The first time Clint noticed something was wrong with Bruce, was the night after their first battle.
I can always pick up books
In the search of what I need
-If You Love Me, Flatsound
The genius was just sitting on the ground, staring into the void. He was not there. He was not there at all.
And of course, Clint would have came and helped, he would have tried to get the man out of his mental hell, but at that moment, so soon after what happened ? After.. Loki ?
The second time Clint saw a flaw in Bruce’s quiet and peaceful appearance, was when the genius fell asleep during the first movie night of the team. They had chosen star wars, because Tony could not bare having the last two unspoiled beings on the planet in his tower.
Bruce had fallen asleep on Clint’s shoulder, and the archer’s first instinct had been to wake him up, but Natasha had read him like an open book and shook her head no, glaring at him.
Clint had the feeling that she, like him, suspected that the physicist wasn’t getting enough sleep.
So the bowman tried to ignore the curled hair tickling his throat and the soft hot breaths against his skin as he focused on the movie.
Well. He tried.
What actually happened is that he stared at the screen, wide eyed and tense, trying - and failing - not to blush as he realized just how good it felt to have Bruce so close to him.
He was in trouble.
Natasha gave him a look that told him she knew.
In so much trouble.
However Clint’s more than friendly thought towards his teammate disappeared when he felt the other man tense and twitch against him. Turning his head away from Natasha and to the scientist, he saw that the man was frowning, and his closed eyes were wet.
Oh. Bad dream.
‘What about ?’ Thought Clint as he shook Bruce awake.
The man awoke with a start, but the rest of the team had probably been glared at by Natasha beforehand because they didn’t react at all.
“Hey Bruce, you okay ?” Whispered Clint.
“Of course I am, but thank you for asking, Clint.” Replied Bruce.
Clint’s very good eyesight told him otherwise.
The first time Clint understood what was wrong, was also the third time he noticed something was, indeed, wrong.
After a battle where the Hulk had been particularly violent towards the enemies, tearing the aliens apart and spilling their guts on the ground, leaving pink alien blood everywhere around him, Bruce had be even quieter than usual.
No one had thought anything about this, at first. Maybe the most adorable of their geniuses was more exhausted than usual.
After two days of complete silence, Clint and Natasha had started feeling concerned.
After a week, everyone else was asking Bruce if he was okay, and when the physicist gave them a so painfully obvious fake smile and replied he was ‘fine, thank you’ they asked Natasha, or Clint.
After two weeks, Bruce was barely seen out of his lab anymore. Even less than Tony, and that was saying something.
So one night Clint made food.. Well he brought food that Tasha had made, but it was the intention that counted, right ? And he knocked on the lab door.
The glass was tainted black, just like when Tony’s lab was on blackout, but Bruce opened the door.
The man looked really tired. And pale. And he had lost weight.
And all this was far, so far from okay.
Bruce smiled. It was a small, sad and tired thing.
“Hey Clint. Why are you here ? Are you okay ?”
“Are you fucking serious ?! No I’m not okay ! Look at you ! How could I be okay ! Let me in.”
Clint was furious. And in pain. How dared Bruce treat himself like that ? Didn’t he think about the people who cared about him ? The archer pushed past the protesting scientist and entered the lab.
It was a mess.
Blood. Broken glass. Pills. Was that… Alcohol ? Yup. It definitely smelled like it.
He walked further into the lab, trying to understand what had happened. Behind him, Bruce was silent.
His feet hit something small and metallic that went rolling on the ground and under one of the lab tables.
As Clint’s eyes settled on the gun laying on the ground, surrounded by empty bottles of pills and alcohol, realisation dawned on him.
His fists clenched.
His throat tightened, making it so much harder to breathe.
His vision blurred.
The first time Bruce thought that maybe Clint loved him, or at least cared for him, was when the archer dropped to his knees on the broken glass and the pills that covered the floor of his lab.
“Clint, it’s alright. I’m alright. I can’t die.” He told the man quietly.
‘Even if I want to.’ He added mentally.
“But you sure as hell are trying !” Growled the bowman, but it was low. Pained.
“Your knees must be hurting. Let me look at them.”
The blond laughed, but it was an ugly sound.
“I’m the one who’s hurt here ? Look at yourself !”
“No !! No you’re not ! Stop saying this !”
Clint laughed again. That same sad laugh that Bruce was growing to hate.
“No. You need help.”
Bruce frowned. He did not want help. He could manage himself.
There was a short silence, during which Clint took deep breaths, obviously trying to calm himself down. The physicist hadn’t meant to make anyone cry. And yet, here Clint was, standing in the middle of his mess, fresh tear tracks on his cheeks.
“It’s okay Clint.” He tried again.
The blond stared at him for a few seconds before going right to the gun, picking it up, and throwing it in the trash.
“W-what are you doing Clint ?” Asked Bruce, even though he knew. He knew what the man was doing.
“I’m cleaning this mess.”
The scientist could see blood soaking through the other man’s jeans.
“I’ll do it myself, you can go. You’re hurt. Please stop walking you have glass in your knees.”
The genius knew that it was stupid to try to reason with the sniper right now, but he had to try.
“Like hell I’m going to leave you alone” Growled Clint.
And that’s how Bruce found himself fixing Clint’s bleeding knees at 3 in the morning, after the scientist had accepted to let him clean the lab afterwards.
Clint had stopped talking, but he hadn’t stopped staring at him, not even for a second.
The way those eyes seemed to be pleading Bruce to explain, to let the archer comfort him, made the scientist’s stomach feel weird. Something between pain and longing.
Clint had cleaned it all. For hours he had picked up the glass, the pills, the bullets, before wiping all the blood.
During all this time, neither of them said a word.
And when the archer left, Bruce ignored how much it felt like all the oxygen had disappeared from the room with the blond.
The first time Bruce hoped that maybe, just maybe, Clint loved him back, was a two days after those events.
He had finally returned to the ‘land of the living’ like Clint and Thor called it jokingly, and was making himself coffee, almost glad that he hadn’t ran into anyone. He knew Clint had most likely told them everything.
He wondered why no one had came to him yet.
Maybe he didn’t deserve it.
On his way to the communal kitchen, Bruce had went to his quarters and picked up a few books. He planned to spend the day reading in the communal floor.
He would never say it out loud, but he felt lonely.
And of course, of course he knew it was stupid to be where anyone could find him when the first thing any of the avengers was going to do was give him the sad look. Not just any sad look. The sad look.
The one you give to a dying man.
The one you give to someone too broken to be fixed.
So he drank his coffee, ate half a bowl of cereals, made a tea, and went to the living room, his pile of books in his hands, and the cup of tea on the top.
He was so focused on avoiding to spill his tea that he didn’t notice that he was entering a room full of people.
He sat in his favorite armchair, placed his cup of tea on the table next to him, and opened the first book.
It was a book about two men, being in love, but one was too shy and emotionally constipated to admit it, and the other was too caught up in his own problems to even realise he was feeling something.
‘So cliché. Those things Don’t happen in real life.’ Thought Bruce everytime. But he liked this book a lot anyway. He could not even remember the exact number of times he had read it.
Despite being cliché, this book made him dream. Dream that maybe, someone, out there, someone loved him for who he was, no matter how much he hated himself.
Slowly, that faceless someone had turned into Clint.
That maybe, just maybe, Clint might love him back.
The first time Clint noticed something was strange about Bruce was two days later, when the genius walked in the common room with a pile of books in his hands and a cup of tea on top.
Typical. And cute. So cute.
He opened his mouth to say hi but Natasha glared at him. Clint understood the message, and sealed his lips.
All the Avengers were in the room. They had been talking about Bruce when the guy had just.. Walked in and sat in his usual armchair. It looked comfy but no one ever dared to sit in it because it was Bruce’s.
And now there was a heavy silence hanging in the air. Had the genius even seen them ? Judging by Natasha’s amused expression and Tony’s just as amused but also understanding one, he hadn’t.
The genius jumped and turned green for a split second.
He stood up, looking around wildly.
“I-I-I-I didn’t see-see you there. I’m sorry. Uh… Hi ? Sorry.” The physicist apologized.
Actually apologized. For… For what exactly ?
“What the fuck ? Don’t be sorry. It was cut-” Clint coughed. “Funny.”
Bruce stared at him. Then, after a second, avoided his gaze and blushed.
Oh shit. Did it mean that… Oh shit. Clint grinned. That was awesome.
The first time Bruce wondered if Clint was in love with him was also the first time in years that he accepted a hug.
Everyone had left the room. One by one, they had left Bruce to his reading.
He hadn’t meant to make them go. He just wanted some company, but they must have thought he wanted to be left alone.
The faint sound of the tv still filled the silence.
And Bruce didn’t want to fool himself. He was alone.
“Turn off the tv, Jarvis.” He ordered in a quiet voice without bothering to look up from his book.
The sound of the tv stopped.
“Hey” Protested Clint. “If you wanted it on mute, you just had to say it, I can read lips. Or put the subtitles on. That’d actually be smarter.”
Bruce looked up, bewildered. What the hell was Clint doing here ?
“I was watching tv until you turned it off.” Replied the archer, frowning and pretending to glare at him, but somehow Bruce knew the blond didn’t mean it.
“Sorry” He said, before going back to his reading. He was almost at the part where the lovers met for the first time, it was one of his favorites.
Two hands landed softly on his shoulders.
“What are you reading ?” Asked Clint, softly.
Bruce startled and looked up and twisted his head, trying to look at the man behind him.
“W-what are you doing Clint ?”
“Massaging your shoulders ? You’re so tense, it’s crazy.” The man was mumbling, and Bruce couldn’t quite see him because of the angle, but he suspected that Clint might be blushing.
He didn’t know what to do.
Clint didn’t know it, but right under the shirt he was massaging Bruce through, there used to be scars. They had disappeared when Hulk was created.
He wasn’t used to friendly touches.
He was used to screams. Belts. Soldiers shooting at him. People fearing him. Flinching away from him.
He was used to no food, no sleep, and days spent alone in his lab, pretending to work, but actually reading the same book over and over, only able to think “I wish he’d love me, I wish, oh I wish he’d actually love me back.” But always remembering just what he is and why exactly he does not deserve anything but pain, anyone but monsters like him.
He was used to the cold touch of a gun against his temple, and the ‘bang’ as it goes off for the twelth time of the day.
He wasn’t used to the low voice telling him that it’s alright, it’s okay to just cry sometimes.
He wasn’t used to the strong hands not here to hurt but to comfort.
He wasn’t used to a hand taking his and leading him gently to the couch.
He wasn’t used to feeling arms around him.
He wasn’t used to hear what the man murmured softly in his ear.
“I’ve got you”
But that doesn’t help me any
If you’re impossible to read
So if you love me, if you love me
-If You Love Me, Flatsound