There's a huge learning curve to this whole relationship thing, and Bruce wants to do things right. Clint deserves them done right, even if Bruce has no idea what that means in the context of a gay relationship—his mind still catches on that word every time he rolls it through his thoughts, which isn't helping. Dates, he's pretty sure, are universal, which is why he asked Clint out—6:00 p.m. tonight, wear anything—and retreated under the pretense of going to check on Tony. Mostly, he's going to pick Tony's brain for advice and ideas, praying that Tony doesn't see this as an opportunity for more than his usual level of snark and innuendo.
He'd checked with Jarvis to make sure Tony was awake and up for a visitor when he'd gotten into the elevator, and Tony greets him with a grin as he steps into the medical wing. He's still in bed, but it looks like the only reason for that is someone brought half his lab to him. Tony's propped up with pillows, a StarkTab and a collection of tools and parts laid out on the bed table in front of him, and Dum-E positioned near his elbow. The bot has a screwdriver in his claw, although he drops it as he rolls over to Bruce, grabbing his shirt and tugging him to Tony's bedside.
"Hey, what have I said about pulling on clothes?" Tony demands, glaring at Dum-E. His voice is softer than usual, but Bruce doesn't pick up on any pain tells.
Dum-E drops his grip with a whir of servos and rolls around behind Bruce, claw open on the small of his back to push him the rest of the way.
"Sorry, he wants to show off what we've been working on." Tony says when Bruce apparently arrives where Dum-E wants him and the bot darts off, wheeling around to Tony's other side and snatching something up from under his soldering iron. He holds it out to Bruce.
"He gets like this whenever I'm hurt," Tony explains, pushing the bot's claw out of the way once Bruce takes his offering. "Not something I programmed into him, but that's what I get for making a learning AI."
"Pulse monitor," Bruce guesses as he studies the cuff of metal Dum-E had given him. The design is similar to the bracelets Tony uses to call his suits, but this one buckles in place to form a complete ring. "It's been less than twelve hours since I last saw you; there's no way you made this and got decent sleep last night."
Tony snorts. "Pepper and I have an agreement; I don't get up for three days, and she doesn't nag me about how much of those three days is spent working. Try it on and let's see how it works; the monitor's connected to Jarvis, so he'll be able to keep an eye on things regardless of where you are. The joints are all designed to snap under pressure, so you're not going to hurt yourself if you transform."
Bruce puts it on, the thin metal cool against the skin of his wrist, and rolls his hand around to test how the band moves. It sits flush against his skin, not so tight as to inhibit movement, but not loose enough to catch on things or get in the way. "Feels good," he says.
"What's it look like on your end, J?"
"Doctor Banner's current heart rate is sixty-one bests per minute, Sir; well below the 'threshold of awesome' you have assigned," Jarvis says dryly.
Bruce snorts. "Threshold of awesome?"
"Hey, my tech, my terms," Tony says with a smirk, leaning back against his pillows. "Let me know if you want me to tweak it at all."
Bruce nods, mind skittering to find a tactful way to bring up the relationship he's stumbled into and how desperately he needs advice.
Tony's smile goes toothy. "That's quite the expression, Dr. Banner; do I get to hear about what's causing it?"
It's only then that Bruce realizes his face is pinched. He lowers his head, distracting himself by fiddling with the monitor as he says, "I could use some dating advice."
Tony whistles. "Well, you came to the right fount of information. Who's the lucky lady?"
"Think less lady and more resident archer."
Tony's voice climbs. "Clint?! I mean, it is Clint, right? We don't have some other archer hanging around who I just haven't stumbled across yet, do we? Because I'd like to think I'd notice something like that."
"No, it's Clint." The weight of how bad a decision it was to talk to Tony hunches Bruce's shoulders. It's not that he's ashamed of saying yes to Clint—not even close—it's the jolting realization that, just because he's part of a team that clearly has strong views about how safe he is to be out in society, that doesn't even begin to mean that the team will support the idea of him in a relationship. If anything, they're sure to have a solid collection of bullet points to add to his list of reasons why this whole thing is one hell of a bad idea.
He should have gone to the team before getting Clint's hopes up; Bruce feels like an ass for not realizing that sooner. They more than deserve a say in any decision he makes that could put them all—and every other person working in or near the tower, for that matter—in even greater danger.
Somewhere in the back of Bruce's mind, he acknowledges that he's cycling, panic growing as his thoughts trip over one another in an ever-building hurricane of theoretical catastrophe. He tries to stifle the anxiety and smother the images of bloody bodies and aftermath that are flooding his mind, but the attempts become more anxiety that feeds the fire.
The band on his wrist begins to hum quietly, low pulsing vibrations—much slower than his own pounding heart—tripping his attention.
"Dr. Banner, If you would be so kind as to take a seat and breathe on my count." Jarvis' voice causes Bruce to jump.
He drops into one of the chairs around Tony's bed and forces himself to follow Jarvis' rhythm of, "Breathe in, one, two, three, and out, one, two, three."
"How's it working?" Tony asks over the AI's repetitions. "I was reading up on heartbeat regulation and distraction tactics, because Coulson got all picky about how the monitor should actually respond to pulse spikes, so the vibrations are based on that, but I can always change things if they're not helping." He reaches for Bruce's cuffed wrist, hand closing around it for a few pulses.
Somewhere between Jarvis' steady words, Tony's idiotically fearless badgering, and the concerned whirring of Dum-E in the background of it all—how Tony managed to give the bot the ability to sound worried despite his lack of language is a mystery—Bruce finds an anchor for his calm. The monitor goes still as Jarvis asks, "How are you feeling now, Doctor?"
Bruce breathes out a shaky, "Okay," as Tony says, "Time on that one, Jarvis?"
"Seven minutes, forty-eight seconds of Dr. Banner's pulse being elevated to response parameters, Sir."
"And there's our baseline. How was it, Bruce? Any modifications I should make?"
Bruce is one hundred percent convinced he will never get used to the way Tony gleefully courts disaster. "Fine. Good. The monitor and Jarvis helped; it was easier to calm down with both."
"Great," Tony says, batting at Dum-E, who's laid off the worried tones in exchange for trying his best to fluff the pillows keeping his inventor seated upright. "Am I supposed to ask about what made you see green, or can we go back to the fantastically interesting topic of your interoffice relationship and just wait to see if it crops up again?"
If he were being logical, this would be the part where Bruce backtracks, calling a team meeting and making sure the rest of the group is okay with one more giant potential trigger in his repertoire, but he's already battled this out with Clint, and Tony isn't exactly acting disapproving.
Like a coward, Bruce decides to ignore what he should be doing in favor of waiting to see if any of the others will bring up any problems themselves. The decision smooths like salve over his nerves.
"I need date ideas," he finally says. "Or relationship advice, or a combination of the two. It's kind of been a while."
"Big Green not so into third wheeling it? Clint is so lucky you came to me."
As Tony continues to talk, suggestions and advice interspersed with promises that he will take Dum-E apart and have some suburban hippie make lawn art out of him if he does not roll his steel butt out of pestering range right now, Bruce starts to think that Tony is right about Clint's luck.
Bruce shows up outside of Clint's suite at 5:58 p.m. with a bouquet in shades of dark purple stuffed into a 2000ml Erlenmeyer flask, because all of the vase options of the florist Tony had recommended ("Jarvis, what's the number for that one that I used after what happened in Dubai? No, the other time.") made Bruce cringe.
His conviction that the flowers are still way too feminine and probably stupid or offensive or something grows with each second it takes Clint to answer his door, until he's ready to bolt as the knob turns.
Clint stands in his doorway in dark wash jeans, a maroon t-shirt with what Bruce is guessing is a band's logo imprinted on it, although he's never heard of them, and a soft smile that makes Bruce so, so grateful that he didn't run.
Clint's gaze traces across Bruce's expression, then down to the flowers. His smile grows as he cocks a brow.
"These were Tony's idea," Bruce jumps to explain, "and I'm pretty sure it was a bad one at that. Sorry about the flask; they didn't have any vases that didn't look like they were made for a forty-year-old woman, which probably should have been a clue that I shouldn't have—"
Clint traps the rest of his explanation in a kiss, pressing laughter against Bruce's lips.
"They're great; no one's ever given me flowers before, or a flask, which you're not getting back, by the way; it's mine now." He takes the bouquet and gestures Bruce inside, making space for the flowers in the collection of souvenirs and small pieces of framed art on the mantle over his fireplace.
Watching Clint make room for them, carefully rearranging the shelf to give them a place, makes Bruce want to buy him flowers every change he gets.
Clint turns back to him, grinning. "So, what are we doing tonight?"
"I was trying to come up with some fun ideas, but most of those involved the types of settings I don't do so well in," Bruce ducks his head. Tony'd had dozens of ideas for first-date places that fell into three categories: too showy, too crowded, or too insane. Jarvis had a few suggestions that were more realistic, but still dangerous, including an extreme sports place where one of the games was a version of dodge ball that used padded arrows instead of balls, which Bruce was pretty sure Clint would love, right up until the second that an unexpected hit brought out the other guy. Bruce had sent a text to Natasha about it, asking her to take Clint sometime instead. "If it's okay with you, we can just go and if you don't end up liking it we can do something else instead."
"Bruce, I have been waiting months; you could be taking me to watch Coulson do paperwork for five hours and it would still be one of the best nights of my life."
"I'll have to remember that for our next date," Bruce says, before realizing that he's made a huge assumption. He starts to take back the words, but Clint responds before he can finish.
"I'll be looking forward to it." The laugh Clint pairs with the words is infectious, the fingers he threads through Bruce's own as he tows him out of the suite and into the elevator are strong and calloused and fit into place like they have always belonged there. Bruce tries, as they pass the dozens of floors that separate Clint's apartment from ground level, to memorize every aspect of the sensation; one more memory to buoy or drown him when his life circles back to reality.
Tony had tried to convince Bruce to take one of his cars, but Bruce had turned him down in favor of catching a cab to the small café he'd found where local bands play sets in the evenings. He knows nothing about the band that's scheduled to play tonight, other than their name, but he's hoping they'll be at least somewhat close to the sort of music Clint enjoys.
They arrive just as the band is setting up, and Clint squeezes Bruce's hand at the realization of what Bruce had planned for the evening. They place their orders as the group starts, and Bruce gets to spend the next forty-five minutes watching Clint watch the band. Clint bounces his knee in time with the rhythm of each song and barely manages to distract himself from the music long enough to finish his meal.
At the end, when the band is packing things up and the table has been cleared, Clint turns to Bruce with worry hidden down deep in the look of appreciation in his eyes and apologizes for not being better company.
Bruce kisses him there at the table in front of the whole café, earnest but hesitant until Clint takes the lead.
At the end of the night, Bruce walks Clint to his door, which Clint teases him about but doesn't protest—"Alright, James Stewart; whatever you say"—and leans in for a goodbye kiss. Clint dodges it, leaning back and catching Bruce's hand instead, trying to pull him inside.
"Clint—" Bruce questions and warns all in one syllable.
"You slept in my bed last night when I thought you were there to tell me to fuck off," Clint says, dropping Bruce's hand. "I just thought you could do it again now that it means something."
And, put that way, there's only one answer Bruce can possibly give.
"Just sleeping," he says. "Okay?"
Clint chortles. "Don't worry, I swear I'll leave your honor intact."
Bruce catches the hand that Clint pulled back, slotting their fingers together once again, and wonders silently what the price will be for an evening as perfect as this one.