The thing about saving the mayor’s son from some bad guys looking to do bad things to him was that Clint hadn’t realized it would give him obligations .
Obligations like attending a press conference with the mayor at the hospital where her son was still recovering.
Obligations like attending a special Avengers press conference less than a week later when the entire criminal organization that the kidnappers/bad guys belonged to was taken into custody.
Obligations like the press hounding Clint at his favorite coffee shop. And his favorite pizza place. And his favorite bar.
Obligations like attending a fancy dinner party at the mayor’s house - not Gracie Mansion, but her personal house. Or, rather, her personal penthouse just off Central Park - to celebrate her son’s release from the hospital.
“What the fuck,” Clint growled as he rifled through his closet, “am I supposed to even wear ?”
Natasha, sitting on his bed, most of her attention on her phone - and Clint couldn’t decide if she was checking intel briefings, cracking the net security of some government or playing Candy Crush - didn’t even look up before answering.
“Not that,” she said.
Clint had to double-check what his hand was on - jeans and a black button-up. Jeans without holes in them,even.
“Why not? This is the best thing I have.”
Natasha spared him a glare before returning to her phone.
“What about that op you had in Monte Carlo?”
“Oh, you mean the fancy suits? The ones SHIELD provided? That I kept in my locker at SHIELD HQ in DC? The ones that-”
“Yeah, yeah, burned to the ground, and why didn’t anyone call you to help when we discovered SHIELD was really HYDRA, and we are the worst friends of all time, ever,” Natasha interrupted.
Clint glared at her, but Natasha just smirked, attention still on her phone.
With a sigh, Clint turned back to his closet and stared.
Why did he have so many hoodies - okay, there was never too many hoodies, so that’s why he had so many - and so many jeans that looked like they belonged on the reject heap of ‘too distressed’ for some fashion house or something.
“Come on,” Natasha said after letting him give up all hope.
“Where are we going?” Clint asked as she got up from the bed and put away her phone.
“Shopping. It’s not every day you get forced to go to a dinner celebrating your awesomeness. You need to look the part.”
Clint didn’t bother to protest. For one, Natasha didn’t take no for an answer when there was something she wanted or felt one of her people needed. For another, Clint could admit - at least to just himself - that going shopping with Natasha was one of their few shared pleasures that involved civilians and didn’t involve alcohol or copious amounts of caffeine.
So, he went without complaint to the Brioni store on Madison Avenue and kept his mouth shut while Natasha put both the sales staff and Clint to work trying on outfit after outfit.
Eventually, Natasha settled on a navy suit that, despite not being tailored, fit Clint’s shoulders, biceps, ass and thighs so well that it sure felt like it was custom made. She paired it with a light blue dress shirt and insisted that he did not need a tie - even going so far as to unbutton the top button of the shirt to give Clint a look that felt somewhere between immaculate and casual. She gave him a look when he suggested wearing his beat-up purple Converse with the suit, and instead pointed to a pair of brown leather ankle boots.
It was only then , as Clint zipped up the boots, that he saw the price tags.
$1600 for the boots.
$3950 for the suit.
$625 for the shirt.
“Natasha, this is-”
“Worth it,” she interrupted him, and handed over a Chase Sapphire card that Clint knew was linked to one of the Avengers accounts.
He glared at her, but she brushed imaginary lint from his lapel and adjusted the collar of his shirt.
“It’s a good thing you were wearing socks and underwear today,” she said.
“Yeah, or else we’d be spending another three grand,” Clint groused.
She rolled her eyes at him.
“You’ve got just enough time to get coffee or a beer before you have to head to the mayor’s house,” Natasha mused after looking at her phone again.
She accepted her card back from the clearly delighted sales associate who Clint had to assume worked on commission while Clint debated which choice would be better.
On one hand, caffeine was never a bad idea.
On the other, he was anxious enough as it was, and in that weird head space where adding more caffeine to the mix might tip him way over into the annoying-disaster-trash fire realm.
But, at the same time, showing up with beer on his breath probably wasn’t the best impression. Then again, coffee breath wasn’t so great either.
“You should go instead of me,” Clint said.
“Clint, am I the one who saved the mayor’s son from the tracksuit mafia?”
“No - why the hell don’t those guys just quit ? I mean, this is the, what - third time I’ve had to take them out?”
“You could always just kill them,” she offered.
Clint gave her a look. She returned it.
Eventually, they both shrugged and let the matter drop.
“I’m going to just… get a cab and head over there. And suffer.”
“You’re such a hero,” she said.
“Try to have a good time and not disagree with everyone who calls you a good man.” With that parting advice, she sauntered away, and Clint sighed and hailed a cab.
Why was this his life?
Winnifred Barnes was in the second year of her second four-year term as mayor of New York City.
Clint had met her a few times before. It was inevitable, what with New York being a consistent target of anything from gangs to Doctor Doom to HYDRA to aliens, but they had never exchanged more than fake smiles and nods of acknowledgement before he had saved her son a month ago.
The mayor’s two children lived with her, even though the daughter - Rebecca Barnes - was in her final year of undergraduate study at NYU and her son - James Barnes - was in law school at Columbia.
It was Rebecca who greeted Clint when the elevator doors opened to their penthouse. He was a little surprised - living in the Stanhope in a two-story home that was over five thousand feet had made Clint anticipate some kind of staff - but he was also relieved.
“God damn, who do I pay to kidnap me so you’ll rescue me?” Rebecca asked, dark eyes large and appreciative as they roamed over Clint’s clothes.
Rebecca Barnes was, with six years of interviews and media faux pas as evidence, Clint’s kind of people.
“I’ll have a list sent over,” Clint offered.
She laughed, but then shook her head and sobered.
“I shouldn’t joke about it. Buck… It wasn’t okay, what happened to him. What they did.”
“Hey, your brother did break some guy’s leg and shoot another one in the shoulder - he got a little revenge in there. And helped save himself.”
She swallowed hard and nodded.
“Yeah. He… Yeah.”
It was fairly obvious that James wasn’t doing all that great, even if the wounds he had sustained during his capture - a fractured ankle, a concussion, a lacerated liver - were healing well.
Clint felt awful. Felt like he should have been able to do more, should have been able to do better . After all, those thugs were his problem - had been his problem for what felt like years now. And if Clint had tracked them down sooner, had gotten into their safehouse a little cleaner, maybe James would be in better shape physically and mentally.
“Alright, well, let’s get you some liquid courage, and then I’ve been instructed to introduce you to everyone,” Rebecca said. She linked her arm through Clint’s, as if they were old pals, as if she was as familiar and comfortable with him as Natasha was.
She first led Clint towards the kitchen, where there appeared to be a cook - or was it a chef? - and three waiters were preparing a huge amount of food.
“Champagne, vodka or tequila?” Rebecca asked, dodging around the cook and reaching for the fridge.
“Tequila shots, you’re right,” she nodded, as if Clint had suggested it, and pulled a chilled bottle of Don Julio out and then dug around in a cabinet for shot glasses. She blithely ignored the looks from the waitstaff - and from Clint - and poured the both of them shots.
Rebecca shoved a shot glass forward until Clint accepted it, and then clinked her own glass against his.
“L’Chaim,” she said before tossing it back.
It made Clint snort a laugh, which meant half the tequila ended up in his nose and he doubled over coughing and dying .
Rebecca oh-so-helpfully pounded Clint’s back while he struggled to breathe.
“Didn’t know that was a tequila kind of toast,” he panted when he finally could.
“Anything is a tequila kind of toast,” she shrugged, and poured the both of them another round.
She made him drink two more before depositing their empty glasses in the sink and the bottle back in the fridge, by which point Clint’s nose and throat felt on fire and his entire body was pleasantly flushed.
“Alright, let’s go show you off so Mom can get those sweet, sweet campaign donations,” Rebecca muttered, and grabbed Clint’s arm again.
She rolled her eyes up at him.
“Mom’s going to run for governor. So, of course, to celebrate Bucket’s ‘recovery’, she’s invited a dozen of her biggest donors over in the hopes that they’ll want to give her even more money.”
And that… that sat entirely wrong with Clint.
Rebecca must have seen it on his face, because she sighed and nodded.
“Yeah, welcome to politics. C’mon. Sooner you make the rounds, the sooner you can have a real drink and just stand and look pretty while people talk at you.”
And sure enough, that was exactly what happened.
Rebecca dragged him from rich person to rich person, each of whom seemed to think Clint was the best thing to happen to America since Captain America was defrosted. Which was hilarious and wrong on so many levels - not the least of which being the fact that Clint felt positive more than half of the people there didn’t even remember he was an Avenger before he had saved James Barnes’s life.
Winnifred Barnes, of course, was holding court on the terrace, and greeted Clint as if they were old friends, taking his arm from Rebecca and insisting he stand beside her and engage in small talk with people he didn’t know about things he didn’t care.
It was hell. Absolute hell.
And, weirdly, Clint hadn’t seen James at all yet.
After nearly an hour of ‘mingling’, Winnifred led the party to a dining table set up on the terrace and Clint finally got his first glimpse of James since he had been taken away in an ambulance a month before.
Then, James had been bruised and bloodied and full of fury and adrenaline and fear, in stained and ripped clothes and looking as far from New York’s favorite playboy as it was possible for him to be, probably.
Now, James was back to looking incredibly fashionable - black suit, black shirt, long hair pulled back into a slick bun so that his cheeks and jaw were emphasized - but there was something different about him now that hadn’t been present in the six years of press photos and videos before. He looked tired, pale and skin stretched thin across his sharp features, and there were dark bruises under his eyes.
Rebecca sat on one side of him and gestured for Clint to sit on the other, putting him just to Winnifred’s right as she took her position at the head of the table.
James didn’t say anything to Clint, so Clint didn’t say anything to him. He didn’t even know what he could say-
Hey, hope you’re not having nightmares about being kidnapped at gunpoint and tortured in the hopes that your mom would pull strings to let a criminal mastermind out of prison .
You look great for all the shit you’ve been through.
Sorry about everything.
Nothing felt right, or appropriate, so Clint kept his mouth shut except to shovel food into it and sip sparingly from the glass of champagne in front of him.
But then Winnifred made a speech.
About law and order and justice. About criminals trying to take advantage of weakness and complacency, and how, clearly, this was a wakeup call that they all needed to answer. This was the reason she was so invested in the future of New York, and why they all had to work together to-
Halfway through her speech, James pushed his chair back and clumsily, broken ankle still mending, strode away from the table.
There was a moment of silence, and then Winnifred rallied, claimed that James was - probably honestly - going through so much since his kidnapping. And then she was off again, Rebecca glaring at her, James’s empty seat apparently meaningless to Winnifred and her guests.
It was more than Clint could take, and he pushed back his own chair.
Which only earned him the attention of everyone.
“I… I should go and talk to him,” Clint said, and waved a hand awkwardly.
Rebecca was the only one to look approving.
“Check the east terrace,” she offered in a low voice.
Because, sure, this place had enough terraces that they needed cardinal directions attached to them.
Clint escaped and made his way through the penthouse. It was clear that Winnifred had paid a lot of money to have the place decorated - each room seemed to have a theme, and each theme seemed to have been manifested in exacting detail, to the point that the books in the library seemed to follow the same color scheme as the wallpaper.
Sure enough, James was on the east terrace, which Clint had to find by looking at the stars . He was half swallowed by a sea of cushions on some kind of massive purple lounge furniture that looked equally intimidating and comfortable.
Clint approached cautiously, making as much noise as he could, and wasn’t surprised when James’s head snapped up to track him.
“Hey,” Clint greeted when he was close.
“Hey,” James said, voice rough.
Clint gestured to a spot on the purple thing not too far, but also not too close, to James.
“Mind some company?”
James shrugged one shoulder, but Clint decided to wait for more explicit permission.
After a weary sigh, James gave it.
“Sure. Even my company’s gotta beat that party.”
“Pretty sure Doctor Doom’s company beats that party,” Clint muttered as he sat down.
And then froze in horror, because as much as he didn’t think of Winnifred Barnes using her son’s tragedy as the basis for her political platform, she wasn’t really in the same league as Doctor Doom.
But James laughed - a little hysterically, but warm and bright and real all the same.
“Fuck. That’s priceless. An actual Avenger prefers the company of an actual supervillain to my mother.”
“I… Uh… I mean, Doctor Doom is kind of witty?”
James snorted, less hysterical now, and gave Clint a smirk.
“Thanks for that. I needed it.” He shook his head and settled back in his sea of pillows again, and for a few minutes, they sat in silence, James looking up at the few stars that were visible above the glow of the city, Clint’s gaze half focused on the city around them and half on James.
“I never got the chance to actually thank you,” James spoke again after several minutes.
“I- No, you don’t need to. It’s not-”
“I’m not positive they would have killed me,” James continued, as if Clint wasn’t stumbling all over himself, “but I am sure my mother wouldn’t have done what they wanted. So, thank you for not putting me in the position to find out what that would have looked like.”
On one hand, he got it - the ‘it’ being the refusal to trade a truly evil man capable of doing a hell of a lot of harm to a hell of a lot of people for one fairly ordinary man.
On the other hand, James was her son . And that James was so sure that he was something Winnifred was willing to sacrifice… it sucked. There was no other way to describe it.
“I’m sorry,” Clint had to say.
“Why? You weren’t the idiot trolling for dick in the wrong club.”
And that was… a lot to unpack.
James Barnes had been a media darling for years now, even before he turned eighteen, and he had been seen on the arm of models and actors of both genders. But that he would so casually just say he was ‘trolling for dick’ did something funny to Clint.
Clint absolutely blamed the tequila shots and Rebecca Barnes for what he said next.
“Well, next time you’re looking for dick, just be safe. Give me a call.”
James stared at him for a long, charged moment.
And then one corner of his full lips lifted.
“I’ll do that,” he said.