Bucky was following him.
Steve first realized it in Sokovia, when the Hydra thugs he was fighting kept dropping even with Black Widow and Hawkeye nowhere near. Every shot a kill, too, and all of them to the head. Fast, clean deaths from an exceptional marksman. But only to protect Steve.
When he'd realized it, it'd been…well, it'd been fucking awful, actually. Steve was already a mess after finding Bucky alive only to discover what'd been done to him. Steve had healed from his injuries just fine, but it'd felt like part of him was still missing. Even a year later he'd never gotten it back.
Sam had finally convinced him to stop searching when they'd just been hitting dead ends for months and even Steve had to admit he was losing his mind. He was grateful that Sam was still looking, even if it was only in his off-hours. The man had a life, after all. It was just Steve who didn't.
Nothing outside of the Avengers, anyway. And with S.H.I.E.L.D. ostensibly finished that'd begun to feel more like a delusion than anything real.
Steve knew he'd been an asshole to pretty much everybody except Sam because of it. But damn it, he'd finally been feeling like he might be able to…not move on, but find some kind of life for himself. Maybe. And then his best friend reappeared in the worst way possible, only to disappear again.
And it'd been a year, and Steve couldn't find him. And now it turned out Bucky'd been following him the entire fucking time.
Steve had been so shocked when he realized it, back outside Strucker's base, that he'd blurted, "Language!" to Tony like some kind of idiot; so deep in memories of Brooklyn that he'd responded as if his ma was in the kitchen about to wash Tony's mouth out with soap.
But he couldn't look for Bucky—Tony needed backup, there was no time—and then the fight was over and Tony said he was fine but it was obvious something had happened 'cause he was spooked as hell. And they were going back to the tower and God, Steve wanted to stay so badly. There was no point, though. Bucky didn't want to be found, so Steve knew he'd never find him.
Except, Bucky didn't stop following him.
He went with them to South Africa and Korea, always watching Steve's back but staying just out of sight. And now here they were in Sokovia again, and Steve kept catching glimpses of a rifle barrel or a man with brown hair out of the corner of his eyes. And when they were swarmed in the church, Steve knew Bucky was blowing robots apart before they could get to him.
When he told the others he was going to sweep for stragglers, he didn't just mean Bucky. But Bucky was the only person he really searched for while he kept his eyes and ears open for anyone else. This time he'd be damned if they didn't both finally get home.
And of course he'd barely turned around before Bucky was standing right in front of him.
Steve stopped dead. Bucky was almost close enough to touch, but only almost. Always just beyond Steve's reach. He was dressed in Sokovian military surplus with a rifle slung over his shoulder, and he looked as grimy and spent as Steve felt. He'd hacked his hair short with a knife and obviously hadn't shaved in at least a day. But it was no worse than when they'd been with the Commandos, slogging their way through Europe.
He looked good. He looked like Bucky. And when he gave Steve a weary, rueful grin it was one of the best things Steve had ever seen in his life.
"A floating city. How nuts is that, huh?" Bucky said. "Are all your missions this fucked up?"
"Not all of them," Steve said automatically. He reached out, helpless not to, but wasn't surprised when Bucky stepped back. "We gotta go, Buck," he said, instead of I missed you or, where have you been? or any of the thousands of things he didn't have time to say.
Bucky glanced behind him. "I know. You go on. I'll send anyone else I find in your direction. I'm going to help the weird girl in the church." He jerked his chin at the distance over Steve's shoulder, where the last lifeboats were nearly full. "Get outta here before you miss your ride."
"No," Steve ground out. "Not without you."
For a second Bucky looked stricken, but then he backed up another step. "I'm not the kind you save, Steve. Not anymore. Go rescue the ones who deserve it."
"Bucky, no. Don't say that!" Steve went towards him, reaching for him again. "Bucky, please—!"
He saw Bucky's expression change to alarm right before he heard the heavy rattle of the fighter jet's guns. Steve whirled, lifting his shield, only to end up sprawled on the ground out of the line of fire. He could hear the terrifyingly distinctive metal-on-metal noise of bullets slamming into Bucky's left arm.
Steve scrambled to his feet, expecting to find Bucky's riddled corpse. But Bucky was gone.
Instead, Steve saw Pietro Maximoff: standing unnaturally still as he and Clint stared at each other in shock. Circles of red bloomed over Pietro's body and seeped slowly into his clothing, as if Steve had all the time in the world to call out and run.
But Steve had never, ever been fast enough when it mattered most, and Pietro was still just beyond his reach when Steve saw him fall to the ground.
God damn that stupid, idiot, motherfucking kid. Clint was joking. He'd been joking about wanting to kill the hyperactive asshole. It hadn't been a fucking request.
He hadn't wanted Pietro to die. He sure as hell hadn't wanted Pietro to die for him. No, he really fucking hadn't seen that coming, and he'd give anything short of that little boy's life to take it back. If Clint had just ducked behind the car sooner, or run instead of bracing himself, or something.
Or something. Anything. Anything else that would mean Pietro was still breathing and Clint wouldn't have to tell Wanda her brother was dead…
Jesus Christ. Clint was going to have to tell Wanda that her twin brother was dead.
Clint let himself keel over sideways until he was sprawled on the lifeboat bench. The atmosphere was so thin this high up that it was hard to breathe. He was exhausted and sad, and he knew that there was no point in riding back next to Pietro's corpse like the world's most pathetic honor guard. It wasn't like the kid could possibly care. But there was no way Clint was going to leave him alone. Pietro deserved more than that.
He also deserved more than for his body to bake in the heat, but there was almost nothing to filter the rays of the sun. The bench Clint was laying on was already hot, and he was certain that by the time they got into the helicarrier Pietro's skin would be fever-warm, like a grotesque parody of life. The kid's eyes were cracked open, too, even though Clint knew Steve had closed them. Because Pietro couldn't be fucking tractable even as a dead body, apparently. And Clint knew—he knew—that it didn't make a damn bit of difference. Pietro couldn't be blinded by the sun any more than he'd give a shit about having company. But Clint was enough of a sentimental, guilty sap that he shifted so he could touch the kid's eyelids to close them anyway.
Clint gasped and yanked his hand away, sure he was hallucinating. It'd been a long, fucking awful day even before Pietro was shot, and Clint knew he'd been socked in the noggin at least once. And the kid had been perforated, for fuck's sake. Most of his blood was outside his body. It was insane to think he could still be breathing after that.
Clint hesitated, then gritted his teeth and brushed his fingertips over Pietro's eyelids again.
"Holy shit," Clint murmured, then bolted upright. "Holy shit!" He slid off the bench so he was kneeling next to the kid, then jammed two fingers under his jaw. Pietro's pulse was fluttering, weak and too fast, and it was almost impossible to see if he was even breathing. He needed about a gallon of blood and for all the holes in him to stop leaking; neither of which was going to happen anytime soon.
Clint looked around wildly until he spotted the paramedic who'd offered him help when he came on board. He was on the other side of the lifeboat, tending to someone who looked a lot less dead than Pietro did. Clint opened his mouth to holler for the guy, when Pietro kind of gasped and…
"Oh, no. Oh, no. You are not doing that again, you little shit!" Clint started heart compressions. "Now I'm gonna have to break your ribs, you fuck, 'cause you just couldn't keep breathing, could you? You're such an asshole." He reached thirty and then pinched Pietro's nose and breathed twice into his lungs.
Clint was just about to restart the compressions when out of nowhere Vision swooped in, carrying Wanda in one arm and some guy in Sokovian army gear dangling by both arms from the other one. Vision dropped the guy, who landed in an easy crouch, then set Wanda down gently. He gave Clint a nod, then leapt back into the sky.
Wanda threw herself to her knees next to her brother, her dark eyes huge with a wild clash of unfettered joy and deep terror. She flicked her fingers and her hands glowed red, and then so did the bullet holes riddling Pietro's body.
The Sokovian army boy knelt smoothly and took over the compressions. "I'll do this. You breathe for him." He sounded American, which didn't jibe at all with the gear, but that was the kind of minor thing Clint always noted and socked away for later—like how the guy's left arm seemed to be smoking a little bit. Because right now Clint really couldn't give a damn.
He didn't argue with the guy either, because it was obvious that he knew what he was doing and because Clint was fucking exhausted. An X-ray of Pietro's sternum would probably look like a highway map if he survived, but fuck him. Seriously.
Wanda didn't think there could ever be anything worse than hiding under a bed for two days waiting for a shell to go off, knowing that her parents were dead in the other room. And then she felt her brother die.
At first she didn't know what it was. He just…stopped. The place in her head that had been filled with a constant sense of him since Strucker first touched her with the staff went silent. There was suddenly a void where he'd been: an absence bigger than the world.
For one single, perfect moment she was only confused. She probed the edge of the new space like she might prod a new wound, to feel out the depth and severity. It didn't hurt. It didn't feel anything at all. Pietro was just gone, replaced by nothing.
There was nothing. And that was when she knew.
She found out a moment later that you could scream with your heart torn out. You could feel the sharp edges of broken concrete beneath your legs and the wild deadly blast of your power. You could live when part of you had already died.
Killing Ultron was satisfying, but ultimately meaningless. The robot was already dying when she found him, and he'd already done her such harm that no revenge could possibly repay it. His moment of terror as she ripped out his heart was too quick and too kind, when her heart was already gone.
She'd forgotten about the church until the city started falling. But she knew that the others would save the world. She floated with the wreckage of her city and her heart orbiting around her, waiting for the crash or the explosion; the moment when she could cease just like her brother and join Pietro in oblivion.
Vision saved her. She didn't want him to, but she couldn't stop him without using her power and that felt like too much effort. He carried her over the city towards the helicarriers, flying so fast she had to turn her face to his chest so she could breathe. Suddenly he changed direction, diving like a missile then skimming so low over the streets that they were practically kissing the concrete. But he'd slowed enough that she could see.
They were going towards another straggler, a man. He was in military gear though his brown hair was too long, floating the way she had been. Unlike her he clung to a lamppost so he wouldn't fly away. Wanda wondered if he knew he was going to die no matter what he did.
Vision adjusted his grip on her so he had an arm free, then swooped in close enough to clasp the man's forearm when he reached out his hand. He didn't seem surprised to have a flying man with purple skin and a cape coming to rescue him. Maybe, she thought idly, he was used to miracles. Or maybe he just wanted to live so badly that he didn't question how.
He gripped Vision's arm with both his hands, seemingly unconcerned as they changed direction again and sped up until the city and the sky were nothing but blurs around them. Wanda was forced to tuck her face against Vision again so she couldn't see when they neared the lifeboats, but she could hear the murmur of hundreds of agitated minds and her brother—
He was there in her head, just as suddenly and completely as he'd disappeared. He was weak, she could feel it; dying in the way she thought he already had. But he was there. Pietro was alive, and her shriek as they came closer was as much from shock as joy.
Wanda's sense of Pietro fluttered once more before they reached him, but he didn't disappear again. She wasn't surprised that it was Hawkeye who had been forcing Pietro's heart to beat and was breathing for him. Hawkeye was the kind of man Pietro wanted to be: brave, strong, and patient. So of course Pietro snapped at him like a badly-trained puppy. It would aggravate her brother no end to know he owed his life to him.
For her part, Wanda would gladly fall at Hawkeye's feet in gratitude for this. Pietro could be as annoyed as he pleased. He could be anything, as long as it included alive.
Vision put her and the other man down and leapt back into the air. She immediately dropped to her knees and used her power to stop Pietro's wounds from bleeding. The other person Vision rescued kept her brother's heart going while Hawkeye breathed for him.
The remains of her city exploded, and the steady rhythm of Hawkeye's breaths and the stranger's compressions faltered long enough for Hawkeye to shield Pietro and the other man to shield her. She could have shielded all three of them herself, but it would mean letting Pietro's wounds reopen, and there was no way in hell she would risk losing him again.
The noise was deafening, but nothing came near the lifeboats. Wanda had a vague hope that the Avengers (the other Avengers? Was she truly one now? Did she want to be?) had all survived. But they were almost at the giant flying ship now, and the men went back to helping her keep Pietro alive, and that all she cared about: keeping her brother alive. The sense of him in her head, warm and real as his life beneath her hands, like a beacon leading her home.
Clint lost track of how many times he had to exhale the thin air into the kid's lungs, but he was lightheaded and dizzy when the lifeboat finally docked with the helicarrier and he could hand Pietro over to someone else. He lay there sucking wind, waving off the S.H.I.E.L.D. medics when they rushed over to make sure that the blood all over him wasn't his. His hand was still kind of fucked up—he'd forgotten about that, whoops—but all he needed was some antibiotic ointment and a bandage. Or some stitches. Maybe a cast. Whatever.
He was distantly impressed when the Sokovian-American army boy lifted Pietro onto the gurney like the kid's body weighed less than his ego. Then Clint just watched dully as the medics took off for the carrier's O.R., pushing the gurney between them with Wanda running alongside. The red of her power didn't fluctuate even once.
"Hey, you all right?"
Clint cracked his eyes open. He was looking up at the wide, blue-grey eyes of the army boy, who was crouched next to him with his expression full of a ridiculous amount of concern.
"I'm fine." Clint waved him off lethargically. "Just tired. Fought off two million fucking deathbots and evacuated most of a city. Long fucking day."
"You said it." The guy held out his arm—not the smoking one, and eventually Clint should probably ask about that—and Clint sighed then slapped his hand onto his wrist and let the guy pull him to his feet. "Those robots were rugged as fuck," he said, but he was walking out of the lifeboat, his focus on the docking bay like he was searching for someone. "Hey, do you know if all the Avengers made it out?"
"I don't, actually," Clint said, blinking. He'd been a little preoccupied, but he had no idea what happened to Natasha and Bruce, or Steve. And last he'd heard from Tony and Thor, they were trying to blow up the city before it crashed and blew up the entire planet. They'd obviously succeeded, but he didn't know if they'd survived it or not. He really didn't like not knowing.
Clint automatically slapped his ear, but his radio was long gone. "Fuck," he muttered, then spotted someone in a S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform. He strode over to her, his heart going like they were still outside without enough air to breathe. "Hey, do you know—"
Clint and the army boy both whipped around at the same time. Steve was running across the hanger, deftly bobbing around S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and the refugee Sokovians. The army boy with the really weird name took about half a step back, his still-gloved hands curling into fists before he deliberately relaxed them. His face went through a complicated series of emotions before he settled on a smile that managed to be anxious, smug and apologetic all at once.
"Miss me?" Bucky said, or would've if half of it didn't end up as an incoherent squeak when Steve basically catapulted into his arms.
"Oh my God, Bucky! I thought you were dead!" Steve was hugging him so hard Clint wasn't sure how Bucky could breathe. "I thought you were dead! I was so fucking sure I'd never see you again."
"I'm sorry," Bucky said. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I just—"
Steve pulled back to give Bucky a glare more ferocious than Clint would've thought the guy was capable of. "You didn't scare me, you asshole. I thought you'd died!" He gestured violently at the empty, empty air outside the hanger. "You said were staying! You said you were staying behind! 'I'm not the kind you save', remember? Remember saying that?"
Bucky nodded, then swallowed. When he blinked his eyes were wet. "I hurt so many people, Stevie."
Steve's anger just kind of all dissolved at once. "I know," he said seriously. "I know you did. But that wasn't you, Buck. That was what Hydra did to you." He hugged Bucky again, fiercely. "Please, please don't let them take you from me again. I can't…I couldn't live through that again. Please don't make me."
"I'm sorry, Stevie," Bucky said. "I won't. I won't do that to you. I'm right here. I'm staying right here. I promise."
Clint was pretty sure he'd figured out who this Bucky guy was with the American accent and smoking arm. And it was probably time to stop gawping at his buddy's reunion with his best and not-entirely-dead and apparently-no-longer-brainwashed friend. And while he was honestly thrilled that Steve had made it, he still didn't know where Natasha was. Or Tony or Thor or Bruce.
He slapped his ear, then grimaced when he remembered that, nope. Still no radio. "Cap," he said, then grimaced again when Steve almost hit the ceiling from surprise. "Don't mean to step on your moment, but we're missing, like, two thirds of the team."
Steve blinked at him a couple times. "Iron Man and Thor are fine. They're with Vision and War Machine, making sure all the robots are gone. The Hulk brought Black Widow to the helicarrier then somehow ended up in a Quinjet. Widow's talking him back. She's on the bridge. Did you lose your radio again?"
"Something like that," Clint said. "Thanks." He left the two super soldiers to their hugfest and went to find Natasha. It wasn't like he didn't believe Steve, or anything. It was just…
Well, maybe Cap wasn't the only guy who needed a reunion with his best friend. It'd been one fuck of a bad day.
Pietro was not, strictly speaking, surprised to be alive.
He knew something bad had happened to him. He remembered moving Hawkeye and the boy out of the path of the fighter plane, then the vague realization that he must've been hit, given the sudden shock of pain. He thought he probably said something to Hawkeye, but he blacked out so quickly he wasn't sure.
So, he wasn't surprised to be in a hospital bed, or that he seemed to have bandages all over him. He certainly wasn't surprised to see Wanda sitting next to him and holding his hand.
The way she shrieked in joy and then immediately burst into tears when he opened his eyes…That was a little surprising.
"Pietro!" she exclaimed before he could open his mouth. "Pietro! Oh, Pietro!" She practically threw herself on top of him, then got up immediately when he couldn't help the grunt of pain. She grabbed his nearer arm instead and hugged that, holding his knuckles to her lips and sobbing.
"I'm all right," he said. And then, "I'm sorry," because it seemed appropriate.
She just kept crying. His hand was getting wet. "You were gone," she said between sobs. "You died and I couldn't feel you anymore."
Pietro blinked up at her. His hand was really wet. "What?"
"You died!" Wanda repeated angrily, as if he hadn't understood her on purpose. "You died! You died and I felt it, and—" Her voice broke and then she was weeping, crying so hard she couldn't speak.
"Oh boy," he muttered. "Come here." He tugged on the arm she was holding, until she was bent over enough that he could almost hug her around the neck with his other arm. That hurt a lot, but he ignored it because his sister needed him. "It's okay. I'm alive. I'm still here." He grinned. "I'm talking to you, right? So I have to be alive." He stroked her hair, the way he'd done since they were little and they both needed reassurance. "And I'm touching you too, see? So I'm completely alive."
"I know!" Wanda snuffled, wiping her nose with her sleeve. "But you weren't, after you got shot. You disappeared from my head. And it was like…" She shook her head, swallowing. "I lost everything. I was all alone."
"I'm sorry," Pietro said again. He didn't have anything like his sister's mind powers, but when she got them, it'd made a place in his head filled with a sense of her too. He couldn't even imagine what it would be like to search for it and find nothing. He wanted to lift the bed enough so he could really hug her, but he was lying on the stupid control and he didn't want to let go of her to find it. He settled for leaning up to kiss her forehead instead. No part of him from his waist up liked that very much, but fuck it. He'd survive. "If I'd known any of that would happen, I would've let Hawkeye get shot."
Wanda pinched his forearm. "No you wouldn't," she said while he was frowning at her. "You would've still saved him." She bowed her head so that her hair hid her face like a curtain. "The worst part was that it was my fault. I put the dream in Stark's head. I made him so afraid that he made Ultron." She shuddered, then let go of Pietro with one hand to cover her eyes. "It's my fault. Ultron was my fault and you died because of it. Because of my mistake."
"Hey, no. No." Pietro tugged her hair until Wanda raised her head to look at him. "It was Stark's decision, to make the robot. And Ultron decided to kill everyone. Not you. And we made up for our mistake, didn't we?" He smiled again. "We helped the Avengers save everybody. And Hawkeye owes me." That might've been the best part, actually. Pietro was sure as hell that Hawkeye never saw that coming.
"He kept you alive until I could get to you, so you're even," Wanda said. She chuckled when Pietro glowered though, so it wasn't all bad. She sat up again still holding his hand, playing a little with his fingers. "Hawkeye told me that we were Avengers, during the fight. I don't know if he meant that. I don't know what we are now."
"We're together. That's all that matters." Pietro made his voice strong and decisive, even though it was nothing like what he felt. He didn't even know where they were, he realized. "Where are we?"
"Sorry," Wanda said. "We're on the helicarrier. The big flying ship."
"Oh. Cool." If S.H.I.E.LD. had things like this, and really used them to help people—and even saved him when he'd helped to almost end the world—maybe they really weren't so bad after all. And hey, maybe he'd be able look out a window, or go on deck if they weren't too high. He'd love to check the ship out, if they'd let him. Which maybe they wouldn't. "Are we prisoners?"
"I don't think so," Wanda said, but she sounded uncertain. She sighed. "Hawkeye said he would come to check us on later, but other than that they've left us alone."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"I don't know." Wanda shrugged her thin shoulders. "All that matters to me is that you're alive. But I don't know what happens now."
"We enjoy my being alive," Pietro said, then grinned when his sister chuckled again.
"No. I don't fucking want him in the Avengers." Clint crossed his arms and glared at everyone. "He's a loose cannon and too impulsive and has no idea how to be part of a team."
"He saved your life. Nearly at the cost of his own," Natasha said as Tony coughed, "Pot! Kettle!" in the background. She was standing with her arms crossed as well, leaning against the edge of a work bench. The Avengers had commandeered the helicarrier's lab because it was one of the few spaces no one else needed. Natasha's gaze was sharp as ever, but Clint saw how she kept glancing at the door as if part of her was still expecting Bruce to walk in. That was another jerk who Clint would love to kick in the ass. But they had to find him first. And then the dick had to get in line.
Clint pointed at her. "That's exactly what I'm talking about! He's too unpredictable. How can we work with someone who's liable to jump in the path of a bullet for a teammate? We'd have to watch him all the time!"
Everyone kind of blinked at him.
"You're saying that a willingness to put his life on the line for someone else would make him a bad Avenger," Steve said.
"Yeah that's weird." Tony pointed at Steve with his thumb. "What the cranky old guy said. I mean, isn't that the whole 'laying down on the wire' thing heroes are meant to do?" He looked at Steve. "That's the laying down on the wire thing, right?"
"It is," Thor said while Steve nodded. "I confess I don't understand your misgivings, Clint. Pietro proved himself a capable warrior today, especially when he saved you."
"He has no sense of self-preservation," Clint said.
Tony looked at everyone in confusion. "Do any of us have any self-preservation? Because if that's a prerequisite now, I think we're fucked."
Natasha smiled thinly at him. "Some of us are more fucked than others. But otherwise, you're right." She turned back to Clint. "You're protesting a lot about Pietro, considering you had no qualms about letting Barnes join. Or Wanda."
"And the wonder twins are kind of the hardened criminals. Both of them, not just Bleedy Gonzales. Unlike Buckybear," Tony added. As if any of them still needed the reminder of the twins' delinquency, versus the former Sergeant Barnes' saint-like virtue as according to the Gospel of Steve Rogers. Tony tilted his head, considering Clint. "And weren't you a hardened criminal for a while there, Robin Hood?"
"We all have made bad decisions, or had our hands forced to do harm rather than good," Thor said. His mouth thinned sadly. "I myself owe a debt I can never repay."
"I don't care about their pasts," Clint snapped. "I know we all have red in our ledgers. That's not the problem."
"Then what is the problem, exactly?" Steve asked. And whoa, Captain America himself was beginning to sound a little impatient. Good one there, Clint. "If Wanda can join, why not her brother?"
"Her brother who saved your life," Tony put in helpfully. He shrugged when Clint glared at him. "Just saying."
"Wanda can take care of herself," Clint said, trying another tactic. He was getting pretty fucking impatient himself, feeling like he had to spell it out for them when the problem should've been obvious. "All that Pietro did was run in front of someone shooting at him!"
"To save your life!" Steve spread his hands with clear exasperation. "You make it sound like he ran in front of the Quinjet for fun. He didn't. He pushed you out of the way."
"He ran in front of the Quinjet because he's a stupid kid!" Clint burst out. "He's a stupid, idiot child who has no business on the battlefield, if he doesn't know better than to throw himself on a grenade for every asshole who's in the wrong place at the wrong time!"
"Sometimes the only thing you can do is throw yourself on the grenade," Steve said.
"It wasn't the only thing! It was the wrong thing!" Clint yelled. "I was the one who didn't get out of the way! I was the one who deserved to get fucking blown apart, not him! He shouldn't've even been there!"
"Um," Tony—of course it was Tony—said into the stunned silence while Clint stood there with his hands clenched and his chest heaving. "I know I'm not the poster boy for self-esteem here, but…that doesn't really sound like Roadrunner is the issue."
"It's not," Natasha said flatly. But when she walked over to Clint her expression was nothing but kind. She put her hand on his arm, holding gently. "What happened wasn't your fault."
Clint huffed out a breath, carding his fingers through his hair. "I'm fucking sick of people getting hurt because of me."
Natasha slid her hand into his. "It wasn't because of you. It was because of Ultron. No one got hurt because of what you did."
"Indeed. All you did was save lives today. You should be proud, not remorseful," Thor said.
"Let Pietro have the dignity of his choice," Steve said, though his smile was a little sad for some reason. "He obviously thought you were worth it."
He wasn't worth it, though Clint knew better than to say that out loud. He glanced at Natasha and he could tell she knew exactly what he was thinking. But all she did was squeeze his hand.
"So! We're totally in agreement, then." Tony smacked his hands together. "Sergeant Cyborg and Ren and Stimpy are part of the tribe. Great. I'm gonna go figure out how to track our very own Oscar the Grouch. You're all welcome to stay and appreciate my genius."
"You know how much we appreciate you, Tony," Steve said, gently clapping him on the shoulder. "I'm going to see how Sergeant Barnes is doing," he added needlessly to everyone else.
Which meant they were going to be sucking face in about five minutes, Clint was sure. But hey, good for them. "You know they're going to be sucking face, right?" he asked Natasha as they left Tony to his Tonying.
"Of course." She nodded, still holding his hand. "Steve would've let Barnes beat him to death. If that's not true love, I don't know what is."
"You are the last of the romantics, Nat," Clint said.
"Bruce is, not me," she said softly. But she kissed his cheek before he could apologize for being an insensitive dick. "And you're the last of the self-sacrificing idiots."
"Apparently not," Clint said.
"I hate you so much."
"Fuck you," Pietro said. A spray of blood came with it, and Clint hoped to hell it was just from the kid slicing his cheek with his teeth when they tumbled down the ravine. Which had happened because Pietro tackled Clint out of the way before Clint got shot, and Clint was on the edge of a ravine. So here they were. Because despite his superpower, not only could Pietro not manage to dodge a single fucking bullet ever, he also couldn't avoid clichés.
"No, seriously. I hate you so fucking much." Clint leaned a little harder on the giant hole in Pietro's side. Mostly to stop the bleeding but partially to keep the asshole awake. And partially just because Clint hated him. He eased up slightly when Pietro cried out in pain. "What the hell is wrong with you? You can run between raindrops but you can't evade a bullet? Hell, you attract bullets. You're a fucking asshole bullet magnet. And we're at the bottom of a ravine."
Pietro grinned at him. Even half-conscious he still managed to look smug, the little shit. "You're just upset that I saved your life. Again."
"Yeah, I'm upset! You managed to get yourself shot—again—and we're at the bottom of a ravine, you dick. How the hell—" Half a robot hurtled down to crash into the river behind him. Clint automatically shielded Pietro with his body, but the robot just sank. "How the hell am I meant to keep you from bleeding out at the bottom of a ravine?"
"Wanda will find us."
Yes she would, thank God, because naturally their radios weren't working since they were at the bottom of a fucking ravine. "I can't wait to tell her what an asshole you are and watch her skin you alive."
"She'll be proud. Because I saved you. Again." Pietro was still smiling, but his accent had gotten stronger, a sure sign with him that he was about to pass out. Clint had seen it often enough at this point to tell.
Clint pressed harder on his wound just as Pietro's eyes slid shut. The kid gasped and woke up enough to glare at him. "Don't you pass out on me," Clint snapped. "I'm not done berating you yet."
"'Should've let you get shot." At least no blood came with the words this time.
"Yeah, dumbass." Clint grabbed the third and last wad of gauze from a pocket and slapped it over the first two. The coagulants in the material were working, but not fast enough for Clint to be happy about. "We're all going to need larger first-aid kits, just because of you. I hope you're happy."
Pietro grinned wider. "You're welcome."
The sound of sliding rock made Clint look up, automatically reaching for his bow. But it wasn't another of the mercenaries or robots ready to blow their heads off. It was Bucky, sliding down on his heels and digging his left hand into the rock to control his descent.
"Wanda said her brother was hurt," he said, jogging over and then kneeling on Pietro's other side. "The punk get shot again?"
"Yes. Yes he did." Clint nodded his thanks when Bucky slapped yet another wad of gauze into his hand. There was a mound of them over Pietro's wound now, but it looked like the bleeding had finally stopped. "How's it going up there?"
"Fine. The others are okay. Vision or Iron Face'll come get the kid as soon as they've finished with the robots." He checked Pietro's injuries at a glance, then took over putting pressure on the wound. Clint gratefully shook out his arms. "What do you need?"
"You to grow wings or Pietro to not be an asshole. And I want a pony." Clint ignored Pietro weakly giving him the finger. "But at least he's stable, as far as I can tell." He checked the kid's pulse again, but it seemed as okay as possible, considering the situation.
"How about you?"
Clint shook his head. "Just bruising."
"He landed on me," Pietro said.
"You deserved it."
Bucky smirked, then lifted his head before Clint heard anything. Vision floated down to land neatly beside them.
"Hello," he said with precision, "I've come to get Quicksilver. Is it safe for him to be moved?"
"As long as you're not shooting at him," Clint said.
"You still with us, Petey?" Bucky asked Pietro. "Vision's gonna get you out of here."
"Good," Pietro said. "Clint is annoying."
Bucky put Pietro's hand over the gauze mound where his had been. "Keep pressing it, as hard as you can. I'm gonna give you something for the pain, then Clint and I will help Vision pick you up, okay?" He waited for Pietro's nod before he got a syringe of morphine out of his kit and injected it into Pietro's arm. They waited until he relaxed, then lifted Pietro enough to let Vision kneel and slide his arms under him.
"Thank you," Vision said, and lifted slowly into the sky.
A moment later a rope flew over the edge of the ravine to slap the ground almost exactly at their feet. Clint and Bucky looked up to see Natasha and Steve peering down at them.
"Need a lift?" Natasha asked.
"You first? Or do you need a piggyback?" Bucky asked Clint.
It was tempting—Pietro wasn't exactly soft, even if Clint really had landed on him—but Clint shook his head. "Not worth the ribbing."
Bucky grinned and clapped Clint's shoulder. "Damn. I was looking forward to it."
Clint rolled his eyes, then grabbed the rope and started climbing with Steve helping to pull him up.
"Are you all right?" Natasha asked him once he was safe on the cliff again.
He nodded. "Yeah. Just bruises, really." Natasha put her arm around his waist, and he was happy that she let him lean on her a bit, because the bruises hurt. They both waited until Bucky was safe on the clifftop before they walked back to the Quinjet. "Did Pietro get into the jet okay?"
"He'll be fine. Wanda's with him," Natasha said, answering his real question. She gave him a one-armed hug. "You did good."
Clint shook his head. "He keeps getting hurt because of me. I hate it. I really fucking hate it."
"It's his choice," Natasha said. "And it's nothing the rest of us wouldn't do. Or have done. You included."
That was true, but. "He's just a kid."
Natasha snorted remarkably elegantly. "He's the same age as Steve Rogers was when he became Captain America, and a year younger than James."
"They weren't idiots."
"Sure we were," Steve said easily. He slung his arm across Bucky's shoulders, grinning at him. "Hell, Bucky tightrope-walked across a beam above a raging inferno, just a few minutes after I'd found him."
"I walked through fire for you," Bucky said to Steve, deadpan. He looked over his shoulder at Clint. "You should listen to Natalia. She's right. Pietro wanted to be an Avenger. If he keeps puttin' himself between you and a bullet, that's his choice too."
"Yeah, yeah—it's his right to be an asshole. I get it." Clint sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."
Bucky looked at him again, grinning. "Y'know, for someone who keeps saying you hate the guy, you sure worry about him a lot."
"I'm not worried," Clint said. "I'm irritated. He's a dick, and he keeps bleeding all over me." He scowled. "And by the way, I hate you too."
Bucky laughed. "You too, doll." He went into the Quinjet with Steve's arm still around his shoulders.
"We all hate you, Clint," Natasha said, and hugged him tight.