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Can We Bring Yesterday Back Around?

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It had been pretty surprising when Phil Coulson had suddenly announced that he needed to go back to New York in the middle of an operation. Clint had stared at him for a while before pointing out how close the huge blonde guy had got to stealing the crazy stone mallet just the day before. Phil had merely raised an eyebrow at him because he clearly hadn't needed reminding about that incident; he had a near perfect memory at the worst of times. For a moment, Clint had worried that perhaps Phil had to leave because he was in trouble for letting the huge blonde guy get close enough to actually try and lift the crazy stone mallet, but it was just for a moment because Fury would have descended on New Mexico himself if he had a problem with the way things were being run.

It had been even more surprising when Phil Coulson had returned to the operation a few days later with a definite spring in his step. Not something that most people would notice but Phil had been Clint's handler for a long time and he could see the smile hovering around the man's mouth and the sparkle in his eyes. It had been enough for Clint to enquire if he'd got laid while he'd been gone, even though he knew that Phil and his cellist lady friend had decided to take things slowly. Of course, Phil had just rolled his eyes and returned to terrorising the newbie agents with his mere presence.

Everything fell into place after the operation was finished. Once he was back in New York, Clint was called to HQ for a meeting with Fury and Maria Hill. He'd expected it to be a debrief of everything that had happened in New Mexico - a little unusual for that to happen with two of SHIELD's top dogs but Fury always maintained that Clint saw things differently than the other agents and liked to quiz him himself sometimes. This time it wasn't a debrief, however, it was to give Clint a new mission.

Once he sat down, Hill handed Clint a tablet with his mission brief. He felt his eyes widening more and more the further into the file he read.

"Is this for real?" He finally had to ask. "Captain America? I mean, the Captain America?"

"You just met the Thor," Hill pointed out. "I don't think that this should be much more of a stretch for you to believe, Barton."

"But it's Captain America!" Clint replied. "I only really knew about Thor in that vague way that everyone knows about Thor but I studied Captain America in school! And what I learned was that he died. Decades ago!"

"I didn't know that you went to school, Circus Brat. I thought you learned to read and write from 'Cornelius the Wise Elephant'." Fury smirked at him. "That would certainly explain your handwriting."

"Cornelius only taught us numbers, Sir," Clint shot back without missing a beat. "Had to go to school for the rest."

Truthfully, Clint stopped receiving any type of schooling after he and Barney ran away to join the circus - besides the archery lessons - but he'd gone to school when his parents had still been alive and the orphanage had been big on teaching them about great American heroes, as though that would somehow stop the kids from heading down the dark path most of them were destined for.

Hill was used to the banter between Fury and Clint by this point so she only allowed a brief shake of her head to show how she felt about their unprofessionalism before continuing.

"Obviously, our end goal is to have Captain Rogers working for SHIELD but there are a lot of factors to take into account. Not least, how he copes with suddenly being in the here and now."

Fury took over. "There have been a lot of changes since the forties and I don't just mean technologically. Fashions, tabloids, attitudes..."

"You don't want a bigoted Captain America as the spokesperson for SHIELD," Clint summed up.

Fury nodded. "Just...watch him. See how he reacts to things that he's not used to."

"Which is basically everything," Clint muttered to himself as he looked back down at his tablet and swiped through a few pages. "Observe only?"

"For now," Hill replied. "Don't engage unless you deem it necessary. We don't want to spook him any more than he already must be. You will make your daily reports to Coulson as usual."

At the mention of Phil, a light bulb went off in Clint's head. That's what had been going on. A quick check of the file confirmed that the dates of Captain America being pulled from the ice coincided with Phil's brief disappearance from New Mexico. And it was no secret that Phil Coulson was the world's biggest Captain America fanboy; Clint was 99% sure that the man had a tattoo of the captain's shield hidden somewhere under that suit and had been trying to prove it for years. No wonder that man had been so happy - well, happy for Phil - his childhood hero had literally come to life.

Clearly, Clint had no choice but to head straight to his handler's office as soon as the meeting was over.

"So, did you get him to sign your cards? Or did you freeze up and just stare adoringly at him?" Clint didn't even say hello, just walked into the room and dropped into the chair opposite Phil's desk.

Phil sighed but looked unsurprised at Clint's arrival and subsequent teasing. "The captain hadn't woken up by the time I went back to New Mexico. So, technically, I haven't met him yet."

"Just watched him sleep, huh?" Clint smirked. "That's ok. The whole stalker thing works for you; I think you can carry it off."

"Barton, are you done? Because I've got paperwork to do." Phil emphasised this by pulling another file onto the desk in front of him.

"You've always got paperwork to do," Clint complained even as he pushed himself to his feet at the dismissal.

"Well, some of us have to do real work and not mess around with a bow and arrow all day," Phil replied.

Clint snorted in amusement. "Yeah, my heart bleeds for you and your much larger pay check."

The side of Phil's mouth quirked in that almost smile it sometimes did and Clint left to prepare for his mission; which was essentially being Phil's proxy in superhero stalking.

 

---

He didn't know what he'd expected from spying on Captain America but two weeks later, Clint could honestly say that it was one of the most boring missions he'd been on for a while. And he’d have probably classified it as the most boring mission if Rogers hadn’t been so easy on eye.

The good captain had basically spent his days going from his SHIELD assigned psychiatrists to the gym and then back to his Brooklyn apartment. From his perch in one of the apartments opposite, Clint had a clear view into the Rogers living room so he knew that the man spent his evenings reading a wide variety of books, albeit at a faster than normal pace. The most excitement Clint had observed had been the time Rogers tried to order a coffee at a local hipster coffee shop, where the ridiculously moustachioed man behind the counter clearly didn't understand the order of 'a normal coffee' and gave the captain a whipped cream topped monstrosity much to Rogers’ clear horror.

This day, as he followed Rogers home from the gym at a respectful distance, Clint couldn't help but notice that the captain seemed a little more preoccupied than normal. Although, that still didn't stop the other man from leaning down to pick up a dropped toy from a child's stroller and returning it to the grateful au pair. And, having observed similar incidents throughout the week, Clint knew that the preoccupation wasn't the reason for Rogers' seeming obliviousness at the woman’s flirting. Idly, Clint wondered if flirting was really that different in the forties or if Rogers just hadn't grown out of the mindset he must have had before the super serum and didn't see the flirting because he didn't expect it to be directed at him.

The rest of the journey passed without incident and Clint settled into his set-up next to the apartment window, fully expecting another boring evening of watching the captain read. Except, instead of sitting down with that day's choice of book, Rogers began to pace around his apartment as if still struggling with whatever had him so distracted during the walk home.

Clint frowned and, as this was exactly the type of thing that he was supposed to be keeping an eye out for, he sent off a quick text to Phil. He knew that the gym training had been uneventful, apart from Rogers destroying three more gym bags, so he suggested that Phil check to see if anything untoward had happened during the mandatory psych session that afternoon to get Rogers upset.

He turned his attention back to the apartment opposite just as Rogers left it. With a loud curse, Clint ran out of his own apartment and down several flights of stairs to the street barely in time to see the captain head down the block.

It appeared that Rogers didn't have a particular destination in mind, however, and Clint figured that he was just taking a walk to clear his head because that had to be better than pacing about a small apartment all night long. After a long and winding trip around the neighbourhood, Rogers eventually slowed to a stop outside a busy looking bar. He stood there for a few seconds as if weighing up the wisdom of going in there before giving a small shrug and going in anyway.

Clint's eyebrows shot up in surprise; Rogers had seemed like such a boy scout over the past week and he was pretty sure he'd read that Rogers couldn't even get drunk after taking the serum but maybe that wasn't the point. In what, to Rogers was a only a few months, he'd gone from having a close knit group of friends in the Howling Commandos to being totally alone in an alien environment. Maybe he just wanted some human contact and Clint couldn't blame him for that; he just wished that someone would've given Rogers a list of better places to go about doing that than a 'Trendy New York Bar'. Clint swallowed a groan as he got closer to the bar and spotted the rainbow flag hanging outside because there was no way that Steve Rogers would know the significance of that flag yet. Not only a 'Trendy New York Bar' but a gay one too; Rogers was going to be so out of his element. But at least it was going to give Fury an answer to some of his questions over Rogers’ reactions to certain modern day scenarios.

It was easy to spot Rogers at the bar so Clint slipped around to a corner table where he could keep an eye on Rogers while blending into the general hubbub of the place. He pulled an abandoned, half empty bottle of some overpriced craft beer in front of him to look as though he'd been there a while and automatically scanned the room for dangers. Satisfied that the worst thing they'd have to deal with were pompous stock broker types and entitled queens, Clint turned his full attention back to Rogers. Unsurprisingly, he'd already attracted some attention. Clint was pretty sure that if he wasn't working, he'd be considering chatting up the captain himself; the man was ridiculously good looking in that All American, 'aww shucks' kind of way. The guy who'd decided to try his luck was also very attractive but the difference was that he clearly knew it.

As Clint watched, the man bought Rogers a drink, completely ignoring Rogers’ obvious protests. Then he proceeded to talk and talk without letting Rogers get a word in edgewise, although Rogers didn't look as though he wanted any part of a conversation with him anyway. The man, who Clint had mentally dubbed 'The Douche', also made a point of touching Rogers the entire time, with a hand flirtatiously placed on his arm or shoulder even though Rogers kept trying to back away. Clint was impressed that he hadn't run screaming from the bar as soon as he was hit on and realised why this particular bar was different. It looked like Captain America definitely wouldn't be a bigoted spokesperson for SHIELD after all but that didn't stop the display being painful to watch, because Clint knew that Rogers had to be feeling more than a little bit overwhelmed.

It was at the point where The Douche leaned forward to whisper something in Rogers' ear, making the captain flush bright red with obvious embarrassment, while sliding his hand down to playfully squeeze Rogers' ass, that Clint decided that he couldn't just sit there and watch this any longer. There was playful flirtation and then there was taking advantage of someone who was clearly too polite to make a scene and The Douche was definitely crossing that line. Sending a silent apology to Phil for ruining the operation, and ruthlessly ignoring the tiny voice that told him he was just jealous of The Douche, Clint pushed himself off his stool and made a beeline for the couple.

"Hello, there you are! Sorry I'm late; you wouldn't believe how bad the traffic is tonight!" Clint said loudly, as he walked up to Rogers. He took advantage of Rogers surprise at a total stranger acting like they were friends and pulled him in for a man-hug, complete with big slaps to the back.

He lowered his voice so that Rogers could hear him but The Douche couldn't. "It looked like you needed a rescue from this idiot. Play along if I read that right or just pretend I've mistaken you for someone else if I didn't."

When Clint pulled back he could see understanding and something like relief dawn in Rogers' eyes and relaxed a little at the knowledge that he wasn't going to get punched in the face for getting too up close and personal with a super soldier.

“Hello yourself, I'm glad you finally made it," Rogers told Clint after a moment, giving him a small smile and a discrete nod to show that he was on board. "I was beginning to think that I’d been stood up."

There was the sound of someone clearing their throat in an irritated manner and Clint turned to see The Douche glaring at him.

"I don't know who the hell you are but Steven and I have been busy getting acquainted and were just about to leave," The Douche snapped. "You really should have been here on time, buddy. You snooze, you lose."

Clint just blinked at him because seriously? The guy still thought he was in with a chance?

"It was very nice to meet you, Sebastian, but I wasn't going anywhere with you," Rogers said, sounding as incredulous as Clint felt.

Sebastian gave an amused snort and fixed Rogers with an indulgent smile.

"It's alright, Steven. You can admit that you prefer this..." He motioned at himself with one hand before making a dismissive gesture at Clint. "...Over that."

Clint bit his lip to hide his amusement at the guy’s attitude. Clint did kind of look like a hobo in the world’s oldest pair of jeans, a t-shirt that had a rip in the bottom of it and his hair was probably looking ridiculous after wearing a baseball cap all day while he was tailing Rogers - he’d, of course, left the cap back at the apartment in his mad rush to leave. When Clint glanced at Rogers though, the other man had narrowed his eyes at Sebastian.

“I can admit that I prefer a nice, friendly guy over a self important bully,” he said, sharply.

Sebastian laughed, clearly believing that Rogers was making a joke, but the humour faded from his face when Rogers kept frowning at him.

“Seriously? You’re picking him?” Sebastian looked from Rogers to Clint and then back again. “Well, fuck you both! What a goddamn waste of a fucking hour!”

Sebastian turned on his heel and stomped off into the crowd, knocking people out of his way as he went. Clint and Rogers exchanged a look and both burst out laughing.

“Wow!” Clint shook his head.

“And you only had to spend five minutes with him,” Rogers pointed out with a wry smile. “Seriously though, thanks for the rescue. It was really nice of you.”

Clint shrugged. “No problem. It was kind of a no-brainer; I’ve spent enough time putting up with guys like that to let anyone else have to do it too.”

Rogers held his hand out. “I’m Steve. Let me buy you a drink to thank you.”

“Tom,” Clint lied easily and shook Rogers – Steve’s – hand. “And don’t worry about the drink; it’s fine, really.”

His mind was already beginning to run through everything he’d need to do as soon as he left the bar. Mainly, he’d have to call Phil and get him to swap out Clint from the mission because Steve would clearly recognise him if he tried to tail him again.

“I insist,” Steve was saying and Clint was going to refuse again, he really was, but then a flash of sadness crossed Steve’s face, almost too quick to notice, as he added. “It’s nice to know that there are still decent people in the world.”

Clint had always been a sucker for that kicked puppy look, it was how he ended up in trouble most of the time.

So instead of turning down the drink as any responsible agent would, he found himself saying, “Well, I suppose if I left now, you might get stuck with Sebastian the Sleaze again.”

The smile that Steve gave him made Clint’s attraction to him kick up another couple of notches but Clint firmly told himself that he was just going to have the one drink for appearances’ sake and then leave. It’s not as though Steve would like him back anyway. Captain America was straight as an arrow and the only reason they were still at the bar was because Steve had good manners.

Steve got them a couple of beers and led the way to an empty table in the corner, near to where Clint had originally been watching him from.

“Do you come here often?” Steve asked once they were seated and then immediately flushed red. “I mean...that didn’t...have you been here before? That’s what I meant.”

Clint chuckled quietly but didn’t tease Steve for the unintentional come on. “No, it’s my first time in here actually.”

“Mine too,” Steve said. “First time ever in a place like this actually. I was curious, I guess. I’ve been...away for a very long time and the last time I was here, things weren’t as open as they are now. I had to hide who I wanted to be with but I don’t think I need to do that anymore, not with places like this to come to.”

Clint had, unfortunately, been taking a mouthful of his beer and ended up choking at that admission.

“You’re gay?” he spluttered as Steve helpfully slapped his back to help with the coughing.

Steve raised an eyebrow at him and pointedly looked around the bar.

“I...I meant gay as opposed to any other orientation...” Clint desperately scrambled for a way to cover his knee jerk reaction. “I've heard that some straight people even wander into gay bars without realising it.”

He forced a weak laugh at that and Steve smiled.

“Really? How do they miss the rainbow flag outside?” he asked and Clint had to the urge to bang his head against the countertop because he’d so badly underestimated how much Steve had already learned about the modern world.

He’d spent all evening thinking that Steve had naively blundered into a gay bar when he’d deliberately gone out looking for one. No wonder the journey here had been so meandering, Steve had been on a rainbow flag hunt.

"Did you wander in here without realising it?" Steve asked him kindly with a small smile and Clint almost grabbed the lifeline that Steve had thrown him because that really would explain his reaction but, for some reason, he didn't want to lie to him more than strictly necessary.

"No, I knew but it was sort of a spur of the moment decision," He told Steve. "I'm bi but I don't usually go into this type of bar. It's a bit too upmarket and fancy for me, obviously."

Clint chuckled and motioned his scruffy attire.

"How do you meet people then? Other men, I mean," Steve asked with genuine curiosity.

"I don't. Not lately," Clint admitted with a pang of regret. "My job doesn't lend itself to an actual relationship, with men or women; there's too much travelling."

It wasn't just the travelling, of course. There was also the secrecy of working for SHIELD; he could never tell a partner where he was going or how long he'd be gone. When he did actually have free time, he tried to spend a decent chunk of it at the farm with his brother, Laura and the kids, so that all meant that he hadn't had a proper relationship in years.

"I had a casual thing going with a guy in my building a while back. You know? Just call the other up if you needed to blow off some steam," Clint said, trying to explain 'friends with benefits'. "But he met someone new and decided to settle down with him, so that put an end to that. Not that I can hold finding the love of his life against him; I'm just a bit jealous that he was able to do it while I can’t."

Steve nodded. "I know that feeling. It was always difficult hearing my friends talk about their wives and girlfriends and thinking that I'd never find that for myself." He laughed, suddenly. "I even half convinced myself that I was in love with this gorgeous woman that I worked with but, when I didn't figure it out for myself, she slapped me and clued me in to the fact that I'm gay. I still loved her but she showed me that I wasn't in love with her."

Clint laughed too, even as he mentally adjusted everything he knew about Captain America and the indomitable Peggy Carter's relationship. "She sounds like my kind of woman."

"She was pretty amazing," Steve agreed with a wistful smile. "She'd probably punch me if she could see me moping about these days."

Sucking in a quick breath, Clint realised that Steve kept referring to Peggy in the past tense. Fury hadn't told Steve yet that Peggy was still alive. Mentally cursing his boss for his ridiculous compulsion to keep all information to himself until he deemed it ready to share, Clint made a note to tell Phil. He was pretty sure that Phil wouldn't stand for his hero needlessly grieving for someone he loved.

Changing the subject before they could both get sucked into a downward spiral of feeling sorry for themselves, Clint said, "You know, there's a bar about four blocks over that I go to sometimes, called 'The Mean Old Toad'. It's a bit of a hole in the wall place but I think that you might like it. It's a lot less pretentious than here; the drinks are cheaper and the clientele is...well, definitely better than Sebastian."

"You mean there's a gay bar that doesn't charge an arm and a leg for weak, watered down beer?" Steve asked and Clint laughed.

"Are you saying that you're not enjoying your..." Clint picked up the Steve's bottle to read the label. "'You've Got Ale'? Oh, jeez, that's bad."

Steve laughed too and Clint was suddenly struck by how much he was enjoying himself. He had a brief but sincere wish that it could have been real, that he could have met Steve under different circumstances where he didn't have to give a fake name.

It was clearly time to get back to reality so Clint made a show of looking at his watch and didn't even have to fake the disappointment in his voice when he said, "I really should be heading off. Thanks for the drink."

"Thanks for the rescue," Steve replied. "And the good company. Maybe I'll see you at 'The Mean Old Toad' sometime?"

Clint nodded even though he knew that he wouldn't be going there again until Steve had been made aware of the fact that SHIELD had been watching him so closely. And, knowing Fury, he may never be able to go back to that bar again. It was a shame but if it helped Steve stop feeling so lonely than it would be worth it.

He stood and was unsurprised when Steve did the same thing.

"I think I've had enough of this bar for one night," Steve said with a rueful smile. "Maybe ever."

"I don't blame you." Clint chuckled. "I don't think I'll be back here, myself."

They wound their way through the still busy crowd and out onto the street. Clint nodded his head in the opposite direction to the one he knew that Steve would take.

"I'm heading that way," he said.

He'd get one of Phil's minions to collect his stuff from the apartment before a new agent was put there in his place. He obviously couldn't go back there just in case Steve saw him; that would raise too many awkward questions.

"I'm going the other way," Steve confirmed. "It was really nice to meet you, Tom."

Clint shook the hand that Steve held out. "You too, Steve. Enjoy the rest of your evening."

He turned, headed down the street and tried not to feel disappointed that this was the last time he’d get to talk to Steve. He didn't often find someone he could engage with so easily. Perhaps he'd text Natasha to make himself feel better. She was away on a super secret mission for Fury but they always carried an extra burner phone. Originally it was an emergency precaution because they only trusted each other if they got into trouble and needed help, but over the years that stipulation had relaxed bit by bit to the point that they now used them to check in with each other every few days. Or, in Clint's case, send random thoughts and the occasional funny gif.

It took a few moments to realise that someone was calling his name. Actually someone was calling 'Tom's' name which told Clint exactly who that someone was. He turned to see Steve jogging towards him.

"Sorry," Steve said, with a serious expression on his face as he caught up with Clint. "I forgot something."

With that he pulled Clint back down the side of the deli they'd just passed. Clint tensed with the automatic urge to break the hold Steve had on his arm but went along with it, curious to see what would happen now because Steve had obviously worked out somehow that Clint wasn't who he said he was. This was Steve Rogers so he didn't think he was in actual danger but he probably had a punch to the jaw coming his way.

The alley was actually too small to be called an alley at all but it hid them from passersby on the street and, on the plus side, was a bit too narrow for Steve to really get much force behind a punch.

Clint decided that his best course of action for now was to play dumb. "Is anything wrong?"

Steve didn't answer; instead he shoved Clint into the wall. Bracing himself to be hit, Clint froze in shock when Steve pressed forward and kissed him.

His first thought was, Holy shit! Captain America's kissing me! The thought quickly chasing that was that he really, really, shouldn't be doing this. Then Steve slowly swept his tongue across Clint's bottom lip, causing Clint to shiver a little and all remaining thoughts to evaporate.

He opened his mouth to Steve causing the other man to groan quietly and press even closer as he explored Clint's mouth with a thoroughness that had Clint giving a groan of his own. He wrapped his arms around Steve, sliding one hand up into Steve's hair while the other moved down to Steve's ass in order to push their hips together. A lightning bolt of arousal shot though his body and, from the way Steve bucked against him and made a noise that Clint most definitely wanted to hear again, Steve felt the same thing.

Clint wasn't quite sure how long they stood there, sharing what was possibly the most mind blowing kiss Clint had ever experienced while they slowly rocked against each other. He didn't really care; the rest of the world had faded out. Steve pulled back from the kiss with a tiny nip to Clint's lip and began to kiss his way up Clint's neck instead. Clint let his head fall back to give him room and moaned lowly because his neck had always been high on the list of his erogenous zones.

Steve murmured into Clint's skin, "Come home with me, Tom."

Tom.

It was like a bucket of cold water had been dumped over Clint's head and reality came rushing back in. Clint's eyes snapped open. What the hell did he think he was doing?

Whatever he saw in Clint's eyes made Steve take a step back. "Tom? Did I say the wrong thing? We don't have to..."

"No, no! You didn't...it's not anything you said...or did!" Clint rushed to assure him because it certainly wasn't Steve's fault that Clint had been spying on him and lying to him. "I just can't. I'm sorry."

"Right," Steve said in a flat voice and looked at the floor.

He seemed to shrink in front of Clint's eyes, drawing into himself and obviously not believing Clint's assurances that it was nothing Steve had done. Clint really couldn't leave it like that so he stepped forward and cupped Steve's face with one hand, making the man look at him instead of the ground.

"I really like you, Steve. I mean that," Clint told him fiercely. "In any other situation, I swear that I'd come home with you and let you rock my world, if that kiss is any indication. But...I can't right now. I'm so fucking sorry."

He pushed closer, gave Steve a hard kiss that he hoped conveyed his genuine regret and then turned and walked out of the alley. He ducked into a shop a few doors down and waited until he saw Steve leave the alley too. Clint watched until he was out of view and then left in the opposite direction, pulling his phone out of his pocket and dialling Phil's number from memory.

"My cover's blown," he said when Phil answered. "I'm heading to you."

 

By Reminicious

 

---

It was always a little jarring to see Phil out of his suits and instead wearing jeans and a polo shirt. When he answered the door he nodded his head inside and Clint walked into Phil's apartment, making his way to the kitchen and praying that his handler had some beers in the fridge.

Years of familiarity meant that Phil didn't protest when Clint found those beers and opened a couple for them without invitation; he knew that Clint would replace them the next time he visited.

"What happened? Phil asked when they were seated at the breakfast bar.

Clint gave him a rough outline of everything that had happened after Clint had checked in with him earlier in the evening. He held back the fact that Steve was gay though; he felt bad enough about the night's events as it was without outing the poor guy on top of everything else. It should be up to Steve if he wanted to let SHIELD know. So instead Clint went with his original theory that Steve had wandered into the wrong bar.

When he got to the part about The Douche/Sebastian the sleaze, Phil sighed. "You couldn't have stayed out of it? And let the natural course of events happen?"

"We already had the confirmation that he's not going to freak out the first time he runs into a gay person while in uniform," Clint defended himself. "So there was no need for me to sit there and watch as some guy molested him."

Phil raised an eyebrow. "Molested?"

"Well, it was heading that way, I'm sure.” Clint shifted uncomfortably under Phil's gaze. “Look, I wouldn't let someone I didn't like get felt up by Sebastian, let alone a national hero."

"You are aware that you're a spy, right?" Phil asked in a long suffering tone of voice. "You're supposed to remain unnoticed. You're not supposed to treat your targets as lost puppy dogs."

"Hey! 97% of the time, I'm the ultimate professional!" Clint protested, glaring at Phil when he snorted. "94%. Besides, the last time I brought a puppy home, it worked out pretty damn well."

"If Natasha hears you calling her a puppy, she'll eviscerate you," Phil pointed out.

Clint shook his head. "Nah, she loves me."

"So what happened after you got rid of the would-be molester?" Phil asked and Clint winced.

"Rogers insisted on buying me a drink as a thank you."

"Clint..." Phil shook his head.

"I know." Clint took a long drink from his bottle. "Can't we just look at it as part of the mission? Information gathering?"

Phil narrowed his eyes at him but Clint could see his mind already working out a way to word their report to minimise how much hot water Clint got in.

"Did you get any information?" he asked.

"I learned that Fury hasn't told him that Peggy Carter's still alive," Clint told him grimly.

Anger flashed in Phil's eyes. "What?"

"Yeah, I thought you'd react like that. He's grieving for her pretty hard too," Clint said. "For all of them, really; he just seems so lonely, Phil."

They were both quiet for a moment before Phil said, "Is that what's upset you?"

Clint picked at the label on his bottle as he thought and then grabbed the excuse rather than admit to Phil what actually happened with Steve.

He shrugged. "It was hard not to compare empty apartments, I guess. At least I’ve got family when it gets too bad."

Phil knew that he wasn't quite being truthful, Clint could tell, but he let it go. They both knew that either Clint would tell him eventually or he'd find out on his own; Phil usually preferred the former but Clint couldn't bring himself to do it then. He comforted himself with the knowledge that if he did, he'd be exposing Steve's sexuality, which he'd already vowed not to do. He'd just deal with it after Phil figured out that much.

It was close to midnight when Clint got finally home and he sent a quick text to Natasha’s phone before grabbing some leftover cold pizza and a soda from the fridge. By the time he dropped onto his couch, his phone was ringing.

“What happened?” Natasha asked without bothering to say ‘hello’.

“How the hell do you do that?” Clint asked through a mouthful of pepperoni goodness. “All I said was that a boomerang arrow might be cool.”

“Because you always invent stupid arrows when you’re upset,” Natasha replied.

“Hey!” Clint protested. “I’ll have you know that a boomerang arrow would be amazing and I’m going to make one to prove you wrong!”

Natasha hummed in a disbelieving tone. “Do I need to come home?”

“No,” Clint sighed. “There’s no emergency, just me doing something stupid. Again.”

“My mark is going to be down for at least six hours so I’ve got time.” There was rustling noises that signified that Natasha was making herself comfortable. “Tell me.”

Clint weighed it up in his mind. He’d seen Natasha’s name on Steve’s file; she’d worked with Phil to create an environment for Steve to wake up in so she definitely knew that Captain America was alive and well. She was also a lockbox and would never repeat anything Clint told her in confidence, unlike Phil whose conscience would force him to report certain things to SHIELD.

"Is this line secure?" He asked even though he knew that Natasha would never call him without making sure of that first.

"No, I thought that I'd call you on an unsecure line so that every agency in the world can hear about you and your problems," She replied, sarcastically. "Of course it's secure, idiot."

Clint took a deep breath. "I kissed Captain America."

There was a long moment of silence before Natasha asked, "As part of a mission?"

"No. Well...sort of but not really." Clint sighed. "Fury had me watching him to see how he adjusts to the world."

"So you decided to kiss him and see if he freaks out about gay people?" She asked in a dry tone. "Your commitment to your job is admirable."

"You know what I love most about you, Tash? Your sympathetic and caring manner," Clint told her and she laughed. "And for your information, he kissed me first."

Natasha made a thoughtful noise at that. "Interesting. That's certainly going to change the history books."

"Right?"

"How come Phil hasn't killed you yet for despoiling his childhood hero?" She asked and Clint thumped his head back against the cushion.

"I didn't tell him," Clint admitted. "It's not my place to out Captain America to the world and, you know Phil; he'd have to report it to Fury..."

"...Who'd probably find some way to use that information when it comes to recruiting Rogers," Natasha filled in.

Having both been through SHIELD's recruiting process, they knew that there was nothing that Fury wouldn't use to get his own way. They also knew that there was nothing that Fury wouldn't do to protect his agents but Steve wouldn't get that yet; he'd just see that someone had handed Fury a piece of very personal information to hold above his head.

"You like him," Natasha said; a statement and not a question. "You're trying to protect him like you did with me."

"It's a little different," Clint pointed out because he hadn't had orders to kill Steve as he'd had with Natasha.

"Not really," she replied. "It's still trusting your instincts over your orders and you have good instincts...obviously. So was it nice, kissing an American hero?"

Clint chuckled at her trademark bluntness. "You have no fucking idea. I actually forgot where I was for a while there."

"That good? He seems so virtuous and innocent."

"Nope, he's definitely got some experience; very much knew what he was doing." Clint frowned. "I really hope that he can find someone deserving of it instead of me. Someone who doesn't lie to him and then abandon him in an alley when they suddenly remember that they shouldn't be getting up close and personal with a mark."

"Ouch. That's what you did?" Natasha asked. "Clint..."

"I know. I already feel like shit about it, believe me," Clint said. "The worst bit is that I really did like him. Under different circumstances, I’d have liked to actually date him and see where it went."

It was Natasha's turn to sigh. "I'll be back in a couple of weeks. We can drown your sorrows in ice-cream after I kick your ass in the gym."

"It is a time honoured tradition," Clint chuckled. "Thanks, Tash."

“You’re buying the ice cream,” she said. "And don't go kissing any more 80 year olds while I'm gone."

"Actually, he was frozen so technically he's still in his twenties." Clint winced at that realization. "Christ, I don't know which is worse."

"You can think on that and give me an answer when I see you." Natasha laughed and rung off.

---

He did end up thinking about it. Not the age thing in particular, just thinking about Steve...a lot more than he should have.

Fury hadn't been particularly happy with the way Clint blew the operation but, as the objective had been reached, couldn't officially punish Clint. So he got creative and punished him, unofficially, by sending him on what was definitely the most boring mission he'd had in years. He had to watch a creepy, glowing cube all day, every day; and this time he didn't even have someone pretty to look at. No offense to Dr Selvig but he really wasn't Clint's type and the guy clearly still held a grudge about Clint and his fellow agents confiscating his work that time in New Mexico. So Clint really had nothing to do but watch the cube and think about Steve.

Then another Norse God showed up with a damned sceptre and Clint completely stopped thinking about anything at all.

 

---

Thank god for Natasha and her practical solutions to improbable problems. Of course she'd deal with magical brainwashing by hitting Clint in the head. He wished that she'd kicked him harder though, maybe then he wouldn't remember everything that happened while he was in Loki's thrall. Then he wouldn't have this sick feeling over how many people had been hurt thanks to his actions.

Natasha had said that she didn't blame him. That it wasn't his actions; that it had all been Loki, and Clint believed that she believed that. He wasn't so sure that he could and he knew that the majority of the people they worked with would never see it that way. But he couldn't dwell on that right then. Instead he had to deal with this the only way he knew how to; by keeping moving, keeping fighting and somehow trying to make up for what he'd done.

It had been a relief when the doors to Natasha's assigned quarters opened and someone asked her if she could fly a quinjet because Clint could fly one and he knew that was his chance to get back out there and be on the right side this time. He was so caught up in his head that he didn't even realise who he was talking to until he looked into Steve's eyes.

Shit! That was all he needed.

Clint watched as betrayal flashed across Steve's face when he faced Clint for the first time since that night in New York. The betrayal was quickly chased by pity but Clint didn't let either expression cause him to back down or look away. He couldn't. He needed to get involved in this fight.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natasha give Steve the nod to indict that Clint was himself again but the other man still studied Clint for several moments before telling him to suit up. Clint didn't know what Steve had seen in his expression but it was apparently enough and the relief that washed over Clint was almost numbing in its intensity.

He threw himself, mind, body and soul, into the battle that followed. Afterwards he would only remember snapshots; Thor's jubilant battle cries, dangling from Ironman's hand as they flew up through the air, directing Captain America - not Steve, not in the field - directing him to a group of people very much in harm's way. In the moment though, it was like he fell into some kind of trance. Not like the one he'd been in with Loki, this was more like tunnel vision. He focussed on the fight and nothing else because if he let his attention lapse, even for one second, he'd have to listen to that voice screaming that something was wrong. The voice that kept pointing out what was missing. He didn’t need the voice, he knew what was missing but if he let himself think about why he couldn't hear Phil in his ear, directing him and the others, why Phil hadn’t been anywhere in sight before they left the hellicarrier, then he’d have to acknowledge what he already knew but couldn’t face. So he pushed it all away and channelled everything into trying to save as many people as he could, even if it had to be at the expense of himself; it would be nothing more than what he deserved.

But fate was a fickle bitch and even jumping off a building didn’t stop him from walking away from the fight, exhausted but mostly unscathed. The exhaustion explained why he let Tony Stark talk him into going to someplace to eat with the rest of them but about halfway through the silent and more than slightly awkward dinner, that huge thing he’d been trying not to think about finally hit. He run from the building and then threw up in a bucket full of sand and cigarettes butts outside.

One of his best friends was dead. He was dead and it was all because of him.

He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the ground and leaned forward so that his head rested on his bent knees.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Natasha said.

She’d apparently followed him outside and was sitting on the rubble beside him.

“Of course it was,” Clint answered without lifting his head. “Phil’s dead and it was my plan that caused it. Loki letting himself get caught, the rest of us infiltrating the hellicarrier; all of it was my plan. You knew that and so did Phil. He died knowing that it was my fault.”

“No. He would never have thought like that,” Natasha told him. “Phil knew that it was Loki working through you, that it was all Loki. That’s why he went...”

She cut herself off and Clint chanced a look at her. Her fists were clenched so tight that the knuckles were white and she was blinking rapidly. Natasha Romanoff never cried but this was probably the closest that Clint had ever seen her get to it. Phil had been her friend too; he’d been the one who’d backed Clint up when Clint brought her into SHIELD and he never once treated her as if she was going to betray them at any moment.

Clint caught hold of her hand and made her loosen the fist enough that he could tangle their fingers together. It had been the three of them against the world for a long time and now it was just the two of them.

Movement caught at the edge of Clint’s vision and he looked up to see Steve watching the both of them with sympathy and concern. When Clint caught his eye, Steve nodded his head at him and went back into the restaurant. Clint took that to mean that Steve would explain to the rest of them that they’d left and so he nudged Natasha to her feet and they both wearily made their way to the nearest apartment – which was Natasha’s. Clint slept on the sofa but woke them both up so often with his nightmares that he wished he’d travelled the extra distance to his own apartment and braved being alone so that Natasha, at least, could have had a decent night’s sleep.

Thor had announced that he’d be taking Loki back to Asgard the next day and Clint had a perverse need to see that son of a bitch leave for himself. So, after a long morning of doing nothing except eating and watching cartoons on TV, Clint and Natasha made their way to Central Park to see the Asgardians off and discovered that they weren’t the only ones who had that same idea. Every Avenger, as Fury was insistently calling them, showed up to say goodbye to Thor and a ‘don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out’ to Loki. Compared to the dinner they’d shared the day before, the atmosphere was strangely relaxed. Clint found the whole thing slightly surreal, like the day before had never happened and they were just a normal group of friends hanging out in the summer sun.

He realised that Steve was watching him again and wasn’t surprised when the other man pulled him aside.

“I’m sorry about Agent Coulson,” he said and Clint didn’t quite manage to hold in the wince of pain that those words caused him. “I didn’t know him very well but he seemed like a good man. I understand that it was he who arranged for me to visit with Peggy and that meant a lot to me.”

“He was one of the best. I wished that I’d been there...” Clint swallowed hard because if he’d been there, Phil would probably still be alive. He kept going though. “I wish I’d been there when he actually met you. Natasha said that he actually got flustered. Believe me, that never happened; he was usually Mr Unflappable.”

Steve smiled. “He did seem a little nervous. He wanted me to sign some cards, I think.”

Clint nodded and looked down. Natasha had told him what had happened to the cards; Phil would’ve been so upset that they’d been damaged.

The air turned a little strained between them and so Steve stepped back, as though to leave.

“I’m sorry,” Clint blurted out before he lost the chance. “What happened that night...I just wanted you to know that I really am sorry.”

“It’s okay. You were just doing your job, I get that.” Steve shrugged but he wouldn’t meet Clint’s eyes and his body language conveyed that it wasn’t okay at all.

“No,” Clint said. “I mean, I was, but I was only sent to observe you. The rest of it wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Steve frowned at him. “Observe? Then why did you talk to me?”

“Because you were clearly so uncomfortable with that moron salivating all over you,” Clint replied. He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. “I gave you a fake name, Steve, but that was it. The rest of it was all me. Oh, except for the fact that I genuinely did think that you were straight and hadn’t realised that you’d wandered into a gay bar.”

The quick bark of laughter from Steve seemed to surprise him as much as Clint.

“So that’s why you choked on your drink,” he said.

Clint gave a small smile at that before sobering again because he needed to say this right. “Anyway, I get that I’ve already lost your trust and it’s going to be hard to get it back if we ever have to work together again, but I want you to know that I didn’t lie to you about the rest. There really was a guy from my apartment building, there really is a bar called ‘The Mean Old Toad’ that I think you’d like and I really did wish that the situation had been different.”

Steve stared silently at a nearby tree for so long that Clint wondered if he should just go find Natasha and leave him the hell alone.

“I know the bar’s real,” Steve eventually said. “I went there a few times...”

Looking for you was left unspoken but Clint heard it all the same and he mentally kicked himself yet again for hurting the other man.

Steve kept talking. “Maybe we should just start over as if we just met yesterday. I think that you were an excellent asset in the field and would be happy to work with you again. And if we run into each other outside of that then maybe we could build our way to becoming friends. Maybe.”

It was a lot better than Clint had been expecting so he nodded and shook Steve’s hand before they all parted ways.

 

---

Clint was, unsurprisingly, put through an entire month of mandatory psych evals and specialised training sessions to make sure that there were no lingering effects from Loki’s mind control. Once the month passed and the specialists could find nothing wrong with him, Hill put him on R&R for an undisclosed amount of time.

Clearly, they had no idea what to do with him now. As expected, a high majority of SHIELD’s agents were refusing to work with him because they thought that he’d suddenly betray them all again. Even Hill seemed uncomfortable in his presence. On the other hand, he was one of the best agents in the whole of SHIELD so they didn’t want to let him go. Clint liked to believe that they knew that if they tried, the ghost of Phil Coulson would rise up and kick all their asses. But it was more likely the fact that if they did fire him, Natasha would go with him and then they’d lose two of the best agents in the whole of SHIELD. He occasionally entertained the idea of leaving anyway. He and Natasha could go it alone; set up some kind of streamlined version of the A-Team. Righting wrongs as they travelled around the world. It would be great fun right up until one of the many agencies they’d pissed off over the years decided to take them out. It might be worth it though.

After Hill told him he was on paid leave, Clint went home, packed up some stuff and headed straight to the farm. It was pointless moping around his apartment until SHIELD deigned to bring him back in from the cold so he would be better off going somewhere he could do some good.

It was late by the time he’d made it there so the kids were already in bed. Barney enveloped him in a huge hug as soon as he saw him on the doorstep and he was free to finally cry out his grief while Laura held him and stroked his hair. After that he felt strangely better. Laura Barton, hands down, beat the best shrinks SHIELD could throw at him, plus she made a mean pot pie – some of which she made him eat before sending him off to bed early because she was making him get up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows with his brother. Laying in bed, after just a couple of hours back with his family and feeling better than he had since Loki, Clint again briefly allowed his thoughts to turn to Steve and hoped that the other man would find this sort of alleviation from his loneliness one day.

He was still having nightmares but they weren’t as bad or as frequent as they’d originally been and the longer he stayed at the farm, the better things got. Barney claimed it was all the fresh air and hard work but Clint thought it was the distance, from both the battle and from the agency where distrustful looks and muttered insults lurked around every corner. That and the fact that dealing with two hyperactive kids running around the place and jumping all over him at every chance they got didn’t give him much time to dwell.

When Natasha showed up at the start of the second month it didn’t surprise him. That Nick Fury accompanied her did. The Bartons had met Fury before, he’d been the one who set them up on the farm in the first place and made sure that they were so far off the grid that no one would be able to find them. It was an endless source of amusement to Clint, Phil and Natasha that the kids adored their ‘Unckie Nick’, no matter how much he glowered at them in the way that would make seasoned SHIELD agents shit their pants.

“Mrs Barton, always a pleasure,” Fury nodded at Laura after he got out of the SUV. “I need to borrow Clint for a few minutes.”

“As long as you don’t break him, I need him to help my husband fix the hole in the barn roof,” Laura replied, already walking back into the house with her hand pressed to her pregnant belly. “And call me ‘Mrs Barton’ one more time and I’ll kick you in the balls, Nick.”

Fury grinned after her. “She’s a hell of a woman.”

“That she is,” Clint agreed. “Lets talk in the barn before the kids finish reading hour and realise that you’re here.”

He led Natasha and Fury to the nearby building, noting that Fury’s eye was darting around the place as though worried that he was going to be ambushed by tiny children at any moment.

“Congratulations, Agent Barton. You’re getting a promotion,” Fury announced when they got inside the barn.

Clint’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “I’m sorry. What?”

“We’re officially being made part of the Avengers Initiative,” Natasha told him, leaning against a wooden pillar. “Yey, us!”

Fury shot her a look but she just smiled benignly back at him.

“You want me to be an Avenger?” Clint asked incredulously. “You do realise that no one trusts me, right? That I’m apparently just waiting for my moment to turn traitor again? I can’t be an Avenger; it will tarnish the entire thing.”

Fury turned that look on Clint instead.

“I trust you, Barton. Widow, here, she trusts you,” he said and Clint rolled his eyes because that was obvious and so not the point. “And I guess you did something to make the good Captain trust you too because he’s insisting on having you on the team.”

“And by ‘insisting’, the director means that Rogers told Hill that either you’re on the team or he’s off the team,” Natasha added smugly.

Clint stared at her. “He said what?”

“Stark’s put an apartment aside for you in the tower. I expect you in it by the end of the week,” Fury continued.

“The tower...Stark Tower?” Clint asked, his mind reeling from getting so much weird and unexpected information in so short a time.

“It’s been repaired and it’s Avengers Tower now,” Fury told him. “For once Stark had a good idea concerning other people and has donated the top three floors of the tower as a living and training facility for the Avengers. A chance for you all to bond and be readily available when the next crisis hits.”

“I have to live there?” Clint frowned. “Full time? What about my actual apartment?”

Fury shrugged. “Keep it, sell it; it’s up to you. But Stark doesn’t charge rent and you’ll be living in the lap of luxury so that’s definitely a few steps up for you, circus brat.”

Clint looked at Natasha. “You’re moving in too?”

She nodded, looking about as pleased with that aspect of things as Clint felt. “I’m keeping my place though. I’ll need somewhere to go when Stark gets to be too much.”

She was right; a decent bolthole was a good idea so he’d probably do the same thing.

Fury opened his mouth to say something but Clint would never know what it was because there was a sudden chorus of ‘Unckie Nick! Auntie Nat!’ emanating from the direction of the main farm house and getting closer.

Fury turned his head slightly, as if about to look for an escape route, but he caught the amusement on Clint and Natasha’s faces and immediately straightened up, pulling his long coat around him like armour. He barely flinched when two mini people ran into his legs, grabbing hold and demanding that he carry them back to the house because Laura had made lunch for them all.

“This is revenge for the ‘Mrs Barton’ thing, isn’t it?” Fury asked Clint who smiled and nodded.

He refused to carry either of them because they ‘have legs and know how to use them’. But in order to regain the use of his own legs, Fury was forced to hold hands with Cooper and carry Lila’s stuffed rabbit while she bombarded him with details of what she’d just been reading. He then walked out of the barn with his head held high, ignoring the laughs of his agents behind him.

Clint stopped Natasha from leaving too, with a hand on her arm. “Hey...Steve really said that to Hill? I don’t get it. He said he’d work with me again but made it clear that anything outside of that was shaky at best. He had to know that me being an Avenger would mean us living together.”

“I may have made sure that he knew you’d been put on enforced vacation time because of what Loki did,” Natasha admitted after a moment. “He got pretty angry about that.”

“What? Why did you do that?” Clint demanded to know, pissed because he didn’t need pity from Natasha and certainly not from Steve.

“Because it’s what Phil would have done,” Natasha told him sharply before turning and leaving the barn.

Clint’s anger instantly deflated. It was definitely what Phil would have done; in fact, Phil would probably have never let it get this far. The fact that Natasha had stepped into that role for him was actually pretty touching and he now felt like an asshole for snapping at her. He jogged to catch her up and nudged his knee into the back of her knee, causing her to stumble a little. She then punched him on the shoulder, hard enough that his entire arm went numb, and just like that all was forgiven.

Fury left right after lunch but Natasha stayed for a couple of days before heading back to New York. She had to move some stuff into the tower early because she was leaving at the end of the week on a small mission for Hill. As usual, she and Laura were as thick as thieves and he probably should have known that she'd make Clint tell Laura and Barney about Steve.

Clint blamed the pregnancy hormones for why Laura got so excited at the barest prospect of Clint being in a relationship. Or maybe living on a farm in the middle of nowhere, completely off the grid had made her go a little stir-crazy. Once she heard the whole story, she insisted that Steve fighting to get him on the Avengers was a good sign and wouldn’t listen to his argument that Steve was just a nice guy who felt sorry for him. Natasha was in full agreement with Laura and Barney just shrugged when Clint turned in his direction and was no help at all.

In fact when it was Clint’s turn to leave, Laura pulled him close to say, “Bring your captain to meet us next time.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “We’ve been through this. I think that you’re becoming delusional.”

Barney snorted before pulling Cooper out of the back seat of Clint’s truck, where he’d tried to smuggle himself.

This is our day to day life, little brother,” he said, throwing Cooper over his shoulder while the toddler giggled uncontrollably. “Just let her live vicariously through you. Please. For the sake of my sanity.”

"Rude!" Laura smacked Barney on the arm and the long suffering look on his brother's face made Clint chuckle.

“Well, if that’s all you want, I’ll go back to the city and hire a h-o-o-k-e-r for the night,” Clint told Laura with a cheeky smile and being mindful to spell out the word around impressionable ears. “You could do all sorts of vicarious living that way.”

She threw back her head with laughter before smacking his arm too. “You a-s-s! That’s not what he meant and you know it!”

“I know.” Clint leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “If I meet someone, I swear, you’ll be the first person I tell. But you need to let this Steve thing go.”

When she just shrugged non-commitally, Clint and Barney exchanged a look because she was clearly going to hold on to this for a while. Clint really had to go so instead of arguing further he turned to swing Lila around in a big circle and leaned over Barney to blow a raspberry against Cooper’s cheek before climbing into the truck.

“I’ll be back soon,” he promised and drove away with their yelled goodbyes echoing in his ears.

 

---

Clint didn’t have much stuff so it took no time at all to move into the newly repaired and renamed Avengers Tower. Stark’s girlfriend slash CEO of his company was in a meeting so Stark’s bodyguard, Happy, dealt with collecting Clint’s finger prints, retinal scans and other security precautions before showing Clint up to the living quarters.

“Shouldn’t you be guarding Stark, not babysitting me,” Clint asked him in the elevator and Happy just shook his head.

“Tony’s got a new bromance going in the lab,” he told Clint. “He and Banner haven’t left there for days. Not much for me to guard really so I like to help out around the tower.”

Clint grimaced. “I’m not sure if those two tinkering with stuff together is brilliant or terrifying.”

“I try not to think about it,” Happy said. “I've perfected the technique over years of working with Tony. It’s the only way I can sleep at night.”

“Good advice,” Clint chuckled.

They left the elevator and Happy showed Clint to his room to drop off his bags and then gave him a tour of the facility, including gym, swimming pool, shooting range and a sarcastic virtual butler called JARVIS. The last one was really strange but the rest of it had Clint practically drooling. He’d had to stay in a couple of high end hotels on undercover missions but this place put them all to shame. It was all so luxurious and cutting edge. The shooting range alone had Clint’s fingers twitching with the need to get his bow and try it out; he had the fleeting thought that he might move into the range and never leave.

Long after Happy had left, Stark and Banner had still not emerged from the labs; although they had cheerfully waved at him through the window when Happy's tour took them past the lab section. There was no sign of Steve, Natasha had already left on her mission and Clint didn't know if Thor was even back on the planet yet. Which all meant that Clint was bored. He wanted to try out the shooting range but he needed Stark to show him how to set up properly; it was all done by computer and Happy had thrown his hands up and backed away when Clint asked if he could do it. So he decided to give the gym a go instead.

He changed into his gym clothes and wandered down the two flights of stairs, pausing just inside the door while he decided which piece of equipment to use first.

“Welcome to the training facility, Agent Barton. During this first visit, I will monitor your vital signs in order to establish a baseline from which I am able to recommend a variety of training regimes for your better health.”

Clint took a moment to drop out of the battle ready stance he’d automatically fallen into as JARVIS suddenly spoke out of nowhere. It took a little longer to push away the memories of a disembodied, silky voice inside his head telling him to do things that he’d normally never contemplate doing.

“Right, umm...” he cleared his throat to get rid of the roughness that had suddenly appeared. “You go ahead and do that. Thank you.”

"There are headsets attached to each piece of equipment if you wish to train along to music. Mr Stark has a vast catalogue of songs to choose from," JARVIS continued smoothly as if Clint hadn't had some kind of episode right there in the middle of the gym.

Thanking the AI again, Clint wandered over to the running machine, shaking his head.

“That’s never not going to be weird,” he muttered to himself.

“Actually, you sort of get used to it,” Steve said from behind him.

He was in the far corner by the punching bag, sitting on a bench and taping up his hands. Thanks to the layout of the gym, he'd been hidden from view when Clint first entered but he had clearly witnessed what just happened.

“Cap.” Clint nodded at him, deciding that it was probably best to just gloss over it. “I heard that I have you to thank for me being here.”

Steve shrugged. “I could never stand wastefulness; part of growing up when I did, I guess. And putting you on indefinite leave was ridiculously wasteful, especially when I know how well we all work together.”

"You do know that there's going to be backlash for it, don't you?" Clint asked. "Most of SHIELD think that I should have been fired. Hell, I bet most of them think that I should have been shot on the spot rather than promoted to the elite team."

"If they can't see the difference between free will and mind control then maybe they shouldn't be in charge of world security," Steve replied. "I honestly don't care what they think of my hiring decisions, I care about having the best people on my team."

Clint blinked at Steve as he turned away to start hitting the punching bag. He hadn't been expecting such a vehement defence of his choice of teammate. He started to feel stupid for believing that Steve only picked him because he felt sorry for him or out of some misplaced sense of loyalty due to them fighting the Chitauri together. This was Captain America. Of course he'd pick people primarily based on their skill sets and while Clint might doubt himself in many areas, he knew that he was one of the best marksmen in the world, let alone SHIELD.

Perusing the available programmes on the machine and choosing a reasonably difficult one, Clint threw himself into the rhythm of running and allowed it to empty his mind of everything other than the burn of a good workout. Well, he tried to. If occasionally, his eyes would wander over to the other side of the gym to appreciate the way Steve's thin t-shirt stretched across his back as he threw punches or the way his gym pants clung to his hips and ass, no one could blame him; Clint was sure that that physique could cause anyone to get distracted.

The two men each worked on their own training in a surprisingly companionable silence until Clint's programme finished and he hopped off the machine to begin his cool down routine. Steve stopped his workout too and wandered over.

"Is there some kind of extra benefit to running on that thing to going on a proper run outside?" Steve asked, nodding at the machine Clint had just vacated.

"I'm sure that Stark's probably put in some additional extras that he thinks are better," Clint replied, wryly. "But, to be honest, I always prefer a proper run. I just haven't had the chance to look for a route around here yet. I don't know this particular area very well and, even if I did, all the rebuilding going on has probably changed most of the established routes."

Steve looked a little relieved and Clint realised why when Steve said, "Oh good. I thought this might be something else that I didn't understand."

"Nope, you didn't misunderstand anything. Most running machines are really for people who dislike the inconvenience of leaving their homes or offices in order to get a good workout. And it's become something of a social thing in commercial gyms," Clint told him.

Steve nodded as he took that in. Clint couldn't even begin to imagine how these things that seemed so everyday to the rest of them must look to Steve.

"I've been living here a while so I've discovered a decent running route," Steve told him. "It doesn't have too much rubble and it's still pretty quiet in the early mornings and late evening. I could show you if you'd like."

"That depends...does it go passed a bakery?" Clint asked, deciding to take hold of the tentative offer of friendship that Steve had just extended. "My normal jogging route in my neighbourhood goes passed the most amazing bakery and those smells... It's impossible not to stop and buy something which then means that I need to do an extra circuit the next day. And, well, it's been getting a little out of control so I'd rather not have to fall into that trap again."

Steve laughed. "Ah, I see the problem."

"No, you don't," Clint assured him. "The old couple who run it, the Turcos, are one of those old school Italian couples who adopt anyone who's spoken to them more than a couple of times. So when I changed my route to avoid the bakery, Mrs Turco actually showed up at my building with chicken soup to make sure that I was okay."

"Really?" Steve was grinning at Clint's story.

"Really," Clint confirmed. "I felt so guilty about it that, not only did I change my route back to how it had been before, but I began to buy extra breakfast goodies from them. And then I'd have to take them into work for Phil and Natasha just to stop myself from eating the whole lot. You know, thinking about it, I'm probably going to have to make weekly trips back to Brooklyn while I'm living here just so the Turcos don't think I'm sick again."

"Brooklyn?" Steve asked. "I didn't know that you lived there. That's where I grew up...but you knew that."

Steve was obviously referring to the surveillance that Clint had run on him but that wasn't why Clint had known that.

"Every school kid in the US knows where you grew up, Cap," Clint told him, because he probably should know. "You're used as a prime example of the American Dream. 'The kid from Brooklyn who grew up to be a National hero'."

"I...huh." Steve tilted his head. "I don't know how I should feel about that. I mean, I'm just me...but I guess if it helps some kids..."

He trailed off and stared into the distance for a moment before visibly shaking himself out of it.

"We won't pass any bakeries, I promise," he said to Clint, getting back on subject. "But if you do go to Brooklyn to check in, I expect some of those pastries brought back with you."

Clint laughed. "Deal."

Bright and early the next morning, Clint met up with Steve in the ridiculously large living room and they headed out on Steve's running route. That one morning turned into two then a week's worth and, before they knew it, their early morning run had become a daily ritual for the two of them. They didn't talk much on the actual run, mostly due to the fact that, after that first morning where he'd clearly slowed down for Clint's benefit, Steve's speed meant that he flew ahead. But they had the chance to exchange some quips every time Steve looped the block and ran passed him again.

When Clint discovered a small coffee shop on the way back to the Tower that served decent coffees without all the hipster hoopla, they'd began stopping there to grab a coffee which they drank as they strolled back home and slowly got to know each other. They were beginning to put the disastrous surveillance mission behind them and Clint felt as though they were starting to work their way to that friendship that Steve had cautiously suggested the day after the battle.

The day Natasha got back from wherever she'd been, Steve had decided to cook a meal for everyone in the Tower as a bonding thing. Thor had already been back on Earth for a week or so, although he split his time between the Avengers and his 'Lady Jane', and Stark and Banner were on a month's ban from the lab; imposed by Pepper after they blew some things up that were important to Stark Industries but that Clint didn't really understand.

It wasn't anything fancy, just a casserole that Steve apparently learned how to make from his mom; but for a group of people who mostly lived on takeout, it was a nice gesture and very tasty to boot. Stark had two bowls of it, which amused Clint because the guy had spent most of his life eating in five star restaurants or with his own personal chef; he can't have had many rustic casseroles before. In fact, most people had extras - with Banner and Thor eating three bowls each - and it clearly pleased Steve.

When Banner finally pushed his empty bowl away with a satisfied smile, Clint jumped up and ran to the kitchen. When he returned with a cheesecake, both Natasha and Steve's eyes lit up.

"The Turcos?" Steve asked which caused Natasha to raise an eyebrow and shoot a look at Clint.

"What are turcos?" asked Stark. "And why did no one tell me there was dessert? I wouldn't have eaten so much casserole."

"I'm pretty sure you still would have," Banner said and Stark poked his tongue out at him like the mature genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist that he was.

"I, for one, will happily eat more if it is as delicious as the Captain's offering," Thor announced, to the surprise of exactly no one.

Natasha took the knife out of Clint's hand and began to efficiently slice the cheesecake while the rest of them continued their good natured banter.

"You told Cap about the Turcos' bakery?" She murmured to Clint. "I thought that was a family secret."

The family clearly being Clint, Natasha and Phil.

Clint was saved from having to reply by Pepper's timely arrival. Stark immediately jumped up to pull out a chair and generally fall over himself in order to get himself back in her good graces. She rolled her eyes and pecked him on the cheek before sitting down. It was a very strange relationship but, as far as Clint could see, it worked for them.

The cheesecake was handed out to everyone, including Pepper, and received universal yummy noises; something Clint was definitely going to pass along to Mrs Turco the next time he was in Brooklyn. She'd be overjoyed that The Avengers had enjoyed her baking.

"While I have the entire group of you here," Pepper said once she'd finished eating. "I wanted to discuss an idea. As you know, the city is in the midst of the rebuilding effort and lots of the businesses, including SI, have donated to the cause but I've heard whispers that the damage was more extensive than originally thought."

"They need more money?" Stark asked. "We can donate more; that shouldn't be a problem."

"As CEO of SI, I thank you for your input over how much money we can give away, Tony," Pepper replied dryly, causing Natasha to snort into her soda. "But I thought that it might be a good idea to throw a fundraiser with you guys front and centre. A lot of rich and influential people will be glad to donate money for the chance to hobnob with The Avengers themselves."

"How much hobnobbing?" Banner asked. "I'm not great with people...or social events...or talking, really."

"You'll be fine," Pepper assured him. "If you can deal with Tony then you can cope with a lot more than you give yourself credit for, Bruce."

"Hey!" Tony protested but Pepper ignored him and kept talking to Banner.

"Besides, if you start to feel overwhelmed then you can just leave. That will be more than alright."

Banner nodded thoughtfully but did seem reassured by the get out clause Pepper had given him.

"What is this 'hobnobbing'? Thor asked. "I am unfamiliar with this term."

"It means to spend time talking to people at a social gathering," Steve told him, looking inordinately proud of himself for being able to explain something instead of the other way around.

Clint smiled at the display but then realised that Natasha was watching him with an odd look on her face and frowned at her curiously.

"Urgh, it sounds boring when you put it like that, Capsicle!" Stark was saying. "You know what we should do? We should make it into an auction. An Avengers auction!"

Pepper raised her eyebrows as if she was actually considering his idea and Clint rushed to dissuade her from that.

"I think you need actual famous people to make a high class auction work and no one's going to know who we are." Clint pointed to himself, Natasha and Banner.

"That’s a very good point!" Banner exclaimed a bit too enthusiastically.

"Actually..." Stark got a devious look on his face. "I was going to save this for maximum embarrassment but..."

He ran out of the room and the rest of them looked at each other dubiously.

Thor frowned and asked into the sudden silence, "Is not an auction for cattle?"

The rest of the time that Stark was gone was spent trying to explain charity auctions, specifically those where people were auctioned off for dates. Thor didn't seem convinced, probably partly due to the complete lack of enthusiasm Clint and Banner showed for the idea, and even Pepper's initial interest waned, much to everyone's relief.

"Ta da!" Tony cried as he jumped back into the room, waving a bunch of soft toys at them.

As he got closer to the table, Clint could see that they were plushies of them, including a little blonde archer and a red head in a black catsuit.

"It looks like your efforts didn't go unnoticed by the general public," Steve commented as he picked up the Hawkeye doll from the pile that Stark dumped on the table and tossed it to Clint.

"Where did you get these?" Natasha asked as she inspected her plushie counterpart with a critical eye.

Stark dropped into his seat and began to make the Ironman and Captain America dolls have a mini fight, complete with 'crash!', 'pow!' style sound effects.

"Happy found them when he was out yesterday," he told them in between a ‘bash!’ and ‘wallop!’. "He picked up the whole lot for me."

Clint made a mental note to ask Happy which shop he'd discovered the toys in because Lila and Cooper would love to have a set. And, judging from the enthusiasm around the table, he guessed he wouldn't be the only one to ask.

 

---

The day of Pepper's fundraiser dawned only two weeks later and Clint couldn't help but be impressed at her organisational skills and the speed at which she'd managed to pull the whole thing together. He could clearly see how she'd be such a successful assistant to Stark that he'd end up promoting her to run the entire company. No matter the persona he showed to the world, Tony Stark didn't suffer fools gladly.

There was a knock on Clint's door and Natasha swept in without waiting for an invitation. She was in a floor length, black shimmery gown and turned her bare back to him.

"Zip," she demanded and Clint gave up on his bow tie to do as ordered but the zip was tiny and wouldn't budge as he tried to close it.

"Hang on," he told her and knelt on the floor to get a closer look. "Some of the material has snagged. Have you got something small that I can use to pry it out?"

Natasha immediately lifted the skirt of the gown and plucked a small knife from the holster she had strapped around her thigh.

Clint laughed. "How many weapons have you got hidden on you right now?"

Natasha looked down at him with a smirk. "Six."

As he slowly worked the snagged material loose, Clint tried to figure out where they all were, considering the expanse of skin Natasha had on show. He was carrying four weapons himself but he was in a tuxedo so it was a lot easier to conceal them.

"Hey Clint, you don't happen to..."

Clint peered around Natasha to the open doorway where Steve was standing and looking so gorgeous in his military dress uniform that Clint's mouth went dry.

Steve flushed red. "Oh! I...umm....I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you. Never mind!"

Clint blinked in confusion when Steve ran off as suddenly as he'd appeared and then realised what the scene must've looked like to someone who'd just walked in on it. He groaned and thumped his head against the small of Natasha's naked back.

"Yes, that'll make things look better," she observed.

"This is all your fault. You and your stupid slinky dress," Clint informed her when he sat back on his heels. "The head of The Avengers now thinks that we're fucking."

"He wouldn't be the first." She shrugged, which was true; most of SHIELD were convinced that they were secretly married. "Besides, I'm not sure that he was looking at this from the point of view of a team leader."

When Clint just blinked at her in confusion, Natasha gave a huge sigh and walked over to the shelf which contained the set of Avengers plushies that Clint had bought for the kids and moved the Captain America doll to sit next to the Hawkeye doll.

Clint rolled his eyes as her meaning became clear. "Haven't we established that that ship has sailed?"

Natasha leaned down, patted his cheek and said, "I'll go down with this ship, Barton. Now, fix my stupid slinky dress."

Clint shook his head before he physically turned her around and went back to freeing the snag. "You have an unhealthy obsession with romance novels. You know that, right?"

“How I choose to unwind at the end of a difficult day is none of your business,” she replied archly and then sobered slightly. "I think that you'd be good for each other."

"Tash..." Clint said in a warning tone before making a triumphant noise as the material finally came free and he was able to zip the dress shut.

"Fine. I'll leave it...for now," Natasha told him before pushing herself up on her toes and planting a kiss on his forehead. "Thanks for the help. Need me to do your bowtie?"

Clint gave her a rueful look before nodding. He swore that bowties were his true nemesis; he'd never managed to get one tied correctly, no matter how many times he'd had to wear one for a mission.

A couple of hours later, the party was in full swing. Tony and Pepper were holding court at one end of the room, surrounded by a group of high society types who were laughing uproariously at whatever tale Stark was exuberantly telling. Steve was politely dancing with an elderly lady in complete contrast to the enthusiastic dancing of Thor and Darcy on the other side of the dance floor, while Jane looked on with a fond expression. Banner was hiding out at the edge of the room, generally making himself look as inconspicuous as possible and Natasha was making good use of her seduction techniques to get more money out of wealthy businessmen.

While Clint didn't have the extensive training that Natasha'd had, Clint had played the honeypot a few times in his career so in tag team with Natasha, he was busy tempting the wives of those same wealthy businessmen to hand over even bigger donations. It really was a good cause and worth all the slaps to his butt and terrible innuendos about where he could shoot his arrow if he really wanted to but he was most definitely reaching his limit by the time he spotted Steve sneak away to a nearby balcony.

"Had enough? Or just wanted to look at the view?" Clint asked as he slipped through the doors onto the same balcony.

Steve was leaning on the railing and looking out at the city all lit up in the dark. He smiled at Clint.

"I never was all that good at dancing," he admitted. “The serum didn't help with that particular skill so I thought I'd save a few toes by giving the dancing a rest during the faster numbers."

Clint grinned and came to stand next to Steve. "That’s funny because I seem to remember more than a few videos of you and a bunch of dancing girls giving Hitler what for.”

Steve laughed loudly. “I did zero dancing in those shows, not after they realised that I have two left feet. I stood still or just walked from one end of the stage to the other while the girls danced around me and made me look good. Sometimes the director would change and the new one always thought that I couldn’t be that bad and it was just that I hadn’t been taught correctly. So they would set up a day to teach me and the girls would actually draw straws to decide who would be unlucky enough to be my partner.”

“You seemed to be doing okay in there,” Clint pointed out. “I didn’t see anyone smacking you with their handbag, at any rate.”

“Slow numbers I can do,” Steve told him. “That’s just shuffling about in a circle.”

Clint snorted in amusement. “You make dancing sound so romantic when you talk about it like that.”

“That’s probably why I had such a problem getting any dames to date me.” Steve chuckled and then squinted at Clint. “Talking of which...I had an interesting conversation with Fury a month or so ago. He told me that I need to relax and get out more and that he was sure there were loads of girls who’d love to help me ‘unwind’.”

Clint shook his head at Fury’s usual lack of subtlety. At least he was consistently tactless with everyone, whether he was talking to Captain America or the agent who was in charge of bringing him coffee in the morning; the one that he constantly called by the wrong name even though Clint knew that Fury was perfectly aware of what his actual name was.

“You didn’t tell him that I’m gay.” It wasn’t a question but Steve watched Clint with an expectant expression.

Clint shrugged. “He didn’t need to know.”

“But it was your job,” Steve said. “You were spying on me. It should have gone in your report.”

“Are you admonishing me for it?” Clint asked incredulously.

Steve scrubbed a hand over his face. “No, of course not. But...”

“My mission was to observe how you coped with modern life just in case it turned out that you were actually very racist or thought that women who strayed from the kitchen deserved a backhand or two,” Clint said and, at the incredibly offended look on Steve’s face, held up a hand. “We didn’t actually believe that but these types of things have been covered up by history before, Steve; it’s only good sense to double check. My point is, I wasn’t watching you as I would a criminal and noting down every single thing you did because it might come in useful later. In this instance, I observed you and gave my opinion with a handful of specific events to back up my conclusion. I didn’t need to give SHIELD any information that I thought was...too personal.”

Steve was quiet for a moment as he took that in before nodding slowly. “Okay. Thank you, I do appreciate you letting me tell people in my own time.”

“As long as you let me be there when you tell Tony,” Clint replied. “He’s convinced you’re this ridiculous unbending caricature of a forties man.”

“Oh believe me, I know,” Steve said wryly. “He keeps making remarks about me having to take orders from Maria Hill as if I’d be upset at having to report to a woman. I actually worry about what Howard must’ve told him about me if he thinks that. Although I suppose that there are a few things about Howard that I’d never tell Tony so maybe that’s fair.”

Clint looked curiously at Steve. “That almost sounds like you and Howard Stark may have hooked up back then.”

Steve smiled. “No. Howard was too flashy for me and I was too...innocent, I guess, for him.”

Turning back to look at the skyline, Steve’s smile turned a little wistful and, in side profile, Clint could just about read Steve whispering, “Not me.”

Which Clint took to mean that Howard had had an affair with someone Steve knew. Peggy perhaps? Or one of the Commandos? Either way, Steve clearly hadn’t meant for Clint to pick up on that last comment so he let it go. Instead he decided to clear the air a bit.

“Listen; about earlier...” he began but Steve talked over him.

“No, that was my fault. I shouldn’t have intruded, it was rude of me.”

“Steve...” Clint interrupted. “You didn’t intrude. My door was wide open, it’s not like you barged in or anything. And there was nothing to intrude on. Natasha’s dress wouldn’t zip up and she needed my help to fix it.”

“You were...” Steve frowned. “You were fixing her dress?”

Clint nodded. “I know about all the gossip that goes on about me and Tash but none if it’s true. We’ve never been together so you don’t need to worry about us messing up team dynamics or that sort of thing. I’m not her type and she's like a sister to me.”

That was the explanation that he always gave. The truth was that Natasha had spent the majority of her life being taught to use sex as a weapon and now that she was free to make her own decisions, she had chosen to keep her personal life sex-free. Natasha had once told Clint that she was still attracted to certain people and would be open to a romantic relationship if the right person came along but, to Clint's mind, they'd have to be pretty damn special and even then he wasn't sure if she'd actually want to have sex with them. He knew that that SHIELD's shrinks would have a field day if she told them this stuff and slap all sorts of labels on her but it was just Natasha and it was no one's business except hers.

Steve blinked and then made an exaggerated expression of disbelief. “I think you’d be anyone’s type in that tuxedo.”

Clint gave a surprised laugh at that. “Pot calling the kettle black, Captain. Have you any idea how good you look in that uniform?”

He winced internally because that had come out a lot more honest than he'd aimed at, especially in response to Steve's jokey tone. But when he risked actually looking at the other man, he sucked in a sharp breath. Steve’s eyes had darkened at Clint's words and he suddenly had a hungry look on his face. Instantly Clint was transported back to that alley and shifted closer to Steve almost unconsciously.

Steve turned to entirely face him and then cupped the side of Clint’s face. “If I look half as good as you... God, all night I’ve just wanted to tear you away from those women you were flirting with and drag you off somewhere private.”

“Steve...”

Clint swallowed hard. He should put a stop to this but he’d already had to do that once and he just didn’t have it in him to do it again. Instead, he pulled Steve into a kiss every bit as heady as their first one.

They didn't have the chance to get too lost in the moment this time as a particularly loud burst of laughter from inside the ballroom had them suddenly breaking apart and remembering where they were.

“We shouldn’t do this here,” Steve said, quietly. "But I don't think I can wait until we're back at the Tower later."

Clint nodded in agreement. "Didn't you mention dragging me off somewhere private? Anywhere in particular in mind?"

Steve glanced towards the ballroom and then got a mischievous look on his face. "Turn left out of the main ballroom doors and head down the corridor until you get to next left. Turn down there and the second door on the right will be an empty office. I'll meet you in there in five minutes."

Clint just stared at Steve for a long moment before he burst out laughing. "You memorised the layout of the building?"

"Of course, and you have a gun under that jacket," Steve pointed out and Clint nodded in acknowledgement; they all had their own safety precautions. "Go. I'll follow in a few minutes."

He gave Clint a quick kiss and then stepped back. Clint straightened his tuxedo jacket, winked at Steve and then slipped back into the ballroom before heading for the main doors, making sure not to make eye contact with anyone. He followed Steve's directions and did indeed end up in an office. It was clean, with minimal furniture and obviously waiting for a new owner so Clint didn't have to worry about messing up anyone's space. Even better, the door had a lock which Steve used when he stepped into the room a few minutes later.

Clint let his eyes roam over Steve as the other man leaned against the closed door. "I have to say that this night has certainly taken a turn for the better."

"Shut up and get over here," Steve replied with a smirk and Clint didn't hesitate to do just that.

As soon as he got close enough, Steve grabbed hold of Clint and pulled him flush against him. This kiss was slower but no less intense and when Steve's lips parted on a moan, Clint took full advantage and pressed even closer. Steve tasted of champagne and something indescribably Steve. It was intoxicating and Clint felt like he couldn't get enough but when Steve moved his leg between Clint's and pressed up, Clint had to break free of the kiss to drop his head onto Steve's shoulder.

"God, Steve," he groaned quietly as he slowly rocked against Steve's thigh with encouragement from Steve who'd slid his hands into the back pockets of Clint's pants.

But he didn't want this to end too quickly and he definitely had something else he wanted to try. After a couple more lazy thrusts, Clint pulled back entirely. A disappointed noise escaped Steve and Clint had to kiss him once more before he dropped to his knees.

"Oh Christ!" Steve's voice was rough and lower than normal. "Clint..."

Clint had been undoing Steve's pants and pushing his shirt up out of the way but paused at that.

"Say that again," he requested and at Steve's puzzled expression, clarified. "My name. Say it again, just like that."

It took a moment but then Steve's face cleared in realization. He'd used Clint's fake name the last time, in fact it had been that that had put the brakes on. He raked his fingers through Clint's hair.

"Clint," he said again in that husky voice and Clint shivered.

He pressed a kiss against Steve's stomach as a reward then continued to kiss and lick his way to Steve's hip as he finally got the pants open and pushed down. Steve's underwear quickly followed and Clint took a moment to appreciate the view before leaning forward to taste; he and Steve groaning in tandem when he did. Steve's fingers tightened in Clint's hair but he didn't try to control what Clint was doing and Clint liked the way it pulled slightly.

Clint took his time, learning just how Steve tasted and the weight of him on his tongue. Alternating between swirling licks and short, quick flicks of his tongue and generally trying to drive Steve out of his mind. When Steve was moaning almost constantly and making little aborted rolls of his hips that showed just how close to losing control he was, Clint decided to take pity on him and really went to town.

There was a thud from above him and Clint glanced up to see that Steve had thrown his head back against the wall. His eyes were closed, his face was flushed and he was cursing under his breath. All in all, he was probably the most gorgeous thing Clint had ever seen.

Pretty soon, Steve was scrabbling at Clint's shoulders in warning that he was close but Clint refused to back off and just hummed in protest. That was all it took to send Steve over the edge and Clint drank down everything he had to give before sitting back on his heels and looking up at a stunned looking Steve with a self satisfied smirk.

Steve recovered quicker than Clint expected and moments later he found himself being yanked to his feet before Steve spun them around and pushed Clint back against the door. He kissed Clint with not a little desperation as he chased the taste of himself in Clint's mouth. At the same time he yanked at Clint's fly to get them open before shoving his hand down them and taking Clint in a firm grip.

There was something about how urgent Steve's movements were and how much he clearly wanted to touch him that had Clint groaning into the kiss and thrusting into Steve's grip. He was already wound to almost breaking point by what he'd done to Steve so it didn't take long until his vision whited out and he was just gone. It was only the fact that Steve was still kissing him that stopped him from being loud enough to attract attention to the little office.

Steve collapsed against him, not quite panting but definitely breathing quicker than normal.

"That was amazing," he told Clint, rubbing his cheek against Clint's.

"It really was," Clint agreed.

Steve was circling his thumb against Clint's hip in what Clint was sure was an unconscious gesture but it was making small sparks of pleasure against his sensitised skin and was an entirely pleasant way to recover.

Finally, Steve pulled away and wrinkled his nose at the mess all over his hand before stealing the pocket square from Clint's jacket pocket to clean it much to Clint amusement; he'd have to think of an excuse to tell Pepper for why it was missing. They then both straightened their clothes until they were presentable again.

"It's going to be slightly suspicious if we both appear again after having disappeared at the same time," Clint said as he smoothed Steve's hair back into place. "You head back to the fundraiser and I'll go back to the Tower. I'll pretend that I got sick or something."

"So I'm not going to see any more of you in this tux?" Steve made a disappointed face and Clint laughed.

“Careful, Rogers. You might be developing a kink there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with admiring a handsome fella in good looking suit,” Steve told him with a grin before he ducked out of the room to head back to the fundraiser.

Clint waited for ten minutes before exiting the office too. He sent a quick text to Natasha, telling her that he was leaving and asking her to cover for him. He knew that it would lead to a mini interrogation when she got home but he felt so good right then that he didn’t really care.

The interrogation never came that night. Clint had showered when he got home and then pretty much passed out on his bed. The fact that Natasha had let him sleep instead of waking him up to demand answers meant that she’d either figured it out on her own or she’d had a sudden attack of niceness. Clint guessed that it was probably the former and that was confirmed the next morning when he got to the living room ready for his usual morning run with Steve to find Natasha waiting in her running clothes.

“Natasha’s decided to join us this morning,” Steve said and she shot Clint a smirk.

“I thought that you preferred running on the track at HQ,” Clint pointed out.

She shrugged. “It’s good to change it up sometimes.”

Steve glanced between Clint and Natasha with small frown as if unsure if there was a problem.

“Well then, let’s go!” Clint gave Natasha a shark’s smile which she returned.

Steve kept his speed down in obvious deference to that fact that Natasha was with them but when she told him that he didn’t need to do that, he took off with a small smile at Clint.

“That was about time,” she said as soon as Steve was out of earshot. “And I’m talking about last night and not about his running speed.”

“Were we that obvious? Or was it just you that noticed?” Clint asked.

“I’d say that Banner probably picked up on you both disappearing but the fact that one of you didn’t come back worked in your favour and made it look like a coincidence,” she replied.

“Being a spy comes in handy sometimes.” Clint grinned. “So how was the rest of the night? Did I miss anything?”

Natasha gave him an unimpressed look at the less than subtle subject change. “Don’t let him break your heart. Fury won’t be happy if I have to kill Captain America.”

“Aww...you do love me!” Clint tried to nudge into her but she anticipated him and swerved out of the way then laughed when that caused him to stumble.

By the time Steve caught up with them again the two of them were having some crazy game of tag while they ran and Steve just shook his head and laughed at their antics as he passed them.

Natasha begged off going to the coffee shop on the way back to the tower in favour of getting back to claim the swimming pool early. Thor and Stark had apparently drunkenly challenged each other to a game of pool volleyball after Clint had left the fundraiser and she wanted to get a swim in before the chaos began.

“Volleyball?” Clint asked Steve after they got their drinks and were strolling back. “Does Thor even know what that is?”

“Tony described what it was and Thor claimed that it sounded like something he played as a child on Asgard,” Steve told him.

Clint laughed. “As a child? Oh, that must’ve got to Tony.”

“You’ve no idea,” Steve replied. “I’d say that I’m sorry you missed it but I’m pretty sure that you would’ve just stirred the pot.”

Clint mimed getting stabbed in the heart. “That hurts, Steve. Honestly.”

“Also it would mean that you wouldn’t have had a reason to go home,” Steve continued. “And I’m definitely not sorry about that.”

“Are you trying to say that I showed you a good time.” Clint waggled his eyebrows at Steve who chuckled.

“You definitely did that,” he agreed. “And I wouldn’t be adverse to it happening again. I was thinking about that guy in your apartment building that you had an arrangement with...I’ve done some research since then and that’s what’s known these days as ‘friends with benefits’, right?”

“Right.” Clint nodded.

“And we’re friends,” Steve said and to anyone who wasn’t a trained observer he didn’t look nervous in the least but Clint could see the tiny tells that belied that. “We’re obviously attracted to each other and do I really need to keep going with this?”

Clint smirked at him. “I just wanted to hear it.”

Steve huffed. “Fine. Would you like to be my friend with benefits?”

“Hmm...” Clint pretended to think about it and then shrugged nonchalantly. “Would I like to have regular, mind blowing sex with a gorgeous man who I actually enjoy spending time with? Sure, I guess that I could do that.”

“Don’t get too enthusiastic, Clint,” Steve deadpanned with a grin. “Mind blowing, huh?”

“I just thought that I should give you a target to aspire to,” Clint shot back.

Steve guffawed. “Well, I have always liked a challenge.”

They continued to flirt freely all the way back to the Tower and Clint ruthlessly ignored the part of him that was disappointed that Steve wanted something casual. He didn’t even know why he felt that way, it wasn’t as though he’d actually expected Captain America to get into a relationship with someone like him; a trained killer who, until recently, spent the majority of his time pretending to be someone else.

They arrived home just in time for the volleyball match and it appeared that Thor’s childhood game was definitely not volleyball, the land or pool version. Steve was nominated to be the referee but even he had no chance of keeping any type of control over the game. Clint sat between Natasha and Darcy, who had managed to get popcorn from somewhere, and cheered on whoever was the underdog at any given minute; even if Darcy dug her super pointy elbows into his side every time he cheered for Tony instead of Thor. When Steve sent Pepper entirely out of the poolside area for a cool down period due to her ‘sassing the referee’ after she very loudly disagreed with one of his decisions against Tony, Clint had laughed so hard he thought that he’d pulled a muscle.

Everyone had fun and were able to unwind from being on their best behaviour the night before. Even Bruce joined in with the revelry and instigated a few Mexican waves among the spectators while anarchy reigned in the pool with both competitors giving up any semblance of rules. In fact the whole thing descended into a splash fight between Tony and Thor and the rest of them continued to cheer them on just for the hell of it.

The whole group ended up spending a lazy Sunday hanging out together and actually doing that bonding thing that Fury wanted when he had ordered them to live together. It wasn’t until they were all lounging around and watching a movie on Tony’s giant TV screen that Clint realised that sometime in the day he’d mentally slipped from Stark and Banner to Tony and Bruce. Apparently they were actually starting to get along; like a proper team.

Almost as though Clint’s thoughts had invoked him, the next morning Fury summoned Clint and Natasha to HQ for a sitrep on how things were going at the Tower.

“Sounds like one big happy family,” he commented dryly after hearing their reports. “Unfortunately, as pleased as I am to hear that, it’s still a waste of a handful of great assets. The Avengers are only going to have to be called upon for the big threats so I’ve decided to utilise some of you for missions in between the world threatening events.”

It wasn’t really surprising; they were basically all being paid to wait around for the next alien attack and SHIELD weren’t going to stand for that for too long.

Nick continued, “Obviously, I can’t send either of you undercover anymore so, Barton, I’m going to have you training the rookies.”

Clint groaned at that. It wasn’t so much that he hated training in general, there was something rewarding about passing on little tricks that he’d learned over his career, but the rookies were always a nightmare. They either felt entitled because they’d just landed a job at a specialised government agency or they felt like they had something to prove and usually ended up pushing things too far.

Fury smirked at Clint’s reaction. “Suck it up, circus brat. And Romanoff...Cap’s had extensive experience leading covert missions in the past; let’s see if he can translate that to today. I want you both to team up and head out tomorrow. You can meet with Rumlow and his team this afternoon to go over the mission parameters.”

Natasha frowned. “Tomorrow? That doesn’t give us much time to prepare.”

“I’m throwing you in at the deep end,” Fury told her. “You’ll either work well together or you won’t. But out of all the Avengers I think that you would compliment Cap the best in the field.”

“Actually, Barton would probably be the best compliment to Rogers,” Natasha replied, thoughtfully. “They already train together every day.”

“Really?” Fury’s gaze shifted to Clint. “You didn’t mention that in your report.”

Clint shrugged. “I didn’t think that you wanted to know our entire training schedule, sir; just that we weren’t all ready to kill each other.”

Fury nodded slowly. “Alright, Barton; you’re with Cap. Romanoff, you’ve got the rookies.”

Natasha gave a truly terrifying grin. Unlike Clint, she loved training the rookies; mainly because she liked to see just how scared of her she could make them. It was something that was never not funny to Clint.

Clint was reading through the mission file for the third time when Steve arrived in the conference room. He was trying not to feel nervous about his first mission for SHIELD since Loki. There were a lot of people in the agency who wanted to see him dead and now he was going to have to have some of those agents at his back.

“Is that the mission briefing?” Steve nodded at the tablet in Clint’s hand, getting right down to business.

“Sure is.”

Clint had already copied the information to a second tablet for Steve and he slid that across the table to him.

“It looks relatively easy,” he told Steve. “A standard dash and grab in a suspected nefarious facility. The tricky part will be getting back out unnoticed.”

“Don’t worry. We’ve got that covered, Barton.”

Clint glanced at the door where Brock Rumlow stood. He purposefully crossed the room and shook Steve’s hand.

“It’s an honour to meet you, Captain. And an even bigger honour to work with you,” Rumlow told him. “I can assure you that my men are the best SHIELD have to offer.”

“Happy to work with you,” Steve replied. “But this is your mission. Hawkeye and I are just along for the ride this time.”

Rumlow gave a dismissive glance at Clint before turning his attention back to Steve. That was one thing out of the way, at least he now knew what Rumlow’s feelings about him were; not angry enough to actively wish him harm but definitely distrustful. Clint caught the frown Steve was giving at the brief exchange and shook his head at him before he could say anything. It wasn’t worth starting off on a bad foot.

The three of them spent the rest of the afternoon looking over the mission and hashing out any problems Clint and Steve could spot, coming to the file with fresh eyes. They then ate dinner in the SHIELD mess hall so that Steve could meet the rest of Rumlow’s STRIKE team. Clint could practically feel the glares coming at him from every direction so he channelled his inner Romanoff; he straightened his back, lifted his head and let the haters hate all they wanted because he didn’t care what they thought. Obviously, he did care but he wasn’t going to let anyone see that.

Clint already knew the other members of Rumlow's team, had even worked with most of them before, so he didn't need to hang around once he'd finished eating. Instead he headed to the shooting range to release some of the unwelcome tension that being back at SHIELD HQ had caused but he still couldn't shake that feeling that something was coming his way. It was like the atmosphere in the building was wound up so tight at his presence that something had to break.

He wasn't in the least bit surprised when he left the range to find a group of agents waiting for him.

"You've got some nerve showing your face back here, Barton," the obvious ringleader sneered.

Clint forced himself to appear relaxed and nonchalant. "I'm an agent of SHIELD. Where else would I be?"

“Six feet under, if I had my way,” another agent replied. “You’re a fucking traitor! I’ve no idea why Fury let you keep your job.”

“Because he’s sucking Fury’s cock, obviously,” A third threw in and Clint rolled his eyes.

“Jesus, but you guys need some better material,” Clint told them. “This is the best you’ve got? You’re SHIELD agents, for crying out loud. You’ve got to be better at intimidation than this.”

The second guy growled and threw a punch at Clint who had fully anticipated the move and easily ducked out of the way.

“It looks like you need some one on one training as well as a refresher on scare tactics,” Clint said. “It’s embarrassing, really. I’m embarrassed for you.”

The guy came at him again and the ringleader grabbed Clint from behind at the same time, pinning his arms to his side in order to stop Clint from defending himself. Instead, Clint kicked out and caught the guy in front of him in the stomach, causing the attacker to double over. Then Clint threw his head backwards and butted the ringleader. There was a short yell of pain when the agent’s nose broke, causing him to let go of Clint just in time to stop a second attack from the front when a third agent rushed him. Clint spun out of the way, grabbing hold of her arm as he did so and used his momentum to throw her into the wall. He turned to face the rest of the group, bouncing lightly on the balls of his feet and trying to predict who would come at him next. He predicted wrong; the original attacker recovered from the kick to the stomach quicker than expected and managed to catch Clint with an uppercut while he was busy studying the others. Clint reeled and fell back against the wall behind him with a curse. He spat out a mouthful of blood and shook his head to clear it but not before another fist buried itself in his belly, quickly followed by a punch to the side of the head that caused him to fall to his knees.

“What the hell is going on here?” The familiar voice was low but it had an undercurrent of steel.

Clint swore quietly then turned his head to look up at Steve who was watching them all with a thunderous expression.

“Just some roughhousing that got a little out of control, sir,” one of the agents answered after a moment’s hesitation.

“Is that right?” Steve eyed them all before stepping forward. He grabbed Clint’s wrist and pulled him to his feet. “Hawkeye?”

“You heard him,” Clint said, nodding towards the agent that had spoken. “Just a bit of a tussle that we should have taken to the gym.”

The last thing Clint needed was to be seen crying to Captain America.

Steve studied him for a long moment and then shook his head, looking disappointed.

“All of you will report to Maria Hill and explain that you attacked a senior agent, six on one,” Steve addressed the group.

“Captain…”Clint tried. “There’s no need…”

“There’s every need, Hawkeye,” Steve interrupted him. “SHIELD is no place for bullies and it’s certainly no place for such ignorance and intolerance. Why are you lot still here? I gave you an order.”

The agents gathered themselves and began to head down the corridor towards Hill’s office but not without shooting hate-filled glares at Clint as they left.

“Lets get you to the infirmary,” Steve said, placing a hand on Clint’s arm but Clint shook him off.

“What the fuck was that?”

Steve frowned at Clint. “They attacked you.”

“And I was dealing with it without your goddamn help,” Clint told him before turning and stalking towards his assigned quarters.

He was aware that Steve was following him but he was too angry to handle him right now. When he reached his quarters, he slammed the palm of his hand onto the scanner and, as soon as the door opened, he marched across the small room and into the even smaller bathroom. He gripped the edge of the sink, dropped his head and just breathed until the urge to punch the wall passed.

“Shit!” he muttered. “That could have gone better.”

He raised his eyes to the mirror and winced as he took in the blood that had run, sluggishly, down the side of his face from the wound on his temple and the rapidly purpling bruise on his jaw. No wonder people had skittered out of his way as he stomped down the corridors. He pulled the standard first aid kit from the cabinet but put it to one side of the sink and instead opened the bathroom door. As expected, Steve was standing on the other side.

“I’m not some damsel in distress, Steve,” Clint told him. “I’m a fully trained agent of SHIELD and I don’t need you swooping in to help me.”

Steve looked unimpressed. “You’re my friend and they were a gang of bullies. Of course I was going to help you; that doesn’t mean that I see you as anything less than you are.”

“But now they will,” Clint shot back. “I betrayed SHIELD. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in control of my actions, all they see is that I turned traitor and a lot of good agents died because of that. A high percentage of people here want to see me suffer for it and the fact that, as far as they’re concerned, I hid behind Captain America when they tried to punish me is only going to make things worse.”

“So I was just supposed to step back and let them hurt you?” Steve glowered at the idea.

“Yes!” Clint threw his arms up in frustration and couldn’t quite hold back a wince when that pulled on the bruise that was forming on his stomach. “Letting them get a few licks in now is better than suddenly and mysteriously losing contact with HQ during a mission. Or discovering too late that the research I’ve been given is out of date because the person compiling it lost a friend when I attacked the hellicarrier. I can take a beating if it starts to fix things.”

Steve glared at the ground. Clint didn’t know if he was angry that agents would deliberately put one of their colleagues in danger because of a misplaced vendetta or angry that Clint was right and he had unknowingly made things worse. Eventually, he sighed and stepped around Clint, into the bathroom. He grabbed an antiseptic wipe from the first aid kit and motioned for Clint to hop up onto the counter.

“I think that Rumlow knew,” Steve told him as he carefully cleaned the drying blood from Clint’s face. “He tried to stop me from coming to find you. Said that you were usually in the shooting range for hours when you got started and it was best to leave you be.”

“I think everyone knew,” Clint replied. “That corridor is usually bustling at this time of day but it was strangely empty. And I’m surprised that there were only six of them. I bet there was another group waiting somewhere as a second wave.”

Steve angrily threw the first wipe into the sink before yanking another one out of the packet. “It’s unacceptable. These people are supposed to be trained agents who understand what can happen out on the field. Especially SHIELD agents. That they don’t seem to be able to comprehend that Loki was to blame for the attack and not you is just…”

“Hey.” Clint covered Steve’s hands with his own to stop him ranting. “It’s nice to think that but, to be honest, if an agent that I didn’t really know – one who already had a reputation for not following orders on occasion – was actually the cause of Coulson’s death? I’d probably react the same way. I wouldn’t give a shit that they weren’t acting under their own power; I’d just see the person who killed my friend. And, yes, it sucks being on this side of it. And it is unfair. But I understand it and I just need to ride it out. Okay?”

“Do you really think that you’re going to be in danger when you’re in the field?” Steve asked instead of answering Clint’s question.

“I think that Fury's only letting me go out into the field this soon because I’m going with you,” Clint admitted. “I was supposed to be training the new agents and probably would’ve been stuck doing that until things settled down here. But, as Natasha pointed out, we work well together and no one will do anything that could possibly affect Captain America’s missions.”

Steve stared to one side for a long time before slowly nodding. “I don’t like it but okay. I’ll stay out of it. Unless it starts to go too far, then you’d better believe that I’m stepping in.”

“If it starts to go too far, I’ll let you.” Clint smiled at Steve and got a grudging smile in return. “Now, if you’ve finished, this counter is too small to be comfortable for very long.”

He went to hop back down but Steve stopped him with a hand to his chest and then stepped closer, into the space between Clint’s thighs.

“Hold your horses, I’m not finished actually,” he told Clint as he resumed cleaning the blood away before inspecting both the cut and the bruise.

Now that their tempers were no longer running high, a different kind of tension build between them as Steve worked. So Clint wasn’t surprised when Steve cupped the uninjured side of Clint’s face and kissed him. Clint groaned lowly and used his legs to draw Steve even closer. He was quickly getting addicted to Steve’s kisses but knew that they could only take things so far while they were on base. Steve obviously knew that too because he pulled back all too soon.

“When the mission’s over and we’re back at the tower, we’ll finish this,” he promised Clint.

Then he stole one last kiss and bade Clint goodnight before leaving to try and get a decent pre-mission sleep.

 

---

The mission ended up going pretty well. Not that it had been perfect; there were the usual difficulties that couldn’t be planned for and moments where it looked like everything was going to go completely to shit. But in the end, Rumlow’s team were able to get the file Fury needed and get back out without setting off any alarms.

There had been a very close shave at one point when there turned out to be an extra security guard than expected and there hadn’t been time for Rumlow to hide once Clint and Cap had spotted him heading in Rumlow’s direction. But it gave Clint the opportunity to try out one of the new arrows that Tony had made him; it struck the wall just above the guards head and completely disintegrated into a sleeping gas that knocked out the guard before he even realised that anything was wrong. Rumlow had stared in the direction Clint and Steve were hiding for a moment, looking shocked, before he recovered enough to send them a smirk and a salute as a thank you and then continued on to the control room. It was a small thing but Clint knew that that story would begin to circulate when they were back on base and would, hopefully, start the slow task of repairing his reputation.

That coupled with the fact that a smooth sailing mission meant they got back home sooner than expected, had put Clint in a very good mood and greatly looking forward to Steve fulfilling his promise.

True to his word, Steve showed up at Clint’s door with pizza, beers and a wicked smile. Clint only gave him enough time to drop the food and six pack onto the table before he dragged Steve towards the bed.

Steve chuckled against his mouth. “The pizza will get cold.”

“S'alright. Pizza’s always better cold,” Clint told him as he pushed him down on the bed and straddled his lap.

While Clint concentrated on trying to kiss Steve and divest him of his t-shirt at the same time, Steve ran his hands up Clint's thighs before grabbing his ass and pulling him even closer. Both men groaned as that action caused them to rub against each other through their jeans, creating an exquisite sensation that Clint knew would be even better without the clothes in the way.

"Naked. Now," he ordered, jumping off the bed to strip as quickly as possible.

He'd yanked off his shirt and was in the middle of unbuttoning his jeans, while at the same time, toeing off his trainers when he realised that Steve was still fully dressed and just watching Clint.

Clint raised an eyebrow at him. "Changed your mind?"

"You know I haven't," Steve replied. "I just wanted to appreciate this. I didn't get the chance to see you last time, considering we were fully dressed and all."

He reached out and brushed his fingers across Clint's torso, leaving sparks of fire across his skin. He pushed his hands beneath the waistband of the now fully unbuttoned pants and pushed them so that they fell and pooled around Clint's feet. Then he climbed off the bed and got to his knees before removing Clint's trainers and socks so that Clint was completely naked before him. Starting at Clint's calves, Steve firmly stroked his hands over Clint's body as if trying to memorise it and Clint had never felt so admired. In any other situation it would have made him feel beyond awkward but the moment was so intimate and Steve's touch so electrifying, that all he could do was drop his head back and gasp.

"Beautiful..." Steve murmured, then he leaned forward and licked at the juncture between Clint's leg and groin.

Clint groaned low in his throat which turned into an aborted cry when Steve suddenly swallowed him down.

"Christ, Steve," Clint swore, grateful that all the bedrooms in the tower were soundproofed.

Steve hummed as he looked up at Clint, his eyes twinkling with mischief.

Clint had obviously known by this point that Steve was far from the blushing virgin that Tony Stark, and probably most other people, believed that he was but he still hadn’t expected Steve to be quite so skilled at this. Or to enjoy it as much as he clearly was. Clint sank his fingers into Steve’s hair, just to have something to hold onto and ground him as he tried his very best not to thrust into that delicious heat.

He didn’t know how much time had passed until he felt that familiar ball of white hot heat start to build at the base of his spine but he was sure that it was less time than either of them wanted. That was confirmed when Steve abruptly pulled off him and began instead to place light kisses across Clint’s hip and stomach.

Clint whined in disappointment but Steve shushed him and gracefully climbed to his feet.

“Not yet,” he told Clint as he nipped gently behind his ear. “Not until you’re in me.”

Clint's head dropped to Steve’s shoulder. “Then don’t say stuff like that to me right now.”

Steve chuckled before taking a step back.

“Why don’t you take a moment,” he suggested.

Then he grabbed the hem of his t-shirt and pulled it off in one move.

“That’s not helping,” Clint pointed out as his eyes raked over Steve’s amazing body and then back up to that blinding smile.

Despite his token protests, he was able to move further and further from the edge and by the time Steve was naked and reclining on the bed, Clint felt somewhat back in control. He walked around the bed to grab his lube and a condom from the bedside cabinet and dropped them on the bed beside Steve before he climbed on top of the other man.

Steve immediately wrapped his arms around Clint and reeled him in for a kiss. Clint could taste himself in Steve’s mouth and hungrily chased for more of that unique flavour. Without looking at what he was doing, Clint managed to grab the bottle of lube and get his fingers coated without spilling too much of it on the covers. Steve planted his feet on the bed and raised his knees, cradling Clint between them, while his hands roamed over Clint’s back in that almost reverent way again. He had moved to mouthing at Clint’s neck and made a small noise of discomfort when Clint began to open him up. It didn’t take long before that turned into quiet gasps; then Steve bucked and gave a deep moan as Clint found the right spot.

“You called me beautiful earlier; but, Christ, you should see yourself right now, Steve,” Clint breathed against Steve’s mouth.

Clint took his time, enjoying every noise that Steve made and the way he twitched and clenched around Clint's fingers. Finally, he needed more so he stole another kiss and then sat up to roll on the condom. He stared down at Steve for a moment and catalogued the blown eyes, the sweat glistening across his torso, the anticipatory tremors running beneath his skin and was unable to quite believe that he was able to do this to the other man.

“Clint…” Steve’s legs tightened around Clint in a half hearted attempt to pull him closer and Clint smiled, taking the hint and began to push inside.

His eyes closed involuntarily and his head fell forward at the heavenly sensation of that tight heat surrounding him. Clint moved slowly but steadily, adjusting his angle until he found that spot again. Steve threw his head back against the pillow making a noise that Clint knew he would keep replaying in his mind on lonely nights.

“Oh, god….Clint…right there….please,” Steve gasped and Clint had to lean forward to kiss him again.

“Don’t worry,” Clint told him. “I’ve got you.”

He reached between their bodies to take Steve in hand, which earned him another of those noises, and set up a quick pace because Clint wasn’t going to last too much longer and there was no way that he was going to leave Steve wanting.

“Come on, sweetheart,” he panted. “You can do it. Just let go.”

Clint twisted his hand in a manner that he liked himself and gave a hard thrust at the same time. That’s all it took; Steve cried out as he tumbled over the edge and Clint fell with him, groaning Steve’s name as he went.

Clint collapsed onto Steve’s chest and Steve wrapped his arms around him. Then they laid there like that until their breathing returned to normal and the sweat on their skin had cooled.

“Sweetheart?” Steve eventually broke the comfortable silence that had surrounded them.

“Too much?”Clint asked without moving his head from Steve’s shoulder.

He could hear the smile in Steve’s voice as he replied. “I kind of liked it. No one’s ever called me that before.”

Clint snorted. “That’s because you’re a big burly hunk of a man and not a delicate flower.”

“Oh yeah? So why did you call me that?” Steve poked him in the side.

“Heat of the moment?” Clint shrugged. “I like being contrary and dislike stereotypes?”

“You’re definitely contrary.” Steve hummed and nudged his nose behind Clint’s ear in a weirdly affectionate gesture. He chuckled when Clint’s stomach chose that moment to grumble. “And apparently hungry. You ready for some cold pizza?”

They both cleaned up before pulling on their pants and then wandered over to the sitting area to finally eat the dinner that Steve had brought. Most of the food disappeared pretty quickly and Steve was making Clint laugh with some anecdotes about his days with the USO, when it occurred to Clint just how easy this was. It was second nature to Clint to keep a wall between him and other people, even people he slept with, and the only people that he'd fully relaxed around were Natasha, Coulson, and his brother's family. Yet Steve was getting dangerously close to joining that list without Clint even being aware of it until now. It was a bit of a shock and it could only mean one thing.

Steve paused his story when Clint froze and eyed him with a worried expression. "Everything okay?"

"Sure." Clint forced himself to unwind and pasted a smile on his face.

With a hum, Steve sent him a look that clearly said he didn’t believe Clint but he didn’t comment on it. Instead he climbed to his feet and began to hunt for his t-shirt.

“I’d better go,” he said, pulling the shirt over his head. “You’re on the range tomorrow, right?”

Clint nodded. They had a few days off so Natasha had roped Clint into giving a sniper demonstration for the rookies. He’d been looking forward to it because there was nothing he liked better than showing off his skills but he was still reeling from his sudden revelation.

“So I guess I’ll see you when you get home,” Steve continued.

Then he gave Clint a warm smile and a brief kiss before heading out, taking all of the leftover pizza with him; something that probably would have made Clint laugh if he wasn’t internally freaking out a little.

“Shit!” he muttered to himself and rubbed his hands over his face. “I think I’m in trouble.”

 

---

The moment Clint walked into the kitchen the next morning, Natasha frowned at him.

“What's wrong?”

Clint shook his head. It was ridiculous really; he was a fully trained government agent who had successfully completed dozens of undercover operations but he could never hide his emotions from Natasha, she had an eerily accurate ability to know when Clint was upset or sulking.

“Not here,” Clint told her as he poured some coffee into his usual purple mug, unwilling to discuss anything this personal while in a public area of the Tower.

Natasha immediately reached over, grabbed the mug from his hand and emptied it into the sink.

“Hey!” Clint protested.

“If you won’t talk here then we’ll talk somewhere else,” she told him as she started to walk out of the room. “My treat…if you hurry up.”

Clint blinked, shrugged and followed after her.

“So, what's wrong?” Natasha waited until they’d left a nearby coffee shop, lattes in hand, before she asked again. “Last night was the big date, right? I saw Steve heading towards your room with pizza. I thought that you’d be insufferably smug this morning not angsty.”

Clint frowned and stared into his coffee for a long moment before answering. “I think that I might have misjudged the situation a little.”

“Misjudged?” Natasha gave him a surprised look. “What do you mean?”

“I think that…” Clint sighed and then admitted out loud the thing that had been bothering him all night. “I think that I’ve fallen for Captain America.”

“Oh, Clint.” Natasha patted his arm, sympathetically. “Of course, you have. You’ve been half in love with him since he kissed you in that alley.”

“You knew?” Clint glared at her accusingly. “You couldn’t have told me this?”

She shrugged. “Some things you just need to figure out for yourself. Is it really so bad?”

“It is when all he’s looking for is a ‘friends with benefits’ fling,” Clint told her, dejectedly.

“So change his mind,” Natasha replied as if it was just that simple. “He’s clearly attracted to you and, for some crazy reason, he likes to spend time in your company. Use that. Turn up the charm, Barton, and woo him.”

“Woo him?” Clint laughed, just as Natasha had clearly intended. “Definitely cutting off your access to romance novels.”

Natasha gave him an unimpressed look. “You could try.”

They continued their early morning stroll towards SHIELD HQ in silence. Clint was deep in thought about what Natasha had said. Maybe she was right, maybe he didn’t have to just blindly accept the relationship as being casual; he could try and subtly change it into something more. He had seduction skills, he could probably do that; it would definitely be worth a go.

Despite the early hour, SHIELD was already buzzing with activity. Clint and Natasha parted ways in the elevator when Natasha alighted on the training floor and Clint stayed on until he reached the below ground gun ranges. As he walked down the corridor, part of him stayed on alert in case someone wanted to attack him again but he didn’t really believe that they’d try the same thing twice; not after they got caught the first time. He headed to the particular range that he and Natasha had booked and then busied himself with setting the room up exactly how he needed it.

Natasha and her group of rookies showed up about an hour later and Clint had to swallow a smile at the slightly cowed expression each of the rookies wore; it seemed that Natasha hadn’t lost her touch when it came to intimidating the newbies. Instead he put his teaching head on and spent the rest of the morning explaining the pros and cons of a wide array of SHIELD weaponry; it was important that each agent find a weapon that worked the best for them. They took a break for lunch and Clint was more than a little surprised at the small crowd that was already in the observation area when the group returned to the range for the afternoon session.

“What are you so shocked for?” Natasha asked in a sotto voice. “You always get an audience for this part.”

“That was before Loki,” Clint whispered back.

It was true that the afternoon session tended to garner a lot of attention; it was the part where Clint let loose with trick shots, in order to demonstrate just what each weapon could achieve, before leaving the rifles and turning his attention to his bow. At that point the whole demonstration became a lot more informal and far more fun for both Clint and the spectators. But, considering the general reaction that Clint’s presence garnered at HQ these days, he really hadn’t expected anyone but the rookies to be in attendance this time.

As he finished the necessary checks on the first rifle, he let his gaze drift over the crowd, just to make sure that this couldn’t be a precursor to another ambush somehow. He couldn’t help but smile when he realised that Steve was there, accompanied by Rumlow and a couple of guys from his team. Steve caught his eye and grinned back before continuing whatever conversation he was engaged in. Out of the corner of his eye, Clint saw Natasha smirk at him but he ignored her and made a perfect shot, dead centre of the target furthest away from him with only a cursory glance and got the first gasp of the afternoon.

It was the first time that Steve had actually watched Clint shoot, outside of the Battle of New York when his actions were perfunctory. So Clint pulled out all the stops in that afternoon’s demonstration; he bypassed the lower level programmes that the range had and jumped directly to level five where the moving projections were of friendlies as well as targets. Clint smoothly took out each of the enemy targets with headshots before stepping the programme up a level. So it continued, with Clint switching out rifles between each programme so as to better demonstrate the benefits or flaws of each one, until the final level; where the projections moved very quickly, in unpredictable patterns while the lights flashed and smoke puffed out in plumes as a distraction.

By the time he was finished, Clint was sweaty, out of breath, but feeling the usual exhilaration of a job well done. There was a round of applause from the rookies and other observers as ‘100% completed, 0 errors’ flashed on the overhead screen. The applause turned to some light cheering when Clint placed his final rifle back on the rack and removed his bow instead. He chuckled as he walked to a nearby table and grabbed the bottle of water which he quickly swallowed almost half of in one go. It took a few minutes for the room to adjust to the new configuration that Clint had programmed so he took the time to look over his audience again. The rookies were all staring at him, a little awestruck, while Natasha projected an unaffected air that belied the amusement Clint could see below the surface. One of Rumlow's men gave him a thumbs up and the man himself nodded in approval; it looked as though the team's opinion of Clint had risen since Clint covered Rumlow’s ass on that last mission. The rest of the group was mostly made up of scientists, who rarely got to see the practical applications of the weapons they created, and the small group of people who he knew were on his side over the Loki debacle; which explained why they were all cheering for him instead of soundly booing.

Lastly, Clint looked at Steve and almost wished that he hadn’t. The proud smile on Steve’s face made something in Clint’s chest flutter but it was the heat in his eyes that made Clint regret looking at him because now Clint had to try and calm his libido enough to get through the next section.

The room finished recalibrating and Clint just about managed to tear his eyes away from Steve. He pulled on his quiver, took a couple of deep breaths and stepped up to the line. Clint had worked with the SHIELD geeks to build this particular programme a few years earlier, it was loosely based on his routine from the circus but a slightly more elaborate exhibition set-up. It was just a bit of fun, really, that even encouraged audience participation. It started with the small crowd, one by one, calling out a particular playing card for Clint to hit from the pack spread out across the wall at the very back of the range, too far away for him to be supposed to tell them apart. Clint relaxed as he worked, nailing shot after shot; this was his happy place. Him, his bow and seemingly impossible targets to hit. The exclamations and claps he received were just a nice bonus.

When he used an arrow to extinguish a row of lit candles without knocking any of them over, he couldn’t resist another glance at Steve and suppressed a smug grin at the fascinated expression on the other man’s face. Maybe he could seduce Steve into a relationship with his shooting skills somehow.

Clint’s brief lapse in concentration didn’t go unnoticed by Natasha who had entered the room to assist with the final part of the demonstration. She shoulder-checked him a little in warning as she walked passed him with a bag of supplies. With a slight shake of his head, Clint focussed his attention on Natasha and the items she began tossing into the air for him to hit, starting with a paper plate and then shrinking in size to a tennis ball, a golf ball, a mint and finally ending on an aspirin; all hit perfectly. Clint gave an over the top bow to the observers and began to put his bow away.

“What about the Robin Hood shot?”

Clint stopped in midstep and looked over at Duncan, the member of Rumlow’s boys that had flashed Clint the thumbs up earlier and who had just shouted the question.

“Nah, he can’t do that,” Rumlow interjected with a challenging smirk at Clint. “No one can make that shot. Not even the Hawk.”

Steve looked between Rumlow and Clint with a confused expression but a small ripple run through the rest of the group before they all stared at Clint expectantly.

Clint studied Rumlow for a moment, then smiled and shook his head. “Alright, just for the STRIKE team boys.”

He hit a few keys on the computer and a target dropped from the ceiling at the other end of the range. Clint took up his stance and removed a wooden arrow from his quiver, quickly shooting it at the centre of the target. Then he grabbed a second wooden arrow and lined up his shot. He took a deep breath and held it, tuning out everything around him, before he let the arrow fly. It hit the first arrow, splitting it right down the middle in order to bury itself in the target; just as it did in the movie.

The observation room erupted into whoops and cheers while Clint winked at Natasha and sent a mock salute at Rumlow. It felt good to be liked again, even if it was just by this small group. So it was with a spring in his step and a grin plastered on his face that Clint cleaned all the weapons and cleared up the range after everyone else had left.

He was still in a good mood as he made his way towards the mess, determined to treat himself to a donut or something before he headed home. When a hand suddenly reached out from a darkened corridor and dragged him into a hidden alcove with a steel grip, Clint immediately dropped his gear to the floor and hit out at his attacker, certain that this was a new attempt to punish him by his haters.

“It’s just me,” Steve said in a low voice as he grabbed Clint’s fist to stop the punch connecting.

“Steve?” Clint stared at the other man. “What the fuck? Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”

"Sorry." But instead of looking chagrined, Steve just smiled slowly at him and nodded his head up at the ceiling. “No cameras. We’re in a blind spot.”

“Fury’s allowed there to be a blind spot in this building?” Clint frowned because that certainly didn’t sound like something the director would do. “Also, how do you know about it?”

“I don’t just study the layouts of buildings I’ll be spending time in,” Steve told him, tugging him closer. “I look at the security systems too. I spied this handy little spot and thought it might come in useful one day. After that display you put on this afternoon, I think that we should take advantage of it right now.”

Steve then spun them, reversing their positions and pushing Clint up against the wall. He stepped close and covered Clint's mouth with his own in one of those addictive kisses. Clint knew that he should put a stop to this; it wasn't a clandestine moment in their private quarters, it was in a corridor of SHIELD HQ. But he trusted Steve, trusted that he really did have the layout and security memorised, and at this time of day the floor was quiet enough that they'd be able to hear someone approaching. So, against his better judgement, he kissed back. Steve groaned quietly and Clint swallowed it as he pulled the other man even tighter against him.

Long minutes later, Steve broke off the kiss and leaned his forehead against Clint's, breathing a little harder than normal.

"Enjoyed the show, huh?" Clint panted through a smirk.

"You've no idea how much," Steve told him. "Do you have any clue attractive you look when you shoot? Seeing all that power and focus let loose?"

"I may have a bit of a clue." Clint chuckled; he stroked his hand down one of Steve's biceps and remembered what the other man looked like when he was using that shield of his. "I do like the idea of you having a kink that I can exploit though."

Steve huffed in amusement and nuzzled Clint's cheek. "We should probably go. Fury wants to see us at 1800 hours about the next mission."

Clint groaned and dropped his head back against the wall. "Seriously? You've got me all wound up just before we have a meeting with Fury? That's just cruel, Rogers!"

Steve's apology was as insincere as it had been earlier thanks to the smirk on his face and Clint shook his head; there was just something about Steve being so cocky that made it impossible to get mad at him.

They shared one more brief kiss before straightening their clothing and then Clint ducked out of the corridor first, leaving Steve to follow a few minutes later. He went back to his original plan of grabbing something from the mess hall but changed his order to a burrito and added a coffee because a meeting this late in the day, usually meant a late night so he’d better have something substantial in his stomach.

"Nice display earlier," Rumlow told him as he dropped down into one of the seats opposite Clint with a snack of his own. "Really didn't think you'd pull off the Robin Hood shot."

"Ye of little faith," Clint replied and was pleased to note that the slight tension between the two men had indeed lifted.

"Did Cap find you?" Rumlow asked after he swallowed his mouthful of sandwich. "He was looking for you earlier."

"Yeah, he just wanted to let me know about the meeting later." Clint nodded and fought to keep down a blush.

Rumlow gave him a bit of a weird look so he didn't think that he was entirely successful but the guy shrugged it off and began to tell Clint what he knew about the operation that Fury wanted to send them on. As Clint had guessed, the surveillance would actually be starting that night so he made sure to grab another coffee before he and Rumlow left for Fury's office.

Over the next few months, things fell into a sort of rhythm. Clint and Steve completed various missions for Fury alongside the STRIKE team. Despite the heated looks and occasional teasing when they were alone, they never gave in to their attraction while they were in the field. They saved it for when they were back at the Tower, where they tended to fall into each other's beds a few times a week. They still ran together nearly every morning but Natasha and Pepper, who was on a health kick, began to join them whenever they were around; which was fine with Clint because it meant that he had some company while Steve was lapping them. Pepper was surprisingly good fun to run with because she kept telling hilarious Tony stories in an attempt to throw Natasha off her stride; they may get along these days but apparently Pepper still liked to get small pieces of revenge for the time Natasha had tricked her and infiltrated Stark Industries.

All in all, Clint was feeling good. He felt better about his standing in SHIELD; his growing camaraderie with Rumlow and his boys going a long way to rebuild his reputation (he knew that it wouldn't win everyone over but it was a start). And he was gaining confidence in his plan to seduce Steve into an actual relationship; after all the man voluntarily spent most of his time with Clint as it was. In fact, he thought that it might be time to broach the subject so he planned a dinner for the two of them in Clint's suite. Lasagne from the Italian restaurant that Bruce waxed lyrical over for days after he went there, a couple of bottles of a nice red wine and he'd even been back to Brooklyn to pick up a streusel peach cake from Turcos bakery.

"No candles?" Natasha asked in amusement as she watched Clint clean his room. "Rose petals?"

"Fuck off!" Clint shot back but it had no heat to it. He stopped what he was doing and looked at her in concern. "Is it too much?"

She gave him a genuine smile. "No. Don't forget, despite what you two have been up to recently, he's from a time where some old fashioned romance was appreciated."

Clint nodded. "It wasn't even old back then; just fashioned."

Natasha rolled her eyes and threw a cushion at his head which Clint caught with a grin. His smile faded when his cell began to ring and the caller ID told him it was Maria Hill.

"Shit!" he muttered, envisioning his date evaporating into a puff of smoke.

But instead of calling him back for a new mission, Hill demanded to know where the report for his last mission was. Clint glanced towards the small table just inside the doorway where the report still sat after he forgot to take it in yesterday. He held back a groan of frustration but at least it wouldn't take too long to hand it in, he could just drop it off to Sitwell and be back in plenty of time for the date.

"Don't eat any of the cake." He pointed a finger at Natasha as he grabbed the report and left her reading on his sofa.

"I make no promises," she called after him and he laughed.

Despite his intention of being in and out of SHIELD in a few minutes, Sitwell kept questioning him about stupid shit and then one of Natasha's rookies stopped him to try and persuade Clint to train her as a sniper because it would look good on her record. He reached the foyer, intent on leaving, when he suddenly remembered that he'd meant to take his favourite purple hoodie back to the Tower for a wash but had left it in his quarters. He quickly checked his watch and decided that the extra ten minutes wouldn't make any difference so he turned on his heel and made his way towards the living quarters.

His pace slowed when he heard the unmistakable sound of Steve’s laughter. Clint was a little surprised because he thought that Steve was hanging out with Tony all day to work on improvements to his uniform. He mentally shrugged and rounded the corner but his step faltered when he took in the sight in front of him.

To any other passerby, Steve and Rumlow were simply engaged in a friendly conversation but Clint wasn’t any other passerby. He immediately noted that the two men were standing just a little too close to each other and that Rumlow had a hand gripping Steve’s arm when Clint had noted from all their previous interactions that Rumlow tended to avoid touch when he could, always wearing gloves. But the thing that stood out to Clint the most was the expression on Steve’s face. He had spent more than enough time with the other man to know what Steve looked like when he was flirting.

His stomach twisted into knots and he quickly stepped back around the corner before they saw him. He was close enough to be able to hear what they were saying though.

“Actually, I’m busy tonight,” Steve was saying. “But I’m free as a bird tomorrow.”

“That works for me. It’s a date,” Rumlow replied and Clint closed his eyes at the confirmation that the two men were being more than friendly with each other.

“Great. I know of a nice bar we can go to on the other side of the city,” Steve said. “Discrete and no one from SHIELD should spot us there.”

“Do you want me to pick you up?” Brock asked, with a hint of laughter in his voice. “Romance you properly, Cap?”

Steve laughed as well. “Knowing how bad the traffic is, it’s probably better if I just meet you there. Thanks for the offer though.”

Clint shook his head bitterly. More like he didn’t want to be picked up at the Tower where Clint could witness it. He pushed away from the wall, having heard enough, and made his way back the way he came. He wondered if Steve would hide it from him but dismissed that thought as quickly as it arrived, he was far too decent a human being; instead he was probably planning to break it off with Clint that night. Even though it might feel the furthest thing from it, it was likely a good thing that Clint had stumbled across that conversation; at least he wouldn’t make a fool of himself by asking for more from Steve when the other man clearly wanted to stop completely.

His mind was reeling as he walked, replaying the eavesdropped conversation and picturing Steve and Rumlow in all sorts of scandalous positions, and so, for once, he wasn’t paying any attention to where he was until he heard the familiar whine of a tazer behind him. He spun quickly but not quick enough and he dropped to the floor as the bolts shot through him.

When he woke up with a low groan, the first thing Clint registered was the pain around his wrists. The second was that he was vertical and not horizontal, with his arms pulled tightly above his head. He rolled his head back to look up at where his hands were tied to some kind of metal beam, leaving him dangling; no wonder his wrists and shoulders were screaming, they’d been holding his entire weight for who knows how long. With another groan, Clint managed to get his feet under him enough to balance on his toes and take some of the weight off his arms.

“I imagine that this isn’t an unfamiliar way for you to wake up,” said a voice from his left. “You and the Widow apparently have a bit of a habit of getting yourselves captured."

Clint turned and cursed when he spotted the group of agents that had attacked him all those months ago. In fact, there were a few more and they were all sitting on or leaning against various pieces of gym equipment pretending to look nonchalant.

“Seriously?” Clint asked, almost to himself. “Today is not a good day for this shit.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” one of the agents said with a mock apologetic expression on her face. “Why don’t you find a date that works better for you and then we’ll meet you back here.”

Clint studied her and smirked. “Didn’t I give you a concussion the last time we met? Decided that one wasn't enough?”

“You fucking bastard!” She stood up, marched over to Clint and made to punch him in the gut but he had taken hold of the metal bar his hands were tied to and that allowed him to pull himself up and kick her with a reasonable amount of force.

He caught her below the chin and she fell back with a muffled yell. The others immediately straightened from their amused slouches in shock and Clint grinned at them all viciously. Did they really think that he’d give in without a fight? Didn’t they know anything about him at all?

Clint looked up and quickly studied that bar. The knots had been tied in such a way that he wasn’t going to be able to slide the rope free but it had felt pretty sturdy which was something, at least. A few of the agents were checking on the one that he’d just kicked but rest had spread out to circle him. One guy rushed him and Clint pulled himself up again so that he could wrap his legs around the guy’s torso and use his own momentum to whip him into another agent. He heard steps behind him so kicked backwards like a mule, hitting something soft and getting a gasp of pain. Turning he watched the agent he’d kicked double over, clutching her stomach.

Allowing his weight back down onto his toes for a moment, Clint swallowed the hiss of pain he wanted to give at the scrape against his abused wrists and smirked instead. “Who’s next?”

He was rushed before he even finished the question, taking Clint by surprise and so they got closer than Clint intended. He was too close to kick with any force so Clint employed the classic dirty move and kneed the guy in the balls as hard as he could. The guy crumpled to the ground with a high pitched whine but another managed to get in a shot to Clint’s kidney. He grunted and just about managed to swing out of the path of the next punch; the swing also gave him a little of the propulsion needed to bash into the guy and bury his knee in his gut.

There was a burst of activity from the agents who had previously been attending to the woman he’d first kicked and Clint realised that they had grabbed kendo sticks and wooden bokken swords from the beneath the training ring on one side of the room.

“Oh, that’s just cheating,” he muttered and again studied the rope tying him to the bar, desperately looking for a weakness but they’d definitely done a good job of making the knots too tight for him to get any purchase.

He managed to kick the first stick out of the attacking agent’s hands but that left his other side open to a couple of vicious hits, the force of which drove the air out of his lungs. Before he could recover, he took a punch to the jaw that had his head ringing and another smack from a bokken. The agents now clearly had the upper hand and despite Clint fighting back as much as he could, and even getting a few more good kicks in, they continued beating and taunting him until he hung limply from his bindings, barely managing to stay conscious after taking a nasty bokken hit to the temple.

“Not so high and fucking mighty now are we, Hawkeye?” One of them sneered and if he had the energy, Clint would have laughed; who the hell thought he was high and mighty?

“Cut him down,” another demanded before stepping close and using a kendo stick to lift Clint’s head and look him in the eye. “If you even thinking of crying to Captain America again, the next time we won’t go so easy on you.”

Clint grinned suddenly, knowing from the amount of blood in his mouth that his teeth would be stained red. Then he head butted the bastard with his last reserves of energy.

The guy yelled, clutching at his mouth. “He’s knocked out my fucking tooth!”

He reared back in fury and punched Clint in the stomach with enough force that Clint swung away from him.

“Worth it,” Clint spluttered between coughs.

Without warning, he dropped painfully to the ground as the rope was finally cut and had to endure some vicious kicks before the agents finally left him curled up in a ball on the gym floor.

Clint’s head was swimming so he wasn’t sure how long he lay there before he recovered enough to roll onto his back. The rope was still tying his wrists together but with a bit of painful twisting, he was able to reach into his front pocket and get his phone. He had to squint but he managed to dial Natasha’s number.

“Where the hell have you been? Your cake is getting all stale and eaten.” She said instead of ‘hello’. “Plus Steve’s already back here so you’re going to have to work to hide this stuff from him until later.”

“Tasha…” Clint wheezed and then started coughing.

“Where are you?” She sounded instantly on alert.

“Gym 't HQ,” Clint told her. “I’s ‘n old one. Fifth floor ‘think.”

“On my way.” Clint could hear the sound of her running. “Are you in immediate danger? Do I need to call Fury?”

Clint automatically shook his head, then winced when that made the steady thumping in his brain increase. “No. Jus’ wanna get out ‘f here.”

She must’ve broken all kinds of speed limits to get to Clint as quickly as she did. He’d managed to push himself up to sit against a weight machine and he had one of the abandoned kendo sticks held in his bound hands just in case those bastards decided to come back for a second round.

“Jesus, Clint…” She dropped down to a crouch in front of him.

He winced. “That bad, huh?”

Natasha brushed her fingers across his cheek and they came away bloody. “Nah, I’ve seen you look worse.”

“Bucharest?”

She snorted in response and then pulled a knife from her boot, cutting the rope cleanly. “These the same agents as before?”

“Plus a few extra,” Clint told her. “Fuckin’ tazed me from behind.”

She crossed the room to grab the first aid kit from the wall while Clint grimaced from the pins and needles in his hands as the blood rushed back into them. Natasha helped him to his feet and he limped his way to a nearby chair, holding his side and moving gingerly.

“Do you need to go to medical?” Natasha asked but she clearly already knew the answer.

“What are they going to do?” Clint asked. “Tell me that a few ribs are broken and then wrap me up. You can do that.”

She nodded and then got to work.

“Steve’s going to throw a fit when he sees you,” she commented after a while and Clint felt a stab of pain that had nothing to do with his injuries and everything to do with Steve Rogers.

“He’s not going to see me,” Clint told her quietly. “I’m going to the farm.”

Natasha frowned at his tone. “I know that’s he’s going to get over protective but…”

Clint shook his head, even knowing that he’d immediately regret it. “It’s not about this. Well…not completely about this. He’s planning to break it off tonight but if he finds out that I’m injured he’ll probably feel guilty enough to put it off. I’m not going to be anyone’s pity fuck.”

“What are you talking about?” She stopped wrapping a bandage around his wrist and sat back on her heels. “Since when is he breaking up with you? I thought that things were going well.”

“I heard it, Tash,” Clint said. “He was making a date for tomorrow night with Rumlow. And we both know that he’d never string two people along at the same time.”

She made a face. “Rumlow? Are you sure? He doesn’t seem like Steve’s type at all.”

“I’m sure.” Clint sighed and suddenly felt exhausted down to his bones.

Natasha eyed him for a long moment and then prodded him back to his feet so that she could remove his t-shirt to strap his ribs. The way that she scowled when she stroked her fingers over his torso told of a few accidents about to befall certain agents, not yet, not when it could be directly linked to the attack on Clint but at some point in the future, and Clint was just tired and sore enough to let it go. He’d been willing to take his licks to keep the peace and Natasha understood how that worked but they’d gone too far when they damaged him enough to keep him from doing his job.

All bandaged up and wrapped in an oversized hoodie that Natasha had conjured up from somewhere, Clint managed to get out of the building without anyone stopping him. It took some painful manoeuvring to get into Natasha’s ridiculous sports car but they were soon on their way to the farm.

Clint called Steve to explain that they wouldn’t be able to meet up tonight after all due to a family emergency.

“You don’t have a family,” Steve replied in confusion.

“Then let’s call it an emergency emergency,” Clint replied. “I probably won’t be back for a couple of weeks.”

He’d already called Fury and feigned a nasty bout of food poisoning. He knew that the director didn’t believe him for a second but he also knew that Clint wouldn't call in sick without a very good reason; hell, they usually had to make him take time off if he was sick or injured.

“Are you alright?” Steve was starting to sound concerned.

“Fine,” Clint said, trying to sound breezy and ignoring the way Natasha rolled her eyes at him. “Romanoff’s with me so you don’t need to worry about anything.”

“No, Clint.” Steve had lowered his voice. “Is everything alright?”

Clint closed his eyes momentarily. Steve obviously meant between them and that hurt when Clint knew that he was just waiting to tell him that it was over.

“Yeah,” he lied. “Everything’s okay. I’ll see you soon.”

“Clint…” Steve’s doubt bled through the line but Clint hung up before he could say anything else.

Laura was suitably horrified at the sight of an injured Clint when they arrived at the farm. “Oh my god! What happened?”

“Retribution for Loki.” Clint grimaced as he lowered himself on to the sofa.

“After all this time?” Barney asked with a dark look on his face as he hovered over Clint. “I thought that dust would have settled by now.”

Clint tried to shrug. “Best served cold and all that.”

Huffing and muttering about agents who’d ‘get theirs if they ever come here’, Laura fussed over Clint; covering him in blankets and settling him on the sofa. Barney grabbed a few ice packs and a cold bottle of water for him before pacing back and forth, clenching and unclenching his fist and generally acting like a helpless older brother. Natasha distracted the kids until everyone calmed down a bit and eventually, Lila and Cooper crept into the room and stared at Clint, wide eyed.

“It’s okay. It’s not as bad as it looks,” he told them and patted the space next to him.

They gingerly climbed up to sit beside him.

“Did a bad guy do that?” Lila asked.

“The baddest of guys,” Clint lied. “And he’s gone now.”

“Did Thor help?” Cooper asked because Thor was his favourite Avenger no matter how many times Clint pointed out that he was an Avenger too.

“Not this time, buddy. It was just me and Auntie Nat.”

Lila frowned and looked from him to Natasha. “Why isn’t she hurt too?”

“Because girls are better in a fight,” Natasha said with a smirk.

Clint gasped and covered Cooper’s ears while the little boy giggled. “Don’t listen to her. Auntie Nat just got lucky.”

It was too late. Lila began to sing ‘girls are better than boys’ at the top of her voice while Cooper yelled, ‘no, boys are better than girls’ and the whole thing descended into chaos but at least they were no longer worried over Clint’s appearance.

By the time Laura got the kids to settle down, Clint was half asleep; exhausted by a thoroughly awful day. Too sore to attempt the stairs, he claimed the sofa as his new bed and fell asleep to the quiet murmuring of Laura and Natasha chatting in the next room and rustling from Barney reading on the floor beside him, apparently unwilling to leave Clint alone.

As it was the weekend, Natasha decided that she was going to stay until Monday morning and Clint was surprised that she managed to hold off telling Laura about the Steve situation until Saturday evening, after the kids had gone to bed. Laura had already known that he and Steve had hooked up, much to her excitement, because Clint had told her and Barney the day he’d dropped the plushies off for the kids. So he should’ve seen the moment when she asked if ‘his captain’ was going to visit coming but it still managed to blindside him. Mostly because he’d very carefully not thought about Steve all day; something that hadn’t been too difficult because he’d spent a lot of the day sleeping in his nest of blankets.

“Wait, wait, wait…” Barney held up a hand. “Are you telling me that Captain America is into casual sex?”

“I’m not sure that he’s ‘into it’, like it’s a thing.” Clint frowned. “I think it’s more that he doesn’t trust me enough to want more.”

Laura shook her head. “But are you sure…”

“Yes, I’m sure,” he interrupted, fed up of the question. “He specifically told me that’s what he wanted. He’s never lied to me or led me on; it was all my stupid feelings and emotions getting carried away. Personally, I blame you.”

Natasha blinked at the finger Clint pointed at her. “Me?”

“You.” Clint nodded. “You and your stupid romance stories that made me think that I could entice him into something he’d already told me he didn’t want.”

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him. “When have you ever known me to be wrong?”

“Paris, 2010,” Clint replied and she scowled at him.

“I was working from bad intel and we agreed never to speak of it again.”

Clint crossed his arms, winced when that pulled on his stupid ribs and uncrossed them again. “You agreed, I didn't.”

Natasha glared at him a moment longer and then huffed. “Apart from that one incident that we will never speak of again, when have you ever known me to be wrong?”

Clint pulled at a thread on one of the blankets and shrugged because he truly couldn’t think of an answer.

“Exactly.” Natasha gestured at him with her glass of wine. “He likes you, Clint. And he wants more than this ‘friends with benefits' thing you have going on.”

“But I heard…”

“I know what you heard but there has to be something more to it,” she told him. “Or you misunderstood. He does not want to date Brock Rumlow.”

“What’s this Brock guy like? Is he ugly?” Laura asked and Natasha shook her head.

“Actually, he’s pretty attractive but he’s…smug.”

Laura wrinkled her nose. “Oh, smug’s not good. That’s the wrong side of the line.”

“What line?” Clint asked and both women gave him a pitying look for even asking while Barney looked just as confused as he felt.

“The line between an attractive swagger and swelled ego,” Laura told him. “A bit of confidence is good but conceitedness definitely isn’t.”

Clint couldn’t help but think about the flashes of cockiness that Steve showed when they were in private and how much he liked them, and had to agree.

"And you think that my brother is on the right side of that line?" he asked because he also had to take a shot at Barney whenever he could.

“I’m telling you, Rogers isn’t buying what Rumlow’s selling,” Natasha said confidently, over Barney's protesting, and Clint wanted to believe her but he knew what he’d heard and, try as he might, he couldn't think of another interpretation for that conversation.

 

---

Natasha headed back to the city on Monday morning and Clint’s mood grew worse and worse the longer the week went on. He didn’t need to sleep as much but he was too hurt to do anything. His bruises and aches had made themselves known so that he hobbled about like an old man whenever he left his nest on the sofa so he tried not to do that unless necessary. All of this meant that he had too much time to think and, obviously, his mind kept circling back to Steve. He couldn’t even distract himself with the internet because the farm was entirely off the grid. That ruled out Netflix too. He was left with daytime soaps whose romantic melodrama hit too close to home or the kids selection of Disney DVDs and there was only so many times he could watch Frozen before he wanted to stab himself in the head.

By the time Friday rolled around, Clint was able to walk about a lot more easily even if he couldn’t do anything strenuous yet. He and Barney moved his nest to his bedroom, although Laura wouldn’t let him clean up the living room after his week of living in it. Instead, clearly wanting to get rid of him for a little while, Barney sent him out to the barn to inspect the broken tractor; ‘inspect only, no trying to fix it if it’s more than a loose screw in very easy reach’. Clint grabbed eagerly onto the excuse to leave the house and do some busy work for a little while.

Momentarily blinded by the transition from the bright daylight to the dark barn, Clint stood just inside the doorway, blinking until the moment passed.

“Hey.”

Clint jumped at the unexpected voice and then let out an involuntary groan and clutched his ribs.

Steve stepped out of the darkened corner he’d been hiding in and his expression visibly changed from apprehension to concern. He rushed passed the tractor and leaned close to inspect the injuries on Clint’s face.

“Clint…what happ…” He broke off and his face turned thunderous. “Those agents attacked you again.”

Clint just stared at Steve, however. “What are you doing here? How did you know about this place?”

“Your brother called me,” Steve told him dismissively before returning back to what he clearly felt was the more important subject. “Is this why you didn’t come home? You said you’d tell me if they went too far.”

He ran his hands over Clint, searching out the various injuries; the anger in his eyes flaring when he felt the thick bandages around Clint’s torso.

“That’s not exactly what I said,” Clint muttered even as he tried to bat Steve’s hands away. “Barney called you? Why?”

“He said that we needed to talk about some things,” Steve replied, attempting to push Clint’s t-shirt up to inspect his ribs. “He didn’t tell me that you were hurt though.”

The fact that Steve actually sounded a little pissed that Barney had withheld that information made Clint push him back with a little more force than either of them expected.

“No, you don’t get it, Steve. This is a big deal; you can't be here,” Clint said. “No one outside of me, Natasha and Fury know that they're here. What the hell was he thinking?”

He turned and strode out of the barn with Steve hot on his heels.

“What is this?” Clint demanded to know, pointing at Steve.

Barney raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. “This is fixing things.”

“Can you stop calling me ‘this’?” Steve asked faintly but they ignored him.

“We're in a safe house, Barney,” Clint said. “You can’t just go calling people, willy-nilly, and inviting them here. It defeats the point of the place.”

Barney glared at him. “You don’t need to lecture me about the point of being here. I know why we’re here all alone, hiding and pretending that we don’t exist. And it’s fine; if it keeps us all alive then I’ll deal with the fact that my kids don't get to play with other kids and have a normal childhood but don’t you dare accuse me of being frivolous with our safety. He’s Captain America, for crying out loud. You, Natasha and Fury trust him so we can too.”

“I am very trustworthy,” Steve agreed, leaning against the doorframe and watching the conversation with a puzzled expression.

“Stay out of this.” Clint told Steve before turning back to Barney and also Laura, who had just entered the room. “I don’t need you two meddling in my private life; I have enough of that from Natasha.”

Meddling?” Laura looked furious. “Fuck you, Clint! It wasn't some spur of the moment, easy decision to bring him here, even if he is Steve Rogers! We did it for you!”

Laura never swore, especially where the kids could possibly hear it and that shocked Clint into stopping. He stared at her, seeing the flash of hurt his words had caused her and sighed.

“Okay, maybe ‘meddling’ was a bit strong,” he admitted.

“You think?” Barney shot back. “We want you to be happy, Clint, and if that means breaking the secrecy to invite your very trustworthy boyfriend here to talk to you then we’ll do it.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Clint said quickly.

“Actually…” Steve began and Clint turned to stare at him. Steve stared back for a moment and then dropped his gaze, actually looking a little nervous. “That's kind of why I'm here. I was hoping to talk you into changing that fact."

Clint barely noticed Laura sending him a triumphant look before she quietly dragged Barney out of the room. “You wanted ‘friends with benefits’.”

Steve sighed. “I did say that but I’m not really a casual person; I’m sort of possessive actually. I always knew that I wanted more with you but, well, we didn’t have the best of starts and dating is so different now...it seemed the safer option somehow."

He pushed himself away from the doorframe and walked over to Clint. He gently stroked a hand down the side of Clint's face, mindful of the healing cuts and bruises. "Let me persuade you that we could be great together; really together without any of this 'friends with benefits' nonsense."

Clint just blinked at him. Did Steve actually think that Clint needed seducing into a relationship and not the other way around? He opened his mouth to ask just that when a small voice in his head reminded him of the real problem.

He deliberately stepped back and ignored the way Steve's face fell. "I saw you at HQ last Friday, Steve. I heard you talking to Rumlow."

Steve sucked in a quick breath. "No, Clint. That wasn't what..."

"Wasn't what it looked like?" Clint interrupted. "Because it looked like you were arranging a hot date with each other. I don't know why you're pretending that you want to take things further with me...actually, screw that, I do; it's because I'm hurt and you're too nice a guy to break up with an injured person..."

"Clint..." Steve tried again, shaking his head but Clint kept talking over him, his temper rising again.

"...but I'm not going to be some kind of charity case. I don't need your pity and I don't need you to act like you want to...to...go steady with me when we both know that you'd rather be fucking someone else. So I think it would be best if you just man up and tell me the truth. I'm a grown ass man, I can deal with this stupid crush and not have it affect our friendship or our working relationship. Just don't lie to me, Steve!"

Steve frowned. "What stupid crush?"

Clint looked heavenward. Of course that would be the part that Steve focussed on; the bit that Clint had let slip without meaning to.

"That's not..." Clint broke off when Steve closed the gap between them again.

"A crush on me?" Steve smiled brightly. "You want more too."

"For god's sake, Steve; just stop!"

"No." Steve shook his head. "You need to understand. I'm not pretending with you; I'm pretending with Rumlow. You really think that I want to date him? He's far too...smug. But you? I think that I fell head over heels for you before I even knew your real name."

This was all getting far too confusing and Clint had been standing for too long; his injuries were starting to protest. He pulled out a stool from beneath the breakfast bar and gingerly pulled himself up onto it, batting away Steve's hands as he tried to help.

"You need to start from the beginning," he told Steve when he eventually got settled.

"Okay." Steve grabbed a stool of his own. "Rumlow knows about us."

"What? How?" Clint asked in surprise.

"Do you want to hear this or not?" Steve raised an eyebrow at Clint who waved at him to continue. "He started flirting with me about a month ago; I thought I was imagining it at first but he kept touching my arm or squeezing my shoulder and he kept making all these innuendoes. Just general ones at first but they began to revolve around you. You know, stuff about your grip and about scoring."

"Stuff about my shafts?" Clint asked, wryly, because by this point he'd heard them all.

"Yeah, that." Steve rolled his eyes as he agreed. "He clearly wanted to let me know that he liked men too. Then he cornered me and asked if he could have a word. He said that he knew that we were sleeping together and then he showed me some pictures of us kissing. They were from the security cameras at HQ but he assured me that no one else had seen them and that he'd erased that entire section of video from the system."

Clint frowned because they only times they'd kissed while at SHIELD was in Clint's quarters and that one time in the alcove. He was going to give Fury the benefit of the doubt and believe that there weren't cameras in the private quarters.

"I thought that there was no surveillance in that corridor," he said.

"There isn't," Steve told him. "At least, there isn't according to the SHIELD security system. But somehow we got filmed there and I don't think it was actually by SHIELD."

"Wait..." Clint straightened up as the implication of that statement sunk in. "You think that the agency has been infiltrated?"

Steve shook his head hopelessly. "I don't know. It could just be a couple of people up to no good. Even someone setting up that corridor as potential blackmail material; I can't be the only person to have noticed and taken advantage of it."

Clint didn't know about that; Steve had an uncanny knack for spotting things that other people had missed.

"But I couldn't believe that Rumlow had just stumbled across that footage. If he has it then he has to be part of whoever's created that blind spot and put those cameras in that corridor," Steve told him.

"So you decided to play along and find out more," Clint guessed and Steve nodded. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Honestly? Things had been getting better for you at SHIELD...or so I thought." Steve's face darkened again as his eyes swept over Clint's visible injuries.

"You were protecting me? I thought that we'd been through this; I don't need you to do that," Clint said.

"Which doesn't mean that I don't want to anyway," Steve shot back before rubbing his forehead and giving a sigh. "I was going to tell you; I just wanted more to go on, I guess."

Clint had a feeling that this would be a popular argument between them so let it go for now in order to find out the rest of the story. "How did it go from showing you those photos to planning a date?"

"Obviously all the flirting beforehand told me that he was interested so I played up the fact that things between us were casual and that I was open to seeing other people," Steve said. "Which drove me crazy because I don't want things between us to be casual; the more that I had to say it, the more that I knew I had to change things with us. So I planned to persuade you last Friday and then let you in on what was happening with Rumlow; see if you had any ideas. I really didn't expect to run into him at HQ. Hell, I was only there to pick something up for Stark. Rumlow asked me on a date and I had to accept if I wanted to find out what was going on."

Clint snorted with laughter and just shook his head when Steve looked at him in confusion.

"So many crossed wires," Clint told him. "I thought that I had to persuade you to make a real go of things so I planned a fancy dinner for us, also last Friday. And then I just had to run into you doing your undercover thing.

"Really? You were planning that?" Steve grinned at him and they smiled dopily at each other for a few minutes before he asked, "So do you still want to make a real go of things?"

"I don't know," Clint deadpanned. "I kind of want to see how you planned on persuading me to change things between us first."

Steve's smile turned downright dirty. "If you want that then you'll have to wait until you're all healed up because it was going to get...vigorous."

Clint choked on his laughter. "I swear that if I told people that you say shit like that, they wouldn't believe me."

"Are you really going to make me wait for an answer until you're all healed up?" Steve asked.

"No. Let's do it." Clint's smile softened and he leaned in to meet Steve for a kiss.

"Are you Captain America?"

The two men pulled apart and looked down at Cooper who was standing beside them, clutching a toy in his hand.

"I am." Steve nodded.

"Mom said that you're Uncle Clint's boyfriend," Cooper said, looking between Steve and Clint.

Steve smile and glanced at Clint. "I'm that too."

"Do you know Thor?" Cooper asked and held up the toy that they could now see was the Asgardian's plushie.

Clint could hear Barney's laughter from beyond the door as he groaned and dropped his forehead to Steve's shoulder in defeat. He was never going to be the favourite Avenger.

 

---

Laura insisted that Steve stay, at least for a couple of days, so that they could all get to know each other. Of course, she and Barney were unbearably pleased with themselves for fixing things between them but Steve didn't know them well enough to spot it yet so Clint took the brunt of the smirks. It was only fair, he supposed; they'd had to put up with him being a mopey pain in the ass for most of the week.

"I like him," Laura whispered to Clint when she brought him a cold drink later that afternoon and Clint rolled his eyes because of course she did; everyone liked Steve.

He followed Laura's line of sight to where Steve was sitting on the living room floor, playing with Barney and the kids. He didn't know exactly what they were playing except that Lila was bossing the boys around and telling them where to put their toys and what to say. She was going to grow up to be just like her mum, Clint could tell already.

It hadn't passed Clint's notice that Steve had claimed the Hawkeye plushie to play with but he didn't comment on it, just enjoyed the warm feeling it gave him.

The kids were put to bed soon after dinner and their parents followed a little while later, claiming to be worn out after a week of taking care of Clint. But Clint knew that they were doing it to give him and Steve a little time to themselves. Once they were alone, Steve gently manhandled Clint until he was leaning back against Steve as they watched a repeat of an old episode of Dog Cops on the TV.

"You never told me how the date went," Clint said.

He felt Steve tense behind him so patted his thigh to let him know that it was ok.

"There was no date," Steve replied. "I was worried about you disappearing so called it off. Rumlow was very understanding about it so, in hindsight, I think he knew exactly why I cancelled."

"Probably," Clint agreed. "If he's got this unprecedented access to cameras in HQ, he probably saw the footage before it was erased from the main system."

"It was erased?"

Clint could hear the frown in Steve's voice as he asked and shrugged. "I don't know for sure but any agent worth their salt would know not to attack another agent at work unless there was a way to hide it. And I'm pretty sure that my new found group of enemies extends to the security guys; everyone lost a friend on the hellicarrier."

He pictured Phil and Steve wrapped his arms around Clint, clearly able to guess what he was thinking and wanting to offer support.

"You know, Phil would kick my ass if he was still alive," Clint mused. "I've desecrated his childhood hero and dragged him down to my level."

Steve shook his head. "From what I've learned of Phil Coulson, he'd be giving me 'the talk' and threatening me with all sorts of horrors if I ever hurt you."

"Oh, you've still got that talk coming; it'll just come from Natasha instead," Clint told him with an evil grin. "And probably one from Barney before you leave."

"They do care about you a lot," Steve agreed. "Can I ask what happened? I mean, as far as anyone knows you don't have a family but you have a great family, they're just hidden away."

"They are pretty great." Clint smiled and then began to explain. "Barney used to work for the FBI and an undercover gig went sideways; really badly sideways. They pulled Barney out and everything seemed to be fine until the cartel he'd been embedded with managed to find out his real identity and tracked him down. They were all put into witness protection almost immediately. I only found out after the fact and, obviously, I wasn't allowed to know where they were."

"That must have been difficult for you," Steve said. "Not having access to them like that."

Clint shook his head. "Actually, as crazy as it seems now, me and Barney weren't that close back then; we hadn't been since the circus days. He left to join the army and after that it was just perfunctory contact. You know, calls for birthdays and Christmas, and we'd see each other maybe once every couple of years. When I found out about the witness protection, I was worried but it was more like worrying about acquaintances rather than family. I mean, I'd only met Laura three or four times by that point."

"Wow. Considering what I've seen of you all today, that's hard to imagine," Steve told him.

"I know, right?" Clint replied before continuing the story. "About a year later, I got back from a mission. Tash was crashing at my place, I can't remember why. Anyway when we go to my apartment we found that Barney, Laura and the two kids had broken in and were hiding out there. Someone had leaked their whereabouts to the cartel who set their house on fire while they slept. They barely got out alive and then they came to me because they had nowhere else to go. It had become clear that someone in the FBI or one of the other agencies was selling Barney out and the rest of the family were collateral."

Steve squeezed him tighter. "There's a special place in hell for people who willingly put children in danger."

Clint fully agreed with that statement. "Anyway, when we got the whole story out of Barney, Natasha called Phil who called Fury. He set this up, kept the farm completely off the grid and off any official records - even SHIELD records. It's technically a safe house for me, Natasha and even Fury if we need to lie low for a while."

"Fury did this?" Steve sounded shocked.

Clint nodded. "He spends so much time dealing with problems on a global scale that I think he liked the chance to help a single family. That's probably why he shows up here from time to time to check on them despite claiming to hate children."

Steve snorted. "Of course he hates children."

Clint gave a small smile at that. "Plus there's the fact that he clearly enjoys getting one over on the FBI by keeping one of their own safe when they couldn't. I don't care, I owe him a debt for doing this. They're my family and they're as safe as they can be here. I started coming by to check on them and me and Barney talked, really talked, for the first time in years. Then I started to stay longer and longer every time and now I can't imagine ever going back to the way things were; even when everything's been fixed and they can lead normal lives again."

"I'm glad," Steve told him. "Brothers are important."

Clint knew that he was thinking about Bucky so he twisted around to press a chaste kiss to Steve's jaw, just as measure of comfort.

They fell into silence after that, each of them lost in their own thoughts. Dog Cops had finished and been replaced with that show about a girl lawyer and Clint found his eyes growing heavy. It had been a day of revelations and it had worn him out.

"Come on, let's get you to bed," Steve murmured and Clint nodded before letting Steve pull him to his feet and then they made their way up the stairs.

The next morning, Clint woke up with Steve wrapped around him. In all the times that they had ended up in bed together, they'd never spent the night. Which was a shame because this was a great way to wake up. Clint closed his eyes and revelled in the feeling for about five minutes before the peace was shattered by Lila and Cooper running into the room, yelling that they were all having pancakes and then running back out again.

"Welcome to Barton Farm," Clint snickered at the slightly stunned expression on Steve's face at the rude awakening.

The surprise melted into a smile and Steve shifted closer to Clint.

"No place else I'd rather be," he said before leaning in for a good morning kiss.

After breakfast, the Bartons put Steve to work. As Barney had pointed out, they had to take advantage of having a super soldier around. So Steve spent the morning chopping enough wood to last until Christmas while Clint sat on a nearby log and admired the view that afforded him. Barney brought out some glasses of lemonade, taking a break from trying to fix the tractor, and the conversation turned back Rumlow and the best way to deal with him.

"You're going to have to go on the date," Barney told Steve who scowled at the thought.

"He's right," Clint said. "And it's not cheating if I know about it. And if it stays PG. Actually, just keep it G."

Steve grinned at Clint's possessiveness while Barney rolled his eyes.

"He's going to need to let it get to PG-13 if he wants it to be believable," Barney pointed out and then held up his hands at the twin glares he received. "Do you want to find out what this guy's up to or not?"

"Fine." Clint crossed his arms and tried not to get mad at the idea of Rumlow's hands on Steve. "You'll have to plant a bug on him. He's not going to spill everything on the date no matter how charming you are...

"Or how much you put out," Barney said, not even trying to hide how much he was enjoying riling Clint up.

"Not helping." Steve pointed at Barney then turned back to Clint. "Do you think we can get Tony to make us a bug? Rumlow's going to recognise all the SHIELD issue ones."

Clint nodded. "I bet that he's already got something and I can borrow a van we can use to listen in. Are we letting Natasha in on this?"

Steve looked thoughtful for a moment. "Normally I'd say that we can handle it ourselves but you're not up for following anyone if it comes to that."

Clint bristled automatically at that but it was just a reflex, really; he knew that he wouldn't be able to run if he lost sight of his target. "It'll give her a chance to bust out her disguises; she loves that."

Natasha did not love having to wear disguises which was why she wasn't talking to Clint as they sat in the Turcos Bakery van parked near to the bar where Steve was meeting Rumlow. She didn't tug at the wig she was wearing but the slight twitch of her fingers every so often told Clint that she really wanted to.

"You look good as a blonde," Clint told her and chuckled when she flipped him the bird and returned to glaring stonily out of the window.

After a while she straightened. "Incoming."

Clint looked over her shoulder and spotted Rumlow sauntering towards the bar. He was surprised by how different the other man looked in civilian clothing; Clint had only ever seen him in his tactical gear but now he looked relaxed and approachable.

"He's pulled out all the stops," Natasha noted. "Obviously wants to look his best for Cap."

Clint hummed, distractedly. His attention was on Steve who he'd just spotted approaching the bar from the other direction. Steve had also dressed up for the occasion and Clint was beginning to regret letting Natasha choose what he should wear. She'd obviously taken her revenge for Clint's lack of faith back at the farm by picking out the tightest pair of jeans that Steve could possibly get into.

"Christ, are they spray painted on?" he asked, grumpily and Natasha smirked.

"He has to look like he's made an effort," she informed him tartly. "We don't want Rumlow to figure out that this is a sting."

Clint's mood wasn't helped by the fact that Rumlow clearly liked what he saw when he spotted Steve and they shared a hug that went on a bit too long.

"Stop that." Natasha kicked his ankle and interrupted his brooding. "We're working."

She was right, this was serious and he needed to get into the right frame of mind just like they were out in the field on a normal mission. He was sure that this wouldn't be the last time he'd have to watch Captain America being felt up by someone while they were on the job; they were on a team with Tony Stark for crying out loud.

"Okay, point taken," he told Natasha, giving her a nod, and her lips briefly quirked up in a half smile in response.

Steve and Rumlow had entered the bar and Clint and Natasha took a moment to survey the area. They didn't really expect Rumlow to bring back-up because they were pretty sure that he really did think this was a genuine date but it never hurt to check. Clint watched the rooftops through a detached sniper scope while Natasha studied the busy streets and Saturday night crowds milling outside of the various bars and restaurants.

Roughly ten minutes later the equipment crackled to life with the initial sound of rustling clothing before settling into a crystal clear reception of Steve and Rumlow's conversation as Steve got the bug planted. Clint and Natasha exchanged an impressed look and Clint made a note to tell Bruce how well the bug transmitted. After a group discussion when Steve and Clint had let Natasha in on the situation, they'd decided that maybe Tony wasn't the best person to get a bug from; there was no doubt that it would be all kinds of cutting edge but Tony would demand to know why they needed it and badger them until either one of them told him or Natasha killed him. So Natasha asked Bruce for his help instead.

Bruce being Bruce, he didn't need to know specifics beyond that it was for a good reason and he and Natasha had worked together so that he could tailor make one to her specifications. Clint had been surprised at how well they had gelled because he knew that Natasha still felt a little wary around him after Hulk had gone after her on the hellicarrier. It seemed that having to spend time in close proximity while not on a mission was doing a lot of good towards repairing that loss of trust.

Normally, Clint could sit still for hours if a mission needed it but his healing ribs made it a bit more difficult this time. Because of that he and Natasha would regularly switch out between manning the audio equipment and keeping watch out of the window, allowing Clint to move about and stretch a little. The conversion on 'the date' wasn't anything to write home about, just two guys getting to know each other a little better without giving too much away because they were trained government agents and that was second nature. Steve talked a little about the 'Commandos' which Rumlow clearly loved even before he admitted to being a fan of the group when he was growing up. Then Rumlow shared some stories of his own and the two men bonded a little about growing up in New York City, despite it being in vastly different circumstances.

A small part of Clint was pleased to note that the conversation didn't hold any of the instant warmth and spark that his and Steve's first conversation had but he kept that observation to himself. He did tense when he heard his name, however.

"How's Hawkeye?" Rumlow asked. "Fury said that he's sick. Food poisoning?"

"Apparently." Steve let a little frustration enter his voice. "I haven't seen him since last week. It seems that he likes to disappear off somewhere when he's ill."

"I can't say that I blame him," Rumlow replied. "It can't be easy being fallible on a team of super powered individuals. I'd probably leave until I was back to myself too."

They had all decided it was best if Steve appeared to not know about the attack on Clint because no one would buy that Captain America would callously go out on a date with someone when a team mate slash lover had been hurt that way; even if that relationship was as casual as Steve had made it out to be. Whereas everyone would believe that Clint would go to ground so that he could lick his wounds in private.

"Lets hope he recovers before we're send on another mission. We'd miss his eyes; he always spots trouble before it hits," Rumlow said.

Natasha drummed her fingers idly as she listened. "Smart. Complimenting his rival because he knows Steve isn't the type of guy who'd appreciate any sign of his friends fighting over him."

Clint nodded in agreement but Rumlow had been trained in covert operations before he joined STRIKE so, perhaps, it shouldn't be so surprising.

Spending a Saturday night listening to his boyfriend flirting with another man was just about as much fun as Clint had expected but finally they heard the date starting to wind down. Natasha took her cue to leave the van and join a small crowd of smokers gathered outside one of the bars, easily integrating with a gang of typical New York socialites. Clint watched Steve and Rumlow leave the bar and linger outside as if trying to prolong the date. Eventually, Rumlow stepped in close and pulled Steve into a kiss that had Clint gritting his teeth and repeating 'it's just a job, it's just a job' over and over in his head.

When the kiss ended, Rumlow grinned and ran a thumb across Steve's bottom lip. "As much as I want to invite you back to my place right now, I'd don't think we'd get much sleep and I've got a meeting first thing."

"That's too bad. Next time then," Steve replied with a smile of his own.

Rumlow chuckled. "How about next time I block the whole weekend off and we actually start off at my place?"

"Now that sounds like a great plan," Steve said and then they shared a final brief kiss before saying their goodbyes.

As Rumlow walked away, Natasha smoothly detached herself from the smokers and followed from a discrete distance. Steve headed in the direction he arrived from until Clint texted him to let him know that Rumlow was no longer in sight, then he doubled back and climbed into the van.

In much the same way that Natasha's fingers had twitched to fidget with her wig, Clint's fingers itched to pull Steve close and erase any memory of Rumlow's lips. Instead he tossed Steve a packet of mints with a smirk.

"Subtle," Steve commented before he picked up the spare earwig. "Widow? Have you got him?"

"Are you trying to insult me, Cap?" Natasha replied. "He's still heading in the direction of his apartment."

Steve smiled. "I didn't mean to cast aspersions upon your skills, ma'am."

Clint coughed to cover a laugh. Steve had once told him that he deliberately called Natasha 'ma'am' every so often because the face she made when he did amused him. But Natasha had told Clint that she secretly liked being called 'ma'am' by Steve because he did it in such an earnest fashion that it made her feel like the world was a little less cynical. Clint had kept both pieces of information to himself for his own entertainment.

"So, how jealous did you get?" Steve asked Clint as he opened the mints and popped one into his mouth.

"Jealous?" Clint sent him a wide eyed look. "Was there something for me to get jealous about?"

"He may need go visit the dentist considering how often he was grinding his teeth," Natasha said in their ears and Steve grinned.

Clint sighed. "Traitor."

"Go cry to your boyfriend," Natasha shot back before she made a tiny inhale that anyone else might have dismissed but Clint knew signified her surprise.

Clint's focus immediately snapped back to the job in hand. "What have you seen?"

"Sitwell," Natasha replied. "Rumlow's stopped outside a grocery store. Sitwell just walked passed him and into the store. Now Rumlow's gone inside too. I've lost sight of them."

"Hang back, Widow," Steve instructed. "The bug's still active. We'll patch you in."

Clint nodded and hit a few keys so that Natasha could hear the audio from the bug too. For a long moment all they could hear was the general hustle and bustle of a busy shop.

"Report!" They heard Sitwell say and Steve's jaw immediately tightened in anger.

"It was a pretty good first date as first dates go," Rumlow replied. There was a pause and then Rumlow sighed. "Unclench will you? Give it a few more dates and I'll have the captain eating out of my hand. He's already chomping at the bit to take things further."

"And you're sure this is the right way to go?" Sitwell asked. "There's a lot we could do with the information that Captain..." He stopped and then lowered his voice. "That Captain America is gay. If we leaked the photos to the media..."

"...Then he'll get mad," Rumlow interrupted. "We don't need him mad, we need him distracted when the time comes. And it's coming sooner than any of us expect."

There was another long pause in the conversation where they could hear a couple of teens arguing over a soda and two older women chattering in Polish. Clint glanced at Steve but he was busy glaring a hole in the van's wall.

"What about Hawkeye?" Sitwell eventually asked.

"Cap's clueless about the beating," Rumlow told him. "Seems that he really has turned tail and run away."

"He'll be back," Sitwell pointed out.

"And Jackson and his boys will beat him down again," Rumlow said. "Just make sure that they put him down for longer than a nasty bout of food poisoning next time."

There was a discontented noise. "Fury's going to step in sooner or later."

"Fury's too busy chasing dead ends to worry about a single agent; even one of his pets," Rumlow said. "Hawkeye sees too much. We have to take him out of play and that has the added bonus of throwing Cap off his stride."

There was another sigh. "The boss has a plan, Jasper," Rumlow continued in a patronising tone. "We just need to have faith in the plan. Can you do that?"

"Yes," Sitwell replied. "Hail Hydra!"

There was a loud crack and the wooden bench that the audio equipment was sitting on split under Steve's grip.

Clint swore over Rumlow returning the hail. "Hydra? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”"

"Both agents have left the store," Natasha said over comms. "Shall I continue to shadow Rumlow?"

Steve didn't move or show any indication that he was still listening.

"Negative, Widow," Clint said instead. "Return to us. It's time to take this to Fury."

"Understood," Natasha replied and then Clint muted the speaker on his comms.

"Steve?" He stood up and ran a hand down Steve's back, feeling just how tense the other man was.

"Cut off one head and two grow in its place," Steve muttered as he tore out his earwig. "I should have seen this coming."

"Nobody's heard hide nor hair of Hydra since you took them down," Clint said. "How could you have known they were still around when we had no information to go on?"

Steve turned to look at him, frustration etched over his face. "Because I know them. I've seen how they work. Of course they wouldn't have ended with Schmidt; he'd have put something in place to prevent that."

"So we'll stop them again," Clint told him, catching hold of his wrist and squeezing it.

"And what will it cost me this time?"

Clint's heart broke for the other man at the defeated question but before he could say anything, Natasha arrived back. She briefly looked between the two men before nodding at Clint.

"Head towards Palisades. I'll call Fury to meet us there," she said.

Clint frowned and looked at Steve but he straightened up and Clint visibly saw him shut down his emotions and pull on the Captain America persona.

"Are we absolutely certain that Fury isn't part of this?" he asked.

"Yeah." Clint didn't even need to look at Natasha to know that she agreed with him.

"Alright then," Steve nodded and climbed into the passenger seat, apparently happy to take him at his word.

Clint sighed inwardly but then pushed his worries over Steve to the backburner; he'd have to deal with them later.

 

---

"Every damn time," he muttered to himself when he pulled into the dark and empty parking lot to find Fury already standing there, waiting for them. "He's got a time portal, I swear to God."

"It would explain a few things," Natasha agreed before she climbed out.

Steve stopped Clint from following with a hand on his arm. "We're going to have to tell him about us."

"I know," Clint told him. "Is that a problem? I know that you probably didn't want him to know yet."

After taking a moment to study Clint, Steve shook his head. "I'm tired of hiding who I am. I don't want to do it anymore and I don't want to hide you."

"Alright then," Clint repeated Steve's earlier acceptance.

"Wise ass," Steve said but there was the hint of a smile which gave Clint some confidence that he could pull him out of this funk. "Come on."

"Hawkeye." Fury tilted his head as he studied him, his gaze lingering on the yellowing bruises. "That food poisoning looks like it really kicked your ass."

"Yes, sir," Clint answered.

"Is that why you three dragged me to the ass end of nowhere on a Saturday night? To discuss why Barton lied to me about the reason for his sick leave? Because that seems a little..."

"Hydra's back and they're inside SHIELD," Steve interrupted and Fury blinked at him.

"I'm sorry, did you just say Hydra?" he asked.

"I did." Steve crossed his arms. "And I'm guessing that you already knew that SHIELD is compromised?"

Fury looked at each of them individually and then nodded slowly. "Yeah; I did. I've been tracking unusual activity for a while now but I really became convinced that something was very wrong after the Battle of New York. I've chased down some leads but every time that I get close...it evaporates like smoke. Do you want to explain to me how you all found out about this?"

Natasha leaned back against the van and Clint nodded at Steve to go ahead and tell Fury everything. When Steve reached the part about his and Clint's relationship and how that led to the discovery of the blind spot, Fury looked as close to surprised as Clint had ever seen him.

"Barton will better compliment the Captain in the field, huh?" he asked Natasha who just smiled and shrugged.

Steve continued with the story before playing back the audio they'd got off Rumlow.

"Motherfucker!" Fury spat when the recording finished and then he paced between the van and his SUV, coat flapping around him. "Alright, people, we've just got ourselves a new mission. You three need to find out just how much of SHIELD is no longer under our control; we need to know how deeply they're embedded. You only report to me or Hill, that's it; and as far as anyone else knows, everything's fine. Everything is just tickety boo, understand?"

"What are you going to do?" Steve asked with a frown.

"I'm going to find out who this 'boss' they referred to is," Fury told him.

Steve clearly wasn't satisfied with that answer. "That's it? We just observe the Hydra agents hiding under our nose? We need to at least find out what they're doing, what it is that's coming sooner than expected."

"I already know what they're doing," Fury replied. He stared for a long moment at Steve and then shook his head. "There's a project, Project Insight, that SHIELD has been working on for a while and it's close to going live. If Hydra are waiting for something before making their move than that will be it."

"What is Project Insight?" Clint asked because that wasn't the first time he'd come across that name, he'd seen it in some top secret SHIELD files while under Loki's control but as Loki wasn't interested in it, Clint had passed on by without further inspection.

"It's a new world security system," Fury said, looking as though it actually pained him to give a straight answer. He put a hand up to forestall further questions. "Look, that's all you need to know right now. I will read you all in on the project, I just need to go and try to get as far ahead of this as I can. Starting tonight."

Steve nodded and, after taking a copy of the audio file, Fury left; probably to brief Hill on everything and start plotting in his secret lair. Clint drove them back to Manhattan, dropping off Natasha at the Tower before heading to Brooklyn to return the van.

"I want to leave something to pay for the table I damaged earlier," Steve said when they'd parked up, pulling money from his wallet and putting it in the same envelope where Clint had placed the keys.

After pushing the envelope through the shop's post box, the men headed to the parking space where Clint had left Barney's far more conspicuous truck.

"Are you coming back to the farm?" Clint asked.

Steve sighed. "I should probably stick around. I need to get to work on a way to track down these Hydra agents. We've got a good start with Sitwell, Rumlow and, I'm guessing, the entire STRIKE team but..."

Clint put a hand on Steve's chest to stop him. "Let me rephrase that. You're coming back to the farm. I'm not leaving you alone for the next couple of days and, considering that I can't go back to the Tower yet, that means you'll have to come with me."

"Clint..." Steve shook his head. "I can't. It's Hydra!"

"And they'll still be there in a couple of days," Clint told him. "Let Fury do his thing. You aren't in the right frame of mind to deal with them right now. And don't tell me that you are; you can save that crap for someone who wasn't with you in that van."

"It was a just a shock," Steve told him, stubbornly.

"You don't say," Clint retorted. "You can drop the Captain America cape; it's just me here. You can admit that it's thrown you for a loop and let me help you. You don't have to shoulder this by yourself because that just leads to you doing stupid things like crashing a plane into a freezing ocean."

"That's not why..." Steve began with a frown before he caught sight of Clint's expression and realised he was being baited.

He exhaled heavily and stared at the ground, clearly fighting with himself, while Clint waited patiently knowing that there was no way that he was going to let Steve be alone that night.

Finally Steve raised his head. "I think that I could probably carry off a cape actually."

Clint smiled. "Only Thor can carry off a cape and even that's questionable. Come on, if we're lucky we can get a few hours sleep before the kids wake us up."

The drive back to the farm was done in silence, both of them too thrown by the evening's events to be up for much conversation. They actually managed to sleep in until mid-morning, much to Clint's surprise. Barney and Laura must've figured out how late they got back and kept the kids from disturbing them.

Clint rolled over to find Steve already awake and watching him. "How do things look in the daylight?"

"Better than they did last night," Steve admitted. "All I could think about was Bucky, Peggy...everyone that Hydra took from me."

"I know," Clint said. "But that's not going to happen again."

Steve stroked his hand down the side of Clint's face. "I hope not."

"There's no 'hope' about it." Clint gave him a shit eating grin. "It'll take more than Hydra to take me down; an actual god didn't manage to do it. And as for you, you got frozen for seventy years and came out fighting like you didn't miss a beat."

"Well, if you put it like that, we do sound pretty unbeatable," Steve mused, a smile playing around his mouth.

"Damn straight we are," Clint told him. "That's before you add in Tash and she could probably take down most of Hydra all by herself. But why should we let her have all the fun?"

Steve snorted and shook his head in amusement. "You're kind of screwy; you know that, right?"

"But I'm not wrong," Clint said with as much certainty in his voice as he could muster. "We're going to fight Hydra. We're going to win. And neither one of us is going anywhere."

The awed look that suddenly appeared in Steve's eyes as he looked at Clint made him a little uncomfortable so he distracted himself by climbing onto Steve's lap. Then he leaned down to give the other man a thorough kiss; morning breath be damned.

Steve moaned quietly, mindful of where they were. "When you're all healed up, I'm taking you to my bed and we're not leaving it for a week."

"Tony'll figure it out if we do that," Clint warned.

"I already told you, I'm not hiding this," Steve told him with a soft smile. "Not even from Tony Stark and the constant badgering that's bound to ensue."

Clint returned the smile. "Well, that's romance, right there."

 

---

It took another week before Clint returned to the Tower and a further three days before Bruce cleared him to go back to work.

"Take it a little easy and try not to get into any more fights," Bruce said as he signed the paperwork. "And next time, come to me straight away not three weeks after the fact. I don't care if you are arguing with your boyfriend."

When Clint looked at him in surprise, Bruce just raised an eyebrow in return. The doctor clearly wasn't anywhere near as distracted as Clint had pegged him to be. No wonder he and Natasha got along; she always liked people who allowed themselves to be underestimated, she felt that it was a good skill to have.

"We weren't arguing," Clint finally replied. "There was a misunderstanding. Also, he can just get a little overprotective."

Bruce smiled, seemingly pleased that Clint hadn't tried to deny it. "Well, you're going to have to get used to that; it's in Cap's nature."

Clint huffed a laugh. "Don't I know it."

He'd decided to celebrate being completely healed by finally surprising Steve with the dinner he'd planned. Clint had just picked up his cell to put in an order with the Italian restaurant when Maria Hill showed up at the Tower ostensibly to talk to Tony about some piece of technology that Fury wanted him to make for SHIELD. A subtle hand gesture at Clint and Natasha as she walked passed the living room had Clint putting his cell back on the table.

"At least you didn't trek all the way to the bakery this time," Natasha told him. "Although me, Thor and Bruce did enjoy eating the last cake you bought to seduce Steve."

"Well, as long as I didn't get the shit kicked out of me for nothing," Clint replied, settling back to watch more Bob Ross while waiting for Hill.

Less than ten minutes later they could hear Tony as he walked Hill down the corridor towards the main elevator.

"...and then you can tell him that if he wants something, he can ask me himself," Tony was saying. "I'll say no, obviously, but I do enjoy watching him try to stare me down with his eye."

"I'm sure he'll be pleased to hear that he offers you such entertainment," Hill replied. "I'd like a word with my agents before I leave."

"What? Why?" Tony asked. "They're not your agents anymore, they're Avengers."

Hill sighed as she stood in the doorway to the living room. "They're still SHIELD agents, Stark."

Tony looked over her shoulder at Clint and Natasha and shot them a smirk. "Only technically. I bet that I could offer them more money and get them to come work for me; I'd just need to think of something an archer and a spy could do for Stark Industries. Security, maybe. Ooh, or protection for Pepper so that I can get Happy back."

"Well, you keep figuring that out," Hill said. "In the meantime, they still work for me."

She nodded her head towards the elevator and Natasha followed her out with Clint close behind.

He stopped and patted Tony on the shoulder. "I bet Happy will come back if you tell him that you love him more than Banner."

Tony blinked at him in surprise. "Really? That's why he volunteered for Pepper duty? I thought it was because he preferred her now."

"You're his number one, Tony," Clint assured him before climbing onto the elevator too.

Hill's helicopter was waiting on the roof of the Tower and the sound of the rotors powering up would easily drown out any surveillance that might be trying to listen to them, even Tony's.

Hill handed each of them a tablet. "These look like the standard issue SHIELD ones but they are clean and hardwired to each other's, mine and Fury's personal accounts. They'll allow us to communicate privately. I've got one for Cap too."

"I'll give it to him," Clint said, taking the tablet from her.

Hill looked amused. "I bet you will."

Natasha snorted and Clint rolled his eyes. "Nice, Hill."

"Oh, come on," she protested with a grin. "You and Captain America doing the dirty? I'm allowed to enjoy that for a while."

Clint frowned. "As long as you're not enjoying it too much."

Hill smirked at him but didn't answer. "Widow, we've got a Hydra lead to check out in Germany. We're shipping out tonight. Pack light. Hawkeye, you're officially still on sick leave until you check in tomorrow but there could be a possible situation brewing so don't stray too far."

Once Hill left, Natasha immediately left to pack and get her head into mission mode. It was pointless trying to set up a dinner if there was a chance that they'd get called into SHIELD so Clint spent the rest of the morning helping Tony plan an extravagant gift to woo back Happy. It was probably a good thing he did because he was there to reign Tony in from making Happy his very own Iron Man suit.

About 11:30, he got a message from Hill on his fancy new 'Hydra Hunters' ™ tablet. As she'd predicted, Cap and Hawkeye were being called in for an extraction along with the STRIKE team.

Borrowing Natasha's car (under the understanding that if he got a single scratch on it, she'd turn him into a eunuch), Clint went to pick up Steve. He'd made a new running friend while Clint had been at the farm who turned out to be an ex-pilot working at the VA. Clint personally thought that spending time at the VA would be good for Steve, if anyone could understand what it was like to lose everything to war it was the people there.

Steve and a guy that Clint could only assume was the running friend were waiting outside when Clint pulled up.

"Hey." Clint nodded at the new guy.

"Sam Wilson, this is my partner, Clint." Steve performed the introductions. "Romantic partner, not work partner. Although he is that as well. I just wanted to emphasise the relationship part and try to avoid...misunderstandings..."

He trailed off when Clint and Sam both looked amused at his babbling and huffed. "'Boyfriend' didn't sound right when Natasha called us that the other night so I thought 'partner' might be better."

"That depends," Sam said wryly. "Are you always going to explain which type he is?"

Clint laughed, already liking Steve's new friend.

Steve glared at them both and then said to Sam, "I could go off you, you know."

"That's alright, Sam," Clint cut in. "You can hang out with his romantic-not-work-but-yes-work-too partner instead. You like pizza?"

While Sam threw his head back in a guffaw, Steve climbed into the passenger seat. "I'm going to regret introducing you two, aren't I?"

"Probably," Clint and Sam said at the same time causing Steve to groan.

"Isn't there an emergency that we're needed for?"

Clint chuckled and waved goodbye to Sam before pulling back into traffic.

"I did appreciate the effort," he told Steve as they made their way through Manhattan. "And you're right, boyfriend can come across as a little teenage."

Steve nodded. "But partner's not going to work either, obviously."

"How about beau? Suitor?" Clint grinned and waggled his eyebrows as Steve laughed. "Paramour?"

"We'll think of something," Steve said. "Are we sticking with the plan for Rumlow?"

Despite what Clint was sure Fury wanted, they had talked between themselves and decided that they didn't want Steve to keep pretending to date Rumlow. The other man had made it clear that he wanted to sleep with Steve sooner rather than later and that was a line that Steve wasn't going to cross, relationship with Clint or not. The best course of action was for Clint to have come back from wherever he'd been and wooed Steve into going steady. This had the added bonus of maybe ferreting out some more Hydra agents if the photos did get leaked to the media, as Sitwell had suggested, or even if someone tried to use them to blackmail Steve or Clint.

The main issue was that not having his chosen method of distracting Steve available to him, Rumlow and his cronies might get even more determined to take Clint out and distract him that way instead. Clint was sure that Steve wasn't going to leave his side while they were at HQ and that Fury would use cameras to watch his every move. But when they were in the field, all bets were off.

"Well, I'm not spending another evening listening to you flirt with him," Clint drawled to try and make light of the situation.

Steve hummed. "Have I made that up to you yet?"

"Considering that you refused to go past second base until a doctor declared me fit and Bruce only did that his afternoon; no, you haven't," Clint told him. "Although I seem to remember you promising a week in your bed; that would go some way to making it up to me."

They'd reached SHIELD and both handed their IDs to security for scanning. When they parked up, Clint hit the switch beneath the dashboard to start the jammer installed in the car and quickly gave Steve his new tablet, explaining how it worked before turning the jammer off again. Then they made their way to the first mission since they'd learned the truth about Hydra.

Rumlow looked up when they entered the room and gave a quick frown at them arriving together, but Clint wouldn't have noticed unless he'd been looking for it. The team all welcomed Clint back with various claps on the back and good natured insults before they headed out to the plane.

"Target is a mobile satellite launch platform, the Lemurian Star. They were sending up their last payload when pirates took them 4 hours ago..." Rumlow began as they walked.

Clint looked down at his tablet to see a message from Fury giving him a side mission to download information from the ship's mainframe while the rest of the team neutralised the threat and rescued the hostages. He glanced at Steve from the corner of his eye and received a small nod to let Clint know he'd received the message too.

The flight went quickly and by the time Clint had checked his weapons and Steve had changed into his uniform, they were nearing the Lemurian Star.

"I've got it, by the way," Steve said before leaning in close to murmur into Clint's ear. "Significant Other."

Then he jumped out of the plane, leaving Clint grinning after him and mentally thanking whoever would listen for sleazy guys with wandering hands in hipster bars.

 

The End