"Dragged into another heartbreak
Like a moth into a flame
Are we programmed
For broken romance?"
-Jukebox The Ghost, Everybody's Lonely
There was an unspoken rule among the Avengers that they didn't talk about Clint's soulmark.
They didn't talk about it, they didn't look at it, and they didn't bring it up.
Except, unfortunately, no one had thought to inform Steve of that fact before now.
They were coming back from a mission that had started with a very unfriendly taco vendor and had ended with Clint, Steve and Natasha covered in what smelled like sewage and looked like raw mince. Tony had been in the suit, so he'd been safe, and Vision had simply let it phase through him. Wanda hadn't been close enough to have been hit with the blast. He hated all of them. They sucked. It was one of the most horrendous things Clint had experienced in a life that had been filled with many, many horrendous things. He sped into a run for the gym when the jet landed, ignoring Hill's calls for a debrief and report. She could wait until he was free of the dumpster meat, thank you. His floor was closer than the gym, technically, but he wasn't risking getting any of this crap in the place he and Natasha shared, or she'd skin him alive.
He stepped under the scalding water and let out a sigh of relief, scrubbing a hand through his hair and watching clumps of whatever-it-was fall to the floor. Gross. It came off easily enough, thankfully, but that didn't stop it from being disgusting. Whoever had planted this needed an arrow through their brain, and he'd be more than happy to supply it. He was tired, too, muscles aching like he'd been punched around way more times than he actually had. Clint leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the cold tiles, letting the freeze wake him up a bit. He was vaguely aware of the bathroom door opening and closing again, and he wondered why they had communal showers in the gym when Tony definitely could've paid for some privacy. Probably because he wanted to ogle Steve or something. Which, fair enough, but Clint liked his privacy.
"You okay there, Clint? Want me to take care of that?"
He closed his eyes and leaned against the tiles a bit more, as Steve wandered past him and turned the taps on another shower. He was mostly bruised, but there was a cut on his side that was probably going to need stitches. There had been a split second of lost concentration, and he'd dodged a second too late for the knife. It stung, and he really hoped it wasn't going to get infected. But with whatever that stuff was, and knowing his luck, it probably would. He pushed off the wall and finished washing himself, checking to make sure he'd gotten all of that gunk away from him. When he turned the taps off Steve was already done and dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, and he was handed a towel and fresh trunks.
"Awh, man, you're too good to me, Steve," he said gratefully, drying off his hair. "Only thing better right now would be if you had a pizza."
Thank god Tony had made his aids waterproof, he couldn't deal with having to read lips right now. Steve offered him a smile and gestured to the overflowing first aid kit he'd procured from somewhere. Clint wasn't above being fussed over right now, so he pulled on the underwear and sat down on the bench heavily, trying not to wince as Steve knelt in front of him and began cleaning the wound. He worked quickly, being efficient, and Clint really appreciated it. He was always looking after them. He'd probably go check on Natasha after this, too.
Steve wiped off the excess blood with a damp cloth, going around the edges off Clint's ribs and making him squirm a little. He was ticklish, it happened. The problem was when his squirming made Steve look up, his eyes level with the black scrawl over Clint's heart. His breath caught audibly, hand going still, and Clint froze as well. Shit. He'd forgotten about it, caught up with the exhaustion from the battle and the gunk on his skin. Steve's eyes flicked up to his face, impossibly blue, and then back down to where James Buchanan Barnes was neatly penned on his chest. Fuck, Clint thought, but it didn't really sum up his feelings on the situation.
"Clint," Steve breathed, and his face had a million emotions going through it all at once and Clint knew, he'd already known from that awful day he'd searched the records on the Howling Commandos and found a signature scrawled in an old letter but the look on Steve's face confirmed it. Shit. Steve's fingers brushed the curve of the J reverently, and Clint flinched away.
"Clint, I'm so-"
"Tell me he didn't have my name," Clint croaked out. "Please."
Steve closed his mouth and looked at the floor, at Clint's blood on the cloth in his hand.
"Please, Steve," Clint begged.
"He- it was on his left arm, up on his shoulder," Steve said, like he couldn't help it, still looking at the floor. "He used to sit there at nights by the fire and trace the words. Joked that his soulmate had the worst handwriting he'd ever seen in his life. He loved it."
Clint couldn't say anything to that, couldn't get past the clenching of his heart and his fists.
"He loved you," Steve said, and Clint got up and fled the room.
He busted his stitches scrambling up the stairs to his floor, and when he got there he threw himself onto the couch and cried, the blood staining the beige fabric, and he didn't care. His hand bumped the soulmark and there was nothing, just cold emptiness as far as his mind could search. It wasn't fair, it wasn't right. How could he have lost his soulmate before he'd even been born? What kind of a god thought that was an acceptable thing to do to someone?
Natasha found him like that four hours later, and she didn't say anything, just scooped him into her lap and turned the television onto some mind-meltingly boring kid's cartoon. The blood was dried and flaking now, itchy on his skin. He buried his face in her hair and tried to remember how to breathe again past the lead in his throat. She petted his back gently but didn't do anything else, just let him pass out against her and fixed his stitches while he was out for the count.
He didn't know whether she'd said anything to Steve, but he didn't bring it up again.
He didn't have to. Clint could see the look on his face.
The asset was confused.
He was a weapon, a tool, he wasn't supposed to be confused, but- something wasn't right. The woman tried to claw at his vest, at his neck, but it didn't bother the asset and so he ignored her. Wait. He was supposed to be killing her, wasn't he? That's what his mission was. He squeezed the target harder and heard a crunch as bones snapped, dropped her limp body to the concrete floor with a thump. Gunshots rang out from his left and he ducked under a low-hanging strip of metal for cover, feeling a frown cross his face. He couldn't shake off the feeling that something was wrong, off-kilter. He swung his gun around and shot the person attempting to harm him, and then sat down, back to the metal.
-he was sitting in their dumpy flat with his shirt off and Steve was laughing, he was laughing too, unable to contain the rush of utter awe and glee he felt bubbling in his stomach. His shoulder burned, a little bit, but it was nothing compared to the emotions the soulmark's appearance had brought along with it. Steve's delicate fingers reached out and he shuffled closer to him on the couch so Steve could trace the jagged C on his shoulder. Steve's eyes were alight with wonder and Bucky felt amazing, like he was flying. Clint Barton. His soulmate.
"His handwriting's... interesting," Steve said after a moment, and they both dissolved into near-hysterical laughter again.
"It's the most awful thing I've ever fuckin' seen, Stevie, holy shit," Bucky gasped. "I love it. It's amazing."
"We gotta find him, Buck," Steve said. "You think he's from Brooklyn?"
"Does it matter? Anyway, he'll show up. No point in soulmates if we never meet, eh?"
Steve smiled at him, slow and warm, and Bucky couldn't wait for the day he could tell him, hey, this is my soulmate, Clint B-
The asset traced the edges of the red star on his left shoulder with his right hand -no, that's not right, it should be a name there, his name- and shook his head to clear it. He was defective again. Needed to go back in for maintenance, as soon as possible. He stood, wiping the blood and gore still stuck to his left hand on his pants, and headed for the extraction point he'd been given before the mission. His handlers would fix this. He didn't want to feel this unease and confusion, he wanted the cold back. The emptiness.
Clint arrived in the hospital a few seconds after Tony, and offered the other man a quick wave as he scaled the building and swung into Steve's window. He didn't need to be in the hospital, technically- Stark Tower had the best medical facility around, but the ambulance had picked him up and put him here, so here he was. Steve didn't seem concerned that Clint had climbed three stories to get into the room to avoid the doctors. He'd seen enough medical professionals for a lifetime, and when he'd gotten the text saying 'Steve asked for you' he hadn't questioned it, just hightailed his way to the address. Tony could talk to the officials, that was up his alley.
Steve didn't smile at him, which should have been the first clue that something was up. Hey, maybe he wants me to kill someone, Clint thought, and he should've been worried about the dark thrill that sent up his spine. If Captain America wanted the Winter Soldier dead, it'd happen. Steve had done a lot for Clint, and he'd do whatever he had to to repay that debt.
"You wanted me?"
"Clint," Steve said. "Clint, he's alive."
"What? The Soldier?"
"Yes," Steve confirmed, and then shook his head. "No, not the Soldier. Bucky. He saved my life."
Clint's world fell apart for the fifth time that day. He felt cold, like he was encased in ice, like he'd been frozen to death and his corpse was wandering around eating pizza and cracking awful jokes and scaling buildings he wasn't supposed to. He'd been ready to kill the Winter Soldier. He hadn't been ready to hear his soulmate was out there somewhere, wandering around with no clue as to who he was or what was going on. His soulmate was the Fist of HYDRA, the most feared assassin out there, a man who'd be approaching a hundred years old pretty soon. And what did that say about Clint, that the person he had written on his heart was the fucking Winter Soldier?
"Can you feel him?" Steve asked insistently.
Clint snuck his hand up his shirt and pressed his fingers to where he knew the mark was, burned into his mind and his soul equally. There was nothing for a moment, just a familiar rush of cold that was almost relieving, in a way, and then he felt it. Confusion. Panic. Pain. He yanked his hand away like it had burned him, but the look on Steve's face said he already knew.
"I'm going to find him, Clint. I'll bring him back," Steve said.
"I need to go," Clint breathed.
He was going to be sick. He was sick, threw up in the bushes at the back of the hospital and then wiped his mouth and kept going. Tony was still at the front desk when he passed the front door, gestured at him to come but Clint ignored him. Tony could wait, for once in his life. Clint had more important things to process right now. His soulmate was alive. And quite possibly a deranged murderer. He flicked open his phone, called Natasha.
"What information have you got on the Winter Soldier?" He gritted out.
"What information are you looking for, lastachka?" She got right to the point, and he could hear tapping that meant she'd opened a computer and was typing away.
"He's- it's my-" He couldn't get it out. He couldn't breathe, shit. Natasha's tapping paused and she waited, as he found a low-hanging wall and sat down heavily. Fuck. This wasn't right. Bucky was supposed to be dead. Dead and gone decades ago. But if he wasn't, then...
If he wasn't, then Clint needed to find him.
"The fucking Winter Soldier's my soulmate, Tasha. He's alive."
There was a pause, and then Natasha started typing again. She didn't seem surprised. Of course she'd already known. "We'll find him."
"SHIELD's gone. Steve's in the hospital. What are we supposed to do, hunt him down without him killing us and go hey, hi, guess what? Looks like we're destined to be together even though you're a crazy frozen amnesiac and I'm- I'm-?"
"We're going to find him," Natasha repeats. Clint breathes, offers a weak smile to a concerned-looking old lady passing him by. "I'll meet you at the safehouse three blocks from the hospital."
He managed to make his way to the safehouse a few minutes before Natasha pulled up on a motorcycle. She didn't hug him, just assessed him in that way she did before turning to unlock the front door. He hoped he didn't have puke on his shirt. Not that she'd care. She was wonderful like that. He followed her into the sparsely-decorated house, leaning up against a counter as she unpacked her laptop and set it down on the dining table.He needed coffee. Or a lobotomy. Or both. Unfortunately, there weren't any doctors around to turn him into a vegetable, so he made a beeline for the coffeepot instead as Natasha typed away in silence.
"I've got a photograph," she informed him. "It's a little blurry, but..."
Clint turned the coffeepot on and then shuffled over to her. The laptop was tilted so he'd have a better view of the unconscious body lying on ice before him- was that a cryochamber? He'd seen the old photographs, faded and worn, of a young man with a confident smirk and a rifle in his hands, but he hadn't seen the Winter Soldier. He hadn't seen long, messy brown hair and more scars than Clint knew what to do with. He hadn't seen the cold, dead look in the Soldier's eyes that matched up perfectly with what he'd felt from the soulmark since it had burned its way onto his chest when he was fifteen. He hadn't seen the metal arm, the red star emblazoned on it, and that's when it clicked.
They hadn't just taken his soulmate from him, they'd stamped their own fucking symbol on him instead, and Clint couldn't stop the hot rage burning him up from the inside. He turned, not wanting to hurt Natasha, and instead slammed his fist into the brick wall. It hurt, it burned, but it didn't hurt as much as knowing what they'd done to him. He punched it again, feeling the skin scrape off his knuckles, leaving them as raw as his chest felt.
"I'm going to murder them all," he spat.
"You don't want to find him first?"
He turned just enough so that he could see Natasha's face, and her expression was neutral but her eyes were sad. And really, was Bucky even his soulmate anymore if he didn't have the mark? Clint was Bucky's, but Bucky wasn't his. Wouldn't ever be, now, because it had been taken from them even more permanently than death had done. What use would finding him do? Maybe it was better to just let Steve find him. The Soldier would know Steve, had remembered him before. Steve and Bucky would be together. He wouldn't remember Clint, and Clint wasn't brave enough to face him and then deal with the aftermath.
"You want to go on a holiday, Nat?"
"I'll book the tickets. Russia, I'm guessing," she said, and didn't smile back when he gave her something that probably looked more like a grimace than anything.
"Russia," he confirmed. "We can go burn out the rest of the Red Room, while we're there."
She nods in acknowledgement, and opens up a new tab to start organizing the flight. This was a good idea. Clint could go away for a few months and come to the terms with the fact he had a soulmate who wasn't his soulmate, and Steve could get his best friend back. Sam would probably help, it'd be fine. They didn't need the Amazing Hawkeye making things even more complicated than they already were. And Clint could still help, in his own way- now SHIELD was gone he didn't have to worry about 'unnecessary violence' or whatever the administrators used to call it. Coulson never complained about him being more bloodthirsty than usual. Man, he missed Phil.
"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky."
The haggard figure in the reflection mouthed the words at him as he said it, and then looked frustrated. He let out an irritated sigh and turned around, leaning on the creaky motel sink. No matter how many times he said it, it felt wrong in his mouth, sour somehow. Maybe it was because he was more asset than person still. Except assets didn't feel tired, or guilty, or lost. He didn't have a mission anymore. He didn't have anything except a faint memory of a blond who got into more trouble than was necessary for any one person. Steve would be hunting him down soon, he knew, and it wasn't going to be pretty. He needed to sort out the mess in his brain so he didn't hurt anyone first.
He rubbed a hand over the red star on his shoulder. Wondered if he could scrape it off, use a sander or something. But no, he couldn't risk losing use of his left hand, he needed it. It was engraved on there, too, so it'd be near impossible. But he couldn't shake the feeling that it was wrong, somehow, beyond the obvious. It made sense he didn't like it- he was free, wasn't their tool anymore, but the sick feeling in his gut said there was something else. Something he was missing. He let out a frustrated groan and headed out of the bathroom, looking at the array of weaponry he'd managed to grab from a stash he'd remembered. Knives, handguns, a rifle, a short machete.
If he couldn't remember what Bucky Barnes was supposed to do, he guessed he'd have to work with what the asset could, along with the anger he could feel thrumming through his veins.
"Hey, Tasha, we've got a live one," Clint called out.
The young girl backed up against a wall, one hand clamped over her side, blood leaking through her pale fingers. She had a knife in the other hand, pointed at Clint, but she wasn't close enough to pose any threat to him like that. The initial explosion they'd detonated had killed most of the operatives in here, but if she'd been in this little backroom it would've only knocked her around. He wondered if they'd have enough time to get some of that coffee from the gas station he'd seen a few miles away. They'd run out of the supplies he'd brought somewhere around the third base they'd stormed, and he missed coffee. And pizza, oh man. He'd kill a man for a pizza. Turns out isolated villain hideouts weren't great for finding food besides cold tins of soup.
"Hail HYDRA," the girl spat at him, and he shot her in the head.
Her body slumped back against the wall and Natasha appeared next to him, not even giving the fresh corpse a second glance. She waved a USB stick at him to communicate she'd found what she was looking for, and then they exited the ruined base. Clint swung himself into the drivers seat of their armoured van and Natasha threw the device into the glove compartment and they set off for the next location. The radio was burbling something in Russian he didn't care enough to listen to, and he was tired. But it felt good, doing something. He'd missed the days when it was just him and Natasha against the world. She tapped her fingernails gently on the steering wheel to get his attention and then pursed her lips, in thought for a moment.
"Steve called," she said. "He wants my help to find James."
"And? You gonna do it?"
"Are you going to come with me if I do?"
Clint turned the van onto a dirt track, checked the GPS to make sure he was going the right way. "You know I can't."
"I know," she agreed, but it sounded a little sad.
"You should go help Steve," Clint said. "I can handle a few search and destroy missions by myself."
She sighed. "Are you going to come back afterwards?"
He shrugged and parked in front of the cloaked Quinjet. The radio went off with a decisive click, and then she was unclicking her seatbelt and reaching across the seat to pull him into a hug. She smelled like perfume and snow and blood, just a little bit, and he hugged her back. Then she was leaning back and manuvering out of the van, grabbing her duffel bag off of the backseat. He offered her a smile that was barely there and she returned it. He loved her so much, he could afford to let her go to find his- Bucky. To find Bucky for Steve.
"Don't get yourself killed," she said.
"Who would you nag if I died? Got no intention of dying, Nat," he replied.
She snorted, and that was that.
"What was here before?"
The man strapped to a rickety chair in the empty HYDRA base spits blood at him instead of answering his question. The asset- no, Bucky, Bucky Barnes- steps out of the way of it and watches as it splattered onto the ground. He wasn't getting anywhere with this torturing business. Still, he had to try. He brandished the knife again, took note of the glint of fear in the man's eye before he cut it out of the socket. Screams filled the air, and Bucky still wasn't any closer to getting any answers. He didn't know how many HYDRA hideouts he'd gone through by now, had lost count, but none of these idiots seemed to have any idea what was missing. And he knew something was missing, but his memories were all frayed at the edges and he couldn't focus for long enough to figure out what it was.
He slit the man's throat and left him to die.
Steve knows, a traitorous voice in his head whispered to him. He told it to shut the fuck up. He wasn't going to go to Steve, especially when he'd nearly killed him last time. He'd just have to find answers some other way. Hmm. He stops at a road and gestures to the cars passing with his flesh hand, tucking the metal one in his pocket where the gleam of steel can't be seen. A green SUV with an elderly man inside stopped and he got in, hoping the man would think the red stain on his collar was ketchup or something. Either that or he wasn't bothered by a blood-splattered hitchhiker, because he smiled in greeting. Bucky tried to smile back.
"Where you headed, young man?"
Young man? According to his calculations, he was almost certainly older than this man. He kept that to himself, though. He felt a million years old and like a child simultaneously. The man pulled onto the road and Bucky swung his bag into the back, amongst what looked like a pile of picture books. One had a very ugly-looking green elephant depicted on the front and he refrained from the inappropriate urge to laugh at it.
"Me too. Wonderful, I love having company! Going sightseeing?"
"Sort of. 'm going to the Smithsonian."
"Oh, I love it there. I'm going to take my granddaughter there when she's a bit older. Never too early to learn about history, eh?"
Bucky didn't have an answer to that, but the man didn't seem particularly upset, because he kept talking. Bucky turned his head to watch the world go past, letting the talking fade out into white noise. If it was important, he'd just ask the guy to repeat it. His hand twitched inside his pocket, and he tried to flex it without bringing too much attention to it. It wasn't malfunctioning, but the grip was too hard on it and he had no idea how to fix it. Why hadn't HYDRA considered that a priority? He'd have to find a manual or something at the next base. He wasn't letting them touch it ever again, even if he was awake and ready to shoot them at any given moment.
Except he wasn't going to the next base, he was going to a museum to look for answers.
He hoped the Smithsonian had answers about what was going on with his shoulder. The Captain America exhibit would have something pertaining to Sergeant Barnes, surely. If he was supposed to be Steve's best friend and right-hand man, it made sense that the exhibit might have some information. And he couldn't just ask Steve, he couldn't. He couldn't face Steve when every time he closed his eyes he saw bleeding lips and broken ribs and dead, sightless eyes. The old man was still chattering beside him, something about a dog now, and Bucky sighed. He hoped the museum had answers.
"Nat? What're yo-"
"Hey, Robin Hood," Tony greeted cheerfully, and Clint pulled the phone away from his ear to check the caller ID. Nope, that definitely said 'Natasha.' The man under his boot groaned in pain and Clint kicked him again for good measure, sure he'd broken a few of the guy's ribs by now. The book of records on the Winter Soldier was on the desk beside him, and the star on the front was making Clint see red. He didn't have time to deal with Tony. He slipped the book into the satchel hanging off of his hip and left the man where he was on the floor, heading for the exit as he raised the phone to his ear again.
"What do you want, Stark?"
"Got some upgrades for your ears. A certain redhead told me your aids were malfunctioning a little."
He couldn't deny that. His aids had been crackling uncertainly on and off for the last month, and he should've known when he'd complained to Natasha she'd organize to get them fixed. But he was somewhere in the wilderness and he didn't have the jet. He stopped at the C4 he'd planted and set the timer, making his way past the bodies littered on the floor. He hadn't used his bow for most of them, resorted to a knife for close quarters, so there weren't any arrows to be picked up.
"I'm in Russia," he informed Tony.
"I know. Heading in on your location now. And I've brought a gift."
Clint steps out of the base, scrunching up his nose at the bracing cold of the wind. Jesus, he hated the weather here. He was moving to Florida or something once this was all over. Or Egypt. Somewhere dry, so he'd never have to see another snowflake again in his entire lifespan. Winter was banned. In more ways than one. As he headed for the van, he saw a flash of red and gold and then Tony was touching down beside him. He hung up the phone and tucked it away, then wiped the blood off of his chin.
"Hey," Tony greeted, the faceplate clicking open. Clint looked at him blankly, and then down to where the Iron Man gauntlets were holding a box that read-
"You brought me pizza?"
"Sure did," came the cheerful answer. "Let's get in the van before you freeze, yeah?"
They climbed in the back, Tony leaving the suit standing in the snow- it had a heating feature, he was informed- and Clint opened the pizza box, inhaling the scent of melted cheese and pepperoni. Oh, man. He devoured four slices in a row while Tony began fiddling with a new pair of aids he'd pulled out of the pockets of his jeans, savouring the taste of the pizza melting in his mouth. He was going to have to do something really nice for Tony after this. Something really, really nice. Tony held up the aids for Clint to inspect and he noticed they were a lot thinner than the ones he was wearing, kitted out in deep violet and silver.
"Thought you'd appreciate the purple."
"I appreciate you, Tony," and Tony blinked, like he hadn't expected that. "I love you, holy shit, pizza. I'd marry you if I didn't think Pepper would eviscerate me."
He let out a startled bark of laughter and handed Clint the new aids. He set the pizza box so it was balanced precariously on his knee and switched out the old ones, giving them to Tony when he held a hand out. The world went silent for a minute, and then Clint switched on the new aids and the wind rushing past the van became audible. Tony snatched a slice of the pizza and they ate quietly for a minute, and then there was a boom that rattled the arrows on the dashboard. Clint continued eating. Tony glanced out the window at the smoking ruins of the building and shrugged to himself, scratching at the arc reactor where it glowed faintly through his AC/DC shirt.
"So," Tony said when the pizza was gone. "Barnes, huh?"
Clint sighed. "I'm not going after him, Stark."
Tony held up his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm not here to drag you back to romance him. I don't like him, he's dangerous and out of control and we have no idea how many Presidents he's killed. I came here to ask you if you wanted to get rid of... that."
A hand that isn't his touches to his chest, to where the soulmark is hidden underneath his blood-stained and torn tac vest. He'd need to get another one when he got home. Maybe he'd make the whole thing neon purple this time. No, that wasn't a good idea. Stains showed up too much. Maybe dark red with a splash of purple or something. Clint looked down at Tony's calloused fingers for a moment and then glanced back up at his face. His face was serious, grave as he could be.
"You can't get rid of soulmarks," Clint argued.
"I can't get rid of it," Tony admitted. "But I can use a skin graft to fade it a bit, tattoo over it, and you won't be able to feel anything through the bond. I looked into it when Steve told me, thought I could try and help."
Clint looked down at Tony's fingers again. Thought of the neat curled letters over his heart, the little swish the last 's' had. Bucky wasn't going to love him back. Bucky probably didn't even know he had a soulmate wandering around in the first place. If Clint got his covered up, then would it even matter?
Except he couldn't. "I can't," he said. "I can't, Tony, he's not mine, but this is."
Tony sat back, settled the hand that had been touching Clint in his lap. The other was absently rubbing at his collarbone like he didn't know he was doing it. Clint had seen it before, the elegant calligraphy of Virginia Potts lettered on the skin there. It hurt. He didn't want it to hurt, but he was tired and he wished he could've just had a normal soulmate and a normal life, something that wasn't always about murder and helplessness and betrayal. But he wasn't getting rid of the soulmark, so maybe he deserved this. All of it.
"Thanks for the pizza, man," Clint said. "And the aids. Really. I appreciate it."
"Gotta make sure you come back to us in one piece, Birdman," Tony said.
Steve caught up to him after the seventh HYDRA base. Bucky had let him catch up- he hadn't meant to, but even though his memories were coming back in drips and drops he still hadn't gotten the information he was looking for, what was missing. He was James Buchanan Barnes, and he'd located his dogtags in the third base (why they'd kept them, he didn't know) and they made a comforting weight under his shirt. Still, no one seemed to know what he needed to know, so the only option was to slow down, leave a more obvious trail and wait for Steve to arrive. He knew The Falcon would be with him- Sam Wilson, but Bucky left information leading to another location so they'd split up, and then he sat on the chair in the motel room and waited.
Steve opened the door with a creak- he hadn't locked it, even though it made his blood bubble with tension. The shield was on his back, and he had a gun in his hand. No outfit, though. It was a shame, Bucky'd thought it was pretty funny. He crossed his legs and leaned back in the chair, making sure Steve knew he didn't have any weapons on him right now. He hadn't trusted himself, so he'd thrown them all in a bag and hidden it in the floorboards. If HYDRA was following Steve, they'd be in trouble. But he trusted Steve, and HYDRA had wanted Steve dead, so it'd be okay.
"Buck," he breathed, stopping dead in the doorway.
Bucky tilted his head to the side, tried to look relaxed and not at all like he was considering jumping out the window. "Close the door, Stevie. Gonna let the whole neighbourhood hear?" The Brooklyn accent had come back, although he hadn't realised it until a woman he'd bought some cheese from had brought it up.
Steve closed his mouth and stepped inside, nudging the door shut with his foot. He was still looking at Bucky like he'd come across a unicorn or something equally as impossible. He took a step closer and then stopped again, like if he got too close Bucky would escape. But no, he'd chosen to do this and he was going to do this. He offered Steve a barely-there smile and was rewarded by the joyous grin he got back, and then Steve was launching himself across the room and into Bucky's arms. Immediately old memories swarmed him, flickers of a much smaller blond with an attitude and scraped knuckles, of a woman who instructed him to take care of Steve amongst wheezes for breath.
"Hey, punk," he whispered into Steve's hair, and Steve let out a hysterical giggle and held him tighter.
Bucky raised his arms, not entirely sure what he was doing, but his body moved on autopilot and hugged him back, hard. The shield cut into his flesh arm in a way that was almost painful, but he wasn't letting go. Steve pressed their cheeks together and then leaned back a bit so he could see Bucky's face.
"Not much," he admitted. "Enough, but..."
Steve didn't seem particularly put out by that. "I've got photos and stuff at my place, if you wanted to...?"
"Yeah. Yeah, that's fine. The government going to be a problem, or?"
"No, Buck. Tony- Tony Stark, Howard's boy- he's got something figured out. You're fine, it wasn't you," Steve said earnestly, and Bucky didn't have the heart to argue with him, to say yeah, that was me, even if I was brainwashed. If pretending he didn't have anything to do with his time as the asset was what he needed to do to remember it all, he'd do it without complaint. And maybe, eventually, Steve could figure out what was wrong with his shoulder.
Natasha was waiting for him when he landed on top of the Tower, red hair blowing in the gentle breeze. The others weren't, which was a little surprising, given the amount of texts he'd been getting over the last few months. Even Bruce had sent him a brief message, along with Vision, who had promised he was watching over Wanda for Clint like he'd asked. Man, he'd missed them all. He was really glad to be back, if he was totally honest. Russia was not for him, and being alone in the wilderness wasn't really his speed either. He grabbed his bags off of the passenger seat and accepted the kiss on the cheek Natasha gave him before he noticed the unsettled glint in those green eyes. Something was wrong.
"What? Did Thor break the coffeemaker again?" He joked.
"Your precious coffeemaker is fine," she answered with exasperation, taking one of his bags from him. "Come downstairs. Have a shower. I'll explain."
They started down the stairs and Clint wondered what exactly was going on. It took a lot to unsettle Natasha. Was Bruce permanently the Hulk or something weird like that? That might make the moves Natasha had been putting on him a bit difficult. And Jesus, sex, how in the world would that work if he was the Hulk? Yikes. Poor Natasha.
Except it wasn't poor Natasha, it was poor Clint, because that was Bucky Barnes in the loungeroom, looking uncomfortable as all hell as Tony gestured around, a screwdriver in his teeth and some sort of wire in his right hand. Bucky wasn't facing them, so all Clint saw was a mess of soft hair and a black hoodie and- and that fucking arm. Tony raised his hand to wave a greeting at them, but Clint was already moving past them and into the elevator before Bucky could turn around. He heard Natasha quietly greet both of them and then her heels were clicking into the elevator as well, pressing the button for their floor.
"Why didn't you warn me?"
"He only showed up last Tuesday. I didn't know if he'd be staying," she said, and Clint sighed. He had been expecting something like this, to be honest. That look on Steve's face in the hospital when he'd claimed he'd find Bucky hadn't been a bluff. Natasha brushed her shoulder against his arm comfortingly. The words written on his skin felt like a brand, searing hot and hurting. He wondered if the soulmark knew its partner had been in a gorge in the wilderness for seventy years, if it possessed enough sentience to know there was no other half anymore. They'd never been able to answer that question in the therapy SHIELD had assigned him when he'd first become an agent.
"I need a shower," he announced, and Natasha nodded agreeably, stepping out onto their floor. He trusted that she wouldn't let Bucky on the floor right now- or Tony, or Steve, Jesus Christ, what was Steve going to do about this fucking mess? He dropped his clothes on the tiles as he walked, leaving his bags by the elevator as he went. He'd have to face them sooner or later, but first he needed to shower, and eat, and quite possibly jump out a fucking window. Natasha was on the couch when he got out, and she'd ordered burgers. From the expensive place too, by the smell of it.
She didn't ask questions, didn't even mention it when Clint went to get a shirt- he'd never bothered with one before when it was just them, but he didn't want to see the mark out of the corner of his eye. He just wanted to pretend it wasn't there at all. When they'd finished eating, Natasha cleared away the mess and then sat back down on the couch next to him. He slid down until his head was in her lap, and she petted his hair gently. She didn't say anything still, waited until he was ready- and he was never going to meet anyone as wonderful as her, was he? It was a shame neither of them were interested in each other romantically, they'd be awesome. He sighed and hid his face in her thigh when footsteps came down the hallway.
"Just me," Bruce said softly. "I remembered Clint's fridge was empty."
Clint turned his head to see Bruce's warm brown eyes looking down at him and- ooh, he had beer with him. He sat up and made grabby hands for it and Bruce smiled at him as he cracked open the first one. Oh, beautiful beer. Natasha shifted closer to Clint so Bruce could sit down on her other side, and Clint heard her utter a quiet "thank you" as he swigged down the beer. He wondered vaguely if Natasha had managed to get him out on a date yet. Bruce seemed to genuinely like her, but then again Bruce seemed to like everyone, so it was hard to tell. At least Clint was warm in the confidence that both Bruce and Hulk liked him and Natasha, so they were safe.
Natasha and Bruce conversed quietly, about what, he didn't know, and Clint sat there and enjoyed his beer and the comfort of them being close.
"Who was that?"
Tony paused in his tweaking of the arm, one finger still holding a few wires from Bucky's arm and that was really goddamn uncomfortable, but he needed it to be working again. Bucky looked up from the arm to Tony and then to the empty corridor behind him again. He'd heard footsteps, had registered two people, one being Natasha, but when he'd looked whoever it was had already gone and Natasha had shrugged, said hello and followed. He hadn't gotten the vibe that she'd been much of a follower when they'd met last week, so whoever it was must've been either important or close to her. He looked back at Tony, who was making a conflicted expression, biting his lip. Bucky stared back blankly until Tony sighed and went back to fiddling with the arm.
"You'll meet him eventually," Tony said, sounding resigned.
Bucky didn't have anything to say to that, so he didn't say anything, and after a minute there was an audible popping noise and then Tony was closing up a plate in his arm. He leaned back in the chair, rubbing at his goatee thoughtfully. It had taken five days of nonstop begging before Bucky had finally caved in and let him fix up the problems the arm had been giving him, and Tony was more than pleased at being able to fiddle with it. Steve had seemed glad they were getting along as well, so Bucky hadn't argued when he'd been manhandled onto the couch this afternoon. Tony wasn't so bad, really, he was just a bit much sometimes. Bucky only remembered Howard Stark's face, not any physical memories, and from the look on Tony's face when his father had been brought up he was kind of glad he didn't.
"Okay. Make a fist?"
He made a fist obediently. The hand moved smoother than it had been, and there was no residual ache it had been giving his shoulder for as long as he could remember. A smile ghosted across Tony's face at the gentle whirring noise, and then he was getting up, packing all his tools away and instructing Bucky to let him know if anything else came up, or if he wanted a laser cannon built in. No, he did not want a laser cannon- he'd done enough damage around the world without having a fucking cannon the next time he went wild. Tony shuffled off in the direction of the elevator and he had a minute to breathe before Steve was coming in and sitting across from him.
"Hey, Buck," Steve greeted.
"Hey. Arm's all fixed," he said back, wiggling the metal fingers gently. Steve's eyes went to the fingers with a faintly amused look, and then travelled up to his shoulder, to the star- and then he looked away. He'd been right. Every time Bucky brought attention to the arm, Steve would have a split-second reaction to the star. It wasn't just the arm itself, because he'd worn long sleeves and Steve had barely batted an eyelid at the exposed hand, or his forearm. No, it was just the shoulder and he needed to know why, because Steve knew. He knew what was wrong with the shoulder, with the star, and he wasn't telling Bucky why.
"I found some old photo albums," Steve offered. "Want to look, see if it jogs any more memories?"
"Sure, why not," Bucky agreed, but his mind was still on the mystery of what was wrong with his shoulder.
-"Bucky! Buck, I got mine, look!"
Bucky turned his head away from the shitty science-fiction novel in his lap to watch as Steve padded his way to the chair he was settled on by the window. Once he got close enough to touch he was struggling out of his threadbare white shirt, putting his ribs on display for the whole neighbourhood. Bucky refrained from an amused chuckle in favour of putting the book on the windowsill and then paying attention as Steve turned around, gesturing wildly to the inky smudge on the small of his back. It hadn't developed into words properly yet- it usually took a few years to get clearer, and Bucky thumbed at what could have been an S. Steve grinned at him excitedly from over one pale shoulder and Bucky grinned back, happy for him.
"Feel anything from it yet?"
"No," Steve said, shrugging. "But it's okay. 'm lucky to have one at all."
"Aw, Stevie," he pulled Steve back into a hug and settled his chin on a bony shoulder. "You're gonna have an amazing soulmate, I bet."
"You too," Steve argued.
"Mine's already amazing, they're mine," Bucky said cheerfully-
Bucky snapped awake like he'd been slapped. He was lying on the couch in the common room upstairs still- he hadn't slept well on the beds and the other people in the Tower seemed to understand that well enough that when he passed out in random places, they just left him to it. Or offered him tea when he woke up. He'd been a bit puzzled by that- Bruce, his name was Bruce. The light was flooding in from behind a curtain and he rolled over to avoid it, pressing his face into the couch cushions. The dream- or memory, or whatever it was, was fading at the edges already but he remembered enough to think. Soulmarks. He remembered them vaguely, had seen black letters on Tony's collarbone when his shirt slipped down and the words on a HYDRA employee's neck before he'd snapped it. Hmm.
"Morning, sunshine," Steve greeted as he went past, and Bucky raised his hand to give Steve the middle finger without removing his face from the couch. He hadn't figured out everything about himself just yet, but he definitely wasn't a morning person by any stretch of the world.
He raised his head when he heard Steve pulling out the juice carton, humming, and he and Sam exchanged a weary look. Sam seemed to have been looking after Steve while Bucky had been- while he wasn't here, and Bucky was more than happy to let him do it. He didn't like Sam that much, but he could appreciate that he was good for Steve, and stuck with him. Steve passed him a glass as he sat down on the couch opposite and Sam started up the coffeemaker.
"How're you feeling today, Buck?"
He grunted, taking a sip of the juice, then remembered he was supposed to be using real words. Steve liked it when he actually made an effort to communicate. "Yeah. Fine."
Steve made a happy hmm of agreement and went back to watching Sam fiddle around in the kitchen. Bucky looked at him, then at Sam, then back at Steve. Hmm. Okay. Maybe there was more going on than Sam being Bucky's replacement. Good for them, he guessed. Although Steve was probably going to have to stop speeding ahead of Sam on their jogs before Sam got fed up and shot him in the knee. He yawned, still tired even though he slept more now than he had in seventy years- probably more than that, even.
"Do I smell coffee?"
Bucky jerked at the new voice, because he should've heard it coming, which meant whoever it was, they were well-trained. Steve froze, and he tilted his head so that he could see whoever had brought on this reaction. He was lean, with a shock of dirty blond hair and he looked like someone had tossed him out of bed, eyes only half-open and tired. He let out a yawn and shuffled past Sam, who just murmured a greeting and got out of the way as the man made a beeline for the coffee machine, fumbling for a mug before he turned it on. While the coffee machine whirred and began filling the mug, Bucky turned back to eye Steve, who still looked visibly nervous. Was this guy some sort of killing machine? Was there some sort of reason to be scared of him? He just looked tired, and maybe a little beaten up. His shirt had ridden up enough that Bucky could see a yellowing bruise, and there were stitches in his right arm.
The coffee machine made a chime and the man scooped the mug into his hands, and chugged the scalding hot coffee like it was water. Bucky frowned, but Sam didn't react at all, so apparently this was normal. He was fairly sure normal humans didn't like boiling hot things- hell, he didn't like them either, but this guy had finished his mug and was setting the mug back down for a refill. Steve coughed politely and Bucky turned, but Steve's gaze was still on the man and when he looked back, intense sky-blue eyes were staring at him with something akin to shock.
"Bucky, this is Clint. Clint Barton," Steve said.
Clint Barton. Why did that sound familiar? "Have we met before?"
Clint blinked, and the shock was gone, replaced with a blank smile. "Nah, man."
"Are you sure?"
"I think I'd probably be dead if we had," Clint answered with an eyebrow raised, and Bucky snorted before he could help himself. It cut out Steve's harsh "Clint!" from behind him.
"See you around, Winter Snowflake," Clint said, grabbing his mug and drifting away to the elevator. His footsteps were still almost silent. The silence that followed after the elevator doors closed was even quieter. Bucky turned and gave Steve a curious look. Steve looked at Sam. Bucky looked at Sam. Sam looked at Steve, giving him an aggrieved sigh, and Bucky got the distinct feeling he was missing something here. Also- Winter Snowflake? In what world was he in any way similar to a snowflake, of all things?
Clint sighed, drew back, and fired. The arrow thunked into the target exactly where he'd angled it for, finishing the X he'd made on it. He was doing as well as could be expected, for someone pretending his sort-of-not-really-soulmate was just another guy on the Avengers roster. Bucky wasn't legally allowed to leave the Tower because of negotiations Tony had made with the government, so it was easy enough to avoid him if Clint really tried, but he tended to hang out in the Tower as well and he didn't want it to be glaringly obvious he was running away every time the guy showed up. He seemed well-adjusted, for a guy that had been brainwashed for seventy years- Clint had walked in on Bruce making him tea, which was pretty big, considering Bruce wasn't big on trusting people.
He let his shoulders slump and sat down on the synthetic grass. Tony had added it onto the firing range to make it seem "more natural for an archer," and he'd also added in wind patterns and different targets for Clint that FRIDAY could operate. That man really did spoil the hell out of them. Clint wondered what would happen if one day one of them bought something expensive for him. He'd probably buy something four times as expensive and they'd be back to where they started again. Clint wouldn't be surprised.
"Mister Barton? Shall I turn off the lights, if you plan to sleep there?" FRIDAY inquired.
"No, it's fine, just dim them a little," he reassured, waving a hand in the air. She didn't reply, but she didn't really need to. The lights dimmed accordingly. He turned his head to see the clock- and yeah, it was two in the morning, no wonder she thought he wanted to sleep down here.
Footsteps echoed through his ears and then stopped abruptly like they hadn't expected him to be there, so it wasn't Natasha, and he glanced over to see- yep, of course it was- fucking Bucky Barnes watching him cautiously, like he expected Clint to shoot him or something. He was wearing a hoodie that was way too big for him (how did they find clothes in that size?) and jeans, metal hand tucked into the pocket of the hoodie so it wasn't visible. Clint just let out a sigh and flopped backwards onto the grass, closing his eyes. He was tired.
"I can go, if you want," his voice was nice, rough.
Clint didn't open his eyes. "It's fine. Just don't step on me or shoot me."
Bucky didn't say anything, but the footsteps started up again, moving to where Clint knew the handguns were, and then back to where the targets were beside him. The sound of the gun reloading filled the air, and Clint tensed up, just barely, as shots rang out. None hit him, though, so he relaxed again, sank into the grass, as Bucky pulled the trigger again and again. It was oddly comforting, the sound of shooting, and it wasn't like Bucky was bothering him. Maybe he could do this after all. They could certainly coexist like this, all he had to do was keep their extremely confusing history to himself. It didn't seem like Bucky remembered anything, and maybe that was for the best. He noticed the shooting had stopped and realised he'd probably run out of ammo.
"Did I kill your parents or something?"
Clint snorted out a laugh.
"That a no?"
There was a rustle and he opened his eyes to see Bucky sitting down next to him in his peripheral vision, the gun being set down in the grass gently. Oh, dear. Bucky was trying to talk with him. Had Steve put him up to it? No, if he had Bucky wouldn't be asking about dead parents. Steve didn't like that kind of dark humour that he and Natasha preferred, which meant this was all Bucky Barnes, just interested in the weird guy taking a rest in the range at two am. He didn't freak out, which was the weirdest thing. He didn't even feel like panicking, even though his- Bucky was sitting maybe a foot away from him, trying to have a conversation. Which, whoops, he hadn't answered the question.
"My parents died in a car accident. My dad's fault," he said dismissively.
"...Siblings?" The question came cautiously.
"Far as I know, he's still around, although if you shot him a little I'd probably egg you on."
Bucky let out a bark of laughter at that, and Clint fought the urge to let a smile curl his lips. "So there's no predetermined reason for you to be avoiding me?"
"What makes you think I'm avoiding you?"
He turned his head as he said it, which meant he was hit with the full force of Bucky's no-nonsense stare. Christ, the photos really hadn't done him any justice, had they? His eyes were intense, a shade that could've been blue or grey depending on the light he was in, and his expression was knowing. Of course he knew Clint was avoiding him, the man wasn't an idiot. He hadn't survived for ninety years because he was dumb. HYDRA probably would've had better luck with someone like Clint, with less brain cells and a terrible habit of lying when he knew he'd already been caught out.
He sighed. "Look, it's not you. Well, it's not you personally. I've just... gotta get used to the idea of you being around," he explained.
It didn't make much sense, but Bucky seemed to sense the honesty in his words and nodded in acknowledgement, standing up to put the handgun away. Clint was starting to suspect that even though no one had sent him down here, Bucky had come down here to talk to Clint specifically anyway.
"Alright. Just thought I'd make sure. See you around, Barton."
And then he was gone, and Clint sat up to see that he'd shot the target next to Clint's in a perfect imitation of the X he himself had made, except with bullets. Classy. He laughed, and it only sounded a little bit shaky in the quiet of the range. Maybe if they couldn't be soulmates, they could be friends. Clint could live with that.
He still hadn't figured out exactly what it was about Clint Barton that unsettled Steve so much, but he figured it was probably an overreaction because the man was absolutely ridiculous.
"No, no, you have to move," Clint pleaded from the other end of the gym. "It's not a challenge otherwise!"
Vision stared back at him impassively, floating a foot off of the ground with an apple balanced on top of his head. Bucky was jogging distractedly on a treadmill on the other side- after their conversation the other day, Clint had more or less seemed to have accepted Bucky's presence in the Tower and had taken to friendship. Friendship meaning that Clint made terrible frozen jokes, showed Bucky all the apparent classical movies he'd missed in the last seventy years, and only flinched a little bit when he saw the metal left arm. Still, he treated Bucky like a normal person and he didn't look heartbroken when Bucky didn't remember something like Steve did, and he didn't look wary like the Black Widow did, and he wasn't over-the-top like Tony Stark. Bucky still had the oddest sensation in the back of his mind that he'd seen Clint somewhere else, had known him, but Steve had confirmed that was impossible.
"Move, Vision," Clint insisted, waving an arrow in one hand.
Vision looked as exasperated as an android possibly could before he began swaying gently from side to side. Clint let out a huff, unimpressed, but he drew the bow back and shot the apple anyway. It hit the center of the fruit and rolled off of Vision's head, thunking against the wooden floor as Vision touched down on the ground. Clint put his hands on his hips and Bucky tried not to snort at them. At that point, Wanda finished with her yoga and made her way to them, and then she and Vision headed for the doors, much to Clint's disappointment. Bucky watched as he picked up the impaled apple and took a bite out of it, chewing slowly.
He slowed down and then pressed the button to stop the treadmill. "Want me to stand in? I'm only part metal, though."
Clint's smile made something in Bucky's chest loosen. "It's not like I'm going to shoot you. Never miss, remember?"
"Sure, sure. Prove it," Bucky said, making his way over to Clint.
Clint looked down at the half-eaten apple, then back up at Bucky and shrugged, tossing it at the trashcan a few meters away. It went in, unsurprisingly, and then Bucky watched as Clint hunted around for something else to use. There wasn't much in the gym besides equipment that was far too large to make a challenging target, so Bucky dug his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants and came up with a candy wrapper. He didn't eat candy, and neither did Steve, so he didn't know where the wrapper had come from, but he waved it at Clint and watched the way those crystal-bright blue eyes lit up. Bucky couldn't remember guys being this pretty in the thirties, and it was a shame, honestly.
Clint pulled an arrow out and waited, bouncing on his heels, as Bucky tossed it up in the air. The wrapper floated for a split second as Bucky watched, and then there was a sharp flash of black and it was gone. Clint let out a cheerful whoop and he turned to see it pinned to the wall of the gym, the arrowhead perfectly stabbing through the 'O' in the label. Hmm. Maybe that'd been too easy for him. Bucky dug around in his pockets again and this time came up with a toothpick. He didn't know where that'd come from, either, but he held it up to Clint questioningly and got an enthusiastic nod in response. Bucky flipped it up into the air and watched first the flash of the arrow, and then the two broken pieces of the toothpick falling to the ground. Which... wow.
"Never miss. Told you," Clint affirmed.
Bucky turned back to him. "You any good at using other weapons, though?"
He gets a shrug. "I like ranged stuff, but I can use anything in a pinch. Twigs, rocks, a melon baller. You have to be flexible for SHIELD to employ you."
That earns him a sly smile. "You starting a fight, Barnes?"
"Maybe. Sure you can handle me?"
Clint grinned at him, but there was a flicker of something dangerous in his eyes. If he'd been the one to bring in the Black Widow, there must be something else to him besides an uncanny proficiency with ranged weapons. Bucky stretched his arms over his head in a show on nonchalance. Confident or not, Clint was human and probably extremely breakable. He'd have to be careful not to use too much of his strength or risk hurting him seriously. He followed Clint over to the mats and watched him shed the bow and his socks- which had 'Tuesday' printed on them, and it was Friday, wasn't it? Bucky was sure it was Friday today, unless he'd lost time. He poked at the purple socks with his toe. Clint turned at the other end of the mat, bounced a little like he was excited.
Bucky grunted in reply, and then Clint was lunging at him lightning-fast, and he barely blocked the first punch, deflected it with his flesh arm and took a step back. Clint kicked at him and he blocked that one with the metal arm, wincing a little at the noise that made, but Clint didn't seem bothered even though he was sure that would bruise his foot later. He swung at Clint's stomach, but then Clint was grabbing at the metal arm, levering himself up Bucky's body like he weighed nothing, and then there were thighs around his ears and he hit the mat with a thump. Clint wiggled around and then he was snickering, tapping his bare toes against the small of Bucky's back. His feet were cold through the thin cotton of his shirt.
"Don't pull your punches," Clint chastised.
"How do you know I was pulling my punches, I didn't even hit you," Bucky grumbled.
He couldn't see Clint's face from this angle, but he could almost feel the waves of indignation coming from the blond man half-on top of him. Come to think of it, this would be kind of hard to explain if anyone came in the gym right now, with Bucky on his stomach and Clint's legs wrapped around him. He sure was bendy, Bucky had to admit. He wondered if Natasha had taught him that or whether he'd taught Natasha. He turned his head so he could squint at Clint from the corner of his eye, but Clint didn't seem particularly interested in moving from his position. His toes were still wiggling against Bucky's back, and the amusement was coming off him like a physical aura.
"Stop pouting. It makes me feel bad," Clint said.
"'m not pouting," he replied, because he wasn't.
His metal arm was stuck underneath the soft curve of Clint's ass and Bucky had no idea how he found that comfortable in any way, shape or form. It was solid steel, for god's sake. But then again, he'd been told that the confusingly large vents in the Tower and the series of steel bars that could be found near the ceilings of both the gym and the shooting range were for the archer's benefit. Maybe Clint just liked being uncomfortable. He shifted so he could look Clint in the eye and that's when Clint's toes, which had been ever so slowly crumpling the fabric of Bucky's shirt up, touched the bare skin of Bucky's back.
It was like touching a live wire, electric and sharp and prickling up his spine, and Bucky couldn't even begin to put the sensation of it into words when Clint flinched, and then rolled off of him as fast as he'd put him down on the ground. Bucky didn't move an inch, still reeling, but he registered the panic on Clint's face a second before it dissolved into an grin Bucky only knew was fake because he'd been looking.
"Man, where does the time go? I've got to go find Bruce, he wanted to discuss local restaurants with me. Let me know when you want your ass handed to you again," Clint said, and his voice was even. Casual. He was good, Bucky would give him that, but he'd clearly felt whatever the hell that was too. He sat up and watched Clint disappear through the doors to the gym, and tried to remember how to breathe.
What the fucking hell was that.
Clint pushed his way into Bruce's lab with an elbow, still in his gym clothes and a little sweaty. He could still feel the ghost of Bucky's body against his skin, and he had goosebumps, and this was not normal. How were they supposed to be just friends when simple touching felt like that? Clint ignored the fact that he'd had Bucky literally pinned down with his thighs. They'd been sparring, it was totally normal. So what if he didn't normally use that move on anyone, not even Steve. Bruce wasn't anywhere in eyeview, but Natasha was sitting at one of the tables, watching a vial of something that was glowing a worrying shade of yellow.
"Does it always feel like that?" Clint demanded.
She raised her eyes up to him and raised a querying eyebrow. "Does what feel like what?"
"The- when you touch Bruce, does it-? Is it like being electrocuted?"
"No," Natasha replied. "It's fine. Did you electrocute yourself?"
"No," Clint said.
"So you touched James, then?" Clint glared at her, and she rolled her eyes, unimpressed. "The first time you touch your soulmate, the bond links up properly."
"But he doesn't have the mark. How does- awh, fuck, I don't care. Where's Bruce? I know he's hiding tequila in here."
Natasha watched him impassively as he stormed over to Bruce's main desk and started rifling through the drawers. The bond linking up- what did that even mean? The bond couldn't link up, it was impossible. Maybe that's why it had been so intense. Bucky probably hadn't even felt anything and Clint had just run off like a weirdo. Paper, paper, more paper, nope, that's not alcohol, teabags, a pair of reading glasses- since when did Bruce need glasses? He moved to the bookshelf, moving the large collection of notebooks aside, but the tequila wasn't here, either. Maybe Bruce had put it in the back room since Clint had stolen it last time. As he wandered over to the steel door, Natasha let out a cough.
"I wouldn't do that if I-"
The Hulk squinted at Clint for a moment, then grunted. Clint blinked. And again. Then he turned to eye Natasha, who was still sitting on her chair, legs crossed. She didn't look particularly worried by the appearance of the large green rage monster crouching in the back room of Bruce's laboratory. Which meant that he was supposed to be there. Clint turned back to the Hulk, who was wearing a pair of lovely not-torn grey pants. Hmm. Maybe that's what Bruce had been working on lately- which, fair enough. Clint wouldn't want to have his dick out while he was fighting villains. He waved a greeting at the Hulk and wandered past him to check the shelves in the fridge for alcohol. Hulk made a grumbling noise in the back of his throat and Clint heard Natasha come in the back room and shut the door behind them.
"Good afternoon, big guy," he greeted over his shoulder.
"Tiny bird," Hulk rumbled.
"Yes, tiny bird," Natasha acknowledged. "He's trying to drink his problems away instead of figuring out a solution."
"There's no solution to this whole mess," Clint muttered. "Unless Bruce has something that can turn me into a vegetable."
He found a half-finished bottle of vodka and pulled it out triumphantly, ignoring Natasha's resigned sigh. Hulk seemed rather calm about the whole situation, for a monster that was a physical manifestation of rage. The room wasn't quite high enough for him, so he was squatting in the middle of the room, looking more or less unbothered by everything going on. Green eyes swivelled to Natasha, who was still looking exasperated by Clint, and then back to Clint himself. If he didn't know better, he'd say Hulk was contemplating the conversation they were having. He unscrewed the cap off of the vodka and took a large swig, grimacing as it burned on the way down. He was more or less used to it after those months in Russia, but that didn't make it any nicer to drink. He took another swig and then squinted at Hulk's arm, where there was a telltale twist of black ink. Ugh, of course even Hulk got to have a normal soulbond.
"I hate happy couples," he informed Natasha.
"We're not a couple," Natasha said. "Don't blame other people for this."
Clint scrunched up his face at her and sat down on a low-hanging bench, sitting the vodka between his thighs. Where Bucky had been not half an hour ago. And- oh god, that brought images to his mind that really didn't help the situation. Why did Bucky have to be absurdly hot on top of everything else? It just wasn't fair. God must have a real vendetta against him. He let out a startled squawk as a green hand pulled him into a crushing, painful embrace. Was he trying to put Clint out of his misery? The hand smacked Clint on the back, hard, and Natasha let out a smothered snicker from somewhere to his left.
"Are you trying to comfort me, big guy?"
A rumble of affirmation. Oh. He was being hugged by the Hulk. It was just as painful and rib-crushing as he'd imagined. But... kind of endearing, if he was being totally honest with himself. Hulk was actually more touchy-feely than Bruce was, weirdly enough, but Clint was here for it. This was just fine. He patted one giant pec with the arm not currently crushed in Hulk's armpit. Clint raised up on his toes so he could see the top of Natasha's head when he spoke again.
"It probably won't happen again, right?"
"Who knows. If the bond can't link properly, it might be like that every time you touch him skin-to-skin," she answered, and wow, that was really great, wasn't it? Clint let himself slump against Hulk's chest.
"So I just don't touch him?"
"Or you could talk to him," she said.
"Remember when you hadn't met Barnes and you actually took pity on me for my tragic love life?"
"That was when he was supposed to be dead. You've had time to adjust to him being alive, and he's more or less sane, I don't need to coddle you."
"If you like him so much you have him. I'll keep Bruce and big green here." He taps his hand against Hulk's chest again.
"He's not my soulmate," she reasons. "And you can't have Bruce, either."
Clint grumbles and hides his face next to one green nipple. Natasha sighs at him, but walks out of the room, presumably to check on that vial she'd been watching before Clint had come here to sulk. Hulk continues his awful attempts at being comforting. He guessed that if he spent the next twenty years not touching Bucky in any way, shape or form while saving people and doing the hero thing, and then retires to the countryside to raise a small army of dogs, it might turn out okay. Maybe Natasha would lend Bruce to him for tea and hugs. Until then, he could just... pretend everything was fine.
"Hey, computer," Bucky called up at the ceiling.
The Avengers had been called out for a mission, aside from Bruce, who'd given them all a small shrug and disappeared down into his laboratory. Bucky felt particularly unfriendly towards labs, so he couldn't go down there and watch Bruce do whatever it was that Bruce did. The villain had been identified as Dr Doom, and Bucky didn't know who that was but it didn't sound terribly frightening to him. Someone who had to call themselves something that ominous probably wasn't to be feared. His thoughts had been confirmed by Barton- Clint's unimpressed sigh when they'd been informed. Still, the team had gone out to take care of it and Bucky had been left to sit on the couch and twiddle his thumbs.
"Yes, Sergeant Barnes?"
That was never going to stop being awesome. The future was pretty cool, aside from the supervillains and admittedly rickety government. "Do you have any footage of what's going on with the team right now?"
"I can bring up a screen of the boss's camera, or there's one from a live news helicopter," she informs him.
"The helicopter, thanks," he said.
Immediately, a blue screen appears in front of him, and then loads in to a shaky camera feed. And wow. That's a lot of robots. He can pick out Steve immediately in the blue- and yes, he'd kept the outfit. Nice. Steve's just slamming into the bots left and right, making a path, and he can see the gleam of the Iron Man armour as Tony soars past, repulsors powering up. The Black Widow- Natasha, is further in, doing something the camera can't quite make out. Then an arrow hits a head in the crowd of the robots and sparks, exploding with a bang that shakes the helicopter even though it's far from the explosion. The camera swings around to land on a dark figure perched up on a building, raining arrows down upon the robots.
There's a pause and then one hand removes from the bow to offer a cheerful wave, and the camera shakes again, presumably the cameraman waving back to the figure as he begins firing again.
Hawkeye. Clint Barton.
Had he been on HYDRA's watchlist? The Black Widow certainly had been- he remembered reading a file on her, and it was obvious why she was considered a threat when he saw the predatory glint in her eyes. Clint was underestimated, though- he hadn't been part of any spy program, or shot up with serum, but he was holding his own amongst the others and that said volumes about him. Even if he was just an ordinary human with more bumps and scrapes than an ordinary human should be getting, and some sort of weird zappy business going on when he touched people. Clint hadn't brought up the situation that'd happened at the gym, and when Bucky had handed him a cup of coffee the morning after he'd gotten a hunted look on his face that'd made Bucky keep his questions to himself. Whatever it was, Clint didn't want to tell.
Bucky leaned back into the couch cushions, watching as the camera swung back to the midst of the battle where the other Avengers were. He heard a shuffle as Bruce came past quietly, a cup of herbal tea in his hands- and how much tea did this man drink, honestly? Bucky wasn't sure it helped the whole green-monster situation, so maybe it was just a Bruce thing. Bruce settled down on the other side of the couch, silently watching the fight going on. Bucky went to look back at the screen as well, but a flash of ink caught his eye where Bruce's sleeve had slipped down.
"You have a soulmark?"
Bruce jumped a little, and then looked down at his right forearm, where a neatly penned Natas was visible. Natasha Romanoff, he'd be willing to bet. They made an interesting pair. Bruce smiled at the mark briefly and then looked up at the battle, where Natasha was kicking a bot. Bucky felt a pang in his heart at that- but Christ, he couldn't be jealous of people with soulmates. He didn't deserve one, not with the things he'd done. He'd looked for a mark, back when he'd remembered Steve, and had been half-relieved, half-disappointed that his bare skin was blank canvas broken only by scars. Bruce offered him a tentative smile.
"We're working it out. It's not- I worry about hurting her, sometimes," he explained.
"Understandable," Bucky agreed. "'m kind of glad I don't have one."
Bruce flinched a little at that- and why would he? Was Bucky really that heartless to be saying that? It wasn't like he'd chosen this.
-"Barnes, James Buchanan, please step into the measuring room."
He offered the nurse a flirty smirk as she began measuring his chest for uniform sizes. He was determined to look absolutely amazing in the outfit if he had to go out there. Steve wasn't going to like it, but at least they'd be able to get some pictures before he left. Maybe Steve would share a spare one to give to his soulmate when they found each other. The nurse paid no attention to his smile, just gently guided him to raise first his right arm, then his left. When he lowered his left arm her eyes settled on the inky mess of his shoulder and she let out a giggle, hiding it in her hand. He let his lips curl up again in amusement at her reaction, and maybe a little pride.
"That's quite the mark you have there. Very clear, though," she noted.
"Just the way I like it, ma'am," Bucky said proudly. "Gotta tell the whole world who I fight for."
She gave him an amused pat and left to grab some papers, leaving Bucky standing facing the mirror. He could see the edges of the soulmark, the jagged edge of a B visible from the way he was standing. God, he loved it-
"I had a soulmark," Bucky whispered. Had. Because-
Because that's what he'd been missing. That's what the stupid fucking star was covering, that's why it felt so horrifically wrong when he looked in the mirror, that's what he'd been looking for from all those HYDRA operatives he'd murdered who didn't know, of course they didn't know. They didn't care about his soulmate. He was vaguely aware of Bruce talking to him, concern rising in his voice, but he couldn't breathe. They'd taken it. They hadn't just settled with taking his life and his mind and his body, they'd stolen his fucking soulmate on top of that. The rage bubbled up before he could stop it and there was a loud, shattering crack.
Shit. He hadn't hurt Bruce, had he-? But no, Bruce was resting a hand on his right shoulder, speaking in a low worried voice. His left hand was buried in the wood of the coffee table, he'd punched right through it. He muttered something to Bruce that he really hoped was reassuring rather than murderous, because all he could hear was the blood rushing in his ears and all he could see was red. He stumbled off of the couch and staggered into the elevator, slamming the button for his and Steve's floor. He needed silence. He needed a bullet. He needed to wipe HYDRA off the surface of the fucking planet.
"Fucking hell, I hate Doom. Next time, I'm going to Latveria to complain to the man directly. Or just to shoot him, I don't know," Clint grumbled, stretching and making his way down the stairs into the Tower.
Tony made a loud noise of agreement behind him and Steve just sighed. They were all tired and grumpy, which was probably fair considering. The media had followed them all the way to the Tower- those people really didn't know the meaning of the word no, did they? There had been the usual amount of property damage from the fight, but apart from a few bruises and a cut where Steve had headbutted a Doombot a little too hard, they were fine. And really, that last part was Steve's own fault for headbutting a robot in the first place.
Bruce wasn't fine, apparently, Clint thought as he stopped in the doorway, taking in the damage. Couldn't have been a Code Green, only the table was broken- Hulk would've taken out the windows and probably left the Tower, too, while he was at it. They would've heard news of it before they'd gotten back. Tony bumped into him and then swore colourfully when he saw Bruce sweeping shards of wood off of the floor. Bruce stopped sweeping at that, and there was something both sad and angry- oh no- in those normally calm brown eyes. Clint stepped aside so the others could filter into the room, and Natasha walked over to him, checking to make sure he was okay. Bruce fixed Steve with an unimpressed stare.
"Why didn't Bucky know about his soulmark?"
Oh. Oh shit. Bucky had broken the table?
"I didn't know if he remembered it or not," Steve said. "He mentioned mine, once, but he never brought up his own and I thought it was because- because he'd lost it."
"Well, he definitely remembers it now," Bruce said, gesturing to the broken table. "Speaking of, he was talking about breaking someone's throat when he went downstairs. FRIDAY's keeping an eye on him, but you two might want to have a talk."
"I thought it'd be best if Clint-"
"No," Clint interrupted. "I'm not explaining it to him. He barely knows who I am, fucking hell, Steve, would you want something like this dropped on you?"
Something like me, he added on, but didn't say it out loud. Steve didn't say anything more and Clint didn't look at his face. He doesn't want to know what Steve thinks of the situation. Steve doesn't get a say in the matter, not in this, team leader or not. Bucky's best friend or not. He stalks past, dropping the circuits Tony had made him collect from the Doombots on the bench, and then makes a beeline for the elevator. No, too slow, he needs to escape, he needs to breathe, Jesus Christ Almighty. He begins taking the stairs two at a time, ignoring Tony calling for him to come back. Tony could deal with Steve. He stops at a landing and FRIDAY opens the window without him having to say anything. At least the sentient AI understood the mood.
He swung himself out of the building and lands on the bottom of the A on the outside of the building. The breeze was strong out here, but not strong enough that he'll be blown off and splattered on the ground, so he curled up underneath the letter, looking out at the city. Some jealous, angry part of him is glad that Bucky didn't remember until now, hopes he still doesn't know it's Clint. Well, if he hadn't remembered he'd had one at all, he probably didn't know it was Clint, right? Man, he'd never seen Bruce looking that upset at Steve before. It would be funny if the situation wasn't what it was.
He loved it, Steve had said, that first time he'd seen it. He loved you.
But things were different, weren't they? He wasn't just plain old Bucky Barnes, Steve's best friend and sniper extraordinaire. He was the Winter Soldier, the Fist of HYDRA. Or the fist of destroying helpless coffee tables, at least. Clint knew what it was like to be brainwashed- maybe not on the same scale, but he'd lived through the sleepless nights and paranoia and the creeping feeling that no matter what you did, where you went, someone could be waiting to steal your free will away. And Christ, Clint could read his emotions if he wasn't so scared to touch the soulmark, that was a huge invasion of privacy. What if he knew it was Clint and demanded Tony go through with that skin graft operation so no one could peek in his head again? That was... fair, he guessed.
If Bucky asked him to get rid of it, he'd have to get rid of it, wouldn't he?
He let out a shaky sigh and resolved to go hide in the range for the foreseeable future. If Bucky was busy destroying things, he wouldn't be down there and Clint could sulk to his heart's delight. As he stood up, wobbling a little, there was a flicker of black out of the corner of his eye. He turned to inspect it closer and there was a sharp sting in his neck. What the fuck? He pulled the dart out of his neck with a grimace. He was going to get Tony back for this, pranks were his area of expertise and a little sentry to keep him off of the side of the building wasn't going to stop hi-
Oh. That was... that had been a tranquilizer. Not Tony, then. The world swayed uncertainly and started blurring at the edges, as Clint dropped the dart with rapidly-numbing fingers. Fuck. The black figure moved closer, and Clint could make out the red blur of a HYDRA logo. Awh, shit. A hand grabbed his elbow and then his knees were giving out, and he had left his bow and his knives in the fucking Quinjet, why had he been so goddamn stupid-
There was a sharp flash of pain at the back of his head and then the world went blissfully dark.
Bucky knew Steve was there even before he turned the corner.
He hadn't trashed his suite completely; sure, he'd broken a few chairs, threw a few hardcover books at the window- it was probably a good thing they had bulletproof glass. He'd then downgraded to just punching a dent in the wall repeatedly until the red behind his eyes receeded. He could remember it now, not the name but the feelings behind it. The unrivalled glee of waking up to see the black streaks marked out over his tanned skin, the excitement of showing it to his Ma and seeing the smile on her face, the pride as he'd paraded around in front of Becca and Steve. He'd fucking loved that stupid spidery lettering more than he'd loved anything else. He dragged his blunt fingernails over the red star with a grimace at the feeling of the pressure. Nothing happened, he couldn't go back and fix it, and he couldn't even remember the stupid name. Or the person- his soulmate, oh god, where were they?
Steve hovered in the doorway silently, and Bucky could feel the anxiety coming off of him in waves. Unfortunately, he wasn't going to find any sympathy here. Bucky turned just enough that he could glare out of the corner of his eye, and vaguely realised his nails were still trying to scrape at the star, catching on the indents with a sharp spark of pain. He couldn't stop.
"Why didn't you tell me," he gritted out.
"I- you never asked, I wanted-"
"It's not about you," Bucky spat at him, and Steve took a startled step back, eyes wide and shocked. He hadn't lashed out in weeks, but this was worth being angry about. His soulmate. "Fuck, Steve, was there someone I'm supposed to be mourning? Did I even get to meet them before I fell?"
"No," Steve answered, subdued.
"What- are they dead? Is that it?"
"...no," came the reply, hesitant.
"Let me guess- they're like Peg. Ninety years old and got no clue who we are or what's going on. Fuck."
He felt sick to his stomach. He wanted this goddamn arm torn off of his body, he wanted to sit in a corner and cry, he wanted to throw Steve out the window- even though he knew realistically it wasn't his fault that Bucky couldn't remember his own other half. Steve looked torn, biting his lip, and Bucky sighed and let his forehead fall against the wall with a thunk. Steve didn't deserve his anger, he was just trying to help. Bucky wouldn't even be here, wouldn't even have the capacity to be angry if it wasn't for his best friend. He let out a sigh, the breath making the strands of hair in his face wave back and forth gently.
He wondered what they'd looked like. If they'd known who he was. What he'd done. If they'd waited for him even though he hadn't come back. If they'd want to see him, if it'd hurt more to see them than to avoid them. He sucked in a shaky breath and then turned to face Steve again. He was still standing there, looking worried. Even though Bucky had been yelling, was dangerous, he hadn't gone anywhere. Shit.
"I'm- I'm sorry, Buck," Steve said.
"'s not your fault, Stevie," he answered wearily. "I'm just... I loved them, and I can't even remember who they were."
"There's still time," Steve reassured, and then froze, like he hadn't meant to say that. Bucky eyed him suspiciously. Time? How in the fucking world was there time? Steve shifted on his feet, like he knew something Bucky didn't. Like he was hiding something. Bucky stood up, narrowed his eyes.
"Steve," he started, "I swear to god, you better n- is that a fucking helicopter?"
The paintings rattled ominously on the wall in their frames as the helicopter began passing the window they were standing by, and Bucky made out a man dressed in full black in the pilot's seat. He was even wearing a mask. Bucky hated masks. And why were they so goddamn close to the building? Weren't there laws about this kind of stuff? Steve was frowning too, looking puzzled. He didn't see any cameras in there, so it wasn't the media being annoying again. Although the back of the helicopter was opaque, so he couldn't see if anyone was in there. Maybe it was one-way glass or something like that. But the media couldn't afford something like that just to fly around the Avengers Tower and bother the residents.
He and Steve turned their heads at the same time, hearing footsteps running down the stairs two at a time. Bucky joined Steve in the hallway and he braced himself just in case it was something bad, but relaxed when Tony came barrelling down the steps, Natasha and Wanda close behind him. Tony skidded to a halt when he saw Bucky and Steve watching him and visibly sagged with relief, holding his hand up for them to wait while he caught his breath. Bruce came down the stairs after them, Vision trailing along behind him with an impassive face.
"You're here, good," Tony wheezed.
"Is that... dangerous?" Steve gestured to the helicopter, which wasn't there anymore. Looks like it had disappeared into the city while they'd checked on Tony. Well, at least that solved that problem.
"Boss," FRIDAY said, and if it was possible for a computer to sound nervous she certainly managed it. "The helicopter is registered to a SHIELD branch that was closed down five years ago."
"HYDRA, then," Tony affirmed. "Good thing they can't get in the Tower. I made sure they knew about it, too."
"Well, we're safe. Bucky's fine," Steve said, which was an overstatement on his part. Bucky was most certainly not fine, but HYDRA hadn't touched him, hadn't even tried. He hadn't even known they were there.
"Wait, did they just come here, hover around the top of the Tower, and then leave?" Bruce sounded confused. "That doesn't make sense."
"Hover around the-" Natasha broke off in the middle of the sentence. "Where's Clint, FRIDAY?"
"He requested I open the window so he could sit on the outside of the building. I don't have cameras on that particular location," came the reply.
"The... outside of the building isn't protected. Fuck. That moron," Tony said lowly.
Natasha swore furiously and Wanda flinched away from her, looking nervous. Bucky was just confused. HYDRA wasn't gone, no, but they had to have extremely limited supplies and assets, why would they risk kidnapping Clint Barton of all people? Especially when most of their admittedly weak efforts had been focused on Bucky before now. It wasn't like Clint was an easier target- except, maybe he was, because they'd just successfully managed to kidnap him. Bucky's stomach dropped. What would they even do to him? Tony was looking puzzled, too, but Steve cursed under his breath harshly and started walking to the stairs.
"SHIELD had his records," Steve said. "Including his medical. His mark."
Tony's eyes went wide with recognition, and Bucky frowned. His mark? Was Clint harbouring a President's soulmark or something? He knew it wasn't Tony, and it wasn't Bruce, which meant it wasn't Natasha, and he was fairly sure Wanda and Vision had something weird going on he didn't really understand- and it definitely wasn't Steve, Bucky couldn't see how they'd be compatible in any way. He'd seen Sam and Clint interact before- they were friends, but there was no way HYDRA would think of kidnapping Clint to get to Sam. Maybe he was biased, but Clint was a way better catch than Sam. And if it wasn't an Avenger, he had no clue. He stood there, still, as the others began running back up the stairs, yelling at each other about suits and communications and video surveillance. All except for Natasha, who was looking more and more murderous by the minute, and then her glittering green eyes were landing on him. Bucky shifted.
"Do you know where they might've taken him?"
He grimaced. "All the bases I know of around here are gone. I can... have a look, I don't know."
She pursed her lips thoughtfully, and then turned around to look at the stairs. "We need to find him," she said.
Bucky was nodding before his brain had even processed what she'd said, because his mind was flickering with images of Clint in the chair, blood dripping down his throat and those crystal-bright eyes dull and empty. Shit. He couldn't let HYDRA do anything to Clint. Natasha surveyed him again, seemed to find whatever she was looking for in his expression, and then stepped into the waiting elevator. Bucky just stared at her until he realised she'd said we, and clearly she hadn't meant the Avengers, she'd meant him. She raised one perfectly groomed eyebrow at him and then he was following her into the elevator as she pressed the button for the armory that only the Avengers could get into.
"I need you to stay in control," she said, flat.
"I'll... do my best," he answered.
She nodded, tightly, and he realised that she was scared. He'd known Clint and Natasha had been partners, friends, but clearly they were closer than he'd first guessed.
"He'll be okay. They underestimate him," Bucky said, trying to be reassuring.
"He's my Steve," she said, quietly, and oh. That made more sense than it should.
The elevator doors slid open with a ding and then Natasha was marching over to the rows of armbands- Widow's Bites, they'd been called. Bucky faltered in the doorway. Surely they shouldn't be letting him in here, especially not when everyone was distracted with finding Clint. But Natasha had told him to stay in control, so she obviously didn't have any qualms with him being here as long as he behaved himself. She tested the Bites briefly, making them spark, and then slid them on. As she strode over to pick up an M16, Bucky saw a flicker behind his eyes of a younger, smaller redhead, hair pulled back tight into a bun and with a bloody knife clenched in her fist. Had he met her somewhere before? As the asset?
He caught the Uzi automatically as she threw it at him, and then looked down at it. The ammo followed shortly, which he caught with his left hand. He had knives hidden in his boots, but she was right- they would be impractical if she planned to storm down an entire base. He wasn't even legally supposed to be leaving the Tower- but if she was willing to let him burn HYDRA down, he wasn't going to argue. The burning in the back of his mind was still fresh from the memories of his soulmark, raw and scalding like someone had hit him. And Clint. God, he couldn't let them have Clint, couldn't let them take that vibrance and life the man seemed to exude even when he was tired and frayed at the edges.
"I'd give you armour, but we're on a time limit," Natasha informed, going back into the elevator. "Don't let them shoot you."
"I'll try," he said dryly, aiming to joke but missing by a few miles.
Bruce met them on the rooftop. Natasha stopped in front of him and they shared a look that felt way too private for Bucky's liking, so he entered the Quinjet and stripped off the oversized sleeveless hoodie he'd been wearing. It wasn't practical for fighting, as comforting as it was. Steve had given him a funny look when he'd first relieved it from his friend's closet, and Bucky wasn't sure if it was because it was purple or because he was staring at the star on his shoulder again. He sighed and sat down in the co-pilot's seat, going through the familiar motions of loading and checking the gun. He closed his eyes, trying to breathe steadily. They'd find him. It'd be fine. There was no reason for that dropping, scared sensation in his stomach.
Natasha and Bruce had to have had some sort of psychic conversation, because he hadn't heard them speak at all. He was pretty sure that soulmates couldn't speak telepathically, but hey, maybe it had changed in the last seventy years. Then they were boarding, and Natasha was slipping into the pilot's seat. She began flipping switches, and Bucky turned to see Bruce gesturing for him to come closer. He got up and made his way over to the man's seat, and didn't say anything as Steve stepped on-board, in full uniform with the shield over his back. Steve nodded to him briefly and then took Bucky's spot in the co-pilot's seat.
"Tony's got cameras out, he's looking for clues," Bucky overheard him say to Natasha. "What's the plan?"
"You'll have to ask Bruce about that. He's in charge for now," she murmured back, and then they were taking off. Bruce was still looking at him contemplatively, so Bucky took a seat next to him and noted he didn't have any weapons on his body. Not even armour, just a cardigan with a sewn-on patch on the elbow. He supposed it was impractical to be carrying a weapon when you were a weapon in the way Bruce Banner was. He'd never seen the Hulk in person, but the video footage was intimidating enough as it was. It was hard to connect this tiny, mild-mannered scientist with a giant green rage monster.
"Do you trust me?" Bruce was asking.
"...sure? What does that have to do with anything?"
"Close your eyes for me," he said.
"I don't get it," Bucky said, but he closed his eyes, let everything fade to black. What did meditation have to do with finding Clint? Like Natasha had said, they were on a time limit here. Steve and Natasha were silent in the front, and whatever the plan was, it was weird.Why didn't Steve have to do this? He couldn't see Bruce, but he got the vague impression he was being smiled at.
"What are you feeling?" Bruce questioned.
"Stressed," Bucky muttered. "Worried, angry... my head hurts."
"Like a migraine?"
"Like someone hit me with a brick."
"Did you hurt your head?"
"Okay. Concentrate on the pain for me, then."
It was a muted sensation, like he was trying to feel it with the metal arm rather than the rest of his body, more of a pressure and ache than sharp pain. Bruce made a thoughtful noise next to him and Bucky concentrated, trying to pull at the pain to bring it into clarity. It was like yanking through a river of tar, like a game of tug-of-war with the other end of the rope tied to a brick wall. He thought of his soulmate, gone in the wind, and he thought of Clint, alone and hurting in a HYDRA facility, probably being tortured. Then he yanked at the feeling again and it exploded into sharp clarity- He spat blood on the floor and bared his teeth at the man in the HYDRA uniform in front of him, unwilling to show any sort of weakness to these bastards who'd just yanked him off a building. Fuck, his head hurt, why did they have to hit him so hard-
"What the fuck," Bucky said, but it sounded like he was underwater.
"I need you to find him, Bucky," Bruce answered.
-the man was yanking a piece of leather between his teeth as he struggled against the restraints, and then electrodes were being stuck to his sweaty forehead. Shit, they'd really downgraded from that big fancy chair he'd seen in the reports from SHIELD, hadn't they? Idiots. Then it was being turned on and he was screaming, burning-
"Now. What is your name?"
"My name is fuck you, you ingrate," Clint spat.
The man backhanded him again, hard, but it was nothing compared to the pain rattling around his head from the electric shocks. It had only been the once, but he already felt frayed and confused, struggling to hold onto the pieces of himself. How the fuck had Bucky managed to resist for seventy years of this? The blood from his split lip had dripped down his chin and was currently making a slow, uncomfortable crawl down his bare throat. They'd taken all of his clothes aside from his trunks, although they'd left his aids in so he could hear the main guy's questions. He was kind of glad for the chair they'd strapped him to now, because his legs felt like they were made of jelly.
"Shock him again," the man was saying, a disgusted twist to his lips. "He can't hold out for long."
The belt was shoved roughly back between Clint's bloodied teeth then and he didn't quite manage to bite the fingers that came a little too close. He got smacked again for trying, though. He'd only seen three HYDRA people since he'd come to in the chair, and that confirmed his guess that they had been struggling since the downfall of SHIELD and the joint destruction of Bucky and Steve together. There were probably more outside, standing guard, but that meant rescue wouldn't be too difficult. If they even knew he was gone. The operative for the machine saluted the man and then flipped the switch and Clint's breath caught in his lungs for a minute. Then the pain was back, knife-sharp and digging into the recesses of his brain, inescapable. He clenched his eyes shut, trying to find an escape, anywhere, anything-
"We're closer. Fuck, can't this thing go any faster?"
"We're already going well above the speed limit," came the sharp reply. Natasha? "We can't get him if we crash into something and die."
He was scratching at his shoulder again, scraping his nails over the indents on the star. Wait, what? Shit, he was supposed to be concentrating so they could find Clint. What kind of a moron goes out a window on a skyscraper to sit and contemplate life, anyway? He sighed. After this, he wasn't going to let Clint out of his sight even if that meant he had to tie the man down and sit on him. It'd just be payback for that one sparring match anyway, so it was fair. Clint had better be okay when they got there. Bruce's hand was on his knee, comforting, and then he was sucking in a breath and closing his eyes, trying to go back, to pinpoint exactly where that feeling came from, and-
"Feeling more talkative yet, boy?"
...what? Talkative? Why would he be talking when he was already busy with dying? The world was blurring and spinning wildly and his head was ringing. He was gasping for oxygen, but it still felt like he was suffocating under the pain and confusion. Where was Bucky, he needed Bucky. Someone grabbed his chin and pushed and then his eyes were half-focusing on a man in a black uniform. What an ugly outfit. Needed more colour. Maybe... purple? Yeah, purple was nice. The man yanked the belt out of his mouth roughly and dropped it on the ground, and he watched it fall distractedly. Why couldn't he move his hands?
The man pointed impatiently at his chest. What? He looked down and felt dizzy for a second. When it cleared up he squinted at the black letters penned onto his chest. Hey, who'd written on him? That was blatant vandalism. Very rude. He tried to wipe at it with his hand and- oops, yeah, he was still tied down. The letters resolved into a name, James Buchanan Barnes, and shit, that was right. Bucky. Bucky was looking for him. Bucky was worried about him. Which he shouldn't be, it was fine, but still. He had to go find Bucky, he'd fix the way his head was thumping like someone had gotten it out and used it as a makeshift football. The man let out an impatient sigh and gestured to someone behind him, and then there were hands at his ears and the world buzzed and went silent.
Shit, no, not his aids. Come on. He turned pleading eyes on the man who was calling the shots, who regarded him with distaste and then waved his hands at the person operating the machine on his left. Wait, no, please, he said, but the words were inaudible and he wasn't even entirely sure he'd spoken them out loud and then he was screaming again into the void of pain, and this time he couldn't even hear himself.
"There's a building down there," Steve said suddenly. "Between those shipping crates there. Drop us down on the field to the south. I'll call Tony and let him know."
"Roger that," Natasha answered.
The pain in the back of Bucky's head had exploded out into a web of increasingly sharp shocks, and he had to bite through his lip to try and focus again. He needed to stay in control, Natasha was right, and the cold fury of knowing what was going on kept him coherent. Clint was down there. Clint was down there and they were torturing him and Bucky was going to tear them apart the minute the stupid jet landed. He wasn't entirely sure this angry protectiveness was a normal feeling, but he could still feel Clint's mind- because that's what it was, wasn't it?- although he was getting less and less coherent thoughts and more screaming. Bruce was watching him, face pale and drawn, and Bucky felt a drop of blood dribble down his chin. Then Clint's mind was gone with a snap that felt physically painful and the jet was landing.
"He's gone," Bucky said, turning his panicked stare on Bruce. "He's gone, shit, Bruce, what if they-"
"You said they were using the electroshock machine on him, right?" Bruce sounded calm, but Bucky could see the tension in his body. "They want him alive. He's probably just unconscious."
"Alright, here's the plan. I'll handle things out here and you two get inside, find Clint," Steve instructed. "Bruce?"
"How far away is Tony?"
Steve gave them a tight smile. "He and Sam are about half an hour away."
Bruce grimaces, shakes his head. "That's too long. We need to get him out of there now."
Natasha throws something that lands on Bruce's head, some sort of grey fabric, and then turns to Bucky. Bruce is left fumbling with whatever it is and shuffles away to the other end of the jet. He's struck again with the oddest feeling that he'd taught her to make that face, the one that makes her look serious and neutral, but doesn't hide the fear and worry dancing in those green eyes. She didn't seem like the trusting sort, and yet she was putting full trust in his hands. He couldn't lose it and go on a rampage. She nodded to him, tight, and then jumped out of the plane after Steve, where the sounds of fighting were already spilling out onto the field. Bucky flicked the safety off of the Uzi and followed.
Immediately, he realised that HYDRA did, in fact, have more people than he'd first guessed. They were swarming Steve, who was crushing them like bugs, and Bucky felt his heart clench. He should be there, with Steve, having his back, but Clint was worryingly silent in the recesses of his mind and Natasha was gesturing to a row of shipping crates where the coast was clear. He jogged over to her, ducking out of the way of the sniper perched up on one crate. Natasha waited for him to get close before she whispered to him.
"The building's got a back door," she said. "I'll go in the front, draw their attention. You get Clint."
"You're his partner," Bucky argued. "Shouldn't you-"
"I can't fight him if they've brainwashed him," Natasha hissed. "I can't, so you have to go. He'll recognise you. It's fine."
Bucky wasn't entirely sure he could fight Clint, either, but he didn't tell her that. A loud bellow came from the field behind them and then there was a loud, abrupt crash. Looks like the Hulk was on the field. Good, Bucky thought viciously. Steve would beat them up, sure, but the Hulk would destroy them and that's exactly what they deserved. Natasha got a far-away look on her face for a second and then she shook her head and gestured to the gap between the crates and the side of the building. He nodded. If she trusted him with Clint, he'd go get him. Brainwashed or not, Bucky was strong enough to just carry him out to the jet, especially with how exhausted Clint's mind had felt. Natasha nodded back and then she was darting out to the front of the HYDRA base, amongst shouts from the snipers on the shipping crates. Glass smashed, and then Bucky was moving.
There was only one guard at the back of the building, which was an oversight on their part- what was the point of all those idiots outside if they weren't going to actually protect the people inside? Bucky snapped his neck without pausing and pushed the door open with one hand, listening for people. Nothing. Good. He entered the back hallway, spotting the stairway leading down immediately. Just for once, why couldn't the villains have a nice base, that wasn't filled with dark, ominous stairs and underground bullshit? He shot the man at the bottom in the forehead and then continued, the sounds of the fighting outside muffled. Clint. Where was Clint? He concentrated, biting at his torn lip again. Left corridor. There were no guards down here, which wasn't surprising considering all their dwindling forces seemed to be out in the field.
He kicked open the metal door and saw Clint slumped in the chair, still strapped down. There was blood coated from his mouth all the way down to his chest, half-covering the smear of black there that Bucky couldn't focus on right now, not with his own blood running cold in his veins. Then Clint coughed, a weak rattling sound, and Bucky started breathing again. The HYDRA scientist cowering in the corner was shot without a second glance, and then he was across the room, undoing the restraints and kneeling so he could look up into Clint's bruised face. Clint blinked at him slowly, eyes half-open and bleary. He seemed aware, to some degree, but he was so beaten that even if he wasn't all there Bucky would be able to get him out of there.
"Hey," Bucky greeted quietly. "You okay?"
Clint blinked again. "You're... a v'ry pretty halluc'nation," he said.
Bucky snorted. "Come on, let's get out of here."
He looked around, saw the purple and silver hearing aids sitting on a metal tray by the dead scientist. That was right, Clint was deaf. He couldn't even hear what Bucky was saying to him, no wonder he wasn't answering questions. Eighty percent hearing loss, he'd read somewhere. He reached for the aids and tucked them into the back pocket of his jeans where they'd be safe. Then he returned to Clint, who was sliding sideways out of the chair, and barely managed to grab him before he fell. He paused for a second, but despite the fact that Clint was nearly naked, there was no buzz of electricity, just a low hum of warmth that was easy to ignore. He gave the Uzi to the dazed archer and then lifted Clint into his arms, hoping like hell he was coherent enough to shoot if they came across any more HYDRA personnel. Although it was looking unlikely. Clint was holding onto the Uzi well enough, sure, but he had tucked his face into Bucky's neck so he wouldn't be able to see even if there were any enemies coming their way.
"You smell nice," Clint noted, his cold nose brushing Bucky's jaw.
Did he have to be this distracting? Now was really not the time for this. If there was ever a time for telling people they smelled good. Bucky nudged the door open and started back up the stairs with a sigh. He didn't seem to be brainwashed, in any case, just dazed and half-unconscious. It took time for brainwashing, he knew, and HYDRA hadn't had time before they'd been on the scene. He stopped to hitch Clint a little more securely in his arms, and then there was a guard turning the corner to see them. He took a step back, calculating whether he'd have time to duck back down the stairwell, but Clint turned his head an inch and then the guard was falling, a bullet hole in his chest. I never miss, remember? Bucky refrained from a soft snort and decided to go out the front door this time.
Natasha was standing there, immaculate with bodies strewn around the front room. She took in Bucky carrying Clint, who was still holding the Uzi to his chest, and a barely-there smile crossed her face. Clint didn't seem to even know she was there. He'd probably only known about the guard because of Bucky's body language.
"Idiot," Natasha said, and even though he couldn't hear her Clint made an incoherent grumbling noise into Bucky's throat.
But Natasha was rolling her eyes, clearly relieved, and tapped her hand to her earpiece. "We've got him. He's not on the brink of death, at least. Sam, can you fly him back to the Tower? It'll be faster."
Sam must reply in the affirmative, because after a minute the Falcon is landing next to the shattered glass door. He pushes his goggles up onto his head and looked around for a minute, before he saw Clint and cringed. Which was fair enough. Yeah, he wasn't about to drop dead, but he was bleeding all over the place and bruised to hell, and the electric shocks could be doing damage they couldn't even see. Natasha raises an eyebrow at him and Bucky remembers he's supposed to be handing Clint over to Sam for medical treatment. Right. Okay. Clint isn't small, by any means, but both he and Sam are bigger so it's easy enough to transfer him over to Sam's arms. He makes to take the gun back, but Clint's fingers are clenched around it like a vice. Sam snorts.
"You good, Hawkeye?" He said to Clint, who seemed to have passed out somewhere along the way. He doesn't get a reply and Bucky tries not to snicker at him.
"Go, Sam," Natasha said. "We'll be right behind you."
Sam turned and took a few steps, which is when Natasha called out, "And if you drop him? I'll throw Steve off of a bridge."
Sam snorted and then he was in the air. Bucky watched them disappear into the sky for a few minutes. Then he realised the field was silent. No suspicious noises, or roars, or... anything really. He glanced at Natasha, who didn't seem particularly concerned. Well, that meant they'd taken care of the remaining HYDRA goons, then. He leaned down to pull a knife out of his boot just in case, and then walked past the shipping containers. Steve was looking at something one of the men on the ground had dropped, but he lifted his hand up in a wave as they walked out. Natasha strode past Bucky to join him, and Bucky... Bucky tried to remember how to breathe again. Clint was fine. A little dopey, maybe, but he'd be okay. Which- come to think of it, he'd never figured out what the point of kidnapping Clint was. He sat down on a fallen log and let out a huff.
He was too distracted with trying to figure out HYDRA's motive to turn when he heard the crunching of twigs next to him, and there would have been some warning if it was an enemy. A large green eye settled on Bucky, and he resisted the urge to stab it out when the Hulk crouched down to inspect him curiously. He just seemed to be looking, though, rather than squashing Bucky where he sat, which was good news. He idly picked at a spot on his shirt where Clint had smeared his blood.
"I'm Bucky," he said, unnecessarily, but the Hulk's eyes gleamed with recognition when he said that.
"You. Tiny bird's?"
"Tiny bird- what?"
"Bird's. Hulk knows," Hulk said agreeably, nodding to himself before lumbering off in Natasha's direction, leaving Bucky more confused than he'd been before. Birds? The only birds here were Falcon- and he was pretty sure Bruce knew that he and Sam didn't really like each other that much, only tolerated one another because of Steve- and Hawkeye.
Why did the Hulk think he was Clint's? Except- it made sense. The pieces clicked together in his head. The mental link. That intense, weird buzz when they touched one another. The way no one wanted to talk about Clint's soulmark and the way Steve got cagey and uncomfortable when Bucky tried to pry about his own lost mark. The helpless way they kept gravitating towards each other when they were in range, and-
"Clint Barton. Barton," Steve said thoughtfully. "Do we know any Bartons around here?"
"Naw, and anyway, I don't think his mark has shown up yet," Bucky reasoned, fingers grazing the curve of the B without having to look at it. The touch remained cold, like touching every other part of his skin except for the raised edges of the letters. Which was fine. He could wait. Hell, he'd wait forever if he had to. Nameless girls and boys had lost their shine completely the day the soulmark had seared its way onto Bucky's skin, and he was okay with that. Steve smiled at him, happy for him, and Bucky grinned back.
"I'm gonna take him dancing," Bucky said. "Y'reckon he's a dancer?"
Steve shrugged. "If he's not, you can teach him, right?"
"That'd be fun," he answered cheerfully. "You gotta love him too, Stevie, alright?"
"If he's your soulmate, I'm sure I will," comes the warm reply.
"Let's go," he barks at Steve as he strides past, who blinks at him in confusion. "I've got a soulmate to fuss over."
Steve's confused look breaks out into a grin and he salutes.
Clint jerks up in the bed the minute he drags himself back to consciousness, and his forehead smacks into something solid. And painful.
"Fuck," he swears, trying to rub his poor face, but the IV in his wrist pulls taut before he can reach. He drops his arm back to the bed and squints in the bright midday light streaming from a window. Bucky, who'd been looming above him- and what the hell was that all about?- stumbles back with a few choice swears of his own. Clint's head feels like someone's thrown it in a blender, and his body doesn't feel much better. He slumps back against the headboard with a groan, and shit, his voice sounds like it's been in the blender as well. He doesn't remember getting here, doesn't remember anything but Bucky's face blurring in front of him and the pain.
"Thanks for that," Bucky says, dry, as he sits back on the chair he's got pulled up to Clint's bed. Had he been here this whole time?
"Normal people don't loom over beds like the Babadook, either," he shot back, and then realised he was still in his underwear. The plain white bedcovers were pulled up to his waist, but they weren't anywhere near his heart and- he glanced down, saw the soulmark standing out stark and comfortable against his skin and felt the blood drain out of his face. Fuck. He'd just been tortured, he couldn't deal with this right now. When he raised his eyes, though, Bucky was just regarding him with faint amusement. Clint swallowed. Hard.
"I- look, if you want me to get rid of it, can you at least give me a chance to recover first? I already feel like shit," he gritted out, clenching his hands in the sheets.
Bucky's eyes went wide, startled. "If I want you to get rid of it?"
He sounded shocked, like the idea hadn't even come up, which meant that no one had told him. Which meant that he'd just been hanging out in Clint's hospital room with no ulterior motive. Or maybe he did have a motive, just not the one Clint had expected. Except... no. There was no way. Bucky leaned closer, not quite in his space yet but enough that he could see the concern there, the veins of silver in his irises. Clint tried not to hyperventilate.
"Why would I want you to get rid of it?"
Bucky reached his hand out reverently like he'd meant to touch the mark, but his fingers curled away from it at the last minute. Which was probably for the best- Clint's heart was going a million miles a minute and he wasn't entirely sure he wasn't having a heart attack or a seizure of some sort. It was actually really inconvenient, having the soulmark over his heart like this. Bucky still had blood crusted on his nails, probably Clint's, and he wondered if Bucky had stayed by his bed the whole time without even washing his hands. Or maybe he was still in the HYDRA base, hallucinating. Because there was no way Bucky was implying what Clint thought he was implying. That he wanted the soulmark there, wanted-
"Clint, I've been waiting for eighty years to see this," Bucky breathed. "I never thought- of course I want it, you moron."
"Oh," Clint said, his voice small, which didn't really sum up the feelings swirling around in his stomach right now, but it was the best he could do.
"Can I- do you mind?"
His fingers twitched where they were still hovering over Clint's bare skin, nearly touching the neat curve of the J. Clint's breath caught in his lungs but he managed a quick jerk of his head in the affirmative, and then Bucky's fingertips were pressed against his skin. There was that quick, intense burst of static electricity when they touched and then he could feel Bucky's mind, grey and blue and sharp at the edges like it'd cut him if it was a physical thing. He could feel Bucky's awe at the connection, at Clint existing here, and a rush of affection so strong it felt like being punched all over again. He wheezed, and then Bucky was separating them and the nurse was rushing in. His heart monitor was going wild, and the nurse looked from it to him and then to Bucky, whose fingers were still hovering over the elegant letters of his soulmark.
"Be gentle with him, please, Sergeant Barnes," the nurse chided with a smile before exiting the room again.
Clint snickered, and Bucky, after looking suitably disgruntled, joined it. His hand dropped to rest under the curve of Clint's ribcage, and it wasn't like touching the soulmark but it was warm. Comforting. Clint could definitely get used to it.
"Fuck, that's intense," he said after a minute.
"You're telling me," Bucky agreed, and then he was leaning over to kiss him. Clint arched up into it, but it was hard to kiss back properly when he kept smiling against Bucky's lips. Shit, Bucky wanted him. Bucky had been waiting eighty years for Clint and he didn't even look disappointed in the slightest.
"Fuck, I think I love you," Clint said when they separated.
"I'd fucking hope so because I certainly love you, you idiot," Bucky shot back.
They stared at each other for a minute, eyes wide as they both registered what the other had said. Oh. And then Tony was crashing into the room, loud and obnoxious, with Steve and Wanda trailing behind him.
"I tried to stop him," Steve said, shaking his head at Tony.
Tony put his hands on his hips. "Just because they're soulmates doesn't mean he gets Clint to himself."
Wanda joined in on the argument at that point, and so did Bucky, so Clint used the hand not currently hooked to all the machines to put on top of Bucky's hand resting on his stomach. Bucky glanced back briefly and grinned, linking their fingers together, but he kept arguing with Tony on exactly how often he was allowed to monopolize Clint's time now. Clint looked down at their hands, Bucky's calloused and blood-flecked and his, scarred and with a curious pink bandaid on his index finger that hadn't been there before. Vision, he'd guess. His eyes travelled, then, to the vibrancy in Bucky's expression, then to the sleeveless hoodie he was wearing- hang on, he'd lost that in the washing months ago. He'd thought the laundry demons had stolen it. Bucky shifted in the chair then, and his other arm caught the light. Clint's jaw clenched. That fucking star. Would the law even recognise them as soulmates if one of them didn't have the mark?
As much as Clint loathed to admit it with all the time he'd spent hoping Bucky didn't have the mark, the fact that it had been taken and Clint could never touch it, link up to Bucky with it, it hurt. When he finally looked away from it it was to see Bucky watching him contemplatively. Without the link he had no clue what the other was thinking, and a thin thread of worry spiked through him when Bucky stood up, letting go of Clint's hand, and silently disappeared out the hospital room. Clint blinked at Steve, but got a shrug back. Then Bucky was back in the room, something bright and excited in his eyes. He settled down on the side of Clint's bed this time, and he was placing something in Clint's hand. He looked down and saw- a Sharpie? What? Bucky shifted on the bed, enough that he could present the metal arm to Clint, the star gleaming in the sunlight.
"It's not the same, I know," Bucky explained, "but I figure it's the best we got right now. Tattoos don't really... stick."
"You want me to draw my name on you."
"Yep. And don't try to make it neat or anything."
"Buck, I don't think-"
"There's no such thing as one-sided soulmates," Bucky argued, cutting Steve off and closing Clint's fingers around the black marker with a gentle manner completely at odds with the sound of his voice. Clint looked down at it, then back up at the determined glint in Bucky's eyes.
"Actually-" Tony started, but Bucky whipped around and whatever Tony saw on his face made him exit the room quickly. Clint uncapped the marker and leaned forward, pulling the metal elbow between his knees so he could hold Bucky's arm steady as he quickly scrawled Clint Barton over the top of the star. It would probably wash off the next time Bucky went in the shower, but hey, if the man wanted, he could always draw it back on after that. Bucky made a hum of approval when Clint leaned back, and inspected it curiously. For a minute, Clint was worried it was wrong somehow, but then Bucky was turning to show it off to Steve, who beamed at them both.
"Looks just like the original, Buck," Steve agreed.
"Be a bit weird if it didn't," Bucky reasoned. "It's meant to be a copy of your handwriting. Hey, did yours ever end up clearing up?"
Steve got an extremely shifty look on his face at that, and Clint tried not to laugh. He knew exactly what the words on Steve's lower back said, not that he was telling anyone. That information would have to be saved for a day when Clint wasn't bedridden and he could embarass Steve in front of more people than just Bucky and Wanda, who seemed satisfied that Clint was okay and waved a goodbye before leaving. Steve left too, after a shake of his head, but he was smiling in that way that Clint knew meant he was happy about what had happened. Bucky glanced back at him and smiled, warm and delighted, and Clint couldn't help smiling back.
"Do you need to rest? How's your head?"
"Eh," he answered. "Could be better, could be worse, y'know? Where's Tasha?"
"Think she went down to check on Bruce," Bucky said. "You want me to go, give you some peace?"
"Hell no," Clint said fervently. "I'll handcuff you to the bed, Barnes, I swear to god."
Bucky laughed, the sound bright, and it made his heart feel too full. Clint pulled at him and Bucky stretched out next to him on the bed, his boots leaving mud on the bedcovers. Whoops, oh well. The nurses could deal with it- they were paid more than enough to work at Avengers Tower to deal with dirty bedcovers, and anyway, Clint had been tortured, that should get them a pass on principle. Clint rolled onto his side and Bucky did the same, linking their hands together again like he'd implode if they weren't touching. The buzzing was still there, but it wasn't so bad, really, just warm and muted and nice. Bucky's nose brushed his and Clint turned his head so he could hide his giddy smile in the pillow. Bucky leaned over to kiss the corner of it gently, and Clint thought that maybe if they could stay in this bed forever then his life wasn't so bad, really.
"When you get outta here I'm takin' you out on the town," Bucky whispered to him.
"Do you even know what's around the town? Things have changed in the last seventy years, old man," Clint quipped.
"You're the one that's soulmates with this old man," Bucky said.
"Yeah," Clint agreed, soft. "Yeah, I am."