sparsenicjade
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AN: Written for this prompt over on avengerkink. Used for the "electrocution" square on my hc_bingo. Thanks to the anonnie who's brain dreamed that one up. Beta'ed by the exceptional forsweatervests despite moving countries, starting a new job and being SLAMMED by fics from me.

***



Steve hates bullies. It's a self-evident statement, and one Steve has made more than a few times in his life, but gritting his teeth and saying it to himself helps him to feel some semblance of control in this situation where he currently has none, so he looks at the wall and thinks about how much he hates bullies for a few moments.

Also, it helps drown out Tony's ranting. Steve actually understands that talking at absolutely nobody--since they're the only two people in this cell, and Tony clearly isn't really speaking to Steve--helps Tony feel control the same way Steve's mantra does, which is why he doesn't cut into it. That doesn't mean he can't wish that Tony's coping mechanisms were a little less verbal.

Tony, stripped of his suit, hits the wall with his palm and winces. He's already in a rough state. Steve honestly thinks he should probably be sitting, resting, but Steve understands the need to pace. If Tony weren't doing such a good job of energetically freaking out, Steve would probably be doing it himself.

Still, when Tony looks like he's considering lashing out verbally again, Steve says, "Tony."

Tony sucks in a breath. "What do you think? Have they got the others?"

Steve makes himself focus on the question. It isn't something he hasn't considered before now, just that he's been kind of distracted by worrying about Clint. After a moment, Steve shakes his head. "If they did, the others would be in here. And they'd have gone for Natasha."

"Pretty much my conclusion," Tony said.

Steve doesn't say that he's pretty sure the only reason they didn't go for Tony is because they need Tony. Between Tony and Clint, in a situation without the suit, Tony's the weak link, and that was unquestionably what whomever had them captive had been looking for. Steve could kick himself for moving to stand in front of the others when the cell door had opened. It was instinct to protect them, but it had clearly shown their captors how to manipulate Steve, at the very least, and Tony's smart-ass remarks as they'd tazed and pulled Clint from the room had given away the rest.

Because he doesn't want to think about the way Clint's body had seized in the throes of shock, or whatever the hell they might be doing to Clint, Steve says, "You think this structure has some kind of...dampening field?"

The cell itself is pretty plain. Steve estimates it as a ten-by-ten or so space, nothing but metal wall, ceiling and floor. The door is made of the same metal and must be controlled by a panel outside the cell. There’s nothing to climb or pry or really do anything with.

"Huh?" Tony asks.

"You don't feel weaker?" Steve asks.

Tony blinks. "I was kind of operating on the theory that our captors were just really strong, given the way they pretty much tossed you to the side to take Clint. You mean you're not feeling right?"

"Like picking up a pencil would be exhausting."

Tony crosses to where Steve is sitting against the wall and proceeds to examine him. "This is really kind of Bruce's thing."

"Yeah," Steve says.

"You might be right, though. About the building. I'm not feeling at my best, either."

"I think that's because you have a slight concussion," Steve reminds him. They'd figured that out upon waking up no longer in a fight, the three of them stuck in what seemed to be an adamantium cell, or something equally sturdy.

"No excuse," Tony murmurs. His eyes start to droop.

Steve says, "Stand up. Pace. Yell at me."

Tony sighs. "Bossy, bossy." He follows orders, though, and that's all Steve cares about just then.

*


Their captors throw Clint back in with them what must be a few hours later. Steve sighs with relief, not only because Clint is still alive, but because it gives Tony something to concentrate on, and his energy has been flagging. Clint trips from the force of the shove and crashes to his hands and knees, which looks pretty painful. Worse, he doesn't move, just stays there, panting.

Steve is still processing Clint's newest accessory when Tony snarks, "Already got them buying you jewelry, Barton?"

Carefully, Clint folds himself in and sort of...rolls a bit, until he's sitting with his knees pressed to his chest. He says, "My milkshake. It brings all the boys to the yard."

The sound of his voice is-- The only adjective Steve can come up with is "macabre," like something out of a horror tale. Steve says, gently, "Quiet."

Clint nods, giving him a shaky, half-hearted salute. Tony crouches down next to Clint and reaches out. Clint flinches and Tony stops where he is. Clint sighs, runs a hand over his face and mouths, "Sorry," then stays still, allows Tony to try and figure out the collar adorning Clint's neck.

Steve watches as Tony works, his fingers careful, gaze intent. Finally, Tony sits back. Steve looks at him and Tony shakes his head, sharp and pissed.

Clint frowns and tilts his head. "What?"

"They wired the collar into a node they placed under your skin, near your spine."

"I know," Clint says.

Tony's eyes widen. He snarls. "You weren't-- They didn't put you out?"

Clint's smile is all teeth and mocking. It's enough of an answer. Steve has to swallow in order not to vomit. No wonder Clint had flinched.

Tony stands then, pacing again. It takes a few minutes for him to calm enough to explain, "I can't remove it without the proper tools. Aside from being intensely, mindblowingly agonizing, it would override the circuit and kill him."

Steve appreciates that Tony has learned to dumb everything down for him, but sometimes he kind of wishes Tony would revert to genius-speak. It makes things sound less dire when Steve has no clue what the hell is being said.

"Collar stays for now," Steve says, mostly because both Tony and Clint are looking at him and it seems only right to say something. Feeling pretty idiotic at his choice, he settles himself against the wall of the cell and helps Clint into a position where he's supported and as comfortable as the two of them can manage. He says, "Try and rest."

"Playing favorites, Cap?" Tony asks.

Steve says, "Of course," and offers Tony the best smile he has in him at the moment when Tony, responsibly, given his concussion and the possibility of him falling asleep, does not sit down, instead continues to pace.

*


Steve isn't precisely sleeping, but he's hazy enough that the sound of the mechanism on the cell door releasing startles him into full wakefulness. Clint has stiffened against him as well. Steve lays a hand on Clint's shoulder and shifts him, so that Steve can stand without moving Clint too much.

Clint, of course, just gets up behind him anyway. He's shaky, but he manages to stay on his feet.

There are three considerably-sized guns trained on them, one for each of them, and the guard in the middle is explaining how they need Tony to reverse engineer a certain...engine, maybe? There's a lot of words Steve doesn't know being thrown around, but what he's pretty clear on is that Tony's really not in agreement with the idea.

Tony is once again trying to explain to them that, "Seriously, I mean, you must have done some background on me, do you honestly think that this approach is going to end well for--"

Steve's attention is diverted from Tony then, because next to him there's a buzz and Clint makes a choking sound before going to his knees, his hands coming up to claw at the collar and then springing away just as quickly with a startled intake of breath. After a second, the smell of burnt skin hits Steve and he has to swallow back bile.

There's a moment of silence, Tony staring at Clint in horror, Steve reminding himself that getting shot when he's fairly sure he won't just heal up will not help either Tony or Clint. Then Clint pins Tony with a look and croaks out, "Don't you dare, Stark."

The guard on the left thumbs something and Clint goes to his hands, a high-pitched whine occasionally breaking from his lips as he rides out the shocks. After a moment, all the logic in the world can't help Steve from rushing them, and he gets in a hit, but little more than that before he's pistol-whipped and on the ground, struggling to stay conscious. He doesn't want to leave Tony and Clint alone.

Tony is shouting, sharp words at the guards and then, "Sorry, sorry," and Steve gets that he's not talking to the guards, he's talking to Clint.

No sooner has Tony agreed than they turn off the power. Clint has fallen to the ground completely, is trembling there in the aftermath of the shocks. Steve moves to his side, looking up to see Tony being led out by the guards. Tony is looking over his shoulder, trying to see Clint.

They catch each other's gaze and Steve reads loud and clear that Tony will come up with something. Steve believes that. And they have three team members who will be looking for them. They just have to keep Clint in one piece long enough. Steve holds Tony's gaze as long as he can, before Tony is forced forward, the door shut between them.

Clint whimpers, manages a shaky, "Fuck."

Steve takes a deep breath, half to clear the pounding in his head, half to try and focus. It doesn't help with either very much. He asks, "Think you can pass out for a bit?"

"Might be the only thing I'm good for," Clint admits, his voice sounding like he's been snacking on glass shards.

"You know what happens to people who mess with Tony Stark's team," Steve says quietly, because Tony's not here, and because they both do know.

Clint's muscles seem to loosen a bit at that and he says, "Yeah. Okay."

Steve sits down on the floor. There’s nowhere to put Clint that’s more comfortable, not even a mat, so he helps Clint move until his head is pillowed on Steve’s legs. Clint closes his eyes. Steve keeps his open. Tony'd have every right to yell at him if he falls asleep with a possible concussion after pushing Tony not to.

*


Steve swears when Clint is shocked awake less than an hour later. Clint goes stiff, straight as a board and Steve finds himself uselessly saying, "Breathe, Clint, try and breathe," as though that is going to lessen the pain.

There's a second where it stops and Clint goes wholly limp, a strangled sound coming from his lips. Then it starts again. Steve makes a note to find the camera that must be streaming to Tony’s location. He can’t imagine where in the completely smooth walls it’s hidden, but he’ll have to ask Tony. Steve's pretty sure that, unlike normal, whatever Tony did that sparked this, it wasn't intentional. Tony's a lot of things, but Steve knows he would cut off his own limbs before causing one of them this kind of pain.

Shamefully, Steve is glad he can't hear Tony, because it's enough to hear Clint moan and occasionally give into the urge to scream. If he had to hear them both, he'd be begging. As it is, he has to concentrate, remember to breathe through his mouth so that he can't smell the worst of it, focus on keeping Clint's head from banging against the floor.

After a while, Tony must figure out a way to appease them, because the current stops. Shakily, Clint says, "Cap, um. Could you-- I mean, would you mind helping me move?"

Steve has been keeping his eyes on Clint's head, but now that he takes in the situation, he sees what it is that makes Clint incapable of looking at him. Clint's lying in a puddle that wasn't there before this last round. Every muscle he has is trembling, spasming ferociously.

Steve touches Clint's face, so that he can look him in the eye. "Hey."

Clint closes his eyes, so Steve does as asked, all-but dragging Clint to another corner of the cell. Steve works to make Clint as comfortable as possible, once again playing pillow for the other man. Without realizing what he's doing, Steve finds himself massaging at Clint's arms, his stomach, everywhere, trying to get the tremors to calm.

Clint is taking deep, if shaky, breaths. He coughs and whispers, "No offense, Cap, but sometimes being the perceived weak spot on this team really annoys the living shit out of me."

"Perceived," Steve repeats, because it's important Clint remember that right now.

"Mm.” Even Clint’s humming sounds wrecked. Steve’s scared he’s going to see blood at any word, now. But note, they're not doing it to you, and they evidently could right now."

"It's possible they were worried electricity might interfere with whatever suppressant they're using."

After a moment, Clint acknowledges, "Maybe."

Softly, Steve says, "You're good, soldier."

"Wouldn't lemme in the army," Clint mumbles, his words slurring a bit. "Undereducated, they called it."

Steve wonders what Clint calls it, in the privacy of his own mind. He doesn't ask. Instead he says, "Their loss."

Clint snorts, but he doesn't contradict Steve, and his breathing evens out. Steve takes the chance to squeeze Clint’s torso carefully, reassuring himself more than anything. He really, really hopes Tony's got a plan.

*


Tony's plan is not what Steve considers to be bulletproof, but it's the best they've got. Tony's practically coming out of his skin by the time they return him, like he's been shooting caffeine, only more terrifying. Tony tells Steve with glances and gestures where the camera is at. Steve turns so that he can mouth, "Sound?"

Tony sighs and nods. Steve holds back a wince, not just because it makes things more complicated, but because it means Tony had to hear Clint, not just see him being tortured. Tony sits down next to Steve and reaches out tentatively to touch Clint. Clint stirs a bit, but when Steve murmurs, "It's okay," he settles without waking.

Tony leans into Steve, close enough that he can mumble, "I can stall. I can maybe even signal Pepper through JARVIS. Probably, I mean. All else fails, I...there's a weapon I could make, it'd probably get us out of here, but if it doesn't-- I promised I wouldn't make weapons for other people."

Steve looks down at Clint, to remind himself of the stakes, as if he needs the help. He thinks about Clint's order to Tony, him telling Tony to let them keep flooding his system with electricity just to keep Tony out of their clutches. Steve gets it. Even if Clint didn't function as part of a unit with Natasha, even if he hadn't been trained to play as part of a team to some extent by SHIELD, Clint would still have a clear notion of priorities. Steve hadn't been lying--the army screwed up in rejecting him. Clint sees each part of a battle clearly, and can tell a commander exactly how they all came together.

Clint's willing to take one for the team, certainly, but more than that, Clint knows that of all of them, Tony in his pure, human form, can be the most dangerous in a given situation. His mind is more of a weapon than any of their bodies will ever be.

Steve nods to himself at the logic, because Clint would agree. It doesn't make it any easier to say, "Just stall."

Tony hasn’t said anything about the others, and so Steve is going on the theory that they have Thor, Natasha and Bruce all looking for them. Worse case, the others are somewhere in the facility, and Nick Fury is pretty pissed that someone’s stolen his team of pet superheroes.

Tony's breaths come short and harsh, as though he's panting. Steve has learned to know when Tony is keeping his face blank through effort, and he clearly is at this moment. So Steve chooses the one tactic that will distract Tony; he preys on Tony's other weaknesses. Sometimes, Steve muses, being a commander of people you actually care about is a crap job.

Steve says, "You have to trust the others."

Tony's jaw muscle tightens. "Not really my style, Cap."

Steve doesn't respond, just lets Tony stew. Finally, Tony relents with, "I honestly hate you people."

Steve pats him on the shoulder. "You've made that abundantly clear."

*


Hulk shows about ten minutes after their captors have come to take Tony again, engaging in a few minutes of torturing Clint supposedly as a reminder of what happens if Tony does not cooperate.

None of them need reminding.

Steve watches Tony's face when Clint starts dry heaving while the current is running, the muscles in his body no longer entirely sure what they should be doing at any given time. Steve watches Tony's face and hopes that he gets to see whatever Tony does that makes these people die slow.

Then again, he thinks, when Hulk takes off the front of their cell and peers in, he wouldn't mind just letting Hulk loose on them to have some fun. Steve tells Hulk, "Hawkeye," and Hulk looks down at where Clint is struggling to his feet and roars.

Steve says, "I know, but later big guy, okay? For now, get him out of here."

"Steve--" Clint starts, but whatever he has to say is overriden by Hulk plucking him carefully from the ground and meandering off with the words, "Birdie hurt," in a suspiciously remonstrating tone.

Natasha is at Steve's side a moment later, handing him his shield. It feels really fucking heavy. Natasha pretends not to notice, but she does say, "Bruce thinks they injected a time-release capsule with something that's fucking with you. Evidently that's their signature technology."

"We should probably figure out an antidote to that," Steve says.

"Bruce is two steps ahead of you."

Steve nods, annoyed, not for the first time, that they can't have Bruce and the Hulk at the same time. He follows Natasha, since she clearly knows where she's going, and ends up on a quinjet, where Tony is already seated, Clint next to him, buckled in.

Steve climbs aboard behind Natasha. He looks over his shoulder. Thor and Hulk are still having a good time down at the complex. He knows they'll make it out on their own and come home when they're ready, but it never sits well with him, leaving any of them behind.

Natasha squeezes his shoulder. "They're on our tail, Cap. They just want to give us a little space to fly."

Steve trusts his team, and not just when he's the one barking out the orders. He climbs in the jet and says, "Let's go home."

*


Medical takes Clint into a surgical room to free him of the collar without cutting any nerves or causing other collateral damage. Bruce, when he's back in a Bruce-like shape, comes and checks out Steve. It doesn't take him long to find the capsule, and it can be removed with a shot of local and a butterfly bandage until the serum's healing takes over. Bruce says, "Now that it's out, the interference should clear out within an hour, maybe less given your healing ability."

By the time that's done, Clint is still sleeping off the effects of the anesthetic they gave him so they could cut his neck open. The doctor tells Steve they've put Clint on fluids and vitamins, just to get his basic nutrients back up to speed, give him the strength to heal. They've cleaned out the burns and put healing medications on them, but the team will need to watch for any signs of infection.

Steve nods at all this and asks, "When can we take him home?"

"He needs another few hours on the IVs. Then he's good to go."

Steve finds Fury, both to give an account of what was going on from their end and to find out what the hell this was all about. Hill fills him in on the fact that Pepper got nervous after Tony missed responding to a text privately-coded urgent, and Bruce found them through tracking lab facilities with unusual security features even as Natasha had been putting out feelers.

At some point during the debrief, Natasha calls Pepper, and before Steve is exactly sure what has happened, he and Tony have been cajoled away from Clint's side, back to the Tower and into showers and fresh clothes. Tony comes into the main area with wet hair and an expression that's probably more confused than he wishes. When he sees Steve he schools his features into neutrality and asks, "They tell you when Barton's getting back?"

Before Steve can answer, Pepper walks in through the same door Tony'd used the moment before and says, "Just got off the phone with Natasha. She says they're going to sign him out in an hour and that he's awake and writing petulant notes about wanting a burrito. The doctors told him to try and not speak until the burns start to heal up."

"I can get burritos," Steve offers, needing something to do until he can see Clint again, be certain that the reports Pepper is receiving are correct.

"Yeah, no," Tony says, and Steve opens his mouth to argue, but the last time he offered to do a food run he'd been stymied from the second he'd walked into the Chopp'd. Evidently ordering a salad had changed a lot at some point.

Steve does say, defensively, "I figured it out."

Tony doesn't respond to this, and Pepper is already on the phone, speaking in Spanish, so Steve's gut feeling is she's got this under control. Pepper has pretty much everything under control. Steve has maybe had moments of jealousy, once or twice.

He can't hold onto the feeling, though, when she says, "C'mon, Cap. Help me pick out an ice cream cake for Clint, and carry the food."

He follows her out to the car and says, "Thanks. You didn't-- Tony--"

"Needs to hide in his lab until Clint gets back. You need something to do." She smiles at him, sweet and understanding. "It's nothing."

It's something, but Steve doesn't press the point, just helps her out when she asks.

*


Clint walks in the house without any aid, and if Natasha stands close enough to catch him at any point, nobody is stupid enough to mention that fact. Steve, however, can't stop himself from going to Clint, gently tilting his neck this way and that so as see the surface damage, if nothing else.

Clint lets him have his way for a few seconds, then puts a hand to Steve's chest and mouths, "Fine, Cap."

It doesn't feel like it, and Steve can tell from the way Tony's slunk into the room and is holding himself back from everyone that Tony agrees, but he's not going to push. He can't help but think of Clint's assessment of himself: "perceived weak spot." Steve won't be the one to reinforce that.

Tony's the one to say, "I already started on the burritos. You fuckers were taking forever."

Clint flips him off and they all move into the common area. Clint flops down on the sofa almost immediately. Natasha rearranges him so that she's underneath him, providing support. Bruce says, "I'll go get plates."

Steve goes and helps Bruce. He asks, "Won't this hurt his throat?"

"He's probably not going to eat a lot anyway. My guess is he makes it through a few bites of his before he passes out for the next day or so. When he wakes up we'll pour liquids and pudding and ice cream down his throat until he can bitch about us mother henning him."

Steve smiles a little, since it's a pretty accurate description of how this will probably play out. "In the meantime, the burrito won't hurt him?"

Bruce shakes his head. "Not as long as he remembers to chew."

Steve and Bruce bring out the trays, with plates and napkins. Steve brings a water bottle for Clint. He sets it and a plate with a full tequila-soaked carnitas burrito, but without the hot sauce that Clint usually douses it with. Bruce had said, "Probably not a good idea."

Clint grouses by way of facial expression, but Steve notes that he chews every bite for a long time, slow in a way he almost never is. Once or twice Steve has just sat down to eat only to find that Clint has already made it through three-quarters of his plate.

His eyes start drooping when he gets close to the halfway mark. Steve, who has been waiting, given Bruce's prediction, disengages the burrito from Clint's grip and hands him a wet wipe.

Clint rolls his eyes, but he smiles at Steve, an I-forgive-you-for-being-overbearing-because-I-know-you-can't-help-it smile. Steve appreciates it. Tony, who's been hovering the whole time while trying to seem like he's just pacing, huffs and walks off to pour himself a drink.

Clint leans into Natasha and closes his eyes. A second later he startles, his eyes coming open, settling when the first thing they find is Steve. Steve says, "We're just gonna sit here for a bit. Eat our burritos."

Clint grins, his eyes closing again. Steve nods, and goes to work on his second burrito.

*


Steve carries Clint to his floor and Clint doesn't stir which is a sign both of how exhausted he must be and that, despite being a fairly light dosage, the pain pills are doing something. He thinks about taking the bed in the guest room that every floor has, but he can't convince himself to leave the room Clint is actually sleeping in. When Tony shows up about an hour later, the two of them move the couch to the hallway outside Clint's room, leaving the door open, and spend the night camping out.

Steve drifts off at some point, but wakes before the others. He makes his way to Clint's kitchen and finds a box of slippery elm tea with a post-it note in Bruce's handwriting reading, "Brew and ice."

Steve starts the steeping process. He talks to JARVIS quietly, asking about ideal breakfasts for someone with a sore throat. Eventually they decide on a smoothie, and Steve ventures to the main kitchen for vanilla yogurt, bananas, and peaches. Clint has orange juice in his fridge.

Steve blends the ingredients, ices the tea and sits back down on the couch to work on the necessary paperwork post a "captivity incident."

Clint wakes when Steve's about halfway through, tossing a little and moaning. Tony comes awake, too, as if he's been listening. Tony says, "Barton!" sharply, like an order, and Clint jerks awake.

Steve gives Tony a look, but Tony just seems relieved. Steve sighs and says, "Made breakfast."

Clint smiles, looking rumpled and unusually out of his element. Steve wonders if it's the sign of trust that it feels like. Steve tries to shake off the emotional response of being undeserving. It’s a peril of having a team, of being a leader, this sense of failure, but Clint and Tony are both alive, basically in one piece, and Steve knows he did all he could in the situation. It’s just hard to feel that way. Clint tumbles out of bed and toward the bathroom. Steve goes and pours the tea into a glass, takes the smoothie out of the fridge.

Tony takes over Clint's coffee maker and stares at it pitifully as it refuses to work any faster than any other Stark-augmented coffee maker. Clint shows up looking as though he's splashed his face with water. Steve herds him to the bar area and makes him sit, giving him breakfast, a pain pill settled neatly beside it, just in case. Clint looks at it for a long moment, but then gives Steve a tight smile and takes it.

His progress on breakfast is slow, each swallow clearly painful despite the soothing properties of the food and drink involved. Natasha shows up as he's finishing his first glass of tea and pours him another. He looks at it uncertainly.

"You can come back to it," Steve tells him.

Clint nods, puts the glass in the fridge, and sticks the empty smoothie glass in the sink. He grabs his tablet and types out, "Monopoly? Scrabble? Risk?"

"I'm good at Risk," Steve says.

"Monopoly it is," Tony responds.

Clint just grins and takes them into his living room, pulling out all three games, and Steve figures, why not? They've got all day. Natasha disappears and comes back with Pepper, Thor and Bruce. Clint takes the car and sets it on the start line.

Tony whines, "Hey, I'm always the car."

Clint holds up the tablet. It already says, "Not today, Stark."

*


Bruce very competently and thoroughly takes them all to town in Monopoly, which Tony whines about pretty much until Pepper obliquely threatens to withhold sex. Pepper then schools just about everyone at Scrabble.

Risk is the one game where they are evenly matched, if they all have extremely different approaches. Steve wins, but it's a close thing, very close. Clint has fallen asleep at some point, his head on Thor's lap. Thor has a protective hand over Clint's chest, as if daring anything to try and approach.

Steve thinks they should probably be trying to get more fluids in Clint, but he doesn't have the heart to wake him. Instead, he finds the nearest throw and places it over Clint. He looks around and it's clear none of them are really considering going anywhere, so they all find ways to occupy themselves quietly while waiting for Clint to wake up.

When he does, his eyes do a lazy sweep of the room and he smiles a little. Steve tells him, "There's ice cream cake. Or regular ice cream. And pudding. In three different flavors."

Clint sits up and types something out. He holds up the tablet. It reads, "Did Natasha make the pudding?"

"That was one time," Natasha says, in the same way she says everything, calmly. Steve isn't sure how he knows there was an elided "cocksucker" at the end of that statement, just that he does. Natasha adds, "And you enjoyed it."

Steve decides that in a world of things he does not want to know, that one just made its way to the top of the list. He just says, "Bruce did. And no, Tony was not allowed to help. Despite suggesting that science would hasten matters."

Clint's tablet reappears with, "Well played, doc."

Then, after a second, "Pistachio?"

Steve can almost hear the plaintive tone of Clint's voice. Tony answers, "Yes, you gigantic freakazoid, Natasha was insistent."

Natasha shrugs. "It's his favorite."

"I like this green treat of yours," Thor opines.

"You like everything," Tony points out.

"Is it not better to like things than dislike them?"

Clint grins and pats Thor's shoulder. In the meantime, Steve slips out to get him his pudding. He brings it back, sitting next to Clint and handing him the spoon.

Clint takes a few bites. Steve listens meditatively to the squabbling between Tony and Thor, well, Tony squabbling, Thor trying to understand. He feels a poke at his leg and looks down to where Clint has typed out a message. It reads, "You guys don't have to stay, you know."

Steve nods and fingers in the words, "We know."

Clint is still for a moment and then he responds with a simple, "Thanks."

Steve smiles and when Clint's done with his pudding, he goes and gets him another. There will be other battles, other enemies that threaten what is Steve’s, take his effectiveness from him and force him to make hard decisions; there always are. But for now he can ply Clint with treats and watch him sleep and order him to stand down. For now he can be part of the family that Clint watches out for from rooftops and airvents and whatever hidey holes he can find. For now he can keep safe. Steve is learning to live in the present.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile