“This is stupid. Why can’t we stay here for Christmas? Celebrate with Kate and Nat and you, Lucky. Like we did last year,” Clint muttered, quietly grumbling to himself while he went through all the clothes he owned to pick just the right thing to impress, oh God , Bucky’s family. He had thought about refusing, already coming up with a hundred and two different excuses why he couldn’t leave for Christmas, but no matter how intricate and elaborate it sounded in his head he could just imagine Bucky’s face every goddamn time. His stupid blue eyes all sad and disappointed and Clint knew, just knew that he would never, ever do that to Bucky. Not with their history, with all the lost time, with all the fucking chances the universe had thrown at them over the years. No, he would finally , officially , meet Bucky’s family; his parents, Becca, Steve .
Fuck, Steve had never liked him, not when they were kids going to the same preschool, not when they were barely teenagers, Clint freshly back home for the first time in eight years with the circus, and definitely not when Clint took a whole day-trip, hitchhiking with seven different people to see Bucky again (just this once, to move on, he had told himself back then, to finally put an end to their thing, whatever it was, and forget about Indiana, about Bucky, about his past that wouldn’t let him rest until he forced himself to forget about all of it, even the only good thing that happened to him).
Clint shook his head and sighed deeply. He had to go, didn’t he? Meet Mrs. Barnes and pretend he didn’t remember her cookies, with how much love she had packed Bucky’s lunches every single day and how many times he had eaten more than half of it. Meet Mr. Barnes and force down the memory of him showing up at their door in his pristine police uniform, taking him and Barney from their home down to the station, pretend that he wasn’t the one who’d shattered his whole world in just a couple of sentences. And fuck, he couldn’t even pretend he didn’t know or remember Steve.
With another sigh, Clint picked as many purple items as possible and haphazardly stuffed them into his duffle. If he had to go and face all the demons of his past all at once with a layer of snow and Christmas cheer on top of it, he’d might as well draw as much comfort out of every little thing, be it that pair of fuzzy, purple socks that Nat still denied she had knitted herself, or the extremely soft pair of pyjama pants with little arrows on them that Kate had gotten him for his birthday that year.
“Hey Luck…how about you get sick all over the bed so you’re definitely too sick to travel with us?” he asked the mutt, who dozed happily on the bed, his one eye opening half-way at the mention of his name. His tail started wagging excitedly and he let out a happy bark. “Traitor…” Clint muttered but couldn’t fight a soft smile, rubbing Lucky’s belly before going back to his petulant packing.
He didn’t know how much time he spent debating over which identical shirt to pack when Lucky’s head lifted and he barked once, scrambling off the bed and down the stairs just in time to knock Bucky over the second he stepped through the door. With a yelp he went down and Clint got worried for a second before he could hear him laugh, enthusiastically greeting Lucky while Clint watched from up the stairs with a besotted grin.
“Hey, doll! All packed and ready to go?” Bucky asked with a matching grin, still scratching Lucky’s ears.
Clint had the decency to blush, nervously scratching at the back of his neck before finally shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Buck. I just…what if they don’t like me? Hell, I know they won’t like me! Steve hates me. No, don’t look at me like that! He does! And he’s probably told your mom and dad about all the things I’ve done! And your dad probably already knows about my record. And…and they’ll look at me and I’ll know they disapprove immediately. And they won’t even want me staying in their house. Because who’d want an ex-carnie criminal in their home?” Clint spiraled, all his worries and fears spilling out at once, leaving him breathless by the time Bucky had reached him at the top of the stairs, wrapping him up in a tight embrace, fingers brushing through his hair soothingly.
“Hey, come on now, breathe with me. You’re not a bad person, Clint. You’re the most compassionate, gentle, sweet person I know and they’re not going to hate you or disapprove of you. And you wanna know why I know that? Because I love you, and you make me so incredibly, ridiculously happy and that’s what they’re going to see. What they’re going to care about. Not what you did back then when you just…had to pick from equally shitty options. They’re going to care about Lucky, about how you helped Kate, about you teaching archery to kids, about you making me happy,” Bucky insisted with a sappy smile, gently cupping Clint’s cheeks and brushing away a stray tear.
Clint huffed out a heavy sigh and pressed a kiss against Bucky’s palm, a wobbly smile on his lips. “You’re such a sap,” he muttered, voice thick with too many emotions.
It felt like his heart was beating out of his chest, palms sweaty and breath coming in short, shallow gasps. “How can you be so fucking calm? This is… oh god. I never thought we’d be back ,” Clint muttered and looked over at Barney who seemed just as pissed off and annoyed as usual.
“Get it together, little bro. There’s nothing here for us anymore. Nobody cares. It’s just another town, another couple of weeks before we move on, not looking back,” he snapped and smacked the back of Clint’s head when his leg started bouncing again. “For fuck’s sake! Get a grip or I’ll throw you out to walk,” he hissed, his hand pushing down on Clint’s knee almost painfully.
Clint shied away from Barney’s touch and pressed himself against the truck’s door, eyes going wide when they passed the town sign.
Even though it had been years since he had been there last, everything seemed so familiar. He remembered the road they were on, knew that they’d pass the playground and then the school. He knew that the field where they’d set up was only a twenty minute walk from their childhood home, and only thirty minutes to the church and cemetery.
With a violent shudder he forced the memories and threatening tears down, set his jaw stubbornly and continued staring out the window. Just another town. Just another town.
Setting up took them the better part of two days, the work hard and the sun relentless. Clint was sweating like a pig, tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth while he tended to the animals, carrying buckets of water and food to and fro without a break.
Once the animals were set for the day, Trickshot quickly found him to watch him train until Clint could barely lift his bow, hitting him once his arm shook so much he missed the target entirely. “That could’ve been someone’s head you just hit! Sloppy, lazy! If you don’t get better I don’t see any reason to keep training you. Another fifty shots before you take a break!” Trickshot growled, eyes hard and hands curled into fists.
Sweat was running down his temples in little rivulets, and he was breathing hard, chest heaving, but the rush that he felt from all of the surrounding cheers and clapping felt intoxicating. Barney had been right. It was just another city, just another sea of nameless faces, the lights too bright to make out anyone clearly. He jumped off the horse with one last flourish, landing lightly on his feet before bowing, a huge grin on his lips while he let the dull roar of the crowd wash over him. He turned slowly, bowing again for another wave of cheers, when his eyes landed on a face in the audience .The face was blurry and a little vague, but Clint’s heart skipped a beat before his brain could really catch up with whom he saw sitting in the middle of the crowd, watching him with wide eyes, just as much disbelief in them.
Clint tripped over his own feet, stumbling and almost falling before he caught himself, smile now entirely forced. He bowed one last time before all but fleeing from the circus ring, his brain caught in a loop of blue eyes, dark brown hair and just that one word. Bucky.
He ignored the angry shouts of his brother, ducking out of the big tent and running until his legs gave out on him. So many memories kept assaulting his brain, of the same blue eyes, of lovingly packed lunches, of shyly holding hands when no one was watching, not daring to look at each other while they discovered something neither of them fully understood.
Clint didn’t know how much time he lost like that, lying there on the ground, face pressed into the soft grass, the smell somehow grounding him. God, how could he have forgotten? How could he have just…blocked out the most important, the best thing that ever happened to him?
He startled after a time as something carefully kicked his leg, a whimper forced out of his throat before the person attached to the foot swam into focus. Oh god, it really was him. Wasn’t it? He didn’t dream that up. He didn’t just project memories of him onto a complete stranger.
“Bucky..?” he asked, the exact same time as Bucky whispered “Clint?”
Without thinking, Clint reached for the offered hand, letting himself be pulled to his feet before he was wrapped in the tightest, most desperate embrace.
“Fuck…fuck! It’s you. It’s really you! How..? Jesus fucking Christ! Clint!” Bucky muttered into Clint’s shoulder since he was somehow the short one now. A sudden laugh escaped Bucky’s lips, tears springing to his eyes, his brain and heart not completely able to figure out what he was feeling. “What...what did they feed you? Fucking giant,” he grumbled and sniffed, quickly wiping away the tears with his sleeve.
Clint just kept on staring, clinging to Bucky like his life depended on it, breathing in his scent that was so different and yet so achingly familiar. He huffed out a laugh and shrugged one shoulder, both hands fisted into Bucky’s shirt, holding on tightly. He kept his eyes closed, their foreheads pressed together. “Bucky...” he forced out through the giant lump in his throat, fingers slowly uncurling and moving up his back to tangle in the long strands of soft hair, one hand cupping his face.
Clint leaned back a little, eyes slowly opening just to meet wide steel-blue eyes staring back at him. He swallowed thickly, unsure for just a second before he leaned in again, closing the gap between them, dry lips pressing against soft lips.
“Hey, babe, where did you go just now?” Bucky asked quietly, fingers gently soothing through the soft hair at the nape of Clint’s neck. “It looked like you were pretty far away. Memories?” he added with a smile before pressing a gentle kiss against Clint’s lips.
“Remember when we were fifteen? And the circus came to town for the first time since…you know? And you and Steve and Becca went to see the show? I remembered how it felt to see you for the first time in so long. How…how much it hurt, but it still felt so good. Because, fuck, because even back then you felt like home. More than anything else. And you hugged me and then I kissed you and I really thought you’d punch me for that. Barney sure as hell did… but… that was the first time, that I really thought about…about leaving, or, well…about staying. You came to see the show every day of the leg. And you had Steve cover for you with your parents. I can still feel that glare of his, that day I waited for you at school, convinced you to skip classes. I really thought that half-pint would throw some punches right then and there. I don’t think he ever forgave me for…for corrupting you, for making him lie to your folks. Pretty cliché, when you think about it, huh? The carnie trash convincing the golden boy, straight-A student to skip school to make out and watch some movies in my trailer. God. I tried to teach you how to shoot, but you kept distracting me with...with your face and your ‘Am I doing it right, Clint? Could you help me with my stance? I’m not sure if I can do it.’ I got into so much trouble for the holes in Trickshot’s trailer.” Clint huffed out a soft laugh and shook his head to clear the fog of memories from his mind.
“Still can’t believe you liked me back that way. And that you fucking waited for me. That you forgave me again and again for disappearing for years. That…that you still wanted me when I dumped my whole coffee all over you, two years ago,” Clint whispered, eyes closed, face pressed into the crook of Bucky’s neck. “Tell me again what I did to deserve so many chances with you...”
“Oh god, I do remember, Clint. I couldn’t believe it at first, I mean…we were like what? Seven, eight? I was taller than you by like six inches. And then you come back tall as a fucking tree and god, your muscles, my poor teen-aged brain could barely handle looking at you in that ridiculously tight outfit! But you were still that same dumb blonde that I used to share my lunches with.” Bucky paused, fingers still rubbing circles over the flesh of Clint’s neck. “I was so mad at my parents for not taking you in back then, too. They took Stevie, so why not you and Barney?” Bucky asked with a soft laugh and pressed a kiss against Clint’s temple. “But it all worked out, didn’t it? Doesn’t really matter how we got here. And it’s a lot less awkward with you not being my sorta-brother,” he joked, satisfied with the snort he earned for that comment. “How about we go finish packing together, huh? Make sure you got something purple for every occasion.”
Clint snorted and rolled his eyes, playfully shoving Bucky back before pressing a kiss against his lips, lingering there for a moment just to bask in the feeling of having him this close. “Purple is a very valid life choice, thank you very much,” he said against Bucky’s lips before pulling away reluctantly. “Lucky’s all packed, though. His favourite toys and blanket are in my bag, I got food for at least five days, his bowls, leash and collar, and his snacks…am I missing something?” he asked, head tilted to one side, brow scrunched up while he tried to remember the checklist he had been too lazy to write down.
“Aw, that’s great, babe. And it sounds like about everything he’ll need for just a couple of days. We promised Nat to be back for new year’s anyway and uhm…well…Stevie might come visit with his fiance, spend a couple of days in New York before going back to DC. He’s bringing Phil for the first time as well, so don’t worry about all of the attention being on you,” Bucky offered with a sheepish smile, bottom lip sticking out in an obvious pout, puppy eyes strong. “And he doesn’t hate you! I promise. And since he has Phil, he’s a lot more settled. I don’t know exactly what he did, but he’s been really good for Stevie.”
Clint groaned and threw himself onto the bed theatrically, an exaggerated whine escaping his throat. “You, mister, are fighting dirty! You know I can’t say no when you look at me like that! And it’s mean that you exploit that so shamelessly!” he accused and laughed, quickly grabbing onto Bucky to pull him down on the bed with him, arms and legs snaking around him like an octopus. He pressed kisses onto Bucky’s face and neck, everywhere he could reach until they both ended up breathless and giggling. “Mean…” Clint muttered against soft skin before pressing one final kiss there. “I love you, B. Fuck…I love you, so much.”
“But you still don’t wanna go?” Bucky finished with a chuckle before looking into Clint’s eyes, fingers reaching out to brush errant strands of hair out of his face.
“No…no. I wanna go. Cause it’s important to you. And I gotta thank Mrs B. for those amazing cookies at some point. You think she’d give us the recipe?” Clint finally replied with a smile. “One condition though! NO, and I mean it! Absolutely NO sex on our couch when Steve and Phil come to visit. I really like that couch and I don’t want Steve’s naked ass touching it!” He had started seriously but quickly dissolved into laughter at Bucky’s pained groan.
They eventually finished packing, bags waiting at the door while Bucky double-checked everything twice, making sure all the windows were closed and locked, that they had their plane tickets and all the necessary documents and papers for Lucky.
Clint put on Lucky’s purple vest identifying him as an ESA before giving him a good scratch behind the ears. “Glad your dad’s a bit of a nutjob, eh? Otherwise your fat ass would’ve travelled in cargo.” Clint spoke into the soft fur before straightening and clipping on the leash. “Good to go,” he said with a final sigh and picked up his duffle, stepping out the door and watched Bucky lock up.
“Cab’s waiting downstairs. We got more than enough time to walk Lucky after we drop off our bags and checked with the airline. I got all the paperwork we need, I got our tickets…the rental car should be ready for us when we land, and my folks know to expect us around 7 pm. The airport’s gonna be crowded as fuck, so we better get going,” Bucky rambled while nodding to himself, quickly checking all his pockets while following Clint down the stairs.
As expected, the trip had been hell, the crowded and busy airport grating on both of their nerves. “You know, C, sometimes I think it’s cheating that you can just…turn off your ears. Poor Lucky had to suffer through that whole flight with all those kids screaming and crying,” Bucky said with a pout, a laugh escaping him at Clint’s smug grin. “Ass,” he added with an eye roll and pulled him close for an exhausted kiss.
Bucky loaded their bags into the trunk of their rental while Clint secured Lucky in the backseat, giving him kisses and scratching behind his ears until Bucky gestured for him to finally get in the car. “I know what you’re doing,” Bucky said as he grinned fondly and reached out to squeeze Clint’s hand. “You don’t have to be nervous, doll. I’m here. I promise. I’m not leaving you alone and no matter which worst case scenario you pictured, nothing, and I mean it, nothing’s going to change my mind. You’ll be stuck with me. Forever, if I got any say in it,” Bucky whispered and reached out to scratch the back of Clint’s neck, knowing that it usually helped him calm down a bit.
Clint had his eyes closed when the car slowly came to a stop after they drove for who knew how long, only opening them when Bucky killed the engine. He took a deep breath and looked out the window, biting his bottom lip at the image that greeted him. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing wanted to come out. He startled a little when Bucky touched him, only reluctantly turning his head away from the picture perfect house just outside. “It looks so perfect ,” he forced out and took a deep, calming breath, reaching out to tangle his fingers with Bucky’s. Clint squeezed once before nodding, determined. “Let’s do this,” he said and opened the door, stepping out into the cold winter air. He went to Lucky first, who jumped out and, barking happily, started running through the snow and rolling in it, tail wagging a mile a minute. “Luck seems to like it,” Clint joked, still unable to look away.
The cobbled path leading up to the front door had been shoveled free of snow, the short iron fence decorated with fir-branches and red bows, fir-wreaths with the same bows on every window, all of them in the exact same shade as the red front door. There were lights in the bushes lining the path, reflecting in the snow and casting everything in a warm and welcoming glow.
A movement in one of the windows caught Clint’s attention, the curtains still swinging once Bucky took Clint’s free hand and slowly pulled him towards the door. “Becca,” he explained and nodded towards the now empty window. “We got about a minute until everyone knows we’re here. You good, C? No last minute escape plans forming in your head?” he asked with a soft smile and squeezed Clint’s hand, using it to pull him in for a quick kiss. “Remember, I’m here. Not leaving you alone with them,” he whispered against Clint’s lips, before whistling for Lucky and ringing the doorbell.