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Come In From The Cold

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“We are not special.

We are not crap or trash, either.

We just are.

We just are, and what happens just happens.”

—Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

 

Dodge. Dodge. Punch, miss. Dive, go for the legs. Go for my legs , he said. Jump back up, punch when he isn’t expecting-

Clang!

Metal fist connects with shield. Backpedal, recalibrate. Push the shield away, kick at the chest. He throws the shield— dumb move — catch it. Throw it, don’t bother looking as it cracks the closest wall and stays there.

Punch, punch, punch.

He goes down, does not get back up.

The lights go up, people cheering, some booing, but hardly audible over the clear and crisp announcement:

“The Winter Soldier wins!”

-

Clint doesn’t remember when the news broke.

Lots of people will tell you that they remember exactly where they were: drinking coffee on their balcony, listening to the radio. Or in the waiting room of a hospital, nervously watching the tv while their wife gives birth. A high school soccer game, where the announcer told everyone during halftime. Kate swears up and down that she heard it from a random twitter account before the story had even broke.

All Clint knows is that one day, enhanced individuals were outlawed, and he put he and Kate’s bows and arrows in the back of his closet, hidden behind boxes of Christmas decorations and clothes he refused to get rid of. It must’ve started as a normal day; put hearing aids in, drink an entire pot of coffee, take Lucky for a walk, go to the roof and shoot some arrows. Text Katie funny pictures of pigeons on the street and maybe call his therapist, if he’s feeling up to it. But by the end of the day, the world had practically ascended into chaos. People arrested, some killed in their homes, or in the street. Kate said that two kids at school were picked up and never seen again.

The accords, they’re called. Clint didn’t, and doesn’t, keep up with politics. But even he understands just what they meant. No mutants, enhanced persons, superheroes . At best, you’re put on a watchlist and have to swear to never use your powers. At worst, jailed or sentenced to death, if you’re considered especially dangerous.

And as for why these accords were introduced?

No one really knows.

But Clint often wonders.

~

“If you were really my friend you’d go with me,” Kate is saying. Clint is busy pretending he’s busy, the most of his torso hidden underneath his sink. It’s been leaking for months now. Today seemed like as good a day as any to fix it. She continues, “Darcy’s taken me a few times.”

“How did Darcy know how to get in?” The pipe is giving Clint just as hard of a time as Katie is. It won’t go any tighter, but maybe if he had a different tool…

“Someone she knows, knows someone, I guess. I don’t know.” He can practically hear the shrug and eye roll in her voice. “Can’t we just go together, this once? If you hate it you never have to go again.”

Clint hauls himself out from underneath the sink, starting to dig through drawers in pursuit of something he can better fix his sink with. He spares Kate a look, which is returned by an expression Clint can only describe as cross . “Why can’t you just go with your friends again if you’re so eager?”

The smile that Kate probably uses on her father to get more money is slapped onto her face. “Because you, Clint Barton, are my best friend. The peanut butter to my jelly, the apple to my eye. The Romeo to my Juliet, but without the romance and the death-”

“I think I get your point.”

Kate circles around the counter that had been separating them and steps in front of him. “Come on, Clint. We have fun, they get paid. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Sure, Clint thinks, these people get the shit kicked outta them every night and we get to sit back and watch, hell of a lot of fun . He buries his face into his hands and leans against the counter, momentarily forgetting about his shitty sink. “Fine.”

Kate thumps her fist gently against his face, nudging his hands away until they’re resting at his sides. The expression on her face is telling, her eyebrows raised and lips pressed firmly together. Clint can see his reflection in the purple sunglasses that sit on the top of her head, so he pushes them down and over her eyes. Her stony expression doesn’t falter, even as Clint feels Lucky forcing his way between their legs as if sensing trouble. Kate’s hand moves from his face to his bicep. “You worry me sometimes, Barton.”

Clint rolls his eyes and moves away, pulling a wrench out of the drawer he was digging through and getting back onto the floor, rubbing Lucky behind the ear as he makes his way back under the sink. “Changing the subject won’t get you anywhere.”

The last thing Clint sees of Kate before he’s back under the sink is her arms thrown up exasperatedly. “I’ll be back at ten, bring cash.”

He barely gets the word “okay” out before the sound of the front door opening and closing echoes through his apartment.

~

Once the accords were put in place, enhanced people were out of jobs and essentially forced into hiding, assuming you hadn’t been arrested or killed. Some went to trial, but they were fruitless efforts. You stopped seeing the announcements of verdicts, always guilty , on the news after a couple months.

Around this time, a wise guy named Nick Fury had the brilliant idea to put these enhanced people to work, with the help of genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, allowing them to use their powers, let off some steam, and get paid while they’re at it. This was the birth of an underground fighting ring called The Avengers Initiative . Stark buys the building, and all surrounding ones, builds a pseudo-arena in the basement and keeps them out of the eye of the public. Fury finds the people; fighters and workers and people in police forces and governments with grey morals. Together they built what has essentially become an empire , with fans and gamblers keeping the place in business.

Clint’s never been, but it’s been sitting in the back of his mind for months, ever since Kate first mentioned that she knew someone who knew someone who knows a place— whatever that really means. But now that he’s really going , he realizes that he’s never really considered what it all meant. They’re betting on real people .

Kate tells him not to think too hard about it.

They enter a tall building, clearly abandoned with the windows boarded up, grimy furniture left behind to rot. It looks like it was once a hotel, with a front desk sitting in front of little compartments which may have once held room keys. A large mouse-bitten rug covers most of the floor, swirls of deep red and gold starting to fade as dust gathers. Directly across from the door is an elevator, covered in graffiti. As they get closer, Kate leading the way, Clint can get a better look at the actual art, things like a spray-painted red spider outlined by a circle, red and white O ’s with a star in the middle like a target, a bright purple A with an arrow through the middle, among others. Clint says nothing as Kate steps up to the elevator and holds down the up arrow.

A few moments pass, and nothing happens. Clint opens his mouth to say something like seems like no one is home when there is a light-hearted ping! and the elevator doors open to a high-tech, seemingly new elevator, the bright lights making Clint squint for a second. Kate steps in without a second thought, turning and crossing her arms, a smirk on her lips. “You coming or what?”

Clint promptly snaps his mouth shut, scrambling to get into the elevator before it closes.

The doors shut behind him, but it doesn’t move yet. On the wall are upwards of fifty buttons, all with various symbols and numbers that don’t appear to have any meaning.

To Kate they apparently do, reaching forward and pressing a series of buttons in a particular order, the buttons lighting up after each press. Clint counts thirteen buttons pressed when she finally stops, stepping back and standing next to him. He gives her a long look, only met with a half-hearted shrug as the elevator finally starts to move.

Clint stares at their reflections as the elevator descends. They tend to match, most of the time on accident , and tonight is no exception. Their purples stand out in the stark grey elevator, like Kate’s headband and pants, or Clint’s shoes and hearing-aids. It had always been their color.

His pointer finger twitches at his side. He balls his hand into a fist, trying to push that thought away. They know better.

The elevator stops, another lighthearted noise announcing their arrival. A few seconds pass and then the door opens, revealing them to the underground world of The Avengers Initiative .

The first thing Clint notices as they step out of the elevator is the giant hole in the floor.

It’s surrounded by bleachers filled with people, yelling at the fighters below. They’re too far away to be able to see down into the ring, but whatever is happening is clearly causing an upset. Clint takes a step forward to get a closer look but is stopped by Katie grabbing his arm. “Easy tiger, we gotta go over here first.”

They move towards a booth of sorts, where a man sits behind a counter covered in various papers and underneath a giant screen that almost resembles a chalkboard, titled “BETTING POOL”, listing names and figures in neat penmanship that Clint can’t make sense of. The man is busy counting something that Clint and Kate can’t see, and doesn’t look up when they approach. Behind him are several safes, whatever they’re holding is anybody’s guess.

“Hi,” Katie announces, slapping a hand onto the table, “We’d like two please.”

Two pamphlets are slid towards them. Clint takes the one Kate hands him, glancing down at it, then back at her. “What is this?”

Kate is too busy opening the trifold to answer. The cover reads The Avengers Initiative in big font, followed by the same purple A that is graffitied on the elevator. Clint cautiously opens it all the way, glancing between the new information that each page has to offer.

The first page appears to be a schedule of the night, starting with Black Widow vs. Madame Mask and ending with Thor vs The Hulk , listing fifteen fights in total. The middle is a description of the rules of the fights and how the betting works, and the third is the top ten fighters, reading:

  1. Winter Soldier
  2. Captain America
  3. Thor
  4. Scarlet Witch
  5. Captain Marvel
  6. Black Widow
  7. Miss America
  8. Ms. Marvel
  9. Quicksilver
  10. Black Panther

Clint reads through the rules a few times, glancing up at Kate every few seconds as she talks to the guy running the thing, counting her cash. The names are a bit ridiculous, he thinks, then remembers that he and Katie didn’t exactly have the best “code names” either. He flips to the back, frowning at the large black text.

BURN WHEN DONE.

Kate, pausing to turn and look at him expectantly. “You gonna bet anything?”

Clint glances at the list of names and the upcoming fights. Winter Soldier vs. Captain America is set for tonight, the top two names on the leaderboard. “Sure,” Clint decides in a split second decision, “why not.”

He fills out a sheet of paper while Kate finishes hers, filling in the blanks, such as the date of the fight, how much he’s betting, his contact information. (Kate says this is so if any info leaks they know who was betting that night)

Who are you betting on? asks the paper. Clint writes, The Winter Soldier.

“Good choice,” comments the man as he takes Clint’s papers and money, writing on something and putting the money somewhere they can’t see it. He does the same for Kate. “ Safe choice.”

Clint wonders if that’s an insult.

They move away from the booth after that, towards the bleachers at last.

They’re not completely full, people scattered among the three structures, some in groups and some by themselves. They sit at the bottom of the second bleacher, directly across from the elevator they came from, able to overlook the fighting ring below without anyone blocking their view. The ring is about two stories below them, and there’s a huge gap between the ring and the walls. “They can expand the ring for bigger, more powerful fighters,” Kate explains, pointing to the empty space between the walls and the ring. “They don’t have too many, but if you get a fight like…” she glances at her pamphlet as she crosses one leg over the other, “Thor versus Hulk, they’re gonna need a big space.”

Clint nods, glancing over her shoulder at her open trifold. No one is fighting currently, and there was a fight that was going on when they came in. “How many d’ya think we’ve missed?”

“That upset we heard coming in was probably Scarlet Witch related. From what Darcy told me, magic users don’t get a lot of respect from the crowd. Well, her type of magic, anyway. Telekinesis.”

“Ah.”

Kate nods, running her finger down the list. “Scarlet Witch versus Shocker is tricky because he would usually be a pretty good match for, like, Black Panther or someone, because they’re combat fighters. She can just pick you up and throw you somewhere.”

“There’s a reason she’s ranked number four.”

She throws her hands up. “I know right!”

Clint leans back and surveys the people around them, who are either talking amongst themselves, digging through their wallets, or furiously making notes in their pamphlets. “So, Katie-Kate, who’d you bet on?”

He almost misses it, as she covers her mouth with her hand. Kate is blushing . Clint stares at her, then prods at her shoulder. “What have you been hiding from me!”

Kate covers her face with her hands, uncrossing her legs and leaning on on his shoulder. “Miss America.”

“And?”

“She’s so fucking hot, Clint.”

The gears turn in Clint’s head. “Katie, you’ve only seen this girl fight in a fight club .”

“She’s still hot!”

She’s about to say something else, but the lights dim and a voice cuts her off, loud and booming throughout the makeshift arena, but oddly robotic and calm, and British?

“Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. The eighth fight of the night is one of the most anticipated ones of the week, with our top two seeds, The Winter Soldier versus Captain America.” Two people enter the ring from the entrance, walking up the steps to the slightly elevated ring. One is clad in red, white, and blue, Captain America , Clint thinks, and carrying a shield. The other, the Winter Soldier, is dressed head to toe in black except for his left arm, which is entirely silver, and his dark brown hair is long. It’s hard to make out any more features than that. “As always, the rules of the ring are as follows: No leaving the ring, no guns or knives, and finally, the fight continues until one person says the codeword or is knocked unconscious.”

Captain America and the Winter Soldier walk to opposite sides of the ring and step into what can best be described as a battle stance , staring each other down. The Soldier’s left side is facing them, and only then does Clint realize that the silver is his arm .

“You may begin,” chimes the voice, followed by a buzzer sound, signalling the beginning of the fight. Immediately the two fighters are lunging at each other, Captain America punching with the shield, the Winter Soldier blocking with that metal arm, occasionally managing to get a punch or a dodge in.

People are yelling, no surprise there really, mostly encouragement to their preferred fighter or anger about a missed punch or failed dodge. The guy a few seats above them is up on his feet and gesturing wildly, screaming something about his kids’ lunch money and grandmas.

They’re nearly an even match for each other, Clint thinks as another punch is blocked. They carry on for a few minutes like this. It’s an entertaining fight, he must admit. Clint is nearly on the edge of his seat, and Kate is biting her thumbnail. The Winter Soldier dives to the side to avoid a shot with the shield, and punches, his metal fist colliding with the shield and producing a clang! noise so loud that some people cover their ears. Clint is deaf and he almost felt the reverb.

“Jesus,” Kate mutters. Clint is inclined to agree.

There’s some distance between them, now. Captain America throws the shield, bad move , Clint thinks as the Soldier catches it and throws it, almost recklessly . It connects with the wall across from where Kate and Clint are sitting, and stays there, cracks webbing from the incision.

They’re at it hand-to-hand now, and it’s clear who’s winning. The audience grows even louder as the Soldier lays down relentless punches, to the stomach and to the face.

Clint’s stomach twists.

Captain America falls to the ground after one final punch, and does not get back up.

The lights go up, people cheering, some booing, so Clint can hardly hear the announcement:

“The Winter Soldier wins!”

-

“I told you to go for my legs,” Steve is saying.

Bucky wants to bash Steve’s face in for a second time that night. He won’t stop talking, even after Dr. Cho asked him to while she gave him stitches on his lower lip. She pokes his forehead to shut him up again, gently applying some sort of ointment to his shoulder. Bucky’s already gotten the Doc’s five star treatment, now trying to fix one of the plates on his hand by himself. He’d rather not visit Stark this week, not after last time when he had all but removed the damn thing after an interesting fight with Scarlet Witch when she had fucked up all of his inner wirings.

“Too easy,” Bucky says around the flashlight he’s holding in his mouth, “if I wanted the fight to end in a minute and successfully half our pay, then I’d go for your legs.”

Cho gives Steve the go-ahead to jump off her table, moving back to her equipment and beginning to sterilize, getting ready for whoever will come after their fight next. He approaches Bucky, taking the flashlight from his mouth so he can dig into his hand with the screwdriver more easily. It doesn’t seem to be doing much. “Besides,” Bucky continues, refusing to look up at his best friend, who is surely smirking despite that fat lip, “maybe you oughta learn not to throw that shield at me. You know what I’m gonna do with it.”

“Too easy,” is all Steve has to say on that particular matter.

They walk through the winding halls of the Facility together until they get to the locker room, where only Black Widow remains from the previous fights. A few others preparing for their upcoming fights linger. She greets them with just a raise of her eyebrows, likely because of the cut on her lip.

“We’re matching,” Steve fumbles. Bucky tries to hide his snort in the sound of the locker opening, but probably fails. The Widow doesn’t point it out, but Steve is already turning pink. Flirting has never been his forte.

“So we are,” she says. “How was the fight?”

“Good,” Bucky shrugs at the same time Steve says, “he won.”

“What about you?”

Black Widow waves a hand in a so-so motion. “I won. I don’t think that Madame Mask will be around for much longer.”

“That was what, her third fight?”

“Something like that.” She stands and pulls on the sweatshirt that had been sitting on her lap, covering the bruises and cuts that are exposed in the tank-top. The hood covers her red hair, and her hands are shoved into the pockets. “See ya around, boys.”

Bucky waves without looking as Steve stammers his way through a goodbye.

“You gotta get better at that, man. It’s been years.” Bucky shrugs on a t-shirt, then a sweatshirt. He digs around in his backpack for a few seconds before he can find what he’s looking for, a glove that looks like a hand, nearly identical to his right one. You can’t tell its fake, unless you’re actively looking at it like it is. He slips it on as Steve sits down to start putting shoes on, wincing as it nudges the plate he just fixed.

“She’s just so…” Steve trails off.

The hand settles into place as he wiggles his fingers. “Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “She is.”

They say hello to a few others as they leave, to Ms. Marvel braiding Miss America’s hair, and to Thor swinging his hammer in the hallway, and to Bruce, carrying a huge stack of papers into Fury’s office.

Hugging each other tightly despite the injuries they themselves caused, they split and go down different hallways, towards different exits. Bucky knows Steve will go home and nurse his injuries some more and drink tea and maybe sketch something, whatever it is Steve does when Bucky isn’t around.

Bucky leaves and takes the long way home, down streets he doesn’t have to and on subways he wouldn’t normally, losing the tail he is always worried will some day follow him home. It’s unlikely, Stark and Fury have a pretty foolproof security system, but…

He locks the door behind him, and begins the long and complicated process of checking every door and window, all the light fixtures, underneath cushions and inside cupboards. He finally collapses onto his uncomfortable mattress and sleeps a light and unsound sleep, the sun only just beginning to rise.

~

If Bucky could go back and do one thing in his life differently, he never would’ve joined the army.

It was the catalyst for what would become his life. Join the army, get captured by some Nazis, pumped full of steroids, get rescued by your best friend, coincidentally also pumped full of steroids but by some secret branch of government rather than Nazis, join his band of merry men, fall off a train, become a brainwashed assassin with a metal arm, get saved by your best friend, again. All in the span of a few years.

Then the accords happened and SHIELD got shut down, leaving Bucky in a state of limbo.

James Buchanan Barnes was legally dead to most people. So Bucky holed up in a shitty apartment in Brooklyn, near where he and Steve grew up, with a fake name and a new backstory, effectively going under the radar of the government. Steve wasn’t so lucky, having been SHIELD’s golden boy for years before the accords. He was arrested but released soon after, having been deemed unlethal and his name added to the watchlist.

They managed fine by themselves for a few weeks. Bucky did things for money that he’s not exactly proud of, but that’s not new. Steve tried to remain God’s righteous man, attempting to speak out against the accords but just getting himself into more trouble.

And then Nicky Fury showed up at Bucky’s door.

No one except for Steve knew where Bucky lived— yet there he was, with his dumbass eye patch and a job offer.

So now Bucky and Steve get beat up four out of seven days of the week, earning barely enough money to cover the bills and working the only job that people of their kind could ever hope to get in this political climate.

Bucky’s had worse jobs, he supposes.

~

It’s a rough few weeks, after the fight with Steve.

The decline starts with a match against Quicksilver, who he barely beats, managing to trip him as he passes. Captain Marvel catches one of his punches and essentially melts the metal of his left arm, calling for the end of the fight and a trip to Stark’s workshop. Scarlet Witch destroys him in an embarrassing fight, twisting his arms until he can’t move and essentially forcing him to call uncle.

He doesn’t bother going to see Dr. Cho or Stark, grabbing his bag and leaving behind a confused Steve and Black Widow in the hallway.

The exit that leads to the alley behind the building is the one Bucky chooses that night, climbing up the ladder and exiting through a small panel in the floor, closing it behind him and walking onto the alley as if nothing is out of the ordinary.

He shoulder checks someone and winces as his left shoulder lets out a mechanical whine. The guy stops and turns to stare at him, frowning. “What was that?”

Bucky protectively holds his left arm against his chest, and clears his throat. “Bad cough.”

The guy steps forward. “That sounded like-”

Bucky turns and sprints in the other direction, not listening to whatever the guy is yelling after him, or looking back to see if anyone is following.

It’s nearly three am by the time he gets into his apartment, having crossed more streets than usual and ridden more buses and subways than he can count on both hands. A paper is taped to his front door, asking for rent ASAP. Crumpling it up in his hand, Bucky slips inside.

He locks his door with a shaking hand, his metal one still tucked close to his chest. The series of locks all click into place with a finalizing snap . Bucky leans against the door, allowing himself to loosen his shoulders and breathe for a moment. Maybe he overreacted— but getting arrested wouldn’t have been a good end to what has already been a shitty few weeks. He checks the windows and the cupboards like he usually does, and only then does he let himself completely calm down, collapsing onto the dingy old mattress that sits in the corner of the room. On the floor next to it is a record player and a cardboard box full of miscellaneous tools, which Bucky stares at, then reluctantly sits up. He puts a record on first, grabbing one from the stack at the foot of the bed at random, then sheds his shirt and sets to work at his arm.

The Andrews Sisters sing cheerily about a famous musician going to war. Bucky’s head already hurts from the Witch’s magic, but he rolls his eyes and almost makes it worse.

“But then his number came up and he was gone with the draft, he's in the army now blowing reveille.”

The music is turned up as loud as the old record player will go in an attempt to force Bucky to listen to it instead of his own thoughts, whether or not it really works is to be decided.

Bucky flips open a few panels on his bicep, shining a flashlight on the inner wires and craning his neck so he can get a good look inside. A few are disconnected and tangled, explaining the pain, but others are completely fried. Which means Bucky has to see Stark, again .

“Dammit,” he mutters, snapping the panel shut and tossing the flashlight and screwdriver back into the box. No other fighter saw Tony Stark as much as Bucky did— in the few years he’d been fighting, Bucky was getting tired of the guy.

The bathroom is the only part of the apartment that is in a seperate room from the rest, but is barely big enough to fit a shower, sink, and toilet. Bucky showers in the cold water, letting blood and grime wash away from his skin. With only one arm, the shower lasts longer than it needs to, but he relishes in it, for the time being.

The bed isn’t comfortable by any means, nothing more than a lumpy mattress with some threadbare blankets thrown on top, but to Bucky’s tired and worn body, it feels like the softest bed in the world.

-

There are three hundred and twenty-seven arrow holes in Clint’s apartment.

A hundred and two are in Clint’s bedroom, sixteen of those are on the ceiling, seventy-five are in the kitchen, one hundred and thirty-nine are scattered around the living room walls, ten are in the various furniture around the house, and one is in the bathroom. (that one had been an accident)

None had been added to the collection since the accords broke the news.

Clint stands in front of his closet, hands on his hips. Lucky sits next to him, head cocked to the side and tongue hanging out, his tail thumping happily on the floor. Clint doesn’t dare open the closet, has barely touched it in years, but now feels strangely drawn to it. He’s been frequenting the Facility , as Kate calls it, over the last few weeks. He doesn’t have a ton of money to gamble, but he’s fascinated by the process, and knows that it helps the fighters get paid. It’s a whole new world, seeing these people in action. Magic users, and super soldiers, and demigods . Kate’s still obsessed with that girl, bets all of her money away no matter the odds.

And of course, there’s the Winter Soldier.

Dressed in black, with that lethal silver arm. He seems to be wearing thin, is what Kate had said, the more fights they watched of his. He went from the top seed to barely staying in the top ten, now ranked number nine.

The bow and arrow in the closet feel like they’re yelling his name. Take us to the roof, Clint. No one can see you from up there.

Instead, he leaves his apartment and makes his way to the abandoned building by himself, punching in the code to the elevator and entering the code he now knows. He descends into the facility, his heart hammering loudly in his chest.

Coulson is running the info booth like he usually is, typing something on a laptop. There are a few people lined up, so Clint grabs a pamphlet and waits in the queue, scanning the lineups for the night.

The eighth fight of the night. Iron Fist vs. Winter Soldier.

Clint steps up in front of Coulson when it’s his turn. He passes over the papers without a word, which Clint fills out quickly. He’s starting to have the pages memorized, able to fill them out without much thought.

Who are you betting on? asks the paper. Clint writes, The Winter Soldier, and hands the paper back over to Coulson. His eyes skim it, then his eyebrows raise.

“That’s a lot of money. You’re betting on losing dogs, Barton.”

“Just take the damn money.”

Coulson does without another word, letting Clint walk to his normal spot on the bleachers.

There’s a fight already in progress. Black Widow has her thighs locked around Captain America’s head, and sends both them topping to the ground. The shield rolls sideways and lands a few feet away. Captain America shoves Black Widow off of him roughly, diving after the shield and attaching it to his arm, jumping towards the Widow once more to knock her down.

He misses, the shield cracking the floor of the ring. Black Widow kicks at Captain America’s legs, sending him to the floor on his back. She straddles his chest, lifting a fist to punch—

Something must happen, because her hand lowers and she crawls off him, that British voice coming over the speakers to announce:

“The Black Widow wins!”

She holds out a hand to help him up, which he accepts. The man next to Clint isn’t yelling very nice things, but Clint refrains himself from saying anything. The dude looks like he could hold his own in the ring.

Several fights go by after that, Clint unable to pay much attention to them, his mind elsewhere. Miss America wins her fight against Black Panther, Clint tells himself that he’ll have to tell Kate about it later.

Finally the voice announces that it’s time for Winter Soldier versus Iron Fist, the two fighters stepping out of the entryway and into the ring. The Soldier is dressed in his usual getup, all black with the arm exposed, while the Iron Fist stands out in greens and yellows. While the announcer drones through his usual speech, the Winter Soldier spins his metal arm to stretch it a few times, then flexes his metal fingers, as if unsure of himself.

There’s the buzzer, and the two men go for each other—

It’s a brutal loss, for the Winter Soldier.

Clint has to give him credit, the guy didn’t tap out even when people were yelling at him to. He goes down and stays down with a final glowing fist, hitting the ground with the painful sound of his metal arm hitting the floor.

“The Iron Fist wins!”

A few people come out of the doors as the Iron fist exits, laying the Soldier on a stretcher and exiting unceremoniously.

Clint stands just as the same guy says to his friend, “what a pussy. Can’t even handle Iron Fist .”

Turning away from him, Clint balls his hands into fists, the temptation to punch the guy getting stronger the more he hears. Still, he forces himself to step away, moving towards the elevator and waving at Coulson as he passes. He doesn’t get any response except for a look that feels something like I told you so .

Once on the ground floor, Clint glances around the sparse room. The fighters must exit from somewhere, right? Kate had mentioned that Stark owns this building and all surrounding ones…

The street outside is mostly empty, no one to watch as Clint slips into an alleyway next to one of the buildings. There isn’t much— a few trash cans, a pile of blankets and clothes that Clint figures is from a homeless person, and a doorway to the adjacent building. First Clint moves to the door, prodding it, then moving to the handle. It doesn’t budge.

No surprise there— Clint moves to the trash cans, lifting the lids and finding nothing but garbage, rotting food and wrappers and probably drugs, knowing New York. Nothing there.

He moves to the blankets, toeing them away with his foot to avoid touching them. Clint frowns, crouching down and running his fingers along the crack in the ground, a faint light coming from beneath the surface.

“What are you doing?”

Clint spins around, half expecting to see a police officer. Then he’d be really and truly screwed . But it’s just a guy, with a grey sweatshirt and a backpack and long hair and holy shit .

It’s him.

Clint splutters, which seems to annoy the Winter Soldier. He takes a step forward, clearly threatening. Clint finally gets a good look at his face, which is battered and bruised from his fight twenty minutes previous. Stony grey-blue eyes, a cleft chin covered with stubble. Both cheekbones bruised, and a split lip. Clint witnessed the fight— it doesn’t take a genius to picture what the rest of his body must look like.

Thinking quickly, Clint throws his hands up in surrender. “It’s not what it looks like.”

The Soldier glances between Clint and the pile of dirty fabric behind him, unwavering.

“Okay, maybe it’s exactly what it looks like.” The Winter Soldier takes another step forward. “But I can explain!”

“You should probably start.” His voice is low and gravelly, but Clint wonders if that’s circumstantial.

Clint isn’t sure what to say for a moment. “I’m a big fan of your work,” is what comes out of his mouth when his mouth catches up with his brain. Jesus Christ , Clint can practically hear Katie saying.

“You’re what? ” The Soldier is suddenly in Clint’s space with his fist in his shirt, lifting Clint up until they’re nearly nose to nose, even though Clint is taller than the other man. Clint blinks rapidly, his hands going to the Soldier’s wrists. Right hand, he notes.

“I should’ve worded that differently,” he manages. “I’ve seen you fight. I’m into it.” Clint winces and wonders if he imagined the Soldier’s grip loosening. “I mean— I want to buy you a drink, or something.”

Jesus Christ, what is he doing? Kate’s gonna kill him.

Clint stumbles as the Winter Soldier drops him and steps back. He keeps talking, even as the Soldier walks to the edge of the alley and looks out, left and right, as if about to cross the street, but doesn’t leave yet. “I know that’s weird but…” You fascinate me, is what he wants to say. Instead, he whispers, “you seem like you need one.”

The Soldier slowly turns back towards Clint, holding his gaze. Something passes between them, Clint can’t quite say what, but it breaks when the Soldier looks away again. “No,” he mutters, then repeats it again, louder. “No.”

Then, he steps into the street, leaving Clint in the dust, left to wonder what just happened.

-

Bucky thinks of the guy who confronted him in the alleyway three nights previous.

He thinks of his shaggy blonde hair, and the silly purple hearing-aids. The purple band-aid that was on his nose, and the feeling of his hands on Bucky’s arm as he said I’m into it .

Bucky lands another punch to Drax’s face, but is roughly shoved to the ground again. The shouting of the crowd rings loudly in Bucky’s ears as Drax kicks his stomach. And then the man’s voice again, offering to buy him a drink. He forces himself up, can feel the metal creak of his arm throughout his body, and grabs at Drax’s body, slamming his head down onto his knee. Drax’s body crashes to the ground, as Bucky’s had done just seconds ago.

The man in the alley’s face sticks in Bucky’s mind as he punches one last time, and stays there as JARVIS announces:

“The Winter Soldier wins!”

Remorsefully, Bucky thinks it feels good to win again.

~

It doesn’t surprise Bucky when he goes back to that alley and find the man crouched over one of the facility exits. He’s feeling better than he has in weeks, even fresh out of a brutal fight. He needed the win, and the cash.

“Thats a bad idea,” calls Bucky, causing the man to spin around and stand abruptly. He’s disheveled, his blonde hair flying in every direction and shirt wrinkled. “It can only be exited from. Try to enter and you’ll get yourself killed.”

The guy’s eyes flick around Bucky’s person, from his hood, to his hands, to the backpack, and to his face again. “Noted,” he says cautiously.

Bucky shifts from foot to foot, and sniffs awkwardly. “I’ll take you up on that drink.”

-

The Winter Soldier is… odd.

He nurses cheap whiskey, and his eyes are constantly moving, sweeping around the bar, constantly on guard. His left hand, the one that Clint knows is metal but is currently masked with a glove that resembles a flesh hand, taps nervously on the table.

Clint stares at him, studying his features and trying to get a read on him. Tonight he sports a black eye with a heavy gash over the eyebrow, clean and stitched up already. The bruise from a few nights ago is almost faded on his cheekbone, and the gash that was on his lip is scabbed over. Every second that passes Clint thinks of another question— but keeps his mouth shut. He’s finally got the guy here, he doesn’t want to fuck it up.

Finally, half way through his own drink, he says, “I’m Clint Barton.”

The Soldier’s blank expression does not falter, but his eyes stop their sweep and land on Clint.

When he doesn’t say anything, Clint clears his throat. “This is when you tell me your name.”

The Soldier snorts as he lifts his drink to his mouth. There is a ghost of a smile on his features, and Clint realizes that he is handsome . The thought is gone before Clint can really focus on it, because the Soldier is talking.

“Not many people know my real name.”

“Awfully cryptic of you.”

He huffs something out that sounds close to a laugh, and moves to stand. “Thanks for the drink, but you’re going to have to try harder than that.”

“Wait!” Clint all but yells. The Soldier looks at him, tilting his head slightly. “Come on, man. I’ll do all the talking, how about that? I have nothing better to do.” The I’m sure you don’t, either is left unsaid.

The Soldier sits back down, raising his eyebrows and leaning back in his seat.

Clint takes that as the go ahead, and launches into the story of when he picked up Kate from school a few years ago and they ended up on a roadtrip to Orlando, Florida.

“You’re friends with a high schooler?”

“I used to be friends with a high schooler. Now she’s in college.” Clint wrinkles his nose. “Or so she claims.”

“How did that happen?”

Clint often wonders the same thing: how did he and Kate become friends? She was sixteen and good with a bow and arrow, Clint’s brother had just died and he was great with a bow and arrow. He had been in a bad place, Katie had been in a bad place, high school . They had just seemed to fit. The two of them and Lucky were their own little family.

“I crashed into her living room.” The sound of the Soldier putting his glass on the table signifies his surprise. “It’s kind of a long story.”

The story of running away from the mafia that killed your brother is a third or fourth date kind of story, anyway. It ends like how most of Clint’s stories end, with Kate saving his ass. The Soldier didn’t need to know that quite yet.

The front door of the bar opens and closes. Clint hears it rather than sees it, but the Winter Soldier tenses up, removing his arms from the table and shoving them into the pockets of his sweatshirt, forcing his shoulders down in a way that doesn’t look incredibly inconspicuous. Clint glances over his shoulder at whoever just walked in.

A police officer is moving to sit at the bar, holding a hand up to signal the bartender. Clint glances back to the Soldier, who looks two seconds from bolting out the door.

“Hey, my apartment isn’t too far from here.”

The Soldier is up and moving towards the door, apparently not needing any more convincing. Clint scrambles after him, leaving some bills on the table. The Soldier pushes the door open, Clint close behind him, sparing a glance at the cop. He’s watching them, but it’s not the kind of I know you’re secretly enhanced persons look, it’s more like, I sure hope these drunk idiots don’t become a problem. At least, Clint thinks it is. He’s never liked cops.

~

“Make yourself at home,” Clint announces. Lucky is happy to see them, his tongue rolling out of his mouth. The Soldier slips in and snaps the door shut quickly, as if afraid that the police officer had followed them to Bed Stuy and would be able to sneak in through the crack of the door. Lucky noses at the Soldier’s left hand.

“You didn’t mention a dog,” he says, pulling his hand away protectively, but allowing his right one to gently scratch Lucky behind the ear.

Clint shoves his shoes off and moves to the kitchen, putting on a pot of coffee. “What, you allergic?”

The Soldier follows, notably not removing his shoes (rude), trailed by Lucky. “No.” He glances around the kitchen, at the seventy-five arrow holes, frowning.

“Arrows,” explains Clint, hopping up onto the counter. He watches the Soldier poke at the holes with an odd feeling settling in his stomach.

“Arrows?”

Humming, Clint looks at the contents of the kitchen counter. He spots a bottle, grabs the cap, contemplates his surroundings for a moment, then flicks it. It bounces off the bubbling coffee pot, the fridge, and into the trash. The Soldier’s eyebrows shoot up in question. Clint shrugs. “Just can’t seem to miss.”

The Soldier leans back. “You’re enhanced?”

Clint waves his hand in a so-so gesture. “I’m deaf,” he taps his hearing-aids, “working theory is that my senses are heightened. But I like to think that I’m just really cool.” Kate’s aim is just as good as his and she’s not deaf.

“And that explains the arrow holes how?”

“Bow and arrow is kinda my thing. Was my thing.” Clint winces. “I’m not on an enhanced list, but…”

The Soldier sits down at the kitchen table, his shoulders loosening. “Better safe than sorry.”

“Yeah,” Clint agrees. “I don’t know if you can even call a deaf guy with a penchant for pointy sticks enhanced, but me and my sidekick hung up our bows for good when the accords happened anyway.”

“Sidekick?” The Soldier asks, the barest hint of a smirk in his voice. The corner of his mouth is slightly upturned, Clint notices. “You seem more like the sidekick-type than this Kate.”

Rolling his eyes, Clint hops off the counter to pour them two mugs of coffee. “Partners in heroism, whatever you want to call us.”

Two steaming cups of coffee are placed on the table. The Soldier drinks his quickly, while Clint nurses his own.

“So,” Clint starts after a few minutes of silence and coffee drinking, “if I can’t ask for your name, can I ask for your phone number?”

“Real smooth, Barton.”

Clint stands and digs through one of the drawers, pulling out a pen and notepad.

To his surprise, the Soldier takes it, and slides the notepad towards himself, looking contemplative. A brief moment passes, followed by the faint sound of pen on paper. “I don’t have a cell,” the Soldier explains, “so you’ll just have to stick with calling the landline that came with the apartment.”

Clint is tempted to make a joke about this being the 21st century, but refrains, just watches the Soldier’s neat numbers as they appear on the page.

The Soldier stands after leaving his final mark on the page. “Thanks for the drinks, Barton. And for paying me.”

Following him to the entryway, Clint watches the Soldier crouch and pet Lucky a few more times. “No problem man.” After a second, Clint adds, “I promise to call.”

The Soldier opens the door and looks at Clint with soft eyes. “Don’t bother,” he says, but it lacks venom, and comes across as a joke more than anything, promptly shutting the door.

When he returns to the kitchen, Clint picks up the notebook, running his fingers over the numbers, and the letters underneath them. My friends call me Bucky, is written in the neat handwriting.

Bucky.

Before he goes to bed that night, Clint programs the number into his phone under that name, and burns the trifold that had been folded and stuffed in his back pocket. He crawls into bed, running the events of the night through his mind. As he falls asleep, Lucky at his feet, Clint makes a mental note to call Kate in the morning. She’s going to hit him so hard.

-

Bucky feels like he’s about to fall over.

Tony Stark has him propped up on a table, left arm supported by some sort of stirrup, keeping it in place while Stark delicately takes it apart. Every panel is open, exposing the skeletal wires and inner workings. Bucky averts his eyes, not comforted by the fact that his left arm can so easily be taken apart and put back together again.

“This is what, the fourth time you’ve broken the thing this month?”

I didn’t break it.” Bucky shrugs his right shoulder, closing his eyes and trying to force the incoming headache away.

“Coulda fooled me,” remarks Stark, pulling out what looks like a fried microchip, connected to a coil of tangled wires. “How does this even happen?”

The fingers of the arm twitch violently as Stark disconnects the chip, letting out one sad whine before the arm totally loses power. Bucky can feel the weight sagging and pulling down the left side of his body. If he wasn’t already close to exhaustion, working to keep himself straight is going to become a chore. “Ask Thor,” he groans, digging his right hand into the edge of the table. “There isn’t a better way you can do this?”

“Unfortunately not. You ask Thor to stop frying all your systems.”

Bucky winces as he remembers the fight that occurred an hour ago. He won, of course, he was finally starting to get his mojo back, but his arm suffered a fatal thunderous blow, barely able to wiggle the fingers. So here Bucky sat, in the company of Tony Stark, for the last thirty minutes. His whole body was tingling from the lightning, and a cut that had only just begun to heal had been reopened on the side of his face.

Stark glances between whatever he’s doing and Bucky’s face. “You want someone to fix that?”

“No.”

He shrugs, going back to the arm. “Your loss.”

Bucky just closes his eyes and tries not to pass out, listening to the whirring of Stark’s machines and his occasional mumbling to himself. An indefinite amount of time passes until the door whirs open, making Bucky snap his eyes open. Stark is still sitting next to him, but now wears a mask over his face while he blow-torches something. Bucky tries to wiggle his fingers, feels nothing. So they’re not done yet.

Steve approaches, glancing between Stark and Bucky and Bucky’s arm, raising an eyebrow.

“Thor,” is all he can say. Stark flips his mask up and leans back, looking at him.

“He awakens!”

Ignoring him, Steve leans against a table nearby. There’s a freshly sewn gash that extends from the center of his forehead, moves over his eyebrow, and disappears into his hairline. Bucky reaches over to touch the dried blood where the cut stops. “Black Panther?”

Steve shrugs. “He’s got some mean claws.”

Bucky is well aware of how those claws feel on skin. He drops his hand back to the table, looking over at Stark. “How much longer?”

“Depends on if this works.” Stark lifts the chip that he had been working on with a pair of tweezers. “Hey, Cap, where’s the Widow? Aren’t you usually on her tail?”

The look on Steve’s face is funny enough to make Bucky huff a soft laugh. Stark isn’t exactly wrong— Steve’s been smitten with the woman since she first joined the Initiative. If he’s not with Bucky, he’s probably hanging around Black Widow. Their last fight ended with Steve tapping out and letting her win. Bucky can’t imagine she took that too well.

Steve chooses to ignore Stark’s comment. “How are you, Buck?”

“Peachy.” Stark places the new and improves chip wherever it’s supposed to go. It feels like a needle is poked into Bucky’s nonexistent skin, causing him to grit his teeth and inhale sharply. “Never been better.”

A hand is placed on Bucky’s right shoulder, a steadying force.

Stark finishes up, placing wires where they need to be and chips back into their panels. Bucky regains feeling in the arm slowly, like cold water trickling up the fingers, through the faux veins, and into the bicep until it feels like it’s a part of Bucky again. He can flex the fingers, and move the wrist, lift the arm out of the stirrup and stretch it, just as he had been able to do before Thor wrecked it. “Thanks, Stark,” Bucky says, as genuinely as he can as he jumps off the table.

He has already flipped the mask back down and has moved on to a different project, waving a hand absently. “Just tell Point-Break to be careful with my things, next time.”

When Bucky gets home nearly two hours later, his wallet barely any more full than it had been when he walked into the facility earlier in the night, he goes immediately to the phone on the wall after locking the door, instead of to the windows and cupboards like he usually would. Clint has left two more messages since Bucky checked that morning.

He holds the phone to his ear with his newly fixed hand, closing his eyes as he listens to the message.

“Hey, Bucky, it’s Clint. You probably knew that already. I just got home from lunch with Katie. She’s good, thank you for asking.” Bucky laughs. “I’ll tell her you say hello. I took Lucky to a dog park today but he refused to play with any of the other dogs, just laid at my feet and slept. Dumb dog, probably dreaming of pizza. It made me feel nice, though. Apparently he prefers my company to other dogs. What does that say about me? Anyway, I’m planning on going tonight. Just thought you’d like to know. Call me back whenever you feel like it— or not, if. You know. You don’t.”

The second one is shorter, and probably left not too long ago.

“Good job, tonight. Hope you get that checked out.” It takes Bucky a moment to realize that Clint is referencing the arm. “You should take a break. Seems like you need it.” There’s a pause so long that Bucky wonders if something is wrong with his phone. Then, Clint continues, “I’ll call you tomorrow. And the day after that. You can’t ignore me forever.” The line clicks when he hangs up.

Bucky doesn’t really know why he hasn’t called Clint back. Clint clearly seems interested in him. Every night he promises himself that he’ll call back, but he never does.

Pulling the phone away from his ear, Bucky realizes that half of it is covered in blood from the side of his face. “Shit,” he mutters, dropping it and letting it hang on the line. Bucky wanders to the bathroom to clean himself up, telling himself that he’ll call Clint back. As soon as he’s clean. Maybe.

-

Kate throws herself through the door, scaring Lucky out of the room and Clint off the couch he was peacefully asleep on.

He doesn’t have his hearing-aids in, but the sound of the door hitting the wall was just loud enough to startle him. Kate hovers over his body, saying something he can’t make out.

“I can’t hear you,” he says, groaning as he hauls himself from the floor back onto the couch. He keeps his eyes on her, even as she rolls her eyes and signs, get your aids then, this is too important.

Clint sighs. He forces his body off of the couch and into the bedroom, grabbing the hearing aids from the nightstand, putting them in his ears and turning them on. He walks back into the living area where Kate is now sitting on the couch with Lucky on the couch and half in her lap. “What could possibly be so important?” He glances at the time on his phone. “Don’t you have class?”

She waves a hand. “Not important.” Clint sits on the other side of the couch as Kate continues, “The Winter Soldier and Miss America are fighting tonight.”

Clint raises his eyebrows. “How do you know that?”

“Darcy told me.”

“How does Darcy know that?”

“Do you ever listen to me? Darcy has a friend who knows a fighter.” Kate kicks her feet up on the coffee table an throws her arms out. “We’re going tonight.”

Kate has been oddly fixated on Bucky ever since Clint told her about the evening they spent together. He left out most of the details, like his name and fascinating mannerisms. She had her crush on Miss America, too, and was adamant that Clint could hook them up somehow. Clint hasn’t even been able to talk to Bucky since that night. Still, Clint had promised that some day he’d mention it, just to make her feel better. He already talks endlessly about Katie in the messages he leaves. He would never tell her that, though.

She nudges his foot with her own. “My girl’s gonna destroy your guy.” She wiggles her eyebrows.

“Not a chance,” Clint says, his lips spreading into a smile and then a laugh. Kate laughs too, one of her hands falling on top of Lucky’s head and the other on Clint’s shoulder, a steadying force that reminds Clint why he loves her so much.

~

They place their bets with Coulson and make it into their seats just as the usual announcement is starting.

Bucky and Miss America walk out and go to opposite ends to the ring, which is pretty standard. Kate cheers as America steps to their side, Bucky across from her. The rules are announced, the buzzer plays, and the fighters go straight for each other.

Miss America hits the ground first, Bucky landing a solid push at her chest. She takes advantage of being on the ground to grab at Bucky’s legs, sending him toppling after her. His left hand grabs for her wrist but she gets to him first, grabbing ahold of it and twisting it behind his back.

America’s advantage doesn’t last too long as Bucky throws his head back, knocking their skulls together and pushing himself free from her grasp. He throws a punch that hits Miss America in the chin.

“Here we go,” mutters Kate from beside Clint, leaning forward in her seat.

Miss America gets some punches in as well, literal stars flying, like sparks from metal, as they connect with Bucky’s head and stomach. A glowing white star starts to appear around America’s head, resembling a halo. Clint’s seen the girl fight enough to know what’s about to happen.

Just as it seems like America’s going to deal the final blow of the fight with her star-power, Bucky grabs her roughly by the hair, the star fading away instantaneously as she hits the ground. Kate yells something, as do a number of other people in the crowd. Bucky plants his knee to her chest and punches straight across the face, lifting his fist once more, but going no further when America finally taps out.

“Dammit!” Kate shouts, shoving Clint’s shoulder.

“The Winter Soldier wins!” announces the voice as Bucky extends a hand to help the girl up, which she accepts. It’s a little hard to see from so far away, but Clint thinks they’re both smiling, despite the blood running down their faces.

“I told you,” Clint boasts, smiling from ear to ear. Kate shoves him again.

~

Kate passes out on Clint’s bed when they get back to his apartment, Lucky following suit. Clint stays up, not tired yet because of his nap from earlier, staring at his phone.

Is he going crazy? He feels like he’s going crazy.

The phone rings five times, as per usual, before the automated voice tells Clint that he can leave a message after the tone.

He’s quiet for a moment, trying to decide what to say, then, “I sure hope you’re actually listening to these. Kate would be so disappointed to find out you haven’t really been saying hi.” Clint taps his hand absently on the table, thinking about how Bucky does that, too. “Maybe I’d be a little disappointed, too. We came and visited you at work. Oh, Kate really likes your coworker, is there any way we— you , could get her number, or something? She’s been bugging me about it but I didn’t want to bother you— although I guess I should’ve thought about that before I started leaving you multiple voicemails a day.”

Clint leans back in his chair, staring at the few arrow holes above the fridge, forming a perfect circle. “I wish I could get back to work,” he mutters. “I miss it so much. Kate is always saying that we could but— it scares me. You know that.”

Clearing his throat, Clint continues, “anyway. You should call me back. Sometime. I’ll make you more horrible coffee and you can pet my dog some more. And meet Katie, you’d like her, I think. She’s a bitch and I like her so much. Okay. I’ll let you go now. Goodnight.”

When he finally crawls into bed next to Kate, she mutters, “you make me depressed.”

Clint huffs a laugh, taking out his hearing-aids and pulling the covers up and over the head. If she says anything else, he doesn’t hear.

~

The only reason Clint realizes his phone is ringing is Lucky nudging him in the face, his wet nose prodding Clint’s eye. He groans, rolling onto his side, pausing when he sees the light on his phone flashing. It’s still dark in the room, no sunlight pouring through the curtains or annoying birds outside. Sighing, Clint grabs his hearing aids and picks up the phone. “This better be good, Katie.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” says a man’s voice.

Clint sits up so fast his head spins. “Bucky?” Lucky looks at him quizzically. “Took you long enough, asshole.”

Bucky’s end of the call is staticy and hard to hear, but Clint can barely make out, “sorry. Can I come over to your apartment?”

Something is up. “What’s wrong?” Clint asks, throwing his legs over the side of the bed and standing up. The hardwood floor is cold against his bare feet as he leaves his room and goes to the kitchen, Lucky following close behind.

“I’ll explain later. Can I come or not?”

“Yes, yes of course you can.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything else, just hangs up. Clint stops in his tracks, staring at the screen. The number Bucky just called from wasn’t his home one, which Clint has programmed into his phone. Lucky whines at his feet, looking up at Clint with his one eye like he’s pissed they’re not in bed.

“Me too, bud,” Clint mutters, patting the dog affectionately on the head and continuing into the kitchen.

Clint has barely turned on the coffee pot when there’s a knock at the door. Looking through the peephole shows that it’s Bucky, standing stock still.

“You look like shit,” says Clint as he opens the door. Bucky pushes himself between Clint and the door, shutting and locking it himself. Clint takes a long stride back, looking his new visitor up and down. He’s wearing the same thing he wore the two times Clint has seen him outside of the ring, a baggy grey sweatshirt, worn black jeans, a backpack, and that fake hand. His face and hair is bloody, clearly fresh from a fight.

Bucky turns and looks Clint up and down, humming. Clint blinks, looking down at himself in his purple pajama pants and white t-shirt. “I have… coffee,” he mutters, making his escape to the kitchen.

It takes a few minutes for Bucky to make his way into the kitchen after Clint, apparently wandering the apartment. Clint hardly notices him when he does, turning and nearly dropping the coffee pot to find him sitting at the table. He’s washed the blood off his face, and is digging through a first-aid kit with his right hand. “You know how to sneak up on people,” Clint comments, sitting down and pouring two mugs of coffee. Bucky has discarded the fake hand and shrugged off the sweatshirt, leaving him shirtless in Clint’s kitchen.

“Don’t you guys have an infirmary, or something?” Clint asks, gesturing vaguely to Bucky. He’s covered in bruises and scars and cuts, especially around his arm, where the scar tissue is thick and red, extending from his shoulder across his pec.

Bucky pushes the kit away from himself, exhaling through his nose and speaking up for the first time. “We have a doctor. And a glorified mechanic. Speaking of which,” he holds up his left arm. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to fix a cybernetic arm, would you?”

“Unfortunately no.”

Wrinkling his nose, Bucky flips open a panel on his wrist and digs around in it. “My  hand isn’t working, but luckily I can move the arm.” He rubs the stubble around his mouth with his right hand, closing his eyes. “The mechanic, Tony, he’s not in New York for a little while.”

“So he can’t fix it.”

“No,” Bucky confirms. He opens his eyes, looking at Clint for a moment, then flipping the panel closed. He takes a long drink of his coffee before saying anything else. “I won’t be able to fight until he can get back.”

Clint mulls this information over, running his finger around the rim of the steaming mug. “No fighting, no money.”

Nodding, his gaze far away, Bucky purses his lips and doesn’t say anything.

He doesn’t know much about Bucky’s personal life, but Clint can imagine. He moves closer, scooching his chair until they’re practically side by side, their knees brushing. Clint grabs the first-aid kit, pulling out the disinfecting wipes and opening the package. Bucky doesn’t say anything as Clint brushes it across his face, over the cut on the cheek, and the one on the eyebrow, on the hairline, and so on. His right eye is black and almost swelling, both eyes closing when Clint gently runs his finger over the bruise.

“I’m no doctor,” Clint whispers.

“Doesn’t matter,” Bucky breathes.

The cuts are bandaged with whatever Clint has in the first-aid kit, including a purple band-aid over the eyebrow.

“We match,” Clint teases, gesturing to the various purple bandages covering his arms and fingers.

Bucky looks at them, raising his eyebrows in a fond expression. “What’s with you and purple?”

The best thing Clint can do is shrug. “It’s just always been… our thing. Kate and I.” He rubs awkwardly at his face. “It’s a little leftover. From before.”

They sit in silence, after that, drinking their coffee and sneaking glances at each other.

“You know,” Clint finally says. "You can stay here.” Bucky stares at him, his face blank. Quickly, Clint adds, “just for a few days. If you need it—”

“No, I. Thank you, Clint.” Bucky sniffs, looking down awkwardly. “Steve offered, too, but I. He can’t be keeping me at his place.”

Clint doesn’t ask who Steve is, or what the situation is there, but can feel the sincerity in his voice. “As long as you need it,” he says softly. “Seriously.”

A soft smile sits on Bucky’s face, the corners of his mouth slightly turned up. Clint is reminded again how handsome he is, his long hair hanging around his face and his stubble accenting his chin. When he isn’t frowning or keeping his expression blank, Clint would go as far as to say beautiful . He can’t even imagine Bucky unscarred and bruised, or what he looks like under all the wounds.

Lucky breaks the moment, nudging Bucky with his nose and barking.

Bucky looks down at him, raising his brows. His voice gets higher when he talks to lucky, saying, “hello again.”

“His name is Lucky.” Clint leans his hand on his fist, watching them. “He likes you.”

Bucky runs his hand along Lucky’s head, scratching behind his ears and at his nape. “I bet he likes most people.”

“Maybe. But that’s kind of what dogs are for.” Lucky tips his head back and looks at Clint, his tongue rolling out the side of his mouth in a goofy grin. “Yeah, you know we’re talking about you.”

More silence passes as Clint stands, putting their now empty mugs in the sink. “You can have the bed.” Bucky starts to argue, but Clint cuts him off, “at least for tonight. Rest those bones.”

He accepts reluctantly, letting Clint lead him to the bedroom. “I listened to all your messages, you know.”

Clint tries to hide whatever emotion is boiling in his stomach at that moment, pushing the door to his bedroom open. “Really?” he asks, feeling like his voice has gone up a few octaves.

Bucky seems to take in the sight of the bedroom, disheveled sheets and rumpled clothes on the floor. Lucky has followed them and has already jumped back up into his spot on the bed. “Yes. They were.. A nice thing to come home to.” Bucky shrugs his sweatshirt back on, sitting on the edge of the bed and leaving Clint standing in the doorway. “Your coffee isn’t shitty.”

That wasn’t what Clint was expecting— but takes it anyway. “Thanks.” He turns to go, then, “oh, by the way. That girl you fought—”

Maybe Clint’s imagining it, but it looks like Bucky is smiling. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Something boils over, a sudden rush of emotions. He covers it by letting out a low, quiet, “goodnight, Bucky,” and shutting the door.

-

Soft sheets, warm blankets. There’s a long, blissful moment where Bucky doesn’t realize where he is, just keeps his eyes closed and his breathing slow and deep, embracing the warmth and the sunlight on his skin. It doesn’t last long, the unfamiliar feelings settling in his skin soon after waking.

He sits up quickly, blinking hard and fast as his body shifts into defense mode, analyzing his surroundings. Clothes that aren’t his own on the floor, a window letting in sunlight across the bed, holes in the walls, a nightstand covered in sticky notes, wrappers, and plastic bottles, and a yellow dog at his feet.

Right. He’s at Clint’s.

Upon closer inspection, the sticky notes are all from Kate, all addressed to Clint, saying things like “took lucky for a walk before i left, dont forget to text me when you wake up” and “get new batteries for hearing aids” . There are hundreds of them all over the table and on the wall above it and in the drawer. Some are simple, just some numbers and dates, while others take up four notes attached to each other. All signed xoxo Kate .

It’s cute.

Clint isn’t on the couch when Bucky exits the bedroom, or in the kitchen or bathroom. In fact, A sticky note is left on the fridge that wasn’t there the previous night.

Bucky—

Will be back soon

Kate will come to take Lucky out at some point, because I have no idea what you get up to while the sun is up

Be good

Clint

His handwriting is small and curly, the letters pushed tightly together like they might fall off the page. Bucky takes the note and sticks it into his sweatshirt pocket, moving away from the kitchen to wander around the rest of the apartment. It’s different in the sunlight, from when Bucky had arrived last night and had checked all the windows and doors while Clint was making coffee. There’s a pizza box on the coffee table, and a crack running through a tv screen. Dog food bowl on the floor next to a leash. Two toothbrushes on the sink next to an empty orange pill bottle. The whole apartment is quaint , Bucky decides, noting the blankets thrown everywhere and the silly mugs in the cupboards and some pictures on the walls or on tables. Photos of Clint and a dark haired girl who must be Kate, or of the two of them and Lucky. There’s one of Clint and a man that somehow looks more put together when side by side with Clint, his auburn hair hanging over his forehead and his green suit ill-fitting. They must be related , Bucky thinks, looking between their scruffy square jaws and the way their matching crooked smiles don’t really meet their eyes.

Bucky sets the photo back down on the windowsill, looking down at Lucky from where he has emerged from the bedroom. He stretches, the front of his body getting close to the floor and his tail up in the air, then straightens and looks at Bucky. “Good morning,” Bucky says to him, even though it’s more likely well into the afternoon. He doesn’t usually sleep this late, especially not in a place he’s unfamiliar with, but maybe being in an actual, comfortable bed for once forced his body to succumb to sleep. It also helps that Clint, apparently a retired superhero, was asleep just outside the door. A deaf, clumsy superhero who only uses bows and arrows, but a superhero nonetheless.

Lucky jumps up onto the couch and goes right back to sleep, apparently content to wait for Kate to arrive.

The thought of Kate reminds him of Steve— he should probably go to his apartment. Brooklyn Heights isn’t too far away from Bed Stuy. He could catch the C train.

That’s the plan Bucky comes up with, heading to the bedroom to grab his things, shrugging on his shoes and jeans, followed by the stiff fake hand over the fingers that don’t work. It’s uncomfortable, feels like something is freezing his fingers in place while also wrapping them in a hundred layers of saran-wrap. He can hardly use the hand with the glove when his fingers are working , but now that they’re not it looks even faker than usual.

He keeps his hands tucked in his pocket as he walks to the subway and all the way to Steve’s apartment building, until he is knocking on the door. He knocks rhymically; three knocks, a pause, one knock, pause, then two more.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve says as he opens the door not long after Bucky knocks. “Did you—”

“Yes,” Bucky cuts him off, shutting the door behind himself and pulling the hand off, immediately breathing a sigh of relief. “I stayed there last night.” He doesn’t have to look at Steve to know what his face looks like, his eyebrows raised high and his jaw loose in a smirk. “Don’t even start with me.” Bucky holds up a hand as he moves up the stairs to Steve’s kitchen.

“I didn’t even say anything.”

“Your silence speaks a thousand words.” Bucky tells him, opening the fridge and grabbing his orange juice, pulling off the cap and drinking straight from the jug.

“Why’d you come here instead of hanging around your new bff’s house then?” Steve grabs the juice from him. “He doesn’t have juice you can steal?”

“Can’t I enjoy the company of my best friend?” Bucky turns to get a good look at him finally. His blond hair is damp from a shower, and a fresh bandage sits over his nose. “Did you break your nose again last night? Maybe it’ll get smaller this time around.”

Steve rolls his eyes, touching the bandage gently. “Stop changing the subject. How’s your guy?”

“You know, for a long time if someone asked me that question I’d assume they were asking about you.”

He gives Bucky a flat look.

Bucky throws his arms up, his left hand hanging limply at the wrist. “I don’t know what to say, okay! He went somewhere this morning and wasn’t back by the time I woke up. His friend was coming to take out their dog and I’m not exactly ready to meet her—”

“Girlfriend?”

“More like a sister, I think.” Bucky continues, “and I hadn’t seen you since before you went on last night, so.”

Steve reaches over and thumps Bucky on the shoulder. “You know you’re always welcome here.”

Bucky looks at Steve’s hand where it now rests on his shoulder. There’s a nasty bite mark on the webbing between the thumb and pointer finger. “Who almost took your finger off?

“Bucky.”

“Was it Drax? No, Hulk.”

Bucky .”

“It wouldn’t be safe here, you know that. You’d get arrested, I’d probably be killed. It’s a miracle I’m even able to visit once or twice a week without a SWAT team storming the place,” Bucky stammers, shrugging Steve’s hand off his shoulder.

Something odd passes Steve’s face, but it passes soon enough. He looks at Bucky softly, maybe fondly. He notices just then that the purple under Steve’s eyes aren’t fading black eyes, like they’re both used to, but just bags. Fatigue. Bucky runs his fingers over them, like Clint had done the previous night, but it’s less intimate. More… familiar. Tracing what’s already known. Reminds Bucky of when they were kids and he was saving scrawny little Steve from bullies on the playground. Who knew one day it’d be the other way around. Except the bullies were Nazis and the playground is a highway in Washington DC. And maybe Bucky was the bully a little bit in that situation.

Still.

Steve throws an arm around Bucky’s shoulders, and this time Bucky lets him hover close.

“So, this guy …”

Bucky groans, lifting his hands to cover his face, hardly managing to shield anything when his left refuses to comply. “He’s nice , Steve.”

“What, and I’m not?”

“Not nice like you, Captain America. He’s nice like…” Bucky thinks for a moment. “He and his best friend used to be some crime fighting duo who fought enemies with their bows and arrows. And he bought me a drink after I won my first fight in a while, and is letting me stay at his place even though he doesn’t know me. Doesn’t know about the shit I’ve done.”

Steve knocks the sides of their heads together affectionately. “If he can get past the underground fighting ring I think he might be okay with the brain washing thing.”

Bucky pulls away, just slightly, enough to raise his eyebrows at his best friend. “Not exactly the same thing.”

~

When Bucky gets back to Clint’s apartment, its nearly evening, the sun setting on the New York skyline. Clint is sitting on the couch eating pizza, Lucky at his side eating his own slice. Bucky stares at them, frowning.

“Should a dog be eating pizza?”

Clint shrugs, not looking up from whatever he’s looking at on his phone. Bucky rounds the couch, sitting on the chair beside the couch to avoid sitting next to Clint. “It’s his favorite food. What did you get up to today?”

“Visited Steve.”

Around a mouthful of pizza, Clint asks, “who’s Steve?”

That’s a great question. “Captain America.” Clint chokes and drops his phone. “My best friend.”

“Your best friend is someone you beat the shit out of on a regular basis?”

Bucky waves a hand. “Our relationship seemed to dwindle down to that even before the accords. Now we just get paid for it.”

The frown on Clint’s face is unpleasant to look at. “What do you mean?”

“Doesn’t matter. Pass me a slice.” Clint complies, and seems to accept that Bucky doesn’t want to talk about it.

They eat their pizza in relative silence, the only thing breaking it being the sounds of Lucky’s slobbery munching. Clint eats most of the box by himself, leaving it on top of the one that was already discarded on the table when it’s empty.

“You can have your bed back,” Bucky says eventually. “I needed that sleep last night, thank you.”

“No need to thank me.”

“I have every reason to.” Bucky plays absently with his limp metal hand, running his fingers along the panels that he can’t feel as he talks, avoiding looking at Clint, who surely is looking at him. “Steve’s on the enhanced person list, so I can’t stay with him ‘cause he could get arrested. And, well, lets just say that I’m not the safest person for an enhanced person to be harbouring.”

Clint reaches forward suddenly, wrapping his hands around Bucky’s, both metal and flesh. He holds them in such a way that forces the metal one to curl in on itself like a fist, the flesh one cupped over it. His own hold them on top of that, enveloping them almost completely. His hands are surprisingly big; Bucky hadn’t noticed. Archer’s hands.

There’s almost certainly a flush on Bucky’s face, which he can’t even cover because Clint has his hands wrapped up. Maybe his mouth is hanging open a little. He forces himself to look at Clint, his brown eyes meeting Clint’s blue ones. Bucky wants to say something, but doesn’t know what. He snaps his mouth closed, his teeth clicking loudly and filling the air between them.

Clint’s eyes leave Bucky’s, looking down at their hands. He separates them slowly, not pulling away, but leaning in close and studying the metal. “Can you feel it?”

It takes a moment for Bucky to realize what Clint means. “Right now, no. But usually, there’s some sort of sensation. Not exactly touch, but…”

One of Clint’s long fingers runs up the nearly flat plane of Bucky’s left middle finger, catching on the rim of the panel where a fingerprint should be.

Bucky desperately wishes that the hand was up and running properly, just so he could feel the sensation of Clint’s delicate fingers running along it and treating it like it might fall apart in his hands if he doesn’t handle it properly.

Clint stands suddenly, letting go of Bucky’s hand. “Bed,” he mutters, licking his lips and running a hand through his shaggy hair. He turns and looks at Lucky, who jumps off the couch and goes into the room, like he knows exactly what Clint said. Bucky feels cold, like cold water is trickling down his arm and into his body. “Good night,” Clint rushes out, and disappears.

It is only once Bucky is alone, the ghost of a touch along his fingers, that he realizes that his right hand was gripping the seat of the chair so hard that some of the seams have ripped, spilling out cotton.

~

Things get less strange, after that.

Tony is back after a few weeks to fix the arm (“Seriously, Terminator, have you no respect for this fine piece of machinery on you?”), and Bucky is back in the ring. He pays the rent and sleeps in his own bed for the first time in what feels like months but has in reality only been days. Bucky tries not to think about it, but while he lies awake at night worrying about whether or not he really locked his door (he always does), he thinks about how soft Clint’s bed was, and the warm presence of Lucky at his feet, and falls asleep quickly.

And maybe he wonders what it would feel like if Clint held his newly restored metal hand like he did that night, and what kind of sensations that would cause. He rubs his fingers together, staring at the peeling wall absent of any arrow holes, and knows that it doesn’t feel the same.

~

Bucky gets to Clint’s one evening after a fight, in considerably better shape than he would usually be. Someone newer, apparently, not as experienced.

The door swings open almost as soon as he knocks, revealing a pale and tired looking Clint. His eyes are rimmed with purple, like he hasn’t gotten enough sleep the past few days, his hair sitting flat and sadly on his head.

Bucky steps in and around him, venturing further into the apartment. Once the door is closed and Clint has followed Bucky into the living room, he says, “do you want me to ask?”

Clint gestures vaguely.

“Are you okay?”

Another motion, followed by a deep sigh. He flops back onto the couch, an arm thrown over his face. Bucky sits beside him, enough distance between them so they’re not touching but not so far that Bucky can’t reach forward if he needs to.

Finally, from behind his arm, Clint speaks up. “My brother died six years ago around this time.”

Bucky glances over at the photo of Clint and the man on the windowsill. “I’m sorry,” is all he can say, sitting still and watching Clint carefully.

“He wasn’t the greatest brother,” Clint admits, shrugging. He sits up, wrinkling his nose as he reaches forward and grabs something from the coffee table. “But today, I got a letter from him.”

“You what?”

Clint holds up what must be the letter, five or six pages stapled at the corner with creases where they were once folded. “It’s definitely him. He used all our codes, and apologized for—” Clint cuts himself off, clearly holding back something, then continues, “for what happened. Among other things.” Clint adds that last part somewhat grumpily. He flips through the pages of the letter absently while Bucky stares at him.

Bucky knows a thing or two about dead men coming back to life. He just doesn’t know how to apply it here. “Did he explain how…?”

“Not really. Something about wanting a better life away from the shit I was getting up to, which, frankly, wasn’t any better than what he was doing, but whatever.”

Seizing the opportunity, Bucky reaches forward and grabs Clint’s hand, dark metal stark against Clint’s pale skin. He seems surprised by the action but doesn’t pull away, much to Bucky’s relief. He just sits, unmoving, holding onto the letter in one hand and Bucky with the other.

“I’m not very good at comfort,” Bucky says.

“You don’t need to be.” Apparently Bucky doesn’t need to be a lot of things, to Clint. Maybe that’s okay.

At some point they’ve managed to move until they’re shoulder to shoulder, hands held together. They’re not really looking at each other, Clint down at the letter and at their hands, Bucky around the apartment and at the photo across from them, hardly visible from where they sit, just the green of the brother’s suit, the purple of Clint’s shirt, the starkness of their hair against a dark background.

Bucky isn’t even paying attention when Clint brushes his fingers along the gash on Bucky’s forehead with his fingers. His head snaps back around to find that Clint is close and looking at him strangely, his eyes flicking around Bucky’s face. “Did you fight good today?”

“I always fight good.”

Clint laughs. A decent, hearty laugh that makes him tip his head back and move a little bit away from Bucky. He realizes, looking at the soft smile that falls onto Clint’s lips after he gets the laugh out, how much he’d like to kiss him.

He does, when Clint rocks back forward, opening his mouth to say something. They’re still, for a moment, their lips pressed together, but then Clint moans, just a small, quiet thing as he drops the papers, and Bucky presses forward even more, his right hand moving up to hold the side of Clint’s head. His fingers press into soft blonde hair at the same time Clint’s hands are reaching up to hold onto either side of Bucky’s neck, underneath his curtain of dark hair.

Clint pulls away first to get a breath, diving back in before Bucky can even say anything. He wants to get his hands everywhere, they move up and down the side of Clint’s face and side, pulling their chests together. It doesn’t seem like they can get close enough, like this is something they both need , finally something they can agree on.

Bucky’s mouth moves to the side of Clint’s, then down until he’s pressing his face into the soft skin of his neck. “We should’ve done this a while ago,” Clint breathes, one of his hands now at the back of Bucky’s neck. Bucky just laughs, hot air against Clint’s neck as he does so.

A moan follows the laugh soon enough as Clint manages to slip a hand between them, digging underneath Bucky’s shirt and near the hem of his pants. “Okay, bedroom,” Bucky gasps, separating themselves. When he looks at Clint, with his pink lips and rumpled hair, he looks closer to himself than he had earlier, somehow. “I thought you’d never ask,” he says, leaning forward to kiss Bucky again, hauling them both up and pulling them towards his bedroom.

They stay close throughout the short walk to the room, getting distracted a few times by each other, finally shutting the door behind them after way, way too long.