On the mornings when Clint was woken up early by a nightmare, he took himself outside to the range that was half-hidden in the trees behind the base to push it aside with the familiar rhythms of shooting. Some days it worked better than others. Today, it only took an hour or two before his mind was half on what he was doing and half on whether or not he should completely rebuild the porch at the farm, or if it just needed a new roof.
Which was when he became aware that he was being watched.
He let the arrow he had ready fly before turning to see who was there. At first glance, the figure dressed in baggy black clothes looked like a tramp. Clint was trying to work out how their security had got so lax that the homeless were just wandering onto the base when the sunlight glinted off a metal hand.
He had an arrow notched and aimed before he'd even thought about it.
The man was dressed in an over-sized hoodie with the hood pulled up over tangled dark hair but it only took Clint a moment to connect his face, his metal hand, and the surveillance photos that Steve and Sam kept leaving lying around as part of their on-going search for the Winter Soldier. Clint took a deep breath and reminded himself that killing Steve's childhood best friend was probably a bad idea, but he didn't relax his bow.
"Can I help?" he asked.
The Winter Soldier held up his palms as if in surrender, but it was going to take more than that for Clint to stand down. He'd heard way too many horror stories about this guy.
"I'm looking for Captain America," he said in a voice that sounded rusty and unused.
Right. And last time he'd been looking for Steve, it had been so he could kill him. He didn't look particularly homicidal at the moment, but that didn't mean Clint was taking any chances.
"What do you want with him?" he asked.
The Soldier shifted his weight on his feet and Clint tensed his arms, ready to fire. "I want to surrender to him."
Okay, Clint wasn't expecting that. He held position for another few moments, searching the Soldier's face, then let out a sigh, lowering his bow. There was a look in the guy's eyes that he thought he recognised, both from when he'd first met Natasha, and when he'd looked in the mirror after Loki.
"You even look at him wrong, I'm not going to be the only one coming after you," he said. “We'll take you apart, legendary assassin or not.”
The Soldier nodded. "Got it."
Clint had to take one hand off his bow to pull his phone out of his pocket, which made him feel pretty vulnerable, but the Soldier just stood their patiently as Clint dialled Steve.
"Hi," he said when Steve picked up. "You might want to come out to my range. Got an old friend of yours here."
"Who is it?" asked Steve.
Clint snorted. "Come on, Steve. How many old friends do you have?"
There was a pause, then Steve snapped, "Keep him there," and hung up.
Clint tucked his phone back in his pocket. "He's on his way," he told the Soldier.
The Winter Soldier gave a curt nod. Clint saw him take a deep breath, as if bracing himself, and wondered what it felt like to have to face your best friend after seventy years of being a brainwashed assassin, not to mention trying to kill him.
Mind you, Clint's best friend was Natasha, who would probably just shrug and give Clint a shot of vodka. That was basically what she'd done after he'd spent three days as Loki's brainwashed assassin, after all, and he couldn't see another few decades changing that.
Okay, so, she'd also hit him, but that was just her way of showing affection.
They stood in silence for long enough for it to start to feel a bit awkward, then the Winter Soldier nodded towards Clint's arrow-studded bullseye.
"Yep," agreed Clint. "Kinda what I'm known for."
The Winter Soldier's gaze focused over his shoulder and he took another deep breath, firming his shoulders. Clint assumed that Steve had come into view but didn't turn to look. Instead, he lifted his bow again, bracing himself.
"Stand down, Hawkeye," said Steve, coming up behind him.
Code name, which meant he intended it as an order. Clint ignored him. If he let Captain America get gutted, Natasha would never let him hear the end of it. Also, it was probably treason or something.
Steve walked past Clint and stopped a few metres away from the Winter Soldier. "Hi, Bucky."
The Soldier stared at him for a long few seconds. "Hi, Steve," he said eventually.
"You remember?" asked Steve, and he couldn't quite keep the excitement out of his voice.
The Winter Soldier shook his head. "Bits. Very small bits." He hesitated, then added. "That's why I'm here. I want to remember more."
"That's great," said Steve. "Bucky, it's so great to have you here."
The Winter Soldier shook his head. "I don't know that I'm that guy. It's not- my head's a mess."
"Then we'll get it in order," said Steve, with far more confidence than Clint felt was due. Steve stepped forward, holding his hand out. "Come on, come inside."
The Winter Soldier hesitated and glanced at Clint, who still had his bow trained on him. Steve glanced over his shoulder and gave Clint a meaningful look.
Clint sighed and lowered it. "At least get him to leave his weapons behind."
Steve looked as if he hadn't even considered that the Winter Soldier, infamous badass assassin of awesome, might have weapons on him. "Uh, yeah," he said, and looked at the Winter Soldier.
For a moment, Clint thought the Winter Soldier was going to bolt. His eyes darted from side to side, then fixed on Steve.
"Come on," said Steve, quietly. "Please, Bucky."
The Winter Soldier clenched his hands into fists, then reluctantly nodded. "Right." He reached around to his back and pulled a handgun out, and then another one from under the front of his hoodie. He held them uncertainly for a moment.
"Just leave them there," said Clint. "I'll take care of them."
The Winter Soldier fixed Clint with an intense look, as if trying to see into his soul to judge his trustworthiness, then set the guns down. An impressive collection of knives, pulled from various parts of his clothing, followed. When he was done, he looked back at Clint.
"You will take care of them," he said, in a voice that threatened all kinds of pain if he didn't.
Clint glanced down at the pile. "Well, I can't juggle that many knives, so I guess I'll have to."
That earned him a very dark look that Clint returned with a shit-eating grin. If they were going to house an ex-HYDRA killer, he might as well have a bit of fun with it. Well, until he ended up getting murdered in his sleep, anyway, but that probably wouldn't happen. Probably.
"Come on, Bucky," said Steve. "We'll get you some coffee. And maybe a shower."
That meant the glare got turned on him, although it was decidedly more half-hearted. The Winter Soldier crossed to where Steve was holding out an arm to him. Steve reached out as if to touch but he flinched away. Steve dropped his arm and they set out together towards the main base.
"I've got some photos from back before," Clint heard Steve say. "Some of the Howling Commandos that people have sent me since I woke up, and a couple of old ones of Brooklyn. Maybe they'll jog your memory."
Clint watched them go, then turned to look back at the small arsenal on the grass. At some point, Natasha had appeared next to it.
"This will be interesting," she said, watching Steve and the Winter Soldier walk away.
"Yeah," agreed Clint. "Still, better interesting than boring, right?"
"Depends on how much pain is involved," she said, then melted back into the trees.
"Don't offer to help me carry all this lot then," Clint called after her.
There was no answer. Great.
When he'd told the others, thinking that it would go unnoticed amongst the other, more high-profile retirements, Steve had put his hand on his shoulder, looked him straight in the eyes, and asked for his help and, well, no one could resist Captain America doing that. Clint had agreed to stay long enough to help train up the new guys, just for a few weeks while Steve and Natasha built their new team, and then he'd retire.
Somehow, six months later he was still living at the base. There just always seemed to be an emergency that needed dealing with, or Wanda wanted a few weeks of hand-to-hand practice, or Tony was swinging by to spend a couple of days upgrading their computer systems and there was no way Clint was going to miss out on the 'totally impromptu' party that he'd almost certainly instigate. And then Colonel Rhodes got sent on a long mission by the Air Force, and Clint should really stick around until he got back, right? He couldn't leave them down a guy.
He definitely couldn't leave them down a guy if they were inviting enemy agents to come stay.
The news that Steve's BFF was on site travelled fast. Tony called Clint from New York to interrogate him about whether or not he thought it was going to end with a bloodbath.
"Cuz, I got plans for today that don't include putting on the suit and coming over there to bail you losers out."
"I think we'll be okay," said Clint. He was perched on one of the rafters he pretended not to know had been designed into the building solely for his use and watched as Steve introduced the Winter Soldier to Wanda and Vision without once using the words 'cold-blooded killing machine'. Sam was hanging back against a wall, trying not to frown too obviously. Clint figured that was fair; he'd probably be pretty iffy if his soulmate was suddenly hanging out with guy who'd come seriously close to killing him last time they met.
“We've got the systems on the highest security setting,” he told Tony, “and I've got most of his weapons locked away. He's got a couple of seriously nice throwing knives, by the way, think he'll notice if I pinch them?”
“You really think stealing weapons from the Winter Soldier is a good idea?” asked Tony.
Clint considered it. “Yeah, okay, fine. I guess I'll just have to lust at them from afar.”
“I'm more concerned that you only have most of his weapons locked away.”
“I'm guessing,” said Clint. “I mean, I really doubt Steve did a pat down, and I seriously doubt he'd have given everything up that easily. I know I wouldn't have.”
“Great,” said Tony with a sigh. “I am going to end up having to come out there to blow some shit up.”
Clint scoffed. “As if you don't love blowing shit up.”
“Not stuff I'll have to rebuild, like high-tech superhero hang-outs,” said Tony. “That shit gets expensive, and then Pepper gives me that look – yeah, that one. Okay, honey, dial it down, I'm coming.”
“Too much information, honey,” said Clint back, and got a snort of amusement.
“We've got a dull as shit meeting,” said Tony. “Text me if a killing spree gets underway.”
He hung up and Clint tucked his phone away but stayed where he was, watching as Steve ushered the Winter Soldier off in the direction of his and Sam's suite. Sam followed along behind them.
Vision turned to stare up at Clint's perch. “The information I can access on recovery from extreme brainwashing is not reassuring.”
Clint shrugged down at him. “Any of it relate to guys who have been souped up with knock-off super-soldier serum?”
“No,” admitted Vision. “That does not necessarily mean it's incorrect.”
“The human brain is an incredible thing,” said Clint with more optimism than he felt. After all, he'd been fine after he'd been brainwashed. Eventually.
“I figure they need some space,” he said to Clint as they made up a bed for him in one of the guest rooms. “Seventy years is a long time. There's a lot of history for them to catch up on.”
“Is he remembering more?” asked Clint as he pulled out a few blankets.
Sam shrugged. “Steve says he is. Who knows how much he'll get back, though. I mean, even without being erased every few years, no one remembers stuff from seventy years ago that clearly.”
“I know I don't,” said Clint, earning himself a smile. “What did he say when Steve told him about you?”
“He was freaked,” admitted Sam. “He remembered that Steve had had a soulmate before, but not that he had two prints. Went into a bit of a meltdown, claiming I was an imposter. We had to show him our prints to calm him down, but even then- I don't know. It's one of the reasons I thought it might be best to step back for a bit.”
Steve was the only person Clint had ever known with two soulprints. One on his chest that had activated the first time Peggy Carter had touched him, which was a story everyone and their mother knew, and one on his palm that had lit up the first time he'd shaken Sam's hand. That story they were all keeping quiet about for now, in the interests of keeping the media and super-villain interest in Steve's love life to a minimum.
“Rough,” he said to Sam.
“Yeah, well, hopefully it'll just take time,” said Sam with a shrug.
Time. Something that they all needed but never seemed to get in the superhero business.
Clint left Sam to it, trying to pretend he hadn't noticed him pressing his finger to the dark lines of his print.
Sam and Steve had activated within minutes of meeting each other by shaking hands. That was pretty much the most common way for soulmates to meet, which was why so many people had their prints on their right hands.
Clint's was on his right forearm, high enough up to mean that the first time his soulmate touched him wasn't going to be handshake. When he'd been a kid he'd spent hours coming up with all the different ways for someone to touch him there, imagining all kinds of convoluted meetings, like the ones in the sappy kind of movies.
Thirty years later and the fingerprint etched on his skin was still the light brown of an unactivated print. He told himself that was fine, he didn't need someone else to complete him or whatever, and besides, he was kinda busy being the best shot on the planet and a god-damn superhero to boot. When was he even meant to find time for a soulmate?
Clint didn't know if he was expecting Cap to show up until he came in with the Winter Soldier in tow and he realised that of course he'd bring his assassin buddy along and try and get the team to warm up to him.
It wasn't the most effective plan. Natasha stiffened at the sight of the Soldier and Clint knew she was mentally counted how many weapons were available to her. Wanda stared at him with hard eyes that said she hadn't decided if she was going to pull his mind out and play with it or not yet. Sam quietly melted into the background and Vision, well, you didn't get much of a read off Vision on the best of days.
Just as Clint was figuring that it must be up to him to somehow break the ice, the Winter Soldier fixed a glare at him. “How are my things?”
Clint blinked before realising that he meant his weapons. “Uh, fine,” he said. “All safely locked away. Seriously, no need to worry.” And hey, maybe that was his ice-breaker. “Those throwing knives are seriously nice, by the way. Where did you get them?”
“I took them from the corpse of an enemy.”
Right, okay, so much for that.
“Ah, I'm not really meant to do that. Bad press, you know,” he said. “Who wants popcorn?”
He escaped to the kitchen. This was going to be a seriously long night.
They watched a movie Clint had seen a bunch of times before, which meant he was able to spend most of it subtly watching the Winter Soldier and trying to work out just how worried about him he should be. He'd sat in the corner of the sofa next to Steve, hunched down as if trying to hide and with his metal arm wrapped protectively around him. He watched the film with a faintly confused expression that made Clint think he hadn't had a lot of chances for going to the cinema.
Towards the end, he turned his head and fixed a long stare on Clint that made it very clear just how aware he had been of the scrutiny and then turned back to the screen without another word. Clint winced and rubbed at his forearm, turning his attention back to the screen.
After the movie, the Winter Soldier slipped off almost immediately, leaving Steve frowning after him.
“How's he doing?” asked Natasha, with the look that meant she was really asking how many weapons do I need to sleep with?
“Better,” said Steve. “He's remembered so much just since he got here, and he gets more like Bucky all the time.”
“He has changed, though,” said Sam. “Steve, don't kid yourself. He's not the same man you knew back then.”
Steve shook his head. “I know. And I'm not the same man he knew, either.” He put his hand on Sam's arm. “Come back to our room tonight. I'm done with hiding.”
Sam gave him a soft smile and Clint glanced away.
“So he's not experiencing any negative cognitive episodes?” asked Vision.
Steve hesitated. “Ah...”
“That sounds like something the team should know about,” said Wanda.
“Fine,” said Steve, tipping his head back and staring at the ceiling. “Sometimes he forgets where he is. And, um, occasionally he forgets who he is, but I'm sure it's something we can work through.”
“Is he violent?” asked Natasha.
“No,” said Steve. “Well, not- he's easily talked down.”
“Great,” said Clint. “That's just the kind of reassuring statement I like to hear about someone who lives with me. I'll be sleeping soundly tonight.”
Steve sent him a glare. “Bucky will not hurt anyone here,” he said, with every ounce of Captain America confidence he had. Clint tried to make himself immune by remembering that this was the same guy who had taken a year to learn not to sign off a text with 'yours sincerely', but the power of the Captain America voice was not to be denied.
“If Tony actually has to come and rescue us, we're never hearing the end of that,” he pointed out.
Steve huffed. “Tony worries too much.”
Which, frankly, was hilarious coming from him. Clint caught Natasha's eye and saw her thinking the same thing, and had to hide a smirk.
“Okay, bedtime,” he said, getting up. “Here's to us all being un-murdered in the morning.”
He pulled himself out of bed without bothering to throw a shirt on and went through to his lounge to open the door and found pretty much the last person he was expecting there.
The Winter Soldier stared at Clint's chest long enough for him to really regret not putting a shirt on, then blinked and looked up at his face.
"Sorry," he said, and then something else that Clint couldn't lipread in the dim light of the corridor.
"Hang on," he said. "I can't hear you, give me a sec."
He dashed back into his bedroom for his hearing aids and grabbed a shirt while he was at it. When he got back into the lounge, the Winter Soldier had come inside and was looking around with obvious interest.
"Do you make your own arrows?" he asked, looking at the scattered fletching supplies on the coffee table.
"Sometimes," said Clint. "More often I fiddle with ones I've got from somewhere else."
"It's one of those things were a little change can make a lot of difference, right?" said the Winter Soldier.
"Yeah," agreed Clint. There was a tiny pause as the Winter Soldier continued to look around at the other things in the room - the enormous purple beanbag chair in the corner got a long look, but Clint refused to feel any shame. It was comfy, okay?
Eventually, the Winter Soldier's gaze came back to Clint. He cleared his throat and held out a piece of paper. "I thought you might like this."
Clint frowned as he read the website address on it. "What's this?"
The Winter Soldier shrugged, his metal shoulder moving in complete sync with his real one. Whatever else you said about it, you had to admit that arm was an incredible piece of engineering.
“I managed to remember whose corpse I took those throwing knives from,” he said, sounding stilted which, fair, he was talking about someone he murdered and then robbed. “The mission briefing I was given on her included enough detail for me to work out where she got them from. They have an online shop.”
Clint looked back at the paper. “Oh, awesome,” he said, surprised. Wait, was that the wrong reaction to have given the whole corpse thing?
“They don't have exactly the same ones, but there's a set that's pretty similar,” said the Winter Soldier.
Clint had no idea what to make of him coming to his rooms in the middle of the night to pass over info about a good place to buy weaponry. Was this was what Steve had meant by him getting more like Bucky and the personality that HYDRA had imposed on him was starting to flake away?
But then, tracking down an obscure knife manufacturer just because of one throwaway comment from Clint was one thing; showing up at his door in the middle of the night to share it was another. It wasn't exactly stone-cold killer behaviour, but it wasn't normal either. Was he just really enthusiastic? Hadn't noticed what the time was? Was trying to get Clint alone and with his guard down?
He glanced up at the Winter Soldier's face to see a tentative, nervous look in his eyes, and the kind of black expression that Natasha usually used when she was at the edge of her emotional comfort zone.
Aw man, Clint couldn't fight against that. Screw it, time to take a chance and assume Captain America knew what he was talking about. He found a smile. “Thanks, Barnes. That's great.”
Bucky smiled hesitantly back, transforming his face into something completely different. Wow, okay, so that was why he'd had a reputation as a lady-killer, back in the day. Before he became an actual killer of ladies.
“Thanks for not shooting me when you first saw me,” he said.
Clint shrugged. “Cap would have given me his disappointed look if I had.”
“The one that makes you feel about the size of an ant?” said Bucky. “Yeah, that one sucks.” He glanced around as if noticing for the first time that it was dark. “Uh, I should let you get back to bed.”
Clint nodded. “Okay, well, thanks for this,” he said holding up the paper.
“No problem,” said Bucky. “Good night.”
He left Clint with no idea of how to interpret the weird conversation, so he settled for just tucking the paper away and going back to bed.
You'd think he'd be used to being around attractive people given the looks of the other Avengers, but somehow it blind-sided him every time Bucky followed Steve into the kitchen in a tight t-shirt or Clint came across them sparring in the gym, Bucky's legs firmly planted on the mat and his ass looking fucking spectacular.
“Hi,” he said, and Steve glanced over and gave him a nod. Bucky took advantage of the distraction to bowl Steve over backwards, pinning him to the mat.
“Ah, come on, Buck, I wasn't ready,” said Steve, tapping at his shoulder to get him to let him up.
Bucky sat back with a grin. “You've always been a sore loser,” he said. “I remember you saying the same thing when I used to beat you racing to the end of the road.”
“You remember that?” asked Steve, also sitting up, looking eager.
“Yeah,” said Bucky. “Just came back to me. I won every time.”
“Okay, no offence but wasn't Steve, like, tiny and asthmatic?” asked Clint. “I'm not sure it's that impressive to have beaten a sick kid who was smaller than you.”
“I wasn't that bad,” protested Steve.
Bucky snorted. “You really were, Stevie.” He looked over at Clint and shrugged. “I used to run at half-speed so that he just about nearly beat me, then dash ahead at the last minute.”
“What?” said Steve. “Oh, you punk!” He launched himself at Bucky, bowling him over on his back.
Clint rolled his eyes and went to get on with his own work-out. Bucky and Steve sparred for another half hour before going back to Steve's room. After they'd gone, Clint let out a breath and wondered how badly it would go down if either of them found out about the thoughts he was having about Bucky wrestling him on that mat, wearing a whole hell of a lot less clothing.
After his work out, he still felt antsy under his skin so he headed out to the range. Spending some time focusing on nothing but his bow and the target always managed to settle him down and clear his head. It was that, or go back to his room and have a really ill-advised wank session.
He was at it for long enough to convince himself that his appreciation of Bucky's body was just a symptom that it had been way too long since he'd last got laid. He'd been holed up at the base with no one but other Avengers, ex-SHIELD agents and support staff around, none of which he could really get away with having a casual hook-up with. Maybe he should head back to New York for a week or two, go out to a few clubs and let off some steam.
“Are you as good with knives?” came a voice from somewhere on high.
Bucky was balanced on a tree branch high off the ground, metal arm holding on to the trunk. That made the second time that Clint had entirely failed to notice a potentially hostile observer while at his range. Was he getting old? Probably a good thing he was going to be retiring soon.
“Almost,” said Clint. “The bow's kinda my thing, though. Do I want to know how long you've been there?"
"Probably not," said Bucky. "But it wasn't as long as it was before, when I first got here."
Clint made a face. "I swear, I'm usually aware of what's going on around me."
Bucky lifted his eyes from him, looking around at the trees surrounding them. "You trust too much in the security here."
Clint made a face. "It is top-of-the-range," he said, trying not sound defensive.
Bucky shook his head. "There are exploitable gaps."
"You mentioned that to Steve?"
Bucky shrugged. He didn't seem inclined to add anything else, so Clint turned back to the target. He tried to fall back into the rhythm he'd had before, but his awareness of his audience prickled at his mind. He found himself starting to show off.
When he next glanced up, Bucky had settled down on the branch with his legs swinging as he watched Clint.
"Want a go?" asked Clint.
Bucky shook his head. "Not allowed weapons."
Right, of course. Except..."You've got that arm. That's pretty much a weapon."
Bucky glanced down at his hand and shrugged. "If you get the right training, almost every part of you can be a weapon."
"That's true," acknowledged Clint. "So probably doesn't matter much if you've got another one." He held up the bow again.
Bucky stared at him for a long moment, then jumped down out of the tree, landing with grace that Clint hoped he didn't look impressed by. "Okay, show me how the medieval guys did it."
"Palaeolithic," corrected Clint, handing the bow and an arrow over. "Just - don't pull too hard with the robot hand, yeah? If you hurt my bow, I hurt you."
Bucky nodded as he took it, metal fingers bushing over Clint's. They were warmer than he'd have thought. "Understood."
Bucky clearly hadn't handled a bow before but it didn't take him long to get the hang of it. His aim was good, but not as good as Clint's, which was really all that counted.
It was about an hour later that Steve came jogging across the grass towards them. "Bucky!" he called. "I've been looking for you."
Bucky glanced at him. "I've been here."
Steve looked at Clint. "Sorry, I thought he was in his room."
Clint shrugged. "No problem. We were just messing about."
"I'm not actually a small child," said Bucky, sounding irritated. "I don't need babysitting."
Steve huffed a sigh. "I know that, I just-"
"Besides," interrupted Bucky. "I figured you and Sam would prefer some privacy. You know those walls aren't soundproof, right?"
To Clint's great fascination, Steve blushed faintly pink. "Uh, okay. Right. Well, if you could just let me know next time you go out."
"Sure, mother hen," said Bucky. He handed the bow back to Clint. "Thanks."
"No problem," said Clint. "Anytime I can help out those with lesser skills."
Bucky sent him a glare. "You just try me with a sniper rifle."
"I think maybe we'll leave that for a bit," said Steve.
Bucky met Clint's eye and gave a massive eye roll that made Clint have to turn away to keep in his snigger.
He spent a few minutes trying to calm himself back down, but it rapidly became clear he wasn't going back to sleep. Every time he shut his eyes, all he could see was the last few terrifying images of the dream.
He gave up and got up, pulling on a hoodie before he headed out to the kitchen for a glass of water. It was still dark, so he couldn't get away with heading out to the range. Not yet.
Instead, he went into the communal lounge next door and slumped on the sofa, flicking on the TV and running through the channels until he found a movie with more explosions than plot. He watched it in an exhausted daze, barely registering the subtitles and hoping that eventually he'd just end up dropping off again.
About half an hour had passed when he registered a movement to his left. His head flicked around to find Bucky hovering awkwardly in the doorway. He looked as drained as Clint felt.
He said something, but Clint hadn't bothered putting the lights on and he couldn't see well enough to read his lips.
"Not got my aids in," he said. "Turn the lights on so I can lip-read."
Bucky flicked the light switch and came in closer, looking directly at Clint as he spoke again. "Sorry, I didn't realise anyone else was awake."
Clint shrugged. "Couldn't sleep."
Bucky nodded with a look saying he understood all too well. He glanced at the film, where the hero was ducking away from a shower of bullets, and made a face.
"I hate those films," he said, turning back to Clint before he spoke. "Always so inaccurate."
Clint shrugged. "I find it reassuring that most people don't know what it's really like to be targeted by that many semi-automatics."
Bucky stared at the screen for a while and then gave a half-nod that Clint nearly missed. He came forward and sat down on the end of the sofa with stiff movements, back straight and hands placed carefully on his knees. Clint eyed him for a moment before he turned his attention back to the TV.
By the time the movie ended, Bucky had relaxed enough that looking at his posture didn't make Clint's spine ache in sympathetically. He looked over as the credits rolled.
"Any requests for what to put on next?"
Bucky shrugged and turned towards Clint. "Doesn't matter."
"You're not up for going back to bed either, then," said Clint.
Bucky shook his head. Clint thought he'd leave it at that, but as he turned his head back to the TV he saw Bucky's mouth open again.
"Sorry, didn't catch that," he said, looking back.
Bucky hesitated, then said, "Some of my memories don't really help with sleep. I had a couple come back tonight that I could have done with losing forever."
Clint nodded. "Ah yeah. Think we've all got those."
"I got seventy years of them," said Bucky, then made a face. "Sorry, don't mean to be all- just."
"I get it," said Clint. "Trust me, I get it. Plenty of things I'd like to get wiped out for good."
Bucky nodded. "Steve doesn't really get it," he said. "Every time I remember something he's so damn pleased, but I got so many more years of shit than I do of the good stuff." His chest heaved as he took a deep breath, then he gestured at the TV. "Okay, anything but this."
Clint looked back to see that the movie credits had ended and been replaced with an infomercial for anti-aging cream. He started channel-hopping until he found a Second World War documentary, when he paused and sent a smirk over at Bucky, who rolled his eyes.
Clint finally settled on another movie, one with less explosions but the same very low level of plot.
More time passed and the atmosphere became more relaxed. Clint found himself dividing his attention between the film and Bucky, despite the fact that he was sitting there in silence and Clint didn't need to read his lips.
On screen, a car turned over, rolling across a road and down a grassy bank. Bucky flinched so violently that Clint turned towards him, tensing up and hoping he wasn't going to have to do anything active right now.
"# what # remembered #," said Bucky, still staring at the screen. Clint did his best to work out what he was saying, but it wasn't easy when he was sideways. Half the words got lost. "# #bered killing # Stark."
There was only one Stark he could be talking about. "Tony's dad?"
Bucky turned towards him. "I made it look like a car accident," he said. "It was easy. Both him and his wife." He paused and then added, with his shoulders hunching over, "When I went to check he was dead, I thought I recognised him but I didn't know from where. So I just walked away. Left him there. A guy I'd known, gone out drinking with."
"You can't blame yourself for stuff you did when someone else was in control," said Clint. "If they were giving orders you couldn't say no to, that's on them." It was something he'd spent years trying to drum into his own brain. These days it felt like he'd mostly succeeded, but there were still moments, late at night, when he found himself running through the faces of the SHIELD agents who'd died the day he'd attacked the helicarrier.
There must have been something in his voice that gave away his personal experience, because Bucky sent him a frown. "You've been brainwashed?"
Clint shrugged. "Not like you were," he said. "Only for three days."
Bucky was silent for a long time, then said, so quietly that Clint almost missed the movement of his lips, "Three days is long enough to do a lot of damage."
"Yeah," said Clint, with feeling.
"Is that why you're not sleeping?" asked Bucky.
Clint hesitated. It would be so easy to just nod and keep the real reason hidden, but there was something about the quiet, late-night atmosphere that made Clint reluctant to lie. Bucky had opened up to him, after all.
"Nah," he said. "It would make more sense if it were, but my nightmares are usually come from years before that. My dad was pretty shitty, used to beat us."
Not being able to hear what he was saying made it easier to say.
"That's rough," said Bucky.
Clint shrugged a shoulder. "He was born without a print. Never really got over it. My mum, her soulmate died only a couple of years after they activated. I think she thought Dad would be her second chance, but..."
He didn't bother ending the sentence. People born without a print were rare, but not that rare. Most people knew of someone like that, and knew just how bitter and angry they tended to be. Clint guessed that growing up knowing that no one was ever going to love you in the complete, whole-hearted way that soulmates loved each other gave you some weird psychological hang-ups. Even if he never activated, if his soulmate had died years ago and he was going to be alone forever, at least Clint knew that someone had existed who would have loved him.
Bucky nodded. "It's hard, knowing you're never gonna have a soulmate." He twisted his mouth down. "I never activated," he said. "I'm guessing whoever my soulmate was is either dead or in their nineties now. Probably for the best, I'm not exactly in a state that anyone would want to be linked with."
"Me neither," said Clint. He found that he'd pushed his left hand inside his right sleeve and was gently tracing over his print with one finger. "I'm not activated either, but it feels like I got so much going on, I don't know where I'd fit a soulmate in."
"Yeah," agreed Bucky. He clenched his hands together, the metal one wrapping around the flesh one in a way that would have made Clint wary of crushed bones. "Just, doesn't exactly help being around an activated pair."
Clint made a face. "It can get a bit much. Steve and Sam aren't so bad, really, especially not compared to Tony and Pepper."
Bucky flinched, and Clint reflected that maybe mentioning Tony was a bad idea on the night Bucky was freaking out about having murdered his father.
"It's good that Steve got a second chance," Bucky said and turned back to the TV in a way that ended the conversation. Clint gave up and turned back as well. Outside the window, he could see the sun starting to come up and his eyelids felt itchy and heavy. His brain wasn't really up to this kind of conversation right now.
He ended up falling asleep with his hand still curled around his print.
He and Natasha ran a few drills one morning a few days later, and then had lunch together.
"You and Bucky are getting on," she said, before he'd even taken a bite of his sandwich.
Clint glared at her and took a massive bite, making her wait until he had finished chewing and swallowed before replying. "We've hung out, like, twice."
"You let him touch your bow," she pointed out. "It took me over a year before you'd let me touch your bow."
Clint hadn't even thought twice about putting his bow in Bucky's hands. He shrugged. "Maybe I'm maturing. Learning how to share."
She snorted. "No chance. There's something else going on."
"What could be going on?" asked Clint.
She narrowed her eyes at him. "You tell me."
"You're letting your natural Russian paranoia get control of you," said Clint. "He's just a guy who lives in the same building. You'd probably have hung out with him a couple of times as well, if you weren't actively avoiding him."
She didn't deny it. "Be careful," she said. "We can't rely on him staying stable."
Clint shrugged. "Can we rely on any of us staying stable?"
"And you accuse me of paranoia," said Natasha.
"Yeah, but my paranoia is healthy American paranoia, not shady ex-communist paranoia," said Clint, grinning at her. "Totally different things."
The look she gave him in response was not amused, but he knew deep down she found him hilarious. Everyone found him hilarious.
Her phone rang before she could continue the interrogation and she looked at it with the shuttered look that meant it was Bruce calling. She picked it up and walked away, leaving Clint with the remains of her lunch as well as his own. Score.
He only had the vaguest idea of what was going on with Natasha and Bruce. They'd activated while Clint had been with Loki and had spent the next few months dancing around each other before disappearing off together for week. When they'd come back, they'd settled into something more comfortable, sharing a bed most nights and sitting next to each other on movie nights. They'd still kept their own rooms, though, and seem to spend more time apart than they did together.
After Sokovia, Bruce had announced he was retiring from the Avengers and going off for a bit. Clint couldn't blame him; he'd been thinking the same thing, after all, and he hadn't accidentally destroyed a city. What he hadn't really understood was that Natasha didn't seem to even consider going with him.
“Why would I?” she'd asked Clint when he mentioned it. “We both have our own lives. We don't need to be together to be soulmates.”
Clint didn't get it at all, but it seemed to work for them. Maybe it made more sense if you had a soulmate and knew what that link was like.
Other than Steve, and by extension Sam, the other Avengers were very wary of Bucky and mostly left him for Steve to deal with. Clint figured he was doing all three a favour if he gave Bucky someone else to hang out with so that Steve and Sam could have some alone time. Well, that, and it gave him the chance to appreciate Bucky's physical assets without being the creeper ogling him from the corner.
Bucky was in one of his more open moods one evening, staying at the table after dinner was over to argue with Clint over the relative merits of the SR-25 and the M24 sniper rifle, when the Avengers alarm went off.
Everyone immediately jumped to their feet.
"Gather your equipment, meet in the main hangar bay," said Cap. "I'll get the details."
"I guess I'm just staying here," said Bucky, and there was an awkward pause.
Clint looked at Steve and saw him realise that they couldn't really leave the Winter Soldier unattended in the base, and then glance around at the team.
"I'll stay," he said.
Steve looked at him. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," said Clint, sitting back down. "I'm not technically on the roster still anyway. Just, don't have too much fun without me, yeah?"
Natasha ruffled his hair as she passed him. "Of course not. We'll have to make up our terrible jokes."
"Words hurt, Tasha," said Clint. "You and I both know my jokes are awesome."
The look she gave him as she went off to get her equipment said otherwise, but Clint ignored it.
Steve said something quietly to Bucky before he left that made him nod and then they were all gone.
"Guess we're clearing the table, then," said Clint, getting up.
Bucky sent him a blank look that was more Winter Soldier than Clint was really comfortable with. Clint started stacking plates but kept a careful eye on him, really hoping he wasn't going to end up in fight with him. Apart from anything else, Clint's bow was in his room, so he'd be trying to fight off a metal-armed super-soldier with crockery. That didn't sound like fun at all.
Bucky sat very still for several minutes, then let out a long breath, clenching both hands into fists. "I wanna be watching Steve's back."
"You can trust the team to do that," said Clint. "Especially Sam. And Natasha."
Bucky shook his head. "It's not the same as doing it myself."
"No," agreed Clint. He looked back down at the plates. "Fuck it, this can wait. Want to watch the mission?"
"We can do that?"
"Sure," said Clint. "Tony set all our systems up and he's got this whole Big Brother thing going on, so everyone's got a camera on them. If we go to the briefing room we can get them all up on the big screen."
Bucky stood up. "Show me."
Clint took him through, got everyone's feeds up on the screen and got the team communications piped in. Bucky sat down at the briefing table and fixed his gaze on the screen.
The team were still on a quinjet sorting out their gear, so there wasn't much to see. Clint tapped into the comms just long enough to let them know that he and Bucky were listening in, which earned him a sigh from Natasha and a pointed comment about finding excuses not to clean up.
"Okay," said Cap as the quinjet started its descent. "We've got thirty confirmed hostiles using advanced weaponry moving through the town centre. Local law enforcement are working on evacuating the surrounding blocks but there's a lot of citizens caught in the area. We need to contain the fight as a priority to allow them escape routes."
"Do we know who the hostiles are?" asked Wanda.
Cap looked frustrated. "Our intelligence isn't great. Reports just mentioned men in black, which could be just about anyone. Hydra, AIM, someone entirely new..."
"Will Smith," put in Clint, which earned him a confused frown from Bucky. He sighed and tipped his chair back. "We're watching that sometime, then."
Bucky didn't reply. In fact, he stayed frustratingly silent for the whole thing, as the Avengers arrived on the scene and engaged, Cap shouting out orders to the grateful-looking police as well as to the team. As he threw his shield at the first enemy, Bucky flinched.
"They're Hydra," he said.
Clint glanced over the different camera views, trying to spot some identifying markings. "How can you tell?"
Bucky didn't bother replying, which was probably fair. If you spent seventy years being brainwashed by an organisation, you probably got pretty good at identifying them.
To say that Bucky was on the edge of his seat while the fight was going on was probably an understatement. He had his hands clenched around the edge of the table and every time someone got close to hurting Steve, he flinched.
"You know Cap can take care of himself, right?" said Clint, and got ignored.
He gave up and started concentrating on the fight instead, making mental notes on what things he should maybe bring up in training. That was what he was meant to still be at the base for, after all, no matter how much his hands itched to be on his bow, fighting alongside them. He was retiring as soon as Rhodey got back, he needed to get over wanting to be in the thick of things.
The Avengers got control of the situation pretty quickly, capturing most of the enemy and handing them over to the police in lieu of a SHIELD holding facility. Clint wondered how it would go down if he hunted Fury down so that he could nag him to get on with setting up a replacement agency already. Not well, probably.
As the last bad guy was taken down by one of Wanda's bursts of red fire, Bucky let out a quiet breath and unclenched his hands. There was a dent in the table from his metal hand that hadn't been there before, which was going to make Tony mutter under his breath about the costs of replacing furniture every time someone got a bit excited with their super-strength. Without the Hulk or Thor around, their record had got much better on that front, so Clint figured he could just suck it up.
"They'll have to hang around there for ages, doing the clear up," said Clint. "It'll be dull as hell."
Bucky turned to look at him, then back at the screen. "Right," he said. "Okay."
"Sucks just watching, right?" said Clint.
Bucky didn't reply. Clint was getting pretty bored of being ignored, so he got up. "Okay, I'm going to get the dinner cleared before Natasha comes back and makes sarcastic remarks. Feel free to come join me whenever you're done watching Steve make nice to the police."
He'd pretty much finished by the time Bucky turned up in the kitchen doorway. Clint glanced at him and wondered what the hell you were meant to do with a pent-up Winter Soldier to keep them from snapping and trying to kill you with their robot arm. Probably not yoga.
"You want to do something while we wait for the others?"
Bucky glared at him. "Not a movie."
Okay, fair enough. Clint usually went to the range when he was stressed out, but he didn't think putting a weapon in Bucky's hands was a good idea right now.
"I've been meaning to ask you if you'd mind having a look at our security and helping me plug the holes you were talking about the other day," he said, thinking that it might be good for Bucky to feel useful after a few weeks of not having any real purpose.
Bucky stared at him then nodded. "Yeah, I can do that."
It turned out to be a great plan. Bucky got so distracted by arguing over CCTV placement and the virtues of an electric fence that when the others finally arrived back, he only spared Steve a glance and a nod of greeting before getting back into it.
"Are we sure that it's a good idea to let him know our security systems?" asked Wanda.
"Are you kidding?" said Clint, looking up from the rough diagram he and Bucky were working from. "He's the one that drew this. He didn't miss a single feature."
Steve came to squint at the paper. He ran a finger over some of the scrawled notes for new features. "This is good," he said. "We'll have to get Tony to sort it out."
"He'll enjoy that," said Natasha, leaning over the diagram herself. She frowned. "What's this bit?"
Bucky followed her finger. "It's a network of laser traps strung out between the trees to cover the vulnerable south east corner."
She made an interested humming sound and pulled up a chair to sit in. “This does look more secure, but have you thought about moving this camera here, to give a wider vantage?”
“A wider vantage means losing some of the detail,” objected Sam.
“You can have both if you put in a second camera here,” said Bucky, putting his finger down on the diagram, and that was how they ended up spending the next three hours arguing about security measures. Clint's favourite bit was when Bucky and Natasha started comparing the most difficult bases they'd ever infiltrated, trying to one-up each other until it turned out that they'd both infiltrated the same top secret US Army base at some point in the 90s, and Sam got all indignant.
It seemed even more inhumane when he turned a corner and found the Winter Soldier lurking against a wall, spine ramrod straight and his metal hand braced in front of him as if he was expecting a fight.
"Jesus Christ," said Clint, pressing a hand to his chest. "Are you trying to win creepiest housemate? Cuz frankly, I know Wanda can be a bit strange, but you were already pretty much in the lead on that one already."
Bucky didn't reply. He just stared at Clint blankly, barely even blinking.
"Uh, you okay?" asked Clint. "Bucky?"
There was the tiniest flinch of the muscles around Bucky's eyes, but no other sign of life.
"Hey, Bucky, come on, snap out of it," said Clint, wondering if he should be calling Steve.
There was another flinch at his name, and then Bucky snapped out a phrase in Russian.
Ah, crap. Clint took a careful step backwards and held his hands up, hoping to look as harmless as possible. "Hey, Bucky, snap out of it. Do you want me to get Steve?"
'Steve' got the biggest reaction yet, Bucky blinking his eyes several times and a tiny frown forming.
"Steve Rogers," repeated Clint. "Your best friend. And you're Bucky Barnes. Remember?"
Bucky's metal arm relaxed. "Steve," he said, very quietly to himself.
"Right," said Clint, as encouragingly as he could. "You're not with Hydra, you're with us. With Steve."
Bucky let out a long breath, his metal arm relaxing back to his side. "Hawkeye," he said, with a nod.
"Clint is fine," said Clint.
Bucky's posture slumped and Clint saw his personality come back to his eyes. "Ah, Christ," he muttered, rubbing his hand over his face.
"You okay, man?" asked Clint.
Bucky nodded stiffly, rolling his shoulders. Clint wondered how long he had been standing there like a statue, waiting for Hydra to give him orders.
"I was gonna get coffee. Want some?"
Bucky stared at him for a long moment, looking as if the decision was too much for him right now.
"Come to the kitchen with me," said Clint. "Steve'll turn up there sooner or later."
Bucky nodded and mutely followed Clint, which made the space between Clint's shoulder blades itch uncomfortably. Having a mentally-unstable assassin behind you wasn't the most comfortable feeling.
There was no one else in the kitchen yet, which meant no one had set the coffee machine running. Clint put on a pot, then turned to see Bucky standing in the doorway, frozen still and staring into space.
"Take a seat," he said, trying to make it as much an invitation as an order.
Bucky moved forward and sat down with jerky motions, clasping his hands in front of him on the table in an oddly formal manner.
"Did something happen?" asked Clint.
It took Bucky a while to answer. "My sleep was not optimal."
"Nightmares," said Clint. "Yeah, they suck."
The coffee was ready so he poured it out, resisting the temptation to just down it from the pot. He put Bucky's mug in front of him then settled down opposite him.
Bucky clasped the mug in both hands, then winced and moved his flesh one away. Clint focused on his own mug, sucking down the sweet, sweet nectar as fast as he could without burning his throat.
He'd pretty much finished it before Bucky spoke. "I'm sorry."
Clint glanced up. "For what?"
Bucky gave him an exasperated look and Clint felt himself relax at the clear sign he was back to himself. "For scaring you."
"I wasn't scared," lied Clint.
Bucky raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, maybe a little freaked, but I hadn't had any coffee," said Clint, raising his mug. There was barely a mouthful left, so he downed it. "Are you feeling more yourself now?"
Bucky stared down into his coffee. "I'm not always sure who that is."
Okay, Clint was definitely going to need more coffee for this. He got up and put another pot on.
"Before I came here, I spent six months trying to work it out," said Bucky. "Trying to get my head into a state where I felt like a whole person and not just - not just splinters. And yet here I am, still flaking apart."
Clint leant back against the counter. "How long were you in the hall?"
Bucky shrugged one shoulder. "I'm not sure. I couldn't sleep, and I could hear that Steve and Sam didn't really want to be interrupted, so I figured I'd come find you, see if you were up and wanted to watch something, but- I don't know. I didn't make it, I guess."
If Sam and Steve had still been awake and getting up to whatever, Bucky must have been there most of the night. No wonder he looked like shit.
"I'm guessing Sam and Steve wouldn't have minded you interrupting them if they'd known you were having a bad night," he said.
Bucky made a face. "I'm causing Steve enough hassle without interrupting him and his soulmate."
"You're not causing anywhere near as much hassle as I used to cause you," said Steve, coming into the kitchen and making Bucky stiffen. "And you can interrupt me and Sam any time you need to. We've got the rest of our lives together, after all."
He darted an enquiring look at Clint that Clint just returned with a raised eyebrow and a nod at Bucky.
"Did something happen?"
Bucky let out a breath. "Not really," he said. "Just a bad night."
Clint snorted, then pasted on a bland smile when they both turned to him. "Coffee?"
"Sure," said Steve, sitting down. "What kind of a bad night?"
Bucky shrugged, gripping at his mug. Steve stayed patiently waiting, until Bucky let out a long breath. "I lost myself," he said, in a very quiet voice.
Steve clenched his jaw and took the coffee Clint passed to him. "You came back, though," he said. "Did you- did anybody get hurt?"
Bucky shook his head. "I think I was just waiting for orders, then Clint found me."
Steve sent Clint a look packed with so much gratitude that Clint wanted to go hide somewhere to avoid it. He really hadn't done anything.
"There you go, then," said Steve. "You didn't lose yourself completely."
"You didn't come close to attacking me," added Clint. "I just had to say your name a few times to pull you out of it."
Bucky pressed his mouth into a flat line, staring down at his coffee. "I think it was seeing the fight yesterday," he said. "Those guys were Hydra. I'm going to be pretty useless if I blank out every time I see a Hydra agent."
"We'll work on it," said Steve. "It's still early days, you'll get better."
"Yeah," said Bucky, but he didn't sound as if he believed it.
Clint took a sip of coffee, wondering how things managed to just keep getting more complicated around here. He'd thought it was bad enough when they just had to worry about Tony and Bruce playing mad scientist in the basement.
His farm was going to feel so simple and relaxing after this.