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“Two snipers walk into a bar,” Clint announces as he and Bucky trudge through the damp woods.

“What?” Bucky calls as he turns to look back at Clint. He’s ahead of Clint by almost fifty yards, which he clearly hadn’t realized, because he sighs, shakes his head, and stops to wait for Clint to catch up.  “You’re slow,” he says, frustration leaking into his voice.

“You’re not used to working with a teammate, much less an injured teammate,” Clint counters.

Bucky stares at Clint’s arm for a second, before biting his lip and frowning. “What are you talking about a bar?” he asks, and before Clint can even stop long enough to catch his breath, Bucky turns again and keeps walking.

“Two snipers, that’s us,” Clint explains as he follows Bucky. “A bar – where I wish we were – and a lead in to what’s got to be a bad joke,” he finishes as it’s clear that Bucky isn’t really listening.  Clint adds, “A horrible joke. No punchline worth telling at all.”

“You’re babbling, Barton,” Bucky says over his shoulder.

“You’re an asshole, Barnes,” Clint replies, and has to stop walking for a second while burning pain sears his arm from his shoulder all the way down to the tips of his fingers. He sucks in a sharp breath and pulls his arm closer to his chest. It brushes his bowstring and his bow almost bumps him in the head. He’s acting like a fucking amateur.

Suddenly Bucky is there, pulling his bow from his shoulder. “Give me that,” he demands, and Clint has to move his arm enough to let Bucky pull the bow away, and this time the pain spikes so hard that Clint is suddenly light-headed and stumbling.

Bucky grabs him around the waist and keeps him from face-planting on the muddy forest path. “Shit, Barton,” Bucky mutters.

Clint ducks his chin to his chest and sucks in a deep breath. He doesn’t want help. Not from Bucky who already thinks he’s a useless smart-ass and who glared daggers at Steve and Coulson when he heard about their assignment alone together. Clint pulls away as the dizziness passes and starts walking again. “I’m okay. Just thinking of a good punchline to this epic fucking joke of a mission.” He doesn’t even look back to make sure Bucky’s following.

“We need to find a place for the night,” Bucky says as he matches Clint’s pace. Clint ignores him, and they both hear it at the same time, a snap and rustle in the bushes nearby. They duck as the first gunshot rings out.

The fight is fast and quiet, and adrenaline and pure cussedness dulls the pain and lets Clint take two of the five HYDRA operatives out with relative ease.


 

Clint’s on his knees now, and the forest is suddenly silent except for a hawk screeching in the nearby treetops and the ragged breath he’s trying to suck into his uncooperative chest. Nothing’s working – his chest feels like it’s being squeezed by a python, his thigh muscles decide to stop holding him up, so he crumples from his knees to his ass, and his head spins so hard that he has to clench his eyes shut to make it stop and swallow hard to keep from puking. A hand on his shoulder makes him flinch, and when he opens his eyes and tries to raise his good arm to swing, Bucky is there, trying to push him to a more comfortable sitting position.

“Take it easy,” Bucky says, and he sounds like he’s trying to soothe a spooked horse.

Clint scans Bucky’s face and slides his eyes down his body, but it doesn’t look like he’s hurt. Clint focuses on getting his breaths even and stemming the nausea swirling in his stomach. “I’m okay,” he mutters, blowing a hard breath out. “I’m fine.” He swallows thickly.

“Right,” Bucky replies. He looks around, brushes the hair out of his sweaty face and Clint wonders again how he got stuck on a team with so many hot jerks on it. He gets lost in Tony’s eyes sometimes. He had to take a cold shower last week because Steve and Bucky got dressed up to go to some jazz club that used to be popular when they were kids.

“Clint,” Bucky snaps, and Clint’s clearly been zoned out for a minute.

“I’m okay,” he repeats, and holds out a hand to get Bucky to help him up. “We gotta get out of here.” Bucky nods, and they start walking again.

“You took out two guys with a busted arm,” Bucky says out of nowhere. “That’s impressive.”

“Well, bad guys don't care about a busted arm, do they?” Clint replies, trying hard to walk in a straight line.

“Fast, too,” Bucky says, as if he was replaying the fight in his head.

”Nat helped with that,” Clint replies. Nat made him faster and smarter about fighting. Between Nat and Phil, he'd molded his carny street-fighting style into something almost as lethal as Nat’s.

“Natasha taught you?” Bucky asks, looking back at Clint with a grin.

“As good as,” Clint replies, and notices as Bucky slows down a bit to match his pace. “I’ve been brawling since I was ten, but I lacked. . . Polish.”

“She’s got that in spades,” Bucky agrees, and Clint hears the fondness and admiration in his voice. He remembers how Natasha watched Bucky so carefully when he first came to the Tower after a few weeks in SHIELD custody. How her voice filled with that same admiration when she explained to Clint how she knew Bucky from their collective pasts.

“Phil taught me the spy trade, and Nat . . . “ he trails off, tries to think of the right explanation.

“Polished it,” Bucky fills in with a small smile.

Bucky presses Clint to a stop and turns him so he can get a better look at his head. It had been slammed into a tree during the skirmish. “You’re bleeding like a stuck pig and you can’t keep your eyes on me. You feel sick?”

Clint shrugs his good shoulder. “A little.” He knows better now than to hold pertinent info back.

“Concussion,” Bucky confirms, and then he looks at the darkening sky and back at Clint. “If my sense of it’s right, we’ve still got eight or nine miles to go before we get close to the airfield for pickup. It’s gonna be dark in less than an hour and we need shelter.”

“They’ve gotta know that we lost our ride and our comms,” Clint replies.

“Which means get to the airfield,” Bucky says, slow, to explain. His eyes are narrow and concern is written all over his face.

 “Right. Fuck.” Clint’s not thinking clearly, which makes him take a deep breath and consider things a little more carefully. He’s got a concussion, and his arm isn’t just broken, it’s busted. Clint won’t be surprised if it’s broken in a couple places thanks to the fall from a metal walkway fifteen feet off the ground.  It’s getting dark and they’ve got too far to go. “They’re not going to come looking for us at night,” he says, and Bucky nods.

“Come on, let’s see if we can find anything that can act as shelter,” Bucky says.

Clint follows, watching Bucky as he uses his scope every few minutes to scan for a place to stop, but it’s forty minutes later before he says, “There,” and by that point Clint is simply trying to stay vertical. He follows Bucky, but his arm is now pulsing in pain to the quickened beat of his heart, and he’s blinking away blood and dizziness, so when he trips over the roots of a tree the moment the small recessed cave comes into view, he goes down, hard.


 

He comes to in the cave with Bucky leaning over him. “Hey,” Clint whispers, because he’s not sure where they are and he’s not sure if talking is going to make him throw up or not.

“Your arm is swollen,” Bucky reports as he rips at the sleeve of Clint’s suit. “And your hand looks like it’s not getting enough circulation. I need to straighten that arm and set it if I can, but if I do that you’ll probably pass out from the pain and that’s not cool with a concussion, so I’m not gonna set it. Just trying to give it some room here.”

Clint can hear frustration bleeding through Bucky’s voice. “Set my arm, Bucky,” he says, and he’s too tired to hide his fear. He needs his arm. He needs his arm to come through this without doing damage to his muscles and tendons and shooting form, and he needs it desperately. “I can’t fuck up my arm.”


Bucky examines him for a moment. “No. Not yet. I have to tie it off because that swelling in your hand means there’s some blood pooling from damage, and I don’t want you dying on me from internal bleeding. Daylight’ll come quick enough and then we can get to the airfield in a couple hours. I’m more worried about your head.”

“Dammit,” Clint argues, “Set the arm, Bucky.” He tries to sit up to glare better, but this time the nausea crests hard and he retches, rolling over to keep it off of himself. The movement jars his arm again, and it feels like his whole body shatters into pieces. He can’t bite back a groan as he throws up, and everything greys out. He’s heaving when he’s done and Bucky rolls him back onto his back and scoots him away from the mess.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Bucky mutters, as he rips off part of his own undershirt to wipe Clint’s face.

Clint concentrates on getting his breathing under control, and Bucky’s hand on his face feels soothing. He closes his eyes. “Sorry,” he mutters when Bucky throws the dirty shirt corner off to the side.

“Look at me, Barton,” Bucky says.

Clint opens his eyes and stares into Bucky’s concerned face. Bucky’s eyes are so fucking gorgeous.

“I’m going to tie off your arm near the shoulder to stop any internal bleeding that I can. It’s going to hurt. You ready?”

Clint is so tired. He imagines his bed back home, a king-sized monstrosity that Tony had insisted on, with its high thread-count purple sheets and the tattered purple quilt he’d been lugging around with him ever since he was able to get his own place.

“Clint,” Bucky snaps.

Clint opens his eyes and nods. “Do it.”

Bucky uses his belt, and Clint can't hold back a growl as pain explodes in his arm again, this time sharp and metallic. Bucky ties it off carefully and presses his warm hand to Clint’s cheek. “You need to rest. I have to wake you up periodically and I do not want you passing out and staying out too long. You understand?”

Clint doesn’t want to nod and cause his head to explode, too, so he blinks slowly and says, “Yeah,” with as much energy as he can muster.

“So we’re going to leave your damned arm alone for now until the doctors can set it tomorrow.”

That doesn’t sound right to Clint, but his body is suddenly heavy, like someone piled cinder blocks on him like a blanket, and he can’t even open his mouth to protest. He just stares at Bucky and watches a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek and onto his jaw.

“Sleep, Clint,” Bucky directs, so Clint closes his eyes and does.

“Barton, wake up,” Clint hears, and it seems like it’s from a distance, so he ignores it. He feels metal against his cheek, though, so he opens his eyes to figure out what’s going on. Bucky has his metal hand against Clint’s cheek, and he’s leaning over Clint with tired eyes. “You gotta wake up.”

“Why?” Clint asks, because he really wants to go back to sleep.

“You know where you are?” Bucky answers.

Clint blinks, and that simple movement makes his head pound. “My head hurts,” he says, and Bucky frowns.

“You know where you are?” he repeats.

“Bumfuck, Illinois,” Clint answers slowly. “Forest. Is this a cave?”

Bucky sighs and grins. “Yeah. Right to everything. How’re you feeling?”

Clint takes a moment to measure. “Ow?”

Bucky shakes his head. “Useful. Go back to sleep.”

But Clint can’t. His arm is throbbing, his head is throbbing, and sleep isn’t coming. “Lemme take a watch,” he finally says, looking over at Bucky, who’s leaning against the stone wall a few feet from Clint.

“No. You can’t even sit up on your own.”

Clint tries to prove him wrong, and sits up slowly. He makes it to lean against a wall of the cave, but he’s winded and has to close his eyes as everything spins slowly and his arm explodes in knives and needles again. He grinds out, “Sat up on my own.”

Bucky laughs. “Fantastic. Keep yourself upright and your eyes open for ten minutes and I might consider it.”

Clint groans. “Fuck off.”

“Yep. Sure,” Bucky answers. He strides over to Clint and kneels down. He pulls Clint’s gun from his boot and checks it out before pressing it into Clint’s hand. “Since you’re insisting on being up, I’m going to make a circle and make sure no one’s looking for us.” He stands and starts to leave.

“Bucky, wait,” Clint says, and he stares at the gun in his hand before looking back up at Bucky. He wants to tell him to stay, to show him how his hand is shaking and if anyone attacks right now Clint’s shit out of luck for sure, how he just feels better with Bucky just a few feet away.

He wants to tell him that he wants to know him better, how they probably have some shitty things in common, how they could probably be friends if Bucky would just let anyone other than Steve or Nat in. “Be careful,” he says instead, and watches as Bucky nods and slips out of the cave.

He watches the opening to the cave as if it’s going to vanish, and after two minutes his hand is shaking so hard that he has to rest his hand on the dirt floor. His internal clock has been running since he was seventeen, so he knows it’s only a few minutes before Bucky appears in the entryway again. He kneels down next to Clint again and carefully pries the gun out of Clint’s fingers. He makes sure the safety is back on and puts it back in Clint’s boot.

Clint just watches, looks at the tick Bucky’s jaw has, at the way his mouth turns down when he’s concentrating.

“No one out there,” Bucky reports, and sits back on his haunches to get a better look at Clint. He reaches for Clint’s shoulder and pushes gently. “Come on. You need to try and sleep again.”

He lays Clint down and the pain in his arm takes his breath away.

Bucky notices. “I’m sorry. Come on, Clint, you gotta rest,” he says as he brushes a hand down Clint’s cheek.

Clint wants him to leave his hand there, really. “You were hot in World War Two, you know?” Clint slurs, and fuck if he didn’t mean to say that out loud.

Bucky laughs.

“Not that you’re not hot now. Because you totally are. I’m just sayin’, that uniform and short hair was something.” He can’t seem to get his mouth to stop talking now.

Bucky smiles that small smile that he has, and Clint has to admit that it’s nicely distracting. Not enough to make the pain go away, but it’s giving him something to focus on.

“You think I’m hot,” Bucky says, like Clint just said the sky was green.

“Any time you want to put that suit on that you wore last week will be fine with me,” Clint says.

Exhaustion catches back up to the conversation, so Clint blinks hard, and nods. “Might sleep, now, though,” he manages to say as Bucky smooths Clint’s hair away from his face. “Please stay,” slips out of his mouth before he can stop the traitorous words, but Bucky just smiles.

“Not goin’ anywhere, Barton,” Bucky answers, and Clint’s asleep by the time he’s finished.

He wakes to Bucky slapping his cheek and pleading. “Come on, Clint. Wake the fuck up.”

Clint blinks up at him. “Bucky?”

Bucky ducks his head in obvious relief and nods. “Yeah, okay. Good,” he mutters to himself before looking at Clint again. His face is dark with worry. “Do you know where you are?” He asks.

Clint has to think. His head isn’t just pounding; there’s a jackhammer inside of it, and where they are doesn’t want to come right away. He takes a deep breath and looks around. Oh yeah. “Cave. Illinois. Fucked up mission where we have to play dodge-the-goon in the woods and hoof it ten miles to an air field, right?” He says, and he thinks he’s clear enough for Bucky to hear it all.

He must, because Bucky grins and nods. “Good. Right.”

Clint shifts his weight on the ground to try and get more comfortable, but that turns out to be a very bad idea. His arm is pulsing with pain, and now it feels heavy, like he can feel the swelling itself, and there’s a steady burning sensation up and down from his shoulder to his fingertips.

“Clint?” Bucky asks, leaning closer.

“Arm. Fuck,” Clint replies, swallowing hard and trying to keep his breathing from speeding up.

“I know,” Bucky says. “Not much longer before we can head out. As soon as it’s light enough to see, we’ll go.”

Clint nods, and tries to go back to sleep, but the pain is too much. Bucky helps him sit up, and they decide to wrap his arm against his chest to at least keep it immobile. Bucky uses the rest of his t-shirt and Clint’s belt this time to strap it tightly. Clint thinks maybe his teeth are going to crack into pieces from how hard he’s gritting against the pain.

“Breathe, Clint,” Bucky says once he’s got Clint’s arm strapped in.

“Tell me something about Nat from when you knew her,” Clint grinds out. After another couple sharp breaths, he adds, “Distract me, Bucky. Please.” He closes his eyes again.

Bucky’s voice is a rich, rocky tone and Clint hangs onto each word like it’s a handhold on a climbing wall.

“There was a time, a moment,” he begins, “When she was a terrible shot.”

Clint tries to laugh, but it comes out more like a gasp.

“She was,” Bucky assures him. “She was only eight or so, but she couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and she used to get so angry at herself.” He pauses, and Clint wonders what he’s seeing in his memory. Clint wants to imagine Nat at age eight, but all he can do is hang onto Bucky’s words as if they are a balm. “She had short, pixie cut hair, already fiery red, and she scrunched up her face the same way then as she does now when she’s pissed.”

Bucky stops, and Clint tries to ask him to keep going, but he can’t spare any breath for words right now, so he just focuses on not driving the fingernails of his good hand through the flesh of his palm.

“She kept volunteering to shoot, to practice,” Bucky continues. “I remember wondering if she would shoot herself or one of her instructors out of sheer frustration. But then, a couple of months later, she got it. She got it so good that she stopped missing. I remember that she flayed a target so accurately that she turned and jutted her chin out and said, “I told you I could do it.”

Clint nods and pants out, “Stubborn as fuck from the get-go.”

“Yeah.” Bucky pauses and moves a little closer to Clint. “She said that you were learning to shoot right around that age, too.”

“I was eleven.” Clint says, and finally the waves of pain in his arm recede a little. He blows out a deep breath and looks at Bucky more closely. He looks tired, but there’s something else in his face, a gentleness Clint has never noticed before.

Bucky’s eyes go a little distant. “When I was eleven, I was playing stickball in the street with Steve.”

“Was he any good?”

Bucky looks at Clint and laughs. “Yeah. He always surprised the other guys with his hitting. Someone that scrawny shouldn’t have been able to pound it like that.”

A memory flashes in Clint’s mind, unexpected. “Barney could hit a baseball farther than anyone on the lot,” he mumbles.

“Who’s Barney?” Bucky asks, and he is looking at Clint with curiosity.

Who’s Barney,’ Clint thinks. Really, that’s best description of Barney he’s ever considered. “My brother,” he answers, and adds, “We’re not in touch anymore.”

Bucky nods and then stands up, like he’s leaving. Clint can’t hold back a whimper. “I’m not going anywhere,” he says, and true to his word, he just moves back to the entrance and takes a minute to look outside. He comes back in with a determined set to his mouth. “I think we can go. There’s enough daylight to move, and I don’t want this drawn out any more.”

Clint sighs. “Tired of me already.”

Bucky kneels down over Clint. “Hardly.” He stares at Clint’s arm and Clint wonders if he can see it throbbing. “I don’t like the looks of that arm. Gotta get you into the right hands.”

Bucky puts his metal arm under Clint’s shoulders and pulls him up with his other hand. He makes it fast, and he sets Clint on his feet and throws his metal arm around Clint’s waist. Clint’s head spins and the nausea pools in his stomach again, but the pain from his arm is what steals his breath away, again.

Bucky holds him up, says, “Breathe through it, Clint. Breathe through it,” in a voice that Clint has never heard from him before, so Clint opens his eyes enough to look and see a storm of concern play over Bucky’s face.

Clint breathes through it. “Now we walk,” he says, and even though he can’t get much force behind it, he tries. They do walk, and Clint wonders absently if it’s possible for his arm to just fall off. “We’re gonna end up with matching arms,” he mutters as they step over a fallen tree on the path away from the cave.

Bucky’s glare is sharp. “No.”

Clint looks at the metal around his waist. “Matching pillows?” He tries, because Bucky needs to lighten up. They both do.

“Are all of yours purple?” Bucky asks, trying to smile but failing.

“I like purple,” Clint replies. He tries not to trip as they step through an overgrown bush on the path.  His head is still precarious, though, and a wave of dizziness comes as he’s trying to place his feet, so he stumbles to his knee. Every movement makes it feel like he’s slamming his arm against a concrete wall, and his vision whites out for a moment.

“Dammit, Barton,” Bucky mutters as he kneels down and grips Clint’s shoulders to hold him up.

Clint glares at him, and Bucky just shakes his head.

“You’re in bad shape,” he says, but he holds Clint steady and doesn’t make a move to get up and keep moving.

“Busted arm and concussion shouldn’t be slowing me down like this,” Clint says as he closes his eyes against another bout of dizziness.

Bucky reaches up and gently runs his flesh hand through Clint’s hair. “That’s not a normal break in your arm. We need to get you help, and quick.”

He reaches down to look at Clint’s arm, but Clint can’t hold back a flinch, and a flash of guilt crosses Bucky’s face. “Sorry, Clint. I know it’s bad.” He takes what Clint think looks like a steadying breath.

Clint needs to suck this up and get them moving. “You’re right, though,” he says, and reaches his working hand out to Bucky for help up. “We need to get to that air field. Come on.” He swallows the nausea that bubbles when Bucky helps him up and he has to move his bad arm again, and he swallows his pride and says, “Can you keep a hand on me? Just to keep me from going down again?”

Bucky nods and shifts his gun to his other hand so that he can grip Clint’s good elbow. It works, and they make steadier progress, but Clint’s energy is all focused on staying upright and keeping his arm still.

Bucky starts to talk.

He talks about Steve when they were kids, and Clint learns that Bucky’s sisters used to con both boys into playing dolls with them when no grownups were around. He learns that Bucky used to sit for hours reading on a park bench while Steve sat beside him drawing. He learns that Bucky thought he was going to throw up when he realized that Steve was there, in the war with him after Steve rescued Bucky and the others from the HYDRA base.

“I’d been counting on him being safe, you know,” Bucky adds. “He was my brother and I thanked God every day when I knew he was getting rejected from the Army. I know he got to where he could defend himself and he belonged with the Commandos, but part of me always wished he’d stayed little so he couldn't put his life on the line every day.”

Clint is busy trying to stay conscious as his pain spreads from his arm into his shoulder and feels like someone is trying to rip his arm off with their bare hands, but he can hear the sadness in Bucky’s voice, and he carefully tucks these confessions away into the safe spot in his mind. Something settles in Clint’s chest as he realizes that Bucky is finally treating Clint like a friend, instead of a coworker.

It’s getting harder and harder to pay attention, though, as they grind out the miles under their feet. Clint’s body is demanding that Clint stop, lay down, and let darkness sweep him under, but Clint is stubbornly denying it what it wants. Tunnel vision threatens, and Bucky’s words turn into a drone of dark sound instead of golden stories of loyalty and war. Bucky takes more and more of Clint’s weight as he throws Clint’s good arm over his shoulder and pulls them through the underbrush. After a while, Clint’s head drops to Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky is almost dragging Clint’s deadweight.

“Talk to me, Clint,” Bucky says. “Come on, stay awake.”

Clint tries. He can tell his words are slurred, but he tries. “You didn’t wanna talk to me before,” he says, and Bucky’s step stutters for a moment. “At the Tower,” Clint says. “You only talk to Steve and Nat.”

Bucky adjusts Clint’s weight and picks up his pace a little. “Yeah. I know.”

“Maybe that’ll change now,” Clint says. Sure, he’s just trying to stay awake around the blinding pain, but he hopes, too, that it’s true. He’s been envious of Steve and Nat for months without even really understanding why. He bet Bucky would be a good poker player, and he imagines sitting on the couch watching baseball together, maybe going to a game.

“Clint,” Bucky calls, and they’ve stopped.

“What?” Clint answers. He blinks.

“Stay. Awake.”

“Okay,” he replies, and Bucky gets moving again.

“How does your arm feel?” Bucky asks.

Clint thinks about it for a minute. It’s awful, and fire doesn’t even come close to describing how it feels. It’s more like someone is using a chainsaw and shredding his skin and bones over and over again. “Chainsaw,” he manages.

Bucky doesn’t answer, so Clint adds, “Not the worst pain ever.” He wonders if Bucky is feeling guilty or something, because he’s still quiet.

Finally, Bucky asks, “What’s the worst pain ever?” like he can’t help but ask.

“Waking up after Loki,” Clint replies without hesitation. “Wait. You mean physical pain?” He wonders if he’ll ever be able to differentiate the two again after Loki. “I’ve had some doozy gunshot wounds. Phil had to hold my insides in once. He loved that, lemme tell you.”

“You and Phil are good friends,” Bucky says, stating it like a fact. “And you and Nat.” He pauses. “Anyone else?”

“You?” Clint asks, because it doesn’t require much breath and it’ something he’s truly wondering. ”You won’t talk to anyone besides Steve and Nat,” he grits out between waves of sharp pain. “Why won’t you talk to anyone else? It’s been bugging the shit out of me.”

Bucky doesn’t answer for a moment, then he adjusts his hold on Clint and says, “Why would any of you want to talk to me?”

Clint can hear a thick layer of self-derision on the word ‘me.’

“I killed Stark’s parents,” Bucky adds.

Clint sucks in a sharp breath. “Yeah – that was a tough one, but Tony lets you live with us, so he must’ve dealt with that a little. Besides,” Clint adds as they stumble into a clearing, “I’m charming as hell and most people agree I’m fun to be around, so you’re missing out.” He watches Bucky for his reaction.

Bucky bites his lip to hide his laughter, and if that’s not the sexiest thing Clint’s seen in a week, he doesn’t know what is. Too bad that’s when he runs out of any energy to do anything but try and stay conscious.

“Clint,” Bucky says, as if he can feel Clint flag. “Clint, stay with me,” he insists, but Clint’s vision is tunneling and he’s sucking deep breaths to keep from passing out. He can hear himself heaving, and Bucky must know what’s coming, because he stops and scoops Clint’s legs out from under him and bridal carries him across the clearing.

Something’s wrong with his arm where Bucky tied it off, and he’s felt the effects of blood loss enough times in his life to know what’s probably happening. “Tourniquet,” he whispers.

Bucky sets him down gingerly and undoes one of the boot laces from Clint’s boot. He places it above where he already tied the arm off, and looks at Clint apologetically.

Clint nods. This is gonna hurt like hell. Bucky cinches the lace close to his shoulder, and Clint can’t hold back the scream. He can’t hold onto consciousness any longer, either.


 

He wakes slowly, habitually catalogues his body as his awareness kicks back in, and can’t feel his arm.

“Clint,” Natasha says, and he opens his eyes.

He’s too worn out to hide the panic.

“You’re okay,” She says. “You’re arm’s going to be okay. Look,” she insists, and as usual she’s read his mind.

He looks over and sees a heavy cast, all the way up to his armpit. “I can’t feel it,” he says, and she’s kind enough to not laugh at how weak and airy his protest comes out.

Phil steps into his view and nods at Clint’s arm. “They’re keeping it completely numb for now. They reaaally don’t want you to move it. They’ve done one surgery, but you’re in for at least one more once you’re up to it. That was a nasty fall you must’ve taken.”

Phil and Nat are his normal hospital room babysitters, and he’s glad to see them, but he can’t help looking past Phil to the empty doorway.

Phil puts his hands in the pockets of his suit coat and nods toward the door Clint’s looking at. His blue eyes sparkle as he says, “You just missed him. He’s been here, but Steve just dragged him home for a shower and nap. “He’ll be back.”

Clint nods and can’t help the words that slip out next, “He’s nice.”

Natasha doesn’t even try and stifle her laughter, and Phil just grins and says, “Sleep, Clint. You need a nap, too.”

It’s another surgery and two more days until Clint can go home, and Bucky actually hadn’t come back around much. He was there with Steve and the others from time to time, but he doesn’t stay, and Phil and Nat follow through with their usual job to keep Clint from climbing the walls of medical before they deem him fit enough to go home.

Back at the tower he sleeps for two days, only waking long enough for Nat to get him to drink a smoothie a few times. Finally, though, he can stay awake for more than an hour, and the pain pills start actually doing their damned job.

He heads out to the common room couch as soon as he can. Everyone else, including Nat, is busy, so he’s alone as he turns on a ballgame to watch. He slouches into the couch cushions and wishes he’d thought to get himself a drink before stumbling out here. He still manages to zone out, though, and two innings later, Bucky sinks down onto the couch next to him. Clint looks over at him, and grins.

“Look who’s bein’ social,” he drawls, and gives Bucky a wink.

“I’ve been informed that some of you jokers might actually enjoy my company from time to time,” Bucky says, and he leans forward to get a better look at Clint. “You look better than you did five days ago.”

“A shower will do wonders for a guy,” Clint replies. “And two surgeries and a few meals, help, too.” He pauses and runs his gaze up and down Bucky’s frame. He’s wearing faded jeans and a navy blue t-shirt that fits him perfectly, but. “You doing okay, Barnes? You look tired for a guy that finally got his king-sized downy mattress back.” Clint sees Bucky swallow.

“Yeah, I’m okay. Steve thinks I’ll sleep better now I know you’re back home,” he says, like he’s trying words out for the first time.

Clint blinks at him. “Huh. Well, you should know that my arm still has moments when it hurts like hell, and I still have a lingering headache, but I’m fine. Docs even say that physical therapy will get my arm back 100%. No metal for me.” ‘Oh, and you saved my life,’ he wants to add, but he doesn’t. Not yet.

“You were touch and go for a bit when I finally got you to the airfield for pick-up,” Bucky says. “I thought maybe you’d lose the arm,” he adds, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I’d have learned to deal with it if I’d have lost it,” Clint replies. “I have a good role model and Stark could probably make a pretty badass prosthetic if he set his mind to it.”

Bucky nods and gives Clint a shy smile that sends an unexpected shiver through Clint’s body. Now that Bucky’s talking to him like he cares, he’s a lot more than a pretty face.

“I’m glad you don’t have to deal with it,” Bucky answers. He presses his hands to his thighs for a moment and adds, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

Clint nods. “I feel like I got hit by a SMART car as opposed to feeling like I got hit by a bus, so I’m on my way.”

“On your way is good,” Bucky says, and he scoots closer, so that Clint can lean into his side as they finish the baseball game.

Epilogue:

It happens slowly, Bucky’s migration into Clint’s life. Like everything Bucky does, he does it carefully, deliberately. Steve tells Clint that Bucky wasn’t always like that, but there are some things that recovery won’t do to change you back to who you used to be, and this is one thing that is probably just part of who Bucky is now. Kind of like how Clint pays a lot more attention to being in control of a situation. He used to fly by the seat of his pants a lot more than he can handle anymore.

“Pants. Off,” Bucky says with a wicked grin, and Clint is happy to relinquish control here, in the privacy of their own bedroom – careful and deliberate are good for sex as well.

Later that night, as they lay sated in bed, Bucky laughs, free and loose.

“What?” Clint asks, reaching over to Bucky’s chest with his hand and running circles with his finger over Bucky’s smooth, sweaty skin.

“Pretty good punchline, Clint,” Bucky answers.

“What?”

“Two snipers walk into a bar, you know. The beginning of an epic joke of a mission?” Bucky reminds him.

Clint grins and nods into Bucky’s shoulder, relishing the warmth of afterglow. “Pretty good punchline, definitely,” he agrees, and they tangle themselves in each other’s arms and fall asleep.