Clint squared his shoulders, nodding at the agents waiting outside before he knocked on the door. He'd promised Phil he'd give this one more try.
He'd been visiting Barnes in his cell at headquarters every day for the last three weeks, ever since the shrinks and other doctors said he was stable enough to allow visitors. So far he wasn't making any more progress than anyone else had. Phil and Steve both had the idea that he could get through to the guy; even Nat was trying, in the way only she could, to be encouraging. But nothing Clint tried was working, and he was about ready to give up.
Steve had dropped by their apartment the night before. He hadn't been to a meal with the team in over a week, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He'd been spending most nights at headquarters. Clint didn't like to think how little sleep Steve must be getting for those circles to show up in someone who'd had the serum; he thought Steve might even be losing weight. Steve didn't complain, he never would, but they were all worried about him.
He figured Steve knew that, but all Steve cared about was Bucky. "Be honest with him," Steve had said. "Bucky hates it when people lie to him. And remind him of who he is. But don't push. He, uh, he doesn't like that."
"Yeah, Steve, I got that," Clint had said glumly.
When they'd first captured him, Steve had put his hand on Barnes' cheek, and he'd spat in Steve's face. Once he'd been placed in a cell, Steve approached him again, and Barnes backed away so quickly he'd hit his head on the wall behind him. Every time Steve had tried to talk to him since then, Barnes had refused to even look at him. Steve hadn't given up. He still visited every day, talking to Barnes' back, but Barnes never responded.
The cameras recorded everything, but they relied on JARVIS to alert them if Barnes made any threatening moves, and the sound was always on mute when Steve was in Barnes' cell. Phil had insisted on it, and Fury had agreed; it was the least they could do.
The least Clint could do was to keep trying, because Barnes did actually talk to him on occasion, and he wasn't doing that with anyone else, not even Nat. Clint didn't get it. He didn't think it really meant anything, but he'd do just about anything for Steve and Nat, and they both wanted this badly, even if Steve was the only one who'd actually admit it.
"Distract him," had been Nat's advice. "Maybe play some cards, or watch a movie. It's got to be boring being stuck in that cell all the time. You can use that." Clint had thought Nat might need a little distraction herself and invited himself to her place for some vodka and reminiscing. She'd told him some stories about her time with the Winter Soldier, stories he knew she'd never tell Steve.
When Clint had showed up the next day with a deck of cards and a hangover, Barnes had raised his eyebrows and said, "I'm not interested in strip poker right now," and turned back to face the wall. Clint wasn't Steve, so when Barnes had refused to say anything else, he'd left the guy alone.
The next day, Barnes had flipped through the DVDs Clint brought and tossed each to the side, pausing to comment, "You're fucking kidding me, right?" when he got to The Wizard of Oz. Clint had been cautiously optimistic; at least Barnes was talking again.
He'd eventually persuaded Barnes to watch Serenity, mainly by grabbing the DVD, putting it in the player, and hitting the remote. When they got to the scene in the bar where River was triggered, Barnes went white as a sheet, started muttering in Russian, and wouldn't speak to anyone at all for the next three days.
Clint really hadn't thought that one through.
"I can't do this," he whined to Phil that morning over coffee. "Someone else should give it a shot. All I'm doing is making things worse."
"That's not true," Phil said firmly, coming up behind him and rubbing his shoulders. "You're the only one he's exchanged more than a few words with, Clint."
"I don't know what else to do," he said, leaning back against Phil's chest. "Every once in a while I get a glimpse of the guy I know is in there, but then I fuck it up and he shuts down again."
"Just be yourself," Phil told him, bending to kiss his temple. "You and Barnes have a lot in common. I know it's hard for you, but allow yourself to be a little vulnerable."
"Believe me, I feel plenty vulnerable locked in a cell with the Winter Soldier," Clint said, looking down. He'd done more than enough to expose his inner self over the last year; sometimes he really missed the days when no one but Phil and Nat knew anything about him. "Can't Nat try again?"
"He's got a history with Natasha, just like he does with Steve," Phil reminded him. "He won't talk to her; you know that."
"By this point he's got a history with me, too," Clint said. "A history of me failing to get through to him."
Phil sighed. "Give it one more try, okay?" he asked, pulling Clint around to face him. "I know you can do this. I think you might be the only one who can." When he looked at Phil, he could see how much Phil believed what he was saying.
Which is how he ended up locked in a cell with Barnes once again. Barnes was talking today, at least, although so far it was all about how much he hated this place and everyone in it. Clint wasn't sure that was better than silence.
"I don't know what your problem is," Clint said after Barnes threw his coffee cup into the wall. Clint tried to tamp down his frustration, but some of it leaked through into his voice. Barnes had used his metal arm; the coffee was still dripping from the wall. Not to mention the ceiling. The agents outside were freaking out; Clint had to tell them to stand down.
Barnes barked out a laugh. "You don't know what my problem is? How about I spent decades as an assassin, I can't remember most of what happened before a few weeks ago, and despite it all, Captain America himself is convinced we're soulmates?"
Finally, some progress. Tell him the truth, remind him of who he is. "Steve is in love with you," Clint corrected, forcing himself to calm down. "He has been since he was a teenager."
"Rogers doesn't love me. He doesn't even know me. Neither do you," Barnes said.
"I don't believe that," Clint said.
"I don't give a fuck what you believe, Barton," Barnes snapped. "I'm the Winter Soldier. I've murdered hundreds of people. I'm a killer. That's what they made me, and that's all that's left."
"Bullshit," Clint retorted, his patience at an end. "The Winter Soldier would have killed Captain America like he was supposed to. You missed, Barnes. I was there, remember? I saw you take the shot, and you missed."
"Are you kidding me? That doesn't mean shit," Barnes said dismissively. "'He missed, so he must remember who he is!' What the hell do you know about it?"
Clint knew a quite lot about what it might mean to miss a shot, but he wasn't ready to share that particular story with Barnes. "I know you're a sniper," he said instead, his voice matter-of-fact. "So am I. Don't tell me you couldn't have made that shot; I've read your file."
"Oh, like it was easy," Barnes said, waving his right arm, the normal one. "You know what kind of crosswinds I was dealing with up there?"
Clint knew he was deflecting but went along with it. "It was an easy shot, Barnes. I could have made that with my bow." He put his chin in his hand, pretending to consider while he made plans. This could be the break they'd been waiting for. "While hopping on one foot. Probably blindfolded."
"Now who's bullshitting?" Barnes said, smirking a little. "That's impossible."
"Come out to the range and I'll prove it to you," Clint promised, smirking right back at him.
"I'm not cleared to be on the range," Barnes said, turning away, his shoulders slumping.
Clint hit his radio. "Coulson, I'm taking Barnes to the range. You okay with that?"
There was a pause, then, "What did you have in mind, Barton?" Phil sounded cautious, but he wasn't dismissing it out of hand.
"Just an idea I wanted to try out. You can come if you want, sir," Clint said, only wheedling a little bit.
"I'll meet you on the way," Phil said. "Paper targets, non-lethal ammo only, copy?"
"Copy that, sir. See you in a few." He turned to Barnes. "Come on. You'll love the range--Stark's put in a lot of improvements over the last year. You'll be able to set whatever crosswinds you want to; I'll still make the shot."
"With a bow and arrow?" Barnes scoffed, but there was a light in his eyes Clint hadn't seen before. "And how the fuck are you going to set up a shot that long on a firing range? Give me a break, Barton."
"I am giving you a break," Clint said, motioning for the guards to unlock the cell. He had to frown at them and gesture again, but then they did it. "A chance to get away from here for a few hours. It'll be fun. If you're good, I may even let you try one of my spare bows."
"I'd be happier with a rifle," Barnes said. He stood up, glancing briefly at Clint and then looking down. The expression on his face was heartbreaking, like he was torn between being scared to leave the cell and fear that the door was about to shut in his face. Then it smoothed out into an unreadable mask again.
"We have those, too," Clint replied, keeping his expression calm. This was going to work; he could feel it. "They'll have the coolest stuff locked down, but we'll still have plenty of options."
"As long as I'm not stuck in here talking to the shrinks again," Barnes muttered, glancing behind him as they walked through the door. The first few weeks he'd been there, they'd had a rotation of shrinks in with Barnes practically every hour he was awake, trying hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, and endless rounds of questions. Steve had put a stop to it when Bucky went catatonic for forty-eight hours after some ill-advised drug cocktail. They still sent Dr. Solomon in there once a day, but that was all Steve would allow.
"No shrinks on the range," Clint promised, nodding again at the agents, who were definitely still freaked out, although they didn't try to stop him. Phil had probably ordered them not to. "It's one of Coulson's rules."
"What's the deal with you and Agent Coulson, anyway?" Barnes asked.
Clint didn't smile, but it was close. "What do you mean?"
"I heard you were married," Barnes said, looking at him sidelong.
"That's not a secret," Clint said, holding up his left hand. Everyone knew these days, even random strangers on the street. Clint was mostly okay with that; it was kind of nice not having to hide it anymore.
"Sure can't tell, the way you two act," Barnes said flatly.
"Work is work," Clint said, shrugging, "and home is home. Hey, boss, we were just talking about you," he added as Phil joined them in the hallway.
"You call him boss at home?" Barnes asked, smirking.
"That's really none of your business, Sergeant Barnes," Phil responded. He looked at Clint, the corners of his eyes crinkling up, and, as always, Clint felt warm inside.
"I call him Phil, usually, unless he's forcing me to watch Sister Wives, and then I call him a sick, sick individual," Clint told Barnes, grinning at Phil.
"Barton can't wait to find out which one gets pregnant next," Phil said calmly. Phil always knew how to play along. It was one of the many, many things Clint loved about him.
"And you're going to lose that bet, sir," Clint said, patting him on the shoulder. "It's gonna be one of the teenage daughters, you mark my words. Moving to Vegas was a bad decision."
"Robyn's going to be a surrogate for Meri and you know it," Phil answered coolly, eyes straight ahead. "I call him Clint when we're at home, Sergeant Barnes, unless he's left his dirty clothes on the floor of the bathroom again. Then I call him a slob and threaten to make him sleep on the sofa."
They got in the elevator to head to the range. Phil and Clint stood close enough that the backs of their hands were touching, but Clint resisted the urge to tangle their fingers together.
"I never actually sleep on the couch," Clint informed Barnes. "Even though Phil hogs the covers. Next time we're on a mission, I'm going to call you cover-hog on the comms, boss. Tony will love it."
"You will not," Phil said firmly, just as the doors opened. "Sergeant Barnes, the firing range has been cleared of all other personnel so that you and Barton can do whatever it is you have planned. You will be limited to paper targets and non-lethal ammunition. I will be observing closely, and if at any point I am concerned, I will not hesitate to stop this exercise and return you to your quarters. Is that clear?"
He didn't mention the kill switch for Barnes' left arm, but they all knew about it. Both Phil and Clint had a button in their pockets they could push if they needed to. No one had needed to in nearly three weeks.
"Yes, sir," Barnes said, snapping off a salute. Jesus, this is really gonna work, Clint thought, bouncing a little on his toes.
"Okay, let's get this party started," he said, looking around. "What was that distance, about 140 meters?"
"One-fifty," Barnes corrected. It'd been closer to 140, but Clint could handle the extra ten meters, so he didn't say anything.
Barnes looked around, trying but failing to hide his awe. SHIELD's main firing range was located underground, and it was about the size of a soccer field, with a continuously changing layout of tactical courses and testing scenarios. Other agencies begged for the chance to use it, and every once in a while SHIELD agreed. The last time the FBI had been there, Clint had sworn they'd had stars in their eyes when they left, and that was before Tony's latest improvements.
It took some time to get things the way Barnes wanted them, measuring angles and setting up a perch on a couple of cables, the target at the farthest corner of the range. Barnes seemed to enjoy himself, although he was trying to hide how curious he was about Clint's bow. Clint couldn't blame him--it wasn't his favorite, but it was one sweet piece of weaponry. Even he couldn't hit 150 meters with just anything.
"I'll let you see it later, I promise," Clint offered as he took off his boots. He could have done it with them on, but it would be easier if he were barefoot. He slung the bow and his quiver over his back.
"Yeah, sure," Barnes answered, smirking. "After you make the shot. Up you go. Do you need a hand?" he said, offering to give Clint a boost with his metal arm.
"No, I got it, thanks," Clint said, easily pulling himself up the cables. He quickly nocked an arrow. "Okay, here goes." He sighted the target, calculated the artificial wind-shear, balanced on his left foot, and hopped a couple times. "Shit, I forgot the blindfold," he said, annoyed with himself. There wasn't much point without the blindfold.
"I didn't think you were serious about that part," Barnes said; Clint was pleased to hear that he was starting to sound a little impressed. Finally.
"Here," Phil said, undoing his tie and tossing it up.
Clint caught it, still balanced on one foot. "Thanks, Coulson," Clint said, grinning down at him. He set his bow down and wrapped the tie (blue silk stitched with tiny, barely visible arrows; he'd gotten it for Phil for his birthday) around his head. It didn't completely block his vision, but it was close enough, and he could close his eyes. The tie smelled like Phil, which was a nice bonus. He picked up his bow, nocked the arrow again, hopped up into the air, hopped again, and took the shot on the way down.
"Holy shit," Barnes said after the arrow hit; Clint imagined a satisfying thwock, although it was too far away to hear.
Clint climbed down from the platform and took the tie off, handing it to Phil, taking just a second to brush his thumb over Phil's wrist. "Easy shot, like I said." He didn't bother to look at the target.
"I thought Steve said you weren't enhanced," Barnes said, a question in his voice.
"I'm not," Clint said, noting the 'Steve' with a greater sense of satisfaction than making the shot had given him.
"He's not," Phil said at the same time. Clint doubted Barnes would pick it up, but he heard the pride in Phil's voice and smiled at him.
"I told you, it wasn't a tough shot. Any sniper could have made it. I just used it as an opportunity to practice, that's all." He walked over to Barnes, keeping his body language casual and non-threatening. "This one's a compound, but I usually use a recurve. You ever try one?" he asked, holding his bow out for Barnes.
Barnes shook his head, running his fingers along the grip. "No. A crossbow a few times, yeah, but I'm more used to rifles," he said. He handed the bow back, a bit reluctantly, and Clint put it carefully in its case. "I have to admit, that's nicer than I was imagining."
"Tony and I came up with the design," Clint said, patting the case. "It's one of a kind. More than I usually need, to tell you the truth; a basic recurve does the trick most of the time, but a recurve doesn't have the same range."
"You got anything basic here?" Barnes asked, and Clint had to laugh, because his idea of a basic recurve wasn't exactly what you could find in a sporting goods store.
"Not really," he answered, shaking his head, "but I think we can find something you could manage. You'll need a wrist guard, and maybe a shooting tab." He started taking his off.
"Not necessary," Barnes said, gesturing with his metal arm. "This won't bruise."
"You're right-handed, right?" Clint asked. "You shoot with your right eye, too?"
"Used to," Bucky said, grimacing. "Both eyes are pretty equal now. My control's as good with my left as my right, although sensation's not as good in my left hand."
"I'm left-dominant, but I can shoot either way," Clint said, dropping both wrist guards and his glove on the ground. "I'll shoot right-eyed this time; it'll be less confusing. Coulson, can you get me my regular and spare recurves?"
Phil handed him a bow. He also gave Clint back his wrist-guards and a right-handed shooting tab, along with a pointed look. Mother hen. "I don't need them," he groused. "I'm just showing Barnes the ropes."
"You know the rules, Barton," Phil said mildly, handing another shooting tab and the second bow to Barnes. It was Phil's bow he handed off, Clint noticed. It had been a while since they'd had time to shoot together. He made a mental note to schedule something soon.
"The rules are stupid, Coulson," he said affectionately.
"You'll still follow them," Phil answered, the corners of his mouth going up just a bit.
"Sister Wives, huh?" Barnes said, looking at the two of them.
"I'm telling you, it's gonna be one of the teenagers," Clint said. "Bucky, take hold of the bow with your left hand."
"I think I can figure out how to pick up a bow," Barnes retorted, "and don't call me that."
"Okay, Sergeant," Clint said, grinning. This was going better than he'd even hoped.
"You're an asshole, you know that?" Barnes said, but he paid close attention as Clint showed him the proper stance.
"The draw on that's pretty high, but I think you can handle it," Clint said. He had Barnes practice a few times; he didn't pick it up as easily as Phil had--probably because he hadn't been watching Clint for years like Phil had when Clint finally got him to try it--but the guy definitely had skills.
He showed Barnes how to nock the arrow next. He frowned in frustration when Clint made him practice it a dozen times before moving on to the next step. "Draw back nice and smooth, sight along here, and let it fly," Clint instructed eventually, demonstrating. "Don't force it."
"Shit," Barnes said as the string hit just below his elbow and the arrow hit the ground a few feet in front of him.
"Harder than it looks, huh?" Clint said, grinning. "Try it again. Turn your body more sideways, like this."
"Why am I doing this again?" Barnes asked, frowning, but he was watching closely and correcting his form.
"Because it's awesome," Clint answered with a smirk. "Any idiot can shoot a rifle. A bow takes skill."
Barnes' first few shots were shit, but after a dozen arrows he started getting the hang of it. Clint chatted to him amiably about non-threatening topics like growing up in the circus (avoiding all mention of his brother) and old missions for SHIELD (he mentioned Natasha no more than once or twice). He shot off some arrows (even using his right eye, it wasn't much of a challenge). A few times he threw out an anecdote about the Avengers. Barnes didn't say much, but he did ask a few questions, which Clint was happy to take as progress.
"Okay, enough with this Robin Hood crap," Barnes said after they'd been shooting for over an hour. "You as good with a rifle as you are with that thing?"
"Yep," Clint said easily. "Just because I like the bow better doesn't mean I don't know how to shoot anything else."
"Show me what you've got," Barnes said, a challenge in his voice. "We'll go head to head, see who's better."
"It's not really a question, but sure," Clint replied. Phil, who'd been standing behind them, quietly watching, traded them their bows for a couple M14s. "These'll work. How do you want to start? Standing, prone? What distance?"
"Standing," Barnes said firmly. "Try that one," he said, gesturing at the farthest target on the range, the one they'd set up earlier, smirking like he'd pulled something over on Clint.
"No problem," Clint said, and immediately lifted the rifle and shot.
Phil picked up some binoculars and calmly announced, "Dead center."
"Christ," Barnes muttered under his breath as he looked through the sight. He took a couple slow breaths, aimed carefully, and shot.
Phil picked up the binoculars again and stated, "one-half inch off center, eight o'clock. Good shot, Sergeant."
Half an hour later, Barnes shook his head, a rueful grin on his face. "Okay, I admit it, you're better at this than I am."
"I have to be the best," Clint explained, handing their rifles to Phil. "It's the only way I can stay on a team with a super-soldier, a green rage monster, and a Norse god."
"Barton's been the best marksman in the world since he was sixteen," Phil said, his voice quiet but proud. "The Avengers are lucky to have him."
"The Commandos wouldn't have needed me if you'd been around," Barnes said, then frowned as he realized what he'd said.
Clint ignored it, giving himself a high-five inside, where no one could see. "Coulson, what else have we got to play with?" he asked, and Phil duly led them over to the store of rifles behind the wall.
"Glad to see you've got more than just the M14," Barnes said, looking over the collection in front of him. "It's okay, but it's nothing special."
"What did you use during the war?" Clint asked, picking up one of SHIELD's standard sniper rifles and fiddling with the tripod.
"An M1C Garand," Barnes answered absently, picking up a Winchester bolt action. "I can't say I miss it."
"Yeah, I hear they had a problem with jamming," Clint said, keeping his tone light and easy.
"You have no idea," Barnes replied, breaking the rifle down, his movements precise and automatic. He was using both hands, but the right one was clearly dominant. Clint was pretty sure he'd been hanging out with Sergeant Bucky Barnes for the last couple hours, not the fucked-up remains of the Winter Soldier. It was good to see the guy.
"This one time we were heading for a Hydra facility up around the border of Austria, you know, high up in the Alps, colder than fuck," Bucky said, just a guy shooting the shit about the war with a fellow soldier. Clint was careful to avoid watching him too closely, to keep his movements casual. He could feel how intently Phil was listening from behind them, although of course his expression would betray nothing, because he was Phil Coulson.
"Steve's the only one not freezing his nuts off, thanks to his super-metabolism. We can't risk any fires, so the rest of us are pretty fucking miserable," Bucky continued. "It's night, and I'm up in a tree on watch, so I'm even colder than everyone else. And of course a Nazi patrol finds us. Not even Hydra, just your run of the mill Wehrmacht assholes, out in the mountains, who knows why. Maybe they were after Hydra too. Anyway, I go to take the first guy out and the Garand jams."
"That's what I like about a bow," Clint said, just a bit smug. "Nothing to jam. What'd you do?"
"Got a couple of them with my Colt, jumped a third. By then everyone was awake. Steve took out most of the rest with his shield, you know how he is." Bucky reassembled the rifle as easily as he'd broken it down.
"I do," Clint said agreeably. "You should have seen him the other day; he took out half the giant weasels before the rest of us had a chance. Tony was pissed."
"Giant weasels, huh?" Bucky asked with a grin. That was the guy Steve was in love with, right there; that was the grin he sketched and painted. Bucky picked up a different rifle and looked through the sight. "That sounds like fun."
Clint nodded, watching as Bucky went through the same movements he had with the last gun, breaking it down efficiently. "They were giant, including their teeth, but they were pretty stupid. Very furry, though. Thor took a bunch of their skins back to Asgard to cure. He's offering to make covers for all our beds. Something like that probably would have come in handy back in Austria that time."
Bucky shrugged. "Steve kept me plenty warm most nights," he said, starting to reassemble the rifle. Then he stopped dead and swore fluently in Russian.
"Relax, Bucky," Clint said as calmly as he could. "It's not like I didn't know about you and Steve." He moved a little closer, reaching for the rifle. He knew Barnes could reassemble it very quickly, and he could do a lot of damage, even with non-lethal ammo.
"Fuck off," Barnes snarled, jerking away from him, tension apparent in every line of his body. He tossed the disassembled rifle onto the ground. "Agent Coulson, I'd like to return to my cell now."
"Of course," Phil said. He sounded bored, but the look he gave Clint betrayed his frustration. "Barton, I'll see you in my office."
"Yes, sir," Clint said. He'd really fucked this up.
Clint went straight to Phil's office, but Phil didn't get there until nearly an hour later. Clint spent that time pissed off at himself, trying to figure out if there was any way he could fix things with Barnes.
He didn't look up when he heard Phil open the door and close it behind him. "What took you so long?" he asked, scrubbing his fingers through his hair.
"Briefing the director, Steve, and Natasha," Phil answered. "This is my official notice that I am about to break work rules."
Clint sighed. "Phil, you don't have to give me some sort of pep talk. I know I fucked up."
Phil snorted. "You didn't fuck up, you magnificent idiot. Get over here."
"What?" Clint said, but he got up automatically.
Phil was smiling at him, the kind of smile Clint usually only got to see when they had an entire weekend off. "That was one of the most masterful examples of the craft I've ever seen." He hooked his fingers in Clint's belt loops and pulled him close. "Steve looked like he was about to cry when we reviewed the recording. Natasha said she was proud of you."
"What?" Clint said again, but Phil just put his hand on the back of Clint's neck and kissed him. It was an extremely thorough kiss, with plenty of tongue, and Clint was breathless and half hard when Phil finally broke it.
Phil was a bit breathless as well. That and the smile were a really good look on him; it made Clint want to fuck him over his desk right that minute. Too bad Phil would never break that particular work rule.
"So, you were saying I didn't actually fuck up?" Clint asked, because he still wasn't quite sure how it worked out that way.
Phil shook his head and leaned in to kiss Clint again. This one was just a brief brush of his lips; Clint tried for more, but this time Phil stepped back out of reach.
"I pushed things too far at the end," Clint said stubbornly. "I shouldn't have said anything, and I damned sure should have kept my distance."
"He was going to go off no matter what you did," Phil said matter-of-factly. "He'd just admitted to you that he not only remembered the war, he remembered his relationship with Steve."
"And then he swore at me in Russian," Clint pointed out. "That can't be good."
"Clint," Phil said, putting his hand on Clint's shoulder. "He talked to you about the Howling Commandos. He talked to you about Steve. No one else has gotten him to say more than a few sentences in any language, not even Tasha."
"I still pissed him off at the end," Clint said, but he felt a little better.
There was a knock on the door, and before Phil could even say anything, Steve burst through. "Clint," he said, his voice catching. His eyes were red. He crossed the room in two strides and threw his arms around Clint, lifting him off his feet. "Thank you," he said into Clint's ear.
"You're welcome," Clint said, hugging him back and feeling warm. "Now could you maybe put me down?"
"Sorry," Steve said, dropping him back onto his feet. He kept his arm around Clint's shoulder. "I just--Clint, I can't believe it, the way you got through to him. Don't you get it? You were talking to Bucky."
"Yeah, I know," Clint said. "I liked him. I'm sorry I couldn't keep it going."
"Shut up," Steve said, cuffing the back of his head. "Thanks to you we have proof that his memories are coming back. What do you have planned for tomorrow?"
Clint shook his head. "I have no idea. You got any suggestions?"
"As a matter of fact, I do," Steve said, glancing quickly at Phil. "I think you should take him to a Yankees game. They've got a double-header with the Indians tomorrow; maybe I could even make an appearance at the second game."
"Absolutely not," Phil said firmly. "There's no way we're letting him out in public, Captain. He's not ready." He might never be, but neither Phil nor Clint was going to say that to Steve until they had to.
"Okay, so bring him over to the Tower and let him watch the game at your place," Steve said, which Clint figured was the plan Steve had had all along. "Maybe bring him up to the penthouse. We could all get pizza." When Phil looked at him skeptically, he added, "Look, Bucky loves baseball. He'd be in the Tower, with all of us there for security, even if he stays in your apartment. JARVIS will monitor him. You can put all the sharp objects in your safe. Natasha will be there, and Bruce, if we need him. It'll be fine."
Steve turned to Clint and looked at him with all the earnest seriousness of Captain America at his most seriously earnest. "What do you think, Clint?" he asked, his eyes wide and blue and very sincere.
Wow, that was overwhelming. Clint had to take a deep breath before he could answer. "I don't know, Steve," he said carefully. When Steve opened his mouth again, he held up his hand. "I'm not saying no, necessarily, just not yet. I just think we need to see how Bucky responds to what happened today before we make any decisions. For all we know, he could spend the next three or four days staring at the wall."
Steve looked down. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense," he said.
"Phil, can you pull up the security feed?" Clint asked, feeling helpless in the face of Steve's dejection.
"Of course," Phil said.
The three of them stared at the display on Phil's desk. Barnes was sitting in the corner of his room farthest from any of the cameras, facing the wall, his arms around his knees. It was the same position he'd stayed in for days after the Serenity fiasco.
"Shit," Clint said.
"I'm going to go talk to him," Steve said.
"Steve," Clint said, but Steve held his hand up and shook his head.
"I know," he said. "But I've got to try."
"Okay," Clint said, nodding reluctantly. "Don't stay in there too long, though. Why don't you come over for dinner after you get home? We can order in, maybe watch some baseball ourselves." He looked over at Phil, who nodded.
"I think I'll probably just eat here," Steve said. "I need to stay close by, in case there's a change."
Phil studied Steve. "When's the last time you slept, Captain?"
Steve shrugged. "I got an hour or so last night. I'm fine."
Clint snorted. "You're really not, dude. It's okay; I get it," he added when Steve made as if to protest. "But you've got to take better care of yourself. I know you can handle more than the average person, but you still need sleep. Go talk to him, but you're coming to dinner tonight if I have to drag you there myself, and you're getting some sleep tonight. I bet JARVIS will lock you in if we ask him to."
Steve pinched his nose. "That's pretty rich coming from the guy who likes to throw himself off buildings at every opportunity. Besides, you couldn't drag me anywhere."
"So I'll get Thor to help me," Clint said, unrepentant. "Or maybe I'll give Bruce a call. Tony, too. Might as well get the whole team involved; we're all worried about you."
"Fine," Steve bit out. "I'll be at your apartment at seven. No need to call anyone else." He left the room, his shoulders tight.
"Quite a contrast from the guy who walked in here a few minutes ago," Phil said with a sigh.
"Yeah," Clint said heavily.
"Hey," Phil said, putting his hand on Clint's arm. "Progress, remember? Even if Barnes refuses to talk for a day or two, today was still a breakthrough. Steve knows that. He'll sleep tonight."
"I hope so," Clint said. "At least we'll get him to eat."
"We'll pick up some dessert on the way home," Phil said. "For now, I'm afraid I have to get back to work, and you've got that meeting with Hill and Sitwell you've been putting off."
"Let me know if anything happens with Bucky?" Clint said, looking at the feed again.
"You know I will," Phil answered. "I'll be back at the Tower by five, and I should be in our apartment by 6:30."
"I'll see you then," Clint said, and left the office. He wandered into Hill's office a few minutes later. She called Sitwell and Natasha, and the four of them sorted through what they knew of Hydra's movements over the last month, which was basically nothing, although there were some rumors about something going on in Norway. Lukin had gone to ground right after they'd captured Barnes. It had to be because Barnes could link him to Hydra, but so far Barnes had been no more cooperative with intel than he had been with anything else.
They'd gone over all this multiple times over the last few weeks. No one had any new information. Nat's sources had all disappeared or been killed. "I hear you made some progress with Barnes today," Hill said after a while. "Did he say anything useful?"
Clint shook his head. "Only mention he made of Hydra was from back in the war."
"His memories are coming back?" Sitwell said, leaning forward.
"Yeah. Some of them, anyway," Clint said.
"That's great news," Sitwell said, clasping him on the shoulder. "Cap must be thrilled."
"Need I remind you that we need the intel the Winter Soldier could give us far more than we need information from the second world war?" Hill asked acerbically. "Romanoff, maybe you should talk to him again."
Clint usually respected Hill, even liked her some of the time, but at this moment he really wanted to tell her to fuck off.
Nat shook her head. "With respect, ma'am, if we want anything useful, we're more likely to get it if he's able to re-integrate his memories of the past. The Soldier has no reason to share anything with us, but if James is back in control, he'll want to tell us everything he knows."
"Re-integrate?" Clint asked, looking at Nat.
She nodded. "From what he said and did today, I think it's clear his memory has come back, basically intact. The only question remaining is how he'll deal with it."
"Do you have any suggestions on how we can help him with that, Agent Romanoff?" Sitwell asked.
She shrugged. "Give him time. Have Clint work with him some more; taking him to the range was an excellent choice. Don't push. What we've been doing has been working; I don't think we should change it at this point."
"Very well," Hill said after a moment. "Let's meet again next week, sooner if anything changes. Dismissed."
Clint was at loose ends after that, so he ate some lunch in the canteen and then went back to the range until it was time to go home. He hated to admit it, but they hadn't had a lot to do since they'd found Barnes; the giant weasels were the first time they'd assembled in a couple of weeks. Steve might not have been sleeping much, but the rest of the Avengers were better rested than they'd been in months. If he hadn't been spending so much time with Barnes, he might have even been bored, especially since he didn't do many ops for SHIELD anymore.
He stopped by Phil's office a little before five so that the two of them could head back to the Tower together. They picked up two pies at Phil's favorite bakery, figuring Steve could eat one by himself.
Phil looked at Clint with so much affection while they were on the subway that Clint nearly kissed him right then and there. But there were people around them with cell phones, including a couple of tourists who were already filming the two of them just standing there, so he held off. Once they got into the elevator at the Tower, however, he put the pie down, moved right into Phil's space, put his hand on Phil's face, and kissed him as thoroughly as Phil had kissed him earlier.
He timed things perfectly, pulling back just as the door opened on the floor where the Initiative's offices were. "Clint," Phil said when Clint took his hand and tried to keep him from leaving the elevator.
"Phil," Clint said, giving him the sly grin he knew Phil loved. "Come upstairs with me."
"I'd love to, but I can't," Phil said, shaking his head. "Pepper and Darcy are waiting."
"Tell JARVIS to tell them you'll be a little late," Clint said, keeping his hold on Phil's hand.
"No," Phil said, his voice lower. "What I've got in mind for you isn't something that would just make me a little late. I'm going to take my time with you tonight, Barton. Be patient. I promise it'll be worth it."
Clint shivered a little. "I'm gonna hold you to that," he answered, stealing one more kiss before letting Phil off the elevator.
"Don't forget to order enough food for Steve," Phil said. "I'll be up by 6:30, 6:45 at the latest."
Clint stopped off at the labs to give Tony and Bruce an update on Bucky. He figured Tony would appreciate hearing how impressed he'd been with the compound bow. Clint ended up shooting the shit with the two of them for a while. Tony wanted his opinion on some new armor-piercing bullets he was working on, and Bruce was happy because he'd finally started to believe he wasn't going to transform unless he wanted to.
They were both relieved when Clint told them Steve was coming over to their place for dinner and had promised to get some sleep. "You know he's spending most of his nights at headquarters," Tony said, and Clint nodded.
"He's worried he'll miss something," Clint said. "I told him JARVIS could access the security feeds from here, but I guess Steve feels better being right there."
"Tell him we'll tie him down if we have to," Tony said. "Even super soldiers need rest."
Bruce snorted. "That's quite a statement, coming from you."
"What?" Tony asked. "I've been sleeping! Just ask Pepper, she'll tell you."
"I already threatened Steve with the whole team," Clint said, ignoring the side issue. "Phil says he thinks Steve'll sleep tonight after the progress we made today." Clint even mostly believed it himself.
"Maybe you could sneak something into his food," Tony said.
"Super metabolism, remember?" Bruce said.
"There you go again with the negativity," Tony replied, waving his hands.
They were still talking about ways to drug Steve when Clint left. He wasn't sure if they'd even noticed.
He took a shower, letting the hot water beat on his neck and shoulders. When he got out, he ordered a massive amount of Chinese food and put on the Mets game, making sure JARVIS knew to record the season finale of Sister Wives. When he went downstairs to pick up the food, Steve was coming through the door. "Let me give you a hand," he said, picking up one of the bags.
"Thanks," Clint said, smiling at him.
"It's the least I could do," Steve said. "I'm sorry about earlier. You were trying to help, and I bit your head off."
"Don't worry about it," Clint told him. "I understand, believe me."
"I know you do," Steve said. "And I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you've done. Not just with Bucky."
There were a lot of things Clint could have said to that, but he settled on a simple, "Likewise." As always, he and Steve understood each other.
Phil was waiting for them when they got to the apartment. He was still in his suit, but after he greeted them he went into the bedroom to change. Clint got out the plates and napkins and settled down on the couch with Steve and the food. They waited until Phil came back out to start eating, because both Phil and Steve were polite like that.
All three of them carefully avoided any mention of Bucky, SHIELD, Hydra, or the Avengers as they ate, watched the game, and ate some more. Steve was yawning by the time they got out the pie, and when Clint sent him downstairs with the leftovers, he promised he was going right to bed.
Clint sprawled on the couch and digested for a while as Phil, who'd eaten no more than usual, cleaned up. "Do I need to remind you again that trying to keep up with Steve while he's eating is a bad idea?" Phil said when he'd finished.
"It's a little late for that, unfortunately," Clint said, holding his stomach.
"Too bad," Phil said, looking at him. "I had plans for you tonight. I guess they'll have to wait."
"Just give me an hour or so and I'll be good to go," Clint promised, looking up at him.
"If you fall asleep on the sofa, don't expect me to wake you up," Phil said, but he was smiling. "I'll be in my office."
"JARVIS?" Clint said after he'd closed the door of his office.
"Yes, Agent Barton?"
"If I fall asleep, make sure to wake me up in forty-five minutes." That would give him enough time to brush his teeth and get cleaned up a little.
"Of course, sir," JARVIS said. Clint stretched out on the couch, and the next thing he knew, JARVIS was waking him up again. He stood, turned the television off, and went into the bedroom, feeling a pleasant thrill of anticipation, wondering what Phil had in mind when he said he wanted to take his time.
Phil came in to the bedroom exactly when he said he would, which was exactly what Clint expected. Clint waited while he went through his evening routine, picking up the book he was reading, a history of WWII that Steve had recommended, then putting it back down again when he couldn't concentrate. He wasn't really in the mood for reading about how many Russians had starved to death during the war. He'd heard enough about that from Nat on a particularly unpleasant stint in a prison cell in Minsk.
He pushed that thought away when Phil came back out and sat down on the bed next to him. "Looked like you had a nice nap," he said, ruffling Clint's hair playfully.
"Are you saying you watched me while I was sleeping?" Clint teased. "Did you stand over me while I was unconscious?"
"I did," Phil said fondly. "I like watching you sleep. I like that I can walk over to you and stand there, even touch you, and you'll just keep sleeping, because you know it's me."
"Of course I do," Clint said, resting his chin on Phil's shoulder. "I always know it's you." That's how I know it's safe, he thought. He didn't need to say it; Phil already knew.
Phil put his arm around Clint, his hand warm and comforting through Clint's t-shirt. He kissed Clint's cheek. "I love you," he said quietly. "You're amazing; you were especially amazing today."
"You're pretty damned amazing yourself," Clint said, nuzzling behind Phil's ear.
Phil moved his hand to Clint's right shoulder, his thumb and fingers finding the exact spot where Clint had been tight all day. "I saw Jamie in the hall today, and he said you haven't been to see him in a few months," he said.
Jamie was the least offensive of SHIELD's posse of massage therapists. He had strong hands, and he didn't play stupid New Age music or use lavender-scented oils. Clint still didn't like going to him, even though he was supposed to, thanks to all the injuries he'd sustained over the years.
"Don't like anyone else's hands on me," he said. "You do a better job."
"I know you don't like it," Phil said. He reached into the nightstand and took out the massage oil. "I'm only better because you don't spend the entire time tensing up when it's me."
"That's not the only reason," Clint said. "You ever want to change careers, you'd be set. Are you forgetting how the one professor who wasn't a criminal said you were the best student she'd ever had?"
He and Phil had both studied massage for an undercover op at a corrupt community college, which wasn't even close to the weirdest undercover op they'd ever done. Clint ended up sidelined by a broken hand, so Phil had stepped in to the role of a student. He'd gotten the highest grades in his classes, and he'd caught the department chair who'd been running a complicated drug- and human-trafficking ring as well. Phil didn't give Clint massages very often, but when he did, they were fantastic.
"I don't like putting my hands on anyone else," Phil said, smiling. "I didn't particularly enjoy having to practice on all the other students. You, though…." He paused, watching appreciatively as Clint stripped. "You, I like touching. And seeing. Christ, your body."
"It's all yours," Clint said honestly.
"I'm a lucky man," Phil murmured, kissing his shoulder. "Get the towels?"
"Sure," Clint said. Phil hated it when they got massage oil on the bedspread. He grabbed a couple of towels out of the bathroom and spread them over the bed, aware that Phil was still watching. Phil knelt at the head of the bed. Clint lay down on his back, resting his head on Phil's thighs.
Phil's strong fingers worked through Clint's hair, massaging his scalp, then moved to his forehead, the bridge of his nose, the line of his jaw. Clint sighed in pleasure when Phil worked on the back of his neck. When he got to Clint's right shoulder, Clint, normally completely silent, actually moaned out loud.
"Knew you would need this when I saw you shooting the other way," Phil said softly, bending down to kiss his forehead.
"Thanks," Clint mumbled, feeling the knots in his shoulder release.
After he'd finished with Clint's shoulders, Phil gently put a pillow under Clint's head and worked his way around the rest of his body, hands, arms, feet, legs, chest, everywhere he could reach. Eventually he asked Clint to turn over and worked on his back, his calves, his thighs, his ass. Clint lost track of anything other than the feel of Phil's hands on his body, strong and capable and knowing. He let everything go.
Phil's touches gradually changed from firm to light, from massaging to caressing. He kissed the back of Clint's neck and mouthed his way down Clint's spine. His hands were moving up the back of Clint's thighs as his lips moved down. Clint spread his legs, giving him room. He prepped Clint slowly, his fingers even more sure and practiced at that than they were at massage, then urged Clint up on his knees. Phil fucked him with long, steady, perfect strokes, murmuring endearments and encouragement in his ear, until Clint was panting and shaking, barely able to hold himself up, until Phil reached around and fisted his cock with a few more long, steady, perfect strokes. That was all it took before Clint was coming, Phil crying out and following him a minute later. Clint collapsed onto the bed, boneless and sated, and Phil collapsed right on top of him, pressing more kisses into his neck.
Clint was half-asleep before Phil even finished cleaning them up; he barely registered it when Phil got back into bed and pulled him close. They both woke with a start some time later when JARVIS said, "Agents, I'm sorry to disturb you."
"What is it, JARVIS?" Phil asked, sitting up. Clint flicked the light on, blinking and rubbing his eyes.
"There's a situation at headquarters, sir. It's Sergeant Barnes."
"What's the situation?" Clint asked. He got out of bed and started getting clothing out of the dresser for both of them.
"It appears he had a nightmare, and he's been agitated since he woke up. I believe he's been crying."
"Show us, please," Phil said.
JARVIS put the feed from Bucky's cell up on the monitor. He was wearing nothing but a pair of sweat pants, and he was pacing, muttering something Clint couldn't quite hear. "JARVIS, can you turn up the volume?" he asked.
"Of course, sir," JARVIS answered.
Bucky was swearing under his breath, "fuck," and "God damn it," with an occasional "I can't fucking do this." His eyes were red, his lashes wet, and he looked different than Clint had ever seen him--not like a cold, hard, angry assassin, but distressed. Upset. Human.
"JARVIS, who's the agent in charge right now?" Phil asked, pulling on his boxers and t-shirt.
"Agent Ruiz, sir."
"Put me through to him, please," Phil said, going into the closet to get a clean suit.
Clint kept watching the security feed, getting more and more concerned. "Phil, I have a bad feeling about this," he said, just as the agent in charge came on the line. He glanced at the clock--it was just before two.
"Agent Coulson?" a voice said, sounding very nervous. "This is Agent Wolkowski; Agent Ruiz got called away; his wife is in labor."
"Wolkowski, are you monitoring the situation with Barnes?" Phil asked, coming out of the closet, buttoning his shirt. Clint handed him his sidearm and ID.
"I am, sir," Wolkowski said. "He appears to be pacing in his cell."
"Yes, I can see that," Phil said dryly. "Have you tried talking to him?"
"No, sir," Wolkowski replied. "I'm not authorized for that; should I wake Agent Sitwell?"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Clint asked, pulling on his SHIELD uniform and stuffing his feet into his boots. "Ruiz left you in charge, but you're not authorized to talk to Barnes?"
"Who is that, sir?" Wolkowski asked, sounding even more nervous.
"Agent Barton and I will be coming to headquarters shortly," Phil said smoothly. "Please wake Agent Sitwell immediately."
Clint stared at the screen. Bucky had stopped pacing, stopped saying anything. He was standing in the center of his cell, staring at his metal arm. "Fuck this," he muttered. "Can't fucking do this anymore."
"Hit the kill switch on his arm," Clint said loudly as he realized what Bucky was thinking about. "Do it now!"
"What?" Wolkowski said. "Who is that?"
"Do it," Phil barked. "That's an order, Wolkowski."
Clint watched anxiously as Bucky raised his metal arm and flexed his fingers. When he decided to move, he moved quickly; his hand was no more than half an inch from his neck when it froze in place.
"Holy shit," Wolkowski said.
Bucky sank to the ground, his face in the hand he had control over, muffling an anguished moan.
"Jesus," Clint said. He could be faking. Nat certainly could have faked emotion like that, but Clint couldn't help believing Bucky was honestly tormented by whatever was going on in his head. He grabbed his gun and ID, not taking his eye off the screen.
"Get everything out of there he could possibly use to harm himself," Phil ordered, tying his tie. He grabbed an earpiece for himself and handed one to Clint.
"I should gas him before I go in there, right, sir?" Wolkowski asked nervously.
"No fucking way," Clint said. "Take extra guards in there if you need to, but you will not gas him unless you absolutely have to." This was a huge opportunity, and he wasn't going to waste it.
"Do as Agent Barton says," Phil said. "We're on our way. JARVIS, please keep the comm link open and the video feed on our phones. We'll need a driver downstairs."
"Mr. Hogan is waiting for you already, sir," JARVIS said. "He just brought Mr. Stark and Ms. Potts home. Should I wake Captain Rogers?"
"Let's hold off on that for now," Clint said, glancing at Phil, who nodded in agreement. He had a feeling that seeing Steve would put Bucky even further over the edge, and if Steve knew what was going on, he'd insist on seeing Bucky. "Let him sleep; we'll let you know if we need him."
"Should I call Dr. Solomon? Or Agent Hill?" Wolkowski asked when they were stepping out of the building and getting into the limo.
"No," Clint said firmly. "They don't need to know about this yet. Wolkowski, patch me through to the cell."
"Are you sure that's a good idea, sir?" Wolkowski said.
"If you question one more of Agent Barton's orders, I'll see that you never serve any municipal, state, or federal agency in any capacity whatsoever. You'll be lucky to get a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Is that clear, Agent Wolkowski?" Phil said pleasantly.
"Yes sir," Wolkowski said, his voice high and thready. "Of course, sir. Agent Barton, patching you through now."
Clint couldn't hear anything except Bucky's harsh breathing, and he was still slumped on the floor, his hand covering his face. Clint took a deep breath, and Phil squeezed his hand encouragingly.
"Hey, Barnes, can you hear me?" he asked softly.
Bucky lifted his head. His eyes were wet, and there was a very fine tremor in his fingers; probably no one else would have seen it. "Barton, why won't you leave me the fuck alone?" he said. Clint could tell he was trying to sound tough, but there was a vulnerability in his voice he'd never heard before. Every instinct he had was telling him this was real, even as his brain insisted it could be an act.
"Can't do that, sorry," Clint answered. "Coulson and I are on our way. In a minute, some agents are going to come in and clean out your cell."
"Fuck this shit," Bucky muttered, but he stayed still and quiet as the agents came in and took out the television, the books, the spare clothes, the shoes, the sheets, and everything else except for the bare mattress. They even made him take off his sweat pants, leaving him in a pair of boxer briefs.
Clint suppressed a sigh. The cell looked horrible, and so did Bucky, stripped down and weak, his arm frozen in front of him. He wasn't weak, of course. He could probably rip into his carotid with his human fingers. They still had the knockout gas to use if they had to; Clint hoped they wouldn't have to.
"I'm sorry about this," Clint said, because he was. He'd been stuck in enough cells like that to know how they felt. At least they'd left Bucky his underwear. "We'll be there soon."
"What the fuck do I care if you're here?" Bucky said, but the fact that he was still talking to Clint gave him hope. He could have easily curled up in the corner and gone silent again, but he hadn't.
"I'm hurt that you're not looking forward to my scintillating conversation," he said, hoping he was using the word right. Thanks to Phil, he'd put a real effort into all the things he'd never learned as a kid, including vocabulary, but he still felt weird using ten dollar words.
Bucky snorted, and Clint's shoulders relaxed a bit. "Better you than the shrinks," Bucky muttered.
"I won't be able to keep Solomon out forever, but it'll be hours before she's awake," Clint said.
Bucky stiffened suddenly. "Where's Steve?" he asked.
Phil's eyebrows went up at that. "He's asleep," Clint answered carefully. "I can have JARVIS wake him up, though; he could be there--"
"No," Bucky said forcefully. "I don't want him here."
"Bucky, I can't keep him from coming once he wakes up," Clint said, looking at Phil and hoping he was playing this right. "You know how he is." Phil nodded and squeezed his hand again.
"I don't want to see him," Bucky replied, and Clint felt his own eyebrows going up towards his hairline. That was the first time Bucky hadn't vehemently protested the use of his nickname. "Please, Barton. Keep him away from me. I'll do whatever you want, just keep him away from me."
"I'll do what I can, but I can't make any promises," Clint said, keeping his voice calm despite the desperation he heard in Bucky's. They were pulling up to headquarters. "Bucky, we're at SHIELD, but it's going to take a few minutes for me to get down there. We're gonna lose communication when I get out of the car, just for a minute."
"Okay," Bucky said, nodding once. His metal arm was still frozen, hand nearly at his throat.
As soon as they got out and lost the connection from JARVIS, Clint turned to Phil. "You think he's playing us?"
"Hard to tell for sure," Phil answered. "The suicide attempt certainly seemed sincere, although he'd know we'd cut power to his arm. What's your plan?"
"Kinda making it up as I go along," Clint admitted. "You got any suggestions?"
"I might," Phil said. "I'll have to go get something from Fury's office. I think you're doing fine."
"Go," Clint said. "I can use any help I can get."
"Just keep him talking," Phil said.
"Thanks for backing me up," Clint said, leaning into Phil for just a moment.
"I trust your instincts," Phil said, squeezing his shoulder. "I always have. I'll see you in a few minutes; I'll be listening in once we get inside."
Clint walked in to headquarters and waited for his earpiece and phone to connect to the building's encrypted wireless. He got through to Wolkowski and hooked back in to Bucky's cell. "Hey, it's Clint. We're in the building now," he said, looking at the feed on his phone.
"So we're on a first-name basis now?" Bucky asked, obviously trying for sardonic but missing it by quite a bit. Clint wondered if he should call Nat in, if she'd have a better read on Bucky than he did, but his gut insisted he needed to keep her and Steve as far away from this as he could.
"Sure," Clint said easily. "Why not?" He got in the elevator to head down to the detention level.
"We're not friends, Barton," Bucky said.
"We could be," Clint answered. "We certainly have friends in common." He winced as soon as he said it; that could have been a big mistake. He got off the elevator and flashed his ID at the agent waiting there.
Bucky didn't say anything. He was looking at his arm again. Clint started running towards the wing Bucky was kept in. "How're you doing in there?" he asked, careful to keep his voice even.
"Just terrific, thanks," Bucky said bitterly.
Clint didn't like the way he was staring at his arm. "Talk to me, Bucky," he said, doing his best Coulson. He had to stop at a checkpoint to show his ID again.
"And say what, exactly?" Bucky said. At least he was talking, and he still hadn't protested the "Bucky."
"Whatever you want," Clint said, stopping again. This one was a retinal scan, which made him twitchy, but less so than it would have a year ago.
"You think you can get this thing out of my face?" Bucky asked after a moment. He sounded tired, defeated, but he wasn't staring at his hand so intensely any more.
"Maybe," Clint said. It might be a mistake to let him have control again, but maybe they could give him just enough time to lower his arm and then use the kill switch again.
He rounded the last corner and saw a young, nervous-looking blond guy standing in front of the monitors with a few other junior agents. Fucking night shift. "Bucky, I'm here," he said. "I have to talk to Agent Wolkowski for a minute, but I'll be in to see you right after."
He nodded, and Wolkowski cut the connection to Bucky's cell, although Clint could still see him on the monitor. "Report, Agent Wolkowski," he said.
"Agent Sitwell's on his way, sir," he said. "He said not to wake the Director or Agent Hill."
"No, we don't need them down here at the moment," Clint said. "How much control of Barnes' prosthetic do we have?"
"Uh, complete?" Wolkowski said uncertainly. "I mean, we have the kill switch…"
"Not what I meant, Agent," Clint said, suppressing a sigh. "Can we move it, or do we need to give him control for that to happen?"
"Move it? I'm not sure," Wolkowski said, looking at the computer.
Shit, where was Tony when you needed him?
Wait. He didn't need Tony. "JARVIS?" Clint said.
"Yes, Agent Barton?" JARVIS answered, and Wolkowski practically jumped out of his skin. He wasn't going to last long, not unless he grew some balls really fucking quickly.
"Can we move Bucky's arm or not?" he asked, knowing JARVIS would have monitored everything he'd said to that point.
"Of course. Where would you like it moved?" JARVIS asked.
"Just to his side," Clint answered. "Don't do it yet--I don't want to spook him. Wait until I get in there and give you the signal, okay?"
"Wolkowski, I'm going in to talk to Barnes. Keep an eye on things, but don't hit the gas unless either Coulson or I give you the word, understand?" Clint said, meeting Wolkowski's eyes.
"Is Agent Coulson coming?" Wolkowski asked, practically shaking in his boots.
Clint nodded. "He had to pick something up on the executive level, but he should be here soon." He put his hand on Wolkowski's arm. "Just listen to him, Wolkowski. If you listen to him and do what he says, we'll all be fine. He's the best there is."
"Yes, sir," Wolkowski said, squaring his shoulders, visibly bringing himself under control. "Listen to Agent Coulson. And to you. What's the word?"
"Budapest," Clint said.
"Budapest," Wolkowski repeated with a nod. "Agent Barton, are you clear on the possible effects of the gas, you know, if we need to use it?"
"I am," Clint answered firmly. The Red Room had given Bucky some cobbled-together version of the serum, similar to the one Nat had gotten. They both metabolized drugs more quickly than normal, although not quite as quickly as Steve did. The dose they'd have to use to knock Bucky out could kill Clint if he couldn't get his mask on in time. "That's why I'm going to trust you not to use it unless you have to."
"I'll have the medics on stand-by, sir," Wolkowski said, nodding to one of the other juniors to contact them. "And I'll patch Agent Coulson through when he arrives."
"Good," Clint said. He grabbed a gas mask and shoved it in his pocket, dumped his gun, his phone, and his ID on the table, and gestured to the guards to let him in.
"Hey, it's just me," he said when he came in. Bucky looked up from his crouch on the floor, but he didn't say anything. His eyes were even more bloodshot up close, and the scars around his prosthesis were angry-looking despite being decades old. Clint sat down a couple of feet from him, stretching his legs out in front of him and making sure they could both see the door.
"I think I can help you with your arm," he said after a moment of silence. "I can't give you back control, not yet, but we can move it down to your side, if that would help."
Bucky nodded once. "Yeah," he said gruffly.
"JARVIS, could you please move Bucky's arm down to his side now?" Clint asked.
"Certainly, sir," JARVIS answered, and Bucky tensed.
"Who the fuck is that?" he asked, scowling as his metal hand and arm relaxed and moved smoothly down to his side before freezing in place again.
"Sorry, I forgot you didn't know JARVIS," Clint said. "He's an AI Stark built. He's kind of everywhere Tony's ever been, which can come in handy. Fury keeps trying to get him out of the SHIELD systems, but it never works."
"Tony Stark built an AI that infiltrated SHIELD?" Bucky said, his eyebrows raised. "There are a lot of people who would like to get their hands on that kind of technology."
"They're welcome to try, Sergeant Barnes," JARVIS said. "No one has been successful thus far."
"That's just creepy," Bucky said, staring at the speaker in the ceiling.
Clint shrugged. "You get used to it. Like I said, JARVIS comes in handy. Thanks, by the way," he said, looking up at the nearest camera.
"You're quite welcome, Agent Barton. Agent Coulson has asked me to inform you that he is two minutes out. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"No, we're good here," Clint answered. He knew JARVIS would let them know when Steve woke up, or if Nat decided to pay them a visit.
"Has that thing been listening in all this time?" Bucky asked.
"Not really," Clint said. "He has access to the feed, but he has a privacy filter. We keep that engaged with all conversations at SHIELD unless there's something specific we think he needs to know. He pays attention to anything going on with the team, and there are certain key words or actions that he'll pick up on. That's how he knew to let me and Phil know what was going on with you tonight."
"It was the AI that did that?" Bucky asked. "Not one of the agents outside?"
"JARVIS is pretty damned smart," Clint said, keeping his opinions of the agents outside to himself, especially since he knew they were watching on the monitors. "He was concerned about you, so he woke us up. Not Steve or Natasha, just me and Coulson," he added pointedly.
"I woulda preferred if he hadn't woken anyone up," Bucky muttered, glancing up at the camera.
"I'm here," Phil's voice said in Clint's ear. "I have his clothes and Fury's whiskey, plus some coffee. Ask if it's okay if I come in."
"Phil's here," Clint said, going on instinct. "Can you promise me not to try anything stupid if we give you your clothes back?"
"You'd be a fool to believe anything I say," Bucky replied, his eyes narrowing, "but sure, I promise not to try anything stupid."
Clint shrugged. "Gotta start somewhere. Come on in, Phil."
The door opened a moment later. Phil was carrying two Styrofoam coffee cups in one hand, a third cup and a bottle of whiskey in the other, and a pair of jeans and a t-shirt were draped over his forearm. He handled it all as effortlessly as everything else he ever did.
Clint stood and took two of the cups and the whiskey. Phil gave the clothes and the third cup to Bucky, then sat down, looking perfectly comfortable and put together on the floor of the cell in his suit. Clint poured some whiskey into both their cups, then handed the bottle to Bucky when he'd finished getting dressed.
"You know I could kill you with this," Bucky said, sounding a little bewildered.
Clint shrugged again. "Phil could kill you with his coffee cup. Doesn't mean he's going to."
"Clint and I both have two functioning arms," Phil said mildly as Clint sat down next to him, close enough that their shoulders were touching. "I give us even odds. Besides, as he said, we've got to start somewhere."
"Start what, exactly?" Bucky asked, looking from Clint to Phil and back again.
"Building back a level of trust," Phil answered. He deliberately took a generous swallow of his coffee.
Clint did the same. "Shit, that's good," he said. "Tony finally got them to agree to install one of his coffee-makers in the break room, didn't he?" He took another drink. The whiskey made it even better than usual.
Phil nodded. "Agent Hill okayed it last week. It seems she got used to it at board meetings." He took another swallow, a smaller one. "I'll have to remember to replace the Director's whiskey. Can you get drunk, Bucky?"
"Not really," Bucky answered, still trying to figure out what Phil was up to. Clint wasn't completely sure himself, so he couldn't blame the guy. "Can get a little fuzzy, though, if I drink enough." He poured a hefty amount of whiskey into his cup and took a drink.
"That's more than Steve can do," Clint said, feeling Phil relax a little and lean into him. He switched his coffee cup to his other hand so that he could put his left on the small of Phil's back. Phil smiled at him--not a big smile, but a genuine one--and Clint smiled back, just as genuine. Phil wanted Bucky to see them unguarded. He could work with that. "Doesn't get any effects from caffeine, either, but he loves Tony's coffee."
"It's good coffee," Bucky acknowledged, pointedly ignoring the references to Steve. "The whiskey's not half bad either. Haven't had a lot of either these past few years." By which Clint figured he meant the last several decades; he knew Nat's preferences for tea and vodka came from her Russian masters. According to Nat, Lukin didn't drink anything other than water or juice.
"I can't give you back control of your arm yet or bring most of your belongings in, but is there anything else I can do to make you more comfortable?" Phil asked.
Bucky shook his head.
"All right. I'll leave you two to talk, then," he said. "I'll be right outside if you need me." He touched Clint's face and smiled at him again.
"What the fuck was that all about?" Bucky asked when Phil was gone.
"That was my husband, Phil," Clint said, looking at Bucky seriously. "Not many people get to meet him; most of the people here tonight don't even know his first name. It's a big fucking deal, seeing him like that, especially with junior agents watching. If you betray the trust he just put in you, he's not the one you're going to have to worry about, because I will rip you to shreds before anyone else gets the chance."
"Relax, pal," Bucky said, holding his hand up. "I won't tell anyone Agent Coulson's got a first name and a nice smile." He polished off his coffee and filled the cup with straight whiskey, then took a few gulps of that. He wiped off his mouth with his hand and looked at Clint.
"You ready to tell me what's going on?" Clint asked after a moment.
"Why should I tell you anything?" Bucky responded, scowling.
"You said you'd do anything I wanted if I didn't wake Steve," Clint said, keeping his voice even. "I want to know what's going on."
Bucky looked at him, his expression cold. "You shouldn't believe anything I say."
"So lie to me about what happened, if you want," Clint said, leaning back and putting his weight on his hands. "I can't stop you. I know you're going to lie to Solomon."
"Solomon's an idiot."
"She's the best of the shrinks, but she's still a shrink," Clint acknowledged.
"So I'm supposed to talk to you instead, huh?" Bucky asked. "You gonna ask me about my dreams, Clint?"
"No," Clint said, tilting his head and studying Bucky's face. "I don't need to. Your dream was about Steve."
Clint might not have caught the tiny flash of anguish on Bucky's face if he hadn't been practicing reading Nat and Phil for years. "Steve's had nightmares about when you fell off the side of that train ever since it happened," he continued. "He blames himself. I thought maybe it would get better once we found you, but now he's barely sleeping at all."
"It wasn't his fault," Bucky said; it sounded just like Steve when he was talking about the Soldier's long list of kills. "He needs to forget about me. The guy he loved doesn't exist anymore; I keep telling you people that."
"And I keep telling you that's bullshit," Clint said, his voice matter-of-fact. "The guy he loves is sitting right next to me."
"Then I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree," Bucky said, looking down. His eyes were still red, and there was still that fine tremor in his hand. He drank down what was in his cup in long swallows and then looked at the bottle.
"Go ahead," Clint said, nodding at him. "Might as well get what buzz you can."
"You said it, pal," Bucky said, and tipped the bottle up to his mouth. He didn't stop swallowing until it was empty. If he hadn't been enhanced, Clint would have been worried about alcohol poisoning; Fury didn't mess around when it came to liquor.
Bucky let out a satisfied belch, then leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Clint took another sip of his coffee and watched him.
"I've dismissed the junior agents," Phil said in his ear. "It's just me and Sitwell. Hill's on her way." Clint glanced at the camera in acknowledgement.
"You're the only one alive who knew Steve before the serum," Clint said after a minute of silence.
Bucky nodded, his eyes still closed.
"What was he like?"
"Short, skinny, and asthmatic," Bucky said; it sounded like he was quoting someone. Quoting Steve, Clint realized. Bucky's eyes were still closed. "Still the same old punk, though. Standing up for what was right, sticking his nose in where it didn't belong, always getting himself into trouble. Back then, he didn't do such a good job of getting himself out of it."
"He had you for that," Clint said quietly.
Bucky frowned, but he didn't deny it.
Clint fought the urge to close his own eyes. He was tired, and he was out of ideas.
"Talk to him about Steve visiting Morita," Phil said. Clint looked up at the camera; he didn't smile, but he knew Phil would see it anyway.
"Did Steve tell you about where he went the summer after he was thawed?" he asked Bucky.
Bucky opened his eyes and shrugged. "I tune him out." Clint knew he was lying.
"He went to see everyone from the Commandos, or their graves, really," he said. "He started with Peggy's family in England, then went on to Falsworth's grave, then to France and Italy." Bucky's eye twitched at that. "Then he came back to the US, visited Howard's grave, and Dugan's, and Gabe's. His last stop was out in Fresno."
"Morita?" Bucky asked, like he couldn't help himself.
"Yeah. He was still alive then, at ninety-three. He died this spring, but last year, when Steve was there, he was still alive." Clint took another sip of coffee. "Steve told him about the two of you. He said they drank a toast and told stories."
"He told Jim we were queer for each other?" Bucky said, sitting upright, eyes wide.
Clint stayed still, kept his voice easy. The guy he was talking to had died in 1944 and come back into a new century, just like Steve had. "Morita's granddaughter's a lesbian. Steve figured it would be okay, and it was. I think Steve felt better once he told him."
"Bully for Steve," Bucky said sardonically. "I guess he told everyone in the world about us so he'd feel better, too."
"Like you said, Steve stands up for what's right, even when it gets him into trouble," Clint replied, forcing his shoulders to stay loose. He drained the rest of his coffee, wishing he had some more, without the whiskey.
"You and he seem awful close," Bucky said, looking at him sidelong.
"We are," Clint agreed, nodding. He looked at his coffee cup again.
"I'm coming in with more coffee," Phil said in his ear, and Clint grinned.
"What?" Bucky said, frowning.
"Here," Phil said as he came in, handing a cup to Clint. "I have another for you if you want it, Bucky."
"Sure, why not," Bucky said, taking the cup.
"I'll take that," Phil said, picking up the empty whiskey bottle.
"Best thing I ever did," Clint said, knowing Phil would understand.
"Yep," Phil said, crouching down to kiss him. "I'll be outside." He stood up again, his hand still on Clint's cheek.
Clint looked at Phil, trying as hard as he could to keep from showing how shocked he was. Phil had never kissed him in front of anyone when he was working, not even the team. It wasn't just about being a little unguarded; Phil thought it was important to play up their relationship, important enough to kiss him in front of Sitwell.
"Thanks, babe," Clint said, reaching up to touch his face, and Phil's eyes crinkled.
"Any time," Phil said quietly. Clint watched him as he left the room.
When he turned back to Bucky, he saw that Bucky was studying him thoughtfully. Probably planning something. Clint tapped one finger of his right hand against the mattress where Bucky couldn't see. "Yeah," Phil's voice said in his ear. "Go ahead."
"You have something on your mind, Bucky?" Clint said, meeting Bucky's eyes.
Bucky shrugged. "I don't see it," he said.
"See what?" Clint asked, allowing a little impatience into his voice.
"I get why he's with you," Bucky said, smirking. "Anyone would get that once they got a look at your ass in those pants. But what the hell do you see in him? He's old, he's balding, and he doesn't ever do anything but stand in the background. Oh, and give you things when you need them; maybe that's why you're with him."
Was Clint supposed to fall for the obvious attempt to piss him off? It did piss him off a little, because people were always underestimating Phil, even if appearing as an unassuming suit was part of his thing. But he was an unassuming suit who could take you out with a paperclip, and he knew Bucky could tell. Or at least the Winter Soldier could.
He settled for a cool, "If you can't see it, you're not looking very closely."
"Perfect," Phil murmured into his ear. "Wait for it."
Clint worked very hard to not roll his eyes, because he did not, in fact, know exactly what game they were playing here. He waited.
"But why would you go for the g-man when you could have someone like Cap?" Bucky said. "That would make a pretty picture, the two of you. Your ass is almost as good as his."
Clint let himself scowl at Bucky. "Steve's like a brother to me, asshole."
"Well, Coulson seems like your dad," Bucky said, smirking.
Clint took a breath, clenching his fists. "Easy," Phil said, because he could tell that Bucky was actually getting to him a little.
"You know what else I'd like to see?" Bucky asked, scooting closer. "That ass of yours, up close and personal. You've got to be bored with the balding guy in the suit. You and I, we could have some fun. I understand we have Natasha in common; maybe she could join us." He reached out and ran a finger over Clint's bicep.
Clint flinched and moved away. "What the fuck, Bucky?" he said.
Bucky moved closer again, this time putting his hand on Clint's chest. "Come on, Clint, live a little. Your boring husband can watch if he wants; we'd put on a good show for him. Maybe Rogers can watch, too."
Clint heard Phil take a deep breath and let it out. He stayed where he was. "I love my husband," he said tightly. "Steve loves you. I don't know what the fuck you're playing at…." He trailed off, because all of a sudden he did know.
"I'm not playing at anything; I just want to have some fun," Bucky said, a little bit of a whine in his voice, his hand moving possessively over Clint's chest.
"It's not going to work," Clint said, making sure the certainty he felt came through in his voice. "You're not going to piss us all off so much we'll stop trying to help you."
Panic flashed over Bucky's face for a fraction of a second, just like it had when they'd first captured him, when Steve had touched his cheek. Then he went cold and hard and grabbed Clint by the throat, pushing him onto the floor and knocking Bucky's coffee cup over in the process. "How about if I just kill you then?" he asked, his voice as cold as his expression.
"Clint," Phil said urgently.
"We're good here," Clint said calmly, although his heart was beating out of his chest. He could feel the coffee soaking into his pants. "Bucky's not going to hurt me." Bucky had his throat in a painfully tight grip, but it wasn't quite tight enough to keep him from breathing, and his fingers weren't on any major blood vessels.
"Oh, really?" Bucky asked, his voice nearly as calm as Clint's. "Why the hell not?"
"I can think of a few reasons," Clint replied. "First, I don't believe you want to. Second, you're not going to achieve your objective."
"My objective is killing you, plain and simple," Bucky said.
"No, it's not," Clint said firmly. "You want to do something unforgiveable, so Steve will give up on you, but it won't work. If you kill me, Steve will forgive you. He'll still love you."
"He doesn't love me," Bucky said flatly.
Clint ignored him. "Third, even though Steve will forgive you, Phil won't. He'll kill you. Fast, because he cares about Steve. That's probably okay as far as you're concerned; it's not your primary objective, but it's an acceptable outcome. But then there's Nat, reason four. She'd kill you, too, but she'll take her time with it, and Phil might just let her. I think you know what she's capable of." He paused for a moment. Bucky continued to look at him, but his eyes weren't as cold, and Clint could feel the fine tremor come back into his hand.
"Clint," Phil said again. "Be careful, please."
He cut his eyes to the camera and tried to look like he was in control. "Of course, maybe that's another win for you," he said to Bucky. "The punishment you feel you deserve, after everything you've done. So we'll call the last couple a draw. Fifth, the second I say the word or Phil gets concerned," more concerned, he thought, "they'll gas the room. I don't recommend that; I think you know how unpleasant an experience it can be."
A line appeared between Bucky's eyes. He may have had some version of the serum, but he'd vomited for hours after they'd gassed him the first week he was there.
"If they use the gas, I'm not going to be too happy either. What it'll take to bring you down might end up killing me, which brings us back to the other reasons." Clint continued looking calmly at Bucky. "Not convinced yet, huh?" he asked.
Bucky scowled, and the hand that had started to relax a tiny bit tightened up again.
"Then there's the last reason. What are we up to, six?" Clint asked, and Bucky's chin dipped. "Okay, the sixth reason is that if you kill me now, I can't tell you about what happened last year."
"This isn't A Thousand and One Nights, Barton," Bucky said, his grip loosening again. "Even with that gorgeous ass, you're no Scheherazade."
"Fair enough," Clint said, swallowing carefully. "Even so, if you let me tell you the story, I'd appreciate it. I promise it won't take until sunrise. And if you still want to kill me when I'm done, you're welcome to try."
"What makes you think I give a fuck about what happened to you last year?" Bucky scoffed.
"Let's just say I think it could help you understand your situation," Clint said. "We have more in common than you might think."
He could hear Phil breathing, slow and controlled. "Easy," he murmured. "You're doing great, Clint."
"We're both snipers, we've both fucked Natasha, and we're both queer," Bucky said harshly. "Other than that, I don't think we have a damned thing in common." His fingers tightened again, and Clint had to fight the urge to react.
"See, that's why I need to tell you about last year," Clint said after a moment to breathe. "Do you know much about the Chitauri invasion?"
"I know what I need to know," Bucky sneered. "You Avengers saved the world."
"Eventually, and by the skin of our teeth," Clint acknowledged. "But before that, I was working for the other side for a couple days. And not because I wanted to."
When Bucky just looked at him without saying anything, Clint went on. "See, Loki had this spear." Clint had to swallow again, and he looked up at the camera.
"It's okay, Clint," Phil said. "I'm okay. It wasn't your fault."
Clint looked down. He took a slow breath and let it out before he looked up at Bucky again. Bucky's grip loosened; he could probably get out of it, but he stayed where he was. "Loki had this spear," he said. "He told me I had heart, and he put the tip of his spear on my chest, and from that point on, until Nat managed to break me out of it, I was under his control."
He knew his voice had gotten shaky, but he didn't fight it. Bucky met his eyes, his expression smoothing out into something that wasn't quite concern, but definitely wasn't anger, feigned or real.
"I killed dozens of people. I led the attack on SHIELD's main force. I helped Loki in any way I could. Phil…." He shook his head as much as he could with Bucky's hand on him.
"I'm here, Clint," Phil said. "I'm okay."
"Phil went up against Loki. He figured it was a suicide mission, but it needed to be done, and I was…I was lost to him. Loki stabbed him through the chest from behind. We thought he was dead. The Director told us he was dead." Clint squeezed his eyes shut. "He was dead, and it was my fault."
"It wasn't your fault," Phil said softly. "It was Loki."
"But he didn't die," Bucky said. His hand was resting on Clint's neck, no longer gripping it.
"No," Clint said, and looked up at the camera again, giving Phil a smile that was only a little watery. "He didn't. Neither did Fury or Hill, and it turned out that was because of me. I hit the director in the chest, where he was wearing armor, instead of taking a head shot, and I missed when I shot at Hill."
"You don't strike me as the type to miss," Bucky said, his brow wrinkling, puzzled.
"That's because I don't," Clint said, his shoulders loosening. "You don't either, generally. That's how I knew you missed on purpose when you shot at Steve."
"Not that again," Bucky said, dropping his hand and waving it around. "I told you, it was the crosswinds."
"Okay, fine, it was the crosswinds," Clint said, sitting up and rolling his neck. "Whatever. I'm not done with the story yet."
"I get it, asshole," Bucky said. "You were compromised, you killed people, you feel guilty about it. You and Natasha both. That doesn't mean you're like me."
"That's not the point," Clint said. "I know I didn't kill as many people as you did, and neither did Nat, and you had your mind wiped off and on for decades, so you win on all of that. I'm sorry it happened to you; I can only imagine how terrible it was, although I can imagine it, thanks to Loki. But that's not the point of what I'm telling you."
"Fine," Bucky said, crossing his arm over his chest. It looked odd with the metal arm frozen at his side. "What's the point, Scheherazade?"
"When I was still under Loki's control, I went up against Natasha. I let her beat me, and when she kicked me in the head, it broke me loose again," Clint said, remembering. "I'd barely recovered from that when Steve came by; it was the first time I'd met him. He asked if Nat knew how to fly the quinjet, and I spoke up and said I could."
Bucky frowned again.
"Steve looked at Nat, and she nodded," Clint said. "That was all Steve needed to see. He told me to suit up and let me fly the team into Manhattan and help with the fight. Despite the fact that he'd just met me. Despite the fact that not an hour before, I'd been working for the other side. Nat nodded, and Steve went with it, and that was that."
"Steve is an idiot," Bucky said, but there was some fondness there.
"After the battle was over, they told me Phil was dead," Clint said, determined to make Bucky understand. "I lost my lunch. Steve came out to check on me after Nat told them all that Phil and I had been together. I told him we were married, hoping it would get him off my back, that he'd be disgusted."
"But he wasn't," Bucky said, a trace of a smile on his face.
Clint shook his head. "He told me about you. He told me he loved you, that he'd lost you, even though he'd only known me for two hours, even though he'd never told a soul except Peggy. Because he saw how I was hurting, he knew exactly how I felt, and he wanted to help. The fact that I'd been the cause of so much destruction and death didn't make a damned bit of difference to him."
He looked up at the camera again, silently apologizing for what he was about to say and how Phil would react. "It made every difference to me, though. If he hadn't been there, I would have done what you've been trying to do all night. I would have thrown myself off the Tower or eaten my gun. But Steve trusted me, and he helped me, and that kept me going until we found out Phil wasn't dead after all."
He heard Phil's breath catch, but he didn't say anything. Clint moved his ring finger, knowing Phil would see.
"So that's the point of the story?" Bucky scoffed. "That Steve is a good guy? I knew that already. It doesn't change anything."
Clint drank some of his coffee to buy some time to think.
"I trust you," Phil said. Clint looked up at the camera again, the corners of his mouth lifting a tiny bit.
"The point of the story is trust," he said, keeping his face open as he turned to face Bucky. "Steve trusted me. So did Nat. You know, when I found Nat, I was supposed to kill her, but I made another call. I trusted her, and Phil trusted my judgment, just like he trusted it a while back, when you had your hand on my throat. All the agents at SHIELD who were there when I was compromised, they were able to get past that and trust me again."
"I told you, it doesn't matter what happened to you," Bucky said, speaking like a grandparent to a small child. "Or to Nat--shit, she was a baby when they got her."
"Let me get this straight," Clint said, pissed off. "Because you were an adult when the Russians captured you and took your fucking brain apart, and because it went on for seventy years, that somehow makes you less deserving of compassion than someone who was mind-controlled by an alien god for a few days? Give me a fucking break."
"We're not talking about compassion, Barton," Bucky snapped. "We're talking about trust. That's your word; that's what you said it was all about."
"They come from the same place, Bucky," Clint said, feeling weary. "Trust and compassion, and love, too. They're all from the same place." It had taken him a long time to understand that, but he hadn't had someone like Steve in his life when he was younger.
"Steve loves you," Clint said, watching Bucky's face. "He always has, and he always will."
He reached out, moving slowly, making sure Bucky could see what he was doing. Bucky was breathing quickly, his eyes wide, but he didn't move away as Clint put his hand on Bucky's shoulder. Bucky's entire body trembled, everything but his metal arm, but he didn't move away. It felt like the time Barney had dared him to pet the tiger.
"I'm sorry about what happened to you," Clint said, speaking quietly and sincerely. "I want to help you."
Bucky stared at him, looking completely terrified, but he didn't move away.
"I know that the guy I've been talking to is worth saving," Clint continued. "I know that because Steve has spent the last year telling me about you, and I trust Steve. I know because Nat saw something in you back when she first met you, and I trust her. I know because I've gotten to know you a little bit myself. I know because you didn't kill me when you had the chance. I know you're not going to, because I trust you."
He squeezed Bucky's shoulder. It loosened just a little bit, and Bucky didn't move away.
"It wasn't your fault," Clint said, keeping his gaze on Bucky's face, his hand on Bucky's shoulder. "None of it was your fault. I know you don't believe me; I know you probably never will, but that's not going to stop me from telling you. It's not going to stop Steve from loving you. Nothing could. Steve trusts you, and he loves you, and nothing you could ever do would change that. I can't make you believe that any more than I can make you believe it wasn't your fault the Red Room made you into an assassin. That doesn't make it any less true."
"He shouldn't," Bucky muttered, clenching his fist and squeezing his eyes shut.
"You don't get to make that choice for him," Clint said, moving his hand to the back of Bucky's neck, massaging gently. "You know Steve. He could have given up after trying to get in to the army once. He could have stayed in the USO and never gone to rescue you and the rest of the 107th."
Bucky opened his eyes again. Clint kept massaging and said, "He could have pursued Peggy and tried to forget how he felt about you. He didn't, because Steve Rogers doesn't do things the easy way. He does the right thing, no matter the cost. He doesn't give up. He won't give up on you."
Bucky's chin went down and his jaw relaxed.
"I won't give up on you either. None of us will," Clint concluded.
"Magnificent," Phil murmured in his ear.
Bucky didn't say anything for a few minutes. Clint left his hand where it was, but he stopped the massage. He could feel Bucky leaning into his hand, could feel the tension leaving his body. He wondered how long it had been since anyone had touched Bucky with anything approaching kindness. How long it had been since Bucky had permitted a touch like that.
Clint could see Bucky trying to muster another argument, but he yawned instead. Clint clenched his jaw to keep from yawning in response, then took another sip of coffee. "You should probably get some sleep," he said to Bucky, squeezing his neck one more time and then removing his hand. "I'll stay here with you if you want, or I can wait outside. Phil and I will make sure no one disturbs you."
"Not even Steve?" Bucky asked, scooting over to the mattress compliantly. Jesus. Clint had no idea how to process the change that had come over him, but he was fiercely determined to protect it. To protect Bucky, who he was convinced was no longer playing any games at all.
"Not until you're ready," Clint promised. "He'll be pissed at me, but he'll trust my judgment."
"Go or stay, I don't care," Bucky said, laying down and covering his face with his forearm.
"Phil, could you lower the lights?" Clint asked. He moved over to the wall and propped his back against it. The room got darker, but Clint could still see Bucky just fine.
"Thanks," Bucky murmured, and then his breathing evened out.
"You're welcome," Clint said quietly. He settled in to watch, to guard.
"Agent Barton," a voice said into his ear. It was Fury. "You don't have to say anything," Fury said when Clint opened his mouth. "I just wanted to let you know that you have impressed me, and I'm not easy to impress."
Clint looked at the camera and nodded.
"Fury and the others left for a few minutes to give us some privacy," Phil said a while later. "Clint…I know how hard that was for you, but you went in there and did it. It scared the hell out of me, but it was beautiful. Christ, if I hadn't already married you I'd propose right now."
"Couldn't have done it without you," Clint murmured. "Wouldn't be here without you."
"Then it's a good thing I'm not going anywhere," Phil said, and Clint could hear the smile in his voice.
He stayed in the cell, guarding Bucky's sleep, until the team got a call to assemble around nine the next morning. He woke Bucky to tell him what was going on, got a promise from Sitwell to keep Solomon out until Bucky agreed to see her, and left the cell to join the team.
"Have you been here all night?" Steve asked when he got into the jet.
"Most of it," he said, yawning.
"Clint, are you okay?" Steve asked. He was frowning at Clint, obviously concerned, and staring at his neck.
"Yeah, I’m fine," Clint said. "Nothing to worry about; I'll tell you when we get back, okay?"
"Okay," Steve agreed reluctantly. "It'll take us a while to get to Norway. Why don't you get some sleep? I'll brief you when we're an hour out."
"Sounds good," Clint said, and closed his eyes.