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The Other Man out of Time

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It’s a mark of just how long that Clint has been palling around in the world of superheroes that it doesn’t even register as strange that he finds himself fighting dinosaurs at ten AM on a Sunday morning. Ever since the hastily cobbled-together team of Avengers defeated Loki and Baron Von Strucker in New York, it's almost become morning routine; get up, put ears in, shower, eat leftover takeout from the night before, read the paper, fight dinosaurs.

Except for how no-one reads the papers these days, Clint is the only one of the team who has to turn his hearing on and it’s not always dinosaurs. Sometimes it’s aliens. Other times it’s just balls-out crazy humans bent on world domination.

“Velociraptors are beelining for the zoo, Cap,” he says over the comms, calmly picking off another pterodactyl from his perch at the top of a tree. It shrieks as the arrow hits it, plummeting towards the Pond and hitting the surface with a huge splash. “The public will have our asses if that baby snow leopard ends up as a snack.”

“Oh hell,” Cap curses. “Anyone free to go over to the zoo? I’m kinda wrapped up here!”

“Sorry, playing tennis with a pretty pissed off allosaur,” Iron Man’s voice says. Through the comm uplink to his hearing aid, Clint hears the blast of repulsors and an unholy roar, just before a crash hopefully signals the end of the beast. “Falcon, you anywhere over there?”

“I am there,” Pietro says, sounding breathless. “Come on boys, time to play chase.”

“Pietro, do not get eaten!” Clint yells as he picks off another pterodactyl. “Steve will make me fill in paperwork if you get eaten!”

“They will never catch me,” Pietro says cheerfully. “They are as slow as you, old man.”

“I changed my mind, they can have you,” Clint says. “Go into the long grass!”

“Oh man, if only Bruce were here,” Tony says, and Clint barely catches the whine of repulsors just before he appears in a flash of gleaming red and gold, knocking the last of the pterodactyls out of the sky. It descends in an oddly graceful spiral, hitting the ground with a sickening thwump. “The Hulk would love triceratops wrestling.”

“I should have maybe left him one,” Wanda says with a smile in her voice that Clint hears with fondness. Ever since he accidentally adopted the Maximoff twins while escaping from the hell that was the Loki-Von Strucker teamup and corresponding fuckery, she’s been like the little sister he never had. And Pietro is like the little brother that he’d happily push out of the back of a moving vehicle. (He’s kidding. He loves Pietro, and even though he’s a shit, he’s not Barney, so that’s something.)

“Do not leave any dinosaurs,” Steve says in Captain voice, and Clint rolls his eyes.

“We were joking, Cap.”

“Joke when the threat is gone,” Steve says, grunting with effort, the sound of the shield hitting something audible even over the comms.

Man, he really needs to lighten up, Clint thinks, and spares a second to miss Nat because she agrees that Steve is way too serious and always indulges Clint with gossiping about the flaws - and sometimes the virtues - of the rest of the team. But no, she’s on the West Coast in charge of half the team, fighting rogue AIM splinter cells, and is probably being far too serious herself.

“The Lake is clear,” Wanda says, all business.

“Nothing left north of the lake,” Sam says. “Just the raptors to take care of.”

“Your long lost relatives, Falcon,” Tony says. “You want to try cawing at them?”

“You wanna try shutting up?” Sam replies good-naturedly. “Thor, how’s the meadow looking?”

“Clear,” Thor adds. “The raptors are the last. Pietro, lead them down towards the Lake.”

“Gladly,” Pietro says. “Be ready!”

Clint is a little disappointed that he doesn’t actually get to see what happens when someone smashes Mjolnir into the face of a sprinting velociraptor, but both Thor and Pietro assure him that it is highly satisfying. Overall, they’ve done a good job. Miraculously no deaths - they have Wanda and Pietro and their civilian clearing skills to thank for that - and only a few injuries. The visitors’ centre is probably a lost cause and the old terrace is probably going to need a hell of a restoration job, but still. No deaths, and the baby snow leopard is okay. Clint is sure to emphasise this to the press who turn up as the clean up job gets underway. He thinks he does a pretty succinct job and he’s like ninety percent sure they didn’t get a picture of him almost falling out of the tree he’d used as a perch, so that’s a plus. He manages about three minutes of public-relations work before Steve turns up to tactfully retrieve him, telling him to ‘stop tormenting the press, Hawkeye, they’ve got photos of you covered in blood and ranting about the baby snow-leopard, can you please just chill.’

By the time he and Steve return to the tower, everyone else is already back. They find them all already de-suited, crowded into Tony’s lab, gathered around something that’s causing quite a stir. Even Pietro is looking, and standing still to boot, so it must be interesting.

Interesting aside, he’s got a point to make first. “And screw you guys for leaving us to walk,” he says loudly as they walk in. Steve must be feeling a similar sentiment because he doesn’t even give him a Look. Either that or he’s too busy brooding about something.

“It’s like a five minute walk,” Tony says without turning around. He’s out of his suit but still wearing a gauntlet, cup of coffee held in metal fingers. “You sat on your ass in that tree for the whole fight anyway, the exercise will do you good.”

“What have you got?” Steve asks in his we-still-have-business-to-attend-to voice, reaching up to pull his helmet off, leaving his hair ruffled. He’s frowning, and Clint is a little disappointed that beating up a T-Rex hasn’t even cheered the man up.

“We figured out where the dinosaurs came from,” Sam says. “Not AIM.”

“Then who made them?”

“No-one, Tony says. “They’re real bona-fide dinosaurs. Thanks to our new friend the Time Stone.”

Everyone starts talking at once. The layers of sound play hell with Clint’s hearing aids, so all he really picks up is Steve cursing. Edging forwards, he sees that the thing everyone is crowding around is a small gem hovering above a circular metal stand, glowing yellow. As he watches it, everything around him seems to move slower, sounds becoming low and distorted. He blinks hard, shaking the effect off.

“So, the Time Stone?” Steve asks slowly, voice rising above everyone else's and bringing a gentle halt to the muttered conversations. “How worried should we be?”

“It can manipulate time as we perceive it,” Thor says. “Move things between times, create portals between moments in time. It can slow down and speed up realities, even stop them altogether. Many have run afoul of playing with time.”

“Yes, the way we perceive time is not how the rest of the universe does,” Wanda says curiously, eyes fixed on the gem. “It can take advantage of that.”

“So this thing obviously picked up our prehistoric friends and brought them in for a playdate,” Tony says. “What we don’t know is why, or if anyone else has been involved.”

“That’s a hell of a thing,” Steve says, sounding somewhere between awed and impressed. He, like Wanda, has his gaze fixed on the slowly revolving stone. “Reckon if I asked nice it’d drop me back off in forty-four so I can stop Bucky getting on that train?”

There’s a collective wince from around the room. Sam rubs at his forehead, probably dejectedly wondering if it’s about time for another effort at getting Steve to go to therapy. It’s a pretty well known fact among the team that Steve has not coped well with the death of Bucky Barnes, still isn’t coping well with the death of Bucky Barnes, even though he’s technically been dead seventy-something years. There was almost a pool going on how long it would take him to crack under the grief and survivor's guilt, but Sam put a stop to it before anyone could raise Natasha’s hundred.

Steve doesn’t even notice the rest of the room hitting a nine point five on the uncomfortable scale, just carries on staring at the gem. Wanda and Pietro both look to Clint for guidance, and he just shrugs expansively, giving them his best approximation of ‘don’t ask me, I don’t know.’

“Get in line,” Tony says lightly after a beat of silence. “If anyone’s time jumping it’s me. I’m going to go back to when I was twenty-three and warn myself that ‘yes that is her sister, don’t do it.’”

“You’d have done it anyway,” Sam remarks with a snort.

Tony makes a show of looking around. “Oh I’m sorry, for a moment you sounded like Rhodey. I thought your job was looking after Captain-Reckless-Calls over there?”

“He put me on Stark-duty before he left,” Sam says. “Though I don’t think paying me in beer is gonna cover it.”

That at least, breaks some of the tension. Thor laughs and Wanda looks up away from the stone, stepping back. Steve is still gazing at it absently though. Pietro grins, nudging Wanda with his elbow. “Pfft, the past. I am going to go to the future,” he announces. “Maybe there things will be quick enough to keep up with me.”

“Then you’ll lose your unique selling point and all that will be left is an average-speed pain in the ass,” Clint says.

“Maybe I will stay then,” Pietro says. “I would not want you to miss my ass.”

Clint sends him a withering look but Pietro just lifts an eyebrow wickedly and then he’s gone; there’s a blur of blue and Clint feels him tear past, knocking him off balance, arms windmilling wildly. He hears Tony yell at Pietro and Steve lunges forwards to catch him, but he’s too late. He’s falling back and time really does seem to slow down in the moment before he feels a bump, and then the whole world goes yellow and gold.

 


 

“Clint! Clint! Can you hear me?!”

Clint feels himself slowly edge back out of the horrid underwater-swimmy edge of unconsciousness, trying to get his arms and legs working. He instinctively reaches for his ears, clumsy fingers bumping at his hearing aids.

“They're still there,” Steve says, voice deep and reassuring. “Both ears are there, Clint.”

“Someone catch Pietro,” he slurs. “I’mma kill him.”

“I’ll do it,” Tony says. “He knows the rule. No running in the lab!”

“Only I get to murder Pietro,” Clint mutters. “Dibs.”

“Are you okay?” Steve’s voice repeats urgently, tipping Clint’s chin up and trying to peer into his eyes, a thumb lifting his eyelid.

“Get off, I’m fine,” Clint says, batting Steve’s hand away sluggishly. “What happened?”

“He knocked you into-”

“Everybody get back!”

Steve’s explanation is cut off by Tony’s shout. He’s grabbed unceremoniously and hauled up off the floor, dragged a few paces away. He manages to turn, bracing himself against Steve’s chest, just in time to see the Time Stone throb, pulsing as a rippling golden arc is pushed forwards from its center. It slowly twists into a oval, and then expands, and in the middle is somewhere that isn’t the tower, somewhere that isn’t now.

“Oh, shit,” Tony says, and Clint agrees because on the other side of the portal, a second Clint Barton is looking at him in horror, pointing and yelling something indecipherable.

“That’s me!” Clint says in equal amounts of panic. “Why am I there?!”

From the world within the portal, there’s a bright flash which lights up the darkness, orange and malevolent. His counterpart ducks, looking around wildly, hand reaching for an arrow. Clint tries to reach forwards but Thor grabs his wrist and yanks his hand back; he makes a noise of protest just as the portal quivers and then collapses, shrinking in on itself until nothing is left but the serenely revolving time stone, smugly enjoying the chaos it has wrought.

“Do not touch it again,” Thor says, keeping hold of Clint’s hand like he’s a misbehaving toddler and completely ignoring the fact that it was Pietro’s fault that he touched it in the first place.

“Why am I there? What is that? Is that the future?” Clint asks. He blinks hard. There are spots dancing in front of his eyes and his tongue suddenly feels too thick inside his mouth. “Why am I seeing spots?” he slurs. “Aw, fainting-”

He doesn’t quite manage the ‘no.’ The last thing he’s aware of is Steve grabbing him from the other side before he can hit the floor or pitch forwards into the time stone again, and then once more the world fades to swimmy, muggy blackness.

 


 

 

The patch of space where the portal disappeared stood black and empty. Heart pounding in his chest, Clint turned to look around him, hoping to see a flash of yellow and gold, anything. There was nothing; no team, no anything. All he could see were trees and undergrowth, the darkness beyond. The tower was long gone; he didn’t appear to be anywhere he recognized at all.

Part of him wanted to shout for help, to see if there was anyone nearby, but he overrode the instinct, forcing himself quiet. Another deafening boom shook the ground beneath his feet, and he heard the rattle of gunfire somewhere to his left.

He tightened his fingers around the riser of his bow and made his feet move, ducking under branches, ignoring the scratches to his bare arm and hoping to all hell he was running towards safety and not-

He yelped as his foot suddenly vanished into the ground, sinking through a layer of leaves and mulch like there was nothing beneath it. Heart leaping up into his mouth, he realized that there actually was nothing beneath it and threw out his spare hand a fraction of a second too late to stop himself hitting the ground, earning himself a face full of dirt for his trouble.

Dazed, confused and in considerable amounts of pain, he made himself struggle upright, but then the click of a gun made him freeze in place. Blinking hard, heart hammering in his chest, he clutched his bow tightly in his fist.

“Stay where you are,” a shaking voice said, a thick Texan drawl. “Put down the weapon.”

Clint cursed to himself, staring at the muddy water he was kneeling in and trying to think. He slowly put his bow down and raised his hands.

“You German? Where’s your uniform?” the voice asked.

“I’m from Iowa, pal,” Clint replied, slowly looking up. His stomach dropped as he found himself nose to nose with a bayonet which was attached to a rifle and held in very shaky hands. Behind the bayonet and rifle was a mud covered soldier, and behind him were two more, both clutching rifles and looking pale.

“You don't look like one of us,” the second soldier said. His helmet was unbuckled, straps swinging loose under his chin and his eyes were bright in the gloom of the hole they were in.

Clint’s eyes tracked over the soldiers and weapons, stomach winding into a knot as the details started to add up-

“He's a kraut, shoot him!” the third soldier hissed. “Look at him!”

“I am not,” Clint said. “For fuck’s sake, get that rifle out of my face!”

“Frank, shoot him!”

“Shuddup Dunbar, no-one is shooting anyone!” the second soldier, the one with the bright eyes, shouted. He reached out and shoved the gun down and then looked to Clint. He looked at him warily. “Start talkin’ pal.”

All Clint could do was stare at him. The muddied olive of his uniform, the eagle and sergeant’s bars on his shoulder. No camouflage, no radio, nothing that was making him feel any better about the growing suspicion in his gut.

Fucking Time Stone.

Unfortunately, the guy with the sergeant’s bars seemed to take offense to his continued silence. He plunged his hand into his jacket and drew a handgun, and pointed it right between Clint’s eyes.

“You appear running at us from German lines,” he said, all Brooklyn vowels. “You sure as hell don’t look like one of us.”

“What happened to not shooting anyone, Jimmy?” the first guy said.

“I’m a specialist,” Clint said, thinking quickly. “Part of...the SSR. I got dropped in outside of my zone, I’m lost as all hell.”

“You and the rest of us,” Jimmy said. “SSR?”

Outside the hole, there was another shout and the rattle of gunfire. In the distance, Clint could hear someone screaming. Jimmy swore, looking up automatically. “We can’t sit here,” he said. “We gotta press on, get into the town.”

“If the town’s even still there,” the guy that had been addressed as Frank muttered.

The sergeant ignored him, turned to Clint. “You got a gun?”

“I’m a specialist, I don't need one,” Clint said, nodding towards his bow. Jimmy stared at it for a moment.

“A fuckin’ bow. You’re kidding me. The Army sends us a specialist and he’s all geared up like fuckin’ Robin Hood?”

“It makes no noise and I’m good at four hundred feet,” Clint said. “And I’m a hand to hand expert as well. You want my help or not?”

The soldiers turned to look at each other. One shook his head, one shrugged and Jimmy dragged a muddy, blood stained hand over his face.

“Alright,” he said, and uncocked the gun. “We’re gonna go on me. You - Iowa, you got good eyes?”

“The best.”

“Alright. You with me, stick to my ass and shoot any Krauts that are gonna shoot you first. No funny stuff or I will shoot you myself, you gottit?”

Clint gives him a thumbs up. “You got it, Jimmy.”

The man with the bright eyes scowled. “That’s Sergeant Barnes to you, wiseass. Now let’s go.”

 


 

“So,” Clint says slowly, looking between Thor and Wanda who are standing on either side of his bed in medical. They’ve just finished a conversation he wasn’t privy to, half spoken in rapid Sokovian, half spoken in technicalities he doesn’t even try to follow. They have deigned to give him the Cliff’s Notes version of what they think though, but he’s still a little lost. “You think...a version of me, or a copy of me or whatever, is somewhere lost in time?”

“To put it in simple terms, yes,” Thor says gravely, folding his massive arms across his chest. “Though we cannot determine when without a little more work. My mother is well versed in lots of types of...well, you would call it magic. I can ask for her help if you wish.”

“I can do it,” Wanda says, insistent.

“My mother could-”

“No offense, Thor, but I’ve been on the wrong end of Asgardian brain fuckery before,” Clint says, mostly because it‘s true and also because Wanda might be tiny, but she’s got some serious power packed into that tiny frame and she’s starting to frown at Thor’s insinuation that she can’t handle it. “No disrespect to your Mom, I’m sure she’s lovely. I’ll take my chances with Sabrina over here.”

He grins at her, but Wanda bites her lip. “Are you sure?” she asks, suddenly uncertain. “I did promise to never use my powers-”

“Against us, yeah I know,” Clint says. “Rest assured if anyone thinks you are using your powers for evil, Steve will bash you over the head with his shield.”

“Clint!”

“What, you were perfectly happy to threaten to bash her when you thought she was a bad guy-”

“No-one is bashing anyone,” Steve says forcefully. “Wanda, we trust you. Do it.”

“Don’t worry about scrambling his brain, there’s not a lot going on in there anyway,” Tony calls loudly as Wanda steps in front of Clint, hands held up. Clint holds up a hand too, though his gesture is slightly ruder than Wanda’s.

“Stark, your input as always is invaluable,” Thor says. “In fact, maybe you should go and share with your robots. They would love to hear it, I’m sure.”

“Am I getting sassed by a demi-god? Is that what’s happening?”

“Tony, shut up or get out,” Steve says, clearly at the end of his tether. Tony mimes zipping his lips together. Clint would laugh but Steve is looking stressed and annoyed, and that’s a look that doesn’t bode well for anyone.

“I will do it if he sits still,” Wanda says, her hands hovering just above Clint’s temples. “You are worse than Pietro.”

“I am most certainly not,” Clint replies. “Speaking of, has anyone found the little bastard yet?”

Wanda smacks him sharply on the side of the head. “What?” he asks defensively. “I’ve heard you call him worse.”

“You don’t know what I call him, you do not speak Sokovian,” Wanda says. “Now sit still.”

“I know enough,” Clint grumbles, but does deign to do as he’s told. He breathes out slowly and watches red tendrils of light slowly creep in and obscure his vision. He closes his eyes, lets Wanda do her thing. Slowly, the red tint to the world fades, and he blinks his eyes open.

“There is a copy of you in France. Normandy. And it is nineteen forty-four.”

Clint blinks, bewildered. “What the hell am I doing there?” he asks, and then the penny drops as everyone in the room turns as one to look at Steve.

“Oh, shit,” Steve says, and lifts a hand to press the heel of his palm against his forehead. “Oh, shit.”

Wanda looks from Clint to Steve. “What?”

“I-” Steve says, and looks to Sam for help. Sam just shakes his head.

“Don’t look at me, this is your mess, I’ve had enough of being dragged into your mess.”

“Hey, back to the point!” Clint says loudly. “Why am I in Normandy in nineteen forty four?!”

“I said - I said about going back to get Bucky,” Steve says. “Just before Pietro knocked you over, I thought about - I wasn’t serious though, I was joking.”

“Man, we need to work on your sense of humor,” Sam mutters.

“You were wishing to be back there?” Thor asks Steve.

“No!” Steve says, and he sounds oddly defensive. “I don’t know! I just said it, I didn’t - I mean.” He tails off and the room goes quiet. Steve looks up and around, mouth open as if he’s about to protest some more.

“It seems the Time Stone felt your desire to return to that time,” Thor says. “Your wish to save your friend?”

“And it instead sent Clint,” Wanda says. “Or a copy of Clint, because he was the one who touched it.”

“Wait - so if I’d touched it, I would have gone back?” Steve asks suddenly. “I would-”

“No,” Wanda says. “Only a copy of Clint has gone back. He isn’t aware of what his copy is doing, where he is or who he’s with.”

“Oh,” Steve says, and the way his face falls is heartbreaking. “Oh, alright then,” he says, and then shoves his hands in his pockets and walks out, head bowed.

Sam sighs, looks to Tony. “You wanna get this one?”

“Might take the two of us,” Tony says. “A Bucky Barnes mood is worse than a Dodgers moved to LA mood.”

“We need to work on your jokes too,” Sam advises him. “Bucky is not a thing the man can handle a joke about.”

“Why do you think I waited until he left the room? I am the epitome of tact.”

“Let me do the talking, okay? You hold his hand and make sympathetic noises.”

“That I can do. Lead the way, bird-boy.”

Clint watches them go. He feels bad for Steve, but not so bad that he’s going to forget about his own predicament. “What’s going to happen to me?” he asks, turning back to Thor, feeling more than a little disconcerted. “If there’s a version of me back there. If I get blown up by Nazis, will I die?”

Wanda looks at Thor, uncertain. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“We are working on finding some more definite answers,” Thor says. “But at this moment, we do not know anything for certain.”

“It didn’t feel like this timeline when I checked,” Wanda ventures. “So if I’m right, that means you and your copy are separate, Anything he does won’t affect this timeline here.”

“But you don’t know that?” Clint asks. “I could - I don’t know, pull some shit back there and-”

“We don’t know,” Thor says. “I am going to speak with my mother; she or some of the other ladies of Asgard may know more about these matters. They may even know how to retrieve your counterpart before he can do anything that would have an impact on the present.”

“And bring him here?” Wanda asks. “I think one Clint is enough.”

“You’re hilarious.”

“I shall find out,” Thor says. “Would you like to accompany me?”

“To Asgard?” Wanda asks, surprised. “But - what about - I cannot leave Pietro.”

“Of course you can,” Thor says. “Steve will look after him. Clint here will promise not to hurt him. And I believe he may be in hiding for quite some time.”

“Go,” Clint says with a sigh. “Go and find me some answers, learn some shit. But no staying out past eleven and no funny business with any big muscly Asgardians.”

“You are cute,” Wanda remarks, and kisses his forehead. “Stay safe.”

“I mean it!” he shouts as they turn to leave. “Thor! Keep her away from Fandral!”

He doesn’t get an answer, and he climbs out of the bed grumbling about what does he have to do to get some respect around here, why didn’t he get invited to Asgard, he’s the one who’s all screwed up by time. As he gets out of the bed, a machine next to him makes a soft beeping noise. He prods at the screen quizzically, and then when it doesn’t immediately cease beeping, he gives up and uplugs it.

“Well, this sucks,” he says to no-one in particular, feeling oddly abandoned. “I’m going back to bed.”

 


 

“Wait, what?!”

Clint was too late; the other soldiers were scrambling out of the foxhole, guns raised and ready. Not wanting to be left behind, Clint grabbed his bow and scrambled after them, reaching behind to pull an arrow from his quiver.

Oh my god, he thought. I’m following Bucky Barnes. I’m running after Bucky Barnes through Nazi occupied territory. The Time Stone has screwed me over and I am seventy years out of time and I am running after Bucky fucking Barnes.

“Keep up Iowa!” he heard Bucky - Jimmy, Sergeant Barnes, whoever the hell he was - yell over his shoulder. They broke through the edge of the woods and onto a road; the town came into view below them, dark and still. Bucky changed track and headed off the road towards a small, half-demolished outbuilding of some sort. The others followed and they all slid into the side of the building, all hitting their shoulders on the crumbling brickwork. Panting, Bucky looked to the others, crouched in the mud.

“Okay,” he panted, wiping a muddy hand on his pant leg. “Dunbar, you and Frank-”

Clint’s eyes were drawn up over Bucky’s shoulder as something moved. A hundred and ninety feet out. Behind a low, patchy hedge. The light wasn’t good but in a split second he spotted the minute differences in the uniform, the different shape of the helmet.

He stood up, drew, ignored the shout of alarm from one of the soldiers and released. The enemy soldier fell, and from nearby came the flash of gunfire. Bucky immediately whipped up and returned fire. Clint focused on the flashes; three more arrows and it stopped, winked out of existence in a heartbeat.

He dropped back down behind the building. “Got them.”

All three soldiers stared at him.

“No you didn’t,” Frank said, uncertain and shaky.

“That was like two hundred feet,” Bucky said. “In the dark. With a goddamn bow and arrow.”

“Told you I was a specialist,” Clint said. His heart was pounding, adrenaline thick in his veins. The panic was still there though, the surreal sensation of knowing he was out of time, that he wasn’t supposed to be there-

“Can we keep him?” Dunbar said. “I take it back. If he can wipe out Krauts without us having to go anywhere near them-”

“Shuddup Dunbar, lemme think,” Bucky said. His hand was trembling slightly and he flexed his fingers unconsciously. “Iowa, you see anything else out there?”

Clint stood up, eyes raking the surroundings. “No,” he said. “Can’t be sure, though.”

“Alright. You two, hold here, cover us. Me and Iowa are going to go in. You wait. You hear gunfire, you come into support. You don’t hear nothin’, you count to hundred then you come in.”

“So we come after you either way?”

“Shut up, Dunbar, I never claimed to be a genius,” Bucky said, peering around the corner. “I’m just making the best of what I’ve got.”

“You’re gonna get us killed one of these days, Sarge.”

“I’m going first, ain’t I?” Bucky asked, fixing Dunbar with a grin that Clint suspected was fake. It fooled the other two though so he wasn’t going to say anything. “If anyone bites it, it’s me and the new guy.”

A distant pop of gunfire cut the fleeting amusement dead. Bucky checked his handgun - a Browning M1911 for god’s sake, they hadn’t been standard issue since the seventies, Clint could cry - and then looked to Clint. “You with me, Iowa?”

“Step ahead,” Clint said, and renocked the arrow. “Keep up, Sergeant.”

He climbed to his feet and pushed away from the wall, sprinting along the road towards the town. He used the buildings as cover, sharp eyes looking out for any movement. Bucky raced after him, quiet until they reached the town and ducked into the first building, working together to check they were safe.

“You do not get to tell me what to do,” Bucky told him matter-of-factly, nodding at Clint who ducked through another doorway, bow raised.

“Specialist. Yes I do,” Clint said. “Clear.”

Bucky edged past him, handgun raised. “Clear,” he confirmed. “What rank are you anyway?”

“Levelled out to specialist somewhere about first Lieutenant,” Clint told him. It wasn’t strictly true, but if he thought about his ranking within SHIELD it was about equivalent, and if talking in military terms made Bucky feel more comfortable then he’d do it.

“Shit, just what I need,” Bucky said. “Another asshole telling me what to do.”

They trod silently back out of the building and were about to head into the next when they heard voices from further down the street. Clint couldn't make out what was being said, but Bucky's face broke into a relieved grin.

“Holy cow, thank christ for that! Come on, Iowa!”

Before Clint could object, Bucky took off down the street, jogging towards the noise. His booted feet splashed in the mud but he carried on unconcerned. “Barnes!” Clint hissed, and then took off after him with a groan.

The voices became clearer and then around the corner he saw lights and the figures of more American soldiers. The fight was clearly over, the town secured and Clint could only gape, utterly lost and feeling like he was in a dream. His feet moved without his permission or awareness, the cold of the night biting at his skin reminding him that he was there, that is was real-

“Hey, Sergeant Barnes, better late than never!”

There was a burst of laughter in response to the shout, and Bucky slowed to a walk. “Why, you miss me?” he called back, mouth curved in a roguish grin.

“Like a hole in the head!” someone else yelled back, to much hilarity. The men were rowdy and raucous; for some the relief at getting through the day unscathed turned into boisterous conversation and jostling. A few guys all stood smoking cigarettes waved at Bucky as he walked past.

“What did you do with Dunbar?”

“Thought you were toast, Sarge!”

“Hey Sarge, who's the new guy?”

Bucky ignored the shouts and carried on walking. “Hey, Lewis!” he shouted at a man lounging against a post. “You seen Captain Hall?”

“Yeah, he's in the new CP with Major Wintergreen. The building with the door, end of street.”

Bucky grinned over his shoulder at Clint. “Good news, if anyone it’s Major Wintergreen who’ll know where you're supposed to be.”

‘Not so sure about that,’ Clint privately thought, but he allowed Bucky to shove him in the direction of the run-down hotel that was temporarily being knocked into shape as a Command Post. A few men were crowded around desk laid out with a map, and all around people were ducking in and out of the room, carrying boxes and bags.

“Sergeant Barnes!”

Bucky snapped to attention and the Major nodded, waving his hand. “At ease. Good to see you in one piece, son.”

“Sorry, Sir. We got cut off in the woods, a few stragglers that we took care of,” Bucky explained. “Dunbar and Jones are on the way, and we found this guy. Says he a specialist.”

Both faces turned to Clint, who shuffled uncomfortably under the scrutiny. The room suddenly seemed a lot smaller and his pulse was skipping uncomfortably. Man, he wanted to go home. What was taking so long? How the hell was he even going to get home?

“A specialist? Doesn't look like a specialist to me,” the Major said, slowly getting to his feet. Clint’s panic rose a notch, a small inside voice just wanting to break down and say ‘I’m not a specialist, I’m lying like Natasha taught me, I’m from the future, I’m meant to be in 2016, someone get me home, someone call the Avengers and get help.’

He didn’t. He squashed down the panic and did his very best to act like the Avenger he was supposed to be.

With that in mind, he straightened up and saluted. “Specialist Clint Barton,” he said clearly. “I’m part of a unit commissioned by the SSR. They sent me in for combat experience? Hell of a missdrop though, I’m supposed to be a mile out of Rouen.”

There was a long pause in which Clint was able to imagine himself being arrested, court-martialed, tortured and executed, and then the Major sighed explosively, making him jump.

“Damn SSR. Turning up at every damn corner, claiming priority on resources, trying to poach the best men we've got. And now you!” he said, irritably gesturing at Clint. “Dropping you out here like some sort of Robin Hood, when we’d be better off with a serious amount of ammunition and the rest of Baker company, wherever the hell they are!”

Next to him, Bucky rocked back on his heels, hands clasped behind his back and head tipped back. His lips were pressed together tightly and it looked very much like he wanted to laugh. Oddly, his amusement made Clint feel better. Almost like he had a friend at his side.

“Which unit?” the Major asked Clint abruptly, who racked his brains to try and remember what he knew of the historic SSR. Inwardly, he sent out a fervent thanks to the ghost of Phil Coulson for all the useless World War Two SSR trivia he’d unwittingly filled Clint’s brain with while enthusing about Captain America. He could remember two words that night get him out of trouble here: one was a SSR initiative to train - and biologically enhance - agents with very specialised skills and drop them into strategically vulnerable spots. The other was a project to enhance handheld weapons with enriched uranium. He didn’t have any nuclear arrows in his quiver, so his only option was to pretend that his better than average eyesight was a result of SSR fuckery.

However, remembering which one was which was proving slightly problematic.

“I asked you which unit,” the Major repeated slowly. Bucky looked at Clint, brow furrowed.

“Major Evans. Under General Phillips. Uh, the November Initiative?”

“Of course,” the Major said, and Clint almost collapsed in relief. “Alright, I'm requisitioning you,” the Major said abruptly. “He dropped you here, we’re keeping you. Whatever rank Evans’ had you as, you consider yourself a private here. Barnes, you take him and tell Lieutenant Turner he’s gained a specialist for the company. Whichever platoon he sticks him in, I don’t care.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Get your papers and your ID in order and we’ll get you listed,” the Major said to Clint. “And see what you can do about getting yourself a proper uniform. Not having you wandering around in that black getup, you’re likely to get yourself shot.”

“Yes Sir,” Clint echoed, and then the Major dismissed them with a wave of his hand. He followed Bucky out of the room back into the street, watching as soldiers walked past, the whole place a hive of activity.

“So, private,” Bucky grinned at him, jostling him with his elbow. “Now I get to tell you what to do.”
.
Mind still reeling, Clint swallowed his uncertainty and forced a grin back. “Yeah. I guess you do.”

 


 

Somewhere in a Hydra lab far, far away, the Asset is causing issues.

He has been dreaming. Dreaming of someone he cautiously, carefully feels like he knows.

The technicians are panicking. They have been ever since he woke up with questions about the man with the blond hair and bright eyes. The smell of metal and blood. Ink blue skies lit with fire. Cold mud, the crack of gunfire. A lopsided helmet, unbuckled. A shaky grin, shouted words.

The Asset hears them talking, observes them frantically gesturing at monitors on the outside of his cage. He idly listens, sitting still and staring at the bars in front of him, a few feet from his face. They are electrified, he knows from experience. They don’t really hurt him if he touches them, but the current is strong enough to bite at his left arm and then the technicians have to reset it, and he hates them touching his arm. It is his. A small rebellious thought, because he’s often told that the arm belongs to Hydra.

“He shouldn’t be dreaming of someone he knows, he has no episodic memories!”

“Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he’s mistaken.”

“We should call in.”

“He’s scheduled for a mission in three hours, we call in with just a feeling that something is wrong and we’ll be strung up. Let’s just wipe him again.”

The cage clicks open, the machinery next to him whirs to life, and the Asset feels his stomach drop.

Chapter Text

 

“So, Iowa. Welcome to the company.”

Bucky grinned at Clint, lounging back in the armchair he’d claimed, cigarette hanging from his mouth. Dunbar was lounging on the couch on the other side of the room, humming to himself and looking utterly unconcerned that he’d been telling someone to shoot Clint not three hours ago.

The house they’d claimed for the night wasn't exactly the whatever-star-accommodation that Clint was used to in Avengers’ tower. The wallpaper was peeling and ripped; the windows were boarded up and the carpets were long gone, leaving rough mud streaked floorboards behind. Aside from the comfortable furniture that Bucky and Dunbar had claimed, there was a long, low table with benches either side, a few mismatched chairs huddled close by.

“Hey,” Bucky said, kicking at Clint’s ankles. “Face like that for?”

Clint grimaced, pulling at the collar of his newly acquired khaki shirt. Bucky had gotten it from somewhere, pressing it into Clint’s hands and solemnly saying ‘ask no questions and I’ll tell no lies.’ He was already itching to pull the sleeves off.

“Just a long way from home,” he said, tugging at the undershirt he was wearing, helplessly thinking that was going to have to give in and tuck it into the trousers. Man, the waistband on them was higher than on the slacks that Steve’d been wearing when he was defrosted.

“Yeah, you and the rest of us, pal,” Bucky snorted. “Brooklyn, this ain’t.”

“Well I’m further than home than all of you,” Dunbar drawled, cracking an eye open. Clint bit back the urge to laugh, because Dunbar had no idea.

“I wasn’t aware this was a competition,” Bucky said. “We’re all up shit creek here no matter where we’ve come from.”

“What you talking about, Europe’s beautiful.”

“Europe is a shithole,” Bucky said with a dejected sigh. “God, I would kill a man to be back home. Back with my pals.”

Clint’s hands faltered midway through pulling on his not-quite-as-new-as-he’d-like jacket. Bucky talking about being home with his pals - his pals before the war included Steve.

Oh god, this was getting weirder with every moment. He opened his mouth but then his brain engaged and he quickly closed it again, because telling Bucky that he knew Steve was probably a recipe for disaster. Though in the grand scheme of things, it was probably just a minor inconvenience, considering he’d ended up seventy years out of time.

Luckily, Dunbar was a man who could always find a bad joke or an insult to fill the silence. He snorted with laughter. “You don’t have any pals.”

Bucky scowled at him. “I rephrase, I’d kill you to be back home.”

“If everyone could just hold off on threatening to kill each other,” Clint began, but faltered as he slipped his hand into the jacket pocket and came up with a folded up sheet of paper. He shook it out and balked as he saw it was a letter, a goddamn letter addressed to someone called My sweetheart, Peter.

“What the hell,” he said, and Bucky winced.

“Oops?” he tried. “Give it here,” he said, and held out his hand, pulling out his clipper lighter with the other.

“No, you can’t just burn it,” Clint protested. “Holy shit, Bucky, where did you even get this gear from?”

“I toldja not to ask,” Bucky said, and stood up to snatch the letter from Clint. “You needed it. Peter didn’t. And it’s not like it’s got bullet holes in or anythin’.”

“I’m wearing a dead man’s gear,” Clint said to no-one in particular.

“What, you gonna cry about it?” Dunbar asked with a snort.

“This is war,” Bucky said indifferently as he flicked the lighter on, danced the flame along the edge of the paper. “Shit happens. What were you expecting? Signed up for a sweet river cruise down the Danube?”

“I didn’t sign up for shit,” Clint said as he watched the paper catch, Bucky carefully turning it as the flames gained strength and speed, curling the letter and its words into blackened ash.

“Huh,” Bucky said, eyes on the flames, dancing bright in his grey eyes. “Neither did I, pal.”


 

The room was silent. Moonlight shone down from a cloudless sky. The whole room was bathed in bright, pale light. Clint couldn’t sleep. His mind was flitting restlessly, flirting with panic and fear as he thought himself round and round in endless circles. It’d been hours since he’d been thrown back in time, and he was starting to wonder exactly how long he was going to be here.

He didn’t doubt the other Avengers. He knew they’d seen him, just as he’d seen the other side of the portal, the other version of him looking thunderstruck. With that, he knew they’d be trying to fix it, that they wouldn’t just leave him stuck here.

Unless they couldn’t fix it.

His stomach dipped, restless and queasy.

He turned his face away from the window to look at the shape huddled under the blankets on the other bed in the room. Bucky seemed to sleep easily, no worries on his conscience so far as Clint could tell. Dunbar had fallen asleep even quicker, on the floor and using his pack as a pillow. His mouth was open and he was snoring lightly, eyes flickering as he dreamed.

Clint wished he could just sleep. Maybe when he woke up everything would be back to normal. Maybe nothing would be normal ever again - he knew about the butterfly effect and what it could theoretically do to time. And he’d already interacted with people he wasn’t supposed to ever know, had already killed people he was never supposed to kill. He didn’t know what an impact that would have down the line; it could transform the world into a better place or ruin everything-

Suddenly the room seemed too small, suffocating and airless. He climbed up off the bed and grabbed his bow tightly in a trembling hand, snatching up his jacket and heading towards the door. He stole soundlessly out of the room, down the creaking stairs and outside. The air was fresh and cold, an autumn bite on his bare skin. He didn’t care, he just had to get away, had to try and get home.

His feet took him unconsciously back towards the woods where he’d first appeared. He found the foxhole which he’d fallen into, found a fallen soldier slumped against a tree. Swallowing hard around the lump in his throat, he tried to pick his way back to the spot that he’d appeared from, looking desperately for any sign, anything that would help him get back.

Nothing.

There was nothing. Branches sighing softly in the breeze like weary ships on tired oceans, the sharp smell of dirt and rotting leaves. No wink of gold, no shining light.

“Fuck,” he muttered, and then kicked out at a nearby branch. “Fuck!”

His shout carried through the trees, and he didn’t even care if he was overheard. Eyes burning, he slumped down against the base of a tall tree, bow held in both hands. Oh god, what was he doing? He couldn’t be here - this was a decisive moment in world history, and if he left an imprint he was going to mess everything up. If he was on the same - what was the word Reed Richards had used? - the same timestream as his original self, he was running the possibility of screwing up the whole universe. Even if he wasn’t on the same time stream, he was going to screw up someone else’s universe.

He needed to get away. From this war, from Bucky Barnes.

Even as he thought it, his stomach lurched. Bucky died during the war, a voice in his head reminded him. He didn’t make it.  Clint felt sick. The only person he’d managed to connect with in this stupid decade, the only person who was looking out for him was going to die.  Only if you let him die, the voice said again, and Clint went very still. Could he really do it? Could he really save Bucky and change history? Would the story of Captain America end up the same if Bucky never died?

It was a fascinating, terrible thought, one he didn’t dare look at properly. If he saved Bucky, he’d be changing Steve’s life as well. And by changing Steve’s life -

No, he thought. No way, Hawkeye. That’s not your call. You are in no way shape or form qualified to play god here.

He was cold. His pants were soaked and muddy and his eyes ached with tiredness and unspent tears.

Rustling to his left caught his attention and he tensed, but then he heard a familiar curse and caught the sharp smell of cigarette smoke and he relaxed slightly. He slowly stood up, making sure to make noise as he did.

“Flash!”

“It’s me, Dunbar,” he called back tiredly. “Don’t shoot me.”

“You’re supposed to say thunder, where the hell did you get trained?” Dunbar said, emerging from the undergrowth with none other than Bucky at his side, looking rumpled.

“What are you doing out here?”

“What are you doing out here?” Bucky countered, flicking his cigarette away. Dunbar stepped on it with a scowl, grinding it into the mulch and dirt. “You’re going to get yourself killed!”

Clint opened his mouth, but his throat was alarmingly tight and he couldn’t find the words. His eyes were burning and this was too much, he couldn’t do this-

“Oh, shit,” Dunbar said, awkward. “Um, I’m gonna go take a leak-”

He edged backwards out of the way, vanishing back the way he came. Bucky didn’t move though. He just bit his lower lip, worrying it between his teeth.

“You’re okay,” he said to Clint, voice so honest it was heartbreaking. “You’ll feel better once you’ve slept the first night, I swear.”

Clint nodded jerkily and tried to compose himself, taking a deep breath in through his teeth.

“Come on, that’s it,” Bucky said. “You got nothing to prove to me, just come back, yeah? No-one’s thinking any less of you, just come back. Not safe out here.”

He shifted his handgun from one hand to the other and then held out his free hand to Clint. His shirt wasn’t done up properly, and Clint could see his dogtags swinging between the gap where it had been misbuttoned. The haste with which he’d gotten dressed was obvious, and Clint felt a hefty smack of guilt.

“Iowa. Clint,” Bucky said, and his hand closed around Clint’s elbow, fingers tight and warm. “Come on, pal.”

And Clint made his feet move, allowing himself to be pulled around and back towards the town. Bucky made a pleased, soothing sound in the back of his throat and let go of Clint’s arm, leading the way back and checking over his shoulder every few seconds as if he were worried Clint would bail again. Dunbar found them on the track that led into the town and they stole back in like shadows.

“Get some sleep,” Bucky whispered to Clint as they carefully stepped back into the tiny room where they’d been sleeping. “I’ll keep watch yeah? Just try and get some sleep, you’ll go crazy without it.”

I should be the one looking out for you, Clint thought, but he was nodding wordlessly and divesting himself of his weapons, kicking off his boots before collapsing onto the bed. He waited until Bucky was stood by the window, peering out over the town square before quickly reaching up and taking his hearing aids out. He shoved them in his pocket and laid on his back, staring at the ceiling. Sleep, Bucky’s soothing voice repeated in his memory. Just sleep.

Come on Hawkeye, he told himself. You’ve had worse. Just imagine it’s a mission. The others will get you home as soon as they can.

This time, he actually believed himself. He breathed out slowly and closed his eyes. Somehow, this time, the blackness came quickly and he sank willingly into it, distantly praying for it to be dreamless.

 


 

 

Clint opens his eyes with a jolt, sitting up in his bed and looking wildly around. His heart is hammering and he can still feel the cold air on his skin, can smell the dirt and metal, can vividly see the bright grey eyes under a tumble of messy brown hair, the crooked grin aimed his way.

Holy shit.

Scrambling up out of bed, he hastily grabs his hearing aids before staggering out of his room, trying to move quicker than his half asleep feet will allow.

“Jarvis, are Thor and Wanda still on Asgard?”

“Yes they are.”

Cursing, Clint gets into the elevator. “Who else is going to know anything about this time travel bullshit? Aw, it’s going to be Tony isn’t it?”

“Probably. Unless you are looking for a guide to surviving the Second World War, in which case I nominate Captain Rogers.”

“No!” Clint blurts before he can stop himself. “Anyone but Steve. Don’t tell Steve anything. Where is Tony?”

“Asleep. Would you like me to wake him?”

“Yes,” Clint said. “Tell him I’ll owe him a favour. I need help.”

He heads straight down to the lab, though almost immediately wishes he hadn’t. The time stone is still there, now encased in some sort of transparent box, floating happily around like it didn’t have a care in the world.

“You asshole,” Clint tells it with a scowl. “This is all your fault.”

It doesn’t answer. Just sits there glowing like some sort of dickhead. Clint is contemplating what would happen if he were to shoot it, when a whir and a beep from behind him draws his attention. Dummy is rolling up hesitantly, claw opening and closing like a question.

“You’re not an asshole,” Clint reassures him with a sigh, patting the top of his mental strut. “That thing over there is.”

Dummy responds by rolling in front of Clint, facing the time stone where it sits innocuously on a shelf. He lowers his strut and makes what can only be a hissing sound, clicking his claw repeatedly at the stone. It startles a laugh out of Clint, who reaches out to pat him again. “Easy there, bro,” he says. “I wouldn’t pick a fight with it.”

“What the hell?” a voice says, sounding supremely pissed off. “You’re not dying, so why am I awake?”

Tony stops in the doorway of the lab, sleep rumpled and wearing only a pair of sweats. He glares at Clint, spreading his hands apart in an easy to recognise gesture that is something between ‘please explain’ and ‘what the fuck.’

“I had a dream,” he says. “I was in the war and I was with Bucky Barnes.”

Tony’s scowl slowly transforms into a look of suspicious interest. “A dream?”

“I think,” Clint says, pressing a hand to his forehead. “Man, it was so real. I was running through these woods and I fell into a foxhole, and he was there. The soldiers, and we were shooting Nazis and he took me to the major-”

“Whoa, slow down,” Tony protests, and walks over. “How much detail do you remember?”

“All of it,” Clint says. “God, I could tell you how many buttons on his goddamn shirt.”

“Really?”

“Yes, there were seven,” Clint says. “Dunbar only had six because he was too lazy to fix the missing one. Is this normal? I don’t feel normal.”

“You are rarely normal,” Tony says, and he walks over and pulls out a large chair, the type that dentists normally use. “Sit down,” he says, clicking his fingers and pulling up several screens. “Jarvis, wake up Bruce. Dummy, sensors. The ones for humans, not robots.”

“Are you going to do science on me?” Clint asks warily as he lowers himself into the chair.

“Yes I am,” Tony says. “Don’t worry. If you sit still, I promise it won’t hurt at all.”

 


 

“Oh my god.”

Clint lifts his head in alarm at Bruce’s soft exclamation, looking between him and Tony. They’re huddled around a screen, pointing at something and exchanging horribly significant looks.

“What?” he asks. “Why oh my god? What’s happening? Am I dying?!”

“No, no, you’re not dying, Clint,” Bruce hastily says. Tony just rolls his eyes, the unsympathetic bastard.

“Then why the oh my god?” Clint demands.

“Because we don’t think you’ve been dreaming at all,” Tony says matter of factly. “The bit of your brain responsible for Bucky Barnes? It’s your medial temporal lobe. That’s part of your brain which deals with memories."

“They’re memories?” Clint asks, astounded. “Are you kidding me?”

“Nope,” Tony says, popping the P and taking a sip of his coffee. “Whatever Barton Two Point Oh is doing back in the forties, you’re evidently on the same time stream or something because you’re getting the memories. You’re just remembering what you did, Clint.”

“Oh no,” Clint says. “Oh no – so whatever he – I – go through back then, I’m going to remember it all?”

“Yeah, try not to get shot,” Tony says. “I doubt that will be fun to relive. Hey, I wonder if you do get injured, will modern you get the scars?”

“Maybe dial it down a little?” Bruce suggests, and Tony looks at him indignantly.

“Science!”

“I am not a guinea pig!” Clint says hotly, and reaches up to pull the sensors from his head, climbing out of the chair. “You can take your science and-”

“What’s going on? Clint, did you break your ears again?”

He stops himself ranting as the lab doors slide smoothly open again and Steve walks in, looking curious. Bruce looks down at one of the screens, body language clearly saying ‘not it.’ Clint looks at Tony who is staring at Steve, expression indecipherable. Probably having some sort of moral conundrum to do with his not-so-secret resolution to never lie to Steve again.

“Tony?” Steve ventures cautiously, who shakes his head.

“No, don’t look at me like that. Everything’s fine Cap, stop with the face.”

“Tony,” Steve presses. “What’s going on?”

Tony looks up to Clint, who shakes his head marginally. Mouth twisting, Tony looks back at Steve who is now starting to look hurt.

“You’re better off staying out of this one, Cap.”

Steve’s jaw goes tight. “You said you were done with keeping things from us-”

“I am!” Tony insists. “Steve, please. You don’t want to know.”

“If one of my friends is in some sort of trouble, I want to know!”

“I’m getting memories,” Clint blurts out, because Steve is going to hate this but he hates fighting with Tony too. It’s a lose-lose situation. Steve stares at him and Clint exhales, not wanting to meet his eyes. “I’m getting memories of what happened in the past,” he said. “Whatever past me does, I remember.”

Steve doesn’t seem appeased. “And why would I not want to know that?” he asks. Damn. Master tactician and all; the man is almost impossible to lie to.

“Past me…past me has found Bucky,” Clint says. “I’m with the hundred and seventh and I’m getting memories of being with Bucky.”

Steve doesn’t move. He just stares at Clint, not even blinking. The lab is silent; even Dummy has stopped whirring and beeping with whatever he’s doing in the corner. Bruce still hasn’t looked up and Tony is still staring at Steve, looking almost upset.

After what seems like an eternity, Steve finally moves. He swallows, looks down and then back up. “You’re with Bucky?” he asks, brow drawing together.

Clint nods. “I kinda fell into him,” he says. “And he’s…he’s looking out for me. He looked out for me? I don’t know what tense to use.”

Steve’s throat works and his jaw trembles. “Past,” he says, and then he’s walking away.

“Steve,” Tony calls, stepping after him, but Bruce catches his elbow.

“Let him go.”

“Not a chance,” Tony says, and pulls free. “Steve!”

Tony follows Steve out of the lab, and Clint watches them go, feeling like this is all his fault and like he has no idea how to fix it. God, he’s messed up so badly.

“You okay?” Bruce’s voice asks.

“No,” Clint says honestly, unsteadily. “Very no. Oh my god, if I’m getting my memories, are we on the same timeline? What if I mess something up? What if I mess up the war? What if I accidentally kill the guy who kills Hitler?"

Bruce reaches out and puts his hands on Clint’s shoulders. “Hitler killed himself, Hawkeye. Stop panicking.”

“You stop panicking,” Clint replies, and Bruce gives him a gentle shake.

“We don’t even know if you’re on the same timeline yet, Clint. We will work this out. And Steve will be okay, it’s just hard for him.”

Clint nods, swallowing hard. “That’s what she said,” he whispers and Bruce laughs.

“Well, you still sound like you,” Bruce remarks, and lets go of one shoulder. “You look like you could do with coffee.”

Clint nods. “I could do with coffee,” he says, and allows Bruce to steer him out of the lab.

 


 

Clint woke the next morning with a start, wildly sitting up and reaching for his bow. He had no idea where he was, everything felt wrong-

He heard muffled words and looked up, and the panic turned into something that wasn’t quite relief as he spotted Bucky standing there, shirtless and rubbing at his face with a grubby towel. He said something again and Clint shook his head before reaching into his pocket for his hearing aids, slipping them in.

His stomach sank as he did, and he kept his eyes averted. As he’d fallen asleep he’d hoped that when he woke he’d somehow be out of this mess, which he supposed was the human equivalent of turning himself off and on again. But no. He was still in 1944, he was still in Normandy and he was still very far from home.

“What are those?” Bucky’s voice asked curiously. “Some kinda specialist thing? High tech future-type radios? That would be swell.”

Clint breathed out slowly and looked up to Bucky’s curious face. “I’m deaf,” he admitted. “Without them I can’t hear much.”

“And they let you join the army?” Bucky said in surprise. “My pal was deaf in one ear and he was 4F’d like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Though he had a crummy ticker as well, so maybe it wasn’t the deaf thing.”

Oh god, he’s talking about Steve, Clint thought in slightly hysterical despair. Steve before he was the Captain. Steve with his list of ailments as long as his arm.

“I got amazing eyesight,” Clint said with a shrug. “They were willing to work around the deaf thing to take advantage of that.”

Bucky snorts. “They’d scrap us down for useful parts if they could,” he said with a sneer. “Bastards.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Clint said. “Anyone asks, tell them...”

“They’re high tech fancy future radios?” Bucky grinned. “You gottit. Now get up. We’ve moving out in an hour. Heading towards Holland.”

“Holland, great. Just where I always wanted to go,” Clint said flatly and Bucky laughed, twisting around and reaching for his undershirt, snatching it off the edge of the bed he’d slept on.

“You stick with me, you’ll be fine,” he said, like Clint was actually some rookie that needed looking after. “Can you wear them doodads all the time?”

“Not when I’m sleeping,” Clint told him, and then frowned. “I don’t need you looking out for me.”

Bucky pulled a disbelieving face as he pulled on his shirt, which yeah was probably fair enough considering Clint’s act the night before. “Come on, you’re lost as all hell out here. And you ain’t used to any of this,” he said, gesturing at nothing in particular. “This ain’t some training camp. It’s war.”

“I’ve been in combat before.”

Bucky just shook his head. “Not like this you haven’t. Now come on, let’s go find some grub and get your papers sorted.”

“Well, we may have a problem there,” Clint said as he swung his feet out of bed. “I lost my stuff on the jump.”

“You’re shitting me,” Bucky said. “No papers? You’re not even wearing your tags.”

“I know-”

“Oh man, and you reckon you don’t need lookin’ after,” Bucky said. “Fuck. No ID and no tags. You’re up shit creek.”

“Yeah, you don’t say,” Clint said humorlessly. “Well at least if I run for it, I can’t officially be AWOL.”

“You could do that,” Bucky said casually, and Clint narrowed his eyes at him.

“Or…?”

“Well let’s just say this company is a company of men with many talents and many connections,” Bucky said. “I maybe know a guy who knows a guy who can help you out.”

“Are we going to do something that could get us both in trouble?”

“Like I said, this is war. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” Bucky said, and held out a hand to Clint. “Come on. Food, and then I’ll get you sorted.”

Clint looked at the extended hand, then at Bucky’s face. Serious yet somehow still light and carefree, a strange paradox in those light eyes. Clint could see how he was both weighed down with responsibility and duty, and still full of love for life.

“Come on,” Bucky said, mouth hitching in a smile. “Or I’m eating your share.”

“Thought you were looking out for me?”

“Thought you didn’t want me to?” Bucky shot back.

Clint laughed, and then reached out and clasped Bucky’s hand, allowing him to pull him to his feet.

“Stick with me,” he repeated, still grasping Clint’s hand in his.

Clint smiled tiredly at him. “You know, I think I will.”

 


 

 

The blue light flashing on his phone tells Clint that someone is outside his door. It’s the best thing Tony has given him (well, second best after his actual hearing aids. Maybe third best after the zipline arrows) -  a one of a kind phone which knows when he’s not got his hearing aids on, and uses lights and vibrations to get his attention.

Fancy and useful as it might be, right now he’s going to ignore it. If it’s Pietro come back to fail at apologising, he doesn't want to know. If it’s Steve come to talk about Bucky then he really doesn't want to know-

The blue light on his phone turns red, telling him a) someone is now in his rooms and b) the person is Tony, because he’s the only one that can override the door locks. His phone screen lights up, opening a message which says ‘don’t shoot.’ He sighs and gets up off his bed, slouching over to his bedroom door and yanking it open.

“I bring the good stuff,” Tony mouths, and holds up a six pack of bottled beer, the stuff Clint likes from one of the local breweries.

“Not in the mood,” Clint mutters, through his resolve is already weakening.

“Just one?” Tony asks. “Please. Bruce has waltzed off to help Natasha in California and he made it his parting wish that I look after you. So have a beer, then I can tell Bruce I did the thing and then he’ll leave me alone.”

Clint snorts tiredly, walks back into his room to scoop up his hearing aids. He puts them in and flicks them on, hearing the sounds of the TV being turned on and Tony moving around in the next room.

“So,” Tony says, handing him a beer as he comes back into the living space. “Bucky Barnes, huh?”

Clint takes the beer with a sigh. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Clint says, and flops onto his couch, kicking his feet up onto the coffee table. “He’s looking after me. Looked after me.”

“The man clearly has a thing for tragic blonds,” Tony says, sitting down beside him. “Hasn’t got Steve to look after so he’s taken you under his wing instead.”

“I’d argue but I think it’s true,” Clint says. “How’s Steve holding up?”

“Not so well,” Tony says, mouth twisting pensively and not a little sadly. “You know for a moment I thought I was getting him close to liking the future. And then bam, you get to go hang out with Barnes and he nose-dives back into wanting to go back.”

Clint’s mouth twists ruefully. “Sorry.”

“Not exactly your fault,” Tony says, taking a large swallow of beer and licking his lips, eyeing the bottle. “I could get used to this hipster shit.”

Clint takes a sip of his own beer. It’s cold and refreshing and probably very expensive. He takes another swig and then narrows his eyes at Tony.

“You’re being nice.”

Tony rears back, splaying a hand over his chest. “I’m nice.”

“You being nice to me is like Natasha being nice to me.”

“Suspicious and creepy?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

Tony’s mouth twitches and then he sighs, tipping his head back against the back of the couch. “It’s part of my contract, I have to prove I can play nice with others. Something like that.”

“Careful you don’t step in the bullshit,” Clint drawls, and Tony laughs.

“Alright. You got me. Team Dad is incapacitated. So. I thought I would step up. You know, checking in and making sure no-one is having a mental breakdown or anything.”

“I guess it’s appreciated,” Clint says. “Well, the beer is.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “So,” he says, and he suddenly sounds serious, all traces of joking gone. “Nevermind Steve, are you holding up?”

Clint nods. “Yeah. I just. There’s a version of me making friends with Bucky Barnes...who is going to die. Within a year if my calculations are correct. And from what I remember...I don’t think I’m going to want to let him die. Not sure if the me back then is going to be able to sit back and let it happen.”

“That could change everything.”

“Yeah, it could. But it might - I don’t know. It might not do anything for this universe.”

“But if it did…”

Tony sounds troubled, which gives Clint reason to pause. “What?”

Tony picks at the label on his beer bottle with his thumb. “Say you are on an interlinked timestream. Say you can butterfly effect this bad boy. Say you do save Bucky. We might lose Steve.”

“What?”

“Steve - he’ll never admit it. But losing Barnes was a big part of why he pitched that plane in the ice,” Tony says. “No grief over that, no reckless nose-dive, no waking up with us.”

“Ah, shit,” Clint says heavily, rubbing his brow with his hand. “I hate this.”

“You and me both,” Tony says.

They sit in silence for a while.

“Hey, do me a favour?” Tony asks, and Clint rolls his head to the side, eyebrows quirked in question. Tony’s mouth flickers in a weak smile. “When you meet back-in-the-day Steve, you tell me what he’s like?”

Clint laughs shortly. “You got it.”

“Oh, and if you meet my Dad, punch him in the mouth for me.”

“I can’t communicate with past me, you know that.”

“Ah well. Worth a shot.”

 


 

“And that over there is Snowden,” Bucky said with a jerk of his head. His hair was styled perfectly, and Clint had no idea how he’d managed it. They were somewhere in Holland in the middle of nowhere and he’d still somehow got his hands on whatever it was that guys from the forties used in their hair.

Then again, he had no idea about a lot of stuff. He’d been in the forties for three days and couldn’t comprehend what the hell his shirt was made of that made it itch so bad, how anyone could understand what Bill McEllen from Baltimore was saying, and where exactly all the cigarettes were coming from. Food was scarce, equipment was often scarcer but cigarettes seemed to be everywhere. He’d claimed his ration of Lucky Strikes, not because he had any intention of smoking them, but because Dunbar smoked like a chimney and would trade pretty much anything for a smoke when he got desperate.

“Snowden,” Clint repeated, glancing up and squinting in the sunlight, the tail end of warmth from summer. “Scrawny.”

“No shit,” Bucky snorted. “He’s only seventeen. Lied on his enlistment form. And that huge tank of a guy next to him is Dugan, everyone calls him Dum-Dum.”

“His moustache is...impressive,” Clint said slowly. Bucky just shrugged, oblivious.  

“The broads certainly like it enough.”

“Now what would your mama say if she heard you talking about the ladies like that?” Clint said, swinging his legs so his heels bumped against the wall. He leaned forwards, brushing dirt and tiny bits of stone off of his hands, odd pieces of moss and dry lichen.

“She’d scold me into next week more than likely,” Bucky said. “It’s Steve’s ma I’d watch out for though. She’d be at me with a poker.”

Clint smiled. He’d heard a lot about Bucky’s life back in Brooklyn, and a hell of a lot about Steve. It was still weird, though mostly because the picture Bucky painted of Steve wasn’t much like the man Clint knew.

“Oh, that’s Henderson over there, with the carrot top. He’s not the guy who didn’t get you your completely genuine papers,” Bucky said, pointing with his cigarette clamped between two figures. “He’s a legend. Stole a tie from our CO back at Wadsworth and wore it out on leave. Oh, and the fella with the dark skin next to him, that’s Gillespie. He’s got nine sisters back home.”

“Yeah, not that you’d be interested, Barnes.”

The loud shout was followed by laughter, and Clint turned to see someone he didn’t know walking past, a cruel smirk in place. A few other guys nearby turned to look, one looking uneasy.

“You want to shut your mouth,” Bucky called back.

The guy laughed. “You’re the one can’t keep your mouth shut. Half a chance and you’ve got a dick in it.”

Clint barely registered what was said before Bucky was off the wall and flying at the guy, swinging at him hard. There was a yell from nearby as the two of them went down in a tangle of limbs and fists. Clint scrambled after him and grabbed Bucky’s jacket; the other guys who had heard the altercation also dived in, doing their best to pull them apart, feet skidding and slipping in the gravel. It wasn’t easy; Bucky had the guy’s shirt in both hands, face contorted in anger. The other guy had one hand on Bucky’s collar but the others had his arm, trying to wrench him back-

“Jesus, Paul, let him go!”

“Jimmy, cool it!”

“What the hell is going on here?”

A loud voice boomed out over the ruckus and Bucky let go of the other guy, still looking furious. “Nothing, Sir.”

Clint looked around and swore mentally as he clocked one of the company Lieutenants walking over, looking just as angry as Bucky. The other guy - Paul - was bleeding from his lip and looking very much like he’d throttle Bucky with his bare hands if he could get away with it.

“The hell it’s nothing!” the lieutenant shouted. “I am not having two platoon sergeants brawling like kids! You’re not here to fight each other, dammit. Farrell, you get to CP right now, I told you I ever catch you in a fight again-”

“Sir,” Farrell said stiffly, and marched off, dabbing at his lip with his sleeve. The lieutenant rounded on Bucky, now more exasperated than angry.

“What the hell happened?” he asked. “Not like you to lose your cool, Barnes.”

“Moment of madness, Sir,” Bucky said blithely. “A joke got outta hand.”

“Go and cool your heels,” the lieutenant said, voice low. “The boys would pitch a fit if I had to get Major Wintergreen to take those stripes from you.”

“Yes sir,” Bucky said. “Understood.”

He turned on his heel and stalked away. Clint hesitated for all of a second and then jogged after him, following him around the corner and into one of the small houses that had been requisitioned by the company. Mercifully, it was empty.

“What was that?”

“Did you not hear him? Fuckin’ fancy good for nothing doodads,” Bucky snapped, kicking at a chair and then sitting down on it, leaning over with his head in his hands. His collar was ripped and his hair was falling untidily over his brow.

Clint replayed the conversation in his head and then had a lightbulb moment when he remembered that he was in the forties. With that context, the insults suddenly took on an entirely different cadence.

“I could shoot him if you wanted?” he offered, and Bucky let out a huff of a laugh.

“I’m not the one usually picking fights,” he said, sitting up and wincing slightly, rubbing at his neck. “I swear, I’m not.”

“No, you’re a good boy,” Clint said with a raised eyebrow, and Bucky kicked at him.

“I am,” he insisted. “I only finish the fights other people start.”

“Well it definitely looked like you started that one.”

“He’s been at it since basic,” Bucky muttered. “Paul fuckin’ Farrell. Jealous that he’s not been promoted. Constant needle in my side, calling me a queer.” He shook his head and swallowed, and suddenly his eyes seemed too bright.

Clint pressed his lips together and then crouched down on his heels next to Bucky. He gestured wordlessly and Bucky huffed but held out his hand for Clint to inspect his knuckles. They were red and were probably going to bruise, but overall he didn’t seem too worse for wear.

“Why’s it bothering you?” Clint asked quietly, thumb tracing absently over Bucky’s knuckles. “Come on. These guys call each other worse than that over breakfast. You put up with Dunbar, for god’s sake, and the man’s a nightmare.”

Bucky was very quiet and very still. Clint could just about hear him breathing.

“You trust me,” Bucky said quietly.

“The entire company trusts you, Buck,” Clint said. “You heard what the lieutenant said. They’d be a mutiny if you lost your sergeants bars.”

“But you told me,” Bucky presses, and slips his hand from Clint’s to gently touch his ear, a wordless indication of the secret that he was keeping. Clint’s throat went dry, and he wasn’t sure if it was the way Bucky was touching him or the way Bucky was looking at him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I trust you. You can trust me too.”

Bucky bit his lip, worrying it between his teeth. “Dunno,” he said, but he exhaled and his hand moved, his thumb pressing gently against Clint’s bottom lip.

“Oh,” Clint said softly, and Bucky let his hand drop away, cheeks burning.

“It’s not - I like women, you can ask anyone, it’s just - you tell and I’ll-” he began hotly, sentences tripping over each other in a jumble of denial and panic.

“I’m not telling anyone anything,” Clint said. “Without the amount of guys I’ve slept with, it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to call you out on it.”

Bucky’s jaw literally dropped. His mouth hung open and he stared at Clint before seeming to re-engage his brain, looking around to triple-check they were alone. “You can’t just say shit like that,” he hissed. “Jesus, Iowa-”

“I can say what I like,” Clint says. “I don’t care.”

“Well you should,” Bucky said. “You want a blue ticket or something?”

“That’s one way to get out of here,” Clint shrugged.

“You’re crazy,” Bucky announced. “Why the hell am I pallin’ around with you again?”

“Because I’m crazy and I need someone to look out for me and make sure I don’t do something dumb?”

Bucky let out an unwilling laugh, shaking his head. He tilted his head sideways towards Clint, eyes warm and mouth curved in a gentle smile that made Clint want to smile too. “That must be it.”

From the doorway there came a crash, and they both smartly stood up and stepped back just in time to see Dunbar come running in, looking excited. “Melendez says you knocked Farrell out and the Lieutenant let you get away with it!”

Clint shrugged as Bucky looked at him before turning back to Dunbar with his usual grin firmly in place. “I’m a hero, what can I say,” Bucky said to Dunbar, who crowed with delight. “Defeating Nazis and assholes everywhere I go.”

 


 

“Oh yeah, just climb that clock tower, get up there and be cover, easy peasy for a specialist,” Clint muttered mutinously under his breath as he looked for a hand-hold that wasn’t going to crumble the minute he put any weight on it. He’d been snapped up for a mission - not that these guys called them missions - and given the task of providing cover for the troops that would be advancing into the town. The platoon leader had seemed a little sceptical of Clint’s abilities, but that hadn’t stopped him ordering Clint to sneak into Nazi-occupied territory and climb up the outside of a damn clocktower.

Breathing steadily through his nose, Clint hauled himself up the last few feet and tumbled over through the small window and into the tower. The floor creaked ominously underneath him, and he peered over down the gaping hole where the ladder or stairs should have been.

“Well, explains why they didn’t claim the spot,” he said, more out of habit of speaking aloud while on the comms to the Avengers. Of course, nobody answered, and he tried to ignore the unhappy swell of loneliness in his gut.

War was turning out to be two parts being cold, hungry and bored, one part panicked and utterly out of control. A terrible sort of anticipation laced everything that happened, a wonder over what was next.

He checked his watch. Twenty minutes until the main assault was scheduled to begin. Twenty minutes to sit and watch and wait. Twenty minutes of slowly growing tension as he looked for movement, any signs of the enemy.

The distant sound of gunfire alerted him to the advancing unit. Nearby, he heard shouting in rapid German, and he slowly drew an arrow from his quiver. He had twenty-eight arrows but no hope of replacements, so he had to make every shot count.

There. Running from what looked to be a town hall of sorts. Grey uniforms, guns in hand.

It was child’s play, picking them off. He managed six before they realised something was amiss, and panic started to spread. Officers were commanding them to keep moving forwards and they did, bravely, stupidly running on and allowing Clint to pick off the ones he chose.

It was only when he was down to nine arrows that they seemed to work out where he was. Shouting, frantic movement, the thud of gunfire. Adrenaline thick in his veins as the bricks beside him cracked in showers of dust and broken stone. Ducking back and edging towards the other window. More yelling, gunfire in the street below. Screaming. The rumble of a tank, the pulse-thud of a fifty cal somewhere nearby.

Budapest. But nothing like. New York? Dirtier. Harder.

Eight more men fell, then quiet. The thudding had stopped. Voices. American. Distant rattle of gunfire, further to the South. Troops securing buildings. Blood spattered concrete. Too many bodies lying in the street.

Clint stared down at the carnage. The arrow-marked bodies lying amongst the rubble and dirt. He couldn't comprehend what he was doing, how this dirty scrap over a town that no-one cared about mattered. He knew the history, he knew why his country fought in the war, but in that moment, winning the town didn't feel much like winning at all.

Clint made himself move. Slowly, he climbed down from the clocktower and began collecting his arrows. The lieutenant who had ordered him to the clocktower in the first place showed to gape a little and fervently congratulate him; Clint hadn’t been remotely in the mood and slunk away as soon as possible to finish collecting his arrows. A few other familiar faces turned up to demand ‘what the hell, Barton, did you really take out twenty-seven krauts with your goddamn bow and arrow?’  He found himself the centre of a buzz of gossip, people impressed and disbelieving in equal measures. He couldn’t quite get over the way he heard his name being said - it was like how people back home talked about Captain America or Iron Man, even Black Widow - reverent and amazed.

He finally extricated himself from a group of guys from third platoon all clapping him on the back and went in search for the rest of first. He’d seen Dugan and McEllen, but no sign of Bucky or Dunbar.

“Hey, anyone seen Sergeant Barnes?” he asked as he jogged down the remnants of main street, past the medics who were helping Snowden limp into the aid station.

“Yeah, down on - son of a bitch! down at the end of the town near the bridge,” Snowden said, face pale.  

“Thanks kid,” Clint said, and jogged off, feeling relieved that Bucky had at least made it out. A weight he hadn’t been aware off lifted from his shoulders and he grinned, laughter bubbling in his chest-

He turned the corner and spotted Bucky straight away. Sitting on the step of a building, helmet on the floor by his feet and an almost spent cigarette held in his hand, forearm braced over his knee and wrist hanging limp.

“Hey, Barnes!” Clint shouted, but Bucky didn’t move. Frowning, Clint jogged over, looking around.

“Well, we won,” he said. “Where’s Dunbar?”

Bucky’s mouth worked. He pointed over at a blood-stained wall opposite where he was sitting. “There’s what’s left of him,” he said, indifferent.  

Clint could only stare. The words rattled around inside his brain and he tried to connect the dirty brown stains on the wall with Dunbar and his foul mouth, his obnoxious humour.

He slowly sat down next to Bucky, wordless.

“Shit happens,” Bucky said, voice wavering, and Clint heard the rustle of his jacket and then the click of his lighter as he lit another cigarette. He slumped back against the step and they sat together in silence, long after the distant gunfire stopped, leaving the town quiet and still.

 


 

Clint wakes up, shaking and gasping and in tears. He can’t stop thinking over the memory of the blood stained wall, imaging the fall of Dunbar’s body, head snapping back as the bullet tore through his temple, Bucky’s voice saying that shit happens, his lifeless body staring up at him from the streets below the clocktower. No matter which way he turns, Bucky is there, bent and broken in front of him, and Dunbar is laughing with blood stained teeth. With a noise of anguish, he scrambles out of bed, trying to find his bow-

A banging at his door scares the life out of him. He gasps wetly and looks around - oh god, he’s in the tower. He’s in the tower, he’s not the one back in the war, but it feels like it is him with all the memories and the lingering taste of blood in his mouth.

He makes it to the bathroom just in time to throw up. He manages to keep upright by bracing a hand on the counter and the wall but he can barely breathe, coughing and trying to inhale through his tears.

“Clint? Whoa, Clint!”

Above the muffled sound of someone calling his name, he distantly hears the bathroom door bang open and it’s Tony who’s rushing in, grasping hold of Clint’s shoulder. He’s talking, too quickly for Clint to make out all the words, echoing and distant.

“Alright, hang on, spit first, there you go, now breathe out through your nose, hard-”

He does as he’s told and then there’s a hand swiping roughly over his face to get rid of the snot and puke which is gross , but it doesn’t matter because he can breathe again. He coughs one last time and then is drawing in shuddering breaths. Slowly his breathing evens out and he gestures towards Tony, pointing to his ears and signing please.

Tony obliges instantly, going to fetch Clint’s hearing aids. Before Clint can protest, Tony quickly and efficiently slips them in for him, using his clean hand. Clint doesn’t protest, partly because Tony was the one who made and fitted the damn things, and also because both of his hands are disgusting.

“Gross,” he says hoarsely, and Tony laughs shortly.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic, this doesn’t even hit the scale of gross,” he says, but does reach out and wipe his hand on a towel. “Hack it up, Barton.”

Clint closes his eyes and shakes his head. He doesn’t think he’s going to be sick again, but tears are rolling down his face and he can’t stop them. He wipes his hand across his face but it doesn’t do any good.

“Okay, are you with me?” Tony asks. Clint nods and Tony squeezes his shoulder, turns the tap on with the other hand. “Here. Wash up.”

He feels utterly pathetic and close to humiliated but also shaky enough that he doesn’t want Tony to go. He stumbles through washing his face and hands and manages to get back out into his bedroom, sitting down on the floor and leaning back against his bed.

To his surprise, Tony sits down next to him, passing over a glass of cool water. He takes it gratefully; his heartbeat still feels too fast and strong, and his stomach is roiling uneasily.

“Jarvis has an alert,” Tony tells him, stretching one leg out and flexing his toes. “Anything that looks like night terrors. Welcome to the club.”

Clint doesn’t bother replying, just sips at the water. He takes a deep breath but as he exhales his eyes fill up again and he curses, tipping his head back.

“More memories?” Tony asks quietly.

“Yeah,” Clint says, voice wavering. “That stupid war. People are dying, Dunbar died and-” he broke off. “Man, this is so messed up, why am I even there.”

“Because Steve is pining for his pals from the forties, because Pietro never thinks of consequences, because of a minor lapse in lab safety?” Tony suggests. “Who’s Dunbar?”

“He’s a friend - well, he’s an asshole,” Clint says. “We were taking a town, and he - oh god, I’m talking about the war like some sort of veteran, this is insane. I’m literally there right now, but it’s seventy years ago-”

“Time’s a bitch,” Tony says, and he pulls his phone out of his pocket, surreptitiously tapping away with his thumbs. “For you it happened like yesterday.”

Clint just shakes his head again. He’s not sure he can talk anymore, and the tears are still rolling no matter what he tries. He puts the water down and brings his knees up to bury his face in, feeling small and helpless and useless; Dunbar died and he wasn’t even there, what if it were one of the guys Clint didn’t shoot, what if it had been Bucky-

He hears the door softly opening but doesn’t look up. It’s not until he feels a warm palm on the back of his neck that he struggles upright.

It’s Steve. Tony is gone, but Steve is there and looking at Clint with a terribly sad, knowing smile, heartbroken in its understanding. His hand slides to Clint’s shoulder and Clint tries to talk, to say sorry, to ask him how he does it, but he’s crying again and Steve is just pulling him in so his face is buried in Steve’s shoulder.

“Nothin’ like the movies, huh?” Steve say quietly after what seems like forever. Clint takes a deep breath and pulls back. His tears have stopped and he feels exhausted but oddly cleansed.

“Nothing like SHIELD,” Clint says. “It’s just so - there’s so much. It’s huge.”

“Hard to respect the big picture,” Steve says and Clint feels relief roll through him because Steve gets it, he understands the unsettling feeling he’d had while in the clock tower, and it eases the guilt.

“I didn’t think not to get attached,” Clint says.

“Times like that you have to get attached,” Steve shrugs, moving around to sit next to Clint, taking Tony’s vacated spot and leaning back against the bed. “You don’t have friends around you when everything is going to shit, you forget you’ve got anything worth fighting for.”

Clint mulls that over for a moment, thinking of Bucky and the way he’s looking out for him. How close they are already, the secrets that they’re both keeping for each other. He wonders if Steve knows Bucky’s secret, if Bucky ever told him or if Steve found out.

“He talks about you all the time.”

Steve’s mouth flickers at that, a sad smile. “Yeah?”

“His pain in the ass friend he left back in New York? The one with the 4F and the crummy ticker? I’m assuming that’s you.”

Steve looks startled for a moment and then he nods. “Yeah, that would be me,” he says, and then pauses. “Is he okay? Was he okay?”

The change of tense breaks Clint’s heart a little, but he understands it. “He was,” he says, careful to keep in past tense. To Steve, Bucky is gone. Talking about him in present tense, reminding Steve that he’s not with Bucky right now wouldn’t be fair. “He kinda took me under his wing. Helped me settle in. Tony says he must have had a thing for looking after tragic blonds.”

“Sounds like Buck,” Steve says. “Looking after the little guys.”

“He also smoked ten thousand cigarettes and cursed a lot. Worse than you.”

“Now that I knew from when we were with the commandos. He never smoked at home, but during the war. Always had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.”

“And could never find his lighter,” Clint adds, and Steve starts to laugh.

“Patting down his pockets and cursing up a storm,” he says, and his laughter slowly fades, breathing out a soft sigh. “i’m sorry I walked out before,” he says. “I just couldn’t.”

“I know, I get that,” Clint says quickly.

“Even thinking that I would get through the war. Maybe go home, see if I could make a life with Peggy,” Steve says. “It still didn’t fix the hurt from losing Buck."

“Well, you didn’t exactly have long to get over it,” Clint says.

“No,” Steve says. “And I guess I’ll never know.”

They fall into a companionable silence. Clint doesn't exactly feel good, but he feels better. Steve knows what he’s going through - been through - and just having it acknowledged makes it a hundred times easier to deal with.

“Hey. If past me stays with past Bucky, I’ll end up meeting past you.”

Steve nods slowly. “Past Bucky also got kidnapped by Hydra,” he says heavily, unapologetically. “I think past-you is in for a rough ride.

Clint exhales slowly, too exhausted to be worried about that right now. He can't change what past him is doing, so he’s just going to have to trust that past him isn’t going to get in too much trouble.

Oh man. Even he knows just how unlikely that is. It’s like he’s got a neon sign on his head, inviting trouble to just stroll on up and make his day.

“Alright,” he says tiredly. “Bring it on.”

 


 

Clint jerked awake with a flail of arms, heart thudding in his chest. It was dark; the only light that came into the room from outside was from the moon and stars, a cold white light that left him feeling exposed and open. It was taking some getting used to; in New York it never got fully dark, but out here it was as if he were a whole other world away. In a way, he was.

He propped himself up on an elbow and looked over the room; he could see Gillespie and Henderson fast asleep on the floor with their packs used as pillows, but the spot where Bucky had been sleeping was empty.

Shit.

He slowly, carefully pulled his hearing aids out from his pocket and slipped them in before swinging his feet out of bed. Henderson let out a sleepy grunt but Clint was used to it by now and didn’t even pause; he stepped nimbly over him and edged around the sleeping soldiers, slipping out of the room.

He was worried about Bucky. For all his flippance and the usual act of ‘shit happens’ , Clint knew that he was utterly torn up by Dunbar’s death. Clint was finding it hard enough and he’d only known Dunbar a few days, but here everything was just so intense. It’s like he was feeling everything in sharper focus, every little moment worth more.

Despite the disappearing act, he didn’t think Bucky would do anything dumb; he’d probably find him just sitting somewhere chain smoking and brooding. The thought didn’t stop him from needing to check anyway.

He searched the house, moving like a shadow. He didn't find anything until he reached the stairs to the basement - cellar, whatever it was in Europe - and heard a thud and footsteps moving about. He edged the rest of the way down and his stomach flipped in relief as he found Bucky there, a single figure lit by two wavering electric lamps, wandering aimlessly before walking towards a wine rack set into the stone.

“Buck?” he said, voice low. He stepped down the final step and pushed the wooden door closed behind him. “What’re you doing?”

“Can’t sleep,” Bucky said listlessly, pulling a bottle from the nook in the wall and holding it up, scowling when he saw it was empty. He picked up another and held it up; appearing satisfied, he pulled the cork out with his teeth and spat it away.

“Buck.”

Bucky ignored him and tipped the bottle back, downing what was left in several swallows. He grimaced afterwards. “You know, European wine is supposed to be good shit. I can’t tell the fucking difference.”

He stooped slightly to look in the nook below, making an irritated noise when he found nothing. “What’s a man got to do to find some liquor around here?”

Clint stepped forwards. “You don’t need any of that.”

Bucky laughed. It was a bitter, broken sound and he reached out to brace a hand on the wall in front of him, head dipping low. “Yeah? Because every time I shut my goddamn eyes I see Dunbar’s head being blown off-”

Clint put his hand on Bucky’s shoulder, but Bucky twisted around and threw it off. “Get off,” he said. “Just, just fuck off and leave me-”

Clint didn’t back up. He reached for Bucky again, knocked aside his arm as he swung for him and pulled him into a rough hug. Bucky wasn’t giving in though, and shoved against Clint with a wild, angry noise. Clint was expecting it, and he’d been coached in hand to hand combat by both SHIELD and Captain America, which easily trumped Bucky’s military training.

He shoved him back against the wall, corralled Bucky’s arms into his grip, pressed up against his chest so he had no leverage to fight back.

“Stop, alright?” Clint demanded. “Just stop.”

Breathing heavily, Bucky did. He stopped trying to fight against Clint, but his eyes were too bright and angry. Clint didn’t need to say anything. It would be pointless to even try; he didn’t know how the hell he would put it into words anyway, the whole mess of a situation, the pain at losing Dunbar, the fact they just had to carry on without him, that the universe didn’t care about Dunbar or any of the others that fell.

“I get it,” Clint said. “Just-”

“He was joking,” Bucky bit out, eyes locked on Clint’s. “He was literally joking as it happened-”

His voice broke and he looked down, away from Clint. Clint let go of his arms and pulled him in, holding Bucky to him. Bucky let himself be pulled, burying his face in Clint’s shoulder. His arms crept around Clint’s back, fisting tightly in his shirt.

“That’s Dunbar,” Clint said unsteadily, blinking hard. “At least he died doing what he loved best. Being an asshole.”

Bucky laughed shakily, face still buried in the juncture between Clint’s neck and shoulder. Clint hesitated and then reached up to cup the back of Bucky’s head in an unsteady palm. Bucky let him and Clint gently stroked his hand against his hair.

After a while, Bucky’s shoulders stopped shaking. He was breathing in and out unsteadily, standing there with his weight slumped against Clint. It was so quiet down there, nothing but the sound of their breathing. Slowly, his fingers unclenched from Clint’s shirt and then his palms were sliding around until his fingers linked in the small of Clint’s back.

Clint swallowed, suddenly very aware that Bucky could probably hear his heart beating, could feel him breathing. This was - this was just because they were upset, this wasn’t anything real, anything more. Which didn’t explain the way Bucky’s hands wouldn’t stay still, slowly dragging around to rest on Clint’s hips, thumbs stroking against his belt.

Clint felt Bucky shift his weight, the way he straightened up just enough for his body to press more closely to Clint’s. He felt his shaky exhale, saw the way Bucky licked his bottom lip, so close to Clint’s own mouth.

Oh god.

His own hand was moving of it’s own volition, sliding over Bucky’s shoulder and down his arm. He turned his head just enough so that he could feel Bucky’s breath on his face, and a frantic part of him was screaming at him about not fucking up the past, to stop because this was never supposed to happen.

Bucky lifted his head from Clint’s shoulder and he was so close, nose brushing Clint’s cheek, licking his bottom lip again and Clint was so far from home and he was so scared and alone, and then somehow their mouths were brushing, and there was an uncertain heartbeat of is this going to happen before Bucky was pressing closer and covering Clint’s mouth with his own.

It felt like the bottom had dropped out of Clint’s stomach. His hand was still on the back of Bucky’s head, no longer comforting but gently cradling as they kissed, cautious and gentle. It didn’t take long for Bucky to get over his reservations; maybe he’d been worried about rejection or still had some deeply internalised homophobia or something, Clint didn’t know, but as soon as he seemed to understand that Clint wasn't about to push him away he was pressing for more, catching Clint’s lower lip between his own and pulling Clint’s hips against his own, the kiss quickly turning urgent and needy.  

Clint let him. He chased the taste of wine on Bucky’s tongue, trying to pull him closer and press him back into the wall at the same time, and one of Bucky’s hands was roughly grabbing at his ass even as Bucky let his knees part wide, leaning back against the wall and pulling Clint inbetween his legs, breath hitching as Clint pushed his thigh between Bucky’s.

“Shit,” Bucky hissed, throat clicking on a gasp.

“Shh,” Clint breathed, trying to catch Bucky’s mouth with his own again. Bucky kissed him back harder, and for a moment Clint forgot about the war, forgot about the worry of getting home, forgot about the grief of losing Dunbar. He forgot about everything but the man in his arms, and he didn’t care one bit.

 


 

 

The Asset washes the blood from his face, checking in the mirror to ensure he's clean. He scratches at an itch on his chin, thoughtful. The mission went well. Two targets eliminated. The police will believe it's a lover's quarrel gone terribly wrong. They won't even know to look for the flash drive that he took from the man's luggage.

He doesn't know what's on it.  He doesn’t need to know.

The man had been blond. Not the right shade of blond, though.

He stops. Freezes. Thinks. What is the right shade of blond? Why does he even have a preference?

He remembers a face. Blond hair and grey-blue eyes, sad and serious before the man leaned in and kissed him, careful like he didn't want to scare the Asset away. He remembers his own hands moving, two human hands curling in the back of a dirty green shirt-

Someone once kissed him. He's astounded. He thinks hard, futile in his attempts to recall a name, a place. Someone once kissed him, he once had someone who cared-

“Hey. Boss wants report. Come on. Techs are waiting too.”

He looks up in the mirror at the man standing in the doorway. He's huge and broad and has a gun at his hip and a stun baton in his hand.

The Asset should nod and agree, should make his way to the cage for debrief. They tell him they do this every time. Clear his mind of the mission so he's ready for the next. Yes, it'll hurt, they say. But his mind and body know the routine, he knows that for him to be at his best it's necessary.

He hesitates.

The man stares at him. “Now,” he says. “You know the routine.”

“Why do I remember someone?” the Asset turns around to ask his questions directly. “They said I'd remember skills and routine, not people.”

The man takes a step back, raises the baton. “Get moving,” he says, tone threatening. “They’re waiting.

The Asset doesn't want to. He doesn't want to forget that man, the kiss. The fact that to someone he was something else.

“Nyet. No.”

The man stares some more, then reaches for his radio, eyes locked on the Asset.

“Asset resisting procedure,” he says. “Backup required.”

The Asset curls his hands into fists. That memory won't interfere with his missions, they have no reason to take it.

He feels like defending it.

Twenty minutes later the Asset is dragged unconscious into the cage. Bruised and battered and spitting angry, they strap him into the chair none too gently. The medics are tending to the eight other agents who aren't as lucky as the ones still able to walk.

“Next time, gassing him is the first plan,” one says viciously, stepping back so the techs can move in.

“Why did he resist? He's not resisted for years, not since the beginning,” the tech frets, attaching sensors, pushing the Asset’s limp head back.

“He was asking questions about shit he remembers,” the man says angrily. “You two, do your job properly and wipe him.

The techs exchange a worried look, but they don't say anything out loud. The agent misses the look, too angry to focus on anything but his bruised ribs and ego, but if he had been looking at the techs he would have been easy able to spot the fear in that exchanged glance, the unspoken ‘something is wrong.’

 

Chapter Text

Clint wakes up slowly, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling, blank and not quite with it. Slowly, his dream - no not his dream, the memories - start to fall into place and what past-him has done slowly starts to sink in.

Holy shit.

He reaches up with both hands, presses the heels on his palms to his eyelids, caught somewhere in a tangle between despair and shock and disbelief. He can taste the phantom echo of wine from Bucky’s mouth, can feel the rough stone from the cellar wall against his palms, the sturdiness and strength of Bucky’s thigh pushing between his own.

Holy shit.

Steve is going to kill him.

Well, maybe not kill him, but Clint really doesn’t know how he’s going to react if Clint tells him that past-him is fooling around with his dead best friend. Jesus, what is past him thinking? No wonder Wanda always looks at him gone out when he makes dumb decisions; being on the viewing end of the car crash that is his choices is enlightening to say the least.

He remembers Bucky gasping wetly against his neck, desperate hands clinging to him so hard it hurt. Remembers his own hands shaking afterwards, when they’d been straightening their shirts and buckling their belts back up. Remembers how Bucky’s mouth had been bitten and red and he’d been looking worried, too worried considering how he should have been feeling. He’d reassured Bucky then, telling him he’d never tell, swearing he’d keep it a secret, that no-one but them, the four walls and the wine bottles would ever know. Bucky’s eyes had turned cautious, looking away as he muttered, “we can just pretend it never happened.” He couldn’t forget his own response; lifting Bucky’s chin and kissing him again, selfishly saying no, already wanting it to happen again.

“You idiot,” he mutters, pressing his hands harder against his eyes, so bright spots dance across the darkness. “You complete crapsack, tyre-fire of a human being.”

But he’s stuck in a war, he thinks. He’s stuck in a goddamn war and Bucky is the only thing making him feel better. Well, that’s an exaggeration; he’s got a few friends who haven’t been shot or blown up yet, but Bucky.

Bucky.

Even as he thinks it, he’s hit with a hefty sense of grief, the pit of his stomach feeling hollow. He doesn’t have Bucky anymore. Past version of him appears to be embarking on a love affair of epic proportions, and Clint is sitting here in the future and has missed it all.

All he has are the memories, and that thought brings a lump to his throat. He feels oddly lonely. He’s had relationships before, good ones and bad ones, but this thing with Bucky...by how he remembers it’s something important. Something real.

And he’s missed it.

He wishes Nat were here; she’s the one he would rant to, could say all this out loud to. He’d feel better with Wanda and Pietro back as well, not that he’d talk to them about this or anything, but they’re good distractions and he misses them. And besides, he’s still not had a chance to properly yell at Pietro for getting him into this mess.

He climbs out of bed, hopping on one foot in an ungainly tangle of bedsheets before he tugs himself free. As he does, he notices his phone flashing at him, peeking out from under the corner of his pillow. He blinks at it and then processes the combination of white and purple lights which mean he’s got messages and there’s been an Avengers alert.

“Shit!”

He lunges for his phone, cursing some more as he sees the time of the alert, some fifty minutes prior. How the hell did he miss that? He curses even louder when he sees that the messages are from Jarvis, Jarvis, Steve, Steve, Steve, Tony, Steve and Steve. Aw, no. He’s going to be in big trouble when he gets to wherever he needs to go.

“Jarvis, help!” he yells, putting his hearing aids in and trying not to rush too much. A perforated eardrum would not help matters in the slightest.

“The team are still dealing with a threat in Michigan,” Jarvis tells him the moment his ears are online. “The fish are crawling out of the lake.”

“And...?”

“And are attempting to eat civilians.”

“There it is,” Clint mutters. “They went without me?”

“I believe that Captain Rogers may have left you a message or two.”

“Alright, alright,” Clint says with a scowl at the ceiling. He takes a deep breath and tries to forget about Bucky and get his head in the game. The past is the past, he needs to be here in the present day right now. “I’ll pack my wetsuit, you fire up the jet. I’m on the way.”

 


 

“Yeah, I know I complained a lot when we were sitting around,” Clint said, balancing an arrow on the tip of his finger as he walked, eyes fixed on the end. He wobbled slightly to the side as his foot found a pothole in the road, but he managed to sidestep and keep the arrow balanced. “But I’d kinda like to go back to sitting around.”

“I know,” Frank said glumly, hitching his rifle up. “My blisters have got blisters.”

“Quit your whining,” a voice said from behind them. Clint laughed as he snatched the arrow up, turning to grin at Dugan. He’d gotten to know him over the past couple days of marching, though it had taken an embarrassingly long time for it to click - Timothy ‘Dum-Dum’ Dugan was a name he’d already known: one of the Howling Commandos.

“Yeah, Frank, quit your whining,” he said. Frank just continued to look morose, like a scolded dog sulking and left without supper.

“Not that you can talk, Barton. You heard yourself when you get hungry?”

“I’m used to being well fed,” Clint said, thinking wistfully of the fully-stocked kitchen in Stark tower. “Used to being well fed and warm. This is like being a kid again.”

“What did you do back home then, to be so well fed?”

“Classified,” Clint replied.

“Oh, get out of it,” Dugan said with a snort. “Classified. Check this guy out, classified.

“No, it is,” Frank said. “He’s a specialist. Major Wintergreen bust him down to private.”

“What did you do to deserve that?”

“Belonged to the SSR,” Clint said. “The major isn’t a fan.”

“So the SSR get rid of you and we get stuck with you?” Dugan asked. “How’s that fair?”

“Hey, we got lucky,” a slightly muffled voice called, and Clint looked around to see Bucky jogging up, lips clamped around a cigarette. He took it from his mouth, holding it between thumb and forefinger and blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth. “You hear about what he did in Clanlieu?”

“Twenty-seven Krauts,” Frank said, and Bucky grinned.

“Twenty-seven Krauts,” he said, satisfied. He looked proud, falling into stride beside Clint and giving Dugan an oddly smug look over his shoulder; mouth curved up at the edges and a single brow raised.

“Alright, shut up,” Clint grumbled good-naturedly. Bucky rolled his eyes but did stop extolling Clint’s skill as a sniper, choosing instead to walk at his side, close enough so their elbows bumped.

It had been a week since that night, a week of furtive kisses in the dark and acting like it was nothing come daytime. Despite the pretense, it was anything but; the moments with Bucky were the only moments that Clint had felt normal since he’d been dragged backwards in time. Well, if he could count the whole jittery, butterflied, head-over-heels sensation he had as normal, then yeah. Being with Bucky felt normal.

It didn't quite ease the pain from losing Dunbar. Their platoon had lost another man when they’d met some mild resistance the day before yesterday, and that still felt raw for several of the men. Even so, Clint had noticed how quickly they got over deaths and losses to the company, and honestly he found it a little disconcerting. He’d never been in the position where he had to just carry on; any time he’d lost a friend or a member of the team he'd been working with, he’d had time afterwards to recuperate, to process, to grieve. Not here. Here it was relentless.

“Face like that for?”

Bucky elbowed him roughly, and Clint elbowed him back. “Thinking.”

“Thinking about?”

“Food,” Clint said vaguely.

“What, Frank’s stew?” Bucky said. “I’d rather starve, thanks.”

“Hey, that’s quality stew,” Dugan said loudly. “Goes in like it comes out and comes out like it goes in.”

Clint made a gagging noise, plugging his fingers in his ears so he didn’t hear Bucky’s rejoin about exactly what it was like coming out. God, being in the army was gross .

“Delicate little flower,” Bucky said, pulling Clint’s hands away from his ears. “What, you tell me you’re not shittin’ rivers like the rest of us-”

“Gah, shut up, shut up,” Clint protested.

“Oh sorry, specialist ,” Dugan said. “So sorry you have to come and slum it with the rest of us, without your fancy food and real toilets.”

“And showers,” Clint said. “We got showers.”

Suddenly, there was a flurry of motion from up front. Everyone was dropping to their knees and they followed suit without a hesitation, ducking down and going silent. Clint couldn’t hear anything, but he could see the lieutenant crouching on a knee towards the front of the line, fist held up by his head. Everyone waited, crouched in the gravel.

“Barton.” The whisper came down the line.

“Where’s Barton?”

“Iowa.”

“He’s back there.”

“At the back with Barnes.”

“Iowa. Lieutenant wants you up front.”

Clint glanced at Bucky, who looked back, jaw clenched and tense. Clint wanted to say something to reassure him, but he couldn’t, not in front of everyone, so he just nodded and slowly got up, darting up the line in a crouch, boots crunching in the gravel.

“Sir,” he breathed, dropping down next to the Lieutenant. In front of them the ground sloped down gently, rolling to the feet of an ancient farmhouse and outbuildings. Behind that he could see the reaching spire of a church, the distant roofs of a town.

“We’ve been expecting resistance all the way along this road and we’ve had nothing,” the lieutenant told him in an undertone. “We've got to go on, take the town. If there’s anything, it’s going to be here where there’s buildings, cover. You see anything?”

Clint straightened up marginally for a better view; he scanned his eyes back and forth and then he spotted something in the upstairs window of the farmhouse. A faint silhouette, a glint of glass.

“You’re right. Sniper in the farmhouse.”

The lieutenant hissed out a breath.  “That sniper won’t be alone.”

“Probably not,” Clint said. “You want me to get him?”

The Lieutenant nodded curtly, by that point not even taking the time to ask if Clint could do it. “Be my guest.”

Clint looked around and then slowly shuffled away, keeping low. He knew the eyes of the entire platoon would be on him, watching him slink off of the road and into the knee high grass that verged it. He kept on moving, fifty feet away from the platoon, a hundred feet away, two hundred. No way was he going to take out a sniper just to have any unseen retaliation be aimed at Bucky and the others.  

He found himself a spot. Stood up, drew and let fly. Right on target. Dropped back down and closed an eye, wincing in anticipation of retaliatory fire.

Nothing happened. Just to be safe, he commando crawled back to the rest of the company, getting up and waving, shooting the still-crouching men a thumbs up. There were a few pieces of scattered applause and Clint fought back a grin and just rolled his eyes, quickly scooting back to Bucky, Frank and Dugan.

“You get him?” Bucky asked. His eyes were intense, fixed unwaveringly on Clint. It made him shiver, warm prickles up and down his spine.

“Course,” Clint replied, nodding as Dugan clapped him on the shoulder. “Think we’re about to do something other than walking.”

“Alright boys,” Dugan murmured. “Clench up. Iowa thinks we’re going in.”

“Stick with me,” Bucky said to Clint, low enough so no-one else could hear.

Clint nodded, meeting Bucky’s eyes and wishing he was back in the future, where he could lean in and kiss Bucky, reassure him with calm and gentle words. But he wasn't. He’d get more than teasing from Tony and Pietro if he did the things he wanted to do, and never mind what might happen to him, he wasn’t going to put Bucky in that position.

“You gottit,” he said. “Now let's roll.”

 


 

When Clint arrives at the scene of the battle, it’s still going on. Creatures of all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes are literally crawling out of the lake, running, jumping and flying away. They look like fish except for how they’re clearly not, and Clint gives himself a moment to squint up at the flying ones, mouthing ‘what the fuck’, before he runs in to help.

“About time, Hawkeye!” Tony’s voice says over the comm. “What, were you napping?”

“I had a rough night,” Clint says, and miraculously Tony gets it and shuts up. “Where do you want me?”

“Anything that can fly, take it down,” Steve says. “We’re almost done.”

Clint nods, watches Iron Man blasting things that look somewhere between fish and crocodiles, all shiny scales and long snapping jaws. The things are bright green and it gives the whole picture some bizarre cartoon-like quality. Though really, with the time travel and the being a superhero and stuff, his whole life is like a cartoon at the best of times anyway.

But no, unfortunately the fuck-ugly fish creatures are very real, and double unfortunately there’s only four of them to deal with them. Triple unfortunate is the fact that one of the four is Pietro, because Clint still owes him a talking to or a beat-down for his part in the time-travelling mess. Considering he sees Pietro as little-brother, it makes sense for it to be the latter option, right?

Clint draws an arrow, nocks it on his bow and casually points it at the blue-clad figure down by the water’s edge.

“No shooting Pietro!” Steve says before Clint can even open his mouth. He makes an indignant noise as Pietro immediately vanishes in a blue blur, whipping around the lake.

“I didn’t say a thing!”

“Well, in Cap’s defense he has to tell you not to shoot Pietro at least once every mission,” Tony says. “He’s just getting it out of the way early.”

Clint rolls his eyes. “You’re gonna have to face me sooner or later!” he yells towards Pietro, trusting the comms will deliver his message even at supersonic speed.

“Family squabble later, killing over-evolved fish creatures now,” Tony says. “Hawkeye, shoot!”

Clint does as he’s told, picking off three of the creatures in quick succession. “Where the hell is Wilson, anyway?” he asks as he watches one of the fish plummet back into the lake with a splash. “Why isn’t he on gross fish killing duty?”

“Queens, helping with the evac in a fire,” Steve says. “And then meeting with the mayor on behalf of the team.”

“Shouldn’t that be your job?”

“Probably,” Steve says. “But funnily enough, I’m a hundred percent certain I’m not going to be back in time for that meeting.”

“Hey, you might make it,” Clint says. “What time is it at?”

“I am one hundred percent sure I am not going to be back in time for that meeting,” Steve repeats firmly. “Now, enough gossip; let’s get this done.”

“Shouldn’t take long,” Tony says, and Clint watches as he streaks overhead, landing nearby and squashing a thing that looks to be like a land-crawling shark. “They’re coming slower than they were-”

Even as he says it there’s an ominous rumble from beneath their feet, and the ground quakes. The water in the lake seems to draw back from the shore with a rushing sound, leaving shining pebbles and all manner of trash revealed as the water retreats.

“Aw, that can’t be good,” Clint says vaguely, and then there’s a deafening roar and then something erupts from the centre of the lake, a leviathan with shining scales and unblinking black eyes, a long eel-like body fronted by a gaping mouth full of barracuda teeth. Water showers back down onto the surface of the lake with a noise like thunder as its body writhes back and forth.

“You had to say it,” Steve says wearily.

“Yeah, I knew the moment the words came out of my mouth that’d I’d regret it,” Tony sighs. “Great.”

“That is an ugly fish,” Pietro says conversationally over the comms. “As ugly as you, Clint.”

“You say these things like I’m not going to shoot you.”

“No-one is shooting anyone,” Steve says, and then, “ Shit.

“Language,” Tony and Clint say automatically, and Steve calmly tells them to go fuck themselves.

“Okay, okay,” Tony says hastily and Clint stuffs his knuckles in his mouth to keep from laughing. “Plan?”

The creature roars and Clint watches in fascinated horror as it starts to worm its way towards the bank. The police on the opposite shore are clearly panicking. Luckily, as always, Steve steps up and takes control. 

“Clint - eyes and face. Pietro, keep perimeter. Tony - can you scan it and see if it’s got any weak spots? If it does, hit them.”

“Yes boss,” Tony says and then he’s gone again, soaring into the air. Clint watches him go and then draws an explosive arrow, carefully knocking it on his bow.

“Clear use use explosives, Cap?”

“Be my guest,” Steve says, and  Clint grins, lifting his bow.

“Awesome. Tony, get back. Pietro - you can stand as close as you like.”

 


 

 

Despite it’s horrifying appearance, the eel-fish-barracuda monster (or Pedro, as Clint names it) doesn’t last long. Soon it’s nothing more than a smoking carcass on the side of the lake, already covered in gulls and other scavengers. It’s also surrounded by police officers and various officials, who are somewhat flummoxed on what to do next.

“And you’re welcome,” Clint says happily, stretching his arms up above his head until his back pops in a very satisfying way.

“Normally I’d laugh, but you did good,” Tony says. “Point to Hawkeye for being not a totally useless Avenger.”

“You might want to be a little more grateful, my plan B was the Jonah protocol,” Steve says.

“What? It’s now a protocol ?”

“You seem fond enough of doing it,” Steve says unapologetically.    

“What can I say?” Tony replies breezily. “I obviously have a thing for swallowing.”

Clint bursts into laughter, covering the sound of Steve’s huff, half a sigh and half a groan. He hears him mutter something over the comms and then Tony starts to laugh too. He’s so busy laughing that he doesn’t notice the fish-creature crawling out of the lake just behind him.

The sound he makes when the shark-fish-frog thing lunges and latches its jaws around his boot is not dignified. Even through his panic he can tell that it’s several octaves higher than his normal tone, and he just knows the others would rather die than let him live it down.  

“Gah, get it off, get it off!” Clint yells, hopping backwards with wildly windmilling arms. Shark-fish-frog makes a strange hissing noise, still gnawing viciously at his boot, and Clint tries to steady himself so he can twist around and shoot it-

A flurry of blue rushes past him, and his foot is yanked up from under him, sending him sprawling onto his back. He wildly tries to right himself, just in time to see Pietro hurl both his boot and the shark-fish-frog back into the lake.

“Aw, come on!” he yells, holding his hands up in protest. “The boot as well?”

Pietro is back in front of him in an instant. “The boot is gone,” he says solemnly. “Let the boot go, old man.” He holds out a hand to Clint, hesitation written all over his face. Clint sighs and takes the hand, letting Pietro pull him up.

“And where the hell have you been?”

“You were angry at me,” Pietro says defensively, folding his arms across his chest. “I did not have the time to be lectured about safety from you and Stark.”

“You didn’t have the time?” Clint says, putting his bare foot down and grimacing. “You being a smartass might have wrecked the universe.”

“You’re the one that will be wrecking the universe.”

Clint feels his temper flare. “Cut the attitude, Pietro, before I start yelling.”

There’s a moment in which he thinks Pietro is going to carry on being belligerent, but then he looks away, half turning his body so they’re no longer face to face.

“Sajnálom,” he mutters, and Clint knows enough Sokovian to recognize sorry when he hears it, even if it’s rarely Pietro saying the word.

“Okay team, area is contained,” Steve’s voice says through his earpiece. He sounds tired. “Keep eyes open for anything else, I’m going to see if I can find out what the hell has happened here.”

“Uh, you want me to tackle that?” Tony’s voice replies. “You sound done.”

“I said I’d do it, alright?” Steve snaps, and Clint and Pietro look at each other and wince as a very long silence follows.

Finally, Tony breaks the silence. “You got it,” he says, sounding unconcerned. “Barton, get Roadrunner on the jet and take him home. I’ll keep perimeter and backup Cap if he needs me.”

He doesn’t hear anything else, so just walks towards the jet, limping slightly on his bare foot. His ankle feels sore, probably because he had the boot ripped from it at four thousand miles per hour, or however fast Pietro can actually go.

“Do you need…?” Pietro asks, gesturing at him in an awkward offer of help. Clint shakes his head and Pietro just tails after him, climbing onto the jet and slumping into the co-pilot’s chair. He removes his comm device and tosses it aside; Clint reaches up to turn off the uplink to his hearing aid.

“Steve seems…” Pietro says abruptly as Clint walks towards him. He holds a hand up and seesaws it. “Is there a word for okay and then not okay very suddenly?

Clint grimaces. He lifts his hand and mimics the seesaw hand motion. “That about covers it,” he says. “He’s having a shit time.”

“More shit than you are?”

Pietro says it quietly, not a trace of a joke in his tone. Clint glances at him as he sits down and starts flicking switches and engaging the engines, the rumbling sound playing hell with his hearing for a second before his aids sort out the layers of sound. He shakes his head from side to side, a habitual motion he barely notices anymore.

“You know what’s happened?”

Pietro nods. “I spoke to Wanda. Part of you is back in time, with Steve’s brother. He is heartbroken that he died.”

Clint thinks about correcting him there, but decides there’s no need. “Yeah. Guy called Bucky,” he says. “Died during the war.”

It’s hard to even get the words out. Even though he never had Bucky, he feels for the version of him who does and is going to lose him. He doesn’t think that his other self has even really contemplated it properly yet. When he does, Clint is sure he’ll feel every ounce of that pain as he dreams, when he wakes up and remembers what his other self has done and seen.

“I did not know the stone was so powerful,” Pietro says, and pauses. “Wanda has yelled at me a lot.”

“Good, someone should,” Clint says.

“Sajnálom,” Pietro says and Clint kicks out at him, managing to clip him on the shin.

“That’s twice you’ve said sorry in under five minutes. Stop it, you’re being weird.”

“Asshole,” Pietro mutters, and then snottily adds, “better?”

Clint can’t help but smile. “Much.”

 


 

“I’m just saying, if they were smart, they’d send you to Berlin,” Bucky said, watchful eyes scanning the open field in front of them. It was silent and still, nothing at all moving as far as they could see in the cold moonlight. They were sitting in a foxhole in the bottom of a hedge a half-mile from the town they'd taken that day, watching for any signs of retaliation heading their way. Clint wasn't expecting to find any trouble; the town had been easy to take by their latest standards. He didn't really expect the enemy to expend huge amounts of energy on recapturing a town that they'd all but handed over.

“Why would they do that?”

“Get you within a hundred feet of Hitler,” Bucky reasoned, and clicked his fingers. “One shot, done. Then we can rename thanksgiving Clint Barton day and all go home.”

“How do you even know he’s in Berlin?”

“Well, send you wherever the man is,” Bucky said impatiently. He rummaged in his pockets for his cigarettes, and then spent another minutes searching for his lighter, muttering curses until he found it.

“The lieutenant only just trusts me to take out snipers,” Clint shrugs. “No ways he’s going to trust me with a mission like that.”

“So? I know. The entire top-brass is ass backwards, they’d never do something smart like send the best sniper we’ve got to kill the man.”

“Check you out, sweet talking me like that,” Clint grinned. “Best sniper. Shucks, Barnes.”

“Not sweet talking, it’s the truth,” Bucky said, and then took his eyes off the line, mouth curling into a grin before he leaned in and murmured in Clint’s ear. “If I was sweet talkin’ I’d be telling you about how your ass is the best I ever set eyes on.”

Clint shivered at both the words and the warm breath on his ear. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, and Clint heard him swallow thickly. “Can barely think straight some days, walking behind you.”

Clint felt his pulse pick up, body going warm despite the chill in the air. He shifted a little, knee knocking against Bucky’s.

“Thinking about my ass?”

Bucky’s breath wavered, hot on Clint’s neck. “Thinking about what I’d do to it,” he whispered.

“Sergeant Barnes?”

They both jumped a mile at the loud whisper that carried on the air, coming from a few feet behind them. Clint wrenched back and Bucky cursed, lunging for his rifle and twisting up around out of the foxhole, only to come nose to nose with Snowden and Gillespie.

“Fuckers!” Bucky hissed, lowering his gun. “I’da shot you!”

“We’re here to relieve the watch,” Gillespie said. “Didn’t mean to make you jump.”

“Fuckers,” Bucky repeated, and looked at Clint with a scowl. “Come on, Iowa. We’re out of here.”

Clint didn’t need to be told twice. Adjusting his pants, he got up and snatched up his bow, scrambling out of the foxhole so Snowden and Gillespie could slide in. He walked away back the way they had came, cursing the interruption. Bucky had been getting more brazen with every day that passed, and Clint had never been in the position where he couldn’t just act on his desire. Sure, there had been plenty of times where he probably shouldn’t have acted, but he’d never had to show restraint like this.

Bucky caught up with him in silence, walking beside him and falling into step. Clint could smell cigarette smoke and sweat, and it was driving him mad-

Before he really knew what he was doing, he’d got Bucky’s arm in his grip and was pushing him off the trail, away from the town.

“What the hell?” Bucky asked, voice low. “It’s that way-”

“Shut up and trust me,” Clint replied, and he slid his hand down from Bucky’s bicep to his wrist, and then finally lower so their fingers were tangled together. He quickened his pace so they were almost jogging, stumbling through the undergrowth.

“We’ll be missed,” Bucky said breathlessly.

“Not for a while,” Clint said. “And if anyone asks, we say he thought we saw something and checked it out.”

They come through the woodland onto the open fields on the edge of the newly-captured town, the farmhouse and the church black silhouettes against a navy sky. Clint sped up even more, running across the field and vaulting the low church wall, hauling Bucky with him.

“Iowa!” Bucky protested, though he was laughing breathlessly, even as Clint pulled him into the shadows. “What’s your game?”

“Yeah like you don’t know,” Clint said, turning to walk backwards, pulling Bucky in by the lapels of his jacket and kissing him hard as he backed right up against the church wall.

“Oh, god,” Bucky said, sounding strangled. “Shit, I’m gonna get struck down where I stand. We’re in a fuckin’ churchyard-”

“We're celebrating life,” Clint said, and pushed Bucky around so he had his back to the wall, still kissing him and kissing him.

“Christ, Iowa,” Bucky gasped, hands fisting in Clint’s shirt as Clint kissed down his neck, pulling his collar aside to get at as much skin as he could, pale and dirt streaked in the moonlight. “What’s up with you?”

“You and your mouth,” Clint said as he pulled back, catching Bucky’s mouth and pushing him back against the wall. He was all over the place; fuelled by lust like he’d never felt before, a need to be as close to Bucky as he could get.

“Only speakin’ the truth,” Bucky panted between kisses. “Shush, you’re gonna get us caught.”

“We’re miles away,” Clint said, and pulled back. “We won’t get caught.”

“We better not,” Bucky said, and his hands slid onto Clint’s neck to pull him in again, breathing hitching as Clint’s hands went for his belt. “Won’t get caught. Gonna get through this, take you back to Brooklyn.”

“Yeah?” Clint breathed. Bucky’s belt buckle jangled as Clint pulled it open, tugging at the buttons of his fly. “Brooklyn?”

“I know a few neighborhoods,” Bucky said, staggering slightly as Clint pulled roughly at his pants. “Move you in.”

“What if I want to stay in Manhattan?” Clint said, and then realized his slip up. “Or back home in Iowa.”

“You lived in Manhattan?” Bucky asked, temporarily thrown. “I thought-”

“We can talk about the nine different cities I’ve lived in over breakfast,” Clint said. “Tell me more about this neighborhood of yours.”

“You’ll see,” Bucky replied. “Top floor apartment. Pals across the hall. Bar across the way. You buying me drinks.”

“Painting the town red,” Clint said, groaning as he tipped his head back, letting Bucky mouth at his neck. Bucky laughed breathlessly and Clint smiled, but then his stomach dropped and he went very still.

He’s not going to make it.

Bucky Barnes never made it through the war.

The idle fantasy came crashing down around him like shattering glass. Bucky was talking about making it home, clinging onto the idea of being out of this mess and with Clint, and Clint knew that wasn't going to happen.

Unless he saved him.

“Iowa? Clint?” Bucky lifted his head from Clint’s neck, frowning. “What?” He looked around uneasily, leaning back from Clint, one hand going to hold the front of his pants together.

“No, it’s alright,” Clint said, and pulled him back in, stronger fingers curled around his hips. “Thought I heard something, it’s okay. We’re fine.”

Bucky didn't look convinced. “What did you hear? We should probably-”

Clint shut him up very effectively by dropping to his knees in front of him, reaching for the hand that was holding his pants closed. “Relax,” he said and tugged Bucky’s fingers away, leaning in and pressing his mouth to the skin beneath, just above the dark curls of hair. Bucky made a noise in the back of his throat that was half gasp, half whine, staring down at Clint with wide eyes.

“What are you doing?

“Tying your bootlaces,” Clint replied, looking up at him. “Tell me more about what we’re gonna do when we get out of here.”

As Clint eased his pants down so that they sat low on his hips, Bucky shuddered from head to toe, melting back against the wall. His eyes were screwed shut and he was breathing harshly in and out of his mouth. “Well, we’re gonna be doing this every day.”

“Every day?” Clint asked, leaning in and mouthing at the top of Bucky’s thigh, just to feel him twitch.

“Twice on weekends,” Bucky replied unsteadily, and Clint laughed, heart clenching and aching in a strange way he’d not felt in a long time.

“You gottit,” he murmured, looking up. Bucky glanced down at him and smiled, breathless and happy, the dark shadows in his eyes absent. He reached out to stroke his hand across Clint’s cheek and Clint decided there and then, on his knees in the dirt behind some crumbling church in the middle of nowhere, that he was going to do everything and anything he could to save Bucky Barnes, timestream be damned.

 


 

Clint and Pietro get back in good time, though it’s only twenty minutes before Clint is threatening to kill Pietro if he doesn’t stop touching stuff. Pietro just cheerfully tells him that Tony lets him when he’s piloting, which is either a barefaced lie or means that Tony’s soft spot for the twins is squishier than he’s letting on. Pietro is off the jet before the engines have even fully powered down, racing into the tower and yelling about needing a shower because fish guts are disgusting.

He’s not wrong but he is a giant baby, so Clint deals with the jet like a grown up and then races in to get a shower, yelling about fish guts being disgusting.  

An hour later, with fish guts washed away and suits sent for some serious cleaning, Clint finds his planned post-mission nap on the couch rudely interrupted by Pietro, who runs in and vaults over the back of the couch, landing next to him and scattering pillows everywhere. Clint tells him to go away. Pietro does not. Clint tells him to go make coffee, which he does, so Clint resigns himself to the interruption.  He’s a little bemused by it to be honest, and by the way Pietro continues to fetch coffee and snacks without argument. He still keeps making old man jokes though, so Clint’s not too worried about him being an impostor.

Steve and Tony return a couple of hours later, just as they’re getting into their fifth round of Rainbow Road on MarioKart. Tony stops long enough to remind them that they better not be drinking if they’re going to play MarioKart, before ushering an unusually tired and sleepy looking Steve out of the room.

Clint is winning by five games to four and things are getting heated when they’re luckily interrupted by another arrival; Thor and Wanda. Pietro lets out a happy shout and throws the controller in the air for Clint to catch, before jumping off the couch and running at Wanda, scooping her up into a hug.

She laughs and protests, finally resorting to zapping Pietro with a brief burst of - magic? Swirly red stuff? Whatever it is - to get him to put her down.

“Shush, stop worrying,” she says, interrupting his rapid-fire Sokovian. “Clint told me all this before I left, I am fine.”

“He just have stopped you going,” Pietro replies.

Clint’s mouth falls open in exasperated affront and he looks at Thor for backup. Thor simply shrugs. “She was fine,” he says. “Though I may regret taking her; she and my mother are a force to be reckoned with when they team up.”

“Serves you right for taking her away,” Pietro says, and Clint fights the urge to throw the controller at the back of his head.

“So, what did you find out?” he says. “Can you rescue me? Am I stuck in time forever?”

Thor comes in and sits down next to Clint; Wanda perches on the edge of the couch and runs her hand over his head. She wrinkles her nose as she does, pulling back.

“You smell like fish.”

“I showered!” He protests, over the sound of Pietro cackling in the background. “Shove off, Pietro!”

Wanda says something sharp to Pietro who does stop laughing but pulls a face at Clint behind Wanda’s back. Clint ignores him and turns to Thor expectantly, not entirely sure what he wants to hear.

“So, from what we know of the time stone, it appears a copy of you has been sent back. Your position here in this time with us is secure. If your copy is injured or dies, you here will not be affected.”

Clint swallows, remembering dreams of gunfire and near misses. “Well, that’s good,” he says, though it’s hesitant. He is glad that nothing will happen here, but his other self...he’s not sure what he’ll feel like if his other self does bite it.

“We think that nothing will change,” Wanda says, reaching over to run her fingers through his hair again. He bats her away, impatient. She’s been away from Pietro for ten freaking minutes and she’s clearly missed being a mother hen. “Whatever your counterpart does, it will not affect the future.”

Now that is a relief. “Oh, so no ‘oops I stepped on a bug, now a pterodactyl is the president’ kinda stuff?”

“Your mind is truly an amazing place,” Thor says, clapping him on the shoulder. “Terrifying, yes. But amazing.”

“Thanks?” Clint says uncertainly.

“It will be fine,” Wanda says to him, taking one of his hands in hers. This time he lets her.

Thor nods, agreeing with her sentiments. “You cannot break anything. The future will stay as the future no matter what you do. Anything you do will be cancelled out in some way or another. The Time Stone is clever. Much more so than us.”

“Have you met me? I’m pretty sure somehow I can break something.”

“True,” Thor concedes. “We’ll see.”

“So, about my other half. My other part,” Clint corrects, thinking about his other part’s actual other half and flushing slightly. “Can we get him back? Mush him back into me? Or can we just…leave him alone?”

“What would you prefer?” Thor says. “The ladies of Asgard say that there may be a connection between you and your copy-”

“Yeah, I remember what I did - what he did when I sleep,” Clint says. “I dream.”

“But he is in a war,” Wanda says. Behind her, Pietro edges closer, and then moves past her and sits down by Clint’s feet, picking up the games controller again. “You will see everything he goes through.”

“Yeah...but he’s alright,” Clint says and he knows it sounds lame without any real reason, but he’s not about to admit that his past self has fallen in love and he’s so lonely that he’s latching onto that, he’s willing to take the risk of seeing terrible things just so he can have a part in this story. Well, it is him having the big romantic love affair during the war. He’s allowed to have a part of it, right?

Thor looks at him steadily. He knows there’s something more Clint is sure of it. Steve would outright ask, but Thor isn’t always as direct, and he just appraises Clint for a long moment. “I can ask mother to keep searching for a way to bring him back,” he says. “Or I can let him live his full life in that time. It is whether you can live with your own life here now while also dwelling on his.”

“His life is my life, right?” Clint tries.

“You know Steve,” Thor simply says. “So I ask you if you think it is wise to continually live in the past?”

“Alright, oh wise one,” Clint says, because he can’t argue with that, really. It doesn’t make him feel much better, especially in light of what he's just learned. If his counterpart can't change anything...then his love-affair with Bucky Barnes is going to end tragically, and there's nothing to be done about it. Unless his other part can save Bucky and they can live a long and happy life together without it impacting on this reality here.

Ugh. Fucking time stone.

He shakes the thoughts away, but he knows they won't have gone far, like thunderclouds hanging on the horizon. “Ask them to keep looking.”

Thor nods, claps him on the shoulder again and then leaves the room, nodding at Wanda as he goes. She smiles and then pushes at Clint, making him move up so she can curl up in the corner of the couch, sighing tiredly.

“So did you two behave while I was away?” she asked.

Clint breathes in steadily, does his best to act normal. And acting normal usually involves bitching at Pietro, so he goes right for it. She won't suspect a thing is amiss. “I did, Pietro didn’t. He threw my boot in a lake.”

“I saved your foot from being eaten!”

Wanda sighs.”Maybe I should have stayed on Asgard.”

Clint forces a grin, pulls her in with an arm around her neck, smacking a kiss to her temple. “You missed us.”

“No,” she protests, but Pietro is laughing and nodding. “She missed us,” he says in satisfaction, holding up a hand for Clint to high-five. Clint obliges, and Wanda rolls her eyes so hard it probably hurts.

“Missed you like a hole in the head,” she says, but she’s smiling and settling at Clint’s side without any further argument.

Extricating his arm, Clint slouches back down onto the couch, watching the TV without really seeing it. He’s got a lot to be grateful for here, he knows; his friends and his team and the sort of dysfunctional little family unit he’s got going on here. But he can’t stop his mind drifting to the past, the strange ache in his stomach that misses Bucky Barnes with every minute that passes.

 

 


 

 

“And then the guy says, what, I thought you said a hundred bucks a go.”

Clint snorted with lazy laughter, scratching idly at his shoulder. There was a rough graze on it from the fighting a couple of days prior, and he was being driven mad by the itching as it healed. As well as that, he was cold and hungry and so, so bored . He never would have thought being in a war - and a world war at that - would be boring, but it was starting to gnaw incessantly at him. He missed his phone and his laptop and the eight hours of Parks and Rec he had recorded and saved. He missed automatic technology and having Jarvis do everything for him when he was in the tower. He missed being able to play angry birds and 2048 and missed texting Sam pictures of birds at what he was told were ‘distressingly frequent intervals.’   

But no. Instead he was sitting in the pitch black in a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do but stare at the dirt walls and dirt floor and listen to Bucky’s increasingly vulgar stories. He sighed, turned his face up into the sharp air and stared at the black velvet of the sky, the brilliant stars that he never got to see in NYC. It made him feel very small and very far away from home.

“Come on, that was the best story I got,” Bucky said, elbowing him. Clint elbowed him back, wriggling to get comfy and slumping down even further so his cheek rested against Bucky’s upper arm.

“I laughed, didn’t I?” He yawned, blinking slowly. “Give me a break, I’m tired.”

“Catch some shut eye then, I’ll keep watch,” Bucky said. “We’re not going anywhere soon.”

Clint made a disgruntled whining sound in the back of his throat and turned his face into Bucky’s shoulder, the rough cotton harsh against his nose. He folded his arms tightly across his chest, wished for his warm bed and his coffee maker.

He was jostled as Bucky leaned back and shoved his arm behind him, pulling him around so Clint was nestled into his side, curled up against him.

“Someone’ll see,” he mumbled as Bucky’s arm slid behind him, hand settling on the back of his hip.

“Dark,” Bucky muttered back. “No-one can see shit.”

“You’re getting brave,” Clint said and laughed, jolting away as Bucky pinched him.

“You’re cold,” he replied simply.

Clint felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth and exhaled heavily, relaxing against Bucky. What the hell. Even if someone did come along, they’d probably just assume Clint had fallen asleep against him. He’d seen other soldiers piled together in sleep before, even when awake, just seeking warmth and closeness. He and Bucky probably weren’t worth batting an eyelid over.

And he was over worrying about what this would do to the future. He was pretty sure he was stuck here now, so frankly the future could go and fuck itself. He sighed out a contented breath, and he let himself sleep.

 


 

Clint, Clint , wake up! Iowa, come on!

Clint slowly and groggily blinked himself awake, for a moment his body and brain too cold to process. But then he felt two hands roughly grab him and try haul him up, and then his ears sorted out the layers of sound and it was Bucky shouting at him and trying to drag him up, and there was the sound of explosions and a roaring rumble. The sky above him was lit up in a horrid bright blue that was far too similar to Loki, and he could hear screaming-

“IOWA!”

And Bucky was screaming at him too. Clint surged into life, scrambling up grabbing his bow, and as they clambered inelegantly out of the foxhole they could see everyone else running too, running so hard they were staggering and tripping. The grass was wet under their boots, the sharp smell of wet earth heavy in the air.

“What is it?” he yelled, slinging his quiver over his back and grabbing an arrow, heart pounding as he ran just behind Bucky. It sounded like explosions, terrible rumbling sounds that sounded like the skyscraper-tall doombot that the team had destroyed last year, but it couldn’t be because that was then, not here and now-

“Who gives a fuck, just run!” Bucky bellowed, grabbing someone's shoulder as they staggered and pushing them upright. "Go, everyone, go!"

It was on the tip of Clint’s tongue to snap back, he very almost dug his heels in then and there to be contrary, but the fear in the air kept him going. He had no backup here, he had no idea what he was fighting against. An almighty roar signaled another blast of blue, decimating the woodland to their backs, and Clint needed to get Bucky out of here, needed to get him safe-

They scrambled over the crest of a bank and slid down into the ditch the other side, hitting a gaggle of bodies, all standing at the bottom. He yelled in anger and went to shove at them to get them moving, but just before he could he noticed that Bucky had stopped dead still, staring at something beyond the ditch, pure fear etched into every line of his face.

Clint looked up, and his heart seized in his chest, his stomach twisting up into a knot. Silhouetted against a distant glow of malevolent orange was a tank, the sheer size of which Clint had never even comprehended. Smoke chugged into the sky like an oil slick, the stars smothered. Behind them, he could hear the dull grinding of machinery and screaming and shouting, all the sounds blurring together. Another tank , his brain supplied. That’s what the noise was. Not a robot. Just a tank the size of a house.

“Iowa.”

Shaking fingers found his shirtsleeve and gripped on tightly. He looked wildly around, trying to find an escape, but there were too many of them and the tanks were huge and it was all starting to add up in his mind, memories of things he had read and heard clicking together into a picture he didn’t want to see.

In the autumn of 1944, Bucky Barnes was captured by Hydra.

Barnes’ whole unit was captured.

That staff of Loki’s. It was like what we saw back in the war. Tesseract powered weapons.

Oh, no.

He reached blindly over and found Bucky’s shoulder, fingers digging into muscle hard enough so that he’d probably leave bruises. He could feel the guy on his other side shaking like a leaf. Bucky pressed even closer to him and Clint wanted to both kick the ass of whatever it was that had made Bucky feel like that, and also hold him in both arms, to promise him that he was going to keep him safe. In the back of his mind was a faint glimmer of hope; he knew in version one of this whole ordeal, Bucky survived being captured. As long as Clint hadn’t ruined time and somehow messed it up so that future events would be altered, Bucky’d be fine. They’d be fine.

He could hear shouting in German. More rumbling as a third tank appeared from the West, even bigger than the others. Surrounded. He looked back to Bucky and met his eyes, bright in the gloom. His stomach jolted as he saw Bucky’s expression; it was painfully, agonizingly clear that in that moment, standing there like cornered and cowering dogs in the bottom of a muddy trench, Bucky thought this was it. Bucky thought they were about to die.

Clint shook him roughly. “We’re not dying like this,” he hissed angrily, shaking Bucky again. “You hear me? Brooklyn, remember?”

Bucky blinked, swallowed hard. He dipped his chin in a jerky nod, and Clint watched him claw back some of the courage that had almost left him.

“Not today,” he muttered, and was able to lift his chin that bit higher, the straps of his unbuckled helmet swinging against his chin. He was so pale and his eyes were too bright, but his jaw was clenched and he wasn’t giving in. Clint wanted to kiss him then and there, a rush of need and want that made him desperate and furious and so damn lucky all at once.

“Not today,” Clint repeated, and he twisted his hand around, took the fingers that were clenched in his shirtsleeve and folded his own around them.

 


 

The Asset sits at the table, poking listlessly at the meal on the tin tray in front of him. Just outside the door, the techs and his handler are having a heated debate about what to do with him.

He nudges at the rice with his fork, mind wandering. He’s thinking about the man with the bright eyes. The one who kissed him, the one who was always there for him, at his side. He remembers walking with him, shoulder to shoulder, sharing a cigarette.

The techs had wiped him yesterday evening. He’d woken up with these new memories, perfectly formed and clear, like glass washed clean by the rain.

“We wiped him yesterday!” one of the techs shouts again. They should have shut the door. “He hasn’t left the building!”

“Then where are these memories coming from?” his handler shouts back. “How is he gaining memories of this guy when he’s being wiped every evening?”

“We can’t keep wiping him at this rate,” a second tech breaks in. “We’ll fry his procedural memory if we do.”

“What the hell is procedural memory?”

“Well, if we damage it, we won’t remember how to load a gun, let alone complete a mission. Everything he’s learned is stored there.”

“Well, what do we do?”

The voices go quieter again, indistinct murmurs. The Asset sighs and drops his fork, giving up on the meal. He’s scheduled to go out in two hours so he could probably use the energy. He doesn’t feel like eating, though. He feels like going back to bed and dreaming more of the man in the blood-stained khaki uniform, with his ears that don’t work and his pinpoint accuracy with a bow, of all things.

Dreaming of the way the man sank to his knees in front of him, eyes bright and mouth wet. It makes him shiver in a way he’s really not used to. He thinks he likes it, but then what would be the point even if he did decide he liked it?

He doesn’t know why he remembers this man and their time together. It’s as if someone is slipping the memories into his brain, too quickly for the techs and the wipes to keep up with.

He picks up his bottle of water, drains it and puts the lid back on, setting it neatly next to his tray. He hopes they’ll let him sleep tonight, instead of putting him back in cryo after the mission. When he sleeps, he dreams, and when he dreams he has someone with him.

Someone who matters.

Chapter Text

The bars of the cells were locked with an audible click, the echoing twist of metal on metal. The guard looked up and met Clint’s eyes dispassionately, before turning and walking away. Further along the room, there were more echoing clangs of metal as more cage doors were closed and locked.

“Shit,” Clint muttered, pushing past everyone to the front of the cage, wrapping his hands around the cold bars and pressing his forehead to them. He scanned the room left and right; they appeared to be in a warehouse or factory of some sort, with their cages set underneath a grilled metal walkway. The room was faintly lit by the weak light of the sunrise, meekly peering in through high windows.

“You see anything?”

Bucky was right behind him, just as he’d been on the entire march. Hours and hours of walking, stumbling and tripping and being threatened with terrible guns that Clint didn’t recognize. They had followed several steadily rumbling jeeps, which they knew contained all of the weapons they’d had confiscated.

“No,” Clint muttered back, and pulled at the bars ineffectually. Damn, what he wouldn’t have given for Steve to be there. Even Iron Man. Or Hulk; he’d definitely take assistance from the Hulk at that point. “Just more cages.” Shit, there must have been hundreds of soldiers here, all crammed into the pens like livestock. He turned and looked behind him; he could see Dugan and Snowden as well as a whole gaggle of men he didn’t know, all with different unit badges and even some in completely different uniforms.

The guards vacated the room without looking back, two of them talking in German. Clint waited until he was sure they were gone, retreating uniforms vanishing into the darkness of the corridor.

“Hey, who we got? Who’s here?” he called out, and made an indignant noise as a hand cuffed him around the back of the head.

“Shut the hell up,” Dugan said, voice low and fierce, even as Clint shoved his hand away. “You’re gonna get us killed.” 

“You shut up,” Clint replied, and raised his voice again. “Hey, anyone else from the one oh seventh?”

A murmur of voices rose, and then he heard someone calling out.

“Iowa?”

“Gillespie!” Clint shouted back. “You alive?”

“I reckon so,” Gillespie shouted back, voice wavering. “I got Morton and Smith, and a bunch of guys say they’re from the hundred and first!”

“The hundred and first?” Clint said in confusion, and then raised his voice again. “Who else we got?”

“What, you doing roll-call?” Bucky hissed.

“The more we know, the better,” Clint said distractedly, before shouting back. “Come on, one oh seventh, hundred and first? Who else is here?”

Several voices shouted back, and Clint soon found that they had a shitload of different platoons, companies, branches, divisions and even nationalities crammed in around them. In his pen alone they had the four of them from their company in the one oh seventh, two guys from another company, three paratroopers and a British red devil who was leaning against the back wall of the cage with his arms folded across his chest, one eyebrow lifted just enough to show his interest in what was happening.

Clint was halfway through a conversation with Sergeant Towser who was four cages down and had seen the company Lieutenant take a hit from one of the strange weapons, when an angry German voice cut through their chatter. An officer appeared from the darkness, bellowing as he strode forwards. Everyone went quiet, most people stepped back away from the bars.

The man slowed his pace, walked slowly forwards, eyeing the prisoners like they were an annoyance. His eyes passed over Clint and moved onto the next cage without pause, heavy boots echoing on the stone floor as he wandered.

“So, you saving us for later, huh?” Clint called at the man’s back. Bucky grabbed at his arm and Clint yanked free, keeping his eyes locked on the man as he slowly turned and walked back towards him.

“Why’re we here?” Clint asked. “Not that I’m complaining about being indoors for a night, but the hospitality could be better.”

The man walked up so he was right against the bars. “Americans,” he said with a faint sneer.

“Well, not all of us,” Clint said. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “You’ve scooped up a Brit as well.”

The Red Devil at the back simply waved, eyebrow lifting that little bit more.

The guard sneered. “So cocky,” he said. “Not for long, I am sure.”  

Clint glanced at the insignia on the man’s coat. An octopus with curling tentacles.  “My Pa tried to beat it out of me,” he said casually. “Didn’t work then, won’t work now.”

The man moved quicker than Clint was expecting, and he cried out in pain as a baton was suddenly jammed into his abdomen, hard enough to knock the wind from him. He fell back into Bucky, who grabbed him before he hit the floor. 

“Fuckin’ asshole!” Bucky yelled, staggering slightly under Clint’s weight. “Let us go!”

“Be quiet,” the guard said, and turned on his heel and left.

Clint felt himself being lowered to the floor. Groaning, he clutched at his stomach, trying to draw a deep enough breath. “What an asshole,” he managed, leaning back against Bucky, half sprawled between his spread knees.

“You’re the asshole, what’re you thinking, asking for trouble?” Bucky said angrily. His eyes were too bright and he was trembling.

“You don’t get information saying nothing,” Clint said. “We’ve got to get out of here.”

“Well, sorry to rain on your parade, Yanks, but we’ve been trying for a week to get out of here,” the Red Devil drawled from his spot. “I’m afraid we’re stuck.”

“You’re just not trying hard enough,” Clint said through gritted teeth.

“Well as much as I dislike that fellow, he was right,” the man said. “You are cocky.”

Dugan rounded on the man, but Clint just laughed weakly. “One of my many character defects.”

“You got that right,” Bucky said roughly, and pushed him off his knee, climbing back to his feet. “You asshole.”

Clint looked indignantly up at him. “Hey, I’m on your side here,” he said, nodding in thanks as two of the paratroopers grabbed his arms and heaved him up.

“I know,” Bucky snapped back, and he turned his back on Clint and stared through the bars on the other side of the cage. He folded his arms tightly across his chest. “You’re still an asshole.”

Sighing and rubbing gingerly at his stomach, Clint let him go. To try and force anything would result in Bucky losing his temper with him, and it wasn’t like he could go over and touch him, no matter how much he wanted to. He wanted to step up behind him, wrap an arm around Bucky’s waist and one around his shoulders, hold him tight and tell him that they weren’t going to die here, that they’d be okay.

“You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that,” Dugan said, clapping Clint on the shoulder. “What do we do?”

Before Clint could reply, the Brit stepped away from the bars, looking at him curiously. “I know you Yanks aren’t exactly by the book, but surely the Sergeant is the man of rank here?”

All heads turned to look at Bucky, who obstinately refused to turn around. Clint dragged a hand down his face, blowing out a breath against his palm. “Well, Sergeant Barnes currently has a stick up his ass, and I think this is outside of normal operating procedures...” He trailed off, thinking of Tony yelling ‘time for the rule-book to go out of the window, Cap!’ as he rushed past in a blur of red and gold.

“He’s not really a private,” Snowden chipped in unexpectedly. “He’s supposed to be a first-lieutenant.”

“A specialist,” Dugan added. “He knows what he’s doing.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Clint said, alarmed. “I have no idea what I’m doing. Stop looking at me like that-”

“We’ll work something out,” Bucky’s voice unexpectedly said. He turned around abruptly and moved to stand next to Clint’s side, elbow knocking against Clint’s. “Fuck rank right now. Anyone got a good idea, let’s hear it. You too Snowden, stop looking like you’re gonna throw up and think.

He’d got a determined clench to his jaw that Clint hasn’t seen before, something angry and dark in his eyes that looked very similar to the barely restrained anger that Clint used to sometimes spot in Steve’s expression. It was the same reaction to futility, to powerlessness, and Clint was very taken aback to recognize it. 

He couldn’t dwell on that though. He breathed deep, took strength from Bucky being stood at his side, thought about what Steve would expect him to do in this situation.

“Right. Let’s get out of this hell hole.”

 


 

Clint wakes shaking, his stomach feeling tight and something very close to real fear thudding behind his sternum. It takes a moment for him to place himself, to recognize that he’s in his bed in his apartment and not locked in a cage somewhere in Europe. 

He swings his legs out of bed, floorboards cool under his bare feet. Breathing shallowly, he leans forwards with his elbows braced on his knees and his head in his hands, wondering if he’s going to cry.

No, he tells himself. You’ll be fine. The you who’s been captured isn’t crying, so you can suck it up and deal with it.

It’s hard. He keeps remembering Bucky’s terrified face, the way he’d looked so helpless. It breaks his heart, as does the feeling of grief that accompanies all his memories about Bucky.

His apartment is perfectly still, lit faintly by the weak light of mid-morning as it struggles to pierce the clouds. He’d chosen to stay here instead of at the tower just to get a break from Wanda and Pietro; yeah he’d missed them when they weren’t there, but he’s not sure how much more of Pietro’s apologetic hovering or Wanda’s fussing he can handle. Hence the night all alone in his apartment, which he’s totally cool with and not at all regretting.

It takes him a long while to get moving, finally summoning the energy to stumble through the shower and get some breakfast. Seeing as there’s no-one to listen to, he doesn’t bother putting his hearing aids in, and spends a couple of hours shooting in silence and generally feeling sorry for himself.

Just when he’s at the point of considering going back to bed, his phone rings and jerks him out of his reverie. Suspecting it’s Steve wanting to know where he is, he’s somewhat unenthusiastic about going to retrieve it, sighing as he picks it up-

Natasha.

Heart leaping, he answers it immediately, hopping up onto the counter as she appears on the video feed, looking a little tired but none the worse for wear. She’s in her black tactical gear and there’s a nondescript beige wall behind her, giving nothing away.

“Good morning,” she says, the words picking up in subtitles at the bottom of his screen a fraction of a second after her mouth moves. “You look terrible.”

Clint sighs, rubbing self-consciously at his stubble-covered chin “Feeling pretty terrible.”

“Wanda says you’re struggling,” Natasha says, going straight for the jugular in her usual oh-so tactful way. If Clint weren’t well practiced in suppressing flinches, he probably would have given away just exactly how those words make him feel. It might be true, but that doesn’t mean he wants Wanda worrying about him, or talking to people about him. That’s like having his little sister have to step up and help. Having Tony or Steve involved is different – they’re older than he is, are people he looks up to. Which doesn’t make it okay for them to know he’s struggling, but at least it’s only mildly embarrassing instead of downright humiliating.

“What, no small talk?”

Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Last time I called to tell you about the mission, you fell asleep.”

“Well in my defense,” Clint starts, and then shakes his head. “No, I’ve got nothing.” 

Natasha snorts. “You never do,” she says and straightens up like she’s getting down to business. Damn, there’ll be no deterring today if that’s how she’s looking. “Now spill. Don’t make me force it out of you.”

Clint briefly considers digging his heels in; he knows some of Natasha’s techniques well enough to make it very difficult for her to get the truth out of him. But this time, he’s tired and he’s miserable and he honestly needs a friend. “What do you know?” finally asks, though he concedes that she probably knows it all from Wanda anyway.

“A chunk of you is in 1945 and is palling up with Bucky Barnes,” Natasha says without pause. “And if my history is correct then that means you’re going through hell.”

“Been captured by Hydra,” Clint says glumly. “Worst dream ever.”

She nods slowly, and he aches to have her here, sitting hip to hip with him. Though he’s not a complete loser, so he’s not going to admit it out loud. He learned to tough it out by himself a long time ago, and though he knows now he doesn’t have to, it’s a strength he can rely on when he gets desperate.

They sit in silence for a moment, Clint brooding over the circumstances of his other half, and Natasha just watching him. Finally, it’s her who breaks the silence.

“What are you not telling me?” she asks. “There’s something else.”

Clint shrugs, but then opens his dumb mouth and tells her anyway. Maybe she’s managed to instil some sort of Pavlovian training into him where he just tells her the truth on autopilot.

“Past me has fallen in love with Bucky Barnes.”

She blinks at him, and then very carefully asks, “What?”

Clint smiles tiredly. “Ha, you didn’t see that coming.”

“I didn’t,” Natasha admits and shifts, leaning forwards and propping an elbow on the edge of the table. “What the hell do you mean you’ve fallen in love with him?”

“Past me has fallen in love with him,” Clint corrects her.

“Not an appropriate time to develop a new crush, Clint!”

Clint feels slightly annoyed by that. “It’s not a crush. We kissed after he got in a fight about someone calling him a queer, and we’ve been having really great secret sex ever since.”

Natasha now actually looks shocked, and isn’t even bothering to try and hide it. “You ass,” she says. “I leave you unattended for ten minutes-”

“I didn’t do it! Past me did! I only know what past me is doing when I dream and get the memories!”

Natasha gapes at him. “Well then past you is an ass! Does Steve know?”

Okay, now that is an issue that he can’t make into a joke and it sobers him up slightly. “No, he does not, and I want to keep it that way,” he says. “He’s in enough of a mess about Barnes as it is.”

Natasha nods. “Good call,” she says. “You know how he is. He knows something like that and we don’t know how he’s going to react. He could easily take to messing with the time stone himself.”

“It’s Cap,” Clint says disbelievingly.

Natasha meets his gaze, challenging. “Tell me why your copy is in 1945?”

“Because Steve was thinking about going back to rescue Bucky,” Clint says, and grimaces. “Okay. No telling Steve.”

“Tell him enough, but not too much,” she says, and it’s such a Natasha sentence that Clint has to roll his eyes.

“Yes boss.”

“Don’t get snippy with me, durak,” she says. He knows that’s what she’s calling him because she calls him it so often; the subtitles of his phone only tell him ‘Natasha swearing at you in Russian.’

She moves seamlessly onto the next issue without pause. “Wanda says she and Thor’s mother are trying to work out how the time stone is working?”

“Yeah?”

Natasha looks at him, now deadly serious. “Ask them to find a way to stop you dreaming.”

Clint’s stomach lurches and he feels his fingers tighten on his phone. “Why?”

She looks as taken aback as he was a moment ago. “Why would you want to keep getting memories of the terrible things that are happening? You are aware that Bucky Barnes dies, yes?”

The words burn on Clint’s tongue. He wants to tell her how he’s fallen into this love story that’s not quite his, he wants to tell her how it aches to think of Bucky Barnes, how he’s so pathetic that he can’t let it go.

“Clint,” Natasha says sharply. “You’re not okay. You’re not you. Whatever is happening is hitting you hard.”

“Possibly worth it,” Clint says with a shrug. “I don’t expect you to understand, Nat. You don’t believe in love and I get that-”

She interrupts him, voice still sharp and unyielding. “I don’t believe that you clinging to love that is happening in another time is good for you.” 

She’s right on target, as good as Clint with a recurve and a target at ninety feet. And it hits him right in the chest, and he finds he’s not got the energy or conviction to argue with it. He feels maybe he should, maybe he should stubbornly deny it, but he doesn’t want to. To say that he’s not invested in his past-self’s love for Bucky would feel wrong.

Fuck, he is in deep.

He sighs. “When are you coming home?”

“Not yet,” Natasha says. “We’ve got several lizard-men to track down and one very, very smart genetically engineered gorilla to contain.”

“And I thought I had it bad with mutant fish and Pietro,” Clint says.

Natasha smiles softly at him. “Think about what I’ve said,” she says seriously. “I don’t want you to get hurt, Clint. You’re not good at the emotional stuff. You let it get to you.”

“I do not,” Clint replies, and she just shakes her head.

“See you later,” she says, and then she’s gone without so much as a proper goodbye.

Clint stares at his phone for a good while after the screen has gone back to his regular background of him, Wanda and Pietro standing in front of the Quinjet. Their first ever official mission, he remembers. They’d done good.

He runs his thumb across the screen of his phone, and then drops it in shock as he faintly hears a hefty banging on his front door.

“Shit,” he curses, heart fluttering wildly like a startled bird. He crouches to pick up his phone and then pads to the door, opening it cautiously and ignoring the Natasha-voice in his head that tells him to use the peephole first.

Standing right outside his door with his hand raised for another round of banging, Steve blinks at him. “Why are you here?” Steve asks, looking mildly annoyed.

Clint looks around him to double check he is where he thinks he is. Yep, his apartment. That’s a relief. “I live here?” he tries, unsure.

Steve looks exasperated, and then pushes past him into the apartment. He says something as he goes and Clint lets him get all the way in and turn around in question before he points to his ears.

“Are you okay?” Steve immediately repeats, signing along. “I was worried.”

 “I’m fine,” Clint says, annoyed. “Seriously.”

Steve looks at him evenly. “I know what you’re going through,” he says, and takes a seat at the counter. “If you are still with Bucky and you’ve not managed to change the timeline, I know what’s coming. You been captured by Hydra yet?”

And that knocks the annoyance right out of him. Clint kicks the door shut behind him and heaves out a sigh. “Yeah,” he admits walking forwards to sit next to Steve. “In a cage with Bucky, Dugan and Falsworth. Past me is not too happy about it.”

Steve runs a hand over his head, looking pained. “God, I hope past-you doesn’t do anything dumb. You reckon he can sit tight and wait for me to show up?”

“I don’t know!” Clint says unhappily. “I know that you rescued all those guys, and he should know that. But historically I don’t do sitting around very well.”

Steve’s mouth twists contemplatively, drumming his fingers against the counter. “Well, Wanda and Thor reckon you can’t change anything right?” he says suddenly. “So odds are that I’m still going to show up and rescue you all.”

“I just...I know shit is going to happen,” Clint says. “And some of it is going to suck. I just - I just hope I pick the least painful options. Because remembering all this death and shit isn’t doing much for me right now.”

“I know that feeling,” Steve says with a sigh. He taps his fingers against the edge of the counter and pushes himself back, looking at Clint somewhat uncertainly. Clint leans back slightly and lifts an eyebrow, and Steve seems to collect himself, lifting his chin and scratching at the back of his head.

“You - you wanna go get a beer or something?”

“You know what, I really do,” Clint says, inwardly rather thrilled that Captain America is suggesting lunchtime drinking. What a rebel. “Talking about this will be better with beer.”

Steve nods and there’s a small, relieved smile on his face as he stands. “I have no idea where to go though,” he says, not looking at Clint as he says it. “All my old favorite bars are gone. Tony took me to this one bar but it was so expensive and we ended up arguing, so I don’t even know if they’d let me back in-”

“I got this,” Clint says with an unconcerned shrug, even though he knows it’s a pretty big deal for Steve to be admitting any of this out loud. Letting a team member know that he’s not fully in control of something seemed to be something he was incapable of, until this mess happened and everything started to come out. “I am the King of cheap Brooklyn dive bars.”

Steve laughs shortly. “You know, I really hope so. I’m itching for something not quite so flash and…”

“Futurey?” Clint suggests.

Steve smiles again. “Yeah, futurey,” he agrees. “Lead the way, Hawkeye.”

 


 

 

Getting out of the hell-hole did not go as easily as Clint hoped. 

Day one, they managed to pick the lock on their cage, and were all sprinting towards the exit when a terrible terrible alarm went off, a low howling drone of an alarm that made all the hairs on the back of their necks stand up. They didn’t get any further than that, and were quickly surrounded and marched back into their cage.

Day two was a repeat. Only that time, one of the paratroopers - a tall, heavy set man called John - was kept out of the cage as it was locked back up. And then he was shot at point blank range in front of them. Snowden had thrown up, the others had frozen in shock and no-one had tried to mess with the locks again.

Hope peaked and then started to wane on day three. Day three was the first day that someone was taken. A young soldier from Baker Company pulled out of the cage next to theirs, dragged off by two silent soldiers who ignored his demands to know where he was going, where they were taking him. 

He never came back.

Panic started to set in around day five. More people were taken every day, carted off through a set of double doors at the end. Some struggled. Some just walked with the guards, heads held high. Some screamed and cried. Some fought.

Clint gritted his teeth and watched them go, every time. He tried to discern clues from the uniforms, from what he could see of the dark corridor beyond the doors. He got a grand total of fuck all until he had the bright idea - the dumb and risky idea - of springing the locks on the cage just as Sergeant Towser was taken through the doors. No-one ran for it - he physically held Snowden back from making a break for it - but it worked. The guards ran back to slam the door, Towser was shoved back in the cage and they left without taking him again.

“Medical,” Towser had passed down the line. “They were taking me to the medical wing.”

“You ain’t sick though!” Bucky has yelled back.

“Yeah, I know,” Towser had replied, and uneasy murmuring had passed from cage to cage.

The paratroopers had not been amused by Clint’s stunt. The argument about it had almost escalated into a full on brawl until Bucky had stepped in and very calmly told the paratroopers that he would shoot them himself if it meant saving the hundreds of guys locked up here.

He’d looked at Clint after he’d said it, and Clint had felt discomfort claw its way up his spine, because that had been a look that said ‘I’d shoot them myself if it meant saving you.’

Clint hadn’t been entirely sure how to feel about that. Or to hear about Bucky’s blatant admission that he’d even contemplate something like that. It was so different to Steve, and because of that it didn’t quite sit right. He’d told himself that Bucky didn’t mean it, and made himself not think about it.

Despite losing people every day and the lingering unease of Bucky’s comment to the paratroopers, hope didn’t quite die for Clint, and it didn’t die for the others either. They’d bicker over food - which there was plenty of, thank god - tell crass jokes and sing even crasser songs. They shoved each other out of line when it was time for twice daily bathroom breaks, and one brave cage even started betting on who’d be last man standing. It infuriated the guards, as did their repetitive singing of The Star-Spangled Banner. Falsworth - the Red Devil - taught them God Save the King too, which made for a nice change of pace.

At night, they slept huddled together on the floor of the cage, shoulder to shoulder or with heads resting in laps or on chests, feet kicked up onto each other and backs pressed together. Night four and Bucky and Clint decided they’d had enough and slept spooned up together, Bucky’s back against the bars and Clint pressed back against his chest, head pillowed on Bucky’s arm. The only one to comment had been Dugan, muttering something about ‘captivity turning everyone queer.’ Bucky had tensed, ready to fight, but Clint had just sleepily muttered ‘well at least my ass is warm,’ pointedly raising an eyebrow at where Dugan was sitting on the cold concrete floor.

Clint knew he could escape by himself. He knew he could probably get Bucky out too. But he wasn’t going to leave without the others. And if that meant gritting his teeth and waiting for rescue that was in all likelihood on its way in red, white and blue tights...then he’d suck it up and wait.

 


 

Despite Clint taking Steve to the most non-expensive, laid-back, paparazzi-free bar he knows, Steve still walks into the place like a condemned man, glancing around with a clenched jaw like he’s about to be taken out back and shot. Clint hustles him into a booth and then goes to order them both a beer, deciding to get them at the bar rather than having a server come to the table and freak Steve out. 

“Well,” Clint says cheerfully as he slides into the booth, passing Steve a beer over. “You look...massively uncomfortable.”

Steve takes the drink with a sigh, hunching down into himself, ducking his head so Clint can’t see his face under the peak of his cap.

“Not exactly used to socializing,” Steve says deprecatingly, face still tilted downwards so all Clint can see is his jaw, the sad and rueful smile that hitches the corner of his mouth. “You may have noticed all my friends are dead.”

“Oh come on,” Clint says, taken aback. “They’re not all dead.”

Steve looks up slightly, an eyebrow lifted.

Clint opens his mouth and then realizes shit. He has no idea what to say. Steve is part of the team for sure, but would he call any of them friends? He never hangs out with anyone, never does much outside of missions. It occurs to Clint then that since he’s known Steve, he’s only really spent time with him during missions or at debrief. Following that realization is a hefty smack of something like guilt, because he - and the rest of the team - have always made cracks about Steve’s mood and his inability to switch of from mission mode, but no wonder that’s the case when he’s only ever with them in mission mode.

“Um. Well. You’ve got Sam,” Clint finally says, probably a little too late. “He’s a pal, right?”

Steve nods slowly. “He is.” He rubs his thumb at the label of his beer bottle and doesn’t say anything more.

Clint’s stomach sinks even further. Oh man, this is not what he signed up for. He’s half tempted to make excuses and leave, to high-tail it out of there and not have to deal with this whole emotional thing. But on the other hand, he thinks maybe Steve is reaching out for him here, and to be the person that Captain America is reaching out for - a small part of Clint is mentally jumping up and down on the spot with his hand thrust in the air, shouting ‘me! me!’ like an overexcited third-grader.

“And you’ve got...me?” Clint says, and immediately regrets the way it’s come out like a question.

Luckily, Steve’s mouth hitches up in another small smile. “I had you down as a teammate.”

“Well, we now officially have shared life experience,” Clint says, sipping at his own beer. “And we’re out for a beer together. I think that makes us friends.”

“I could probably do with a few more,” Steve says slowly, making it sound like an admission. “So Sam says, anyway.”

“Tony?”

Steve snorts, lifts his beer and drains it in several easy swallows. “Oh yeah. I don’t even know if he likes me some days.”

Clint’s mouth falls open. “You serious?”

Steve pushes at the peak of his cap, eyes flicking around the bar. “Me and Tony aren’t friends,” he says. “That’s different.”

Oh, wow.

“Well,” Clint says. “We’re definitely pals now if you’re telling me all about your love life.”

“Or lack of,” Steve says with another small, self-depreciating smile which quickly fades into a serious, genuine look that still somehow a little sad. “Thank you for this, Clint. I really appreciate it.”

Clint just grins back. “You won’t be appreciating it when I kick your ass at pool.”

“A game of trajectory and angles, gosh, I don’t think I’ll be any good at that,” Steve says, utterly straight-faced, and Clint lets out a bark of shocked, delighted laughter.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you make a joke before,” he says.

“Not been feeling much like joking lately,” Steve says. “I guess I could start to get into it.”

“You bet you can,” Clint says, and holds up his beer bottle in a toast. “To making friends and shitty jokes.”

Steve smiles. “To that,” he says, and clinks his bottle against Clint’s.  

 


 

 

Clint was woken by the clank of metal on metal echoing through the early morning silence. Behind him, Bucky shuddered sleepily and he tilted his head to whisper to him, but he barely managed to lift his head before he felt hands grab his ankle and he was hauled unceremoniously out of the cage. 

“No!”

It was Bucky’s scream that properly woke him, and he registered what was happening just as he felt hands slip under his arms and drag him to his feet.

No.

Fight or flight instinct kicked in, and he very abruptly decided on the first option. Without warning, he twisted out of the grip of the guy on his left and levelled him with a vicious punch to him throat, sweeping around and knocking the feet out from under the second-

There was yelling and shouting and another weight hit him from behind, arms around his neck. He wasn’t above fighting dirty, in a combination of moves taught to him by Barney, Natasha and Steve, Clint dispatched the third guard with brutal ease, using counterweight to flip him over his shoulder. Once the guard was on the floor, he wrenched his arm around so it broke with an audible snap.

He didn’t have time to feel victorious; something hit him in the small of his back, an agonizing jolt of pain that seized up all of his muscles and made him drop to the floor, twitching and shaking and barely able to see. Rough hands grabbed him, several bodies pinning him to the floor.

-“alone, leave him alone! Iowa! Clint!”   

Gasping wetly and still shuddering, he looked up through blurred eyes. Bucky was pressed against the bars with an arm reaching through, desperately trying to get to Clint. His face was contorted with anger, and he looked like he was ready to tear the cage apart with his own two hands.

He didn’t though. He couldn’t do anything but watch as Clint was lifted up from the floor to his feet, colt-like legs shaking violently and unable to hold his weight.

“No!” Bucky screamed again, his voice distant and echoing. Clint could only dimly register what was happening; that he’d been the one taken this time, that he was being taken to the medical wing without being sick in the slightest. Other people were shouting at well, but no-one’s voice was as loud as Bucky’s, as angry and violent-

Halt.

A loud voice rang out, and everything paused in place, a moment of held breath.

Clint watched as if in a dream – a nightmare – as a man in grey walked slowly past him and towards the cage. He looked at Bucky who was still pressed against the bars, frantic and desperate and furious. Bucky didn’t back down. He had that look in his eyes, the same look that had been there when he’d told the paratroopers to back off, the look that was dark and twisted and nothing like Clint had ever seen before.

“Let him go,” Bucky said deliberately. “Or I am going to rip you limb from limb.”

The officer appraised Bucky for a moment, looking him up and down. He seemed impressed, and the look on his face sent cold twisting through Clint’s stomach. He didn’t trust that look.

“You have heart,” he slowly said to Bucky, almost in wonder. “Interesting.”

He nodded at a pair of officers standing just behind Clint, and then gestured to Bucky. “Take this one too.”

The cage door was unlocked again. That time, it was Clint’s turn to scream.

“No!”

  


 

 

The last knife flies through the air, straight and true. It hits with a dull thud, perfectly on target.

“Not bad,” the man standing by the computer terminal grins, and the Asset nods and goes to collect his knives. “Okay, again.”

The man is a STRIKE agent, one of the best. The Asset knows his face, knows him as Agent X, though whether that’s to do with the way he wears his shoulder straps crossed over his chest or because of something more, the Asset doesn’t know. He doesn’t really care. He likes Agent X, he supposes. He’s a regular face who is competent and turns up to get missions done, and he knows when to take charge and also when to back off and give jurisdiction to the Asset. He never tries to score points by bossing the Asset around either, which is a bonus.

It’s strange really, how Hydra seem to let him remember some faces when they’re adamantly trying to stop him remembering one in particular.

“Alright,” Agent X says. “You ready?”

He waits for the Asset to nod before resetting the simulation. The Asset likes being consulted in this small way; it’s much preferable to the way some of the trainers and handlers work with him. The Asset stands quietly, and then in the blink of an eye four holograms appear, two blue and two red. In another blink, the red ones have knives embedded in the wall just behind them, right where their necks would be.

“Too easy,” Agent X says dismissively. “Who let you on this with these settings?”

“Dugranov,” the Asset replies as he goes to collect his knives again. “He was trying to scare the new recruit.”

Agent X barks out a laugh. “He could scare the new recruit just by walking past you, nevermind having you throwing knives. Okay, new simulation coming up.”

He resets it. This time, nine figures pop up, four in blue and five in red. The Asset only has four knives, so he throws them in quick succession and then pulls his gun and shoots the remaining figure in their holographic head.

“Well, that’ll work,” Agent X says with a shrug.

“Legko,” the Asset says, and goes to collect. As he reaches for the last knife, he’s hit with the memory of the man, the blond man, grinning and pulling an arrow from a tree. He still doesn’t remember the man’s name. “Chyort,” he curses under his breath.

When he turns back, Agent X is eyeing him warily. “You alright?”

“Da,” the Asset says curtly. “Again.”

Agent X does as bid, setting up the next simulation, then the next, then the next. It’s a while before he speaks again.

“I hear you’re giving the tech’s some trouble,” he says neutrally, tapping at the screen. “Some unshiftable memories?”

The Asset pauses. Agent X does not need this information. Agent X has nothing to do with his memory; he is not a handler. So why is he asking?

“Da,” he says again. “Why do you ask?”

Agent X shrugs. “I just talk,” he says. “I forget that you’re usually the strong and silent type.”

The Asset deftly turns his knives over in his fingers. No-one else has bothered to talk to him about these memories. They just talk about him.

“A man,” he says. “A blond one.”

Agent X nods thoughtfully. “Not information you need, then?”

“No,” the Asset says, putting his knives back in their sheaths and reaching for his water bottle. “It doesn’t interfere with missions, though. I don’t know why it’s happening.”

“Must be a hell of a guy for you to remember him outside of mission parameters,” Agent X says. “He must be special.”

The Asset drains his water bottle. He’s not going to tell Agent X about how he remembers kissing the man, holding his hand as they ran across moonlit fields. That belongs to him. But he supposes Agent X is trustworthy, and he doesn’t seem panicked about the fact the Asset is remembering someone; maybe he’ll share information he’s heard from elsewhere if he feels the Asset is also giving up information. A trade, of sorts. 

“He has a bow and arrow,” he tells him. “He’s a better shot than me.”

Agent X outright laughs at that. “I’ll believe that when I see it, pal,” he says, and pulls up the next simulation.

 

Chapter Text

Slowly, Clint surfaced from the muggy depths of unconsciousness, aching all over and feeling like he’d spent the past twenty four hours sparring with Iron Man. Groggily, he forced his eyes open, fighting back a swell of nausea as a low concrete ceiling came into view. He became aware of pressure at his wrists and ankles, and managed to conclude that he was lying horizontal and strapped down.

Ah, fuck.

“Ah, Barton. Good of you to join us,” a heavily accented voice said, making him jump and turn his head far too quickly; his vision went black around the edges. “You have been out for quite some time. I was beginning to think that you weren’t strong enough for us to even start the procedure, regardless about what my men said about your capabilities.”

The fight. Bucky. Where was Bucky?

Breathing heavily through his nose, Clint willed his heaving stomach to still. He forced his eyes open again; the room swam in front of him but at least the blackness that had threatened had retreated for now. The room was as spartan and cold as the rest of the facility that he’d seen, though through his double vision he could make out machinery, what looked like medical equipment, and the owner of the voice; a short bespectacled man looking through a briefcase.

No Bucky anywhere in sight though. It twisted Clint’s stomach up into panic, though he had always prided himself on remaining calm under pressure, and if he’d managed to deal with 1944 this far, he wasn’t going to start panicking now.

He pulled his wrists against his restraints, testing if there was any give in them. The man noticed, and gave his knee a gentle pat. “You are not going anywhere, Corporal Barton. Don’t hurt yourself.”

“You’re,” Clint tried to say, tongue feeling heavy in his mouth. “You’re a long way from Switzerland.”

The man turned to him, looking delighted. “You have sharp ears!” he enthused. “Well done.”

Behind him, a set of doors swung open and a woman walked in. Like the man, she wore a labcoat but the joyful amusement the man wore on his face was missing from hers. She could have been made from stone for all the expression she showed.

“Ah, Sigrid. Just in time. Can you prepare Corporal Barton, please?”

The woman nodded curtly, pulling on a pair of gloves and moving around the table that Clint was strapped to. He watched her move around but then quickly looked back as the man moved on the other side, pulling several vials and syringes out of his briefcase.

Well, this was bad, and and looking worse with every moment.

“This the hospitality suite?” Clint asked, his voice rough. “Hey!”

He jerked in his restraints as he felt a cold swipe in the crook of his elbow; the stone-faced woman was wiping down the inside of his arm in a clinical way which was making him start to worry.

“No, this is the medical suite, Corporal Barton,” the man said, still sounding amused. “The hospitality suite is...well, let us say it is reserved for anyone who manages to complete their stay in the medical suite.”

He chuckled at his own joke, a sound that made Clint’s skin crawl. This man looked utterly nondescript and boring, like a librarian or someone to be found in the depths of SHIELD’s data analysis team, but Clint knew he was in the company of a very, very dangerous person.

“Has my friend checked into the hospitality suite yet?” he asked. “Or did you send him back?”

“Ah, your friend,” the man said slowly, drawing out the word friend in a way that made Clint want to shoot him right in the face. “Sergeant Barnes. You seemed quite distressed to be parted from each other. It was interesting to hear about. I am sad to have missed it."

“Where is he?” Clint asked, abandoning the casual approach and going straight for it. “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing that we haven’t done to you,” the man said slowly, distracted as he slipped a needle into the top of one of the vials. “Except for gagging him. He curses a lot, and I find that distasteful.”

“Let him go,” Clint said. “You’ve got me, let him-”

The man laughed. “Oh no. You are in no place to bargain,” he said, sounding amused, turning towards Clint and tapping at the crook of his elbow with two fingers. Clint tried to twist away but the restraints held fast, and oh shit, there wasn’t going to be any Nat or Steve or Tony turning up to rescue him. Oh god, the twins. He’d been refusing to think about them, missing them like a constant stomach ache and now it was too late-

The needle slipped into his arm and he tried to jerk away, anger snarling hot and vicious in his belly. “Fuck you,” he spits. “I am going to shoot you in your fat Swiss face-”

“Sigrid, please,” the man spoke over him, far less pleasant than before. Clint opened his mouth to start cursing some more but before he could a cold plastic mask was pressed into his place over his mouth and nose.

“Fuck you,” he choked as he heard the hiss of gas somewhere. “Fuck you, lady.”

His eyelids were too heavy. His limbs wouldn’t co-operate. Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, he dimly registered that maybe now was the time to think about panicking.

 


 

After seventy two hours in the medical suite, Clint came to the conclusion that Hydra really, really sucked. He’d been poked, prodded, examined and reexamined in ways that made his old SHIELD medical checks seem like a day at a spa. The low point was either the moment where he’d had his hearing aids found and taken from him, or when he’d thrown up on himself while lying prone and almost choked to death.

Yeah, things were looking bad.

Not bad enough that he’d given up though. He was clinging determinedly to both life and sanity, using a of force of will he’d not had to draw upon since childhood. He replayed Bucky’s promise to get them out of here and take them back to Brooklyn like a mantra, shutting his eyes and trying to imagine what their place would look like, what life outside of the war could be like.

He would get out of this mess, alive and swinging. And he’d be taking Bucky with him.

 


 

Something was rumbling, feeling like the judder of heavy machinery passing close by. A dull buzzing in his chest that he could feel but barely hear. The bench he was strapped to was shaking.

Head pounding, Clint slowly dragged his eyes open. He wasn’t sure what time it was or even what day it was, but he did know that if that woman was coming at him with any more vials and injections he was going to bite her again.

The room was empty; no mad scientists or crazy assistants or new medical equipment. Only muted silence and a strange malevolent orange glow shining in through the high windows. Looked like fire. Huh. That was probably a bad thing. He couldn’t move, so if there was a fire he was probably going to be toasted.

Clint sighed and closed his aching eyes again. “Brooklyn,” he muttered to himself. “Top floor apartment. Pals across the hall. Bar across the way. Buying Bucky drinks.” He eased out a breath between his teeth, feeling disconnected and distant, like he could sink back under again. “Brooklyn,” he repeated, with more force than before, trying valiantly to keep himself awake. “Top floor apartment. Pals across the hall. Bar across the way. Buying-”

Wait a moment.

His eyes snapped open again and he twisted his head as far as he could, to look at the orange glow beyond the murky glass. The place was on fire. If the place was on fire, did that mean they were going to be rescued? His brain wasn’t moving quick enough, still loopy from the injections and treatments and spending however many days in this hell hole.

“Hello?” he tried to shout, voice cracking. He cleared his throat, licked dry lips. “Hello? Can anyone hear me? Bucky?”

Nothing. He cursed in frustration, using what little strength he had to tug fruitlessly at his bonds. They remained as secure as ever, his limbs shaking like a new-born colt, joints made of jelly. “Someone get me out of here!” he shouted hoarsely, throat feeling like sandpaper. “I thought the army was all ‘never leave a man behind’ and shit!”

Distantly, he heard something that could have been glass smashing. He couldn’t work it out exactly, though knew it must have been loud for him to even register the noise-

Without warning, the double doors at the end of the medical suite crashed open. Clint flinched, heart leaping up to somewhere in the vicinity of his adam’s apple, panic completely and utterly taking over his brain in the four seconds it took him to register what had just happened.

“Iowa!”

It was Bucky. Clint’s heart restarted in a frantic tattoo as Bucky limped across, staggering into the bench and almost falling, grabbing hold of the edge just in time to stop himself pitching forwards onto the floor. He looked like hell; he was covered in dried blood, his skin an awful yellow-ish colour under the filth he was covered in, and he looked as if he’d fall down if he breathed too hard. Despite all that, his eyes were bright and determined, and he was alive, and he was here.

“Knight in shining amour?” Clint said weakly. “Get my ears, Bucky, I can’t hear-”

“Not quite,” Bucky mouthed, yanking at the leather cuffs around Clint’s wrists before giving up and turning his head away to shout something, a muted syllable that Clint didn’t catch-

Okay, Clint wasn’t sure his heart could take anymore, because in response to Bucky’s shouted plea, a very familiar face appeared over Bucky’s shoulder, looking equally filthy and none too impressed.

“Come on, we’ve got to go!”

Steve. Captain America. Looking exactly the same but somehow completely different. Hair longer, eyes brighter and somehow lighter. This was Steve before all the shit that weighed him down and it was astounding how obvious it was, even in the midst of this current shitstorm.

“Not without this guy,” Bucky said, and then said something to Steve that Clint didn’t follow, but he was pretty sure it ended with “jackass.”

Steve grumbled something along the lines of, “I come all this way to rescue you and this is the thanks I get,” and pushed Bucky out of the way to snap the restraints around Clint’s wrists and ankles. “Come on pal, up you get.”

Steve hauled Clint to his feet and then Bucky was there, pressing Clint‘s hearing aids into his hands. “My bow,” Clint said as he slipped his aids in. He kinda wished he hadn’t; the moment they came to life he could hear rumbling and shouting and gunfire, and something that sounded distantly like explosions.

“Come on,” Bucky said, patting clumsily at Clint’s chest with shaking hands. “Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Clint said, and took hold of Bucky’s face in his hands, making him look up. “Jesus, you look like death.”

“Shuddup,” Bucky said, wavering hands clutching Clint’s elbows. “I thought you were dead.”

“Bucky! I will pick you up and carry you out,” Steve interjected, and Bucky turned round to scowl at him: he succeeded in scowling at Steve’s chest and then belatedly corrected himself and looked up at his face.

“You pick me up and it will be the last thing you ever do, Rogers,” he said, but the threat was lost under the deafening boom of an explosion that rocked the concrete under their feet, sending the three of them staggering into the wall. Steve was first to recover, looking around urgently. “This way. Come on.”

Bucky nodded dumbly, pushing himself shakily away from the wall. He let Steve help, only protesting weakly as Steve hitched his arm up over his shoulders. Clint ducked under his other side, holding onto Bucky’s wrist in one hand and slipping his free hand onto his waist.

“I’m Clint, by the way,” he said to Steve, which was insane because he knew Steve - he lived with the guy and had worked with him for over a year but here he was introducing himself like a total stranger.

“Nice to meet you Clint,” Steve said. “I’m - I’m Captain America.”

“Alright Captain America,” Clint panted. “Get us the hell out of here.”


 

It turns out that even sans hearing aids, Clint isn’t quite deaf enough to miss a rather wound-up super-soldier banging on his bedroom door at the asscrack of the morning the next day.  In fact, it’s loud enough not only to hear but to wake him up and cause enough flailing for him to roll straight out of bed onto the floor, leaving him tangled in blankets and groaning into the carpet.

“Jarvis, let them in.”

He doesn’t hear an affirmation but ten seconds later he feels strong hands pick him up off the floor and dump him unceremoniously back onto his bed. He’s wrestled into a sitting position and then someone yanks his blanket off of his head and he comes face to face with a very shell-shocked looking Steve.

“Is the world ending?” he asks, squinting in the light. “Lemme bow my get-”

“I rescued you!” Steve bursts out. He’s on his knees in front of Clint. “You and Bucky! Back in forty-four, after Azzano-”

Clint blinks owlishly at him and then all the pieces slot into place, his half-awake brain suddenly making sense of the early morning nonsense. His dream, being rescued, being safe - he feels such an overwhelming rush of relief that he slumps over backwards onto his bed.

“Oh my god, past me didn’t die.”

“I know, I was there!”

Clint struggles back upright again. “Oh man, you’re getting the memories too?”

“I should have got there sooner, Clint, I’m so sorry,” Steve says. “I’d forgotten how terrible that place was, and the state you were both in, the state Bucky was in, and he wouldn’t leave without you, and I had no idea who you were-”

“Whoa, whoa,” Clint protests. “Too early for panicking. Coffee before panicking.”

“You were in such a mess,” Steve says, and his eyes are way too bright. “I hate Hydra.”

Clint does the only thing he can think to do, twisting his legs to the side and and pulling Steve in for a hug. Steve stiffens and then relaxes, slumping against Clint and returning the hug, wrapping a broad arm around Clint’s shoulders and holding him tight enough that Clint has a second to worry about his ribcage being realigned.

When he pulls back, Steve’s eyes are red. Tear tracks cut bright and obvious down his cheeks, though he doesn’t look like he’s really noticed. He sniffs and rubs at his nose with his fingers, and then gets up to sit heavily on the edge of the bed next to Clint. He rests his elbows on his knees and clasps his palms together, bowing his head.

“Uh, you’re leaking,” Clint says awkwardly.   

Steve nods slowly and tries to smile; his chin wobbles and then more tears spill down his face. Pained, Clint throws an arm around Steve’s shoulders. “Shit, I’m sorry.”

His own voice is wobbly, and he laughs at himself, the sound thick and catching.

“I just miss him,” Steve says. “So much.”

“Yeah,” Clint says, swallowing hard. “Me too.”

Steve starts to cry again and Clint presses his own lips together, blinking hard. He sits, helpless, and then leans across Steve’s back, pressing his temple between Steve’s shoulder and spine. The loss of Bucky hangs like a weight in the air, the grief so real and raw. Clint has only known Bucky for a few weeks; Steve has known him his whole life.

“I’m sorry,” Clint says, cheek rubbing on the soft cotton of Steve’s shirt. “That I’m bringing all this back.”

Steve takes a steadying breath; Clint feels it in the rise and fall of his back. He feels the rumble of Steve’s voice and lifts up, tapping Steve’s shoulder and pointing to his ears apologetically.

“I said...you’re not bringing it back,” Steve says with another sad quirk of his lips. “I don't think it ever went away.”

Clint nods at that. Steve clears his throat and drags a hand down his face; for now the tears have stopped. “It’s so weird,” he says. “I’ve got all these brand new memories of something I’ve already been through. Two versions of the same event.”

“I didn’t-” Clint begins. “Of course it’s not all new for you. Shit.”

“It’s okay,” Steve says, even though it’s really not. “I’ll...I’ll deal with it.”

“Not on your own you won’t,” Clint says. “You got me and Sam and Tony and Thor and the whole team.”

Steve raises his eyebrows, looking down and rubbing at his palm with his thumb. “Kinda hard thinking about the team when I’m now dreaming about my old one.”

Clint flounders for a moment, grimacing and rubbing at his forehead. He needs Sam here for this. Or even Tony. He gets up, goes to retrieve his hearing aids and slips them in, turning back to Steve who is still exactly where he was, staring listlessly at the carpet.

He nudges Steve’s knee with his foot. “Think about both. Doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

“Feels like it some days.”

“Well, I’m in both, so I have to think about both,” Clint says. “And you’re stuck with me, so, yeah.”

Steve looks up at that. And then he smiles. “Thanks, Clint,” he says, and stands up. “Sorry, I didn’t plan on waking you up at six AM to cry all over you.”

“Any time,” Clint yawns. “Actually, if you could keep the emotional breakdowns between eleven and nine, that would be great.”

“You’re a jerk,” Steve says, though he sounds almost fond.

“I’ve met your friends, remember,” Clint yawns. “Apparently you have a type.”

Steve huffs out a soft laugh. “I can’t get over...he was so determined to come and find you. Never seen him like that.”

“We bonded,” Clint said. “Sorry?”

“Don’t apologize,” Steve says. “I have years of memories of Bucky. It’s...nice to see him having more than just me, I guess. I’m not mad about...about having to share him. I like that you like him too.”

Clint thinks of kissing Bucky, the memories of their time together, hidden away in the darkness. A dull flush works its way up the back of his neck and he hopes to all hell that Steve doesn’t notice. “Yeah,” he says a little helplessly. “He’s...he’s pretty great.”

“Pretty great,” Steve echoes absently, luckily too caught up in his own thoughts to notice Clint being awkward. Well, more awkward than usual. “Hey, can I ask - nevermind.”

“What?” Clint asks. “Come on, you can ask. I can say no. If I’m allowed to say no. Is saying no to Captain America unconstitutional or something?”

“Well, as Steve Rogers, I'll ask if you don’t mind keeping me company for a while?” Steve says, hesitating. “You can nap on the couch, I just - you know what, forget it. I can manage.”

“No, I can,” Clint says. “Honestly. I don’t mind. I’ve just remembered a week of torture a la Hydra, I wouldn’t mind having a friend right now.”

Steve ducks his head, and nods, looking up at Clint with a smile that altogether too relieved, considering he was about to brush off his request for company.

“Come on. You don’t have to do this all yourself,” Clint says, standing up and nudging at Steve’s ankle with his foot. “I know you can, ego reassurance and all that...but you don’t have to.”

Steve huffs out a laugh. “I’m really starting to see why you and Bucky got on.” He stood up and stretched. “Coffee?”

Clint gave him a thumbs up, following Steve’s lead and heading towards the door. “Yeah. Coffee.”

 


 

“Someone, someone get me a goddamn cigarette.”

It was Bucky who bought the long column of the march to a halt, slowly grinding to a stop and bending forwards, hands braced on his knees. His back was heaving and his brow was shining with sweat, and Clint was worried that he was either going to throw up or collapse. He felt pretty rough himself, but Bucky seemed way further gone than he was.

“Smokes,” Bucky wheezed out, throwing out a hand without looking up. All around them, other soldiers seemed to have taken Bucky’s pause as sign to take an official rest break; they were swinging packs and weapons down to the floor and lowering themselves down to sit on the leaves and mulch, leaning back against trees. A couple started moving between groups of men, checking in with friends and taking stock of supplies, weapons and injuries.

“Smoking’s bad for you,” Steve said, holding onto Bucky’s shoulder with one hand and looking around. He glanced uneasily up at the canopy of trees above them, their coloured autumn leaves unwittingly shielding the pale dawn light that was trying to make itself known. “We need to keep moving.”

“Fuck you and your keep moving,” Bucky managed to say. “I’m gonna pass out, fuck you.”

“Come on, you’re fine,” Clint said bracingly, and then paused. “Right?”

“Oh yeah,” Bucky said, struggling upright again. He swayed backwards and Clint grabbed hold of his elbow to keep him upright, though if Bucky decided to fall Clint was pretty sure he’d be going with him. “I’m peachy. I just nearly died being used as a fucking labrat and then my day ends in fire and explosions and a man pulling off his own fucking face. Jesus, where’s Snowden, he’d better have some goddamn cigarettes.”

Steve briefly met Clint’s eyes behind Bucky’s shoulders. He looked both amused and worried, which was utterly different to the Steve Clint knew; future Steve would probably just be looking pissed off. “Maybe you should sit down,” he suggested, mouth twitching.

“Maybe you should be at fucking home!” Bucky yelled at him, turning to point a finger in Steve’s face as Steve tried to get him to quieten down. “Don’t shush me, you piece of shit, you are not supposed to be here!”

Steve reared back, now looking equal parts startled and offended. “If your Ma could hear you she’d have the belt out, drop the cussing, Buck!”

“Fuck you!” Bucky yelled back, shoving sharply and Steve’s chest. “I swear to god, if you weren’t suddenly superman I’d knock you out!”

“I’m still me-”

“Bullshit! You are five foot nothing and ninety pounds after Thanksgiving dinner!” Bucky shouted, giving Steve one last shove for good measure before turning and stomping away. “Dugan! You better be hiding some goddamn Lucky Strikes in that mustache of yours!”

Steve didn’t follow him. He just stood there with his mouth slightly open, watching Bucky stalk away and vanish into the crowd. Nearby, several soldiers were watching with wide-eyes, clearly unsure if there was a problem. Or maybe they just didn’t know if they were allowed to laugh at Captain America getting yelled at like a recalcitrant toddler.

“Um,” Steve said, reaching up to push at his hair. “Uh, I used to be smaller? I didn’t think he’d be mad.”

Clint took pity on him. “Yeah, he told me all about you,” he said. “The pal at home with the 4F and the crummy ticker?”

Steve nodded, and then looked down at himself. “The docs...they fixed me up,” he said, in what was probably the biggest understatement Clint had ever heard. Steve was pensive for another moment and then his brows drew into a confused and irritated frown and he huffed, throwing a hand up. “Why’s he so mad? I’m not likely to fall down dead from flu anymore, what’s his problem? He’s never normally like this-”

“We’ve had a very long few days,” Clint said. “And some just as long ones before that.”

Steve exhaled, the fight going out of him. He reached up to push at his hair again, an unconscious gesture that was already driving Clint mad. Future Cap had short, sensible hair, dammit. None of this sweeping forties bullshit.

“Cap?”

Clint and Steve both wheeled around to come face to face with a young soldier. A US paratrooper by the look of his insignia. He looked faintly confused, like he wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing there. The expression only intensified as he looked Steve up and down, from the battered blue helmet with the scuffed 'A' on the front, down to the boots, which had been red but were now mostly various shades of black and brown.

“Uh, the fellas said you’re the man of rank...so what do you want us to do with the tank? And the weapons? And all the people?”

Steve nodded slowly, obviously thinking hard. He looked up around for a moment, as if checking for anyone else that could possibly be in charge. He obviously didn't find anyone, because he lifted his chin and when he spoke, it was in the tone of voice that Clint knew as 'this is serious stop assing around Tony and or Clint and or Pietro'. Out here though, it just sounded like 'let's get shit done.'

“Any lieutenants from the paratroopers here?”

The young man looked uneasy. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Okay, find any men of rank you can for me. Captains, Lieutenants, any first sergeants or platoon leaders if that’s all we've got. Get them here to me in the next ten minutes.”

The man nodded, clearly relieved to have something to do. “Yes, sir,” he replied eagerly, before walking off.

“Can you do me a favor?” Steve asked Clint, turning his face slightly but still watching the paratrooper go. “Go and find Bucky.”

Clint nodded. “Sir, yes, sir.”

 


 

Clint found Bucky sitting down against the base of a huge old oak, some way away from anyone else. He’d  managed to get his hands on a cigarette; it was nestled between the fingers of the hand that was on the back of his head, sending tired spirals of smoke into the air.

He didn’t look up as Clint walked over and slowly eased himself down next to him, gritting his teeth as bruised muscles protested. He leaned back against the tree, eyes closed as he just took a moment to process.

“We’re alive then,” Bucky said, voice muffled by his knees. “Didn't think we were getting out of that one.”

“Yeah,” Clint said somewhat absently, and lifted a hand to stroke over the back of Bucky’s head. Bucky sighed and leaned minutely into the touch, then he bolted upright and ducked away. Startled, Clint leaned back, hand held up out the way.

“Someone might see,” Bucky muttered, eyes darting around.

Clint’s immediate thought was something about the fellas seeing them curled up together while sleeping in the cage, that Steve probably would have noticed something when Bucky’d come to find him. He didn’t say any of that though, just nodded and lowered his hand, holding it palm up between them. Bucky looked around again and then slid his hand into Clint’s, shifting up and tucking it between them, hidden from view.

“He used to be small,” Bucky said quietly, and scrubbed his free hand over his face.  “He’s been my best friend forever and he’s always - he’s always needed me. Pretends he doesn’t, but we both know it, even if we don’t talk about it. And now...”

Clint’s heart broke a little, thinking of the Steve in the present, how much he missed Bucky, how much he loved him. “Steve isn’t gonna stop needing you just because he got all big,” he said. “Trust me.”

Bucky huffed out a hollow laugh. “Well he don’t need me looking out for him no more.”

“Sure he does,” Clint said. “He just maybe don’t need you to finish his fights for him.”

Bucky didn’t smile, so Clint nudged him with his elbow. “Maybe if Steve doesn’t need so much looking after, you can spare some time for me? I’m still likely to get my ass kicked on the regular.”

Bucky snorted. “Shuddup, I’ve seen you fight,” he said, but sighed, some of the tension released from his shoulders. He seemed to look lost for a moment, and then blinked back into the moment and turned his face to Clint. “Are you alright?” he asked suddenly and seriously. “What did they do to you?”

Clint shrugged, looked down at his knees. He felt Bucky squeeze at his hand and sighed. “Injections,” he said. “Lots of ‘em.”

He held up his free arm, crossing it across his body; Bucky hesitated before pushing his sleeve up, inhaling softly when he saw the bruises and puncture marks littering Clint’s forearm and the crook of his elbow. “Me too,” he said, trailing his fingers lightly over a bruise, brow knitting into a worried frown. “What do you think it did to us? I don’t feel - I mean, I feel like shit but I don’t think I feel any different.”

“Me neither,” Clint said. “We’ll have to wait it out, see what happens.”

Bucky nodded. “I don't wanna tell Steve,” he said, looking over Clint’s shoulder, a quick dart of eyes just to check they were alone. “He doesn’t need to know the details.”

“Agreed,” Clint said, watching as Bucky roughly pulled his sleeve back down over his arm, fingers circling Clint’s wrist in a loose grip.

“And he can’t know about...” Bucky said, trailing off.

Clint sighs thinking forlornly of New York and modern day, where he could touch and kiss and love Bucky as much as he damn well pleased, without having to hide it.

“I know you don’t care what might happen,” Bucky said. “But-”

“I know,” Clint interrupted with a sad smile, which Bucky returned. “I know. I get it.”

They sat there in silence for what felt like forever; Clint wasn’t close enough to Bucky to hear him breathing but he watched the slow rise and fall of his chest and felt comforted by that, as well as the feel of Bucky’s fingers on his skin. The air around them grew fractionally warmer as the sun slowly gained strength, and Clint couldn’t deny how good it felt to be outside rather than locked away in a cell in a concrete prison.  

What could have been minutes or hours later, Bucky broke the silence, coming out of his far-away thoughts and exhaling heavily, turning his face and bumping Clint’s shoulder with his forehead.

“Can’t believe we got out of there.”

“Don’t think about it,” Clint advised him. “We’re out. That’s all that matters-”

“Buck?”

A hesitant voice called out and Bucky quickly sat up, letting go of Clint with both hands.  The worry vanished as he recognized the person encroaching on their moment. “No, I’m mad at you,” he said pointedly, making absolutely no effort to get up.

Steve stopped a few feet away, looking altogether too much like a kicked puppy. “I - I had to do it Buck, they were giving me a chance. And look, I’m not sick anymore, and I’m still me.”

Bucky sighed. “No you’re not. Little you would be telling me to get over myself and deal with it.”

“Well, maybe I’m bein’ nice because I thought you’d died,” Steve said. “You scared me, Buck.”

Bucky paused at that, and then held out a hand. Steve took it and hauled Bucky to his feet, all the way up into a rough hug. Bucky clung back to him, eyes bright and fierce. He muttered something to Steve and Steve laughed, shoulders shaking as he pulled back and clapped Bucky’s cheek with his palm.

“I still might knock you out,” Bucky told him. “Superman or no. I said no doing anything stupid, stupid.”

Steve just pulled Bucky back into the hug. Bucky resisted and then gave up, patting the back of Steve’s head and looking at Clint with a fond but exasperated smile. “Toldja he was a dummy,” he said. “Didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you did,” Clint said, climbing to his feet and brushing his hands down. “You have terrible taste in friends.”

Bucky’s mouth kicked up into a faint smile as he continued to pat Steve’s hair. “Don’t I just know it.”

 


 

Steve letting Clint help him out turns into a pretty regular - if low key - thing. It’s finding Clint and asking for silent company as Steve draws or deals with paperwork or broods. It’s going out for a beer on a couple of occasions. It’s talking about the present team and listening to a few stilted sentences about the past team. Steve hasn’t told him much, though. “Spoilers,” the bastard had said with a wry smile, and Clint had thrown a bottle cap at him, which he had easily and predictably caught.

It’s also been one excruciating conversation where Steve had asked Clint outright to say screw the timestream and do everything he could to save Bucky. The look on his face when Clint had reminded him that he had no say in what his past doppelganger had done...Steve hadn’t hung around to let Clint see him cry that time.

Despite that, he seems to be be coping. Mostly. Clint had been kinda worried that the resurfacing memories of being with the commandos would push Steve further into loneliness and bring on some sort of depressed self-exile, but it seemed that hadn’t come to pass. However Clint does know that he has a spectacular argument with Sam over the idea of therapy; Steve had left the tower in a snit and Sam had just joined Clint on the roof with a six pack and said ‘he didn’t actually outright tell me to fuck off this time, that’s progress.’

A few days after therapy argument number three and a half, things seem to level out again. Everyone has descended on the kitchen at the same time, so it’s during a rowdy breakfast that Steve comes in from his run, pauses, and then joins them.

“Yllrrite?” Clint asks Steve through a mouthful of cereal, and then swallows and tried again. “You alright?”

Steve nodded slowly. “Didn’t think I would be,” he says honestly. “But...yeah.” His mouth twists in a sad little rueful smile at Clint, who nods and claps him on the shoulder. Steve exhales heavily and then takes the cup of coffee Wanda passes to him with a much stronger smile and a soft ‘thank you’ in Sokovian, which makes Wanda smile as well. Dammit, Steve really is nice when he’s not being horrifically broody and snappish.

“Well, this is nice,” Sam says, sounding amused. “Bonding over breakfast,” he says, and lifts his coffee to his mouth for a sip and leaning back in his chair. “Though, I have to know why. Why, out of all the people in the world for you to bond with, you pick this tragedy. I know how it is, but come on, self respect.”

Steve raises an eyebrow, looking mildly indignant on Clint’s behalf, which is nice. “He’s not that bad-”

“Whoa there, Cap,” Sam interrupts, and jerks a thumb at Clint. “I’m talking to Clint.”

Clint chokes on a mouthful of cereal, and Sam grins so wide it must hurt his cheeks. “Alright, laugh it up,” Steve says good-naturedly, which is also new. Steve joining in with the banter is unprecedented and shocking and Clint hopes it’s the start of something, because he knows Steve has a sense of humour. He’s seen it and it’s real, dammit.  “Yes, I have two friends now, congratulations. Who had money on two?”

Sam laughs out loud at that, eyes twinkling. “Don’t look at me, I had faith on you getting to at least four.”

“Well, I’ve been invited for drinks with STRIKE, as long as two out of the eight aren’t complete assholes I’ll be okay,” Steve says.

“Whoa, whoa, STRIKE?” Sam says. “Rumlow and his crew?”

“That’s the one,” Steve says with an unconcerned shrug. “Rumlow’s cool. I’ve done enough ops with him by now to go for a beer with the guy.”

“Yeah, yeah, but STRIKE.” Sam whistles through his teeth. “That’s a tough crowd.”

Steve now just looks disbelieving. “What? Oh come on.”

“They’re okay,” Clint says. “Though it’s like a fraternity but with more guns. Hyper-masculine, hoo-rah, I only wear black and really dark shades of grey types.”

“Is that how everyone sees the STRIKE team?”

“Yep.”

“Well, I’m going to go for a beer with kappa sigma STRIKE,” Steve says. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Sam groans. “Don’t say that, everytime you say that something bad happens.”

Steve just almost-smiles. “Lighten up,” he says to Sam, reaching over and clapping him on the shoulder.

“I can’t even believe those words made it past your teeth,” Sam tells him, and Steve just looks at Clint, his mouth quirking in another not-quite smile.

“Steve does jokes now,” Clint says. “It’s going to be terrible for everyone.”

“I’ll take it,” Sam says, and Clint can see the genuine happiness for Steve under the teasing. How Sam has put up with Steve for this long when Steve has been pretty hard work over the past god-knows-how-long, Clint doesn’t know. Maybe he’s a masochist. Or, Clint mentally amends, maybe he just understands Steve a bit more than the rest of them.

Though considering recent events, maybe he’s the one that now understands Steve the best.

“Morning, Avengers.”

Speaking of people who put up with Steve: Clint looks up as Tony wanders into the kitchen area. Of course he makes a beeline for Steve, standing at his side and casually leaning his elbow on Steve’s broad shoulder. That’s normal; what isn’t is the way Steve glances at Clint with a quirked eyebrow, rolling his eyes when Clint meets his gaze.

Clint hides a smile in his mug of coffee and Steve does the same.

“So, SHIELD know what’s happened,” Tony says, reaching down for Steve’s coffee; Steve hands it over without protest, waiting patiently for Tony to hand it back, which he does. Huh, Clint thinks. Sharing caffeine. It must be love.

“How?” Sam asks.

“Are we in trouble?” Pietro asks, looking to Wanda and instinctively taking a step towards her.

“No, you’re fine,” Tony says, waving him off. “Remember the gross fish in Michigan? I was right, they were over-evolved. Courtesy of the Time Stone, which apparently has been playing around with more than just dinosaurs and Hawkeye. The kicker is that because it’s the Time Stone, we never know when its effects are going to bitchslap the present. So some jazz it played a hundred years ago might suddenly bounce cavemen to our door tomorrow. Anyway, the point is that SHIELD finally worked out what was causing the anomalies, thanks to Erik Selvig. He picked up on the massive disruption to the timestream and pinpointed it to 1944, but by the time Thor had gone to smooth it over SHIELD had already pounced. Thor did manage to pacify SHIELD with his wonderful god-like aura, and he also managed to strike a deal which means Selvig is allowed to carry on researching on our behalf with his fancy SHIELD tech, but he did also tell them about Hawkeye’s doppelganger.”

“Great,” Clint says. “Are SHIELD going to try and do science on me?”

“Yes,” Tony says decisively, clicking his fingers and pointing at Clint. “Selvig has already asked.”

Clint groans and slumps forwards over the table, banging his forehead on the polished wood. He feels someone gently pat the back of his head. Probably Sam.

“Do we need to intervene?” Steve asks, sounding serious. So serious in fact that Clint lifts his head up off the table just to check that The Frown hasn’t come back.

“No,” Tony assures him. “They’re just having a few 'don't worry about what Hawkeye has managed to do, the universe is safe' meetings.’ It's alright,” he tacks on, looking at Clint. “They have those about me every other Tuesday."

“Forgive a guy for saying that’s probably not reassuring,” Sam says with a raised brow.

“Everything is fine,” Tony insists, before looking at Clint. “Well, as long as you’re holding up with having Hawkeye mark two’s life story played out in your head.”

“If Steve can deal with it then I can deal with it,” Clint says with a shrug. He senses Wanda’s eyes on him but doesn’t want to have the conversation about living someone else’s life again. Even though his counterpart hasn’t exactly had a great time of it lately, what with the capture and torture and everything.

“We are looking at how to close the connection,” Wanda says slowly as he continues to very obviously not look at her. Next to him, Steve twitches minutely.  “So they won’t be living - or reliving it all for much longer.”

“Well that’s something,” Tony says. “Right?”

Before Steve or Clint can be forced to answer, and before anyone else could weigh in, there’s the sound of six phones all going off simultaneously, and a collective groan from around the breakfast table.

“Alright, look lively,” Steve says, phone already in hand. “Suit up, everyone.”

“Saved by the bell,” Clint mutters as he slides off his stool, and he’s ninety-nine percent sure he sees Steve hide a relieved smile of his own as he turns away.


 

“Training is cancelled. You’re to report back to quarters.”

The Asset frowns. Turns as one of the Handlers walks into the room, looking harried. The radio at his hip beeps and a voice calmly says “eight four two” before the man impatiently thumbs at the button to stop the transmissions.

“Why?”

“A mission has come up,” the man says. Davis, his name is. The Asset neither likes nor dislikes him. He’s an impatient man, who seems abrupt but often talks more than some of the others. It’s helpful if the Asset wants to know more than he’s technically allowed.

Davis steps towards the computer terminal, tapping in his code. “Waiting on a time scale, and then you’re either on stand down or shut down.”

The Asset nods. The phrase ‘shut down’ bites at him, an annoyance that he’s not supposed to have, one that he’s certainly not allowed to verbalise.

“Some impromptu runaround to New York,” Davis says, almost to himself than the Asset. He’d be in huge trouble with the director for being so careless with the information he lets slip, not that the Asset is ever going to tell anyone about it. “It’s going to bite them in the ass, going after a level eight without any preliminary-”

The Asset frowns. “Level eight? Why are the team going out to deal with a level eight threat without me?”

Davis makes an annoyed noise in the back of his throat, eyes still glued to the terminal. He pulls up the cryo log, minimizes the window though doesn’t close it. “I said they should take you.”

“So why didn’t they?”

“Because it’s-” Davis begins, and then finally seems to realise that he’s having a conversation, and looks at him suspiciously. “What’s with the third degree today?”

“I’m allowed to ask,” the Asset replies. “If I think a mission is compromised-”

“But this isn’t your mission,” Davis replies instantly. “You haven’t been assigned to it, so you know not to ask.”

The Asset’s mouth twists; he’s not satisfied. “Off the record then,” he says. “Why is it level eight?”

“No,” Davis replies, grimacing. “Last time anyone gave you ‘off the record’ you vanished in Bucharest and we had to come and extract you. Not happening.”

“If it’s level eight the odds are that Agent X or whoever is mission commander will call me in sooner than later anyway,” the Asset points out. “And you’ve already told me where they’re going. That’s enough off the record intel to get you into trouble.”

Davis rears back, eyes darting down as he recalls what he’s told the Asset. He can actually pinpoint the moment that Davis realises that yes, he’s told the Asset way more than is allowed. He looks up, unease warring with anger.

“Are you threatening me? That’s enough to have me call the techs to wipe you.”

“The techs can’t wipe me at the moment, you know that,” the Asset says. “So no, I’m not threatening you. I’m pointing out that there’s no way of making me forget what you just told me.”

Davis’s mouth opens furiously, and then he reels it in. “Fine,” he says curtly. “Though if anyone finds out that I’ve told you anything, I will get the techs to wipe you so thoroughly you won’t even remember how to wipe your own ass. You’re not the only one with leverage.”

“Deal,” the Asset says. “Now why have I been left behind?”

“Because it’s a high-profile mission,” Davis says, which makes sense. Even if the target is a level eight, it might not be worth compromising the Asset for. “Possibly lots of visibility.”

“Yes?”

“It’s an Avenger. Hawkeye. He’s gotten mixed up in something he shouldn’t have done, which is potentially compromising a big tech operation.”

“Insight,” the Asset says, and the Handler’s expression turns pained.

“You’re not supposed to know about that.”

“I don’t know anything, I just know the name,” the Asset says. “And I know you didn’t tell me the name,” he adds, to appease Davis who is still looking like he’s debating bullying the techs into wiping him regardless. “Hawkeye,” he repeats at a mutter, turning the name over on his tongue, trying to taste any familiarity. There’s a niggling sensation in the back of his brain, a hook catching on his thoughts and feelings.

“Yeah. I don’t know how he’s got any way of compromising Insight, but apparently he does. He’s a tricky bastard even if he is only human. Runs around with a bow and arrow like some sort of Robin Hood-”

His words are cut off with a pained gasp as in one violent movement, the Asset turns and grabs him around the neck, fingers tightening. The Asset leans in, bringing his face right up to Davis’s, close enough so that they’re almost nose to nose. “What did you just say?”

The man’s hand moves; the Asset grabs his wrist and forces it away from the radio on his belt. He roughly pulls it off and then reaches up and yanks the man’s earpiece out as well. “What. Did. You. Say.”

“Let me go,” Davis says hoarsely and furiously, one of his hands clamped around the Asset’s metal wrist, like he can do anything. “Ten seconds and backup will appear to shove you back in cryo-”

Without breaking eye contact, the Asset steps back, dragging the man with him. He kicks the door shut and reaches back to twist the lock into place.

“Then you have ten seconds to tell me who this Hawkeye is.”

“I told you! He’s an Avenger! He’s a marksman, works with a bow and arrow-”

“Give me a name,” the Asset says. Distantly, he hears an alarm sounding, muted behind the heavy door. His metal fingers tighten; Davis’s face is slowly going red. “Give me a name!”

“Clint Barton,” Davis gasps. “His name is-”

“Clint,” the Asset says distantly. Outside the door, he can hear shouting and banging. His brain has stalled, it feels like a huge pressure has suddenly settled there, a splintering beam ready to snap. The blond man swims in his memories, grinning and looking at him like he’s the entire world.

The beam breaks. He flinches, gasping in a shuddering breath, his eyes going wide as he’s swamped with a torrent with memories, the echo of words spoken and shouted and whispered into the space between them.

“Clint,” he repeats, heart hammering. “ Iowa.

Chapter Text

“And he goes, ‘what, I thought you said a thousand bucks a go’.”

There was an uproar of laughter around the table. Dernier clapped his hands together as he cackled in delight; Dugan slapped his palm against the sticky wood of the table, and then clapped Bucky so hard on the shoulder that he slopped his drink all over his hand.

“Told you it was funny,” Bucky said to Clint. “Goddamn it, Dugan, you owe me a whiskey.”

“Your best pal is Captain America,” Dugan said dismissively. “He can afford to buy you another one.”

“Well I wanted this one,” Bucky said, wiping his hand on Clint’s jacket.

“Hey!” Clint protested, twisting away and almost tipping his beer all over Jones in the process; the beer in his hand was his fourth and his coordination was slowly making itself scarce.

“What did I say, we need a bigger table!”

Morita belched loudly. “Especially when Cap and his shoulders arrive.”

Dugan grinned. “Barton, get on Barnes’ knee, make room for Cap.”

“He’s not even here yet,” Bucky said waspishly, snatching up his glass and climbing to his feet. “You sit your fat ass on someone’s knee.”

He stalked away towards the bar, to a chorus of laughter and ‘ooohs’ from the rest of the guys. Clint didn’t join in with the ribbing, knowing how touchy Bucky could get about certain things when he was drunk and or tired. Tonight was a combination of both, and Dugan had unwittingly hit a still very tender nerve.

“You two had a spat?” Dugan asked Clint, lifting his chin towards where Bucky was now slouched against the bar.

“Nah,” Clint shrugged, sipping his beer. “He just thinks you’re making cracks about him being queer. He had enough of that from Paul Farrell.”

“Paul fucking Farrell,” Dugan grunted. “What a dick that guy was.”

Dernier made a comment in French and Jones started to laugh; Clint looked at Morita who just shrugged, evidently as clueless as Clint was.

“Evening, chaps!”

The debate about Paul fuckin’ Farrell was cut short and Clint looked up in surprise as Bucky’s vacated seat was taken by Falsworth; the rest of the gang made similar surprised noises as Falsworth settled in, reaching down to slip his hand into Bucky’s jacket pocket and help himself to a cigarette.

“What’re you doing here?”

“You’re meant to be back with your unit!”

“Well, Captain America himself has asked me to stay,” Falsworth drawled around the cigarette. “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, but he’s on his way to ask you all to join his new team too. Phillips is backing, very official.” He took the cigarette from his mouth, holding it jauntily between two fingers as he shouted at across the bar at Bucky. “Barnes, where the devil is your lighter?”

“Stop stealing my stuff!” was the bellowed reply, and Falsworth held his hands up and then turned to nudge the group of corporals behind him, asking for a light.

Clint sat back and let the conversation wash over him; between the jokes and the banter was speculation about what Cap was up to, conversations about Hydra and what would happen to the war now that they knew what they knew. Clint kept his mouth mostly shut because he knew what was going to happen next, and honestly he was a little bewildered as to how he’d ended up right here, shoehorned into a moment that counted as history. Like real, world changing history, not just stuff that had been and gone.

Well, if he had wanted to keep a low profile and not fuck up the time stream too much, he was doing a terrible job.

He drained his beer and climbed to his feet, pretending he couldn’t hear all the requests for another round. Laughing, he dodged the attempts of Morita and Dugan to smack his ass and darted across the bar to stand next to Bucky.

“S’a fella like you doin’ in a place like this?”

Scowling, Bucky swung at him, socking him hard on the shoulder. “Will you stop?”

“Oh relax,” Clint said, sliding his beer glass over to the barkeep and nodding for another. “No-one is being serious.”

“Yeah, well,” Bucky grumbled moodily, sipping at his refilled whiskey glass.

“You’re a pissy drunk,” Clint said, his own tongue loose from beer and the atmosphere. He liked it in here; alcohol and good company and a dartboard. It was almost enough to make him not miss his phone for three seconds. “Steve’s on his way.”

“Yeah, to ask us to join his team of goddamn lunatics,” Bucky said. “He told me earlier. I told him to ask me when I’d had a drink, so he’d get an honest answer.”

“We going?” Clint asked, and Bucky looked at him sharply. “What? Where you go, I go. Sticking with you, remember?”

Bucky observed him for a long moment, long enough that Clint had to look away, not altogether cool with the scrutiny. A new beer appeared at his elbow and he nodded in thanks to the bartender, immediately reaching for it to give his damn hands something to do. Bucky watched him drink for another moment and then tossed half of his own drink back, grimacing.

“You get your own quarters?”

“No, in with Jones and Dernier,” Clint said. “I’m gonna have to learn French.”

Bucky shook his head. “Believe me, you don’t wanna know what they’re saying half the time." He rubbed at his face, still looking moody. "I’m bunked in with Steve still, don’t think he’s gonna let me out of his sight for a while. Which is dumb as all hell, because out of the both of us he’s the goddamn trouble maker.” He sighed. “Sorry.”

Clint didn't know if he was apologizing for the ranting or the fact that for various reasons - including Steve - they hadn’t had a second together since they’d been rescued. He got it, he really did, but there was a part of him that needed to somehow properly - and privately - reconnect with Bucky, to hold him close and reassure him that they were okay after everything they’d been through. By the way Bucky was looking at him, dark eyes through lowered lids, he was feeling it too.

“That bar gonna fall down if you two move?”

They turned as one to Steve standing there, looking immaculate in his military greens and rather pleased with himself. Clint let out a low whistle and Steve blushed. Bucky simply rolled his eyes, turning back to his drink.

“Told you they’d go for it.”

“You did,” Steve said, and walked around them to lean on the bar next to Bucky. “I got two more spaces, and somethin’ tells me you come as a pair.”

“Damn straight we do,” Bucky said, and then glanced at Clint. “I dunno. We got plans back in Brooklyn.”

“What, you got a date or something? You taking Clint double-dating instead of me?”

“Yeah, or something,” Bucky said, and Clint choked on a laugh.

“I can’t go anywhere, I lost my bow,” he said to Steve, valiantly attempting to keep a straight face, because oh my fucking god, Bucky was pushing it with that joke. “I’m pretty useless without it. My only other talents include stealing things and punching people.”

“And seeing real far and climbing things,” Bucky added with a snap of his fingers. “Like a rat up a drainpipe.”  

“We’ll get you some new gear,” Steve said earnestly, and then he grinned. “Will you fit up a drainpipe with a quiver on your back?”

“Ha, now that’s a trick I’d pay to see,” Bucky said, head lolling back as he looked to Clint, the question in his eyes. Clint nodded, and Bucky’s gaze slid back to Steve. “Alright, we’re in.”

“Yeah? Ready to follow Captain America into the jaws of death?”

“No,” Bucky hummed. “Ready to follow a smart-ass punk from Brooklyn who could never run away from a fight.”

Steve ducked his head, pressing his lips together against a proud and grateful smile. Clint tipped his own chin down too, wondering if he should clear off back to the rest of the team. But then Steve looked up at him and grinned, so grateful and happy that Clint didn’t feel so much like he was intruding.

“You too? You don't owe anything to a smart ass punk from Brooklyn.”

Bucky made an indignant sound at that, probably ready to object and say that he didn't owe Steve shit, thankyouverymuch. Clint just shrugged. “You saved me from Hydra,” he said, and then jerked his head towards Bucky. “And where he goes, I go.”

Oddly, Steve looked pleased to hear that, and Clint had a wild moment in which he felt like he’d passed some sort of test. Oh god, he thought to himself a bit desperately. Don’t make a Steve fetching his shotgun joke.

“Well I got people to see, a tab to open,” Steve said, slapping his palm against the bar. “You want another?”

“No,” Bucky said, and didn’t look at Clint. “I’m gonna go shower up and pass out.”

Steve dipped his chin in acknowledgment. “You feeling alright?”

Bucky shrugged but nodded, leaving to head back over to the others at their table. They all greeted him as if he’d been gone for days, trying to pull Bucky down into a chair even as he attempted to liberate his jacket from underneath Falsworth. Clint could see that he looked tired but was smiling, leaning on Dugan’s shoulder and letting Falsworth reach up and slip a cigarette between his lips, Jones leaning up to light it for him.

“Do me a favor?” Steve said to Clint in an undertone, eyes also on Bucky. “Go with him? He’s not right. Something’s up.”

Clint glanced back at Steve. He looked worried. Too worried, and Clint had seen that concerned frown on future-Steve’s face too many times and didn’t want to see it here as well.

“He’s still recovering,” he said to Steve. “Torture takes a lot out of you. He’ll be alright. It’ll just take a while.”

Steve hummed, seeming unconvinced. “I suppose,” he said slowly. “But I’d still feel better if you didn’t mind going with him. If I leave him alone he’ll drink and he’s a pissy drunk when he’s tired.”

Clint snorted, because he knew exactly what Steve was getting at; tonight wasn't his only experience with a drunken Bucky after all. “Alright, you got it.”

Steve nodded at him gratefully and Clint took that as his cue to leave; he made for the exit as Steve rejoined the rest of the team at their table. He was so focused on thinking about getting to Bucky that he nearly ran headlong into the figure about to enter the bar: Peggy Carter, in a very low cut red dress that temporarily had Clint’s words giving up and leaving his mouth in a ‘ggrfphl?’ sort of sound.

“Quite,” Peggy said, raising an eyebrow, red lips curving into a smile.

“Evening?” Clint said with a wince, making a very conscious effort to look at her face and not her cleavage. “Um, Steve’s at the bar.”

She smiled at that. “Not about to ask me what a girl like me is doing in a place like this?”.

“No, Ma’am,” Clint said. “I’m well used to working with beautiful women who could knock me out for a lack of respect. You go any place you like.”

It was Natasha that was on his mind as he said it, and the thought came with a tell-tale stutter in his chest, a dip of his stomach that ached with memory and loss. Peggy didn’t notice his brief crack in composure, just laughed; a low, warm sound. Clint managed to smile weakly. “You want me to hold the door for you, or you gonna knee me in the balls for it?”

Peggy looked even more amused at that. “Oh dear, I seem to have earned myself a bit of a reputation,” she sighed, not looking sorry at all. “If you would like to hold the door, I’ll let you be a gentleman. Of course, as long as there aren’t any ulterior motives to your offer.”

“None at all,” Clint said as he stepped back and pushed the door open. The noise from inside the bar spilled over them, out into the night.

“Thank you,” Peggy said. “You’re one of Steve’s, yes?”

Clint nodded. “Clint Barton,” he said. “Steve’s in there with the rest of the team. Well, not Bucky - I mean, erm, James Barnes. He’s quit for the night, I’m just going to check on him. Steve’s orders.”  

“Of course. I’ll see you soon, Clint Barton,” she said, and then she was stepping gracefully into the bar, leaving Clint alone.

He let the door swing shut and then slumped back against it, blowing out a breath. Peggy fucking Carter. The woman who had founded SHIELD; one of his and Natasha’s personal heroes. And now here she was, young and beautiful and knowing his name, knowing him as one of Steve’s team.

This place gets weirder and weirder, he thought fervently, getting himself together and pushing away from the door, finally heading out to find Bucky.

 


 

“You insane? What’re you doing here?”

Clint kicked the door shut behind him, giving Bucky a flat look. “Nice to see you too.”

Bucky struggled to sit upright from where he was lying prone on the bed by the window, scowling at Clint. He was lit only by the pale light that poured in through the crack between the curtains, half of him deep in shadow. “I’m not even kidding, what if Steve comes looking for you-”

“Steve is the one who sent me,” Clint said matter-of-factly, shrugging off his jacket and turning to hang it on the back of the door, the bare floorboards creaking under his feet as he moved. “He’s worried about you.”

“Wait, Steve sent you?” Bucky said, momentarily thrown. “He sent you, on your own, to check on me, in my quarters?”

Clint had to laugh. “See, he doesn’t suspect a thing. Either that or he knows and he doesn’t care.”

“He better not fucking know,” Bucky said hotly, and then paused again. “So he’s not going to come looking for us?”

“No,” Clint said, and he leaned back and locked the door with a very pointed click.

Bucky was on him in seconds. He scrambled up across the room, nearly staggering in his haste. Clint stepped forwards to meet him, catching Bucky’s hips in his hands and kissing him hard. Bucky let out a breathless grunt, arms wrapping around Clint’s shoulders as he kissed him back frantically, biting roughly at his lip. The sting of pain sang hot in Clint’s blood and he shoved a thigh between Bucky’s legs; Bucky cursed and wobbled off balance, seizing hold of Clint’s upper arms to keep steady.  

“Fuck, I missed this,” Bucky groaned against Clint’s neck, breath hitching as Clint’s hands slid around to his ass, pulling him hard against him. “Missed you.”

“I know,” Clint said. “God, this fucking war-”

“Just shut up,” Bucky said fiercely, and he grabbed the collar of Clint’s jacket in his fists, started pulling him backwards towards the bed. “I don’t wanna think about it-”

They tumbled onto the bed, Bucky on his back and Clint following him down. Clint threw out a hand to take his weight, ending up nose to nose with Bucky on rumpled sheets.  

“How long have we got?” Bucky breathed, pressing kisses across Clint’s face, everywhere he could reach. His fingers were fumbling at the buttons of Clint’s shirt, obviously not worried enough about interruption to stop.

“I have no idea,” Clint said. “They were just getting more drinks, and Carter was just on her way in.”

“That’ll do,” Bucky said breathlessly, and slid a hand onto the back of Clint’s neck to pull him in once more.

 


 

Clint sat on the edge of the bed and slowly buttoned up his shirt, smiling as Bucky grumbled and reached around from behind him to pull his hands away, tugging him back down onto the mattress. His hair was sticking up every which way and there was still sweat over his brow, which he reached up to push into his hairline. It only served to make his hair even worse, and Clint felt like his heart was about to give out from the swell of fondness that pushed against his sternum, making his ribcage feel ten sizes too small.

“You were the one who said I couldn’t stay,” Clint reminded him as Bucky rolled on top of him, kissing his neck, sloppy and open-mouthed.

“Don’t mean I want you to go,” Bucky said. He sighed heavily against Clint’s skin, wriggling around to get comfortable, lying at Clint’s side with his head on his shoulder and a leg thrown carelessly over Clint’s thighs. “I needed this.”

“You and me both,” Clint said, and wrapped his arm around Bucky’s shoulders, tipping his chin up with his fingers so he could kiss him slow and gentle. It was all butterflies in his stomach and shivers up his spine as Bucky hummed while he lazily kissed him back, body lax and replete.  

“We should have said no,” Bucky murmured against his mouth. “Gone back home.”

Clint gently kissed him again. He couldn’t quite believe that Bucky was even saying it, that he was even contemplating ducking out and leaving Steve here. It was probably a lot to do with the fact that they’d just had sex and were riding the endorphins and feelings from that. And the fact that getting time together like this would be hard - if not impossible - if they were to go on with the team.

“You wouldn’t leave Steve again.”

Bucky sighed, rubbed his nose against Clint's cheek and kissed him again. It was like he couldn’t bear to have his mouth apart from Clint’s at all, like he’d be happy staying here forever. “No, I probably couldn’t,” he said. “Not letting his dumb ass do anything else stupid.”

Clint laughed softly, but he was mentally kicking himself; he should have said yes when Bucky had mentioned going home, should have tried to persuade Bucky to actually do it and leave the war. The odds of him dying would definitely be lower if they were safe in Brooklyn and not out here.

“If you wanted to, I’d come with you,” Clint said. “Go home. Get an apartment, spend the whole day doing this.”

Bucky groaned. “Don’t tempt me.”

“Think about it. No more guns and dirt and being told what to do.”

“Unless I’m telling you to get on your knees?”

“Where’re your manners, you ask for that kinda privilege.”

Bucky laughed. “After,” he said, hand rubbing idly at Clint’s chest. “After this mess ends, we go home.”

Clint was silent. After was not a thing that Bucky Barnes was supposed to have. But then again, Clint was not something Bucky Barnes was supposed to have either, and maybe that would make all the difference.

“What you thinking about?” Bucky asked through a yawn.

“After,” Clint said honestly, and Bucky’s grin lit up the room.

“After,” he repeated, grin still in place and breaking Clint’s heart. “Yeah, we can do after.”

Clint nodded and abruptly leaned in to kiss him again, not wanting Bucky to see his wavering emotions. After , he told himself fiercely. After. Top floor apartment. Pals across the hall. Bar across the way. Buying Bucky drinks.

They would get there, or Clint would die trying.




 

 

Clint isn’t one for crying. Never has been, really. He knows now that he’s older and wiser that aggression, evasion and poorly pitched jokes aren’t really an acceptable substitute for feeling things, but it’s still a hard habit to kick.

However, he doesn’t even have a choice in the matter when he wakes after dreaming of his evening with Bucky. It hits him like a blow to the head and has him in tears the moment his eyes open, his broken ears ringing with the word after.

Foregoing his hearing aids, he scrambles out of bed and makes for the roof. The fresh air helps to soothe his nerves a little, but not enough so that the tears stop.

“Goddammit,” he hiccups as he leans back against the wall, well out of sight of the penthouse windows. “Get a grip, Barton.”

He wipes a hand roughly over his face, feeling almost at the end of his tether with himself. This is twice now he’s had uncontrollable sobbing fits over what’s happening to his counterpart in 1944, but this time it’s just over Bucky, not the war and what the other him is going through.

Just over Bucky, he thinks. As if it could ever be just Bucky. His counterpart clearly was head over heels in love with Bucky, and sitting here in the future, Clint has to accept the ridiculous fact that he is too.

A hand on his shoulder makes him jump a mile, and he lets out a strangled yell and twists away. He lifts a foot but manages to stop himself lashing out a fraction of a second before he kicks Wanda in the solar-plexus.

“Oh, Clint,” she says softly, her expression falling. In her other hand is a tray with two mugs on it, spiralling steam into the air. “Why are you alone out here?”

“You made me jump, you little witch,” Clint says, clearly his throat and wiping at his face, determinedly not looking at her. “I’m fine.”

She sits down next to him and nudges him, waiting until he looks around. “ Hazudsz ,” she says, and at his nonplussed expression tries again in English. “You’re a liar.”

“Okay, I had a rough night,” he concedes.

“Has something happened to the other you?” she asks, and then says something he doesn’t fully catch, something about closing the connection. He decides not to ask.

“No,” Clint says. “He’s fine.”

“Liar,” she repeats, and passes him a mug. Coffee, just the way he likes it. “Natasha is not here and you don’t talk to me and Pietro about this,” she says, face towards his but eyes on his hands where they’re curled around the mug.

“You and Pietro don’t need to know,” Clint tells her, and reaches out to place his fingers under her chin. Sad eyes lift to his, and he tries to smile. “I look after you two, remember?”

“No,” she says suddenly, fierce and strong. “Right now, we need to take care of you.”

“Wanda,” Clint starts, and then huffs out a breath. She’s right, in a way. Natasha isn't here and he’s a mess. He’s not sure what to say though, so he just holds out his arm and lets her curl up at his side, head resting on his shoulder. She doesn't say anything more, and they sit in companionable silence, sipping their drinks as the city below bustles on through mid-morning.

“Hey,” he says absent-mindedly a long while later. “Do you think anyone will ever want to date me?”

He feels her lift her head and turns to meet her curious gaze. He gives her a moment to ascertain that he’s actually being serious and not assing around, which only makes her frown deepen.

“Where is this coming from?”

He shrugs, feeling dumb. “I think I’m lonely,” he says, which is a lie. He is lonely. Bone-crushingly, heart-exhaustingly lonely without Bucky, and there’s nothing he can do about it.

“I don’t like this,” Wanda says, upset. “We’re losing you to the past, just like Steve.”

Oh and there’s the kicker. She’s right; for every moment of friendship between Clint and Steve that grows and helps Steve find his place in the future, there’s a moment that pulls Clint back into the past.

“Nah, I’m here, aren't I?” Clint says, squeezing her shoulders. She mutters something in reply that he doesn't get, but asking about it takes a back seat as her phone beeps shrilly with an Avengers alert, the noise so loud and jarring that even Clint can vaguely hear it.

She pulls it out, eyes flicking back and forth as she reads. “Fire department,” she says. “They need help in New Jersey.”

Clint sits back. “Eh, New Jersey. It’ll be fine without us.”

Wanda smacks him on the knee. “You Americans are ridiculous,” she says. “Get up, let's go.”

“Fine,” Clint replies. “Hopefully it’s a cat stuck up a tree so I can adopt it and become a lonely crazy cat man. Old spinster Barton.”

Wanda just shakes her head. “Come on,” she insists. “Before Pietro beats us there and calls us late again.”

That at least makes Clint smile. “Well, we can't let that happen,” he says, and climbs to his feet. “Let’s go.”

 


 

“So. This is your team.”

Colonel Chester Phillips did not look amused.  His lined face looked stern and incapable of producing anything resembling a smile, and he was making Clint feel very twitchy. He wasn’t technically part of the SSR after all, and his and Bucky’s deception had got him not only into the ranks of the US army, but all the way back under the nose of the man who was part of where Clint was supposedly from. Luckily, no-one had done too much digging, and seemed happy to take Steve’s word for it that his team was reliable and trustworthy.

“Yes Sir, it is,” Steve said without any hint of apology, arms folded across his chest. Along the line, Dugan made a noise that sounded a lot like a laugh turned hastily into a cough, and Phillips turned to glare at him. Next to Clint, Bucky pursed his lips together, eyes dancing.

“Looks like a bunch of stragglers that you found at last orders in a bar.”

“No Sir,” Steve said matter-of-factly. “I asked them to join the team well before last orders.”

Bucky’s shoulders started to shake. Clint watched as Steve’s eyes slid to Bucky and they both simultaneously looked away, obviously on the verge of bursting into laughter.

“Dugan, Falsworth, Morita, Jones, Dernier, Barnes and Barton,” Phillips read slowly. “That’s seven, not six, Captain.”

“Well they come as a set,” Steve shrugged. “You said I had to have a man of rank, so, Falsworth. Jones translates for Dernier who is our explosives expert, and he won’t go anywhere without Falsworth or Jones. Morita is the only one with medic experience and he says he won’t go without Dugan because Dugan owes him money, and Dugan won’t go anywhere unless Barton is coming because he’s the only one he trusts to cover his ass, and Barton and Barnes are a pair.”

“Maybe we should leave you behind,” Dugan said, and the rest of the team started to laugh.

“No, because if he stays then I stay,” Bucky said, leaning forwards to look at Dugan on the other end of the line. “Genius.”

Clint nodded, all faux-serious. “And if Barnes stays then I stay,”

“And I don’t trust anyone else covering my rear,” Dugan said. “I’m staying with Barton.”

“Well it’s a pretty sizable rear.”

“And Dugan owes me money, so if he stays, I stay, and then you’re down to three.”

“Non! Je ne vais pas sans Barnes, il a mes cigarettes.”

“I do not, you liar-”

“Alright!” Phillips shouted, looking like he was already regretting ever having anything to do with Captain America and his team of Howling Commandos. “This is on your ass, Captain. I leave it to you to kick them into shape.”

“Yes Sir,” Steve said, all polite smiles and earnest eyes as he turned back to the team. “You hear that? Anyone resisting being kicked into shape will be court-martialled.”

There was much sniggering and laughing along the line at that. Morita raised a hand. “Um, do you mean that? Only because you also said you’d court-martial us for making fun of you yesterday.”

“Still stands,” Steve said, still somehow perfectly straight-faced. “And I’m adding making eagle noises to the list too, Barton.”

Bucky snorted audibly at that. “Well that’s us fucked. Steve, I’m just gonna let rip at you now so we can get the inevitable out the way-”

“That’s enough,” Phillips snapped, his loud voice rising above their banter and bickering. Luckily for his blood-pressure, everyone obediently shut their mouths, quelling laughter and turning grins towards the floor. “I am starting to regret this already," he muttered, and then seemed to collect himself, shaking his head with the air of a man who was utterly done . “Alright, I leave you in the capable hands of Stark and Agent Carter to get your gear sorted. I would stay, but I don’t want to. First mission briefing at fifteen hundred hours, and you move out ASAP.”

There was a murmuring along the line at that. “Uh, just how ASAP is ASAP?” Clint asked, belatedly adding “Sir?”

Phillips eyed him long and hard, and then answered, “Tomorrow,” before turning away and walking off, calling over his shoulder as he went. “So don’t waste my team’s time, get your gear sorted before you end up having to go at a Hydra base with the leftover weapons from the infantry divisions.”

“He’s a fun guy,” Dugan said happily as Phillips left. “I like him.”

“You would,” Jones said. “Is that who you want to be when you grow up?”

“Yes, but with a better moustache.”

The laughter and joking around was cut short at the sound of a door re-opening. Two sets of footsteps were heard, and then a confident voice rang out across the room. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Everyone turned as one to meet Peggy Carter and none other than Howard Stark. Peggy had a clipboard in hand and Stark - well, Clint couldn’t form any reasonable conclusions because this was Tony’s dad, right in front of him and younger than Clint had ever seen Tony. In a way it was as much of a shock as seeing Steve turn up in 1944, because this was a whole generation different and-

“Wow. You guys are gonna need some serious work doing if you think you’ve got a hope against Hydra.”

-and there was the Stark charm that Clint was so used to. Though coming from Howard, it was less amusing, carrying an edge that Clint had never heard in Tony’s tone unless he was being self-depreciating. Bucky was obviously also less than taken with Howard’s tone, because he leaned back slightly, looking affronted.

“Got more of a hope than you,” Bucky muttered, scowling as Steve turned to shake Howard’s hand and blush at Peggy. The rest of the team didn’t seem bothered by Stark’s comment, and were happy to be introduced, all clearly excited about the prospect of getting new gear.

“And this is Bucky - Sergeant James Barnes, and Specialist Clint Barton.”

They turned together to see Steve and Stark in front of them. Stark held out a hand but Bucky and Clint both just kept their hands shoved in their pockets. Stark didn't seem remotely bothered, shrugging it off and slipping his own hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“Yeah, we’re the guys who Cap has picked because we don’t have a hope against Hydra,” Bucky said, and Steve gave him a look, a goddammit play nice Bucky, look.

“The same guys that survived two weeks in a Hydra torture chamber without any help from you,” Clint said to Stark, and the look quickly shifted to him. Clint was saved from anything worse though, as Peggy called out to Steve; unsurprisingly he turned on his heel like he was automated, walking off towards her and leaving Clint and Bucky with their new favorite person on the planet.

“No offense meant,” Stark said, not looking sorry at all. “So, you two are my snipers?”

“Cap’s snipers,” Bucky corrected, but Stark carried on as if he’d not heard him.

“I’ve got some amazing gear to hook you up with, they’ll make a Springfield look like a pop toy.”

“Whoa, whoa.” Clint held a hand up. “I don’t use guns.”

Stark frowned at him. “Cap said I had two snipers to work with.”

“Yeah, you do, but I use a bow.”

“A bow?”

“Yeah, a bow,” Bucky said. “It makes no noise and he’s good at four hundred feet.”

Stark still didn’t look convinced. “It won’t be any hassle to upgrade you, pal.”

“Then make me a new bow that’s solid vibranium,” Clint shot back, and Stark’s brows flew up. “That’ll do me as far as an upgrade goes.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to know about that,” Stark said, but before Clint had to make up something to cover himself, Stark just shrugged. “Okay, well, vibranium it won’t be, but a bow I can do if that’s what you really want. I’ll need to measure you first. You too Barnes, if you want a decent rifle.”

‘You can measure my ass,’ Clint privately thought, but he managed to nod with what he hoped was a polite smile on his face. By the way Bucky elbowed him discreetly, he had probably missed the mark. Huh, first time for everything.

“You got it,” Bucky said. “Where you want us, Mister Stark?”

“With me, now,” Stark said, waving a hand towards the door at the back of the room, eyes already fixed on his watch and not even looking at them. “I can spare you three minutes.”

“Oh wow, three whole minutes,” Clint said as Stark turned away, and then turned an indignant look on Bucky as Bucky kicked him in the ankle.

“Play nice,” Bucky hissed as Stark walked out of earshot.

“He’s not even listening!” Clint replied, gesturing to Stark’s back. “God, I always knew that guy was a dick, but really?”

“Whatcha mean you always knew? What’ve you heard that I haven’t?”

“Uh,” Clint started, and then began mentally berating himself. “Just the attitude you know? Big rich guy.”

“I guess,” Bucky said, and Clint breathed a sigh of relief. “Though don’t tell me you wouldn't have some swagger if you were that rich.”

Clint snorted. “If I were rich, we wouldn’t be here that’s for sure. I’d take my swagger elsewhere.”

Laughing, Bucky shoved at the back of his shoulder to get him moving. “Sure thing. Come on, three minutes with Stark and then you get your new toys.”

“It better be worth three minutes,” Clint grumbled.

“Well, his last project ended him up with Captain America,” Bucky pointed out, walking towards the door and hauling Clint with him. “So I think we’ll do alright.”

 


 

“Come for dinner, old man! No-one will eat unless you are there!”

Pietro flings Clint’s bedroom door open to yell at him, then is gone before Clint can even register what’s happened. Scowling, he yanks his tee down over his head, almost knocking a hearing aid out as he does.

“Like to see you stop Steve from eating,” he says as he tugs the shirt straight, and there's a woosh as Pietro reappears, sending Clint’s unfinished SHIELD paperwork scattering everywhere.

“It is Steve’s idea,” he says as the pages settle onto the floor. “Captain’s orders. And you will make Wanda sad if you don’t, and Stark says he will fetch you himself if you make Wanda sad, and if you make Tony come up here then Steve will call Natasha-”

“Alright, alright, I’m getting!” Clint says. “Get out of my room.”

Pietro vanishes again, and Clint blows out a breath, putting his hands on top of his head. He doesn't object to going for dinner with the team, but if they ask him about his time-traveling escapes then he’s not sure what he’s going to be able to say.

Tony will probably like the fact he thinks that his dad is a dick, right?

He snorts with laughter as he heads towards the door; yeah, talking about Howard will be the easy part. It’s talking about Bucky that’s going to be the tricky one - he can't avoid it, but he neither wants to make Steve sad nor blow his cover. It’s a small miracle that no-one has worked it out already.

He obediently slouches down to the kitchen area and does a minor double take as he realizes that Pietro did in fact mean everyone. Steve, Tony, Wanda, Pietro, Sam and Thor are all there; in fact, it’s only Bruce and the team members out on the West Coast that aren’t there.

“Come and get food before Steve eats it all,” Tony calls over the chatter, and Clint salutes and obediently slides into the free seat between Steve and Sam. Sam passes him a beer with the lid already off, which automatically makes Sam his new favorite. 

“I like how I’m your concern when Thor is at dinner,” Steve says pointedly, and then freezes like he can’t believe what he’s just said.

Luckily, Thor starts to laugh and Steve’s uncertainty turns into a rueful smile.

“I just meant-”

“I know,” Thor says easily, and his eyes are twinkling. “You know when you are outmatched.”

Steve blinks and then his mouth turns up in a grin. “You wanna go? I’m from Brooklyn pal, I guarantee I can get through more pizza than any Asgardian.”

Clint almost chokes on his mouthful of beer, and Thor’s laugh booms out over the table. Tony looks from Steve to Clint to Thor, eyes narrowing.

“Okay, when did Steve get a personality transplant?”

“Leave the man alone,” Sam chips in with a laugh.

“Yeah, leave me alone,” Steve says, but he turns to nudge Tony with his elbow, giving him a quiet private smile that Clint has actually seen before. Mostly, directed at Peggy Carter. Seventy years ago. Oh man, Steve has it bad.

“Steve does jokes now,” Clint says. “It’s great.”

“Awful,” Sam is saying. “Terrible jokes.”

Tony looks suitably impressed. “I think I like it,” he says. “Does this mean we can make fun of you now?”

“Anyone making fun of me will get court-martialed,” Steve says, and his eyes flick up to Clint’s, who smiles back.

“You think he’s joking,” Clint says. “He threatened us with the same back in the day.”

“Okay, that is too strange,” Wanda says from across the table, shaking her head.

“Yes, now you are really an old man, if you lived through the war,” Pietro says, and ducks as Clint chucks a piece of crust from Steve’s plate at him.

“Speaking of living through the war,” Clint says, easily catching the piece of crust as Pietro throws it back, dropping it onto Steve’s plate. Steve shrugs and then picks it up to gnaw on. “You’re lucky your dad did, because I wanted to shoot him in the face.”

Tony seems to think that one over, taking a swig of beer. “Just too much Stark for you?”

“Yeah. All of your very worst parts and none of the good shit to balance it out.”

Tony barks out a laugh, looking surprised. “Oh I’m sure you have an extensive list of my worst parts, with what, one or two in the pro column?”

Clint shakes his head. “You are not a selfish prick who needs to sort his priorities out,” he says, and to his utmost surprise Tony just stands up and walks around Steve to lean over and tap Clint on his shoulder.

“Come on, up and at ‘em, Hawkguy, we’re hugging this out. Welcome to the cold, harsh reality of Howard Stark club. Come on, get up. I need this, don’t you take this away from me-”

Laughing, Clint climbs out of his chair and is promptly wrapped up in a fierce hug. “Can it be the ‘not buying any of the charm because I know you’re a shit-head’ club?”

“That’s a very long club name,” Pietro remarks.

“Kid's right,” Tony says. “Maybe we need an acronym.”

“Tony Stark has a heart,” Clint tells the amused faces around the table, reaching up to pat at Tony’s shoulder. “Honestly, I’ve seen it-”

He breaks off as he catches sight of Steve, starting to laugh instead. Because honestly, he has no idea how the man ever made it through a hand of poker with a face like that.

“What?” Steve asks, trying to school the simmering jealousy in his expression into something neutral.

“I’ve seen that face before,” Clint carries on, still laughing. “That’s how you used to look at Peggy.”

Steve opens his mouth to argue, but his Irish complexion gives him away as he flushes bright red. Sam immediately burst into laughter, cackling so hard he's bent over the table, forehead nearly touching his food. Tony rears back, starting to grin.

“I’m touched,” he says to Steve. “I am. But really, jealous over a hug? Are you that deprived?”

“Maybe I am,” Steve says a touch huffily, looking down at his plate and trying to salvage some of his dignity. Oh man, Bucky was right. Captain America through and through, but a hint of romance and Steve just falls apart.

Tony’s smile turns fond. “Alright, you asked for it,” he says, and he steps up behind Steve, wrapping his arms around him in a hug, resting his chin atop Steve’s head. Still rather pink in the face, Steve casually lifts a hand to hold onto Tony’s wrist, before shooting Clint a ‘mention it, I dare you,’ look.

Clint doesn’t. He just grins into his beer and carries on eating, the loneliness and heartbreak of losing Bucky momentarily soothed by the team - his team - around him.

 

 


 

Clint carefully tosses a blanket over Pietro’s sleeping form, shaking his head with something that’s not completely exasperation, reaching out to turn the lamp off. The TV winks off too and the room fades into darkness, an official end to the impromptu film night that had happened after dinner.

“Okay?” Steve’s low voice calls from the doorway, his silhouette illuminated by the light from the sweeping stairwell. Clint blinks, momentarily recalling seeing the same silhouette lit by the lights of a bar, shrouded in cigarette smoke and laughter.

Clint nods, and after one last glance at Pietro to check he was still where he left him, he pads over to Steve. He was looking unnervingly serious after the relatively high spirits of the evening so far, all traces of joking and team bonding gone from his countenance.

“What’s up?” Clint whispers after a moment, when Steve doesn’t move. “Steve?”  

Steve sighs, and then jerks his head towards the stairs, whether to avoid waking Pietro or so that Pietro won’t hear them if he does wake, Clint doesn’t know. He silently follows Steve as he ascends the stairs to Clint’s floor before stopping.

He turns to Clint, looking tired. “I know...I know that you having the link to the past is helping me,” he says quietly, unashamed and unapologetic about hitting the topic head-on with his usual disregard for tact and delicacy. “But….but don’t hold off on breaking that connection on my account. You need to be here with us in the present.”

Clint feel his mouth drop open, and quickly clacks it shut, feeling wrong-footed. He reaches up to scratch the back of his head.

“Well, it’s not all bad,” he says weakly. “It - I - Well...Jeez, warn a guy before you spring this sort of stuff on him.”

“Sorry,” Steve says, and he genuinely looks it, the old unhappiness still lurking in his eyes. “Wanda says you’re finding it hard.”

Clint doesn't know what to say to that, other than cursing at Wanda for blabbing about his not-so-very-well-concealed precarious mental state, so he just nods. Steve reaches out and puts his hand on the side of Clint’s neck, before sighing and then tugging him in for a tight hug.

“If you end the connection, that’s okay,” Steve’s voice rumbles through him. “I mean it. Even if we’re not watching, even if we don’t know what’s going on. I know you were a good friend to him.”

Cling pushes gently away from Steve, not quite trusting himself not to start bawling if Steve continues hugging him. His throat is feeling all weird and tight already, and he’s had enough of crying. “Yeah,” he says helplessly, because there’s so much more than Steve knows, and he can’t say it out loud, can’t admit to Steve why ending the connection feels like punching himself in both the face and the heart.

Steve’s mouth twists and he stares down at the polished floor between them for a moment, before raising his eyes to meet Clint’s. “You think the other you….You think, given a chance, he’d try and save Bucky?”

And looking up at Steve’s quietly heartbroken face, Clint is pretty sure he’d say yes no matter what. Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry about his conscience too much, because it’s not a lie when he meets Steve eyes and quietly tells him, “I know he would.”

 


 

The Asset fights.

He’s used to fighting, but this time he is fighting not because he has been ordered to, but because he wants to.

He needs to.

Davis is dead. As are the eight agents who stormed the room, armed with guns and tasers, trying to force the Asset back into compliance. They fail; there is no STRIKE team anywhere nearby to help, and the Asset is filled with single-minded focus, a determination to find out what the hell is happening to him and this man named Clint Barton.

Wiping the blood out of his eyes, he blinks at the computer screen he’s logged onto, using Davis’ ID and fingerprint. He’s scrolling through reams and reams of paperwork, mission reports and tech instructions and memos and all the things he’s never been concerned with before. An hour in and he’s found files that pertain to recent events; in particular reports from a certain Agent that leads the STRIKE team.

Agent X reports that the Asset is willing to talk about memories (tech file 34.76) and will describe the individual. Individual has bow and arrow. Link to HE and A. Agent X to continue rapport with Asset to find more detail.

Agent X reports Asset not able to give name.

Agent X reports Asset still unable to give name.

He feels his heart pounding sickly against his ribcage. He’d told Agent X those things. He had trusted . Betrayal is not something he is used to feeling.

He pulls up more files. Going faster. Almost frantic. He needs the report for today, he needs to know how the hell the man from his memory is being hunted down now, it makes no sense-

He finds a file, and all the air is punched out of his lungs. A familiar face looks at him from a file that has been clearly stolen or copied, marked with the word SHIELD across the top.

Iowa.

Real name Clinton Francis Barton, codename Hawkeye. A marksman and hand to hand expert. Born in 1985, but somehow present in the Asset’s memories which pre-date that. A member of the Avengers, and now at risk of extermination at the hands of the STRIKE team. A note on the file says that Clinton Francis Barton is a threat to both Zola and Insight. The Asset does not know what that means.

The Asset reads the data twice, closes the terminal down. He breathes in and out slowly to regain control of himself, and for the first time ever, decides on his own mission.

Protect Clinton Francis Barton.

 

Chapter Text

“Will you two idiots just sit down for a damn minute,” Dugan called lazily from where he was lying flat on his back, head pillowed against Clint’s jacket and the bowler hat he’d found in the bar tipped down to shield his eyes from the sun. “Enjoy the peace and quiet.”

“Gotta stay in shape somehow,” Clint said, catching the baseball easily in one hand as Bucky flung it at him, dog-tags clinking as they bounced against his chest, visible through his not-exactly-buttoned-according-to-regulations shirt.

“What are you insinuating, Barton?” Falsworth said, swinging his heels back and forth so they bumped against the ancient grey-stone wall he was sitting on. “That our dear Dum Dum isn’t in shape?”

“I said nothing,” Clint replied as he tossed the ball back.

“We’re being sent out tomorrow,” Morita said from his perch next to Falsworth, leaning back with his face tipped into the sun. “Take a break, come on.”

“Being in the army is five tenths sitting on your ass and doing nothing,” Bucky pointed out, hurling the ball high into the air so Clint had to run forwards to catch it. Which he did, of course, much to Bucky’s chagrin.  

“We’re going off fighting Hydra, I don’t think it’s going to be your regular sitting around gig,” Dugan said.

“Nothing about Hydra is regular,” Jones agreed from down beside Falsworth’s feet, sitting in the grass and leaning back against the wall. With two soldiers sitting atop it and both Jones and Dernier leaning back on it, Clint half suspected the thing was going to crumble at any point. He hadn’t said this out loud though, because if it did it would be hilarious to watch.

“Give me a break, can’t a man play some good old fashioned catch with an American baseball any more?” Bucky said, throwing the ball back with a snap of his wrist. “Falsworth, can you steal me a mitt?”

“I hear they’re in surplus over here in Austria,” Falsworth deadpanned, and the others all sniggered. “I’m not sure my locating and retrieving skills are that good.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said. “You could steal a suntan from the arctic.”

Dernier cackled with laughter. “C’est vrai,” he said, and Jones chuckled, nodding in agreement.

“Barton!”

They all looked up and around at the shout of Clint’s name; his heart leapt as he saw Howard Stark walking towards him - not because of the man himself, but because he was carrying an absolutely beautiful black recurve bow in his hand, a single arrow in the other.

“Try this on for size,” he said breezily, and held it out without any further comment.

Clint tossed the baseball high up in the air beelined straight for Stark; he didn’t need to look around to know it had fallen perfectly into Bucky’s hands without him even having to take a step. His eyes were busy drinking in the sight of the goddamn gorgeous piece of weaponry that Stark was offering up, and to his credit he no longer looked incredulous about Clint’s choice.

“Had to do some serious work to get it compact and still strong enough to match your draw,” Stark said with the air of a man who wanted everyone to know just how easy his genius brain had found the hard work. Clint picked up the bow, marveling at the feel of sleek metal beneath his palm. He wasn't remotely surprised that his hand fit the riser like it’d grown within the grip of his fist; the bow Tony had made for him was exactly the same.

“Nice,” he said, and then, “Gimme.”

Stark held out the arrow. Hands moving instinctively, Clint took it from him, flipped it around, nocked it and then twisted around in one seamless movement.

“Bucky!”

Without having to be asked twice, Bucky hurled the ball into the air and Clint let fly. There was a surprised shout from someone, and then Bucky took two steps back and caught the ball again, now with the arrow pierced clean through the center.

“Toldja,” Bucky smirked at Stark, and the rest of the team started to laugh. Dugan was clapping, hands raised up vertically from where he was still sprawled out on the ground.

“Do that again,” Stark demanded as he watched Bucky playing around with the skewered baseball. “Barnes, give me the ball. Someone give me something to throw. Someone give me a shoe, throw a shoe at Barton-”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Clint shouted as everyone obediently reached for their feet. “No throwing shoes, I’m out of arrows!”

“Errol Flynn never ran out of arrows,” Falsworth drawled.

Luckily, Clint understood the reference; Errol Flynn was possibly his second favourite Robin Hood, coming in just above Cary Elwes but still well behind the animated fox version. And definitely above Costner and way, way above Crowe. It was on the tip of his tongue to make a men in tights joke before he remembered that the film hadn’t been made yet. Instead, he just turned his attention to the bow, running his hands over the riser and pulling at the string, feeling the tension beneath his fingers.

“Perfect,” he said. “Please tell me there are more arrows?”

“Of course there are more arrows,” Stark said, sounding insulted. “And a quiver, and a laser sight that will help you work out distances to the nearest quarter inch-”

“That’s what my eyes are for,” Clint said dismissively. “I don’t need a laser sight.”

“Sure,” Stark scoffed. “Tell me how far from you to Barnes now, then.”

Clint eyed the distance. “Thirteen feet, two and a quarter inches.”

Stark looked from Bucky to Clint and back again. “Don’t move,” he said, still scanning the distance. Clint could practically see the calculations going on behind his eyes. “I’m getting the sight. Barnes, I mean it. Stay where you are.”

“You don’t need to, it’s thirteen feet, two and a quarter inches,” Clint yelled at Stark’s retreating back.

Dernier faux-whispered something to Jones who burst into laughter. Clint turned to them expectantly, and Jones tried to calm his laughter enough to talk.

“He says stop shouting about your pecker, no-one believes you.”

The rest of the team burst into howling laughter. Clint just threw his hands in the air, watching as Bucky keeled over backwards, clutching his stomach and laughing weakly into the ground.

“You guys can suck my dick,” Clint informed them.

“What, all thirteen feet two inches of it?” Bucky managed to say, and Clint officially gave up.

 


 

The mood was energetic and raucous, everyone excited for the first official mission of Captain America and his team of Howling Commandos. The jeep was rumbling, engine gunning and ready to go. Next to it was Steve’s bike, being loaded up by a young corporal who look like he couldn’t believe what he was doing. Clint was standing there with the new bow Stark had bestowed upon him the day before, a quiver packed with arrows already on his back. The rest of the team were all similarly equipped with new toys - including Steve’s brand new vibranium shield that they’d spent the night taking potshots at, which Steve hadn’t found remotely funny. It was only Bucky’s manic sniggering that had stopped him really losing it, the irritation easily smoothed over into exasperated fondness every time Bucky started to laugh.

The team were all crowded nearby, laughing and joking around, loud and unapologetic as the SHIELD techs finished fretfully checking off equipment. Howard Stark was there, hands in his pockets as he watched the techs work. He had been talking to Peggy, but her attention had been drawn elsewhere: namely to Steve, who had pulled her to one side and was trying his best to say goodbye and was by all accounts making a total hash of it.

Bucky was finding it hilarious. His back was turned to where Steve and Peggy were on the other side of the hangar, and he was laughing so hard he was shaking, clutching Clint’s elbow with one hand and leaning forwards, shifting from foot to foot.

“Imma piss myself,” he choked. “That’s the funniest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Stop it, stop it,” Clint said, trying not to laugh himself. “You’re gonna get us in trouble, stop .”

“How red is he?” Bucky managed to ask. “Oh christ, he looks like a coca cola ad. Is he playing with his hair?”

“Yep,” Clint said. “And he keeps crossing his arms and uncrossing them again.”

“Oh no,” Bucky moaned through his giggles, burying his face against Clint’s shoulder. “Make him stop, make him stop, he’s gonna blow it. Oh man, science gives him a body to die for and he still can't talk-”

Bucky descended into fits again, clamping a hand across his mouth.

“Shit, Carter’s coming!” Clint hissed, turning his back to her so he was shoulder to shoulder with Bucky. “She’s seen you laughing, you ass.”

“Tell her I’m laughing at you,” Bucky replied, and straightened up, trying to school his face into something neutral. It didn’t quite work; he looked guilty as all hell.

“Sergeant Barnes? A word?"

Bucky and Clint both wheeled around to come face to face with a less than amused Peggy Carter, who had her arms folded across her chest and had one perfect eyebrow raised just enough. And of course, if the eyebrow didn’t get the message across, the way she went straight for the jugular certainly did.

“I don’t appreciate being laughed at.”

Bucky reared back, looking genuinely startled. “What? Oh no, we were laughing at Steve.”

Peggy didn’t look mollified. On the contrary. “I appreciate you laughing at him even less,” she remarked.

Bucky didn’t roll his eyes, but Clint would bet his brand new bow that it was a close thing. “Ma’am, I’ve been laughing at that kid since nineteen twenty-eight,” Bucky said, lips twitching like he wanted to start all over again. “I don’t think I’m gonna stop now just because he got all tall.”

Peggy blinked once, twice, and then to Clint’s utmost relief she smiled, her whole posture relaxing. “I forget that you knew him too,” she said, looking up through the sweep of her eyelashes. “Well, despite the muscles, he hasn’t changed much on the inside, has he?”

“Not a lick,” Bucky said and then put his hand over his heart, brows dipping in sorrow. “Which I’m truly sorry for.”

Peggy pursed her lips, fighting back laughter. “You are either the very best of friends or the very worst, James Barnes.”

“I think he’s both,” Clint said and made an indignant noise as Bucky elbowed him.

“Well, I’ll leave it to Steve to make that decision,” she said, and then glanced around. “And while we’re on the subject, if you think Steve’s attempts to talk to me are funny, I’ll tell you now that that is nothing on how amusing it is to watch you two pretend that you’re not head over heels for each other.”

Clint felt his jaw drop. Next to him, Bucky made a strangled noise that sounded a lot like ‘hhrrghnt.

Peggy rolled her eyes. “I won’t tell,” she said. “But for as clueless as Steve is about flirting, I guarantee if you carry on the way you're going, he will find out about you two within a week.”

Clint felt the blush crawling up his neck. Next to him, Bucky had gone slightly pale, and looked like he was considering running or starting a fight. Not entirely liking his odds, Clint reached behind him to surreptitiously grab hold of the back of Bucky’s jacket.

“Good to know,” Clint said. “Uh, thanks?”

“You’re welcome, Specialist,” Peggy said simply. “Now be good, boys. I’ll be here when you get back. Seventy two hours, not a minute more.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Clint said, and she nodded and turned away, heading back towards Steve and Stark.

“She knows,” Bucky said blankly as she moved out of earshot. “Iowa, she knows. If she knows, how many other people - have we been telegraphing this to the goddamn world?!”

“No, she’s just smarter than us,” Clint said. “It’s okay-”

“Steve cannot find out,” Bucky said, voice low and urgent. “He can’t.”

Clint looked up over his shoulder to where he could distantly see Steve talking to Howard. “He probably wouldn’t care-”

“I’m not risking it,” Bucky hissed. “Iowa.

“Alright,” Clint said, and looked Bucky in the eye. “You - you want to stop?”

Bucky met his gaze. “No,” he said softly. “I just don’t want to risk getting found out. Steve is - he’s like my brother, and I can’t-” he stopped, blowing out a breath. “But I’m not giving you up.”

Clint felt himself smile. “Alright.”

Bucky looked away. “Stop looking at me like that,” he said. “Jeez, that’s probably what Carter was on about, you’re all mushy-eyed.”

“She said both of us, so you must look at me back,” Clint retorted.

Bucky let out a bark of laughter. “Guess maybe I do,” he said. “Okay, no more looking at each other.”

“At all? We’re on the same team here. If I can’t look at you, I might accidentally shoot you-”

“You’re impossible,” Bucky said. “Okay. No more looking at me like that until later.”

“Later?”

“First patrol of the mission will be at midnight. We’re going to volunteer,” Bucky said, and Clint grinned at him.

“Sir, yes Sir.”

 


 

Clint quickly found that even though his life had been turned back to front, upside-down and inside out, life with Captain America and his Howling Commandos was eerily similar to life with the Avengers. There was the same disrupted sleep schedules, scrambling out of bed at a moment’s notice to gear up and go and deal with a threat. There was the shooting of bad guys, even though most of the bad guys in this day and age were actually just guys , rather than the monsters or extra-terrestrials that the Avengers usually had to deal with.

The whole working as a team thing was just the same as well, even though the members were different. It wasn’t fighting back to back with Natasha any more; it was fighting side-by-side with Steve . Instead of using the training room or state-of-the-art SHIELD facilities, they worked out fight patterns and routines by the side of camp-fires and in dimly lit SSR buildings, in the kitchens of farmhouses and in moonlit clearings. It wasn’t yelling for Tony to come and blow something up; it was cursing in French to get Dernier there. Instead of Tony’s quiet resignation in having to destroy something for the greater good, there was just Dernier’s cackling laughter and proud salutes as yet another vehicle or building went up in a fireball. It wasn’t watching Thor cleave his way through a six-deep wall of alien clones, but watching Dum-Dum and Jones leap right into a gaggle of Hydra goons, swinging punches like they were in a damn bar-brawl.

There was no looking up anymore; no Sam, Tony or Thor streaking above his head. There were no comm links connecting everyone instantly, just battered radios that only worked when the weather was right and usually after banging them against the nearest hard surface. There were no politics or ulterior motives lurking behind government desks and SHIELD branded doors, just a much more black and white task of good guys beating the bad.

But there were other things he’d never had before; Falsworth’s uncanny ability to requisition anything that you needed; Morita’s quiet wisdom that went hand in hand with eye-watering sarcasm; Jones’ singing late at night to keep spirits up; Steve’s terrible sense of humour that was frankly the best thing Clint had ever discovered. Most of all, it was the feeling like he was an equal with the rest of the team, not just a guy with a bow trying to keep up with a bunch of gods and heroes.

It was dangerous. It was exhausting. It was freezing. It was sometimes like fighting against an impossible tide with the amount of ground Hydra seemed to have gained, but it was fun. Clint had never spent so much time simultaneously looking death in the face and busting a gut laughing.

And then Bucky . Fighting with him, joking with him, spending nights curled up with him in run-down houses or cramped little tents. Sneaking off to get five minutes together, five breathless minutes of kissing and laughing, whispering about what they’d do when they had more time and a locked door. Being head-over-heels in love and knowing the feelings were returned.

Yeah, it was different, and for as much as he missed the future, he could admit that he’d found a home here in the past. And god, some days he even thought the entire mess was worth it, just to have these friends, just to have Steve so happy, just to have Bucky alive and next to him.

 


 

The shrieking of the alarm blares through the tower, a full level two that doesn’t bother with discreetly buzzing through their phones, instead blaring through the tower’s surround sound at a volume that even Clint can hear. It takes them barely two minutes to assemble; Clint, Steve, Wanda, Pietro, Thor, Sam and Tony all congregating in the team floor, pulling on suits and gathering equipment.

“What is it?” Pietro asks. “More dinosaurs?”

Steve shakes his head. "No, it’s-”

Steve is cut off by a deafening pulse of sound, a strange noise that blasts over them like a shockwave. A horribly yellow-tinged shockwave. Clint lunges for Wanda and throws his arm up to protect them, and he feels a horrible prickle of what feels like static wash over him.

“Oh, damn it!”

Steve’s curse breaks the moment of held breath after the sound fades, and then a high pitched screaming abruptly follows.

“Pietro!” Wanda gasps, hands over her mouth, and Clint follows her gaze to where Pietro’s speed suit is now hanging off of the shoulders of a very small, very upset toddler who is screaming fit to burst.

Everyone except for Wanda takes an abrupt step backwards, wearing matching expressions of disbelief and horror. Pietro seems to notice, and the howling increases in volume, his small face turning red underneath tousled white hair.

“Oh my god,” Tony says weakly. “Oh my god, he’s a child.”

“He was a child anyway,” Clint says blankly, and Wanda turns to smack his arm before rushing at the toddler and scooping him up, sans speed-suit. She’s talking rapidly in Sokovian, looking absolutely petrified, and then Pietro stops yowling, locks his eyes on her face and bursts into tears instead. He flings his arms around her shoulders and clings to her for dear life.

“Segíts - csinálj valamit!” Wanda is saying. “Tony, fix him-”

“It’s not me, it’s the time stone!” Tony says, backing away another step, right into the wall. “Thor’s the expert here-”

“We will take him to my mother,” Thor says, and he steps forwards towards Wanda and Pietro with his hands outstretched, offering to actually take Pietro, which is a brave - and unexpected - move on his part. Pietro is having none of it and makes a noise like a Sokovian banshee, thrashing in Wanda’s arms. She puts him down and Clint is nearly sent flying by a toddler-sized blue blur that crashes straight into his legs.

“Holy shit!” he says, arms windmilling as he regains his balance, trying to extricate himself from Pietro's grip. “What do I do?”

“Oh for - he’s a kid!" Sam says, voice raised over Pietro's shrieking, fingers plugged in his ears and face screwed up like the noise is causing him physical pain. Clint understands; he's two seconds away from turning his hearing aids off. "Clint, he's not a bomb, pick him up!”

“Oh man,” Clint says, and crouches down to pick up the whining toddler, setting him on his hip. Pietro immediately stops grouching, setting a hand on Clint’s shoulder and looking defiantly at Thor before blowing a raspberry at Tony. Tony looks around indignantly, like he's actually bothered that toddler-Pietro seems not to like him.

“Don't even start, Tony," Clint says wearily. "Fucking time stone.”

“King tone,” Pietro echoes, bare feet kicking against Clint’s thigh.

Thor looks to Tony, shaking his head and gesturing to god-knows where with Mjolnir, expression deadly serious.  “We must find a better way to contain the power of the stone.”

“Don't point that at me - it was contained!” Tony insists. “It shouldn’t have been able to do that. I’ll go look at the-”

“We’ve still got alien cyborgs bearing down on Times Square!” Steve interjects loudly, looking harried and like he’s about to start knocking heads. “Level two threat if anyone remembered?”

“I do not care, my brother needs help!” Wanda snaps back, and then she shrinks back into herself, apologetic guilt all over her face. Steve’s mouth twists, clearly frustrated with the entire clusterfuck of a situation. Oh man, as if time-travelling Clint wasn't bad enough, now they’ve got baby-faced Pietro to sort out. Were they even going to be able to sort him out? Were they going to be stuck with a super-fast toddler for the rest of their lives?

“Steve - what do we do?” Clint says. "Call it."

Steve turns his body towards Clint as if on autopilot, and he breathes in and out once and then straightens up. “Alright,” he says. “Wanda - it’ll be alright, I promise. You stay with Pietro. Thor, go and see what your mother knows, find out if he's in any danger. Jarvis - monitor his vitals every which way you can think of, and lock down the tower as soon as we leave. Tony, Sam and Clint, you’re with me. And Jarvis - call Rumlow and tell him to mobilize the STRIKE team, I don’t care that Fury hasn’t cleared it, I’m requisitioning them.”

“Good call,” Tony says, eyes fixed on a holographic news stream in front of him, face washed blue by the light. “These alien cyborgs have not come in peace. We could do with some thugs. Tell them to come armoured, J. These suckers are bleeding acid.”

“Are you kidding me?” Clint asks. A small hand grabs hold of his shoulder, pulling at the strap of his quiver. He bats it away impatiently. “Pietro, knock it off!”

“Clint!” Wanda exclaims.

“I am not taking you with me,” Clint tells him flatly. “I have to go and fight aliens from the future.”

“Ick cat tun,” Pietro tells him, and Clint blinks at him and then just nods.

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” he says. “Wanna go back to Wanda?”

Pietro nods and allows himself to be handed back. Clint blows out a relieved breath and then claps his hands together. “Alright, stop your grinnin' and drop your linen. Let's go kill some aliens! Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will go and protect the word-”

“Cut the crap, Errol, and get going,” Steve says distractedly, and then blinks and starts to laugh, the sound a little strangled. Clint wonders why he looks like he’s having a hysterical meltdown and then the penny drops and he starts to laugh too.

“Errol?” Tony demands from behind them. “The owl from Harry Potter?”

“No,” Steve says, eyes still dancing as he bites back a grin. “It’s a joke from - well, it's from before your time.”

“I’m surrounded by old men,” Tony laments. “At least Thor doesn’t act his age.”

“I shall take that as a compliment,” Thor says. “You should go. I will find answers and then return to support you as soon as possible.”

“Okay,” Steve says, looking to the door and then back at the toddler with a pained expression. “It couldn't have held off on turning Pietro into a baby for an hour or so, huh?”

Tony sighs, checks his watch. “It’s lunchtime. Acid bleeding aliens are supposed to come out at night, mostly.”

Clint chokes on a laugh at the mystified glance Thor and Steve share, but doesn’t bother to explain. He’ll just put the film on when they get back, though Steve will probably bitch that he's just spent the last few hours killing aliens, he doesn't want to have to watch more people doing a frankly poor job of it, thanks.

“What even is today?” he says, more to himself than anyone. “I long for the days when we just had to fight Nazis.”

Steve sighs, pats his shoulder. “Me too, pal. Me too.”

 


 

The aliens are, horrifyingly, almost the spitting image of the aliens from Alien. Towering creatures with spindly limbs, snapping jaws and mildly acidic circulatory systems. The only difference is that they’re reinforced with some sort of metal that has the team all struggling to take them down, forced to try and find weak spots. Tony also quickly deduces that they’re all hooked up to complex electromagnetic relays which is allowing them to communicate telepathically and map out their environment with terrifying efficiency.

“I hate cyborg aliens,” Clint bites out as he stabs an arrow into an eye socket and snatches it back to avoid being spattered by acid. “I’d rather be babysitting Pietro.”

“Jarvis says he’s just thrown up all over the couch, so maybe not,” Tony says.

“Are you monitoring Pietro?” Steve’s voice asks, sounding surprised.

“I’m multitasking.”

“Uh,” a voice says, one Clint isn’t used to hearing over the comms. “I haven’t met Pietro yet, but why does he need babysitting? Isn’t he like, twenty-two?”

Rumlow sounds equal parts wary and confused, like he’s almost regretting answering Captain America’s order to assemble. The STRIKE team are turning out to be a useful asset to the team; they’re good shots and brutal when it comes to smashing alien skull with anything from stun batons to the tailgates removed from abandoned SUV’s. Rumlow’s second in command - a huge, bulldog-faced tank of a man named Rollins - has been burned pretty badly across a thigh, but he seems to have taken his injury as a personal insult and has decided to use the rest of the SUV to run over as many aliens as he can.

“Pietro is currently somewhere between two and three years old,” Steve answers Rumlow.

“Jarvis says that he’s around eight weeks older than when we left,” Tony chips in. “Looks like he’s growing back up to his usual child-age pretty quickly.”

“Thank god,” Sam says fervently. “I was not looking forwards to becoming Earth’s Mightiest Babysitters.”

“I’m still a little lost,” Rumlow says. “You guys know you’re crazy, right?”

“Time Stone,” Steve grunts, and then, “Yeah, you better stay down, you ugly son of a bitch.”

“That thing again?” Rumlow says. “Shit. Alright Cap, two on your six, get them and I’ll get the one over by the Disney Store.”

“Affirmative. Tony, how’s the perimeter?”

“Holding strong,” Tony says. “I've got them pushed them right back from the bridge.”

“I really hope I get old and die before a future with these things in it arrives,” Sam says, sounding frustrated. “When are they from?”

“Don’t know yet,” Tony grunts, repulsor blasts and alien screeching forming a backdrop of sound akin to nails on a chalkboard.

“Damn- Steve, I’m gonna have to drop my comm,” Clint says, cringing at the sound as it hits a frequency that could easily be a screeching microphone broadcasting the slow demise of a band of fighting alley cats. “The noise they’re making is frying my brain.”

“I’m coming to you,” Steve replies immediately. “Drop the comm, wait for me.”

Clint does as bid and Steve appears within two minutes, eyes flashing and shield raised. “Alright, let's get these bastards,” he says, sounding exactly like he did in forty-four. “Six on six, you go high and I go low.”

They spring into action; Steve fires out orders and keeps Clint updated with the progress of the rest of the team now he’s cut off; Clint keeps a running commentary on what he can see, allowing Steve to adjust his plan accordingly. They fight like a well-oiled machine, and by the time the last alien is decapitated in a spray of acid-blood that melts the front window of a Starbucks, they’ve easily pulled off manoeuvres that they haven't even discussed in this century, let alone practiced.

“We’re done,” Steve finally relays into his comm as the body stops twitching and goes still. He’s breathing heavily, sweat pouring down his face. “Team, we did it. Everyone check in.”

“Uh, we’re all fine, but when the hell did you and Katniss learn to fight like that?” Tony says, hovering just above them. “Oh my god, it was during the war, you’re going to say during the war, aren't you?”

Steve shrugs and grins at Clint, who can only laugh breathlessly back.

“I’m a little scared,” Rumlow’s voice calls from nearby. He clambers over the melted remains of a car, jumping down and landing more lightly than Clint expected in steel-toecapped boots. “Wouldn’t like to go up against you two.”

“Lucky you’re on our side then,” Steve says. “How’s your team?”

“Picking up the pieces,” Rumlow says, tapping at his ear. “Two bad burns that I’m gonna get out of here now.”

“Thank you,” Steve says. Rumlow steps over and claps Steve on the upper arm.

“Don’t mention it, big guy. Hey, we going for a beer when we clean this mess up?”

“I like the way he thinks,” Clint says. “I’ll take a beer or twelve about now.”

“Uh uh,” Steve says. “You’re needed at the tower. Go check-in on Pietro and wait for Thor to get back. We’ll help clear up and then we’ll do beer.”

“You’re no fun,” Clint says, and Rumlow barks out a rough laugh. “Alright. You clear up alien brains and I’ll clear up toddler puke.”

“You got it,” Rumlow says. “Nice fighting with you, Hawkeye.”

He holds out a broad palm to Clint who takes it with a grin. Rumlow's handshake is firm and assertive, and he keeps his eyes on Clint's as he steps back and folds his arms over his chest. “Likewise," Clint says. "Nice to have some more kick ass humans around to show up these fancy superheroes.”

“Laugh it up,” Steve says, eyeing the surface of his shield with mild distaste; the acid has stripped the paint right off of it. “Lets see your running your mouth when you’re drinking with these fancy superheroes.”

“Challenge accepted,” Clint says.

Steve smiles, but it fades into something soft and sad. “Won't be quite the same without our resident pissy drunk, huh?”

Clint feels the ever present fault line in his heart crack all over again. “No,” he says with the same sad smile. “It won’t.”

 


 

By the time Clint gets back to the tower, Pietro is fast asleep on the couches wearing one of Clint’s oversized T-shirts, being watched over by both Thor and Wanda. Even though he’s still tiny, Clint can easily tell that he’s a lot bigger than when they left; limbs turning gangly and face missing some of the baby fat. Thor is quick to assure him that Pietro is not in any danger, just victim to what the Time Stone feels is probably an elaborate joke. Clint points out that as a rock, it shouldn't have a sense of humor. Thor just smiles like Clint's the dumb one and doesn't argue.

Wanda seems to be on Thor's side in all of this, the traitor, and just pats Clint on the arm while exchanging a knowing glance with Thor. Clint makes a mental note to not lot Wanda go off to Asgard unattended ever again, but then just as quickly scratches it out. Yes, on one hand Wanda may be getting a little big for her witchy boots, but she's learning and growing up and Clint can't and won't begrudge her that.

The pair tell him that Jarvis believes Pietro to be four years old, which means that he should be back to normal within a few days. Clint makes an obligatory joke about Pietro not actually growing up even though he’s growing up, dodges Wanda’s reprimand which comes in a stinging zap of magic, then heads to shower and nap before heading back out into Brooklyn.

He finds Steve and Rumlow already a beer in, sitting in the booth of the bar that Clint took Steve out to all that time ago. This time, Steve isn’t sitting hunched over, afraid and uncertain; he’s listening to a story Rumlow tells him, lounging back against the back of the booth with his cap abandoned on the table in front of him. Either a brave move or a very dumb one; Clint thinks that Steve's laid-back demeanor won't last two seconds if someone spots him and comes over to ask for an autograph.   

“What a day,” Clint announces as he slides into the booth beside Steve.

“Tell me about it,” Steve concedes.

“This time stone is doing a number on you guys, huh?” Rumlow says. “I heard about your adventures, Hawkeye.”

“Well, not mine,” Clint says. “A copy of me.”

“Yeah, you thought one Clint cracking jokes was bad enough,” Steve says. “Imagine two.”

Rumlow laughs, the sound rough but still oddly pleasant. “Better than having two of you,” he shoots back, and winks at Clint. Clint feels his mouth quirk in an unexpected but not unwelcome smile.

“Oh is that how it is?” Steve asks, laughing.

“That’s how it is,” Rumlow replies, sounding satisfied.

“Well I know where I’m not wanted,” Steve says, but he sounds amused. “Clint, you want to play pool?”

“Depends if your pride can take it,” Clint says.

Steve raises an eyebrow at that, elbowing at Clint so he can get out of the booth. “A game of trajectory, force and angle, remember?”

“You’ll only win if you get me drunk,” Clint shouts after him as he walks away, and Steve just waves a hand over his shoulder to show he’s heard.

“That the only thing a guy can win if he gets you drunk?”

Clint blinks, not entirely sure if he’s just heard what he thinks he‘s just heard. Though when he looks up, Rumlow is grinning unabashedly, lifting his beer bottle to his lips, a sort of wicked challenge in the lift of his brow, the curve of his mouth.

Well, that's not what he was expecting. He stares at Rumlow for another few seconds and then realizes he's been staring for way too long and then panics for a moment because he's forgotten how to react to being hit on. He opts for frowning confusedly and saying, “Hang on, Steve Rogers is walking away and you’re choosing to throw a line at me?” 

“Hey, not saying the man doesn’t have an ass to die for, but he’s a pal,” Rumlow says. “And he’s still mooning over Stark, right?”

Clint nearly chokes on his mouthful of beer. “He told you about that?”

“Not outright,” Rumlow says, “But come on.”

“It’s a bit obvious,” Clint concedes.

“Completely obvious,” Rumlow agrees. “So, you gonna let me buy you a beer?”

“No,” Clint says, and then looks down at the table. “I know I have a reputation for doing reckless and dumb shit-”

“You calling me reckless and dumb?”

Clint laughs at that. “No, and that was awful. Terrible. And I live with Tony Stark’s brand of flirting.”

“No?”

“No,” Clint repeats. “And not just because I’m offended that I’m second best option. Clint Barton - booby prize.”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” Rumlow protests. “Come on.”

Clint snorts. “I know,” he says, and downs the rest of his beer. “Still a no.”

“I’ll still respect you in the morning, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

For a moment, Clint thinks about it. Thinks what it would be like to just say to hell with it, to drown his heartbreak in beer and a reckless, meaningless fuck with Brock Rumlow. He’s historically pretty good at drowning emotions in bad choices. And Rumlow clearly wouldn’t expect anything more, and there’s no denying that the man is hot. Handsome face, strong body, big hands.

The moment lasts less than a heartbeat. No sooner has the thought been born than it’s dismissed, shoved out of the way by the memory of wicked eyes under a tumble of brown hair, a crooked grin wrapped around a cigarette, strong hands curling around his hips.

He’s in so deep with Bucky Barnes he might as well be drowning.

Swallowing, Clint looks down. “Uh. I’m kinda,” he says, and blows out a breath. “I’m kinda...mooning over someone, too.”

Brock makes a sympathetic noise, and when he speaks his voice is genuine and not at all put out, and Clint likes him that bit more for it. “That sucks. I’m sorry. You know, I thought superheroes would find the whole thing easy. Surely you’d have guys and gals lining up to date you. Or bang you, whichever you were looking for.”

“Hell no,” Clint sighs. “Well. I don’t know about the lining up. But I know it’s never the people you want.”

“You should loosen up a little,” Rumlow shrugs. “Just because you can’t get the person you want, doesn't mean you should give up on fun.”

“Okay, talk about a dog with a bone. When was the last time you got laid?” Clint demands, and Rumlow starts to laugh. “Seriously? Are you taking too many steroids? I thought they shrunk your-”

“Okay, okay,” Rumlow laughs, holding his hands up. “You can’t blame a guy for trying. I’ll back off, until you tell me otherwise.”

“Deal,” Clint says, and then nods over towards the bar. “You think we should go and rescue Cap? I think that girl will want a marriage proposal before she hands over a set of balls.”

“Am I allowed to make a joke about you needing a proposal before handing over your balls?”

“No,” Clint says, though he can’t deny he’s a little amused. “Come on, let’s go and rescue Cap.”

Rumlow stands up and stretches, languid and easy. He winks at Clint, grin sharp. “Whatever you say, Hawkguy.”

 


 

They rescue Cap, and commandeer a pool table in the corner of the bar. Rumlow does buy Clint a beer - and several tequila shots - but he also buys Steve drinks as well, and seems to have mostly dropped the whole idea of propositioning Clint. Mostly, because he still drops a comment about getting Clint alone in the two minutes Steve takes to go for a piss, and because of the overly suggestive licking of salt alongside the tequila shots. By that point, Clint is drunk enough to just find it hilarious.

Clint also manages to convince the pair to play darts. He kicks their asses, and has great fun whipping darts straight past Rumlow’s head whenever he goes to collect his own darts. Luckily, Steve finds that funny rather than a cause for stress, and even manages to keep smiling as he reminisces about Clint doing the same to Bucky back in the day.

For as drunk as he gets, Clint manages to keep his mouth shut about Bucky. Even when Steve offers answers to a few of Rumlow’s curious questions, he keeps schtum and doesn’t let out any of the things he really wants to say. Steve is sober, he keeps telling himself. So Steve will not want to hear you crying about Bucky, sobbing about how much you miss him.

At the end of the night, Steve gamely carries Rumlow to his waiting taxi and then carries Clint all the way home into his waiting bed.

“Oh man,” he slurs into his pillow as Steve patiently tries to remove his hearing aids. Clint bats him away. “What a night. Where’s Pietro, is he still a baby?”

“Pietro is asleep, and Wanda and Sam are with him,” Steve says, letting go of Clint’s ear. “He’s fine.”

“Awesome. Hey, you have loads of friends now,” Clint says. “Sam, me, Rumlow.”

“Yeah,” Steve says dryly. “Loads. Go to sleep, Clint.”

Clint grunts into his pillow, bats away a final attempt on his hearing aids and then he’s out like a light, too drunk to even dream.

 


 

“I think I’m dead,” Bucky groaned, dragging his feet and practically hauling himself up the stairs by holding onto the wall, grubby fingers probably leaving marks all over the wallpaper. Twelve missions in, three back-to-back with no break between them, and the team were collectively knackered. “I’m so tired. I’ve never been this tired. I’m so tired I can’t sleep.”

“Yeah, I know,” Clint said, planting his hands on Bucky’s back and shoving him up the rest of the way. “Get going, or I’m going to leave you here.”

“You wouldn’t,” Bucky said, almost tripping his way up the last few steps.

“No, I probably wouldn't,” Clint agreed, exhausted. “Come on, everyone else is already asleep, and you know Steve will be awake tomorrow morning at ass o' clock.”

That seemed to work; Bucky groaned but renewed his efforts to claw his way up the narrow staircase to the room that he and Clint were to be posted in for the night. The Commandos had taken over all five of the rooms in the small hotel they’d found in a sleepy town near the foot of the alps, and everyone had already crashed into bed. Clint and Bucky had favored grub before sleep, but now they were full of stew and even sleepier than before.

“Carter is coming to meet us tomorrow m-m-morning,” Bucky managed to say through a jaw splitting yawn, shuffling zombie-like along the narrow landing. “So he’ll be busy flirting with her and we can sleep in.”

“Trying to flirt,” Clint mumbled, and Bucky snorted with tired laughter.

“This is what we get for finding food first,” he grouched as he stepped up the final three stairs to their room. Clint didn’t know but he’d guess that those final steps were in no way functional or integral to the structure of the building, but put there sheerly to spite them.. “Room up seventy hundred damn stairs...”

He trailed off as he pushed the door open, coming to a halt in the doorway. Irritated, Clint gave him a shove so he could get into the room too, and then he spotted exactly what had caused Bucky to grind to such an abrupt halt.

A bathtub.

In the room they had stepped into was a double bed and a faded couch pushed up under the small window, but to their right and visible through an open doorway was a bathtub. A huge, white, footed tub standing on the soft, worn floorboards, completely oblivious to the internal ruckus it was causing.

“Do you think?” Bucky whispered, like talking loudly would scare the tub away.

“No way.”

“But it wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.”

“It’s got pipes.”

“It’s got more than one pipe.”

“No way.”

"You think?"

“Are we meant to be in this room?”

“Fuck it,” Bucky ventured, and he slowly walked towards the tub. Clint turned and pushed the door closed, locking and bolting it as he heard the groan of pipes and the rush of water. He waited a few long moments and then-

“Hot water!”

He was over at Bucky’s side in an instant. Bucky was cackling with delight, hands shoved into the stream of water gushing from the tap. The tiredness had suddenly taken a back seat, lost in the excitement and adrenaline of the discovery.

“You’re kidding,” Clint said, trying to shoulder him out of the way. “Move over.”

“Fuck off,” Bucky said, shoving him back with a wet hand. “I’m having a bath, you try and stop me.”

“You wouldn’t have made it to the damn bath if it wasn’t for me,” Clint said. “Me first.”

“Screw,” Bucky said indignantly, grabbing hold of Clint’s shoulders and trying to wrestle him out of the way. “I’m going first-”

The shoving quickly escalated into a full on scuffle, both of them trying to wrestle the other away from the slowly filling tub. Bucky was trying to stamp on Clint’s feet and Clint managed to get him in a headlock. Clint was about to claim victory when Bucky reached out and literally grabbed hold of his junk, squeezing hard enough to make him yelp.

“Foul move!” Clint gasped, going very, very still.

“All’s fair in love and fighting over hot water,” Bucky replied, sounding strangled.

Clint carefully weighed up his options. He didn’t think Bucky would actually go for a full on low-blow seeing as he had vested interest in his dick, but there was a hot bath at stake.

“You know, it’s a pretty big tub,” Bucky ventured, still bent double with Clint’s arm locked around his neck. “You’re flexible, right?”

Clint’s face slowly broke into a grin. “You’re on.”

They let go of each other and then it was a mad scramble to remove clothes, both of them giggling like schoolkids doing something that they'd undoubtedly get into trouble for. Bucky sprinted back to double-check the locks on the door, and then they were both clambering into the hot water, laughing and gasping at the heat. Bucky settled leaning against the back of the tub, Clint laying back between his legs, his own feet kicked up over the sides of the tub.

“Ohhhhh my god,” Bucky groaned, letting his hands trail through the water, the gentle splashing sound oddly comforting. “Warmth.”

“Mmm,” Clint replied, closing his eyes and letting his head fall back against Bucky’s shoulder. “Am I squashing you?”

“Yeah, and I don’t care,” Bucky murmured. His hands slid around Clint’s chest, tracing wet lines over over his collarbones. It was a gentle, soft touch and Clint found himself shivering, turning his head and lifting his chin, asking for a kiss which Bucky gave willingly.

“No more fighting Nazis,” Bucky hummed, kissing down the side of Clint’s neck. Clint rolled his head to the side, eyes half open and watching lazy spirals of steam rise from the water. “Let’s stay here forever.”

“Mmm,” Clint agreed, rubbing his fingers against Bucky’s knee, dragging against wet hair. It was ridiculous really, being this grateful for a hot bath. Where he’d come from, Clint had never had to go without his creature comforts, but he was honestly starting to forget what life was like where and when he’d come from. Being in Stark Tower, fighting with the Avengers...it was like it had happened to someone else.

This is my life now, Clint thought to himself, and he was surprised to find it didn’t hurt too much.

He let the thought go, breathing out heavily and sinking into the warmth. He was happy here with Bucky. He was defeating Hydra, either creating a better future for the people he’d just left, or for this universe he’d landed in, and he could live with that. With that in mind, he allowed his eyes to slide shut again, allowed himself to enjoy the warmth of the bath and Bucky's body behind him, strong arms holding him close.

“Hey Barton,” Bucky murmured a while later, running his hands over Clint’s chest, one sliding over his stomach, the other curling around his shoulder. “I’m sorry that I’m...you know even if I don’t want this out in the open, I’m still pretty gone for you.”

Wow. Well, Clint hadn’t been expecting that. He felt his whole stomach twist, feeling like it was distended and swollen in a weirdly pleasant way. “You love me,” he said quietly, hands finding purchase on Bucky's legs under the water, wanting to hold on.

“Well, if you wanna put it like that,” Bucky mumbled, pressing his mouth to Clint‘s shoulder. “It scares me.”

“Why? Because I’m a guy?”

“I don’t know,” Bucky admitted. “I guess I never thought I would love a fella. Yeah, I knew - I knew I liked both, but I didn’t think it could happen.”

“It’s alright,” Clint said, and reached a hand up behind him, threading damp fingers into the hair on the back of Bucky’s head. “I’m pretty gone for you too.”

Bucky nodded. “If I could I’d tell the world,” he whispered into Clint’s air, and Clint twisted around, his nose bumping Bucky’s.

“Telling me’s enough,” he whispered back, and leaned in to close the gap between them.

 


 

“So, morning bath? What do you say?”

Clint laughed sleepily as Bucky murmured the words right into his ear, breath hot and warm on his skin. Clint didn't reply, save for nuzzling further under the blanket and into Bucky’s side; he was ridiculously warm and content, what with actually being in a bed with soft pillows and blankets. Being pressed up against a lot of clean, naked skin was also pretty nice, he had to admit. It was a welcome respite from weeks of sleeping outdoors, and he hoped to all hell that Steve would make the call to give them a few days here before moving on.

He felt Bucky roll away from him and he whined, reaching for him with sleep-clumsy hands. Bucky came back soon enough, pressing Clint’s hearing aids into his hands until Clint took the hint and slipped one in.

“Morning bath or breakfast in bed?” Bucky’s rough voice said, a hundred times clearer than before. He yawned, pushing one of his legs between Clint's and hooking his chin over his shoulder, stubble scratching against his skin. “Go find us some food.”

“You go find food,” Clint replied, closing his eyes again when it seemed that Bucky wasn't going to go anywhere. “M’tired.”

“If we bang on the floor we could morse code to Jim,” Bucky suggested.

“Yeah, but he’d probably shoot us. And even if he didn’t, one of us would have to get out of bed to get it. And he’d probably raise eyebrows at the sleeping arrangements.”

Bucky yawned, right in Clint’s face. “Throw a pillow onto the couch,” he said. “Your clothes are over there anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess-”

They were cut off by a sharp rapping on their door, both of them lifting their heads from the pillow in unison. Bucky looked at Clint and Clint looked back, and they both simultaneously shrugged and looked back towards the door. Bucky’s eyes were narrowed and his shoulders were tense, clearly ready to bolt.

“Jim?” Clint called warily, as if somehow he'd heard them talking about making him go and fetch get breakfast, and was on the way to shoot them for even thinking it.

“Not quite,” replied Peggy Carter’s amused sounding voice.

“Shit!” Bucky hissed, and scrambled out of the bed and towards his pants. Clint flapped a hand at him, trying to get him to calm down; it was sort of obvious that Peggy knew about them anyway, and Bucky was likely to fall and break his neck with his frantic attempts to hop into his pants.

“What?” he called back, pitching his voice at a complaint as he picked up his own pants and shoved his legs into them, buttoning them with more force than was strictly necessary. “This is the first lie-in we’ve had in four hundred years.”

“Barnes can stay in bed, I just need to talk to you,” she said. “Open the door, Clint, this is ridiculous.”

Bucky shot the door a dirty look, giving Clint an irritated thumbs up as he grabbed a blanket and hauled it off the bed, shuffling over to the couch and throwing himself down on it. He settled with his back to the door, shoulders heaving as he huffed out an annoyed sigh.  

Clint reached for the door and unlocked it with one hand, slipping his second hearing aid in with the other. The moment the door was unlocked he darted through so Peggy couldn’t come in, pulling the door shut behind him.

“What?”

She was trying not to laugh, he could tell. Red lips were pursed, and her eyes were dancing. “You really think that I believe for a second that he spent the night on the sofa?”

Clint groaned, rubbing at his eyes with his knuckles. “What do you want? You’ve not just climbed four flights of stairs to make jokes. And stop with that, by the way,” he added, not even bothering to deny what she clearly knew. “If anyone hears you-”

“Yes, yes, alright,” Peggy said impatiently, and then she sighed, all traces of joking and fun gone from her countenance. “I’m actually here about your files.”

Ah, shit.

“What about them?”

“Well, I can’t find them,” Peggy said. “When you appeared, you told Major Wintergreen that you were part of the November Initiative, yes? I’ve not been able to find the files.”

Clint knew he had a few options here. One was to turn back around and jump out of the window and run away. Another was to fight Peggy hand to hand and then head for the stairs and run away. The third was to come clean about the time travelling mess, and the final was to act like Natasha and lie.

“Alright,” he said, pitching his voice low and quiet; he didn't quite trust Bucky not to be listening with an ear up against the door. “I wasn’t meant originally to be here. But the moment the November Initiative realized they’d actually got me and my eyes working, I was given a whole new agenda.”

“What was that agenda?”

“I’m not telling you,” he replied. “I don’t know if you’ve got clearance, or if I trust you.”

Peggy just stared at him, her expression momentarily unreadable. He wondered if he’d crossed a line by accusing her of not having clearance, but if he didn’t get himself out of the mess he could end up sent back to the States at best, or court-martialled and shot as a traitor at worst.

“Look,” he continued. “If you want to ass around trying to find every file from the November Initiative, be my guest. But if you suspend me you lose Barnes, and if you lose Barnes odds on you’ll lose Rogers. Your move, Lady.”

Peggy looked away from him at that, folding her arms across her chest. “Well for as rude and obnoxious as you can be, I trust you,” she said, and Clint immediately wanted to kick himself for being such a dick. “I don’t believe you’ll hurt Steve, or any of the others.”

“I’d die for them ten times over,” Clint said. “Bucky, Steve, all of them.”

“I know,” Peggy said. “And they would for you. You betray that trust and you will have me to answer to.”

“Deal,” Clint said, and held out a hand.

“Not a chance, I know where that’s been,” Peggy said, her mouth twitching in a mischievous almost-smile. “I shall leave you to it.”

Clint gave her a sheepish smile, self-consciously rubbing his hand on his pants. “Appreciated.”

"Oh, and two things, Clint,” she said as she stepped away, hand resting on the banister. “One, if you ever call me lady again, I will knock you out. Two. Put on a shirt before Steve comes up and sees that love bite that I’m sure Barnes had great fun giving you."

Clint’s mouth dropped open and he looked down at himself, trying to see where she meant. She laughed, reaching out to touch her fingers to his collarbone before shaking her head and walking away.

“Well, shit,” Clint said ruefully, and backed into the room again, kicking the door shut behind him.

“She’s gone,” he said to Bucky’s still immobile form on the couch. Bucky just grunted at him; Clint rolled his eyes and shucked his pants, climbing back onto the bed. “Well I’ll just enjoy this big comfy bed all alone,” he said, grinning as Bucky predictably rolled over, looking up at him through the untidy sweep of hair that tumbled over his forehead.

“What did she want?” he asked.

“Talk about paperwork,” Clint said, and Bucky’s scowl deepened.

“That shit couldn’t have waited until later?”

“Come on, get over it and get over here.”

Bucky dropped his head back to the rough fabric of the couch, but then he obliged, clambering to his feet and padding back towards the bed. Clint made a pleased humming noise, reaching for him and curling his fingers around the top of his pants, pulling him in. Bucky laughed as he knee-walked onto the bed, hands resting on Clint’s shoulders.

“Shoulda asked Carter to bring us breakfast.”

“Okay, Jim might have shot us for it. She definitely would have,” Clint said, kissing the soft dip between Bucky’s ribs and then pulling him down onto the bed. He ended up on his back with Bucky braced over him, one of his feet hitched possessively around Bucky’s calf. Bucky was looking down on him fondly, and Clint couldn’t help but reach up to sweep his hair out of the way, dragging his fingers across his brow.

“Meant what I said yesterday,” Bucky said softly. “Even if we have to go out there and…” 

“Yeah I know,” Clint said simply, hooking his fingers in the chain of Bucky’s dog tags and pulling him down into a slow, open mouthed kiss-

Without warning, there was a thud and a creak, a loud and cheerful voice saying, “you two better get up before everyone eats everything,” and Clint’s brain registered exactly what was happening a fraction of a second before the voice abruptly stopped, stunned into silence. Expression turning into one of abject horror, Bucky cursed and scrambled up off of him, all the color draining from his face.

“Steve, it’s not-” he began as Clint made an instinctive yet incriminating grab for the blankets, yanking them up around his waist and trying not to look at the utterly shellshocked expression on Steve’s face as he stood in the doorway, fingers still curled uselessly around the edge of the door that Clint had left unlocked.

“Steve,” Bucky repeated, anguished. “Steve, don’t look at me like that, it’s just-”

Without another word, Steve turned on his heel and walked away, leaving the door open. A pointed silence followed his departure; Bucky just stood there staring at the door like he was about to cry, and Clint couldn’t think beyond the frantic mantra of oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck that was rattling uselessly around between his ears.

Well. So much for keeping it a secret.

 


 

Clint’s head is pounding. Literally throbbing with a headache that makes him feel like he’s got both optic nerves trapped in a vice, with Tom Brady using his skull as a ball. He groans pitifully into his pillow and lifts a hand to rub at his mouth, wondering if he’s going to hurl.

He’s never drinking with Steve and Rumlow ever again. 

Suddenly, the banging in his head is joined by a very literal and very loud banging somewhere far too close for his liking. He’s left his hearing aids in so he can make out the very angry sound of a fist against his bedroom door.

“Clint!” Steve bellows. “Get up before I come in and drag you up!”

There’s a moment in which Clint’s poor hungover brain stumbles and flails, and then a memory swims to the surface. The memory of Steve Rogers walking into a room, coming to an abrupt halt with his hand still on the door handle as he sees Clint and Bucky both half clothed at best and occupying the only bed, Bucky leaning down to catch Clint’s mouth in a heated kiss.

“Oh shit,” Clint says, throat like sandpaper. “Oh holy shit.”

“CLINT!” Steve roars, and there’s an ominous splintering sound as the door decides it’s not quite enough to hold back the rage of a super-soldier who has just found out that his new best friend was secretly banging the guy that’s basically his brother.

Clint wonders if nineteen-forties him has been bashed to death with a vibranium shield yet, just before the door finally gives way.

“You’ve got some explaining to do!”

Clint screws his eyes shut, wondering if he’s about to be bashed to death with a vibranium shield.

“Fuck.”

 


 


The Asset finds that getting out of the base is easy. He remembers his skills, can get from place to place without drawing attention, can vanish into a crowd like a shadow. He’s an expert at not being seen, invisible to the rest of the world even when he’s standing right in front of it. 

He needs to get to New York before the STRIKE team do. That’s where Clinton Francis Barton lives. With a team called the Avengers. He wonders if the team is anything like STRIKE, or anything like his handlers back in Russia. Somehow, he doesn't think so. He’s full of memories of Clinton Francis Barton - of Iowa - and they are filled with happiness, smiles and warmth. Things that are so far away from him they’re like things that belong to other people.

They used to belong to him, if his memory serves him right.

He finds clothes. Black trousers like the rest of the people wear, a jacket and gloves. A hat to hide his eyes. A deep red shirt with long sleeves, the fabric soft and worn. It’s only cotton, but it feels like silk between his fingers, so different from the tough kevlar of his tactical kit, the cold leather of his jacket, turned soft around the seams from use. He’s disconcerted by how thin it is, lacking in any protective elements. Also, the lack of pockets is disappointing, though he concedes that for most people having places to stash weapons isn’t a high priority.

It smells different too, though he can't pinpoint what of. Maybe the person who he stole it from, and something they used to stay clean. He closes his eyes and tries to recall the smell of Iowa as they laid together on a bed in a small dark room, as they kissed and pulled the clothes from each other’s bodies.

He can’t. He’s disheartened by the fact, though not so much that it makes his resolution to the mission waver.

He will find Iowa, and he will find out what is happening to them both, and maybe even why it’s suddenly so important to him to remember how another person feels and smells when close enough to be in his arms.

Chapter Text

“Please don’t bash me to death with your shield,” is the first thing Clint manages to say, staggering up out of bed and willing his roiling stomach to behave.

“Explain,” Steve says, marching up to him. His jaw is set and his shoulders are tense, eyes furious and bright.

“Well, I didn’t mean to-”

It’s not the right thing to say. Steve gets, if possible, even angrier. “What, you mean you tripped and his dick ended up in your ass?”

Clint let out a shocked sound that’s not quite words, but more of a strangled yell. “Steve!” he protests, holding out a hand. “I’m so hungover I think I’m dying. Can we please not do this right now-”

“You were fucking my best friend behind my back!”

Clint shuts his eyes, pressing his free hand to his forehead. “Okay, I know how it must have looked.”

“It looked like you were fucking my best friend behind my back!”

“Okay, I was,” Clint admits. “But not just - it wasn’t just-”

“The ends of these sentences better be fucking good, I swear to god-”

“I love him, alright!” Clint bursts out, feeling heartbroken and hungover and like he could happily cry or take a swing for Steve. Both were tempting. “I loved him. I still do. It’s fucking me up, and I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to take him from you, but I am utterly head-over-fucking heels, unstoppably, ridiculously and pathetically in love with him, and he’s gone and there’s fuck all I can do about it-”

He can’t finish talking; he descends into tears and is about to turn away when he feels two hands on his shoulders, and then Steve roughly pulls him in for a hug. Clint slumps against his broad chest, one hand still covering his face. They stand there for long minutes, Clint feeling something oddly like relief mixing with the oh-so-familiar heartbreak as his tears eventually slow and then stop altogether.

“I shouldn’t have yelled,” Steve finally says ruefully.

“The word you’re looking for is sorry,” Clint says, taking a few deep breaths and pushing back away from Steve, palm against his chest. He keeps his eyes down, turning to sit on the edge of the bed. “Is past you mad about it too?”

“I’m not sure,” Steve says slowly, brow furrowing as he thinks. “I don’t think he knows that it’s more than just a sex thing. I just remember walking in and seeing…”

He trails off. Clint thinks it’s a little late for tact and delicacy but whatever, he’ll take it right now. Clumsy with sleep, he scratches his nails down the side of his jaw, through a few days worth of stubble. “It wasn’t just a sex thing,” he said. “It was…”

“How long?”

“Not long after I first found him,” Clint admits. “Weeks before we got captured, weeks before we ran into you..”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Steve asks. He turns and pads towards the windows, fiddling with the controls to let more light in. Clint winces; his hangover hasn’t gone anywhere and the light feels like it’s punching him in the face.

“He’s yours,” he mumbles, covering his eyes with his palm. “Didn’t want to take him away from you.”

Steve is silent for a long moment. “I don’t think you ever did,” he finally says. “If you two were fooling around and falling in love behind my back for that long and I didn’t even notice...then what you did definitely didn’t impact on what I had with Buck. You just gave him something more, and I guess I should be grateful for that. Besides, he’s not mine, I don’t own him.”

“Nice speech,” Clint says. “You plan that all out?”

Predictably, Steve ignores him. “You really love him, huh?”

“Yeah,” Clint says, tries to think of some way to quantify the sheer expanse of what he feels. “I’d do anything for him. I would have done anything. I don’t know. Tenses.”

“Did anyone else know? Did you tell anyone else?”

“No,” Clint says. “Well, Carter - Peggy figured it out when we teamed up with you. But we didn’t tell her, she just guessed.”

Steve nods slowly, taking it all in. “I can't see it,” he says. “You and Bucky.”

“Uh, I think you saw plenty.”

“No, not like that,” Steve says, impatient in a way his 1944 counterpart rarely was. “I just can't seem to get it to make sense in my head, you being with Bucky.”

“Maybe because of the time difference?” Clint suggests. “Me being here and him being there?”

“Maybe,” Steve allows, but doesn’t look convinced. “I’m still pissed about you not telling me.”

“Come on,” Clint says a little incredulously. “You’ve been so prickly over the past and anyone even mentioning Barnes or those guys. It’s only since this whole mess happened that you’ve even started talking about anything. From my end, the odds of getting chewed out for bringing it up were pretty high.”

“Alright, alright,” Steve says with a frown. “Will you be honest with me from now?”

Clint shrugs. “How honest?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Do you want me to tell you about like, Commandos important stuff or mission stuff or about that thing Bucky does with his tongue-?”

“Clint!”

“You asked.”

“Stop talking before I decide I will bash you to death with the shield,” Steve says, but he doesn’t sound like he means it. He just sounds tired. “Go back to sleep. You look like shit.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Clint says, keeling over sideways onto his bed, eyes already closed. Ah, blissful relief.

He hears Steve moving around and then jerks slightly as fingers touch his ear. He cracks an eye open to ask but then realizes that Steve is simply removing his hearing aids, tapping his chin to make him roll his head the other way.

“Thanks,” Clint mumbles. Steve’s fingers come to hold onto his chin, giving his head a little shake. He makes a noise of protest as his poor hungover brain sploshes unpleasantly around the inside of his skull, opening his eyes again.

“I’m sorry you lost him too,” Steve says clearly, the words a dull buzz of sound but the shapes easy to follow. Clint nods, eyes diverting away from Steve’s, and Steve lets him go, patting him on the cheek before straightening up and leaving Clint alone with his hangover.

 

 


 

“Wake up, Clint!”

Clint is jostled awake by a loud and demanding voice echoing faintly, and someone clambering up onto his bed. He cracks open an eye and yelps as he comes nose to nose with Pietro, who is still nowhere near the size or age he should be.

“Time to wake up,” Pietro says loudly and clearly from his perch on Clint’s chest, knees digging into his ribs. He can only be about six or seven, but his face is almost a perfect miniature of his elder self, cocky smirk included.

“No,” Clint protests and tries to shove Pietro off. “Go away.”

He pulls his pillow out from behind his head and plants it over his face. Pietro continues to babble at him, but without lips to read Clint can't make out a single sound. It’s only when Pietro uses his reflexes to wrench the pillow back and clearly yells, “I’m telling Steve,” that Clint deigns to get up.

“I hate you,” Clint tells him matter-of-factly. “So much. Go make me coffee.”

“Not allowed,” Pietro says sulkily. “Steve says-”

Clint doesn't catch the end of the sullen sentence, but he thinks he gets the gist of what Steve says anyway.   

“Why couldn’t the Time Stone have made you old,” he mutters as Pietro plants his hands in the small of his back and starts to push him out of the room. He resists, just because why not, but Pietro is nothing but stubborn and pushes him all the way down the communal floor.

Where almost the entire team is sitting around the counter, looking serious and like they’re about to begin an intervention. Clint looks around and then even behind himself before it registers that they’re all probably here for him.

Ah shit. He suddenly wishes Natasha were here. She’d never try and pull this shit on him. Though on second thoughts, she had warned him off Bucky weeks ago. His eyes flick to Steve, the traitor. “You told, didn’t you.”

Steve looks somewhat defiant. “Yep.”

Someone says something and Clint eyes automatically flick from person to person to work out who it was. His eyes land on Sam just as Sam holds out a hand towards him, a clear look at the state of this thing gesture.

“We can’t do the team-talk thing if he’s not got his ears.”

“Pietro,” Wanda calls, and Pietro is gone from Clint’s side in a woosh, appearing back half a second later with Clint’s hearing aids in hand.

“No,” Clint says. “I’m not putting my ears in so you can intervention me.”

Tony gets up and walks over, pressing a tablet into Clint’s hands. Clint scowls but takes it, and his eyes are drawn down as words appear in deep red lettering, in synch with the faint murmur of Tony’s voice.

“Please, I’m excited about it being someone else for a change.”

“I don’t need an intervention!” he protests, and his indignant words are promptly echoed on the screen in bright purple.

More words appear on the screen, in blue this time. “It’s not an intervention, Tony, stop calling it an intervention.” Clint counts his lucky stars that the tablet can’t infuse the words with Steve’s tone; he’d probably be blinded by the sheer level of annoyance that is probably being projected right about now.

Ignoring the whole ‘to be interventioned or not to be interventioned’ issue, Clint is tempted to throw the tablet at Tony’s head. “Your fancy toy doesn’t tell me who is talking.”

“You can work out colours, right?” Tony asks. “You’re not that dumb.”

“We are here simply to tell you that we know about your position with Barnes,” gunmetal grey words tell him, and he grudgingly looks up to check that it is Thor speaking. “We don’t wish you to feel alone.”

“I’m not alone, Steve misses him too,” Clint says. “Will you lot just stop?

Unexpectedly they all do. They all fall quiet, looking sad and serious. The tablet sits quietly in his hand, screen empty of platitudes and arguments. Wanda lays her hand on Clint’s arm and it hits him like a fall from the eighth floor; they’re all pitying for him because he’s lost the man he loves.

“Don’t you dare feel sorry for me,” he bites out, pulling his arm away from Wanda.

“That’s not it,” she tries to say, her words coming up in a light red that’s almost pink.

“Pink for the one girl, Tony?” Clint says, pointing at the tablet. “Sexist.”

“It’s American Rose red,” Tony corrects him. “You know, red to match the magic?”

Clint snorts, disbelieving. “Fuck off, that’s pink.”

“You’re deflecting,” warm gold words say, and he has to look around to work out that it’s Sam.

“Why yellow?”

“Because Wilson is a literal ray of sunshine,” Tony says. “Who’s right about you deflecting, good call, Pidgeotto.”

Clint is about three seconds away from exploding at them all, still feeling hungover and irritable, when more gold words come up.

“Clint, this isn't about feeling sorry for you at all, Wanda’s right. It’s about us reminding you that we’ve all lost people, so we kinda get how you’re feeling. It’s messed up for you, we ain’t gonna deny that. But we’re here.”

“You guys managed to get my head out of nineteen-forty-four,” Steve adds. “We don’t want to lose you there.”

Clint sighs heavily and then drops the tablet onto the counter. He counts to five in his head and then holds out his hand to Pietro who instantly hands over his hearing aids. He slips them in, turns them on and then sits down.

“Bruce would have been green, right?”

“Chartreuse,” Tony replies with a completely straight face. Steve’s mouth twitches and Sam clamps a palm over his mouth to hide his grin.

“So, Barnes eh?” Tony continues. “How’s that work? Were you like sniper-boyfriends? I’m sure there’s a joke there about covering each others asses-”

Steve elbows Tony, who just elbows him back. “I’m curious! How did that come about? How did olden-day Capsicle react to that?”

Steve winces. “Not well,” he says, sounding mildly ashamed. “But - uh, we don’t really know yet. That part hasn't happened yet.”

“Waiting to see if Cap has any period-typical homophobia?” Tony asks.

“Or if he’s just angry that you didn't tell him,” Wanda adds, getting up and heading to the coffee maker.

“All of the above,” Clint says and pulls out a chair, sitting down heavily. “Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.”

“It’ll be fine,” Steve says unexpectedly. “Trust me.”

Clint looks up at that, just as Wanda slides a fresh piping hot coffee onto the counter in front of him, chatting idly to Pietro in Sokovian.

“Alright,” he says to Steve with a crooked and tired smile. “I think I will.”


 

“I have to go after him,” Bucky said blankly, staring at the door through which Steve had so abruptly left. Clint couldn’t quite believe that Steve had done something as prudent as walking away from a fight. That wasn't Steve at all. “I have to.”

“Don’t,” Clint said, taking a step towards him and feeling the bottom of his stomach drop out as Bucky stepped back away from him, a strange dance that only increased the fear in the pit of his belly. “He’ll work it out, just-”

“I have to explain,” Bucky said. “I’m not-”

The brewing argument was cut short as they heard heavy footfalls stomping back up the uneven stairs towards them. Clint held his breath, braced himself, and sure enough-

“No, we’re gonna do this now,” Steve shouted heatedly, pointing at Bucky and then Clint as he stormed back in, a tornado of righteous anger and betrayal. Oddly, Clint was glad to see it. “What the fuck?

“Steve, we didn't,” Bucky began. “We didn’t mean to-”

“What, you mean you slipped?!” Steve bellowed. “How long had this been going on, huh?”

“It’s just - it’s a one time thing-”

Clint’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “You fucking liar,” he snapped at Bucky, and then turned to Steve, shoulders squaring. “It is not a one time thing, we’ve been together since before you found us.”

“Are you actually kidding me?”

“What’s with all the yelling?”

If Clint thought things were bad, it got a lot worse as someone else shouted from the landing, and then more creaking footsteps heralded the arrival of Morita, Dernier and Jones, all looking tousled and sleepy.

“Jeez, Cap, I thought we were having a day off?” Morita complained as he tripped in, rubbing at his neck.

“Je n'ai pas dormi dans un lit en semaines, connard,” muttered Dernier, and Jones elbowed him.

“Get out!” Bucky bellowed at them. “I swear to fucking god, will you lot just fuck off!

“Hey, what’s with the-?” Morita started, and then he looked over at Clint, still standing there wearing nothing but a goddamn bedsheet. The indignation on his face was quickly replaced by comprehension. “Oh, right.”

“What’s happening up there?” Dugan’s voice yelled from a floor below. Jones leaned back out of the doorway to shout back.

“Cap found out about Barnes and Barton!”

“Oh, alright,” Dugan shouted back, and that was it.

Clint felt his mouth fall open. “What do you - but we - what - we didn’t-”

“Did everyone fucking know except me?” Steve asked in disbelief.

“They didn’t tell us,” Jones shrugged.

“C'est l'évidence même,”

“Yeah, they’re just a bit….obvious.”

“When we we captured by Hydra they spent a lot of time being...I dunno.”

“Close?”

“Cuddly as all hell?”

“Yeah, that. You weren't there for that though.”

Bucky reached up and clamped his hands over his eyes, and turned his back on them all for good measure. Clint looked at him helplessly; it looked like Bucky was about to burst into tears but with Jones, Dernier and Morita standing there, he was probably fighting it tooth and nail.

“Will you give us a minute?” Clint asked them.

“Not if Cap’s going to be an asshole about it,” Morita said, shifting his stance slightly and folding his arms across his chest. Behind him, Jones nodded, chin lifting in challenge.

“I’m not!” Steve yelled, and then reigned himself in. “I’m not. I’m just - fuck. Could - Clint, can you give me and Bucky-”

“No,” Clint said obstinately, utterly unwilling to leave Bucky alone when it looked like he was about to break down.

“Iowa, go,” Buck said,  and his voice came out wavering and way too thick. “Just-"

“No, not if-”

“I’m not going to be an asshole!” Steve exclaimed, though the tone of his voice and the look on his face said otherwise. “Maybe about the fact that this is clearly something that everyone fuckin’ knew about apart from me!”

“So it’s not the queer thing?”

“No it’s not the queer thing!” Steve insisted. “Oh my god - I’m pulling rank. Everyone but Bucky, out.”

Clint gaped at him. “Cap!”

“Out.”

“I’m not dressed.”

“Get out!”

Clint looked from Steve to Bucky for back up, but Bucky just met his eyes miserably and shrugged. Clint kinda wanted to shake him, wanted to tell him we’ve done nothing wrong dammit stop looking like that, but then he kinda registered Steve’s words, that he was mad about not being told, which made him and Bucky the assholes here.

Dammit.

Gathering both his bedsheet and what was left of his dignity, Clint made towards the door, the rest of the Commandos clattering out after him.

 

 


 

“You’ve got uh...” Dugan reached out and prodded at Clint's collarbone. Clint smacked his hand away, wishing he could drown himself in his coffee.

“How mad is he?” he asked forlornly, shoulders hunching down into his makeshift bedsheet-toga and shivering slightly.

“How the bloody hell should we know better than you?” Falsworth said as he cupped his hands around his cigarette to light it, shaking the match out and tossing it onto the aged wood of the table. The sun was creeping in through the windows behind them, trying its best to lighten the mood with weak winter rays.

“Pretty mad,” Morita said, plucking off his woollen hat and reaching over to pull it roughly onto Clint’s head. “You should have told him.”

“Yeah well I get that now,” Clint grouched, pulling the hat down and then smacking away Dugan again as he went to prod at the hickey on his neck again. “Get out of it!”

“Barnes doit être un vampire,” Dernier said, starting to laugh. “Il vous a mordu pendant la nuit, voir!”

“Barton’s got a hickey,” Jones added in a soft melodious sing-song, biting back a grin.

“He better have asked you out real nice before you let him do that,” Dugan added, and everyone else started to laugh, all nudging elbows and mischievous grins.

“Did he ask your pa for permission to go sweet on you?”

“My dad’s dead and will you lot drop it?” Clint insisted.

“I’m afraid not,” Falsworth said gravely. “Now this is out in the open, we reserve our right to make fun of you as much as we please.”

“Bucky’ll shoot you if you make fun of him,” Clint pointed out.

“He’ll get over it,” Dugan said. “He’s getting laid, he might as well lighten up a bit.”

Clint propped his elbows on the table, covered his face with his hands. “Not that I’m not grateful, but why aren't you guys being assholes about this?”

“I don’t think people being in love is reason enough for us to be assholes to them,” Falsworth said slowly. “You’re wired a different way, nothing to be done, so let’s leave it at that.”

“I mean, I’d appreciate it if you don’t start with any necking in front of us,” Jones said.

“It’s you and Barnes,” Dugan says with a shrug. “I kinda - if someone told me I’d be serving with two queer fellas I’d be telling them to get out of my face. But you and Barnes - it’s just you and Barnes.”

Clint blinked at him, trying to parse some sort of logical out of what had just been said, when the door opened and Bucky strode in, followed closely by Steve. Chin held high but eyes a telltale red, Bucky walked over and shoved at Dugan to make him move over, and then slid onto the bench next to Clint, swiping his coffee and taking a mouthful.

“I’m being court-martialled for non-disclosure of vital information pertaining to strategic interactions between members of an elite and highly-classified team,” he said, and reached over to take Falsworth’s half-smoked cigarette from his mouth. He popped it into his own, took a drag and blew the smoke out before raising an eyebrow, waiting for reactions.

“Are you really?” Morita asked cautiously. “That sounds like something...actually official.”

“Uh-huh,” Bucky said. “It’s part of subsection three a of the ‘Steve is a pissy fathead who doesn’t like being left out of the gossip’ section of the Howling Commando's guidebook.”

Everyone started to laugh. “Buck,” Steve protested half-heartedly, sitting at the end of the table and reaching to take Clint’s coffee from Bucky. “It’s not like that and you know it.”

“Yeah,” Bucky conceded, his knee bumping Clint’s under the table. He leaned up in his seat and swiped the coffee back from Steve, passing it back to Clint in what was probably Bucky’s way of apologizing. Clint took the drink and looked to Steve, who met his eyes and quietly nodded. Approval and understanding in one.

“So, everything’s swell?” Dugan asked. “No more arguing and manly posturing and throwing the queers off of the team?”

“No-one is being thrown off the team,” Steve said, getting up to pour himself a coffee. “No-one is making a big deal out of it.”

“Uh, Cap, you were the only one who made a big deal out of it.”

“And no-one,” Steve continued loudly like he hadn’t heard. “Is telling Phillips, Stark or anyone outside of this room.”

“Gottit,” Jones said and Dernier nodded vigorously. “Business as usual then?”

Steve nodded. “Business as usual.”

The tension finally seemed to break, the moment of paused baited breath giving way. The team started talking amongst themselves; Steve was discussing their next move with Morita and Dugan, Jones and Dernier were doling out more coffee and Falworth was counting out cigarettes and knocking away Bucky’s hand as he tried to lift a few. Clint let the noise wash over him, and smiled as he felt Bucky’s hand slip onto his knee underneath the table.

“We’re okay?” he asked him, voice dropped to a whisper.

“We’re okay,” Bucky murmured back. “Just promised to be discreet. Steve don’t care a half inch but the others…”

“No need to shove it in their faces,” Clint said. “You gottit.”

“And what are you two lovebirds twittering about?” Dugan asked loudly, shouldering Bucky who shoved him back.

“Nothing, none of your goddamn business.”

“Vampire,” Dernier shot at Bucky, eyes twinkling. Bucky just sent him a withering glare and flipped him the bird.

“Leave them alone,” Steve said mildly.

“Not a chance,” Falsworth said. “Full disclosure of romantic liaisons comes with liability to be mocked, that’s the rule, Captain.”

“Yeah, you certainly gave Dugan his share when he met that lovely lady in Paris.”

Dugan grinned broadly. “I certainly gave her full disclosure.”

Bucky screwed up his face, bewildered. “What does that even mean?”

“Uh, this is in no way like the Paris thing, but in the interests of a morning of full disclosure,” Clint said, and the table went quiet. Bucky was looking at him with a wary frown on his face as well, clearly wondering what Clint was about to pull. Clint felt a little bad for not pre-warning him, but his conscience was nagging at him and this suddenly seemed like a fair way to ease it. “I, uh.”

He slowly reached up and carefully pulled out his hearing aids, holding them in his palm. “I’m deaf,” he said. “Can’t hear fuck all without these.”

He didn’t hear the reactions, because everyone started talking at once. He winced and slipped a single hearing aid in, turning it on again.

“All this time?” Jones was asking, perplexed. “And you managed to hide being deaf?

“How did you even get into this shit show? That’s a 4F, right?”

“Cap, court-martial him for non-disclosure of vital information pertaining to the fitness of members of an elite and highly-classified team.”

Steve leaned back against the counter and shrugged. “I knew,” he said. “Didn’t know exactly how those things worked though, I mean they’re not exactly a model 56.”

Bucky gaped at Steve. “You knew he was deaf?”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “Not such an unobservant fathead now, am I?” he said, taking a pointed sip of his coffee.

“No,” Bucky said with a laugh. “Guess you ain’t.”

 


 

Life went on. The commandos continued to sweep across Europe, blowing up everything Hydra related they could find, and Bucky and Clint continued being discreetly head-over-heels in love. Not having to keep it a secret didn’t change that much at all ; they went on as they always had, just with the relief of not having to hide, of not being wary and scared of being found out. At the end of the day they could crash onto a weary hotel bed or crawl into a tent together, could take the time to check in with each other and make sure they were still in one piece after a hard day’s fighting.

Yeah, for the most part they were utterly considerate and unobtrusive, apart from the few times that they very much weren’t.

The first slip-up was the morning that Clint had stumbled out of their tent, cursing the cold and jamming his hands under his armpits to keep them warm; he’d accepted an offering of hot coffee from Bucky with a yawn and had leaned in to kiss him without thinking about it. Bucky had blushed like his face was on fire and abruptly turned away. He needn't have worried though, the other had just given them a few curious looks and then held out their own mugs for top-ups.  

After that was the night where Clint had been nicked in the shin by a ricochet that had pinged off the cracked cement of the road; Morita had pulled the slug out and cleaned him up, telling him - with no real belief that he’d be listened to - to stay off it for a few days. Bucky had hovered at his side, both annoyed and annoying, wanting to triple-check that Clint was alright. He’d barely waited for Morita to turn around before leaning in to kiss Clint, telling him matter of factly that if he ever got himself shot again, he’d kill him.

The third was the time that Bucky caught Clint after he managed to trip and fall from atop a house-sized tank; at the last moment Clint had managed to shoot a line into the barrel of the tank so that instead of hitting the ground and breaking both his legs, he instead ended up careering into Bucky who had run forwards to intercept his fall like some sort of idiot. He’d ended up knocking them both flat on their asses, sprawled out on the ground with Clint half in Bucky’s arms, still holding his bow in both hands.

They’d laid there, breathless and stunned, and then Bucky had started to laugh and simply yanked Clint in by his dogtags to kiss him. Dernier had wolf-whistled, Dugan had shouted ‘Jeez, save it for the bedroom, assholes,’ and Steve had just rolled his eyes and walked over to pick them both up.

 


 

It’s after waking with the memory of the battlefield kiss, that Bucky had initiated with no fear and no hesitation - something Clint never thought he’d do - that Steve comes up to find Clint on the roof of the tower and smiles at him, saying, “Okay, now I see it.”

 


 

“Alright, listen up.”

The chatter in the cramped briefing room room slowly ground to a halt and everyone looked up as Phillips walked into the room, Peggy at his side. Steve automatically stood and offered up his seat; she just raised an eyebrow at him. He dropped back into his chair with an embarrassed smile, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Clint snorted with laughter, twirling an arrow between his fingers like a baton and making no effort to sit up; his chair was pulled up close enough to Bucky’s that he could comfortably lean back on his shoulder in a manner that Peggy would happily call indolent. Bucky didn’t even prod at him to make him move, happy enough to lounge back with the feet kicked up onto the table, cigarette hanging from his mouth as he watched Phillips take position at the front.

“Oh please, at ease, make yourselves comfortable,” Phillips said with a pointed roll of his eyes. Nobody moved except Dernier, who looked around and then put his boots up onto the table like Bucky, grinning widely.

“You are the most insubordinate sons of bitches I’ve ever had the pleasure to command,” Phillips said. Next to him, Peggy pursed her lips, eyes dancing with laughter. “But you have also destroyed more than twenty Hydra bases in the last months, so I’ll let it slide.”

He held out his hand and Peggy handed over a set of small boxes, neatly stacked up atop each other. He tossed them onto the table one by one. “From our friends in Washington,” he said, and then looked over at Steve. “I have been told that you are not getting any more until you start showing up to collect them in person.”

Bucky leaned over to pick up a box, flicking it open. “Wowee,” he said. “This is nice. Purple heart, I assume that’s Clint’s?”

“You have it,” Clint said with a one-shoulder shrug. “I got a scar. Don’t need the medal.”

“Alright,” Bucky said, and pulled the medal out of the box, carefully pinning it to his blue jacket. “Look how fancy I look. Steve, look.”

Steve reached over to open another box. “Silver Star,” he said, and tossed the box over to Bucky when he made grabby hands across the table.

“I’m not sure it quite works like that,” Peggy said, but Bucky was already pinning the Silver Star to his jacket next to the Purple Heart. Clint opened another box and pulled out a second Silver Star, twisting around to pin it to Bucky’s breast.

“Oh look, a Distinguished Merit medal,” Dugan said. “Barnes, you want that one? I’m giving it you based on your distinguishing jawline.”

“You not want it for your distinguishing moustache?”

“I think the jaw takes it,” Jones said, opening another box. “What is this?”

“An Order of the Empire,” Falsworth said, nodding at Bucky. “Barnes, I hereby award you the Order of the Empire for learning so many British curse words. Well done.”

“I told you this was a bad idea,” Phillips said to Peggy, long suffering. “I said it, didn’t I?”

“Quite,” Peggy said, mouth twitching. “Barnes, you’ve missed the Service under Special Division medals, there’s three in that long box.”

By the time they’d finished, Bucky was wearing no less than fifteen medals. He kicked his feet back up onto the table, grinning at Steve and pushing his chest out proudly. “Do I outrank you yet?”

“No, but you probably weigh more than me with all that on your front,” Steve said.

“When you’re quite finished,” Phillips said loudly, and then just shook his head at Bucky, opting to ignore him and carry on. “We’ve got a mission. Something big.”

“Bigger than the tank that Barton fell off last week?”

“Yes,” Phillips said grimly. “Zola. We know where he’s going to be, when he’s going to be, so we’re going to go and get him.”

That at least made everyone stop fooling around and listen. Bucky shifted in his chair, and Clint knew he’d be feeling the same hot anger at Zola that still simmered in the pit of his stomach. It seemed to get Bucky worse than him though, but he couldn’t begrudge him the fact.

“By get I hope you mean shoot?” Bucky said.

“No, by get I mean capture,” Phillips said. “We need him alive.”

Bucky bristled, eyes going dark. Clint kicked at him under the table and Bucky let out his breath in a low exhale through his teeth, though still looked rather on edge. Clint fought back a shiver; it was the same look that he’d seen on Bucky’s face when they’d been captured, that dark edge that still crept up announced every once in a while.

“What do you want us to do?” Steve asked.

“He’ll be on-board a train, attempting to move some vital resources across the alps,” Phillips said. “You’re going to drop in, and collect both him and the resources.”

Clint went very, very still, and then rather abruptly said, “No.”

Everyone turned to look at him, confused. He sat up a little straighter, mouth working as he tried to figure out words that weren't ‘no we can't do that because that’s how Bucky Barnes dies.’

“What do you mean, no?” Phillips asked slowly.

“I assume by drop in you mean somehow get aboard a fast moving train as it goes through the alps?” Clint says. “Fuck that.”

Steve’s brow was furrowed and he exchanged a look with Peggy. “Clint, we’ve done worse,” he said.

“You scared of trains or something?” Dugan asked.

“Or something,” Clint muttered.

“Well, let's go through the details before Barton decides he’s going to chicken out,” Phillips said and Clint felt a heady flush of humiliated anger. “Odds are that only half the team has to actually board the train anyway, so maybe Barton can stay at home.”

He felt his face contort in anger, but then fingers were digging into the meat of his leg, hard. He jerked away and turned to look at Bucky.

“What the hell?” Bucky mouthed.

“Shut up,” Clint muttered back, slouching back into his chair and crossing his arms across his chest. Swallowing hard, he turned his attention to Phillips and Steve, and tried not to let the fear that was rising in his gut completely overwhelm him.

Beneath the table, he groped for Bucky’s fingers and held them tight; Bucky shot him another bewildered glance but didn’t protest, just folded his fingers around Clint’s and squeezed them back.

 


 

“So what was that all about earlier?” Bucky asked from his position on his back on their bed in their tiny, probably-meant-for-one barracks room, running his hands up Clint’s sides and pressing his mouth to Clint’s chin, breathing heavy washes of warm breath across his skin. His hands pressed hard into the muscle of Clint’s shoulder blades, his whole body shifting as he wrapped a foot around Bucky’s calf.

Clint didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure he could. He’d just had to sit there helplessly during the meeting, listening to them plan the mission down to the wire. They’d argued and bickered about who would actually be doing the idiotic task of dropping down a zipline to land upon the train carrying Zola across the country, and it had somehow ended up as Steve, Bucky, Jones and Clint.

Two days. Two days and they would be attempting the mission. Two days for Clint to talk them out of it.

“Hey,” Bucky said, tapping his palm against Clint’s cheek. “What is your deal?”

Sighing, Clint dropped his head to mouth at Bucky’s collarbones. “I just...I just got a bad feeling about this mission,” he said. “I think someones gonna get hurt.”

“You can’t tell the future,” Bucky said, and frowned down as Clint let out a strangled sort of laugh against his chest.

“I want,” Clint began, swallowing hard. “You and me, back in Brooklyn. Top floor apartment. Pals across the hall. Bar across the way. Buying-”

“Buying me drinks,” Bucky said. “I haven’t forgot.” He paused, let his hands trail down Clint’s flanks. “But maybe catching Zola is our ticket home, you know? We get him, we end this quick, we go home. And right now, we got everything we want here. The fellas know, there’s no having to hide. We get to be together. As much as we can.”

Clint nodded mutely, feeling his eyes burn with tears. “Okay, but please you sit this one out,” he said, not ashamed to be begging. “Please.”

“Christ, Iowa, this has got you all sorts of fucked up,” Bucky said, amazed. “I’m not sitting this out, not while Steve’s going.”

“Please,” Clint repeated. “Bucky.”

Bucky rolled them over, pushing Clint onto his back and frowning down at him. “We’ll be fine,” he said. “You me and Steve. We’re unstoppable, right?”

“I will not lose you,” Clint said fiercely.

“You ain’t gonna,” Bucky said, and ducked his head to kiss him, stealing the rest of his futile words from his lungs.

 


 

Steve appears at his door early in the morning, ashen faced. Clint doesn't have to ask him what he remembers, it’s written all over his face.

“Stop him going,” he says to Clint, somewhere between begging and ordering. “Stop him going on the mission.”

Clint thinks of the night he'd spent with Bucky, trying to persuade him to sit the mission out. Thinks of the morning after, leaving Bucky asleep and going to find Steve, trying to get him to cancel the mission entirely.

“I’m trying, but none of you fuckers are listening to me!” Clint yells back, voice cracking, and he slams the door in Steve’s face.

 


 

“You sure you’re up for this?”

Steve looked across at Clint as they checked the gear they’d be using for the mission; several zipline carriers that would take them down the wire to drop in on Zola. Clint knew he wasn’t being his usual self; he could feel the tension in his body and the set of his jaw, knew he was brooding.

“I’m coming. I just think we shouldn’t do it,” he said roughly, coiling the spare wire around his arm, up under his elbow and over his hand, round and round again. He’d explained all this to Steve already, once, twice before. Steve hadn't listened. Not in any way that counted, anyway.

“Buck says you’ve still got a bad feeling.”

“Yeah,” Clint said, wanting to scream. Wanting to tell Steve that this was it, this was where everything went wrong.

“We’ll be fine,” Steve said, easy and light like he wasn’t worried at all. “Just no unnecessary risks.”

“Cap. Our team name should be unnecessary risk.”  

Steve almost smiled at that, which just made Clint’s stomach wind even tighter. This wasn’t a joke. Bucky was more at risk here than ever, and it was only Clint’s knowledge and sheer force of will fighting against destiny or fate or whatever that was going to keep him alive.

“Bucky told me what Zola did,” Steve said. “Clint, if you can’t handle it, stay behind. You can’t kill Zola, we-”

“I’m fucking coming alright?” Clint snapped, and then exhaled heavily, fingers clenching and flexing around the wire. “Just. Don’t let anything happen to Bucky. If it comes to it – if you have to pick. Save him.”

Steve’s expression went troubled, brewing stormclouds in the usual brightness of his eyes which reminded Clint too much of his modern counterpart, the one Clint could barely remember.  “It’s not going to come to that-”

“Promise me,” Clint said over him. “If you can save Bucky, even if it means I’ll die, you save Bucky.”

Steve met his eyes, mouth tight and stubborn and wanting to argue. “If it comes to it,” he finally said. “I’ll save both of you.”

“Cut the crap, Steve,” Clint snapped. “Promise me.”

“Alright,” Steve said, holding his hands up like he was surrendering, now looking honest-to-god-confused as to why Clint was saying these things. “Take it easy, I promise.”

Clint nodded and carried on with the checks. He had nothing more to say.

 


 

 “Everyone, keep moving!”

Steve’s yell was snatched out of his mouth by the roaring wind, barely audible. Clint ducked his head against the gale that threatened to pull them all off the sleek metal of the train, feeling the thundering vibrations of the engines as it sliced through the mountains like some sort of furious metal snake. His eyes were locked on Bucky’s back, watching how easily Bucky moved, how confident he was as he trod carefully the length of the carriage. Bow in hand, Clint followed. Over and over in his mind he kept playing over and over Cap’s shout of ‘bugs on a windshield!’ and gritted his teeth against the anxiety and fear that was already clawing his way up his spine.

They’d done the drop. Bucky was safe. That was the dangerous part. Had Bucky fallen during the drop? Clint had never asked, and now it was far too late to find out.

They made it to the end of the carriage; Clint was last inside, allowing Bucky to take his hand and pull him into the relative safety of the train. He braced his feet against the gentle back and forth sway of the carriage, pushing Bucky further in and away from the goddamn door.

“Jones will keep going, meet us up front,” Steve said. “Let’s go. Eagle C, Clint take point.”

Clint nodded, eyes already scanning every dark crevice of the compartment for potential trouble.  Steve hauled the door shut behind them, muting the sound of the wind and leaving the compartment feeling muffled and claustrophobic. Clint could feel his pulse thudding in his ears, the tension racketing higher and higher as he slipped into mission mode. Every step he made was calculated and cautious, the way Natasha had taught him in a different lifetime. Bucky followed him like a shadow, expression dark. He was burning to get his hands on Zola, Clint knew it. He wondered if even Steve would be able to stop Bucky shooting him point blank when they did find him.

Stacks of weapon crates towered silently on either side of them, narrowing the space they had to move around in. Clint had an arrow already nocked on his bow, ready to fire at the first sign of movement. They traversed the length of the compartment with no resistance, slipping into the second. It was almost a perfect match of the one they’d just swept, empty apart from boxes and boxes of weapons and supplies.

“Nobody’s home,” Bucky murmured.

“There’s gotta be some defense somewhere,” Clint muttered back, eyes still ahead.

“Agreed,” Steve said. “Keep moving.”

Clint took another step, and even as he did he heard a hefty thud and the whine of what sounded like repulsors. His brain caught up a fraction of a second too late; he heard Steve bellow ‘get down!’ just as a blast of blue light tore through the compartment, sending Bucky and Clint flying backwards through the door. His head hit the floor with a crack and he could taste blood in his mouth, and then Bucky was cursing and lunging forwards over him just as one of the boxes above them exploded in a shower of burning metal. Bucky had his gun in hand and fired once, twice, and Clint frantically twisted around just in time to see a black suited figure slump to the floor.

“You okay?” Bucky asked breathlessly from ontop of him and Clint nodded, both of them scrambling to their feet. There was another crack and Clint turned and let fly; he felled three more Hydra agents in quick succession, his conscience not even stirring as he went straight for killshots. Bucky turned back to back with him, peering through the door which had closed behind them.

“Steve!” he bellowed, punching the window. “Goddamnit, where is he?”

“We gotta keep going!” Clint shouted back at him.

“Not without Steve - Steve!”

Clint looked over his shoulder to see Steve at the closed window, lip bloodied but looking grim and satisfied. “Go,” he mouthed through the window. “I’ll go round, keep going.”

Bucky nodded, jaw tight and eyes bright. He turned away from Steve and pushed Clint in the small of his back. “Go,” he said. Next carriage, I’ll spring the door so he can get in.”

“No,” Clint said immediately. “No opening doors.”

“We gotta get Steve back in!” Bucky replied incredulously, shouldering past Clint and striding towards the end of the carriage, climbing over the bodies that were in the doorway.

“It’s too dangerous,” Clint said, striding after him and grabbing his elbow to pull him away from the door. “Do not open that door Bucky, I swear to god.”

“Fuck off, I’m doing it-”

Bucky yanked his arm free from Clint and stepped up to the door. “Watch my six,” he said roughly, and Clint cursed him but complied, watching the doors at either end of the carriage as Bucky disabled the locks and hauled the door open.

“See, not a problem-”

“Halt!”

He had to fucking say it, Clint thought as he lunged forwards to meet the Hydra guard in the door; this one was wearing some sort of metal armor, lifting a gun that probably weighed more than Clint did. It flickered and glowed blue, and Clint decided not to aim for the ominous blue power cell but the man holding it-

Clint was quicker; of course he was. The arrow pierced the guard right in the neck under the chin, but as the guard crumpled backwards the weapon went off in a roar of sound, tearing a gaping hole in the roof of the carriage and rocking what felt like the entire train. Clint was almost thrown off his feet and Bucky let out a yelp, slipping back towards the fucking door he’d just opened-

“No!”

Clint leapt towards him, bow outstretched, and Bucky managed to grab the end of it just before he tumbled out of the doorway. Frozen in place halfway out of the door, he looked up at Clint, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, breath snatched in in uneven gasps.

“I fucking told you so,” Clint managed to say, and yanked the bow hard so Bucky came tumbling back into the carriage. He fell into Clint’s arms, gripping his elbows hard and standing almost nose to nose with him. He looked shaken, glancing back towards the door.

“Alright, you told me so.”

“You okay?” Clint asked him roughly. “You asshole.”

“I had to do it, alright, give me a break!”

“You did not, no more going near doors, alright!”

Their argument was wiped out as out of nowhere there came a mighty explosion, a boom loud enough to completely overload Clint’s hearing aids. He cried out in pain as he was thrown backwards, hitting the shelves behind him and crumpling to the floor. Something was roaring, and there was biting cold against his face and he couldn’t hear anything but a high pitched ringing, his face was burning and his hands were red raw and bleeding-

For long moments, he couldn’t do anything but lie there and gasp. It was like the pain had completely detached him from his own body; he knew he was in a bad way but he could barely feel anything.

Slowly, his vision cleared, double images swimming back into one. The entire side of the carriage was gone, peeled back like it’d been ripped with a can opener, a gaping maw where there should be solid metal. Snow and rain lashed into the carriage as the uncompassionate white faces of mountains slipped by outside.

“Bucky!”

He felt himself scream the word but didn’t hear it, trying to climb to his feet, staggering sideways and now in agony. Oh god, it was happening, it was happening just like all the history books had ever taught him, and he was not about to let Bucky die, not now, not here-

He threw himself onto his front and crawled forwards towards the gap, heart seized up in his throat. Bucky was there, holding desperately onto the torn side of the train, hands bleeding and slipping. His eyes were huge and frightened, and he was trying to find purchase with his feet but couldn’t manage and his fingers were slipping-

Clint didn’t think. He lunged forwards and grabbed Bucky’s sleeve just as his hands gave way; Bucky screamed but Clint had him, burnt fingers desperately clinging onto his jacket as he was yanked forwards, grabbing hold of a metal bar with his free hand. Coursing with adrenaline and pain, he gasped wetly, feeling like his arms had been ripped from the sockets.

“I got you,” he panted to Bucky, the words soundless shapes, torn from his mouth. “Don’t let go.”

“Clint, help,” Bucky pleaded. Below him, the valley floor whipped by, hundreds of feet below. “Clint-”

“I got you-” Clint repeated, but even as he said it the metal bar he was holding onto jolted, dropping him another half foot out of the side of the train.

“Clint,” Bucky tried, reaching up with his free hand to grasp hold of Clint’s wrist, fingers tacky with blood. “Steve-!”

Even as Clint turned his head to see Steve lunging towards them, hand outstretched desperately, there was another jolt, and Clint registered it with a faint sort of surprise as the bar he was holding finally gave in and tore away from the wall. Bucky screamed, he was sure of it, but then they were both falling, side-by-side down into nothingness.

 


 

The Asset slowly opens his eyes. He blinks in the shafts of moonlight that pour in through the cracks of the blinds, lighting his face in bleak stripes. He lies perfectly still on the single bed of the run-down motel room, for once trying not to remember.

His heart is hammering in his chest, a sick pounding that normally only signals the bite of cryo.

He blinks again and feels tears slide from his eyes down into his hairline.

He’d died.

As good as, anyway. Falling from a train a thousand feet above the floor of an ice-locked valley, taking Clint with him, his jacket clutched in bloody fingers. They’d both fallen, leaving behind the man in the blue uniform, the one who has started to appear in the Asset’s dreams more and more often. Blond, too. Not like Clint, but still a friendly face that the Asset misses like a stomach ache.

How is he here? How is he alive?

He suspects the enhancements that run through his blood, whatever it is that makes him so strong, so quick to heal. But Clint – how is Clint alive after that fall? Was he enhanced too?

He gets up, pads over to the tiny bathroom and turns on the tap. The pipes shudder and groan and the water spits out before turning to a weak stream. He cups his hands under it, splashes it over his face and washes away the tears.

Slowly, he looks up at his reflection in the cracked mirror. He’s barely more than a silhouette, a grey hued figure in the dark.

Clint Barton must still be alive. He must be. The stolen SHIELD reports tell him that much, even though he’s filled with a sick dread that this latest memory has somehow changed things, that Clint has somehow died in that fall. The need to find him increases, firstly to reassure himself that he’s alive and well, and also because maybe Clint Barton has answers about what the fuck has happened to them both.

Quietly, he packs up his belongings and leaves the motel, stealing away like a ghost.

Chapter Text

Clint knows his phone is ringing, can see the flashing lights. He doesn’t care. He knows it’s probably Steve, but he can’t bring himself to pick it up. He just sits at the counter in his apartment, staring at the wall and trying not to think.

He died.

He and Bucky both.

The memory of falling is seared into his mind, and every time he closes his eyes he can see Bucky’s terrified face, feel the blood-slippy fingers clutching at his hand as they fell. He couldn’t remember any impact though, nor any pain. Just shutting his eyes and then nothing.

He feels sick, like if he moves he’ll hurl. His head hurts from crying, and he’s never cried as much as he has in the past few months and he feels utterly broken. Telling himself that he knew this was coming doesn’t really help in the slightest; the inevitability of his grief still feels all-encompassing.

Steve would have the memory of both Clint and Bucky falling by the time he woke up, if he wasn’t already up. God, Steve would be heartbroken, he would be so disappointed that Clint hadn’t managed to change it, that he had failed and lost their connection to Bucky and the past.

He at least could be grateful that he hadn't died both here as well as in the past. Yes, he’d lost Bucky - and the thought still made him want to scream - but he still had his team. He had Wanda and Pietro, he had Natasha, his new friendships with Steve and Tony. He had his life as an Avenger, but it still felt like he was missing a limb, knowing he was completely cut off from that life with Bucky, that it was now officially over. There would be no more memories, nothing new coming. All he had left to do now was mourn.

Over on the coffee table, his phone starts to ring again, worried white lights pleading with him to pick up. An angry sob catching in the back of his throat, Clint grabs his bow and fires a single arrow, whipping the phone from the table and pinning it to the wall behind. The lights on it wink out straight away, leaving nothing but the reflection of the room in the black screen.

“Fuck this.”

He makes himself move. He climbs the stairs up to the loft, rifling through his closet until he finds his backpack, blindly shoving clothes into it. It’s probably be a matter of minutes before Steve turns up here looking for him. His only saving grace is that Pietro is still not big enough to be allowed out unattended; if he was, Clint would have less than seconds.

He pulls a cap onto his head, shoulders his backpack and grabs his bow in hand.

“Sorry,” he says, throat tight, not entirely sure who he’s apologizing to, and then he leaves the apartment without looking back.  


 

Three trains and a cramped bus ride later, and he finds himself treading the sidewalks in the sweltering heat of Washington DC. He didn’t actively plan to end up at the Nation’s Capital when he walked out of his apartment eight hours earlier, but the idea of mourning had been stuck in his brain, and once the thought was formed it had stuck like a particularly persistent insect, scratching and itching.

Well, where better to mourn than the Nation’s most hallowed ground?

His head feels clearer already, and he’s oddly calm as he treads his way towards Arlington. He’s been here once before, for a memorial ceremony one fall, standing beside a podium as speeches were given and golden leaves rustled in the background and skittered across the grass. It had been Tony he’d accompanied; Steve hadn't wanted to even attend. At the time, Clint had thought it was because it would bring back too many memories and make him more depressed than he already was; since their bonding over time-travel escapes, he’s learned that it’s because Steve feels unbearably awkward about the monument dedicated to him that he accidentally rendered obsolete by dint of being alive.   

It’s that monument he heads towards. Not because of Steve, though it does make him smile thinking about Steve and his despair over the damn thing, but because also standing on the edge of the wide circle is a monument dedicated to the Howling Commandos.

He sits down straight opposite it on the edge of the circular paved area, half on the grass with his legs tucked up in front of him. He’s in the shade of a large tree, and he can see the leaves gently rustling in the slightest of breezes but it’s too indistinct for him to make the sound out.

His chest feels tied up in a knot, the grief oh so raw. But it’s calm and peaceful here, and he feels he’s allowed to carry that grief with him without guilt, that he can stop being Hawkeye for a while, that he can just be here and feel what he needs to feel.

While the monument to Steve is a full statue, complete with shield resting proud against marble legs, the one to the rest of the Commandos is a simple column, etched with names and the outlines of medals. As the first to die, Bucky is at the top. Under his name are five etched awards, not the fifteen that Clint remembers him ending up with.

Clint wonders if there's another dimension or time in which his name is carved on the monument beneath Bucky’s.

“Damn,” he murmurs shakily, taking a deep shuddering breath and rubbing at his eyes. He misses him so bad, he’s always missed him but now it’s so much worse.

He lets himself cry. Silent, head bowed and cap pulled low. He feels better for it, if only marginally.

Man, this sucks.

His attention is drawn by the sound of approaching voices; a woman pushing a stroller up the path nearby, two young girls who must be sisters behind her. The woman stops to look at a memorial right on the edge of the Captain America circle, and the two children both meander on. The smaller one of the two stops with a huff and a whine, crouching down nearly on her heels.

“I’m tired,” she says, voice carrying clearly on the air. “I wanna go home.”

“We can’t go home, we’ve got to go and pay respects,” the older girl says, gesturing around her. The phrasing pulls a weak smile at the corner of Clint’s mouth, mostly because the older girl can’t be more than six or seven.

“But I’m tired,” the younger girl whines. She’s about three or four, Clint thinks maybe. He’s not good with kids. He doesn't know. She rests her cheek on her knees, hunching forwards, fingers curling around the ends of her sandals. Her big sister walks over and wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

“Well you know how far we had to walk?” she says kindly. “How hard that was? Well this was like a hundred times harder for all these people. They like actually died doing good things.”

Clint laughs softly. Nothing like a little perspective from a six year old, right? He dips his head and takes a deep breath, before looking back up at the monument. He could cry again, but he feels like he can maybe hold onto it until he leaves or finds himself a motel or something.

“Hey Mister? You’re Hawkeye, aren't you?”

He turns his head and sees the bigger-little girl standing a few steps away from him, head cocked curiously. Her little sister is next to her, scuffing her shoe in the gravel and looking utterly disinterested in Clint.

Aw, man. He can't lie to a kid.

“Yeah,” he says. “I’m Hawkeye. People call me Clint when I’m not being an Avenger.”

“Why’re you sad?” she asks.

He laughs shortly again, the sound thick. “Uh,” he says, and gestures towards the monument. “One of my friends died. Doing something good.”

“Oh,” she says, and comes to sit next to him. The little sister follows, plopping down next to her and leaning back to pick through the grass. “Not Captain America. Mom says he only nearly died. But he gets a statue even if he’s alive.”

“Yeah, and I’ll tell you a secret,” Clint says. “He doesn't like it. He thinks other people should get statues, not him.”

“He’s a superhero though!” the girl says in perfect childish wonder and indignation, gesturing up at the statue.

“Ashley, come here!”

A sharp voice calls over, and Clint sees the girls’ mom walking over with her hand outstretched, looking wary.

“Mom, it’s Hawkeye,” the girl says. “Look.”

Well, fuck. Clint pushes his hat back and waves half-heartedly. The woman does a double take, but at least the suspicious look on her face vanishes.

“Gosh, I’m so sorry,” she says to him. “Ashley, leave him alone. Sophie, come here.”

“He’s telling me about Captain America,” Ashley complains, standing up. The smaller girl, Sophie, walks back to her mom and climbs into the stroller, sitting back with a huff. “He says his friend died, and he’s sad.”

The woman looks between carefully Clint and the monument. Now she’s not looking at Clint like he’s a threat, her face is kind and gentle. She’s in her late thirties, possibly. Older than Clint is, anyway. Her face sports tired laughter lines around her eyes, a faint cleft of a frown between her brows. She looks like a mom, Clint thinks. Someone who is used to being a mom. She probably owns a minivan and everything.

“Are you here alone?”

“Yeah,” Clint says with an awkward shrug. “I’m okay.”

“You don’t look very okay, honey,” she says as she rifles through a bag hanging from the stroller, pulling out a juice-box and handing it to Sophie. “You sure you should be alone?”

“Uh, yeah,” he says, standing up and brushing his jeans down awkwardly. “I just. Someone I - um. My - friend died,” he said. “A while ago. I mean, not my friend. My boyfriend. I dunno. It was years ago. But it doesn’t feel-”

He stops trying to find words, gives up. To her credit, the woman doesn’t flinch at Clint’s use of the word boyfriend, nor at his half-assed attempts to explain.

“He a soldier?” she asks, and Clint nods mutely.

She sighs, nods. “Does he have a grave?”

“No,” Clint says. “He never made it back home.”

“I’m sorry,” the woman says. “I can’t imagine how hard-”

“Can Hawkeye come with us to pay respects?” Ashley interrupts. “He can, right?”

“I think he’s paying his respects here, sweetie,” the woman says.

“We’re going to the Unknown Soldier,” Ashley tells him. “It’s right at the top of the hill. Mom says it’s important to remember everyone who died doing good things, not just the ones we know. So we go to the soldier, and that’s like going to everyone.”

“You lose someone?” Clint asks the woman.

“A brother,” the woman nods with a soft, sad smile, though her words are clear, obviously well- worn and often repeated. “And my husband is still out there. Fighting the good fight.”

Clint can't read the tone with which it’s said; it could be gentle optimism and belief, or it could be faintly bitter. He’s in no headspace to work out which.

“I could walk with you,” he says. “If you don’t mind America’s third favorite hero tagging along. Wow, I mean, third favorite Avenger. That was dumb to say, considering where we are-”

“Come along, third favorite hero,” the woman says. “We’d be glad for the company. We might even have a juice box or two to spare. I’m Jill, by the way, and this is Ashley and Sophie.”

“Clint,” Clint says with an offered hand, and that’s how he makes friends with a woman from Pennsylvania and her two children, walking quietly with them away from the Commandos Memorial and towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He stumbles to a halt on the edge of the Captain America circle, not entirely sure how to leave, feeling weirdly like leaving a dumb hunk of rock with Bucky’s name etched into it is like leaving him behind all over again. Jill suggests that he just say goodbye, but he shakes his head and walks on. He’s not ready for that.

It’s a strange couple of hours. Ashley holds onto his hand, parroting back at him everything she’s learned about Arlington and the soldiers. Jill apologises but Clint doesn’t mind; Ashley doesn’t seem to care one bit that he keeps periodically crying and being unable to talk, just happily carries on talking at him and leaning into his side whenever he seems to hit a really rough moment. She tells him all about her dad and her uncle, solemnly telling him that uncle Brandon died because of an IED. She asks Clint how his boyfriend died, but then immediately decides that Clint doesn’t have to tell her if it makes him sad, instead offering him a Red Vine from the pack stashed in her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.

When they’ve done their time in the cemetery he walks them back to their minivan - ha, he knew it - and waves them off, standing on the sidewalk and feeling a lot calmer than he did that morning. He knows it probably won't last. From his experience grief is like the ocean; it ebbs and flows unstoppably, sometimes the worst of it is all below the surface.

Not at all ready to go back to New York, he checks himself into a hotel not far from the cemetery. He thinks the receptionist recognises him but he doesn’t say anything, just nods when Clint hesitates and then gives his name as James Dunbar.

Despite the place being really quite nice - and his suspicions that he’s been upgraded to a better room for free, he lasts about half a minute inside. It seems too close and heavy and sitting still becomes some sort of impossible task, even though he really wants to just curl up in a ball in the middle of the king sized bed and sleep forever.

He walks. He leaves the hotel and walks, aimlessly drifting around Washington and covering a distance that he probably hasn't since wandering around Normandy. The world around him doesn't notice him or his ineffectual attempt to feel better; it just carries on as normal which seems grossly unfair to Clint.

He manages a few hours, and then obviously he’s an idiot and wanders past the White House, which is surrounded by goddamn tourists even though it’s almost dark outside. Because the universe hates him, he obviously gets spotted. Spotted is one word for it; mobbed is another. People take pictures of him, try to talk to him, want autographs, want him to get them Steve or Tony’s autograph, want him to get his bow out of his backpack. It’s six and a half minutes of hell, which escalates into a guy filming him on his phone, loudly asking Clint questions about the Avengers and daring him to shoot an arrow at something. The secret service men positioned outside the building do not like this is the slightest, and Clint has never been more relieved to be given his marching orders.

For lack of any better motivation or ideas, he trudges his way back to the hotel. The moment he steps inside he’s waved over the by receptionist. He goes, feet moving mechanically, as if he’s a robot tuned onto autopilot.

“There’s a call waiting for you, Mister Barton,” the receptionist says, and then winces. “I mean, Mister Dunbar.”

“Well that’s my cover well and truly blown,” Clint sighs, and walks over. The receptionist hands over the phone and he presses it to his ear, waiting.

“Have you any idea how many people in Washington I disturbed calling around and asking for Mister Barnes?”

Tony. Well, it’s better than Steve right now. Clint slumps against the wall to the left of the reception desk, rubbing at his temple. “You thought I’d use the name Barnes? I’m not that dumb.”

“I thought you were going to be sentimental,” Tony says. “Washington? Really?”

“How did you even find me?”

“Traffic cameras in and out of the city,” Tony says without missing a beat. “And then something blowing up on social media about Hawkeye’s secret family?”

Oh man. That poor family. Clint groans. “A six-year-old made friends with me at Arlington. She said I looked sad, so her Mom invited me to walk with them and have snacks.”

“Well that’s tragic,” Tony says. “Steve wants to come find you. He’s the one who said to search for the name Dunbar. Who’s Dunbar?”

“No-one,” Clint says, too tired to explain. “Tell Steve - oh I don’t know. Kiss him or something. Distract him.”

“I tried that, no dice. He’s worried,” Tony says. “And I’m kind of insulted that you’re choosing to wallow in misery with your new secret family and not us, you know, your team. Have you any idea how soul-crushing Wanda’s sad face is?”

“Oh my god,” Clint says, banging his head against the wall. “Tony. The love of my life just died. Can you just stop?”

“Love of your life?”

“Something like that,” Clint mutters.

“You know part of you just died as well,” Tony says. “Near death experiences aren't all the fun and games I make them out to be. Tell me you’re okay.”

Clint rolls his head against the cool plaster of the wall. “No,” he says. “I’m not. I’m going to stay here for a few days, probably make some questionable life-choices, and then I’ll come home.”

“Anger and isolation, gottit,” Tony says. “You end up in bargaining or depression, you call me.”

“Okay, Tony,” Clint says, too weary to argue. “Give me a couple of days.”

“Gotcha. Stay safe, Bird-Brain.” Tony hangs up without another word.

Clint sighs and absent mindedly thumps his head against the wall again, before eyeing the phone. He glances to the receptionist, who is busy with another call on the other side of the desk, and then he cautiously taps in another number, hoping-

It goes straight to voicemail.

“Dammit, Nat,” he mutters, and hangs up, passing the phone back to the other side of the desk. He can still remember her words of advice about Bucky, telling him not to cling to love in another time. In retrospect, he thinks wearily, she may have had a point.



 

 

He wakes the next morning, still wearing yesterday's clothes, stares at the grey hues of the ceiling. No dreams. No memories. Nothing.

That’s it. Bucky is gone.

He climbs out of bed and leaves the hotel without looking back.

 


 

He heads right back to Arlington, slipping through the gates the moment they’re open. It’s disgustingly warm even at eight am, the humidity weighing down like it’s trying to smother him. He just can’t find it in himself to care about it today; his focus is entirely on the carved letters of the Howling Commandos monument.

It briefly crosses his mind to go to the exhibit in the Smithsonian, but for some reason the idea of reading about Bucky and seeing pictures put up there for public consumption makes him recoil. How many people will pass through those doors today and read all about Captain America’s heroic best friend? And shit - Clint won’t be part of that history; it’s only him and Steve who have any idea of the version that includes Clint.

Bucky’s rifle is in there, he dazedly recalls. His actual medals. A replica of his jacket, the one he was wearing as he fell-

He clambers unsteadily to his feet, deciding that he’s going to go and rob the Smithsonian. Though it’s probably not even technically robbing it if he’s not doing it for personal gain, right? Okay, he’s going to liberate certain objects from the Smithsonian, because what is left of Bucky shouldn’t be locked away behind bulletproof glass, shouldn’t be just left there for people to ogle at and not understand-

“Shit!”

He jumps a mile as he turns to leave and finds there’s a figure standing around ten feet away from him. The shock at least makes him forget his impromptu liberating-Bucky’s-stuff- from-the-Smithsonian plan.

“Fuck me,” he bites out, pressing a hand to his heart. “You scared the crap out of me, bro.”

The figure is wearing jeans, a jacket and a motorcycle helmet. Oddly, Clint’s first thought is ‘oh my god it’s too damn hot to be wearing that shit,’ before he thinks ‘it’s weird to be wearing that shit.’

The figure just stands there silently. Clint can see his own uncertain expression in the reflection of the visor. It grows steadily more uncertain and he takes a step back away from the figure.

“Are you a super-villain?” he asks, trying to take a discreet look around. “Because I’ve had a pretty long couple of days, and I’m not sure I can care about a bad-guy-agenda right now.”

The figure shifts, a hand moving in a jerky, aborted gesture. Clint takes another step back towards his backpack, not even bothering to be inconspicuous. He’s gearing up for a fight when the figure holds out a hand in a placating ‘wait’ gesture and then reaches up for the helmet.

Clint holds his breath, watches the figure slowly unbuckle and pull off the helmet, shaking chin-length brown hair back before looking up uncertainly.

Clint chokes on absolutely nothing.

“Bucky?”

A pained expression flickers across the man’s - Bucky’s - face and then he nods jerkily.

“Yeah,” he says, voice rough like gravel, like it hasn’t been used properly in days. “And you’re Clint Barton.”

“I know who I am,” Clint manages to say, voice several octaves higher than it should be. “But you’re - you died, I watched you fall, how are you here?

He stares at Bucky’s face, so achingly familiar. The stubble on his jaw, the cleft on his chin, the shade of his eyes. He’s not the same though - his hair is longer, untidy and long, brushing his jawline. He’s bigger, stacked with more muscle than Clint can ever remember. And he looks - he looks like he’s been through hell.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says hoarsely. “I kept having memories of you, and they said you were still alive so I had to come and find you.”

“But you died,” Clint says, utterly gobsmacked.He turns around and points at the monument, like it can help. “You died, and I - the other me died-”

“What do you mean the other you?” Bucky asks harshly.

“I - oh man, I - there was an accident, and a copy of me was sent back in time,” Clint says. “He met you, but because he was me I got all of the memories of being back there with you.”

“You’re - you’re a copy? You’re not the Clint Barton I know?” Bucky says, and his expression falls before he quietly speaks again. “You’re not Iowa.”

And Clint’s heart doesn’t so much crack but shear completely in two, right down the middle. Somehow, inexplicably, this is Bucky Barnes in front of him, this Bucky Barnes, and even though it was only a copy of him sent back in time, he’s still the one who felt every second of it.

“Uh,” he says around the sudden lump in his throat. “I kinda am. Not completely. But I am. I remember everything. And I feel - I feel everything. Still.”

Bucky looks at him intently, and he opens his mouth as if to say something but holds back. Instead, he bites his bottom lip and then steps slowly forwards. Clint suddenly becomes aware of just exactly who it is there with him.

“Jesus, I’ve missed you,” he chokes out, pressing a hand to his mouth. “Oh my god.”

Bucky’s expression goes pained. He reaches up and pushes his hair out of his face. “I’m - I’m not the same,” he says. “I’m not the same as I was when we knew each other. I-” He breaks off, looks around. “I can't tell you here,” he says, looking troubled. “There are people on the way to kill you. We need to get out of here.”

“What?”

“I’ve been working for Hydra,” Bucky says, checks over his shoulder again. “Though I don’t think I knew what I was doing. They’ve been messing with my head, my memories. Taking them away from me.”

Clint has to take a step back. He sits down for good measure, right on the edge of the Captain America circle. “Are you actually kidding me?”

Bucky looks over his shoulder again, tense and coiled like he’s ready to bolt at any moment. “We need to go.”

“What do you mean, we need to go?” Clint says. “Oh my god, my old dead boyfriend from the past turns up and says he’s been working for Hydra and that he’s still alive and that Hydra are coming to get me and you’re still alive, and this only happened because of Pietro and that damn Time Stone, oh my god-”

Swift footsteps make him look up and then Bucky is right there, on his knees in the gravel, right front of Clint. He takes both his hands out of his pockets and reaches out to grab hold of Clint’s head, and Clint does a double take because one arm appears to be made out of metal.

“Your arm,” he says faintly.

Bucky just ignores him. “I don’t know what is going on,” he says urgently, clearly willing Clint to get a grip. “But I know that somehow both me and you have ended up here and now and I remember everything we had, and I’m not letting that go. So please, trust me. Clint. Iowa.”

And Clint chokes on a laugh, and then reaches up with a shaking hand to press Bucky’s palm more firmly to his cheek. “It’s you. It’s really you.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, looking relieved. “Mostly.”

“Do you remember - what do you remember?” Clint asks. Bucky’s words about Hydra taking his memories flit restlessly around in his mind; does he remember everything? Odd scraps? The bare minimum?

Bucky swallows hard. His jaw goes tight and his mouth works, just as it always used to when Bucky was biting his tongue or holding back a curse word or two.

“I remember kissing you in the cellar,” he finally says, sounding like it’s paining him to admit it all. “I remember fooling around outside the old church, being captured, coming to get you, I remember the place with the bath, and the night in Paris and you falling off that tank, I remember Steve walking in on us and being so angry-”

“Steve,” Clint says stupidly. “You remember Steve, too?”

Bucky turns, glancing at the Captain America memorial before nodding tightly.

Oh, wow. Clint doesn’t know if he’s qualified for this. “Uh, I know this is all a lot to take in but...Steve’s alive too. He’s in New York.”

Bucky’s jaw drops. “What?”

“Oh man, you have got some catching up to do,” Clint says.

Bucky nods. “Yeah, and some figuring out to do,” he says grimly. His eyes leave Clint’s and track up around them; they rest on the monument with his name on and he grimaces, shaking his head.

“We should get moving,” he repeats and stands up, holding out a hand to Clint.

Clint braces himself and then takes the hand, throat going tight at the feel of Bucky’s familiar fingers wrapped tightly around his own. “Okay,” he says, and he allows Bucky to pull him to his feet. “Okay, let’s go.”

 


 

 

Clint closes the door to his room once he and Bucky are safely on the inside, taking a moment to screw up his eyes and rest his forehead against the wood. The adrenaline is fading but the shock hasn't gone far, because somehow Bucky isn’t dead, he’s right here with him. Exhaling shakily, he turns around and watches Bucky do a circuit of the room, checking the windows and the bathroom and generally looking mistrustful.

“Are you alright?” Bucky asks as he peers behind the curtain, and then turns around and stops as he looks at Clint's bow, propped up in the corner. He reaches out and gently touch the end of the limb, something strange on his face that could be a smile if it weren’t so vulnerable and sad. He breathes out heavily, back shifting and then moves away to sit on the edge of the bed, grey eyes that look tired and faintly anxious fixed on Clint.

Suddenly, Clint feels like crying again.

He doesn’t; he takes a deep breath and then walks further into the room, leaning back against the table that has the TV on, hands braces behind him and one ankle kicked over the other.

“I’m…” he says, and stops talking. Bucky just watches him, and Clint fights the urge to just lunge at him and cling on for dear life. He didn’t need Bucky to tell him that he wasn’t exactly the same; he could tell just by looking at him. He’s had seventy years since you both fell, he tells himself numbly. You’ve had forty-eight hours.

“Iowa?”

He blinks. “I’m. Not very alright. Two days ago I watched you die. I - and you’re…”

Bucky just looks at him carefully and then stands up slowly. He takes a shuffling step closer, and then he reaches out, fingers gently touching Clint’s elbow.

“Oni pytalis' vzyat' vas...”

Clint does a double-take at the Russian. Shit. Bucky didn’t know Russian, he knew Brooklyn and curses in French and German. “Huh?”

“They were,” Bucky says and licks his lips, frowning and trying to order scrambled thoughts. “They kept trying to wipe my memories, to stop me remembering you. And then I found out they were coming after you. So I...objected.”

“Objected?”

“They’ll be looking for me too,” Bucky says, more to himself than Clint. His fingers move, closing more fully around Clint’s elbow. “Ty real'nyy.”

Again, the flawless Russian accent jars against his senses. “What?”

“You’re real,” Bucky says, voice a hushed whisper. It might be the right language, but it still doesn't sound completely like Bucky. His speech has none of the lazy Brooklyn drawl; it’s much more precise and controlled. Come to think of it - his movements also have that deliberate edge to them. It’s nowhere near as much as an incongruence as the suddenly speaking Russian, but it’s enough.  

Bucky swallows hard. “I’ve been dreaming about you for weeks and-”

Clint’s hand moves without his brain’s permission. He reaches blindly up, his fingers fisting in the shoulder of the jacket that Bucky is wearing. Bucky inhales sharply, a frown creasing between his eyebrows but his other hand comes up to hold onto Clint too, metal fingers on his bicep.

“I know,” Clint says, his whole body trembling. “I-”

And he doesn't know who moves first but suddenly they’re hugging; Bucky’s arms tight around Clint’s back and Clint’s arms around his neck. The strength in Bucky’s arms is staggering, more along the lines of Steve than the Bucky that Clint remembers, but he doesn't feel the least bit threatened. He just screws his eyes up and hangs on for dear life, turning his head to press his nose into tangled brown hair.

“I thought I’d lost you forever,” he manages to say. He can barely process what’s happening, that he’s got Bucky here in his arms in real time, not just the memory of it. Fuck, he needs - he needs to get Bucky back to Steve, he needs to get back to the rest of the team and warn them that Hydra is up to no good, he needs to check on Pietro. His brain knows all of this, but it takes a prompt back seat to the fact that he needs to hold onto Bucky for the next hour or ten, just to make sure.

“No,” Bucky replies simply, and shifts like he’s trying to press closer. “I found you. I had to find you.”

“Yeah,” Clint says shakily. “Just. Wow.”

Bucky’s real hand lifts up, rests against the back of Clint’s head, holds him close. “We need to go,” he says, voice a quiet rumble that Clint feels as well as hears. “We need to be somewhere safe.”

Clint nods. “New York. Steve,” he says. “The Tower is the safest place.”

“Who else is there?” Bucky asks.

“The team. The Avengers. Uh, think Commandos but more dysfunctional and more superpowered?”

“The Commandos,” Bucky repeats and then he’s gently pulling back, hands sliding down Clint’s arms like he can't bear not to touch. “Da. Okay. I’ll go get the bike. Find you a helmet. Meet me around the back in thirty minutes.”

“You gottit,” Clint says, and lets go of Bucky’s arms. Bucky just stands there for a moment like he doesn't know what to do next, and then to Clint’s surprise a dull pink flush works it’s way across his cheeks and he looks away, down at the floor. He mutters something in Russian and then he’s gone, the door closing behind him with a soft unobtrusive click.

Clint stares at the closed door and then out of nowhere he starts to laugh. He shoves his knuckles into his mouth to try and stop the sound but he can't.

“Oh my god,” he chokes out and collapses back onto the bed, knocking pillows to the floor. “My life is-”

He doesn’t have the adjective for it. He gives up, throws an arm up over his eyes and tries to work out if the feeling in his chest is more laughter waiting to hysterically fight it’s way free, or tears.

It ends up being both.

 


 

“Come on, come on,” Clint mutters to himself, casting a wary glance at the receptionist as he taps a number into the phone, hopping from foot to foot because his body has decided that standing still is for suckers. He brings the phone up to his ear and curses as once again it goes straight to voicemail.

“Shit,” he says again for emphasis, and waits for the beep, trying to shuffle even further away from any ears at the desk, even though the cord for the phone is pulled taut anyway, all the spirals stretched out of shape.

Beep.

“Nat, I need help,” he says without preamble.“Okay, I know you told me not to fall in love with Barnes but I kinda did, but that’s not important because apparently he’s still alive and he’s found me and he’s been working for Hydra and he says Hydra are after for me for some reason and I kind of need you to get back here now. Please. Thanks. It’s Clint by the way.”

He hangs up, taps the receiver against his head with more force than strictly necessary, then jumps a mile as he hears his name.

“Mister Barton? Are you okay?”

It’s the receptionist, looking at him curiously. Shit. He was planning on calling Steve and giving him a heads up, but he can't now, not with someone's attention on him.

“Yeah, fine,” Clint says. “I’m fine. It’s fine.”

He winces at himself because he’s pretty sure using the word fine three times in under three seconds does not make himself sound fine at all. Trying to brush it off, he trades the phone for his receipt and then gets the hell out of there before the receptionist can ask him if he’s okay again.

He finds Bucky, as promised, at the rear of the hotel, standing next to a Harley Davidson motorcycle. He wordlessly passes Clint a helmet and then frowns.

“Where’s your bow?”

“In my bag,” Clint says. “It’s compact. You didn’t steal this from a Hell’s Angel, did you?”

Bucky frowns at him some more. “A what?”

“A Hell’s - never mind,” Clint says, as he has a bit of a lightbulb moment clueing him into the fact that Bucky is possibly as out of date with pop-culture references as Steve first was when he woke up. He steps forwards and takes the helmet as Bucky holds it out. “You know where you’re going?”

Bucky climbers onto the bike. “New York,” he says. “Get on.”

Clint obeys without a pause, clambering up onto the back of the bike and pulling the helmet on. He’s ridden behind Steve on a bike before - well, his 1944 Counterpart had - but to his knowledge Bucky hasn’t ever driven a motorcycle. Though, to his knowledge Bucky didn’t know Russian and was also dead, so he can admit maybe his intel is a little out of date.

“Hold on,” Bucky shouts to him as he fires up the bike, and Clint leans forwards to press against Bucky’s back, sliding an arm around his middle. He feels strong fingers briefly squeeze his wrist and then they’re off, the bike roaring away into the DC traffic and towards home.



 

Clint has seen some pretty incredible things in his life, not just inclusive of the past few weeks of Time Travel Fuckery. He’s an Avenger: crazy was set as the default standard way before he tangled with the fabric of reality.

But still, seeing all of the color drain from Steve Rogers’ face in point two of a second is pretty damn impressive.

“Bucky?”

Steve - and the rest of the team that are present- all stand frozen in place, dotted around the communal area where they’d been when Clint and Bucky had made their unintentionally dramatic entrance. Steve looks like he’s either been refrozen or turned to marble like his Arlington memorial counterpart; Tony’s mouth is literally hanging open and seems to be in the process of going through a full brain reboot; Wanda has her hands clapped across the lower half of her face, her eyes huge above her fingertips; Sam has a coffee suspended in front of his face, utterly forgotten.

“Oh my god,” Tony says. “Barton, what did you do?”

“Uh,” Clint says, scratching the back of the head. Maybe just waltzing out of the elevator without so much as a warning wasn't his best idea. Too late now. “Uh, I found Bucky. He’s alive?”

Steve makes a funny noise like he’s being strangled. “Is this the Time Stone screwing with me?” he demands, taking a step towards Bucky and Clint. “Is this real? Wanda, is this real?”

Wanda blinks and then holds up her hands. Her fingers curl and her eyelids flutter in concentration, brow furrowing, and then she slowly opens her eyes, nods and promptly claps her hands back over her mouth.

“Barton, what did you do!?” Tony repeats, gesturing to Bucky. “He’s supposed to be dead!”

“Bucky,” Steve says blankly, utterly ignoring Tony. “Bucky, how?

“Yeah, Thor said you couldn’t change anything,” Tony says to Clint, sounding altogether too much like he’s accusing him of being at fault in this whole mess.

Clint rears back indignantly. “I didn’t!”

“Then how come there’s a Bucky Barnes glaring at me!?”

“Maybe because you won’t shut up,” Steve bursts out, still paler than Clint has ever seen him and looking very close to losing his temper big time. “Let him talk, for Christ’s sake, Tony!”

Tony mines zipping his lips shut and pocketing the key.

Bucky shifts from foot to foot. He glances to Clint who nods, and with that sign of permission or reassurance, he starts to talk. “Falling from the train didn’t kill me,” he says quietly, slowly. Steve’s breath hitches as Bucky speaks, but he doesn’t interrupt. “Hydra found me. They...they made me into this. I - I didn’t remember any of it until Iowa -”

“You know how we got the new memories?” Clint says to Steve, jumping in as Bucky seems to tail off. “So did Bucky. Hydra have been wiping his memories, but I was making new ones too quick for them to keep up with.”

“Hydra?” Sam says, and finally puts his coffee down. His wearing his patented ‘I do not deserve this’ expression, which often comes out when he’s forced to deal with whatever mess Steve has dragged him into. Normally it’s when battling aliens or dealing with press, not an amnesiac best-friend reappearing from the forties with no warning.

“Oh yeah, they’re also trying to kill me,” Clint says.

“Whoa, whoa, what?

“Buck,” Steve says again, urgent. Apparently even the news that Hydra are trying to murder Clint won’t derail him from Bucky right now, not that Clint can blame him. “Do you remember me?”

Bucky nods jerkily. “Yeah,” he says quietly. “Steve. You were my best friend. Captain America. You called me a jerk a lot, and you used to threaten to court-martial us every ten minutes.” He pauses. “You used look happier.”

Steve is across the room in three strides; he pulls Bucky into a rough hug, eyes screwed shut. Clint steps back as Bucky grabs hold of Steve with just as much force, the pair of them nearly pitching over.

“I don’t believe it,” Wanda says weakly, and Clint starts to laugh tiredly, walking over and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She reaches up to rub her hand along his forearm, trying to comfort him even though her hand is shaking.

“He’s been alive this whole time?” Tony asks, looking both stunned and excited. Clint can practically see the cogs turning, his brain working overtime to try and figure out the science behind it.  “And he still looks younger than me, how is that fair?”

“Where have you been?” Steve asks as he draws back from Bucky, hands skittering over his shoulders. “Oh my god, Buck.”

“You might not want to start asking questions,” Bucky says, lowering his gaze. His hair swings in front of his face. “You won’t like the answers.”

The room goes silent again. Sam and Tony exchange an uneasy look, and Clint braces himself as Steve’s expression goes troubled.

“Buck?”

Bucky shakes his head. He’s back to looking miserable, utterly dejected. Letting go of Wanda, Clint takes a step up behind him and touches his elbow, trying to be the reassuring one.

“Tell them,” he says. “They’re friends. You’re safe here.”

Bucky nods jerkily. “I’ve been working for Hydra,” he says, eyes still trained on the floor. “They wiped my memories so I didn’t remember anything but my skills, and kept me cryogenically frozen when they didn't need me for missions. They called me the Winter Soldier.”

Well, fucksticks. Clint wasn’t expecting that. He feels his jaw drop open, his brain momentarily flatlining.

“Holy shit.”

“No,” Tony says immediately. “The Winter Soldier is a ghost story.”

“The Winter Soldier?” Steve repeats. He isn’t currently shitting a brick so Clint can safely assume that Steve has never heard of the Winter Soldier.  “What does that mean?”

“The Winter Soldier is a rumor, a legend,” Clint finds himself saying blankly, because he thinks he’s gone into a slight state of shock that his back-from-the-dead-boyfriend is claiming to be the most skilled assassin ever to walk the surface of the planet. This constant upheaval of his universe cannot be good for his heart. All it’s gonna take is Sam sending him one more jump-scare via email and the thing will give out. “An assassin. The assassin.”

“There is no evidence,” Tony is saying, adamant.

“That’s because I was good at my job,” Bucky says humorlessly. “I didn’t know. I just...I just did what I was told.”

“So you’re saying…” Sam breaks in. For some reason, he looks like the only one who is managing to keep his head on straight. “You have spent the last what, seventy years, being brainwashed by Hydra into doing their dirty work?”

Bucky nods dully. “You could say that.”

“Well this complicates things,” Tony says. “Uh, I’m not sure what the Winter Soldier would need to do to qualify for witness protection. And I don’t think Hydra are going to look too kindly on informants.”

“Well, who are they going to send after him?” Sam points out. “Sounds like the only thing capable of taking him out is him.

“Well, he’s here now,” Wanda says unexpectedly. “He’s safe here. He is no longer with Hydra, we can protect him from Hydra. If no-one else knows who he is, no-one will come looking for a ghost-story, surely?”

“But,” Bucky breaks in. His metal fingers twitch and flex. “I’m not exactly the person you all think I am, or the one you remember.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Steve says fiercely. “You’re here. And that’s that.”

“Yeah, let's keep the cyborg assassin,” Tony says and holds up his hands when Steve turns to look at him. “That was genuine! No sarcasm.”

Steve studies him for a moment and then apparently decides to believe him. He scrubs his hands over the tops of his arms like he’s cold, and then pulls out a chair at the table next to Sam. He indicates the other side and Bucky slowly - and somewhat warily - acquiesces and slides into a seat opposite, next to Wanda. Clint immediately follows and stands behind Bucky and Wanda, a hand braced on the back of both of their chairs.

“How did you get away?” Steve asks Bucky.

“A handler said that the team were going on a mission to kill Hawkeye,” Bucky tells them, eyes lifting up around the table as he explains. “He let slip his real name, and I realized that that was Iowa. I mean, the man I'd been remembering. So I fought my way out and went to find him first.”

Tony whistles through his teeth, coming to stand at the end of the table. “The power of love,” he says. “Well, I assume you two are still in love, or was that just a forties thing?”

“Tony!” Steve interjects in disbelief as Sam winces, one eye shut.

“What?”

“You can't just ask that!”

“Why not? I just want to know if the romance of the ages survived the ages. Stop looking at me like that, you were the one who outed them anyway-”

Bucky twists around in his chair, looking up at Clint in bewilderment.

“Yeah, that's Tony,” Clint says. “You develop a certain amount of Stark tolerance after a while.”

“Stark?”

“Oh yeah. Howard’s his dad.”

Bucky looks from Tony to Clint and then back again, and then around the table at the others. “This is a lot more than I expected,” he admits.

“Well, while you’re acclimatizing,” Tony says. “I’m a billionaire genius, that guy can fly and she’s a witch.”

“I don’t like that word,” Wanda says with a frown. “It makes me sound like something to be scared of.”

“Sweetheart, you are too adorable to be scary,” Tony tells her, and then holds up his hands as she arches an eyebrow at him, just enough. “Did Natasha teach you that? I take it back, you can be as adorable or as scary as you want to be, Elphaba.”

To his credit, Bucky just seems to accept both the team’s support and the madness, and nods. “Okay,” he says, and breathes out, turning an almost rueful look on Clint. “I don’t think today can get any stranger.”

“Jarvis, call Bruce,” Tony says promptly. “I’ll show you stranger, we’ve got stranger-”

“Jarvis, do not call Bruce,” Steve says firmly, and makes to get up from the table. “Leave him alone, Tony. Buck, you wanna come and get cleaned up, you look like you’ve spent days on the road-”

“I want to stay with Iowa.”

Steve starts, eyebrows flying up. Bucky looks from Steve and then back to Clint, slightly defiant and not at all apologetic. Huh, so much for the Bucky who didn’t want to do anything to upset Steve.

“Okay,” Steve says, looking away and reaching up to rub his neck in his usual awkward-Steve style. He seems utterly thrown, perhaps momentarily forgetting about Clint’s part in Bucky’s story. Perhaps underestimating it. “I - yeah, okay.”

“Stevie,” Bucky says, quickly standing up. Steve’s head snaps back around. “I’m here with you,” Bucky says, and it sounds like a promise. “But I am not leaving Clint.”

That seems to pacify Steve. “You want to bring Clint with you?” he says cautiously, and Bucky nods, then seems to look at Clint as an afterthought, hesitant and unsure.

“Yeah, I’m with you,” Clint says. “Food, hot shower, sleep, huh?”

Bucky nods wordlessly, all of a sudden seeming shattered. Clint steps back to allow him space to move, and then places a hand on his shoulder, gently guiding. Bucky goes without complaint, following Steve as they head towards the stairs.

He feels a familiar red tingle tug at the back of his hand as he goes. It's infused with worry and concern, and looks behind to smile weakly at Wanda. ‘I’m okay,’ he mouths at her and she nods, but presses her fingers to her lips, eyes welling up with tears. Clint hesitates but then Sam and Tony are either side of her, sandwiching her in a hug. Tony drops a kiss ontop of her head and gives Clint a thumbs up, shifting her around and wrapping her up fully against his chest as Sam heads towards the coffee machine.

“Clint,” Bucky’s voice says quietly, and Clint turns back as he feels a touch on his wrist. A hand finding his own, threading their fingers together.

His heart promptly doubles in size, slamming against his sternum and making his ribs feel all bent out of shape in the best way ever. “Yeah,” he murmurs, holding tight to Bucky’s hand. “I’m here.”

“Me too,” Bucky replies, and squeezes Clint’s hand tight.

 




The Asset slowly pulls the brush through his damp hair, pulling briefly against the last lingering knots and tangles. He’s clean and fed and warm; he can’t ever remember feeling this comfortable.

Voices beyond the closed door draw his attention again; he can hardly believe that it’s not handlers waiting to debrief him or hand him to the techs to wipe or prepare for cryo. It’s Clint and Steve - his best guy and his best friend, somehow both here and safe and healthy, somehow willing to bring the Winter Soldier into their lives.

He drops the brush, picks up the toothbrush that Steve had given him. Automatically goes through the motions of brushing his teeth, dressing himself in the clothes given to him. They smell like Steve, are worn and comfortable.

Outside, Clint is waiting for him. Steve is not there, and the Asset sends a questioning look Clint’s way.

“He’s...overwhelmed,” Clint says. “Went to take five minutes. Doesn’t like people seeing him cry.”

The Asset nods slowly. “I want to stay with you,” he says. “If that’s possible.”

Clint Francis Barton smiles, heartbroken and happy. The Asset thinks that maybe his mission can be to fix the first one, and try and bring more of the second. Maybe. He’s not sure he’s the sort of person who brings happiness.

“I’m never going to object to you staying with me,” Clint says. “I’ll keep you safe here with me for the rest of forever. But right now I think you should go and find Steve, because he’s missed you as much as I have.”

He nods. “Da,” he says, understanding. Wanting to make things right with Steve. “I’ll go now.”

“Up the stairs, two flights, into the main room,” Clint says. “If Tony waylays you on the way, I apologize in advance.”

The Asset nods, taking the dismissal and leaving to go and find Steve. He doesn’t particularly want to leave Iowa but he knows - he feels - that Steve is just as important, albeit in a different way.

He finds Steve on the couches in the comfortable and luxurious sunken area adjacent to the kitchen. He’s sitting with the black man, the one that Clint calls Sam, the one who Tony Stark said could fly. As he comes close enough to be bathed in the soft gold glow from the lamps - making sure his feet make some noise on his approach - Sam lifts his chin, nods at him and then walks out. The Asset watches him go curiously, wondering how the flight part works.

Steve doesn’t say anything. Just reaches for a bottle of beer that is on the low table in front of him, draining it in several easy swallows. The Asset’s mouth waters; he thinks he can remember the sharp tang of beer. He’s not sure.

“Are you okay?” The Asset asks, and edges forwards again.The smooth floors give way to carpet as he steps down into the sunken area, and it feels utterly decadent beneath his bare feet. He can't resist scrunching his toes up in it, just to feel.

Steve’s smile is watery but genuine. He’s so strong, the Asset thinks. He remembers that strength, has relied on it before. He can do so again. Silently, he walks over and sits on the couch next to Steve, very aware of the space he’s taking up, the way he’s just inserted himself in these people’s lives.

“I’m in shock, I think,” Steve says, and as he blinks a tear falls from his lashes. “The happiest shock of my life. God, I’ve missed you. Missed you so damn much.”

The Asset nods. He feels a lump in his throat, emotion far too close to the surface.

“You were my best friend.”

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve says, laughing even as more tears spill down his face. “I am.”

“Buck,” the Asset says slowly, feeling a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Bucky.”

“That’s you,” Steve says, and wipes at his face with the back of his hand, so happy it’s heartbreaking. Churning guilt and relief all at once. “Unless you prefer James Buchanan.”

More memories stir. A female voice calling him, sharp with reprimand and full of laughter.

“No,” the Asset says. “Bucky works just fine.”

Steve chokes out another laugh. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah it does.”

Silence falls between them, as comfortable as the borrowed clothes. The Asset tests the weight of his name in his mind, mouthing it silently to himself to feel the shape on his lips. It's not exactly right, but it feels okay. Good, even. Bucky Barnes. Hopefully, he can fit that name again.

Well, even if it never goes back perfectly, he thinks he'll wear it regardless.

“What do you want to do now?” Steve asks him. That’s a question that Bucky can’t remember being asked in a long time.

“I want…” he says slowly. “I want to make sure Clint is safe.”

“I’ll walk you back down,” Steve says. “I’m gonna stay on the couch in his lounge, is that okay?”

Bucky thinks about it and nods. That seems preferable; he can be close to Clint and near Steve too, can make sure they aren’t going to slip between his fingers again.

“Da,” he says. “Yes.”

Steve nods, still smiling, and Bucky follows him out of the room and down towards Clint’s rooms. It’s like he’s dreaming. Back here with Clint and Steve and - and free from Hydra, free from his handlers and the life he’d been been living.

Maybe here it’ll be different. Maybe here he can find some sort of peace.

He doesn’t know, but he’s willing to stay and find out.

Chapter Text

Waking up with someone in his bed isn’t something Clint is used to.

Waking up with Bucky Barnes in his bed is something Clint never thought he’d get the chance to get used to again, but here he is. Waking slowly and feeling a body behind him, the strange sensation of Bucky’s left hand resting onto his hip, warm breath on the back of his neck.

Just how they used to sleep, if you gloss over the whole ‘metal arm’ thing.

Last night had been the most surreal experience of his life: he was pretty sure it was only Steve that had gotten him through it without a complete hysterical breakdown. Steve had just been so calm, so collected. Emotional, sure, but able to deal with it without dying from shock. Maybe it's the fact that Steve has been through the whole freezing thing that makes it easier for him to digest the news that Bucky has been alive for the past seventy years. Maybe it's just because he's Steve.

So, with Steve's help, Clint has managed to not completely lose the plot, and is now waking up with Bucky in his bed and it feels like the best day ever and he’s not even had coffee yet.

Well, the best day ever, minus the fact that there’s still the slight issue of Hydra wanting to kill him. Whatever, they can deal with that after breakfast.

He feels Bucky shift underneath him and feel the vibrations of his voice in his chest. Holding up a single finger in a ‘wait’ gesture, Clint rolls over, groping along his nightstand for his hearing aids, slipping them in as he fights back a yawn.

“Try again now I can hear you.”

“Good morning.”

Bucky’s voice is rough with sleep, and Clint smiles to hear it, leaning back into his hold and shivering slightly as Bucky kisses the back of his neck.

“You could tell I was awake?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and doesn’t say anything more. He just heaves out a sigh, absentmindedly rubbing his stubbled jaw along Clint’s shoulder and pulling Clint back into him with his considerable strength.

“You got strong,” Clint says, reaching up to rub his eyes with his fingertips. “Or is it just that arm?”

Bucky lifts his arm away from Clint’s middle and flexes his metal fingers. Slightly awed, Clint reaches out to catch them in his own, pushing against them and watching the metal plates slide over one another as Bucky moves his fingers. Oh man, Tony will be asking to poke and prod at it within a week, Clint would bet the last of his bank balance on it.

“I’m stronger,” Bucky says. “Though my arm is even stronger than the rest of me.”

“As strong as Steve?” Clint asks. “You remember how strong he was, right?”

“You mean, do I remember the time Steve shoulder-barged a tank out of the way, or the time that Steve threw his motorcycle at a Hydra goon because he said the Statue of Liberty was kaput?” Bucky asks. “Yeah, I remember.”

Clint snorts with laughter at the memory. “Well? You that strong?”

Bucky seems to think. “I’ve never had cause to shoulder-barge a tank,” he says thoughtfully. “But I think so.”

Clint rolls over in his arms, shuffling until they’re face to face. Bucky’s hand falls to rest on his hip again, though it only stays a moment before it’s moving, gently sliding up over Clint’s side to his shoulder and back.

“What happened?”

Bucky’s expression shutters. It’s nothing outwardly unfriendly, but somehow he’s gone sort of blank behind his eyes, like he’s thrown up a wall. “I think…” Bucky says, and he blinks and seems to come back to himself. He looks up at Clint with wide-awake eyes, grey and restless. “When we were captured by Zola.”

Realization dawns. Clint abruptly feels a lot less warm and content. “That shit they injected us with.”

Bucky nods. “And some more, after I fell,” he says, mouth twisting in a parody of a smile. It comes across as more of a grimace. “Though the original injections must have done something for me to survive the fall.”

“Then how come the other me didn’t survive too?” Clint asks. “Oh god, you don’t think there’s a brainwashed version of me running around somewhere too, do you?”

Bucky frowns. “Have you dreamt anything since you - since he fell?”

Clint blinks, thinks about it. “No.”

“Well, then if you have no dreams, there’s probably no other you,” Bucky says quietly. “Besides, we don’t know that we were injected with the same things. I think at that stage it was all definitely experimental.”

Clint nods. “No-one else ever came back from medical,” he says. “Maybe you were the one…”

“The trial that worked,” Bucky says, the twist to his mouth returning, sharper and more bitter than before. Clint doesn’t ask him if he’s grateful to be the one that worked; that’s a double-edged sword either way he looks at it. Yeah, Bucky survived and is with him now, but look at the cost.

He reaches up without thinking, slides his hand onto Bucky’s neck, thumb stroking his jaw. Bucky jerks back a little, eyes going surprised, but before Clint can think to apologize, Bucky’s relaxing into the touch, eyes fluttering closed.

“Like I remember,” he says quietly, and Clint’s heart does a strange skipping thing inside his chest.

“Yeah?” Clint asks, voice barely above a whisper.

Bucky nods, licking his lower lip. “Yeah.” A pained frown creases his forehead. “I don’t deserve this.”

“What? No, don’t,” Clint says, dismayed. “Bucky-”

“I’ve done so much bad,” Bucky starts.

“You’ve had so much bad done to you,” Clint replies, maybe a little harsher than he intended. “Bucky, don’t go there. You’re here, just like we planned. Not quite Brooklyn-”

“No top floor apartment,” Bucky says, and his mouth hitches in a sad smile.

“No,” Clint agrees. “But we got the pals across the hall. And I’m going to take you for that drink I said I’d buy you.”

And Bucky’s eyes are bright, too bright, but it doesn’t matter because he’s looking between Clint’s eyes and mouth and leaning in closer and closer. Clint doesn't think he’s in any position to deny Bucky what he wants, doesn't think he wants to deny Bucky what he wants right now, and lets his eyes close as Bucky’s mouth brushes his.

It’s just like he remembers.

Bucky makes a soft, quiet noise but it doesn't sound bad, so Clint just kisses him again, and again. His stomach flips as Bucky shifts closer, catching Clint’s lower lip between his own and not letting him draw back, moving effortlessly from gentle, somewhat uncertain kisses into full blown making out. Clint approves heartily of the change, and votes that this is what the rest of the day is spent doing.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t last for the rest of the day. It’s only a few minutes later when Bucky draws in a shuddering breath and pulls back, eyes screwed tightly shut.

“I remember,” he croaks, and then laughs, pressing his forehead to Clint’s. “I remember you.”

“Good,” Clint says, and rolls onto his back, pulling Bucky with him. He wraps an arm around Bucky’s neck, pressing kisses to the side of his face. “This would be awkward if you didn’t.”

Bucky huffs out another laugh and lifts his head, hair falling around his face. Clint reaches up and threads his fingers into it, pushing it back away from Bucky’s face. “This is new,” he says, letting Bucky’s hair slide between his fingers, fascinated. “It used to be short.”

“Of all the things that are different, you pick on my hair,” Bucky mutters, and then he easily flips them over again. Clint lands on his back with a startled and not-altogether-dignified yelp, legs coming up to wrap around Bucky’s waist. Bucky braces himself with his metal hand next to Clint’s head, eyes bright and intense.

“I’d still be there if it weren’t for you,” he said quietly. “Working for Hydra. Not knowing any better.”

“Don’t,” Clint says, pleading. “I don’t even want to think about it.”

Bucky nods jerkily, and then leans down to kiss him, more gently than Clint was expecting. “Well, if it weren’t for you and the Time Stone,” he murmurs.

Clint reaches up again, sliding his fingers back into Bucky’s hair, already oddly addicted to the sensation. “You know it’s here, right?” he asks. “Tony’s been working on a way to keep its power contained.”

“It’s still in the building?” Bucky asks, alarmed. He leans back, tensing in an obvious reaction to a threat. “Is the containment working?”

“Not entirely convinced,” Clint admits, and pushes at Bucky’s shoulder. “Wanna see it? I’ll show you if you want.”

Bucky nods and climbs up off the bed, hitching up the sweatpants borrowed from Steve and self-consciously tucking his hair behind his ears. He smooths his hand over his stomach, fingers playing with the hem of the shirt like the thin cotton is the softest most wondrous fabric he’s ever touched. Clint decides not to mention it, just leads the way out of the room. The lounge area beyond is empty, a blanket folded neatly over the edge of the couch, so Clint can only assume Steve has woken at his usual ridiculously early time and has gone to do something heroic or healthy, like jogging or planning battle formations or helping old people cross the road. Or maybe he’s just being Steve and is sitting drinking coffee and sketching, or is in the workshop subtly winding up Tony. He doesn’t pause to ask Jarvis, just heads down to Tony’s workshop, Bucky following closely behind.

They’re accosted by Dummy as soon as they enter, who beeps delightedly at their presence, and then beeps even more excitedly as he meets Bucky’s metal arm. Bucky simply lifts his hand up out of the way, and Clint finds himself a little disappointed that Bucky doesn’t seem overly impressed by the bot. Old Bucky would have lost his mind over it; despite his dislike of Howard Stark he’d always been pretty enamored with the gadgets and tech he’d handed over.

“Wow,” Bucky murmurs as his eyes fall onto the Time Stone, gently revolving in its quadruple reinforced glass case. He steps forwards, eyes fixed on it.

“Yeah, I’m going to stay back here,” Clint says as Bucky edges closer. “That thing has caused me enough trouble.”

“I feel like I should be thanking it,” Bucky says absently, and then he jerks back, shaking his head and blinking hard. “Blyad. What-”

“Don’t look at it too long,” Clint says. “It’ll screw with your head. Buck, come on.”

Bucky doesn’t appear to hear him; he’s staring at the stone again. “I can hear Steve,” he says, sounding utterly perplexed. “Steve before. My Ma, and my sister shouting at me and Steve-”

Clint quickly strides forwards and takes hold of Bucky’s metal wrist, trying to tug him away. “Buck, come on.”

Newly-built-like-a-tank Bucky proves impossible to move. Clint puts all his weight into it but can’t even get Bucky’s arm to shift. He has a moment to think ‘uh-oh this looks bad’ and ‘oh man I better call Steve’ and then Bucky’s trance is thankfully broken by the shrill and insistent blaring of the Avengers alarm.

Bucky moves frighteningly quickly; he dives in front of Clint, his right arm going behind him to loop around Clint’s waist, yanking him flush up behind him and holding him tight against his back. His left hand goes up to shield his face.

“What the hell is happening?”

“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s the Avengers alarm,” Clint says, resting a hand on his shoulder and trying to squirm back a little; it kinda feels like his organs are all being squished. “Easy, we’re fine, it’s calling the team together, it just means there’s some ass we have to go and kick somewhere.”

Bucky’s jaw tightens; luckily his grip doesn’t. “Hydra.”

Clint’s stomach twists unhappily at the single bitten out word. “Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Hydra, maybe aliens, maybe robots from the future, maybe a cat stuck up a tree. Come on, let’s go and find out.”

Luckily, Bucky releases him from the protective death-grip and follows him without complaint or argument. The passiveness with which he goes throw Clint for a loop; unless they were actively being given orders by Steve while in the field, Bucky usually didn’t just simply do as he were told without throwing in an opinion or asking a question or ten. Even with the urgency of the alarm, Clint still has time to miss Bucky’s grumbling and bitching, the half-hearted cursing and complaints.

He takes them to the Hub - what he thinks of as the business levels of the tower: the area that houses the jets and weapons lock-ups, and where the rarely used official Avengers meeting room is. He finds Sam digging through the non-lethal ammo box and complaining to anyone that’s listening about ‘the asshole that’s tossing uncharged clips into here, what are you guys thinking, you’re going to get me killed or make me look like an idiot.’

Tony and Steve are in the meeting room; Tony is lounging back in a chair with his feet kicked up on the table and Steve is sitting on the edge of the table fiddling with his comm unit, frowning irritably down at it.

“What’s going on?” Clint asks as he strides in. Bucky follows him closely, still looking askance over his shoulder as Sam continues to talk at no-one about shoddy weapons housekeeping.

Steve looks up, the frown dialing down from irritable to mild. “Stand down,” he says, tossing the comm unit aside and letting it clatter over the tabletop. Tony immediately snatches it up and starts prodding and poking.

Clint looks around, confused. “Stand down from what?”

“I mean stand down because you’re sitting this one out.”

“What?!” Clint asks, offended. “Why? What even is it?”

“Humanoid robots installed with mediocre AI tech that are causing chaos in Colima, I am taking offense to this with every fiber of my being, it’s an insult to AI tech everywhere,” Tony says, glaring at the comm unit. “I am fed up of knock-off scientists trying to rip me off, and Jesus Steve, what the hell frequency did Rumlow try and set you on, he’s fried this thing. See, jackboot thugs should not be allowed to try and play with tech.”

Clint looks at Steve, who shrugs. “Yeah, what he said. About Colima, not about Rumlow.”

“So why can’t we go? Shooting robots sounds fun,” Clint says. “And Mexico’s great.”

“Because you are at risk from Hydra, and we need someone to stay with Pietro,” Steve says firmly. “I’m not discussing it.”

“I’m discussing it!”

There’s movement behind him; Clint turns sideways so Bucky can weigh in to the argument. However, Bucky turns out to be less of an ally than Clint thought he’d be, because he lays his metal hand on Clint’s arm and quietly says. “Steve’s right. You can’t go, you’re at risk right now. You should lie low until we know more.”

“Et tu, Buck?” Clint asks. “Shut up, Tony, I know things. Steve, come on.”

Steve shakes his head, and his eyes flick from Clint to Bucky, clearly carefully choosing his next words. “You’re both staying here.”

Bucky rears back. “What?”

“You’re vulnerable too,” Steve says, lifting his chin unapologetically. “Hydra are after you as well, and I’m not letting anything happen to you now I’ve just got you back. I’ll fight you on this if I have to but I’m not changing my mind.”

Bucky just stares at him. Tony looks at Clint and lifts his eyebrows in a way that Clint is probably supposed to understand, and then he appears to give up on communicating silently, shaking his head at Clint and shifting marginally closer to Steve. Christ, if it’s that important he should sign it.

“You always were a stubborn son of a bitch,” Bucky finally says, and Steve doesn’t bother to hide the smile that takes over his face. It’s an ear to ear grin that Clint hasn’t seen in this lifetime, unabashed and happy.

“Yeah, that’s not changed,” he says. “Stay here and keep an eye on Clint? He’s good at finding trouble.”

“I don’t find trouble, trouble finds me,” Clint says, but Steve utterly ignores him, turning beseeching eyes on Bucky.

“Please?”

“Since when did you ask nicely?” Tony chips in, and Steve elbows him.

“Go and get the jet ready,” he says. “Get Wanda as well, tell her Clint will stay with Pietro. And can you notify Fury? tell him the Team is leaving the country.”

“So the less handsome birdman is staying here?” Sam asks, sticking his head around the door. “Can we go already? Thor’s already halfway there, and you know what he’s going to be like if he kills more robots than us.”

“Just waiting on a teeny tiny affirmative from the Terminator,” Tony says, holding his fingers up a centimeter apart.

“Alright, we’ll stay,” Bucky says slowly. “Though if anything goes south, you let us know and you let us come and help. That’s my terms.”

“I promise,” Steve says, all earnest blue eyes and sincerity. “I’ll keep you updated.”

“You better,” Bucky says, and then without any warning he turns on his heel and walks away. Steve watches him go, his smile dimming somewhat.

“Is he okay?” Tony asks cautiously. “He’s not going all Travis Bickle on us, is he?”

“What?” Steve asks, frowning.

“The crazy veteran from Taxi Driver who loses the plot-”

“He is not crazy!”

“I’d say the jury’s out on that one-”

“How would you be if you’d been through what he has?” Clint interrupts, walking backwards towards the door. “He’s doing better than either of you two head-cases would.”

He turns and slips out of the door, just about hearing Tony’s affronted response of ‘wow, rude,’ and Steve’s perplexed echo of ‘head-cases?’

Bucky hasn’t gone far; in fact, he’s waiting for Clint at the top of the stairs, looking moody and sullen. “I don’t-” he starts, and lets out a frustrated huff of breath. “I’m not used to having to work with other people.”

“You’ll get the hang of it,” Clint says, and winces when it comes out with a slight uncertain lilt. “I mean, well.”

Bucky just sighs, a heavy shift of his shoulders. “I know,” he says. Clint’s glad to hear that he sounds resolute about that, just tired. “I don’t want him to go anywhere without me.”  

Clint nods. “Being left behind sucks.”

“Strategically it’s the best choice,” Bucky says, and then reaches up to press his fingertips against his eyes. “Strategy. I’m sick of thinking in strategy.”

There’s a low rumble from the hangar; the repulsor engines firing up. Bucky doesn’t move a muscle, even as the noise from the hangar increases. It makes Clint feel unbearably sad, because Bucky has been through hell and he shouldn’t have to feel bad ever again, and there’s pretty much nothing Clint can do to make it better-

And suddenly, he’s hit by a single glorious idea, triggered by a memory of Bucky being happy.

“Hey, I’ve got something to show you, if you wanna,” he says. “Um, if you wanna not think for a while. If you wanna relax? Or try and relax.”

Bucky lowers his fingers. “I’m listening.”

Clint reaches for his hand, tugging him along. “Oh, this you gotta see. You’ll love it.”

“How do you know?” Bucky says, but he’s allowing himself to be pulled away from the stairs and along towards the elevator instead. “I’m not the same as I used to be.”

“I’ve got good instincts,” Clint says. “Trust me.”

Bucky shrugs one-shouldered, and Clint smiles.

 


 

 

“That is not.

“It is.”

“No way.”

“It is!”

“It’s huge.”

“I know, it’s ridiculous.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Then you have been missing out,” Clint grins, and with a flourish he gestures to the huge bath that's honestly more of a hot tub which is sunk into the floor of the penthouse bathroom. “The ultimate in bathing experience. Computer controlled temperature, six bubble jets and eight massage swirl jets that can be individually turned on and off, built in sound system and illumatherapy lighting. I’m pretty sure there’s a beer chiller somewhere in it too.”

“Why is this necessary?” Bucky asks, sounding astounded but also taking tentative steps across the tiled floor towards the tub.

“It’s not, that’s the point,” Clint says. “You wanna?”

“Can we?”

Clint shrugs. “Jarvis, are you going to tell Tony that we’re hijacking his bathtub?”

“Not unless he directly asks,” Jarvis replies. “I do not think the knowledge that people routinely, as you put it, highjack his bathtub, is imperative.”

Clint looks up delightedly. “Other people? Routinely? Who is it? I bet it’s Steve, isn’t it?”

“Ask me no questions and I shall tell you no lies,” Jarvis replies.

“That robot is too smart for its own good,” Bucky says, crouching down beside the tub and reaching for the taps. The sound of gushing water fills the space and Clint can’t help but grin. This was a great idea.

“So, you want me to give you some time alone with the tub?” Clint asks, and Bucky looks over his shoulder, eyebrow raised in a clear ‘good god Barton you are thick,’ look. It’s familiar and oddly endearing.

“Strip,” he says simply, and stands up to pull his – Steve’s – shirt up over his head.

Clint grins, hands going for the hem of his own shirt. “Sir, yes Sir.”

“Don’t,” Bucky says, screwing his face up. “You always outranked me anyway.”

“Guess I did,” Clint says. “But I kinda feel like attempting to order around the Winter Soldier would not end well for me.”

Bucky’s hands falter on the drawstring of the borrowed sweatpants. He swallows hard and then makes his fingers move again. “Seeing as it’s you, I’ll let you live,” he says flippantly, and shoves the sweatpants off.

Clint lets out a bark of surprised laughter. “Don’t make that joke around Steve. He wouldn’t take it well.”

“My life, I can joke about it all I like,” Bucky says, standing unashamed and naked with his arms folded across his chest, watching the tub fill. “He’ll have to get used to it.”

“Mhhm,” Clint vaguely agrees, distracted by the muscle of Bucky’s back, the way his shoulders seem to be bigger than they ever were, the gentle curve of skin just above his ass.  He watches as Bucky toes off the tap and then slowly lowers himself into the tub. He kneels down, twisting around and holding a hand out to Clint.

“Get.”

Clint is undressed and into the tub in record time, not missing how Bucky’s mouth quirks at his obvious haste. He lets himself be pulled in, groaning at the glorious sensation of the water and simply letting Bucky put him where he wants him. That turns out to be in front of Bucky, held securely between his thighs and leaning back against his chest. Just like before.

“Remember this?”

“Yeah,” Bucky murmurs, his nose nudging the back of Clint’s ear, and Clint smiles.

The minutes disappear as they stay in the tub, talking in soft voices, occasionally finding the wherewithal to wash themselves or each other. Bucky tells Clint a little about his life as the Winter Soldier; not the gory, blood-spattered side, but the more mundane – if it can be called that – side. The training. The time spent between missions and re-freezing. The people he met along the way, the few faces that were a constant in his fractured life.  

“I’m finding this hard,” Clint admits after Bucky tells him about the training simulation designed to sharpen his knife throwing skills, the way certain agents used it to scare new recruits. The way Agent X put him through his paces and never seemed scared of him.  They’ve ended up sitting face to face; he lowers his eyes away from Bucky’s bright gaze. “You talk about this X guy like he was a friend. But he was part of what they did to you.”

“He is not a friend,” Bucky says, voice hard. “He’s the one who-” he breaks off, takes hold of Clint’s hips, pulling him closer so Clint’s legs hitch up over his thighs.

He stops talking, and Clint gently prompts him. “Buck?”

“I told him about you,” Bucky admits. “I told him I’d been dreaming about you. Described you. And he obviously knew who you were in this year, and he passed on that information.”

“And then they decided to come and kill me,” Clint finishes, and Bucky nods morosely. “Hey, don’t,” he says, reaching up and sliding his fingers into the wet hair either side of Bucky’s head. “You weren’t to know.”

Bucky nods slowly, vacantly.

“Hey, no, no,” Clint says. “Back in the room, Buck. Come on, whatever year you’re thinking in, forget it. You’re here with me.”

Pale eyes shift and blink, and then Bucky’s fingers tighten on Clint’s thighs as he swallows hard. “Yeah,” he says roughly. “Okay, yeah.”

Inwardly, Clint breathes a sigh of relief. Man, it’s just like they had to do with Steve, albeit much more direct. Bucky literally looks like he drifts off into a different time or place.

Just to make sure Bucky’s attention is where it should be, Clint shimmies even further forwards and leans in to kiss him, hands still on either side of Bucky’s head. Bucky accepts the kiss willingly, reaching up to hold onto Clint’s arms. His mouth opens lazily against Clint’s and Clint shudders, tilting Bucky’s head to get him where he wants him. Bucky moves easily, pliantly, just like he did in forty-four and it just about breaks Clint’s heart in the best possible way.

Bucky’s hands move, stroking over Clint’s biceps, slipping around to his back and sliding lower, mapping out every inch of skin as he goes. Clint wonders idly if the metal hand feels things just like the real one and then the thought is promptly gone as Bucky’s hands slide under his ass and he hefts Clint up into his lap. Clint instinctively throws out a hand behind him for balance, splashing water everywhere in the process, but there’s no need; Bucky raises a brow at him, still holding him securely in place with his strength, and Clint laughs and brings the hand back to rest on Bucky’s shoulder. The water sloshes around his waist as he looks down at Bucky’s face, feeling bone deep happiness at the moment he’s found himself in.

“Hey,” he says, and Bucky smiles up at him, beads of water on his eyelashes, slowly tracking leisurely paths down his face. He bites at his lower lip, eyes moving between Clint’s.

“We’re both different to what we were.”

It’s not a question.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees with a small, sad smile.

“I think it’s alright, though,” Bucky says slowly. “I think I’m still…” he hesitates, looks down so Clint can’t see his face. Clint tries to gently lift his chin but Bucky resists for a moment, and then looks back up on his own accord. “I think I’m still pretty gone for you, even now we’re different.”

Clint feels a weird lump in his throat, a strange giddy sensation starting in his stomach and trying to take over his chest. He remembers Bucky saying that before, back when they were crammed into a too-small bathtub in a hotel somewhere in the Alps, back when they were still secret, back when that part of Clint had given up on ever being back in the future.

“I think I’m really pretty gone for you too,” Clint says. “You with all your different parts. I mean, you’ve still got loads of the parts that I loved. Shit, tenses. I mean, I did love them and I still love them now. Yeah. And I love those parts and I think I’ll love the different parts in a while. Not right now. But that's not a bad thing! I don't mean I don't love you now. Aw, I'm so bad at this. I just mean I don't know the new parts of you yet. But I'll love them  when I get to know them.”

And this time around, if the wet on Bucky’s eyelashes isn’t bathwater then Clint doesn’t mention it; frankly he's just amazed that it appears he managed to make a point of value somewhere within his babbling. Bucky just stays perfectly still for a moment that's measured in strange skipping heartbeats, and then he’s tipping them both back, sloshing water everywhere as he lowers Clint down onto his back with the water up to his chest and the gentle slope of the tub against his spine. Bucky moves to lie over him, cradled between Clint's legs and held tightly in strong arms, kissing him like his life depends on it-

“Whoa, whoa,” Clint gasps, and Bucky pulls back, uncertain.

“Sorry-”

“No, not you,” Clint says, squirming. “There’s a bubble jet right up my ass.”

Bucky’s expression goes startled and then he’s laughing, laughing bright and untroubled and pulling Clint away from the offending jet before kissing him again. Clint laughs too, wrapping wet arms around Bucky’s neck and letting himself be kissed, letting Bucky pull him back into his lap, letting himself be unapologetically in love with this new and different version of Bucky that’s ended up in his arms.

 


 

For all that he’s been through, and for how tense he was when he first arrived, Bucky falls asleep remarkably easily and quickly. After an hour or two of getting to re-know each other in different, decidedly more physical ways, they managed to get out of the tub and back down into Clint’s rooms, and then bam. Bucky was lights out the moment his head hit the pillow, still faintly damp and smelling of aromatherapy oil.

Smiling faintly, Clint lets him sleep, tugging on his own boxers and making his way down to the kitchen to find coffee and food. It’s unnervingly quiet and clean without the others there, even though they’ve only been gone for a few hours. It still stings that he’s not been allowed to go with them, but he guesses he understands why-

“You didn’t even tell me you were back!”

There’s a blue blur and then standing right in front of him – and blocking his way to the goddamn coffee maker – is a very stroppy looking Pietro. He’s a hell of a lot bigger than when Clint last saw him but he still doesn’t look right. Missing a couple of years at most, but a couple of very telling years.

“Jesus Christ, Pietro,” Clint says, hand on his chest. “Knock it off!”

“And you didn’t even tell me you had gone!” Pietro adds, and folds his arms across his chest.  “No-one will tell me anything.”

“It’s because you’re compromised,” Clint says, and makes an indignant noise as Pietro promptly curses at him in Sokovian. “Hey, don’t give me that, I’m compromised too!”

“It is not fair,” Pietro says angrily. “Wanda is treating me like a baby.”

“You were a baby like a week ago,” Clint says. “Give her a break, Pietro.”

“What is happening?” Pietro asks, and this time he sounds genuinely upset. “Why won’t Jarvis let me out onto your floor?”

Thank you, Jarvis, Clint silently thinks and then sighs. “Move out of the way of coffee and I will tell you,” he says. Pietro narrows his eyes but obliges, allowing Clint access to his morning life-support. He even stays quiet as Clint makes his coffee, though is twitching and tapping fingers restlessly against the counter by the time he’s finished.

“Okay,” Clint says, turning to lean back against the counter. “Do you know what happened with the time stone?”

Pietro nods. “It sent a copy of you back in time and you ended up in Steve’s old time and you fucked Steve’s brother.”

Clint resists the urge to smack Pietro upside the head. Mostly because he and Barney used to settle their brotherly disagreements through violence and he’s since been clued in that that’s not exactly healthy or socially acceptable behavior. Also a little because Pietro’s kind of right, even if his phrasing leaves something to be desired.

“Right. Let’s get this straight. One, he’s not Steve’s brother,” he says, just because.

“He’s Steve’s brother like you’re my brother,” Pietro says like he’s actually making a serious and valid point. Clint’s jaw drops for a moment, and he gets ready to tell Pietro that they certainly aren’t anything resembling brothers, but he finds he can’t. He sighs wearily, rubbing at his eyes.

“I hate you,” he tells him instead.

“I hate you,” Pietro replies, and swipes his coffee. Clint looks at the ceiling and counts to ten, then turns and makes himself another drink.

“Okay. So you’re wrong in that he’s not Steve’s brother – technically,” he adds as Pietro opens his trap to argue. “And we didn’t just fuck. We-”

“Did you love him?”

Registering the use of tense, Clint pauses. “How much have they told you about what’s happened over the past couple of days?”

“Nothing!” Pietro says emphatically. “They said you left because something had happened with your time travel counterpart and then you came back, but they didn’t even tell me you’d arrived back.”

“Um,” Clint says eloquently. “Well. The thing is, Steve’s brother – Bucky – he’s here. He came back with me.”

Pietro just stares at him. Clint can only imagine the speed at which the cogs in his brain are turning right now, trying to work out how and why and what the fuck.

“I may be compromised but they should have told me that,” he finally says, and Clint starts to laugh.

“Yeah, they should have,” he says, relieved that Pietro has no compunctions about believing him. “Have you heard anything from the others?”

“They are fine,” Pietro says. “Well, they were fine when I last spoke to Wanda. I should go. I could be there in twenty minutes.”

“Okay, you go and explain to Cap why you’re not doing what you’ve been told,” Clint says, and Pietro scowls.

“Fine. I shall stay this time. I’m going to go and play Battlefield,” he says. “Do you want to come and be beaten?”

“Ass,” Clint says. “No, I’m going to check on Bucky.”

Pietro doesn’t argue, which is odd. He shifts from foot to foot, sips at his stolen coffee. “Can I meet him?”

“Later,” Clint says. “He’s sleeping, and he needs the rest.”

“Ick,” Pietro says decidedly, pulling a face. “You are all in love and gross.”

“You’re gross all the time,” Clint says, heading towards the stairwell, grinning to himself as he hears Pietro’s predictable shout of some Sokovian insult at his retreating back.  It’s good to be home, he decides. He might just have to casually forget about the huge part of him that wanted to stay back in the 1940’s, because if he thinks about that he’ll feel guilty and then Tony will notice – or hell, even Steve now that they’re best bros – and then there’ll be talking about it. Ugh. Or at least acknowledgment of it by not talking about it, which won’t be as bad but will still suck.

And he supposes it does kinda help that the main thing that had him wanting to stay in the forties has ended up here with him.

He heads straight up to find that thing, and smiles as he finds that thing still sprawled across the bed fast asleep. Clint ambles in and flops down onto the bed next to him, and breathes out a deep contended sigh as Bucky grunts sleepily and edges towards him, looping an arm around his waist and pulling him close. It would be romantic apart from the fact he literally drags him across the mattress, ignoring Clint’s friction-burn-related yelp and burying his face in the back of Clint’s neck, beard scratching at his skin.

“Gonna take a while to get used to you being so strong,” he says, but all he gets is a muffled grunt in return. It makes him smile; apparently Bucky’s unwillingness to wake up has transcended seventy years of fuckery.

He manages to extricate himself from Bucky’s grip and sits up against the headboard. Bucky ends up sprawled across his lap like a large disgruntled cat; Clint scratches his nails lightly against Bucky’s scalp and grins at the way Bucky shivers and makes a low sound deep in his throat. He carries on petting with one hand, idling flicking through his phone with the other. He reads an email from Tony full of preliminary bow specs, looks at one from Sam which is a video of a girl resting on her elbows and shooting a bow above her head using her feet, her back a ridiculous and impressive curve. The subject line reads, you wish, Hawkguy. In his texts are three from Steve asking if Bucky is okay, and one from Sam asking him to please reply to Steve because he’s fretting and Tony is looking like he’ll pitch him out the back of the jet if he doesn’t stop. 

He snaps a quick picture of Bucky, tags it ‘sleeping like a baby’ and sends it to Steve, and gets a thumbs up emoji as a reply three seconds later. It’s swiftly followed by a message saying ‘make sure he eats something,’ to which he replies ‘yes Mom.’

He doesn’t obey instantly though. He first Googles ‘real bird in goggles’ and sends the first image search result to Sam with the subject line ‘found your mom.’ He emails Tony back with a ‘folding mechanism all looks great but where is the string gonna go when it’s in compact mode?’ He also haltingly types in PTSD to the Google search bar, but chickens out at the results page and exits, tossing his phone aside.

“Buck, I’m gonna go make lunch,” he says, gently tugging at Bucky’s ear. Bucky makes a sound of protest and bats Clint’s hand away, rolling over and looking at him blearily. “Sleep,” Clint says fondly. “I’m gonna make us some food.”

Bucky reaches up to rub at the corner of his eye and then nods, shifting off Clint and flopping down onto the pillow, eyes already closed again. Clint reaches out to gently touch his shoulder, an affirmation that he’s still there, a reassurance for himself before he leaves.

Stomach growling, he sets about making sandwiches. Quick and easy to carry upstairs to eat in bed. He’s just about finished and debating how many pickles would be considered too many by a normal person when his phone rings, buzzing loudly against the countertop.

It’s an unknown number, and he eyes it warily for a moment before picking up. “Hello?”

“Clint, hey. It's Brock.”

Clint blinks in surprise. “Brock Rumlow?”

The person naming themselves Brock laughs, a rough amused sound. “Yeah, how many Brocks do you know?”

Well, that’s a fair argument, Clint thinks. And it sounds like Rumlow anyway. “How did you get my number?”

“That night we went drinking. You gave me your number and said it was a hotline for kicking ass but not booty calls.”

“Oh man, did I say that?”

“Yeah. And I think you should take note of how respectful of that boundary I’ve been.”

Clint can’t help but laugh. “Alright, alright. What do you want?” he asks, tone warm and friendly.

“Had a message from Stark complaining about our frequencies messing with his precious Avengers comms. I’ve brought Steve his replacement over.”

Clint recalled the frowning and complaints over the comm unit before Steve and Tony left on the mission and nods. “Alright yeah. You can just leave it with security, I’ll let Steve know where it is.”

“No can do, it’s got a SHIELD to Avengers delivery mark on it,” Brock says. “Need a fingerprint, pal.”

Clint groans. “That stamp was meant to be for classified and dangerous shit, you guys are abusing the system.”

“Hey, I didn’t package the thing,” Brock says. “I just got delivery duty because I pissed off some boss man in an office. Come on, let me up. You can fingerprint this thing and maybe even make me a cup of coffee too.”

“I think drunk me told you that this is not a booty call line.”

“It’s coffee. A catch up between pals.”

Clint hesitates, thinks of Bucky sleeping a few floors away. But it’s just Rumlow; Steve has brought him into the tower before, either when passing from work to going out, or in for a beer or two. And anyway, Clint likes Rumlow, odd insistence on flirting aside.

“Alright,” Clint says. “I’ll tell security to let you up.”

“Sure,” Brock says, and the line goes dead.

Clint spares a few minutes to go back to his floor and pull on a pair of jeans and a clean tee. Bucky doesn’t even stir as he goes in and out. By the time get he gets back down to the communal floor, Brock is already there, standing in the lowered section of the room next to the coffee table, a package tucked under his arm.

“Hey,” Clint calls, stepping over. “Long time no see.”

Rumlow’s face breaks into a smile as he sees Clint. “That’s on you. I can’t just go calling up an Avenger can I? I’m a lowly STRIKE agent.”

“Yeah I suppose,” Clint says. “I am the nation's favorite hero after all. You should have called my PA. Or my PA’s PA. They’d have hooked you up.”

“I’m sure they would have,” Rumlow says, warm and amused. He takes the package from under his arm and holds it up. “So, shall we deal with business?”

Ignoring the protests of his rumbling stomach, Clint nods and walks over. “Yeah, sure.”

Rumlow holds the package out; Clint automatically presses his thumb to the shiny black stamp in the corner to affirm the package is safe in the hands of one of the Avengers. Unfortunately, Rumlow doesn’t have a secure hold on the package and as Clint presses against the corner of the box it tips and goes tumbling out of Brock’s hand and to the floor.

“Oops,” Clint says, and bends down to retrieve it and Rumlow steps back with a gruff laugh. Clint’s fingers barely brush the edge of the box when he suddenly feels Rumlow’s hand clamp around his shoulder and something cold and hard press into the back of his head.

“Yeah, you know what that is,” Rumlow’s voice says, still easy and conversational even though things have abruptly and inexplicably just turned very bad indeed. “Straighten up. Hands over your head.”

Oh, shit.

“Is that a gun or are you just really pleased to see me?” Clint asks, and slowly holds his hands above his head as he straightens up.

“Shut the fuck up,” Rumlow says. “Where is he?”

Clint breathes in and out, careful and controlled. His heart is starting to race, fluttering with anxiety inside his ribcage. “Who?”

“The Asset,” Rumlow says, and Clint’s stomach drops. “We know he’s come looking for you, and all our intel says he made it, safe and sound right into loving arms.” He presses the gun harder into the back of Clint’s head. “And now, we’d like him back, thanks.”

 


 

 

Bucky wakes slowly, becoming aware of the pillow beneath his cheek, the softness and warmth of friendly blankets. His forehead creases and he burrows into the pillow, not quite willing to leave the sensation just yet.

Yawning, he finally gives in to his brain’s need to be awake, and makes his body move.  He sits up and looks over and feels a sudden jolt of surprise that Clint isn’t there, but before he can go into react mode he remembers something about lunch. Clint saying he was going to make them some food. Relaxing, he gets up and pulls on his borrowed sweatpants and a T-shirt of Clint’s. It clings to him almost like a second skin in places but it’s okay. It smells like Clint and it’s just as comforting as Bucky anticipated it would be.

He heads down only to find the kitchen empty. No Clint, no sandwiches. Bucky pauses, going very still and tense. This is not expected. This is a complication.

Cautiously, he edges further into the room. No signs of anything amiss, but Clint said he would be here and that doesn’t add up-

A note on the fridge, pinned in place by a magnet in the shape of Steve’s shield. His name at the top.

Bucky - Steve’s new comm units were delivered - gone to the lab to sort them out. Clint.

He reads it twice, begins to risk assess, to calculate if this falls under the parameters of normal and expected. He has to stop himself, closing his eyes and shaking his head. He hates thinking like this all the time, thinking in assassin mode. Yeah, he’s still the Winter Soldier but he’s Bucky too, and he’s got to find a balance or it’s going to drive him insane.

Clint was going to make sandwiches and got called away by a delivery. Simple explanation. Easy. He takes a deep breath, pins the note back in place and then walks down to the lab, through the first door, waiting for it to close before he steps through the second-

Everything stops. He freezes, pinned in place by pure fear and adrenaline because in the lab are a bunch of people who are not Steve and his friends. In the center of the room, directly in his line of sight, is Clint. He is strapped into a chair with heavy metal restraints and next to him is a man who is holding a gun to Clint's head.

Not just any man. 

Agent X.

“You go back through that door and I shoot him,” Agent X says to Bucky, casual like they're discussing training. Clint has a piece of tape slapped over his mouth and is bleeding from a cut on his brow and his eyes are desperate and furious. Bucky's instinct is to run over, to lunge for him and pull him free from the restraints but he can't. One of him. Three guns that are too close and strategically spread out so he can't take them all out with one move. Fuck, Agent X knows his fighting style inside out. He knows everything Bucky is capable of and will have counter planned. 

“You’re the double agent,” Bucky replies, and betrayal stings like an actual wound. “SHIELD and Hydra.”

“Well, no-one ever said you were dumb,” Agent X says. “So you can probably work out what’s going on here.”

Bucky’s eyes dart around the room. There are two men with guns standing a distance away but with guns trained on Clint. Back-up guards presumably. To his left is a man who has pulled out a panel from the wall, a few select wires and cables pulled out and fed into the computer like device on the floor. The man is tapping away on it, gnawing at his bottom lip. Just in front of him stands another member of the STRIKE team, armed to the teeth and smirking at Bucky, eyes cold. 

On the other side of the room are men he recognizes. Techs. The techs. His techs. They’re in the final stages of assembling something that is far too familiar, and Bucky’s heart starts to pound sickly as comprehension dawns.

“We’ve about sixty-three minutes before the AI overrides what I’m doing here,” the man on the floor with the computer says.

“Okay,” Agent X says, and then looks straight up at Bucky. “So, turns out that this moron messing with the timestream was screwing with your memories, which is why we couldn’t wipe you. But then Rogers tells me that you two both fell from the train back in the good old days, and my history tells me that’s the time that Hydra picked you up. So, you survived that fall. The other him didn't. So you’re no longer together in the past. Which means we can now wipe you without anything messing it up.”

Bucky is sure he has never felt fear like he’s feeling it now. Maybe clinging to Clint's hand, hundreds of feet above the icy floor of the ravine, smelling blood and metal, feeling them both slipping. He’s petrified, and the feeling only intensifies as Agent X cocks the gun pointed at Clint’s head.

“So you’re going to sit your ass in that chair, or I’m going to put a bullet in your boyfriend’s head,” Agent X says.  “Move.”

Clint makes a strangled noise and shakes his head violently. Agent X presses the gun right against his temple but Clint doesn’t stop thrashing, fighting against restraints at his ankles, waist and wrists.

Agent X looks right at Bucky. “Move.

Bucky can’t let Clint die. He can’t.

He starts moving towards the techs, the chair that’s now being plugged into the computer. Clint is still making muffled screaming sounds but Bucky can’t let him die. That’s all he knows. Through his fear he tries to analyse it; if he refuses Clint will die. He might be able to eliminate all of the targets in the room, but then he’ll be without Clint. Still here with Steve but without Clint. If he gets into the chair, he’ll be wiped and then- well he doesn’t know.

“If I let you do it,” Bucky says, stalling. “You pack me up and take me far away. You don’t touch him.”

“Yeah, but not because you asked. That’s the plan anyway,” Agent X says with a shrug. “See, the geeks over there have got real good with messing with memories. They’re gonna wipe you back to procedural working order, and then wipe Barton too. Get rid of the past couple of hours. He won’t remember this and he’ll just think you walked out on him.”

“Why can’t we just kill him?” one of the agents asks, looking pissed off. He’s got the remnants of wiped away blood under his nose, which looks swollen and red.

“Oh yeah, leave a dead Avenger on the floor for the others to find,” another guy says. “Like that won’t be like kicking up a hornet’s nest right before Insight launches. Idiot.”

Insight, that word again. Bucky is about to ask, to try and get something that he can use, but Agent X gets there first.

“Shut the fuck up about covert ops, moron,” he says to the guy, and then looks back at Bucky. “Get in your chair before I shoot him in the leg. And then he’ll wake up thinking you shot him then left.”

Bucky feels his chest going tight, a horrid constriction around his chest. He goes over his options one last time.

He steps towards the chair.

Ignoring the pained sound Clint makes, he walks all the way to his chair and sinks down into it, head bowed. The techs quickly secure his legs, arms, midriff, chest. The faceplate hovers in front of him, inches away. He knew this was all too good to last. He knew this would all go wrong sooner or later.

He swallows hard, feels the threat of tears hot in the back of his eyes. Makes himself look up to Clint. Meets his eyes and feels his heart break.

I’m sorry, he wants to say. I can’t let you die.

“System live in four minutes, eight seconds,” the tech at the computer says. Bucky looks away from Clint, closes his eyes and waits.

 

Chapter Text

Clint watches in abject horror as Bucky climbs into the chair, quickly restrained by the techs that hover around him, looking for all the world like scared animals dealing with a felled predator. Bucky meets his eyes once, helpless, then looks away, unhappily resigned to what is coming.

"No," Clint tries to scream, the word muffled by the tape Rumlow had slapped roughly over his mouth earlier on. Rumlow just looks at him and huffs out a laugh, shaking his head.

“Don’t worry. You won’t remember any of this,” he says easily, like they’re in some sort of boring debrief that isn’t worth committing to memory. Clint's fingers are shaking as he tugs against the shackles on his wrists; he’s so angry his whole body is shaking. “Hey, knock it off,” Rumlow says. “Don’t leave too many marks. I’ll be the one Rogers comes crying to when he thinks his old pal tied you up and did a number on you.”

The noise Clint lets out is one of inarticulate rage, it’s not even an attempt at words. He wants to tear Rumlow limb from limb, pin him to a target at ninety yards and go to town. He can hardly stand to believe that Rumlow has turned on them like this, that he’s betrayed SHIELD like this. And it’s not just Rumlow that needs a swift taking down; he’d fought those damn aliens alongside Rollins too, and Rollins is standing there looking like he’s having the time of his life.

“Look, he’s upsetting his boyfriend,” Rollins calls out, laughter in his gruff voice. He’s standing like a blockade in front of a baby-faced SHIELD operative who looks barely out of high-school, but has unbelievably managed to use his array of machines and cables to get into the tower’s systems and divert Jarvis’s attention.

Rumlow barks out a laugh and Clint looks up; Bucky is still staring down at his knees but his chin is wobbling and his eyes are full of tears. Rumlow takes the gun away from Clint’s head and walks over, crouching down on his heels in front of Bucky.

Clint jerks against his cuffs. You touch him and I'll put a fucking arrow through your eye socket.

“Hey. Asset,” Rumlow calls. He gets no response despite the command in his tone. “Is this love, huh? You broke seventy years of programming for love?”  

Bucky still doesn’t respond. Rumlow reaches out to flick the tears off his face with a careless finger. Clint's gut goes tight; he renews his mental threats with a vengeance.

“Well, you know this isn’t your guy huh?” Rumlow tells Bucky, voice low but far too easily audible. “Your guy died, back when you took your trip down the mountain. This is a different version. A version who came this close,” Rumlow holds up two fingers an inch apart, “to bending over for me.”

If Clint’s mouth weren’t taped closed, his jaw would have dropped, both at the sheer audacity and the pointed cruelty. Bucky doesn’t move. There’s no response to Rumlow’s taunting, even as the men around the room start to laugh. He might as well be carved from stone.

“Seriously,” Rumlow says. “It would have taken me one night of listening to his moping about you, a sympathetic ear for a bit and then he would have rolled right over. Forgotten about you in seconds.”

It’s not true, Clint thinks desperately, shaking his head. Bucky, that’s not fucking true.

Bucky still doesn’t move. Gives no indication that he’s even heard what Rumlow has said, let alone a reaction to it.

“Two minutes,” says the tech who is stooped over the screen that is wired into the array of machinery surrounding Bucky. Rumlow stands up, shaking his head in disgust as he looks down at Bucky.

“Man, I can’t wait until you’re wiped again. This is pathetic.”

Rollins laughs, Rumlow turns away to go back to Clint, and then the doors to the lab silently slide open and then drift shut again.

Everyone stops and looks to the doors, but nothing else happens. Rumlow looks to the techs who both immediately shake their heads, and then to baby-face over at the computer.

“Is that you?”

“No,” the kid replies, eyes glued to his keyboard. “No, I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?” Rumlow echoes dangerously. “Do better.”

“No, it’s not-” the kid insists, but breaks off as the doors open again and stay open. Clint’s heart leaps as there’s a faint flash of blue, so faint that Clint is pretty sure he’s the only one who notices it, and only then because he’s developed a pathological need to keep an eye out for it.  The blue is there and then it’s gone - then the computer attached to the chair Bucky is in starts beeping.

“What?” one of the techs says, reaching for a cable that is no longer there. “What the hell?”

“What are you fucking around with?” Rumlow demands, voice rising to a near shout. “Get him wiped.

Clint watches, heart pounding madly as a replacement cable is procured and plugged in by now-fumbling fingers. The machine fires up again, and the tech stands there with his hand on the cable, just where it goes into the computer, looking like he’s worried it’s going to vanish again.

“We good?” Rollins asks, shifting from one foot to another and looking very much like he wants to go over and pick up the tech and shake him by the scruff of his neck. Either that, or he’s planning on attempting to wipe Bucky using the butt of his rifle.

“We’re good,” the tech says. “We’re-”

The computer attached to Bucky and the chair starts to beep again. Both techs start looking around wildly, and Clint lets out a hysterical laugh against the tape, his shoulders shaking.

“Shut up,” Rumlow says, and smacks him sharply around the back of the head. Even Bucky looks up this time, frowning confusedly at the machines around him.

“What is going on?” Rollins bellows.

“It’s - we’re missing a piece, look-” the two techs huddle around the back of the chair. Suddenly a lot more alert, Bucky tries to whip his head around to look where they’ve gone. Eyes narrowing, Rumlow watches the techs futilely trying to fix the chair, watches Bucky start to actively pull against the metal cuffs around his wrists, looks down at Clint who is trying desperately to not bust a gut laughing. He succeeds in reigning it in, biting the inside of his own cheek and holding his breath so his shoulders don’t move.

“Get that goddamn chair online,” Rumlow shouts, and marches over to Bucky, pressing the gun to his temple. “Sit. Still.”

Bucky stiffens, shoulders heaving as he breathes, face hidden behind his hair. Clint abruptly finds the urge to laugh killed straight dead, and he starts praying to anyone and anything that’s listening that Pietro gets in and gets Bucky out of the chair before Rumlow loses his shit and starts shooting.

Rumlow marches around the back of the chair, grabbing one of the techs by the bicep and pulling him close so he can mutter something to him; the tech hesitates for a moment and then nods. Rumlow ducks down behind the chair for a few moments and then straightens up; it’s only because Clint is watching him so closely that he notices Rumlow holding something in the hand that isn’t gripping the gun.

“Can you get that chair working?” he shouts back as he leans out the doorway, looking left and right. Clint's heart lurches as he watches Rumlow palm something to the inside of the doorframe, and all he can think is, he knows. Fuck, somehow he knows.

“Yes,” one of the techs shouts back immediately, and Clint’s stomach takes a turn at lurching in the wrong direction because that’s not right, that doesn’t sound right. Even the other tech looks at his counterpart confusedly as if to say, ‘what the hell do you know?’   

Rumlow walks away from the door, back towards Clint. As he reaches him he meets his eyes and the corner of his mouth upticks just enough and he winks, turning on his heel to stand guard at Clint’s side again. Clint starts thrashing in his bonds, renewing his struggle to get free. Rumlow just sighs and waves the gun at him like a reminder but Clint doesn’t care; he’s not going to sit here and let Pietro walk into a trap just like Bucky did-

A sudden and violent burst of electricity explodes from the doorway, snapping and bursting like Tony has just done a number on a power station. There’s a strangled yell and then Pietro thuds to the floor, landing on his shoulder and skidding across the floor, almost all the way across the lab. One of the techs immediately dives across the room to the doorway, presumably to re-arm the device that has knocked Pietro on his ass.

“Got you,” Rumlow barks out a laugh, smug and delighted. “I should have guessed. They left you behind last time, I should have known Rogers wouldn’t take you - get up, Speedy, get up. Uh-uh, not too quick, or I’m gonna shoot Clint here right where it hurts.”

Pietro struggles to his hands and knees, panting and obviously in pain. He looks back towards the doorway and when he spots the tech standing at it, his head drops back down between his shoulders. Clint feels his anger levels rise beyond his fear; apparently Rumlow threatening him and Bucky was not the worst thing the asshole could do today.

“What makes you think that I care about him,” Pietro coughs out, grimacing. Trying to be brave like an asshole - well, not on the same scale as Rumlow but still. What an idiot.

“Oh please, you Avengers all care way too much about each other,” Rumlow says. “And Rogers told me all about you and your replacement father figure. Now get up and sit on that chair, and if you make a break for it I’ll shoot daddy dearest over here in both feet.”

What is with the threatening to shoot me? Clint thinks, utterly dismayed. Oh man, it's not even the fact he's bracing to take a bullet, it's the fact it's working. It's the fact Bucky is sitting still in that fucked up contraption that is gearing up to wipe his memory. It's the fact that Pietro is shakily climbing to his feet and moving to sit in the chair the other side of Rumlow, held in place by only the threat of Clint being hurt. Come on Pietro, Clint wants to scream. You’re stronger than this, don’t fucking worry about me, just go for it. He knows Pietro could unarm every single motherfucker in this room in less than a millisecond, but he keeps looking between the gun next to Clint’s face and the machine that Bucky is sat in, and he isn't moving anywhere.   

“Can we actually get things up and running?” Rollins asks. Bucky has gone back to looking helpless, staring down at the floor. Clint’s throat is starting to tighten up and his heart isn’t helping, lodging itself up between his collarbones. Pietro is clutching the arms of the chair like he’s actually chained in place, and the seconds are ticking by.

“Not without the piece he’s taken,” one of the techs is saying, frustrated. “It’ll take hours to patch, and we didn’t bring many tools-”

Rumlow cocks the gun and points it at Clint, looking over towards Pietro. “Where’s the piece?”

Pietro looks up, defiantly. “Sorry. I speak not good English.”

“Bullshit,” Rumlow snaps. “You tell me where you put whatever you just took out of that machine.”

Pietro doesn’t waver. “No. Not if you are going to use it to hurt him.”

Oh, Pietro, Clint thinks helplessly, feeling like he could cry. Pietro doesn’t know shit about Bucky, but here he is defending him just because he knows he’s important to Clint.

“I’m going to hurt everyone much more than necessary if you don’t tell them where that piece is,” Rumlow says. “I’m not fucking around, kid.”

Pietro shakes his head. “No.”

Clint hears the gunshot and has a fraction of a second to be surprised, before he feels the searing pain in his leg. A muffled scream is wrenched from his throat, his whole body spasming as he tries to twist away from the pain, the cuffs on his wrists digging in cruelly.

“It’s in my room! Up two floors on the stairs and then the second door on the corridor,” Pietro shouts. “No more, leave him alone!”

Clint barely hears him, he’s too busy trying to remember how to breathe. His leg is on fire and he’s trying to gasp but the tape over his mouth is stopping him, and he’s going dizzy, the world in front of him swimming and darkening around the edges. He tries to look towards Bucky but he can’t and jesus if he throws up he’s going to choke-

With a herculean amount of effort, he manages to keep hold of himself and neither puke nor pass out. Breathing heavily through his nose, he tips his head up and looks to Bucky; his stomach jolts as he immediately meets tear-bright grey eyes. Bucky is straining against his restraints, agonised. Clint shakes his head and Bucky shudders, the metal frame around him making an ominous groaning noise. He looks one step away from pulling the whole thing apart.

Clint looks away, distracted as one of Rumlow's Strike agents marches back into the room, holding something in hand which he quickly passes over to the techs. Clint’s heart sinks; all too soon the machine will be back online and then they’ll be even more up shit creek than they already are. On that note - he looks down at his leg to assess the damage. He’s taken one right in the shin, and that’s bad news because even though it’s bleeding pretty sluggishly, there’s probably a hell of a lot of broken and splintered bone.

“We’re good, we’re good,” someone is calling. “Skip preliminaries, and we can be going in three minutes.”

“Rerouting holding, but it’s gonna be tight,” babyface computer guy affirms. “We won’t have time to deal with all three of them.”

"We should just kill them," the broken-nosed thug says again, and Rollins and Rumlow both fix him with respective angry and withering looks.

"Shut up," Rumlow says.

"What's with you and wanting to kill everyone?" the other Strike agent says. "We told you, we can't kill anyone if it'll compromise Insight-"

"Yeah well once Insight is live we won't need to worry about it," broken-nose says defensively. "Just shoot them, boss."

"How about you both shut up about Insight before I shoot you," Rumlow snaps back. "Christ. We're not shooting anyone here. We'll wipe Speedy and take Barton with us. We can do a proper wipe on him when we get back. He’s SHIELD trained already, won’t be hard to condition.”

Rollins snorts sceptically. “Sure, we can’t keep hold of the Asset we’ve got, they’re not gonna go for a second one.”

“Whatever. We take him, the Avengers think he’s ran off with the Asset, or been taken by him. Clean and tidy.”

Oh god, this is actually happening, Clint thinks through his haze of pain. They’re in real trouble - Bucky is going back to Hydra, and by the sounds of it, he might be handed over to Hydra.

Gritting his teeth, he looks up and around. Tries to think of something to get them out of this mess. The Time Stone is still there, though Clint wouldn’t exactly go to it for help. He cranes around to try and spot Dummy, who should be in the lab. Oh christ, what have the bastards done with him? There’s nothing he can reach, nothing he can do, he’s utterly helpless-

“One minute,” the tech says, and Bucky is automatically opening his mouth for a bite-plate, his shoulders going tense and tight and Clint feels like he’s going to throw up all over again, what is going to happen to Bucky, what are they going to do to him that requires a fucking bite-plate-

Out of nowhere, there’s the sound of a distant crash, strong enough to make the instruments in the lab rattle and shake. Everyone in the room looks up, the agents instinctively pointing guns up towards the threat. The noise continues, banging and crashing and the unmistakable sounds of low level destruction.

“Go, Moore and Vargas, go see what the hell is going on,” Rumlow barks, and the two men take off running. “Everyone on alert-”

Even as he says it there’s an almighty crash; the doorway literally blows inwards as a set of armour swoops into the room, then a blur of black topped with shining red hair swings in through the wreckage, taking out Rollins with a taser straight to the neck, then kicking the kid at the computer straight in the face-

Rhodey and Natasha.

Rhodey steps back into the centre of the room, faceplate flipping up and arm raising to show Rumlow the flare of a palm repulsor.

“Now, wanna explain what’s going on here?”

Rumlow recovers quickly, staggering back upright. “You take one step and I’m going to blow his head off,” he pants, and the gun once again finds a home against Clint's temple. “That goes for all of you. Speedy, you stay in that chair. Asset, you stay in yours.”

Guns held aloft, Nat steps away from the groaning form of babyface-computer-kid and steps up next to Rhodey, careful not to come even an inch closer. She looks at Clint, her face not giving away too much, though Clint can see the concern. God, he’s so glad she’s here that he feels tears springing in his eyes.

“Well,” Rhodey says conversationally. “I kinda feel like telling you that if you don’t step away, you’ll end up on the wrong end of some serious firepower.”

Rumlow grins back, laughing breathlessly. “Who’s going to be quicker?”

Behind them, someone stirs. Natasha moves one gun neatly away from the techs and towards Rollins, who is climbing slowly to his feet, gun in hand and furiously angry. He’s got a huge red welt on his neck but it only seems to have made him madder, which is both a shame and frighteningly awe-inducing.

“Hold position,” Rumlow barks at him. Rollins grunts, raising his gun and pointing it straight at Natasha, evidently out for revenge.

“Seems we’re in a bit of a stalemate,” Natasha says, not in the least bit bothered by Rollin’s staring at her like a bull about to charge.

“We’ll work it out,” Rumlow says. “I’ll just keep making holes in your boy here until I get my way.”

Rhodey and Natasha don’t reply. Rumlow seems to take that as a victory; his wolf-like grin returning again. “You got no leverage.”

It’s true, and everyone seems to know it. Behind Rollins, the kid is clutching his bloody nose in one hand and pushing himself up with the other. He’s dazed but he’s conscious, and he’s edging back towards his computer. Both techs are still alive and kicking, standing guard by the screen that is ticking down the seconds towards serious bad news for Bucky.

Team Clint is looking rather worse for wear: Clint knows he’s of no help, immobile and possibly bleeding to death and also possibly going to be known as the Amazing One-Legged Hawkeye if he ever survives this whole ordeal. Bucky is about to lose the memories he's managed to claw back and revert back to being the Winter Soldier. Natasha and Rhodey don’t seem to want to make a move, and Pietro-

Pietro is staring over his own shoulder, not even looking at what is going on in the room. His whole body is tense, almost like he’s about to bolt, but the door is the other way; there’s nothing behind him to run towards except-

It happens so quickly that Clint can’t process it. One minute Pietro is in his chair and the next he isn’t; Clint doesn’t have time to try and see where he’s gone before there’s an explosion of bright gold that roars out of nowhere, sweeping through the room like a hurricane and threatening to knock them all off of their feet. When the air settles back down, everyone is coughing and spluttering, the device on the door has been broken open and is sparking and spitting electricity, and Pietro is nowhere to be seen.

“What the fuck was that?” Rumlow shouts, holding Clint by his shirt and whipping around to try and assess the damage. “What did he do?”

Oh shit, Clint thinks, because the case that held the timestone no longer has the lid on it, and from said case a strange golden light is pouring out of the open top, drifting slowly through the air like a cloud, if a cloud could be alive and aware of its surroundings, that is.

“Shoot it,” Rumlow barks, and Rollins immediately puts three bullets into the cloud, which of course makes no difference.

A tendril of cloud-mist drifts towards Clint and Rumlow, then seems to change its mind and wanders over to the workbench. It expands and engulfs the bench and settles for a few moments, and then as it retracts Clint notices patches of brown appearing on the sleek metal legs of the desk, scratches appearing on the surface. The whole thing seems to be losing its high polish, dulling to a dark grey. It’s only when a hole or two appears that Clint registers the brown patches as rust, and then with an ear splitting shriek of dying metal, it collapses.

“What the hell?” Rhodey says what they’re all thinking, and they watch as another piece of golden light leisurely drifts in a different direction, and then closes around one of the glass screens that serve as display monitors for Tony and Bruce to work on. The glass fades, quickly appearing to be covered in dust and dull patches. Spiderweb cracks appear, and then the whole thing collapses, sending glass shards crashing to the floor.

“What is happening?” one of the techs asks, sounding panicked. “What is that?”

The cloud is spreading; some of it drifts towards the ceiling and is sucked up through the vents. More pours across the floor towards the door. A large tendril moves directly across the room and Clint holds his breath as it passes him; he’d laugh at himself for thinking that he could somehow hide from it like that, but next to him Rumlow does exactly the same. They both exhale when it passes them, drifting around the room like it’s looking for something. Behind them there's the sound of more things decaying and breaking but Clint is more focused on the part of the cloud that seems to have found a target, hovering over one of the techs.

“Get it away,” he shouts, voice high-pitched, trying to move out of the range of the cloud as it sinks down over him. “Someone help me!”

His scream is cut off as he’s fully enveloped. He shudders head to foot and goes very still; through the glittering gold cloud Clint can see Bucky’s horrified expression.

Clint is ready to bet his face looks the same. He feels nausea roil in his stomach as he watches, unable to tear his eyes away; the tech’s skin is slowly wrinkling, his hair thinning and losing its colour. His stocky frame loses weight and goes stooped over and limp, and his eyes go dull and unfocused. He turns his head towards Rollins, reaches out with a liver-spotted hand.

“Help,” he croaks, but then he’s crumpling to the floor. Even Nat can’t hide the repulsion on her face as the tech’s body seems to die and rot away, leaving nothing but a skeleton which slowly cracks and crumbles.

Oh, fuck.

“Move!”

He’s not sure who bellows the single word, but as they do there’s the sound of the groaning and creaking of metal and then a huge chunk of the ceiling collapses inwards, crashing down into the lab. He tries to yell, screwing his eyes shut, and then above the shattering of glass there’s the sounds of gunfire. He feels himself being wrenched forwards, and then he’s being pulled out of his restraints and dragged across the floor.

“Move you bastard, get up,” a voice yells, and of course it’s Rumlow who is dragging him towards the door. There’s another gunshot and the sound of cracking glass. “Get back or I’m gonna shoot him, I swear to god, back off bitch-”

I can’t get up, you shot me in the fucking leg, Clint wants to yell as he gets his good leg under him and tries to push himself up.

“Come on, come on,” Rumlow pants and Clint opens his eyes to see the stairwell in front of them. Rumlow makes an angry noise and then pulls Clint’s arm up over his shoulder, heaving him up and allowing him to limp down the steps. “You’re insurance, kid, those friends of yours come anywhere near me and I’ll put you through a world of pain.”

“I am already in a world of pain!” Clint shouts against the tape, words coming out an unintelligible mess. “And who are you calling kid, I lived through world war fucking two!”

“Shut up,” Rumlow snaps back, looking over his shoulder as they continue to descend. “Keep moving, come on.”

Even with the threat of being aged away into nothingness by the time stone’s latest shenanigans, Clint resists with every fibre of his being. Bucky is still up there, trapped in that chair and unable to get out, and Clint would rather die than lose him for a second time. Even his hearing aids can pick up the noise coming from several floors above; the ruckus as more and more pieces of the building age and collapse. God, Tony probably built this tower to last a thousand years, and the time stone is taking care of it in a matter of minutes.

“STRIKE team withdrawing,” Rumlow is shouting, fingers on his earpiece. “Asset lost. Target two in possession. Prepare for-”

This time, Clint doesn’t even see him coming. Pietro appears from nowhere and hits Rumlow with the force of a truck, slamming him back against the wall. Clint falls and hits the stairs on his back, tumbling down the rest of the flight until he hits the landing below. He manages to groan out a few choice curse words, stars dancing in front of his retinas. His leg is bent underneath him and is absolute agony-

“Clint!”

And Pietro is there, a too-fast flurry of panicked motion that is rolling him over onto his back and pulling him into a sitting position. He looks Clint up and down and then reaches to rip the tape off of his mouth.

“Motherfucking shit fuck I’ve been shot, oh my god - Pietro, where’s Bucky?

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen him,” Pietro says, and looks up as there’s a dull crash from somewhere to their left, behind the wall. “The tower - I did not know the stone would do this, I-”

“You did what you needed to, stop looking like that. We need to contain it,” Clint says through gritted teeth. He looks up to see Rumlow’s motionless form on the steps above them and feels a vindictive stab of satisfaction. “The tower is one thing, but if it gets to the city-”

“Will containing it again stop this spreading?” Pietro asks.

“Maybe,” Clint says, and then clocks the look on Pietro’s face. “Pietro, no!

He’s too late; Pietro is already gone. “I didn’t mean you try and do it now, you fucking idiot!” he bellows pointlessly into empty space. Left alone on the landing, he swallows hard, trying not to panic. Pietro is running headlong into danger and he has no idea where Bucky is, if he even made it out of the initial collapse.

Even though a voice in his head is telling him to get the hell out of the tower, he ignores it. Using the wall and the banister to help, he manages to haul himself to his feet. He looks down the stairs, and then turns to look back up towards the destruction and danger. He blows out a breath, leg shaking uncontrollably below him and stomach feeling utterly hollow.

If you’re gone, I’m going with you, he thinks, and he grits his teeth and starts to climb back up.

Every step is exactly what Rumlow promised: a world of pain. He keeps going though, fighting against the hurt and the terror that has settled deep in his bones. He’s scared, so fucking scared, but it seems strangely remote, distanced from him. He knows full well he feels it but it doesn’t seem to matter. He’s probably going to die if he carries on going, but he’s got to find Bucky. To him, it’s that simple.

He climbs. He passes Rumlow, not even stopping to give him a kick. He needs to keep going. He manages three more stairs, four more. His leg is burning, threatening to give out with even the slightest weight put on it. He carries on, five more steps, six more. Somewhere close there’s another crash, and the stairwell shudders beneath him. He hauls himself up another step, and then suddenly someone grabs him from behind. He cries out in shock and pain and falls forwards onto the stairs, a heavy body pressing him down. He can smell blood, sweat and kevlar, and struggles to get free, but he might as well be fighting against Cap. He can’t move at all.

“Don’t think so,” Rumlow bites out next to his ear, his breath hot on the side of Clint’s face. Clint can barely breathe; the edges of the steps are digging painfully into his hips and his ribs. “You’re with me. We’re cutting our losses here right now, but Hydra won’t lose. We’re ready to set the world to order, and that order has to come through pain. And it looks like that pain is starting with you.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Clint gasps. “Christ, have you ever had to listen to you?”

He almost wishes he hadn’t said it, crying out in pain as Rumlow jams his gun into the back of his head, bashing his face into the stair below. He feels his lip split, blood filling his mouth, dripping down his chin and onto the polished stone steps.

“Maybe you won’t have to for much longer,” Rumlow hisses. “Maybe you’re not worth my-”

Rumlow breaks off with a strangled gasp, and Clint abruptly feels the suffocating weight vanish from his back. He rolls himself over onto his back, coughing and spluttering, and then his heart nearly gives out.

Bucky.

Somehow perfectly in one piece, standing on the step below them, holding Rumlow up by the collar of his tac-vest. Rumlow’s knees are brushing the floor, steel-capped boots scrabbling as they try to find a foothold on the stairs. Rumlow is holding onto Bucky’s metal wrist with both of his own and the gun he had is now held in Bucky’s real hand. Clint feels a wave of relief so strong that he nearly passes out all over again.

“You’re like a goddamn cockroach,” Rumlow croaks out. He laughs and the sound comes out ugly and wet, the sound of broken ribs and bloodied lungs. “Impossible to put you down.”

“What’s Insight?” Bucky demands, ignoring the taunts. “What have me and Clint got to do with it?”

Rumlow sneers at him. “Nothing. We just needed you on stand by to take out any threats while we got Insight working. A good little assassin. And your boyfriend was compromising you. All the talk points to the boss freezing you over for good once Insight goes live. No need for you after that.”

“So Insight is to do with assassinating people?” Bucky asks. “Taking over from me?”

Rumlow laughs again, the sound jarring against Clint’s senses. Rumlow is in the grip of a very pissed off Bucky Barnes - or Winter Soldier, which is possibly even worse for Rumlow - who has just found out that the man in his hands has not only been a traitor to SHIELD, but who had personally betrayed him. Rumlow should be shitting-his-pants terrified right about now - what is it that’s got him so calm?

“Not taking over. Making you defunct,” Rumlow continues. “Helicarriers loaded with enough fire power to assassinate a million people at a time. Who needs you when we’ve got that?”

Bucky cocks the gun and points it at Rumlow’s face. Impossibly, Rumlow doesn’t look slightly bothered. He just laughs again, wincing as he does.

“You can’t,” he says. “You’re conditioned. Programmed. You can’t hurt me, or your handler. Built in safety-”

Bucky shoots him.

Clint lets out a strangled yell, throwing his hands up over his face so he doesn’t end up covered in blood and god knows what else. His right ear is ringing shrilly, his heart is pounding and the building is still quaking beneath him and christ would everyone just stop shooting-

Two sets of fingers gently circle his own. He allows his hands to be pulled away and he opens his eyes to see Bucky right there in front of him, kneeling on the step and looking worried.

“Are you okay? Bucky rasps. “Clint?”

Clint stares stupidly at him, raising a shaking hand to wipe his mouth. His ear is still ringing, and he reaches up to yank out his hearing aid. It helps, a little. “He said you couldn’t shoot him.”

Bucky blinks back. “They just told him that so he wouldn’t be scared I’d hurt him.”

Clint lunges forwards and throws his arms around Bucky’s neck, nearly pitching them back down the stairs. He feels like sobbing, gripping Bucky tight enough to make his bruised and battered body hurt. Bucky holds him just as tightly, his breath rough and uneven on Clint’s ear, his hand shaking as it comes up to cup the back of Clint’s head.

“We gotta get out of here,” Bucky’s voice rumbles through him. Eyes screwed shut, Clint shakes his head, but Bucky is much stronger than he is and pushes him around, scooping him up with unexpected gentleness, one arm under Clint’s knees and the other behind his back. He steps over Rumlow’s body, making his way swiftly down the stairs.

“How, how did you get out?” Clint croaks, shifting in Bucky’s arms, unused to Bucky being able to carry him like this. The last time Bucky’d had him like this, Clint had knocked him flat on his ass.

“The chair? Pulled it apart,” Bucky says like wrenching his way free from reinforced steel restraints was nothing. “I didn’t see where anyone else went.”

Clint kicks out half-heartedly. “I can walk, put me down.”

Bucky doesn’t bother to answer, so Clint just sighs and loops an arm around Bucky’s neck, leaning against him. Luckily, his deaf ear is the one pressing against Bucky’s chest, and for a moment he wonders if Bucky picked him up that way around on purpose, and then decides he’ll care about that later. Bucky carries Clint all the way down the stairs and into the atrium of the building, edging out of the stairwell carefully, looking left and right like he’s still expecting someone to be there shooting-

“Clint!”

Clint makes a funny noise, reaching out with the hand that isn’t clinging onto Bucky as he hears Natasha’s voice. She runs over, grabbing hold of his hand and slipping the other onto his neck, her jaw tight and lips pursed hard. She’s got an ugly bruise coming on the side of her face and a raw graze on her chin. Other than that she seems unharmed.

“Not dead,” Clints says weakly. “Surprise.”

“Shut up,” Natasha and Bucky say as one, and then both rear back, startled.

“Bucky, Nat, Nat, Bucky,” Clint says, waving his hand around in a vague gesture of introduction. “Nat, why are you even here?”

Nat looks around and then takes hold of Bucky’s elbow, pulling him across the polished floor of the atrium. The space appears unscathed; the walls, ceiling and floor are all as they should be, the tall plants standing in niches and behind the security desk are still green and leafy. Bucky obliges and moves, following Nat across the room.

“You called me, remember? Asking for help?” Natasha says, shoving at the no-longer working doors. They slowly give, allowing them enough space to carefully edge through. “Something about Barnes not being dead and Hydra being after you and you being in love and needing me to get back right now it’s Clint by the way?”

Oh yeah. Right. The phone call he made in DC. He’d all but forgotten about that. “But LA?”

“LA is fine, Natasha says. “Lizard-men in special-security and the genetically engineered animals dealt with. We wrapped up, came to rescue you.”

“We need to rescue Pietro,” Clint says, his throat going tight even as he says it. “He ran off to try and put the lid back on the time stone, he-”

He gives up talking as they get out of the building, stepping into the sunlight. It’s chaos. A police cordon has been erected around the building, there are police cars everywhere, cops moving back and forth and shouting to each other. Amongst the white patrol cars are black cars and a black van, the unmarked but unmistakable presence of SHIELD. Several choppers thud dully above them, in the distance more sirens are wailing, and every so often there’s the sound of more of the tower collapsing, debris scattering down around them.

“This way,” Nat says, as a rather large chunk of rusted steel smashes down a few feet away from them. Again Bucky follows her without question, and Clint’s heart leaps as they move out of the danger zone and he spots a familiar figure waiting for them.

“Bruce!” he exclaims as Bucky crouches down and lowers Clint gently to the floor. “You’re here!”

“Of course I am,” Bruce says as he kneels down, looking at Clint’s leg. He glances up to his face. “There’s destruction happening all around and we might be crushed by our home falling on us in the near-future, where else would I rather be?”

He digs into a bag evidently swiped from a paramedic and pulls out a pair of scissors. Bucky wordlessly moves to sit behind Clint, sliding his legs either side of his hips so Clint can lean back against him, which he gratefully does.

“Why are you not the Hulk?” Clint asks Bruce, wincing as he straightens his legs out.

Bruce looks up at the tower. “Well the tower seems to be doing a great job of smashing itself,” he says. “It doesn’t need my help. Now, where are you hurt?” Bruce looks from his face to his leg and back again. “Well, where are you hurt most?”

“My heart,” Clint says. “Rumlow was working for hydra.”

“He’s been shot in the left leg,” Bucky interjects, sounding mildly exasperated. “Midway up his shin.”

Bruce nods and efficiently slices up the leg of Clint’s pants, exposing the bullet wound. “Aw, jeans, no,” Clint mourns, but no-one pays him any attention. He yelps as Nat sticks him with a syringe, but she just raises an eyebrow at him, wiping his arm down.

“Morphine,” she says. “You’ll thank me later.”

“This is nasty, Clint,” Bruce says, grimacing as he peers down at his leg. “You need a hospital. Someone more qualified than me.”

“I’m not leaving until Pietro shows up,” Clint says through gritted teeth as Bruce gently cleans around the wound. Man, it’s like being back in the war all over again, except it’s not Morita patching him up and Bucky and Steve aren’t yelling at him for getting hurt. “He did a hero run back into the tower to try and get the time stone back under control.”

“He’ll be okay, Clint,” Natasha says, and Bucky runs a hand up over Clint’s forehead, nudging the side of his face with his nose. It’s that combined with Nat’s soft voice that makes Clint well up, his chin trembling as he fights back tears. He throws his arm up over his face so no-one can see, breathing shallowly in and out of his mouth.

“So, SHIELD is compromised then,” Natasha says, smoothly if not obviously diverting attention away from Clint and his about-to-break-down state. “The STRIKE team at least.”

“At least,” Bruce says grimly. “These things are rarely isolated. There’s got to be someone further up giving the orders.”

“Yes,” Bucky says flatly. “There was always a man giving orders to the team. I can’t remember his name.”

“Would you know his face if you saw him?” Natasha asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “I suppose I could play whistle blower.” There’s a pause and then Bucky continues. “I – I worked for Hydra. They – they had me doing-”

“It was not your fault,” Clint says loudly, and drops his arm to twist around and glare at Bucky, then at Natasha and Bruce. “He was cryogenically frozen between missions and had his memory wiped each time. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

“I suppose I can relate to that a little,” Natasha says with an almost smile that’s far too bitter. “We’ll work it out.”

Clint is about to carry on but he’s interrupted by the roar of repulsors and a metallic thud as Rhodey lands next to them, unbelievably holding the still-alive tech by the back of his shirt. The man looks terrified, even more so when he spots Bucky.

“I found us a friend willing to talk,” Rhodey says as the faceplate flips up. “How you holding up, Hawkeye?”

“I got shot,” Clint says. “Is he going to tell everyone that it wasn’t Bucky’s fault?”

“Amongst other things,” Rhodey says, and pats the man on the shoulder, making his knees buckle. “Right?”

“I’ll talk,” the man says, trying to walk backwards away from Bucky. “I’ll tell everything I know, just don’t let the Asset near me, please, I was just doing what I was told, oh god-”

He starts to cry; all in all he’s a pitiful sight. Natasha rolls her eyes. “I’ll take him,” she says. “Rhodey, I want you to find out who is leading SHIELD operations here and watch them like a hawk. Call Fury too, let him know he’s got rats, and I’ll hand over our new friend.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Rhodey says.

Natasha turns to the party on the floor. “Bruce, can you look after-”

“Look,” Bucky says suddenly; Clint cranes around to see Bucky’s chin is lifted high, bright eyes fixed on the top of the tower. They all turn to look up, Natasha raising a hand to shield her eyes from the sun. “It’s stopped.”

He’s right. There’s a huge gaping maw in the side of the tower where the labs and the communal floors should be; it looks as if some rust-mouthed mechanical monster had meandered past and taken a huge bite out of it, leaving the floors above precariously balanced. But everything is still and it’s not spreading.

“Has the noise stopped? Can you hear anything breaking?” Clint asks, trying to turn around to angle his good ear towards the building. Bucky stops his wriggling with an arm around his middle, and Clint futilely tries to push against him.

“Lemme go, I want to go see if-”

“Sit still,” Bucky says quietly. “You’re hurt.”

“You sit still,” Clint grumbles, flailing as he continues to try and escape from Bucky’s grip.

“Clint, sit still,” Bucky repeats. “I swear to god-”

He says it under his breath, not at all like the yelling of Bucky Barnes of yesteryear, but it sounds so unlike the new carefully economic with words version of Bucky that Clint was getting used to, that it makes Clint pause in place.

“You sound like you when you cuss,” he says leaning back against Bucky, turning his head to the side on his shoulder so he can see his face. “The old you.”

“I’m not-”

“Yeah, I know.”

Clint smiles weakly and reaches back with a clumsy hand to touch his fingers to the corner of Bucky’s mouth. He’d aimed for his cheek, but he guesses he isn’t too far off. Whatever, he can just blame pain, or the morphine. Bruce clears his throat, a pointed I am still here, but Clint doesn’t really care. He’s only touching Bucky’s face, it’s not like he’s going to start having sex with him in the middle of the street. Hey, that’s a point, he wonders how much it’ll hurt to have sex with a bullet in his shin-

“You two are gross.”

Clint jumps a mile at the sound of not another objection from Bruce, but an oh-so-familiar snotty voice standing on the other side of him. He looks up so quickly his neck clicks, and sure enough-

“Pietro!”

Pietro nods, slowly lowering the time stone and its case to the floor, wincing as he does. The case is perfectly intact, and has the lid securely fixed back onto the top. Inside, the time stone hovers happily, slowly revolving end on end.

“Pietro,” Bruce says in despair, rubbing at his chest. “We’ve talked about this, don’t-”

“Sorry, sorry, I did not think. I did not know you were here,” Pietro says, sounding tired but actually contrite. “I was busy.” He pats the case of the time stone like it’s a well behaved pet. Considering the past few weeks, Clint doesn’t think that’s an altogether unfair comparison.  

“Oh god, you did it,” he says as he watches Pietro lean over and rifle through the paramedics’ bag, digging out a foil blanket. “You actually did it.”

“Yeah,” Pietro says, shaking out the blanket and then wrapping it around the time stone’s case, hiding it from view. “It was not so hard.”

He leaves the case where it is and slowly makes his way around to the other side of Clint, lowering himself down to the ground and letting out a grunt of pain as he lies down on the asphalt, dropping his head onto Clint’s thigh. His eyes are already fluttering shut, a tell-tale adrenaline crash.

“Hey, get off!” Clint says, but Pietro just mumbles, “No,” and makes no effort to move. Clint gives up and just slumps back against Bucky, throwing his hands up in the air.

“The kid did good,” Bucky says quietly.

“Yeah but that doesn’t mean I want his ugly face near me,” Clint says. Pietro frowns and mutters something undoubtedly unflattering back in Sokovian and Clint flicks at his ear, which earns him a half-hearted pinch to his leg.

Clint has given up on making Pietro move and is edging towards sleep himself when Bucky goes tense underneath him. He cracks open an eye to see Bruce standing up, moving to step in front of the time stone’s case.

“What is it?” Bucky asks, before Clint can make his mouth move.

“Rhodey arguing with SHIELD,” Bruce says; Clint turns his head so his good ear is facing him. “They’re pointing this way. I think they want the time stone.”

“No,” Pietro and Clint say at the same time. Pietro makes to push himself up but Clint quietens him back down with a hand on his shoulder.

“Bruce, they can’t have it,” Clint says. “If they’re compromised, they can’t have it.”

He feels Bucky shifting ever so slightly. “You might have to move,” he says into Clint’s good ear. “If you don’t want them taking it, I better-”

“You stay where you are,” Clint says. “Bruce?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Bruce says easily.

Bucky doesn’t look satisfied. “I should-”

“Believe me, I’ve got this,” Bruce says with a quirk to his mouth. Clint grins as Bruce reaches up to take his glasses off and unbutton his shirt.

“Sit back,” Clint says to Bucky, reaching out to take Bruce’s glasses. “And watch something incredible.”

Bucky still looks sceptical. “More incredible than this afternoon?”

Clint reaches back and pats Bucky on the cheek again. “Pal, you have no idea.”

 


 

 

Clint is so tired that he’s all the way back around to awake again, running on adrenaline and caffeine and the serious amount of painkillers the docs in the ER gave him after removing the bullet from his shin. Clint had yelped in a not altogether dignified way as the bullet had come out, and then made a crack to Bucky about getting some more metal back in him later. The doctors had been confused, and Bucky had looked at his hand with a slightly pained expression on his face. “The plates would pinch,” he’d said, flexing his fingers, and Clint had conceded the point rather willingly.

Now, he and Bucky are both back in the safety of his Bed-Stuy apartment. He’s about ready to fall on his face and sleep, but it seems that after the demise of several floors - and quite possibly the integral structure - of Avengers' Tower, Clint’s apartment has become the new official HQ. The team from the horrifying ageing event slash betrayal slash attempted brainwashing at the tower are all present; Clint and Bucky are sprawled on the battered old couch, Nat and Bruce are sitting on the stools by the kitchen counter, Pietro is sitting actually on the counter and Rhodey is slumped back in the armchair, his armour standing guard by the door.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Rhodey says, holding up a hand to pause Clint’s retelling of the whole man-out-of-time fiasco, looking confused. “You met Steve in the past? But that must have meant-”

“Yeah, he started getting all new memories too,” Clint says. “He woke up remembering rescuing me and Bucky.”

“But nothing in the future changed,” Nat says slowly, as if asking for confirmation.

“No,” Clint says. “Well, apart from the fact Bucky broke his Hydra conditioning because of his memories and came to find us.”

“This is…” Rhodey says and then pauses. “I was about to say crazy, but we’ve just finished rounding up a conglomerate of various reptile-human hybrid scientists, so.”

“I think the time stone is crazier,” Pietro muses. “It sent dinosaurs. And aliens from the future.”

“And the fish,” Clint adds. “Tony says that the mutant fish were actually evolutionary variations from the future.”

“And it made me a child,” Pietro says, and Nat’s eyebrows go up faster than Clint has ever seen.

“It did what?

“It shrank Pietro down to about three years old,” Clint says. “He was awful, all snot and screaming and throwing up and jabbering in Sokovian.”

“I think we should be grateful it did shrink him,” Bucky says, speaking up for the first time. “If he hadn’t been little, he’d have gone to Mexico with the others and he wouldn’t have been here to buy us some time. I’d have been wiped before backup arrived.”

Pietro grins, preening. “I saved the day,” he says, and then seesaws his hand. “Until I got caught.”

“Yeah, I guess you did,” Clint says, and Pietro’s smile goes softer around the edges. There’s a faint flash of blue and then he’s sitting on the floor in front of Clint’s legs, leaning back between them - being surprisingly careful not to nudge the wounded leg propped up on the coffee table. Bucky jumps a mile, but manages to not lash out, giving Pietro a mildly reproachful look.

“What’s this all about?” Clint asks, shoving Pietro with his knee. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have time to get an answer and figure it out because there’s a knocking at the apartment door. He barely manages to open his mouth to yell and ask who it is before the door is opening and Wanda, Thor and none other than Erik Selvig are trooping in.

“Wanda!”

Pietro is across the room in the blink of an eye, hugging Wanda tightly. Selvig jumps at his appearance, turning around to jump back again when he comes face to face - or face to chest - with the War Machine armour.

“The stone is gone,” Thor says, hanging his cloak and hammer on the coat rack. “The warriors have escorted it safely back to Asgard.”

“It shouldn’t leave any residual effects here,” Selvig says, side eyeing the armor as he hangs his coat up. “How are you, Clint? I hear you were the anomaly in my data.”

“If that’s what you want to call me,” Clint grins. “Make yourself comfortable if you can. Nat, more coffee?”

Pietro and Wanda sit back up on the counter; there’s a few moments of ‘no, you,’ before Erik takes a chair, leaving Thor to lean back against the wall, arms folded across his chest.

“The others are on their way,” Thor says. “I believe they are still dealing with matters at SHIELD, but then they’ll-”

He doesn’t even finish before the door is opening again, this time without even a knock to preface it. Steve strides in like he owns the place, followed closely by Tony and Sam.

“What happened to my tower?” Tony demands as soon as he’s in the room. “My beautiful tower, have you seen what has happened to my tower? I’m going to stop building homes for us all, all you do is wreck them-”

“No you won’t,” Steve says, walking over and sitting on the arm of the couch next to Bucky. “You’ll bitch for ten minutes more and then you’ll start planning how you can rebuild it to make it better.”

Tony pauses, head cocked contemplatively. “Well, you’re not wrong,” he says, looking around the room. He throws his hands up. “Barton, this is a travesty. You live in a home not even big enough for the team. The team and their various accomplices,” he says, nodding at Selvig. “Good to see you, Erik, I hope now that SHIELD is being dismantled you’ll come work somewhere which has much better resources.”

“If that was a job offer, you need to work on your pitch,” Selvig says dryly. “And sweeten the pot. If this is a day in the life of anyone mixed up with the Avengers, I need more incentives.”

Tony shrugs. “Dental?”

Selvig smiles crookedly. “I’ll think about it.”

Tony concedes, stepping over to Rhodey and perching himself on his knee. Rhodey rolls his eyes but lets him, shifting to get comfortable. 

"Tony, is Jarvis okay?" Clint asks him, hiding a grin at the way Steve is watching Tony. "And did you find Dummy?"

"Yes and yes," Tony says, eyes glued to his phone, thumbs tapping rapidly over the screen. "Back online and assessing the damage, and found hiding in the basement garage. They'll be fine."

“What a day,” Sam says, heading over to sit on the stairs, shoving a pair of Clint’s sneakers out of his way as he does. “Never again. I’m taking a vacation after this one, guys.”

“Afraid a vacation isn’t on the cards,” Steve says heavily. “We’ve still got clean-up to do, starting - no, not with the Tower, Tony, let me talk - starting with SHIELD. The tech that Rhodey snatched from the tower talked. The World Security Council have been called in and the director of SHIELD has been arrested.”

“The director?” Clint asks, stunned. “Like, big boss man director?”

“Yeah,” Steve says. “Which means that the whole of SHIELD is being dismantled from the top down.”

What?

Steve nods, lips pursed. “A few high-ranking Agents have pretty much immediately gone in for a plea bargain. They told us the truth about project Insight.”

“Project Insight,” Tony says, spreading his arms wide like he’s announcing the latest Stark product at the annual expo. “Taking global safety to a new level. Three next-generation helicarriers loaded with enough precision firepower to take out a terrorist before he even raises his rifle.”

“Which I think is a terrible idea even before it’s gotten off the ground,” Steve says hotly. “You can’t just kill people on suspicions and keep the world hostage-”

“Steve, we know, man,” Sam interjects, mouth twisting in an amused but tired smile. “Keep on track. These guys need the details.”

Steve huffs but concedes, leaning back against the couch and gesturing for Tony to continue.

“Anyway,” Tony says, showboat voice gone. “Turns out in the hands of Hydra, those helicarriers would have been used for mass extermination of the human populace rather than selective threat detection and elimination.”

Steve shakes his head, mouth tight. “I should have known,” he says, mouth pressing. “Rumlow was there, right under my nose-”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Clint says, overlapping a similar sentiments from Sam, Wanda, Thor and Rhodey.

Steve just shakes his head. “I made friends with him, told him everything that Hydra needed to come after you and Bucky,” he says; next to him, Bucky is looking distressed. “I let him-”

“Stop,” Bucky says sharply, and miraculously Steve does. He still looks troubled though, and Bucky looks worriedly at Clint, unsure as to what to do. Thankfully, Tony saves them from having to try and come up with any lines to save Steve from his soul-crushing self blame.

“Well, I built the engines in the helicarriers, can I have like twelve percent of the blame?” Tony asks, raising a hand. “And Fury signed off on Insight, so he gets a big percentage. Oh, and Buckaroo over there worked for Hydra, so-”

“Tony!” Steve interjects, exasperated.

Bucky’s mouth twitches. “I’ll take twenty-five.”

Pietro raises a hand too. “Clint let them into the tower. I think he gets some.”

“Hey! I feel bad about that!” Clint says, but Bucky is almost smiling and Steve is almost laughing and everyone in the room is relaxing.

“Okay,” Steve says, looking down and smiling. “Okay, I get it. Enough of that. Someone get on the phone and order fifty pizzas and a bunch of beer.”

Sam looks around, startled. “What, we don’t have to go start clean up right now?” He peers suspiciously  at Steve. “You’re Steve, right? Steve Rogers?”

"Hilarious,” Steve sighs, slumping sideways into Bucky; Bucky is pushed to the side and Clint ends up squashed into the other arm of the couch under the sideways pressure of two super-soldiers. Bucky accepts being crammed in the middle without fuss, reach over to clap his hand on Steve’s knee.

“Alright, fifty pizzas of various toppings on the way,” Natasha says, Clint’s cordless phone already in hand. “Tony, you’re paying.”

Tony nods and leans forwards to pull his wallet out his pocket; Natasha waves him off. “Don’t worry, I know it,” she says, and Clint has to laugh at the bemused yet accepting face Tony pulls as he puts his wallet away.

“Alright, I nominate Clint and Thor to go and fetch beer,” Sam says, yawning widely. “Clint knows the area and Thor can carry everything.”

“I’ve been shot!” Clint exclaims, pointing to his leg that’s propped up on the coffee table. “You go and get it!”

“You have?” Sam says, looking up. “Shit, I didn’t see that. What happened?”

“Rumlow shot me,” Clint says, and then hastily reaches over to pat Steve’s knee. “It’s okay, Bucky shot him back.”

Steve blinks, processing. For a moment Clint thinks there’s going to be another big dramatic guilt-trip over Rumlow, but then Steve just heaves out a sigh and leans even further back, lifting an arm and throwing over his eyes. “Good,” he finally says. “Wake me up when pizza gets here.”

Clint watches as Thor, Wanda and Sam head to the door, Sam still grumbling about having to go. Selvig immediately heads for Bruce, shaking his hand and probably diving head first into a conversation about some sort of super complicated spaghetti-theory physics, if the way Bruce perks up is any indication. Tony remains perched on Rhodey’s knee, already half-way through his ideas about how to repair the tower. Clint hears half of Rhodey's exasperated veto on a suggestion to tear down the entire thing and start again.

Christ, this team, he thinks, shaking his head. Though, he supposes, this is the first time that they’ve maybe felt more than just a team. All crammed in here side-by-side, tripping over each others’ feet and stealing each-other’s coffee - they feel like a family. It’s a pretty dysfunctional family, but a happy one nonetheless. He only has to look at Steve to know it; the angry, brooding expression from before is gone, replaced by laughter and a faintly relieved smile. Though at this exact moment in time the happy expression has been replaced by one of mild alarm as he overhears what Clint thinks is Tony talking about rebuilding a floor for he and Steve to share. Imagining what a rollercoaster that might be, Clint can’t help but start to laugh.

“What’re you laughing at?” Bucky asks. He makes an impatient noise and shoves at Steve, then gives up and hauls Clint into his lap, sliding over so Steve can sit on the couch properly instead of slumping over him. Clint goes without argument, wriggling to get comfortable.

“Just Tony,” Clint says and yawns. “What a day. I’m beat.”

“Sleep then,” Bucky says, even as Steve shifts around to rest his head on Bucky’s shoulder, eyes closed. “I’ll keep an eye on things.”

“You’re on,” Clint says, eyes already slipping shut. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Bucky quietly presses a kiss to Clint’s temple. “Not without you,” he says quietly, and Clint smiles.

 


 

 

 

Holding his blanket up around his shoulders, Bucky surveys the room, automatically counting bodies. Two up, three down. One no longer in the building, three in the apartment upstairs, one checking the corridors and one limping into the room, closing the door quietly behind them. Everything is safe and quiet, and he feels overwhelmingly glad to be here.

“You okay?” Clint murmurs from the doorway, stepping up close behind him and sliding a hand onto his waist. Bucky turns to tuck Clint under both his arm and his blanket; Clint comes willingly, hopping around to settle with Bucky’s metal arm over his shoulders.

“I am,” Bucky replies, tucking the blanket around both of them. It’s some knitted wool type thing, unfathomably expensive but heavy and warm and he wants to share the sensation. “Where are your crutches?”

“I’m fine,” Clint replies, looking up at him. He lifts the corner of the blanket, strokes it against Bucky’s cheek with a knowing smile. Something suddenly seems to dawn on him; he drops the blanket and then looks around. “Where’d Pietro go?”

“He’s asleep in the bathtub,” Bucky tells him and Clint laughs.

“Of course he is.”

“Steve and Tony took your bed,” Bucky informs him. “They said we could have the mattress.”

He watches as Clint looks indignantly at the mattress on the floor. It’s brand new - one of three delivered to the building less than an hour ago and paid for by Stark, along with the huge amounts of blankets and pillows that have already been snatched up by the rest of the team. Clint glares at the blankets, then makes to hop towards the stairs.

“Get out of my bed, Stark!”

From her place curled up in the armchair, Wanda makes a sleepy noise of protest. Stretched out on the couch, Sam sleeps on, utterly dead to the world. Steve’s voice drifts back down from the loft, rough with sleep.

“Make us.”

Clint’s jaw drops open, and he looks to Bucky. “You could make him, right?”

“Probably,” Bucky says, and hesitates. He could, and a distant part of him is trying to work out if that’s an order or not. He tries his best to ignore it. If anyone will let him speak his mind, it’s Clint. “But I think I’ve had enough fighting. Even of the not so serious kind.”

Clint nods. “Alright,” he sighs, and raises his voice again. “You’re making breakfast!”

“Deal, now shut up or I'll have you court-martialled,” Steve grouches back, and Bucky bites back a laugh. It’s an odd sensation, wanting to smile and laugh. Feeling happy and being part of a team, a family. He guesses he can get used to it again.

From behind them, the door opens again. Bucky turns, but it’s only Natasha, returning from her rounds.

“Erik has left,” she confirms. “Thor and Bruce are settled upstairs.”

“Will there not be trouble for breaking into the apartment?” Bucky asks. He’s not exactly worried about it, but if he can avoid any more trouble he will.

“It’s been empty for months,” Clint says with a shrug. “Besides, we’ll just tell the truth. Captain America requisitioned it for the greater good. That line always worked during the war.”

Bucky feels his mouth tugging into a smile. “It did,” he agrees.

“You are ridiculous,” Natasha says, but she seems fond. She heads into the kitchen and Clint follows her, limping heavily on his wounded leg. Not knowing what else to do, Bucky follows them both. She hands Clint a beer and then passes one to Bucky, which he takes with a nod of thanks. The glass is cold under his hand, wet with perspiration.

“Hey,” he suddenly says, struck with a thought. “Drinks.”

“Huh?” Clint asks, struggling to get up onto a stool without hurting his leg.

“We're in New York,” Bucky says. “Brooklyn. Middle floor apartment. Pals all over the place. Letting Stark buy us drinks.”

Clint lets out a delighted laugh, his whole face lighting up. “Yeah!” he enthuses, and Bucky feels warm stirrings of pride that he made that happen. “We almost got it right,” Clint adds, sliding off of the stool he only just managed to get onto in order to lean over and kiss Bucky right on the corner of his mouth. Bucky leans into it, feeling a rush of something immeasurable wash through him, settling deep under his sternum and making him feel off-balance. Clint pulls away, still beaming at him. Bucky abruptly needs to hold onto Clint somehow, so he reaches over to take Clint’s hand in his. Clint’s mouth quirks and he turns to smile at Bucky, eyes bright and grey like they were the day he fell into that trench in Normandy, all those years ago.

Amazing really, how they’ve both ended up here, almost exactly as they promised.

“So,” Natasha says quietly. “Time travelling. What happened?”

Clint lifts Bucky’s hand and presses a kiss to his knuckles, all soft warmth. He keeps hold of it, pressed against his chest as he turns back to Natasha.

“It’s a long story, Nat,” he says, and his mouth twitches. “Not sure we’ve got time for it.”