The words curled around Clint’s hip bone are not exactly promising. No one wants their soulmate to greet them by asking about someone else, but Clint refuses to be disheartened. Sure, maybe it’s not love at first sight, but there could be any number of reasons why those are his words. He’ll never know until it happens. Anyway, as soon as he says their words, it’ll all be fine, or that’s how it’s supposed to go. There’s a stubborn part of his heart that keeps believing in soulmates right through well… everything else.
When the words first blossom on his skin, he shows them to his brother, because who else is he going to show. He’s so damn proud of them. Barney takes one look and laughs, though he tries to smother it.
“Hi. Who’s the red-head?” he reads out. “Guess you’re gonna make a really good first impression, kid.” Barney’s taken to calling him ‘kid’ recently, when he’s not exactly that much older himself. Clint scowls at him, young enough that he still feels the prick of being called young.
“Whatcha mean by that?” he asks, craning his neck to look down at the words. They’re written in scratchy capital letters, which Clint likes because it means that his soulmate’s at least a little bit like him. His own writing’s messy, partly because back when he was still learning his letters, his good hand spent more time in a cast than out of it, or so it seems in his memory. Clint was the sort of kid that ‘fell out of trees’ a lot. And sometimes there were even trees involved. It means that whoever’s got his words scrawled over them probably can’t even read them, for all the good it does anyone.
It doesn’t matter if you can read them or not, or so they say. They say, and at this point in time, Clint believes half-heartedly, that when your soulmate says your words you feel it. Like a sparkle in your soul, he read once, and he’s hoarded the phrase close inside him ever since, though he knows Barney would laugh at the idea. Barney, grown up and in tight with the Swordsman, getting his own caravan and everything, doesn’t believe in fairytales anymore. His idea of soulmates is much more prosaic.
“I mean,” Barney says, setting his hands on Clint’s shoulders, that are starting to broaden out with all the archery and acrobatics practice he’s been doing. “You’re definitely going to make an impression if your soulmate catches you flirting with a red-head when they’re right in front of you.”
Clint glares at him and Barney grins.
“Well, at least we know you’ve got a type,” he says, waggling his eyebrows.
Clint hits him and they spend the next five minutes rolling around on the floor trying to beat each other silly until one of the old clowns comes and pulls them off each other with a muttered Spanish curse. Clint repeats it and earns a hard look.
When they’re asked why they were fighting, though, neither of them tells. Clint knows Barney doesn’t mean to hurt him, but if other people think the same thing… He doesn’t want them thinking about his soulmate and him like that. So he stays quiet. This is just for him.
He waits until he’s curled up in bed that night and runs his fingers over the shapes of the letters, trying to imagine what sort of hand could write them. He thinks she might be a tough sort of a person, not the kind of soft spoken girl that likes everything to be pretty. They’re the kind of girls who have loopy handwriting and put little circles over their Is. Maybe she’ll be a circus performer, too, perhaps they’ll have an act together and he’ll shoot arrows while she does amazing acrobatic routines. Or they could both shoot arrows.
It doesn’t occur to him, then, that it might be a guy. He knows it happens, sometimes. But most people’s soulmates are the opposite sex, that’s just the way it is. And if they’re not, then it’s understood - people say - that it’s a platonic bond. That’s what they say, anyway, and at that age Clint doesn’t think to question it and he’s sure. Absolutely sure, that his bond’s not going to be like that. His bond is going to be everything.
Clint is seventeen the first time he kisses a boy. It’s pretty much the same as kissing a girl, although there’s some stubble, and Mike tastes like cheap cigarettes and smells like sweat and fries, while the two girls he’s kissed have tasted like flavoured lip balm and smelled like the overpowering floral scent of body spray.
It’s a fling. That’s all Clint can get when they move from place to place as often as they do, and Mike’s not looking for anything serious anyway. He’s got his soul words right around the base of his neck, like a necklace, or a collar, in cursive font that all leans in perfect parallel lines.
Thank you. That’s so kind , they say. Clint avoids touching them or looking at them as much as he can.
When they leave town, two weeks later, the only real impression Mike leaves on his life is an understanding that he’s bisexual and a distinct fear of anyone finding out.
He falls in love at twenty, her name is Lucia and she’s too sweet for him. Far too sweet for him by then because she’s a civilian who’s never hurt a fly and Clint’s hands are stained with blood.
She also has red hair, and when she sees his soulmark she backs up, frowning at him.
“So what? You’re with me because you think I’ll help you find them?” she asks. Clint tries to say no, explain that he loves her - but there’s no changing what’s written on his body and she leaves.
After they throw him out of the bar he tries to drink dry, he finds himself in a gelateria. He orders the biggest sundae they have on the menu and throws half of it up in the street outside, but it makes him feel better in a strange way, or maybe it’s the way the old couple who run the place, soulmates, together for forty years, listen to him and pat him on the arm and tell him that love is found in the strangest places.
SHIELD is a good place for Clint. It’s structured, it’s safe, and it’s the good guys. He feels like he’s actually putting his skills to good use for the first time ever. And it’s there when he realises who the red-head is.
Of course, he doesn’t know that when he goes after her. Although his brain has started to notice all the red haired people he comes across, and he’d be crazy not to notice her. The Black Widow, Natasha Romanov. She’s young, a teenager still, and she’s broken free of whatever the Red Room is running and is making a mess across Europe. She has been labelled a clear and present threat, and his job is to neutralise that threat.
She’s a kid, and he remembers being eighteen and killing his first person. He remembers Barney leaving to join the army and Clint leaving the circus when things got too much. He remembers finding out that the people he’d trusted for years were the bad guys. He remembers being out on his own.
Clint catches her… or catches up with her, in Florence. He buys her an ice cream and she looks at it with such suspicion that he has to laugh.
“It’s not poisoned,” he assures her and takes a large obnoxious lick of his own.
Natasha will tell him years later that was the first ice cream cone she had ever had, and that she had almost stabbed him for laughing when it had melted and dripped all over her hand.
He doesn’t know why she agrees to come with him. She gives him a lot of reasons over the years and Clint strongly suspects that they are all bullshit, but he tells Coulson that he lured her to the light side with ice cream and Natasha always backs him up on that.
It’s about two years after they first meet that Clint realises that it’s Natasha who is almost certainly the red-head his soulmate is referring to, or will refer to. They’re sitting in a safehouse, in one of those quiet, drawn out parts that sometimes come in the middle of a mission and he realises that he has a best friend. He’s never had one before, but he figures that if he hasn’t fucked it up this far, then he’s doing okay. Technically, right now, Natasha’s still on probation and Clint’s authorised to do what he needs to do to keep her in line, but he knows she’s not going to run, and she knows he’s not going to kill her.
It helps that she’s probably never had a best friend either, so they can do this however they want to do this.
It’s about then that he recalls the words on his hip and he starts laughing. Natasha just watches him clearly debating whether the quiet has caused him to crack, only to look very concerned when he starts unbuckling his belt.
“Barton,” she says, the one word enough to give the warning. He holds up a hand, and just pushes down the waist of his pants enough that she can see his words. As she catches sight of them, her eyes widen and Clint realises how this must look.
“Oh shit, no, they’re not yours I just… I think this is about you,” he says.
She leans in to read the words and her eyebrows go up.
“I’m not the only red-head in the world,” she tells him.
“Maybe it’s not you,” he says with a shrug. “But I think it probably is.”
She considers him for a moment and then nods to concede the point. It’s an odd declaration of friendship, but then most people keep their words to themselves if they can, so she must know what he means by it.
“I don’t have any,” she says, “There’s… a procedure.” She turns away to look back at the book she was reading. She’d taken an interest in manga recently, in the original Japanese, and she’s devouring a new series at the moment. She’s not reading it right now, though, just staring at the page.
Clint wonders what that would be like - to not have a soulmate connection out there at all. Or, rather, to have one, but never know what it is.
He gets up and ambles over to the tiny kitchen and finds a tub of vanilla in the freezer. They share it, one spoon apiece, and watch television in a language neither of them speaks well enough to understand properly. It’s okay, though, the plot they make up is better than whatever the writers intended anyway.
SHIELD knows his soul words, and Clint gets naked often enough that they’re not exactly a secret. Not that he means to be naked. It’s just… circumstances.
Bobbi is a bright, fierce spark in his life, that burns fast and beautiful and strong. He feels like together they can do anything until it crumbles around him and she’s gone. She looks at him as they sign the divorce papers and smiles.
“You’ll find them someday,” she tells him. “It was fun while it lasted.” Then she kisses him on the cheek and strolls back into her own life and out of their strange, shared fever dream.
Then comes Loki and the Avengers and Clint’s life gets… better. He even gets back in touch with Barney, who’s pulled himself into something approaching respectable, with a job at the bureau as well as a wife and kids. It’s like everything in his life is dropping into place, piece by piece, in a way Clint never thought it would.
Of course, the past is never completely gone.
He wakes at one am, the world is too quiet, this far above the hubbub of the city that never sleeps, and he knows he’s not getting back to sleep any time soon. Nightmares of blue are haunting him, hanging in his brains in glowing cobwebs. He doesn’t want to be alone.
“JARVIS,” he says. “Is Nat awake?”
“Agent Romanoff is not currently in residence,” JARVIS says. “But sir is awake in the kitchen.”
Clint doesn’t know whether JARVIS tells him about Tony for Clint’s sake or for Tony’s, because by the time he makes it to the kitchen, Tony’s polishing off a glass of what looks like expensive whisky, and it seems like it’s not his first.
“Tin can man!” he greets. “Early morning or late night?”
“Why does it have to be either of them?” Tony asks. “If you try hard enough, you don’t have to sleep at all.”
“Pretty sure that’s not according to doctor’s advice,” Clint says.
“Yeah, and what about you, Tweetie Pie?” Tony asks. “What’s ruffled your feathers?”
“Maybe you should slow down,” Clint says, eyeing Tony’s hand as he pours himself another glass.
“Maybe you should…” Tony grumbles.
Clint is not used to this side of friendship, not really. Nat doesn’t talk about things, doesn’t usually need to talk about them. They eat ice cream and he rambles about things that have no bearing on anything, and then she sorts out her own problems and that’s how their friendship works. Phil… Phil had talked sometimes, but never more than he wanted to. He’d had a support system beyond Clint and everyone at SHIELD knew that Clint was more the shoot-‘em guy in the end.
Tony, though, Tony looks like he needs to talk and Clint thinks that maybe they count as friends now. He’s living in Tony’s house after all. They work together, they watch movies together, they eat together sometimes, when Steve decides they need to for team morale. So that’s probably friendship. Clint’s going to say it counts, because the way he sees it, the more friends you have, the better.
He’s also very aware of JARVIS watching the pair of them, and he feels the judgemental eye of the AI on him like a physical weight.
So Clint does the only thing he can think of to do, he crosses over to the freezer and says.
“How about sundaes?”
Tony blinks at him.
“Sundaes?” he asks, like he’s never heard the word before.
“What? You’ve got ice cream in here, right? You’re rich, there’s got to be something in here.”
If Clint and Tony agree on one thing, it’s coffee. No, that’s not quite right. If Clint and Tony agree on one thing, it’s that witty repartee is an important part of any mission. But coffee is a close second. So when Clint finds a tub of dark chocolate and a tub of expensive coffee ice cream, he wastes no time scooping them out into bowls and placing one down in front of Clint.
“That is an obscene amount of ice cream,” Tony says. “I’m not eating that.”
“It’s 2 am,” Clint says.
“Precisely,” Tony says. “You don’t have ice cream at 2 am.”
“Why not?” Clint asks. Tony blinks at him. “You’re a billionaire, I grew up in the circus. We fight aliens as a day job. I’m pretty sure ice cream rules do not apply here. Also - I’ve put it in a bowl now, it’s melting. Eat your ice cream.”
Tony eats some ice cream. The whisky bottle is set aside, and Clint keeps an eye on it, but Tony doesn’t touch it all night.
Somehow, it becomes a thing. Clint calls it the Midnight Sundaes Club in his head, but if two of them end up in the kitchen in the early hours of the morning, there is usually ice cream, and sometimes music.
It’s a weird time to be awake, which has always been the case, even when he’s on missions that throw off his sleep schedule, and sharing it with someone is just as weird in a way. Some nights they’ll just sit and listen to music, particularly if it’s just him and Nat. Sometimes there’ll be conversation. Sometimes it’ll turn into an impromptu debate or dance party, or competition to see who can catapult a blueberry the furthest with their spoon.
It survives the fall of SHIELD and new team members, and new club members are initiated. Natasha and Wanda have some sort of plot so that if they get there first, they make Clint the purplest sundaes they can manage, Clint retaliates by putting pop-rocks in Wanda’s Strawberry extravaganza, but it turns out she likes them.
It’s nothing big, and it’s nothing clever, but it helps, knowing that if you want to talk you can turn up and just… exist.
Some nights, no one turns up and Clint sits there alone, not even opening the freezer, just stroking his fingertips over the words on his hip and thinking.
When he thinks about it at all, which is more often than he’d care to admit, Clint thinks that he’ll probably meet his soulmate on a mission. These days Natasha’s too recognisable when she’s being herself, and there’s no one at any of the public events they go to who wouldn’t know Black Widow on sight. So he thinks it’ll probably be on a mission. Almost certainly at the most awkward time possible, when he’s got to go cause a distraction or escape from gun-toting goons. That seems about right.
Which means when it does happen, and it’s not like that, it throws him off his game. Although that presumes he has any game to begin with. If he does, then it’s probably Snap, that seems about his level.
Bucky Barnes comes into Avengers tower on an otherwise unimportant day. It’s a Tuesday, Clint will remember that, because he will remember everything about it. He remembers that he’s wearing his too-big jeans without a belt, because they are falling halfway down his ass when Bucky walks in and he’s pulling them up for the fiftieth time. He remembers that he’s messaging Kate bird memes, and he remembers Natasha coming over to steal his last toasted bagel, where the butter’s just got to the proper soaked-in stage, right off his plate.
“Right,” Steve says, guiding Bucky right up to him. “This is Clint, you might know him as Hawkeye.”
Clint looks up and straight into blue eyes that make him freeze like the proverbial deer in headlights, except Clint’s pretty sure Bambi doesn’t find the oncoming truck arousing.
He thinks that he should offer to shake Bucky’s hand, to show that he’s not intimidated, or scared, or upset that he’s here, but one hand’s full of phone and the other hand’s full of trousers and he doesn’t know which it would be better to let go of, so he just sort of grins vaguely.
“Hi,” Bucky says with a nod, while Clint’s still trying to recover his tongue from where he swallowed it. “Who’s the redhead?”
Clint promptly swallows his tongue again and his mind goes blank as his hip bursts into full on pins and needles. It feels exactly like how a sparkler looks. He gapes and tries to remember every possible answer to that question he’s ever thought up in the years of planning for this moment, but his brain is nothing but fizzy nothingness, like a mountain dew with none of the liquid and all of the gas.
Bucky’s looking at him like he’s a maniac, probably because Clint’s frozen in place staring at him. Right, he needs to say something and then Bucky will understand, he’ll understand.
“Fuck it’s good to meet you,” is what he says. Bucky blinks, then scrunches his forehead up in a way that Clint decides is cute.
He has a soulmate.
He has a fucking soulmate. He sort of wants to scream the words at the top of his lungs. He can feel them rising up his throat about to erupt.
“Yeah, thanks,” Bucky says, still looking at Clint like he’s a maniac. “And the redhead?” he glances over to where Natasha is framed through the door in the living room, sitting on the TV. His eyes look… appreciative, and Clint’s mind stutters to a halt.
He spoke, he knows he just spoke. He said words, they came out of his mouth, he heard them, admittedly a little fuzzy because even Tony’s super duper ‘revolutionising the world of audio technology’ hearing aids don’t fix every problem.
So if he spoke, and Bucky heard him, which he did - he did - because he responded to him, then why is Bucky not…
Clint has been informed by people smarter than him that in order to make the perfect shot in a crosswind with a compound bow and a trick arrow that’s front loaded, while jumping off a balcony to avoid enemy fire, his brain makes hundreds of calculations in a few milliseconds. He tends to think that’s 80% bullshit people say to make him feel better, but in the split second right then, he knows it’s true.
He calculates the angle of Bucky’s eyes, the expression on his face, the way his eyes haven’t looked back at Clint at all, the way he spoke, the way Steve looks entirely unconcerned by proceedings, the feeling in his own hip and the way his entire life has gone up to this point, and he comes up with one, solid conclusion. Well… two.
Option 1: Bucky Barnes is his soulmate, but he is ignoring the connection.
Option 2: Bucky Barnes is his soulmate, but Clint is not Bucky’s.
Of these two options, he does not calculate which would be worse, because that’s irrelevant. Whichever is the truth, he only has one possible reaction, one shot he can take that won’t make this moment painful for everyone involved.
“Oh, that’s Natasha,” he says, making sure to keep as much of his inner feelings out of his voice as possible. “She’ll eat you alive.” He grins. Steve is looking at him kind of strangely, because Clint guesses he’s not as good at dealing with rejection as he should be after thirty years of practice, but he ignores that. Bucky, on the other hand, just nods, his lips quirking slightly in a way that makes him look both dangerous and sexy - Clint’s favourite combination of adjectives.
Clint doesn’t remember what happens next, because his mouth starts working on automatic. It’s the one thing Steve doesn’t understand about him: he can keep up a constant witty repartee even while doing backflips and killing alien invaders, because he just doesn’t engage his brain.
That’s what he does now, let’s his mouth take over as his brain goes over everything. Bucky is introduced to Natasha and they size each other up. Clint does not react to his soulmate being into his best friend, because that is a problem he refuses to have. Tony comes along and things get awkward. Thor comes along and the awkwardness gets so overwhelming that it goes right through awkward, so far that merely experiencing that much awkwardness makes them all feel some sort of camaraderie towards each other. Bruce comes along and manages to still be awkward.
And all through it, Clint’s wondering what he did wrong.
Did he say the wrong words? Is that even a possibility? Does your soulmark react even if the wrong person says your words? What did he do?
It all boils down to one very simple question:
What. The fuck. Just happened?
It’s no surprise when that night he ends up in the kitchen at quarter past one, sitting on the countertop and kicking his legs, hoping someone else will show up to help him drown his sorrows with a pint of Espresso Yourself. Clint’s brain’s been chewing on the soulmate thing for hours. He’s done actual research, assisted by JARVIS, who doesn’t even ask why he wants to know, just provides him with articles and books and blog posts, all of which have told him the same thing.
That there’s no such thing as a one-sided soulbond. Clint’s either really special, or his soulmate just doesn’t want him.
It turns out that is a thing, though it’s rare. Soulmate rejection is a whole thing, and there are actual academic studies and shit. It doesn’t cause any physical issues, but there are connections to mental illnesses and it all boils down to - it really fucking sucks when the one person society has told you will accept you unconditionally tells you to fuck off. And weirdly, that makes people sad.
Funny how that works.
He crosses his legs, bringing them up onto the countertop. It’s okay as long as Tony or Steve don’t see him - or Natasha, for that matter. It’s not like he hasn’t washed his feet recently, he doesn’t know what the problem is.
Bucky Barnes doesn’t want him.
Clint takes a deep breath and tries to come at this from Bucky’s point of view. Seventy years as a brainwashed killing machine for a Nazi organisation and then you walk into a room one day and meet a person assigned to you by fate. Yeah, that’s a mindfuck. You’re only just figuring out how to choose things again and one of your decisions has already been laid out by the universe. And yeah, Clint can understand how that might suck a lot.
Another thought he’d had, was that maybe Bucky’s words were on the arm he lost and maybe that… severs the connection somehow. Or perhaps he just doesn’t remember what soulmates are, but if that were the case he would still have reacted, right? He’d still have felt something and asked what was going on.
Natasha walks in and looks at him with a raised eyebrow and Clint doesn’t ask whether she came simply because he’s been off all day or whether she’s having a rough night, too. It doesn’t matter, she’s here now, so he shoots her a huge grin and sets about making up their sundaes as she gets JARVIS to play some music. That’s how it works, first one there makes the sundaes, second one there picks the music, anyone else just has to put up with it.
He layers up dark chocolate and raspberry ice cream into her glass, with some raspberry sauce on top and she accepts it gratefully as he sets about piling three different kinds of coffee ice cream into his own glass.
“So, are you going to tell me, or do I have to work it out myself?” she asks, over the low hum of string instruments playing something soothing. It’s not the music Clint would have picked, but that’s kind of the point. He sighs and stabs his spoon into the centre of an ice cream ball lifting it out of the glass bodily to lick at it. Her expression doesn’t change. Apparently Natasha is not to be distracted tonight.
“So…” he says. “Barnes asked me about you.” He’s trying out the ‘Barnes’ thing, although his brain has thought of him as Bucky since he walked in and said his words. Natasha looks at him.
“He shot me once,” she says, clearly trying to work out how this is relevant to the conversation she began. Clint looks her in the eye and says with a bit more significance.
“Barnes asked me about you .”
She blinks once, and that’s the only expression of surprise she gives as he sees her working through all the different meanings of his words and coming to the same conclusions Clint has.
“Ah,” she says.
“Yeah… fucking ah,” he agrees crunching down on a chocolate covered espresso bean. Tony gets the best ice cream, he swears.
“What are you planning to do about it?” she asks, although she must already know the answer, she knows Clint, she knows the situation. She knows he isn’t going to fuck things up for Barnes more than he already has by calling him out over this.
“If he doesn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Clint says with a shrug.
“Maybe he doesn’t realise there’s anything to make a big deal out of,” Natasha points out.
“Thought about that,” Clint agrees. “But what do I do? Go up to the guy getting over brainwashing and say ‘hey, we’re cosmically tied together for the rest of eternity, hope you don’t mind!’”
“I’m not sure it’s quite akin to brainwashing,” Natasha says slowly, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “I get your point, though. Does anyone else know?”
“Unless Steve’s suddenly gotten real good at mind reading, no… just you, and I guess probably JARVIS at this point?” Clint uses his sticky ice cream spoon to salute the ceiling.
“I find myself unable to draw any conclusions from the limited information you have provided,” JARVIS says, like the lying liar he can be when he tries. Clint knows he could make the connections needed. He’s seen the words on Clint’s hip with his cameras, heard what Bucky said to him, and he knows what Clint’s been looking up all evening. It’s not a leap.
“‘Preciate it,” Clint tells him.
“Of course, Agent Barton,” he agrees. “If you wish for any more assistance with your research, I am happy to help.”
“Thanks, J,” Clint says.
“Research?” Natasha asks.
“Yeah,” Clint looks down at his rapidly melting ice cream rather than meet her eye. A drip oozes pathetically down the side of the glass towards its inevitable fate on the countertop. “I thought I’d see if this was a thing. But apparently not.” He scoops the offending drip up and sticks the spoon abruptly into his mouth. “Although I didn’t look into amputations. Maybe that makes a difference.”
“It’s possible,” she agrees, but he can tell she’s just being polite. Clint sighs and nods, pushing his ice cream around some more and watching as the three shades of brown marble together in a strange and unfortunate mess. “But we can do more… immediate research,” she says, and Clint looks up to catch her eye. He knows what she’s suggesting: spying on their newest housemate. It’s unethical and it’s definitely not going to be a good idea given Bucky’ history and his recovery, but Clint entertains the thought.
“We’d have to be careful,” he says.
“That’s why I’m suggesting I do it, rather than you,” she tells him with a sly smile that Clint can’t help but return.
“Steve would probably be opposed to the idea.”
“Steve would want this sorted,” she tells him.
“You’re not going to tell him?!” Clint says quickly. Natasha’s already scraping the last of her sundae from her bowl, licking the back of the spoon with an arch of her eyebrow.
“No, this requires a little more… subtlety than I think he’d be able to show given the circumstances.”
“Right,” Clint agrees. Steve’s actions regarding Bucky have been anything other than subtle so far. Mostly, his actions have involved beating up anything that gets between them including, but not limited to: cars, Hydra agents, walls, and himself. He’s had all the subtlety of a sixteen wheeler to the face.
“And we don’t want it to become a conspiracy,” she adds. “We’re just doing research.”
“Right,” Clint agrees. His ice cream is now a murky brown lake, with little chocolate covered espresso beans slowly drowning in it. He gathers them up and crunches them down in a mercy killing. “Just research.” Into why Clint’s soulmate doesn’t want him. That’s all this is.
Natasha reaches over the table and touches his wrist lightly and Clint stills, a spoonful of melted ice cream halfway to his lips.
“We’re going to work this out,” she says with utter conviction. Clint gives her a smile, because he knows that’s what he needs to do.
“Of course we are,” he agrees. “That’s what we do.”
In the end, he picks up his bowl and slurps the thick, sticky-sweet coffee melt down, to Natasha’s disgust, and they fall asleep on the couch, leaning on top of each other. He dreams of coffee, which isn’t so bad.
It’s weird how life goes on. Bucky blends seamlessly into Avengers life, though it’s anyone’s guess whether that’s his training or just because it works. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does, it’s this low voice of humorous observation that makes Clint double up in laughter half the time. And any time he makes Clint laugh like that, Bucky gets this little proud sort of smirk on his face which is both adorable and attractive and Clint wants to kiss it.
At first, Bucky hovers over Steve’s shoulder, watching everything and never letting him out of sight, but he gets more confident on his own, talking to Sam - though mostly to insult him - and Vision, who he clearly finds fascinating. He and Tony mostly avoid each other, which seems to be for the best, and Bucky tries speaking to Natasha a couple of times, which Clint is not jealous about at all.
Clint avoids being alone with him. He knows that he’s got all the willpower of a wet paper plate when it comes to pretty people with thighs that could crush him like a walnut, so that seems the safest bet. He also knows that he’s got a big mouth and the best way not to ask someone why they don’t like you is just not to talk to them. So the only time he spends with his maybe-soulmate is supervised fun.
He’s testing out a new arrow design in the range when Bucky comes in alone, looking around. Clint’s expecting Steve to be behind him, at a safe distance like the helicopter parent he’s becoming, but there’s nothing.
“Steve’s upstairs,” Bucky says, glaring at Clint as though that’s where he should be too. Clint gets that, the range is where he comes when he wants to be alone, too.
Bucky stands against the back wall, his body just a long, hard line of everything Clint is not allowed to have, his hair dripping down over his face, a barrier between him and the world, clearly waiting. So Clint goes to collect his arrows and start packing up.
“Yeah, the range is something else,” Clint says. “Don’t tell Stark I said that, though. JARVIS can give you thousands of different set-ups and if you’re feeling more active he can change the whole room into different terrains. It’s pretty awesome.” He shrugs and packs his bow away and when he looks round, Bucky’s glaring at him still.
“I’ll get out of your hair and leave you to it,” Clint says in a faux-cheerful voice. “Have fun! Try not to break anything; Tony’ll bitch about it for months - even though he loves having an excuse to fiddle with things. I mean last time I broke the microwave he wouldn’t stop complaining, but he built us this new one that was ten times better, so maybe do try to break things? Whatever. Have fun.” Clint’s mouth is talking without his input again, just to keep him moving as he heads for the door. A lot of people won’t interrupt you while you’re talking, just common courtesy, so it means if you don’t want to hear something, all you’ve got to do is keep talking and they’ll never get a word in edgeways.
The door closes behind him, and the relief from not feeling the weight of Barnes’ heavy stare drilling into the back of his neck is almost palpable. Clint scrambles away.
“Hey, J,” he says, when he’s back in the elevator.
“Yes, Agent Barton,” JARVIS says with his usual measured tone.
“You think you can give me a heads-up when Bu-Barnes is coming my way?” he asks. “Don’t want to get in his way.”
“Certainly, Agent Barton. Although I’m not sure Sergeant Barnes would agree with your assessment.”
“Trust me, J. I know when I’m not wanted,” Clint tells him. He has enough damn experience of it, after all.
“Yes, Agent Barton,” JARVIS says, with the same tone he uses when Tony’s being particularly difficult. Clint shoots the ceiling an acid look, but knows better than to piss off the guy who’s driving the elevator he’s currently trapped in. He’s got common sense… sometimes.
They go on a few missions and Clint doesn’t get beaten up too badly. Well, he breaks his nose one time, gets a concussion another time and sprains his wrist hanging onto a drainpipe on a separate occasion, but that’s barely worth mentioning in the long list of Injuries Clint Has Had.
The sprain requires him to wear a compression bandage, and Natasha’s knowledge of how likely he is to rest said wrist means he gets a sling as well, so he’s in the kitchen trying to open the jar of pickles because he is making the world’s greatest ‘fuck yeah, still alive’ sandwich. Opening a jar with a sprained wrist is tricky.
And when he says tricky, Clint means damn near impossible. But he’s the world number one at fighting through pain… well, world number 2… probably top 10. Maybe top 100?
He’s losing his battle with the pickle jar - which is slippery, like someone oiled it deliberately to stop him from getting in there - when it’s pulled out of his grasp.
“Do you ever manage to not get injured?” Bucky asks as the pickle jar opens with a satisfying ‘pop’. He looks down at Clint’s arm in disdain, then back up at his face.
“Yeah,” Clint says, straightening up, because he’s got a few inches on Bucky when he actually puts the effort in. Something in Bucky’s glare still makes him feel short, though.
“When was the last time?” Bucky asks, and Clint screws his face up to think about it, which makes the bruise on his jaw pull painfully.
“Uh…” he says, eloquent as ever.
“You ever thought maybe you should… stop?” Bucky asks and Clint’s eyes narrow.
“Well, if I hadn’t been there, Cap would probably be in hospital right now being treated for burns, so… no,” he says. It’s the honest truth, as well. He’d stopped the guy with the flamethrower just seconds before they would have been bringing home Crispy Fried Cap. “I’m the best at what I do,” he says, puffing up his chest a bit. “A few dings in the chassis just mean I’m a classic.”
“If you say so,” Bucky tells him. “But stop using that wrist or you won’t be able to draw your damn bow.”
“I once fought with two dislocated fingers and a crab attached to me,” Clint says, spearing the pickles out of the jar to place them triumphantly on the leaning tower of sandwich he’s constructing. “I’m fucking Hawkeye.”
Bucky looks at him again, like he’s the biggest idiot he’s ever met, and like he can’t believe he’s actually talking to him, and then down at the sandwich.
“That’s too big for your mouth,” he says and Clint grins as widely as he can.
“I’ve fitted bigger things than this in my mouth before,” he says. Barnes turns an interesting shade of red as Clint opens his mouth as far as it’ll go and stuffs the sandwich into it, taking a huge, filthy bite, sauce spilling out down the sides of his lips. His lips purse as Clint raises an eyebrow in challenge, then he turns on his heel and stalks out of the room. Clint absolutely does stare at his ass as he walks out. Anyone would.
AIM are, in Clint’s opinion, the most fucked up of their regulars. Doom likes robots, fine; The Wrecking Crew likes… well, wrecking stuff, okay, Clint can understand a little mindless violence; Hydra likes fascism and world domination, terrible but kind of predictable; AIM… AIM has imagination. They like messing with things and people and their only goal, as far as Clint can tell, is to do the most messed up scientific experiments they can imagine. They claim that they want world domination too, but all Clint sees are some folks who get their rocks off on gruesome body modification and don’t want to admit it.
Today, for instance, Clint is shooting a lot of people who seem to have been spliced with actual giant scorpions. They have pincers and their stings seem to paralyse people. Cap, for instance. Apparently super soldier serum isn’t quite enough to withstand three of the things hitting you at once, and Steve’s stuck in place. Which means Clint’s having to use all his arrows to keep the scorpiople from getting to Cap instead of focusing on the armoured vehicle that AIM is transporting their newest weapon in - which is what Clint was supposed to be doing.
“A little help here, Hawkeye,” Iron Man calls out.
“You’re doing great!” Clint says encouragingly over the comms, although the fact that Tony’s using his actual call sign is a sure sign he’s in trouble.
“What are we paying you for?” Tony asks. “To stand around on rooftops and look like a jackass?”
“Yeah, but also to stop Cap from being eaten alive by scorpiople,” Clint says. “That might be part of it.”
“Cap-” Tony starts to say.
“Eyes on the prize, Stark,” Natasha cuts in. “Hawkeye has it covered and I’m your new backup.”
“Looks like I got an upgrade,” Tony says, though Clint can hear the tension in his voice. Luckily for all of them Tony usually has about ten things going on in his brain at once, so he can handle being worried about Steve and fighting off AIM ray guns at the same time. “Anyone want to call a code green?”
“Not if you want to get that weapon out of there intact,” Bruce says. Clint can just picture him in the command centre, pacing the floor and rubbing his hands together. “I don’t trust AIM enough to be sure that it won’t blow up if the other guy gets near it.”
“If it blows up, then it won’t be a problem anymore,” Clint points out, shooting another Scorpierson in the face.
“My display is registering the presence of gamma radiation,” Bruce says and… okay, then. That makes things more difficult.
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t hit the van with an exploding arrow,” Clint says.
“Please don’t,” Natasha tells him. “I wasn’t planning to die today.”
“That would be a very bad idea,” Bruce says in that mild way of his, while Tony is shouting “Don’t you fucking dare, Barton.”
“Got it!” Clint says. “Someone might want to warn Thor, though, because I’ve got him coming in hot from the south and you know how he likes to make things really light up.”
“On it,” Bruce says.
“How’s the Star Spangled Centenarian doing?” Tony asks.
“More like a Star Spangled Statue at the moment,” Clint replies. “But I think one of his fingers just twitched. It looks like whatever the scorpies stuck him with is starting to wear off.”
“Ha, sleeping on the job,” Tony says. “Typical. If he needed a nap, he should have just told us.”
Thor lands next to Cap and starts beating the scorpion hybrids away with his hammer like he’s hitting home runs every time.
“Thaaaankkssss Thooooooor,” Cap says, clearly pushing the words out as best he can.
“Good of you to join us, Thor, buddy,” Tony says. “Don’t suppose you could grab the van before the driver hits the gas, could you?”
“Certainly,” Thor says, jumping off again to fly to where the van is. Clint watches him lift the van up like he barely notices the weight of it, and the driver bails out, running for the hills.
Clint hits him in the back with a stun arrow.
“Not today, sunshine. Sorry!” he mutters.
“Status?” Cap says, sounding more like himself again.
“I have the cargo,” Thor says.
“We’ve got about twenty guys in boiler suits who just made reservations for the worst hotel stay of their lives,” Tony adds.
“Driver’s down,” Clint adds.
“Great,” Steve says. Clint looks over to him again and notices that he’s starting to move again, his stiff limbs slowly coming back to life. “Thanks for the assist before, Hawkeye.”
“No problem, Cap,” Clint says. “You okay for me to come down?”
“Yeah, I should be fine now,” Cap says.
The authorities take custody of the AIM guys, although no one is entirely sure where you put Scorpion people, and The Avengers take custody of the van and its cargo.
“What even is that thing?” Clint asks as they all crowd round the back of the van. “A nuke?”
“It certainly has a nuclear power source,” Bruce says. “But it doesn’t look anything like any bomb I’ve ever seen.”
“We need to destroy it.”
“In order to do that safely, we need to work out what it is,” Tony says. “And if they’ve got any more of these knocking around, I’d prefer to know what they do first, before we end up on the back foot.”
“Agreed,” Steve says, “Can you and Bruce handle it?”
“You spend half the fight standing around doing nothing and then you’re going to ask if Bruce and I can handle it?” Tony asks. “If AIM made it, I’m pretty sure we can handle it.”
“They are less than competent,” Bruce agrees. “Although sometimes that is more dangerous than it would be otherwise.”
“Can we at least take the radioactive materials out?” Natasha asks. “I’d feel more comfortable if the weapon of mass destruction made by incompetent scientists didn’t have nuclear capabilities…” She raises one eyebrow in that way she always does when she’s trying not to appear overly concerned.
“Seconded,” Clint says, raising his hand. Everyone turns to look at him. “What? I thought we were a democracy.”
“In your dreams, Big Bird,” Tony says. “But I agree with removing the radioactive core.”
Clint leaves them to it.
Back in the tower, Bucky pounces on Steve almost as soon as he’s through the door. If Clint didn’t know better, he’d think they were soulmates, although Steve has made it pretty clear they’re not.
“I’m fine, Buck,” he says.
“You were paralysed,” Bucky replies, pushing his finger into the hole one of the scorpion stings made in the shoulder of Cap’s outfit.
“I walked it off,” Steve says with a shrug, although the motion makes it wince.
“I thought this was armoured,” Bucky says.
“It is armoured!” Tony snaps. “And it’s going to be more armoured.”
“I don’t want my movement restricted,” Steve says with a sigh, turning to Tony with a gentle expression.
“Because that worked so well today, didn’t it?” Tony says, stalking forwards. “Getting paralysed is pretty restricting to your movement, I’d say.”
Clint sidles away from the door, unable to withstand the magnetic draw of Bucky’s presence. He feels like a moth beating itself against a lightbulb.
“You watched the show, then?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, eloquent as always.
“What did you think?”
Clint is definitely not looking for compliments, okay, but he got in some really good shots today, and saving his soulmate’s best friend’s life should get him some brownie points, shouldn’t it? Apparently not, because Bucky looks at him like he’s talking some kind of foreign language.
“You talk too much,” he says, and Clint isn’t sure if that’s a comment on the fight they were just in, or on the fact that Clint’s talking to him right now. “Tactically it’s best to convey the most information with the fewest words,” Bucky says, expanding on his phrase. Clint’s heart sinks. “Your communication efforts were less than efficient.”
“I prefer style over efficiency,” Clint says, grinning. He tells itself that seventy years being treated like an object is bound to do some weird things to a person’s social skills. Bucky doesn’t mean to be rude. He’s just-
“That gets people killed,” Bucky says, then he turns on his heel and heads for Steve again, who has just finished his argument with Tony and is sighing in the exasperated manner that Tony brings to everyone in time.
Right, so Clint’s soulmate thinks he’s bad at his job.
Clint grits his teeth as Natasha steps up next to him.
“Alright?” she asks and he nods. “You don’t look alright.”
“I’m fine,” he says and both eyebrows rise.
“You’re awfully quiet for someone who’s fine.”
“Well, apparently I talk too much,” he says and Natasha’s eyes narrow. Clint feels the anger drain out of him. “No, it’s not his fault. He’s been trained to think that everything needs to be the most efficient it can be. I guess I’ll just have to show him that being inefficient doesn’t mean I don’t kick ass.”
“If you’re sure,” Natasha says.
“Yeah, I’m good. I’m really, actually good,” he says. It’s true because it has to be. Natasha purses her lips, but lets it go, much to Clint’s relief.
It’s not really a surprise that he doesn’t sleep well that night. In his dreams, Bucky straps him into a chair, his face the expressionless mask of the Winter Soldier as he tells Clint that he needs to be made more efficient.
Clint wakes up as they’re sawing his hand off to replace it with a scorpion sting.
“The time is one twenty AM,” JARVIS says. “You are in Avengers Tower, New York, Agent Barton.”
“Thanks, J,” Clint says, lifting his hands up to stare at them. Right okay. Two hands, no scorpion body parts at all. He runs his hands over his face just to check. Nope, still feels like scars, wrinkles and stubble. “Is anyone around?”
“Miss Maximoff is currently in the kitchen. Shall I tell her you will be joining her?” Jarvis asks.
“Yeah, yeah… sure,” Clint says, swinging himself up into a sitting position. “I’ll be right there, just gotta…” he nods to the bathroom.
The cold water on his face doesn’t really wake him up much, but the sensation makes him feel like he’s more real, letting him grasp onto his non-scorpion reality with both hands. He pulls on a t-shirt before heading through to the kitchen, in an attempt to be vaguely civilised. Wanda’s still new around here after all, he’s trying to give her a halfway decent impression of him. Though, that ship has probably sailed.
She’s perched on a stool when he comes in and as soon as she sees him, she smiles.
“Hello Clint,” she says, before standing up and heading for the freezer. She doesn’t bother asking what Clint wants.
“Hey, J,” Clint says. “Put on my Tunez playlist. The one with the z.” Wanda turns to him, looking a little alarmed, then raises both eyebrows as bubblegum k-pop starts to play through JARVIS’s speakers.
“With a z?” she asks.
“It annoys Tony,” he tells her with a shrug, already sliding his socked feet around on the tiled floor in a weird kind of dance. “And Cap,” he adds after a moment.
“Most people don’t want to make their friends annoyed,” she says lightly and Clint laughs, already feeling better.
“That’s not my experience,” he says.
Because Natasha has been teaching her bad things, Wanda does not give him any coffee ice cream at all.
“It will keep you awake”, she says. Clint doesn’t reply that that’s the point, or point out that his tolerance to caffeine is now so high that he barely feels the buzz from a shot of the strongest espresso they can find. Instead he watches her piling cherry and strawberry into her own glass and something purple and suspiciously fruity into his own. He allows it, but only because it’s purple and he’s a bit intrigued.
Then Wanda takes a packet of pop rocks out of the cupboard and very deliberately scatters them on top of her own ice cream and Clint steals his, whatever it is, before she can do the same to it.
“You know I only gave you those the first time as a joke, right?” he says around a spoonful. It turns out purple is blueberry pie flavour, which is pretty good, even if it’s not coffee, and some other berry flavour as well. It’s not the worst thing anyone’s ever made him, and there’s a good serving of honey on top, although Wanda does reach over to scatter on some nuts.
“I like them,” she tells him. Her fingers are flicking in time with the song that’s playing, and she’s smiling as she tilts her head. Clint’s never asked what nightmares keep her up at night, but he thinks he can guess some of them.
Clint makes a face, but doesn’t offer a comment. She can keep her pop rocks, he’s a lot happier never having those things exploding in his mouth and vibrating his skull.
Wanda is looking at him, head tilted, her eyes narrowing.
“There is something… different about you,” she says, before taking another mouthful of her ice cream, still surveying him. She has definitely been hanging out with Nat too much. He can’t tell if the way she’s looking right through him is entirely because Natasha is giving her secret lessons on How to Freak Clint Out, or because of her weird glowy red powers that let her read people’s minds or something. He hopes it’s the first, because the second is a lot more worrying.
“I thought you hadn’t met your soulmate,” she says, setting down her spoon.
“Uh…” Clint says. He really had not been expecting this conversation to go there. He gives her a sharp look. “What do you mean?” he asks, playing dumb. She keeps looking at him and Clint resists the urge to shiver. It’s not Wanda’s fault she can do these things and she’s definitely not using it maliciously - any more. He needs to learn to be less freaked out.
“I can see a connection,” she says. Then she frowns. “But there’s something… strange about it.”
“Huh,” Clint says, taking a spoonful of his ice cream just to avoid having to say anything else.
“It’s like you’re trying to make a connection, but it’s not working,” she says, tilting her head the other way. One of her hands reaches out, her fingers doing the weird, bendy thing they do when she’s about to start using her powers. “May I?” she asks.
Clint thinks about it for a second, because Wanda’s not going to hurt him - not intentionally at any rate, and maybe he’d like to know what’s going on with his messed up soulbond and Wanda might be able to tell him.
“Sure, go ahead,” he says, spreading his arms. It’s not like she could make it worse… probably.
The now familiar red glow starts to emerge from her fingers and slowly moves towards him and she moves her fingers like she’s plucking the strings of an invisible harp. Her concentration intensifies, and she looks like she’s staring at something just past Clint’s shoulder.
He’s about to ask her for the verdict when there’s a noise from the door and they both turn - Wanda’s powers dissipating into the air - to see Bucky standing in the doorway.
He’s staring at them.
“Welcome to the Midnight Sundaes Club, dude!” Clint announces, swinging his arms wide again and jumping from his seat. He forgets that he still has his spoon in his hand and little drops of melted purple ice cream scatter across the room. Whoops.
Bucky frowns, looking upwards, clearly listening to the music.
“What… is this?” he asks. Clint shrugs.
“A support group for insomniac superheroes where we eat ice cream, listen to music and pretend we’re functioning human beings?” Clint offers.
“What was she doing to you?” Bucky asks, glaring over at Wanda, who is getting to her feet, looking at him with that same curious expression that she’d examined Clint. Which means the circle of trust just expanded by one. He gives her a look, hoping he conveys his meaning of ‘please do not tell him’.
“I was trying to help him solve a problem,” Wanda says. Bucky looks to Clint for confirmation.
“Oh yeah, and I totally consented, no need to worry, Bu-Barnes!” he says. “Wanna join us? When was the last time you had ice cream?”
“No,” Bucky says then, as though the word is new to him, “thank you.”
“I make a mean Kahlua Mudslide,” Clint tells him. He can see in Bucky’s expression that he wants to ask, but he looks between Clint and Wanda again and the expression disappears.
“No, thank you,” he says, the words coming more easily this time, but still not naturally. He turns and heads out, then pauses in the doorway before twisting back around again, his expression pained. “Enjoy your ice cream.”
It’s the most awkward phrase Clint has ever heard anyone say, ever. And his heart breaks a bit right then and there, because while Bucky has moments where he seems like the guy Steve talks about, there are also moments like this, when it’s completely clear that he’s still picking up the pieces of himself and learning how to be human.
“We will, and if you ever feel like taking me up on the ice cream offer, just ask!” Clint tells him. Bucky grunts and walks away, clearly up to his limit with socialisation for the night. Clint’s shoulders slump as soon as Bucky’s out of sight and he stares at the empty doorway for a long moment.
That felt like it might have been an opportunity, but it seems like he wasted it already. He doesn’t know how many more he’s going to get.
“I see,” Wanda says, and he turns to her slowly with a wince. “That’s… confusing.”
“Right?” Clint says glumly. He goes back to his ice cream, but it doesn’t taste the same. “So, what’s the verdict?”
“I don’t know,” she tells him. She sucks on her spoon thoughtfully. “I can see that both of you are trying to make a connection just… it doesn’t match.”
“It’s…” she holds up her hands so that they are connected at the fingertips, then sharply jerks each in a different direction. “Not aligned. Like you’re reaching for different people.” She gives him a sad look.
“He definitely said my words,” Clint tells her. “I felt it when he said them, and they turned black, just like they were supposed to, but he…”
“I don’t think you said his,” Wanda says. “His connection feels… old and broken. Like it used to connect to someone. I’ve seen connections like that before, in people whose soulmates have died.”
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Clint says. He stabs at the purple mess in his bowl.
“Sorry,” she tells him with a shake of her head. “I don’t… I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Great, I’m unique,” Clint says with false cheer. The ice cream no longer seems very appetising. “I’m just gonna…” he jerks his thumb towards the door. Wanda nods and watches him leave, her face still fixed in confusion.
Clint goes to Natasha’s room rather than his own and climbs onto the other side of her bed. She opens one eye to look at him, then pokes him in the face.
“Either sleep, or get out,” she says. So Clint lies down and closes his eyes. Natasha turns over with a sleepy sigh next to him. “And you have purple on your nose.”
The next day Clint braces himself for battle and looks up what happens to people with broken soulbonds. The ones broken through death or trauma or just… poor maintenance. It’s not a happy story and he can map the symptoms right on top of his own. The ache he feels, the strange emptiness in his mind, like there’s something missing. The extra nightmares, the cold that he can’t quite seem to shake, that has him wearing hoodies when everyone else is in short sleeves. Apart from Bucky, but Bucky seems to have decided the layers of fabric make up for his missing armour, so that doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t.
Wanda had said Bucky’s broken soulbond looked old.
So Clint starts going through those files as well, the Winter Soldier files, searching for any sign that Hydra had done something. Because that’s what Hydra does, right? They corrupt and experiment and break things apart to see how to make them worse.
He searches through the mission logs, hoping that they hadn’t made Bucky kill his own soulmate, but he finds nothing in there, just a lot of death. It’s sad, and some of it makes him want to just go and wrap himself around Bucky and hold on - though he knows that wouldn’t be welcome. Whatever else Hydra did, though, if they severed Bucky’s soul connection, it wasn’t on purpose.
Natasha comes to him two days later and tells him that he’s taking her out for coffee. She then proceeds to judge him entirely too much when he empties four packets of sugar into it, which is hardly fair. She knew what she was getting herself into when she set this workdate up,
“You look worse,” she says, because they gave up on tact a long time ago. “You haven’t been sleeping.”
“Nope,” Clint says, downing his coffee in a few quick gulps.
“Has he… said anything else?” she asks. Her tone is light, but the pause is worrying. Clint’s a little worried that Natasha’s going to kill his soulmate before he actually has the chance to be his soulmate.
“No, we barely talk,” Clint tells her. “I mean, I bumped into him in the kitchen the other night, but he seemed a bit freaked out by Wanda’s powers, so he left again. He told me to enjoy my ice cream, though!” He tries not to be overly enthusiastic that his soulmate actually said something nice to him once. That feels a little pathetic.
“Wanda’s powers?” Natasha asks. “Why was Wanda using her powers?”
“She can like… see soulbonds or something,” Clint says, smiling at the waiter as he tops up his coffee. “She could see that mine was broken and she asked if she could examine it or something.”
“And you said yes?”
“Of course I did,” Clint says. “She knows better than to go poking around at things like that without permission, Nat. You know she does.” Natasha makes a humming noise, but drops the subject. He knows she likes Wanda well enough, but Natasha holds almost everyone at a level of distrust for years before she lets them in, and Wanda is still very much an unknown quantity in her eyes.
“Did she have any insights?”
“She said we both had bonds that were reaching out and trying to connect,” Clint says, stirring more sugar into his coffee. “She said Bu-Barnes’s looked old… and like his soulmate had died. She said our bonds weren’t… aligned.”
There is a furrow between Nat’s brows as she takes in this information, and she nods.
“And I looked up what it’s like to lose your soulmate and I’ve gotta say, the symptoms seemed kind of familiar,” he tells her with a self-deprecating smile.
“I know,” she says, because of course she’s worked that out. “What I don’t know is how that could have happened so fast. There are no records of any soulbond breaking within less than a year without the death of one of the parties.” She leans back in her seat, crossing her legs as she sips at her latte. “I saw Barnes’ soulmark.”
“What does it-” Clint stops himself. “No, I don’t wanna know what it says. Just… does it match what I said to him when I first saw him?”
“No,” Natasha says. Well that’s clear and concise, he supposes. He was right. Bucky is his soulmate, but he’s not Bucky’s.
She leans forwards to wrap her hand around his, squeezing lightly.
“We’re going to work this out, Clint.”
“Are we?” Clint asks. “Because I’m not sure what there is to figure out that we don’t already know. I connected to him, but he can’t connect back because he’s already had a soulmate and lost them sometime over the last a hundred years or so, and I can’t replace them. So I guess I’ve got to get used to the new normal.” He waves a hand. “It shouldn’t be too bad, the symptoms fade in time, or that’s what they say. Plenty of people live with broken soulbonds for years.” He doesn’t mention the other statistics of the people who don’t, but Nat’s done her homework, she knows the odds.
“No,” Natasha says, “because this is not normal, which means something is wrong, and we can work out what happened and fix it. Hydra has destroyed too many lives, Clint. I’m not going to let them hurt you too.”
“Might be too late for that, Nat,” he says.
“If you start wallowing in self pity, I’m not going to let you take me out for coffee anymore,” she says. Clint rolls his eyes. “And I’ll stop backing you up when you want to order pizza and everyone else wants Chinese.”
“That’s below the belt!” he says in mock outrage.
“Then stop pretending that you’re going to die alone and get off your ass, Barton,” she says. “Now… I’m ordering cake. What about you?”
“Sure,” Clint says, and lets Natasha order him a blueberry muffin, because she and Wanda are clearly in cahoots.
They get back to the Tower in time to walk into a full pitched battle, the likes of which they haven’t seen for a couple of years. Steve has his arms crossed, in the way that makes his pecs and biceps bulge, and also makes it seem like he’s more disappointed in you than he’s ever been disappointed in anyone before.
Tony, on the other side, is waving his hands in huge, furious gestures, his body tilted forwards, making up for every inch of height difference with force of personality.
“It’s too dangerous!” Steve is telling him, his voice not raised, but with that bite to it that means he lost his temper about twenty minutes ago and really wants to punch something.
“Nothing’s ever completely safe!” Tony spits. “We’re never going to be able to make it completely safe! If you want me to wait until I can ensure that no one will so much as stub their toe or get a papercut, then I’d never do anything. You can’t make discoveries if you don’t take risks.”
“And that’s precisely the attitude that AIM had in the first place when they created the thing!” Steve says, his voice rising just a bit.
“Just because I’m taking risks doesn’t mean I’m not also taking precautions. I know you think I exist solely to make you angry, but I’m not actually a goddamn fucking idiot!” Tony spits. “I made weapons for decades, Steve! I know how to test things carefully.”
“JARVIS,” Steve says, and Clint winces, because using Tony’s creations against him is a surefire way to escalate this from argument to full blown battle.
“Yes, Captain Rogers?” JARVIS says.
“In your opinion, how safe were Tony’s initial tests of the Iron Man suit?” he asks
“That’s below the fucking belt, Rogers!” Tony spits. “I told you that in confidence. Don’t you dare hold that over my head. JARVIS, don’t answer him.”
“Your own protocols indicate I am to comply with whatever Captain Rogers asks of me, sir,” JARVIS says. “In this case, I would have to say that sir’s precautions were… less than ideal.”
“Thank you JARVIS,” Steve says, smiling like he thinks he’s won the argument. Clint braces himself.
“I just think it’s a bit rich coming from the guy who agreed to experimental drugs being pumped into his system before he was exposed to high amounts of radiation!” Tony snaps. “The same guy who had my Dad drop him - alone, with no way of communication - into the centre of Nazi territory with no fucking backup! You wanna talk about reckless, Rogers? Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Tony, it’s not the-”
“It’s exactly the same. How is it different? You wanted to save lives? Guess what! So do I!”
“It’s different because it’s you!” Steve says.
The entire room falls silent, and Clint glances around to see that almost the entire gang is there, watching this argument with bated breath. In a corner, Bruce is clearly trying to stay well clear. Wanda isn’t even trying to pretend not to listen, nor is Sam, who seems to be viewing this whole thing with the air of someone who really wants popcorn.
Steve uncrosses his arms and reaches out to catch Tony’s hands where they are frozen midair.
“Don’t ask me to risk my soulmate, Tony… Please.” He says, his voice is low, but the words are clear, even to Clint.
Clint turns to Natasha, who looks completely unsurprised. Sam is grinning like a mad thing. Wanda… of course doesn’t look surprised, because she can see these things. Clint takes a little comfort in Bruce’s double blink of startlement, but other than that, it seems like he’s the last one in on this secret.
“I’m going to be fine,” Tony says. “You can’t lock me away to keep me safe, Steve.”
“Are you denying that you could try to learn more about the device before you try to turn it on?” Steve asks. Tony makes a face.
“In the time it takes, they might have sold another one…” he says.
“That’s why we have JARVIS monitoring for signs of that happening,” Steve tells him. “Just until you have a clearer view of what it does, okay?”
“Fine,” Tony says. “But you owe me for this, Rogers.”
“I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to make it up to you,” Steve says. And that is never a tone of voice Clint wanted to hear from Captain America, thank you very much. Oh wow, no. It’s like… watching Santa Claus grind with your kindergarten teacher.
“My eyes!” he declares, clapping a hand over them. “I need those to shoot and now I’m blind.”
“Shut up, Daffy,” Tony says. “You spent two weeks showing us you could shoot anything you wanted while blindfolded, so I guess you’ll cope.”
Clint gives him the finger and dares to peek between his fingers. They’re not sucking face anymore, which is good, although Tony’s hand does seem to have found its way into Steve’s back pocket. Oh… someone’s going on the naughty list for disrespecting the flag.
Steve is looking around, blushing, seeming to realise exactly where they are.
“Uh…” he says.
“You’re soulmates,” Natasha says for him. “We already knew… well, most of us.”
“Really?” Tony looks around the room. “Who knew?”
Everyone’s hand goes up but Clint’s.
“Seriously?” Clint asks. “And no one thought to tell me?”
“You’re called Hawkeye,” Bruce says. “We thought you knew.” Clint tries not to pout about that, but seriously, someone could have given him a heads up. It would have been nice, is all he’s saying.
“So everyone except for Hawkass knew this whole time,” Tony says, looking around at them all. Steve is blushing fire engine red and looking around as well.
“Where did Bucky go?” he asks.
“He stepped out as soon as the soulmate cat came out of the bag,” Natasha says. Clint looks over to where Bucky had been standing to one side and, sure enough, he’s gone.
Steve’s face drops and he rubs a hand over his face.
“I didn’t want him to find out like this,” he says. Natasha shoots a glance at Clint, who shrugs slightly.
“You think he didn’t know?” Natasha asks.
“It doesn’t matter if he knew,” Steve says, looking at her. “It’s just… I should have told him first. He doesn’t have…” he pauses.
“What’s wrong?” Tony asks, sliding a hand up Steve’s arm in a way that is bordering on PDA. Clint grimaces. Steve smiles down at him - and now they’re ‘out’ they’re going to be so damn sappy, aren’t they? Clint can already tell it’s going to drive him mad.
“It's just, Bucky doesn’t have a good history with soulmates,” Steve says, sighing.
“Did Hydra-?” Clint starts to ask, then realises that he was probably too quick on the draw then. Natasha definitely thinks so from the glare she’s giving him. Steve doesn’t seem to notice though, just turns to look at him with a sigh, his arm wrapping around Tony’s waist and pulling him in close, like a teddy bear for comfort.
“No… no,” Steve says. “I don’t know if he even remembers, but… I shouldn’t talk about this without him.” He nods. “Please don’t ask him about it. Just, soulmates might be a touchy subject with him.”
Clint doesn’t let his frustration show on his face. He thought, for a second, that he was about to get an answer, to at least some part of this soulmate conundrum he’s caught up in, but apparently not - because Cap’s just too good a guy to go spilling his best friend’s secrets without his permission.
He looks over to Natasha again and she blinks once, and he knows she’s going to be investigating thoroughly into whatever this ‘bad history’ with soulmates is.
Clint feels kind of bad about that. He doesn’t want to hurt Barnes, that’s the last thing he wants, but he does want answers and Natasha’s good enough at her job that Bucky might not even realise he’s giving them to her. That makes Clint feel worse, if anything. He shakes his head at her. If he’s going to do this, he’s going to do it right. Bucky might not be his soulmate, but Clint’s not going to undermine trust he’s only just building.
Natasha raises one eyebrow an infinitesimal amount as if to ask ‘are you sure’, and Clint nods a barely there nod.
“Are you two having secret conversations again?” Tony asks. “You know that’s not fair on the rest of us who don’t speak super secret spy-ese.”
“And half the time you and Bruce speak in science, and the rest of us have no hope,” Natasha replies, looking away from Clint as she smoothly leads Tony off topic and into another debate.
So Clint can plan his entirely non manipulative and totally above board scheme to get Bucky Barnes to confess his deepest secrets to him.
Perhaps ‘scheme’ isn’t the best word to use.
He really isn’t expecting to see Cap in the kitchen that night. He’d sort of thought, or been trying not to think, that he and Tony would be making up… and whatever that entails.
But come ten past one in the morning, Clint and Sam are arguing over the merits of 80s ballads and enjoying some raspberry ripple when Steve comes in, looking forlorn.
“Hey Cap, pull up a chair!” Clint says, swinging back around to the freezer to grab the bubblegum, vanilla and strawberry ice creams he knows are there - and the star shaped sprinkles. He’s been keeping them for just this occasion.
“Hi,” Steve says, sitting down. It’s not often he ends up at these little get-togethers. Clint doesn’t know whether it’s because he sleeps better than the rest of them, or whether he prefers to crawl out of his nightmares alone, but it is a rare sight.
“What’s up?” Sam asks.
“I…” Steve trails off.
“Is it Tony?” Clint asks. “Because I have not yet come to terms with that revelation.”
“No,” Steve says, shaking his head with a small smile. “It’s not Tony. Tony’s good. Tony’s great. He’s-” he trails off, looking at them and a blush forms on his cheeks. “Uh.”
“Then it’s Barnes,” Sam says. Clint looks between the pair of them and he has a feeling that they might have had this conversation before. It’s not unethical to listen to it. They both know he’s here. Sure, he’s going to fade quietly into the background and make the most patriotic and disgustingly sweet sundae he’s ever made in his life - where did he put the blueberry sauce? - but it’s not like he’s spying .
“He doesn’t want to talk about it,” Steve says.
“You can’t force the man to have a conversation,” Sam points out.
“I know, I just feel like maybe he needs to talk about it to someone.”
Clint does not ask what ‘it’ is, although his curiosity is piqued.
“Pushing him to talk to you isn’t going to help anything, it’s just going to make him clam up more,” Sam goes on. Steve looks over at Clint, who nods automatically, then sighs.
“You’re right, but he isn’t talking to anyone.”
“It sucks to watch people going through shit like this,” Sam says. “But you’re doing all you can do. It’s all about patience now.”
“Not my strong point,” Steve says.
“You’re telling me,” Clint says, spinning round to present the sundae to them both. It is a monstrosity. The bubblegum ice cream is a blue that is almost luminous, clearly a colour nature never intended, the strawberry is the red end of pink and the blueberry sauce and red, white and blue star sprinkles Clint had found in the 4th of July sales were absolutely worth it.
Steve stares down at it with growing horror.
“I call it the Americone Dream,” Clint says.
“There isn’t a cone,” Sam points out. Clint shrugs. He’s not sure that matters at all.
And then Steve laughs, shaking his head.
“What have you done to my soulmate?” a voice calls from the doorway and they all turn to see Tony standing there, rumpled from sleep and- no, Clint’s going to assume that all that bedhead is from sleep. As he steps into the room, Steve reaches out a hand and Tony is reeled in before they are even touching. Clint reminds himself that he isn’t jealous.
“What is that?” Tony asks, looking at Clint’s masterpiece.
“Diabetes in a bowl,” Sam comments.
Steve’s chuckles ebb away, but he’s looking at Clint with a thoughtful expression that makes Clint shift uncomfortably.
“You…” Steve pauses. “Could you talk to him, or just-” Steve pauses. “He needs someone to hang out with who isn’t me.”
Clint swallows, hard. Because that’s simultaneously the best and worst thing Steve could have asked for, but it’s not like he can say no. Who can say no to Captain America?
“He hates me,” Clint says.
“No, he doesn’t,” Steve says. “He doesn’t know you. I bet you’d get along really well if you tried.”
“Is it just me or is it weird that you’re trying to organise a playdate for a hundred year old assassin,” Tony asks.
“Ex-assassin,” Steve corrects, giving Tony a hard look.
“Ex-assassin,” Tony allows. “Anyway, Woody Woodpecker, where’s mine?”
Clint gives an exaggerated sigh and rolls his eyes, but he turns back to the freezer, grateful that Tony’s distracted Steve enough from his request.
Steve doesn’t bring it up again, although Clint does catch him looking at Clint thoughtfully a couple more times before they all find their way back to their own rooms. Clint is unspeakably grateful, because he’s already feeling rubbish enough about his plans. He really doesn’t want to add another layer of manipulation on top of everything else.
The first step in getting a mark… person to confide in you is getting them to feel comfortable around you. There are any number of ways to accomplish that but mostly they involve playing a role. Of course, this situation is completely different because Bucky isn’t a mark and Clint isn’t undercover, so for this plan, Clint will be playing himself.
People form connections based on similarities they see with other people. They like people who are like them. It’s why Natasha automatically mirrors Clint’s body language when she wants him to forgive her. It’s why Clint has learnt to be just good enough not to suck at a thousand different hobbies over the years and why he can talk about pretty much every sport in existence. There was a mission in India one time where he’d had to learn kabaddi. That had been an experience, but it had done wonders for his lung capacity.
Luckily, in this case, Clint doesn’t need to learn anything, because he’s already got things in common with Bucky, he just has to find a way to showcase them.
His other usual method of getting information from people involves appearing too stupid to actually understand what they’re talking about.
He never thought he’d be grateful that his (maybe) soulmate thinks he’s an idiot.
Tony’s idea of a shooting range is unlike anywhere Clint’s ever been before, and he’s seen ranges all over the world. The entire place is controlled by JARVIS and it shifts and changes. You never get the same combination twice and you can choose your difficulty level, from standing still to simulating an attack in a volcanic eruption. It’s the best VR game that doesn’t exist, although Clint knows that Stark Industries could make a mint franchising it.
He doesn’t go to Bucky - that’s the important part. He doesn’t go to Bucky because you have to let the… person think that it’s their idea.
If hell is real, and the recent influx of magic and alien gods into his life make Clint at least somewhat sure it is, Clint is definitely going there. He wonders if they have a special area just for people who con their (maybe) soulmates.
Mostly Clint’s plan just involves hanging around in the range, though, and waiting for Bucky to appear.
He’s seen the guy’s stats. He’s read every single piece of information he can get his hands on regarding Bucky Barnes and the Winter Soldier, and the one thing that sticks out on both fronts is that the guy is gifted with a gun. More than gifted. He might even… possibly… give Clint a run for his money. He wouldn’t beat him , of course, but he might make it challenging.
And so, maybe Clint chose this specific method just because he wants to test that theory.
It takes two weeks for Bucky to take the bait - the bait which is Clint annihilating all of the scores Bucky has slowly been building up on JARVIS’s leaderboards. Every time Bucky makes a new record, Clint runs the same simulation and beats him by a couple of points. He’s taunting him, he knows he is. Bucky knows it, too. And maybe antagonising the Winter Soldier isn’t the best way to make friends and influence people, but it’s really fucking fun.
He’s running the rainforest scenario he likes to think of as Indiana Jones on crack when Bucky walks into the viewing room. Clint clocks him immediately and maybe starts to show off a bit. Strictly speaking not all of these flips and tricks are necessary, and using the boomerang arrow to shoot three guys at once is definitely overkill, but sue him. He wants his (maybe) soulmate to see how good he is.
And also, he read those files. He wants Bucky Barnes to see how good he is.
He rescues the hostage, retrieves the artefact and shoots down the dinky little twin engine plane without being bitten by snakes. As JARVIS pulls up his time and his score, Clint punches the air as he sees he’s beaten Bucky’s yet again. He bows, sweeping his arm, hand still holding his bow, out to the side with a flourish.
“You waste too much energy,” Bucky says over the intercom. “And your trick arrows are too flashy. You could have done that in half the time if you had taken it seriously.”
“Sure, but where would the fun be in that?” Clint asks.
“You were almost caught five times, you came far too close to the large snake on the tree, it could have bitten you, and you’re lucky the hostage survived.”
“But I wasn’t, and it didn’t and they did,” Clint says. “Why? You want to show me how it’s done?”
“You wanted me to come here,” Bucky says. “Why?”
“Come in here and do a run through on player vs player mode and maybe I’ll tell you,” Clint says. He tilts his head with a smirk that’s full of challenge.
“Player vs player?” Bucky asks.
“It’s like laser tag, only there are also virtual reality zombies,” Clint says. Bucky still looks confused, so Clint gives him the longer explanation until Bucky nods once, and disappears from behind the glass.
For a few seconds, Clint thinks Bucky has just left, but then he walks through the door, unzipping his hoodie to reveal the henley underneath and reaching for one of the fake guns JARVIS keeps for specifically this kind of situation.
It’s exhilarating to run through the sim alongside Bucky. It’s been a long time since he’s been in one of these things with anyone who could even hope to match him on accuracy, and he and Natasha usually run it as a team. But Bucky moves nothing like Natasha, or anyone else in the Avengers. He moves decisively, with agility, but less flexibility than Natasha. He uses his body as a blunt instrument and every single movement is planned and focused.
Clint might get a little caught up in watching him.
Bucky might shoot him right in the face while he is.
But there’s something about watching the way Bucky moves, about anticipating those movements and reacting to them, that makes something in Clint’s chest sing. It feels like leaping from one trapeze to the other and hoping your partner will catch you. It feels like jumping off a building while calling Iron Man. It feels like danger and freedom all wrapped into one. Like learning to fly.
Clint considers what it would be like to work together, like he and Natasha do, and achieve that fluid sort of hive mind motion that they have. And then he thinks about what it would be like to have this sort of push and pull in the bedroom, to move together and react like this.
And Bucky shoots him in the back this time.
Clint wins by two points. He shoots more zombies, but Bucky gets more hits on him.
By the end of their run, Bucky’s almost, maybe, grinning, and it’s a good look on Clint’s almost, maybe, soulmate.
“You get distracted too easily,” Bucky tells him.
“Still beat you.”
“Fuck you, I won fair and square,” Clint says. Bucky rolls his eyes.
“And now, you’re going to tell me why you brought me here,” Bucky says, eyeing Clint with a steady stare. Clint winces. So maybe subtlety is more Nat’s thing.
“I thought you needed to loosen up a bit, have some fun,” he says, stretching his arms out over his head. For a millisecond Bucky’s eyes flicker to the bulge of his bicep, and Clint feels a spike of triumph. No one can resist his biceps. Proven fact!
“Fun?” Bucky says, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “Ever since we found out about Steve and Tony… well, since I found out about Steve and Tony because apparently everyone else knew and just didn’t think to tell me, you’ve been incommunicado. Not that you’re usually the life and soul of the party, but you’re usually there.”
“Why does that concern you?” Bucky asks, pulling his hoodie back on, which is practically a crime. Clint was really enjoying the way Bucky’s henley clung to him. Clint frowns at the question though. It’s not like he can answer it honestly.
“Steve’s worried,” he says. “Which means Tony’s worried, since apparently they come as a matching set now. And when Tony’s worried, he does stupid things and annoys Bruce in his lab, and when Bruce is worried we’re all worried because as much as I like the Hulk, no one likes a big green surprise interrupting their morning coffee.”
“Right,” Bucky says. “I’ll come to events more. Steve won’t worry.”
“No…” Clint sighs. “That’s not what I meant. That’s just… covering shit up, not solving things. And as the king of covering shit up, let me advise you that it always spills out somewhere in the end.”
“But Steve won’t be worried, so Stark won’t be worried, so Dr Banner won’t be worried,” Bucky says, looking at Clint. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“I want you to feel better,” Clint says as honest as he can. “And that has the added bonus of sorting all the other stuff out.”
“The other solution is simpler,” Bucky tells him.
“Yeah, I know you’re all about the efficiency,” Clint says. “But humour me, on this. What’s going on, Bu-Barnes?”
Bucky catches the slip on his name and eyes him even more suspiciously than before.
“Look,” Clint says. “The way I see it, you don’t want to talk to Steve about this because he’s all… Steve-like and you don’t want to upset him because he matters. I’m your best bet. I’m good at keeping secrets. I’m not anyone important to you, I’m just the idiot who’d prefer to do a somersault than conserve energy. What have you got to lose?”
Bucky turns to him fully, crossing his arms over his chest.
“You worked for SHIELD.”
“Yep,” Clint agrees.
“Why should I trust you?” Clint shrugs.
“I can swear I won’t tell anyone,” Clint says. “But you wouldn’t believe me. I’m just here to give you the option. You want someone to talk to, I’m here and I’m a nice low stakes option. Up to you if you want to take me up on the offer.”
Bucky looks him up and down, and there’s a strange look in his eye, almost like he wants to trust Clint. Then he sighs.
“Fine,” Bucky says. “What about…?” he waves at the ceiling.
“My privacy protocols prevent me from relaying any information residents of this tower speak to each other privately,” JARVIS says. “That includes both you and Agent Barton, Sergeant Barnes.”
Bucky doesn’t look convinced, but he looks like he wants to be convinced, and Clint knows the biggest part of the battle’s done.
“Fine,” Bucky repeats. “I guess it doesn’t even matter anyway. It was decades ago, and there’s no way to use it against me now.” Clint doesn’t interrupt. “It was during the war. After… after Hydra had me the first time. Back with the Howlies.” He pauses to scrub a hand through his hair and he suddenly looks completely, achingly human. There’s an expression on his face that has to be a reflection of how he looked back then - just a kid in the middle of a warzone, trying his best to stay alive. Clint wants to hug him, but he hugs himself instead, hiding it behind crossing his arms.
“I only remembered a couple of days before… before Stevie and Stark,” Bucky says. Clint nods. “Didn’t know what to make of it at the time, thought maybe if I waited long enough, the rest would come back, too… but it didn’t. And I guess it never will.” Bucky sighs. “I had a soulmark, guess most people do. I still do… just. One day I woke up and I didn’t remember the night before. We’d been celebrating a raid - took out a Hydra base and things got… enthusiastic.” He smiles a bit at the thought of it. “I remember some of it… but the night gets fuzzy and then… then nothing.”
“Sounds like a good night,” Clint says with an encouraging grin.
“Must have been,” Bucky says. “It’s the night I met my soulmate.” Clint’s eyebrows rise up his forehead.
“Don’t know where, don’t know when, only know I woke in the morning with this feeling in my chest like something had been carved out of me, and my words… their words were… grey.”
Grey, the colour of death. The colour every soulmated pair in the world has nightmares about.
“No one remembered who it was,” Bucky says. “We went back to the village we’d been in, but the place… the Nazis had been through it in the night, looking for us. There were a lot of bodies. A lot of grey words on ‘em. But I don’t know what I said to them… so I didn’t know who…” His voice cracks. “So, you gonna come up with a way to solve that, Hawkeye? Gonna give me my soulmate back when I don’t even remember meeting them?”
You can have me instead , Clint thinks, the words caught in his mind, caged because he can’t say them now.
“Fuck, Bucky. I’m so so-”
“Don’t,” Bucky says. “It was a long time ago. And maybe it’s better I don’t remember, huh? It would hurt more if I could remember them. It’s easier to not remember happiness you’ve lost. Believe me, I would know.”
Clint wants to cry bullshit, because there’s no way. There’s no way what Bucky just told him is easier. But he can’t say anything. His whole body is aching at the thought of it, the very idea. He wants to grab hold of Bucky and never let go. He wants to proclaim himself Bucky’s second chance, but how do you say ‘I want to replace your soulmate’. You can’t do that. You can’t say that.
“Want to shoot some more stuff?” he asks instead. Bucky gives a tight nod.
“So?” Natasha asks. She’s waiting in his room by the time he gets back from shooting things with Bucky. How she knows that he’s got the information is anyone’s guess. He’s given up asking at this point.
“Well, it’s fucked up and terrible and I can’t tell you because I swore I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Clint says, flopping down on the sofa right next to her. “And I feel like a total asshole for making him tell me.”
“He’s your soulmate,” Natasha says.
“No,” Clint says. “He’s really not.”
Natasha’s already got his ice cream waiting for him that night, coffee, chocolate and even marshmallows, because she’s clearly feeling bad for him.
“The amount of ice cream I’m going through at the moment, I’m really glad this job has dental,” Clint says around his first mouthful. Nat rolls her eyes.
“Are you going to pick the music, Hawkeye, or are we going to sit here in silence like mourners at a funeral?”
Clint raises a hand and signs to JARVIS to play his least objectionable playlist, then he picks up his spoon again, complete with a mouthful of ice cream, and raises it in a salute.
“To the tragic corpse of my dreams,” he says.
“You are too dramatic,” Natasha says, and she steals a mouthful of his ice cream, so he retaliates by stealing a mouthful of hers only to almost spit it back out again immediately. Pistachio. He thought they only kept that around for the rare occasions Bruce joined them. Natasha smirks at his discomfort.
“I am not being dramatic,” Clint says. “I’m being very restrained. There has been no screaming, no rending of clothes, no… is sackcloth and ashes a mourning thing?”
“I think it’s a shame thing,” Natasha says. “So everyone would know you were shamed.”
“Right, so not that… no black armbands or parades, either. This is not dramatic.” He points his spoon at Natasha. “You’ve seen me when I’m dramatic.” He sags down onto the countertop. “Is it bad that I’m jealous of Tony and Cap?”
“No,” Nat says, reaching out a hand to brush over his hair, then flick him in the forehead. “They are famous, beautiful, rich and intelligent. There is a very high proportion of the population of this planet who are jealous of them.”
“Oh god… that’s worse,” Clint says. He takes a huge mouthful of the coffee ice cream, feeling it melt over his tongue. “I just…” He sighs again. “Wishes are for kids.”
“True,” Natasha agrees. “Adults make things happen.” She’s looking at him firmly, like he’s just supposed to stand up and go and knock on Bucky’s door. “You are an adult, and you are a trained agent. You make things happen.”
“Not always,” Clint says. “Budapest-”
“Things definitely happened in Budapest,” Natasha says.
“Not according to plan, they didn’t,” Clint points out.
“Plans are flexible,” Natasha reminds him. “Nothing turns out the way you plan when the heart is involved, or that is what I have read.”
“Is it time for your yearly relapse into Tolstoy again?” Clint asks with a yawn.
“I appreciate his descriptions,” she tells him. “You would too if you read him in the original Russian.”
“There is no way I’m reading War and Peace in the original Russian,” Clint says. “I wouldn’t live long enough to finish it.” Nat raises an eyebrow. “Because it’s so long… That was a joke about it being long, not about it being boring. Please don’t stab me!”
“Tolstoy was a master of the Russian language,” Natasha tells him, her eyes hard.
“He was overly sentimental,” a voice says from the doorway and they both turn to see Bucky standing in the doorway, lit from behind like some shadowy dream figure. Apart from the hoodie, Clint can’t think of anyone who looks particularly threatening in an oversized hoodie with their hands stuck in the pocket.
“James,” Natasha says, looking to Clint, who looks right back at her with panic in his eyes. “What brings you here?”
“I… Barton said before that I could… come to eat ice cream if I… if it was a bad night.”
His voice does not sound as harsh as it usually does when he’s talking to Clint. The words come out of his mouth in shuffling bursts, like they’re afraid of being caught, or like Bucky’s pushing them out past some sort of bottleneck.
“Of course, come on, the more the merrier,” Clint says, standing up. “Nat’s on ice cream duty, what’s your poison?”
“I… they never let me have ice cream,” Bucky says, taking a step forwards, into the room, which Clint is going to count as a point to him. “Ice cream lacks nutritional value.”
“Okay, but counterpoint,” Clint says, raising a sticky finger. “Ice cream tastes good and is good comfort food.”
“Food is not…” Bucky frowns and takes a breath. “They said food was for nutritional purposes only. Sweet foods would impair my efficiency.”
Clint wants to hug him again. He has to get past this stage, because Bucky clearly does not want to be hugged.
“Nope,” Clint says, trying to remain cheerful. “Food has a lot of purposes. Sure, it fills you up, but it tastes good. It makes you feel good. It helps you create social bonds.”
“Is that why you do… this?” Bucky looks around. “I mean, ice cream after midnight doesn’t sound like the best diet for a superhero team.”
“You should see what else he eats,” Natasha says, cutting in. “I used to have trouble getting him to eat anything that wasn’t presented on a round dough base with melted cheese on top.” Bucky smirks, looking back at Clint, his eyes darting up and down.
“Pizza has all the major food groups,” he says.
“What can I get you, James?” Natasha asks. Bucky stares at her, eyes wide as his mouth opens and no sound comes out. He ducks his head, pulling the sleeves of his shirt down over his hands as his hair hides his eyes.
“Uh, they still got… vanilla?” he asks. “Like I said. It’s been a while. I don’t really remember…” he says slowly.
“Aw man,” Clint says. “You don’t know. Nat he doesn’t know .” Bucky’s eyes snap to him, clearly offended by his words. “No, not a bad thing. Just… I can’t believe you get to taste all the ice cream for the first time! ” He grins. “This is like my favourite part. Can I serve him, Nat? Can I?”
“No,” Bucky says, his face tight. The fingers of his metal hand are flexing and stretching out. “Just vanilla.”
“Oh man, you’ve got to try-” Clint says, but Natasha pokes him in the side.
“One scoop of vanilla coming right up,” she says. “Clint, act like a human being and not a puppy for once, would you?”
“You’re so mean…” Clint says, rubbing his side, where Natasha’s finger just made hard contact with his ribs. She doesn’t answer, just heads for the freezer and pulls out a carton of vanilla.
Clint can’t keep his eyes off Bucky as he scoops up the tiniest piece of vanilla ice cream from his bowl and puts it into his mouth. Clint’s practically vibrating with the excitement of it as he sees Bucky’s eyes open the tiniest bit wider as they dart down to the bowl in astonishment. He tracks the slight twitch to Bucky’s lips, like he wants to smile, and then the way he puts the second spoonful - still tiny - into his mouth even more slowly, and lets it melt in his mouth, his eyes fluttering closed. He looks, for a moment, so fucking young. Clint’s never really thought about it before, but in Bucky Barnes years, he’s still a kid, practically. A kid who didn’t remember what ice cream tasted like.
“I am going to order you every flavour of ice cream that exists,” Clint says out loud. Bucky’s eyes open in a flash, turning to him and Natasha sighs heavily.
“I…” Bucky says, looking down at the half a scoop that’s left in his bowl.
“Don’t mind him,” Natasha says. “He thinks without using his brain. It’s a terrible condition. If you just want vanilla, that’s fine.”
“Yeah,” Clint says quickly. “I mean, that’s good. It’s a classic for a reason, right? Vanilla’s like the archetype of ice cream. The OG ice cream.”
“Do you never stop talking?” Bucky asks. Clint clamps his lips shut. “At least the music’s better than last time.”
“All musical tastes are Clint’s,” Nat says. “Those are the rules. First one here makes the ice creams, second one here picks the music.”
“You’re lucky,” Clint says. “Usually Nat doesn’t take requests.”
“Not from you,” Natasha says.
Bucky finishes his ice cream, and Clint realises that he missed like half of that experience, which is devastating. But he reasons that he can always watch Bucky discover other flavours - like butter pecan. Oh, he would love to watch Bucky eat butter pecan ice cream. He’d love to lick it out of his mouth, too.
Clint winces as his brain dips into a few select cut scenes from ‘Clint and Bucky make a porno’, and pushes his libido down.
Bucky stands up quickly.
“Thank you…” he says, “for the ice cream.” He sounds like he’s talking by rote, like a kid learning how to be polite. Then he nods at Natasha, gives Clint a wide-eyed look like he’s afraid Clint’s going to jump at him, and turns to walk out of the door.
“Well that was…”
“Do I have to remind you about subtlety again?” Natasha asks, picking up the empty bowls to dump them in the dishwasher.
“I was trying.”
“You were looking at him like you wanted to kidnap him,” she says, turning to him. “And you can’t just come out and say things like that. We have to do this slowly - carefully.”
“We’re not doing anything, Nat,” Clint tells her, straightening. “I told you, it’s over. Whatever’s going on, it’s all messed up on my side, not his. It’s better if he never finds out about any of it.”
“He doesn’t have to-”
“Natasha,” Clint says, and she falls silent at his use of her full name. He steps forwards and kisses her on the forehead. “Thanks. I know you want to help, I know you do. But if I can’t… if the real thing’s not on the cards then I think I’d at least like to be his friend. And I’m not going to poison that before it even starts.”
“Are you sure you can do this?” she asks. “I know…” She looks at him, soft and gentle, but still looking all the way through him, like she knows every one of his secrets. And she does. Because it’s Nat. “I know what this meant to you,” she says. “I know you dreamed about that moment for years.”
“And now it’s happened,” Clint says. “Nothing ever turns out how you dream it, Nat. We both know that. I think maybe I start getting a few new dreams.”
She doesn’t look convinced, so he squeezes her shoulder.
“Seriously. I’m good,” he tells her, and he even sort of believes it.
After that, at least Bucky seems to lighten up a bit around Clint. He isn’t friendly, exactly, but his grumpiness doesn’t seem aggressive. They train together, Bucky offering a lot of helpful (and not so helpful) criticism of Clint’s form, and Clint making it his mission to outstrip Bucky’s scores in every ranged weapon he can find. He even makes himself a slingshot just to see the look on Bucky’s face when he beats him with it.
It’s not a friendship, Clint wouldn’t go that far. But Bucky doesn’t actively hate him. Clint wonders where his life failed so badly that not having a soulmate who hates him is a highlight of his week. Not that Bucky’s his soulmate. He has to keep telling himself that over and over, because Clint feels himself drawn towards him. They’ll be standing in a room and Clint will find that he’s slowly moving to where Bucky is in the corner, or if they sit on the sofa, Clint won’t notice himself edging across it until his knee brushes against Bucky’s leg and the other guy runs the fuck out of there.
It’s like… it’s like magnetism, that’s the only way Clint can think to describe it. He feels like he’s magnetised to Bucky’s due North, and he can’t turn away for very long. Something deep inside him just… can’t help it.
He wonders if that’s what it’s like for real soulmates. Probably, the way Steve and Tony are now that they’re ‘official’. They’re practically stuck to each other and sometimes you’ll walk past one of them in the corridors, heading in the other’s direction, their expression sickeningly happy.
It must be nice to have that pull and find someone reaching back.
Clint keeps his hands to himself. He sits on them if he can’t work out another way to keep himself busy. He braids Natasha’s hair, making her sit in front of him as they watch films, just so he doesn’t reach out to lace his fingers through Bucky’s metal ones. She's annoyed until he explains why. After that she starts demanding he do it - or that he holds things for her.
Sometimes Clint’s feet make him walk through the hallways, like there’s a ghost guiding his steps, leading him unerringly to Bucky’s door.
He drags himself away and the next morning he finds Wanda instead.
“Hi,” he says, scratching at the back of his head as Wanda answers the door, her arms wrapped around herself, wrapped in a huge thick cardigan that falls almost to her knees.
“Can you… take this out of me?” he asks. Wanda frowns.
“Take what out of you?” she asks.
“This… bond,” Clint says. “I mean it’s wrong, we both know it’s wrong. He’s not bonded to me and I can’t… I can’t keep being like this.”
“Clint,” she says, stepping away.
“Look,” he says, leaning against the doorframe. “It’s not even a big deal. It’s just… one of those things. Like a cleft lip or something. I got born with my soulbond all wrong, we just need to… fix it.”
“Have you talked to Bucky about this?” she asks, her head tilted to one side.
“I…” Clint hesitates. “Yeah. I mean… sort of. I found out about his real soulmate.”
“Did you tell him that he said your words?”
“No… he doesn’t need that kind of shit, Wanda. Please. I…” Clint hits the doorframe lightly with the side of his fist, drawing in a deep breath. “Can you?”
She looks back at him, her eyes huge and sad.
“I don’t think I could, even if I thought it was a good idea,” she says. “It’s not… it’s not something that’s connected to you, Clint. It’s not separate from you. It’s part of your soul. I don’t think I could… change it without changing you.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t,” she says, and she looks down, nervously. He’s making Wanda nervous.
Clint draws in a long, shuddering breath.
“Right, yeah. Sure. Got it,” he says. “I understand. I can deal with it. I’m good. You should… get back to whatever it is you’re doing.”
He rubs his hand over his chest, feeling the ache beneath.
“I’ll be fine.”
There’s another mission next week. It’s all fine, except for the part where a huge block of concrete almost collides with Clint’s head. He moves quick enough to dodge it - mostly. Apart from the bit that clips his forearm. The sound of the bone breaking is as sickening as it always is and the hospital visit afterwards is just as boring and full of doctors telling him stuff he already knows. Like this is Clint’s first broken ulna. He knows more about the bones in his arm than they do at this point, probably. He knows what it feels like when they’re broken at least.
“Agent Barton,” the doctor says. “The pattern of scarring on your bones is what I’d expect to see from a person in a long term abusive relationship.”
“No relationships here,” Clint says with a ready smile. “I’m an Avenger, doc. Sort of comes with the territory.”
“No one ever said an abusive relationship had to be with a person,” the doctor says. She glares at him and Clint only manages to stare right back because he’s known Natasha so long. “Addiction is an abusive relationship as well. I’m going to give you the same speech I give to my other patients with medical histories like yours: get out or it’s going to kill you and I will be writing your death certificate. I don’t like writing death certificates, Agent Barton.”
The door pushes open behind her, silent as the grave, and Clint glances over her shoulder, expecting to see Natasha with her resigned expression, but instead it’s Bucky, looming and ominous, a shadow against the bright white light of the corridor behind him.
“Agent Barton,” the doc says, dragging his attention back to her. “I know you feel like you need to do this. I know you believe that this is what’s best for you, but I am not exaggerating when I say this will kill you. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, but one day you’re not going to stand back up again.”
“I’m a professional,” Clint says, giving her his best shit-eating grin. “I know what I’m doing.”
“You know,” she says, standing up with a sigh. “Just once I’d like this conversation to go a different way. But it never does.” She looks at him and she looks tired. “Good luck, Agent Barton. You’re going to need it.”
“Thanks doc,” Clint says, giving her a little salute with the arm that isn’t in the cast, choosing to misunderstand her words. She sighs again and turns to walk out, looking at Bucky, who’s still standing motionless, like death hovering on the threshold, waiting patiently.
“Perhaps you can talk some sense into him,” she says before walking out, her shoes clacking against the floor with agitation.
“She’s right,” Bucky says.
“What the fuck?” Clint asks.
“You’re taking stupid risks and you’re going to get yourself killed,” Bucky tells him.
“What are you even doing here?” Clint says, ignoring that burst of joy that is still hanging inside him from the fact that Bucky came to visit him. “Where’s Natasha?”
“Debrief,” Bucky says, crossing his arms. He stays on the other side of the room, clearly not willing to come any closer. “She asked me to check in on you.”
Clint’s mouth opens and closes a couple of times, anger filling his mind, but not forming itself into words. He’s fuming. Natasha sent Bucky, of all people. She thought that was a good idea. He doesn’t know how she could have even considered it. She knows what’s going on between them and she still-
When he sees her, they are going to have a serious talk.
“Well, you’ve checked,” Clint says. “You can leave.”
“You haven’t been checked out yet,” Bucky says.
“You’re planning on sticking around,” Clint asks. “Why? Just to tell me that I’m no good at my job?”
“That’s not what I said,” Bucky snaps at him.
“Sure as fuck sounded like it!” Clint snaps right back. “Please, do tell me more about how the doctor’s right, and I should quit my job and take up crochet.”
“That’s definitely not what I said,” Bucky says. He glowers, and Clint almost shrinks back against the bed, only sheer fury keeping him in place. “You’re taking stupid risks. You’re putting yourself in unnecessary danger and it’s going to get you killed.”
“Wow, you really are shit at reading the room, aren’t you?” Clint says. “And how exactly is that different from what I said.”
“You don’t need to quit,” Bucky says. “You just need to…” He pauses. “I could go over the footage with you, give you some poin-”
“Get out,” Clint says. He’s in pain, he’s in hospital and Bucky has no right - no right - to be trying to give him advice about this. What does he even know? He was a fucking brainwashed nightmare assassin for years. He doesn’t know shit.
Clint realises that he’s talking out loud at about the same time that Bucky’s face shutters off and his hands fall to his sides.
“Oh, shit…” Clint says. “I’m… I didn’t mean that. I just. My mouth… I’m on the good drugs and it’s…”
“You’re saying what you mean,” Bucky says. “Not what you think you should say. I understand.”
“No, I’m angry. I say stupid shit when I’m drugged up and angry. It doesn’t mean.”
“I’ll leave you alone,” Bucky says with a sharp nod. “The nurse said he’d be along with your meds in a second. Make sure you take them.”
He turns and walks out, ignoring Clint’s entreaties and apologies. Clint’s just trying to haul himself out of the bed to follow him when the nurse comes in.
“Uh, Agent Barton?” she says. “I’ve got your pain medication. Are you alright?”
Clint sags back into the bed and stares up at the cold white uncaring expanse of the ceiling. No, he’s not alright. He just fucked everything up even more than it was already. He is the worst soulmate. And he’s not even a real soulmate.
No wonder Bucky isn’t his soulmate, if that’s how Clint’s going to treat him.
Bucky avoids him after that, which Clint understands. He gets the hint and doesn’t show up at the range when he knows Bucky’s there, he doesn’t flinch when Bucky automatically chooses the seat furthest away from him when they’re all gathered to binge watch TV. Clint ignores Natasha’s expression as her eyes bore into the side of his skull and he only speaks to Bucky when he absolutely has to.
Bucky, in turn, is practically a living statue. Whenever Clint’s around, he barely moves, barely talks. Clint thinks that sometimes Bucky’s watching him, he can feel the unreadable force of his stare, almost as bad as Natasha’s. But the only time they actually interact is when Bucky finds Clint trying to unscrew the pickle jar lid with his one good hand again and Bucky reaches out to pluck it from his hand and open it before setting it back on the counter. He doesn’t say a word and as soon as the task is accomplished, he’s disappeared, leaving Clint to glare at the lid in question.
“I had that,” Clint says to the empty kitchen.
“No, you didn’t.”
Clint does not jump. Natasha is a force of nature and he has become accustomed to her appearing from seemingly nowhere. It’s perfectly normal - most of the time.
“No, I didn’t.” he admits, looking down at the pickle lid again, in its innocent circular glory.
“What did you do?” she asks.
“Technically, it wasn’t just me,” Clint says.
“I had a plan.”
“I told you no plans!” Clint says. “Look, he said some things. I got angry. I said some things. He decided we should see less of each other. I agree.”
There is still that tangle in his chest that is tugging him after Bucky. He wants to follow and apologise, or beg forgiveness. He just wants to be with him, and it hurts to know he is never going to get that. But he can deal with this. People do deal with this all the time. He’s an adult and fate has already fucked both of them over enough. He’s going to exercise his free will and not go after Bucky.
“Clint…” Natasha says.
“Nat,” he says, mimicking her intonation, but she doesn’t even bother to waste time rolling her eyes.
Before she can chastise him, or whatever she was intending to do, Tony rushes into the room, in a flurry of exhausted motion, he’s muttering to himself.
“-and if I reverse the wires in the main chamber and connect that to my…” he trails off, looking between the pair of them. “Right… you’re not Bruce.”
“No,” Natasha agrees.
Tony’s stomach rumbles and Clint holds out the pickle jar wordlessly. Tony grabs one and sticks it in his mouth before making a face.
“I need to talk to Bruce,” Tony says.
“Right,” Clint tells him. “You sure you don’t need to… maybe sleep first?”
“No, no… I’ll lose the idea if I sleep. I need to talk now, sleep later. Where’s Bruce? I thought he would be cooking.”
“It’s 11 am,” Natasha points out. “I think he’s in his lab.”
“Oh…” Tony frowns then nods, wheeling around on his heel. “Thanks. Bye! Have fun.”
“Should we be worried?” Clint asks, nodding after Tony. Natasha frowns, her mouth pulling to one side.
“No,” she says. “Bruce will probably talk some sense into him.”
“We are thinking about the same Bruce, aren’t we?” Clint says. “Sometimes gets really big and really green - like if you told the Jolly Green Giant that you weren’t really that into peas? - mainly because he thought it would be fun to experiment with super soldier serum. That Bruce?”
“I’ll keep an eye on it,” Natasha says. Clint wonders how many things she’s ‘keeping an eye on’ at the moment, and when exactly that’s going to cut her too thin. She has only got two eyes, after all.
But maybe if she’s worrying about Tony and his experiments, she’ll worry less about Clint’s slight soulmate issue. He can only hope. Tony’s thing probably won’t kill them… probably.
Clint’s itchy bowstring fingers - and his guilty conscience - eventually drag him down to the range. It’s not that he can shoot - not with one of his arms still in a cast - but there’s something soothing about just being there, and he can always use a gun if he wants to. There’s nothing stopping him from doing that. It’s just the one arm he’s injured after all.
He tells himself he’s not going down to see Bucky, but even as he thinks it to himself, he knows it’s a lie. It’s been days since they’ve been anywhere near each other, with the tiny exception of the pickle jar incident. He can’t focus on anything, Bucky keeps popping up in his mind. He misses him like he misses his bow and there’s nothing to distract Clint from that absence except terrible television, and even he can only watch so much of that before he goes completely mad.
He tries to sneak in. The doors open almost silently anyway, and he’s pretty light on his feet when he wants to be.
Bucky is already there, blasting holes in the targets one after another, and Clint takes a moment to just watch him. It’s soothing. There’s a rhythm to his shots and a strange poetry to Bucky’s motion that settles something inside Clint’s mind. Maybe it’s just Bucky himself doing that, or maybe it’s the range. Probably, it’s a combination of all of those things. He feels less tense than he has in weeks, his shoulders relaxing as he draws in deep breaths.
He watches Bucky demolish the training sim, taking out every one of the enemy soldiers coming towards him, and it feels like a weird kind of meditation. Clint can almost feel the motions in his own body as he stares, like he’s the one running through the simulation, like he’s part of Bucky. And it’s soothing to feel that level of focus wash over him as Bucky methodically takes them all out.
When the simulation ends and the lights fade out, apart from the high scores list where Bucky’s almost beaten Clint off the top spot - but not quite - Bucky turns around to look right at him.
“Hi,” Clint says, rather awkwardly.
“Barton,” Bucky says back. Clint doesn’t wince at the use of his last name. He’d thought that maybe they were heading towards something a bit closer to friendship. But of course then he had to open his big mouth.
“I… I need to apologise,” Clint says. “What I said was out of order.”
“You were right,” Bucky tells him, stripping his gun down with ruthless efficiency.
“What? No I wasn’t,” Clint tells him.
“I had no right to give you advice,” Bucky says, turning to look at him abruptly, with all the force of a grenade to the face. “Your mistakes are your own to make.”
“... not sure that’s quite what you wanted to say…” Clint says. Bucky frowns, but it’s not angry this time. It’s confused, and Clint has the distinct impression that Bucky doesn’t realise how his words could be taken. He blinks a couple of times, trying to process the fact that all Bucky’s heard for decades were people insulting him or giving him orders and maybe if you hear that kind of thing enough, you end up not really knowing where the line is between helpful and insulting.
“Maybe… don’t try to apologise by telling me I’m making mistakes,” Clint says. Bucky stares at him and blinks. “I mean, if you’re apologising for calling me an idiot, telling me I’m an idiot doesn’t really-”
“That’s not what I said,” Bucky says, sounding confused. “I… It’s not what I meant to say. You’re often foolish, but you’re clearly not an idiot, which makes your foolishness more irritating.”
“Now you just sound like Natasha,” Clint says, wrinkling his nose.
“You like Natasha,” Bucky points out.
“ You like Natasha,” Clint retaliates, because he’s still six years old on occasion. Bucky’s face shifts again, clearly uncertain. “I mean, I guess that was kind of a compliment. So thanks.”
The shockwave hits them. Clint couldn’t say what it is, whether it’s force or air or something he doesn’t understand, but there’s definitely something that passes through the whole tower. It doesn’t have a sound that Clint can hear, though that doesn’t mean much, and the ground doesn’t shake with it, but Clint can feel it pass through him like the concussion blast from an explosion and he lurches sideways, watching as Bucky does the same. Of course, because they’re both badass secret agent types, neither of them falls on their ass - but it’s a close run thing.
They look at each other. Clint runs to where his bow is, while Bucky starts gathering up weapons like he’s doing supermarket sweep at a gunshow.
“JARVIS,” Clint says. “Tell me that wasn’t Tony.”
“I’m afraid I cannot tell you that as I am programmed to reply honestly unless commanded otherwise,” JARVIS says. Clint sighs.
“What was that?” Bucky asks, looking down at the floor beneath them as though it’s going to betray him any second.
“My best guess, Tony worked out how to turn the AIM doomsday device on,” Clint says, already moving towards the door. Bucky falls in behind him. “You know, most people hear ‘doomsday device’ and run in the other direction.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees.
“I’m thinking you might be right about that foolish thing,” Clint says, hitting the button on the elevator for Tony’s Workshop. “You coming.”
“You clearly need someone to keep you alive,” Bucky tells him. That’s kind of sweet. Clint grins at him. His fake soulmate does care about him. It’s enough to make you believe in Santa.
The elevator stops to let on pretty much everyone else. A very agitated looking Steve stabs the button for Tony’s workshop again, so hard the plastic cracks and they travel downwards.
“So, did anyone bet on today for when Tony accidentally kills us all by pressing the wrong button?” Clint asks. Steve turns and glares at him and Natasha rolls her eyes.
“No, but I did have today for your big mouth getting you killed,” she says. She’s got her widow’s bites on and a gun in her hand, Steve has his shield, and Wanda is almost crackling with red energy. They’re preparing for a fight.
Clint hopes Tony isn’t dead. The guy was starting to grow on him, and no one else is willing to debate the feasibility of trick arrows with him at two in the morning over coffee ice cream so strong it might as well just be straight espresso.
“Sir has asked me to tell you that he and Doctor Banner are unharmed,” JARVIS says. It feels like all of them take a breath at once. “However, there does appear to be an anomaly present in his workshop.”
“What kind of anomaly?” Steve asks.
“Intruder?” Natasha adds.
“I am unable to verify, my sensors are not calibrated to read the energy that is being produced,” JARVIS tells them.
“If Stark made a black hole in the basement, shotgun not cleaning up his mess,” Clint says.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Nat says. “His workshop isn’t even in the basement.”
The elevator stops, as smooth as ever, and the doors open with an ominous ‘ding’.
“Before you say anything,” Tony says, his hands raised in surrender as he comes towards them. “I’m 99% certain it isn’t going to kill us.”
He’s covered in grease and in a tank top and jeans, but looks unharmed. Clint sweeps his eyes around the workshop as the lot of them move out, his bow raised and ready. It looks about as disorganised as usual, he makes out what looks like a prototype robotic arm on a surface and a crowd of different mechanical parts, only half of which he has any idea about. There’s another station set up with half complete circuit boards and soldering gear and then, there’s the… anomaly, surrounded by robots who are tilting their cameras at it like excited tourists at the Statue of Liberty.
It’s… a ripple. That’s what Clint would call it. It’s like heat haze or a reflection in water. The world is… rippling.
“What is that?” Steve asks, his hands are patting Tony down, checking him for injuries.
“Yeah… I’m not entirely sure,” Tony says. He waves to a device on a table a little distance away from the anomaly. It certainly looks like what they confiscated from AIM a few weeks ago, except for the glowing arc reactor stuck to it. And then Tony brings up a blue holographic display next to him. “I know that it’s using a lot of energy and I know that some of these readings are physically impossible based on fundamental principles of the universe.”
Bruce, next to him has his hand half covering his mouth. Nothing is ever good when Bruce touches his face like that. He looks baffled. That’s even worse.
“If I’m reading this correctly,” Bruce says, “Then the particles we’re looking at here are… breaking the light speed barrier.”
“Which is impossible,” Tony says.
The ripple gets more ripply. Clint raises his bow and aims his arrow right at it. He’s not sure what happens when you shoot something into an anomaly that’s somehow fucking around with light speed, but he guesses you play to your strengths.
It feels a little bit like being back in the tesseract testing facility again, watching them try to open that door. There’s something in the air, maybe, some sense of…
“Are the particles coming towards us or going away from us?” he asks.
“They’re…” Bruce stares. “Well, they were going away from us, but now it seems like…”
“It’s going from black hole to white hole,” Tony mutters. “That can’t be possible.”
“I shouldn’t be possible,” Wanda says, she’s surrounded by a halo of red now, her hair floating on it, her hands sparking. “You may need to revise your opinions on what is and isn’t possible.”
“She has a point,” Bruce says.
“Scientifically speaking-” Tony says, but he’s cut off by a sudden whoosh of air. The ripple sucks inwards, the world over there seems to stretch, falling into itself and air streams past them, sucked in. Clint’s pretty sure Tony really did just mention a black hole, and he’s also pretty sure that’s not a thing he ever wants to see up close and personal.
“Tony - in the suit,” Cap says and Clint sees the parts of the Iron man suit fly across the room to a place behind him where he assumes Tony is standing.
The closest way Clint can find to describe what happens next, is that the world coughs. It’s like all that air that it just sucked in, is just pushed right back out again, pushing out, and with it, comes something else. One second there’s just that dreadful sight of the world being stretched and sucked into nothingness, the next, there’s an explosion of air and a man is falling to the ground and… nothing. The ripple is gone, the pull of that unseen force is gone. Just a man in a battered blue coat and dark khaki pants struggling to his feet and turning towards them.
The room is so quiet you could hear a pin drop as they see Bucky Barnes staring right back at them, raising a revolver as his wide eyes dart around the room, taking them all in. His hair is short, his body slimmer than Clint is used to, and he looks about a decade younger, but there is no denying that it’s Bucky Barnes standing there. Clint doesn’t lower his bow, because he can think of at least five different explanations for this off the top of his head and New Bucky is still pointing a gun at them.
“What the fuck?” is the first thing anyone says, and Clint knows that it’s Old Bucky.
“This is unexpected,” Natasha says, which is her version of ‘what the fuck’.
“Hey there soldier, we’re not the bad guys here,” is what Tony chooses to say.
“Bucky?” That’s Steve, uncertain, unsure, and Clint can hear him take a careful footstep towards the newcomer, though he’s sure Tony isn’t pleased about that.
Clint looks over his shoulder at older Bucky and then back at the duplicate and sighs.
“Well,” he says, looking right at the younger version of Bucky who has appeared. “I call shenanigans.”
Younger Bucky blinks again, his mouth opening, and his hand rises to the curve of his ribs. He’s staring at Clint, his mouth moving silently, just staring at him. His gun lowers, not like he’s consciously lowering it, more like he’s just no longer aware that it even exists. He steps forwards, his eyes not leaving Clint, although there must be a million things in this room that he should be more interested in.
Somewhere to Clint’s right, Wanda is swearing in Sokovian. He’s going to have to get her to teach him some of those. But he finds he can’t look away. His attention is fixed on this new Bucky, who is stumbling towards him.
Then, it’s like Bucky’s hit by an electric shock, he straightens up, his hand goes to his hair, smoothing it back, his shoulders straighten and he swallows before nodding to himself.
“Ain’t gonna say no to some shenanigans, sweetheart. Just tell me I ain’t dreaming…”
Everyone stops moving.
“Uh…” Clint says. Bucky the Younger is standing in front of him, looking… nervous? He’s smoothing down his hair again, checking his belt, like he… wants to look good. Like he’s… flirting.
“This explains a lot,” Wanda says.
“How does this explain anything?” Tony asks, but Natasha’s already moving forwards to stand next to Clint.
“It really does explain everything,” she says.
“Can someone clue me in here?” Clint asks.
“You… didn’t… feel anything just then?” Bucky the Younger asks, his face falling a little. It’s enough to make Clint’s heart break.
“Feel any-” Clint starts, before his brain cuts him off, because… because oh shit .
“JARVIS, scan Patty over there, would you?”
“Tony, what’s going on?” Steve asks.
“Who the fuck are you?” asks Bucky the Elder, pushing forwards and aiming his gun right at Bucky the Younger’s forehead. Young Bucky steps back, his hands going up, looking his older self up and down, clearly very confused.
“Who the fuck are you?” Bucky the Younger asks right back.
“Don’t shoot him,” Natasha says, lifting a hand to rest on Bucky the Elder’s arm. “If I’m right you could change the whole course of history.”
“What?” At least three people ask at once.
“That’s one possibility,” Bruce says. “I mean, it’s not even the most likely one based on-”
“I read a paper once,” Natasha says. “About whether the words on our bodies are the first words our soulmate says to us, or the first words spoken to us by our soulmates. Semantics. The kind of science that seems utterly pointless. But I think we just found the answer.”
“What?” Tony, Steve and Bucky the Elder all say.
Clint can’t quite keep his eyes off Bucky the Younger, because he knows exactly what Natasha is getting at right now.
“Look, ma’am, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bucky the Younger says. “But you seem to know my soulmate and… clearly something weird is going on around here, so maybe we just all put down the weapons?”
“Your soulmate?” Steve asks, echoed a second later by Tony and Bucky the Elder.
“Well.. I think so,” Bucky the Younger shifts a bit on his feet. “I mean, I was kind of expecting more of a reaction.” He looks up at Clint through long eyelashes, and it’s not that Clint hasn’t noticed how pretty Bucky’s eyes are before, because he has , but there’s something about seeing them like that that’s… kind of crazy. His heart is beating double time.
“No, because he just said your words, but you didn’t say his,” Natasha says.
“Nat,” Clint says. She’s trying to help, but he’s not sure that anyone in this room is ready for this right now.
Bucky the Younger’s face falls and he’s so damn young . He’s a soldier, fighting a war, but compared to the face that Clint’s used to, with its cast iron gaze and the hard-won almost smile that peers out from time to time, he is just so damn young . He wants to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him.
“What are you talking about, lady?” Bucky the Younger asks.
“Yeah, I’d like to know that too,” Bucky the Elder adds. His gun has lowered slightly, but it’s still ready in case of emergency.
“Uh…” Clint says. He opens his mouth, unable to guess what he’s about to say, and it feels like every eye in the room is on him. “So… time travel’s a bitch, apparently.”
He looks at Natasha, who was clearly hoping he’d step up to the plate because she just raises both her eyebrows, waiting.
“Spill, Birdbrain,” Tony says, stepping forwards, the Iron Man armour clunking against the solid floor with each step. “Why does Ursula Buffay over there think you’re his soulmate?”
“I think maybe because I… am?” Clint says. He lowers his bow and raises one hand to scratch his head. “Look, Bucky said my words.” The younger version perks up. “Not you, Bucky… him Bucky,” Clint flicks his head towards where older Bucky is standing. “When we first met, except he didn’t react to what I said, so I didn’t say anything. And then it turned out that he… uh… well, there was no way I was his soulmate. Except now you’re here and apparently I said your words and-”
“Bucky said your words?” Steve asks, coming into view. Clint really, really hates today.
“Where are they?” Bucky - the older one - asks. Everyone looks to Clint expectantly and he hands his bow over to Natasha and then sighs, lifting his shirt to reveal the curve of his hip.
“That’s… not what I just said,” Bucky the Younger says.
“That’s what I said to you when we met?” Bucky the Older asks.
“JARVIS?” Tony says.
“Yes, sir. The words on Agent Barton’s hip are a direct match to the first words spoken to him by the current timeline’s Sergeant Barnes.”
Younger Bucky is staring around in wonder, clearly looking for where the magic voice just came from, before he remembers himself.
“What about these?” he asks, reaching up to undo his jacket and Clint’s mouth goes dry at the unexpected striptease as he yanks his shirt up and twists so that they can all see the words, black and solid against his ribs. Clint can just make out the word ‘shenanigans’. He doesn’t know whether to be proud or to throw up.
“So Natasha’s theory,” Bruce says, he’s taking his glasses off and is sucking on one of the earpieces. “Is that soulwords are… the first words spoken to us by our soulmate, as opposed to the first words our soulmate says to us…”
“How are those different things?” Bucky the Elder asks, though he’s pulling his own shirt up now, and Clint is struggling not to look at the abs on display as he shows off the exact same soulwords in the exact same place, though his are still grey.
“In most cases it wouldn’t even matter,” Bruce says. “The difference is essentially meaningless - except now.”
“If we accept the hypothesis that this is a younger version of the same James Barnes,” Tony says.
“All my scans indicate that this is correct,” JARVIS says. Tony huffs.
“In this case,” Bruce says. “The distinction is meaningful because you and Clint met each other out of order, so the first words he said to you weren’t the first words said to you by him… And vice versa.” Bruce pauses. “It’s actually a fascinating concept. I think I read that article you mentioned, Nat.”
“Right… this is a dream,” Younger Bucky says, looking around them. “You know how I can tell? Because there’s two of me and a talking robot. I think I’m gonna wake up now.”
“You’re not dreaming,” Wanda says, stepping towards him. “Sergeant Barnes…”
“You’re telling me… Barton is my soulmate,” Older Bucky says, his voice tight and brittle.
“Sorry,” Clint offers, shrugging slightly.
“And that he ’s me…” Older Bucky adds, pointing at the younger version with an accusing metal finger.
“Look, we don’t know we’re looking at time travel here,” Tony says. “It could be an alternate universe, or a clone, or a life model decoy, or a shapeshifting alien, or a doppelganger… or maybe you had a twin…”
“Who was also called Bucky?” Natasha says, her voice completely flat, but still betraying every inch of her feelings on that point.
“An evil twin,” Tony says. “Maybe the device creates evil twins.”
“Time travel would explain some of the readings…” Bruce says.
“It’s not a dream, Buck,” Steve says, stepping up to him - the smaller, fresh faced version of him.
“Time travel, huh?” Bucky the Younger asks, looking around again. “You’re sure.”
“That’s what you’d say in a dream, you know.”
“Want me to pinch you?” Steve asks, raising a hand. Bucky’s pulled down his shirt again, but his jacket’s hanging open, leaving him looking dishevelled and almost exactly like Clint’s fantasies.
The other Bucky - the older Bucky, the one who was already here - is staring at the side of Clint’s face, like he’s never seen him before. Clint swallows, really hoping that he’s not going to be on the receiving end of a metal fist.
“Ow! Fuck off, Stevie!” Little Bucky says. “So… it can’t be that far in the future, you don’t look much different, me neither…” he looks over to himself. “Never thought I’d grow my hair that long, bet my ma doesn’t think much of it.”
His older counterpart goes tense - more tense than before, his jaw clenching - then turns on his heel and walks into the elevator.
“This is going well,” Clint says. Wanda looks back at him sympathetically. He doesn’t know what to do. Does he go after his original almost soulmate, or hang out with his new almost soulmate? Should he avoid both of them? Is there a right answer to any of this mess?
“I guess we’re further in the future than I thought, huh?” younger Bucky says, and his voice is a bit shaky. He looks around at them all and then at Steve, cataloguing his face. “But you sure don’t look that much older, pal. Guess that serum did some serious work on you.”
“Something like that,” Steve says, he smiles, but he looks sad. “It’s been… aw hell, Buck. It’s 2020.”
“What the fuck?” Bucky says weakly. “What the… 2020? That’s not a real fucking date, Steve. You’re having me on. You and Stark have set this up, right? But…” he looks towards Clint, who tries not to look like too much of an idiot and smiles in what he hopes is a comforting manner. “2020… you’re serious?”
“Yeah,” Steve says. “It’s a lot, believe me, I know.”
“Waking up almost, what… 80 years in the future with my fucking soulmate? Yeah… you could say it was a real night to remember,” Bucky says. He’s still looking at Clint, and it’s the sort of look that makes Clint cringe, because Bucky’s looking at him like he’s some sort of gift. That’s not a look that should be directed at Clint, outside of when he’s rescuing civilians from certain death. He’s no one’s first choice for anything except shooting something. But Bucky, who doesn’t know him from Adam, is looking at Clint like he hung the stars in the sky and the moon too come to that.
“Hi,” Clint says, because Bucky’s still looking at him and if he goes without talking for too long, Clint’s genuinely worried something weird will happen to him.
“Hi,” Bucky replies, sounding hopeful and shocked and utterly amazed. “So uh… I’m Bucky, but I guess you already know that.”
“Yeah, kinda do,” Clint says. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know how to handle this. He looks at Natasha wildly, but she just shrugs. He looks at Wanda, who is watching with her head tilted like they’re some sort of weird science experiment. He looks at Steve, who is staring at him in optimistic confusion, then back at Bucky, who looks so very young and so very fragile.
“I’m Clint,” he says. “Clint Barton, or Hawkeye.”
“Hawkeye, huh?” Bucky says. “That’s a name with a story behind it.”
“Yeah,” Clint agrees. He waggles his bow a bit and Bucky blinks, looking at it like he’s never seen it before.
“Can we send him back?” Bruce asks and Clint and Bucky both start.
“I… I think there’s only one setting,” Tony says. “There’s just the one button.”
Bucky looks shocked and horrified, glancing over at them before staring back at Clint, his eyes wide and desperate.
“But I only just-” he starts, then he draws a deep breath, nodding to himself.
“I want to know what he is first,” Tony says.
“Tony!” Steve hisses. Clint doesn’t even bother looking at him to see the disappointed look Steve’s directing at Tony right now.
“Don’t look at me like that, honeybun,” Tony says. “I know he’s your best buddy and all, but that’s only if he really is who he looks like. We have no proof that he is, and a creepy AIM device to prove that him being here is not a good idea.”
“I don’t feel so…” Bucky says, before promptly fainting. Clint is reaching out to catch him, although Steve’s already there.
“Thanks J,” Tony says. Clint whirls around.
“What the fuck did you do, Stark?” he asks.
“Just a mild sedative so we can do some tests,” Tony says, holding up his hands. His faceplate slides back revealing his face. “I wouldn’t put it past AIM to trap us with something like this.”
“So you decided to drug and experiment on Bucky?” Steve asks, his voice is low and dark.
“No experimenting. No!” Tony says. “One DNA swab, one blood test, a couple of more in depth scans from JARVIS.”
“That still involves him being stabbed with a needle,” Clint points out.
“Your bff stabs you with knives on a semi-regular basis,” Tony says, his voice rising. “One hypodermic is hardly the end of the world, and what if he is a shapeshifting alien? Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Tony, we’ve talked about this,” Steve says.
“We’ve talked about the younger, sexier version of your bff magically appearing, possibly as an evil clone bent on our destruction?” Tony asks. “I don’t remember that, weirdly.”
“Not sexier,” Clint mutters, earning a sharp look from Natasha.
“No, we’ve talked about you making decisions without asking for input,” Steve says. He’s still holding Bucky up, like he doesn’t weigh a goddamn thing.
“I solemnly swear I will treat him with the utmost respect,” Tony says.
“Yes, you will,” Steve says, “by staying away and letting Bruce carry out any necessary procedures.”
Tony’s outrage is loud and filled with expletives and Natasha takes the opportunity to snag Clint’s arm and drag him off to the elevator, punching the button for her own floor. Clint winces. This is going to be not so much fun, he can already tell.
She doesn’t say a word until they’re already on her floor, and then it’s only to ask JARVIS to lockdown the surveillance system to its second highest level.
“So…” Clint says, filling the silence. “Time travel, hey?”
“Time travel,” she agrees, pushing him back onto the sofa, then sitting down next to him. She’s doing the thing where she looks cuddly, probably because she thinks he’s freaking out. He is freaking out.
“I’m not freaking out,” he lies. She snorts, not even doing him the courtesy of pretending to believe him. “I’m not, so I… so he’s… Two almost soulmates is pretty much equal to one proper soulmate, right?”
“They’re both your soulmate,” Natasha says.
“Well, no, because Bucky told me about-”
“Bucky told you he’d met his soulmate in the war, but didn’t remember anything about them and they were probably dead,” Natasha says. Clint opens his mouth then closes it again.
“Are you bugging me again?” he asks "…did you plant a microphone under my skin again, because you know we agreed that wasn’t cool, and I will start jerking off really loudly again to make you stop listening.”
“I’ve heard worse,” Natasha tells him, which isn’t a no. Clint is going to have JARVIS scan him for subdermal implants as soon as he’s back on his own floor. “We are going to talk about this.”
“Are we?” Clint asks. “Because we don’t need to talk about this.”
“If this was my problem, you would be insisting I share,” Natasha points out, which is true, because Natasha tends to bottle up all her feelings and try to punch them out on other people, which Clint has been reliably informed is bad people skills and he’s still sort of trying to help her with things like that. But it’s different because Clint shares. Clint overshares. Only last week Tony was complaining about how Clint was being too vocal and public with information about his gut health. Clint is a master at sharing. “You need to talk. You are not good at not talking.”
“I can be silent for hours at a time,” Clint points out.
“This is not the same, and you know it. Clint. Tell. Me. How. You. Are. Feeling.”
That’s better, she’s not being cuddly anymore. He can see the edge of her, like a blade that’s half drawn. Clint feels the world right itself again.
“How am I supposed to feel?” he asks.
“I don’t think there’s a manual for this one, Hawkeye.”
“Not even a self-help book?” he asks. “50 ways to deal with having two soulmates who are the same person?”
“You could write it,” she says. “But then you would have to come up with 50 ways to deal with it first.”
“This sucks,” Clint says, with great feeling. “It sucks. And I haven’t got one way to deal with it, because this is messed up.”
“It is,” Natasha agrees.
“And Bucky ran off when he found out I was his soulmate,” Clint says.
“I’m sure it had more to do with the fact that there is a younger version of himself walking around with both arms and far less trauma,” Natasha tells him. “It is easier to be a different version of yourself when the old version is less… present.”
“But it was partially because I’m his soulmate,” Clint insists.
“You could always try asking him,” she suggests lightly. Clint gives her a look, because they both know how well that’ll work out. “I’m not sure your previous plan is going to work very well now.” Clint grimaces and sighs, relaxing back into the sofa.
“Yeah… tell me about it.”
After several scans and tests, it is ascertained that, to the best of anybody’s knowledge, the new version of Bucky is in fact Bucky Barnes, several decades younger and less jaded, but still with the super soldier serum - a fact which makes both older Bucky and Steve purse their lips. Clint is asked to relate the nature of his soul bond several times over, and by the end of the day every single person in the tower has seen his soulmark where it curves over his hip.
Clint’s eyes are only on one person, though, and Bucky isn’t really giving anything away. He stares at the words on Clint’s hip like they have personally offended him.
“I thought something must have gone wonky,” Clint says as Bruce pores over his words yet again. “I mean, I’d never heard of anything like it before, and with what Bucky said about his soulmate, I figured that one of those magical encounters must have fucked something up along the way. I have been exposed to a shit ton of magic and weird AIM experiments over the years. I didn’t think of time travel.”
Wanda is able to shed a little light on the subject. The soulbond is still a bit fucked up, as far as she can tell, because there are two places for it to connect to, which isn’t supposed to happen. Clint, it seems, is the first person in the world to simultaneously have two soulmates, one soulmate, and no soulmates. He’s a metaphysical marvel. Bruce wants to write a paper on it, Clint can tell.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Bucky asks. He’s glowering in the corner, eyes fixed on the soulmark and never straying to Clint’s face.
“I didn’t want you to freak out,” Clint says. “I mean, I figured one of us freaking out was enough.”
“But you told Natalia,” Bucky says.
“Yeah, I mean, if I hadn’t’ve told her, she’d have worked it out on her own,” Clint shrugs.
“And you told Wanda,” Bucky adds.
“Nope, Wanda could see it,” Clint says. “Didn’t have to tell her anything.”
“I can’t be blamed for other people finding out,” Clint tells him. Bucky lifts his eyes finally to glare right into Clint’s.
“I guess not,” Bucky says, then he turns on his heel and walks out, leaving Clint half dressed to be prodded by scientific instruments. Bruce is trying his best to look like he wasn’t paying attention.
“Go ahead,” Clint says. “Say what you’re thinking.” Bruce straightens up and looks at him.
“Your soulbond is none of my business,” he says. “Apart from… measuring it,” he waggles his little glass prodder around.
“You think I should have told him?”
“I think that keeping important information away from someone who was literally brainwashed and denied access to his own life for decades might be a bit… insensitive,” Bruce says slowly and Clint slumps.
“That’s not… I thought that he wouldn’t like being penned in, y’know. He had no agency for years, I didn’t want to go and tell him that it was written in the stars that he’s supposed to get with me forever and a day.”
“You didn’t want to take away his choice,” Bruce says, humming slightly.
“Yeah, and maybe I didn’t want to make it seem like this was another thing Hydra fucked up for him,” Clint says. “I didn't want him to think that he wouldn’t ever get a proper soulmate - and then I found out his soulmate died and what, I was supposed to say ‘hi, I’m the replacement the universe got you as part of the warranty?”
“I can see that,” Bruce agrees with a wince. “But you know what happened now.”
“Do I?” Clint shrugs and Bruce waits for him to look up again before speaking.
“It seems likely to me that going back in time, to a time when your soulmate isn’t alive, when you’ve met them in the future, would present as a broken soulbond,” Bruce says.
“You think that I was Bucky’s soulmate… all along?” Clint says.
“Yes, and I’m surprised you hadn’t thought of it. Perhaps you’re a little too close to the situation,” Bruce suggests with a hint of a smile.
“So what do you think I should do?” Clint asks.
“Would you even take my advice if I offered it?” Bruce asks. “You have a habit of doing exactly what you want without caring about the consequences.”
“Yeah, but humour me,” Clint says, giving a brief grin.
“I think you should talk to them,” Bruce says. “Both of them.”
“Like… together?” Clint asks. “I’m not sure that’s going to go so well.”
“I think together might be better, you don’t want people to feel left out.”
Except for the fact that Future Bucky seems to hate the very idea of Past Bucky, so getting them in the same room sounds like a terrifying idea. In fact, in true Clint Barton style, he thinks he’s going to do the exact opposite of that.
He’s going to avoid them both. It can’t be that difficult in a building the size of Stark Tower.
James Buchanan Barnes is a tenacious kind of guy. It turns out that Bucky the Younger is bound and determined that he is going to talk to his soulmate come hell or highwater, and so Clint keeps finding him places. JARVIS insists that he isn’t helping, but somehow or other, the guy ends up wherever Clint goes.
The fifth time they ‘accidentally’ bump into each other, Clint gives up.
“Okay, so you can stop with the creepy stalker act any time,” he says. “Seriously… just. I know you think I’m your soulmate.”
“You are my soulmate,” Bucky says, frowning. “Pretty sure that’s what these words mean,” and he pulls off his t-shirt to display both his words and also… well, he might not be as bulky as his future self, but he’s not a chore to look at. Not at all. Clint is going to look away any moment now.
“Yeah, but these words mean something different,” Clint says, tapping at his hip.
“No, way I see it, they just mean you met a different me first,” Bucky says.
“And you’re… not freaking out about that?”
“I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in the past few years. Hydra- well, they’ve got weapons like I’ve never seen before. This…” Bucky waves between them. “This ain’t the weirdest shit out there.”
“It’s pretty weird,” Clint counters. Bucky grins at him, like he just won a point.
“Maybe, but the weirdest part is… why the other me hasn’t done anything about this.”
“He didn’t know,” Clint says with a shrug.
“First off, I don’t need to know you’re my soulmate to know you’re pretty as a fucking picture; second, he’s known for hours now and you’re still walking straight.”
Clint’s mouth is open, but no sound comes out. He had… not been expecting that. He looks at Bucky, who’s smirking in a way that makes him look twice as handsome as usual, and also like he knows it.
“I thought you were from the forties,” he says, catching his breath again.
“What, you think we were all saints?”
“Naw, just thought that maybe you might have a problem with the fact I’ve got a dick,” Clint tells him bluntly and Bucky’s smile grows.
“Pretty sure that’s one of the parts I’ll enjoy the most,” he says with a wink and begins to walk forwards. “If you want me to…” he lets the words drip from his tongue and his hair is hanging just over his forehead, making him look that little bit messed up already. “Doll, I’ve been waiting my whole life to get my hands on you.”
Clint is not usually one to refuse an offer like that from a guy like Bucky, but at the same time… there’s a whole other Bucky out there and this one’s going back and everything’s a real mess. He’s pretty sure sticking his dick into things at the moment is a recipe for disaster. Also, this Bucky is so fucking young, so clearly unaware of what the future holds for him… He feels weird about the whole thing.
“Not sure that’s a good idea,” he says. “Sorry squirt.” Then he makes use of his superior height to pat Baby Bucky on the head and slides past him and out of the room, only realising when he’s halfway to his own rooms that he left his coffee behind on the counter top.
“Aw…” he says with a sigh, knocking his head gently against the elevator wall as the doors open. Tony looks at him, eyebrows raised.
“Really, you’ve got two soulmates hanging around and you’re alone in the elevator looking like someone stole your popsicle?” he asks. “Barton, I’m ashamed to know you.”
“Next time you use a time travel device to scoop someone up from the past, maybe grab Steve instead,” Clint says. “Then you can do whatever you want.” Tony’s eyes glaze over a little and Clint takes the opportunity to stab at the button for his floor again while Tony indulges his little flight of fancy. Luckily, the doors close before Tony remembers he wanted to get into the elevator, so Clint is left blissfully alone to wallow in his misery.
Young Bucky is relentless, though he tones it down after the direct approach doesn’t work, but it seems like everything he says to Clint has some double entendre floating in it. He sits next to him whenever he can and sometimes Clint manages to catch him without the cocksure look on his face and he looks almost fragile.
But it’s definitely best for everyone if Clint doesn’t sleep with Past Bucky. Definitely. That way madness lies, and also, it feels like retroactive assault, sort of. Because it’s clear that Future Bucky doesn’t want to be anywhere near him, even if Past Bucky does, so if Clint accepts Past Bucky’s offer knowing that Future Bucky doesn’t like him does that… is that wrong?
Time travel is full of ethical questions that make his brain spin. Clint wants to go back to the time when his only real problem was deciding which Doom Bot to shoot first. Ah, the good old days.
“I heard you were good,” Young Bucky says, coming up to Clint on the range. “Didn’t believe Stevie when he told me you actually used a bow, but gotta say it’s a good look on you.” Clint forces himself not to react to the idea of Bucky standing there, watching him. He’s going to behave himself. He swallows and sets his shoulders, preparing himself to turn.
Clint had always figured that those stories of seeing your soulmate and feeling the connection and the attraction like a physical pressure inside you were exaggerated. There was no way it was that powerful, but since his words were spoken he’s come to re-evaluate his understanding of the word ‘attraction’.
Bucky is standing there in a shirt, sleeves rolled up, wearing dark jeans, clean shaven and leaning against the wall like some sort of pin up. He looks good. He looks better than good. He looks like Clint’s-resolve-is-going-to-come-crumbling-down-around-his-ears good. The shirt is just tight enough to hint at his body underneath the fabric, and just white enough that Clint can make out the black hint of Bucky’s words underneath it. The words Clint spoke.
The idea of his words on Bucky’s ribs hits him with a visceral spike of heat. It’s a little possessive and a little overawed and completely turned on. Bucky looks like every wet dream Clint’s ever had and he knows his hands are tightening on his bow until his knuckles are white with it.
Bucky’s smile grows.
“I’m not just good, I’m the best,” Clint says, his voice is too rough and he feels a strange distance from it, like he’s not even speaking, like it’s someone else. He can feel his heart pumping in his chest and his pants starting to tighten.
“I think I’ll be the judge of that,” Bucky says, going over to the gun rack and selecting a rifle. Oh fuck.
Bucky’s fingers check it over almost tenderly, and Clint can’t keep his eyes away from the sweep of them as they gracefully stroke over the metal.
“Huh, guess some things ain’t changed that much,” Bucky says, clearly deeming the gun worthy of his attention.
He moves with the gun with a certainty and confidence that Clint would associate more with his future self. There is no false bravado here, no question that Bucky knows exactly what he’s doing, and as he lies down in position, Clint can’t help but take in the line of him, holding the rifle like it’s part of him, the firm lines of his back and the inviting curve of his ass.
Clint’s throat is dry and he realises that he hasn’t breathed in a while. He tries to gasp for air quietly, but he knows Bucky must have heard it. He’s already got the super soldier serum after all, even if he doesn’t really know it yet.
This is a strange sort of hell, Clint thinks, as he watches Bucky take down target after target, dead centre every time. This isn’t just any other guy Clint’s been attracted to, this is Clint’s soulmate. It’s Bucky, who Clint’s been going dry in the mouth for ever since he showed up. And he’s right there.
Bucky readjusts his position, wiggling his ass a bit in a way that has to be exaggerated for Clint’s benefit. In fact, the guy turns and grins at him halfway through because he knows exactly what the hell he’s doing, and then goes back to shooting bullseyes.
There is nothing Clint wants more than to grab Bucky, drag him off somewhere quiet, and wipe that smirk right off his smug perfect face by making him scream Clint’s name. Clint’s pants are so tight they’re probably cutting off circulation by now and his brain is stuck playing the sort of pictures that he usually reserves for when he’s alone in his room with a couple of hours to kill.
Soulmates or not, Clint’s not that guy. He’s not going to make that play, not now, not ever. Not until every part of Bucky is on board with the fun sexy times train.
“Maybe you could show me how it’s done,” Bucky says, standing up and brushing himself down, which Clint thinks is probably only to draw attention to his body because he knows the place is cleaned twice a day.
“Maybe later,” Clint says. He’s not sure he could handle shooting right now. Bucky smirks again.
“Got somewhere else you need to be?” Bucky asks.
“Anything I could lend a hand with?” Bucky asks and his tone is perfectly polite, but on the other hand it’s also dirty as fuck, although maybe that’s just the look in his eye. Clint is going to die.
“Maybe we should talk about this,” Clint says weakly.
“Not sure talking’s what either of us want to be doing,” Bucky says with a wink, he’s openly grinning now, the smug little smirk melted into good humour. “I know you like looking at me, darling, I’m just wondering when you’re going to do something about it.”
“Sometime approximately after the fourth of Never,” Clint says. “Look, I get it. We’re soulmates and you want to-”
“Celebrate our new connection,” Bucky says.
“Yeah, that,” Clint agrees. “But there’s like a whole other you around and… and he really does not want this to happen.”
“Pretty sure he’s not involved.”
“Right, yes, except he is. Because he’s you or you’re him, or you will be, and consent is super sexy and he hasn’t given it.”
“This isn’t his body yet, doll…” Bucky says, but his smile is losing its sheen. “I’m not him.”
“Yet,” Clint says. “And I don’t want you to do something you’re definitely gonna regret later.”
“You’re my soulmate,” Bucky says, stepping in close to him, hand coming up to cup Clint’s face. Clint has never seen those grey-blue eyes so open as they are right now. He feels as though if he looked long enough he could see every part of Bucky laid bare. He forces his gaze away because even that seems like an intimacy Bucky’s older self would not be okay with. “There’s no way I’m ever regretting you.”
“You’re going to forget me,” Clint says. “And don’t say you won’t, because you’ve already done it.”
“Then there’s nothing for him to regret,” Bucky says, his voice rising. “I get that he’s your version of me and that I’m just… an anomaly or whatever, but I just met you. Don’t ask me to ignore this.”
“I’m not… I don’t want to ignore it,” Clint tells him. “I just can’t… do that to you.”
“The other me.”
“Either of you.”
“So no touching,” Bucky says, pulling his hand away reluctantly. “You’re a stand up guy, ain’t you?”
“I’m really not,” Clint says, scraping his hand over the back of his head and stuffing the other one into his pocket, restraining his urge to reach out and take what is very much on offer. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says. He gives a weak laugh and puts his own hands into his pockets, his eyes still looking at Clint like he’s starving for him. “I guess that’s what I like about you… but I sure as hell wish you’d be a little less noble right about now.”
“Don’t think anyone’s ever called me noble before,” Clint says.
“Then they weren’t looking at you right.”
There’s a loaded moment, Bucky’s eyes as firm as a caress as he looks over at Clint, and Clint can feel it in the air between them, that connection - not complete, but present. It’s like static electricity.
Bucky steps back, and the moment snaps like an elastic band. Clint finds that he can breathe again.
“So, can you at least show me around this magic future of yours?” Bucky asks. “Tell me there are flying cars!”
“No flying cars,” Clint says and Bucky gives an exaggerated sigh of sorrow, clearly trying to act as though nothing has happened. “But I’ve got a prototype you might be interested in.”
Technically, Clint’s not supposed to fly the Skycycle outside of missions.
Technically, he’s not supposed to fly it during missions yet, because when he says ‘prototype’ he really means it. But what’s the point of having a flying motorbike (it’s based on a motorbike and not a jetski no matter what Sam says. He’s just jealous because his wings aren’t as cool) if you can’t use it.
Bucky is appropriately impressed. He stares at it with wide eyed wonder as Clint pulls off the dust sheet and watching him stroke his fingers over it is kind of adorable.
“Holy shit,” Bucky says. “This is yours?”
“Yeah, Tony got fed up of having to fly me places, so he made me a present,” Clint says waving a hand at the bike. “What do you think?”
“You’ve got to take me up in this,” Bucky says. “How fast does it go?” Clint grins.
“I don’t know,” he admits. “Haven’t had a chance to test it yet.”
Clint did not think this through. This is true for many reasons. He should have thought about the word ‘prototype’ a bit more, for starters and that maybe pushing the engine to see what its top speed was might not be the best idea, and he also should have thought about how riding the skycycle was going to involve Bucky’s arms around his waist, Bucky’s chest pressed up against his back, and Bucky’s thighs bracketing his.
Clint has never been this aware of his own body before - ever. And that includes the time… times… he was tortured. Every single nerve ending seems to be firing on all cylinders as Bucky’s hands lock together in front of his stomach. His back is just this mass of warm sparks and he can smell Bucky. That’s the weird thing. Scent is powerful, he knows that. They use it on missions sometimes - Natasha will wear the same perfume as a mark’s ex-girlfriend, or Clint will make sure he smells the part of the looming thug. But it’s never been something he’s really noticed.
Until now. He’s never going to forget the scent of Bucky as it surrounds him.
He takes Bucky to a diner, where they order burgers with all the trimmings and Bucky tries not to look too amazed by everything going on around them. It’s kind of adorable. He’s all wide eyes and every now and then he has to remember to close his mouth. He averts his eyes when girls walk by in short skirts, his cheeks flushing a little and when a couple of guys on the other side of the cafe kiss, Bucky’s eyes nearly fall out of his skull.
“You guys really weren’t kidding about it being alright now, were you?” Bucky asks, unable to take his eyes off them.
“Nope,” Clint agrees. “Not polite to stare, though.”
“Right, of course,” Bucky says, looking down at his plate in a flash. “Sorry, I’ve just never seen… not in the open.”
“Yeah, I remember when I first saw gay people just… out in the open,” Clint says. “It was weird. I wanted to applaud and I wanted to tell them to stop, just in case someone was watching who didn’t like it.” He shrugs. “It’s an adjustment, I guess.”
“You could say that,” Bucky admits. He looks over at Clint, his eyes wide. “So, is this a date?”
“No,” Clint says.
“It’s just you and me,” Bucky points out, and Clint feels an ankle hook around his. “Come on, doll…”
“No,” Clint says, maintaining his composure and using his own foot to push Bucky’s back to his own side of the table. “Nothing’s changed. You’re still going to regret this if we do anything about it.”
“In seventy years,” Bucky says, leaning back in his seat.
“Even if we do do something,” Clint says, and Bucky’s smirk grows into a smile. “Which we’re not going to. But even if we did, you wouldn’t even remember it. What would be the point?”
“So just like that, huh?” Bucky asks. “You’re my soulmate, Clint. I can feel it, right there inside me, it’s pulling me to you, and I know you’ve gotta feel the same.” Clint winces, he can’t deny it. “Right here and now, we both want it. Why does that make it a problem?”
“Because there’s a whole other version of you, and he’s also my soulmate and I’m not just going to blindly ignore his wishes.”
“Clearly not, or you’d both be of the same opinion about this,” Clint says. “About me.”
“Maybe we are,” Bucky says. “He doesn’t exactly seem talkative. Have you asked?”
“Some things you don’t have to ask to know the answers to,” Clint replies. Bucky frowns.
“And some things you do,” Bucky tells him, grabbing another handful of fries and sticking them in his mouth before watering it down with a mouthful of chocolate shake. “But your only issue with this is that he doesn’t want you?”
“You’re my soulmate from the past, and you’re going to forget all about me,” Clint says. “I mean, it’s an issue, but I wouldn’t say it was the only issue.”
“But it’s the only one that matters,” Bucky says. “Look, pal. If I can get him to admit he wants you, or to at least tell you that he’s okay with us two… getting to know each other a little better, would you still be saying no?”
“Good luck with that,” Clint says. Bucky just smiles and eats another fry.
When Older Bucky comes to find Clint the next day, Clint’s first thought is ‘son of a bitch’.
“We should talk,” Bucky says.
“Do you want to talk?” Clint asks. “Because if you prefer, we can just not and say we did.”
“We should talk,” Bucky repeats.
It’s neutral ground - the common room. No one else is there at the moment, to Clint’s great gratitude. They’re sitting sort of next to each other - in that Clint’s at the end of the sofa and Bucky’s in the armchair on that side of the sofa.
“What do you want to talk about?” Clint asks, with a sigh.
“You knew when we met,” Bucky says.
“Yeah, think we already covered that,” Clint says.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you didn’t tell me,” Clint replies. “At first I was just confused. I mean, you didn’t react at all. So I thought maybe you didn’t want to deal with it, and I’d just wait for you to come to me, but then you kept not reacting at all to anything I said and I figured that you didn’t know. And I wanted to research things before I brought it up. I wanted to know what to tell you. I mean, I didn’t think you’d just take my word for it.”
“That’s not all of it,” Bucky says.
“I thought that maybe it could be a problem for you,” Clint says. “I know how I felt after I got out from under Loki’s magic. I didn’t want to be told what to do, at all. I made some pretty bad calls back then, but I know if someone had tried to tell me ‘this is who you must love’, I would have freaked out. I know your thing was… different, but I thought maybe you’d feel the same. You were still - you are still - figuring yourself out and it didn’t seem fair to put all of this on you as well.”
“That wasn’t your decision,” Bucky says. He’s glaring straight down at the coffee table. “You don’t get the right to decide what’s best for me to know and what I shouldn’t know. Even if you are my fucking soulmate, you don’t get to choose that for me.”
“Yeah, yeah… I get that now. I do. I just…” Clint sighs. “What would you have done if I told you?”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “And now I guess I never will.” Clint winces. “Look, Barton. You’re right. I am still… working out who I am. I’m not that kid anymore. I’m not… I don’t want a soulmate.”
“Right,” Clint says. “Well that’s pretty clear,” he says. “You don’t have to worry. I’m not going to do anything - to either of you. I know what people say about me, but I can keep it in my pants.” He stands up. “I’d say scout’s honour, but we both know I was never a scout.”
Bucky doesn’t say anything, just keeps staring at that damn coffee table as Clint walks out the door, trying not to be any more broken than he already is.”
“Hey, Clint.” Bucky’s voice makes Clint inhale sharply. He cannot do this right now. He turns to see the younger, far more cheerful face of Bucky Barnes looking back at him.
“Not now, okay?” he says. “Just… not now.” He ignores the hurt expression that crosses Bucky’s face and walks off hitting the ground floor button on the elevator. He needs to get out.
The problem with going to stay at his apartment - his other apartment - is that when he wakes up at 2am there’s no one there but him.
Or so he thinks, until he walks down from his bedroom and finds Natasha sitting cross legged on his kitchen counter, two tubs of ice cream sitting in front of him.
“We can’t really do music,” she signs at him. “Your soundproofing is terrible. And if you wanted fancy ice cream, you should have stayed at the tower. But we can do ice cream.” She pushes one of the tubs across to him, with a spoon. “So, I take it something went… wrong.”
Clint goes to grab his hearing aids and slips them into his ears.
“You could say that,” he says. “You know that conversation you wanted me to have with Bucky.”
“Which Bucky?” she asks, her face the picture of innocence.
“The re… the normal one, our one,” Clint says. “Well, we talked.”
“And what did he say - exact phrasing please,” Natasha says. So Clint repeats it back to her, trying to get the intonation as well. She hums to herself and cocks her head to one side.
“Well, that’s encouraging,” Natasha says.
“He got angry and he told me he didn’t want a soulmate,” Clint says. “What part of that is encouraging?” She looks at him as if to say ‘you’re smarter than this’, but Clint has not got the energy to engage in whatever mental gymnastics she wants him to. He’s tired, he’s got this goddamn pull in his chest that’s insistently urging him back to the tower, but his soulmate just rejected him.
“He was angry,” she says. “People say a lot of things when they’re angry, some things they mean, some things they don’t mean. They don’t think as carefully about their word choice, though. He said he didn’t ‘want a soulmate’.”
“That’s a pretty clear indicator that he doesn’t want a soulmate ,” Clint says.
“At no point did he object to you, personally.”
“The bit where I made decisions for him without asking seems like it might be about me.”
“It’s about your action, not you as a person,” Natasha tells him.
“What happened to judge a person by what they do, not what they say?” Clint asks, raising his eyebrows and digging his spoon into the slowly melting pint of Ben and Jerry’s Natasha had bought him.
“He didn’t say he didn’t want you, Clint. Just that he didn’t want a soulmate. And he said that after he explained that he wasn’t in a place where he feels that’s an option to him.”
“You’re going to tie yourself in knots, bending over backwards like that,” Clint tells her.
“He likes you,” Natasha says.
“If he did before, I don’t think he does now.”
“He’s attracted to you.”
“And how do you figure that one?” Clint asks. Natasha sighs and looks at him.
“My entire life revolves around knowing what people want,” she says. “You think I don’t know what he wants. And if you’re really having trouble believing it, then look at Baby Barnes. He’s all over you.” Clint groans.
“He’s all over his soulmate ,” Clint says. “He’s a kid, of course he thinks he’s attracted to-”
“Clint,” Natasha says, pointing her spoon at him. Clint watches a droplet of melted ice cream crawl its way down towards her fingers. “So the older version doesn’t want you because he doesn’t want a soulmate and the younger version doesn’t want you because he just wants a soulmate. I think you’re tying yourself into some pretty complicated knots there already. I don’t need to do it for you.” She moves her spoon just before the ice cream hits her hand, sending it rolling the other way again.
“So what, you want me to sleep with the kid, while the other version of him hates the very idea.”
“That’s not what he said,” Natasha says. “And honestly, yes, I think you should sleep with the younger version. You’re both adults, you both want to - and don’t try to tell me you’re not interested, Hawkeye. I know you far too well for that. Go for it.”
“No means no, Natasha,” Clint says, savagely attacking his ice cream again, which doesn’t seem to care much.
“You’re using that as an excuse because you’re scared of losing him,” Natasha says. Clint looks up at her.
“I’m going to lose him, Tasha,” he says. “That’s a foregone conclusion. The younger version’s going back where he came from, or the timeline’s fucked. We all know that. It’s not a question of being scared I will, it’s knowing that I will. And then, after he’s gone, when there’s just me and Bucky left, what the fuck am I supposed to do then? What is he supposed to do? He doesn’t even remember being that younger him. But he’ll know. You know he’ll know. Tell me that’s not messed up.”
“A lot of things about our lives are messed up,” Natasha says. “Clint. Happiness is fleeting, we both know that. We could all be dead tomorrow.”
“So suck it up, and have sex with your soulmate,” she says.
“Why is everything so fucking complicated?” Clint asks.
“Honestly?” Natasha asks, jumping down off the counter and setting her tub down. “Because you and Bucky are making it that way.”
“You’re the worst best friend ever,” Clint says, glaring at her. She doesn’t seem bothered, just smiles, before leaning in to kiss his cheek, leaving a sticky sweet ice cream residue behind.
“Choose your own happiness,” she says. “No one else will.”
“You say that like it’s easy,” he grumbles.
“No, I say that knowing it’s one of the hardest things in the world,” Natasha says. “I’m going to let you sulk out here for two more days, but if you’re not back at the tower after that, I’m coming to get you, and I’m bringing The Hulk.”
“I’m telling Bruce you said that,” Clint tells her, but she just walks to the door and opens it, unconcerned.
“Go back to sleep, Hawkeye,” she calls to him over her shoulder as she steps out. “All ice cream and no sleep will make you lose your edge.”
Clint opens his mouth to retort, but the door is already closing behind her.
He sighs and puts the ice cream away in the freezer. It’s no fun on his own.
There’s a hammering on his door the next morning, and he rolls out of bed, and forces his ass down the stairs and over to the door, dressed only in the ratty pair of sweatpants with the holes in them.
He yanks the door open and Bucky - the younger one - almost stumbles in, staring at Clint with wide eyes as he catches sight of him. Clint holds up a hand and crosses back over to the table to grab his hearing aids again.
When he turns back around, Bucky is 100% staring at his ass.
“Good morning, doll,” Bucky says, recovering pretty smoothly. He leans against the door frame and smirks.
“I need way more coffee before I deal with this,” Clint says, more to himself than to his impromptu guest. “You want some?”
“Yeah, thanks,” Bucky agrees. “I can’t get over you guys having actual coffee. I’d almost forgotten the taste of it.”
“Well, it won’t taste as good here as it does at the tower,” Clint says, rolling his shoulders. “Tony buys the stupidly expensive stuff, and I’m like a normal person who doesn’t have a million dollars of pocket change down the back of my sofa.”
“Can’t be worse than what the army gives us,” Bucky says, making a face. “Look, I came here to apologise.”
Clint turns away from the coffee maker to stare at him.
“I’ve been making you uncomfortable, and that’s not on. I’d’ve kicked the ass of anyone who was treating my sister like that, and my ma would have tanned my hide. I’m sorry.”
“Uh,” Clint’s not sure he’s ever been compared to someone’s sister before.
“I thought - well, I don’t know what I thought,” Bucky says. He’s still standing in the hallway, like there’s some invisible barrier keeping him out.
“Are you a vampire or something?” Clint asks. Bucky blinks and looks completely confused. “You haven’t crossed the threshold.”
“Oh,” Bucky looks down at his feet. “Well, you ain’t exactly given me permission yet, sweetheart.” Clint smirks at the endearment, trying to quash the bubble of warmth that forms inside him at the sound of it.
“You don’t need to… Come in, please,” Clint says.
“Thank you,” Bucky says and he steps in, closing the door behind him.
“Make yourself at home,” Clint adds. But Bucky doesn’t sit down, just crosses over into the kitchen to stand on the edge, a good distance from Clint.
“That’s very kind of you,” Bucky says.
“Not really,” Clint tells him. “Did Natasha tell you where to find me?”
“Didn’t need to,” Bucky says. “I can sort of… feel it.” His hand brushes against his chest and he looks a bit pained. “I can feel you. It’s this-”
“Tug,” Clint finishes for him. “Yeah, I know about that.”
“You feel it, too?” Bucky asks.
“Yeah, just… I’ve got two of them now,” Clint says. Bucky winces. “Sorry.”
“Not your fault,” Bucky says. “We ain’t exactly been dealt a fair hand, but then when did life deal anyone a fair hand? I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that it ended up like this.”
“That your soulmate was an archer from the future who’d already met a future version of you?” Clint asks. “I’m pretty certain anyone would be surprised by that.”
“The details, maybe, but I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
“And what did you think it would be?” Clint asks.
“Well your words sure were a puzzle, I can tell you,” Bucky says with a laugh, his hand going to touch them through his clothes. “Stevie and I used to wonder why anyone would say something like that. Had to get his ma to tell me what ‘shenanigans’ meant, and even then I didn’t have a clue. But I thought, maybe I’d meet you at a dancehall. I’d be making a mess of something and you’d come over. I mean, that was before I realised you’d… well, you’d be a guy. That changed things a bit. I used to prepare what I’d say to you, so that you’d have some words on you that would mean you already knew…” Bucky sighs again. “I guess I fucked that one up.”
“Pretty sure that was the time travel messing that one up,” Clint tells him.
“Can’t believe my first words were asking you about someone else,” Bucky says with a shake of his head. “If I get a chance to change that-”
“No,” Clint says. “I kind of like ‘em.” Bucky’s forehead furrows in clear confusion. “Look, maybe they aren’t the prettiest words, or the most romantic, but they’re mine. And they’ve been with me so long now. I don’t want different words. I just want…”
“Right,” Bucky says. “You want him… because I’m the anomaly here.”
“No,” Clint says. Bucky holds up a hand.
“I’m the part that screwed it up,” Bucky says. “If I wasn’t here, you’d have said each other’s words at the same time and things would have all worked out.”
“I don’t think it would have been that simple,” Clint tells him.
“Wouldn’t have been as complicated, neither.” Clint can’t really deny that. This is about as complicated as it gets - or he hopes it is. He pours the fresh coffee into the cups and hands one over.
“That’s not what I came over here to say, though,” Bucky tells him. “I came to apologise, for being so persistent when you’d made your place perfectly clear. I was a real jackass for that. And I promise it stops, right now. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable in your own home. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable around me. I really didn’t mean to make you feel like you needed to leave and go somewhere else.”
“I didn’t do that because of you,” Clint says. “I mean, not you you. Maybe a bit because of the other you.”
“If he said something to you then I’ll black both his eyes,” Bucky says, straightening.
“Easy, kid,” Clint says with a smile. “I’m pretty sure he could take you. And he didn’t say anything that wasn’t true and that I didn’t know already. I just needed some space.”
“Right,” Bucky says sipping at his coffee with a look of utter bliss. Clint feels his heart clench at the sight. A man after his own heart, indeed. “But, when you don’t need space anymore, then know I’m gonna be the picture of respect. I won’t bother you.”
“Thanks,” Clint says.
Clint doesn’t know if it’s sending mixed signals or what, but they hang out. It’s nice, and without Bucky trying to seduce him every two seconds, it’s relaxing. Not that Bucky isn’t still seduction personified. Clint thinks he’d find any version of Bucky attractive, but having him sitting on Clint’s sofa, eating cold pizza from last night and drinking coffee with an expression that looks like he’s having a religious experience. It’s like Clint’s having a weird daydream. And then Bucky gets up and says he should be going. He shakes Clint’s hand and heads out the door with a nod, thanking him for a fun afternoon.
Yeah, it’s surreal.
Clint really is intending to go back to the tower on his own accord. It’s not like he wants to live with subpar coffee forever, but the decision’s taken out of his hands. Because it turns out that AIM does have another one of those devices, and they are not afraid to use it.
“That’s a dinosaur,” Clint says from where he’s perched on top of a building. “This is turning into Godzilla!”
“What’s Godzilla?” Bucky asks - the older one, because the younger one sure as hell isn’t being let out to hunt dinosaurs with them.
“Monster from Japanese movies,” Clint says. “We can watch them later.” The words come out of his mouth without him even thinking that Bucky probably doesn’t want to watch Japanese movies with him over a bowl of popcorn. That’s just awkward.
“OK,” Bucky says, his voice a little strained. Clint turns his attention down to the street, where Bucky is trying to guide civilians out of the dinosaur’s path. “Sounds good.”
“Is everyone invited to this little movie festival, or is it a soulmates thing?” Tony asks.
“Iron Man,” Steve says with a sigh.
“Don’t sigh at me. Bird brain started this!” Tony says.
“Vital communications only, people,” Steve says.
“Aye aye, Captain,” Clint says. He’d salute, but his hands are full of his bow and also, he can’t remember the last time he saluted someone. Probably one of the times he had to pretend to be an army officer.
Tracking dinosaurs is pretty damn easy, particularly in the era of social media. New Yorkers might be used to the odd megalomaniac attack, but actual dinosaurs walking down the street is the kind of thing that ends up on Twitter - and Facebook, and Instagram, and Tumblr, and hell, even LinkedIn is getting in on the act. So getting Jarvis to scan through all the reports of ‘holy fuck is that a velociraptor?’ (No, it was a Herrerasaurus, according to Dinofan324) and trace them back to where they came from.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t giant lizards with teeth and claws running through the streets grabbing bystanders and trying to rip them to shreds. So they’ve got one of those situations where obviously they need to go and deal with the AIM guys who are releasing prehistoric monsters into Manhattan, but at the same time, they’ve got to deal with the dinosaurs that have already been released before people start dropping.
Hulk, obviously, is staying on the outside, Iron Man is going in, with Black Widow and the Winter Soldier. Clint, on the other hand, is perfectly happy to stay up on his perch shooting lizards with great prejudice.
Until the guy hits him over the back of the head.
At first, Clint thinks that it’s an AIM goon come to take him out so their brilliant master plan to turn New York into a real life Michael Crichton novel comes to fruition. But even for a beekeeper, the hit’s lacking a bit of punch. When he turns around, a bruise forming at the back of his skull, there’s a clipboard coming towards his face, wielded by what seems to be an irate office worker.
“STOP SHOOTING THEM!” he shouts, and Clint ducks under the clipboard.
“Uh, no…” Clint says, blinking at him. The guy’s face twists in rage.
“They are only following their instincts ,” the man says again, going for a punch this time, Clint dodges.
“You… are here to tell me not to stop the dinosaurs running wild through the streets?” Clint says slowly.
“What was that, Hawkeye?” Cap asks in his ear.
“I have a situation,” Clint says. Clipboard guy has now abandoned the clipboard altogether and is holding up his fists in the universal ‘let’s fight, asshole’ pose.
“So have I,” Cap says. “A bigger one just came out, I’d really appreciate a little covering fire right now. Some flashbangs to corral it would be good.
“Right, I’m… There’s a civilian,” Clint says.
“I see him,” Sam confirms and Clint looks up to see the familiar silhouette of Falcon outlined against the sky. Of course, that gives Mr Dinosaur Rights the chance to pop him on the jaw. “He’s got a nice right hook.”
“Look,” Clint says to the prehistoric animal rights activist. “Either I shoot them, or they kill people.”
“There’s barely anyone on the streets right now except-”
“You really don’t want to finish that sentence,” Clint says, holding up a hand. “But I’m going to say that saving people’s lives is literally my job, and Captain America needs me to watch his back, so go back inside and-”
“Oh great,” he hears Sam say. “This one can fly.”
“I’m not going to let you go back to harming innocent creatures,” Clipboard Man declares.
“Those things would disembowel you in a heartbeat,” Clint points out.
“They are the only living examples of their species!” The man says.
“Not where they’re from, they’re not.”
Clint really wishes he was allowed to hit civilians right now. But that’s really frowned upon, and last time a civilian even accidentally got a black eye there was hell to pay.
Which means when the pterodactyl decides to come and check out what all the movement is about on the roof, Clint’s head isn’t exactly in the game and long claws rake along his back as he ducks. Of course, the one man Save The Dinosaurs army doesn’t have Clint’s lightning fast reflexes and amazing physical skills, so he gets scooped up in one huge reptilian claw.
Although, now that Clint thinks about it, he’s not sure that pterodactyls are reptiles. There’s that whole dinosaurs evolving into birds thing, and pterodactyls can already fly, so maybe it’s…
As he’s thinking about the proper classification of flying prehistoric monsters, his legs are already running after the guy, who has dropped his clipboard and who is - from the look on his face - re-examining his stance on animal welfare re: time travelling dinosaurs.
Clint has time to do a few calculations as he leaps from the edge of the roof.
Calculation number 1: shooting the dinosaur might make it drop the man, they are many storeys up, a fall from this height would leave the guy nothing more than a splat on the tarmac below. Therefore shooting the dinosaur is a no go.
Calculation number 2: Not shooting the dinosaur means it’s going to get away, possibly far away. It’s massive and it can fly. The thing is going to be nearly impossible to contain without air support, and air support will probably mean that the guy once again falls to his death.
Calculation number 3: Clint can totally make the jump onto the creature to grab the man, Clint has a parachute.
So he jumps.
Clint can’t remember a time he was ever scared of heights. When he was a kid, hiding in the branches of a tree was the safest place he knew. When you were small, no one thought to look up to see you, and you could always see them coming. Then, in the circus, a fear of heights was just something you couldn’t have. You needed to be climbing ladders, poles or human pyramids just to get the place set up right. The fear of falling had never had time to set in.
So he’s grinning as he runs and jumps, as his feet leave the solid surface of the roof and take off into thin air. He can hear voices shouting his name and swearing at him, but it’s too late for that.
Clint Barton’s aim is always true. And that applies as much to where he aims his own body as where he aims an arrow. It’s not difficult, though plenty of people have tried to convince him that it is, that he shouldn’t just be able to see parabolas forming in front of him, that he shouldn’t be able to calculate wind speed and air resistance and the curvature of the earth along with the trajectories of three moving bodies, all without even really thinking about it. But he can, so he does.
And he knows, even as he steps out into the air, throwing himself across the gap, that he’s going to make it.
The skin of the pterodactyl is warm, but scaly to the touch, like rough leather against his hands as he collides with it and grabs on for his life. He sees the civilian staring at him, wide eyed and horrified as Clint grins across.
“You look like you want to get off this ride,” Clint shouts over the sheer roar of noise that is the wind and the pterodactyl’s wings flapping - and the voices still shouting in his ear. One of them sounds like Bucky. Clint ignores them all. He’ll think about that later when there isn’t a risk of a civilian turning into a pancake. The man in question is still staring at him, dumbfounded. “Grab onto me,” Clint says. The man’s eyes go impossibly wider, so that Clint can see whites all the way round his irises. “It’s fine, I’ve got you, now grab hold of me.” The guy shakes his head.
The pterodactyl makes a harsh, shrieking noise that plays merry havoc with Clint’s hearing aids. Its huge pointed face - beak? - curls under its body to look at them. Clint lets go with one hand for a second to wave, before grabbing hold again.
There’s a gravity dropping swoop in his stomach as the pterodactyl starts trying to throw him off.
Sadly, when he looks at his new friend, the whites of his knuckles indicate that he is not intending to grab Clint any time soon.
The pterodactyl’s rising higher and higher, which makes Clint’s other possible plan - of timing their release so they can just drop onto another rooftop - sadly impossible. But it means he’ll have more time for the parachute to open.
“Look,” Clint shouts. “Haven’t you always wanted to try BASE jumping?”
“ Hawkeye ,” Sam’s voice says in his ear. “ You know most civilians don’t actively want to jump off high places, right? ”
“Fine,” Clint says with a sigh.
“ Don’t you dare,” Bucky’s voice growls in his ear. “ Wilson’s on his way. Wait for him .” Clint considers that.
“Sure,” he says. “But first.”
He releases one of his hands.
Hanging one-handed beneath a flying pterodactyl is exhilarating. Clint actually looks down. They are a long, long way up. He can just make out the spot of red coming towards them, growing larger, that must be Sam. Clint has to make sure the civilian’s safe before Sam gets here and the pterodactyl starts having to decide whether they want to keep hold of their prey.
Clint uses the motion of the pterodactyl to start to swing, his arm muscles helping the movement along until he gets the timing and the swing exactly… right…
There’s a bigger distance between a pterodactyl’s legs than you’d think, Clint considers with a wince, as his arms extend in both directions, the weight of his body pulling down on them. His shoulders protest, but not for long. With one, quick motion, he spins, releasing the leg he’d had hold of before, and grabbing onto the other leg with both arms. He wraps his legs around the guy, who is still staring at him in terror and disbelief and grins.
“OK, Falcon,” he says. “We’re ready for you.”
Sam is a blur of red as he sweeps in at the pterodactyl, slamming into its head.
Sure enough, it lets go, and so does Clint.
Of the pterodactyl’s leg, not the guy.
The plummet of freefall is a familiar one. The screaming of the man in his ears is less familiar, and less welcome, too. The way Bucky is swearing at him through the comms is… unexpected but fills Clint up with this strange bubbling warmth. Because Bucky cares. Sure, wanting him to stay alive is a pretty low bar on the soulmate front, but Bucky wants him to stay alive . So, as Clipboard Guy finally gets with the programme and grabs hold of Clint so tight he’s probably going to leave bruises, Clint lets out a whoop, pulling the release for his parachute.
“ What the fuck was that? ” Bucky asks in his ear as Clint slowly meanders his way back down to earth, leaving the pterodactyl to Falcon and Thor, who has just appeared to help proceedings along.
“That was another day of me being awesome,” Clint says. The man, who is now rather awkwardly hugging him back, twists to look at him. “Not talking to you, it’s fine,” Clint says. “It’s the voices in my head.”
“ I am not a voice in your head ,” Bucky says.
“ If I were a voice in your head, you wouldn’t end up in hospital half as much ,” Natasha points out, which Clint can concede.
“ You should have left the pterodactyl to the people who can - I don’t know - fly ,” Bucky says.
“Eh, it’s fine,” Clint tells him. “I had a plan.”
“ It was a dumb plan ,” Bucky says.
“It worked,” Clint points out.
“ You’re lucky. ”
“Or, I’m just that good,” Clint says.
“ You’re an asshole ,” Bucky snaps, and then his voice disappears from the rest of the chatter that’s filling up the comms.
So, the warm bubbly feeling didn’t last very long.
The pair of them land on the street, with Clint guiding them between buildings with skill born from a lot of experience of landing in the wrong damn field on stealth missions. Dinosaur Rights Activist collapses and actually kisses the tarmac as they return to earth.
“Ew,” Clint says. “Seriously, dude, you don’t know how many drunks have pissed on that.” The guy looks up at him, clearly not comprehending the words, and his legs wobbling like he’s a newborn foal as he tries to stand up. “Hey, it’s okay, the paramedics will be here in a minute to check you’re alright. Just as soon as we’ve got everything wrapped up.” The guy doesn’t say thank you, which is kind of rude when Clint thinks about it. But he supposes it isn’t every day that you almost get killed by an extinct apex predator. Still - rude.
“Cap, we’re down,” he says over the comms. “How can I help?”
“ We’re pretty much done here, Hawkeye ,” Steve replies. “ Let the paramedics take a look at you. Falcon said it looked like that thing took a chunk out of your shoulder .”
Now Steve mentions it, Clint’s shoulder is kind of burning. He has a vague recollection of talons - claws? - tearing through it, but that seems a long time ago now. It’s probably fine.
The paramedics don’t think it’s fine. They think it needs stitches and antibiotics and monitoring to make sure his arm doesn’t fall off or something like that. And they insist on taking him to an actual hospital, which is stupid, because Clint is absolutely fine and he can still move his arm just fine. Sure, it hurts like a son of a bitch when he lifts it up or tries to carry anything, but he has definitely been in worse shape than this before.
So, when there’s a lull in nurses and doctors in and out of his room, Clint makes a bid for freedom.
He’s barely got the door open before a solid, dark shape blocks his path.
“Uh,” Clint says. Bucky glares up at him. “I was looking for the bathroom.”
“Your room has a private bathroom,” Bucky tells him.
“Did you get stuck on guard duty because of the whole… words thing?” Clint asks. Bucky’s jaw tightens.
“I didn’t… I don’t get stuck places,” Bucky says. “If I didn’t want to be here I wouldn’t be here.”
"O-kay then," Clint says. He's not sure how to take that. There's a part of him that feels all warm and fuzzy again. But, he just doesn't know how to read Bucky. It's not fair. All the stories tell you that you're supposed to be completely in tune with your soulmate. But Bucky and Clint are nothing but off key. Maybe it's just the weird circumstances surrounding their bond or lack of it, but Clint feels like he's in a labyrinth. He doesn't know which way to turn.
"Go back to bed, Barton," Bucky says.
"I don't need to be in hospital. 'Tis but a scratch."
"You are quoting the wrong film if you want me to believe it's not as bad as it looks," Bucky says, crossing his arms. Clint winces. He'd forgotten that they'd shown Bucky that one.
"It really is just a scratch," he says. "I made it bleed a bit hang-gliding from a dinosaur, but it isn't bad."
"Because that's just something you do,"Bucky growls. "You don't get it, do you?"
"What is there to get?" Clint asks. Shrugging is a bad idea. He can feel the stitches pulling.
"I told you to stop taking stupid risks."
"I'm an Avenger. That's the job."
"You could have fallen to your death." Bucky's voice doesn't make it clear whether that's a bad thing. Clint squints at him. He still feels off balance. The drugs are slowing his brain to molasses.
"I had a… parachute," he says, his words slurring.
The world shifts sideways and a solid metal arm steadies him. Bucky's face is swimming through his vision. It must be the drugs, because it looks softer. Clint reaches up to touch it. And when did Bucky get taller than him?
"Let's get you back to bed," Bucky says and the world moves. No. Clint moves. Bucky moves? Something’s definitely moving.
He finds himself back in bed, Bucky out of reach. And he falls into the fuzzy darkness of the drugs.
It turns out that Clint’s right about his injury. Once it’s stitched up and he’s under orders not to raise his arm higher than his shoulder for a few days, he’s discharged. It aches and itches, but it’s nothing like as bad as some of his near death experiences over the years. He’s back in the tower the next morning before breakfast has finished, and he’s even off training for the next couple of days, so life is looking good.
Instead, he sits on a ledge high above the rest of the Avengers as they run laps and he heckles them. He even brings popcorn. Right up until Cap gives the order and Iron Man carries him out of the room. It’s totally worth it, though, because he gets to pretend to swoon in Tony’s arms.
Injury or not, it’s a good day. Of course, just because it’s a good day, doesn’t mean it’s a good night.
Nightmares march into his head almost as soon as he shuts his eyes. It’s the drugs, or the feeling of coming off them. It’s always like this after he gets off the painkillers. They leave his mind all fuzzy and soft, but when they ebb away, everything is sharp, like pieces of broken mirror in his mind.
He wakes at one thirty and stares at the clock, trying to decide if this is a night he wants to battle it out alone, or whether he’s looking for company. Then he remembers that with his shoulder out of action he’s not supposed to be shooting for another forty eight hours, so that answers that question.
He doesn’t bother to grab a shirt or pants, just a blanket and his hearing aids, as he makes his way to the kitchen. He’s not expecting to find the younger Bucky there, hands shaking as he pours coffee into a mug. He looks… he looks a fright. His eyes are dark in his head, his hair’s wild like Clint hasn’t seen it, his face is twisted in anger, though Clint can’t tell where it’s directed.
Clint must make a noise walking in, because he snaps around, his hands dropping the mug as he reaches for a gun that he… probably shouldn’t have. Clint raises his hands, dropping the blanket to puddle on the floor, and watches as Bucky’s eyes go wide and round and terrified. His mouth forms Clint’s name.
“Hey,” Clint says.
Bucky looks down at the gun in his hands, still trained on Clint’s chest, then back up at Clint.
“You would honestly not be the first person to shoot me for a coffee,” Clint says, shrugging. The comment is odd enough that he can see Bucky’s brain prick up at it, starting to work more clearly. Clint takes a step forward. “If I promise to show you the best way to have coffee, will you promise not to shoot me?”
“Shoot…” Bucky says, and suddenly the gun drops. “Clint, I wouldn’t. I didn’t mean to… I shouldn’t… Fuck!” He swears and pushes a hand through his hair, trying to neaten it up. His spine straightens and a smile is suddenly on his face. In less than a second, he pulls himself together and Clint wonders how often he’s had to do that that the system is almost flawless.
“Hey, it’s fine,” Clint says. “Hair trigger, right. You’re used to being behind enemy lines in an active warzone. It’s pretty normal for you to react badly to someone creeping up on you.”
“Instincts,” Bucky says with a twisted smile. “Sorry, pal.”
“It’s fine,” Clint tells him. It’s not fine, that’s for sure. His heart is thudding in his chest, not because he just had a gun pointed at him, but because this version of Bucky isn’t supposed to be like this. This version is the sweet kid with dreams of the future.
Bucky steps back and looks down in confusion as he’s standing in hot wet coffee.
“Yeah, we should get that,” Clint agrees. “Tony bitches like crazy if you stain his tiles. He got them from Europe or something.”
Sweeping up broken mup and mopping up the poor coffee gives Clint a minute to plan his line of attack. Maybe it’s cynical of him to even do that, but he needs to do this right, and he needs to phrase it right. He can’t just blunder into it like he usually does.
He sweeps another dustpan of ceramic shards into the trash and looks up. Natasha always says that it’s best to let other people have the position of strength when you’re trying to make them vulnerable.
“So,” he says. “Nightmares fucking suck, huh?” Bucky looks at him.
“Tell me about it,” he says. His hands are still shaking, but they’re in his pockets, so Clint can’t see them. His jaw is raised and set, his teeth clearly clenched together. He’s trying very hard to look strong and it’s just about breaking Clint’s heart.
“I’ve killed a lot of people,” Clint says. “Some of them were pretty bad, some of them… well, turns out that some of them weren’t.” He pauses and slowly gets to his feet. “I see ‘em sometimes, and sometimes I see other people. And I kill ‘em, because that’s the job. And then I wake up in the bumfuck nowhere hours of the morning and I need something to take the taste out of my mouth.”
“You’re a superhero,” Bucky says slowly. “You kill the bad guys.”
“Now I am, I wasn’t always a hero,” Clint says. “And when you’ve got orders.”
“They’re Hydra,” Bucky says. “Or they’re Nazis. Either way, I shouldn’t…”
“Care?” Clint says. “Caring’s good. I’ve seen what happens to the people who don’t.”
Bucky looks at him, askance, as Clint heads to the cupboard to get out some bowls. He’s going to make the best damn sundae he’s ever made.
“You’re a sharpshooter,” Bucky says slowly.
“Yep,” Clint says, giving him a broad grin. “Best damn marksman in the whole damn world.” He can see the way that pricks Bucky’s pride, but he doesn’t say anything.
“It’s different,” Bucky says. His face isn’t open right now, but it’s not shut all the way down either. It’s stern and stony and lost somewhere Clint can’t follow. But it’s not shut. “Killing people from a distance, it’s a different thing, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” Clint agrees. He grabs the coffee ice cream from the freezer and starts to spoon it out.
“When they’re up close and it’s them or you, that’s one thing,” Bucky says. “But at a distance? They never see it coming.”
“Nope,” Clint agrees. He looks at Bucky for a second and decides he’s a vanilla kind of guy. He spoons on another scoop.
“One second they’re there, the next they’re gone and all I do is pull the trigger,” Bucky says. He shakes himself and forces a smile onto his face, Clint doesn’t match it.
“It’s a different sort of killing,” Clint agrees. “It plays a different sort of tune in your nightmares, that’s for sure.”
“Steve doesn’t… get it,” Bucky says.
“Nope,” Clint agrees. He goes to the top cabinet and pulls out the bottle of kahlua. He drizzles it over the top of both bowls. “Cap believes in a fair fight, he believes that there are moral rules and shit.” Clint hands over the bowl with the vanilla on it and a spoon. Bucky stares at it.
“There aren’t rules,” Bucky says.
“There are the rules you give yourself,” Clint corrects. “And that’s what’s most terrifying. Because what if they’re the wrong rules?”
“How do you... ?” Bucky asks.
“Well, when Cap’s around, I mostly do what he tells me,” Clint says with a shrug. Bucky narrows his eyes at him. “And when he’s not around… then I hope that I’m reading the right rulebook.”
“That’s… not helpful,” Bucky tells him, taking a spoonful of sundae. As it slides into his mouth, his eyes grow wide. “What is this?”
“Kahlua avalanche,” Clint says. “Or that’s what I call it anyway.” He scoops up his own mouthful of chocolate coffee and grins around it. “This one’s a kahlua mudslide.”
“It’s good,” Bucky tells him, taking another, small, spoonful, savouring the flavour.
“Yeah, sugar, caffeine, and just a splash of alcohol,” Clint says. “Don’t tell Nat. She says I’m not allowed to make alcoholic sundaes, because that’s not the point of the whole club thing.”
“Club thing?” Bucky asks, raising his eyebrows. Clint flushes a bit, because all of a sudden it feels silly. He explains, though, in more depth than he really remembers ever telling anyone before. He explains how he’d used to have ice cream sometimes with his Mom, after things got really bad, as a treat, and how he’d conned Natasha into changing sides with an ice cream cone.
“And there’s supposed to be music?” Bucky says, looking around. He seems more settled again. The haunted edge has gone from his eyes and the shaking in his hands has stopped. He’s even smiled a couple of times. The real smiles, not the fake ones he’d been trying to use before.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “I mean, you can’t have a party without some music, right?” Bucky looks at him.
“And since you made the sundaes, I get to choose it, huh?” he asks, raising his eyebrows. Clint nods, smiling right back.
Bucky picks something with a beat and a swing to it, a singer whose voice is low and purring into a microphone, and a track with just a little crackle to it, like an old record.
“That’s one of the things I love about the future,” Bucky says, waving around the room. “Music’s everywhere. You just have to ask for it.”
“Most people don’t have an artificial intelligence integrated with their home,” Clint says. “And a lot of the music is kind of annoying.”
“But it’s there,” Bucky says. “You’ve got to have music, or what’s the point?” His foot is tapping to the beat and he’s scraping the last of his sundae from his bowl. “You wanna dance?”
Clint thinks about it. Thinks about having Bucky right there with him, bodies pressed together, moving to the rhythm.
“Probably better not,” he says. Bucky’s face drops a bit and Clint feels that chasm opening up between them again. “It’s not that I don’t want to, it just feels like a bad idea.”
“It’s just a dance, doll,” Bucky says, his voice low.
“Pretty sure with you, it’s never just anything,” Clint tells him and Bucky smiles, sad but honest.
He looks at the clock, and he’s honestly surprised how long they’ve been here, talking about ice cream and shooting and their fucked up brains.
“I should be getting back to bed,” Clint says. He doesn’t invite Bucky to join him, though he can feel the words in his mind, burning there, and he can see the words in the heat of Bucky’s eyes on his.
“Yeah, me too,” Bucky says. “Thanks… for… talking to me.”
“I didn’t exactly make things better.”
“You know what it’s like,” Bucky says. “That sure as hell don’t make it worse.”
“Yeah.” Clint agrees. It’s true.
Bucky starts looking past Clint, towards the door, his face freezing, and Clint turns to see what he’s looking at, but there’s nothing there.
“What’s up?” he asks.
“Nothing,” Bucky says. “Just… thought I heard something.”
They stand there for another long moment, and Clint’s forgotten how to say goodbye. He’s sure he’s walked away from conversations before, but for the life of him he can’t remember how he does it. There have got to be words you’re supposed to say, but everything he thinks of sounds wrong.
“Goodnight, Clint,” Bucky says, and he pushes into Clint’s space, just for a heartbeat, to press a kiss to his cheek. “Thanks for the ice cream, and the chat.”
“No problem,” Clint says, feeling Bucky’s lips like a brand on his cheek, his stomach swooping with it. “Any time.”
“Timing ain’t our strong point,” Bucky points out. “I’ll be seeing you.” He saunters out of the room, giving another quick smile as he goes, and Clint’s eyes are glued to him as he leaves, until he disappears around the doorframe and it’s like whatever thread was pulling Clint is severed, leaving him sagging against the countertop with dishes to clean up and a little more arousal than he should really be feeling.
The swing music plays on overhead, and Clint can’t quite… can’t quite…
He sighs and opens the dishwasher.
It’s late. He’s not thinking clearly.
They now have two timescoops, which Tony is thrilled about. The second one is also, apparently, some kind of upgraded version, which means that the job of working out how to get Bucky home is getting shorter and shorter. In fact, Tony thinks it’ll all be sorted in a couple of days.
“Which still leaves us with the perennial problem of time travel,” Tony says, leaning back in his chair so it bounces slightly.
“We can’t send him back with knowledge of the future, or it could create a paradox,” Bruce says, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “You know that is not a problem I ever thought I would seriously have. It’s a lot more of a headache when it’s not a plot hole in a television show.”
“If this were a television show, it would all miraculously fix itself,” Clint points out.
“Although the fact that our Bucky didn’t spontaneously disappear when his younger version arrived does indicate that the timeline may be more elastic than we previously assumed,” Bruce goes on to say.
“But the evidence of the soulmarks indicates that the timeline was always rigid and this was always going to happen, so of course the Winter Warrior over there didn’t disappear because he’s already lived through this,” Tony counters. Clint winces. They’re getting into the time travel argument again. In a minute someone’s going to mention the possibility of alternate universes and things are going to descend from merely dull to interminably boring.
“Which in itself creates questions regarding the very nature of-” Bruce starts. Clint catches Bucky’s eye, the older one, and there is a moment, just a moment, where he can tell that they’re thinking the same thing. All the theories are great and everything, but when are they going to actually do something? To Clint’s great delight, Wanda interrupts them.
“I might have a solution to that,” she says. Everyone turns to her.
It’s not that Wanda doesn’t talk, she does. But either she talks when things are getting heated, or she talks when there’s only a couple of people around. She doesn’t usually interrupt a discussion. Hearing her do so now is a bit of a surprise.
“You do, Wanda?” Steve asks. She looks a little uncomfortable as she glances around the table, pulling her sleeves down over her hands and shrinking into her seat a little bit.
“Sergeant Barnes does not remember being here,” she says, looking across at the older version of Bucky.
“No, but I don’t remember a whole lot of things,” Bucky replies.
“But Steve says that you didn’t remember it back then, either,” she looks to Steve who nods.
“You didn’t, Buck. I remember the next morning, Gabe noticed that your words had gone grey and you had no clue.”
“So we can assume that we will find some way to… remove those memories.”
“Fuck that,” the younger version of Bucky says. “Look, I just won’t tell anyone anything. I’ll tell Steve I don’t remember, I’ll pretend to be surprised by the words.”
“Not good enough,” Tony says, snapping his fingers. “We’ve all seen the movies. Well… you probably haven’t, Baby Barnes, but the rest of us have. You’d say something, do something. Maybe not even something that reveals the future, but you’d be a slightly different version of you. And perhaps you’d step on the wrong butterfly and then ‘poof’ we’re in the universe where Hydra won and we’re all raising both hands in the air like we just don’t care about democracy.”
“You want to go into my brain,” Bucky - the older one - says to Wanda, his voice slow and low. “And take out my memories.”
“I do not think it would hurt,” Wanda says. She doesn’t flinch away from his heavy gaze, instead, she leans forwards. “It needs to be done.”
“It’s not about the pain, I can-” Bucky pauses and takes in a deep breath.
“Look, there’s plenty of stuff I never told Steve,” younger Bucky says. “I’ll be fine.”
“There is?” Steve asks, sitting up like a confused puppy.
“Yeah, pal,” the older version of Bucky tells him, patting his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you didn’t need to know.”
“Well personally, I find that worrying,” Tony interjects.
“I think that maybe we’re getting a little too agitated about this,” Natasha comments, leaning out to rest a hand on younger Bucky’s arm. He jerks it away from her.
“You’re talking about my mind, lady,” he says, standing up. “I’m not… come up with another plan.”
He storms out of the room.
“There is no other plan,” the older version says. He’s looking Wanda right in the eye.
“Honestly, our other plans wouldn’t work half as well. I’ve been working on a memory imaging system with some folk in R&D, but it’s nowhere near defined enough to do that sort of surgical-”
“Tony,” Steve says, and Tony lapses into silence. They share a glance and once again Clint feels that wave of envy rising inside him because the pair of them, for all their fights and nonsense, they have that connection and it works for them. They didn’t have to wade through any of this time travel, two soulmates nonsense. He pushes it away and stands up, grinning.
“So I guess I should go and talk to him,” he says, because it’s obviously got to be him. But before anyone else can reply, Bucky stands up, shaking his head.
“No,” he says. “This is on me.” He turns back to Wanda, his jaw tight, his eyes narrowed just slightly. “You’re sure you can just take the memories of here?” he says.
“I am sure,” she says.
“Buck,” Steve says, rising as well. He’s got his fiercest, most earnest expression on his face. “I know that this must be hard for you.”
“It’s got to be done,” Bucky says. “I’m not dumb, Stevie. One memory versus the entire world.”
“But still, this has to be-”
“Steve, it’s fine. I’ve already been through this once, right? And I survived it then, so I’m going to survive it this time.” He nods to Wanda and turns, leaving the room. Clint sits back down a bit awkwardly. He hadn’t really wanted to go and convince his soulmate to have his memories of him wiped, but sitting here alone while his soulmate is convincing himself feels… well, it feels really shitty.
“Steve?” Tony asks
“I’m okay,” Steve says, giving a tense smile. “It’s just. I saw him… after. And when Bucky saw that his words were grey. When he saw his soulmate was gone… I never saw him like that.”
Clint shifts on his chair.
Hearing about how his soulmate mourned him, that’s got to be one of the most surreal moments of his life. It’s this strange, deep sadness inside him. He wants to stop it from happening, but he can’t.
Everything is so damn screwed up.
He glances at Natasha and catches her eye, nodding upwards towards where his room is. She nods back, almost imperceptibly, then he’s slipping away and up into the vents, leaving the rest of them to discuss how they’re going to wipe out his existence.
There is a knock on his door a couple of hours later. He’s expecting Natasha, Steve, or maybe Wanda. He certainly isn’t expecting Bucky.
It’s the older one, worn around the edges, broader, tougher, his mouth set in its usual firm line.
“Hi,” Clint says. He stands back to let him in, but Bucky shakes his head, though there’s a momentary pause when Clint thinks he might actually take him up on the offer.
“I’m not staying,” he says. “I just came to tell you - he’s doing it. Two days. And… and… if you want… If you want to say goodbye. However you want to do it. I’m okay with that. You shouldn’t… Don’t stop just because of me, okay.”
Clint blinks, rapidly.
“Are you telling me to have sex with your younger self?” he asks.
“I’m telling you that you should make the most of having your soulmate here,” Bucky says. “So, if he asks. Don’t say no because of me.”
He turns away, heading for the elevator with the kind of stride that looks slow, but covers a lot of distance very quickly.
“You’re my soulmate, too,” Clint says to his back. Bucky ignores him.
Clint has no idea what to do with that information.
“You need to talk to him,” Natasha says as she gets Clint in a headlock the next day. He’s doing the totally grown up thing of avoiding Bucky - both of him - and Natasha had volunteered to help in that endeavour by sparring with him.
“I need to work out what to say first,” Clint points out, flipping backwards over her head, forcing her to release her hold.
“That doesn’t sound like you,” she tells him as she spins around trying to land a kick on his side. She succeeds, but he manages to roll with it.
“Well, maybe I’m growing up,” Clint suggests. She actually pauses for a second, giving him a moment to get a punch towards her face. She ducks, but it’s far closer than it should be.
“No,” she says. “No, it’s something else.”
“Maybe,” Clint agrees. She drops to sweep at his legs and he cartwheels over her foot, manoeuvring his own body so he can kick right at her centre of mass as she jumps up again, but she just drops back, his foot flying over her.
“Which means yes,” she says. She tilts her head to one side, looking at him.
“Tasha, I know I’m good looking, but you really should be watching my arms not my face,” he says, but she blocks his attack easily enough.
“You’re getting predictable, I don’t need to look to know what you’re going to do,” she tells him. “You’re fighting on automatic, because your brain is elsewhere.”
“Predict this!” Clint says.
Of course, when he’s halfway through his move, the door opens and Bucky walks in.
He knows it’s Bucky immediately. He feels that little thread inside his chest pull taut, and next thing Clint knows, he’s on his back, with Nat pinning him down from behind, and, of course, they’re facing the door.
“So that’s what’s got your attention”, she whispers.
Younger Bucky gives them a smile and a nod. He’s wearing a tank top and sweats, his hands wrapped. He doesn’t say anything, just walks over to where the heavy bags are and starts to box.
Clint’s eyes are glued to him, the ripple of muscles in his back as he ducks and weaves, the flex of his arms as he punches, one two, one two.
He’s not built like his older self. Years of Hydra serum, training and diet haven’t piled on the muscles, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got any.
And Clint’s thinking about them.
He’s been thinking about them since the other Bucky came to his door and told him that they should fuck.
He thought about it half the night and he thought about it all morning. He was thinking about it when Natasha was wiping the mat with him and he’s thinking about it now, practically salivating at the thought, actually. Which is pretty gross.
Clint closes his mouth and risks a glance over to Natasha, who is watching him with an eyebrow raised, her arms crossed, one foot tapping against the sprung floor.
“Shut up,” he says.
“We’ve been over this before,” she says as he pushes himself to his feet. “You need to learn to shut out distractions.”
“And I do,” Clint points out.
“All distractions,” she says.
Clint wants to say something. But he’s never been distracted like this before. He can crouch in a nest, barely moving, waiting for the perfect shot, ignoring his bladder, his stomach, the itch on the end of his nose, the bird that lands on his head. He can breathe slow and steady as a mark stops to talk to someone, not getting ahead of himself because he knows that you can’t rush perfection. He can ignore shouting and tickling and that damn earworm that got stuck in his head so that the chorus is always on the tip of his tongue, over and over again.
He’s been ignoring him. He’s been pushing the thoughts down and throttling them for months and it’s been worse since the whole time travel thing started, because there were two Buckys to ignore, two little tugs in his chest drawing his attention away.
Now it all feels different, though. Two days - down to one day now, he supposes. They’re almost halfway through this one. One day left, and he has permission to think about it. And that permission opened the proverbial floodgates. He’s had more fantasies in the past ten hours than he’s had since he was a teenager.
Holy shit has he had fantasies.
And now Bucky’s right there, working up a sweat, his short hair starting to flop onto his forehead, and Clint has the perfect view of the flex of his ass as he dances on the balls of his feet.
Natasha’s foot catches him right on the jaw.
“Talk to him,” she hisses as she pulls him up.
“I… I think he’s gotta be the one to talk to me,” Clint says. Her eyes soften slightly.
“He will,” she tells him.
He doesn’t. All day, Clint waits for Bucky to appear out of the shadows and… well, do some more of the flirting he’d been doing before. But as the minutes tick into hours, Clint’s got nothing. The older Bucky is definitely avoiding him, which makes sense, and everyone else seems to be finding something else to do whenever he appears. He guesses that they don’t know what to say either.
“JARVIS,” he asks, later that evening, after a dinner where both Buckys were conspicuously absent. “Where is Bucky?”
“Both Sergeants Barnes have requested privacy,” JARVIS tells him and Clint sighs.
They’re down to less than twenty-four hours now.
He tries to sleep, but he can’t stop tossing and turning. He watches the clock tick over from 11 to 12 to 1 and swings himself out of bed.
He makes it to the kitchen, where it’s dark. The only light from the displays on the front of the fridge and the oven, blaring the time out at him in creepy green light. He doesn’t bother turning on the lights, just slumps against the counter and pillows his head in his arms.
The footsteps are not loud enough to be heard. The first he knows of Bucky’s presence is the hand on his shoulder, gently shaking him awake.
“I hoped you’d be here,” Bucky says, in a tone that you just don’t hear from his older self. As Clint turns to him, his face is soft in the dim light, but then it’s always soft, isn’t it.
“If you’ve been looking for me, I was around all day,” Clint says. Bucky smiles a little.
“I was getting stuff right,” he says. Clint raises an eyebrow.
“Do I want to know?” he asks. Bucky’s smile grows.
“I sure hope so”, he replies. “Or else it’s been a waste of time.” Clint blinks at him, slow and uncomprehending. His brain has been working on overtime all day and by now it has completely given up trying to follow. His entire body sways sleepily towards Bucky, who catches him with one hand, gently pushing him back upright.
“Hey, don’t fall asleep on me now,” he says, ducking his head to catch Clint’s eyes. “Please.”
Clint looks at him, really looks, and he’s still so damn young, but he’s also not. He just looks young because Clint’s comparing him to the other him, which isn’t fair.
“You want some ice cream?” Clint asks, going to stand up, because that’s the rule. First person there makes the ice creams.
“Not tonight,” Bucky says. “But I guess I could pick some music.” He makes a sign with his hand and a song starts to play, it’s something Clint only dimly recognises. Modern, which surprises him, but with a beat that’s familiar from the swing Bucky had been listening to before. “Say, Mr Barton. Would you care to dance?”
Bucky holds out his hand and Clint looks up at him. He sees the slight twitch to Bucky’s mouth, the swallow he can’t hide, the slightly manic look to his eyes.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “I think I would.”
It’s not a slow dance. Bucky’s got a slightly mischievous look in his eye that’s daring Clint to back down, but Clint never backs down from a challenge.
“You’ve actually got some decent music in this century,” Bucky says, starting to move. His steps are quick and precise and Clint doesn’t quite know how it goes, but he’s a quick study and he’s good on his feet. He’s sure he’ll pick it up.
“You sound surprised,” Clint says, letting Bucky swing him out and putting a little bit of flare into the motion.
“I think Stevie decided to play me all the terrible stuff first,” Bucky says. “He’s a dick like that.”
Clint laughs almost with surprise at the description of Captain America. It’s not like he’s never thought it himself, but hearing it said with such complete confidence is weird.
Swing dancing is harder than it looks. Clint doesn’t trip over his own feet, but he cuts it pretty close a few times. And it’s pretty energetic, too. He finds the rhythm though, following Bucky’s lead as they jitterbug around the room. It’s fun and ridiculous in a way Clint hasn’t felt in a long time, and he ducks under Bucky’s arms and ends up sliding between his legs. He rolls into a handstand just because he can.
It feels freeing, but it also feels a little bit desperate and Clint laughs at himself because there’s that edge to what he’s feeling, that ‘my man’s going off to war’ feeling that is dumb but at the same time accurate.
Bucky guides him, telling him what to do as they whirl round and round in circles, legs kicking out in a way that should look stupid, probably does to the outside, because Clint’s clearly not practised at this, but he’s enthusiastic and Bucky’s grinning as he asks if Clint thinks he could lift him. Clint does. It’s not a high lift, not over his head or something, but he swings Bucky round and Bucky’s laughing.
“Always been the one doing the lifting before,” Bucky says as Clint sets him down and promptly dips him, because Clint knows some dances. As he catches Bucky, the music shifts into something deeper, slower. It’s still the same song, but maybe it’s the bridge or the chorus or something. Clint just listens to music, he doesn’t write it. But the mood changes and Clint’s standing there, leaning over Bucky who’s still in the dip and they are looking right at each other, chests heaving for air.
“So you’re heading back tomorrow,” Clint says.
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. Clint’s eyes dip to Bucky’s throat as he swallows, then up to his lips as he licks them unconsciously.
“Last night in the twenty-first century and you’re spending it with me.” He pulls Bucky up and they’re closer than they were before. Not touching, except for their hands clasped together.
“No place I’d rather be,” Bucky says. “Fuck, if I could stay here-”
“If you could stay,” Clint echoes.
“But there’s a war on,” Bucky says, his smile is a little forced. “Don’t know if you heard about that.”
“Maybe a little.”
“And apparently staying here could fuck up the time space continuum,” Bucky goes on.
“That’s what they say,” Clint agrees.
The music still plays in the background, but it’s nothing but noise to him now.
“This where you say you might die tomorrow and ask me to give you something to remember me by?” Clint asks. He’s trying to make a joke, but it doesn’t sound funny.
“Well, that’s the good thing about all of this,” Bucky tells him. “I know I ain’t dying any time soon.”
Clint winces, because while that’s true, it’s certainly not because of anything good.
“Yeah, something happens to me, I know that,” Bucky says, he steps forwards, right into Clint’s space. “And it’s gonna… what’s the word that you all use around here? Suck. It’s gonna suck.”
“Understatement of the century.”
“And I’m not going to remember any of this,” Bucky says.
“Nope,” Clint says, letting go of Bucky’s hand. It falls to his side. Clint doesn’t move away, though. He doesn’t think he could at this point.
“I’m not going to remember you,” Bucky says, his eyes are roving over Clint’s face, like he’s trying to memorise it anyway. Like it’s something worth remembering.
“Probably a good thing,” Clint says, grinning. Bucky’s eyes narrow.
“Not a good thing,” he says. “I know you don’t think you’re up to much, but you’re wrong. You’re everything I want in a soulmate. And I can see us being so damn good together.”
“But-” Clint starts.
“But we don’t get that happy ending,” Bucky says, he shakes his head. “That’s not who we are, I guess.”
“Time travel sucks,” Clint says with feeling.
“Nah,” Bucky says. “I kind of like it. I’ve got to see so many incredible things. Robots and dinosaurs and magic. I got to see how I end up, and it ain’t too bad. Stevie did alright for himself, too.”
“You’re going to see all this again,” Clint reminds him. “You will see all of this again.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “I’m going to see it again. I’m going to see you again. I just… won’t remember.”
“No,” Clint agrees.
“So I don’t want something to remember you by,” Bucky says. “I want something for now. I want to give you something to remember me by and maybe when my future self gets his head out of his damn ass…” He shakes his head. “I’m not really piling on the charm right now, hey?”
“You’re smooth as fuck,” Clint tells him. Bucky laughs.
“Coming from you, that sure means a lot,” Bucky says. “So, I know I said I wouldn’t ask again. But I’m gonna try to make the shot one last time. Clint…”
Clint doesn’t let him finish, just grabs his shoulders and yanks him into a kiss.
It’s not exactly romantic. Clint would be the first to admit that. Bucky’s not ready, halfway through his next word, and Clint’s maybe too enthusiastic. Their lips collide and there are too many teeth involved, but it softens, deepens, grows, as Bucky realises what’s going on, as Clint remembers that he’s good at this.
Bucky’s hands come up to Clint’s face, cupping it, as he returns the kiss with dedication, kissing Clint like he’s planned the whole thing out. It’s a systematic assault, finding Clint’s weaknesses one by one, and Clint returns the favour, seeking out every little sound Bucky can make, and feeling more desperate at each one. Because this is it. This is the only time he’s ever going to get this.
He lifts Bucky again and feels legs wrap around his waist as Clint pulls back. His chest is heaving again, but for a different reason.
“Let’s give you a proper send off, soldier,” he says. It’s probably the cheesiest thing he’s ever said in his life, but it makes Bucky laugh, and that’s worth it. “My place or yours?”
“Wherever’s closest,” Bucky says, before diving back into the kiss, surging in Clint’s arms in a way that almost makes him topple over.
Clint’s room is barely fifty foot away, but it takes forever. Neither of them wants to stop kissing, and they can’t let go of each other. Bucky drops down to shove Clint up against a wall, working his thigh between Clint’s legs.
It’s hot and heavy and Clint can practically taste Bucky’s hunger on his tongue as he practically attacks Clint’s mouth. His hands are everywhere, like Bucky can’t hold them back, trying to touch every part of him. It’s a little humbling.
“Hey,” Clint says, pulling back. “We’ve got all night.”
“Night’s half over,” Bucky says. He’s already half wrecked, his hair a mess, his face flushed, his lips swollen and glistening. Clint feels arousal thrumming through him at the image. He has to swallow at the thought of how lucky he got. His hands have found their way to the small of Bucky’s back and he pulls them together in a slow grind.
“We’ve got time,” he says.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, and he leans in a bit slower, and this time, they take their time. Clint tries to savour it. This is his one chance and he’s damn well going to make the most of it.
Eventually, they stagger into Clint’s room. It’s a mess, they almost trip over half a dozen things on the floor before they find the bed and Clint drops Bucky back onto it, where he lies, spread-eagled across the comforter, staring up at Clint like he’s just struck gold. Clint has to make this perfect, he knows that. It doesn’t matter that Bucky won’t remember this twenty four hours (and 75 years) from now. All that matters is right now.
He drops to his knees and starts to strip off Bucky’s boots and socks, kissing the arches of his feet, before climbing up to undo his pants, and slide them off, revealing pale skin and lean muscle. There are scars here and there, and Clint kisses them all.
Deep inside him, something is humming, he’s never felt quite so right before. Like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be.
Bucky pulls off his own shirt and shucks his underwear as Clint steps back to strip himself.
“No,” Bucky says, standing back up. He walks purposefully forwards and… Clint had thought the whole murder strut thing was something Bucky had picked up during the Hydra years, but apparently not. The sight of him moving across the room, naked as the day he was born and without a hint of shame at the fact, makes Clint’s mouth go dry. “Let me,” Bucky says as he gets close enough. Clint has enough presence of mind to nod as Bucky’s fingers find the hem of his shirt and tease at the skin under it, running lightly over the sharp lines of Clint’s hips and then dipping down to follow the crease of his thigh, just under the band of his sweatpants.
It feels like Bucky’s stripping off more than just his clothes, as he slowly peels off Clint’s top and tosses it to one side, leaning in to kiss Clint, hot, dirty and full of promise. Their bare chests bump into each other and the shock of warmth is enough to make Clint groan.
Clint’s sweatpants get caught on his foot and it should be annoying and awkward, but there’s nothing to get annoyed about as Bucky chuckles, and pulls him into a kiss as Clint aggressively tosses the offending things away. They’re both just smiling about it, kissing lazily, eagerly at each other.
Bucky drags him towards the bed, his arms around Clint’s shoulders, walking backwards until they tumble onto the covers again and Clint’s kneeling over him, looking down at Bucky and the way he looks.
The way Clint’s soulmate looks.
He has to dip his head to kiss him again, revelling in the taste and sensation of it, grinding his hips down so that their cocks slide against each other and they both groan.
“How do you…?” Bucky starts and trails of. He looks uncertain for the first time that night and Clint waits. “How do you want to do this?” he asks. “I… uh. I’ve never… in a bed before.” His lips press together and he looks like he’s expecting Clint to judge him for that, somehow.
“Oh boy, I hear you,” Clint says. “I used to share a trailer with my brother. Sometimes you just can’t get there, right?”
Bucky nods, and Clint’s willing to bet there’s more to that, to do with the 1940s and the war and a whole lot of other stuff, but that’s not a conversation for now. He wishes they had time.
“So, how about…” Clint considers things. “You want to see my face, or you want me to hold you?” he asks. Bucky considers this.
“I want to be close to you,” he says. “I want to be as close to you as I can.” It’s a raw confession and Clint’s throat tightens at the look in Bucky’s eyes as he says it.
“Okay then,” Clint says. “Roll on your side.” Bucky frowns a little, but does so.
Clint hasn’t done it like this very often. It feels too intimate, too sappy, most of the time. Most of the time, with men, he’s just been looking to get off. They fuck him, he fucks them, or maybe some mutual hand jobs or cock sucking. It’s never been… intimate. Not emotionally intimate anyway. He’s had sex in a million different unlikely positions and he’s made a point of how flexible he is. One time he had sex while doing a handstand - until he’d lost all control and fallen down. But he doesn’t need all the bells and whistles this time. He wants this to be so good it leaves an indelible mark on Bucky’s soul, the kind of mark that even Wanda’s magic can’t wipe out.
But that’s not what this is about. That’s not what this is for. It’s not a showcase of why Clint Barton is amazing in bed. It’s about saying goodbye.
Clint swallows as Bucky twists his head to look at him over his shoulder.
“Yeah, I’m gonna get… supplies,” Clint says, and he crawls across the bed to fumble at his bedside table, the lube slips out of his hand and he has to scrabble on the floor for it.
“Are you… is everything okay?” Bucky asks.
“Fine! I’m good!” Clint says, hanging off the bed, his ass in the air. “I just…”
So this isn’t going well.
The lube rolls under the bed.
“Fuck,” Clint says. He hears a chuckle from behind him and then Bucky lands a kiss right in the middle of his ass cheek.
“You want some help?”
“No, I’ve got this!” Clint tells him. “I just… the lube’s kind of slippery.”
“Good,” Bucky says. “That’s how it’s supposed to be, ain’t it?”
“Ha ha,” Clint says, groping around under the bed, his elbow bent at an angle that it probably shouldn’t. His hand finds something smooth and cylindrical and he pulls it out with a cry of triumph, only to find it’s the vibrator he’d accidentally dropped the other week.
Yeah, this isn’t going well.
He can feel the mattress dip as Bucky climbs towards him, plastering himself up against Clint’s side, naked and hard and right there, and Clint’s dropped the damn lube on the floor. Bucky’s lips fasten against his neck and Clint shifts his head to give him better access.
Bucky says something, but all Clint hears is a rumble, so he twists to see his face.
“Might work better if you get off the bed, doll,” Bucky says, with a very amused smile on his face. Clint contemplates that idea for a second and dismisses it, then turns himself all the way around with a grin.
“Sit on my legs,” he says. Bucky raises an eyebrow, but swings one leg over so that he’s seated firmly on Clint’s thighs, weighing them down into the mattress. Clint gets distracted for a second by the feel of skin on skin. That’s Bucky’s ass on his legs. Those are his balls that he can feel. But that’s all he’s going to feel if he doesn’t get the damn lube.
Clint winks and leans back.
He’s bendy, is the thing. Clint Barton is bendy. So sure, maybe this isn’t the best way to do this, but with Bucky as a counterweight, it’s easy enough to curve his back round and crane his neck in a way that hopefully looks hot rather than weird and unnatural, and then he can see under the bed.
The lube sits there innocently next to a rolled up sock, like it didn’t just try to ruin Clint’s evening, and he grabs it before clenching his stomach muscles and pulling himself back up.
Bucky’s eyes are fixed very firmly on Clint’s abs, which he’s pretty sure means that was as hot as he’d hoped it would be.
“You are very-” Bucky starts.
“Bendy,” Clint says. “Yeah, I know.”
“There are so many things I want to do,” Bucky says.
“Yeah,” Clint agrees, frowning, because he knows he’s got two rounds in him at most, and the second one’s going to take its sweet time these days. There’s no way he can do everything he wants to tonight. “Dealer’s choice, how do you want me? I now even come with lube!” He holds it up and Bucky stares at it in astonishment.
“Does that say pineapple flavour?” he asks. Clint looks. There is indeed a cheery drawing of an x-rated pineapple on it. Clint’s not sure how they managed to make a pineapple x-rated, but somehow they did.
“Yep,” Clint says.
“They make it in flavours now?” Bucky says, sounding a little out of his depth.
“They make everything in flavours now. I think I have some cola flavoured condoms around here somewhere. They’re disgusting. We shouldn’t use them.”
“If they’re disgusting, why do you still have them?” Bucky asks.
“Well, if they tasted nice I would have used them already,” Clint says. Bucky blinks then shakes his head.
“You are…” He gives up thinking of a word and just leans in to crush their lips together. “I’ve never had pineapple,” he says when he pulls back.
“Oh, well this doesn’t taste much like pineapple, really. It’s more… pineapple inspired? Pineapple adjacent? Pineapplish?”
Bucky kisses him again, and Clint can work with that. Hot naked soulmate kissing him? Yes, Clint can definitely work with that.
His self-imposed mission is to blow Bucky Barnes’ mind. And kissing seems a good place to start. Until he almost falls backwards off the side of the bed.
“Maybe we should… rearrange,” he suggests. Bucky grins and drags him back onto the bed, pulling him down on top of him like a blanket. Bucky’s rutting up into the curve of Clint’s hip, his thigh dragging over Clint’s own erection as his fingers explore every dip and curve of Clint’s body, delicate but talented.
“If we keep going like this, I’m not going to last,” Clint says, his hands sliding down the dip of Bucky’s back. “I want to be inside you.”
“Yeah, yeah… I want that,” Bucky agrees, pulling back, looking down at Clint with an eagle eye. Clint could swear he used to be in charge of this situation. “What did you say before? You wanted me on my side?”
“I want you however I can have you,” Clint says, the words a bit too raw and truthful. He winces as they come out, but Bucky’s face is soft as he lowers his lips to drag over Clint’s, soft but filthy.
“Then we’re on the same page,” he says. He considers Clint for a moment and Clint feels more naked than he has before as Bucky just looks at him. He wills his mouth to come up with something to say, but the words stick in his throat. He’s just lying there, staring up at Bucky staring down at him. “I want this to last,” he says. “I want to feel you.”
“Right,” Clint agrees. “Then yeah, on your side.” He pushes himself up so that Bucky can roll underneath him, and he slides in behind him. Bucky’s skin is smooth and clear of so many scars and marks of age. Clint’s own body has been well-used over the past few decades, and his life is written on his skin in large, indelible letters. He feels out of place. There is a younger version of himself who should be here, he thinks. Bucky - this Bucky - needs someone younger, less weathered and bitter, like him.
Bucky’s hand comes round to find his side, tugging Clint closer until they are pressed together.
“Don’t think too much,” Bucky says.
“Right,” Clint says. They are here and they are soulmates and Bucky wants him. That’s enough for now.
Clint gropes around for the lube again, finds it half wedged under the pillow, and slicks up his fingers. Bucky’s back looks tense and Clint places a kiss between his shoulder blades.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’m good at this.”
“Never doubted you for the world,” Bucky says, twisting to look at him over his shoulder. His grin is honest enough, if shaky round the edges, so Clint presses a sloppy kiss to the corner of his mouth.
“Can you… uh… Hold yourself open for me?” Clint asks. Bucky nods and reaches back.
Clint takes a moment just to appreciate the long line of him laid out on the bed, holding himself open for Clint. He’s a beautiful man. Clint has no idea why the universe decided that Clint deserves this, but he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. There will be time for regrets in the morning - there always is. Right now, he’s got that mission to be getting on with.
Bucky tenses at the first pressure against the rim of his hole, and Clint slides his other arm around Bucky’s chest, pulling him back against Clint’s chest, resting his hand over Bucky’s heart, which he can feel jumping like a jackrabbit. He matches their breathing and Bucky’s face turns around to his.
He’s not had sex in this position for a long time, and already it feels more… intimate than he’s done before, for all they’re not face to face. They are touching so much already, and he can swallow the little gasp Bucky makes as the tip of Clint’s finger slides into him.
“Easy,” Clint says. “Easy… just relax.” And Bucky does. He looks right at Clint, smiles a wicked little half smile and just melts.
Clint moves his finger slowly, exploring. He keeps his eyes fixed on Bucky’s face, watching for any sign of distress or pain, but none comes. Not when Clint adds another finger, nor a third. The only sign that something is wrong comes when he slowly removes his fingers and pulls away so he can find the condoms.
“Fuck you need to do more of that,” Bucky tells him. Clint grins, tearing open the condom.
“Oh, I’m gonna do a lot more than that,” Clint says.
“Good,” Bucky agrees. “Now get over here and do it already.”
“You’re a lot more impatient at this age,” Clint says, and then freezes, because he’s not sure he should be mentioning the other Bucky when he’s got this Bucky naked in his bed. But Bucky doesn’t seem to mind, just lets his head loll back onto the pillow.
“I guess that’s something you learn when you’re like a hundred years old,” Bucky says. “Do you think of him…?” he asks. “Me… Future me?”
“All the time,” Clint admits. “Not… uh. Not now. I’m thinking about you right now, or I was before we started talking about him.”
“It’s okay,” Bucky says. “You can think about him. He is me.”
“Yeah,” Clint says. He grits his teeth as he rolls the condom on, the brief contact of his hand against his cock a shock to his system. He’d been so invested in making things good for Bucky he’d almost forgotten his own erection. Almost.
He slides back against Bucky.
“You want him, don’t you?” Bucky asks. Clint kisses his neck, unsure of how to answer. “Clint?”
“Yeah, I mean… of course. Have you seen him?” Clint pauses. “I mean, you probably don’t look at him like that. That would be weird, right?” He tries to imagine seeing a different, older version of himself. He’s not sure if he’d be attracted to him or not. He’d definitely want to tap that, though.
“No, it’s good that you want him.”
“I want you,” Clint says. “Young, old, however you come.”
“I guess that’s the soulmate thing,” Bucky says.
“Or it’s just a me thing. Always thought you were pretty hot - in all the documentaries and stuff.”
“Really?” Bucky turns his head, raising an eyebrow as Clint’s fingers find their way between his cheeks again to gently tug at his rim. Bucky’s eyelashes flutter. They are way longer and prettier than they have any right to be.
“Really,” Clint says.
“He wants you, too,” Bucky says. Clint thrusts into the groove of his ass, sliding across his hole and Bucky swears under his breath. “Fucking tease, Barton.”
“You said you wanted this to last, Barnes.”
“I want you in me.”
“Whatever you want,” Clint says. He almost adds a stupid nickname, but he holds his tongue. He’s not sure this is the moment for that sort of thing.
Then he’s guiding himself into Bucky, feeling that moment of resistance before Bucky relaxes and it’s like he’s being pulled inside. Clint’s eyes close as he pushes into the heat surrounding him.
“Holy smokes,” Bucky says, and Clint forces his eyes open to see Bucky’s face. His eyes are wide, his mouth open in what could be awe. “Sure as shit never felt like this before.
They are pressed together, chest to back, legs curving in identical zigzags. Clint can feel the damp sweat of Bucky’s back against his chest, thinks that Bucky can probably feel the erratic beat of Clint’s heart against his spine, His hand is curled possessively around Bucky’s stomach, where Bucky’s erection is bobbing against it, painting precome over Clint’s knuckles.
Clint kisses his shoulder and shifts his hips, just a little, making them both groan in unison.
The movement of Bucky’s body is sinuous and smooth, and Clint meets it with a small thrust, hearing the hitch in Bucky’s breath.
“I can feel you,” Bucky says.
“I should hope so,” Clint tells him.
“No,” Bucky tells him. “I feel the bond. I can feel you…” Clint’s hand slides up to cover Bucky’s words and it’s like being hit by lightning, in a nice way. His entire body almost spasms with it. He feels that connection that has been tugging at him, but it’s so much stronger than before. And there’s something strange, with the sensations he’s feeling. It’s like he’s feeling all Bucky’s feelings too. It’s a feedback loop of pleasure.
He grabs Bucky’s hand and places it on his hip, so it covers his own words, and it’s like Clint’s seeing in a new dimension. He could swear there are colours in front of his eyes that didn’t exist before. Bucky says something, but the words aren’t even important right now, because all there is is feeling. The lightning goes on, his entire body is on fire with it, and as he thrusts forwards, he rubs against that spot inside Bucky and they both cry out together.
Bucky turns blindly towards him and Clint seals their mouths together, so that every single one of his senses is full of Bucky. Their hands move together, not needing to ask, and they wrap around Bucky’s erection together, and they begin to move. Their other hands are still glued to each others’ mark.
It’s slow and deep and steady. Clint had thought it might be frantic, with how desperate they had been before. But there is no urgency there. They find a rhythm and stick to it, riding each other’s emotions and guiding each other’s hands.
Bucky thrusts forwards into both of their hands, and back onto Clint’s erection, mouthing at Clint’s lips, with just a scrape of teeth. Clint tries to thrust as deep as he can. As deep as Bucky wants him, which always seems to be deeper.
They chase their orgasms together, and Clint is unable to separate himself from Bucky. It feels as though they are practically one person for a moment there. Their rhythm speeding up, their bodies joined and touching in every place they can, and he can feel his climax hovering there, just on the horizon. He almost doesn’t want it. Almost wants to stay like this for as long as he can, but then he thrusts again and it’s too much, just too much, and they both tumble over the edge. Bucky spills over their joined hands and Clint inside him and they lie there, still wrapped around each other, their panting breaths indistinguishable from each other, coming back to themselves.
“I’m almost glad I’m not going to remember that,” Bucky says between breaths. Clint starts back, staring at him. He had thought - well, he had felt. Bucky smirks at him. “Don’t look so offended. I just meant that if I had to remember that, it would be very difficult to wait seventy years for a repeat performance.”
The way he says it implies that he thinks there will be a repeat performance. Clint isn’t so sure.
“I’m kind of hoping you won’t have to wait seventy years,” Clint says. And he’s right about that.
They wake up early the next morning and Bucky just rolls Clint onto his back with a grin. The encore is not as intense as their first connection, and although there’s that lingering sense of time running out, Clint lightens the atmosphere with a joke or three, and Bucky gamely goes along with it, tasting the lube and screwing up his face in confusion.
It’s fun and light, and if it wasn’t for that ever present ticking clock hanging over them, its invisible hands counting down their time inevitably, Clint would have called it the most enjoyable morning sex he’d ever had.
But time does pass and their time is running out.
It is almost a physical pain to drag himself away from Bucky when he does have to leave. Bucky reels him in by the arm, kissing him slow and dirty and like they’ve got all the time in the world, then smiles at him. It’s not a happy smile, not really. His eyes are shining suspiciously and his jaw is too tight.
“Hey, you’re going to see me again,” Clint points out. “We both know that.”
“I’m not going to remember you, though,” Bucky says.
“We’ll sort it out,” Clint tells him, lying through his teeth. He and the older Bucky have reached what might be called a tenuous peace, but he doubts that they will ever manage anything as easy as this has been. There’s too much nonsense clouding their brains and their pasts.
“Yeah, because you’re so good at communication,” Bucky says. Clint makes an offended face.
“Hey!” Clint protests. Bucky kisses his cheek with a bit of a smile, subdued as it is.
“Promise me you’ll try, okay?” he says.
“Of course I’m going to try,” Clint replies. “I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m extremely stubborn.”
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Bucky tells him. Clint’s stomach growls angrily. It is breakfast time, and he needs eggs and coffee. Bucky heads for the shower while Clint ventures out.
No one seems to notice that Clint is distracted all morning - or maybe that is what they are expecting from him, considering his soulmate is about to be zapped seven and a half decades into the past. No one except Bucky - both of him.
The older version stares at him, his face blank as a brick wall, just staring. Clint winks at him, because Clint is a jackass, but it doesn’t seem to have any effect beyond intensifying the staring. He wonders if the older version of Bucky knows . He had given consent, that’s true, but maybe he’s regretting that now. Clint makes a face and looks down at his coffee, gulping at it eagerly just to give himself something else to do.
The younger version of Bucky notices Clint’s distraction at least in part because he’s the thing distracting him. Deliberately.
Clint doesn’t realise that it’s deliberate for a couple of hours, until Bucky makes some ridiculous excuse to bend over right in front of him and Clint has to exert sudden and rigid control over his entire body.
He looks up to find the older Bucky standing in the doorway, still staring at him - right up until their eyes meet, when he turns and walks away.
The atmosphere of the tower takes a turn for the more sombre as they all find their way to Tony’s workshop when the appointed hour arrives.
Steve looks torn, his eyes slipping from one Bucky to the other and then back again. Clint wonders how hard this has all been for him. Clint has been so caught up in his own problems that he’d almost completely forgotten Steve. But he must be in a similar situation, caught between having missed the younger, more gregarious version of his friend, and not wanting to hurt the older version by implying he’s in any way less important.
Natasha walks up to stand by Clint’s side, her arm brushing against his, firm and steady. He knows what she means without having to look at her. She’s there if he needs someone. He bumps her arm back, just a little, in gratitude.
Clint can feel his heart breaking, which is not something he’s never felt before, but it feels so much stupider this time - and so much worse. It shouldn’t even be a thing. Bucky’s not going anywhere, not really. He’s still going to be here. And now Clint has evidence that they are actually soulmates and Bucky knows they’re soulmates and things are looking a whole lot less weird and dismal than they were a few weeks ago, but at the same time.
He looks at the younger Bucky, once again dressed in his uniform, his face distracted. Clint doesn’t need to ask to see the way he’s looking at the time scoop device with fear and determination. He doesn’t want to go back. Who would want to walk back into a war zone? But he’s going to. Because he has to, maybe, but also because that’s who he is.
Tony starts the process to warm up the time scoop.
“How sure are you that this thing works?” Clint asks. Tony turns an acid glance on him.
“Really?” he asks.
“It’s my soulmate you’re experimenting on,” he points out. Both Buckys look at him, but Clint ignores them in favour of holding Tony’s gaze, which softens a little bit, although his pride is clearly still wounded.
“It’s safe,” Tony says. “I’d use it on my own grandmother.”
“Your grandmother’s dead,” Clint points out.
“Not if I pulled her from the past she wouldn’t be,” Tony says. “Look, Chicken Run, I could give you the full rundown of how this works, and you could all sit there for five hours pretending to listen to me.” He waves a finger around at them. “I know you play candy crush whenever I talk science.” That’s not true. Clint has better games to play than Candy Crush, but he lets it slide. “Or you could take mine and Bruce’s words for it that this will work.”
“It will,” Bruce says.
“It’s gonna be fine,” younger Bucky says. “We already know it works because otherwise he wouldn’t be here, right?” He jerks his thumb at his older self.
“Unless-” Clint starts. Natasha’s hand finds his wrist, her grasp is gentle, barely a pressure against Clint’s skin, but it’s enough to cut his words off.
“He’ll be fine,” the older Bucky says. The younger version looks at him with gratitude, giving him a quick nod, which is returned.
“Right, think it’s about time for goodbyes, then,” younger Bucky says, straightening up and looking around at the assembled Avengers as the time scoop gently whines in the background.
He goes through them all, shaking hands, accepting hugs, thanking Bruce and Tony, dodging Sam’s attempt to ruffle his hair, going round until he reaches Steve.
They hug, and it’s a little strange to be in the room watching the moment. Clint feels like he should avert his eyes, but he doesn’t want to stop looking at Bucky. Steve just wraps his arms around Bucky in the biggest bearhug, while Bucky clings to him in return before pulling away.
“It’s good to know you’re going to be alright,” Bucky says, pulling back. “Even if you did put yourself in the deep freeze to get here. You really did get all the stupid, huh?”
“Well, you weren’t around to stop me,” Steve says. Bucky’s face drops a bit, losing the smile he’s been putting on.
“Yeah,” he agrees, turning to Wanda, “don’t suppose we could leave that bit in, do you?” She shakes her head.
“You’ve got to forget, Buck,” Steve says. He’s holding onto Bucky’s elbow so tight, Clint’s impressed that he’s not breaking any bones.
“I know, just… It would be nice to know that everything turns out okay,” he says.
“You’ll find that out for yourself,” Steve tells him. “I wish…”
“I know, pal,” Bucky says.
Then it’s Clint’s turn.
He stands there, hands in his pockets, no idea what to do with himself. He’s had a lot of people walk out of his life, so you’d think he’d be used to this by now. He should have this routine down pat. But no. He feels utterly at a loss. There should be some words he can say to make things better, even if only a tiny bit, but there’s nothing in his mind but static.
“Hey,” he says, like the dumbfuck he is.
“Hey doll,” Bucky replies, tilting his head sadly with a crooked smile.
Clint feels like everyone is watching them, they probably are. Privacy isn’t something that comes naturally in this tower.
“It’s been fun,” he says, which is the worst thing he could say, and Bucky grins a little wider, stepping closer.
“Yeah, it has,” Bucky says, then he leans in and kisses Clint full on the mouth, in front of everyone - including his older self. Clint can’t quite bring himself to care, reaching out to grab onto him, revelling in how solid and real he is as Bucky kisses him hard, ruthlessly seizing control of the situation to bring Clint to near insensibility.
He pulls back, pulling Clint’s head down just a bit so they can rest their foreheads together.
“To remember me by,” Bucky says, his voice is warm and as ragged as the breaths that are forcing themselves in and out of Clint’s lungs. Bucky leans back in to place one, gentle press of lips against Clint’s before pulling back, holding Clint’s gaze as long as he possibly can as he steps over to his older self.
Everyone is staring at Clint, but Clint ignores them. It’s none of their business after all.
They shake hands at first, before - surprisingly - it is the older version of Bucky that jerks the younger one into the hug.
They are whispering to each other as they pat each other on the back, but it is far too quiet for Clint to hear. But as they pull away from each other again, there is something in their eyes that Clint can’t quite put into words. It’s almost a mutual respect, almost sadness, almost sheer determination.
And the younger Bucky steps away again, and over to Wanda, who smiles at him kindly.
He says something to her too, a whisper, and she smiles, nodding, her hands rising, flickering with red energy.
Clint watches it happen, his attention fixed on the process. He watches every memory of him be pulled from his soulmate’s mind and it feels like someone’s ripping his guts out of his stomach, inch by inch.
He wants to stop her, but he knows he can’t. This has to happen.
Natasha’s hand finds his, squeezing tightly, and Clint grabs back at her, holding as tight as he can. His feet are rooted to the ground and his eyes are fixed on Wanda’s hands as they delete him.
Tony’s on standby, as soon as Wanda gives him the signal and Bucky barely has a moment to say “hold on, lady, who the fuck ar-” before the light of the time scoop coalesces around him and there is a noise like a small explosion as both the light and Bucky blink out of sight.
“So, I guess that’s over,” Clint says, filling the awkward silence because someone has to. “Time travel - fun times. Remind me to thank AIM next time we see them.”
Then he turns around and walks out, letting go of Natasha’s hand and striding for the door.
He shoots arrow after arrow after arrow, reminding himself that Tony and Bruce are geniuses and there’s no way Bucky’s lost between times in some creepy time-space limbo, and there’s no way they sent him back to the wrong time, and there’s no way that they sent him back right into the middle of a battle to get his head blown off.
There are a million different scenarios popping up in his head, and through them all, there’s the sound of Bucky’s delighted laughter in his ear as Clint remembers that morning and the way Bucky had been so pleased to discover all the ways he could make Clint squirm.
His fingers are starting to sting, even through the gloves he’s wearing, as the bow string digs into them again and again. His shoulders are beginning to ache with the effort of holding the bow steady and he has to blink to keep his vision clear and stop the strange darkness from creeping in.
When the targets are actually plunged into darkness, it takes him a second to work out that it’s the lights that have gone off, not that his eyes have stopped working.
“J? What’s going on?” he asks, glaring up at the ceiling.
“Sir has imposed time restrictions on gym activities,” JARVIS says. “He was concerned that some team members were overworking themselves.” Which translates to the fact that Steve’s been taking out his feelings on gym equipment again instead of sleeping or joining the team for ice creams and Tony takes that personally. Clint sighs.
The pain comes when he relaxes, which is always the way. Standing in one position too long is always a bad idea and he’s getting too old for this anyway. Clint rolls his neck and his eyes come to rest on a figure in the shadows, leaning against the wall, arms crossed, one of them shining suspiciously metallic.
“You always shoot your feelings?” Bucky asks. His voice gives no indication of his opinion.
“No,” Clint says, starting to go through his stretch routine to ease the tension out of his muscles. Bucky crosses over, and helps to brace him as he stretches, his face unmoving and stoic. It’s so damn similar to his younger self that Clint almost kisses him right then and there. But there are differences there: lines, pain, knowledge. There is none of the elation or amusement that Clint had seen painted across those very same features the night before. There’s none of the softness that had come to them in the middle of the night.
But as they touch, Clint feels something click into place, and he doesn’t know how he had ever thought there was a full bond there before, because what he’s feeling right now, with nothing to splinter it, is so intense it almost blows him off his feet. He even sees Bucky blink at it, his mouth opening slightly.
“Huh,” Clint says. Bucky’s mouth shuts firmly and he looks like he’s gritting his teeth, which is about as encouraging as any of this has been, to be honest. Clint had honestly thought he had come to terms with this, but maybe it’s last night, or maybe it’s the new intensity of the bond, but everything seems just as raw as it was at first, all over again.
They go through some basic stretches, and it’s so very confusing to have Bucky right there, in his space, but have it not be the same Bucky as last night. Clint’s body is very ready to get more involved in proceedings, but he holds himself back, carefully arranging the stretches to avoid anything awkward from happening. But there’s still the warmth of Bucky’s skin against him, or the press of hard metal fingers as Bucky’s hand grasps him firmly. It’s nothing Clint hasn’t done before with a dozen other people, and there’s never been a hint of eroticism in it - well, mostly. But it feels charged, right now, and Clint doesn’t even know if it’s just him, because he knows that this isn’t the same Bucky he slept with last night, but at the same time he can’t quite keep them distinct in his mind.
Bucky, on the other hand, seems completely unaffected, as he always does. Clint looks right at him, into his eyes, trying to find a hint of what he’s feeling, or thinking, or something.
“I’ve heard you make good ice creams,” Bucky says after a moment, holding Clint’s gaze.
“Yeah,” Clint says. “I’m the best at ice creams.”
“Like you’re the best at shooting?” Bucky asks, raising an eyebrow. It’s such a strange statement from him, more like the teasing his younger self had indulged in, that Clint blinks, looking at him with wide eyes.
“I am the best at shooting,” Clint protests. Bucky smirks. It’s not the same smirk as the other Bucky had had, although it’s the same mouth on the same face. It’s tentative, somehow, like Bucky is trying it out.
“You don’t have to pretend to be him,” Clint says. The smirk disappears in an instant and Clint holds in a sigh. He said the wrong thing - again. “Look, you’re different, that’s fine. You’re kind of awesome.” Bucky’s eyes narrow and for a second Clint thinks he’s going to punch him, but he doesn’t.
“Ice cream?” Bucky says.
“Yeah, I’ll just… I should shower,” Clint tells him. He’s aware that he’s standing there in his workout gear, which is still clinging to him with sweat, and to a supersoldier nose he must smell pretty ripe.
Bucky’s mouth twitches a little.
“You don’t have to.”
“I should,” Clint repeats. It’s not something he’d usually care about, but maybe Bucky’s not the only one trying out something new. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen.”
“I’ll see you there,” Bucky says.
It’s then that Clint realises Bucky’s still braced against his leg, hand holding onto him just under his knee. They both look down.
“I sort of need that,” Clint says. Bucky considers this, holding on for a second or two before letting go.
“If you insist,” Bucky says. He sounds weird, Clint doesn’t know if his hearing aids are playing up or if watching your younger self get sucked into a time portal or whatever messes you up, but he definitely sounds weird.
“Yeah, difficult to walk without it,” Clint says, grabbing his bow bag and starting to back out of the room. For some reason he doesn’t want to turn around. Bucky watches him go, crossing his arms over his chest. For a moment it looks like he’s… checking Clint out. Bucky Bucky - this Bucky - has never done anything like that before, so it doesn’t make any sense.
“If you don’t look where you’re going, you’re going to walk into something and knock yourself out.”
“Please,” Clint says, and just to be a jackass, he starts to moonwalk. He doesn’t bump into anything. Ha!
The shower is cold, because Clint’s not about to jerk off to older Bucky when younger Bucky’s barely been gone a few hours, and also because… well, it doesn’t seem right to be getting off on something Bucky had done when Bucky didn’t even know Clint was sort of kind of into it. It feels like he’s missed a consent step somewhere.
So freezing cold water hails down on him - the little blue snowflake on the shower dial is definitely accurate - and Clint spends as little time under it as he can whilst also stopping himself from smelling like he’s run a marathon.
He drags on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and heads to the kitchen. HIs stomach is rumbling - he’d missed dinner.
Bucky’s not in the kitchen when he gets there, and Clint grabs himself a coffee, the routine movements giving his hands something to do as his brain is whirring. He knows that they are about to have A Conversation, and he’s going to have to be serious and say things that make sense and all that grown up crap that he usually tries to avoid by annoying his way out of it.
Maybe they’ll just eat ice cream?
Clint opens the freezer and sighs. He knows there’s no way out of this conversation. He’s been avoiding it for months now.
He doesn’t hear Bucky come in, but that’s nothing new, the combination of the man being as stealthy as a cat when he wants to be, combined with Clint’s hearing issues. Clint doesn’t jump when he turns around to find Bucky right there, but maybe that’s more the sixth sense he has now. He thinks he could probably be stranded blindfolded and dizzy in the middle of the Sahara and still walk straight in Bucky’s direction. It’s like a compass.
“So,” Bucky says. “Wow me with your ice cream skills.”
“Fuck you,” Clint says, and his mind treacherously says you did, last night. But he ignores it, grabbing three tubs out of the freezer and lining up the bowls.
Bucky Barnes has a sweet tooth. Clint’s noticed it, here and there. The syrup he puts on the pancakes he makes in the morning, the way he ate the banoffee pie the other week, slowly, savouring every mouthful. Watching Bucky suck that spoon had given Clint a lot of inappropriate thoughts.
So he’s grabbed the sweetest things he could and he’s going to construct the most monstrous sundae he ever has. Butter pecan and white chocolate with hot fudge sauce and sprinkles, and he adds a scoop or two of the weirdass popcorn flavour that is surprisingly accurate, but no one ever eats. He figures that’ll taste enough like pancakes for his purposes.
Bucky watches him, silent and considering, as Clint layers it up, more scoops than should probably ever be put in a sundae glass. It’s threatening to spill all over the top, and tilting precariously as it slowly melts. The thing is an eldritch abomination in frozen dessert form, but Bucky’s a super soldier. He can handle it.
Clint slides it over and presents a spoon.
“You’re not going to make one for yourself?” Bucky asks. Clint shrugs.
“Not tonight,” he says.
“Get a spoon,” Bucky tells him. “You can share this.”
It doesn’t taste as bad as Clint had feared, as long as you don’t get too many things on your spoon at once. It does taste like oncoming diabetes, though.
They’ve made a small dent in the ice cream mountain when Bucky starts to talk.
“I remember that morning,” Bucky says, his voice quiet as he stares down at the ice cream. “Waking up with my words grey where they’d been red the night before. I remember what he’s going through.”
“I’m sorry,” Clint says.
“Not your fault,” Bucky tells him. “None of this is your fault - apart from the bit where you decided to try and sort this out on your own.” Clint winces. “No, I just… I didn’t notice for about an hour, then I was talking to Jacques about… about procuring some more explosives while I washed myself off in this trough in some French farmyard, and he saw it first. He just went still, completely still. I’d never seen him like that before, and then he looked up at me and back down at my mark and I followed his gaze.
“We were all sick as dogs - except for Stevie - and I didn’t believe it at first. Didn’t know how it could have happened, because I should remember - but the night before was a blur and I didn’t know. I couldn’t even remember my soulmate’s face or their name.
“It was… It wasn’t good,” Bucky says. Clint wants to tell him to stop. He doesn’t want to hear any of this. Because this is what he sent Bucky back to. This is the reality that they were hiding from last night. “The others tiptoed around me, and I just… I went a bit crazy for a while. Did some things I probably shouldn’t have survived - but I did. Then Peggy got fed up with my nonsense and told me that it was horrible, but a lot of horrible things were happening. If my soulmate had been killed by the war, then it was my damn duty to stop it from happening to anyone else.
“I shouted at her,” Bucky admits, lifting his head with a sad smile. “She just stood there and listened until I was all but sobbing and she told me she was sorry, but I needed to buck up my ideas or I was going to get good men killed. I was going to get Steve killed.
“So I got on with it,” Bucky says. “I hated every second of it. I couldn’t stand the thought that I’d met you and lost you and didn’t know your damn name.”
Clint feels utterly at sea. He had known all of this as a concept - the idea that Bucky had thought he was dead, but he hadn’t contemplated the details of it, the reality. He wonders what he would have done had their roles been reversed. He wants to say something, offer some comfort or some evidence that what Bucky had thought back then, it wasn’t true. None of that was true.
He leans over and rests his hand on Bucky’s forearm tentatively. It feels like maybe that’s too much, but Bucky doesn’t comment, just lets it stay there.
“Then I fell and… well, it was different after that.
“They told me what it meant,” Bucky says. “That my words were grey. It was one of the things they said made me a perfect weapon. That I didn’t have any attachments. That I didn’t have any chance at them. They would show me their words - black or red or whatever - and they would tell me that I made the choice to save the world after my soulmate had died. So I always knew. Even when I didn’t know who Steve was, who I was, I knew that my soulmate - that you - were dead.”
Clint feels sick, the ice cream he is swallowing suddenly leaden in his throat as he tries to swallow it down. He hadn’t thought of that. That he’d been used like that, as a part of what Hydra did.
“Sometimes, the… the worse handlers. The ones who didn’t care so much about keeping things clean. The ones who enjoyed it . Not the die-hard Hydra fanatics, but the ones who didn’t care about the cause, just about the chaos. They’d tell me that the person I was after was the person who had killed you.”
Bucky’s not looking at Clint, not looking at anything, really, or nothing that still exists.
Clint wonders what he can say, but his apologies wither before they reach his lips. He knows they would be useless, and what is he apologising for? Existing? Being born seventy years too late? Not being able to stop Hydra? It’s done.
“Fuck those guys,” he says instead. Bucky blinks, like he’d almost forgotten Clint was there, and looks at him, his face a little savage. “Fuck ‘em.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees. “They’re all long dead now.”
“And I’m alive,” Clint says. Bucky’s eyes snap to him, searching over his face.
“Yes,” Bucky says, his voice quiet and a little bit hoarse, but he keeps going.
“They stopped that after a while. Things changed, secrecy became more important, people who really believed were in charge, and they only cared that I obeyed. But they still let me remember. It was part of it all, letting me know that there was nothing worth living for beyond the mission.” He pauses again, taking another spoonful of the sundae.
“Then I got out, and Steve was here and so were the rest of you guys, and I worked out that was one thing they hadn’t lied to me about: my soulmate really was dead. Steve had to tell me how, before I remembered again. I couldn’t remember how it felt, even though he was trying to be gentle. I couldn’t tell how I was supposed to feel, not really. I never thought for a second that there might be another reason for any of this.”
“To be fair,” Clint says around his own spoonful. “Who expects time travel? I certainly didn’t.”
“But you knew there was something wrong, I thought…” Bucky shakes his head. Clint feels like he won’t like the answer, but he knows he has to ask the question.
“You thought what?” he asks. Bucky looks him in the eye.
“I thought it made sense, after what happened afterwards, I thought it made sense that I lost you because-” he takes a deep breath.
“I don’t think it’s supposed to make sense,” Clint tells him and Bucky looks at him incredulously.
“Really?” he says.
“Well, look at us, we’re not exactly what people would call ‘made for each other’. You hate my guts.”
“No I don’t,” Bucky says, his eyebrows furrowing. “Why do you think I hate you?”
“Because you do?” Clint says slowly. This wasn’t an argument he expected. Some truths are universally acknowledged or whatever, and the fact that Bucky Barnes - the current version of him anyway - hates Clint Barton is right up there. “You hate working with me, you criticise me all the time, you leave rooms whenever I walk into them, you can barely look at me-”
“I don’t criticise you,” Bucky says.
“You’re too reckless,” Clint says, in his best approximation of Bucky’s gruff voice. It’s not a good impression.
“You are too reckless,” Bucky says. “You hurt yourself, and you can’t convince me that you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not an idiot. You know you’re going to get hurt and you pull stupid stunts anyway.”
“See - you hate me,” Clint says.
“If I hated you why would I be telling you to take better care of yourself?” Bucky asks.
“Because…” Clint stops, the words Bucky just said stopping him short. “You’re telling me what?”
“To take better care of yourself,” Bucky repeats.
“No, you’ve never told me that,” Clint says. “I would remember if you’d said that. All you ever say is that I’m a reckless idiot that’s going to get myself killed.”
“I tell you that you need to stop being so reckless or you’ll get yourself killed,” Bucky says. Clint raises an eyebrow.
“That’s the same thing,” he points out and Bucky sighs.
“It’s really not.” He looks frustrated, whether at himself or Clint, it’s hard to tell and Clint’s too dog-tired to try to work it out.
“Look, it’s cool,” Clint says. “We’re just not going to be that kind of soulmates, I guess.”
“That’s…” Bucky looks at him, his face is stony and determined. “Sometimes it feels like you’re deliberately trying to misunderstand me.”
“Ba-” Clint starts, but Bucky starts talking again. He’s talked more tonight than Clints’ ever heard before. He thinks this might be more than he’s ever talked to Steve, which is weird on a whole new level.
“I spent seventy years knowing you were dead,” Bucky says, the words cutting through everything. “Then I spent months not knowing you were right there, and trying to work out why I felt… What I felt… How to feel…” Bucky hisses as he keeps trying to rephrase his thoughts. “I never hated you. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself. It’s sort of the opposite.”
Clint considers this.
“Oh,” he says and Bucky’s face cracks into a grin, his laugh half more of a sigh. “So you…”
“I saw you jumping off buildings and I didn’t like that,” Bucky says. “It took me a while to work out why.”
“You never even talked to me.”
“I never talked to anyone,” Bucky points out. “But I listened. And you’re pretty hard to ignore.”
“A skill I have cultivated,” Clint admits.
“But yes, seventy years with a dead soulmate, no name, no face, nothing, and then months trying to work out why I cared if you died.”
“You say the sweetest things, Barnes.”
“Finding out that we were soulmates was difficult,” Bucky says. “Having that other version of myself here was…”
“Difficult?” Clint suggests. Bucky glares at him, but for some reason it doesn’t feel as aggressive as it usually does.
“Frustrating,” Bucky says instead. “I knew he was me, I just couldn’t connect the dots.”
“I slept with him,” Clint blurts out. He thinks that maybe Bucky already knows. It’s not like he didn’t give the go ahead and all, but Clint hadn’t really meant to ever say it. It was going to be one of those little understandings that he had with people, where nothing really needed to be said. But apparently that’s out the window, because Clint is in overshare mode.
“Any good?” Bucky asks. It’s not the question Clint’s expecting and there’s a hint of something around Bucky’s eyes when Clint darts a glance over. It’s something that might have been called mischievous if he’d seen it on the younger face.
“Uh, I mean, yeah? I thought so at least. I… this is weird,” Clint says.
“I thought it was good, too,” Bucky says, taking another spoonful of ice cream. Clint hums then freezes because.
“What?” he asks.
“I thought it was good,” Bucky says, completely calm, even while Clint’s throat is dry and his mind is spinning round in circles. “Actually, you kind of blew my mind. I didn’t have a lot of experience back then - still don’t, I guess. Hydra didn’t exactly want me fraternising with their men. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” Clint says, on automatic, before his mouth finally manages to put into words what his brain is thinking. “You remember? How do you remember? Wanda-”
“I asked Wanda to give it back to me,” Bucky says. “Before I went, I asked her to ask me-” Bucky shakes his head at the confusion of being two people at once. “She came to me a couple of hours ago and asked me if I wanted my memories back, because I’d asked her to.”
“She can do that?” Clint asks.
“Yes,” Bucky says, and he looks up right into Clint’s eyes and there’s a heat there that is completely new on this version of Bucky’s face. Or maybe not, because the intensity is familiar. Perhaps Bucky really has been looking at him like this all this time and Clint just hasn’t been able to translate.
“So you…” Clint trails off.
“I remember everything that happened while I was here before,” Bucky says.
“You’re referring to past-you as I, now,” Clint says. “That’s a good sign, right?”
“I think so,” Bucky tells him. “It’s easier now he isn’t here anymore. But I remember all of it, and I remember everything that came after it and…” Bucky stands up straight and starts to walk around the counter to where Clint’s standing. Clint looks around for an escape route if necessary. “It was only last night for you, but I kissed my soulmate goodbye seventy years ago, and I thought you were dead.”
“That sounds kind of terrible,” Clint says. Bucky smiles, if a little sadly.
“You could say that.”
“So what do you want to do now?” Clint asks. Bucky steps forwards, even further into Clint’s personal space. He wouldn’t be able to run now without Bucky grabbing him, but Clint’s heart isn’t pounding because of fear, although there’s certainly adrenaline pumping through his veins.
“Well, I haven’t kissed you in a long time,” Bucky says. “So maybe we can start there.”
“I thought Steve was supposed to be the tactical genius,” Clint says.
“Now would be the time when you shut up,” Bucky tells him gently, then he’s leaning forwards.
It’s nothing like their last kiss. It’s so soft. Bucky’s lips are tentative and slow, like this is a secret between them, and the music has faded down to almost nothing in the background, so it’s just the two of them in the stillness.
And Bucky withdraws, smiling at him and Clint knows he’s grinning like an idiot back. Bucky pulls back a bit and reaches for the hem of his shirt, pulling it up, not off, but just high enough that Clint can see the words in his own chicken scratch handwriting, in vivid, defined, black.
“I think maybe you’re my soulmate,” Clint says, reaching out a finger to brush over the words.
“I think maybe you’re right about that,” Bucky replies, and leans up to kiss him again, meeting Clint halfway.