At first, Bucky thought that he was jealous of Clint’s arms.
The archer did have two of them, to start; both symmetrical and laced with muscle. Neither were made of metals or alloys of whatever Vibranium was (he had never quite cared about the specifics, to be honest), and Bucky imagined that Clint’s arms never whirred or creaked the way that his did, no matter how quiet he tried to be.
Bucky had some issues with his prosthetic, basically. He was addressing these issues in therapy, in between his cycles of traumatic avoidance and breaking down in wracking sobs.
It was a process.
Bucky began to suspect that maybe the tight, hot feeling in his chest had nothing to do with jealousy when he realized that he wasn’t envious of anybody else’s arms. He lived in a compound filled with strong, attractive individuals with powerful bodies and arms that matched, nevermind a scar or tattoo here or there. Yet when he looked at Steve’s literally-perfect-by-genetic-standard shoulders, biceps, and triceps, he didn’t feel the same rush or heated skin that he did when he caught sight of the muscles flexing in Clint’s arms when he was shooting, sparring or hell; Bucky had needed to excuse himself from the room watching Clint get into a game of Mario Kart once or twice.
When Bucky realized that he was tantalized by Clint’s body, he nearly fell off his barstool and would have had the object of his attraction not walked behind him at that moment, just in time to catch both Bucky and his full bowl of cereal before they crashed to the ground.
“Christ, Barnes, you strokin’ out?” Clint asked, a crease between his brows giving away his actual level of unease.
“Guh,” was all Bucky managed, scandalized by Clint’s choice of wording, synapses in his mind electrified at the images conjured.
Clint cocked an eyebrow. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, and Bucky drew in a breath.
“‘m good. Thanks. Just...realized something. Surprised myself.”
Clint nodded and clapped Bucky on the back. His hand burned down to Bucky’s spine.
“Yeah, been there. Maybe do your introspective thinking on the floor next time, bud,” Clint quipped, shooting Bucky a wink and a salute before walking out of the dining room.
Bucky groaned and lowered his head into his hands. The tips of his hair fell into his cereal bowl, the tips dredging through the milky contents, because of course.
Bucky didn’t know if he remembered how to be attracted to someone anymore. Wasn’t even sure if it was still programmed in him, if the heavy and drunk sensation that flowed through his belly and into his heart and limbs whenever Clint was in the room was how it had always felt. Or maybe this was just what it was like wanting to touch another man. Had Bucky ever wanted a man like this before...before everything? Had the Soldier?
Bucky doubted it, but it didn’t matter.
What did matter was that Clint didn’t seem weirded out or at all displeased when Bucky started to trail him around the compound when off-mission. What mattered was that all of the reasons that Bucky had come up with in his mind for doing so (I’m bored and Sam is an asshole, I want to pick up some of your recurve techniques, I don’t trust you so I’m keeping an eye on you) stayed just there, in his mind, because Clint never once asked Bucky why he had become his shadow all of a sudden.
If Bucky were to forge a guess, he would accuse Clint of liking the company. That? Did nothing to help the maelstrom of want-or-maybe-need that was wreaking havoc on Bucky day and night.
It was exhausting, wanting someone. And Bucky did want Clint; it had started with the arms because Christ if Clint’s arms weren’t still capable of lighting Bucky on fire, but it was also the hair that stuck up everywhere, and the bright purple aids in his ears, the terrible sense of humor, and the slick way that Clint was often the smartest guy in the room without anybody noticing.
In short, Bucky was fucked, and starting to lose sleep over it, which was why he figured he had misheard Clint when, on a morning stroll to the compound gym, Clint broke the silence with a frankly ludicrous suggestion.
“We should spar.”
The words ricocheted around in Bucky’s head for much longer than necessary before he realized that Clint had actually spoken them aloud. He stumbled, bumping into Clint’s side. Clint used a hand on Bucky’s lower back to stabilize him, and Bucky wondered if Clint liked having him around because when Bucky was around Clint, Clint was no longer the clumsiest one in the room, quinjet, on the roof, whathaveyou.
“We’ve never done that before,” Bucky responded dumbly, following as Clint pushed the door open.
“I know. I don’t know why, though. You spar with everyone else, and so do I. Well, besides Wanda, but you know.”
Bucky did know. Clint loved Wanda like she was his kid, but Bucky knew that he didn’t sit well with the idea of her being able to mess with his head. Bucky could understand, possibly better than anyone else on the team.
“Okay,” Bucky said after a moment, because he honestly couldn’t think of a reason why they shouldn’t spar. Well. He could, but he wasn’t about to tell Clint that he was terrified to get his hands on Clint’s body because most of the time, he felt like he was losing the fight to pull Clint in for something unspoken, like a kiss or a caress or something more nefarious entirely.
Clint grinned, the errant bandaid on the bridge of his nose crinkling. Oh, fuck, this asshole is going to kill me. Survived a World War, decades of torture, brainwashing, mutilation, only for this carnie with a bow-and-arrow to murder me with his face.
Bucky had come with Clint ready to hit the treadmill, gym shorts and black tank top clinging to him comfortably. He toed off his shoes and went to unroll the sparring mat while Clint walked to the lockers to lock up his phone, shoes, and hoodie. Bucky dropped the mat on the floor haphazardly when Clint stripped off his hoodie, revealing a tank of his own, his stark white. His tanned, corded arms flexed with the motion, and only when Clint cleared his throat did Bucky realize that he’d been staring.
When they made eye contact, Clint’s smile grew broader, and it didn’t disappear even as he helped Bucky settle the mat.
“Fucking hell Bucky, I swear if you keep holdin’ back I’m gonna-mrweeapf!”
Bucky felt the laughter bubble up in his throat before he heard it, and he tightened the lock that he had below Clint’s ribs slightly, ratcheting up his hold as Clint had requested but not enough to do damage beyond a possible bruise. But, well. Clint had asked.
They were sweat-slick and both breathing heavily, which impressed Bucky to no end. It was hard to wind him; in fact, only Steve and Thor had been able to do so thus far. No matter how many times Bucky had admired Clint’s body and tactical mind when he watched him spar with others, he hadn’t comprehended just how fucking fast the assassin could be when he wanted. It was like a game of tag within a dance with a dash of violence, and Bucky’s heart was thriving on it.
He felt Clint use his fingers to tap on the flesh of Bucky’s lower arm and Bucky loosened his hold. Clint didn’t spin away, simply slumped against Bucky, his back warm to Bucky’s front. Clint leaned his head backward, the nape of his neck slotting against Bucky’s shoulder.
Without thinking, Bucky moved his hands from Clint’s chest to grip Clint’s upper arms. It was as though he was functioning on autopilot or instinct, or maybe he had finally lost his battle of wills.
Clint’s muscled arms were warm, tacky, and firm beneath Bucky’s flesh hand, the receptors on Bucky’s prosthetic able to pick up a touch of Clint’s heat as well.
When Bucky and Clint sighed, it was in tandem. Bucky froze, but Clint remained relaxed and leaning against him where they stood.
“How long have you been wantin’ to do that?” Clint murmured, and Bucky could feel his blood rushing into his cheeks.
“You could tell, huh? Shouldn't have put it past you,” Bucky responded. Clint laughed low in his chest, and Bucky felt it in his own body. His grip on Clint’s arms tightened.
“You weren’t the most subtle. You were burnin’ holes in my body, Buck. All that staring. My arms have been tingling for months.” Bucky heard Clint swallow. “If you woulda paid more attention to my face, you might have noticed me staring back.”
A thousand thoughts and reactions flooded Bucky’s body at once, but it was an overwhelming sense of defensiveness that caused him to shift back enough to be able to look down at Clint’s face.
“I pay plenty of attention to your face, asshole,” Bucky said, indignant, and he watched the corners of Clint’s eyes crinkle before Clint burst into laughter. Clint’s eyes stayed glued to Bucky’s, and when Clint leaned sideways to plant a soft kiss on the flesh of Bucky’s throat, the world fell into place around him.
It took a while for the two of them to make their way from the gym, and when they did both Bucky and Clint looked more disheveled and red-faced than usual. Bucky kept flicking his eyes over to Clint to find him smiling, and Bucky felt himself smiling back goofily in response.
“You coming to my place?” Clint asked when Bucky kept following him past the elevator that would have taken him up to his second-floor suite. “It’s okay if you wanna. We can order some food, watch some trash TV, maybe suck face a little more?”
Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sounds real nice. But hey, do you have scissors in your apartment? If not, I gotta run up to mine.”
Clint side-eyed him curiously. “I have a pair, yeah. Due to the sinister nature of that question, can I ask what you need scissors for?”
Bucky ran his tongue over his bottom lip. “I got this plan to cut all the sleeves off your clothes,” he said flatly. “No more sleeves for you. Ever.”
He winked. Clint threw his head back and laughed, and Bucky wondered how he had ever mistaken love for jealousy.