For the first time in a long time, Bruce considered.
It was the first time since Betty that he had let himself do so, he realized. While the idea of letting himself be vulnerable enough to express a need for intimacy was terrifying, it also created a wriggle of something light and ticklish in his chest. His control had only increased since moving into the tower with the rest of the team and even when the Hulk was in the driver’s seat Bruce was managing to hold on to a modicum of awareness. His fears of harming those he cared about had been waning over time; just how much, he hadn’t really noticed, and the thought of acknowledging and expressing his feelings, his wants, took him slightly off guard.
But only slightly.
He would be lying to himself if he pretended that this burgeoning bloom of affection in his chest was a complete surprise. No, it hadn’t been. It was a living, breathing thing that had started as a seed, planted months ago and blossoming over time.
Tony’s voice snapped Bruce out of his own head. He cleared his throat and refocused to the further side of the dining room table where Tony was leaning back in his chair, feet propped up and crossed on the table top.
“Yeah, Tony, sorry. I, um, could you repeat the question?”
Tony sighed, put upon. “Just checking to see if you had filed your report with SHIELD from Friday. I’ve got Pepper breathing down my neck about pushing paperwork, being a leader, yadda yadda. You’re the last one I need to check off the list, Brucey Bear.”
Beside him, Clint snorted into his coffee cup. Bruce closed his eyes and took a breath. It took everything in Bruce’s power not to look over at him.
Give me strength.
“Yes, Tony. I submitted it on Friday night. You’re all set.”
Tony shot off a few finger-gun gestures in Bruce’s direction, causing Steve to groan. At this point, Bruce was certain that Tony only did half of the obnoxious things he did in order to get a reaction out of Cap. Most of the time it worked, and Bruce couldn’t wait for the two of them to finish with the pigtail pulling and admit their undying love to one another.
You’re one to talk, Banner, he reminded himself. He allowed himself to sneak a glance over at Clint now that Tony was dismissing their team meeting. Clint was moving slowly, undoubtedly needing at least another half pot of coffee before being fully functional, and within a minute it was just Clint and Bruce left lingering in the communal dining room. From his seat at the table, Bruce looked up and opened his mouth to say something (to what? Make a proclamation?), but when Clint met his eye all of the words in Bruce’s throat turned to dust.
“You okay, man? Seemed a bit, you know,” Clint waved his hands in front of himself aimlessly, “out of it.”
Bruce closed his mouth, forced a small smile and nod.
“I’m good, Clint. Thank you.”
Clint took a moment to simply stand and hold eye contact before curtly nodding and clapping Bruce on the shoulder. “Good, that’s good. I’m going to sleep for the next 23 years, but you know where to find me. Hawkeye, out!” And with a squeeze to Bruce’s shoulder, Clint turned and walked out of the room.
Bruce groaned and rested his forehead on the table before him, missing the warmth of Clint’s hand on his shoulder.
He would question how it had happened, how he had come to be so incredibly lost on Clint Barton, but he didn’t have to question it.
He remembered how it happened, instead.
“Oh, hey. What can I do ya for?” Clint asked Bruce before stepping aside and motioning the other man into his apartment. Bruce shuffled inside awkwardly, having not only never been inside of Clint’s apartment before, but also having never specifically sought out Clint before, either.
“It’s a long shot,” Bruce warned, “but I was hoping that you might have some tea? I ran out a few days ago and JARVIS put in an order, but it won’t be here until tomorrow.”
Clint looked both thoughtful and amused. “Are you having a teamergency?”
Bruce felt himself flush. “I, well,” he stammered, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand, “I’m feeling a little bit on edge, this evening. But!” he exclaimed, holding his hands up in surrender, “There’s no need to be afraid, or anything. I’m not even green around the edges.”
Clint made a waving motion with his own hands, dismissing Bruce’s statement. “No need, alright? I trust you’ve got your shit under control.”
Bruce tried to smile and figured that it probably looked more like a grimace. “Not the best survival instinct there, Barton.”
Clint threw his head back and laughed unabashedly. Something in Bruce’s stomach swooped. He chose to ignore it.
“Have you met me? Hell, have you met Nat? I’m pretty sure she lives to poke fun at my non-existent common sense. Anyway,” Clint said as he started to slip on a pair of worn tennis shoes, “I don’t have tea. I don’t even gotta check. Coffee’s my game. But there’s a 24-hour market a few blocks down that keeps anything and everything you can possibly imagine in stock. Have you been?”
Bruce tried to play catch up in his head as he followed Clint out of his apartment and down the hall to the team elevators. “Uh,” he said, elegantly, “you mean Frederick’s?”
Clint nodded. “You got it. Don’t know what I would do without the place, tell ya the truth.”
Silence fell over the elevator as they started to descend the floors smoothly. While Clint didn’t appear awkward or put upon, Bruce wasn’t exactly the greatest at being comfortable with silence in ambiguous situations.
“You know, you don’t have to...I mean, we don’t have to...I don’t want to impose-”
“I’ll stop you right there, Doc. First, nobody’s gonna make me do anything I don’t wanna. Right. Second, did I seem pressed for time when you knocked on my door? No, didn’t think so. I mean, I’m in my jammie pants, man. And third, I can think of worse things to do at 2:15 on a Tuesday morning rather than taking a walk with you to pick up some tea, Banner. So. No apologies welcomed or necessary, none of this imposition shit, yeah?”
Clint was looking at Bruce straight on, was staring really, but there was no pressure behind his gaze and Bruce felt himself relax. Bruce simply nodded his head and followed Clint out of the tower after the elevator doors opened.
Later that night (morning?) Bruce crawled into his bed, feeling warm, calm and sated. He played the night back in his head on a loop, from how welcoming Clint had been when he had knocked on his door at an ungodly hour, to the look of concentration on Clint’s face as they had scoured a huge wall of tea trying to find what Bruce liked best, to the easy way that Clint had joked with the store clerk and had made the older woman laugh.
Bruce thought of Clint and felt grateful before slipping into sleep.
“Dr. Banner, your presence is being requested in the shooting range.”
Bruce was startled by JARVIS’ announcement and he cursed as he dropped the soldering tool that he had been grasping tightly for over an hour. His fingers sore and joints locked, Bruce massaged his hand and headed toward the lab door.
“Is somebody hurt?” Bruce asked JARVIS in the elevator. He had never been called to the range before, and the team often requested him first when one of them became injured no matter how many times he explained his credentials.
“Mr. Barton does not appear to be injured or in distress.” JARVIS replied. Bruce acknowledged the pleasant tingle in his belly upon hearing that it was Clint who had requested him at the range. Over the last few weeks, since the teamergency as Bruce continued to call it in his head, Bruce had found himself seeking Clint out a bit more frequently than the others. Not for anything major or important, and usually only when the team was gathered for meals or meetings. Bruce found himself taking the seat next to Clint when he found it open and being easily engaged in conversation with the archer nearly every other day.
It was...nice. To build a relationship with someone other than Tony. Sure, Tony was great and had taken Bruce under his wing like the Mother Hen of Science that he was, but there were times when Tony became lost in his own world for days due to work or his intense focus on doing anything he could to garner positive or negative attention from Steve. Bruce would also spend some time with Natasha, who took it upon herself to wrangle him into sparring semi regularly to keep him in some kind of shape and who would occasionally cut his hair for him when it became too unruly to manage.
When Bruce punched his code in for access to the range, the doors slipped open silently and he tried to be just as quiet as he walked into the room. The silence in the range would have been deafening if not for the repetitive slicing sound of arrows, followed by soft thuds upon their impact into the target. When Clint came into view Bruce stood back and took a moment to simply observe.
Clint was perched on one knee on the ground, a stockpile of arrows at his side for easy access. He shot the arrows across the range at targets that were stacked on top of one another, creating a line of focal points from the floor to the ceiling. Bruce watched as Clint hit the bullseyes of every target starting at the bottom, to the top, and back down again with impressive speed and ever present precision.
“I can feel you staring, you know. I’d be a shit assassin if I couldn’t,” Clint called out, not pausing until he reached the top target again. Bruce swore Clint had spliced the center arrow with another, and he found that his mouth was dry with how incredibly alluring Clint’s level of skill could be.
“JARVIS said you wanted me?” Bruce managed as Clint picked up a single arrow and approached.
Clint smiled. “Well, he wasn’t wrong,” he joked, throwing a wink in Bruce’s direction. Bruce was horrified to feel his cheeks heating at the flirtation, as they always did. He was cursed, being an Avenger on a team with Clint and Tony, who flirted with anyone and everyone who breathed, Steve and Bucky who oozed 1940’s charm in every conversation, an actual God who had boundary issues when it came to intimacy at best, and Natasha, who could turn on her deadly seduction in an instant. Not to mention Sam, who everyone found attractive and amazing...and the guy knew it, too.
And there he was, a middle aged scientist who lacked social skills due to having spent the last few years of his life hidden away and focusing on not accidentally murdering people in a rampage. Great.
Luckily, Clint continued talking over Bruce’s increasing awkwardness. He held up the arrow that he was holding, pushing it towards Bruce until he took it tentatively.
“You know what this is, yeah?” Clint asked, practically bouncing on the heels of his feet. Bruce observed the arrow for a moment before it clicked into place.
“I do. This is Tony’s latest upgrade on your hollow aluminum stock. How are they working out for you?”
Clint raised his eyebrows and motioned vaguely to the targets behind him. “As you can see, they’re working out peachy. I’ve never worked with an arrow this lightweight, they fly like beauties, Banner, and I can tote around gazillions of them without breaking my back. Thing is, Tony mentioned that they weren’t so much his upgrade, not really.”
Bruce’s faint flush from earlier blossomed into a full on, burning blush. “Oh, um,” he started, rolling the arrow between his fingers, “he was struggling with the aluminum alloy equation, couldn’t quite get it down the last few ounces weight wise. He was nearly there, I just happened to figure it out first.”
Clint scoffed. “You just happened to figure it out after staying up with him for three days straight and neglecting to sleep or eat? Sounds like it was super simple, minimum effort, guess I shouldn’t even thank you for it.”
Bruce was going to Hulk out on Tony the next time they ran into each other. Not to kill him, but at the very least to make him piss himself as retribution for obviously spilling to Clint how hard Bruce had worked to get those arrows just right.
Before Bruce could think of a way to respond, Clint stepped forward and took the arrow gently out of his hands before tossing it behind his shoulder (Bruce held in the groan that nearly made its way out of his mouth when the arrow landed perfectly on top of the pile of other arrows). Then, much to Bruce’s shock, there was a pair of strong, muscled arms making their way around Bruce’s waist.
Clint hugged Bruce for only a moment, quickly and tightly. “Thanks, man!” Clint said jovially when he pulled back from a dazed and frozen Bruce. After that, Clint shot off a two finger salute, jogged back over to his equipment, and once again fell into position to continue shooting his new arrows.
Bruce didn’t get anything else done that day. Instead, he sat dumbly at his lab table, allowing his feelings of admiration and awe at Clint’s kindness, archery skills, and willingness to hug the most terrifying monster in the tower wash over him until it was time to go to sleep.
“Aw, concussion, no,” Clint groaned, bandaged hands immediately finding their way to his equally bandaged skull. Bruce sprung up from his chair, the book that he had been reading clattering to the ground and drawing Clint’s attention.
“Hey, you’re here,” was all Clint managed before screwing his eyes closed against the lights. Bruce moved forward, unsure of what to do with his hands to bring comfort. Bruce opted for pouring Clint water into a styrofoam cup and lightly tapping Clint’s shoulder to get his attention. Clint squinted and reached for the cup with his hands, but Bruce used one of his own to guide Clint’s bandaged appendages back down.
“Let me. Easy,” Bruce whispered as he brought the straw to Clint’s lips. Clint slurped greedily until the cup was empty, and groaned again. After Bruce flicked the switch on Clint’s bedside remote and dimmed the lights considerably, Clint opened his eyes more fully.
“Alright, Doc. Lay it on me. What’s my damage?” Clint asked, and Bruce could see him visibly steeling himself to hear the worst. Bruce started with what he knew Clint would want to hear first.
“Rope burns on your hands, bloodied them up pretty good but they should be completed healed within a week or two. No damage to range of motion.” The evident relief that washed over Clint’s face was enough to nearly make tears spring to Bruce’s eyes. He blinked rapidly and filed that reaction as something to think about later.
“A concussion, as you were able to assess. I’ve been doing my best to wake up up every 15 or 20 minutes. You’ve been pretty out of it for the last few hours, this is the first time you’ve woken up yourself so that’s good, you can actually rest now as much as you need since you’re able to hold a conversation.” Bruce was grateful that Clint seemed to be through the worst of it. Since being brought to medical after the battle, Clint had been in and out, unable to really speak or be aware of what was happening between bouts of vomiting and fitful naps.
“Lovely,” Clint joked, and then winced. “Why do my ribs feel broken? Because my ribs feel broken.”
Bruce numbed at that, and slowly sank back down into the bedside chair. He opened his mouth but clamped it shut quickly before saying anything. Only when he had leaned forward and buried his face in the hospital bed beside Clint’s thigh was he able to respond.
“4 broken ribs. My fault.”
Silence filled the room for a full minute aside from the beeping of Clint’s monitors.
“Bruce,” Clint started tentatively. The shock at hearing his first name used was almost enough to make Bruce pull his head up, until he felt the weight of Clint’s hand on the back of his neck. The tears that had threatened to come earlier broke free and Bruce cried silently into the mattress for a heartbeat or two before continuing.
“Hulk grabbed you too hard. You were trying to get off of the roof but your rope was cut by one of the bots so Hulk jumped and he grabbed you, but I...he...we were too rough. He didn’t think, because he never thinks, and I could feel your bones break, Clint, and I’m so, so sorry.” Bruce’s voice cracked on Clint’s name, and though it must have ached to do so, Clint’s grip on the back of Bruce’s neck tightened reassuringly.
“You’re too smart to be this big of an idiot, man,” Clint said, and Bruce did look up then. Clint still looked dazed but there was a dopey smile on his face. Bruce’s heart did a funny flip in his chest, and the only thought that went through his head in response to that was…oh.
“You saved me, obviously. Hulk can be a little brutish sometimes, but that’s part of his charm. I’d much rather be a little smooshed than a splat on the pavement, Banner, wouldn’t you agree?”
Bruce’s answer was immediate and more forceful than necessary. “Of course I agree! I don’t want anything to happen to you, Clint. Ever.”
Clint’s smile grew broader; Bruce’s heart pounded harder. “Glad that’s settled, then, because I need a long goddamn nap,” Clint announced before patting Bruce on the top of his head and closing his eyes. Bruce couldn’t look away, didn’t want too, so he stayed by Clint’s bedside and watched him drift into sleep. Just before Clint’s breathing evened out in slumber, he mumbled a soft “thanks, by the way,” and Bruce was left feeling overwhelmed as the other man slept.
“You’re positive that you want me to do this? Where’s Nat?” Clint’s voice was calm, but his demeanor was panicked. He snipped the pair of scissors in his hand open and closed repeatedly, and Bruce found his anxiety to be somewhat adorable.
“She’s on a mission with Steve and Sam right now. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, I can always wait for her to get back. It’s just getting a bit unruly in the lab. The one place that I really kind of need to be able to see, you know?” Bruce asked, keeping his tone teasing.
Clint rolled his eyes in mock exasperation before walking around the table to where Bruce was sitting. “Fine,” Clint bit out, “but if I futz this all up you can’t get mad. Hulk can’t get mad, either.”
Bruce snorted but removed his glasses all the same before looking up at Clint, who was hovering above him, eyes flitting around the mop of curls on Bruce’s head. “I don’t think the Hulk cares about our hair style, so I think you’re safe on that front.” Though Bruce had been joking, he was pleased to see Clint’s shoulder’s relax a bit at the statement.
For the next few minutes, neither of them spoke as Clint ran his fingers through Bruce’s thick hair, using the comb that Bruce had provided with the scissors to part his curls down the middle. Bruce focused on staying relaxed which was proving difficult with Clint’s body so close to his, the other man standing between his parted legs. Just before Clint made the first cut, he hesitated.
“Why did you ask me instead of Tony?” Clint asked, his voice barely a whisper. Bruce snapped his head back to look up at Clint, and he felt a strange loss when Clint’s fingers slipped out of his hair at the action. Bruce wasn’t sure what he would find on Clint’s face, but he certainly wasn’t expecting the bare vulnerability that he found there.
“Because I trust you. I trust Tony, too, but...I trust you, and the Other Guy trusts you, too.” Bruce said, cheeks pinking. “And, uh, you know. I just...wanted it to be you here, with me.”
Clint didn’t make eye contact but he did nod after a moment, once and firmly. “Good thing I wanna be here, too,” Clint said. It sounded like he was aiming for a joke, but the low and gravelly sound of his voice indicated a rare miss for Clint on that front.
The next 10 minutes proved to be a version of delicious torture for Bruce as Clint worked silently, picking up locks of his hair and snipping delicately. The only sound in the room was the sound of the scissors and their breaths, Bruce’s slow and paced compared to Clint who seemed to be breathing quickly and off rhythm. Bruce stole continuous glances throughout the process and revelled in the care and attention shining in Clint’s eyes as he completed his task.
Once finished, Clint muttered about the stray hairs that were “just fucking everywhere,” and used his hands to brush the clippings from Bruce’s shoulders and the back of his neck. Clint used his fingers to tousle what was left of Bruce’s hair, knocking the clipped hairs free while simultaneously creating an awesome, massaging friction on Bruce’s scalp. His skin tingled where Clint’s fingers rubbed against his head, and without thought Bruce opened his mouth.
“That feels incredible, Clint” Bruce practically moaned. He felt his heart stutter in embarrassment due to the sound of his own voice, breathy and ecstatic. Clint’s hands stalled in Bruce’s hair and Bruce’s eyes flew wide open along with his mouth in preparation to apologize. The words were lost in his throat, however, when Clint moved his hands downward, cupping Bruce’s face and using his thumbs to swipe the tiny prickles of hair off of Bruce’s cheekbones. Bruce felt his lips part as heat coiled in his body at the touch.
Only a short moment later, Clint jumped backward as though he had been burned, nearly tripping over the chair behind him. “So, uh, okay then. That’s done and that...happened. You’re looking good, Banner, I guess I didn’t do too shabby, I mean, not that you didn’t before and...I’m just gonna go. Bye!” Clint waved frantically for a moment before turning on his heel and exiting the room with determined precision.
Bruce was left feeling confused and a little bit vexed by Clint, but couldn’t stop himself from smiling whenever he ran his fingers through his own hair over the next week.
It was tradition that Natasha and Clint would curl up with one another on the loveseat in the communal living room during weekly movie nights, but in the weeks following Bruce’s haircut Natasha had started sitting herself on Sam’s lap in the big armchair in the corner, leaving the spot next to Clint empty. The first two times it had happened, Bruce was flooded with self-doubt, leading him to sit in his usual spot on the beanbag chair on the floor next to Bucky’s end of the couch. Bucky always stayed quiet during the movies and also shared his popcorn with Bruce every time, as they were the only two who didn’t like salt or butter.
The following week, however, Bruce was the first to arrive aside from Steve and Tony, who were sitting together on one end of the couch, a bit closer than absolutely necessary as per usual. Bruce took a deep breath, chastised himself for putting so much thought into sitting next to his friend during a movie, and took Natasha’s previous spot on the loveseat. He tried not to notice Tony and Steve look at him before looking at each other pointedly.
Bruce kicked himself a few minutes later for having been nervous. He wasn’t completely clueless, he recognized that he had a pretty intense crush on Clint, but it’s not like the other man was aware of that. At least he didn’t act like it when he ambled into the room a few minutes after everybody else, the opening scene of the Breakfast Club already playing. Clint collapsed on the loveseat next to Bruce, all heavy sprawling limbs, and made grabby hands at the pack of peanuts in Bruce’s lap. Bruce couldn’t help but smile as he extended them to Clint, who poured a substantial amount of them into his mouth before focusing on the movie.
It took a few minutes for Bruce to relax but he eventually did, sinking into the nostalgia of the film with everybody else aside from Steve and Bucky, who were watching with fresh eyes. He was acutely aware of Clint sitting next to him, nothing but an inch separating them, but he just reminded himself to enjoy the proximity of having his friends safe and close by.
This tactic worked and Bruce was able to focus on the movie. Until Clint shuffled closer, pressing himself against Bruce’s side, to lean over and whisper into Bruce’s ear.
“Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy?” Clint whispered. When Bruce looked over at Clint’s waggling eyebrows, his heart skipped a beat at how very close Clint’s face was to his own. He could make out a crack in Clint’s lower lip and traced the curve of Clint’s nose with his eyes. Clint’s smile grew wider and Bruce panicked as though caught.
“Erm, Emilio Estevez?” Bruce blurted in a half whisper, his panic causing him to answer truthfully in spite of himself. There was a brief hint of surprise on Clint’s face before a look of mischief took over.
“Have a thing for guys with blonde hair, do you?” Clint whispered, leaning in even closer, the movement of his lips tickling Bruce’s ear. All of the blood in Bruce’s body rushed south and in place of answering Clint’s likely rhetorical question, a small whimper escaped his throat instead.
Clint’s eyes closed and he huffed out a small breath of hot air on Bruce’s jaw. “Christ, Banner,” Clint breathed, and he leaned his forehead against Bruce’s temple for just long enough to make Bruce feel like he was falling, before leaning back and away. Bruce nearly keened at the loss of him, but was rewarded when Clint leaned back against the arm of the loveseat and propped his feet up on Bruce’s lap.
Because he couldn’t help himself, not 5 minutes later Bruce had removed Clint’s socks and was rubbing the archer’s feet. It wasn’t the first time he had massaged Clint’s feet, actually; by this point in time, he had massaged everyone on the team at least once and was the go-to in the tower for muscle relaxation and other self-care needs, in general, given his vested interest in being calm, relaxed and knot free. This time was different though, because he made it different. He pushed his thumbs firmly into Clint’s arches and dragged them in slow, hard circles between using his fingers to firmly stroke the tops of Clint’s feet and occasionally brushing his fingers upward to squeeze the base of Clint’s calves. He didn’t dare meet Clint’s eyes for the rest of the film, but if Clint’s borderline pornographic commentary about the beauty of Bruce’s hands was anything to go by, Clint was enjoying himself as much as Bruce was.
JARVIS brought on the lights at the end of the film, and the others slowly started to stretch and head away, off to bed. Sam mumbled something about Barton being a distracting birdbrain, and Steve told Clint that he was sitting next to Bruce next week because he had some killer knots in his shoulders. Bruce simply smiled and blushed when Clint told Steve to go get his own Bruce.
“Well, that was the best movie watching experience I’ve ever had,” Clint commented when it was just the two of them left. “Thanks for that. You didn’t have to.”
Bruce shrugged and stood up from the loveseat, back popping in the process. “My pleasure.” He shot Clint a small smile and they walked to the elevators together in companionable silence.
“Oh, by the way,” Clint called out when Bruce stepped onto his floor, “I’d choose Judd Nelson. I have a thing for brunette guys.”
Bruce wheeled around to gape at Clint, but he was only able to catch a sliver of him before the doors closed, a devilish smile on his face that Bruce imagined later that night when he took himself in hand.
Sleepy and sated, Bruce smiled, thinking of how Clint managed to make him feel revered, special, and most importantly, excited about waking up the next morning.
“...and I’m glad that I left Lucky with Kate, because honestly the dog was eating me out of house, home, and pizza. That dog’s pizza habit is why I had to give in and move into the tower, you know, even though I let Tony think it’s because I couldn’t resist the razzle dazzle of it all.”
Bruce didn’t know where he was. The only things he knew, in no particular order, were that he was cold, everything hurt, Clint was nearby mumbling about god knows what, and someone was gently stroking his back, up his spine and back down again.
Clint was mumbling nearby, and someone was running their hand up and down the flesh of his back. Putting two and two together, Bruce’s eyes shot open and his whole body startled, causing the hand on his back to still.
“Hey, there you are, handsome. I enjoy the company of the green guy as much as anyone can, but I gotta say it’s a relief to see your mug right now. Took you a bit longer to relax this time around.” Clint’s hand started back up again, and chills followed his fingertips as they moved across Bruce’s skin.
“Where are we? Wha..what happened?” Bruce asked, his throat raw and his joints on fire. He decided not to move due to the aches, and possibly because the last thing on Earth he wanted was for Clint to stop touching him.
“Whats-his-name-assclown and a few of his HYDRA morons stormed the tower. Didn’t take too long to assemble, or for Hulk to come out to play, but we wound up in what I would guess is probably his least favorite place.”
At that, Bruce sat up and glanced around, fighting the vertigo that came along with the action. His pulse started slamming in his ears and when he looked back to Clint, who was still sitting on the ground with his back against the wall, a rush of panic and a thrum of anger shot through his body.
“You followed me into the containment room?!” Bruce practically screamed at Clint, his voice deepening to an unnatural level.
To his credit, Clint didn’t even flinch or do so much as hold his hands up in defense.
“What were you thinking? Do you have any idea what could have happened to you? How hurt you could have been? He could have-”
“But he didn’t. And he didn’t come anywhere close. In fact, he kind of got a bit cuddly? I think he has a crush on me, dude.” Clint’s voice was friendly and teasing, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Clint! I’ve hurt you before, he can crush you like a bug and you know that! Why would you possibly put yourself in danger like this?”
“Because I didn’t want you to wake up alone, asshole!” Clint snapped, finally standing. “How would you have felt if you woke up just now without anybody here? Alone, sore, knowing full well that you Hulked the fuck out and thinking that we had to put you in a cage? No. I wouldn’t do that to you, so that’s why. Christ, could you let a guy give a shit about you?”
By then Clint was crowded into Bruce’s space, his finger close to poking at Bruce’s bare chest, which was heaving in disbelief at Clint’s passionate outburst.
Much to his initial horror, Bruce busted out laughing. He laughed harder still at the perplexion on Clint’s face, laughing until tears were rolling down his cheeks and he was grabbing onto Clint’s shoulders for support. When Bruce spiraled back down, he noticed that Clint was grinning and giggling himself.
“I’m not even going to pretend to understand whatever emotional roller coaster you’re on right now Banner, but I do know I’ve never seen you laugh like that. It’s good. You should do it more often.” Clint said, throwing an arm around Bruce’s waist as he started leading them towards the door. Bruce was distracted enough by Clint’s statement that he almost waltzed on out of the containment room after Clint.
“Problem?” Clint asked, quirking his eyebrow when Bruce froze at the threshold.
“Clint. I’m naked.”
Bruce felt himself flush with giddiness when Clint’s eyes drifted over his body, toe to head and back again before meeting Bruce’s eyes.
“Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, but…” Clint smiled instead of finishing his sentence, and both of them started giggling all over again before Clint left him to procure some kind of covering.
Bruce often ruminated on his interactions with Clint after they had parted ways to dissect the way the other man made him feel. This time, as Bruce struggled with saying goodbye to Clint when he dropped him off on his floor, Clint wasn’t even out of sight when Bruce was hit with it, gobsmacked with the understanding that he was in love with Clint Barton.
And there Bruce sat, the morning after, running on very little fitful sleep and bashing his head on the table. With a groan, he forced himself to stand up and then simply allowed himself to walk out of the dining room, towards the elevators. He tried to keep his mind blank and purposefully swallowed down the feelings of panic that were trying to claw their way up his throat.
Did he have reason to panic? Bruce didn’t know, but he was feeling more confident than he had been 10 minutes ago before ruminating on some of the more unforgettable memories he’d created with Clint over the last few months. If anything, Bruce knew he meant something to Clint and that was enough to swallow down his fear. He didn’t let himself plan on what he would say once he knocked on Clint’s door. Instead, Bruce simply breathed and counted for the entirety of the elevator ride up to the tip top of the tower.
The truth was, he told himself before raising his knuckles to the door, rapping gently, that he could handle rejection without needing to fall back on the Hulk. What he couldn’t handle was not knowing whether or not he could have something that he so desperately wanted. He couldn’t handle losing his grip because of simple ignorance.
Bruce snapped to attention at Clint’s greeting, and he felt what was now the all-too-familiar sensation of his stomach filling with butterflies as he drank Clint in with his eyes. Clint was wearing a pair of soft looking flannel pants (purple, because what else) and a threadbare washed out cotton t-shirt that probably used to be black but was now a dull gray color. His dirty blonde hair was tousled, and Bruce imagined Clint had been curled up on his sofa, coffee on the table in front of him, Dog Cops on the TV mounted to the wall.
“Hi,” was all Bruce managed to say, and he felt himself start to blush. Clint cocked his head to the side ever so slightly before opening the door further and walking back into the apartment, a clear invitation for Bruce to follow.
“Gotta say, Big Guy, I was kinda hopin’ you’d take me up on my offer to come visit,” Clint said, his voice gentle and quieter than usual.
Bruce felt his heartbeat kick up a notch or twelve.
“Oh, yeah?” Bruce asked, daring to take the smallest step closer to Clint.
Clint’s eyes sparkled. “You betcha. So tell me, what can I do ya for this time? We making another trip to Frederick’s? Though, I think I stocked up on your tea in here, if that’s what you’re looking for…” Clint’s words died down and withered when Bruce took yet another step towards him, within arm’s length now.
“I don’t need tea, but thank you. Actually, they don’t have what I need at Frederick’s, Clint, but you do.”
Clint swallowed and for the first time Bruce noted beautiful blotches of red starting to fill Clint’s cheeks and the tips of his ears.
“What do you need, Bruce?” Clint asked. The sound of his name on Clint’s lips spoken so seriously and softly was nearly enough to drive Bruce insane.
“You. I, ah, I need you, actually.” Bruce stood straight though he stammered, and he wouldn’t break eye contact. Which turned out to be a major payoff, as had he looked away Bruce would have missed the widening of Clint’s eyes and the brilliant smile that burst onto his face.
“Oh, thank fuck for that, Bruce,” Clint exclaimed, voice shaking slightly as he crossed the final two feet between them, “because I've got it bad for you, babe.”
Bruce felt like he was on fire, inside and out, even more so when he tilted his head up and moved into Clint’s space as Clint moved into his. The way Clint kissed him then was all kinds of overexcited, hyperactive, wet and gentle all at once, perfect, perfectly Clint.
When they broke apart after a few moments, Clint dropped his forehead against Bruce’s and allowed them to breathe each other’s air before breaking the comfortable silence.
“I bet we need to talk about this and all that, but can we do that after I’ve had a little more coffee?” Clint asked, and the ridiculousness of the man before him made Bruce chuckle.
“You could always try out my tea,” Bruce whispered, leaning forward to peck Clint’s lips one, two, three times in quick succession, “since you keep it so well stocked, apparently.”
Clint snorted at that, chased Bruce’s lips one more time before pulling away and heading to his coffee maker. “No thanks, man. I might be fucking stupidly in love with you but that doesn’t make me plain stupid. Coffee wins this debate, every time.”
Bruce heard what Clint said and his heart skipped a beat. Clint didn’t appear to even realize the proclamation he had made, so soon after their first kiss, their first true act of intimacy. Bruce admired Clint for his no nonsense simplicity, and as he opened his mouth to return the sentiment, Bruce considered.
For the first time in a long time, Bruce considered himself lucky.