Silk slid across his skin, falling down his back and pooling at his feet. The grey fabric spread out on the ground as he stepped forward and offered up his arms for the leather cuffs. Knees dropped to the earth as they pulled his hands down and connected the chains, locking his hands to the circle buried in the ground. The stone was cold against his stomach and he flinched as they pushed him against it, the leather slipping around his ankles. The sounds of the watchers rolled over him, but the drug was doing its job, his cock aroused, his body relaxed. Worked like advertised. At least, when the moment came, he'd be ready.
The music grew, a surge of sound that overwhelmed his senses. Naked, pinned down, he was affected by it, the madness pounded out with the beat of the drums, the riot in the melody. His blood pumped in time, running through his veins and swishing in his ears with every pulse. In the darkness that circled the dais, bodies writhed, dancing in the shadows. Before him, a chair made from the roots of an alder tree sat empty, lit by two torches on either side.
On his knees beside the throne, Bruce's hands were tied behind his back. His brown eyes catalogued every bruise and scratch on Clint's body, green flickering around the edges of his corneas, but he didn't move. A test, Clint knew, of their end of the bargain they'd made; Bruce couldn't intervene or they'd forfeit any chance they had at surviving this ordeal. Still, the Hulk was a different issue; just how much he'd take before he broke was the wild card of the night.
The cry was plaintive; she waved her hands and demanded attention, still carefully strapped into her infant carrier which rocked slightly on her own altar. A sensitive baby, Becca picked up on currents from her fathers and the people around her. Clint tried to tamp down on the shiver of worry and concern he was feeling. So much at stake, this little girl's whole future. Why wouldn't he be afraid?
A hand dragged across his back, and he shivered, bucking against the restraints. He still had time to back out of this, but there were no other options. Just how much was he willing to give for his family and friends? That was the question of the moment. And the answer was everything.
"Look at you, my little sacrifice." Mab walked past him, her long, lean leg brushing his bare arm. "Are you ready to begin?"
"Hulk catch!" A green hand snatched at empty air where Clint had just been. The Big Guy was laughing, enjoying the game; they had covered every inch of the practice room, all the levels, at least twice in the last hour.
"Only if I let you." Clint was three steps ahead, the Hulk telegraphing his moves. Grabbing onto a pole, Clint swung to the left, seemingly right into the Hulk's path, but the green guy was already turning away by the time Clint landed on the platform. With another jump, Clint used the Hulk's outstretched arm to get to the starting line first. A meaty fist wrapped around his waist and Clint was hoisted up in the air for a very wet, slobbery kiss.
"Got you!" Hulk crowed. Despite his size, he was gentle as he sat Clint back down. "Bath time for Becca now?"
"… data to crunch," Tony was saying as they came into the observation room. "Hey, Cassandra. Serious speed there. Just don't go foretelling my doom, okay? I want it to be a surprise when I die in the middle of sex."
"Second time you've used that one, Tony," Clint said as the Hulk waited outside in the bigger hallway. "I kind of liked the Harry Potter one the best." He looked up at the screen. "Getting better at it. Those are the fastest times yet."
"Cupid escaped again. Now, no more buildings fall on Cupid," the Hulk insisted.
New abilities took getting used to and there was no better way than putting them into practice. Clint never thought he'd be one of the "super" people; he was the normal human on the team, just a guy with a bow. But that really wasn't true, hadn't ever been; Clint's eye sight had always been better than human and his accuracy approached the realm of impossible. Still, dealing with the changes that had been forced upon him meant changing the way Clint thought about himself. From the beginning of this whole journey to now, Clint could honestly say he wasn't the same man who had woken up from Loki's control to fight in the Battle of New York.
His contact with the tesseract had started the whole thing; as the tesseract began to gain sentience, she had reached out to Clint, gifting him with dreams that were more like prophecy, enhancing his innate skill to see patterns and make connections. She also left him marked by her magic and her protection. It was Robert Fisk, son of the Kingpin and leader of the Las Vegas H.Y.D.R.A. cell who injected him with nannites that forced cellular mutations to his natural abilities. One kiss on the cheek by a hired blonde in heels, an untested scientific procedure, and Clint could see in the dark and react seconds ahead of others.
Of course, it wasn't that easy; Fisk had worked on General Ross' standing hatred of Bruce to get him to do Fisk's dirty work. Unfortunately, Ross, along with his daughter Betty and her friend Janet Van Dyne got caught in the crossfire. Too many people were hurt as the whole situation spiraled out of control, and Fisk himself turned out to be a front for an even bigger opponent. Myths come to life, beings from another dimension who once walked the Earth wanted back what they had lost when humans slammed the doorway shut, barring them access. Faeries, of all things, had a long term plan to create the perfect human hosts for their essences. Only pure dumb luck … or maybe the help of an angel and a trickster want-to-be king … protected Clint and Bruce from their attempts to inhabit their bodies.
And then there was Rebecca Barton, the baby waiting upstairs for her papa and daddy to put her to bed. Clint's granddaughter, she had become the center of his world in two short months. He'd never imagined himself with a family, settled in an apartment taken over by baby stuff, a stroller by the door and a papoose sling for walks in the park. And yet, he wouldn't trade it for the world, waking up beside Bruce in the early morning hours for that 5 a.m. feeding, the world just stirring outside the windows as he rocked Becca back to sleep.
"That's right, no more catching your ass," Tony agreed. "Can't claim you didn't see it coming."
"Very funny." The banter was old hat by now between them all. "Any change in ambient light? I thought there was a bit of a halo effect at the brightest level."
"Less than .001, yes, but a slight difference." Hank Pym pulled up the results on the screen.
"We can adjust for that with the new shades I'm working on." Tony threw a schematic in the corner. "You'll be able to wear them at night; they'll adjust to various settings, ultraviolet, infrared. Seriously bad ass."
"I have sunglasses." Clint knew it was useless to complain; Tony expressed his emotions by buying and making things. The amount of toys daily delivered to their suite was dwarfed only by the new designs Tony showed them. Bruce had drawn the line at Becca's own suit … with thrusters and repulsors … but they both knew that Tony was just as obsessed with Becca's safety as they were.
"Not like these. Google glass will be as out-of-date as Steve's clothes. Straight feed from any database you need and DNA security. To anyone else they'll be just really nice, better Oakleys. I'll have a mock up in a couple days." Tony never stopped moving, images flowing as he talked.
"We'll test 'em in here first," Clint agreed because, really, that was the only way to handle Tony's ideas. To understand Tony was saying that he cared. "See if they stay on when the Hulk tosses me."
"Toss Cupid later; bath time now." The Big Guy poked Clint in the back, pushing him forward.
"You want to stay big or shrink down?" Clint asked. As an answer, the Hulk changed, dropping down to slightly bigger than Bruce's normal body. Fisk's manipulation had given Bruce and the Hulk more control over not only the metamorphosis, but also made sharing memories easier. Bruce remembered, for the most part, his time as the Hulk, and the Hulk could tap into Bruce's knowledge sometimes. Big was still the Hulk's size of choice especially for smashing, but there were definite benefits to the smaller version, the primary being cuddling. Turns out, the Hulk loved being the little spoon as much as he liked being the big one. Two days ago, Becca had fallen asleep on the Hulk's chest while Tangled was playing, so Clint had curled his arms around the Big Guy and the three of them took a nice nap. Plus there was less wear and tear on the furniture and the building; the Hulk could go in any room and watch movies with everyone.
"That isn't getting old," Tony said. "Next up for study, the incredible retracting and expanding Hulk!"
Clint just rolled his eyes and headed to the elevator, leaving Tony and Hank to their data, thinking about just how lucky he was to have this crazy extended family. From the moment they'd brought Becca into the tower, they'd been inundated with more help than they actually needed. So many surprises and unlooked for expertise. Phil Coulson's unflappable calm extended to babies; he put Becca down for a nap, patted her back once or twice, left swing music playing quietly, and managed to get a good two hours of paperwork done. No squawking or fussing, the baby just fell right to sleep. Clint suspected it was Phil's secret jiggling technique, the one he shrugged off and wouldn't talk about.
The babysitting a teenage Steve Rogers had done made him the second most experienced person in the Tower; his pure joy when he held her was both amazing and amusing since it freaked Tony out to no end. Pictures were already on the internet of Steve jogging with her in a special stroller and, Bruce's favorite, one of Steve in his Knicks hat with Becca strapped to his chest while they watched the game on the big screen. Of all the pictures of these first days, Clint adored the one where Steve was passing Becca to Tony just before a board meeting; holding her at arm's length to save his suit from spit up or drool, Tony's eyes were on Steve, peering over the top edge of his shades, no mistaking the emotion there. The fact that Steve was gazing with awe at Becca only made the picture that much more beautiful.
But the award for unexpected expertise went to one Darcy Lewis, intern extraordinaire. When Jane and Thor went away for a two week super stealthy vacation at Tony's private island that everyone knew about four days in advance, Darcy decided she needed something to keep herself busy besides spending the outrageous salary SHIELD was paying her now that Jane's happiness equaled Thor's good mood. With a seemingly endless supply of energy and the organizing skills of a four star general, Darcy swept into their lives and became the gatekeeper, calendar queen, and supply sergeant. One downside to living in close proximity to everyone was constant interruptions and too many offers of help; Darcy made quick work of that, a handmade daily schedule mysteriously appeared on white board attached to the wall. With color coded dry erase markers, she ruthlessly handed out the blocks, marking them with little icons and smiley faces. Thor was a hammer, Phil a tie, Pepper a sexy high heel, Natasha a red hourglass, Steve a patriotic butt, and Tony a goatee (that took Clint a day or two to figure out). Family time ran the gamut from an arrow hitting a green heart to a bubbling beaker tattoo on a muscular bicep. Overall, Darcy was a blessing in disguise; he and Bruce now had time in the lab and the range, assured someone was staying with Becca they could trust as well as time together as a family where no one bothered them.
"Hey, boss man," Darcy called as they came through the door. "Oh, Hulk! I put some new music on your playlist. I think you'll like it. Songs to smash by."
The baby burbled then laughed as Darcy made a silly face; Hulk reached out and Darcy handed her over without hesitation. He'd more than proven how gentle he could be with her. "Becca bath," he announced. Blue-grey eyes turned his way, searching for his face with a smile. She already knew all three of them, recognizing her parents by their voices.
"Tony reprogrammed JARVIS again, lights and sounds that enhance intelligence or some such stuff." She shrugged it off, her position on all the 'make your baby smarter' ideas perfectly clear. "Don't worry, we watched the Muppet Show while she ate. She'll be singing 'Mahna Mahna' in no time. Doing my best to teach her the finer things in life."
"Nothing like the classics," Clint agreed. He was raised on Bugs Bunny and sugary cereal and he turned out okay. This whole overprotective mode of parenting didn't make a lot of sense to him, but he was learning to pick his battles.
"You're off the grid until tomorrow morning. Bruce has a lab meeting first thing, and you've got another poke 'n prod session with medical," Darcy said as she gathered her things. "They think you're a damn pincushion."
"No cussing!" The Hulk was adamant about language; he didn't care that Becca couldn't understand what they were saying.
"Sorry, Big Guy!" Darcy just winked and tossed her bag over her shoulder as she left.
"Let's get the show on the road," Clint said to the Hulk.
Becca shrieked in agreement.
"Clear your mind and just let it go blank."
Blank, blank, he could do blank. He meditated before, first with Natasha and then with Bruce, so he could manage it. But as he closed his eyes, his brain refused to slow down. So many connections to make, details that sent him racing down an increasing number of paths. Figure it out, understand Queen Mab's goal, what the next move was, and keep Becca safe. If he could just relax, lose focus, see the bigger picture …
"You're thinking too much," Bruce said. Clint opened his eyes.
"This isn't working." He unfolded his legs and rolled up off the mat. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Bruce replied "I would be surprised if the first method we tried worked. These things take time and every case is different."
"Let's be real here. Odds are the drugs made the connection between the Hulk and me possible." Clint wandered into the kitchen and poured a cup of tea from the fresh pot. Dark black fragrant liquid filled to the brim and he smelled the spices before he sipped. Turns out, tea wasn't just the fruity frou frou drink Clint had thought it was; he was pretty much addicted to mate teas and any type of chai. "And I'm not taking the chance of opening myself up to attack again, so that avenue is out."
"Tests aren't conclusive, but long term exposure to Julio Ochoa's drug could cause addiction and affect brain function permanently." Bruce sounded calm, but Clint knew he worried how much Clint already had already been given of the designer drug that allowed Mab's people access to human minds. One of Bruce's requirements before they started studying all of this was to take that option off the table. Trying to replicate the way the Hulk helped Clint heal was important, but it wasn't worth putting Clint at further risk.
"We need to face the possibility Columbia was a one-time thing," Clint said.
"Maybe we're shooting too high. Studies show that parents, siblings, long term partners, and even roommates can sense emotions even when they have no discernible talent. They know what the other person is feeling, especially during highly charged moments. For example, a mother who senses her child is scared and wakes up in the middle of the night." Bruce stood up and joined Clint, pouring himself a cup.
Clint stopped and thought about what Bruce was saying, his memory flashing back to the other morning. "Sometimes, during the 5 a.m. feeding, I get these little flutterings, like … butterfly wings in my head. Nothing distinct, but I can tell agitation from contentment."
"When I meditate, I get something like that. Very, very faint," Bruce admitted. "The Other Guy likes them. Do you think that's …"
"Yeah, I do. Hell, she's been appearing since the Tesseract incidence in my dreams/visions/whatever the hell we're calling them today. And she was there when Xavier put the protection over her, remember?" Clint was sure; Becca's grandmother had been psychic after all. Becca's mother had been chosen precisely because she had a mutant gene. The fact that Clint hadn't been there to save her from what happened next still stung. He failed his own daughter, one he never even knew he had. That dark thought wormed its way into his heart and lodged there.
"Quiet. Maybe that's what we need. I know that during those early morning feedings, I'm half asleep." As if to prove his point, Bruce yawned and stretched, rolling his shoulders.
"Asleep, that's about the only time my mind slows down anymore. Or if I'm tired." Clint was getting use to the accelerated pattern of images and ideas in his head, but it was a low background hum that rose and fell. He wondered if this was what Bruce and Tony felt like with science and numbers.
"That may be it." Bruce stepped over to where Clint was leaning against the breakfast bar. "It took me years to learn how to be calm enough to enter a meditative state. It was always easier after the Other Guy had exhausted himself. Maybe we should try with Becca after you have one of your sparring sessions with Natasha."
"Or," Clint caught Bruce's waist and reeled him closer, "after some really good, marathon sex. Get to that place in my head that only you can take me to."
"And somehow it comes back to sex." Bruce let Clint bring their bodies together.
"Always, Doc." Clint dropped a light kiss on his favorite corner of Bruce's mouth. "I'll always want you."
They took their moments where they could; between Becca's schedule and their own, they almost had to make appointments, but they managed. Kisses felt stolen, like teenagers worried about getting caught, an ear out for sounds from the monitor and an eye on Darcy's list. Hurried hands and whisper of skin against skin, they'd learned to be quiet and quick. Clint delved into Bruce's mouth with his tongue, desire flashing to life, pushing him against the counter and rubbing along his thigh. There were still two more days until date night – Darcy had insisted on one night off a week for them and Clint was very glad to take it if they could – so Clint was more than needy right now. He barely got Bruce's pants unbuttoned before he was on the floor, sucking in Bruce's half-hard cock and nursing it to fullness. He knew exactly how to get to Bruce, the little twist with his tongue and the lightest licks along the slit. Ignoring his own cock, he worked, enjoying every twitch and aborted moan from Bruce, bringing him to the edge, then slowing down to bring him back again.
Just as he felt Bruce tense up, hands dragged Clint up for another kiss, and those long lean fingers tugged down his track pants until his cock was free. Wrapping his hand around both of them, Bruce pumped their cocks together with strong pulls. The kiss was searing and Clint fell into it, capturing Bruce's face between his palms until his imminent orgasm over took him and he came at almost the same time as Bruce.
"Sirs, Captain Rogers is outside. Shall I ask him to wait?" JARVIS asked.
"He's right on time for Becca's outing," Clint laughed. "Give us a minute to get to the bedroom and then let him in. Tell him we'll be right out." They dashed in the other room and shut the door, quickly cleaning up.
"What's on tap today?" Bruce asked. They'd started taking Becca out and about in the city, getting her used to traveling in her stroller and the carrier. Everyone had ideas of where to go; last time had been the zoo with Thor and Jane. Becca didn't care about the destination, of course, but she was becoming acclimated to crowds and other people. Plus, Thor loved the animals; he bought Becca a stuffed lion for her room and an otter for Jane.
"Steve's old school, so we're going to the park. Pigeons and benches. There's an art festival today. Maybe I'll bring you back some ice cream." Clint knew exactly what Bruce would say to that remark; he was so easy to poke fun of sometimes.
"No ice cream for Becca," Bruce warned. "She's still on formula to help develop her immune system. There's all sort of chemicals in ice cream."
"Two months is old enough for a taste," Clint protested even though he had no intention of doing it. He just liked seeing protective daddy Bruce. At Bruce's look, he shrugged. "Okay. But at six months, I'm getting her a cone."
Becca's outings were quickly become so popular that she was booked up months in advance, Darcy taking reservations for holidays and special events a year out. Tony and Pepper were down for ice skating at Rockefeller Center and that was months away. Bruce had blocked out the dates of the new shows at the Hayden Planetarium; he claimed the lights and music were soothing, but Clint knew he hoped Becca would develop an interest in science. Natasha planned to take her to the NYC Ballet Company's family day when they were hosting the Bolshoi; baby ballet was becoming all the rage. Steve had four dates for the Babies and Art series at the Met where Becca could see fine art and get her fingers into edible paint.
They tried to get her out of the Tower a couple days a week now that Tony had produced a stroller and a carrier he deemed worthy enough for his niece, as he'd taken to calling her. He even said that at his last press conference when a brazen reporter flat out asked if Becca was his love child with Jennifer Lawrence. Not that Tony's answer mattered; everyone in the press was anxious to assume Tony had fathered her, usually with some famous actress or porn star, and that Pepper was the long-suffering girlfriend. The paparazzi were partially the reason they switched who was carrying her and who went out in public with her; a confusing set of pictures emerged as they all took their turns being Becca's caregiver. With the official story that she was an adopted orphan, some of the more respectable outlets had already dropped the story, leaving only the tabloids and the worst of the photographers that hounded them. There'd been a long discussion about subjecting Becca to that type of scrutiny, and Clint's argument that it was going to happen anyway so why not live as normal a life as possible had won out.
So Tony wheeled the Stark Stroller 1.2 into their living room just a week after they brought Becca back from Columbia. Relieved to see the carriage looked the same as the one Pepper had bought at the store, Clint wasn't surprised to find Tony had incorporated suit technology along with some brand new items he'd just created. A privacy screen to foil even the longest telephoto lens. Titanium alloy metal frame that could survive everything but the Hulk smashing it. A brand new thin Kevlar fabric for the sides and the canopy that could stop bullets, flames, knives, and some explosives; it came in purple with green splatters. Even a mini-dashboard with JARVIS lite installed for video, communication, mp3s, and GPS satellite tracking. Bruce balked at the repulsors that made it fly, but with JARVIS as the pilot and the instant belting that would keep her strapped in along with the air canopy deployment, Bruce finally shook his head and gave in after multiple test runs that proved successful.
When Pepper came one day to take Becca shopping, she told them the scaled down version already had a waiting list of over 30 parents, mostly celebrities, politicians and other people worried about their child's safety and willing to pay a hefty price tag. The new fabric was in Rhodey's hands; the Air Force was claiming first dibs, but the rest of the military plus cops and other first responders were next in line. Probably not purple and green for them.
The sling carrier was also made of the new Kevlar. Clint had insisted on taking it down to the practice room and running through the paces with a fake baby inside. After that, Tony added straps in case the wearer was upside down and a flexible setting to turn sling into backpack. Steve preferred Becca strapped in on his chest, snuggled up against him, close enough to see her eyes and hear her attempts at sounds. After much discussion, Tony made a special model just for Bruce with the same stretchy fabric of the Hulk's pants in the shoulder straps. Just in case.
The park was bustling as they wandered through. Artists mixed with jugglers, clowns and food vendors of all kinds. Families milled about, little kids running this way and that, harried parents chasing them. Lots of dogs barked, running free in the dog friendly part of the park, on leashes in other places. This was Steve's New York, Clint thought. He always chose places that were iconic and simple. The heart of the city, where real people lived and mingled, not the tourist part of the Big Apple. Becca was fascinated by the sounds – she was too little to see all that well, but there was lots of color and movement to catch her eyes – and she turned her head every time a child squealed or a dog barked. She lasted longer that Clint expected before they found a quiet bench and took out the self-warming bottle - patent pending for Stark Industries – for her afternoon feeding. Steve did the honors and then even changed her diaper on the plastic pull down shelf in the nearest men's room while Clint stood guard at the door. Not long after, Becca slipped into sleep, nestled in the sling while they grabbed some ice cream before heading back to the Tower.
"Our tail still with us?" Steve asked. They'd picked up the tail after they'd left the woodlands and before they stopped to get hotdogs from a cart near the paddleboats. He wasn't the stealthiest, his black hoodie pulled up and sunglasses shouting that he didn't want to be noticed. That, actually, was the worst way to disappear in a crowd anymore; people paid more attention since hoodies had become the outfit of choice of thieves and gang.
"Just crossing the street. You take Becca on through security; I'll snag our mystery guy." Clint half expected to find a camera in the man's pocket, but he was prepared for something else. They'd headed to the secondary entrance rather than the private one so the cameras would pick up their tail. JARVIS could triangulate with the city and traffic cams and track him back to where he'd come from.
"I'll get her to safety; JARVIS can call the others," Steve said. "Wait for backup."
"I've got this." Clint pulled open the glass door for Steve to push the stroller inside. Following him in, Clint crossed through security and headed for the elevator banks. "I'll double back and catch him."
He had seven different plans for just this scenario; he'd already determined the tail wanted to avoid cameras. All Clint had to do was circle around and catch him in the alleyway across the street, the only place out of the reach of the lens that he could still watch the doorway. Over the roof of the nearby four story bank building, and Clint dropped down right on top of his quarry. In just two moves, Clint had the guy pinned against the brick wall and he yanked the hoodie off, revealing sandy brown hair.
"Barney?" Clint didn't let his brother go, twisting his arm tighter. Too many strange events in his life to trust his eyes.
"Hey, bro." Barney shrugged, or tried to at least. "How's it hanging?"
"What are you doing here?" Clint could see the man's face as he leaned in. The same blue-grey eyes, the scar just under his left earlobe, the mole on his neck – it certainly appeared to be his brother.
"Can't a guy drop by to see his family without getting slammed into a wall?" He tried to joke, but there was an edge to his voice, one Clint knew all too well. Barney always did hate it when Clint got the drop on him.
"No. Not when you've been lurking around watching me and followed me home." Clint let up and stepped back. Barney turned, slowly, rubbing his wrist. "You've got about two minutes before guys in suits show up in this alley to see what's happening. I'd start with the truth, if I were you. How much do you need?"
"Aw, damn it, Clint. I'm not here for money." Barney hung his head, embarrassed. "I wasn't sure if you'd talk to me so I've been working up the courage to come see you. When I saw you in the park, I thought I'd do it but I punked out."
"You came all the way to New York for what? To say hello?" As much as Clint wanted to believe that, experience was a harsh teacher. Barney always worked angles. Figuring how to turn a situation to his advantage was Barney's worst habit. "Not sure I'm buying that, Barn."
"Okay, look. I was out of the country for a bit, big job opportunity you know, and imagine my surprise when I went to get a drink at a little shithole cantina and saw my little brother with his bow, big as life, kicking alien ass." Barney's mouth turned up at the corners, a ghost of a smile. "The black suit is much better than the purple, by the way, even if it's tight enough to show your junk off. And no sleeves? Really?"
"Remember what Buck always said about reaching everyone in the audience? Talent, skill and sex appeal." Clint could hear the old man's voice still in his head; some of his circus costumes were practically porn as he got older. "Black's slimming."
"If that's what they're telling you …"Barney snorted, and some of the lines around his eyes relaxed. "Truth is, I needed to relocate for a bit and, well, neither one of us has a very long life expectancy in our jobs, so I thought I might swing by the Big Apple and say hey."
Clint wanted to believe it, but he knew his brother too well to just accept it. "We can do that. Come on into the Tower and I'll introduce you to everyone."
"To all your rich friends? Yeah, not today, okay? I look like a bum. If I'm going to meet Tony Stark, I at least ought to put on my clean jeans. How about you and me grab a cup of joe?" Barney did exactly as Clint expected; he'd want to meet alone to make his case for whatever favor he was going to beg for.
"I can't right now. Got a schedule, if you believe it." Clint sensed that his friends were already here, Natasha waiting in the shadows, Steve just around the corner, and Thor on the roof top. They were all giving him his space to talk to his brother. "How about tomorrow? I know a good diner not far from here. The cook makes a mean plate of pancakes. Say 8 a.m.?"
"In the morning? When did you start getting up early? Always had to kick your ass out of bed," Barney asked.
"People change. Here, I'll put in the address." Clint had Barney's phone in his hand and he pulled out his own, tapping a few buttons on the Starkphone then tapping them together.
"Damn, you've still got fast fingers," Barney groused as he pocketed his phone when Clint handed it back. "That hasn't changed."
"Just use the skill for a different reason now," Clint agreed.
Barney turned to go, then stopped and looked back. "Hey, so, the big blonde guy, the one with the kid. You tapping that? Not your usual type."
Of all the things they'd fought over – and almost killed each other over – Clint dating guys had never been one of them. Gays weren't on Barney's list of things that annoyed him. Just ungrateful little brothers who stood by their moral code.
"Nah, he's just a friend. I'm living with a guy now, going to get married." Clint watched the way Barney's eyes didn't widen. He just looked tired, his face settling into weathered lines at the news.
"I wouldn't mind meeting him, if you want," he finally said. "I'll tell him embarrassing stories about purple spandex skirts. That's my job, right? Give him the shovel speech?"
The very thought of Barney warning Bruce struck Clint as funny for just a second before he realized how much he wished it was true. That he and Barney had that kind of relationship where Becca could have an uncle who'd take her to the circus and feed her cotton candy. 'Cause that's exactly what Barney would do.
"You got a place to stay?" Clint could help but ask. He wouldn't put it past Barney to be living on the streets; money just ran through his fingers. "I know someone who has a place over in Bed-Stuy, owes me a favor. He'd put you up for a couple nights."
"Nah, I've got a flop. Not much, but there's a bed and a bathroom down the hall. Got enough blunt to see me through the end of the week and get me to the next job." Barney pulled his hood back up. "See ya in the morning."
Clint watched him go, hunched over, still hiding, an old habit that he'd never broken, and he wondered why Barney had shown up now, what he wanted, what he was after. Perception, Charles Xavier had told him, was a double-edged sword. There were times when seeing three steps ahead was a good thing … and times like now when the truth was difficult to handle. Barney wasn't here for Clint; he was here because of Becca.
Nothing else made sense.