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The Romance of Bureaucracy

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The part of being a secret agent that had never been in any of the spy movies Clint had watched as a kid was just how much paperwork was involved. James Bond never seemed to spend days and days just filling in forms every time he came back from a mission, or took a vacation, or made a new friend who needed to be vetted by fourteen different branches before he was allowed to tell them anything about himself.

SHIELD had forms for all those things and more. Forms for every weapon you discharged, even if it didn’t belong to you, forms for every minor injury you received or caused, forms for every aspect of your personal life, so that they could keep tabs on just how vulnerable you were to blackmail or coercion. Or that was what they claimed — Clint thought maybe they were all just creepy voyeurs.

At any rate, by the time the Avenger Initiative was formed, he was so used to filling in paperwork for everything that the first thing he did after moving into Stark’s newly remodelled Tower was to take himself down to the bureaucracy department, which took up an entire floor of the helicarrier, and grab himself six copies of form B7834D-21 (Beta): Notification of Cohabitation.

“You know you can do it all online these days, right?” said Agent Vicario, who was behind the desk.

Clint rolled his eyes and clicked the end of his pen. “Doesn’t feel the same, you know? Plus, I don’t get to watch you stamp them, and you know that’s half the fun.”

“Right,” she said, giving him a look that meant she thought he was covering for the fact that he hadn’t worked out how to file the forms electronically, which was slander, utter slander. He was a highly trained secret agent with a wide range of skill sets, including computer and electronic espionage, and the idea that the SHIELD online portal had defeated him could not have been more wrong.

He worked through the forms pretty quickly and dumped them on the counter while giving her a grin. If he were friendly enough, maybe she wouldn’t bother checking them over and would just stamp the damn things and let him go.

Her expression made it clear that he had no such luck. She picked up the first form, stared at it, and then at him. “How the hell do you not know Captain America’s birthday? Jesus, Clint.”

“Aw, can we just change it?” he asked, reaching for his pen.

She shook her head. “Nope. Any mistake means starting again, you know that.” She grabbed a clean copy of the form and handed it to him. The next one made her sigh as well. “There’s no way that Tony Stark’s middle name is ‘Genius’.”

“That’s what he said when I asked,” protested Clint as she peeled yet another form off for him.

“Maybe try googling it,” she suggested. “I reckon that’s gonna be safer than trusting a word he says. Also, you’ve got the clearance and the security levels in the wrong boxes on this one,” she said, handing Bruce’s back to him, “you know you’re not allowed to just write redacted across Natasha’s forms,” adding another one to the pile, “You can’t add boxes, if he’s not a member of an agency or the Armed Forces you just tick ‘civilian’, don’t draw in a box and label it ‘god’—”

“But he is!” protested Clint, then subsided when she glared at him and pointedly added another blank form to the pile.

“—and this one,” she said, frowning at it, “I thought Pepper Potts lived in California?”

Clint shrugged. “Yeah, but, she’s here so often it kinda feels like she lives with us, you know?”

She shook her head and crumpled the form. “You need a B7834A-36 (Delta): Notification of Frequent Overnight Guest.” She pulled one out for him and added it to the stack. “Also, you really should have started with a CD-12 (86): Change Of Address, or your payslips will be going to the wrong place.”

Clint sighed and took his stack of paper back over to a desk. One day. One day he was going to get every form filled out correctly the first time. Not today, sure, but one day.

****

Three years later he still hadn’t managed it, but today was his day. He just knew it.

“Maybe you should be taking more than one of those,” said Agent Vicario as he pulled a form out of one of the pigeon holes. “So you can start again when you mess up.”

“I’m not gonna mess up,” said Clint stubbornly. She raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Twenty bucks says I get it all right,” added Clint, which might have been a bit rash, but damned if he was going to back down now. He only had one form to fill in today, and it was one he had a lot of experience with. How badly could it go?

“Oh, you are so on,” said Vicario. “That would pay for take out tonight, and today definitely feels like a take out kind of a day.”

“Guess I’ll get pizza with your money then,” said Clint, and headed off to fill out the form.

He took his time, making sure he got it all right. He already knew all of Bucky’s details from filling out K-418-9(T)43: Notification of Friendship With Current or Former Enemy Agent and QZ-2A (Alpha): Application for Access To Training Facilities for A Friend or Partner, which he’d suffered through so that he could show Bucky the awesome assault course they had. Of course, once Tony had found out they were cheating on his state-of-the-art gym, he’d upgraded so far that SHIELD’s facilities now looked like a back alley boxing hall.

Clint had a feeling it was the shiny new range that had persuaded Bucky to finally give in and move in to the Tower officially. Or maybe he finally trusted them all enough to share living space, or at least admit that the reason he’d never said where he was living was that he didn’t actually have a permanent address. Either way, this was a big deal and an important step in his rehabilitation or whatever, and Clint was feeling pretty good about filling out this particular form.

He double-checked it all when he was done, then took it up and handed it to Vicario with the smuggest grin he could manage.

She ran her eyes over it. “Huh, I guess you can fill out a form without messing up,” she said.

“Yep,” said Clint, holding his hand out. “C’mon, pay up.”

“Of course, you’ve filled out the wrong form,” she said, turning it back and tapping the title.

B7834A-3 (Gamma): Notification of Intention to Marry

Aw fuck, how the hell hadn’t he noticed that?

Vicario’s grin was spreading across her face as she held out her hand for his cash and Clint reacted without even thinking about it. “Nope, that’s the right one. Intention to marry.”

She blinked. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Nope,” said Clint, already too committed to back out. “I asked last night, he said yes, so I’m doing the paperwork here while he does the paperwork at City Hall.”

Oh god, what the hell was coming out of his mouth? Bucky was going to kill him.

“Alright,” she said. “I guess I’ll file this, then.” She raised her stamp over the paper. “File it where it will be on permanent record for the rest of your career, then send the triplicate copies to HR to change your next-of-kin, to Internal Affairs to do the necessary checks that you’re not being honey-trapped, and to your direct supervisor so that they can factor a spouse into your future mission plans.”

This was a terrible mistake. He really needed to come clean and admit it was the wrong form.

“Go ahead,” he said. “I’ll be back to fill out the follow-up once we’ve officially tied the knot.”

She gave him one last look, which he held firm under, and then the stamp came down, marking the form with sharp black ink. Filed.

He gave her a cheery smile, took her twenty bucks, and then hightailed it out of there.

Oh shit, Bucky was going to kill him. Steve was going to kill him. Natasha wouldn’t actually kill him, but she’d leave him in so much pain that he would wish he were dead. Why the hell had he done that?

****

Naturally, the first person he ran into when he got back to the Tower was Bucky. He was in the lounge, slumped on a sofa with a book, and Clint could totally have got away with just walking past and going to his room, but instead he froze up and just stared at him.

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Shit, SHIELD thought he was marrying this guy. Any minute now, his direct supervisor, Captain fucking America, was going to get a copy of a form letting him know that Clint was intending to marry his best friend, and then the shit was going to hit the fan. No way Steve was going to let that go, he’d march Clint back down there and make him do whatever it took to unfile a form. Probably file eight more forms, shit.

Bucky lowered the book and gave him an unimpressed look. “If that expression is cuz you’ve already managed to trash my room, I’m not gonna be happy. I’ve only been here two days.”

Clint shook his head. “It’s— Shit.” He took a deep breath. “I fucked up,” he admitted.

Bucky closed the book and put it in his lap, his frown deepening. “Does it involve me? Or can I just sit back and wait for Natasha to find out and take you apart?”

Clint winced because Nat was never going to let this go. “It kinda involves you,” he admitted. He gave up on trying to pretend he could just ignore this and have it go away and walked down to sit on the couch next to Bucky. “So, uh, I filled out and, um, filed the wrong form at SHIELD, and now they think we’re getting married.”

There, all out in one go, like ripping off a bandaid. Clint stared down at his hands, waiting for the reaction, but Bucky was silent for so long that he had to look up at him.

Bucky was just staring at him. “The wrong form,” he said. “Why the hell didn’t you just say it was a mistake and change it?”

“Because!” said Clint. “Because I always get the fucking stupid bureaucratic bullshit wrong, and I’m sick of being ridiculed and having them all make that face, ‘stupid Hawkeye, can’t even fill out a form right’, and— ”

Bucky was still just staring, so Clint broke off and put his head in his hands. “Shit, I’m sorry, I’ll fix it,” he said. “I just, the Notification of Cohabitation and the Notification of Intention To Marry forms are unfairly similar.”

“Intention to Marry,” repeated Bucky slowly, as if the words were alien to him. He made a weird noise, like a cross between a snort and hiccup, and Clint glanced up just in time to see his face crease up in laughter. “Fucking hell, Clint, you never do stuff by halves, do you? Not even fucking up.”

Clint just shrugged as Bucky cracked up in a way he hadn’t ever seen. Bucky was better than he had been when he first showed up, hanging awkwardly around Steve like a stray cat who hadn’t yet decided if he wasn’t better off alone, but he was still quiet and serious most of the time. Seeing him laughing like this, with his whole body shaking and his face lit up, was almost worth just how fucking humiliating it was going to be to crawl back to Vicario tomorrow to try and undo this mess.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up,” he muttered, trying to cover up how much he enjoyed watching Bucky’s amusement with a layer of grumpiness.

Bucky was still sniggering, wiping at his face. “Man, I can’t remember when I last laughed like that. Thanks.” He patted Clint’s shoulder.

The elevator opened with a ding and Steve strode out, took one look at Clint and Bucky and just sort of threw his hands up, as if he didn’t have words.

“Hi, Steve,” said Clint, bracing himself. “I’m guessing you just got an email from SHIELD?”

“What the hell did you do?” asked Steve.

Bucky’s hand curved around Clint’s shoulder possessively. “He asked me to marry him, Stevie. Isn’t it great?”

Steve’s expression was classic. He just stared at them for several long moments before he pulled himself together enough to ask, “You’re joking, right? This is some kinda prank.”

“Nope,” said Bucky, and he moved closer to Clint so that he could put an arm around his shoulders properly. Clint looked at him, trying to work out what the hell was going on, and got a pointed eyebrow twitch that made him swallow his objection. “You’re happy for us, right?”

Clint reached over and put his hand on Bucky’s knee, giving Steve the best blissfully smug grin he could manage.

“This is definitely a prank,” said Steve, but he didn’t sound very certain. “I’d’ve known if you two were seeing each other, especially if it were serious enough for marriage.”

“I may have been a bit premature with asking,” said Clint. “I know we haven’t known each other long, but when you know, you know, right?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about it earlier,” added Bucky. “I guess I just liked having something good in my life that was just for the two of us, you know? Sneaking around reminded me of when we were young.”

“No way,” said Steve. “You’re playing some sorta game with SHIELD.”

Clint snorted. “Okay, you’ve been working for them for a few years now. Exactly what kind of game do you think is worth fucking with their bureaucracy? You know how they feel about inaccurate forms.”

From the look on Steve’s face, he’d made a mistake on a form or two in his time and lived to regret it.

“Stevie, I know it’s a surprise, but it’s not a bad thing,” added Bucky, then lowered his voice and added a note of smothered hurt that Clint was impressed by. “Unless you’re not happy for me because it’s a guy.”

It was a genius move. Steve immediately strode over to them. “No, no, of course not, Buck, if this is what you want, then I’m thrilled for you. You know I never had a problem with that. I guess it’s just kinda come out of nowhere. You’ve only just moved in here.”

All right, this was probably the point where they should come clean — they couldn’t lie to Captain America like this.

“We’re planning on a long engagement,” said Bucky, squeezing Clint’s shoulder.

Fuck it, okay, apparently they were doing this. If Bucky thought it was a good idea, who was Clint to argue with him?

“I guess I just wanted him to know how serious about him I am,” Clint said, with a self-deprecating shrug that he hoped didn’t make it look as if he were desperately coming up with a believable lie. “There’s been a lot of bad shit, I thought we should have something good to look forward to. Even if it’s a while off.”

Steve gave him a long, studying look, then nodded and held out his hand. “Congratulations, then.”

Clint reached out and shook it, and even managed a smile that felt a bit sickly. Steve held his hand out to Bucky next, but pulled him up out of his seat and into a hug when he took it.

“I’m happy for you,” he said to him, then pulled back to fix Bucky with a look. “You do deserve a bit of good.”

Bucky shrugged awkwardly. “I guess.”

That was the tone he used when he was having guilt over the shit Hydra put him through. Clint wasn’t having that. Even if the rest of this conversation was a lie, Bucky needed to have some good things in his life. If playing a prank on Steve was what it took then that was what they’d do.

“No, you really do,” said Clint, standing up to put a hand on his shoulder. “I told you, whatever makes you smile is worth it, yeah?”

The context he’d said that in was maybe not what Steve was imagining. Clint had gone into the kitchen for coffee yesterday morning in pyjama pants that the elastic was sagging on. He’d ended up tripping over the hems, falling into a chair, trying to keep on his feet and ending up on his back with his pants around his ankles while Bucky sniggered at him.

“Yeah, okay,” said Bucky, giving him a look that said he remembered the context all too well. “Then I guess we’re gonna have to go ring shopping this afternoon.”

There was a hint of challenge in his voice, as if he were saying Are you willing to go the whole way on this with me?

Clint met it with a grin. “Sure,” he said. “If we can find somewhere with rings big enough. I’ve had enough experience with them to know that your metal fingers are thicker than normal fingers.”

Because Clint reacted to a dare by implying he had intimate knowledge of the size of a guy’s fingers from having them up his ass.

“You seemed to appreciate that at the time,” said Bucky, smirking back at him and yep, they were definitely doing this. There was no coming back from both of them talking about a fake sexlife in front of Captain America.

Steve cleared his throat in a way that said he hadn’t needed the mental images he was getting. “I’m gonna make sure all the others are here for dinner tonight, we can celebrate.”

Which meant this was going to escalate. Clint plastered on a smile and took Bucky’s hand, giving it a squeeze that he hoped was tight enough to hurt. “Sounds great. Just, uh, we’re gonna keep it quiet for now, so nothing too big, okay?”

Steve nodded. “No problem.”

Bucky tugged at Clint’s hand. “C’mon, let’s go find a jewellers.”

Clint went with him, waiting until the elevator doors had closed to drop Bucky’s hand. “Okay, that was unexpected.”

“Fun, though,” said Bucky, grinning. “It’s gonna take that annoying look of panicked concern off Steve’s face.”

“Yeah, and replace it with complete confusion,” said Clint.

Bucky shrugged. “It’s been a very long time since I fucked with Steve. It’s more than overdue. Besides, saves you from having to come clean to SHIELD, right? We’ll just play this game for a bit, then announce we’ve decided we’re better as friends and you can file whatever form a break up leads to.”

“Cancellation of Relationship,” said Clint, without having to think about it. He’d filled in more than a few of those in his time.

Bucky snorted. “Your government agency is ridiculous.”

“Yeah,” agreed Clint with a shrug. “But you’re the sucker marrying into it, so what does that say about you?”

“Oh, we already knew that I’ve got issues,” said Bucky. “I can get you a full list from my therapist if you want.”

“Nah, I’ll keep them as a surprise,” said Clint. “Hey, you think yours will match up with mine?”

“Not sure that’s what they mean when they say you should have things in common with the person you marry,” said Bucky. He was still grinning in a way Clint hadn’t really seen before, lightness tinging his amusement as if a weight had been lifted from him. Apparently what it took to cheer him up after decades of brainwashing and pain was an overly elaborate prank that involved lying to everyone on their team .

Clint shouldn’t judge — he spent the months after Loki hiding in vents and only leaving to go pet dogs in the park.

“Close enough,” he said. A thought struck him. “Oh, hey, JARVIS. Don’t tell the others about this, okay?”

“Very well, Agent Barton,” said JARVIS in tones of deep disapproval. Clint ignored him. What did an AI know about a good prank anyway?

****

Dinner that evening turned out to be more than just the team. Clint wished he could say that he was surprised, but he’d had enough experience to know that as soon as someone said ‘celebration’, Tony insisted on inviting half the known world. At least this time he’d kept it to few enough people to fit around the dining table — although given the size of his dining table, that wasn’t saying much.

“Congratulations,” said Pepper, shaking Clint’s hand as Bucky stared at the crowd of people that had gathered. “I did try to rein Tony in, but—”

“Nah, it’s fine,” said Clint. “I know what he’s like.”

Maria caught his eye from across the room, darted her eyes across to Bucky, and then raised a pointed eyebrow. Clint plastered on what he hoped looked like a smug smirk and put his hand on the small of Bucky’s back, because he’d gone very quiet and tense. “How about we just go get a drink, Bucky?” he said, and guided him off to the kitchen.

“Fuck, that’s a lot of people,” muttered Bucky as Clint grabbed them a couple of beers.

“Yeah,” agreed Clint. “Are you changing your mind?”

Bucky blinked at him, then took the beer and downed the bottle in one impressive gulp. “Nope,” he said, once it was empty. “But I am gonna need another beer.”

Clint got him another one.

Tony swept into the room with his arms outstretched. “The men of the hour!” he said. “Our very own Avengers love story! You certainly kept that one quiet.”

“It didn’t seem like anyone else’s business,” said Clint, pointedly.

Tony gave him a sharp look, then glanced at Bucky. “Not even your BFF’s? You know Steve’s spent the afternoon trying to work out how he missed this despite all the vaguely co-dependent hovering he’s been doing since you turned up.”

Bucky winced. “Fucking Steve,” he muttered. “It’s almost like he didn’t realise that maybe the hovering is why I didn’t want to move here.”

Steve’s tendency to smother Bucky was pretty much why Clint had become friends with Bucky in the first place. When Bucky had had enough of being hovered over, but didn’t want to just disappear from the Tower like he had in the first few weeks he’d been around, he’d taken to escaping by going to the range. Clint had run into him there enough times to just start making plans to meet up, usually at times when Steve thought Bucky had already left the Tower for the day. Having an actual arrangement also put Bucky in the good books of his therapist, who loved that he was interacting with new people, even if it was while shooting things.

“It’s why I didn’t tell him about it,” added Bucky. “Felt nice to have something that was just mine, you know? Well, mine and Clint’s.”

Clint was impressed with how easily he was falling into this lie, but nodded in agreement when Tony glanced at him. “Feels like a lot of our lives are out there for public consumption.”

Tony made a face. “Yeah, I know what that’s like. I guess I can’t blame you for having a naughty little secret, but that’s not gonna last now you’re putting a ring on it. Press’ll be all over that shit.”

Clint hadn’t stopped to consider that this might end up in the press. His stomach turned over as he glanced at Bucky, wondering if he’d realised that this might end up splashed over the papers.

“I’m kinda hoping that if we’re only telling superheroes and spies, everyone will keep their mouths shut for at least a bit,” said Bucky. “It’s not like we’ll actually be getting married for ages.”

Tony looked sceptical, but they were interrupted by Steve before he could comment.

“Did you get rings?” he asked.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Seems like you’re more excited than we are,” he said, but he pulled out the chain around his neck to show off the gold ring he and Clint had bought earlier.

Clint pulled out his matching one. “We figured keeping them on chains would be better for now.” Well, and wearing an actual ring for a prank felt like going a step too far, somehow.

“Like dogtags,” said Steve, giving Bucky a smirk that made him roll his eyes.

“Like anything you don’t want to get damaged,” corrected Bucky.

“Or the media to see,” added Clint. He finished his beer and waved the empty bottle at Bucky as he headed for the fridge. “Want another one?”

“Oh no,” said Tony. “Nope, c’mon, this is a celebration. I got champagne.”

Clint exchanged a pained look with Bucky, but let Tony take out a bottle and pull the cork.

“And then you’re gonna stop hiding in the kitchen,” said Steve. “There’s a lot of folks here who want to congratulate you.”

Bucky took a deep breath and set his shoulders as if he were going into battle. “Alright, let’s do this.”

Steve wasn’t wrong. They ended up shaking hands with almost everyone in the room, being congratulated over and over again by their friends and colleagues, until Clint began to feel kinda bad about the charade. They all seemed so happy for them, should they really be lying about this?

Except Tony had got in a whole crate of champagne, and Pepper had arranged for a cake, and Steve was making pointed comments about best men, and shit, it was already too late. They were already the assholes lying to their friends.

“I don’t know, Stevie, maybe I’ll ask Lang,” said Bucky. “We’d save money on a tux if the best man were an inch high, right?”

“I’ll have Spider-Man then,” said Clint. “He won’t even need a tux, because he never wears anything other than that suit.”

“Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want a tuxedo version of the suit,” said Spider-Man. “Exactly the same, but with a little bow-tie.” He stroked his hand over his throat. “I could totally pull that off.”

Clint shook his head, “Nah, that’s not gonna fit the aesthetic at all. The wedding colours are gonna be purple and purple, so the red’s gonna clash.”

“When was that decided?” asked Bucky, raising an eyebrow at him.

“You’re kidding, right?” asked Clint, then glanced around at everyone sitting close enough to be listening. “Does anyone here think there’s any chance at all of me showing up for a wedding that isn’t purple?”

“I can see you turning up for a wedding late wearing your pyjamas,” said Steve.

“Or in ripped sweatpants and covered in trash after spending the night in a dumpster,” added Spider-Man.

“Lies,” said Clint. “Utter lies.”

“Actually, I can see that too,” said Bucky. “Guess whoever your best man is will have to do some wrangling.”

“Natasha, then,” said Clint, meeting her eyes. “She’d get me there in plenty of time.”

She smiled and raised her glass. “I do rock a tuxedo,” she agreed. There was a darkly amused look in her eyes as she added, “If you ever make it down the aisle, Clint, I’d happily stand with you.”

“Awesome,” said Clint, plastering on a smile and hoping his discomfort with this conversation wasn’t obvious.

Bucky reached over and squeezed his knee. “This is all a long way off, anyway,” he said. “We’re gonna be engaged for a good long time before we go any further.”

“Yeah,” agreed Clint, patting at his hand and trying not to show that the gesture had thrown him off. Shit, did he and Bucky need to be showing more physical affection than just sitting next to each other?

Were they going to have to kiss?

Nope, no, they could skip that. They’d already said they wanted to keep this relationship private, they could totally get away without any PDAs.

The thought was oddly disappointing, but Clint didn’t let himself dwell on that, not when Tony was heading back around the table with another open bottle and a grin that said he was going to try his hardest to get Clint drunk.

****

It felt like that should’ve been that. They’d told everyone that they wanted to keep things private, so once the engagement party was done with, Clint had been expecting it all just to fade into the background while they got on with their lives. At some point they’d presumably fake a break up, but there was no need for that for a few months.

His first inkling that maybe he’d bitten off more than he could chew was the next morning. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his second mug of coffee, idly contemplating some toast, when Tony came in.

“Aha! Just the man I’ve been looking for,” he said. “Well, one of two men I’ve been looking for, but you’ll do.” He sat down opposite Clint and set a Starkpad down between them, flicking his hand so that a hologram of the tower emerged from the screen. “Okay, so I was thinking that you’ll want to move rooms to be with your beau, right? But you’re both in singles, not a lot of room for a couple, so I was thinking about knocking down a wall or two to give you enough space, let me show you the plans.”

He spread his hands to zoom in on the two floors of the Avengers’ living quarters. “Right now you’re on different floors, so the best way is if you move down to the room next to Bucky. I’d move him up but then Steve wouldn’t have his bestest bud living next door, and you know how he pouts. Sam will have to swap, but he isn’t here most the time so I don’t think he’ll mind, then we knock through here and here, make this bedroom a lounge and get rid of this bathroom,” his fingers darted over the hologram, making the changes he was talking about, “which gives you some extra space, so I was thinking we put in a sort of nook here, a nest for our resident snipers, this window will give you a view out over everything, I know you like that, and then—”

“Uh,” said Clint, interrupting. “This is great, Tony, but you don’t need to worry about it. We’re fine as we are.”

Tony stopped and stared at him. “You’re okay living on a different floor from the guy you’re engaged to?”

“We’re still living in the same building,” said Clint. Tony’s expression didn’t change and Clint desperately searched for something that would stop him remodelling an entire floor. “Bucky likes having his own space. It’s been a while since he had that.”

“Right,” said Tony, slowly, “hence the nest. Or, we can leave it as two bedrooms, so you’ve still got your own rooms, just you’re closer together. You can’t tell me you’re okay doing the walk of shame up a floor every morning.”

Clint hadn’t bothered considering whether or not he should be pretending to spend time in Bucky’s bedroom. Crap, crap, he hadn’t thought this through at all.

“I’ll talk to Bucky and let you know,” he said. “Just… Don’t do anything until we’ve talked about it.”

Tony looked vaguely disgruntled at having one of his projects shelved, but he shut down the hologram. “Okay, okay, fine. Just ask JARVIS if you want to look at the plans again.”

“Okay,” said Clint, pinning on a smile. “Thanks, Tony.”

Tony nodded and disappeared again, and Clint slumped over his coffee. Okay, he and Bucky needed to sit down and go through anything else that might come up before they got blindsided. Again.

Or maybe they should just come clean before this all got way too complicated. Except Clint had a feeling they’d passed that point several miles back and there was nothing to do now but just dig in and commit.

Steve and Sam came in from their morning run and he gave them a nod of greeting.

“Morning,” said Steve, looking as fresh and crisp as if he’d just got up. “You recovered after last night?”

Clint sorted. “It’d take more than some fancy champagne to knock me out.”

“I’m guessing Bucky hasn’t had any problems either,” said Sam, grabbing a glass of water. He looked wrung out and sweat-stained. “Steve definitely didn’t.”

“I haven’t seen him yet today,” said Clint. “I’m guessing not, he didn’t even drink that much for a normal guy, let alone a super-soldier.”

Steve and Sam exchanged glances. “You haven’t seen him?”

Clint just sort of shrugged in response and turned his attention back to his coffee, hoping like hell he wasn’t going to get any more questions. He didn’t really want to have to come up with a reason for not having slept with his fiancé last night, at least not without talking to Bucky first.

He was saved from any further awkwardness by the arrival of Bucky himself. “Hey,” he said, nodding vaguely at the three of them, and then headed for the coffee machine.

“Seriously?” asked Sam. “I mean, come on, seriously? I know you’re all stoic and shit but, man, Clint, please tell me you’re not okay with that.”

Clint blinked at him, then glanced at Bucky, who gave him a shrug.

Sam let out a frustrated sigh. “You guys aren’t hiding any more, remember? You’re allowed to show some emotion when you’re greeting each other in the morning.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, then looked at Clint again. “Dearest Clint, love of my life, how are you this beautiful morning?” he asked in a monotone.

“All the better for seeing your gorgeous, smiling face,” said Clint, just as flatly.

“Fine, fine, be emotionally repressed, I’m sure it’ll work out great for you,” said Sam, throwing his hands up. “I’m going to shower.”

Leaving was a great idea. It seemed like it might be better just to skip toast in favour of getting the hell out of there before anyone else asked him more tricky questions. He downed the rest of his coffee and went to put his mug in the dishwasher. Steve was giving him and Bucky a long, thoughtful look, which Clint did his best to ignore.

“Are you coming to the range?” he asked Bucky.

Bucky nodded. “Give me ten minutes to drink this.”

“Sure, see you down there,” said Clint, and escaped.

****

When Bucky turned up at the range, Clint had had enough time to shoot a few arrows and think a bit.

“Should we be doing this?” he asked. “It’s starting to seem like maybe we’ve gone too far.”

Bucky shrugged as he grabbed a gun from the locker. “Go big or go home, right?”

Clint stared at him. “Seriously?”

“This isn’t just about you and your failure at forms,” said Bucky. “Steve hasn’t asked me how I’m doing or given me that worried mother hen look since we told him about this. He didn’t ask me for a detailed rundown of my plans for the day before I came here so that he can keep a constant track on my movements. Besides, trust me, he’s a punk, he’s totally played worse pranks on me.”

Clint opened his mouth, then remembered some of the pranks Natasha had played on him over the years, and shut it. “Okay, then we need to get better at faking it. I had Tony interrogating me about remodelling the Tower to make us a love nest this morning.”

Bucky had stepped up to a target, but he stilled to stare at Clint rather than shoot. “A what?”

“Exactly,” said Clint. “For some reason, he seems to think an engaged couple might want to share rooms. And Sam and Steve were clearly trying to figure out why we didn’t sleep together last night.”

“Well, that’s easy enough,” said Bucky, taking a shot. “I’m way too messed up to be sleeping with anyone yet. I’d probably cut your throat in my sleep.”

He sounded completely blasé about it. Clint eyed him, trying to work out if he was kidding or not. Bucky glanced over and winked at him, which didn’t actually provide any answers. Eh, whatever, that was Bucky’s business.

Clint shot a couple of arrows at his target as he thought.

“Okay, so we’ll just keep stalling Tony by being indecisive, yeah?”

“Yep,” said Bucky. “Anything else, we can totally get away with just saying that we like to keep things private.” He shot off a couple of rounds, then added, “We should probably start making sure we spend some time together every day, though. Or at least, get seen spending time together every day.”

“Sure,” said Clint. “I mean, if nothing else, we can always come down here, right?”

Bucky glanced around at the range, then sent Clint a sly grin. “Bet I can get Steve to tell us not to have sex in here within forty-eight hours.”

Clint grinned back. “You’re on. But you’re not allowed to use PDA for it. We like our privacy, remember?”

“Still easy,” said Bucky. “Trust me, I’ve got a lot of practice with pushing Steve’s buttons.”

“All right, I bow to the king then,” said Clint.

“Damn straight,” said Bucky.

They shot for an hour or two, getting competitive and talking smack at each other. When they’d finished and Bucky had put his gun away, he stopped to stretch out his shoulders, which Clint enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level, then gave Clint a grin. “Okay, let’s do this. JARVIS, where’s Steve?”

“Captain Rogers is in the main lounge,” said JARVIS.

“Perfect,” said Bucky. He yanked his shirt off over his head then pulled back on again, ruffling his hair up and twisting one of the shoulder seams as he did so, then scrubbed at his face until his cheeks looked flushed. He glanced at Clint, giving him an analysing look. “Can I?” he asked.

Clint spread his arms. “Go for it.”

Bucky stepped in close to mess up his hair, then frowned for a moment at his jeans. “These are tight enough to stay up without this done up, right?” he asked, but didn’t wait for an answer before popping open the button at the top of Clint’s flies.

Okay, well, that was kinda intimate. Clint cleared his throat. “Yep, should be fine.”

Bucky gave him one last look over, then stepped back. “Okay, we’re gonna get some water after our hard session of shooting, then.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Clint. “You know, it almost seems like you’ve done this before,” he added, as they headed for the elevator.

“Done the opposite, more like,” said Bucky. “I spent a lot of time before the war trying to hide the fact that I’d just been getting up to no good with a guy. I’m just doing it in reverse now.”

Steve and Sam were both in the lounge, looking at some SHIELD briefing papers that Clint hoped he wasn’t going to be told he needed to read. They looked up when Clint and Bucky came in, and a faintly pained expression crossed Steve’s face as he took in their appearances.

“How was the range?” asked Sam, sounding amused.

Clint plastered on his widest ‘I just got laid’ grin. “We both hit some bullseyes, right, Bucky?”

“Yeah, sounds about right,” said Bucky, giving him a dark-eyed smoulder that almost made Clint trip over his feet. Okay, well, that explained why he was able to get a lot of action even back when it was illegal.

They headed into the kitchen where Bucky pulled out a couple of glasses and started filling them from the faucet. Clint held back by the door where he could eavesdrop.

Steve let out a long sigh. “I guess I should be happy for him,” he said to Sam.

“There’s happy, and then there’s getting mental images of exactly what they just got up to in a public area,” said Sam.

“Yeah,” agreed Steve.

Bucky handed a glass of water to Clint and raised an eyebrow. Clint gave him a thumbs up as he took it from him.

“You know,” he said, loudly enough to be heard in the lounge, ”I kinda need a shower.”

“Me too,” said Bucky. “Funny how that works. Want to save water and share one?”

Okay, this guy was good. “Sure,” said Clint. “My place?”

They headed back out across the lounge to the corridor that led to Clint’s room, sending matching smug grins at Sam and Steve.

“Okay, you were right,” said Clint once they were out of earshot. “This is going to be easy.”

“And fun,” said Bucky. “So much fun.” He was grinning again, and Clint thought that maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea if it was going to make Bucky this happy.

****

Bucky hung out in Clint’s room for long enough to make it seem like they’d had sex again, or done some other coupley shit. Played with each other’s hair and talked about wedding colour schemes, maybe. Clint hadn’t ever been great at coupley shit.

He and Natasha had some meetings at SHIELD that afternoon, and when they got back JARVIS informed them that there was going to be a movie night tonight.

“What’s the movie?” asked Natasha.

“Mr Stark has announced that Captain Rogers needs to see Jaws,” said JARVIS.

“Excellent, a brainless excuse for popcorn,” said Clint. “Just what I need. I’m gonna go put on something more comfortable, see you in the lounge.”

When he got to the lounge, most of the seats were already taken so he grabbed a spot on the sofa next to Natasha before he ended up crouched on the floor.

“Is Bucky coming up?” she asked.

Clint just blinked at her. Shit, was he going to need to track Bucky’s movements at all times now? If it had been pissing Bucky off that Steve was doing that, he didn’t think it would go down well if Clint did.

“He’s just on his way,” said Steve, rescuing Clint from having to come up with an answer.

Bucky was the last one in, which meant he was the one who missed out on a seat. Clint had suggested to Tony that he just get another chair for the lounge so that there were the same number as there were team members, but apparently it was more fun if every gathering was essentially a game of musical chairs.

Bucky looked around at the filled seats and his shoulders slumped as he realised he’d lost this round.

“Here,” said Natasha, standing up. “You can snuggle next to your fiancé.” She grabbed a cushion and settled on the floor and Clint eyed her suspiciously. What game was she playing?

She sent him an amused half-smile that meant she knew exactly what he was thinking. “Love is a precious thing,” she said. “We can’t let it drift away.”

What the fuck?

Bucky settled next to him and gave him a look that said he was just as confused as Clint was.

The movie started and Clint gave up on trying to ever understand Natasha in favour of watching idiots die in a fountain of blood, slumping into the arm of couch and curling his feet up under himself. His knee knocked against Bucky’s leg.

“Sorry,” he said, moving it further out of the way.

Bucky gave him a smirk. “I think I can cope,” he said, then reached out and set a hand on Clint’s knee. Oh yeah, casual touching was a thing they should probably be okay with. Clint glanced at the others, then gently patted Bucky’s hand, hoping it looked natural.

Bucky turned his hand over to take Clint’s and it felt like being dared. Okay, so the ‘no PDA’ rule was apparently more of a game of PDA chicken. Clint could do that. He waited five minutes, then slumped a bit further, shifting his legs to lie across Bucky’s lap.

Bucky sent him a look that said he knew exactly what was going on. Clint raised an eyebrow at him.

The look he got back made it very clear that the game was on, but it was another couple of minutes before Bucky made his move, shifting up and around until he was leaning back into Clint’s side, one arm draped over Clint’s legs to hold them in place.

It had been a very long time since Clint had been in the kind of relationship where you cuddled on a couch. Well, or even the kind where you used the word ‘relationship’ instead of ‘friends with benefits’ or ‘fuck-buddies’. He wrapped his arm around Bucky’s shoulders because otherwise he was awkwardly holding it out of the way, and wondered how he had forgotten how nice it was to have another body pressed close against his.

Bucky seemed a lot more relaxed than Clint would have guessed he would be tangled up this close with another person, especially after his comment about not being able to sleep with people. Maybe that had just been a joke. It certainly seemed like Bucky was a lot more prone to jokes and pranks than Clint had realised.

Tony paused the movie after the two guys had finished comparing scars, which had been a lot more impressive when Clint was a kid. He pretty much had both of them beat now, and he wasn’t even close to being the person with the most interesting scars in the room.

“Okay, drinks and bathroom break,” said Tony, getting up and heading straight for the bar.

Clint poked Bucky’s shoulder. “Want a beer?”

“Sure,” said Bucky, but he didn’t move so that Clint could get up like he’d been hoping.

“Don’t worry about moving,” said Natasha, getting up. “I’ll get it.”

She headed for the kitchen and Clint craned his head to watch her go with a frown. He looked back at Bucky. “There’s something weird there, right?”

Bucky shrugged. “You know her better than I do.”

“Maybe she’s a secret fan of true love,” said Sam.

“She does do a lot of match-making,” added Steve.

Clint shook his head. “Nah, that’s just her practicing her people manipulation skills.”

Natasha came back with three bottles braced in her hands and a bag of chips tucked under her arm. “Maybe I’m just enjoying seeing you happy,” she said, handing a bottle to Clint.

Clint took it and gave her a very suspicious look. “Not likely.”

She gave him an enigmatic smile as Bucky took his beer, then stole the seat Tony had been in.

Clint had to shift to be able to drink, propping himself more upright in the corner of the sofa and moving his legs off Bucky’s lap. Bucky moved as well, but only to press in closer to Clint’s side, his head resting against Clint’s shoulder. His hair brushed over Clint’s neck and he idly noted that it was softer than he’d have guessed.

“Okay, we ready to go again?” asked Tony, coming back from the bathroom, and then he stopped to let out a deep sigh. “Romanov, that’s not how you make friends, you know.”

“I have enough friends,” said Natasha. “And now I have a chair as well.” She gave him a smirk.

Tony’s eyes narrowed and he glanced around at the others but no one moved or even looked sad for him.

“Told you to buy another chair, man,” said Clint. “As you reap, and all that.”

“What the hell do you know about reaping?” muttered Tony, grabbing the cushion Natasha had been using and moving it so that he could lean against the side of her chair.

“Plenty,” said Clint. “Grew up on a farm, remember? Well, partially grew up on a farm.”

“You told me it was a dairy farm,” said Natasha. “Please tell me you didn’t reap the cows.”

“That sounds dirty,” said Spider-Man. “Why does that sound dirty?”

“It ain’t the cows Clint’s going to be reaping tonight,” said Bucky in a slow, lascivious voice, following it up with a wink.

Steve put his head in his hands. “Jesus, Bucky,” he muttered.

“Okay,” said Tony, who had been sitting on the floor for less than thirty seconds. “No. This isn’t happening.” He stood back up again. “Starks don’t sit on floors. You,” he pointed at Spider-Man. “Get up, come on. You’re young and flexible, you can cope with the floor.”

Spider-Man just stared at him and Tony circled his wrist. “Come on, come on, move it.”

Spider-Man let out a sigh and got up. “There’s too many old men on this team.”

Tony pushed the cushion into his arms and threw himself onto the chair. “Say that again and I’ll take away your workshop privileges.”

Spider-Man looked down at the cushion, then tossed it at Tony. “Yeah, I don’t need this.”

He shot webs at the ceiling, then pulled them down to form a hammock-like swing and hopped up into it.

“Is that cheating?” asked Clint. “It feels like that’s cheating.”

Bucky patted at his knee. “Enough, can we just watch the movie?”

“Sure, now I’m comfortable,” said Tony, and restarted it.

A few more people died and eventually a shark got blown up. Clint finished his beer and set the bottle down, which Bucky took as a sign to wrap an arm around his waist, cuddling in closer.

Fuck, this shouldn’t feel this nice, should it? Was Clint touch starved or something? Maybe he needed to actually breathe some life back into his love life.

After this charade with Bucky was over, of course. He wasn’t going to be the guy who got caught cheating on his fiancé. Apart from anything else, Steve would probably kill him.

As the credits rolled, he glanced at the clock, and then over at the others. “We’ve got time for another one, right?”

Not because he didn’t want to move, but because they had several decades of classic movies to catch Steve and Bucky up on. Even after three years, Steve was still missing as many of Tony’s references as he got.

“You don’t want to take Bucky off to bed?” asked Natasha, pointedly. “He looks like he’s pretty much asleep already.”

“I’m awake,” said Bucky, lifting his head. “Let’s do another one, c’mon.”

“What was that one you quoted at me yesterday?” Steve asked Tony. “Something about it being dark while you’re wearing sunglasses?”

Blues Brothers,” said Tony, snapping his fingers. “Yes, excellent choice, you’re going to love this. It’s a musical.”

“That’s what you said about Rocky Horror,” said Steve, with all the wariness of a guy who knew Tony too well.

Bucky sniggered into Clint’s shirt. “Man, I wish I’d been here to see that.”

“It was pretty incredible,” agreed Clint, rubbing a hand over Bucky’s shoulder before he realised he was doing it. Okay, so this cuddling thing was pretty addictive. They had a movie night at least once a week, usually more often. He wondered if having a super-soldier draped across his chest would end up being standard. That would be kinda nice.

Steve appeared to enjoy Blues Brothers more than he had Rocky Horror. It probably helped that bad things happened to Nazis in it. Steve’s favourite films always seemed to involve bad things happening to Nazis. Natasha, on the other hand, seemed to spend more time watching Bucky drifting off against Clint’s shoulder than she did the screen.

Clint watched her back, trying to work out her game. She couldn’t have a clue that this thing wasn’t real, not right now while Bucky was pretty much asleep on top of him. It wasn’t even as if she didn’t know that jumping straight into a relationship with both feet was Clint’s usual method. It had just been a long time since he’d let himself take that kind of emotional risk, and even longer since it hadn’t ended in a heap of shit within only a couple of months. Relationships weren’t really his strong suit.

She just gave him a quiet smile that told him nothing, then turned her attention back to the car chase on screen. Damn, he hated it when she used her super-enigmatic spy skills against him.

When the movie ended, Bucky’s eyes had been shut for a while, but Clint didn’t think he was actually asleep. There was a tension to his body that wasn’t quite right.

Still, he didn’t move as Tony flicked the TV off and the others started to get up. Spider-Man hopped down out of his improvised seat and then regarded it. “Uh, that’ll dissolve. At some point.”

“Great, thanks, feel free to clutter up my Tower with your crap,” muttered Tony.

Spider-Man shrugged. “Well, if you had enough furniture…”

Steve paused by the couch Clint and Bucky were on and looked down at Bucky. “Do you need help getting him to bed?” he offered.

“Your place or his?” added Natasha, with a wink.

“Nah,” said Clint, “I’m just gonna…” He shook Bucky’s shoulder, because even if he was awake he clearly wanted people to think he was asleep. “C’mon, wake up.”

The only warning he got was a split-second of Bucky’s muscles tensing, then there was a flurry of limbs and Bucky’s metal hand clamped around his throat.

“Bucky!” exclaimed Steve, grabbing at his shoulder as Clint grabbed for Bucky’s wrist, hoping like hell he’d be able to pry him off before his windpipe was crushed.

Except Bucky wasn’t exerting any force and even though his expression was the stony blank mask of the Winter Soldier, he flickered a wink at Clint.

Steve grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, and a moment later emotion flooded onto Bucky’s face. He stumbled back from the sofa, staring at Clint in shock.

“Oh, fuck, sorry,” he said.

Clint grabbed at his throat as if it hurt. He’d been thrown into enough impromptu acting moments by Natasha over the years to know when to play along. “It’s fine,” he said, trying to add a small amount of rasp, although not enough to worry anyone.

“It’s not fine,” said Bucky, managing to sound as if he were on the verge of tears. “Clint, this is— I told you this would happen. This is why I can’t sleep with you.”

Oh, that was the point of this. Clint took a moment to channel the right emotions and stood up, holding a hand out to Bucky placatingly. “Hey, I know. I got it, I never would have pushed it.”

Bucky nodded with sharp movements, then glanced around at their audience. “Fuck,” he muttered, clenching his hands. “I’m fucking sorry,” he said again, then turned on his heel and strode off to the elevator.

Clint looked around at the others and managed a rueful smile. “Uh, I’m just gonna go to bed.”

He slipped off as quickly as he could, before anyone noticed that there were no marks on his throat.

Okay, so they’d ducked that one at least. No one would be expecting them to spend the night together now. Which was a good thing, he firmly told himself, no matter how nice it had felt to have Bucky cuddled up against him.

****

When Clint went into the kitchen the next morning, Tony, Sam, Steve and Natasha were gathered around the table having what looked like a intense chat. They all looked up to stare at him and he paused in the doorway.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” said Tony, in a sing-song voice. He stood up and gave Natasha a meaningful nod, then strode out.

Clint blinked after him, then turned to stare at Natasha. “Okay, what the hell?”

“Nothing,” she said, echoing Tony before she took a pointed sip of coffee.

Clint turned his gaze to Steve. “Cap, what do you do if your team is keeping secrets from you?”

Steve snorted. “You look at the number of spies you have on your team and accept it as inevitable,” he said. “This isn’t a secret, though. We were just talking about you and Bucky, and that we should be changing things around so that you get to spend more time together.”

“I’m going to swap groups with you for new agent training,” said Natasha. “Then you’ll be at SHIELD at the same time as Bucky has therapy, so you can travel up and back together.”

“Uh, right,” said Clint. “Thanks.” He guessed they could go use the gym there once they were both done. Clint always wanted to do something physical and a bit violent once he’d sat through therapy and he was willing to bet Bucky was the same. He headed for the coffee machine and started fixing himself a mug.

“It means I don’t have to give him a ride, as well,” added Steve.

“Doesn’t he have his own transport?” asked Clint, and then wanted to kick himself. That was definitely something he should know about his fiancé.

“SHIELD don’t like him going there without an escort,” said Steve. His expression made it clear that he wasn’t happy about that. Clint wondered what kind of reaction he’d had when SHIELD told him that, and if there was video footage of it anywhere.

“His therapist must be pleased that he’s in a stable relationship,” added Sam. “That kind of thing will make them more likely to trust him.”

Steve’s glower didn’t fade.

“You’re talking about me,” said Bucky, pausing in the doorway and staring around at them all.

“They’ve been talking about both of us,” said Clint, and held up an empty mug at him in question. Bucky gave him a distracted nod, then glared at Steve.

“You don’t need to gossip like a fishwife, Rogers.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “We were trying to help you. Clint’s going to take you to therapy later.”

Clint poured another mug of coffee and handed it to Bucky, then sat down next to Natasha. “I’m pretty sure it’s all some game by Nat to palm off the worst new SHIELD agents on me,” he said. “Let me guess, they’re all arrogant idiots who don’t listen to instructions.”

“Only about half of them,” she said, picking up her empty plate and taking it over to the dishwasher, “which is average.”

Clint sighed. He hated training new agents, but it was the deal they’d struck with Fury when they’d first became Avengers. He wouldn’t give them missions unless he absolutely had to, and they’d run training sessions for the new agents a few times a week.

“We can have lunch before,” suggested Bucky.

“Yeah, okay,” said Clint.

“It’s a nice day,” said Sam. “You could take a walk through Central Park as well.” Clint and Bucky both looked at him and he shrugged. “And then you can tell the therapist that you’ve done something other than brooding in your room and obsessively shooting things in the range.”

“That’s not all we did in the range,” said Bucky, and sent Clint a smirk.

“Yeah, I needed to talk to you about that,” said Steve. “Try and keep some sense of decorum in the public areas, would you?”

Bucky’s grin grew even wider. “Told you,” he said to Clint.

“Yeah, yeah,” said Clint. “You win at knowing the guy you’ve been friends with since you were tiny kids in hilarious 1930s clothes.”

Bucky snorted with amusement and grinned at Steve. “Newspapers in your shoes,” he said.

Steve let out a very long sigh and rubbed a hand over his face. “You think you’d be able to let that go, one of these days.”

“My mom used to put cardboard in Barney’s old shoes to try and make them fit my feet when I grew out of my ones,” offered Clint, in the spirit of solidarity. “It didn’t work so great.”

“The wear of your feet just sort of pulled it apart within a few hours of walking, right?” said Steve.

“Yep,” agreed Clint. “Man, I haven’t thought about that for years. Here’s to being able to afford new shoes.” He held his coffee mug out to Steve, who tapped it with his own mug.

Bucky sighed. “Great, now I feel like an asshole, thanks for that.” He got up and opened the fridge. “Who wants me to make eggs as a shitty apology?”

“Sounds like a pretty good apology, thanks,” said Clint.

Steve shook his head, draining the last of his coffee and standing up. “He means the eggs will be shitty,” he said. “I’ve got to go, I’ll see you guys later.”

Sam and Natasha disappeared as well, leaving Bucky and Clint alone.

“Something we said?” asked Clint.

Bucky shrugged as he pulled ingredients out of the fridge. “Their loss. It’s not like these eggs are going to be completely shitty.”

They really were, but Clint didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if he were any better at cooking.

****

They went to the range after breakfast, then took Sam’s suggestion and went for a walk through the park. Clint got to pet a lot of dogs while Bucky watched him with an amused look. He seemed much more relaxed out here and Clint wondered just how much the constant scrutiny in the Tower played on his nerves.

RoB dog photo whbb2_S1.jpg

“You know that moving in didn’t mean you can’t head out for a break if you need it for a night or two, right?” he said as they continued their walk after a particularly excitable collie.

Bucky barked out a laugh. “Are you kidding? That's exactly what it means for me, but I knew that going in. Why do you think it took me so long to do it?” He glanced at Clint, flicking his hair out of his eyes. “This is the first time I've left without Steve fussing all over me and pretending he ain't. He didn't even come to wave us off.”

Clint hadn't really noticed that, but looking back he realised that Bucky was right. Every other time he’d popped out, Steve had either gone with him or he’d just been casually in the right place to say goodbye and get a time for when Bucky would get back.

“Guess he trusts you not to freak out and run off when you're with your fiancé,” he said. “This thing is going to help both of us.”

“Definitely,” said Bucky with satisfaction, aiming a smile up at the blue sky.

They found a bench that was off the beaten track, where they could sit without being stared at by people trying to work out why they looked familiar. They chatted for a while as Bucky soaked up the sun and Clint wondered if the guys who had thought ‘Winter Soldier’ was a good name had had any idea of how much Bucky clearly loved being in the sun.

They had lunch at a diner near SHIELD rather than suffering the food from the canteen, then Clint went off to teach baby agents not to shoot each other and Bucky went to bare his soul to his therapist. Or stare glumly at him until the hour had passed, if he handled it like Clint had his mandatory therapy after Loki, but he had a feeling Bucky took it more seriously than that. For one thing, he seemed to be getting better, and for another, Clint had actually heard him talking about doing homework for it. Clint’s therapist had never pretended there was a hope in hell of Clint bothering with any homework from him.

They went to the assault course in the gym once they were both done, before heading back to the Tower. It was only after dinner that Clint realised they’d spent pretty much the whole day together.

Huh, apparently it was really easy to hang out with Bucky. That should make this engagement thing look real, at any rate.

****

 

Somehow, it kept happening. On any day when the weather wasn't terrible, they added a trip to the park after their range time, and then it just made sense to have lunch together afterwards, either out or back at the Tower. Clint would usually spend at least some of his afternoons with Natasha, but she’d become very busy with some SHIELD project that she couldn't talk about, so he ended up hanging out with Bucky in the gym instead.

Steve seemed to have decided that getting engaged was a sign that Bucky didn't need constant babysitting, so he was off catching up on all the things he’d let slide for the last few months, which meant Bucky was at a loose end a lot too.

“I know museums aren't exactly your thing, but I'm trying to catch up,” said Bucky. “Do you want to come to the Museum of the City of New York with me today?”

Clint couldn't remember going to a museum to actually look around rather than spy on someone or steal something. “Sure, why not?”

It was more fun than he’d have expected, especially when they went to an exhibition on the Depression and Bucky started muttering little comments about all the inaccuracies, hands shoved in his pockets and a hat pulled down so far over his face that Clint only saw the bright flash of his eyes when he glanced over.

In the gift shop after, Bucky bought Clint a pizza-shaped nightlight, which was possibly the best thing Clint had ever seen.

“Saw it and couldn't resist,” Bucky said with a shrug as if expecting Clint to refuse it. “Thanks for coming with me.”

“No problem,” said Clint, trying not to hug the nightlight to his chest and thinking about just how much easier it was going to be to push away the nightmares about Loki when there was a slice of pizza glowing in the corner. “It was fun. Just don't tell Nat l had fun at an educational thing, she’ll think I’ve been brainwashed again.”

The second after he said it, he regretted it. Shit, he shouldn't be making brainwashing jokes around Bucky, that was an asshole move.

Bucky just laughed though. “We probably shouldn't give her any more excuses to hit you around the head. You seem to get enough concussions.”

“Man, I wish that wasn't so true,” said Clint.

“Maybe we should get you a helmet,” said Bucky. “You could fight in a motorcycle helmet, right?”

Clint shook his head. “No way, where’s the style in that?”

****

Natasha and Steve were both in the lounge when they got back to the Tower.

“Have a good date?” asked Natasha.

Clint hadn't thought of it as a date, but he supposed that was how it looked.

“Yep,” he said. “Have fun doing super-secret spy things that you won't tell me about?”

She gave him a quiet smile. “Oh yes.”

“If you’re going to have sex now, could you do it in Clint’s room?” asked Steve. “I was about to go do some drawing in mine and I’m not convinced about the soundproofing of the walls.”

Clint had to hold back a choked denial because he wasn't okay with Captain America discussing his sex life so casually, not even his fake sex life.

Bucky just slung an arm around Clint's shoulders, pulling him in close to his side. “Sure thing, Stevie. I guess I am intending to make him scream.”

Clint did choke at that, then turned and narrowed his eyes at Bucky. If that was how they were going to play it, he could hit back just as hard. “Please, we both know you’re the noisy one. I have no idea how everyone in Brooklyn didn't know exactly who you were fucking, back in the day.”

Bucky’s smirk widened. “Guess you’re the only one who brings that out in me, babe.”

Pet names? Oh, it was on.

“Let’s go see what else I can bring out of you, darling,” he drawled, resting his hand on Bucky’s hip, and then sliding it around his waist in order to guide him in the direction of his bedroom.

“God, please,” he heard Natasha mutter as they left the lounge, and he allowed himself a satisfied smile. Driving Natasha crazy made the whole charade worth it.

****

“Okay,” said Steve at the next team training session, clapping his hands together. They’d taken over the biggest training room at SHIELD, which usually meant Steve had come up with some new and fiendish way to torture them in the name of improving teamwork.

“We’re going to work on pair fighting today,” said Steve. “As the newest member, and someone used to working solo, Bucky’s the one that needs the most practice, so we’ll start with him. Clint, you partner him, you two should work well together.”

“That's what the rings around their necks imply,” said Tony.

Clint touched his hand to the shape of the ring under his shirt. He’d mainly got used to ignoring its presence now, although he occasionally found himself fiddling with it.

“That, or they're about to head out on a quest to Mordor,” said Spider-Man. The rest of them were just in sparring clothes, but he was in his suit as usual. Clint wondered if he was ever going to get bored of always being behind a mask.

“That would probably be more fun than one of Steve's ideas for training,” said Bucky, as he put his hair up in a bun.

“You’re going to stay touching each other for the whole fight,” said Steve, with the long-suffering tone that meant he was going to allow the banter for now, but would eventually meet his limit. “The rest of us are going to try and separate you.”

“That's it?” asked Clint.

“That's it,” confirmed Steve.

Clint glanced at Bucky and held out his hand. Bucky reached to take it, then stopped and frowned.

“No, this way is better,” he said, going to Clint’s other side so that he could clamp his metal hand around Clint's wrist.

Clint tried not to think about the gripping power of it and how easy it would be for Bucky to crush his wrist bones. Everyone here thought they’d been fucking for long enough to be completely comfortable with every part of each other, including Bucky’s metal arm.

Shit, and now Clint was thinking about just how you might use a metal arm in a sexual context. This was definitely not the time.

“Okay, ready?” asked Steve. “Go.”

It was a lot harder than Clint had been expecting. The rest of the team divided into two groups and came at them. Clint did his best to fight them off without the use of one of his arms, but he found himself ducking and dodging, trying to retreat instead of standing his ground. It didn’t help that Bucky was fighting without any consideration of Clint, tugging him all over the place as he moved.

Clint went to strike Natasha, got pulled off balance by Bucky and had to duck under her fist instead, earning himself a solid kick to the shin.

“Fuck, ow,” he said, stumbling as his arm was yanked again. “Jesus, Bucky, gimme a-”

Spider-Man grabbed his ankle and he fell forward, then Bucky moved away again in another direction and Clint’s arm tried to bend in a way it wasn’t designed for. He let out a cry and tried to pull his wrist free, but Bucky’s grip was too strong.

“Ow, ow, let go!”

Bucky let go and stepped back. “Shit, sorry, sorry!” he said, backing away. He looked horrified, so Clint just rubbed at his wrist a bit and tried not to look like he was checking to make sure it still worked.

“No problem, just, I think we need a better strategy.”

“That was pretty easy,” agreed Sam.

“Are you hurt?” asked Bucky, his eyes still fixed on Clint’s wrist.

Clint rotated it to prove to him that it was fine. “Not really.”

“You could kiss it better,” suggested Spider-Man.

Clint rolled his eyes. “Okay, seriously, stop looking so freaked out,” he said, stepping over to Bucky and putting a hand on his arm. “Deep breath, then let’s come up with a better way to do this, okay?”

“We’re not using my metal hand again,” said Bucky, but his shoulders were relaxing. He reached out and took Clint’s wrist in gentle hands, looking it over as if he didn’t trust Clint’s judgement on whether or not it was damaged.

“No, probably better not,” agreed Clint, because he didn’t really feel like snapping a bone today. “And we need to fight more as a team, be aware of what the other is doing so we’re not working against each other.”

Bucky nodded, then glanced over his shoulder at where the others were probably watching. He met Clint’s eyes and an amused eyebrow raise was all the warning he got before Bucky gently pressed a kiss to Clint’s wrist. Right, okay, if they were playing it like that…

“You know, I also hurt my shin,” he said, and waggled his eyebrows.

Bucky snorted. “How about I kiss all your injuries better once we’re done and back home?”

“And behind a closed door,” added Tony. “That part is very important.”

“C’mon, guys, let’s go again,” said Steve. “The canoodling can wait.”

“Canoodling,” repeated Tony. “Jesus, Cap, seriously?”

“Canoodling sounds pretty good to me,” said Bucky, giving Clint a wink.

“Nothing quite like the moment you remember you’re engaged to someone from your grandpa’s generation, right, Clint?” said Tony.

Clint rolled his eyes as he turned back to the others, reaching out to take a grip on Bucky’s other hand. “I’d like to see the grandpa who’s this hot.”

Bucky cleared his throat, then gestured at the others. “Okay, ready.”

They didn’t do much better the second time, or the third. Trying to fight while keeping contact with someone, especially when there were so many people ranged against you, was almost impossible. Clint did his best to anticipate Bucky’s movements, but he didn’t have enough experience of fighting with him to be able to predict him like that. If he’d been doing this with Natasha, it would have been much easier.

“Okay,” he said, after the third time they’d lost contact, “okay, we need to rethink.”

“Yeah, this ain’t working so well,” said Bucky. “Is there a different way we can keep contact? It doesn’t have to be hands, right, Steve?”

“As long as you’re touching, it doesn’t matter,” said Steve.

Clint took a moment to scan over Bucky’s body, thinking about their options. “Oh, I know. We can do this like kids playing at jousting. You can take my weight on your shoulders, right?”

“Easily,” said Bucky. “You gonna have the balance for that, though?”

Clint scoffed. “Circus brat, remember?” he said. “If I can shoot arrows standing on the back of a galloping horse, I can stay on your shoulders, no sweat.”

Well, there was some sweat, but it worked a lot better than holding hands had. Clint locked his legs around Bucky’s shoulders and Bucky put an arm over to keep them in place. It left him one-armed, but Clint had both his arms free, and the extra height gave him an advantage.

It was also a lot harder for the others to pry them apart like that. Spider-Man leapt onto Clint’s back and tried to tug him off with his weight, but Clint was able to hold on, then grab Spider-Man’s shoulder and fling him off. It unsettled his balance though, so that when Sam grabbed his waist and tried to pull him down, he shifted on Bucky’s shoulders and ended up dangling upside down.

“Not good!” he said, throwing a punch at Sam that got him to let go.

“Hang on!” said Bucky, throwing himself into a roundhouse kick to knock Steve away. He was gripping at Clint’s legs, but that didn’t stop Clint from being thrown around as he dashed for a bit of clear space, getting some distance from the others before he paused and hauled on Clint to help him get upright again.

“It’s a good thing I’m flexible,” said Clint as he got himself properly settled again.

Tony snorted. “I bet that’s not the first time Bucky’s appreciated that.”

“You’re not wrong,” said Bucky, taking a careful step backwards.

The others were already circling them again. Clint took a deep breath and patted Bucky’s head. “Ready?”

“Always,” said Bucky, then put his head down and barreled straight at Tony, who he must have decided was the weak link in the circle closing around them. He struck out at Tony, making him flinch back and Clint thought they were going to get free and clear again, then Natasha launched herself into Bucky, both feet catching him solidly in the side.

Bucky and Clint went down like a falling tree, Clint landed firmly on top of Bucky as they tumbled across the ground, knocking the air out of his lungs.

Clint let out a groan. “Aw, fuck,” he muttered. He raised his head off Bucky’s shoulder and looked at him. “That hurt.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bucky, with a bit of a wheeze. “Maybe we need to rethink this?”

“I don’t know,” said Clint, wondering if he should move but staying right where he was. Bucky felt very warm and he wondered if super-soldiers had a higher temperature than normal people. That might explain why cuddling with him on the sofa had been so cosy. “I mean, we are still touching, right?”

“Not for long,” said Steve, and both of Clint’s ankles were grabbed. He tried to cling to Bucky as Steve and Sam dragged him off but they were moving too fast. Bucky clutched at his arms and for a moment Clint was suspended in the air, feeling like he was on a rack, then Bucky let go.

Sam and Steve dumped Clint on the mat and Clint groaned again, then rolled over onto his back. “Assholes,” he said to their grinning faces.

“Winning assholes,” corrected Sam.

Bucky propped himself up on his elbow. “You know, Steve, I feel like you’ve had better training ideas.”

“Everyone’s a critic,” said Steve. He glanced around at the others. “Okay, how about this? Natasha on Sam’s shoulders, Spider-Man on mine, we can do last one standing. Tony, you can be referee.”

“Oh, thank god,” said Tony, stepping back out of the way.

Clint moved out of the way as well, dragging himself to lean against the wall as he tried to get his breath back. Bucky came over to sit next to him, leaning their shoulders together.

“My money’s on Steve,” said Bucky as the two teams started to circle each other.

“Your money’s always on Steve,” said Clint. He eyed up the two teams. Steve was stronger than Sam, so would probably be a more solid base, but Natasha had more experience with dirty fighting than Spider-Man. But then, he was also stronger and had that freaky agility that made even Natasha look clumsy.

Except, it was Natasha. What kind of a friend would he be if he didn’t support her? “Go Nat! Crush that bug!” he called.

“Hey!” protested Spider-Man, which meant he was distracted when Sam and Natasha struck, sending him wobbling on Steve’s shoulders as Steve darted back out of the way.

“Cheating on behalf of your best friend?” said Bucky. “I’m shocked and horrified, Hawkeye.”

Clint shrugged. “Gotta get ahead how you can when you’re the token baseline human on a team of super-soldiers, enhanced guys, and people wearing highly advanced suits. Besides, the referee hasn’t called it as cheating.”

“Oh, I’m totally up for some dirty fighting,” said Tony. “As long as no one gets slugged in the balls, it’s all good.”

Spider-Man and Natasha were locked in a struggle, arms grasping each other’s shoulders. Just as Clint was thinking that might be a tactical error on Natasha’s part, Sam suddenly descended to his knees, putting Natasha at exactly the right height to slam a fist into Steve’s stomach. Sam grabbed Steve’s ankle as he flinched back, pulling him off balance and sending him crashing to the ground.

Clint applauded. “Nice!”

Natasha looked over with a smile. “You two want to take us on?”

“Sure,” said Clint, standing up. He looked at Bucky. “Top or bottom?”

Bucky choked and then went faintly red, which was pretty much the perfect reaction. Clint grinned at him.

“And there’s the million dollar question,” said Tony, with more interest than Clint was really comfortable with.

“Maybe for you, I’m pretty sure everyone else doesn’t want to know about our sex life,” said Clint.

Tony gave an unrepentant shrug. “I can think of some fan communities that would care very deeply.”

“Oh, Jesus,” muttered Bucky. “You go on my shoulders again,” he said to Clint, clearly choosing his words carefully. “We’ve got practice at that way round, at least.”

Clint nodded and climbed up onto his shoulders, bracing himself on the top of Bucky’s head as he settled into position.

“You know, when people talk about wanting to climb hot guys like a tree, I’m pretty sure that’s not what they mean,” said Tony.

“Then they’re missing out,” said Clint as Bucky took a firm grip on his ankles. “Being up here is making me feel like a king.”

“Alright, your majesty,” said Sam, squaring up to them with Natasha still balanced on his shoulders. “Prepare to be forcibly abdicated.”

“Okay, you need to work on your smack talk,” said Tony. “Hey, now there’s some training I could get behind, what do you say, Steve? Witty one-liners and soul-destroying insults for every occasion?”

“I think there’s more than enough chatter during missions as it is,” said Steve.

Clint blocked out Tony’s protest as Natasha and Sam moved in closer to them. No doubt she’d have some sort of dirty trick up her sleeve but Clint wasn’t going to give her time to implement it.

“Just need this,” he said to Bucky, then tugged the hair tie out of his bun, letting his hair down. He pinged it right at Natasha, catching her on the nose. The unexpectedness made her flinch back, swearing in Russian.

Bucky saw the opening and darted forward, letting go of Clint’s leg to grab Natasha’s foot and pull her off balance. Sam kicked out to try and stop him, but Bucky side-stepped it, Clint clinging on to keep his balance and then ducking as Natasha recovered enough to send a punch at him.

“And you’re sure this is effective training?” Spider-Man asked Steve.

“Probably not, but it’s fun to watch,” said Steve. “C’mon, Bucky, you can do better than that.”

“Screw you!” called back Bucky. His grip tightened on Clint’s legs and that was all the notice Clint got before Bucky kicked out at Sam, sweeping his legs from under him. There was a moment when Sam almost managed to keep his feet, then Clint struck at Natasha again, rocking her weight on Sam’s shoulders so that he lost his balance and they both went tumbling.

“Oh yes!” crowed Clint, raising his fists over his head. “We are the champions!”

“I’m so proud,” said Steve. “Well done, guys. Shall we do some actual training now?”

“Don’t we get to watch the champions celebrate?” asked Tony. “I mean, surely that kind of success deserves at least a kiss?”

Clint stared at him. “Okay, Tony Stark is a creepy voyeur, who saw that coming?”

Both Natasha and Spider-Man raised their hands followed, a moment later, by Sam. Tony let out a long sigh. “It upsets me when you guys buy into the media bullshit about me, I hope you know that.”

“You’re basically asking them to get off in front of you,” Spider-Man pointed out. “I mean, I don’t want to see that. No offense, I’m sure it’s a beautiful magical love-filled moment when you do make out, but I also don’t really trust you two to have the impulse control to stop with just a kiss.”

“He makes a good point,” said Bucky. “Why do you think we avoid PDAs?”

“Once you pop, you just can’t stop,” agreed Clint, which made at least half the room groan. He patted Bucky’s head. “Hey, want to watch me do something totally cool and impressive?”

“Always,” said Bucky.

“Stretch your arms up above your head then,” said Clint, “and stand very still.”

Bucky reached up and Clint took his hands, using them to stand up on Bucky’s shoulders. He stood still for a moment once he was up, then grinned at the others and flipped backwards, landing solidly on the ground.

Okay, great, apparently that was a skill that didn’t go away.

“Not fair,” said Bucky, turning around as the others applauded. “I didn’t actually see that.”

“I’m sure he’ll put on a private show for you later,” said Tony, with entirely too much innuendo in his voice. “Or we can film it so you can watch it on repeat.”

“And yet, you claim not to be a creepy voyeur,” said Bucky.

Tony sent them both a very lewd wink. “Only for you two, cupcake.”

Clint winced and looked at Steve. “Uh, can we get on with that proper training now, preferably something that means Tony doesn’t speak?”

“Definitely,” agreed Steve.

****

Two days later, Clint came down from training the newbies to meet Bucky in the lobby at SHIELD, and found him slumped in a chair staring at the floor.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked.

Bucky looked up with a drained look and just mutely shook his head. Clint knew that look all too well. “Bad session?”

Bucky shook his head again. “Good session,” he said. “Just...there was a lot of stuff. It’s gonna take me a while to process.”

Clint knew how that went. “Can I touch you?” he asked, and Bucky nodded again.

Clint reached out and put a hand on his shoulder and then, when Bucky didn’t tense up under it, rubbed it back and forth in what he hoped was a calming manner. Bucky let out a long sigh, then tipped forward to rest his forehead against Clint’s stomach.

Okay, right. Clint hadn’t been expecting that, but he guessed they were surrounded by an agency of people who thought they were engaged, so it wasn’t going to start any rumours if he stroked over Bucky’s head.

“Let’s skip going to the gym and just head back to the Tower, okay?”

Bucky nodded against his stomach, then pulled away to look up at Clint. “Actually, could we go to the park? I just wanna sit quietly for a bit.”

Clint had meant that they’d go back so that Bucky could hide away and be alone for a bit, which was what Clint always wanted when therapy cut too deep to the bone, but if Bucky wanted Clint to stick around, he could do that too.

They ended up back on the same bench where they often sat. Bucky relaxed back into it and then tipped his face up towards the sun, shutting his eyes. Clint watched the way the sunlight highlighted the lines of his face for a few minutes, then made himself look away. Not cool to stare at a guy trying to get his head back together.

“You know, I used to have the same therapist you’ve got now,” he said. “He gave me cookies whenever I had a breakthrough or opened up to him or whatever.”

Bucky opened his eyes. “I never get any cookies,” he said, sounding vaguely upset.

“I get the feeling I was a horrible patient and he was trying anything he could,” said Clint. “I mean, I had sessions for six months, and I think we got through about half a pack of cookies.”

Bucky considered that. “I guess we’ve been doing loads of stuff on free will and making my own choices. Maybe he doesn’t want me to feel like he’s coercing me.”

“Do cookies count as coercion?” asked Clint. “I mean, I guess so, but the best kind of coercion, right?”

Bucky snorted, turning to look at him. “I guess I know how to get you to do shit for me now, then.”

“Pretty much,” agreed Clint. “Give me a cookie and I’ll do whatever you want.” He winked at Bucky, who rolled his eyes and looked away. He was looking a lot more relaxed now. It was amazing what a trip to the park could do. “Hey, you want to see if we can find some dogs to pet? That’s meant to be good therapy, right?”

“Is that why you quit therapy? Because you thought you could just pet some dogs and it would be the same thing?” asked Bucky.

“Nah,” said Clint. “I quit because it stopped being mandatory. You, uh, you probably shouldn’t take me as any kinda role model when it comes to therapy.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that,” said Bucky. He stood up and looked around. “Come on, let’s go find some dogwalkers.”

They found enough friendly dogwalkers for Clint to make a fuss over several dogs, and Bucky even deigned to stroke a couple. It made him look even more relaxed, so Clint figured that he’d at least managed something good today. Or, well, Bucky had managed it on his own and Clint was just taking credit, but he was okay with that.

On the way back to the Tower, Clint popped into a store and bought a packet of cookies, which he handed to Bucky. “Well done on being better at therapy than me.”

Bucky blinked at the cookies for a moment before staring at Clint. “Uh, thanks,” he managed, then cleared his throat and added. “Seems like it wouldn’t be possible to be worse.”

He was probably right but Clint wasn’t really up for admitting that, so he just shrugged as they headed back inside the Tower.

Sam was in the lounge when they got up there, frowning over a laptop.

“I’m making coffee,” announced Clint, heading for the kitchen. “Want some?”

“Please,” said Sam.

“And if you’re very lucky, Bucky may give you a cookie,” added Clint.

Bucky gave him a betrayed look. “Those are my therapy cookies, you really think I’m gonna be sharing them?”

“Isn’t your therapist encouraging you to interact with people more?” asked Sam. “Sharing cookies seems like just the kind of sociable thing he’d approve of.”

Bucky glared at him, clutching his cookies to his chest. “Nope. Get your own therapy cookies.”

Clint sniggered at the look on Sam’s face as he went into the kitchen and made a beeline for the coffee machine. Bucky followed him in, then opened the cookies and offered him one. Clint glanced over his shoulder through the door at Sam, who was watching as he took the cookie, and made sure to hold it up to him. Sam huffed out a sigh and turned back to his laptop.

“Perks of being engaged, right?” said Bucky, taking a cookie of his own.

“What’s yours is mine,” agreed Clint. “Oh, hey, there’s some social interaction for your therapist to be proud of.”

Bucky gave him a very long look. “Wow, you really were shit at therapy,” he said, then added, in a quiet voice so that Sam wouldn’t hear, “I’ve told him this is a prank. You don’t lie to your therapist.”

Huh, okay. Clint hadn’t even stopped to consider that Bucky would have told his therapist all about it. But then, for a moment there he’d kinda forgotten that the engagement wasn’t real. The longer they spent hanging out together like this and acting as if it were true, the more he forgot that this was only a game. It just felt all too easy to fall into the pretence.

He turned back to the coffee machine. “Okay, fine, I guess that’s the mentally healthy thing to do.”

“And therefore the opposite of what you would do?” asked Bucky. Clint sent him a glare over his shoulder, and got a grin and another cookie in return.

****

“Seriously, did someone just update the universe’s GPS so that we suddenly show up on it?” asked Clint, sending another arrow at the weird purple aliens that were trying to cover everything in slime. “No aliens for centuries, now it feels like we get some every other week.”

“Apparently we’re a hot tourist destination now,” said Tony, looping overhead and hitting a hover bike with a repulsor blast. “Maybe we should be investing in specialist hotels on the moon or something.”

“This is what happens when you let E.T. phone home,” said Spider-Man, netting a handful of aliens in a web.

Sam groaned. “Oh man, really?”

“Hey, I thought that was pretty good,” protested Spider-Man.

“It made me laugh,” admitted Clint, sending an explosive arrow at a hover bike that was closing in on Natasha. Why did aliens always have hover bikes and, more importantly, why didn’t he have one?

“I didn’t get it,” admitted Steve. “Can we maybe leave some of the banter until after these guys are dealt with?”

“Okay, we’re watching E.T. tonight then, right?” said Clint, ignoring the rest of Steve’s comment. “Bucky, have you seen it?”

“Nope,” said Bucky. He sounded out of breath and Clint glanced over to his perch to see that a cluster of aliens had closed in on him. He was holding his own against the circle around him, but it looked like hard work. Clint started sending arrows over to help him, thinning the crowd as Bucky took out the rest.

Once the handful remaining had decided to go find an easier target and jumped back onto their hover bikes, Bucky glanced over the distance between their buildings and raised his hand to wave. “Thanks,” he said over the comms. “I mean, I had that, but thanks anyway.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “Sure, because you’re the lone ranger, I forgot,” he said, turning around to glance at the rest of the battle.

Just in time, too, as about twenty aliens were heading straight for him across the roof, shooting that weird slime down so that they could slide along it. “Fuck,” he muttered, grabbing for an arrow. He shot as fast as he could, thinning the ranks, but there were too many of them and they were moving too fast.

“Anyone in position to give me an airlift?” he asked, shooting three arrows at once and landing all three in a different alien.

“Sorry, Hawkeye, I’m sending the mothership back where it came from,” said Tony.

“Give me two minutes,” grunted Sam, then there was an explosion and he swore to himself. “Uh, make that five.”

Clint didn’t have five minutes. He glanced behind him at the edge of the roof, trying to calculate angles for a grappling arrow. The roof was too low for that, though; he’d just end up smashing into the ground. Shit, shit, not good. He sent another explosive arrow at the biggest cluster, then was forced to switch his bow into its quarterstaff mode as they got up close.

They weren’t large aliens, but they were hardy. It took several hits for them to go down, and Clint found himself being pushed back closer and closer to the edge of the roof.

There was a scatter of bullets and some of them went down, then Bucky suddenly appeared, leaping onto the roof and landing in a roll. He was on his feet in an instant, pulling a handgun out of the holster on his back and laying waste around him. Clint smacked at the nearest alien, sending it tumbling off the edge of the building, then ducked under a spray of slime that another was aiming at him. He really, really didn’t want to find out how hard that stuff was to wash off a combat suit.

“Nice of you to join me,” he said to Bucky as soon as there was enough of a break in fighting for him to catch his breath.

“People keep telling me I need to work harder at being a team player,” said Bucky, grabbing an alien with his metal arm and throwing it into a crowd of its friends, sending them all flying. “Figured backing my fiancé up would be a good start.”

Clint darted back out of range of another load of slime, then grabbed an arrow and clicked his bow back out so he could shoot it at the alien that had tried to slime him. “That’s sweet of you, thanks, cupcake.”

Bucky pulled a face at the pet name as he shot an alien. Clint snorted with amusement, shot an alien then kicked at another one that was sneaking up at him. His foot landed right in a pile of slime and he skidded for a heart-stopping moment, and then toppled over the edge of the building.

“CLINT!” he heard Bucky shout as he twisted in the air, clutching for the edge of the roof and missing it. There was a window a few feet down and he managed to grab at the windowsill as he passed, jolting his shoulder with the full weight of his body.

He had to take a moment to catch his breath, staring down at the drop to the street. “Aw, fuck,” he muttered.

Two aliens went flying off the roof, falling to the street below, then Bucky’s face appeared over the edge of the roof, staring down at him.

“Hey,” said Clint, shifting his weight on his hands to try and get a better grip. “Uh. Any chance of a hand up?”

Bucky let out a long breath. “Jesus, you scared the crap out of me.” He lay down flat on the roof and stretched his arm down. Clint couldn’t quite reach it, so he pulled himself up as far as he could, then let go with one hand and grabbed for Bucky before his other arm could decide it didn’t like holding his weight up on his own. Bucky gripped his wrist with his metal arm and there was a whirr of gears as he lifted Clint up and back onto the roof.

Clint took a moment to lie where he was. “Okay, that one was close.”

“Too close,” said Bucky, rolling over to lean on his elbow next to him. “You hurt?”

“Nah,” said Clint. He found enough energy to raise his head and glance around at the rooftop. The only aliens in sight were unconscious. Or dead, he wasn’t knowledgeable enough about extraterrestrial biology to tell the difference. “Did we win?”

“They all fucked off when Tony sent their mothership back into orbit,” said Bucky. He was running his eyes over Clint as if he didn’t trust his word that he was fine. He also had slime on his cheek, so Clint was willing to let the over-protectiveness go.

“So we won?” he asked, and raised a fist. “Yay.”

Bucky had apparently decided Clint was fine, because he lay back down again, shifting onto his back to stare up at the sky. “Does that mean we get to shower this slime off?”

“And watch E.T.?” asked Spider-Man over the comms. “That’s a classic that Cap shouldn’t miss out on.”

Steve let out a sigh deep enough to be heard over the comms. “Fine, okay, movie night tonight. But first we need to start clean up.”

Clint made a face at Bucky. “Think if I changed my mind and decided I was injured, we could get away with going back to the Tower?”

“Why would I get to go with you?” asked Bucky.

Clint gave him the most wide-eyed innocent expression he could manage. “You can’t possibly let your injured fiancé go back unescorted. What if I died on the way?”

“You know we can hear you, right?” said Steve. “No one is getting out of clean up unless they’re bleeding out. C’mon, the faster we start, the faster we’ll be done.”

Bucky sat up and ran his hands through his hair, then made a face when his fingers caught on the slime in it. “Next time, how about I stab you so we can head back?”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Clint, getting up and rolling his shoulders out. Catching himself one-armed had wrenched the right one so that it now ached, but he didn’t think it was badly damaged. He just needed a long hot shower to relax it out a bit.

He didn’t get it until after they’d finished clean up, by which time it was aching even more. He headed straight for the shower when they got back to the Tower, rubbing at it to soothe the muscles and thinking it would be easier if he had someone else who could do that for him.

When he’d done as much as he could for it, he pulled on his pyjamas and headed up to the lounge.

He was one of the first up there, probably because he had been the least covered in slime. He settled onto the best couch, right in the corner where he could properly curl up.

Natasha came in and sat down on one of the chairs opposite. If you knew how to read her, she looked almost as tired as Clint felt.

“How was the slime?” asked Clint.

“Vile,” she said. “I guess we should just be relieved it wasn’t toxic.”

“That would have been a much more irritating clean up,” agreed Clint.

“We’d have ended up in decontamination,” said Natasha. “Probably quarantine as well.”

Clint made a face. He hated quarantine. “I mean, unknown alien substance, we probably should be anyway.”

“Don’t even think about mentioning that to SHIELD,” said Natasha.

The others drifted in, all of them looking tired and freshly scrubbed. Spider-Man had disappeared, presumably to somewhere he could take the mask off and put on pyjamas without worrying about his identity being discovered or whatever it was he was so afraid of.

Bucky was the last to arrive, wearing a soft-looking hoodie with his hair falling over his face. The others had left a space next to Clint, which he chose to believe was so he could snuggle with his fiancé and not because he still smelt of alien slime.

Bucky collapsed down next to him. “This movie better be worth staying awake for,” he said.

Clint held out a finger and very carefully poked him in the forehead. “Ell-i-ot,” he said in his best E.T. impression.

Bucky batted at his finger. “Not helping,” he muttered.

“You’re grumpy,” said Sam. He glanced over at Natasha. “Think it’s related to watching his fiancé fall off a building?”

She considered that. “Maybe it’s related to finding his fiancé had survived falling off a building. I mean, this is Clint we’re talking about.”

Clint raised a lazy hand to send a rude gesture at her.

“Nah,” said Bucky, “I quite like him being around. Sometimes he makes me coffee.”

“And thereby justifies his entire existence,” said Tony. He had a drink in his hand, because of course he did.

“Fuck you all,” said Clint, too tired to come up with anything wittier. “And you,” he said to Bucky, poking him again. “You see if I make you any coffee once we’re married.”

Bucky took his hand, holding it so that he couldn’t poke him again. “I’m sure lots of things will be different once we’re married,” he said, with amusement. “You might start taking more care not to fall off buildings.”

“Sure,” agreed Clint, because both things seemed equally unlikely.

“JARVIS, start the movie before things get all soppy and romantic over there,” said Tony.

The TV turned on and the movie started. Bucky kept hold of Clint’s hand as he settled back, tucking it against his chest.

Clint had seen this movie enough to not actually need to pay any attention and as the familiar scenes flashed by, he felt his eyelids growing heavy. He slumped into Bucky’s shoulder, because if Bucky was going to keep hold of his hand, then he could damn well act as Clint’s pillow. Bucky just shifted to lift his arm around Clint’s shoulders, pulling him into his side.

Fuck, that was comfortable. Bucky was warm and his hoodie was soft, and Clint was just going to rest his eyes during a couple of the boring scenes…

When he woke up, the room was a lot darker, the TV was off, and there were voices murmuring close by. He didn’t bother opening his eyes, because he was warm and comfortable and if he stayed still maybe he’d be able to go back to sleep without having to move.

“If you don’t wake him, you’re gonna have to stay there all night,” he heard Steve say.

“Nah,” said Bucky. “He’s completely crashed out. Bet you ten bucks I can carry him down to his room without waking him.”

“Carry the hyper-vigilant superspy around without triggering his reflexes?” said Steve. “Sure, okay. Ten bucks.”

“Okay, then no loud noises,” said Bucky. Clint’s hand was still in his, and he pressed it in warning. Clearly, he’d noticed that Clint was awake and was relying on him to help him win this bet. Clint could definitely do that, especially if it meant he didn’t have to stand up in order to get to bed.

Bucky carefully slid out from under him, leaning him back against the couch, and Clint kept himself boneless and relaxed, turning into the cushion and shifting for a better position. He then held still as Bucky got up and scooped him up in his arms. Clint let out a sleepy grumble and pushed his face into Bucky’s shoulder.

“Ssh, just me,” said Bucky, very quietly. Oh, nicely played.

Clint let himself relax as if that were all the reassurance he needed, and held still as Bucky started moving. He could hear the soft footsteps of Steve following them so he kept his eyes shut, tracking their location by counting Bucky’s footsteps. They paused once they reached roughly where his bedroom door was.

“Open it for me,” whispered Bucky, and there was the sound of a door knob turning.

Three more steps, and then he was being gently set down on a mattress. He snuggled into the pillow, trying not to overdo it too much as Bucky pulled the blankets over him.

“You owe me ten bucks,” said Bucky in a smug, quiet voice, and a hand gently brushed over Clint’s hair.

Clint knew that it was just Bucky playing up for Steve, but that didn’t stop the sensation from relaxing him, wiping away the last lingering tension from the fight earlier.

“Yeah, okay,” said Steve. “You gonna sleep here?”

There was a hesitation, then Bucky’s hand stroked over Clint’s hair again. “No,” he said, in a low voice that had a very believable note of pain to it. Clint was impressed with Bucky’s acting skills. He sounded exactly like a man faced with something he really wanted but knew he couldn’t allow himself. “I can’t.”

Steve let out a sigh, but he didn’t say anything else. A moment passed, then Clint felt a gentle pressure against his forehead and he realised Bucky had kissed him. Wow, okay, he really was selling this one.

Two sets of footsteps retreated and his door quietly closed. Once he was sure he was alone, Clint blinked open his eyes and looked at it. Somehow, his empty room now felt isolated and lonely.

He was being stupid. And definitely needed to get laid as soon as this pretence with Bucky was over.

****

“Friday night!” said Tony, clapping his hands together as he strolled into the lounge. “We all know what that is, right?”

Clint glanced over at Natasha, who he was running through SHIELD briefings with. “Not really,” he said. “I mean, none of us exactly have a 9 to 5, so it’s not like weekends mean much.”

Tony let out a very deep sigh. “No, fool, Friday night is date night. Everyone knows that.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Natasha.

“I think I’m beginning to see why so many Avengers are perpetually single,” muttered Tony. “Look, Robin Hood, where’s your merry man?”

“Sparring with Steve,” said Clint. There was a ping and the elevator doors opened. “Stepping out of the elevator,” he corrected himself.

Tony spun around to face Steve and Bucky as they came out. “Excellent! You guys must be old-fashioned enough to know what Friday night is for.”

Bucky and Steve glanced at each other. “Getting hammered and finding a guy to blow in an alleyway?” suggested Bucky.

“Going home and getting some art done because Bucky’s drunk and looking for guys to pick up?” said Steve.

“Oh my god,” said Tony. “I hate you all. Okay, listen up. Horrifically, Bucky is the closest, because the answer is that it’s date night. The night when emotionally well-adjusted people in stable relationships go out and spend time with their partners. Is that ringing any bells?”

Steve and Bucky glanced at each other, and then shrugged.

“I’m trying to remember the last person who was both an Avenger and emotionally well-adjusted,” said Natasha. “I’m drawing a blank.”

“Thor?” suggested Clint.

She nodded slowly. “Yeah, he might have been the only one.”

“Right!” said Tony. “Okay, putting aside that we’re all fucked up, it’s still Friday night. Or it will be in a couple of hours.”

“Is this your long-winded way of telling me and Clint that we’re not allowed to hang around and watch movies with you guys?” asked Bucky. He glanced at Clint. “Want to hang out in my room and watch movies there instead? That sounds like a date, right?”

“Sure,” agreed Clint. “I’ll bring the beer.”

“No,” said Tony, “No, no, definitely not, that’s terrible, do you people have no sense of occasion?” He spread his hands dramatically. “I have got you reservations at Raul’s.”

There was a pause as he grinned at them with pride.

“Uh,” said Bucky. “What’s that?”

Tony deflated. “Oh, come on,” he muttered. “It’s one of the best restaurants in the city, books up pretty much years in advance, super-fancy and extremely discreet, how do you not know this?”

Bucky shrugged. “Doesn’t much sound like something Hydra would have thought I’d need to know.”

Tony turned to stare at Clint, who just shrugged. “Do they serve pizza?” Tony looked like he was going to cry.

“I know it,” said Natasha. “I infiltrated as waiting staff once to steal certain documents from the ambassador of a European ally.”

“Okay, you know what? Good enough,” said Tony. He looked back at Bucky. “At any rate, I’ve got you reservations so you can have a swanky romantic dinner together.”

“Sounds nice,” said Clint. “Thanks.” He glanced down at his t-shirt and sweatpants. “Am I gonna have to change?”

“I’m kinda hoping you’ll glam it up for me,” said Bucky. “I mean, I may have said yes, but we haven’t tied the knot yet. You gotta make some effort.”

“Right,” said Clint. Shit, had he gotten his nice suit dry-cleaned after the incident at the Mayor’s reception with the shrimp cocktail and the AIM assassin?

Natasha patted his shoulder. “I’ll help.”

“You better be smart as hell,” said Bucky. “I wanna be blown away.”

“Oh baby, I’ll always blow you away,” said Clint, with the cheesiest wink he could manage. “I mean, that’s what you said Friday nights were for, right?”

“But not in the restaurant,” said Steve. “The Avengers don’t need that kind of press.”

Bucky frowned. “If there’s gonna be press, maybe we shouldn’t go,” he said. “I’m not really up for me and Clint being splashed over the papers.”

“You would not believe how discreet Raul’s are,” said Tony. “Trust me, you won’t need to worry. Pretty much everyone there will be hoping the press don’t turn up.”

“You better be right,” said Clint. “You know how shit I am at dealing with reporters.” Besides which, lying to the secret agency that employed him, his team, and the closest friend he’d ever had was one thing. He didn’t really want to be lying to the general public as well.

“And I’m likely just to punch the fuckers,” said Bucky. He glanced down at his sweat-stained gym clothes. “Guess I better shower, then.”

“I’d appreciate it,” said Clint.

“Anything for you, doll,” said Bucky, then headed for the elevator while Clint tried to work out if he was going to allow ‘doll’ as a pet name or not.

****

When Clint got himself cleaned up and put on a fancy suit, he always felt like he was wearing a costume that didn’t fit right. He pulled at his jacket, trying to get it settled better on his shoulders.

“Don’t,” snapped Natasha, running her hands over it. “You’re wrinkling it. Where are your ties?”

“This drawer,” said Clint, pulling it open.

She took a look and let out a quiet sigh. “Why are they all purple?”

“Because purple is the best,” said Clint. “Anyway, this one isn’t purple.” He tapped a blue one.

“It has cartoon dogs on it,” said Natasha, scathingly. She pulled out a deep purple one instead. “This one looks the least like a toddler chose it.”

She tied it for him, because apparently he couldn’t be trusted not to mess that up, then looked him over with a frown. “I think that will have to do,” she said.

Clint glanced down at himself. “Bucky does know me well enough to know there’s nothing classy about me.”

“You don’t think you should be making any effort anyway?” asked Natasha.

Clint shrugged uncomfortably. “I’ve already put a ring on it.”

Natasha had a way of sighing that somehow managed to convey everything that was wrong with Clint’s entire life in one exhalation of breath. “You need to show that this relationship matters to you if you want to progress with it. Making an effort with your appearance is part of that. Besides, don’t you want him to think you’re hot?”

Clint didn’t want to think about any of that, so he plastered on a grin. “I don’t need to wear a fancy suit to look hot, not when I’ve got these guns,” he said, flexing his biceps.

“I give up,” she said, shaking her head as she turned away. “You’re hopeless. Fuck knows what Bucky sees in you.”

Clint had been hoping she’d drop it if he was just obnoxious enough at her. “I mean, probably my guns, right?” he said, grabbing his wallet and phone and tucking them away in his pockets. “JARVIS, is Bucky ready?”

“Sergeant Barnes is waiting for you in the lounge,” said JARVIS. He’d had a disapproving tone to his voice every time he’d spoken to Clint since he and Bucky had started this pretence, but Clint had gotten used to it pretty quickly. It wasn’t like he wasn’t used to people disapproving of his life choices.

Bucky was leaning against the back of the couch with his arms crossed, scowling at whatever Steve was saying to him. He was wearing a dark blue suit and had his hair tied back, highlighting the sharp line of his jaw and his cheekbones.

Fuck, he really was the hottest fake fiancé that Clint had ever had.

“You ready to go?” he asked, pushing that thought aside as unhelpful.

Bucky looked over, then ran his eyes over Clint with a heated look. “I don’t know, I’m thinking maybe we should just spend the evening in one of our rooms after all. That suit’s making me want to mess you up.”

Bucky’s acting really was great. Clint was beginning to wonder if they shouldn’t be encouraging him to go into show business rather than Avenging.

He looked over at Natasha with a smug look. “I told you it was fine.”

Natasha shook her head. “Bucky’s just easily impressed by you.”

“Damn straight I am,” said Bucky. “He’s very impressive. Hey, I got you this for your buttonhole.” He handed Clint a blue flower of some kind. Identifying flowers wasn’t Clint’s strong point. “I figured it would match your eyes.”

“Oh, you smooth bastard,” said Clint, taking it from him. “Thanks, that’s great.” He tucked it into his lapel and gave Bucky a grin. Behind him, he could see Steve watching them. Shit, he should probably go for some kind of physical affection. He took Bucky’s elbow and gave it a squeeze, but that didn’t seem like enough, somehow. How would he react if this were real?

Faced with the happy smile on Bucky’s lips, there was pretty much only one answer to that. He leaned in and pressed a kiss to his cheek, avoiding his mouth with an effort of willpower. He could feel stubble under his lips for a moment, then he pulled away and gave Bucky a smile that he hoped made him look like he was madly in love, and not like he was hoping like hell he wasn’t about to get in trouble for taking a liberty.

Bucky was still smiling at him, though, so he thought he was okay. He didn’t have a knife in his ribs, at any rate.

“C’mon, let’s get going,” said Bucky, putting a hand on Clint’s back to guide him towards the elevator.

“Have fun, guys,” said Steve.

“But not too much fun,” added Natasha. “We don’t need the kind of press that comes from a public indecency charge.”

“Don’t worry,” said Bucky. “We’ve both got enough stealth training to have sex in public without anyone noticing.”

Steve groaned and put his head in his hands. “My plans for tonight do not involve bailing you guys out, please don’t get arrested.”

“I try not to make promises I can’t keep,” said Clint, throwing a wink at Steve as the doors of the elevator shut.

Bucky snorted as they started descending. “Are we gonna have to come back dishevelled, then?”

“Leaves in our hair,” said Clint. “‘Oh, we just took a romantic stroll through the park on the way back.’ Get some dirt on the knees of my pants and we’re set.”

Bucky’s hand hadn’t moved from Clint’s back. Clint wondered if he thought the others would be tracking them on CCTV through the lobby. “So, we’ve got convincing them that this date went well planned out,” said Bucky. “Guess that means we’re free just to have a good time.”

“I hope the food isn’t too fancy,” said Clint. “You know, when it’s hardly any food in a neat little tower and you’re still hungry once you’re done.”

“If it is, we can grab hot dogs before we fake having sex in the park,” said Bucky as the elevator opened on to the lobby. He kept his hand on Clint’s back as they strolled across it to the doors, only dropping it to open the door for Clint.

Clint raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you gonna pull out all your old-fashioned charm tonight?”

“Only the best for my fella,” said Bucky, playing up his Brooklyn accent. “Gonna make you feel like a prince.”

“Careful, you’ll make me swoon,” said Clint.

The restaurant wasn’t close but it was a nice evening and Clint didn’t mind a bit of a walk with Bucky, especially not when the alternative was driving in Manhattan traffic on a Friday night.

“You know, the rest of the team are way more invested in our engagement than I’d have guessed,” he said.

Bucky snorted. “Steve’s actually a lot less invested than I’da thought. Has he cornered you for a talk about respecting my mental health or whatever yet?”

“No,” said Clint. “Actually, that sounds kinda terrifying. You’d say something if I wasn’t respecting your mental health, right?”

“Sure,” said Bucky, pressing closer to Clint to weave around a family of tourists. “Stabbing you is the same as saying something, right?”

“Makes total sense to me, but your therapist might not agree,” said Clint. “Therapists have weird standards for interpersonal communication.” Bucky hadn’t moved away again after they’d passed the family, and their arms were knocking together as they moved.

“I don’t know, he is a SHIELD therapist,” said Bucky. “The SHIELD agents I know all seem to think stabbing is normal conversational behaviour.”

“The SHIELD agents you know are me and Natasha,” Clint pointed out. The back of Bucky’s hand grazed over Clint’s, metal sliding over flesh. Clint felt weirdly aware of it, probably because of how much damage he knew it was capable of. Or maybe because of how long it had been since he’d walked down a street hand-in-hand with someone.

“Exactly,” said Bucky. “Are you saying Natasha’s never stabbed anyone rather than using her words?” Bucky’s fingers nudged his again, then he took Clint’s hand. Clint let him, glancing up at the nearest CCTV camera and then back at Bucky with a raised eyebrow.

“Worried about voyeurs?”

Bucky shrugged. “Stark does seem to enjoy watching us more than I’d have guessed, and if anyone’s gonna hack street cameras in order to creep on his friends...”

“Yeah, good point,” said Clint, squeezing Bucky’s hand and wondering if he could feel it. He knew Bucky could feel things through his metal arm but he didn’t know just how sensitive it was. “Any guesses on when they’ll all just calm the hell down? I had no idea they’d be this invested in our love lives.”

“It is kinda like being part of a knitting circle,” agreed Bucky. “I don’t know, maybe our tenth anniversary?”

Clint snorted. “They’re gonna be fucking disappointed when we ‘break up’ then.”

“Yeah,” said Bucky. His grip tightened on Clint’s hand. “We can leave that for a few more months though. Is that the restaurant?”

“Looks like it,” said Clint, glancing ahead.

The restaurant wasn’t as intimidatingly classy as Clint had feared, but it did have the hushed atmosphere of refined luxury that made the back of his neck itch. Every time he ended up somewhere like this, he was all too aware that he’d been brought up in an actual barn, before he’d brought himself up in a circus.

Of course, he lived in the swankiest penthouse in Manhattan now, with a multi-billionaire and Captain America, so screw anyone here who thought they were doing better than him.

The maitre’d took them to a table at the back that was half-hidden by a screen, with two candles and a bunch of flowers on it. Right, romance. Did they need to be putting on a show for the staff and the other guests too, or could they just have dinner like a couple of normal friends?

Well, he wasn’t sure that many friends would go to the city’s most expensive restaurant for a secluded candle-lit dinner together, but what did he know? His best friend thought infiltrating a Hydra base was a good bonding activity.

She wasn’t exactly wrong. Most of Clint’s closest friendships had been cemented by getting into a firefight together.

Tony hadn’t been wrong about this place being discreet, though.The staff clearly recognised them, but other than a brief stare at Bucky’s metal hand as he pulled out Clint’s chair for him, the waitress gave no sign of it.

They got handed menus, then the waitress hestated with the wine list in hand, clearly trying to decide who to hand it to. Right, this was the kind of fancy place where you had to drink expensive wine and pretend it tasted different to a bottle you’d grab for five bucks from a 7-11.

Bucky glanced at Clint and twitched an eyebrow at whatever was showing on his face, then he turned back to the waitress. “Can we just have a couple of beers?”

“Of course,” she said, and took the wine list away again.

Bucky grinned at Clint. “I could actually see the panic in your eyes. Not a wine guy?”

“Not really,” said Clint. “Always seemed like too much fuss when you could just have a beer, you know?”

The table wasn’t quite big enough for two large guys to fit their legs under, so Clint kept knocking his ankles against Bucky’s. He gave up on trying to give him space and just left his foot resting against Bucky’s.

“Well, this is our fancy-ass date, not Tony’s, so we can drink beer and offend the chef with our shitty palettes if we want,” said Bucky.

Clint snorted as he opened his menu. “So, you’re saying I should be looking for the most redneck thing on here?”

“Or the thing that would go least well with beer,” said Bucky. “I mean, as long as the chef is disgusted with us…”

“That’s the ultimate goal,” agreed Clint.

Clint hadn’t been on a date this fancy in...well, ever, really. He’d only been in a fancy restaurant like this a handful of times, and that had always been SHIELD-related. He couldn’t remember ever having a dinner like this as himself, with someone he didn’t need to try and impress. It was actually a lot of fun. The food turned out to be excellent and there was enough of it that, after three courses, even the super-soldier’s appetite was satisfied.

“Man, I’m so glad Tony is paying for all this,” said Clint, after they’d ordered coffees to round it all off. “No way I’d be able to afford to feel this uncomfortably full on SHIELD wages.”

“So, you’re saying that you’ve changed your mind about hot dogs after?” asked Bucky.

Clint just groaned at the idea.

“That’s okay, I have another idea for what we can do,” said Bucky. “I mean, we can’t just go straight back, they’ll think we didn’t have fun.”

“I’ll probably need to walk off some of this food,” said Clint. “Please tell me you’re not about to suggest anything more active than a stroll, though.”

“I was hoping you’d show me some more of your circus tricks,” said Bucky. “You’re okay to do some somersaults and flips, right?”

“Only if you want me to vomit on you after,” said Clint. “Not sure that’s great date behaviour.”

The waitress set their coffees down and Bucky gave her one of his charming old-fashioned smiles in thanks. Her cheeks went faintly pink and she stuttered over, “Let me, uh, let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”

Clint empathised. It was difficult to hold on to a thought when Bucky was giving off that level of sexy. “We’re good,” he said. “You’ve got the check taken care of, right?”

She nodded. “There’s a card on file for it.” She gave Bucky one more look, then left them to it.

“You coulda got her number,” said Clint.

Bucky shrugged. “I’m on a date with the hottest person in this place, I think I’m okay.”

Clint snorted, glancing around. “I’d be flattered, but it’s kind of a low bar amongst these kinda rich folks. They all seem a bit on the old side.”

“You realise you’re saying that to the oldest guy here, right?” said Bucky. “I mean, I’m guessing no one else here is closing in on a century.”

Clint gave him a very careful look over. “Yeah, but you make it look good.”

Bucky’s smirk turned smug. “I make everything look good.”

Clint couldn’t argue with that, especially not with how Bucky looked in the suit he was wearing right now. “Here’s to being the hottest fake fiancés in New York,” he said instead, holding out his coffee to Bucky as a toast.

Bucky tapped his cup to Clint’s, but his smile had dimmed a little. Maybe Clint should lay off talking about the fake relationship while they were out just being friends like this.

****

It was a warm night and there were hardly any clouds, which meant they could see at least two or three stars as they stepped out of the restaurant into the haze of light pollution that surrounded New York.

“What’s the plan, then?” asked Clint.

Bucky grinned at him. “Come with me,” he said, putting a hand on Clint’s shoulder to guide him down the sidewalk. “I think you’ll like this.”

He took him a few blocks back towards the Tower, then down an alleyway to where a fire escape hung against a building. He leapt up to pull it down, then climbed up.

“This better not involve any parkour,” said Clint, as he followed him. “I wasn’t kidding about keeping things gentle after stuffing myself with all that food. Plus, Natasha will be pissed if I mess up my one good suit.”

“Trust me,” said Bucky as they headed up to the next storey. “I wouldn’t risk anything bad happening to that suit.”

On the third floor there was a loose window that Bucky jiggled open with the ease of practice. They both ducked inside, into a corridor lined with apartment doors.

“I also don’t really want to get arrested for breaking and entering,” said Clint in a hushed voice.

Bucky snorted. “I’ve been here hundreds of times and no one’s ever looked twice at me,” he said. “And half the time I looked like a hobo.”

There was an elevator at the end of the hall that Bucky ushered Clint into and then hit the button for the top floor. Once they were at the top, he led the way to the roof access door. Clint could see that the wires for the door alarm had been tampered with so that it wouldn’t go off when he opened it.

The building was about two thirds the height of Avengers Tower and perfectly placed so that when Bucky and Clint settled down on the edge of the roof they had a perfect view of the top part of it.

“Okay, this is pretty great,” said Clint, automatically tracing over the windows on the penthouse floors to try and spot his room. There was a bright blaze coming from where the lounge must be, so someone must still be hanging out in there.

“I thought you’d like it,” said Bucky. “You see better from a distance, right?”

Clint snorted. “Yeah, something like that.”

Bucky was sat close enough for their legs to be touching. Clint leaned back on his hands to get the Tower in full view, watching as a light went out somewhere around the sixtieth floor. Damn, which poor Stark Industries minion was only just leaving work at this time on a Friday?

“I found this place just before I contacted Steve for the first time,” said Bucky. “I used to come here a lot before I moved in with you guys. At first, it was just sort of automatic. You know, get a good vantage point to keep your eyes on a target, the kind of stuff you do without thinking on a mission.” He pointed up at a window. “That’s Steve’s room. Once I’d been to the Tower a few times, I’d come here and just watch it, trying to work out if I should be moving in or not.”

Clint looked up at it, thinking about what it would be like to be on the outside, trying to work out if it was worth coming in. Watching the lights go on and off and thinking about exchanging the freedom of getting out of Steve’s scrutiny for the comfort and comradery of living in the penthouse.

He nudged Bucky’s shoulder with his. “I’m glad you did.”

Bucky turned to give him a quiet smile. “Me too,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here with you right now if I hadn’t.”

“It’s been a pretty good night,” agreed Clint. “Hey, do you think we can get Tony to fund some more nights out for us? What’s romantic and pricey? Champagne hot air balloon flight?”

“We’d have to make it a beer hot air balloon flight,” said Bucky. “Or pizza.”

“Pizza,” said Clint, “fuck yeah. I mean, we could just order pizza and sit on the landing platform, we’d probably get the same view.”

“That’s not gonna spend Stark’s money, although it does sound more us,” said Bucky. “Sniper picnic, up at the best vantage point in the city.”

That actually sounded like a lot of fun, although it would probably be windy. “I guess that’s next Friday’s date then,” Clint said, “if Tony’s going to bully us into having one every week.”

“I don’t know that I’ll need much bullying if they’re as good as tonight has been,” said Bucky.

“Yeah, it’s been good,” agreed Clint. He couldn’t remember ever having a date that went as easily, where the conversation flowed so well. “Seems like friend dates are better than actual dates. Less pressure, I guess.”

A complicated look passed over Bucky’s face and he turned to stare back at the Tower. “Yeah,” he said, sounding tired.

Maybe he didn’t think the same. Just because Clint found it easy to be around Bucky didn’t mean the reverse was true and they had been spending a lot of time together recently. Clint should probably give him some chances to be on his own for a bit, so that he could really enjoy Steve’s hovering dying down.

Clint nudged Bucky again. “You want to head back? I think we’ve probably been enough time that we can claim we were fucking in the park, or whatever.”

“Yeah, okay,” said Bucky, pulling away and standing up.

****

Bucky was quiet on the walk back to the Tower, which made Clint think he must definitely be tired. Well, tomorrow was a Saturday, so neither of them had to go into SHIELD. He’d keep out of Bucky’s way and let him have some time to himself to recover.

The elevator seemed to take an age to get up to the penthouse. Bucky leaned back against the wall, tendrils from his hair falling down over his face. Clint’s fingers itched to reach out and tuck them back into his bun, so he crossed his arms to keep them in check. Apparently there was a part of his brain that hadn’t got the memo about this all being fake yet.

The team were all in the lounge, watching one of the Toy Story films.

Natasha glanced up from the sofa. “Anyone give you any trouble? Paparazzi?”

“Nope,” said Clint. “Tony was right, the place was totally discreet. No one gave us a second look.”

“I’ve got to say, given how the media tend to hound me every time I leave the house, and decide I must be having a wicked, passionate affair with anyone I look twice at in public, I’m kinda waiting for them to actually notice that you guys have been heading out on sickeningly romantic dates for the last couple of weeks,” said Tony.

Bucky shrugged. “If any reporters decide to make us a target, we can always just take them out.”

“No murdering members of the media,” said Steve, on automatic after years of various Avengers wishing death upon paparazzi.

“Why not?” asked Bucky. “It’s not like they really count as people, surely? More like spineless slugs. They kinda deserve to be stomped on.”

“Well, there’s some violent imagery,” said Tony. He glanced at Clint. “You’re sure this is the guy you want to marry?”

“Yeah,” said Clint, shrugging, “he may be a violent little shit, but I love him.” He didn’t realise that he was going to say it until it was out of his mouth. Fuck, he should probably dial things back a bit, this was getting out of hand.

Bucky sent him a startled look, clearly just as taken aback by those three words as Clint was. A whole series of emotions passed over his face, then he let out a very long, slow breath and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“I can’t do this,” he said, very softly as if to himself. He looked up at Clint and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Clint, I can’t keep doing this.”

Clint stared at him. “Doing what?” he asked.

“Pretending like this,” said Bucky. Clint’s eyes widened and he glanced at the others, but before he could take in their reactions to that revelation, Bucky added, “I can’t keep playing this game with myself,” and his voice was wavering, so Clint turned his attention straight back to him. Had he been the one to put that note in Bucky’s voice?

“It was your idea in the first place,” he reminded him.

Bucky shook his head again, hands clenching and unclenching. “Yeah, I know. I guess I thought I could just have this for a bit, have something that felt like what I really wanted, you know? It seemed like a dream. One of the good ones, where you get everything you want without even having to really try. Except, it’s too much like a dream, because it’s so close to what I want, but it ain’t real. None of it’s real, and I keep coming up against that.” He took a deep breath and another step away from Clint. “Time to wake up,” he said, then turned and hurried out of the room.

Clint just stared after him. Fuck, was he saying that he wanted to be dating Clint for real? Had he had feelings for him this whole time?

What the hell was Clint meant to do now?

He glanced around at the others, but rather than the confused or accusatory looks he was expecting after watching their charade come tumbling down, they were all just looking at him expectantly.

Natasha raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you going to go after him?”

“What?” asked Clint.

Tony let out a long sigh. “Oh man, please don’t make us continue to pretend to believe your terrible acting. We’ve all known since the start.”

“Did we?” asked Natasha pointedly, sending him a sharp look.

“Okay, fine, since close to the start,” said Tony. “You’re not exactly subtle when you’re pulling a prank, you know.”

“Then why didn’t you say anything?” asked Clint.

“Because we were waiting for you to get your heads outta your asses,” said Sam.

Steve crossed his arms and gave Clint a stern gaze. “We thought that, given enough time and proximity, you’d realise that the feelings behind your little game were real, even if the rest of it wasn’t. Apparently only Bucky was smart enough for that.”

“Hey!” protested Clint, then deflated, because Steve was right. “Aw man,” he said, rubbing at the back of his neck and looking after where Bucky had disappeared. He’d said he loved him, how was he only just realising how true that was? That was why it had been so easy to say and do all that stuff, because it was all true. Except Bucky didn’t know that.

Hell, Clint hadn’t known that until just now.

“Seriously,” said Natasha. “Go after him, idiot.”

“Right,” said Clint, and headed for the elevator before he could talk himself out of it. It was only after he’d got in and the doors had shut that he realised he had no idea where Bucky had gone.

“Can you take me to Bucky?” he asked JARVIS.

“Sergeant Barnes has left the Tower. I will take you to the lobby,” said JARVIS, and the elevator started moving down. If he’d sounded disapproving before, he was practically scathing now. Clint probably deserved that.

Ah crap, how the hell was Clint going to catch up with Bucky if he had no idea where he was going? Where would he run off to after that kind of emotional moment?

Instantly, two places came to mind. They’d just come from one of them though, and Clint had a feeling Bucky wouldn’t be heading straight back there.

The elevator doors opened on the lobby and he jogged across it and out the main door, turning in the direction of Central Park.

It was dark in the park, but he didn’t need much light to find Bucky exactly where he’d expected to. He was sitting on their favourite bench, hands clenched to the edge as he stared down at the grass with a frown.

“Hey,” said Clint, sitting down next to him.

Bucky twitched but didn’t look up. “If you’re here to yell at me for taking advantage, could it maybe wait until later?”

“Not why I’m here,” said Clint. He took a deep breath and thought about how great the last few weeks had been, having Bucky around all the time. He didn’t want to lose that, so he was going to have to man up and let his feelings out now. “I, uh. Did you really mean all that? Because it sounded a lot like maybe you have feelings for me.”

Bucky let out a very long, slow breath. “Yeah,” he admitted, quietly. His grip on the bench tightened until his knuckles were white. “Yeah, I do.”

“Okay,” said Clint, electric anticipation thrumming through him. “Then, uh. Do you maybe want to do this for real?”

Bucky’s head whipped around and he stared at him. “The fuck?”

Clint shrugged. “I guess, me too. With the feelings? So we should just...do what we’ve been doing but maybe throw in some kissing or whatever?”

Shit, that was the least articulate proposition ever. There was no way that Bucky was going to go for that, why was Clint so bad at this?

Bucky stared at him for another long moment, then moved all in one fast go, scooting along the bench closer to Clint, putting a hand on his cheek. “You serious?”

“Yeah,” said Clint, and didn’t get out anything else before they were kissing, Bucky’s mouth moving hard and desperate against his. He wrapped an arm around Bucky’s shoulders to keep him close and gave in to it, opening his mouth and letting Bucky dive in. Fuck, why the hell hadn’t he realised he wanted this before? This was perfect.

When Bucky pulled away, he just held Clint’s head for a moment, searching his face. “This is real?”

RoB bench photo WHBB3_S.jpg

“Yeah,” said Clint. “I mean it feels real, right?” he added, tightening his arm around Bucky. “If we’re being honest, it’s felt real to me this whole time.”

“Oh, thank fuck,” said Bucky. “I thought it was just me.”

Clint ran a hand through Bucky’s hair and down to the base of his neck, clinging on. “Shit, I’ve been such an idiot,” he realised. “We could have been doing this the whole time.”

Bucky laughed and kissed him again. “Every time we told the others that we’d been having sex…” he said, then winced. “Oh man, are they mad at us? For lying to them?”

“Not exactly,” said Clint, slowly. “It turns out that none of them were fooled and they were waiting for us to, uh, basically do this.”

“You’re fucking kidding,” said Bucky.

Clint just shrugged helplessly at him. “Somehow Natasha always see right through me.”

Bucky snorted. “I don’t know whether to be pissed at the wasted effort, or amused that we had this whole thing ass-backwards from the start.”

“Probably better to go with amused,” said Clint. “You know the others will be.”

Bucky winced. “Oh man, Stevie’s going to be so god-damned irritating about this.”

“Natasha’s going to give me that look,” agreed Clint, commiseratingly.

Bucky let out a very deep sigh, but as he still had an arm wrapped around Clint and his other hand was gently tracing lines over his wrist, Clint didn’t take it very seriously.

“At least my therapist’s going to be happy,” said Bucky. “He was so pissed when I told him we were faking being engaged, and even more so when I told him why I decided to do it. He told me I was putting up false barriers to avoid true intimacy.” He pulled a face. “I mean, I kinda was. Moving into the Tower with everyone was kind of a lot. It felt easier, somehow, when I knew I was lying to everyone about something so that they didn’t actually know every detail of my life.”

“I knew,” said Clint.

Bucky laughed. “No, you really didn’t. You didn’t know that I was taking you on dates because I wanted to hang out with you, not so that the others would think we were in love. You didn’t know that I was taking advantage of movie nights so that I could get to be close to you. You didn’t know—” He let go of Clint’s wrist and pulled away. “Shit, now I’m saying it, that whole thing was a dick move. I was taking advantage.”

“Dude, your reasons were so much better than mine,” said Clint, reaching to take Bucky’s hand because he wasn’t interested in giving that contact up just yet. “Not wanting to come clean to SHIELD that I can’t fill in a form? That’s kinda pathetic.”

Bucky kissed him. “No,” he said, mouth hovering only inches from Clint’s, which was very distracting. “Not pathetic. It got us here, didn’t it?”

Clint couldn’t hold back from closing the distance and kissing him, getting lost in the sensation and losing his train of thought before he could point out that there were probably easier ways of getting with someone than pretending to be engaged to them for several weeks.

****

By the time they got back to the Tower, it was late enough for Clint to have assumed everyone else would be asleep, but when they made it to the lounge, Steve, Tony and Natasha were all still up and waiting. As soon as the elevator dinged open, Steve was heading for them.

“Are you okay?” he asked Bucky.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “You worry too much, Stevie.”

“Or you get yourself into too many ridiculous situations,” said Steve. “Seriously, pretending to be engaged to the guy you’ve been crushing on? What the fuck made you think that would be a good idea?”

“Okay, remember how we agreed not to yell at them unless they hadn’t got their emotional shit sorted out?” said Tony, stepping up behind Steve. He gave Clint a narrow-eyed look. “You have got your emotional shit sorted out, right?”

“Sure,” agreed Clint.

Bucky gave Tony a shit-eating grin. “We decided that it would be better just to be friends.”

Steve made a hilariously frustrated sound and Clint had to suppress a grin.

“Yeah, we don’t think it would work between us,” he agreed with the straightest face he could manage. “I mean, not while I’m head-over-heels in love with you, Tony.”

“And you know me and Fury have been sneaking around, right?” added Bucky. “I’m thinking it might be time for us to get serious.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” muttered Steve, and he threw his hands in the air. “I give up! Do what you like, I’m going to bed.”

He stomped off, and Clint exchanged a grin with Bucky.

“Okay, two things,” said Tony. “Number one, please don’t joke about our love, Clint, you know my poor heart can’t take that, and number two, you are seriously only allowed to be this obnoxious for, like, twenty-four hours. Forty-eight tops.”

“That seems very optimistic,” said Natasha, standing up from the couch where she had just been watching. “I’m going to bed. Clint, don’t fuck this up. This has been more than enough romantic drama.”

Clint threw a salute at her. “Yes, ma’am.”

She rolled her eyes at him as she headed towards her bedroom.

“Okay, if all the sensible people are going to bed, I’m going to the workshop,” said Tony. “Night, kids, please try not to destroy anything. Especially not Captain America’s sanity, we kinda need that and you came very close with this stunt.”

He stepped between them into the elevator and hit the button, the doors shutting behind him.

Clint looked at Bucky, turning to rest a hand on his waist. “I guess we should go to bed as well.”

“Yeah,” agreed Bucky, taking Clint’s arm. He hesitated, then added, “So, no pressure if you just want to go to bed alone, but I feel like I should mention that all that stuff about me not being able to sleep with anyone was bullshit.”

Clint smiled, moving in close enough to wrap both arms around his waist. “Oh, really? That’s interesting information.”

“Yeah, I hoped you’d think so,” said Bucky, draping his arms around Clint’s shoulders, which put his face close enough to kiss, so Clint did.

“Want to come to bed, then?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Not for anything more, just...I kinda want to wake up with you.”

“Yeah, definitely,” said Bucky, pulling him in closer and kissing him again. “We can wake up together, make out for a bit, and maybe come up with another plan to drive Steve nuts.”

“That sounds perfect,” said Clint, and kissed him again.

****

Bucky was already awake when Clint blinked open his eyes the next morning. He was propped up on a couple of pillows, watching Clint with a quiet smile that made Clint’s heart clench in his chest. Fuck, he’d seen that look aimed at him before, how the hell hadn’t he worked out that Bucky had feelings for him earlier?

And for another thing, given how it made him feel, how the hell hadn’t Clint noticed his own feelings earlier? Maybe he just needed to accept that he was really bad at this stuff.

“Good morning,” he said, stretching out drowsily.

“Morning,” replied Bucky. He hesitated, then reached out a hand to run over Clint’s hair, tentatively at first and then with more confidence when Clint just smiled at him in response.

“Hey, check it, you didn’t stab me in my sleep,” said Clint.

Bucky snorted. “Not this time,” he said. “Maybe tonight?”

There was the hesitation again. Clint rolled over to wrap an arm across Bucky’s stomach. “Sounds good,” he said, pressing his face into Bucky’s side, enjoying the sleep-warmth seeping through his shirt. “Man, you’re always so warm, it’s so great.”

Bucky put an arm around his shoulders, stroking down his arm. “Good to know being jacked up with Hydra’s bullshit serum is good for something.”

“It’s good for snuggling,” said Clint. “Although, I’m guessing that wasn’t Hydra’s intention.” He pulled himself up a bit higher until he was at the same level as Bucky and able to kiss him. The move put his hand on Bucky’s chest, and he realised he could feel the shape of his ring hanging around his neck. He traced over the lines of it with his fingers as Bucky pulled him in closer for another kiss.

Man, this was an excellent way to wake up. Almost better than coffee. Almost.

“So, uh, are we keeping them?” asked Bucky when they’d moved apart. Clint blinked at him, still half-asleep and mostly just thinking about kissing Bucky again. “The rings,” clarified Bucky.

“Oh,” said Clint. He tapped Bucky’s again, then felt for his own. He’d been wearing it so long he’d just sort of forgotten about it. “I mean, I guess everyone knows we’re not getting married.”

“Do they?” asked Bucky. “Cuz, it seems to me that they knew that yesterday, but now...well, we’re more likely to get married now we’re actually together, right?”

“You want to just stay engaged but, like, for real?” asked Clint, pulling back so he could see Bucky’s face properly.

Bucky gave an awkward shrug, not meeting his eyes. “I mean, you’ve still got the form filed at SHIELD, right? That was the original point of this, avoiding having to retract that.”

Clint felt a grin take over his face. “James Buchanan Barnes, are you asking me to marry you?”

Bucky gave another shrug, then lifted his chin and fixed Clint with a resolute look. “What if I am? We told everyone we were gonna have a long engagement anyway, right? We can just stick to that plan. Saves filing new paperwork.”

“Oh well, if it’s for the sake of skipping doing paperwork,” said Clint, “then sure, I’m in.”

Bucky beamed at him and kissed him again, cupping a hand around Clint’s cheek. “Good, I’d hate to stop having a fiancé at this stage in the relationship.”

Clint laughed. “You mean, the stage less than twelve hours in? Yeah, that’s definitely not a point where you want to be fiancé-less.” He couldn’t keep from kissing Bucky again, as if he were trying to fit all the kisses they should have had over the last couple of weeks in as quickly as he could, now that they were possible. “Not that we’ve done anything when we should, really.”

“You mean, how we got engaged, then went out, then got together?” asked Bucky. “Yeah, true. Maybe we should be getting married before we have our first proper date. Hell, maybe it should be our first proper date. That would wind Steve up.”

“We could take the team out for burgers, then just stop at the Town Hall on the way and spring it on them,” said Clint, picturing the looks on their faces if they did that. “‘Oh, hey, Steve, I need you to be my best man. Right now.’”

Bucky sniggered. “Okay, I kinda want to do that now. He’d get that face that means he’s got so much to say, but he’s sitting on it all because he doesn’t want to upset me.”

“I think maybe he’s moved on from not wanting to upset you,” said Clint. “Especially if you keep pranking him like this.”

Bucky made a face. “Maybe I’ll just concentrate on you then.”

“On upsetting me?” asked Clint, raising an eyebrow.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “No, on the opposite.” He kissed Clint again. “Wouldn’t want you to go filing a Cancellation of Relationship form or whatever.”

“I think you’re pretty safe,” said Clint. “The next form I’m intending to put your name on is Notification of Marriage.” He thought about that. “Or, well, probably you’ll come up on a bunch of mission forms, and if we ever go away together I’ll need to do one for that as well, and I never did submit the Cohabitation one so I should definitely fix that before Internal Affairs come around to investigate, and—”

“That seems like a lot of forms for a spy agency,” said Bucky. “What happened to operating in the shadows and leaving no paper trail?”

Clint shrugged. “No idea. SHIELD seem to have gone with ‘making agents’ lives miserable with bureaucracy’ instead.” He grinned at Bucky. “That backfired, though. Their stupid bureaucracy led to this, and it’s is doing a pretty good job of making me happy.”

“Here’s to bureaucracy, then,” said Bucky, then pulled Clint in closer to kiss him.

****

Despite all their intentions to have a long engagement, it was less than six months later when Clint headed into the bureaucracy department and pulled a copy of A318/54-B2: Notification of Marriage out of the pigeonholes.

“Congratulations!” said Agent Vicario. “I wasn’t expecting to see you grab that one. The rumour mill said you were planning to wait a year or two.”

Clint shrugged as he sat down to start filling it in. “We had a mission in Vegas,” he said. “After we were done, we found ourselves outside one of their chapels, and Bucky dared me.”

She stared at him. “And that was all it took?”

He glanced up. “He dared me,” he repeated, because it felt like she hadn’t got that the first time he’d said it.

She rubbed a hand over her face. “Right, okay. I mean, of course that makes total sense for a decision about a lifetime commitment.”

“You think I should have dared him first?” asked Clint. He considered it. “I mean, I was the one who dared him to get an Elvis to marry us rather than a regular minister. That was definitely the bit that made Steve the most exasperated.”

“Oh my god,” she said, very quietly, which he chose to take as a sign of how blown away she was by the awesome and romantic nature of his and Bucky’s relationship.

He focused back on the form, filling it in with a light heart. Okay, so they’d done this quicker than they’d planned, but he had absolutely no doubts about his and Bucky’s relationship. Getting to call him his husband was more than worth getting married in his combat gear with ash smudged down his arm from an exploding robot. Besides, Bucky looked hot in his combat gear.

He took the form up to the counter and laid it down with a flourish and a grin. “Stamp me and file me, I’m done, baby.”

She gave him a very unimpressed look, then glanced down at the form. “You’ve got the date wrong.”

Clint felt his shoulders slump. Right, of course. He reached out and took another copy of the form, then went to sit back down and try again.