“We’ve got an extra sniper this time,” Sam says. “You know, in case you miss.”
“Fuck off, Wilson,” Bucky replies. He’s used to the ribbing by now, but not the idea of someone else on their team.
Generally Sam won’t take anyone but Bucky with him- he acts nonchalant about it but Bucky knows he’s just as fucked up and distrustful as the rest of them. It’s funny, when people act like Sam is the one with his shit together. Like anyone taking the mantle of Captain America wouldn’t be a damn adrenaline junkie like Steve had been. They’re not friends, exactly, but they’ve hit a point where they’re comfortable watching each others’ backs.
They reach the field where the Quinjet is and there’s a man standing there in the rain, black hood pulled over his head and mask in one gloved hand.
The gold veins of the suit catch the light as he raises his free hand in silent greeting, like the Grim Reaper waiting to collect their souls. It’s an ominous sight, out of place in this new world of building again and rebirth. Bucky’s intrigued. Sam slows down a beat like he’s unsettled by the sight, even though he’d said to expect another person, and Bucky wonders if it’s out of fear; if it truly is the Grim Reaper.
They get closer and Bucky gets a better look at the man, thinks maybe Sam had been expecting an archer in purple instead of a sword-wielder in black.
The thing is, he met Hawkeye years ago, at an airport with his bow in hand and his head held high. They hadn’t spoken to each other but Bucky had seen the resolve, the vibrant life streaming from him as he’d given Steve a tight smile and pulled out an arrow.
He hadn’t met this.
Clint Barton looks at him and it’s like a mirror resides in his eyes, because Bucky can see the pain and regret and exhaustion swirling in crystal blue, the same thing that Bucky sees every time he gets out of bed. They regard each other silently, and Bucky lines up his memories of Hawkeye with this man. There’s not a lot of similarities.
“Barton. Shit, I didn’t even recognize you, man,” Sam says. “Weren’t you wearing a different suit before? Where’s your bow?”
“Thought you could use a man on the ground,” he answers, but the way he says it is flat, toneless and empty. It’s an obvious lie. Sam seems hesitant. Bucky doesn’t feel any danger to himself from this man- he seems too empty for that kind of betrayal, so he walks past Barton and into the plane, and they follow him a moment afterwards.
He watches Ronin lay waste to the enemy, leaving a trail of limp corpses and silence in his wake. Sam doesn’t seem to have noticed that Clint can’t hear what he says and Bucky’s not interested in explaining it as he lines up a shot and fires. The shot hits a man who was preparing to launch his grenade at the hooded figure in their midst, to try and stop the startlingly elegant rampage before it is too late.
Bucky, as he shoots another and watches the glint of a sword in the swarm of bodies, thinks that perhaps these people were doomed the minute Clint had decided to join them.
They walk back to the Quinjet afterwards and Sam has a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes as Clint says he’s going to catch a taxi. He turns to enter the jet rather than arguing though, leaving Bucky standing in front of this man he’s feeling oddly drawn to for absolutely no reason at all. Bucky looks at the way he’s standing, weight slightly off to the left, and registers that he’s injured. Clint isn’t a superhuman, is far from it, and it probably needs medical attention.
“You want some help with that?”
He gestures at Clint’s leg to make sure what he’s said is understood, even without the lip-reading. There’s a flash of surprise and uncertainty in those blue eyes for the barest second and then Clint’s giving him a tight smile that isn’t really a smile at all, backing off a little like he’s nervous. Like he can’t let anyone get close to him.
“Maybe some other time,” Clint says, though whether he means it or not is another beast entirely.
Bucky accepts the rejection without comment, because he’s sure he’ll see the man again regardless. He understands. When he turns and walks into the plane Sam’s standing there in his Captain America suit that still hurts to look at, waiting. Bucky looks at his face instead and finds the expression there a little wary, like he’s seen some kind of darkness that he wasn’t prepared for.
Maybe he has.
“He was supposed to retire a while ago,” Sam says. “Back before the fight at the airport, then again after the final battle with Thanos.”
Maybe he lost his reason to stop, Bucky thinks, but it’s not like he knows anything. To the contrary, he’s figured out that he knows startlingly little about anything.
They team up again for a fight Sam has to bow out of; some Captain America political bullshit. Sam hates it, but it’s what he signed up for when he took the shield. Bucky’s takes the small relief- Steve didn’t try to hand it to him instead, and he’s grateful, in an abstract sort of way. Instead of public speaking, he gets to reload his gun and snipe the slow trickle of Doombots heading out of Victor’s headquarters without saying anything.
Clint doesn’t talk over comms and Bucky gets used to the ragged sound of his breathing being the only sound in the earpiece. His sword cuts through the robots like a hot knife through butter, sparks flying in the air. Von Doom escapes by the skin of his teeth again and Bucky watches as Clint slams his blade into the ground, vibrating with rage. He’s only marked with cuts and bruises when Bucky gets down from the building he’d been perched on and gets close enough to look.
Clint pulls back his hood and grinds his boot down into a Doombot’s head. His teeth are bared in a snarl, blood smeared across his teeth. “Fuck,” he says, and the tone is all off again.
“They’re all dead, Barton,” Bucky says, watches as Clint kicks another in its steel torso, swears again and draws back his fist to punch it instead. It’s just destruction, the frustration and anger heavy in the air like smoke. Bucky feels a faint thread of worry. Clint’s not a supersoldier and while the robots are shitty, they’re still solid metal, and he hasn’t stopped punching it yet.
“Barton,” he tries again, is ignored even though he knows Clint can see him standing there talking.
Red splatters the silver of the robot. “Barton.”
Clint draws his bloody knuckles back and Bucky catches his fist in one hand, holds it still. The skin is split to hell and he has to physically put effort into holding Clint’s hand, with the amount of strength held in those arms. Fucking hell. Clint struggles against his grip for a minute and then slumps a little, turning his head to glare. Bucky’s doesn’t really feel like he’s in danger, even with the sheer amount of violence in that expression.
Bucky doesn’t rise to the fight in Clint’s eyes. “I’m not letting you hurt yourself.”
Clint withdraws his hand but doesn’t move to attack the Doombot again as he barks out a laugh. It’s rough-sounding, a little too loud and jarring in the way Bucky’s come to expect from him. He stands up straighter and Bucky notices for the first time that Clint’s actually taller than him like this.
“Why not?” Clint says finally. “Everyone else does, I might as well join in.”
He walks away then, as the rain turns from a gentle splatter to a rush of water, pulling his hood up over his head.
Bucky doesn’t try to stop him.
If anyone asked him about his new partner-in-(fighting)-crime, and he had the time to be poetic, Bucky would say that Clint Barton is wrapped in a shell of barbed wire and broken glass that no one is brave enough to touch, lest they cut themselves on it. He’s not broken exactly but there’s cracks all around the edges of him, jagged and bleeding onto the floorboards. He’s not trying to make friends or complete missions out of the good of his heart- he’s just aimless and destructive and hurt. Dangerous, too.
Bucky, apparently, doesn’t have a sense of self-preservation.
“I’m sorry this is such a shitshow,” Sam says. His hologram wobbles for a second, indistinct, and then fixes itself. Bucky’s still not used to the new technology this place offers. “I’ll try to get back in the next week.”
“It’s okay.” Sam looks dubious. “I’m okay,” Bucky adds, because he knows Sam’s still expecting him to break down over Steve leaving. He’s not, but everyone else seems to think he’s supposed to. “We’re clearing out bad guys just fine without you. I nearly shot your cousin off a roof, though.”
“Your pigeon jokes aren’t funny, Barnes,” Sam says, unimpressed. “You’re okay working with Clint?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“He’s off the rails, Bucky,” the tone changes, suddenly serious. “If he looks like he’s going to attack innocent civilians or even you, you need to take him down. He’s unpredictable. That’s dangerous, in this line of work.”
“Clint’s not going to hurt a civilian,” Bucky snaps, defensive even to his own ears. “He’s not a goddamn maniac, he’s just- he’s complicated.”
“Complicated, huh,” Sam says. “You know he went on a rampage during the Snap, right? He took the bow and arrow for as long as it took to get the Soul Stone and bring everyone back, got through the final battle, and then he went back to his farm to retire again. A few months later he’s back as Ronin, in the suit he wore to slaughter people, doing what? Killing people again.”
Bucky doesn’t say anything in reply.
Sam studies him for a moment and then sighs. “I trust you, man. You can make your own decisions, and if you want to keep him, that’s fine. But I don’t trust him.”
“That sounds like a you problem,” Bucky says, defaulting to snarky jokes the way he always does with Sam. He’s allergic to therapy-talk, it seems. They didn’t talk about their feelings while they were crammed in a car together and they’re not talking about them now. Sam’s used to it by now, which is why he just rolls his eyes and hangs up the call. Bucky snorts and kicks his boots up on the desk, thinks about ordering a pizza.
He wonders if Clint likes pizza.
Bucky stumbles up the ramp of the Quinjet, desperate for shelter from the storm that had pelted them as they’d checked out an abandoned Hydra base. He’s soaked down to the bone, hadn’t even thought about a raincoat or something like that. Really, it would’ve been a good idea if he’d actually thought of it. His current mission gear isn’t even waterproof, aside from his boots and the vibranium arm.
Strands of his hair stick messily to his face and he stabs a finger at the screen that’s supposed to run the heating. The cold’s been a source of something between fear and hatred since he’d been let out in Wakanda, and while he’s not willing to admit it shakes him it’s not fun. The screen shows an error icon and he swears, casts his eyes around for spare clothes.
His gaze lands on Clint, who’s standing in the doorway like a ghost, hair plastered to his head. He’s dripping water on the floor, but it’s more shocking that he’s here at all- this is the first time he’s come in the plane without the express purpose of getting somewhere. Bucky had already expected him to have run off to wherever it is he’s been staying. He pauses and Clint continues hovering in the doorway, looking uncomfortable.
“You’re shivering,” Clint says when the silence stretches out too long.
Bucky looks down at his soaked clothes, where he’s wrapped both hands around his midsection in an effort to preserve what little warmth he has left. It isn’t working. He’s had trouble staying warm since he was sharing Steve’s place seventy years ago, and it’s the one thing he wishes had changed. The water’s already in his underwear and the chill is winding up his spine and into his muscles.
“Guess I am,” Bucky agrees. “Fucking temperature control’s broken.
He isn’t sure what the expression on his face says exactly, but the one on Clint’s crumples a little, softens at the edges like he’s genuinely worried about Bucky freezing to death in this stupid plane. It’s the first time he’s looked something other than angry or blank. The uncertainty in his eyes is… comforting, in an abstract sort of way. It’s very human, if nothing else.
“I called a taxi,” Clint says. “You should… you should come home with me. I’ve got heating.”
Clint gives him a nod that’s more of a violent jerk of his head and turns around, starts walking off. Bucky decides not to look the gift horse in the mouth and follows, locking the Quinjet behind him. It’s not going to go anywhere, and anyone who tries to steal it is going to get a nasty surprise; it’s covered in booby traps left by Stark before he dropped off the mortal coil.
“You live in Brooklyn?”
“Bed-Stuy. Yeah,” Clint answers as the taxi stops in front of an older-looking apartment building with trash littered everywhere.
There’s a girl with a shock of pink hair and a truly absurd amount of piercings who waves at them as they step out of the vehicle, apparently unbothered by two armed sort-of-Avengers who look like drowning victims. Clint raises his hand in greeting and starts up the fire escape. Bucky, who’s just thankful the rain’s stopped, starts squeezing water out of his hair as he follows. Rather than open a door, Clint just pushes open a window that’s cracked an inch and slips inside.
Bucky hadn’t expected Clint’s apartment to be so normal.
It’s haphazard, chaotic for sure- there’s loose cereal on the counter, gouges in the floorboards that he’s guessing have been caused by a sword and enough pizza boxes for a child army, but it’s still so unremarkable Bucky’s taken by surprise. He’d almost guess it was someone else’s place if it wasn’t for the way Clint moves in the space, perfectly at home as he strips off his sword and sets it down on the counter before he presses a button on the air-conditioning unit in the corner.
Bucky’s still hovering by the window when the dog comes barreling through the apartment, nearly knocking him over with an eager yip.
“Lucky,” Clint snaps. “Get back here, you mutt.”
“...yeah?” Clint says it hesitantly, like he’s not entirely sure if the dog does, in fact, belong to him. Then again, he might not have been able to translate what Bucky had said. The dog has no such qualms and pads over to him obediently to sit down on the toes of his boots. It pants happily and he reaches down to scratch behind its ear. It’s cute, really, another one of those oddly mundane things he doesn’t expect, and Bucky snorts. He’s infinitely glad Clint can’t hear his amusement.
Clint disappears into another room- likely the bedroom, given how small this place is, and Bucky shifts on his feet, suddenly unsure. He’s still not sure if he’s in the apartment out of some perceived notion of politeness and he takes a step in the direction of the heater, directly under the breeze. His clothes are still soaked, though, and he can barely feel the warm air anywhere but his face and neck.
A towel hits him on the head.
It’s not a particularly nice gesture but it is kind, if a little unexpected. He pulls it off his hair and uses it to carefully dry the strands, turning to look at Clint as he does. Clint’s not making eye contact with him as he holds out a handful of cloth to Bucky, instead staring at the stained wall like he’s going to burst into flames if he looks directly.
Bucky takes the offering.
“Wet clothes make it worse,” Clint mutters.
The cloth turns out to be a pair of worn-soft sweatpants and a sweater with a donut printed on it. The donut has rainbow sprinkles on it. Bucky looks back at Clint, who’s still wearing his combat suit. Clint doesn’t show any signs of getting changed himself, instead going over to the fridge to rummage around. He pulls out a beer and Bucky supposes it’s about taking baby steps and starts stripping off his gear.
Clint stares at the fridge the whole time.
Bucky doesn’t ask about the farm. He doesn’t ask about the lighter patch of skin on Clint’s ring finger, and he doesn’t ask about why Clint doesn’t change out of his suit the entire time Bucky’s there. Clint, in turn, doesn’t ask him about the arm or Steve, or what he’d done as the Fist of Hydra. It’s probably because he doesn’t remember how to talk to people anymore, but Bucky appreciates it anyway. Clint hands him a beer and Bucky takes it, nods his thanks.
They drink in silence as Bucky warms himself by the heater.
The chill’s gone from his bones and he’s grateful- albeit a little puzzled about how he got here, in Clint Barton’s dumpy apartment wearing a sweater with a donut on it. Clint’s leaner than him but the clothes fit fine, and he curls his fingers in the cotton. It’s soft. It reminds him of the stuff they’d let him wear in Wakanda- before that, on the run, he hadn’t had time to wear his clothes in.
The dog- Lucky approaches him curiously and noses at the black metal of his hand curiously. Bucky’s expecting it this time so he doesn’t freeze, just curls his fingers into the golden fur and strokes gently. He wonders if everyone would still think Clint is a psycho if they saw him looking at his pet like that, soft and pleased as he watches Lucky tail wag cheerfully.
He looks closer and sees the missing left eye, raises his head again so Clint can see him talking. “What happened to him?”
“Assholes,” comes the reply. “Fucking pricks, hurting a goddamn dog.”
Lucky barks, as if in agreement. Bucky thinks he’d probably kick someone’s ass for hurting a dog this sweet, but he’s also aware Clint probably got there first. He doesn’t envy whoever those so-called assholes were, as he glances sideways at the sheathed sword leaning up against the counter. There’s blood speckled on the section of the blade that’s visible.
Clint sinks down onto the leather couch. “Have you been sleeping on the Quinjet this whole time?”
“You need legal documents to rent or buy and I can’t be fucked getting them,” he says. It’s not a particularly good reason to sleep on a plane, but it’s true. Everyone needed a lawyer after the Snap. Bucky lived in comfortable anonymity before it and he’ll stay that way long after.
“You can sleep here,” Clint says after a few minutes. “If you want. It’s not much better than the plane.”
“Maybe some other time,” he answers, repeating Clint’s earlier words. He’s noticed the anxiety and he’s not going to rush this. Whatever this might turn out to be. Clint looks faintly surprised, but then his lips curl up and it’s closer to true amusement than it was the first time he’d tried to smile at Bucky. Less violent, somehow.
“I’ll get a bag for your wet clothes,” he says, and Bucky does smile.
Clint gets hurt.
The chase for a group of idiots running around with a freeze ray begins in a tiny cluster of buildings that are barely a person’s width away from one another. The guy with the freeze ray is captured first, thrown bodily at a stunned-looking policeman. The rest of them scatter and are left to be hunted down. Bucky gets attacked from behind by a particularly bold Hydra operative, distracted by the frenzied punching. It doesn’t hurt- it’s rather useless, actually, but it’s annoying.
As he throws the screaming woman onto the ground and kicks her he’s complaining mentally- God, why are there so many of them? Don’t they give up? Fuckin’ assholes -and he nearly doesn’t hear Clint’s hiss of pain. It’s not loud, barely audible over the shouting and bangs, but Clint doesn’t make any noises when he gets bruised and thrown around.
Bucky aims his boot at the woman’s head and knocks her out, probably giving her a concussion on the way as he breaks into a run in the direction he saw Clint barreling in. They’re in a maze of alleyways, little space for movement and even less to speed through the way he needs to.
His heart feels like it’s been electrocuted. It’s like being back in the chair, the blind panic lancing through his body stronger than any current. Clint can’t be dead. Clint can’t be dying, shit, he can’t die like this.
He skids to a halt when he sees the dark shape pressed against the brick wall, yanking the sword out of a Hydra goon’s neck with a spray of blood. The operative slumps to the ground, already dead, and Bucky gets a proper look at the knife handle sticking out of his armour. He can’t see the look on Clint’s face because of the mask, but he can hear the ragged breathing. He glances around to see if there’s any more Hydra headed their way but there’s just faint crashing in the distance, and he rushes forward to grab at Clint when he starts sliding down the wall.
“We need to get out of here,” he says.
“Gotta kill them. The mission,” Clint says through gritted teeth, pain audible even through the mask. He probably hasn't understood a word Bucky's said. It hurts, knowing he’s trying to stay focused even with a knife in his gut.
“Fuck the mission,” Bucky snaps, and it’s glorious to say even if it isn’t to Alexander Pierce or Arnim Zola. He gets Clint’s arm around his shoulders to support his weight, hopes like hell the knife didn’t hit anything vital. His fingers hook around Clint’s waist over the suit, careful not to accidentally jostle the blade. His free hand pulls out his gun, holds it to attention as they start walking carefully. Clint’s breathing is jagged but he seems aware enough, free hand white-knuckled around his sword.
Bucky thought he’d been wearing gloves, the first time.
They get back to the Quinjet fairly quickly, only stopping once to shoot a man in the knee, but Clint’s blood is wet on Bucky’s fingers and he nearly falls to the floor when Bucky lets go of him. He catches himself on a seat, lowers down onto it with a grunt and rips his mask off as Bucky pulls up the door. There’s no one following them that he can see, but he’s not taking that kind of risk with Clint injured.
He looks at how pale Clint is, the strain visible on his face now it’s not covered, how his lower lip’s caught between his teeth. Bucky realizes dismally that there’s no way he’s going to consent to going to a hospital to get it fixed properly. The best thing he can do is make sure Clint doesn’t disappear into the wind to bleed out in a ditch. And it’s certainly a possibility, given his current reckless attitude.
“Gonna let me help you out this time?”
Clint swallows. Looks down at the blood covering his hands. For a minute, Bucky’s sure he’s going to make an attempt at escaping, and then he sags back into the chair, eyes slipping shut. “No pills,” he mutters. That’s probably the most explicit permission he’s going to get.
Bucky drops down between the sprawl of his armour-clad knees and tries not to think about the implications of kneeling in this position. He’s grateful that Clint’s in too much pain to see the telltale flush he can feel on his face. He pushes it aside after a second- Clint’s bleeding, now is not the time- and makes deft work of his belt, letting it drop against the seat. The knuckles of his right hand brush up against Clint’s jaw and he sees a flicker of blue as Clint opens his eyes briefly.
His irises are so blue.
Even if the heating doesn’t work in the Quinjet, the medical supplies are fine, as it turns out. Despite the lack of painkillers, Clint stays remarkably still as Bucky disinfects the wound, being as quick and deft as he can. He tries not to look too hard at the scars lacing up and down his bare chest, is relieved that Hydra gave him the ability to perform any and all medical procedures on the field, including stitches. His hands don’t start shaking, even if he feels like they should be.
He dabs at the residual blood, tries to get rid of the worst of it before he wraps it. It’s a nasty wound, but it hasn’t hit any vital organs that he can tell and he’s fairly certain that Clint isn’t dying. Clint’s stomach is solid and warm under his palm, and Bucky realises with a start that this is only the second time he’s touched Clint’s skin.
Clint’s been half-sitting, half-lying on the seat this whole time, pliant under Bucky’s fingers with his eyes closed. It’s a show of trust he really wasn’t expecting, especially with the way Clint’s been slamming up walls like a builder with a hyper-fixation. Maybe he’s found himself a door past those walls. Bucky’s gaze slides up to Clint’s face and even though his eyes are closed he looks exhausted. The shadows are even more prominent like this, dark smudges under his lashes. How much sleep has he gotten in the last few months?
Clint’s fingers twitch violently and his eyes snap open. Bucky sees the sheer panic in his eyes and stays where he is, not moving an inch as Clint’s stare flicks around the empty jet and then lands on his face. He just looks back, careful not to make it worse with sudden movements.
What he’s expecting is for Clint to get more stressed at his proximity; he’s expecting nervousness, visible anxiety, even a little aggression, perhaps. What he’s not expecting is for Clint to blink at him for a few seconds and then visibly relax, sinking back into the chair. He doesn’t say anything and Bucky doesn’t move, and they stay like that as Bucky processes this new information. Clint’s got the formerly-brainwashed Winter Soldier between this legs and he doesn’t even look worried about it.
He looks like he feels safer like this, and his invitation for Bucky to stay at his apartment takes on a whole new meaning in that moment. Oh.
The next time Clint looks in the vicinity of Bucky’s mouth he speaks, making sure it’s clear.
“Want to see if the cops will give us a ride back to your place?”
The police are more than happy to give Bucky Barnes and his friend a ride back to Brooklyn- Clint pulls his hood back over his head and doesn’t speak, but the police seem unbothered so it’s fine. Bucky’s still reeling from the apparent knowledge that he’s wanted here, to some degree. That Clint actually might want Bucky there for himself rather than out of politeness. If he asked, he probably wouldn’t get an answer, so he doesn’t bother. Clint keeps one hand curled around his stomach protectively, but he actually enters the apartment building through the front door this time.
He keeps the key taped to the door frame, which isn’t a particularly safe idea, but it’s not like the Ronin suit has pockets on it.
“I need a drink,” Clint mutters, more to himself than to Bucky, and goes over to rummage in the cupboards. Lucky pads over to Bucky and butts his head up against metal fingers- it’s like he finds the vibranium arm more suitable for petting, which is a strange concept, but Bucky indulges him. The dog’s cute.
Part of him likes the idea of spiting the people that made him a weapon by using the arm to pat dogs. Not Shuri, he respects her, but…
Clint screws the top off of the bottle he’s found and tips it up. Bucky identifies it as tequila after a second, and Clint is drinking it like it’s water. Jesus Christ. He’s worried for a second that the whole bottle is going to go like that, but Clint sets in on the bench without blinking and shoves his hood down, running a hand through the blond mess on his head. Bucky’s not sure how he gets it to defy gravity like that. His eyes land on Bucky, who’s still patting the dog, and he nearly smiles at them.
“You want any?”
“Why not,” Bucky says, even though he’s not sure if he can get drunk.
About an hour later he gets his answer: he can’t get drunk, but he can get warm and loose and a little tipsy, especially when he’s trying to out-drink Clint. (His logic is that if he drinks the tequila, Clint can’t give himself alcohol poisoning. It seemed like a good idea at the time.) Clint doesn’t seem concerned about his antics or the way he fumbles the bottle when it’s passed over, choosing to sink into the couch instead. There’s an argument here about the hypocrisy of ‘no painkillers, by the way I’m going to get drunk’ but Bucky can’t find the energy to argue.
Clint tips up the bottle and squints at the distinct lack of alcohol in it. “Aw, tequila.”
It’s so ridiculous compared to his usual demeanor that Bucky can’t help the short burst of laughter. Clint doesn’t notice, isn’t watching his face to see it as he sets the bottle down on the cracked coffee table. He yawns and Bucky looks up at the battered clock on the wall, wonders if you can send a renowned assassin to bed early if he’s been stabbed.
“You didn’t have to pull us both outta the mission,” Clint says. “I could- I coulda kept going.”
“Told you,” Bucky answers. “Not letting you hurt yourself. I don’t give a shit about fighting these idiots.”
“You don’t-?” Clint makes an inarticulate noise that just seems to be confusion, gives him a searching look. “You don’t want revenge?”
“They’re not worth it,” Bucky says, the honesty burning his throat more than the tequila did. Clint looks utterly lost by the concept. “I lost seventy years to Hydra. ‘m not lettin’ them have any more.”
“What’re you doing?”
“I saw a cockroach,” Bucky says, without really answering the question as he looks around.
Clint’s just come out of his room, rumpled and sleepy (but still in the Ronin suit), and the sight of him not looking either guarded, angry or murderous does things to Bucky. Clint just looks comfortable with Bucky here, even with the bandages stuck to his stomach. He knows Clint Barton is hot, objectively. It’s just a basic human reaction, he has those sometimes.
Bucky forcibly turns his attention away from the way the morning light catches the angles of Clint’s body under his unzipped suit and instead refocuses on the pizza boxes he’s collecting into a trash bag. He’d slept on the couch last night and woke up itching with the need to move around and do something. Also, if he’s staying here he’s not going to fight a sentient mould monster- with the way Clint’s living, it’s certainly a possibility.
He ties off the bag and sets it with the others, pushes back the strands of hair that have worked their way out of his ponytail. It occurs to him after a second that he’s overstepping his bounds, but when he looks up Clint’s just wandered past him and turned the coffeepot on, pulling out two mugs. One’s got a fat penguin on it. Bucky’s oddly charmed by it, and some part of him is pleased when Clint passes it over, filled with coffee.
They lean against the counter and drink their coffee in companionable silence, as Clint looks down in his cup like he’s looking for the secrets to the universe.
Someone knocks on the door.
Clint can’t hear it, of course, but Bucky does and he taps his fingers on Clint’s shoulders, points at the door. It’s probably nothing to be worried about, but his free hand goes to the knife in his belt anyway as Clint sets down his coffee and heads over to open it. It turns out to be the pink-haired girl, who holds up a thick envelope.
“Letter for you, Clint,” she says, before peering around him at Bucky. “Hey, Mister Winter Soldier.”
“Hi,” Bucky replies, amused.
“Thanks, Aimee,” Clint says, taking the envelope from her. “I’ll be around to fix that leak later.”
“Take your time, I used duct tape,” she answers with a wave of her hand, turning to leave.
Clint shuts the door and then gives the envelope a faintly disgusted look before he tosses it on the counter. Bucky glances at it and sees the word lawyer, raises his eyes back to Clint. Clint returns to his coffee without a second glance at the envelope. When Bucky finishes his coffee, he goes over to stack the old Chinese takeaway boxes into another empty trash bag. Clint sits down on the arm of the couch, ankles crossed.
“My ex-wife,” he says. “She wants the farm. I told her she could just have it, I don’t want to go to a fuckin’ lawyer.”
Bucky stops what he’s doing. He’s not sure if his facial expression is as puzzled as he thinks it probably is. Whatever face he’s making, Clint doesn’t seem too concerned by it, scratching at the edge of a bandage idly, yawning. Bucky realizes he’s been looking for too long when Clint’s eyes flick back to him and he raises an eyebrow.
“You don’t seem that… sad,” he says, trying to be tactful.
Clint snorts. “I’m not. It- we were having problems years ago. We only stayed together for the kids, but we didn’t love each other. Haven’t for a while.”
Bucky’s not sure why his heart twists in his chest a little bit.
“Then she found out about this,” he says, waving down at the Ronin suit. “Some idiot on TV did a full feature on it, called me a serial killer and a maniac. Got kicked out, banned from seeing the kids. She burned my old suits, too. I don’t know what she did with the bow. Said I didn’t deserve to pretend to be a superhero- to be Hawkeye- anymore.”
“You weren’t pretending,” Bucky says, appalled. “You are Hawkeye. That’s your thing. It’s not conditional on to what you do with your time.”
Clint’s not looking at him, though, so he doesn’t read Bucky’s argument. “She’s right,” he says. “I’m not- I’m fucked up. I may as well keep the fucked-up part on the outside so no one expects any better from me.”
Bucky stays, and Clint- he doesn’t magically turn into a more functional person, he still leaves his shit everywhere and keeps the suit on and goes to smash in the heads of men he’s called the ‘Tracksuit Draculas’- but he starts making breakfast and takes the dog for a walk. The shadows under his eyes fade a little bit and Bucky takes the little bit of pride at helping and tucks it under his ribcage where it’s safe.
He knows it’s probably going to go sour at some point, but he’s enjoying this piece of normality, of helping Aimee fix the ceiling leak- Clint isn’t allowed to because he’s still hurt at the time, and his idea of fixing the ceiling was also duct-tape-related- and sharing a beer while the cartoons are on, of petting Lucky. Aimee’s obviously told the other tenants that Bucky’s here, because he’s greeted the next afternoon by a man named Deke and a plateful of burgers.
“We do a barbecue on the roof every now and then,” Deke says. “Thought we’d invite you, see if you can get our boy out of his hermit hole.”
Bucky turns to look at Clint, who’s reading the lawyer’s letter, unaware of what’s going on. He’s squinting at the words like they’re in a foreign language, or like he can’t see th- hm. Bucky makes a mental note to try and talk him into doing an eye test at some point. Although considering he hasn’t even got hearing aids, it might be a lost cause.
“We’ve missed him,” Deke says, and Bucky looks back to see the barely-veiled worry in his eyes.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Bucky says.
What I can do actually consists of Bucky luring Clint up onto the roof with a six-pack of the shitty beer he’s been buying. Clint must know it’s a trap, because he’s certainly not stupid even if he is a disaster, but he follows anyway and settles with his feet over the edge of the building, watching the traffic as Bucky relinquishes a can to him. Aimee gives him a thumbs up- the other tenants are all clustered around the barbecue, looking puzzled.
“Grills always did it,” Deke explains when he approaches. “It hates turning on.”
He has no idea what a Grills is. “Don’t look at me, I was born in 1917.”
“You have to- here,” Clint says, nudging his way in front of Bucky. Bucky doesn’t see what he does, but there’s a cheer from a few of the tenants and a crackle of heat. Clint steps back, scratching a hand through his hair as he does. It sticks up chaotically and Bucky has the distinct urge to smooth it back into place. He doesn’t, because he has self-control, but he thinks about it. Wonders if it’d be soft to touch.
Deke moves in to start cooking the food, the others milling around to help as Aimee pulls out a folding table. A little girl that only goes up to Clint’s kneecaps throws her arms around his legs, heedless of the sharper edges of the Ronin suit. Clint looks down at her dirty blond hair with visible confusion, and there’s a flicker of something in his expression. He had a daughter, Bucky remembers faintly.
“I love you, Mister Clint,” she says against his knee, and Clint can’t read her lips like this so he doesn’t hear it. How much has he missed out on because he hasn’t heard it?
A woman who must be the girl’s mother wanders over to them and the girl attaches herself to her instead. Some of the stress around Clint’s eyes eases and he immediately takes a step back into Bucky’s space again, like he’s retreating to safety. His movement doesn’t go unnoticed, judging from the way the woman starts eyeing Bucky off curiously. Bucky stays where he is, Clint’s arm brushing up against his briefly.
“Who’s this, Clint?”
The question’s innocent enough, but Clint glances back at Bucky like he’s not entirely sure. “This is my- uh. My Bucky,” he says finally.
“Bucky Barnes. Pleased to meet you,” he says, because his Ma taught him manners and he’s not a complete asshole. He offers the woman a smile that feels a little forced, pushes down the part of him that wants to stand between her and Clint. He doesn’t like the way she’s looking at Clint. Also, his Bucky? What does that mean?
The next mission they’re sent on is a hunt for newly under-powered criminal The Hood- his name is stupid, he’s stupid, he doesn’t even have a hood anymore. Bucky doesn’t care. He’s just following orders. It’s not a hard mission, far from it. Apparently the guy used to be a problem but he certainly isn’t now, scrambling behind his muscled thugs for protection. They both go down in a few seconds to bullets as Bucky steps over them, unimpressed.
“Robbins,” he greets as he catches The Hood’s fist in his hand.
But as he kicks down the guy and shoves his gun into the guy’s throat to intimidate him into telling them where the hostages are, he realizes something.
He turns around and Clint’s there, but he’s looking at something in one of the boxes strewn around the room. The sword’s in his free hand, but his grip on it is loose as he glances back up at the open door. He’s keeping watch. Huh. Bucky’s struck with the realization that Clint’s never done anything but beat everyone to hell in a mission before. The only blood on him is on his knuckles, and it’s only because he broke a guy’s nose on the way in.
“Corridor to the left,” The Hood rasps, trying to push the gun away. “Third door down.”
Bucky punches him in the face. It’s harder than he means for it to, and the man goes down with a wheeze and stays down, but he’s not dead. Bucky pulls out his phone to call the medics waiting a safe distance away. He taps his fingers against his thigh as it dials, thinking about the implications of Clint not bulldozing the enemy the way he normally does. The medics are relieved that it’s over. So is Bucky.
A loud thump echoes from behind him and he whips around to be greeted with the sight of one of the men he’d shot slumping to the floor. He’d been sneaking up on Bucky, evidently, and when Bucky sees the size of the knife he’d been holding he’s relieved. Clint yanks his sword out with a slick noise that’s borderline disgusting and kicks the man in the ribs. Satisfied the man isn’t going to cause any more harm, he looks back at Bucky and wipes the blood off on his pants.
“How d’you feel about pizza?”
Bucky blinks. “Pizza?”
“I know a place,” Clint says. “It’s good shit. Wait, are you like Steve? Do you hate food with flavour?”
It’s the first time Clint’s actually mentioned Steve, and he says it without any of the normal undertones Bucky gets from other people. Clint just says it with the same level of casual he might talk about Lucky, or a sandwich. Completely nonchalant. It’s such a relief Bucky feels like crying, because he’s tired of being treated with kid gloves where Steve’s concerned.
If he’s honest, he’s a little tired of Steve in general.
"Pizza’s good,” he says.
The snow blows around him relentlessly, reducing everything to a sea of white and grey blurred together. The wind is shrieking at him, wordless screaming that makes him want to drive a knife into his ears just to make it stop. He’s alone, standing with his snow-covered boots and his arms wrapped around himself. It feels like his feet are stapled to the ground, though, and he’s forced to stand shivering and silent as the snowstorm blows over him.
He blinks and there’s blood on his hands, soaking into the fabric of his pants as it rises up over his knees, rushing past him like the snow but heavy this time, dragging at him- trying to pull him down. The panic is clawing up his throat as he tries to scream, to call for help, anything, but nothing comes out. The mask is back on his face, cold plastic as the metal restraints snap into place. The blood is up to his waist now and the shrieking is louder. He’s struggling now, pulling helplessly at the cuffs as he sees the familiar figure appear before him, tries to close his eyes against the sight but can’t.
“You did this,” Steve croaks, an old man and a young boy all at once. “Bucky, you-”
“-’re having a nightmare, it’s not real, Barnes,” Clint says, and Bucky opens his eyes and sucks in a panicked breath.
It’s like he’s suffocating on the dream, the memories still assaulting his senses. He’s cold, so cold it feels like it’s burning his skin. He remembers falling from the train, lying in the snow with his body twisted and cracked, feeling the chill settle in his blood. His fingers are scrabbling at Clint’s armoured chest helplessly as he struggles.
Clint catches his hands with uncharacteristic gentleness and presses Bucky’s fingertips against the sliver of bare skin where the Ronin suit is unzipped. He barely knows what’s going on but he recognizes Clint, radiating warmth like a heater as muscles shift under Bucky’s hands, and it’s enough that he stops thrashing. He’s hyperventilating, he notes absently as he fights to breathe.
“Copy my breathing,” Clint says, soft. “Come on.”
He’s still shaking but he makes an effort to focus on the anchoring warmth of Clint’s skin, the gentle rise and fall as he takes a trembling breath. Clint doesn’t say anything else, just stays quiet and breathes steadily, giving him an anchor to drag himself back to the waking world by. There’s faint light seeping in through the window and he thinks it might be morning but it’s far too early either way.
“Fuck,” he rasps when he feels stable enough to talk.
“Yeah,” Clint agrees. His hands are still curled around Bucky’s, keeping them pressed against his chest, and maybe Bucky would be embarrassed by it in another situation. Like this, he isn’t. He’s very aware from the way Clint’s handled him that it isn’t the first time he’s done this, and the look in his eyes is more understanding than pity. Bucky wonders if his screaming woke Clint up and then realizes he couldn’t have, which means Clint was out here for an unrelated reason.
“Better,” Bucky says, his voice rough. He’s still trembling slightly, though, the memory of the snowstorm echoing in his body, and Clint sizes him up quietly before getting to his feet. His hands are still linked with Bucky’s and he tips his head in the direction of his bedroom. Bucky wants to argue because that’s Clint’s safe place, but he’s exhausted and cold and doesn’t have the energy to fight as Clint guides him through the door and gently pushes him towards the bed.
It’s kind of messy, like he expects Clint to be, and yet it’s still soft under the rumpled sheets. He hears rustling and a muffled thump and then a few more blankets are piled on the bed. When he looks over Clint’s pulling a corner down on the top one, careful and neat. It’s grounding in a way it shouldn’t be, watching him be domestic.
“Don’t leave,” he says when Clint’s gaze is on his face. “Please.”
He doesn’t think Clint’s going to stay when he sees the flicker of uncertainty on his face, but then Clint’s looking down at his boots. Bucky’s been sleeping in sweatpants and a shirt- he wouldn’t be particularly put out by Clint wearing the suit in bed, even if it did look uncomfortable. Apparently Clint comes to the same conclusion because he takes off his boots and then pushes his coat off of his shoulders.
Bucky doesn’t have the energy to be shocked, and then Clint’s getting under the sheets next to him in his pants and socks. His hair’s sticking up haphazardly again as he settles down. After a contemplative look, his arm hooks around Bucky’s waist and he pulls them closer. He’s warm, softer than expected, and Bucky finds himself falling back to sleep before he actively tries.
He wakes up from the best sleep he’d had in weeks to fingers tracing up his left arm. Shuri had made sure he could feel it as much as his right, so even with his eyes closed he can feel the gentle pressure shifting carefully along the engraving. It’s relaxing in a way few things in Bucky’s life are, and he’s content to just lie there in the sunlight with his leg thrown over warm leather. His palm is pressed against bare skin, the gentle rhythm of a heartbeat under his hand.
His eyes blink open and he gets an eyeful of Clint’s chest. His whole chest, not just the stripe of skin that’s visible through the unzipped suit. Clint took off the suit. Clint took off the suit because Bucky had a nightmare. He didn’t even take off the suit when he got stabbed. Bucky doesn’t know what to think about this situation. Somewhere during the late morning Clint’s rolled onto his back and Bucky’s curled up against him, and it’s nice. He feels soft and lazy in a way he never does outside of alcohol.
Clint’s still playing with the arm idly. He could’ve left at any time- it’s midday, Bucky’s guessing from the light patterns, but he’s stayed here. With Bucky.
“What does all this mean?”
“Hmm?” Bucky jumps a little, because Clint couldn’t possibly have read his lips from this angle.
Then he remembers that they’re pressed closely enough together for him to have felt the vibrations of Bucky talking. Instead of explaining that he’s having a crisis about the exact definition of their relationship (my Bucky, he’s still confused about that), he sighs and braces himself on the elbow that isn’t resting on Clint, leans over him so he can read Bucky’s lips.
Then he has to pause, because the sight of Clint laid out underneath him all languid and sleep-soft is dangerously close to some of the fantasies he has when he’s alone at night. And he’s shirtless to boot. Clint just smiles at him like he’s exactly where he wants to be, and Bucky wants to lean down and kiss him so bad it hurts.
“Thanks. For last night- uh, this morning,” he says instead. He means it, too, he’s just a little distracted. When he had a nightmare in Sam’s presence he’d get a faintly pitying look and ‘space,’ which usually ended with him locking himself in the bathroom to shake away the trauma. It’s not Sam’s fault- he wouldn’t want this kind of treatment from Wilson, but still. It’s an experience.
It’s just that he also finds Clint unreasonably attractive.
“No problem,” Clint answers. “’s the least I can do.”
“You don’t owe me anything.”
Clint blinks, the hand on Bucky’s arm sliding up his shoulder to press against the side of his neck. He’s still warm. Without all the black he looks softer, like all the hard edges have worn away now there’s no suit. “I do, a little bit. But I’m not doing it because of that. You’re not staying because someone told you to keep an eye on me, right?”
“Nope,” Bucky says. “I try to make my own decisions these days.”
“Me too. Goes sideways a lot, though,” Clint says.
He’s tapping his fingertips against Bucky’s skin absently, something idle without any real rhythm. It’s more like he’s just enjoying the touching. How long has it been since he’s touched someone without the single-minded purpose of causing them harm? Bucky’s more than happy to supply, even if part of his brain is still very much stuck on the sight underneath him.
He’s not expecting anything, nothing at all from Clint, which is why he doesn’t really register what’s going on when the fingers on his neck pull him down gently. He follows the guidance without thinking, leaning down, and then Clint’s closing in on the last few inches of space and kissing him. It’s exactly how he’d imagined and yet more, because Clint’s instigated it like it was nothing, and Bucky can feel the way his heartbeat picks up under his vibranium palm.
Bucky thinks he might be going into cardiac arrest.
Clint pulls back a bit, eyes searching him. “Bad idea?”
“Probably,” Bucky agrees, before he leans back down and kisses the worry off of Clint’s expression.
“Do we have bad guys to fuck with today?”
“No,” Bucky says, setting down the bowl of dog food. Lucky tips his head to the side and looks about as confused as a dog can manage, which is fair considering Clint never feeds him proper food. Bucky sighs. So much for helping the pizza dog have a healthy diet. Considering they eat takeout a majority of the time, it’s not like he can really judge Lucky anyway. “Why? Did you want to check out that new Indian place?”
There’s a moment of silence where Bucky has time to take in the soft blue henley Clint’s got on. The sleeves stop just under his elbows and the murky black of his tattoos stand out in the midday sunlight, the first time Bucky’s been able to see them clearly. The buttons are undone and it’s in dire need of ironing, but it’s still different and Bucky can feel himself smiling a little bit. The pants are still the same, and he’s put his boots back on, but it’s a massive improvement from the way he’d been hiding under the hood.
Clint looks anxious, almost. He’s got his arms crossed in a way that might be defensive if not for the expression on his face. “I wanted to… visit someone.”
“You want me to come with you?”
“You’d be okay with that?”
“Sure,” Bucky says. “Where’re we goin’?”
They take a taxi out of the bustling part of the city to a heavily forested area. There’s no sign of any houses- of anything, really- here, but it feels tranquil somehow. Clint pays the driver with hands that only shake a little, and Bucky gets the sense that this is a big deal for him.
He only realizes how big of a deal it is when he comes to the end of the messy dirt path and sees the gravestone.
It’s absolutely bathed in flowers; wildflowers and roses and things he can’t name, bright bursts of colour that stand out violently against the black marble of the grave. There’s also other things when Bucky looks closer, little trinkets and handwritten notes and scribbled pieces of art. His eyes run over the Natasha Romanoff (Natalia Alianovna Romanova) 1984-2023 inscribed on the front in delicate cursive and he pauses.
He’d known she’d died, of course,- how could he forget- but it was another thing entirely to see evidence of it. Clint crouches down and adjusts some of the flowers a little more neatly, the kind of meticulous cleaning he’d never do for himself. Bucky watches him for a minute and then picks up a clump of tulips in glaring yellow that have been blown away, sits down next to Clint and hands them over. Clint takes the flowers with a little smile and sets them down with the others, then looks at the inscription. Bucky doesn’t say anything.
“Wanda and I got this made, after,” Clint says after a minute of silence, looks back at him. “She takes care of it.”
Clint lifts one shoulder in a shrug. “Hurt too much, the first few months. Then I kept doing the Ronin thing and I felt like she’d be ashamed of me.”
“She wouldn’t be,” Bucky says.
“No,” Clint agrees. “She wouldn’t. She’d call me an idiot and laugh at my hair, maybe, but that’d be it. She was better than that. Better than all of us.”
He leans into Bucky, still looking at Natasha’s grave. Bucky swallows back the worry crawling up his throat. Clint doesn’t sound like he’s going to have a breakdown. He remembers how everyone started treating him with kid gloves after Steve and makes a conscious decision not to do that to Clint. Instead he reaches up to Clint’s hair, starts running his fingers through the blond mess. Clint sighs and relaxes further, still looking at the grave.
“She talked about you sometimes,” Clint says. “She liked you.”
“I liked her too,” Bucky answers quietly. Clint doesn't hear him.
“Thanks for that,” Clint says when they get home, subdued. He takes the water bottle Bucky hands him without complaint, unscrews the lid. His eyes still look a little red-rimmed. “I know it wasn’t like, kicking ass or saving lives, but…”
“It’s fine,” he says. “We can go again if you want. When you’re ready.”
“I’d like that,” Clint admits quietly. He sits down on the couch and Lucky bounces up into his lap, licking at his face. Clint lets him, snorts when Bucky sits down and the dog spreads out so he’s sprawled out on both of them. He’s heavy enough that it weighs down Bucky’s thighs and he refrains from the urge to laugh incredulously. How did he end up here? Living in an apartment in Brooklyn again, with an entirely different reckless blond, stuck on a couch because of an overly friendly dog?
It’s a whole new situation, though, especially with the way he feels about Clint.
He’s tempted to ask if the kissing was a onetime thing, but he’s not sure how to phrase it without sounding like an idiot. It’s not like he’ll know what this is if he doesn’t ask, and it’s sensible to talk things out but part of him is also afraid of the answer. He ruffles Lucky’s soft fur under his flesh hand, thoughtful. There’s no one to ask for advice except himself.
“You okay? Look like you’re Fred Jones trying to solve a mystery,” Clint says, giving him a sideways glance.
Bucky scrambles for another subject to talk about. “Do you think I should cut my hair?”
Clint must know that wasn’t what he was thinking about, but he lets it go anyway. Bucky’s eternally grateful for him. “Your hair? Don’t get a mohawk. High-maintenance bullshit. And don’t get me started on hair dye.”
Bucky rests his arms on Lucky’s back and looks at Clint’s hair. The sides are growing out, not shaved the way they’d been at Tony’s funeral, but the whole thing is still a soft pale blond that suits him in an classic, rugged sort of way. He gestures at it. “Why do you dye it?”
Clint laughs. “Oh, man, you had to ask. That’s a tragedy.” He runs his hand along Lucky’s head. “I moved here after I got kicked out. Simone- she used to live here- gave me a giant vodka bottle as a housewarming gift, which was a fucking terrible idea. I got absolutely trashed. Like, blackout drunk.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow.
“This was before we- before the grave,” Clint continues, a flicker of something dark in his expression. “We didn’t have a funeral. Steve pissed off and so did Thor, Tony was... gone. I was so angry. We were her family, we were all she had and she died for us. Everyone went to Stark’s funeral, and no one talked about Natasha.”
“You loved her,” Bucky says.
“Not romantically. But yeah. More than anything,” he agrees easily. “Other half of my soul. My drunk idiot brain decided if no one else was going to remember her I was going to, so I stumbled down to the store and bought red hair dye. The shopkeeper told me I had to bleach it first. Went back and got bleach.”
Bucky looks back up at Clint’s hair, which is mostly certainly not red and has never been red, then back at his face.
“I didn’t get that far. Passed out after I washed the bleach off. Then I woke up hungover and realized what a dumb idea red hair was. I'm not Natasha,” he says. “But I’d already done the blond and I’m a stubborn son of a bitch, though, so I kept it. I kind of like it.”
“It’s nice. I like it too,” Bucky says quietly, and Clint’s soft smile is like sunlight.
His phone rings while they’re still tangled in bed together.
Bucky’s not entirely sure where he ends and Clint begins, stubble scratching against his collarbone where Clint’s burrowed in. It’s quite possibly the best thing he’s ever experienced, sleeping with Clint, and he might still be confused about what he’s doing but by god is it wonderful. He tightens his hold a little bit- not enough to hurt, but enough that he can feel warm skin pressed against him as much as he can manage.
Clint shifts against him and mumbles something inaudible. He drops a kiss on Bucky’s neck and rolls closer, mostly on top of Bucky, and he’s hot and heavy and absolutely awe-striking. He lifts up enough for his face to be visible after a moment, and Bucky just. He likes him so much. Clint must read something in his expression because his expression evolves from sleepy to intent and he’s leaning forward to bite at Bucky’s lip.
His whole body lights up when Clint kisses him. It sounds childish- and a little pathetic, if he’s honest, but if he’s being honest he also has to admit it’s true. Clint’s kissing him like he’s done it a million times before, a mix of teasing and comfortable, and Bucky’s hands tighten on his waist over his shirt. There’s a lot of coiled, lean muscle underneath the cotton and despite the fact he’s been partners with both Captain Americas there’s something specifically nice about Clint’s body.
He sucks in a shaky breath as Clint’s teeth graze his jaw, tries to stamp down the flutter of heat in his stomach. Unfortunately his body has other ideas because he tips his chin up automatically when Clint’s mouth drifts down to his throat. Bucky wonders for a second where his hands are and then feels fingers curve around his half-hard dick over his sweatpants, light and teasing.
His phone chimes and he groans. Nope, no, he doesn’t care, not now.
Clint lifts his head up and takes in the look on Bucky’s face. A normal person might be embarrassed by being this visibly unraveled from this little, but Bucky just wants Clint to keep touching him and never stop, so he just gazes back, breathing unsteady. The self-satisfied smirk that slips onto Clint’s lips is nothing he’s ever seen before.
Bucky leans it to kiss it away, moans against his mouth when Clint’s fingers get less teasing and more firm.
His phone chimes again.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he grumbles, frustrated. Clint makes an interested hmm? noise in the back of his throat, leans back to give Bucky room. Right, he can’t hear the phone. Lucky bastard.
He sits up and Clint ends up mostly in his lap as he pats around for the phone clumsily, half of his attention still on the way the Ronin pants stretch over Clint’s spread thighs. His fingers nudge the screen and he tries to drag it over the sheets, swearing when it nearly falls off the bed. Clint snickers at him, having noticed what’s going on now and being amused by it.
Bucky finally manages to get a grip on the device and pulls it over, grimacing at the picture displayed. It’s funny- a stupid little cartoon of a pigeon holding a handgun, he’s hilarious, but it also tells him exactly who’s bothering him and he’s not particularly interested in Sam right now. Clint’s got one eyebrow raised but Bucky hasn’t answered the phone yet so he shrugs, slips his hands under Bucky’s shirt to splay his fingers out, drag his nails lightly over one nipple.
It’s unfortunate that it’s the exact moment Bucky goes to press End Call and he gets distracted, with his fingers slipping over the Answer button instead.
“Fuck,” he says as the hologram loads. “Fuck, shit, fuck.”
They share a panicked stare as Sam says “Barnes?” and then Clint rolls off the bed and onto the floor in a feat of lightning-fast reflexes. There’s an audible thump and Bucky winces. Sam raises his eyebrows questioningly, looking highly unimpressed. Bucky realizes he probably looks like a mess, bedhair and in a rumpled purple t-shirt of Clint’s. Whoops. It’s likely this is not what Sam expected when he called this morning.
“I- I’ll call you back in a second,” Bucky says, ignores Sam’s protests as he hangs up.
“Holy shit,” Clint says from where he’s sprawled out on the carpet. “I feel like I’m in one of those teen movies where the girl’s dad is trying to catch them sneaking away to fuck. And he has a shotgun. Does Sam have a shotgun? Is he going to kick my ass for deflowering you?”
Bucky valiantly tries to hold back the laughter. He fails.
“So I’ll be ready to get back to it the day after tomorrow. I get back tomorrow night. Sorry for leaving you hanging for so long, man.”
“No, it’s fine,” Bucky says, and he’s surprised to find it’s true. He’s settled down on Clint’s couch to answer the call, too tired to go back to wherever he parked the Quinjet to pretend he’s been staying there. He’s made an effort to get dressed, at least, although the black sweater is Clint’s. Clint looks a little pleased about it as he heads out the door with Lucky to give them some privacy.
“You at a hotel or something? Fancy,” Sam says. “Using that Hydra cash for some luxury?”
“Oh yeah,” Bucky agrees, the sarcasm bleeding through. “Five stars. It says ‘no birds allowed’ though, so you’ll have to go back to your own apartment.”
Sam’s eyeroll is visible even through the blue light of the hologram. He’s wearing the new suit they’ve crafted for him, the white lines and red stripes standing out against the dark blue. It suits him, weirdly enough, and the sight of the shield strapped to his left arm is a curious one. Bucky’s still sees Steve, sometimes, when he sees that shield. He’s not a fan of it.
“Anyway, we can get back to the routine once I get back,” Sam informs him. “Kicking ass, taking names. Hopefully they’ll stop with this press bullshit- you’d think they’d never seen a black man before, it’s ridiculous.”
“Nah,” Sam says. “Just dumb as rocks. No need to go all murder-stare on me, man.”
There’s a pause as Sam looks at him thoughtfully. It’s an assessing look, something that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It feels like he’s being evaluated, and he got enough of that particular look from various scientists over the last seventy years. Still, he stays where he is, schools is face into something neutral and stares back. Eventually Sam shrugs at him.
“Doom’s back,” he says. “Apparently he’s got more robots from somewhere, so we’ll head out there next. Then we’ve got a few more Hydra bases to clean out for info. There’s never a break from this shit, honestly. Think if I ask them nicely the villains’ll take a break and leave me the fuck alone?”
“No,” Bucky says. “You’re too annoying to ignore.”
“Shut the hell up, I’m a delight.”
“I’m sure,” he answers dryly.
Sam rolls his eyes again. “Anyway, I’ll meet you at the Quinjet. Text you when I’m getting close.”
“Okay,” Bucky agrees, as the hologram dissipates in front of him.
The apartment goes silent and Bucky feels a chill on his skin again, even though the heater’s on. Clint’s kept it on most nights lately, and he’s definitely doing it for Bucky’s benefit. His grip on his phone tightens enough that it creaks a bit under pressure and he drops it onto the coffee table with a loud thunk. His stomach feels like it’s being weighed down with lead.
In a day he’ll go back to Sam.
He’ll go back to Sam and they’ll fight bad guys together and things will be the same again. Captain America and Bucky Barnes, saving the day once again. Doing the right thing. He owes it to them, to everyone he’s hurt as the Fist of Hydra, to be an Avenger and help people. Save lives for all the ones he’s taken. It’s his duty to try and balance the scales, he can’t have a choice in the matter.
Lucky comes barreling into the apartment and he turns to see Clint kicking the apartment door shut behind him, a newspaper in his hand. His heart twists painfully at the sight. Shit.
Clint doesn’t seem to be aware of his thoughts, based on the way he vaults over the back of the couch to sit himself next to Bucky and presses a quick kiss to his cheek. He’s warm, the same way he always is, and it hurts a little. Bucky watches as he pulls the newspaper out and unfolds it, flipping haphazardly like he’s searching for something. Eventually he comes to the society section and passes an article over to Bucky.
Hawkeye Back On The Scene? the article screams in bold black letters. There’s a few pictures of mobsters riddled with arrows, and a blurry photo of a purple figure on top of a building, the shadow of a bow unmistakable even with the bad quality.
Bucky looks back up at Clint, who’s been here the whole time. “Looks like you’ve got a copycat.”
“Yeah,” Clint agrees, but he seems… excited, rather than angry or put out. “Love the suit.”
He isn’t upset. Maybe the Hawkeye label was dragging him down more than anyone had thought. Hawkeye is an infallible superhero who's here to save everyone- Ronin is a deadly ghost with no allegiances and no pressure from outside forces. Bucky’s suddenly relieved that he spent seventy years as Hydra’s murderous puppet because at least no one has the kind of expectations of him someone like Clint would’ve had to live with.
“I hope they kick some ass,” Bucky says finally, and Clint smiles.
They’ve both got their shirts off and Clint’s mapping out his skin with rough fingertips, when the question rises out of Bucky’s throat without permission. He can’t leave without knowing, he’s aware of that, but it’s still something he doesn’t want to talk about.
“What is this? What are we?”
“Human beings?” Clint offers the words with a wry smile. Bucky tries not to look too stressed and Clint sits back on the couch, folds his hands in his lap. He’s got a bruise colouring high on his neck and his hair’s even more ridiculous than usual. He’s beautiful and Bucky’s terrified of the power Clint doesn’t even know he has over him. “What do you want it to be?”
“I…” If he’s honest, he’d take anything that Clint gave him, anything, even if it was just a smile or a cup of coffee. He’s a little enamoured with this absolute disaster of a man. Clint seems to register the badly-concealed panic on his face and gives him a sympathetic look, taking his hand and linking their fingers together. It gives him enough comfort that he remembers to breathe again.
“Personally,” Clint says, “I’m allergic to feelings but Tasha would kill me if I didn’t say anything, so. Uh. I really like you. I like your arm and your weird compulsive cleaning habits and waking up next to you. And that you listen to me and don’t stress about my past. I like that you actually give a shit. Also, you’re stupidly hot.”
“Thanks,” Bucky answers dryly, over the rush of blood in his ears. “I really like you too.”
“Good,” Clint answers, looking a little surprised. It shouldn’t be a shock given how Bucky’s practically moved in with him, but Bucky gets the feeling Clint is often caught up in the self-deprecating part of his brain instead of paying attention. He tightens his hands on Clint’s hips tries to memorize the way he feels on Bucky’s lap. Clint’s tracing up the mess of scars where the vibranium arm joins onto the rest of his body.
“Sam’s coming back tomorrow to get me,” he blurts out, because he can’t not tell him.
“Okay,” Clint says. He doesn’t look angry or anything, just resigned, and that’s worse somehow. He offers Bucky a faint smile. “It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it, Barnes.”
“Right,” Bucky says.
Clint’s still in his lap, boots kicked off somewhere in the bedroom and shirt nowhere to be found, and Bucky watches as he looks uncertain for a second. “I’m not,” he starts. Stops. “I don’t think I’m going to go with you guys anymore.”
Clint winces. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d pay a million dollars to hang out with you, but I was fucked up when I agreed to join you and Wilson. I’m still fucked up, but- I don’t want to be? I think. So I’m going to try being just me, without the superhero bullshit for a while.”
Bucky had been half-hoping for something like this ever since the last mission but it’s another thing entirely to hear it from Clint himself. He thinks of a hollow shell standing in the rain with bloodied knuckles encased in a shell of black armour, and then he looks at the man sitting on his lap, covered in scars and bruises but looking at him with warmth. Clint wants to get better. Bucky thinks his heart might have collapsed in on itself.
“You don’t have to go until tomorrow, right?” Clint says. “You want to lock the dog out of the bedroom and have some fun?”
It’s selfish, to not want to do it anymore.
He’s lying on Clint’s rumpled sheets when he thinks that, listening to the off-key sounds of Aimee’s guitar through the walls. The ceiling has a very noticeable coffee stain on it, and part of him is curious about how that happened. Most of him is conflicted and rifled with guilt over his current situation. He likes being here, living with Clint and his weird tenants, eating awful takeaway and taking the dog for walks in the park. He likes being with Clint.
The door creaks open and the aforementioned blond slips into the room. Bucky lifts his head and watches the way Clint walks over to the bed, looking messy and sleepy and spectacular. He sits up as Clint passes over the bottle of water in his left hand, leans back against the headboard. Clint sits in front of him so he can read Bucky’s lips, unscrews the cap on his own water bottle.
They slip into silence. Clint’s bare knee is warm against his thigh.
“You know what? I was actually glad when Steve left,” Bucky says. “Felt like shit about it, but. I thought maybe I’d get a damn break. That I’d get to read some books, catch up on history. Buy some fucking plums. Go jogging. Have some semblance of a normal life. And instead he gave Sam the shield and now I’m stuck in the same place I was before. Captain America and his sidekick.”
Clint doesn’t say anything.
“I’m tired of fighting,” he confesses quietly. “First the war, then Hydra, then being on the run. Then I stay at Wakanda and they let me just… be, but that didn’t last long. Then Thanos. New arm, new weapon. Now Sam. I feel like that’s all people see when they look at me. A weapon.”
“I see a guy who needs to learn what shampoo is,” Clint answers- it’s not a biting retort the way someone else would say it, it’s soft and a little fond, and Bucky’s so startled he laughs. When he looks back at Clint there’s an expression that’s caught between amusement and genuine delight, and it’s so regretfully cute he has to look down at his shoes again.
He’s leaving this. To do something he doesn’t even like doing.
Clint’s hand lands on his bare thigh, squeezes gently in a comforting manner. He leans forward and Bucky expects kissing, maybe, but Clint just gets a little closer, blue eyes bright and understanding in a way they shouldn’t be for someone that young.
“Shuri fixed your triggers so you could make your own decisions, without anyone else being able to tell you what to do and when to do it,” Clint says softly. “That means you do what you choose to do. Not what other people want. Not what other people expect. Destiny and prophecy are fake, there’s no divine path to walk.”
“That was… oddly poetic for you,” Bucky replies.
Clint snickers. “That’ll be twenty dollars. I’m running a life advice camp now I’m not kicking ass.”
Sam’s swoops down in a careful arc above Bucky’s head and lands on the ramp to the Quinjet.
Bucky pushes his hair back where it’s been blown haphazard by the wind and approaches, the dry grass crunching under his feet. The plane looks the same as it had when he’d left it- he’s thankful for the high-tech security system keeping it safe, because if it had been ransacked he’d probably have a lot of people to answer to. As it is, he can enter safely.
He’s still feeling the ghost of Clint’s hands on him as Sam offers him a nod of greeting, sits down in the pilot’s seat. Bucky perches on the edge of the copilot’s chair and looks at the black emptiness of the interior. He’s back in his combat gear, the blue jacket unforgiving and rough in comparison to the things he’s been wearing.
“Doom’s already started storming Stark Tower,” Sam says. “Looks like we’ll have to head out there straight away. Sorry it’s not the heartfelt reunion you were probably expecting.”
“You think I missed your punk ass?”
Bucky straps himself in the seat as the plane starts up and reaches for the comms unit on the dashboard, feeling the resignation settle heavy in his bones. He only notices Sam staring at him after five minutes of staring blankly at the open sky from the window. He grimaces.
“I got somethin’ on my face?”
“Yeah. It’s real ugly, too,” Sam says, but it’s missing the bite it usually has. “You okay, man?”
“Not really,” he answers.
Sam’s still looking at him and he’s got that expression that says he’s reading into the person’s soul. It’s not normally directed at Bucky and he shifts uncomfortably. Why can’t he just drive the goddamn plane instead of trying to play therapist? Bucky’s already this close to just lying on the floor and not getting up again for a year.
“Means that much to you, huh,” Sam says. It’s not mocking.
Bucky thinks of the way Clint had looked at him before he’d left, swallows hard. “Yeah.”
Captain America and Bucky Barnes spotted at Stark Tower, the subtitles on the television tell him. No Casualties.
Clint watches the shaky footage with idle curiosity. The Tower itself is smoking from the top, as frantic-looking firemen work to evacuate the citizens. He watches the arc of Sam’s wings and snorts to himself when a particularly clumsy Doombot just falls off the roof without any help from anyone. God, why does Victor even try anymore? He should go into retail or something.
He returns his attention to the box in front of him and sets the stack labeled “PUTTY ARROWS” in his messy scrawl inside with the others. He’s put one boomerang arrow in there in the hopes it might finally be used with some purpose, but he’s not getting too excited. Maybe he’ll get the chance to share more of his ideas if this goes well.
Clint seals up the box and finds the purple marker he was using earlier, writes the address he’s committed to memory. He writes Katherine Bishop on the top and hopes he hasn’t made a massive blunder by going through with this.
He sees the window rattle and Lucky runs over to it, and he’s barking. Clint knows, even if he can’t actually hear the sound himself, and reaches for his sword instinctively. Then he sighs and puts his hand in the pocket of his hoodie instead, walks over to the window.
“What the fuck- use the front door, this isn’t Romeo and Juliet,” he says.
Bucky hasn’t bothered to change or even wipe the ash and gunpowder off of himself from the Doombot altercation. He grins at Clint, a little wild and happy in the way that makes his own heart kick up a few beats. No, don’t get your hopes up, Barton, he thinks as he cracks open the window and lets Bucky in. He’s Clint Barton, things don’t go right for him. He doesn’t get a happy or heroic ending the way normal people do.
Bucky’s got a black duffel bag with him.
He says something and Clint thinks he’s probably read that wrong over the frantic beat of his heart. “Can you repeat that,” he says.
Nope, that’s definitely Sam fired me.
“Oh, shit. Seriously?”
[I got ---- --------,] Bucky says, pulls out a little black box. Holy shit. Clint gives him a look he’s sure is only seen on owls, wide-eyed with the shock creeping up from his feet. Bucky opens the box and Clint’s fairly sure he goes into cardiac arrest looking at the shiny purple hearing aids. [---- adjusts based on your -----. Stark ---- them before he ----.]
Clint stares at them. Then he stares at Bucky. Then he stares back down at the aids again.
[I’m learning sign ------- too, but I thought ---- --- help,] Bucky says. [---- don’t have to --- them, though.]
Clint doesn’t read anything else he says because he’s already snatching the aids out of the box and fitting them to his ears. It’s like they were made for him, which is weird because there’s no way Stark knew he’d been deaf on and off through childhood, or that an explosion in the final battle would do in his hearing for good. Unless… Fury had a hand in it. Fuck. He finds the little button to turn them on and presses it, cringing when there’s a whining noise.
The whining stops.
He looks up and Bucky’s staring at him expectantly. “Are they working?”
“Holy shit,” Clint croaks. “Never stop talking.”
Bucky laughs and it’s the best thing he’s ever heard in his life. “Move in with me,” Clint says compulsively.
“I thought I already had,” Bucky says dryly. Visibly swallows. “I mean yes. Yeah. I’d like that.”
Clint has to kiss him then, completely ignoring Aimee’s cheer from the fire escape.