know.

Bruce’s eyebrows pull together a bit. “No, Steve. Not everyone needs the same thing. Clint is… right for me. We take care of each other.” Bruce looks down at Steve’s bare feet and then back up. “He’s not afraid of me. He doesn’t judge me or look at me any differently. He loves the parts of me that I don’t even like.” He falls silent a moment, taking in the pained look on Steve’s face before he continues. “Do you know what that feels like?”

Steve’s throat moves as he swallows and then he’s shaking his head. “Maybe.”

“Just ‘maybe’?” Bruce presses gently.

“I don’t know.” He looks down before he goes on. “Before I was… this,” he gestures at himself, “I had a friend. He didn’t care how weak I was or that no one else liked me.” He looks up now. “He was my best friend. My only friend. He loved me.”

Bruce feels a distinct tightening of his throat. Everyone Steve knew before the war is likely dead and Steve knows it.

“And you loved him?”

“Not… in that way, but yes,” Steve continues, clearing his throat and moving a hand through his hair again, this time combing it back rather than raking through it.

“Then I hope you understand, at least partially, why I love Clint.”

Steve doesn’t say anything for far too long to be comfortable but his gaze isn’t judgmental (not that Bruce ever really felt that it was). He blows out a slow breath and pushes away from the counter, hand outstretched. Bruce takes it and Steve’s fingers tighten.

“I think I do.”

Bruce smiles. “You’re a good guy, Steve.”

Steve’s other hand comes up to clap him on the shoulder, resting easily for a moment before he lets go and smoothes his hands down his own sides, straightening himself up again. “So are you. Bruce,” he adds his name as an afterthought.

Steve leaves him alone, tucking his newspaper up under his arm and heading for the hall. Bruce leans against the counter and eats his sandwich, a distinct sensation of relief sparking through him.

 

--

 

It’s another week yet before Clint touches Bruce with any sort of intent again. The night he’d come home, battered and bruised and desperate for the feel of him. Bruce has never felt so genuinely desired in his life, even before the accident. No one had ever looked at him or touched him as reverently as Clint does. No part of him questions Clint’s desire or loyalty and it’s a wild sensation to experience, especially now, when true acceptance is nearly impossible to come by.

Tony warns him against using the sedative too often and Bruce agrees, concerned about adverse effects on his body, should he begin leaning on it as a crutch instead of an occasional helping hand. He’s got a few syringes pre-filled in his own room and another in a drawer in Clint’s bathroom counter. Just in case.

Bruce injects himself after he’s showered, standing naked in Clint’s bathroom. The sensation is immediate, a state of euphoria descending on him like a rush of warm water. He closes his eyes and breathes deep, the air still thick with steam from the shower, grounding himself in the feel, giving himself over to it.

He recaps the needle and sets it along the far edge of the sink to dispose of later, before tugging on a clean pair of sweatpants and heading out into the bedroom. Clint is sitting up against the headboard, watching the news, which is highlighting a story about toxic radiation levels spiking suddenly near Chernobyl.

The furrow between his brows lessens when Bruce climbs up beside him on the bed. He hits the mute button and sets the remote aside, smiling when Bruce straddles his thighs without so much as a word. Clint’s hands are warm and calloused on his sides, thumbs stroking over the cut of his hips, tracing up and down the indents.

“Well hello,” Clint says, grinning still when Bruce leans in to kiss him.

It’s easy to lose himself in this, the touch of Clint’s hands, the feel of Clint so relaxed beneath his weight, the hands in his hair, the tongue sliding slowly against his own. Bruce groans and presses in harder, Clint’s hands moving to his chest to hold him up and a little bit away.

“Bruce,” he finally breathes, turning his head to break the kiss. He huffs a laugh. “We gotta slow down a little.”

“Why?” Bruce murmurs, dropping his head to bite at one side of Clint’s neck while he strokes at the other.

He can feel Clint swallow against his lips. “You know why.”

Bruce raises himself up just enough that his free hand can fit between them. He presses down and squeezes Clint’s dick, already swelling between his thighs. Clint arches involuntarily and hisses in a breath.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Clint laughs breathily. “Did you…” he trails off, leaving the question unspoken, hanging in the air between them like a physical thing.

“Yes,” Bruce whispers, biting at the rough skin of his jaw, laving his tongue over the shadow of facial hair growing in.

Clint’s groan shoots sparks down his spine but he tightens his thighs when Clint tries to turn him over. “Bruce?”

“Let me,” he breathes, pulling back and kissing at Clint’s parted lips. “Let me do this.”

Clint leans back to look at him, eyes already darkening as his pupils widen. Bruce’s fingertips stroke at his jaw when Clint nods. “Okay,” he finally murmurs.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Clint confirms with another rough swallow.

Bruce presses one final light kiss to his mouth before he’s moving down. His fingers curl in the hem of Clint’s shirt and push it up to lavish attention on his hard-won muscles. Bruce loves the feel of it, Clint shifting and arching under his touch, his muscles tightening beneath the sharp nips of his teeth and the shuddery sighs Clint looses at the feel of his tongue soothing after them.

Bruce rubs him slowly through his pajama bottoms, pressing the hard length of Clint’s cock to his thigh and tracing it with eager fingers. He thumbs over the head until it’s leaking through the fabric as he works his way down Clint’s body.

“I’ve been thinking about this,” Bruce rasps against his stomach, biting at the thin trail of hair that disappears beneath the waist of his sweats.

“Yeah?” Clint breathes, one hand carding fingers gently through his curls, merely holding, not pushing.

Bruce glances up to take in his face, flushed and open, lips parted and damp as he licks at them. He looks absolutely gorgeous and Bruce shudders when he reminds himself that he’s the cause of it. Clint wants him so honestly and purely that Bruce can make him look so beautifully debauched.

He scoots lower to press his mouth to the head of Clint’s cock through his pants and holds him down by the hips when he arches into the pressure.

“Yeah,” Bruce confirms, fingers finding their way to the waist of his sweats and tugging them carefully down. Clint arches to help and watches as Bruce sits back on his heels, stripping the fabric away.

Clint’s dick is fully hard, standing between his thighs and glistening at the head. Bruce’s mouth waters as he wraps a hand, slick with his own spit, around it, stroking slowly. He watches Clint’s eyes fall shut, arching into the touch, fingers curling in the fitted sheet. His moan is soft and low, raking Bruce’s already frayed nerves along hot coals. There’s a jolt of arousal in his stomach, spiking down through his hips, but it doesn’t last. He’s impossibly turned on by this, by Clint and what he’s about to do, but it’s with a sense of helpless frustration that he knows he can’t get hard for it.

He focuses instead on Clint, making him feel good. Bruce leans forward and wraps his lips around the head of his cock. The noise Clint makes has Bruce’s free hand shaking to find purchase on his hip. He tightens his grip at the base of his cock and strokes as he pulls off to lick over the head.

“Bruce,” Clint breathes, drawing his attention upward.

Clint’s gaze is far away, even though he’s watching Bruce raptly. He strokes his worshipful hands over Bruce’s head, cradling and holding as Bruce covers his teeth with his lips and sinks down on his dick again. He strokes in rhythm, paying careful attention to what he can’t reach, and moaning around what he can.

It feels good, so good, in a way he never thought possible to be doing this. He’s still not hard, but he’s right there with Clint. His stomach burns pleasantly, his whole body prickling with goosebumps whenever Clint tugs on his hair. He swallows the pulses of precome Clint leaks across his tongue, eyes closing tightly at the sensation as much as the taste. It’s been years since he’s done this, felt it, been able to enjoy someone else’s body.

His fingers uncurl from Clint’s hip to trace up over his stomach, feeling the tensing, fluttering muscles under his touch. He pulls off to suck at the base of Clint’s cock, mouthing down further to his balls.

Clint’s hips jerk up suddenly and he makes a choked-off sound. “Bruce,” he gasps. Bruce quickly guides him back into his mouth, lips tight around the head as his hand strokes firmly, urging Clint on. He tries to hold his hips still but Bruce follows the aborted thrusts, sticking with him as he shudders and comes, moaning softly, fingers clutching his hair as he spurts over Bruce’s tongue.

Bruce swallows easily, jerking him through it, urging every jolt of pleasure that rocks Clint’s body out of him, until Clint is sagging down against the mattress, whispering his name. Bruce pulls off and sits back between Clint’s sprawled thighs, watching his chest heave, arm thrown over his eyes. Finally, he looks out from under his forearm and then gestures Bruce up to him.

Bruce goes, curling up to his side and letting Clint pull him closer. He kisses him soundly, even though he’s still panting for breath, licking the taste of himself from Bruce’s mouth.

Clint pulls away after a moment but keeps the arm around his shoulders tight and secure. His thumb presses down against Bruce’s bottom lip before he traces the outline of it. “You’re so fuckin’ beautiful,” Clint whispers quietly.

Bruce lets out a little huff of air and turns Clint’s head, kissing his jaw. “You’re just saying that because I sucked you off.”

Clint bats at the back of his head. “You being beautiful has nothing to do with your incredible blowjob skills. Which are great, by the way.”

He laughs and settles for a moment with his face in Clint’s neck, closing his eyes to the feel of fingers twisting in the sweaty curls along his hairline. He feels too good to move, but he allows himself to be rolled over onto his side. Clint squirms his way back into his pajama bottoms and gets them both under the covers. Bruce goes willingly into Clint’s open arms, making himself comfortable against his side with a contented exhale.

Clint’s fingers stroke slowly through his hair until his eyelids become too heavy to keep open. The last thing he feels before he drifts off is the soft brush of lips against his forehead.

 

--

 

“This one?” Bruce asks.

He’s not prodding at anything so Clint has to lift his head from his folded arms and look over his shoulder at what Bruce is talking about. Bruce is sitting on his thighs, rubbing his back for him after one of Tony’s arrowheads had exploded too soon and sent Clint flying over a table. He’s sore and bruised and Bruce has magic hands that he has no problem taking advantage of.

He’s currently pointing to a small, deep scar on the lower, right portion of his back. He knows the one and it makes him laugh a little.

“Natasha gave me that.”

What?” Bruce asks, pressing his palm over the mark, as though he can undo the damage long since done.

Clint lies his head down again, grinning. “Yeah. When she found out I’d been sent to kill her, my god, we fought like Mr. & Mrs. Smith. I never thought I’d get her to calm down and actually listen to me.”

“And she stabbed you?”

“That’s when she finally stopped.”

Bruce is silent for a long moment before his hands begin moving over the loosened muscles in his back. “Why didn’t you kill her?” he finally asks.

Clint shrugs. “It’s complicated,” he says, voice muffled a bit by his arm. “And not entirely my story to tell. But the short version? She didn’t deserve to die. Not really. She needed a chance to fix things.” He shrugs again. “I gave it to her like someone gave it to me.”

Bruce runs his hands up Clint’s back, pressing down hard, making him wince a little before he slides them gently back down and then under his chest. Clint lifts a little to allow the contact and Bruce sinks in against him, chest pressed to his back. He kisses Clint’s shoulder.

“You’re a good man, Clinton.”

“Oh, fuck you, don’t call me that,” he says, but he’s laughing, reaching around to smack at Bruce’s side. “Robert,” he adds as an afterthought.

Bruce groans and shakes his head against Clint’s shoulder blade. “Okay, white flag,” he says, “go no further.”

“Truce?” Clint asks, turning his head to look back at Bruce as best he can.

“Peace and love,” Bruce agrees, grinning when Clint laughs.

Clint reaches beneath himself for one of Bruce’s hands and pulls it out from under his chest, lacing their fingers and resting their hands on the bed. Bruce is a heavy, warm weight on top of him and he has no desire to move him yet. He is all too comfortable here, with Bruce atop him, heart beating calmly against his back.

 

--

 

Bruce has never been one for the mechanical end of the science spectrum, sticking more to the periodic side of things, but pairing up with Tony on a project apparently means he will learn to be both. Tony is an outright genius, far beyond the intelligence of the men and women even Bruce has worked with. He could hold doctorates in every science and skill in the western world if he chose to do so. Instead, he merely masters the art and moves on to the next.

Bruce himself is labeled the same, genius by trade, but Tony gives him borderline migraines with how quickly he picks things up. He doesn’t expect Bruce to tag along on his mechanical misadventures whenever he’s tinkering around with something, but Bruce learns quickly so he doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be able to solder a couple of wires together if Tony needs him to.

The solar panels take only a few days to finish. He assumes that Tony will want to install them on nearby buildings and relay the information back to JARVIS for data collection and assumed energy output the moment Butterfingers has taken the screwdriver from Bruce’s hand. But when Bruce calls out a loud, “I think we’re done here,” Tony doesn’t even look up at him.

Bruce wipes at his brow with his forearm, sitting back in the chair to look at him. Tony has been sitting at a computer for the past several hours, unspeaking and unmoving, only offering monosyllabic responses to Bruce’s attempts at conversation. It’s worrisome to see him so completely subdued.

Bruce nudges an overly enthusiastic Dummy away when he stands, stepping around the robot as he heads toward Tony. He’s sitting, chin in hand, the light from the monitor reflecting in his dark eyes as he stares intently at it.

“Tony,” Bruce says as he comes around the desk, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Hmm?” Tony hums, finally looking up at him. “What’s up?”

“I finished the panel,” he says, gesturing over the monitor at his workstation.

Tony follows the movement. “Excellent. Dummy!” he shouts, standing abruptly. “Back away from the solar panel and you get to keep your motherboard.”

The robot dips down, bending at the hinge and sliding backward, looking every bit a scolded pet. Bruce can’t help the quiet huff of laughter. He rubs at his forehead as Tony turns to look at him.

“Hard to find good help these days, huh?” Bruce says.

“You have no idea,” Tony replies grumpily, plopping himself back down into his chair.

Bruce takes off his glasses and begins cleaning the lenses on the hem of his shirt. “What are you working on?” he asks, not bothering to look for himself.

Tony remains silent as he clicks around and Bruce’s brow furrows as he replaces the frames on his nose. He doesn’t have a chance to inquire further, though, because the low hum of the incubator along the back wall suddenly slows and then lets out one long beep before falling silent.

Bruce looks at Tony with his eyebrows arched and Tony smacks his hands against the armrests of the chair, standing quickly.

“This,” Tony tells him belatedly, stepping around the desk to make his way over. He’s quick with a pair of latex gloves before tossing the box to Bruce, who nearly fumbles it.

He’s barely got on his own, setting the box aside, when Tony is carefully setting the extracted holder on the counter beside it. He flicks on the fluorescent lamp above it with the back of his hand and carefully removes one of the test tubes to hold it aloft. Bruce doesn’t attempt to mask his confusion.

“And what is that, exactly?”

Tony looks at him with a grin, before back up at the small glass vial in his hand as though it’s the Holy Grail. “This,” he says seriously, “is your next orgasm.”

Bruce finds himself blinking stupidly. “What?” he asks after a long moment of silence.

“Steve came by a couple of days ago and let me draw his blood,” Tony tells him conversationally, like he hasn’t just told Bruce that the impossible has happened.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bruce asks, though it sounds more like a demand to even his own ears.

Tony returns the test tube to its place in the holder and looks at him, voice turning serious along with his expression. “Because I didn’t want to get your hopes up. The first two rounds of this didn’t exactly go to plan.”

“Understatement,” Bruce says, rubbing at his forehead. He feels dumbfounded and thrown so far off the track he isn’t sure he can find it again.

“Besides,” Tony says, tapping his finger against the rubber stopper plugging one of the tubes, “I thought Rogers might want to tell you himself.” Bruce shakes his head, lips parting but no sound comes forth. “I take it he didn’t.” It doesn’t sound like a question.

“He never said a word.”

“Figures,” Tony says, leaning back against the counter and folding his arms. “Goody two shoes.”

Bruce’s gaze drops to the row of test tubes, light blue liquid resting casually inside of them, like they might not hold the key to changing Bruce’s entire life. Like this might not be everything he’s been hoping might be possible since he got to know Clint. He runs a hand up over his face, rubbing hard enough at his eyes that colors blossom behind his lids and pain shoots briefly out toward his temples.

“So now…” Bruce finds himself trailing off even though he knows the next logical step in the scientific process. He blows out a slow breath and drops his hands to his hips. He doesn’t look up until Tony speaks.

“Now, you run.”

 

--

 

Clint is incredibly uneasy when Bruce gets on the treadmill again. Tony seems outlandishly confident that this is it, that Steve’s super solider blood was the stabilizing agent Bruce’s mutated DNA requires to keep his heart rate down and his blood flowing smoothly. Clint hates to hope; it makes him feel like he wants to change something about Bruce, when in reality, he wouldn’t change a thing if Bruce didn’t so desperately want to change it himself.

Clint loves him as is, unfortunate, Hulk-imposed dysfunctions and all.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t love it if this works. Having Bruce, fucking him when he came back from the botched Charlestown mission, as desperate for Bruce’s touch as he was to have Bruce feel him, has only made the desire crawling under his skin all the greater. He would love for Bruce to be physically able to give Clint everything he so desperately wants to give. He would kill to see the look on Bruce’s face when he reaches completion, to feel him pulsing and hard in his hand, to taste his come, to feel it inside of him while Bruce shudders apart between his thighs. He would give anything for Bruce.

Yet when Tony calls out the rising numbers of Bruce’s heart rate and tells him to hold it steady, Clint’s fingers dig into his own biceps, tight with anxiety. He rolls his head on his shoulders, closing his eyes and listening to his neck pop. He counts his own heartbeats and tries not to think about Bruce’s own.

Bruce’s feet pound the mat, the harsh scrape of the soles of his shoes grating against something in the back of Clint’s teeth. He shifts uncomfortably, fingers aching for his bow, for something familiar to wrap around, while Bruce runs on. He’s focused, face tense, sweat running from his hair in consistent streams at his temples and down the sides of his nose. He doesn’t lift an arm to wipe it away, merely blinks it out of sight and continues on.

Clint’s attention is tied up on him, watching him, listening to the tired rasp of his breath through parched lips. The cling of his sweat-damp shirt, the flex of his calves, the rise and fall of his arms as he moves, holds him rapt and unmoving as he watches.

When Tony tells him to wind it down, Clint is there to help him stand on shaky legs. Bruce’s smile is so painfully open and excited as Tony relays the data, confirmed overhead by JARVIS, that his vitals are fine, his blood flow is normal but his stress levels are low, even with the elevated heart rate. When he turns those wide, brown eyes on Clint, fingers tight on his arm, Clint can’t help but smile back.

“You think it worked?” Bruce asks him.

Clint has no fucking idea if it worked. He wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of Stark’s scrolling interfaces and the medical information rolling across the nearby monitor bank. He squeezes the back of Bruce’s neck and pulls him in, letting his sweaty forehead, strung with dark, damp curls, press against his own. Clint cradles his jaw in both hands and Bruce closes his eyes, bringing both hands up to curl his fingers around Clint’s wrists. He’s practically vibrating with the sheer pleasure of the news.

The nerves twisting and tightening like snakes in Clint’s belly suddenly settle into something like shame and he pushes them down. He masks his concern behind a gentle kiss to Bruce’s lips and he nods once.

“I hope so,” he says in all sincerity. He really, truly hopes.

Tony shoos them off not long after Bruce’s heart drops back to its normal, steady pace. He hands him his heart monitor and a syringe filled with the light blue sedative they seem to have perfected, and sends them on their way with a handshake, like he’s just given them a prize on a game show.

Clint’s stomach feels leaden as the elevator slows to a crawl at Bruce’s floor. There’s an awkward sort of anticipation between the two of them, sitting in the air like a physical thing. Clint wants to reach through it, dispel it like smoke with a wave of his hand, and take Bruce’s finger in his own, but he can’t seem to do it. Bruce looks back at him when the doors slide open and he begins to move.

His brow furrows. “Are you coming?”

Clint hesitates only a heartbeat, only long enough to take in the fear in Bruce’s eyes, before he’s moving, following Bruce. “Of course,” he says belatedly. Bruce sends him another worried look but doesn’t say anything until they’re standing in his bedroom.

Clint finds himself looking around as though he hasn’t been in here near-hundreds of times before. It feels different now, with this anxious sensation attached to it. The expectation he knows they’re both feeling, tied tightly to that simple syringe that Bruce places down on his dresser top with all the reverence and care he can muster.

He turns to Clint then, still standing too close to the doorway, and Clint makes his way toward the bed, sitting down on the edge while Bruce tugs his shirt up over his head.

He huffs a laugh. “I’m disgusting,” he says, using the bunched fabric to wipe at his forehead. “I’m… I should shower first.” Bruce makes an obvious gesture toward the bathroom but Clint doesn’t move to stand.

“I’m good. I’ll… wait here,” Clint says quietly, fingers wrung together awkwardly.

Bruce stands between the bed and the bathroom, shirt hanging in his hand, looking for all the world like he just wants the floor to crack open and swallow him whole. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip and Clint can see the unformed words he’s attempting to hold behind his teeth. Bruce has had a lifetime worth of practice of biting his tongue, not saying what he actually means and holding himself back. Clint knows that he could have easily gone on and showered alone, but that the real effort comes when he turns fully to Clint and speaks.

“What’s going on?” he asks. “Is this you freaking out over the idea of having sex with me?”

Clint’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead and he quickly pushes himself to stand. “I’ve already had sex with you.”

“You know what I mean,” Bruce says, fingers bunching around his shirt. Clint’s eyes drop to the tangle of damp fabric and then to Bruce’s face. Something in his chest turns brittle enough to snap when he reaches out and Bruce shifts back out of reach.

“Bruce,” he says seriously, taking another few steps in, eating up the distance between them. He opens his mouth to speak but he doesn’t know where to begin. He doesn’t even know for certain what’s twisting up his insides, what’s holding him back. He can feel his expression fall as Bruce’s does and he burns with the need to make this better. So he speaks the first truly honest thing he can think of. “I’m scared.”

Bruce’s forehead bunches as he shakes his head slightly. “Scared? Of what? Of me?”

No,” Clint says, reaching out to grasp Bruce by the neck with both hands and pull him even closer. Their knees bump and Clint presses their foreheads together, closing his eyes. “No,” he says again, softer this time. “Jesus, Bruce, I love you. I’m not afraid of any part of you.”

“Then what?” Bruce asks, standing limply under his touch. Clint can feel the pulse of his heart, staggering higher under his fingertips and he tightens his grip.

“I don’t know,” he breathes out, shaking his head. “Everything. What this’ll change, if it works.”

Bruce pulls back to look at him and Clint opens his eyes. “Nothing is going to change,” he says seriously. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, Bruce,” he says again. “I really don’t.”

Bruce has had to live his life being cautious and unusually perceptive as a means of survival. His instincts don’t fail him. “You think I look at you like you’re my only option?”

“I know you love me,” Clint says, voice soft. “I don’t doubt that.”

“But you think I wouldn’t be with you if I wasn’t living with something else under my skin, is that it?” Bruce’s tone has gone hard and his heart throbs under Clint’s touch.

“I don’t think you’ll leave me,” Clint tells him seriously. “I mean, do you ever think about it? If the circumstances were different, you and I never would have met.”

“That’s not true,” Bruce says, shaking his head.

“I don’t believe in fate, Bruce.”

Bruce rolls his eyes but there’s a flicker of a smile on his lips as he does and it soothes Clint’s nerves untold amounts like aloe over a sunburn. “I mean,” Bruce says, putting his own hand on Clint’s neck, “I’m still a scientist. I’m still the leading researcher in gamma radiation. Fury didn’t recruit me for the Other Guy; he wanted me to track the Tesseract’s gamma signature. I’d still have been on that ship. I’d still have been part of this team.”

Clint’s throat is dry when he tries to swallow and his eyes pinch shut when Bruce’s forehead touches his this time. He lets out a tired-sounding laugh and Bruce kisses him gently.

“I don’t know what you’re so afraid of. Unless it’s being closer to me,” Bruce tells him quietly.

“I’m not afraid of that. I’m afraid of trying this and it not working.”

Bruce sighs, hand running up and down the back of Clint’s head, over the short bristles of his hair. “Tony will try again if it doesn’t.”

“What if it does?” Clint asks.

“What if it works?” Clint nods. “Isn’t that the point of all of this?”

Clint leans back again to meet Bruce’s dark eyes. “I mean… Tony’s in his lab just waiting for us to try this out. His AI is creepily watching, waiting to run your vitals for a beta test of this thing. Don’t you think this is a little… strange?”

Bruce shrugs. “It’s science.”

“You are such a doctor,” Clint says dryly, causing Bruce to grin.

“I am. It’s the way it has to be at first.”

“People watching and waiting,” Clint comments, fitting his arms around Bruce’s shoulders.

“Do you want to wait, or something?” Bruce asks suddenly, plucking the root of the problem right out of Clint’s grasp.

Clint blinks and looks down at Bruce’s bare chest for a moment before meeting his knowing gaze again. “I just think it might be… better or easier or something, if it wasn’t so contrived.”

The tension lacing Bruce’s shoulders releases suddenly and he pulls Clint against him with both hands on his hips. “We can wait,” he says, voice quiet but genuine. “There’s no rush on this. I mean,” he laughs a little, “I’d really, really like to soon but another day or two isn’t going to kill anyone.”

Clint cups Bruce’s jaw with his hand and kisses him hard, eating the surprised gasp from his mouth as his fingers tighten in Bruce’s hair, tugging his head back. Bruce is panting slightly when Clint releases his mouth and it takes him a moment before he can speak again.

“Okay,” Bruce rasps, “strike that. It might kill me if you do that again.”

Clint laughs against his throat and presses a softer kiss to his pulse. “Let me take you out tomorrow.”

Bruce pushes his head back with a finger on his forehead. “Out where?” he asks when Clint’s eyes meet his own.

“Out. On a date.”

“You want to wine and dine me before you take me to bed?” Bruce asks.

“What can I say, I’m a classy guy?” Bruce shakes his head but the corner of his mouth is lifted in a small smile. Clint brushes it with his thumb, tracing over the soft line of his lips and down to his chin. “Borderline romantic.”

“There’s nothing borderline about that,” Bruce tells him. “You’re trying to make me clutch my pearls.”

Clint grins. “Maybe just swoon a little.” Bruce huffs a laugh and Clint rubs at the bottom of his chin with a finger, feeling the scratch of his stubble. “Come on. One date. Tomorrow night.”

“You want to take me out in public? In New York. Where I’m a wanted man,” Bruce deadpans. Clint nods earnestly. Bruce remains silent for several breaths before he sighs and rolls his eyes. “Fine. But no Harlem.”

“No Harlem,” Clint agrees. Bruce accepts the terms with a kiss.

 

--

 

“Wow,” Bruce finds himself saying when he leans against the bathroom doorjamb.

Clint gives him a cocky, self-confident smile, adjusting the knot of his tie before he turns to Bruce, buffing his fingernails against his waistcoat. “Not bad for a country boy, huh?”

Bruce steps in close enough to take hold of the sides of his black leather jacket and draws him into a kiss. “I don’t think you’ve had the country in you for a while,” Bruce says.

“The Iowan never leaves a kid,” he says in an overdone southern accent.

Bruce pats at his chest. “I think it’s left the building.” Clint concedes with a tip of his head and gestures Bruce out of the bathroom. “Am I underdressed?” he finds himself asking, hands sliding self-consciously down his own sides. He’s wearing a simple dark blue button-down and dark jeans (his clothing now tailored to fit, compliments of Tony).

“Nope, casual,” Clint confirms, running his fingers along the waist of his own jeans, assuring that his shirt is tucked in.

Bruce’s eyebrows rise toward his hairline. “Casual is a vest and tie?”

“I’m assured by Ms. Potts that this is perfectly casual,” Clint says, drawing Bruce close with a hand on the small of his back. He presses a chaste kiss the Bruce’s cheek and then releases him. “You look good,” Clint assures him. “Come on, we have reservations.” Bruce takes the offered jacket that Clint hands him and shrugs it on as he follows him down the hall.

The idea of leaving the safety of Stark Tower is admittedly one that has crossed his mind over the past few months, but it’s unnerving all the same. The Avengers have been widely accepted as keepers of the peace and defenders of the planet, but Bruce still keeps himself hidden. S.H.I.E.L.D. might look the other way but Bruce is still wanted by the Army.

He shifts his weight uncomfortably on his feet as the elevator descends and straightens his jacket while the doorman greets them with a nod and allows them access to the street. Clint offers him his arm and the nerves all but vanish when Bruce slides his own through it. He curls the fingers of his other hand around the leather covering Clint’s bicep and holds on.

Clint leads them along, brushing passed people who don’t even glance at the two of them, let alone cast any sort of blame or harsh gazes upon them. Bruce is an unknown here, hidden by the masses of people heading about as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. The bustle presses them even closer together but Clint certainly doesn’t seem to mind. His arm tightens, holding the crook of Bruce’s more firmly to his side, and he walks confidently next to him.

Bruce’s nerves ease further when they leave the street to step inside the Rockefeller Center. Clint’s hand slides along his arm to take his hand and Bruce tightens their fingers together. His heart beats faster in the cage of his ribs but it feels good, the rush of adrenaline at the feel of another person, the way he hasn’t felt since Clint first touched him months ago; and before that, not since he was a teenager.

It’s good, in the simplest way Bruce can imagine.

Clint has made reservations at a seafood place. It’s brightly lit and not the all out romance he doesn’t associate with Clint anyway. It’s nice to sit down with him, feet kicked together under the table and trade easy conversation while they wait for their food.

Clint gets crab and Bruce gets lobster and they trade bites with one another over the bustle of activity and soft lull of conversation around them. Bruce doesn’t hesitate to take Clint’s offered hand when he puts it on the table afterward, letting Clint stroke a roughly calloused thumb over his knuckles with a smile on his face.

Bruce feels warm and at ease and contently full when they leave. He takes Clint’s arm again and follows as Clint leads him aimlessly through the city they now call home. Clint knows the streets better than he does, having actually left the Tower on a regular basis since they all took up residence with Stark. He likes the leisurely pace; the lack of urgency is something he hasn’t felt in great abundance since the accident. Feeling secure and safe in his surroundings still only happens around a handful of people. He tightens his grip and Clint suddenly lets go of his hand to put his arm around Bruce’s shoulders; he pulls him tightly against him and Bruce’s hand rests on his side, curling in his shirt and other hand coming up to take hold of Clint’s fingers on his shoulder.

Clint presses a kiss to the top of his head through his curls and they continue to walk.

The night grows chilly, summer has officially tapered off into fall, it seems, and Clint’s fingers are the only thing keeping his exposed hands warm.

“You wanna head back?” Clint asks him as they pause at a crosswalk only long enough to check the traffic flow. Bruce knows the streets well enough to realize they’re already on the path back to the Tower but he nods anyway.

He’s ready to go home.

 

--

 

Bruce doesn’t push for anything when they get back, taking the elevator to Clint’s floor. Clint takes him to the shower to warm him up and kisses him until the feeling returns to his lips. Clint’s lips are chapped when they part against his, tongue sliding into Bruce’s mouth as they press together beneath the hot spray. Bruce feels a strange sense of relief when Clint doesn’t get hard and they don’t have to worry about injections and sedatives, just allow themselves to enjoy the feel of the other.

It’s a relief as much as it sends a thrill through Bruce’s blood that they’ve gotten this far, that Bruce has learned to adapt to Clint’s touch without immediately jumping into overdrive. He smiles against Clint’s neck and relishes the feel of fingers running through his curls, matted to his head with water.

Bruce follows Clint into bed, tucking his arm around Clint’s side and resting his head on his shoulder. Clint holds him tightly and kisses his forehead. They go no further and Bruce falls asleep completely devoid of the sensation that anything is lacking.

He feels good.

 

--

 

A week goes by and neither Clint nor Bruce has approached the subject of trying out the sedative again. Clint wakes up with a distinct feeling that today might be the day. Bruce is ready, he knows this, waiting patiently on him and not pushing or even broaching the idea. Clint hasn’t been waiting for anything in particular, just a moment when neither of them is tense with the knowledge that Tony is waiting for the relay of information.

Clint leaves for the S.H.I.E.L.D. office in the city for his shrink evaluation. He’s cleared again for active duty at the end and is handed a stack of papers to sign. The psychiatrist leaves him alone after a few moments as Clint breezes through the statements that sound more like a living will rather than a swearing to his own mental capacity.

He’s just scrawled his name across the last sheet when the door opens again. He picks up the small sheaf of papers to tap them back into alignment with each other when he looks over, smile falling from his face.

“Director Fury,” he says, moving to stand.

“Agent Barton, sit, please,” Fury tells him, coming around to drag the chair opposite the low-sitting table between them closer. He leans his forearms against his thighs and looks at Clint with a narrowed eye. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Fine, sir. Ready to get back out there,” Clint confirms, setting the papers down again.

Before he can inquire a single thing about Fury’s sudden appearance, the director speaks and shocks him into silence. “We need you to bring in Banner.”

Clint hasn’t been a successful assassin for as long as he has without perfecting a blank, emotionless mask. He’d be lying if he said his heart isn’t beating a wild pace in the back of his throat though.

“I don’t know where he is.”

Fury gives him an unimpressed look. “Bullshit. We need you to bring him in. Romanoff won’t crack and Rogers won’t even open his mouth.”

“I don’t know where he is,” Clint repeats with a shrug.

“Barton,” Fury begins, voice edged with agitation, “this is important. We know where he’s at, we just don’t have the authorization to get him ourselves from Stark’s private property.”

“And you expect me to turn him over to you?” Clint leans back against the couch and folds his fingers in his lap. “You’re not that stupid. What’s your endgame?”

“We need his help.”

“So you want his friends to turn him over like an escaped prisoner?”

Fury’s fingers tap against the armrests of his chair. “We want you to give him an offer.”

“One he can’t refuse?”

“This isn’t a joke, Barton,” Fury says, reaching into his pocket to produce a small data pad. He puts it down on the table and slides it halfway across the smooth surface toward Clint. His eyes don’t leave Fury. “Give him that. I think you’ll find it in his best interest that you do.”

Clint’s eyes narrow. “Is that a threat, Director?”

“No. It’s a way out.” Fury stands with a flourish of his jacket and steps around the table. He doesn’t say another word before the door closes behind him, leaving Clint to stare down at the unassuming device before him.

It’s a long time before Clint leans forward and queues it up.

 

--

 

“They want to offer me what?” Bruce asks in a breathless voice, staring down at the blank screen in his hand.

Clint takes it carefully out of his hand and sets it down on the bedside table. “A full presidential pardon.”

“Amnesty,” Bruce says more to himself than Clint, voice barely above a whisper. He can barely think let alone devote effort to breathing. “For… everything?”

“Not only that but protection from the Army. They can’t force you into service or to give them blood or anything. You’d be totally free.” Clint sounds carefully excited, voice barely restrained. He turns, drawing his leg up onto the bed as he reaches over to take Bruce’s wrists. His thumbs brush unseeing over the silvery bumps of scars as Bruce watches. “Bruce,” he says, drawing his gaze up, “a place in the Avengers. Not just… not just Hulk, but you. Doctor Bruce Banner. Agent for S.H.I.E.L.D.”

Bruce’s chest feels strangely tight at the news. “I can’t believe this.”

“Believe it, babe, Fury told me himself. He wants you in.”

Bruce watches Clint’s fingers tighten on his wrists and he meets his bright eyes again, sparkling with hope. “For what? What do I have to do?”

“There’s another video. You remember the radiation level spike at Chernobyl a couple weeks ago?” Bruce nods. “They want you to go in and take samples, run data and set up some machine.”

“Because I can’t be effected further,” Bruce says, realization dawning.

“They can’t send anyone else in. Natasha would go as your liaison, I’m sure—”

“But I’d go in alone,” Bruce says.

“I don’t know,” Clint says honestly, shifting closer until their knees bump. He lets go of Bruce’s wrists to take hold of the sides of his neck with both hands. “Bruce,” he says, voice thick with underlying urgency, “please, don’t turn this down.”

Bruce is quiet, mind rushing over the influx of information, the promise of amnesty from the government, involvement with S.H.I.E.L.D., no longer having to hide. He can have all of this. And Clint, more importantly, he can work with Clint in the field instead of staying behind and wringing his hands until he comes home, bloody and bruised. They can be teammates, partners, working together, beside one another. They can be of equal value to the team.

He closes his eyes and takes a breath, letting it out slowly. “Okay,” he whispers.

Clint’s fingers tighten. “Okay?”

Bruce nods and meets Clint’s eyes with a smile. “Yeah,” he confirms, “I’m in.”

Clint’s kiss is nothing but clinking teeth at first, smiling too wide to stop, but it quickly takes a turn when Bruce leans into him, becomes something deeper and filthier. Bruce pushes Clint back and climbs onto his lap. Clint’s hands are greedy, pulling him down by his shirt and kissing him hard. There’s a distinct frenzy in the touch, the way Clint shifts beneath him, growing hard when Bruce reaches between them to grip him hard through his dress pants.

Clint’s groan is loud and harsh against his lips. Bruce sucks in a breath when he breaks the kiss and nuzzles into Clint’s cheek as he rocks into Bruce’s palm, both hands under the back of his shirt, fingers digging into warm skin.

“Clint,” Bruce breathes and Clint nods instantly.

“Yeah,” he rasps, voice thick in his throat when Bruce sits up. “Yeah, go get it.”

Bruce nearly stumbles on his feet when he climbs off the bed. There’s a syringe loaded with the latest sedative beside the others in Clint’s bathroom. Bruce steadies his hand against his own forearm as he injects himself in the crook of his arm. The calming effect is nearly instantaneous, soothing his elevated heart rate before he’s even turned off the bathroom light.

Clint is sitting on the edge of the bed, out of his tie and unbuttoning his shirt by the time Bruce gets back to him. He stills Clint’s hands and straddles his thighs, kissing him slowly. Clint abandons his own shirt in favor of pulling Bruce’s up over his head. It breaks their kiss but it gives Bruce a moment to just look at him.

He runs his hands over Clint’s exposed collarbones to his neck and then up into his hair. Clint’s soft hazel eyes close at the touch and he practically purrs when Bruce rubs at his scalp.

“Bruce,” he murmurs after a moment, hands on his thighs. Bruce makes an inquisitive noise and Clint’s eyes crack open. “I’m gonna touch you, now,” he says, voice quiet.

Bruce barely has a moment to swallow and nod before Clint’s hand runs over the front of his jeans and grips his flaccid cock. Bruce leans forward to press his forehead to Clint’s shoulder. He merely breathes as Clint’s fingers work at him a moment before he pops the button on his pants and eases the zipper down. The first touch of his hand is shockingly cool; Bruce nearly arches away from it before he pushes into his palm.

Clint works him carefully, stroking him gently until Bruce can feel the first stirrings of heat in his groin. He hardens slowly in Clint’s grip and he whimpers when he realizes that it’s actually working. Clint’s other hand comes up to grip the back of his neck, lips pressing against his ear as he fists Bruce’s dick in a light grip.

“That’s it,” Clint murmurs, sending chills down Bruce’s spine; he shudders and presses closer, both arms tight around Clint’s shoulders. “Get hard for me, baby. Let me feel it.”

Clint,” Bruce gasps, hips jerking forward and eyes clenched.

Clint runs the edge of his teeth over the lobe of his ear before dropping his mouth further to suck hard, suddenly, at Bruce’s pulse. Bruce starts, practically jumping in Clint’s grip before he pulls back and looks down. His own cock is cradled carefully in Clint’s fingers, thumb at the head, harder than it’s been in years. He moans harshly when the thought brings a sudden rush of precome to the head. Clint smears it beneath his thumb before bringing it to his lips.

Bruce watches with wide eyes before he reaches out and grabs his wrist, jerking his hand back. “No,” he says with a sudden rush of fear.

“Why not?” Clint asks as his thumb purples under the pressure of Bruce’s grip.

Bruce draws Clint’s thumb into his own mouth and sucks away the taste of himself. “You can’t. You can’t ever,” he says, shaking his head slightly.

Light eyes search his own in silence before Clint’s face slackens in understanding. “Radiation?” he asks quietly.

Bruce nods. “I’m toxic. My DNA is.”

“I’ve kissed you,” Clint defends. “A lot.”

“Tony says my saliva isn’t dangerous.”

Clint’s eyebrows go up. “What else has Tony tested?”

Bruce levels him an unimpressed look. “Just trust me, okay? This isn’t about Tony.”

Clint tugs and Bruce releases his hand. He returns it to wrap his fingers carefully around Bruce’s cock, drawing a startled moan from his lips. “So you won’t fuck me, is what you’re saying?”

“I can’t,” Bruce tells him even as his cheeks heat. “It’s not safe.”

“We can use condoms,” Clint tries.

“No.” Bruce shakes his head. “I’m… I’m uncomfortable with that, Clint. Can’t we just… I want you to fuck me.” He runs his hands up the back of Clint’s neck and into his hair, tugging his head back to kiss him wet and deep. “Please,” he murmurs when they break.

Clint doesn’t need further prompting before he nods. “All right. But this topic isn’t closed,” he breathes.

Bruce doesn’t respond, leaving that potential fight for another day. He stands when Clint urges him back to his feet and strips out of his boxers and jeans, unbuckling his heart monitor as well. Clint doesn’t bother with the remaining buttons on his shirt and merely tugs it up over his head. Bruce kisses him as he opens Clint’s belt buckle and tugs at his pants.

Clint finishes ridding himself of clothing before he lies back on the bed and pats his thighs with a grin. “Come here, babe.”

Bruce doesn’t feel any embarrassment or hesitation as he acquiesces, straddling Clint’s hips and leaning in to kiss him. Clint holds him around the waist as he stretches to retrieve a condom and a small, unopened bottle of lube from the nightstand. He kisses Clint while he strokes his cock, working him until he’s completely hard and straining in Bruce’s grip. He licks the precome from his thumb and listens to Clint’s protesting noise as he grins around it.

He watches rapt as Clint rolls the condom onto himself and then slicks his fingers with lube. Bruce bends his body over Clint’s and spreads his knees against dark sheets as Clint reaches behind him to work him open. Bruce doesn’t often think of himself as disheveled but he can’t think of a better word to describe his reactions as Clint fingers him.

It’s a wild feeling, the stretching sensation that couples with the burning desire clawing at the inside of his belly to make the too-full feeling in his cock almost unbearable. He squeezes himself hard to dull the urgency, panting his growing impatience into Clint’s neck.

“You ready?” Clint breathes, making him shudder.

He nods. “Please.”

Clint sits Bruce up enough that he can slick his cock and then hold it steady for Bruce to sink down on. The angle is awkward and the pressure is still relatively unknown after so many years and only one recent encounter, but he forces himself to relax, to let Clint inside of him. He tosses his head back and groans through it.

“Come here,” Clint urges breathlessly and Bruce goes, leaning down over him, letting go of his cock to wrap his desperate arms around Clint’s shoulders. He buries his face in Clint’s neck and tries to breathe.

“Touch me,” Bruce pleads, voice beyond desperate and destroyed.

Clint does, shifting his hips up until his thighs press against the backs of Bruce’s and gives an experimental thrust as he wraps a hand around his dick. Bruce cries out and bucks his hips forward.

Clint doesn’t hesitate, shoving up hard and fast, fucking Bruce smoothly as he cradles the back of his neck with one hand and his cock in the other.

“That’s it,” he breathes, voice nothing but a harsh murmur against his ear. Bruce’s entire body is on fire, prickled with goosebumps and tense with arousal. His cock is throbbing in Clint’s grip, leaking over his fingers as he pumps and squeezes at him, rather than stroking, like he knows Bruce will go off far too quickly without much more stimulation. “Christ, you’re gorgeous.”

“Clint,” Bruce pants, moving one hand to the top of Clint’s head, fisting in his short hair. “I can’t…”

“So good,” Clint continues, “you’re so good. Your dick’s so hard.” Bruce nods with a whimper, bucking forward in his grip.

The slide of Clint’s dick is intense and amazing, pressing just where Bruce needs him. He feels full and stretched as Clint continues to pump in and out of him. He can hardly hear his voice over the smack of their skin together, Bruce’s own breath rasping painfully in his throat as he fucks himself down hard on Clint’s cock.

“Feels so good,” Bruce finds himself panting. “Gonna….”

Clint’s hand loosens and strokes him suddenly, twisting on the upstroke and tightening on the head. Bruce cries out, losing himself suddenly as he bucks forward, spurting over his fingers, striping his stomach as he comes.

Clint’s cock nearly slides out of him but he thrusts up hard, forcing himself in deep and Bruce shouts, fingers tightening in Clint’s hair as he jerks and shudders on top of him. His throat is sore and his voice is hoarse as he pants, whispering Clint’s name as he comes down. Clint strokes the back of his head, still thrusting, murmuring nonsense to him about how beautiful he is, how perfect.

Bruce is shaken with the intense feeling of Clint’s cock still inside of him, suddenly almost too much. He holds himself still and allows Clint to bring himself off inside of him, working quickly to his own orgasm and then tumbling over. He clutches Bruce to him, fingers pulling painfully at his hair as he bites into Bruce’s shoulder, muffling his cries of completion into his skin. Bruce hopes the mark lasts.

He feels well used and deliciously sore when Clint slides out of him and eases him over onto his back. He’s still panting as he watches Clint get to shaky feet and make his way into the bathroom. Bruce closes his eyes and listens to the sound of running water for a moment and then silence as the bed dips and Clint gets back in beside him.

Bruce opens his eyes when he feels a warm, damp washcloth on him, cleaning him. When he looks down, his own come is drying on Clint’s stomach still, but he makes no move to clean himself off.

Clint kisses the furrow between his eyebrows away and pulls Bruce onto his side to kiss him, arm heavy and comfortable around him as he closes his eyes again. He feels perfectly content to just lie here until feeling returns to his legs. He desperately wants a shower but this is more than enough.

Clint’s fingers run through his sweat-sticky curls and he kisses at his forehead a few times before he hears a mumbled, “I love you,” muffled by his own hair.

Bruce smiles and nudges his foot between Clint’s. This is more than he ever could have dreamed.

 

--

 

S.H.I.E.L.D. issue clothing is easily the least comfortable thing Bruce has ever been forced to wear. The flight from Moscow to Homyel, Belarus had been uncomfortably long and the drive back into Russia has been equally long and bumpy. He rolls his neck back and forth against the thick collar of his suit, similar in simplicity to Clint’s, but with full sleeves; the whole thing is thicker and heavier from the lead in the weave to protect from further radiation. Clint’s bare fingers meet the back of his neck, rubbing out the stiffness there. Bruce drops his head forward and allows the touch for a few minutes, chin nearly brushing the S.H.I.E.L.D. crest emblazoned at the throat of his suit.

“You should put your gloves back on,” Bruce advises, sitting upright again.

Clint offers him a smile and does as he’s told. “I don’t think we’re in outrageous danger yet,” he says.

“Any radiation is dangerous,” Bruce says quietly.

Clint’s gloved hand cups the back of his neck. “We’re gonna be fine. Get in and get out, right?”

Bruce has been training for this for weeks, since his official pardon from the White House and his induction to the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. He could find his way through the desolate city blindfolded. He knows where to set up the radiation detection system and how to start sending the measurements back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. data system. He also knows how to transfer them, undetected, to JARVIS, wired into his suit, and Tony, who is waiting back at their base in Belarus.

The SUV travels the uneven road, uncared for since the initial meltdown, left to crack apart as it will. Bruce covers the hand that Clint places on his thigh and tips his head back, eyes falling shut.

“Ten minutes,” the driver calls back and Bruce tightens his fingers around Clint’s. It’s his first official mission and he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t at all nervous about it. Thor is the only one coming with him; his body is seemingly impervious to human-spawned radiation so he will be the only one covering Bruce. It’s a great comfort, Thor is otherworldly strong and Bruce fears next to nothing with the god at his side, but he wishes still, that Clint could be on his other.

“You okay?” Clint asks him.

Bruce tips his head to the side to look at him. “I’m fine.”

“It’s okay to be nervous.”

“I am nervous,” Bruce says with a little huff of a laugh.

Clint squeezes his fingers. “I’ll go as close as I can.”

“No,” Bruce says quietly. “Stay in the truck. It’s not safe.”

“You heard what the Russian ambassador said. We can go in for a few minutes, just not all the way to the reactor with you.”

Bruce shakes his head. “It’s too dangerous. Just stay here, okay?”

“Bruce—”

“Promise me.” Clint sighs and looks away but Bruce draws his attention back with a jerk of his hand. “I need you to trust me on this.”

“It’s not about trusting you. We don’t know what caused that random spike. It could be anything, Bruce. You don’t know what’s in there,” Clint says seriously, voice low.

Thor is watching the two of them but he remains silent, hammer resting against his thigh. Bruce looks back to Clint.

“I can protect myself, Clint,” Bruce tells him. They’d stopped using the sedative a couple weeks beforehand to ensure that Bruce could hand over control to his other half, without complications, should the need arise. “We both know he’ll defend me. So will Thor.”

Clint is silent in the face of this truth but he still looks pained, worry tightening the lines stretched across his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. “I just think there’s something they’re not telling us. I don’t want you going in blind.”

“Tony will tell me to get out if anything goes sideways,” Bruce says quietly, tapping at his earpiece. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”

“You better be,” Clint mumbles, turning away to look forward again.

Bruce tips his head back again and closes his eyes. His suit still needs to be broken in and he shifts around uncomfortably for a moment before Clint lets go of his hand to lift his arm. Bruce has no problem moving in closer to settle at his side. If there are eyes on the two of them, then so be it.

 

--

 

The SUV goes as far as the decrepit town of Pripyat before it slows to a stop. Thor is the first one out, hammer hanging in his grasp as he takes a few steps and looks around. Bruce follows with Clint at his back. Natasha has a strange look on her face when her booted feet hit the ground but Bruce doesn’t question it. The driver and another agent get out to unload the equipment Bruce and Thor will take further toward the power plant while the rest of them spread out a little bit.

“This place feels as though cursed,” Thor says quietly.

Bruce can’t help but think that he’s right. There is no wind, no sound of humans or animals, no cars on the streets or hum of electricity. There is simply nothing but the husks of buildings and empty roadways in every direction standing in dead air.

Clint folds his arms, sleeves similar to Bruce’s covering them to his gloves seem out of the ordinary and Bruce can’t help the lingering look he gives them.

“Team Thunder report,” calls the driver. Bruce and Thor turn and head back toward the truck; Clint follows behind, walking beside Natasha. They’re given yet another rundown on their mission, even though Bruce could repeat it verbatim at this point. Thor is handed the heaviest of the cases containing their equipment and Bruce takes the smaller of the two along with a data pad with a GPS tracker and map loaded on it.

“If you are lost or injured or the data pad fails for some reason, stay put. We will find you.”

Bruce nods even though he’s knows that they’re more than capable of helping themselves out of any trouble that might befall them. Clint still looks anxious, though, when the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents get back into the truck to take the rest of them to a safe distance to wait.

“You’re connected to Stark, right?” Natasha asks quietly. Both he and Thor confirm with a nod of their heads. “Right,” she says again, casting another look to the deserted street behind them. “Watch your backs,” she tells them before turning and climbing back into the truck.

Clint takes a step closer, putting his hand on the back of Bruce’s neck. “Remember: in and out.”

“I know.”

“Call Stark if you need him. Or me.”

Bruce squeezes Clint’s wrist. “We’ll be fine,” he assures.

“We should get moving, Doctor,” Thor says suddenly. “This is no place I feel we should linger longer than necessary.”

“You can say that again,” Clint mumbles, squeezing the back of Bruce’s neck. Bruce wishes suddenly that Clint would kiss him but he knows they can’t, not here, not on mission, not now when they need to get going. So he settles for a hard squeeze to Clint’s forearm.

Clint turns from the both of them and gets back into the car. The windows are tinted too darkly to see them as they go but Bruce imagines he can see the outline of Clint fading away through the dust the truck kicks up.

“Shall we?” Bruce asks when they’re well and truly alone. Thor inclines his head and Bruce turns on the data pad, map projecting immediately, identifying the two of them as small red blips. He opens the link to JARVIS and then Tony as they head toward the power plant. He’s anxious to finish and return to base, and more importantly, return to Clint.

“JARVIS is getting strange readings,” Tony confirms after a moment. “Keep your eyes open.”

Bruce’s stomach twists unpleasantly but he takes a slow breath and lets it go, keeping pace with Thor at his side.

 

--

 

For all the buildup of nerves and worry, Bruce and Thor return after only a few hours. The machinery is in place to monitor radiation spikes and JARVIS is intercepting the S.H.I.E.L.D. data for Tony to interpret. Things still seem drastically amiss in Chernobyl, but when they return to the Homyel Province, it’s to fly to Minsk where they stay overnight to take a Stark Jet out in the morning.

Clint is exhausted from the hours of rough travel and he can only imagine Bruce feels the same. They shower together in their simple hotel room before climbing into bed. Bruce groans appreciatively into the crook of his neck when they settle, covers tugged up all the way to fight off the early onset of winter. Bruce’s fingers are cold enough to make Clint hiss when they fumble under his hoodie to press against the skin exposed between the shirt underneath and the waist of his sweats.

“Cold,” Clint mumbles against his forehead.

“Warm me up then,” Bruce responds.

Clint folds his arms around Bruce and tangles their legs together, pulling him in tighter than should be comfortable. Bruce merely laughs and tugs him even closer with the hand on his hip.

“Better,” Clint murmurs, pressing a kiss to the chilled skin beneath his lips. Bruce hums his agreement before falling silent. Clint listens to the soft rasp of his breath and presses his palm to the center of his back, counting his strong, steady heartbeats. “Much better.”