sam_storyteller: (Slash Fic)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-11-21 10:12 am

Avengers: If I Don't Wake Up Dead 3/4

Chapter Two

***

It's a little anticlimactic, after the Quinjet blows up.

On the one hand, for Bruce and Tony it's a great test run of new tech they slammed together in a combination of impatience and anger. They found the hackers without much trouble, F.O.X. worked perfectly, and the Frontloaders didn't maim anyone (one broken wrist doesn't count). The anti-industrial terror cell that arranged for Steve's torture, tried to murder the Avengers, and failed to capture Stark Industries and Avengers proprietary data is in SHIELD lockup being interrogated by Hill and her friends, who are not known to be gentle.

SHIELD has an investigation team looking into the Quinjet explosion. Initial reports say the anti-aircraft missile was probably a one-off stolen from a supply depot. Hydra, most likely. Steve's meeting with SHIELD command in a few days to discuss keeping Hydra from ever getting another one.

Clint feels wiped out, and even Tony looks tired. At some point they're going to need to address the fact that they all watched a Quinjet they were supposed to be inside of get blown up, but for right now sleep seems ideal.

Clint follows Steve along to his room and makes sure he's settled, but from the doorway this time rather than in a more...personal sense. Closing the door once Steve's in bed, he turns around and nearly runs into Natasha, who is still one of the few people who can sneak up on him.

"Jesus, lady, are you trying to kill me?" he asks.

"Not a lady, not Jesus, not trying to kill you," she replies, but she's amused, he can tell.

"Need something?"

She looks past him to the door, then back at his face. "You know I read people. I can't help it."

"Sure." He crosses his arms as he heads for the elevator and his own floor. This is an old conversation. Natasha's uncanny knack for knowing every emotional pressure point in every situation creeps people out. It's one of many parts of her that creeps people out. But back in the day, when he was bringing her in, Clint made a deal with her: he would accept her for what she is, weirdness and all, and in return she would never give him a reason to mistrust her. They've held the bargain up for years -- he's not likely to back down now. Besides, there's no rational reason to be disturbed by it; it's her training, and she can't help that.

"We all appreciate you taking Steve's injuries personally. Not everyone is processing what happened to him as well as you are. Or as well as he is," she adds, with a tilt of her head. "I know you're glad to do it. That's why I asked you to."

He nods, stepping into the elevator, and she follows. "Where's this going?"

She reaches out, rubs at his cheekbone like she's swiping dust off it. It's one of the things that bother people, when she does this, it's too personal and intimate. Somewhere in her distant past, she had a teacher who rewarded her like this, though, so it's the only way she knows to indicate affection in casual conversation.

"Steve isn't -- he might not understand," she says. "He might be afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"We accept things he struggles with," she replies cryptically. Clint frowns. "He's a good man. Just...please don't get your heart broken if he can't adapt."

"Broken? By Steve?" he asks, laughing. "Come on, Tasha. It's not going anywhere, I just like the guy."

Her hand lingers on his face, then drops. "I'd like to stay with you tonight."

"Well, I'd like that too. I got the adrenaline shakes from that blow-up," he says. "Come on, I think you've still got a toothbrush in the bathroom."

"I wouldn't let you go to someone less than him," she says. "I know we aren't like that...but I wouldn't let someone less than he is have you, anyway."

"Well, good, I guess," he replies, baffled. Natasha isn't often ridiculous, but honestly. Even if Steve was into guys -- and Clint doesn't know, Steve doesn't seem to be into much of anyone -- Clint wouldn't bother making a play.

Clint might be kind of uppity in the field and he might have clawed his way into something passing for respectability, but he's on Captain America's team, not in his league.

***

Clint is just drifting off to sleep, wrapped around Natasha (who never sleeps until after he does), when the lights flicker on.

"Oh god," he groans, turning his head into Natasha's shoulder. "Please say it's not Avengers."

"It is not Avengers," JARVIS answers, voice muted but not that muted. "One or both of you are required in Captain Rogers' quarters."

"What?" Clint asks, rolling over. Natasha is already climbing out of the bed, finger-combing her hair back. He slides out the other side. "What's going on?"

"I believe Captain Rogers is experiencing distress, and have not been able to wake him," JARVIS says, while they hurry for the open elevator. "His heart rate and breathing are elevated and REM is extremely...vigorous."

"Shit. Night terror," Clint mutters, taking the lead through the penthouse. He doesn't knock; the lock snicks back -- "Thanks, JARVIS" -- and then they're through.

Steve is writhing on the bed, back arching, one hand clawing at the splint on the other, damn close to ripping it to pieces. His breath is a whistling whine, and veins are throbbing in his throat and forehead. Clint glances at Natasha, who circles to the other side, ready to try restraining him.

"Cap," Clint says, loud but firm. "Steve. Come on, man, wake up."

Steve reacts, at least; he leans away from the noise, body tucking into a protective curl.

"Steve, it's Clint."

Steve gasps but doesn't respond, breathing still heavy.

"Icewater?" Natasha asks. It's worked in the past -- on her, on him, on certain people they've known -- but it's messy and traumatic. Clint's reluctant to touch him in case Steve tries to snap his neck, which he probably could manage, but....

"Be ready to get his arms," he says, and she leans over the bed, nodding. Clint reaches out and firmly plants his fingers through Steve's mussed, sweaty hair, digging them into his scalp. Steve groans and shudders, but his breathing abruptly quiets. His body goes rigid, but at least stops twisting.

"Up and at 'em," Clint says, pressing firmly. Muscles ripple over Steve's back, and then there's a soft exhale.

"Clint?" Steve asks, sounding broken and young.

"Yep," Clint replies, one knee on the bed. "Tasha's here too. It's cool, you're fine."

Steve uncurls, though he still looks rigidly tense, so tightly drawn that he's awkward in his movements. "Why are you…"

"JARVIS called us," Natasha says. Steve's head snaps back around to her. "He was worried."

"Oh," Steve says. Clint can see him formulating a lie, but there's no real lying your way out of something like this. "Thanks."

Natasha glances up at Clint, a you got this? check, and he nods.

"No harm done," she says. "I'm going back to bed."

"I'll stay here a little while," Clint replies, withdrawing his hand and settling up against the headboard. Steve is a little less tense now, but he's still on his side, back to Clint.

"You don't have to," Steve offers.

"I don't mind. Wasn't asleep yet anyway."

Steve leans back then, turning over to look up at him. "I didn't -- " he makes a horrified face. "Did JARVIS interrupt you and Natasha -- "

"Nah."

"If he did -- "

"Hey, no, we're not even together," Clint says.

Steve slow-blinks at him. "You and Natasha aren't…?"

"Everyone thinks that. We let 'em. Keeps her from getting pestered, gives me an interesting reputation."

"Oh." Steve digests this. "Sorry I assumed."

"No problem. Like I said, everyone does." Clint grins. "We were just closest to your room."

"But…" Steve frowns. "Tony's down the hall…"

"I was given to understand Agent Barton was your primary choice of caregiver," JARVIS says. Steve startles. "My apologies if I was in error, Captain."

"No, no, that's fine…" Steve trails off, still a little bewildered.

"I don't mind." Clint looks down at him. "Tell me how I can help you out, here."

Steve pushes himself up to sitting, curling around his own knees. "If I knew that, believe me, I wouldn't be in this mess."

"What do you need?"

One broad shoulder shrugs. "I haven't worked that out yet. For JARVIS maybe not to wake people up to come save me like I'm a toddler," he says pointedly.

"You were in danger of injuring yourself," JARVIS replies.

"Yeah," Steve says morosely.

"I can't figure this happens that often," Clint says. "We'd have noticed before, right?"

Steve shakes his head. "No, not often." It sounds like a lie, but JARVIS doesn't say anything, so maybe it isn't.

Clint thinks about what he would want in Steve's place. It's not like he's never been somewhere similar. What he wanted most in the world was not to have to ask for help. There was a chasm between quietly licking his wounds on his own and finding someone to tell, and he couldn't do the latter on his own.

"Tell me what's going on," he says quietly. Steve's shoulders go stiff. "I won't report you or anything, c'mon man, you know me. Just tell me what's going on and I'll figure out what to do."

"You don't have to do anything. I don't want anyone to worry."

"Well, I only worry when I don't have all the information."

Steve huffs a quiet laugh. "That's fair."

"So tell me. Explain this to me. No judgment here, Steve, I promise you I have been a bigger mess than you are right now."

There's silence, but Clint just lets it stretch out. Steve, outside the field, has a sheer terror of awkward silence, and he'll talk to fill it if you wait long enough. In most situations it's a little funny.

"One of the things they….well, designed me to do, I guess," Steve says eventually, "is adapt. I memorize quickly. I scoop up languages. I found that when I was put down somewhere, Italy, Switzerland, France...I started blending into the culture without meaning to. I picked up physical cues, behaviors. I recover from shocks easier than an ordinary person. But that doesn't mean -- "

Clint watches him struggle, almost in pain himself from being unable to help.

"Just because I was able to see a friend die and get up the next day and go fight doesn't mean I didn't mourn. And coming here -- to this century -- I'm still scrambling to get back to level, even after a year." Steve turns a little, and Clint is relieved to at least see his profile, sharp-jawed face bowed over his knees, arms cording tightly around them. "I'm mostly fine during the day. It's all okay eventually. What they did to me -- Hydra, I mean -- that won't leave lasting scars up here," he says, tapping his head. "Not while I'm awake. It's no big deal."

"That must be strange, though," Clint says, because it does sound strange -- he's familiar with how to deal with a brain that's beyond control in the anxiety-and-bad-learned-reaction sense, but to have your mind out of your control in a way that erases things you've felt, dampens things you've seen…

"Well, that's the thing," Steve says with a brittle smile, still not looking at him. "I adapted. I remember, intellectually, the way my mind was before. But that's all. As far as it goes, it feels like I've always been this way. Mentally, anyhow," he adds. "I remember vividly what it was like to be little."

"Did you, uh." Clint isn't sure how to ask this politely. "Did SHIELD have you talk to someone?"

"Like a psychologist?" Steve nods. "They tried. Explained to me what I was supposed to do but...I wasn't raised...I mean, nobody where I'm from did that, at least nobody I knew. So I just sat there like a lump on a couch. I couldn't talk. I tried, I just couldn't."

"You're doing all right now," Clint points out.

"Well, that's different," Steve says. "You can tell a buddy. I know you can keep a secret."

Clint nods; he could tell Steve that the therapist would too, but it's different somehow. This he knows from SHIELD -- the keeping of secrets of this kind. It's a trust you put in your team, one you sometimes can't offer anyone else. He'll keep Steve's confidence; moreover, he's pleased to.

"You should try to sleep," he says. Steve nods, looking down at his hands, curled around his calves. "Do you mind if I stay?"

"Stay?" Steve asks, startled, turning his head to look at him for the first time.

"Sure. I'll sleep on the couch. Or by the door, did that before to keep anyone from bugging you."

"You slept on the ground," Steve says slowly. "By the door."

"Well, sat, I didn't sleep. Wasn't the first time, won't be the last. In a general sense. But if it wigs you out..." Clint shrugs.

"No, no...just, you can have the couch. You don't need to sit on the floor."

"Thanks," Clint says with a sunny smile, and Steve smiles back, hesitant but true. Clint grabs a pillow from the bed and accepts a blanket when Steve tosses him one, settling on the couch in the other room. The pillow smells like Steve, or at least like whatever old-timey hair stuff he uses. He settles into a light sleep, a doze he can wake from effortlessly if he hears anything amiss.

At some point he hears a soft sob, but it's only the one. He promises himself he'll get up if there are more, but by the time he realizes he should have anyway, it would probably just be awkward.

He aches to help, and reminds himself firmly that he is. He is protecting Steve's secrets, guarding his door, standing and waiting like a good soldier.

***

Saying he wakes would probably be overstating it; he never really went all the way into sleep, and he'll need to catch up later today. Still, when the sunlight starts peeking into the big windows of Stark Tower, Clint rises and checks on Steve. He's asleep, curled up protectively around a knot of sheets, knees drawn almost to his chest, his good hand gripping the cast on his leg. He twitches occasionally, but Clint doesn't think anything of it.

"JARVIS, tell me if he wakes up before I get back," he says as he swings the bedroom door mostly shut.

"Of course, Agent Barton," JARVIS answers, as Clint heads for the kitchen. There are voices there, raised in what sounds like amusement; he can hear Tony's motormouth-growl and Thor's boom at least.

"No, the hash browns are a garnish, I've seen this done," Tony is insisting. Clint peers around the doorway. Tony and Bruce are hunched over a pot on the stove, while Thor merrily works a frying pan next to them. He's not sure he dares to ask, but he's not sure how he could not.

"What's cookin'?" he asks. Thor looks up.

"Hashed browns and breakfast soup," he announces.

"Breakfast soup," Clint repeats.

"It's turning into a kind of egg drop number," Bruce says. "It started out as Avgolemono."

"Okay," Clint agrees, because he's not sure what's going on but now knows he wants no part of it. He grabs a box of pop tarts from the pantry, along with two cups of add-water-and-swish instant oatmeal, then raids the fridge for juice and begins assembling a tray as far from them as possible.

"Steve in a bed of sickness?" Tony asks.

"Asleep. Thought I'd shove some food into him when he wakes up," Clint replies, adding a banana to the tray.

"Probably for the best, he's in one of his downswings," Tony says, stirring the soup.

Clint's head snaps up. "What?"

"Captain Rogers has reduced his caloric intake significantly," JARVIS supplies helpfully. Clint stares at the ceiling.

"JARVIS monitors our eating," Tony says. "It's...medical or something. His idea. Anyway, once in a while Cap cuts his food."

Steve eats like a horse, most of the time, but Clint supposes most of them do. None of them have great table manners, and it's not like they're counting how many slices of pizza Cap puts away. Clint thinks about Steve sharing his popcorn with Natasha, offering Clint his second slice of toast.

"Is he getting enough?" he asks JARVIS.

"He sustains no lower than seventeen hundred calories at any time," JARVIS replies. "Currently he is eating approximately nineteen hundred per day."

Which for Steve is very light eating indeed, but Clint's seen the stats -- Steve's body might burn calories like crazy but it also extracts every morsel of nutritive value from his food. It's enough to get him by, but not much more.

"It always comes back up again in a few weeks," Tony says, sipping broth from a spoon. He makes a dismayed face. "I think this is a failure," he tells Bruce. "I figure, you know, Cap probably got used to going out in the field, getting low on rations, coming home and loading up again."

That makes sense, except for how it doesn't. Clint adds a third cup of oatmeal to the tray, the fills a thermal carafe with hot water and a mug with coffee. Natasha strolls in just as he turns to go and gives him a need anything face. He responds with the no thank you face and heads for Steve's room.

"No, you can't just put the potatoes in the soup like that!" he hears Bruce cry as he leaves.

JARVIS helpfully pops the doors open for him, and he peers into the bedroom to see if Steve's awake. He's shifting and stretching, so Clint knocks briefly against the doorframe with his foot and walks in.

"Thought you'd want breakfast, and you don't want to know what the others are doing in the kitchen," he says, kicking the door closed behind him. Steve pushes himself up, clearly only half-awake.

"Nnn, thanks," Steve mumbles, arms over his head in a stretch, eyes dazed and dark, and the blankets tumble to one side. Clint pauses, awkward, because Steve is only in low-riding sleep pants that aren't hiding anything.

Steve yawns, one leg kicked out, and Clint nervously looks away from the sleepy stretch of his body and the morning erection between his thighs, outlined clearly in the cotton of his pajamas. As he turns his eyes flick over Steve's body in a way they're probably not supposed to, but Steve doesn't seem to realize how much he's showing off, at least for the first few seconds. Then, as he finishes stretching, he reaches down absently to -- to adjust himself --

And then looks up at Clint, startled --

Clint avoids the instinctive urge to look down, because Cap's probably embarrassed. No, definitely. Here's Clint bringing him food like a lovesick idiot, and there's Steve half-awake and more than half-hard looking up at him in surprise. Nobody has any illusions about what's going on here.

Clint could just whip the embarrassment away like a magician with a cape. He could -- would, with someone else, someone who meant less -- crawl into Steve's bed and go down on him. Acknowledge what's going on here and take part in it. He wants to. It's been a long time since he's been allowed to with anyone.

But this is Captain America, and even if he's into guys, or if he's not-but-would-let-a-guy-do-that, Clint's pretty sure the guy he'd choose is not some subby carnie white trash from Iowa. He carries the food to the bed and says, in a totally even voice, "I brought oatmeal. I'm glad you're awake."

They stare at each other, Steve looking up at him, Clint looking down not-quite-at-him. Steve gives him a slow blink, finally, and says, "Clint, I'm about to do something that might make us both look like fools."

"Uh?" Clint manages.

"Put the food over there," Steve says, pointing to the bedside table. Clint carefully clears the clock-radio and the plugged-in cellphone to the back of the table and sets down the tray.

"Drop," Steve says, voice deep and hard and commanding, and Clint's legs go out.

Without meaning to, without thinking, Clint goes down on his knees, tucks his wrists just below the small of his back, and bows his head.

"Well," Steve says softly. "Maybe not so much like fools after all."

Clint's breathing is hard and erratic, and he tries to regulate it through his nose. He's trembling, not sure if what he did was right or if Steve is, in fact, freaked out right now, and what this will do to the team --

"I don't believe I gave you permission to think," Steve says. The air leaves Clint's lungs sharply, but when he inhales again it's steadier. Yes, he did the right thing, and Steve is not freaked out -- where did Steve Rogers even learn about something like this? -- so it's okay. Probably.

There's a rustle, but Clint can't see much from this position, head bowed and almost touching the bedside table.

"If you don't like something, say stop," Steve says. "I'll look after you, and I won't hurt you, but if you have needs I should think about, speak up now. Otherwise no more speaking unless it's to say stop. I know you take my meaning."

As negotiations go, it's efficient to the point of being possibly ineffective, but Clint's done more with less and not all the Doms he's met have been so considerate. (Bad Doms, but better than none at all, on the hard days.)

"Nosir," Clint says.

"Good boy. Come up," Steve says, and Clint turns. It's not far to the bed; Steve's spread his legs, kicking the sheets aside, slouched back against the headboard at a frankly indecent angle. When Clint reaches the edge of the bed, Steve taps him under the chin and tilts his head, inviting him into the bed. Clint slithers up, kneeling again between Steve's legs.

"I wondered about you," Steve says, eyes wide with something that looks almost like awe. "You do this much?"

Clint nods.

"Well, I haven't. Much. Some. If I do it wrong, you should stop me, okay?"

Clint nods again, and Steve matches it, noting it. He hooks his good hand into the waistband of his pants. "Help me outta these."

Steve's dick is large, flushed, and Clint thinks maybe not quite fully hard yet -- maybe nerves, maybe he's not that into this and just doing it for Clint, maybe --

"Am I going to have to order you to stop thinking?" Steve asks sharply, and Clint lets another breath go as he sets the sleep pants aside. "You got no call to think about anything right now. I do the thinking."

Of course, Clint's not a great military mind and he doesn't read like Steve does and he ain't much of an artist either, and --

"Clint," Steve says, thumb back on his chin, a calming gesture. Clint risks flicking his eyes up, but there's no disdain there, not even any disrespect.

(Not like Loki, but the thought rises and falls like a wave, outside of his control, and is gone quickly.)

"You're gonna be so damn beautiful once I get you there," Steve says softly. "You think fine, Clint, just a little too much is all. Don't fuss right now."

Clint nods, breathing slowly. Steve holds him there for so long he starts to worry, then taps him on the chin to remind him, and the worry abruptly ceases.

Steve is in control. He knows how to give orders and if he can cover Clint out in the field with murdering alien monsters, he can cover him here, in a quiet bedroom, just the two of them. He trusts Steve. Steve would never let him mess up, never make him do things wrong, never make him hurt someone.

Steve likes control, and part of him makes a note to come back and examine that, but the rest of him sinks down into the blissful calm of submission.

There it is, there it is, there's the --

"Yep," Steve murmurs. "I remember that look."

-- beautiful empty place, soft and comforting. A vague little voice points out that he's never gone down so fast before; usually by the time he's here he's under a whip or full of needles or aching to come, but he's not even hard, he's just...there. Staring at Steve's blue eyes. The whole world is a little blue-filtered, but he doesn't care. He doesn't have to. Steve will look after that.

Distantly, he sees Steve struggling with something, but Captain America would never let anything hurt him, so it can't be that important. He watches in dislocated fascination as Steve blushes.

"Not so good at the dirty talkin'," Steve admits. "I -- I want your mouth. There. And after, I'll explain everything."

Clint nods and slides down on his stomach, head resting on Steve's thigh, and Steve strokes his hair. Clint arches into it, every nerve sharpened.

"You can still say stop," Steve says. "Anytime. And c...come if you want," he stutters, sounding shy.

Clint nods, turns his face to nuzzle into Steve's palm briefly, and then mouths along his thigh. It'd be easier if he could use his hands, but Steve didn't --

"You can use your hands," Steve says, sounding amused. Clint smiles and buries his face briefly in Steve's stomach, shy and adoring. Steve's hand never stops touching him, rubbing at his hair, then dropping down to pop his thumb in Clint's mouth, guiding him to his cock. Clint grasps him by the base of his dick and takes all he can in a single swoop, then almost chokes and backs off.

"Easy," Steve murmurs. "You in some kind of hurry?"

Clint eases back down, filling his mouth carefully, hollowing his cheeks. Steve is thick, heavy and warm against his tongue, and Clint feels his eyes roll back a little. This is simple, if not easy -- something to work towards, a challenge he knows he can beat.

"That's good," Steve sighs. Clint warms with the approval. "That's real good, Clint."

There's something different about Steve's speech -- slower, less precise. Less grammatical, and then it strikes him. He sounds like he did when they first got him out, when the concussion relieved him of a few filters. Steve's guard is down, and he's hearing the poor son of immigrants in a neighborhood of immigrants, the kid who picked up his grammar from the street. Steve trusts him. There's Cap and there's a layer below, and that's Steve Rogers, and this is the layer below that.

"Planning on moving again anytime soon?" Steve asks pointedly. Clint thrills to the implied threat and challenge, and twists his tongue up as much as he can, tucking it against the head of Steve's cock as he pulls up. Steve makes a noise, a groan of pure sex. Clint just about sprains his tongue trying to get another one out of him. Steve's fingers tighten on the crown of his head briefly.

He should be hard, he could be rubbing off against the sheets as he bobs his head and gets more of the filthy noises out of Steve, but he got himself here so fast that he didn't have time to even get turned on before Steve put him down, and he rarely comes when he's here. Who needs to? The softened world and the floating sensation and the desire to please, the knowledge that he is, don't leave room for something as relatively simple as sex. He can get off some other time.

It doesn't take Steve long to start arching into his mouth, using him. Clint dreamily takes it -- breathes when he can, doesn't care so much when he can't -- and when Steve says "If you don't wanna swallow, back off now" Clint latches on greedily and chokes on Captain America's dick until he comes. He swallows, suckling until Steve gently pushes him back, and then rolls over onto the bed, arms over his head, blissfully peaceful and still. When he glances up at Steve, he's breathing hard, but looking down at him with a shared serenity.

"Well, that's something," Steve says quietly, petting Clint's hair. "You all right? You can talk now."

Clint doesn't particularly want to, so he just smiles and nods. He'll have to get up in a minute, Steve will want to sleep or maybe will want Clint to clean him up, but for now he can probably stay.

He'd startle if he was capable of it right now, but he's not, so when Steve slides down in the bed, rolls over and pulls Clint back against him, he just goes limply. The blankets settle over them both, and Clint adjusts to make sure he's not lying on Steve's bad arm. Steve noses into his neck and drops kisses there, like they're lovers and not just a couple of guys who had a scene.

"Stay where you are," Steve says. "Door's locked, nobody'll see. Stay there long as you like. I like you like this."

"Stupid?" Clint asks.

"Relaxed," Steve corrects, rocking his arm a little to prove to Clint how limp his body is. "You didn't….uh…" His hand drifts briefly down over Clint's pants, cupping his soft dick briefly.

"Usually don't," Clint slurs.

"That's fine." Steve nuzzles his neck. "This must have been a surprise."

"Li'l bit," Clint agrees. "Didn't think you…."

"Yeah, I know. Apple pie, fireworks, and virginity," Steve says, laughter in his voice. "It's not all the way wrong -- like I said, I haven't done this much -- but man…" he shook his head. "I went to every state in the Union, and the show ended at nine. It's not like I never got propositioned while I was signing autographs. This fella one time asked me for an autograph and handed me a naked snap of himself. I looked down and choked, and when I looked up he gave me the dirtiest smile I've ever seen on anyone."

"You take him up on it?"

"No -- wasn't really sure he was my type, something a little off about him," Steve says, voice a deep rumble in his chest against Clint's shoulders. "But then one time we were in San Francisco -- "

Clint laughs dreamily.

"I know," Steve says, humor in his voice. "When we finished the evening show, I thought I'd have a drink and a sandwich somewhere. I found a likely-looking place near the theater and ducked inside. Turns out I walked myself right into a sex club. There I was, twenty-two, more or less fresh from boot camp, in this body…"

"Bet you didn't last long."

"Five minutes into my very uncomfortable beer this sweet-looking dame comes up to me and says she'll do anything I say," Steve says, voice thick with nostalgia. "I told her I was pretty sure I was outta my depth. She asked if it was my first time, I asked my first time what…" Clint can feel him shrug. "She said we could play a little game. I wasn't sure, I didn't know what I was getting into, but I was...lonely. She was pretty, and I liked the way she looked at me. I liked the way I made her look, after she taught me what to do. I liked how it made me feel to do what I did with her. It was...simple."

"You aren't the whips and chains kind, huh?"

"No," Steve says. "Well, once in a while, but I don't like hurting people generally. I'd rather do it gentle. Like with you."

"Never dropped that fast in my life," Clint mumbles.

"Good," Steve says, sounding satisfied.

"So what do you like?"

"Right now? I like you," Steve replies. "I like that what makes you happy is looking after me. When I was sick...my Ma had to put food on the table, and I knew that. Buck was just a kid himself. Having someone take care of me, that's rare, and I like it. And I think you like it too."

"Yeah," Clint says hoarsely. The idea of this -- that it might last longer than a few hours, that Steve could do this regularly without the pain, but might give him pain if he asks -- it's terrifying and comforting at the same time.

"I like...leather," Steve says, voice dropping deep. "When we came back to New York I found a club and there was this boy -- well, probably my age, and probably older than me in experience -- anyway, he was performing, song and dance, but he had on this brown leather corset, thick, you know, like saddle leather. I just wanted to watch him all night. Thought I'd died and gone to heaven when he came off the stage and dropped himself right into my lap."

"What'd you do?"

"To my continuing embarrassment, I let him squirm all over me like a second stage show," Steve laughs. "Not a single person in that club couldn't see him tryin'a get me to shoot it in my pants. He finally asked me back to his dressing room, which turned out to be about closet sized, but we made do. Kept the corset on. He had me pull the laces so tight he could barely breathe, couldn't hardly move. We had fun." He exhales deeply. "It's only seven. You fixed to sleep a little?"

"I could."

"Think you should. I might some more. I think I slept wrong. I woke up sore this morning."

Clint nods, already drowsy. Steve feels solid and secure, breath ghosting against his shoulder, and the world and its worries seem very far off.

Chapter Four

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