"Why the hell are you making me drive in New York?" asked Tan, over a flurry of horns. "This is a nightmare."
"I can drive instead if you want, honey," said Jonathan. Antoni and Karamo, squeezed together in the back seat, exchanged wide-eyed looks of horror.
"Bobby, tell us about the reason we're here," said Karamo, clearing hoping to change the subject before Jonathan could offer again.
"Oh, what the hell," muttered Tan, braking hard enough to make everyone in the car jolt forward. "That can't be legal."
Bobby cleared his throat. "Okay, our guy this week is James Barnes-"
"That name sounds familiar, why does it sound familiar?" asked Antoni.
"-better known to his friends as Bucky, he's a hundred and one years old… wait, that can't be right."
"Oh my God, guys," said Antoni, his eyes lighting up. "Bucky Barnes. BUCKY BARNES!"
"Who is that?" asked Tan. "We're making over a hundred year old? That's cute."
"Oh my God, you're all going to freak," said Antoni. "Keep going, Bobby."
"Ah, Bucky is currently unemployed but is about to start a new job and needs our help. He spent the last seventy years as a prisoner of war and has lost touch with who he is-"
"WHAT?!" screamed Karamo at the same time as Jonathan started making high-pitched screaming noises as he connected the dots. "No way! No way! It's not!!"
"-and needs our help to find himself again," carried on Bobby, raising his voice to be heard over the general sounds of excitement. "He's been nominated by his friends Steve Rogers-"
Jonathan's shrill scream made Tan flinch.
"-and Tony Stark."
The noise levels had risen to a point where Bobby had to stop talking, and remained there until Tan jammed on the brake and hit the horn at the same time.
"Learn to drive!" he yelled at some unseen driver.
"You have got to be kidding me, there is no way in hell we're doing an Avenger," Karamo said to Bobby.
"Technically he's not an Avenger yet," said Bobby, running his eyes over the sheet. "He's just been helping out on occasion. Next Saturday, though, he's officially becoming an Avenger and they're holding a press conference and drinks reception for him."
"Oh my God, Tanny, you get to dress him for an Avengers party!" said Jonathan, sitting forward to drum his hands on the back of the driver’s seat.
"Do you think Tony Stark will let me touch one of his suits?" asked Tan, glancing in the mirror at Jonathan with excitement. “That Tom Ford he wore to the Met was to die for.”
"Uh, it actually says that Bucky needs help putting together his whole new look as an Avenger," said Bobby. "Including his combat suit."
The camera closed in on Tan's wide-eyed look of delight.
"Oh, I can not wait to get my hands all up in that gorgeous man's beautiful hair," said Jonathan.
"I have one question," said Antoni. "He lives at Avengers Tower, right? Why are we in Brooklyn?"
Bobby’s eyes skimmed over the information sheet again. "Ah, apparently we're not allowed to film at Avengers Tower because of security, so we're meeting Bucky at a friend's apartment.”
"Okay, that makes sense," said Karamo.
"Oh my God, I can't believe we're doing an Avenger!" said Tan, then wrenched the steering wheel sharply to the left. "Good lord, can no one here drive?"
"Uh, I don't really know what I'm doing here," he said. "I think Steve let Tony get kinda carried away."
The camera flicked to Steve and Tony, sat next to each other in the studio. "It's been ridiculous," said Tony. "He clearly wants to be an Avenger, hell, he pretty much already is in all but name, but any time you actually say that, he gets all twitchy and denies it, then hides for the next couple of fights."
"We asked him what the problem was," added Steve, "and he said that he didn't know how to be an Avenger, and he didn’t even look like one because he didn't have a suit or a persona or anything like that. So Tony said he'd fix that, and...well," he gestured at the camera. "This happened."
"Hey, if a guy says he needs a makeover, I'm going to get him the best damn makeover I can," said Tony.
The camera went back to Bucky, who was rubbing at his face. "Yeah, okay, I did say that," he said. "I don't know, I haven't even had a haircut since I got away from Hydra. It seemed stupid to think I could be a superhero when I'm still so much of who they made me. If I'm going to stand next to those guys, I guess I need to feel like I belong there. Like I know who I am, and I know how to present that." He shrugged. “Plus, I didn’t think they’d actually do it.” He gave a wry smile. “Guess that’ll teach me to doubt Tony Stark’s ability to go over-the-top.”
“Ooh, this is nice, very old-school chic,” said Jonathan.
Karamo went to buzz the intercom just as Bobby pulled the door open. “Okay, it’s not locked,” he said, holding the door open for the others. “Shouldn’t it be locked?”
“I guess they have an open door policy,” said Tan, as they headed inside and up the stairs.
“Maybe they left it open for us,” added Bobby. The stairs twisted around and up a couple of storeys, then they piled out into a corridor with three doors.
“It’s this one,” said Antoni, knocking on one of the doors.
He was answered by a bark, and he turned to the camera with his face lit-up. “Oh my god, there’s a dog!”
The door was pulled open by Clint Barton, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt with a target on it. “Uh, hey,” he said, then called over his shoulder. “Bucky, they’re here.”
“We are so here!” said Jonathan, pushing past him into the flat. “Where’s our gorgeous boy?”
“Bucky’s friend is Hawkeye?” asked Antoni. “That is so cute. And where’s the dog?”
Bucky was awkwardly standing by the sofa, staring at them.
There was a chorus of greetings as they all descended on him, making him flinch backwards.
“Oh my, just look at your hair,” said Jonathan. “Can I touch it?”
“Uh, sure,” said Bucky. “It’s not- I haven’t done anything with it.”
“Oh honey, it’s gorgeous,” said Jonathan, running his hands through it. “So soft and silky smooth, yes, this baby is going to be absolutely perfect once we’ve had a little talk about conditioner.”
“Is this your apartment?” Bobby asked Clint.
“Yeah,” said Clint, scratching at the back of his head. “It’s not much, I just like having my own place, away from the Tower. And it works better for Lucky,” he said, nodding at the dog coming down the stairs.
“Oh! The cutest pupper!” exclaimed Antoni, heading to greet him.
“Doggy!” said Jonathan, abandoning Bucky to go pet Lucky. Bucky looked relieved.
“So, you have your own apartment at the Tower,” Karamo said to him. “But you spend a lot of time here?”
“Yeah,” said Bucky, glancing over for a split-second, then clearly trying to do his best to ignore the excitement and flailing happening over Lucky. “I hang out with Clint a lot. The Tower can be kind of, uh, cut off from everything, I guess? A bit formal.”
Clint snorted. “That’s because you’ve never bothered decorating your rooms there.” He glanced at Karamo. “It looks like a hotel room or something. Terrifyingly neat and tidy, and completely neutral.”
“I can see you don’t have that problem,” said Bobby, eyeing the stack of brightly-coloured blankets draped over the sofa.
Clint shrugged. “Bucky sleeps here a lot, and he gets cold easily. Makes sense to have blankets for him, right?
“You stay over here?” Karamo asked Bucky, who shrugged.
“It gets late, and then it’s a long way back to Manhattan,” he said, with only a hint of defensiveness.
Clint nodded. “He keeps some stuff here so it’s easy.” He gave Bucky a considering look. “Actually, I reckon Bucky’s got more personal stuff here than he does at the Tower.”
“Is that so?” said Karamo, catching Bobby’s eye and raising his eyebrows. “Okay, let’s have a look.”
The Fab Five spread out into the apartment. Bobby crouched down to inspect the coffee table, touching the leg to check something. It gave a crack and slumped slightly.
“Oh man,” he muttered to himself.
In the kitchen, Antoni opened the fridge. “Okay, there’s nothing in here except cold pizza. And...what’s this?” He pulled out a tupperware box.
“Uh, can’t remember,” said Clint. “Might be old Chinese? Or, wait, did Quill bring it from an alien planet last time he swung by?”
Antoni stared at him, then back at the box, consideringly. “I’m gonna smell it,” he decided, and cracked the box open. “Oh. Oh wow, that is disgusting.” He looked over at Karamo. “You want to smell?”
“God, no,” said Karamo.
Antoni shrugged and chucked the tub straight in the bin.
“Aw, food, no,” said Clint, sadly.
“What does Bucky eat when he’s here?” asked Karamo, looking around at the cluttered kitchen. The camera focused on the stack of mugs next to the coffee machine, all of which were Avengers merchandise, most of them specifically Hawkeye.
“Uh, we get take out a lot,” said Clint. “And protein shakes, of course, he goes through loads of those. He and Steve eat more than the rest of us, because of the super-soldier thing.”
Antoni opened a cupboard to reveal nothing but boxes of protein bars. “Are these yours or his?”
“Both, I guess,” said Clint. “It’s easy to grab a few when we’ve got to be somewhere.”
Antoni and Karamo raised eyebrows at each other, then Antoni turned away to look in the freezer. “Why do you have six different bags of peas?”
“They’re perfect for icing injuries,” said Clint.
Antoni shut the freezer. “Okay, I can see I have a lot of work here.”
The camera panned to Bobby, who was running his hand over one of the walls. “This whole place is just full of arrow holes,” he said. “How hasn’t he hit any wiring yet?”
In the bathroom, Jonathan pulled out the purple shower curtain to admire the pattern of arrows and targets. “I love a man who’s not afraid to commit to a theme,” he said, running his hand over it. He leaned in to look at the bottles on the side and winced. “Two-in-one? Oh no, honey, no. Not for those gorgeous locks.”
He opened the mirrored cupboard above the sink and just stared. “There’s nothing but packets of band aids,” he said, pulling some out. “Are those Iron Man band aids? I love them!” He opened one up and stuck it on his cheek, then added a Captain America one on the other side.
“Oh look, matching toothbrushes,” he said, picking up the glass by the sink. “Captain America and Black Widow, so cute!”
Back in the lounge, Bobby opened the door to a closet and a stack of cardboard boxes collapsed towards him. “Jesus!” he swore, holding them up and tipping them back inside. “What the hell is all this stuff?” He got it all rebalanced, then pulled the top box off and opened it up. He blinked, then looked at the camera. “It’s all Avenger toys.”
In the bedroom, Tan opened the wardrobe door. “Oh wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many purple clothes in one place,” he said, pulling out a couple of t-shirts. “Wait, how much of this is official Hawkeye merchandise?”
Bucky was hovering in the doorway. “He gets it free.”
“Okay,” said Tan, closing the cupboard door. “And you? Do you have any clothes here?”
“Yeah,” said Bucky, gesturing at the set of drawers under the window. “The bottom two there are mine.”
“Okay,” said Tan, skirting around a pile of laundry to get to them, then kneeling down. “How representative would you say this was of your wardrobe?” He pulled the top drawer open to reveal several layers of neatly folded black t-shirts and hoodies.
Bucky shrugged. “I’ve got a fancy suit Tony had made for me back at the Tower, but I guess most of it is all the same.”
Tan opened the lower drawer to find a couple of pairs of black sweatpants and some dark jeans. “Okay, I’m seeing a lot of black,” he said, turning to look at Bucky, who glanced down at himself as if just realising he was wearing nothing else. “Do you ever go for more colour?”
“Not really,” he said. “I guess I’m just comfortable in black. I’ve not really had the chance for any colour since before… everything.”
“And is that something you’d want to branch out into?” Tan asked.
Bucky shrugged. “Sure,” he said, then glanced at the wardrobe. “No purple though, I reckon Clint’s got that covered.” He frowned off into the distance for a moment, as if trying to pin down a memory. “Maybe blue? I used to wear a lot of blue.”
“Okay, yes, we can do that,” said Tan. “And you said you had a suit, do you have anything between that and the t-shirts and hoodies in here?”
“Not really,” said Bucky, glancing down at the black hoodie Tan had pulled out to examine. “If I’m not in my combat gear, then I’m just hanging out, usually here.” He gestured at the untidy state of the room and cracked a smile. “It’s not really a formal kind of location.”
“Okay, well, I think we can branch out a bit anyway,” said Tan, standing back up. “If you’re becoming an official Avenger, I’m guessing there will be meetings and events you’ll be going to that you’ll need something semi-formal for.”
Bucky made a face. “Fuck, you’re probably right,” he said, sounding tired just from the idea. “Steve’s always getting dragged to that kinda thing. And Clint too, although he usually just wears jeans and a t-shirt.”
Tan winced. “Okay, I think the first thing we need to do is get you to stop using Clint as a guide to what you should be wearing.”
“Yeah, that’s fair,” said Bucky, laughing. All the tension in his shoulders from Tan’s questions seemed to drain away as he glanced out of the room, towards where Clint’s voice could be heard, chastising Lucky over something. “He’s a mess,” he said, with a fond smile.
The scene cut to Tan sitting in the Fab Five’s apartment, facing the camera. “Okay, what?” he said. “I mean, did you hear that? Bucky has not one, but two drawers of clothes at Clint’s apartment, and he talks about him in that tone of voice? I mean, that’s pretty clear, right?”
The camera changed to Karamo. “Everything in that apartment is set up for the two of them. It’s a space being lived in by two people.” There were a series of shots of Bucky petting Lucky, relaxing back on the sofa next to Clint and laughing at something he was saying, and turning away from the coffee machine to hand Clint a mug. “Bucky may be claiming that he lives at the Tower, but this is where his home is. With Clint.”
Jonathan flicked the palms of his hands up as he spoke to the camera. “Do I think they’re the two cutest bunnies ever? Yes. Do I think they’re tiptoeing around each other when they should be making out? Hell yes. Are we going to get them making smoochy faces at each other by the end of the week? You better believe it, girl.”
Bobby gave the camera a very serious look. “If I don’t get to redo that apartment-” he broke off, then shook his head. “I’ll break in and do it in the middle of the night. I can’t go on living knowing it exists in that state.”
The shot changed back to Clint’s apartment. “Okay,” said Jonathan, stepping further into the bathroom so that Bucky could come in and join him. “Walk me through your morning routine.”
Bucky shrugged. “Shower. Shave. Brush my teeth and my hair. Go make coffee so I can get Clint to wake up.” His mouth quirked up into a smile. “It takes him a lot of caffeine to get going in the morning.”
The camera cut to Jonathan in the Fab Five apartment, staring at the camera with wide eyes. “Did you hear it? Oh my god, these boys are totally adorable! I am going to give Bucky all the style tips he needs to dress up fancy and blow that poor boy’s mind. Blow. His. Mind.”
“It became clear pretty quickly that there were two people who needed our help this week,” said Karamo’s voice as the camera watched Clint trip over Lucky’s dog bed and Bucky grab his arm to keep him upright. The camera moved around to show both of their faces as they shared a quiet smile. “So our new goal is to get Bucky all ready for his debut as an Avenger while also sorting Clint’s life out to be less of a disaster, and then, maybe, getting them to this party together, as dates.”
Bucky winced, and shook his head. “Kinda wish I’d come up with a better reason to avoid it, if we’re being honest. Shoulda known Tony and Steve wouldn’t let it rest.”
“You don’t want to be an Avenger?” asked Karamo. “Why not?”
Bucky snorted and spread his hands. “Why do you think? I mean, you must know enough about me to know I don’t deserve to be on the team. Not with my history.”
“I’ve got to be honest, I thought you already were an Avenger,” said Karamo. “I think we all did. And none of us think that you don’t deserve to be.”
Bucky only shrugged in response. “Guess you haven’t read up enough on me, then. On what I’ve done.”
“Maybe we don’t know everything about that,” said Karamo, “but the Avengers do, right? And yet they’ve still invited you to join them. What do you think Steve would say about whether or not you deserve to be on the team? Or Clint?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Steve’s an idiot,” he said. “He’s still stuck on me being the guy he used to fight Nazis with in the War, but I’m not that guy any more. I’ve done stuff, so much stuff, and none of it was for the good guys. Steve just doesn’t get that. And Clint…” his voice trailed off, and he got a half-smile as he shook his head. “He’s an idiot too. Last week he got distracted watching me and Steve spar and fell off a treadmill. Not sure we should be trusting his judgement.”
The camera cut to Karamo being interviewed. “He fell off a treadmill because he was watching Bucky. Oh, we need to get these guys together.”
Back on the sofa, Karamo just nodded. “Okay, well, I think you’re wrong, but I understand why it’s hard for you to see that. I promise you that you do deserve this, and that you’re going to be great at it, and I’m going to work this week to get you to believe it.”
Bucky gave him a very skeptical look. “Sure.”
Bucky looked around as well, clearly considering it. “If he were here, he’d say the only thing he really cares about is the coffee machine, but that’s not right,” he said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’ll need an incredible coffee machine, something really robust, but he actually gets really attached to stuff. He wants to make things work out, even if they’re way too old and worn to be worth anything.”
“So I should keep some of this stuff, then,” said Bobby, looking at the tangle of wires underneath the TV.
“Definitely,” said Bucky. “And, uh, you may think there’s a point where you’ve used too much purple, or too many arrow and target motifs, but you really haven’t. He loves that shit. One of the reasons he has so much of his own merch is because it’s the easiest way for him to get arrows and purple all over everything he owns.”
“One of the reasons?” asked Bobby.
Bucky shrugged. “It’s also free, and gets delivered to his house without him needing to do anything.”
“Okay, so ease of use, I get that.” Bobby cut a quick look sideways at Bucky. “You know him pretty well.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bucky, unable to hold in a smile. “Oh, when you have a lay out, you should run it by me so I can check the security. The sofa’s gonna need to be out of the eyeline of the roof opposite, things like that.”
Bobby turned to look at the space again. “Ah, right. Not something I’ve got a lot of experience with, but I can work that in. And, what about you? What do you want here?”
Bucky frowned, glancing around. “A really comfy sofa,” he said, looking at the battered relic that passed for a sofa at the moment. “I spend a lot of nights sleeping on it. And the shower needs better water pressure, it takes forever to wash the soap out of my hair.”
“Okay,” said Bobby, “and if you were living here full time? What then?”
Bucky considered that for a long time, looking around every part of the apartment and glancing up to where the bedroom was, then he shrugged. “I don’t know. I think it’s already got everything I’d need.”
“Take-out is a proper meal,” protested Clint. “Pizza’s got carbs and protein and vegetables, what more do you need?”
“Maybe a little variety?” said Bucky. “Maybe not eating every meal out of cardboard on your sofa?”
“Exactly,” said Antoni. “There’s nothing to say you can’t have take-out sometimes, but it’s always good to have a home-cooked meal, shared with someone you, ah, care about.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Clint, sounding tired. “Guess I’ve never really been in a position to have that before.”
Bucky nudged his shoulder against Clint’s arm. “We can have it now,” he said, softly.
Antoni eyed them both, then gave them a moment by walking behind a counter and starting to pull pans out. “Okay,” he said, after a long enough pause for Clint and Bucky to have stopped gazing at each other, “so there’s actually enough room here for you each to make your own versions if you wanted, or you can work togeth-”
“Together,” interrupted Bucky, not letting him finish. “If you leave Clint to his own devices, he’ll end up setting fire to himself.”
“Hey, that’s only incredibly likely,” protested Clint, then shrugged. “Yeah, together sounds best, though.”
“Right, there’s something just so nice about making a meal together, sharing that experience and then getting to enjoy what you’re prepared together,” said Antoni, clearly hiding a smile as Bucky and Clint moved behind the work surface. “Okay, so we’re going to prepare pasta today, starting by making just a really simple red sauce. You just need onion, oil, crushed tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and pepper, maybe a bit of crushed red pepper if you're feeling frisky-”
“I’m always feeling frisky,” said Clint, waggling his eyebrows.
Bucky rolled his eyes, but dumped a hefty amount of red pepper into the sauce. Antoni grinned at them both, then back at the camera, which cut away to him being interviewed.
“They are incredibly cute together,” he said. “Sparks were flying. If we can’t get them together after this, we shouldn’t be allowed to have an internationally popular TV show.”
Back in the kitchen, Bucky and Clint were sitting down to try the meal they’d just made.
“Oh shit, this is good,” said Clint, shovelling in a hefty fork full.
“As good as pizza?” asked Bucky, watching him with a vaguely mesmirised look, as if wondering how anyone could shove pasta in so fast.
Clint scoffed, then glanced over at Bucky, just as he tore his eyes away and looked back at his own plate. “Don’t ask stupid questions. Nothing’s as good as pizza.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, then looked at Antoni. “Hey, can you show me how to make pizza?”
Antoni’s eyes lit up. “Absolutely, yes I can.”
Clint just stared at Bucky for a long moment, as if he’d never seen anyone liked him before, then glanced at the camera, cleared his throat and nudged his shoulder against Bucky’s instead. “You’re the best, thanks. But you know it’s not going to be as good as take out, right?”
Bucky fixed him with a determined look. “I will take that challenge.”
“Okay, okay, enough food, it’s my turn now,” said Jonathan, sashaying into the kitchen. “We are going to make those gorgeous locks sing, girl.”
Bucky looked very unsure about that pronouncement, but he obligingly stood up.
“Am I staying here?” asked Clint.
“Sure thing, sweetie,” said Jonathan. “Your cut is fine, very generic white boy, but fine. We will be having a talk about products later though, watch out for that.”
“Looking forward to it,” said Clint, with a grimace. “Good luck, Bucky.”
Bucky shot him a salute, then followed Jonathan out.
“Long,” said Bucky, immediately. He reached up to drag his own hand through his hair, which was brushing against his shoulders. “Not this long maybe,” he said, “but I don’t want to go back to how it was in the ‘40s. I’m not that guy any more.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” said Jonathan. “New hair, new you, I get that. So we’re going to make you into Avengers you.” He brushed his hands back through Bucky’s hair, pinching the front sections between his fingers just by Bucky’s chin. “How about here? Gives you some swish, some fabulousness, but takes off the ends and I can give you some shape.”
Bucky stared at himself in the mirror, then gave a short nod. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Good, then get your gorgeous butt over here and we’ll wash your hair,” said Jonathan, moving over to the sinks.
Bucky took one last look at himself in the mirror, then set his shoulders and followed Jonathan over to get his hair washed, his mouth set into a grim line.
“So, I’m sensing some tension,” said Jonathan as he started running water over Bucky’s hair. “You just let me know if you need me to stop for any reason, okay?”
“Right,” said Bucky, through clearly gritted teeth.
“Okay, if we’re going to be making you gorgeous, what are you going to do with that?” asked Jonathan, clearly trying to cut through some of the tension. “Are you going to get yourself out there? Find some hot young thing to take about town?”
“Not really,” said Bucky, hands clenching around the arms of the chair he was in until it began to creak alarmingly. “I don’t think I’m really ready for that kinda thing.”
“Well, you know you best, but I think you’re totally ready,” said Jonathan. “I mean, you’ve let the five of us descend on you, and I know we can be a bit much, but you’ve held up just fine. Come on, you’ve been single a while, has there been anyone who’s caught your eye? Some sexy thing that makes you go all tingly?”
Bucky was silent for a long time as Jonathan started to rinse through the shampoo. “Maybe,” he said, eventually. Jonathan sent a delighted grin at the camera, out of Bucky’s sight.
“Doesn’t matter,” added Bucky, “that’s not something I can have.”
“Okay, I love you, but you are one hundred percent wrong on that,” said Jonathan, wrapping a towel around Bucky’s hair. “It seems like you think the same thing about being on the Avengers, am I right?”
Bucky nodded stiffly as they headed back over to the other chair. Jonathan started to roughly dry his hair with the towel.
“I am here to tell you that you’re wrong about both,” he said. “You are an incredible, talented, kind human being, and you deserve all the good things. You’re basically already on the team, doing all the missions and the fighting and whatever, you deserve to have that recognised officially. You’re already a hero, you’re saving lives. And you definitely deserve a snuggle bunny to relax with, and once I’ve finished with you, you’re going to look so damn good that no one’s going to be able to say no. Whoever your flame might be.”
Bucky made a vaguely disbelieving noise, but didn’t deny it.
Jonathan picked up a pair of scissors and Bucky tensed all the way up, pulling away and sitting forwards. “Don’t-” he started, then hissed with frustration. “Shit, sorry,” he said. “I don’t- this is kinda why I haven’t had it cut. I’m not keen on strangers holding blades close to my face.”
“Oh honey, we’re not strangers,” said Jonathan, setting the scissors back down. “What can I do to make you comfortable?”
Bucky shrugged, looking miserable. “I don’t know. I don’t- I can’t-” He stopped and took a deep breath. “Fuck,” he muttered. He forced himself to take several long, slow breaths, slowly relaxing back into the chair. “Okay, try it again,” he said, glaring at his reflection in the mirror.
“Okay, sweetie,” said Jonathan, picking the scissors up again. “Just a reminder that I’m completely harmless and I’m definitely not going to hurt you, I don’t even think I’d know how.”
Bucky’s hands clenched around the chair as the scissors came closer, but he didn’t move away as Jonathan got ready to start cutting. At the first snip, he twitched, every line of his body straining with tension, and made a choked noise deep in his throat.
“Okay, no,” said Jonathan, putting the scissors down again. Bucky relaxed. “We’re going to try something else.”
The scene cut, and when it came back, Clint was sat in the chair next to Bucky’s, turned to face him.
“This is ridiculous,” muttered Bucky.
“Nope,” said Jonathan. “Nothing that makes you comfortable is ridiculous. This is meant to be a good thing, getting a new look, not a cause of upset.”
“Besides, it means I get to be one of the first to see the new-look Bucky Barnes,” said Clint, grinning at him. “I am very down with that.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, then met Jonathan’s eyes in the mirror. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Jonathan nodded, moving closer with the scissors, and Bucky took a deep breath, then reached out to grab Clint’s hand. For a moment, the camera closed in on Clint’s glance down at their clasped hands, and the soft smile that played over his face.
“Here we go, honey,” said Jonathan, and the scissors started cutting. Bucky tensed up, but nothing like the flinch he’d made earlier. The camera focused on his hand in Clint’s to show how tightly he was holding on, then on Clint’s reassuring smile.
“You’re going to look so great,” he told Bucky. “You’re gonna piss Tony off by looking better than him, you know that, right?”
Bucky snorted. “Easy enough,” he said, and Clint laughed.
“Okay, fine, you’re going to piss everyone off by looking better than them,” he said. “Especially if you’re getting some fancy new outfit.”
Bucky shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “What are you wearing? You’re not going for jeans, are you?”
Clint rolled his eyes. “I do have a suit, you know,” he said. “Don’t worry, though, I won’t take the spotlight off you.”
“Not what I was worried about,” said Bucky. Jonathan moved around towards his ear, and he pulled in a tight breath.
Clint gave him a grin. “Hey, you’re okay,” he said. “Just us here.”
“Your locks are just gorgeous, honey,” said Jonathan. “Getting my hands all in them is such a treat, thank you.”
Bucky snorted. “Not what the Hydra handler who had to deal with my hair used to say.”
“They had a handler for that?” asked Clint.
Bucky shrugged. “Sure. Hair, outfit, that stupid black face paint; that was all his job.” A feral grin took over his face. “They stopped doing much with my hair after I stabbed him when he came at me with scissors.”
“Ah,” said Jonathan, hesitating, “you’re not feeling that urge right now, are you, honey?”
“Nope,” said Bucky. “Besides, Clint has my stabbing hand.”
Clint laughed. “Oh please, they’re both your stabbing hands.”
“Guess you better take the other one as well, then,” said Bucky, and held his metal one out to Clint, who grabbed it just as easily as he had the other one, scooting his chair closer so he could reach better.
He let out a laugh under his breath, and Bucky grinned at him.
The camera cut to Jonathan being interviewed, fists balled up and pressed against his mouth with delight. “So. Damn. CUTE!”
Back in the salon, Jonathan stood back. “Okay, honey, you are done,” he said. “Look how gorgeous you are!”
Bucky tore his eyes away from Clint to look at the mirror, and blinked. “Oh,” he said, pulling away from Clint’s grip to run a hand through his shortened looks. “Okay, yeah, that looks great.”
“Great?” asked Clint. “It looks smoking hot.” He let go of Bucky’s other hand and sat back. “You’re going to make all the ladies go wild, Barnes. The Avengers’ newest heart-throb.”
Bucky tipped his head to the left, and then the right, watching the way his hair fell. “Not really the ladies I want to make go wild,” he said, clearly aiming for casual but not quite hitting it.
“Oh. My. GOD!” exclaimed Jonathan. “James Buchanan Barnes! Are you saying you play for my team?!”
Bucky shrugged. “Yeah, pretty much,” he said. “I reckon if I’m going to be all officially part of the team, I should be open about these things.”
The noise Jonathan made was enough to make both Bucky and Clint flinch back, Clint’s hands going to his hearing aids. “OH MY GOD wait until Antoni hears about this!” he said.
Clint rolled his eyes. “You guys know I’m bisexual, right? He’s not the only Avenger rocking a rainbow.”
Jonathan held up a finger. “Excuse me, every single person stepping out to show themselves off to the world is a cause for celebration; also yes, I did know that, because I threw a rainbow party back when you came out, and it was completely fabulous.”
Clint blinked, and then grinned. “Okay, that does sound fabulous. You should have invited me.”
Jonathan grinned at him. “Next time I will.”
“And me,” added Bucky, who was still turning his head in the mirror to take in his hair. He groomed his finger down the side of it with a faint frown, then flicked back the shorter parts at the front, and gave himself a satisfied smile in the mirror. “Seems like I’ve got the look for parties now.”
“Not quite,” said Jonathan. “Not until we get you out of those black hoodies, which is what’s happening next.”
“Right,” said Bucky, as the door opened and Tan came in.
“Oh, wow, you look incredible!” he said. “Good job, Jonathan!”
“Thank you, it’s easy with such a great model,” said Jonathan as Bucky stood up and took off his gown.
“Okay, I know I said this before, but I’m really not needed for the next bit, right?” said Clint. “I kinda need to go walk Lucky.”
“Aw, that dog is so CUTE,” said Jonathan.
Clint grinned at him. “Isn’t he, though?”
“You’re not needed, we’re just going to be trying clothes on and talking about colour,” said Tan.
Bucky let out a sigh. “You know, black is a colour,” he tried, half-heartedly.
“It is one colour,” said Tan. “We’re going to try for multiple. Come on.”
Bucky shot Clint one last, vaguely desperate look, then followed Tan out of the salon.
“Okay,” said Clint, standing up. “I’ll just be-”
“Sit back down,” said Jonathan, pointed at the chair. “We’re going to talk about products, and why two-in-one shampoo and conditioner is never the answer.”
Clint let out a very long sigh, and sat back down.
“Are you saying they make my ass look good?” asked Bucky.
Tan shot a grin over his shoulder. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. But we need some more formal looks as well, things you can wear to Avenger events, and if you go out somewhere a bit nicer, maybe to eat or go to a show.”
“Okay,” said Bucky, then shrugged. “I guess you know that last time I had to worry about what to wear for a formal thing was before I joined the Army. Style has changed a bit since then.”
“I would say that fashion has, but some styles never go out of fashion,” said Tan. “A nice pair of pants and a well-fitted shirt will work just as well for you now as they did then.”
“Less hats, though,” said Bucky. “Especially now Jonathan’s gone to all this bother with my hair,” he added, running his hand through it.
“Oh yes,” said Tan, “nothing that’s going to cover that. And, of course, then there’s the issue of colour.” He set his hand on a stack of shirts, which were in all the colours of the rainbow. Bucky eyed them nervously.
“I agreed to blue,” he said, cautiously. “And red, I’m good with red.”
“That’s good,” said Tan. “Okay, so you’re willing to branch out, that’s fine. Just getting out and trying something other than black is going to make such a difference, just soften your look and make you seem more approachable.”
Bucky made a face like he wasn’t sure he wanted to be approachable, but nodded.
They tried on a few different outfits, and Tan even managed to persuade Bucky to try on some shoes that weren’t combat boots.
“You don’t always need to look as if you’re about to kick in the door of an enemy base,” he said. “These shoes are still comfortable, still practical, but they make you look a lot more formal, like you’re ready for a night out and not a gunfight.”
“I don’t know why you’re so set on thinking that I’m going to be going on nights out,” said Bucky, eyeing himself in the mirror. “If I’m not in a gunfight, then I’m on Clint’s sofa.”
Tan hesitated, then carefully said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go out with Clint sometimes instead? Maybe have a meal out rather than ordering in? It looks like there are some good pizza restaurants in the area.”
Bucky considered that as he continued to pose in the mirror. “I guess that would be good,” he said. “Have a proper sit down meal.” He turned to Tan, stroking his hand down the shirt he was wearing. “Is there a version of this in a greyer blue? I think it would make my eyes look bluer.”
Tan’s face lit up with joy. “Of course! Let me just look.”
“And maybe a belt,” added Bucky, looking back down at himself. “Something with a wide buckle.”
“Okay, you didn’t tell me you knew what you were doing,” said Tan, moving around to a different stack of shirts.
Bucky shrugged and turned to look back at himself in the mirror. “I’m remembering how I used to do this before,” he said. “I used to get dressed up all polished and nice, then go out dancing, and I was pretty good at it, I think. I always looked better than Steve did, anyway, the guy had no idea how colours should go together.” He considered that for a moment. “In his defence, he was colourblind back then, but have you seen how he dresses now? I don’t think he’s really got much better.”
Tan came back with a couple of shirts. “Okay, then this is going to be fun.”
Bucky cupped his hands around his coffee mug, frowning to himself. “I guess, just. Being a good person. Like Clint is. Like Steve is.”
“Okay, and what does that look like,” asked Karamo. “What behaviours do Clint and Steve exhibit that make them good people?”
Bucky let out a sigh. “You know, saving people’s lives, doing nice things for them. Clint always picks groceries up for the old lady downstairs when he goes out, and you know he rescued Lucky from some assholes who were mistreating him. Stuff like that, he just does it without thinking. And Steve, he’s just always standing up for the little guy, knocking bullies down a peg or two.”
“Okay,” said Karamo. “Anything else?”
Bucky made a face. “This is feeling like a therapy session,” he muttered.
“Do you go to therapy regularly?” asked Karamo.
Bucky gave him a raised eyebrow. “Pal, I spent seventy years as a brainwashed prisoner, being tortured, you bet I go to therapy regularly.”
“Okay, that’s good, and have you talked about this with your therapist?” asked Karamo. “Why you don’t want to become an Avenger?”
Bucky shrugged. “It mighta come up a couple of times,” he said. “Between talking about the nightmares and the panic attacks and the way I can’t quite seem to get a handle on my temper any more. All of which are great reasons why I shouldn’t be an Avenger, by the way.”
Karamo leaned forward slightly. “Is that what your therapist said?”
Bucky scowled, hunching over so that his hair fell in his face, but it was too short after his cut to really hide his expression. “No, he pretty much said the opposite,” he admitted. “Pointed out that some of the other guys on the team have nightmares, and I haven’t really had a panic attack in a month or two, and the anger…” He shrugged. “I guess I’m doing better at directing it properly,” he said. “Getting out to fight has helped with that.”
“Okay, good, that was what I found as well,” said Karamo, and he pushed the binder towards Bucky. “You see, I went and spoke to the others, and some of your, ah, Clint’s neighbours, and I even got hold of some of the people you’ve saved while not being officially on the team, the parents of the kids at the park a couple of weeks ago, and those seniors from the Doombots attack, and first I asked them to write down any reasons they could think of that you shouldn’t be an Avenger.”
Bucky was staring at Karamo with stark fear, hands clenching around his mug. “What?”
“And you know what?” asked Karamo. “Not one of them wrote anything. None of them could think of even one reason why you didn’t deserve this. So then I asked them to write down why they thought you should be on the team, and they wrote so much I had to go out and buy a thicker binder than the one I had originally.” He pushed the binder towards Bucky, who stared at it as if it were going to bite him.
“You did what?” he asked. “Oh fuck.”
“You don’t have to read it all now,” said Karamo, “but I want you to take a look at it and how the people around you actually see you. Because all those things you just said, about what being a good person is, they’re all right here, in this folder. You’ve saved people’s lives, you helped out Clint’s neighbours by fixing the plumbing, you stood up to guys that were harassing some of the women and, most of all, you’ve protected people. Just like Clint and Steve, and the other Avengers.”
“No, that’s- it’s different,” said Bucky. “I’ve got so much to make up for.”
Karamo shook his head. “None of the people I spoke to thought that,” he said. “I know it’s not something that’s easy to believe, but those things you’re carrying around, they’re not on you. Being an Avenger is something you’re already doing, and something you more than deserve to be.”
Bucky flipped open the binder, and his eyes went wide. “Oh god,” he said. “Tony wrote a page?” His eyes flickered over the page, and for a moment it looked like he was going to cry, then he slammed the binder shut. “Okay,” he said in a hoarse voice, then cleared his throat. “Okay, I’ll read it. Just, not here.” His eyes flickered to the camera, and then away.
Karamo nodded. “That’s fair,” he said. “Just, make sure you do look at it all, and see how much people love you, and believe in you. You’re going to be a great Avenger, and you definitely deserve every moment of the party this weekend.”
Bucky ducked his head down, still staring at the binder. “Yeah, okay,” he muttered.
“No idea,” said Clint with a shrug. “Something for Bucky?”
“No, this is for you,” said Tan. “I’m going to get you an outfit for the party on Saturday.”
“I’ve got a suit already,” said Clint.
Tan turned to glare at him. “Okay, two things. First of all, I had a look at that suit, and it had a bullet hole in the sleeve-”
“It’s still fine,” protested Clint. “No one ever looked that closely.”
“-and second of all,” continued Tan, “this is a party for Bucky. Don’t you want to put just a little effort in, so he can see how much it means to you that he’s taking this step and officially becoming an Avenger?”
Clint considered that, glancing around the shop, looking uncomfortable. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “Just, I’m not really good at this sort of thing. I’m more of a sweatpants kinda guy, you know?”
“I do know,” said Tan, turning to head further into the shop. “I’ve seen your wardrobe. I think we can do a lot better than that, though.”
“Still purple though, right?” asked Clint as he followed.
“No,” said Tan. “We want to make you look like a version of yourself that Bucky hasn’t seen before, something that will make him sit up and take notice.”
“Ah,” said Clint, glancing at the camera. “Just so he knows how happy I am he finally gave in to becoming an Avenger, right?”
“Sure,” said Tan, not sounding like he meant it all. “That’s why.” He picked up a shirt and held it up to Clint, then frowned and put it back down. “No, something lighter. We’re going to make your skin glow.”
“Last time that happened, it took Doctor Strange four hours to fix it,” said Clint. “Hey, am I going to have to wear a tie?”
“No,” said Tan, picking up a couple of pairs of pants and draping them in Clint’s arms. “Open neck, show off some skin. Collar bones, everyone loves collar bones.”
Clint tried to look down at his collar bones for a moment, chin pressed into his neck, then shrugged. “Okay, whatever you think.”
Tan turned a distracted smile on him. “That’s exactly what I like to hear,” he said. “Just do exactly as I say, and you’ll look amazing, I promise.”
“And it’s a look you can easily mix and match in the future,” he was saying, “if you ever found yourself on a date or some other event where you wanted to make an impression.”
A bright red convertible drew up next to them and beeped its horn. Tan turned to look, and then gaped at the driver as he tipped his sunglasses down.
“You’re the guy making Barnes’s new combat suit, right?” said Tony Stark.
“Uh,” said Tan, breathlessly. “Yes.”
“You ever designed body armour before?” asked Tony. Tan wordlessly shook his head, clearly overcome. “Okay, get in, we’re going to go talk about Kevlar.”
Tan blinked at him, then looked helplessly at Clint.
“Get in, loser, you’re going shopping,” said Clint, grinning.
“Right, okay,” said Tan, and he jerkily opened the car door. “Any chance I could take a look at your wardrobe as well? I’d die to get to see some of your suits.”
“You know, you’re the first person in a long time that has meant actual fabric suits when they’ve said that,” said Tony. “Sure, why not?”
“Oh my god,” breathed Tan as they pulled away.
“Have fun!” called Clint, waving after them.
“Hey, bro,” Clint cheerfully greeted him. “Man, that new haircut gets better every time I see it, you look great.”
Bucky found a soft smile for him. “Thanks,” he said, then cleared his throat.
“Okay,” said Bobby. “Are you ready to see your new place?”
“Oh yeah,” said Clint, bouncing on his heels with excitement. “It’s so great of you to do up my apartment when you’re meant to be here for Bucky, not me.”
“Well, it seems like Bucky spends a lot of time here,” said Bobby as they headed inside. “I thought if this was his home away from home, we should make it as much like a home as possible, and, well. Arrow holes in the walls weren’t really doing that.”
“No idea what you mean,” said Clint. “Every home I’ve ever had has had arrow holes in the walls.”
Bobby let out a very slow breath. “Okay,” he said, stopping outside the door. “Well, I’ve tried to incorporate that into the design, but it would be great if you could try and keep yourself a bit restrained.”
“How about I just start throwing knives at him any time he shoots at the walls?” said Bucky.
“Not quite what I meant, but okay,” said Bobby. “As long as it doesn’t end with knife holes in the walls instead.”
Bucky grinned at him. “I never miss.”
“That’s my line,” complained Clint, elbowing him. “Don’t go stealing my lines, get your own.”
“He just threatened to stab you, and that’s what you’re complaining about?” asked Antoni.
Clint shrugged. “Lots of people threaten to stab me. Pretty much all the other Avengers at one time or another, so I guess it just means he’s really becoming part of the team.”
“I don’t want any bloodstains on the furniture either,” said Bobby. He set his hand on the door handle. “Are you ready?”
“So ready,” said Clint, glancing at Bucky. “Buck?”
Bucky nodded. “Yeah, lead on.”
Bobby opened the door and led them inside, where Clint stopped still and stared around. “Oh wow,” he said. “Are we sure this is the same apartment? Are we on the right floor?”
The walls had been painted white, with a hotchpotch of differently-sized purple targets over them. Thick purple curtains hung in the window, and all the furniture had been replaced with stuff that looked like it wouldn’t collapse as soon as someone sat on it. The sofa in particular was enormous, scattered with cushions, and had a grey throw over the back. The camera focused in on the red star that stood out in the corner.
“That’s- That’s Brooklyn,” said Bucky, starting over to a large pencil sketch of a skyline. “I mean, that’s Brooklyn how it used to be.”
“I asked Steve to draw something from when you were young,” said Bobby, “so there was a piece of your old home as well as your new one.”
Bucky moved closer to look at it, an emotional look passing over his face for a split-second before it dissolved into a snort of amusement. He pointed at the foreground, where two tiny figures were sitting on the edge of one of the warehouse roofs. “We used to climb up there when we needed to hide from someone he’d pissed off,” he said. “He’s such a sentimental punk.”
The camera panned to where Clint was frowning at the walls. “These targets…”
“They’re made out of foam, so you can actually shoot at them,” said Bobby. “Please don’t shoot at the rest of the wall, I had the wiring upgraded and I don’t want you shorting anything out.”
“You could probably put knives in the targets as well,” said Antoni, helpfully.
Bucky grinned at him, then reached around to his back and pulled a knife out, flicking it at a target on the other side of the room and hitting it dead centre. “Yeah, seems like.”
“Jesus!” said Karamo, jumping away in shock. “Did you have that the whole time?”
“Bucky never goes anywhere without at least three knives,” said Clint, who had moved on to the kitchen. “Oh, wow, this coffee machine looks incredible. And hey! These are the new range of Avenger mugs. Oh!” He came out clutching one in his hand. “Look, Bucky, it’s a Winter Soldier one!”
Bucky looked at the grey mug, drawn over with lines like the plates of his arm and with a red star prominently on the side. “Oh shit, they already started making those?” he said, crossing to look at it. “That’s-” He paused and took a deep breath, clearly emotional.
“Actually, they started making them months ago, and had them sitting around waiting to roll out as soon as you agreed to officially become an Avenger,” said Bobby.
“Oh,” said Bucky, staring at it. “I didn’t- I didn’t think anyone would want merchandise for me.”
“Are you kidding?” asked Clint. “I mean, of course they would, but especially I want it. All the Winter Soldier merchandise I can get my hands on.”
The smile Bucky gave him was breath-takingly besotted. Clint returned it, and for a beat the Fab Five carefully tried to pretend they weren’t there, exchanging awkward glances.
Eventually, Bucky cleared his throat and looked away. “What else is there?”
“Come see the bedroom,” said Bobby, heading up the stairs. “I know you don’t sleep up there, Bucky-”
“Not yet,” muttered Karamo, quietly enough that only Jonathan heard him and smirked in response.
“-but I thought it would do you good to have more space to keep clothes, now that Tan’s expanded your wardrobe,” Bobby finished as they reached the bedroom.
It had been decorated in a more neutral cream colour than the colour scheme downstairs, with dark blue highlights. There was an enormous new bed with a nightstand on either side, and Clint’s closet had been enlarged and divided into two, one with a small arrow as a handle, the other with a star.
“Wow, look at that bed,” said Clint, and immediately rushed at it, flipping into a somersault and landing on his back, right in the centre of it. “Oh fuck, it’s so comfy, I’m never going to leave it. Tell Cap I quit, Bucky, I’m just going to stay here forever.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, moving around to open the closet that was clearly his. “No way Natasha’s going to let you get away with that,” he said. “Oh.” He pulled the door back further, revealing a wide variety of clothes in a number of colours. “That’s a lot of clothes.”
Clint sat up on his elbows. “He probably figured you’d be taking some back to the Tower.”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Bucky, stroking a hand down a leather jacket.
Jonathan clapped his hands. “Come and look at the bathroom,” he said. “We’re going to talk about your morning self-care regime.”
“Great,” said Bucky, sounding not at all enthused.
Clint sniggered. “Sucks to be you.”
Jonathan skewered him with a glare. “Oh no, sunshine, you’re coming too. I found just the thing for soothing your skin after all the time you spend standing out on rooftops.”
“Sucks to be you,” Bucky shot back with a grin as Clint sighed, but obligingly got up.
"Hey, kids," said Tony as they entered the apartment. "Have you been good?"
Clint gave him a despairing look. "Apparently I now own foundation."
"It's just a tinted moisturiser, to tone down some of the redness," said Jonathan. "It's going to make such a difference."
Tony started sniggering and Jonathan smacked his arm lightly. “No laughing at the manchild learning how to present himself properly for the first time,” he said. “Taking care of your appearance is for everyone.”
“Oh no, sure,” said Tony, “I completely agree. I’m just wondering how it’s going to make a difference when he’s covered in band aids half the time anyway.”
“What are you even doing here, Stark?” said Clint, crossing his arms.
“Same thing I’m always doing when I come around,” said Tony, clapping his hands. “Providing gifts! Firstly, Tan and I have designed what may be the greatest superhero outfit since, well, since mine, obviously, and Natasha’s is pretty good, but the rest of you look like clowns; and secondly, I came to demonstrate the safety features that Sergeant Over-Protective decided we needed to put in.”
Clint blinked at him, clearly taking a moment to process that, then turned to Bucky. “You had them put in security features?”
“Do you have any idea how vulnerable this place is to armed incursion?” asked Bucky. “Or even one well-placed sniper?”
“Oh my god, you and your obsession with the sightlines from my windows,” said Clint, rolling his eyes. “I told you no one’s going to shoot me from the rooftop across the road. I covered it in broken glass a couple of years ago.”
“That’s not a security feature!” hissed Bucky, in a way that made it seem like this was an old argument. “That’s littering!”
“Okay! You now have proper security, Hawkguy,” said Tony. “Bullet-proof glass in all the windows, and also any time you detect a threat, you just say Red Alert, and-”
There was a heavy clunk, then a robotic voice repeated, “Red Alert, Red Alert,” in a monotone as metal shutters descended smoothly over the windows and doors.
“Oh,” said Clint, turning around to take it all in.
“It also sends an alert to JARVIS that you’re under attack, so that the rest of us can scramble,” added Tony, pulling his phone out. “JARVIS, cancel the ‘what has that moron done now’ alarm. So, you’ll have to let us know if you trigger a false alarm.”
“Uh, okay,” said Clint, as the shutters started to roll back up. “That’s- I mean, if we’re being honest, it’s kinda overkill-”
“It’s not enough kill,” said Bucky. “You go around antagonising Russian mafia, you know that sooner or later they’re going to come after you.”
Clint grinned at him. “Not as long as I have Zimniy Soldat sleeping on my couch.”
Bucky let out a very long breath. “You can’t keep pissing off criminals and then having me over for video games and pizza to scare them off from retaliating.”
“Why not?” asked Clint. “And what do you care? You’re getting pizza out of it, aren’t you?”
Bucky sighed again, looking up at the ceiling as if for strength.
“Okay, this is great,” said Tony. “Really loving the flirting disguised as banter, top-notch job on being subtle, guys, but some of us have a press conference to arrange and a party to throw, so I’m going to head off, but I will see you later.” He fixed Clint with a glare. “On time, and dressed appropriately.”
“And apparently wearing foundation,” agreed Clint.
Jonathan let out a sigh. “Tinted moisturiser,” he huffed.
“Okay,” said Tan as Tony left. “Who’s ready to see the new-look Winter Soldier?”
“Definitely me,” said Karamo, moving towards the sofa.
“Oh yes!” added Jonathan, clapping his hands as he skipped over to collapse next to him. “We want a show!”
Bucky looked around at them, then at Clint, who just grinned at him as he settled on the sofa arm. “Okay, okay,” he said. “Just, if Tony’s made one single Game of Thrones reference in this outfit…”
“Don’t worry,” said Tan, bundling him up the stairs to the bedroom to change, “I restrained him.”
“Oh, I am so excited!” said Jonathan. “I love a fashion show!”
The camera cut to Tan coming back downstairs, grinning with satisfaction. “Oh, you’re going to love this,” he said, as the others vibrated with excitement on the sofa, and Clint carefully crossed his arms, clearly trying to look casual. “Come on, Bucky!”
“Show your catwalk moves!” yelled Jonathan.
“I’m not doing the model walk!” called back Bucky, then he appeared in the doorway and stomped down the stairs.
He was wearing the usual enormous black combat boots and combat pants, cut tight around his thighs and criss-crossed with holster straps. It was his jacket that was the most different from his usual look, though. Instead of the familiar black leather, it was a navy blue and looked like a softer material, even though there was clearly kevlar concealed under it. His left arm was sleeveless, showing off the metal plates, while the other hand was encased in a tight black leather glove.
“Oh, honey,” murmured Jonathan, apparently incapable of more.
“You look incredible,” said Antoni. “That blue is so good on you.”
Bucky twitched, clearly uncomfortable with the scrutiny, and reached up to adjust the black domino mask over his face. “I’m not sure about this,” he said. “Not like I’ve got a secret identity to hide.”
“No, agreed,” said Tan, stepping forward, “but it actually does three things. First, it helps keep your hair out of your face, because your new cut is super-cute, but there’s a lot of shorter parts that fall in your eyes. Second, masks are the quintessential superhero look, so it’s there to remind you that you’re an Avenger, and you deserve to be on the team. No matter what your mind is telling you, you’re a hero.”
Bucky reached up to touch the fabric of the mask with his fingertips, looking conflicted.
“He’s right,” said Clint. “You’re a superhero, Bucky. Having a mask like that, like Cap’s cowl, is going to show all the doubters what the rest of us already know. You more than deserve to be fighting with us.”
Bucky cleared his throat. “Okay,” he said, sounding gruff, and then gave it another go. “Okay, what’s the third reason?”
Tan grinned at him. “It looks incredible on you.”
“Oh yeah, honey,” said Jonathan. “You are slaying that look.”
Bucky’s eyes flicked over to Clint, who grinned at him. “He’s not wrong,” he said. “The whole outfit puts you in close running for third hottest Avenger, but it’s the mask that tips you over into second.”
Bucky blinked. “Only second?” he said, in a gravelly voice, straightening up and flexing his arms.
Clint raised an eyebrow. “One day I’ll show you the photos of Thor in a speedo.”
“Okay, what,” said Jonathan. “What what what why was I not informed, what is happening right now?”
Karamo cleared his throat. “Hey, Clint, you’ve got my cell number, right?”
“We could add you to the Fab Five WhatsApp group if you wanted,” added Antoni. “You know, if you needed somewhere to share those photos. And maybe also any you have of your dog.”
Clint laughed and straightened up from the couch. “Maybe. I’ve got to say, with the incredible job you’ve done this week, seems like you deserve some- huh.” He moved closer to Bucky, his eyes darting back and forth across his face. “Are you wearing eyeliner?”
“Yeah,” said Bucky, “seemed like the mask called for it.”
“What?” said Jonathan. “Honey! I didn’t show you that! Oh, I am so proud, you’re just embracing your fabulousness.”
Bucky shrugged. “You remember the shit Hydra put on my face?” he said to Clint, who was still hovering very close to him, staring at his eyes.
“The racoon look?” said Clint.
“Right,” said Bucky. “That was the same guy who did the rest of my look, he might have done it in a bit of hurry after, you know-”
“You stabbed the hairdresser,” Clint agreed, nodding. “Makes sense.”
“Sure,” said Bucky. “But there were a couple of times when they kept me off ice for a bit but didn’t have a mission for me so just sort of stashed me and my gear and, well. I may have been brainwashed, but I still got kinda bored, so I experimented with making it look less shit.”
“Oh my god,” said Karamo. “Hydra’s assassin was trying out looks?”
“I fucking love it,” said Jonathan. “Oh honey, you’ve just always been ten out of ten on glamour, and now you are going to let that shine.”
Bucky glanced down at his outfit, then back up to meet Clint’s eyes. “I guess so,” he said, managing a tiny smile that Clint returned with a wide grin.
He turned a tray around to reveal neat rows of cookies, all decorated to look like the Winter Soldier in his new outfit.
"Oh my God they are SO cute!" exclaimed Jonathan. "I want to eat them all!"
"Leave some for the rest of us," said Karamo, picking the tray up and carrying it over to the coffee table. "Come on, who's ready for this?"
"So ready," said Tan, settling in next to him. "Bobby?"
Bobby picked up the remote and hit play at the same time as biting the head off a cookie soldier.
On screen, Bucky was in Clint's bathroom, frowning at his hair. He put some product on his hands and brushed it through.
"Oh, he's good at that," said Jonathan.
"I feel like he's going to challenge Tony Stark as best groomed Avenger pretty soon," agreed Tan.
"You probably don't need to put that much effort in when you're about to put a mask over the top," said Clint, appearing in the bathroom doorway, dressed in his own combat gear.
"Of course I do," said Bucky. "There's the party after." He turned away from the mirror to eye Clint. "You've packed a change of clothes for it, right?"
"Yeah, yeah," said Clint. "Still don't see why I can't just stay in this."
"Because after a couple of drinks you'll complain that body armour is uncomfortable and take it off, and then Tony will get pissy about you wandering around his fancy party shirtless," said Bucky.
"Technically, it's your fancy party," said Clint. "Are you saying you'd mind?"
Bucky gave him a considering look, sweeping his eyes slowly up Clint's body. "Nah, I think I'd be okay with it," he said, in a low drawl.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Tan.
"Whooo! You get it, girl!" said Jonathan, snapping his fingers.
"Oh wow, this is actually happening," said Antoni, sitting forward.
"But I'm also pretty interested in seeing you in whatever fancy outfit Tan picked out for you," Bucky added.
Clint looked a little breathless at the level of smoulder coming from Bucky, but he managed a smirk and a wink. "I do look fantastic in it," he agreed. "And there's nothing to say I can't go shirtless later anyway."
"The best of both worlds," agreed Bucky, turning back to check his appearance in the mirror. "Hey, how many weapons do you think I'll need?"
"Well, it's just us and the press," said Clint.
Bucky nodded seriously. "So, a lot, then."
Clint laughed, and headed away from the bathroom.
“Oh my god, this is so precious,” said Jonathan as the shot changed to the press conference, where rows of journalists were watching the Avengers stand awkwardly on stage, all in uniform, while Steve read out a prepared statement, then turned to gesture Bucky in, wearing his new combat suit.
The Fab Five all cheered at the same time as the press went crazy, cameras flashing.
“Oh yeah, there’s my boy!” said Karamo, clapping his hands and then whistling.
Bucky advanced on the microphone like it was an enemy gun position. “Thanks,” he said, then glanced at Steve as if hoping that was all he needed to say.
Steve gave him a pointed look, and Bucky turned back to the press.
“I don’t have much to say,” he said. “I guess, just that I’ll do my best to stand up to the example the people behind me have set. And, uh, just a note for any Hydra agents that this isn’t going to make me any less likely to shoot them in the face on sight.”
He waved a vague hand at the reporters, then stepped back to stand next to Clint, who grinned and gave him a thumbs up.
“Okay,” said Tony, stepping forward, “great, I guess that’s all for now then, we all have a fancy party to go to but, so sad, none of you guys seem to have been invited so, you know. See you next time we have to play this game.”
“Wow, I am so glad I’m not their media consultant,” said Tan.
“Right?” agreed Antoni.
The view on-screen changed to the post-press conference gathering, which was filled with Avengers, support staff and their friends milling about, holding glasses and all warily eyeing the massive barrel that Thor was setting down on a table.
“Is he there yet?” asked Bobby, leaning forward.
“No, but our other boy is,” said Jonathan, pointing to where Clint was leaning against the bar with a drink in his hand, not too subtly watching the entrance. “And, wow, Tan, you outdid yourself.”
“Thank you,” said Tan.
Clint was wearing a blue shirt, almost the same shade as his eyes, with a grey waistcoat and matching pants on, both fitted well enough to highlight his body.
“Yum,” said Jonathan. “I love me some of those archer biceps.”
“So does Bucky,” said Antoni.
“Speaking of…” said Karamo.
Bucky had walked in, then stopped short in surprise when everyone turned to applaud him. He was wearing a red shirt, with his sleeves rolled up to show his forearms.
“Holy shit, is he wearing eyeliner again?” asked Antoni, leaning forward.
“Aw yes, you work it, sugar!” exclaimed Jonathan.
“Oh, oh, look at Clint’s face,” said Tan.
Clint had gone very still, and was rather obviously checking Bucky out as the others went forward to greet him, slapping his back and congratulating him. He looked completely gobsmacked, as if he’d never seen anything like Bucky before, and after a moment he took a very deep breath and set his shoulders as if making a decision. He stayed where he was, though, just watching as the rest of the room made a big deal of Bucky.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Bucky said, sounding embarrassed as Maria Hill shook his hand.
“Professional advancement without the death of a superior is rare in our circles,” she said. “You should take the chance to enjoy it.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Bucky.
“Besides,” added Steve, who had looped an arm around Bucky’s shoulders and didn’t look like he was going to move it any time soon, grinning as if he were bursting open with pride, “you deserve this. You’ve done a lot of good since you came here, and I know you’re going to do a hell of a lot more.”
Bucky ducked his head, not quite managing to hide behind his hair. “Yeah, okay,” he muttered.
“Aw, he’s finally accepting it!” said Tan. “Oh, I’m so proud!”
“Hey, Stevie, you seen Clint?” asked Bucky, looking around. It was obvious the moment he spotted Clint, because his whole body stilled and he just stuck in place, taking in the long lean of Clint’s body against the bar. Cint raised his glass in a little toast to him, and Bucky muttered what sounded like a curse word under his breath. “Steve, tell me I deserve good things,” he said, not taking his eyes off Clint.
“You deserve the best things,” said Steve, following his gaze. “And so does he. Go on, quit dancing around this and make a move already.”
“Ass,” muttered Bucky, but he was ducking out from under Steve’s arm and heading over to Clint, who watched him advance, grinning with delight.
“Hey, Soldier,” he said. “Looking hot. Are you just going to wear eyeliner all the time now?”
Bucky shrugged. “Saves having to put it on if there’s an alert.”
“Oh my god, I love him,” exclaimed Jonathan.
“Ssssh!” said Karamo. “It’s happening!”
“You’ve scrubbed up pretty nice yourself,” Bucky was saying, eyeing Clint over.
“Thanks,” said Clint. “Don’t tell Tan, but I’m wearing purple socks.”
He twitched his pant legs up to show them off as Tan groaned and buried his face in his hands. “There’s just no helping some people.”
Bucky laughed as he looked down at Clint’s socks, then glanced up at his face. “You’re wearing your dancing shoes as well,” he said, and held out a hand. “Want to go for a whirl?”
“Hell yeah,” said Clint, downing his glass and setting it on the bar, then he took Bucky’s hand and let him lead him out into the dancefloor.
The camera panned back, not close enough to catch what they were saying to each other, but there were a lot of smiles and laughs.
“Oh my god, I can’t cope with this,” said Tan, reaching out for the nearest hand and clinging on. “Why won’t they just kiss already?”
“I did not spend this week plastering over arrow holes for them to not even get together,” said Bobby. “I put special effort into getting the right mattress, what’s the use if they don’t even use it?”
“Oh, they’re going to use it,” said Antoni. “Look how they’re moving closer.”
“They are not leaving room for Jesus,” said Jonathan.
“Come on, come on,” chanted Karamo under his breath.
Clint said something that made Bucky laugh, then reached out to stroke through Bucky’s hair, flicking it out of his face, then there was a breathless pause as they both stared at each other before they leaned in, both at the same time, and finally kissed.
“Oh YES!” said Jonathan as the rest of the Fab Five all cheered. “Oh, you GO, you funky little superheroes!”
“We have an actual gay couple on the Avengers, this is the best day,” said Antoni.
The video skipped ahead, showing Clint and Bucky dancing a few more times, sitting at a small table in the corner, holding hands and ignoring the rest of the room as if they weren’t there and then, finally, creeping out of a side door together as the screen faded to black.
“Oh my god, they were totally sneaking off to bone,” said Karamo.
“Hah!” said Bobby, throwing his hands up in celebration. “They are going to love that mattress.”