Clint came to tied to a chair. This was bad. This was not surprising, but it did not take away from the fact that it was bad. “God damn it,” he said.
“You have made big mistake, bro,” a voice said from behind him. It was dark. And stuffy. Oh. Hood. Over his head. Great. Hey, at least his hearing aids were still in, nobody’d fucked with those.
“You guys keep sayin’ that,” Clint said. “And yet.”
“We will not be so nice this time, bro,” the voice said. “You piss too many of us off now, bro. We don’t let this go this time, bro.”
“All this talking,” Clint said, and with that someone broke his arm. “Motherfuck!” he yelled, and it wasn’t the first time he’d bodily wrestled his way out of a chair he was tied to, but it also wasn’t his most successful attempt.
Suddenly someone screamed, and there was a whuffling noise like— not quite like an arrow, and someone else screamed. And then there was breaking glass, and nobody was grabbing Clint anymore so he thrashed his way out of the chair amid screaming and chaos and the building’s fire alarm and sprinkler system went off and there was water everywhere, and a lot of people were shouting and screaming in Russian or Ukranian or whatever.
As Clint managed to get his hands free, cradling the broken arm against his chest, he thought he recognized one of the voices, hoarse and angry, shouting repetitively in Russian. He dragged the hood off and blinked into the dim room and—
“Aw fuck,” he said, “Bucky?”
Bucky was standing in the middle of the room looking like some kind of goddamn avenging demon, hair flying wildly, soaked wet by the fire sprinklers, metal arm exposed, strange bulky guns in both hands— dart guns— he was shooting these motherfuckers down with dart guns, God knew what was in those darts. There were bodies everywhere.
And he was screaming in Russian, something over and over, and the few people he hadn’t shot were cowering under tables and chairs. The one nearest Clint was openly weeping in terror.
“Jesus Christ,” Clint said, standing up shakily.
Bucky turned slowly to him, jaw thrust forward aggressively, chin tipped up, head tilted to one side. “You,” he said, switching to English with apparent difficulty. He looked completely deranged, Clint thought, and had no idea what to do.
“Bucky,” he said.
“Are you injured?” Bucky asked, though it was more a demand than a question.
“N,” Clint said. “No— yes. Not really.”
Bucky glared at him. “Get your ass over here,” he growled. Then he lowered his head and swung it around to the ringleader of the whole thing, who he had apparently not shot. The man was sitting on the floor with his arms over his head. “You,” he said. “If he is injured I will come for you.”
“Aw,” Clint said, “it ain’t that—“
Bucky glanced slowly back toward him, and Clint shut his face.
He turned back to the man, stalked forward, crouched down in front of him, and spoke to him softly in Russian, in almost gentle tones. The man made a couple of frightened whimpering noises at the pauses in Bucky’s speech. Bucky stayed there, silent, for a long moment, then got up and turned back toward Clint.
“I do not fuck around,” he said, looking around the room one last time. “I did not spend seventy years in the KGB to fuck around. The poison in those darts will paralyze for six hours. Next time I will not be so merciful.”
He jerked his head at Clint and stalked out of the room. Clint breathed out slowly, and followed him.
They squelched as they walked, once they were out on the street. Clint’s left hearing aid started making intermittent staticky noises and he shook his head and grimaced, trying to get water out of that ear. The aids were nominally waterproof but in practice, tended not to handle being actively wet.
Bucky still wasn’t saying anything. He’d put the guns back into their thigh holsters, but he still looked like a crazy person. “Um,” Clint said.
“If you tell me you had ‘em on the ropes I will probably punch you,” Bucky growled.
“Cool,” Clint said, “that wasn’t what I was going to say.”
“Good,” Bucky said. Clint realized after a moment that Bucky was leading them back toward Clint’s building. That was— oh, that was okay. That was fine. He could just put some ice on his arm, it probably wasn’t that bad.
“Um, do I want to know what you said to them?” Clint asked.
“No,” Bucky said. “You don’t.”
Clint nodded to himself. He was goddamn freezing. Fortunately they hadn’t left his neighborhood, so it wasn’t much farther to walk. “I, um,” he said. “I— you didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes,” Bucky said, not looking at him— he had not looked at him one time since he’d gestured at Clint to follow him out— “I did.”
“I mean—“ Clint said, and Bucky was walking so damn fast he had to jog every couple of steps even though it wasn’t like the guy’s legs were much longer— “I mean thanks, man, I really, I was in trouble. But I mean— I’m always in trouble, you didn’t have to make it your business.”
“I did, though,” Bucky said.
“You really didn’t,” Clint said. “I mean— Bucky, nobody else ever has.”
At that, Bucky paused, and turned to look at him. His face was completely blank, expressionless. “No?”
“No,” Clint said, and it felt really vulnerable to say that, weirdly so. He rubbed the back of his neck with the hand he could move. “I, um. No.”
Bucky stared at him, then turned and kept walking, though a little less rapidly. “It could backfire,” he said thoughtfully. “I mean, I put the fear in that guy pretty good, but if there’s somebody real young and hungry in that organization who wasn’t there and thinks the ones who were are a bunch of crazies, he might come after you just to make a name for himself.” He glanced over at Clint. “Especially if it’s someone who’s too young to know about the KGB. I mentioned some… things.” He shook his head. “It won’t mean anything to the younger ones. They don’t know.”
“Well,” Clint said. “I mean. Even if they do. So they come after me. They kind of, they already did. So that’s, you know. Better.”
Bucky tilted his head, sort of a sideways nod. “Still,” he said. “Probably better watch your step a little. If some dumb punk is gonna make something of it it’ll probably be soon.”
“Yessir,” Clint said, giving him an ironic salute. He hissed absently as he tried to use the bad arm to get his key out of his pocket, and had to twist awkwardly to get his good hand in there instead. He produced the key with a little noise of triumph, and let them in the building.
“You said you weren’t hurt,” Bucky said.
“Eh,” Clint said. He wasn’t going to poke it. Bucky hung back. “You comin’ in?” he asked. “At least for a beer?”
Bucky hesitated. In the shadows of the entryway he looked truly terrifying, a pale face with dark holes of eyes framed by wet stringy hair, a black-clad nightmare with metal glinting out of the shadows. “Beer,” he said, as if he wasn’t sure what it was, which was bullshit, Clint knew he drank beer all the time.
Clint sniffed the air. “Grillin’ on the roof,” he said. “We do it potluck.”
Bucky stared blankly. “None of those words made sense,” he said.
“Just come in,” Clint said, jerking his head, and Bucky took a step forward. Clint figured that was enough of an answer, and thumped up the stairs. His arm might not be broken but it hurt like fuck.
He opened his apartment door and Bucky peered through it hesitantly, like he expected an ambush. Clint went in and was greeted enthusiastically by Lucky. He’d been gone long enough that the water dish was empty, and he grimaced in apology as he grabbed it to fill it.
“Hey Lucky,” he said, “this is Bucky, you guys rhyme.”
Bucky was staring at Lucky like he’d maybe never seen a yellow lab mix before. Maybe he hadn’t. “Did they not have dogs in the 40s?” Clint asked. “He don’t bite much, he’s pretty cool.”
“Dogs usually don’t like me,” Bucky said, but crouched down and offered his human hand. Lucky sniffed at it, then licked it and came closer, tail wagging.
“Lucky’s smart,” Clint said. He went to the freezer, got a well-abused bag of frozen corn, smacked it against the counter to loosen the pieces, and wrapped it around his bad arm, then went into the fridge and got two beers.
Lucky had decided Bucky was cool and was snurfling at his face. Bucky laughed, which was not a real common thing from him, and tousled the dog’s ears. “I guess dogs usually don’t like me because I’m usually breaking into their houses to murder their people,” Bucky said, and stood up. “That’d probably do it.”
Clint wrenched the tops off the beers and handed one to Bucky. “You’re kind of a disconcerting guy, you know that?”
“I noticed, yeah,” Bucky said. He accepted the beer. “Thanks.”
“It’s cool,” Clint said. “You disconcerted the fuck out of those guys and I appreciate that.”
“It’s what I do,” Bucky said. “You sure your arm’s all right?”
“Fine,” Clint said. The ice helped a lot.
Bucky clicked his tongue, set the beer down, came over and took the bag of frozen vegetables off Clint’s arm, turning it carefully between his hands. “You’re givin’ me goddamn flashbacks to goddamn Rogers,” he said, half under his breath. He pressed his flesh-and-blood thumb in a particular spot and Clint managed to suppress a yelp. Bucky gave him a calculating look. “You’re not augmented, right?”
“Just a guy,” Clint said, a little bitterly.
“I didn’t ask for this shit,” Bucky said, voice mild, and ran his thumb along the side of the outer forearm bone. “Okay,” he said, and put the ice back on it, letting go and going back to his beer.
“Told you I was okay,” Clint said, a little resentful.
Bucky gave him a look. “You think I don’t have ten solid formative years of Steve sayin’ the same thing and lyin’ half the time at least?” He swigged from the beer. “Please.”
Clint noticed something tight in his gesture, drew a conclusion, and said, “Are you freezing? I’m freezing.”
Bucky shrugged, but Clint caught the way the muscles in his jaw moved— his teeth were chattering. Yeah, they’d gotten soaked pretty good.
“Come on,” Clint said, “take that gross wet leather jacket off, I know I got something here, you’re not that much bigger than me.” He put his beer down and went into his bedroom, shucking his soaked shirt. He changed quickly, switched out the left hearing aid that had gotten a little wet for a fresh one out of his spare set. The spare set worked okay but had bulky electronics that sat externally, and weren’t as comfortable. He should switch both, he knew, but he didn’t want to spend the time with Bucky standing out there, so he made do.
He came back out with an armload of stuff he dumped on the counter. “Put something on, there, dry off.” He yanked a towel out of the clean laundry basket and threw it at Bucky, who caught it with the metal hand.
Bucky hesitated, then said, “Thanks,” and unbuckled the crazy tac jacket.
“Why are you all geared up for a mission anyway?” Clint asked.
“I was out with Steve earlier,” Bucky said. “Checking out some thing or other, I honestly didn’t read the — the thing.” He shrugged, and peeled himself out of the leather tac jacket. He had a navy blue tank top on underneath, with the Captain America logo on it.
“People make fun of me for wearing Avengers merch,” Clint said, “but seriously, whatever company they’re using for those t-shirts is the bomb. They’re so comfortable.”
“I know,” Bucky said. He peeled out of the tank top, which was wet— damn, he’d really stood full-brunt in those sprinklers, his underwear was probably soaked— and picked out one of the Hawkeye t-shirts from the pile. He was, Clint had seen a lot of scars in his day but the scars where his metal arm met his skin were a whole new kind of thing. He didn’t look too hard, although he really wanted to look at that metal arm some more.
“What size shoes you wear?” Clint asked. “I got tens.”
“These are fine,” Bucky said. “Don’t worry ‘bout it.” He looked more like a twelve anyway.
“How’d you find me?” Clint asked.
Bucky shrugged. “I got my ways,” he said. He grimaced. “Natasha’s gonna kill me, you know.”
“Yeah,” Clint said, “she’s pretty careful about how much of my shit she meddles in.”
“She keeps pretty close tabs,” Bucky said. He shrugged into a hoodie and zipped it up. “Thanks. I’m not so good with the cold.”
“I suppose you spent enough time on ice,” Clint said. “Uh. Okay. That probably sounded dumb.”
“No,” Bucky said, “that’s pretty much it.” He gave Clint an uneven, wry smile. “Tony put temperature controls in the arm, but it only does so much. My metabolism’s fucked-up, my body’s temperature regulation is fucked-up, my brain chemistry’s fucked-up, my digestion’s a fuckin’ disaster.” He shrugged. “I got the knockoff version of the special Steve got, my shit’s not nearly so good.”
“Augmentation’s not all it’s cracked up to be?” Clint asked.
“Got it in one,” Bucky said, raising his beer, and Clint clinked their bottles together.
“C’mon,” Clint said. “Time for roof dinner. Leave the guns.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Bucky said, but he unbuckled the holsters and slung them over the back of a chair.
Clint went back to the fridge and pulled out the rest of the twelve-pack of beer. “Here,” he said, “take that,” and leaned back in, rummaging, and retrieved the package of kielbasa he’d picked up. Sofia always had rolls. “C’mon.”
Bucky followed him bemusedly up to the roof, where the doings were in full swing. “Oh,” Bucky said, surveying the scene. “Grilling. On the roof.”
“Yeah,” Clint said. He went over and put the kielbasa down on the table. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Grills answered. “Hawkguy. What’s with the corn?”
“Got beat up,” Clint said. “Like usual.” He jerked his head sideways. “Grills, this is one of my coworkers.”
“Jimmy,” Bucky said, setting his beer down and offering his right hand to shake. Jimmy. Hilarious. Clint stared at him, but Bucky didn’t acknowledge it.
“Jimmy,” Grills said. “I’m Gil.” He gestured with the barbecue tongs. “You work with Hawkguy? You an Avenger?”
Bucky laughed. “Yeah, we work together,” he said. “Usually not on the same team.”
“Are you famous?” Grills asked. “You got a superhero alter ego?”
“Nah,” Bucky said, “I’m not famous. I’m just another sharpshooter. Support staff, y’know?”
“Bows and arrows?” Grills asked.
Bucky shook his head, and it was sort of weird how, how normal he looked. “Nah,” he said, “I use guns like a regular person.”
“How’s a guy get into a line of work like that?” Grills asked.
“Army,” Bucky said, and Clint realized it was true. “You join the Army, they figure out you’re good at it, you wind up in Special Forces.” He shrugged. “It’s a job, is the thing.”
“True, true,” Grills said. “Hey, you like hamburgers? I got an extra I gotta get off here before I can cook the kielbasas.”
“I love hamburgers,” Bucky said sincerely.
Some nights the kids from the lower rearmost apartment hooked up their iPod to speakers and danced. Tonight was one of those nights, and Clint was listening with some fascination to Bucky— “Jimmy”— shooting the shit in perfect Spanish with Simone when the music started, and so he didn’t miss the way Bucky’s head whipped up when he heard the music.
The look in his eye was so intense Clint actually sat forward in alarm. “Hey,” he said, “it’s just the kids. They like dancin’.”
Bucky’s expression went strange and distant, sort of wistful. “What?” Simone asked, mercifully in English.
“I used to love to dance,” Bucky said, softly.
“You don’t anymore?” Simone asked.
Bucky stared distantly a moment longer, then blinked, and smiled ruefully at Simone. “Sometimes you go away,” he said, “and not all of you comes back.”
“Your dancing ability got shot off in the war?” she asked, amused.
“Well,” Bucky said, and smiled. “No. Just my left arm.”
Simone looked startled, and glanced at Clint, who made an innocent face. “It’s metal,” Clint admitted.
Bucky pulled up the hoodie sleeve, showed a gleam, let it drop. “That’s my secret Avengers superpower,” Bucky said, mouth twisting with wry amusement. “I’m part robot. Great for sniper accuracy, less great for, you know. Dancing.”
“What, you lose a leg too?” Simone asked. “You can probably still dance. I mean, I don’t think the sense of rhythm is exclusively contained in the left arm, anyway.”
“I don’t know that the music’s the right kind,” Clint said.
“Oh,” Bucky said, “I used to be able to dance to anything.” He was watching the kids, who were mostly just flailing around. He had a weird sort of half-smile on his face, his fifth beer dangling from between gloved fingers Clint knew were metal.
Huh, bet that kept the beer from getting warm.
“You wanna dance,” Simone said, “I’ll dance with you.”
And so it was that Clint found himself sitting on the roof of his building watching the Winter Soldier teach his neighbor’s teenage kids Depression-era dance steps. It turned out that, somewhere, Bucky had also picked up a working knowledge of a few of the more modern dance moves. Simone fetched up against the roof edge next to Clint, laughing breathlessly. “Jimmy’s a scream,” she said. “He been workin’ with you long? Where’s he from?”
“He’s local,” Clint said. “Been away a while though.” He shrugged. “He only started workin’ with us kinda recently. He was on, uh, extended medical leave up until just a couple months back.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Simone said. “Did he get hurt working with the Avengers?”
“No,” Clint said, rubbing the back of his neck. “His old job. Messed him up pretty good, but it got him on our radar so we took him in as a transfer while he was healing up.” Clint shrugged.
“What was his old job?” Simone asked.
“He doesn’t talk about it,” Clint said, “and it’s not anything I’ve got the clearance to know.”
“Huh,” she said. “Well, anyway, he’s a nice kid.”
“Yeah,” Clint said, “he is. He’s real good at what he does, too. Even when he gets mad, it never gets in his head. He’s a real professional.”
“I guess that’s important, in your line of work,” she said.
“Not supposed to talk about it,” Clint said, shooting her a sidelong look.
She laughed, and mimed locking her mouth with a key, and throwing it away. “I wouldn’t say a word,” she said.
“Appreciate it,” Clint said, and drained the last of his beer. He’d already had to send Aimee the bike messenger girl out for more, because he was working on a good beer buzz and Bucky, well, he wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down, and he was on his sixth. But she didn’t mind, because he always gave her too much money and told her to keep the change, on top of whatever her going rate was. It was weird, getting used to not worrying about money, but he was good at it when it counted.
He cracked open his seventh, and Bucky came stumbling over laughing like Clint had never seen him before. “Your people are a gas and a half,” Bucky said, slinging himself up next to Clint with reckless disregard for gravity. Clint wordlessly handed him another beer. Bucky never needed the bottle opener, he just plucked the caps off with his left hand. “I didn’t know Brooklyn was still like this.”
“I think Brooklyn’s always been like this,” Clint said.
“You ain’t from here,” Bucky said, and he either didn’t know or didn’t care that Simone was still standing in earshot, though she’d been distracted by one of her kids.
“Naw,” Clint said. “Iowa.”
“You know I ain’t from here either,” Bucky said. The more he laughed, or the more he drank, the more Brooklyn he sounded.
“No?” Clint looked at him. “I didn’t know that.”
“Indiana,” Bucky said, and clinked his bottle against Clint’s.
“Really,” Clint said.
“Yeah,” Bucky said. “Moved here when I was like twelve. Picked up the accent in a real hurry, lemme tell ya.”
“It’s an awkward age,” Clint said.
“Yeah,” Bucky said, “it’s kind of important to fit in, when you’re twelve.”
Clint shrugged. “Not that I’d know, I was raised by carnies.”
“Really,” Bucky said.
“Oh yeah,” Clint said. “Traveling circus. I learned to shoot as a sideshow act.”
Bucky shook his head slowly, taking a long pull from his beer. “I never touched a gun ’til I joined the Army,” he said.
“Not a lot of guns on the streets in your day?” Clint asked.
Bucky shook his head. “Brass knuckles, though,” he said.
“You don’t need ‘em now,” Clint said.
Bucky regarded his left hand, and laughed. “Guess not,” he said.
“Never thought of it, huh?” Clint said.
Bucky wriggled the fingers of the left hand, made it into a fist, looked bleak a moment. “Not really the same category,” he said. “Brass knuckles fuck you up, yeah. But this thing, I’ve put clean through a ribcage.” His expression faded to blankness, then he took another long pull on the bottle. “Ain’t the same.”
“Yeah okay,” Clint said. That had gone to a dark place, he hadn’t intended that. “Hey, it’s getting cold. Let’s go inside.”
“Yeah,” Bucky said. He drained the bottle, and collected the empties into the first box. Clint grabbed the remainder of the second twelve-pack. “I liked that bike messenger girl,” Bucky said contemplatively.
“She’s got a girlfriend,” Clint said.
“Oh,” Bucky said, “not like that— I ain’t in the market for that kind of— I just meant— she seemed cool.”
“Hey, Jimmy,” Simone said, “it was fun dancin’ with you, maybe we’ll see you around again?” And she hugged him. Bucky laughed, a little shy.
“Yeah,” he said, “maybe.” He looked so goddamn normal. And it hit Clint then, it hit him with cold terrible force, what had been taken from this guy— he’d thought about it before, they all had, and he’d figured he understood, what with his experiences with Loki and all, but this, seventy years of not being a person, and he’d been watching Bucky claw his way back to, to something, and to see him now, to see this flash of who he must have once been— it made Clint’s teeth lock shut for a moment. This guy, this normal guy, who liked to dance, who would do anything to protect a friend.
“If all your coworkers are this nice you should bring more of them around,” Simone said, and it was Clint’s turn to get hugged.
“You know,” Clint said, “not a lot of people are nice on this guy’s level. Kinda hard to top this one.”
Bucky looked a little surprised at that, but not offended, so Clint took it as a win. They went to the stairwell, and Clint knocked his shoulder against Bucky’s. “Not in the market, huh?”
Bucky looked away, grinning. “I got a pretty full dance card,” he said.
“I ain’t the jealous type,” Clint said. “For the record. Natasha seems happy.”
“Natasha does what she wants,” Bucky said. “I’m happy when it involves me.”
“That’s pretty much how I’ve felt about it,” Clint said.
“There isn’t really any other way to feel about it,” Bucky said, shooting him a grin. The grin faded, though. “She’s going to kill me.”
Clint hesitated at his door. “Oh,” he said, bracing himself— something was off, air current maybe— “pretty sure she’s here to kill me.”