“It would’ve been nice, if you had warned me before you blew all my covers, Tasha. Do you know how much of a hassle it was to get out of Aleppo like that? I’m… fuck, is it really true? Fucking Hydra? And Bucky Barnes is the Winter Soldier? Holy shit. What is it with those forties guys suddenly coming back from the dead?”
“Barton! Focus. Can you be there?” Natasha snapped before letting out a string of curse words. “Clint. This is gonna get ugly. Be there. Please.”
Clint snapped his mouth shut and nodded once. “I’ll be there. It might take me awhile. But I’ll be there,” he said with a low groan and ran a hand through his hair. “Be careful, Tash… I don’t like it when I’m not there to watch your back,” he muttered but the line was already dead. Fucking figures.
He got there, too late to do anything but watch the smoking wreckage, eyes growing wide when he spotted the Winter Soldier dragging an unconscious Captain America onto shore. Natasha’s words kept echoing in his head. Tortured. Brainwashed for decades. Unmade. But that, right there, saving Steve or at least… not letting him drown. He was fighting it. And he deserved someone to fight for him right now. Clint cursed and quickly shouldered his bow, running through the underbrush to follow Bucky Barnes into the woods.
“I’m not here to hurt you. Or bring you in or whatever. You need to lay low. So do I. And I got just the place for that. Nobody knows about it. Not even Widow. I swear. I… fuck,” Clint cursed, hands still in the air, palms out, eyes fixed onto Barnes. He rattled off the coordinates for the farm, a defiant look on his face. “I’m not forcing you. It’s a choice. Feels like you didn’t get many of those for a while. If you decide to show up… I’ll be there.” Clint couldn’t help the small smile or the pang of disappointment when Barnes nodded once, a barely there movement of his head, and disappeared with a growled “Don’t follow me” thrown over his shoulder.
Fuck… what was he thinking? Giving the fist of fucking Hydra the coordinates of the farm. But it felt right. He wouldn’t be able to explain it, but he knew that this wasn’t really the Winter Soldier, or Hydra’s puppet. It was Barnes, no matter how deep down he was buried; it was him and he deserved a chance, hell he deserved it so much more than he had back then. Barnes was strong, so much stronger than Clint would ever be. He had fought it, tooth and nail and even though his mission was to kill Steve, he still had saved him. He had managed what Clint had been too weak to do; he’d fought the brainwashing and no matter how briefly, he’d snapped out of it enough to save him, to save his friend.
Clint swallowed thickly and shook his head to clear his vision from the blue light creeping in at the edges. This wasn’t the right time to freak out or have a panic attack. He waited for a moment, watching the line of trees where Barnes had left but he was long gone without so much of a broken twig or footprint in the mud.
He got to Cap only a couple of minutes later, falling to his knees beside him and assessing the damage. Barnes had done quite the number on him. It felt scary to see him lying there unconscious, beaten within an inch of his life. There wasn’t much he could do right here, the smaller cuts and bruises already healing, not even leaving the faintest scars.
“You’re gonna be okay, Cap. Nothing that freaky serum of yours can’t fix. And Barnes is a big boy. He can take care of himself until he’s ready to be found.”
He met Sam Wilson in the hospital, watching over Steve while they waited (anxiously) for his body to heal, and instantly bonded over their bird-related codenames. Clint was antsy to leave, get to the farm and prepare for the slim chance of Barnes actually showing up there. “Yo, bird bro, let me know when he wakes up, okay? And keep me updated on all the stupid he’s getting up to afterwards,” he said with a grin and bumped Sam’s fist before leaving.
Saying goodbye to Natasha was a little more difficult, but for her he was never completely off the grid. “It’s not like there’s much for me to do right now. SHIELD… SHIELD is gone. Nick’s ‘dead’ and I just… I need a fucking break, Tash. Maybe I should finally retire. Maybe this is the sign I was waiting for?” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair before pulling Natasha in for a hug. “You know how to reach me,” he whispered and pressed a kiss against her temple, tightening the hug once more before finally letting go. “I’ll see you around, okay?”
It always took a while to get used to staying at the farm after such a long time away. The quiet grated on Clint’s nerves and made him twitchy, but eventually there was more than enough to do around the house or the barn, a fence to mend, or something that definitely didn’t need remodelling ended up being remodelled anyway.
Clint was halfway done tearing the patio apart, the rotten floorboards all in a pile though he wasn’t even done with cutting, sanding and painting the new boards.
“I started to think you wouldn’t show...” Clint said after a while, not bothering to look up while he continued to work on the by now gigantic hole in the floor. “You wanna help me? Or are you gonna keep lurking in the shadow and watch me work?” he added with a smirk before using his discarded shirt to mop up the sweat from his forehead. Telegraphing his moves, he got up and turned around, watching how Barnes slowly crept closer, similar to a feral cat that wasn’t quite sure if it could trust just yet.
He looked rough, worn down, tired to the bone. But there was something, maybe around the eyes (Jesus fucking Christ did that guy have pretty eyes) that had hope blooming in Clint’s chest. “I got coffee and beer in the kitchen. If you want anything stronger… I think there’s a bottle of shitty tequila somewhere under the sink,” Clint offered before he stretched, his joints popping almost obscenely loud. It took a lot not to preen when he felt Barnes’ eyes on him, stuttering over his shoulders and arms before quickly snapping up.
“Coffee sounds good...?” It sounded a lot more like a question than a definite answer but Clint took it at face value.
“Sure thing! Coffee is always the right choice. I usually drink mine black, straight from the pot but I’ve been told that’s ‘gross’ and ‘not how a functional human being’ drinks their coffee but honestly… what do they know. Uh… just… climb over the railing over there? Sorta didn’t… quite plan this project right. But steps and a floor are entirely overrated.” Clint started blabbering, a smile on his face while he walked inside, not quite ready to question why he was this comfortable with having his back to one of the world’s greatest assassins.
Dutifully, Clint grabbed two mugs from the cupboard, both of them official Hawkeye merchandise, grabbed sugar and milk from the fridge and put everything on the counter, waiting for instructions.
“I don’t… I don’t know how I like my coffee,” Barnes eventually muttered, voice rough from disuse and it went straight to Clint’s heart. A wave of anger washed over him, almost startling Clint in its intensity.
“That’s… fuck.” Clint swallowed thickly, fighting back the misplaced anger, shaking himself out of it. “That’s fine. You can figure it out now, if you want. And if you mix something you don’t like just leave it on the counter and I’ll finish it. As long as it’s caffeine it won’t go to waste. Next time I go into town I can buy some of those fancy flavoured coffee creamers. Cinnamon is pretty good. Makes it taste a little Christmas-y. Hazelnut is a classic too.”
After that first day, they slowly got used to each others’ company. For a while, Barnes was barely more than a shadow who drank Clint’s coffee and ate a lot of his food, repaying him by fixing things around the house that Clint hadn’t gotten to yet. One day an ever growing list of groceries appeared on the fridge with continuously more random items.
After about a month, Barnes became James over a shared dinner, his voice shaky but his eyes all the more determined for it.
“I don’t… I don’t think I’ll ever be Bucky again… but… James… I think… I think I could be James.”
Clint almost started crying then and there, a lump forming in his throat, making it hard to breathe. “James it is! I like James. Suits you. And it’s your choice… so it’s even better,” Clint said, and gave James a brilliant smile, which was rewarded with a small, happy smile in return. James’ smile turned Clint’s insides into goo. Fuck… he was so. fucked.
Their perfect little bubble burst on a rainy Thursday. Clint’s phone rang while they were cooking lunch together. The knife Clint was holding to chop carrots was hovering in midair and for a small eternity he didn’t move. James’ quiet “Clint” got him into motion and he grabbed the phone, answering it on a sigh.
“I hate to end your sabbatical, but we need you for this.”
Nat’s voice sounded strained, there was definitely something she didn’t tell him, but at the same time he knew that he couldn’t refuse. He closed his eyes for a moment and let out a long breath. “I can be in New York in seven hours. Just… gotta make sure the cat’s fed and taken care of.”
“I always thought you were more of a dog person.”
“Yeah… so did I,” he replied, a small smile on his lips when he looked up to watch James in the kitchen, pretending not to listen. “I’ll see you in a bit.” There was so much more he wanted to say, the words sitting at the tip of his tongue but it all had to wait. He put the phone down and closed his eyes, took a deep breath and held it in while he reached up to tug at his hair.
“It’s fine. We both knew this would happen eventually. I’ll take care of everything while you’re gone. And we’ll just… pick up where we left off once you’re back.” James had come over, standing so close that Clint could feel the heat radiating off of him.
“Fuck… I better get to packing then,” he sighed, the “I don’t want to go” and “I’m going to miss you,” even though left unsaid, stood clear as day between them.
Reluctantly Clint stepped back, away from the warmth and safety that James seemed to have turned into over the last few months. He walked upstairs, opening the door to the empty room that had started out as James’ bedroom. He grabbed a duffle and filled it with a couple of knives and guns, spare ammo as well as two quivers full of arrows before stuffing in the long sleeved uniform courtesy of Tony Stark thanks to that one time he went on a mission for SHIELD in Siberia and came back with the worst case of the flu, leaving him out of commission for almost three weeks which, in retrospect, might’ve been Hydra’s attempt to get rid of him.
Twenty minutes later, Clint stood in the hall, duffle beside the door, looking miserable. He was holding a phone, twisting it in his hands before finally holding it out to James. “It’s secure and untraceable. My number’s in there. I’ll check in whenever I can… but… you can text me whenever. I’ll answer.” Clint was biting his lips, not quite meeting James’ eyes. “So… yeah. I guess… I better get going,” he muttered and turned around, grabbing his duffle before opening the front door.
“Hey, Clint?” James inquired before Clint could step out into the rain, before quickly closing the gap between them. He reached out with his metal hand, cupping Clint’s cheek and tracing his bottom lip before leaning in and pressing a kiss against his lips. James smiled, feeling the answering grin on Clint’s lips rather than seeing it, before kissing him again. “I’ll miss you...”