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Barely Breathing

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By the time they find him, Clint has been missing for three weeks. Time has stopped having any meaning for him, though, and if he was capable of speech, he’d have sworn he’d been missing for entire life times.

His consciousness has been ebbing and flowing, latching onto the odd detail and letting the rest drip away, so he is intimately familiar with a few things -- the rusty scent of old blood, the drip, drip, drip of new blood hitting the grimy tiled floor, the curve of soft jawline of the head doctor, the feeling of his back being ripped open and stitched shut over and over and over again.

He’s floating, falling, lost in a haze of fever, pain, tangled memories. His throat is raw, shredded from days upon days of screaming and begging long after he lost the ability to form words.

He thinks -- when he’s capable of thought -- that maybe he’s dead and this is hell. He feels like he’s paid for his sins a dozen times over by now, but if they want to keep taking him apart and putting him together again, maybe he still owes them a pound of flesh or two.

Everything’s going dark and he’s suspended, shoulders screaming and arms nearly torn from their sockets, feet barely reaching the floor, a nurse -- fake sweet, but Clint’s never been one for stockholm syndrome -- cooing and telling him that it’s for his own good, they need to keep his back free and clear and open to the air to prevent infection, to help with healing. If he was laying down or capable of moving, he’d just tear the staples open again and they’d have to start the bone grafts from scratch, not to mention the neuroelectrical wiring.

Clint doesn’t care. He can’t feel it anyway. Cut and run from his beat up and broken body days ago.

And then, when it finally goes dark, when his muscles go lax, when he thinks, finally, finally, time to rest --

Natasha’s there like a light in the darkness, her face pale and pointed and her eyes gleaming with rage and tears.

It’s the tears that let him know this is just another fever dream, because Natasha doesn’t cry, not even for Clint.

Except then her cool hands are on his feverish face and she’s cursing in Russian and shouting into her comm for a medic, and the room is filled with bodies -- living bodies -- bodies with faces he knows he should recognize. They don’t look like the medical team that’s been picking him apart, his mind is a mess, and he can’t tell who they are. But Natasha -- Natasha he knows better than he knows anything at all.

And her hands are hurting because everything fucking hurts.

So maybe this is real.

“Nat,” he says, voice a broken croak.

“I’m here,” she says. “I’m here, I’m here. I told you I’d find you.”

“What’ve they done?” he slurs, and her eyes go wider and she’s looking at something just behind her and calling for a medic again, her voice cracking.

And then she tries to lift him, to take the weight off his shoulders, and it feels like his entire body cracks open again and he screams and begs for the pain to stop, begs and begs and begs and then finally, blissfully, someone injects him with actual goddamn medication and he’s out like a light.

Maybe this is it -- finally rest. It’s finally over. He can sleep without worrying about the demons that’ll tear him apart in his dreams.

So he sleeps.

*

He thinks maybe, maybe, this time it’ll stick. Maybe this time, they’ve found him and he can go home.

*

He wakes to surgical masks, blinding bright lights, something humming, grinding, and his reaction is instant and visceral.

It’s the motherfucking bone saw and he’s not letting it near him, not now, not again, not ever.

And no one’s thought to tie him down this time.

He rears up, elbow slamming back into the nearest doctor, sending her spilling to the ground.

And nothing -- nothing -- hurts.

He’s up off the table a moment later, but moving tears at him, and even if he can’t feel the pain, he can feel the wrongness. It throws him off balance and he tries to scramble for the door but his centre of gravity is off and he falls, knocking the surgical implements with him.

Someone’s screaming for help, an alarm starts blaring, but Clint’s found a scalpel and he’s not letting them take him again.

He lashes out when someone comes at him with a needle, drawing blood, and he’s got himself backed into a corner now, a defensible position, and then Natasha is there, crouching in front of him, telling him to breathe, to calm down, to listen.

He’s had fever dreams of Natasha before and she’d never look this scared, so he knows she isn’t real and he lashes out at her too.

She tries to restrain him but doesn’t want to hurt him -- he doesn’t give a fuck if he rips her apart. She’s bleeding when she gives up, backing away with her hands up and looking over her shoulder at someone else and Clint takes advantage of the distraction.

He lunges forward, but before he can shove the knife into her throat, a metal hand closes on his wrist, and his entire body jerks as his forward momentum is abruptly halted.

He fights against the restraint, but Bucky Barnes has always been stronger, better at hand-to-hand -- basically engineered to be impossible to overpower, unless you’re a super soldier like he is.

Clint is crying when he gives up thrashing against Bucky’s hold, hysterical and desperate not to be hurt again.

But he’s never had a fever dream about Bucky before -- barely even knows him, in fact -- so either Hydra have taken Bucky back, or Clint isn’t with Hydra anymore. And if Bucky had been turned into the Winter Soldier, he probably wouldn’t be so careful to hold Clint without hurting him.

When Clint finally goes limp, Bucky turns him, so his back is to the hospital gurney, Natasha’s bloody face, the bleeding doctors and nurses, and the machinery. All Clint can see, when Bucky’s flesh and blood hand cups his jaw and forces his chin up, is Bucky’s gray eyes.

“I’ve got you,” Bucky says, clear and calm. “You’re okay now. You’re home.”

Clint licks his lips and trembles and wonders why his body feels so goddamn heavy. “No more bone saws,” he says.

Bucky smiles faintly and says, “I can promise you, Barton. No one here is coming at you with one of those.”

Clint closes his eyes and breathes out and says, “Okay.”

And then there’s the tiniest pinch and he slumps forward. Bucky catches him before he hits the ground and says, quiet, “I’ve got you.”

And maybe this is real. Maybe this is home.

*

Clint doesn’t wake for a long, long time, but it’s the drugged out, dreamless sort of sleep, so he loses track of time anyway.

When he does wake, it’s slow, in careful increments, and consciousness comes back like drops of water.

He’s first aware of the sunlight coming through the window, the warmth on his face, and then the soft pillow beneath his cheek. There’s soft music playing, too quiet to make out artist or genre. He’s stretched out on a bed, laying on his stomach, clutching a pillow, and his body feels heavy, weighed down, and there’s a distant sort of pain that he’s glad is too far away to really feel.

He doesn’t remember anything for a long moment, and then hazy memories of their last fight with Hydra filter in -- the gunfire, the burning building, the shouting. Getting lost in the smoke, and then a blazing flash of light, and then -- and then -- and then --

His eyes fly open and his breath lodges in his throat and before he can scream or flinch or fight, Natasha is there, brushing his hair back and saying quietly, “You’re fine. You’re safe. I’ve got you. If you panic, they’re going to have to restrain you. Just breathe.”

He stares at her face and forces his lungs to work, and each breath is shaky and rough but he’s breathing, and that’s enough.

His body doesn’t feel like his own.

Clint swallows against a rush of nausea and then restlessly searches the room, his gaze flicking from Natasha’s face to the window to the dying plant on the window sill to the door to Bucky Barnes, standing beside it, arms crossed over his chest, watching with absolutely no expression on his face.

Clint tries to move and he can’t.

“They took it out,” he says, and his voice is harsh, his throat rough.

Natasha frowns. “Took what out?”

“My spine,” he says, with a shaky, broken laugh. “They took out my fucking spine.”

“Shh,” she says, softer than she should be. She strokes his cheek. “They didn’t.” There’s a grim twist to her lips. “Or if they did, they put it back. You’re okay.”

“Can’t move,” he pants.

She runs her hands over his body, even as she takes his hand and squeezes it. “You can. You have. You’ve just been kept in a medically-induced coma for a week, Clint. Give your body time.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and breathes and breathes and breathes.

*

Clint pretends to be sleeping when Steve comes in, when the doctors come in. Natasha, as far as he’s aware, hasn’t left his side at all.

“We can’t leave him like this,” Steve’s saying, familiar and stubborn.

“We may not have a choice,” a doctor says. Clint wants to scream and run away because doctors are where this whole nightmare started, but instead, he continues to pretend he’s sleeping. Sometimes the doctors went away without hurting him before, if they thought he was sleeping.

“It’s a rather impressive feat of bioelectrical engineering,” says the doctor, and someone tugs the sheet down off Clint’s back and if they touch him -- if they fucking touch him --

“Don’t,” someone snaps, and it takes a long moment for him to recognize Bucky’s voice. It’s been months since Clint heard him that cold, that threatening. “You said yourself,” Bucky continues, voice only slightly softer. “He needs to sleep to heal. You touch him, you fuck that up.”

Clint wonders how many people are in here, how many people this doctor intends to discuss his medical condition with -- far as he knows, only Nat’s got clearance for it. And Steve, because who would say no to Captain America.

“Uh,” says the doctor. “Of course.” He clears his throat. “As I was saying, it may not be possible, not with the way the hardware has been grafted into his neurological systems.”

“Then leave the internal stuff and just… just deal with this,” Steve argues, and he’s got that familiar exhausted, anxious tone that he had when he’d been searching for Bucky before he was even Bucky again.

“If we focus simply on the external manifestations, we risk shorting the circuits, leaving Mr. Barton in a constant state of pain as his neurons continue to receive impulses from limbs he no longer has,” says the doctor, and Clint just breathes and breathes and breathes.

“Surely Tony can… can unwire it,” Steve says,

“It’s not that simple,” says the doctor. “Come with me, I’ll show you the x-rays…”

His voice fades out as he leaves the room, the others following.

And Clint keeps his eyes squeezed shut and breathes.

And then Bucky says, “You with me?”

Clint should’ve known he couldn’t fool the Winter Soldier with his pretend sleeping.

He opens his eyes and it takes a moment to adjust to the twilight, to see Bucky standing there by the door, still watching. Clint swallows hard and says, “What did they do?”

Bucky studies him for a moment, and Clint wonders if he’s waiting for him to freak out. Then, pushing himself away from the wall, Bucky wanders over, and he’s not looking at Clint’s face anymore, but something -- something else. He reaches a hand out and Clint flinches, but the movement echoes oddly in his body, twitching somewhere where nothing was before.

He closes his eyes and holds his breath and feels Bucky press down, so carefully, between his shoulder blades, where Clint can feel his muscles knotted up and screaming.

“Gave you wings,” Bucky says finally, quietly.

Clint grits his teeth and breathes and breathes and wonders if he’s screaming, and if he ever really stopped.

*

They show him the x-rays the next time he’s awake, show him the way Hydra has integrated electrical circuits into his neurological pathways, how they’ve had to graft metal to his spine to make it strong enough to take the extra weight. They tell him about how major a surgery it would be to try to undo it, how he’d probably never walk again if they tried it, how they can remove them, but it would lead to long-lasting and debilitating pain.

Clint listens to all of it as he lays there on his stomach, his muscles tensed up because he’s not going to move, not an inch, if it means feeling strange limbs that aren’t his responding to the movement.

“It’s a little ironic,” Natasha says, after the doctor leaves. She’s sitting in her usual spot and this time, Bucky’s not hovering in the doorway. “Giving wings to Hawkeye.”

“Is it?” Clint asks her, distracted. He’s still focusing on his breathing. “I’d laugh, but… Can’t move.”

She frowns. “You should be able to by now.”

Clint squeezes his eyes shut and a lock of hair falls over his eyes. “If I move, I feel it,” he says.

Natasha brushes the hair back and says, “How are you feeling?”

Clint considers for a moment. “I’ve decided not to feel anything at all,” he says finally, as quickly as he can. Talking expands his diaphragm which expands his ribcage, which shifts his -- the -- which makes it harder to ignore the foreign weight pressing down on his back.

“Does it hurt?”

“Yes,” he gasps. “No. I don’t -- nothing moves the way it’s supposed to. And they’re giving me the good drugs.”

“They’ll have to take the staples out eventually,” she says, like she thinks talking about it is doing anything to make this normal.

“They’re stapled on?” Clint says, bordering on hysterical.

“I -- no, you’ve got staples all up and down your back,” she says. “For the incisions, for the--”

“Nat-Natasha, please,” he says, because he’s going to start screaming. “Please, please stop.”

“Clint.” He forces himself to look at her, and she looks at least as lost as Clint is feeling. “You always -- you’ve been hurt before, you’ve never been squeamish about it. Stitches and broken bones and --”

“This isn’t my body anymore,” he cries, and there are tears on his face now and he rubs them away with a fist. Even that movement is enough to jostle his -- the wings. On his back. Which aren’t his but respond when he moves.

“Just -- just give me a knife,” he grits out. “I’ll take care of it, just give me a fucking knife.”

“Clint,” she says again. “We’ll figure this out. It’s going to be okay.”

She touches his shoulder and he flinches so violently, he can feel the pain through all the drugs. “Don’t touch me,” he shouts. “Don’t fucking touch me, I can’t -- Nat, I can’t.”

“Okay,” she says hurriedly. “Okay, I’m sorry, okay.”

“Need a break, Romanov?”

Clint’s eyes fly open and there’s Bucky in the doorway again, looking grim. Natasha hesitates and then says, “I’ll get you a coffee, Clint.”

She hurries out of the room and she shouldn’t be this rattled -- how is Clint meant to hold it together when Natasha can’t even manage it?

“Doing okay?” Bucky asks, careful, taking Natasha’s chair at his bedside.

Clint laughs tearfully and doesn’t reply, swallowing hard and breathing.

Bucky just sits there and lets him be and finally says, “It’s hard. They’re not going to understand.”

“They?”

“People who’ve never had their bodies cut apart and put back together wrong,” Bucky says bluntly.

Clint thinks about it for a moment and says, “I’d think Natasha would understand, if anybody would.”

“Maybe,” he allows. And then he holds up his metal hand and spreads his fingers, studying them distantly. “But it’s different, when it’s been changed so fundamentally.”

Clint stares at Bucky’s hand, at the interlocking plates, and then says hoarsely, “Does it hurt?”

“Did at first,” Bucky says. “It’s hard to get used to. Heavier than it was before. My body needed to learn to compensate for the weight. Took a lot of training to make movement… instinctive and smooth, the way it had been before.”

“How did you get used to it?” Clint asks.

Bucky smiles a little. “Stopped being a little bitch and actually moved,” he says. “For starters.”

Clint laughs tearfully. “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet,” he says.

“That’s fine.” Bucky shrugs. “But the sooner you are, the sooner you’ll get to the point where your body feels like yours again.”

“But it’s not,” he says. “It won’t ever be.”

“Hydra made it,” Bucky says. “But you’ve got to live with it. Haven’t got all that much of a choice.”

Clint closes his eyes and breathes and says, “It hurts. Even when I’m not moving, it hurts.”

“Your muscles aren’t used to the weight,” Bucky says. “From what the docs say, the incisions are healing fine, not much scarring. Bet they could help with the pain if you let anybody touch you, work the knots out.”

Clint inhales, slow, and then opens his eyes. “Could you?”

For the first time, Bucky looks taken aback. “Me?”

“You -- you aren’t all you either,” Clint says. “You know what it’s like -- you aren’t gonna. Gonna make me… you’re just. You know what it’s like.”

For a moment, he thinks Bucky’s going to say no. “Alright,” Bucky says instead, like it’s easy. “I’ll see if I can help.”

He moves, shifting to sit on the side of the bed, and Clint tenses up and it hurts.

“Breathe,” Bucky says. “Ready?”

“No, but do it anyway,” Clint gasps.

Bucky’s touch is exceedly gentle, barely brushing over Clint’s skin, sticking with the knotted up muscles in his shoulders.

“You’re lucky,” he says, as he begins to press with a bit more pressure. Clint focuses on the contrast between his warm hand and his metal one. “Your shoulders are already strong.”

“Lucky?” Clint asks, eyes screwed shut.

Bucky hums an agreement and then his thumbs hit a particularly painful spot, but the pain is one Clint recognizes -- an honest sort of pain that could’ve come from spending too long in the range without loosening up first. Bucky is very careful not to touch the wings or the area around them that’s still healing.

It’s quiet for a long while, and Clint keeps breathing, chewing on his bottom lip. Gradually, the tight knots in his shoulders begin to ease, and as they do, Clint’s entire body begins to relax, sinking into the bed.

“What’s it look like,” Clint mumbles.

“It’s fine,” Bucky says, which isn’t the specifics Clint was hoping for. “You’re fine. Just relax. You can worry about the rest tomorrow.”

And Clint intends to press the point, but he’s lulled into a softer sort of sleep by Bucky’s hands, gently working the pain out of his shoulders.

Before he leaves, Bucky says, “Anytime you’re ready to get up out of this bed, just let me know. I’ll help.”

Clint mumbles in sleepy agreement and slips away again.

*

“I stink.”

Bucky grimaces a little and says, “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Clint takes a careful breath. “I need to shower.”

It’s been three days since Bucky told him he needs to get off his ass, and in those three days, Clint has closed his eyes and held himself still and breathed and it worked. It helped. It kept him from dealing with his body.

But now he’s begin feeling trapped. He’s never really been able to stay still for long. And nothing is going to get better this way. And no matter how much he prayed to just not wake up, it hadn’t happened.

So he’d sent for Bucky.

“Okay,” Bucky says. “Tried getting up?”

“Yes,” Clint says. His cheeks burn. “The nurses took all the -- the medical stuff. Off. And then they tried to help me up. But… it didn’t work out. And I panicked. And almost hurt them. And I don’t want to. And I have to piss. And.” He growls. “And they don’t know how to modify a fucking wheel chair to get me to the goddamn bathroom.”

Bucky huffs what could be a laugh and says, “Okay, Barton. I got you.”

“They took out the staples yesterday,” Clint tells him, and Bucky slips a hand under his arm, taking it with a firm grip.

“Good,” he says. “Breathe.”

Clint inhales and before he has a chance to brace himself, Bucky hauls him up and Clint has to scramble to catch himself on his knees. He expects to fall forward but between the overwhelming amount of movement, the sensation echoing in places it shouldn’t be echoing, the rush of blood to his head, and the weight on his back, he falls backwards and doesn’t even know his body well enough anymore to catch himself.

Bucky’s got him, though, catching him and holding him still, waiting patiently for Clint to open his eyes again.

“Little warning next time,” he pants.

Bucky grins down at him. “And give you time to talk yourself out of it? Nah. Ready?”

He’s more careful this time, helping Clint maneuver his way around and plant his feet on the floor, bracing himself before Bucky takes both of his hands and tugs him up.

And then he’s standing.

His legs are weak from lack of movement, his back instantly starts cramping up from the healing incisions and the weight that feels like it’s dragging him down.

“I’m gonna fall,” Clint says, battling the same anxiety that had him lashing out before.

“You’re good,” Bucky tells him, not letting go. “Just adjusting to a new centre of gravity. Keep breathing. The thing you’ve really gotta be careful of is not stepping on your tail.”

“My what,” Clint yelps, spinning around frantically, knocking himself off balance, knocking Bucky off balance, and Bucky catches him by the shoulder.

“You haven’t got a tail,” he says, and he’s fucking laughing. “Sorry.”

“You fucking lied about a fucking tail to me?” Clint says, mouth hanging open unattractively.

“Couldn’t help it,” Bucky says, unapologetic. “Someone’s gotta make shitty jokes around here. We’ve all been missing yours.”

Clint huffs, letting Bucky take his arm again and helping him make his way carefully towards the bathroom. “You barely know me,” he says. “You can’t miss my shitty jokes.”

“I know enough,” Bucky says serenely. “Besides, I’ve gotta toughen you up. All Tony’s been asking, when he’s not talking about how he’s fucking sure he can rewire your spine just fine, is how long he’s gotta wait before it’s not too soon to make cupid jokes.”

“...Cupid jokes?” Clint says, appalled at his friends and their lack of sensitivity.

“Yep. You know. The wings, the bow and arrow?”

“Jesus,” Clint says, and then they’re in the bathroom and it’s been a lot of movement and he has been so appalled by everything Bucky has said, he hasn’t even had a spare moment to panic every time his wings moved.

Which was probably, he thinks, the point.

“Shower or toilet first?” Bucky asks, and Clint thinks, is he going to shower with me oh my fucking god and will the wings even fit in the shower and I cannot get to the toilet without passing the mirror and I am not ready to see what they did to me.

“Could you cover the mirror?” he asks shakily.

Bucky does, draping a towel over it.

Clint figures he doesn’t have much dignity left, if he ever had any at all, but his legs are feeling capable of holding him up and he’s got his balance back, mostly, so he asks Bucky to wait outside. At Bucky’s skeptical look, he says they can keep the door open, just in case, and Bucky promises not to go far.

The shower hitting his face, his shoulders, his chest feels amazing. Weeks of sponge baths have done nothing for him, and Clint braces himself with two arms on the tiled wall and closes his eyes and lets the burning hot water wash away the blood and dirt and feel of Hydra fingerprints that have lingered.

Time slips by and his legs grow weaker but he doesn’t move, and he doesn’t turn around. He just breathes and waits to feel clean.

Eventually, Bucky comes back for him. “Doing alright?” he asks, from the other side of the shower curtain.

“If I turn around, I’ll feel them,” Clint murmurs, only vaguely aware of his surroundings.

“True,” Bucky says after a moment. “So you’ve got two options. Turn around and feel them because you’re going to have to eventually and they may as well be clean when you do. Or save that for another day because you’ve already done a shit ton today and half clean is better than not clean at all.”

Clint smiles and tips his head back, water running down his face. “A shit ton?” he echoes. “All I’ve done is take a piss and shower.”

“Got outta bed, too,” Bucky says. “You gonna turn around?”

“You gonna keep playing nursemaid?” Clint asks him.

“Until Tony finds a nurse who’s not scared of you, sure.”

Clint breathes out and says, “Turning around.”

“Need help?”

He’s going to say no, but instead, Clint opens his eyes and breathes in and says, “Yeah. Could you…”

Bucky’s there in an instant, taking his wrist, helping him turn, and the rush of water on his wings is suddenly all consuming. It’s too much, too sensitive, too hot, but if his front had felt like Hydra had left fingerprints there, than his back feels it even more. Clint hunches forward, burying his face in his arms, pillowed against the far wall, and breathes and breathes and breathes.

Bucky doesn’t let go of his wrist.

Clint’s knees are almost giving out when Bucky shuts off the water.

“I didn’t use soap,” Clint mumbles.

“Next time.”

Bucky helps him out of the shower and goes to get another towel, leaving him leaning against the counter.

The towel covering the mirror falls before Bucky gets back, and Clint just stares.

It’s his face -- a little gaunter than it should be, maybe. Dark circles under his eyes. He needs to shave. But the muscles in his shoulders took twisted and wrong, and he can see the wings jutting up awkwardly behind him.

They’re metal -- vibranium, probably, like Bucky’s arm. A framework of interlocking metal scales, shining dully -- why was he expecting feathers? He’s never been a damned angel.

He doesn’t breathe for so long, just staring, that his vision starts to go spotty, and then Bucky’s there, cupping his face with both hands and sliding between Clint and the mirror.

“Look at me,” he instructs, and Clint doesn’t have any choice anyway. He blinks and stares into Bucky’s eyes and blinks again. “You with me?”

“How did you ever get used to it?” Clint asks faintly.

“Didn’t have a choice. Breathe.”

Clint does. “I’m okay,” he says, and Bucky doesn’t look confident, but still shifts out of the way when Clint’s eyes drift to try to see the mirror over his shoulder.

“If you -- I think if you pull them in, they won’t drag on your shoulders so much,” Bucky says quietly. He reaches out with his metal hand, touches the twisted, locked up muscles in Clint’s shoulders, and Clint flinches.

“Can’t,” he says. “Don’t know how.”

“Try.”

But Clint is tired, and Bucky doesn’t push it, just dries him off and helps him back to bed, stretching out on his stomach, wings dragging behind.

It hurts -- his shoulders hurt -- and Bucky’s carefully tucking him in when Clint sucks in a giant breath and just… just tries.

It hurts, it hurts, it hurts, and it feels alien and wrong, but he does his best. The movement is jerky and unsure and just makes his wings hurt more, and Clint wants to cry with frustration.

“Here,” Bucky says, careful. He guides Clint’s wings with gentle touches, helping him pull them up and in, until they’re tucked securely against his back.

It’s a different feeling than the dragging, twisting sensation he’d felt before. It feels like taking a deep breath after being underwater for so long -- an instant release of pressure that he can feel all the way down to his toes.

“Rest,” Bucky says, after Clint goes still. “You’re doing good.”

And then he starts gently working the knots out of Clint’s shoulders again and Clint hides his face in his pillow and starts to cry.

He’s just so, so grateful that he’s found a way to ease the pain.

Bucky doesn’t comment, just keeps up with the firm, careful pressure.

*

“So here’s the deal,” Tony says, leaning closer and steepling his fingers under his chin as he very obviously resists the urge to reach out and touch the wings that Clint’s got carefully tucked back against his shoulders. Clint’s just really glad he’s somehow managed to get himself sitting up on the edge of the bed for this conversation.

“The docs are talking rehab. Strengthen your muscles, help manage the weight, adjust your movement patterns to compensate. But before you waste your time, I’ve got another option. I’m pretty sure I could take them off.”

Clint just blinks at him slowly and says, “The doctors say if you try to take out all the wiring, I’ll be paralyzed. If you just take the wings, the pain won’t ever stop.”

“Yes,” Tony agrees. “And it’s probably true. But paralysis doesn’t have to be as comprehensive as you’re thinking. I could ensure the damage was as minimal as possible, and you’ve seen what we’ve managed to do with Rhodey.”

“Rhodey flies in a suit of armour,” Clint says, already losing interest with Tony’s proposal. “He can function with… mechanical stuff to help keep him on his feet. He’s practically a cyborg already. But me? I can’t -- I couldn’t shoot, without full use and control of my body. I couldn’t be an Avenger anymore. And if I’m not an Avenger, if I’m just… just me. Clint Barton? I’m nothing.”

Tony nods and says, “You prepared to be Hawkeye with a set of metal wings instead?”

Clint shrugs and he feels it ripple through the metal scales. He looks at Bucky, hovering by the door as usual, and knows he’s fully prepared to kick Tony out if Clint begins to lose it. That’s probably why Tony hasn’t gone for the wings yet.

“I’m gonna try,” he says, because Bucky’s right. He hasn’t got a choice.

“Okay,” Tony says easily. “That works too, I’ll see what I can do to help, do some movement mapping as you start to use them, see what I can come up with to make it easier for you -- they’re kinda cool, like dragon wings, can I --” He reaches out.

“No,” Clint says, firm, and Tony backs off with his hands raised.

“No, of course,” he says. “Can’t blame me for trying. I’ve got Pepper finding the best -- and most discreet -- physiotherapist to help. I’ll let you know when we’ve got someone lined up.”

Clint nods tiredly and Tony gets up to go, still chattering about aerodynamics, bioelectric engineering, and the latest research studies he’s read since they rescued Clint, but Clint doesn’t bother to listen and eventually, Tony’s gone.

“Should’ve seen him when he got his first look at how my arm works,” Bucky says mildly, and Clint musters up a small smile for him, even as he awkwardly twists around to stretch out on his bed.

“I miss sleeping on my back,” he mumbles. “And wearing fucking shirts.”

Bucky laughs softly and Clint closes his eyes.

*

It takes him a long time, but the next morning, Clint makes it to the bathroom on his own.

He can’t remember when he felt so triumphant over something so stupidly small, but he’s willing to take it as the win it is.

He makes his way gingerly back to the same hospital bed he’s been stuck in for god knows how long and he just. He can’t do it. He can’t climb back into it.

It’s a small thing but he wants to go home. Sure, home is just three storeys away and possibly not conducive to fucking wings, but he misses his bed. His coffee mugs. The pattern of light the sun makes at a slightly different angle. He misses his goddamn bath tub. He misses being able to lock the door and be reasonably certain no one’s going to burst through it -- least of all, medical professionals.

He wonders if the doctors will let him go.

And then he wonders when the last time he asked for permission to leave medical was.

It takes Clint an exceedingly long time to inch his way to the elevator -- especially because he takes the long way where it’s less likely that he’s going to run into anyone likely to stop him.

He’s shaking with exhaustion by the time he slumps sideways against the elevator wall, pressing the button for his floor six or seven times before the doors slide shut.

He did it. He’s free. His doctors are going to lose his mind and he doesn’t give a fuck.

And sure, Clint has no regrets.

But his legs are trembling and the elevator is moving pretty quickly and all the blood is leaving his head and if he faints in the goddamn elevator, they’ll ship him right back to medical and he’ll never get out of there.

“Uhm,” he says. “Jarvis?”

“Hello, Mr. Barton,” Jarvis says pleasantly. “I hope you don’t mind, but Sargent Barnes has asked to be notified if you have any need of him, and I alerted him that you were in the elevator.”

Clint should be annoyed, but he finds he can’t quite muster up the energy. “Uh, okay,” he says, closing his eyes. “Just -- just don’t tell him that I…” he trails off, staggering a little, fighting off the lightheadedness. “That I didn’t make it,” he mumbles, and then his legs give out and he crumples to the floor just as the elevator door slides open.

*

He wakes up in his own bed and it’s a goddamn miracle.

There’s even a cup of coffee in one of his own beloved mugs steaming away on his bedside table.

“Steve’s running interference with medical and Tony’s offering to order a wagon to cart you back downstairs for rehab because they still haven’t figured out the wheelchair thing,” Bucky reports from his bedroom doorway, where he’s sipping a cup of coffee in another one of Clint’s mugs. “You okay?”

“I just got dizzy,” Clint tells him.

“No shit. You couldn’t walk to the bathroom on your own yesterday and today decided on a jailbreak.” Bucky shrugs one shoulder. “From what Natasha told me before she left, I’m just surprised it took you this long.”

Clint blinks at him. “Nat… left?”

Bucky stares at him for a moment, taking a contemplative sip of coffee, and then says, “No one told you. Why do you think she hasn’t been around?”

Grimacing and leveraging himself up into a sitting position, Clint says, “I kinda thought maybe she was mad that I cut her, when she first -- when I was confused about where I was. That, or she couldn’t stand to look at me.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “No. She got pissed that she couldn’t help so she went to go track down everybody and anybody who had anything to do with what happened to you, allegedly to bring them back for questioning but I’m not holding my breath any of them will survive it.”

Clint exhales, feeling a knot of tension in his gut ease as he does. “She might ask them questions before she kills them,” he says.

“True. So, I figured I’d stick around, maybe watch Dog Cops. You know. If you’re interested.”

“On my couch?” Clint asks.

“You got a problem with that?”

Clint hesitates and then says, “No. It’s just. I don’t know how the couch is gonna work with -- you know. He shrugs his shoulders and hears the metal plates on his wings shifting and recalibrating.

“Only one way to find out.”

Bucky ducks out of the doorway and Clint knows that if he doesn’t follow, Bucky’ll probably be okay with it.

But Clint is so sick of laying on his stomach feeling badly about himself.

So he gets up, walking carefully, holding his wings pressed to his back. Sitting down on the couch is awkward, and he shifts around, trying to stuff cushions between the wings and his back, the wings and the couch, but can’t seem to find a way that stops the wings from touching his back -- and he doesn’t want to feel them.

He eventually settles, after Bucky gives him a long, unimpressed stare, but it isn’t comfortable. He’s perched at the edge of the couch cushion, a pillow stuffed behind his back, keeping the wings from getting pinned, from touching his skin. They twist awkwardly at his shoulders because of the stupid angle.

But he’s upright and he’s got coffee and he’s watching Dog Cops and it’s the most normal thing that’s happened to him in days.

Beside him, Bucky looks obscenely comfortable, sprawled out and leaning back, legs spread, metal arm resting on the arm rest, coffee held easily in his metal fingers. His hair’s pushed back, his shoulders are relaxed, he looks like he hasn’t got a care in the world.

Watching fucking Dog Cops.

It can’t be Bucky Barnes’ idea of a good way to spend the day.

“Did Steve assign you to be my babysitter?” Clint asks.

Buck shrugs one shoulder. “Nah.”

“Then why are you here?”

Bucky turns to look at him, considering for a moment, before saying, “Would you believe it’s because of your sparkling personality?”

“No,” Clint tells him.

Bucky smiles a little, turning back to the TV. “Didn’t think so.”

He doesn’t volunteer any additional information and Clint just keeps staring, waiting.

Finally, Bucky rolls his eyes and says, “Fine. I don’t know if you remember, but in the hospital, you freaked out. A few times. You were usually pretty out of it when you did, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t remember. Hell, it would be for the best if you didn’t.”

Clint licks his suddenly dry lips and all of a sudden, the TV becomes incredibly fascinating. He stares at it and says, “I remember the, uh. The bone saw.”

“No bone saws,” Bucky says, easy. “It was a suction thing you heard. I don’t think bone saws even make noise. Anyway, you flipped out and broke a few collarbones. An arm. A few nurses needed stitches. Natasha needed stitches. And that was just that time. There were a few other times, too.”

“Jesus,” Clint says, closing his eyes.

“No one blamed you or anything, don’t get all bent out of shape over it. But in order to make sure you got the medical care you needed, we needed to reassure the medical teams that we had someone on standby who could… handle any outbursts.”

“Someone like you.”

Bucky shrugs again. “I volunteered. Might as well. Not cleared for missions just yet, Steve’s busy hunting down the people who took you. You can’t hurt me.” Bucky turns to look at him, making eye contact, and he says simply, “And I know a thing or two about what you might be feeling.”

Clint snorts. “Yeah, right.”

Bucky’s eyebrows go up and he flexes his metal hand deliberately and says, “You think I don’t?”

“I think my three weeks and coming home with a broken body can’t compare to your seventy years,” Clint says bluntly. “I think maybe they fucked with my body, but at least they left my mind intact.”

Bucky’s quiet for a long moment, studying him, and he sounds tired when he finally says, “Ain’t no use trying to figure out who’s got more right to be fucked up over what happened.”

It’s true, and Clint nods, turning back to the show and letting silence fall.

It doesn’t take too long, though, before his back starts cramping up and he starts thinking that maybe, he ought to head back to the bedroom. He just doesn’t want to.

“Barton,” Bucky says quietly, and Clint turns to look at him. “You’re a mess.”

He takes Clint by the wrist, tugging him until he falls sideways, head resting on Bucky’s thigh. Before Clint can get awkward about it, Bucky yanks the cushion out from between his wings, arranges them with careful, firm pressure, until Clint’s entire body melts with the easing of tension as the pain bleeds out of him.

“Just watch your show,” Bucky says gruffly. He rests his hand on Clint’s back, right between the spot where the wings have been crafted to his shoulder blades.

“Bucky?” Clint asked, a few minutes later. Bucky grunts in reply. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Bucky doesn’t reply, but he starts rubbing his hand along Clint’s back, soothing his muscles, and sure, it’s probably just to shut him up, but Clint’ll take it.

*

“The most important thing we need to establish before we can best plan your rehabilitation is what you hope the outcome will be.”

Clint’s doing his best to pay attention, to be engaged, but he’s tired, he doesn’t have any coffee, and he’s been dealing with a low-grade level of anxiety at the very idea of trying to start rehabilitating. He’s not even sure what that means.

So he stares blearily at the rehab specialist, who had introduced himself as Dr. Connor, until the doctor helpfully clarifies. “Are you looking to be more comfortable or are you looking to make them functional?”

Clint blinks. “Like, do I want to fly?” he says blankly, because he doesn’t even know how long it’s been since Hydra took him apart and put him back together wrong, but he’s never even thought of the bigger picture -- of what it even means to have wings. “Is that even possible?”

Doctor Connor hums thoughtfully and says, “It’s impossible to say, though I can tell you with confidence that Sam Wilson is dearly looking forward to trying to teach you how.”

Sam, Clint knows, is the one who recommended Doctor Connor, probably for his extensive experience helping soldiers cope with injuries as well as PTSD.

“So what would be the difference between comfort and function?”

“Comfort would involve strengthening the core to compensate for the additional weight,” the doctor says. “Working on range of motion. Getting you to a place where you aren’t experiencing pain in your daily life. There are devices we might employ -- similar to slings that one might use to compensate for a broken collar bone, for instance. We could make it so that your new reality isn’t a painful one. Function would mean an end goal of not just helping you adjust to having the wings, but using them. Incorporating them into your life in a more holistic and functional way. Even if you never can use them to fly, there are ways to strengthen the way the inorganic material attaches and interacts with the organic muscle tissue. We would work on increasing range of motion of the wings themselves, in learning to use them as seamlessly as any of your other limbs.”

Restless, Clint gets up out of his chair, wings still crammed as tightly to his back as he can make them. They throw off his balance but he still manages to pace, trying to think through the options, trying to consider them logically, rather than with the gut reaction that makes him just want to cut them off and deal with debilitating pain rather than have the ugly, uncomfortable, ungainly pieces of metal sticking from his back as a permanent reminder of weeks of torture.

He breathes out carefully and says, “Can we start with comfort and work our way up?”

“Absolutely,” the doctor says right away. “We can establish a baseline today and then work on a plan together.”

“Baseline,” Clint echoes, because that doesn’t sound scary. “Okay.”

At first, establishing a baseline is fine. The doctor weighs him, measures his height, has him lift some weights, run on a treadmill. It’s not fun running with the extra weight, and cardio has never been his thing, but Clint manages.

And then, after taking his physical fitness measurements, the doctor says, “I’ll need to measure your range of motion, too.”

Clint lifts both arms up and swings them around, does a few circles, and says, “Range of motion’s all good.”

“I mean of the wings.”

Clint drops his arms and shakes off the urge to run and says, “Oh. Right.”

“Can you stretch them out as far as they’ll go?”

The thing is, since Bucky carefully helped Clint figure out how to pull them up tight against his back, Clint hasn’t moved them on purpose at all.

But he’ll never get better if he can’t take this first step, so he braces himself on the back of a chair, takes a deep breath, and does his best to extend them.

The movement is jerky, and it sends sharp, staticky feelings through his spine, up and down his arms, like electric shocks pooling in his fingertips. Each movement is small, but by the time he thinks he’s got them out, he’s shaking, sweating.

And then the doctor presses the palm of one hand on the scarred skin between them, mumbling to himself as he stretches something -- and Clint knows it’s just a damned tape measure, he knows that, but he can’t see it and it could be anything -- it could be a knife or a needle or a motherfucking bone saw or anything at all, and then he’s touching Clint’s wing, right along the very edge of it, and Bucky doesn’t even touch him there when he can help it.

Each tiny metal plate is over sensitive and it sends a rush of electrical impulse rushing up Clint’s spine to his head, impact feeling almost like a sharp blow there.

The pain is unexpected and Clint’s already so off balance. He reacts instinctively, snapping them shut, which causes more pain, and the doctor is in the way and holding medical implements and Clint lashes out blindly.

He can’t see, can’t hear beyond the buzzing in his head, and the doctor backs off right away, but it’s still too much, and Clint scrambles to get away. He slams into a desk and kicks at it, shoving it against the wall with a crash. He turns, tries to push his way free, but his wings are in the way and he’s feeling claustrophobic and so scared and everything gets tangled up in his head so he doesn’t know if he’s home or if he’s back there, begging them not to hurt him again and choking on his own tears and blood.

His throat is full of blood, he can feel it, and he starts to choke, his legs giving out. He falls to his knees and vomits and each heaving breath makes his back feel more twisted, sends more pain signals to his brain.

“I’m sorry, sorry,” he keeps stammering, because he knows it’s just the rehab doctor and he’s safe but for all that he knows it, it feels like his body is on a runaway train of flashbacks and terror. He scrambles across the floor, until his back is slammed into the corner, which just makes his wings hurt more, and he hides his face and trembles and tries to get a fucking grip.

He’s not sure how long it takes before he’s able to such in a somewhat stable breath and lift his head, and when he does, he finds Bucky there, sitting close but not too close, his legs crossed, one hand wrapped around Clint’s ankle, thumb running up and down his ankle bone, a careful but comforting presence.

“Back with me?” Bucky asks mildly, smiling just a little.

Clint swallows hard and blinks back tears and looks around, but the doctor is gone. He grimaces, wrinkling his nose, and says, “I freaked out.”

“Yeah.”

“And I puked.”

“Tony says not to worry, he’s got the best janitorial staff in the city,” Bucky agrees.

Clint closes his eyes and lets his head thump back against the wall and says, “Sorry. I just -- sorry.”

“Nah. Don’t worry about it. You think that doc hasn’t dealt with flashbacks before? He’s fine. You’re fine. He left some exercises for you to try. Gotta build up your core strength. Clearly he’s never seen your abs.”

Clint cocks his head, still coming down from his anxiety attack, and says, “You been checking out my abs, Barnes?”

Bucky grins faintly and says, “Everyone in this tower’s seen ‘em. You’re allergic to shirts before you’ve got your morning coffee.”

Clint laughs a little, exhausted, and says, “I try. Hard to get my arms through the sleeves before coffee. It’s probably gonna be even worse now, with these.”

“Tony says he’s got a plan for that,” Bucky tells him. “Something about not subjecting the rest of us to your bare chest before breakfast if he can help it. You ready to try getting up?”

Clint holds out a hand for him and says, “Maybe you should just give me a piggyback to my room.”

Bucky’s eyebrow shoots up but he just smiles a tiny bit and says, “Sure, Barton. I’ll give you a piggyback.”

Clint ought to have been suspicious by how fast he agreed, and specifically what he agreed to.

*

The elevator stops on the communal floor and Clint kicks Bucky in the thigh, tightens his hold on Bucky’s shoulders, and says, “This is not my room.”

“Never agreed to bring you there,” Bucky says mildly, hoisting Clint up a little higher. He doesn’t even struggle under Clint’s weight, even with the addition of the wings, just carries him over to the kitchen bar and drops him unceremoniously onto a bar stool.

Tony beams at him and says, “Barton! Joining us for dinner? Excellent, I’ve got some shirt prototypes to go over with you, and Sam’s cooking so you probably won’t even get food poisoning.”

It’s a lot -- too much for someone who’s spent weeks locked away in his room wallowing in self pity, but the elevator is far away and Clint’s pretty sure he’ll drop and fall before he makes it there. He tries sending Bucky a pleading look, but Bucky has joined Steve over at the table, doesn’t even glance over, and Clint’s all on his own.

He takes a deep breath and looks from Tony’s grin to Sam’s concerned frown, and says, “It smells real good, Sam.”

Tony’s grin grows even brighter and more manic and he drops into the stool across from Clint and says, “Don’t worry. We don’t bite.” And then he’s shoving over shirt designs that look far more complicated than Clint thinks they ought to, but he does his best to keep breathing and no one tries to touch him and after a while, he begins to relax, a little.

These are his friends. He’s safe here.

He catches Bucky looking over every now and again to make sure he’s doing okay, and that’s enough.

*

Wish you were here.

Natasha doesn’t reply right away, which isn’t a surprise, and Clint sighs, tossing his phone aside. He’s agitated, pacing, irritated with the pain in his wings, which his Shield-appointed therapist says might be psychosomatic. Apparently he’s so disgusted with his own body that his brain is manifesting physical pain to explain the movement of his own limbs.

Of course it’s his own goddamn fault. It’s all in his head. But it fucking hurts. And he’s agitated enough after that therapy session that he’s moving the wings on purpose, just to feel the pain, because he fucking deserves to feel the pain. At least it keeps him grounded, keeps him from slipping into flashbacks or panic attacks or anything else.

Besides. The physiotherapist says he needs to work on getting used to using them. So he is. Stretching them out as far as he can, until the pain makes his vision start whiting out. Then he crumples them against his back, an untidy tangle of metal plates and sharp edges.

He’s feeling claustrophobic, both in this tower, and in his own body. Sometimes he wants to split his skin open, escape it somehow, leave it and the wings behind.

Instead, he keeps breathing and pacing and snapping his wings and clenching his teeth and his fists.

What else had the therapist said? Something about getting back to normal routines. And what would Clint normally do when he was feeling agitated and trapped and disgusted with himself?

He heads down to the range, which is, thank fuck, empty.

Because that’s another thing the therapist said, over and over again. Just because he’s been changed so fundamentally doesn’t mean he isn’t still Clint Barton, and being Hawkeye is an essential part of being Clint Barton and the sooner he gets back to that, the sooner he’ll realize that his new body can fit into his old life and hopefully all the PTSD about his body starts to ease.

Besides. It’s been too fucking long since he shot a bow.

He grabs his practice bow and a handful of arrows, asking Jarvis to set up the targets for him, and the bow feels familiar and soothing. Jarvis dims the light and it’s just Clint and the target and the bow in his hands.

He’s always had a skill for this, for breathing in and breathing out and instinctively calculating everything that might have the slightest impact on his shot.

It’s always been as easy as breathing.

It’s just, since he was taken by Hydra and cut open and put back together again, breathing hasn’t been the easiest thing.

His first shot goes wide by a few millimeters -- no one else would have known but Clint knows, and he feels wrong-footed, off balance.

But he breathes in and he nocks another arrow and he draws back and he breathes out and he shoots.

Maybe it’s that his hands have started to shake, but the arrow is even farther from the bullseye than the first.

So he tries again.

And again.

And again.

And if Hydra has taken this from him too, he’s not going to be able to handle it. He’s not going to have a reason to wake up in the morning, to get out of bed, to figure out how the fuck to exist when his body isn’t his body any more.

None of the arrows hit the bullseye. His shots go wider and wider the harder it is to breathe, and he’s hiccuping, gasping with rage, with panic, by the end. He takes a shot and it hits the metal brace beside the target and falls to the ground and Clint…

He can’t.

He screams, a visceral, enraged sound that tears at his throat as he throws his bow and storms into the weapons locker. He’s not in control -- he’s barely aware of anything other than his fury, and underneath it, terror that no matter how much physio he does, how many therapists he talks to, he’s never gonna be Hawkeye again.

Clint’s never had much of a temper but he can’t stop himself now, tearing open the gun locker and grabbing a handgun, knocking three others to the ground. He grabs a clip and shoves it into the gun and goes back to the range.

He fires every bullet into the target and misses the bullseye each time, and he throws the gun, going back into the locker and grabbing another.

But why bother? He’ll just miss with that one too.

It’s almost a blackout -- just an overwhelming need to destroy things, to scream and tear the world apart the way he’s been torn apart. He shoves over lockers and safes, kicks over benches and desks, tearing the room apart.

“Barton!”

When Bucky finally grabs him, it’s instinct to lash out at him. Clint snarls, shoving at the arm that’s on his shoulder, kicking out violently. Bucky just steps back, moving easily out of the way of his fists and his feet, moving backwards until his back hits the wall and Clint’s fist finally makes contact with his jaw.

Bucky leans into the momentum of the blow, grabbing Clint’s wrist, twisting his arm up behind him, and slamming him into the wall, pinned face down, his wings crushed against Bucky’s chest. It’s a stinging, burning pain and it helps, a little.

Clint’s breathing hard and still so fucking angry and Bucky just holds him there, firm but without pain, as Clint thrashes against his grip.

When he finally goes limp, Bucky says quietly, “You done, Barton?”

Clint closes his eyes and doesn’t reply.

“You wanna fight, we can fight,” Bucky says, still calm. “But maybe take it down to the gym, where we’re not damaging thousands of dollars in weaponry. You know Tony’ll make you pay for it.”

“Tony never makes me pay for it,” Clint says finally, and Bucky lets him go.

He doesn’t back away, though, just shifts his hands up to the wall on either side of Clint’s head, still caging him in and watching him carefully as Clint turns around.

He’s sweaty and breathing hard and still flexing his fingers with the need to break something. And Bucky’s right there.

Clint shoves at his chest, hard, and says, “Back off.”

“Not til you calm down,” Bucky says. He doesn’t even move, and Clint tries to push him again, harder. “Steve’s got a strict ‘no panic attacks in the range’ policy.”

“Just leave me the fuck alone,” Clint snaps at him, and Bucky smiles a little and shakes his head.

“Not a chance. Tell me why you’re so mad.”

“I can’t -- I’m not --” He presses both fists to his face and breathes and tries to put into words that he just wants -- needs -- to hurt. Because apparently that’s all his body is good for anymore.

“Hey,” Bucky says, quiet and gentle, tugging Clint’s hands away from his face. Clint doesn’t fucking want gentle right now, but Bucky pins Clint’s wrists against his chest and studies his face and Clint doesn’t think he’s got much left for Bucky to see.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Bucky says.

Clint twists against his hold but Bucky doesn’t let go and Clint wishes he was holding tighter, tight enough to bruise, but no matter how hard he tries, Bucky doesn’t hurt him. And Clint wants so badly for someone to hurt him so he can stop thinking about how much it hurts just to be him.

So he does something stupid and rash and dangerous and he’s pretty sure Bucky’s gonna punch him in the face for it. He slams his mouth against Bucky’s and kisses him -- a furious, angry, biting, hard kiss, more of an attack than anything else.

Bucky goes still against him and doesn’t kiss back -- doesn’t even have much of a chance before Clint’s pulling away and slamming his head back against the wall and glaring at Bucky, daring him to react, to lash out, to hurt Clint the way he wants to be hurt.

But Bucky just looks at him, considering, and blinks slowly. He transfers Clint’s wrists into one hand, still holding them easily, and then cups Clint’s jaw with the other hand.

“We can do that too,” Bucky says, careful. “If you want.”

Clint jerks his head away and he tries to snap, but it comes out sounding much more broken than he intends. “I just -- just, hurt me.”

Bucky’s thumb brushes his bottom lip and he says, “Nah, Barton. Not gonna do that.”

Clint lashes out, trying to kick him, to shove at him, but Bucky stays calm and unmoving and it’s so fucking frustrating. So Clint kisses him again, angry and hard and Bucky kisses him back this time, gentle and sweet, even after Clint bites his lip too hard, tastes blood in his own mouth.

When he pulls away, Bucky just licks the bit of blood off his bottom lip and says gently, “Not gonna do it, Barton, but you can keep trying as long as you need to.”

Clint slams his head back against the wall again, venting his frustration in an animalistic snarl, and Bucky just moves closer, so they are chest to chest, Clint’s hands pinned between them. Bucky presses a soft, careful kiss to the corner of his lips and then slides back to his ear, and the feeling of his face pressed up next to Clint’s, his breath brushing Clint’s ear, is intimate and gentle and nothing at all that Clint wants.

“When I first woke, after Hydra did this to me, I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the middle of the afternoon without a hint of wind,” he says, still so fucking gentle, like Clint is fragile. Breakable, but not already broken. “Your body is off-balance. Your mind is off-balance. You need to heal, not hurt yourself worse.”

“But I can’t,” Clint says, ragged. “If I can’t shoot, I’m nothing.”

“Everything that made you Hawkeye is still there,” Bucky tells him, leaning back a little to study his face. “You know how to adjust for wind, for trajectory, for any number of calculations. You just need to recalibrate for this. And you will. Okay?”

Clint swallows hard and nods and sees Bucky flash him a grin.

“And even Hawkeye on his worst day is better than just about anybody else at their best. Except me.”

“Asshole,” Clint says, but it’s with a faint, watery smile.

Bucky steps away, carefully letting go of his wrists, and says, “You ready to help me clean this up before Tony sends in a cleaning crew?”

Clint’s still shaky, but his feet feel more firmly on the ground, so he nods and says, quiet, “Thanks, Buck.”

Bucky just shakes his head with a quirk of his lips and starts shoving lockers back into place.

*

Clint isn’t surprised when Bucky shows up after he’s only been on the roof for five minutes or so.

“You’ve got Jarvis spying on me,” he says, but he’s not angry about it. Last time he tried sneaking around, he passed out in the elevator -- not to mention what happened in the range.

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees, handing Clint a cup of coffee before sitting beside him on the ledge, feet hanging over the ground, so far below. “You doing okay?”

“You’ve gotta have better things to do than follow me around.”

Bucky shrugs, sipping from his own mug. “Maybe. Not at 3AM, though.”

“Sleeping rates pretty highly on my list of best things to be doing,” Clint says. “Specially at 3AM.”

“Then why ain’t you doing it?”

Clint lets out a long sigh, staring down at the ground. “Been cutting back on pain medication,” he admits. “Apparently not being drugged means not sleeping as well.”

Bucky studies him for a minute. “Nightmares?”

Shrugging, Clint squints up at the sky and says, “Makes sense, right?”

“Drinking helps,” Bucky tells him and Clint laughs, shooting him a quick look and a smile.

“Does it? I don’t think whatever shrink they eventually send me to is gonna approve.”

Bucky smiles a little and says, “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

They sit in silence for a while, close enough that their shoulders nearly brush, and everything feels new and strange to Clint. It’s a cool, breezy night, and the sensation of wind brushing over the plates on his wings are sending strange electrical impulses up and down his spine, feelings of pressure and pain. The shirt Tony made for him is pulling strangely and doesn’t do much to keep the chill out -- probably because of the two slashes down the back, which lace up under the spots where the wings are grafted to his skin.

“You ever think what it’s gonna be like to fly?” Bucky asks him, staring up at the sky.

Clint looks at him sideways and says, “Honestly, I’m still looking to master walking through a fucking door without slamming into the door frame.”

Bucky laughs. “You were clumsy before the wings, maybe set your expectations a bit more realistically.”

“Jerk,” Clint says, and it’s quiet and companionable for a moment. Apparently Clint is terrible at contemplative silence. “Uhm,” he says. “So. I’m sorry.”

Bucky arches one eyebrow and says, “About which part? The punch to the jaw or the shoving?”

“The, uh. Kissing.” He grimaces. “And biting.”

Bucky grins. “Aw, Barton,” he says. “Was it really that bad? Guess I’m outta practice.”

“That bad?” Clint stammers. “Bucky. I punched you. I bit you. I--”

“You were pissed off,” Bucky says easily. “Ain’t gonna complain about how you chose to work that out. Besides, I never minded a bit of biting.”

Clint can feel his cheeks going a bit pink and he doesn’t know what to do with that, so he stares at Bucky for a minute or two with his mouth gaping and finally manages to say, “Out of practice?”

“Ain’t much time for kissing between missions for Hydra,” Bucky tells him, and Clint stares at Bucky’s mouth for a moment too long and then licks his own lips and it’s such a stupid cliche but now that they’re talking about kissing, he can’t seem to look away.

“That’s -- I’m real sorry that kissing me was --”

“Aw, hell, Barton,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes, and then before Clint can blink or panic or say something stupid, Bucky’s hand is around the back of his neck, tugging him close, and Bucky’s kissing him -- and where earlier, it had been a careful, gentle kiss like he’d been afraid Clint was going to break, this one is to prove a point.

And the point is, apparently, that Bucky Barnes is not out of practice at all.

When he finally pulls back, it’s only a little, like he’s already anticipating the fact that Clint’s vision is going a little spotty and he’s dizzy. The fact that he’s clinging to Bucky’s shoulders is probably all the evidence he needs.

“I already told you I didn’t mind it,” Bucky tells him, rough.

Clint closes his eyes and rests his forehead against Bucky’s and says, “Don’t be mad but is this a pity thing? A ‘we both got mutilated by Hydra’ bonding experience?”

Bucky laughs. “No.”

Clint swallows hard and smiles, feeling a little stupid with adrenaline and nerves. “You just turned on by wings, Barnes?”

He likes being close enough to feel Bucky’s laughter in his chest, he learns a moment later. “Nah,” Bucky says. Then he pauses and adds,“Like ‘em on you, though. But it’s more like, the guy who’s abs I’ve been unable to get outta my head is having a really fucking shitty time and I wish I could help and, hell, if kissing’s what it takes, then sign me the fuck up.”

Clint lifts his head, blinking at Bucky a few times, considering those words, and then saying solemnly, “The physical therapist did say I had fucking fantastic abs.”

“Your sparkling personality’s not so bad either,” Bucky tells him, before kissing the laughter right off his stupid mouth.

*

Clint keeps going to physio. And to therapy. And it sucks. And Natasha comes back and tells him that anyone who knows anything is mysteriously dead and all she can find out is that they did this to him just to fucking see if they could.

And things get easier. He begins to adjust to his new centre of gravity. He spends more and more time in the range with Bucky, learning how to hold his shoulders and his breath and how to compensate for his new range of motion.

He keeps trying to work out the buzzing pain in his wings, the one that keeps zapping up and down his spinal column and pooling in his fingers.

And whenever he gets too agitated or claustrophobic in his body and his skin, Bucky takes him by the hands or the shoulders or the waist or any spot in between and kisses him and kisses him until Clint remembers that his body is still his body and Hydra hasn’t taken everything from him after all.

Sometimes Bucky massages the pain out of his shoulders, or strokes his fingers gently, carefully, along the metal plates and scales on his wings, and it hurts, but in a soft sort of way.

If anyone else tries to touch him, he panics.

But it’s getting better.

And then one night, he has a nightmare -- a brutal nightmare, where he’s suspended by metal hooks and he’s not in Hydra’s cell anymore, he’s in a slaughterhouse, and everyone he knows is standing around him, armed with markers, drawing over his naked body and talking about which parts of him they want to cut off and what they’ll use those parts for. Sam wants his legs and Tony wants him from the neck up and Natasha thinks his heart will be the sweetest part to taste. Steve’s interested in his artists hands and Bucky can’t find a piece he wants at all.

And then they bring out the bone saw and start cutting him up and he can feel every single fucking cut, grinding through flesh and bone as he screams and begs them to stop.

He wakes up screaming, tangled in his blanket, his wings crushed against him, and he flails and thrashes and twists and ends up falling from his bed and landing on his back, hard.

So hard that there is a wave of white hot pain blasting through his spine, through his bones, making his muscles contact so, so painfully and his wings curl up. His vision whites out and the same sharp pain slices through his brain and then, as his vision slowly, slowly drips back into place, he hears Jarvis calling his name.

“Are you alright, Mr. Barton?” Jarvis asks.

And Clint lays where he’s fallen and breathes and breathes and breathes and he tries to get up but he can’t move so he lays still and keeps fucking breathing.

And then he says, “Jarvis. I can’t move my legs.”

Jarvis promises to call for help and Clint just lays there, broken and unable to sit up, to move, to untangle himself from his blankets.

So he breathes and breathes and breathes because there’s nothing else he can do.

*

Bucky gets there first, and Clint’s not exactly sure how long it takes, because he’s got both hands pressed to his eyes and he’s just trying to keep breathing.

“Barton,” Bucky says, and then there’s a pause and he’s at Clint’s side, kneeling, tugging at his hands. “Hey, Clint, it’s okay, I got you, what’s wrong?”

“I fell,” Clint says, swallowing hard. Still breathing. “I fell and landed on my back and it hurt so bad and now I can’t -- my legs aren’t working. I can’t get up, I can’t -- Bucky, I can’t.”

Bucky sucks in a breath and says, “Okay. Okay, it’s okay. Jarvis, wake Steve, will you? And Tony. And maybe a doctor -- we probably need a doctor, tell Steve we need a doctor. Don’t worry, Clint, I got you, it’s fine, we’ll fix it.”

“Yeah,” Clint agrees faintly. He lets Bucky pull his hands away and he blinks up at the ceiling and he wonders why he’s not screaming or fighting or even trying to sit up. He’s just -- numb. Empty. Like his brain just can’t handle anymore panicking, thanks, so it’s just not feeling anything at all.

Like his legs.

He snickers a little.

“Jesus, Clint,” Bucky says. “Breathe, okay? Everything’s fine. Do you feel this?”

Clint stares at him blankly and says, “I don’t feel anything. My head’s empty.”

Bucky looks rattled and it’s the first time he hasn’t been all in control and competent and Clint wants to reassure him, but. He can’t feel his goddamn legs.

He closes his eyes instead and welcomes the floaty, distant feeling he’s got going on. It’s so much nicer than giving a fuck about his body fucking him over again.

Bucky takes his hand. Clint can feel it so he squeezes back and just… floats.

“I think he’s in shock,” Bucky says, and Clint blinks his eyes open to find Steve there, frowning.

“Hey, Steve,” he mumbles.

“Medics are on their way.”

*

They pack him up onto a stretcher and carry him off to the medical floor -- the paramedics want to bring him to the hospital but Tony vetoes it, because what hospital is equipped to deal with an Avenger with wings who broke his back?

So they take him to the medical ward and kick everyone without a medical licence out and Clint’s just… there. But nothing feels real.

He’s stretched out on his stomach surrounded by knives and medical instruments and it’s just like Hydra all over again and he doesn’t want it to feel real.

He closes his eyes while they do x-rays and vaguely listens while the entire medical team goes over the results and mumbles things about MRI machines and the composition of the metal bracketing his spine and the wires grafted into his body and nothing is real and nothing hurts anymore and Bucky was right, he’s probably in shock, but being in shock is infinitely better than giving a shit.

They talk to him and he doesn’t hear it or respond to it and all he mumbles is, “Tasha can decide,” because she’s been his next of kin for forever anyway.

And then they leave and Clint hugs a pillow to his chest and can’t feel his toes so he stares out the window and wonders what it would have been like to fly.

The door opens and it’s Bucky, looking just a little pale. “How’re you doing?” he asks, soft. The room is so quiet, he probably doesn’t want to break the silence.

Clint musters up a smile and holds out his hand and Bucky looks relieved and takes it. “Doing good,” Clint says vaguely and Bucky rolls his eyes.

“Sure you are,” he says.

“Little bit cold.”

Bucky smooths a blanket over him and sits at his side again, holding Clint’s hand with his metal one, stroking the other down between his shoulders and his wings.

It’s the first time Bucky’s touched him without causing little staticky shocks of pain. Instead, there’s just… nothing.

Someone starts shouting in the hall and Clint opens his eyes -- he can’t recall closing them. He’s vaguely interested and Bucky says, “Tony’s disagreeing with medical expertise.”

“Typical,” Clint says with a snort.

He closes his eyes again.

*

“But I can fix it.”

Clint jerks awake as the door swings open, slamming against the wall. Tony’s there, looking pissed, followed by the medical team and Natasha.

“With all due respect, Mr. Stark, you haven’t studied medicine,” the head doctor says, and Tony rolls his eyes.

“And it’s not a medical problem. A doctor can’t fix this, you need a fucking engineer.” He spreads his arms wide. “Like me.”

“It’s Clint’s decision,” Natasha says, which is such a betrayal. He shoots her a glare and she shrugs, apologetic. Before the doctors or Tony can start making their case, she says simply, “Hydra fucked up when they did their wiring and it’s shorted out. Tony thinks he can redo it --”

“But better,” Tony says.

“The doctors think the whole thing needs to be removed.”

“Which will make this permanent,” Bucky says. She nods.

“Our first mistake was thinking anything Hydra did would be up to standards,” Tony rants. “Fucking butchers.”

Clint blinks slowly, trying to figure out how he cares about any of this, but he just wants to sleep. “Is this why it hurts all the time?” he asks Tony. “Whenever they move, or whenever anybody touches them?”

Tony grimaces. “The entire system isn’t designed for comfort,” he says. “I’d imagine you’ve been experiencing shocks and possibly internal burns the whole time. It was only a matter of time before you shorted the system out.”

“He’s been burning inside whenever I touch him?” Bucky asks, horrified.

“I never minded,” Clint mumbles, closing his eyes again.

“No,” Natasha says, firm. “Clint. You’ve got to make a decision. Do you want the doctors to remove all of it or do you want Tony to try to fix it?”

“You decide,” he says, sounding pouty even to himself. “I’m too -- I just. I can’t.”

Clint.”

He squeezes his eyes shut because they’re starting to burn with tears. “You could -- I could just stay like this,” he says. “Couldn’t I? It doesn’t hurt now, and no one’s gotta cut me open again--” He flinches, flashbacks making his voice wobble, because he’s been here before, he’s been cut open and stitched back up different and it was never his choice before and now they’re expecting him to make a choice? He can’t -- he won’t -- let anybody cut him open, he can’t.

“Clint,” Bucky says, quiet. “Breathe.”

“I am breathing,” he says. “It’s all I’m doing.”

“Nah. You’re freaking out.”

And Clint wonders if he said all that out loud and wonders if he cares because he doesn’t want to care about anything anymore, and then he remembers begging Bucky to hurt him because hurting was all he’s good for anymore and then he laughs and starts to cry at the same time because now he doesn’t even hurt anymore.

So doesn’t that mean he’s good for nothing?

“If we leave it the way it is, the wiring will degrade,” Tony says, solemn. “And as it does, blood poisoning is your best case scenario. And a case of sepsis never did anybody any good.”

“So what do you want, Barton?” Bucky asks, painfully gentle, as he wipes away Clint’s tears with his thumbs. “Up to you.”

Clint wants none of this to have happened. He wants to be whole again. He wants to shoot a bow without having to care how the wind is catching in his wings and throwing him off balance.

He supposes maybe he even wants Sam to teach him how to fly.

Clint looks from the impatient doctors to Tony to Bucky and says to him, “If I -- if I choose this, if I let Tony fix me, then it’s my choice. Then I chose it. It’s mine. My body is mine again. Right?”

A faint smile flickers at Bucky’s lips and he holds Clint’s hand even more tightly and says, “Yeah, Barton. Means no more bitching about it, just gotta accept it and make the best of it.”

“The best like flying.”

Bucky nods and presses a kiss to the hand he’s got clutched in his and says, “Like that.”

“Okay.” Clint takes a big, shaky breath and then looks at Tony and says, “Can you fix me?”

Tony nods once, grimly, and says, “I’ll do my best.”

It means bringing in different equipment, stuff Clint’s seen in Tony’s lab -- seen him using on his robots, and bubbles of anxiety well up in his chest, but Bucky’s still there holding his hands and glaring at Tony and the doctors as they argue about the best way to do this.

Clint decides focusing on Bucky instead of the rest is the best idea, so he forces a shaky smile and says, “You’re gonna be so jealous when I can shoot better than you even when I’m flying.”

Bucky rests his chin on the bed so their foreheads are practically pressed together and says, “You can’t shoot better than me with both feet on the ground, Barton. I’m not worried.”

He can hear them all in the room, planning how they’re going to take him apart, the best way to put him together again, and he does his best not to listen, just holding Bucky’s hand and breathing. Bucky keeps talking, quiet and calm and the words don’t mean much, but his voice is just about the only thing that keeps Clint sane.

Someone sends for Bruce to assist and Natasha kisses Clint’s forehead and says, “I’m proud of you for making that choice. I’ll see you after.”

But Bucky still doesn’t leave, even after the x-ray machines are in place and Tony is marking up his back with a sharpie to plan points of entry.

“Ready,” Tony says, crouching down beside Bucky at the head of the bed, so Clint can see him more easily. “We got this, Hawkguy, don’t worry. Doc’s gonna knock you out, you won’t feel a thing, and when it’s over, you’ll probably feel better than you have since this whole thing happened. Okay?”

“Sure, Tony,” Clint says, like he’s not shaking and scared. But he doesn’t have to feel it this time, at least. Hydra was never that concerned with what he could feel.

A doctor takes one of his hands from Bucky, slips an IV need into it, and Clint doesn’t watch. Just watches Bucky. And breathes.

Breathing’s really fucking important.

“Ready?” Bucky asks him, and Clint nods. “I’ll be right here when you wake up.”

“And it won’t hurt anymore,” Clint mumbles, eyelids growing heavy.

“And maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll take you out. On a date.”

Clint forces his eyes open and Bucky’s smiling at him so he tries to smile back. “Worth waking up for,” he says, words slurring.

“Counting on it,” Bucky tells him, and then Clint slips away.

*

Clint wakes up slow. It’s sleepy and sweet and drugged all to hell and he’s in his own bedroom and that’s amazing.

“Hey sweetheart,” Bucky says, and Clint smiles at him, all crooked and soft at the edges.

“All done already?”

“You’ve been sleeping a week,” he says, and he looks tired.

Clint reaches out with clumsy fingers to pat his cheek and misses by a mile. Bucky grabs his hand and holds it tight. “You shoulda been sleeping a week,” he says and Bucky smiles tiredly at him.

“Reckon I should’ve been,” he agrees.

Clint drifts for a moment, searching through hazy fragments of memory and trying to put together what happened to get him here, drugged up and in bed, with Bucky looking that ragged.

And then he remembers falling out of bed and the pain and panic of being stuck.

He wiggles his toes and beams and says, “Tony fixed it?”

“Yeah, Barton,” Bucky says with a strangled little laugh. “He fixed it.”

“Sweet,” Clint mumbles, and Bucky runs his fingers through Clint’s hair and that feels real nice, and Clint’s entire face lights up. “Ooh, Bucky, touch me.”

Bucky blinks at him. “You’re barely conscious, I’m not gonna--”

So Clint clumsily grabs his hand and pulls it towards where he can feel his wings, curled up against his back. Bucky gets the idea and breathes out quietly before brushing his fingers over the metal plates.

And Clint’s eyes go very wide. “Oh,” he breathes, because he can feel it all the way down to his toes, a feather-light touch without even the hint of pain. Bucky’s watching his face carefully, warily, but when Clint doesn’t flinch, he touches him more firmly, tracing the places where the metal plates intersect.

“Does it hurt?” Bucky asks, clearing his throat, his voice a little rough. Clint hums dreamily and Bucky laughs, soft, taking that as an answer. “Tony said they were meant to be super sensitive, so you can feel and adjust to the wind, but the sensors weren’t calibrated properly, so it hurt.”

“Feels good now,” Clint mumbles, closing his eyes. “Keep touching me.”

“Demanding,” Bucky says, but Clint can hear his smile, and he keeps stroking his palms over the wings, tracing their edges, learning them both with his flesh hand and his metal one, and Clint wants to roll over and purr.

He falls asleep instead, and there’s probably drool involved, but he’s too drugged up to have any dignity left anyway.

*

Everything is different when it doesn’t hurt to move.

The incisions heal, leaving behind a network of scars layered over his network of scars, but Clint doesn’t care.

It doesn’t hurt to move. It doesn’t hurt to be touched. It doesn’t hurt to breathe.

Everything is better on account of it.

*

Bucky finds Clint in the bathroom, wings spread, mirror in one hand as he tries to twist himself around to see the place where his wings have been grafted onto his back.

Clint knows he’s there -- to be honest, he thought Bucky would show up sooner, that Jarvis would’ve told on him as soon as he spent more time than necessary staring at his own reflection.

But Clint isn’t having a panic attack this time. He’s just -- he’s looking. He’s studying the wings, touching them with his fingers as best he can, learning the feel of the metallic scales, watching the way they catch the light and gleam dully, dark the way Bucky’s arm is dark. He’s learning the way they move, the way it feels when they move, when it’s not shrouded under a burning sort of pain.

He’s stretching them as far as he can to see how much room they take up.

And he’s trying to see the damned scars he knows must markup his back.

Bucky’s shirtless when he appears in the doorway, wearing a pair of Clint’s old sweats that are barely holding it together at his thighs. He’s cradling a cup of coffee, his real fingers and his metal fingers tangled together around it like he doesn’t even feel the difference anymore.

“Whatcha doing?” he asks, leaning a hip against the door frame and sipping his coffee.

“I can’t --” Clint grunts, twisting again, trying to see. “I just want to see.”

Bucky hums a bit, swallowing as he sets his coffee aside, and comes closer. Clint watches his face in the mirror as he studies Clint’s back, and then Bucky says, “What are you looking for?”

“There are scars,” Clint says. “I can feel them sometimes, when I move. I just want to see -- it’s my back and I don’t know what it looks like anymore.”

“There are scars, yeah,” Bucky agrees quietly. “Healing, though.”

“Bad scars? Are they ugly?” Clint asks him, voice just a little weaker than he meant it to be.

“Nah,” Bucky says, and then he reaches up and trails his fingers down Clint’s back, between his wings, tracing the network of scars Clint knows must be there -- scars from Tony and scars from Hydra.

He shivers at Bucky’s touch and leans forward to bare more of his back, catching himself with both hands on the mirror.

“Scars like yours?” he asks, a little breathy.

Bucky hums again, following the network of scars down his back, to his hips. “Scars that show you’ve been through hell,” he says, quiet. “Like me.”

And then he leans forward and presses the lightest, gentlest kiss on the scars right between Clint’s wings, and it’s not what Clint was looking for -- he just wanted confirmation, just wanted to know what it looked like.

The kiss catches him off balance and his breath catches in his throat even as he arches back into the careful touch, shivering. Bucky’s hands slip around to his stomach, holding him steady, and Clint thinks that’s it, he’s done, there’s no way his knees are gonna hold him up with Bucky’s palm pressed to his stomach, his lips against the scars on his back.

But then Bucky presses another, firmer kiss against the scars just below his first kiss, and Clint screws his eyes shut and bites his lip against the need to make some sort of whiny, breathless, embarrassing sound.

Bucky slides lower, another press of his lips and Clint can’t take it anymore, clenching his hands into fists and saying desperately, “Bucky.”

“Shut your mouth,” Bucky says, soft. “I’m kissing it better.”

Clint laughs a little tearfully and then leans his forehead on his fists, eyes still closed. “It’s already better.”

“Don’t you take this from me,” Bucky says, grazing his back with his teeth, a quick nip that has Clint jumping with an embarrassing squeak. “It hurt when I touched you and you never told me. And then you were broken and I couldn’t fix you.”

Clint smiles a bit as Bucky works his way lower and says, “I told you, I never minded. I thought that’s just… how touch was gonna feel now. How everything was gonna feel. And I never minded when it was you.”

Bucky kisses his way back up again, dragging his hands up too, and Clint can’t help a soft whine as he does, arching his back, wings spreading wide as Bucky kisses between them again.

“I minded,” Bucky says. “Didn’t ever want to hurt you.”

“You’re the only reason I’m still here,” Clint confesses, and it’s too raw and honest and he wishes he could take it back the second the words are out of his mouth because no one ever needs to know how close he came to just… not waking up, before.

He feels Bucky breathing against his back, a rough exhale, and then Bucky’s got him by the shoulder, turning him so his back is pressed up against the mirror, wings spread against it.

Clint opens his mouth to apologize, to take it back, but Bucky just presses against him, holding him there and pushing up into a kiss.

It’s careful and bittersweet and Clint thinks of anybody could kiss this better, it would be Bucky.

The kiss gets a little rougher, a little deeper, and Clint doesn’t mind. And then Bucky’s hands brush against his wings and they’re so sensitive, the sensation is so overwhelming, that Clint breaks the kiss when his head slams back against the mirror and he gasps, wings arching.

“Jesus,” he breathes, and Bucky’s panting, just watching his face as his fingers work their way along the edges of his wings.

“I’m real glad you’re still here,” Bucky tells him, and then they’re kissing again, and Bucky isn’t careful at all anymore.

Later, when Bucky falls to his knees, Clint just tangles his hand in Bucky’s hair and holds on and tries to catch his breath and is just so, so grateful that he’s remembered how to breathe at all.

*

And Clint, finally, starts to heal.

Physio is irritating but effective. Therapy is even more irritating, but he actually makes progress, which his doctor says comes from having finally been given a choice about what happens to his body.

Clint thinks most of his progress has to do with finally being able to breathe without thinking about it, but no one asks his opinion so he doesn’t bother to give it. All that matters is that he can be around his friends without worrying that they’re going to touch him and the pain is going to send him into a flashback and he’s going to hurt someone. He can spread his wings and it feels as good as stretching in the morning does, and it doesn’t remind him of being cut open and stapled back together again. He can sleep on his motherfucking back.

And Bucky takes him out for pizza in Brooklyn and doesn’t mind that Clint wears three sweaters and a long coat to hide his wings.

And they hold hands.

And they keep up the kissing. And the touching -- Clint’s a big fan of the touching.

And for the first time in so long, it feels like he’s in control. And nothing hurts.

And Sam starts teaching him how to fly.

*

Flying lessons happen at the Avengers facility upstate, with less likelihood of the media getting in the way, and less distance to the ground if something goes wrong. Instead, there are miles and miles of landscaped grass to break his fall, and for Natasha, Steve, Tony and Bucky to gather on to watch his first attempt.

(The awkward and tragic attempts in the gym with a harness don’t count because Clint has already willfully forgotten them.)

“Maybe we should start from the ground,” Sam says, worrying, and Clint waves down at Bucky, Nat, Steve and Tony, who all wave back.

“Nope. My dignity wouldn’t survive it,” Clint tells him. “It’s now or never -- what’s the worst that’ll happen? If I fall, you’ll catch me. Or Tony will. Or Bucky -- but that’s a last resort. Don’t tell him he’s a last resort. Let’s do this.”

“If you die, he’s gonna kill me,” Sam says, but he gamely climbs up onto the ledge at the edge of the building.

“Nah. Nat’ll kill you before he even thinks of it,” Clint says with a bright grin.

He spreads his wings and closes his eyes and feels each teeny, tiny fluctuation of the wind running through his hair and over his wings, and it’s not so different from shooting an arrow, really -- instinctive recalibrations.

“Ready?” Sam asks. “Remember what I said about thrust and watch out for air pockets and --”

Clint grins at him and says, “Got it. See you at the bottom!”

And then he runs and jumps while Sam is still cursing behind him.

He falls for a few seconds, a wild free fall where he’s too stunned to flap his wings and then he gets his shit together and spreads his wings and catches a bit of an updraft which is amazing because flapping his wings turns out to take way, way more strength than he is prepared to muster just yet.

Sam’s got him by the wrist a moment later, holding him and still cursing up a storm.

“Idiot,” he calls. “Want me to put you down?”

Clint beams up at him and shakes his head and says, “Take me high enough that I figure out what to do before I hit the ground!”

Below, Bucky, who apparently heard what he said, starts shouting furiously, but Sam just rolls his eyes and says, “If you die, Barton, I swear to god…”

They go higher and higher, until Clint starts to get dizzy and Bucky’s just a speck on the ground and then Sam lets go.

He falls, spiralling down, down, down, and by the time he figures out his wings, he’s laughing, and he’s got just enough time to slow his descent before he slams into Bucky and knocks them both to the ground.

“I’m gonna kill you,” Bucky growls and Clint beams at him and says, “you’re just jealous. Just wait til I have my bow, you don’t stand a chance, don’t you know, I’m the best sniper around!”

“You can barely fly when it’s all you’ve got to focus on,” Bucky says. “You really think anybody's gonna let you fly with a bow in your hand, you’re crazy—“”

Clint just laughs and kisses him until Bucky stops bitching, because it’s his body and they’re his wings and it’s his choice and at the end of the day? He knows Bucky’ll do whatever he has to to keep it that way.

“You love me,” Clint says, taking a deep, easy breath.

“God knows why,” Bucky grumbles and Clint beams down at him.

“Cos I’m the best shot and it turns you on,” Clint declares. “And you’ve got a thing for my wings. And my abs. And my sparkling personality.”

“And your ego,” Bucky says, but he’s rolling his eyes and he’s smiling into another sweet kiss.

Clint breathes and nothing hurts— he stretches his wings out and feels the breeze and the sunshine and Bucky’s hands on his hips, holding him steady.

And he’s ready to get up and try again.