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The Name of the Game

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“Ten points,” Barton says, as he tosses the sandwich wrapper into the garbage can across the room. “I’m the greatest.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “A blind monkey could’ve made that shot.”

Barton glances at him, then gestures. “Be my guest, then.”

“I—” Bucky scowls, then throws his own wrapper at Barton’s head. “Fuck you.”

He grins and catches it. “Afraid of a challenge? I see how it is.” He spins in his chair and tosses it over his shoulder, landing it in the can with perfect aim. “It’s okay,” he says, getting to his feet, and puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, faux-comforting. “We’ve all got our things. I’m the best shot, and you’re…grumpy.”

Bucky shoves his hand off. “Touch me again and you’ll lose it, Barton.”

Barton pats him on the head. “There, there,” he says, and leaves the kitchen, a satisfied look on his face.

Across the table, Natasha snickers quietly, turning a page in her book. “That was cute.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Bucky snaps.

“I’m talking about my book,” she says innocently. “Why, what are you talking about?”

Bucky scowls at her, then reaches forward and grabs her wrapper. He balls it up and takes aim, tossing it across the room.

He misses. It bounces off the rim, landing on the floor. Bucky scowls at it, then gets up. “Not a goddamn word to him,” he says to Nat as he scoops it off the floor and tosses it in the can. “I mean it.”

“I saw nothing,” she says, sipping her tea.

“Good,” he growls, and stalks out of the room.

 


 

Two nights later, he can’t sleep.

It’s nothing new. Bucky’s had trouble sleeping since he went to war all those years ago, and at this point, he’s just accepted it. He knows how to deal with it. He’ll get up, make himself some black tea, then settle onto the couch and watch—

“Oh hey,” Barton says as he walks into the lounge. He’s engrossed in some kind of racing game, barely sparing a glance at Bucky. “Can’t sleep?”

“The hell are you doing?”

“MarioKart.” Barton whoops as he crosses the finish line and drops the controller in his lap. “Ever played it?”

“I don’t play children’s games,” Bucky tells him, and goes into the kitchen, grabbing a mug and a teabag. He adds some water to the kettle and drops it on the stove.

“It’s not a children’s game,” Barton says, affronted. “It’s—”

“You’re playing cartoon characters,” Bucky says, pointing at the screen. “That one is a mushroom.”

You’re a mushroom,” Barton mutters, and holds up a second controller. “Wanna play?”

“No.”

“Alright.” He sets it on the coffee table. “You probably wouldn’t get it anyway.”

Bucky scowls. “What—shut up, Barton.”

“I’m just saying.” Barton gestures to the TV. “This is complicated. Lots of stuff going on. Lots of things to follow. Steve’s never been able to pick it up, I wouldn’t—”

“I’m not Steve,” Bucky snarls, and he hates himself a bit. This is goading, plain and simple. Barton’s not even trying to hide it, he’s got a smirk on his face a mile wide, and he’s holding out the controller again. “I’m—fine, gimme a second.”

“Awesome,” Barton says. “I’ll pick easy tracks for you, don’t worry.”

“I don’t need easy tracks,” Bucky mutters, except he’s not sure what the tracks are, or how to play, or what the point of it is anyway.

He lets the tea steep for three minutes, then adds a spoonful of jam, stirring it up before carrying the mug over to the couch. “Alright. What is this?”

“MarioKart. Nintendo 64. The only decent version.” Barton hands Bucky a controller. “This is gas, this is reverse, this is the release for the prizes.”

“Prizes?”

“Bananas and shells and stuff. You’ll see.” He points at the TV. “You’re bottom screen. Follow the track. Hit the prize boxes, try to stay on the track. Don’t hit the cows.”

“Don’t hit—what?”

A little guy on a cloud descends in front of Bucky’s character. There’s a stoplight that goes from red to green, and then suddenly a bunch of cartoons go blasting past Bucky, leaving him in the dust. Bucky mutters under his breath and stabs at the gas button, cursing himself for getting involved in this.

“You have to hold it down,” Barton says. “The button.”

“I know that,” Bucky snaps, even though he didn’t, and his chest burns with irritation as he drives into the fence. “How the fuck do you steer?”

“Carefully?”

Bucky scowls more, but he gets the hang of it after a few minutes, slowly making his way around the track. By the time he finishes the first lap, though, everyone else is done, and his avatar suddenly stops with a sad little cry, 8th Place flashing on the screen.

“This is stupid,” Bucky says, dropping the controller.

“Give it some time,” Clint says. “You’ll get there.” He grins. “Unless you’re giving up.”

“You keep tryin’ to get me to quit,” Bucky says. “You afraid I’m gonna get good and kick your ass?”

“Course not. I’m the king of MarioKart.”

“Uh-huh. We’ll see about this.”

It doesn’t take him long to pick it up. He’s not the best with technology, but he’s a hell of a lot better than Steve, and this is repetitive enough that he gets the hang of it after a couple rounds. Then it’s just a matter of learning to play dirty, to use the prizes to his advantage. He punches the air the first time he manages to get the drop on Barton with a red shell, knocking him out of the way in time to take first place. “Suck it,” he says, triumphant as he turns to Barton.

“Good job,” Barton says. “‘Cept I still win the house cup or whatever.” He gestures, and Bucky sighs as his little dinosaur is relegated to third place. “Again?”

“Gonna kick your ass this time,” Bucky says. “Just wait.”

Barton snorts. “I was going easy on you, Barnes. Kid gloves are off now.”

“Bring it on, loser.”

They’re still playing almost two hours later when Steve walks into the lounge, already dressed for a run. He raises an eyebrow as Barton jumps to his feet, both hands in the air. “Who’s the man?” he shouts, a thousand-watt smile on his face. He points at Bucky. “Say it. Say I’m the man.”

“You cheated,” Bucky accuses.

“You can’t cheat at MarioKart!”

“You jumped off the fucking track!”

“So? You could’ve done that.” Barton rubs a hand through his hair, looking overly pleased with himself. “No rule against it.”

Bucky just fumes, because he did try, and he’d died. Twice. Which is why he’d lost this round. “You’re a dick,” he says, getting up. “Steve, tell him he’s a dick.”

Steve holds up both hands. “I’m not getting involved,” he says. “Whatever’s going on here. I’m not interested.”

“Say I’m the man,” Barton demands.

“You’re the man,” Bucky mutters, and tosses him the controller. “I’m going to bed.”

“It’s five in the morning.” Steve gives him a disapproving look.

“Who died and put you in charge?” Bucky shoves past him. “I’m going to bed. If anyone wakes me up, I’ll kill them.”

Behind him, Barton laughs. “That’s right,” he says. “Do the walk of shame.”

“I hate you,” Bucky tells him, and steps into the elevator.

 


 

“The hell are you doing?” Bucky asks, opening the fridge and pulling out the milk.

“Throwing cards.” Barton flicks another one, lodging it in an apple sitting some fifteen feet away. “Bored. Nothing else to do.” He looks at Bucky. “You wanna learn?”

“I know how to throw cards.”

“Yeah?” Barton offers him the deck. “Prove it.”

Bucky snorts. “Fine.” He sets the milk down and walks over, taking the deck. He pulls a card off, studies the apple for a moment, then flicks the card forward with his left hand. It hits perfectly, burying the card deep. “See?”

“Huh,” Barton says, and takes the deck back. “Cool.”

“Course, fifteen feet is easy.”

“Oh, is that what we’re doing?” Barton grins at him and gets off the couch, stepping back. He throws another one. “Twenty feet. No big deal.”

“Child’s play.” Bucky grabs half the deck and moves further away. “Try thirty.”

“What, like it’s hard?” He misses, though, and scowls.

Bucky laughs. “Don’t you use a long range weapon?”

“Fuck you, Barnes,” Barton says, and does it again. This one lands. “See?”

“I don’t think practice shots count,” Bucky says, and backs up more, until his shoulders are against the wall. He’s probably around fifty feet now, and he tosses two this time, both hitting within millimeters of each other. “But I won’t hold your inadequacies against you.”

“Inad—fuck you.” Barton grabs the apple, yanking the cards out, and moves it across the opposite side of the room, dragging a chair with him as he goes. He sets the apple on the chair, then storms back over to Bucky. “What is that, hundred feet?”

“Yeah.” Bucky throws a card. “Too far for you?”

“Shut up.” Barton grabs a card and flicks it, landing it neatly above Bucky’s. “I’m the best shot on this team and you know it.”

“You’re okay,” Bucky says, launching three in a row. “I’m better. See?”

“Kiss my ass,” Barton snarls, and does the same, landing two out of three. “Goddamnit.”

“Gotta curl your wrist more—”

“I know how to throw cards,” Barton interrupts, and Bucky grins. “I’ve been doing this shit since my circus days, come on—”

“Been doing it since the twenties,” Bucky says. “Got a hundred years of experience on ya, kid.”

“So you’re old. Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Apples float in water because they’re full of air.”

Barton misses his next card, mostly because he’s staring at Bucky. “What?”

Bucky shrugs. “You said ‘tell me something I don’t know’ and—”

“So you decided to answer a rhetorical question with weird apple facts? Why do you know that?”

“I was reading. It came up.”

“Oh, so you can read? Good to know.” Barton throws another card, missing again. “Apples are full of air, huh?”

“Apparently.”

“Like your head?”

Bucky punches him in the arm. “Shut the fuck up.”

Barton snickers and throws his last card. This one sticks perfectly. Bucky’s own attempt misses, although it hits the stem, so he thinks it should count.

“I win,” he says.

“You missed!”

“I got more than you. I win.” He nudges Barton with his foot. “Go on. Say I’m the man.”

“You’re the man,” Barton concedes, although he looks less than thrilled about it. “Guess it’s my turn to storm off and take a nap?”

“What—I did not storm off, you’re such a—”

“I’ll see you later,” Barton says, and pats him on the shoulder, walking past him and out of the lounge. Bucky watches him go, somehow feeling that despite him technically winning this round, Barton somehow still has the upper hand.

Which is stupid, because they’re not—they’re just bantering. Flirting, or what—

Bucky shoves that thought away with a vengeance. They are not flirting. He doesn’t even know how to flirt. They’re just being competitive, that’s all. Steve’s told him before he’s too competitive for his own good, and he knows Clint’s heard the same thing from Natasha.

That’s all this is. Two stubborn assholes trying to outdo the other.

They’re not flirting.

They’re not.

 


 

Pub nights are Bucky’s least favorite. He hates crowds, he can’t get drunk anymore, and he pretty much spends the whole night twitching as people get too close.

He doesn’t even know why he agreed to go tonight, honestly, except that Steve had asked, and Bucky’s always had a hard time saying no to Steve. So he’d dragged on some presentable clothes, tossed his hair up in a bun, and followed Steve down to some random bar way out in Hell’s Kitchen, of all places.

“You’ll like it,” Steve says. “And if you don’t, stick around for twenty minutes, have a drink, and then you can fuck off to wherever you want.”

“Language,” Bucky murmurs, and Steve grins at him before directing him to a table near the back, where he has a view of the whole place.

“Oh hey,” Barton says, rolling darts between his fingers. “Didn’t think you’d be out tonight.” His face is flushed, a lazy smile curling his mouth. “Care for a game?”

“You’re drunk,” Bucky says.

“I can still beat you.” Barton sways a little, but throws the darts anyway, hitting with unerring accuracy. Bucky almost has to be impressed. “I could beat you with my eyes closed.”

“Dare you,” Bucky says, and Barton blinks at him before the smile gets a little wider, a little more challenging.

“Alright,” he says, and slaps a hand over his eyes. Except he does it with a little more force than necessary, and makes himself stumble backwards, tripping over a chair. He falls towards the ground almost in slow motion, expression morphing into shock.

Bucky moves faster than he thought he could, and catches him just in time, yanking him upright. “You moron,” he says, setting the chair upright and dropping him into it. “Are you okay?”

Barton stares at him, then down at the floor, then at the darts in his hand. “I, uh…”

“You’re really drunk,” Bucky tells him, and Barton just nods before nudging him aside and throwing the darts anyway.

They land dead center, all three of them lodging right next to each other. Barton throws his arms in the air, nearly whacking Bucky in the face. “I’m the greatest,” he says, and stabs a finger into Bucky’s chest. “Tell me I’m the greatest.”

“Drink,” Bucky says instead, shoving a water at him. “Кретин ты конченый.”

Barton drinks the water with one hand and digs in his pocket with the other, pulling out another dart. “Here.”

“Are you…carrying darts in your pants?

“No, I’m just happy to see you,” Barton says, a smirk curling his mouth. “You backing down from a challenge, Barnes?”

Bucky glares at him, then grabs the dart, throwing it over his shoulder without looking. Barton blinks, then applauds with the glass still in one hand, splashing water all over his pants.

“You’re a disaster,” Bucky sighs, tugging the glass from his hand. “Come on. You need to go home.”

“Game’s not over,” Barton says, pulling his arm back.

“Game is over.”

“I’ll fight you.” He raises his fists.

“You’ll lose.”

“I can take you—”

“You couldn’t take candy from a baby right now.” Bucky pulls him upright and over to the door, easily batting away his flailing fists. “And even on your best day, you wouldn’t stand a chance against me.”

“I challenge you to a duel,” Barton says grandly, stumbling over the threshold. “With—with swords and shit, and armor, and—”

“When you’re sober,” Bucky says.

“You can be the Black Knight.”

“I—what?”

“’Tis but a scratch!” Barton yells, and starts laughing, going limp in Bucky’s arms.

“Christ,” Bucky mutters, and just picks him up, hefting him over his shoulder. “You’re going home.”

“You’re strong,” Barton says, voice muffled. “Bet I can lift more than you.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “We’re not gonna go there, Barton.”

“Scared I’m right?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“You’re scared,” Barton says confidently, and then goes limp over Bucky’s shoulder. If it wasn’t for the off-key humming, Bucky would be pretty sure he’s passed out.

He carries Barton all the way back to the tower, glaring at anybody who dares to look twice at them. Barton just lets him do it, occasionally poking Bucky in the ribs as he hums. “You’re squishy here,” he says, and Bucky has no fucking clue what that’s supposed to mean, so he just doesn’t say anything.

He takes the elevator to his own room out of habit, not even realizing it until he’s dumped Barton into the bed. Bucky curses himself quietly, but just leaves him there, grabbing a couple water bottles from his mini fridge and putting them on the nightstand along with some painkillers. “Sit up,” he says, cracking the lid on one. “Drink this.”

“Life liquid,” Barton says, and makes a wild grab for it. “Delicious.”

Bucky snorts and watches, making sure he doesn’t spill it. “Good,” he says, when it’s mostly gone, and takes it away, setting it safely on the nightstand. “Sleep it off.”

“Bet I’m more drunk than you,” Barton slurs, collapsing back into the pillows.

“I can’t get drunk,” Bucky says.

“So I win.” He punches a fist in the air.

Bucky rolls his eyes. “Sure. Whatever.” He throws a blanket over him and clicks the lamp off. “Go to sleep.”

“Say I’m the man,” comes the sleepy demand. “Say it.”

“You’re the man,” Bucky mutters, and can’t help but smile at the triumphant little whoop that follows those words.

This is getting out of hand, he thinks as he goes back out to the lounge, settling himself onto the couch. Whatever this is—it needs to stop.

Except he doesn’t really want it to stop, which is dangerous in and of itself. He likes this little—this weird competitive thing they’ve got going on. It’s entertaining. He’s having fun.

“Just for fun,” he tells himself firmly. “That’s all. It’s not—it’s not anything else.”

He grabs the remote and a blanket, settles into the couch, and tries very hard not to think about anything in particular.

 


 

Barton stumbles into the lounge the next morning, looking embarrassed, exhausted, and very, very hungover.

“Nice night?” Bucky asks, because he’s an asshole. “I bet my head hurts less than yours.”

“Fuck off,” Barton mutters, and makes a grab for the coffee pot.

“Let me know when you want that duel,” Bucky says, and gets to his feet, tossing the blanket off.

Barton blinks, then stares resolutely into the pot. “Why was I in your room?”

“Didn’t mean to,” Bucky admits. “Wasn’t paying attention where I was going. You kept poking me. Kept telling me I was squishy.”

“Oh god,” Barton says, and buries his face in his hand. “If you need me, I’ll be jumping off the roof.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bucky says. “It was cute.” He blinks, then feels his own face heat up. “Uh. I mean.”

“Uh,” Barton says back.

There’s a moment of awkward silence, then Bucky says, “Pretend this never happened?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Barton agrees, and takes the coffee pot, disappearing with it down the hallway.

Tony walks into the kitchen, glancing over at Bucky. “Did you sleep on the couch?”

“Leave me alone, Stark,” Bucky mumbles, kicking the blanket off. It’s a struggle, but he gets it after a moment.

“Did Barton just walk off with the coffee pot? Where’s he going?”

“The roof, probably.”

“What—”

“Good night.”

“It’s seven in the morning—”

“You spend too much time with Steve,” Bucky says, and walks away, heading to his own room.

The bed is made. Poorly, but there was a solid attempt, and the empty water bottle is in the trash, the other one vanished. Even the bottle of painkillers is back in its usual spot in the bathroom, and Bucky feels a sense of—

Fondness, really. Fondness, and something else that he doesn’t really want to examine right now, so he doesn’t. He just showers, then changes his clothes and takes his favorite rifle down to the practice range.

He stays down there for hours, and pretends he’s not disappointed when Barton doesn’t come to join him.

 


 

“Bucket!” Barton yells a few days later as Bucky comes back into the tower, exhausted and worn out from a SHIELD mission. “Welcome home.”

“Call me that again, and I’ll kill you,” Bucky says.

“We’re going out,” Barton says, undeterred. “No drinking. There’s a pool challenge at a bar down the road. You in?”

“I’m tired,” Bucky says. “I just spent three days waiting in a stupid little office building doing surveillance for a target that never showed. I’m tired, I smell like a locker room, and I want—”

“Alright, alright,” Barton says. “You’re afraid to lose, that’s fine.”

“I am—” Bucky sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. “For fucks sake.” He looks at Steve. “You’re in on this?”

“Games of trajectories and angles,” Steve says, shrugging. “Seems like something I’d be good at.”

Bucky sighs. “Fine. Let me shower, at least.”

“Tournament starts at eight,” Barton says. “Prepare to lose.”

“I’m not gonna lose.”

“We’ll see.” Barton waves at him. “Go shower.”

Bucky flips him off and heads to his own rooms. He showers, finds something vaguely decent to wear, and makes his way to the address that Barton texts him.

There’s five or six pool tables set up, and Bucky easily finds Barton and Steve setting up around one in the far corner. “What’re the rules?”

“Single elimination,” Barton says. “Two people per table.” He points. “You’re playing the winner. Which will be me.”

“Bring it on,” Steve says. “Trajectories and angles. I’m good at this shit.”

“Language,” Bucky says, at the same time as Barton, and they grin at each other before Bucky comes to his senses and looks away.

It’s a close game, but in the end, Barton wins by a margin, punching a fist in the air. “Hell yeah,” he says, then points at Bucky. “Prepare to be annihilated.”

“How come he doesn’t have to says stupid things when he loses?” Bucky asks, taking the cue from Steve.

“Because it’s more fun when you say it,” Barton says, re-racking the balls. “You hate it.”

“I do not,” Bucky lies.

“Mm-hmm.” Clint lines up the break shot. “Well, that’s good, because you’re going to be saying it real soon.”

“You always assume you’re going to win,” Bucky says, taking the next one. “Pride comes before a fall and all that, you know.”

“Trying to distract me with philosophy isn’t gonna work.”

“It’s a proverb, dumbass.”

“You’re a proverb.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” Bucky misses his next shot, hitting the cue ball a little too hard. “Dammit.”

“Aww,” Barton says, faux-sympathetic. “Want a do-over on that one?”

“I don’t need a do-over. I can miss shots and still kick your ass into next week.”

Barton knocks the red ball into the far corner pocket and winks broadly at him. “You were saying?”

“Still early in the game, Barton.”

“Whatever makes ya feel better, Barnes.”

They keep going. Bucky’s good at pool—always has been, he thinks—but no matter how good he is, Barton is just…better. He keeps making insane shots, to the point where Bucky would accuse him of cheating if he didn’t know that Barton was just that good.

Bucky misses his next shot, putting him down by two. He fights the urge to snap the pool cue in half. “Fuck.”

“I thought you were a sniper,” Barton says, grinning widely. “Aren’t you supposed to be good at this kinda thing?”

Bucky grits his teeth. “Why are you such a dick, Barton?”

Barton shrugs. “You are what you eat?”

“Oh my god,” Steve says, and he actually gets up and walks away. Bucky watches him go, then turns back to Barton, who is cackling like a lunatic, leaning on his pool cue for support.

“That was good,” Bucky admits with a laugh.

“That was great,” Barton says. “I have a running list of all the times I’ve made Cap walk away from a conversation. This is thirteen.”

“What were the others?”

“I’ll tell you if you win.” He gestures at the table. “Which you won’t, but have at it.”

Bucky does his best, but Barton doesn’t miss any other shots, and he never has a chance to catch up. He ends the game still two down, and reluctantly lowers his cue as Barton lands the 8-ball perfectly. “You’re the man,” he says without prompting, and Barton just flashes him a grin before motioning Steve back over.

“Are you two done flirting?” Steve asks, sipping a beer.

Bucky gapes at him. “We’re not—what—I’m not—”

“We’re done,” Barton says, cutting in smoothly over Bucky’s stammering. “I win. You’re playing Bucket.”

“Don’t call me that,” Bucky snaps, suddenly annoyed. “And we’re not flirting.”

“Alright,” Barton says easily, exchanging a look with Steve. Bucky glares at both of them.

A man with a clipboard comes around, taking down names. He directs Barton over to a different table, then puts Steve and Bucky together. Bucky reracks the balls, then breaks them with more force than is probably necessary—he damn near skips the cue ball off the table.

“Didn’t mean to offend you,” Steve says calmly.

“We’re not flirting,” Bucky says again. “We’re not—I don’t like him. He’s annoying.”

“Yeah.” Steve sinks his first shot. “Well, when you’re done lying yourself, let me know.”

“Fuck you, Steve.”

Steve shrugs. “You’re allowed to be happy, you know.”

“Who says I’m not happy?”

Steve shrugs again, inscrutable, and takes another shot. Bucky fights the urge to whack him over the head with the pool cue, and settles for soundly kicking his ass instead. For a guy who can throw a shield like nobody’s business, he kind of sucks at pool, and Bucky takes way too much satisfaction in that.

Barton comes back as Bucky makes the last shot. “Nice,” he says, holding a hand up. “Up high.”

Bucky looks at him, then at his hand. “Really?”

“Humor me.”

Bucky sighs and slaps him a high-five. “Fine.”

“To the side,” Barton says, holding his hand to the side.

Barton—” Bucky sighs again, but he hits that one too.

“Down low.” He drops it to waist height, an anticipatory grin spreading across his face.

Bucky growls low in his throat, but goes for that one as well, promising himself that if it’s not the last one he’s just going to walk away—

“Too slow,” Barton says, yanking his hand away just as Bucky reaches for it, his fingers barely brushing Barton’s palm. The unexpectedness of it makes Bucky lose his balance, and he pitches forward, just barely managing to catch himself on the table.

“What the fuck,” Bucky says, regaining his balance, and Barton starts laughing again, a delighted look on his face.

“How has no one ever done that to you before?” he asks, and even Steve is smirking as he sips his beer.

“I fucking hate you,” Bucky says, avoiding the question, and drops his pool cue on the table. “Both of you.”

“No you don’t,” Barton says back, poking him in the chest. “You like me so much.”

The clipboard guy comes by, then, and shuffles Bucky off to a different table. His new opponent tries to engage him in small talk, but Bucky’s both too distracted and too pissed off to really talk back, and the game devolves into awkward silence.

Not that that’s any better, because Bucky keeps hearing Barton’s voice in his head. You like me so much.

“Do not,” he mutters, lining up his cue.

When you’re done lying yourself, let me know.

“Shut the fuck up, Steve.”

“My name is Devin?” says the guy across from him, sounding both confused and terrified.

“Shut the fuck up, Devin,” Bucky snaps, and takes another shot.

 


 

He avoids Clint—Barton, dammit, call him Barton—for a few days after that. Or as much as he can, anyway, when they live in the same building and do the same work and keep ending up in the elevator at the same time.

Still, he makes a solid effort, and mostly manages to do it. Until Barton corners him in the lounge one day and drops a yellow golf ball in his lap. “You’re going mini-golfing with me,” he says.

“What?” Bucky picks up the ball, which is stamped with ONE FREE GAME.

“You’re going mini-golfing,” Barton repeats slower, like not hearing him the first time was the fucking problem. “I want to go and the thing is for two people, and mini-golfing alone is just kinda sad anyway.”

Bucky starts to tell him no. Starts to make up an excuse about having something to do, something urgent that needs his attention. Something that’ll take him far away, occupy him for a few days so he can get Barton out of his head for once.

But when he opens his mouth, what comes out is, “Sure, I guess.”

“Awesome,” Barton says. “You ready?”

“What, right now?”

“You got something better to do?” He looks at the TV. “Is Say Yes to the Dress really that interesting?”

“I’m not watching—” Bucky starts, except apparently that is what he’s watching. His face heats up and he scrambles for the remote. “I wasn’t really, it just—”

“I think it’s cute,” Barton says, patting him on the head. “Whatever floats your grumpy boat.”

“I’m—” Bucky starts, then gives up entirely, because what’s the fucking point. “Fine. Golf. Let’s go.”

He’s never actually played mini-golf, but it can’t be that difficult. He takes his little club, which just looks ridiculous in his meal hand, and his golf ball, then follows Clint—Barton, dammit—over to the first one. “This is like regular golf?”

“But smaller. Also, neon.”

“Neon?”

As if on cue, the lights go out, and the course lights up, neon greens and reds and yellows shining around them. Bucky blinks in surprise, slowly spinning. “Uh,” he says, looking around. “What is this?”

“Glow putt,” Barton says, flashing him a bright smile, which is even brighter than normal under the black light. “Galaxy-themed, so all the holes are different planets and constellations and stuff. You cool with it?”

“It’s fine,” Bucky says. “Kinda different. I like it.” He holds up the orange ball in his hand. “Okay. How does this work?”

“Ball goes on ground. Whack it with a stick. Try and get it in the hole.”

Bucky sighs. “I—never mind.” He looks at the club. “Why are these so small?”

“It’s not the size of the tool, Barnes, it’s how you use it.” Barton snickers and goes to the first course, sinking the first shot with a single stroke. “Bam. Like so.”

“One and done, huh?” Bucky asks, lining up his own. “I don’t know that I’d be bragging about that, Barton.”

Barton laughs. “Only on the golf course,” he says. “I can take my time where it counts.” He winks at Bucky, and leans down to pick up the balls.

His jeans are very tight, Bucky notices, his mouth going dry. Even in the relative darkness, he can see—

He shoves the thought aside and takes the ball, following Clint to the second course. “So what, we do eighteen of these?”

“Yep,” Clint says cheerfully, setting his ball on the course. “Good clean fun.” He raises an eyebrow at Bucky, then reaches out, poking his left arm. “Ease up on the shaft there, buddy. We got a long way to go yet.”

Bucky looks down at his hand, which is gripping the golf club hard enough that there’s indents in the rubber grip. “The what?”

“The shaft.” Clint pries his hand open. “We gotta go all the way, don’t go too hard just yet.”

Bucky swallows hard, hoping the darkness is enough to hide the blush on his face. Not that he’s a prude or anything, but Clint—Barton, god-fucking-dammit—is smirking at him, and he knows damn well what he’s saying, and Bucky’s still thinking about his ass—

“Anyway,” he says, gesturing to the ball, his voice higher-pitched than he’d like. “Moving on.”

The smirk gets wider, and Barton fucking winks at him before turning and lining himself up. He studies the course for a second, then hits the ball, sending it down the course. There must be some kind of bump in the course, though, because it goes off his intended trajectory, rolling to the side and missing the hole by a few inches.

“Aww,” Bucky says. “Want a do-over?”

“Shut up,” Barton mutters, and goes over to it, hitting it the rest of the way in. “I’d like to see you do better.”

“I always get it in on the first try,” Bucky tells him, and tries to keep a straight face as Barton’s eyes widen.

“So put your money where your mouth is,” he says, crossing his arms, and then scowls as Bucky does exactly that, the ball rolling in without missing a beat.

“Like that?” Bucky asks.

“Something like that,” Barton says, and picks the balls up. “Alright. Onto Earth.”

“What?”

“They’re named after planets,” Barton says. “The courses. Mars, Venus, Earth.” He points down the room. “Uranus is down there.”

“Oh god,” Bucky says, unable to hold back a laugh. “You’re shitting me.”

“Nope. It’s a tricky one, too, I hear sometimes the balls get stuck—”

“In Uranus?”

“Yeah.” Barton’s barely keeping himself together. “So you gotta just reach up there and—”

“Pull it out?”

Barton wheezes, his grin a mile wide. “Don’t want it to get too clogged—”

“Oh my god,” Bucky says again. “What—what are the rest of them? Because there’s only eight planets—”

“Uh…” Barton takes a deep breath, still looking like he’s about two seconds away from losing it. “Well, there’s Orion’s belt, and the double asteroid, and the galactic bulge—”

“I’m gonna stop you there,” Bucky interrupts, because he’s pretty sure if he ever hears the words galactic bulge out of Barton’s mouth again, he’s probably going to die. “Let’s just…never mind.”

“Hey, I didn’t name ‘em,” Barton says, picking up the balls. “I’m just here for the holes.”

Bucky snickers, then dissolves into helpless laughter, staggering as he tries to keep upright. “I fucking hate you,” he manages in between giggles—actual giggles, god help him.

“You love me,” Barton counters, laughing just as hard. “I’m a goddamn delight.”

Bucky wipes the tears from his eyes and holds out a hand. “Gimme my ball,” he says, and Clint just about chokes, stumbling to the point where Bucky has to grab his arm to keep him upright.

“Thanks,” Clint—no, Barton, dammit—says, and he grins wildly at Bucky. “Want a ball?”

They’re so close together, now. Bucky’s grip is probably bruising around his arm, but Clint doesn’t seem to notice. His eyes are on Bucky’s, the neon lights around them making the blue look almost purple. It’s pretty, and compelling, and Bucky—

Clint tilts his head. “Either let go or kiss me,” he says, voice suddenly low.

“That a challenge?” Bucky asks, voice just as low.

“Depends. You gonna back down?”

“You want me to?”

“It’s okay if you’re scared, I mean—”

Bucky kisses him, half to shut him up, half to prove he’s not scared—he is, but it’s in that good way, the kind that’s thrilling more than anything, a heat rushing through him at the taste of Clint on his tongue—

“Get a room!” someone yells, and Bucky flips them off without looking at the same time as Clint, which makes them both start laughing again.

He pulls back, keeping his other hand on Clint’s waist. “Ain’t scared of ya,” he says, voice rougher than he’d thought it would be. He clears his throat. “Nothin’ to be scared of. You’re all talk, anyway.”

“What, you want some action?” Clint looks half dazed, but he’s smiling, arms loosely hanging on Bucky’s shoulders. “I can give you some action right here. Wanna go get naughty in Uranus?”

Bucky laughs again, made all the better—or worse, he’s not sure—by Clint’s delighted, self-satisfied look. “No,” he says. “Well, yeah. But no. We’re going home. We need a bed, and—and condoms, and—”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Clint says. “You’re forfeiting, then?”

“What?”

“The game.” Clint gestures to the course. “I’m winning.”

“What? You are not, I’m winning.”

“You sure about that? You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn—”

“You needed two hits on the last one, you punk, I got it in one.” Bucky pokes him in the ribs. “But if you want to try and beat me, I’m happy to stick around and give you a shot. Loser has to kiss the winner.”

“Such a tough bet,” Clint says, grinning. “Alright. I’m in.”

Bucky watches him walk to the next course, feeling happier than he has in weeks, and thinking that this is one competition he wouldn’t mind losing.

Because he’s pretty that no matter what, he’s gonna end up winning in the end.