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Almost Accidental

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The first time, it’s almost an accident.

Clint is exhausted, his arms and his shoulders are aching in that fantastic way that means he spent the day shooting at something other than targets in the range, that he did too much jumping, running, falling, that he battled hard and came home victorious, and he’s still riding the adrenaline rush of that.

Tony’s got them all gathered in the lounge, he’s pouring drinks that are three times stronger than they should be, and everyone else seems to be high on the same rush. Thor is laughing, challenging anyone stupid enough to take him up on his boast that he can beat anyone and everyone in arm wrestling. Natasha’s leaning up against the bar chatting with Tony and only the faint flush along her cheeks tells Clint that she’s had just a little more wine than she’d usually allow herself. It’s a testament to how much she trusts the other Avengers, and Clint knows he’s the only one who knows her well enough to realize. Tony’s flipping bottles, pouring shots, laughing and lit up with that particular manic energy of his that means he’s either commanding an audience, or going on hour 27 of a science binge in his lab. Steve, beside Natasha, is eating it up, grinning so hard, his cheeks have to hurt. Bruce is watching quietly from across the room and nursing his first (and probably only) beer, Wanda is fascinating Vision with red-magic parlour tricks near the window, and Sam and Scott are arguing about something while playing a game of pool that looks like they’re both mostly cheating.

And Bucky. Well. That’s where the problems start.

Bucky is lounging on the sofa next to Clint with a relaxed slope to his shoulders that Clint’s never seen before, but he thinks it has something to do with the triple-strength jack and coke he’s throwing back. Maybe if he’s fast enough, Bucky can keep chugging the alcohol faster than his super soldier metabolism can burn it off.

He’s laughing, low and rough like the whiskey he’s drinking, a smile flirting at the corner of his lips, his hair shoved back in a way that makes Clint want to run his fingers through it and mess it up even further. His eyes are bright and Clint has lost track of whatever it is Bucky’s laughing about, hung up on the idea that he wants to bite the smile right off Bucky’s mouth.

It’s a problem.

So Clint looks away and downs his own drink, coughs on it a little, and looks over at Tony for another.

“Hey,” Bucky says, a low rumble, and Clint looks back at him. “You okay, Barton?”

“Yeah,” Clint says, and it’s true. It’s mostly true. Sort of true?

Okay, the thing is, Clint is awesome. He’s great. He’s doing just fine. It’s just, looking at Bucky now, all satisfied and relaxed and warm, like a cat in a sunspot, Clint can’t help but think of the contrast between this Bucky and the Bucky from the battle earlier, all competent and strong and fucking amazing, with his arms and his guns and his thighs and his walking -- even his walking, what the fuck -- and his ability to take out six mutant rats with one shot, and the way he’d somehow had time to flash a smug grin Clint’s way while he did it?

What the fuck was Clint supposed to do with that shit now, when face to face with Bucky who wants to chat about -- what were they chatting about? Skincare? The Kardashians? Dog Cops?

Clint has no fucking idea because the truth of the matter is that Bucky had rubbed his hands absently down his thighs while Clint had said whatever he’d said to make Bucky laugh, and Clint’s thoughts on the subject matter had derailed faster than Bucky’d taken out six mutant rats.

And that, Clint thinks, as Natasha hands him the whiskey sour Tony had made him, is a problem.

So is the fact that he’s thinking about it while sipping his drink and staring morosely at Bucky’s thighs.

He sighs and forces himself to look away as Natasha laughs and tugs gently at his hair, drifting back to the bar.

“It’s just,” he says, when he realizes that Bucky’s still watching him thoughtfully. “You ever worry, like. Mutant rats, right. What if, because we took them out, there’s gonna be a whole generation of turtles without a sensei?”

“I don’t think that’ll be a problem, Barton,” Bucky tells him, and that’s good, because Clint’s got enough problems to deal with already.

*

Eventually, Natasha and Sam duck out, and without Sam to antagonize, Scott wanders off too. Wanda disappeared ages ago, and Vision never lasts long without her. Bruce slipped out with no one noticing, and Steve and Tony had both finally decided to go to bed and pretend they both weren’t thinking they’d rather go to bed with each other. Thor makes a big show of taking Mjolnir off to bed with him.

And then it’s just Clint. And Bucky. On the sofa.

Friday helpfully turns the lights down low.

Clint’s wracking his brain for a nice, smooth segue into going off to bed to work his sexual frustrations out by himself when Bucky sets his drink aside and says, “Hey, Barton?”

Clint blinks at him and lifts an eyebrow and says, smoothly, like he hasn’t spent the last hour wandering through various fantasies about just what he’d like to do to Bucky and how, “Yeah?”

“Tell me if I’m readin’ this wrong,” Bucky says, voice going lower like the lights did, and Clint just cocks his head, confused, and then.

Well. Bucky’s thumb brushes roughly along Clint’s bottom lip and Bucky’s staring at his mouth and Clint has one or two seconds to think shrilly, hysterically that he must be reading this wrong because there’s no way, no how, that Bucky could possibly be about to --

But he is and he does, kissing Clint with a singleminded intensity that makes Clint wonder -- for the moment or two in which he remains capable of thought -- if maybe Bucky’s been thinking about Clint’s mouth as much as Clint’s been thinking about Bucky’s.

And then he’s not thinking about anything at all except for the way Bucky’s mouth tastes like whiskey, and how much he likes when Bucky does that thing with his tongue, and how much he likes the soft sound Bucky makes when Clint licks his way into his mouth, and -- and -- and --

“Barton,” Bucky says, laughing low and soft against his mouth.

Clint just mumbles inquiringly and keeps pressing small, opened-mouth kisses along the fucking fantastic line of Bucky’s jaw, down the side of his neck, biting down on the tendon where his neck meets his shoulder --

“Get over here,” he says, still laughing, and Clint moans against his throat because apparently he likes taking orders from Bucky, but before he can obey, Bucky’s dragging him up and onto his lap and this, Clint decides, is much, much better.

He runs his fingers through Bucky’s hair and messes it up just like he wanted to before as Bucky starts marking his throat up with his teeth and decides that dealing with the emotional fallout of trying to compartmentalize whatever this is in relation to the inadvisable crush he’s secretly been harboring for a while --

Well, all that’s a problem Future Clint can deal with.

*

The next morning, Clint lies on his back in his bed and contemplates his ceiling and the state of his life.

It’s actually edging closer to afternoon. The shadows have changed angles with the movement of the sun, and Clint is hungry in a distant sort of way, craving coffee in a much more urgent sort of way, and determined to figure this shit out before daring to venture out of his bedroom.

He’s ensured his self-enforced isolation remains complete by intentionally leaving his hearing aids on the dresser across the room, informing Jarvis that he’s not to be disturbed unless it’s a legit Avengers emergency, and letting his phone battery die.

He’s on a cleanse. A social interaction cleanse.

He’s going to crush his inconvenient crush or die trying.

He’s just got to be rational about this. These are the facts:
Bucky Barnes is hotter than the sun.
Bucky Barnes needed to blow off a little post-battle adrenaline.
Clint was convenient, close, and obviously more than willing to indulge in a little ‘hurray, we survived giant mutant rats’ making out.
This in no way has any bearing on the fact that Clint has been secretly and hopelessly suffering from an infatuation of epic proportions with Bucky Barnes.
Giving Bucky Barnes a blow job was just as life-changing an experience as Clint had always thought it would be.

The thing is, Clint’s an expert at one-night stands. No strings attached sex? Count him in. He’s a lot better at hitting it and quitting it than he is at long term, committed relationships, because generally, he’s found that anyone who’s around him long enough realizes what an epic disaster of a human being he is. His endearing qualities become a hell of a lot less endearing when one is exposed to them for a longer period of time.

So theoretically, he should be completely, one hundred percent fine with the idea that he’s hooked up with his teammate.

And if it had been any other teammate, sure. He’d be fine. Nothing more complicated than sparring -- basically just… sparring with no pants on. No big deal.

But… it’s just…

Clint has no earthly idea how he’s gonna be able to function now that he knows exactly how Bucky looks when he -- what it feels like when he --

Clint moans and rolls over, burying his face in his pillow and squeezing his eyes shut and cursing the universe for making him such a goddamn idiot.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Bucky deserves more than to have Clint vomit his messy emotions all over him just because they hooked up in the lounge.

So. They’re just friends. Teammates. Bros who once sucked each other off. Whatever. Nothing has to change. Nothing will change. Everything’s fine.

Clint just needs a little time to convince his dick (and his heart) that he and Bucky aren’t gonna ride off into the sunset together.

No big deal.

“Jarvis,” he moans. “I need some goddamn coffee.”

Between being pretty much deaf and the pillow he’s buried his head in, he has no idea if Jarvis replies.

*

Twenty minutes later, he’s not sure if Jarvis betrays him or if he’s a hero because the door to his room swings open and Bucky’s standing there, looking vaguely amused and holding a steaming mug of coffee in his hands.

And yeah, Clint’s in the middle of an existential crisis and the very object of his confused, hormonal fantasies is standing in his bedroom, but Clint’s got his priorities and right now, his need for coffee is at the top of the list.

He makes grabby hands for the coffee and says, probably too loudly, “Can’t hear, ears over there, gimme.” And then, a little belatedly, “Thanks.”

“Jarvis said you needed it,” Bucky tells him, speaking clearly to help Clint read his lips as he takes a greedy sip of the coffee, prepared just how he likes it. And then he sits on the edge of Clint’s bed and he’s studying him altogether too closely, and Clint knows what he looks like, okay -- he knows he’s got a terrible case of bedhead, he knows that his sweats are dragging low around his hips, he knows that the ladder of hickeys up the side of his neck is just as visible as the mark Bucky left near his nipple because he’s not wearing a shirt.

He knows all that, objectively. But in that moment, as Bucky lazily takes in every inch of him, Clint’s convinced Bucky can see right through him -- right past the beard burn on his thighs to the fact that Clint’s been stupidly in love with him for months.

He chokes on his coffee a little and Bucky laughs and says, “You’re a mess. Get up. Steve’s got some new training idea and wants us downstairs in twenty.”

Then he’s up and walking out of the room and Clint exhales, relieved because it’s just like any other day.

He’s also a little disappointed. But. He’s always been fucking fantastic at compartmentalization.

*

He showers, because no one deserves to get up close and personal with the way he smells today, and then makes his way downstairs. He swings by the kitchen, refills his coffee, grabs an apple, and then heads down to the gym.

Everyone else is already there and he’d feel bad about being late, but Clint figures that they’d thank him if they knew how badly he’d smelled after three quarters of a day spent in existential despair.

Bucky flashes a lazy grin from where he’s leaning against the far wall, arms crossed over his chest as he listens to one of Cap’s inspirational speeches, and Clint’s not indulging his infatuation, so he sits down and stretches out beside Natasha.

“You’re an idiot,” she murmurs, combing her fingers through his wet hair.

“More than you know.”

Steve’s new training idea basically involves taking turns trying to make it through a series of obstacles while the rest of the team does their best to make it impossible to do so, and squaring off with the Avengers makes a relatively simple exercise pretty much impossible.

At the end of the day, Natasha’s the only one who manages it, with Bucky coming in a close second and Steve falling prey to Tony’s repulsor beams on stun. Clint’s pretty sure Tony batted his eyelashes and said something about how Steve looked in his short shorts, but Clint can’t actually judge him for it, because he lost after taking a corner a little too fast and running headlong into Bucky.

Bucky hadn’t even had to tackle him -- Clint had been so goddamned startled and off-balance and distracted by Bucky’s face and shoulders and hair and the sweat running down his throat and -- well, his everything, pretty much -- that he’d tripped over his own feet and fallen face first to the ground.

“Got him,” Bucky had said into the comms, voice warm with amusement, and Clint had just groaned in despair and taken the hand Bucky helped to drag him back tho his feet.

Now, though, everyone’s headed back to their rooms to shower and Clint is sticky with sweat and panting a little but doing the conscientious thing and sticking around in the weapons area to carefully take his bow apart and put it away, sorting his arrows back into their slots.

He thinks he’s alone and it’s nice, the peace and quiet giving himself a moment to cool down, to recalibrate. Training was good -- a nice way to expend some energy that had been building up, tension and anxiety stemming from whatever that had been last night with Bucky, and he’s feeling like he’s on firmer ground now. He’s got this. He’s okay. He’s moving forward. He--

“There you are. Been looking for you.”

He nearly jumps out of his skin, spinning around with an undignified yelp. Sure, Bucky’s got super serum and cat-like abilities, including stealth, but Clint’s usually so much more aware of his surroundings. He’s not used to getting lost in his head as much as he has been today.

“Fuck,” he gasps, “Don’t do that, Jesus.”

Bucky just grins and wanders closer, seeming a little too fascinated watching Clint twist apart the pieces of his bow. He’s got his rifle on him, though it hadn’t been much use in the obstacle course, and he starts breaking it down.

Clint has absolutely, 100 per cent not had sexual fantasies about the capable way Bucky’s hands handle that fucking gun.

Nope.

He turns away in a rush so he doesn’t have to watch and jams the rest of his arrows in their slots and says, “Just so you know, I’m usually not that much of a disaster. I was off my game today. Next time, I’ll totally --”

“You think I don’t know just how good you are at your job, Barton?” Bucky says, and it’s low and playful and right fucking behind him, and Clint spins with another goddamned yelp and Bucky’s right there, his rifle forgotten on the bench behind him.

Clint’s fingers go numb and he drops his last arrow, not even noticing when it hits the floor. “Uh,” he says, blinking at Bucky, whose hair is slicked back with sweat, who’s amused and comfortable in his skin and standing so much closer than Clint is prepared to deal with, considering he’s so determined to compartmentalize and go back to being friends with him.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, lazily, gaze wandering over Clint’s face, lingering on his lips. Clint bites his bottom lip and Bucky’s grin goes a little sideways as he swallows, looking back into Clint’s eyes. “I mean, I was a big fan of how you fell at my feet, sure, but the way you took Scott out with a sticky arrow? You weren’t even fucking looking. It was -- never seen anyone make a shot like you, Barton.”

Clint’s having a bit of trouble breathing here, so he lets out a careful, shaky exhale, licks his lips, and says a breathy, “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Couldn’t stop thinking about wanting to get my mouth on you,” Bucky says roughly, and Clint whines a little.

It’s almost as embarrassing as tripping and landing in a lump at Bucky’s feet.

And maybe he can finish compartmentalizing tomorrow. Maybe they can go back to being buddies, pals, bros tomorrow. Maybe he can have this, one more time, before getting his boundaries back in place and escaping without a broken heart.

Clint’s never been good at denying himself the things he wants, even when he knows it’s not going to end well for him.

A two night stand is still gonna break his foolish heart, but fuck it.

He leans back against the metal cage behind him, does his best to grin, and says, “Yeah? What’s stopping you then?”

Bucky laughs and it sounds like a promise and then he’s kicking Clint’s arrow aside and pressing up against him, kissing him like he’s been hungry for it, knee pressing between Clint’s thighs, hands already shoving down his jeans.

Yeah. Clint’ll compartmentalize this in the morning.

*

“He shoved me face-first against the weapons locker and jerked me off,” Clint says miserably. “It was amazing.”

Natasha lifts an eyebrow, sips her tea, and says dryly, “I really didn’t ask.”

Moaning, Clint clutches his mug of coffee and says, “I know, but if I don’t share, I’ll go crazy. It’s playing over and over in my head like porn, Tasha. I can’t escape it. If I’m not thinking about -- about his metal hand around my dick, I’m thinking about his dick in my mouth and I --”

“Still didn’t ask for details,” she says. “I’m happy for you.”

Happy for me?” he wails. “It’s a disaster!”

“Finally hooking up with the guy you’ve been infatuated with for six months is a disaster?” she asks, patient and amused and shoving the muffin she’d allegedly bought for herself but probably with no intention of eating across the table towards him.

“He’s not -- I mean, it’s just sex? And, I’m not gonna lie, it’s fucking fantastic, but it’s just sex, Tasha.”

“Three weeks ago, you told me that meaningless sex was the only kind of relationship you were capable of having because commitment gives you the -- what did you call it?”

“The willies,” he tells her. “And it was true. But it’s different with him. I work with him. I live in the same tower as him. I see him pretty much everyday. And I--”

“And you’re in love with him.”

“Yes!” he says. “I mean no! It’s not that drastic a situation, Tasha. It’s just a crush. But crushes and meaningless sex don’t mix, everyone knows that! It’s just not fair to him, he just wants -- wants some way to work off some tension, right? And I’m convenient. He can’t hook up with Steve, Steve and Tony have their whole sexual tension and awkward flirting thing going on, and he can’t hook up with Sam because he doesn’t like him, and Sam’s hooking up with you, and Thor’s, well. How would that even work, with the lightning and the hammer and the, you know. Thighs. That’s intimidating for anybody. You’d kill him if he even tried, not to mention Sam would be pissed, which would be kinda funny, but still.”

Clint winds down, running out of breath and words, and Natasha sighs. “That’s… You’re a disaster, Clint. You really think Bucky’s going to waste his time with anybody he doesn’t want to be with?”

“I’m really good with my mouth,” Clint says morosely. “It’s enough for anybody to overlook my personality, for a little while.”

“And yet,” she says dryly, “I’ve managed to resist your mouth and put up with your personality all these years.”

Clint shoves half the muffin into his mouth and chews sadly, shoulders slumped. “I mean, it’s not like I should complain,” he says. “I didn’t think he’d ever want anything to do with me, and yet.”

“Maybe you aren’t giving him enough credit,” she says, but she’s always thought too highly of him. “But if he is just fucking with you, I’ll kill him.”

Clint smiles at her, unable to help it. She’s always got his best interests at heart. “I think you already tried that,” he teases. “I don’t think it worked.”

She kicks him under the table. “Asshole.”

Which is fair, really.

*

Going out for pizza. You in?

Clint reads the text once, twice, three times, and then tips his phone sideways like that’ll help.

Who goes out for pizza when there are so many people just waiting for the chance to bring it in?

Is this like, a team building exercise? Is it a trap?

Clint’s not a pizza snob, he knows every amazing pizza spot in Brooklyn, and he’s not above stopping in after a long night out for a greasy slice or two to sustain him for the walk home, but ever since he made the move to Manhattan and Tony’s obnoxious tower, he’s been perfectly content to order in.

But he’s not one to say no to pizza and he’s definitely not one to say no to Bucky, so if it’s a team building exercise, he’ll be there. And if Bucky’s being held for ransom by some nefarious villain who is using Clint’s weakness for pizza (and Bucky) against him, well. Clint’ll rescue him and then get some pizza.

But it’s best to call for backup. Just in case it’s a rescue operation.

He walks into the pre-arranged pizza place with Wade Wilson and Peter Parker and it’s one he’s been to many times. In fact, he distinctly remembers telling Bucky about how it was his very favourite pizza place in all of Brooklyn.

He’s relieved to see Bucky there waiting for him, which means it’s not a rescue mission, but he’s a little confused because Bucky is alone, and Clint thought at least some of the team would be there if it was a team building expedition.

Bucky grins when he sees Clint walk in and then takes in Wade and Peter with a quick glance, something tightening in his smile but Clint can’t read it.

“Hey,” Bucky says, and Clint’s still glancing around super casually, looking for Steve or Tony or lurking bad guys.

The table’s a bit small for four, so they move to a booth, and Clint ends up crushed in beside Bucky, which is awesome for so many reasons, and shitty for his poor, bruised little heart.

“Steve couldn’t make it?” Clint asks, after they order, and Bucky just looks at him blankly.

“Steve?” he says.

“Yeah. You know. Rogers. Your best friend. Captain America. I thought this was some team building expedition. Tony Stark, slumming it Brooklyn-style.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, taking a sip of his beer. “No. He’s not here. Just me. And you.”

“And us,” Peter pipes up.

Bucky tips his glass at them. “And them,” he allows, with a rueful quirk to his lips.

Which is weird. But Clint, ever the compartmentalizer, doesn’t dwell on it, and instead moves forward with enjoying sitting as super close to Bucky with the small booth will allow, because the booth gives him plausible deniability.

Bucky seems a little off when they catch a taxi back to the tower, Wade and Peter sharing their own, going in the opposite direction. He’s still engaged, still talking, hasn’t shut down completely, but there’s a a wariness to it that Clint hadn’t realized had disappeared until he’s seeing it again.

He thinks maybe he made some sort of misstep somewhere, feels like he’s lost his footing, and can’t figure out where he went wrong.

Does Bucky know? Natasha has always said that Clint wears his heart on his sleeve, was it too obvious that sitting squished up beside Bucky and sharing the best pizza in Brooklyn would have been the highlight of Clint’s week if he hadn’t spent two nights this week with Bucky’s hands down his pants?

In the tower, during the long elevator ride up, Bucky says, hands shoved super casually in his pockets, “So, Parker and Wilson. They, uh.”

“Totally fucking and refusing to admit it,” Clint says brightly. “Wade admits it, freely and willingly and to anybody who’ll listen, but he’s been doing that since before Peter was legal, and I’m pretty sure if they’d been fucking back then, Tony would have put an end to it in some messy, permanent sort of way that not even Wade would have recovered from.”

“Oh,” Bucky says, looking a tiny bit more relaxed. “So, bringing them along, that was… a double date?” his eyebrows arch playfully.

And Clint panics. “Not a double date,” he says, frantically checking which floor they’re on. God, the elevator’s only just started moving. “I just -- I was talking with Peter earlier today and mentioned we were going out for pizza and I -- honestly, I thought it was a whole team thing, and Peter’s been sort of sad because he wants to be on the team so badly, but Tony keeps treating him like a kid, even though he’s got mad spidey skills and all that, so I thought maybe if Tony saw Peter as an actual adult -- which he is! -- then maybe he’d start treating him like one. You know? And the best way to prove he’s an adult is to bring his very adult boyfriend with him.” Clint slumps against the wall of the elevator and huffs out a breath and says, “Also, he’s a starving college student. If we don’t feed him, Bucky, who will?”

“Stark, probably,” Bucky drawls. “Wilson, definitely. Honestly, Barton, I’m not all that interested in feeding Parker and his cradle-robbing boyfriend.”

Clint looks over at him, a quick glance, and the way Bucky’s watching him makes his cheeks heat up, so he looks back at his shoes really quickly. “What, uh.” He clears his throat. “What are you interested in, then?”

“Thought I was making that perfectly clear but I’m beginning to think maybe you’re not getting it,” he says, and then he’s hooking a finger in Clint’s belt loop, tugging him close. “Maybe I should show you again.”

It’s hard to mistake what Bucky’s making clear here -- the way he’s kissing Clint, dragging his mouth over Clint’s and lazily running his hands down between Clint’s shoulders and lower, down the back of his jeans --

Clint’s not that stupid. He’s getting it. He wants it. He’s all in.

One more time. Just one more night of no-strings-attached, hot-as-fuck sex with Bucky Barnes.

Self-preservation can start in the morning.

“I get it,” he breathes against Bucky’s grin as the elevator slides open and Bucky backs him out of it. “Totally get it.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, laughing low and warm. “Maybe you’re not as hopeless as I thought.”

*

It happens again. And again. And one more time.

Self-preservation has never been Clint’s strong suit.

He’s got to get his goddamn shit together.

“You,” Natasha tells him, watching him check his bow one last time. “Need to get your shit together.”

Clint nods. He does. He so totally does.

“I’m serious. Your mood swings are giving me whiplash. You can’t keep doing this to yourself, you’re miserable. Either tell him how you feel or stop fucking him. For your mental health. And mine.”

Clint lets out all the breath he’s been holding in a huff, slumping down in his chair and scowling. “I know,” he says. “It’s just -- isn’t having just a little bit of something better than having nothing at all?”

“Or,” she says, pointing at him with her pen before going back to the crossword she’s been working on. “You could talk to him like an adult and then maybe have a functional relationship with someone you’re crazy about. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

“I think it might be,” he confesses, and Natasha shoots him a careful look.

“Okay,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t love watching you and Bucky run around each other without talking about your feelings or anything, but you’ve gotta know, Clint. You’re basically… dating each other without telling each other and it’s ridiculous.”

Clint blinks at her, stunned. Is that true? He knows, objectively speaking, that they aren’t dating each other without telling each other, because Bucky has been fairly blunt with what he wants here, and what he wants is sex. It’s Clint who is trying to weasel his way into a relationship without telling Bucky that he’s only pretending that all he wants is no-strings-attached sex. And isn’t that… being terribly unfair to Bucky?

Oh god, what if he is. Bucky thinks he’s having no-strings-attached sex with a convenient friend and instead, Clint’s getting him so tangled up in strings, it’s only a matter of time before Bucky realizes.

Natasha’s right. Clint hasn’t got the right to keep doing this. It isn’t fair to Bucky.

They’ve got to just… go back to being friends.

Her eyes are narrow now and she says, “I feel like you’re willfully misunderstanding what I’m saying.”

“No, I get it. You’re right. I can’t keep doing this.”

“So you’re going to talk to him.”

He nods vaguely but truthfully, he’s not listening. He’s already planning out his strategy -- how to gracefully maneuver himself out of the friends-with-sexual-benefits zone and back into the friends-with-regular-benefits zone.

It’s fine. He can do this. How hard could it be?

*

The whole team gathers to watch a movie that night, because Steve is a firm believer in team bonding, and Clint arrives late, because it seems a great way to avoid Bucky.

Of course, the only available seat is right next to Bucky, because Bucky saved it for him, and Clint ought to have known that would happen. Bucky’s been saving him a seat since long before they started fucking.

But! If that’s the case, than accepting the seat rather than sitting on the floor out of spite is the correct move here, because it falls firmly in the friends-with-regular-benefits zone.

Benefits like comfortable seats during team movie nights.

Clint slides into the seat beside Bucky guilt-free, accepting the massive bowl of popcorn with dill seasoning salt that no one else likes but that Bucky always makes for him.

“Thanks,” he whispers.

Bucky flashes him a grin and goes back to watching the movie.

They’re totally rocking this Just Friends thing.

Clint shoves a fistful of popcorn into his mouth and settles in, just like always, and it’s not until Bucky slides an arm around his shoulders that he starts to think that maybe, curling up against him isn’t strictly Just Friends.

Do friends cuddle?

Well, he and Bucky’ve been watching movies like this since long before they started fucking, so. This is safe. This is a Friends Benefit, not a Fucking Benefit.

He shoves more popcorn in his mouth and goes back to watching the movie, head resting on Bucky’s shoulder.

Clint falls asleep during the movie and wakes up in bed, carefully tucked in.

Friends carry each other to bed. They do.

*

Clint spends the day dreading the moment when he runs into Bucky and has to somehow keep his hands out of Bucky’s pants.

He spends a few hours in the range before realizing that it’s the worst place to hang out if he’s avoiding Bucky, so he heads down to Hill’s office to finish some paperwork he’s been putting off for a million years. Then he swings by medical, because sometimes there’s a ringing sound in one of his ears that he hasn’t bothered mentioning to anybody. They send him up to Tony’s lab because apparently it’s a hearing aid issue and not a miraculous return of the ability to hear, so he spends a couple hours there, swinging around idly on a chair while Tony fiddles with his aids. Tony kicks him out once he’s recalibrated the something or other, and Clint thinks about maybe going to see what Vision’s up to, because Vision freaks Bucky out so Bucky tends to ignore him.

He checks his phone before he gets in the elevator, and he’s got one text.

It’s from Bucky.

Craving a milkshake, it says. Chocolate..

It seems innocent enough. A perfectly friendly text. Clint figures he should answer. Delicious, he says, instead of I wanna lick it off you.

Natasha would appreciate his restraint.

Know a good place in Brooklyn, Bucky answers. Want to go?

As far as Clint’s concerned, a milkshake is a perfectly friendly beverage, provided it doesn’t come with two straws.

And now that Bucky’s mentioned it, Clint really could go for a nice, cold strawberry shake.

Meet you downstairs, he says.

He’s totally a professional at being friends.

*

Bucky’s milkshake place turns out to be a tiny, adorable, kitschy diner with red vinyl booths and an old jukebox and a cute waitress named Polly who snaps her gum and flicks her blonde hair over her shoulder and can’t seem to look away from Bucky’s frankly amazing jawline.

Bucky orders their shakes and a basket of fries to share and settles back in the booth across from Clint.

Their feet bump under the table and Bucky doesn’t pull away.

“Haven’t seen you all day,” Bucky says.

Clint fiddles with the salt shaker and says, “Been busy. Paperwork, hearing aid acting up, Tony being a dick. The usual.”

Bucky smiles a little, gaze lingering on Clint’s in a way that’s a little bit too warm for strictly friends-without-sexual benefits, and Clint looks away quickly. “Missed your face,” Bucky admits, and Clint panics, a little.

“Yeah?” he says, pretending he’s fine. “It’s a pretty good face. Yours is better.”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He’s not supposed to flirt back. They’re just friends. Buddies. Bros. Fuck. Being bros is hard.

Polly arrives with the milkshakes, promises the fries will be along in a minute, and leaves with an especially bright grin for Bucky.

Bucky’s too busy looking at Clint to notice, and he doesn’t look away even as he takes a big sip of his chocolate shake.

Bucky’s mouth and milkshakes and straws, they’re going to be the death of Clint and all his noble goals to stop dating Bucky against his will.

Clint takes a half-hearted sip of his milkshake and Bucky says, “Not good? Try mine.”

He slides his glass over and, with the slow, sinking feeling of a man who cannot help himself, Clint takes it. He closes his eyes as the smooth and delicious chocolate shake slides over his tongue and he thinks about licking it out of Bucky’s mouth and off his body and he is the absolute fucking worst at being friends.

He doesn’t want to be just friends. He’s never wanted it. He’s incapable of it. Bucky is too good and too funny and too hot and too kind and too perfect and now that Clint knows what he tastes like, what he feels like, he just… He can’t do it.

He can’t go back to how they were before the first time he let Bucky give him a blow job on Tony’s couch. He can’t go back to the simpler times, when they just hung out all the time and snuggled while watching movies and had competitions at the range and trash talked each other over the comms during missions and massaged each other’s shoulders when they were sore after the same missions, and fell asleep watching Dog Cops on the couch together and went out for milkshakes or pizza or ice cream or whatever the fuck else together. And texted each other all the time, even when they had nothing to talk about. And worried about each other when the other was feeling down because sometimes life was shitty.

Friendship with Bucky is one of the best things in Clint’s life and he’s fucked it up and doesn’t know how to fix it. How selfish could he possibly be that friendship wasn’t enough? That he thought he deserved for Bucky to give him more than friendship?

Clint’s always known, since he was very young, that he’s not the dating kind. People get what they want from him and they leave and that’s always been enough -- Clint’s always known it was all he’d get so it had to be enough. And now he thinks he deserves more from the best person he knows?

He’s such a fucking idiot.

So he opens his eyes and slides the milkshake back and musters up a grin and says, “The waitress is cute. You should get her number.”

Bucky takes his milkshake back and blinks and says, “Uhh, I’m not really into having more than one partner? But if you want to, maybe…” He looks uncomfortable.

Clint laughs -- it’s a little sharp. “No, no, I mean. She’d probably love it if you took her out on a date.”

There’s a pause, in which Bucky stares at him and Clint takes a huge sip of his shake and gives himself brain freeze, and then Bucky says flatly, “A date. With the waitress.”

“Polly,” Clint says helpfully. If it comes out a little shaky, he’s gonna blame the brain freeze.

“Right,” Bucky says. He sits up -- his feet aren’t tangled up with Clint’s anymore. “A date with Polly, the waitress. Because this --” he gestures from Clint to himself and back again. “This… what do you think we’re doing here?”

And this is it. The moment Clint’s been waiting for. He gathers up his courage and says, casually and kindly, “Just friends. Don’t worry. Totally, completely friendly. I mean, it’s been fun, right? I-- I had a good time doing, you know. But if you want to date the waitress -- or -- or anybody -- then that’s cool. That’s good. I support that. I’m good. No strings attached -- I have absolutely no strings at all.”

He grins helpfully and takes another sip as Polly stops by with a basket of fries, but then Bucky is standing up, face like a thunder cloud, throwing a wad of cash on the table and saying, “Sorry. Not in the mood anymore.”

Polly stammers something but Clint’s too busy chasing after Bucky to hear it.

They drove out to Brooklyn together on Bucky’s bike, which Clint had worried he’d liked a little too much. He’d worried that he’d made it awkward, clinging just a little too tight.

The ride back, alone on the subway? It was lonely and cold and just long enough for Clint to convince himself that he’d done the right thing -- the only thing.

He didn’t deserve to have any of Bucky if he spent the whole time wishing he had all of him.

He crawls into bed when he gets home and it takes him a very long time to fall asleep.

*

There’s nothing as capable of making Clint feel like a piece of shit as Captain America’s disappointed face.

Clint hunches over his coffee and wishes he’d stayed in bed rather than forcing himself up at this ungodly hour in a misguided attempt to greet the day with energy and enthusiasm.

And Steve just keeps… looking at him, eyebrows furrowed, disappointment in the tension around his mouth.

“Have a good run?” Clint tries after the silence drags on and on. Steve likes to go for a run before the sun’s even up. It’s got to be a special kind of torture. An attempt to atone for past sins.

“I wanted to talk to you about--” Steve begins, but then his phone lets out a trumpet blare -- a call to arms -- just as Clint’s starts playing a tinny remix of Baby Shark.

A call to assemble. Thank fucking god.

“Sorry, Cap, gotta go,” he says, bolting for the elevator. He stops halfway, loops back, grabs his coffee, and makes his escape.

*

Clint’s the first one to the quinjet, so he stashes his bow, changes into his tac vest, and slides into the driver’s seat just as the console lights up with details of the latest threat they’re being sent to deal with.

More giant rats, this time laying siege to a tiny town in Oregon. Please, for the love of god, don’t let these giant rats become an epidemic.

“The pattern’s starting to look a little more deliberate,” Steve says grimly as he steps onto the jet, most of the others right behind. “We’ll take them out with long range weapons -- Clint, Tony, that’s on you, and Bucky too. But this one’s looking like an accident. Hill thinks whatever organization’s making these rats has a base there, and this was… an accidental breach in containment. It’s our chance to take them out for good. Sam, Wanda, you work on containment, and getting the townsfolk to safety.”

“Good,” Clint says. “I’m not looking to get into the exterminator business.”

Steve ignores him. “After we make sure the townspeople are safe and the rats are dealt with, Natasha and I will infiltrate the warehouse that looks like the base of operations. Clint, you and Bucky cover us.”

“Sure thing, Cap.”

The problem is, Bucky isn’t here.

Natasha joins them a moment later, and Clint’s just getting worried when Bucky storms onto the jet, scowling and looking ready to pick a fight. He doesn’t say a word, just stashes his rifle, throws himself into a seat in the back, glares at anybody who looks like they might try to talk.

Except Clint. He doesn’t look at Clint at all.

Clint lets out a careful breath as the hangar opens, powering on the quinjet.

It’s going to be a long ride.

*

Oregon is a shit show.

Clint’s never been a fan, even before the giant rats invaded.

He finds himself a perch on the local mechanic’s shop near the warehouse where the rats seem to be coming from, sets up his bow, and starts mechanically taking the rats out one by one. It’s easy and mind numbing and he doesn’t even realize he’s humming the Ninja Turtles theme song until Bucky snaps, “Enough, Barton,” from his rooftop perch, audible over the comms.

Startled -- because Clint isn’t used to being called ‘Barton’ in that tone of voice from Bucky -- in any tone of voice other than warm and flirtatious and playful -- Clint almost misses a shot as he jerks his head up to look towards Bucky’s perch on top of a tiny grocery store down the street.

“Uhm, sorry,” Clint mumbles. Any other day, he’d have some sassy, snarky comment to make, but today… he’s not really in the mood.

So he keeps shooting, silently this time, until the rats are all gone or twitching with arrows embedded in their disgusting bodies. Steve and Natasha head around the perimeter of the warehouse to make their way inside, and Clint keeps an eye out for any sign of trouble.

“First floor clear,” Natasha says quietly over the comms.

Clint’s tired -- he barely slept. His mind starts to wander.

“Catwalk clear,” Steve adds.

Clint glances quickly over at Bucky, who’s still stretched out on the rooftop, and then back to the warehouse, taking a breath and flexing his fingers. They’re a little shaky today. He’s a little shaky today.

“No one’s here,” Steve says over the comms. “Maybe they -- hold on, do you see that? There’s a doorway--” he grunts. “Huh. Stairs. Natasha--”

“Coming,” she says.

Clint rolls an arrow between his fingers and scowls when his nose starts to itch and wonders if he and Bucky are actually going to be able to go back to being friends after this. Maybe he fucked it all up anyway, despite his best intentions.

“Do you hear that?” Steve asks, voice dropping to a whisper.

And then it’s all gunfire and screaming and it’s such a sudden, shrill, chaotic explosion of noise in Clint’s hearing aids -- he reacts instinctively, jerking them out of his ears. He can see Bucky scrambling down from his perch but Clint is closer and they clearly need backup. The others are still off reinforcing the perimeter and keeping the townspeople safe.

He fires a grappling hook arrow, swinging down from the rooftop towards the warehouse, hitting the ground running.

Maybe he should wait for Bucky for backup, maybe he should put his damned comms back in, but Clint’s working on autopilot here -- members of his team are in danger and need back up and he’s going to be that back up.

He finds the stairway in the back and he’s halfway down when there’s a strange sensation of pressure in the air, just half a second’s warning.

And then everything blows up and the whole building comes down and everything goes dark.

*

Clint wakes to nearly all-encompassing darkness and a sharp, throbbing pain in his head. For a moment, he thinks he’s been blinded, and the idea of being both blind and almost completely deaf steals his breath away.

His eyes adjust to the darkness, however, and he realizes that he’s not blind, he’s just. Well. Buried.

He takes a careful inventory of his body, cataloguing what hurts, and, aside from dozens of scrapes and bruises, his pounding head seems to be the worst of it. He touches it, careful, and his fingers come away wet.

Concussion, probably, but nothing more life-threatening than that.

With that out of the way, he turns his attention to his environment, barely able to see. He’s surrounded by fallen timber and stone, and he carefully reaches out with his hands, doing his best to feel his way to an exit, but there isn’t one -- he’s trapped.

Now is not the time to develop claustrophobia, so he forces himself to breathe through the panic, slow and measured. He’s got no idea if he even has a supply of air flowing in here, and if his oxygen is limited, he doesn’t want to waste it.

He fumbles in his pocket, pulling out the hearing aids he’d yanked out just before the explosion, and carefully putting them in.

“Hello?” he asks, voice muffled in the small space. “Nat? Steve?”

There’s no response, comms knocked out by the explosion, but at least now he can hear, even if only his own breathing echoing in this tiny space.

He grabs for his phone next. It comes on, screen cracked and service down, but at least the flashlight still works.

He turns it on and, after six seconds of light, turns it off again. He doesn’t need to see exactly how fucked he is here, thank you. Darkness is better.

Clint’s always been good at denial, compartmentalization, only acknowledging what cannot be ignored.

He leans back carefully against the fallen slab behind him and rests his head against it, closing his eyes. Breathing. Listening. Someone’ll find him. Unless they’re all dead.

But Steve had sent some of the team away to hold the perimeter, keep people safe. Surely the explosion wasn’t big enough to reach them.

He’s just got to… wait. Someone will find him. He’s not going to die down here.

His breathing is beginning to pick up and Clint grimaces, draws careful, measured breaths. Tries to distract himself from thinking, from wondering how far down he is. He thinks about Natasha and knows she’s okay -- she has to be. He thinks about Steve, who probably emerged from the rubble clutching his shield, without a mark on him, Hydra agents trembling at his feet.

He thinks of Bucky -- fuck, he can’t think of Bucky. He does his best not to think of Bucky. But he can’t help but think of Bucky, on a rooftop down the street, watching the warehouse blow and bury Steve inside it.

He must be a wreck. He must be a mess.

“Fuck,” Clint whispers, and it echoes in the tiny space. He can’t think about Bucky. He can’t.

Clint closes his eyes. He breathes. He starts to count, anything to fill up the silence in his head. His head pounds and he can feel blood dripping down from his temple. Time passes slowly and then quickly and then slowly again. Sometimes he feels like he’s on the verge of a panic attack and other times, he feels sluggish and slow.

And when the huge chunk of concrete that he’s resting his feet against suddenly starts to move, he thinks the ceiling of his little air bubble is finally falling in on him and he’s going to die.

He holds his breath, closes his eyes, ducks like he stands a chance of protecting his stupid head from the building falling down on it. He’s nearly died before -- a handful of times, maybe -- more, according to Natasha. And every other time, as he’s faced down an asshole with a gun, or fallen from somewhere a little too high without a grappling hook to catch him, he’s felt some panic, disbelief,and a grim sense of determination to do whatever he could to make it out alive.

This time, though, a building is falling on him. There aren’t many options for getting out alive. And, for the first time, he’s afraid.

He’s scared because he’s going to die buried under a fucking building and it’s such a stupid way to die and someone’s going to have to pull his body out for Natasha and it’s probably going to be Bucky and that’s a terrible thing to do to a friend.

But the building isn’t falling.

Clint.”

His eyes fly open and even in the darkness, he can see Bucky’s face, pale and streaked with dust and probably blood. He shoves the chunk of concrete away as best he can, metal arm gleaming dully as he pulls himself through the narrow opening he’s made.

“Bucky?” Clint breathes, coughing when he inhales dust.

“Shit,” Bucky hisses, and then he’s there, crouching over Clint, ducking low in the tiny space, his eyes bright as he runs his hands over every part of Clint he can reach. “Are you hurt? Where are you hurt? Fuck, Clint, I thought you were dead, I thought -- the whole building fell down and I couldn’t find you.”

“Bucky,” Clint says again, dazed. Time is going strange again, wobbling a little, and it’s hard to focus now that there’s actually something to focus on. “Bucky, you’re here.”

“Of course I’m here, you idiot,” Bucky says, but he doesn’t sound angry. He’s breathless with relief. “I got him,” he adds, and it takes Clint a long moment to realize that he’s talking into his comms. “He’s okay, I think. Awake. Talking. Still an idiot.”

“Oh,” Clint says, so relieved. Bucky can get them out of here. “Oh, no, I’m fine,” he says. “Totally unharmed. I just -- just get me outta here, Buck. Okay?”

Bucky’s hand is rough when he presses it to Clint’s cheek, cupping his jaw. “Shh,” he says. “I got you. But we gotta wait, Steve and Tony’ll dig us out. They’ve got to stabilize the building first, it won’t take long.”

Clint’s eyes go wide with fear again. “It’s going to fall down on us,” he says. “Bucky what are you even doing here. You’re supposed to be safe, you’re supposed to--”

Bucky’s carefully threading his fingers through Clint’s hair, following the trail of blood. “Of course I’m here,” he says. “You think I wasn’t right behind you when you ran into this goddamned building without waiting for fucking backup? Fuck, Clint, you didn’t answer your comms, we thought -- I thought you’d been killed.”

“You musta been scared,” Clint says.

“Of course I was fucking scared.”

“Seeing Steve get blown up like that.”

Bucky’s hand tightens painfully in Clint’s hair for a moment and then he hisses, smoothing his hand over Clint’s hair instead. “You’re such an idiot,” he says, quiet.

Clint closes his eyes. “Wish you weren’t here with me,” he confesses. “It was scary enough when the roof was gonna fall and crush just me. But now it’s gonna crush you too.”

“Nah,” Bucky says, easy, though his voice is going a little rough around the edges. “I’ll hold it up. Stay awake, Barton. Keep talking. Don’t --”

“Oh,” Clint says, reaching up to clumsily pat Bucky’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I’m okay. Everything’s okay. We’re okay, aren’t we, Bucky? You still mad at me?”

“For getting blown up?” Bucky asks, resting his forehead on Clint’s shoulder. “Gonna take me a long while to get over that.”

Clint wraps his arms around Bucky’s shoulders and holds on as best he can, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep his eyes open. “Not for that,” he says vaguely. “For the other thing.”

“What other thing?”

“For getting my feelings all over you.”

“Feelings?” Bucky says, uncertain.

Clint just hums and he feels when Bucky lifts his head to look at him, but it seems very far away.

“Barton?” Bucky says. “Clint? Clint. Stay awake. C’mon, stay -- Steve, hurry the fuck up!”

Clint wants to tell Bucky that he’s fine -- just sleepy -- but everything seems so far away, so instead, he just tangles a hand in Bucky’s dirty shirt to make sure Bucky can’t somehow fade away and leave him, and that’s the last thing Clint knows for a long while.

*

Clint wakes up when sunlight touches his face, and for a moment, he’s just irritated -- forgot to close the goddamned blinds again, fuck.

And then he realizes that he’s not in bed, he’s sticky with his own blood and coated with concrete dust, the air smells like smoke, his head feels like it’s been cracked open, and he’s not fucking buried anymore.

Not being buried is a cause for celebration, sure, but it also means that somehow, he’s been saved, and now he doesn’t know where Bucky is.

His eyes fly open with a choked gasp that makes him cough. He panics, unable to breathe, unable to sit up, and he can’t tell if he’s done something drastic like break his back or if he’s being restrained but he can’t move and he can’t breathe and he can’t find Bucky and he’s surrounded by strangers and he’s going to lose his goddamn shit if they don’t let him go so he can find Bucky.

He snarls and twists against their hold and hey, he can move, that’s great. That’s awesome. Because he’s going to fucking kill these people holding him down.

He swings a fist and it connects with someone’s face and someone else is shouting, someone else is saying soft, soothing things, someone else is tearing at his fucking clothes --

Clint is not standing for this bullshit.

He rears up, twisting violently, and manages to get free, to fall sideways -- to fall off the stretcher he’d been lying on and land hard on the ground.

“Fuck,” he mumbles, because it hurts like a bitch and a sharp lance of pain jolts through his brain and he has to close his eyes, nauseous.

“Jesus, Clint,” Natasha says suddenly, her voice a bit hoarse. “How many times have I had to tell you, it’s not the doctors’ fault you got yourself hurt?”

“Tasha?” he says, squinting up at her. Her face is bruised all to hell and streaked with dirt, but she manages a smile.

“Happy to see you too. Now stop attacking the doctors, they’re checking for broken bones.”

“But I’m good,” he tells her, even as he feels like he might puke. Fucking concussions. “I’m fine. Nothing a bandaid or two won’t fix.”

“Uh huh.”

She hauls him up and he sways against her, unable to help a faint moan because his head, his fucking head…

She sits him on the edge of the stretcher and sits beside him, holding him upright as the medics seemingly give up, drifting away to help with more urgent patients.

“Scared me,” she says, not looking at him.

“You got blown up too.”

“Steve and I were out before it blew,” she says. “Well. Nearly. We were in a tunnel, nearly at the door, away from the main blast point.”

“Damn,” he says faintly, resting his head on her shoulder. “Was coming to your rescue.”

“Yeah, and Barnes was coming to yours. You’re both idiots.”

“Bucky,” he mumbles.

Natasha smooths his hair, careful of the place where it throbs the most. “Got buried with you,” she says, soft. “Steve nearly went out of his mind, especially when Bucky was back on the comms, panicking because we couldn’t find you. Dug his way through the rubble looking for you, even though nothing was stable. He could have gotten crushed.”

Clint lifts his head, wincing at the pain, and says, “Is he -- where is he?”

“Steve dragged him away to get checked out. He’s bitching about it more than you usually do, but he’s fine. Some cuts and bruises. His hand’s all cut up from digging through the rubble to find you. He’s probably healed already. Most of the ambulances are here for civilians who got to close. None of the idiots making the rats made it out, which is probably for the best. It was a mess down there.”

“My head hurts,” Clint mumbles.

“Concussion. They don’t think your skull is fractured.” She hesitates, and then says, “If you want, if you can walk, I can take you to the quinjet before the medics get brave enough to come back. So long as you promise nothing’s broken.”

That’s how he knows she was scared -- offering to smuggle him away from medical attention. He beams at her, and then winces because it hurts. Everything hurts.

“Nothing broken,” he promises. “But everything’s sore.”

“Come on,” she says, helping him off the stretcher. “I know enough about concussion protocol to keep you alive by now, and we can visit the medical wing at the tower if you need anything else.”

He lets her help him limp to the quinjet, guilt-free. Ambulances are for suckers and civilians.

*

They go home. His headache eases, his bruises fade, his cuts heal. Things are normal. Sort of normal. No supervillains come crawling out of the woodwork, and Steve and Tony handle the regular villains without Clint’s help, giving him time to rest.

And then, a few weeks after the giant rats, they have a movie night, and Clint arrives just a little bit late and freezes in the doorway, because Bucky’s not saving him a spot.

It’s a stupid little thing. But it feels like a big thing.

Because even before they ever started hooking up, Bucky would save him a spot. And make him his favourite kind of popcorn. And it’s not that Clint can’t settle in somewhere else, or make his own damned popcorn, it’s just…

He broke off the friends-with-benefits thing because he didn’t want to fuck up their friendship and he’s beginning to suspect that their friendship has already been fucked up.

The movie’s already playing and Clint suddenly doesn’t feel like watching.

He turns to go, eyes stinging just a little bit and feeling pretty miserable. He gets into the elevators and the doors are about to close when Bucky slips in after him.

Clint musters up a smile. “Oh, hey,” he says, aiming for casual.

Bucky leans against the wall across from him as the doors shut and the elevator starts moving down to Clint’s floor.

“Hey,” he says, studying Clint. “You feeling okay? Still hurting?”

And that’s the thing. Clint’s body has healed from being blown up and buried, but he’s still hurting in different ways -- ways that involve the stupid strings he got all tangled up in during their no-strings-attached sex and he doesn’t know how to deal with that. But he does know that it’s not Bucky’s job to help him with that.

“No,” Clint says. “I mean, I’m fine. I’m just…”

“Miserable,” Bucky says.

Clint shrugs. “No? A little? I’m just -- it’s fine, I’m fine, I’m just… It’s hard.”

Bucky lifts an eyebrow, something a little self-deprecating quirking around his mouth. “Oh yeah? What is?”

“You -- you just -- I miss you.”

“I’ve been right here, Barton.”

And he has been, is the thing. Since they got back from Oregon, Bucky hasn’t been avoiding Clint. Hasn’t been angry with Clint. Has been nothing but polite and concerned and careful and… and Clint hates it.

“Yeah, but. But you don’t spar with me,” Clint says.

Bucky frowns. “You’ve been injured.”

“You don’t tease me. You barely talk to me. You’re never a dick to me in the morning before you get your coffee. You never ask me if I want to grab coffee or pizza or go to a movie or watch Netflix with you or bet me that you can beat me in an archery contest. You don’t… smile at me or bring me coffee in the mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed or burst in at a god awful early hour and throw open the blinds and force me to get up and go to the goddamn farmer’s market with you. You don’t laugh at me. Or with me. And. And you didn’t save me a spot beside you for the fucking movie!”

The elevator door opens and Bucky doesn’t move, still staring at Clint, so Clint doesn’t move either. It eventually slides shut again.

“No,” Bucky says finally, shifting on the balls of his feet and looking away with a faint scowl. “You didn’t want me to do those things.”

“Since when?” Clint asks, growing angry. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I thought we were friends, and now you’re treating me like… like Vision, and we all know he freaks you out.”

Bucky’s frowning now, kicking at the elevator’s ugly carpet. “Since you told me to date that waitress,” he says. “And that you’d had fun fucking around with me but it was over. So. So now we’re friends.” He shrugs. “Like you wanted.”

“You’re -- you’re still angry about that?” Clint asks, feeling wrong-footed. “That I wanted -- that I said I wanted to stop hooking up?”

Bucky shoots him a quick glare. “I’m not angry about that,” he says firmly. “You don’t have to…” He waves his metal hand, two patches of pink on his cheeks. “To do anything like that if you don’t want to. You don’t -- we don’t have to kiss, or fuck, or whatever. I’m never gonna be mad at you for not wanting me to touch you. I just wish you woulda said something before, if you didn’t want to… to be with me.” He looks frustrated, and glares at the floor, adding, “Or at least had the balls to break up with me like a fucking adult rather than telling me to date the waitress instead.”

“Date the waitress,” Clint echoes, swallowing hard. “Instead. That’s… Instead? I didn’t tell you to date the waitress instead, I told you that she’d probably be real happy to date you -- I mean, anybody would be really happy to date you, obviously, but I didn’t say -- I never said instead, because I -- because you. Were never dating. Me.” He trails off helplessly and Bucky’s just outright staring, looking confused. Clint takes a deep breath and says, voice small, “Were you?”

“Was I what?” Bucky shakes his head, shoving his hair out of his eyes, and looks away. “You’re talking in circles.”

“It’s just. You think I broke up with you.” Clint giggles, a little hysterical. “How could I break up with you if I was never dating you because we were just friends-with-benefits.”

“Friends-with-benefits,” Bucky repeats, a little hollow. “Right. Okay. Well.” He jabs at a button on the elevator and they start to move.

“That’s all you wanted,” Clint says. “Is that all you wanted? I thought--”

“What the fuck do you think we were doing?” Bucky snaps. “I can’t figure out what the hell is happening in your head half the time but I thought it was pretty goddamn obvious.”

“What was obvious?” Clint asks him. “That’s what I’m asking. What were -- what did you think we were doing?” The door opens and Bucky takes a step, like he’s just going to walk away, so Clint grabs him by the wrist and says, a little desperate, “Because I thought you just wanted someone to hook up with and I made it stop because I kind of love you a little bit and it really sucked thinking I was going to get my feelings all over you and my stupid heart broken and Natasha’s real sick of cleaning me up after I do that.”

Bucky freezes for a long moment and then turns slowly to look at him, guarded. “There’s no way you couldn’t have known we were dating,” he says.

Clint swallows and says, “Natasha says I can be pretty oblivious sometimes.”

“I took you to the fucking farmer’s market. Twice. And the Met. I hate the Met. I took you to see the Rangers. I bought you an $11 hotdog. I took you out for pizza. And milkshakes. We -- we fucking snuggled and watched movies.”

“In my defense,” Clint says weakly. “Peter and Wade were there too. For the pizza thing.”

“Because you brought them!”

Which was fair. “Was that supposed to be a date?” Clint asks miserably.

Bucky doesn’t answer for a long moment, and then he says, “You apologized for getting feelings all over me.”

Clint squints at him. They’re on Bucky’s floor and the elevator starts chiming angrily, so Clint lets go of his wrist, and Bucky grabs him by the hand, hauling him into his apartment.

“I did?” Clint asks, though it sounds like something stupid he’d say.

Bucky crosses his arms over his chest and glares off into space and says, “After the explosion.”

“Can I blame the head injury?” Clint asks hopefully.

Bucky eyes him and says, “You can, unless you actually want to talk about this like a goddamn grown up.”

Clint’s shoulders slump. “Yeah,” he says. “Fair.”

It’s awkward and quiet for a moment and then Bucky throws himself down on the sofa and says, “Fine. Here it is. We were dating -- I thought we were dating, anyway. I don’t know how I coulda made it more obvious. I mean, fuck, Barton. Clint. I’da taken you home to meet my ma if I could.”

Clint sits on the edge of the sofa and stares at him, rubbing at his sternum because there’s something heavy and painful there. This is why he compartmentalizes things and avoids the fuck out of them.

“She. Do you think she’d have liked me?” he asks, feeling small.

Bucky rolls his eyes but he smiles a little and says, “Doesn’t matter. I like you, that’s enough.”

And yeah. They’ve been talking about it. Bucky has laid it all out there. But Clint feels like he’s still been… nervously skirting around accepting what it was that Bucky was saying. Just because you’re dating someone doesn’t mean you like them, does it? Not automatically.

But there it is. Bucky likes him. And it feels like a blow to the chest. Clint can’t breathe -- all he wants to do is blurt out one of the dozens of reasons people don’t like Clint, but he can’t suck in a breath to do it, so all he does is stare.

“You can’t,” he stammers finally.

Bucky shakes his head. “You don’t get to tell me how I feel. And apparently, I shoulda told you. I just… thought you figured it out. Thought you…” He rolls his eyes. “This is so fucking juvenile, Jesus. Just… why did you decide we shouldn’t do what we were doing?”

Clint slumps and crosses his arms over his chest and says, “Natasha told me that dating someone without telling them wasn’t fair, and I realized I wasn’t being fair to you because even if you didn’t know, I was getting my feeling strings all over you! So I had to stop. And it sucked, but I did it.”

Bucky stares at him for a long, long moment, and then says, “She was probably talking about me, with the whole ‘dating someone without telling them’ thing. I just. I thought you knew. I’m kind of crazy about you.” He wrinkles his nose and it’s fucking adorable. “And I want your goddamned strings, Barton. Whatever the fuck that even means, I want it.”

“So… so you don’t want to date the waitress,” Clint says, and Bucky growls, grabbing him by the wrist and yanking him closer.

“No, you idiot.”

“And you’re…” Clint feels a shaky, uncertain, but bright smile growing so wide, it’s making his cheeks hurt. “You’re, what. Asking me to go steady?”

Bucky’s got Clint on his lap again, and Clint’s beaming down at him. It’s just how they were sitting the first time they kissed -- or how they ended up sitting, anyway, after a little while. Bucky rolls his eyes up at Clint but his hands are holding firmly to Clint’s hips, and he’s smiling a little -- just enough.

“Hey, Barton?” he says.

“Yeah?”

“You wanna go out with me?”

“Yeah,” Clint says, and then he leans down and kisses Bucky, and kisses him again, and again, while Bucky’s hands wander up from his hips, up his back, to his neck and his hair and back again, lazy.

“But what if you stop liking me,” Clint mumbles, breathless, against Bucky’s mouth.

“I like your face,” Bucky tells him, cupping Clint’s cheeks in both hands to hold him still and force him to listen to every word. “And your strings. And your trainwreck of a personality. And I can’t see that changing.”

“But if it does, you’ll tell me?”

Bucky laughs softly and says, “I’m gonna be spelling everything out for you from now on, Barton, but I’m pretty much in this for the long haul, so.”

Bucky kisses him and kisses him and kisses him and Clint almost, almost forgets his questions, but, seeking clarification (because he fucked this up once already, he doesn’t wanna fuck it up again), Clint says, breathless, “So, like, are we boyfriends, or--”

Bucky groans and says, “Sweetheart, we can be whatever you want us to be.”

“Boyfriends,” Clint decides. “Sniper boyfriends. Boyfriends with benefits.”

Bucky shuts him up with a kiss, and Clint thinks that maybe, maybe they’ve finally done enough talking. He’s officially had a difficult, grown up discussion with his brand new boyfriend-with-benefits.

Natasha’s gonna be so fucking proud of him.

The end.