Even in the soft gray sweatpants, Clint has to tense his whole body to keep from shivering. He thinks back to the whirlwind the last few days have been, thinks about how they’ve worn him thin. Standing here, standing in this unfamiliar living room, his brain knows he has won, but he can’t convince the sub part of himself. That part is stretched too thin. Has lied to too many doms. Has flipped between various personalities too many times.
So he stands
bad sub bad sub bad sub bad sub bad sub bad sub
“You’re allowed to go into your room,” an impatient voice interrupts, shattering the mental spiral and giving rise, in its turn, only to deeper turmoil. Clint cannot tell if this is a subtle order or a straightforward permission, and there’s nothing left of him to try and decide. He’d fought so hard to get here but had never considered the “what then?” to follow.
It’s too late now. He’s dropping, hard and without being put down. He takes the phrase as an order – because it’s the least likely choice to lead to pain – and shuffles the few feet to his bedroom door.
You’ve never had your own room before. Not in a real way . You don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve a real home. You won’t know what to do with it.
He manages to close the door behind him before the rest of his consciousness fluctuates away from him. As he goes under, he hears the voice of a frustrated dom outside. At the very least, he hears a dom who isn’t afraid of a few curse words.
Your dom , his brain tries to inform him. And mad, too.
He struggles for the name – what kind of sub can’t remember his dom’s name? – but there’s no room.
“Sorry,” he says, to no one, and then fades into the shaking white-noise panic of an unwanted drop.
He wakes on the floor with dry spit sticking heavily to his tongue and teeth. It’s much darker than when he went down – no more light coming in from under the door – but he’s still alone in the room. His head hurts and the room’s spinning, but he manages to get to his feet. At least the feeling of climbing his own way out of an unexpected drop is familiar, even if the smell of the carpet isn’t.
He listens, but the whole apartment is silent. Not silent in the way where Clint would expect to find an inhabitant on the couch, quietly reading a book, but instead it’s silent in the way where Clint knows everyone is asleep. Everyone but him.
He turns and stumbles his way through the dark room to where he remembers the bathroom being.
“And this is your room. Bathroom’s attached. It’s all yours, but at least keep it clean, okay?”
His own room. His own bathroom. His own set of dresser drawers with clothes that are warm and soft and fit his body without him having to patch or take in or hem.
Clint knows the situation isn’t perfect. If one dom is dangerous, then two will only be worse. Especially when both doms have been without a sub for longer than Clint has been without a dom. But it’s better than prison. Especially the kind of prison that he’d been headed to before Agent Coulson had shown up with a bland smile and a Proposition.
Clint flips the light switch in the bathroom and looks at his emaciated face in the mirror. He momentarily hesitates over running the water, because he doesn’t know how loud it will be or how good his supersoldier doms’ hearing really is. Then he decides ‘fuck it’ and turns the handle. If he’s going to be beaten for running the faucet at night, he’d rather go ahead and learn that now.
He puts his mouth into the stream and sucks down as much water as he can handle comfortably before he rinses and spits a few times. It doesn’t completely get rid of the dry mouth feeling, but it makes it manageable enough that he thinks he’ll be able to fall asleep.
As he walks back out toward the bed, head still throbbing out of sync with his footsteps, he pets the soft fabric of his sweatpants. His own sweatpants, picked out just for him. Emotion wells up, as unwelcome as it is inevitable, and Clint rubs tears out of his eyes.
No, he’s not stupid enough to believe two doms will be easy, but there’s something to be said for the fact that he is warm and clothed and not bleeding on the floor. So maybe, just maybe, he will finally be able to keep this up. Maybe he’ll figure out how to keep his mouth shut and how to be more useful than he is annoying. Maybe he’ll be good enough that they’ll let him stay in their bed sometimes, snuggled up between them after they’re done fucking the ability to walk a straight line out of him. He’ll lie very very still. They won’t even know he’s there.
A fuck up like you should have learned to set more reasonable goals a long time ago.
He lets the fantasy comfort him anyway. He lets it lull him back to sleep, even as his emotions continue to jackrabbit around in his head.
He’s not bad enough that he’s near relapsing into a secondary drop, but he’s still destabilized enough that he cries himself back to sleep, clasping his pillow in front of him like another body.
The next time he wakes, it’s clearly morning. If the lighting hadn’t been enough to tell him, the pounding on his door would have covered it.
“Are you alive?” a voice shouts through the door. And that’s…that one is James. James Barnes. Clint’s grasp on reality is still a third party out-of-body experience, but his memory is fighting hard to get back to full capacity.
“Shit,” he spits out quietly, twisting and kicking to wrench himself out of the covers. It hadn’t even occurred to him to set an alarm the night before. It could be noon for all he knows. It could be after noon.
In his hurry to get out of the bed, one foot ends up insufficiently freed, and it topples him with a sadistic jerk. He hits the floor hard, taking most of the weight on his right shoulder, grunting with the sudden pain of it. Then he’s back to his feet, hurrying to the door. He isn’t sure why his dom hasn’t already shoved it open, but he isn’t about to ask.
“Sorry,” he gasps, as he flings the door open.
James takes a physical step away from Clint’s sudden appearance, even drawing his head back like a startled horse. Clint quickly drops his eyes to the floor and tries to curb the obvious panic. Panic is unattractive, and he’s probably already about to be punished as is.
“Sorry,” he mutters again, more subdued. More submissive.
“Breakfast,” is all he gets in reply. And then James is stomping away. He’s already dressed in boots and tactical gear. It must be very late in the morning. Clint’s shot at a good first impression is sailing right out the window like a wide bullet trajectory.
He follows James quietly into the kitchen, which is filled with the aroma of bacon – how did you not wake up to that? – and Clint tightens the muscles in his stomach to try to keep the gurgling noise from becoming too audible. It does not appear as though he’s about to be immediately punished, even though his dom had had to come and physically wake him, but Clint’s not optimistic enough to believe that means he’s about to be fed anything more than a few mouthfuls of whatever it pleases his doms to let him lick off their fingers.
He glances at Steve, who is sitting at the table with an unmoving forkful of pancakes suspended halfway to his mouth while he focuses, preoccupied, on the tablet flat on the table in front of him. Bucky takes a quick seat next to Steve, and Clint decides his safest bet is kneeling equally between them.
When he goes to his knees, as gracefully as his exhausted body can manage, Steve drops his fork. Clint knows this, because he hears it hit the plate with a loud clatter.
“Oh, fantastic,” James mutters, and Clint knows that tone of voice is far from pleased. It’s dripping sarcasm, and Clint tries to curl into himself. He’s not sure what he did wrong, but he’s not surprised when he feels Steve’s hand suddenly heavy on his shoulder. He doesn't always know what he did wrong. He just knows that what follows always hurts.
“Clint,” Steve says, deceptively gentle.
“Yes, sir?” Clint whispers back.
“You don’t have to kneel on the floor. You can sit at the table. Bucky laid out a place and everything.”
Who the hell is Bucky?
Clint doesn’t ask, though. He does get to his feet as quickly as he can manage and goes to sit as he’s been told. He still isn’t sure if he’s in trouble. He isn’t even sure if sitting here is an everyday thing, or a just this morning thing.
Hell, maybe this is his punishment. Your dom had to get you out of bed. Your dom had to get your breakfast. Your dom is having to serve you, over and over, so now it will continue until you learn your lesson. Given enough of it, the unbalancing would hurt Clint more than a physical strike.
He wants to go back to bed, but he eats the pancakes in front of him. They’re almost cold, and they’re dry and hard to swallow, but he chokes down as much as he can. Even if this turns out to be a punishment of some kind, he’s still grateful to be eating a full meal. Even if it's poorly cooked and making him itch to get his hands on the skillet.
They eat in silence for a while – the room is filled with the sound of silverware against ceramic – and then Steve shoves the tablet over toward James. James, obligingly, leans over to read whatever Steve had been reading, before rolling his eyes and going back to his breakfast.
Clint watches the interaction out of the corner of his eye. He’s heard of relationships that include two doms, but he’s never seen one. In fact, he’s never even heard of one that’s anywhere near as permanent as this one. Coulson, during Clint’s briefing, had emphasized that. Their permanence. Their closeness.
“ We tried finding them each subs of their own, both from within the organization and without, but the inevitable friction was too much. Worse, we’re afraid it poisoned the entire idea to them. After that, they didn’t want to interact with any sub, even together. And their security status doesn’t allow them to utilize a Health Center. In short, they need a live-in sub to share, and they need one quickly. Before their natures build up too much tension and get someone killed on mission.”
Clint had raised an eyebrow at “live-in sub,” but the weight of the handcuffs keeping him at the table had been sobering enough to control the rest of his expression.
The conversation hadn’t gotten better when he’d finally agreed and had been handed the relevant personnel files.
“Steven G. Rogers,” he’d read out loud. Then balked. “Captain America?!”
“Yes,” Coulson had said, and his expression had communicated that he found the situation exactly as ridiculous as Clint did.
Steve stands up suddenly from the table – causing Clint to flinch out of his memories – and leans down to kiss James briefly.
“I’ll be back before five, even if I have to kill someone,” he promises, amused smile on his lips. James grunts once in response, but it seems routine and Steve walks away. Clint half tilts his head up as Steve passes near him, not sure if he’ll also get a kiss, but Steve doesn’t so much as look at him, and then he’s gone.
James and Clint continue to eat in silence until Clint cannot force another bite down his throat. Then he sits still and watches, biting his lips and unsure what to do next. So far, his every move and assumption have been wrong, and he very much doubts he will continue receiving clemency if he continues fucking up.
“Nosy, aren’t you?” James asks gruffly, without even turning to look back at Clint.
Clint drops his eyes to the ground quickly, bowing his head. Because of course, he’s yet again stepped incorrectly. When James stands up and walks toward him, Clint ducks his head even more, in anticipation of the blow. When it doesn’t come - when James continues past him into the kitchen - Clint almost feels disappointed.
No, it’s more than almost. He does feel disappointed. He’s not looking forward to his first punishment here, but he’s looking forward to getting it over with. He’s looking forward to learning how hard his doms will hit and what they’ll use. He’s looking forward to learning how to respond and what they want from him. He’s looking forward to the relief of forgiveness that will ease the tension that runs whipcord tight through his entire body.
If this keeps up, this give without the take, he’s going to drop again.
“You don’t have to hang around out here,” James says from behind Clint, and Clint recognizes an order when he hears one.
An entire day is a very long time when it’s stuffed full with nothingness. Clint spends the first few hours lounging around the room and trying some yoga, but he grows bored quickly. He spends the next few hours kneeling, trying to induce that ‘waiting on my dom’ mental tranquility, but he can’t quite trick himself into it.
After that he tries to sleep. He feels weird on top of the bed, and crawling between the sheets feels wrong for the time of day. He tries the floor, but it’s too open. He pushes himself back into the corner, but it isn’t enough containment. He even curls up in the tub, but it’s too cold against his skin.
He knows what he really wants is to be tied down and settled, but he hasn’t earned it doesn’t deserve it can’t ask for it, so he eventually wedges himself under the bed, even though it’s a little too low and pushes down on his ribs enough that shallow breaths are the best he’s going to get. Only then, does he manage to drift into sleep.
When he wakes again, he panics. The confining pressure of the metal on his back is all wrong. His ribs ache and the carpet irritates his face. He tries to take a deep breath, is unable to, and flails. He digs his fingernails into the carpet and shoves, scraping them painfully, kicking with his legs until they, at least, are free. When he can feel his feet against the outside of the bedframe, he hooks them against the edge and uses them to help slide him further out. Something scrapes his back, catching his shirt, and he rears, which only pushes the metal deeper into his back as he continues to kick and slide.
He bends sideways, finally coming up with the presence of mind to let all the air out of his lungs. The extra space isn’t much, but it’s enough. He pushes with his fingers, still pulling with his legs, and finally emerges out from under the bed. The movement is accompanied by more pain and the sound of ripping fabric, but all Clint can do for a moment is lie shakily on the floor and gasp for breath.
As his cognizance returns, the dull pain in his back draws sharper, and he winces as he scrambles to his feet. He walks to the bathroom, careful to hold himself as still as possible and realizing as he goes that he’d probably ripped his shirt on the way out from under the bed. Ripped the soft shirt that his doms had given him. He clenches his teeth against the rising panic as he flips on the lights and turns around to see the damage.
“Oh no,” he breathes. “No, no, no. Don’t do this to me. Don’t do this, please.”
He’d been right about the ripped fabric. Three parallel lines have torn their way down the back of the shirt in differing lengths, but what’s worse is the spreading blood. There had been a dull pain before, but now that he actually sees cuts, the sharp pain feels more clear and he hisses through his teeth as he turns over his shoulder to stare at his reflection.
The blood is spreading, seeping down and out in worsening spots. Now that he’s focusing on it, he can feel it dripping. If he takes his shirt off, it will probably drip on the floor. It might have already gotten on the carpet as he’d thrashed.
His first instinct is to hide it. Hide the shirt. Find a way to get bleach for the carpet, if it’s needed. Patch the wounds as best as he can, even though they’re long and too awkwardly placed for self-care.
The more reasonable part of his mind realizes he’s being ridiculous. His doms will see the wounds long before they heal, hiding clothing is just asking for trouble, and he wouldn’t even know how to start finding bleach.
He’ll have to tell James. He’ll have to wander out of the confines of his room to confess his incapability and stupidity. James will probably ask how it happened, and Clint can’t even begin to come up with a justification for shoving his way in underneath a perfectly functional bed.
He also can’t see a way around it, so he pulls the fabric of the shirt more tightly against his back to make sure he won’t drip any blood on the short journey. He pauses once he makes it to the closed door separating him from the rest of the apartment. Glances at the carpet by the bed and closes his eyes in relief at its unmarred uniformity. Hesitates with one hand on the doorknob as he tries to figure if he’s missed an obvious solution to this sudden problem of welling blood and ruined gifts.
He pushes the door open when he feels a new slow drip down his back. Because he doesn’t want to maybe ruin the pants, too. Because he already hurts and maybe a little more pain will mean he gets to kneel forgiven with his dom for a short while. At some point, any touch becomes worth the biting price of admission.
James is immediately visible. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, looking down at his hands. He’s not moving or obviously doing anything. Just staring. But he startles violently to his feet when Clint starts with, “I’m sorry.”
“What?” James asks, blinking. He tilts his head to the side, shakes it sharply and asks again, “What are you talking about?”
Clint turns around, both to expedite the explanation and to avoid watching his dom’s face for his confession.
“I’m really sorry, sir,” the words burst. “I didn’t mean to ruin the clothes you gave me. I don’t think I got blood on the floor. I didn’t see any, I promise.” He tightens his fists with handfuls of the hem of his shirt, pulling it tighter.
“Fuck,” James says, and Clint flinches at the curse. “Come here.”
Clint turns and obediently walks straight up to his dom, going to his knees with the same momentum that had propelled him out of his room. A desire to be done with it.
“No,” James snaps, and Clint feels a bruising grip around his upper arm. He’d read about the metal arm in Coulson’s clinical dossiers, but it’s still a surprise to notice metal tightening around him. It feels distinctly different than a flesh and blood arm. It certainly hurts more as it pulls him to his feet.
“Take off the shirt,” James orders, and Clint complies.
“How do you want me?” he asks carefully. It’s his go-to phrase for jumpstarting a punishment, because it doesn’t sound like the request that it is. It sounds like submission, even though it’s just his way of being manipulative and bad and putting his desire to get punishment over with before the desires of his dom.
It gets him what he wants anyway.
“Just brace on the table,” James orders, and Clint knows that one. He bends over, placing his forearms on the solid surface and widening his feet enough to stabilize himself. He hopes he won’t be whipped on his back, over the already painful gashes, but he knows he’ll take whatever he deserves. Especially when the blood pools heavily enough to run around his right side, sliding down around his stomach to drip messily onto the floor.
James makes a noise in his throat, and Clint lets his head fall forward to hang down between his upper arms. He doesn’t have the energy to keep a prim position.
The touch of a cold watery rag makes his skin flinch, even though his stance remains solid.
“Sorry,” James mutters. “Too cold?”
“I—” Clint tries, but he can’t think of a single response. He can’t even figure out what the question had meant.
James steps away again and Clint stays down even though the excess water on his back is now quickening the drip of watered-down blood onto the tile beneath him. At least the kitchen is tiled, and he’ll be able to completely clean it up. That’s not an excuse for the mess, but it helps his mind some.
The kitchen sink is running again, and this time Clint recognizes it, shushshshshsing into the sink, but he doesn’t dare look around to interpret the moment.
Take what you’re given and be grateful .
He wants to be good for James. He wants it more than he wants to breathe steadily. If James wants to cover his nose and mouth with a dripping wet rag, then Clint will hold still until he passes out. He’s shaking with the desire to get this right, and it’s not just because he’s fucked up so many times in the last two days. It’s not even because he’s a sub and there’s a dom standing over him. It’s because his clothes were new, and because they weren’t all copies of the same thing out of a “bulk buy” plastic bag of twelve, and because he ate from-scratch pancakes that morning.
“I’ll be good,” he promises out loud.
“I’m sure you will,” James says, and that tiny first drip of praise washes Clint with further commitment. He stretches his fingers out from each other to enforce his points of contact with the table, and he waits.
The next touch is still not painful. It’s the rag again, this time soaked with warm water, and it’s carefully wiping at his back. The touch is gentle, and even when it’s run over the bleeding gashes, it barely hurts. A few more swipes and James opens the towel completely to lie over the wounds.
“Stay there,” he says. “We’ve got some gauze in our bathroom.”
Clint stares down at the table in wide-eyed amazement without moving a muscle. This is like aftercare, but it’s aftercare without the punishment. James is back before Clint can think that through to any terrifying potential conclusions. He tosses a few packaged gauze pads onto the table – the nice expensive kind that stick to the skin by themselves - and then gently removes the towel from Clint’s back.
“Sir?” Clint tries.
“What?” James says, but it’s a distracted what, and James starts carefully spreading some kind of ointment along the gouged lines in Clint’s back. It’s the first time either one of his new doms has touched his skin, and it’s the final straw for Clint. Tears brim and spill over.
“I’m sorry,” he sobs. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I don’t understand. I’m sorry.”
“Clint, hush,” James orders. “You’re not in trouble. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Clint knows this is not true, but he shuts his mouth. He can’t do anything to stop the sobs, but he hopes the lack of words will be enough to be considered obedience.
At the very least, James keeps taking care of him. He even places the metal hand on Clint’s hip to steady them both. It’s just the fingertips, and it hurts a lot less than the punishing grip around Clint’s bicep had.
James finishes and wipes his hand off on the wet towel before opening the gauze packets and carefully applying them in ways that cover the wounds but don’t press any of the sticky parts directly to them. He smooths his fingers over the edges before touching Clint’s hip gently.
“Move around,” he orders. “Make sure they’ll stay on.”
Clint does so, straightening up and then rolling his shoulders and moving enough to assure them both that everything is stable. James nods once, bends down to pick up Clint’s ruined shirt, and then tosses it in the trash.
“I’m sorry,” Clint says again.
“What for? You keep saying that, but I can’t figure out what you think you did.”
“I ruined the shirt you gave me. I left my bedroom when you’d told me to stay.”
James makes that same grunting sound; one that Clint is quickly learning means he’s upset with something Clint has said or done.
“I didn’t…” James starts, but then he trails to a stop.
Clint can’t help taking the opportunity to add, “I put marks on my body that didn’t come from you.”
James sucks a sharp breath in through his nose and takes a physical step backwards, away from Clint. He even puts both his hands up, palms out toward Clint. Clint drops his eyes to the floor and gives up, for the moment, on anticipating reactions. James is constantly side-stepping them.
“That’s not…” James says, takes another deep breath, more slowly, tries again, “It’s your body. No one gets to be mad you accidentally got hurt.”
Clint doesn’t know what James is talking about, so he falls back on, “Sorry.”
James sighs and rubs his face with his hands.
“How’s your back feel?” he finally asks.
“It’s fine,” Clint answers.
“How did it happen?”
“I cut it when I was trying to get out from under the bed.”
“What were you doing under the bed?”
“Geez, you’re gonna get me certified in dentistry if you keep making me pull all these teeth. Why were you sleeping under the bed?”
Clint hangs his head in shame and quietly admits, “There wasn’t a lot of room. It felt a little like being tied down.”
There’s a long silence after that, all of which Clint spends looking at the floor. Finally James sighs heavily.
“I told Steve he was full of shit,” he announces. “We’re not going to do you any favors by ignoring you, are we?”
Clint peeks to look at James, trying to gauge tone and emotional state. He’s not sure if that was a rhetorical question or something he’s expected to answer. He decides on “rhetorical”, because James is looking at him in contemplation, not in expectation.
“Did Coulson tell you that we didn’t want a sub?” James says suddenly.
No. No, he did not mention that. Not so bluntly.
“He said you’d had some problems with us in the past.”
“It’s not that we have a problem with subs, it’s that this is already working for us. Coulson clearly doesn’t think so, and neither does Fury, since they both keep insisting that our lack of outlet is becoming dangerous, but we feel good where we are.”
“And you don’t want some stupid sub ruining it.” Clint doesn't know who Fury is, but he gets the picture.
“If you want to be blunt about it,” James admits. “You’re just…” he trails off and gestures in frustration, but Clint hears the end of the sentence. He’s heard it a thousand times, both explicit and implied.
You’re not wanted.
“It’s not fair to you, though,” James continues. “Steve thought…well, Steve has some personal issues with doms and subs that aren’t any of your business, but the long and short of it is that he thought you wouldn’t want anything to do with us either. That you’d be thrilled to be left alone and to your own devices.”
Clint cannot imagine a worse hell, and his face most show that, because James winces in chagrined sympathy.
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I should have told him it was horseshit from the start. It’s not right for us to just abandon you here, in our space. I’m still not thrilled with the situation, but I can see to your needs as a sub. It won’t be a relationship ever , but don’t crawl under your bed if you need to be tied down and don’t hurt yourself if you need to be punished.”
Clint had not been trying to punish himself, but he doesn’t say so. He’s too busy processing what he’s being told. It’s not all-informative, but it’s giving him more insight into Steve and James’ behavior. What he can’t figure out is if this is good news or not. On one hand, he’s being told that not only is he not wanted here, he’s actively unwanted. He’s a fought-against bureaucratic nuisance, and it hurts him to even think it. On the other hand, he knows that James is just as full of shit as he claims Steve is.
Yeah, Clint needs certain things as a sub. But doms are just as vulnerable. James can claim he’s fine until he’s blue in the face, but Clint can already read the growing tension and irrationality in him. He needs to drop someone. He needs to dominate and control, and if it hadn’t been obvious from his unease, it would have been obvious in how quick he was to care for and control Clint just moments ago. Professional Mental Health Centers have just as many employed subs as they have employed doms, and federal money does not go into their salaries just for the heck of it.
“If it helps,” James continues, “then think of yourself as our roommate. We’ll help out a sub in need, but you’re just living nearby. Like a neighbor.”
“Thank you, sir,” Clint says, finally forming a plan of attack. He can play this game. It’s a long game, but he can play it, because now he knows what he’s dealing with.
Be the most unassuming sub he can be. Stay out of the way. Don’t cause problems. Find little ways to make life easier and smoother and calmer. Be nearby and pretty and subdued and pliable as dominant tensions build and build. Lure these two pigheaded doms into letting themselves take care of themselves, even if it just starts with fingers in his hair and nearly unnoticed orders.
Clint had been swimming in gratitude from the moment he’d learned he would be allowed to own his own things. However, looking back in the years to come, Clint would identify that as his his first flash of affection.
Clint is determined that, at the very least, the next day will go better. Baby steps.
He picks making breakfast because no one likes a pushy manipulative sub, but no one likes a listless unimaginative one either. Breakfast is a good middle ground. If everything goes horrifyingly wrong, then a meal will be more easily brushed off as “being a helpful roommate” rather than an attempt to insert himself into their lives. Plus, he's a fantastic fucking cook. Everyone pulled their weight in the circus, and cooking had been a good skill for a sub like him to pick up. Plus, working with this fancy set of kitchen appliances available is going to make it a cinch.
So, he carefully estimates time spent and time needed, using the previous day as a template, before setting his alarm. Then he lies down flat on his stomach - scratches in his back still sensitive - and stares at the wall.
He counts out the hours and rubs his fingers over the spaces on his hip that James had touched. It’s amazing how much better he feels having an assigned task from his doms. True, it’s not an explicitly assigned task, but James had been begging for a sub. Trembling for someone to dom. As much as Steve and James are determined to make this work, if they can’t go to professional services then they need him, so this is his task whether they realize it or not.
When the alarm goes off the next morning, he’s quick to silence it, leaving the SHIELD-provided phone on the charger and stumbling out into the kitchen. He leaves his hair mussed and his sleepwear on, because it plays to both “I’m just comfortable in my own living space, roommat e” as well as to “I’m a sleepy compliant submissive.” He’s checking all the boxes today.
He’s just plating the first set of acceptable pancakes when James pushes into the living room from the outside hallway. It’s a surprise to Clint, who had thought both his doms were still asleep in their bedroom, but it’s obvious from James’ appearance that’s he’s back from the base’s gym. His hair is tied back in a short ponytail, with the exception of a few sweaty strings hanging down to frame his face. He’s wearing sweatpants and a tank top, allowing Clint to see the full arm for the first time, and he’s in tennis shoes.
It suddenly occurs to Clint that James had been dressed in tactical gear all day yesterday. Combat boots instead of bare feet or sneakers. Black stealth gear with slots for weapons instead of sweatpants or jeans. But he’d never left the house.
“I made enough batter for everyone,” Clint says. James is watching him, even as he bends down to help himself out of the sneakers that he leaves by the door.
“Did you?” James asks, and something about the way he smirks tells Clint that he’s being seen through from the jump. Maybe, if he’s really going to affect casual subtlety, he shouldn’t have also completely set the table.
“Want any?” he asks anyway.
“I could eat,” James answer, and he slides into a seat, unshowered and smelling like sweat and rubber. Clint rushes to serve him the fresh pancakes and also unwraps the paper towels keeping the bacon warm on the table.
Okay, so he’s failing at subtle. Sue him. It’s day one.
Everything seems like it’s going great, aside from Clint’s obvious intentions, until the moment that James jerks his hand back from reaching for bacon, going so far as to stand up from the table and turn to walk away.
“Sorry,” Clint begins. “I...” But then he doesn’t know where to go from there, because it doesn’t seem like anything had been wrong. Even looking back over the table, he can’t find anything out of place.
“Orange juice,” James informs him, and Clint looks back at the poured carafe of orange juice sitting on the table. Was this because Clint had been presumptuous? With a drink choices? His dom was allowed to react as he pleased, but that level of reaction didn’t fit with what Clint had been mapping out about James’ personality.
“It’s bad for me to see it…sometimes,” James says. Then he clenches his jaw before striding forward and grabbing the glass container He marches to the sink and pours it out violently enough that the edge of it hits the edge of the sink, and the glass breaks. A half-circle chunk of it falls into the basin, and vertical cracks run down what’s left.
James just stares at the ruined carafe for a moment, before putting it down in the sink with the rest of itself.
“Sorry,” Clint says.
“No, it’s stupid of me,” James says bitterly. Both his hands are on the edge of the counter as he hunches over the sink. “It’s a fucking broken stupid reaction, but it’s the way it is. I’m just one step forward, two steps back these days.”
“Sorry,” Clint says again anyway, causing James to snort in unamused laughter and to turn around to look at Clint. He leans back against the sink counter and crosses his arms in front of his chest. Clint clasps his hands behind his back and tries to be still.
“Do you need to be punished?” James asks.
Clint feels his brain fill with shocked white noise, and he’s not sure what to do with it. He always knows when a dom is about to punish him. He might assume it more often than it happens, but this reverse is never true. It’s not even because he’s a particularly attentive sub, it’s just always so obvious. He knows all the signs.
But James had gone from zero to sixty. Hell, looking at him now, Clint would have assumed he was still at zero. But he’d asked.
Do you need to be punished ?
And every single sub who's going to survive long knows the answer to that question when it comes from a dom. There’s only one right answer.
“Yes,” Clint says quietly. After all that fear yesterday, expecting his first punishment, it comes now. Out of left field, and over fucking orange juice.
The bad sub part of him is struggling to be angry, as though his dom doesn’t have the right to be pissed off at whatever pisses him off. As though he doesn’t have the right to punish for whatever infraction. The bad sub is screaming “not fair” loudly enough that he turns away to hide his face, covering the action with the pretense of bending over the table. Same position as yesterday, though he doubts the experience will be as pleasant.
“Okay,” James says, levying his weight off the counter. “I’ll be right back.”
Clint glares down at the tabletop like this is all its fault, but the position is too familiar to let that anger accumulate much power. It’s hard to be angry while compliantly bending over to accept an ass-whipping.
The cuts on his back, which he hadn’t thought of once all morning, are suddenly throbbing dully.
He’s such a fucking moron. What kind of assumptive extra-mile bullshit had he been trying to pull by pre-pouring drinks? He could have avoided this whole thing if—
The sound of James returning is made distinct by the muted tone of a belt buckle. It’s a sound that Clint is fully familiar with, and it drops him even further into the headspace of a punished sub. It had been a long fall, starting from the elation of a fresh start and a ready battle plan, but he’d ended up here anyway. He always seems to end up here.
“Ready?” James asks.
He’s very proud of the way his voice does not tremble like the rest of him.
The rushing air sound of the swing that follows is as familiar to Clint as the sound of the belt buckle had been.
It always hurts, but this hurts more than he’d expected. The first strike lands with precision and a solidity that tells Clint this is not James’ first rodeo, no matter how much he claims exclusivity with Steve. And it hurts so much. Enough that Clint huffs sharply out through his nose.
It’s not that Clint hasn’t ever been in this kind of pain. In fact, it’s a long far cry from Clint’s worst moments, but it’s too much for a first strike. Not even his angriest doms had managed to get that kind of power out of a belt.
I still have sweatpants on , he thinks numbly.
The second strike is both not as bad – as he’s expecting the new pain – and worse - because it’s building. The first one hadn’t been a fluke; this is how much strength James is capable of, and Clint suddenly wonders what was in the redacted portions of those files Coulson had slid across the table to him.
His comes up onto his toes with the third strike, and his teeth are clenched tightly. He’s going to take this well. Silently. Because he is going to be a good sub. He has a plan.
Four and five stray lower to the more sensitive parts between his thighs and the curve of his ass, but it’s almost better than the building pain on the one location. But then six is back to being just as bad again, and it’s getting harder and harder to lower himself back down into place when every strike is pushing him up onto his toes.
He feels one of his arms slide forward with the impact of eight, and it all burns so badly. He wants to twist away from it, and the tears that had been building since he realized he was about to be punished become more threatening.
Nine and then ten and James isn’t letting up. There’s no pausing in-between the strokes, just the time it takes for him to draw his arm back and swing forward again. Clint’s shoulders are already bearing most of the weight of his upper body as he sags. His hands are tight fists and the deep pain just keeps getting worse.
Until there’s suddenly just stillness. Clint draws in a ragged breath at the reprieve, though he doesn’t move the slightest inch from his position. He knows better than to move without being dismissed. He has paid for such presumption in the past.
“Are you good?” James asks.
Clint isn’t sure what he’s asking. Is he good as in ready to continue? Ready to stop? Is he good as in a good sub who will apply his lesson and be grateful for it?
“Yes,” Clint says, because it’s the safest bet. Then he adds, “Thank you,” just in case, even though the phrase sticks in his throat.
“I meant it when I promised,” James says. “Whatever you need from me.”
It had felt like a promise at the time. Clint had forgotten that having his needs fulfilled would mean moments like this. Off-balance and in pain. He knows better than to expect comfort. That isn’t what he needs , as James has so efficiently pointed out. He needs to be put in his place.
And that was only a few. Ten? Twelve? Imagine if you really make him lose his temper.
“Whatever you need from me.”
In the wake of the current interaction, it no longer feels like a promise. It feels like the threat it should have been taken for in the first place.
“I’m going to shower,” James says dully. “Steve will be up soon, too. He likes pancakes.”
Clint nods at the obvious order, and James fades away into the bedroom that Clint is not allowed into. He stands, staring forlornly at the closed door, until his eyes wander back down to the breakfast table. The sweaty imprints of his forearms are still visible on the table, and he grabs a paper towel to furiously wipe them away. As he’s doing so, his eyes catch on the orange juice carton, sitting innocent in cardboard inanimacy.
Clint snatches it off the table and hurls it at the wall with all his strength. He balls his hands into fists and grits his teeth while he stares at the impact point. There’s not a dent. Not a scratch or even a smear of orange juice. The carton is even sitting upright on the floor, a fluke of statistics. Undented. Undamaged.
“Something I should know about?” Steve says cautiously from behind Clint, and Clint goes to his knees with jarring impact.
Of course Steve had to quietly slip in while Clint was throwing a fit like a child. Like a bad sub. Like a sub who needs to be punished more thoroughly because, regardless of James’ strength, Clint has clearly not learned his lesson. He’ll get a second whipping for that, and this one he’ll deserve.
You deserved the first one too, and you know it.
“You don’t have to kneel for me, Clint,” Steve says. Gently. It forces Clint to remember what James had said. Steve doesn’t want a sub. He’s not interested. He’s certainly not going to exert the effort to correct him.
“Sorry,” Clint says, and gets to his feet.
Clint shrugs and mumbles, “I put orange juice on the table.”
“Oh. Is Bucky okay?”
Clint finally makes the connection that James is Bucky. That must be the name he goes by, and if Clint wants to avoid further unexpected punishments, he should make the switch in his mind, lest he ever need to use the name out loud.
“He’s fine,” Clint says. “He was just upset with me.”
“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Suddenly Steve’s eyes are as piercing as James’ – Bucky’s – had been. How did Clint end up with two doms who were both this perceptive?
Wrong. You don’t have any doms. None. You just live with some.
“He did what was necessary.”
Steve sighs and rubs his face with his hands. He looks exhausted and stressed. He’s as sweaty as Bucky had been, wearing similar clothing, and Clint shuffles his feet as he observes.
“I’m sorry that happened,” Steve says carefully. “Bucky and I talked about that, but it was very briefly. I know he’s gotten it in his head that you need this, but he’s…well, he’s had a few experiences that will skew his point of view.”
“How so?” Clint asks, because he’s suddenly interested in this conversation. This is information that he’s missing.
“Bucky was a sort of prisoner of war. For a long time. He’s working really hard to get his life back, but sometimes he has difficulty telling what’s normal and what’s abnormal. I’m sorry he hurt you.”
“I needed it,” Clint says quickly. It had been horrible and unsettling, but it had been an important step. The more Bucky capitulates to his dom instincts, the more likely that he’ll start displaying the ones Clint actively wants. Clint doesn’t want to give up this carefully won foothold.
Steve’s face twists strangely when Clint makes his claim, but he doesn’t directly contradict. Instead he pointedly walks over and picks up the thrown orange juice carton.
“I shouldn’t keep this around,” Steve muses. “Guess it was selfish of me, but I liked having something that tasted the same. Fresh orange juice still tastes the same.”
Clint swallows thickly as Steve throws the carton directly into the trash.
“I don’t understand,” he says.
“I’m not going to talk to you about Bucky’s time as a POW, but I will tell you that he was fed a slimy orange-colored drink, almost exclusively, for a very long time. Sometimes, seeing orange juice in a glass will confuse and unsettle him. I thought we’d moved past it, but it was stupid to assume progress is always linear.” He gestures to the carton, sitting in the trash. “Problem solved.”
“You don’t have to throw it away,” Clint protests. “I won’t do it again.”
“It’s fine,” Steve shrugs. “I’ll talk to Bucky again, about him hurting you. And this was nice of you, but you don’t have to make breakfast. You don’t have any responsibilities here. To us.”
Then he follows Bucky into their bedroom, and Clint is left bereft.
He’d thought his previous doms harsh, but disobedience here is truly gaining him nothing. It’s probably a very effective tactic, as it leaves him stewing in how he’s a bad sub who’d only taken an hour to make life more difficult for both his doms, and even though his ass is throbbing in recompense for this fact, it’s not nearly enough to shut up the cyclical beration. Worst of both worlds.
Step one, be better.
Failed step one.
Steve and Bucky both head out together less than an hour later, neither of them sparing Clint more than a glance. Clint watches forlornly from where he is standing in the kitchen. He’s seeing what Coulson had meant when he’d tried to describe their gravitation to each other. Even in the few minutes they interact in the atrium, they move around each other. Steve reaches out to touch Bucky’s elbow, Bucky catches the edge of Steve’s sleeve, and then later leans over Steve’s shoulder to read the text he receives. It’s like they’re both constantly checking to make sure the other is actually there, where they appear to be.
Then they’re gone, and Clint is left standing in the ruined silence of his attempt at breakfast service, rubbing his hands up and down his own arms.
“Fuck!” he snaps out loud at the closed door. Then again, more quietly, “Fuck.”
Left with nothing but his own failures, he begins to clean up the mess, starting with picking the broken glass out of the sink. Then he dumps the wasted food, which he has most definitely not earned the privilege of eating himself. He would be feeling the first sharp twists of hunger, having eaten nothing since yesterday’s breakfast, but it’s overridden by nausea.
He calms himself by imagining how he’ll apologize to his dom. As he wraps food, cleans dishes, and even begins to wipe down and scrub the rest of the apartment, his thoughts stray from organizing and writing the apology into fantasizing about delivering it. At first, even that is conservative, but by the time he runs out of things in the common area to scrub clean, he’s in the middle of an anatomically unrealistic apology-sex daydream.
He retreats to his room, takes a quick cold shower, and dresses himself in some of the more “day time” clothing options provided him. Loose jeans that hang low, past the beginning of the curve of his ass, plus an exercise t-shirt that’s tight against his body. He examines his reflection critically, frowns, and quickly retreats to change into a looser shirt. There’s nothing to show off there, and it’s obvious how pathetic it looks for him to try.
Finally, he stumbles back out to the living room. He briefly entertains the idea of kneeling and waiting, but he has no time frame to anticipate, and he’s too exhausted. He falls asleep stretched out on the couch instead.
He’s got to stop doing this. The first foggy awakenings allow that thought in primary functionality. It had seemed like such a good idea, to fall asleep on the couch, but now that he’s actually gotten the sleep, he resents it.
He lifts his head up and blinks groggily, trying to judge time from the few cues around him. Lights are on, and there’s a blanket draped over his body. It’s heavy and – like everything in this apartment – soft to the touch. He presses his face into it and breathes deeply, surprised to realize he can already identify Bucky’s smell. It must be his blanket.
He likes that. No matter the lead up to the situation, he likes the fact that he’s woken up to his dom’s blanket. Even more so because Bucky must have been the one to drape it over him as he slept.
Clint struggles to his feet, nearly falling on his face as he tries to take the entire blanket with him. He has to mince his steps a bit, in order to readjust his feet onto the actual floor, and then he hitches the fabric around his shoulders like a cape. Sure enough, there’s Bucky’s standing in the kitchen. He’s doing the staring thing that Clint has seen before. Just looking straight down at the stove.
“Sir?” Clint greets, shuffling into the kitchen.
Bucky startles, but then gives Clint a half-smile.
“Morning,” he grins. Indulgent.
“I wanted to apologize. For this morning.”
The half-smile disappears, and Clint pushes forward recklessly, to get this part over with so the smiling can come back.
“Steve talked to me afterwards, and I understand what I did, and I just want you to know that I won’t do it again. I didn’t realize why it was a problem.”
“I didn’t know subs had to have reasons to do as they’re told,” Bucky says gruffly, but he relents when Clint ducks his head and apologizes again.
“We’ve already had this conversation,” Bucky says. “You’re already forgiven.”
Hearing it works wonders on Clint, and he smiles brightly. It’s a silly grin, and he can feel it stretching his face. It’s infectious, too, because it only takes one glance for Bucky to slightly mirror it. It isn’t as wide as Clint’s, but they’re already back to the smiling.
“What are you making?” Clint asks.
“Nothing, apparently,” Bucky snorts. “I’m shit at this every time I try. If any cooking gets done around here, then Steve did it.” Bucky considers for a moment, then glances up at Clint and amends, “Or you, apparently.”
“Can I help?” Clint asks. He’s eager, and he knows it’s audible in his voice. He hopes it’s a selling point, rather than the opposite.
Bucky runs his fingers through his hair, pulling it back from where it was falling in his eyes to clasp it in a loose handful at the back of his head. He sighs, heavily, as though struggling to find the energy to even have an opinion on the matter, much less to express it.
Clint is catching on, however slowly, that Bucky is not like the other doms in his life. Steve remains an aloof mystery, but every word, motion, and gaze from Bucky is adding up to a functioning catalog in Clint’s mind. There’s something here, unspoken, and Clint bets it has a lot to do with that time as a POW that Steve had been talking about.
“I can show you how I do it,” Clint says. “Then you can do it on your own in the future.”
He’s right. Whatever Bucky’s hesitation had been, he folds under the promise of future independence. It’s strange, to see a dom struggling so much to take the control he’s meant to, but if it gives Clint a purpose here, then he’ll take what he can get.
“Okay,” Bucky says, stepping back from the stove. “Show me.”
“What do you want to make?” Clint asks, moving into the space Bucky has vacated. He presses him unusually close to the mercurial dom, but neither of them move to separate.
“I was going to try eggless sponge, but…” he trails off and gestures to the cookbook that’s lying closed on the counter.
“Not in there?” Clint confirms. “I’ve never heard of it, but I bet we can find it online.” He doesn’t add that the name is strange and unappetizing, but he does pray it tastes better than it sounds. “Do you have a laptop or a tablet or something?”
Bucky grunts in assent, and disappears into his bedroom, leaving Clint to return the blanket to the living room and then come back to pull out a mixing bowl and to find the measuring instruments. He’s just managed to locate them when Bucky comes back in with the tablet Steve had been reading off of the other day.
“I forgot,” Bucky says, handing the tablet over to Clint. “About…that.”
“You forgot about the internet?” Clint teases. Then he looks up at Bucky’s face, which had contorted into embarrassment. He’s refusing to look at Clint, staring out the nearby window instead.
“I do that, sometimes,” Bucky says through gritted teeth.
“Oh,” Clint realizes. “I’m sorry, I thought you were joking. It’s fine, though. Totally cool. I forget shit all the time, and I’m a sub. Remembering stuff is practically my job, so I think you should get a pass.”
He’s not sure if it’s the right thing to say. Bucky is still staring out the window, but some of the tension has left his shoulders, and Clint takes it as a sign to go ahead and google the recipe.
“Oh!” he exclaims, excited. “It’s from World War II.” He looks up at Bucky and grins. “You wanna make Steve something from then?”
“Sort of,” Bucky shrugs. “It’s for him, in a way, but it’s also for me. I miss then as much as he does. Everything was simple. Everything was as it was supposed to be.”
It takes Clint a moment to process this. As he realizes the implications, he feels more of the missing pieces of information sliding into place.
“You?” he gapes. “You’re out of your time, too?”
Bucky laughs once, dry and unamused, and says, “In more ways than one. Do you ever think about that, when you see Steve’s face all over that bureaucratic propaganda? ‘Man Out of Time’ plastered across like a banner or an anthem. That phrase has more than one meaning.”
Clint is silent and attentive, even though Bucky is clearly talking more to himself than to Clint. That’s another thing, though, that these two don’t seem to understand. Sometimes the most important thing a sub can do for their dom is to just be there. He doesn’t need to follow or respond to whatever Bucky’s saying. Just his being here is unknotting Bucky’s mental turbulence. It’s hard not to trust a sub.
Nonetheless, Bucky shakes himself free of the mental tangent and gestures sharply at the tablet in Clint’s hands.
“Are we cooking or what?”
Clint hands over the tablet, and the control, to Bucky, letting him look over the recipe.
“Tell me what ingredients to get out.”
Bucky reads off the list rapid fire, and Clint gathers them just as quickly, although he has some difficulty finding the condensed milk. As he puts what he does have on the countertop, he gestures to Bucky’s metal arm.
“Can that scroll on the tablet?”
“My arm? Nah. This fuckery here can do a lot of things, but managing heat sensitivity is not one of them. Stark’s always going on about how he can change that, but I don’t need to wake up to my arm overheating like I passed out on a plugged in curling iron.”
Clint snorts and asks, “Don’t trust Stark, then?”
“I trust Stark with a lot of things by default, but I have my limits. Mainly, anything attached to my body. You got everything?”
“Can’t find the condensed milk.”
Bucky puts the tablet down on an empty counter and turns to open one of the cabinets Clint had just been looking in.
“We’d better have it,” he gripes, rummaging around. “I do not feel like going grocery shopping.”
“I can go,” Clint volunteers, a half-second before he remembers that he’s not currently supposed to be leaving the base. “I mean,” he amends, “if there’s a commissary here or something.”
“Yeah, they got you on lockdown for now, huh? I’m familiar with that. Well, it’s sweet of you to offer, but my limit on effort for this extravaganza has pretty much been reached. If we don’t have it….” He shrugs, by way of ending the sentence.
“We could find something else that--”
Clint is cut off by Bucky pulling his arm back out of the cabinet, triumphantly holding the condensed milk.
“Hey!” Clint exclaims, snapping his fingers into a double thumbs up. It makes Bucky roll his eyes, but Clint counts that as a win. He’s decided to take any reaction from Bucky as a win. As for Steve...well, he’ll cross the Steve-bridge when he comes to it.
Most of the cooking is uneventful. Bucky reads Clint the directions and Clint follows them. It’s natural. An easy ebb and flow that leaves Clint pleased and humming with a pleasant energy. He hopes Bucky is feeling the same way.
It turns out that Bucky is feeling the same way. Clint gets undeniable proof of it when it comes time for the condensed milk.
“What does it taste like?” Bucky asks, peering over Clint’s shoulder at the newly opened can. “It looks different.”
“Different from what? 1940? They had condensed milk in the forties?”
Bucky rolls his eyes again and says, “They had condensed milk in the Civil War. Good for sending with troops. Let me taste it.”
Clint hands it over obediently, and Bucky dips the tips of two fingers into the open can. He sticks them, and the subsequent condensed milk, into his mouth and considers the flavor.
“How does it measure up?” Clint asks.
“Different. Definitely different. Not as different as some things, but not perfectly the same either.”
“Is it sweet?”
“Try it,” Bucky says. And then he dips his fingers back into the can and holds them out to Clint. Clint takes them into his mouth without a second thought, sucking the flavor from Bucky’s skin.
“Wow, it is sweet,” he says afterward. “Doesn’t taste like milk at all.”
It’s not until that exact moment that he realizes the enormity of what had happened. Bucky is frozen, staring at his own fingers like they’d taken on a life of their own without asking him, and that’s what gives Clint the most satisfaction. That Bucky had fallen into his role without even noticing. Without trying. The quiet give and receive from his cooking instructions had been too similar to the catechism of a dom and his submissive.
Clint is careful to keep any reaction off his face and body, but he feels the white adrenaline wash through him with the success. He’s winning this game. The selfish part of him is especially excited, because these are doms who haven’t had subs, or at the very least who haven’t had subs in such a long time that there are no expectations. Clint is literally starting from scratch. A blank slate. Maybe now his best will actually be good enough, because there’s nothing to compare it to.
He’s not stupid enough to think it will last forever, but he thinks he might be able to make it last long enough. Even if he’s a bad and selfish sub at heart, he can silence that part of him long enough to show these men how to utilize and control this part of their natures – teach them to be themselves again. Then, maybe they’ll be grateful enough that they won’t just dump him out on the streets.
So he turns back to the mess in the bowl, twisting the ingredients together with fictitious nonchalance while he watches Bucky out of the corner of his eye. Watches him replaying the moment. Watches him glance at Clint for some cue as to how he’s supposed to respond to this.
Externally, Clint just keeps mixing. Internally he runs his tongue along the back of his teeth, savoring the mixture of sweet from the condensed milk and salt from Bucky’s skin.
Just a normal dom and sub thing here. Nothing to see. Move along.
In a way, it’s not even a lie.