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Rhodey gave Clint a lift down from his perch once the last giant sewer rat had been killed.

"Well, that was pretty fucking disturbing," said Clint to the others as they gathered around the corpse to catch their breaths. Bucky looked fine, other than a bit of dirt scuffed along his metal arm. He gave Clint a questioning lift of his eyebrow that Clint returned with a quick nod.

Clint wanted go over to him, just to touch him and make sure he was still okay, but he kept his distance. There were three media helicopters circling overhead and at least four more reporters filming from just behind the police barricade at the end of the street so they were all having to be very PR-conscious, which meant not making out with his secret soulmate just yet.

"I'm pretty sure these bastards are going to feature in my next nightmare," agreed Natasha.

"Rats the size of ponies," said Wanda, shaking her head. "They were terrifying enough on their own, did they really need the glowing red eyes as well?"

Rhodey winced. "Don't."

"I'm guessing we're not mentioning the smell," said Steve.

"Not if you value your life," said Natasha.

Wanda gave a shudder. “I'm going to be scrubbing myself down with disinfectant when we get back.”

Clint grinned. "Suddenly, I'm really glad to have been five storeys up for the whole thing."

"I'm even more glad to be in a hermetically sealed environment," said Rhodey. Clint noticed that he hadn't opened his faceplate like he usually would once a fight was over.

"I've smelt worse," said Bucky, giving one of his little shrugs that meant you'll never understand the horrors I've seen.

Natasha raised an eyebrow. "If you're talking about Clint's socks, then I wholeheartedly agree."

"Hey!" protested Clint. "My socks are perfumed delight."

Bucky snorted. "I don't know which perfume you're thinking of, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't sell very well."

Steve glanced over his shoulder at the barricade, where more press were gathering now that the danger had passed. "I'm gonna have to talk to the cameras. Who's coming with me?"

There was a universal silence. Clint did his best to inch behind Rhodey without drawing attention to himself in any way.

Steve rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on. This is an easy one: obvious bad guys, no civilian injuries, not even that much collateral damage. We've just got to smile and give a couple of soundbites."

Bucky snorted. "When did you become the PR guru?" Oh man, rookie error. Clint really should have warned him not to draw attention to himself when Cap was looking for a victim to throw to the media vultures.

Steve gave him a cheerful smile. "Well volunteered, Bucky. You're coming with me."

Bucky gave him a horrified look. "What? Oh, no. No, come on, no one wants to see me on their TV screen. I thought you were looking for good PR?"

"It's time you started doing more than glaring at the press," said Steve. "You're never going to change your profile if you never interact, you know?"

"No, I don't know," said Bucky. "What the hell language are you talking?"

Steve put an arm around his shoulder and started to pull him in the direction of the cameras. "Don't worry, you won't even have to smile. Just try not to look like you're going to kill anyone, answer a couple of questions without swearing or threatening to break bones, and don't mention Clint."

Bucky glanced over his shoulder at Clint with a terrified look. Clint gave him the smuggest grin he could manage and a thumbs up.

"Okay, this is going to be comedy gold," he said once Bucky and Steve were out of earshot. "Viewing party once we're back at the base, right?"

Natasha nodded. "Shots every time it looks like someone is about to be eviscerated."

"I think someone will definitely die if Bucky finds out you're doing a drinking game based on him," said Rhodey.

"Nah, it'll be fine," said Clint. "He loves me, remember?"

"He doesn't love Natasha," Wanda pointed out.

Clint shrugged. "Yeah, okay, but do I really need her now I've got a new favourite assassin?"

Natasha gave him a cold smile. "I know where a lot of your bodies are buried, Barton," she reminded him.

Clint made a face but nodded agreement, glancing over at where he could see Bucky hovering behind Steve as the reporters threw questions at them. He slid his finger down inside his bracer to touch his print. Bucky was flooded with nervousness but there was a layer of forced composure over the top that meant he was holding it together.

Rhodey dug a hard, metal elbow into Clint's side. "Watch it," he said. "That's not as subtle as you seem to think, and there are cameras everywhere right now."

"I might have an itch," said Clint, pulling his finger out.

Rhodey snorted. "Oh yeah, you've got an itch all right."

"You know, just because you're Iron Man 2.0 doesn't mean you have to torture us with Tony's brand of bad jokes," said Clint.

Rhodey raised an eyebrow. "Okay, just for that, I'm not stopping Steve from giving you the talk about respect for your team members when he finds out about your little drinking game."

"Are you kidding?" said Clint. "He'll be joining in.”


The minute they were back on the quinjet and out of sight of the press, Bucky put both his hands on Clint's shoulders. "You're sure you're fine?"

"Totally fine," said Clint. "Come on, I know I'm a bit clutzy, but even I can shoot at giant rats from the top of a building without getting hurt."

Natasha made a sceptical sound and he glared at her over Bucky's shoulder, then leaned in to kiss him. "You're the one that was getting close enough to punch them in the face," he pointed out.

Bucky shrugged. "Metal arm," he pointed out. He held it up between them. "One of them tried to bite it off, but he just chipped a tooth."

"Wait, that's been inside the mouth of a giant rat, and you thought it would be okay to touch me with it?" said Clint. He took a long step back. "No way. No more touching until you've showered in disinfectant. I mean, come on. They were mutant rats! What if their saliva turns me into some kind of weird human-rat hybrid?"

Bucky rolled his eyes. "What are the chances of that?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask Spider-Man?" snapped back Clint.

"Hands up if you're now kinda hoping Clint does turn into a weird human-rat hybrid," said Rhodey. Most of the hands in the jet went up.

"Such betrayal!" said Clint, clutching at his heart. "I thought you were my friends."

"Chill, would you?" said Bucky. "It's just sewer rat spit. It'll probably just give you the plague."

"Oh, that's really fucking reassuring," said Clint.

"If it helps, one of them kinda slobbered on me, so you won't be the only one," said Steve.

Clint glared at him. "Willing to lay bets on whether the super-soldier or the regular guy is more likely to end up dying of the plague?"

Steve just gave him a shrug. "We'll make sure you have a really nice funeral."

"No," said Bucky, turning to glare at Steve. "No one's allowed to talk about Clint's funeral. Not even as a joke." He stepped closer to Clint, taking his hand.

Clint gave his fingers a bit of a squeeze. "It's okay, I'm gonna live forever."

"Damn straight you are," said Bucky.


Sam was waiting for them at the quinjet pad when they got back to base, clearly chaffing at not having been able to come with them. Steve took him in his arms and gave him a long kiss, and Clint wondered just how much longer it would be before Sam told the medics to go fuck themselves and came out with them. It couldn't be much longer; if it had been Clint, he'd have been out with the team weeks ago.

Of course, Clint would also likely have re-injured himself and been yelled at by a whole host of people. No one said his life choices were worth imitating.

Bruce wasn't waiting for them, but Clint noted Natasha heading in the direction of his lab rather than to her rooms once they got inside.

Bruce had been given his own lab in the rebuilt Avengers Base, although it was designated on the plans as part of the medical facility. He spent most of his time in there, working on something highly complicated that Clint didn't understand but seemed to be related to attempting to reverse the effects of various forms of radiation.

Officially, of course, no one had any idea where he was, they hadn't seen him in months, and he definitely didn't have any contact with them.

Back in their suite, Bucky took the first shower on the basis that he was the one that had been chewed on by a giant sewer rat. Clint went through his weapons while he was waiting for his turn, noting that he was going to need to get Tony to send him some more explosive arrows, and maybe a couple more grappling ones as well. He was trying to use them less these days because he might be the moron who came back to active duty after having retired, but he could at least try and save his body from the consequences of too many feats of insane acrobatics. Even if they were loads of fun.

Bucky came out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel, which made Clint put down his quiver and just enjoy the view for a moment. Bucky caught his look and rolled his eyes.

"See something you like?"

"Always," said Clint. "You didn't mention the bruise, though."

Bucky glanced down at the dark bruise that had formed on his side, stretching up half his body, and shrugged. "It'll be gone by tomorrow."

Clint walked over to him and carefully ran his hand over it. "Doesn't mean I don't want to know if you're hurt. I mean, you'd want to know if I was, right?"

Bucky frowned. "You're not, are you?" He glanced over Clint as if he'd be able to see through his clothes.

"You're proving my point," said Clint.

Bucky let out a long breath, then put his arms around Clint. "Yeah, okay," he said. "It's just, it's pretty much nothing. A rat threw me into a dumpster."

"Man, it's shit like that that makes me realise just how classy you are," said Clint, kissing him.

Bucky snorted. "Like you wouldn't have ended up in a dumpster if you'd been at ground level."

"I might not have," said Clint. "I might just have ridden the rat like a bucking bronco."

"You're a circus brat, not a rodeo cowboy," Bucky reminded him, his hands moving down to rest on Clint's hips before he gave them a squeeze and stepped away. "And at the moment, you're a circus brat that smells of sweaty body armour."

"You mean, Eau d'Avenger?" said Clint, stripping off his outer layer as he headed towards the bathroom. "We should bottle it. Just the kind of merchandise we could make millions on."

"I really, really don't think we could," said Bucky as Clint shut the bathroom door behind himself. Nah, he was wrong. Who wouldn't want to smell like a superhero who'd just gone ten rounds with a pony-sized rat?


The full version of Steve and Bucky's interview was up on Youtube long before they'd all showered, changed and got settled in the main lounge with popcorn and beer.

"I don't see why we have to watch this," muttered Bucky as Clint pulled him down onto the sofa.

Clint patted at his knee. "Because we're showing support for your efforts to rehabilitate yourself with the public," he said. "Or something."

"Because you want to laugh at me," said Bucky, sounding disgruntled.

"I tell you what, we'll watch the first interview Clint did after this," said Natasha. "He told a reporter that his favourite part of being an Avenger was the free weapons. It took us a month to pull back from the 'the Avengers are all weapons-obsessed psychopaths' story."

"I was just kidding," said Clint. "Is it my fault if they didn't get my sense of humour?"

"I'm not sure anyone gets your sense of humour," said Rhodey.

Clint shrugged. That wasn't his problem, it just meant that everyone else was missing out. His jokes were awesome.

“Is Bruce coming up?” he asked Natasha.

Her mouth twisted and she shook her head briefly. Bruce seemed determined to keep away from communal events, so much so that Clint had only seen him a handful of times since they'd all moved back onto the base. If he wasn't locked up in his lab, he was in the suite that he and Natasha shared.

Clint wasn't sure if there was something going on there that they should be trying to fix or not. Back when the Avengers had been living in Stark Tower, before Sokovia, Bruce had come along to most things and only occasionally holed up in his lab with an experiment. Maybe he just didn't feel welcome now he wasn't an active member of the team, which was bullshit, or perhaps he just preferred his own space and had only joined in before because he'd thought he had to. Which was also bullshit. You shouldn't have to socialise unless you wanted to, especially not with a group that included Tony Stark.

Steve came in, the last to arrive, and sat down in the space Sam had saved for him. "Thanks for waiting," he said. "I think you guys are going to enjoy this."

Bucky let out a quiet sigh. Clint took his freshly-showered, non-rat salivaed hand in his and pulled it into his lap. "Okay, roll it."

The interview started with Steve giving a brief statement about the rats with Bucky hovering behind him, alternately glaring at everyone and then remembering that he wasn't meant to be glaring and smoothing his face out into the sort of blank expression that Clint had a feeling was left over from his time with Hydra.

"-the man who caused the rats to mutate in this matter is currently in custody, and we don't foresee any further incidents of this nature," finished Steve. "Are there any questions?"

There were. They started out mostly related to the rats:

"Are there any public health issues that locals should be aware of?"

"How long do the authorities think it will take to remove all the bodies?"

"Has the culprit expressed any motivation for this attack?"

Steve answered them all with his usual brevity, directing them to the other agencies as much as he could, and then the reporters started to grow bored of giant rats and the questions became less focused.

"Are you looking forward to the reception the Mayor of Chicago is holding for you?"

"Of course," said Steve. "It's a great honour and we really appreciate the gesture. I know I speak for the whole team when I say we're looking forward to getting our glad rags on and doing a bit of dancing."

"You're not speaking for me," said Natasha.

"Glad rags?" said Rhodey. "Seriously?"

"Winter Soldier, are you going to be attending too?" called one of the reporters.

On-screen, Bucky had frozen. Clint was able to tell that he was freaking out but to a casual observer, he probably looked more like he was plotting the reporter's death. Well, okay, so he might have been doing that as well.

There was a long pause, during which Steve kept his smile on and everyone just waited in silence.

Bucky's shoulders flexed in a way that Clint knew meant he was clenching his fists below the bottom of the camera.

"I guess," he said.

There was a pause while everyone waited for more, and then the reporter followed up with, "Are you going to do any dancing?"

Bucky glanced at Steve, who was keeping his pleasant smile on with what looked like a force of enormous willpower.

"Uh, maybe," said Bucky.

"Oh wow, this is gold," said Sam, gleefully.

Bucky made a humiliated noise and turned to press his face against Clint's shoulder. Clint gently patted his head but didn't take his eyes away from the Bucky on screen, who had lowered his head just enough for his hair to fall around his face, making him look even more like a serial killer.

"Bucky always used to love dancing when we were young," said Steve to the reporters. "I'm sure we'll get him dancing on Saturday."

"Over my dead body," muttered Bucky into Clint's shoulder.

"How are you finding being on the team?" asked another reporter, who clearly had some kind of sadist streak.

Bucky blinked at her. "It's fine," he said. He jolted.

"I had to kick him," Steve explained to the rest of the room. "Seriously, Bucky, you need to give more than one word answers."

"'It's fine' is two words," said Bucky, sulkily.

On screen, he was clearly trying to come up with something else to say. "It's good to have back-up," he added.

"It must be great to be fighting alongside Captain America again," persisted one of the reporters in the face of what seemed like overwhelming odds.

Bucky blinked, glanced at Steve as if he'd never seen him before, and shrugged. "Sure."

Steve stepped in with a smile that was starting to look a bit strained. "It's great to have Bucky watching my back again. We're still able to work together just as well as we used to in the '40s."

“What's it like having your friend back after thinking he was dead?" asked one particularly tactless reporter.

"Oh man," said Sam, shaking his head as he took Steve's hand.

On screen, Steve gave her a glare. "It's real swell."

"Which of the other Avengers are you getting on with best?" another reporter asked Bucky, clearly trying to move the interview on before Steve lost his temper and walked away. Bucky's eyes went wide with panic.

Clint started to snigger under his breath and earned himself a light thump from Bucky's hand.

"Shut up," he said. "I was trying to work out how not to say you."

On screen, Bucky was clearly becoming aware of the lengthening pause. "Black Widow's fighting style is extremely efficient," he said, in a rush.

"Why, thank you," said Natasha, as at least three other people in the room groaned.

"Did no one tell you that you were meant to not be sounding like a psychopath?" asked Rhodey.

"We're going to get another bunch of news stories about how we're all dangerous maniacs," said Wanda, with a sigh.

"At least you're not going to be highlighted as the most dangerous anymore," said Clint, petting Bucky's hair. "Nope, that'll be Crazy Eyes Barnes, lover of women with efficient fighting styles."

"Shuddup," mumbled Bucky.

"Shh," said Sam. "We're missing it."

On screen, the reporters were clearly close to giving up, but one of them rallied. "What's your favourite thing about now compared to when you were growing up?"

Steve made a face. "I hate that question."

"I'm just hoping he doesn't say semi-automatic assault rifles," said Rhodey.

"I do really like semi-automatic assault rifles," said Bucky, thoughtfully.

On screen, Bucky took a deep breath and blurted out, "Dog Cops."

Clint cracked up.

"Um," said one of the reporters. "The TV show?"

Bucky fixed her with a glare. "Yep," he replied with a note of challenge in his voice.

"O-kay," said Steve to the reporters, putting his arm on Bucky's shoulder. "I think that's all we've got time for right now. It was great talking to you."

He led Bucky away and the clip cut off.

"Oh man," said Clint. "That was even better than I'd hoped." Something hard and pointy jabbed into his side and he squirmed away, still sniggering. "Dog Cops is the best thing about the 21st century. I mean, I can't really argue the point."

Bucky pushed him over against the sofa, continuing to poke his metal finger into Clint's stomach as he crawled over him. Clint tried to fend him off, but it was tricky when he was laughing so hard.

"It's not like I did media training or whatever, like the Man With The Plan did,” said Bucky. “Back then, we just needed to be able to fight."

"Welcome to the modern world," said Sam. "It involves way too many reporters."

"Okay,” said Wanda, who'd been tapping at her phone. “Google is showing seven articles debating whether or not you're a psychopath, four claiming you and Natasha are in love, and the show runner for Dog Cops has tweeted to say that any Avengers who are fans are welcome to visit the set."

"Oh!" said Clint, sitting up so fast that he nearly dislodged Bucky. "Steve."

"No," said Steve.

"Aw, please?" said Clint. "I'll do all the crappy charity things you want me to do for a month."

"Charity isn't crappy," said Steve, "and no one is going on a set tour just because Bucky's rubbish at interviews."

"Aw, but, we could meet Sergeant Whiskers!" said Clint, clinging to Bucky's shirt with excitement.

"Sergeant Whiskers isn't a real person," said Steve.

"There are three dog actors who play him, called Tucker, Max and Gaston," said Wanda. The room swivelled to stare at her and she cleared her throat. "I don't mind going with Clint if you want someone who isn't Bucky to go."

"No one is going to the Dog Cops set," said Steve, firmly. "We're not taking advantage of our celebrity like that."

"Aw," said Clint, collapsing back. "But..."

"No," said Steve.

Bucky leaned in and kissed Clint, which only did a small amount to make him feel better.


The next day there was an unscheduled Avengers meeting, which Clint stupidly wasn't suspicious about until he walked into the conference room and saw Erika waiting for them. He let out a loud groan.

She sent him a shark-like grin. "Good to see you too, Clint."

"You know," he said, taking a step back out of the door, "I just remembered I was meant to be-"

"Get in here and sit down," ordered Cap.

Clint felt his shoulders deflate. He headed inside and sat down at the table. Bucky followed him in and sat down next to him, giving Steve a raised eyebrow.

"This is Erika Daniels," said Steve. "She's in charge of our PR."

Bucky stared at him, then turned to look at her. "PR," he repeated, dumbly.

"It's a pretty thankless task, but someone's got to do it," she said. "Controlling the public's image of you is crucial."

The other Avengers had all arrived, settling around the table with as much enthusiasm as Clint felt. Erika gave them all a grin that said she knew exactly how much they hated this stuff and she didn't care.

"Okay, guys," she said, once they were all sat and Steve had shut the door in a pointed manner. "I've got three things to go through today. The first is that I won't accept any excuses for anyone not going to the reception this Saturday."

There was a general groan. Erika glared around at them all. "You will all be there," she said, very slowly and clearly. "Tuxedos and posh frocks and big, smiling faces. It's been too long since the last public event, we need some exposure. Plus, you're the guests of honour, it would be rude not to be there."

"We'll all be there," said Steve. "It's very kind of the mayor to organise it." He sent them all a stern look.

"Oh yeah, not as if it's going to boost his profile at all," muttered Clint, and got a glare from both Steve and Erika. He slumped in his seat. Captain America glares he could just about handle now, after years of exposure, but Erika was terrifying.

She cleared her throat and looked back around the table. “Also, we're coming up on five years since the Avengers were founded, so a couple of places have asked if they can do features. I've agreed that a camera crew from CNN can come over here to film some bits for a special documentary.”

“Oh god, shoot me now,” muttered Natasha.

Rhodey raised his hand, “Uh, surely that's only going to be for the founding members, though. I mean, it's not my five year anni-”

“You will all be here,” snapped Erika. “Founding members, new guys, everyone who isn't currently on another planet or in hiding from the international community.”

Which meant she'd somehow talked Tony into it. Clint would feel sorry for him, but he really did make his own bed with this stuff. He'd always figured the best thing about being a genius billionaire was the chance to be a reclusive genius billionaire, but that wasn't really Tony's style.

Erika glanced down at her notes then back up, fixing Clint with a fierce look. "Clint Barton. You're the second thing I wanted to talk about," she said, and he braced himself. "You lied to me. You told me you were retiring."

He shrugged. "I did retire," he said. "Just, you know. It didn't stick."

"We agreed that as you were retiring you didn't need to do any publicity stuff," said Erika. "I let you skip out on three -THREE- events that everyone else was made to go to."

"Yep," agreed Clint, beaming. "And I was heartbroken not to go to them."

She jabbed a finger at him. "You owe me three events."

"Oh, come on," said Clint. "I did actually retire, you know, it's not like I lied to you."

She glared at him. "You are the Avenger with the lowest profile, even after five years. The fewer events you go to, the more questions I have to field about what, exactly, it is you do that makes you worthy of being on the team."

Clint shrugged. "I shoot shit."

"Not an answer I can give them," she said. She threw a piece of paper at him. "Junior Archery Championships. You're going to present the medals and give an inspiring speech about following your dreams, or some such bullshit. I got Kaylee to write the speech for you, please don't add any off-colour jokes."

Clint let out a long sigh and pulled the folder towards him. The Junior Archery Championships were always full of the kind of pretentious, over-achieving rich kids that made his teeth itch.

Erika gave a nod of satisfaction. "And the third thing," she said, "is you." She looked straight at Bucky, who had been watching proceedings with the blank look that meant he thought it wasn't anything to do with him.

He twitched and stared back. "I'm not doing any speeches."

"Oh, we won't get you to run before you can walk," she said. “I saw the interview from the rat thing, at the moment I'll just be happy if we can get you to put a sentence together that doesn't mean I spend three days fighting psychopath stories.”

“He's not a psychopath,” said Clint. “Just, you know. He does a good impression of one.” He got glares from Bucky, Steve and Erika for that. He wondered how many glares he could get by the end of the meeting.

Erika turned back to Bucky. "Your problem is that no one knows very much about you at the moment. We need to get some basic information about you circulating, so it's not all just hearsay and photos of you shooting people. And Dog Cops, but that's actually the bit that's playing best, so I'm not going to yell about that."

She glanced around at the others. "This may take a while, you don't all need to stay."

Wanda was out of the room before she'd finished speaking, followed a moment later by Vision, who didn't even bother using the door, he just walked through the nearest wall to get away. The others weren't far behind, until it was just Clint, Steve and Bucky.

Erika looked around at Clint and Steve with exasperation. "You don't need to protect him, you know."

Clint shrugged. "Might need to protect you from him," he said, and gave her a grin. "Nothing like being told you have to do publicity to make you want to choke someone to death with your super-powered metal arm."

Bucky let out a sigh. "I'm not gonna choke her. I just don't see the point in any of this shit."

Clint winced as Erika's eyes lit up. "Oh man, don't say that," he said, but it was too late.

"Let me explain," said Erika. "Without any PR, all the public ever sees about the Avengers is newspaper reports about death and destruction."

"And people's lives being saved," put in Bucky.

Erika shook her head. "That kind of thing is quickly forgotten, but rebuilding work goes on for months, sometimes years. Not to mention the grief over any lives that you don't manage to save. People have a nasty tendency to spread the blame for that sort of thing all over the place, even if it's not warranted. Before I came along, there was a strong backlash every time there was an incident, because no matter how well you guys handle it, someone always ends up holding a grudge."

Bucky was frowning at her. "That doesn't make any sense. If a bad guy trashes a town and kills some folks, why do you blame the people who came along to stop him?"

Erika shrugged. "Because people are shit, basically. Plus, you've got some people on the team they aren't so comfortable with, people who are just different enough to make irrational prejudices come out, or who have pasts that people tend to fixate on."

Bucky shifted uncomfortably, his metal hand clenching around his real one.

"Like Wanda," said Clint, because it was important that Bucky knew he wasn't alone on that one. "And, actually, Natasha."

"Not everyone's comfortable with Vision, either," added Steve.

Bucky ducked a nod. "Okay, fine. So, what? You send them to black tie events and make them give speeches and suddenly everyone loves them?"

"Not quite that simple, but basically," said Erika. "It's all about controlling the image people see. If half the photos they see are you guys just being normal, or doing charity stuff, then the ones of you ripping the heads off bad guys get watered down."

"I'd just like to point out that I've never ripped the head off anyone," said Clint.

Bucky cleared his throat. "I have."

Clint patted his knee. "That's cuz you're the best."

"I'm not sure there's any need for Bucky to be getting involved in all this stuff just yet," said Steve. “I mean, that interview was just a one-off, we can keep him away from the cameras from now on.”

"Are you kidding?" asked Erika. "All anyone knows about him is that last year he tore up Washington DC and this year he's back to being your best bud. Not to mention the fact he keeps glowering at the media-"

"I haven't glowered-," interrupted Bucky, and then cut himself off when she dumped a stack of photos on the table.

Clint grabbed at them and started sorting through. Every shot showed Bucky glaring at the photographer as if contemplating their painful death. "Oh man, these are awesome," he said. "Can I keep these?"

"Only if you help him stop doing it," said Erika. "I know the press are annoying little maggots, but we need to act like they're our friends."

"So, what? I have to go to that reception thing?" said Bucky.

"Oh, you were going to that anyway," said Erika. "I said the whole team, and you're on it. I'm also gonna need to put out a line of merchandise for you, t-shirts and mugs and all the crap everyone else's faces are plastered on."

She threw down another folder in front of him.

Bucky didn't touch it. "What the hell kid is going to want my face on their shirt?"

"Screw the kids," said Clint, pulling the folder towards himself. "I want your face on my shirt." He opened it and started going through the designs. Oh man, a hoodie that looked like one arm was metal, he needed one of those.

"Me too," said Steve, grinning. "Can we get baseball hats as well? That'd be awesome."

Bucky rubbed a hand over his face. "Hydra never had fucking merchandise," he muttered.

"Hydra don't know how to capitalise on brand recognition," said Erika. "We're still working on the designs, but those are the current ideas we're looking at. We're facing a problem, because the obvious colours for you are black, red and silver, but Widow's line is already in black and red."

Bucky shrugged. "So, maybe just not bother?"

Erika ignored him. "You'll need to look through that folder and give your approval."

Bucky sighed. "Can't you just do it and never tell me about it?"

"No," said Steve. "You need to approve anything they're putting out with your name on. If you give them free rein, they go nuts."

Clint leaned over. "We used to just leave them to it, and then they put out a range of underwear, and a woman tried to get Steve to autograph the Captain America g-string," he explained in a whisper just loud enough to be heard. "Now they have to ask for approval for everything."

Bucky sniggered, glancing over at Steve's reddening face. "Please tell me you've got photos of that." He blinked and then turned to Clint. "Wait, are there Hawkeye boxers?"

Clint grinned. "Oh yeah,” he said. “I've got some in a box somewhere."

Bucky's eyes lit up.

Steve cleared his throat. "If we could keep on topic."

Bucky sighed and looked back. "Okay, fine. So, merchandise, going along with the team to fancy shit, smiling at the that it?"

"No," said Erika. Her eyes were darting between Bucky and Clint. "Something I should know?"

"We're soulmates," said Clint, and Bucky flinched.

"I thought that was meant to be a secret," he hissed.

"You don't have secrets from me," said Erika. "I need to know everything, but especially the things you don't want anyone else to know." She looked at Steve. "You're keeping them apart in public?"

Steve nodded. "Yeah, same as me and Sam."

"Okay, anything else?" she asked, looking at Bucky.

He just shrugged. "I was Hydra's brainwashed assassin for seventy years?"

She waved that away. "We're not keeping that a secret. It's all about the redemption narrative."

"He doesn't need to redeem himself," said Steve, leaning forward. "None of that was his fault."

"Let me rephrase," said Erika. "The media love a redeemed bad boy. We're playing on that. What we're really going to need, though, is for him to do more interviews. Ones that he's actually had some media training for."

"No," said Bucky.

"Hell, no," added Clint.

Erika sat forward. "Look, I'm doing everything I can to minimise the assassin thing, but we need to give them something to go with instead. Make it just one interview, you talk about, I don't know, modern life and childhood memories of Steve, stuff that makes you seem like a real person. We need to introduce you to the American public properly."

Bucky hesitated, then shook his head. "I don't do well with people asking questions."

"We can vet them all first." she said. "Nothing you don't want to talk about gets mentioned."

"It's unnecessary," said Steve.

"It's not," said Erika. "Trust me, we need to put something out. Like we did with Wanda, back when all they had on her was that she was a foreigner with terrifying powers and a dubious history."

"Wanda wasn't dealing with the after-effects of being brain-washed," pointed out Clint. "What's the narrative going to be if he has a glitch over being interrogated by some bottom-feeder?"

"A glitch," repeated Bucky. "You mean, if I go nuts and try to smash someone's face in?"

He sounded irritated and Clint winced, turning to him. "No, I mean, like if you start feel understandably overwhelmed and don't manage to give nothing but media-friendly answers."

Bucky made a face. "I don't even know what a media-friendly answer is."

Erika sighed. "This is exactly my point. You and me, we're going to sit down for a few hours, run through exactly what is and isn't acceptable, draft out some basic answers to the most obvious questions you'll get asked. Trust me, it'll be a lot easier after that.”

Bucky made a face and glanced at Clint, who wanted so badly to tell him that it was unnecessary and they could spend the time on the range instead, but- Well. She did have a point.

Bucky must have seen his thoughts on his face, because he just let out a long sigh and turned back to Erika with a look as if he was going to his own funeral. “Fine. You want to do this now?”

“No time like the present,” she said, sitting down and opening yet another folder. She glanced at Steve and Clint. “You guys really don't have to hang around for this, I promise I'm not going to hurt him.”

Steve and Clint exchanged looks and Steve stood up. Clint glanced at Bucky who gave him a nod, and he did the same.

“Have fun,” he said, and gave Bucky a kiss.

Bucky just rolled his eyes. “Fucking bullshit,” he muttered.

“And that's the first thing we'll discuss,” said Erika. “You need to stop letting your hatred of the media be so obvious.”

Clint left him to it, wondering if it made him a bad soulmate to be so fucking relieved it was Bucky sitting through that instead of him.


Bucky pretty much only had two outfits: black leather and body armour when they were fighting, and shapeless black hoodies the rest of the time, so Clint hadn't known what to expect for the Mayor of Chicago's reception. Whenever he tried to picture Bucky in a black tie atmosphere, he just came up with him either pulling a knife on some dignitary or hunching over in the corner with a hood pulled over his head.

That didn't mean he wasn't really looking forward to it, though. He had vague ideas of vintage glamour that he really hoped would be born out by reality.

Bucky had wanted to just buy a tuxedo over the internet, which lasted as a plan right up until Clint casually mentioned it to Tony. He thought Tony was going to have some kind of aneurysm over the phone, then he hung up and within three hours, Bucky and Steve had been whisked off in a Stark helicopter to some over-priced bespoke tailor.

Clint waved them off, grinning in the face of Bucky's obvious displeasure, then headed to his range to get some shooting practice in. When Bucky came back, he refused to talk about whatever had gone on, other than to swear that he was never going through anything like that ever again.

"Yeah, okay," said Clint, "but did you look hot in it?"

Bucky sent him a dark glower and stalked off to the bathroom to have a very long shower. Clint could empathise. He always felt vaguely violated after a session with one Tony's tailors measuring every part of him and making quiet, disapproving noises.

He didn't actually see Bucky in his tuxedo until just before they were due to leave for Chicago. He came out of the bathroom to find Bucky staring at himself in the mirror with a deeply confused look.

Clint gave a wolf-whistle. "Wow, okay, you look seriously good." Instead of looking like he was dressed up in someone else's clothes, Bucky looked as if he was made for black tie. Holy hell, Clint's soulmate was really fucking hot, how did he ever get to be so lucky?

Bucky glared at his reflection. "Am I meant to be doing anything with my hair?"

Clint shrugged. "No idea, I've never had hair longer than a couple of inches. Well, apart from that time in Iran, but I wasn't going to any fancy black tie dinners while I was being held captive."

Bucky let out a long, slow breath. "Not helpful."

"Yeah, probably not," said Clint. He stepped up behind Bucky to look at him over his shoulder in the mirror. He reached up and pulled Bucky's hair back, then let it fall. He shrugged. "You look fucking hot both ways."

Bucky let out a sigh. "Fuck it, I can't be bothered with all this primping. Down will do." He turned around and gave Clint a long look. "Are you just going in a towel?"

"Yup," said Clint. "Well, I look totally classy in anything, right?"

"Try telling that to someone who hasn't seen you wearing your own merchandise," said Bucky.

Clint raised an eyebrow, then let his towel fall. "Maybe I'm just thinking that it'll be easier to seduce the sexy super-soldier like this."

Bucky snorted, putting his arms around Clint and kissing him. "You could seduce me in pretty much anything, but we don't really have time for that now. Steve will get all long-suffering at us if we're late cuz we're fucking."

Clint let out a sigh. "We should have thought ahead and factored in some time for tuxedo sex," he said. "I bet Steve and Sam did."

"We'll just have to do it afterwards," said Bucky.

Clint shook his head. "We're staying at a hotel there, remember? We'll have to be in totally-not-soulmates mode. No sex, no kissing, no holding hands, no making goo-goo eyes at each other..."

"I do so enjoy the goo-goo eyes," said Bucky. He kissed Clint again, lingering for a moment, then pulled away with a sigh. "Fine, okay, I guess we'll have to shelve the classy sex for another time. Get dressed."

Clint made a face but turned away to find his own suit. Having to keep up a facade of just-colleagues when in public was getting pretty old, but he supposed it was much better having to keep his distance from Bucky at the occasional reception than giving the bad guys the opportunity to use them as leverage against each other.

He got dressed and then squinted at his own hair in the mirror, vaguely rubbing gel through it until it looked like he'd tried to put some effort in.

"How often do these kind of gigs come up?" asked Bucky.

Clint shrugged. "Too often. Maybe every other month or so? We get invited to more but usually we just make Tony and Steve go and draw straws for one other person to accompany them."

"Tony is about as good at being retired as you were," noted Bucky.

"He's still on the books as a consultant," said Clint. "He does all our weapons and tech, and he's so much better at this kind of thing than the rest of us. Plus, he's usually going anyway, just cuz of the billionaire playboy businessman thing."

Bucky pulled out a handful of knives and a gun and started tucking them under his suit.

"You're not meant to be taking weapons," Clint reminded him.

Bucky just snorted. "Name one Avenger who won't have a weapon on them tonight. Other than goody-two-shoes Captain America."

"Sam," said Clint, instantly.

"Oh, Sam," said Bucky, dismissively. "He's completely lacking in a normal amount of paranoia."

"And we're judging the normal amount of paranoia by you, are we?" asked Clint, tucking a knife in his ankle holster.

"No, we're judging it by you," said Bucky. "Or are we meant to be pretending that knife is in case they run out of cutlery?"

"Weirder things have happened," said Clint. "I've got a spoon on the other leg."

Bucky tucked his gun under his jacket and gave him a raised eyebrow. "It probably says something deeply worrying about me that I'm kinda hoping that's true."

"There is no spoon," said Clint, with a meaningful emphasis, then sighed at the blank look from Bucky. "Okay, remind me to sit you down in front of The Matrix at some point. Seriously, one day we'll get you all caught up and you'll actually get my references."

"What the hell will we do with our Friday nights then?" asked Bucky.

Clint shrugged. "Sex?"

Bucky made a face. "If we have to."


The quinjet felt pretty crowded with the whole team in evening dress on board, plus their overnight bags. Clint made sure to slip into the pilot's seat before Natasha could because that way he not only got a seat, but plenty of leg room.

"Right," said Steve. "Just a quick rundown of the rules."

"We know the rules," said Natasha.

"And yet, someone manages to break them every damn time we go to one of these things," said Steve. "And so, I will be going back over them."

There was a general sigh that Steve ignored. "Firstly and most importantly: do not pull a weapon on anyone. Not even if they tread on your foot, or give you an odd look, or look like a guy who tried to kill you in Kiev once."

"What if they pull a weapon on you first?" asked Bucky.

Clint didn't need to turn around to picture the look Steve was giving him. "If they pull what you think is a weapon, you stop, count to three, and then look again to make sure it's not a cell phone, a pair of glasses, or a cocktail umbrella."

"A cocktail umbrella," repeated Bucky. "Right."

Clint made a mental note to tell him that story later.

"The second rule," continued Steve, "is that you do not tell anyone any stories that involve assassination, torture or excessive amounts of violence. I don't care how cool you think they make you sound. And definitely, completely, do not tell them while laughing. Remember, we need to convince everyone we're not psychopaths."

"Most of us aren't," said Wanda, quietly.

Not quietly enough. "And that's why we will be keeping the murder stories to ourselves," said Steve. "Keep your anecdotes PG rated, people, or you'll be cleaning the kitchen for the next month."

"Okay, so, are there any rules that don't boil down to 'pretend to be normal'?" asked Bucky.

Steve paused. "Uh, no, not really. No weapons, no shop talk, no threats, no running away to hide in the air-vents-"

"That was one time," protested Clint, and was ignored.

"-no describing Asgardian orgies-"

"That was Thor, and he's not with us this time," said Natasha, but was also ignored.

"-no claiming that the Avengers have an orgy every Thursday-"

"That was Tony," pointed out Rhodey. "You can try and stop him claiming he lives in a world of perpetual orgies if you want, but I've been trying for years and I've never managed it."

"-and definitely no calling people names in foreign languages."

Wanda muttered something in Sokovian at the same time as Natasha said something in Russian that Clint had definitely heard before, usually aimed at him.

Bucky snorted, and replied to her in the same language.

"No making your soulmate feel left out," put in Clint, wondering why he hadn't bothered learning Russian when he'd first started partnering with Natasha. It had seemed like a hassle at the time but he'd have been pretty much fluent by now, and more than capable of joining in with the insulting-people-in-Russian game.

"That's not a rule," said Steve. "Bucky should feel free to exclude you whenever he wants."

Clint huffed. "Rude," he muttered.

"Oh," said Steve, "and, last rule: No doing anything that Tony thinks is a good idea. That's actually the most important one."

"I have absolutely no problem with that one," said Bucky.

"I kinda wish I'd had that rule when I first met him," said Rhodey. "Or, just, some kind of common sense."

"If you had common sense, you wouldn't be flying around in a robot suit, fighting super-powered villains," pointed out Sam. "Actually, you probably wouldn't have joined the Air Force, either."

"I'd have become an accountant," said Rhodey, "like my dad wanted me to."

"Sounds excruciatingly dull," said Natasha.

There was a pause, then Rhodey sighed. "Yeah," he agreed. "Okay, fine, maybe letting Tony get me involved in shit wasn't that bad. Except the thing with the sharks in Jamaica, that was ridiculous."

"Okay guys, we're here," said Clint, bringing the quinjet down towards the helipad on the roof of the hotel they were staying at. "Operation We're Totally Normal, No Really, We Are begins now. Good luck, and may God have mercy on our souls."

Steve let out an irritated sigh. "It's not that hard," he muttered as Clint landed the quinjet.

“Says the guy who got in a row with a two-star general the first time the Howling Commandos got invited to a thing,” said Bucky.

Wait, what?

Clint whipped his head around to stare at Bucky. “Oh, man, you have to give us the full story on that.”

Steve groaned and put his head in his hands. “Why is it you always remember the embarrassing shit so clearly?”

“Cuz God thinks you need someone to keep you humble?” suggested Bucky. “Okay, so, they had some shindig for us at the US Embassy in London one time when we were there on leave, just after we'd taken down- something big, can't remember what. Anyway, we all put on our dress uniforms, shined our shoes, all that shit, then we get there, and some asshole general pulls Cap aside to tell him that Gabe wasn't actually welcome cuz he was black and, y'know, bullshit.

“Course, we haven't got a clue what they're talking about. As far as we're concerned, we were promised free booze and now we're being kept waiting while top brass talk to Steve, so we're just hanging about, trying not to look impatient, when out of nowhere, he just yells, 'With all due respect, sir, you can take your sense of appropriateness and shove it up your ass', then he comes over and announces we're going to the nearest bar instead.”

“Oh, wow,” said Clint. “And you even threw in the 'with all due respect' as well, that's just incredible.”

Steve hadn't taken his face out of his hands. “I was young and reckless, I hadn't learnt the best way to deal with that stuff yet.”

“I don't know,” said Sam. “Sounds like you dealt with it the very best way.” He leaned over and kissed the top of Steve's head, sliding a hand through his hair.

Steve lifted his head to look at him. “Yeah, okay, maybe,” he said. “Just, please. No one tell Tony.”

Rhodey laughed. “Yeah, he'd have a field day with that.”

As if summoned by the mention of his name, Tony was waiting for them on the helipad, already dressed up in a tuxedo but wearing his ridiculous red sunglasses with it, which shouldn't have looked cool, but- Well, everything Tony did somehow looked cool. Clint hadn't worked out how he managed it yet.

"Looking sharp, guys," he said. "Well, except for you, Clint. You're not really made for a tux, are you?"

"Fuck off," said Clint, cheerfully.

"He looks fine," said Bucky. His arm twitched as if he were about to reach out for Clint and then remembered that they weren't behind closed doors.

"I tell you what, come to Cap's room once you're settled in and I'll fix your bow-tie," said Tony. "And bring your boy as well, got something he might want to hear."

Bucky huffed a sigh at the epithet but didn't complain, which told Clint that he didn't mind it that much. He had to duck his head to hide his smile at the thought that maybe Bucky liked being Clint's.

"What's that?" asked Steve.

Tony just gave him a smile, then twirled a finger in the air to indicate the open sky above them. "Better behind a locked door, Cap, trust me. Come on, I got them to reserve their very plushest rooms for you all, except for Natasha who I'm guessing just needs a cupboard to sleep upside down in, like a bat."

"As long as there's a lock on the door in case of Van Helsing," said Natasha.

"For you? Always," said Tony, leading them downstairs. There was a hotel minion waiting for them just inside, who took them around the various rooms that had been reserved for them. Clint grabbed a room with Bucky, of course. Just because they had to pretend to be just friends didn't mean they couldn't be friends who shared a room.

"Get settled, then come through," said Steve, opening the door of the room next to them. He glanced at Tony. "Do we need the whole team?"

Tony shook his head. "Nah, this is just for Team Bucky."

"Team Bucky," said Clint. "Oh man, do we get t-shirts?"

"No," growled Bucky, sending him a glare before marching into their room.

Clint glanced at Tony, who grinned. "I'll get some made up," he promised.

"Awesome," said Clint, following Bucky into the room.

He wasn't sure he'd ever get used to the kind of luxury that 5-star hotels provided, not even after a couple of years living in Tony Stark's penthouse. Something about the fluffiness of the towels and the shining white of the surfaces made him want to cover the whole place in Mcdonald's wrappers.

He dumped his bag, thought about unpacking and then wondered why he'd bother.

“You unpacking?” he asked Bucky, who shook his head.

“Nah, but I am fixing your bow-tie,” he said, moving close to fiddle with it. Clint tipped his chin up to give him access. “No way I'm letting Stark play with my soulmate's bow-tie,” he added in a mutter.

Clint grinned and kissed him once he was done doing whatever it was that made bow-ties look good and not a disaster. “No need to worry, I swear the suave, cosmopolitan billionaire thing does nothing for me. It's the hobo look that gets me.”

“If I look like a hobo right now, Stark wasted an obscene amount of money on this suit,” said Bucky.

Clint glanced down at him. “Yeah, okay, you rock the suave cosmopolitan look as well as the hobo one. Guess you're just multi-faceted.”

That earned him a kiss from Bucky. “Come on,” he said. “Let's go find out what Stark wants. And make sure Steve hasn't got a better room than us."

Clint glanced around at the thick carpets, worryingly complicated lights and massive TV. Wait, that was TVs plural. "Oh yeah, I'd hate to find out he was making us slum it in here while he was bathing in luxury."

Steve and Sam's room was pretty much identical to Bucky and Clint's. When they got there, Tony was closing the blinds on the windows. He gave them a nod, then set his phone down on the table. "Okay, Friday, go for it."

A grid of blue lines shot up from the phone, expanded out to run over the room, then dropped back into the phone. "Scanning complete," reported Friday. "No bugs detected."

"What the hell have you got to say that requires this much security?" asked Bucky. He sounded pretty stressed and Clint realised that if there were no bugs and the blinds were shut, there was no reason for him not to just wrap his arms around him and lay a long smooch on him.

Bucky made a noise of protest to start with, but it didn't last long as he got firmly distracted by Clint's tongue. Oh yeah, Clint: 1 Anxiety: 0.

Tony cleared his throat, "Okay, well, I was about to explain, but we can wait if you want."

"We do have to go to the reception at some point," said Steve. Clint ignored him, because he was willing to bet that Sam was holding his hand or touching him in some other way right now.

"Nah," said Tony. "We can just invite them all here, give out popcorn."

Clint pulled away from Bucky's mouth and rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay, fine. Go on with it." And, yep, Sam had an arm slung around Steve's waist. Those two were pretty predictable.

Bucky sat down on a sofa and pulled Clint down beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. "It better be worth stopping kissing Clint for."

"Yeah, I think it will be," said Tony. "Okay, so, I finally got through all the data you guys hijacked from that Hydra base, including the encrypted bits and the bits they thought were hidden but were easy to find cuz I'm amazing and their tech guys are, well, not. There was a bunch of stuff about you, mostly just mission reports-"

Bucky winced, so Clint relaxed back against him, giving Tony a warning glare in case he decided to detail anything he'd read in those.

Tony ploughed straight on, though. "There was also a handful of notes from the original scientists about the process they used which, I mean, I know it was the '40s but Christ, it was fucking barbaric."

"Yeah," said Bucky, bleakly. "I remember."

"It was also pretty bad science," said Tony. "I mean, even back then they could have come up with-" Sam cleared his throat pointedly and Tony cut himself off, glancing between the glares he was getting. "Okay, well, the point is that I looked over all the data and figured out exactly what they did, and I think I've got a way to make it so they can't wipe you again."

Bucky sat forward. "How? When can we do it?"

"Calm down," said Tony, holding his hands up. "It's not perfect, and it'll hurt a lot. Let me explain, and you can make an informed decision, yeah?"

Bucky sat back and waved a hand at him to go on. Clint noticed that he'd leant back against Clint as much as the sofa. Steve sat down heavily on the other sofa, his fingers knotted together, and Sam sat down with him, keeping his arm around him.

"Right," said Tony. "Okay, so, there were a few phases to the Winter Soldier programming, yeah? First thing they did was wipe everything they could, then implant some trigger words, then repeat the process a whole bunch of times to make sure it stuck. Wiping you that completely took a lot of time though, so once they had it all in place, they just had a shorter process to reset you when they needed."

"Reset him," repeated Steve, with a note that said he was contemplating punching something.

Tony held his hands up. "Hey, yeah, I get it. This is all shit, and the vocabulary they used is worse, but-"

Bucky shook his head. "Doesn't matter what it's called. They reset me, then said the trigger words and gave me a new mission, yeah?"

"Yes, precisely," said Tony. "And before they froze you every time, they reset you again, but they never actually did the full wipe again. Well, they didn't really need to, because they had the trigger words in place to control you and make sure nothing came back."

Sam frowned. "So, they didn't wipe him fully when Rumlow took him? They just did this reset?"

"Exactly," said Tony. "Which is probably why he got his memories back quicker the second time around, because he'd already done it once and the reset is easier to shake off. If they'd done a full wipe- well, I mean, they'd have needed a week, for one thing, but we'd have basically been back to square one."

Clint glanced at Bucky, who was wearing an expression that looked like it could have been carved out of stone. "Would he have still known not to shoot me?"

Tony shrugged. "No idea. I wouldn't bank on it."

Bucky's hand closed around Clint's, gripping tight enough to hurt. "Right, okay. What's this plan, then?"

"You're really not going to like it," said Tony, warningly.

Bucky snorted. "You think there's anything about this that I do like? Come on, hit me with it."

"Well, okay,” said Tony, “so the problem we have is that if they get you again, they just have to reset, say the trigger words, and you're gone. And yeah, okay, eventually Clint could probably get you back again, but-"

"-but who knows what I'd do before he could do that," said Bucky. "Yeah, I get it. I'm a liability."

Tony raised his eyebrows. "Calm yourself, I'm just trying to explain, The problem isn't being reset itself, it's the trigger words that make you mindlessly obedient. I've gone back over the data several times, looking for a solution, but the only thing we can do is do a complete wipe again, and give you new trigger words. Ones that Hydra wouldn't know, that no one else could use, and that have a different response from you."

Bucky stared at him. "You want to wipe my mind."

"No," said Tony, holding his hands up. "No, no. Well, okay, maybe a bit."

Steve let out a disgusted noise. "We're not doing it."

"It wouldn't be like before," said Tony, quickly. "Their science was so bad, seriously, I could build a version of the chair that would do it in less than twelve hours, and if we give the new words the effect of bringing all his memories back and restoring him to himself, he'd come out of it exactly how he went in. With the added bonus that if Hydra ever tried to reset him again, their words would do nothing and we'd have an instant trigger in place to get him back."

"Twelve hours," said Bucky, slowly. "And the pain?"

Tony winced. "Yeah, sorry, I can't do anything about that."

"We're not doing it," said Steve again. "We'll just make damn sure Hydra don't get anywhere near him again."

"It's not your decision, Steve," said Bucky.

Steve turned and gave him an incredulous look. "You can't seriously be considering this?"

Bucky shrugged. "I don't want to be a weapon again."

"I swear," put in Tony, "I went over everything, looking for another way, but this is all there was. I thought you should at least know it was an option."

Bucky nodded, then glanced at Clint. "What do you think?"

Clint didn't know what to think. On the one hand, the idea of not having to worry about trying to talk the Winter Soldier down again sounded great, but on the other...twelve hours was a long time to be in pain. He shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I guess I'll support whatever you decide."

"There's no rush," said Tony. "Think about it, let me know. We can do it any time, I'll just need a couple of days to put together a chair for it."

Steve shook his head. "No, Bucky, come on. You can't seriously want to have your brain messed about with again?"

"Of course I don't," said Bucky. "But if it's a choice between Hydra messing with me and Stark, I'll take Stark any day."

"Hey, now there's a vote of confidence that I should get SI to use in their advertising," said Tony. He glanced at his watch. "We should probably be heading over to this shindig soon, I'll gather the others."

He left, and Bucky let out a long sigh, turning to rest his head against Clint's shoulder.

"Bucky," said Steve, "You don't need to do this."

"I haven't decided yet," said Bucky. "Just- I remember them putting me in the chair last time, Steve. I'd have given anything to have already done this. I don't want to be in that position again."

Clint ran his hand through Bucky's hair. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure you're not."

"Hydra are pretty beaten down right now,” said Sam. “I don't think we need to worry until they've had a chance to rebuild."

"Don't underestimate them," said Bucky, sitting back up. "They've got more resources than they let on."

"So do we," said Steve. "Don't rush into any decisions."

Bucky shook his head. "Nah, course not. I'll leave jumping into shit without fully considering it to you."

"Punk," muttered Steve.