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Shadow of a Ghost

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“Don’t stop,” Bucky breathes, and he sounds so fucked-out that Clint’s pretty sure he’s going to come apart at the seams.

I don’t think I can stop, he thinks, quiet and desperate.

He’s so overheated that it feels like every inch of him is sticky with sweat, and it doesn’t help that Bucky radiates warmth like a furnace too. Clint doesn’t even make an attempt to pull back and get some air, can’t even fathom the idea. He’s not sure a nuclear bomb could stop him right now. It’s intoxicating, helplessly addictive and the noise Bucky makes when Clint starts stroking his cock faster is even worse.

God, he wants to do so many things right now. He wants to press Bucky down into the mattress and never leave, he wants to hold on so tight that they can’t ever be separated. He just wants, so hard that it nearly chokes him. Bucky’s moaning is winding him up even more and he tries to breathe through it instead of bursting into flames.

Bucky’s got one hand on their dicks but the other is curled tight around the edge of the headboard. When Clint glances up Bucky’s fingers are clenching tight on the wood, and he can see cracks. There’s a distinct creaking noise and it doesn’t really turn him off, if he’s honest with himself. Bucky’s teeth graze his neck, catch his skin and Clint gasps at the spark of pleasure-pain. Fuck, that’s nice.

“Bucky,” he says, and he sounds so hungry for it that he feels Bucky shudder under him.

The wood creaks louder under metal fingers.

“Oh fuck, Clint, Clint-

The words are soft, barely audible where they’re muttered against his shoulder and Clint still swears and comes like a freight train. His hips jerk hard without him meaning for them to, and his fingers are slick with double the amount of mess he’s used to. Clint gets a mouthful of hair and it tastes- well, it tastes like hair, but the texture is awful and he has to try and subtly spit it out while still riding out an orgasm.

It doesn’t help him catch his breath, not when he’s in the lap of one James Buchanan Barnes, also known as the fucking Winter Soldier. Clint wonders again, what exactly he’s doing here.

“I think you do that to take advantage of me,” Clint says once he’s rolled onto his side, out of the way.

He’s still got his pants on - sort of - and they’re extraordinarily uncomfortable. Leather seems a good idea right up until you try to have sex in it. His gaze stays fixed on the ceiling as he catches his breath, the water stain leaving an ugly mark up there. He doesn’t look at Bucky and his goddamn abs, or the messy way his hair’s fanned out on the pillow. It’s just asking for trouble at this point.

“Maybe I do,” Bucky answers, unrepentant. “You don’t want me takin’ advantage? Seems like you enjoyed it last Thursday.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life ain’t fair,” Bucky says, and Clint doesn’t have a smart answer for that. Both of their histories prove that’s true, after all, from start to whenever the gods decide the end is. Life is an asshole, or a little bit hateful at least.

He sits up, fumbles for the wet wipes and throws one at Bucky’s chest without looking. The wet slap is amusing, as is the little squawk he gets for his efforts. Clint wipes himself down quickly, the last few minutes of post-orgasm warmth fading away as he zips up his pants and hunts around for the rest of his clothes. It’s a familiar enough routine by now that a hand passes over his shirt before he locates it.

“Don’t get punched in the face until I restock the freezer,” Bucky says.

Clint glances at the soggy, half-melted bag of frozen raspberries sitting on the floor. Yeah, it might be time for Bucky to invest in some proper icepacks if he’s going to insist on patching Clint up. Also, someone should pick those up. Clint pokes it with the toe of his boot. It’s not going to be him, unfortunately, because small talk with Bucky is far too easy.

Fuck, he can’t even make eye contact properly.

He hates this. He hates them. Mostly, though? He hates himself. 

He doesn't hate Bucky, though. 

It doesn't stop him from planting his hands on the bed, leaning in to bite at Bucky's lip. The noise Bucky makes is instant gratification, a little turned on and so fucking soft that Clint nearly crawls back into bed with him. Metal fingers reach up to curl at the back of his neck, hold him close. The vibranium is still warm from being pressed between their bodies and it physically aches, having to pull away. 

"I'll see you around," Bucky says, and it sounds more like a promise than anything else. 

Clint straightens and zips up his jacket, grabs for the sword. There’s no movement from the bed, and why would there be? It’s not like Bucky’s going to stop Clint from leaving. He never does, and Clint’s stupidly grateful for it every single time.

He wouldn’t be able to handle it, if Bucky asked him to stay.

He’s so scared every time, that Bucky will ask him.

“We need to stop. This,” and here he stops to gesture between himself and Bucky, “needs to stop.”

He pulls his mask on as he’s backing up, and it hides the helpless smile he gets when Bucky stretches, all cocky smirk and bare skin, and says, “so next week?”

Clint doesn’t say anything, but Bucky looks like he knows the answer anyway. He wouldn’t look so pleased with himself if he didn’t. Clint's been saying they should stop for months and he always ends up back here anyway.

Clint slides the sword onto his back and turns towards the window, flips his hood up over his hair. It’s growing out of the mohawk, getting a little too long for his taste even though he does like when Bucky pulls on it. He glances back, gets one last look at the self-satisfied expression on Bucky’s face before he’s out the window.

Once he’s out of view, he makes his way up to the roof, kicks his feet out over the edge and sighs. He’s pretty sure Bucky knows he comes up here anyway.

Bucky definitely doesn’t know why, though.

Clint reaches into a misshapen box under the ledge, pulls out the battered black suitcase. Takes a deep breath to steady himself before he flips the latches open with gloved hands. Then he swears, just under his breath, hopefully not enough for Bucky to hear him three floors down.

The bottle of green liquid glows in the shadows. It had glowed a lot more when there was more than an inch of the stuff in there. As it is, there’s just a tiny bit left. A tiny bit and some tacky green residue on the syringe he’d taken when Bucky had been asleep, this first time. Only enough for an emergency, at this rate, and Clint has a lot of emergencies.

He can’t afford any more emergencies.

He shoves it back into the suitcase and shoves it under the ledge again. It’s started snowing in the time he’s lost staring at the stuff, and Clint watches the flakes of white hit his thighs idly, start melting. Pokes at one with a gloved hand. Technically he can’t afford pneumonia either, so he’s going to have to move soon, but it’s nice out here. Quiet.

Clint wishes he was still in the apartment with Bucky. Maybe cuddling. He never lets himself stay long enough for that, though.

It’d be selfish, to want more. He asks too much of Bucky as it is.

A door slams three floors down and Clint looks down. Bucky’s on the phone, snapping at someone on the other end as he tries to get his boots on and lock the front door at the same time. How he doesn’t fall over is a complete mystery. Bucky’s hair is a mess and it’s blatantly obvious what he’s been doing - Clint hopes he isn’t going to a SHIELD meeting or something, because that’s going to be embarrassing.

It’s kind of cute, though. I did that, Clint thinks, carefully ignores the little burst of pride he feels. He’s also responsible for the line of marks from Bucky’s collarbone down to his thigh, but no one’s going to see those before they heal. Hell, they’ve probably already healed.

If Clint had the supersoldier serum, he wouldn’t need to fuck around with these drugs to get back to the apartment every couple of weeks.

Fuck, this is a mess.

“I am not wearing that goddamn Captain America suit again,” Bucky says into the phone, loud enough that Clint’s aids pick it up and he has to stifle a smile. “Make Sam wear it, I’m sure he’d love to fly around like a fucking beacon to the bad guys. He already wears red. I don’t want a goddamn target on my back for the aesthetic.

Clint snorts.

God, he wants to go down there. He wants to kiss Bucky in the snow in public and maybe shove him into a pile and throw ice at him. He wants to tell him that the black and silver is hot as hell and press his mouth up against the join of the metal arm and skin, tell him he’s beautiful. The desire is so insistent that he moves to jump down subconsciously, only catches himself at the last second when he realizes what he’s doing.

Shit, he can’t go down there. What the hell is he doing? That’s not how this works. That’s not how he works. Clint doesn’t get nice things unless the world can rip them away later for maximum pain. He knows that, and he still. He wants.

His fingers go to a familiar scar without meaning to, tracing along the jagged edges he remembers even through the solid material of his suit. He finds one end, up near the left side of his ribcage, then down and across, a diagonal line to his hip on the right. It doesn’t hurt. It stopped hurting years ago, but every time Clint closes his eyes he feels it all over again. Sees it.

-he’s hyper-aware of the blood soaking his hands, the smoke burning his eyes and nose. He can’t see anything except a red blur but he can feel her, deft hands tugging his vest down and off, fabric against his stomach. It burns, it hurts. She gets ahold of his own hands and presses them against him, makes him put pressure on the wound he barely remembers through the haze of pain.

“Stay down, Barton. You idiot, I’m going to-

He blinks, looks up. Bucky’s down the road, about to disappear around the corner now, still talking away on the phone to whoever it is that wants him as Captain America again. It really wasn’t a great look for him, mostly because he’s got an extremely pretty face and the helmet ruined that. Also, his hair. Clint really likes his hair. Sometimes he gets the urge to start braiding it like he’d done with the girls at the circus when he was younger, and then he has to sit on his hands to stop.

Clint watches him go, digs his fingers into the scar with enough force to make it hurt, to make him grit his teeth at the sensation. He can’t take this any further than he already has. Bucky thinks he’s taking advantage, and then there’s Clint, taking far too many liberties even knowing what he does.

At least Bucky doesn’t know.

If he did, there’s no way he’d be here and there’s no way he’d keep coming back.

 

“Do you know who our supervisor is supposed to be now?”

“Ha! No,” a second voice replies dryly. “I don’t think we even have a damn supervisor anymore. All the higher-ranking assholes have pissed off to Italy because of the amount of superheroes. Why’re they all in America, huh?”

“It’s not even the superheroes, they just drop us off to the police and we get out again in a few days. It’s fucking Ronin. You hear he killed Walden? Just slit his throat and left the head on the front steps while he set the whole Staten Island base on fire. George is the only one that made it out, and that’s just because he was buying donuts when the guy hit.”

“He’s gotta be some kinda demon, right? No human could do the kind of thing he does.”

“Maybe he’s a superhuman. You know, or some god like the dude with the hammer. If anyone’s going to be a demon it’s that Daredevil guy, he’s got the whole red suit and horns thing going on, right?”

“I’m a lot more scared of the serial killer in the hood than the guy with a high-budget Halloween devil costume,” the second voice answers, and that’s when Clint throws the knife. He can’t see the figure he hits but he hears the sickening thud of it burying into their body. The first man swears and Clint kicks down the door, swinging into action as he pulls up a handgun and shoots him directly in the forehead.

The thump is almost anticlimactic.

Clint makes his way over to the control panel. There’s a slot for a key and he sighs heavily, nudges one of the bodies over with the toe of his boot. The blood’s spreading, but he ignores it studiously, carefully doesn’t breathe in even through the mask as he reaches down to fish through the security jacket. The key shows up in the third pocket and he slaps it into the slot, turns it and listens to the screech of the doors unlocking.

If he still used arrows, he could’ve got a grappling one, got up on the roof of the building to find a weak spot and catch them by surprise. It’s not quite as satisfying to walk through the front doors.

Clint tucks the gun away and pulls out his sword.

The so-called pharmaceutical company - read: drug lords - aren’t exactly expecting him to come through the same way that their friends do. It’s the element of surprise turned on its head, everything they taught him as a spy burned right to the ground. No subtlety, no handler trying to explain his own job to him, no payment except the mixed looks of relief and fear in the workers’ eyes when he points to the exit silently and keeps moving towards the people keeping them trapped here.

The ground-floor supervisor is still staring at him in horror, lunges for the gun on the table far too late. Clint’s sword stabs directly through his chest and out the other side - stupid, it’s going to be a bitch to pull out now - and he slumps forward, grabbing at the blade with bloody hands. It’s too late for that, though, and Clint uses a well-placed boot to kick him backwards and off the sword.

He thinks, in a distant sort of way, that someone else might find the wet sound of the blade’s removal disgusting. Clint’s just glad that he can hear it at all.

“Intruder!”

A shower of bullets hit the table next to him and Clint twists backward, behind a pillar. Shit. Fucking guns. He pulls out his handgun with his right hand, rests his head against the cold concrete and breathes. If the bullets are hitting there at that angle, then the shooter must be over-

He aims without looking around the pillar, pulls the trigger.

There’s a shout, but it’s not from the direction he shot in. He must’ve hit that particular guy in the head. (He kind of wishes he’d missed, if just to throw away even more of the past.) Clint lets the shouting man keep shooting wildly, focuses on the sliver of black and red he can see approaching from his left. Whoever they are, they must think they’re well-hidden - Clint can see half their face even from here.

He points and shoots again, doesn’t watch the guy fall down. Shit, how many bullets has he got with him? Is it going to be enough? Clint is going to hazard a guess and say he didn’t reload from last time, so he’s probably got- eight, maybe. Hopefully.

The shooting stops for a second - someone’s not saving their ammunition - and Clint takes the opportunity, steps around the pillar and squeezes the trigger again. The man falls with an anticlimactic thud and Clint glances around, expecting more guns.

Silence.

The silence is actually worse than the fighting, and the tension crawls up Clint’s spine, curls inside his skull and makes a nest there. There’s no way that was it. He takes a few steps forward, glances at the entrance. Nothing but the sound of his boots on the floor.

A ringing noise breaks the silence.

It takes a moment for Clint to realize it’s not the feedback screeching on his aids, or some kind of a bomb that he didn’t feel. The ringing noise is music, and it’s coming from Clint. Shit. He holsters his gun and fumbles for the pocket on the inside of his coat, pulls out the phone he only has one contact in, only uses for one person.

It’s a little battered but the screen still cheerfully displays a picture of Bucky giving him the finger. Giving the camera the finger, at least - he doesn’t generally flip the bird at Clint unless it’s well-deserved. Clint hesitates. It’s not like he’s trying to be quiet or subtle - if he was, he’d have failed, and why didn’t he have his goddamn phone on silent? - and yet it’s not exactly a great time.

But if it’s an emergency-

“Sergeant Barnes, how may I help you?”

“Maybe I just wanted round two over the phone,” Bucky says in a flat voice. He doesn’t really flirt the way that Clint does, but the attempt is still cute. Clint appreciates him almost as much as he hates himself for being in this situation in the first place.

“Baby, I’m always up for round two with you,” he answers automatically, listens for the sharp intake of breath Bucky always does when Clint calls him that.

It had slipped out accidentally the first few times and now Clint’s a little addicted to the way Bucky reacts, so he keeps doing it.

He’s still looking around and that’s when he notices the thin corridor hidden behind another pillar. That’d explain where the other guys came from. Clint approaches with the sword held loosely in one hand, the phone held up to his ear. Bucky’s never actually called him before, even with acquiring his phone number weeks ago. Clint would’ve thought it’d just be used for emergencies, but here he is, speaker to his ear.

“What’s this about?”

“I,” Bucky says, sounds uncharacteristically hesitant.

The red flag springs up in Clint’s brain at the same time a man dressed in a grey suit does, and he barely manages to jerk out of the way as a metal pipe slams into the wall by his head. It gets stuck with the amount of force the man’s used, and that buys Clint enough time to swing the word into his exposed throat. He falls to the ground and so does the pipe, and Clint whips around in time to see more advancing on him.

“They made a children’s book about the Avengers,” Bucky says, and Clint swears internally.

One of the men has a gun - just one, luckily, but it’s enough to have him panic. He doesn’t have a free hand to grab his own gun, can’t get it without dropping something first. One of them shouts in Russian, too fast for him to translate and he switches his grip on the sword, throws it at the man with the gun and hopes it isn’t too late.

The gun goes off as the sword goes through the man’s chest and Clint jumps, but the gun was pointed down at one of the other thug’s feet and that’s where the bullet has ended up. Two birds, one stone. One sliver of luck in an increasingly unlucky life. Now Clint’s got a hand to grab his handgun, though, and he flips it out the holster, aims as they charge at him.

“Did it have nice pictures? I hate when kid’s books don’t have art. Pretty sure kids hate it too,” he answers when he realizes Bucky’s not saying anything else. He doesn’t ask. Doesn’t want to know if it has the so-called Original Lineup.

“Yeah, it’s got pictures,” Bucky says distractedly and Clint shoots one man in the center of his forehead, two, three, feels the bang rattle inside his skull painfully. “They’re. Colourful, I guess. Watercolour?”

Clint’s about to ask how he knows that and then he remembers who Bucky’s best friend is. Right. That’s how he knows what watercolour is. He shifts his aim, aims directly at a man who’s looking like he’d rather turn and run for the hills. The man looks like he’s just a grunt, probably doesn’t have any idea what goes on in this place beyond chemicals. When he drops his weapon and flees, Clint lets him go. It’s not worth it.

“Did you want to read it together?” The clamoring in his head is exceptionally loud right now. It’s not like he hadn’t expected that Bucky would find out eventually, but a children’s book?

He turns around in time to see thugs advancing from the other end of the hallway. He aims the gun in his hand on autopilot. Squeezes the trigger.

Nothing.

Fuck, he’s out of ammo. Should’ve brought more, should’ve planted a bomb and run, should’ve been more practical, what the hell is he doing? He tosses the gun at the first man, hits him in the head hard enough to stun. He blocks the hallway enough that Clint has time to turn on his heel and start running. He can hear footsteps right on his heels, though, and the tension rips through him as he focuses on moving faster, pushing himself harder.

His muscles are burning. More worrying than his current combat situation is the uncertain silence from the phone, the tone of Bucky’s voice when he’d described it. He’d sounded so small, so stressed, and that’s actually worse than the dread of his own identity.

“The author put a few pages on me in there,” Bucky says finally and Clint thinks, oh. It’s not about him. New lineup, then, and- he should be focusing on what Bucky’s saying because this sounds important and more fragile than he knows what to do with.

Clint’s good at sex, fighting and recalling the entirety of Dog Cops. He is not good at feelings.

Speaking of. He makes it to the corpse with his sword sticking out of it, yanks it out just in time to block a blow from a metal bat. Thank fucking god this is a decent blade or he’d be fucked. The woman trying to smash his brains in is at least six foot and even bulkier than he is and Clint barely has time to block the second swing, duck under the third and cringe when a shower of wall debris lands in his hair. Fuck, he doesn’t want to wash it again, once a month is fine.

“Was it bad? Not you.” The woman frowns and Clint uses the distraction to hook his boot around her knee, knock her to the floor. From there it’s easy to drive the sword down, studiously ignore the pained croak as she tries to grab him. “You need me to fight someone?”

“Not right now,” Bucky says distractedly. “It wasn’t- they didn’t say anything horrible about me or the things I did, before.”

“That’s good, right?” Clint ducks out of the way of a- was that a goddamn bowling bowl? He’s almost wishing for the guns again. The guy who threw it looks terrified when he realizes he’s lost his only weapon against a guy with a sword.

“They said I was a hero,” Bucky says in a small voice. “That bad people hurt me but I was brave. They made it sound like I was good.

“What are you saying, you are good,” he grits out as he blocks a knife with the blade of his sword. The guy currently trying to kill him frowns in confusion and he has to add, “not you,” before he slits his throat, sprays blood all up the previously white walls of the corridor.

There’s an explosion in the other room and it’s not close enough to hurt, but he still shields his eyes with his sword hand, squints in the direction it came from. He can’t see anyone there. That doesn’t mean there aren’t people around there, though, and he inches a little closer, tries to discern shapes beyond the spots dancing in front of his eyes from the flash. He spots a melting mannequin with an eerie expression on its face, but no people.

The mannequin gives him the creeps. He edges closer and kicks it further into the room.

“Wait, are you- what are you doing?”

“You’re meant to ask me what I’m wearing first,” Clint reprimands him distractedly, realizes he can’t get out the front door with all the debris in the way. “Hey, have you ever had phone sex before, Barnes?”

“...no,” Bucky answers eventually, sounding petulant. Clint turns around, picks his way over the corpses in the room. Good. He’s been successfully distracted from asking the real questions again. If Clint’s honest with himself, he’s pretty sure Bucky lets him do it on purpose. Clint’s pretty sure that feelings aren’t Bucky’s area of expertise either - at least, not when it’s something like this.

His boot sinks into a pile of blood and gore. “Maybe we should put that on the to-do list, hey?”

Clint wonders if he was this desensitized to all this before, whether he used to see all the blood and violence and feel nothing. He knows it isn’t normal, but it’s not like he was ever normal, really. (He thinks the answer might be yes and he doesn’t know what to do with that, the idea that he was always fucked up, long before everything else.)

Bucky’s still quiet on the other end and Clint nudges a door open with his foot, unwilling to put the phone away for even a second. “You know how many people you’ve saved in the last few years, right? You deserve this.”

“I’ve killed a lot more,” Bucky answers, subdued. Fuck.

Clint ducks behind the door as the gunfire starts, thanks whatever’s out there that it’s made of metal. “I could tell you that it wasn’t you, but I feel like that wouldn’t make you feel any better. That’s what the therapists tell you, right? You have no reason to feel guilty, but you do anyway because the gun was still in your hand.”

He doesn’t know what the silence means this time. “Yeah,” Bucky says, as Clint drops the sword briefly, pulls a knife from a corpse’s belt and ducks around the door to throw it. “Yeah, that’s- that’s about right.”

“Think of it this way,” Clint says, darting forward to cover behind a particularly solid shelf. “People see you, and they see all the things you’ve been through, all the fucking shit and trauma and pain. And you’re an Avenger. A superhero. That means something, to a lot of people. That you can come back from a life of abuse and still do the right thing.”

The gunfire is nearly deafening and he’s never really understood why people love shooting when there’s no chance of hitting their target. If it was him, he could maybe ricochet a shot, but these guys are just trying to shoot through his cover, and they’re not getting anywhere.

“They’re not saying you didn’t do it, because you did, voluntarily or not,” Clint says. “But it wasn’t your fault. There’s a difference and people know that. Kids know that.”

The gunfire slows and Clint grabs another knife, quickly calculates the angle the bullets have been hitting the shelf from. The first man falls without a sound, the blade embedded in his chest and then there’s a bang and a searing pain through his wrist. Clint swears silently, twists back around behind the shelf and holds his breath, tries to ignore the sting. It’s just a graze - if it wasn’t he’d be screaming, probably - but the blood is pooling inside his glove, getting the leather slick and slippery.

“Am I saying the right thing here, Buck? Because I’m not exactly good at this shit and I don’t actually know what you want me t-”

“No,” Bucky says, and he sounds more normal now. “No, it’s. You’re right.”

“That’d be new,” Clint mutters, more to himself than to Bucky.

“Thank you,” Bucky adds, and Clint absolutely despises the way his heart flutters in his chest.

Stupid, traitorous feelings.

“Anything for you, Sergeant Barnes,” is what he says out loud, makes sure it sounds as cheerful and charming as possible. And as he’s standing there, leaning up against a shelf in a drug factory with a guy ready to shoot him the minute he makes a move, blood on his hands and his boots and every other inch of his body, he thinks, yeah, that’s right, isn’t it?

He would do anything for Bucky Barnes, and that’s a problem.

Chapter Text

The silence in the air feels distinctly angry.

Clint looks down at his bandaged hands, up at the window, over to the bathroom. He doesn’t look at the man kneeling between his legs because the deafening - ha - mixture of guilt and desire might actually cause his heart to stop beating. Not that Bucky doesn’t have that sort of effect on him anyway. Cold metal brushes up against his bare knee and Clint resists the urge to just curl around Bucky and stay there.

He’s pretty certain Bucky doesn’t want cuddling right now anyway.

Clint’s handed a packet of bandages and he sets them on the table obediently, ignores the bloodstains on the box. It’s not like it matters, that’s what medical supplies are for. He winces when the movement has a slice of pain shooting through his hand.

The silence becomes even more displeased. How does he do that?

“I’m fine,” he says.

He’s not fine. His ankle hurts from where he’d slipped and fallen on the roof. It was a mixture of the ice making it slippery - and the guy that had taken a pipe wrench to his goddamn knee - that had caused it. His everything hurts, pretty much. That’s not even considering the numerous bruises that are going to bloom in rainbows across his shoulders and back. He hopes it hasn’t fucked up anything permanently.

He always hopes that, but.

Clint realizes that Bucky is glaring at him. It’s probably warranted.

This was a mistake. Clint hadn’t even meant to leave any evidence, but he’d been aching and desperate and so fucking tired he’d wanted to collapse into tears in the snow. It’s just his luck that Bucky had come back to the apartment and saw the blood smeared on the railing. Clint’s blood, of course, not any of the assholes he’d taken down.

Most of it was just from the nosebleed.

The nosebleed from being punched so hard he'd seen white lights. “I’m fine,” Clint repeats.

“This. This is fine, is it, Clint?” Bucky punctuates every pause with a prod into the bruises.

Clint flinches. It hurts, because the suitcase is sitting on the bed where Bucky had put it, as far away from Clint sitting on the rickety dining chair as possible. There’s still the inch of whatever-it’s-called in the bottle, the stuff that would make the hurting go away. He itches for it, the blissfully cold emptiness instead of the constant hurt, the pain setting deep in his bones and drilling into his skull.

It’s not an emergency in the physical sense, no, but he’s tired.

Bucky swipes at a sluggishly bleeding cut a little too hard and Clint hisses. It’s just mild salt water and not the vodka Clint usually uses, but fuck. He doesn’t know what Bucky wants from him. The phone conversation had gone pretty well, but. Being found bleeding on the roof with drugs isn’t exactly a great situation to be in. Bucky had just set his jaw and then dragged Clint downstairs to patch him up.

Clint had stopped the half-hearted attempts at flirting after Bucky had nearly sliced his pants open with a knife. It wasn’t quite as hot as he’d imagined in previous fantasies. Instead, he’s sitting here like a half-dead fish while Bucky patches him up a little rougher than usual.

“What are you doing, Bucky?” His voice sounds ragged even to his own ears.

“You’ve got broken glass in this,” Bucky answers shortly, pulling out a pair of forceps from his growing array of medical supplies. “Tilt your leg up so I can see properly.”

Clint obeys without thinking, then wonders when he’d started taking orders from his sort-of kind-of fuckbuddy. Bucky doesn’t seem to care what he’s thinking. His eyes are fixed on Clint’s shin, adjusting so the light hits it properly. He pulls a particularly long shard of glass out and Clint feels every inch of it, grits his teeth so hard it makes his jaw ache. Fuck, how had he not felt that before?

He must make a nose because Bucky glances up at him and his expression softens, just a little. He’s gentler with the next shard of glass, the hand gripping Clint’s leg easing up a little. Clint has to look away from him again, because he can handle anger but he doesn’t know what to do with this worried and slightly pained look on Bucky’s face.

“You were doing this when I was calling you. Fighting,” Bucky says. “I heard the explosions, but I was so caught up in my own shit that I didn’t even-”

“You don’t need to- it doesn’t matter, Bucky,” Clint answers. “What were you going to do, come murder some people with me immediately after you were specifically upset about people you’d already killed? I don’t think so.”

Bucky doesn’t seem to have a reply to that. His brow furrows. “Why did you even answer the call in the first place?”

“I don’t know,” Clint answers, exhausted, looks up at the ceiling and blinks hard. It’s too honest, too much for their- whatever it is that this thing between them is. There’s always too many feelings under the surface with Bucky, so many things he wants to say and do and express but he never does and this is crossing a line.

The silence returns and Clint lets it linger like the frost in his bones. It’s not worth asking any more questions if Bucky’s going to ask him questions back. His brain feels like it’s bruised as well and he ends up staring at the suitcase again, distantly entertaining the thought of getting to it before Bucky. There’s no way he could, not even if he was at a hundred percent. The idea of being numb still sounds pretty good, though.

Bucky finishes up and then sits back on his heels, still crouching in front of Clint. Somehow he makes it look intimidating anyway. “You stole the drugs.”

“I stole the drugs,” Clint repeats tiredly. No point in arguing, after all. Not that he’d even consider lying to Bucky. (Has he been lying about himself? Is avoiding the real questions lying?)

Bucky’s brow creases. “Do you even know what’s in that shit?”

“Nope,” Clint replies, figures it’s easier to be as brutally honest as possible.

“Why?”

Bucky manages to pack a lot of distress and anger into one word. Clint’s almost impressed, but the pain is weighing heavy on his bones and he just wants to curl into a ball and ignore the world for the rest of- well, forever, really. He wishes he could just bury his face in Bucky’s chest and never come out again. He’s fucked that up, though, judging by the look on Bucky’s face. (Is he trying to fuck this up? Should he be trying harder, for Bucky’s sake?)

“Clint,” Bucky says, doesn’t say anything else. He’s guessing that expression means disappointment but really he doesn’t have a clue.

“I’m not a supersoldier, Bucky,” Clint answers. “I can’t do what I do and come out fine like you do. I'm just. I’m tired of hurting all the time.”

“You ever think that might be a sign that you need to slow the fuck down?” Bucky sounds upset. "I've seen the news. Three places in one night, Clint. That's ridiculous." 

“I know.” He knows.

It shuts off the screaming in his head, though. When he’s fighting, there’s him and the sword and the guy who’s trying to take him down, nothing else. No remembering the past, no painful flashbacks, no thinking about how tired he is, no feelings for Bucky. None of it goes away, not really, but it’s muted for the moment and that’s the best Clint can hope for.

“This stuff could kill you, you fuckin’ idiot,” Bucky says.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees because he’s exhausted, sags back in the chair a little. It creaks under his weight and Clint can’t find it in himself to care. Let it break like Bucky broke the headboard of the bed. He’s more worried about the million emotions flickering across Bucky’s face in rapid succession. There’s a long beat of silence and then Bucky covers his face with his right hand, the one that isn’t covered in Clint’s blood.

“This is stupid,” Bucky says, muffled.

“Yeah,” Clint says again. “Sorry.”

“It wouldn’t help if I handcuffed you to the bed, would it.” It’s not a question.

“No,” he answers honestly. He’s gotten out of a lot of handcuffs over the years, started at the circus and never forgot how. Even with broken fingers on both hands that one time, he still got out and walked back to the Tower. God, she’d been so mad-

-the fire crackles higher and Clint can’t hear anything over the rush of blood in his ears, pulls one shaking hand up to his ear. It comes away wet, and he can’t tell if what he’s looking at is fresh blood from that or the burning line across his front. He squints, swipes at his face with fingers that move too slow, like the air’s gone thick and impossible.

When he manages to focus it’s to see the burning ruins of a warehouse and someone's grabbing for his hands, trying to drag him away. He can't go, he can't, and he screams at them because he's got to go back and find-

“Clint. Clint!”

He blinks at Bucky. “What?”

Bucky looks like he’s been trying to get Clint’s attention for a while. He looks a little exasperated, one hand running careful over Clint’s bare knee. It’s warm, and he swallows hard, lets Bucky touch him. The contact is comforting, even with the reflexive urge to jerk away and hide. He can still taste the ash on his tongue when he runs his tongue over his teeth.

“You’re too reckless,” Bucky says finally. He looks like he’d had more to say, but that’s all that comes out of his mouth.

There’s a worried curve to his lips as he looks down at the swath of bandages and it stabs like a knife through Clint’s chest.

This is why he shouldn’t have given into that first urge to go back. Clint shouldn’t have kissed Bucky knowing there were feelings there, knowing that Bucky goes to patch him up and chase him down and smile. Because Clint doesn’t lead a sustainable life and having no connections means no one will be affected, no one will care if one day it finally takes him down.

He shouldn’t have started this. It’s not fair to Bucky.

And it's getting harder and harder, staying away. 

The problem is, he thinks to himself, is that Bucky Barnes makes him feel like a person. And being a person has never gotten him anywhere good in the past.

“You know I’m not letting you keep that, right?” Bucky’s voice is tight. “I’m taking it back to Banner and he’s going to figure out what’s in it, and whether I need to steal some fuckin’ medication so you don’t grow a third arm or some shit.”

Clint leans back in the chair, ignores the creak. “It doesn’t matter, Bucky. Don’t worry about it.”

“It does matter,” Bucky says. “Fuck, Clint. You have to know how fucked up this is.”

“I know,” Clint agrees tiredly. Looks at Bucky again, at the emotions clearly warring over his face. He doesn’t know if Bucky wants to fight him or yell at him or fuck him into the mattress. (The last one would be appealing in any other situation but Clint’s pretty sure that he’d pass out five minutes in.) There’s too much there, everything he wished for five years ago and can’t handle now.

Bucky’s in a children’s book. He’s a hero. He’s come back from so much shit, like Clint had said earlier, and a law-breaking murderous vigilante isn’t part of that. It’s just dragging him into trouble.

Clint wants to kiss him. Clint wants to yank his pants off and make him forget what he’s angry about. Clint wants to fist his hands in Bucky’s baggy sweater and hide his face in it until he doesn’t feel like he’s going to puke with every inhale.

“I should go,” Clint says.

Bucky’s frown grows. “What? No.”

Clint stands up on slightly wobbling knees, grabs for his discarded suit. It’s still covered in blood, dried and flaking to the floorboards as Clint pulls it on. The smell curls into his nose, iron-sharp and toxic  and he ignores it with the dregs of his determination. He can feel the heat of Bucky’s gaze but it doesn’t do much to melt the cold under his skin. It’s better, right? It’s got to be the better choice.

“You can barely walk,” Bucky argues, and he’s standing as well, gently catches ahold of Clint’s shoulder as he sways. “Sit down.”

“No,” he says. Tries to make it sound firm. “No, I’m not gonna- I shouldn’t be here.”

“Clint,” Bucky says, looking like he’s struggling not to pull him closer and it’s everything Clint wants right now. It’s not right, though, and when he brushes Bucky’s hands away, Bucky lets him do it. Clint fumbles for his sword and manages to get it on with some effort, the amount of bandages on his hands making it difficult. “What the fuck?”

“I can’t keep doing this.” He can’t keep doing this to Bucky, most of all.

The first step towards the door is even harder than the first time he'd tried to walk away, because he knows he can’t come back. He can’t let himself come back. Clint should get out of America. Heading back to Russia is sounding pretty good right about now, but transport that far is hard. Mexico, maybe. Canada. As far as he can possibly get on these legs that just won’t walk properly.

“Clint, come on, you can’t possibly-”

“Goodbye, Bucky.”

He doesn’t say see you around, doesn’t even look behind him.

Clint’s terrified that if he looks at Bucky even one more time, he won’t leave again.

 

“Fucking drugged-up pieces of shit. The authorities should just get rid of them all,” someone mutters a few meters away and Clint blinks his eyes open.

He doesn’t recognize the alleyway he’s lying in, looks down at his grime-stained hands to realize his gloves are missing. The person grumbling about him keeps walking, apparently disinterested now he’s awake and Clint’s vaguely relieved that they didn’t look closer. He’s not entirely sure how he got here. His skin feels hot and he pats at his own forehead clumsily, can’t tell if it’s the wrong temperature or not.

Clint remembers leaving the apartment - Bucky’s apartment - and heading for the outskirts of the city, but somewhere along the line he’s wandered further into the city. He gets to his feet with some effort, glances around. It’s mid-morning, far too early for him to be out in public in the suit. It’s stupid and dangerous and Clint can’t quite remember where he left his bag of assorted shit.

He misses the stupid fluffy purple sweater he’d stolen from Bucky.

No, no, nope, he’s not allowed to think about that. Clint pulls the hood up over his head again and looks for footholds in the building opposite. The rooftops will be easier - he can’t blend into a crowd like this, and his reputation is getting too large anyway. He shouldn’t have left witnesses. It’s not like he was going to kill innocent people, though.

Fuck, there’s no way to win anymore, is there?

His hand slips on the bricks, burns with pain and he hisses, bites down on the inside of his cheek. Fuck, his everything hurts. Finding the end of the bandage on his hand takes a few minutes and then he yanks it off with his teeth, tries climbing again. It works better, even with the wetness on his hand. He determinedly does not think about anything but getting back to where he thinks that bag of supplies might be.

It’s slow progress. The exhaustion has settled in his bones and he’s freezing, and staying out of sight is a lot harder than he remembers it being. He should probably sit down somewhere. Apparently he’s already done that, though, in the alleyway, so it’s in his best interest to keep going in case someone actually does call the cops on him. It’s a lot harder trying to get away from people when you don’t actually want to kill them.

Maybe he should go after the corrupt policemen next. There’s an idea.

He’s got to do something or he’s going to keep thinking about Bucky.

Clint’s brain is stuck on it. He keeps replaying Bucky’s face in his mind, the concern, the half-smirks, the way he’d looked when Clint had kissed him the first time. Fuck, the way his hair’s started getting a little wavy at the ends, especially when it’s damp. The little amused smile when Clint starts blathering about Dog Cops or the circus.

He’s not in love with Bucky Barnes. He isn’t.

He’s not allowing himself to be in love with Bucky Barnes.

Clint finds a street that looks familiar just as the rain starts battering him. It’s heavy enough that it almost feels like a physical blow, even through the layers he’s wearing. He pulls the hood more securely over his head and finds an apartment building with a rusted barbecue painted with neon paint on the roof. A flicker of recognition passes through his head and he heads for the stairs down, listens for any people.

His hearing aids crackle in response.

Well, fuck, that’s not ideal. One of Clint’s hands go to the knife on his belt, just in case. The concrete is slippery under his feet, dangerous, but he ignores it and keeps walking carefully. The lights are flickering and he blinks hard as his vision swims, tries to focus. It’s been a long time since he’s been in this place but he still walks over to the faulty light fixture and feels around for the key.

“Gotcha,” he mutters to himself, can’t hear the word properly. He’s going to have to go back to that guy in Tokyo to get his aids fixed again at some point.

 

The apartment is dark.

Of course it’s dark, but the smell makes him cough. It’s rancid - which is to be expected when you don’t empty the fridge before you leave for years, but fucking hell, that’s bad. Clint tries not to breathe in as he fumbles around for a light switch, smacks into a broom and a poster of some sort before he finds it, squints around.

There’s no convenient duffel bag with clothes in it, but there should be something still thrown in the bedroom. Clint ignores the dust and mould and boxes in the main room and heads for the stairs, still coughing and trying to expel the stink from his lungs. It doesn’t work, oddly enough. Distantly, he’s glad that he had the clarity of mind to give the dog away.

His bedroom is exactly the way he’d left it. Not that he’d used it that much.

Clint approaches the closet, hands landing on extra handguns, flash grenades, an extra shirt with holes in the sleeves. It’s extra padding, though, so he takes his coat off and pulls it on. The fabric feels looser than it used to - he needs to eat more, probably, but his mind doesn’t always consider food to be a priority over fighting (or going to see Bucky, so hey, maybe he will be able to get his diet back on track after all.)

There’s a pop and Clint flinches as his hearing aids start working again, knocking over a few hoodies and a jacket. There’s also a firmer, more solid sound.

“What the…”

He thinks it’s some sort of weapon, kneels down on the dust-coated floorboards to pick it up and turn it over before he registers that it’s a photo frame.

Clint almost wishes it had been a weapon.

Two people smile up at him from the picture. He vaguely recognizes the guy from looking in the mirror every now and then, although this Clint Barton is wearing an eye-searingly neon feather boa and an even worse pair of violet aviators. He’s grinning like there’s not a single thing wrong with the world and the Clint looking at the photo hates him, just a little. There’s no tattoos on his arm where he’s got it slung over the other person in the picture, and Clint’s eyes drift without him meaning for them to.

Natasha’s smile hurts a little bit, the same way it always does.

She’s flawless, like she always is whenever a camera is pointed at her, perfectly painted lips curved into an indulgent smile as she leans back into Clint’s chest. They’re at the beach and she’s wearing a wetsuit that covers every inch of skin under her chin, unlike Clint’s tiny purple shorts. Her nails are digging into Clint’s waist in the photo and he remembers it, the little stinging bite because he’d been watching a girl take her shirt off instead of paying attention to the camera.

It had been a good day, that day. Phil had given them a spare day to fuck around on the Whitsunday Islands and Clint had made puppy eyes at her until she’d agreed to go to the beach with him. His puppy eyes aren’t much compared to Bucky’s, but he’d tried. Clint suspects she’d only given in because he’d nearly died that day.

Clint touches trembling fingers to the curve of her cheek behind the glass, sucks in a breath and tips his chin up to look at the darkened ceiling instead.

He wishes he was still there. It wouldn’t change anything, but he’d kill for just one more hour in the sunshine with her, with Natasha throwing ice blocks from her drink at his head. He’d fallen asleep at one point and she’d made a little sand replica of the Tower on his crotch, made a hilariously unattractive snorting noise when he’d woken up and stared at it.

He still remembers it like it was yesterday, the same as he remembers all the little imperfections that Natasha let him see. They were just for him, as far as he knows, so he keeps them even though it hurts.

Clint looks at his Ronin coat, at the place where he keeps the little photo of her. God, what would she think about all of this? She’d complained about the Winter Soldier more than once, imagine what she’d think if she knew Clint was sleeping with the guy. In all honesty, she’d probably give him that little amused ‘you’re an idiot but it’s very entertaining for me’ look she had. He doesn’t want to know what she’d think about the other things.

Clint puts the photo frame back down on the floor carefully. He doesn’t throw it, doesn’t crack the glass or damage the frame. He’s not sure when he started clenching his jaw but it’s started to ache somewhere between picking the photo up and putting it down again.

He looks at the picture again.

They look so happy.

“You would not believe the shit that’s been going on,” he says to it. “Seriously, ‘tasha. It’s a fucking mess.”

“Clint?”

Clint swivels around and the knife’s in his hand before he consciously goes to pull it out of the pocket it’s housed in. His eyes track over black hair and tired eyes, the sleeping toddler on her as he registers that it isn’t an enemy - or worse, a hallucination. He’d gotten tired of those after the first few months and they hadn’t been haunting him for the last couple of years. Do hallucinations get bored?

“It is you,” Simone says. “Thought you were a damn burglar.”

“Nothing valuable in this dump anyway,” Clint answers after a minute. “Sorry.”

“It’s your building,” she answers as she shrugs one shoulder. “You staying?”

“No,” he says. He couldn’t stay even if he wanted to - and if he’s honest, he doesn’t want to be here. There’s too much here, too little all at once. He doesn’t really want to put his energy into cleaning the place either. It stinks, too, which isn’t ideal.

Simone shifts on her spot at the top of the stairs, chewing on her lip and watching him put the knife away. She doesn’t speak until he gets to his feet, and it’s embarrassingly difficult for him to stand. “Ivan and his boys have started hanging around here again.”

That’s not ideal. “Have they been threatening you?”

“They’ve been mostly checking the place out right now,” she says. “Making sure there’s no Hawkeye around, I think. No one’s thrown them to the curb yet, so they’re getting bolder.”

“...what do you mean by bolder?”

Her expression is somewhere between tired and sympathetic. “Ivan stopped Aimee on her way home from band practice. She managed to get inside her apartment and lock the door, but she was pretty shaken by it. It… wasn’t great.”

“Fuck,” Clint says, feels the familiar bubbles of anger rise up in his lungs. Fucking Ivan and his territorial bullshit. How has he not given up by now? Clint’s not going to even leave him with a leg to stand on once he’s finished. “I’ll take care of it, Simone.”

“I know you will,” she answers, looks him up and down with dark eyes. Clint wonders what she sees. “You will take care of him. Is anyone taking care of you, though?”

He blinks at her. It takes a few minute for the question to process in his scrambled brain and then he blinks at her a few more times. The laugh isn’t intended but it slips out anyway, a cracked little noise that makes Clint himself flinch at the noise. Simone doesn’t flinch, but her expression does a thing that he can’t interpret. It makes him feel like she’s looking at a cute animal that’s turned into roadkill.

He feels a little bit like roadkill.

“I can take care of myself,” he says.

“Honey,” she says. Stops there and doesn’t say anything else, and the look on her face says everything he doesn’t want to hear. It’s a little painful to look at and Clint’s gaze slides away from her, down to the kid sleeping in her arms. He shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near kids. Simone doesn’t seem to be even slightly concerned about any of that, though. Just about his well-being.

Honestly, maybe she should be worried.

He misses Bucky.

“I’ll get rid of the tracksuit draculas for you,” he mutters as he grabs the handgun, grenade and his coat. Simone watches as he suits up, thinks about whether the soda under the bed is still okay to drink. Probably not. He can grab something on the way to Ivan’s last hangout. (No he won’t, but the thought is there.)

“I won’t miss them,” Simone says as he brushes past her on his way down. He thinks he remembers where the place was. If he’s wrong, well, he’ll just have to keep looking. “I won’t mourn for them. But I would for you.”

He doesn’t answer her.

Chapter Text

The man falls with a gurgle as the blood sprays across the wall and Clint grits his teeth, bites the inside of his cheek in a half-hearted attempt at remaining focused.

It doesn’t help, not really.

“Fuck,” Clint mutters, slumps against a wall to catch his breath.

It doesn’t help, oddly enough. Probably something to do with Ivan’s thugs hitting him in the ribs with a metal hockey stick - and where the fuck did they get one of those from, anyway? - and the couple of blows to the head he’d taken. His vision swims and blurs when he tries to look around the empty warehouse. Blinking doesn’t clear it and Clint sighs, slides down the wall. It’s okay to just take a minute to rest, right?

There’s no one left anyway.

Clint tips his face up to the ceiling, attempts to count his breaths the way he’d been taught. He gets two even inhales done before the dizziness takes over and he has to put his head between his knees. That doesn’t really help him either and he swears quietly, the vibrations of his own voice rattling around in his skull painfully.

His hands are crusted with dried blood - could be his, might be someone else’s, probably both - and he can’t quite make his fingers relax to let go of the white-knucked grip he has on the sword. Clint doesn’t remember the tracksuit draculas being this competent before. It probably didn’t help that he couldn’t even see their faces properly, honestly. His skin feels hot and prickly and he tries to breathe steadily again, fails.

“Pretty pathetic, bro,” a voice above him says.

Ivan. Fuck. Clint blinks hard again, tries to find him in the smears of grey and black. His eyes don’t want to focus but Ivan’s not exactly small, so Clint manages to spot him standing a few meters away. He’s not advancing, which is strange, but Clint still bares his teeth warningly, gets one foot under him. His knee twinges alarmingly and he ignores it, grips the sword tighter. Ivan doesn’t move.

“You dying, bro?”

“Fuck you,” Clint grits out. “If you’re going to fight me, then fucking fight me.”

“Don’t need to,” Ivan says blandly. “You look dead already.”

He feels like he’s dead. The anger is the only thing that lets him get to his feet, brandishing the sword at the unimpressed man in front of him. Ivan just contemplates him silently, arms crossed over his chest. What’s with the pink turtleneck, anyway? He has to know that looks like shit. Clint’s going to enjoy slicing it into shreds and throwing the pieces away.

“Gonna like this, Ivan, ‘m not gonna lie,” he says, takes a step closer. His boots sound loud in the empty warehouse, echoing around the room and in his aids. (He really needs to get those fixed.) Ivan doesn’t seem intimidated and Clint doesn’t have the awareness to be cautious about that.

Instead he keeps advancing.

Technically he is lying, because he doesn’t really care about it one way or another. He doesn’t remember how killing someone is supposed to feel. How did Bucky feel when he was assassinating people as the Winter Soldier? Did he feel anything at all or was it just the cold emptiness for him as well? Clint would ask him but, well. He’s not going to ask him - not that he would even if he planned on talking to Bucky again.

Fuck, Ivan. Clint lifts the sword up and-

“Dropped something, bro,” Ivan comments, holds up his hand to reveal the grenade in one meaty fist. He tosses it at Clint and Clint avoids the knee-jerk compulsion to catch it, forcing his aching limbs into action as he runs for a solid wall of concrete to shield himself behind. He doesn’t look at where Ivan has gone, too busy bracing every muscle in his body at the inevitable explosion.

The boom rattles hard enough that Clint’s world lapses into ominous silence as his aids decide to die. Shit, there was gas in the warehouse. The surge of heat sizzles along his side even though the fire doesn’t touch him and Clint swallows hard, tries not to think about the newly-wet blood on his hands, the flames and pain and memories threatening to spill over into his conscious mind now that he’s thinking about it.

One hand has slipped off of the sword and it’s digging into the scar painfully and Clint tries to shut everything out except the short, choppy breaths he’s taking to try and ward it all off.

He should focus on Ivan - if the fucker escapes, what’s stopping him from going back to harass Aimee? Or Simone and her kids, or Tito. Even if his crew is a bloody heap of corpses, it’s not like Ivan can’t find more idiots in tracksuits to follow all his bullshit. Clint doesn’t kid himself, he knows Ivan will be back. He’s obsessed with the goddamn building.

Clint doesn’t think about the flames. He’s going to get up, and then he’s going to track down Ivan and drive a sword through his eye, and then he’ll find the next group of thugs and he’ll kill them, and he won’t think about other things, things that he can’t think about or he’ll-

-he watches the fight like it’s a dream, indistinct from blood loss and the pain that’s making him sluggish. The guy is good at fighting, enough that he doesn’t immediately get thrown off of the catwalk by Natasha’s lightning-fast reflexes.

The fire’s crowding in closer now and Clint can’t get ahold of his bow properly with his shaking fingers. Where are the others, why aren’t they here, he can’t do anything like this. He’s probably not going to live through this, and that’s his own fault but Natasha should get out of here.

Clint sees the woman with the gun.

Natasha hasn’t noticed her and he’s screaming but no one can hear him, least of all Clint himself. He scrabbles for something, anything to use as a weapon and his hands close on a long shard of metal that cuts into his hand. He doesn’t even feel the sting over the roaring terror in his veins as Natasha drops the man off the catwalk at last. Clint throws the shard of metal and it slices through the unknown woman’s throat just as she squeezes the trigger.

There’s a spray of red and he can’t look, he can’t-

The warehouse is on fire.

Clint lowers his aching hands and looks around at the flames and smoke a little frantically. “It’s not real,” he says, the words some degree of comfort even though he can’t hear himself saying them. “It’s not real.”

It is real, sort of, but it’s not the scene he keeps reliving. He blinks hard, looks down at himself. No purple suit, no bow, no slash across his front. No bleeding out while someone dies in front of him. Just black and gold leather, the light of the fire flickering across it. He breathes in, exhales hard and tries to shove the chaotic swirl of memory aside so he can unlock his knees from their braced position.

He feels more off-balance than usual, isn’t sure if it’s smoke inhalation or the blow to the head he took. He’s hoping it isn’t the latter - throwing up in the street is a bitch and nausea is one of his least favourite things overall. His top least favourite thing is broken bones in his hands, especially because he can’t go to a real hospital for them. That guy in Karuizawa had done a pretty good job last time, though.

The concrete feels hot under his boots and he looks around again, notes with some dismay that there’s no sign of Ivan.

Of course there isn’t. Why would anything go right for him?

The ground-floor exit is walled off by the flames - don’t look at it, don’t - and he turns around, turns his gaze upward. There’s a set of rickety-looking metal stairs leading upwards, hopefully to a window or some sort of way out before he coughs so hard that he passes out. Thank fuck. He slides the sword into its holster and grabs for the railing. There’s a split-second knee-jerk urge to yank his hand away as it stings.

He needs the support, though, so he grips it tighter, doesn’t think about the way his hand slip-slides on the metal. Clint’s vision swims again and he tries to breathe through it, gets a lungful of smoke instead and tries not to curl in on himself. Fucking Ivan. Fucking Ivan. Clint’s going to kill him once he figures out where the bastard is.

There’s a painful popping noise and noise slams back into his ears. The roar of the flames is nearly deafening and Clint slams his free hand over one ear in a half-hearted attempt at blocking it. It doesn’t help, but it distracts him enough that he gets up the stairs without falling.

As he’s casting around for a convenient exit he notices the chiming noise, much quieter than the chaos around him but still audible. Clint fumbles for his phone, pulls it out and squints past the watering of his eyes. There’s only one person it could be, really, but he still looks. It’s just a text, nothing else.

Clint puts his phone away again without reading it.

It could be anything, really. He finds a window big enough to squeeze through, kicks it a few times to get rid of the glass sticking up in jagged pieces as his brain plagues him with questions. Who knows what Bucky would text him? Who knows what Bucky would text him? Maybe he just wants to make sure Clint’s fucked off far enough that they don’t have to see each other ever again.

No, Bucky wouldn’t do that. Bucky likes him, for some weird reason.

Then what does the text say? Clint’s foot slips as he’s preparing to jump down to the ground and there’s a split-second of fear before he hits the dumpster, crashing into the metal lid. Fuck. Why couldn’t they have left the damn thing open for people who need a softer landing? A groans escapes his lips as he rolls sideways, down onto the street with a muffled thump and tangle of limbs.

His head hurts.

Clint gets to his feet. He’s got to get out of here before the fire department get here. Hell, the police will probably be called too. His legs aren’t moving the way he wants them to, yet he still manages to start walking - it’s more of a stumble, really, but he’s moving and that’s what counts. The snow crunches under his boots and Clint prays to whatever’s out there that he doesn’t fall on his ass.

He’s not sure he can get up again if that happens.

He gets a few blocks away and slumps against a wall to catch his breath, lungs still burning from the smoke. The crisp winter air helps a little, although it’s causing respiratory problems in the other direction. It’d be so easy to just curl up in a ball and go to sleep right here, in the dim lights by the abandoned video rental store.

His fingers go to his phone again.

Clint is weak, and he tells himself as much as he unlocks the device, mumbles it under his breath as he clicks the only notification on there.

Bucky:   I left a key under the mat. Just in case.

Of course he did. The noise Clint makes isn’t quite a laugh, a sharp broken sound that slips out of his blood-smeared lips and cracks into the air. He’s a fucking mess. Bucky is- Bucky is so much, and Clint can’t possibly begin to understand why he thinks that Clint should be welcome in his space. He’s not even demanding Clint come back though, he’s just offering it, which is even stranger.

Clint does not deserve Bucky Barnes.

He’s pretty sure no one deserves Bucky Barnes, not really, because the man is pretty much a living dream. The only person he’s liked this much in his entire life is Natasha, and that was a completely differently thing. No one deserved her either. She didn’t want anyone like that, though, yet Bucky seems convinced that sex with Clint of all people is a good thing.

Bucky is kind of weird. Clint likes him so much it hurts.

And he’s not supposed to be thinking about that.

Everything hurts. Thinking hurts. Clint’s running out of energy and time and more things beyond that, he shouldn’t be thinking about things he can’t have, and definitely not Bucky. Especially not Bucky. Clint’s just here to stop the bad people from doing bad things, and that’s all. Ronin was created to mow through the corrupt so that people could be safe.

Ronin was created so there was never a repeat of the past.

“Did you see that weird Hydra branch on Avocet Ridge?”

“Didn’t Hydra burn down like, four years ago? Didn’t think they’d show up again.”

“Well, I mean, it looked like Hydra. Lots of people in black suits and the little octopus logo, I don’t know. I’m just a pizza delivery girl, y’know? They didn’t tip me, though, so I figured they were part of some uptight villain shit.”

Clint raises his head as the two women walk past him. They don’t notice - or don’t care, more likely, and the one who was speaking tosses dark hair over her shoulder, slows down as her friend fishes around for something in her oversized handbag. She comes out with a flask and passes it to the other woman as they start walking again, completely oblivious to the man in the hood.

“Girl, you need to get a better job,” one says as they round the corner.

Clint stays where he is, glances the way they’d come from. Hydra, huh? He’s pretty sure that no one’s tried to reboot them since the Triskelion, which means it’s either a mistake or something even more suspicious than that. Avocet Ridge is only a few blocks from here, from recent memory. Not that Clint’s memory is anywhere close to reliable. He pushes off the wall and starts walking, ignoring the way his knees nearly buckle underneath him.

It’s fine. Ronin’s here to take out the bad guys, and the rest of it is irrelevant.

Clint Barton’s problems don’t matter because Clint Barton is irrelevant as well.

 

He finds the building with the Hydra logo on the door fine, but the so-called “people in black suits” are nowhere to be found when he glances in the windows. It’s likely they’ve got something going on underground - doing Hydra business upstairs would just be asking for trouble. Clint’s got no idea why they’re even broadcasting the Hydra logo. It’s suspicious as hell, but he can’t stop now. (You could, a corner of his mind whispers, but he ignores it.)

Breaking into the house is also suspiciously easy.

Looking around, there’s no one inside either.

It feels way too hot in here, what the fuck? Clint swipes at his forehead and it comes away damp with sweat. It’s snowing outside, that doesn’t make any sense. Must be some sort of Hydra bullshit. Maybe they’ve got a furnace downstairs to burn the bodies. It seems like something they’d do.

The place is furnished like a normal house and Clint ignores the mahogany bookshelves and dying plants in favour of finding a way to the basement. The staircase is at the end of the hallway and Clint’s vision starts swimming again. He grabs for something to support himself with, hears a crash of glass and blinks to find he’s knocked over a couple of statues. Ah, fuck it. That’s a Hydra problem.

Maybe he’ll just add petty vandalism to his rep. The next few ornaments get knocked over on purpose and not just because he feels like he’s going to pass out - although that’s happening too. It’s satisfying. He feels like a disgruntled cat.

Going down the basement stairs is even harder than going up the ones in the warehouse was. He doesn’t slip, but he comes close a few times.

The door slams shut behind him.

“Fuck,” Clint groans. Doesn’t have the energy to say anything else. If he breathes in too hard he’s going to puke. He pulls out his sword as the floor above him creaks alarmingly, tries to focus on the sound enough to track where it’s going.

Something crackles behind him and he swings around to find a large set of computer monitors. There’s a timer on one in bold green letters, which is extremely concerning. Clint can’t really find it in himself to give a shit. Hydra’s going to get it one way or another, even if he has to trap them in here until the place blows up.

He ignores the way the world tilts slightly as he advances on the monitors, taps at the keys haphazardly with his free hand. Nothing happens, which isn’t particularly surprising. It demands an access code from him and Clint is- Clint is having trouble reading the letters properly. He tries to tap in his SHIELD ID anyway, figures no one will have bothered with taking down the link between them and Hydra.

The computer informs him that Barton, Clinton F does not have access to this monitor and he sighs, drops his head. It was worth a try.

Something thumps on the door and Clint flinches, whips around to face the solid metal. Points the sword at it with shaking hands - why are his hands shaking? - and takes a breath to steady himself. It doesn’t help. He feels like he’s underwater. The bang echoes around the room again and Clint realizes that it’s coming from his left too late as the smaller, less noticeable door slams open.

A gun is pointed directly at his nose but Clint’s more inclined to stare at the face behind it, familiar blue eyes and messy hair, black leather and dark metal.

“Bucky?”

“Clint?”

“Please don’t tell me you’re still secretly Hydra’s bitch, that’s really gonna fuck up my day,” Clint says to Bucky, who drops the gun immediately.

To be fair, his day had been well and truly ruined before now, but still.

It clatters to the floor and Clint takes a hasty step back at the noise and then has to blink when his vision blurs. He feels himself swaying and grabs at the desk with his free hand. The spinning feeling doesn’t really stop, but he gets his bearings enough to right himself again. In the time it’s taken for him to do that, Bucky’s gotten closer.

He’s got a couple of freckles across his nose. It’s cute.

Clint should not be thinking about Bucky being cute.

Bucky hand raises, twitches and then stops, like he was going to touch and then decided not to. Clint’s not sure what that means, that Bucky won’t touch him. He stays where he is as Bucky bites his lip and glances back at the door he’s crashed through before returning his attention to Clint. “What are you doing here?”

“Fucking Hydra’s shit up?” Clint taps the computer with the hand he’d been using to steady himself, wobbles a little. Bucky twitches again. “They’re being pretty obvious, but hey, less work for me. What’re you doing here?”

“Well,” Bucky says through gritted teeth, “that would be because we have surveillance out here to see if Hydra come back to their stupidly obvious trap, and someone showed up.”

“Oh.” Well. “Fuck.”

“Are you okay? You’re not actually dumb enough to fall for this,” Bucky says. “At least, I didn’t think you were. There’s a Hydra logo on the front door, Clint. That doesn’t seem a little suspicious to you?”

“I’m having a bad day,” Clint protests weakly. He’s having a bad week. A bad month, even. A bad couple of years. A bad life. Fuck, he doesn’t know, it’s all bad and he might just throw up on Bucky’s lovely black combat boots. 

Hmm. Bucky in combat boots. Clint glances up his body again - it’s a nice body, but he’s gotten used to it being clothed in sweaters and ratty henleys and skinny jeans, not black leather and four thousand guns. (The four thousand guns might be because his vision is blurring again.) Bucky’s still watching him worriedly and it takes Clint a moment longer to figure out that it’s the Winter Soldier suit.

And if Bucky’s wearing the Winter Soldier suit, then…

“You’re the only one here, right? Like, I’m just one person, they wouldn’t need a whole team for-”

Clint breaks his babbling off abruptly when he registers the expression on Bucky’s face. It’s kind of pained, yes, but contemplative. He glances back at the door again and then takes a step closer, close enough that Clint would be able to feel his body heat if he wasn’t overheating himself. Bucky’s arm would be nice and cold, right? He should just-

“Look, I’ve got some flash grenades and mild explosives in my pockets, I can cause a distraction,” Bucky says in a low voice. “You go out the other way while I’ve got their attention.”

Clint’s vaguely aware that he’s staring too much.

It’s warranted in this situation. Bucky hasn’t even asked if he’s a double agent - he obviously isn’t, but Bucky should be more cautious than this. He shouldn’t be getting ready to fuck with his teammates just so Clint can avoid them. Clint’s fairly sure that Bucky hasn’t even thought about it, he’s just ready to drop everything for Clint at a moment’s notice without worrying about it at all.

“I could pretend that Hydra did something to me and start destroying things randomly,” Bucky says. “I ain’t- I won’t use the Asset like that, but I can blow up a few computers.”

“Bucky,” Clint breathes. Somehow, he’s successfully compromised the Winter Soldier without even trying. This is wrong. Bucky’s worked so hard to get the public to respect him, to get his teammates to trust him, and now he’s willing to fuck it over for Clint? Clint, who is a killer and a mess and a flaming trash fire. Clint, who is definitely not worth any of that.

Clint, who isn’t worth anything anymore.

“You’re going to have to go out the back,” Bucky says thoughtfully, rummaging around in a pocket. “I’ll take out Sam and Tony first, so they can’t fly after you.”

“Bucky.”

“I don’t think Wanda will go chasing anyone if I’m attacking them, and Vision tends to stay with her, so-”

Clint can’t let this happen. What if they see Bucky doing this? “Bucky.

“I just - what?”

He makes his decision.

“Make it look believable,” he hisses.

“What?”

Bucky automatically blocks Clint’s swing and the blade glances off of vibranium with a screech. He looks so confused it hurts and Clint bites the inside of his cheek so he can focus on that pain instead. It’s too hard, too rough and the copper invades his mouth and takes over.

His grip on the sword tightens and he changes grip, telegraphs his swing enough that Bucky blocks that one as well. There’s sparks this time, a few flying past Clint’s fast and blurring. Bucky doesn’t seem to be physically affected by Clint’s admittedly weak strikes, even with the look on his face. Even if his mind is bewildered, his body is automatically set to fight and Clint’s hopelessly grateful for it.

He pulls back a step, draws the sword back and then thrusts it forward. It whistles an inch past Bucky’s ear and Clint watches a few strands come loose, feels guilty but can’t let it show. Fucking hell. He pauses for a second too long and Bucky grabs the blade before he can draw it back, pulls hard enough that Clint’s yanked forward before it’s out of his grip.

The sword clatters to the floor and Clint has a split second where he falls against Bucky’s chest. It’s warm and familiar and Clint find himself melting into it for a fraction of a second before he jerks away, stumbles back so hard he nearly falls over. He can’t do that. He throws a punch instead, which connects with warm skin because Bucky’s not moving, wide-eyed and panicked.

It’s still not solid enough to hurt him properly, although Bucky moves with it anyway. Clint’s definitely going to throw up now. He’s just hoping that there’s no way they can be mistaken for allies or anything even close to that.

Bucky’s not exactly helping with the ruse. “Fuck’s sake, Barnes. Come on.

“I can’t fight you,” Bucky says. “Clint, I can’t.

“Goddamnit, Bucky,” Clint grits out. “Just throw a fucking punch.”

“No. We can figure this out if you just- stop it.

There’s a streak of red across Bucky’s cheek now and Clint’s breath catches in his throat painfully until he looks down and realizes it’s from his own hands. Oh, thank god. It’s just him bleeding out. It’s on his fingertips and his palms and his wrists underneath his coat and Clint feels a burst of relief.

Just as well, really.

It doesn’t help the overwhelming nausea, though, and Clint has to take a minute to try and get his rebellious body under control. It doesn’t help. That notion that he’s running out of time has gone from a distant threat to something very large and real all of a sudden, and he’s.

He’s scared, is what he is.

Clint hopes the desperation isn’t written all over his face as he takes advantage of Bucky’s distracted mindset, kicks him hard and knocks him down to his knees. I can’t drag you down with me, he thinks, feels it burn cold in his gut. Clint’s down at the bottom of a well without a ladder and he’s fairly sure that Bucky hasn’t got one either, so there’s no point in him jumping down here as well.

Bucky looks up at him and his eyes are so beautiful that Clint wants to throw himself off a cliff just for doing this. That’s what cements his decision. He’s got to do this for Bucky, because he shouldn’t have to spend the rest of his life betraying his friends for an unhinged murder with enough baggage for an entire train.

“I’m sorry,” Clint croaks.

“You ain’t apologizing for the right things. Just- make sure you get out of here when you’re done,” Bucky says. Closes his eyes and tips his chin up like he’s just accepting his fate, whatever happens. Like he’s perfectly fine with letting Clint kick his ass and then disappear.

He looks so vulnerable. Clint could kill him and he doesn’t even look concerned about it. (Clint hopes that’s just because he knows Clint can’t kill him, not because he’s okay with it.) Clint lifts the sword, prepares to hit him with the hilt and notices the flash of red and gold too late, too late to-

It hits him directly in the chest and the impact is so hard that it smacks him into a wall. It’s hard enough that he hears a terrifying crack, can’t quite squeeze anything louder than a whimper out of his throat at the pain. He’s vaguely aware that Bucky’s yelling, hopes he’s playing along. Just playing the victim.

Clint’s having difficulty opening his eyes and someone’s hands are on his cheek, patting down his throat. He thinks someone says his name but he can’t be sure through the static currently invading his brain, but he forces his bloodstained fingers up, brushes stubble and the familiar curve of a nose.

“’m sorry,” he forces out.

This was always going to be how he ended up, wasn't it? He’s just wishing that Bucky didn’t need to see it happen. He should probably say something memorable, right? Something clever. Something like-

“Your suit looks super hot,” he tries to say, and then the darkness takes over.

Chapter Text

The heart monitor seems unbearably loud in the silent hospital room.

It’s meant to be comforting, and to some degree, it is, but the stress headache his brain has been threatening him with gets worse with every beep. Some part of him is glad that the man in the bed can’t hear it. Then again, Bucky would be a lot happier if they weren’t here in the first place.

He’d glanced at the extensive list on the paper that one of the nurses had been keeping. Infections in the hands - why had he taken the fucking bandages off? - had been the first thing on there, and then Bucky had seen a lot of medical jargon that he wasn’t sure he wanted to understand. It was a very long list. It’s enough that Clint is breathing, right now. He’ll take the small victories.

It’s what he had done with Steve, before.

It’s pretty sad that he’s been used to this routine for over ninety years.

Clint makes a sound and Bucky’s heart jumps into his throat. He doesn’t move an inch on the bed, just makes a noise alarmingly close to a whimper and then nothing else. It’s still painful to hear. This entire situation is painful to witness. As often as Clint gets injured, it still manages to feel horrifically wrong every time.

He looks too pale against the white sheets, the IV and monitoring wires the only thing against his skin. Bucky had seen some suspicious scraps of blood-soaked black come out of the operating theatre, so he’s fairly sure the Ronin suit has seen its last fight. He’s fairly sure Clint’s naked under there - should he go and get some clothes? Except then he would have to leave the room, and he's...

Bucky shuffles his chair an inch closer to the bed.

No one’s made him leave yet, which is something he’s grateful for. The Tower’s hospital floor doesn’t operate on normal visiting hours. The minute they’d wheeled past him Bucky had been right on their heels, and they’d more or less ignored him as they went about their business and then left. It’s probably because they’re used to him doing the same when Steve - and, more often now, Sam - end up here. The white walls feel like they're watching him and he sighs, closes his eyes for a brief second.

He’s never had this situation with Clint before, and it’s shocking how quickly his skin starts crawling at the sight.

Bucky doesn’t give in to the urge to reach out and touch, but his hand ends up on the papery hospital sheets anyway.

He raises his head as the door swings open.

“Just checking on you two, don’t mind me,” a woman in a white lab coat says.

She walks around the other side of the bed to look at the hologram that appears on the wall, taps a few buttons and brings up some more things that Bucky has no hope of understanding. There’s a lot of computer code and big words. The woman scratches her head absently and types in something. She’s hung out with the Avengers before, he’s pretty sure, so he should know her name.

She turns around and Bucky sneaks a subtle look at her name tag. Doctor Helen Cho, that’s it. From the amused look on her face, he hasn’t been subtle enough.

“I’m supposed to be a geneticist, you know,” Helen says to him. “And somehow I end up doing GP work anyway because no one wants to come in here.”

“Okay,” Bucky says hesitantly, looks at the hospital bed and then back to her and the way she’s got her arms crossed over her chest. In the time he’s taken to give Clint a quick once-over an amused smile has taken over her face, and it seems to be centered on the hand resting next to Clint’s bandaged one. She sighs a little and glances at the door before she starts speaking again, and Bucky wonders if she’s supposed to talk to him about this.

“He shouldn’t be alive,” she admits. “There’s no single lethal injury and yet he’s got a million different problems that needed fixing, that weren’t treated properly. Whatever drugs they were putting in him didn’t work completely, but he should have collapsed days ago from his injuries so it must be doing something.

Days ago. He was with Clint days ago, snatching away the suitcase. He’d made a mistake, letting his guard down enough to not notice when the syringe had gone missing. Honestly, he thought he'd left it underground. It had just been - well, desperation, mostly, desperation to touch every inch of skin he could get his hands on. Bucky feels the guilt stab sharp at his chest. He shouldn’t have let Clint leave.

He had to, though, because he’s not going to be the person that forces Clint to stay. That's not fair.

“But he is alive,” Bucky says. “And he’s staying that way. Right?”

“He’s on the road to recovery,” Helen agrees.

Bucky exhales, looks back at Clint. There’s a burn high on his cheekbone, right across a spot that Bucky remembers a line of freckles being. He’d kissed them, once. His heart clenches a little bit and he has to overstep his boundaries here, runs cold fingers over the back of Clint’s hand. There’s no way it can be felt through the bandages and the unconsciousness, but Clint twitches and Bucky feels his heart catch in his throat.

Nope. Clint stills a few seconds later and Bucky refrains from sighing, keeps touching his hand. “When will he wake up?”

“No way to tell,” Helen says. “I’ve fixed him up before, though, and he’s pretty hard to keep down. He’ll probably be flirting with the nurses in a week or so.”

Bucky snorts at the mental image that evokes, a beaten and bandaged Clint charming everyone in the hospital room. It certainly seems in-character for him. He’d probably succeed, too, although Bucky was kind of hoping he’d save the flirting for them. They’ve - never talked about that, actually. Exclusivity. Probably because they’re not dating, nevermind the little spark of hope in Bucky’s chest.

Hang on.

His stare swivels back to Helen, who’s gently peeling back the gauze on Clint’s shoulder. “You’ve fixed him up before?”

“A few times,” Helen says with a shrug as she pats it back down. “He’s not the worst patient I’ve ever had. Cute face, but he gets hurt too often. ”

“I can agree with that,” Bucky mutters.

“When he wakes up, tell him I’m still not giving him a robot body, no matter how reckless he gets,” she comments. “That’s assuming you’ll still be here?”

“I’ll still be here,” Bucky agrees. He can’t actually imagine leaving, not now, and not when he’s seen Clint’s reaction to the other Avengers. Not to mention Clint’s technically a wanted criminal and Bucky has no clue what’s going to happen when Tony lets slip that they have Ronin in custody. He’s going to be here for when Clint wakes up, no doubt about it.

“I’m glad he’s not alone,” Helen says. “I’ll be back tomorrow for more blood tests. Here’s a straw in case he wakes up and wants some water.”

The straw is bright purple and Bucky snorts as he takes it, carefully sets it down next to his phone on the bedside table. The door closes with a quiet click behind Helen and Bucky looks at purpling bruises and white bandages and feels his heart sink. A lot of his relationship with Clint is precariously uncertain, but this is even worse than usual.

Clint’s going to wake up, Bucky reminds himself. Clint’s going to wake up and complain and Bucky’s going to get Dog Cops on the hologram once he figures out how it works. Clint’s going to wake up and Bucky will be here, and that might not help, but he’ll be here anyway.

 

Sam: where are you? got food

Bucky: Hospital floor.

Bucky: If you bring me mayonnaise I will kick you out of the window and laugh as you fall.

Sam: don’t get your panties in a twist

Sam: you want company?

Bucky: Sure.

 

He tries to make the text seem casual - it’s not like Sam has psychic powers, there’s no way he can feel the anxious tension Bucky’s vibrating with through the phone. Bucky chose to stay here and it’s not like he’s going to go anywhere, but it doesn’t make it a kinder experience. It’s fucking nerve-wracking, is what it is.

A few minutes later there’s a knock on the door. Maybe Sam is psychic, because he shouldn’t have gotten here that quickly. His expression doesn’t give anything away, but he passes the food instead of throwing it at Bucky’s head. Bucky forgets, sometimes, that Sam isn’t Steve. Steve doesn’t notice anything about feelings unless you yell it directly at his face, and even then he might not catch on.

Bucky opens the bag and there’s a little tub of mayonnaise sitting on top of the plastic container. It’s not in the food, though, and that confirms Bucky’s suspicions.

He picks the tub up and throws it at Sam. Sam catches it and leans up against a wall, eyes roaming over Clint on the bed. His expression is still carefully neutral as he opens his own container of food and starts eating. Bucky gets his open with one hand and sighs inwardly when he realizes Sam hasn’t tampered with any of it. Bucky must look worse than he thinks.

“Stark’s not impressed that you nearly busted his gauntlet,” Sam remarks after a few minutes.

“I told him to stop,” Bucky replies through a mouthful of food. “He wasn’t listenin’.”

“He thought he was saving your life,” Sam answers. “What did you expect? He goes full hero and he stops listening to other people. Too much like Steve.”

“Mmm,” Bucky agrees. It’s not that he doesn’t love Steve - although he certainly doesn’t love Tony - but they’re both big personalities, and together it’s like trying to stand in the middle of a hurricane. One of them was enough for Bucky.

“Your boy'd be dead if Steve was there, though,” Sam says. “Should be thanking whatever’s out there that Steve's in Canada.”

Bucky… had not thought of that before. Fuck, Sam’s right - Steve would’ve mowed Clint down without a second glance, no matter Bucky’s protests. At least Tony had stopped once Bucky had threatened to blow him up. (He hopes it was the threats and not the way he’d been struggling to breathe as he scrambled to find a pulse. Bucky might’ve cried. He doesn’t remember anything beyond panic and fear, and the little hysterical laugh when Clint had spoken to him.)

“Yeah,” Bucky says when he realizes he hasn’t answered Sam.

“Small mercies,” Sam adds, tosses the rolled-up paper bag in the trashcan by the bed. Bucky agrees wholeheartedly, although he doesn’t say it out loud.

His left hand shifts and it takes him a minute to realize it’s because the hand underneath it is moving. Bucky twitches and looks down at Clint. He shifts again and Bucky’s heart tries to relocate to somewhere outside of his body. Fingers grab onto his like a lifeline and Bucky lets him hold on, tries not to look like he’s about to cry as he gets a glimpse of blue under Clint’s eyelashes.

“Should I get a nurse?”

“No,” Bucky says. “Just- just give him a minute.”

It’s a little irresponsible, but he’s not sure what the staff are going to do now that the person in the hospital bed is Ronin. Clint’s waking up in a strange place and having strange people looming over him isn’t going to help. Bucky’s struck with the memory of a beaten Ronin holding onto his knife like it was a lifeline, staring at Bucky like he was coming face-first with death. The first time they'd spoken face-to-face.

He knows that ending up here is a nightmare to Clint. It’s too late to change that, but he’s still making sure that the first thing Clint sees is Bucky and not a stranger.

Maybe Clint doesn’t want to see Bucky. He’s still hoping anyway.

Bucky’s not particularly inclined to believe Clint had wanted to escape because he didn’t like him, at least. Over the last few months there’s been too many soft smiles, too many times Clint has just appeared in the apartment for no apparent reason, sometimes with food or a bottle of vodka. Former Russian assassins like vodka, yeah? he’d said with a smile that had looked far too brittle for Bucky to do anything other than drag him in for a kiss.

So yeah, he thinks between that and all the sex, there’s a good chance that Clint likes him as much as Bucky likes him back.

“Bucky?” Clint looks blearily around and his eyes slide over them blindly. He grabs onto Bucky’s hand properly this time, though, and that’s something. Bucky lets out a little sigh and tries not to look too relieved. It’s natural that he wouldn’t be particularly alert right now, but it’s still a little stressful to witness.

Bucky squeezes his fingers a little tighter and Clint slumps back into the sheets, apparently soothed.

Bucky doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that Clint seems to recognize him and register his presence as being safe now. It’s a little like how he’d felt when the wild cat down on Fifth started headbutting him gently instead of attacking. Clint is not a cat, however, and Bucky would much rather have him.

“You’re okay,” he says. “You’re an idiot, but you’re okay. Go back to sleep.”

Clint mumbles something that even supersoldier hearing can’t pick up and Bucky remembers that he can’t actually hear anything Bucky says right now. They’d taken his hearing aids out during the process and Bucky had nearly kicked their asses for it until a stressed-looking worker had explained that the aids weren’t working anyway. Tony’s hit had killed them, apparently.

Clint still seems settled by Bucky’s presence however, and after saying something that sounds suspiciously like Dog Cops he passes out again.

Fucking Dog Cops. Bucky can’t quite stifle the little smile that evokes. What a dork.

“I shouldn’t be surprised, should I,” Sam remarks dryly. “It’d be right up your alley, dating a goddamn rogue superhero.”

“Superhero? He’s Ronin,” Bucky answers, a little puzzled. Sam had seen the costume - he’d been the one to call the medics. Ronin isn’t a superhero. The general public certainly doesn’t consider him to be any sort of hero, although he’d stumbled upon a pro-death penalty parade once. He’s pretty sure they haven’t started classing the Punisher as a superhero either.

Sam doesn’t say anything else and Bucky looks over at him then, at the complicated expression he’s wearing. “What?”

“You don’t know,” Sam says, a little disbelieving.

“Don’t know what?”

Sam opens his mouth to answer but then Steve’s crashing into the hospital room with a bang that makes Bucky wince, hair wild and wide-eyed. He stops in the doorway, looks over Sam and Bucky to make sure they’re fine the way he does on the battlefield, like he’s expecting a fight. The shield is in his hand. Then his eyes land on Clint in the bed.

Bucky’s… not sure how to identify the look on his face.

Steve’s not good at guarding his expressions in any situation and this is exactly the same as all the other times, but there’s so much there on his face that it’s just a mess. Bucky glances back at Clint, who’s- drooling a little bit, actually, and he snorts before he remembers Steve, who’s now looking like he did when he’d found Bucky in a Hydra base. (Bucky had just been destroying some files, he worries too much.)

“Fuck,” Steve says with feeling. It’s surprising enough that Bucky feels his eyebrows lift.

“What’s the matter?”

“It’s- where did you find him?”

That,” Sam says when Bucky falters because he’s not sure how to explain, “would be your boy’s new 'friend.' He got caught in that fake Hydra business they had set up downtown.”

“He’s not a that,” Bucky protests. “He’s my- how did you get here so quick, Steve? Weren’t you doing a mission up in Montreal or some shit?”

“Calgary. I came as soon as I heard you had him in here,” Steve breathes, sounds shellshocked. He hasn’t taken his eyes off of Clint yet. It’s like his gaze is glued to the bed. Bucky’s starting to get worried and then Steve seems to come back to himself, blinks wide blue eyes at Sam first and then back at Bucky. “Why are you both here?”

“Barnes is like a small child, he shouldn’t be left unsupervised,” Sam offers unhelpfully. “I’ll send you my babysitter fees.”

That answers that, and then Steve looks at Bucky questioningly.

Bucky swallows hard. Steve knows he isn’t straight, has known for years and years and years. Bucky’s never actually had something he’s wanted to keep, though, and he wants to keep this thing with Clint for as long as he can. It’s not the fact that Clint’s a man and it’s not really about his status as Ronin either. It’s just that Bucky likes him so much and he’s scared of that look on Steve’s face, how Steve is looking at their linked hands like he’s seeing something much worse.

“I don’t understand,” Steve says.

“Don’t understand what?”

“Why wouldn’t you say anything? Did he make you stay quiet about who he - I would’ve thought you’d at least tell me, Bucky, this is-” Steve’s face is hidden in his hands now, and he’s looking extremely stressed out. Bucky’s not sure this kind of reaction is warranted.

“He’s a criminal,” Bucky says, a little bit puzzled.

“He’s Clint,” Steve answers, with far more feeling than is warranted for a vigilante that he doesn’t know. The expressions he’s made line up with the way Clint always seems to know far too much about the Avengers, the little dry jokes about Wanda’s llama socks and his comments about Captain America’s ass. Something in Bucky’s brain clicks, finally.

“You know him,” Bucky breathes.

Steve frowns, and it’s the first time in a long time Bucky’s been hit with the force of that faintly hurt, accusatory face. “Of course I know him. How could I forget? Did he say anything about- when did you plan on telling m- hell. You should’ve brought him in, Bucky. He’s our-”

“Steve,” Sam says sharply, makes Steve blink and look at him. “He doesn’t know.”

Steve does that million-expressions-at-once thing again and then settles on something that tastes a lot like pity. Bucky really doesn’t like that look. Clearly there’s something here he’s missed, something big, and he likes that even less. Ronin wasn’t ever an Avenger, he’s sure of it. He'd checked.

Steve exchanges a look with Sam, who jerks his head at the door.

“Probably better to talk outside,” Sam says, and Bucky looks down at Clint holding onto him even in sleep, shakes his head. It’s not like Clint can hear them, after all, and Bucky’s sticking to his guns even now. He doesn’t think he’s going to like what he hears next and there’s something oddly comforting about Clint’s presence despite his not being conscious.

Steve sighs and deflates a little. He sets the shield up against a wall before he sinks down into the plastic chair at the end of the room and Bucky eyes him off. That’s the same thing Steve had done before he’d told Bucky about Peggy. “You really don’t know?”

“I don’t know what?”

Steve glances at the bed like he’s expecting Clint to sit up and start swinging. Bucky had taken the sword for safekeeping before it got locked away, but it’s nowhere near them. The only weapons are the ones Bucky has tucked away in his boots and waistband. Steve looks back at his face, a little resigned.

“Bucky, that’s Hawkeye,” Steve says.

Bucky pauses. “Hawkeye is a teenage girl with holes in her outfit. Remember? Kate? She sends you memes, what the fuck, you know who Hawkeye is. Did you hit your head?”

“No,” Steve answers hesitantly. “Kate’s the second Hawkeye. She was named after him.”

 

“I don’t get it,” Bucky says a while later. “Why doesn’t anyone talk about him? There’s not even any pictures around.”

There’s probably footage of him somewhere, and Bucky’s going to find it later. Normal people would be freaking out, he thinks absently. Clint, a former Avenger. He’d heard there was another Hawkeye but it hadn’t been on his radar enough to care because no one talked about it. The worst part is that he isn’t even that shocked because it makes perfect sense. Of course Clint was on the team before Bucky was here.

“We thought he was dead,” Steve mutters, the shock still flickering in his eyes every time he looks at the bed. “This whole time, we just assumed he was...”

“Why would you think he was dead? Just because he wasn’t using a bow?”

Bucky turns his attention to Sam when he’s presented with a grainy phone picture. The title across the top proclaims it as Avengers, 2012.

It’s the kind of thing that’s far too natural to be staged, six people walking away from the smoking ruins of a building. He picks out Steve immediately, shield hanging from one arm as he says something to a grinning and dirt-smeared Tony. Bucky’s only met Thor once but he’s easy to recognize with the hammer and long hair. Bruce is easy to identify as well, swimming in a jacket that definitely isn’t his and trying to hunch in as small as possible.

His breath catches when he sees Clint, blood smeared on his cheek and with his arm slung around a slim woman with red hair. It looks like she’s holding him up, despite the obvious size difference.

Hawkeye is very different from Ronin. It’s still Clint, bright blue eyes and scruffy hair, taller than he should be and wow, that outfit does things for his biceps that would distract Bucky in any other situation. No tattoos, different haircut, less scars. There’s a dramatically different outfit, purple and sleeveless, hugging every inch of muscle it can, a quiver of arrows on his back.

The real difference, though, lies in the open grin he’s wearing as he looks at the redhead. It’s bright and unabashedly delighted, and Clint does smile now but it’s always muted, always missing something with the shadows under his eyes and the pain in the set of his jaw. This doesn’t have any of that and it’s nearly blinding in intensity. Bucky almost starts smiling back, it’s that powerful.

It cements the fact that something bad happened, though.

His attention slides to the woman, caught in the process of rolling her eyes at Clint, an indulgent little smile on her lips. She’s in a black jumpsuit, little glimmers of red and gold, and that’s when the second realization hits him. The photo.

“The Black Widow,” Bucky realizes. He hadn’t recognized her because the photo wasn’t in colour. “He’s got - had - a picture of her in his coat.”

“Unsurprising,” Sam acknowledges, takes the phone back. “It’s not like there’s a grave he can visit.”

Bucky’s gaze slides over to Steve, who’s staring at Clint again. He’s distantly glad that Clint’s unconscious, because Steve is reaching levels of uncomfortable that Bucky’s only ever seen from distant memories of the Soldier looking in the mirror. “How did she-?”

“A local branch of the mob had started making- I don’t know what they called it. They were trying to make enhanced people with powers,” Steve says. “Tony, Wanda, Vision and I went around the front of the place. Natasha was going in from the back, and Clint was on the roof.”

Trust Steve to remember the battle formation first. “What happened?”

“They were waiting for us,” Steve answers with a grim set to his jaw. “One of them could set himself on fire at will. Whole place went up in flames. We didn’t realize most of them had gone after Clint and Natasha until it was too late.”

There’s a long beat of silence. Bucky doesn’t know what to say. He’s about to ask where Sam had been until he remembers that Sam had been following him around Europe. Bucky suddenly remembers the report of a warehouse on fire a few hours before he’d found Clint, looks back at the burns. Shit.

“He barely survived,” Steve says, and they saw a lot of shit in the War so it must have been bad, for that kind of darkness in Steve’s eyes. “It’s like someone had tried to slice him open. There was blood everywhere and he didn’t even care, he just kept screaming about Natasha, and we didn’t realize what had happened until we dragged him out and couldn’t find her.”

Clint makes a little noise and they all turn to look at him. He’s still asleep, though, and Bucky realizes the noise was probably because of the iron grip he has on Clint’s fingers. He makes an effort to loosen it up a little and Clint relaxes slightly.

Bucky tries to imagine what it would feel like to lose Steve or Sam in a fight. Out of anyone, it’d be Sam, and it’d be so easy for someone to take out those wings mid-fight- Bucky could’ve killed him as the Soldier, once. He stops picturing it a few seconds later, doesn’t like the queasy curl in his stomach.

“Clint woke up a month after it happened. He- he didn’t handle her death well,” Steve mutters. “None of us did, but…”

“I met Natasha a few times. Clint was never that far away,” Sam adds. “They were like you and Steve, except even more codependent.”

“He blamed himself for what happened, thought he hadn’t done enough. It didn’t matter to him that he’d nearly died. The first couple of weeks he kept trying to go out and hunt them down. I had to hold him down a few times so they could sedate him,” Steve says.

Bucky doesn’t say anything. He might be holding onto Clint's hand a little too tight again. It’s too easy to imagine him wandering the dark halls of the Tower, still stumbling a little from the pain, haunted by the memory of his best friend dying. No wonder the mob keeps getting mowed down by Ronin. The little space behind Bucky’s ribs aches.

“SHIELD ended up canceling his psych evaluation and keeping him in the Tower for surveillance. They labeled him a danger to himself and others, took his weapons from him. He wasn’t technically allowed to leave, so he just holed up in his room all day by himself until- well. We thought he’d- you know.”

Killed himself, is what Steve means, and Bucky feels sick just thinking about it. It takes every ounce of concentration to stop himself from running out of the hospital room. He’s not sure if he wants to throw up or punch something. “You didn’t look for him? For his- for a body?”

“Bucky-”

“He’s got a point,” Sam interrupts, and he doesn’t look impressed either. Bucky remembers, all of a sudden, what Sam does with the veterans downtown. “Hell, Steve. Did anyone even talk to him about it or did you just leave him locked up and alone until he cracked?”

“He had a psychologist for that,” Steve says hesitantly.

“No,” Sam says patiently, and Bucky’s glad he’s not listening to this alone because he’d probably break something instead of talking it out. “Not a professional, Steve, you know no one here listens to those because you’re all idiots. Did you talk to him- did any of his friends talk to him about it?”

Steve’s expression is somewhere between guilty and defensive. “We didn’t know what to do! We’d never lost anyone except for Pietro - who we knew for a couple of days - and Natasha was- we didn’t talk about it with each other, either.”

“Doesn’t really help her grieving partner,” Sam comments.

“It’s like she never existed here,” Bucky says out loud. It’s true. He’d have caught onto Clint months ago if there had been pictures, memories, even more than just a vague mention of Natasha. He only knows she was an Avenger because he remembers her with Steve, the memory tinged cold with the Soldier’s mind.

No one talks about her, and no one talks about Clint.

Fucking hell.

“No wonder he’s got issues,” Sam mutters, and Steve looks down at the floor.

Chapter Text

Clint blinks his eyes open and all he sees is white.

The fear rushes up all at once before he realizes there’s just a sheet over his face. He still flails a little bit, disoriented and faintly aware that his clothes are missing. What the fuck? That’s not right. He remains under the sheet, though, because the last thing he remembers is pain and shouting and his heart cracking in his chest and he’s not sure he wants to face it. 

His hand is attached to something cold and it disappears for a second before something less heavy and plastic is placed into his palm, and the cold thing curls his fingers over it before pushing them under the sheet with him.

It takes Clint a few tries to get his hands up near his head and then he’s squinting at a familiar pair of clunky purple BTEs. That’s… weird. Why wouldn’t he just get to hear properly in the afterlife? He hooks them in anyway, fiddles for a second and then listens.

“And what we’re doing here is picking out an arrow - aw, Lucky no, that one was mine, get back here,” Clint’s own voice says.

There’s a jubilant woof in return and Clint thought that the afterlife would have something more, something other than just showing him the past. He’s hoping it’s not the real Lucky. Kate feeds him the good dog food, he has to be fine. Not that Clint’s spoken to Kate in years, but he still has more faith in her than he does in himself.

He takes a minute to take stock of the situation. Now he’s looking at them, his hands are swathed in bandages and there’s an IV line in one. His whole body aches in that far-off sort of way it gets when he’s on decent painkillers, and every limb feels stiff with disuse. He twitches his toes carefully, tries to get his brain working well enough to think about this. If he’s kind of sore and he’s got an IV going, it’s probably not the afterlife. The memories are filtering back in and - what was he thinking? - there was Bucky, a stupid Hydra trap and then...

It's definitely not the afterlife.

Clint’s kind of wishing it was.

“Got it! Now, kiddos, what you want to do is hold your stance like this - don’t do it the way I do it normally, any archery teacher will tell you my stance is shit, and then you…”

Clint gets his fingers over the hem of the sheet and peels it back, blinking at the offending burst of sunlight that hits him in the face. Then he blinks again, stares up at the blank white ceiling. There’s a hole in it that looks vaguely familiar and he doesn’t like that, so he turns his stiff neck towards the source of the noise, trying not to dislodge his hearing aids.

It’s going to take some time to get used to these.

The sound is coming from an iPad, and Clint recognizes the footage as an old training video he’d done for charity some years back. The version of him on the screen is aiming at an old target with a picture of Loki’s face on it, and he gets distracted with watching it for a few minutes before he registers that Bucky is the one watching it. His chair is right up against the side of the bed that Clint’s lying in, close enough that Clint could count every scratch on his arm.

Clint tries to comment on it, but his words come out as a weak, indecipherable croak.

Bucky twitches and grabs for a cup of water sitting nearby, sticks a purple straw in it. Clint would laugh if he didn’t feel like his lungs were going to fall out. Bucky holds the cup up to Clint’s mouth and he struggles to get ahold of it, feels his lips crack as he drinks. There might be blood but he hopes there isn’t, paws ineffectively at Bucky’s arm in a half-hearted attempt at thanks.

Wait.

Bucky was watching his training video.

Clint removes his hand.

Bucky sets the cup back down on the bedside table and turns to switch off the iPad. Clint struggles up into a sitting position, watches him. Bucky looks tired, shadows under his eyes and hair in a messy effort at an updo. He’s wearing a flannel over the undershirt he wears with his combat suit and when Clint’s gaze slides downwards, he’s wearing sweatpants instead of jeans or tac pants. Not his usual look. Then again, Clint doesn't normally see him in the medical wing, watching videos of the past.

“Haven’t improved with age like you did,” Clint croaks when Bucky turns back to him. “Sorry.”

“You look fine how you are,” Bucky says quietly, then adds, “when you’re not being a dumbass.”

“Aw, baby,” Clint says.

Bucky doesn’t quite smile, but it’s a close thing. Clint’s heart does a strange squirming thing inside his chest. It’s a feeling he’s started associating with Bucky in particular, this familiar mix of affection and dread. The dread is stronger than usual, because if Bucky’s watching those videos then he’s finally figured it out. Clint doesn’t feel like throwing up this time, though, and he wonders how much of his admittedly erratic behaviour over the last couple of weeks was because he was sick.

“I’m sorry,” he says instead.

“For which part? ‘cause there’s a long fuckin’ list,” Bucky answers with a wry curl of his lips. “Is it for nearly getting yourself killed, stealing the drugs, fucking off without talking to me, not telling me you were goddamn Hawkeye - or was it something else that I’ve missed?”

Clint would flinch at that, usually. It hurts - god, does it fucking hurt - but he does deserve it. Bucky’s justified in whatever anger he wants to fling this way. Clint did steal the drugs, and he did withhold information from Bucky even if he didn't straight-up lie, and he can’t possibly fathom why Bucky still seems to care about him on top of all of that.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, because his brain is still soaked in what he’s guessing is morphine and he’s an idiot anyway. “I’m not- I got scared.”

Bucky raises an eyebrow. “Of getting caught?”

Clint grimaces and the movement feels off-kilter and messy. It’s certainly not anything that will endear him to Bucky, but he’s not trying to be endearing, he’s trying for honest. The fear from earlier has burned away and all that’s left is the weight in his bones. It’s possible he should have talked to Bucky instead of running off. He may as well talk before the guillotine appears.

“No,” he says, resists the urge to curl in on himself. “I just. I got scared of how much I like you.”

“Oh.”

Clint doesn’t know what the oh means and he’s not sure he wants to. Bucky’s face is doing an interesting thing and he turns his gaze out the window instead, at the buildings across from them. There’s a man on a roof opposite, putting his underwear out on a line. Pink sparkly briefs are an interesting choice. Maybe he’s a dancer of some sort. 

“I understand why you didn’t tell me about it,” Bucky says. “That you- the Hawkeye stuff. I don’t like it, but I get it.”

“It’d be okay if you didn’t,” Clint answers, tilts his head so he can see Bucky’s shape in his peripheral vision. “If you want to yell at me, though, you should probably do it before I pass out again. ‘s less satisfying when people don’t know you’re yelling.”

Natasha used to kick him in the shins until he put his aids back in so she could start lecturing. He’d learned that particular piece of wisdom from her. She'd never rat him out if he did it to other people, though. Best girl.

“I don’t want to yell at you,” Bucky says. Clint gives him a derisive look and Bucky crosses his arms over his chest, stares him down. “What happened to you was fuckin' horrible, Clint. I would've liked some kind of warning, but it's not like I didn't know something had happened. Problem is, you're as stubborn as Steve is. Especially because you probably think you’re doing the right thing by being alone.”

He does think it’s the right thing.

Really, what was he supposed to say? ‘Hey, Bucky, so you know how you’re an Avenger? Me too! Except it all went horribly fucking wrong and I gave my stuff to a sixteen year old before disappearing to go take down the mob single-handedly?’ Was he supposed to explain the nights where he’d wander the hallways like a ghost until someone got nervous and hinted that he should go back to his room?

How is he supposed to explain the incongruous dread always swirling around in his gut?

“...okay?”

“I’m more upset that you nearly died,” Bucky adds, and his voice rises a little then. There’s the anger that Clint was expecting - except. “Fuck, Clint, would it be so bad to let people help you?”

“Yes,” Clint answers immediately. That’s not the answer Bucky wants, he can tell. It’s the honest one, though. “Bucky, you shouldn’t get attached to Ronin. I’m not- it’s not going to last forever. It’s temporary.”

Ronin isn’t going to last more than a few months, if that. Waking up in a hospital bed has pretty much cemented it. He’s just one human man. Clint’s not getting any younger and he’s making too many mistakes, slipping up one too many times. It’s unrealistic that he’ll be able to keep going. It’s unrealistic that he’s lasted this long, and the only reason he has is because Bucky decided to come back for him after Clint made one too many comments about his ass.

Why the fuck did he think that Hydra would publicly label their actual base? That’s quite possibly one of the dumbest things he’s done. Clint’s not that stupid. Except he must be that stupid, because he’d gone anyway.

“Ronin’s not,” he starts, doesn’t know where to go from there. Going to live for much longer? He’s pretty sure Bucky doesn’t want to hear that. Clint doesn’t know what to say, falters and runs his thumb across the bandage wrapped around his index finger.

“I don’t give a single shit about Ronin,” Bucky says vehemently. “Seriously. I wouldn’t care if I never saw that goddamn suit again. Good fuckin’ riddance, in my opinion.”

Clint flinches involuntarily, looks down at his hands. So that’s how this is going to go. It’s fair, he gets it, he’s not going to do anything to make Bucky guilty. It’s only what he deserves, after all the crap he’s put Bucky through. The static in his brain is getting exceptionally loud and he’d make an attempt at leaving if he wasn’t a hundred percent sure his legs will give out the second he tries.

Hands cover his own and he’s stuck staring at Bucky’s mismatched fingers instead, one hand warm and solid, one cold and shining dimly in the lights. Startled, he turns his gaze up to Bucky’s face, which is set in a determined expression that makes him a little nervous.

“I don’t give a shit about Ronin,” he says again. “But I ain’t givin’ up on Clint Barton.”

Huh.

“They’re the same person,” Clint says blankly.

“You’re not Steve, sweetheart,” Bucky answers with a raised eyebrow. Clint fights the urge to squawk at the sweetheart comment. “They’re separate things. You weren’t Ronin when you grew up in the circus, and you weren’t Ronin when you had sex in a safety net like a goddamn idiot. You weren’t Ronin when you started watching Dog Cops.”

Clint has to reluctantly agree with that, because Steve was always Captain America.

“I don’t care about the Ronin stuff,” Bucky says. “I care about the dumbass in the purple sweaters who keeps telling me the plots to TV shows I don’t even like, but I watch anyway because it’s cute watching him get excited.”

“I’m not sure he’s here all the time, Sergeant Barnes,” Clint answers as he looks down at their joined hands, ignores the dumb little flutter of his heart. “It’s been kind of hit-or-miss lately.”

“From what I’ve heard, you don’t miss,” Bucky replies. He sounds more amused than accusing about it, like Clint’s former identity really just… doesn’t bother him that much. Clint’s still baffled over the idea that he hadn’t already known. Sure, he hadn’t been an Avenger for long compared to the others, but he’d been there first and he’d kind of thought that had meant something.

Then again, it hadn’t meant anything with Natasha either.

Shit, Natasha. “My suit. Did it-”

“Didn’t survive the emergency surgery,” Bucky answers. “I couldn’t grab the photograph, I’m sorry.”

Clint falls into silence. How had Bucky known about the photo? Unless - well, he did patch Clint up that first time. He’s had the opportunity to go rifling through Clint’s stuff a few times, mostly because Clint doesn’t know how to keep his guard up around Bucky. It’s dangerous. Hell, he might have made it out of the Hydra trap if Bucky wasn’t distracting him.

Except he probably would have died if Bucky hadn’t found him.

“I can always get a new one, I guess,” Clint mutters, more to himself than at Bucky. Natasha doesn’t - didn’t - like pictures, so it’s going to be difficult. He might have something with just her in his old apartment somewhere. Not that he’s very fond of the idea of going back. Wait, his clothes are gone, that means- he lifts up the sheets.

Bucky snorts when he grimaces and puts them back down. “How many people saw my dick, Sergeant Barnes?”

“Mostly nurses and doctors,” the reply comes. “Don’t worry, your modesty was preserved when other people were around.”

Well, it’s not like people hadn’t seen it already. He’s been naked in public more than once, although not as often now he’s donned the Ronin suit. If people were actually interested in Hawkeye, his dick would be all over the internet by now. The only person he’d be moderately self-conscious about seeing that would be Bucky, and Bucky’s already seen it all anyway. Oh well.

He opens his mouth to ask Bucky if he can have some pants and ends up yawning instead. Fuck, he’s tired. Everything’s started aching again and the temptation to close his eyes is getting louder and louder. Bucky taps his fingers on the back of Clint’s hand to get his attention before he speaks again. Clint appreciates him so much.

“You can go back to sleep, you know,” Bucky says. “I ain’t going anywhere.”

I might be,” Clint mutters, but he’s already settling into the pillows. He closes his eyes and inhales, feels a pang of fear as he smells disinfectant and plastic, nothing remotely comforting or safe. He doesn’t sleep much even in safe places, and it’s a little nerve-wracking. He’s reminded again that he has no clue where he is and the only thing he’s used to here isn’t a thing, it’s- no, he can’t, it’d be asking too much, it’d be wrong to want it.

But he’s tired and a little feverish and he’s probably not going to get out of this without getting shot or locked up, so he tries not to feel bad as he shuffles to the side. “Could you-”

Bucky blinks at him, looks a little startled. “You want me to?”

“Please,” Clint gets out even though it’s painful to say.

Bucky doesn’t ask him if he’s sure, just lets go of Clint’s hands and kicks off his own shoes with a thunk. The flannel gets tossed onto the bedside table and Bucky’s gently adjusting his arms so the medical equipment won’t be in the way. Then he’s sliding on the bed carefully, and Clint’s a little awestruck as he maneuvers himself onto the mattress.

Bucky doesn’t get close enough to light up any of the aches and pains, but he is close enough for Clint to feel how warm he is. If he wasn’t so exhausted he’d feel embarrassed about shuffling a little closer, pressing his nose into the curve of Bucky’s neck. Bucky curls a careful hand on his hip over the sheets and Clint lets out a shaky little breath, resists the urge to run away.

It’s… kind of nice, if he’s honest.

Clint doesn't let himself have a lot of nice things, but he's pretty sure he nearly died, so fuck it.

“Hearing aids out or in?”

He wouldn’t take out his field aids in the shower. They’d stayed on every single minute, even when they’d started to break down, even when they’d occasionally shocked him. Clint hadn’t allowed himself to have a second without vigilance. Every time he closed his eyes he’d been struck with the nerves, the fear and uncertainty of letting his guard down.

Aw, fuck. He feels safe with Bucky here. “Out.”

 

“I had sex in a water slide once,” Clint says.

“You’re ridiculous,” Bucky answers. “Was it a big one?”

“Yeah it was,” Clint agrees with a grin that even he can tell is a little sleazy. He’s a charmer, it's true. Bucky snorts and props his chin up with one hand, waiting for the rest of the gruesome story. It never stops amazing Clint, that Bucky likes hearing all his weird life anecdotes. He wants to ask whether it’s the lack of Bucky’s own sex life for so long, but he thinks that’s crossing a line.

“Do you ever think that maybe- hang on.”

“I underestimated your fashion sense, Barnes. You know, the history books said that you used to be hot, I don’t know where they got that idea from.”

Clint blinks at the new guy blearily. For a minute, talking to Bucky had made him forget that other people existed. He’s got an armful of multicoloured cloth and Bucky sits up a little straighter, separates himself somewhat from Clint’s tangle of limbs. Clint’s tempted to just ignore the guy and relocate himself right on Bucky’s lap, but he’d probably hurt himself trying.

“Didn’t they vote for hottest Avenger last month and I won, Wilson? You had your eyes checked recently?”

“Fuck off, Barnes. Here’s your crap.”

The guy looks at Clint once he’s handed the bundle over to Bucky, a careful assessment that Clint’s sort of expecting. It’s less threatening than he expects, though. Clint braces for the inevitable threats and failed intimidation from Bucky’s best friend - second best? - and he jumps a little when one strong hand is held out to him.

“Sam Wilson,” he introduces.

Clint looks at the hand. Looks back at his face, which isn’t displaying any sort of the disdain or wariness that he’s expecting. There’s some caution there, but Sam doesn’t even have a weapon as far as he can tell. How does this guy survive? He’s just as breakable as Clint is - probably more so, considering his thing is wings and not aiming and hurling things with deadly accuracy.

“I know,” is what he says to Sam, which isn’t particularly polite. He does know, though. It takes him a minute to remember a handshake, and then he tries to do it with the hand with the IV in, which doesn’t work so well. He gets it after a minute. “Fuck. I mean- hi. Clint.”

He can’t quite get the Barton part out.

“I know,” Sam answers with a faint smirk. “You’ve been stealing my sidekick.”

“Sorry. He’s so cute, I can’t help myself,” Clint says, and then adds as an aside to Bucky, “I like this one.”

Sam’s smile gets a little wider at that. Clint stamps down the pleased little bubble that comes up from his stomach. He’s not supposed to be making friends. Hell, he wasn’t supposed to start this thing with Bucky. Clint’s starting to suspect he has a problem with befriending all the new Avengers.

“Fuck you, Wilson,” Bucky says. “I’ll show you a fuckin’ sidekick. Was that all you wanted?”

“I wanted to make sure your boy didn’t have to walk around naked,” Sam retorts, then takes a step back and leans up against the wall. He glances at the door and then back at Clint. Clint’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing with that expression, so he just takes the boxer-briefs that Bucky hands him and tries to put them on without accidentally revealing anything.

There’s a thudding noise from outside and they all look up to see a flurry of bright hair and red leather. They flee immediately and Sam sighs and scrubs a hand over his face, and Bucky looks immediately unsettled. Clint’s breath catches in his lungs for a second painfully. Then his brain catches up to his heart and he realizes it was Wanda.

“Fuck,” he says heavily, sags back against the pillows.

Wanda. Had that been the jacket of Natasha’s he’d given her? That had been a million lifetimes ago. God, she probably hates him. He doesn’t exactly get the warm fuzzies for any of his former teammates, but Wanda is- different. Clint has trouble holding a grudge against the kid, no matter what had happened. He’s kind of glad she ran away, because he doesn’t know what to tell her.

Both parents gone, one brother dead, one weird parental figure dead, and then the other weird parental figure is a murderous psychopath.

Fucking hell.

“I’ll go talk to her,” Sam says, pushes off of the wall and heads for the door.

“What’re you going to say?”

“I’ll come up with something,” Sam answers, glances back to make eye contact with Clint. “She missed you.”

And then he’s gone and Clint’s left blinking at the open door blankly, trying to register those words properly. Missed him? What a fucking baffling concept that is. No one had missed him when he’d lived here. Hell, he’d be surprised if they even noticed he’d left the Tower in the first place. The public didn’t even know he was an Avenger.

 

“Mister Barnes?”

They’re in the process of getting the sweater over Clint’s head when the woman’s voice breaks the silence. Needing help is kind of embarrassing, but Bucky doesn’t say a word, just works the wool over his arms. Clint’s kind of emotional over the fact that Bucky apparently remembers that he’d stolen the worst sweater possible, and then had managed to find something even uglier.

Bucky helps his head through the neck hole and Clint’s left looking at the nervous nurse with a handful of leather. Clint doesn’t really care what she’s got, assumes she wants to talk to Bucky and snuggles himself a little more securely in the sweater. Bucky, however, takes one look at the scared-looking blonde woman and clenches his fists.

“No,” he says, sharp and angry.

“I’ve been told to-” she starts timidly, and Bucky waves a frustrated hand at her. The frown on his face is a little terrifying and Clint’s not even the person it’s aimed at. She’s just a nurse, she hasn’t committed any sins - at least, Clint’s pretty sure she hasn’t.

“I don’t care,” Bucky says. “It’s not necessary. Get out.”

The nurse looks hesitant and that’s when Clint realizes the bundles of leather are restraints. Oh. Clearly someone’s connected the dots, then. He’s surprised it hadn’t happened before now. Then again, they didn’t need to worry about him moving until now. The trapped feeling hits him like a wall and he struggles to keep his face blank, even as Bucky’s glare gets stronger.

“It’s a safety procedure,” Clint says when it doesn’t look like Bucky’s going to stop looking murderous. “I’m not exactly a harmless field mouse, baby.”

He says that because he gets it, he understands the fearful expression on the young girl’s face even with the unease he’s feeling. She probably doesn’t know who he is. She just sees a murderer, and an efficient one at that, someone who’s volatile and could hurt her and her coworkers. Clint’s not going to hurt them and he’s got no intention of doing so, but she doesn’t know that.

“I don’t care,” Bucky says again. “I’m not- no. You’re not some kind of wild animal.”

It occurs to Clint then that maybe this isn’t entirely about him. He’d read the Winter Soldier’s profile, had taken enough Hydra bases down that he’d seen video clips and horrifying equipment and things that made him feel a little cold on the inside. Bucky’s been through a lot and maybe this is something he needs to do for himself as well as Clint.

Clint gives the nurse an apologetic look and she seems surprised by it. Sorry, he mouths, and her eyes get comically wide.

Clint leans forward, gets ahold of the edge of Bucky’s shirt. “Hey. Leave the poor girl alone, bully me instead.”

Bucky edges back towards him, thigh bumping the mattress as Clint keeps a careful hold on his shirt. It won’t hold Bucky back if he does decide he’s going to fight an unarmed nurse, but Bucky doesn’t seem inclined to go anywhere with Clint anchoring him here.

The nurse takes this as an opportunity to leave - she takes the restraints with her, thankfully. Clint lets out a quiet exhale of relief and lets go of his handful of shirt. Bucky sits down on the edge of the mattress heavily, looks off at the wall. Clint- he feels guilty all of a sudden, the emotion grabbing him by the throat. This probably wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t here.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Bucky reaches back, links their fingers together. There’s still stress written all over his face and Clint’s heart clenches painfully. Sure, he didn’t put that expression there directly, but he’s the cause of all of this. Bucky wouldn’t have to be here if Clint wasn’t here. If he’d mentioned the Hawkeye thing before, Bucky probably would’ve just left him to die in peace.

He doesn’t want Bucky to leave him.

Still feels guilty, though.

“Don’t you want more than this?”

Bucky regards him thoughtfully and Clint has to look away, fixes his gaze on an empty can of coke on the floor. There’s an ant sitting on top of it. How did a fucking ant get into a hospital? “I mean, I’d be open to dinner and a movie, but you ain’t stayin’ long enough for that.”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” Clint says through gritted teeth. “Why are you wasting your time with me when you could be- I don’t know, actually dating someone, someone who isn’t-” me, is what he’s going to say, but he stops himself just in time. “Damaged goods,” is what he says instead, which isn't much better. “You know how often I wake up with someone else’s blood on my hands?”

“Probably as often as I did when I was the Soldier,” Bucky answers.

“It’s not the same, Bucky, you know that,” Clint bites out. There’s a beat of silence then, and it feels angry again for some reason. Clint risks a sideways glance and yep, there it is, the clenched jaw and flat glare.

The thing is, Clint knows he’s right. It’s not the same. Bucky started because of brainwashing, stopped because he came back to himself and started learning how to be a person again. Clint started because he was fucked up and angry and now he can’t stop.

(Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’s scared because this situation means that he's almost definitely going to have to stop. This is all he’s been for years on end. What if he just falls apart, shatters into a million pieces without the rage and the fighting to hold him together?)

“You know, I’ve had enough of people trying to decide what I want,” Bucky says, low and angry, lets go of his hand to prod Clint’s chest. “And that includes you, you fuckin’ dick.”

“I’m trying to-”

“Yeah, well,” Bucky says flatly. “You can stop. I don’t need your crap, and I don’t want it.”

“I’m sorry,” Clint starts, and he is, he’s so fucking sorry for dragging Bucky into his tsunami of bullshit. He trails off as a leg swings over his and then Bucky’s sitting on his thighs, warmth bleeding through the layers of cloth between them. It’s a ploy to stop him from escaping, to make him look at Bucky, and Clint’s not immature enough to close his eyes, as much as he wants to. Resigned, he meets the furiously icy gaze, has a small crisis over how beautiful Bucky’s eyes actually are.

“I know what I want,” Bucky says.

“You deserve better,” Clint answers.

“You’re not listening to me,” Bucky says, jabs a finger into his chest. “You keep talkin’ about better, and yeah, maybe there’s somethin’ nice about actual dates and waking up together in the mornin’, but I don’t want that if it has to be with other people.

He doesn’t get it. “I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Buck.”

“I’d rather have sex with you on a semi-regular basis than go out and get ice cream and roses and be generally wooed with someone else even if it was every single day for the rest of my life,” Bucky snaps. “And the serum might've stopped me from aging, so that's a damn long time. I just. I just want you, however you come.”

There’s a sex joke there but Clint’s caught up in staring at Bucky.

He’s expecting a lot of things from this hospitalization, but he wasn’t expecting a confession. Clint figured Bucky was attracted to him, sure, liked him enough to put up with his crap, but attraction and affection are not the same thing as that. That's a whole other ball game entirely.

The lump in his throat feels more painful than the physical wounds on his body. Bucky just keeps looking back at him, determination written all over his face. He’s got shadows under his eyes and they’re probably from sitting here for days waiting for Clint to wake up, and he’s messy and stressed out and Clint wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his life with Bucky in his lap like this.

God, this is a mess.

“Why me,” he mutters under his breath and Bucky opens his mouth to retort, “no, no, shh. If you keep talking I’ll do something embarrassing. Seriously, you give me far too many feelings.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything but he does look pleased by the admission - Clint doesn’t give him a lot to work with, does he? That’s gotta change before it's too late - and it’s too much, Clint’s got to touch his beautiful goddamn face, pull him in for a kiss.

This whole thing - his whole life - is a fucking mess but at least he's got Bucky, which is a hell of a lot more than he started with. 

Chapter Text

“Alright, I’ve tested just about everything I can think of,” a woman says as she breezes into the room, completely ignoring the lapful of Bucky that Clint currently has.

Clint peers over Bucky’s shoulder and instantly recognizes the neat updo and half-there smile. "Hey."

It takes Bucky a few seconds to react to Helen, which cements the suspicion Clint’s been having, that he’s exhausted. She starts inputting data into the hologram that appears, checking a clipboard she’s holding in the other hand. The hologram beeps at her and she sighs, continues tapping. Bucky sits up and shifts off of Clint - Clint has to stop himself from whining at the loss of contact and fuck, the painkillers must really be doing a number on him if he’s getting that soft.

Then again, they're not giving him that many painkillers now. Maybe he's just soft for Bucky in general.

“I’m still not making you a cyborg,” Helen says.

She doesn’t seem even slightly surprised to see him. Clint’s not sure how to take that.

Then again, she hadn’t been there for the disaster after Natasha. Hell, maybe she doesn’t even know about it all. If she does, she’s not saying anything, and Clint’s grateful for it. Helen continues tapping and Clint sits up straighter on the mattress, steels himself for any more poking. She’s nice, sure, but she’s not gentle in any sense of the word.

“Sergeant Barnes, you are required downstairs,” an electronic voice says. Clint very bravely does not jump at the sudden noise. “There is a delivery that requires your attention.”

“What kind of a delivery?” Bucky doesn’t sound impressed.

“Classified information. I cannot disclose with the people currently in the room with you.”

Helen shrugs and when Bucky looks at Clint, he shrugs too. “I’m not exactly an ally anymore, am I? They’re not going to trust that easy. Makes sense that they don’t want me knowing what’s going on.”

Sam pokes his head in the door. “Barnes. You coming? The thing wants your access codes.”

Bucky looks troubled and Clint pastes on a realistic imitation of a smile, waves him off. “Go on. Doctor Cho can keep an eye on me, right, Helen? We’re pals, even if she won’t give me a cool metal exoskeleton.”

“If I made a metal exoskeleton, I wouldn’t give it to you,” Helen answers with amusement, still plugging things into the hologram. “You’d break it within a few hours.”

Clint snorts at her, glad for the little shred of normalcy that she provides. It’s doubly working in his favour because he sees Bucky relax a few ticks, wind down from the nerves rattling him around. Clint turns the smile back on Bucky, keeps it calm and amused. It probably wouldn’t work if Bucky wasn’t so tired already. As it is, Bucky glances back at Sam and then sighs, seems to give in.

“I’ll be back,” he says as he’s leaving.

Clint refrains from making him come back right this second. “I know you will be, baby.”

Sam starts walking and Bucky follows, grabbing his flannel overshirt on the way. His hair has fallen out of the messy tie and it’s sticking up in a few different directions and he’s so goddamn cute that Clint wants to cry. He keeps watching until Bucky’s out of view, until it’s just him and Helen in the hospital room.

He knows where he is.

He knows exactly where he is and he’s been ignoring it as much as possible.

Clint settles back against the pillows and lets the smile drop from his face. A package that requires Bucky’s specific access code, despite the fact that the only way access code-specific packages show up is if you order them yourself. Absolute bullshit. Looks like he’s still using the same tricks he’d used years ago. Clint’s obviously the only one that goes snooping around enough to learn how the security in this place works.

“You should make a full recovery,” Helen says, doesn’t look at him. “The worst of your injuries healed in the week you were out of it. Probably for the best.”

“Thanks,” Clint answers a little awkwardly as he looks around.

It’s only a minute later that he realizes he’s begun subconsciously scanning the place for a weapon. There’s good reason to need something to defend himself with, though, because getting Bucky out of the room had been calculated and Clint had gone along with it because he hadn’t wanted Bucky to see what happens next.

He catches the blur of black as it’s thrown at him automatically, solid weight through the gauze on his hand. Clint looks down and realizes it’s his sword, still in the black scabbard he’d gotten with it. It gleams faintly in the light of the hologram, slightly splattered with dried mud and blood.

“So. Ronin, huh?”

Clint doesn’t look up at Tony as he unsheathes the sword, checks the blade with a couple of fingers. Still sharp. “What do you want, Stark? Come to get rid of me for good this time?”

“Doctor Cho, you’re no longer required,” Tony says as he takes a few steps closer, glasses casting orange-tinted shadows over his eyes. Clint makes the effort to glance up, tries to look disinterested. Helen doesn’t say another word - fair enough, Tony’s probably paying for all of her research costs - as she leaves with a quiet click of her shoes.

Steve files in a second later and Clint resists the urge to snarl at them. Of fucking course they’re the ones to show up and interrogate him. He’s tempted to demand Vision show up instead. At least he doesn’t make Clint’s chest clench with dread. Vision had brought him bacon once. The guy didn’t know what to do when Clint wouldn’t move for hours, but he tried. Clint likes Vision.

Tony stays at a comfortable distance, but when Clint blinks Steve is far too close for his frayed nerves. Steve takes the hint when the sword nearly takes off his fingers, backs up a couple of steps. Clint keeps the blade pointed at him.

“Clint,” Steve starts, uses that tone of voice that says he’s disappointed.

“If you try to touch me I will fuck you up, Steve,” Clint says, tries to keep his voice even over the clamour of anger and fear so the threat is taken seriously. “Not gonna worry about hurting you this time.”

Clint’s not joking, not even a little, and Steve must realize that. He’s had years to come to terms with the fact he can’t trust Captain America, paragon of virtue and freedom. The first time he’d seen Bucky, he’d been steeling himself for a conversation with Steve and had been immensely relieved when he’d realized it wasn’t actually Captain America.

He still dreams about it sometimes. When it’s not flames and blood and Natasha, it’s pain and being pinned down as the needle slides cold into his skin, Steve’s voice above him as his body goes numb. Waking up disoriented, back in his room with the door pulled shut and the curtains drawn.

Unlike the one in his memories, this Steve looks guilty, which is puzzling. Steve doesn’t feel guilty about anything because in his mind, he’s always doing the right thing. It’s part of what makes him a good soldier.

“Alright,” Steve says, putting his hands up calmly. “I won’t touch you, Clint.”

Huh. Maybe this is the afterlife. Clint settles back against the pillows again, although he keeps a tight grip on the sword. Steve crosses his arms over his chest and leans back against a table, glances at the table of Bucky’s stuff. He doesn’t say anything about Clint wearing Bucky’s clothes, and Clint’s sort of hoping that it’s just because he hasn’t noticed.

“So, what was the plan here, Barton? Run around in your little death suit, bring some people over to your side? Like the fucking Winter Soldier?”

Well, Tony’s noticed at least. Clint feels a flicker of anger, stamps it out as much as he can. If Bucky’s kicked out of the Avengers because of him - if he loses his friends because of Clint - he can’t let that happen. “There is no side. Even if there was, he doesn’t like what I do, he just knows he can’t stop me. Leave him out of it.”

Tony and Steve exchange a look. It’s more like Steve tries to exchange a look with him and Tony stares impassively back, but it’s as close as they get. They’re getting better at pretending to be a united front. Natasha would be pretty proud of them, if she was here to see it. Steve lets out a sigh and turns back to Clint, the disappointment written all over his features again. Clint feels a little bit like a teenager in the principal’s office with these two.

Actually, his dad would’ve kicked his ass for ending up in the principal’s office (again), so he’s not fond of that analogy. Tony acts more like Barney than his mother, though.

“Were you ever going to talk to us?”

“No,” Clint says. “Why the fuck would I?”

“Because we’re your friends, Clint,” Steve answers, voice rising a little. “Your teammates.”

“Yeah,” Clint retorts, feels the bitterness creep in. “Natasha thought that too, you know? She loved you guys more than anything else. What’d you do to honour her memory, Steve? Do a single press conference where you called her an ‘admirable woman,” and then pretend that she didn’t exist? Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“That’s not fair,” Steve says quietly. Clint turns his glare to the blankets, grits his teeth. He knows it isn’t fair, that it’s cruel putting the blame on Steve when it was all of them. The rest of the team aren’t ballsy enough to try and put the friendship spiel on him, though. “We all dealt badly with h- with Natasha’s death. I’m sorry you were collateral damage in that.”

Clint’s head lifts again without his permission so he can stare at Steve. He’s not expecting that. He was expecting… the opposite of that, pretty much. Certainly not an apology.

Huh.

“I was trying to save Bucky’s life, the first time we met,” he says. He’s resigned to his fate. Figures he can give Steve that much, some assurance that he wasn’t trying to steal Bucky over to the dark side. “I didn’t even show my face, just helped him and told him to leave.”

“He didn’t?” Steve’s lips quirk up.

“No, he did,” Clint answers. “But then he came back. Kind of bossy, that one.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, gets a distant smile on his face. “Yeah, he is a little bossy.”

Clint fights the urge to smile back. He’s kind of soft for the image of a twenty year old Bucky, short hair and suspenders, fussing over people the same way he does for Clint now. Bucky tells him stories about it sometimes, when Clint offers pieces about Barney or the circus or trying to do schoolwork when he couldn’t hear the teacher talking.

“As heartwarming as this is,” Tony interrupts, “we didn’t come here to moon over greasy Edward Elric.”

“Give me the restraints, then,” Clint says heavily. “Bucky’s going to snap them off the minute he sees ‘em, but you get a few minutes of relative safety.”

“Oh, no,” Tony replies, doesn’t move an inch from his spot. “It’s not the restraints. One of the nurses let slip that we were housing a dangerous criminal who also happens to look a lot like a supposedly dead SHIELD agent and former Avenger.”

There’s a long pause in which Steve looks at Tony sharply. Clint swallows and tries not to succumb to the chill running up his spine. It doesn’t matter what’s going on. He can handle it by himself, the same way he’s handled everything else in the last few years. That weight in his chest that dims a little bit when Bucky’s around might partially be loneliness, but he’s not going to tell them that.

“SHIELD’s got some questions for you,” Tony says flatly. “A lot of them.”

Clint refrains from snarling. “And if I refuse to answer any?”

“They’re not giving you a choice in the matter. Trust me, they’ll have plenty of things to try. Clint Barton knows a lot of secret information that SHIELD doesn’t want shared, and Ronin is a deranged killer who keeps murdering people left and right.”

“Tony,” Steve says warningly.

“You’re goddamn feral, Barton,” Tony says. “You’ve got to know that.”

He wouldn’t have used the word feral, probably, but it’s not entirely incorrect. Clint does know that. It’s always under the surface, and it was probably there long before he joined the Avengers, long before Loki threw him into chaos and Barney abandoned him for a better life. He’s violent and overemotional and he should’ve opened that dumpster lid and jumped in, instead of moving on.

“They’re not going to be kind to you. They’re not going to be anything to you. Remember what happened after Natasha? This is going to be a lot worse.”

Clint- hadn’t wanted to think about that. He hadn’t wanted to think about that ever, and now he wants to leave.

“SHIELD doesn’t let people just walk away, Barton. Especially not their highest-ranking agents. Too much intel in the hands of a person who’s a complete flight risk. Not even a risk, a person they are actively trying to remove from the equation.”

“I’m not going around talking to the people I murder,” Clint says dryly. “They’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“It’s SHIELD,” Tony says, and Clint’s jaw hurts from clenching his teeth but he agrees with the statement. Tony’s right, they don’t take risks. Clint Barton is a risk, and Ronin is a risk, and if they’re the same person then it’s twice as dangerous. They’re going to get rid of him as soon as they possibly can, by whatever means possible.

And the Avengers are going to let it happen.

Of course they are, they don’t owe him anything.

Clint swings his legs over the side of the bed, grits his teeth and thanks whatever’s out there that someone took out the IV while he was napping with Bucky. He’s not up to doing that dramatic yanking that they always do in the movies. Also, if he gets another infection he’s not going to get up again. It’s a miracle that he can get up again now.

He stands up on shaky legs and glares when Steve edges an inch closer. Steve backs up again and Clint ignores Tony’s loud sigh, pulls his sweater down when he realizes they’re both looking at his stomach where it’s ridden up. He doesn’t want them looking at the scar. He doesn’t care about walking around the Tower in his underwear, but he’s not putting the scar on display for them to see.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going, Barton?”

“Well, you’re not restraining me,” Clint says, tries to keep it flippant. Confident enough to match Tony, and he’s faintly hoping it’ll come off as intimidating. (Tony’s never been intimidated in his life, it’s a waste of effort.) “You think I’m going to sit around and wait for SHIELD to come along?”

“It’s too late,” Tony says as Clint takes a step towards the door. “They’re already here.”

He stops. Well, fuck. His options are to wait here for them to inevitably torture and lock him up, or to go down swinging and then inevitably be tortured and locked up. He’s not feverish or delirious anymore, but there’s no way he’s going to beat an army of high-grade SHIELD agents. And they would’ve brought the nastiest stuff they could because they know exactly how dangerous he is.

“Clint, if you just wait then maybe we can-”

Steve’s hand touches his shoulder and Clint whips around on autopilot, slams Steve up against the wall. The blade just barely touches the exposed skin of his neck and Clint watches the single bead of blood on the steel, raises his eyes to meet Steve’s gaze.

“I’m not hanging around while they come for me,” he says. “Not like this.”

“Natasha wouldn’t want you to die for nothing like this,” Steve says, and he’s right, but the surge of rage that he’d try that of all things has Clint nearly taking his head off. His self-control is better than his other emotions, though, and he takes a step back instead.

“Natasha isn’t here,” Clint answers through his teeth, and that’s half the problem, isn’t it? Except it isn’t, because he’s had time to come to terms with the constantly bleeding hole in his life that she’s left behind, but he doesn’t know what to do with the rest of it either. There’s a lot more in his head than just Natasha’s death, and Clint isn’t sure there’s enough pieces of the puzzle left to make a coherent picture.

“We are, though,” Steve says quietly, and Clint looks at him. Looks at Tony.

He darts out into the corridor before they can move, keeps walking away. There’s footsteps behind him and his frayed nerves can’t handle another grab so he swings out the sword automatically. The safety feature from years ago is still there and the wall panel crackles before there’s a solid thunk at his heels.

“Clint?”

The barrier is already down but he swivels automatically, realizes that Steve and Tony weren’t the only ones coming to talk to him. Wanda’s standing by the door like she was listening in before Clint had barged past, and it’s a small miracle she hadn’t just got ahold of him and pulled him back. Tony and Steve file into the corridor behind her, and Clint thanks whatever’s out there that the clear barrier stays where it is.

It's made to withstand Steve and Tony, but Wanda could get past it with her powers.

“Maximoff, make him stay,” Tony snaps.

Clint makes eye contact with her - not on purpose, but eye contact all the same - and she’s just staring back. He’s preparing for a fight, because he knows there’s no way he can outmaneuver her at this rate, not like he is. Not to mention he can’t hit her with the sword with the barrier between them. Her lips flatten into a thin, unimpressed line and her hands don’t move an inch from where they are, at her hips. She doesn’t move to stop him, doesn’t even try to use her powers.

“Wanda,” Steve says, a hint of warning in his voice.

“No,” Wanda answers sharply, not once looking away from Clint. “I won’t do it.”

Huh.

“If he goes outside they’re going to shoot him,” Tony argues, and that doesn’t actually sound bad right about now. Clint’s tired. He’s so fucking tired, and it’s certainly better than being in a straitjacket on the Raft. He takes a step back, still keeping his eyes on the people on the other side of the glass barrier. Clint’s fairly sure they’re not going to be able to break through before he gets out- Tony doesn’t skimp on his walls, but he’s watching the three of them anyway.

Like a hawk, he thinks, has to stop the twisted smile before it reaches his face and changes Wanda’s mind.

“He’s family,” Wanda says, shaking her head. “He’s my family.”

Well, that’s something new. Clint pauses as Wanda takes a step closer, raises her hand and places it against the glass. Her eyes are sad, greener than he remembers them being. Why had she decided to dye her hair red? It’s more orange than anything else, but Jesus fucking Christ, it hurts to look at. Clint’s chest feels like it’s been thrown in a blender.

“It’s been so long, Clint. There’s been enough lost to this fight. I don’t want you to die too,” Wanda starts, voice soft. “I won’t force you to stay, but I’m going to ask you to.”

Oh. She doesn’t want to trap him here, she wants him to live here. That can’t be what they all want from him. They’ve never wanted him here. Except- Wanda wouldn’t lie to him. He trusts her to be honest with him, even if he couldn’t trust her to intervene in his bullshit after Natasha’s death. It’s not her fault.

“You don’t know what you’re asking for,” Clint replies, and his words come out rough, nearly inaudible. “I’m not. I’m not safe, Wanda.”

It’s true. More than once he’s dozed off with Bucky and woken up with a knife in his hand. He doesn’t even know if he even remembers how to be a person anymore. Wanda looks a little heartbroken, though, and he feels guilty. Shouldn’t have said that out loud. Stupid. He can’t hold conversations anymore. It just proves that he doesn’t belong here with the Avengers.

“I’m not safe either,” Wanda answers quietly. “No one here is safe.

“She’s right,” Steve says, startling him. Clint stares as he takes a step closer to the barrier, still the picture of perfection without a single hair out of place. “We let you down, but we can be better. We can help, if you let us.”

“Like you helped last time?” Steve flinches at that, and Clint wonders why he feels guilty about it now when he didn’t before. Maybe time changes things.

“I want to be better this time,” Steve says. “Wanda’s right, we’ve lost too much. All of us, but especially you, Clint. We can’t fix the past, but I’d like to work on the future.”

“You know you sound like a really cheesy movie, right?”

“Tony, please,” Steve answers, and Clint looks over at the man.

Tony’s got his arms crossed tight over his chest, all pristine suit and slight frown, his eyes completely hidden by his sunglasses. He’s not giving away a single thing and even through the ache in his bones Clint knows it’s a defense mechanism. They’re not even asking Tony what he thinks about this, and Clint doesn’t want to admit he’s considering it and especially not when Stark hasn’t had his two cents.

Tony likes sharing his opinion. Clint’s wary of this new-found silence.

“Stark?”

Tony barely turns his head. “What, Barton?”

“It’s your house,” Clint says. “You’re telling me you don’t want to have some sort of heartfelt speech to sway my decision?”

“No, Clint, I don’t,” and then he’s advancing too fast for Clint to prepare for, slamming his arm against the barrier. It doesn’t move an inch, but the sound is loud enough to Clint to flinch backwards. Tony scowls dark and dangerous and he’s ready to escape now, because Steve and Wanda are dangerous but they’re on Tony Stark’s home turf. “I don’t think I will have a goddamn speech, because I’ve been saving your ass from day one.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Who do you think kept the press off your back? Who do you think watched the surveillance cameras every day personally, twenty four hours a day, to make sure you didn’t do anything stupid?”

He’d. He hadn’t even known- “I didn’t need supervising, Stark.”

“Well, it was that or let Fury have you,” Tony snaps. “And he would’ve done a lot worse than leave you alone to deal with your shit, trust me.”

“Maybe you should’ve let him,” Clint counters. He’s still reeling.

Tony had been watching him, that whole time? Not even his weird sentient computers, just Tony Stark sitting in the dark in front of a screen all day. He’d seen every hour of staring dead-eyed at the ceiling, every time Clint had dragged himself into the shower just to sit on the tiles and try not to choke on the fast-approaching panic attack. God, he’d probably seen everything.

“SHIELD wanted to lock you up,” Tony shouts, waving a hand. “I had to taser five people and pay for an entire facility in Moscow so they'd let you stay here instead!”

“Oh, how nice of you,” Clint snarls instantly, the defensive part of his mind rearing up to strike even as he's thrown into chaos. “You didn’t want the bad publicity? One Avenger dead and another in an insane asylum?”

“They were going to shut you in the Raft,” Tony says, low and dangerous. “They were going to lock you in a steel box with the bare essentials, food and water, and then leave you there until you died. No more Hawkeye, no more Clint Barton, no more reminder that they fucked up. And they weren’t going to stop until the problem went away.”

Clint stops, then, because Tony’s voice had cracked a little around the edges on that speech. He pauses, scans over the pieces of Tony that he can read - the tight press of his lips, the slight tremble in his clenched fists. The anger drains away instantly and he feels cold right in the center of his chest, because some things are starting to make sense with that information.

“You let me leave,” he says.

“I let you leave,” Tony echoes. “Stupid decision, really. It’s a miracle no one connected the dots between Hawkeye and Ronin - you couldn't do subtle if it hit you with a brick - but I guess the sword threw them off.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” Tony says, scrubs a hand over his face. “Fuck, Clint. You’re one of us, even if you’re missing a few of your weird purple marbles. Like Wanda said, you’re part of the family and yeah, we fucked up. You fucked up too. Everyone fucked up. Stay here and we’ll continue to fuck up, but at least we’ll be together.”

Clint’s still staring at him. He honestly can’t find a single word right now to properly encompass the churning in his stomach. No one’s trying to lock him up or shove him into a corner because he’s depressed and unsettling. They’re not even asking him about the Ronin thing. They’re just… asking him to stay for a while and maybe not die at the hands of the authorities.

Because they want him, not because it’s a convenient place to shove him.

Clint’s so busy staring at the cluster of his former teammates that he doesn’t hear the elevator go off behind him. He has no clue there’s people behind him until fingers are curling on his hips and he’s being tugged back into Bucky’s familiar warmth. The real surprise comes when he realizes Sam Wilson is edging around them, carefully angling himself so Tony and Steve are blocked from view.

“You hurt?” Bucky’s voice is soft and careful, a thread of worry in it.

“I’m-” Clint can’t speak past the lump in his throat. He shakes his head instead, touches Bucky’s hands with his own. “I’m okay,” he gets out, finally.

“Okay,” Sam says. “Why are we out in the hallway with a security block then?”

“We’re asking Clint to stay,” Steve answers.

Sam turns back to Clint and there’s something in the analyzing look he gives that reminds Clint of someone else, a whole lifetime ago. “Don’t let them bully you into anything.”

“I won’t,” Clint says. “I mean- I’m not, I just-” He twists around so he can look at Bucky’s face, read the expression on his face. It’s a little wary, especially when his eyes flick over to Tony, but there’s also a glimmer of hope there. That answers the question there, then. Of course Bucky doesn’t want Clint to die, of course he wants him to stay, but he’s not going to ask for it.

He never asks Clint for anything, come to think of it.

Clint looks back at the others. Wanda, with her hand still pressed to the barrier that she could easily shatter if she wanted to. Steve, standing next to her with that worried-parent expression he puts on when he’s not sure if the situation is going to go sideways, trying to help even when he doesn't get it. Tony’s hands are still shaking, just enough that he can still see it, and if he saw everything that Clint thinks he saw, he gets why. Sam, who looks like he’d help Clint leave if he wanted to go.

Bucky.

He drops the sword.

Chapter Text

“Now that’s settled, I’m going to go tell SHIELD to fuck off,” Tony says matter-of-factly. “Not like I haven’t told them to do that a million times before, but it is extremely satisfying. We should probably head to the Compound after this, it’s easier to monitor.”

He turns and starts walking in the other direction and Steve pauses for a second, looks at them standing together and then follows. Clint watches them, because the part of his brain that remembers is waiting for the other shoe to drop still. Nothing happens, though. Steve and Tony disappear from view and he’s left with the realization that he must have missed them after all, if he agreed so easily.

“I should go tell SHIELD to get lost myself,” he mutters.

“Better to let them handle it,” Sam says. “They’re the two most stubborn bastards on the planet, and even worse as a united front. If anyone can bulldoze SHIELD, it’s them.”

“Thank you,” Bucky says, warm breath against his skin, and Clint leans back into him. He’s exhausted again, what the fuck. He wants to go back to bed. Maybe for a few thousand years, long enough that he doesn’t have to think about these idiots fighting SHIELD for custody of him.

“Wasn’t for you. ‘s for Nat,” Clint answers. It’s more honest than he means for it to be. As inept as Steve is with talking about the things that matter, he’s still thinking about what Natasha would say if she was standing here. She’d probably call him an idiot, call them all idiots. But they’re her family, and she’d want them all to be together, so Clint has to give them a second chance. It’s not like he was exactly helpful here either.

Fuck, he misses her.

“Still, can’t say I’m unhappy with the results,” Bucky replies, unbothered by Clint’s terrible explanation skills. “Is Wanda okay to move the barrier now?”

Clint realizes Wanda’s still standing there, waiting. Somewhere in the last few minutes Vision has appeared behind her, but she’s not moving at all. Waiting for his permission, apparently, and he appreciates her for that. He nods at her and the familiar red swirl of her magic appears, as she raises her hands to lift the barrier back into the ceiling panel it came from.

The noise is jarring and he’s very glad they’d waited until he knew what was going on.

Now there’s nothing barring her from getting closer, she takes a step forward, boots clacking on the tiles. She looks sad still, the flickers of red he always sees in her eyes glowing slightly. Clint’s aware that he’s dropped the fucking ball here - she might not have approached him once he’d been walking around, but he knows it wasn’t a ghost who wrapped blankets around him when he passed out on the floor.

He doesn’t feel any remorse for leaving Steve, but Wanda…

Wanda takes one more step closer and then stops. She doesn’t press into his space, just looks at him with a tiny spark of hope in her eyes. “Is touching out of the question?”

Normally if someone had asked that, it would be rhetorical. Or they’d ask it and then no matter what the answer was, they’d do what they wanted anyway. With her, it feels like she’s genuinely asking him, and if he says no it’s not a problem. She’d accept it, if he said no. She’s not even trying to push him into anything.

“Touching’s okay,” he answers hoarsely, closes the distance between them and gingerly puts his arms around her. She lets out a sigh that sounds distinctly relieved and her hands land on his waist, feather-light points of contact over his sweater. His chin ends up on her hair and she tucks herself against his chest, holds on.

It’s nice.

He feels a little alarmed by how much he likes it, glances back at Bucky. It must show on his face, but Bucky just smiles faintly at him, leans up against the wall.

“Vision cooks now,” Wanda says. “It’s very bad. You should come to our floor for dinner sometime, if you feel up to it.”

“Sometime, maybe,” Clint answers agreeably, is surprised to find that he means it. The nerves come back and he steps away, although as far as he could, and Wanda lets him go with a smile. He’s not sure if the expression on his own face is a smile exactly, but it’s getting there.

“The nurses have said you are free to go upstairs as long as you come back for testing when they require it,” Vision says. “Your rooms are untouched, exactly as you left them.”

Clint feels a chill - remembers cold tiles and time turning into something dark and meaningless, smearing blood on the wall because he can’t stop picking at the black stitches carving a line up his body. Remembers hazily discovering SHIELD was drugging his food, locking him in his rooms with pamphlets about loss that were so condescending he shredded them on principle.

“He’s staying with me,” Bucky says, interrupting the swarm of memories.

Clint blinks and then relaxes marginally. He manages to turn towards Bucky, offer something that feels close enough to a smirk. Always with Bucky coming to the rescue. For someone who can’t accept the idea that people think he’s a good guy, he does a lot of remarkably good things. “You’re getting bossy again, baby.”

“Someone needs to be,” Bucky answers, reaches out to tangle their fingers together. Clint holds on a little tighter than necessary, the only thank you he’s willing to give in front of this many people, especially people he doesn’t really trust anymore.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Sam comments.

“Good,” Bucky replies, eyes still focused on Clint. “I’ve got all your dumb shows on DVD.”

“Yeah?” Clint’s oddly taken by that admission. It’s not like he’d ever planned to come here, which means that Bucky had just gotten them all on his own and kept them here - for what? Just because he’d been interested in things that Clint is interested in? Bucky is so weird. Clint wants to keep him for the rest of forever, and even after that.

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees, starts gently leading him towards the elevator. “You got anything you need brought here, if you’re gonna stay?”

“I didn’t really carry anything around,” Clint says, leans into Bucky’s side. “Made it hard when I was on the road. The only place I really stopped was at yours, and that was - that was about it, honestly.”

“That ain’t exactly heartwarming to hear,” Bucky comments, taps a button. The elevator starts moving and Clint tries to focus on Bucky’s hand in his, rather than the memories he’s got of this place. It’s not as bad as he’s expecting it to be. Maybe time does heal wounds, in some ways. It helps that he’s not being herded by SHIELD agents or recovering from nearly getting carved in half.

“Means I like you, though,” Clint offers tentatively.

He has no idea what’s going to happen next, but this is a little less rocky than if he was running around in the streets or if he was being shipped off to the Raft. They probably hadn’t meant to give him the bonus of spending time with Bucky when they’d asked him to stay, but it works. Clint’s taking it as a win, over the dreadful concept of having to spend time with the others.

He likes Sam, though. Sam can stay.

“You want to sit down? ‘s been a hard couple of hours,” Bucky says. “I’m sorry I fell for Tony’s trap.”

“He’s been doing that for years,” Clint answers as he walks into the hallway, glances around. “It was probably better this way. You’re cute, don’t get me wrong, but I like fighting my own battles most of the time.”

“Alright,” Bucky says, not even slightly offended. “Are you allowed coffee?”

“Yes. Absolutely I am. Please give me the definitely allowed and very important coffee.”

“You know what? I changed my mind, you can have juice.”

“Aw, Bucky.”

Bucky pulls him over to the bed, nudges him onto the plain black sheets. Clint’s still looking around, noticing how empty the place is. The apartment had been the same, but he’d thought that was because Bucky didn’t live there. This is where he stays when he isn’t chasing Clint around and it’s strange, seeing the blank walls and lack of- well, anything, really. There’s a stack of guns in the corner.

“Is this going to be okay?”

“It was going to happen sooner or later,” Clint says. “You wanna hole up in here and ignore the world for a while with me?”

“If that’s what you need,” Bucky answers easily, settles on the bed next to him and pulls Clint up against his chest. Technically he’s smaller than Clint is by more than a few inches, but he’s good at wrapping himself around Clint like a shawl and Clint’s more than happy to let him. Bucky is warm and solid and grounding, and he hasn’t had enough of that in the last few years. “You gonna be okay here with me? I thought it’d be better than the alternative, is all.”

“It’s a lot better,” Clint replies, curls his fingers over Bucky’s wrist. “I want to thank you but you’ve done so much that I don’t think I could physically reach the level of gratitude it’d require.”

“Make it up to me by looking after yourself properly,” Bucky mutters against the back of his neck. “Even better, let me help instead of strugglin’ all on your own.”

“’m here still, aren’t I?” Clint sighs, shifts back into Bucky a little more securely. “We’ll make it work. I can - I want to make it work. What you said, about wanting me more than what we actually do together, I’m - aw, feelings, come on - it’s the same? For me?”

“That’s probably the worst confession I’ve ever heard - that I can remember, anyway,” Bucky says, but there’s laughter in the way he says it. “I appreciate it.”

“Anything for you, baby,” Clint mumbles, and he means it this time. He’s probably meant it all along but here in Bucky’s room it feels more real than before, more final.

 

Clint edges onto the common floor.

It’d be a mistake to call it casual or even just normal walking, because it certainly isn’t. He’s walking like he’s going to be shot down at any minute and it’s a very real possibility, knowing the kind of weapons Stark keeps around. Then again, he’s not sure that Tony had hit him at the Hydra base on purpose. He’s starting to think it might have been a defensive reflex and not actually an attack on him personally.

“Clint,” a voice says and he jumps half a mile in the air. His hands go to the pocket of the too-tight jeans he’s wearing to grab for a knife he doesn’t have and then he registers the voice is just Vision, floating a few feet off the ground in the kitchen. “Would you like a bagel?”

“Fuck, wear a goddamn bell,” Clint mutters.

He’s regretting this already. Promising himself that he’d try to show his face to the Avengers every now and then and actually doing it are two entirely different things. He wants to go back to Bucky’s couch and find an episode of something dumb to watch. He wants to cling to Bucky like a terrified child at an amusement park - none of things are what he’s going to do, though, because he’s an adult and he can do adult things like seeing the faces of these people.

Vision isn’t technically a person, though, and Clint’s doubting that he knows how to process death like people do anyway, so he gets a very small pass.

He hopes FRIDAY tells Bucky where he is. He’d decided to sack up and show his face when Bucky was going to see Tony about something to do with his arm, and he doesn’t want the guy to think he’s just vanished into the streets without a goodbye. Clint hadn’t even been able to do that the first time he’d left Bucky.

“No bagel. Coffee?”

Vision pulls a mug out from the cupboards and makes his way over to the ridiculously expensive coffee machine. Clint slouches into a stool by the counter and tries not to think about how his knee still hurts. It better not be permanent or he’s probably going to cry. It takes him a minute to notice that the mug is his, a chipped grey thing with a chicken doodled on the side.

Vision passes it over and Clint blinks down at it for a few minutes, feels the memories tug at him. They aren’t bad memories, though, for the first time in a very long time.

The chip on the handle had been because of a water gun fight they’d had. Clint had been having is morning coffee in his underwear, blissfully unaware of the chaos going on around him until Wanda had tossed a water pistol at his face and he’d caught it on instinct. Natasha had used him as cover for most of the fight. Steve had nearly jumped out the window trying to dodge the shots.

He sighs into the mug and then swallows the lot in one go.

“I’m not sure what the protocol for this is,” Vision tells him.

He looks awkward and Clint can’t quite stifle his snort. Poor Vision. He hadn’t signed up for this - then again, Vision didn’t even sign up for being brought to life, so who knows what goes on in that head. Maybe binary code. Clint should probably accept that bagel so that he stops making that uncomfortable face.

“Morning, Vision,” Steve says from behind him and Clint flinches, swivels to the side as fast as he can without falling off the stool altogether.

Steve is dressed in his Captain America suit, although the helmet is missing from the ensemble. Clint’s gaze flicks quickly over the blue material, scans for weapons even though Steve doesn’t need anything but the shield. There’s no way Clint’s knowingly having his back to the man.

Whatever relaxation Clint had collected from lazing around with Bucky is draining rapidly and that bagel is looking like a lost cause. He wants to get out of here.

“Wait,” Steve says as he’s getting up, making an aborted move with his hand like he was about to put his hand on Clint’s shoulder. Clint winces. “I wanted to talk to you. I need to apologize. Properly.”

He’s not ready for this shit. Hell, he woke up five separate times in a panic because his brain was convinced someone was going to sedate him. It’s a small miracle that Bucky is so understanding about it. Clint’s pretty sure that anyone else would’ve made him sleep on the couch instead. “Steve, look. I’m not- it’s too early for-”

“I made a horrible mistake,” Steve interrupts. “I was desperate to help and when SHIELD said they were trying to stop you from hurting yourself I jumped into it without asking you what you wanted. It was wrong.”

“Steve, I don’t want to-”

“I should’ve known better, but we were all thrown by what happened to Natasha,” he continues. Clint’s skin is itching. He needs to go, his hands are clenching uselessly, wishing for his sword and knowing there’s no way he’ll be able to fight something to get rid of the sick rolling in his stomach. Steve’s still talking. He should probably listen to what the guy has to say, but he can’t.

An alarm goes off.

It’s so piercing and sudden that Clint blinks and suddenly he’s backed up into the wall in the kitchen, knife gripped tight in his hand. The adrenaline’s hitting him like a brick wall and his breath’s coming in short bursts. Fuck. Is SHIELD coming for him? Is someone else? He hadn’t gotten rid of Ivan, oh god, why hadn’t he done something about-

 

“-int, Clint, it’s just me, hey,” Bucky says, and the cold metal fingers pressing into his cheek makes him stop, take a long breath.

The alarm’s been shut off but his ears are still ringing. Bucky’s eyes are wide and dark, filled with worry as he thumbs at Clint’s hairline. When the hell had he gotten here? That’s not good. Clint swallows hard and makes his twitching fingers drop the knife. It makes a clattering noise that’s loud in the otherwise silent room, and Clint sags against the hand on his face. It holds him up pretty well, surprisingly.

“That fuckin’ thing needs to be turned down,” Bucky mutters, cups Clint’s face with the other hand as well. It’s partially covered with a leather glove. “You with me now?”

“You’re wearing the sexy suit, baby,” Clint answers weakly, which succeeds at making Bucky’s worried face a little less sad.

He is wearing the sexy suit though, and Clint trails faintly trembling hands down the straps and grooves. He’s gotta hand it to Hydra, they might be evil as hell, but their fashion designers have taste. If Clint wasn’t vibrating with anxiety he’d show Bucky exactly how much he enjoys the aesthetic. He doesn’t think Bucky liked him in black as much - Bucky tends to go soft and pleased when Clint picks up an ugly sweater more than anything else.

Wait, if he’s wearing the combat suit, then- “You need to go somewhere?”

Bucky looks pained, glances back at Steve. Fuck, Steve had witnessed that whole thing. It’s not exactly the kind of thing he wants Captain America seeing, even if there’s been worse breakdowns in the past. He doesn’t want to give Steve even the slightest inclination to try and help again. At least it had stopped his apology speech in its tracks.

“That’s what the alert was for. I’ve got the easy access into Hydra bases,” Bucky says with a conflicted expression. “I could get someone else to…”

It’s clear that they need him for this, though. Clint ignores the urge to grab him and never let go. His heart’s still rattling off-beat in his ribcage and the desire to break out is getting louder and louder in his skull. He’s ready to offer a weak smile and then pace rapidly around the hallways until he passes out, though, because he refuses to cause any problems for Bucky. He’s fine. He will be fine.

The words are in his throat and then he’s interrupted by Bucky turning to get out of Sam’s way. Sam grabs a carton of juice and upends the whole thing into his mouth. It’s so far from the stress that everyone else seems to have that it’s oddly comforting.

Bucky’s rolling his eyes. “You’re disgusting.”

“You’re disgusting,” Sam retorts, putting the carton back in the fridge. He’s in a baggy sweater and beige shorts, and he grabs a water bottle instead as he closes the door. “Barton. You want to go down to the gym? It’d be nice to have someone who isn’t enhanced and a bastard.”

Clint blinks. “You’re not going with them?”

“Nah,” Sam replies easily, leans back against the counter. “I can only put up with them for so long before I need a break. You coming?”

It’s unexpected, for sure. Clint’s not sure what Sam’s angle is with this - with anything to do with him, honestly, but it feels like a genuine request. Burning off some of the anxiety would help. It’s not the same as running down the mob, but it’s still exercise. It’s probably his best option right now, so he pushes off from the counter and tries to remember what moving feels like.

Bucky’s still looking worried. “I can stay if you need me. It’s not th-”

“Shh,” Clint says softly, lets the fondness bleed into his voice as he leans in for a kiss. “Go be a hero. Show Hydra what that flat ass do.”

“The fuck,” Bucky answers as he shakes his head, but he’s smiling.

“You know the point of an alarm is that you’re supposed to get to the place fast, right?”

“Shut up, Wilson. I’ll see you later,” Bucky says to him. “Okay?

“Later,” Clint repeats. “I’ll be here.”

Bucky does that pleased face that he does and Clint loves it, he loves it so much that it feels like his chest is cracking at the edges. He drops another kiss against Bucky’s lips and takes a step back when it doesn’t look like Bucky is going to move. It’s easier than it normally is, probably because he knows it’s not going to be the last time.

“Buck, we gotta get going,” Steve says.

“Shit,” Bucky answers distractedly. “Okay. Let’s go.”

Sam’s already started walking to the elevator, so after one last glance at Bucky in the suit, Clint follows.

 

“Is this allowed?”

“Don’t see why not,” Sam answers with a shrug, sets the case down on the shelf, open so that Clint can see the contents. “Just if you want to, though. No pressure.”

He walks over to a treadmill, apparently happy to turn his back to Clint. Clint can’t possibly fathom why he’s earned that kind of trust so he doesn’t question it, just turns back to the case. It’s gleaming dully in the lighting, in remarkably good condition despite the dust. He glances up at where he knows the surveillance cameras are, looks back down at the case.

Well, when in Rome.

He takes the bow.

The range starts setting up automatically, the AI apparently deciding that if there’s one Clint Barton and one bow that there must also be targets. Clint was still deliberating over whether to use the thing but it doesn’t look like FRIDAY is giving him a choice. Probably for the best. He checks it over and then takes a look at the arrows inside the case.

“Stop stalling,” he mutters to himself, takes one without any attachments or extras.

He’s vaguely aware of Sam running near him but he pushes it out of his mind. It’s oddly grounding, the solid weight of the bow in his hand, so different from the sword but painfully familiar all the same. It feels right in a way that Clint hasn’t felt for years, and already the anxiety from earlier is fading down to a low buzz.

It’s okay.

He breathes, falls into position as easy as he had before all of this. The first target is easy, just a simple thing with a bullseye in the center. Clint would be insulted about how easy the shot is, if he wasn’t also terrified that he’s going to fuck up and miss. He’s not going to, but the idea that he could is still lingering on the edges of his mind.

“You’re not obligated to forgive them, you know,” Sam says.

“I haven’t forgiven them,” Clint replies, carefully draws the arrow back and lines it up with a target. He keeps his eyes fixed on the bullseye even though he’s aware he could make this shot blindfolded and upside down. “I’m just… giving them another chance. Giving myself a second chance, too.”

He exhales, releases and the arrow thunks perfectly into the center.

“Also,” he adds, glancing at Sam’s frowning face, “Bucky’s here, and if I’m giving up on the Ronin thing, I want to spend my time with him instead.”

If I’m giving up the Ronin thing. What the hell is he doing? It’s been a couple of weeks and he’s already itching to do something. How is he supposed to handle doing this for a prolonged amount of time without going insane? Clint doesn’t miss the blood or the pain or the death, but he’s missing the adrenaline rush and the feeling of actually doing something.

“You seem more upset about Natasha than you are about the way they treated you,” Sam notes.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees, because it’s true. “Natasha died. I’m still here.”

He doesn’t bring up the other stuff he’s thinking. That he’s not worth the time, and clearly the others had thought so too. He’d guessed that, after everything that had happened, but now he’s thinking maybe they’d just been caught up in their own brains. It doesn’t make it better. He gets it, though. Dealing with death is hard.

…he’s still thinking about it in terms of Natasha and not what happened to him.

“Exactly. You’re still here,” Sam says.

“I’m still here,” Clint agrees, doesn’t know whether to be sad about it or not. He doesn’t feel one way or the other, really. He’s just here, and that’s how it is.

He’s got to get his shit together.

They lapse into silence, the only noise being the arrows hitting their targets over and over and Sam’s feet hitting the treadmill. Clint drifts in his own thoughts, manages to find some sort of peace in using the bow again. It’s not his favourite - that one’s with Kate - but it works well enough for practice, and for thinking about where he’s going to go from here.

“Bucky said you worked with veterans,” he says.

“Yeah,” Sam answers. “Down at the VA in Washington DC. I just started volunteering at the one downtown instead, now I’m here for good. I like doing it, helping people. It’s why I got roped into supersoldier crap - didn’t have the common sense to turn them down when there was people who needed help.”

Clint breathes, draws back and shoots. “And they - what, sit in a circle and talk about the shit they’ve seen?”

“Sometimes,” Sam says. “It’s whatever they want it to be, really. We’re all just trying to get through each day at a time, and sometimes it’s easier to do it with people who get it. It’s hard to come back from the things they’ve seen, but they’re trying anyway.”

“Huh,” Clint answers, reaches for another arrow. “And it’s just for people who’ve been in wars, right?

“Armed Forces, but it’s not like there’s a support group for ex-Avengers.” Sam presses a button, steps off of the treadmill to where he’s left his water bottle. Clint tracks him in his peripheral vision as he shoots again. “I’m guessing that’s why you’re asking about it, not because you’re interested in my life.”

“I am interested,” Clint protests, but he doesn’t make eye contact. “I just. I don’t know. I think I’m ready to try and dig out of this fucking hole I’m in? I just don’t know where to start.”

It’s more than he’d meant to say out loud, but Sam doesn’t mock him for it. Clint glances back as he reaches for another arrow, catches Sam watching him. The look on his face is fairly neutral and he doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a very very bad thing, in this situation. Sam Wilson is hard to get a read on. He’s pretty sure Natasha had liked the man, though.

“I’m going next Tuesday,” Sam offers. “I can swing past Bucky’s rooms and see if you’re up to coming along. You don’t have to say anything. A lot of people just listen, the first few times.”

“Am I allowed to leave?”

“I mean, we’ve got to go out the back way - maybe wear a cap or something, I don’t know how that always works - but yeah, you can go where you want. It’s not exactly safe, but you’re not a prisoner.”

Clint takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out. Right. He can go where he wants to go, this isn’t a trap or a trick or anything that’s going to end up with him locked up. His brain is having trouble associating that freedom with being in the Tower, but it’s okay. This is fine. If he wants to go to the VA with Sam and lurk in the corner listening to other people’s problems, he’s allowed.

“Sure,” he says. “We can - we can do that.”

 

 

"Hey, where did you get my spare hearing aids from? I thought I left them at my apartment,” Clint asks, reaches a hand up to touch the left one.

Bucky tips his head to the side curiously, passes a chocolate biscuit over to him. Clint shoves the whole thing in his mouth in one go and waits for Bucky's reply. “Don’t know. I fell asleep in the chair and when I woke up they were sitting there. I guessed it was probably Stark.”

“Tony doesn’t know where my apartment is,” Clint says doubtfully.

Come to think of it, no one knows where his apartment is except for Kate, who’s in California, and the tenants of the building. None of them would’ve gotten into Stark Tower, especially the medical ward, without extensive screening. Bucky would’ve definitely noticed them.

…no, it couldn’t be.

Chapter Text

“So I just went all the way to the cake store and back without panicking or fighting anybody,” Clint announces as he walks into the lounge room, throws his hat at a lamp. "Don't know why I volunteered to go design Vision's birthday cake when he doesn't even eat cake, but I did it."

Bucky turns around with two glasses of wine in his hand. “Congratulations.”

Clint takes one look at his faint smirk and frowns, although he takes the wine when it’s offered to him. Bucky tucks his free fingers into Clint’s pants pocket and tugs him a little closer, eyes bright with amusement and affection. He’s changed into different clothes since Clint last saw him today, a soft sweater that’s pushed up to his elbows and black boxers. Even with the casual look it feels like Bucky's playing up to Clint's tastes.

“I missed you, baby," Clint says.

“I might’ve missed you too,” Bucky says as he leans in for a kiss. It’s soft and hot and lazy, and Clint feels it melt right down in his bones, immediately forgets about the wine in favour of pressing closer. The wine is more for Bucky’s benefit anyway - Clint drinks whatever comes along because his tastebuds are pretty fried. He doesn’t drop the glass entirely, but it’s a close call.

“You’re doing great, sweetheart,” Bucky adds when they come up for air. “Didn't even take a weapon. We're all proud of you.”

“You have too much faith in me,” Clint mutters. “Anyway, you’re biased.”

“I might be a little biased,” Bucky agrees easily, takes the wine back and sets it down on the counter with his own glass. The expression on his face is dark and a little amused, and Clint has to cup his jaw with one hand and kiss him again. It still blindsides him how safe he feels here, in Bucky’s space, with Bucky - Bucky, who saw the blood and trauma and chaos first and still decided Clint was something he wanted.

“Come to bed,” Bucky says, tugs at his pants again. Clint lets him lead right up until they get close enough to a wall and then he presses Bucky up against it as gently as he can. Bucky’s other hand curls over Clint’s side warmly, slips down to his hip and holds on. He doesn’t need to - there’s no way Clint would ever want to be anywhere else other than right here in this exact spot.

His knee ends up pressed between Bucky’s legs, not high enough to make a real difference but enough that he feels Bucky’s breath hitch against his mouth. Clint refrains from smirking, rubs his fingers down worn cotton and presses a line of kisses from the corner of Bucky’s mouth down to his jaw - god, that fucking jawline - and nips hard at his neck. Bucky arches up against him and gasps, the hand on Clint’s hip slipping underneath the waistband of his pants and squeezing.

“Shit, yeah,” Clint breathes through the rush of sensation. “Keep touching me, c’mon.”

“I said bed,” Bucky orders half-heartedly, pulls his hands away and shoves at him with nowhere near the amount of force he could use if he really wanted to.

Clint takes a step back obediently and lets Bucky free, takes in the way he’s breathing a little faster. The boxers Bucky is wearing are nowhere near loose enough to hide his half-hard cock and Clint licks his lips at the sight. Shit, that’s unfairly hot. How does Bucky expect him to do anything coherently when he looks like that?

“We could always do it on the floor,” Clint says, mostly joking but also not really joking at all. He’d absolutely have sex in the hallway. He’d have sex in a dumpster if it was with Bucky.

“No,” Bucky says, pokes him in the direction of their bedroom. Clint sighs dramatically and starts walking. “Your adventurous sex life with water slides and circus tents ends with me, sweetheart, come on. You’re going to hurt your knee again.”

“Don’t remind me that I’m old,” Clint retorts, peels his shirt off and tosses it to the floor, refrains from snickering when he hears Bucky sigh and pick it up. His jeans go in much the same manner and then Clint turns around, falls back onto the mattress as Bucky folds his clothes and sets them on a chair.

“I’m a hundred fuckin’ years old,” Bucky answers easily when he steps into the space between Clint’s knees. Clint immediately gets his fingers on the sliver of skin between Bucky’s sweater and his underwear, traces over a scar. “We can be old together, stop sulking.”

“You haven’t aged, that’s bullshit,” Clint says, tips his head back obligingly when Bucky leans down and presses a light kiss against a bullet scar on his collarbone. “You’re a cheater.”

“And you’re a pain in the ass,” Bucky replies as he pushes Clint down against the sheets, more gentle than he needs to be. They’re normally - not rough exactly, but Clint’s brain still thinks he’s on the run sometimes, is still half-convinced that the little space he’s managed to carve for himself is all going to be snatched away from him. It ends up a little fast and frantic, most of the time.

Letting Bucky take control is easier than it should be, but the anxiety still starts flickering in the space under his ribs. Clint feels untethered and unsure about this even though he trusts Bucky, and Bucky must notice because he finishes removing his clothes and gets on the bed between Clint’s spread legs and leans over him. The weight is oddly grounding and then Bucky’s kissing him again, slow and sweet, one hand braced on the bed and the other tracing over a nipple.

Clint wants to ask why he’s being so gentle but then Bucky might stop and even with the anxiety he doesn’t want that, not even a little. He distracts himself with kissing back, resisting the urge to flip them over and instead letting Bucky do what he wants.

Bucky draws back after a while - Clint’s not sure how long it’s been, but a whine slips out his lips when Bucky pushes up into a sitting position, too far for Clint to reach from here. He’s smiling so hard that it’s contagious, gets Clint smiling back at him helplessly even through the faint confusion.

“What’s that look for?”

“Didn’t know I could have something like this,” Bucky replies softly, fingers dragging down Clint’s stomach. His fingers hit the edge of the biggest scar, drifting across the warped skin with far more care than Clint’s ever used with it. “Pretty glad I can, though.”

Well.

“You don’t have to make it serious,” Clint murmurs.

“What if I want to?”

Clint doesn’t know how to react to that, what to say that isn't stupid or embarrassing, so he ignores the steadily-growing lump in his chest and reaches down to fit his fingers around Bucky’s dick. He hears Bucky’s breath catch and it’s gorgeous, absolutely brilliant that he gets to have this. Clint gets what Bucky means.

Bucky shifts on the mattress, pushes one of Clint’s thighs further apart and shift closer. Clint keeps pumping him slowly, looks down the bed and drinks in the sight of Bucky’s cock slipping through his fingers. He keeps going until Bucky’s muscles are clenching and his hips are jerking sporadically into Clint’s grip, until he reaches down and pulls Clint’s hand away to press it against the sheets instead.

“What?”

Bucky doesn’t answer for a moment, more interested in kissing Clint again. It’s a little more heated than it had been before, lighting up nerves in Clint’s spine and dick and even down to his goddamn toes. When Bucky pulls back the black of his pupils are swallowing up the blue and he’s still holding Clint down easy as anything. It's so hot.

“I want to take care of you,” Bucky says finally. “Let me?”

“If I have to,” Clint answers with amusement, because he’s never done anything the easy way in his life. He tries to ignore the way Bucky’s expression goes fond and soft because it does too many things to his chest. God, he wants to keep this man for the rest of his life.

“Don’t be a brat,” Bucky replies, gets him to roll over. “I’m tryin’ to reward you for doing something that I know scared you, sweetheart. I’m proud.”

Clint’s heart tries to escape the trap of his ribs and his breath gets a little shaky. He’s distracted from the slam of emotions by being guided up onto his knees, thighs gently shoved apart. It’s vulnerable, and he has to marvel at the fact that it doesn’t make him want to immediately escape.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting from this, but the press of Bucky’s lips to his spine makes him sigh out a breath. It’s surprisingly soft compared to how hard Bucky had looked, and Clint fights the urge to just turn into a puddle of warm goo as Bucky continues dropping kisses on every inch of skin he can reach, running one hand up and down Clint’s thigh.

“This okay?”

How could he not be okay with this? Clint just looks over his shoulder and fixes Bucky with a look that is meant to be no-nonsense, the kind of come on look Natasha used to use, probably just comes off as a little desperate. Bucky stays where he is until Clint gives a jerky nod and then leans down to press his lips against the base of Clint’s spine, nips gently at the skin. His fingers are wet when they trail along Clint’s dick, slip down to his hole.

Bucky fingers him so slowly that it’s quite possible he goes insane during it. With the position he’s in, Clint can’t do much more than take it, try and shift back against Bucky’s fingers as they curl inside him. It’s less of the chaotic mess they have normally, something different, something that builds up so easy that he doesn’t even think about how turned on he is until Bucky removes his fingers and Clint makes a bereft noise against the pillow he’s buried his face in.

There’s a pause, too long for Clint’s already frayed nerves. “Please.

“I’ve got you,” Bucky says, lips and stubble brushing against already oversensitive skin.

The mattress shifts and Bucky reaches for the box they keep next to the lamp. Clint catches his wrist without thinking, stops him from getting the condom. He can feel his face heat up when a questioning look is directed at him, shoves down the urge to smother himself with a pillow. It’s embarrassing. Bucky’s starting to look concerned and Clint feels immediately guilty, but it’s not bad enough to make him let go. He turns away, presses his face into the sheets again.

“Could we just- uh. Could we do it without?”

Bucky’s hand drops down to the sheet instead of reaching for the box. Clint’s immensely glad that he can’t see the look on Bucky’s face anymore. Fuck, he’s embarrassing. “What’s brought this on?”

“The nurses tested me for everything. Like five times, too,” Clint answers, a thread of desperation slipping into his voice. “I’m fine, you’re fine, c’mon.”

There’s a beat of silence, too long for Clint’s heart beating fast in his chest. Then Bucky’s hand smooths down the tense muscles of his back, stops at his ass and lets it rest there, heavy warmth against Clint’s skin. “You want it,” he says, and the way he says it makes Clint’s entire body flood with heat.

“I just want to feel you,” Clint bites out through the swarm of embarrassment.

“Anything you want. Anything,” Bucky says softly. “I think that’s the first time you’ve properly asked me for something.”

Clint’s a little embarrassed by this whole thing still, so he doesn’t answer and instead presses his face into the pillow harder. He still hears Bucky’s soft huff of amusement, resists the urge to get demanding. Part of him wants to start begging for something, for anything, for Bucky to peel back his skin and climb inside.

“Please,” he says instead, muffled by the cotton against his mouth.

Thankfully, Bucky doesn’t seem interested in actively teasing him. Or at least, not enough that Clint moves, because he’s about to roll over and start pleading when he feels the blunt press of Bucky’s cock against his ass, heated skin dragging up and down briefly before he starts pushing in. Clint stops breathing for a few seconds as Bucky draws back a little, thrusts slow but relentless.

He pauses once he’s all the way in, presses his lips to the tense line of Clint’s back and Clint can’t help moaning against the pillow. He feels so full - of Bucky’s dick, of his own feelings, of Bucky’s. It feels different from usual and he clenches his hands in the sheets hard enough that his hands ache a little.

“You feel so good,” Bucky murmurs. “Take it so good for me.”

“Just for you, baby,” Clint mumbles through the warm haze drifting in his skull, shifts back against Bucky and exhales hard as the cock inside him moves. He can feel how hard Bucky is and it’s blissfully hot, sparks of pleasure flickering up his body as Bucky rocks his hips, settles into a pace that’s still that torturously good kind of slow.

They’ve broken the headboard of the bed more than once - a couple of chairs and once, memorably, the microwave - but this isn’t rough enough for that. It’s painfully gentle and all Clint can feel is Bucky surrounding him, inside and out, and despite the overwhelmingly easy pace it’s all Clint can do to hold on for the ride.

“Hey,” Bucky says to him, all soft and fond like he’s not driving Clint out of his mind. “Hey, I love you, Clint, you know that?”

All the oxygen in the room seems to disappear all at once and Clint’s breath catches in his lungs, every muscle in his body winding up tight. He barely even notices that he’s coming, registers it in a far-off sort of way as he tries to breathe and ends up shaking instead. Bucky stops for a second and Clint’s just raw, has to grab at whatever part of Bucky he can reach.

He makes a pleading noise into the pillow and Bucky must get it, because he starts moving again. Clint’s brain has too much static in it to properly process anything and yet he’s replaying Bucky’s words over and over again in his mind until the words start overlapping into incoherent, too-fast nonsense.

Bucky loves him.

Clint’s next breath comes out wet-sounding and Bucky rubs a hand down his side, keeps talking. Clint doesn’t entirely comprehend what he actually says, too distracted with staying relatively upright and Bucky said I love you, how did he get here?

He’s vaguely aware of Bucky’s pace stuttering and stopping but his brain’s left the building. It’s all he can do to roll a little, drop onto his side and try to breathe when Bucky tries to shift him.

“We need to do that more often,” Bucky says decisively, twists so he’s facing Clint. “I ain’t an expert, but- Clint?”

“’m fine,” he gets out.

“Shit,” Bucky says and Clint scrubs at his face roughly, dismayed. Fuck, that’s embarrassing - hell, Bucky’s probably embarrassed too, why does he have to be like this - and Clint considers just going and burying himself in the old Barton Farm funeral plot. (It’s not a real burial ground, it’s just a corner in a field where they’d stick all the animals that died, but that’s all Clint deserves anyway.) Normal people don’t start crying during sex.

He’s expecting awkwardness, maybe Bucky leaving as the worst-case scenario. He probably deserves it for ruining the moment. Instead he gets gentle fingers brushing over his cheeks, wiping away some of the wetness. It’s just as gentle as everything else Bucky’s done and the tears choke him up again, and this time Bucky doesn’t let him hide, touches his jaw softly.

Typical goddamn Bucky Barnes.

“You okay?”

Clint sniffs hard, tries to shove the mess of feelings back into their box. It doesn’t work. “No.”

“You want some space? I can go, if you need-” Bucky starts, always the fucking gentleman, and Clint grabs him hard enough to hurt, holds on tight. “Alright, alright, I ain’t leaving.”

Clint’s cried a lot since Natasha - since everything, really, but for the first time in a long few years he presses his face into Bucky’s chest and actually lets it out. It’s messy and terrible, and he’s got come sliding down his thigh but Bucky just brushes his fingers through Clint’s hair and stays.

“Guess I shouldn’t mention the presents then, huh,” Bucky says. “Or that your dog’s on his way home.”

Clint loves him so damn much that he nearly starts crying again.

 

"Fucking wind," Clint mutters to himself, tries to settle his jacket more firmly on his shoulders with his hands full.

He finds Bucky up on the roof, feet dangling off the edge.

It’s something that’s caught on from Clint doing it himself lately, and he can’t help smiling as he sits down next to Bucky, hands over the cup with the chai latte in it. He keeps the still-steaming coffee for himself, pops off the cap so the steam wafts out into the air. It’s warm on his fingers, the rest of the heat blocked by the fingerless gloves he’s stolen from Bucky’s wardrobe.

“Therapy go okay?”

“Mhm,” Clint answers. “I like Anne. Although she told me I was an idiot for still feeling bad when Steve touches me and I flinch.”

“You’re always an idiot,” Bucky says, taps metal fingers against his knee. “You think you’re gonna keep her?”

Clint sighs, tips his head to look up at the sky. “Fifth time’s the charm, right? I don’t know, she gives it to me straight. It’s a change from the patronizing speeches and the horrified stares. No bullshit.” He barely remembers the first SHIELD therapist, and they didn’t let him switch if he was uncomfortable. Sam encourages it, weirdly enough, and Tony produces therapists from thin air at his request.

They sit there for a minute in silence, the birds and the wind filling the gaps where they don’t talk. It’s comfortable and Clint’s still a little bewildered about the fact that he’s here of all places and he’s okay - or at least, on his way to okay. It’s strange to think a few months ago he was afraid to even sleep for an extended period of time. He shuffles a little closer and Bucky lifts his arm, wraps his fingers around Clint’s shoulder.

“Don’t worry about the Steve thing,” Bucky adds. “He understands, even if he forgets that personal space is a thing people have.”

“I think it’s going to take me a while,” Clint admits, presses his fingertips into his forehead. “I know that SHIELD bullshitted him and lied their way into making him think it was the right thing to do. He just thought he was helping. But- it’s still hard to forget, even if he is sorry.”

“This is what your therapist is trying to tell you,” Bucky says, lifts the cup to his lips. Clint leans into him and enjoys the warmth. “It’s fine, whatever you need is fine. You’re allowed to take time with this.”

“I guess,” Clint says noncommittally. He’s trying. “You should give him access to your floor again, though.”

“It’s your place too,” Bucky answers. “I ain’t doing that to you. He can stay out forever - it’s not like I don’t see him every damn day anyway. They’d have to surgically remove him.”

Clint doesn’t have an answer to that, because he’s having emotions again. It’s not like he doesn’t have them every time Bucky says something nice, but he hasn’t gotten used to it yet. He probably won’t ever get used to it. Steve and Bucky have been friends for like a hundred years, and yet Bucky still treats Clint like he’s just as important.

“No one would pick me over Steve Rogers,” he says doubtfully, turns and looks at Bucky’s ridiculously beautiful face. “He’s better than me at like… everything.”

Bucky smiles and it makes Clint’s chest hurt. “You’re prettier than he is.”

“Bucky.”

Clint can’t help smiling when Bucky starts laughing at him. Fucking dork. Clint’s so completely gone for him, and it doesn’t make it worth all the shit he’s gone through but it’s pretty damn good anyway. He’s going to buy Bucky as many Starbucks drinks as the guy wants. More, even. Bucky’s fingers tap against his shoulder gently and then slip down his left arm, stop at the elbow.

“Does it hurt?”

“Naw,” Clint answers, glancing at the healing hourglass on the inside of his arm, glaringly red against the older grey and green. “Wait ‘til it starts peeling, you’re gonna end up with flakes in the bed.”

“You’re disgusting,” Bucky informs him.

“Natasha used to tell me that as well,” Clint says absently. “Guess if you both think it, it must be true.”

They fall into silence again, looking at the tattoo. Apparently Bucky’s skin won’t take any ink, which means Clint gets the art collection instead. The hourglass is the first one he’s gotten done in a professional parlour, though. It had been surprisingly nice. He wonders if Natasha would’ve liked it. She’d have pretended to hate it on the principle of it being a public display of affection.

“I remember shooting her once,” Bucky says ruefully. “She wasn’t too impressed, I don’t think. You think she’d be okay with- with this?”

The with me? goes without saying and Clint leans into him more solidly. There’s no reason for Bucky to be insecure about anything.

“You are infinitely better than the other people I’ve dated over the years,” Clint answers honestly. “And you’re sassy as hell. She’d make fun of you, sure, and she’d act like you personally slighted her for existing if she was in a bad mood, but she’d like you, for sure. No doubt.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Bucky says, and Clint can’t quite stop the grin that takes over his face.

“Barton.”

Clint flinches and Bucky holds onto him easily, turns his head towards the voice. He knows who it is without looking, and even if he’s a little disgruntled about the interruption, he’s got no immediate reason to be mean, so he tilts his head to the side as well. Tony’s in a faded band t-shirt and jeans instead of a suit, which is rare enough nowadays that Clint shuffles sideways so he’s facing him instead.

“Kinda busy, Stark,” he says.

“Your date can wait, you’ve got all night. I’ve got something to show you,” Tony replies, tips his head towards the elevator. “C’mon.”

“What is it?”

Tony doesn’t answer him verbally, just wanders a few more steps and then looks back at him expectantly, sunglasses tucked into the back pocket of his jeans. Clint sighs and puts the cap back on his cup, presses a kiss against Bucky’s jaw before he gets up. His knee isn’t giving him any trouble, at least. Tony turns back to enter the elevator and Clint rolls his eyes and follows obediently.

“I don’t like guessing games, Tony,” Clint says as he leans up against the metal comfortably, watching Tony tap a button.

“I told you,” Tony answers. “I need you to see something. It’s taken a while to put together, so I didn’t get to do it right away, but now I can.”

“You’re not making any more sense.”

“Oh, I know. I want it to be a surprise, Barton - did they not do those when you were rampaging around Japan?”

“Fuck off,” Clint retorts comfortably, crosses his arms across his chest. The smirk doesn’t quite appear on Tony’s face but it’s in his voice. He’s guessing it’s probably not anything bad, then. It could still be a million different things and Clint meant his earlier comment - he doesn’t like guessing games, and he’s still slightly worried about the fact that Tony won’t just tell him straight up what’s going on.

“So, I know we all talk about the shit that you went through,” Tony says and Clint squints at him, “I feel like that’s going pretty well.”

“Uh huh,” Clint says. “Where is this going?”

“Unfortunately I know you, Barton, and I know you’re probably more upset about Natasha than you are about the actual abuse that you lived through with SHIELD,” Tony continues as the elevator dings and the doors slide open to a floor he’s never been on before. “So I thought, would our spider want a big fancy funeral in her memory? Maybe a big statue?”

Clint’s already scrunching up his face in disgust and Tony points at him with glee. “Exactly. Exactly what I thought. Right this way.”

He follows Tony down a short corridor that’s void of any sort of decoration or identifying marks. The paint is a plain, tasteful cream and Clint stays puzzled right up until Tony stops at a red door and knocks on it loudly. There’s a moment of silence and then a disheveled-looking woman with her dark hair in a ponytail pokes her head out the door.

“Hey, Colleen,” Tony greets. “You got a second?”

“Not really,” Colleen says dryly, but she opens the door wider when she sees Clint standing there. “Come on, the girls are just warming up.”

The girls? Clint starts staring at Tony again. “This had better not be some kind of sex thing, Stark, I swear to god I’m going to eat your-”

“Calm down, Barton,” Tony says breezily. “Anyway, you’re an atheist. Miss Wing, if you want to go back to teaching - we’re just going to supervise, if that’s alright with you.”

Colleen shrugs. “You’re paying for my time. Do what you like, just don’t get in the way. Karen has a mean right hook if you’re in the wrong place at the right time.”

The girls turn out to be a group of kids reaching no higher than Clint’s waist. They’re tiny, delicate little things in an assortment of mismatched jeans and dresses and leggings. One is trying to do a handstand and falls over onto the padded mat underneath her immediately and Tony snorts, drops into a chair. After a few long seconds Clint sits himself on the table next to the chair, watches as Colleen walks to the front of the room and begins walking them through stretches.

“What is this exactly?”

They start doing high kicks with almost perfect form, Colleen guiding them through it and laughing when a blonde girl with pigtails turns it into a surprisingly athletic flip. Clint turns his stare back on Tony, who’s doing that little smirk thing he does.

“Natasha Romanov Self-Defense Academy for Young Girls,” Tony says. “We give free classes to anyone who might want it. Low income families, orphans - these ones are from a group home in Brooklyn.”

“Oh,” Clint says, can’t get out any more than that past the aching lump in his throat. He looks back at the girls, sees one that’s smaller than most of the others with an oversized Black Widow shirt and a fierce look in her eyes. He realizes a second later that one of her feet is shiny steel and swallows hard.

“We’re not recruiting them, don’t worry. There’s a lot of shit out there nowadays,” Tony says. “What with the supervillains and the bullshit and even assholes on the street. This way, at least they’ve got a fighting chance.”

The Black Widow girl glances back and sees them, eyes going round as she pokes her friend and then whispers something. The second girl is taller, with a mop of auburn hair that reminds Clint of Barney a little bit. Then the first girl starts signing to the second and they both look back at him, hands furiously waving in the air.

Now Clint can see the hearing aids that the second girl is wearing, he signs a slow and easy greeting back. They gasp and turn away from him to chatter excitedly.

“Should’ve kept the ‘hawk,” Clint comments, scratching a hand through the shorter scruff of hair on his head. “They wouldn’t have recognized me.”

“You’re not as subtle as you think you are, Master Spy,” Tony replies. “Anyway, those ones are fans. A lot of them keep asking the teachers if they’re going to get a class from you.”

“I can’t be around kids,” Clint says, feels the frown tug at his lips.

“When’s the last time you hurt a child, Barton?”

Clint thinks about it seriously - stupid, really, he shouldn’t even be considering this. If he’s honest with himself, the only time he’s hit a kid was back when he was a kid himself, telling a bully to fuck off or defending himself from Barney trying to get him to fight. Both of those events had ended up with Clint worse off than his opponent anyway.

“Anyway, there’s a slot at four in the afternoon every Sunday for you, when you’re ready.” Tony’s tapping something out on his phone now, his words the only indication he’s even aware of Clint. “Think about it, at least. What would Romanov say about your emo shit?”

The question doesn’t hit as hard as it used to. Maybe it’s the way Tony talks about it, like it’s a genuine question rather than a hint to the way he wants this to turn out, the same way Bucky had. Like he really does want to know what Natasha would think about all this.

Natasha would call him an idiot and take away his food until he agreed to help these girls. She’d compare them if he resisted, ask if she shouldn’t be allowed near children either.

He sighs. “Give me two weeks. But-” and he stops to point a finger at Tony, who looks bemused “-if anything goes even slightly wrong I’m not doing it again, ever.”

“They’re kids, Barton,” Tony says. “They’re all accidents waiting to happen. Set the bar lower and keep some themed band-aids on hand. They respond to colours and cartoon characters.”

  

“You still haven’t told me what I was doing there.”

There’s no reaction from the figure in white in front of her, so the blonde woman smacks the phone out of their hand. They turn their head then, and she crosses her arms and scowls. There’s a long moment of silence and Yelena stamps her boot on the ground in a half-hearted attempt at getting a reaction. She’s met with more silence, and she sighs and slumps back into a chair.

“Why make me walk the streets talking about an obvious Hydra trap? They’re idiots. Was it just an attempt to keep me away from whatever you do on those computers all day? I will find out what it is one of these days, mark my words.”

The figure turns back to the phone on the ground, picks it up and smooths a finger over the small crack in the screen. Yelena kicks over the vase on the coffee table. It doesn’t smash, to her displeasure, and she rolls her eyes at being ignored. “Fine,” she says.

She can play this waiting game as much as her partner can.