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For a second when he awoke, Clint couldn't quite remember where he was or what he'd been doing. Whatever it was, his entire body ached because of it. And was he lying on the ground? In an alley no less? He gave a sniff and a glance around and yeah, yeah, he was in an alley.

That was awkwardly familiar.

He was in his civvies so it probably hadn't been any official Avengering then. His body, despite the ache, didn't feel like it was badly injured and he did a quick mental stock of everything to back that up. Yup, nothing broken or badly wrenched – probably not a fight. But if it wasn't a fight, how the hell had he ended up in an alley?

As he glanced around to try and get a better feel for the situation something came back to him. He'd been with Steve...there had been coffee? Had it been just two dudes or had it bee- It had been a stakeout, he suddenly realized. Not official Avengers business but S.H.I.E.L.D. He'd been with Steve and they'd been on an op...

 

~~

 

Clint glanced up from the word search in his lap as Steve shifted in his seat at the table across the aisle from him. He looked uncomfortable and Clint made a mental note to eat more meals with the guy so he could offer up hints at undercover work. And a second mental note to tell Nat to give him a little extra guidance too, because if she ever forgot anything she would have forgotten more about it than Clint could ever learn as the saying went.

“S'up Cap?” he murmured, loud enough and pitched so that Steve could hear him despite being at a separate table, but quiet and covert enough that no one else would really hear or realize they were talking.

“Barton, you can call me Steve you know.” Steve didn't look up from the drawing he was working on. Good, Clint silently complimented.

“And you could call me Clint,” he replied, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Touché.” Even just using his peripheral vision Clint could see the smile tugging at the corner of Steve's mouth. “And I never have been big on sitting and waiting and being covert.”

“Welcome to my world.” Clint said, trying to convey a flourishing bow via eyebrows. Steve didn't looked as confused as he could've so maybe it worked. A little bit anyway.

“Remember,” Clint said, circling “aardvark” in the puzzle. “We're just two dudes enjoying the sun and some coffee. That's really all there is to it. Just enjoy the view, keep an eye out for the contact that's smuggling Chitauri weapons – easy peasy.”

Steve snorted out what could've been a laugh, but nodded anyway. To an outsider it would look like he was nodding at his own work. He wasn't as bad at this as he made it out to be. “I mean,” he said a moment later, sipping at his own coffee while Clint located “hibachi,” “I feel like I'm the one being watched half the time. Like people are recognizing me even with the hat on.”

To be fair, a hat was probably the second easiest disguise in the universe (right behind a good old pair of Clark Kent glasses) but while it changed his look and hid his face some, it did nothing to disguise Steve's body. Clint flicked his eyes around and felt his lips curl into a smile as he spotted a group of girls looking at them and giggling. “Well you are being watched, but I don't know if it's so much they recognize you as they just think you're hot.” “Terrarium” was located between one sip and the next. “Maybe you wouldn't get quite so much attention if you didn't wear smediums.”

“Miss Potts orders the shirts,” JARVIS helpfully informed Clint from the comm in his ear.

Aww thank you Jarvis. And thank you Pepper.

“Bless that woman,” Clint murmured, grinning when Steve sputtered.

 

~~

 

He recalled now that they'd waited a good hour before Jarvis had helpfully intoned that he'd gotten a ping on the drone based radar he was monitoring which meant the contact was near. But something had gone wrong and the guy had gotten spooked and he and Steve had had to take off after him. They'd separated at some point with Steve trying to head him off, but that hadn't worked and Steve had ended up behind Clint...

 

~~

 

The man somehow managed to speed up as he rounded the corner, because when Clint reached where he had turned, all he saw was his leg as he ducked into the alley halfway up the block.

“Zigged right and then zagged left into the alley,” Clint managed to huff into the comms, though he could hear Steve catching up to him as he altered stride to turn into the alley himself. With Steve's serum enhanced speed he could probably circle around and make it to the other end of the alley and maybe, just maybe, they'd be lucky enough to cut the guy off this time.

Then, just as Clint entered the alley, there was a flash of blonde hair off to the side. Clint turned his head for just a moment to look, wondering how even Steve could've caught up so quickly then dismissed the thought because the flash of hair had been long and flowing, but saw no one. He did turn back forwards just in time to catch sight of something rolling after having been tossed into the alley in front of him though. Instinctively he jumped, not sure at all what it was but figuring keeping his distance would be his safest bet (if it managed to help at all being that close to whatever it was) and then all his forwards momentum was halted as a light erupted from the object. Clint thought for a second he could hear Steve shouting his name, but then, with a searing pain, his world went white.

 

~~

 

Clint sat up abruptly as the last few moments before he'd been knocked out came back to him, shaking his head in an effort to abate the pain that accompanied the move. There was no one around him. Not the man that he'd been chasing, nor Steve for that matter. Well – maybe Steve had continued on without him after he'd been stunned or whatever had happened? That didn't sound entirely like a thing Steve would do, though perhaps once he'd ascertained Clint was okay and called in backup, he'd continued on? They had no idea what the tech was, nor what it could do, after all. He had no idea how long he'd been out for, maybe it had only been for a little while?

“Cap? Come in Cap.” Nothing. “Rogers? You copy?” Nada. Well, maybe Steve was too busy. “Jarvis?” Of course, wouldn't Jarvis have let him know if he copied when he'd been unable to get Steve? Clint still didn't know the AI all that well, but it-he was pretty damn savvy. All Clint was getting was static. Which was strange now that he thought of it, because Stark tech was always smooth and quiet. Maybe whatever had knocked him out had fried his tech. That wouldn't be the first time, and he'd be willing to bet his entire bank account that it wouldn't be the last either. Really, he got zapped far too often to be healthy in the long term.

Well, if they weren't going to come for him, he'd just have to go to them. He got up rather gingerly, the stun ray/force field/whatever it was hadn't been all that gentle when it deposited him on the ground. Still, nothing broken and only mild bruising from the feel of things. He'd certainly had worse. Brushing off his jeans he glanced around briefly before spotting a glint of light off to the left side of the alley.

The object was a small sphere and Clint knelt down next to it, looking at it for a moment before shrugging and figuring what else could it do to him, and picking it up. It looked metal but felt...well, weird. Not like any metal he’d touched, nor did it feel like plastic that had been made to look metal. It was warm to the touch but not hot and very briefly he thought he saw pinpricks of light on it, like it was being lit from within and he could have sworn some sort of strange symbol flashed briefly, but that was gone between one blink and the next and he chalked it up to some sort of weird reflection when he could find no sort of hole, indentations, or otherwise any indication of how light would be able to shine from within the sphere. It was heavier than an object its size should be, which made him wonder again what it might be made of. Iron meteorites were heavier than rocks of similar size but he’d never seen one that looked like this. This was too smooth, too perfect. If Clint had to guess, it was made by a human.

Or at least, made by an intelligent being.

With another shrug Clint rose to his feet and pocketed the item. Tony would have fun examining it, he figured, as he made his way out of the alley and began walking back towards the tower.

Clint had made it out of the alley and was striding down the street for a good ten count before his brain registered that Something Was Weird. He stopped and pivoted, glancing up and down the street around him. There were fewer people than he would have expected for that time of day, which, speaking of - was a great deal warmer than he could recall the forecast indicated it would be. A freak heatwave wouldn't explain what the people were wearing however. They were all dressed – proper. No one in jogging gear or jeans, not a pair of shorts to be seen. It felt – old almost. Moreover, he was attracting attention and not of the “hey get outta the way” variety stopping in the middle of the sidewalk would have normally garnered him. He was getting looks – and okay Clint was comfortable in his appearance, he knew he was a decent looking guy - but these were not appreciative second glances but rather, looks of confusion and a few people who appeared downright scandalized.

He took one step back towards the alley he'd woken up in, then another, before quick stepping his way back to it and hugging the wall.

What the hell was going on?

The air was thick, which he hadn't given much thought to though now that he did he noticed it wasn't the usual smog. It was more like smoke – soot. The garbage was all wrong too. Sure it was overflowing and all over the alley like it could get in parts of the city but there weren't giant dumpsters – just a collection of smaller cans. From back out in the street he heard what had to have been a horn but it sounded wrong to his ears – vanity horns were a thing though right? It could've been something like that. But he didn't think it was – the look of his surroundings was just a little bit off.

A wild thought occurred to Clint then and he squashed it while he reached unsteady hands out to rummage through the trash for clues. Maybe – maybe he'd wandered onto a movie or television set or there was a car show or something. That would explain things right? It didn't take all that long to find a newspaper, and perhaps that said almost as much to confirm Clint's suspicions than the date on the paper itself.

June 13th, 1938

He let his legs give in to the wobbly feeling that had slowly been overtaking his body, sliding down to the ground with a huff of air.

1938.

19 freaking 38

Clint had somehow ended up traveling back in time to fucking 19 fucking 30 fucking 8.

How the hell was he going to get out of this one?

 

~~

 

After slapping himself had proven he wasn't in fact asleep, or if he was, it was too deeply to be awoken by a tiny slap (and then a not so tiny follow up), Clint did what he always did and picked himself up off the ground and set about engaging in a little damage control. Much like riding a bike, picking pockets and petty theft were things that one fell back into with ease - at least if one had lead the life Clint had. He wasn’t entirely proud of having lifted money and clothing but he had to blend in and quick and the people and store he’d gone to seemed well enough off that he didn’t feel bad for all that long. Needs must and all that, he mused as he dropped onto the bed of the hotel room he’d booked for himself.

S.H.I.E.L.D. never trained him for being stuck out of time, though he supposed undercover in enemy territory would suffice. Really, if he got out of this he'd have to have a discussion with Fury about overhauling the curriculum because he felt woefully unprepared. "Stranger in a Strange Land" began running through his head and he laughed without humor as he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. Being in over his head had never stopped him before but something about this was altogether more scary. More Real. For a moment Clint let the worry wash over him, reveled in it, but only for just a moment. Ignoring the feeling would allow it to build and build and build until it took over; but letting it have its way with him even briefly let him deal with it as best he could before shunting it to the side, even if only temporarily.

He could deal with it later, when he had a better hold on things. No time now to be weak. He had to stay up and on - and on his guard. He'd learned that lesson well over the years. Fake it till you make it thy name was Barton. Don't show that squishy underbelly, don't show how scared you really are, don't even think about it lest it leak out where others could see.

Okay. He could deal with this. He could. He just needed a plan.

Part one of the plan – he needed to blend in.

He had one outfit now, but he would require a few others. And that meant money – money meant getting a job but now he was getting ahead of himself. In order to blend in he had to do something about his twenty first century clothes and tech. Nothing would break the timeline faster than introducing tech that was leagues ahead of its time, and though a poly cotton blend wasn't groundbreaking his clothing would make him stick out. The tee he could maybe continue to wear as a layer until he found a barrel to burn it in but the jeans were cut all wrong for the period so they had to go.

Grabbing his knife Clint made quick work of slicing up his jeans, turning the thigh of one leg into a bag into which he slipped his phone, watch, and communications unit. He'd maybe periodically check the phone on the off chance that Tony would somehow Doctor Who something into being able to call through time but even powered down most of the time, a Stark Phone would only last so long in between charges. After that it would just be dead weight...

A thought occurred to him a moment later and he pulled the phone back out. After a few minutes thinking he turned it on and recorded a message for Tony and Bruce and all the eggheads at S.H.I.E.L.D. briefly explaining what had happened to him then turned it back off and slipped it back in the bag. Maybe he'd be able to find some sort of time capsule (when had those become a thing? - could he fashion one himself?) to slip the phone into and that way the message would last and they would get it and they could figure out a way to get him back.

It was a long shot, though a better one than him being able to figure shit out on his own he mused as he set about looking for loose floorboards in the room. One was happily located under the bed and he slipped his jean-bag into the space before replacing the board and tapping it home more tightly with the butt of his knife and replacing the bed over it.

Once more Clint looked at the artifact that transported him back but only for a moment – other than ascertaining it was a rose gold in color and very much not lighting up again, (had he imagined that because of the hit to his head?) - he couldn't figure it out at all and he didn't know who was he kidding by even trying. He needed to come up with a more in depth plan.

Maybe if he couldn't get the brains in his time's help he could try some of the brains from this part of the century? What was Howard Stark up to anyway and would it be possible to talk to him at all? Einstein was sadly not really an option he was far too famous with too many people around him. With a sigh he placed the orb on the dresser top and flopped back onto the bed to think some more.

 

~~|~~

 

Though Clint wasn't a stranger to labor and he knew he had to get a job, taking away a position from someone of the time that almost certainly would've needed it more desperately than him felt wrong to him. The Depression ended in the late 30's he was almost certain, and not just because of the war kick starting the economy – no he was pretty sure it was recovering before that. Still, recovery was a tricky thing and he didn't want to accidentally take the job meant for someone else? What if he ended up being the reason someone important ended up getting a different job and were killed in an accident before they could fulfill their destiny (as he knew it) or before they were able to father someone that had an important destiny?

And so, Clint easily fell back into some of his other old habits again. He'd always been a bit of a huckster. Always had that little bit of a showman inside of him and so, to Coney Island he went.

Going back to Coney Island felt a little bit like going home when he cared to look at it closely enough. Though thinking too long on it made his head hurt because could he really call it going back when he was actually working at it at a time before he had even been born? Time travel was so confusing.

But, Clint knew it would be familiar and that's why he chose it. A little bit of familiarity in a strange and frightening situation. Really, the carnival, circus, sideshow and any iteration thereof would always be familiar to him. Would always be home on some level. It was in his blood. A part of him, for better or worse, that it seemed he'd never be able to get away from.

Using a bow and arrow wouldn't be possible right then, mostly because he didn't have one, but also because he wasn't sure how delicate the fabric of time was. He couldn't recall there being a master bowman at Coney Island at any point in the 30's or 40's and he knew his talents, which he'd have a hard time dumbing down (because he also knew his ego and how it could run away with him), would be noteworthy. And okay, he had no clue that a famous bowman in Coney Island when there hadn't been one before would actually break something in the timeline but what if it was like the whole butterfly effect and the small ripple it created then turned into a giant hurricane somewhere else?

Maybe he'd watched too much television and read too much Sci-fi but time travel was always spoken of as being dangerous. And not just in a direct physical way. People that did it were always told to leave no trace and do not interfere. And if Clint didn't have any official S.H.I.E.L.D. directorate to go off of he supposed Starfleet's Temporal Prime Directive would work in a pinch. If there hadn't been a famous bowman in the 1930s and 1940s then Clint couldn't make that happen this go around.

But street magicians...well those were a dime a dozen at a place like Coney Island, and Clint knew more than his fair share of tricks. Enough to put together an act. Moreover, he didn't feel like he was taking anything from anyone by working there. It was ridiculously easy and open; you just found a spot in the morning to put out your board and then went at it. Within a week he had a spot that other performers considered 'his', and not long after people began to mill around his spot in eager anticipation of Orlando the Magician's arrival.

It wasn't a perfect situation, but he was making a decent living. Enough to pay for his hotel room, food, and subway fare at least. Though, if the brain trust back home didn't figure out a way to get him back sooner rather than later he'd maybe have to think of something else by the time the weather chilled and the tourists stayed home. But for now, he was good.

He tried not to think about going home too much though. It was rough because it ran his brain in circles with how he was counting on people who hadn't even been born yet to rescue him from something they maybe didn't even realize. Who's to say if he didn't find some sort of way to tell them what had happened that they'd guess he was zapped through time rather than zapped to some other location on Earth or otherwise. Because maybe a few months ago another planet or realm was a fantastical suggestion, but then Thor had shown up and then his stupid brother had popped up as well and...

Needless to say, he wasn't sure that they'd have any clue he'd gone back in time and he didn't know how to tell them and it gave him a headache if he thought about it too long. And he still didn't have any clue on what he could do himself to get home.

He was just as reluctant to admit how lonely he was. He liked to think he was a lone wolf but really that was more of a front than anything and he truthfully did better when he had people around him. Felt better. More like himself. And maybe he didn't make close friends easily, but generally he had acquaintance level friends and that was good enough in a pinch. But just as he was nervous about a job affecting the timeline so too was he nervous about becoming friendly with too many people.

He'd just have to manage was all. Just live with a little loneliness and his magic tricks and eventually he'd be back home with Natasha and his bow.

And then the opportunity for more came to find him.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

August 10, 1938

 

Clint was humming to himself while he counted the days profits in what he considered his little backstage area (really just a spot with a chair about twenty feet from where he performed). Not a bad day overall, though he'd have to pull an evening shift as well to make up for the rained out day earlier that week.

“Excuse me, Mr. Orlando, sir?” Clint glanced up to see a tall thin man approach. His features were friendly and engaging. “My name is Clarence Chauncey. May I have a word?”

“I don't explain the tricks to anyone if that's what your after,” Clint replied with a shrug. He'd had a few people ask him already – most of genuine curiosity but some because they wanted to start up their own magic shows if Clint had read them right.

“Oh that's quite alright, I respect your professionalism in that,” the man replied as he removed his hat. “I had more of a business proposition actually.”

“Go on...” Clint was intrigued despite his caution. Was this man selling magic tricks? If so, it could be worth it. He had some good ones himself though collecting more couldn't hurt – if the price was right. So long as they weren't stolen and he didn't get himself into some sort of weird The Prestige situation.

“I'm interested in hiring you actually.”

Oh even better. A private show could net him a weeks pay.

“You see, I run a small club.”

“Are you offering me a residency?”

“Of a sort, you could say.”

Clint shifted to get a better look at the man. His body language was open, a little eager, with a tinge of hope. His features remained open and friendly but there was something in his eyes – caution maybe? Well that made sense, any business deal worth anything required caution.

“My club caters to an exclusive clientele and we're in need of a new performer.”

“Forgive me for saying so Mr Chauncey, but I'm not sure what a high end club would want with a street performer.”

“Ah – you see, this is where I need to ask for your open mindedness and your discretion. Can I have your word you won't breathe a word of this to the authorities?”

And boy howdy did that set off some bells in Clint's mind, because what kind of club was this that it needed to be a secret from the authorities? “I'm going to have to ask you to leave if the next words outta your mouth have anything to do with women giving men sex for money--”

“Good heavens no, Mr. Orlando sir, forgive me for being so obfuscating but...my club caters to people like myself...and, I think, like yourself. Men who are interested in other men.”

That, was not what Clint had been expecting.

“If you will forgive me, I saw the other night when the young man-”

“Tried to kiss me,” Clint finished through his surprise. The man's forwardness had prevented Clint from really responding at first to the uncharacteristically bold statement. Then again, if he had seen the young man that had taken Clint's flirtations during the show as being serious and tried to angle for a kiss after it, and said and done nothing, well... Clint had gently rebuked the young man and had thought no one had noticed given the fact they'd been hidden in an alcove, but he must've been wrong.

“I should be a little leery with you watching me so much to have caught that you know.”

“Forgive me again Mr. Orlando-”

“Clint Barton.”

“Pardon?”

“Real name's Clinton Barton,” he said. Because yeah, he should've been more weirded out but something about the guy was telling him he wasn't a threat. Something about him said he could trust him. It was hitting him the same way he'd known Natasha wanted to come in when he'd been sent to kill her. The same thing that had made him root for Thor as he'd tore through S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on his way to his hammer. Clint didn't trust much in life but he trusted that little sixth sense of his when it came to people. It hadn't let him down yet, not once. Only times things had gone bad were when he hadn't listened to it.

“Mr. Barton then, please forgive me again. You see, you must understand, with the change in public perceptions the past five years, we've had to become so very cautious.”

“I understand,” Clint replied with a nod. He wasn't up on the sexual politics of the time but he was very much up with how gay men and women had had to hide and be ultra cautious for most of his life. The fact that that might have been different for a time in New York, as Mr. Chauncey's words hinted at, was fascinating and he wished Phil had talked about it more, if he knew about it anyway.

“My establishment is essentially a speakeasy, though the secrecy is more so that we can enjoy ourselves with others of our kind and not because it is illegal to serve liquor. That the location was barely used and never found during Prohibition was a happy coincidence when I decided to open the underground club. We are fronted by a small diner so we have a liquor license and we provide meals for our workers.”

“Can I ask why a magician?”

“Well I wanted you only in part for that, but mostly for your singing.”

“My singing?” Singing wasn't something he did that much. Well okay, he loved a good karaoke night but singing for money? He hadn't really thought about that.

“You have sung during your shows as you do your tricks – you're quite good you know. I think you'd fit in well and we can try out the magic also. You really are quite entertaining.”

"Yeah?" He couldn't help it, if it wasn't his bow or a bit of trickery he could never get enough reassurances. "You could tell it was workable from those little bits of nonsense during shows?"

"I have a very good ear and an eye for talent. Trust me." Clarence said with a steady nod. "I've been in the business of finding talent for decades Clinton, I know a star when I see one."

"Flattery," Clint grinned at him. "Now that'll net you a free visit to this club of yours.” Clarence smiled back at him, his expression pleased. It wasn't like it would hurt to take him up on the offer. It might even be fun. Plus - he was worried about how he'd made ends meet in the winter, and it was looking more and more like he might be here (and now) for the long haul.

No, it wouldn't hurt at all to just take a simple look around the place.

 

~~

 

The front for the club was, as Mr. Chauncey had mentioned, a quaint little diner called The Cloak Room. It was there that Mr. Chauncey introduced a young woman with long blonde hair and almost ethereal good looks (the initial sense that she softly glowed Clint attributed to the lighting) as his daughter, Kelda. Clint didn't think the two were actually related, they looked nothing alike; but they did know each other well enough to comfortably move and exist in the same space and their body language spoke of a certain affection that Clint was honest enough to admit he had not shared with his own father, so who was he to judge.

It seemed Kelda also had the run of the front of house of The Cloak Room, which gave Mr. Chauncey a few extra points in his estimation. Oh sure women were servers even back then but Clint was pretty sure not all that many were in charge of anything to the degree that Kelda seemed to be. It was nice to see.

 

~~

 

Mr. Chauncey then took Clint down a back hallway which lead them past the restrooms and to a back exit. There was a very small vestibule but with the dim lighting he could only somewhat make out that there might be a secret door there and that was only because he was both looking for it and gifted at finding such things. There was a man on the staircase past the door and he nodded to Mr. Chauncey and gave Clint a curious look as they made their way past.

"That was Sid, I'll introduce you later when he is taking a break. He takes his job very seriously you see." And Clint could imagine it was a serious job, if perhaps tedious, doing security at a secret bar. Did they have a password setup Clint wondered, or was it all taught word of mouth and by people bringing friends in? A little bit of both perhaps?

Unlike the vestibule, the staircase was well lit and at the bottom there was a purple sign over a curtained door that proclaimed The Violet Hour. Mr. Chauncey gestured down the hallway. "The storage room and staff bathroom are down this hall." He then opened the curtain so Clint could step through.

The space was bigger than he had been expecting, it looked like it took up more space than the Cloak Room had upstairs and Clint wondered if it somehow took up part of the next building over or if it was just a trick of how the space was laid out and lit. There was a gorgeous bar on one end and a stage on the other with seating in between. They bypassed the bar and headed towards the stage where Mr. Chauncey showed him the backstage area which was surprisingly spacious and comfortable for the period.

“This is a really great setup you have here Mr. Chauncey,” Clint said as they exited back into the club proper.

“Please Clinton, call me Clarence. Mr. Chauncey is still my father.”

“Alright, Clarence it is.”

”Thank you. And thank you. It’s not the Cotton Club but we hold our own.” From the looks of the clientele it wasn't at all like the Cotton Club. Segregation was still a thing there, if Clint recalled things correctly. Well, segregation when it came to the people that could patron the club - the musicians at the time were predominantly people of color he was pretty sure.

“Ah! I’m glad you’re here!” Clarence said as they approached the bar. It felt a little bit like time slowed down as the man at the bar turned around to face them. Clint had never had anything remotely resembling a normal education, but even he had seen newsreels and films about Captain America and his Howling Commandos. And so he had a hard time reining in his shock when the bartender turned around. “James, this is our new singer and magician Clinton Barton. Clinton, this is one of our bartenders - James Barnes.”

And what even was his life? Because the bartender was sniper extraordinaire and best friend to Steve Rogers, Sergeant James Buchanan (Bucky to his friends) Barnes.

He was younger, almost unbearably so, than any pictures Clint had ever seen of him. Then again, this was four or five years or so before Steve became Cap. Five years and a lack of combat experience (that Clint knew all too well aged a person like nothing else) so of course he looked much younger than Clint’s mental image of him. Which, it wasn’t like he’d thought about him a lot - he had some of course, what kid hadn’t played Captain America versus the Nazis? Barney had never let Clint be Cap - he’d always had to be Bucky - the sidekick. Though he had to admit a certain morbid amusement that Clint had ended up being a sniper in his own right, the same as Bucky.

Aaaaand Clarence had finished introducing them. He should probably do (and say) something.

“Hey. Hi.” Clint took Barnes’s outstretched hand with a smile. “Pleased to meet you.” His grip was firm and pleasant, traces of callouses from labor ('worked at the docks' - Phil’s voice in his head helpfully informed) not using weapons. Not like the ones Clint still had, though he hadn’t so much as glanced at a bow for weeks now.

“Pleased to meet you too.” Barnes’s accent was all Brooklyn. Clint had never found it to be a particularly sexy accent before but something about the way the words fell from Barnes's lips really, really, was working for him just then.

And dear God none of the pictures had prepared him for the mischief in his eyes, or the wicked curl to his lips. ‘Cleft in the chin, devil within’ his mother had once intoned and Clint had to admit he wouldn't mind sinning a little with the young man in front of him. And wow - it was a good thing no one around was a mind reader with that thought.

“Magician huh? You got any good tricks?” Wait...was Barnes flirting with him? Nah. He was a bartender. This was a gay bar. Barnes had a reputation of being suave and very good with the ladies so obviously this was just for show. Hell, if he recalled correctly this wasn't all that far from the place he shared with Rogers so it was probably just an easy second job for him. Then again he could recall how Phil had hypothesized that Rogers and Barnes had potentially been an item. Maybe Barnes was bisexual. Either way, the flirting was probably (mostly) a front for the job.

“I’ve got one or two. Mostly I just make an ass of myself and get a few laughs.” That answer made Barnes laugh and the sound made something stir inside Clint. “The fire-breathing is pretty cool, but not the best idea inside.” Barnes seemed skeptical and impressed at the same time if Clint was gauging his expression correctly.

“Alright, Mr. Firebreather--”

“Clint, please.”

Barnes quirked an eyebrow. “Clint - how’re the pipes?”

“Pretty good.”

“Pretty good?” A slow smile spread on his lips. Barnes sure had a bit of attitude to him and Clint...Clint was enjoying it perhaps more than he should.

“Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”

Barnes sighed over-dramatically. “It better be worth it.”

“Oh it will be.” Clint replied with a wink, though a small part of himself wondered at what was he doing. Flirting wasn't the best of ideas.

“So - sticking around for a time?”

“I think so. Get a feel for the place.” Clint shrugged and glanced around. “Help me figure out what might work and what might not.”

“A man with a plan huh?” Barnes questioned. “You like being prepared then?”

“It’s not necessarily my reputation. I fly by the seat of my pants more often than not--”

“Sounds like fun.” Barnes eyes gave him a once-over and Clint fought off a blush.

“--but yeah, I like to have a plan.”

“Drink?” Barnes asked

“I’m good with water for now, thanks,” Clint replied. At some point Clarence had walked away from the two of them and Clint hadn't even noticed him leaving. That...that wasn't good. His situational awareness was usually much better than that. Normally he could hold a conversation (even one with a good-looking man or woman) and still be able to note the comings and goings of everyone in the room around him.

Something about Barnes made him forget himself.

 

~~

 

Clint told himself not to spend the entire time watching Barnes. It would be creepy, for one, and he certainly wasn't a creeper. He also really had meant it when he said he was there to get a feel for the club, the people that frequented it, the other performers. And he did pay attention to those things (noting for instance that the clientele was mostly male but there were a few women as well)...but he also couldn't seem to stop himself from watching Barnes.

He was slighter than Clint would have expected, all lean muscle and wiry strength. Then again, Clint could recall Phil mentioning that Barnes had been a three time YMCA welterweight champion by the start of the war, so he guessed his size made sense. Welterweight was what – 140-150ish? That looked about right to what he was seeing. Barnes moved with a smooth grace behind the bar, almost dancing with and around the other bartender with ease, mixing drinks with sure hands (sure and beautiful with long lovely fingers, a certain treacherous part of his mind noted) and pouring them with confidence.

And Clint had been correct that the flirtation was a part of the personality he was putting forth at the bar, as Barnes had no qualms about leaning in and flashing a smirk or a hooded glance at the patrons. It did make him wonder how much was an act and how much was the real Bucky Barnes.

Such a question was not something he should be wondering. Protect the timeline his mind fairly screamed. Don't get involved! It was bad enough he was settling in with a group of people, let alone letting his mind become preoccupied by a single person the way it wanted to with Barnes.

“I am so pleased you agreed to join us!” Kelda said, blond ringlets bouncing lightly as she took a seat next to him. Any thoughts that Clarence kept her separate from the speakeasy fled his mind as she had greeted a few of the customers by name and waved at others as she moved around the place. She didn't seem to work this side of things, but she still must have been a fixture.

Barnes slid a light colored cocktail over to Kelda with a wink. “You're the bee's knees, doll face,” earning him a delighted bubble of laughter.

“Thank you, James.”

“And how 'bout you, Mr. Firebreather? Still sticking to water?”

“Eh, maybe I should branch out. Why don't you surprise me with something?” Clint said, doing his best to ignore how Barnes's slow drawl elicited a delightfully squirming feeling in his belly.

Do not get involved. Do not get involved.

Of course, telling his libido to not take interest rarely, if ever, worked. And Bucky Barnes was one hell of an attractive man. Still, Clint was an adult and a professional – and this was a serious situation. He could admire from afar.

“Gin and grapefruit juice,” Barnes said as he slid over an old fashion glass that had a ring of salt along the rim. “It's a Salty Dog.” Clint laughed in spite of himself and raised the glass in a mock toast to Barnes before taking a sip. He probably deserved that little dig but he also couldn't deny that the drink was good, salty and tangy, with just the right amount of kick.

Clint did his best to not let Barnes take up too much of his attention for a little while by entertaining Kelda and a few of the other patrons at the bar with some sleight of hand tricks, but eventually he lost his buffer when Kelda begged off for the evening and once more Barnes made his way over.

“So tell me, Magic Man, where are you from originally? Ain't the city, not with that accent,” Barnes asked as he poured himself a drink and slid over some peanuts. He eased himself into a stool across the bar from Clint and popped a peanut into his mouth. “Go on – shoot.”

“Am I going to get a different name every time we talk?” Clint asked.

Barnes gave an exaggerated shrug in reply. “Dunno yet, we'll see if one sticks. And don't think I didn't notice you not answering the question.” He jabbed a finger towards Clint.

“You've got nothing better to do than question me, huh?” Getting involved could potentially be so very dangerous. He really should try and dissuade Barnes.

“Nope.” Was it Clint's imagination, or did Barnes let the 'p' pop just a little? “I'm all yours for the next...ten minutes or so. So c'mon man, fess up. What's your story?”

Despite all the teasing, Barnes's interest seemed completely genuine and Clint felt equal parts shitty for trying to gently get him to leave him alone and touched because Barnes had no reason to talk to him, not really, but he was making an effort anyway. He was just being friendly to a coworker.

“I was born a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.” Yeah, he'd just stolen from George Lucas a few years before he was born. Barnes laughed at that and Clint allowed himself a smile. “Otherwise known as Waverly, Iowa.”

“Iowa huh? Yeah, that's pretty damn far pal.” Barnes tipped the bowl of peanuts towards Clint. “So what brought you here?”

“A little bit of this, a little bit of that,” he hedged.

“Come on now man, we were getting somewhere.” Barnes's smile was infectious.

“Not sure you'd believe me if I told you the truth.”

“I've got a good imagination.”

'A strange metal object,' he thought wryly. Of course, with Clint's actual life being bizarre beyond belief anyway, he found he could easily use his real history and only have to fudge a few things. Which...he wasn't sure what that said about his life really, that he could spin the truth of his history into a plausible backstory in a completely different time period.

“I guess I'm not much different than anyone else really,” Clint said with a nonchalant shrug. “Lots of people end up here in the city looking to make it big. Make a new life.”

Barnes groaned in an exaggerated manner and rolled his eyes. “Well that can't be all of it.”

“Why can't it?” Clint asked, genuinely curious.

“Because,” Barnes gestured, almost helplessly really. “Because it can't. I mean,” and here he seemed to find himself again and leaned in closer in a conspiratorial manner. “You claim to breath fire, Magic Man, how am I supposed to be content with 'just looking for a new life?'”

“I tell you what-” Clint said, tucking his chin to share in the conspiratorial feel. “How about I tell you something new about myself every week?” Wait what?

“A new fact every week?” Barnes seemed to consider that.

“Every week something new and interesting.”

“What happens if I don't think it's interesting enough?” And oh there was that wicked twinkle in Barnes's eyes again.

“Well I suppose there can be some discussion-”

“Negotiation.”

“Negotiation – but ultimately I get to decide.”

Barnes considered again, tilting his head one way then the other. “Alright Magic Man – you've got yourself a deal.” He held his hand out and Clint took it without hesitation, enjoying again how firm the handshake was.

Barnes was called away before Clint could see what his reaction would be if he told him he'd already gotten his fact for the week (mostly because Clint knew he had to give it some serious thought before he revealed anything else to Barnes) so he carefully removed a sheet of paper from the notebook he had and set to work making careful folds and left the object and a note (-thanks for the water – C. Barton) behind on the bar before he left for the night.

If he lingered in the shadows to see the look of wonder and the gorgeous smile that the origami crane drew from Barnes, well, no one needed to know that, now did they?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Kelda dropped into the booth across from Clint with a rather undignified noise and a frown marring her face. Clint looked up from the song list he was working on. It was a delicate balance for him, remembering songs from the period and what had come out when.

“What's up kiddo?” Clint couldn't help but call her that, even though he wasn't sure of her exact age (and he knew enough not to ask). She was younger than him, that much he was sure of, even though sometimes her eyes seemed older.

She grimaced. “One of the patrons out front was getting too fresh with me so Clarence sent me back here until he could get rid of him.”

Clint reached out to put a comforting hand on her shoulder and she smiled gratefully. He'd been right that she was not biologically related to Clarence – they'd met five years ago now, not all that long after Kelda had come to America from Iceland, unaware of the oddities of the culture and how difficult it was for a single woman to navigate them without some sort of benefactor. They'd bonded over a shared love of the arts and she'd began working with him and living in an apartment in the building he owned a few blocks from the club and diner. “We wanderers and outcasts need to find and forge our own families – don't you agree?” She had said to Clint upon admitting not being related to Clarence and he found himself nodding thoroughly while thinking of the strange family he'd half-formed back in S.H.I.E.L.D.

Her English was impeccable thanks to tutors, and Clint was a little gobsmacked when he thought about that because nothing about her spoke of coming from money. She was humble and gracious and generous. Admittedly, Clint didn't have the highest opinion of people with money. Well, private tutors for their children money anyway. It was just that far too many of the ones he'd encountered in any time were jerks was all.

“Well, while you're waiting maybe you can help me out again with some of the names and faces around here?” Clint batted his eyelashes at her, earning himself a laugh – followed by a tilted head.

“Are you sure you don't want James to help you out?” Kelda asked and her face said innocence but her eyes said something else entirely.

“Nah, he's busy,” Clint gestured towards the bar where there were a number of people getting drinks. Kelda simply arched an eyebrow at him as if to say it might be busy but it wasn't like Barnes didn't have any time. What Clint wasn't telling her, couldn't tell her really, was that he was finding it too dangerous to be around Barnes that much. His pull was too magnetic.

“The two of you hit it off so well the other day,” and there again she verbalized one thing but her eyes said 'everyone within a two mile radius could see the sparks between you.'

“We did, we did,” Clint sighed. Maybe too well. He still had to figure out safe things to tell Barnes about himself. Safe but interesting enough to sate his curiosity. And why he was taking such a keen interest in Clint he didn't want to examine at all. Deciding Barnes was just being friendly was the easiest thing for Clint's sanity. “But I don't want to bother him right now, besides, it'll help you pass the time.”

“Alright,” she kept one eyebrow arched for a second before allowing her forehead to smooth back out. “But please be aware Clarence doesn't care if two of his employees pursue something. It's okay if you and James-”

“Thanks, thanks, I'll uh, I'll keep that in mind,” Clint said raising his hand to stall anything further along those lines. Kelda smirked but let the subject drop and proceeded to point out several of their regulars and the members of the band that he hadn't had time to meet yet.

 

~~|~~

 

Threading his way over to the bar amidst the clapping and a few shoulder pats Clint felt pretty good. He probably wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told it to him, but he’d missed performing.

Going undercover was really just another type of performing, so you could say Clint had kept in practice within S.H.I.E.L.D. And it was true that he had actually performed on a stage for one undercover op, but that had been a good three years ago, before Budapest. And sure, he’d had crowds at Coney Island for his tricks, but this was different. More fulfilling. More like using his bow. It was him and his skill - not tricks, quick movements, and showmanship.

For all the upsides, there was a downside too. Slip ups wouldn't be as easy to cover up when he was singing. Mistakes would stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully any worry that he'd been too long out of practice went out the window by the third song of his set and by the fifth he'd had the crowd fairly eating out of the palm of his hand.

Oh yeah. It was good to be back as the center of attention.

He may have purposefully gone to be end of the bar that Barnes had not been serving, but he moved over to meet Clint anyway, a glass of water in hand.

“Not bad Magic Man, not bad at all,” Barnes said, handing the water over to Clint before he could even ask. He looked just as good as he had the other night as he leaned on his elbow, twinkle in his eye. “I was pleasantly surprised to be honest.”

“What? Did you think I didn’t have the talent?” Clint replied before taking a long drink from the water and wiping a napkin over his brow.

“Well…” Barnes did this thing where he shrugged with his face. “Clarence is usually good at finding gems, don’t get me wrong, but there is always the chance he’ll get distracted by a pretty face.”

Clint did not blush. He was past the point where a handsome man simply calling him pretty would make him blush. But his smile did have a shy tilt to it and he ducked his eyes as he asked, “You think I’m pretty?”

Barnes inched his face even closer, close enough that Clint could feel a hint of his breath and he felt the tell-tale giddy swoop in his belly that signaled his attraction. “I do.” Barnes said with a wink. “In fact,” and somehow he leaned in closer still to whisper into Clint’s ear, the ghost of Barnes's lips touching him. “I think you’re just about the prettiest fella I’ve ever seen.”

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuuuuuuck. He was in so much trouble. And, okay, maybe he was beyond blushing, but it seemed he was not past the point of swooning because he swayed just a tiny bit at the heat and nearness of Barnes. Hyper-aware of how good he smelled in addition to his words. The point at which their cheeks brushed because it felt like it was on fire.

Barnes had returned to a more respectable distance, keeping himself fully on the other side of the bar. Clint could still salvage this. “Sweet talking me for a better tip?” Clint asked, weirdly proud at how steady his voice sounded because he certainly didn’t feel it. It was just playful flirting between coworkers, right? Surely that’s what Barnes meant by it all. He had Steve back home, and yeah he wasn’t beefcake Captain America right now, but Clint had seen the pictures, he was still attractive when he’d been small.

And then Clint ended up blushing after all because Barnes’s eyes made a slow circuit up and down Clint’s body and his smirk turned decidedly lascivious. “Nope.” Barnes drawled, popping the 'p.' “I meant what I said.” He gave Clint another lingering look then grinned and shrugged his eyebrows before returning to the other side of the bar.

Oh...Clint was in trouble.

 

~~|~~

 

Clint knew he should keep his distance. It was bad enough being stuck in the past when any little thing he did could alter something in a way someone like him couldn’t foresee. But this…

Bucky Barnes was a historical figure. He’d left a rather prominent fingerprint in the annals of history. Clint should have headed for the hills the second he’d seen him. Found some other job at some other place and laid low until the brains back in his time figure out how to get him back. Only...he liked Clarence and Kelda. They were wonderful, kind people. Open and accepting in a time when it was becoming harder to find that kind of person. He liked spending time with them, and working for them. Within a few days he’d come to be fond of his fellow musicians. Of the bartenders beside Barnes at least two of them, Robbie and Tim, were nice as well from what Clint had seen.

And then there was Barnes himself. For all that Clint knew, he was bad for him he just couldn’t help himself. It was like the proverbial moth to the equally proverbial flame - something about Barnes drew him in. And like the moth, he knew he would get burned no matter what he did. Every day he vowed he’d keep his distance and every day they came together anyways. Flirting and bantering back and forth and getting to know each other. Barnes wasn't just a handsome man either, he was a genuinely good person too. Offering advice and help to anyone that needed either. Clint found himself liking him more and more as each day passed.

 

~~|~~

 

“What's the deal, Magic Man?” Barnes asked as he sauntered over to the dart board where Clint and Armando were playing. Clint tried very hard not to pay attention to the way he moved his hips. The swagger in his walk.

“Uh – we're playing darts?” Behind Clint, Armando began to snicker for no apparent reason.

“Well, Armando is but I dunno about you.”

“Here we go,” Clint was certain Armando muttered.

“I think I'm doing okay, thanks.” Clint replied. He was being very careful to place his shots in a way that made it look like he was trying. Like he was a slightly above average player because he could only reign in his ego so much. In fact, it was honestly more difficult for him to place his shots in a more random grouping that it would be to just naturally hit every shot.

“I call bull,” Bucky said, stepping a little closer than strictly necessary. Clint didn't back down even though he wanted to.

“I dunno James, if he were cheating I think he'd be doing better. No offense man,” Armando said. “He's good but he's had a few lousy shots.”

“To make it look more random. You trying to throw the game, Barton?”

“No! Why would I do that?”

“That doesn't make sense James,” Armando agreed.

“I dunno why you're doing it but, you are.” And Bucky's face went a little soft at that. “Come on man, we're your friends.”

“I'm not pulling my shots.”

“There's a tension that doesn't need to be there when you're getting ready to throw. It's like you want to look average.”

“Why would you even be looking for something like that?” Clint asked while Armando muttered something under his breath again that if Clint hadn't been busy sputtering would've sounded suspiciously like “he just likes looking at you.” Because really, Barnes shouldn't be looking at him that closely.

“C'mon Magic Man, show us what you can really do.” The smirk Bucky was wearing was gently teasing, the expression on his face encouraging. Clint sighed, turned, and threw all three darts in his hand into the bullseye at once.

“Holy shit.” Armando gaped.

“That's more like it,” Bucky said and Clint fought against the blush that wanted to rise at how proud he looked.

“Seriously dude, how the fuck did you do that?”

“Magic,” Clint replied, droll as could be.

“Can you do it again?” Armando had retrieved the darts and only given Clint a momentary withering look at the trite reply. Clint did and Armando let out a cheer while Bucky looked on, pleased and impressed. He continued to hit the bullseye, even making a few no look shots which had Armando just about dying and had drawn a few of the band members over as they slowly trickled in and heard the commotion.

“I love all of you dearly, and it is wonderful to see you supporting our Clinton's many talents but we need to open soon so if we could break the party up and start getting ready for our guests?” Clarence said once he eventually had made his way over. Clint smiled through the shoulder pats and good natured ribbing and then followed Barnes back to the bar without a word.

“You really embarrassed by that talent, Magic Man?” Barnes looked genuinely curious.

“Hawkeye,” Clint replied, take a drink of the water Robbie had left for him before retreating to his side of the bar.

“Beg pardon?”

“I honed that skill in the circus,” Clint said. “My name, my stage name, there was The Amazing Hawkeye.”

“Cooper?” Bucky's eyes practically glowed when he realized that this was his new fact of the week.

“One part that, one part the Iowa connection” Clint said.

“Well I'll be damned. My Magic Man is from the circus.”

 

~~|~~

 

“So, where did you come up with Orlando anyway?” Barnes asks him a few nights later. Clint had just finished his first set of the evening and accepted the glass of water Barnes offered along with the question, gratefully.

“I thought we agreed it would be one fact a week,” he replied, dabbing a napkin at the sweat collecting on his neck and forehead.

“I'm negotiating,” Barnes winked. “Plus I'm not sure this stage name counts as backstory, Magic Man. I mean, you already gave away the circus connection with your other stage name, so this one must be more innocent.” Barnes's look went a little more considering. “Or are you really that fantastical?”

Oh if he only knew...

How did Clint explain that Howard Stark (whom Barnes would not meet for at least another five years)
would go on to have a son Tony (to be born several decades from now) who would be made of equal parts snark and sass – and have a similar penchant to Barnes for giving nicknames. And that the first nickname he ever gave to Clint came from a book that wouldn't be published for another another twenty years or so and then almost fifty years from that films would be made of them – and said character from which Clint had received his nickname would be played by a man named Orlando Bloom.

Yeah...that wouldn't work at all.

But something else might.

“Alright,” he relented with a wave of his hand. “I'm guessing you're familiar with Shakespeare's works?” Never let it be said that Clint was an idiot or uncultured because he grew up in a circus. His reading skills as a child had left much to be desired until Brutus, the strong man, had come to the conclusion that Clint was dyslexic just like him. They'd worked through many a play by Shakespeare together growing and honing Clint's skills and coping mechanisms until he could read just as well as anyone else.

“I am.” Barnes nodded slowly and Clint could tell he was running through things in his mind so he paused a moment and was just about to speak when Barnes finally snapped his fingers. “Orlando from As You Like It!”

“Indeed.”

“Huh...” Barnes let his eyes roam over Clint again. “Having a hard time expressing your feelings to the one you love before exile huh?”

“Well it was a little more that I liked the name if we're being honest.” Clint replied.

“And you're strong and handsome and beloved by many.” Barnes said, tone serious but eyes twinkling.

“Oh yes, and that too,” Clint joked back with a grin.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Now – it's been a week this time, though I don't see how you tellin' me your age counts as a fact. It's like barely one. More like half of one,” Bucky said in between Clint's second and third sets of the evening. It was an unusually busy Thursday, though things finally seemed to be winding down a bit. “I mean – unless you're gonna tell me you're some sort of actual magic man and like immortal or something.” He leaned in closer, conspiratorial glint in his eye, “You aren't, are you?”

“You and Steve have snuck into one too many films,” Clint replied with a chuckle. He'd been more than a little grateful that Bucky had mentioned his best pal Steve early on in their conversations – it was one less thing he had to worry about slipping up on. Though, he did have to remain aware about not slipping up and saying something that made it seem like he had met Steve or heard something directly from him.

“Lies,” Bucky grinned at him.

“And no, I am not immortal. But I am thirty. Thirty going on what feels like sixty sometimes.” He shrugged in a self deprecating manner. He'd seen more than most in his years. Sometimes it felt like too much.

Clint had half been expecting Bucky to have some sort of look of revulsion at the admission of his age. At twenty-one, thirty seemed so far away for most people, and more than a few would've been skeeved out by the nine year difference. Bucky didn't really have much of a reaction – unless he was exceptionally good at hiding it that is.

“Thirty?” Bucky finally said his eyes swept up and down Clint's body. “You sure you're not immortal? You don't look like any thirty year old I've seen.”

“Thanks?”

“Yeah. It was a compliment,” Bucky said, making a point to check Clint out again. “Though I mean, it's not a bad age either?” And here his face scrunched up a little as he realized he was treading into a potentially awkward conversation area. “You wear it well. I uh...I hope I look as good when I get to thirty.”

The sudden punch of pain and guilt was swift and merciless and Clint had a hard time not wincing. Bucky had no idea he wouldn't even make it to thirty. Hell, at this point war hadn't even been declared in Europe – much less spread to encompass so much of the rest of the world. Hitler was still managing to do some things in secret and plead his way into being allowed to do others. If Clint recalled his lessons from Phil things were going to start ramping up soon though. But still, so many innocent people were alive at this moment. People that could maybe be saved...

He could do it too. Make his way into Germany, arm himself, take a shot that would save millions - it would be child's play for him even on his worst day. He, Clint Barton, could change the world.

But at what cost? His conscious, suspiciously sounding like Phil, asked him. For all he knew something even worse could spring up to replace history as he knew it. Maybe the war would be postponed long enough (because let's face it, even without Hitler the rogues gallery of despot world leaders was still pretty large – some form of war was inevitable) that both sides developed nuclear weapons and used them on each other with impunity.

What if what if what if...

Clint realized he might have been silent a little too long so he offered Bucky a more flirty smile than he normally would have and gave him a once over because Bucky had a damn fine body himself. “Oh I bet you'll look even better.” He probably would too, if he were allowed to age. It had the desired effect as Bucky rolled his eyes, despite his own pleased smile, then refilled Clint's glass of water for him.

“I haven't been in a relationship in four years,” Clint blurted.

“What?”

What indeed because wow, this wasn't at all a safe and sane topic of conversation. If he was trying to avoid doing anything stupid here in the past then even talking romantic relationships with Bucky Barnes was pretty damn stupid. Because if talking about them was a thing they were going to do and he'd established that Barnes was interested in something with him (and Clint didn't have the greatest willpower in the world and Bucky was very attractive, even this young) talking about other relationships wasn't exactly a great way to get him to drop the idea.

“You said my age wasn't good enough as a fact about me. So, how about telling you that I haven't been in a relationship for about four years?” And yet here he was, opening his mouth and saying something incredibly stupid. “My last one was with a woman...and we didn't last because we wanted very different things. And then,” Clint breathed out a sigh and gave a wistful smile. “You know how they say don't mix business and pleasure?” Barnes nodded. “Well I ended up falling pretty damn hard for my uh, well, I guess you could call him my boss? He was above me in the hierarchy anyway. My track record is pretty shit though because while he was a great guy he was not at all interested in me like that and I knew it, but did that stop me from falling? Nope.”

“What happened?” Barnes's voice was strangely quiet, subdued, his expression difficult to read.

“Well he noticed and he uh – he let me down gently. Nothing changed in our work relationship, thankfully.” And here he saw Barnes let out a breath and Clint wanted to smack himself in the head because yeah, it made sense that he'd have been concerned that something might have happened to Clint professionally because of his...proclivities. “And then I became the cliché, pining from afar. I got over him eventually...but that didn't make it hurt any less when uh... When he...” He thought it would get easier to talk about, but he hadn't seemed to have reached that point yet. “He was killed in the line of duty and it...it was partially my fault.”

He wasn't about to get into the details of what had happened – he couldn't get into the details really, not without giving up his entire ridiculous tale up until this point. And Buc-Barnes - curse him for his expressive face and eyes because the look he was giving Clint at the moment, the concern…

“Did you lose your job after he died?” Barnes asked. “You said in the line of duty, were you cops or something? Did they kick you out or…”

“No no, nothing like that. Our uh, overall boss I guess you could call him, was-is okay with me. And we weren’t cops, not military either, but something that was kinda both?” How did you explain S.H.I.E.L.D. even in the present, much less the past? “We belonged to an organization that helped protect people, looking into things the government wouldn’t.” And that...still sounded a little shady but not that bad he figured. “But when the incident happened and Phil died...things just weren’t the same.” If Phil had still been around maybe Clint wouldn’t have been so ostracized by his fellow agents. Then again, he had Fury on his side and if the Director couldn’t make people look past what Clint had done, what he’d been forced to do, how could Phil had helped?

Clint was glad for the Avengers, even if they were not needed that often, he at least had a place to belong with them. And he was glad for Steve - both he and Nat had been drafted to help him acclimate to life as an agent in S.H.I.E.L.D. Well, Clint more than Natasha really because she was still very much an active agent whereas he had taken a while to be considered fit for duty. And he hadn’t had many missions since then.

“That's why you're here in the city, isn't it?” Barnes asked quietly. “Because of whatever happened?”

“Part of the reason, yeah,” Clint nodded absently, trying to rein in his emotions. “Anyway, uh, I better – get back.” He gestured vaguely towards the stage and beat a hasty retreat back towards it.

He usually tried to make eye contact only with members of the audience when he was performing – it made for better tips for just about everyone – or he would sing towards a general point behind them so that it looked like he was looking at all of them. This time though he found himself looking at Bucky, something he'd managed to mostly avoid for the last month (frankly it had been the only thing concerning Bucky he'd been able to avoid). He'd make brief eye contact, then tell himself he needed to look away, only to find his eyes heading right back to Bucky. And maybe it would've been okay, aside from the fact that Bucky kept meeting his eyes as well. Clint was usually very adept at reading people, but couldn't get a handle on the expression on Bucky's face. And so he made an attempt to file it away for later as he sang about loss and about love and trying to make a connection with a certain someone while staring straight at Bucky.

 

~~

 

The following night Bucky was supposed to be off (he'd been talking about doing something with Steve all week), so Clint wasn't expecting much idle chatter as he made his way to the bar between sets. Which meant he was a little confused when Robbie sidled up to him with a very knowing smirk. Of the three other bartenders besides Bucky, Robbie was definitely the friendliest.

“A water and a gift,” he said with a wink, sliding the glass over before reaching under the bar to grab a small paper-wrapped item.

Clint looked at the small package with an up-ticked eyebrow for a moment after Robbie left to help another customer. It wasn't really unheard of for him to receive tokens from some of the patrons. He was offered a handful of drinks a night on average and had more than a few offers of gifts and favors of a more carnal nature as well. And he knew if it was anything suspicious the bartenders would've been careful to accept but then get rid of both it, and the customer as well. Still, usually he got a story with the offers and the favors – though more often than not it was Bucky delivering them so maybe that was just a quirk of his?

Curiosity winning out, Clint carefully pulled open the paper, the distinctive aroma of violets hitting him before he even came close to exposing the purple packaging. And in between it and a Hershey's bar, was a folded sheet of paper.

 


Barton,

A little something sweet to help you smile.
And those weird violet mint things you like so much.
Don't eat them all at once. - JB

 

Clint couldn't help but smile as he carefully folded the note back up and stuck it in his pocket, along with the violets themselves. Funny thing was, he hadn't ever really told Barnes he liked the damn things (they were available on the street corners rather than by mail order! He'd been over the moon when he realized that), but he somehow still managed to notice. It was a very touching gesture, especially in light of the talk yesterday.

He didn't wonder even once about how it could potentially mess up the timeline either.

 

~~|~~

 

Somehow the group had gotten onto the subject of prohibition during their pre-shift poker game. Clint didn't know a ton about prohibition, wasn't even certain how long it had lasted, but he found it slightly hilarious that it was likely almost none of them, save a handful of the musicians and Tim – all of whom weren't even there, were really old enough to have been affected at all by it. At least job wise. But it was a discussion to pass the time so he went along with it.

"What about you Clint, what do you remember?" Robbie asked him.

"Not much really? I mean," he shrugged, He could lie, it was easy enough. "By that point I was in the circus and people had their ways of finding alcohol - same as everywhere else."

“No traveling stills or anything?”

“Not that I was aware of,” Clint shrugged in reply.

The conversation flowed back and forth but stayed on the topic of alcohol. Which meant that Clint stayed pretty quiet for the duration. Something that did not go unnoticed by Bucky who took him aside once the game had wrapped up but before he was needed on stage.

“You were pretty quiet Magic Man, what's going on? Need an ear to bend?”

"My uh, my dad was a drunk,” Clint said with a shrug. “A big mean one so uh, alcohol and me, we have a tempestuous relationship you could say.” He would've been surprised if Bucky face hadn't gone all soft and compassionate but that didn't make him any less thankful for it.

“If he'd lived through prohibition I can guarantee he still would've found a way to drink. Would've built a fucking still and probably killed all of us somehow with it rather than just him and mom in the car accident.”

“Shit, Clint, I'm...I have no idea what to say.

“It's okay,” Clint said with a shake of his head though James still looked pained and like he wanted to say or do something.

 

~~|~~

 

“So uh, where does one become a master illusionist and prestidigitator anyway, Magic Man?” Bucky asked one day after Clint had performed several tricks in lieu of his first set of music. It was something new Clarence wanted to try out, a pared down version of some of the things Clint had done at Coney Island. It seemed to go over well enough, though Clint would have to see how Clarence felt about the returns - they could always try a different night of the week too. Bucky waited patiently for his answer while Clint drank from the glass of water he’d brought him.

“Circus, remember?” Clint teased as a reply, one eyebrow still arched at Bucky’s use of “prestidigitator.” He desperately wanted to tease him for that, but teasing meant flirting and flirting was dangerous. The refrain that kept going through his head was starting to sound a little hollow the longer he was stuck here but he kept on with it.

“Now now Magic Man - you said you were called The Amazing Hawkeye and a marksman when you were in the circus. You didn’t lie to me, did you?” Bucky tilted his head and leaned closer. “Just how many jobs am I supposed to believe you had there?”

“Several,” Clint managed to deadpan in reply, swallowing but otherwise not showing how affected he was by Bucky’s nearness. The cocky tilt in his body language. “Seeing how I was basically raised by carnies.”

“Raised by 'em?”

“Well, after our parents died Barney and me ran away from the orphanage to the circus.” Sure he’d mentioned that his parents had died when he’d been young and he’d mentioned he’d been in the circus but he hadn’t mentioned how close together those two events were.

“Really?” Bucky’s interest practically shined from him.

“Yeah, we gave it a good year, almost two, in various orphanages but no one wanted two urchins like us. Then the circus happened to be in town and Barney had one of his ideas and away we went.” How different would things have been had Carson’s not been in that town at that time? What might have happened if Barney hadn’t thought the circus was a good idea? Clint wasn’t sure if his life had more of those “there but for the grace of God” moments than the average person but he sure as hell would stake good money on his being more drastic or in the least strange. Bucky’s face was a mixture of interested and solemn as Clint spoke, but he kept silent for the time being.

“There was plenty of work for two kids, lots to clean and work on. But the first person to really take me in was Antonino, one of the barkers. He was the one who taught me sleight of hand - both of the magic trick variety and of the pick pocketing variety.”

“And there it is, my Magic Man’s sordid history as a young pickpocket.” Bucky was a little too excited about that and Clint just rolled his eyes at him.

“I bounced around between different acts for a little while. Did some tricks and tumbling with the clowns, learned acrobatics from the aerialists – you know, normal circus stuff.”

“Sure. Normal circus stuff,” Bucky agreed with a smirk. “Like we all get to learn and do when we're young.”

“And then after that,” Clint continued, despite the teasing tone, I was the apprentice to Jacques Dusquene – also called the Swordsman.”

“Swordsman, huh?”

“Yup. His act was all about the blade. Throwing knives and all sorts of sword work.”

“And you were his apprentice for a bit?”

“Before I took up the bow, yeah.” Where was Bucky going with this?

“Learn any good tricks?”

“I might have.”

“Sword swallowing?”

“Wouldn't you like to know?” Bucky’s question should not have surprised Clint, and he should not have encouraged him with that reply. But Clint found he couldn’t help the insouciant tilt to his smirk -flirting with Bucky was so damn easy and so damn much fun he couldn’t help it.

“You finally get around to swallowing his sword and maybe we can get service again.”

“Cool it, Stacks,” Bucky said with a wave at their regular, his smirk indicating he didn’t at all miss the blush that stole over Clint’s face at the suggestion. “It ain’t like Robbie can’t help you and Marks.”

“Someone had a bad day,” Jamie said, coming up behind his partner to wrap his arms around him.

“Better now,” Adam replied tilting his head for a kiss while Bucky poured them both their usuals.

Clint envied their closeness. How Adam melted for his lover, any sign of his stress gone at a touch. He wanted something like that. Even more, he was starting to think he knew who he wanted that with. Which was a very scary and very bad thing.

 

~~

 

Clint knew more than his fair share of songs from the period thanks both to his mother’s predilection for them and Phil’s interest as a historian. And he’d learned even more of them from his bandmates in the last month. Still, he was growing bored with his repertoire and in a fit of recklessness he decided to shake things up when he got back to the stage.

Not long before he’d gone on the fateful mission with Steve he’d come across a group on YouTube that did jazz covers of popular songs. It seemed like a lot of fun and he knew enough about music, played enough himself, that he thought - why not try? He’d have to be careful of course, pick songs that would come out late enough that anyone here wouldn’t hear it and be confused or worse in five or ten years time. Taylor Swift seemed apropos at the moment and he’d been reckless already that day so again - why not have a little fun?

Nice to meet you, where you been?
I could show you incredible things
Magic, madness, heaven, sin
Saw you there and I thought
Oh my God, look at that face
You look like my next mistake
Love's a game, d’you wanna play?

Clint wasn't really one to try and look for any sort of deeper meaning in the lyrics of a simple pop song – really this was just supposed to be a little bit of fun and it did translate well – but man 'You look like my next mistake' was a little too on the nose at the moment.

“I’m going to take you up on that offer Magic Man,” Bucky said later, as everyone was getting ready to leave.

“What are you talking about?” Clint replied as he gathered up his suit jacket. He hadn't forgotten anything about their conversations earlier in the night, but he thought he'd been very careful about not offering Bucky anything. Flirting was one thing – and okay he was the one that kept saying flirting was dangerous but if he kept telling himself he wasn't going to follow through on it that was safe enough, right?

“That blank space on your dance card, doll. Better pencil me in.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“And one-two-three-four, five-six-seven-eight,” Clint said, going through the dance moves at half-pace so the other musicians could get a feel for what he wanted to do.

“Okay, once more, a little faster but still not at full tempo.” The run-through this go around at almost full speed went well, Clint was so focused on the footwork and keeping an ear on how they music sounded that he didn’t notice he had an audience until he’d run through the full sequence and was tipping his cap and there was applause.

“Uh good job - take five guys.” Clint said absently, eyes meeting Barnes’s as he stood, still clapping and smiling like he had some sort of secret. “Hey,” he nodded as he stepped off the stage. “Aren’t you supposed to be off today?” He had a hard enough time when he knew Barnes's schedule - surprise appearances were something he didn’t think he could handle. It made him feel like there was an itch under his skin.

“I was,” Barnes agreed. “But Robbie needed the early evening so here I am.”

“Isn’t it early?” And wow, he didn’t mean or want to sound annoyed, but he had to admit it probably seemed like he was just a little. Barnes seemed to notice too, if the way he raised his brow was any indication.

“Guy’s gotta eat,” Barnes shrugged. “Thought you might want to join me.” And of course Clint’s stomach took that moment to growl.

“Okay - uh, break for lunch then guys.” Clint said, following behind Bucky as they made their way to the bar to place their orders. “Sorry if I seemed grumpy,” Clint waved a hand towards the stage once they settled in at a table.

“S’ok. You really are a creature of habit, aren’t you?”

“Eh...not really. Or well, only at times? It’s... complicated.” Understatement of the century, Barton. It wasn’t so much habits as who was breaking them. Barnes was terrible for his self control.

“Circus stuff or family stuff?” Barnes asked, his expression open. Interested.

“Both?” Clint half-grimaced. “It uh, well… Let’s just say breaks from the normal weren’t usually a good thing. If Dad came home early it was almost always because something had happened and he was looking to take out his bad mood on Barney ‘n me. And with Trick at the circus… Well, usually it meant I had more chores or I’d done something wrong. And those usually meant I wasn’t getting anything to eat unless I could bribe scraps from someone later.” And he didn’t... he knew it likely wasn’t very out of place to say stuff like that. That Steve and Bucky had done with little-to-nothing themselves. And yet, the look on Barnes’s face…

“Making a kid beg for food like that? When the circus was making all that money? Shit.” He shook his head. “Someone oughtta do something ‘bout that. It ain’t right. Why didn’t your brother do something? Share his food?”

Clint realized that Barnes had done the math and come to the conclusion that Clint would have been in the circus during the 20’s - when they had still been a huge thing. He wasn’t concerned, not really, because even when Carson’s had been making bank there were shortages everywhere. It was, sadly, endemic that even during times of comfort and plenty there were always enough bad seeds that would prey on and take advantage of others.

“Barney and me…” Clint sighed heavily, glad that Kelda brought their meals at that moment because how did he explain Barney? “We uh, we weren’t so close after being there for a bit. He was doing his own stuff and me? I had Trick and Dusquene looking after me. Training me up.” Barney was jealous of the attention Clint's natural skills had garnered him and he hadn't been shy about expressing it.

“I can’t imagine not looking out for my brother and my sisters. Even when they annoy me I still love ‘em too much to even think about not caring what happens to them.” His movements were quick, almost angry, as he cut up his food.

“It’s alright, I mean, I survived so... so no use getting upset now.” And why would anyone get upset anyway about what had happened to Clint?

Barnes’s jaw looked like it was working a little harder as he chewed his food then swallowed. “Family’s important though. Family’s all we got in the end.”

“Guess I didn’t do so well in that.” Clint smiled ruefully. He look over at Clarence and Kelda as they enjoyed their lunch together; glanced back at the band members laughing over afternoon drinks, and then at the man across the table from him. Bucky Barnes. Someone he’d known only a month and yet he’d shown more concern over Clint than his own brother had.

He thought about Nick and Nat. Maria and Jasper. Tony, Bruce, and Steve. His bizarre S.H.I.E.L.D./Avengers quasi-family back in his own time. He wasn’t sure how he’d be able to get back to them yet; but he thought, as he glanced around again, that it seemed like he could be building something good here in its stead.

“At least,” he began to amend. “I didn’t do too good with blood family. Maybe I’ll do better building one of my own.” Bucky's face was so open and Clint couldn't help but see the hopefulness on it at his words.

 

~~

 

The night went quickly, the atmosphere lively and the bar as a whole busy enough to keep things flowing well but not be overwhelming. Before Clint knew it he was done for the night, with Louie taking over. Clarence had also ushered Bucky out from behind the bar and they ended up standing together semi-awkwardly.

“I dunno about you, but I’m not ready to go home just yet,” Bucky said. Clint knew he should lie and say he was tired. Give some excuse and beg off from whatever Barnes was about to suggest.

“What did you have in mind?”

Barnes led him to another club, a little more ramshackle than The Violet Hour, but more spacious. Clint wasn’t sure what kind of expression he had on his face, but Barnes took one look at him and threw his head back in delighted laughter. “I admit, this place isn’t entirely on the level - they still make hooch cause they can’t get a license, but times being what they are you have to make do. I wouldn’ta thought you needed something fancy like the Cotton Club, Magic Man.

“I wouldn’t have a clue what to do at the Cotton Club and you know it Barnes.”

“James,” Bucky said, his expression unreadable. “Been a month, Magic Man, you gotta call me James.”

Why James and not Bucky, Clint wondered. And why did he insist on using nicknames rather than Clint’s name?

“Alright, James, as I was saying, I’m down with the location, just a little surprised you can find these types of places.” For a moment he wondered if Bar-James would be insulted by that - but the moment passed when a grin slowly took over his expression and James leaned in.

“I bet I could surprise you with a few more things you don’t know about me.”

Jesus. Fucking. Christ. What was his life?

“So. you wanna show me some more of those moves you were working on earlier?” James’s eye sparkled with mischief and held a challenge. He’d heard Steve mention once or twice how good a dancer Bucky was. Second hand stories from Director Carter too. It didn’t really prepare him for the actuality of it.

“Follow my lead, Magic Man,” James whispered against his ear and before the wash of heat had gone through his body he was being pulled onto the dance floor.

Clint had a good sense of rhythm himself and could dance with the best of them, but he still had a time keeping up with James. Maybe because while Clint knew the popular dances of the time (at least nominally by this point), he didn’t live and breathe them the way James did.

“Feeling a little rusty, Old Man?” James teased when Clint had been a little less than quick on one dance.

“I may be older than you, but I am not an old man,” Clint replied, grabbing James and pulling him close as a Fox-Trot started up. The smirk he got in reply as they moved together fluidly made him realize that the teasing had been on purpose to get just that reaction - and that he honestly didn’t care.

Dancing with James was electric. They complimented each other well, fitting together seamlessly like their bodies were made for each other. After a few dances Clint wasn’t certain if his breathlessness was because of the dancing or because of the man he was dancing with.

The band was good too. An eclectic mix of performers as was common at the time, especially in such clubs. They had a good mixture of songs, the tempo ebbing and flowing allowing people to step off and on the floor easily but still not tire too badly if they stuck it out.

When the singer had mentioned the last song of the set would be a slow one Clint had expected James to lead them off early, instead, his expression went almost shy (such a departure from his cocky confidence) as he quietly asked if he could lead. Clint nodded and settled in as the first few notes of a long intro drifted into the air.

“When I first learned this next song, it was called “Gone With the Dawn” and it had lyrics but Mr. Miller calls it “Moonlight Serenade” now,” The singer stated before the band jumped fully into the well-known tune.

They’d been pressed close together for a good amount of the songs already, and for some of them the contact had certainly been more provocative, but for some reason this felt different. Intimate.

Clint’s heart was hammering in his chest though not from exertion, as he and James naturally swayed together, their heads resting against one-another.

“You smell nice,” James murmured, and Clint felt a little bubble of hysteria rise in his throat. He’d been on countless missions. Been in innumerable dangerous situations. He’d also, frankly, been in near-death situations with a terrible frequency that should have made him feel invincible the rest of the time.

And yet, he couldn’t recall ever being as terrified as he was at that moment.

“Thanks?” And thankfully his voice didn’t sound super strange, though the rise at the end made it sound more like he was asking a question than accepting the compliment.

“No really, you do.” And Clint felt a shiver run through his body as James nuzzled, fucking nuzzled, briefly against his hairline.

“Been sweating all day…” he muttered, embarrassed.

“Still good to me,” James assured him, his hand comfortable in Clint’s, his back warm under his touch.

Clint gave a surreptitious sniff on his own, inhaling the smell of James’s sweat, the slight spice of something he must have splashed on before they’d gone out, too fresh to have been from that morning.

“You too.”

He didn’t think they had been that close together, but he could feel James’s smile at the compliment. When had he become so attuned to his body language?

When the song ended Clint didn’t know if it had lasted too long or nowhere near long enough, and he was glad for the hand James kept pressed to the small of his back as he guided them towards the bar. Clint did become a little suspicious when James kept his hand on him - sliding it from his back to curl gently against his hip - as they sidled up to the bar, standing face to face as they waited for their drinks.

Clint watched as James’s eyes tracked the movements of another man as he left the bar, brushing past them with a light grumble. Only once he was out of James’s sight did he finally let his hand drift away - though the light stutter to the moment made Clint believe it was reluctant. It was also at that moment that two other things became clear. This was most definitely a date in James’s mind, and he had just blatantly staked his claim on Clint in front of another interested party.

Clint downed about half of his drink in two swallows in an effort to fight against the rush of noise in his ears.

This was happening. This was really happening. To him.

“Might wanna slow down there Magic Man,” James chuckled before he took a healthy drink of his own. “The home brew here is smooth but strong.”

“You come around here often then?” Clint wasn’t sure what to make of the tone of his own voice.

“Often enough,” James replied, something dangerous glinting in his eyes as he leaned closer to Clint. “Why? You jealous?”

And God - or any other deity willing - help him because he was. He wanted to lean in and kiss that defiant look of James’s face.

He was spared from trying to figure out how to answer by someone bursting in and shouting a warning. Their helper was almost immediately cuffed on the back of their head by a policeman, but Clint only caught it from his peripheral because James had grabbed his hand and hissed “This way!” They were off through a curtain behind the bar and into a hallway. He led them down it a ways, then cut through another room into another hallway that ended in a door. They slipped out of it as quietly as they could, but the informant must have been very thorough because they hadn't made it too far down the alley before there was a shout and footsteps began pounding behind them.

James's grin was almost manic as he squeezed Clint's hand and pulled him along. Clint was pretty sure his own expression was a little crazed as the adrenaline began to flow in earnest as they wound their way through the streets, leading their pursuer on a merry chase.

They were doing okay, but the cop behind them seemed to be refusing to tire and though they'd opened a bit of a lead, Clint knew they'd need a little something more and soon, because their cop probably had some friends and who knew when they might spring out. The architecture could likely be used to their favor and Clint saw what he wanted down a side street.

“Cut right at the next intersection, then right and right again – circle back around,” Clint huffed to James. He nodded and they carefully circled their way back around – at just the right pace that the cop didn't catch on to what they were doing quickly enough to be able to reverse his course and cut them off. Though judging by the cursing he'd figured out what they were doing – or at least thought he had.

“Red brick place on the right alcove down the stairs.” Clint said.

“What about you? I'm not hiding while you risk yourself.” James barked back.

“Be fine, I got a plan. Now go!” And with that James put on a burst of speed as they rounded the corner and he made his way towards the hiding spot. Clint meanwhile slowed up a little to grab two bits of broken asphalt, then he too made his way towards the alcove, where he just caught sight of James's head as it ducked around the corner of the stairs and out of sight. Clint wouldn't have time to take the stairs, the cop would be too close, and he needed an extra few seconds anyway to complete the ruse.

He calculate the angles and threw the first rock while still running. He then loosed the second one moments before he reached the railing above the alcove. With a touch to the railing, he shifted his forward momentum into pushing himself into the air and spun around to drop facing James. Taking two steps, he pressed himself against James against the wall, ensuring that the shadows swallowed them.

He could hear the cop's footfalls as the passed by and then allowed himself a small victorious smile as he heard the clang in the distance that meant his math had been correct and the rocks had ricocheted just so in order to make the cop think they'd run on ahead and turned left. They heard him curse and then the footfalls continued onward.

Soon Clint couldn't hear anything other than the sound of both his and James's breathing, still heavy from the run. They stood there for another minute, listening, waiting for a sign that the ruse hadn't worked, that the cop was returning. Eventually Clint's senses stopped straining to hear that and began to notice the situation he was currently in. How he was still pinning James to the wall. He chanced a look at James's face and he felt a frisson down his spine at the look in his eyes.

“I think we did it.” James said, voice hushed still, just in case. He licked his lips and Clint was helpless against tracking the movement and he knew that James knew that.

“Yeah. Should be safe,” he agreed. They were still pressed together.

“That little flip you did to get down here was something else.” Clint could feel the air as James spoke, and very nearly missed what the hell he was saying, so captivated was he by watching his lips form the words. He desperately wanted to trace them with his fingertips. Push past them so James could suck on his fingers, mimicking the way Clint would very much like him to suck on his cock. His lips would look fucking spectacular around Clint's cock. And that... that thought was sudden and a little out of place. He’d thought he was doing a rather good job of keeping those types of thoughts to the secrecy of his bedroom. Images like that were part of his dreams sure, but not a part of his waking life.

Clint felt like he was dreaming now as he leaned in, nose brushing against James's cheek, their lips barely touching, sharing short breaths... Just a tiny gap to close and he could have what he wanted...

A cat yowled nearby, chasing a rat or something, and the two of them ended up jerking apart guiltily.

“We should go before they come back,” Clint said, his face heating in shame. James didn't seem to notice however, grabbing his hand as they dashed back up the stairs and headed down the street again. They were silent as they made their way, hands falling apart when they eventually reached busier streets. Clint would be lying if he said he didn't miss it, hand flexing on instinct at the loss. Sooner than he expected, they arrived at Clint's hotel. James followed him around to the back door, secluded and more private and Clint's stomach did a little flip.

“So um... this was good, right?” James asked, his posture going shy all of a sudden, chin tucked in against his chest so he was looking up at Clint.

“Yeah,” he nodded, knowing he really, really shouldn't. “Even with the running from the cops.”

“Oh come on – that was the best part!” James said with a wink and a hint of his usual bravado.

Clint groaned in an exaggerated manner, throwing his head back and rolling his eyes as if he was actually put out. “Shoulda known you were a thrill seek-”

He was cut off as James suddenly leaned in to press their lips together. Clint's mind was still stuttering in an effort to process what was happening when James pulled away, smile bashful. He bit his lip, stuttered a quick goodnight, and was off back down the street before Clint fully processed what had happened.

 

~~|~~

 

Clint was saved from trying to figure out what to do or say to Bucky the following day by the fact that in Bucky picking up Robbie's shift the day before, Robbie had picked up Bucky's that day. Then Tuesday passed with Bucky having the day off as well. He found himself feeling disappointed by the fact that he hadn't seen him in days and immediately was annoyed because – wasn't that a good thing? Maybe a little distance was what they needed.

Because Bucky Barnes had fucking kissed him.

A chaste kiss to be certain, but a kiss nonetheless. And judging by the charged air between them in the alcove and the dancing before that, it would've been a whole lot more if they'd been somewhere private. He was skating on thin ice with this and he had no idea how to fix it. Because, God help him, he wanted it to happen. He'd been denying it in the silly hope that it would somehow go away, but (of course) it hadn't. He was attracted to Bucky and, okay, he could probably ignore that (he'd done it in the past) but he also really liked him. He was smart and funny and just a genuinely good man. It was easy to see why Steve had been over the moon for the guy.

And there was the rub - Steve. Because Steve Rogers was legitimately important to history whereas he – Clint Barton – was most assuredly not. If he ever ended up in the history books it would likely be as a footnote for being useless enough to get brainwashed by the enemy and nearly sabotage S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers' efforts to save the world.

And okay, even if Steve and Bucky weren't in a relationship, Steve's strong sense of right and wrong still meant he probably would go through with his attempts to join up. But, if Bucky was with someone else, would Steve and he still have gone to Stark Expo on a “double date”? It was there that he had drawn Erskine's attention, which allowed him to become Captain America. Clint sure as hell wasn't worthy of that honor. He couldn't even begin to wonder what the serum would do to him. Certainly nothing good. Not like it had with Steve. Clint wasn't going to help the Allies defeat Hydra and save the world.

The world needed Steve Rogers to become Captain America. And in order for that to happen Steve needed Bucky Barnes.

Clint's budding feelings for the man meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things and the sooner he got used to that idea and helped to convince Barnes that he was better off not getting involved with him, the better.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

September 21

 

“Damn, some sort of storm is kicking up some trouble out there,” Bucky said when he arrived for work on Wednesday. “It was as fine a day as you could want up until around an hour ago, and then all hell broke loose.”

“Oh yeah?” Clint asked, feigning only vague interest as he finished up his pre-shift meal. He'd slept for shit the night before, thoughts about Barnes running around in his head had kept him from falling asleep. And then the memory of Loki's cold blue light had made sure his sleep hadn't been long or restful.

“Yup,” Bucky replied, popping the 'p' like he tended to do when he was trying to be just a little bit obnoxious in his (what Clint was finally ready to admit was) flirting. “Blowing something fierce out there. If it keeps up I don't know how many people we might be getting tonight.”

“Slow evenings make for idle hands, something with the devil and all that?” Clint teased as he rose to return his plates. Bucky followed close on his heels and Clint did his best not to flinch at the nearness, though he could do nothing to dampen how hyper aware his senses were towards Bucky. How his body wanted to move towards him.

Sleep deprivation always made him a little twitchy and he had to admit he hadn't been getting nearly enough of late.

“You said it, not me,” Bucky replied with a grin, leaning against the bar in a way he knew made him look all the more attractive.

“I suppose I did,” Clint said.

“Hey – you okay?” Bucky's face went from his normal flirty default to concerned.

“Yeah, um. I just didn't get much sleep last night I guess.” Clint tried to shrug off the concern. And he certainly didn't want to admit to Bucky that he was part of the problem. It wasn't his fault that Clint managed to attract trouble wherever he went. Trouble this time around being inconvenient feelings (if he was being honest with himself, Clint often had inconvenient feelings.)

“Again?” And oh shit, here came Bucky's natural mother hen instincts. “You need to find a better place to stay.”

“I know. I know,” Clint said, agreeing partly to try and throw Bucky off the subject and partly because it really was true. He'd switched from hotel to hotel four times now since he'd landed in the time period.
The first time had simply been location – once he started working at Coney Island staying in midtown was a little foolish (a useful move considering his job now at The Violet Hour). But the second place he'd gotten had been a little too noisy and, even for Clint, annoying. The third place had actually asked him to leave due to noise complaints (one too many screaming nightmares didn't mix too well with the thin walls). The place he was at now wasn't the best but wasn't the worst either. He'd like to be paying a little less, but, it was Brooklyn. Even in the 1930's and coming out of a depression prices could be frustrating. He knew he should just give up and rent an apartment. He had a better base of money now and, truthfully, the longer he was stuck here the less likely it was that the brain-trust back home would be able to to do something to help him.

And that was probably why he was refusing to do it. There was something a little too final about finding and renting an apartment. Even if he didn't have much to put in it, he'd be putting down roots in a way that transient hotel stays didn't allow. It was like admitting he was stuck there in the past with no hope of rescue or return to his time.

“You take it easy. Maybe try and catch forty winks or something before we open. There's a spot in the storeroom that's comfy enough. I'll cover for you if Clarence asks,” Bucky said. “Not that he'd be upset, mind. It's good business keeping those pipes of yours in good condition.”

“Thanks,” Clint said with a smile. And okay, yes, he still needed to nip this thing with Bucky in the bud, but, that didn't mean they couldn't be friends. That he would be doing anything wrong right now in taking advantage of Bucky's kindness. It wasn't like he was offering to bed down with Clint or anything. “Maybe I will.”

“And maybe later if we have time we could...talk...” And it was a little strange, because Bucky's expression went all shy again. Much like it had the other night before he'd kissed Clint. It threw him for a loop now just as it had then, because outside of that Bucky had been more blatant with his flirting.

What the hell was going on?

“Sure,” he agreed. Talking was what was best right now. Talking Bucky out of pursuing anything with him.

“Good.” Bucky said, then reached out to put a hand to Clint's shoulder. “Good. Get some rest. One of us will come and grab you when we need you.”

Clint wasn't sure why, but as Bucky's hand trailed down his arm when Clint moved away he allowed his own to shift, fingertips trailing lightly against Bucky's arm in turn until they caught for the briefest of moments with his fingers and then Clint was making his way towards the storeroom.

 

~~

 

Clint had had every intention to use the time in the storeroom to think about what he should say to Bucky. How he was going to let him down gently. Of course the second he'd settled into the ridiculously comfortable chair next to the tiny desk that had been crammed into the back corner of the storeroom, he had swiftly fallen asleep.

He was awoken an unknown amount of time later when someone carefully brushed a lock of hair from his forehead (it was getting long – he was going to have to look into cutting it). Clint held very still at first, long years of training helping him wake up immediately, deciding it was better to get his bearings while the other person believed he was still asleep. It took only seconds to recall he was in the storeroom at The Violet Hour and he listened carefully as whoever had touched him shifted their weight and sighed.

Clint opened his eyes and was oddly unsurprised to find Bucky standing there watching him, his expression unreadable.

“How long was I out for?” Clint asked quietly after the silence between the two of them had stretched on for several minutes. He wanted to ask how long Bucky had been standing over him.

“'Bout an hour or so,” Bucky eventually replied, eyes still trained on Clint. “Clarence said we're gonna be open out front but not in the back unless any of our usuals need somewhere to go.”

“You gonna head out then? I bet Steve will be worried.”

“Steve's fine,” Bucky replied, his voice sounding distracted. “Told him I'd stay put if it looked bad.”

“Oh...” Clint said lamely, shifting so he was sitting up more properly rather than slouching. “That's um. That's a good idea.” If Clint was a better man, the way Bucky was looking him would have been making him uncomfortable. Instead, it made him feel alive inside in a way he hadn't for years.

“Yeah...” Bucky replied, eyes honing in on Clint's mouth. And then he was bending and leaning in and pressing their lips together again. It took a few chaste brushes before Bucky pressed harder against Clint with a frustrated little noise that he was helpless to resist, standing from the chair to pull Bucky flush against him and opening his mouth to him. He really wasn't sure which of them groaned when their tongues made contact, he was too busy focusing on how silky Bucky's hair felt as he cradled the back of his head in one hand, the other sliding down to his hip, gripping tight as the kiss deepened.

“Bucky...” Clint whispered, running his thumb over Bucky's kiss plumped lower lip when they parted for breath.

“James,” he corrected him, kissing the pad of Clint's thumb.

“James,” Clint agreed, slipping his thumb down to run over his chin then tilt his face to press another kiss to his lips. “What is this?” he mumbled, lips ghosting across James's as he spoke.

“Getting to know one another?” James grinned against him, managing without much trouble to coax him into another deep kiss, fisting his hands in the back of Clint's shirt as if he was worried he might try to move away.

He should have moved away. He should be putting a stop to this.

Clint never had been very good at doing what he should do.

“Shh...easy, easy,” he mouthed along James's jaw. “M'not going anywhere.”

“Promise?” James asked before immediately pulling him back for another kiss that made him groan at how good it felt. “Been after you for what feels like forever.” A biting kiss along Clint's neck. “Been going insane wondering if I was reading things wrong.”

Clint made a distressed noise and he kissed James again. He hadn't wanted to upset him, he'd just... he'd just...

“M'sorry. M'sorry.” he pressed light kisses against James's cheeks. “It's just you... and I...”

“It's okay,” James smiled and held a finger to Clint's lips to stop his stammering flow of words. “It's okay, I think I get it now.”

'No you really don't,' Clint thought guiltily as they kissed again, gentle and full of feelings. 'And I'm an asshole that you really should be running from. The jerk taking advantage of you.’ And with that thought Clint abruptly pulled out of the kiss, pressing his forehead against James’s and gasping for breath. What was he doing?

James seemed a little confused at first and then chuckled as he said: “Wait - don’t tell me you’re as new to this as me?”

“What?”

James hummed, rubbing his nose against Clint’s, pressed a quick kiss to his chin. “For all my talk I’ve never done more than this with another man.”

“Nothing? Ever?”

“Nope,” James popped the ‘p’ again.“Wanted to a few times, but never enough to try, not until you,” he said, grinning toothily and biting at Clint’s chin. “But you... the way you are, how you talk and move... You’ve been with other men before, right?”

Clint didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. James - Bucky - wasn’t interested in him, or at least a relationship with him; he’d just identified Clint as being experienced and likely willing to teach him a few things. It made sense too. Because Bucky loved Steve and, well, it was likely neither of them had been with another man so of course Bucky would want to test things out before he said anything to Steve. Clint was, in essence, a practice boyfriend.

“I have,” he said, despite suddenly feeling miserable.

“I was waiting for you to take the lead in all of this,” James continued. “With your experience and everything and, like I said, I was sure I was reading you right – that you were into me.”

“I am,” Clint breathed, mind racing. He could have gotten out of this by refuting that but he couldn't lie. “I'm very into you.” God he was so into Bu-James it was ridiculous. How did these things keep happening to him?

“But with everything that happened with Phil...”

And there it was. James thought Clint was reluctant to get into a relationship because of his unrequited feelings for Coulson. Which, he was a nice guy so it made sense he didn't want to hurt Clint by having a fling with him. He knew that Clint had wanted at least one long term relationship recently and that he hadn't been prone to one night stands or short little things

Sad thing was Clint was getting to be gone enough on James by this point that he'd gladly take whatever he could get with him. If all he could have was a brief fling while Steve and Bucky worked out whatever it was that was going to happen with them he'd probably take it. It wasn't like he had a future with James anyway. Not with the war looming. Not with his fate in it. Not to mention the fact that Clint could be whisked back to the future at any point, so really the whole thing was just going to end badly for him no matter what.

Perhaps it was that final depressing thought that had Clint saying what the hell and throwing caution to the wind and kissing James again. He might as well enjoy himself for as long as he could. Fleeting moments were all he ever got in the end.

 

~~

 

“D'y'know someone said they think this storm out there is a hurricane.” Cecil said as he surveyed his hand. “A hurricane, way up here in New York.”

“Moving too quick for that if you ask me.”

“I don't think anyone asked you, Stan.” James said with a grin.

“Shut it Barnes,” Stan replied. “What's got you in such a good mood anyhow?”

“What? Now a man needs a reason to be in a good mood?”

“You've been looking like a cat that got-” Cecil said, pausing as he got a good look at Clint, and how he was studiously avoiding looking at James all of the sudden. “The cream.”

“No way.” Stan said. Robbie cackled from beside him.

“I,” he paused just barely, “have no idea what you are insinuating,” James said, barely able to keep a smile from his face. It didn't help that he couldn't stop sneaking glances at Clint.

“Oh man, Armando is going to be so pissed he missed this.” Robbie said between bouts of laughter.

“Clinton my dear, you're being quite - withdrawn at the moment.” Clarence said, the smallest of smiles playing on his lips. “Is everything all right?”

“Cat got your tongue?” Cecil asked, and he and Robbie just lost it again, especially when Stan leaned behind James to make a meowing noise.

Even James was laughing by that point, and Clint smiled and closed his eyes as he brought a hand up to the back of his neck. “Something like that?” he said, opening his eyes and attempting to will the blush away.

“You guys were in the back an awful long time, oh man, I'm not going to like be scarred and have to clean anything up am I?” Robbie went from amused to horrified in a second flat.

“It was just a little kissing,” James said at the same time Clint replied with “We were only getting to know one another.”

“Well I'd say you know each other quite well already with how you've been flirting like it was the end of the world the last month.” Cecil pointed out.

“Or was that in the biblical sense?”

“We didn't get naked or anything close to it,” James replied. And dare Clint wonder if he looked a little frustrated by that?

“Did you need like help or something with that?” Robbie asked. “I mean we know you're just a baby Barnes, but I woulda thought Clint knew a thing or two-”

“Clint does know a thing or two, thank you, no pointers are needed.”

“You sure? Cause I imagine me an' Cecil could-”

“Excuse you, you and Cecil could not,” Cecil said, mock-outraged. “My husband is a forgiving man but I am not going to be kissing the likes of you Robbie O'Neill.”

“Aww c'mon man,” and Robbie made kissing noises at Cecil, getting a hand to the face for his efforts as everyone ended up laughing outright.

Clint couldn't keep the smile off of his face as the laughter died out and the ribbing continued back and forth around the table. These really were good people he'd managed to surround himself with. A nice little makeshift family. No matter what would happen with James he had to admit he'd gotten lucky being sent back in time to this period, to have found himself surrounded by these people.

“Clint could use a place you know,” James mentioned later on, as the game was winding down.

“I'm good finding something on my own,” Clint insisted. He must have checked out of the conversation at some point to have missed how they'd gotten to this subject.

“Well as it happens you don't need to do that Clinton. I have an opening just down the street,” Clarence informed him

“Oh I couldn't possibly-”

“Kelda would love having you as a neighbor.”

Ahhh...and there it was, a good reason for him not to say no.

“Alright, I suppose I could take a look at the place.” Clint relented, knowing full well what had happened last time he'd said that to Clarence.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

September 30th

 

 

“Peace in our time,” James slammed the newspaper down on the bar with a derisive snort.

“Now now,” Tim said, drying glasses. “What's wrong with that?”

“Hitler is a bully, one shouldn't capitulate to the demands of a bully lest they begin to push for more and more,” Clarence intoned sagely as he helped wipe down glasses. Tim's face remained confused.

“He means,” Clint began, gnawing horror in his stomach, “That by letting him get away with claiming this bit of land now he's just going to continue to ask for more and more.”

“I still don't see a problem,” Tim replied. “It makes sense that he just wants to unite the German people. He won't ask for more.”

No, no he soon wouldn't be asking for more, Clint thought darkly as the topic moved on to other things lest Tim and James begin to argue. Soon Hitler wouldn't be asking at all, he'd just start taking.

 

~~|~~

 

Early October

 

The move had taken a laughably short amount of time because, as Clint had tried to explain, he didn't have much. Several changes of clothing was about all he had, some dishes and a few other kitchen accouterments and that was it. James had given him a look when he'd seen everything packed up, and another look when he was helping unpack and Clint was resigned to the idea that he was inevitably going to be getting house warming gifts from at least a few members of the band and club staff within the following weeks. Robbie had begged off after helping move the boxes and Clarence and Kelda had left not long after the unpacking finished and after Clint had turned down and offer of dinner from them.

That meant he was left alone with James.

“So you're good with me paying you back with kisses for helping me move, hm?” Clint asked when they broke for air. He felt more than saw James's responding smile.

“I'm sure something can be arranged,” James murmured, ghosting his lips against Clint's, his hands restlessly smoothing up and down his sides like he didn't quite know what to do with them.

Clint brushed his lips up James’s jawline then circled around his ear with the tip of his nose as he whispered, “What do you want?” He smiled briefly as James whined in response, his hands clenching at Clint's hips as he kissed under his ear. “Anything you want, I'm all yours.” James whined again as he yanked Clint's head back in order to smash their mouths together in an inelegant and desperate kiss. Clint could feel him trembling and he gentled the kissing, curling one hand against the side of James's face, murmuring soft nonsensical things in between presses of their lips.

“I don't...” James panted. “What should...?” His eyes looked huge in the dim light and his face impossibly young.

“How about we just find out what feels good hm?”

James laughed a little brokenly. “It's been a while so m'pretty sure everything's feeling good right now.”

“I'm going to take that as a personal challenge then,” Clint pressed his teeth against James's neck but didn't bite down, earning him another strangled sounding laugh and a hand tightening in his hair. It gave him brief thoughts about James's hands in his hair guiding Clint's head down to his cock, holding him in place as he fucked into his mouth. It was a great thought, one he still didn't want to admit to having thought about before, and he put a little extra into his next kiss, wanting James to feel as breathless as he was.

“How's this?” Clint began breaking for air again, panting for breath against James's lips. “We keep our clothes on,” James whined and Clint soothed him with a kiss. “We keep out clothes on and we just see what happens.”

And that's how Clint ended up making out for hours with James Barnes in his bed. They could've easily gone further, God did he want to go further, but he was still scared of how deeply he felt about James, how he made him feel, and it felt like he had to keep some boundary up else he'd end up losing himself.

It was only a matter of time really.

 

~~|~~

 

This was a bad idea. This was such a bad idea. This was the kind of thing that, if Clint believed in such things as heaven and hell, would likely send him straight to hell. But he couldn't help it, backing James into the wall and sliding a thigh between his legs, giving him something to rock against as their kisses became more heated. Then, without any hesitation, he dropped to his knees.

“What? Wha-” James's voice cut off into a huff of breath and a choked off noise as Clint nuzzled against the bulge in his pants. “You. Are you... Oh my God...”

Clint yanked James's shirt from his pants, pressing kisses against the trail of hair low on his belly as his hands made short work of the buckle of his belt. Clint glanced up as James's pants fell to the floor, meeting his gaze steadily as he guided his underwear carefully down as well, exposing his cock to the cool air in the storeroom. James was a little longer than Clint and cut, Clint couldn't quite recall if that was supposed to have been common or not at the time and then wondered why exactly he cared.

“What're you-” James sighed quietly, words forgotten as Clint gave him a few strokes, getting a feel for his weight, letting him adjust to the sensation. “What're you doing?”

“Enjoying the view?” Clint replied, licking his hand for a little more lubrication before stroking James again.

“Enjoying huh? Many to compare to?” James was probably trying for cavalier but Clint was pretty sure he could detect a hint of nerves in his voice. Was he worried about measuring up?

“I've seen my share of dicks, but yours is damn nice. Top shelf.” Not that Clint rated cocks or anything. Well, he did, but... He shook his head on a smile as James laughed brokenly. Clint licked the tip briefly, savoring the taste of pre-come and the quiet sound it drew from James, then continued stroking lightly up and down.

“Clint.” Clint's eyes glanced up and met James's. “Please.” Clint wasn't sure James knew exactly what he was asking for, his eyes so wide that the blue was nearly swallowed up by the black.

Clint had missed this. Going to his knees for a man. The feel and taste of a cock in his mouth. Loved the sounds James made from above him, the way he trembled slightly under the hand Clint had at his hip.

He pulled off with a light pop and James whined in a way that did wonders for Clint's ego. “Just – just put your hands in my hair. Let me do all the work baby, okay?” His eyes met James's again and he nodded down at Clint. “Maybe next time I'll let you pull my hair, hold me still and fuck my face.” And God was that a deliciously distracting thought, even as Clint berated himself for saying later. Later wasn't something he should be thinking about.

He went back to work and it wasn't long before James became really worked up, before his hands tightened just that little bit more in Clint's hair. “Clint. Fuck, Clint. Oh God, I'm gonna, I'm gonna.” Clint buried his nose his nose in the hair at the base of James's cock, swallowing around him and getting a thrill when he cried out Clint's name as he came, nearly doubling over on himself (and Clint) from the strength of it

Clint was still milking James of the last spurts of come when he reached down to give that last little bit of friction he needed before coming himself. He let James slip free from his mouth and rested his head against his thigh, panting lightly and just enjoying the little shivers running through his body from his orgasm.

James tilted his head up and ran his finger over Clint's lips.

“W-we should clean up before Robbie comes down looking for something.” Clint eventually said, desperately trying to ignore the emotion he saw in James's gaze.

“Wouldn't want to traumatize the poor guy,” James agreed.

Clint got to his feet and turned to do just that until James stopped him with a hand pulling on his tie, he turned to see what was wrong and accepted a quick affectionate kiss with some confusion. It made him stop short and hold still even as James stopped looking at him and proceeded to tuck himself away.

Affection and sex weren't mutually exclusive at all, hell for most people they were tied together, but Clint still hadn't been expecting it. Not considering what he'd been assuming they were sharing.

“Best fix your hair Magic Man, you look like you just rolled out of bed. James winked at him, expression fond.

“Wonder whose fault that is?” Clint teased before excusing himself to head to the washroom. The fond smile James had given him branded in his mind just as strongly as how James had looked when he came.

 

~~|~~

 

Guess it's true I'm not good at a one night stand
But I still need love 'cause I'm just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don't want you to leave will you hold my hand?

Three nights later Clint was on his knees again for James, swallowing him down and nearly coming in his pants again as James shook above him. It was all he could do to hide the fact that he was still erect as he excused himself to the washroom as soon as possible, shoving his hand into his pants and coming within an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Why am I so emotional?
No it's not a good look gain some self control
And deep down I know this never works
But you can lay with me so it doesn't hurt

The hallway was thankfully empty when he emerged after cleaning and straightening up as best he could, and he thanked whatever deity was listening that he'd taken the time to finish himself, because the looks James was shooting him from the bar during his last set of the night were heated enough that it took all of his will power (and a few thoughts of unsexy things like Bea Arthur and cleaning the elephant cages at the circus) to keep himself from getting hard all over again.

Oh won't you stay with me?
Cause you're all I need
This ain't love, it's clear to see
But darling, stay with me

 

~~|~~

 

The third time it happened he was pressing soft kisses to James's neck afterwards, content that while he was still erect and turned on, his pants were a little looser and he was not so far along that he was going to explode if he shifted the wrong way. He'd easily make it home before beating off to the mental image of James's head thrown back as he came and then proceed to feel guilty because he was turning into a dirty old man that could potentially fuck up the timeline because he couldn't keep it in his pants.

He was a little surprised when James slipped a finger under his chin, guiding him up to share a lingering kiss. And even more surprised when the kiss was followed by nuzzling and one of his arms slipping around Clint into a hug.

“I think that feels better every time you do it,” James muttered against him. It was an awkwardly close angle but Clint could see his eyes were closed, expression content.

“Yeah?” Clint felt warmth blossom in his chest and then felt like an idiot because he shouldn't be feeling such affection, he couldn't afford to get close. He'd just been thanked for an awesome blow job for fuck's sake, not something deeper, something genuinely emotional.

“Yeah,” James replied, eyes opening back up as he pulled away a little so they could see one another better.

“Well then, you're welcome and uh – thanks on the vote of confidence in my skills.” James chuckled at that and Clint felt his dick twitch because fucking hell that was a sexy sound.

“What about you?” James asked, pressing a kiss to Clint's chin.

“What about me?” Clint asked, raising a brow when James's eyes met his again.

“Well...” James drew the word out in a lazy drawl, which was also ridiculously sexy. “You didn't come.”

“Sure I did.” Clint was proud that his voice didn't end up rising at the end and making that sound like a question. Still, it wasn't enough to get James to drop the subject because he raised a brow right back at Clint and, with deliberate movements, slid his free hand down to Clint's groin to cup his erection. He hissed as his hips jerked against James. “Um...I can explain?”

“I heard you last time, you know. In the bathroom. I was listening right outside the door.”

“Oh God,” Clint groaned. James wasn't even doing anything. His hand was just cupping Clint, not even tightly, not moving at all, but his voice... The idea that he'd been listening when Clint had come while thinking about him...

“Why didn't you let me see? Why did you lie?”

“I don't know...”

“Are you ashamed of something? Scars or-”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Is it me then? Are you worried that I'll run the other way if I see a dick?”

“I don't...maybe? I can't... Sorry...” Clint knew he was babbling but he was at a loss as to what to say. James managed to save him though, sweeping him up into a deep kiss that made him tingle all the way to his toes, his hips twitching, pushing him against James's hand, searching for friction.

“I want to see you,” James breathed against his mouth. “I want to watch you touch yourself.” He licked a stripe up Clint's throat. “Can I watch you make yourself come?”

It took everything in Clint to stop himself from mindlessly rutting against James until he did just that. And hey, chances were they'd both enjoy that a lot, but fuck, he didn't want to disappoint James at all.

James Buchanan Barnes wanted to watch him masturbate. Okay then.

“Sometimes you scare me a little,” Clint said quietly, tense against James, hands in fists at his side in an effort not to touch him.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” James asked, equally quiet, suddenly he was a little harder to read. His hand still stayed against Clint's cock though.

“I don't know yet,” Clint replied then swallowed heavily, making up his mind. “But being a little scared and not knowing something hasn't stopped me before,” and with that he took James's free hand in his.

“Take me home.”

 

~~

 

The trip to his apartment was a blur and Clint didn't know if he was glad he lived so close or upset because he no longer lived so far away. Part of him, the traitorous, self-conscious part, still wanted to talk him out of doing this. Reminded him of all the ways it wouldn't end well for him. Trouble was, he was having a hard time thinking about those reasons as James backed him into his bedroom with intent.

“Need a little help getting back to where we were?” James asked, pressing biting kisses to Clint's jaw and reaching down to grab his ass in both hands and pull him closer.

“Fuck!” Clint said with feeling, his hips getting with the program right away, rolling against the firm thigh James had pushed between his legs. He kind of desperately wanted those thighs wrapped around him.

“Well, right now you're wearing way too much for anything,” James replied, mouthing along his neck. His clever fingers worked in between them and before Clint knew it, removed his vest. “I don't think I've ever told you how fucking sexy you look in this thing,” he said as he dropped the vest onto the floor.

“How do I look out of it?” Clint managed.

“Getting better,” James winked.

“So do I get less sexy in my shirt or...?”

James stopped working on the buttons so he could shove Clint lightly and roll his eyes. “Less fishing for compliments Magic Man and more getting naked.”

Between the two of them they took care of the buttons on his shirt and it joined the vest on the floor. Shoes and socks went and then his pants joined the pile and James took a few steps back to watch. With careful movements Clint eased his underwear down and let them fall to the floor. He felt uncharacteristically self-conscious standing naked before James, fighting the urge to shift back and forth on his feet. His body was still in very good condition, even though his diet and exercise hadn't been up to his normal standards – he'd loss some muscle but he thought he still looked good.

“Damn...” James said softly, eyes impossibly dark as he swept his gaze up and down Clint's body. “I really want to touch you...” he licked his lips as his eyes dipped down to Clint's erection.

“Go ahead,” Clint replied, and God he was blushing – what was it about James that made his body react like this? “I won't bite unless you ask me to.”

James smiled and rolled his eyes but he still reached out to touch. Clint's eyes closed at the first brush of James's fingers against his chest and he concentrated on breathing and memorizing how his long fingers felt as they explored his torso. Curiosity eventually sated, James spread his hands on Clint's chest and pushed lightly.

“On the bed, please.”

Clint probably wouldn't win many points for grace as he slid himself up the bed, shifting around until he was comfortable. He glanced up towards James, and at his nod, reached down to take his erection in hand. He groaned at the first contact after having been wound up for so long, eyes slipping shut as his hand fell into an easy rhythm, pre-come smoothing the way.

“What are you thinking about?” James asked, his voice sounding husky.

“You,” Clint replied easily. He supposed he could have lied, but by now what would be the point? “I'm thinking about you. I-” He let out a little gasp. “I always think about you.” The slide of his hand felt so good. The only thing that would feel better would be if it were James's hand.

“What about me?”

“You-your hands, how good it would be if you were touching me.” Clint reached down with his free hand to tug and fondle his balls, biting his lip as the whine that had been building broke through. “God – your cock, how it feels, how you taste-” his voice broke on a moan as he brushed a finger dry over his hole.

“Clint? Clint, look at me.”

He'd lost himself for a minute there and it took more energy than he cared to admit to open his eyes; and when he managed, Clint felt like he had the breath punched out of his chest at the sight before him. James had unbuttoned his shirt completely, his chest bare underneath, his belt hanging loose off the ends of his open pants. His bottom lip was bright red like he'd been biting it, the color was high on his cheeks, and his hand was absently stroking his own erection.

“Fuck me,” Clint muttered, increasing his pace. James had no visible reaction, so he was pretty sure he hadn't heard him. That was probably a good thing even if it meant Clint was now thinking about what it would be like to ride James. How good he'd fill him up. “Ah God,” his hips jerked and he knew he was getting close but he didn't want to come. Not yet. Not when it meant that whatever was happening might end.

“What else are you thinking about?” At some point Clint's eyes had fallen back shut and he'd maybe lost a little more time because James sounded closer somehow and he could hear the strain in his voice. How worked up he was as well.

“You, just you, the look on your face when you come – ah!” his hips jerked again and he was so very close. “James, please-” He didn't know if he was asking for permission to come or not, but he thought he felt a hot gust of breath against his ear and that was good enough because he came soon after with a whine, spilling over his hand and chest.

He was still floating a little on the high from his orgasm when he heard and felt James panting against his ear, little noises with the breaths and then he moaned and pressed his face into the side of Clint's head as he came, his mouth open though no sounds came out.

He'd just made Bucky Barnes come twice within an hour.

Okay, fine, he was a 21-year old with an apparently high sex-drive and a quick refractory period, but still. Twice. In an hour. Fuck.

He could feel the laughter bubbling up in his chest and he did his best to resist it for as long as he could but it eventually broke free and he chuckled. James shifted against him and Clint turned his head to press a quick kiss to whatever he could reach (his nose, as it turned out) before the next laugh hit him. Soon after, James began laughing as well and they ended up slumped together laughing themselves silly.

“So – yeah. That was-” Nope. Talking still wasn't going to work.

“It certainly was,” James laughed against him, rubbing his nose against Clint's between chuckles.

Clint turned onto his side so he could face James. His hand reached up of its own accord, to smooth some hair back from his forehead and he trailed fingertips down his jawline as their shared laughter slowly began to peter out. He was so beautiful in that moment of simple pleasure it made something in Clint's chest ache.

This wasn’t going to be about just sex for him. He was already strolling down the road of falling for James.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Halloween Eve 1938

 

Clint had been excited the entire week before Halloween. Not so much for the holiday itself (though he loved it immensely he also figured it wasn't really celebrated all that much at the time) but rather for what was going to happen the evening before it. It was 1939 and on October 30th Orson Welles would be performing his infamous (in Clint's time) broadcast of The War of the Worlds.

James had agreed to come over to spend time with Clint and it took a bit of coaxing to get him to agree to listen to The Mercury Theater on the Air rather than The Chase and Sanborn Hour. They ended up turning it on just in time to get the theme music and then heard the announcement that tonight's episode was going to be an adaptation of The War of the Worlds. And then Welles's voice launched into the introduction of the story, which when finished faded into a weather report that eventually became a music show.

"The least you could do is dance with me Barton," James said, hand out in invitation when the first musical interlude began. Clint nodded and stepped in close to him, attempting to quell the butterflies that suddenly took flight when he got close to James. It was stupid really, he'd had the guy's dick down his throat for fuck's sake. They'd been naked together several times now. And yet, there he was, nervous about being close to a fully clothed James Barnes. How was dancing with a man more scarily intimate than sex with him?

Clint wasn't allowed too much time to be nervous however as the first break-in interrupted with the reports of explosions of incandescent gas on the surface of Mars.

A second break in happened and James sighed. It was short however and he pulled Clint in a little closer, only to get a few more steps in before the next break-in took them to “Princeton” for a lengthy period of time. James groaned and stepped away, flopping onto Clint's couch. Clint sat next to him, patting his leg. “It'll get more interesting.”

"Well there's how you can tell it's fake," James said, Brooklyn fairly dripping from his drawl when the "news" cut to report that strange objects were falling on a farm in Grover's Mill. "They're landing in Jersey. Ain't no one looking for intelligent life in Jersey." Clint laughed despite the squirmy feeling in his belly because of that damned accent and what it did to him, then punched James very lightly in the arm and shushed him. James laughed, smug grin on his face (the jerk knew, he had to know, what his voice did to Clint), but fell silent again.

James reached out and pressed a kiss to Clint's hand when the final brief musical interlude happened and then the show really started to get going with the reports from Grover's Mill. Clint wasn't sure why he did that but he squirreled that thought away for another time as the show began to get good. The Martians were starting to emerge from their cylinders.

Clint moved closer to the radio as the Martians used their heat ray, moving almost unconsciously as the story progressed. There was no other word for it really, he was utterly enchanted by it all.

"What?" Clint laughed but it was a nervous sound, the look James was giving him made the butterflies in his stomach do a few laps. "What's that look for?"

"Absolutely no reason Magic Man," James said with a grin. "You're just too adorable for words is all."

"M'not adorable," Clint muttered, neck warming. Despite his mutterings to the contrary, he was actually pleased, though he couldn't exactly say why. It was silly, enjoying the fact that James found him adorable. Then again, maybe he needed more silly things in his life.

 

~~

 

Clint was a little sad the following day when it turned out that only he and Robbie had happened to listen to the show. Very few of the patrons knew what Robbie was talking about and Clint couldn't make sense of it. Wasn't it supposed to have been a big thing? Caused mass hysteria? The newspaper had claimed that and it took him most of the evening to realize why - because radio was the new invention of the time of course the old guard such as newspapers would claim mass hysteria to try and discredit anything done on the radio.

Still, despite the show not being as big as he had been led to believe he had enjoyed it and decided it was one of the biggest perks to being back in time.

 

~~|~~

 

They were tucked in together after another round of orgasms, Clint fighting his body's instinct to doze (he was sated, warm, and James was a comforting presence at his side). But he knew the closer he got to sleep the closer he got to losing that presence and some of that warmth, and though they'd only done this a few times so far he'd learned that falling asleep once James left was very difficult. For his part James seemed blissfully unaware of Clint's problems, his fingers playing over Clint's chest in a non-sexual way. Clint enjoyed it far too much for his sanity.

Touch starved, one of the therapists at S.H.I.E.L.D. had said as a way to explain why Clint seemed to crave physical contact so much. One of the many things he could blame on his unconventional upbringing. He hadn't been hugged and touched with kind hands as a child and young adult so as an adult he craved it. Of course, as an adult, he'd also built up a healthy distrust of most other people – also thanks to his upbringing. It was a terrible dichotomy to live with.

Clint had come to notice over the years that he liked to be tactile with the few people he was close enough to to allow them into his space like that, and it was a lovely revelation that James seemed to be the same way. Well. Lovely for now, he reminded himself.

“What's this one from?” James asked, voice a deeper rumble than usual.

“Hmm?” Clint opened his eyes and turned his head towards where James was propped up on one arm so he could look down at Clint's chest.

“This scar,” James ran a finger lightly over the jagged edge along his ribs. “What happened?”

Clint was instantly wide awake, a cold rush sweeping through his body.

“It looks bad,” James continued, passing his finger over it again, seemingly unaware of the change in Clint.

“It almost killed me,” Clint admitted and James's bright gray-blue eyes jerked up meet Clint's, his face a mask of concern. James’s hand unconsciously flattening over the scar as if to protect Clint from the wound after the fact. Clint knew James would likely let him not talk about it if he didn't want to, he was curious sure, but respectful of Clint's boundaries.

“That scar, and two others, are how I ended up leaving the circus I was raised in.”

“Shit.” James was an intelligent man and Clint knew he was putting two and two together. Clint had already told him he'd left the circus because his brother and his mentor had been up to some illegal shit that he wanted no part of – he just hadn't mentioned how violent the parting had been. “You don't have to – maybe we shouldn't ruin a nice evening-”

“It's alright James,” Clint interrupted, sliding his hand to cover the one James had on his ribs. “I can talk about it.” He hadn't talked about it in so long, maybe now was the time to do so again. James leaned down to press a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth and Clint smiled at the concerned look in his eyes.

“Trick and Barney weren't happy with the pay Carson was providing – I know Trick's share dropped when I became a headliner over him and I don't know how much Barney was pulling with the odd jobs and guest spots so they'd taken to heading into the towns we were in to rob places. They actually tried to rope me into helping out with that at first. Needed a lookout and all that. I said no to that, and they really weren't pleased. And when I said I wouldn't tell anyone I thought they'd let it drop. I suppose I should've gone to the cops or something – but it was my brother, you know? He'd been there for me when we were younger and I guess...I guess I was too young and stupid-”

“You weren't stupid, you were how old?”

“Fifteen.”

“Shit. No. Not stupid. He was your brother. Brothers stick together, they stand up for each other. They don’t - they don’t sell the other out for money. They’re supposed’ta get each other outta scrapes, not set the other up.”

Maybe if he’d been telling any other story Clint would’ve noted how pronounced the Brooklyn in James’s voice got when he was emotional.

Maybe if he’d been in a better frame of mind he’d notice better how emotional James was about him.

“The final straw came when I found them robbing Carson himself.” It was eerie, how clearly he could still see that scene in his mind. How fifteen years vanished so easily. “Not sure how long they'd been doing that, but – I saw them go into the trailer and I just – I went in after them. Barney had a throwing knife on him, dodged that but not the blow to the head Trick gave me.”

“Woke up in the big tent – they'd strung me up on the 'round'.” How quickly he could recall being fifteen and waking up to his whole world going horribly wrong. “Turns out they'd nearly been nabbed on their last robbery – one of the ones they'd asked me to take part in. They thought it was me, that I'd said something. I hadn't – I dunno if the cops got lucky or if someone else saw something. Maybe they'd been sloppy...”

He’d begged, he wasn’t proud of that, but he had pleaded with them to believe him. Insisted he hadn’t had anything to do with their near capture.

“They didn't believe me, of course, and they took turns with the knives. Barely nicking me while they asked their questions except for here,” a fine line on his left leg, “and here,” another line on his right arm.

“And then Barney picked up my bow...” James made a wounded noise that Clint almost didn’t notice. too wrapped up in his memories. It was probably that noise that kept him from fully flashing back, the warmth of James’s concern that kept the cold of the betrayal at bay.

“They left me there and I probably would have died except for the fact that our lion tamer was up looking after one of the cats and found me some time after they left. They took me to the hospital but it wasn't like the circus could afford to stick around while I healed.”

Abandonment was a big theme in his life, though he didn't blame Carson for leaving him behind. He could have just been left to die, after all. He’d even left behind Clint’s pay and a little extra - just enough to pay a few of the bills until he was healthy enough to bail and find somewhere else to go. He’d briefly entertained thoughts about trying to join back up with Carsons - he knew their route well enough, but that ship had sailed and he never went back.

James pushed up, his chest sliding against Clint's, face hovering over his. The hand that had been covering the scar raised to his face to cup his cheek gently as he leaned in to kiss him, soft and sweet and lingering.

“Thank you.” James said as he pulled back.

“For what?”

“For trusting me enough to share that with me.” He ran his thumb over Clint's lips, his expression hard to read. “I know it couldn't have been easy.”

“Thanks for listening,” Clint replied, eyes slipping shut once more when James smiled and kissed him again.

 

~~|~~

 

Clint was awake and dressed but not much else could be said for his alertness when there was a knock on his door on the morning of November 11. He was surprised to see James, who entered even before Clint could offer and he shut the door, a little confused. James paced back and forth a few times, his face troubled, and Clint stood out of his way wondering what was going on. It was entirely too early for James to be coming over for anything more carnal in nature and it confused Clint perhaps more than it should. He still didn't know how to act around James sometimes when they weren't having sex.

James's agitation shined through every line of his body and Clint wanted to help, but he didn't even know what was wrong. Finally James thumped a newspaper down onto his coffee table and Clint took a step over to read the headline. 'Nazis smash, loot and burn Jewish shops and temples until Goebbels calls halt'

Oh. Clint thought as cold washed over him. Well that was, that was...he had no words for what it was really. Chilling. Numbing. Nothing seemed quite right.

“My mother is Jewish.” James said.

Oh fuck.

“Guess that means I am too. Well, technically,” James continued to pace. “I mean. I never did... much of anything? I can speak some Yiddish, understand some Hebrew but...” He paused. “I wasn't raised into it. She was, but again only partially – her parents came over from the old country for a reason you know?” He waved almost carelessly at the paper and Clint's mind went to the camps he knew would spring up. Maybe some already had? The violence that kept striking Jewish communities. How hard life was for them even before the Holocaust.

“So when she married my dad my grandparents, they weren't upset – at least not to the point they admitted it to her openly. She adapted. She fit in.” She put that all behind her, was left unsaid. Both the good and the bad. It made him sad and angry for James. For his mother and his grandparents. Part of their identity was basically stolen from them. And sure they, in part, were choosing to let go of it 'adapt' as James referred to it. but Clint couldn't help but think how that was a decision made under duress. How the threat of violence against them made them choose to give up part of themselves.

“And then something like that happens...” Clint said quietly and suddenly the anger, the fight, went out of James and he sagged onto the couch. Instinctively Clint went to him, sitting beside him with careful movements. Should he touch James? Would it be welcome? And then James melted into Clint as soon as he placed a tentative hand on his shoulder, which then turned into an arm around his shoulders.

“My mother is Jewish enough, hell I'm Jewish enough that under German law-” James stopped, unable to finish the sentence. Clint knew what he meant though. Under German law something like last night could happen to them and no one would do anything.

“It won't come to that. Not here,” Clint said, hoping more conviction came out in his voice than he felt. Fascism was a thing in the US both in his time and back then-now-whatever. There were enough Nazi sympathizers to make things uncomfortable, he didn't have to be a historian or time traveler to know that much. “Besides – anyone wants to come for you or your family has to answer to me.” Clint vowed, trying not to think too hard about what he was promising.

“My hero,” James replied, cracking a small tremulous smile finally and accepting the kiss Clint pressed to his temple. It hurt him to see James so scared about something and for once he didn't remind himself that theirs was a physical relationship and he gave in to his emotions, wanting nothing more than to protect James, and his family, from the world around them.

“Why, um,” Clint swallowed and felt a little stupid for giving into his insecurities. “Why not talk to Steve about all this?” Why come to me he didn't say though he knew James would guess it most likely. Hoped he would anyway and he felt shitty again because James shouldn't have to deal with his stupid shitty baggage and do all the emotional labor, especially when he was hurting already himself.

“I love that punk, don't get me wrong, but he'd be all rage and that's not something I can deal with right now. That's not what I need.”

“What do you need?” Clint half-whispered, suddenly a little scared himself.

“Just – hold me, please? I just want someone quiet. I just need company and someone to hold me while I figure out what to think about all this. I don't think – I don't think I can be alone right now.”

“I can do that,” Clint replied, turning so that he created a comfortable backrest and the two of them could stretch out on the couch, albeit with their feet dangling off. “As long as you need and five minutes more,” he vowed, pressing another kiss to James's head. He'd hold him forever if that was what was required.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Late November

 

Armando and Clint were seated at the bar a good half an hour before they opened, James holding court from the other side. “So as it turns out, my Magic Man here has never had a Manhattan Special.”

“Terrible shame,” Armando shook his head.

“A travesty considering his love of coffee.”

“I thought we were all about Brooklyn pride over here,” Clint began. “Why would you guys be all over something from Manhattan?”

“Ah – that's where you're wrong my friend. Though the name has Manhattan in it, Manhattan Special was born here in Brooklyn.”

“Technically Williamsburg,” James specified. “The plant is on Manhattan Avenue.”

“Okay,” Clint nodded. “It's a type of coffee?”

“Coffee soda to be precise,” James said with a grin as he produced a bottle from the bar.

“Coffee soda.”

“Coffee soda,” Armando grinned.

Coffee soda. Clint wasn't sure how he felt about that concept. He opened and closed his mouth and tilted his head a little to the side and just looked at James.

“It's good!” James assured him.

“It's a rite of passage,” Armando swore, hand placed on his heart. “From mother's milk to that little bottle – that's how you grow up.”

“I don't know about that,” James said, chuckling briefly at Armando's earnest love and over the top statement. “But I know it's a helluva drink and you, Magic Man, need to try some.”

“So it's carbonated coffee?”

“Espresso, seltzer water, and sugar.”

“Manna from heaven!” Armando said emphatically.

“I'm not sure you should have any,” Clint said with a soft grin. “You're a little worked up already there pal.”

"Nonsense." Armando shook his head.

"Alright," James popped open a bottle and proceeded to pour the liquid into two glasses. "First you need to try it straight up."

"The best way," Armando slid one of the glasses to Clint, then took one for himself, not even hesitating before taking a large swallow. "That's the stuff."

Clint, however, did hesitate. First he sniffed then frowned because there was no discernible smell. He glanced over to Armando, then to James, both of whom gave him encouraging nods.

Clint took a sip.

He immediately made a face and both men burst out laughing.

"This is, this is not coffee." Several more expressions crossed his face after he took another sip, each more amusing than the last from the reactions. "It's so damn sweet."

"That's the best part!"

"I have to admit I am reaching a lower tolerance for it myself," James admitted, much to Armando's chagrin. "But man when I was a kid..."

Clint snorted because James was only 21, in some ways he still was a kid.

"Hush," James waggled a finger at Clint. "Or you won't get any babka."

"Vodka?"

"Babka," James enunciated. "From my grandmother."

"Whoa whoa whoa," Armando raised both of his hands. "Barton gets to have your nana's babka? I didn't think anyone outside the family got to have that."

"Well, maybe no one is as special as Clint." Clint's ears reddened at the words and the expression on James's face as he said it. Interestingly, James's cheeks went a little pink too.

"Well now I don't know who I am more jealous of. Clint for getting the secret family foods or James for getting to sleep with Clint."

"Shut up you punk," James said quickly, though his eyes never left Clint's face. The words also held no heat and Armando laughed heartily and snuck the rest of Clint's glass of coffee soda while the two of them made eyes at each other.

 

~~|~~

 

Dec 18

 

Clint had all he could to not shuffle and fidget when he got to work that day and waited for James. Which, it was just a silly notion, a silly gesture, he didn't know why he was even doing it, much less why he was nervous. James arrived before he was able to wind himself up too much, though he did notice something was up when he leaned in for a kiss hello.

"You seem a little jittery Magic Man, you have too much coffee again? You know how you get when you drink too much," James placed his hands on Clint's and Clint found himself fighting off a blush at the gesture.

"No, that's not it," he took a step back, his hands slipping from James's. "I got you something-" he reached into his coat pocket to pull out the chocolate money. He wasn't sure how to wrap it so he had simply put a blue ribbon around the bag. "It's not much, and kinda silly, really - but I saw them and I thought..." he bit his lip as he handed over the little bag, again fighting the urge to fidget.

James's face did something complicated as he accepted the gift, cycling through several expressions before settling on something like touched awe. Which couldn't be right, Clint had to be reading things wrong. It was just a simple gift of candy.

James swallowed hard and raised his gaze to meet Clint's. "Hanukkah gelt..." His voice was quiet. "My grandma used to give me this every year until I turned 18, even though-" he shrugged and Clint recalled how James had said his family had fallen out of most of the religious and cultural aspects of Judaism. James's beautiful blue eyes looked a little misty and Clint found himself swallowing hard at the emotion in them.

"Clint," James began then stopped, his face going all complicated again and Clint felt himself go all warm and emotional at the look he was getting, the way James said his name. "I just - you're just," with a frustrated little noise James raised a hand to his jaw and swept him into a lingering kiss.

"I never quite know what to do with you sometimes," James eventually whispered against Clint's lips, their foreheads pressed together, sharing breaths. Clint couldn't quite get past how James was touching his face and looking at him like he was something precious, something important.

"I've got a few ideas," Clint replied, desperate to deflect because the way he was feeling scared the living daylights out of him.

"I bet you do, doll," James replied, his smile all soppy. "In fact-"

Someone cleared their throat behind them.

"Hey guys, we're opening so uh...yeah..." Tim looked, not uncomfortable by their closeness, but more apologetic he'd had to interrupt.

"S'alright Timmy," James said, pressing another sweet kiss to Clint's lips, his eyes going all soft for a moment before he put his work face on and tapped Clint's chin. "Later, Magic Man."

"Later babe," Clint couldn't help but reply, gratified when James's lips curved into a little smile before he vanished into the bar area.

 

~~|~~

 

Late January

 

Clint settled in closer to James, resting his head on his shoulder and placing a hand on his chest, needing to touch him as much as he could. Soak in as much nearness as he could. It was close to the time James would be getting up to go home and Clint sighed and did his best not to pout. It hadn't gotten any easier over the course of the months they'd been doing this and he got closer and closer to saying something every time. But what would he say, he wondered as he began to play with James's chest hair. I fucking love you please don't leave me alone? That wouldn't work, that wasn't what they were doing. It might even serve to make James leave him sooner and Clint didn't want that. He was stealing as many little moments as he could. Hoarding them away for the inevitable point in time that James went to Steve or Clint ended up going back to the future.

For when he lost this the way he lost everything good in his life.

“What're you thinking about doll?” James asked, turning his head and speaking half into Clint's hair. “I can hear that brain of yours working overtime.”

“Nothing much,” Clint replied and he felt the huff of air more than he heard James make any sound. “No really, I'm not an Einstein on my best days, much less fifteen minutes after you've fucked my brains out.”

“Well you seem to be forming sentences well enough, you sure we went at it hard enough?” James said against his skin, shifting so his free hand could stroke down Clint's back to his ass, finger pressing against his hole in a way that had Clint making a noise somewhere between a hiss and a whine. “Easy doll, easy,” James tipped his head down to nip at Clint's lips.

If only they could go again maybe Clint could exhaust James enough to get him to stay, he thought, with a touch of sadness as they shared a few deeper kisses that really amounted to nothing in the long run, their bodies too tired to go again so soon.

“You sure you're alright?” James asked after a final kiss.

“Of course, I'm with you,” Clint replied softly nuzzling against James's chest and pushing down the miserable feelings as far as they would go.

 

~~|~~

 

February

 

The miserable feelings came back with the vengeance and time seemed to slow to a crawl when Steve ended up contracting the flu in early February. James was worried sick about him when he did show up to work and Clint felt the heavy oppressiveness of the cold and grey weather more acutely than ever in his empty bed.

 

~~|~~

 

Clint liked to head down to The Violet Hour on Sundays just to kill some time. Clarence didn't mind and it was nice to have the place to himself if he was honest because more often than not he'd get into a little one man jam session, playing some of the songs from his own time that he wasn't brave (or foolish) enough to play any other night of the week when they were actually open. Time to be silly or maudlin, whatever mood struck him the most when he sat down at the piano.

Jolene was one of those songs that haunted you from the second you heard it, even if you had never been in that type of situation, and Clint considered it a guilty pleasure to sing at karaoke bars. He'd had enough experience in relationships to lend the song some emotion so he liked to think he sang it well too. A pared down version on the piano with no one else around to listen in here at the The Violet Hour worked just as well to scratch the itch to perform it.

Maybe too well given the situation he found himself in at the moment.

Steve might not be a red haired green eyed beauty that Jolene was, but he sure as hell could easily take the man Clint loved. Maybe it would be easier if Clint could consider himself the outsider doing the stealing but that wasn't the case. Sure he had James right now but how long would that last when the two of them decided to get their acts together? How outclassed was he really when it came down to it?

He'd just finished one verse and was about to launch into the last one when movement caught his eye. It was James and Clint couldn't help it, seeing him felt like a punch to the gut and his fingers stuttered over the keys before trailing off into silence.

You could have your choice in men
But I can never love again

Thankfully his voice hadn't failed him and he kept on singing, which was probably the only thing that was keeping James at an arm's length from him. Clint wished desperately that he could better figure out the look on his face but he couldn't, James was too inscrutable. His face was also too welcome a sight after seeing so little of him lately that Clint's heart wasn't really letting his brain do all that much.

Eventually Clint's fingers found their way along the keys again and he closed his eyes to finish out the song, pretending that he really didn't care that James was edging ever closer.

 

Oh Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
I'm begging of you: don't take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene,
Please don't take him just because you can

 

James sat next to Clint on the bench and he opened his eyes finally to glance over at him, watching him watch quietly as he played himself out. As soon as the song was fully over James leaned in against him, arms sliding around his body as he tucked his face into Clint's neck and inhaled deeply.

“God I missed you, Magic Man. Your scent, that voice of yours.” Clint slid an arm around him in reply and James laughed, a little rough. “Your arms.”

“Missed you too.” And he had, more than he cared to admit. He was in this entirely too deep for his overall mental health. It was stupid, but a week without James somehow had felt like a month. The days crawling by at a glacial pace. Of course, it really had been more like nearly three weeks hadn't it? Steve had contracted the flu and James had started missing shifts already two weeks ago. But at least that first week he'd been in a few times, said hello, worked a partial shift, collected his money. But it had been a full week since the last time they'd been together. Since James had confessed how worried he was about Steve.

James's lips pushed against Clint's neck for a soft and sweet little kiss but did nothing more, seemingly content enough to just soak up Clint's nearness. A feeling that was very much mutual.

“How's Steve doing?” Clint eventually asked.

“He's getting better, thank G-d,” James replied, hugging Clint a little tighter. “Well enough to be a pain in my ass again, at least, a big enough one that I had to get out of the apartment anyway.” Clint could feel the way his lips curled into a smile and sure enough a chuckled followed.

“Damn punk made noise about me letting down my best guy,” And then he finally pulled back, nose skimming Clint's jaw as he did, to sit straight up and meet Clint's gaze. “And then I come back to you singing about a lady stealing your man.” James ran a finger softly down the side of Clint's face, before tucking a lock of hair back into place.

“It wasn't really meant to be metaphorical,” Clint lied.

“Good.” James pressed their lips together for a lingering moment. “Because I'm not going anywhere doll face. Ain't no one stealing me away from you.”

Clint wanted to believe it, wanted to believe that Bucky cared so much for him that maybe, just maybe, he loved him back...but when was the last time something that good had happened to Clint?

“Sides which, that man lookin' at Jolene can't be that much of a catch for his partner if he's got a roving eye like that.” Clint tilted his head and raised an eyebrow in thought at James who continued: “I'm serious Magic Man. It's just bad form, you work with what you got if you truly care for the person.”

“I s'pose when Dolly wrote it,” Clint paused for a second figuring how to spin the story. “She was the Painted Lady at the circus – anyways when she wrote it she was newly married, young and nervous. It makes sense on some level.”

“What level is that?”

“The level where someone doesn't believe how lucky they've gotten.” And that was all Clint, because he couldn't believe he'd gotten lucky enough for someone like James to want to be with him. “That they're so over the moon for their man that they can't possibly believe they feel the same. That the first pretty face they come across might tempt their love away.”

“Well, allow me to set that mind of yours at ease doll, and tell you that I only have eyes for youuuuuuu,” James crooned at Clint, his voice pleasant if not entirely on key, and charming as anything. James laughed a moment later and Clint joined him, reveling in how light the laughter made him feel. How warm and happy he was.

How in love he felt.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Late February 1939

 

His vision was still tinted blue as he surged awake, a scream on his lips. His skin felt like it was on fire but he was shivering from the cold in his core. The covers were in a tangle, and Clint had to fight his way out, scooting to the edge of the bed because although his stomach was empty, the urge to vomit was too strong and he was soon doubled over dry-heaving. One wave overbalanced him and he very nearly toppled to the floor before a strong arm wrapped around him to keep him in place. Soon after, James pressed up against his back, murmuring softly against his ear.

“It's alright sweetheart, it's alright. You're okay Clint. You're safe. I've got you.”

Clint hadn't had one this bad in a long time, and even with James's soft voice and gentle touch he felt the wild panic and dread clawing its way out. He didn't know how long he sat there, sobbing like he hadn't for a very long time. He didn't think he'd cried like this even after the battle. Not during therapy. Not even at Phil's funeral. Maybe it was something to do with having James there. His strong presence at his back, surrounding him, the safety of his embrace. It had been a very long time since Clint felt safe enough to let go completely.

Eventually the tears began to trail off and James whispered against him, passing his lips across Clint's temple in a ghost of a kiss before pulling away and getting out of bed. Clint instantly felt cold and pulled his legs up to tuck under his chin and curled his arms in. James returned a short time later with a bowl and a glass of water, along with a rag.

“C'mon sweetheart,” he murmured again, coaxing Clint to uncurl himself before wrapping the blanket over his shoulders and lap. The bed dipped as he sat down next to him. “Are you back with me?” James asked, gently tilting Clint's head to look in is eyes.

“Yeah,” Clint managed, his voice sounded like shit, his throat felt a little raw. Shit. How long had he been stuck in the dream? What had he said and done? How much damage control did he need to do?

James nodded and reached over to the small side table where the bowl was, wetting the rag before gently wiping it across his forehead and down his cheeks, cleaning away the sweat and tears. Clint felt himself drift a little, leaning into the soft touch, trying to get his breathing back to normal and organize his thoughts once again. Usually after one of the nightmares, he just ended up sitting somewhere, hyper-vigilant and wound up until morning. It was nice, more than nice, to have someone there taking care of him. Not that he deserved it, but maybe he could be selfish for a little while?

“M'sorry,” Clint eventually mumbled, the guilt getting to be too much. “I didn- You don- I, I...” he squeezed his eyes shut and let out a frustrated noise. The cloth went away and he felt James shifting on the bed. And, well, of course. Of course he'd gone and pushed him away. James hadn't signed on to take care of him. To care about him. It was just sex...

James was pulling him towards him again, manhandling Clint, arranging his arms and legs and he opened his eyes in confusion. James was sitting against the head of the bed, legs stretched out in front of him and was pulling Clint in to sit in his lap.

“Not too uncomfortable if you twist to the side? Not sure you should be straddling me right now, legs might cramp up.” And Clint was so confused as to what was happening that he went with it, settling into James's lap (he'd pulled on his shorts at some point - Clint was still naked he realized, though anything sexy was about the furthest thing from his mind at the moment) his legs curling to the side, his torso pressed against Bucky's chest. The blanket was rearranged to cover the both of them, James's arms wrapping around Clint underneath it. It should have felt more awkward, maybe a little weird, but it didn't.

“You should probably drink some water in a bit,” James said. “You'll feel better more quickly.”

What did they know about hydration in the 30's? Didn't they like still believe it was a bad idea to drink water while running a marathon or something? But then, James had been helping take care of Steve Rogers for most of his life – he probably knew a little more about healthy habits than most. And oh shit - Steve...

“Why are you still here? What about Steve?”

James laughed as he pressed a kiss against Clint's hair. “So uh, not sure you noticed but fantastic sex makes a guy tired. We both passed out.” He nuzzled Clint, an action that was unbearably fond in nature. “And what about Steve? He doesn't worry about me like that. I can stay out all night you know.”

“But he. You and he-”

“Look, I know I complain about how stubborn he is and how I hafta get him out of scrapes his big mouth gets him into, but he's fully capable of being on his own. And he's hardier than you'd think. I know he got sick, but that hasn't happened that badly in a few years which is honestly why it threw me so much. He's good. He'd be mad at me anyway if I left you like this.”

“He knows about me?” Man, why did his voice sound so small?

“He knows I'm seeing someone, remember?”

And Clint did remember now that James had made the offhand comment a few weeks ago that Steve had made a fuss about him “letting his fella down” by spending all his time fussing over Steve when he'd been sick. Clint hadn't thought too much about it then, though he was a little surprised James would have told Steve he was seeing someone, was he trying to make him jealous so he'd make a move? It kind of made sense, maybe Steve wasn't ready yet to admit how he felt but Bucky didn't want to push him directly by asking him himself. And as soon as Steve was ready, Bucky wouldn't need Clint anymore.

“You really don't have to. Stay and take care of me. I'll--” Clint said, voice sounding small again. He didn't want Steve to be ready ever. He wanted James to stay tonight and every night. But that was selfish and horrible of him and really, it was only a matter of time before he was alone again, regardless of whether or not he figured out how to get back to his own time. “I'll be okay.”

“I want to, you yutz.” James's voice was both gruff and fond and Clint didn't know how to react to that so he just went with it, relaxing into James's embrace.

“Not sure if imma be able to sleep again.” Even surrounded by James as he was, every time his eyes slipped shut for too long he felt the blue threaten to sneak back in.

“That's fine,” James said, pressing another kiss to Clint's head. “We could talk?” And when Clint made an unsure noise he nodded. “Or we can sit here, whatever you need.”

“If you fall asleep I won't be offended.” Clint felt more than heard James laugh at that, the chuckle reverberating through his chest where he was pressed against him and he turned his head to brush his lips against the skin of James's neck, not a kiss, but as close to one as he could manage at that moment.

“You wanna drink some water for me and then maybe we can settle back in more comfortable?”

“Anyone ever told you you're bossy?” Clint grumbled, still pressed against James's skin and eliciting a delighted laugh.

“A time or two.” James said as they began to untangle themselves. “Steve on occasion but mostly one of my little sisters – Rebecca.”

“How many siblings do you have?” Clint asked, carefully picking up the glass and taking a few cautious sips under James's watchful eye. His stomach seemed okay with the water for now and he set it back on the stand in order to crawl back under the covers.

“I'm the oldest of four. They're all girls too,” James said with laughter in his voice as he raised his arm to make sure Clint settled in against him. “Curls and giggles and sweetness and so much trouble, really. But God I love them so.” The Brooklyn was heavy in his voice again and it made Clint feel warm.

Clint smiled as he nestled against James's chest, sighing in contentment as his arm slipped around him. The history books didn't say a lot about the Barnes family itself, not really. Mostly Bucky was spoken about in his relationship with Steve, with only a cursory mention of his family. Clint hadn't known he'd had siblings before Bucky had mentioned them offhandedly at work and he’d never specified there were three of them.

“Ruthie is two years younger than me. She liked to complain in school about me setting high standards for her – not to brag, but I was a great student – but I don't know what she was worried about. She's whip smart herself, she's going to Barnard College to become a nurse.”

“Next is Lillian, she's sixteen and oddly into bugs. Loves animals too, but man – the bugs. She and Ruth are close so she took it a little hard when Ruth moved out last year, even though she's just across the river, but she's doing a lot better now. And then there's Rebecca – the baby.”

Clint could instantly tell she was James's favorite from the tone of his voice and the sparkle in his eyes. “Becca and I have a special bond I guess you could say,” James began. “She and I, we understand each other in a way that I don't share with Ruth and Lils. Even though she's only thirteen she knows all about the club. She knows I like gals and guys both, she knows about you.”

Clint suddenly felt hot and squirmy and not in the fun way. James had told his little sister about him...That couldn't mean what he wanted it to mean, could it?

“So uh, why didn't you try to enroll in college?” Clint asked carefully, attempting to change the subject.

“I don't know,” James shrugged under him. “We were comfortable money-wise, still are thankfully, but I guess...” He trailed off in thought. “I dunno. I guess it was just easier to get a job? Help to make sure things would stay comfortable for the girls no matter what. And then with Stevie...” He sighed and his hand stilled on Clint's arm where he'd been stroking it absently. “He doesn't ask for help; is good at refusing it too. So I moved outta my parents and into a place with him because there really wasn't a way to help him otherwise.”

“Does...does Steve know about the club? I've uh, always wondered why he hasn't come in at all.” Really Clint had no idea why Steve wasn't a fixture at the club what with how Coulson had talked about how the two of them basically lived in the pocket of the other.

“He knows about it,” James said slowly. “But he also knows it's my space.”

“Your space?” Clint was a little confused, weren't they supposed to have shared everything?

“Yeah, my space. Steve has his art and that's all for him, while I have the Violet Hour which is all for me.”

“I'm not sure I understand what you mean,” Clint said, tone apologetic.

“You don't have anything that is yours and yours alone? Something that centers you and helps make you feel like yourself?

Archery came to mind straight away and Clint found himself nodding. Archery was his touchstone and whenever things got bad he knew all he needed to do was grab his bow and find a space and just zen out and he'd feel better. More like himself. He supposed it did make sense that being able to go to a club where he didn't have to hide his sexuality would be so important to James. It just surprised him a little that James had something that didn't involve Steve as his centering point. Then again maybe it shouldn't surprise him. It wasn't really that fair to reduce the two of them to just their relationship no matter how important it might be.

 

~~

 

Despite everything Clint had somehow managed to fall asleep. Maybe he had been lulled by the sound of James's voice and the heat of his body, been comforted by the smell of his skin surrounding him. He was alone though when he woke up and it stung as badly as he had known it would. With practiced ease, he willed the pain down, not allowing himself to cry. James wasn't his. Wasn't meant to have ever met him. This was all just a cosmic hiccup anyway. Even so, he hugged the pillow James had been using closer, pressing his nose against it and breathing in deeply.

It still smelled like James.

Yeah, no. He couldn't do this. Not today. Not after last night. With a grunt, he turned onto his back and flung an arm over his head, not bothering to adjust the sheets tangled around him. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't, he told himself, a tear sneaking past his control anyway. He'd be better soon. It just took time to build his barriers back up after a nightmare like he'd had the night before. He'd done it before, he could do it again. There was a noise at the doorway to the bedroom but he didn't pay it any attention – the building and the other tenants made for a fairly constant background noise.

“Have I ever told you your arms are a work of art?”

Clint dropped his arm and sat up almost too quickly, swaying in the tangle of sheets before he could steady himself by clenching his hands in the covers at his side. “What...I didn't... You're still here?”

James was leaning against the door frame looking fucking amazing. He'd pulled his pants on but hadn't bothered to do them up properly, trusting the suspenders (one of which was casually hanging at his side) to keep them in place. His feet were bare at the end of his long legs and Clint couldn't quite process how that made him feel. Nor could he figure out how he felt about the fact that James had grabbed one of Clint's undershirts to wear.

“Borrowed your razor too,” James said with a lopsided grin, properly deducing what Clint was stumbling over in his mind. Maybe he'd been staring too long. “Hope you don't mind.”

Clint opened his mouth to reply, but all that came out was an inarticulate noise.

James's grin got a little more cocky and he stepped over to the bed to settle himself with cat-like grace next to Clint. He stroked the back of a curled finger down Clint's cheek then settled it under his chin to tilt his face up and press a kiss to his lips. “How are you feeling this morning sweetheart?” He looked so concerned.

“You-” Why was James still there? “Here?” He had a job and Steve to take care of. “Fine,” he managed on his third try for coherent speech. “Thank you.”

“Did I manage to ruffle the unruffleable Clint Barton by wearing his shirt or is this because of last night?”

“Both?” Clint said, genuinely confused.

“Good to know,” James replied, his eyes going a little darker. Textbook bedroom eyes, really, and Clint wondered if that meant he was about to maybe get morning sex. It seemed not and probably for the best really, since James just pressed another chaste, albeit longer, kiss to his lips. “I was going to make breakfast, but aside from coffee you really don't have much, do you?”

“Not really,” Clint admitted. “I was going to grab a few things today.” He generally had one, if not two, meals at the club, so he'd gotten into the bad habit of not keeping an eye on his small pantry.

“That sounds like a good plan for part of today,” James said. “You should wash up a little – you'll feel better. Then I'll take you to breakfast at the automat.”

“Don't you have to work today?”

“Nope. And if I did, I'd tell 'em I wasn't gonna come in.”

“James...”

“No. I would. I don't want you to be alone today. Not after last night. Not with a dream that bad.”

“But Bucky, I don't. I'm not--”

“I swear to God if the next words outta your mouth are 'I'm fine' or worse, 'I'm not worth it' I'm gonna sit on you until it gets through that thick head of yours that you fucking matter. That you mean something to people.”

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. This wasn't happening. This could not be happening. Bucky just cared for him as a friend. There wasn't anything else. Couldn't be anything else. But then his expression softened – the frustration fading to be replaced by something Clint was too scared to give a name.

“You scared me last night,” James said. “That dream. Whatever happened to you to cause it. The look on your face.” He reached out to put a hand on Clint's shoulder, gripping tightly. “I didn't like seeing you in pain like that. I didn't like how scared you sounded.”

“I'm sorry,” Clint let his gaze fall to the floor for a moment as he marshaled his thoughts. “With my stellar track record with people it's hard to let go of that deprecating stuff.”

“I know doll, I know,” James said, caressing his face again and Clint raised his gaze back up to James's beloved face. His expression made something catch in Clint's throat and he tried his best to swallow past it. “Do you want to talk about it at all?”

Clint tried and failed to get any words out the first try and the second so he settled for shaking his head. He couldn't talk about the dream, couldn't even fathom how to lie about what was happening in it. “Thank you though, for asking,” he finally managed.

“Well if you find yourself ready you let me know okay? I'm right here, Magic Man. I'm not going anywhere.”

 

~~

 

Clint washed up, noting how he did actually feel better to get the sweat from the nightmare off of himself, and dressed in record time even for him and joined James back in the main room of his apartment. Before he could pull on his coat, James snaked an arm around his waist and leaned in to nose against his neck, pressing a kiss below his ear and smiling against his skin when Clint's breath hitched.

“Now, you keep doing that and we'll never make it to breakfast,” Clint joked.

“You know, that's not a bad idea. I wouldn't mind spending all day in bed with you,” James breathed against him before pulling away. “But I did promise to get you some breakfast.” With another quick kiss to Clint's lips he stepped away to grab his coat, helping Clint into it despite his protests.

Two men dining together didn't really turn heads, especially not at an automat in Brooklyn Heights, but the outside chance a cop might happen by kept them from holding hands and touching the way Clint wanted to (and James as well from how his hand kept twitching whenever Clint got close). Though they did risk tangling their legs together under the table, the steady pressure from foot to knee grounding him.

From there they went shopping to restock Clint's sad little pantry, and with James and Clint having very different notions on what was essential this took a little longer than expected. Once they had everything unpacked and stowed away, Clint expected James to leave – and he couldn't quite contain how happy he was when he ended up staying (“I told ya you weren't getting rid of me today, Magic Man”). They ended up pressed together on the little sofa, more of a loveseat really, in Clint's apartment, Bucky pulling out a book from thin air and Clint grabbing up a notebook to scribble lyrics, song lists, and ideas for new tricks.

It was all so comfortable, so domestic, that Clint almost didn't know what to do with himself. He'd never really thought about having a normal life. Having a (vaguely) normal job, a loving partner to come home to at night where they could talk about their days or just sit around and do nothing and be content. The idea of it was so wonderful, so seductive, that he couldn't help but think about how maybe it wouldn't be so bad if he didn't manage to get back to his own time; thoughts of the war and James being drafted were the furthest thing from his mind.

James insisted on making dinner, putting on an apron and moving around the tiny excuse for a kitchen with grace and confidence while Clint made comments from his spot at the table. After dinner they shared clean up duty and Clint prepared himself for the eventuality of James leaving. He had to get up early to work at the docks and the place he shared with Steve was a great deal closer to that anyway. Besides, it was probably best for him to get a solid night's sleep on an evening when he wasn't working at The Violet Hour?

Instead of leaving though, James turned on the radio and muttered as he scanned through the stations, finding nothing but shows and faster paced music.

“What are you up to?” Clint asked, hooking his chin onto James's shoulder and leaning against him. He was a little shorter than James, but close enough that he could manage. The fact that he had to lean his entire weight against him was a nice bonus.

“Just want something slow to dance to,” he muttered in reply, giving a little angry huff as he flipped the radio off again.

“Was this a romantic date night, complete with dinner and dancing?”

“I wanted it to be,” James confessed.

“Aww baby, I futzing love y-it,” Clint replied, panicking only slightly at his near slip up and covering it by nuzzling against James's neck. James turned around to face him and they embraced loosely, sharing a quick kiss.

“Just want to slow dance with my best guy,” James pouted. It was an expression that should not have been half as endearing as it was, but then again, James's eyes seemed to be Clint's kryptonite and he grinned even though it earned him a scowl.

"Moon River, wider than a mile...I'm crossing you in style someday...” Clint began to sing. The timing wasn't quite right, he knew it was an older song but was pretty sure it was from the 60's, but it was an easy song, slow and comforting. “Oh dream maker, you heart breaker. Wherever you're going, I'm going your way...”

James's smile was radiant as he circled his arms more tightly around Clint and began to dance with him. Well, shuffle with him would be more accurate, because neither of them was really big on doing much more than shifting around as they held one another. Had he not been singing Clint would have happily pressed his face into the join of James's neck and shoulder and wished the evening would never end.

When the first song ended Clint began another, and then later a third.

It was hard to figure out slow songs that weren't all about love, and doubly difficult for him because while his mind wanted to avoid it, is heart wanted to shout from the rooftops how much he loved James. But before he could start in on a fourth, James leaned back and caught his gaze. “I um...I want to make you sing in a different way,” he said, a blush slowly rising on his cheeks.

“Is that a line Mr. Barnes?” Clint's lips slowly curled into a smile as James ducked his face, the very image of bashful. “Are you trying to proposition me for sex?”

“Maybe,” James replied, glancing back up at him. “Maybe I had plans on making love to you tonight.”

Clint bit his lip and grinned through it, glancing down then back up through his eyelashes as best he could, his turn to look bashful, because what could he say to that?

James chuckled briefly, the sound deeper than normal, and brought a hand up from where it'd been at Clint's waist to stroke his thumb over his chin while tilting it up slightly. “M'gonna kiss you now.”

“By all me--” and then they were kissing, slow and deep. Clint loved kissing James, would happily do nothing but kiss him if he could. He lost time as they kissed, heavy drugging kisses, soft light ones, the whole gamut; he barely registered as they made their way from the main room to the bedroom. Eventually James pulled away and Clint leaned in after him but was held off with a hand to his chest. Right. Making love. Had to get naked for that and with that thought he raised his hands up to the buttons of shirt.

James clearly had plans for how he wanted things to go because he gently pulled Clint's hands away from where he was all set to unbutton his shirt and took over. As he released each button his fingers slipped under the shirt, to caress the soft cotton of his undershirt and he pressed a quick kiss to Clint's lips. Slow and sweet tonight then, perhaps?

James guided the undershirt over his head, and pressed one hand to Clint's chest when he went to lean back in for a kiss, skimming the other lightly over his side. “Sit at the edge and lean back,” he said, voice husky. Clint complied, a little thrill running down his spine. Even if he didn't know the trick to it, he'd walk on broken glass if James asked him to with that voice.

James made quick work of his own shirts and pants, though he didn't give Clint long to enjoy the view before he leaned over him, hand braced at his side, and kissed him deeply.

“Just...just hold still okay?” James panted against his mouth as Clint tried to squirm a little closer.

James began by pressing a kiss to his nose near his brow bone, then one against his cheek. A string of them trailed down his jaw and neck and then they became haphazard again, here and there on his chest, his arms, his ribs...

Scars, Clint realized as James's lips pressed against the one on his ribs first in a kiss, then lightly in movement as he whispered words Clint couldn't quite pick up. James was kissing his scars. He felt himself flushing at the realization.

“Wh-what? Why?”

“Because these made the man you are,” James said nosing over to pass his lips lightly over where Clint had had his appendix removed. “And some of them nearly took you before I met you.” He lifted himself up to look at Clint.

And God, the way he was looking at him... Like he was something good – important, Clint had to squeeze his eyes shut, unable to take the depth of emotion. It was becoming harder for him to not to think James might be in this for the long haul. Luckily for him James was leaning in again for another kiss and didn't seem to notice Clint's sudden shyness.

'Maybe I had plans on making love to you tonight' ran through Clint's brain as James did just that. There was no way what they were doing could be called anything else. James touched him soft and careful, almost reverential and Clint was helpless not to return the caresses in kind. This wasn't the first time their lovemaking had been slow and sweet but there was another level to it that Clint hadn't noticed before. Something special to tonight. The passion built slowly between them but that slowness allowed for it to feel somehow more than Clint could remember from any other night together and he was close to tears by the time he came.

The realization that he nearly cried at climax distracted him so he nearly missed James coming and mouthing something against his collarbone.

In his heart he wanted it to have been I love you.

 

~~

 

The following morning Clint awoke to an empty bed once more. He briefly entertained the possibility that maybe James would appear in the doorway once again but he knew it wouldn't really happen. He wouldn't actually miss a day of work for Clint. Or, well, not when he was certain Clint was doing better anyway. He once again reflexively pulled the pillow James had used towards himself, intending on just giving it a few sniffs and not at all being maudlin about it, when the crinkle of paper distracted him. James had left a note on the pillow.


Clint – I'm sorry I won't be there when you wake up. I wanted nothing more than to be, but I had to be up early to change for work, and you looked so sweet curled up next to me that I couldn't bear waking you up even for a goodbye kiss – you need that sleep. I guess I'll just have to settle for one tonight and keep dreaming of the day that I can watch you wake up slowly and kiss the sleep from your eyelids. Eat something when you get up, coffee is not a meal. I'm kissing the look you're giving the paper at that – it is not a meal, I don't care how much you love it. Take care and see you tonight Sweetheart – James

Clint buried his face against the pillow once he finished reading the letter, not entirely certain how his face wasn't splitting in two from how wide his smile was. No one had ever cared enough to do something like that. No one. Hell, even when they'd been good Bobbi'd never left him any notes. Not like this anyway. Perfunctory things, sure. But something sweet and caring just for the hell of it? Not really. They'd loved each other, he'd never really doubted that, but they'd never been good at communicating it.

That wonderful feeling swelled in his chest again and he laughed into the pillow. Hope had never been too kind to Clint, which was why he tended to ignore when it tried to come around. He was in so deep for James it was ridiculous – but now he had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, James was a little ridiculous for him too.