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A Lifetime Of Dreaming

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Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

There’s a squawking somewhere in the room and he feels disoriented, glances around the messy hotel room. What the fuck? He locates the noise, sees a green cuckoo clock with a fuck-ugly misshapen bird on it, then realizes he’s not in bed.

“Guess I shouldn’t startle you, huh,” Steve says, a little sheepishly.

He doesn’t look at all concerned about the blade against his throat, tiny trickle of blood where it’s broken the skin, and that’s what brings Clint’s brain back online. Shit. Clint pulls the knife back, tries to stop his heartbeat from slamming against his ribs. He doesn’t even remember throwing Steve down onto the carpet, although logically he must’ve done it. His knees still kind of hurt from hitting the floorboards hard.

“My fault,” Steve adds. “Shouldn’t have snuck up on you while you were resting.”

“It- oh,” Clint says as he realizes what’s happened. He’s done this a few times, mostly to Natasha. Something about waking up suddenly or in a strange places activates a panic reflex in his brain and he ends up attacking whoever’s tried to touch him in his sleep. Natasha’s gotten a few nasty bruises, but she gives as good as she gets.

Steve’s just laying there placidly, half-smiling up at him and not even slightly bothered. A bird starts screaming outside and Clint feels the grimace tug at his lips.

“Fucking hell, Cap,” he says. “You got a death wish?”

“You wouldn’t hurt me,” Steve answers, all blind trust, and Clint’s inwardly disgusted with himself for even subconsciously hurting this ridiculous man. Steve’s not naive, but he has far too much faith. Definitely too much in Clint, who’s a mess at the best of times and a downright flaming trash fire at worst. He throws the knife across the room, knows without looking that it’s embedded in the ugly cuckoo’s carved head.

“Fuck,” he repeats for good measure.

It’s about then that he realizes he’s straddling Steve’s broad chest in his Incredible Hulk underwear and there’s only a thin layer of cotton between Steve’s skin and his dick. Fuck, he thinks with slightly more feeling than he’d used verbally, stays there for a frozen moment. Steve’s like a goddamn furnace underneath him, feverish-hot and hard muscle and Clint’s. Jesus Christ.

“You were having a nightmare,” Steve says, completely oblivious to Clint’s internal turmoil. “I wanted to help you.”

“Man, Steve, just let me suffer next time. It’s better for everyone involved.” Clint sighs heavily and then flinches as Steve’s hand lands on his knee, rubs across the skin comfortingly.

The worst part is that it works and Clint hates him a little bit for it. He stays where he is for a second longer, can’t help himself when Steve looks like that. It’s a little bit about the puppy eyes, a little bit about the sheer amount of muscle and a lot about it just being Steve he’s sitting on. God, no one should be allowed to look that good.

Steve Rogers is kind of stupidly beautiful.

“Sir, I’ve brought your breakf- oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.”

“Fuck,” Clint says again as the embarrassed delivery woman turns around to give them privacy. He can feel his face heating up without his permission, and struggles not to just smack his hands over his face and hide. Maybe he can move to China and become an English teacher. No, that’s a terrible idea, he asked Nat how to spell acknowledge the other day. Steve stays perfectly calm underneath him, the bastard.

He gets up with some difficulty and offers a hand to Steve, pulls him to his feet even though Clint can’t quite make eye contact. Steve walks over to the door and Clint looks around for his tac pants, shimmies them up his hips as the woman at the door tries not to look at him.

The girls used to stare at him all the time.

Maybe he’s getting too old for this.

“Thank you for the food,” Steve says, takes the tray from the hotel employee’s hands with a smile. She smiles back at him, immediately caught in whatever aura of wholesome goodness Steve gives off. Clint catches himself wishing it was him Steve was smiling at, scowls and silently tells his useless brain to fuck off. It’s just smiling. He’s stupid. And it’s not like Steve doesn’t smile at him, it’s just that most of the time he’d rather lecture Clint on unsafe practices in the field.

So he has a bit of a crush on Steve Rogers.

It’s not like it matters.

“They’ve given us cheese with apricots in it,” Steve notes as he puts it down on the table, looks at the offending object with an expression that’s halfway between puzzlement and open disgust. The weird start to the day and Steve’s earnest carefulness disappears like it had never been there. “Is that… normal?”

“For a place like this? Probably,” Clint answers, grabs a shirt at random and yanks it down over his head. “I like my cheese to be cheese-flavoured, but hey, that’s because I’m a hick. Rich people love that shit.”

“Hmm,” Steve says, doesn’t look convinced.

Clint’s a self-admitted garbage can, so he just sits down in the chair opposite and shoves a handful of grapes in his mouth. Chews. They taste different from the ones he gets at the corner store, but that’s probably because they’re not from old Mrs Kaganovich’s withered vines. There’s a lot of food here, enough for a supersoldier and the only guy on the team taller than said supersoldier, and Clint’s determined to get his share. He’s seen Steve eat before.

Clint watches as he locates the most carb-heavy things on the tray and devours them, snorts a little. At least he doesn’t have to worry about being gross - Steve’s just as bad as he is, although he’s marginally more polite about it.

“It’s nice that they have so much food,” Steve says, or at least, that’s what Clint thinks he says. It’s hard to tell between the hearing aids and the amount of bread Steve’s got in his mouth right now. “The future’s good for that.”

“I think it’s just our cover story,” Clint answers blandly. “Hotels are normally pretty generous to newlyweds.”

That’s probably why Steve hadn’t been concerned about the earlier altercation either. Clint had forgotten they had an excuse.

He purposely doesn’t look down at the ring on his left finger. He’s already had the hotel staff coo over the slim gold band and sparkly blue stones. Being undercover sucks. He’s fairly sure he only was put on this mission with Steve because he used Natasha’s hair straightener to toast his bagel.

It’s a very Natasha way to get revenge on him, to stick him in a room with Steve Rogers for a week and have their cover story be that. He’s going to get her back once this is all over. Maybe fill her shampoo with green hair dye.

Clint glances over at the calendar. April seventeenth.

Steve’s phone rings then, and Clint grimaces. “You still have the default ringtone?”

“I could always change it to one of the songs Tony left on here,” Steve offers as he gets up to grab the device from the counter. “How d’you feel about Nicki Minaj? Hey, Sam.”

“You’re a bastard,” Clint informs him, and Steve does the little half-smirk thing he does when he’s being a shit and he knows it.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he says into the phone. “The shield? I left it on the couch. Did you ask Bucky if he’s seen it?”

Clint snorts, snags the coffeepot and pours himself a cupful. Steve sighs and listens to whatever Sam’s saying on the other end of the line, leans back against the counter as it drags on. Clint can’t listen in because his aids aren’t that good, but he doesn’t need to. Ever since Steve started delegating Captain America duties to Sam and Bucky there’s been more chaos than good.

Clint suspects that Steve does it because it’s funny.

“I’m sure he hasn’t hidden it, Sam, that’s silly. He’s an adult,” Steve says in a placating tone. “I’ll see you next week, okay?”

He hangs up and then Clint watches as he taps out something immediately afterwards. “Bucky’s hidden the shield again, hasn’t he?”

“Probably,” Steve answers. “I’m telling him to put it back, just in case.”

“You think that’s how he flirts?”

“Bucky? Yeah, he likes being a jerk,” Steve agrees. “I don’t know what Sam will do about it, though.”

“It’s kind of cute,” Clint says with amusement. Like ponytail-pulling.

“I guess. I don’t think I know anything about flirting anymore,” Steve says with a sigh, sits back down. His phone pings again but he ignores it in favour of taking the glass of juice Clint passes over. When Clint glances at his face he looks a little resigned. Who’s he been flirting with? Surely it would’ve been noticeable, Steve flirting with someone. Clint prides himself on being observant. Shit, when did he miss it?

“That bad, huh? You tried just getting drunk and going for it?”

“I can’t get drunk,” Steve answers dismally. “Anyway, it wouldn’t work.”

Clint kicks his bare feet up on the table, tries not to kick over the plate of croissants. He can’t really fathom the idea of this mystery person just straight-up ignoring advances from the original Captain America. That’s so weird. Why would anyone turn down Steve when he’s the literal embodiment of perfection? “It’s not Tony, is it? I’m pretty sure he’d jump you the minute you even hinted at it, though. ”

“It’s not Tony,” Steve says, sounds even more resigned than he had before.

“Please tell me it’s not Nat,” he pleads. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. “She’ll eat you alive, Steve, there won’t even be a body left to find. And I like you in one piece.”

“It’s not Natasha,” Steve answers, but he’s smiling a little bit now. “You like me, huh?”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” Clint says, stamps down the urge to smile back. He’s not giving himself away that easy. “You’re still an asshole.”

“Coming from you, that almost sounds like a compliment. Thank you, Clint.”

“Whatever,” Clint answers, tries to ignore the way his chest feels a little tighter. “Where did we have to go today? It feels like we haven’t done anything useful at all on this mission. Maybe the bad guys saw you on the street and recognized you or something.”

“No one recognizes me without the shield,” Steve says. “It’s fine. I thought we could try the stores downtown, see if anyone’s seen the man we’re supposed to find.”

Technically Clint is the trained spy here, but he’s a little proud of how quickly Steve’s started learning now he’s not always Captain America. He still has a ways to go with the concept of subtlety, and he’s bossy as all hell, but he’s been absorbing all the skills like a determined sponge. If Steve wants to go asking around for their disappearing witness, Clint’s happy to follow along. He gets up, finds a travel mug so he can take the coffee with him.

“Alright, let’s go,” he says.

“You’re not going to wear a jacket?”

“No,” Clint answers, looks at Steve’s dubious expression and grimaces. “Don’t do that, don’t make the Eyebrows of Disappointment at me just because I don’t give in to your mother-henning. I’m fine, Steve. It’s not like it’s snowing.”

“I don’t do anything with my eyebrows,” Steve says.

He’s still doing it, though. Maybe it’s unconscious. Clint sighs and waits for him to shrug on his leather jacket - Steve does need a jacket, because his white t-shirt is sinfully tight and also a little see-through. It should be illegal, really, wearing something that close-fitting. It looks like it’s about to meld with his skin.

Once he’s got his shoes on they head out, and Steve heads for the stairs. Clint sighs again and inwardly berates himself as he follows, trying not to spill his coffee everywhere. He hates unnecessary exercise. Steve is a cruel partner, making him do it at this hour of the morning. The worst part is that Clint likes him enough to let him get away with it.

Steve holds the door to the stairs open for him, forever the gentleman, and Clint rolls his eyes but steps through. “What’s this guy’s name, anyway? The one we’re supposed to find.”

“Nikolaus something,” Steve says. “Foley? Yes, that’s it. Nikolaus Foley.”

“Sounds like a weirdo,” Clint comments, turns to glance at Steve out of the corner or his eye. Steve’s fiddling with something in his hands, something shiny, and as he tries to get a better look his foot lands on the next step wrong. His ankle twists painfully and he doesn’t quite manage to cry out as he slips, overbalances and hits the rickety-looking railing. There’s a snap and Clint feels cold, hears Steve yells as he falls and then-

 

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

There’s a squawking somewhere in the room and he feels disoriented, glances around the messy hotel room. What the fuck? He locates the noise, sees a green cuckoo clock with a fuck-ugly misshapen bird on it, then realizes he’s not in bed.

“Guess I shouldn’t startle you, huh,” Steve says, a little sheepishly.

He doesn’t look at all concerned about the blade against his throat, tiny trickle of blood where it’s broken the skin, and that’s what brings Clint’s brain back online. Shit. Clint pulls the knife back, tries to stop his heartbeat from slamming against his ribs. He doesn’t even remember throwing Steve down onto the carpet, although logically he must’ve done it.

“My fault,” Steve adds. “Shouldn’t have snuck up on you while you were resting.”

“What the fuck,” Clint breathes. He can still feel the air whistling past his ears. His ankle feels fine, though, when he shifts back from Steve’s face. The knife is cold in his loose grip and Clint drops it on the carpet next to Steve’s arm, stares at the smear of red on his neck. His breathing’s still coming too fast, too rapid for his lungs as he tries to process what’s going on.

“You were having a nightmare,” Steve says, completely oblivious to Clint’s internal turmoil. “I wanted to help you.”

“Right,” Clint answers, takes another breath and holds it this time. Does it a few more times, closes his eyes briefly. It calms him down enough that he doesn’t feel like he’s going to burst out of his skin from adrenaline. God, what the hell? A bird starts screaming outside and Clint feels a grimace tug at his lips.

Man, what a weird fucking dream. His nightmares are normally about his shitty childhood or the torture of the week, not a day that he hasn’t even lived yet.

He looks over at the calendar. Yep, April seventeenth.

Steve’s hand lands on his knee and rubs at it gently, and Clint looks down to see his Incredible Hulk underwear. Great, his dream had accurately predicted that he’d be a fucking embarrassment. He’s not really surprised, though, that’s just how his life is. The sky is blue, the grass is brown, Clint Barton brings shame to everything he sets out to do.

“Are you okay?”

Clint looks down at Steve’s earnest face, sighs. “Yeah. Sorry. I just- weird dreams, you know?”

“Sometimes I think all of this is a dream and I’m still in the Valkyrie,” Steve says, which just makes Clint’s chest hurt. It’s not particularly helpful, though. He’s still looking up at Clint like he thinks Clint holds all the answers to the world, which he most certainly does not. Clint stares back at him, though, because he’s still reeling from his own overactive subconscious and also, it’s a nice view.

Steve’s eyes are very blue.

“Sir, I’ve brought your breakf- oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.”

“Fuck,” Clint swears, gets to his feet.

She’s already turned around but he sends a quiet curse up at whatever is out there, reaches out to help Steve up as well. Steve is unruffled by the situation, walks over to greet the woman and take the tray of food from her. They’re smiling at each other in a soft, friendly manner and Steve looks like one of those fairytale princes, all gold hair and welcoming expression as he thanks her for the hotel breakfast.

It’s exactly the same as his dream.

“They’ve given us cheese with apricots in it,” Steve says, and the dubious look is on his face. “Is that… normal?”

“For a place like this? Probably,” Clint replies automatically, realizes he’s echoing what he’d said in the dream. He notices a second later that he’s still standing there in his underwear and grabs for his tac pants hurriedly, shimmies them up his hips. When he pulls a shirt over his head Steve’s sitting down with the food, and if Clint’s aware that his window of opportunity regarding the food is closing rapidly.

The dream had been right about that, too.

He gets ahold of the nearest shirt and pulls it over his head before he sits down. He’s still feeling a little light-headed from the dream and the resulting mess, and decides it’s definitely time for coffee. There’s a pot on the tray but Clint feels guilty, pours Steve his juice before he goes in for the coffee. Steve’s eyebrows lift when the cup is set in front of him and then he smiles, small and pleased. Clint’s heart does a funny thing in his chest.

“Clint, I had something I wanted to-” he starts, and then his phone rings.

Default ringtone.

“I’d better get that,” Steve says, looks regretful for a second. He still gets up to answer the phone, though. “Hey, Sam.”

Clint tries to jam two croissants into his mouth at the same time. It doesn’t really work, but the antics alleviate the mix of dread and anxiety swirling around in his gut. Steve snorts when he sees, a soft, fond little noise as he listens to whatever Sam’s saying to him. Clint takes a swig of coffee and sighs. Ah, bliss. He should be fake-married to the coffee instead.

Now there’s an idea. He looks down at the ring on his finger, twirls it around idly. It’s small enough that it won’t cause problems if there’s a fight, but big enough that he can show it off like a smug sugarbaby.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Steve replies into the phone. “The shield? I left it on the couch.”

“Tell Bucky to put it back,” Clint mutters without thinking. He doesn’t mean to say it at all, let alone loud enough for Sam to hear, but that’s what must happen because Steve’s expression gets pained. Even Clint can hear the shouting now, and he mouths sorry at Steve, gets a sigh in return. He does feel bad for Steve, not so much for Bucky.

“Look, I’m sure you two can work it out,” Steve says. “I have faith. I’ll see you next week, alright?”

When he hangs up he gives Clint a bemused look. “Have you been hanging out with Bucky?”

“No,” Clint says through a mouthful of apricot cheese. It’s disgusting, he hates rich people. “I mean, we play Wii Sports sometimes, but no.”

“How did you know he had the shield?”

“Lucky guess,” Clint answers, lifts one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. He’s not willing to divulge that he can apparently predict the future via dream just yet. Maybe he’s developed a superpower somewhere along the way. That’d be cool, he guesses, although he’s kind of fond of just being himself.

“Alright,” Steve says, but he looks a little puzzled still. “I’m going to text Bucky and tell him to give the shield back.”

Clint watches him tap out a message, decides not to comment. He’s not sure if prophets are supposed to tell people what they know. Things aren’t exactly the same, anyway. “What did you want to say before?”

“Hm? Oh, it’s nothing,” Steve replies. There’s something shifty about the way he doesn’t make eye contact though, grabs his leather jacket off of the bed.

“Okay,” Clint says, lets it go. He's not in the right headspace to nag. “You ready to head out for the day?”

“Yes. I was thinking we could try some of the stores downtown and ask if they’ve seen the man we’re looking for. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure,” Clint says. “Let me grab my boots, I’ll finish off the coffee on the way down.”

Steve waits for him patiently and as they exit the hotel room and he holds open the door to the stairs, Clint suddenly remembers the end of the dream.

He looks at the stairs.

There’s a hole in the fourth step, cracks all around it.

It’s a few inches deep, definitely big enough to cause problems if someone were to step in it accidentally, and that’s… hmm. Clint shuffles to the side. Holds his mug of coffee a little closer to his chest like it’s going to protect him. It’s nice and warm through his shirt, and it gives him the bravado he needs to face the memory of his fake death.

He takes one step down.

And another.

“Clint? Are you-”

“Just give me a minute here, Steve,” Clint interrupts. Steve lapses into silence behind him and Clint begins slowly, slowly descending the stairs. He doesn’t take his eyes off of his feet for a single second. One step, two steps, three. Careful, careful. He doesn’t try to touch the railing, which looks like it’s about to fall apart even without him falling against it. Steve’s footsteps are right behind him, but he doesn’t say anything about the weirdness.

He steps onto the floor marked ‘LOBBY.’

Phew.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, Steve,” Clint says, feels like he can start breathing properly again. He awards himself with a mouthful of coffee for his troubles. God, he has weird dreams. He’s glad that it didn’t end the same way he imagined it. Clint’s kind of fond of staying alive, if just to see what kind of bullshit comes after the superhero business.

Steve looks at him with a mixture of worry and amusement, but holds the door here open for him too. “After you.”

“So kind to me,” Clint replies dryly, but walks through.

“Good morning, Mister George, Mister Trent,” the front desk lady calls, waving to them. Clint hates their codenames with a passion. God, why can’t they just get away with Clint and Steve? He still waves back, plasters on a weak smile that feels a little pained. He hates this mission, and he hates Natasha for making him go, and he even hates the front desk lady for being so cheerful at eight in the morning.

She doesn’t seem to notice. A heavy arm lands over his shoulders and Clint jumps before he glances at it and sees the ring. It’s got purple rocks in it instead of the blue that Clint’s have - yet another joke by Natasha, probably. He sighs. Steve pulls him a little closer and Clint goes, still cradling his travel mug like it’s a newborn.

“Not an early bird?”

“He’s not, no. I’m fairly sure he’d stay in bed all day if he had the choice,” Steve replies to her smoothly, and they share a laugh.

He’s not wrong, but Clint still doesn’t like it. “Not all of us like seeing the asscrack of dawn, weirdly enough. Come on, let’s go.”

“Have fun!”

Clint ignores her then, and Steve snorts softly but directs them towards the front door. They get a few looks from the other patrons - it’s the look of a snob gazing upon a lower lifeform, though, not homophobia, so Clint stays settled under Steve’s arm. May as well make the most of this fake marriage thing, after all.

“You’re sure you’re alright,” Steve says as they get out onto the street, not quite making it a question. It’s a sunny morning, and Clint shades his eyes with one hand as they turn to the left. There’s a billboard up ahead with footage of Iron Man on it, and he frowns at it. It’s clearly not something Tony has authorized because it’s not gaudy or ridiculous enough.

“I think I predicted the future for like, forty minutes,” Clint replies cheerfully. “Whatever. Let’s get down to business, Stevie.”

“...right,” Steve says. “So his name is Nikolaus Foley, and-”

Clint looks up just in time to see the hot dog cart barreling directly towards him, too fast to move away from, and there’s a sharp metal pipe sticking out the front and there’s a sharp, stabbing pain as it pierces through his skin and then-

 

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

There’s a squawking somewhere in the room and he feels disoriented, glances around the messy hotel room. What the fuck? He locates the noise, sees a green cuckoo clock with a fuck-ugly misshapen bird on it.

“Guess I shouldn’t startle you, huh,” Steve says, a little sheepishly.

“Oh, fuck me,” Clint groans.

“...what?”

“Is this a goddamn prank, Rogers? What, did Natasha decide she wanted to fuck with me a little more? Like I don’t question my sanity often enough already without her help,” Clint snaps, tosses the knife aside and gets to his feet. Back in the Hulk underpants again. Why do they keep stripping him? Elaborate bullshit.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Clint,” Steve replies. He frowns. “Was the dream about Natasha? I thought it might’ve been a nightmare, so I tried-”

“-you tried to wake me up, yeah, I know,” Clint says, waving his hand dismissively. “You said that already. Aren’t you tired of this? I thought you were better than this.”

He walks over to the calendar that’s still in its place on the counter. Yep, April seventeenth, just like he’d guessed it would be. His gazes goes up to the ceiling curiously, then around the room. No cameras anywhere that he can spot, but that doesn’t mean anything. Stark’s got things that are beyond Clint’s comprehension, and it’d be just like him to join in on this.

Steve, he doesn’t get.

“Are you alright?”

“I will be if you stop it,”Clint seethes. “Where’s Nat, huh? Under the bed?”

He kicks the mattress over. Nothing. Fine, so she’s better at hiding than that. He tries the pantry then, shoves open the doors with far more force than it requires. There’s only protein powder and a little square that’s covered in blue mould. In the morning light it almost looks like it’s glowing. Clint slams the doors shut again and whirls around.

Steve’s gotten to his feet but he’s regarding Clint with an expression one would use for a ticking time bomb. Clint pushes past him and opens the door, sticks his head out.

“Good morning, sir,” the woman with the food greets.

“Not now,” Clint snaps, exits and walks past her.

“I’m so sorry about this,” Steve says behind him as he tries the door to the room next door. It opens and Clint’s greeted to the sight of a woman in a maid outfit getting absolutely railed by a man he doesn’t recognize. Not Natasha, then. He takes a moment to grimace at the guy, because socks on during sex is the worst, and then closes the door.

The next door is locked and he smacks his forehead into the wall trying to force it open. There’s some sort of weird slime on the doorknob. The stream of curses that come out of his mouth are obscene even by his standards, and he hears the food-delivery woman gasp in horror. Whatever.

He whips around to point at Steve, who’s staring at him. “I know she’s here somewhere.”

“Clint,” Steve says. “Can we talk about this? I don’t know what’s made you so upset, but please come back to the room so we can have a conversation.”

Steve looks so nonthreatening, so quiet and worried and honest. He’s not cracking up or laughing at Clint at all, and that’s what makes him stop in his tracks. Think. Steve is a bastard at times, and he’s definitely not the paragon of wholesomeness that the media makes him out to be, but would he go along with something this horrendous?

The answer is no.

But where does that leave Clint?

“I need- gotta go,” Clint says, turns towards their room again. Steve moves out of his way when he passes and so does the delivery woman, and he can hear her asking if Clint’s okay as he barges into the bathroom. He gets to the sink just in time to throw up the contents of his stomach into the porcelain.

A hand lands on his spine somewhere during the puking and it’s cold against his overheated skin.

“Something’s really wrong here,” Clint rasps when he stops retching. He looks down and sees blood. It's kind of lumpy, when he looks closer. Fuck, that’s disgusting. He thinks it might be a hallucination until Steve makes a distressed noise from behind him and a tissue comes into Clint’s field of vision.

Clint takes the tissue and wipes some of the blood off of his lips. There’s so much that the tissue soaks through and it gets his fingers wet. That’s… really not good. His stomach feels like it’s turned inside-out. Clint sighs out shakily and lets his knees give out on him. Steve lets him slide to the cold tiles but holds onto him so he doesn’t hit the floor too hard. God, this is like the time he was in the Caribbean and he accidentally got poisoned by a-

Oh no.

The slime on the doorknob.

“I need th-” he breaks off to throw up another mouthful of blood. Why is it so cold? Who the fuck leaves poison on a doorknob that anyone could come along and touch? That’s definitely illegal and Clint should investigate, but he’s got bigger problems right now.

Steve’s face is blurry when he comes into view.

I’m sorry for yelling at you, Clint thinks desperately as he slides down to the floor. His next breath catches in his lungs like a physical weight, and he struggles to inhale once, twice and then-

 

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

Looks at the cuckoo clock, which is still making a horrendous noise.

Looks down at Steve, who’s got a knife to his throat.

Clint's knife.

“Oh, fuck,” he says.

Chapter Text

“Let’s just use the fucking lift,” Clint says. “I’m tired, Steve, please.”

Without waiting for any sort of agreement he smacks the button for the elevator, then hits it a few more times for good measure. He hears the door to the stairs close a few seconds later and looks back to see Steve approaching him with a concerned glint in his eyes. Clint doesn’t really care right now. He wants to go back to bed but there’s going to be a sudden acid leakage from the floor above soon.

He can still smell his flesh burning.

“We can’t take the elevator,” Steve says.

The elevator dings and Clint hears the doors slide open. Oh, sweet relief. “I can and I will. Enjoy your fucking death stairs,” he informs Steve as he takes a step back without looking.

Right into the empty elevator shaft.

Clint.

Clint’s going to tear that fucking cuckoo clock apart.

 

Clint tries to hide in the bathroom for the entirety of the day. This seems like a good idea right up until fate decided this was too boring for the current torture-fest. He slips on the tiles an hour into that plan and drowns in the toilet water. It’s one of the most humiliating things he’s ever experienced and the only relief is knowing no one will remember it.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He tries to vault over a gold Prius to avoid the deadly hot dog cart and stumbles, causing the horned hood ornament on the vehicle to stab into his stomach. He nearly survives that one, but then he tries to yank himself back and rips the wound open beyond repair. Clint decides that bleeding out isn’t his thing.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He manages to walk directly under a window at the wrong time. Which is to say, just as the housewife above screaming at her lazy husband loses her grip on the pot of boiling water she’s been carrying. It somehow manages to land directly on top of Clint’s head and he suffers from burns and head trauma that time.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He calls himself and Steve a taxi in the hopes that will help him survive the trip outside. The taxi driver, a man with a smirk that feels familiar somehow, drives like an absolute maniac. It’s worse than letting Steve drive, and when the car screeches to a halt because of traffic, his flimsy seatbelt snaps and he’s catapulted through the windshield and into the street.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

Clint tries to hide in the bathroom for the entirety of the day. This seems like a good idea right up until fate decided this was too boring for the current torture-fest. He slips on the tiles an hour into that plan and drowns in the toilet water. It’s one of the most humiliating things he’s ever experienced, and the only relief is knowing no one but him will remember it.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He tries to go down the main street, side-steps the lethal hot dog cart and doesn’t jump over the gold Prius. He’s about to jump with joy, nearly does until he steps in a large puddle of water. That’s not deadly, though, and he looks down at the oily swirls long enough for a power pole to fall over and touch the water. Electrocution turns out to not be much fun either.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He falls down the stairs.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He falls down a manhole.

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

He falls.

 

“We’re going this way this time,” he orders. "I need a break."

Steve doesn’t take well to being told what to do - neither does Clint, really, but whatever expression is on Clint’s face stifles any protests he might have. Clint crosses the road quickly and Steve follows as he stops suddenly, just as the imitation Mystery Machine goes screaming past him. Behind him, the hot dog cart crashes into the wall of a bank and Clint lets out a quiet sigh, keeps walking.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go back to the hotel?”

“Yes,” Clint says decisively, doesn’t look back at Steve. “Our room’s already uninhabitable. It’s fine.”

He keeps walking up the street, turns down an alleyway when he spots the florist. He’s about to hop the rusty-looking fence when a hand catches his wrist and pulls him back. Steve’s looking concerned but determined, and when Clint tries to gently extricate himself from the grip he can’t. Fucking supersoldiers with their super strength.

He sighs again.

“Clint, I’m worried about you,” Steve says.

I’m worried about me,” Clint answers. “Either I’m going crazy and hallucinating or I’m not and this is actually happening, which is actually worse than being crazy. Please tell me I’m crazy, Steve.”

“You’re not crazy,” Steve replies, but he doesn’t look very sure about it.

“Sure I am,” Clint says with all the false cheer he can muster, and Steve loosens his hold enough for Clint to go back to climbing the fence. He catches his hand on a sharp piece jutting out at the top, hisses at the sting and swings himself over to land on the other side. It’s quick enough this time that he gets to safety just before the life-size Jack Black statue falls down from the building above with a crash and an off-key jangle.

Clint squints at it, then at Steve on the other side. His hand is bleeding. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Steve says. He’s looking a little pale. “That was close.”

“A little bit,” Clint agrees. “You coming?”

“It’d be nice if you’d clue me in on what’s going on,” Steve says when he falls into step beside Clint. They’re headed towards the coffeeshop Clint was heading for two loops ago, because he could try and complete the mission but whatever is out there fucking with him can deal. He’s taking a break. Also, he’d forgotten to bring his travel cup of coffee in this round. Goddamnit.

“It won’t change anything.”

Please, Clint,” Steve tries. “I want to help you.”

“I wish that was more reassuring, I really do. I don’t think Captain America can fix whatever the hell is going on, though,” Clint replies, tries for nonchalance instead of despair.

Steve circles around him, then, drops to his knees. He looks up at Clint, and his hair’s been ruffled by the wind so badly that there’s a strand sticking up straight like an antennae. It’s- cute, really, and Clint was worried he’d become desensitized to everything but apparently his crush is still going strong. Steve takes his hands and Clint lets him clasp them in his, takes in the resolute stare.

“Then let me help as Steve Rogers instead,” he says, earnest and open, and Clint’s heart twists hard in his chest.

God, why does he has to be like this? It should be illegal.

Clint pulls him back up to his feet and starts walking again. The coffeeshop is open, which is a small blessing, and he sits down in a booth. He’s still thinking when Steve slides the giant mug of coffee in front of him. Which of course he does, because on top of the world trying to kill him literally, Steve is trying to kill him with kindness.

Steve just looks at him.

Clint hurts.

“One more attempt and then I’ll fill you in,” he says finally.

“One more attempt at what,” Steve asks him, as the waitress carrying a very large knife trips over a man who’s knelt down to pick up a coin and comes hurtling straight towards Clint.

 

“So you’re reliving the same day over and over,” Steve says.

“Yes.”

“But you keep dying, and then you wake up here again.”

“Uh-huh.”

“No one else remembers this? And you don’t think-”

The phone rings again. This is the third time, and this time Steve actually looks at it like he’s considering answering.

Clint grabs it and throws it out a window, and Steve makes a protesting noise. Clint watches it hit the ground of the alleyway outside with satisfaction and then turns back to Steve, who looks like he has a headache. Clint can’t blame him. Clint has a fucking headache - although that might’ve been the Pikachu paperweight that fell on his head from three loops ago. He still feels pain from a few of the notable ones.

“It’s just Sam,” he says dismissively when Steve looks back at the window where the phone had been flung.

“It’s not an emergency?”

“No,” Clint answers, tries very hard to be patient even with the frustration burning in his veins. “No, it’s not an emergency, me dying every few hours is a fucking emergency.”

“How do we stop it?”

“I don’t even know what started it,” Clint says and lets his face fall forward onto the counter. It’s cold on his overheated skin.

“Hmm.” Steve looks thoughtful. At least he’s taking it seriously now. “From what you’ve said, it seems like you die - or, not die - more often when you try to get away from what you’re supposed to be doing. Like the stairs, you said you tried other ways down and it never worked?”

“Elevator’s broken, I died. Tried going upstairs instead, I died,” Clint answers, lips against the counter. “Even grappling out a window- a fucking seagull managed to dislodge the grappling hook.”

That had been a weird one, even for this situation. It was an absurdly strong seagull. Clint wouldn’t want to face off against it in a fight. And he hadn’t liked seagulls before they became a direct cause of his murder. Then again, a lot of things have been responsible for Clint Barton’s murder on April seventeenth, from an anvil to a medieval sword to a blowtorch and a brick, to a particularly frightening seven-foot tall Naruto cosplayer.

“Maybe you’re onto something,” he admits. “So… what, I do what I’m supposed to do and I’ll live? Follow the great path of destiny?”

“We’ll get through whatever this is, Clint. I’ll protect you,” Steve says.

Clint laughs. He can’t help it, it’s just so ridiculous. Like Steve can do anything. Clint can’t do anything, and he remembers every single loop. He’s lost count of the amount of times he’s been reset by now. It feels like there’s blood in his lungs, rising up past his throat and choking him. Could be poison again, except he knows where all the poison is around here from memory. The laughter sounds a little hysterical even to his busted ears, and to distract himself he looks at the clock.

“We gotta go,” he announces, straightens up and starts towards the door.

“Pants, Clint,” Steve reminds him, and Clint mutters a few obscenities under his breath but obliges anyway. It’s not like anyone will remember him walking around like this. For Steve, though, he’ll put on pants. Steve’s good enough to make Clint wear pants for him. If Steve’s idea works he might even wear a jacket the next time around.

God, it’s been so long he can’t even remember what they were doing the first time.

“Tada,” he announces, makes a flourishing gesture at his pants. Steve doesn’t smile. It makes Clint feel sad for some reason. He can’t really whine at Steve to smile at him, though, that feels a little too dramatic even for him. He’s not even sure that Steve believes the idea of a time loop or whether he’s just humouring Clint’s bout of insanity.

Either way, Clint’s pretty sure he comes around after they cross three streets with accurate predictions of all the crazy shit that happens.

“Free samples,” the ice-cream man calls out to them. Clint keeps walking.

“I’ve never seen you turn down ice-cream,” Steve notes.

“I choked on a nail that was left in it a few loops ago,” Clint replies. “Here, we’ve got to go down here or I’ll get trapped in a bonfire accident. Who’s the guy we’re looking for, again?”

“Nikolaus Foley,” Steve says. “Apparently he has information that Fury wants, but he’s cagey, so we have to find him undercover and then bring him back. We were debriefed on it yesterday, remember?”

“Yesterday was like, sixty todays ago, Stevie, my memory’s not that crash hot right now,” Clint answers. Maybe if he focuses on the mission instead of the dying he’ll do better. What’s that thing Scott’s always saying about a positive attitude? “Which store are we trying first, if we get there?”

“Whichever one looks the most suspicious?”

“Fair enough,” Clint relents, yanks Steve out of the way as a herd of angry goats charge past them. Steve stares at them as they pass, and Clint keeps herding him up the street. Now he’s thinking about it, it seems like the longer he dawdles, the quicker he gets killed. Maybe he just needs to get his ass into gear and find this guy they’re looking for.

He takes a few deep breaths and tries to find the calm headspace he uses for sniping. It’s not there. He’s too exhausted to find it without his bow in hand, and he’d left it behind because this was supposed to be a simple, undercover job. That’s it, the bow is never leaving his sight ever again, unhealthy codependency be damned.

“You think that’s the place?”

Clint looks up at where Steve’s facing just in time to duck out of the way of a pair of garden shears hanging from a truck. When he straightens, he looks at the row of stores. They’re not in the rich part of town - most of the stores are decrepit, and most of them have cracked windows that look worryingly dangerous.

The building Steve’s looking at, though, is immaculate.

It’s all pristine white bricks and gold edging, proudly labeling itself as a day spa. There’s a snake instead of an S on the sign, and Clint grimaces. He’s not a fan. It’s the kind of upmarket place he’d avoid with every bone in his body, and yet there’s clearly something suspicious about it. Something extremely suspicious. He sighs and Steve huffs, an amused little sound in his throat. 

“Do I look like the kind of guy that goes to spas, Steve?”

“Do I,” Steve replies, and Clint shrugs. Fair enough. “Spa days are a thing that couples do, right? We can use the cover story for this.”

In all honesty, Clint had completely forgotten they were fake-married. He looks down at the ring on his finger, thumbs at the gold band. It still feels hugely unnecessary to the mission, but that’s how Natasha works. Even if Clint’s fairly sure the time loop isn’t her fault, the ring doesn’t exactly help the situation. He’d spent one of the loops just twirling it round and round his finger, waiting for the end.

That had been a bad one.

“Let’s get going,” he says, tries to shake it off. “Before the gods get impatient.”

The spa is just as fancy inside.

Clint just scowls at the fluffy white carpet and considers kicking it. He’ll probably fall and break his neck if he tries, though, because he’s not been particularly graceful today, or the other todays before this one. An attendant comes up to them, smiling like they’re the best thing she’s seen today - if she was looking at just Steve that’d be plausible, but she turns her bright look onto Clint as well, with his bedhair and rumpled clothes.

“What can I help you two with?”

“We were wondering about your deluxe couples package,” Steve says smoothly. It’s a good cover, and it’d be better if he hadn’t chosen that moment to tuck his hand into the back pocket of Clint’s pants. Clint jumps so hard he feels like he should’ve gotten whiplash from it. Steve’s hand is on his ass. Steve’s hand is on his ass.

Clint’s brain feels like it’s shutting down.

“Uh,” he manages to say.

“First time?” The woman asks it innocently but Clint still feels a mixture of indignant anger and absolute humiliation at the suggestion. Luckily, she doesn’t question his behaviour beyond that, just folds her hands neatly. “I’ll go find the leaflet I have with the details for you. Feel free to have a complimentary juice, you two.”

She walks away and Clint grimaces.

“I’m guessing you don’t want juice,” Steve says.

“I’ll probably choke on the straw,” Clint replies. “That, or it’ll have poison in it. Or the cup will shatter and the shards will stab me right through the left eye directly into my brain.”

“...right,” Steve answers hesitantly. “Check out the back, then?”

“Good plan,” he agrees. There’s a big door labeled ‘AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY’ and it’s interesting enough, so he heads towards it. This place is suspicious enough that it certainly could be housing a suspicious informant. Clint feels like there’s something more to this, but he’s not sure what it is. What kind of a day spa decides to build here, in a place where none of the locals could afford?

The corridor isn’t as well-lit as the lobby. There’s still enough light to see, but it’s ominous as hell. Clint glances around, counts two different rooms branching off from here. That’s not too bad - once he ended up in an underground maze on a mission.

“Split up and search for clues?”

“I’m worried about leaving you alone,” Steve says. “We’ve got time, let’s just do it one at a time.”

Clint thinks for a second, sighs. It’s easier to give in than to spend ten minutes arguing. “Fine.”

The first room is clearly the boss’s office, the nameplate on the desk confirming that. It’s utilitarian, just a desk and a few shelves that are filled with massage technique books more than anything else. Clint flicks through a few of them just in case, but they’re boring. No visible codes, no hints, just something about longitudinal gliding.

He doesn’t know what that is and he’s not sure he wants to know.

“Nothing over here,” Steve says regretfully. “Next room?”

Clint flings the book back at the shelf. It lands perfectly between two others, and he catches the slight raise of Steve’s brows before he walks past. Like that’s the weirdest part of this. Steve should be used to his skillset by now.

The next room is completely empty, apart from a single cardboard box in the center of it.

Clint and Steve exchange a glance and then Steve takes a step towards it carefully. Clint edges to the side, making sure he’s not staying still while avoiding being close to the box, just in case. There’s no label on it, no discerning markings. It’s somehow more suspicious than it would be if it were printed with a skull or a nuclear symbol.

Steve reaches the box and Clint braces himself, squeezes his eyes tightly shut. Here they go.

The whole room feels like its holding its breath, even though it’s just Clint doing that.

“We’re fine, Clint,” Steve calls softly, and Clint cracks one eye open suspiciously as he watches Steve tip the cardboard box over to reveal the contents. Which is to say, the lack of contents. Clint squints at the empty box and then at Steve, who’s looking sympathetic. Looks like they’re going to have to look somewhere else.

Steve starts walking back to the corridor and Clint follows, stifling a weary sigh. Now what are they supposed to do? Maybe there’s something in another room, although he would’ve guessed the restricted area was where the good shit is.

He realizes he hasn’t died in the last hour. Wow. That’s… something.

A thread of hope flickers to life inside his chest.

“Clint, I-” Steve starts, turning to him, and then he’s interrupted by a voice Clint doesn’t recognize.

“Hello? Is anyone back there?”

“Oh, shit,” Clint says, hears the footsteps approaching. “Fuck.”

He goes to start running but Steve catches his wrist, pushes it so the back of his hand is up against the wall. It’s startling enough that he allows it, lets himself be gently pinned to the bricks. Steve’s getting very close all of a sudden, his chest bumping up against Clint’s. God, his eyes are so blue, even in the dim lighting.

How many times has Clint thought that in the last however-long he’s been stuck in this fucking loop?

And then Steve’s kissing him.

What?

“Go with it,” Steve mumbles into his mouth, hot and a little clumsy, and Clint. Clint’s dying. Steve keeps kissing him though, one hand on Clint’s wrist and the other one dropping to land low on his waist. Clint stays frozen for another second, convinced this is exactly when he’s going to go into sudden cardiac arrest, or get impaled by a wild bull - that’s happened twice now - or just die inexplicably and wake up again.

Nothing happens, though.

There’s just Steve, kissing him, and Clint’s dreamed about this but he’d never expected the reality of it. Steve’s soft and firm and thorough, and whatever experience he’s lacking he makes up for in enthusiasm because goddamn. Clint can’t stay passive in the face of this, gets his free hand on the line of Steve’s jaw as he kisses back and gets his teeth grazing Steve’s lip.

Steve moans.

Jesus Christ.

“Excuse me? This is a staff-only area,” the person says. Steve jolts back and the look in his eyes is a little shellshocked when he glances at them, like he’d forgotten the plan he’d shoved into motion. Clint’s too stunned himself to do anything other than use all his willpower to stop himself from kissing Steve again.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, perfectly smooth even though he’d had his tongue halfway down Clint’s throat. “We got carried away. Is there a bathroom around here, by any chance?”

“Upstairs,” the attendant answers, looking dubious. They probably think that Steve and Clint are going to fuck in the toilets. Clint’s happy to let them think that, honestly, as long as it doesn’t cast any suspicion on him. Being married and horny is a great excuse to sneak around. Steve’s hand on his wrist loosens and then he’s turning it into comfortable hand-holding, and Clint’s fucking appalled at how smooth he is. Didn’t the guy call sex ‘fondue’ once?

Steve starts leading him up the stairs the attendant gestures to, as they stare at he and Clint’s back. Probably just making sure they don’t go sneaking into the restricted section again. Clint’s trying to figure out if that actually happened or if it was just wishful thinking.

“I learned that from Natasha,” Steve tells him as they reach the second floor. He sounds proud.

“You what,” Clint hisses, aware his voice is far too loud. He’s still reeling.

“Public displays of affection make people uncomfortable,” Steve recites in a flat voice Clint guesses is meant to be imitating Natasha. Oh. One of her on-the-mission lessons in being a spy, then, and not- he’s not sure why he feels so relieved about that. (Yes he does. He knows exactly why.)

“Right,” he answers weakly.

The second floor is just bathrooms, no other rooms. It’s a little underwhelming even with the man who points them to the right door and offers a chocolate.

Clint’s not classy by any measure, but he’s not sure how he feels about eating on the can.

“What now?”

“Fuck, Steve, you think I’ve got any ideas? This is the furthest I’ve made it,” Clint retorts.

“Right,” Steve says. He’s still got his fingers linked with Clint’s. Clint tugs gently to see if he’ll let go and Steve looks down at their joined hands, then back up at Clint’s face. Doesn’t let go. It’s like he’s trying to drill right into Clint’s brain to see what’s inside, and it’s intense, Christ. He hasn’t felt the full force of that stare since he’d vaulted off a roof and accidentally landed on Tony.

“We’ve got this, Clint,” he says, earnest. “Trust me.”

“I always trust you,” Clint answers automatically, wonders where Steve got the idea that Clint wouldn’t follow him to the ends of the earth.

“Then trust me when I say I’m not going to let you die again,” Steve says, and Clint’s heart does a flip-flop in his chest. It’s always Steve, isn’t it? He’d thought this was a Captain America thing that Steve put on in public, but it’s who he is, through and through. Always trying to save people, even the ones that might not be able to be saved.

“Okay,” Clint breathes, barely audible, and Steve smiles. God, he’s so fucking beautiful Clint wants to cry.

“Okay,” he agrees. “Now, let’s-”

There’s a scream from outside and they both turn to look at the man in the pink suit as he bursts into the bathroom, gun aloft. He lifts the weapon and there’s no time to get away, no cover to hide behind, and Clint knew this would happen, he knew it, and he closes his eyes and-

“Fuck, you’re not my ex-wife,” the man says.

Clint opens his eyes just as Steve drop to his knees.

Oh no. Oh no, no, no.

 

Clint feels numb.

“Agent Barton, we’ll be back to discuss our plan of attack soon,” the SHIELD agent says as they leave.

Clint just sees Steve smiling, Steve shouting at him, Steve’s blood on his hands. Someone had wiped it off hours ago but he can still see it, still feel Steve’s lips brushing against his. The blue stones on his finger shouldn’t be red and yet he still sees it in glaring colour when he blinks. Steve.

A hand lands on his shoulder and he startles, looks up at the barely-concealed grief on Natasha’s face. It hurts, breaks through the veil of numbness.

“Clint,” she says.

“Nat,” he answers.

“What happened?”

He had to be the fucking hero, Clint thinks, doesn’t say.

“Groundhog Day protocol,” he rasps back. Doesn’t follow it with anything else. She knows what he means- they have a code for everything specifically so they don’t have to talk about things. There’s nothing he can say, nothing that’ll comfort her, because if this doesn’t work then she’s going to lose both of them. He’s got to do it, though, because he can’t trade his own life for Steve’s. He won’t, it’s not fair and he’d rather die a million times over before he lets Steve Rogers do it once.

Twice, now.

“You’re sure?”

“Nope,” Clint says, can’t offer her fake reassurances. “I can’t lose him, Nat. Please.”

Natasha looks at him a second longer and then draws her handgun, takes the safety off with a decisive click. Loads a single bullet. Clint shucks off the shock blanket they’ve given him and sits up as she aims it directly at his forehead. It’s a nice gun, sleek and dangerous, and in any other situation he’d be appreciative of it.

“Don’t fuck it up this time,” she says.

He leans forward so the cold metal is pressing into his skin. Maybe it won’t work, but at least he’ll be free of this madness. At least his head will stop pounding.

God, he’s so tired.

He glances at the clock on the wall.

23:59.

Do it,” he snaps, hears a click and then-

Chapter Text

Clint,” Steve says.

Clint stares.

“Guess I shouldn’t startle y- are you crying?”

Clint’s already flung the knife aside to grab at Steve with shaky hands, press his face into a warm neck. Steve’s still talking but he’s not listening to a single word as he feels Steve breathing against him. Oh, thank god. Thank fucking god. He’s distantly aware he’s sobbing, fingers twisting tight in Steve’s shirt so there’s no chance to escape, and he’s back in his stupid Hulk underwear and he doesn’t care because Steve’s here and he’s alive and it’s fucking brilliant. For once he's horribly, wonderfully relieved that he's in this neverending hell, because at least he's in this hell with Steve next to him. 

There's a few long minutes and Steve drifts into silence for a beat before he starts talking again.

“Was it a bad nightmare?”

Clint laughs and his voice cracks, rubs his cold nose against Steve’s throat. A hand ends up on the base of his spine, rubs gently at his skin. Normally he’d back off and make an excuse but he needs this like he needs oxygen right now, stays pressed up tight as Steve holds onto him. He can still smell the blood. “Yeah, it was- yeah. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Steve says, sounds a little awkward. “Do you… want to talk about it?

“Not really,” Clint says, lifts his head and raises his voice. “Leave the food at the door!”

The tray must hit the mat outside because Steve tilts his head curiously. Clint ignores it, rubs at his face to try and wipe off any wetness he hasn’t already soaked into Steve’s shirt. Steve’s still staying where he is and Clint just… lies down on him again. He can’t bear to move away from where he can feel the steady rise and fall of Steve’s chest, and Steve doesn’t seem inclined to shove him off.

Clint doesn’t know if it’s out of politeness or something else, and right now he doesn’t care.

Steve’s phone rings.

The default tune is almost comforting right now.

“Whoever it is, they can wait,” Steve says, cards his fingers through Clint’s hair gently. “It can all wait.”

“We’ve got another forty-two minutes before the barrel of acid on the floor above us starts leaking,” Clint mumbles without looking at the clock. Steve’s hand stills on his head for a second, probably thinking that over, and then he resumes petting Clint without asking about it. It’s nice. Quiet.

Clint wonders idly if he’s giving himself away and realizes he doesn’t care.

His embarrassment over having a crush on Steve feels so insignificant now. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters as long as Steve's okay, breathing steady under his chest. 

Steve keeps touching him, steady and gentle. Christ, it’s been so long. Except it hasn’t, not really, because today Steve kissed him for the first time and even if he doesn’t remember doing it, Clint does. And Steve’s okay. No shooter, no blood, no tears, just Steve holding him close like Clint isn’t the slightest bit heavy despite being an inch taller than him. Bless that supersoldier serum.

“I’m so fucking glad you’re okay,” Clint confesses.

“Of course I’m okay,” Steve says. “Did you dream about something happening to me? Tony had that once, too, during a battle. Was it about Loki? The things that happened in New York aren’t going to happen again, I promise, I won't l-”

“Why would it be about Loki?” Clint stops.

Thinks.

“Oh, motherfucker.”

Motherfucking shit.

“What? Clint, what’s wr-”

“I need to get in contact with Thor,” he interrupts again as the puzzle pieces fit into place. He grits his teeth so hard it makes his jaw hurt, worse than the loop where he’d gotten it cracked open by a fountain, feels his brain run at a million miles an hour lining up all the clues. “Where’s that number we had in case of emergencies?”

 

“Where’s your brother,” he snarls into the phone.

“My brother? He is locked away on Asgard,” Thor answers, sounding puzzled. There's a shout in the background of the call and Clint vaguely recognizes Bruce's voice, wonders what they're doing together. “Where else would he be?”

“You’re real fucking bad at disciplining him, huh,” Clint says. “If you weren’t like a giant Labrador puppy I’d kick your ass, Thor.”

“I see,” Thor says, but he doesn’t sound like he does. “Shall I ask about Loki from Heimdall? He may be able to help.”

“It’ll be too late,” Clint answers dismissively, waves a hand even though the god on the other end can’t see it. “By the time you get anything done I’ll be dead.”

“You what,” Steve says in the background as Clint hangs up. He starts pacing then, ignores the increasingly stressed stare he’s being given. His boots have been left on the floor this time, shirt forgotten. Even his pants are being left this time because it doesn’t matter. No matter what he does, he can’t win, because he’s playing a game against someone whose sole goal is to fuck with him.

He probably got Steve shot on purpose.

Gave him hope, just to send him hurtling back down to earth again. It’s fucking twisted, is what it is.

“You know what the worst part is? Fucking Nikolaus Foley is an anagram,” Clint snarls. “Loki Laufeyson. He planned this from the goddamn start.”

The pacing stops a second later, because he’s connecting the dots, brain going at full speed. If Loki’s the mastermind behind all this, that means that he’s here, and Clint thinks he knows exactly where. He slams the window open so violently that the glass cracks with an ominous sound. It doesn’t matter. Clint lifts one leg, gets his foot braced on the tiny ledge on the outside of the building and balances himself before he climbs out.

The breeze is gentle against his face, soothing even though it’s cold in his underwear.

“Clint, what are you-”

“I’ll be back, yeah?” Clint turns around, leans back in the window. “’m gonna fix this, Steve. I’m winning this time.”

Steve still looks confused, and takes a couple of steps closer to Clint. The confusion is understandable, from his point of view Clint probably looks like a maniac. And not even a clever maniac, just a ranting man in Hulk boxers.

Clint remembers all of a sudden that nothing he does right now matters, and maybe that means he can take a few liberties with that. Or just one liberty, because there’s just one thing he wants that he won’t be able to do in the real world.

“C’mere,” he beckons, and Steve steps up to where he’s standing. That’s too much, trust, really. “This is probably dubious as hell, but hey, I’ve had a bad day. I’m sorry, Steve.”

Steve makes a questioning noise but it’s muffled when Clint closes the few inches between them and kisses him. Steve must think he’s absolutely nuts and yet he still kisses back, fingers drifting up Clint’s cheek like he’s touching something precious instead of just him. It’s so unbelievably gentle that Clint feels like he’s cracking at the edges.

It’s a struggle to stop, once he’s started, but he has to, so he does.

“Love you, Stevie,” he says and can’t quite read the mixture of emotion on Steve’s face as he lets himself fall down, down and then-

 

Clint,” someone calls out, and Clint blinks.

“Morning, baby,” he says cheerfully.

Steve goes red. “What- I’m- I thought you were having a nightmare, I.”

“Yeah, I was,” Clint agrees. “I have a feeling it’s over now, though.”

He pulls the knife away from Steve’s throat, wipes at the blood with his free hand. It’s barely a nick and he can see it healing in front of his eyes, and yet he still feels a little guilty for it every time. Steve’s staring at him, eyes wide and flush on his cheeks, and for once Clint’s not embarrassed when he pauses and thinks, cute. It is cute. Steve’s cute.

“What’s going on?”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” Clint says, shrugs one shoulder. “Or you won’t, and then it won’t matter anyway.”

“Clint, I don’t understand,” Steve says as Clint wipes off the blood on the knife with the carpet.

“You will,” Clint answers.

“Sir, I’ve brought your breakf- oh my goodness, I’m so-”

Clint twists in a moment of practiced grace and throws the knife, aims directly between the woman’s eyes.

It would’ve hit, had she not pulled the tray of food up to block it with superhuman reflexes. It's nearly too fast for his eyes to track, definitely not something a simple working class woman could pull off. As it is, it bounces off the steel pot of coffee - which aw, coffee, no - and clatters aside. The woman lowers the tray then and grins at him, slow and dangerous.

Her eyes are bright, luminous green.

“Not so dumb after all,” she muses. “I’d have thought you’d give up twenty deaths ago.”

“I’m a fucking cockroach,” Clint says, and she laughs.

“Very classy, Agent Barton,” she replies.

“I’ll be classy when I bring back your head in a bag,” Clint snarls as he dives for her. She accepts the fight this time, throws the tray at him and he rolls underneath the spray of food and drink, tries to sweep her legs out from under her. Clint feels a sharp, vicious thrill at the fight, at the thought of finally ending this. She jumps to avoid it and he headbutts her in the stomach instead, gets his arms around her and shoves her into the cramped hallway.

They trade a few sharp, nasty hits - one catches Clint on the cheek and he rolls with it, kicks her in the stomach with all the force he can muster. It's a solid move. She hits the wall with a loud thump and hooks her ankle around his, shoves and knocks him onto the carpet. The air wheezes out of his lungs and he struggles to inhale for a second, sees spots in his vision. The carpet is awful, he notes vaguely. It’s scratchy and rough against his bare back, but he rolls up onto his knees, sees a glint out of the corner of his eyes.

Steve punches her in the face.

It’s loud enough that Clint hears the sickening crunch, cringes a little bit inside the safety of his head. She doesn’t seem that affected, though, snaps her head back around and slams the heel of her hand into his nose. Steve takes a step back, inhaling sharply and she advances on him. They fall into fighting stances and Steve looks like he's got the element of surprise. Does he even know what's going on, or is he just jumping in because he's trying to save Clint again?

He might get the opportunity to, this time.

Clint takes the opportunity to duck back into the room. The knife is still on the floor. So is the tray, thankfully, and Clint snatches up the blade as he hears a sharp cry from outside.

Fuck.

Steve,” he shouts, scrambles out of the room in time to see her throw him across the room. Steve hits the wall hard and Clint’s heart wrenches hard in his chest when he sees the arm bent at a bad angle, the blood on his face. No, no, he can’t lose Steve when he’s finally figured out what’s going on. Now he’s onto Loki, there’s a real possibility that even if he fails it won’t be looped again.

If he loses this time, he could lose for real.

She starts striding towards Steve’s motionless body, flipping out a blade from nowhere. It’s long and wickedly curved, lethal even as she passes a rather absurd painting of a three-legged horse. There’s danger radiating from every pore, her white uniform smeared with red.

Clint pushes himself into motion, gets out of the doorway and directly in her way, flicking out his own knife. She might be a god but he’s got murder and rage sewn tight in his veins, a million days of death and frustration boiling down until he’s finding that silent place in his mind that’s earned his reputation. Maybe it was always there, just waiting for the right moment. Whatever is in his expression, it makes her slow, regard him with wary curiosity.

He stays where he is.

He loses himself somewhere in the trading of blows - she’s not holding back in the slightest and neither is he, and on even ground they’re both nasty, quick and vicious fighters especially when there’s only Hawkeye remaining and not Clint Barton. He catches her in the shoulder with the knife and she cracks her elbow over his head, the pain reverberating through his skull. He might've cried out, he's not sure. All he cares about is winning.

Clint,” Steve says, and his concentration is broken.

Steve’s okay. Steve’s okay. Clint stops for a split-second. She manages to knock him down, then, and he twists out of the way of the knife slamming down an inch next to his ear. It's close, close enough that his heart feels like it's going to beat out of his ribs. He rolls back out of her way and gets to his feet, flips his own knife so he’s got a better grip on it. She grins at him with bloody lips and he bares his teeth in something that’s too murderous to be a smile back, gets ready for her.

“Clint, we need to-” Steve starts.

“Steve, run,” he yells over his shoulder as he grips the knife a little tighter. She charges at him, knife going green in the glow from her eyes, and as Clint strains his busted ears he can hear heavy footsteps heading away from them, towards the stairs.

Clint squeezes his eyes shut and throws the knife.

Nothing hits him.

He turns around just as Steve’s hitting the floor heavily, the blade buried between his shoulder blades. Throwing behind is harder to angle correctly, but that's his schtick - Clint’s hit the mark perfectly. Steve's still struggling even as the blood starts soaking through his shirt, and Clint strides over to him, crouches down to grab a fistful of blond hair and yank his head back painfully.

How,” Loki spits.

“Steve Rogers wouldn’t leave me behind even if he had a gun to his head,” Clint says into his ear, low and dangerous. “He’s a stubborn bastard like that. Nice try, though.”

The illusion fades, then, and he’s left pinning down a rumpled-looking Loki in a black suit with a knife through his spine. Clint’s not going to kid himself - he doubts this is enough to actually kill a god, but it’s definitely causing some pain, especially when Clint gets ahold of the knife’s handle and twists. “Where’s Steve?”

“Wouldn’t you- outside, he’s outside. Unconscious. Now let go of me, you bespawling cur.”

“I don’t know, I’m enjoying myself,” Clint answers conversationally, presses a little harder. “What do I get out of letting you go?”

“I won’t sever your head from your body,” Loki snarls, and Clint lets go of his hair, feels a stab of pleasure as his face smacks into the floor. Then he gets ahold of it again, pulls until Loki’s straining to keep his face up.

“I really don’t think you have the high ground here, buddy,” he says. “No Tesseract, either. You want to try again? Because I’m about this close to just slicing you up for my own enjoyment and believe me, I’ll do it slow.”

“You’re one of the heroes,” Loki hisses. “What would your precious Steve think of you if you killed me?”

“I’m not feeling that heroic right now,” Clint answers, hears the pure danger in his own voice when he leans in closer and adds, “and guess what? You got rid of Steve. Can't feel bad about it if he isn't here to see. Bad move on your part, pal.”

He sits up a little, gets a better grip on the knife and then-

“Barton!”

Clint looks up as Thor skids to a stop in the hallway and takes a careful step towards them, Mjolnir in hand. The expression on his face is somewhere between confusion and wariness. Clint can't blame him for being confused - he's not even sure how Thor got here. Maybe it's something to do with Loki using his real form. Either way, this is a mess. Especially being confronted with his apparently not-locked-away brother being pinned down and stabbed by a teammate, who’s still in bright green underpants and nothing else.

“Loki,” Thor says. “You are supposed to be in Asgard, brother.”

Loki doesn’t answer, only scoffs at his sibling until Clint twists the knife a little more. Even then, he doesn’t say anything, just hisses. Thor looks like he’s about to jump in between them to defend Loki and then he sighs, turns his eyes up to Clint instead.

“Release him to me, Barton,” he says.

“That worked real well last time,” Clint answers. “You sure he won’t just show up to fuck with me again?”

“Oh, I will,” Loki threatens, and Clint smacks his face into the floor again. The thump is still satisfying and he does it again for good measure, considers beating Loki's face into a bloody pulp, and Thor’s still looking at him, waiting. He doesn't try to stop Clint. Clint’s sure, then, that if he did successfully kill Loki, Thor would grieve and if there’s anything Clint understands, it’s asshole brothers. 

Clint's not sure he wants this man's blood on his hands, anyway. It might be poisonous.

“If I see him again, he’s dead,” Clint says as he stands up. He yanks the knife out sharply as he does and Loki cries out, and Clint tries to ignore the kick of satisfaction he feels at the noise. Who knows how fucked up he is anymore. 

“Thank you,” Thor says.

Clint keeps walking. 

Mostly because he needs to see Steve alive, but also because he can't stand for Loki to see how much of an effect he's had. It'd feel too much like losing at this point, and whatever games Loki likes to play in his free time, they're over now. Clint's done with it. He's done with all of it.

 

“How did he even get here?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Clint says, leaning against the balcony to look out at the night sky. Steve’s standing next to him, elbows braced against the railing as he leans back. The flight back to New York is organized for tomorrow, so they’re just hanging out. There was an option for a trip back with the SHIELD operatives checking the situation out, but Clint's not fond of the idea of being crammed in a car for hours and he knows Steve is the same.

Clint feels like he can finally breathe again, like he’s been slowly suffocating this whole time and now the pressure’s been eased off of his lungs.

He sees Steve shift in his peripherals, tips his head in that direction.

In the moonlight, Steve’s hair almost looks silver.

“They wouldn’t let me in the room when you had the debrief.”

Clint sighs, doesn’t meet his gaze. The debrief had been awful - first they’d thought he was nuts, and then they’d used some sort of Stark technology to watch some of his memories. Clint had smashed the machine after the first few flickering clips, but the memories are still echoing around in his brain, haunting him.

It had been bad enough seeing the pity on Hill’s face, he doesn’t want to see it on Steve’s.

“I told them not to,” he answers.

Why,” Steve says, sounds hurt. It’s emotional enough that Clint chooses to look at him this time, meet the feelings swirling around in the blue of Steve’s eyes.

“No one should have to go through that,” he replies, thinks about seeing himself die again and again and again without fail. “Not you, not anyone. Not if I can do anything about it. It was. It was bad, Steve.”

“Oh,” Steve says, doesn’t follow it up with anything else. There’s not really a lot anyone can say to that, really. He's expecting Steve to insist, to be as stubborn as he always is, but he just blinks and looks saddened. Clint keeps looking, drinks in the quiet and the comfort of Steve’s presence next to him. He still feels keyed up, in a way, feels like his kill has been stolen even though he’d never seriously considered murdering Loki. Steve’s still looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” he says when a few long minutes have passed.

“That’s Loki for you,” Clint answers. “Maybe he’s jealous of my handsome looks and effortless charm. God knows he looks like the sixth member of My Chemical Romance.”

It’s a joke, but it falls flat with the way he feels cold inside. It's not like Steve knows any emo bands anyway. Steve doesn’t laugh, but he does smile, a subtle little upturn of his lips that Clint would’ve missed if he wasn’t a connoisseur of staring at Steve Rogers’ face. Steve shifts on his feet for a second, looks thoughtful, and then he’s shrugging off his jacket. Clint stays still, a little frozen as Steve settles the jacket over his shoulders instead.

It’s still warm from Steve’s body, the heat settling onto Clint’s skin as much as the leather.

“Finally got me to wear a jacket,” Clint mutters to himself and there’s no way that Steve understands but he smiles anyway, soft and fond. Clint’s heart feels like it turns to goo inside his chest at the sight, and he’s felt so detached from the world for so long it’s overwhelming. Did looking at Steve always feel like this?

God, maybe this is more than a crush.

“I need to tell you something,” he blurts out. It feels bad, lying about it when Steve is so good to him. Steve's just good in general, something bright and hopeful Clint can't ever emulate and burns his fingers on sometimes. He can avoid the really bad things while being truthful, he owes the man that much at least. Steve looks at him with renewed interest, raises an eyebrow curiously. He’s still got his fingers on Clint’s chest, through the fabric of jacket and shirt.

“What is it?”

“The first time around,” Clint confesses, feels the guilt build up. “You said you were flirting with someone and then on the second-last one I kissed you. Sorry.”

“I d- we kissed?

“Mm. I mean, the first time we did it you kissed me, but it was to keep our cover so it didn’t really count,” he adds.

Steve stares at him. Clint’s half-expecting that sort of reaction, so he tries to wait it out. Steve keeps staring, though, and the relief that came from confessing the non-consensual kiss starts to fade. He’s not entirely sure what that expression on Steve’s face actually means, and it’s a little intimidating. Shit, Steve was born in 1918 and while Clint was fairly sure the prude thing was an act, what if it isn’t? He’s made a terrible mistake.

“I said I was- that I was flirting with someone?”

Clint nods, a jerky movement of his head.

“I didn’t… say who it was?”

“Not Tony,” Clint says. It’s kind of weird that he remembers this one conversation of all things. That’s how his brain works, though. Steve Rogers and his romantic life is apparently more interesting than countless repeated conversations with every member of this town. “Not Natasha.”

“No,” Steve agrees. “Not Tony or Natasha.”

There’s a pause.

“Do you want- is this a guessing game, Steve? Am I supposed t-”

Whatever interrogation he was going to start dies in his throat as Steve steps closer, close enough that Clint can feel the warmth radiating from his skin. Clint stays where he is as Steve leans in even more, closes the gap between them with a determined set to his lips. His brain’s gone to static, all he can do is stand there in Steve’s jacket with Steve getting closer to- Oh. Oh.

“Okay?”

“I- uh,” Clint says, the gears in his brain grinding to a halt. Steve’s lips are against his. Steve’s kissing him. Steve’s kissing him and it’s not because they’re undercover or trying out one of Natasha’s spy lessons, and suddenly Steve’s resignation over his failed romantic attempts make a lot more sense.

Clint is an idiot.

Too stupid to live, possibly, but he’s not giving up on life now he’s actually getting something he wants. He gets a hand in Steve’s hair, unceremoniously hauls him in closer so he can lick into Steve’s mouth and savour the noise he gets for it. Steve’s hands end up low on his waist, pushing him up against the railing firmly, and while it’s not quite as forceful as the first time it still makes Clint’s blood rush hot in his veins.

Steve uses his teeth and Clint moans, can’t even begin to try to stay composed with the way it feels like Steve’s devouring him. Good god, he’s not going to be able to joke about dying for the next five years, but this is just as mind-blowing. Clint thinks he gives as good as he gets with the noise Steve makes - it’s hard to imagine, though, that Clint could be anywhere near being as hot as Steve Rogers is.

He’s not sure how long they spend making out like horny teenagers on the balcony and he really doesn’t care. Clint doesn’t whine when Steve moves back, but it’s a close thing. Steve’s gaze is dark and intent, a promise for more that has Clint trying to pull him in again.

Steve ducks out of his way, laughs quiet and fond. “I’ll take that as a yes?”

“You can take that as me trying to catch up,” Clint says, a little breathless. “You’re telling me I could’ve had this for-?”

“Months,” Steve answers, with a rueful little smile. “Years, even. The first time you wore your tac suit at at the Battle of New York.”

“Oh,” Clint says. Doesn’t know how to follow up with that, figures honesty will have to do for now. “Me too. I think Natasha put us on this mission as revenge because she knew I had a crush the size of the sun on you.”

“That’s good news,” Steve says. “Not the mission, but…”

“Yup,” Clint answers, making grabby hands for Steve. “You like me, I like you, now that’s out of the way, can we get back to what we were doing.”

Steve dodges him again. “I stopped because it’s cold, Clint. Let’s go inside.”

“You don’t even get cold,” Clint grumbles, lets himself be herded into the bedroom.

“I don’t want you to get sick,” Steve reasons, and oh. That’s nice.

The lights are all off in the room apart from a single lamp casting a yellow glow over everything, and Clint makes his way across the carpet, turns around and sits on the mattress when he gets close enough. When he looks up Steve’s just gazing at him, a million unreadable emotions on his face. Clint’s got no idea what’s going on in his mind, so he stays where he is, watches Steve watch him.

“Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are,” Steve says finally, doesn’t quite make it a question.

Clint feels his face heat up. God, he was prepared for sex, but this? “Uh, not really, it’s not like I can see myself - I mean, in the mirror I can, but that’s different, and I don’t think that really c-”

He stops babbling abruptly when Steve steps into the space between his spread knees, his denim-clad legs brushing up against Clint’s thighs. It’s different, because Clint’s not used to staring up at people, even with Steve. It feels strangely vulnerable and he can’t hold back a shiver when Steve’s fingers trail up his throat, stop just below his jaw.

“You’re not allowed to be this smooth,” Clint complains, even though it feels like he’s floating.

“No?”

Steve sounds amused, so much fondness bleeding into that one word that Clint doesn’t know what to do with himself. Then Steve’s leaning down to kiss him again and he does know what to do with that, gets into a position where he can flip Steve down onto the mattress with his thighs, take a little more control in the situation. Steve looks more aroused than offended, settles his hands back on Clint’s hips.

Clint makes quick work of Steve’s shirt and pants, can’t quite make himself take it slow. He’s still worried, in a corner in the back of his mind, that it’s all going to be taken away if he doesn’t hurry. Steve doesn’t seem to mind, lays back and lets Clint throw his jeans into the shadows of the room before he leans up for another kiss.

Clint reaches for the jacket on his shoulders but Steve’s hands stop him and he pauses.

It takes a moment for Steve to make an awkward face and then smile at him lopsidedly, rubs his thumb across Clint’s bruised knuckles. He's touching the ring, the stupid ring that Clint still hasn't taken off because he's a pining idiot, and that's when Clint realizes Steve hasn't taken his off either. “I like you in my clothes,” he confesses.

Oh. “It’s like that, is it,” Clint says, trying for a teasing voice even though it sounds shaky when he says it. Mostly he’s just blown away that Steve likes looking at him at all.

“It’s like that,” Steve agrees, lets his other hand drift down to Clint’s sweatpants. “These can go, though.”

“You’re kind of bossy,” Clint comments even as he’s obediently kicking those and his boxers off. He’s going to burn the Hulk ones when he gets home - sorry, Bruce, those are nothing but bad luck. “You’re lucky I like bossy.”

“I figured you would, considering your best friend is Natasha,” Steve says with a barely-there smirk.

“Don’t let her know you said that,” Clint replies, laughing and then being surprised at himself for it. Then again, it shouldn’t be that much of a shock. It’s so typically Steve to make even the daunting idea of sex with a supersoldier more comfortable. Laughing during sex isn't something Clint does often, but it's a nice change. He's not against it. Having Steve spread out underneath him is a fantasy come to life and an intimidating sight all at once. He starts by just exploring Steve, reminds himself that it's okay to take his time and explore.

Clint’s fingers find a spot on Steve’s chest unerringly and he stares at it for a moment. It’s unblemished, smooth as the rest of it, but he looks and he remembers. Remembers the hot sting of tears mixing with blood and the sickening thump of a body hitting the floor.

“You’re okay?”

Clint looks up into Steve’s eyes, takes in the careful concern on his face. Brushes his fingertips over the spot again, reminds himself there’s nothing there. Steve’s fine. They’re fine. “I’m okay. Thanks.”

He means the thanks for a million things he can’t put into words and Steve seems to understand, sits up so he can press a kiss to Clint’s forehead. It’s unbelievably tender and Clint’s brain goes a little haywire at the touch. God, Steve’s going to get him committed to an insane asylum before this is over.

Then Steve gets his hand around Clint’s dick and that’s so much worse and better, all at once. He doesn’t know when Steve got the opportunity to slick up his hand but it’s warm and wet, just on this side of too much and he lets his forehead drop to Steve’s shoulder and tries to breathe. He whines, hips jerking into Steve’s grip as the pleasure builds up steady and unavoidable.

He closes his eyes but it does nothing to stop the rush of heat pooling low in his stomach. He inhales and all he can smell is Steve, makes a quiet overwhelmed noise when Steve's fingers twist just right. Every muscle in his body is throbbing with the knowledge that Steve is jerking him off. He doesn't know if he wants to cry or lose his mind or both, although his sanity was already being questioned before now.

Steve,” he gasps, fingers scrabbling at hard muscle.

“I’ve got you,” comes the reply, completely certain.

“Oh, fuck,” Clint says, too-loud and breathy. God, of course he does. “Fuck, Steve, I’m-”

He knows he's embarrassingly easy but the orgasm swamps him like a tidal wave, pulls him under so hard he whites out for a few long seconds, shaking and coming apart in Steve’s grip. Steve strokes him through the aftershocks, lets him blink away the hot burn in his eyes and breathe for a few minutes. Clint can't even remember where he is.

“I’m normally a better lay than this,” he mumbles against Steve’s collarbone, gets a laugh for his troubles.

“We’ve got time,” Steve says, and without looking Clint knows he's smiling. Clint's going to suck his dick so hard for this. For everything, really, because Steve is worth a million five-star blowjobs and Clint is more than overjoyed to deliver.

There’s a loud chime that breaks his chain of thought and Clint turns his head, squints at his discarded sweatpants.

It takes him a few goes to get his phone out of the pocket. It’s just a text from Natasha, checking up on him after she’d heard about what’s happened, but his eyes get stuck on the date in the top left-hand corner, illuminated in bright purple numbers. Five past one in the morning, and Clint can’t stop looking at it. One in the morning.

One in the morning.

“It’s the eighteenth,” he says distantly. Then it hits him. “Steve, it’s the eighteenth.”

“Yes?” Steve sounds puzzled.

“Holy shit,” Clint chokes out, and his chest feels like it's burning in a way that has nothing to do with the post-orgasm bliss. He’d hoped, but he’d been terrified it wouldn’t end, that he’d wake up and it’d be the seventeenth again and he’d have to see Steve die or die himself, but. “It’s over.”

Steve seems to catch on a few minutes later when Clint hasn’t stopped staring at the date. Warm arms wrap around him and fingertips brush across his face carefully, wipe away the wetness that Clint hadn’t even felt on his cheeks. Lips brush against his neck gently and Clint distantly feels bad for getting distracted but he’s free.

“It’s over,” Steve says.

“Thank fuck,” Clint says, because he’s never been known for eloquence and he’s not starting now.

Steve laughs, anyway, and Clint thinks maybe it’ll be okay now.