When Steve brings Bucky back to the tower for the first time, Clint’s first thought is that Tony Stark’s pride and joy is quickly becoming less of a very tall and expensive ‘fuck you’ in the faces of investors who don’t believe in self-sustaining energy, and more of a superhero rehabilitation center. It’s barely been twelve months since New York and the tower is already filling up with various mentally damaged waifs and strays.
Clint is sat at the breakfast bar in the communal open plan kitchen and lounge area with a pack of peanuts in hand, throwing them across the room into an empty, plastic orange juice bottle when he first sees James Buchanan Barnes. The elevator doors open and he looks up to see a tired and harried looking Steve Rogers steering a dark-haired stranger into the room, one hand clamped on their elbow.
Immediately on alert, Clint fights down the urge to grab his bow; the stranger is giving off a distinct and unmistakable air of trouble. His dark hair is long and unkempt, hanging around his chin and shadowing his face. Unkempt appearance aside, it’s his eyes that are setting off the major mental alarm bells; despite the dark shadows under them, they’re astoundingly bright and alert and darting rapidly around the room. He looks tightly wound, like a coiled spring pushed to breaking point, and Clint recognizes the tells of nervous jitters being forced into submission.
“-don’t care, you think I’m letting you out of my sight then you got another thing coming,” Steve is saying tersely, and then looks up and jumps as he spots Clint perched on the worktop. “Whoa, shit, hey Clint,” he says, grimacing. Clint sends him a pointed look and his shoulders slump a little. “This is Bucky,” he finally admits. “Bucky, meet Clint.”
Clint takes in Steve’s somewhat shifty demeanor and the hurried approach. He looks over the stranger again, and with a start he realizes he knows exactly who it is.
He knows the face from both a SHIELD report and a photo that’s taped to Steve’s bedroom wall, and he’s heard Steve say the name Bucky a handful of times, soft and sad. He’s also heard more than one person refer to the Winter Soldier, often in fear or anger or both. The name is a curse in the corridors of SHIELD, a whisper that leaves people uneasy and double checking over their shoulders as they leave the building. Christ, Clint knows what’s happened with the mission to deal with the Winter Soldier, and yeah, he knows that the Winter Soldier is technically once again Bucky Barnes, but that doesn’t mean he expects the guy to turn up in the lounge without any warning.
Especially when, according to all other reports, the former Winter Soldier is under armed guard in SHIELD custody, and will be for some length of time, the span of which can be estimated at being between eternity and forever.
Clint stares for another couple of seconds, trying to work out if he should be more bothered by the fact one of the most ruthless and dangerous assassins the world has seen is within ten feet of him. “Does Tony know you’ve adopted another reformed villain yet?”
Steve looks from Bucky to him, distracted. “He was never a villain - you were never a villain,” he says wearily. “Buck, come on-”
“Jesus, Steve, that’s my real arm,” Bucky complains, trying to pull away. “Remember you’re not scrawny anymore, jerk.”
The accent is unmistakably Brooklyn in that it’s vague and hard to pinpoint, a medley of stolen sounds and attitude, and some of the hostile front around Bucky shatters as the words come out. He doesn’t seem half as threatening when he’s scowling at Steve and drawling, sounding like he’s come straight out of the Borough in the 1940’s. Clint still wouldn’t pick a fight with the guy though, and it’s half to do with the manic edge in his eyes and half to do with the other arm, the one Clint knows about and that Steve isn’t gripping onto.
Steve looks down, startled, and then lets go of Bucky’s elbow. “Get moving and I wouldn’t have to,” he replies.
Clint flicks another peanut at the bottle. “Does Fury know you’ve adopted another reformed villain?”
Jarvis chooses that moment to interrupt. “Captain Rogers, Director Fury is calling and insisting quite persistently that you pick up your phone and, I quote, ‘fucking well explain yourself’. Agent Coulson and Agent Romanov have just entered the building and are on the stairs, and Sir is also aware of your return and is on his way up from the workshop in the elevator.”
Steve shuts his eyes for a long moment. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters, breathing out heavily, nostrils flaring. “So much easier to sneak around in our time.”
Bucky snorts. “So much easier to sneak around when you were five foot nothin’.”
Steve gives him a shove. “Move,” he says tersely. “Before everyone gets here.”
Clint frowns at him. “Does anyone know you’ve adopted another reformed villain?”
Bucky stares at him. “Who the fuck is this joker?” he asks, just before Steve grabs his collar and bodily hustles him from the room and towards the stairs. It’s oddly reassuring to see despite the indignant scowl on Bucky’s face as he’s manhandled; if Captain America can push him about so easily then there’s probably nothing to worry about.
“Clint Barton, nice to meet you,” Clint says to the empty air, and flicks another peanut across the room to land perfectly in the bottle. Quietly contemplating how long it’s going to take for the rest of the Avengers to lose their collective minds, he also debates whether to be impressed or alarmed by Steve’s apparent Machiavellian streak; if his suspicions are correct, it appears that Steve has liberated Bucky from SHIELD holding facilities without permission and brought him back to the tower to keep an eye on.
A small smile hitches the side of his mouth as he recalls the exact same thing happening to him eight and a half months ago. God. Between him and Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers appears to be an absolute sucker for hopeless cases.
Clint hears the elevator doors open again. “Where is he?” a loud voice demands. “The lying son of a fuck says he can’t work his phone and then he texts me to say oh sorry I missed dinner, FYI I’ve just broken my cybernetically enhanced cyborg BFF out of SHIELD, bringing him home, hope you don’t mind? I’m going to kill him, super-soldier or not-”
“Coulson and Natasha are on the way up,” Clint says, and Tony about turns back towards the elevator, swearing violently and still ranting.
Clint snorts tiredly and mentally adds Tony Stark to the list of hopeless cases that Steve Rogers appears to be an absolute sucker for.
The tower is in uproar. Barnes is safely ensconced in Steve’s rooms, a floor below Clint’s, and Steve is refusing to let anyone anywhere near him. He’s not in Captain Mode; that requires a certain amount of objectivity and control. Instead, he’s in full on Steve Rogers doesn’t like to be told what to do mode, and it’s proving vastly entertaining to watch.
Fury is yelling at Steve. Maria Hill is glaring at Steve and also occasionally yelling at him. Natasha is glaring at Steve, and that’s enough to make most grown men piss their pants. Tony is alternating between yelling at Steve and yelling at Fury for yelling at Steve. Bruce and Clint are the only sensible ones, and are staying well out of it, sitting on the sofa and drinking coffee. Clint’s finding it hard enough to follow the argument anyway; not everyone is facing him and even with his hearing aids in tip-top working order, he still finds it difficult to sort out the layers of sound in the multitude of voices. Eh, he could just turn them off so he doesn’t have to listen full stop.
“He’s staying,” Steve repeats adamantly.
“The Winter Soldier is under arrest,” Hill says impatiently. “The WSC say he is to remain in SHIELD custody.”
“Bucky Barnes is not,” Steve shoots back. “None of your action points take into count the fact he is not the Winter Soldier anymore.”
“They’re the same person!” Tony says incredulously. Steve shoots him a glare, and Tony throws his hands up in the air. “I’m just saying!”
“Legally, they’re not the same person,” Steve says, and Clint watches Hill’s lips go thin. She retorts with something that Clint doesn’t catch, but Steve is ignoring her anyway. “The Winter Soldier is defined specifically as an assassin who is under the influence of the Red Room. Bucky is no longer under the influence of anything, so he’s not the damn Winter Soldier. Your paperwork says so.”
“You are a pain in my ass, Captain,” Fury says, shaking his head and pinching the bridge of his nose. “First Barton and then Barnes. Are you trying to get me to arrest you as well?”
“You know I’m right,” Steve says stubbornly, folding his arms across his chest. “You can’t have him.”
“Do I get a say in this?” Tony interjects. “This is my tower, you know.”
“NO,” Steve, Hill and Fury all shout, and Tony holds his hands up again, looking offended.
“Jesus Christ, okay, okay.”
Steve doesn’t budge an inch. Fury and Hill try threats, bribes and compromises, and Steve doesn’t so much as move. After almost an hour of wrangling, Fury appears to give up. Tony looks like he’s being torn between glee that Steve has out-stubborned Fury, and being annoyed that Steve hasn’t listened to him or included him in his plans.
Fury and Hill leave soon after, without Barnes but with a promise from Steve that he will monitor him at all times and check in with SHIELD every day to assure them he’s not having any Winter Soldier awakenings. Natasha goes with them, and pointedly and noticeably doesn’t say goodbye to any of the others. Bruce vanishes back to his lab, leaving Clint to witness one of the tensest standoffs between Tony and Steve that they’ve ever let anyone see.
Tony is still looking distinctly unimpressed, Steve is looking defiant. They’re standing two feet apart and probably about two seconds away from starting up the shouting again.
“I think it was a good call,” Clint says, just to break the tension before they break each other.
Both faces snap around to look at him. Steve looks thankful; Tony looks furious.
“You would, seeing as you still technically belong in lockup as well,” he snarls, and then storms away. Clint doesn’t care; he knows Tony often doesn’t mean the things he says when he’s angry, and frankly he’d rather take a cheap shot like that than let Tony say something he’ll regret to Steve.
“Thanks,” Steve sighs, staring at the closed elevator doors with his hands behind his head, fingers interlaced and expression troubled.
Clint gives him a vague thumbs up. “No problem, Mon Capitan.”
“Honestly think I did the right thing?”
Clint shrugs. “Probably. Who knows?”
Steve sighs again, still staring at the elevator doors even though he knows Tony won’t come back. He drops his hands to his sides and turns towards the stairwell, and as he goes Clint hears him mutter something that could be “definitely not me.”
That night, Clint re-reads the Winter Soldiers file.
It isn’t pretty.
Leaning forwards with his elbows on the small desk that’s in the corner of his room, he stares down at the list of known activity, wondering if Barnes had had his soul removed along with his arm. He blows out a breath and leans back, rubbing his mouth with his fingers. Stuck in the back of his mind is the look that had flickered over of Natasha’s face when she’d found out about Barnes being in the tower; the disbelief and fury that he was sure no-one else had spotted. The fact he’d also spotted the anxiety in her eyes showed just how well he knew her, despite what she often claimed.
Jesus. He looks over the list again, and can’t help but feel uneasy, a cold prickle walking down his spine even though it’s one of the warmest nights of the year so far. He figures that Natasha has left the tower and gone to stay at SHIELD because of the old scars left by her relationship with Barnes, not because she genuinely thinks he’ll hurt her, but still. Some of the things he’s done makes Clint wonder what the hell Steve was thinking when he went to bust his ass out of SHIELD-
But then he closes the document and slams the lid of the laptop shut. If anyone read his up to date file, they would probably be insisting that someone neutralize him as well.
“So, how are things?”
Doctor Beckett is alright as far as therapists go, Clint supposes. She’s persistent without being overly annoying, calm without being patronizing. She’s dealt with Tony Stark before so Clint knows she’s not a moron, and she’s also dealt with Bruce Banner, which means she commands a certain level of respect. She’s got chin length curly hair in a lovely shade of mahogany, and a fairly pretty face with keen eyes.
Clint still hates her guts and wants to shoot her in the mouth. He wouldn’t, but only because he’s currently not allowed to bring his bow onto SHIELD premises. Apparently it scares the junior agents.
“I hear you have a new housemate,” she says easily, crossing her legs and brushing down her grey pencil skirt. Her entire outfit is black and grey, except for a simple chain of bright green beads at her neck, glossy and expensive looking. Clint spots that her handbag, down on the floor near a filing cabinet, is the same shade of green.
“Isn’t that classified?” Clint asks, and she shrugs, an elegant arch of one slender shoulder.
“We both work for SHIELD,” she says, and her mouth twitches. “I won’t tell you anything you don’t have clearance for.”
Clint sends her the most withering look he can manage. She just smiles like she’s happy he’s doing that rather than staring blankly at the wall like he did for the first four months of therapy. He heaves out a breath and sinks down into the chair, head lolling on the warm leather.
“Steve broke his cybernetically enhanced cyborg BFF out of jail and brought him home,” he says dismissively. “He has a thing for hopeless cases.”
“Are you one of these hopeless cases?” she asks neutrally.
Clint thinks about still being suspended, the days of endless boredom and frustration. He thinks about the frequent nightmares, the occasional panic attacks, the days where he is still so fucking fed up that he can’t bring himself to get out of bed.
He lifts his head and flashes her a grin. “I am the hopeless case, baby.”
Bucky doesn’t emerge from Steve’s rooms for a full six days after Fury grudgingly allows Steve to get his way. Clint doesn’t care either way; he’s going to do his damnest to keep out of this one because between Steve, Tony and Natasha, the whole situation could all too easily blow up in their faces.
It’s dinner time on a Saturday night when he finally does appear. It’s awkward, even though it’s only pizza and beer, spread out haphazardly on the island counter with everyone crowded around. The TV is on in the background, some shitty reality show that Tony usually likes to put on just to see the sheer disbelief on Steve’s face.
The lights gleam dully on Bucky’s metal arm, and Clint so badly wants to say something because everyone is deliberately not saying anything about it. Bucky looks completely at home with a piece of robot attached to his shoulder, and his movements are easy and sinuous, like it’s still flesh and blood simply covered in armour.
Steve hates the metal arm, it’s easy enough to work out. He won’t touch it, won’t talk about it, won’t even look at it. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why.
Tony, on the other hand…well, Clint suspects that the mechanical arm is the only part of Bucky Barnes that Tony likes.
Bucky is leaning against the worktop near the fridge, and he’s wearing a white tank top which instantly draws attention to his arm, like a big shiny fuck you to everyone else in the room. His hair has now been cut in a brutally short buzzcut, and he’s looking clean and presentable and still like a complete thug. His expression is guarded and sullen, like he’s resentful that Steve has dragged him out of his room to where there are real people he has to interact with. Clint hasn’t failed to notice how he’s positioned himself just behind Steve. He wonders if Bucky has even noticed.
Steve sure as hell hasn’t. He’s sat on a stool at the island counter, leaning forwards with one elbow resting on it. His cheek is propped up on his fists and his eyes are half closed, his pizza forgotten in front of him. He’s so tired he’s not even paying attention to Tony, and Tony is evidently dealing with that by being horrendously passive aggressive to Steve and everyone else in the vicinity. Even Bruce is looking fed up of his bullshit, and Bruce has a higher Tony-tolerance level than Steve, which is saying something.
Clint stands next to the oven – which as far as he’s aware has never been turned on – leaning against the counter with his hood pulled up over his head and a bottle of beer pressed to his mouth. Yeah, he looks a tad menacing and Tony says he looks ‘antisocial’ but he’s had a shitty day so he can fuck off and keep his opinions to himself. He’s tired; he hasn’t slept properly in just over a week and he spent an hour this morning crammed into the paltry excuse for a vent in his room, back pressed against the stupid air filtration unit that stops him crawling off into the walls, bow in hand.
He taps his beer bottle against his lips, hunches his shoulders and shoves his free hand further into the pocket on the sweatshirt, thankful that Bucky is there because for once it means no-one is paying attention to him and his frayed nerves.
Bucky looks up and sees Clint watching him. His lip pulls back in a sneer before he looks away, and Clint watches how he shifts slightly, rocking from side to side on the balls of his bare feet, the motion setting him a fraction of an inch more securely behind Steve.
“So, not in the mood for talking, I take it?” Beckett finally says after twenty-two minutes of silence. Clint can hear the smile in her voice and has to give her some credit for being so inhumanly patient with him, again. He thought she’d last nine, maybe ten minutes tops before trying to make him talk.
“I call it the Bucky,” Clint says, drumming his fingers on his stomach, his other arm slung behind his head over the back of the chair. “He doesn’t say shit and no-one tries to make him, so I thought I’d see if it got me off the hook.”
Beckett raises her eyebrows, gives Clint the fond exasperated look that she seems to have reserved especially for when he’s being more of a nuisance than normal. Clint used to hate how expressive she was, how she even had looks other than the standard ‘you are a particularly interesting patient’ therapist face. Nowadays, he doesn’t really care.
“His SHIELD therapist will try and make him talk,” Beckett says. “We’re a remarkably patient bunch, even for the likes of you lot.”
“He has a SHIELD therapist?” Clint asks, and starts laughing, because the image of Bucky Barnes sitting in a leather armchair in a calm cream and brown room, having a meaningful and rational conversation doesn’t quite sit right. “Shit. That just seems…so normal.”
Beckett hums in agreement. “They asked me to take him on,” she says. “I said no.”
Beckett shrugs, smiles. “I already had you, and didn't really feel like starting a club for mind controlled superheroes.”
“Ha, put that on your resume.”
“Besides, I didn’t think it was right that you two were being lumped together and considered for the exact same treatment process. You're both different,” Beckett continues, and Clint looks at her suspiciously.
“How can you say that if you don't know him? Hell, from your point of view we’re exactly the same. What’s the line in the file? Unwilling participant in destructive action against allies? A victim of forcible indoctrination, induced to give up basic beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas?”
Beckett rolls her eyes at him. “Well, that’s ten bucks you just lost me, I had money on you never reading the paperwork we gave you.”
“Well I did,” Clint says. “And I bet you another ten bucks that Barnes’s file says exactly the same thing as mine.”
“I’m not taking that bet.”
“I knew it.”
Beckett looks at him patiently. “Even if it does, it doesn’t mean anything on paper. You're both human, aren't you?
Clint hums noncommittally. “He's part cyborg.”
“Yes, fine, we're both human.”
Beckett smiles, calm and patient. “Then you're different.”
Clint opens his mouth, wanting to protest and deny but not sure how to go about it, when there’s a rapping at the door. They both turn to look at the door and then back at each other.
Clint shrugs. “I didn’t invite anyone, did you invite anyone?”
“Hello?” Dr Beckett calls, and the door immediately opens. Clint groans when he’s sees that it’s Fury, followed closely by Natasha.
“I’m sorry, group therapy is at four,” Beckett says, perfectly straight faced, and Clint hates her a teensy bit less than he did.
“Doctor Beckett,” Fury nods. “Sorry to interrupt, but we need to borrow Agent Barton.”
She nods, but raises an eyebrow. “The therapist part of me says he still has thirty one minutes left, and wonders if it’s appropriate to be referring to him as Agent Barton when he’s still refused clearance for active duty,” she says, and Clint doesn’t know if he should be grateful or offended.
“And the non-therapist part of you?” Natasha asks, face perfectly impassive.
“Says take him, he’s a pain and thinks he’s too smart for this.”
“Fuck you, Doc,” Clint says cheerfully, and clambers out of the chair. “Let the borrowing commence.”
He leaves the room without another word, and hears Fury apologizing wearily to Dr Beckett before the door is closed and he hears footsteps behind him.
“Идиот,” Natasha says, and Clint stops, turns to face her. She’s not smiling, not really, and there’s the ghost of something in her eyes, something Clint isn’t going to claim to understand. He leans against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest and watching cautiously as Fury joins them.
“I have a proposition for you,” he says without preamble.
“No,” Clint replies straight away, and Fury just stares at him, face impassive.
“We need help with the good Captain,” he says, as if Clint never said anything. “Or should I say, for the good Captain.”
Clint frowns. Looks from Fury to Natasha.
“He’s not coping with Barnes,” she says, straight to the point. Her jaw is clenched tight, and Clint doesn’t need to ask why she doesn’t get involved take Bucky off of Steve’s hands. That is a nest of snakes he wants nowhere near, thanks very much.
“Arrest him again, then,” Clint says with a shrug, but even he knows that they’d have to go through Steve first, and that’s not a fight many people could win. Hell, it’s not a fight many people would want to even think about.
“We can’t,” Fury says. “Well, we probably could, but Rogers has a point. Legally, there’s a distinction between Barnes and the Winter Soldier.”
“No offense Sir, but I never thought the legal distinction of a name would get in your way.”
Fury laughs at that, a rough bark of sound. “It wouldn’t. But in this case, I’m letting it, seeing as next to Rogers is probably the best place for Barnes. Rogers will look after the Bucky Barnes part, and Captain America will able to take on the Winter Soldier if necessary.”
“I thought you just said he wasn’t coping.”
“Not on his own,” Fury admits, and then looks Clint directly in the eye. “And it just so happens that one of his new housemates is the only person in a hundred clicks who may have any idea what he’s going though.”
The penny drops.
Clint groans, presses his fingers to his eyelids. “No. I’m not buddying up with him on grounds of forced mind-control. Just, no. Steve is his best friend-”
“Steve was there when he died,” Natasha cuts in, and her eyes show how much saying it hurts her. “He’s chock full of survivors guilt, and he’s exhausted.”
Ah, survivors guilt. Clint’s current new best friend, he knows him well.
“There’s an ass-load of unfinished business between them,” Fury finishes. “They’ll get through it. Rogers is too stubborn for this to go any other way. But at the moment, it’s too much for one man. They need a break from each other.”
“Not a break,” Natasha corrects. “Room to breathe. To be there for each other, without dragging each other down.”
Clint shakes his head again, slumping against the wall. Frankly, he doesn’t really give a shit about Bucky Barnes; he doesn’t know him, and what he’s seen of him lately has just revealed a sullen, tense soldier with massive PTSD and attachment issues. Doesn’t exactly sound like a barrel of laughs.
“For the Captain,” Fury says seriously, and Clint feels his arguments slipping away like water through loosely cupped fingers.
“God Bless America,” he says, miming waving a flag and keeping his voice an absolute monotone.
Fury smiles grimly. “Good. Keep me updated,” he says, and turns on his heel, calling out over his shoulder. “And for god’s sake, do not let Stark get involved.”
Aw, fucksticks. Tony. Clint hadn’t even considered that variable when he’d agreed to try and help-
“Wait! Hang on-” he yells, but they’ve already gone, shoulder to shoulder and not looking back.
Clint lowers his bow, staring at the makeshift target that he’s set up at the other end of the gym. He hums to himself, cocking his head contemplatively, surveying the results for a moment, then walks the length of the room to collect his arrows.
“Nice,” a voice says, and Clint wheels around to see Bucky standing in the doorway, arms folded and expression grudgingly impressed. He’s wearing a sweatshirt that must belong to Steve, because whilst Bucky isn’t small by anyone’s standards, he’s practically swimming in it. Clint notices his feet are bare again.
It’s been less than twenty-four hours since he was accosted by Fury and told to do something about Bucky Barnes. It wasn’t until after he’d agreed – for Steve’s sake, he wants it noted – that he realized he hadn’t got any clue as to what to actually do.
“Good aim,” Bucky ventures, still just standing there and watching.
“Good?” Clint says flatly, pointing at the target and the two arrows which are firmly embedded in the newspaper he pinned to the boss. “You need a better adjective than good.”
Bucky wanders forwards, eyes darting around the room as he edges closer. Clint recognizes the instinctive persons, risks, targets, exits sweep. “Who’s the fucker on the target?”
Clint snorts as he pulls the arrows out of the fucker’s eyes. “An old friend,” he says casually, tapping the tip of the arrows against the photograph. “I wasn’t allowed to shoot him for real.”
“You in the habit of shooting your friends?” Bucky asks. “Or just the ones that screw with your mind?”
Clint’s hand falters as he swings his bow over his shoulder. “Either you read the file, or Steve told you,” he says.
“Stevie told me,” Bucky says, and Clint gives him a look, because calling Captain America Stevie just seems ridiculous. “And then I read your file.”
“Well, good for you,” Clint says, and walks back to the shooting line. Bucky follows him, standing about six feet away, dark eyes intense. He looks tense and almost anxious, and Clint wonders what’s got him so on edge.
“Any requests?” Clint jerks his head towards the target as he nocks an arrow on the string. “Ears? Nostrils? Horns? I’ve been aiming for his eyes for the last half hour, could do with a change.”
Bucky looks surprised that Clint is even asking, his face wary and mistrustful. He opens his mouth to speak, but Jarvis interrupts before he can.
“Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers has just returned to the tower.”
Bucky shuts his mouth abruptly and turns on his heel, leaving Clint alone in the gym. Clint ponders the swift exit for a moment and realises that a) Bucky was so edgy because Steve had left the tower and he was therefore alone, b) he’s been waiting for Steve to get back, going so far as to get JARVIS to notify him the moment Steve returned, and c) instead of waiting alone he’d opted to come and invades Clint’s space, and he doesn’t even know Clint.
Guy must really not want to be on his own right now.
Complete opposite to Clint, who hadn’t wanted anyone anywhere near him for the first few months after New York. But actually, Bucky has had months on his own, evading SHIELD’s and Steve’s relentless search. Maybe he’s over that now. Maybe he’s more Bucky than Winter Solider, and maybe Bucky likes company, craves it-
Clint shrugs, turning back to the target and raising his bow. He doesn’t know shit about Bucky, really.
“Just you and me again, buddy,” he says with a grim smile, and he pulls the string back and lets the arrow fly.
“What you looking at?”
Tony jumps a mile at the sound of Clint’s voice, eyes jerking up from the tablet he was staring at, whipping around and looking very much like he wants to throw something at him. Clint’s lucky he wasn’t wearing the suit; Tony tends to fire and then think when things catch him off guard as Iron Man.
“Fucking hell, spies,” Tony snaps, rubbing at his chest, just above the arc reactor. “This is exactly my point,” he says, waving the tablet about.
“What point?” Clint asks, turning his attention back to the TV screen and the controller in his hands. He un-pauses the game, picking up where he left off on his twelfth round of slaughtering aliens. Funny really; he sometimes forgets he’s actually done this in real life.
“Nothing,” Tony says, and Clint just snorts and carries on playing.
“See, now you can stay,” Tony says vaguely, and Clint hears him walk closer. “You don’t ask questions. I like that.”
Clint frowns, screwing his face up. “You’re doing something that Steve is going to yell at you for.”
“Am not,” Tony replies immediately. “Is this a new thing, we judge our actions around whether Steve would yell about it or not?”
“You’re definitely doing something that Steve would yell at you for,” Clint observes flatly, eyes on the TV screen. “Can you go away so that when he starts yelling I’m not here?”
“Will you relax,” Tony replies, sounding put-out. “I know what I’m doing.”
“You know what you’re doing unless what you’re doing involves Steve,” Clint says, thumbs flicking rapidly over the controller.
“I object to that,” Tony says, sounding offended.
“You object to what?” a new voice calls out from the doorway.
There’s the sound of something breaking, a dull thud, and Tony starts cursing. Clint looks up to see Steve standing in the doorway and frowning. Tony is looking between Steve and the broken mug on the floor, next to the tablet he’s obviously just dropped.
“And you! Worse than the damn spies! Stop making me jump,” Tony snarls, and he bends down to scoop up the tablet, but Steve is already staring at it and the look on his face is making Clint want to find the nearest vent post-fucking-haste.
“Hand it over,” Steve says quietly, steel in his eyes and voice, and Jesus, what has Stark been looking at to make him react like that? Clint’s next thought is to take his hearing aids out but Steve’s voice is so deep and can get pretty loud, so there’s next to no point anyway.
Tony ignores him and turns away, towards the coffee machine.
“Tony, I swear to God,” Steve says, getting louder, and he walks over and reaches for the tablet. In your average situation as such, Clint’s money would be on that he’s just found evidence of Tony cheating, but he knows how hopelessly gone Tony is for Steve, even if he vehemently denies it.
“Back off,” Tony snaps. “None of your business.”
“If you’ve bugged my rooms it is my damn business!” Steve shouts, furious. Shit, Tony Stark is the smartest moron Clint has ever met, because it sounds just like he’s been spying on Bucky, and by extension he’s been spying on Bucky and Steve.
“I’m keeping an eye on your friend,” Tony replies, looking like he doesn’t care in the slightest. It’s the wrong thing to say, Steve goes very, very still and that’s a warning sign most people don’t pick up on. They think he’s most dangerous when he’s moving and shouting. Clint knows better. And so should Tony.
“He does not need anyone but me to keep an eye on him,” Steve says, voice rising like a thunderstorm. “You absolute bastard, Tony – what the hell were you thinking!?”
Clint doesn’t want to hear any more. He leaves the game running, the sound of blasting and shrieking aliens a cover as he edges off the couch and slips towards the stairwell, head down. He can hear Tony snapping and Steve yells something back, and he looks up and promptly has a heart attack because Bucky is right there in front of him at the foot of the stairs.
Bucky steps back and holds his hands up, metal glinting in the light. He stares at Clint and then lowers his right hand, pressing his finger to his lips in an indication for him to be quiet. Steve and Tony are now in full-on argument mode, and it’s not pretty to listen to. Steve has just called Tony a selfish son of a bitch, and Tony is calling Steve a hypocrite.
Slowly, Bucky lowers his hand and his fingers curl into a fist; his expression is intense and he’s evidently listening hard. In the kitchen there’s the screech of a chair and a dull thud. Steve tells Tony to either put the suit on or step away. Tony tells Steve to shut the fuck up.
Slightly disconcerted by the ferocity of the argument – they’ve not argued like this in months, - Clint shakes his head and silently turns away, climbing the stairs and moving past Bucky who doesn’t so much as blink. He just stands there listening, countenance troubled and brooding, dark eyes for once still.
Clint hears a smash, a curse, and Tony bellowing “fine, walk away, I was fed up of your self-righteous expression anyway,” and wonders if Bucky has any idea whatsoever about what’s going on between Steve and Tony. At the top of the stairs, he turns and pauses. Bucky is now sat on the second to last step, head resting against the wall and arms hunched into his sides, still listening.
Not knowing what he can do, Clint leaves him there and walks away.
Clint watches Bucky walk into the gym several hours later, looking around like he’s lost something. Or maybe just looking lost, Clint isn’t sure. Setting down the packet of M&M’s that he’s eating in lieu of lunch, he leans forwards and looks down, hands curling around the edge of the metal strut he’s perched on, high above the floor of the gym.
He frowns as Bucky calls out his name, still looking around. Bucky is looking for him? He can’t imagine why, unless it’s something to do with the argument they both witnessed earlier.
“Look up,” he finally calls back, and Bucky wheels around, craning his neck to look up at him.
“Why are you in the roof?” Bucky asks, sounding suspicious.
“I see better from a distance,” Clint replies with a tired smile, the words old and familiar on his tongue.
“How did you even get up there?” Bucky asks, wandering over so he’s almost directly below him. “You got superpowers I don’t know about?”
In reply, Clint pushes the rope off the edge of strut, letting it slither to the floor, held in place next to his hip by a grappling arrowhead lodged firmly into the metal.
Bucky cocks his head contemplatively, nodding before looking back up at Clint. He hesitates for a moment, flesh and blood hand reaching out to grab the rope. “Can I come up?”
Clint’s never had anyone request to share one of his perches before; he’s not sure how he feels about it. The vents and the roof and the high spots are his, where he can just sit and be alone with his thoughts. But he’s pretty sure that Bucky isn’t going to want to talk to him about any of the stuff he normally actively avoids, so maybe it’s okay.
Bucky nods and gives the rope an experimental tug. Seemingly satisfied, he jumps at it, pulling himself up in a quick and impressive show of upper body and arm strength. He reaches the top and his right hand curls around the strut; Clint reaches out for him and helps haul him up. They end up sitting side by side, hips touching and feet dangling down. Without Clint asking, Bucky reaches over and pulls the rope back up, coiling it neatly next to him.
“Can see why you like it up here,” Bucky concedes, dark eyes flickering around the room below them.
“People don’t bother me,” Clint says.
“Sorry,” Bucky says, but Clint shakes his head.
“It’s fine,” he says, staring down at the boxing ring. There’s a towel hanging off the ropes, left there by someone earlier in the day. Steve, presumably. He glances at Bucky, but Bucky is just staring down at the floor below them. “Were you looking for me?”
“Yeah,” Bucky admits. “Wanted to ask about,” he begins and then blows out a breath, reaching up to rub at the join between his metal arm and his shoulder. “Wanted to ask about Steve.”
“Just Steve, or Steve and Tony?” Clint asks.
Bucky doesn’t answer straight away. He’s frowning, and he looks miserable, Clint thinks, under the straight face and the squared jaw. It’s in his eyes, clear enough for anyone who wants to bother – or who dares - to look twice.
“He’s – I got most of my memories of him back,” Bucky says. “Of him being how he used to be. Of him being the Captain, when he got all juiced up during the war.”
“I don’t know,” Bucky says, and then, “Tony.”
“Yeah, he takes some getting used to.”
“Looks like Steve got pretty used to him,” Bucky mutters, and there’s the hint of something strange in his voice that Clint can’t quite identify.
“You could say that,” Clint says. It hadn’t actually been that much of a shock when they’d found out that something had been going on between Steve and Tony, just a sense of about damn time.
“The way they were talking to each other,” Bucky says, distracted. He runs a hand over his head. “What – are they like, fellas together?”
Clint nods. “Have been for almost a year,” he says, and Bucky blanches.
“But-” he says, and then laughs, sounding strangled. “He never could even talk to a gal, and he spends months making doe-eyes at Carter and then I get back and he’s suddenly queer and shacked up with another fella?”
“He’s not queer,” Clint says dismissively. “It’s just – Tony.”
Bucky doesn’t seem to hear him. “I can’t,” he says. “I just – every time we get separated, I get back and he’s taken another giant leap in another goddamn direction, and I keep missing it.”
“Project Rebirth,” Clint says, understanding.
“I wasn’t even there,” Bucky says, mouth turned down unhappily. “Jesus, I’m never there. I just keep playing catch up.”
“He’s glad you’re here,” Clint shrugs. “It sucks, but what can you do?”
Bucky breathes out deeply, dipping his head. “Why the fuck am I even talking to you about this?” he says suddenly. “I swear, all I wanted was to know about Steve and Stark.”
Clint laughs. “You’ve read my file. You know I’m the only person in the building as monumentally fucked up as you are.”
Bucky looks up at that, face still and eyes intense. And then slowly, slowly, his mouth curves in an almost smile, not quite there but still enough for Clint to notice.
“You know it’s kinda refreshing to have someone agree it’s fucked up instead of insisting that everything’s fine.”
“Amen to that,” Clint says solemnly, and Bucky laughs.
They both simultaneously look down as the door to the gym slides open, and Steve steps inside. Clint nudges Bucky and holds a finger up over his lips and Bucky nods in understanding. Steve wanders forwards, looking around.
Bucky looks at Clint, but doesn’t say anything, still saying quiet. Clint leans over him to pull an M&M out of the packet and then sits up straight and takes aim. He glances at Bucky to see if he’s going to object, but Bucky just nods, not quite smiling but looking quietly amused.
With a deft flick of his wrist, the M&M sails through the air, and it hits Steve right on the cheekbone.
“Sniper shot,” Bucky shouts down at him as he jerks around with a hand half raised, looking up in shock. “You’re dead.”
Steve laughs, abrupt and surprised and relieved that he hasn’t actually fallen victim to a sniper. He shakes his head and peers up at them, looking a little bemused, presumably at finding them sat up there together. He doesn’t look unhappy about it though. Just tired. Steve always looks tired at the minute. “I’m assuming Clint takes the credit for that one?”
“Yes, yes he does,” Bucky says, and he shoves the rope off of the metal beam, letting it slither to the floor. He swings down off the beam in a graceful movement that catches Clint by surprise, momentarily swinging from the beam by his left arm whilst he wraps his ankles around the rope and grabs hold with his real hand. “Catch you later, Barton.”
Clint watches him slide down the rope and walk over to Steve, low voices already discussing something that Clint can’t hope to hear clearly. They get to the door and Steve walks out without looking back.
Bucky pauses in the doorway, turns to look up at Clint. He hesitates, metal hand on the doorframe, and then salutes him before following Steve.
“You’re welcome,” Clint says, and shoves another M&M into his mouth before pulling the rope back up.
“You’re not as funny as you think you are.”
Clint gives Beckett his best innocent face. Her voice sounds miles away, and Clint’s lucky that he’s used enough to doing without that he can still work out what she’s saying, even though he misses half the sounds.
“Put them in,” Beckett says.
“Put what in?”
“Clint. I’m not starting the hour until you are listening properly,” she says. “I will work through lunch. I will cancel my other appointments. And you will sit there whilst I watch TV with the volume turned down low and not tell you why I’m laughing.”
“You’re evil. You and Natasha were separated at birth,” Clint says, and leans back to fish his hearing aids out of his pocket.
“Subjects ability to make jokes has returned,” Beckett says dryly, picking up her pen. She pauses, mouth twisted contemplatively. “Subjects ability to try and make jokes has returned.”
“Evil,” Clint says, fitting the aids back in place. “And not funny.”
“You feel my pain,” she deadpans, voice crisp and lovely and a thousand times clearer. “Now. I assume things are going well if you’re being obnoxious enough to try and sneak into a therapy session with your hearing aids.”
“How did you know? I can still hear you if I don’t have them in.”
“I’m a SHIELD agent, remember?” she points out, and then gives in and explains. “Your eyes. You were looking around way more than you usually do, presumably to compensate for not being able to hear fully.”
“One point to the devil lady,” Clint says, and reclines back in the chair, a hand resting on his stomach. “You know, Fury asked me to do a job.”
It’s the first time he’s volunteered information in one of their sessions, but Beckett doesn’t miss a beat. “A mission?”
“No,” he says. “Just…a favour I guess.”
“And what is that favour?”
“To help Steve out with Bucky,” Clint says, and Beckett nods contemplatively.
“Why does he need help?”
“Because he’s literally on channel Bucky twenty-four seven,” Clint says. “And Fury reckons he can’t cope.”
“Do you think he can cope?”
“I think he can,” Clint says with a shrug. “He’s Captain America, right? And he’s Barnes’ best friend. If anyone can cope with him, it’s Steve.”
“What do you think of Barnes?”
Clint shrugs again. “He’s…he’s not what I expected. Just a guy. A guy with a chip on his shoulder. Sorry, a cyborg with a chip on his shoulder.”
“He’s not a cyborg.”
“He is too a cyborg.”
Beckett holds up her hands. “Fine. Have it your way,” she says, and then meets Clint’s eyes easily. “Tell me more about this cyborg that you’re going to help out.”
Clint holds up his hands. “Nu-uh. I’m not getting involved,” he says. “Barnes is homicidal, Steve is a hot mess right now and Tony is Tony.”
“So you’re not going to help.”
“I don’t need to help,” Clint emphasises. “Steve will realise that he doesn’t need to hold Bucky’s hand twenty-four hours a day, go back to spending time with Stark and everyone’s happy.”
“Okay,” Beckett says, and seems to accept his answer. “Okay, let’s move on. Are you still spending disproportionate amounts of time shooting pictures of Loki?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
Beckett smiles at him, and if she wasn’t a therapist he’d swear it was almost fond. “Okay. Fifty minutes left. Tell me all about that.”
It’s a week since Clint has seen Bucky when he finally claps eyes on him again; it’s late one night when he slouches into the communal kitchen with his bow in hand and find Steve and Bucky sat at the table together, Bruce standing a little way away at the cooker. The smell of spice is heavy in the air and it makes Clint’s stomach rumble.
“Hey, Clint,” Bruce says, grunting as he hefts over a heavy pan full of something over to the table. “You joining us for dinner?”
“Nah,” Clint says, scratching his chin with the tip of his bow, hitching up his sweatpants and walking over to the fridge. “I’m good.”
“What was that, yes you will actually eat something other than Cheetos today?” Steve replies pointedly.
“Don’t knock Cheetos,” Clint says, though he does deign to reroute and sit down at the table, pulling out the chair next to Bucky.
“They’re not exactly a major food group,” Steve points out.
“They totally are. They changed them to caffeine, alcohol and Cheetos in ninety-six. I think you missed that.”
Bruce smiles and Steve just shakes his head at him. Bucky seems to miss the joke completely and instead is staring at Clint’s bow, which he props up against his knee.
“Why have you brought your bow to dinner?”
The real reason is that Clint is going through a phase where if he doesn’t have it in hand, he gets so anxious he starts to twitch. He doesn’t say that though.
“In case Steve tries to feed me vegetables and I have to stop him with extreme prejudice.”
Bucky snorts with laughter and reaches for his beer. “Sounds like Steve.”
“I hate to break it to you, but this does contain vegetables,” Bruce says as he ladles out a portion of curry and slides the bowl over to Clint.
“Is it hot enough to burn off my tastebuds?” Clint asks, reaching for a fork and inhaling deeply. Good god but Bruce can cook.
“Not today,” Bruce says apologetically as he doles out more portions. “Bucky isn’t used to spicy foods.”
Even though it’s an easy, casual comment that holds literally no weight to it, Bucky shifts uncomfortably, as if he doesn’t want the focus brought round to him. Clint knows the feeling all too well.
“Ah well,” Clint shrugs. “Where’s Nat?”
“Out,” Steve says. “I think she’s-”
“Wow. There you are.”
Steve is interrupted by Tony’s loud voice calling across the room, sounding distinctly unimpressed. Steve frowns, and turns to look at him, confused. Tony is dressed in a sharp charcoal grey suit, bright red tie standing out against a crisp white shirt.
“Hey, Tony,” Steve begins, but Tony interrupts him again, voice cold and cutting.
“Really, that’s what you’re going with? ‘Hey Tony?’”
Clint can’t help it; he glances over at Bucky who is looking like a trapped animal, body tense and eyes wide as he tracks the brewing tension. He glances up and meets his eyes quickly; Clint grimaces, shaking his head just once before looking back down at his food.
“We were meant to meet at seven,” Tony says, voice now far too casual. “You know, our dinner reservation? The one you made?”
Steve’s expression goes from confusion to realization to guilt quicker than he can throw the shield.
“Shit,” he swears, pushing his chair back and standing up, looking mortified. “I’m so sorry, I completely forgot.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Tony says abruptly, pulling his phone out of his pocket and tapping away with his thumbs, obviously and deliberately not looking at Steve. “Remember that the next time you give me shit for being late, Captain Hypocrite.”
He turns on his heel and walks off. Steve stares after him for a moment, and makes an abortive move as if to follow, then he glances down to his left before seeming to change his mind. He sits down again, shaking his head and reaching for a fork, silently accepting the bowl that Bruce pushes his way.
“You going to go after him?” Bruce asks calmly, neutrally.
Steve doesn’t answer straight away. He pokes at his food, brooding, and then takes a mouthful. “No,” he says, glancing at Bucky before he carries on eating. He manages a few mouthfuls, and then puts his fork down, rubbing his temples.
“Jarvis didn’t remind me,” he says, and he doesn’t need to explain what that means.
Clint continues with his own food, feeling his stomach sink. Balls. Fury was right; Steve is so wrapped up in fixing things with Bucky that he’s not coping with anything else. Hell, he’s managing to make such a mess of things that Jarvis is apparently no longer talking to him, and that takes some serious doing. Hell, Clint called Jarvis Overlord Skynet for six weeks and Jarvis still talks to him.
On impulse, he looks over at Bucky. Bucky is gnawing on his bottom lip, looking at Steve with his expression grateful, though tempered with something that might be guilt.
“Steve,” Bucky says, and Clint only catches the word by seeing his mouth move.
“Not going anywhere,” Steve automatically replies, and reaches out to clasp Bucky’s shoulder, smiling weakly at him. The relief that rolls off of Bucky is tangible, and no wonder he’s been glued to Steve’s side since he got here.
Clint finishes the rest of his dinner in silence, though he doesn’t miss the way Steve occasionally glances at Bucky, expression torn.
“Agent Barton, Sir requests your presence in the workshop.”
Clint rolls his eyes towards the ceiling, not bothering to move from his face down position on the couch in his quarters. It’s dark, the only light coming from the TV. “Tell him I’m busy,” he slurs, still staring at the screen.
“Sir has already asked what you are currently occupied with, and I have told him you are simply lying on the couch watching reruns of House.”
“You’re a snitch,” Clint grumbles, and pushes himself up, groaning as his neck clicks. “What time is it?”
“Four thirty AM,” Jarvis says.
“What?” Clint asks, a little taken aback. He grabs his bow and makes towards the door, hitching his sweatpants up and not bothering to find a shirt.
When he gets into the workshop, Tony is sitting at his desk, slouched back in his chair with a tumbler of what looks like whiskey in hand. He’s still in his suit trousers, white shirt and red tie, though the shirt is rumpled, the sleeves rolled up and the tie pulled loose. Not a good sign. Clint keys in his code and the door opens, and he steps in cautiously.
“What’s up? Skybot said you wanted me.”
“Upgrades,” Tony says, and picks something up off the desk, spinning his chair around to face Clint. His eyes are suspiciously bright, and Clint isn’t sure how much he’s had to drink. He hates being around Tony when he’s drunk like this; he trusts Tony but it still sets him on edge.
Clint steps forwards and his brows shoot up in surprise as he sees what can only be two minute in-ear hearing aids held in Tony’s fingers. He walks forwards and takes them, looking at them closely.
“You did these tonight?”
“You’ll get fourteen thousand hertz at about 16 decibels with those, instead of the thirteen thousand five hundred at twenty that you get at the minute,” Tony says vaguely. “Quite a jump on paper, but I guess you’ll have to tell me how much difference it makes.”
“Should be able to hear Hill whispering that she’ll throttle me across the table,” Clint says, impressed. “But only if Fury isn’t threatening me at the same time.”
Tony snorts, eyes fixed on his monitor. “Still having trouble with background noise?”
“Sometimes,” Clint says. “Thanks.”
Tony doesn’t respond, and against his better judgement, Clint steps up behind him, looking warily at the monitors. Tony doesn’t bother to hide what’s on his screen, and Clint’s stomach sinks as he sees a video feed. On the video feed he can see Steve asleep on the couch, stretched out on his back with an arm thrown behind his head and his feet in Bucky’s lap. Bucky is also asleep, slumped in the corner of the couch with his legs kicked out, feet on the coffee table. His flesh and blood hand is resting on Steve’s ankle, his metal one resting on his stomach.
It looks nothing but comradely to Clint, but he can imagine what it looks like from Tony’s point of view. What it feels like from Tony’s point of view.
“They’re just friends, you know that, right?” Clint says uneasily.
“Yeah, sure,” Tony says with a dismissive shrug. “I know. I know that, he’s just got back and found his long lost best friend - who he has kissed before by the way – and they need each other to get through this, and I’m getting stood up for dinner and am making you new hearing aids at three AM.”
“He won’t be happy that you’ve still got the place bugged,” Clint opts for saying, and then mentally slaps himself. Really, Barton? Way to make him feel better.
And now Tony’s eyes are way too bright, and the hand holding the glass trembles. “Steve can do what he likes,” he shrugs, and his eyes go back to the video feed. “No skin off my nose.”
And it’s an utter lie, and Clint doesn’t know how Tony even managed to get the words past his teeth. Maybe he’s drunk enough to convince himself he doesn’t care.
“Go to bed, Tony,” Clint says, and he reaches past him and swipes his hand through the holographic monitor, shutting it down. Tony blinks but doesn’t argue, just lifts his tumbler to his mouth, taking another swallow.
“Thanks for these,” Clint says, holding up the hearing aids, and then he turns around and walks away, not knowing what else to do. He gets to the top of the stairs and has to stop, sighing and pressing the top of his bow to his forehead.
“So much for staying out of it, Barton,” he mutters, and heads back to his bed to try and get some sleep.