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Mokusatsu

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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

and shivers.

“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?”

“Sleeping.”

“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.

What?

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.

“Yes, sir.”

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 hurts.

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.

“What happened?”

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.

Chapter Text

As much as Clint declares the shared intimacy a victory, Bucky’s thoughts on the matter are clearly different. He withdraws emotionally, reading the rest of the instructions to Clint in a bland monotone. When the dish is firmly in the oven, he withdraws physically, retreating to the bedroom with a quick, “Can you take it out of the oven for me?” thrown over his shoulder.

Clint refuses to retreat in kind. He has spent long enough in his bedroom to be sick of it, and he plants himself on the couch. He even wraps himself back up in Bucky’s blanket, pulling it around his shoulders and up over his head. He pouts and stares at the wall while he bites his nails down far enough to sting and bleed. He does thrash free in order to move the eggless sponge cake onto the counter to cool, but he stubbornly returns to his previous spot immediately afterward.

This is how Steve finds him some hours later. Wrapped up like an angry swaddled baby who can’t have everything it wants as soon as it wants it. He even has his fingers in his mouth, still nibbling at the shredded remains of his nails. The comparison is enough for Clint to smooth out his expression and free his head from the blanket.

“Hello,” he says.

“Evening,” Steve greets. “Settling in?”

Clint can’t tell if it’s a real question or a reprimand for so freely sitting on the couch in a living room that is not strictly speaking his. If he were playing it safe he’d take it as the reprimand, but he’s tired of that. The brief interactions with Bucky are feeding him just enough to leave him hungry for more, and getting in trouble with Bucky has so far been the most effective method of breaking down whatever hesitations were ensnaring him.

“I am settling in,” Clint says. “It’s not like there’s a lot to do in my room. Staring at walls gets old.”

“Well, you’re welcome to any form of entertainment you can find out here. Most of the books on the shelves are in English, and the television doesn’t get a lot of use, but I’ve heard it’s pretty upgraded. Stark technology and all that it entails.”

Which doesn’t sound like a reprimand. At all. Not even after Clint had gone out of his way to slip a little disrespect into his answer. All Steve does is smile distractedly and head into his and Bucky’s bedroom, leaving Clint alone again.

Clint can’t take it. He retreats back to his bedroom after all. He’s used to fighting for peace and comfort, not attention. He’d thought it would be easier, to be cared for but otherwise ignored, but it’s turning out to wear at him just as much. In fact, it’s arguably worse because there’s nothing to actively fight against. Just the constant baby step manipulations.

He looks around his room - as empty as he remembers it - and considers just going to bed at six o’clock in the evening. But his hunger is pushing through his distractibility, as he approaches thirty-six hours without anything to eat other than a partial mouthful of condensed milk.

He sits down on the bed, and considers whether or not he should get something to eat. There haven’t been any explicit orders against it, but there haven’t been any offers for him to help himself, and that is not his food any more than this is his bed.

On the other hand, this is not his bed, but he’s clearly expected to use it. Maybe that extends to the whole of the apartment. Sans the other bedroom, obviously.

He has just worked up the courage to stand up, moving all the way to the door, when he hears Bucky and Steve emerge from their bedroom.

“I thought I recognized that smell,” Steve says, and his tone is muffled through the door. Clint can’t help moving to press his ear against the wood, justifying the blatant and disrespectful violation of privacy by telling himself that he’s working at a disadvantage, and his only real goal is the beneficiation of his doms.

“Barton helped,” Bucky says, and now Clint is literally pressing his body against the door. “Hell, he did most of the work. I was just staring at the stovetop.”

“Bucky,” Steve says. Clint can’t hear the tone of the voice through the physical barrier, but he can bet it’s disappointed.

“He wanted to help,” Bucky says, more loudly and defensively, confirming Clint’s guess that Captain America Is Disappointed. “We can’t just keep him stuck here like a live-in doll. He wants to do things, not sit around in his room waiting for us to take him out to play.”

“It’s not the same thing,” Steve says. “First of all, we’re not taking him out to play, and that’s final. Second, he has the run of most of the base. Third, his room is nothing like cryo. He’s a functional autonomous being in there, and he’s free to leave whenever he likes.”

“He wanted to help,” Bucky repeats.

Whatever Steve says next is lower, and Clint can’t catch it. He does hear Bucky’s response to it, though, but he thinks he’s mishearing. The sounds are loud enough to be heard, but they don’t make sense. It takes Clint a few seconds to realize that it’s another language, but it’s over before he can make the mental switch and pick out any words. He used to know some passable Russian, due to the eclectic nature of the circus he’d been with, but he hasn’t used any of it in years.

The noises outside turn more affectionate. Their voices continue to dip down into gentle murmuring, and Clint can imagine the pauses being filled with chaste kisses. Forehead, nose, lips. He runs his own tongue along his teeth again, even presses two of his fingers to his own lips to try and recreate the sensation from that afternoon, but all he gets is the taste of his own skin and a distinct feeling of being untouched and unwanted.

He decides to take a shower. A hot one, so he can try to run all the hot water out in petty ineffective spitefulness, though he doubts he’ll be able to put much of a dent in a military base’s housing complex water tank.

When the hot water originally hits his back, he flinches away from the sudden pain it sears into the still-healing scratches down his back. Then he pushes himself back under the water and imagines they're from fingernails or whips. Even knives. Anything for the illusion of having been “taken out and played with” as Bucky had so crudely and succinctly put it.

He turns over the little he heard in his mind as he lets the water pound onto his back and drip around into his eyes and off his face. He wants to know if the Russian had been a reversion to an original language, or something picked up along the way in their lives. It’d be interesting if James “Bucky” Barnes is actually Russian, given the apparent 1940s origin of the relationship. He can’t remember if Russia had been an ally in World War II. He knows they’d been an ally in at least one of the World Wars, but he always mixes up which one. Given his sporadic and unenthusiastic education, he counts it a win that he remembers Germany and Japan, at least, were a firm “no” in the ally category for that particular round.

The rest of the conversation had been equally confusing. Clint has seen Forever Young , so he’s got a guess about the reference to cryo. Plus that would explain some of the mechanics behind Bucky’s leap through time to join his Captain.

The knowledge that he can, indeed, leave this apartment is a little bit of a relief. Coulson had said as much, but he’d been hard to read, and Clint had refused to take him at his word. If being cramped within the same four walls gets to be any more unbearable he’ll test out another of Coulson’s promises and see if he’ll be allowed into the shooting range. He’s sure he’s atrophied from such extended inactivity, and he’d love to work his arms.

He does admonish himself for that oversight. He’s been confined, not strapped down. Doing a little more yoga wouldn’t have hurt anyone.

With that thought, he lets his mind wander from topic to topic until he comes back to himself with a start, realizing the water has gone lukewarm. He suspects that’s more due to his acclimatization than any success in depleting the hot water supply, but he gets out anyway.

He runs one of the fluffy towels over his body, furiously rubbing at his hair to get rid of the worst of the dripping. He’s going to need a haircut soon, as the line between “handhold” and “shaggy” is a thin one. He’s not sure where to get one, though, and idly wonders if that will fall under Bucky’s “whatever you need” promise.

The thought makes him remember his wounds again, and he turns his back to the mirror and peers over his shoulder. They look better. The one on the right had been the deepest, and it’s still red and slightly inflamed, but the other two are already patchy, the scabs healing. It all looks undeniably well-cared for, and Clint clenches his teeth in frustration.

He throws the wet towel onto the ground and marches back out to the bedroom. He jerks on a pair of sweatpants and nothing else, using the brief flare of anger to propel him out further. Out of his bedroom and into the kitchen, which turns out to be now empty. That provides a stumbling block to his momentum - he hadn’t realized he was hoping to run into his two doms until he found them absent - but he still continues into the pantry.

There isn’t a lot in there that can be eaten without being prepared, which is completely stupid in his opinion, so he grabs for the loaf of bread sitting at eye level. His original intention had been to make a sandwich, but he knows he’s at war with time and the fact that he hasn’t technically been given explicit permission to eat anything. Instead, he opens the bag and grabs several slices. He tosses the bag back onto the shelf - unclosed, let it fucking go stale - and shoves the first slice into his mouth as he turns away.

He also grabs a glass of water, because fuck drinking out of the bathroom tap like a dog, and manages to finish the first two of the three slices his hand had come up with. His stomach is gurgling in discontented surprise as he begins to eat the third slice more slowly, walking back toward his room.

He’s stopped by a sharp cry of pain. His first thought - irrational - as he stands outside his doms’ bedroom door, is that they have another sub in there, crying out at their whim. However, after a few silent seconds pass, he hears another noise. A grunt, followed by a heavy breath, followed by a moan of pleasure.

Clint remains frozen, listening to the obvious sex behind the closed door, mouth full of stolen bread, and trying to convince himself not to cry.

I’m right here , he thinks at them desperately. I’m right here.

Lacking the courage or the anger to throw open the door and demand his due as an owned sub, he swallows the bread that’s in his mouth and slowly retreats the rest of the way to his room. He doesn’t want the half-slice remaining in his hand, but he’s taken it and “waste not want not”.

Bread and water. He’s ended up like a prisoner, after all.

He shoves the rest of it in his mouth like a gag, trying not to choke or throw up, and crawls under the covers. He wants to crawl under the bed, but Bucky had made it clear that that method of coping isn’t allowed.

The room is silent, none of the noise he had heard outside audible where he lies, regardless of the shared wall. Still, the longer he lies still and the more he fixates, the more his imagination fills in the breathy noises and pleasured moans that he was not deemed worthy enough to be a part of.

 

__________

 

As he showers again the next morning, he wonders idly what it would take to get his hands on a pair of headphones. He doubts he’ll be handed some, but he might be able to find another way. Especially if it turns out that he’s honestly allowed to wander the secured portion of the base; a promise which remains untested.

He lets the image of lifting some from an unsuspecting mark filter through his imagination for a moment.

Then he bites the skin on the side of his thumb, sharp and unmercifully. Stealing is the whole fucking reason he’s neck deep in this nonsense. He’s not about to go and reopen that door. If the watery blood trickling from the new marks in his skin isn’t sufficient to remind him, the image of Bucky’s face while a security officer explains the situation - holding Clint by the scruff of his neck - is more than enough to make up for it.

He turns off the water, because it had been warm and comforting.

By the time he finishes getting dressed and wanders out into the living room, it’s late enough that he expects to be the apartment’s only occupant, therefore Steve is a surprise. He’s fully dressed and lounging on the couch, headphones in, while he stares at his tablet with narrowed eyes. Like he’s trying to solve a puzzle. Clint stutters to a stop, freezing completely when Steve glances up to see him. Steve taps at the tablet and then pulls the headphones out of his ears.

“Morning,” he greets.

“Morning.”

Clint is honestly impressed anything gets through his throat. It’s not like he was doing anything wrong, but unexpected doms cause unexpected problems.

“I was thinking about what you said yesterday,” Steve says, standing up and laying the tablet down on the coffee table. He even curls the headphones carefully around his fingers so he can lay them in a careful circle on top.

When Clint chooses not to say anything in response, Steve continues, “I hadn’t thought about you being bored in there. Not that you’re confined to your room, by any means. Bucky said there was some confusion about that. But if you do want to stay in there, then you’re welcome to. Thought you might like some entertainment though, so I got you a tablet, too.”

Steve gestures over to the kitchen table where a flat white cardboard box is lying inconspicuously.

“Hope that’s okay,” Steve says quickly. “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, or dictate what you do with your free time. I just thought you might like it. I’m attached to mine, and Bucky even likes his from time to time. They help.”

Clint is too overwhelmed. Steve has bought him a tablet? Clint doesn’t need to be bought anything , much less something high quality and expensive. Even more though, this means Steve was listening to him the previous night. When Clint had whined and complained about being bored in his room all the time. Steve hadn’t brushed him off like it had seemed. He’d been listening.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

“It’s not a big deal,” Steve says, but he’s rubbing the back of his head with one hand and he’s grinning.

“I was hoping you’d be up before I had to leave,” Steve continues, as Clint wanders over to the kitchen table. “I didn’t want to wake you, but I wanted to tell you before we were both gone.”

“You can wake me,” Clint says, on reflex. “I’ll never mind.”

“That’s generous,” Steve snorts. “Maybe I’m just used to Bucky and...well…” He considers for a moment, keeping his silence long enough that Clint turns from picking at the packing tape to look back over his shoulder.

Steve shrugs, hands open with splayed extended fingers.

“There’s a poor track record there,” he finishes.

He and Clint look at each other, paused in respective contemplation; Clint of Steve, Steve of the floor. Clint is trying to figure out if there’s something for him to say, but he thinks silence is his best option.

Eventually, Steve hunches his shoulders in a strange kind of shrug and gestures at the box in Clint’s hands.

“Have fun with that,” he says. “It’ll hook into the intranet around here, so expect to be monitored at any moment or whatever. Don’t try to talk to any terrorist organizations. They take that really seriously around here.”

“Got it,” Clint says, with matching solemnity. Steve nods once, grinning briefly before smoothing out his face again.

“See you around then,” he says.

“Steve.”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.” Clint’s fingers tighten spasmodically on the box. “I mean it. Thank you for...for hearing me.”

“Think nothing of it,” Steve assures quickly. “It’s just...this is just the decent thing to do. Barely.”

As Steve turns and ducks out the door, presumably to avoid any continuation of the current topic, Clint thinks about that. Steve’s assumption that this is the decent thing to do. Over six feet tall, built like a pack horse, and more than capable of taking whatever he wants - even from other doms - but he’s buying Clint tablets and rubbing his own hair in embarrassment.

Whoever Steve finally gives in and accepts as a sub will be very lucky.

 

__________

 

The day goes much better than the previous ones. Without a morning failure hanging over his head, and with something to do - even if it’s not productive - Clint manages to laze the morning away in relative happiness. He even gets back into his yoga, pushing through on his trembling arms until he topples over and hits the deck. He takes most of his weight on the same shoulder he fell off the bed onto, grimacing in pain at the impact, and decides to call it a day.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in increasingly strange positions on the couch, watching Youtube videos and chasing wikipedia articles into the black hole of the internet. Bucky had left the blanket out in the living room, so he uses that. He even gets some coffee, because Steve had bought him a tablet and hadn’t said not to eat anything, so maybe the kitchen is fair game after all.

His hands still twitch to hide the mug when Bucky comes into the apartment, but he forces himself into stillness. He does pause the video he’s watching, though, because Bucky has stopped just inside the entrance. The heavy front door swings shut behind him, slamming to with a loud bang and a rush of changing air pressure.

“Bucky?” Clint asks quietly.

Bucky starts, jerking his eyes up to Clint. His right hand flutters to his hip, while his metal one moves up in front of his chest and face. Clint’s familiar enough with the movement to identify it as the defensive reflex that it is.

“Are you okay?” he tries. He isn’t moving, frozen on the couch. “We’re just...it’s just us. Here. In your apartment. Is it okay that I’m on the couch?”

Bucky blinks, lets his eyes flick away from Clint, and then flicks them back. He slowly lowers his arm.

“Sorry,” he says, and his voice is rough in a way that sounds underused. He clears his throat and adds, “Yeah, of course you can be on the couch.”

“I got some coffee, too,” Clint says. Just in case. Then adds, “Do you want any? I can totally get you some coffee.”

“Sure,” Bucky says. He still seems distracted, but Clint takes it. He scrambles out from under the blanket and off the couch, grabbing his empty mug off the table to take it into the kitchen. Now that he’s figured out the machine, it’s short work to make another pot. He makes a lot, hoping he won’t be scolded for wastefulness, and pours himself some more as well.

He’s just walking back into the living room, warm mug in each hand, when Steve arrives. He’s carrying brown paper bags - a lot of them - and Clint can smell the food even over the coffee in his hands. His stomach flips and gurgles uncomfortably, but he keeps his eyes respectfully off the packages while he serves Bucky his coffee.

“Bucky,” Steve says, disapproval leaking from his voice even as he puts the bags down on the coffee table. “Clint, you don’t have to do things for us.”

“I made some for myself,” Clint says quickly. “It took two seconds to pour him some. It’s just...it’s good manners.”

He waits, holding his own coffee in clear view - evidence - and can’t quite manage to keep from glancing at the food on the table. There’s a lot of it. He’s seen these two eat breakfast, so he knows how much food they can go through, but he can’t help from hoping some of it is for him. The few slices of bread last night had helped, but they hadn’t lasted long.

“Okay,” Steve decides. “I guess...okay yeah that’s fine. Sorry.”

“There’s more in there, if you want any,” Clint says, even though it hurts not to offer to fetch it himself.

He’s learning, but it’s slow and exhausting. He’s had to keep the peace between two doms in the past, but not like this. Not by trying to please one without angering the other. Usually it had been a battle for dominant superiority, easily fixed by his bending over and pliantly taking whatever he’s given until they’re too worn out and satisfied to fight with each other. This is more complicated. More subtle. It’s playing to each side of different emotions. Serve Bucky, but not enough to piss off Steve.

Clint isn’t sure about a lot of things here, but he knows this. That if he becomes a point of contention between these two - if he threatens to even slightly jeopardize their relationship - he will be out on his ass before he can blink.

“Dig in, everyone,” Steve says, gesturing at the food as he heads in to get his own coffee.

“Get us plates,” Bucky scoffs. “We’re civilized ‘round here.”

Clint watches while Bucky unpacks the Chinese food cartons from the paper bags, organizing them by type. Steve comes back, mug in one hand and plates balanced with silverware in the other. Three plates and three sets of silverware, making Clint grin.

There’s chaos for a brief span, during which Clint laughs at them all internally for pairing coffee with Chinese food at seven at night, but then everyone is settled with full plates. Steve and Bucky are curled up together on the longer couch, and Clint is alone on the perpendicular loveseat.

He picks carefully at the food. It’s been a while since his last meal, and Chinese food isn’t always easy on the stomach.

“How’d it go after I left?” Steve asks Bucky, and Bucky immediately rolls his eyes.

“Next time I’ll pick up the food, and you can stick around to make pleasant small talk with the team. They like you better anyway.”

“They like you fine, Bucky,” Steve insists. “You’re not the only one on the team who keeps to themselves. They’re not resenting it. They’re respecting it.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so. Honestly, Buck. I’m not just pulling this out of my ass. These are things that have been said to me.”

“Oh fantastic. I’m thrilled to hear you’re talking about me behind my back.”

“Not like that,” Steve sighs. “That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”

“Then please tell me, Team Captain, how exactly you mean. Please explain to me how you were both talking and not talking about me while I wasn’t there.”

Clint shoves another mouthful of chicken into his face, watching the exchange with careful eyes. It has the makings of a fight, the kind of fight Clint is used to defusing, but it’s lacking important elements. There isn’t any rage, but rather a pervasive weariness. Both Steve and Bucky continue to eat, continue to touch each other. Bucky is practically in Steve’s lap and showing no intention of moving.

“Oh!” Steve exclaims. “That reminds me. Fury got ahold of that guy in Venezuela.”

“Which guy?” Bucky asks.

And just like that, the pseudo-argument is over. Steve looks about to answer, and then suddenly glances at Clint. Clint shoves more chicken in his mouth and glances at the floor.

“Um, that one guy with the access to the people,” Steve says.

“What the fuck are you talking about? Just--” Bucky cuts himself off suddenly and follows Steve’s gaze to Clint.

“Oh,” he says. “Okay, I got you. That means we’re leaving tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

Clint keeps staring at the floor. He debates snagging a carton of food and disappearing into his room, but that seems rude. Steve had gotten plates, and the food is for out here. It’s probably crossing the line to run off with it, even if the goal is allowing his doms a moment to discuss their upcoming mission away from his low-security-clearance ears.

He keeps eating the chicken. He’s chewing each bite a million times, but when he finally swallows, the silence compels him to shove his face full again. He’s becoming uncomfortably full.

“So, Clint,” Steve says, and Clint just about chokes. The plastic fork jabs the inside of his mouth, scraping the delicate mucosa.

“Yeah?” he splutters, around a mouthful of rice.

Real nice , he chides himself internally. Respectful .

He swallows and tries again.

“Yes, sir?”

“What did you do?” Steve asks. “Before all this nonsense.” He waves his hand around the whole of the apartment.

“Um, before?” Clint ventures. “I guess I did a lot of things. I...I was with a circus for a while.” Because there’s no way he’s telling them “grand larceny” and “accomplice to murder”. They might do better with “harboring a fugitive”, if he spins it right, but he doesn’t want to risk it. He also doesn’t know what they already know, so he watches Steve’s face carefully and resolves not to lie.

It’s moot anyway. Steve nods a few times and says, “That’s unique,” before he turns back to Bucky. Clint runs his tongue over the scrape on the inside of his mouth.

“We’ve been to the circus,” Bucky offers. “Way back when.”

“Probably pretty different experience for us,” Steve laughs. He kisses Bucky’s cheek, and Bucky rolls his eyes, but he smiles, too. Clint jerks his eyes back down to his nearly-empty plate.

It’s amazing how quickly the majority of his day has become filled with trying not to look at things he can’t have. He’s not a dog. He’s not going to give sad puppy eyes. He’s not.

“I liked the elephants,” Bucky says.

Steve sighs and grimaces.

“What?”

“They were just...they were all chained up. And the trainers carried around those hooks. I don’t know. Felt like a little too much sacrifice for a show.”

“You would throw a fit over that,” Bucky scoffs. “I don’t recall you saying any such thing at the time. All I remember is that you wouldn’t shut up about how big they were.”

“Well, I didn’t know. Now I know. It just...sullies the memory, I guess.”

“Well you go ahead and feel sullied. I’m gonna enjoy daydreaming about your face while you leaned so far over the fence railing I thought you were gonna fall over it.”

“Was that your favorite part?” Steve asks with a smile. “Watching me?”

“You wish. Mine was the pretty girls up on the trapezes. They made me think all it took was a little practice to teach people to fly.”

“I remember that,” Steve nods. “I remember you saying that. How they looked like they could fly, and you wished someone could teach that trick to you.”

Bucky snorts and folds shut an empty carton. He squashes in carefully in his hands until it’s a ball of cardboard.

“Yeah, and then I went and tried,” he says. “But all I did was fall.”

He twists around to face the kitchen and chucks the ball of trash with a sharp angry overhand. It flies in a smooth arc and lands neatly in the trashcan with a quiet swish of plastic.

Clint doesn’t move. Doesn’t even breath. He hasn’t taken another bite since this conversation started and now he’s afraid to break some kind of spell, even though he doesn’t know which he fears more. Drawing attention to himself or remaining ignored.

Steve takes advantage of the momentary twisted position to hook his arms under Bucky’s and to pull Bucky the rest of the way onto his lap. They sit there, pressed chest to back, and Steve murmurs something in Bucky’s ear that’s too low for Clint to hear. It changes the expression on Bucky’s face though. He goes from a thousand yard stare to a wistful smirk and then - as Steve keeps murmuring - to a deep heat that Clint recognizes instantly. He’s used to seeing it above him, leveled down.

Bucky suddenly shoves himself up to his feet, jerking Steve along with him. Steve steps forward into a rough kiss. His back is to Clint, so Clint can see Bucky’s hands, roving up and down and digging in to tuck themselves underneath Steve’s waistband. Sees them flex into fists through the fabric.

“Fuck,” Steve says, and lifts Bucky into the air so Bucky can wrap his legs around his waist, and then it’s just a couple staggering steps to their bedroom.

Clint continues to sit on the couch in the suddenly otherwise empty room. He scoops up another forkful of food, but stops before he can get it in his mouth. He purses his lips, stares at it, and drops it back onto the plate. Then he gets wearily to his feet and begins to sort out the food. What can be consolidated, what doesn’t have enough left to bother, and what can go in the fridge.

Bucky and Steve have managed to successfully shut the door behind them, and while that’s a small miracle, Clint can’t help but feel the suddenness of the fluctuating evening. He closes the fridge door gently - even though it hardly makes a sound when allowed to fall on its own - and muses about the sex drives of supersoldiers. If they’re really so constantly desperate, so as to be a few sentences away from pure devolution, he can’t help but wonder why neither of them has given in and fucked him.

As he wanders back to his room, he can’t help but think about what Coulson had said. About how Steve and Bucky resented the concept of needing Clint.

Clint had expected resentment from them at not being able to pick their own sub. Had expected resentment at having a stranger forced into their space and their lives. Expected resentment at the substandard nature of Clint, fresh picked from the prison system.

He had not expected to literally lie alone in his bed every night. Unwanted. Unfucked. Unkissed goodnight.

 

__________

 

He gives making breakfast another go. Steve had capitulated to the served coffee, so he still thinks it’s his best bet. He scrambles out of bed just after dawn and really goes all out. The pancakes from earlier had been a weak play, and he’s prepared to up his game.

He starts with the cherry cream cheese coffee cake, because it will take the longest to both prep and cook. Once he’s slipped that in the oven he goes for the no-bake blueberry breakfast bars, slices a ton of fresh fruit, and puts all the ingredients for a sausage and onion egg scramble in a bowl, seasoned and ready to go in the warm pan.

He does not pour drinks.

He knows he’s overdone this, but he’s so over subtle. If Steve wants to turn up his nose at pancakes, then Clint will outplay him. Let’s see either of them walk away from this.

He waits.

He turns the oven down to just keep the coffee cake warm. Waits. Bites his thumb nail. Turns the oven off completely. Paces. Decides to risk going ahead and cooking the scramble. Makes as much noise as possible. Wonders if they’re out at the gym, but knows he got up too early for even those two to have already left. And if they had, they should be back by now.

When the scramble finishes, he’s forced to plate it. He covers it with careful paper towels, screws up his courage, and timidly knocks on their bedroom door.

It’s when there’s no response - even after he knocks louder and louder - that he’s forced to accept his doms have already left. They’d mentioned they had a mission somewhere, but Clint had somehow thought it would be later. Maybe he’d just assumed he’d be told if they would be up before he was.

Which is so arrogant. If he’s used to doms waking him before they leave in the morning, it’s so he can be of use. These two clearly want nothing to do with that.

For the second time, he cleans up an uneaten breakfast. Luckily, most of it will keep. The cherry cream cheese coffee cake will arguably improve with refrigeration. The scramble, however, won’t. He eats what he can of it, but he’d been cooking for supersoldiers and his appetite is small anyway. He still forces most of it down his throat, eggs cooling and congealing, because he deserves to gag on it.

He does the dishes.

And then he is completely out of conceivable actions to occupy himself. He gets dressed. Paces around the room for a bit. Wonders how bad it would be to peek into his doms’ room. Decides against it. Explores the apartment.

That one ends up keeping him occupied for a little while. There are several bookcases with a lot of books to go through. He tries to keep them all in their proper order, taking each one down one at a time and reading the description. He’s a slow reader, given his lack of practice, but he enjoys it.

A good portion of the books are history and nonfiction, which makes sense given the owners, but there’s also a large section of fiction that Clint has mostly never heard of. The bottom shelf, however, is a progression of Russian textbooks. They start from basic elementary school words, move through simple grammar, complex grammar, and then basic reading level novels. All the way on the right there’s a new and unused copy of one of the thickest and most boring looking books Clint has ever seen, entirely in Russian.

“Got a little ahead of ourselves did we?” he laughs. Then he picks out the “Starting Russian the Easy Way” from the far left and thumbs through it. He remembers Bucky speaking Russian, and wonders if these well-worn lesson books are for Steve or for some other less obvious purpose.

He spends a few minutes teaching himself a few words, but he already trips over his own language, so he doesn’t see what good adding a second would do, even if the words come quickly and feel familiar on his tongue. He slides the book back into its place

“Fuck this,” he mutters, and marches into his room to find something public-presentable to wear. He’s been promised a shooting range, and he’s done waiting for anything more explicit than that. He shoves his feet into shoes for the first time in days, and marches out into the hallway.

Except he has no idea where he’s going. He purses his lips and looks left and right - is this really the first time he’s left that apartment in almost a week? - and takes a couple of shuffling steps down the branch on the left. Arbitrary choice.

Honestly, he’d expected signs or something, but it just looks like a hotel hallway, except with doors only on one side.

Actually, scratch that. In a hotel, he’d expect signs. He’d expect “GYM →”  and an employee who does not have the authority to arrest him if he makes a wrong turn.

Clint goes back into the apartment and decides to turn on the television, instead. He’ll just ask Bucky where the range is later. He’ll get directions, and it’ll even feel like he’s asking for permission, so it’s an entirely A+ plan. Much better than wandering around the military base he’s technically imprisoned in, without his doms and without a collar.

The TV turns out to be more complicated than the fancy coffee maker, but he manages, finding a Law and Order marathon quickly enough. Honestly, if he ever can’t find a Law and Order marathon, he’ll assumed he’s jumped dimensions.

By the time the fourth episode comes on, Clint is staring, slack-jawed and unmoving, toying with the feeling that he’s fallen into a liminal space. He drifts to sleep somewhere in between commercials.

 

__________

 

Bucky slams through the door, and Clint jumps a good foot into the air off the couch. He tangles in the blanket - will his feet stop doing that ? - when he tries to get up quickly, and he barely misses hitting his head on the corner of the coffee table in the struggle to get to his feet. His mouth tastes dry and sticky and his heart is pumping white cold adrenaline through his body as he tries to evaluate Bucky.

Bucky is kicking his boots off. Literally kicking them, even though the laces are clearly too tight and he needs to unlace them further in order to have any success. He’s breathing hard, and Clint’s heart beats faster, mouth in his throat as he fights his way up from sleep more quickly than he’d been expecting.

The TV is still on, so he scrambles for the remote to turn it off. Angry doms don’t like extra noise. Not from their subs, and Clint is the one who turned the TV on, so he understands and accepts that any noise from it is noise from him.

Honestly, he just wants to crawl behind the couch, or under a table, or hide in the bathtub. He wants to dart around Bucky and out the door and climb up onto the very top of this building and tuck himself away into a shadowed corner, too high up for anyone to look naturally.

Instead he closes his eyes and reminds himself of the things he can feel. His feet in socks and carpet beneath them. His shirts and his pants and his hair brushing the back of his neck. The blanket still sticking to one leg with static electricity.

He opens his eyes and evaluates Bucky again. This is what Coulson brought him here for. For moments like this. For Bucky to have someone to wear himself out on.

“Sir?” Clint asks, taking a step forward. The blanket pulls taunt, and then finally falls, draping from the couch to the floor.

Bucky is still fighting with his boots, and it’s getting desperate. He sits down heavily and starts clawing at them with his fingers. He’s still not going for the laces.

Clint drops to his knees, wonders where Steve is, and then inches his way forward. He shuffles on his knees, closer and closer to Bucky.

He’s not sure, exactly, when he realizes what’s actually going on. He’d thought Bucky was angry. Pissing mad and ready to tear something apart, but that’s not it. It’s not even close. Bucky is in dom drop. He’s far down and reeling. His breaths are heavy and he’s blinking tears out of his eyes.

“I can’t,” he whispers. He’s hurting his fingernails on the tough leather of the boots.”

“I can,” Clint says back. He carefully covers Bucky’s hands with his own. Leaves them there until they still. Then he gently pushes his fingers down around Bucky’s, reaching for the laces himself. He pulls on them, one at a time, on his knees, until the strings loosen enough that Clint can brace his hands and pull the boot off.

Bucky gasps in a shaky breath when it comes off, and Clint lines it carefully by the door, before returning to the other set of laces. He’s moving slowly. Serenely. The entirety of his being has sunk into a cold core of efficiency somewhere in his center. He pulls this boot into his lap, bending over it like a prayer.

He continues to move slowly but purposefully, and he can hear Bucky’s breathing changing again. Slowing to match Clint’s.

Then Clint pulls the second boot off and lines it up next to the first one. Bucky is leaning back against the doorframe, taking gulping gasps of air and watching Clint through blown pupils filled with barely relenting panic.

Clint is just about to lean down and press a closed-lip kiss to Bucky’s ankle, when Steve bursts through the door. A single glance tells Clint that Steve is in the same state as Bucky, so he bends his head softly to let Steve feel the safety of the situation.

I’m safe , he thinks at Steve. Look at me. I’m safe. I’m all right.

He’s only had to help a dom through a drop once before, but he knows the steps. Doms drop when they can’t help or save or protect. When they cause too much hurt and can’t put it back together. If there’s anything that Steve and Bucky need right now, it’s to have a calm and safe sub under their hands.

“Bucky what the fuck ?” Steve snaps. Shouts. Spits. The words are shattering, coming out of him like knives and both Clint and Bucky flinch violently. The little calm clarity that had been returning to Bucky’s eyes melts away so quickly Clint suddenly doubts it had been there. The cold center of perfection inside of him shatters, and he shuffles back a few inches.

“Steve,” Bucky says helplessly. “I...I...he…”

“He’s not your toy ,” Steve shouts, then turns to Clint to say, “I’m so sorry. Clint. Please forgive Bucky. Please. We...we had a really hard time today. It was bad. He’s upset. He’s not trying to take advantage of you, I promise. Please forgive him.”

“Stop,” Bucky says, strangled, and Clint wants to echo him. Wants to cover his ears with both hands and scream stop stop stop at Steve until everything slows down enough for Clint to figure out what is happening.

Steve is helping - forcing - Bucky to scramble to his feet.

Sublimating into anger .

Is this how Steve has been dealing with his nature all this time? Being without a sub, and so just forcing all of that emotion and confusion and pain into anger, and then...what? Punching the shit out of enemies or punching bags until he can think straight again?

He’s known subs who’ve been forced to learn to sublimate their drops into something else, but it takes a lot of abuse. Clint’s had the experience, in relationships that had been a little too fucked up.

Seeing a dom doing it is too strange.

Clint can’t find the words or the motions to make Steve stop. He suspects they don’t exist.

And then Bucky and Steve are firmly behind their closed bedroom door, and Clint is left alone out in the living room again.

“I made cherry cream cheese coffee cake,” he tells the void.

 

__________

 

He spends the rest of night on the couch for two reasons. First, he’s a little shaky. Calming Bucky had sunk him toward a gentle subspace, and he’d been ripped back suddenly by Steve’s anger. He doesn’t want to go back to that fucking bedroom and that big lonely bed. He can’t.

The second reason is less selfish. If Bucky or Steve give up and stumble out in the middle of the night, he wants to be right there.

Neither of them do, though. The first Clint sees of Steve is as he’s leaving the next morning. Clint doesn’t even have time to get to his feet before Steve has crossed the entire living room and disappeared out the front door. He’s in his uniform. The fancy show-off one, so he’s probably heading to some kind of publicity event.

Clint clutches Bucky’s blanket to himself more tightly, and slowly turns around.

Bucky is in the doorway to his bedroom, and he looks like shit. He’s dripping with exhaustion and panic, even though he’s completely still. His hair is messy and unwashed, twisted up in a bun that’s missing some strands of hair, leaving them to float down around his face and neck.

“Hey,” he says, and he smiles sadly from where he’s leaning against the doorframe.

It’s that smile that undoes Clint.

“Steve woke me up leaving,” he says. “So I was just about to make some coffee. You want me to make enough for you, too?”

“Um,” Bucky says, like this is a difficult question. He swallows heavily, from behind his teeth in a way that pinches his lips together in a wince.

“It’s adding extra water,” Clint says in a monotone.

“Sure. Okay, yeah. Coffee is probably a great idea.”

Clint eyes him as he preps the coffee. Bucky is not as hard up as Steve had seemed in his whirlwind rush across the living room. Whether that’s because of the calming moment last night or because of his own indiscernible type of sublimation, Clint can’t sense. What he can sense is a growing return of his own calm serenity from last night. It’s not as strong, not as clear and cold, but it’s there. Buzzing underneath his skin and flooding him with an out-of-body confidence.

He stands still, waiting for the coffee pot to gurgle to completion. He knows Bucky is sitting on the couch - Clint heard him sit - but there’s now absolute silence from the living room. Everything is echoes of a puffing coffee pot. Clint takes a few careful quiet steps to the side to peer around the edge of the wall.

Bucky is doing the staring thing again. The television is off, but it has Bucky’s full attention from where he sits melting into the couch. Like he’s asking the furniture to swallow him whole.

Clint returns to the coffee pot and pours a mug even though it’s not ready yet. Just the one mug. And he puts in sugar like he knows Bucky likes.

“Captain America’s not here now, are you?” he mutters to himself. “Not gonna be able to stop me this time.”

He’s vaguely concerned, somewhere in a corner of his mind, over the resentment in that thought, but he refuses to examine it long enough to be able to pick out why. To pick out what’s wrong with it. Instead, he listens to the clink of the spoon against ceramic as he stirs. Instead, he adds a little extra sugar to offset the strong taste of coffee poured too early. Instead, he leaves the kitchen with just the one mug, because this had been a pretense from the word jump.

“So I hear there’s a shooting range here,” he says as he walks into the living room. Predictably, Bucky startles.

“Um, yeah,” he says, Clears his throat. “You like to shoot?”

“I do,” Clint says, as he hands Bucky his coffee.

“I’m pretty good actually,” he says, as he sinks to his knees.

“If I do say so myself,” he says, as he twists around to sit on the floor and leans heavily against Bucky’s leg. He’s looking outward now, at the television.

“Do you mind if I put on some TV? I’m kind of a Law and Order addict.”

He can’t see Bucky’s face, so it’s hard to judge reaction accurately. He can tell when Bucky realizes what’s going on, because his whole body tenses, but he doesn’t jerk away or tell Clint to move.

“That’s fine,” he says instead. “You can turn the television on.” He voice is rough.

Clint leans forward and snags the remote off the coffee table in front of him, flipping through the million cable channels. Slowly. It’s hypnotizing, to watch the flash of light and the changing scene. Commercial. Commercial. Soap opera. Cooking show. Some people shooting at each other. Commercial. Some romcom. Harry Potter movie. He lets the rhythm of change lull both him and Bucky, until he finally comes across what he’s looking for. He puts the remote back on the table with a soft clatter of plastic against wood. He leans back against the couch behind him, but keeps the side of his body flush with Bucky’s leg.

Honestly, he’s expecting a long wait. So he’s surprised when Bucky’s tentative fingers brush his hair just a few minutes later.

“Is this okay?” Bucky asks from above him.

“S’what I’m here for,” Clint says, as nonchalant and cheerful as he can manage. Then he adds, “Feels good,” just to be on the safe side.

Bucky gives in. He buries his flesh and blood hand in Clint’s hair, scraping his fingernails across Clint’s scalp. Clint lets his head be moved enough to communicate lazy compliance, but resists enough to keep his head from flopping backwards onto the cushions. He does lean more heavily against Bucky, acting as a solid weight.

He wasn’t lying, either. This feels good. It feels great. He’s calm and warm and safe, and those are exactly the things that are being asked of him. To be calm and warm and safe. It makes him feel good and useful, which in turn makes him feel warm and safe. It’s a positive feedback loop between them. Clint isn’t watching the television at all. He’s just reveling while Bucky pets his hair.

Eventually the desperate quick motions - the fingernails against his scalp and the sharp tugs to move him where wanted - give way to a more gentle touches. Bucky runs the tips of his fingers over Clint’s head and down his neck, eventually letting his hand rest there. He’s got two fingers wrapped around Clint’s neck to press their pads to Clint’s pulse point. His thumb is curved around the back of Clint’s neck. The end impression is Clint’s neck gently but firmly cupped in Bucky’s hand in an undeniable show of dominance.

Clint leans his head against Bucky’s knee. Closes his eyes. And drifts.


 

 

When he wakes, Bucky’s hand is gone, but they haven’t otherwise moved. The channel has changed to a news outlet from some other country, which Bucky is likely actually watching, regardless of the supposed language barrier.

Clint shifts a little, wincing at the feeling of numbness in his ass. It’s fallen asleep and is going to send electrical pin pricks down his thighs and genitals the moment the blood flow returns. He huffs in annoyance and unfolds his legs.

“How are you feeling?” Bucky asks the moment Clint moves.

“Numb,” Clint answers promptly. “Need to stretch my legs.”

He makes a noise of discomfort as he pushes himself down over his legs in a V-sit reach. Bucky folds his own legs up onto the couch into crisscross. He must have been getting pretty restless too, especially since he was probably awake for the whole thing. Clint isn’t sure what time it is, but he’s pretty sure he fell asleep and that he was out for at least a while.

“How about you?” Clint asks. “How are you feeling?”

Bucky sighs heavily.

“You didn’t have to do that.” he says. Clint twists around - he’d been right about the fucking pins and needles all up where they have no business being - and sees Bucky is rubbing his face with both his hands.

“I know I didn’t have to,” Clint says. It’s completely bullshit, of course. He’d never felt such compulsion in his life, but he doesn’t think that Bucky is in a mental place right now to understand the difference between Clint’s responsibility to his moral convictions and the power dynamics of dom and sub.

“Does this mean you’re feeling better?” he asks.

Bucky nods and says, “Thanks. But I really don’t want you to think you have to do that or anything. That’s not the way this works. I said I’d give you what you need as a sub, but that doesn’t mean you have any debt to pay to me.”

Clint twists around back to his knees, facing Bucky now.

“What about the other way around?” he asks. “What if I’m doing this because it’s morally responsible to help out a dom in need? Does that mean the minute you do something for me, I get to get all standoffish and reject your help because you’re just doing it to ease the emotional scales of balance?”

Bucky blinks at him. Makes a face like he’s trying to find a way out and around the logic.

“I know how to say no,” Clint continues, twisting back around to stare at the news reporter that he can’t understand. “This is just a dom and a sub living in the same space, helping each other out, because it’s the right thing to do. You were in a fucking drop. How was I supposed to justify letting you pull yourself out of that?”

There’s silence for a long time after that. Long enough that Clint thinks this might be Bucky’s way of calling the conversation closed. But then Bucky speaks, very quietly.

“I was dropping?”

Clint has to turn back around to look Bucky in the eye again. The man looks smaller, somehow. Scared.

“You didn’t know?” Clint asks, incredulous.

Bucky shrugs and says, “I’ve felt like that a lot. I didn’t think...I thought it was just me.”

Coulson had been right. Clint is struck by how completely Coulson had been right. These two aren’t just aggressive. They’re not just recklessly taking out their anger in inappropriate situations or rushing guns blazing into unnecessary firefights. They’re killing themselves.

“That was a drop,” Clint says. “It...it was a classic drop. You’re not supposed to feel like that. It’s not...it’s avoidable. You don’t have to fight through that.”

Bucky leans back against the couch and covers his face with his hands.

“Tell that to Steve,” he says, through his fingers.

That one, Clint doesn’t have an answer for. He rests his chin on the edge of the couch cushion and looks up at Bucky’s covered face. He hopes, desperately, that Steve will be forced to come around just as surely as Bucky is, but he doesn’t want to show his hand by saying it.

 

__________

 

Steve bursts through the door in a flurry of pent up anger that brings him to an abrupt halt as he takes in the scene in front of him. Bucky sitting on the couch casually watching television with Clint on the floor in front of him, one hand on Bucky’s foot.

“Hey,” Bucky says, and even Clint can hear the tranquility in the tone.

Can you see? he thinks at Steve, trying to will him into understanding.

“Bucky,” Steve greets stiffly. He unclenches and clenches his hands once and then abruptly turns to march into his bedroom. Bucky sighs heavily when the door closes with heavy intent.

“Guess it’s time for me to go get an earful,” he says, more to the air than to Clint. Clint responds anyway.

“Sorry.”

“S’not your fault,” Bucky snorts, getting wearily to his feet. “You didn’t make him this stubborn. That one’s on God and Sarah Rogers. You better make yourself scarce, though. But thanks. For…” he waves his hand generically without meeting Clint’s eyes.

“No problem,” Clint says. He decides to count it all a victory, even though it’s looking like he’ll be sleeping alone for another night. He’s playing the long game, after all. Best to take energy from the little victories when he can get them.

 

__________

 

Clint doesn’t hear anything from the other room. He does press his ear to the wall for one shameful moment, but he can only make out lowered voices, so he decides it’s beneath him to continue. The artificial quiet only lasts about an hour anyway. Then the bedroom door opens and Clint has just enough time to consider whether or not he should come up with an excuse to un-make himself scarce, when he hears the front door, too. And he’s alone in the apartment again.

“Figures,” he says out loud. At least he isn’t completely abandoned for entertainment, now that Steve has gifted him with a tablet.

“Hair petting is not okay but gift giving apparently is,” Clint mutters, a little uncharitably.

His phone chimes, and Clint flinches violently. He’s never heard the thing make a noise before, besides his morning alarm. Honestly he hadn’t even been using it for anything other than checking the time. It’s a dinosaur of a thing, and Clint will bet money that its snail-pace functionality is prepaid and heavily monitored, so it’s with great trepidation that he slowly opens and reads the text message he has unexpectedly received.

 

Clint, this is Phil Coulson. Just checking in. I was hoping you could send me an update as to how things are going.

 

The brief message is followed by an email address, and Clint heart sinks. He should have known there’d be some kind of checkup coming. He’s not sure if he’s more concerned over the potential evaluation of his miniscule progress or over how carefully he’ll have to word every phrase so as not to gossip about his doms. Either way, he tosses the phone to land on the other side of his bed, buries his face in his pillow, and groans in so many different types of building frustration.

However, much like the rest of his life, he cannot hide from this forever. He somehow suspects an absent report will be less well received than even a disappointing report. He groans yet again, and shuffles to his hands and knees until he can flop down and stretch his arm out enough to fish his tablet off the floor.

It’s dead, of course, because he left it lying there forever, even though the plug was only a good yard further. So now he has to actually get to his feet and shuffle the short space to the plug.

He tries to compose a message in his head, while the device spins back to life.

 

Dear Agent,

What the fuck did you throw me headfirst into without the slightest warning?? I understand you really wanted me to say yes, but for the love of god, the tiniest attempt at a heads up would have been nice.

Sincerely,

That One Guy Who Might Have Been Better Off In Prison

 

Probably not the best approach. Not even entirely true.

 

Phil,

How the ever-loving-fuck did you let it get this bad? I don’t know what you expect me to be able to do with this shit.

Sincerely,

Just One Sub. As in, Just The One Of Me. As in, I Seriously Cannot Fix This Shit By Myself So Send Help

 

That one would be true, but still not helpful.

When the email program actually opens before him, Clint types out,

 

Agent Coulson,

Everything is fucked.

:D

 

and seriously considers pressing send. Then he sighs and clears the draft, starting again. This time he tries to carefully weigh words and implications, without actually lying or sounding like a moron.

 

Agent Coulson,

While there have been some difficulties - as you predicted - I think we’re settling down. There’s a lot of adjustments I've had to make in my behavior and expectations, but there has been undeniable progress and I’m feeling hopeful that I’ll be able to fill the role you were kind enough to believe I could fill.

Barton

 

He rereads it a good ten times, convinced there’s a typo just waiting to ruin everything hiding within a word or a phrase. Heaven know spell-check already fixed a good number of mistakes, and it’s not sure about the hyphens. Clint thinks he used them correctly, but he’s not sure. He tries replacing them with commas, but it makes him trip over the sentence when he rereads it yet again.

“Fuck it,” he says to himself, and he hits send. The he plants himself face-first in the carpet and screams, even though it rips at his throat. He keeps telling himself that a good day is right around the corner, but the improvements are just so incremental that it’s leaving him itching .

He half-considers sending Coulson another email requesting a visit to a Mental Health Center to be professionally dropped. But that would entail revealing more about the painfully slow nature of his progress than Clint is willing to expose, so instead he rolls over to stare at the ceiling and fights the urge to crawl back under the bed.

Maybe it's time for him to take Bucky up on his promise to help out a sub in need.

Chapter Text

Clint jerks awake to a soft knock on his door. He blinks for a moment, trying to fight his own eyes into submission while he stares at the door in confusion, half-sitting up and half-buried in his fluffy comforter.

The gears finally click into place when the knock is repeated.

“Yeah?” he calls, scrambling out of bed. “I...come in?”

He’s uninformed as to the protocol here. Usually doms just walk right in, and now these are knocking on their own door instead. He scrambles for the doorknob and pulls it open to find Steve standing on the other side.

Steve starts out meeting his eyes, then his gaze flicks up above Clint’s head. Down to his face. It’s a quick evaluation, and Clint is suddenly worried about his appearance in a way he hasn’t been for some time. Is there something--

Suddenly, Steve’s face twists into an amused grin and he says, “You’ve got quite the bedhead there. Enough to give Bucky a run for his money.”

Clint ducks his head on instinct, expecting Steve to run his fingers through to soothe whatever haphazard mess is on his head, but he catches himself just in time. Turns it into a quick nod. He reaches up to run his own fingers through it instead.

Steve’s right. He can feel it sticking up every whichway. He really does need a haircut soon.

“What can I do for you?” Clint asks.

“Nothing,” Steve says quickly. Not that Clint had been expecting a different answer. “I just wanted to run something by you. Or, to tell you something, I guess.”

Clint is silent, waiting for Steve to figure out what he’s trying to say, and Steve lets out an amused breath.

“Sorry,” he says. “I guess I’m nervous. I don’t know how to start this.”

“Why don’t we start it with breakfast?” Clint says, smiling amicably to hide the way his heart rate feels like it just jumped up a whole decimal place. He’s running through all the steps he’s taken lately, trying to figure out which one was the final straw for Steve. He doesn’t seem angry, which might be worse. Anger is an easily manipulated emotion. It’s volatile, but it’s flexible. Whatever Steve is, it is not flexible.

“How about just some coffee?” Steve says, and turns toward the kitchen while jerking his head for Clint to follow.

When they get into the kitchen, Clint trailing silently behind, Steve begins to make the coffee. He unfolds the bag and pours the beans into the grinder. Turns it on and waits through the loud whirring noise that sets Clint’s teeth on edge.

I can make the coffee , he thinks desperately. I can do anything. Anything you want.

“Bucky and I had a long talk last night,” Steve says, pouring the fresh grounds into the filter. He doesn’t look back over his shoulder as he rinses the glass coffee pot and begins to fill it from the sink. Clint stands in silence, trying to think around the shush-shushing noise.

“Okay,” he says eventually.

Steve turns off the water and turns back to the coffee maker, and now Clint can see his face. He’s smiling wryly, as he pours in the water, turns on the machine, and then finally turns to look directly at Clint, sighing heavily and leaning against the counter.

“I guess I owe you an apology or something,” Steve says.

“Uh…” Clint replies, eloquent as always.

“Bucky and I had a long talk about you last night,” Steve repeats, thankfully acting as though Clint hadn’t attempted a half-assed reply. “We talked about some of his symptoms. Or, a lack of symptoms I guess. Long story short, it turns out you’re doing more good for him in a week than I’ve managed in more than a year. So, I guess it’s time to pull my head out of my ass.”

Clint’s stomach drops. Steve’s demeanor is blase, but Clint knows full-well how much he sucks at reading these new doms. And even without that potential deficit, there’s bitterness here. It’s present in the context of the words and in the twist to Steve’s mouth when he glances at the gurgling coffee maker. Clint can’t even apologize for stepping into territory where he wasn’t wanted, because Steve is phrasing it like this is a good thing.

“Anyway,” Steve sighs. “I’m sorry. I can’t say I’m at all comfortable with the situation, but Bucky’s telling me that it’s not fair to make you slog through shit on your own any more than it’s fair to make him do the same. And I can’t even begin to understand why you would be okay with Bucky acting as a dom when you’re under no obligation to accept it. But I’m not you. I don’t have to understand. So, I’m officially out of it. I’m not happy or comfortable with the way things are, but not everything has to be the way I like it. All things considered, the situation could be a lot worse.”

“Okay,” Clint says, trying to process. “Okay...that’s...I’m not sure what you want me to say to that.”

“I’d prefer if you didn’t give a fuck about what you think I want you to say. I’m not your dom. Neither is Bucky, for that matter. But if you two need to play that role then I’m done trying to dictate your lives. Heaven knows you’ve both had enough of that.”

“But you don’t want us to?” Clint clarifies. “You’re giving permission, but you don’t want it to happen? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t want it, no. But Bucky needs to come to his own conclusion. To learn that consequences exist outside of commanding officers and regulations. It’s time for him to make some mistakes and learn from them, instead of just doing as he’s told because he’s been told.”

“You think I’m going to fuck it up,” Clint says. He’s starting to understand. Steve isn’t opposed to the idea of a sub, as much as he’s opposed to Clint. He doesn’t think Clint can make Bucky happy.

Well joke’s on you, fucker, he thinks angrily. I’m the only one of the two of us who’s brought him out of a drop, so suck on that.

It’s disingenuous again. Ungrateful thoughts. He’s been having a lot of those, for all the safety and comfort he’s finding himself in these days.

“I don’t think…,” Steve begins, then stops and waves his hands uselessly. “What I think doesn’t matter. Not this time.”

Clint bites the inside of his cheek and nods once.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ve got it.” He does not add ‘sir’ because he does not mean the statement with any respect.

Watch me , he thinks viciously, while Steve takes another sip of coffee. I’m about to be the best goddamn sub your Bucky has ever had.

In retrospect, hubris had always been a pitfall of his.

 

__________

 

Clint makes his play too soon.

They're in the kitchen, milling around each other and Clint finally gets the opportunity to display his pancake making prowess. He slides a plate full of them along the counter toward Steve. Steve, predictably, frowns slightly, and Clint turns quickly to look at Bucky and mouths the words along with Steve.

"You don't have to do that, Clint."

Clint had thought he'd get a little smile out of Bucky for that one, but Bucky just blinks slowly, and Clint figures it hadn't been as funny as he'd thought. Maybe it just wasn't funny to Bucky. Maybe it was just "sub" funny.

"Uh," he says, before turning back to look at Steve again. "It's no problem. I'm just making pancakes till the batter runs out. Eat what you want."

He tries to keep an eye on Bucky when he goes back to flipping bubbled-up batter, because he's second-guessing himself now. Maybe he pissed Bucky off. He totally could have, if Bucky had thought Clint was making fun of Steve. Hell...maybe he had been making fun of Steve.

Clint purses his lips as he flips one of the pancakes and it lands wrong, skidding across the pan to leave streaks of batter that will burn before the rest of it is finished cooking all the way through. He scrapes at them with the spatula, restless, and then glances back at Bucky again.

Actually, Bucky has been off for most of the morning. Clint had chalked it up to the early hour - he doesn’t have a lot of experience with early morning Bucky - but now he isn't so sure. Bucky is doing a lot of that staring thing he does. And his eyes are tight with tension.

Fuck, he doesn’t actually look sleepy at all. What had Clint been thinking?

He chews on his lip absentmindedly, staring at the pancakes and losing himself in distraction enough that he almost burns them. He flips them onto the growing stack at the last minute - noting with zero surprise that Steve is eating only cereal and a mountain of toast - and then shuffles over toward Bucky, who is staring into the open fridge without moving or seemingly looking for anything.

Clint dips his head forward and nudges the back of Bucky’s shoulder.

Clint does not directly follow the subsequent series of movements. There’s impact and a blur, and the brief compression of hands around his throat before he’s shoved bodily backwards against the wall. He blinks in confusion, and slides down to his knees in instinct, even as he looks up at Bucky with an expression he hopes does not show the betrayal churning in his gut. This is not a betrayal. He shouldn’t think of it like that. He swallows the emotion down and timidly meets Bucky’s livid eyes.

Steve shoves his chair back, cursing in a way that would shock his PR team, and crosses the room in a few heartbeats. He gets his arms around Bucky from behind and pulls him backwards a step.

“I’m fine , Steve,” Bucky spits, going willingly where he’s pulled but still glaring down at Clint.

“You sure?”

“I’m not trying to beat the shit out of you, am I?”

Steve doesn’t respond, but he does slowly release the hold. He finally glances down at Clint too, except his expression is filled with concern.

“You okay?” he asks.

Clint swallows and nods his head, happy to meet Steve’s eye. Happy to look anywhere that isn’t Bucky’s expression.

“I’m fine,” he manages. “I’m...I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do anything.”

“Yeah well,” Steve says, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand. “Sometimes you don’t have to mean to. It’s not your fault.”

“The fuck it’s not,” Bucky interrupts. “Coming up behind me like that. Touching my shoulder with your fucking head like that. Have I given the impression that I’m a safe person, that you would feel that was a safe thing to do?”

“Bucky…” Steve chides.

“Shut up, Steve. That wasn’t a rhetorical question, Barton.”

Clint swallows back tears and shakes his head, not because he’s following the question well, but because he can tell Bucky wants a ‘no’ from the way he’s asking.

“Have I given the impression that my body is a free-for-all that you can just rub up against whenever you want?”

Clint shakes his head more violently. That one he’s more sure about.

Bucky steps forward and grabs the back of Clint’s shirt, lifting him up bodily while Clint struggles to get his feet underneath him. His heart is rabbiting in his chest. He’s never seen Bucky this pissed. Plus he’s starting to realize he might have just almost died. If the brief grip on his neck - and Steve’s reaction - are any indication.

“Bucky, calm down,” Steve says, and this time it’s with more conviction.

Bucky drops Clint’s shirt, and Clint - who hadn’t quite gotten his footing again - collapses back onto the floor.

“What?” Bucky snaps, spreading his arms out to the side and turning a slow circle. “It’s just me, Steve. I’m fine. I’m here and now. I’m in control. And I’m going to punish my sub, so he doesn’t get himself killed.”

“He’s not your--”

“Because next time he comes up behind me, I could break his neck. Is that better, Steve ? Is that what you want, Steve ?”

Clint sniffles softly, flooded with different emotions, and unexpectedly draws Steve’s attention back down to him.

“Clint,” Steve says softly, crouching down to look Clint in the eye. “Are you really okay with this?”

“Yes,” Clint exclaims. He unequivocally needs to be punished. It’s thrumming through his body, and he nearly panicks at the thought that Steve will put a stop to this. “Please.”

Steve clenches his teeth hard and stands back up.

“Fine,” he says stiffly, and he turns to walk back to his seat at the breakfast table. Perhaps not the best choice, since Clint doubts it will be a stable surface for very long.

Sure enough Bucky again leans down to grab Clint’s arm and pull him to his feet. Clint stumble-shuffles the few steps to the table and obligingly goes over it when he’s shoved.

He’d just wanted to comfort Bucky, when he was obviously in some kind of distress. Although, he supposes he hasn’t failed at that completely. At the very least, this will be cathartic for Bucky. Doms always feel at least a little better when they’ve put a sub in their place.

He still sucks in a breath through his teeth at the first strike of Buck’s belt. He’d remembered, intellectually, that this hurt more than expected, but it was difficult to maintain that kind of sensory memory. The second strike falls before he’s completely adjusted.

You wondered what it’d be like when he was angry . I hope you’re satisfied.

Clint keeps his eyes firmly on the table. He doesn’t want to look up and see Steve’s expression. He can still see his movements out of the corner of his eye, as he stubbornly continues to eat his cereal despite the way the table moves with every impact.

It doesn’t matter that Steve isn’t looking at him directly. Clint hates other doms watching while he’s being punished. It’s not fair. An extra level of humiliation. Especially in front of a dom who so clearly doesn’t even want Clint to be here.

Act up in public, get punished in public.

He can practically hear the words ringing in his ears, an echo from a past life even as his current life whips him hard enough that he gives up on bracing his forearms on the table, lowering himself to lie across it placidly instead.

Everything burns, and he swears he can still feel each individual stripe from every stroke. His eyes are brimming with tears, and he hasn't bothered with counting. He knows it will be too many for that. He'd seen it in Bucky’s eyes, and Clint would rather not register the count climb higher and higher with his rising pain and panic.

Bucky has promised to give him what he needs. He reminds himself of this when a particularly vicious strike catches him across the thighs. With the thick fabric of the sweatpants still acting as a barrier, the ear-ringing snap of leather against flesh is absent, but he doesn't think it's giving him any other protection. Bucky’s arm is just as effective as last time. He can tell from their positions that he's not using the metal left one, but the flesh and blood is more than sufficient.

Clint lies completely flat now, letting out little huffs of air with each impact. His arms are spread out to either side, helping him keep at least a little still with their friction.

It still hurts. It hurts like hell. Burns and stings and makes him want to writhe. But even with that, he finds himself sinking into submission. By the time Steve finds his bluff called and stands violently to retreat to his room, the edges of Clint’s world have become ill-defined and fuzzy. It's just him and the belt and his dom. And then, as his world narrows further to the press of his head against the table and the completely lax state of his muscles, everything becomes just him and Bucky.

He hits a true subspace for a few brief seconds of bliss.

He breaks past it, because this is a punishment after all, but it's a slow break. Like pushing through a thick membrane. He's not quite breathing. He's not quite sure he needs to.

And then he's crying out sharply, every time the belt makes contact. More an involuntary reaction than anything else. He's almost surprised at it. Like taking off headphones and realizing there's been auditory chaos around you all along. It's just little “Aa!”s of noise, but they have the potential to turn into small screams at any moment.

It doesn't get there. Bucky stops suddenly, breathing heavily. The absence of growing pain feels both cold and raw, but Clint doesn't have the energy to react to it. He lies there, still and compliant. Sweaty face sticking to the fake wood underneath him.

“Have we fucking learned our lesson?” Bucky snarls behind him, and Clint’s stomach sinks. He'd thought maybe they were done, but if Bucky is still spitting mad then Clint has a long way to go.

He'd known that, of course. He'd known this wouldn't be quick.

“Yes, sir,” he answers anyway.

“And what lesson was that?”

Ironically, Clint is not entirely sure. He was not directly informed, but he's had a lot of practice guessing from context clues, so he goes ahead and gambles.

“Don't sneak up behind you.”

“Because?”

Clint’s less confident in this guess, but he goes for it anyway.

“Because it's disrespectful of your space. You don't owe me your body.”

The answering dull snap of the belt against his ass is a clear “wrong” and Clint’s fingers scrabble at the table as he cries out loudly enough to push into the definition of a scream.

“Try again,” Bucky orders, and Clint closes his eyes in despair. He's always so bad at this part. He tries to think back to what Bucky had said, but it’s difficult with how distracted he is by the tears spilling over his closed eyes.

He remembers suddenly, how close he'd come to death.

“You're dangerous?” he hazards, before he can think better of it. If that particular guess is wrong, then it could easily be taken as an insult.

“I'm dangerous,” Bucky agrees, and Clint relaxes his tension just in time for another strike. He finally screams, in half-frustration and half-pain, jerking both his arms in to tuck underneath his chest.

“I don't want to have this conversation again, got it?”

Another punctuating stroke, the hardest yet.

“Yes!” Clint exclaims, nodding violently. “Yes sir!”

“Good.”

A long pause, while Clint stares at the table and contemplates his vulnerability. Some of his previous doms would have taken this opportunity to finish making their point by fucking him into the table, but Bucky is showing no such inclination. Hasn’t even taken down the sweatpants.

Clint blinks back more tears and wonders how Bucky will end this then, if not like that.

“Get up.”

Clint stands carefully, and keeps his eyes down toward the floor. He feels shaky and sweaty and tired, but oddly at peace. It's too bad this couldn't be the end of it. He’d give almost anything to be able to curl his body into Bucky’s arms right now.

“Yeah so…” Bucky says slowly. “Don't....don't do it again.”

Then he suddenly pushes past Clint and follows where Steve had disappeared into their room.

“Oh,” Clint says. He turns a little half-circle. “Oh.”

There's no one there though, and he feels his eyes water more than when he'd been in trouble.

He can't fathom why Bucky stopped when still angry, but he's not about to argue. He's truly sorry, and he's truly understood the message. He’s just...he just could have stood to actually hear that it was over. He would have taken more pain, worse kinds of pain, if that’s what it would have taken to hear it spoken out loud. To be soothed and forgiven.

He chews on his thumbnail, eyes darting from side to side. He's starting to shake and he feels cold. Like he's let his sweat dry after a workout, without cooling down or rinsing off.

He shuffles a few steps to the side and then turns and takes the pan off the heat. It's not good for it to just sit there without anything in it. He contemplates for a moment and then puts it back. There's still batter in the mixing bowl. He pours a few pancakes in and stares at the round puddles.

He turns around and blows his nose on a paper towel, washes his hands, and returns to staring at the batter.

He jumps violently when the bedroom door opens, and he looks at Steve when he emerges. Clint can't feel any expression on his face at all, and he wonders what it shows.

“Fucking hell,” Steve mutters, before crossing the room and pulling a chair out from under the table, settling it in front of Clint and sitting down. He takes Clint’s hands, and Clint has the sudden impression that he's going to be put over Steve’s knee to have the lesson reinforced.

Steve doesn't pull him over though. He just holds Clint there in front of his knees and looks up at him in concern.

“Are you okay?”

Clint has to try twice to answer, but he eventually manages, “Yeah.” The sound of his voice is thick with spit.

Steve looks like he's about to disagree, which is ironic given how Clint is suddenly not lying. Steve just being there is settling, with him rubbing his thumbs gently back and forth over Clint’s knuckles even though Clint would bet all the money he's ever seen that Steve doesn't realize he's doing it.

Clint fights the urge to climb into Steve’s lap and bury his face in the dom’s neck.

“Thank you, sir,” he says instead.

Steve frowns and gently removes his hands.

“I'm not your dom, Clint,” he says. He speaks as gently as he'd removed his hands, but Clint gets the message anyway.

“I know. You've made that perfectly clear. Sir .” The ‘sir' rolls off with just enough bitterness that Clint lets his gaze fall back to the floor.

His goddamn fucking tongue. Even right after a whipping. This is why he can't keep a dom.

This is why he can't get a dom.

“Okay,” Steve says. Slowly. Like he's trying to read Clint’s tone. Trying to figure out all the meanings and pitfalls behind it.

Clint has no intention of helping out.

Whatever would have happened next is stayed by Bucky’s violent emergence from the bedroom.

“We have to go,” he snaps. “I refuse to be late for this bullshit. They'll think I was scared to come.”

“Right behind you, Buck,” Steve answers, standing slowly. Bucky doesn't respond, but marches across the living room and out the door without a single glance at Clint.

“He's not really himself today,” Steve says, all in a rush, like he'd almost not spoken at all. “That happens sometimes with him. You’ll learn to notice it. Notice the difference.”

Then he’s gone out the door after Bucky, and Clint is left alone again.

He flips the pancakes.

 

__________

 

The rest of the day continues. Clint can’t think of another way to describe the experience. It just...continues. He pads circles aimlessly around the apartment for a long while. He’s not sure how long, but it’s a “while”. He rubs his hands up and down his arms, tugs at his own hair a bit, and cannot seem to stop sniffling. He bites his nails till they sting and bleed. He wraps himself up in a blanket for a while, calls himself some bad names because it helps, and then wanders for some more circles.

He ends up climbing back in underneath his bed. Bucky had said not to. Bucky had said, “Come to me if you need anything as a sub.” But Bucky isn’t there and even if he were, Clint wouldn’t bother an angry dom anyway.

 

__________

 

When Bucky does come back, he seems to be feeling better. Clint is, too. He’s back out from under the bed - a feat he managed without re-injuring his back, thank you very much. He gives Bucky a tentative once-over, but can’t get much more than “sweaty” and “no longer anxious”. He’s also significantly bruised.

“Are you okay?” Clint asks quietly. Very quietly, just in case he’s not completely forgiven.

“Hmm?” Bucky asks, water bottle in his mouth as his eyebrows draw together in confusion. He glances down at himself, and then snorts, taking another gulp of water.

“Yeah,” he chuckles. “I’m fine. Had a sparing match with an angry redhead who refuses to grow old and take up knitting.”

Bucky drains the rest of the water bottle and then tosses it into the trashcan. Then he actually looks at Clint, and the morning seems to come back to him like a slow-approaching tide. He looks confused, and then more confused, before he finally sucks in a breath and asks, “So, this morning. That...happened. Right?”

Clint blinks once.

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh. Okay. I...are you okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

He can't afford to tell the truth right now. The afterwards hadn’t been fun, as usual. He feels worked over. Like he’s been “taken out and played with” after all. He almost wishes Bucky had gone ahead and fucked him, even though he’d been on the fence about the idea at the time. It would have put a cap or definition on what the event had been. But beggars can’t be choosers, and he manages to dredge a grin up out of his exhaustion.

“If you say so,” Bucky say slowly, like he can see the cracks in Clint’s smile. “Still, I probably should have stuck around for at least a moment. Doms are supposed to do that, right?”

“Doms can do as they please.”

Bucky, who had been turning away to walk into the kitchen, freezes. He turns slowly on his heel until he’s facing Clint again, fixing him with a piercing look that rabbits Clint’s heart rate up into his throat.

“I am one hundred and ten percent fucking sure that that’s not the way it works.”

“Okay,” Clint says, looking at the floor. He’s not going to correct a dom so quickly on the heels of being punished, but he thinks bullshit with enough venom that it must show on his face. Something shows on his face, anyway, since Bucky crosses the distance between them and takes Clint’s chin in his hand. He tilts Clint’s face up, and Clint takes the hint and makes eye-contact.

“That’s not the way it works,” Bucky says firmly. “I don’t get carte-blanche any more than...than anyone else does. No one has the right to just take your mind and your body and make it theirs.”

Big words coming from a guy who strong-armed him over the table a handful of hours ago. Not that Clint threw a fit, but still. He always thinks it’s funny when doms say things like that.

Again, the words don’t come out of his mouth, but some unacceptable emotion must show on his face, because Bucky narrows his eyes and asks, “What?”

“Nothing, sir.”

“I mean it.”

“I heard you, sir. I swear.”

Bucky keeps the eye contact for a few moments, but Clint is tired and he’s playing this game to win now. He keeps his face clear and impassive and meets Bucky’s eyes with all of his practiced confidence. He waits Bucky out with patience and slow decisive blinks.

“Fine,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes but letting it go. As he heads to his bedroom he adds, over his shoulder, “Heads up. I’m heading out late tonight, and I’m not going to be back for a few days. Enjoy the time without me, or something. Don’t throw any big parties. Or, at least, if you trash the place then clean it up.”

Clint snorts in amusement, but doesn’t say anything as the door closes. He sighs, in and out through his nose, and then retreats to his own bedroom.

 

__________

 

Clint is going to physically climb the walls any minute. This is hell, and he wants to be touched.

“Fuuuuuuuuuck,” he groans, more for something to say than because of a concrete frustration with anything in particular.

If asked a few months ago, if he'd dislike being left alone with internet access and no responsibilities, he'd have thought it sounded like a vacation.

It is not like a vacation.

Clint is halfway down the hallway, dressed for public, before he realizes he's resolved to go shoot. It's apparently a matter of survival, because when he fully considers what he's doing, he doesn't even slow down. He keeps walking until he finally sees someone coming from the opposite direction. The man is a few decades older than Clint, with graying hair and the beginnings of wrinkles, but his expression is clear and pleasant enough. Clint doesn't know what the rank insignia on his uniform means, but he hopes it isn't a rank he'll get slapped for daring to address.

“Excuse me, sir?” he tries, causing the man to glance at Clint and draw to a halt. He raises his eyebrows in inquiry, and Clint rushes ahead.

“Can you point the way to the shooting range?”

The stranger grins suddenly in understanding and relief floods Clint.

“Sure, kid. North just a couple buildings. Can't miss it.”

“Thank you,” Clint grins back. He's turning to walk away, when the man's voice interrupts him again.

“New here?”

“Um,” Clint says, almost tripping over his feet in his attempt to quickly turn back around. “Yeah, I...I’m still getting my feet under me. Sir.”

“You an agent?”

Adrenaline floods Clint’s body. This is exactly why he was hesitant to come out here. Now he's in a conversation with a random dom, who is suddenly a few short sentences away from asking for Clint’s orientation. In an empty hallway. It's the kind of thing that can get ugly fast. Clint has seen it get ugly fast.

“I'm not, sir,” he says slowly. “I'm here as an auxiliary.”

He tries to refrain from licking his lips nervously. Tries to refrain from doing anything that could be construed as inviting an advance, without going too far and straying into disrespect.

“Sub, right?” the man continues, and Clint blinks slowly.

“Yes, sir,” he says, because what else can he say.

“Then don't call me sir,” the man snorts.

Clint blinks again.

“Excuse...me?” he finally manages. Does the man prefer a different title?

“You're not in my chain of authority,” the man shrugs. “Seems a little ridiculous. And us subs have to stick together.”

Clint takes a moment to mentally reel from that new information. He takes a physical step toward the man, eyes widening in disbelief.

“You're a sub?” he gapes.

“I am.”

“But you're….you're,” Clint gestures helpless with both hands as the man's uniform. “You're an agent!”

“I am,” the man says slowly. “Agent Baker. You want to explain why you're so surprised?”

“I didn't know SHIELD had submissive agents.”

Agent Baker makes a noise of discontent, turning his lips into a frown.

“I can't say I agree completely with that phrasing. It rings like my mother's generation. I'm a sub by orientation. You'll find me anything but submissive in the field.”

“Sorry,” Clint rushes to say. “I…” But then he trails off because he can't think of a response to that.

“There are a lot of sub SHIELD agents,” Agent Baker continues, looking Clint in the eye. “Even some of the Avengers themselves. I suggest you get over whatever internalized prejudices you may have developed.”

Then he turns sharply on his heel and strides away from Clint.

It leaves a bad taste in Clint’s mouth. One he can't seem to shake off immediately. He does find the offered shooting range, and he does turn out to have the promised clearance for it, but Clint can't stop turning the encounter over in his head at first.

He'd be the first to admit his life has been out of touch with “normalcy” according to the general populace, but he'd always assumed the attitudes towards doms and subs would be the same. The idea that they might not be, that there might be whole organizations who don't recognize subs as less competent is unsettling to him. Uncomfortable. He doesn't know what to do with the thought, so he shoves it away and focuses on his aim.

They didn't have any bows, not that Clint had expected it, but he uses an M14 in the kneeling position long enough that his arms and back start to burn with the strain of steadiness.

It feels amazing.

He sinks. Sinks into the pattern and the repetition until he's warm and solid and grounded.

He doesn't know how long he's there, exactly, but when his muscles start shaking enough that a bullet hits just a bit shy of his intended location, he finally pulls himself out of his head and checks himself out.

The walk back to the housing complex is completely different from the walk out there. He's grinning wildly and craning his neck to look at everything, to take in everything he can see. He hasn't been outside in weeks, and he breathes deeply. Happily. God he hadn't realized how much he'd needed to get out of that apartment.

When he slips back into it, his mood doesn't falter either. He practically skips into the bathroom and takes a long hot shower, rolling his aching shoulders. When he's done, he dries himself off and even remembers to hang the towel up afterward, instead of dropping it to mold on the floor.

He dresses quickly and decides to tackle the functionality of the ridiculous television. Steve had said it was fancy, and Clint bets there's more it can do than flip through channels.

He's right. A few minutes of experimentation gets it to play music, and Clint takes advantage of Bucky’s information about his multi-day mission, turning the music up as loud as it goes, relishing in having the apartment to himself. He feels like he just surfaced from a perfect drop. Like the sun has been wrapped up and gifted to him. Like he knows he's going to wake up every day for the rest of his life feeling like this.

He dances. Wild and carefree. He flails and pinwheels and rocks his hips invitingly at no one at all. Pretends the remote is a microphone. Stands on the couch like it's a stage. Sings along. And, when Steve suddenly opens the door from his bedroom, falls over the coffee table and bangs his shin hard on the corner.

“Could you turn that down a little, please,” Steve has to shout to make himself heard.

“I'm sorry,” Clint gasps, scrambling for the remote despite the throbbing sharp pain in his leg. “I'm so sorry!”

God, he's an idiot. His elation plummets into mortified self-flagellation, and he wonders how “You're Not My Sub” Steve will get around that fact to punish Clint for this. Wonders what Steve's preferences are.

He finally grips the remote and hits the power button, plunging the room into silence.

“I'm really sorry,” Clint continues in a rush. “I thought--Bucky said he, you, um, he said you two had an away mission.”

“He does,” Steve says. “I don't. And you don't have to turn it all the way off. Just down. I just need a little bit of peace to go over this intel. Sorry.”

Clint ignores the ridiculous concept of Steve apologizing for telling a sub in his apartment what to do with his stuff in his space. Clint technically shouldn't have even touched the television in the first place.

“Sorry I misunderstood,” he says. “And I'm very sorry I distracted you.”

“No harm done,” Steve shrugs.

They stand there awkwardly, Clint waiting for the other shoe to drop and Steve waiting for...whatever it is Steve waits for.

“I'm…” Clint begins, and then he suddenly gets an idea. He might not be Steve's sub, but he's a sub. And there might be a way to appease Clint’s insult to Steve here that doesn't leave Clint pale and shaking.

“I can make it up to you,” he says. And maybe all his elation from the calm of the shooting range hasn't worn off completely, because he manages a grin and he can tell it sits confident and cocky on his face. Bucky isn't here, after all. Steve doesn't have anyone else to fuck.

“I don't...” Steve begins, in obvious confusion. “You don't have to make it up to me. Just keep the music at least a little quiet while I work.”

Clint crosses the room quickly, to assuage all doubts as to what he's offering. Since Steve seems weirdly blind when it comes to Clint’s availability.

“But I'd love to make it up to you,” he says, sinking to his knees directly in front of Steve. When he reaches for Steve’s belt, however, his hands get slapped away. Hard. The impact is sharp and shocking, like when he's had his knuckles rapped in the past.

He rubs his hands reflexively and drops them and his gaze down to his lap.

“Sorry,” he breathes. Of course Steve has seen through him. Trying to get out of a punishment with sex. What was he thinking? That Steve was one of those doms who couldn't think beyond his own dick? He's Captain Fucking America.

Steve takes a full step back from where Clint’s kneeling, back into his bedroom. When he speaks, his voice is cold and sharp like ice.

“I don't want that from you,” he says, and Clint flinches. “Not ever. It's never going to happen here. I am never going to do that to you.”

Clint bites his lips hard because wow, there's not wanting to fuck a certain sub and then there's going out of your way to make sure the sub understands how entirely disgusting and unappealing they are.

“Yes, sir,” Clint says quietly.

“Don't call me sir,” Steve says, and closes the door to his bedroom, ending the conversation. Without punishing Clint.

It's the second time Clint has been told to forgo the word “sir” in one day, and it doesn't sit any better with him this time around than it did earlier. He sinks the rest of the way down to sit on the floor and rubs at his injured shin. And if he pushes into it a little more than necessary - savors the throb of a forming bruise - well, Bucky isn't here to tell him not to. Fuck both him and Steve. Just, fuck them.

 

__________

 

Clint stays out of Steve's way for the next few days. He visits the range a few more times, but mostly he tries to revel in spending time outside. He walks the perimeter of the secured area, experimenting with the locations he's allowed. He plans an escape route, since it's good to have a way out of even the best situations, but he doesn't put it to the test.

He doesn't put music on in the living room again.

He does consider emailing Coulson and telling him it's pointless. That Bucky doesn't make sense because Clint can't predict him and Steve doesn't make sense because Clint can't make him want him. But he suddenly remembers Bucky’s hand on his head. In his hair.

So, maybe a little progress. A very little progress.

But then, even a very little progress is better than prison.

He decides not to email Coulson.

 

__________

 

Bucky comes home eventually. Clint isn’t sure what to expect. He’s seen Steve and Bucky come back from even short missions desperate and angry, or even dropping. That isn’t what he gets this time, though.

Bucky is limping. Not in the physical sense. Clint can’t see anything wrong with him in particular, but he walks like he’s limping. His shoulders are hunched over and his head is hanging low, as though someone he respected had called him every horrid name in the book.

Steve is intercepting him before Clint can even move.

“I’ve got you,” Steve says gently. Wraps Bucky up in his arms, and Bucky clings to him desperately. Clint doesn’t get to see a lot of their interactions, and he keeps forgetting how frighteningly in sync they are with each other. They go to the ground at the same time, Bucky collapsing to his knees and Steve sinking right along with him like a shield.

Clint doesn’t move from the table where he’d been idly drawing patterns on the wood with his finger. He watches with wide eyes as Bucky begins to sob into Steve’s arm. The one he’s clutching desperately to his face with both hands hard enough that Steve will bruise.

“It’s okay,” Steve soothes. “It’s all okay.”

Bucky shakes his head in silent violent denial, but Steve doesn’t accept it. Instead, he continues soothing gently, and helps Bucky back up to his feet. They shuffle the last few steps to their bedroom together. Clint doesn’t move for the duration of their journey. He never does get a good look at Bucky’s eyes.

When he’s in bed that night, straining in the silence for any hint of distress on the other side of the wall, what bothers Clint the most is how he hadn’t felt the slightest urge to stand up and help. To play his part as a sub helping a dom. As he turns the thought over, he’s forced to admit why.

Bucky hadn’t looked like a dom. Not even a little bit. The emotions that had washed Clint as he’d sat at the table where the ones that always wash him when he sees other subs in distress. Ones he can't do anything for. Ones no one can help.

Clint turns over violently in the bed, gripping the covers tightly in his fists and staring at the far wall in the dark.

 

__________

 

Bucky is avoiding him, Clint's sure of it. He's probably not helping, with how determined he is not to repeat his mistakes, but he doesn't know what else to do. He's not going to risk coming up behind Bucky again. Brushing shoulders when in a blind spot or catching hands against each other in the narrow kitchen.

But Bucky makes it too easy, being overly careful with his space. He even gives doors a wide berth, just in case Clint is about to come barreling out of one. It's ridiculous, but Clint doesn't know how to fix it. He doesn't even know how to define what's wrong with any concrete terminology. They're working around each other, and Clint is capitulating, but it still feels off.

It traps Clint, like an opposing magnet, pinning him between moving closer for contact and disappearing for safety. So he hovers. And the more he hovers the more annoyed Bucky becomes and the closer they get to some ill-defined edge of themselves. If Bucky doesn’t snap soon, Clint might find a way to make him, just to break this tension.

When Clint jumps up to perch on the counter after Bucky has sat down at the kitchen table - not near, but not far - it gives out with the finality of a broken thread.

“What do you want?” Bucky spits.

You , is on the tip of Clint’s tongue, but there is no surer way to lose ground than that, so he says, “To help.”

The answer deflates Bucky, and his lips turn downward in a rough frown that has Clint rubbing the cold marble countertops on either side of his legs in unsettled discomfort.

“You don’t have to help,” Bucky says quietly.

“That’s bullshit!” Clint exclaims, because if this is going to break like this then he’s going to make sure it gets all the way down to its very shards. “I don’t have to do anything , and it’s so fucking stupid that you and Steve don’t have to go around saving the world but you get to do it anyway, but the moment I don’t have to be a good person suddenly all my motivations get called into question.”

Bucky fixes him with a look that is suddenly too aware, and Clint rubs the countertop harder. It’s no longer cool underneath his hands, fading to warm with the friction. He senses irrationality within his mind.

“Is it because you want to be a good person?” Bucky asks. “Or because you want to be a good sub?”

Clint actually considers the question. Considers its implications and all his possible motivations. The reactions that different answers could get and the reactions he might want versus the ones he won't. In the end though, he’s tired, and he thinks what he finally says is more truth than concoction.

“But I am a sub,” he says. “I wish you and Steve would stop trying to separate those two things so much. Like I’m too broken to tell the difference between what I want and what I think I want.”

Bucky makes a strange noise at that.

“We’re not trying to tell you what you want,” he insists.

“Yes, you are,” Clint insists back. He stops rubbing and grips the edge of the countertop hard enough that the corner digs into the sensitive nerves of his fingers. “Every time I want anything that isn’t acceptable to you, you don’t just deny it to me, you tell me it’s inappropriate to want it.”

Bucky stares at him, motionless and unblinking, but still focused.

“I just wish,” Clint begins, but then sighs, because he doesn’t know what else to say. Maybe he should have emailed Coulson after all. The thought redoubles in strength when he sees the wavering blurriness filling his eyes that means he’s about to cry and be an ear-ringing annoyance again. He jumps down off the counter so he can quickly retreat to his room. It’s probably rude, but he doubts Bucky will punish him for it.

He blinks in surprise - pushing the first few tears over to spill down his cheeks - when Bucky intercepts him halfway to his goal. Clint hadn’t heard him move at all, but that’s not the reason the sudden touch is a surprise. It’s the tenderness of it that makes Clint’s breath catch.

“Let me go,” he says, from within the gentle but unyielding embrace.

Bucky drops his arms, but moves quickly to stand directly in Clint’s path. Letter of the law over the spirit, and Clint is losing his battle against the tears as another spills out of his eye.

“You can want whatever you want,” Bucky says. Clint finally manages to drag his eyes up to meet Bucky’s gaze, and the fire behind them is insistent and sharp as he continues, “We’re not trying to control you.”

There isn’t an answer to that. Not one that makes sense. It’s too many layers of wanting to be controlled versus being allowed to be himself versus a cyclical self-doubt that had turned from an identifiable concern to a wordless growing panic, and he just doesn’t know what anyone wants from him anymore.

“Hey,” Bucky says softly, wiping away a lost tear. “It’s okay. It’s....you’re okay.”

At the brush of Bucky’s skin against his own, Clint breaks, giving into the instinct to curl into Bucky’s chest. Oddly, it covers the urge to cry - pushes it back - and Clint breathes in the scent of his dom instead. It's better, somehow, than the catharsis of crying. Especially when Bucky wraps his arms around Clint in turn.

“Okay,” Bucky says. “Okay. I give up.”

The words sound so sweet, but Clint only half believes them until Bucky readjusts and lifts Clint up so he has no choice but to straddle Bucky’s waist. Bucky puts one hand underneath to support him and the other on his back to hold him close. Clint wraps his arms around Bucky’s neck and buries his face, hiding his eyes. He can feel Bucky walking, but he doesn't lift his head to see where he’s being taken. Not when he hears the sounds of a door, not when he feels a change in air temperature against his back, and not even when Bucky loosens his grip in clear encouragement to let go.

“Mm-mm,” he groans in disapproval, tightening his grip on Bucky’s neck.

“Nope,” Bucky says quietly, jostling Clint a little to encourage release. “You have to let go. I'm not going to leave, don't worry, but you're going you have to let me go.”

Clint feels the opposing views in his mind. He wants to obey. To be good. But he's been trying that for so long, and he’s tired and failing and it isn't working, and he just wants to feel good for a few more moments. He tightens his grip on Bucky’s neck, probably to the point of choking, but he's lost the battle with his body. He knows Bucky has the strength to rip him off; will in just a moment.

“Okay,” Bucky sighs, the sound wheezing slightly. “Message received. I guess I don't really deserve you to trust me, huh.”

Clint tries to process the words, but suddenly his world tips wildly against gravity. He falls forward into Buck’s chest, no longer having to cling tightly to maintain his proximity.

He finally removes his head from Bucky’s neck. He doesn't lift it, but he turns it so he can better evaluate his new position. Bucky has sat down on the bed, turned, and leaned back against the headboard. Clint slumps against him, knees on the bed and most of his weight on Bucky’s chest.

He blinks carefully. When nothing changes, he shifts a little to readjust to a more comfortable position, and goes boneless against Bucky.

He cannot fathom what he's done to deserve this. A part of him thinks it might just be because he had looked too pathetic to ignore, and he hopes it won't get him kicked out even as he shifts again to settle further against Bucky.

His heart stutters when Bucky begins to rub up and down his back with both hands, but he realizes why when he realizes he's crying.

It doesn't feel bad though. It feels like exhaling. As though all the tension in his body had been building up like a too deep breathe he couldn't release, straining his chest and drowning him with air. But each sob eases the strain. The clawing suffocation. He goes boneless against Bucky and breathes in real air for the first time in weeks.

He drifts, too. Sinks. He rubs his cheek against the fabric of Bucky’s shirt even as he loses a perfect grip on temporal reality. Bucky keeps petting his back and Clint accepts the subspace like cool water on a throbbing burn.

“What are you doing to him?” Steve snaps, and it brings Clint up enough to the surface that he realize hours must have passed. The slanting light from the window has darkened significantly.

“Fuck off,” Bucky snaps back, but it doesn’t alarm Clint because Bucky’s hand has started petting his back again. Whatever’s going on between the two doms in the room isn’t his concern right now. He floats somewhere near awareness, accepting the words he can hear, but not working to process them.

“He’s not yours to pet,” Steve says.

“He is if he says he is. Stop telling him what to do. I’m not the one controlling him. You are.”

“He’s not--”

“Not what? Not in his right mind? Not capable of making the correct decision? Not human enough to measure up to your standards for earning autonomy?”

“Bucky.”

“Don’t ‘Bucky’ me! Answer the question. Which of Hydra’s excuses do you want to level at him, because no matter which one you pick you’re going to have to get through me to spit them at him.”

“Don’t do that. You know this isn’t the same thing. I’m already making compromises for you. How far do you want me to take them?”

A long silence. Long enough that Clint thinks it’s the end of the conversation, but then Bucky speaks again, softly.

“He’s being good. Can’t you just let him be good? He wants to be good.”

Clint doesn’t hear Steve’s response, because the praise washes him deeper into subspace, and he drifts again.

Chapter Text

Clint blearily opens his eyes, winces at their dry stickiness, and clumsily rubs them with one hand. His second attempt to open them fares better, and he sighs sleepily as he shuffles around in the sheets for a bit, trying to fish for where he is.

His heart lurches when he realizes. He’s under the covers, alone, in what is clearly his doms’ room. The blackout curtains have been drawn, but he can still make out the faint outlines of an old fashioned wardrobe and a large circular chair in opposite corners. The rest of the room appears to be meticulously neat and barren. He sits up sharply, newly wide-awake with adrenaline, and tries to piece the previous night’s events together even as he fumbles for the switch on the bedside lamp.

He remembers Bucky and Steve disagreeing about Clint’s presence, but any negative emotional reaction to that thought is wiped and written over by the aftershocks of the gentle warm subspace he'd clearly spent the night in. He twists his shoulders and hips, searching for any twinge of soreness, but his entire body is as warm and pliable as his emotional state.

He slides out of bed and shuffles to the door. He almost pushes through it, but he changes his mind at the last minute and flips on the light instead. He hasn't been given any orders to stay put in the bed, but he also doesn't want to just abandon the mess he's made of it. Someone - Bucky - had tucked him away under those sheets, so the least he can do is make the bed.

He shuffles back to it and pulls at the sheets and comforter until they’re as meticulously aligned as the rest of the room. Clint’s original assessment had been correct; the whole space is as bare and emotionless as his own mirrored bedroom, but without any of the reasons. All that wondering what's on the other side of the impassible door, and he finds it’s nothing but emptiness.

He chews on the inside of his cheek as he finally returns to exit the room. He has to double back yet again - triple back? - to turn off the bedside lamp. When he’s officially out of good reasons to continue stalling, he pushes his way through the door and into the kitchen.

No one else is in the kitchen, but a few careful footsteps reveal Bucky and Steve lounging on the couch in the living room. Steve is sitting normally, and Bucky has his back against the armrest and the majority portion of his legs in Steve’s lap.

“Morning, Clint,” Bucky greets casually, even though he’s half-hidden behind the back of the couch, and Clint doesn’t know how he’s been seen. “Feeling better?”

Clint watches Steve’s back carefully for any kind of tension, but either the guy is set on seeming casual or Bucky talked him around to tolerating….whatever last night had been. Shame and embarrassment bloom on the outer edges of Clint’s mind as he replays his breakdown.

“Yeah,” he rasps, feeling the effects of last night in his throat. He clears it awkwardly, and tries again. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m...really sorry about last night. I wasn’t….angling for anything.” He takes a few more steps forward so he can see Bucky’s face.

“I didn’t think you were,” Bucky says. “Steve, tell Clint he’s not in trouble.”

“You’re not in trouble,” Steve says, and even though Clint can only see the back of Steve’s head, he doesn’t think he can hear any anger in his voice.

“Now,” Bucky continues. “Tell him you’re an asshole.”

Steve sighs heavily, and obligingly twists around and looks Clint in the eye.

“I’m an asshole,” he says.

“Um,” Clint responds, flicking his eyes back and forth between his doms.

“You’ve scared him,” Bucky accuses, turning to glare at Steve.

“How? All I did was say what you said to say.”

“Well, maybe that's what's freaking him out.”

Clint retreats from the unsteady conversation. He wants to flee, turning swiftly from the unknown to sprint out the door into the hallway into the unknown into the dark. Instead he makes a tactical retreat into the kitchen where he can pretend he wants to make coffee.

Bucky sighs heavily, getting to his feet loudly enough that Clint can track him even though he can't see him.

“Are you really making coffee?” Bucky asks, and Clint doesn't have to turn around to know he's leaning casually on the corner of the wall.

“Sure,” Clint capitulates. “Want any?” He hates being seen through, but he won't let it make him rude.

“I'd love some coffee,” Bucky grins, so Clint nods without making eye contact and goes to actually do what he'd been pretending to do.

“So. How are you feeling?” Bucky asks the question with a suddenly serious inflection, the casual grin gone as quickly as it had come. Clint hates how quickly Bucky flips from one emotion to the other. He’s had doms that were mercurial before, but Bucky is more like several different people all shoved into the same space and rolling the dice to see who’s in primary control at any given moment.

“I’m fine, sir,” Clint says.

“Uh huh.”

Clint doesn’t respond to the obvious doubt.

“You and Steve should have a chat,” Bucky says, and Clint’s movements stutter over adding the water to the coffee machine. It sloshes over the side, dripping down the black plastic and onto the counter that’s lightly dusted with stray coffee grounds. “A chat” could mean a lot of things. Some of them might even be good, but experience is a better teacher of statistics than any math professor.

“All right,” he says. He flips the coffee machine to brew and looks somewhere off to the side of Bucky’s face. He feels unsettled, but grounded. He doesn’t have his feet under him, but he’s fresh out of one of the most complete and peaceful subspaces he’s ever been let down into. He can ride this out.

He leaves the bubbling coffee to percolate into the pot and obediently walks past Bucky into the living room to “talk” to Steve.

“I didn’t mean it had to happen this exact second,” Bucky mutters, but the sentence is obviously spoken to himself, not meant for Clint, so Clint pretends he hasn’t heard.

“Steve?” he says instead, pulling Steve’s attention away from his tablet and up to Clint’s face. “You wanted to talk to me?”

Clint also ignores the reflex-quick glance that Steve throws at Bucky. The kind that indicates this was Bucky’s idea, rather than Steve’s. Clint resists the urge to roll his eyes.

“Clint,” Steve begins, and then stops, clearly unsure where the conversation is supposed to be headed. Out of the corner of his eye, Clint sees him glance at Bucky again. Searching for permission or assistance or some kind of miracle.

“Jesus,” Bucky sighs, leaning against the wall again. “You think you’d have gotten better at this by now. Just fucking talk to him.”

Steve winces, his face twisting into a pained expression as he looks up at Clint, who is standing still and obedient in front of him.

“Why don’t you take a seat?” he finally asks, and Clint obligingly turns toward the catty-corner couch that has somehow become his most recently allocated space.

“No,” Steve interrupts him. “Why don’t you….why don’t you come sit over here.” He gestured to the space directly beside him, and Clint freezes as a deer in headlights.

“Make it sound like it’s more of a chore for you, why don’t you?” Bucky complains from where he’s watching the exchange with a critical eye.

“I’m fucking trying,” Steve snaps back.

“Try harder .”

“It’s fine,” Clint rushes to say, hurrying into the spot so quickly that he nearly slides right into Steve’s lap. But he manages to save himself in time, perching on the appropriate couch cushion.

Bucky makes a noise of doubt, disappears back into the kitchen where Clint hears the sound of coffee pouring, but he ignores it to look directly at Steve. It hurts his head a little, to make such frank eye contact without an order, but he’s figuring this idiot out, slow going as it may be.

“Bucky and I had a long talk last night,” Steve beings, forcing the words out like they’re thick. “Or...I guess it was more of an argument. One that’s needed to happen for a long time. One that Buck’s been trying to have for nearly a month now, and I just wouldn’t let it happen. And that was hard on him, and a little hard on me, but it seems it was a lot hard on you.”

He glances back over the couch toward the kitchen, but Bucky has disappeared again and there’s no response other than clinking ceramic and quietly sloshing liquid.

“I’m fine,” Clint attempts, but winces when Steve snaps his head around to glare.

“Stop that, will you? You’re clearly not.”

“Hypocrite!” Bucky screams shrilly, causing Steve to clench his jaw, but not to respond directly.

“What I mean is,” he continues, “it was unfair for me to make decisions for you. To assume you’d think how I thought. Would think. In your situation.”

Clint narrows his eyes, but doesn’t speak.

“So I’m apologizing,” Steve presses on. “Actually apologizing. As in, I’ll make a real effort this time. You’re doing good for Bucky’s stability even when you’re being held back, and it looks like I need to just accept Coulson was right and I was not.”

“Meaning what?” Clint finally says. His reaction to what Steve is trying to say is all twisted up in his guts and it’s the only thing he can think to ask. The only thing that matters. “What does that actually mean about what happens to me now?”

“Nothing is happening to you,” Steve says, mild confusion on his face. “I’m asking you to stay and be our sub. Not because Coulson and SHIELD think it’s best, but because Bucky and I think we ought to give it an honest try.”

This is winning, Clint suddenly realizes. Like unstable ground giving out underneath him, he’s fallen into what he both wanted and dreaded without warning or concrete expectation. Because it’s one thing to take a whipping or pull a dom out of a drop, but now he’s….now things will be expected of him, and he won’t get to choose what they are anymore.

It’s what you wanted , he reminds himself furiously, even as he lets his subconscious paste a smile on his face. It’s what you fought for . And they’re not bad guys. You’ve seen it over and over. You’ll be okay here.

“There are some fucking conditions, though,” Bucky drawls, finally stepping into the room with three mugs of coffee balanced in his hands in a little pyramid. Clint watches him walk and is suddenly struck with the thought that Clint could try to kick Bucky’s legs out from under him, and not a drop would be spilt.

“Hell yes there are conditions,” Steve agrees with a sharpness in his tone.

Bucky hands around the coffee, and then settles on Clint’s other side and tucks Clint in under his arm, pressing Clint's face into the rough jacket on his chest. There's something underneath the fabric and Clint is pretty sure it's a knife handle, threatening to bruise his cheekbone. It doesn't seem like a big deal, though. He's more interested in the emotional continuity inherent in the smell of his dom filling his nose. He feels like he's back on the bed from last night again.

Part of him is happy he's allowed here at all. Part of him is pissed off that he wasn't able to initiate this himself without fear of being shoved off the couch. He tells that part to shut the fuck up and be grateful.

“Conditions?” he manages to mumble into a mouthful of fabric.

“Sex is off the table,” Bucky says, and Clint is so surprised that he sits up and looks Bucky in the eye. The look he finds there is...inhuman. Not in a violent way, but it’s so completely devoid of compromise or emotion that Clint just nods and re-buries his face. He feels shifting around him and sees Steve reach over to slide his hand up and down Bucky’s back in comfort. Clint resolves not to ask. Not for a long time.

“The rest is less concrete,” Steve picks up. Bucky reaches up and folds his fingers together with Steve’s, and Steve doesn’t even pause in his explanation, continuing, “And it depends on you. So, do you think you could do something for me, Clint?”

Clint shivers against the sound of his name and says, "Anything," with more fervor than anyone in the room likely expected. Bucky runs his fingers through Clint’s hair, and Clint can’t help wriggling down a little further and twisting so he’s folded up with his head in Bucky’s lap.

“First, I need you to be honest with me,” Steve says, absently petting Clint’s ankle, which Clint would bet he doesn't even notice he’s doing. He never touches Clint when he’s noticing. “Honest with us. We need to be able to know what you're asking for is something you actually want. That what you're initiating is something you need."

"I can do that," he says quietly.

It's not a lie. It's not. He promises that to himself quietly. What he wants is whatever will make his doms the happiest, anyway.

"Don't pander to us," Bucky suddenly speaks again, like he’s read Clint’s mind. "You and SHIELD and the rest of the goddamn world might have been right about some things, we're prepared to admit that, but it doesn't mean you're right about everything. You don't know what we want or need, so don't guess. Just...no guessing on anyone's part.”

That one’s more difficult, but thankfully Bucky doesn’t require a response. Clint will find a way to make it work though. He’s not giving up this foothold. Not when he thinks it’s finally being offered in a way he knows how to take.

“I don’t need you to be perfect,” Steve says gently. “I just need you to promise to try.”

“I can try,” Clint says, and that response he’s a lot more confident in.

“Okay, second thing. I need you to tell us when we fuck it up. Because we’re going to fuck it up. We’re not…” he glances at Bucky and Clint watches them have an entire conversation with nothing but their eyes.

“We don’t have the experience,” Bucky finally helps out. “It’s always been just us. Even before…”

Another silent conversation, this time one that ends with Steve shaking his head just the slightest bit.

“We don’t have the experience,” Bucky repeats, this time with the finality of a finished thought. “So tell us if we’re missing something. Especially if you think it’s obvious, because chances are it’s not that obvious to us. We were raised in a different world.”

“In so many ways,” Steve says quietly. He’s staring down at Clint, but with a faraway look in his eyes.

“Snap out of it, Daniel McCormick,” Bucky scoffs. “Stay on target. Do those terms seem fair to you, Barton?”

“Yeah,” Clint says.

“Then just one more question,” Steve says. “How would you feel about cooking breakfast? Because I am fucking starving.”

Clint is certain the grin he feels stretch across his face is more than sufficient as a response.

And, as he scrambles to his feet to check the contents of the kitchen, he realizes his feeling of dread has dissipated. He’s pretty sure it’s just the elation of success finally taking over his emotional brain, but for some reason he can’t seem to imagine either of these guys doing him serious harm.

You always have been a romantic moron , he tells himself. But there’s a fondness - a missing sharpness - in the words that he’s not used to hearing in his own evaluation of himself.

 

__________

 

Clint finally gets his breakfast. After weeks of on and off attempts degenerating into anything from vague disappointments to unmitigated disasters, he finally gets to experience watching Steve’s face when he bites into one of Clint’s blackberry and mint scones. He doesn’t pump his fist in the air, but it’s a near thing.

“You,” Bucky says, barely understandable through the entire scone of his own that he has shoved into his mouth. He points at Clint, swallows thickly, and tries again. “Put together a grocery list of ingredients you want, and I swear I’ll get it all for you even if I have to defect and go rouge.”

Steve snorts, but doesn’t look up from where he’s rolling up a roasted pepper frittata to hold several slices of bacon in an improvised burrito. Clint grins from where he sits and revels.

Talk after that degenerates into “pass this” and “gimme that” while Clint picks at his own plate but focuses on watching his doms out of the corner of his eye. He’s not hungry enough that he’s going to stuff his face in front of the two of them.

The eating is slowing down when Steve suddenly speaks.

“Bucky? I owe you an apology, too.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Bucky responses without even a beat of hesitation.

“I know. But I still do. I was being selfish in how I wanted you to behave, not just in how I wanted Clint to behave. I cared more about you feeling better because of the things I wanted to make you feel better than I did about what you wanted.”

“You’re embarrassing the kid,” Bucky snaps.

“It’s good for him to hear what a healthy relationship sounds like.”

“Is that was this is?”

“I’m not a kid,” Clint interrupts, because he’s got a couple years on Steve at least, but then he closes his mouth and his stomach twists, because that’s not technically true. And if it’s not true for Steve, then it’s not true for Bucky, either.

“I’m sorry, what year were you born?” Bucky asks, voice dripping with the sarcasm that’s about to point the conversation the same direction Clint’s brain has just taken.

“1990,” Clint mumbles into his plate.

“That’s what I fucking thought,” Bucky says, and triumphantly shoves another mouthful of breakfast scramble into his mouth.

“As I was saying ,” Steve presses, “I’m sorry that I prioritized my comfort over your needs, Buck. Don’t think I don’t realize I was hurting you, too.”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut the fuck up?”

“Bucky. Please.”

Bucky sighs, putting down the fork and turning his head to actually look Steve in the eye.

“You’re forgiven, all right?”

“Thank you. Now I’ll shut the fuck up.”

“Thank god,” Bucky mumbles, returning to his meal.

Clint can’t help grinning like an idiot throughout the exchange. Regardless of the potential stressors hidden within the words, their tonality stays light and safe, and that more than anything reminds him how lucky he is to be here. These idiots are his . Not for forever, but for now.

The meal is just coming to an end, with Bucky and Steve cracking inside jokes at the expense of whatever moron went up against them last week, when Steve’s phone goes off with a single piercing chime that makes Clint’s ears ring in its aftermath. It changes the mood in a heartbeat, Steve pulling out the phone and glancing at whatever had been sent through to him.

Clint realizes that Bucky is the only one he’s ever seen in sleepwear. He’s either in sweatpants or decked out in full combat gear, no inbetween. Steve however, always looks ready to walk out the door. All the time. Even when he’s in his own home, eating breakfast.

Whatever came over the phone is probably why that habit exists, because Steve frowns once, and then he’s moving.

“Gotta go,” he says, and stands quickly. Bucky tilts his face up in synchronicity with Steve bending down. They brush lips in a quick kiss, a motion performed between them a hundred times, and then he’s gone.

“Come on,” Bucky says, making a show of getting to his feet. “I’ll help you with the clean-up.”

“I’ve got it,” Clint says quickly, tearing his eyes away from the front door.

“Fuck off with that,” Bucky says. “If I were a better person - if I were Steve - I’d offer to do it all on my own. But I’m not, so this is my compromise.”

“Let me do it,” Clint continues to insist, trying to take Bucky’s dirty plate out of his hand.

“Are you telling your dom what to do?” Bucky asks, and the sudden drop in tone sends a slight shiver up Clint’s spine. His hands fall away from the plate like their strings have been cut.

“No,” he stutters. “Sorry, I’m n--”

“Great!” Bucky exclaims, suddenly all smiles and energy again. “Then let’s get this show on the road. I’d say I’ll wash and you can dry, but that’s behind the times these days, isn’t it? So I’ll shove all the table stuff in the fancy dishwasher, and you clean the cookware. Sound like a plan?”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

The clean-up is quick. Bucky moves efficiently, clearing the table and packing up the food before loading up the dishwasher. Clint barely manages to get through the handwash by the time the rest of the kitchen is spotless.

It doesn’t help that he can’t stop lingering over the kiss in his mind. The one between Steve and Bucky as Steve had shot out the door. Bucky, and Steve for that matter, had been clear on the concept of sex, but more ambiguous topics had not been discussed.

A kiss isn’t sex, but it might be considered in the same category. But on that note, a lot of the interactions between and dom and a sub aren’t sex, but could be considered in the same category. Were those off the table, too? Or had Steve and Bucky been referring to only the the act of sex itself. And, if so, why ? There are plenty of intimate activities still on the table with that thinking, so why is that one special? If it even is at all.

Clint makes a noise of frustration in the back of his throat as he puts away the last dish. Bucky has already slipped away into his bedroom, and Clint chews on his thumbnail as he surveys the kitchen with a critical eye. It is, of course, fucking spotless. Nothing for him to do.

He replays the kiss in his head again, and then winces as his nail and skin peel enough to sting and bleed. He sucks at the pain for a moment, and then shoves his hands deep in his pockets. He needs to kick that habit.

It’s disgusting. A disgusting habit, and you’re disgusting when you do it. Whenever I see your nasty chewed up fingers I’m disgusted. Is that your job? To disgust me?

No, what he needs is to find out what, exactly, is on those do and do not lists, because his brain is already setting new goals, and getting a goodbye kiss from Steve is pretty high up on it.

 

__________

 

He goes back to the range. He’s got some nerves to work through, and he’s not about to push it with Bucky. Maybe he’ll get to the point where he’s comfortable enough to knock on that bedroom door and ask to be played with, but the time has not yet arrived. Especially when he’s not sure what is and is not up for the asking for.

He switches hands for his grip between every shot, trying to move quickly enough that he can keep up with how quickly he can pull the trigger. It makes most of his shots go a little wide, but that’s the point of training, anyway. To find the things he’s not good at yet.

He’s been shooting for a long time when he suddenly realizes someone is standing behind him. He whirls around, almost forgetting to drop his weapon down to point at the ground. He doesn’t want to know what would happened if he gets written up for breaking range rules so completely as to aim directly for a stranger's head. He doesn't want to imagine his doms’ faces.

The stranger in question is a woman with shockingly red hair curling gently around her face. Everything about her looks soft and gentle, and she startles back with wide eyes when Clint turns around on her so suddenly and so sharply.

“Sorry,” Clint says on reflex.

“No, I’m the one who should be sorry,” the woman says. There’s a slightly southern tilt to her voice, coming out in the longer vowels. “I was the one being nosy. I just wanted to see what you were doing with those fancy movements, and after that I just wanted to keep watching. You’re a very good shot.”

“Thanks,” Clint says warily. He’s still not used to talking to strangers, and he hates not knowing where he stands with people. The woman is giving off an air of innocence and helplessness, but they’re both standing deep within a SHIELD facility. If she’s actually as soft and safe as she appears to be then Clint has learned nothing from his life of observation.

She sticks out her hand, and Clint shies back a half-step before he realizes she’s going for a handshake. When he gets it, he reaches out and shakes her hand, but doesn’t let his face match her smiling friendly demeanor.

“I’m Natasha,” she smiles.

“Nice to meet you,” Clint responds. He does not offer his own name, but instead glances over her person for some information on who “Natasha” might be. She’s not in a uniform, but is rather wearing dark jeans and a light blue button up. Her makeup is done to the nines, and every stroke is flawless. She’s standing in a range, but does not appear to be here to do any shooting.

“Did Coulson send you to check up on me?” he asks.

She gives him the tiniest of smiles, quirking up just one side of her mouth, and Clint thinks it’s the first genuine emotion she’s shown.

“No, Coulson did not send me,” she says gently.

Clint starts to pack up, removing the remaining bullets out of the 9mm and gathering everything into his hands.

“Leaving so soon? I hope it isn’t the company.”

“Not at all,” Clint answers, unsure why his heart is pounding so quickly. He can’t pin down why, but this woman seems more dangerous than anything he’s encountered recently. Maybe anything he’s encountered ever. And if Coulson didn’t send her, then that means she wants something else. Something he doesn’t know about. Something he can’t properly protect or leverage, and everything in him is screaming that he needs to run back to safety.

“Honestly, I just wanted to know what it was like to fuck Captain America,” Natasha says.

The harsh and unexpected wording manages to bring Clint to a halt, just as he’s turning to walk away. He stares at her, anger bubbling just at the surface while she looks back at him, placid and emotionless. He feels like she should be smacking bubble gum to complete the picture.

With effort, he turns on his heel again and again tries to walk away. This time, when she stops him, she does so physically. When he feels the touch on his arm he almost knocks her on the head with the unloaded gun. Instead he tries to jerk free and, when he’s unsucessful, he turns and steps forward to get in her face.

“What do you want?” he hisses at her. Quietly. He does not want to draw attention to this. Not more than they’re already drawing, anyway.

“Didn’t I just tell you?”

“What do you really want?”

She pauses, considering him, and then she slowly lets go of his arm.

“Well. Didn’t I just go right ahead and underestimate you? My mistake.”

Clint doesn't respond; just keeps staring her down. Eventually, she speaks again.

“I lied before. Coulson did send me. Supposed to ask how you’re doing and how they’re doing. It sounded boring so I decided to have a little fun. Sorry it got you all pissed.”

Clint can’t figure out if he believes her or not, but the response is the same either way. Clint has always been loyal. It’s the one thing he knows he’s good at as a sub. He’s not about to go talking about his doms behind their backs. Especially not to a complete stranger.

“Well, you can tell Coulson we’re fine, and that if he wants to know details he’s free to ask Bucky or Steve directly.”

Surprise. Real surprise, across her face and then gone.

“Bucky?” she asks. Slowly, like she’s not sure about the word.

Clint doesn’t respond. He turns yet again and marches away. This time, she lets him. He doesn't look back. Not when he’s turning in his weapon, and not when he walks out the door. He marches a straight line across the base and all the way back to the apartment. It isn’t until he’s stepped inside, closing the door behind him with relief, that he allows himself to think over all the implications of the interaction.

If Coulson really had sent her, then she was doubtless delivering an unflattering report right now. Clint had hardly been a shining example of polite behaviour in a normal situation, even more so for his precarious position here.

“Barton,” Bucky shouts, getting his attention. “Come over here and sit with me, it’s cold in here. I need the extra body heat.”

He’s sitting on the couch, balancing his tablet on his knees so he can scroll through it with one hand. His eyebrows are drawn together in concentration as his eyes flit back and forth quickly, reading and rereading whatever is on the screen.

“There’s a blanket on the back of the couch,” Clint says, helpfully stepping forward to move it within arm’s reach of Bucky.

“I don’t want a blanket; I want you,” Bucky pouts, and the simple phrase pushes Natasha out of Clint’s head to be dealt with at another time.

 

__________

 

A few hours later, Clint is burritoed up in the blanket, lying on his stomach on the couch so he can balance his own tablet against Bucky’s leg. Bucky is having to use both hands to type now, and Clint tries not to pout over missing the fingers in his hair.

“Stark texted,” Bucky says suddenly. Clint looks up and cocks his head in confusion.

“Not you,” Bucky clarifies to him in a slightly quieter voice, prompting Clint to look around the room in confusion for anyone else Bucky could possibly be talking to as Bucky continues, “Yeah, that’s what he said. You want me to fucking kill them for you?”

A pause.

“It wasn’t a joke; it was an offer.”

The front door rattles and Clint swings his head back around to look at it, just as Steve pushes through it, mid-sentence.

“--with me. I prefer to think of it as a joke.”

“Bite me,” Bucky shoots back.

“Not in front of the kid.”

Yes, in front of the ‘kid’ , Clint thinks, but it’s a background thought in comparison to what actually comes out of his mouth.

“Could you hear each other?” he gapes. “Through the door and down the hall, without even shouting?”

“So it goes,” Steve shrugs, kicking off his shoes. Unlike Bucky - who always bends down to line them up carefully - he leaves them haphazard where they land.

“No,” Clint says, wriggling up onto his knees so he can point accusingly at Steve. “That's not a ‘so it goes’ kind of thing. People don't do that.”

“Haven't you heard?” Bucky says. “We stopped being people long ago.”

“God, I need coffee,” is all Steve says in response.

“I’ll get it!” Clint practically shouts, abandoning the line of questioning to scramble off the couch. His legs get tangled in the blanket that he doesn't quite manage to shake off in time and he goes down hard. He has a split second to see the coffee table rushing toward his face before Bucky’s hand is in front of the view. The impact, when it comes, is more dull thud than sharp corner.

“Jesus,” Bucky breathes, shaking out the hand he'd used to shield Clint’s forehead from the worst of the impact. “Be more careful.”

“Your hand!” Clint exclaims, shuffling over on his knees. He tries to take Bucky’s hand in both his own, but Bucky holds it up over his head, out of reach, like the stupidest game of keep away ever. Clint scrambles to his feet in response and keeps trying to get a look at it.

“I'm fine! Leave it alone.”

“You have to have bruised it, at the very least, let me see!”

“Just let him see, Buck,” Steve laughs, strolling into the kitchen. “It'll save us all time, because I think he'll win this one. You always used to, anyway.”

Bucky gives up and lets Clint take and examine the hand, flipping it over and then back over again, inspecting it closely.

“Do you even know what you're looking for?”

“Blood?” Clint hazards. “Abnormal bone structure? I don't fucking know.”

Bucky wiggles his fingers in a show of dexterity.

“See?” he says. “Fine.”

“Okay then,” Clint concedes grudgingly. Then he snaps his head up, and says “Coffee!” before darting to his feet. Getting Steve to let him do things was a hard won battle, and he's not gonna just give it up.

Sure enough, Steve is already dumping grounds into the brewer’s top.

“I got it!” Clint exclaims, snatching the glass pot away to fill it with water before Steve can even so much as touch it.

“Bossy, aren’t we?” Steve says, and the few words send Clint’s heart down into his stomach to beat too quickly. However, before he can work up any kind of real panic or even a response, Steve brushes his hand across the top of Clint’s head. It’s a mix between a pat on the head and straight up running fingers through his hair, but whatever the definition of the action, it’s undeniably affectionate. Clint snaps his head around and stares at Steve with wide eyes.

“What?” Steve asks, clearly taken aback by the expression on Clint’s face.

“You touched me,” Clint says, reaching up to lightly brush his fingers across his own hair. He can feel the phantom remains on the contact, and he tries to hold onto the psychological sensation.

“Oh. I’m….Clint, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think about it.”

“No!” Clint exclaims, pointing at Steve. “No, that’s….that’s no!”

Steve is obviously having some difficulty parsing the commentary, so Clint tries to dig around in his head for some more coherent form of verbal expression. He doesn’t have to, though. Steve manages to figure it out, first.

“Touching you is okay?” he guesses.

“It’s definitely okay,” Clint confirms. “You never touch me. Maybe a few times on accident, but that’s not the same thing.” He stops there, because he’s not sure what else there is to say. It’s not a concept that can be articulated. It’s just there. Like the existence of gravity. Of pain. Of the sun.

Steve steps forward and pulls him into an embrace. Not just a subtle one, either. He wraps both arms around Clint, angling them so they cover most of his back and squeezing tightly so that Clint has no choice but to get pulled in flush with Steve’s body.

It’s more difficult to breathe with his mouth pressed into the fabric of Steve’s shirt, yet somehow it’s easier at the same time.

“Better?” Steve asks, and Clint nods as best he can.

“Sap,” Bucky says, coming into the kitchen and taking the coffee pot out of Clint’s loosening fingers. “Both of you. Saps.”

“I’m learning,” Steve says, releasing Clint. “Slowly. But I’m learning.”

“You’re doing just fine,” Clint breathes.

Steve makes a noise that is neither agreement nor disagreement as he watches Bucky finish putting the coffee on. Clint ducks around both of them to grab mugs and add the respectively desired amounts of sugar and milk to each of them. The warm feeling Steve’s embrace has left him with glows a little more brightly as he looks down at the three mugs, all in a line, waiting for the coffee to finish brewing. Three is a good number, he thinks. Pretty damn good.

He’s still feeling confident when they all have their respective caffeine and are settling back into the couch, so even though Steve and Bucky seat themselves down on adjoining cushions, Clint does not self-relegate himself to the catty-corner couch. Instead, he force-squeezes himself down between them, grinning as Steve snorts in amusement.

“Oh, you are already fucking spoiled, aren’t you?” Bucky asks, but he’s fighting a smile and obligingly scoots over the tiniest bit to allow Clint enough room to settle comfortably.

“Maybe I’m just cold,” Clint says, looking Bucky directly in the eye.

“Brat,” Bucky mutters back, then he shifts his gaze to glare at Steve and adds, “How the fuck did I end up with two of you, anyway? What did I do to deserve this suffering?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve says primly, sipping his coffee. “I’m a delight.”

Bucky makes the same noise that Steve had made earlier. The one that is neither agreement nor disagreement. Clint grins into his coffee because he can’t help it. Because this is absolutely perfect, right here.

“So, Clint,” Steve says, and Clint sits up a little straighter.

“Yes, sir?”

“Tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?”

Steve waves his hand in deference and says, “Whatever you want to tell me. This isn’t a pointed interrogation; it’s a discussion. What do you like to do? What do you want to do? Family, past lives, dreams for the future. Hobbies. Lay it on me.”

“Um...well, I’m a pretty good shot.”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky interjects. “You’d said that, but I never followed up. Where did you learn?”

“It just developed,” Clint shrugs. “I did some trick shooting with a bow and arrow when I was in the circus, and things just grew from there. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love using a bow, but it’s not always practical.” He smiles sadly, and rubs his fingers along the rim of the coffee cup. Like it’s some kind of expensive crystal. Like it will sing at him.

“Sorry, hang on,” Bucky says. “How do you go from trick shots with a bow to learning firearm marksmanship? What’s the thread there? Was it useful for your act?”

“No,” Clint says slowly, because this is dangerous ground. “It was....I liked it. I was good at it. I kept expanding what I could do.”

“Not an interrogation,” Steve reminds Buky coldly. Bucky rolls his eyes, but let’s the subject drop.

“What about you guys?” Clint asks quickly. “What do you do when you’re not saving the world?”

“What does it look like we do?” Bucky snorts, before Steve can say whenever he’s opening his mouth to say. “We just hang around and think about saving the world and prepare to more efficiently save the world. Oh, and sometimes, we stare straight ahead at walls for hours at a time.”

“I paint,” Steve says. “Draw. When I can.”

Clint does not comment on the fact that he’s been here for well over a month and has seen nothing of the kind. He has been in his doms’ bedroom and seen not one single piece of artwork. He just nods and files the information away to coax the activity out of Steve at a later date. The ‘Bucky staring at walls’ thing he’s already working on.

“Sometimes we have awkward diners with the rest of the team,” Bucky says. He knocks back his cup and chugs the rest of the cooling coffee and then leans forward to place the empty mug on the table.

“They’re not that awkward,” Steve insists, making a face at Bucky.

“They are when I’m there. Everyone is either scared of me or wants me to be someone I’m not.”

“Let me guess which category you put me in,” Steve says, bitterness layered underneath the tone of his voice, and Clint is pressed closely enough to both of them that he can feel the tensing muscles all around him. He leans forward quickly and places his mug on the coffee table next to Bucky’s empty one, and then he flips around so he’s lying across both their laps like a cat. The growing potential for a fight halts suddenly, as both doms find themselves with a lapful of sub.

“Subtle,” Bucky says drly.

“Worked didn’t it?” Clint says snidely, and god only knows where all this confidence is coming from. He figures it’ll crash and burn out eventually, as soon as he pushes too far and makes a wrong move, but for now he’s going to ride this as far as he can.

Bucky slaps him across the ass, just once and with no real weight behind it.

“Brat,” he mutters.

“I like it,” Steve says, petting Clint’s conveniently placed head. “When he’s snarky.”

“Stop encouraging him.”

“It let’s me know he’s not just an emotionless sub, doing whatever he thinks will make us happy. Nice to finally see some personality in him.”

Clint tries to take it as a compliment. He does. But the weight of the implied reprimand is heavier - more weighty - and he clenches his jaw. Reminds himself that as much as he might have fucked up the start of this, he’s doing better now. Much better. He’s doing fine. He’s okay.

“God, you are such an ass,” Bucky sighs.

“I’m being straightforward. You know how I feel about dom and sub bullshit. I’d like to think I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. I recognize that this can be done healthily, I just think it’s usually an unnecessary risk to indulge that kind of primitive behaviour.”

“Jesus,” Bucky breathes, and lays his hand on Clint’s leg in what Clint guesses is comfort. He himself is a little surprised at how much Steve’s words are affecting him. He thinks they’re nonsense. Anyone would. But it also stings to hear so much derision for who he is as a person. What he likes to do and think and feel.

“Buck, I’m not trying t--”

“Just shut the fuck up, okay? We’ll talk about it later.”

“I’m not saying I have a problem with what’s going on right now,” Steve presses, and he also must at least subconsciously sense Clint’s distress, because he starts lightly scratching the back of Clint’s neck. “It’s clearly helping you, and even I can admit this is pleasant right now. Calming. Plus there are perfectly functional dom and sub partnerships right within the Avengers team.”

“Yeah, and you’re unnecessarily asshole-ish about it to them, too.”

“I am not.”

“They just forgive you for it because you’re you, and since that’s the only flaw you have to offer, you’re still a gift to mankind.”

Clint tucks himself in tighter between them. He doesn’t like this conversation, but at least it doesn’t seem to be about him anymore. His job now is to just be quiet and still and wait for any chance to be obedient.

“You know why it bothers me,” Steve says softly.

“I know why,” Bucky agrees. “That why you get patience. It doesn’t mean you get a pass.”

There’s a long silence after that. Bucky stays still, but Steve keeps scratching Clint’s neck in contemplation.

It’s Bucky that eventually breaks the silence.

“So!” he exclaims. “Barton. You’ve got to be getting a little stir crazy in here. Say Steve and I are able to get you permission to wander off base under our excellent supervision. Where would you like to go?”

“Anywhere,” Clint says quickly. He hadn’t realized how itchy he is to get out into the open world until Bucky had presented it as a possibility.

“Let’s go to the zoo,” Steve says.

“Excuse me?” Bucky snorts.

Steve shrugs. “It’s been 70 years. Tell me you aren’t at least a little curious what a modern zoo looks like.”

“Fine,” Bucky snorts. “We’ll go to a zoo. Be fucking tourists. Surround me with small screaming children and deadly animals. What could go wrong?”

“Great. Any objections, Clint?”

“None whatsoever,” Clint answers.

“Then it’s settled.”

Clint can't help but smile to himself at the obvious pride in Steve’s voice. Besides, he’s never been to a zoo. It’s not quite the same thing as a circus, he’s sure, and he bets he’ll enjoy the experience. At the very least, it means his doms aren’t afraid to be seen in public with him.

As he starts to drift in the ensuing silence, he vows to himself that he won’t make them regret it.

 

__________

 

The next few days are good. Slow, but good. Bucky and Steve are out of the apartment more often than they’re in, and Clint gets the sense that something is going on out in the real word. Something that he might even be able to find in the news if he were to look, but he can’t bring himself to. He doesn’t want it yet. As much as he wants to get out into the real fresh air, he also wants to stay in his cocoon here a little bit longer. It’s nice, to lose the sense that the rest of the world exists.

As for the developing interactions between the three of them, Steve is clearly trying hard, but he’s not always as open as he was that first evening. Sometimes the dynamic startles him, and anything other than the most barely submissive behaviors from Clint clearly make him uncomfortable.

Bucky, on the other hand, is enthusiastically fantastic. He starts brushing his fingers along Clint’s arm on the way past him, gives him directions and orders for simple tasks, cooks with him, reads with him, and fulfills any wish that Clint can work up the courage to ask for.

Unfortunately, the easy ebb and flow does not - as Clint had known it wouldn’t - last forever. Steve gets called off on an international mission and Bucky degenerates over the course of two days. During the first, he’s clearly anxious, pacing around the rooms and starting tasks without finishing them. Clint does his best, but Bucky just won’t sit still, and that makes it difficult for Clint to be any type of calming influence.

The second day is worse. Bucky shuts himself up in his room and all Clint can do is kick himself for not trying harder the day before.

On the morning of the the third day, Clint puts real effort into breakfast. He even goes so far as to fuck around online to try and find some breakfast items from the 1940s to tempt Bucky out of his room. They hadn’t been joking about the grocery list, so he had a veritable hoard of ingredients to work with, and he goes all out, specifically choosing creations that have strong aromas.

“I will pour vanilla extract under your door if I have to,” he mutters to himself, and he’s only mostly joking.

He thinks he wins, in the end. There’s no way to tell for sure what ultimately causes Bucky to leave the cover of his bedroom and stumble into the kitchen, but Clint has enough food spread across the table that Bucky sits down from habit. Clint pours coffee and adds sugar. He takes it over to Bucky, setting it down within easy reach and then sinks to his knees so he can rest his chin on Bucky’s knee.

“Tell me what you need,” he pleads up at his dom. He cannot handle this uselessness.

Bucky breathes out through his nose in a half-sigh half-laugh, and puts his fork down on the table so he can rest his forehead on his hand, covering his eyes.

“It’s not that easy,” he says. “You don’t want to volunteer for this one.”

“What makes you say that?” Clint responds, instead of saying I really think I do , because he’s learning. He can learn. He knows that’s not what Bucky wants to hear right now.

Bucky smiles sadly and moves his hand down to pet Clint’s head, but he keeps his eyes closed as he says, “You’re sweet, love. You are. But I’m feeling...today...I’m in the mood to hurt. You should probably go to your room and stay there. Or better yet, get out of the apartment for a while.”

Clint chews on all his potential responses before choosing, “What makes you think I don’t like to be hurt?”

Bucky takes a deep breath in through his mouth, holds it for a moment, and then breathes out. He clenches his jaw, finally opens his eyes, and looks down at Clint with an expression Clint honestly thinks he’s never seen before. And he’s seen a lot of them. Had a lot of experience translating all kinds of facial subtleties. With this one, he’s got nothing. So he keeps his expression open, unafraid, and meets Bucky’s gaze straight on.

“Steve should….Steve should be here,” Bucky says. “The first time. Just, in case...I don’t….” He cuts himself off with a grimace that draws his eyebrows down and together and twists his mouth into a bastardization of a smile.

“Okay,” Clint answers. “Except that you need this because Steve isn’t here. Right?”

“Fuck. Just... fuck .”

Clint can feel Bucky about to give in. It’s easy to abstain when there’s no way to get what you’re craving. It’s a lot harder when it’s being handed to you with the casual air of consent.

“We’ll take it slow,” Clint reassures. “We’ll talk it through.”

He doubts it, but what he needs right now is for Bucky to try. It’s past time that he shows these two exactly what he’s capable of taking. What he’s willing to take for them.

“You like to use a belt, right?” Clint presses.

“Barton, stop.”

“Is that an order?”

The silence that follows is long and pregnant and is finally broken when Bucky makes a noise that reminds Clint more of an animal than a human.

“Fine,” Bucky says. “Fine!” He stands violently and disappears into the bedroom. Clint stays where he is, on his knees by the chairs, and awaits his return.

He's not nervous.

He's not.

Bucky returns with not one, but two belts. He takes Clint by the upper arm and pulls him to his feet. Draws him over and around to the side of the couch. Clint goes willingly and, when Bucky pulls his arms behind his back, he accommodates that willingly as well.

The feeling of one of the belts wrapping around and between his arms - locking them in place behind his back - sends a pulse of pleasure through his body, and he makes an involuntary noise.

Bucky pauses, waits, and then brushes his fingertips along the veins of Clint’s wrist.

“You like that?” he asks softly.

“Yes, sir,” Clint whispers back.

“Good. Very good.”

Clint is already feeling fuzzy when Bucky tips him gently over the arm of the couch. He's good. His dom said so. Clint is good and that means everything is okay.

“This is not for punishment,” Bucky says, from somewhere behind Clint. Somewhere outside his field of senses. “This is for me. Because I want to.”

Clint smiles into the cushion and closes his eyes. He pulls with his arms against the wound belt on his arms, but everything is okay. Bucky knew what he was doing, and the belt stays firmly in place. Clint doesn't have a care in the world.

The first crack of leather against cloth makes him suck in a breath through his teeth.

Okay. Maybe he has one care.

Again, the snap of the belt, again Clint hisses his way through the sting. Goddamn, it feels like a layer of skin’s been taken off. He flexes his hands open and closed and tries to return to that peace from just a moment ago.

Snap .

He can't believe how out of practice he is with this. A year ago he could have taken a hundred in absolute silence, should he have been ordered to do so, and now he's already whimpering at each impact and tensing in anticipation of each swing.

Don't do that. It makes it worse.

Sometimes he remembers not to, and sometimes he doesn't.

Bucky pauses somewhere in the teens, and Clint takes the opportunity to breathe raggedly as the sting fades to a burn fades to a throb. Bucky pets the small of his back gently.

“How would you feel…” he starts, and then trails off as though he’s regretting starting the question. It doesn’t matter, though, because Clint already knows what he was going to say, and the only surprise is that it was going to come out as a question.

It would have felt better as an order.

But he shifts his weight back to his feet anyway, and then further back onto his heels.

“I just...I want to see,” Bucky says, and it sounds like he’s trying to apologize. And maybe he should be because Clint knows this isn’t about him. Bucky doesn’t want to see him . He wants to see damage.

Which is fine , Clint firmly reminds himself, even as Bucky hooks his fingers in Clint’s waistbands and pulls the sweatpants and boxers down to Clint’s knees. In fact, that’s something he’s enjoyed being for other doms in the past. A canvas. He can’t figure out why this - why Bucky - is so much different. There’s some fact just under his--

The sound of the leather against flesh is so different than against cloth. Clint hadn’t remembered that, but then he didn’t have a lot of experience with cloth.

He screams. The protective layer had made more of a difference than he had realized. It takes him a couple of stripes to find his voice, but once he does, he screams. Loud. Enough that it tears at his throat. He twists his arms in the unyielding tie of the belt and scrabbles with his feet for enough purchase to stand. To get away from this. Bucky’s hand presses down on the small of his back, keeping him still.

That almost helps. The reminder that he’s here for a reason. But it doesn’t help enough. The cracking slap reverberates in the room that has no paintings on its walls to dull the noise. He wonders what the neighbors must think he has done - how badly he has angered his dom - that he’s screaming like this.

I didn’t do anything , he thinks weakly. But then, if there’s anyone in the world who knows that that doesn’t matter, it’s him.

He sucks in a breath of couch cushion and snot, sputtering in an effort to regain any sense of equilibrium, and he mentally, silently, begs Bucky to be done. For this to be enough. Because Clint can’t end this, he can’t, and he knows this and he accepts this.

He wonders if he’s bleeding. If the skin has stripped right off in a thin layer of dead tissue and he wants to trust Bucky better than that but he doesn’t know . Bucky had warned him it would hurt. He’d been warned. He deserves this.

He finally lays still over the arm of the couch and doesn’t move because it doesn’t matter. He can’t help the noises, but they’re more like air being forced out of his lungs by compression than a conscientious objection to the pain at hand.

But, like everything else, it ends. Eventually, Bucky is panting above him, whether from exertion or something else Clint doesn’t know and doesn’t care. He’s just happy to be still.

Fingers brush softly at the stinging skin of his ass, but Clint can't even muster up a flinch away from the pain.

Bucky breathes in sharply from behind him and suddenly the fingers are gone. The next touch is clinical and goal orientated as Bucky undoes the buckle on the belt holding his arms in place. When it releases, he lets his arms falls to the side as gravity wills.

“Fuck,” Bucky says, and backs away. Clint can feel him backing away even though he's not looking. Because that's what Bucky does. He lashes out and then he disappears.

It's only a few heartbeats later that the door to the bedroom slams shut.

Clint shivers.

Fuck it , he thinks, and he moves his arms up onto the couch so he can bury his face in them.

This is not sustainable, is his one clear thought before he lets the drop take him away, shivering, into a more nonverbal type of suffering.













 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost….



just quite on the edge






Bucky comes back. Comes back to where Clint is lying, has every intention of lying for the foreseeable future.

“Catch me making the same mistake twice,” he mutters to himself, as he pulls Clint’s boxers back up. The sweatpants have been kicked somewhere across the room.

The fabric hurts against his skin, but not so much that he cares. Bucky scoops him up into his arms in a way that doesn’t cause much more pain at all and asks, “Bedroom or couch?”

Clint doesn’t respond, just watches his own fingers spaz against the fabric of Bucky’s tactical vest.

He thinks, he probably needs to learn to take that as a visual clue. Bucky in tactical gear. Boots and vest and weapons even though they’re hidden underneath his clothing for some reason rather than being out in the open.

Bucky sits down on the couch and arranges Clint on top of him in a parody of the way they had cuddled together on Bucky’s bed just last week. Clint stays still and compliant because he’s not sure what else to do. He appreciates the warmth of Bucky beneath him, and he certainly appreciates the way his hands are gently petting him up and down his back, but beyond that there’s just silence, and Clint has always prefered his comfort in the form of words.

It’s going to be a near thing, but the dark hole in Clint’s mind is still closer to near than to far. Bucky is clearly trying, but it’s probably too little too late. And it doesn’t help that part of Clint just wants to go ahead and give into it, both to get it over with and as some sort of misplaced vindictive punishment for how hard Bucky had gone with something that was just supposed to be working off nervous energy and unease.

“Do you want to watch Law and Order?” Bucky tries, shifting suddenly to reach out and grab the remote off the table.  “I can...I can do that.”

But Bucky is doing the best he can.

And somehow

 

the way he’s trying

offering to put stupid television shows on because it’s the only piece of information Clint has given him to work with is just…

 

Clint laughs. It’s just a couple of short breathes into Bucky’s chest, but with how closely they’re pressed together there’s no way that Bucky misses it.

“Yeah?” he asks, and Clint can hear the cautious optimism in the question.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees. “But take off your stupid tactical vest. It’s uncomfortable.”

He’s still in a lot of pain, but it’s becoming a lot less important as Bucky shuffles around to comply with can only be described as Clint’s command. Getting what he asks for, added to the closer and more human contact, helps a little bit more on top of the little bit more from his fond amusement at Bucky’s attempts at aftercare.

Jesus, these guys really are morons. But when Bucky suddenly kisses the top of his softly, Clint resolves that that’s okay with him. He can fucking walk them through aftercare if he has to. What they do have, this strange innate gentleness, isn’t something that he could have taught. It is, or it is not.

Clint sighs in gentle exasperation, but he takes a mouthful of Bucky’s shirt between his teeth and tugs on it in affection even as he tightens his grip with both his fists. Securing his anchor at every possible point.

“We’re going to be all right,” Bucky says, as he turns on the television. And, against all odds, Clint is inclined to agree with him.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

They sleep in Clint’s bed.

Bucky says that he doesn’t want to sleep where Steve should be but isn’t, and Clint understands that on a visceral level. Besides, he’s certainly not complaining. He’s more than familiar with the feeling in question, having slept in only empty beds since he’s arrived.

And it turns out that Bucky sleeps like a cat. He curls around in strange positions, wakes up every few hours and moves to a different one, and prefers to lie at least part way on top whoever else is in the bed with him. Clint doesn’t end up getting a lot of sleep, but it’s worth it. Still, a part of him wonders how Steve does it, and the other part wonders how Bucky does.

Either way, Clint has to kick off the covers halfway through the night, sticking with one thin cover sheet and Bucky the space heater.

“You better not have a fever,” he whispers quietly at Bucky. “This had better be natural.”

When Bucky stirs, probably in response to the noise, Clint quickly shuts his eyes and pretends to be fast asleep.

Waking isn’t much different from sleeping. Eventually, one of the times that Bucky wakes up and moves around restlessly, he just doesn’t close his eyes again. Instead, he stares at Clint for a while, and Clint stares back until--

“How are you feeling?” Bucky asks gently.

“How are you feeling?” Clint shoots back, because he’s sore and still kinda shaky. Enough so that he’s going to have to be careful today. Either that or find time to lock himself in the bathroom, induce the hovering bad drop, and work through it on his own. Unfortunately, given everything, he doubts he’ll get the unquestioned alone time.

The range, maybe. That might help, and Bucky is a lot more likely to allow Clint to visit the range than he is to allow Clint to lock himself in a room filled with potential weapons. Not that the range doesn’t have weapons. It’s just….it’s not the same thing. A 9mm that’s he’s checked out and is responsible for is different from a shard of broken bathroom mirror.

His thought process is brought to a halt as it unravels as Bucky sits straight up in bed.

“Oh thank god,” he breathes, suddenly out of bed and shuffling around on the floor, most likely looking for his pants. Clint obligingly leans over and flips on the bedside lamp. And, since the image of Bucky desperately looking to leave Clint’s bedroom in a rush isn’t a pleasant one no matter the reason, he takes the opportunity to find his own pants, partly to slip them on and partly to find his phone and put it to charge.

By the time he’s done, Bucky is pushing out of the room at the same time that Steve is pushing in through the front door.

He’s going to see him coming out of Clint’s room. Panic pulses in Clint’s throat, because what if Steve gets the wrong idea? He’s not entirely sure what the wrong idea could possibly be, but these two have such strange rules and they’re constantly losing their tempers over him , and he’s just not sure his already shaky foundation is going to be able to deal with that kind of devolution today.

He’s partly right. At least, it looks like he’s going to be right. As soon as he rushes to follow Bucky into the living room - still buttoning his pants stupid - he sees Steve just standing and staring at what’s being revealed to him. Clint isn’t sure if Bucky just doesn’t notice or if he’s purposefully ignoring the expression on Steve’s face, but either way he walks straight across the room and into Steve’s arms. Steve, despite the confusion on his face, opens his arms without question.

Clint is left watching it all unfold from 15 feet away. Watching the look Steve throws him over Bucky’s shoulder.

“Are you coming or not?” Steve asks, removing one arm from hs embrace with Bucky and beckoning at Clint with it.

Clint starts moving before his next heartbeat, hurtling across the room and into the embrace.

“Welcome home,” Bucky says.

“Good to be back.”

Time stands still, as though perfection could ever be allowed to exist for more than a fleeting second.

“Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” Steve finally asks, when Bucky decides he’s had enough physical contact for the moment and finally pulls away. Clint stays, gripping Steve’s dirty suit in both fists. It’s the darker of his official Captain America outfits, and it smells like rust and salt and smoke.

“Had a bit of a rough night,” Bucky answers.

“What kind of a rough night?” Steve asks.

“Started with a bad couple days,” Bucky shrugs. “Couldn’t pull myself out of it. The kid wanted to help. I should have said no. I didn’t. Here we are.”

Steve turns and fixes Clint with a piercing gaze

“Tell me what happened,” he orders.

Clint clenches his teeth once, but complies.

“He was having a bad few days, like he said. He needed to work off some nervous energy. I’m good for working off nervous energy.” When Steve’s eye twitches, Clint rushes on, “He just needed to hurt. I like to be hurt. A little hurt. A little hurt can be really good.”

“You are really bad at this, kid,” Bucky sighs.

“I’m not a kid,” Clint snaps, back, and even he is surprised by how much venom leaks into his voice. There’s real rage there. Like a dom’s.

Bucky blinks once, surprise obvious, but before Clint can figure out how to apologize for something like that - he’s going to whip me again - Bucky nods once.

“Okay. Acknowledged,” he says.

“None of which explains what happened last night. Buck, you were coming out of his room. Just….” The severity on Steve’s face crumples and for a moment he actually looks like a man in his 20s.

“Tell me what happened,” he says, voice dripping with all of his built up exhaustion.

“I whipped him with a belt,” Bucky says bluntly. “I liked it. It helped. Afterward he almost dropped. I didn’t want to leave him, and I didn’t want to sleep alone again. We didn’t...we just slept.”

“Why did he almost drop?” He turns to Clint. “Why did you almost drop if you like to be hurt?”

Clint doesn’t answer. He knows the answer. He’s had time to think it over, and he’s inspected the damage in the mirror in the middle of the night when he’d woken for an hour and couldn’t get back to sleep. He knows that Bucky hits too hard for a human. Swings too fast. Breaks Clint’s headspace. But there’s nothing to be done about that. Bucky hits as hard as he hits, and that’s just the way it is. So he will answer Steve’s question over his dead body, because he will not take this away from Bucky. He’ll just have to--

“I left him,” Bucky interjects. “I...I came back, but I panicked for a moment and left. For just a minute. But I came back.”

Steve presses his lips together hard.

“He did fine,” Clint rushes to interject, relieved that he won’t have to say anything on the topic. That his silence on the subject can be taken as affirmation.

Steve doesn’t say anything. He marches past them to the kitchen table, where he slings his bag off his shoulder and places it on the surface so he can dig through it.

“If you’re pissed just say so,” Bucky says. “I’d rather hurry and have it out.”

Suddenly Steve turns and hurtles a book he’s dug out from the bag straight at Bucky’s head. It’s a near thing, whether or not it hits him, but at the last minute his metal arm flies up and catches the book in his fist.

“Picked that up on the way home,” Steve says, and Bucky turns it so he can look at the cover. Clint creeps up behind so he can see it, too. The titles reads, What Your Sub Can’t Tell You , and Clint makes a face because, really?

“You don’t get to touch him like that again until you’ve read it,” Steve snaps. “And then read it again.” He turns back to pick his bag back up with a jerk, muttering, “Left him alone, for fuck’s sake.”

“Like you do any better,” Bucky mutters back.

“Jesus,” Clint barks. “I’m telling you exactly what you need to know.”

“Bullshit,” Steve snaps over his shoulder.

“I prefer verbal aftercare,” Clint snaps right back. It gets him what he wants in that Steve actually stops moving toward the bedroom. “But I don’t like to be left alone, even if you’re not gonna talk to me. Even if you’re still mad.”

“Verbal aftercare,” Bucky repeats slowly.

“Tell me I’m good,” Clint says, shifting his gaze back to Bucky and trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. Will it still feel the same, if he knows that Bucky is saying it just because he knows Clint wants him to? “Tell me I did well, that I took it well, that you’re impressed, proud, satisfied. Tell me anything .”

Steve drops his bag on the floor and crosses the space between them in a few long strides. He takes Clint chin in one hand and tugs him a little closer, forcing Clint to shuffle forward a half-step. Steve tilts Clint’s head up, and Clint makes calm eye contact even as his pulse flutters. Can they hear that? The way his heartbeat changes?

That is good,” Steve says firmly. Like a foundation stone. “Telling me what you want and like is good .”

Clint shivers..

“You guys are fucking saps,” Bucky says, even though his eyes are fixed on Steve’s hand where it grips Clint face, hooked under his jaw on either side.

“Jealous?” Steve asks, subtle grin hidden in his expression.

“Fuck off,” Bucky snaps. “I’m hungry, and I know you’re starving. Let’s order food. I want Chinese. Egg rolls, specifically.”

“You can’t make a meal out of just egg rolls,” Steve says, letting go of Clint’s face to fix Bucky with a look.

“Fucking watch me,” Bucky says back.

Clint thinks a meal entirely made out of egg rolls sounds awesome.

 

__________

 

Clint had hoped that he’d be invited to snuggle into bed with his two doms after that day, but no invitation is made, and he doesn’t have the guts to ask. He does, however, have the guts to err more on the side of initiation than passive reception. So when he stumbles out of his bedroom one morning at who-knows-what-time and finds Steve with his tablet sitting on the couch, Clint clambers over to sit next to him and lean against his side.

Steve responds by moving the tablet to the side so Clint can lean further, all the way down to lay his head on Steve’s lap.

“You’re warm,” he mumbles into Steve thigh.

“One of the perks of the serum,” Steve says absentmindedly. “Really worried the doctors during my first round of tests afterward, but they calmed down eventually. Doesn’t seem to hurt anything.”

“Bet it’s nice when it’s cold out.”

“Yeah...it’s…” Steve stops looking at the tablet, instead looking down right at Clint. “Yeah, it had its advantages. When we were out in the middle of nowhere in Europe. When it would drop below freezing and we couldn’t risk a fire.”

Clint tilts his head a little so he can better see Steve’s expression, even as Steve turns back to the tablet. The one he’s clearly no longer actually looking at, as he talks to Clint.

“Did they huddle around you?” Clint asks, grinning at the sudden image. “Captain America and his team, all pressing in closer and closer. To conserve body heat, of course.”

“Cheeky,” Steve snorts. “But not entirely wrong. We certainly didn’t….we didn’t have much care for social convention. None of us.”

Clint eyebrows shoot up in surprise, because he’d mostly been joking. He knows subs were few and far between in the war, but he also knows that sometimes - when things got lonely enough - sometimes a team of doms would become a little bit more than a team, just because there was no one else.

“Sorry,” he says. “I shouldn’t have pressed, I...I,”

“I’m not ashamed of it,” Steve laughs. “I don’t do things I’d be ashamed of later. It’s a recipe for misery.”

“Well,” Bucky interrupts, and Clint shoots up to a seated position so he can look over the back of the couch at where he’s emerged from the bedroom. “It’s a recipe for more misery than is necessary.”

It sounds like something a sub would say, and Clint has been speaking his mind too often to keep back the reflexive statement.

“Sometimes you talk like a sub,” he says.

Bucky freezes, right in the middle of a step and looks Clint right in the eye with another one of those expressions that Clint has never seen before. Adrenaline and horror flood Clint’s body and his mouth opens to take back the insult, because Jesus there’s playing at being disrespectful and then there’s that , but he can’t even figure out how to make words. He just shakes his head, lost for vocabulary.

“He’s got you pegged,” Steve says, amusement in his voice.

“Shut up,” Bucky mutters. “Don’t...I…. fuck I need coffee.”

Clint finally finds his voice.

“I am so sorry. God, I’m sorry. Punish me, please, I’m...I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean it. I just thought it could be funny, I didn’t think about it. I didn’t hear it in my head, I’m really sorry!”

He feels Steve’s hand on his wrist and turns to look at him with contrition and panic.

“Hush,” Steve says, drawing Clint over to sit in his lap. Clint obediently shuts his mouth with a snap.

“You’re not in trouble,” Steve says.

Which is such utter bullshit. Clint hadn’t thought Steve was the kind of dom to play that game. The ‘you’re not in trouble’ game, that always ends in such sudden surprising pain. He dips his head forward to rest it on Steve's shoulder, not daring to look even at the kitchen wall Bucky has disappeared behind.

“You know I like it when you speak your mind,” Steve soothes, and then calls, ““Bucky! Come tell Clint you’re not pissed. I don’t think he’s going to believe it from me.”

Bucky’s footsteps come back into the living room, and Clint looks up, because these doms like him to look at them, even when it hurts. Bucky walks up to him and Clint winces when Bucky’s hand moves, but it’s not a slap. It’s not even a click of the fingers right in front of Clint’s eyes to make him flinch and to get his attention. Instead, it’s a gentle caress that doesn’t become a painful grip or a stinging cut of fingernails. Instead, it become a kiss.

It’s quick. Just a press of lips against each other, before Bucky draws back, but it does what Bucky’s trying to do. It gets Clint’s attention without the slightest flare of pain.

“I do sound like a sub sometimes,” Bucky says gently, close enough that Clint can feel his hot breath against his own parted lips. “I’m not going to be mad at you for pointing out something that’s true.”

“Hey, where’s mine?” Steve complains, and Bucky rolls his eyes before turning his head and kissing Steve, too. It’s less chaste than Clint’s had been, but Clint is not complaining. Not with the lovely front-row view he’s got. Then Bucky pulls away, much to the disappointment of both Steve and Clint, and returns to the kitchen.

“So, Clint, tell me something else about yourself. I don’t want to always talk about us.”

It is, Clint thinks, the funniest thing Steve has ever said. As if they ever talk about themselves. What the fuck does Steve think he’s saying?

Bucky comes back into view. He’s balancing three mugs of coffee in his hands, and Clint has the sudden realization that they probably wouldn’t fall even if he kicked the guy in the shins. He bites the inside of this cheek, watches Steve take one cup, and then takes the one being offered to him. He kind of wants to sit on the floor with it, at their feet, but he stays where he is, pressed against Steve as Bucks sinks down to sit on his other side.

“Any hobbies?” Steve continues. “Or even, any hobbies that you’d like to have? We could get you anything. Within reason.”

“I’ve honestly always been on the move,” Clint shrugs, digging his feet down even further underneath Bucky’s thigh. “Never had the opportunity to accumulate hobbies, or even desires for hobbies.”

"How about art?" Steve tries again. “Any preferences?”

"I didn't really have a lot of opportunities to see a lot of art." He tries pasting on a smile at the end, to smooth over any offense or disrespect. He knows that art is Steve’s thing.

"Why not?" Steve answers.

"The moving around thing, again. I didn't grow up in an situation that let us get out a lot. I was raised in a circus, I think I mentioned that already?"

Steve nods, briefly, and Clint plunges on ahead.

"It wasn't an environment that left a lot of free time. Not to wander into the city and buy museum tickets, anyway."

He doesn't mention that he has, technically, been inside one art museum and been very up close with the artwork in question. It's not a set of circumstances he's eager to relay.

"But you were in a circus," Steve says, and this time he looks significantly more engaged with the question. He leans forward, the slightest bit, to look Clint in the eye.

"Yeah," Clint says. Then corrects himself. "Yes, sir."

"Well, that's a kind of art in and of itself!"

A grin flashes over Steve's face, and Clint inadvertently answers it with one of his own. It's hard not to, especially when Steve so rarely seems to smile at all. Even though he has absolutely no idea what Steve is talking about.

"Okay?" he tries.

"No, seriously," Steve says. "Art is way more than the Louvre and the Guggenheim. It's diverse and vast, and trying to distort it down into confined definitions does more damage to the collective psyche of the nation than you would think."

"Okay," Clint says again.

“You’ve got him on a rant now,” Bucky says.

“I am not on a rant,” Steve huffs into this coffee.

“Liar. But don’t let me interrupt.”

“Look,” Steve says. “Art is anything that isn’t necessary for survival. Remember that.”

“I bet I can come up with something to prove that wrong,” Bucky said, lazily tilting his head on the couch so he can stare at the ceiling.

“That’s not my point,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. “I’m sure you could come up with exceptions, but the principal of the thought remains. It’s what we, as humanity, are good for. We live art.”

“Broad brush,” Bucky mumbles, but that seems to be the end of his objections.

It isn't like Clint doesn’t want to say anything, but he isn’t sure he’s supposed to be doing anything right now, wedged in between them. He can still taste Bucky’s kiss, quick as it had been.

"About that circus thing," Steve says suddenly. "How'd that happen anyway?"

"What do you mean?" Clint turns his head enough to be able to see Steve. Judge reactions.

"I mean...I guess I mean that that's not a classically normal life experience. Statistically speaking."

"I suppose not," Clint answers.

"I told you talking to him was like pulling teeth," Bucky mutters, forcing Clint to sigh and sit up a little straighter.

"It didn't seem abnormal to me at the time," he admits. "When you flee in the dead of night as kids you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. If there's food and warmth, you're grateful."

Steve doesn't respond for a moment, looking at Clint intently enough that Clint doubts he's going to like what's said next.

"There's a lot to unpack there," Steve says slowly. "But I guess the important part is I'm sorry you know what it's like to be cold and hungry."

"Every sub knows what it's like to be cold and hungry," Clint says wearily.

Steve's eyes narrow.

"You know that when you say things like that I start to rethink this whole thing?" He waves his hands in the air in a general acknowledgement. "I know that we've decided to try it, but when you say shit like that I can feel a physical pain in my chest."

“We fled from an orphanage,” Clint answers. Bargaining with information about himself to derail Steve’s disappointment. “Just a few days after we got there. They wanted to divide us up. Different foster homes. Apparently it’s a lot easier to find a home for a dom, even if he is older.”

“So you just, what? Ran away?” Steve asks. “How old were you?”

“Six.”

“Jesus,” Bucky breathes. Then he laughs. “Weren’t gonna let the world stop you from getting what you wanted, huh? What happened?”

“Barney was the one who wanted to run,” Clint says. “I just followed.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything, just looks at him until Clint can’t take it anymore and quickly continues the story.

“Barney found the circus. Eventually they agreed to take us in. We learned to pull our weight. We picked up some acts. So on and so life goes.”

“So, Barney is your brother, then?” Steve asks.

“Oh, shit. Yeah, sorry. Older brother. Marksman. Dom. Certified pain in the ass.” He smiles wistfully, trying to keep the sudden wave of painful nostalgia off his face, even as it crests through him.

“Where is he now?”

Clint shrugs. “Where are any of us going to be in a few years? He’s hard to keep track of. Once we both left the circus, contact was’t the highest priority. Neither of us are much suited to making footprints or sitting still. If it’s ever important enough, we find each other.”

“You find each other?” Bucky asks, hints of incredulity in his tone. “You just, you get it in your head that you want to talk to your brother, and you just track him down. From a cold trail within almost four million square miles?”

“Four million square miles?” Clint asks. “Is that the United States?”

“About.”

“How many square miles in the world?”

Bucky’s eyebrows draw down as he thinks it through. “What? 200 million?” He asks at Steve.

“Not sure. I know inhabitable land is more like 25 million.’

“Okay then,” Clint says. We track each other down from a cold trail within 25 million square miles.”

“What like it’s hard?” Steve says with a grin and an inflection in his voice that is not his own.

“Who the fuck are you, kid?”

“Not a kid,” Clint snaps, because he already knows he can get away with that one.

“Whatever,” Bucky says. “So how did you end up here, then? Where did Coulson pull you from?”

“He...got me out of some trouble,” Clint says carefully, because talking about his childhood is one thing, but detailed the series of illegal and, frankly, stupid choices that led him to face prison time is something else.

“Don’t talk about it if you don’t want to,” Steve says gently.

“What about your parents?” Bucky asks. “What happened that left you on your own at six years old?”

“Have some tact,” Steve says as Clint shakes his head.

“I wasn’t alone; I had Barney. But the answer to your question is a car accident. My dad’s fault.”

“Why do you say that?” Steve asks. “That an accident was your father’s fault?”

“Fine, car crash then. He was drunk out of his mind and drove us directly into oncoming traffic. Everyone kept telling Barney and I what a miracle it was that we survived. How lucky we were. How blessed. How grateful we should be.”

“Sounds familiar,” Bucky says, drawing Clint’s eyes to him.

“What happened to you?” Clint asks. “What happened that people kept telling you you should be grateful for?”

“Not just me. Steve, too. We’re just...we’re supposed to be so happy to be alive. To have survived. To still be limping along in this godforsaken bullshit of a world.”

“Only the good die young,” Clint murmurs. “Because only the good have earned it.”

Bucky nods once, and Steve reaches around Clint so he can both embrace the sub on his lap and hold the hand of the dom on his left.

Steve’s phone alert noise from hell goes off. That single, piercing, ear-splitting chime, and Steve shifts Clint over to Bucky’s lap.

“Sorry,” he says. “Gotta go.” He’s already walking toward the door and his shoes, the only missing piece of his outfit.

“Don’t you always,” Bucky sighs.

Steve throws him a look filled with nothing but pain, but Bucky doesn’t see it from where he’s staring at the ceiling, and Steve doesn’t say anything out loud. Clint is the only one to witness it. And then Steve is out the door.

“Is the world ending?” Clint asks, only half-joking.

“If it is, maybe it’s about time we just let it,” Bucky says. “Maybe we aren’t the only ones out there pissed off about having to still be alive.” Then, before Clint can think of a response that won’t get him slapped, Bucky takes a deep breath and continues, “No. If the world were ending they would have called me, too.”

 

__________

Steve has to go away again. He says it’s only for two days this time, and he looks Bucky directly in the eye to say “don’t touch him” instead of saying “goodbye” or “I love you” and it turns Clint’s stomach. He, on the other hand, gets a kiss on the head, and it’s not fair when he’s the one doing things wrong and Bucky is the one trying his best.

Bucky does the exact same thing he did last time, only much more quickly. It’s like he knows that he only has two days instead of three, so he devolves faster. First moping, and then isolating, and knowing what’s coming doesn’t do Clint any good to head it off at all, and Steve should have said goodbye to Bucky and told Clint “don’t fuck up” because that makes more sense.

He tries the breakfast trick again, except with dinner. Cooking with strong aromas and old recipes. And, in retrospect, he does, technically, win that particular battle. Bucky does come out of his bedroom. Unfortunately, he does so by slamming the door open so hard it swings back and hits the wall behind it. He’s wearing combat gear, because that’s apparently what he fucking slept in. If he slept at all. This time, the weapons are not tucked away in hidden pockets. They are on display. They are a challenge.

“Is there a fucking reason you’re making enough noise to wake the dead at ass o’clock in the morning?” he snarls.

It’s well past 7pm.

Clint’s adrenaline bursts through his body so quickly that his fingertips start to tingle and the outer lower edges of his vision turn to white static.

“I’m sorry,” he says, as loudly as he dares. He’s holding a frying pan in one hand and he’s not sure where to put it that won’t make noise. The sink is full of cooking dishes and the table is full of food. The stovetop is still too hot to be good for an empty pan.

“Oh, you’re sorry, are you?” Bucky spits. “Make another noise, and we’ll see how sorry you can be.”

Then he slams the door closed again, with just as much force.

Clint turns a quick circle in the kitchen, trying to figure out where to put the pan. Trying to figure out what he’s going to do about the kitchen. There are things in the oven, and opening it will make noise, but leaving it there will eventually set off the fire alarm. The food on the table will cool and go bad. How long is this silence supposed to last? How quiet does it need to be?

He remembers Bucky and Steve speaking to each other through a door and a hallway away from each other, and he bites his bottom lip hard enough to ground himself.

He should have seen this coming. He’s already seen Bucky’s penchant for pendulum swinging between the best and the worst emotions he can have, so Clint should have seen this coming. Should have prepared for it and hedged his best. It’s his own fault that he’s here, playing the “which one will be worse” game.

In the end, he decides it’s better to err on the side of silence. So he stands there. He turns off the oven, and he holds the frying pan in his hand until the stovetop has cooled enough that he places it back down, careful millimeter by millimeter.

He can hear his own heartbeat.

After that, he just stands in the kitchen. He can’t bring himself to walk away and leave the food, but he can’t bring himself to start putting it away, either. He has no idea where the threshold is for sound right now, but he’s guessing it’s “anything”.

If he can hear his own heartbeat, can Bucky?

He stands. And waits. He doubts very much that it will be the longest wait he’s ever endured at the half-articulated orders of an angry dom.

He’s right. It’s barely a few hours before Bucky shoves his way back out of the bedroom. He’s glaring at everything, lips pursed in a thin line. He takes in the kitchen with a glance and gestures to the table.

“Can I have my own table cleared off, please?” he snaps, and Clint rushed to do what he’s been itching to do for the last two hours. He’s is capable of learning, so all of the food will keep just fine, and he packs it away as quickly as possible.

He debates back and forth between asking if he should clean up all of it, because Bucky hasn’t eaten in over a day, so maybe Clint is supposed to assume Bucky wants something and to leave out a little of everything. Then again, what he’d said explicitly was just to clean everything up.

He hesitates, and Bucky sees it.

“What?” he asks, annoyance apparent in even the way he holds his body.

“Did you want anything to eat?” Clint asks quietly. “Sir?”

“I’m not hungry, just clean this shit up. I need the table. And I need quiet.”

Clint nods quickly and gets everything into the fridge or pantry, immediately afterward starting on the dishes that have been sitting around the kitchen long enough that grease and food are caking and drying on them.

He’s not sure what he’s going to do after that. It’s his job as a sub to temper this as best he can, no matter how unfair the cost may end up being, but the last time he tried to deal with Bucky in an unusual mood he’d almost gotten killed, and he’s pretty sure the lesson that followed was to give Bucky space when he needs it.

Clint jerks a pan of soapy water a little too quickly in his anxiety and sloshes the contents over the edge of the sink and onto his shirt and the cabinets, dripping all the way down to the floor. He drops the pan back into the sink, wincing at the clatter even as he spins around to grab a towel.

“Shit,” he mutters. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

Bucky stands up from where he was settling in at the table, papers and electronics spread across the surface, and Clint freezes where he is on his knees, trying to wipe away the soapy greasy mess. Bucky comes over to him, reaches down, and takes a handful of the front of Clint’s shirt, jerking him to his feet. He walks forward to the far side of the kitchen, forcing Clint to take scrambling steps backward until Bucky suddenly jerks them to a halt.

He lets go of the front of Clint’s shirt to dig around in one of the junk drawers, eventually pulling out a roll of duct tape. Clint’s heart sinks, because he’s pretty sure he knows where this is going.

Sure enough, Bucky rips off a piece of it and places it firmly over Clint’s mouth, before taking back that handful of the front of his shirt and dragging him back across the kitchen. Clint can’t really see where he’s going, and he catches one of his feet on a chair at the table, somehow both stubbing his toe and losing his footing. Bucky doesn’t stop, supporting the whole of Clint’s weight with his metal arm fisted in Clint’s shirt, dragging him the rest of the way even as he scrabbles for his footing back. Bucky places Clint facing the corner that he can easily keep an eye on while he’s working at the table, and then he’s gone.

Clint blinks tears out of his eyes as he stares at the wall. This is not something worth crying over. He couldn’t be quiet, so Bucky made him be quiet. It’s fine. It’s all fine. He’s not even in any pain. Besides his toes. And that was his own clumsy fault.

He keeps trying to convince himself that he’s fine. That holding his tongue and staring at a wall for a while is nothing. Bucky will finish whatever he’s working on. Maybe there will be some more punishment. Bucky will eventually calm down. Steve will be home any minute now. None of this is permanent fear. None of this is permanent.

He stares at the wall, tasting the glue from the duct tape when he moves his tongue around in his mouth.

Somehow, thinking about how this isn’t permanent isn’t working. It’s worse, to remember how nice it had been just a few days ago. How nice it could be right now if Clint wasn’t such a total and complete fuck up.

How hard of an order is “keep quiet” for god’s sake?

He crying now. Tears in his eyes and over-dripping down his cheeks. It’s a matter of time before he lets out a sob, or he can’t hold his breath well enough, or he reflexively sniffles. He clutches the legs of his sweatpants in his fists and tries to think of nothing but the white color of the wall. He shivers, and blinks, and tries to win this fight.

He loses. His breath hitches and he sucks in a wet sob through his running nose and once he’s made one noise he gives up and does it again.

He hears Bucky violently shove his chair back. He stares at the wall and tries not to blink because if he blinks then the tears will brim over the edges of his eyelids which is a nonsense thought because he’s already lost that battle. There’re already spilling so why--

A bright explosion of pain.

It takes him a moment to realize Bucky had slammed his forehead into the wall he’s supposed to be quietly staring at. Aching pain lighting bolts its way around toward his temples as Bucky wrenches his head back by his hair so Clint is staring up at the ceiling.

“Sorry sorry sorry,” Clint whispers, incomprehensible behind the duct tape, because he doesn’t know when the fuck to shut up. Not even when he’s told. He tries to keep staring up at the ceiling rather than to the side where he’ll be able to see Bucky’s expression.

He thinks about his phone in his pocket. He thinks about calling Steve.

It’s a stupid thought. A disobedient cowardly thought. A disrespectful unwarranted--

Bucky spins him around and shoves him back so Clint slams into the wall. Bucky holds him there with one hand to his chest and now Clint has no choice but to look at his dom. There’s only so much that looking at the floor can do with that much radiating rage directed his way.

The blow to the side is unexpected. It’s a full punch. Closed fist into Clint’s side and maybe he should be grateful it wasn’t metal but either way it snatches the air from his lungs and he crumples to his knees.

Shock. This is all of the things he’d tried to remember to fear, but had forgotten . How did someone like him forget that this was a possibility? That sometimes pain doesn’t come from controlled scenes and well-handled leather. Sometimes it is violent and blunt.

He looks up at Bucky. He can’t help it, he’s gone soft, so he looks up at Bucky with all the pleading words he can’t vocalize prominent in his eyes. He looks up from his place on his knees and silently begs for forgiveness or at least a type of punishment he understands expects accepts.

It’s not Bucky.

Clint has that ridiculous thought for a split-second of eye contact before Bucky backhands him down and Clint has to throw out his hands to keep from face-planting. There was someone else there, behind those eyes, and Clint needs to call Steve. He needs….he needs….

“Stand up,” Not-Bucky orders, and Clint tries to scramble to his feet. What he needs right now, is to put his head down and get through this.

Bucky slaps him down again before Clint can get to his feet.

“I said stand up.” This time, there’s a dark humour within the words, and it’s not Bucky’s voice as much as that hadn’t been Bucky’s expression.

Transplanted speech pattern.

Clint dismisses it, because it’s a ridiculous thought. Who from Bucky’s life could he possibly be emulating? Who would have treated a dom like this?

Clint struggles to his knees to be hit down again, and his cheek is throbbing with building bruising and when Bucky tells him to get up again he just takes a moment, on his hands and knees to try and get his breath back. To figure out if riding this out really is the best way of dealing with this.

Bucky kicks him in the ribs. Hard. Hard enough that something crunches and Clint can only hope it’s just cartilage before his mind splinters. He needs to be good. He needs to just be good and maybe his dom will forgive him. After he’s done.

He’s kicked again and his side cries out with the shooting pain that wraps his chest like an embrace. His mouth is bleeding, and he swallows it because he has no other options.

Metal closes around his right wrist. Too tight. Clint is jerked to his feet, crying out with the cracking pain in his wrist and hand, but at least he’s on his feet now like his dom wanted. He takes deep gulping breaths and he stumbles back into the kitchen area.

He’s placed on his knees where he waits, watching. His dom flips open one of the cabinet doors and pulls out a bag of rice, casually rips is open and dumps the entire thing out on the floor. Then he jerks a metal mixing bowl out of another cabinet and drops it on the floor as well. It clangs loudly, and Clint winces at the noise because Be quiet!

“I want every single grain picked up and put in that bowl,” he orders.

“Yes, sir!” Clint answer, as well as he can from behind the duct tape. He repeats it and nods his head vigorously to make sure his obedience is being understood.

“And if you haven’t picked up every single one by the time I come back out here, I will cane scars into you, and then you can finish the job with your tongue.”

Clint nods again, still muffling out “Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir,” as well as he can.

Then Clint is alone in the kitchen. He hears the bedroom door slam to, hard, but he doesn’t look around. He’s too busy working as fast as he can, picking up the little grains with careful fingers. It’s hard, with how much everything hurts and how much his hands are shaking. His right one, the one that had been grabbed so tightly, is especially difficult to work with. Clint can’t tell if the fingers are swelling or if it’s just his imagination.

He tries to compensate by using that hand to move the bowl around while his left picks at the tiny white dots that crumble if he grasps at them too tightly. At some point, he notices that some of the grains have embedded themselves into the fabric of his pants as he crawls around on his hands and knees. He moves himself into a crouch, hovering his knees over the bowl and tries to brush it all off into it.

He falls. His legs gives out of the stressful position or he overbalances and topples. Either way, one knee lands on the side of the bowl, upending it and sending all his work catapulting across the tile.

He sobs. The tears are making is difficult to see his job and the duct tape is making is difficult to breath and he sobs, even as it hurts his ribs.

There are hands on his arms, grabbing him and pulling him, and no no no no no please no , he doesn’t want more scars, doesn’t want to remember this day in any way other than his nightmares.

“Clint,” someone says, pulling him back from where he scrabbling at the rice. He has to finish he has to be finished right now .

“Clint please, tell me what’s wrong!”

Panic. Utter panic in a dom’s voice and Clint finally looks at who’s pulling him away from his job. Steve’s eyes are wide with confusion and terror. He reaches out and carefully peels the duct tape off Clint’s mouth, and Clint let’s him because Bucky hadn’t said to leave that on, but he does have to get this mess cleaned up. He turns away from Steve and dumps another shaky handful into the bowl.

“Your hand,” Steve says, voice strangled, and that’s...a drop. It slows Clint down, divides his mind just enough that he can process what’s going on.

“I have to finish this,” he tells Steve. His mouth hurts. His throat hurts. He must have cried out at some point. Screamed. Really screamed, to tear at his throat like he must have.

“No, you don’t,” Steve says. He’s trying to say it with authority, Clint can tell, but there isn’t enough confidence to break Bucky’s order. Bucky had spoken with all of his authority, and it was heavy on Clint’s back. Steve is an exhausted dom hovering into a drop, and it’s not enough.

“Stop,” Steve pleads, pulling at Clint’s arms.

“I have to finish!” Clint screams. Steve won’t give his arms back so he leans down and starts to lick the rice up, spitting it into the bowl. Like Bucky said. Bucky had said.

Steve is gone. Disappears. Clint hears the bedroom door slam open, it might be off it’s hinges. Hears Steve screaming Bucky’s name, and there’s so much anger in his voice that Clint starts to cry again as he spits out grit and rice and blood.

Time stutters.

Steve is back. This time he takes Clint by the back of his shirt and pulls him up so Clint has no choice but to look him in the eye.

“Stop,” Steve orders. And it is finally, finally enough. Steve means it enough for Clint to be able to stop. He lets Steve scoop him up into a bridal-style carry. Cradles his injured wrist while Steve carries him into the bedroom, through the bedroom, into their bathroom.

“I need you to see this,” Steve says. “And I’m sorry. But I need you to see.”

It’s Bucky. He’s in the shower, stripped naked and sitting on the floor of the tub while the water cascades onto his back. Even from where he’s being held, Clint can feel the water temperature. The sheer icy numbing frozenness of it. And Bucky is just sitting there and letting it hit his back, reddening and dripping as he shivers. He’s got his head buried in his knees and his arms wrapped around his head. Ankles crossed. Hands covering his head.

As defensive positions go, it’s not bad. Clint has used it before.

“Bucky,” Steve says, loudly. Trying to be heard over the spray of the water and over whatever is happening in Bucky’s head.

“Bucky!” he repeats again, even more loudly.

Bucky doesn’t move. Doesn’t so much as twitch. Might not even be breathing. Is dead to the world.

“Turn off the water,” Clint tries to say. It’s slurred, but he thinks Steve understands him, because he shakes his head.

“It doesn’t help,” Steve says. “Makes it worse. He’ll start screaming.”

Clint reaches out toward Bucky with both arms, and Steve has to readjust his grip in order to keep Clint from spilling over his arms and down onto the shower floor.

“What are you doing?” he asks, alarm in his voice.

“He’s dropping,” Clint says. His tongue is thick in his mouth, and he doesn’t think ‘dropping’ is quite the word for whatever this is, but he can’t come up with a better way to say what he’s trying to say. Everything is too fuzzy. Hazy. Gray.

“He’s dropping,” Steve says. But there’s no inflection in his voice. It’s not a question, it’s not agreement. It’s not even surprise.

“Let me help him,” Clint begs, trying to reach further.

“Jesus,” Steve breathes. “You really are something.”

Clint doesn’t know what to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. He just tries to extend his body further - everything hurts - to reach further toward Bucky.

“Stop,” Steve orders. “I already called Nat. She’s on her way up. You and I are going to medical. She’ll do what she can for Bucky.”

“Let me help him” Clint repeats again. He can’t reach any further. Nothing left of him extends beyond what it has already extended. When Steve pulls him back, he doesn’t have anything left to resist with, and he refolds into Steve’s chest. He buries his face in the soft silk shirt and let’s his mind just

 

stop




He comes back to whatever is left of himself in what it clearly a doctor’s office of some kind. He blinks at florescent lights and wonders if the afterlife’s waiting room will have that same shimmering headache-inducing luminescence.

“Because what the actual fuck ,” a female voice is hissing under her breath. “I’ve already contacted Agent Coulson and it is only because you’re Captain America that I haven’t also called security. So you sit tight and do as I say, or I’ll change my mind on that last one. Put him on the bed there.”

Clint’s world tilts and he finds himself blinking, sitting upright, at a woman in a white coat standing between him and Steve.

“Hey there, Clint,” she said soothingly. “My name is Dr. Bellman. I’m a dom, but there is a sub doctor on call, if that would make you more comfortable. It would be no trouble at all.”

“I’m fine,” Clint says slowly. “This is fine.” She looks nice. Kind. Even if she had just been whisper-yelling at Steve. Clint imagines it takes a lot of guts to yell at Captain America, even if it is just whisper yelling.

“Okay, Clint, can you tell me where you’re hurt?”

“Hand,” Clint says immediately, because that’s the one he’s worried about. “Ribs.” Because breathing still hurts. “Mouth.” Just in case he’s still bleeding. He doesn’t want to get blood on that nice clean white coat.

Actually, in a way, everything hurts. But he can’t figure out how to say “heart and brain and soul” because that’s not Dr. Bellman’s job to fix. He laughs, instead, because there’s no other way to say anything.

“Okay, Clint,” Dr. Bellman continues. “We’re going to take care of all of that. I’ve already got xray on their way, and we’ll look at your wrist and your ribs. Can you go ahead and open your mouth?”

Clint obliges. He likes being here, so far. It’s easy to be good here.

“Why does your mouth hurt, do you remember?”

“Got slapped. A lot.” And then, because the thought is burning in his mind, “I was bad.”

Steve makes a strange noise and leaves the office, so maybe he’s upset with Clint. But also maybe he left because his phone rang. Clint thinks he heard a phone ring. Steve’s phone rings a lot. All the fucking time.

“I very much doubt that’s what happened,” the doctor says, and Clint doesn’t spend any more energy trying to correct her, even though it makes him feel a bit guilty. He’s just too tired.

The rest of the check-up is routine. Clint knows portable x-rays and the names of so many different types of pain medication. Nausea medication. Neurological tests and--

“Was there any sexual intercourse,” Dr Bellman asks.

It’s a break in the pattern. Enough so that an actual expression makes its way up to Clint’s face. He’s pretty sure it’s confusion.

“I don’t understand,” he says.

“Did James Barnes have sexual intercourse with you when he was hurting you.”

“Jesus Christ,” Steve says, because he’s back in the room already and Clint didn’t notice him  but his voice sounds like he’s been shot.

“No,” Clint says. “They won’t. They don’t want me.”

“Okay,” she responds. “I just needed to make sure. Is there anywhere else you were hurt, or are hurting?”

“No.” He wants to say that his knees hurt, but they’re barely going to bruise and he honestly just wants this to be over with.

“Okay,” she says again. “Then let’s talk about what’s going to happen now. If you’re feeling up for it, we’d like for you to tell us what happened while it’s fresh in your memory, so we can’t get it written down. But if you don’t want to, and you want to do it later instead, that’s fine, too.”

“I’m fine,” Clints says. The sooner this day is behind him the better. “I’ll do it now.”

“Okay, then. Agent Coulson is going to be here in just a moment to listen to you. And this, this curtain here,” she indicates a white sliding curtain on a track in the ceiling. “You can pull this curtain any time you like. If you get overwhelmed and want things to slow down, or if you change your mind and want to tell the story later, then all you have to do is pull that curtain around your bed. You won’t even have to say anything, and then no one will bother you until you’ve had a rest.”

It’s a very generous offer. Clint has always liked hospital staff, even if the circumstances leading to a visit are rarely enjoyable. They’re always so indulgent. He imagines it’s because they aren’t the ones that will have to deal with him if he gets spoiled and bratty.

“Yes, ma'am,” he says, because he’s a good sub who can remember his manners.

The door swings open suddenly, and Clint jumps at the movement. He looks up, expecting to see Agent Coulson, but instead...it’s a man in a goatee and an expensive suit.

“Captain!” he exclaims, with evident enthusiasm.

“What the fuck are you doing here Tony?” Steve snaps.

“You hung up on me,” Tony shrugs. “After Pepper and I came all the way down here to see you, too. You’re breaking my heart. More to the point, you sounded like someone had been killed. I was worried. And you’re phone is painfully easy to track. You should really talk to someone about that.”

“Get out,” Steve says, firmly. “This is a personal matter.”

“I’ll say,” Tony responds, and he’s looking directly at Clint. He points, cellphone in hand, and adds, “Who is that? And why does it look like I need to kick his dom’s ass?”

“Be my guest,” the doctor says, but then continues, “But I’m going to have to ask you to leave, Mr. Stark. This is becoming a dangerously overstimulating environment.”

More people push into the room. It’s feeling smaller and smaller, and Clint glances at the white curtain. At least he recognizes one of these people. Agent Coulson is there, another man behind him. Coulson, at least, looks slightly informal, no tie on his white button up, but the guy behind him looks ready to meet the president, dark black tie around his neck and all.

“Tony,” Agent Coulson says, admonishment in his voice, just a red-haired woman pushes in behind the rest of them and says, “Did you have to rush off before I could finish signing us in?”

Clint blinks. There are just...so many doms. Maybe he should have asked for that sub doctor after all.

“Don’t Tony me! That kid has been beat to hell, and I want to know why. I know that fucking bruising pattern. I know it!” He getting a little loud now, and Clint looks at the curtain again. Maybe, if he pulls it, the doctor will make them all go away.

“This is far too many people for this room,” she shouts. “Out now, or I’ll call security.”

“I am security,” Mr. Tie-Man says with a sneer.

“Oh thank god,” Tony says with dripping sarcasm. “Pepper, it’s all alright. We’ve got the security.”

“Calm down, Stark,” Mr. Tie-Man orders.

“Don’t tell him what to do,” Pepper snaps, and even Steve - dom that he is - flinches under her tone.

“Pepper,” Stark says, rushing back to her side and taking her hands. He looks into her eyes and says, “Pepps, babe, please know, please have your gorgeous beautiful ears tell your gorgeous beautiful mind that this is me being calm. You know that, right?”

“I know, Tony,” shes says, soothingly. “If I want something different from you, you know I’ll always tell you.”

The realization that Stark is a sub hits Clint like a blow, and he can’t help the short sob of incomprehensible pain that follows it. He doesn’t know why it hurts. He doesn’t. He doesn’t. He doesn’t.

“Clint,” Steve says, surging forward. Toward him. And Clint cannot. He cannot deal with whatever will come next. He jerks the separating curtain closed with a movement like cutting his own throat and, miraculously, it stops Steve where he stands. Clint can see the shadow of him. Standing still.

Clint lies down, rolls over, and stares at the wall. He stares through the slightly quieter conversation he can still hear. He stares through their retreat from the room and through the turning off of the lights. He stares until he falls asleep.

Chapter Text

When he wakes up, the curtain is still drawn, but the lights aren’t off anymore. The shadow-casting projects the shape of what Clint’s hopes is a person onto the surface in front of him. He struggles up into a sitting position, and the shadow sits up straighter. Given that freaking hair, Clint bets it’s Bucky, and his stomach flutters in something that cannot be fear.

He jerks the curtain back.

Bucky gets to his feet so quickly the chair clatters over backwards and the next few seconds are a series of flailing half-steps as he tries to back away but also to get his balance back and to right the chair until he goes over in a tangle of plastic, metal, and flesh. He lies on his back on the floor, weight supported on his elbows so he can at least halfway sit up, and he’s fixing Clint with this look of pure fear that melts whatever aggrieved feeling was growing within Clint’s new bruises and the taste of tape glue ghosting on his tongue.

“Hey, Bucky,” he says softly.

“I can’t touch you,” Bucky says back quickly. Desperately. Then he screams, “Steve!” before repeating, “I can’t touch you. I can’t, Steve says and, and, and…” he stalls out and just blinks up at Clint.

Part of Clint feels surprised at the certain serenity of his body and mind, and the rest of him feels like he’s taken off a blindfold for the first time in his life.

“Who did that to you?” he asks, and Bucky freezes.

“What?” he manages.

“I’ve seen you,” Clint presses. “I’ve seen who you are, in glimpses, and that wasn’t it. That was an echo of someone else, and I’m asking you who. Who did that to you, that it imprinted itself on you so violently?”

Bucky’s lip trembles and that is, in its own way, more frightening than the whole of last night had been.

“So many people,” Bucky breathes. “Clint...so many. And...and…”

Steve bursts into the room.

“I didn't touch him,” Bucky interrupts himself to beg, and Steve kneels down to embrace him.

“I know, Buck. I know.”

He’s now the one who looks up at Clint, still perched on the edge of the bed, while Bucky buries his face in Steve’s shirt and, for a fleeting moment, both doms are sitting at Clint’s feet.

Then Steve stands to better look at Clint.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Are you lying?”

Clint takes a deep breath, focusing on letting it all the way in and then all the way out.

“Steve,” he says. “Do you know how many doms have hurt me in my life? I mean, really hurt me. More than they meant to, or more than I expected, or more than I thought I’d deserved.”

“Too many,” Steve answers.

“If you like to think of it like that rather than as a number,” Clint agrees. “That's not the important question, anyway. The important question is, how many of them were sorry?”

Steve doesn’t say anything, just takes in a deep breath and holds it a long time before letting it out.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?” Clint asks.

Steve nods solemnly.

“Bucky? What about you? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Bucky shakes his head.

Clint stands up, unfolding his legs one at a time and then pushing himself off the bed and onto cold tile. He hadn’t realize he was barefoot. How strange to be barefoot in a room that isn’t his own.

He crosses the room, ignoring the pain inherent in breathing, walks past Steve and over to where Bucky has started shaking his head where he huddles on the floor.

“Not allowed, not allowed,” he whispers at Clint.

Clint steps over Bucky’s legs and kneels down so he’s sitting in Bucky’s lap with them face to face.

“Yes, allowed,” he whispers back. “Allowed, forgiven, loved. Take your pick.”

It’s too many heavy words for Bucky to hear at one time, and he buries his face in Clint’s chest while Clint runs his hands up and down Bucky’s back as they cling to each other.

“God,” Steve breathes from behind Clint, and Clint is inclined to agree with the sentiment.

 

__________

 

Apparently, however, they’re not allowed to leave. Even though the x-rays had come back negative for a broken wrist. Even though the couple of fractured ribs can’t be treated anyway. Even though Clint is fine and his doms would rather be at home.

Clint pouts on the bed, arms crossed over his chest.

“It’s none of their business,” he insists for the thousandth time. “It’s between us, so why do they think they get any say?”

“Coulson is the one who assigned you to us,” Steve says, being stupidly reasonable. “If the assignment is doing damage to those involved, then it’s his responsibility to investigate.”

“None of his business,” Clint repeats, mostly because every time he does it better covers up how nervous he is about what’s going to happen next. He knows he isn’t fooling anyone, given how loud his heartbeat must be to everyone else in the room, but he knows he prefers to pretend. He thinks Steve and Bucky prefer it, too. At the very least, they’re also pretending.

Steve and Clint are sitting next to each other on the bed, sideways and leaning back against the wall with their legs straight out in front of them. Bucky is sitting in a chair that he’s moved close enough to the bed that he’s pressed up against it. It’s as close as either Steve or Clint had been able to convince him to get. It is, at  least, close enough that he can lie his arm on the bed and across the ankles of both Clint and Steve.

It’s how they’re sitting when Coulson finally comes back in, this time without Mr. Tie-Man or any other escort.

“Barton,” he says. “It’s good to see you again. I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“Thanks,” Clint says angrily, because he’s frightened. The wry smile he gets in return makes Clint think he isn’t fooling anyone.

“I have to admit,” Coulson says, sitting down in the remaining chair in the room, “this wasn’t really the scene I expected to walk into this morning.” He gestures at where Bucky is purposefully touching both Clint and Steve, and Bucky jerks his arms back and into his own lap.

“He can touch me if he likes,” Clint snaps.

“Clint,” Steve says, admonishment in his voice that makes Clint press his lips together and look down at the bed.

“What happened last night is not acceptable,” Coulson tries to continue, but Clint interrupts again.

“Can’t let it get out that Captain America’s war boyfriend can’t control himself?”

“Clint!” Steve says again, this time with anger. Clint’s still looking at the bed, but he doesn’t apologize, because Coulson can’t do this. He can’t, and Clint will take any amount of punishment over being taken away from what he’s building here.

“It’s quite alright, Captain,” Coulson says. “Actually, Barton, I’m happy to hear you say something like that. I was under the impression that you weren’t capable of defending yourself.”

“You’re not my dom.”

“Ah. Yes, well, that does seem to be the problem at the heart of this, doesn’t it. However, first and foremost, I think I owe you an apology.”

Clint looks up at that. He can’t help it.

“For what?” he asks.

“For assuming I understood everything that was going on. I usually do, you know. I’ve gotten used to it. It’s good for me to be reminded that I’m not omniscient every now and again. I’m just sorry that you had to be the one to suffer for the lesson.”

“I’m a sub,” Clint says. “I’m fine. It’s all fine. Can’t you just leave us be?”

Coulson sighs heavily.

“I’m honestly not sure it’s wise,” he says wearily. “What if you get killed?”

Clint sees Bucky’s breath catch.

“No,” Clint interrupts. Then again, more loudly, “No.”

“Barton,” Coulson tries to say, but Clint interrupts him again. Gets up on his knees on the bed and points back at Steve.

“He didn’t even want me!” he shouts. “Do you know, do you know how undone they were? You can’t just--” He opens and closes his mouth a few times, because Bucky is looking at the floor silently and Steve hasn’t said anything either, so Clint knows, he knows , that he’s the only person here that will fight for this, and isn’t because he’s the only one that wants it. He has to use the words that actually mean what he’s trying to say.

Before he can find them, Coulson looks Clint directly in the eye and says, “I cannot guarantee your safety, and I do not have it in me to lose someone else I could have saved.”

“They’re mine,” Clint says firmly. He reaches one arm back and grabs the front of Steve’s shirt and reaches forward with the other hand and grabs Bucky’s sleeve. He looks Coulson directly in the eye, and how come this guy gets more say than Captain America?

“This is what--” Coulson tries, but yet again Clint interrupts him, this time by shouting“Mine!”

Bucky is the one who moves. He finally moves. He stands and turns at the same time, and he’s picked up Clint before Coulson can move. Steve manages to get off the bed, but then he stops, watching and waiting.

That’s all that Clint has time to see before Bucky turns again and Clint feels his back hit the wall. His entire vision is filled with Bucky.

“Stop,” Bucky says. “Be calm. I’m here.”

Clint can’t help it. He begins to calm down. It’s hard not to, all wrapped up like this. He pulls his legs up to twist around Bucky’s waist and he hangs there, back pressed against the wall, but with his entire weight hanging from Bucky.

They breathe together. With the same weight and rhythm and movement.

“See?” Steve says from where Clint can’t look. “Can you see?”

There is a long pause.

“Give me another option,” Coulson says, and Clint keeps breathing. “Any other option.”

“I’ll take responsibility,” Steve says. “I’ll guarantee his safety.”

“None of you can guarantee my safety,” Clint says. He pushes at Bucky a little and Bucky lets him down so Clint can look back over Bucky’s shoulder at Coulson. “Not here, and not out there, because life is tough on anyone and everyone. It’s ridiculous, expecting to be able to keep other people safe. If I don’t get hurt in here, I’ll get hurt out there, and the only difference will be that you won’t have to feel bad about it.”

Coulson looks at him, but doesn’t say anything.

“Listen to him!” Steve insists. “Does that sound like someone who won’t defend himself? Let us figure it out. We’ll set up precautions. We will figure something out. Phil, I am personally promising you, that we will keep him safe.”

There is a very long silence.

“He has a point,” Coulson says eventually. “You can’t really do that. No one can really keep someone else safe. Then again, he’s right about the rest of it, too. And I...if I’m going to let this go, I’ll have to meet with him away from the both of you, to make sure this is genuine. That’s a non-negotiable condition.”

“Agreed,” Clint says.

Another long silence.

“Fine,” Coulson concedes, standing. “Don't make me regret it, any of you. I expect a list of the practical precautions you’ll be implementing, and I’ll expect it within the day. Clint, you’ll hear from me regarding that meeting in the very near future.”

Clint rests his chin on Bucky’s shoulder and says, “Yes, sir.”

“Oh, now I’m ‘sir’, am I?”

A surge of guilt rises in Clint, but Coulson was smiling as he said it, and Clint isn’t quite sure what to do with that. Amusement at disrespect, coming from a dom that apparently ranks over Captain America.

“I’ll leave you to it, then,” Coulson says, and then he’s leaving.

The moment the door is closed behind him, Bucky is mouthing at Clint’s neck, and something entirely different is rushing through Clint’s body, feeding off the adrenaline and relief. He glances at Steve, because this is new and maybe Steve won’t…

But the look Steve is giving the two of them is entirely the opposite of disapproving.

“Can we go home now?” Bucky asks loudly, and Steve responds, “I think we’d better.”

 

__________

 

It does not, however, end the way Clint had been starting to hope. Not that he has any complaints, given the circumstances. But he had been hoping....

“So,” Steve says, with an actual fucking paper notebook in his hands. “Precautions.”

Clint groans in annoyance, burying his face in Bucky’s stomach. He’s stretched out across both their laps on the couch, and Steve is using Clint’s hip to balance the stupid notebook on, and all the physical contact is lovely, but are they seriously about to makes a bullet point list of precautions?

“Hush, you,” Steve orders. “If this is Coulson’s condition on letting you stay, I’d say it’s a pretty low price, wouldn’t you?”

He has a point on that one, but it’s not like Clint is going to admit it out loud.

“If there are no further objections then,” Steve says wryly. “The order of business is first to figure out our precautions. Second is that you two have a talk about what happened, because I do not believe either of you just shrugged it off. Don’t even try and give me that look, Buck. Third, Clint and I need to have a chat.”

There’s silence after that, and Clint’s curiosity gets the better of him.

“A chat about what?” he asks cautiously.

“Guess,” Steve says, and it makes Clint’s twist his mouth in chagrin, because he bets he knows.

“About how I spoke to Coulson?” he guesses.

“About how you spoke to Coulson,” Steve confirms. “Specifically, about one particular thing you said to Coulson.”

Clint doesn’t remember most of exactly what he said, but he’s betting Steve will remind him. It’s all right, though. He got what he wanted and, like Steve had been saying just a moment ago, it’s a pretty low price for getting what he wants.

“Yeah,” he says. “Okay. Yes, sir.”

“I’ve got a precaution,” Bucky says.

“Is it a practical precaution?” Steve asks. “I bet you a day’s wage that you’re about to say something ridiculous.”

“It’s the only thing that’s going to work,” Bucky says, and Clint can’t help but grin at the snippy tone leaking in.

“Wait,” Steve says. “Let me guess. Is it, never letting you be in the same room alone with Clint ever again?”

Silence.

“Proposal denied. Next suggestion.”

“I fucking hate you.”

“Yeah, I bet. Next suggestion. Clint? I know you’re not thrilled with the idea of this, but it’ll make both Bucky and I feel a lot better, so if there’s anything you can think of, I want to hear from you, too. Assuming you can be even slightly more reasonable than Bucky.”

Clint thinks about saying something snarky, or even offering a suggestion as ridiculous as Bucky’s just to make it look like he’s participating, when suddenly something occurs to him.

“I could tell,” he says in surprise.

“Tell what?”

“I could tell it wasn’t...Bucky. Not straight away, but pretty quickly. I even thought about trying to call you. I thought it about it more than once but I couldn’t keep the thought in my head for more than a second.”

“A way to call me?” Steve says. “Besides your phone.”

“A way to call you quickly. In the split-second I had.”

“Voice activated distress call,” Bucky murmurs. “To your phone. That might work. Assuming he’ll use it.”

“I’ll use it,” Clint says firmly. “Like you said, Steve, it’s a low price, all things considered.”

He’s fairly certain he’d use it, anyway. He wouldn't have last night, but that would have been because he wasn’t sure. Not like he will be next time it happens.

“Okay,” Steve says, writing in the stupid notebook. “That’s a really good idea. However, it focuses on what to do after things are already going wrong. What about preventing something like that from happening in the first place?”

“I should have gone in my room,” Clint says. “I saw it coming, because he was wearing the tactical gear and his weapons and everything. I can make myself scarce if he’s like that, and you’re not around.”

“I’m hearing a lot of suggestions about how you can change your behavior ,” Steve says, pointing at Clint with his pencil. “I’m looking for--” He’s interrupted by a pounding on the door. Everyone looks around at each other in confusion, and Clint bets it’s because in the months he has been here, he has never once heard anybody knock on that door.

“Who the fuck?” Steve says.

“I’ll go double or nothing with you on that day’s wage that it’s Stark,” Bucky says, and the emotion in his voice is layered and difficult to identify, but Clint can at least pick out parts of anger and parts of resignation.

Steve doesn’t have time to either take or reject the bet before Tony Stark’s voice comes filtering in through the door.

“Open up, Popsicles. I know you’re both in there.”

“Fuck,” Steve says.

“Better him than Natalia.”

“I’m sure Nat will find time to corner each of us on our own in the near future,” Steve responds as he gets off the couch and goes to open the door.

“Fuck,” Bucky says. “Fuck, you’re probably right.”

“You,” Tony exclaims, the moment Steve opens the door. “You have a lot of explaining to do. You put me in a very upsetting position, and Pepper had to work very hard to fix it, so you better send her a nice gift basket full of nice things that even I would have difficulty getting, because she is busy woman and does not deserve--”

He cuts himself off when he finally pushes past Steve and finds Clint lying with his head on Bucky’s lap. For a moment, he just points in silence, and Clint hasn’t known Tony for very long, but he bets that silence isn’t going to last long.

Sure enough, it isn’t more than a handful of seconds before he shouts “Why are you here?” a little too loudly for such a small room.

“I live here,” Clint responds, and purposefully places his hand on Bucky’s knee.

Bucky snorts in laughter.

“I know you live here,” Stark presses. “Why are you here, now ?”

“Where else would I be?”

“Leave him alone, Tony,” Steve interjects. “There are conditions. We’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“How?” Tony responds.

“We’re actually working that out right now,” Steve says. Then he gestures to the door and adds, “So if you could let us figure it out in p--”

“I’ll help,” Tony interrupts, walking past Steve and further into the apartment.

“You’re not invited onto the couch,” Bucky says, swinging his leg up to block the third spot.

“I prefer an audience to a conference anyway,” Ton says, dragging the coffee table directly in front of Clint and Bucky before climbing up to sit cross-legged on top of it. “What have we got so far? And remember. There’s no such thing as a stupid suggestion.”

He grabs the notebook off the couch before anyone can stop him and looks at it intently. He’s starting to make Clint exhausted, and all Clint is doing is lying there.

“Emergency distress signal to Steve,” Tony reads. “Did you refer to yourself in the third person, Steve? Or do you just like to hear your own name? Steve. Steeeeeeeve.”

“If you don’t behave then I will call Pepper.”

“And tell her what? I’m worried about a fellow sub, and I’ve come to check up on him. That’s firmly within reasonable behavior, even for normal people, much more so for me. Now, I have to say, this is good first idea. Distress call. Good enough for the army; good enough for Clinton Barton.”

“Were we introduced?” Clint asks.

“One problem with it, of course,” Tony continues.

“I’m sure you’ll tell us what it is,” Steve says, giving up and sitting back down next to Bucky, letting Clint put his legs back over Steve’s lap. A movement that Tony unsubtly tracks with his eyes.

“Just that it’s not going to work,” Tony shrugs.

“If you’re just going to be an ass, then I’ll frog march you back to Pepper myself,” Bucky snaps.

“Why do all of your attempts at threats involve Pepper? And, second of all, do you even know what a frog march is? You couldn’t do it by yourself. You’d need at least one other person.”

“I’ll help,” Clint says, because he’s annoyed, and he’s worried about the other two things on Steve’s list, so he doesn’t have energy for this to spare.

“Just tell us why it won’t work,” Steve says sharply.

“Because Popsicle the Second over there can kill in a heartbeat. That’s all he needs. One heartbeat. One wrong heartbeat.”

No one says anything at all, but Clint sees the color absolutely drain from Bucky’s face, and he resolves that he will, at some point, find an opportunity to punch this uppity sub in the face, since apparently neither Steve nor Bucky will put him down in his place. He has found, undoubtedly, the most patient and excessively self-sacrificing doms on the planet.

“Get out,” Steve says. And his voice is so full of repressed rage that Clint almost retracts his previous thought.

“I’m not being an ass, Cap,” Tony says, and suddenly his voice is so much lower and even a little slower, and Clint rolls his eyes, because now Tony sounds like a sub. Now that he wants something from a dom.

“You didn’t have to say it like that,” Steve says. And there’s so much authority in the words that Clint buries his face in Bucky’s stomach again.

“Okay. Okay, maybe you’re right. But it’s true. And even if it never happens, that doesn’t mean other terrible things won’t. What happens if you’re on the other side of the world, and that alarm goes off. What if you’re in a life or death situation across the city? What if you’re out of range?”

“It’s not like it’s our only plan,” Bucky says. “We just started strategizing.”

“None of it will be good enough,” Tony insists. “And you both know it.”

“Then what do you want?” Steve snaps. “You’re angling for something, so just spit it out. Do you want him out of here? I’m not letting him go, protocol be damned, and neither is Bucky. So be helpful or fuck off.”

They are, Clint thinks, the most beautiful words he has ever heard.

“It seems,” Tony exclaims, “that you are in a truly hopeless situation. Fortunately, I have the solution!”

Suddenly, he unfolds his legs and scrambles up to stand on the table, towering above them all.

“You three finally give up and come and live in the Tower with the rest of us like any normal people would have done ages ago.”

Silence.

“Tony,” Steve begins.

“No need to thank me,” Tony interrupts. “I already know what you’re going to say. I can hear it now. Thank you, Tony. What a wonderful idea, Tony. Why didn’t any of the rest of us think of it, Tony? Thank god you exist, Tony!

More silence.

“Pepper must be an absolutely incredible person,” Clint finally says.

Tony blinks for just a moment, and then the biggest grin he’s given yet spills across his face.

“Okay, you’re my favorite now,” he exclaims, pointing at Clint, in case there was any doubt as to who he’s speaking about.

“Tony,” Steve says carefully. “You can’t just rush in here and tell us what to do with our own personal situation. You and Bucky and I have been over and over why we don’t want to move into the Tower. We need our own space.”

“You needed your own space,” Tony returns. “You can’t afford it anymore. You have to protect him.”

He has a name,” Clint says in irritation, finally sitting up and looking Tony in the eye.

That’s what interrupts whatever he’d been about to say. When Clint finally looks Tony directly in the eye. Because there’s something there, hiding just behind the turn of his pupils, that is absolutely terrified.

“Convince them,” Tony says desperately. “Clint.”

The anger Clint has been feeling fades away to a slight annoyance at a panicking sub who’s bothering Clint’s doms rather than going to his own.

“Tony,” Steve says again, and Tony rounds on him with aggression.

“You can’t just keep saying my name!” he shouts. “You have to do something about this, and are you seriously telling me that moving isn’t what safest?”

“You just want to control it,” Bucky says.

“I can want to control everything and that still be the safest option!”

Steve rubs his eye wearily, and Clint decides this is the end of the conversation.

“I’ll get them to think about it,” he says to Tony, and Tony’s wide eyes snap back to Clint’s. “They’ll talk about it. We’ll talk about it. Not that I have the slightest fucking idea what’s going on, but we’ll talk about it.”

There is the longest silence.

Finally Tony says, “That’s as good as I’m going to get tonight, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Clint says calmly.

“I should go home,” Tony says.

Clint nods.

“How the fuck come he listens to you?” Bucky gapes, as Tony hops down off the coffee table, and reaches across it to shake Clint’s hand. Amused, Clint lets him.

“Gentlemen,” Tony says, bows, and then turns on his heel for the door. As he walks, though, he calls over his shoulder, “Don’t think I won’t text you about this every 15 mins, Rogers!”

Steve groans and turns off his phone even before Tony has completely left the apartment.

“Jeez,” Clint breathes. “What the fuck just happened?”

“No one ever knows,” Bucky shrugs. “Now imagine that coming at you at 100 miles per hour in an iron suit firing lasers. He’s effective, for a civilian.”

“Look at you, saying nice things about Tony Stark,” Steve grins.

“Don’t you ever fucking tell him.”

“He’s very…” Clint says, but then he can’t think of how to finish the sentence.

“Agreed,” Bucky responds.

“He’s not usually that bad,” Steve says. “Granted, he’s pretty non-stop most of the time. A little hyperactive constantly. But that was excessive. He must have been really shaken by seeing Clint like that. I hope Pepper’s ready. And I hope you get to meet him again sometime when he’s more himself.”

“You know he’s right, though,” Bucky says.

Steve freezes. He had taken back up the notepad and pencil, but at Bucky’s words he stops moving for a full set of heartbeats before putting the notepad and pencil back down on the coffee table.

“What?” he asks.

“Tony is right. About the tower.”

Clint watches in silence between them. He has no preference about where they live, and this has clearly been a point of contention long before he got here. He assumes that “tower” is referring to the Stark Tower, which Stark had tried to rebrand as the Avengers tower in the last few years. It was slow going though. People, especially New Yorkers, tended to stick with that they wanted to stick with, regardless of outside opinions and pressures. New giant “A” on the outside be damned.

“You,” Steve says, thinks, and then starts again. “You told me that if I made you move into that Tower that you would disappear, and the only way I’d ever see you again was if I managed to find your body before the rats finished with it.”

“That is not what I said.”

“That is exactly what you said. The sound bite is imprinted on my serum-enhanced memory. Fight me on it.”

“Punk,” Bucky says, half under his breath, but then he speaks louder to say, “It’s safest for Clint.”

“It was safest for you, too.”

Bucky doesn’t says anything, but Clint has been paying attention. He’s betting that Bucky is thinking, at the moment, the same thing Clint was thinking when everyone first started making a big deal out of his safety.

Some things just don’t matter enough to protect. Some things just aren’t worth that kind of labor. Physical or emotional.

Steve doesn’t say anything, though. Clint doesn’t know if it’s because he isn’t sure that’s what Bucky is thinking or if it’s because he’s had the resulting argument too many times to have it again tonight. Either way, he just nods once, and turns back on his phone.

“Okay,” he says. “I’ll tell Tony. Someone deserves to be happy.”

Clint thinks a lot more people deserve to be happy than just Tony, but he’s too busy thinking about Steve’s phone. Steve’s phone that rings to alert him about the possible end of the world, but that he had just turned off.

“Do you have more than one phone?” Clint asks.

“Hm?” Steve responds, texting distractly. “I’ve got a few, yeah. Personal phone, SHIELD phone, emergency line, and my pager.”

Clint looks at Bucky, because that is more phones that hands, and no one should have more phones than they have hands.

“Oh, I know,” Bucky says.

“Anyway,” Steve says, coming back to the conversation. “Is this something we’re actually doing then? Because I can send the moving invoice to Coulson in lieu of a precautions list, and he’ll probably be ecstatic.”

“Yes, we’re doing it,” Bucky says firmly.

Steve’s phone buzzes, buzzes again, and continues buzzing as Steve ignores it.

“Tony is thrilled, I take it?”

“I’m sure.”

“Am I allowed to go?” Clint asks, interrupting. “The tower isn’t on the base, and Coulson was pretty clear about being confined here.”

“I doubt he’ll object,” Steve snorts. “He’s wanted Bucky there for a long time, and it’s more secure than any building in this facility will ever be.”

“Which is why he wants me there.”

“Hush, you. And don’t worry about it, Clint. We’ll take care of it. We’ll take care of everything.”

“In lieu of that,” Bucky says, sitting up a little straighter. “I have a request about your bullet point list of tasks for this afternoon. Can I take a nap before you force me to heart-to-heart with Clint.” He looks at Clint and adds, “Not that I don’t agree that I owe you a verbal apology, and that you deserve to have a time to express your thoughts on it all, but I’m just really tired. I can’t. I need to sleep.”

“Clint?” Steve prompts, when all that comes next is silence. “That’s your decision.”

“Oh Jesus,” Clint says. “Of course. I could use a moment to sort it all out in my own head anyway.”

“Anything else you need from me then, oh Captain, my Captain?”

“Get out of here,” Steve snorts. “Go take your nap like an old man.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Bucky mutters, but he gets up and shuffles out of the room. Steve and Clint watch him go, even though half of Clint’s attention has put his heart in his mouth, because he hasn’t forgotten the last thing that Steve had wanted to discuss.

“He’s not doing any better than Tony,” Steve says heavily, looking at the door. “And yeah, I know you can hear me, Buck.” He turns back to Clint and repeats, “Like Tony, he’s filing it away under other behaviors, but it’s all just…” Steve waves his hands in the air, but can’t come up with any words. Eventually he just lets his hands fall back into his lap, staring at the wall in front of him.

“This is good for him,” Clint says. “To have a sub. He loves you, and you love him, and that isn’t about to change, but he needs this.”

“I know,” Steve says. Then he smiles sadly. “I tried to get him to move into the tower where Jarvis can keep an eye on him. I tried for so long, and it was a brick wall. Two months with you, and we’re going. Two months with you, and he’s sleeping all the way through a couple nights each week. Two months with you, and…..you don’t have to tell me you’re good for him. I know.”

Dangerous ground has come up on Clint like an undertow. He bites at his lower lip and looks at the ground, rather than at Steve. His instinct is to apologize, but his conscious mind knows better than think that’s what Steve wants from him right now.

“I can hear you thinking,” Steve says. “And if you think, for the slightest second, that how Bucky gets better is more important to me than that he gets better at all, then you and I clearly don’t know each other well at all. I’m not mad that I wasn’t the solution. I’m mad I didn’t do something different sooner. When I could already see what I was doing wasn’t working.”

He claps his hands down on his thighs and turns to face Clint.

“Which is all so irrelevent right now, isn’t it? Sorry. You’re probably worrying.”

“I’m not worried,” Clint says quickly.

“Uh, huh.”

“Maybe nervous. Maybe. Not worried.”

“I’ll take it as a compliment. C’mere.”

He gestures at Clint, and Clint obediently folds himself into Steve’s side.

“Can’t let it get out that Captain America’s war boyfriend can’t control himself,” Steve quotes quietly.

Oh.

“I said that?” Clint asks timidly. Because that’s just not disrespectful to Coulson, it’s disrespectful to Bucky. At best. At worst, it’s just plain mean.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I wasn’t thinking about it. I was…” he stops, because these are excuses.

“I don’t think he noticed,” Steve says. “Or, at least, he didn’t care. But it’s important to me. Control is important to him. He’s lost a lot of it in his life, and he works hard to keep what he’s got left, especially when it’s his own self fighting to take it away. It hurt me, to hear you say something like that, after watching him make so much progress.”

“I’m sorry,” Clint says again, even more quietly. Because this is shitty. Punishment is a slap to the face or whipping or a stress position. Isolation or gagging or tiny spaces that make his joints scream and his breaths come short. This is...this is worse. This twists his stomach. This calm explanation.

“Do you understand why I’m upset?” Steve asks.

“Yes, sir.” His voice isn’t more than a whisper now. It’s the loudest he can get.

“Do you understand why I’m going to punish you for it?”

Even though the situation is gut-wrenching, the sentence sparks the slightest happiness in the back of Clint’s mind. Steve didn’t used to touch him. Look at him. Want him. And now he’s taking the time to correct Clint’s behavior. To make Clint better. To help him fit into this life.

He wants to keep me , rushes through his mind even as he nods again and again whispers, “Yes, sir.”

“Then here’s what’s going to happen.You’re going to spend tomorrow writing a thousand lines. You can take as many breaks as you want, but I want them finished before day’s end.”

Clint nods quickly. A thousand is a lot, but if that’s the end of it, then it’s more than fair. Hell, it’s getting off easy. Tomorrow will see if Bucky is going to add anything of his own - because nothing is straightforward with two doms - but for now he’s eager to agree.

“What do you want me to write?” he asks.

“Nope.”

Clint pauses, because he’s not sure what that means.

“I don’t understand,” he eventually says.

“I want you to come up with the line. I want you to think about it, like you failed to think about what you said to Coulson. Mull it over. Spend time with it, and then write the lines. And know, that if I don’t like whatever it is, I will make you repeat the exercise the day after. Again and again, as long as it takes to get it right. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Any other questions?”

“No.”

“Okay, then. And I really hate to do this to you right now. Really. But...I’m technically supposed to be in a meeting at the moment. Well, I’m supposed to have been in a few different meetings by now.”

“Sorry.”

“No, please. Shitty as this situation has been, I’d rather be here doing damage control than there.”

Clint has a lot to say about that. He’s been forming plenty of opinions on how Steve spends his time, and he’s betting Bucky agrees with him on most of them. He’s saving them, though. Keeping them back until he has found a way to say them all at the same time.

“You need to go, though?” he says out loud.

“I...I really do. I’m expected there.”

“Okay.”

There’s yet another long silence, and Steve is yet again the one to break it, standing up and doing a half-turn in place, like he can’t figure out where he’s supposed to be going.

“You sure you’ll be okay?”

Clint laughs and says, “Yes, sir. I’ll be okay. I think I’ll take up Bucky’s idea and take a nap. Last night wasn’t exactly restful. For anyone.”

“Okay,” Steve says. He turns and walks to the door, but stops and does the same lost little half-turn again when he gets there.

“I feel like I shouldn’t go,” he says.

So many words hover on the tip of Clint’s tongue, but can’t figure out which of them will be right and which of them will be wrong. They get stuck, fighting in his throat.

“I’m okay,” is what comes out, because it’s what always comes out.

Steve nods once, turns, and slips out the door.

Clint purses his lips and listens to the silence of the apartment, wondering how much of the conversation Bucky was listening to, and whether or not he’s going to sleep. He taps his fingers on his ankles, and leans the side of his face on his knees.

He has a lot of thinking to do. He got to figure out what Steve will accept for lines, and he’s got to think about what he wants to say to Bucky. He could cook lunch, or clean the apartment, or do his laundry.

But he knows what’s going on in the bedroom, and he thinks Steve did, too, even though he couldn’t figure out how to ask Clint to do something about it.

Instead he stands up and walks across the apartment and knocks on his doms’ bedroom door.

Bucky answers it immediately, still fully dressed, and with one of those expressions on his face that Clint swears he’ll figure out how to interpret.

“Can’t sleep?”

Bucky doesn’t say anything, but he opens the door a little wider, stepping away from it and toward to the bed. Clint takes it as an invitation, and steps into the room.

Bucky has completely re-crossed the space to sit back down on the edge of the bed before he seems to realize that the last encounter between him and Clint didn’t end well. He suddenly freezes, staring straight at Clint like something bad might be happen any moment.

“Steve said we should talk,” Clint reassures him.

“Steve figured he’d be in the other room when it happened. In case…”

“Planning on beating the shit out of me?” Clint says, and as soon as it’s out of his mouth he mostly regrets is, because he doubts Bucky is as unaffected by the whole thing.

As anticipated, Bucky flinches and stares at the floor.

“Jesus, Bucky. Do you think I’m stupid?”

“I really don’t.”

“Then why do you think I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what you did and something that you meant to do? I’m not saying I enjoyed it, and I’m not saying I’d like it to happen again, but it seems like you’re the one who walked away from this most affected.”

“I’m not trying to make it about myself,” Bucky sighs rubbing his face. “But every time I close my eyes I can see you. You were looking up at me, begging me to stop with your expression. And then I broke your fucking ribs.”

Clint shrugs.

“Don’t just shrug it off,” Bucky starts, but Clint interrupts.

“Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about the things that happen to me.”

That shuts Bucky up. He closes his mouth with a click and blinks at Clint.

“This situation is dangerous,” Clint says slowly, putting up his hand when Bucky looks like he’s going to try and comment. “But the fact is, that I accept that. I’m learning. I can do better in the future.”

Bucky looks down at the floor and clenches and unclenches his hands. Opening and closing them in perfect sync. Metal and electricity, flesh and blood.

“You think this is your fault,” Bucky finally says.

Clint doesn’t say anything, because there’s a warning in that sentence. And suddenly, Bucky stands up, rising to his feet and looking down at Clint.

“It’s really not,” he says. “Not your fault. And the worst fucking part about that, is I’ve been on your side of it. I’ve done the things that shouldn’t have been my fault, and I was told it wasn’t my fault, and I didn’t believe it. So, I know. I know , that it’s not as easy as telling you it isn’t your fault, but I’m going to say it anyway. And I’m going to say it again and again, until it starts to stick.”

He reaches out and brushes his fingers across Clint’s cheek.

“I’m sorry I hurt you,” he says.

“If it wasn’t my fault,” Clint says quickly, “then it wasn’t yours either. Can we, maybe, agree on that? Like, limbo.”

“Schrodinger’s cat of guilt,” Bucky snorts, dropping his hand back down to his side and rolling his eyes. “It’s very you.”

Clint has no idea what a schrodinger cat is, but he thinks it means he’s gotten his point across, so he just tilts his head to the side and grins.

“Are you really okay?” Bucky asks.

“Are you?” Clint shoots back, but then he takes pity and answers the question, saying, “I feel safe here. I really do. And maybe that’s stupid, but I think there’s a big difference between being hurt on purpose and being hurt on accident. Sure, they both hurt, but you climb out of each pit in their own particular ways.”

“Still,” Bucky says. “It’s hurt, and it deserves an apology. So I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I scared you. I’m sorry I risked damaging the trust you’re building here. And in no way do I blame you for any of it.”

Something twists in Clint’s heart, and he smiles sadly, nodding.

“Thank you,” he says.

Bucky holds out both arms and Clint rushes to step into the hug.

 

__________

 

Clint wakes up to Steve climbing up to join them on the bed. It’s only for a few seconds. He doesn’t turn on a light, he just comes into the room shucks out of his pants and shirt, climbing into the bed on Clint’s other side in nothing but his boxers.

“Hey, love,” he whispers wrapping his arms around Clint and squeezing Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky makes a sound of annoyance, rolls over to bat at Steve’s hand without opening his eyes, and then also wraps his arms around Clint, careful of his ribs.

They’re all asleep within a few minutes.

 

__________

 

Clint writes “I will ask for help before I lose my temper” for his lines, because he’s a fucking genius. And it takes forever , and now both his wrists are sore, but it’s worth it for the look of pride on Steve’s face when Clint hands him the papers.

 

__________

 

Clint goes back to the range one last time. They’re leaving for the tower in the next few days, and he wants to get in one more session before he has to say goodbye to the place. Unfortunately, he hasn’t so much as loaded his weapon when he feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

He pauses, sets the gun down on the counter, and turns around. Sure enough, Natasha is standing behind him. This time, she’s wearing a SHIELD uniform.

“Natasha,” he says, and she smiles. It’s a strange smile. Both sharp and sad.

“I heard things came to a head in a bad way the other night,” she says. “I wanted to apologize for the part I played.”

“I don’t recall you playing a part.”

“Not an active one, no. But I had my suspicions, and I didn’t follow up on them.”

Anger ticks in Clint and he turns back around to finish loading his weapon.

“Sounds to me like you’re apologizing for not being able to read my mind or tell the future.”

“You called him Bucky,” Natasha says softly. “I let it lull me into thinking...well...let’s not dwell on what I thought. Anyway, I’m sorry that I wasn’t up front with you when we last met.”

Clint fires three rounds at the target at the end of the lane. He places them in a flat line. A row of holes, starting on the left and running toward the right. Like he’s reading. Then he pauses.

“Natasha,” Clint says, remembering what’s been kicking at his mind about her.

“That’s me,” she says with a brilliant smile in her voice.

“Steve’s ‘Nat’?”

“Still me.”

“Bucky’s ‘Natalia’?” This question he turns and look at her for.

She blinks once. Slowly.

“Aren’t you observant.”

“Aren’t all subs?”

“No.”

Clint doesn’t know how to respond to that so he says “Got any other names?” and turns back to place another series of bullet holes on a continuation of the line he started.

“Like Hawkeye?” Natasha asks.

Panic. Pure white pulsing panic. He doesn’t let himself pause before continuing the line of bullet holes, because he can’t let her see that name unsettle him. Can’t afford it, when he’s so close to being happy.

“Did Coulson send you?” he asks instead. “That first time we met. Did he ask you to check up on me?”

“No.”

“So you lied.”

“Well, technically, first I told the truth. You didn’t believe me.”

“Do you ever get confused? Wrapping up lies and truths like that? How many layers of reality do you have stuffed inside you anyway?”

“Same question to you,” she says calmly.

“You can’t just keep doing that. Trying to make me answer the question first.”

He reloads and adds another few bullet holes.

“Why not?”

There isn’t a solid answer to that, mostly because technically she very much can continue to turn his questions around back on him. He has no authority over her, and he has nothing to hold over her head. He pauses to breathe in between sets of shots and realizes with a jolt of shock that he has no idea whether the woman behind him is a dom or a sub. It hadn’t even occurred to him to wonder.

He doesn’t ask. Instead, he finishes the line of shots and prepares to leave, reeling the paper target in toward him.

“You just got here,” Natasha says.

“I didn’t come here to shoot,” he says. He came to say goodbye and it’s been ruined, so it’s time to cut his losses and go.

There’s a long pause as he finishes, punctuated by the sound of the reel as the paper comes closer and closer. It finally reaches him when Natasha speaks.

“And how did you know I’d be here?” she asks.

Clint looks at the perfectly straight line of holes bisecting the paper man in front of him, because the answer - of course - is that he didn’t. He’d had no idea. But he seems to have given her the impression that he’d come here specifically to talk to her. So he turns around and smiles at her knowingly before turning on his heel and walking away.

“Goodbye, Natalia,” he calls over his shoulder.

So, at least the trip wasn’t a total loss.

 

__________

 

The second Clint walks in through the door of the apartment Steve grabs his hands and spins him around in a dance move that Clint can’t help but follow, even though he doesn’t know the steps. The apartment is pulsing with music that Steve probably thinks is modern, but it does have a good beat, and nothing tops having Steve’s hand in his and Steve’s arm around his waist.

So he laughs, smiling up at Steve who has delight sparking in his eyes.

“Excited to get out of here?” Clint asks, over the music.

“You have no idea,” Steve answers, shifting his hands to spin Clint out and away. Without Steve’s body to guide him however, Clint isn’t sure what the steps are supposed to be. Dancing is always so much easier with a good partner pressed up against you, but he makes do. He shuffles out and then back in again, in a semblance of a dance move. It’s a disaster to look at, but it gets him back to Steve with the right timing.

“Look at you,” Steve congratulates, and Clint grins and feels heat in his face.

They separate again to move around a stack of moving boxes, and then Steve sweeps him up again, this time so forcefully that Clint’s feet come off the floor. Steve has literally swept him off his feet, and Clint laughs, letting the worry about who Natasha is and what she wanted slip from his mind with the feeling of the moving air around him.

Steve finally deposits him on the couch with a thump of gravity before tumbling down to sit next to him.

“I think I’ve really grown to hate this place,” Steve says, not even a little breathless with how quickly they’d been moving. “I hadn’t realized until everything was packed up. Do you know how many boxes my things took?”

“One?” Clint guesses, because he’s seen that bedroom.

Steve laughs once and says, “Close. Four, and almost all of it clothes. Although that does count the books as Bucky’s.”

“What about the furniture? Is that coming?”

“God, no. It’s the complex’s. Besides, I think Tony would have an aneurysm from sheer force of will if we tried to bring it. He’s pretty insistent that we decorate with anything we want as long as we chose it. He sent a catalogue. A fucking paper catalogue. Like I don’t know that’s old fashioned.”

“You were the one using a fucking paper notebook the other night,” Clint snorts.

Steve laughs again, this time longer than a short bark of amusement, and Clint warms at the sound. That’s a sound the world deserves to hear more of.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Steve finally sighs. “Speaking of which, I assume you and Bucky have talked already?”

“Yeah. The other night. That same night, actually. I think we both needed it over with.”

“How’d it go?”

“Honestly? I think it went as well as it possible could have gone. I’m not an idiot. I told him that, too, but I’m not an idiot. Well, not an idiot about things like this. What we’re trying to do is really hard. Especially since no one has all the information.”

“You’re not an idiot at all, Clint,” Steve says, and the serious Captain America tone is back, and Clint just barely keeps from rolling his eyes at his dom.

“I am about some things. And that’s okay. Not everyone has to be smart. Not about everything. Not even about anything. Smart and idiotic just are. It’s the world that turned ‘idiot’ into an insult.”

“Clint, I don’t want you saying things like that about yourself.”

Clint almost nods his head and says ‘yes, sir’ and ‘sorry, sir’ but his heart is still beating too quickly with their brief dance and how many times has he promised Steve that he’s going to try ?

“You’re not listening to me,” he says, and even though he says it slowly, his heart rate skyrockets and he can feel the adrenaline in his bloodstream. His hands might be shaking.

Steve, however, doesn’t immediately slap him to the ground, or shove him off the couch, or tell him to fetch a whip. Instead he tilts his head to the side and says, “Oh. Okay, what are you trying to say then?”

“That it’s okay to not know things or not be good at things. Like, I’m a slow reader and I can only ever name like 45 states at one time. And this kid I used to work with at the circus couldn’t do math for shit. I mean, seventeen years old and counting on their fingers to make change for a twenty. But they were a genius at making people laugh. Give them five minutes and they could fix any bad mood. And not just with jokes, with a light that you carried away with you. So it doesn’t matter that they were an idiot about math. It doesn’t matter if anyone is an idiot about anything. People are who they are, and that’s the end of it. Because if you don’t accept that, then what do you do with Bucky? What do you do with how badly he hurt me that night? What do we do with you, and how you can’t stop answering your phone, even when it’s killing everything you love?”

Clint stops suddenly, because that’s the problem with speaking your mind. You try and articulate one corner of it and everything comes spilling out in out-of-order nonsense.

Steve doesn’t say anything, though. He’s just staring at Clint. Staring, with one of those expressions that Clint hasn't been able to identify, but he thinks he finally has a name for. Despair. Etched in flesh and blood across Steve’s beautiful golden face.

“Sometimes you just have to accept who people are,” he says carefully, because he thinks that was his point. “If you expect perfection from everyone, you end up alone. Say, in an apartment on a military base that you hate. An apartment that you hate without even realizing it, because hating what you do and have has become second nature to you.”

He can’t help it anymore, and he reaches out to brush his fingers along Steve’s face. The face that shouldn't have ever known the feeling of despair folded into its lines. Not if the world were fair.

Steve takes a sudden long ragged wet breath, and reaches up to press Clint’s hand more firmly against his cheek.

“You might have been the only good thing to happen to us in the last decade,” he says thickly.

Clint clenches his teeth and forces a smile before saying, “Didn’t you sleep through most of it?”

Steve laughs again, and Clint laughs, too. It covers everything else, because fuck dealing with that in anything more than little bursts.

Steve must share the thought because he takes a deep breath, letting go of Clint’s hand and saying, “So! Are you sure you’re ready to move into the same house as Tony Stark?”

“I’ve seen pictures of that ‘house’,” Clint snorts. “If I really want to avoid him, I’m sure I’ll find the space.”

“I don’t know about that. He’s got an AI that keeps an eye on every inch of the place. A personal design of his, called JARVIS. And it’s pretty impenetrable, from what I’ve experienced.”

“Oh, I bet I can win it over to my side,” Clint says. “I have a knack for that kind of thing.”

Chapter Text

The lobby to the tower has more square feet than any other building Clint has lived in in his life. He’s clutching the handle of his suitcase and turning in so many circles to try and get a look at everything going on that he runs directly into Bucky twice. Not that Bucky seems to mind. He just repositions Clint and lets him go off spinning away again.

They check in with the front desk, and that gets them past security and into a hallway that leads to a special elevator, and Clint has to double back at one point, because the layout is complicated enough that the floor plan he’s building in his head didn’t add up properly. It still doesn’t add up properly, even after that, but Steve tells Clint to get in the elevator and, even though there wasn’t any annoyance in his voice, Clint obeys.

“I’m kind of surprised Tony didn’t meet us in the lobby,” Steve says.

“I can’t believe you just said that out loud,” Bucky says back, voice filled with betrayal. “Speak of the devil and he will appear.”

Sure enough, as soon as the elevator doors open onto what the nice lady downstairs had called their floor, Tony Stark himself appears. He’s in a three piece suit and pink slippers, glass of white wine in his hand as stands with outstretched arms.

“Welcome!” he exclaims.

“You’ve done this,” Bucky says to Steve. “This is your fault.”

“Good morning, Tony,” Steve says, getting off the elevator. Bucky follows reluctantly, and Clint trails along behind. The room he steps out into is also massive, and Clint feels himself getting more and more excited. There isn’t a lot in the room, though, for all how big it is, and Clint sees that seems to be a theme as the whole group of them follows Tony on what quickly becomes a tour.

“Atrium,” Tony announces, pointing back at it. “Living room and kitchen, formal dining room is around the corner there out of the way. Four bedrooms, each with their own balconies and bathrooms, a gym, some stuff I’ve probably forgotten, and then a couple of ‘whatever’ rooms to do with as you please.”

“Whatever rooms?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah, to turn into whatever you’d like. Movie room. Music room. Room for all your kinky sex toys. I don’t care. Put in a bowling alley if you want one. As I’m sure you can see, the place is painfully under-furnished. Just the bare necessities.”

“I can see that,” Steve says, standing in front of a fish tank that apparently has no fish.

“It’s so all parties can pick out what they’d like for themselves. Did you get that catalogue I sent you?”

“Yes,” Steve answers with a wry smile.

“Also,” Tony says, suddenly turning to point at Clint. “I stand by what I said before. If you want your own floor, you got it.”

Making this the third time Tony has offered. Clint shakes his head and says, “Again, thanks for your concern, but I'd rather be here.”

“Yeah, I figured you’d say that. At least let me show you what your door can do.”

He takes Clint by the sleeve and drags him down one of the hallways. Clint tries to look back over his shoulder at his doms, but Tony remains a force of nature, so Clint gives up and follows where he’s being dragged. When he starts to look around him, though, he notices the same problem he'd had downstairs. The math of his mental blueprint doesn’t add up here, either.

“What's in the walls?” he asks.

“Pardon?” Tony responds.

“The rooms don't line up. Sometimes there's whole feet missing from one to the next.”

Tony stares at him, and Clint stares back until Tony finally asks, “What did you say you did before Agent found you?”

“Do you mean Agent Coulson? I was in the circus.”

“Doing what? Drawing floor plans from visual memory?”

Clint doesn’t answer because the answer is technically ‘yes’ and hell if he’s about to have that conversation right now.

“It's not the only trick up his sleeve,” Bucky says, wandering into the hallway as well. “You should hear about the game he and his brother play when they need to get in touch. But now I'm curious, too. What's in the walls?”

“Jarvis,” Tony says.

“Yes, sir?” the ceiling says, and Clint yelps and jumps down the hall closer to his dom.

“No!” Tony says back to the ceiling. “I wasn't getting your attention I was...shut up! Go back to sleep!”

He waves his arms around a bit, giving Clint time to remember what Steve had said about an AI security system.

“A system like that must generate a lot of heat,” Bucky says, putting his metal hand on the wall.

“Actually, that's a very interesting point!” Tony exclaims, stepping forward in delight, before his face suddenly screws up in annoyance and he says, “No! I was showing Clint his room, plus that's top secret information, so stop asking.”

“I bet you'd trade the answer for a cup of hot coffee in the morning,” Bucky scoffs.

Tony just flips Bucky off and continues dragging Clint down the hall until they arrive at the door he’d apparently been aiming for.

“Watch this,” Tony grins at Clint. “Jarvis?”

Silence.

Tony narrows his eyes and repeats, “Jarvis?!” a little more loudly.

“Oh, this time you do want my attention, sir?” the ceiling voice says. “Apologies. How may I assist you?”

“Someone’s due for a debug,” Tony mutters, and then says, “Walk Clint through his room’s security, will you?”

“Certainly, sir. Master Barton, your room has been fitted with several failsafes. A voice code can be used to seal and unseal the magnetized door, even if the door has not been pressed closed. An energy barrier can also be activated in case of emergency, but I recommend caution as the shock it delivers does have the possibility to be lethal. Handprint security measures can also be installed. In addition, I am always prepared to be of assistance, and can contact any persons or authorities due to verbal request, pre-set hand signals, or any situation that has violated my preconceived safety standards.”

Clint purses his lips.

“I was going to add a DNA shield,” Tony says. Like, if you said the right word, only your DNA would be able to pass through the doorway. I ran out of time, though. Do you want one? I can add it! I could even add it too all the doorways, and then anywhere can be a safe room! Ooo, I like that idea!”

“DNA shields exist?” is all Clint can think of to say.

“I was going to invent it!” Tony proclaims, and Bucky laughs from where he’s hanging around behind them.

“What about me?” he asks Tony. “What security systems did you install for Steve and me?”

“One of those aluminum deadbolts like you find in bathroom stalls that haven’t been remodeled since the 60s.”

“Love you, too.”

Tony makes a kissy noise at Bucky, and Clint isn’t sure how much longer things would have pin-balled between them if Steve hadn’t come into the hallway from wherever he’d been exploring.

“There’s a shooting range,” he says, pointing a thumb back over his shoulder.

“What?” Clint exclaims, feeling his whole body perk up.

“Yeah, that’s for you,” Tony says, elbowing him in the side. “A super secret redhead told me you like to have access to a shooting range, so I thought I might as well make it convenient. Now you don’t even have to get dressed. Catch you shooting in your pajamas. Or hell, in the buff. Maybe that’s foreplay for you guys. I don’t ask questions about people’s personal lives.”

“Thank you,” Clint says, looking Tony right in the eye. Because if there’s seriously a shooting range a few feet from where he sleeps, and if maybe Steve will let Clint get a bow if he’s very good, then this is seriously turning out to be the best house ever. Why Bucky wouldn’t have wanted to move here months ago is beyond him.

Tony is apparently taken aback by the sincere gratitude and he pauses for a moment. Then he takes Clint by the shoulder and says, “Anything for you, my sweet love,” so apparently not that taken aback.

“Get out,” Bucky says, and Tony claps his hands together, almost spilling his nearly-empty wine glass.

“Right!” he announces. “You all probably want to settle in. Just tell Jarvis what you want him to order and it’ll end up delivered, one way or another. Same with food, DVDs, sex toys, and whatever else it is you do for fun. Maps of the city to better study our evil nemeses possible escape routes. Whatever.”

“Don’t you ever shut up?” Bucky sighs, moving out of the way so Tony can walk past him toward the door.

“Hey,” Tony says, pausing to point a finger in Bucky’s face. “I have it on good authority from several other Howling Commandos that you never used to shut up either.” Then he turns and winks at Steve. “Especially not when you were entertaining certain company.”

“Out,” Steve says, pointing.

Tony snaps a salute - with the wrong hand, as his right is still holding his wine- before sauntering away while saying, “Jarvis, remind me to program a laugh track into your applications. Some people don’t know good humor when they hear it.”

“I’ll make it a highest priority, sir.”

When he’s finally gone, the silence is deafening in contrast. Then Clint speaks.

“You were in the Howling Commandos?” he says quietly to Bucky.

Both Bucky and Steve turn to stare at him for several more long seconds of silence.

“Bucky,” Bucky says. “Bucky Barnes. You know my name and that I’m from World War Two, how did you not connect that?”

“I don’t know the names of the Howling Commandos,” Clint answers, a little bit petulantly. “I didn’t exactly have a consistent education.”

Bucky points at Steve and says, “That’s Steven Rogers. He’s Captain America.”

Steve snorts.

“I know that,” Clint says.

“Oh, you he knows. I just came back from the dead, too. It’s cool. It’s fine. Don’t teach my name in school or anything.”

“You were still dead when I was in school,” Clint points out.

“No, I was being held against my waning will and forced to infiltrate, assassinate, and destroy on the orders of some painfully well-organized brainwashing Nazi bastards. But yeah, I guess you’re right about that teaching in school thing. It’s not like anyone useful knew I wasn’t dead at the time.”

This is all news to Clint. He looks back and forth between Bucky and Steve a couple of times before asking, “Was I supposed to know that, too?”

“No,” Steve says, turning to wander back toward the kitchen. “That one’s a secret.”

Clint suddenly remembers Steve saying something a long time ago about Bucky having been a prisoner of war. And considering Bucky fell to his supposed death during the World War II...the timeline staggers Clint.

“How long?” he asks. Bucky has turned to follow Steve, and Clint follows, too.

Bucky shrugs, but Steve says, “Almost seventy years,” back over his shoulder.

“Less than,” Bucky adds. “A lot of the time they stored me in cryo.”

That means Steve came the quick way. He’s never spoken on record about what it was like in the Valkyrie at the end, so Clint assumes it was traumatic, but he thinks Steve was still the lucky one. To drown to sleep and then to wake up. Bucky had to wait, and it sounds like he did not wait gently.

Clint suddenly understands why Bucky sometimes refers to him as ‘kid’.

“You okay?” Bucky asks gently, reaching back to place a hand on Clint’s shoulder.

“Are you?” Clint asks back, and it’s too loud. He closes his mouth and puts a hand over it to give himself a moment to think. They’ve finally reached the kitchen, and he sits down on one of the barstools at the counter.

“I’m as well as you’ve seen me, and not one bit more,” Bucky says, joining him. Steve is digging around in cupboards.

Clint nods a few times before saying, “Okay. Sure, yeah, okay. One of my doms was tortured and brainwashed for closing in on a century, I can see why no one would have thought it would be important to tell me this.”

Buck had stood over him and broken his ribs when Clint had been desperate for mercy. Clint had wondered where Bucky had learned that behavior.

Clint suddenly realizes Steve is gathering ingredients, so he gets up to help, but Bucky pulls him back down to sit again before he can take a step.

“Let Steve do it,” he says. “It’s good for us to take care of you sometimes.”

“Yeah, but he’s a shit cook,” Clint grumbles.

“Hey!” Steve says turning around, but Bucky laughs, so Clint knows he’s not in trouble.

“If you didn’t know I was from the Howling Commandos, then who did you think I was?” Bucky asks, and Clint shrugs.

“Honestly? I didn't think about it too much. I figured you two had known each other a long time ago, and reconnected after Captain America’s resurrection. Makes sense, though. You being...you. Explains a lot.”

“He’s been my right hand man since day one,” Steve says, moving ingredients around.

“So...what happened?” Clint prompts.

There is a very long silence, and the look on Bucky’s face chills Clint to his soul.

“He fell,” Steve says eventually. “He fell, and I didn’t catch him, and I didn’t find him.”

“There was no reason to assume I wasn’t dead,” Bucky interrupts.

Steve pivots on one foot and points directly at Bucky.

“That’s bullshit,” he snaps. “We both knew that Zola had done something to you. We knew the moment we got back to camp and--” He cuts himself off suddenly and jerks back around to the food on the counter.

“Finish the thought,” Bucky says quietly. “Tell him. He deserves to know. He’s right, about how it’s unfair to expect him to function with so much missing information.”

“It’s still classified,” Steve says, causing Bucky to roll his eyes.

“Clint,” he says, and Clint snaps his gaze to Bucky with wide eyes. “Can you keep a secret?”

“I’m very good with secrets,” Clint says, letting the painful truth of the statement seep into his tone.

“Then you should probably know that I wasn’t born a dom,” Bucky says. He says the words clearly and without embellishment, but Clint still has to go over the sentence three more times in his head before he catches up with their meaning as a whole.

He stands up, trembling.

“I was born a sub in 1917,” Bucky continues, “and I lived that way until a science experiment changed me against my will during the war. I’ve been a dom decades longer than I was ever a sub. Sometimes, it’s hard to even remember what it was like.”

Clint isn’t sure he believes that. In fact, he isn’t sure he believes any of it.

But then, Steve had been spit out of a fancy test tube of a science machine as the immortal Captain America. Was what Bucky was telling him really that different? He fixes Steve with a look, trying to think it through.

Steve, after one disapproving glance at Bucky, looks at Clint.

“Born a dom, always been a dom,” he says, as though that’s what Clint had been wondering. It’s a startling thought to realize maybe he should have been wondering.

“Jesus,” Clint says, and sits down.

“You okay?” Steve asks, and Clint shrugs.

“I mean, does it really change anything?” he asks. “By this point, anyway.”

“Probably not,” Bucky sighs.

“Were you together before?” Clint asks, suddenly curious as to more than the potential science of the whole situation. The interpersonal discord these two have gone through in their lives is awe-inspiring. No wonder they’re enfolding Clint so easily, all things considered. These two have had much more serious curve balls thrown their way.

“We were,” Steve says slowly. “But not...we didn’t do it well.”

Clint can fucking imagine. Because Steve’s resistance to playing the part of a dom did not spring up overnight. After hearing the surface of what these two have been through, he doubts the origin of that resistance was peaceful.

“We did as well as we did,” Bucky says. “It’s ancient history now anyway. So, Steve, are you actually cooking, or are you just moving the ingredients around?”

Steve rolls his eyes and goes back to cooking, and he and Bucky banter casually. Clint, though, doesn’t say anything for a long time after that, turning the new information over and over in his head. He realizes, he didn’t ask Bucky what that had been like. To draw one breath as a sub and then the next as a dom. Clint can’t even imagine what it would be like for him. He literally cannot imagine.

The conversation has drifted away, though, and it’s too late to bring it back now, so he stores the question away for another day.

 

__________

 

The floor is amazing. Clint loves every room, from the fancy decked-out kitchen to the fully stocked shooting range - including a fucking bow - and he loves the ease that daily life becomes.

What he does not love, is the extra space. In the tiny fucking apartment from hell, it had taken minimal effort to “run into” whichever of his doms he needed to run into. Now it’s a game of hide-and-seek, and Jarvis is less helpful than Clint had originally been hoping.

“Jarvis?”

“Yes, Master Barton?”

“Just call me Clint. And could you tell me where Steve is right now?”

“I’ll inform him you’re looking for him.”

“No, no, no, don’t do that!”

Because apparently there are privacy protocols that mean Jarvis isn’t allowed to just narrate the location or activities of people in the tower, which Clint agrees is fair but also finds personally obnoxious as hell.

He has some luck with breakfast, at first, but then there comes a string of days when no one shows up at the specific times and Clint just keeps packing things away in the fridge. He does get some satisfaction out of seeing that whatever leftovers he leaves are always soon gone, but it’s a poor substitute for the daily in-person meals Clint had been getting used to. It leaves him hungry, too, without the guaranteed go-ahead to eat that comes from breaking bread at the same time as his doms.

He’s getting antsy. Shaky and lightheaded, and he almost gives in and lets Jarvis get someone’s attention for him. Instead, he decides to camp out in the kitchen. It’s not subtle, but it’s effective. It’s only four hours of staring at the walls before Bucky shuffles into the kitchen and toward the fridge.

“Hey,” Clint says.

Bucky jumps backwards nearly a foot, turning to land in a more defensible position, even though he’s clearly recognized Clint by the time he’s got his feet back under him.

“Jeez, Barton,” he sighs. “I didn’t realize you were in here.”

“You doing anything right now?” Clint asks.

Bucky doesn't answer. He narrows his eyes like he knows what Clint is going to suggest and then turns to open the fridge like he’d been originally planning.

“So you’ll eat the food I cook, but playing with me is apparently off limits now. Still scared of hurting me? Or are you just bored of me now?”

It’s all unfailing rude, but it just spills out of Clint, because he knows he can get away with it and it’s the only kind of sentence that he knows will force Bucky to engage.

“You want to try that again?” Bucky says, rounding on him, the authority in his voice tempered by two handfuls of tupperware.

“How about you make me?” Clint shoots back.

He almost gets his way right then and there. He sees the look in Bucky’s eyes rise, but then it fades and folds away again.

“Steve isn’t here,” Bucky says, “and I--”

“Jarvis?” Clint calls up to the ceiling.

“Yes, Master Barton?” Jarvis answers. “I am, of course, here to assist with anything required.”

Clint just looks at Bucky, leaning his chin on his hand and staring. He knows that Bucky is just as antsy as he is. Bucky has always devolved more quickly and more spectacularly than even Clint, so if Clint is itching for someone to get under his skin then Bucky must be desperate to start peeling.

“Fine,” Bucky says, putting the tupperware back, and Clint just grins lazily.

Bucky jerks his head in command and Clint jumps off the barstool to follow dutifully. He’s silent as he walks, noticing yet again how empty the walls are. They’d ordered ‘necessities’ for daily life, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this a home. And Clint has every intention of making this a home. He’s wanted one for too long to pass up the opportunity.

Bucky leads Clint into his and Steve’s bedroom and points to the bed.

“Sit,” he orders. Clint complies and watches silently as Bucky digs around in the closet.

“What do you want to do?” Bucky asks, and Clint perks up from the haze he’d been letting his mind drift into.

“Um…” he states. Eloquent, as always. “I didn’t really have anything specific in mind. Whatever you want.”

“So you don’t mind if I strip you, tie you down, and cane you bloody?”

Clint’s heart stutters, because he would mind. He would mind desperately. He didn’t think that Bucky was into purposeful--

“Sirs, I must interject,” Jarvis interrupts.

“Shut up, Mr. Robot,” Bucky snaps. “I’m making a point.” He looks back over his shoulder and raises an eyebrow at Clint as he says, “What? Are you not into that?”

Clint reminds himself that it’s not bad to ask for what you want if you’ve been given permission, takes a deep breath, and says, “Those first two sounded nice.”

Bucky grins.

“You like stripped and tied down?”

“I love striped and tied down.”

Bucky nods, then turns back to move a cardboard box out of the closet before continuing to shove clothes aside. He tosses what Clint is pretty sure is Steve’s official Captain America suit over his shoulder and onto the floor before bending down again.

“I don’t mind a cane, in theory,” Clint adds slowly. “Canes can be fun.”

“Belts can be fun, too,” Bucky says. “Just not the way I use them, apparently.”

“It wasn’t always bad,” Clint hurries to say. “You didn’t always…” he trails off, unsure how to end the sentence.

“I didn’t always emotionally scar you every time I beat you,” Bucky snorts. “Good to know. I’ll take a couple licks off my debt.”

"It was really honestly just that last time."

Bucky doesn't say anything in response, but he does emerge from the closet with a set of ropes and walk back toward the bed.

“I do like pain,” Clint adds. “I like being given pain.”

“Let’s work up to it, kid.”

“I’m not a kid. I’m twenty-fucking-seven.”

Bucky catches Clint’s jaw in his hand, and jerks it up so Clint is looking straight at Bucky.

“Strip,” he orders, and Clint feels a pulse of pleasure at the intimate order.

“Yes, sir,” he whispers, looking Bucky dead in the eye. “I’d love to.”

Bucky lets go with a grunt and Clint strips quickly and efficiently. He knows they’re playing in new territory, but hell if he’s going to be the one to mention it. The way the moment is going, he might actually, finally , end up fucked within an inch of his life on his doms’ bed. The only this that might possibly make this better is Steve. But nooooo , Steve works thirty hours a day.

Clint shucks out of the last of his clothing and turns to look eagerly at Bucky for his next command. The expression he sees brings him stuttering to a stop. Bucky is looking at him. Really looking at him. Not in appreciation, but with narrowed eyes that are raking up and down Clint’s body. Clint feels suddenly naked, even though he hadn’t when he’d first thrown the last of his clothes on the floor.

“Something...is something wrong?”

He wants to ask, Am I okay? or Am I good enough? but the words stick in his throat like thick glue.

Bucky’s eyes come back to his face suddenly, and the appraising expression melts into a small smile.

“Nothing’s wrong,” he says. “You’re perfect.”

The tension releases in Clint’s chest, because he’s had a lot of doms lie to him over the year, and not one of them had managed that tone of sincerity and enthusiasm.

“Bed,” Bucky orders and Clint bounces down. Bucky slides ropes underneath the bed, and then walks around the other sides to get them. He loops them a couple of times, twists, and then gestures for Clint’s ankle, which Clint promptly provides.

It’s a matter of seconds before the silk rope is tight against his skin, and Clint’s heart thumps in anticipation. He licks his lower lip, drawing it between his teeth where he bites it gently, promising his body good things to come.

Bucky moves along the foot of the bed and snaps his fingers for the other ankle, which Clint gives to him.

“You okay?” Bucky asks, once he’s cinched the rope on that side. With anyone else, Clint would be testing the tension of the bindings and the circulation left to him. With Bucky...well, he figures the guy knows how to tie long term bondage.

“I’m lovely,” Clint says, in answer to the question, and Bucky snorts in amusement.

“That you are,” he comments, glancing at Clint’s cock which has begun to take an active interest in proceedings.

Bucky draws Clint’s left hand up and secures that one as well. As he walks around the bed again back to the last wrist, Clint goes ahead and stretches it up to where it will be wanted.

“Good boy,” Bucky purrs, securing that one, too, and Clint thinks he feels himself melting under the praise. He breathes more heavily, lidded eyes on Bucky as the dom walks back to the foot of the bed and pulls out his phone.

“What do you say we invite Steve?” Bucky asks, and Clint can’t hold back the small groan at the incredible mental image that the innocuous comment brings to mind. He hears the snap of a camera phone and closes his eyes, imaging Steve in a meeting, trying to talk to three different people who all want his attention and then his phone chimes. He imagines Steve pulling it out, glancing at it to see the message is from Bucky. Of course he’ll open it, because what if it’s an emergency?

He imagines the sudden color rising to Steve’s face as he shoves his phone away before anyone else can see the image. Imagines him brushing off all the important people vying for his time. Leaving to come here and play with Clint.

“Hmmm,” Bucky says, and Clint opens his eyes to find Bucky appraising him again. This time, however, the look is filled with heat. “Maybe we should be a little more enticing.”

He clambers unto the bed suddenly, reaching for Clint’s cock. But then he pauses there suddenly, as though it’s just occurred to him that this is new territory, and he looks at Clint with an expression bordering on lost.

“Okay?” he asks quietly.

“Oh my god, yes,” Clint pants. “But I swear to god, at least one of you had better fuck me before the end of this or I’m never forgiving either of you.”

The lost expression melts away from Bucky’s face and he gives Clint a predatory grin.

“Are you giving me orders, boy?”

Clint whines and thumps his head back against the pillow, trying to figure out which response will get him what he wants. Before he can formulate a strategy, or even words, Bucky runs one finger up the underside of Clint’s cock, from base to tip, and Clint gasps instead. Bucky repeats the motion, and then a third time with a ring of his fingers rather than the barely-there tease of sensation. One long slow pull. He glances at Clint.

“Having fun?” he asks.

“Not as much as you are,” Clint shoots back, and then twitches his hips away in automatic expectation of a slap to his thigh or hip. Bucky just pins his hips more securely to the bed and goes back to work on Clint’s cock, more purposefully then a moment ago.

“Better,” he announces after a minute, crawling back off the bed. “Much better.” He takes as second picture and grins to himself as he presses more buttons. Clint imagines Bucky is entertaining much the same fantasy Clint has been, thinking of Steve’s reaction to such an expected present.

Unexpected.

Clint just feels a jolt of apprehension.

“Will he be mad?” Clint asks, before he has time to think about it. “At being interrupted.”

Bucky laughs, walking around to the side of the bed so he can climb up next to Clint.

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve heard you say yet,” he says, still chuckling. He cuddles up next to Clint and wraps himself around Clint’s body. “Kiss me,” he orders, holding the phone out in preparation for a selfie. Clint rolls his eyes, but obliges.

After he hears the snap of the camera again he draws back and says, “You know this wasn’t really what I had in mind? I wasn’t angling or, or manipulating .”

“Complaints as to how it’s turning out?” Bucky smirks, fiddling with the phone again.

“None,” Clint says. It’s a small word to contain his response. To explain how nice it is to have this much attention paid to him. How nice it is to feel so little give as he pulls each limb experimentally. How nice it is to see Bucky happy. Bouncing around and proud of himself, when just a few minutes ago he’d been unsure about touching Clint at all.

“Tight enough?” Bucky asks, and Clints nods.

“Out loud, Barton. I want to hear your voice.”

“Yes, sir!”

“You sure? I thought I saw you wiggling around a bit there. Wouldn’t want that.”

Before Clint can say anything back, Bucky ducks under the bed to adjust whatever he looped together under there, and Clint is suddenly pulled wider. He’d been spread eagle before, but now there’s tension is every muscle as he stretches out to alleviate the tension pulling at him from the ropes, soft as they are in their loops around his wrists and ankles.

Clint grunts, and feels his dick twitch with the strain of his body.

“Better?” Bucky asks innocently, peeking over the top of the bed.

“Yes, sir,” Clint pants. “Of course, sir. Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Bucky says, climbing back onto the bed. He plays with Clint again, running his fingers through the mess Clint is beginning to leak onto his own stomach, and then using that to tease him all the more.

The next stretch of time seems endless. Bucky teases and plays with him, backing off just as Clint is about to lose control, and then laughing at the noises Clint makes in response. Nothing Clint says or begs or offers seems to have any affect.

“Sir!” Clint gasps, pleads, feeling his muscles try to contract further to buck up against the lightening touches. He doesn’t know exactly how long it has been, but ‘long enough’ comes to mind.

“Wait for Steve,” Bucky orders, and Clint whines, shrill and loud, in complete frustration, thrashing petulantly as much as he can in the secure bonds.

“Hey!” Bucky snaps, slapping one open hand down hard on Clint’s thigh. “Behave.”

Clint has to close his eyes in concentration to give from spilling over the edge, biting the inside of his cheek hard and relishing the sting that spreads as it fades. He considers thrashing again to see if Bucky will repeat the slap, but then he hears Bucky’s phone chime and he opens his eyes eagerly.

Bucky lays down along Clint’s thigh, feet braced on the floor, and holds the phone up above his face to read it.

“Tell me he’s here,” Clint begs.

Bucky sits up slowly. He clicks off the phone, and he leans over to put it on the nightstand. When he turns back to Clint, the smile on his face doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Sorry, love,” he says. “Guess you’re going to have to settle for me.”

The brief painful realization that he hadn’t been enough to tempt Steve away from work is overshadowed by how Bucky hadn’t been enough either. And then it’s drowned by the uncertainty that has returned to Bucky’s face.

“Then can I?” he begs, writhing with the little freedom he has. “Please?”

Bucky automatically moves his hand to press into the skin just above the base of Clint’s cock, pushing down, holding him still against the bed. A little of the sadness fades from his face, as he relishes Clint’s desperation.

“Be more specific,” he urges.

“Please, I want to cum, please let me cum.”

Amusement dances in Bucky’s eyes and he places his metal fingers in a perfect ring around Clint.

“Go on,” he says, and Clint gathers his strength and fucks up into Bucky’s hand, bracing his hands and feet against the bed as his only point of leverage. Bucky immediately slaps Clint’s thigh hard and Clint gasps at the juxtaposition. His hips stutter, but still.

“Go ahead,” Bucky says, tightening the ring just a little bit. “If you want to, you do it like this.”

Clint groans and thrusts up into the fingers again. It’s difficult, forcing himself to so forcefully contract muscles that have been out of use for some time. Again, as he thrusts, Bucky slaps his thigh.

“Please,” Clint pants.

Bucky is immovable, just smiling pleasantly down at Clint.

Clint starts thrusting again, this time ignoring the slaps that rain slowly but steadily down on his thighs in retribution or reward for seeking his own pleasure. It’s hard to tell the difference, and it hardly matters anyway. Clint is breathing hard with exertion, and this legs and arms are shaking and his skin feels stung and split open when he finally tenses his body and the exhaustion and pain all washes away as his climax pulses through him. Bucky is kissing him all over, pulling him through aftershocks and then bringing both his hands up to Clint’s face to hold him and kiss his lips gently.

“You did so good,” he whispers.

Clint feels himself smile as he lies still, utterly exhausted with the effort. He’ll be sore in the morning, through his legs and up his back, and he hopes Bucky was hitting hard enough to leave bruises he can play with later.

“What about you?” he asks, surfacing back a little when he realizes Bucky has disappeared back under the bed. The ropes loosen. Not enough that Clint could get out of the bindings, but enough that the strain disappears into comfortable security.

“Don’t worry about me,” Bucky says, climbing back up to wrap himself around Clint again. “This was perfect.”

Clint can feel Bucky’s erection against his thigh, and he makes a noise of discontent.

“But--” he starts.

“Clint,” Bucky admonishes, real warning in his voice. A real order. “Leave it be. This was perfect.”

Clint lets it go, and snuggles himself more firmly against Bucky.

 

__________

 

When Steve gets back hours and hours later, he speaks softly with Bucky for a moment, and then he comes over to where Clint is perched on one of the bar stools, wearing Bucky’s shirt. It’s way too large, and Bucky is going to have to physically fight him if he wants it back.

“Hey, Clint,” Steve greets, sitting down next to him. “You okay?”

Clint nods, mouth full of the cereal Bucky had ordered him to eat.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to join,” Steve continues. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was...a lovely surprise. But I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have enough warning.”

“I understand. Really,” Clint says. “You’re Captain America. I’m sure you’re in high demand.”

“I really would have loved to come,” Steve says, taking Clint’s hand and examining his wrist.

Clint laughs at the unintentional innuendo, but just shakes his head when Steve glances up in inquiry.

“You look like you had a good time,” Steve says, tracing the red mark from the rope in a circle around Clint’s wrist.

“It’ll be more fun when you’re there next time,” Clint responds.

“All right,” Steve says. “I promise.” He looks up at Clint, glances between his eyes and mouth, a question in his eyes. Clint leans in and offers the kiss immediately, and Steve takes it.

“Steve,” Bucky says, walking up to the opposite side of the counter. “I don’t want to ruin your moment, but I think there might be a problem.”

“What kind of a problem?” Steve asks, keeping his fingers on Clint’s wrist, but turning to look at Bucky.

“I’m not sure,” Bucky says slowly. “I didn’t want to look into it without you here, because the answer might make me pretty pissed. I don’t want to hurt him.” He looks at Clint. “Hurt you.”

Clint is too busy suddenly going over everything he might possibly have done wrong to appreciate the direct address. Steve must feel the panic whip its way into tension in Clint’s body, because he wraps an arm around Clint and pulls him in a little closer.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he orders Bucky.

Bucky, rather than answer directly, speak up at the ceiling.

“Jarvis?” he asks. “Can you provide some information about Clint’s eating habits for me?”

Clint’s heart palpitates, and he switches from wondering what he’s done to wondering how to stop this line of inquiry. Was he not supposed to be eating from the fridge out here? All of the context clues had led him to believe that neither of his doms would mind him eating without them, and it wasn’t like he was scarfing down whole chickens or anything like that. Just a snack every now and again, when he really needed it. But...but he had never asked. Never actually made sure. That’s...that’s practically stealing . He’s certainly not the one paying for anything in this house.

He suddenly remembers Bucky’s original glance up and down his body. The disapproval. Clint tightens his hands against his stomach. The cereal he’d just eaten feels heavier than it had going down.

“I regret to inform you that I require permission to access such personal information,” Jarvis says. “Eating and drinking habits tend to be a sore subject around here, I’m afraid.”

Bucky looks at Clint expectantly. Clint says nothing, just stares back at Bucky.

“Bucky,” Steve says slowly. “If Clint doesn’t want to--”

“Take off your shirt,” Bucky orders, still looking at Clint.

“Bucky!”

“Steve!”

Bucky finally switches his look to Steve and they have a silent conversation. Steve turns back to Clint.

“Clint, would you please give Jarvis permission to release that particular information on this one occasion?”

Part of Clint knows he could play this to get his way. If he begs off to Steve with the right words and the right confusion, he could get Steve on his side and get the whole thing dropped. Worse, he might even be able to convince Bucky that it was way over the line to ask in the first place.

And it would shatter everything he’s working to build.

“Go ahead, Jarvis,” Clint says slowly.

“Are you certain, Master Barton? Your voice patterns do not indicate certainty. Would you like me to inform Master Stark that you are being coerced?”

“Jesus,” Clint breathes. “No! Just, just go ahead and tell them, it’s fine. I don’t like it, but it’s okay. We all do things we don’t like sometimes.”

“If you’re certain,” Jarvis responds, and Clint swears he hears disapproval and reluctance in the electronic tone. However, he does provide the information.

“Clint Barton’s eating habits range drastically from day to day. Sometimes he consumes a little over two thousand calories, sometimes much less, sometimes none at all. If you’re requesting a mathematical average across time he’s been here, then your answer is around a thousand calories a day.”

Clint doesn’t know how to judge that information. He’s never been one to count calories. Rather, he thinks in terms of number of meals and sizes of portions. However, from the looks on his doms’ faces, he’s guessing a thousand is a ridiculous amount.

“I’m sorry,” he says, reminding himself not to cry over something like this. This is something he can fix. It’s not an ethereal problem like not trusting or not saying what he’s thinking. It’s just too much food. That’s a physical problem with a physical solution.

Bucky turns and walks out of the room. Clint follows the movement with his eyes, before reluctantly drawing his gaze back to Steve. Steve is looking at the counter, clearly figuring out what he wants to say.

“Why?” is all he comes up with, and it crushes Clint more than the lecture he was expecting.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, because the answer ‘I didn’t think you would mind’ won’t feel right on his tongue.

“No, I’m not mad,” Steve says. “I don’t think getting mad about this is going to help.”

“Bucky’s mad.” Which is just the most petulant shitty thing to say when Steve is trying to be patient with him.

“Bucky has had some personal experiences with this issue that make dealing with is difficult. He’s worried about you, not mad. Remember the orange juice?”

Clint does remember the orange juice, but he’s not sure how it applies. He must look confused, though, because Steve continues to explain.

“Just, there’s been a lot of times in his life when he couldn’t choose what he wanted to eat, when he wanted to eat, if he could eat at all. Even as a kid. Both of us have experience going hungry. So, it just doesn’t make sense in our minds.”

Oh. Because Captain America and his right-hand man Bucky Barnes endured being hungry. Clint should be able to, as well. It’s not a ridiculous expectation, all things considered.

“I can do better,” he begs. “I really can. I wasn’t paying attention. Wasn’t thinking about it. If I think about it, then I can. It wasn’t on purpose.”

“It wasn’t on purpose…” Steve repeats slowly.

“Honest,” Clint nods. “I just lose track of how much I’ve eaten. I’ll pay attention on purpose now. I’m sorry to bother you and Bucky with it.”

“If you’re having difficulty keeping track, I’m sure Jarvis can help with that.”

“That’s a great idea,” Clint says enthusiastically. “I’ll do that. This is the last day it’ll be a problem.”

“Okay,” Steve says slowly. “How about I check on you again in a few days, just to make sure it’s all going smoothly.”

“No problem,” Clint says, flooding with relief. Now that he knows he needs to be more careful, he’s not worried about it.

There’s a long pause.

“A thousand calories, Clint,” Steve says, apparently unable to hold back the comment.

“I know,” Clint hurries to say. “I really do, I know.”

“Okay.”

“Do you want to punish me?”

Steve sighs so hard that Clint thinks he felt a draft.

“Are you asking that because you think it’s because I secretly want to, or are you asking because it will help you?”

“It’ll help me remember,” Clint admits, because it’s true. He’s always been better with a physical reminder.

Steve contemplates him for a while and then gestures for Clint to follow him. Clint leaves his cereal and follows. Steve speaks quietly as they go.

“If I’m correct, then Bucky is working off his confusion and concern by pushing himself too hard in the gym. Past experience has taught me that trying to interrupt him will do more damage than letting it run its course. What I’m going to have you do is stand quietly outside the door and hold a quarter to the wall with your nose. I want you to stand there until he’s done and he comes out, and then I want you to tell you what you were doing. Maybe you’ll both learn something.”

Clint nods as they near the gym. Steve is beginning to show a clear preference for low impact punishments meant to demonstrate a point rather than to emphasize one, so he doesn't find the specific and strange instructions all that surprising.

As they come upon the door, Clint can hear Bucky inside doing something unspeakably difficult with heavy machinery. Steve places a finger to his lips, reminding Clint that Bucky can certainly hear them if they speak, and digs around in his pocket to pull out the quarter. Clint obligingly presses his face to the wall where Steve holds it.

Steve rubs Clint's back for a quick moment as he walks away, and then it’s just Clint and the sound of Bucky trying to punish himself. More behavior that makes more sense now that Clint knows about Bucky’s past life as a sub.

The position he has to keep to apply enough pressure to the quarter isn’t strictly speaking uncomfortable, but he bets it will be soon. He tries to find the right balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough and wonders what will happen if he drops the quarter. Jarvis will probably tell Steve, and Steve will probably do nothing about it and just be even more disappointed.

He pushes a little more into the wall, preferring to err on the side of pain than on the side of disappointing Captain America.

How long does Bucky usually spend in the gym anyway? How long do most people spend in the gym in one time? Is doubling that a reasonable guess?

He redirects his mind to coming up with ways to make sure Steve knows how much Clint understands his point. That Clint isn’t going to be a problem anymore. He doesn’t want to be something that stresses Bucky out until he has to throw around hundreds of pounds of metal and try to run himself into a coma.

He hopes Tony had special treadmills made. Clint doubts normal ones go up high enough.

 

__________

 

It feels like a long time before Bucky comes out. Being unable to glance at a clock, though, Clint can’t say if that’s true or if it’s just a feeling. Either way, when there’s a bit of silence and then, finally, Bucky opens the door, Clint sighs with relief as he pulls away from the wall. The quarter drops to the floor and Clint bends to pick it up, slipping it into his pocket to give back to Steve.

“Hey,” he says shyly to Bucky, who’s looking completely confused.

“Were standing there listening with your ear pressed to the wall?” he asks, still breathing a little too heavily and covered in dripping sweat.

“No, my nose.”

“What?”

“Steve had me stand here and press a quarter to the wall with my nose until you were done. To remind me...not to be a burden. Emotionally. If I can help it.”

Bucky makes a face.

“Somehow I don’t think that was what he was hoping you’d pick up from that.”

“All right,” Clint says pleasantly, instead of contradicting.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Clint laughs rubbing his nose. “Sore. Restless. But yeah, gave me some time to think. I’m gonna take care of the eating thing. Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry I worried you.”

Bucky grunts, but it’s not a very communicative grunt, so Clint just watches while Bucky looks him up and down and then glances back into the gym.

“Jesus,” he says suddenly. “Sadistic bastard.”

“Sir?”

“I’m going to have to check all the time now. When I’m pushing myself more than he thinks is healthy. I’m going to have to interrupt myself and check to make sure he hasn’t stuck you out here. Next time it’ll be on your tiptoes or some shit.”

Clint smiles, because he bets that was a lot of Steve’s point with this particular choice of punishment, if that’s how Bucky’s going to behave because of it.

“Motherfucker,” Bucky mutters and turns to walk down the hallway back toward his room. Clint is just about to go and try to find a way to entertain himself, when he sees Bucky step back and gesture to Clint for him to come over. Clint obliges, stepping quickly, and Bucky wraps an arm around Clint and pulls him in so he can kiss Clint on the head.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he says. “You’re smart and just about as stubborn as Steve is. I’m not worried. Don’t think you’re stressing me out, okay?”

“Okay,” Clint says, pride seeping into his voice at such lavish praise. He tilts his face up to see if he can get a kiss somewhere that isn't the top of his head.

Bucky gives in immediately, kissing Clint gently, breaking away, and then kissing him again more intensely. Intensely enough that Bucky readjusts their positions to take Clint’s face in both hands.

“Yeah, I’m not worried,” Bucky laughs breaking away. “You have a good track record for getting what you want, so I don’t see why this goal should be any more out of your reach.”

Clint licks the lingering taste from his mouth and grins radiant.

“Get out of here,” Bucky says, swatting Clint on the ass, making him yelp. “Go do whatever it is that you do with your free time.”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Clint responds, throwing a mock salute with terrible form and then running back down the hall.

 

__________

 

They’re all sitting in the living room watching some international breaking news that Clint can’t follow because he can’t speak the language. Steve is pretty engrossed though. Bucky looks like he’s thinking about something else.

Suddenly, he turns to Steve and asks, “How unhealthy would it be for me to get him a mask?”

“A mask?” Steve asks, dragging his attention away from the television to give Bucky a puzzled look.

Bucky makes a claw shape with his hand and holds it over his face so it covers his nose and the lower half of his face, a simulation of a mask.

Steve takes a deep slow breath before he says, “Let’s wait on that one.”

“I don’t mind wearing a mask,” Clint chimes in. Masks can be a lot of fun.

“We’re going to wait on that one,” Steve says again, more firmly. “Start with something smaller.”

Bucky makes an expression Clint can’t interpret and goes back to staring at the ceiling, while Steve goes back to staring at the television. Clint decides not to pry.

 

__________

 

The meeting with Coulson is much calmer than the hospital room had been, and Clint feels slightly embarrassed by his past behavior. Coulson respect Clint’s privacy and, more importantly, respects his doms’ privacy. No weird or invasive questions that make Clint feel like a spy.

Whatever he says must convince Coulson, though, because he agrees that Clint can stay, although he unsubtly hints that he’ll also be speaking to “both Rogers and Barnes” in the near future.

When he gets back home, Steve is just heading out the door, but he takes a moment to ask Clint how it went. When he hears Clint’s positive outlook, he looks pleased.

“That’s good. I’ve always gotten very reasonable and insightful vibes from him. Even Tony likes him, and that’s saying something. Did you?”

“Did I like him?” Clint confirms. It seems an odd question, but he considers it.

“I didn’t dislike him,” he says carefully. “I just...he reminds me of you two a little.”

“How so?”

Coulson’s office had looked exactly like Clint expected. Like he lived there too much. The couch had been worn from being slept on, and there was a small fridge and a coffee maker. That man had slept in that room so much he’d forgotten it was abnormal.

“I don’t think there’s anyone looking out for him,” he says, and wonders to himself, where’s Coulson’s bureaucratically assigned sub? Or does he just do the assigning, no receiving?

“We all look out for each other,” Steve says.

“Now,” Clint adds, but he smiles, too, because it’s always nice to hear Steve say it out loud, with how opposed he’d been to it at first.

 

__________

 

Bucky gets sent on a secret mission for “secret assassins” only - Steve’s words - and it’s weird not having him around. Just when Clint was getting used to constant access again. Steve, to his credit, seems to be making an effort to be home more, but it’s a pretty sad effort. Clint is not impressed, and he doesn't think Bucky would be either.

In fact, it’s nearly a week before Steve even remembers to check back up on Clint’s eating habits, and even then he only remembers because Clint finally gets a meal right so that Steve has time to eat it. Which is particularly good, since Clint was about at the limits of his self-control.

“So,” Steve says, around a mouthful of London broil. “How’s that eating thing been going?”

“Really well,” Clint says confidently. He hasn’t eaten anything that isn’t with Steve or Bucky, so if there’s going to be a problem there, it’s a little hypocritical of them. Plus he’s dropped almost five pounds in just the days since the problem was originally brought to Steve’s attention, so Clint isn’t worried. Jarvis apparently has been, given his vocal disapproval of the daily falling numbers, but Clint isn’t about to waste time arguing with a robot about human preferences.

“Go ahead Jarvis,” Clint says, when permission is required.

“Clint Barton’s average caloric intake has dropped below seven hundred over the last five days.”

Clint glances at Steve’s face out of the corner of his eye to make sure this is enough and more cuts won’t be required of him. He’s learning to find the nutritional information on the packets and boxes, so if adjustments need to be made he’ll know how to do it mathematically, rather than just by guessing.

Steve’s face is...unreadable.

“Clint,” he says, disappointment dripping from his tone, and Clint carefully puts his fork down. Apparently he’s misjudged.

“Sorry,” he says.

“How did this happen? Talk to me. I’m not mad. Please understand that I’m not mad, I’m just worried.”

“I’m bad a counting,” Clint says. “It’s new to me. I guess I didn’t know how much you wanted me to be eating.”

“Well, ideally I’d like for well over two thousand calories, but I’ll settle for two thousand if you think that’s a more reasonable goal. I’m sorry I wasn’t paying more attention to…”

Clint misses the rest of what Steve says because two thousand? As in more ? He blinks at the fork lying on the table and the half portion of dinner he’d served himself. The one he’s been picking at to make last. What...how could he have missed...Steve had been wanting….now he’s going to have to make Jarvis replay their entire conversation from the other day over, just to figure out how that particular miscommunication happened. Because surely...my god Steve is going to be pissed when he realizes this is because of Clint assuming he knew what was going on, again , rather than talking about it. He puts his head in his hands.

"I thought you wanted less," he interrupts whatever sentence Steve had been in the middle of. "I thought you were saying a thousand was too much."

Steve blinks at him.

"Clint!" he exclaims. "A thousand calories a day is ridiculously low for any adult! For almost anyone at all!"

Clint just blinks at him.

“Clint, baby,” Steve says, standing up and moving around the table. He stands behind Clint and pulls him into his chest, wrapping both arms around Clint’s entire upper body. “Why would you think that? Why would you think we’d want your to starve yourself?”

“I didn’t think of it as starving,” Clint says. “It’s not starving. I just...I’ve had doms prefer I eat certain amounts before. To cut back a bit, whether for money or weight preferences or just because I haven’t earned the right to their food yet. It seemed so straightforward a request. I didn’t think to ask for clarification because it wasn’t confusing or strange.”

There is a long silence, and the grip Steve has on his body tightens possessively.

“Steve?”

“I’m trying to tell myself that if going to the gym and destroying some stuff isn’t a healthy coping mechanism for Bucky, then it’s not a healthy coping mechanism for me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s that normal to you? To be made to go hungry on, what? A whim ?”

“A preference,” Clint corrects.

“My god I fucked that one up,” Steve continues, without seeming to have heard Clint. “And I punished you, too, when you already thought you were being a burden. Shit!”

“It wasn’t bad,” Clint interrupts. “Got Bucky out of his head. I’d call that one a win.”

“A win at your expense is a just a dressed up loss.”

He says it so seriously, holding Clint against him, that Clint is forced to turn the meaning of the words over in his mind. They’re terrifying, at face value, so he shoves them to the back of his thoughts and deals with what’s going on in the moment.

“Well the good news is, this a much easier problem to fix now,” he says, forcing levity into his voice. “It’s easy to eat more. I’m always hungry.”

He extricates himself to grin up at Steve so Steve can see how cheerful and unbothered by the whole thing Steve is. Steve, however, doesn't seem to share the levity.

“What’s concerning me at the moment isn’t how much you eat, though we’ll get to that if we have to. It’s that you thought we’d starve you because it was an inconvenience to feed you. Or because you thought we thought you didn’t deserve to share our food. Food bought with you in mind. Or...or for whatever reasons dug their way into your head. Maybe Coulson’s right. Maybe you need to talk to someone.”

“Talk to someone? Like, talk to Coulson again?”

“No, like talk to someone qualified to deal with abused subs.”

Clint doesn’t say that he wasn’t abused. Not by any of his doms, anyway. Not long term. He bets Steve would disagree and argue. Or worse, he’d prove to Clint that the word really was applicable and Clint isn’t ready to deal with that possibility.

“I already trust you two more than I did when I got here," Clint points out. "If I’d had the slightest inclination that something was weird, I’d have asked. I wouldn’t have been afraid to. I’m never afraid here anymore.”

Steve’s eyes soften as he looks down at Clint and brushes at the hair handing in Clint’s eyes.

“That’s very nice to hear,” he says.

“The rest will come,” Clint promises. “We can’t fix everything at once. Slow and steady, okay?”

Steve rolls his eyes, but lets go and sits down next to Clint.

“Fine. Slow and steady. Not really my style, but I guess I’m not really the one calling the shots, am I?”

“Nope,” Clint says, smacking the ‘p’ at the end of the word. “Speaking of which, I was thinking about incentives today.” He looks at Steve innocently and makes a point out of taking a large bite of the broil and chewing thoughtfully.

“Oh?” Steve snorts. “This’ll be good. Okay, tell me about incentives.”

“It’s the whole carrot and stick principal. You’re punishments always have a point to them. A lesson or a purpose inherent to the punishment itself.”

“Thank you for saying so. I try.”

Clint snorts and says, “Yeah except, the way you do it makes me think you’re not really that into it.”

A pause.

“Clint...I’m trying.”

“No, I know!” Clint exclaims. “I’m saying that if you’re not into it, you don’t have to. Bucky likes to. He likes it, and it makes it better for me that he likes it. It’s a good balance between us. I just...I think you’d prefer something different.”

Steve’s look is appraising, but he keeps silent so Clint continues, “I was thinking about rewards.”

“Rewards?”

“Sure. You seem like you’re the kind of dom that prefers to allow and refuse rewards on good behavior.”

Steve blinks in silence, and then laughs hard enough that he has to place one hand on the counter to steady himself. Clint isn’t sure what to make of it, so he just waits.

“Angling for a reward?” Steve says eventually.

“What? No!” Clint cries out plaintively, but Steve hushes him by putting out his hand in a ‘wait’ gesture.

“I know, I know,” he says. “That wouldn’t be like you. And even if you did decide to manipulate me into something, you’d go about it much more subtly than that. I’m laughing because Bucky is right. You read us likes books. Because, yeah, you’re right. That sounds much more up my alley.”

“Thought it might,” Clint says, just the tiniest bit smug. He’s not sure about Steve implying he’d be an excellent manipulator, but it feels good to be though of as smart, either way.

“So what do you want?” Steve asks. “If you can start eating healthily and get your weight up so you don’t scare Bucky into thinking you’re starving to death every time he sees you with your shirt off.”

“Sex?” Clint exclaims, probably too loudly.

“Jesus,” Steve snorts. “Um, how about we start with something smaller? I’d rather not hinge whether or when we do or do not have sex on your behavior.”

“Fine,” Clint concedes, because that actually sounds like a reasonable point.

"Anything else in mind?”

“You come up with something,” Clint shrugs. “It’s more fun that way. Besides, if you’re half as creative with rewards as you are with punishments, I’m pretty excited to see the results.”

“Creative, huh?”

“Yeah. That quarter thing was a new one for me.”

“Okay, then. You work on putting on weight, and I’ll see what I can come up with.”

 

__________

 

Clint sees Natasha on the television. Something has attacked New York and the Avengers are out in full force. Bucky is still out of the country, but Steve is there and so is Tony, along with the Hulk. Clint catches a glance of Falcon on his jetpack and thinks to himself that if he weren’t currently the sub of two entirely different Avengers, Falcon would be his favorite.

And then he spots Natasha, and snorts in sudden amusement. This is what he gets for being completely unconcerned with current events. She’s probably pissed he didn’t recognize her right off. Clint sticks his tongue out at nothing and turns off the television. If the city is going down in a rush of fire, he might as well take a nap first.

 

__________

 

“Can I ask you a personal question?” Clint asks, and Steve jerks his head up in surprise.

Bucky is still out on his secret mission, and while Steve doesn’t degenerate as quickly as Bucky does, it’s clear he’s missing the other dom.

“I can’t promise I’ll answer, but you can ask whatever you’d like. I won’t mind.”

“How did you and Bucky work before? Back when he was a sub and you were his dom? Just, because, you clearly hadn’t had a lot of experience…”

“You can just say I was a shitty dom, it’s fine. And you’re right in guessing that what we did wasn’t normal. It was...the best I could do.”

“You’re doing fine now.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, much though I disagree with it. I will admit, I’m doing better than I did then. The thing is, and I’m sure this will come as a great shock to you, I’m incredibly stubborn.”

“No!” Clint exclaims in mock surprise.

“Hush, you. Anyway, I’d gotten it in my head that doms were horrible. That to control someone like that, at all, was one of the worst things a person could do. I...didn’t have any good examples.”

“A parent?” Clint asks, heart sinking, because he knows exactly what it’s like to have a shitty dom for a parent.

“Worse,” Steve frowns. “Bucky’s father. If you want anything more specific than that, you’ll have to get it from him. But I watched Bucky grow up in that house. In that torture. I saw the damage and the look in his eyes. I couldn’t physically stop it from happening at the time, as I was waist-high and more likely to pass out than throw a proper punch, but I did the next best thing I could. I swore I’d never be that to Bucky. That fear. That terror.”

Steve falls silent, obviously sifting through memories.

“That’s sweet,” Clint says, and Steve shakes his head, smiling sadly.

“No, it was narrow-minded. I resented the dynamic and instead of dealing with my own problems, I took it out on Bucky. I refused to be what he needed. Refused to replace his bad memories with good ones. Forced him into a type of relationship he didn’t want, but wouldn’t give up because he’d rather have had whatever part of me he could get than none of me.”

Clint says nothing.

“He could have been a good sub. For me . Instead, I closed my eyes to what he was and what I was, and god damn did the universe pay me back for that one.”

He looks up at Clint.

“I didn’t notice at first,” he says, and he face twists like this is a confession so Clint sits and listens to it. “The first time he got captured was in Arezzo and I saved him that time. I went and got him, but not before they had already changed him against his will. Cracked him open and replaced a part of him without...and I didn’t even notice . Not until we were all the way back to camp and I told him to go get cleaned up, and he said ‘yes, sir’ and it was so different. I felt it all the way down into my soul. I’d missed my chance to be what he needed. I looked him in the eye, shocked and scared and I could see he knew. Could see he knew I knew. And do you know what he said to me?”

Clint doesn't imagine it was anything good.

“He said, ‘Guess you got what you always wanted,’ and walked away. Wouldn’t take about it with me. Not ever. And then Hydra got him and the plane and the decades of missed time and he doesn't even remember that moment now. I asked him. Says he remembers realizing he’d been changed, and he remembers me coming to save him, but he doesn’t remember that moment.”

“I’m sorry,” Clint says, not to anything in particular, but to the whole goddamn thing.

“No, I’m sorry,” Steve laughs weakly. “You were trying to ask a simple question and I took you on a ride you didn’t expect at all.”

“It’s fine,” Clint says gently. He stands up, abandoning the far couch to join Steve where he’s sitting. He tucks himself against Steve’s chest and soothes him with gentle fingertips.

“And then Hydra, of course,” Steve continues, either unable or unwilling to stop. “Hydra just built even worse bullshit on top of all of that. No one left alive knows everything that happened there, but did it ever fuck with his concept of the whole dynamic. No stability, no understanding, no one for him to dom unless it was torture dressed up in a mutilation of the idea. Completely changed his idea of punishment and reward. Screwed up his idea of what authority should look like. You think he’s bad now, you should see how he was when we first got him back. All of these paradigms and rules in his head, but no way for anyone to know what they were or how to avoid them or use them to help him. Just, chaos. Violent, constant chaos.”

He takes a deep shuddering breath and begins to mimic Clint’s petting, running his fingers up and down Clint’s back. Clint hums in approval and continues his own ministration in silence, in case Steve decides to say anything else.

As for Clint’s own thinking, there’s a lot Steve just said that Clint doesn’t think Bucky is as over as Steve hopes. All of those things affect a proper dom and sub dynamic, and Clint has seen all of those affect how Bucky behaves as a dom.

Then again, maybe Steve knows that and it just hurts him too much to say it like that out loud.

“It was rough to have you, at first,” Steve says suddenly. “So eager to be the sub that I refused to want and so willing to take the pain that Bucky wouldn’t let himself want to give. Like offering us all our own temptations with the casual grace of willing consent. We couldn’t believe it. We refused to believe it.”

“You’re not the only one that’s stubborn,” Clint huffs. “I won you over eventually.”

“Not that either of us was completely wrong though,” Steve points out. “You were definitely too willing to let Bucky do as he pleased, and you still have difficulty existing outside of us. Outside of your doms.”

“I exist outside of you,” Clint says, unexpectedly hurt and a little angry.

“Yeah? What do you do that isn’t about us? That isn’t about a past dom in your life?”

Clint opens his mouth to say archery, but suddenly remembers that had been because of Trickshot. Hell, even Barney had had something to do with that one. Sure, he’d started picking up the habit because he liked it, but once he was being drawn in to the criminal underworld, he’d long ago starting thinking of shooting as a way to please whoever had control of him at the time.

Hell, if he needs any more proof, how about the fact that he’s just as good with most guns as he is with the bow, and he thinks guns are boring as shit.

Steve must see the confusion in Clint’s sudden silence and nods.

“Don’t worry,” he says. “You’ll find something. I have every faith in you.”

“Says the man who doesn’t paint,” Clint snaps, raw from his sudden uncertainty.

“Excuse me?” Steve asks, clearly surprised by Clint’s tone.

Clint ducks his head and apologizes quickly, saying, “Sorry, that was rude. You didn’t deserve it. I’m just...I’m not sure it’s fair to say I don’t do anything for myself when all you do is Captain America. Every waking hour on call, and most of those hours getting called. You said you were an artist, but I’ve never seen you paint a single line. Never sketch or anything. You don’t even own art. There’s nothing on these walls. I’m not sure you really get to say what’s unhealthy in my life choices when you’re making the same ones.”

Steve thinks about it for a long time.

“Okay,” he finally says. “Fair enough.”

 

__________

 

Clint goes out to get coffee. It’s totally not because of what Steve had said about not having a life. He just suddenly feels like he’d like to explore the area where he’s living now. So he makes sure he’s got his keycard and ID for getting back in, the credit card that Tony had assured him was meant to be used, and his phone as part of the condition that he be allowed to wander New York. He’s pretty sure that means it’s got a tracking chip, but it’s not like he gives a fuck.

The lobby of the Tower is just as impressive as he’d remembered it being and he spends a few minutes appreciating it in silence before moving out into the streets.

New York is as crowded and fast as it always is, and it’s perfect. No one looks at him for more than a few seconds, even the people trying to hand out tracts or information packets or advertising. He just keeps his pace up and walks. That feels good, too, walking. It feels good to be out in the clean air and moving in one direction.

He walks in a large square, several blocks long on both sides just to work out his legs, and then he starts paying closer attention to the places he’s passing. Eventually, he picks out a cafe that looks promising and ducks inside. By the time he’s seating with a slice of cake and a latte, he’s already resentfully acknowledging that Steve might have had a point. Maybe there is some living of his own he’s supposed to be doing out here.

Before he can acknowledge the thought further, a woman suddenly sits down at his table. Her perfect lipstick smiles at him, while the rest is hidden behind large sunglasses and a beautiful but unassuming scarf wrapped around her head.

“I’m allowed to be out here, Natasha,” Clint says tersely.

“I know,” she says back, pulling off her sunglasses and stealing his cake in the same fluid movement. “I’m not here to make you go home.”

“Checking up on me for Coulson this time, or would you rather come up with another lie?”

Natasha takes a bite of the cake and rolls her eyes.

“I’m not your enemy. If I were your enemy, you’d know. Maybe not right away, but it would be abundantly clear when the time came.”

“You just stole my cake. It’s chocolate. How much more enemy can you get?”

“I couldn’t help it,” Natasha argues back. “It’s chocolate.”

Despite himself, Clint finds the exchange amusing. Plus, according to Tony, he owes her for the fact that he has a shooting range available at his fingertips.

“I supposed I should be grateful Coulson cares enough to check in,” Clint admits.

“Actually, Coulson didn’t send me this time. I got ahold of your tracking signal on my own. Tell Stark to fix that for you.”

Clint shrugs. “I don’t mind. If I need to, I can always thrown the phone in the nearest taxi and head the opposite direction. It’s a little telling, asking me to pretty please keep a certain piece of technology on me, just ‘in case of emergencies’ or whatever it was they said.”

“I’m sure SHIELD would rather you kept it on your person for now. Apparently, you were considered a big risk when they first brought you in.”

Oh. Oh. She’d hinted that she’d read his file, but Clint only now realizes that that’s probably why she keeps showing up where Clint is. She’s worried he’s not doing his job. That he's not good enough.

It’s a fair worry, given his history - which she clearly has a hold of - and given his earlier stumbles. Because Steve had called her Nat, and Bucky had called her Natalia, and they’re all on the Avengers together. They must have known each other for ages and of course she’d be worried about her teammates. Suddenly, all her behavior doesn't seem so erratic and strange.

“We’re doing better, ma’am” he assures her quickly. He might not know for sure that she’s a dom, but it’s a good bet, given her place on the Avengers, the commanding way she’s stolen his food, and the constant confidence she’s projecting. Plus, she doesn’t correct the honorific.

“So I’ve heard,” she says archly.

“I’m going to make it work. I’m getting better at understanding what they really want from me, not what I think they want from me. Steve is gentle, but he’s vocal. And Bucky might not be vocal, but he’s not afraid to correct me when I get it wrong.”

Natasha’s look is impassive.

“Really,” he promises, forcing a laugh. “He’s got one hell of a swing. I’ve never had a dom who could get that much sting out of a belt. It’s effective. I’m hardly any effort to punish at all.”

“Okay,” Natasha says slowly, as though she considering the word. Probably because he’s rambling and she wants him to stop.

Clint gives up and goes back to sipping his coffee. It’s embarrassing, really, reassuring another dom that he’s being sufficiently corrected and taught. He’s not sure if he’s embarrassing his doms’, too, so he falls silent. Natasha will think whatever she decides to think from what she observes anyway. He’s picking that up about her.

They don’t say anything while Natasha finishes eating, and then she stands.

“Clint,” she says, looking down at him. “I know that you and I didn’t get off on the right foot. I’m protective of my friends. They’re an endangered species in my world. But if you’re good for them - as assured by all indications - then I’m on your side.” She slides a business card across the table to him with her fingertips. “Call me if there’s anything you need to better do your job. Anything at all. No question or request is too big or too small.”

“Were you ever more than friends?” Clint asks, just as Natasha turns to leave. She hesitates, without looking at him, and Clint thinks she’s probably not going to answer, especially with how unannounced the question had been. Instead she turns back and gives him a look like she’s looking right through him into his heart. It’s cold and terrifying.

She tilts her head to the side and says, “In a world as small as the one you’ve stumbled into, there’s too much history for anyone’s relationship to be ‘just’ anything. There’s just too much time, and humans have always been too curious for their own good.”

She shifts her glance to back behind Clint’s shoulder and smiles. Clint turns to look at what she’s seeing and finds one of the waitresses delivering another chocolate cake to him on a tray. By the time he turns back - whether to thank Natasha or call her a drama queen, he’s not sure - she’s gone.

He eyes the new cake like it’s a potential enemy combatant. Too much time and too much history, huh? He feels like that statement should make him curious or protective or even jealous. Instead, it threatens the edges of his mind with exhaustion. He can’t imagine living as long as Bucky has and as long as Steve probably will and... Jesus , had Natasha been hinting that she’s as old as they are?

Clint takes a deep breath and taps his fingers on the top of the glass table.

Okay. If Natasha wants to be his ally, he’ll take it. Maybe he’ll even talk to Tony. Hell, maybe it’s time to maneuver his way into meeting even more of the Avengers. Someone needs to be looking out for his stupid-ass doms, and Clint is starting to realize it’s just way too big of a job for one person. Any one person.

He narrows his eyes in concentration and decides his first fucking target is Steve’s obligation-induced “all work and no play” bullshit work ethic. That one will probably be easy, since he’ll bet his own tongue that Bucky’s already prepared to be his ally in that particular attack.

Satisfied with his own resolution, he takes the first bite of his cake.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Clint discovers that Natasha loves texting. It starts when he finally decides she’s a better potential ally than she’s someone worth holding a minor grudge against, and he texts her, Why is Steve Always working?

She texts back Because he’s a fucking moron :D and it’s game on from there. She texts him that she’s bored, that the coffee she got this morning had grounds in it, that someone shot at her while she was in Berlin and it was fucking annoying.

Clint isn’t sure what to think of it. At first, he tries to text back some normal pleasant bullshit, but Natasha won’t have it. She sends him a selfie where she’s pretending to sleep with the caption “boooooooringgg” and Clint rolls his eyes. So he sends her a selfie of himself flipping the camera off. Which, in turn, gets him a thumbs up emoji.

It becomes a normal part of his life more quickly than he would have thought. She’s funny and unexpected in a life that is threatening to become a little monotonous. He texts her when Steve calls to say that he won’t make it home that night, when Bucky tries to cook mac and cheese and it turns out so bad no one can choke it down, and when Clint curls up in the corner of an unused room because he’s feeling shaky and unloved for no good reason.

Go get your doms Natasha tells him.

They’re busy Clint responds.

No one is that busy. Not even Captain America.

She’s partially right. Steve is nowhere to be found, but Bucky lets him cuddle up and be in a bad mood without having to have a reason.

“You want to do anything?” Bucky asks. “Do you want to play?”

If Clint were a good sub he’d say ‘whatever you want’ but he doesn’t want to be a good sub anymore and he’s tired, so he just shakes his head and holds Bucky’s jacket a little more tightly.

 

__________

 

The food thing isn’t quite as simple as he would have liked. They’re all having dinner together, and Clint has shoved as much food down his throat as he’s capable of managing. He’s really not hungry anymore, but Steve is looking at the mostly full plate in concern.

“I’m not hungry,” Clint says carefully. “I’m really not.”

“All right,” Steve says, and it’s a bland and emotionless enough statement that Clint tries to choke down another couple of bites. Bucky says nothing at all.

Clint is pretty sure he’s just full, given his unfamiliarity with the feeling, but it’s also possible he’s feeling nauseated from being over-scrutinized. Either way, he gives up and puts his fork down.

If I may , Jarvis interjects, causing all three of them to jump. It’s possible that Master Barton’s appetite simply doesn’t match the metabolism that you and Master Barnes have become accustomed to thinking of as normal.

Steve snorts and says, “Yeah, all right. Subtle. I got it.” Then he turns to fix Clint with his Serious Look and adds, “It really is all right if you’re done. I don’t want you eating in order to please me any more than I want you not eating to please me. Do whatever makes you comfortable, and if nothing makes you comfortable, then experiment until something does.”

That’s exactly what Clint does and, in the end, he thinks the diet he picks up rather horrifies Steve, but it’s not like he can complain Clint isn’t getting enough calories.

“That stuff will kill you,” Steve says with barely concealed exasperation as Clint shoves a barely cooled slice of grease-dripping pizza into his mouth.

Clint winks at him.

There’s something heady about doing something his dom disapproves of and knowing he won’t get in trouble for it. Steve’s not stupid enough to risk lost ground on this front.

Clint isn’t stupid either, though. He starts joining Bucky in the gym to make up for the calorie count, at least in part. It feels good to stretch his muscles and his lungs, though. And the elastic yoga he does as part of his cool down has an erotic quality to it that isn’t - strictly speaking - necessary. But damn does it feel good when Bucky missteps hard enough that he goes down and gets flung backwards off the treadmill.

“Eyes on your work, soldier,” Clint says blandly, hiding his triumph.

 

__________

 

Tony comes to visit.

“Clint!” he exclaims, stepping out of the elevator. “Gimme a hug!”

“Jesus Christ,” Clint breathes, doing a 180 to walk away from the man. When he’d heard the doors, he’d though his doms were home early. Instead, he gets this.

“Let’s do something fun,” Tony insists, not seeming put off by Clint’s demeanor. Clint supposes he’s used to it, and that thought makes him pause. What must the psyche of a sub be like, when he’s constantly driving people away with his very existence? He turns, and looks at Tony. Really looks at him. Like he would look at a target. Searching for weak points.

Tony knows that look. It’s evident in the way his smile falters and in how he doesn’t say anything.

“Pepper must really be something.”

He’s said it before, but with a different point behind the words. This time, Tony doesn’t nod and brush it off with a quip about his amazing dom. Instead he looks right through Clint, and Clint bets he’s seeing some weakness of his own.

“Yeah,” Tony says. “She is.”

“Wanna play MarioCart?” Clint says back.

 

__________

 

Bucky comes back to a destroyed apartment. Not in the smoke and fire sense, but in the chaos and broken furniture sense. His heart surges up into his throat, because it’s one thing to be worried about Steve in the battlefield and another to find your home a wreck and realize you don’t know where your sub is.

“Clint!” he screams.

Clint comes around the corner in crouched slide, both hands clasping a weapon. He’s soaking wet and there’s a look in his eyes that…………....water gun. He’s clutching a water gun. Bucky narrows his eyes and tries to reassess.

“Take cover!” Clint shouts. “He shows no mercy!”

Bucky doesn’t have time to respond before a door at the end of the hall is kicked open and Tony jumps through with his own water gun. And even Bucky thinks the size of the thing is unfair. Stark has clearly modified it.

Clint screams, and it’s genuine enough that Bucky’s eyebrow twitches. He stands his ground though, and he’s pretty sure he keeps his expression neutral even as Clint dives for cover. Almost a century of life - most of it suffering - and he still ends up falling for another tiny blond dork.

 

__________

 

Tony takes him out for coffee. It’s strange, leaving Bucky alone in the Tower. Clint almost feels a little guilty. But Bucky waves a hand for Clint to go and Steve was wrong fuck him Clint can live outside his doms.

It turns out that Tony doesn’t know how to do things small. They take a helicopter across the state to a coffee shop in nearby small town that Clint has never heard of.

“It’s a bitch to get here in the winter,” Tony gripes. “Six feet of snow makes a shitty landing zone.”

“Sounds like a real hardship,” Clint comments, sipping his espresso. And god fucking damn it, it’s delicious. It’s got to be the best he’s ever tasted.

“We all fight our own battles, Barton.” And something about the way he smirks tells Clint he knows what Clint had just been thinking.

“How did you and Pepper meet?” Clint asks, to derail him.

“She worked for me,” Tony answers with a grin. “Like my assistant, or my personal life coach. Not sure. She just did everything I needed her to do.”

“Service dom?” Clint ventures, even though the inquiry could easily be taken as rude and invasive by anyone other than Tony.

“No,” Tony answers. “Just kind. And incredible efficient. Frighteningly efficient. It’s scary.”

“Can I ask you a personal question?”

Clint makes the effort to ask for permission because it’s one thing to ask about a bedfellow’s inclinations and another to go where Clint is about to go.

“I’m an open book,” is all Tony says in response. And, while he might not normally mean it, Clint thinks that right now, he does. And Clint had meant to ask about Tony’s cocksure attitude and being a sub and what Pepper thinks about it and whether or not it strains their relationship and what does Tony do with all the guilt that must rise up because of his attitude, but what comes out is completely different.

“Why are you so concerned about my well-being?”

Clint sees the flippant response come and go on Tony’s face as he reminds himself to take this conversation seriously. To be vulnerable. It must be a monumental effort, even with another sub. Hell, it would be a monumental effort to Clint, and this is Tony Stark. He clearly makes his living off his lack of weaknesses. His lack of vulnerability. It’s certainly how he saves the world.

“The answer to that question is multifaceted, and not every facet is flattering,” Tony begins. “Mostly, chalk it up to having been in my own shitty situations in the past. I know what it feels like to be trapped and in pain, and I know the difference it makes when there’s just one person who’s looking out for you. No matter how good or bad they might be at it.”

He plays with his coffee mug and instinct keeps Clint quiet.

“I’m passing along the favor,” Tony eventually continues. “And it was one hell of a favor.”

Privately, Clint thinks that if Tony works half as hard as Steve at anything , then he’s already paid back his debt, but he doesn’t actually know Tony yet, so he keeps his mouth shut. Inapplicable platitudes do more damage than people might think, and fuck has he been on the wrong end of that well-meaning and utterly worthless encouragement before.

Instead, he asks, “And what are the unflattering reasons?”

Chagrin spreads across Tony’s face and he glances to the side.

“I might have a bone to pick with your tall, dark, and handsome. Even though it’s not, strictly speaking, fair. Some emotions are too strong to logic your way around. I just wanted to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone else. Not someone who didn’t deserve it.”

Clint has some opinions about what he did and did not deserve the night Tony is likely referring to, but he and Bucky have decided to agree to disagree, so he doesn’t voice them.

“So you’re trying to assuage your own guilt,” he says instead. And, honestly, it’s a sentiment he understands.

“More than that,” Tony answer, his nearly morose demeanor vanishing to a bright smile that unsettles Clint more than the darkening mood of the moment before had. When Tony leans forward across the table, Clint reflexively leans back.

“I’m investing,” Tony announces, like Clint is supposed to understand what that means.

“In?” he asks timidly.

“My team. Barnes is a good shot from a distance, but it’s hard to justify him as eyes in the sky when he’s such raw power in the middle of a battle. You, on the other hand…” he trails off and raises his eyebrows suggestively.

The only possible point Clint thinks this man could be making is so absolutely ludicrous that he just stares and tries to figure out what he missed.

“Jeez,” Tony says in the silence, leaning back in his chair again. “Way to make a guy feel good. If you don’t want on the team you just have to say so.”

“On the team,” Clint echoes. “On the Avengers ?”

“You see any other teams I put up with being a part of?”

“You’re inviting me to join the Avengers?”

Clint tries to make the question sound incredulous, but it just comes out flat and dull. He’s pretty sure that Tony does not have the authority to issue this type of invitation.

“Yes, Barton!” Tony exclaims, throwing his hands up in exasperation. “I’ve seen the security footage from SHIELD’s range, and I got my hands on your files a long time ago. I know a good investment when I see one.”

“Oh,” Clint says softly, and stands up. “Oh, I see. You’re crazy.”

He turns to walk back to the helicopter, because of course he can’t just get in a car and drive away like a normal person.

“Sit down, Barton,” Tony sighs heavily. “It’s my helicopter so it’s not like it’s going to leave me behind.”

Clint ignores him and leaves the coffee shop, crossing the field and climbing into the waiting helicopter. He buckles himself in, and then just stares straight ahead. Tony doesn’t have the patience Clint does. Doesn’t know how to wait for his target.

When Tony joins him, holding a to go cup and wearing a scowl, Clint orders, “Do not tell my doms you made me this offer. Either of them.”

“I will if I have to,” Tony says, but it’s petulant enough in tone that Clint isn’t worried.

 

__________

 

“Why does Tony say he’s got a bone to pick with you?” Clint asks, without much introduction. They’re in the gym, and Bucky is just finishing his own stretches and cool down, while Clint is still in the splits.

“It’s probably because I murdered his parents,” Bucky answers. “I mean, it was back when I was still completely fucking out of my mind, but still.”

For one heart-stopping moment, Clint has absolutely no response to that other than shock. He can’t even think about moving, or how to respond, or how much of an understatement the phrase “a bone to pick with him” had been.

Bucky notices his deer-in-headlights-demeanor and stills his own movements.

“Is that a problem?” he asks quietly.

And the answer is yes, it is a problem. It’s a huge fucking problem in every single way except for the only way that matters.

“No,” Clint says, and languidly returns to his stretching.

 

__________

 

Clint has a bad day. It doesn’t start out unmanageably. Just a feeling under his skin that grows into a desire to peel himself open to the bone.

(If he’s being honest, the feeling has been growing slowly over weeks rather than hours and has only now hit some sort of unmanageable breaking point, but he’s absolutely not going to be honest with himself because fuck that shit.)

He calls Bucky.

He doesn’t remember making the decision, but the phone is ringing and geez there’s no way in hell that Bucky is going to pick up because he only leaves the house for missions - you don’t have a life outside of your doms, yeah sure, go fuck yourself Steven America - so it’s not like he can pick up, so Clint should have at least texted rather than called.

“Clint?” Bucky says, the moment the line connects. “What’s wrong?”

“I need you,” Clint says.

“I…” is what Bucky comes up with, but now that the statement is out of Clint’s mouth he feels a serene calm approaching. This isn’t his problem anymore, now that it’s been spoken aloud. Bucky will figure it out. Bucky will fix it.

“Fuck, okay,” Bucky says. “I’ll be there soon. Really soon.”

Ten minutes later Clint gets a text from Natasha that reads, I am finishing up Barnes’ mission on my DAY OFF which means you OWE ME in ways you CANNOT imagine.

Clint texts back, OoooOOoo, the scary Russian means BUSINESS when she uses ALL CAPS because he’s feeling better already. Not completely better, but he’s not getting worse anymore. He’s just waiting.

He doesn’t wait much longer. Bucky rushes out of the elevator just a few minutes later, colliding with Clint who had been rushing as well. They wrap their arms around each other and Bucky asks “What do you need?” with such complete breathless sincerity that Clint answers honestly.

“Tied down,” he says. “I need to be tied down and hurt.”

“You got it,” Bucky answers. And if he’s worried about hurting Clint again Clint can’t hear it in his voice and - in the end - that’s all that matters.

In a split second, Bucky has both of Clint’s wrists in his metal hand, and there’s no way Clint is getting out of it. Maybe if he really didn’t mind hurting his hand in a bad way, but if he isn’t willing to break a bone of his own, then he’s here at Bucky’s discretion.

Bucky uses the hold to spin Clint completely around so he can be pushed through the rest of the atrium and down the hall to Bucky and Steve’s bedroom, Clint’s hands pressed together and into the small of his back.

He’s already brimming with mixed apprehension and anticipation. There’s never been a pattern with Bucky. Other than a sadistic streak and a hell of a swing, he doesn’t repeat himself, and they’ve certainly never had the opportunity to fall into a pattern. He wonders if he’ll be teased and used as bait for Steve again. It’s not out of the question, but somehow Clint doubts it. Somehow, he thinks this is going to be all about him, in both the best and the worst ways.

If he were a dom, that’s how he’d treat a sub who felt like Clint did.

It’s an embarrassing thought, and Clint’s grateful Bucky can’t see his face, just in case something showed in his reaction to catching himself thinking like that.

Clint gets marched through the bedroom door and across most of the room before he’s thrown unceremoniously down on his knees on the floor.

“Stay there,” Bucky orders, offhand. Clint stays, following the letter of the law, but he doesn’t drop his eyes like he normally would. He keeps them on Bucky. Watches him go to the closet and dig around, kneel down, open a box that hadn’t been the old apartment.

He should be worried about the box. Bucky has clearly been shopping, and Clint doesn’t doubt the purchases will make an impression, but he can’t draw his mind away from the sudden surge of adoration and warmth that floods his body. That’s his dom. His beautiful dom, who has suffered so much, and who deserves so much, and who has chosen Clint, and Clint is just brimming , he’s drowning, and tears well up in his eyes and he shudders. A full body shudder, and god has been waiting for a moment like this in his life.

Bucky turns around, having found what he wanted, and ends up looking directly into Clint’s eyes. Whatever he sees brings him to a halt so quickly it’s like time was frozen by an outside force. Like he’s been struck to stillness.

Can you read me? Clint thinks at him, and floats his mind in all the thoughts that had flooded him, pushing the feeling into his eyes as he stares into Bucky’s.

Bucky shudders, full body, as Clint had.

Then, “Eyes on the floor,” he orders. But softly. Reverently. Not a reprimand, but rather drawing someone out of deep waters and into the shallows.

Clint drops his eyes, and continues to float in the safer depth.

Bucky has ropes again, so there’s a least one pattern. Clint suspects he likes something he tied himself more than a premade harness or set of restraints. It might be because he likes the effort it takes, and it might be because he doesn’t trust something he doesn’t do himself. It doesn't matter to Clint, because either way, he loves the personal touch.

Bucky doesn’t speak when he’s done. He just places two fingers under Clint’s chin and draws him up. Clint lifts his head and, when Bucky keep applying the gentle pressure, he gets gracefully to his feet, and then keeps tilting his head further and further back. Eventually, he’s straining up on his tiptoes, looking up at the ceiling, and Bucky still has two implacable fingers pressing into Clint’s throat.

His whole body feels tight like a bowstring, and he splays his fingers wide out so his whole body is tight with whipcord tension.

Bucky removes his fingers, brushes a quick caress down the side of Clint’s face, and gently orders, “On the bed.”

Clint goes, lying on his back as he had last time.

One minute there’s ceiling, and the next there’s a pillow and a disheveled edge of a comforter. It takes a moment for Clint to realize he’s been flipped onto his stomach. And flipped so quickly that he hadn’t felt it happening until it was over.

Then there’s Bucky’s hands at the edge of Clint’s shirt and Bucky pulls the whole thing up over Clint’s head and off before Clint can so much as shift his body weight to help. When Bucky’s hands return, shoving in underneath Clint to get at his jeans button, Clint finally gets his wits together enough to help, putting a little more weight on his knees and reaching down to pop the stiff button Bucky is struggling with at his awkward angle.

The resulting slap across Clint’s ass is so hard that it whites out Clint’s brain for a second, which is long enough for Bucky to get the button and zipper, and then Clint’s pants and boxers are stripped off to join his shirt, wherever that’s gone.

There’s a moment of silence, and then Clint takes an involuntary deep breath when Bucky slides his hand along Clint’s ass where the slap had landed, obviously inspecting the red mark left even through the jeans.

Suddenly, another matching slap comes down on Clint’s other cheek, stinging even worse without the denim barrier. He whimpers, just a little. More in surprise than anything else. He isn’t sure if that was continued punishment for his trying to take some control or if Bucky just wanted him symmetrical, but it hurts. Still hurts, fading away from burn to sting more slowly than Clint is used to.

“Arms and legs,” Bucky says, and Clint tentatively stretches himself into a spread eagle position. He’s hesitant, not wanting to step out of line again, but the next touch is soft against his side and Bucky hums in approval, so Clint stretches out a little further, more confidently.

Bucky hooks the ends of the ropes around Clint’s wrists and ankles like he had last time, moving quickly and efficiently, and Clint starts feeling that pleasant buzz of helplessness and he lets himself be put into a position that he can’t get out of on his own.

He suddenly realizes what a foreign thought that is. Normally, he’s careful around whoever his most recent dom is; making sure he doesn’t end up actually trapped. Just in case. Just in case Clint has misread intentions or preferences or anger levels.

It had usually been easy, too. He’s easy to underestimate. And he’s flexible and smart, and he knows more about ropes and knots than most of any of his doms, excepting those from the circus.

Bucky is the opposite of all these thoughts. His tie is effective, and Clint can tell it’d be a long term bitch to get out of, if he could get out at all. Couldn’t even slide himself down and off the foot of the bed because he can tell from the direction of the pull and friction that there’s loops around the legs at the head of the bed.

He’s here until Bucky’s done with him, and it’s easily the least frightening thought Clint has ever had. The deep adoration is back again, thick and syrupy, and Clint can feel the lazy smile stretch across his face. He wants to laugh, like a spasm caught in his chest. Wants to shout and jump around and he can’t because he’s stuck here and there’s nothing he can do about it and it’s wonderful .

“How do we feel about a cane?” Bucky breathes, right in Clint’s ear.

“Anything,” Clint says. Fervent and worshipful. “ Anything , sir.”

Bucky presses little kisses to Clint’s face for that. One, two, three, all in a line, forehead, cheek, jaw. Clint doesn’t even have the wherewithal to turn his head and chase a real kiss, because he’s being good and it feels good and it is good.

You just have to take it , he’d been told a long time ago. A sub has it easy. They don’t have to think or feel or wonder. They just have to take it .

The declaration had been, Clint thinks, a bastardization of what’s happening to him right now. For the first time, thinking of the memory that had so quickly progressed to blinding pain, he isn't angry. Instead, he’s full of pity, because Chisholm would never know what this moment felt like. What this was supposed to feel like. His bullshit had all been surface pseudo-emotion, and god how had Clint believed in that lie?

“I love you,” Clint says. He means it to be forceful, but instead it’s mumbled into a mouthful of comforter. He doesn’t really mind though, because it’s enough that it’s said.

Bucky’s hand is in his hair, and now Clint gets that kiss he’d been thinking about a moment ago. Tongue in his mouth and Bucky’s teeth nipping at his lip. Heavy breaths as Clint has to crane his neck to accommodate the possessive claim this kiss is from the second their lips touch.

“I love you, too,” Bucky says, when he finally pulls away. And then he puts his finger on Clint’s lips. “Now hush, okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Unless you’re screaming,” Bucky amends. “I’m not a monster.” And Clint can hear the sadistic grin in his voice when he adds, “Well. Not a complete monster.”

Clint almost snorts in amusement, but bites it back just in case that’s doesn’t comply with “hush” and he wants very much to be good. There’s a time and a place for being a bratty sub, and the time and place is “Steve”. Not “Bucky”.

He feels a muscle in his leg twitch when Bucky lays the cane gently across his ass, but he’s tied tight and there’s nowhere to go. So he breathes in deeply, and savors the calm before the storm.

It’s a short calm. The moment Clint acclimatizes to the unsubtle threat, the sensation is removed and a crack breaks the silence and the peace. The pain that follows it is so sharp that it cuts through the warmth and the haze and Clint cries out in answering sharpness. He forgets, for a moment, that this is not a punishment.

Then the pain fades from the initial cutting cruelty, slowly ebbing into a throbbing burn that pulses with Clint’s heartbeat, or at least Clint imagines it pulses with his heartbeat.

It’s just as he’s getting his breath back that Bucky gently lays the cane back down, a little lower than previously. Clint has enough time to whimper before it’s raised and brought back down with the same precision that Clint has come to expect from Bucky.

This time, Clint’s cry is rougher and longer, and it’s accompanied by Clint thrashing in his bonds. Fruitlessly. He just tires himself until the pain fades again and he can breath raggedly.

There’s less of a pause, this time, before Bucky places the cane back against his skin with intent. Either that, or Clint just takes longer to get his breath back anywhere near control. When is he going to get it through his thick head that Bucky hits this hard? Why would it be any different with a cane?

The third crack finally gets a scream, again accompanied by thrashing, and Bucky cruelly lays down the fourth before Clint has even stilled. Regardless of his movement, the cut is precisely straight and the same expected distance below the first, and Clint’s screaming rises to a higher pitch before breaking into a sob.

He’d asked for this. Jesus , he’d asked for this without a second thought. Why?

He flinches violently as the next brush of sensation, but it’s Bucky hands. His fingertips, tracing one of the marks so gently that it doesn’t make it hurt any more than it already does.

“Beautiful,” Bucky breathes. And Clint can hear the reverence echoing back to him from earlier.

This is why.

Bucky hits as hard as he hits, and it’s really such a small price in the end of things. Clint takes a deep breath, and decides to endure. He closes his eyes, feeling his own tremor when Bucky leans down and kisses each of the marks, whispering something against the most recent one. Then he draws back again and lines up the cane.

Clint’s resolve almost breaks when the caning resumes, but he keeps a hold of it. Doesn’t scream or even cry out. Just breathes in and out shakily. It’s worse, too, coming back from the short break. Like jumping into cold water unacclimatized.

He holds out, for a while, but he gives in a little on the tenth one, and screams again. After all, Bucky likes his screams just as much as he likes the rest of it. It’s not giving in to scream.

He breaks again at fifteen. More completely than he had near the beginning.

“Please,” he sobs, in the moment that Bucky lifts the cane away from his skin.

He thinks he isn’t going to get the reprieve. That Bucky didn’t hear him, or is ignoring him, or just doesn’t understand the sincerity of the single word, because the stroke that he’s wound up falls anyway, and Clint’s answering scream is tinged with despair and desperation. But then Bucky’s hands are on his sides, brushing up and down them and Bucky is whispering and murmuring things that cannot be heard but are nevertheless felt; their intention seeping through without their meaning.

“Okay, it’s over,” is the first phrase that Clint makes out completely, and it causes him to sob again, in violent relief.

Bucky doesn’t stop touching him, petting him, doting on and worshiping him, and Clint finally calms down enough to hear what he’s saying.

“Perfect. You took that so well. I know. I know it hurt, I know. Thank you, pretty boy. Thank you. You’re so beautiful like this. You’re beautiful all the time, but there’s something special about this. You’re all mine. Not even Steve gets you like this. No one gets you like this, just like no one gets me like this. God, I love you, too. I love you.”

Clint takes another shuddering sob, but it’s release now, rather than panic. Bucky presses himself against Clint’s back, carefully arranging their bodies so as to avoid Clint’s inflamed ass, and Clint’s endorphin high hits him like a riptide. It’s not usually like that for him. He sinks quickly, but gradually. This is like he’s been trying to drop into subspace throughout the entire caning but just hadn’t been able to work past the pain.

“Bucky,” he mumbles, but he isn’t trying to say anything. Just experimenting with the syllables on his lips. It feels good.

With his body still tied spreadeagle and the pain significantly reduced, the feeling from before seeps through Clint’s consciencence. It’s less adoration and slightly more exhaustion, but it’s no less warm and pure.

“Bucky,” he sighs. “Bucky, Bucky, Bucky.”

“I’m here,” Bucky promises. More gentle kisses. “I’m here.”

 

__________

 

Clint comes back to himself a long while later. He can tell, because this isn’t like the shitty apartment from hell. This place actually has windows, and the drawn curtains can’t hide the fact that the sunlight is fading into a sunset.

He doesn’t feel cold, despite the fact that he’s naked and spread out. It’s probably due to a combination of how hot Steve keeps their apartment and how close Bucky is pressed against him.

Clint thinks Bucky might be asleep, and he keeps still for a moment, trying to judge breathing or see if he can feel any dream twitches. Unfortunately, he can’t tell, and the ache in his shoulders and hips that had barely been on his mind as he drifted, is now threatening to close in on unbearable. He shifts his weight, probably for the first time in hours, and Bucky immediately shifts in response.

“Ready to be untied?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Clint answers. His throat is a little sore from his yelling, and he clears it to chase away the raspy quality before he repeats, “Yes, please.”

“You feeling okay?” Bucky says gently, as he makes short work of the ties.

“Feeling good,” Clint says. He can still feel the edges of the high from earlier, and he makes a heady sound of content when he pulls his arms into his body and twists his hips into a new and more comfortable position.

“Good, I….” Bucky trails off and then says, “Shit,” softly, almost under his breath.

“What’s up?”

“I...Jesus, Clint I’m sorry. One of these broke skin.”

Tie you up and cane you bloody had been the threat last time. The fake threat. It isn't as bad as he'd felt it would be at the time.

Clint feels a feather light brush of fingers against his ass, but honestly the whole area feels like a raw bruise, so he can’t tell the difference between the spot Bucky is fixated on and the rest of it. He notes that he isn’t surprised by the discovery, though. He’d figured Bucky was walking that edge.

“It’s fine,” he slurs, because he honestly doesn't care. The pain had been a means to an end. He’s finally resolved himself to the fact that the kind of pain he likes to receive and the kind of pain Bucky likes to give just aren’t compatible. It’s fine though, because he can endure through Bucky’s version and then savor the marks and the tenderness in his own way. Everyone gets what they want, except that Bucky is still down there freaking out.

Clint makes a noise of exasperation and twists so he can see his dom, who gives him a look that just looks so lost that Clint can’t help but smile fondly.

“It’s fine, Bucky,” he says, more firmly. “I don’t mind. It happens, sometimes.”

God knows it has happened to him before and, he’s betting it’ll happen to him again.

“I’ll get something to clean it,” Bucky insists, and disappears into the bathroom.

Clint isn’t a fan of being left alone, he suddenly remembers. Even though he’s not tied down anymore, he’s close enough to his subspace that the absence of another person in the room finally makes him shiver with cold and with retroactive apprehension.

But then Bucky is back and Clint lets himself float again, re-embracing the fading headspace like an apology for the almost-panic of just a few moments ago. He let’s Bucky run a gentle warm cloth along a space of skin on his right side where he presumes the break is. He  cranes his neck around to look, and sees Bucky is using soap and water, and dabbing gently at the area. Clint guesses the wound has already closed up, but he appreciates the gesture.

After that comes the anti inflammatory cream, and that one hurts a little as Bucky massages it into his marks, but it’s not a bad hurt. Not necessarily a good hurt, it’s just...still floating. He snorts to himself in amusement when he realizes that all this attention is probably Bucky trying to make up for how much he’s sucked at aftercare in the past.

“What’s so funny?” Bucky asks.

“Nothing,” Clint answers. And even though the amusement is clear in his voice, Bucky lets it go, pressing one more kiss to the small of his back before climbing up to lay next to Clint.

“Hungry?” he asks.

Clint is suddenly starving.

“Pizza!” he demands, and Bucky grins.

“Whatever you say, beautiful.”

__________

 

It’s a couple days later, that Clint and Bucky are cleaning the kitchen - Bucky always insists on helping now, and Clint has given up on protesting - when Clint suddenly feels a hand on his back, right between his shoulder blades. Bucky presses harder, and Clint obligingly goes over the counter he’s being pushed over. He rests his chest on the cool granite and enjoys the feeling of his heart racing.

Bucky struggles with the tights jeans for a moment - Clint should update his wardrobe now that he’s been working out and eating more regularly - but it’s only a few seconds before everything is pulled down to his ankles with an efficient jerk.

There’s a long pause, and Clint smirks to himself as he imagines the view that has caught Bucky’s breath. Heaven knows he’s been staring at it himself on and off for the last few days. The marks are incredible and, now that the broken skin has healed, resplendently uniform. If Clint hadn’t thought enduring them was worth it by then, he would have when he first ran his fingers along the bruised ridge.

“Like what you see?” he asks cheekily, shoving his hips back.

Bucky’s answering slap is as painful as Clint had been hoping, and he sighs in rough contentment. It gets him what he wanted on top of that, too, when Bucky brushes his fingers along the same marks Clint had been tracing a few hours earlier.

“Yeah, I like what I see,” Bucky says softly. “I can’t figure out how I got so lucky, either.”

Clint has to bury his face in his arms to hide his embarrassment, but he can’t hide the way he goes boneless against the surface of the counter. Bucky hums in contentment and asks a rhetorical question of his own, murmuring “Do you like that?” as he continues brushing his touch up and down Clint’s ass and thighs and Clint’s answering grunt of pleasure couldn’t be taken as anything but.

The feeling in the air changes. Not completely, because they’d been heading here the moment Bucky had pushed him down, but the unspoken sexual tension escalates as Bucky’s touch changes from feather-light to possessive. It sparks pain up Clint’s back and around into his groin, and he swears the way he widens his stance - spreading his legs a little further apart - is instinctual.

Bucky doesn’t miss the offering, pulling apart Clint’s cheeks with the thumb of his metal hand and brushing at the exposed skin with his flesh and blood one.

Clint’s breath quickens against the granite, because are they really doing this now? Right now, after all the waiting and all the confusion and pain and misunderstandings, is Bucky finally going to claim him in the kitchen? Without Steve? With half-washed pans sitting in soapy water not four feet away?

Bucky removes his hands and presses himself up against Clint’s ass, and even through Bucky’s clothes, Clint can feel the hard flesh. He tries to decide whether or not to push back as friction while Bucky bends down so their bodies press up against each other, back to chest and ass to dick.

“Guess what I know that you don’t?” Bucky whispers and Clint shudders with arousal, despite the potentially innocuous statement.

“Your thoughts on global warming,” Clint practically pants back, because his non-subspace self can’t help the backtalk, especially when in such a compromising position.

Bucky jerks his hips forward in retaliation, hard enough that the edge of the counter drives into Clint’s stomach and even as he groans, he grins.

“Behave,” Bucky growls, and then takes a handful of Clint’s hair and forcefully turns his head so Clint has no choice but to stare across the room and down the hall that leads to the atrium. He has just enough time to wonder if the view is purposeful or if Bucky had just wanted to man-handle him some more, beforen he hears the elevator doors. Which Bucky must have known was coming.

He almost panics - what if it’s Tony - but calms immediately, because Bucky knew this was coming , so it can only be--

Steve walks into view, looking weary but still texting on that goddamn phone, and he slows his step even further when he sees them watching him, coming to a complete stop as he registers the scene in front of him. Clint, pants around his ankles, Bucky pressed up against his naked ass. Hell, Clint isn’t even certain if Steve has a good enough view to know for sure that Bucky does have his zipper down and his cock already inside. From the way Steve is staring, he’s probably trying to figure it out.

“Hey, Steve,” Bucky greets casually.

“Welcome home,” Clint adds, equally casually, because he can play that game, too.

Steve puts the damn phone in his pocket. He walks slowly into the kitchen, and Clint is suddenly aware that there’s tension in Bucky’s body behind him. That no one in the room is entirely sure of what’s going to happen next.

“Is that for me?” Steve asks, pointing at Clint and looking at Bucky.

“You can have it when I’m done with it,” Bucky answers.

Steve laughs, low and aroused and threatening all at the same time. He places a proprietary hand on Clint’s head and responds, “I think you need to learn to share,” and suddenly the tension of the room is entirely different. Clint whines because he’s being completely ignored despite being the center of attention and, god help him, he both loves and hates it.

Steve leans down on the counter so he can better look Clint in the eye. It puts him in the same bent over position as Clint, but on Steve it’s anything but submissive.

“How are you doing there?” he asks gently, and Clint risks punishment for moving to surge forward and kiss Steve like this is his only chance. Steve kisses back, but it’s lazy, unlike Clint’s frenzy, and Clint is forced to slow himself to match the pace.

“Good boy,” Steve says, right into Clint’s mouth, and Bucky echoes the sentiment as he pets Clint’s back.

Steve stands up, moving out of Clint’s view. He can hear more kissing though, and sighs in contentment, even when Bucky steps back from Clint, clearly answering some enthusiasm of his own.

“Jesus Christ,” Steve exclaims, and suddenly the heat of Bucky is completely gone. Instead, Steve’s fingers brush Clint’s bruised skin, and Clint suddenly remembers that Steve doesn’t get off on pain like a lot of doms. Like Bucky.

“I earned them,” he insists out loud, because if Steve can’t even deal with the aftermath of this kind of playtime, then this relationship really is doomed.

“I very much doubt that,” Steve shoots back, and it’s the anger in his voice that lets Clint know he’s been misunderstood.

Figuring the moment has been broken anyway, Clint stands up and whirls around to face Steve, who is glaring at Bucky, who has taken several steps back and doesn’t seem to be able to figure out what when wrong.

“I earned them by being good!” Clint snaps, and that gets Steve to stop and look at him.

“It was for fun,” Bucky tries, but Steve keeps looking at Clint, so Clint keeps explaining.

“I begged for them. I asked for them. I wanted them. I like to be hurt, Steve. Remember that? Remember us talking about what I liked? Just because you don’t want to give that to me, doesn’t mean I don’t get to have it. If that’s an ultimatum from you, then I’ll have to go somewhere else, because this is something I need .”

He’s as surprised by the threat as his doms are, and he stops talking suddenly.

“Okay, okay,” Steve placates, his hands up. “I give.” He grins a little and adds, “Guess this is what it’s like to be on the other end of a quick temper, huh?”

Clint isn’t so sure, and he’s too wound up to do anything but narrow his eyes. It does occur to him, however, that he must not strike a very threatening picture. Not with his pants down and his cock thick with arousal.

Steve gestures at Clint to come forward, and Clint doesn’t for a moment as he tries to get his bearings back, but then Steve says, “Please?” and Clint goes, stepping out of his pants and leaving them on the kitchen floor.

When he gets to Steve, Steve kisses him gently, holding his face, and says, “I’m sorry, okay? I panicked.”

Clint figures if Bucky’s getting so many second chances, Steve should too, so he nods and kisses back. Besides, he hadn’t actually been mad. Just scared of short-circuiting the scene. Which he might have done anyway.

To make sure he hasn’t, he deepens the kiss, turning it into something truly filthy, and Steve moans in surprise because this is their first kiss like this, and Clint knows what he’s doing. He tilts his head, inviting domination, letting Steve take control without turning completely passive himself.

Steve’s hand skitters down Clint’s back until he grabs a handful of Clint’s ass, and Clint can’t help the short answering cry of pain.

Steve’s hand is gone as quickly as it had come, and he whispers, “Sorry, sorry,” into their kiss. It makes Clint laugh.

“Steve,” he chides gently. “I like it.”

To help prove the point, he leaps. He jumps up and wraps his legs around Steve’s waist, trusting that Captain America is more than capable of catching him. And he’s right, winning the gamble when Steve doesn’t so much as take a step back to adjust to the new weight.

Now that Clint has a higher vantage point, he can see Bucky standing off to the side behind. He’s clearly enjoying watching, but when Clint beckons for him to come and join, he doesn’t hesitate, pressing himself up against Steve’s back and getting a filthy kiss of his own from Clint.

“Shirt,” Steve says, and Clint doesn’t have time to process before Bucky has practically ripped the item off up over his head. He’s now naked in Steve’s arms, while both his doms are fully clothed and god it’s wonderful. He drops his head down onto Steve’s shoulder tightening his grip on Steve’s stupid business-blue button up.

He closes his eyes as Steve turns and moves, carrying Clint out of the kitchen and further into their home. He’s a little gratified when they don’t even make it to the bedroom. Steve kneels down in the main living room, keeping Clint’s legs around his waist but lowering Clint down to lie on the soft carpet. Clint uses his new position to push himself down to grind against Steve, while Steve obligingly grinds back.

Bucky joins them, lying down on his stomach next to Clint. He begins kissing Clint gently, simultaneously reaching out to also slowly jerk him off. Slowly. So achingly slowly. Now Clint is both trying to grind down and buck up, and it’s confusing his poor aroused brain.

“Fuck!” he exclaims. “Please?”

“Please what?” Bucky laughs. But Clint can only whine in response, causing Bucky to comment, “I don’t think sweetheart knows what he wants,” to Steve.

I do,” Steve says, and Clint doesn’t doubt it. Steve pulls back, letting Clint’s legs drop to the floor, but it isn’t for long. He’s undoing his own pants, shoving them down to his thighs, and then he’s back and Clint helpfully returns his legs back to around Steve’s waist.

All of their faces are pressed so close together. Bucky pulls his hand away as Steve arranges himself so he can thrust against Clint’s cock, causing both of them to moan breathlessly. Clint tightens his legs around Steve in encouragement, and Steve thrusts again.

“Come on!” Clint exclaims, in frustration at the pace

“Needy,” Steve snorts, setting a rhythm that is both delicious and not nearly enough to help Clint up over the edge he’s starting to long for.

“I like it,” Bucky adds, trailing his fingers languidly up and down Clint’s bare arm. “I like you both like this.” He reaches back between them to wrap his fingers around them both, and Clint knocks his head back into the floor beneath him. This time, Bucky’s fingers are tighter and his movements more intentional, coinciding perfectly with Steve’s own movements, and Clint finally feels like this is enough. That he might be able to come from this.

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, laughing against Clint’s cheek where he’s pressing his face. Clint can feel even his eyelashes and he gasps, chasing orgasm. Trying to be good and lie still but also trying to shift his hips to help himself, clenching the muscles in his thighs and wishing tightening his legs would pull Steve further in to him, and yet somehow blissfully and perfectly happy all the same.

He does a little half-sit-up and kisses Steve, and then lowers himself back down and turns his head to repeat the action with Bucky.

“Come back,” Steve orders, and Clint obligingly surges up into the position again, holding it this time, letting Steve kiss him. It’s more fervent than his previous kiss, and Clint can’t concentrate much on it with his mind dividing between the strain in his abdomen and the growing necessity to come.

He can’t kiss Bucky like this, and Bucky doesn’t sit up to let him, just keeps lying on the floor and playing with Clint’s arm with his free hand, so Clint takes a little initiative and wraps his fingers in Bucky’s own, holding his hand tightly. Bucky allows it, raising their entwined fingers to his lips so he can kiss each of Clint’s knuckles. It twists Clint’s arm behind his back, and his stomach cramps from the position and he feels himself dip a little lower, away from Steve, as his tiring muscles work harder than they have in years, and then he’s coming, spilling over Bucky’s fist and onto his own stomach, and the surge of chemicals clenches all his muscles tighter and he surges up back to Steve who wraps one hand behind Clint’s neck and holds him there, foreheads pressed together as Bucky keeps his hand moving and Clint “ah, ah, ahs” little staccatos of air, and finally slumps back to lie on the floor again. He stares up in a daze, and Bucky changes to jerking off only Steve, and it isn’t more than a few heartbeats before Steve makes a noise Clint is already looking forward to hearing again and comes, bursting over Clint’s stomach and mixing with his own white mess.

Steve pants above him, resting his weight on his elbows to keep from crushing Clint, finally finding the wherewithal to roll off to the side, wedging himself in between Clint and Bucky. Bucky makes an affronted noise, and retaliates by climbing up on top of Steve to lie chest to chest with him. Steve wraps an arm around Clint and pulls him in so they’re all a smushed pile.

It occurs to Clint that Bucky yet again hasn’t come, but he’s realized by now not to ask. If there’s something to be done, then Steve will attend to it, or tell Clint to attend to it, or hell Bucky will say something. For now, Clint closes his eyes and listens to everyone’s breathing slowly return to a normal speed.

“Now that’s how you welcome a guy home,” Steve says suddenly into the silence, and Bucky laughs so Clint does, too. Despite being the least dressed in the room, he feels warmth spreading all the way down to his fingers and toes.

 

__________

 

They have to go away on another long mission. They tell him over breakfast and they apologize because it’s going to be different this time. This time it’s both of them, and it could be quite a while.

“How long is a while?” Clint asks, and he hates himself for how petty the question might be interpreted as being.

“Probably a few weeks,” Steve says.

“Okay,” Clint forces himself to say. “That’s totally manageable. I thought you were going to say months or something.”

(That’s a lie. He’s been expecting weeks, and hoping for days, but he’s not going to tell Steve that, since he’s working so hard on making a life for himself outside of his doms and needing them by him every day is not a way to reach that goal.)

“It’s fucking stupid,” Bucky spits from behind Steve, and he looks mad enough that Clint thinks maybe he’s not the only one at war with their own internal codependency.

“Bucky,” Steve tries.

“It is!” Bucky interrupts. “I don’t think all the secrecy is going to work. I think it’s going to backfire. I understand the need to bluff, but for this long? The longer a bluff goes on, the more dangerous it gets.”

“Something going on?” Clint asks. Maybe the reason his doms have been out more than in through the last few months is because there’s something big going on. It hadn’t even occurred to him.

“We’re just on a bit of a time crunch to find something,” Steve says. “And no one seems to have the slightest idea where to even start looking. We’re just shooting in the dark.”

“You’re not telling him the best part,” Bucky snorts. “We’re telling the rest of the world that we already have it. Trying to draw anyone away from searching for it on their own. Which would be great if we knew where it was , because then we could go get it, but nooooo . Instead we’ve just been desperately flipping over rocks in blind hope, and all the time it’s getting more and more likely that someone is going to find out, or call our bluff, or accidentally find the thing themselves anyway.”

He takes a deep breath after his rant and throws his hand up in the air. Clearly he has more to say, but he’s limited by Clint’s presence. Steve shrugs his shoulders like he’s heard this speech before, and then his face changes a little.

“Oh,” he says. “Clint, that’s....that’s actually classified information. Very classified. The slightest whisper of that getting out, that we don’t have what we say we have, will get people hurt and killed.”

Clint shrugs. “I’m great at secrets.”

He says it with nonchalance, but he’s actually thrilled that Bucky would have accidentally revealed something like that to him. Bucky doesn’t even look upset at the slip. Neither does Steve, really.

“Tony knows, I assume?” he asks. “Because if not, he does now.”

“He does,” Steve nods. “He’s helping us look on an electronic level.”

“And even if he didn't,” Jarvis interrupts, making Clint startle, “I'm hardly his personal spy. I can keep a secret, too.”

Clint doesn't know what to say to that, but he doesn't want to hurt Jarvis’ feelings - stupid as that thought might be - so he goes with “Thank you, Jarvis.”

Bucky snorts in amusement at the politeness, but Clint likes to think the ensuing silence feels slightly mollified.

“Is there anything you’d like us to do to prepare for the time we'll be gone?” Steve asks, directing the conversation back to the target.

Clint almost says, “Take me with you,” as a joke, but it won’t come across as funny, and it suddenly reminds him of Stark’s offer and he feels sick.

“How long till you have to go?” he asks.

“There's a car coming in an hour and a half,” Steve answers. “I know it’s not long.”

Not long enough to do the kind of thing that will hold Clint over. It’s not even long enough to half-ass a session, and if Clint is going to be left alone for weeks, a half-assed session is exactly the opposite of what he needs.

“I’ll be fine,” he says, instead of all the thoughts he’d like to add, like how he hopes Steve and Bucky just found out about this and haven’t been sitting on the information until an hour and a half before the departure time.

 

__________

 

He’s not a desperately needy sub. He never has been. So he should not be degenerating this quickly, not when he’s got twenty-four access to shooting his bow until his fingers bleed.

The thought and knowledge does nothing to change the fact that that’s exactly what’s happening.

In retrospect, maybe he should have asked for that half-assed session.

He wonders if Tony would loan him Pepper, and the thought is so ridiculous that when it occurs to him what he had just thought, he laughs. He laughs so hard, he keeps laughing, he laughs until he has to stumble to his feet to the bathroom and laughing and coughing and throwing up.

His stomach hurts, even when he finally stops laughing.

 

__________

 

Jarvis tells on him, the dirty filthy traitor. He finds this out when Natasha drags him bodily out from under his doms’ bed.

“Fuck,” shes says, smoothing her hands over Clint’s forearms where there are deep red fingernail marks that Clint doesn’t remember putting there. “Why didn’t you call someone, baby?”

And what a great idea that would have been, if Clint could have thought of it properly.

Natasha is a lot stronger than she looks, and she wraps Clint up in a blanket and physically carries him out of the dark bedroom and into the living room with the huge TV that Bucky had gotten, even though he never watches it and Clint bets it’s so Clint can watch his stupid television shows and--

Natasha interrupts his thought degeneration by literally dropping him onto the couch. He lands with an omph and looks up at her in confusion.

“When’s the last time you ate?” she asks, and Clint doesn’t answer because if the last time he ate was the last time he remembers eating then she’s going to be so mad at him, and he doesn’t think he can handle someone being mad at him right now.

Which is stupid. She’ll just ask Jarvis.

But when he doesn’t answer her, she just rolls her eyes and stomps off into the living room, muttering under her breath in Russian. God, Clint has got to learn Russian if all the doms in his life are going to be speaking it.

She brings back soup, so she must have been gone longer than he thought, and no wait, it’s actually ramen, so it must have been way longer than he thought, because it’s real ramen not the kind from a packet and it smells so good. It’s a good thing that Natasha is a better cook than Steve, because otherwise he couldn’t have eaten even if ordered.

As it stands, all Natasha has to do it point adamantly at the bowl for Clint to begin. Once he’s started, his body picks up on how hungry he’s been and the downs the whole thing in a matter of minutes, even with Natasha looming over him with that look on her face.

She takes the bowl from him and goes back into the kitchen. Clint wonders if she’s going to bring back more, because he doesn’t think he could take another after having eaten the first so quickly, but she just returns with another blanket. She wraps it around herself and snuggles in next to Clint.

“You have got to learn to ask for help when you need it,” she says. “I know it’s a hard lesson. Trust me. I know . But you have to learn it, or the lack of it will kill you.”

“I ask for help,” Clint says. “I’ve asked both of them for help before.”

“You have to learn to ask someone else ,” she snaps, finally betraying the anger that must be simmering underneath her bland exterior expression. “Not your doms. You have to learn to reach outside that circle.”

It’s so much like what Steve had said about existing outside of his doms that Clint buries his face in the blankets between them and finally, finally, cries.

It’s not so bad really. Natasha pets his head all the way through it.

 

__________

 

Steve comes back first. Natasha has left already, and Clint just now thinks that maybe his dom wouldn’t have wanted her there. That maybe that had been cheating, and for all the fucking mistakes he has been in his life, he has never cheated on his dom.

“Natasha was here,” he blurts out, the moment Steve is through the door, and it is, Clint thinks, a much less nice surprise greeting than the last one Steve got.

“Okay,” Steve says, but he looks confused.

“We cuddled!” Clint continues, forcing the words out quickly before he chickens out.

Steve looks dumbfounded.

“With Natasha?” he asks. When Clint nods, he repeats, “Natasha cuddled . Natasha?”

“Yes,” Clint says, unsure about how this conversation is responding.

“Huh,” Steve says and continues on past Clint into his room.

Clint has no idea what to make of it. He’s pretty sure Steve would have said if he’d been mad. Instead he’d seem politely interested and a little surprised.

He does re-emerge, though. He’s changed out of his suit into more comfortable sweats and a white t-shirt that appears to be trying to strangle his pecs. This time, his gaze is a little more focused.

“Why?” he asks.

Clint is under no illusion that this is a change in subject, and he answers, “Because Jarvis told her I was dropping.”

“Goddamnit,” Steve breathes, but there’s none of the anger Clint was braced for. Instead, Steve leaps lightly over the back of the sofa, landing gently on his feet on the floor on the other side. He leans down to where Clint is sitting and takes his face in his hands.

“Are you okay, now?” he asks.

“Sure,” Clint answers. Any lingering threat of a secondary drop has been shocked out of his system by Steve’s proximity and unexpected reaction. “You’re not mad?”

“About what?” Steve asks, genuine confusion on his face as he joins Clint on the couch, pulling him in to cuddle, much like he and Natasha had the day before.

“About my…” Clint starts, but then pauses. About what? About Clint seeking comfort out of a drop? About his getting help? Help outside of his doms?

He is suddenly, viscerally , aware of how little Steve will mind. How completely he will not care.

“Nothing,” Clint says. “Stupid question. Sorry.”

Steve grunts in acknowledgement, checks his phone then puts it away, and begins to run his fingers through Clint’s hair as he turns on the television. It’s on the same channel Clint had watched with Natasha after he’d calmed down some, but instead of the ballet performance, it’s an orchestra. The classical music is still soothing for the half-second it’s on before Steve switches to a news program in a country whose primary language is not English. Whatever it is, Steve apparently speaks it though, because a glance informs Clint that the program has Steve’s full attention.

Clint rolls his eyes and leans his head against Steve’s shoulder and pretends he’s watching, too.

 

__________

 

Clint starts following through on his half-assed thought. He snags the Russian lesson books he’d found earlier, and starts pouring through the first sections. Some of it is review, and it comes back to him more quickly than he would have thought. At least, when he thinks about the words as sounds. It’s trying to puzzle over them as visual representations that’s giving him a headache. What exactly is the point of multiple alphabets anyway? What the point of any alphabet?

He shoves the books under the covers when there’s a knock on his bedroom door. He’s not hiding what he’s doing, perse, but he’s thinking it’ll be a fun surprise.

(It's not living outside his doms, Steve will be mad.)

“Come in!” he calls to Steve, because that’s the only other person on the floor at the moment.

“Hey,” Steve says softly, sticking his head through the doorway. “Bucky’s on the phone.”

Clint jerks upright, scrambling to his feet before he remembers that cellphones are a thing and he doesn't have to run for the landline.

“Okay if I put him on in here?” Steve asks, amusement in his eyes at Clint’s stutter-stop series of movements.

“Go ahead,” Clint says, even though he’s not completely sure what that means.

“Linking audio,” Jarvis says, and one day Clint will stop jumping out of his skin every time the AI speaks unexpectedly.

“Bucky?” Steve says, walking farther into the room. He points to Clint’s bed with a raised eyebrow, and Clint nods, sitting back down himself.

“I’m here,” Bucky’s voice says from the ceiling, just like Jarvis’ does.

Fuck cellphones then, Clint thinks with amusement, as Steve says, “I’ve got Clint here. Will you tell me what’s going on now?”

“I’m not…” Bucky starts, but then nothing else follows. Steve looks at Clint in expectation.

“Bucky?” he calls, hesitantly. It’s one thing talking to Jarvis like this, but this is one hell of a speakerphone for a long distance communication.

Or, at least he thinks it’s long distance. Huh. He’s just been assuming his doms are being sent overseas, but honestly they’ve never said. So Clint asks the next natural question.

“Where are you?”

“Sokovia,” Bucky answers. “In the capitol, downtown.”

Steve winces in a way that makes Clint think that that was classified information.

“Oh,” Clint responds, and abandons the line of questioning. “How are you doing?”

“Not great.”

“Okay. What happened. Like, in broad terms.” He doesn’t want to risk more sensitive information. He bets the tower is secure, and he’s certainly not going to talk, but it's probably inadvisable to load himself up with classified information. Someone will notice, eventually.

“They were supposed to be here,” Bucky says, and Steve makes an aborted movement, but Bucky keeps talking. “But no, it’s just more people I had to hurt and it was chaos, and I lost control and it was just so much messier than it has to be. Had to be. There’s blood on my hands. Literally blood on my hands, and I all I could think about was that I had to call you.”

“That’s sweet,” Clint says, even though it’s definitely not. “Are you safe right now?”

“It’s not sweet!” Bucky shouts. “It’s necessary! I can’t….I can’t come home unstable and shaking and I’ll hurt you again, and that is just so completely unacceptable that I’m stuck here on the phone when the answer is no, I’m not completely safe, but you have to be. You have to be safe. From me, at the very least. I can’t come home unstable, so you have to talk me down. Talk me out of this….this….this drop .”

Steve is very still and quiet beside Clint, and Clint doubts very much that that’s going to change.

“Can you wash your hands?” he asks. It’s stupid but it’s the only thing that comes to mind.

Bucky doesn’t act like it’s stupid. He just says, yeah, he can do that, and then there’s the sound of running water.

“Now what?” he asks, when the water has turned off.

Clint’s attention is drawn to where Steve is waving at him.

His clothes, he mouths, plucking at his own shirt, and Clint catches on immediately.

“Is there any blood on your clothes?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“Is it conspicuous?”

I’m conspicuous,” Bucky shoots back angrily, and okay, that’s fair. Clint has seen Bucky in his combat outfit, all decked out in weaponry. It was a stupid question.

“Can you change?”

A very brief silence before, “Change clothes?”

“Yes. Is there the opportunity to make yourself not conspicuous?”

There’s some shuffling and a long pause.

“Yeah, I….I can. But….”

“Change clothes,” Clint says gently, when it becomes obvious that Bucky isn’t going to say anything else.

“My weapons won’t fit,” he finally says.

“Then leave them behind. Take only what you can wear in civilian clothes without being noticed, even by people that are looking for it.”

“You want me to fight the rest of the people that are coming with...with a knife and a handgun?”

Clint bets Bucky could hide more weapons than that, but he appreciates the dramatic statement for the point it’s trying to make.

“No,” he says. “You’re not going to fight them. You’re going to just walk past them.”

Barney had taught him that one.

Chisholm had reinforced the lesson.

A noise that sounds suspiciously close to a sob comes through the line.

“I can’t,” Bucky breathes. “I can’t!”

Clint looks at Steve, who mouths He can.

“Yes, you can,” Clint insists, as gently as he knows how. “Now do it. Change.”

The sudden situation has delayed Clint’s realization that he’s giving his dom orders, but he doesn’t let himself second guess it. If it’s not helping, it’s at least not making things worse. And Steve is backing him up, so it can't be completely stupid.

“Okay,” Bucky says eventually. “I’m done.”

“Then leave,” Clint says. “Walk away.”

He hopes he’s guessing right. That Bucky’s MO is well known enough that his enemies will be expecting a fight. That Bucky is as good as Steve seems to be indicating. That it’s only panic and habit that are making Bucky think this isn’t a reasonable option.

There’s the sound of a door. The sounds of an enclosed staircase. The sound of a street.

Please let him be someplace it’s normal to be walking .

“I can see them,” Bucky says, and it’s a dangerously toneless statement.

“Are there other people around you?”

“Yes.”

“Then walk past them.”

“But--”

“Just walk past them, Bucky,” Clint orders, trying to mimic Steve’s tone and voice when he’s had enough of whatever nonsense is happening. When he says he’s sorry but he got a phone call and he has to go and there’s not to be any arguing with him.

“Okay,” Bucky says.

“Talk to me while you walk,” Clint says. “Tell me your favorite flavor of cake.”

“I don’t like cake,” Bucky says.

“You don’t like cake? Why don’t you like cake?”

“It’s...I don’t….why would I like cake? I don’t understand the question.”

“Okay, fine. What’s your favorite type of pizza?”

“Everything. You already know this. Why are you asking me questions that you already know the answer to?”

“Because I’m trying to make you sound like you’re having a normal conversation while you pass them, for god’s sake. Now tell me your favorite drink, god damn!”

“It’s vodka, and I’m already past them.”

“Just straight vodka?” Clint asks, almost missing the important information in his surprise.

“Yeah. What do I do now?”

“Oh, I…” he looks at Steve again. This is pretty much the end of his knowledge. If this were him, he’d head for the closest safe house, or the closest thing he could turn into a safe house, and call the rest of his team for info and a possible rescue. Assuming they weren’t complete twats.

“Go to a safe house,” Steve takes over. “If you can make sure you’re not being followed, then go to a safe house and call for an extraction.”

Oh. Okay, so exactly what Clint would have done next.

“I have to hang up,” Bucky says. “To call for an extraction.”

“How are you feeling,” Clint jumps back in. Because safe is one thing, but safety isn’t what Bucky had called him for.

“Clearer,” Bucky answers. And then, “....what’s your favorite drink?”

“Tequila,” Clint answers.

“Just straight tequila?” Bucky teases gently, and he already sounds a little bit more like himself. Maybe what he really needed was to be told it was okay not to beat another assault team to death.

“So, what have you been up to,” he asks tentatively, and Clint figures they’ve got time while Bucky makes his way to more relative safety.

“Cuddling with Natasha,” he answers, because Steve had seemed to think that was a strange thing for her to do.

Sure enough, Bucky exclaims something in Russian, and then follows it up with, “The little spider? How did you manage such a feat?”

“I asked nicely,” Clint says, and it doesn’t matter that it’s not true, because knowing Clint had had a drop will not help Bucky avoid his own.

The conversation flows from there. Clint hadn’t noticed that it had gotten easier and easier to just talk to his doms, until he’s faced with the potential disaster of a silent telephone line. But it’s easy. They just chat. Steve joins in eventually and it could be any other day.

Eventually Bucky calls it to its close, and he does really sound so much better when he says, “I have to hang up and call for extraction now.”

“Okay,” Clint says. “I love you. Call when you can.”

“I love you, too,” Bucky responds. “Both of you.”

And then he’s hung up and Clint is left staring at the silence, sitting next to Steve.

“Do you understand how important that phone call was?” Steve asks, and his voice is low with repressed pain.

“I don’t….no, sorry. Why was it important?” Because Clint doubts a little mortal danger is out of the ordinary for these two. That’s probably not what Steve is referring to.

“He wants to get healthy,” Steve says, like each word weighs a ton, dropping from his mouth. “He’s never avoided a drop before. Never skirted around the opportunity to do justifiable violence. Never avoided triggers or worked on being healthy, and now he’s calling in the middle of missions to do all of those things.”

“Yay?” Clint ventures.

“It’s so he doesn’t hurt you,” Steve informs him, although that’s what Clint was already guessing.

“That’s...good, isn’t it?” It sounds good, but with how serious Steve is being, he’s not sure. Maybe he’s missing an angle here.

Steve puts those doubts to rest when he pulls Clint into an embrace and says, “Of course it’s good,” in a voice that sounds completely gutted. “It’s everything I...my wildest dreams . The wishes I made!”

Clint supposes he understands when Steve’s chest starts heaving with sobs. Sometimes people cry when they get what they want, if they wanted it badly enough. He has, he knows.

“If he wants to get better,” Steve chokes, “then that will change everything. Thank god for you. Thank all the gods for you and whatever brought you here.”

“Five hundred thousand dollars of stolen artwork,” Clint says, because it just seems like the right thing to say.

“What?” Steve says, drawing back so he can look at Clint’s face.

“I got caught with a half a million dollars worth of stolen artwork,” he shrugs. “It’s how Coulson found me, floating in the system. I’d gotten the attention of some pretty bad people. So he rescued me. Gave me this, instead.”

“What?” Steve says again, this time a little sharper.

“I’m pretty grateful, all things considered. I guess I should tell him that.”

“Did you have a choice?” Steve snaps, and Clint is flooded with both adoration for his straightforward dom and plain goddamn irritation.

“Of course I had a choice! Fuck off with that, already. It was Coulson, for god’s sake. Do you really think that he would trap me in a situation like this? Coerce me like that? He made it clear that I would have other options should I turn the position down.”

“And did you believe him?”

Clint’s mouth twists in chagrin. Straightforward, but not stupid.

“No,” he admits. “Not at all. Thought it was another veiled threat. But it’s not Coulson’s fault I didn’t take him at face value. I didn’t take you at face value either, at the start.”

For a moment, Clint thinks there’s going to be more of a fight, but Steve suddenly gives up his tension like a cut bowstring.

“Guess we’re lucky then,” he says. “Lucky it turned out well.”

“Not just well,” Clint adds, lying his head down in Steve’s lap, and staving off worry about Bucky as best he can. “I think it turned out pretty fucking perfect.”

 

__________

 

Clint uses Tony’s fancy credit card to place an order for several hundred dollars worth of art equipment and supplies to be delivered to their floor some time next week, and he picks out one of the rooms to designate for exactly that purpose.

Just in case, he takes a picture of the receipt and texts it to Tony, along with the fact that it’s a surprise.

The enthusiastic excitement he gets in response is contagious.

Now he’s got to figure out what to get Bucky.

__________

 

Bucky comes home. He’s tired and dirty and pale, and he takes a hot shower before sleeping for almost twenty hours, but when he reemerges he looks pretty close to normal.

He does pause on his way into the kitchen to lean down and kiss the top of Clint’s head, and Clint thinks that kiss says a lot of things Bucky might not be able to find the words for. It’s okay, though. This language, this nonverbal communication, Clint understands just fine.

 

__________

 

They go on a date.

It is just such a completely ass-backward order of events that Clint can’t help laughing when they ask him. But of course he agrees enthusiastically, because Steve announces - with great pride - that he has the day off, and he wants to take his boys out to celebrate.

Which is how they end up in the fanciest restaurant Clint has ever seen.

He fucking hates it, and he thinks Bucky hates it too, and Steve seems to have no opinion on the matter other than to purposefully not notice how uncomfortable the place is. Purposeful, because there’s no way he’s that unobservant.

“Why here?” Clint asks Bucky quietly, even though he knows Steve can still hear him.

“It’s fancy enough that we won’t get mobbed for being Avengers,” Bucky answers, and Clint makes a face because that’s a reasonable reason, and he hates that there’s a reasonable reason.

“Ug,” he responds.

“Yep,” Bucky answers.

“Shut up and look at the menu,” Steve snaps, and okay maybe they could be a little less pouty about it. Clint purses his lips, opens the menu, and resolves himself to having a good time. He’s out in public with his doms, where they can been seen with him. On purpose. They're not embarrassed or anything. So, if he uses the wrong fork, then he’ll just deal with the weird looks, and the staff can figure out how to deal with the inconvenience.

Then Steve’s phone goes off. Clint thinks maybe it’s the personal one, but no. It’s the non-emergency one.

“I have to take this,” Steve says, and steps away with the phone.

“He said this was his day off ,” Clint whisper-yells at Bucky.

“All that means is they promise not to call him in unless there’s an emergency,” Bucky shrugs, clearly resolved to this already. “ It doesn’t mean shit about actually calling him. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Bucky’s right about that, at least. A few minutes later, Steve is back with an apology and a forced smile. He doesn’t meet Clint’s glaring eyes, instead opting to peruse the menu.

“Anybody know what they want yet?” he asks.

“Vodka,” Bucky answers, and Steve gives him Disappointed Look.

“Tequila,” Clint says, because he’s in a bratty mood and the fancy surroundings aren’t helping.

Steve just purses his lips and keeps staring at the menu, and suddenly Clint feels guilty again. Hadn’t he just resolved to enjoy this night like an adult? Steve is doing the best he can, and he’s not even getting mad at how Clint and Bucky are behaving. Worse, he looks almost sad, instead, like he’s sorry this is the best he can do.

“Okay, okay,” Clint concedes. “I’ll admit, I’m kind of excited to know what real steak tastes like. I think I’ll have whatever the most expensive meat is on the menu.”

“So, you’ll have Steve then,” Bucky comments.

“Bucky!” Steve exclaims, but he looks a little happier now, so Clint’s glad.

“What?” Bucky says, mock-serious. “You know how much your little science experiment of an upgrade cost. You’re easily the most expensive thing here.”

Steve is an amazingly red color, and Clint is thrilled. He hadn’t known Steve could get embarrassed. Then again, all their interactions have been in the private of their own home, so maybe public spaces are just a whole new playing field.

“Hey, baby?” Clint says, leaning further over the table and giving Steve his best seductive smile. “I’ve got a question.”

The look Steve gives him is fucking terrified, and Clint feels weirdly powerful. Like he could control these two with the right set of words, rather than the other way around. He’s starting to understand what he thinks Steve has been trying to tell him for a while now. How Clint is a far cry from the nuisance he started out as. He’s even a far cry from the barely wanted sub. From the means-to-an-end sub. From--

Steve’s phone rings again.

Clint sits back in the chair.

“Are you kidding me?” he says.

“Clint,” Steve says sternly. “I have responsibilities. It’s part of who I am, and while you’re allowed to be disappointed, you’re not allowed to throw a fit. If you can’t put up with this, then you’re welcome to find another situation.”

It’s a shitty feeling, to have his own ultimatum thrown back in his face, and Clint pouts at the table while Steve goes off to answer his fucking phone.

“Welcome to living with Captain America,” Bucky says. And he’s just so fucking resigned to the whole thing.

“How come you don’t have a phone?” Clint asks, suddenly suspicious.

“I have a phone.”

“But they don’t call you all the fucking time. Like they do Steve. They don’t call you ever , actually.”

“No, that’s because I have an emergency ‘the world is ending’ phone, and then I have my personal phone that Tony Stark has made sure SHIELD cannot get their hands on the number for. I don’t have a work phone. That’s the one Steve’s on all the time.”

“Why not? Why don’t you have a work phone?”

“I never answered it. Probably because I tossed it out the door of a plane because it wouldn’t stop ringing. They gave up eventually.”

Clint narrows his eyes and nods slowly.

“So that phone,” Clint points over to where Steve is speaking, his body tight with concern, and his full attention on the phone call, “is, strictly speaking, superfluous to the safety of the world.”

“From a certain point of view,” Bucky shrugs. “That depends on whether or not you think the whole Captain America song and dance is necessary to the safety of the world.”

“What are they even talking about?” Clint huffs, sitting back in his chair. The good mood he’d managed to get back is gone again. He spots the waiter wandering their way like he’s going to take their order, but he sees Bucky already smiling apologetically while Steve stands off in a more secluded area and he professionally sweeps past to give them more time.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “Anything classified they do in person. I think it’s things like scheduling and courtesy conversations. Social configurations. Pre-pre-strategizing. That kind of shit.”

“Bureaucracy,” Clint grimaces, like it’s a dirty word.

“That,” Bucky says. “But if he gets back here and we’re in a foul mood over this he’s just going to feel bad but change nothing, and then the whole night will be ruined.”

“It’s going to be ruined anyway, if that thing keeps ringing,” Clint pouts, even though he knows Bucky is right.

“I won’t keep up,” Bucky promises. “It’ll trail off as the evening gets on. You know how they rarely call him once he’s home for the night.”

“I guess.” He could be engaging more, but he’s not feeling in a very magnanimous mood.

“What’s your opinion on chocolate-covered espresso beans?” Bucky asks.

“What?”

“I’m changing the subject, keep up. I want your opinion on chocolate-covered espresso beans.”

“Efficient,” Clint answers. “As far as caffeine conveyance goes.”

“You ever try them straight? Without the espresso?”

“....why do you ask?”

“Seems like something you would do.”

Clint gives Bucky his insights into eating straight espresso beans - he does not advise it - while Steve continues to talk. This call takes longer than the first had, and he keeps looking longingly at where Bucky and Clint are clearly involved in a livening conversation. When he does finally get the chance to hang up, he shoves the phone deep into his pocket in what Clint suspects is a subconscious gesture. An attempt to rid himself of the thing.

“Sorry,” he says slipping back into his seat. The waiter arrives soon afterward, clearly figuring this might be his only chance. Clint wonders how many people they serve here who just can’t seem to leave work back at the office. Or, in this case, back on the international sociopolitical field.

The food hasn’t even arrived before Steve’s phone rings again. Clint and Bucky sit in silence all the way through the ensuing conversation.

It rings again, a few minutes after the food arrives, and this time Clint says, “Please don't.”

Steve hesitates, but he answers anyway. Bucky tries to say something, probably something Clint doesn’t want to hear, so he interrupts with a sharp, “Don’t,” and he should get smacked upside the head for that, at the very least, but Bucky doesn’t say anything about it at all.

Steve has just barely sat down from the last time when the thing rings yet again, and Clint is done. He whips out his hand like a viper, like he’s pulling something out of a fire, and snatches the phone out of Steve’s hand. He’s immensely satisfied when Steve reflexively tries to snatch it back, but can’t move fast enough. Clint Barton, one. Captain America, zero.

“Clint,” Steve warns, holding out his hand.

Clint looks Steve right in the eye and drops the phone in his glass of ice water where it’s immediately silenced, blinking to a dark screen.

There are five seconds of complete silence at the table. Five seconds is, Clint thinks, a very long time for there to be nothing but silence. It’s certainly enough time for him to flit through twelve different emotions, half of them positive, half of them negative, and all of them intense as fuck.

“Clint!” Steve begins, anger sharp in his voice.

He’s interrupted by Bucky bursting out laughing. Steve and Clint can only stare, as Bucky practically guffaws, bending over the table to muffle his face in his hand.

“It’s not funny, Buck,” Steve tries to snap, but he can’t muster the anger to compete with Bucky’s amusement.

Knowing he won’t win that battle, Steve turns to Clint, and Clint drops his eyes to the floor immediately. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now he’s clearly about to get caught between two doms. Not to mention his own growing guilt, rising in ratio with his falling temper.

It does occur to him, that this was weirdly inevitable. Not his losing his temper and destroying Steve’s phone (okay, maybe that too), but Clint finding himself in an argument between Steve and Bucky. He’s always sided with his dom by obligation, but now that there’s two of them…which is is supposed to pick? Is he obligated to pick one at all?

“That was childish,” Steve begins, lecturing Clint. “I just told you that I have responsibilities and--”

“Shut the fuck up,” Bucky says, suddenly not laughing anymore. He gestures for Clint to come sit on his lap and, even though it’s probably against the upscale code of the location, Clint goes. No one’s going to throw a fit over a little physical comfort for a distressed sub. And Clint is rapidly becoming distressed.

God, what kind of a stupid backwards action for him to take. Him, destroying something of his dom’s because he didn't like how it was being used. That is not his role in this relationship.

Bucky is talking, and suddenly Clint realizes he’s been lecturing Steve for a while already.

“---back seat to your fucking responsibilities. I know you have responsibilities. I have responsibilities. Natasha and Sam have responsibilities. All of us have fucking responsibilities, and yet the rest of us manage to sort out a little down time. The world’s fate does not constantly rest on your shoulders, you arrogant son of a bitch.”

“I owe it to--”

“You don’t owe anyone shit!”

Bucky’s voice is getting loud enough that Clint winces. Steve notices the attention they’re drawing, too, and clenches his jaw. He’s in public. He can’t be seen fighting in public. Not with his teammate. Not with someone who is potentially his sub.

God, what are the people around them thinking about this strange relationship, as Clint turns his face to bury it in Bucky’s fancy suit collar?

“Enough,” Steve says. “We’ll talk about this when we get home.”

Apparently they’ll take about everything when they get home, and absolutely nothing now. No further conversation takes place throughout the meal, other than what is necessary to say to the staff.

It’s too bad, Clint thinks. It’s the best steak he’s ever had, but all he can taste is his apprehension.

 

__________

 

“Don’t say anything,” Bucky says to Steve, when they step out of the elevator and into their home.

“You don’t get to say that to me,” Steve snaps back. Bucky has clearly calmed down since the restaurant, but Steve seems to have only gotten angrier, adding, “He can’t just get away with it.”

“He’s not going to get away with it,” Bucky says back calmly. “I agree with his sentiment, not his execution. Clint, go wait for me in your room.”

Clint goes immediately, but he glances back over his shoulder at Steve.

Steve, for his part, seems to have hit a brick wall with his anger the moment Bucky had given the order.

“You’re going to punish him,” he says, as Clint disappears down the hallway. It’s not a question, but rather a realization.

“Of course,” Bucky says. “Unless you want to take some responsibility and do it yourself.”

It’s the last of the conversation that Clint can hear before he’s too far down the hallway. He wonders, briefly, if Jarvis would let him listen in on the rest of it. He’d probably spout something about privacy, but Clint bets he could call it a safety concern and Jarvis would fold. He suspects Tony put an alarming number of exceptions in the coding for this floor, all of them working for Clint’s benefit.

He doesn’t press the potential advantage, though. Bucky doesn’t want him to hear what’s going to come next, and Clint doesn’t really want to anyway. It’s between the two of them. They’re the ones who need to find a compromise here. Clint has already played his action. Now he just waits on the result.

He’s been spending more time in his room as he’s been getting used to having his own space, and he takes the opportunity to tidy the place up. It’s not too bad, just some books, the unmade bed, and some trash that hadn’t made it all the way to the basket. That one includes a doodle of stick-figure Steve and his stupid cellphone, and yeah, okay, this has been building for a while. A confrontation of some kind was likely inevitable

When he’s finished pushing things around, he sits down on the edge of the bed and waits. He wonders, idly, whether it will be Bucky or Steve who comes through the door next, but somehow he doubts Steve will take Bucky up on the challenge. It’s the first time Clint has actually made Steve pissed, rather than just disappointed or upset, and he doesn’t think Steve’s ready to deal with such a serious and dominating interaction yet.

He’s right. It takes almost an hour, but when the door opens, it’s Bucky.

“May I come in?” he asks politely, and Clint bets he’d have asked even without Jarvis’ security measures hanging between them.

“Yeah,” Clint says.

Bucky comes in and joins him on the bed.

“Do you know why I’m going to punish you?” he asks.

“Yes, sir,” Clint responds, his head dipping even lower.

“Do you understand that I’m not actually mad at you? That I’m kind of proud of you?”

Clint snorts, but then he nods.

“Yeah.”

“Would you rather have the cane or the belt?”

Clint dips his head lower, face in his knees, and shudders. He doesn’t want either. Bucky is going to hurt him, and Clint doesn’t want it even though he deserves it. He wishes Steve would have been the one to punish him.

What an ungrateful fucking thought.

“Cane,” Clint says, because that one had hurt more, and he’s an ungrateful sub.

“Okay. Steve is taking a walk, so we’re going to go to our bedroom and do this. I don’t want you to associate it with this room. This room is safe.”

Clint is oddly touched by the thought, even through his dread.

“Okay,” he says.

Bucky stands and leaves the room, and Clint follows meekly behind. At least, he follows meekly most of the way, but just before the bedroom he stops and whimpers, “Bucky?” trying to convey how much he does not want Bucky to cut into him with that cane. He’d drawn blood during playtime, for god’s sake. How much worse will this be?”

“Shhhh,” Bucky soothes, wrapping his arms around Clint and kissing his forehead. “I know. But you’re not getting out of this, and it won’t last forever. Come on.”

He takes Clint by one wrist, and now Clint has no choice but to follow.

Except, when they get into the bedroom, Steve is there. He’s standing there, looking like he's about to lose a fight. Clint thinks maybe this is how he’d looked standing up to bullies when he wasn’t even a hundred pounds.

“I’ve changed my mind,” Steve announces.

“Really?” Bucky asks, and he’s just the slightest bit incredulous, like he really doesn’t believe it. “You have it in you to hurt him? He needs to be hurt.”

No, I don’t , Clint thinks, but then he realizes that Bucky doesn’t mean it like that. He means it like “deserves” and he drops his eyes to the floor.

“No,” Steve answers. “I want to hold him. You hurt him. I’ll comfort him.”

Bucky looks up out of the corner of his eye enough to see that Bucky is staring at Steve in silence.

“He was both right and wrong,” Steve challenges. “Isn’t that what you said? So he deserves both. There isn’t any law that says I’m the one who has to to the hurting because I’m the one that was wronged. Maybe this is exactly the bridge we need.”

“Okay,” Bucky interrupts, before Steve can work himself up any further. “Okay, then set it up.”

Steve looks around, still a little lost, but then he purposefully shakes off the uncertainty. He looks at Clint and points to the bed.

He doesn’t even need to speak before Clint has crossed the room and obeyed, climbing up to kneel on the mattress. He isn’t sure, but he bets - he bets a lot - that this isn’t going to go the same way it would have gone without Steve. Bucky won’t want to scare him, and the cane would scare him. Especially with breaking skin and dripping blood.

Steve climbs onto the bed too, lying on his back. He reaches up and pulls Clint down so he’s laying his head and upper chest on Steve’s chest. Their bodies make a V shape, with Steve’s legs going one way and Clint’s another. Except that Clint is on his stomach and his knees, pushing his ass up into the air.

“I’m not mad anymore,” Steve tells him. Then looks back over Clint’s shoulder and says, “Go on, Bucky.”

“Not at all?” Clint confirms, even as he feels the bed dip with Bucky’s weight. Even when Bucky pulls his pants down to his knees, as far as his position kneeling on the bed will allow. He presses his face more firmly against Steve’s chest and savors the feeling of Steve’s breath on the back of his neck.

Bucky slaps his hand down open-palmed on Clint’s ass with a startling crack of skin against skin.

Clint huffs in pain, but still has to bite back a laugh at the same time. He can’t remember the last time he was spanked by hand. It’s still Bucky’s strength, still hurts more than it normally would, but it’s too intimate to be frightening in the way the cane had been.

Bucky repeats the action, then again, and again. He develops a steady rhythm that sends Clint rocking into Steve’s body with increasingly embarrassing grunts and whimpers of pain. Embarrassing because this is not a punishment. This is perfect . It’s just on the right side of painful, and Steve is there and Bucky is there and, as the spanking continues, Clint can’t help the arousal thickening between his legs.

Clint has lost track of the number - no one is really counting anyway - when he gives in and spreads his thighs, sliding his knees as far apart from each other as he can while they’re still strung tight by his own clothing. Bucky finally pauses, and Steve laughs gently.

“Sorry,” he says. “But no. Sex isn’t a punishment and punishment isn’t sex.”

“He knows he’s not in trouble anymore,” Bucky pants. And damn, Bucky is getting good at reading him, because he’s right. Clint hasn’t thought of himself in trouble since the moment he saw Steve in the bedroom. This stopped being a punishment almost as soon as it started.

Steve clearly thinks about it for a while.

“Are you sure?” he asks Clint. Then, when Clint nods fervently, he adds, to Bucky, “You know what? I’m tired of saying no. Go on.”

“Are you sure?” Bucky asks.

“I trust him,” Steve answers. “Your sub is asking you for something. If you want to give it, then you should give it.”

Clint pants into the fabric of Steve’s shirt and whines for it, tilting his hips to try and press the invitation.

The next touch against his ass is Bucky’s dick, sliding gently along the cleft between his cheeks.

“Yes!” Clint exclaims. “God, just do it. Finally do it!”

“Hang on,” Bucky gasps, and Clint is gratified to hear his voice is hoarse, even as he scrambles away.

“Left side,” Steve says.

“I fucking know!” Bucky snaps back, and then his heat presses back up against Clint, even as Clint hears the pop of the plastic cap that indicates he is finally going to get what’s he’s been angling for since his very first day in that shitty apartment from hell.

Bucky has to pull away again to get the right angle, and Steve takes the opportunity to wiggle out from underneath Clint, ordering “Hands and knees,” with the nonchalance of someone who is used to being obeyed.

Clint does as he’s told, even as he lets himself be amused at how Steve hates being a dom and yet keeps finding himself in charge of large, difficult, and unruly teams that inexplicably obey his orders.

Steve is stripping off his clothes, and now that suddenly the only thing Clint is thinking about. He isn’t putting on a show, just efficeitnly shucking off his every item of clothing, and it’s somehow more intimate than a striptease. This is Steve, comfortable in his place and his body.

He finishes dropping the last of the clothing on the floor and sees Clint staring. He smirks, and slides back onto the bed.

“What am I supposed to do with the attention of two such incredible men?” he asks, guiding Clint back on top of him. Which is when Clint realizes Bucky hasn’t touched him again, so he must have been enjoying the view as much as Clint had been.

Steve doesn’t put them back in the same position, but rather puts Clint between his legs, places his own feet flat on the bed on either side. It’s a strange position for Clint, who’s used to being in Steve’s. This is the place of the fucker , rather than the fuckee .

Then Clint is viscerally reminded of how narrow-minded that thought is when Bucky pushes a lube-covered finger into his ass without so much as of a word of warning.

“Unf,” he says, dropping his head so his forehead brushes against Steve’s bare chest. Their erections are pressed together similarly to how they'd been the last time they’d done anything like this.

Then again, they’ve never technically done anything like this. Not really. Bucky has already graduated to two fingers and he’s using plenty of lube, but he’s not being gentle. He’s never gentle, not really, and right now it’s exactly what Clint wants and needs, and he’s thrusting against Steve even as Steve pets him softly, all up and down his back and head and arms, and Clint is surrounded. Pinned above and below by uncompromising domination and he relaxes against Steve in a calm he rarely finds outside of subspace

Maybe this is subspace. He doesn't really know, and he certainly doesn’t care. He just rocks gently and enjoys all the sensations until Bucky adds a third finger and then until he pulls them all out.

“Brace,” Bucky says, and there’s something animalistic about the order; his only pause before he presses in. It’s slow, but completely unavoidable. Inescapable, much like Bucky himself.

Clnt screws his eyes shut and clutches Steve with fingers that would bruise anyone other than the very people with him in the room.

It’s not quite pain. Or, it’s not quite pain in the way that Clint has become used to thinking of pain. But it’s definitely pleasure.

“You look good, Buck,” Steve says, and Clint bets he sure as shit does, dragging himself out and then back in, just as slowly. And then again. And again. And suddenly, what had been an uncompromising breach is just too damn slow.

“Please?” he begs. “Oh my fucking god, please ?”

“Please what?” Steve laughs.

“Please fuck me!” Clint exclaims. If Steve, or Bucky for that matter, had been expecting shame or embarrassment, then they’ve come to the wrong sub.

Bucky obliges the request, shoving back in and seeking his own pleasure with little regard for Clint’s. Which isn’t to say that Clint doesn’t find it. It’d be impossible with how the thrusting movement rubs him against Steve and sparks pleasure from inside his body around his hips and into his cock. The languid, untenable arousal he’d been feeling before melts into a newer and more insistent arousal. He gasps, helplessly, twisting his face up to look at Steve from where his face is pressed to his chest.

“You, too,” Steve grunts, bucking up against Clint. “You look good like this.”

Clint laughs breathlessly as Bucky continues to pound into him.

Clint comes first, which is a little surprising with how aggressively he’s been moving inside Clint. But Clint’s obvious clenching orgasm doesn’t stop Bucky, who keeps thrusting, even when Clint cries out in pain and tries to squirm away.

“No,” Bucky growls, dragging him back into place. He spanks Clint again, reawakening the bruising pain from a few minutes ago, and Clint cries out in pain and sensation, then Bucky hits him again, and again Clint cries out, croaking voice surging up into a scream.

Bucky comes, pulsing into Clint and that's all Clint feels for an eternal moment. And then finally everything is still, even though Steve is still hard beneath Clint’s weight. He ought to do something about it, but he just rolls compliantly off to the side when Bucky pulls out and gently pushes him.

Steve wraps one arm around Clint, drawing him against his side, even as Bucky takes Steve into his mouth.

It’s a fantastic view, pressed up against Steve. He can see Bucky’s lips stretching obscenely each time they reach nearer the base of Steve’s cock, and he can see Bucky’s eyes when he looks up at Steve through his lashes, and the whole scene is both erotically beautiful and artistically beautiful. Bucky’s whole body is art, no matter what he does. The grace and the control and the intention , and Clint thinks he disagrees with Steve’s point from ages ago. That anything not necessary for survival is art. Sometimes, things that are completely necessary for survival are art in spite of their nature. In spite of their origin or intention.

Then Steve comes, and Clint lets the thought float away in the day's exhaustion, watching lazily as Bucky crawls up the bed to press himself against Steve’s other side.

For a long time, there is silence and peace.

“You going to replace the phone?” Bucky asks.

Clint holds his breath.

“Nah,” Steve answers easily. “Think maybe I’ll leave it MIA for a while. Get them used to doing without me.”

Clint clings to Steve’s body more tightly, and breathes out.

I’ve got you, he thinks at him. Then he reaches over Steve to entangle his fingers with Bucky’s and adds, You, too . I’ve got you. I’ve got this .

And for once in his life, he absolutely believes it.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Steve had a meeting set for early the next morning, so he climbs out despite the half-hearted protests from the rest of the group. Then, once he’s awake, Clint can’t manage to settle back into sleep, so he slips out of bed too, despite Bucky’s half-hearted protest that it’s “ass o’clock in the morning.” Clint doesn’t say anything back, because if Bucky’s body is going to let him sleep then he needs to take the offer.

Clint wanders down the hall to the range, instead. He’s been trying, lately, to keep up with some of the firearms that Tony had provided, but he gives up and goes for the bow this morning. He’s got some things to think through.

As he loses himself in the tension and release, he remembers last night. He keeps expecting the guilt to hit him again, since he arguably wasn’t ever actually punished, but there’s nothing there. In fact, he keeps coming across a smug satisfaction, especially when he remembers Steve saying he’ll keep the phone “lost” for a while yet.

Carefully, he decides that maybe the stupid thing had just had it coming, and he shouldn’t think about it anymore.

When no negative thoughts resurge at that resolution, he moves on to more pleasant speculations. Like the soreness he can still feel in his step from where Bucky had pushed into him. Before last night, he had been wondering if he was going to have to ask Steve, or even Bucky, if there was any more information he was missing about Bucky and his sexual preferences, but he thinks he’s got it now. Or, at least, he’s got the start of a guess.

His attention shifts yet again when he hears the door open behind him.

“Morning, sir,” he greets.

“Mmm,” Bucky greets back, shuffling up beside Clint. “You left, and the bed got cold.”

He sounds pitiful, and Clint can’t help but snort at his big bad dom whining about the cold.

“Well, that sounds like a real hardship,” Clint says carefully. “It’s a shame we don’t live in a location with a sentient AI that could, say, turn up the heat without you so much as getting out of bed.”

Bucky fixes him with a glare and mutters, “Brat,” but makes no move to do anything about it, and Clint smirks to himself. He’s starting to understand where the lines with these two actually are. Not where Clint thinks they should be, or even where Steve and Bucky think they should be. The real lines.

“Hey,” Bucky says, suddenly sounding more awake, as well as surprised. “You’re pretty good.”

Clint lowers the bow to fix him with an “are you serious” gaze, before saying, “Yeah, Bucky. I’m pretty good.”

He lets another arrow fly without looking and listens to it split the previous one. It’s a waste of an arrow, but it’s not like Stark is strapped for cash, and it’s worth it to see Bucky’s eyebrows shoot up.

“What did you think I was doing in here all this time?” Clint presses, amused.

“I don’t know,” Bucky shrugs. “I guess I assumed it was stress relief. Or that you were average, and trying to keep your skills up.”

“I am not average,” Clint says, and it’s a little petulant. Because Bucky had seriously thought that Clint was just in here for fun, this whole time? That this wasn’t a honed skillset?

“I see that,” Bucky acknowledges. “Know any trick shots?”

Does he know any trick shots ,” Clint mocks, and that one gets him a warning look, so he hurries to nock an arrow.

“Got any requests?” he asks.

“Backwards?”

Clint spins, twists the bow up over his shoulder and shoots without looking. The arrow buries itself flush with the previous ones, because he can only waste so many arrows before it starts to hurt his heart.

“That’s---” Bucky starts to say, but Clint has already pulled another three from his quiver and nocked them all. He doesn’t even pause to look before he holds the bow sideways and fires it - still over his shoulder and still without looking. The three arrows fly in three different directions, hitting the centers of three different targets.

“Woah,” Bucky says.

“Give me something difficult,” Clint insists. “Come on. Stretch my legs.”

“Hang on,” Bucky says, ducking out of the room. He comes back with a handful of coins and shows Clint the quarter.

“Just go ahead and start with the penny,” Clint scoffs.

Bucky makes a face halfway between impressed and disbelieving, but he casually tosses the penny into the air.

Clint drops to one knee, draws, and fires.

The arrow flies up and hits the penny. They ricochet, changing spin and velocity off of each other. Clint can see the new paths before they happen, and he surges back to his feet, lowering his bow and looking at Bucky before the shot is technically finished.

The arrow arcs, gently tapping the metal ceiling, before falling gracefully to embed itself next to the original two bullseyes. The penny spins away in it own rebound arc to peg Bucky right in the forehead before softly falling into his reflexively-opened hand.

Bucky is staring, as wide-eyed as a person is capable of getting.

“I said something difficult,” Clint says, grinning wide.

Bucky goes and gets a .22. He loads it quickly before holding it up and asking, “Can you shoot this?”

“The gun?”

“The bullet.”

“The arrow won’t hold up to it. You know that.”

“But you could technically do it.”

Clint shrugs, but then says, “Yeah. For all the good it would do.”

Bucky loads another .22 and tosses that one over to Clint.

“Can you do it with that?” he asks.

Clint nods, checking the weapon automatically. He doesn’t trust someone’s else’s work with anything he’ll be shooting himself. Hasn’t in years. But of course it’s flawless, and he stands at the ready.

Bucky fires the gun he’s still holding, but he does it sideways down the range. Clint is already in position before he hears the sound. He fires, and he can see where both bullets are going to be, even though he can’t actually see the bullets themselves. He knows they’ve collided, even before it registers that there’s no sound of impact down at the left side of the range. And hadn’t this whole thing been monumentally stupid. Shooting at walls and --

“Shoot at me,” Bucky says, and Clint puts the handgun back down on the platform in front of him.

“No,” he says.

“You can’t hit me,” Bucky snorts. “See?” He wiggles his metal fingers like that’s going to help anything.

“I can hit you,” Clint says. “I just shot a bullet out of the air, and you’re a lot bigger than a bullet. I can shoot you.” He reaches back for the gun, to unload it.

“You really can’t. A bullet isn’t going to penetrate this hand. I want to see if we could get it to ricochet off to a specific place.”

“I could still shoot you,” Clint insists. “I could get you someplace your hand won’t catch it.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky snorts, “I’m--”

Clint fires the round that’s still in the chamber. It ricochets off Bucky’s hand, the way Bucky had been talking about, but then ricochets again off the metal pipe behind him and whizzes past Bucky’s ear on the other side of his head.

Bucky turns a distinctly paler shade, and his hand twitches for the gun he’s left lying next to him. And okay, that was probably not the wisest decision Clint has made. The bullet’s final resting place is in the far wall, and if Tony wants to give him hell for that then he’ll deserve it. Not to mention...

“Sorry,” he says.

“No,” Bucky says, shakily. “I’m the one who told you to do it. My bad.”

Clint looks at the floor and tries to figure out how he feels about what just happened.

“Am I in trouble?” he can’t help asking.

“Do you want to be?”

Clint still has marks on him from the cane. He can still hear the echo of what it had felt like cracking down against his skin.

He doesn’t say no, but he doesn’t say yes either.

“Tell you what,” Bucky sighs. “Come here.”

Clint goes, leaving the gun behind. When he gets within reaching range, Bucky suddenly slaps him across the face. It’s not really that hard, all things considered. Doesn’t even knock him to the ground.

“Don’t be so reckless, huh?” Bucky says. “I could have lost it and hurt you. Understand?”

“Yeah,” Clint answers, rubbing his stinging cheek absentmindedly. “I got it.”

“Then we’re square,” Bucky grins, his previous unsettled demeanour already gone. He pulls Clint into a one-armed hug and kisses the top of his head. “Now you’ve got to tell me how you got to be that good of a shot.”

“Started young,” Clint answers, going back to get the equipment he’s left on the range. He’s not feeling up to shooting anymore.

“Natasha started young,” Bucky snorts. “She’s not half as good as you. You’ve got an incredible gift.”

“Thanks,” Clint says, tonelessly. He’s thinking about Tony’s offer again. Maybe showing off as much as he did was an even stupider idea than he’d started to realize.

“How do you do it?” Bucky continues to press, hopping up to sit on the range while Clint cleans and puts away his weapons, including the one Bucky shot. “Or is it just something you can’t explain?”

“It’s how I see,” Clint says. “I can see where things are going to be. After that, it’s just a matter of making sure it’s the right place.”

“Amazing. Honestly, that’s amazing. And you’ve really only used this for circus tricks? What a waste.”

Clint almost lets it go. Bucky hadn’t technically been asking; not in a straightforward manner anyway, so Clint could hold his tongue and still defend himself against any accusations of lies by omission.

He’s getting awfully tired of lies by omission.

“Not really,” he says.

“Not really what?” Bucky responds. “Not really, you didn’t use it for only circus tricks?”

“Yeah. Ran with an underground crime ring that used the circus movements as a home base. Pretty profitable for a while, until it fell apart from the inside out.”

Bucky is staring at him with narrowed eyes.

“Are you fucking with me right now?”

“No,” Clint says, honestly bleeding into his voice. “That’s pretty much how Coulson got a hold of me. I had run with a solid team for so long that once I started freelancing I got on the wrong side of a lot of people. Learned a few hard lessons, one of them at the hands of my own brother. Several of them at the hands of my own doms. Eventually, I got caught.”

“What happened?”

“I’m a sniper, not a mastermind. I didn’t notice I was being set up as the fall guy. Not until it was too late.”

“Fuckers,” Bucky spits, his face twisting in anger.

“It was the risk that came with being a sub in that life. No respect, and little protection. But seriously, I’m talking about a ring of thieves and murderers, and your issue with them is that they fucked me over?”

“Of course. Once you don’t respect your own team, you truly have nothing left.”

“No honor amongst thieves,” Clint shrugs. “Not even if it’s your own sub. Got in a last ‘fuck you’ of my own, though.” He smiles, a little bit smug. “When I did notice things were about to blow up in my face, I locked myself up with the whole stash. I still went down, but I took everything we’d stolen over the last year with me.”

“Good boy.”

“Felt like it at the time, but it would have gotten me killed if I’d ended up in prison. They were a powerful group. Plus I pissed off a whole cascade of others who had been looking to move the art in question. A few buyers, too. Coulson saved my ass.”

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” Bucky mutters. “You could have gotten killed here, too.”

“Being killed would have been the lucky outcome, where I was going,” Clint responds calmly. “And I think I made out okay.”

There’s a long pause, while they each think over the discussion.

“Murderers, huh?” Bucky says at last.

“You gonna ask me if I committed any of my own?”

“Do you want me to ask?”

“I killed one person who didn’t deserve it. I was in a bad place, and my dom told me to take the shot, or else. I took it. It shredded me, and I never complied with that order again. No matter the punishment.”

“Then it sounds like you did better than I did.”

“Bullshit,” Clint scoffs. “You had years of brainwashing and torture fucking with your head. I just didn’t want my dom to beat me or, or leave me.”

“You had years of brainwashing and torture, too. Just because it wasn’t on the same scale…” Bucky trails off and shrugs.

“You’re really okay with this? You’re Captain America’s boyfriend. You’re an Avenger. You’re the good guy.”

“I assassinated at least one president,” he says, and it’s the nonchalance that jerks at Clint’s soul.

“Jesus Christ,” he breathes.

“You see how a little art theft and a regretted murder isn’t really on our radar for concern.”

“I still didn’t stop the people around me from hurting other. Not most of the time. Not if it would get me in trouble.”

“I killed Tony’s parents, remember.”

Clint narrows his eyes because he knows that already, so mentioning it is clearly a manipulation tactic to trick Clint into feeling better.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky shrugs, holding up both hands. “I don’t approve, if that’s what you’re asking. Murder is bad, and all that shit. But if you’re looking for people to judge you for your past lives then you’ve come to exactly the wrong place. We suck at that here. Tony and Natasha have some deaths of their own that haunt them, and even Steve has his own regrets.”

Clint feels like there should be more to this argument, but Bucky seems dead set on his point of view, and - in truth - Clint is scared of winning this argument. So, instead, he lets it go. It’s getting easier and easier to let things go here. He’s not sure what he thinks about that.

“You good?” Bucky asks. They’ve wandered into the living room while they were talking, even though Clint doesn’t really have anywhere in particular to go. He wonders if Bucky does.

“I’m good,” he says out loud.

“Good. Because I think that there’s something left unaddressed from last night.”

Clint heart stutters. Stupid, stupid , of him to assume safety when--

“You’re still owed a reward, I think,” Bucky continues.

Clint’s brain short-circuits.

“A reward?” he asks cautiously.

“Yeah. Everyone was so busy being mad last night that I didn’t get to address how much I liked it. I mean, really. Clint, the feeling I got when I saw that obnoxious plastic piece of electronic trash short out and die? Pure pleasure. So, I figure I owe you the favor returned.”

“What did you have a mind?” Clint asks, his tongue suddenly thick in his mouth.

“I was thinking,” Bucky says softly, hooking his fingers in Clint’s shift and drawing him closer. “I’d really like to suck you off.”

It’s almost shy. It’s certainly the closest to shy Clint’s ever seen Bucky. He’s smiling softly, but his eyes keep drawing down to the floor.

“I’m open to suggestions, of course,” he adds, when Clint doesn’t say anything.

“I don’t have any other suggestions,” Clint says quickly. “You’ve, uh, kind of taken over my brain with the one you made.”

Now Bucky’s eyes get up to Clint’s own.

“Yeah?” he asks.

Yeah ,” Clint responds enthusiastically.

Bucky shoves Clint backward so that he falls haphazardly onto the couch Clint hadn’t even realized he was standing in front of.

It’s violent, the way Clint has come to expect from Bucky. Pants ripped down, a couple of kitten licks to get Clint’s body caught up with his brain, and then Bucky swallows Clint down.

“Jesus!” he shouts, when Bucky’s lips tap flush with the skin at the base of his cock. Bucky laughs at the the exclamation, sending vibrations through the wet heat that Clint is already having difficulty processing.

Bucky does back off a little after that, pulling back to suck at the tip for a bit. And isn’t that just an image that Clint is never going to get out of his head. This is one that will comfort him long after his life has moved on. And it’s not just the physical erotic quality of Bucky’s lips around his cock. It’s not just the feeling of Bucky’s tongue at his slit. It’s the understanding that passes between them when they make eye contact. The rightness, or the trust, or the ability to communicate without words.

Bucky smiles in a way that makes Clint think he knows exactly what Clint is thinking, and he sucks Clint into his mouth a little more. Wraps one hand around the base. Wedges himself more firmly between Clint’s knees so there’s even more contact between them.

Clint doesn’t last long, even with how unexpected the blowjob had been. Bucky is too ruthlessly efficient, and Clint waves his hands frantically, stuttering, “Bucky I’m--” before Bucky deepthroats him, swallowing convulsively as Clint comes, following along with the pulsing release.

Eventually Clint has to weakly push him away, and Bucky goes compliantly, pulling all the way off and leaning his head against the inside of Clint’s knee.

“Well?” he asks.

“You looking for a review?” Clint pants.

“Maybe.”

“You’re certainly not discouraging me from destroying Steve’s things. In fact, I’m going to be on the lookout for another opportunity.”

“Good,” Bucky says smugly, and licks absentmindedly at the inside of Clint’s thigh, apparently just because he can.

“Want me to…?” Clint asks, gesturing at Bucky. Even though he bets he knows the answer.

“This was because I owed you,” Bucky smirks. “If you return the favor then I’m just in debt again.”

“Uh-huh,” Clint says, and considers letting it go. But he’s tired of making decisions based on guesses, so he continues, “And how long have you needed to hurt people in order to get off?”

Bucky freezes.

“I guess that’s the wrong question, isn’t it?” Clint continues, watching Bucky’s body language carefully. “Because that one doesn’t really matter. Not to me, anyway. I guess I should be asking how much pain do you need to inflict in order to get off.”

“Clint.”

“Because that caning hurt like hell, but you didn’t come. Then you did last night, but I was barely in any pain at all.”

Bucky purses his lips, like he’s thinking about some secret’s consequences.

“If I’m completely off the mark, tell me,” Clint adds. “But I’m thinking I’ve guessed right.”

“It’s complicated,” Bucky says slowly.

“I’m listening.”

Bucky makes a face, screwing up his face, but finally says, “It usually has to be a lot. Last night was a surprise. The whole situation was....well, you had the marks and I could imagine I’d just made them. Plus you were making sounds like you were in pain, and usually it takes a lot to get you to make any noise. Noise like that, anyway.”

“So why not during the caning?”

“Jeez, Barton. I’m not an animal. You’d asked to be tied down and hurt. You hadn’t asked to be fucked. It was about you, not me.”

Clint remembers his flinches just before each stroke cracked down and thinks that “about you” is a generous statement. He bites his tongue, though, and instead says, “So you could have, then? That was enough?”

“More than,” Bucky nods.

“Okay,” Clint says. “Okay, then.” He’d been worried that Bucky needed even more than that. That he’d need more than Clint might be able to give.

“Okay then what?” Bucky asks sharply.

“I don’t mind. You do whatever you need to do.”

“Barton, for god’s sake. I’m not complaining about my sex life. I don’t need you to seek out opportunities to...to satisfy me. I’ll take the chances when they come.”

“And I’m just saying,” Clint says firmly. “I’m giving you a blanket go ahead to do exactly that. Use any opportunities. Any of them. Steve might object, but I know the difference between being punished and being fucked. I’m not going to get confused if they happen at the same time. Not if it’s you.”

Bucky sits back on his feet and plays with the hem of his shirt for a moment, and Clint suddenly feels exposed, sitting here with his cock soft and on display. He re-adjusts his weight so he can pull his pants back up.

“Okay,” Bucky says. Then he sighs and repeats “okay,” more firmly.

“Okay,” Clint echoes. “As long as we’re on the same page.”

“As long as we’re on the same page,” Bucky agrees.

 

__________

 

Clint asks Jarvis to direct Steve to the art room. It’s an apt name, now that it’s been filled with the deliveries that have been trickling in over the last few days. He sits his ass down on the bench easel and wriggles in anticipation.

“Sir?” Jarvis politely speaks, and Clint finally manages not to jump at the noise. “Both Captain Rogers and Master Barnes are on their way.”

Even better , Clint thinks. He pulls his legs up so he can sit criss-cross, rests his chin in his hand as his elbow is balanced on his knee, and smiles.

There is one heart-stopping moment as Steve pushes the door open that Clint wonders if maybe this gesture won’t be appreciated.

Then the door is open and Steve has come to a halt so suddenly that Bucky runs into him from behind.

“What?” Bucky snaps, going up on tiptoe to peer over Steve’s shoulder. “What is it?”

“Clint?” Steve asks.

“I did some shopping,” Clint answers. “Thought you might like a room to yourself. Something that’s yours.” Because even though this place is way better than the apartment from hell, Steve still doesn’t own more than a couple of boxes of things of his own.

Steve wanders into the room, touching items with his fingertips. He bends down to look over a shelf that’s filled with books on art and empty sketchbooks. Bucky stays in the doorway, leaning against it and eyeing Clint with approval. Clint grins back at him excitedly.

Steve picks out one of the sketchbooks, seemingly at random, and stands up.

“Pencils?” he asks.

“You don’t have to do it now ,” Clint clarifies, even though that’s the kind of mistake he’s more more likely to make - assuming he’s supposed to utilize a gift on command.

“I know,” Steve says, turning a slow circle and looking around. “Just, this is amazing, Clint. You put this together yourself?”

“Tony did the buying,” Clint snorts. “Don’t get me wrong. And Jarvis helped with variety and quality.”

“But it was your idea,” Steve confirms. “Your choices.”

Clint nods.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Bucky interjects, and Steve is quick to agree.

“It’s absolutely amazing, Clint. Thank you. I don’t know that I’ll have all that much opportunity to use it the way a room like this deserves, but I’m grateful. Because you were right, you know. What you said about how I don’t draw anymore. Don’t think I haven’t been thinking about it.”

“What did you have to say to Stark to get him to keep quiet about this?” Bucky scoffs.

“Oh, practically nothing,” Clint shoots back. “I gave him a single blowjob and all of a sudden he was eager to please.”

Both Steve and Bucky freeze, eyeing Clint with a mixture of horror and trepidation. Bucky, at least, looks a little unsure.

“Jesus,” Clint sighs dramatically. “That was a joke .”

“Thank god,” Bucky breathes.

“Not funny,” Steve says at the same time.

“A little funny,” Clint insists. “Though I’m not sure which is worse. That you thought Stark capable of taking advantage, or that you thought I’d honestly cheat on you like that.”

“You’ve certainly gotten a lot more comfortable around here,” Bucky mutters.

“Pencils are in the top drawer of the cabinet over there,” Clint responds. He wonders if that particular exchange will come back to bite him in play down the line somewhere, but even if it does, Clint knows he’ll be able to handle it.

 

__________

 

The first thing Steve draws is a woman that Clint hasn’t seen before.

“Peggy Carter,” Bucky says, when Clint asks. And his tone is absolutely unreadable.

“Who is she?” Clint presses. And if it’s being invasive, then it’s Steve’s fault for leaving the sketchbook lying out on the counter.

“She was a sub the way Steve was a dom,” Bucky answers. “Back before everything. Well, almost everything. Rebelled against the whole system. Made herself invulnerable by sheer force of will. One of the few other subs I met during my time in the army.”

“Did she...with you and Steve?”

“She didn’t have any eyes for me,” Bucky says softly.

“Oh,” Clint breathes, like a punch to the gut. “Her and Steve, then?”

“No. I think they might have, in a different lifetime. They might have been able to bend around each other. She wouldn’t have needed to submit to him, not even to drop, and he wouldn’t have had to drop her. He certainly wouldn’t have had to hurt her. I think they could have made it work.”

“Why didn’t they?”

“Because Steve has the integrity of a vibranium tank,” Bucky shrugs. “Because I’d just woken up in Zola’s lab as a dom. Because he’s the immovable object, and Peggy wasn’t interested in testing her nature as an unstoppable force. Because the train took me, and the Valkyrie took him, and sometimes life is just messy.”

Clint looks at the face on the page and asks, “What about Natasha? Whose unstoppable force was she?”

Bucky takes a breath like he’s been shot.

“Mine,” he says eventually.

“Ah.”

“Steve is fully aware. If that’s what you’re wondering.”

“I wasn’t wondering.”

“It was back when we didn’t know who we were. Neither of us. Clint, both of us had been through a fire that melted who we were down to molten metal, and it made sense to mold ourselves in each other.”

Clint looks up at Bucky’s desperate face, a little confused by the fervent tone of the brief speech.

“Why are you acting like I’m upset?” he asks.

“Because...she’s a part of our daily lives. And I didn’t tell you that there was history.”

“Maybe not, but she told me,” Clint says calmly. And he’s gratified that the calm is not a facade. He doesn't own his doms’ past any more than they own his. There’s too much of it. Plus, he’d seen how they were when he first came into their lives. He’d know, if something were happening behind his back. He’d sense it.

“She told you,” Bucky repeats slowly.

“We got coffee.”

Bucky snorts a laugh, seemingly surprising himself with his own amusement.

“Of course you did,” he laughs. “Trust Natasha to already be on top of that particular pitfall.”

Clint doesn’t explain that she’d told him because he’d guess it himself. He’ll let Natasha have her reputation, and keep his own observational skills to himself a bit longer.

“She’s very pretty,” Clint says, gesturing at the sketch of Peggy again.

“She was,” Bucky agrees. “It’s a shame she had to be left behind.”

Clint makes a noise of agreement, and idly wonders how much pain there is left to uncover in the lives of the men he’s living with.

 

__________

 

“Do you feel like showing off?” Bucky asks, sticking his head around into the kitchen, and for one awful moment, Clint thinks he means the trick shooting from earlier in the week. But then Bucky continues, “Natasha and Sam are coming over for dinner, and neither of them can cook anything like you can.”

Oh, that kind of showing off. Clint lets himself grin easily and asks, “What time?”

He ends up making broiled lobster tails with chili butter and fennel rolls to start with and a cauliflower fried rice for a light in-between course, followed by a classic chicken cacciatore for the main meal. Dessert is apple dumplings that are also filled with walnuts, honey, and raisins, not to mention making sure there’s ice cream in the freezer for those who want to add it.

Clint is really liking having an all-access pass to New York’s finest ingredients. Lobster has been a new medium for him, but he’s confident enough in it by now to serve to guests. Even if the guests include Natasha. He wonders if he should have gone with a more Russian cuisine, but decides that would not have been an appreciated gesture.

Sam is an unknown, though. He’s pretty sure that Bucky’s mentioned that he and Natasha are a couple, and Clint isn’t sure what kind of person could sub for Natasha. Especially since Natasha doesn’t seem the sort to tolerate anything other than perfect behavior. Clint can’t imagine anyone bratting to her without regretting it immediately.

About an hour before the two of them are supposed to arrive, Steve ducks into the kitchen.

“Hey, I don’t want to throw off your groove,” he says, instantly claiming Clint’s attention, “but I was just talking to Jarvis. He said you’ve been doing really well, eating regularly. Said that he hardly has to remind you at all anymore, and that you’ve put on some really good weight.”

Clint raises an eyebrow, even as he pours vinegar glaze over the lobster tails.

“So I was wondering if you’d be up for that reward tonight,” Steve finishes.

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I…” Steve trails off, looking embarrassed, and this Clint has got to hear. He puts the pot down and looks at Steve with an open fake-innocent expression.

“What’s on your mind?” he asks. Maybe he’s got Steve wrong after all. Maybe there’s a dark fantasy buried somewhere in that altruistic heroism. If so, Clint’s sure it will be his pleasure to oblige.

“I was thinking about what you did for me...” Steve continues. “The art. So I picked up some tattoo markers. For, you know... drawing on skin.” He accompanies the phrase with a gesture like he’s drawing in the air, in case Clint doesn’t understand. It makes Clint laugh.

“Yeah, okay,” he says. “That sound nice.” Heroic altruism it is.

“Yeah?” Steve says, brightening up like a flower turning to the sun.

“One request, though. If you’re really wanting to make it a reward.”

“And that is?”

“Could you do it while Sam and Nat are here?”

The request is clearly a surprise, but then Steve thinks about it for a moment.

“You want them to see you being good?” he asks. “Being praised? Rewarded?”

Got it in one , Clint thinks, and now it’s his turn to blush. He hides the reaction by returning to his prep work, ducking his head and listening for Steve’s decision. Bucky’s right. He’s gotten awfully comfortable here, if he’s pushing for specific favors on top of the gift he’s already getting. A less indulgent dom would pull the reward as a whole. But Steve won’t. Steve loves to give.

“All right,” he says. “As long as we keep it pretty PG, I don’t see why anyone would object.”

“Then I’m looking forward to it,” Clint says.

 

__________

 

Clint can’t get a read on Sam. It’s not the same as it had been with Natasha. It’s more like Steve. Like there’s a whole different story underneath the surface personality, waiting for someone to earn the right to that vulnerability.

He’s also fucking hilarious, and Clint is getting tired of having to take quick little drinks of wine so he doesn’t almost spit it out laughing unexpectedly. Sam has honestly got to be the most lively person in the room, and Clint wonders what the energy must be like when Tony joins the group.

As for his relationship with Natasha, Clint can read it even less, but honestly, he’s given up. They’re free to do as they please. Hell, maybe he'd misunderstood Bucky's subtlety completely. Maybe they aren't together at all. He's certainly starting to suspect they're both doms, although in that case, where’s their SHIELD appointed sub?

(They probably see a SHIELD professional, because not every dom is as stupidly stubborn as his are.)

The meal itself is unexpectedly easy. Bucky is recalcitrant at first, and Clint is shy, but the other three carry the conversation through sheer force of will and the rest follows.

Sam eventually seeks Clint support on a Star Wars opinion that Clint doesn't understand.

“Come on,” Sam wheedles. “You don't have to side with your own doms all the time.”

“He will, though,” Bucky snorts. “Face it, Falcon. You've lost. Outnumbered.”

Fuck you very much , Clint thinks and says, “Actually I'm with Sam on this one.”

Natasha laughs lightly, even as Steve gasps “Traitor!” with mock outrage.

“Why!” Bucky demands. “Defend your side, Barton.”

“I've never seen Star Wars in my life,” Clint shrugs. “I just think, between all of y’all, Sam is the most likely to be correct.”

“You've known him for a single fucking hour,” Bucky gapes, and now Steve is laughing.

“And he's very observant,” Natasha declares calmly, and now Sam is preening under the subtle praise, so maybe he really is a sub, who knows?

The conversation fades away into a discussion of various coworkers, mostly between Steve and Natasha. There’s a lot of shit-talk (Natasha) and a lot of agreement-by-silence (Steve), and even though the rest of the group don’t necessarily know the people in question, the stories are ridiculous enough to be funny anyway.

The rest of the meal passes like that. Easy conversation. Even Clint tells some stories, digging out some of the more pleasant - and the more raunchy - memories of his time in the circus. Eventually, they all relocate to the main living room, balancing plates of apple dumplings. Clint leaves the washing up for later, opting to stay part of the group, and he even takes his own plate of dessert with him. He’s full enough that he’ll just be able to pick at it, but he wants to pick at it, so he does.

As soon as they’re settling into their places, Clint shoves himself in next to Steve, hopeful. Sure enough, the moment Steve is done with his dessert, he fishes the markers off of the coffee table in front of him and reachers for Clint’s wrist. He pulls Clint’s arm into his lap, still keeping up the conversation as he pushes Clint’s sleeve up and starts drawing intricate patterns on the skin.

“Oh, is it that kind of a night?” Natasha asks suddenly, voice warm with innuendo.

“Clint has been working really hard to comply with a difficult request I made of him,” Steve says, smiling at Natasha’s comment, but not directly replying to it. “This is just my way of reminding him that I noticed how well he was doing. How good he was being.”

“Ah,” Natasha says, knowingly. “A good boy.”

Clint blushes and buries his face against Steve’s substantial chest. This is a shade of bliss, and he’s squirming pleasantly under the attention it brings.

“Yes,” Steve agrees. “Good boy.” Then he pushes Clint’s head away, manhandling him so he can continue drawing. Clint can tell the patterns are combining to become something, but he’s not sure what, yet. He has a feeling he’ll find out eventually, though, so he just lets it happen, and he drifts.

Clint has never been shy about achieving subspace in front of other people, and even though Sam is technically a stranger, Clint feels safe enough that there isn’t the slightest tug of apprehension. He fades away from the conversation, and appreciates his doms’ warmth on either side of him. The casual ownership of his body by Steve, moving him where he’s needed. The buzz of safety on all sides.

He comes back when Steve starts petting his head and murmuring, “Are you with me, baby?”

“Yeah,” Clint grunts even before he’s fully back to himself. He sees Natasha’s bemused smile, and Sam’s fond one, and he rolls his eyes, struggling to bring himself more fully to the present. As soon as he gets his bearings enough to remember, he looks down at his arms.

The final product is a set of intricate drawn-on wrist cuffs. They match on either wrist, and both have twisting ropes winding their way up his arms till they disappear underneath his sleeves.

“I know you like being tied down,” Steve says softly, and Clint’s whole body thrills.

“I am so sorry about this,” Bucky says to Natasha and Sam. “About this horrifyingly inappropriate sappiness interrupting our perfectly nice dinner and conversation.”

“No worries,” Sam grins.

“It’s nice to see you all so comfortable,” Natasha agrees.

“Y’all are way too understanding,” Bucky continues to grouse, but Clint bets he’s enjoying the scene unfolding in front of him just as much as Steve is.

“Actually,” Natasha says slowly. “As long as we’re straying into intimate ground, I had something I wanted to address. Something Clint said to me a while back, that’s been picking at my brain.”

Clint is suddenly very present, and he tries to keep his body from tensing as he flips through all the things he might have said to Natasha. He doesn’t think there’s anything too bad. He’s pretty private about his doms, and he doesn’t think either Steve or Bucky would mind Clint talking about himself. Still, the way Natasha is starting the new conversation topic is setting off alarm bells in his subconscious, and his subconscious has a nasty habit of catching on way before the rest of his mind.

“What’s up?” Steve asks, and maybe his subconscious is as observant as Clint’s because he’s paying close attention, too. Clint can feel it in his body. It’s hard to tell if Bucky is on the same page as well, with how tense his body is a baseline, but Clint bets so.

“First, I’m sorry if I make anyone uncomfortable,” she starts. “But I was wondering if Bucky would cane me.”

There’s a good four second silence, and then suddenly both Steve and Bucky swing their heads to stare at Sam.

“We’ve already discussed it,” he says. “I’m good. She’s worried. So it’s all right with me.”

“I ignored it, last time I was worried,” Natasha says. “It almost cost more than could be paid.”

“Why?” Bucky asks, and he sounds so completely lost.

Clint suddenly remembers what he’d said to Natasha. It was about how hard Bucky hits. How much pain he was capable of getting out of a single belt strike.

It’s not fair. He’d said it before he’d really known his doms. Known them well enough that...it’s not fair . He’d never slip up like that now that he knows better.

“Don’t,” Clint interrupts, finally finding his voice. He’s white-panic terrified, all the warm comfort of a few minutes ago being drowned out of his body by the flood of adrenaline. Natasha cannot give away this secret. She can’t . It will ruin Bucky. It will ruin him and Bucky. All that work and all that trust...

“Hang on,” Steve says. “If Clint isn’t comfortable--”

“I’m not !” he interrupts loudly. “Stop. Natasha, stop!”

“Why?” she asks calmly, looking him right in the eye.

“That’s the question I already asked,” Bucky growls. “Tell me why, Natalia. Right now. Look me in the eye and tell me why.”

“I think you’re hitting him too hard,” Natasha states simply. “I think you’re hitting him significantly too hard. I think you don’t know your strength, or a normal sub’s limits.”

“So you want me to test it on you?” Bucky scoffs. “You’re hardly a normal sub.”

“No, but I am a sub, and I’ve spent more time in a normal relationship than you have.”

Natasha is the sub.

Natasha is the sub. Natasha is the sub and Clint’s whole world is swallowed by that fact for far too long. He loses precious moments he might have had to argue against what’s happening. The static in his mind fades out only to hear that they’re already negotiating number of strokes.

“Five could be too few,” Natasha shrugs. “I need you to settle into it. At least ten.”

“You’re really okay with this?” Steve is asking Sam.

“I don’t own her,” Sam responds calmly. “You know that.”

“Wait,” Clint pants. “I don’t want this to happen. I don’t like this.”

“Why?” Natasha asks again, and damn her because the real answer to that question is completely unacceptable, and his only other option is to lie, and he’s honestly not sure he can . Not sure that he could get away with it, and not that he’s even capable of that kind of blatant deception when it comes to his doms. Failing to mention something is different than a straight up lie.

“I didn’t mean anything by what I said,” he tries, already knowing it’s a weak play. “We were just figuring each other out. It was a punishment. We...we’re…” he trails off and feels his face twist like he’s going to cry.

“Please?” he begs. He turns to Steve, and begs again. “ Please ?” which is a low blow, because Steve has his own issues, and is the more likely to give in to this manipulative begging, but Clint can’t just let this happen.

“I think it might be a good idea,” Steve says slowly, looking Clint in the eye. “I’d feel a lot better if I could get an outside perspective. Is there any way you could be more specific about what’s bothering you about this, and maybe we can work around it?”

Maybe Natasha won’t think Bucky’s hitting too hard. Maybe she’s tougher than he is, and maybe Clint really has gone soft after months and months of missed beatings. Maybe this won’t turn out badly at all.

They are going to be so mad at him when they find out .

This thought, his own mind finally admitting the guilt he’s been hiding from himself for months, is the last straw in the pile of straws, and Clint breaks. He draws his knees up into his chest, hides his face, and sobs.

“I’m sorry!” he cries out.

“No,” Bucky breathes, and there is so much despair in that single syllable that Clint wants to scream. How could she do this to him? How could she, the nasty little traitor. If she’s a real sub she should know better. She’s bad, a bad sub, for doing this. A bad sub, and a bad friend, and Clint’s whole body is shaking with rage and sobs and he can’t tell the difference.

“We need to be certain,” Natasha says firmly. And at some point someone has gotten the cane out of Bucky’s closet.

“You said ten?” Bucky asks, and his voice is dull.

“Ten. As hard as you go with Clint, please. Don’t hold back.”

“I won’t.”

The first crack makes Clint flinch, and Steve wraps one arm around his shoulder, drawing him into an embrace. Clint doesn’t deserve it. He holds his breath, to stop crying, because that’s bad. It’s bad to cry to loudly. He isn’t even being hurt.

Another crack, and then another. Clint finally peeks up out from where he’s hiding his face in his knees. Natasha is partially bent over, with her hands placed on the arm of the large recliner she’d been sitting in before. It means that everyone in the room can see her face as Bucky brings the cane down again. At the impact, her eyes tighten just the slightest bit.

She’s staring at Sam, Clint realizes. They’re making calm eye contact with each other, and when the fifth stroke comes down, Clint hopes it hurts.

Bad friend.

On the sixth stroke, Natasha’s lips part and she must make a sound, even though Clint is too far away to hear it, slight as it must have been. Sam, though, is significantly closer, and he’s paying a different kind of attention.

“Enough,” he says. “You’re done.”

“I’m fine,” Natasha responds, but Bucky has already lowered the cane, and Clint very much doubts he’ll bring it back up again.

“I know you’re fine,” Sam says. “But you’re also done. You have more than enough data.”

“We agreed that ten w--”

“Don’t have this argument with me,” Sam says, and even though his voice volume doesn’t change, Clint’s eyes are finally drawn away from Bucky’s emotionless face at the sound of a dom’s authority.

Natasha immediately stands from her position and turns to Bucky.

“What the verdict?” Bucky asks, and he sounds so empty, god how could Natasha do this to him. She’s his friend and his teammate, so why couldn’t she just let it be? Let Clint handle it. Let him make Bucky happy, for god’s sake, Bucky is never happy, why would she take this from him? From Clint?

“That is dangerously hard,” Natasha says, and Clint feels his world shudder.

“You could really hurt him,” she says.

“If he ever gets to a subspace with that, it is in spite of how you’re hurting him,” she says.

“You hurt me ,” she says. “Imagine what you’re doing to him.”

“Shut up!” Clint screams. He doesn’t remember getting to his feet.

“Clint,” Steve snaps, and Clint was right. They’re angry. Or, Steve is angry. Bucky still looks empty, even when he meets Clint’s gaze.

“Can you look me in the eye and tell me you liked it?” Natasha asks.

“You bitch ,” Clint snarls, and Clint hears Steve’s sharp inhalation of breath behind him.

Natasha blinks once, like surprise, and then raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow. Like a question. Like a victory. Like a dom.

Clint takes two steps forward and shoves her. And the worst part is, he know he only pulls it off because she lets him.

The world moves very fast after that. Sam is on his feet so quickly that he even beats Steve to Clint’s side. He puts himself in between Clint and Natasha, and his expression is hard and unyielding and the soft joking man from earlier in the night is hidden far away.

Steve grips him by the back of his shirt, jerking him back from Natasha so quickly that Clint chokes for a moment. He’s herded, half dragged and half shoved, out of the room and down the hallway into his doms’ bedroom where Steve forces him down to his knees by the foot of the bed.

“Hands on the bed,” Steve snaps, and Clint complies. He complies immediately, because his own actions are starting to occur to him and Jesus he has ruined everything. He splays his fingers out, pushing them into the bed, trying to show Steve how good he’s going to be now. His temper has flickered and gone out as suddenly as it had come.

“I’m sorry,” he sobs.

“Do not,” Steve orders, voice low and angry, and Clint shuts the fuck up, bowing his head.

He listens to Steve breathe for a moment, and wonders what will happen next. Knows he’ll get no say in it.

“When I come back in here,” Steve begins, and he has Clint’s full attention, and he bloody knows it, “you had better be right the fuck there where I’ve left you.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint sobs, fleetingly proud of the fact that he manages to make the syllables comprehensible. Then again, what else could be coming out of his mouth other than ‘yes, sir’ right now?

It’s only when Steve has walked out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him, that Clint realizes this position forces him to stare at the cuffs and ropes Steve had painstakingly drawn onto his skin.

Clint shudders as another round of sobs threatens to break him open.

 

__________

 

He’s not doing any better when Steve comes back in, followed by Bucky, but he has at least managed to stop crying. Or, stop sobbing at least. There are still little tears intermittently running down his face, but he’s got his breathing back under control.

He keep staring at his wrists, silent and on his knees exactly where Steve put him. Doesn’t turn and look at his doms, doesn’t beg for forgiveness, doesn’t try to apologize again.

Bucky speaks first.

“You said, ‘as long as we’re on the same page’. You looked me in the eye, and you said that to me. Like it meant something.”

Clint closes his eyes and lets his head bow lower.

“And I know you knew, because why else would you behave like that to Natasha? That kind of anger only comes from knowing you’re guilty. From being called out.”

“Is she still here?” Clint asks, surprised that this question bubbles out of his guilt and turmoil, but he is suddenly terrified of her leaving without knowing that he’s sorry. That he didn’t mean it.

“I need to apologize,” he breathes. “I have to tell her--” he bites his lips to silence himself. He hasn’t explicitly been told to be silent, but he had been told that now isn’t the time for an apology, and that’s technically an apology.

“She and Sam have already gone home,” Steve says, and Clint feels his body wilt. “But I’m sure she’ll appreciate hearing your apology, when everyone has calmed down a little. You really hurt her. Surprised her. She expected better from you. We all expected better from you.”

“Please,” Clint whispers. “Please punish me.” Because the bite of the cane is so much prefered to this gutting lecture coming from behind him.

“No,” Steve says calmly. “Not tonight. You’re exhausted, Bucky is exhausted, and frankly I’m still too pissing mad. So we’re going to put it down for the night, and we’ll deal with it in the morning. I want you to spend some time thinking about everything that happened, and trying to sort out your reasons for doing it. I also want you to think about the damage you’ve done, because I want to be sure you understand all the potential consequences you’ve been flirting with over these last months.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint says, because there’s no part of him capable of arguing against any decision or orders right now.

“Good. Now go back to your room and change into something you sleep in. Get ready for bed, and then come back here.”

Clint goes, silently and quickly. He doesn’t let himself think through the whys of the order. He’s too busy focusing on obedience. No questions, just obedience.

He gets back to the bedroom in record time, panting slightly from how quickly he’d been moving. Steve is still in the bedroom, in his own sleepwear now, but Bucky has disappeared completely.

“Come on,” Steve orders, sliding into bed. Clint takes a couple of steps forward, to stand next to Steve’s bedside, but he doesn’t understand what he’s supposed to do next.

Steve sighs when Clint just stands next to the bed, and then says, “Get in the bed, Clint.”

Clint blinks, shock finally overriding the automatic obedience.

“I’m allowed in the bed?” he asks, incredulous.

Steve snaps his fingers and points to the empty side of the bed, repeating, “In,” sharply.

Clint scrambles in.

“And of course you’re allowed,” Steve says, as Clint tries to settle. “You’re shaking and still crying, and the fact that I’m extraordinarily pissed at you doesn’t change the fact that you’re mine, and I’m not going to let you crawl off to your own bedroom to isolate yourself into a drop.”

Clint just blinks, propped up on one elbow. What the fuck is he supposed to say to that? The fact that Steve still wants him wars with the fact that Clint deserves to fall into a drop. Isn’t that’s why drops exist?

“I can tell you’re thinking something I won’t like,” Steve says. “So stop it, and go to sleep.”

He leans over and snaps off the bedside lamp, and Clint lets himself lay down. He’s on his back, staring up at the ceiling that he can no longer see in the dark.

There’s several minutes of silence, during which Clint finally stops his tears completely. He means to stay up and do what Steve had said. Think about all the things he did wrong, and their consequences, and their potential consequences, and all the shitty reasons he might have had for the choices he made. About how Steve is here, but Bucky has vanished and is clearly not returning tonight.

But Steve was right. He’s exhausted. So, after a brief internal debate, he curls himself up into Steve’s side, and Steve inexplicably lets him, even going so far as to wrap an arm under his shoulders, so Clint can lie on his chest, the unnatural warmth seeping into his own body.

Clint is asleep before another fully formed thought can emerge in his head.

 

__________

 

Steve wakes early in the morning. Very early. It can’t have been more than a couple of hours, but the moment he shifts, Clint’s is wide awake and ready to scramble out of the bed. His throat and eyes feel swollen and raw from all the crying the night before, and it reminds him immediately how much trouble he’s currently in.

“Stay,” Steve orders, followed by a long-suffering sigh. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I just don’t need that much sleep. I’m going for a run, and possibly to talk to Bucky. I’d like it if you could get back to sleep, but if you absolutely cannot, I know you have some thinking to do. Either way, I want you in this bed when I get back.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint responds softly, letting himself sink back into the mattress. He watches Steve get up and get ready, wondering if Steve will use the gym today or if he’ll go outside like he more usually does. He doesn’t ask, though. He’s got some thinking to do.

Some of it is easy. He knows the consequences of not telling Bucky the truth about how hard he was hitting. He did hurt Bucky, and set himself up as someone who cannot be trusted to tell the truth. After all that hard work to make himself trustworthy.

Stupid .

He did hurt Steve, too. Because Steve loves Bucky, so it’s pain by proxy at the very least. But then, it’s also more than that, since Steve is so scared of hurting Clint on accident. Of taking advantage. And Clint turning himself into a liar is not the way to assuage those thoughts.

Very stupid.

He could have hurt himself. Bucky could have done real damage. Physical damage or, over enough time, psychological damage, breaking apart their relationship without even knowing why it was happening or what he was doing wrong. As Bucky had gotten more and more confident, he’d been pushing Clint further and further. What would have happened if he’d injured Clint? Would they ever have been able to recover from that? Would Bucky have ever forgiven himself? And would Steve have ever forgiven Clint for doing that to Bucky?

“Shit,” Clint mumbles into the pillow.

Very fucking stupid .

This is what happens when Clint lets himself be in charge of things, trying to make the decisions instead of letting his dom make the call. He thrashes around until he’s flipped over onto his back and sighs heavily while he stares at the ceiling.

The motivations part is harder, but Steve had seemed particularly focused on that, so Clint tries to make an effort. It makes sense, since that’s probably the key to making sure this doesn’t happen again. Assuming Clint gets to stick around.

He’s trying to convince himself that Steve letting him stay last night means that they’re letting him stay past that, too. That they’re willing to work through it and figure a solution out. But it’s hard to think like that while he’s lying here alone, still unpunished.

He flips back over onto his stomach, and lets hit mind drift, thinking over the issues and hoping he’ll come up with the answer to “why” naturally. Instead, however, he slowly falls back to sleep. Which is fine, too. It’s what Steve had wanted anyway.

 

__________

 

When Steve comes back a few hours later, the door wakes Clint again. He sits up, rubbing his eyes and trying to guess what time it is.

“How are you feeling?” Steve asks softly.

“Bad,” Clint half-laughs bitterly. “Less tired, though. You were right. Clearer. Calmer. But really really bad.”

“I imagine so,” Steve says. “I’m going to take a shower, and then I want you ready to deal with this. Okay?”

“Okay,” Clint says, and then just before Steve has disappeared into the bathroom, “Steve?”

“Yeah?” Steve asks, looking back.

“How are you feeling?”

Steve smiles gently and says, “Better. Not as angry. Clearer and calmer like you said.”

“Still angry, though.”

“Yes, Clint. I’m still angry.”

It’s so strange to hear that sentence delivered with the calm control Clint has come to expect from Steve. He doesn’t know what to do with it. Violent anger is easy. It just needs to run its course. No one can stay violently angry for long. It takes too much energy. But calm anger is an entirely different game.

When he hears the shower turn on, Clint slips out of the bed and onto his knees, positioning himself by the side of the bed. For the first time, he lets himself be apprehensive about what the punishment will be. Somehow he doubts he’ll get stuck in the corner with his nose to a quarter again.

He waits, and thinks. Tries again to work through his motivations for all his bad choices. Focuses on his breathing.

When Steve comes back out of the bathroom, already fully dressed, he says, “I want to clarify something. About my being angry. I don’t want you to think that that means I’m not in control. That’s not the kind of angry I am.”

“I understand,” Clint says, and it’s true.

“Explain the difference to me,” Steve says, sitting down on the side of the bed, making it so Clint is kneeling at his feet by default.

Clint makes a face at the floor, because no one has ever accused him of being particularly loquacious. He tries, though. He’s being good.

“There’s anger that makes the choices for you, and it’s violent and exhausting. Then there’s anger because something is wrong. Or somebody is wrong. Like when you see someone hurting an animal. It’s different. It makes you change things, instead of changing you. It’s not exhausting. It can stay for as long as it’s needed. That kind of anger only hurts the other things. The bad...things.” He stumbles at the end, because he’s a bad thing, and he bows his head lower.

“That’s pretty good,” Steve says, and Clint feels something in his chest release at the praise. “Be specific to this situation, though. Why is it important right now, about the fact that I’m in control of my anger.”

This is way easier. This words practically roll off his tongue.

“Because you won’t hurt me more than you mean to. More than is fair. More than will help me become a better person, and will help me think about what I did wrong, and will let me feel a little forgiven, and help you feel like my dom again. For both of us.”

“That’s...that’s very good, Clint. That’s exactly right. I am going to punish you, because you need it. And it’s going to hurt, because it needs to hurt. But then it will be over between you and me, and you’ll be able to apologize, and I’ll be able to forgive you. Do you accept that?”

“Yes,” Clint says enthusiastically. Being forgiven sounds amazing.

“Then stand up.”

Clint scrambles to his feet, allowing Steve’s manhandling obediently, even when he realizes he’s being pulled over Steve’s lap. It’s almost humiliating to realize he’s about to be spanked over Steve’s knee like he’s a much younger sub. However, he’s also under no delusions that the lack of an instrument means this won’t hurt. Steve is just as strong as Bucky. Stronger, arguably.

He doesn’t protest when Steve hooks his fingers into Clint’s waistband and pulls everything down past his knees. He helps, shifting his weight, and then repositions himself more securely.

“Let’s be clear about something else, too,” Steve says, hand resting on Clint’s bare ass in a way that is definitely a threat. “I’m not Bucky. I don’t enjoy this. I’m not going to get carried away. I’ve had a lot more practice being a normal person in an enhanced body. I’m not going to underestimate my own strength. However. The fact that this is a deserved punishment doesn’t change the fact that if you need to use your safeword, then you are allowed to use it. It won’t get you out of your punishment, but it will mean we take a break and figure out what’s wrong. Do you understand?”

“Um, yes,” Clint says carefully. His chest is on the bed, and he’s got his head turned so he isn’t looking at Steve, and he almost almost lets it go. Almost makes up a safeword on the spot for how Steve is about to ask for it. But then, just before Steve can speak again, he says, “Steve?”

“What is it?”

“I...you’re going to be mad. But...I don’t have one.”

Silence. Silence that makes Clint feel very small, especially in his vulnerable position.

“I thought you would rather me tell you...instead of lying. Again.”

“Yes,” Steve says, very carefully. “Yes, thank you for telling me. I’ll just add that to the tally then, won’t I? Although don’t you dare think I’m not going to rip Bucky a new one, too. That one, he knew better for.”

“Okay,” Clint says.

“You want to just use ‘red’ for now?”

“That’s fine.”

There’s a brief pause, and then Steve pets his ass gently. Clint flinches, and then feels silly for it.

“I mean it,” Steve says. “Thank you for telling me. It shows me you’re really looking to change, not just wait until you’re not in trouble anymore. It’s very good.”

Clint buries his face in his arms, because now his emotions are all mixed up, and he’s mostly naked and about to be in pain, and he wishes Steve would just get on with it.

“Do you want to tell me why I’m about to punish you, or should I do it?”

Clint whines into the bed because Jesus , would Steve just spank him already? Then he forces himself to calm down and answer, and he knows which answer Steve would prefer, so that’s the one he gives.

“I’ll do it,” he says. “I’m going to be punished because I lied to Bucky, repeatedly. I lied in a way that put myself in danger, put Bucky’s mental health in danger, and broke my promises. I lied even though I knew better, and I told myself I was doing the right thing, because I wanted to feel like a good sub on my terms rather than yours.”

Huh , he thinks in surprise. Bare-assed confessions apparently have their purpose. It’s hard to lie when he’s positioned like this. Even to himself.

“And?” Steve prompts.

“Oh, and because I yelled at Natasha, and I said cruel things, and I attacked her, technically, even though she was helping me, and helping Bucky, and being a good friend while I was being a shitty one.”

“That was thorough and specific,” Steve says mildly. “Good job.”

The finality in his tone is the only warning Clint gets before Steve’s hand starts coming down.

Clint had been right about how this would still hurt. Steve’s hand is heavy and hard, and he’s putting strength into each slap. He’s also being very quick, no pausing. Just blow after blow. He’s got a pattern, too, setting four or five in a row in one spot before shifting to a slightly new spot and repeating the process. Clint has the distinct feeling his entire ass is going to get that treatment, and he grits his teeth against making any noise.

Goddamn it’s fast . Just unrelenting smacks of flesh against flesh, and Clint feels his breath hitch even though he’d sworn he’d cried himself out last night.

It’s worse, somehow, that Steve isn’t getting anything out of this. At least with Bucky, Clint is working with a sadist who will appreciate Clint’s reddening ass, even if he doesn’t appreciate the way it was earned. With Steve, Clint is stuck being a chore. An effort must be made, for Clint’s benefit only.

He shoves his face into his arms to muffles his noises when Steve moves down onto his thighs. The sting is so much worse there, and Steve isn’t letting up just because the area is more sensitive. Clint is holding onto the hope that Steve will call it good once he has completely covered Clint’s ass, but his more rational side is skeptical.

Suddenly, the spanking stops and Clint gasps, breathing heavily and clenching his fists into the bedspread. He makes little humming noises of pain every time he exhales, trying to get himself back into a semblance of control. Steve starts rubbing his throbbing ass. It hurts a little, the contact, but mostly is a relief. Soothing, even as the inflammation bites back.

“How are you doing?” Steve asks.

Clint laughs, because Steve is so fucking strange.

“Ow,” he mutters, and then he smiles because Steve snorts in amusement.

“I bet,” Steve says, rubbing slow soothing circles. The pain is already starting to fade, leaving behind a raw burning sensation. The words “warm up” cross Clint’s mind and he suddenly groans into the comforter.

“What?” Steve asks.

“No, nothing. Just...realizing we’re not done yet.”

“We are not done,” Steve agrees. “We’re taking a short break, because I think it’s my turn now, to remind you why you’re here.”

Clint re-buries his face in his arms, because he knows this already, do they have to keep going over it when it hurts him so much.

“Do you remember how hard it was for me to accept you as a sub when you first got here?”

Clint nods into his arms, and it’s met with an answering slap against his ass so hard that he chokes on a cry and shit Steve has been holding back that much?

“Out loud,” Steve orders.

“Yes! Yes, sir! I remember!”

“What was I scared of?”

“You thought I didn’t want to be there. That I didn’t want to do the things that I wanted as a sub. That it was impossible to have a dominant and submissive relationship without abuse. Without damage.”

Clint thinks, suddenly, of Peggy.

“And what was our agreement, should I give in and decide that I might be wrong? When it came to you and me and Bucky, at least.”

“We agreed that I would be honest about what I did and did not want.”

“Instead of doing what you thought we wanted. Especially instead of just doing what you thought we wanted without even asking us. Just assuming you knew best.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint says miserably.

“Such as assuming how hard we would like to hit you. How much we intend to hurt you. What we expect you to tolerate from us.”

Clint doesn’t say anything, assuming there’s nothing to say, but Steve’s spanks him again, as hard as the previous one, and Clint shouts again.

“Yes, yes like that!” he exclaims. “Exactly like that. Like all the things I did.”

Steve stops the soothing circles he’s been rubbing and leaves his hand sitting, heavy, on Clint’s right cheek. It’s back to being a threat again, and Clint bets that means they’re about to start again.

“I trusted you,” Steve says, and lays down a flurry of blows so fast they leave Clint struggling for breath. It stops as suddenly as it started.

“Bucky trusted you.”

Another set of quickfire ear-ringing blows, and Clint is whimpering at each impact.

“We were vulnerable and scared, and we needed you to protect us from ourselves, and instead you protected yourself. And badly, too.”

Another round, but a little heavier and a little faster, and Clint starts wiggling. He can’t help it. It’s different than a belt or a cane, because those blows tend to be spaced further apart by nature of the implement. There’s time to curb his reflexes or, at the very least, to get himself back into position. Plus, he’d be naive if he didn’t think Steve’s lecture was getting under his skin, burning him in its own way.

“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you wanted to feel like a good sub on your own terms, rather than ours. That you chose feeling good, over being good.”

Again, another round, and Clint wriggles badly enough that Steve has to pin him in place with his leg. Has to pin his hand to his back like this is his first spanking. He’s sobbing now, too. Snot and tears on the nice comforter, and he’ll need to wash it when this is done.

“I know it’s hard,” Steve continues, and now he’s back to rubbing soothing circles, having to raise his voice to speak over Clint’s sobs. “I know you’ve spent a long time being told a lot of lies, and I know it’s hard to admit that’s what they were. But that’s the condition you accepted when you moved in here. When we started this. And if you want to stay, then you’ll abide by it.”

This time it isn’t a flurry of quick sharp slaps, it’s the heavy harsh slaps Clint had gotten for forgetting to speak out loud. It can’t be more than ten, by the time the set is done, but Clint isn’t sure because he just screams sharp staccatos screams at each impact. Now his throat hurts, too.

“Steve,” he whimpers. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

“I know,” Steve says. “And we’re almost done. Because I need you to really understand that last point, okay? Were you listening to it?”

“Mm-hm,” Clint hums, and then shouts in misery when it gets him another heavy handed slap.

“Yes, sir!” he corrects, loudly between another gasping sob. “Yes, sir!”

“And what was the point?”

“That if I want to stay here with you, then I have to tell you when it’s too much. When I don’t want something. When you’re hurting me. I have to tell you what’s good and what’s not good, and I can’t ever ever lie. I can’t lie about it, it’s not safe, and it hurts. It hurts .”

“Okay,” Steve says. “Okay.”

He sits for a moment, considering whether or not that is enough or if Clint needs a final reinforcement. Clint, for his part, just lies completely limp, accepting where he is. He doesn't think he could tense a muscle in his body. Not even to get away, should Steve decide he needs more.

“Okay,” Steve says a third time, rubbing his soothing circles again, and Clint sobs anew because that voice means it’s over, and the relief makes him cry just as hard.

Steve lets him cry himself out, comforting him with repetition and praise and promises that it’s over and Clint is good and that he’s forgiven.

Eventually, Clint can no longer justify his sprawled position over Steve’s lap, and struggles up into a slightly more dignified position straddling his lap. Clint moves his hands to rub up and down Clint’s back, letting Clint hiccup his way back to a mindset that’s capable of speech.

“How are you feeling?” Steve asks softly.

“Better,” Clint says softly. Then he thinks about it, and reaches forward to wrap both his arms around Steve’s neck so he can bury his face in just under Steve’s jaw.

“Good,” he says, more firmly. “I feel good.”

“You are good,” Steve promises. “Even when you break the rules. You’re good. It’s your natural state, and you’ll always return to it, even if you need a little help along the way.”

Clint laughs wetly into Steve’s neck, and takes a moment to relish being held. Eventually, though, he sighs and draws back.

“How do you feel?” he asks Steve.

“Well, not angry anymore. A lot better, actually. Pretty good. Is that...is that bad, do you think?”

“No,” Clint says with confidence. “Not any more than it is bad for me to drop if I’m feeling guilty without being punished. It’s who we are. Who we are can’t inherently be bad. It wouldn’t be fair.”

Steve makes a noise that is neither assent nor dissent.

“It did sure hurt though,” Clint suddenly pouts. “Still does. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“I do what I have to do,” Steve says seriously. “You know that.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Clint responds. “I’ve heard your responsibilities speech before. Save me.”

Steve gapes for a moment, incredulous smile on his face.

“You….you are a brat ,” he manages.

“And you love it,” Clint says confidently. His butt is still on fire, but the shaking in his legs has subsided, and he bets most of the pain will fade in a few more minutes.

“Oh, I love it, do I?” Steve snorts. “I’m a fan of insubordination, am I?”

“Of course,” Clint says calmly. “You like knowing I’m not afraid of you. Especially after something new, like this.”

Steve doesn’t say anything. He just looks at Clint.

“See?” Clint continues cheekily. “Not all my assumptions are wrong.”

“Okay, now you’re pushing it.”

Clint smiles shyly and leans back into the embrace from before.

“Sorry,” he says. And he knows he’s forgiven even before he says it.

 

__________

 

Clint has to leave the room eventually, and he doesn’t realize why Steve opts to stay behind until he actually gets a few steps down the hallway. To the point where he can see the kitchen again. Bucky is standing there, eating reheated leftovers from the dinner, straight out of the tupperware. He and Steve must have cleaned up last night, after Clint...afterward.

Clint stutters to a stop, unsure if he’s going to be welcome, even if Steve had practically sent him out here to have this conversation.

Bucky regards him calmly, chewing slowly and looking Clint up and down. Eventually he jerks his head in a “come here” gesture, and Clint goes. He walks around the counter to stand next to Bucky, who still hasn’t said anything and is still eating. He puts his fork down in the plastic container and uses the newly free hand to turn Clint around to face the counter, and then he pushes him down over it.

Clint’s heart jumps into his throat, because he doesn’t know about taking another spanking right now. Physically, maybe, because he’s certainly had worse than what Steve gave him. But emotionally, no.

At first it’s just possessive touching. Bucky runs his fingers along Steve’s drawing, dark black in contrast against Clint’s skin. Runs them up the ropes and over Clint’s shoulder and then down his back.

When Bucky tugs the recently returned sweatpants down, Clint struggles to figure out what to say. Because maybe this is a test, to make sure Clint will say something.

“Red,” he mutters, and Bucky freezes.

“Red,” Bucky repeats. Like he’s mulling it over. Then, “Red, like safeword red?”

“Yeah,” Clint says thickly. And oh, god, what if it doesn’t matter? What if he gets in trouble for saying something, and it hadn’t been a test at all, and this is just the rest of his punishment.

Bucky’s hand disappears from his back.

“Touching you is red?” he asks from where Clint can’t see him. And he’s trying to sound calm, but it’s a piss-poor performance, because he sounds absolutely gutted by the thought.

“No!” Clint huries to say. “I just...no more...I don’t think I could take another punishment right now.”

“No more pain,” he promises. “I’m just looking.”

“Oh. Okay, then. Um...un-red?”

A pause, and then Bucky’s hesitant fingers back on his skin.

Looking is fine. Looking is more than fine, actually. Someone should appreciate the ordeal that Steve had put him through.

“Huh,” Bucky says. “It sounded like he was really giving it to you, but I honestly didn’t expect him to be able to make a mark. Didn’t think he had it in him.”

“That’s what I said,” Clint mutters. “I was very wrong.”

“Yeah, no shit. Got some nice bruising that’ll probably last a day or so. What do you know? Little punk is still surprising me.”

“I’m thrilled for you,” Clint says dryly.

“Hush, you,” Bucky shoots back. “I might not be about to put you over my knee, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to mouth off. Not when I’m technically still mad at you.”

“Of course not, sir.”

Bucky grunts in approval as he returns the sweatpants to their proper position and maneuvers Clint back to a standing position.

“I am sorry,” Clint says, looking him in the eye. “I really am. I risked you. I won’t do it again.”

Bucky’s expression fades a little and his eyes shoot to the side like he’s having difficulty meeting Clint’s gaze. Then he takes a deep breath and brings his eyes back again.

“I forgive you,” he says simply. “I’ve fucked up in this relationship, too. We’ve both got some shitty unlearning to do, and fucking up and forgiveness are both a part of that. So, yeah, of course I forgive you.”

Clint kisses him. It’s sweet and quick, and Clint can’t help the bubbling elation that fills him when he realizes they mean this. Steve and Bucky, they forgive him, and they’re going to work through this, and he kisses Bucky again and enjoys being kissed back.

“Natasha though,” Bucky says when they pull apart again. “ I mean, мой Бог, is that woman pissed. If you’re going to apologize, may I suggest starting with a text message, rather than risking your life in open confrontation.”

“There’s not going to be a confrontation,” Clint insists. “There will be me, groveling. And then more me, still groveling. Apologizing sprinkled throughout. Long cold silences while she stares at me. And then, hey! Me, still groveling.”

Bucky nods sagely. “It sounds like you have a good plan. I like the groveling part, particularly.”

Clint rolls his eyes.

“Seriously though,” he says. “Is there any advice you can give me? I really am sorry, and it really wasn’t about her.”

“It was about her a little bit,” Bucky corrects. “Or else it wouldn’t have been her you lashed out at.”

Clint sighs heavily.

“However,” Bucky continues. “I do have one piece of advice. Natasha doesn’t lose her temper easily. It’s not in her nature. The fact that she’s been stomping around in a pissy mood since last night, does not mean she’s angry. It means she’s hurt. And she’s not used to being hurt. Not like that. Not in the way that only friends can hurt.”

“Well, fuck ,” Clint swears vehemently.

“I believe in you, though,” Bucky adds. “I recommend you sleep with one eye open until you gain that forgiveness. But I believe you can do it. Eventually. In a year or so.”

“Y'all are so fucking encouraging,” Clint gripes, moving further into the kitchen to get his own set of leftovers.

 

__________

 

Clint takes Bucky’s advice and texts Natasha, I’m very very sorry, and I would be humbly grateful for the opportunity to buy you coffee and explain to you exactly HOW very very sorry.

He doesn’t get a response for nearly ten hours, and it’s some of the worst hours of his life. He spends a lot of it writing his apology in his head, while he traces his fingers up and down the drawn ropes. Up and down and then up again, until he thinks he’ll never forget their pattern, even when they fade away in the next days.

Finally, his phone chimes, and he hurries to read the message.

Because you asked so nicely . And it’s followed by a picture of the cafe directly across the street from the Avengers Tower.

“Oh,” he says out loud to no one. “Like...like right now.”

He hurries to throw on any type of presentable clothes, shouts at Jarvis to tell his doms where he is if they ask, and sprints into the elevators. It’s an excruciating wait, all the way down, and then he’s off sprinting again.

He finally comes to a panting and undignified stop across the table from Natasha, who is giving him her most unimpressed look. It’s a good look. She’s very good at it.

“Sit down, Baton.”

“I will, but first, let me deliver my three part apology speech.”

“Sit the fuck down.”

Clint sits.

“Three part apology?” she asks, once he’s settles. She’s drinking a latte that smells strongly of peppermint, and she still looks unimpressed.

“Yes, okay. Part one. My behaviour was absolutely inexcusable all on its own. Even if you had deserved to have me mad at you, what I said and did was still bad. Part two, um, is that you did not deserve to have me mad at you. You were protecting me, and Bucky, and Steve, too. I should have been grateful. You made yourself vulnerable for my sake, and I fucking shivved you for it. Totally not cool. Negative friend points. Third is that I promise not to do it again. If I get mad, I will take a time out and focus on what it felt like to realize what I’d said to you. And then I will shut the fuck up and move myself to a separate location while I get my shit back together.”

Natasha continues contemplating him with one of her long cold silences.

“And…” Clint fishes. “I...will also apologize to Sam. For, um, what I said to you. And how I ruined the night.”

She finally gives him an expression, and it’s to roll her eyes.

“You don’t have to,” she says. “I’ll communicate the thought. And I wouldn’t worry about him, honestly. He’s seen his fair share of people lashing out in anger because they’re afraid. Yours was practically mild compared to some of the stunts I pulled, over much stupider shit.”

“Oh,” Clint says. “Okay...then.”

Suddenly, one of the staff shows up at the table carrying a latte that smells suspiciously like toffee nut. Clint’s current favorite flavor.

“Thank you,” Natasha murmurs, indicating for it to be given to Clint.

Clint narrows his eyes at the latte like it’s poisoned, and then looks at Natasha with confusion and suspicion.

“Oh please,” she scoffs. “Like I wasn’t going to forgive you. Who couldn’t forgive you?”

Clint can feel his face lighting up at the statement.

“Fuck up again and see what happens, though,” she adds, pointing at him with one impossibly manicured finger.

“Understood, ma’am,” Clint shoots back. Then he contemplates the latte again, before taking a careful sip.

“You know,” he says. “None of the other patrons here get tableside service.”

“Really?” she asks archly. “How strange.”

 

__________

 

It’s not perfect, of course. Attempts at change rarely are. There aren’t any more failures as bad as that last, but Clint still struggles with his words.

For example: blindfolds. Big no.

Not that he says that, of course. He says, “We can try?”

That was you telling me no?” Bucky scoffs, after he’s managed to calm Clint down and figure out what had happened.

“I tried !” Clint exclaims.

“I know, I know,” Bucky sighs, rubbing his eyes. “That’s why I’m not getting Steve to spank your ass again. But wow, that was a shit try, Barton.”

Clint gets put on “no touching” for twenty-four hours as punishment for “failing spectacularly.” And then, when he tries to throw a fit about it, he gets put on his knees in the corner, with his hands on his head.

“No!” Bucky shouts, when Steve comes home and makes straight for Clint.

“What happened?” Steve asks, slowing to a stop.

Bucky explains it, and then explains how Clint is not to be touched by either of them until the time is up.

“So I don’t get a hello kiss?” Steve asks sadly, and Clint thunks his head hard against the wall in front of him.

It gets worse than that, too. And Clint knows they’re doing it on purpose, just to make a point. Heavy petting and kissing and possibly more. Probably more, Clint is forced to admit, when Steve groans in pleasure.

“Come on,” he finally whines. “Please, guys? This is just...cruel and unusual punishment.”

“You can join us when we can trust you to be honest with your feelings,” Bucky shoots back at him.

“I am honestly feeling like I’d like to be fucked, please.”

It doesn’t work, of course.

Clint spends the next twenty minutes listening to exaggerated sounds of sex and wishing he could be anywhere else. It makes an impression, at least. Which was, Clint figures, probably the fucking point.

 

__________

 

A few weeks later, Natasha meets him for coffee at a Starbucks. Not that they make a plan to meet up. Clint is at a Starbucks, working on his Russian, and then there’s Natasha, sitting across from him and drinking a frappuccino with an obscene amount of whipped cream. She’s wearing sunglasses that cost more than some cars, even though it’s raining.

“Need something?” he asks.

“Company,” she answers. “I’m not having a good day.”

Clint thinks about that one.

“Did something happen?” he asks. “Or just not a good day in general?”

Natasha pulls her sunglasses down just enough for Clint to see that the pair is hiding a massive ugly-looking black eye. Then she pulls at the scarf that’s wrapped loosely around her neck and Clint sees the equally ugly black bruising in finger-shaped rings around her neck.

“Sometimes,” she says slowly. “Even the best have close calls.”

Clint hadn’t noticed how much rougher her voice had sounded when she’d first spoken.

“Jesus,” he breathes. He doesn’t ask, ‘are you okay’ because she’s already answered the question with more than her words.

“Let’s go to the zoo,” he says instead.

“Excuse me?”

“My doms promised to take me to the zoo ages ago, and we never went. Shit happened, and the situation changed, and I think they forgot. So let’s go.”

“It’s raining cats and dogs.”

“So?”

Natasha doesn’t answer.

They go to the zoo. Clint has to stop by to drop off his Russian book - which Natasha suspiciously does not comment on - and to grab an umbrella - which they do not use, because it’s too windy. They just give up and get soaked.

Clint expects to be among the only ones but, while the crowd size is significantly decreased, there are still other people determinedly walking around.

Clint and Natasha stop in front of the red pandas and stare for a while, even though all the animals are hiding in their shelters.

Clints breaks the silence first.

“I think I was mad that you were a sub. That night.”

Natasha thinks over the statement before she responds, and Clint lets her. It’s part of why their friendship work so well.

“I didn’t know you thought I was a dom,” she answers. “I would have said something. I promise.”

“I know you weren’t trying to fuck with me,” Clint nods. “I just...it really threw me off. I thought I knew. For sure , knew. And then you weren’t, and Tony wasn’t either, and I just keep getting sucker-punched by it. By all these subs all around me acting like doms.”

Natasha takes his hand in hers, and it’s raining thickly enough to protect anyone from seeing the gesture of emotion from her.

“We’re not acting like doms, Clint. We’re acting like people.”

It is, Clint thinks, a really good thing it’s raining.

“I hate it,” he spits, refusing to let the words catch in his throat. “I hate how it feels.”

“Like you missed out?”

Clint nods, and then adds, “Like I can’t ever be whole. I can’t ever behave like that. Nat, I can’t. I’ll never be able to move like that, or speak like. To hold myself like that. I lost it. It was...it was fucking taken from me . And I can’t ever get it back. It’s ruined, and whenever you or Tony act like you belong in the world, without having to earn the right, I feel sick to my stomach.”

“I know.”

“Do you?”

“Intimately. And I don’t have any nice words about how you feel right now, but as someone who gave almost that exact speech a long time ago, trust me. You can be like that. You can learn to believe you have the right to breath and eat and move in this world. If that’s what you really want. If you want to fight for that, you can get there.”

Another long silence.

“Tony asked me to join the Avengers.”

Natasha doesn’t wait to think that one over, she just sighs heavily and says, “That idiot.”

“That’s what I said.”

“You could do it, if you wanted to,” Natasha says. “But wow does he have shitty timing. Just when you’re figuring out how to be your own person, at all . To throw that kind of potential responsibility at you.”

“You really think I could do it?” Clint scoffs. “Keep up with gods and superhumans.”

“Sure,” Natasha shrugs. “If I can, you can. You’re a better shot than me, anyway.”

“You know about that?”

“Bucky told me. He was very impressed. Seemed to think you were wasting your potential sitting around practicing party tricks.”

“And what did you tell him in return?”

“To shut the everliving fuck up.”

“Thanks.”

“Do you know why I told him that?”

“Nope. I assume you have your own reasons, but I’m grateful anyway.”

“It was because I think you’ve had plenty of people in your life tell you what to do with your ability to shoot. And I think some of them made you do some pretty shitty things. And I think you deserve some time to sort it all out for yourself.”

Another long silence, before Clint says, “Thanks,” again. This time with more depth and feeling in the word.

The area starts to get a little more crowded, so they move from the red pandas and start wandering toward the snow leopards, languidly strolling through the rain.

“Is it bad that I still love it?” Clint asks. “Archery and marksmanship.”

“Why would that be bad?”

“Because it wasn’t my idea. Because a dom made me turn it into something they could use. Shouldn’t I hate it or….or exist outside of it? Exist outside of the things my previous doms made me? Don’t I have to do that, if I want to exists as myself?”

“It’s your skill, not theirs.”

“But it’s not,” Clint says, suddenly angry. “Even if I enjoy it, does that even count? Can it ever be mine?”

Natasha stirs her frappuccino with her straw for a moment, even though she can’t drink it anymore, now that it’s filling with rainwater.

“I love to fuck,” she announces.

Clint blanches, because what the hell does someone say to that? He waits, expecting more, but Natasha simply keeps walking and stirring.

“Good for you?” Clint tries, and amusement flits across Natasha’s face.

“What I mean,” she finally continues, “is that the first time I had sex was at an age that would make you sick to your stomach. That, for decades of my life, sex was a weapon in my arsonal which I was forced to use at whatever time was convenient to whoever owned me at the time. Sometimes it was for a mission, and sometimes it was for their own enjoyment.”

Clint is looking at their feet now, because she isn’t giving him specifics, and he still feels sick. Can imagine the scenarios. He’s had a few relatable periods of time in his own life, but to grow up like that? To know only that? He isn’t sure he would have had the strength.

“Does the fact that I can have sex - that I can sub - and enjoy myself while I do it, mean that they won? That they turned me into something that likes it, and that every time I fuck Sam they’re still winning?”

The thought is horrible, and Clint rushes to deny it, even though he knows exactly where Natasha is going to take it next.

“Sometimes,” she says, and the words are clipped, “enjoying something is winning. Sometimes, it means you took it back. That you didn’t let them have it. And whoever thinks someone else should have the credit for something you managed, can go fuck themselves.”

Clint thinks that, somehow, Natasha knows this is tangentially Steve’s fault, and he hopes she won’t give him too much hell for it, even as he turns the words over in his mind.

“I guess,” he says. And Natasha doesn’t push it any further. Instead, they stand side by side and stare at the empty snow leopard enclosure, knowing it’s there somewhere. Hiding underneath, where it can’t be seen.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

Steve ends up getting another phone. It takes him several weeks, but he does it eventually. Clint tries to hide the apprehension, because he really has gotten Steve’s responsibility speech a hundred times, and it stuck eventually. So, yeah, he gets it. He just also hates it.

And then the phone rings one night while they’re sitting down to a late night dinner. Late night, Steve had been kept till an ungodly hour, and Bucky and Clint had both decided they wanted to wait for him. And then Steve’s stupid-ass phone rings, and they all go really quiet as he answers it.

There’s a few exchanged pleasantries and then Steve says, “You know what, Richard? This doesn’t seem like an emergency, so I’m going to go ahead and hold this call for a later date. You can call  me in the morning, whatever time is convenient for you.”

It is a glorious moment. Clint hollers in triumph the moment the phone is hung up, and even Bucky is grinning like an idiot.

“It’s not a big deal,” Steve insists. “It’s pretty late. It’s completely reasonable to move the discussion to the morning.”

“Oh, I agree,” Bucky snorts. “It’s completely reasonable. You don’t have to convince anyone else here that that’s completely reasonable.”

“Shut up,” Steve mutters, but it’s amicable enough.

After that, Steve starts turning his non-emergency phone off when he gets home.

 

__________

 

“Does this mean you’re never going to hurt me again?” Clint asks, jumping up on the kitchen counter next to Bucky. He’s forcing a blasé attitude, but he’s honestly scared the answer is going to be a yes. There’s a huge difference between forgiving someone, and letting yourself be in a position where they can hurt you again. Clint knows the difference. He bets Bucky does, too.

“Clint,” Bucky says wearily. “I’m not ready yet.”

“Sorry,” Clint says reflexively, dropping the attitude. “I’m not pushing, really. I’m just...I’m actually asking that. Do you think you’ll ever be able to hurt me?”

“Of fucking course,” Bucky snorts. “It’s not like I didn’t enjoy myself. I just….I need to be eased into it.”

It’s one of the best responses Clint could have possibly hoped to get, and he nods along with his swinging feet, as he’s still perched up on the counter-top.

“You know I was just trying to be a good dom, right?” Bucky says suddenly, and Clint raises an eyebrow.

“You were being a good dom,” Clint says. “I wasn’t giving you all the information you needed. It’s not your responsibility to read minds.”

“I knew full well you didn’t have a safeword in place, and I knew better. Steve had it out with me when he found out. I could have been better. I just...I forget about a lot of that stuff.”

Clint hums to show he’s listening, but he doesn’t say anything, since Bucky clearly isn’t done speaking.

“We’ve talked about how I spent the last few decades, right?” Bucky adds, and now Clint speaks.

“No, you’ve mentioned it. It’s not the same thing as us talking about it.”

Bucky makes a face of disgust and says, “Fuck off,” - which Clint understands perfectly, given the circumstances. He keeps kicking, leaning back against the cabinets behind him. He’s working hard to project perfect ease, to see if Bucky will press for what he’d been trying to communicate.

“Hydra...that’s the fuckers that had me,” Bucky says slowly, eyes on the floor. “They weren’t real big on opting out of...pain. It was more, order...through pain. All that.” He glances up at Clint, and then right back down, before continuing, “It seemed a lot like a dom and a sub. Order and pain. Control. Except there wasn’t any concept of shared power. All the shit went downhill, never uphill. So, much as I try to be separate from them, sometimes there are things I’ve picked up without even noticing. Ways of thinking. Like how the person is charge is the only one deciding on how much the person hurting should hurt. I was just trying to make sure and judge properly. It didn’t occur to me to just ask.”

“Sure,” Clint agrees mildly. “It’s pretty much impossible to pick out the flaws in your own logic, when you’ve been thinking about it that way your whole life.”

“But it wasn’t my whole life,” Bucky protests vehemently, bringing his eyes back up to Clint’s. “I knew better. Know better. I remember better, now.”

“And that’s really fantastic!” Clint responds, just as vehemently. “You’re amazing, to have fought back with your mind like that. You won. You’re taking it back. I’m just...I’m constantly impressed with your mind.”

Bucky stares at him.

“Shut the fuck up,” he says gruffly, but Clint keeps his face open and confident, because he’s not going to let Bucky pitch this as a battle he lost, not when they’ve turned things around the way they have.

“Yes, sir,” he responds instead, and Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

__________

 

“How would you feel,” Steve says slowly, and the opener catches Clint’s attention like a sprung trap, even before Steve finishes with, “about coming along with us to this big team dinner Tony’s putting together?”

“An Avengers team dinner?” Clint ventures.

“Sort of,” Steve answers. “Pepper is going to be there, though. And Colonel Rhodes is trying to make it in from D.C., though it’s starting to look like he can’t get away. Either way, not entirely Avengers. More like Avengers and some tangentially related friends.”

Clint turns the idea over in his mind, but honestly if Pepper is going to be there, then Clint knows he’ll end up going. He’s not going to pass up the opportunity to be introduced around to his doms’ friends the way the other relationship halves have been introduced.

“I think I’d be really flattered,” he answers.

“Okay,” Steve says back, and he’s grinning like he’s been given a gift. Because Natasha is right, and Steve is a moron.

Clint rolls his eyes with affection, and goes back to whipping his meringue into shape.

 

__________

 

Clint expects himself to feel shy, or nervous, as they ride the elevator the rest of the way up to Tony’s floor. However, it’s startlingly still. And he knows why, too. It’s because Bucky is vibrating with near panic next to him, and one of the two of them has to stay calm.

“It’s just like the dinner with Sam and Natasha,” Steve says, trying to calm Bucky, and Clint snorts in amusement, because it is certainly not like the quiet intimate dinner with Sam and Natasha, and even that had turned into a complete disaster.

There’s no time for Bucky to voice his acerbic response to Steve’s statement, however, because the doors slide open and the three of them step into the atrium. It’s both similar and dissimilar to their own place. The floorplan is the same basic shape, but Tony has a taste for distractions, and it shows in the way his home is decorated. There’s a lot less free space, and it’s a wonder the area doesn’t feel cluttered. Clint briefly wants to know if that tasteful arrangement is due to Pepper or to Stark himself, but he’s distracted from the thought by the man himself.

“Legolas!” Tony exclaims excitedly, like he’s seeing an old friend for the first time in years. “I was hoping Steve wasn’t lying and you were indeed going to join us tonight! All the better to poke fun at your Popsciples-squared behind you.”

“You’ve used that one before,” Clint says, deadpan, bringing Tony up short.

“Pardon?”

“Popsicle,” Clint explains. “I’ve heard you use that nickname before. If you’re already cycling through old material again, you’re not half the genius you think you are.”

Bucky snorts somewhere behind Clint, but Clint’s attention is more immediately recaptured by the clear bright laugh from Tony’s right. It’s the woman Clint had seen ever so briefly on that near-disaster of a night so many months ago. Pepper Potts joins their conversation, and she’s laughing at what Clint said.

“My love,” Tony gasps, clutching at his chest in mock pain. “You side with the traitor?”

“If you really were half the genius you think you are,” Pepper smiles, “you’d have mastered time travel already, at least .” She soothes the potentially insulting words with a kiss, and the way Tony looks at her makes Clint’s heart clench in a way that would have been jealousy, if it had happened a year ago. As it stands, it’s just a visceral acknowledgment of the strength of the relationship in front of him.

Steve’s hand suddenly slides along Clint’s back, wrapping around to hold his waist in a way that makes Clint think Steve had seen the look in Tony’s eyes as well. Clint almost expects Bucky to join in the casual touch, but a quick glance reveals that Bucky is still vibrating with tension. Thankfully, no one else seems to notice. Or, Clint mentally corrects, no one is commenting.

 “I’m retreating,” Tony announces, turning to walk further into the home. “See if I hang out and listen to myself be abused.”

“Yes, all of you, come in,” Pepper says, like that was the idea behind Tony’s statement. “Come and get settled. Sam and Natasha are already here.”

“Will Bruce and Colonel Rhodes be joining us?” Steve asks, trailing along like he’s told. In fact, Clint feels a little like a parade, with the string of bodies they make, all following Tony.

“Rhodey can’t make it after all, ” Pepper answers. “I’m not sure about Bruce. He didn’t decline outright, but you know how he is. We’ll see.”

“I’ll text him and tell him I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight,” Steve says, already pulling out his phone. “I feel like he could benefit from seeing people outside of his lab.”

“He likes the people who work under him fine,” Tony says. “He hand-picked them, after all.”

“There’s a huge difference between getting along with your team in a work environment, and being good enough friend with them that work counts as a social experience.”

“Hypocrite,” Natasha accuses, as the group arrives in the main living room. She’s on the couch next to Sam, and doesn’t even look up from where she’s texting as she says it.

“Leave me alone,” Steve shoots back. “At least I’ve always come to team events like this.”

“This is not a team event!” Tony shouts from the drink cart. “Don’t you dare associate me with a work party. This is a dinner party, at which several people invited happen to work together.”

“I don’t--” Steve starts, but Tony interrupts loudly.

Not a work party, Rogers! Now everyone new tell me your drink orders. Sound off!”

Everyone orders drinks around and settles into the living room. Clint elects to sit on the floor between Bucky and Steve, even though he thinks it embarasses Steve. After all, Natasha and Tony are firmly in their own seats. Then again, clearly Natasha and Tony both want to be in their own seats.

Bucky shows no such potential issue with Clint’s choice. In fact, he almost immediately starts running his fingers through Clint’s hair, obviously attempting to calm himself. Clint isn’t sure why, given how integrated the whole team seems to be. Certainly no one is behaving untoward. Still, Clint leans his head into Bucky’s hand just the slightest bit. If Bucky is nervous, Clint is sure he has his reasons.

“How’s the company, Pepper?” Steve asks, and the conversation drifts from there. Things are going very well. Tony is making waves as always. How is Steve’s job? Oh, it’s the same.

Clint doesn’t say anything, and neither does Bucky, but they both acclimatize to the situation. Clint, for his part, enjoys watching what unfolds, and not just the parts that involve his own doms. Pepper, especially, is a force of nature. The knowledge that she is successfully Tony’s dom is intimidating all by itself, but she is also completely in control of everything going on around her. Only Steve has ever managed to give Clint the same feeling, and Steve has experience commanding massive multi-team missions spread out across several countries in simultaneous ops.

Then again, as the conversation progresses, it becomes clear that Pepper has some experiences of her own when it comes to complicated commands. She has to step away to answer a few of her own calls, in a way that is painfully reminiscent of Steve’s own diminishing behaviour. She, at least, always politely reschedules for the morning and returns to the group.

Sam is another unknown. Even though Clint had met him before, this is his first interaction after the previous disaster of a night. He keeps trying to get in glances without being caught, but he loses that game eventually. He and Sam make quick and potentially awkward eye contact. Fortunately, Sam saves it by grinning in a half-greeting, and then turning to respond to a question Pepper had put to the group at large.

Tony has just announced that the chef (“Chef?” Clint had mouthed to Steve. “Not all of us have subs as skilled as you,” Bucky had murmured back.) was ready to serve dinner, when the elevators slide open again.

“Is that Bruce?” Tony screams across the room at a volume that would easily be heard down the hallway to the elevator, and then takes off running to see.

“I sure hope so,” Natasha says, much more quietly. “No one else is still missing, and I loathe assassination attempts just before dinner.”

“Unless you’re doing the assassinating,” Sam says back to her.

“Don't be ridiculous. I would never kill someone right before dinner. That’s just mean. Like making a call after ten at night. It’s called respecting other people’s personhood.”

“You are so fucking weird,” Clint scoffs, and Natasha gives him a look in response that is neither threatening nor amused, and it absolutely chills Clint to the bone. Fortunately, Tony comes back into the room at that moment, with a man behind him that Clint recognizes from press conferences as Bruce Banner.

“Hello,” he greets pleasantly, and Clint cannot help but compare the man’s demeanor with Tony’s; especially with them standing right next to each other. Bruce isn’t exactly hunched over, not literally, but he somehow still manages to give that impression.

Sub , Clint thinks firmly to himself. Maybe abused, too, if the skillful disappearing in plain sight is anything to go by. How many of the Avengers did that make subs, then? Half? It was a testament to how wrong Clint’s impression of the world was, that he’d never heard a media outlet speak negatively about that fact.

Then again...it occurs to Clint how very little he’s looked into the Avengers, from a media standpoint. He’d always been very out of the loop on any current or political events. Maybe there was loads of drama out there, and he just had no idea. He should probably keep a better eye out, even if it does feel a little like gossiping about his doms behind their backs.

The group is simultaneously greeting Bruce and rising to move into the dining room, so Clint joins them. He does veer off a little from his doms to approach Bruce, because he’s pretty sure this was the point of the get together tonight. To introduce Clint around.

“Hey,” Clint says, sticking out his hand. “I’m Clint.”

Bruce shakes it and smiles softly, responding, “Bruce. And I’ve heard a little about you, Clint. It’s nice to have a face to go with the praise.”

“Praise?” Clint says, involuntarily.

“It’s the only type of commentary that ever comes out of Steve or Bucky’s mouths about you.”

“What else would I have to say?” Steve interjects, coming up behind Clint as they walk and planting a exaggerated kiss on the top of his head.

“I can think of some things,” Clint responds, trying to make his tone light and failing enough that Steve notices. Probably Bruce, too.

“Don’t be so critical of yourself,” Steve orders. And it is an order.

They’re in the dining room, after that, and the conversation changes again. Clint is seated on Bucky’s right and Pepper’s left, and he’s scared that will make the meal terrifying and awkward. However, Pepper mostly stays in conversation with Tony, on her other side, and Natasha, across from her. Clint gets to keep his silence, almost till the end of the meal. She does, however, turn to him eventually.

“So, Clint,” she says. “I know you’ve been here a while now, but how do you like living in the Tower?”

“It definitely beats our old place, ma’am,” Clint answers, as soon as he’s swallowed.

“I imagine so,” Pepper laughs. “Not a lot of locations in the city have a sentient AI watching over them. Nor do they have Tony’s critical eye on the decor.”

Which answers Clint unvoiced question on who the decorator is. He’s somehow not surprised. He bets Pepper’s taste, while equally impeccable, is slightly more subtle.

“I did want to thank you,” Pepper continues. “For the effect you’ve been having on Tony.”

“What?” Clint says, too shocked by the non-sequitur to address her properly. He catches it quickly, though, and corrects himself. “I don’t understand, ma’am.”

“You don’t have to call me ‘ma’am’,” she laughs. “This household couldn’t stand if I cared the slightest bit about that kind of decorum or tradition. And I mean exactly what I said. Tony’s sub side shows itself in some obscure ways, and one of those is an intermittent attempt at playing guardian angel for people in his life.”

“That’s not so strange,” Clint says. “For a sub.”

“It is with how horrifyingly bad he is at it. Which is to say, he’s taken you under his wing the best he knows how, and it’s doing wonders for him to watch you become more and more comfortable here. I know he can be a handful. I guess what I’m saying then, is thank you for being patient with him.”

“He’s sweet,” Clint says, because Pepper’s honesty knocks loose some of his own. “If anyone, I’m the lucky one here. Sure, he’s enthusiastic, but it’s honestly not that bad. He listens, if I have to tell him he’s getting to be too much.”

“Really?” Pepper says, eyebrows up in clear surprise.

“Sure,” Clint shrugs. “If I phrase it right. That’s the thing with Tony. He’s always listening. You just have to speak a language he understands.”

Pepper turns to look at Tony, who is animatedly speaking with Natasha. As soon as he notices his dom’s look, however, he freezes.

“What?” he asks, eyes wide. “Were you talking about me?”

“Clint says you’re a good listener,” Pepper says.

There’s a heartbeat’s worth of silence, and then Tony’s face transforms into the brightest look of excitement Clint has ever seen.

“He did?” Tony exclaims. “No! Really? He said that? Does that count?”

“I definitely think it counts,” Pepper says, a calm counterpoint to Tony’s animation. “I’m very proud of you.”

Tony points at Clint and declares, “I owe you. One favor, of any proportion. To be paid back whenever you wish to cash it in.”

Clint feels himself matching Tony’s smile. He can’t help it.

“Did I step into the middle of something?” he asks, looking back and forth between Tony and Pepper.

“We’ve been working on listening,” Pepper explains, turning back to Clint. “There’s a series of rewards he’s been working his way through, whenever he successfully manages the feat.”

Clint smiles even wider, ecstatic to have been a part of any sub pleasing their dom like that, especially one like Tony. The more time he spends with the man, the more Clint comes to appreciate him. Pepper is right that he’s a handful, but Clint has rarely met someone with such kind intentions. It brings Clint to a sudden realization.

“And thank you, too,” Clint says. Then, when Pepper makes a look of confusion, he continues, “For being the kind of dom that makes him who he is. There are a lot of doms out there...well, let’s just say not everyone would do what you’ve done.”

“Which is?” Pepper asks.

“Yeah,” Tony adds, learning over the table to listen better. “Which is?”

Clint glances briefly at Tony, but then makes eye contact with Pepper again.

“Given him a safe place to grow. Taught him to learn. And not broken him in the process.”

Pepper’s face is completely unreadable, but when she says, “Thank you, Clint,” Clint doesn’t think he’s heard that kind of resonating sincerity in a long time. Not since Steve’s last speech about responsibility, at the very least.

 

__________

 

After dinner, the group divides a bit. Some head back into the living room, some stay in the dining room, and a few make their way up onto the roof to watch New York City move beneath them. Clint joins them, tempted by the height, and finds himself next to Bruce, both of them leaning over the balcony railing.

“Tempting, isn’t it?” he asks. “To just sort of...lean yourself all the way over and into the dark?”

Bruce glances at him with a look that makes Clint think it was a weird thing to say. He forgets sometimes, that jokes about death and suicide aren’t always funny to everyone listening. Even though he hadn’t meant it like that. Sometimes there’s just such a tempting call to plummeting through the air. Especially after the sun has set for the night.

“Sorry,” he apologizes anyway.

“No, it’s fine,” Bruce says. “I was actually thinking something along the same lines.”

“Would end pretty differently for me than you,” Clint comments, because he might not be up to date on all the current Avengers news, but he knows who Bruce Banner is on the battlefield.

“Yes, it would.”

There’s silence after that, and Clint lets the wind whip around their bodies, tugging at jackets and brushing twisting hair. Sam is standing by himself, a little further down the balcony, and Clint wonders if all of them up here are considering the potential fall beneath them.

“Maybe not in the long term, though,” Bruce suddenly says, and Clint struggles to remember what they’d been talking about.

“Pardon?”

“If I jumped,” Bruce tries to clarify. “It might end the same for you if I jumped as if you jumped.”

“Why?” Clint asks, completely nonplussed.

“If..it’s just, I’d change,” Bruce says. “It’s dangerous. Sorry...I….nevermind. I was trying to make a joke. Not funny. A little inappropriate.”

Clint has met more socially awkward people than this guy, but they’ve been few and far between. He chooses to focus on the concerning content of the statement, rather than its delivery.

“That’s not true,” he says.

“Come again?”

“You’re not that dangerous,” Clint shrugs. “I’d be fine.”

Bruce smiles softly, and Clint is starting to catch on that it’s a mask-expression. A reflex, to hide whatever is underneath it. Whatever Bruce doesn’t want his conversation partner to see, and yeah, Clint is definitely thinking ‘abused’. Especially after the attempt at a self-deprecating joke, which had come after too long a pause and with too much bitterness.

“In fact,” Clint continues forcefully. “I kind of think that was bullshit.”

Surprise flickers in Bruce’s eyes, and Clint presses the thought, turning to stare out over the city instead of directly at Bruce.

“I mean, you’re constantly right in the middle of the Avengers when shit goes down out there, and you’ve never hurt any of them.”

“That doesn’t mean I won’t,” Bruce answer, and then he winces - still smiling - like he hadn’t meant to say it. It doesn’t unnerve Clint unduly. As a sub - a observant sub, according to Natasha - he’s used to people being unusually honest with him.

“I think it does,” Clint answers.

Bruce hums in response, and Clint knows it’s a disagreement. And if Bruce were the slightest bit intimidating then Clint would probably take the hint to let it go.

“I’m serious,” he says instead. “I mean, I guess you could crush them. In theory. But I could go home tonight and say some truly horrible things to Bucky, or even Steve. I could absolutely shred them. Gut them. Make it so they’d never feel good around me again, and I could do it in a way that would make them think they were the ones that had fucked up. Hell, given enough time, I could make it so they’d never be happy or feel safe with another sub again. If I really meant it, I could poison even their relationship with each other, and that’s survived multiple decades and several Nazi attacks.”

“And...your point?”

“My point is that they would rather be pounded by the Hulk. They’re much more scared of me. I’m much more dangerous to them than you are.”

Bruce doesn’t say anything at all.

“Everyone is dangerous,” Clint finishes softly. “In some way. You’re not going to kill any of them any more than I’m going to go home and break my doms.”

There is a very long silence after that.

“I think I’m going to go inside,” Bruce finally says. “It’s getting a little cold out here.”

“Sure,” Clint responds, suddenly uncertain. It had seemed like the right thing to say at the time, but he’s suddenly wondering if he’s overstepped his bounds. He and Bruce aren’t friends. They just met, and Bruce certainly didn’t ask his opinion.

“Clint?” Bruce calls back, just as he reaches the door and just as Clint starts to panic.

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“That’s...certainly a different way of looking at it.”

“Sure,” Clint says warmly.

Then Bruce is gone. Sam has already disappeared back down into the Tower and, after a few more minutes of thought, Clint follows.

 

__________

 

When he gets back downstairs, Natasha is speaking with both Steve and Bucky, and he joins them automatically.

“Hey,” Steve greets softly, and then his attention is drawn back to the conversation at hand.

“No, we know it’s Sokovia,” Bucky insists angrily. “I’m beginning to think they’re holding back because they won’t know what to do if we finally find--” he stutters briefly over the rest of the sentence as he notices Clint. “...it,” he finishes lamely.

Natasha scoffs. “I’m sure they have plenty of ideas. I don’t disagree that they might be in over their heads, but I also think there’s enough hubris at play that no one’s holding back on account of fear.”

“What’s your theory then?” Steve asks. “Because Bucky’s right, they’re definitely holding us back. Last night wasn’t a ‘lead’, it was confirmation. I’d move my team on that info. Easy call.”

“I think it’s infighting. You want to talk about power, then talk about whose hands it’s going to fall into. Not to mention the potential fallout with Sokovia. I mean, who’s got the real claim?”

They have the real claim,” Steve says stiffly. “I’m not going to leave out personal agency.”

“Of course you’re not,” Natasha agrees. “Not you, and not Bucky. But do you know who will?”

“Absolutely anyone calling the shots,” Bucky says bitterly.

Clint takes Steve’s hand and presses a quick kiss to the palm of it, and turns to wander away again. They’re clearly entrenched and passionate, and Clint decides to leave them to it.

Instead, however, Steve catches Clint’s hand in his own as he’s turning to go.

“Sorry,” he says. “Didn’t mean to ignore you.”

“No,” Clint rushes to say. “Keep going, I don’t want to interrupt, and Tony can always use some extra attention.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Natasha mutters, but then she adds, “It doesn’t do any good to keep talking about it anyway. There’s nothing to be done. We’re just complaining.”

“Venting,” Steve corrects. “But you’re right. We really shouldn’t keep talking about it when there’s nothing to be done.”

“I’ve been neglecting Sam, anyway,” Natasha adds. “Bucky, I’ll look into what you said, and get back to you.”

“Mm,” Bucky acknowledges, and then Natasha is gone.

“You’re doing really well, by the way,” Steve says to Clint, and then adds, “You, too,” at Bucky.

“They’re all very nice,” Clint says in response. “Easy to get along with.”

“Speak for yourself,” Bucky mutters.

“I don’t think they’re the ones at fault in your case,” Steve laughs. “Besides, you’re doing much better. You had a whole three minute conversation with Pepper, and you both made each other laugh. I think tonight has been an unmitigated success.”

“Keep that thought till the night’s over,” Bucky says, but he looks significantly brighter at the praise.

Clint is partially paying attention to the conversation and partially watching Natasha and Sam. Natasha had said Sam wasn’t expecting an apology from Clint, but Clint wants to give one anyway. He waits until he sees Natasha turn and call something over to where Tony, Bruce, and Pepper are speaking, and then decides it’s now or never.

“I’ll be right back,” he says, and breaks away to cross the room.

“Hey, Clint,” Sam greets, as soon as he’s close enough that it’s obvious where he’s going.

“Sir,” Clint greets back, getting him the mostly-expected ‘you don’t have to call me sir’ Clint has come to expect from this group. He’s being spoiled for the outside world. Or, at least, the world he’ll have to go back to if this comes to a bitter end.

“I just wanted to apologize,” Clint says, when he’s joined them completely. “I know Natasha said you hadn’t been personally offended, but I wanted to anyway.”

“Apologize?” Sam says, eyebrows drawing together in confusion. “Oh, you mean for that night? Well, I appreciate you saying so, but Natasha is right. I didn’t take any offense. God knows everyone has said something they regretted in their lives. Don’t worry about it. Shitty first impression, sure, but I’ve never put much stock in those. Not for keeps, anyway.”

“I really appreciate it,” Clint says sincerely. “And you’re right, it was a pretty shitty first impression.” He glances at Natasha, who has yet to comment, and adds, “I don’t want you to think I’m being like that to her all the time.”

Sam laughs at that, and Natasha echoes his amusement with a private smile.

“Man,” Sam says, “if you were like that to her all the time, she’d have shot you by now. She certainly wouldn’t consider you her friend. Natasha hardly considers anyone her friend. I’m not worried about you. You can relax.”

“It’s true,” Natasha interjects, grinning like a shark. “I’m very selective. And I’ve never been hesitant to shoot people as a lesson in manners.”

“I believe it,” Clint responds, grinning in his own amusement. “I’ve seen you stare down people heading for a parking space you want. I’m sure a little gunfire isn’t a traumatic experience in your opinion.”

Sam laughs again, and Clint sits smug in the knowledge that Sam really isn’t mad.

“You have no idea,” Sam says. “This one time--”

“Wait,” Natasha interrupts, eyes suddenly narrowing. “No. No exchanging stories. I’ve changed my mind. You two can’t be friends. I won’t allowed it.”

“Too late,” Sam snorts.

 

__________

 

By the time the night has drawn to a close, Clint feels thoroughly comfortable with the group. Bucky has relaxed a bit, too, holding several Steve-less conversations of his own. Bruce never seems to uncurl himself, but Clint figures that habit is a lot older than the Avengers. He counts it as a win that everyone sticks the night out to its natural conclusion.

Eventually, they say goodnight and wander back to their own floor. It’s much later, when Clint is halfway through brushing his teeth for the night, that he thinks to actually ask about his assumption.

“Hey,” he says, sticking his head out into the bedroom to ask the question of Steve and Bucky. “Bruce is a sub, right?”

“Nope,” Bucky answers, popping his lips on the ‘p’.

Clint blinks for a moment.

“Mother fucker !” he finally exclaims, mouth full of toothpaste. “Wrong again ?”

Bucky just laughs, but Steve says, “Bruce was born a dom.”

Clint huffs and goes to spit into the sink, and it isn’t until after he’s rinsed his mouth out and returned to the bedroom that the implications of what Steve had said finally hit him.

“Wait,” he says. “ Born a dom? As in, he isn’t a dom now?”

“That’s correct,” Steve answers.

“So I was right,” Clint exclaims, not even surprised that there’s yet another person in his life that has changed orientation. That’s apparently just life, when it comes to the Avengers. Clint has always been good at adapting.

“Nope,” Bucky repeats, popping the single word yet again.

That brings Clint up short.

“I don’t...understand,” he says slowly.

“Bruce isn’t anything,” Steve says. “The accident that gave him the Hulk changed a lot in his genetics. His DNA no longer registers as either a dom or a sub, and he demonstrates neither’s needs or behaviors. Which is, by the way, extremely private knowledge, and you will neither flaunt it not reveal it to the public at large, or so help me you will be out of this home.”

“He isn’t anything?” Clint echoes, not at all phased by the threat. He’d had no intention of spreading the information even before Steve had made its secretive nature clear.

“He isn’t anything,” Steve confirms.

It is, Clint thinks, the loneliest sentence he’s ever heard.

 

__________

 

They go on another date. This time the restaurant isn’t quite as fancy, but the food tastes just as good. Steve doesn’t take any phone calls, and Clint figures out that the serving staff really does not give a fuck which order Clint uses his forks in.

In fact, nothing remarkably interesting happens until the end of the night, when they’re trying to leave. Someone inside must have called someone or tweeted someone, or whatever it is that happens when famous people get noticed in public, because as soon as they’re out the door, there are a thousand reporters clambering around the three of them, flashing camera lights and shouting indistinguishable questions.

At least, they’re mostly indistinguishable. As Steve and Bucky close ranks around Clint, and as Bucky hovers over him and rubs his back and shoulders soothingly, suddenly Clint makes out some of the questions.

“Is this your sub, Captain? Or is he Barnes’?”

“Does this mean rumors of a relationship between you and Sergeant Barnes are unfounded?”

“Has the Avengers opened their exclusive ranks to more members, or is this a meeting of a more personal nature we’re witnessing?”

The three of them manage to push through the crowd without much physical difficulty - it’s tough to hold your ground against Captain America - and once their in the car it’s just a manner of being driven away.

“Well shit,” Bucky says. “That’s going to be on the cover of every paper in the country tomorrow morning.”

“Not every paper,” Steve responds. “Some of them actually report news.”

Clint’s stomach sinks, as he realizes they’re discussing him. Realizing that Clint has just been publically connected with both of them.

“I’m sorry,” he says automatically.

“What the fuck for?” Bucky exclaims, clearly surprised.

“For…” Clint tries. Then he thinks about it and goes with, “For being trouble. I know you weren't looking to make this a public relationship. I’m sorry you had to. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and potential embarrassment.”

“You are not an embarrassment,” Steve says sharply, and Bucky agrees with a hum. “If we’re frustrated with this, it’s because we’ve yet to get used to people’s obsession with our private lives. And if we’re keeping this relationship close to the chest, it’s because we’re looking to protect you. Not ourselves.

“Protect me?” Clint echoes. “From what?”

“That!” Bucky exclaims, jerking a thumb back over his shoulder.

“From the scrutiny,” Steve answers more completely. “It’s not fair to you, to open you up to that kind of public analysis. The world is rarely kind. Especially when it comes to the media.”

“Oh,” Clint says. “Well...I don’t mind. I mean, I don’t care. What they think isn’t important.”

A very very small part of him thinks that it would be unmanageably difficult to go back to conning his way into a daily living, if he becomes famous as a sub for two different Avengers. He pushes the thought away, though. Returning to that life would be a disservice to Coulson. To the way his doms have treated him. And to himself, if he’s being honest.

“That’s good to know,” Steve says pleasantly. “But it’s still not something we want to court. We don’t need the media in our personal lives any more now than we ever have.”

“Plus it isn’t completely safe,” Bucky adds. “Who knows what kind of freaks would come looking for Captain America’s boyfriend, thinking it’ll get them a leg up somewhere.”

Clint thinks he can take care of himself, but he doesn't voice the thought.

 

__________

 

Steve is right about the public’s obsession. Clint starts getting noticed. It’s not everywhere, and it’s really not a big deal, but a few people do the whole “hey, aren’t you that guy that was out with Captain America and Bucky Barnes?” schtick when Clint’s out in public.

It doesn’t unduly bother him, and it doesn’t last long. It’s New York after all, and it was just one set of pictures.

One interaction does stick out to him, though. He’s sitting in a cafe trying to get some reading done, when someone comes to a stop behind the chair across from Clint. Clint looks up, expecting Natasha, and is surprised to see a young teenager.

“Hey?” he says.

“Hi,” the boy responds shyly. “Um...I’m sorry to be that guy, but...are you...the person that was in that picture?”

Clint doesn’t respond. Normally he brushes these encounters off - denies the identification, and changes location - but there’s something underneath the kid’s question that leaves him waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“The one with Captain America?” the boy continues.

Clint inclines his head just the slightest bit. A subtle and silent acquiescence.

“You mind if I ask you a really personal question?”

The kid is shaking. Looks absolutely terrified. So Clint finally closes the book and says, “Go for it.”

“I just...is it hard? To sub for someone so...like...imposing?”

A very carefully chosen word. Clint thinks that ‘frightening’ or ‘intimidating’ would have been closer to what the boy is getting at.

“They don’t hurt me,” Clint says, ignoring the assumption that Clint is a sub. “Not like you’re thinking. They never hurt me in a way that makes me afraid.”

The kid doesn’t respond, just clenches his jaw and tightens his grip on the back of the chair in front of him.

“No one should, you know,” Clint continues carefully. “No one should be allowed to hurt you like that. You should never be afraid.”

The kid clenches his eyes tightly closed now, too.

“What’s your name?” Clint asks, as gently as he can. But, instead of answering, the kid turns on his heel and flees. Clint thinks about going after him, but he also thinks there’s nothing more he can say than what he’d just said.

 

__________

 

“Okay,” Bucky announces, appearing in the doorway to the range just as Clint is taking a shot. If he’s trying to startle Clint enough to make him miss the target, it’s a lost cause. Clint fires, and then lowers his bow before turning to look at Bucky.

“Okay what?” he asks, unimpressed.

“Okay, I think I’m ready to hurt you again.”

Clint blinks.

“If you want!” Bucky rushes to say. “Like, for fun. And stuff.” He trails off lamely, staring back at Clint.

“Okay,” Clint says, and starts packing up his equipment.

“We don’t have to do it right now!” Bucky says.

“I’ve waited long enough,” Clint says back.

 

__________

 

They start slow. First they decide on a ‘scale of one to ten’ version of a safeword. Then Bucky ties him to the bed, spread eagle, naked, and on his stomach. Bucky smooths his hands up and down Clint’s back for a long time, lulling him with the shushing noise of skin against skin. Clint would have thought he’d be over-eager to get to the main event, but there’s something nice about the gentle silent attention. Like a warm-up stretch, before a particularly imposing work out routine.

Then Bucky lights the candle with a cheap plastic lighter, and Clint smiles into the comforter. Honestly, it’s been a long time since he’s done any wax play. It hadn’t ever been a particular favorite of any of his doms.

At first, it’s practically painless. Like being flicked unexpectedly. Just a gentle tap of sensation. An attention-getter.

“Scale of one to ten?” Bucky asks, and Clint answers, “One.”

The next tap is a little hotter. Or, at least Clint assumes the change in feeling is a change in heat. Knows that Bucky must be bringing the candle lower, to allow less time for the wax to cool in the air. Honestly though, Clint doesn’t think he could identify the sensation as heat. Pain, probably. But he doesn’t think he could be more specific than that.

“One,” he says again.

Bucky experiments with height and numbers until he gets a three, and then he stays there. Clint is almost offended, because he can take more than that, for fuck’s sake. They’d agreed on a ten being safe-wording out, so there’s a lot of room to work with there still.

It only takes a few minutes for him to change his mind. Bucky keeps changing nothing, and he just slowly covers Clint’s back in the tiny pinpricks of pain. Clint can identify the feeling as burns now. And it is so, inexorably, slow. It just keeps going, again, and again, and again, the same way, every time. The new locations blend into a thousand pinpricks and he starts whimpering into the bed at every drop.

The weirdest part is that the pain itself doesn’t change from a three. Maybe it gets to a four, as his skin burns and sensitizes, but not much more than that. It’s Clint that changes, gasping, from a three to a four to a five. Because Jesus how many drops of wax are in a single candle. He’d have heard if Bucky had lit another one.

He starts to drift within the inescapable pattern, still pulling absentmindedly at his bindings, and taking comfort in their lack of give.

See? He just needs something to pull against. Go at him harder.

That’s an unpleasant memory, though, and Clint jerks his whole body for the first time.

“Okay?” Bucky asks, and it’s Bucky’s voice, and Bucky’s touch on his neck, and Clint finally gives in. He nods as he melts into the bed.

A few drops later, Bucky asks again. “Number?”

“Two,” Clint slurs. And there’s a pause after that.

“You’ve stopped flinching,” Bucky comments.

Which makes sense, Clint thinks. Or, it does to him at least. Clint has stopped flinching because it has stopped hurting.

“Two,” he repeats, rather than trying to explain the nuances of situational pain tolerance.

“Okay,” Bucky says, and takes him at his word, returning to the slow drifting torture.

Finally, finally , Bucky runs out of skin to cover. Even Clint’s sides are painted around with the opaque substance; drip lines wrapping like ribs. Or fingers.

A sudden sharp scraping feeling breaks Clint’s attention, and he cries out, trying to arch his back away from it. He smells candle smoke. Bucky must have blow it out, or it ran down, and now Bucky is….is…

Clint finally registers that the feeling is Bucky scraping the thick cooled wax off with a plastic edge of some kind. It’s an entirely different kind of pain, although still lacking intensity.

“Four,” he says, without being prompted, to warn Bucky that this is different.

“Good boy,” Bucky says, and presses a kiss to the newly uncovered skin of Clint’s shoulder blade.

“Oh my god,” Clint breathes, because his skin is sensitive . Even that touch had almost hurt. Like insistent fingers against raised nipples, or a hand pumping his spent cock for just a few seconds too long. An almost-pain.

“Yeah?” Bucky murmurs. “Sensitive? He brushes his fingernails against the skin, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to again trigger that same almost-pain.

Clint writhes. He pants his way through the rest of the wax being scraped off, and it’s worse now that he’s aware of the new feeling.

Finally, though, even that is done, and Clint lies there on the bed, feeling like he’s just split his skin and stepped out in a new one.

“See, one day,” Bucky says conversationally, lying down next to Clint so they’re face to face, “I’m going to do this to you again. Maybe I’ll even do it twice in a row. Scrape you clean and then start over, just to scrape you clean again.” Then he leans in close and whispers in Clint’s ear, “And then I will flog you raw.”

Clint feels like he’s already been flogged raw, and he shudders under the threat and the promise. His whole body shakes once, violently, and then he stills again.

“Not tonight, though,” Bucky says, more softly. Less like a dom. “Tonight I’m just going to hold you.”

And he does just that. Doesn’t untie Clint - not for a long while - and doesn’t even really speak to him. Just curls his body around Clint’s, entwining their legs and arms the best the bonds allow. And they lie there, and just drift together.

 

__________

 

It’s good. And that’s the most surreal part of the entire thing. Clint has been waiting for the other shoe to drop his entire life, one way or another. But now every time something falls apart, Steve and Bucky stand shoulder to shoulder with Clint to prop it back up. Part of Clint doesn’t understand why they’d put in the effort. The other part of Clint wonders why no one has done this with him before.

Steve and Bucky vanish on another mission, and Clint thinks maybe it’s finally the end of whatever has been bothering them for months now. But when they get back, he asks about it, and Bucky just rolls his eyes and says, “Nope. They’re still in fucking Sokovia.”

Steve tells him to shut up, but not with any vehemence.

When the two of them do come back, Clint is reading quietly on the couch. He’d cooked dinner for Sam and Natasha, and the whole place still smells like spices. Steve and Bucky both pounce on him, kissing him and touching his arms and face and hair, and when he offers to reheat with meal he’d just finished putting away in the fridge, they laugh at him, and carry him to their bedroom, and fuck him gently between them.

The days tick over, one to the next to the next, and Clint thinks maybe, just maybe, this is starting to taste like a home he won’t have to move out of with tears in his eyes and bloody marks on his back.

He’s walking home from his favorite coffee shop, when he decides he hasn’t seen Natasha in a while. He calls her, rather than texting, because he wants to hear her real voice. Plus he’s holding his white chocolate mocha, and texting one-handed is too much of a pain for such a nice day.

She picks up on the third ring and greets him in Russian, and Clint answers in Russian, because he’s getting better every day. He still hasn’t let either Steve or Bucky in on the secret, because he wants to get better first, but he’s progressing quickly.

“What’s up, sweetheart?” Natasha asks.

“I’m going back to the Tower,” Clint says. “You there?” He picks his way around a group of tourists, and cuts down a back alley. It’s sketch as fuck, but it’s loads quicker than going all the way around the block.

“Got in last night,” she answers. “You have an activity in mind?”

“Nothing big. Just a movie or a game night. Steve and Bucky are both in, too. Bring Sam, and we can make a party of it.”

“Careful,” Natasha says, smile in her voice. “Maybe I’ll invite Tony, and then who knows who else will show up.”

“Go for it,” Clint agrees enthusiastically, as he turns sideways to sidle past a white van that has rudely parked in the middle of the fucking alley.

“Seriously?” Natasha responds.

“Yeah!”  He’s in a great mood, has been for days and days, and he wouldn’t say no to a less formal version of the dinner party Tony had invited them all to. Maybe he can talk them into playing Never Have I Ever, or Truth or Dare, or anything else that will bring out Bucky’s competitive side and get Tony involved in a way that can only be entertaining.

“Hmmm,” Natasha considers. “You know what? I could do with a more raucous night. I’ll ask Sam whether or not--”

Clint doesn’t hear the end of the sentence, because the phone is suddenly yanked from his hand.

He spins around, arms already up protectively, panicking at the fact that he hadn’t heard whoever is behind him.

More than one ‘whoever’, too. Clint doesn’t even have the time to get his act together in a way to defend against any kind of attack before there’s a sharp pain in his neck, followed by rough hands on his body, and darkness swallows his mind as he feels his body tip backwards.

“Natasha,” he calls thickly, or at least he tries. And then either his head hits the pavement or someone clocks him into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Steve can feel his fingers twitching as he reviews what they know with Natasha. She seems remarkably calm, but Steve has seen her in enough combat situations to know she’s not. She had the singularly horrifying experience of being on the phone with Clint when it happened, and Steve cannot imagine how he’d be functioning right now, if that had been him.

He supposes they’re lucky everyone is in town. He also cannot imagine how he’d be functioning stuck on a flight back from Europe. He’s grateful he doesn’t have to find out. Grateful that Natasha is pouring over known suspects in the area. Grateful that Tony is combing through the wireless world down in his lab.

As for Bucky…

Bucky isn’t there. Instead, the Winter Soldier stands still, silently flying through the information on Tony’s holograph. Camera views and brief spats of video, absorbing every face and gait and logging all the information away, even as Jarvis sorts it himself. Steve knows that the moment there’s a target in mind, Bucky will be a weapon to aim and fire, and very little else. He isn’t sure how he feels about it. They’ve come so far, to regress like this in a single moment.

But then again, Steve feels a dark and un-Captain-like satisfaction in imagining whoever has taken his sub getting their face beaten into the pavement so violently that it cracks their skull and stops their heart.

The elevator dings, and there’s Sam. He nods a silent greeting to Steve and goes to stand next to Natasha.

“What do you need?” he asks her.

“I need you to be ready for the moment we have a location,” she tells him.

Sam raises the bag he’s carrying, the one with his wings, as an acquiescence to the request. He’s not a spy, not a tech genius, but he’s a soldier. And he knows what it’s like to lose someone he loves. Steve bets Sam is first on the scene of wherever it is they end up going.

“How about you?” Sam asks, now looking at Steve.

“I knew we shouldn’t have been in public with him,” Steve answers, even though it isn’t helpful. The thought has been bursting within his mind since the moment Natasha called him. That this is his fault. He couldn’t catch Bucky, and he couldn’t hide Clint, and no matter which choices he makes they always turn out to be the wrong ones in the end. Even the ones he’s most sure are right.

Especially the ones he’s most sure are right.

The elevator dings again, and there’s Tony.

“Okay, I’ve got a couple leads,” he says, animatedly. “I’m pretty sure I’ve got the van they used, and I’m pretty sure I can narrow down its final location a least a bit.”

“Put a face on the screen,” Natasha orders, because her mind holds potential threats like a hand of cards, constantly being flipped through and assessed. If anyone involved is a major player, she’ll recognize them.

“Jarvis,” Tony orders, and then goes back to speaking while the enhanced image loads behind him on the hologram screen. Which Bucky is still staring at without moving.

“It’s too many times, back and forth in front of that alley,” Tony says, talking mostly to himself. “Changed the license plate, same van though. Day after day. Clint was paranoid enough that he altered his route a lot, but that alley was his repeat offender. They waited it out. If that’s the van anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s the van.”

“Pretty sure is different than completely sure,” Steve says. It’s not helpful; picking on the best Tony can do, but it comes out of his mouth anyway.

“I”ve got a potential square mile that could be where your boyfriend is being kept,” Tony snaps back. “What have you got?”

‘Boyfriend’ because Tony is scared, and saying Clint’s name will mark in sharp relief how his absence is permeating the room already.

Ironically, what they need is Clint, to calm them.

Steve clenches his hands into fists to try and stop the trembling. His hands are no longer used to trembling. His grip is no longer used to feeling weak.

It was certainly strong enough to hold onto that train railing when he should have let go.

It’s unfair how repeat traumas come back to trip you, in the face of new traumas. It’s unfair that he has enough experience to know this. To accept this. To be experienced in working around it.

“A square mile is a good start,” Steve forces himself to say. “Sam?”

“On it,” Sam says. He’s already slipping into his wings and eyeing the location on the grid flashing before him. Imprinting the aerial view in his mind.

“Natasha?” Steve asks next. “Anyone you recognize?”

The pictures are blurry. Slushy, grainy, and under-saturated, but Natasha is staring with pursed lips, and the micro-expression underneath it is making Steve nervous.

“Maybe,” she says.

“Not good?” he asks back. And she shakes her head sharply.

Bucky starts to head for the elevator, but Steve steps to stop him with a hand on his shoulder. For a moment, Steve thinks he’ll get sucker-punched for the effort, but Bucky stops the reflex-movement of his arm in more than enough time.

“Let me go,” Bucky says.

“No, I need you to stay here.”

“Sam is--”

“Sam can move a hell of a lot faster than you. If he needs to change location, he’ll do it. I need you here until we have more solid intel.”

“Let me--”

“That’s an order,” Steve barks sharply. “Stand down.”

Bucky stands down. And it hurts, somewhere, that it was so easy to order the behaviour he wanted. Bucky didn’t used to take orders from anyone. Even when he wanted to.

Then again, neither did Steve.

“You know he’s fine, right?” Tony says, drawing a brief glance from most everyone in the room. Sam is hooked into his wings and he’s doing his final checks before he’ll leap off the balcony and get them some boots on the ground in Tony’s suspected area. But they all pause when Tony says that. Like they’re hoping he has tangible proof to back it up.

“That’s certainly the most desired outcome,” Natasha says, soft and bitter at the same time.

“No, like,” Tony tries again. “He’s good . At what he does. He’s probably fine. Don’t underestimate him. He’ll be fine.”

He sounds so set on trying to convince himself of the fact, and Steve sees no reason to point out all the ways he could be wrong. The man is on the edge of breaking. For all the loss he’s endured, he’s still too kind to know how to lose people he thinks he should have saved.

Steve hopes Pepper can disentangle herself from her responsibilities quickly.

It’s heartbreaking to realize how much everyone in the room had come to rely on Clint, even in little ways. His absence will break them. Could break them. Might…

Steve clenches his jaw again and turns back to Natasha.

“Sitrep,” he orders.

“That might be Andrey Horvath. And if it is, then Steve…” She pauses, takes a break, and then finishes, “Then that means this is our fault.”

The elevator dings again before Steve can process that information - expected as it may have been - and he turns to look at who else is joining them.

It’s Clint. Standing in the jaws of the open elevator doors.

Everyone freezes; Tony in mid-step, Natasha bent over the table, Sam with his hand on the door to the balcony, Steve with his arms by his sides. Bucky is the only one who moves, and all he does is draw his pistol before he, too, freezes. Like his default reaction right now is attack, but now he doesn’t know where to aim.

Clint looks exhausted. Covered in dirt, smudged blood, and what Steve is pretty sure is soot. He’s got his weight suspiciously favoring his right leg, and at least one wound of his own that’s adding to the blood seeping down his torn shirt. Steve prays for a surface wound. For stitches and scars, rather than bullet holes and burials.

“Hey,” Clint says, and waves casually at the group. “What’s up, guys?”


__________

 

Okay , this is bad , Clint thinks to himself the moment he comes back to the kind of consciousness that can have opinions and form complete sentences. He knows he’s struggled too much while waking to be able to fool whoever has him into thinking he’s still asleep, so he just goes ahead and opens his eyes.

A quick once over reveals a bare room, but not anyplace particularly secluded. It looks like a plain department store, although one empty of furnishings or people. The smooth bare concrete is clean enough that it was either recently used, or is regularly cleaned. He tugs sharply against the zip ties that have his arms entwined through the chair back, rocks against the chair legs that are firmly bolted to the floor, and figures the better bet is on “recently cleaned”. Getting blood off buffed concrete is only a pain if there’s a whole body’s worth of it.

He eyes the camera set into the corner. It isn’t moving and there’s no red light, but Clint bets anyplace this well set up has professionals behind it, and that means someone is already staring back at him from the other side of the unblinking lens.

His head is pounding and his mouth feels dry and sticky. He forces himself to breath slowly in and out through his nose, keeping the oxygen flowing steadily to his brain. He refuses to panic. Firmly informs his mind that he’s been in worse situations. He got out of them. He’ll get out of this one.

If he’s being completely honest, he knew this day would probably come eventually. The majority of people he’d fucked over by taking their haul down with him were smart enough to let a target go, once it was out of their reach. Others of them, unfortunately, were not. Going after Clint for payback would be worth it to them, whether he was connected to the Avengers or not. Protected by SHIELD or not. There was always some mercenary desperate enough to pair with someone rich enough. In the end, no target was ever completely unattainable, and Clint sitting here now was proof of that.

He wonders who will finally step through that metal door on the other side of the room. Whether it will be someone he worked with, or someone he worked for, or someone who had been counting on a piece of that stolen artwork to hang in their own private collection.

He shifts himself around in his bonds. They’re not overwhelmingly tight. Bucky has tied him more tightly just for fun. Hell, if he really has to, he can slip his hand through this. The only problem is it’s going to take a chunk of skin of the second knuckle on his thumb. Flaying yourself is a painful move, and he’s only resorting to it if he determines there’s no other choice.

If he’s here just for them to punish him for his audacity and betrayal, then that’s exactly what it’s going to come down to.

He closes his eyes, trying to locate the origin of the throbbing pain in his head, and wonders whether or not his doms have already heard about his abduction. He figures so. Natasha is brilliant, and she’s not one to underplay her hand when the game is important to her. There’s probably a fucking task force by now. SHIELD may not be interested in his personal well-being, not the way Steve and Bucky are, but they’ll probably care that someone of his position went missing. Considering the proximity to personal and classified information he experiences on a daily basis.

The thought precipitates and settles as a cold dread in the pit of his stomach while he struggles not to let his face show the realization.

He does know classified information. Shit .

Because if this turns into a torture session, Clint isn’t sure what he’ll say. It’s hard, sometimes, to sort through pain in his head. If whoever’s interrogating him is good enough, they’ll push to drop him. Clint has never been very good at saying no from within a drop.

He refocuses his mind on his breathing. He can’t see any light from outside, so he has no idea what time it is. How much has passed, how much will pass; it’s all just potential lost moments and encroaching danger.

The door on the other side of the room is suddenly kicked open with a load bang that makes Clint jump, and then makes him curse himself for the show of weakness. He starts scanning the group of people walking through the door. Identifying the man in charge is easy enough, but Clint is more concerned about seeing anyone he’ll recognize. It’s harder to resist someone who’s dropped him before.

“Clint Barton,” Mr. In-Charge sneers, drawing Clint’s attention back again, now that he’s confirmed there’s no one here he recognizes. Their loss. It would have been one hell of a power move to shove an old dom at him.

“ ‘Sup?” Clint responds. “What are the chances of negotiating a glass of water?”

“I don’t think so,” the man responds. “It would rather defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do here.”

“Torture, suffering, punishment,” Clint nods sagely, even though his heart is sinking into his stomach. It helps to get captors to do a small task for him, right at the start. Psychologically putting them in the place of his protector, even if it’s for the brief span of a few seconds. Makes it more difficult for them to hurt him, on a subconscious level.

“Do I get to know your name?” he tries again.

“You may refer to me as Senior Lieutenant Horvath, or sir. Whichever fits your preferences.”

“Generous. Senior Lieutenant Horvath is kind of a mouthful, though. And my doms don’t like it when I call anyone else ‘sir’.”

Not strictly speaking true, but Clint doesn't think they’ll care about the falsehood.

“Puts you in a bind, doesn’t it?” Horvath answers, standing over Clint in a way that is a base-instinct power move.

Clint doesn’t answer, because he can’t think of anything flippant to say that won’t be obviously half-assed. He’s too busy sizing up the rest of the people in the room. Two men and a woman, and Clint bets every one of them is a dom. The Avengers might have their heads out of their asses about that kind of thing, but Clint knows organizations like this one will display no such inclinations.

Clint’s attention is pulled back to Horvath by a head-jerking slap across the face. It’s heavy pain, more than stinging pain, knocking his already pulsing headache into a higher level of intolerable. Blood bursts in his mouth, sticky and thick, and he really wishes he’d gotten that glass of water like he’d requested.

“Am I not holding your attention?” Horvath asks, and Clint spits blood at his shoes. It gets him another slap, and Barney’s voice in his head warning him not to invite trouble.

He always did have an awful time trying to listen to that voice, even more so in recent years. Maybe it has something to do with how the last time he’d physically heard it was from facedown in the mud with three broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a black eye, and no upcoming help from the brother in question.

Don’t antagonize him, Clint. Never antagonize us doms.

“Fuck you, asshole,” Clint says.

This time the response is a closed fist, rather than an open palm. Less humiliating, more painful. Clint would have preferred the open palm. He spits more blood onto the floor, this time not in the direction of his captor, and takes several jagged breaths. He hates being drugged. More than he hates being tied to the chair.

He hauls himself back up to sitting straight, twisting his wrists to make sure nothing has shifted and that he’ll still be able to slip them the moment it become necessary.

“What do you want?” he asks.

Horvath raises his hand to strike him again, so Clint let’s his head roll with the backhand, and then tries again, “What do you want, Senior Lieutenant Horvath?”

“Better,” the man praises. “Good to know you can learn. A little respect in the right places, and you might actually get out of this alive. A lot of respect and you might get out of here alive and with all your fingers.”

That gets Clint’s attention more thoroughly than the pain growing in his neck and jaw. Not that he believes Horvath, about being let out of here alive, but because that’s a move if the man is looking for something. For specific information. Clint looks over the other occupants of the room again and thinks for the first time, this might not be about him at all.

“You should know,” Clint says to test out the waters, “that my doms don’t trust very much.” True. “They’re very private.” True. “I don’t know anything useful.” False. Two truths and a lie. Like he’s a little kid again.

“I’m not looking for generic useful. I’m looking for something specific. And I hope, for your sake, that you’re either wrong or lying. This is going to be painful for you either way, but if you truly cannot help me….well, being tortured to death is a bad way to go.”

“I certainly agree with you on that point.,” Clint says slowly.

“Let’s be blunt then,” Horvath says, smiling with pseudo-amicability. “I want the location of the twins.”

“The what now?” Clint answers, relief flooding him. At the very least, he won’t accidentally give away any classified information. If he had known whatever Horvath and his people are after, Clint would have had to get out right away. It’s one thing to play around with his own life, but he’s not about to risk something his doms are trying so hard to protect.

And then, he thinks about it a little more.

Something SHIELD has been searching for. Something they’re telling the world they already have. Bluff calling.

Bucky had said, “They’re still in fucking Sokovia.” They .

Natasha had asked Steve who had the agency. Steve had said that they do.

Clint had just assumed that whatever SHIELD was after was some kind of weapon of a piece of information, but honestly, everyone had danced around descriptions and avoided talking about the “thing” too much, and they’d still slipped up with the pronouns a couple of times.

Well, god fucking damn it.

Clint wishes they’d been more careful. Now he has to make a break for it immediately, even if it gets him killed. He doesn’t know who the twins in question are, or what they’re doing to get on so many powerful peoples’ radar, but hell if he’s spending their lives to protect his own.

He needs to get out of here. He flexes his hands, clenching and unclenching them quickly, forcing the veins empty of their pooling blood. He’s going to need every single millimeter he can get.

“I’ll ask you one more time, nicely,” Horvath says. “Another refusal will end with regret on your part. Where are the twins? I know SHIELD doesn’t actually have them, but I know they’re close. I know the Captain has been on several attempts to retrieve them. I want to know where. Just the name of the country will earn a significant amount of lenience.”

Clint stares in silence, even as his mind supplies, Sokovia, in reflexive appeasement.

“Surely, a country was mentioned. In passing. On accident.” Horvath leans into Clint’s space and orders, with all his intonation as a dom, “Give me the name of the country.”

Clint feels it. Feels the authority resonate in his genetic code, but it is so much weaker than he’d been expecting. He’s been tied to chairs and interrogated by doms enough times in his life that he’s familiar with what kind of effort it takes to say no to an order meant with the intensity with which that one had been meant.

But not this time. This time, Clint gets a flash memory of Steve’s disappointed expression, and the comparison is ridiculous. That this man thinks he’s more than marginally intimidating, compared to Bucky, is ridiculous. The entire situation is suddenly completely ridiculous, and Clint starts to laugh.

It is, perhaps, the only response Horvath was not expecting. Genuine laughter. Mirth. Bright and piercing and confident.

“Dude,” Clint says. “My dude. I am definitely not going to tell you that.”

“You were ordered , sub, to show me the respect I deserve.”

And that gives Clint an idea. He takes a few deep breaths to calm himself, closes his eyes, and opens them with an entirely different expression. Like a changed slide.

“I’m being good!” he screams, layering all the sub into his voice that he can. Vulnerable , he thinks at them. Helpless. Hurt.

Horvath takes a step back, and confusion flits across his face.

“Why am I being punished?” Screamed with layers of anguish. “Please forgive me! Please just forgive me! I’ll be good!”

The man on the right actually takes a step forward, as though he’s going to free Clint. Discomfort appears on every face. The other two mercenaries look at each other for answers. Clint grits his teeth and slips his bonds.

The moment of confusion is just enough time for Clint to take the advantage. He gets one arm around Horvath’s neck and twists him into a human shield, pocketing his knife and taking his gun with a few quick hand movements.

“Back off,” he orders the other three, who have gotten themselves back together enough to have their guns out and aimed in Clint’s direction. Clint shakes the hand holding the gun to Horvath’s head, in demonstration, hoping this isn’t the type of organization that will shoot their leader, rather than allow their target to escape.

Thankfully, no one takes a shot as Clint backs himself up to a wall and starts to sidle along it toward the exit. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as he can go. One of the guys is standing between Clint and the exit, and he’s not going to move. He knows Clint can’t shoot his hostage. It’s a standoff, and Clint is the one fighting the clock.

Clint’s hand is screaming stinging pain, and blood is dripping from the shredded skin onto Horvath’s shoulder and down his clean pressed shirt. The only man of the four not in a military-type uniform. Clint doubts that means he isn’t trained, and in just a moment he’s going to get his wits together and drop himself as a dead weight. He’s a built guy. The weight change alone will probably throw Clint off enough to let him be overtaken.

He steels himself and twists the gun enough to shoot the guy in front of him in the head, thinks about it, and then shoots the remaining two. Everyone goes from standing with drawn weapons to dead on the floor in the time it takes for Clint to finish breathing out.

“Liston, Barton,” Horvath says.

Clint laughs sharply, interrupting to say, “Oh, so now it’s ‘Barton’, is it? What happened to, ‘sub’? Changed your mind about who owes who respect here already?”

“I hardly think that--”

Clint puts three bullets in his gut and drops him on the floor to die, because the guy had been a real dick and Clint is not in the mood. Adrenaline is thrumming through his body in time with his heartbeat, and okay maybe three bullets had been a little excessive. The guy is already dead by the time Clint has taken anything useful off the other bodies.

The camera on the corner is tracking him, so he's got a feeling he's going to need whatever he can get his hands on.

At least it’s daylight , he thinks to himself, as he steps out into the hallway and finally gets a look at a window. He doesn’t get a lot more time to consider the time of day, though, because he can already hear the boots running his way.

“Well, fuck you, too,” he says out loud to no one in particular, hating the feeling of cold floor against his bare feet. Bare feet. Lingering drug effects. Maybe thirty rounds of ammo. No idea where he is. No idea how many guys are about to come around the corner.

Yeah. Today fucking sucks.

 

__________

 

Clint isn’t sure what he expected when he stepped into the Avengers Tower. He probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the command center strew out in his living room. Definitely shouldn’t have been pissed off by it. But, honestly, he’s tired and injured. He just wanted to curl up with his doms and go to sleep.

Everyone is staring at him, standing in the open elevator, so he raises his uninjured hand an gives a lazy wave.

“Hey,” he says. “What’s up, guys?”

The greeting is met with about four seconds of complete silence, and then the room fucking explodes.

“What the fuck happened?” Steve shouts, crossing the space and pulling Clint out of the elevator. Meanwhile Tony is shouting “I told you so,” in the background, at no one in particular. Sam is geared up in his wings and is talking animatedly with Natasha, who is holding the conversation with Sam but also glaring at Clint like she’s going to peel his skin off until he dies from it.

Bucky is just standing there. Weapon drawn.

“I’m fine,” Clint answers Steve’s question, pushing his hands away. “It wasn’t a big deal.”

“Like fuck it wasn’t,” Natasha snaps from across the room, at the same time that Steve gives Disappointed Face.

“You’re bleeding,” Steve says, already calm again after his initial confusion. “Tell me where you’re injured. Now .”

“Hand,” Clint obeys, showing him. “And I got a knife wound across my stomach, but it’s super shallow.”

Steve obviously doesn’t believe the assessment, and he raises Clint’s shirt to inspect the wound for himself. It’s already stopped bleeding, though, so the attention returns to his hand.

“Are we supposed to be calling someone?” Sam asks from where he’s standing next to Natasha. “Did we even call someone when he first went missing? Are there alerts that need to be placed or unplaced or whatever it is that SHIELD does?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Natasha says sharply. “Clint, can you remember anything about the place you were being held?”

Clint gives her the exact address and doesn’t even get praised for knowing it.

“Any warning I should give about what they’re walking into? How many men would you estimate they’ll be dealing with?”

“None,” Clint says, and everyone turns and looks at him.

“None?” Natasha confirms.

“Well, there were, like, thirty. But they’re dead now.”

“Dead how?” Steve asks. “What happened?”

“Um…,” Clint hesitates, because it hadn’t occurred to him until this moment that the rampant murder he’d committed on the way out might not be looked upon favorably. But eventually he has to say, “I happened.”

There’s some more silent staring.

“They wanted the location of the twins,” Clint explains. “And they knew SHIELD didn’t actually have them. Knew they would soon. I didn’t want that information spreading any more than it had, too. Even though I know I didn’t get everyone. That was a mother-fucker of a well-funded funded operation. You should all watch your backs for the next few days, just in case. Douchebag in charge on site was Senior Lieutenant Horvath, deceased. Based on some information I...convinced another soldier to give me, I believe the head hotshot is some dude named Anton. No last name given.”

More silence.

Then, Tony exclaims loudly, “I fucking told you so!”

 

__________

 

They call people.

A medical team arrives and looks Clint over, confirming his hand as the only point of serious injury. Antiseptics and antibiotics are applied. Bandages are wrapped. A tetanus shot is given. Skin grafts are discussed and considered. Normal medical stuff.

Coulson is pissed that no one had contacted him straight off, and Clint gets to see Steve yelled at - really yelled at - for the first time. That’s uncomfortable, but he gets through it.

Natasha is pissy and prickly, but Clint knows it’s because he was in danger, and she’ll get over it once she’s reassured herself he’s safe. Which apparently requires an immense amount of physical contact. She keeps reaching out and touching his arm or his hair, and he catches her staring at his bandaged hand a couple of times, too.

Sam is similar. He hovers near Clint and Natasha, like a moon making an orbit around both a planet and its sun. Every time Natasha starts to get worked up and angry again, he brings her back down with a few words and by steering her shoulder to shoulder with Clint for another brief moment of touch. When Clint makes eye contact with him, he winks, knowing he’s been caught and not caring at all.

Tony is crowing. There’s no better word to describe it. He’s dancing around the room, uncaring about any lecture that gets thrown his way, pointing out how capable Clint was and how Tony had ‘discovered’ him first. He does throw an arm around Clint’s shoulder at one point -  pushing a grunt of bruised pain out of Clint’s lungs - and announces that he’s very glad Clint is okay, but that he would have found him soon if Clint hadn’t managed to get away on his own, so everything’s cool.

“Thanks, Tony,” Clint says. He intends for a little sarcasm, but he’s tired and instead what comes out is closer to real gratitude. A tighter zip tie, an unarmed interrogator, a sniper in that skylight that should have had a sniper in it. He got lucky, and he knows it. If he hadn’t - if he doesn’t next time - he’s glad Tony exists as backup.

Clint glances at Bucky, the only member of the group who hasn’t made some kind of contact with Clint. Who hasn’t said anything at all. He finally put his weapon away, but he’s ignoring Clint, and just staring at Steve. Everywhere Steve goes, Bucky’s eyes follow.

Clint hasn't felt this unsettled since his first days with these men. These men who have turned him inside out.

Clint puts up with the bureaucracy that happens around him. Puts up with the questions and the forms he is told to fill out on the table where he's used to laying out breakfast. He puts up with it right until the moment Bucky blinks and suddenly makes a break for the elevator.

Clint shakes off Natasha's hand and runs.

He doesn't make the elevator before the doors close, so he takes a breath to argue JARVIS into bringing Bucky back, but suddenly Steve is there with one hand on Clint’s shoulder.

“Let him go,” Steve says. “He needs time to recover. To get his bearings.”

Clint takes a deep breath, remembers what it had felt like to use submission as a weapon, and says, “This is not your decision, Steve. Your authority doesn't extend this far.”

Steve's eyebrows rise into his hairline, and silence falls so completely that Clint thinks of the saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around, does it make it sound?”

It’s a stupid saying. Silence is its own sound. The question is irrelevant.

When Steve’s hand moves, Clint flinches automatically, even though it’s just Steve releasing his grip on Clint’s shoulder. Even though Clint knows Steve will consider the statement as well within Clint’s rights. It doesn’t change the nausea or the heart-in-mouth shaky high of defiance. Of refusal. Of independence.

“I’m going after him,” Clint declares.

“I’m advising against it,” Steve answers. “But it’s your call.”

The exchange hasn’t taken long, but it’s enough time that Stark’s elevator has reached its destination and released its rider. Clint doesn't even have to re-call it, Jarvis having clued into the situation enough that the doors slide open for Clint.

“Be right back,” he promises as he steps inside.

It’s a short ride. According to Jarvis, Bucky hadn’t gone down to the street level, which is what Clint was most afraid of. He isn’t ready to test his tracking skills against Bucky’s stealth skills just yet.

Instead, he steps out into an empty floor, and Clint snorts in amusement. He should have known there would be empty floors in Stark’s building. The man is always on the hunt for more friends, and if he’s given all of them their own floors so far then he has no choice but to keep a few spares empty ones on-hand for the future.

Maybe it’s Stark’s dream to fill the whole building with people he’d trust to have his back rather than to stab it.

“Bucky?” Clint calls into the empty space. There are only a few walls, probably the load bearing ones and the ones that hide Jarvis’ wiring. Mostly it’s huge open areas. It’s clearly a floor with no purpose. No rooms needed or cubicle spaces to assign. No lab tables to accommodate.

“Bucky?” Clint calls again, because there’s no answer from the first time. “It’s Clint. It’s me.”

More silence.

“Jarvis, are you sure he’s on this floor?” Clint asks.

“I apologize Master Barton,” Jarvis begins. “I cannot violate the priva-”

“Answer the question, Jarvis,” Clint orders.

The pause that follows is so long that Clint wonders whether maybe he’s just being ignored. And then…

“I can confirm that Sgt. James Barnes is on this floor.”

“Thank you. Tell me if that changes.”

“I…..yes, Master Barton. I will.”

Clint nods and begins to leisurely stroll through the area. It’s by no means a strict grid pattern, but he’s not so much on a search mission as he’s down here to make it clear to Bucky that he’s wanted. If Clint continues in circles long enough, he’s pretty sure that Bucky will be the one to do the finding.

“And stop calling me ‘Master Barton’,” Clint suddenly adds. “For the love of god. I appreciate Tony’s completely unsubtle attempt to give himself and any other sub in the area as much respect as they can get, but it’s weird, and I don’t like it.”

“How do you prefer to be addressed then?”

“By my name.”

“Of course, Clinton Barton.”

“Jesus!” Clint exclaims. “No! Clint! Just call me Clint!”

“Ah,” Jarvis hums. “Perhaps you should have been more specific.”

Clint pulls his head out from the doorway he’s peeking through to gape and stare at the ceiling.

“Are you….” he splutters. “Are you sassing me?”

“ ‘Sassing’ is not a function in my directory,” Jarvis answers, and Clint laughs.

“You are! You’re sassing me like you sass Tony. I’m flattered, really. I am. I must have fallen into high regard to have earned it.”

Jarvis doesn’t say anything, and Clint keeps walking, thinking the conversation is over. Until Jarvis speaks again.

“You have,” the speakers of the whole floor say down to Clint. “You have fallen into very high regard.”

Clint stops walking again, this time looking up in puzzlement.

“Your regard, or Tony’s regard?”

“I do not have a function for ‘regard’ any more than I have one for ‘sass’,” Jarvis answers.

Clint rolls the contradictions around in his mind. Studies their potential.

“Are you sure you’re not human?” he ventures.

“I wouldn’t know,” is all Clint gets in response. He’s about to push the issue further - surprised at only now realizing the terrifying depths to Tony’s creation - when Bucky is suddenly standing in front of him and Clint’s attention is forcefully redirected to a metal hand fisted in the front of his shirt.

“What do you want?” Bucky snarls.

“I want you to see that I’m okay,” Clint answers calmly. “Because you looked like you were going to drop. Or had dropped. Wasn’t sure.”

Bucky lets go of Clint abruptly, and says, “It was irresponsible of you to come down here. I could be dangerous.”

“See?” Clint smiles. “You already seem more like yourself.”

Bucky raises his hand as if to slap Clint, and Clint would have taken it without complaint, but Bucky aborts the motion before it really gets started.

“You’re injured,” he says instead.

“Nothing a few skin grafts won’t fix,” Clint responds. And he knows he’s being mean when he says it. It’s going to be one graft, tops. The doctors had even praised the placement of the wound, saying that Clint would regain full range of motion if he didn’t do something stupid like let it pucker and scar through immobility.

“Stop that,” Bucky says. “Stop taking it all so lightly. I know that’s not how you’re really thinking about it. Stop forcing yourself to seem unconcerned to make us feel better.”

Clint takes a deep slow breath, because if there’s anything Bucky and Steve deserve, it’s his honesty.

“I didn’t mind it,” he says, simply.

“I just told you--”

“I really didn’t,” Clint interrupts. “I know that seems bad or unlikely, but honestly that shit doesn’t fuck with my head. Kidnapped, tortured, interrogated, fighting for my life. All that shit. It’s not even half as stressful as wondering if Steve is angry with me, or trying to figure out the difference between how you behave when you’re mad versus when you’re bored or indifferent or panicking. Domestic stuff is frightening. Being normal, and with people I love. That’s frightening. Everything else is variations on a theme. Routine. Rinse and repeat. It doesn’t matter, and it’s never mattered, and it never will matter.”

Bucky just stares, still enough in Soldier mode that Clint cannot read his expression. Not until Bucky reaches up and brushes his fingers along Clint’s cheek. It’s a brief touch, but it’s soft and tender.

“I understand,” he says, and Clint hears the depth of the honesty of the statement.

“Then let's go back upstairs,” Clint responds. “Steve’s worried.”

“And we can’t worry, Steve,” Bucky's says, a little of his usual flippant sarcasm in the statement.

“We shouldn’t,” Clint says, with more complete sincerity. “I think he’s already worried enough for a lifetime, already.”

As they approach the elevator, it slides open without being prompted, and Bucky squints suspiciously at it as Clint drawns him past the doors.

“Hey,” he says to Clint, “weren’t you and Jarvis talking about me, or did I hallucinate that?”

“He was just helping out,” Clint answers. “Plus, he likes me better than he likes you. Because I’m charming and you’re like an angry wet murder kitten that hasn’t had its claws trimmed in over a decade.”

“How specific,” Bucky mutters, leaning his head back against the elevator wall.

“Accurate, though,” Clint shoots back.

When they get back up to their floor, everyone but Steve has left, and Clint heavily suspects that that was due to Steve and Natasha’s insistence. Steve folds Bucky into a hug the moment he’s out of the elevator and gives Clint a look over Bucky’s shoulder that is filled with so much gratitude that Clint can almost hear the unspoken ‘thank you’ in his mind.

He joins the hug, because what the fuck else is he supposed to do with these two idiots.

 

__________

 

For the first few days after the incident, Steve’s phone pings every fifteen minutes on the dot. When Clint gets angry on behalf of Steve, and finally asks what’s going on, Steve rolls his eyes and hands his phone to Clint.

When Clint opens the messaging app, all he sees are a string of texts from Tony, every single fifteen minutes, that all say I told you so .

“If you send a screenshot of that to Pepper, it’ll be the end of it,” Clint mentions.

“I don’t play that dirty,” Steve answers.

 

___________

 

Pepper drops by as soon as she’s back in the city. When she sees Clint, her eyes are wet, although her composure is perfect. The hug she gives Clint the moment she’s within arms reach is tight and possessive in a way that drops Clint’s heart rate in tranquility more quickly than he’d thought his body was capable of managing.

“I’m very glad you’re okay,” she says.

“Oh,” Clint answers. “That’s…thank you. Thanks.”

They spend the day barefoot, Clint in his sweats and Pepper in her suit. They bake chocolate desserts and then eat them all before anyone else gets home.

 

__________

 

All in all, less changes that Clint thought might change. Steve and Bucky keep an annoyingly close eye on him for several weeks, and SHIELD has more paperwork and questions than Clint would have ever thought possible, but nothing about his daily life is directly affected. Not for months. Not until Steve is making coffee one morning while Clint is cooking breakfast.

“You know,” Steve says nonchalantly, “I finally read your file.”

Clint freezes.

“So,” Steve continues, “if you ever decide you want to be a part of the Avengers, I don’t think anyone would be actively opposed. Not with your resume. Not with your skills. Plus, you already get along with the team really well. That’s always a plus.”

Clint opens his mouth, although he isn’t sure at all what he’s going to say, but Steve continues before any words can find their way out.

“I’m not saying you should, or you have to, or even that I want you to. I’m saying that if you want to, then that’s an option you can consider.”

Clint decides not to say anything at all, especially since it doesn’t look like Steve is expecting an answer. Not immediately anyway. Not for a long time.

“How would you feel about a movie night tomorrow?” he eventually asks instead, so much later that it’s almost like the few sentences had never happened.

Their easy disappearance doesn’t stop Clint from turning them over and over in his mind, though. He can’t help it. He’s fascinating by how well the idea had sat with him, when just a few months ago the entire concept was enough to drive him to nausea.

 

__________

 

Bucky and Clint go on a date. Bucky is the one who asks, although Clint doesn’t realize what he's being asked until several sentences into the interaction. It’s nice, though, because they can go someplace less fancy when Steve isn’t with them. Steve is definitely the more recognizable one.

After dinner, they get ice cream and eat it while walking up and down the boardwalk. Clint resolves not to laugh at the dangerous Winter Soldier griping about ice cream dripping over the edge of the cone and down his hand.

“I’ve never done this,” Clint says suddenly.

“Which part?” Bucky mutters, licking his sticky fingers in a way he probably doesn’t realize is obscene.

“Something casual like this,” Clint shrugs. “With someone who was my dom. It’s nice, to just walk around and eat ice cream. It’s a nice night. The lights are pretty, and I enjoy being able to do this with you.”

Bucky gives him a suspicious look.

“What?” Clint asks.

“You’re kidding me,” Bucky responds. “You’ve never done this with someone you were going with? Just...had a casual date?”

“Nope,” Clint says, popping the ‘p’ the way Bucky does when he’s purposely acting nonchalant.

“Jesus,” Bucky breathes in exasperation. “Then what did you do?”

“Whatever I was told,” Clint shrugs. “I was very good at doing what I was told.”

Bucky makes the noise of discontent Clint has come to expect from such a statement, and Clint nudges into his side as they walk.

“It’s not supposed to be a gloomy thought, Buck. I’m saying that it’s not like that anymore. I’m saying I appreciate you doing things like this with me. That I see that this is what I should have been expecting all along. Don’t make it into a thing. Celebrate with me.”

He nuzzles into Bucky’s shoulder and looks up at his dom with what he hopes is a alluring and exciting expression. Bucky’s expression is alternating between negative and positive emotions, but it’s hard to take either of them seriously as he sucks on his ice cream cone.

“Would it make you feel better to replace some of the memories?” Clint asks, and even he’s not sure where the question came from.

“Meaning?”

“I don’t know,” Clint answers, standing back upright and feeling chagrined at the invasive thought he’d ended up speaking aloud. “Sorry. Nevermind.”

“No, explain what you meant,” Bucky insists, and Clint grits his teeth and makes a face he hopes communicates his feeling on the matter.

“I just meant, like, the bad things that happened. The times that were really bad, if you wanted to do...those things...but like, nicer.” He makes a noise of frustration and continues quickly, “Like I said, sorry. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“You’re talking about doing a scene that traumatized you in the past, but doing it right to see if that helps ease the memory. Like drawing new lines over old scars.”

“Y-yeah,” Clint stammers. “I guess so.”

Bucky is silent for a long time while they continue to walk, and he throws the last of his dripping cone into a nearby trash can just as Clint finishes his own. Then he reaches out and takes Clint’s hand in his.

“Don’t,” Clint protests. “I'm all sticky.”

Bucky doesn’t respond besides to intertwine his fingers more tightly, even though Clint can feel the sugary discomfort tugging at their skin.

“I thought about asking for something similar a long time ago,” Bucky says. “Something that would maybe take a memory and change it to something that didn't make me the bad guy. But Steve and I thought it might be too dangerous, so I never brought it up.”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Clint rushes to say. “If need be, Steve could be there. In case something went wrong.”

“Hush,” Bucky orders. “You’re missing the point. I’m just saying that your idea doesn’t seem completely ridiculous to me. Plus, I want to learn more about you. You’re always such a closed book. Honestly, I thought Steve and I were bad, but you really don’t talk about anything. And then you pull stunts like escaping yourself from a well-funded kidnapping, or making shots that shouldn’t be able to be made, or saying exactly the right thing like you’re reading my mind when even I haven’t been able to tell what I’m thinking for the last several decades.”

“Sorry.”

“No, that’s....no. It’s not something to apologize for. Just, tell me something about you. Tell me anything.”

Clint chews on the inside of his cheek and thinks about it. He knows, consciously, that Bucky has a point, but it feels like talking about himself will use so much more oxygen than speaking normally would. As though he’ll have to breath twice as hard to be able to get the words past his lips. It’s exhausting just to think about it.

“My brother sold me out,” he says slowly, forcing each world between his teeth like individual rocks dropped into a lake. Ripple effect, cast in sound waves.

“I’m listening,” Bucky says softly.

“It’s when we were leaving the circus. There was this rotating system of criminal activity rooted in that place, and the two of us got sucked into the world right off. Trained up in it. But I thought, even with all the shit going on around us, that Barney would always have my back. But when I caught him and my dom in the middle of a job that was going to fuck over me and the rest of the troupe, I called them out on it. My dom was...not thrilled. To say the least. He beat the shit out of me. I mean, broken ribs and fingers. Internal bleeding. Concussion. It’s certainly one of the worst beatings I’ve ever taken. But what really sets it apart, was...he just watched. Barney. He just watched it happen to me. Like I was someone else’s property, and he shouldn’t interfere. And when it was over, he told me that’s why I shouldn’t piss off doms. That it was my fault, for always antagonizing them. Antagonizing anyone around me who had the slightest power over my life. Like I was asking for it.”

“Which is bullshit,” Bucky says forcefully, causing Clint to laugh bitterly.

“Well, he had a point. I have a knack for antagonizing people, even when it’s a fucking stupid idea. In a way--”

He can’t finish the sentence, because Bucky takes him by the front of the shirt, twisting him around and shoving him backwards into the brick wall behind Clint hard enough that Clint feels the breath stutter in his body. A few people nearby slow and eye the situation, clearly weighing whether or not they need to intervene, but Bucky doesn’t seem to care.

“Say that again,” he snaps, right in Clint’s face. “I dare you. I dare you to imply, in even the most subtle manner, that those experiences were in any way your fault.”

Clint blinks at him.

“Bucky,” he says softly.

“Say it again,” Bucky repeats. “And see what happens.”

Clint can’t help the gentle affection that swells in him as he stares back at his angry dom. Bucky, who only knows violence as a response to things he knows are wrong, trying to use the only tools he has to help his sub. Clint reaches up and touches Bucky s cheek, brushing his fingers over the skin there.

“I think I know exactly what moment in my life I’d like to overwrite first.”

 

__________

 

It's a few days before they finally get the chance to try it, and when the opportunity finally presents itself, Clint feels apprehension growing his stomach and his chest. It had seemed like the obvious thing to do, in the moment, but now he's nervous.

The scene in question is an old one. From before leaving the circus. From before Chisholm. His dom at the time - a short lived one - had tied him down and hurt him until Clint had agreed repeatedly that his dom’s angry overreactions were Clint’s fault. Until Clint had repeated and screamed it. Until his dom had been satiated and worn out.

Making it the perfect foil for what Bucky and Steve want from Clint. To train Clint not to think like that. To tie Clint down and teach him worth.

Clint stands naked by the side of the bed, looks at the ties ready for him, and bites his lower lip hard. It had definitely seemed like a good ideas at the time. Now, the apprehension is slowly building into terror, even though he's not entirely sure why.

“One to ten,” Bucky reminds him. “One as no distress, and ten to call it quits.”

“Yeah,” Clint says. And then, more firmly, “Yes, sir,” before he climbs onto the bed of his own volition, even though he can feel the sharp butterflies of fear cutting at the lining of his stomach.

“Number?” Bucky asks right away, before he’s even tied Clint down, and Clint argues with himself for only a moment before he answers truthfully.

“Six.”

“What’s making you uncomfortable? Can you pinpoint what it is?”

“I don’t know,” Clint answers, because he really doesn’t. He’s facedown in the cool sheets, and he can feel them bunching underneath his weight, and he cannot seem to find an anchor in the scene, even before it really starts to get underway.

Bucky lays down besides him on the bed and rubs warm hands up and down Clint’s back.

“We’re going to take it slow,” he promises, face to face with Clint. “That’s the point of the whole thing, after all. We’re going at your pace. The only thing I’m not going to compromise on is the meaning of the words. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Clint answers, forcing himself to breathe more deeply. He likes the feeling of Bucky’s hands on his back. They’re warm, in the way that friction within a cold room is always warm. He sighs deeply and experiments with stretching out on the bed, as though he was already secured that way.

It’s not so bad. He’s been in this position on this bed before, and familiarity is always a ball in Clint’s court. It’s easier, now, to breathe slowly and deeply. He hadn’t even noticed how quick and shallow each breath had been until they weren’t anymore.

“Better?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah.”

Bucky moves on the bed, positioning himself straddling across Clint’s back so his knees are on either side of Clint’s chest. He leans over Clint’s body and pins his wrists on either side down to the matress, pushing his weight into the twin joints. He leans down further, brushing his lips against Clint’s ear, biting it gently.

“Number?” he asks quietly.

“Two,” Clint answers, because he can barely remember why they’re even here when Bucky holds him down like this.

“Gonna tie you down now,” Bucky promises, and shifts his weight again.

Clint misses most of the next part of the scene. He knows, retroactively, that Bucky must have done exactly as he’d promised, because he finds himself tied securely, although not particularly tightly, to the corners of the bed. The details are hazy and unimportant.

He does come back to himself when he notices Bucky has chosen a cane to play with, and suddenly Clint remembers the last time he was in this position with Bucky standing behind him and holding a cane.

He takes a few deep forced breaths and reminds himself that this scene is supposed to be about rewriting old memories, so it’s acceptable - efficient, even - to wrap that old experience up into this one. The fact that his mind is now providing him with the exact sound the nausea-inducing crack of wood against skin had made is irrelevant. Bucky knows not to hit him that hard now. And if he does it anyway, then Clint will use his words. And if Bucky ignores them, Jarvis will get Steve or Tony or the fucking NYPD if he has to. There are backup systems behind the backup systems in place here.

None of that quiets his heart when he feels the smooth wood tap delicately at the curve of his ass. He freezes, like a rabbit, waiting to see what will happen to him next but offering to play no part in the making of it.

“Tell me what you’re here to learn,” Bucky orders softly, even though the order is not soft. It is sharp, and it cuts at Clint’s mind even though he knew it was coming.

“That it’s not my fault,” Clint answers, but the words don’t sound convincing even to himself. They sound sarcastic, and he knows the penalty.

The first strike of wood against flesh rips a cry from Clint’s throat that he immediately feels embarrassment for. It didn’t hurt. Well, it barely hurt, anyway. Nothing like the skin-splitting experience he’d had last time he was in this position.

Bucky is clearly concerned by the noise though, when Clint is usually so quiet, and he puts one knee on the bed to rub the red line forming on Clint’s pale skin. Trying to see if he’s done more damage than he intended. But of course he hasn’t. Clint is just an idiot.

“Sorry,” he says. “I was startled. You’re good. I’m fine.”

“Number?” Bucky asks, and Clint knows him well enough to hear that Bucky is afraid, at least a little. So Clint is not the only one who’s suddenly unsure about writing over so many things at once, and that emphatically does not help his stability.

“I’m okay,” Clint repeats.

“That’s not what I asked you.”

It takes more effort than Clint would have liked to fetch the requested response away from his sluggish and sticky mind, but he finally manages “Five!” because that’s in the middle and that seems like a good bet.

“Then let’s try again,” Bucky says, backing away. He taps the cane again, in warning, and says, “What are we here for you learn?”

“It’s not my fault,” Clint murmurs, completely miserable and not even sure what the ‘it’ in this stupid scenario is supposed to be. How is he even supposed to be learning something if no one ever tells him what he’s supposed to be learning?

The second strike of the cane is both expected and deserved, and Clint does not cry out.

“Try being more specific,” Bucky orders. “Get at the heart of why you’re here. Forgot memorizing words you think I want.”

Clint doesn’t want anything at all, except to maybe be let go so he can curl up someplace warm, and some distant part of his mind is concerned by how quickly he’s fallen away from rationality and into panic, but the rest of him snidely states that that’s par for the course.

Clint has a sudden image of Steve, and what Steve would say if Clint said something like that about himself.

The expression, even though it’s brief and imagined, is unpleasant. More unpleasant than the warning taps he’s getting, because he’s pretty sure Bucky asked for a number again and Clint hasn’t given one.

“Ten!” he exclaims, spitting it out, so he can’t take it back before it’s even spoken.

Bucky moves more quickly that Clint has seen him move - outside of when he’s in Soldier mode. THe entire complicated tie is of Bucky’s making, so he has it undone with a few quick pulls and then Clint is curled up in his arms and clinging to his dom’s neck.

“I’m sorry!” he cries. “I can go back. I can go back. I can!”

His words are contradicted by his grip on Bucky’s body, but it feels better to say them. To say them and know Bucky won’t make him go. That Bucky doesn’t even want to make him go. Doesn’t even have to fight the urge to make him do it, and that safety calms him down more quickly than even the tight embrace and the words that Bucky is whispering to him.

“You did so well,” Bucky promises. “I’m so proud of you. You did exactly what Steve and I have been asking you to learn to do, even though it was so hard. You did it so well, right when it really mattered. You kept your promise, and I am so proud of you for it.”

Clint calms almost as quickly as he’d started to drop, and he tells himself that it’s okay that he panicked over something irrational. Sometimes panic is just like that, and now he has the privilege of living with doms who know that already.

“Do you want anything?” Bucky asks, once Clint is breathing like normal and has let go to lie back along the bed.

“Green tea ice cream,” Clint says, struck by a sudden craving.

“What the fuck is green tea ice cream?” Bucky responds, with a facial expression that says he does not intended to enjoy it unless made to against his will.

Clint, enamored by knowing something his dom does not, demands it more loudly and emphatically, and knows that he will get it.

 

__________

 

Steve comes home while they’re out getting ice cream and texts them when he finds the apartment empty. Bucky makes Clint read his text as he writes it to Steve about how good Clint did, safewording out when he needed to, and about where they are for a combined aftercare and reward.

Steve promises to come and join them and, within just a few minutes, he does. His entrance is not subtle. He sweeps into the restaurant in his vintage leather jacket and grandpa khakis and still manages to look made of sunlight. Made of some kind of warmth and energy that transfers to everyone and everything fortunate enough to have him in their sights.

Steve crosses the room quickly and, as soon as he’s within reach, tilts Clint’s head back and leans down to kiss him. A deliciously claiming, possessive, and needy kiss that thrills Clint all the way through his body and makes him regret demanding anything that made them leave the apartment.

“Someone’s having a good day,” laughs their waiter goodnaturedly.

“He’s mine,” Steve says simply. “And he was very good for me.”

“Very good,” Bucky echoes in emphasis.

“Well, free seconds for good subs,” the waiter offers with a laugh, even though it’s probably because Steve is Captain America, rather than because Clint is any kind of special to him. Clint doesn’t mind. He doesn’t give a fuck if he’s special to some random dom in restaurant. He’s special to his doms, and they called him good. When Steve sits down opposite Bucky, Clint puts one foot on each of their chairs and grins back and forth at them.

“You look like the cat that’s got the cream,” Bucky snorts, but he’s grinning too, even if it’s down at his empty plate.

Clint, in response, smugly shoves a obscenely large spoonful of ice cream into his mouth, even though it’s too cold and immediately starts burning at the roof of his mouth. He almost chokes when he tries to swallow it, and then he starts laughing, and then he starts choking more, and by the end of it both Steve and Bucky are at least a little alarmed, and Clint is red in the face from stomach-clenching hacking coughs and lack of oxygen.

“I’m okay,” he choke-laughs. “I’m okay!”

“What’s gotten into you?” Steve asks, amusement in his eyes.

“Everything,” Clint answers. “Absolutely everything. The whole universe is inside me. It is made up of me. I am made up of everything.”

“What the fuck are you going on about,” Bucky laughs, because laughter is infectious. Especially a sub’s laughter.

“I don’t know,” Clint admits. “Just chalk it up to me being deliriously happy and be done with it.”

Because it’s true. He’s absolutely deliriously happy, and he’s not about to hide it from anyone. Not with how long it took him to get there.

Chapter Text

 

Epilogue 

 

Four days of undercover isn’t a lot from a paperwork standpoint, but it had felt like a lot to Clint at the time. He didn’t like having to act like a submissive sub again, especially for this douchebag who didn’t even deserve responsibility over a goldfish, much less twenty-eight subs being sold overseas against their wills. Coulson hadn’t given Clint specifics on this particular slave trader group, but it was the things he didn’t say that made Clint’s skin crawl.

Thank god this job is almost over, he thinks to himself, curled up on the floor as Douchebag kicks him in the ribs again. It doesn’t really hurt, not with how good Clint is at twisting his body away from the points of impact. It’s more annoying than anything else.

He’d dropped the last of the information - names, dates, locations, you name it - a few hours ago, and right now he’s just waiting for the signal that the raid is starting on the building. He cannot wait to get out of here and go back home. He misses Steve and Bucky and the ability to eat and say and do what he wants when he wants. Within reason.

He laughs at that sudden semi-contradiction, and then grits his teeth when the sound makes Douchebag kick him again. A kick that actually hurts now that he’s mad at Clint in specific, rather than the world in general.

“What was that?” he snarls down at Clint. “Are you laughing at me?”

You know what? Clint thinks to himself. Fuck it . Fuck it all . Because he’s not taking another hit in this place. Not today, and not ever.

“Yeah,” he says out loud. “I’m laughing at you.”

Douchebag splutters for a moment, and then goes to kick Clint again, but Clint moves. Twists and rolls with the agility he picked up in the circus and the precision Natasha has trained into him over the last year. Douchebag is on his back on the floor with one wrist handcuffed to a table that’s been bolted to the floor, and he’s there before he has time to process that his kick didn’t connect.

“You shouldn’t kick people when they can’t fight back,” Clint spits, already on his feet. He does not punctuate the point with a kick of his own, much as he wants to, because he thinks it would be tacky.

“Who are you? What the fuck to you think you’re doing, sub ?”

“I’m placing you under arrest,” Clint informs him, deftly fishing out the man’s cell phone and throwing it a safe distance away. He throws the gun, too, which the idiot hadn’t though to go for. Clint almost feels sorry for him. It’s tough, to have your whole world turned upside down.

“A SHIELD raid will descend on your building in full force within the next ten minutes,” Clint continues. “And you get to be up here to enjoy the view. Isn’t that nice?”

He doesn’t wait for a response, stepping out onto the balcony and looking down over the edge to make sure everyone is already positioned at the base of the building.

“You’re a SHIELD agent?” the man shouts incredulously, yelling to be heard through the open door and the sounds of the city beneath them.

“I’m an Avenger, motherfucker,” Clint shouts back, and then he tips himself backwards over the edge of the balcony and begins his plummet into thirty-four stories of free space.

 

__________

 

“I heard you jumped off a balcony today,” Steve says casually, right when Clint sticks a mouthful of syrup-sticky waffles into his mouth. Clint freezes, and looks back at Steve with wide eyes. Steve doesn’t say anything else, but he does raise one eyebrow in disapproving inquiry.

Clint chews and swallows quickly.

“In my defense,” he says, once his mouth is sufficiently empty, “it was one hell of a dramatic exit.”

“Uh-huh,” Steve answers.

“And Wanda caught me,” Clint adds. “You left that part out.”

“Did I? Here, let me re-read Bucky’s text. Maybe I missed a part of it.”

Clint grimaces, because he’d wondered how Steve knew already. But Coulson could have easily told Bucky at their meeting an hour ago, so now of course he’s texted Steve.

“Here, I’ll read it out loud,” Steve offers obligingly. “It says, ‘Little punk jumped out of a window today. Completely unnecessary. Didn’t even warn Wanda. Poor girl was terrified. Jumpy all day.”

“Right,” Clint says, because that he actually feels bad for. He forgets a lot, that people don’t always think the way he does. The twins are great, and it’s nice for Bruce to have people around him who are also neither doms or subs, but Clint prefers missions with Natasha. She’d never bat an eye at him hurtling down from the thirty-fourth floor.

“I did apologize,” he tells Steve, sincerely. “I didn’t mean to scare her.”

“And did you mean to put yourself in danger?”

“I wasn’t in danger,” Clint protests. “Sh--”

“Don’t act like I don’t have a right to be put off,” Steve interrupts. He takes a handful of Clint’s shirt, jerking him forward a step. It means Clint has to look up, tilting his head to meet Steve’s eye. Clint does it though, because he’s pretty sure Steve isn’t actually angry, but he likes to be able to make sure.

“This is mine,” Steve says, shaking Clint’s body for emphasis. “And you were reckless with it.”

“Sorry,” Clint says, hiding his smile.

“Sorry, what?”

“Sorry, sir,” Clint says obediently, and kisses Steve gently.

Steve huffs in amusement, kisses him back, and then let’s go of Clint’s shirt.

“Don’t let me hear about you pulling something like that again unless it’s absolutely necessary. Or, at least unless you have a solid back-up plan that already knows they’re your backup plan.”

“That’s it?” Clint asks, a little surprised at the leniency.

“That’s it from me ,” Steve corrects. “You know that Bucky’s the one that deals with that side of things. Oh, and look!” He grins wickedly as he exaggerates looking at his phone before adding, “It looks like he’s already on his way here.”

“I’ll just go ahead and tie myself to the frame then, shall I?” Clint sighs.

“I’d recommend it,” Steve nods. “Your compliance might encourage him to go easy on you.”

Clint laughs once, and Steve smiles, because both of them know the thought is absolutely ridiculous.

 

__________

 

Lately, Bucky has always seemed to know right where Clint’s limits are, even if Clint isn’t sure. He’ll still check in, but his confidence and skill gets better every day. As evidenced by how Clint is panting and sagging in his bonds, exhausted and in pain, but all without having used his safeword. All without even being tempted.

Bucky pauses, and Clint can hear the whisper of the flogger sliding along the floor, warning him as to Bucky’s approach. He doesn’t make a sound when Bucky touches his raw back, but he does flinch. He can’t help it, with how completely he’s been worked over. His throat is raw from shouted apologies and catechismal promises, not to mention cries of pain that have been getting particularly loud over the last few strokes.

His mind is hazy and warm though, even after those last hits that were hard and mean enough that Clint knows he couldn’t have taken them if he hadn’t already been sinking deep within the subspace Bucky has built for him. The flogger is heavy and the tips of it are probably breaking pinpoint tears in his skin by now. He can’t wait to see what he looks like afterward, when Bucky will carry him to the bathroom so Clint can crane his head and look at the colors spread across his back in the mirror.

“Number?” Bucky asks, because he knows Clint is close.

“Eight,” Clint answers.

“Ten more, then. They won’t be nice.”

He’s both right and wrong, because Clint’s definition of nice is dichotomous, as is so with most subs. Certainly they are not gentle. However, they are - arguably - nice. Clint even gives up on screaming, at the end of them. He just hangs there, and accepts the universe as it is.

Then there are soft hands on him, not just Bucky’s but also Steve’s, so Clint knows it’s completely over. He can feel his face is wet as he buries it against Steve’s chest, weight spread partially between both his doms.

“You were very good for me,” Bucky promises Clint.

“And you were good, too,” Steve promises Bucky.

“You, too,” Clint says, laughing and giddy and high. “Good, Steve. Good job.”

Steve laughs at the full circle praise and plants little kisses on the top of Clint’s head, and then on Bucky’s, and then back to Clint.

“Let’s bring him into the bedroom,” Bucky says warmly. “Easier for us both to hold him there.”

“I’m forgiven, right?” Clint suddenly thinks to ask.

“Of course you are,” Bucky says, and now he’s the one planting little kisses on Clint’s head, even as he gathers all of Clint’s weight so as to more easily move him to the bedroom.

“Good,” Clint murmurs. “Good. I’m good.”

“Yes, you are,” Steve agrees, opening the door for Bucky.

There’s a few lost moments, filled with the rocking motion of being carried and the throbbing conquered pain on his back and ass and thighs. Then Clint spots the bathroom door and he almost throws himself completely out of Bucky’s grip to lunge at it.

“Jesus!” Bucky exclaims, regaining their balance.

“I want to see!” Clint demands, and Bucky sighs with exaggerated heaviness, even as Steve laughs and open the door obligingly.

Bucky walks in and sits him gently on the countertop, and the cool marble feels good against Clint’s burning skin. He twists his head and look at the marks, even as Bucky says, “Jarvis will replay the whole thing for you tomorrow when you ask, anyway. You’ll see it then.”

“Hush,” Steve chides. “Let him enjoy it.”

And Clint is enjoying it. The view is absolutely horrifying. Dark red already fading into ugly deep bruises, and all of it overlaying the surface bruises he already had from getting kicked around during his undercover work. And he’d been right about the skin. There are already healing bright red dots of blood spread out across his shoulder blades, and Clint reaches back to press at them with his fingertips to see if he can coax them into opening again, just for a moment.

“Beautiful,” Bucky says, voicing the thought that had been resonating in Clint’s head.

Clint smiles and leans his head against Bucky's shoulder, giving up on pressing against the wounds. He can always ask Bucky for deeper ones next time. He lazily moves his gaze to Steve’s face, and is mildly surprised to find Steve is looking at the reflection of Clint’s traumatized back, instead of letting his eyes bounce away from it, like he normally does in this situation.

“Steve?” Clint asks, his voice garbled and thick from the drop and the screaming. “You okay?”

“I’m good,” Steve says, running his fingers through Clint’s hair without looking away from the reflection. “I guess...I guess I’m maybe starting to understand what Bucky is saying.”

“Which thing?” Clint asks.

Now Steve looks at him, tilting Clint’s face up with a finger under his chin.

“Beautiful,” Steve answers, and kisses Clint gently while he runs his fingers down the broken skin of Clint’s back.