“Clinton, dear,” said Mrs. Haverhoft. “You really should eat more.”
Clint accepted the tupperware of cookies she offered him one-handed, his other hand busy holding Lucky’s leash as the dog tried to wander off. “Thanks Mrs. H, but really I’m fine.”
She gave him a look that said hell yes you are and smiled. “Now I baked those just for you so you’d better eat them up. You’re much too thin!”
Lucky whined, thankfully excusing Clint from further awkward conversation and thinly veiled sexual frustration on Mrs. Haverhoft’s part. Clint turned just in time to see a man across the street nearly run into a lamp post.
Clint frowned as the man glared at the lamp post like it had personally affronted him before slotting his gaze back to Clint. Seeing Clint looking at him made the man blush and turn on his heel, walking down the street at a breakneck pace.
Whistling, Clint ate a cookie. They were raisin, so he fed the rest to Lucky.
It was the heat that always got him. That was the only reason he walked Lucky shirtless. If he’d had any other choice he would have kept his shirt on because really.
There were three women today in wafting t-shirts and ankle weights. They’d been not-so-subtly following him and giggling to each other for about a mile. He didn’t mind too much, usually, but this was getting kind of annoying.
He thought about stopping for a while until they moved on, but Lucky perked up just as he’d decided to do it and started tugging him along at a faster rate. Clint stumbled after him and nearly tripped as Lucky drug him right over to a wide-eyed, curly haired man who looked familiar.
The man blinked and then nearly toppled over as Lucky barreled into his knees. “Whoa!”
“Sorry!” Clint reigned Lucky in, finally placing the stranger as the man he’d nearly seen run into a lamp post the day before. He smirked, which probably didn’t send the message of upstanding dog owner. “He’s just friendly.”
The man nodded. “I’ll just–” He squeaked, staring very intently at the dog and not at Clint’s shirtless form. He coughed and reached out, patted Lucky on the head once, and then turned and walked quickly away, mumbling something that sounded like busy, very busy as he went.
Clint watched, amused, as his followers twittered behind their hands.
He’d gone two weeks (and through nearly eight dozen cookies) before he realized that he saw the man every day.
His swooning brigade of frustrated housewives seemed to rotate in and out, although by now he knew the names of everyone in the neighborhood. There was Mrs. Kent who made him chocolate chip cookies and Lucky little dog-bone shaped biscuits. Ms. Delilah who smiled demurely at him. Ms. Profit who put rhubarb in her cookies and liked to tell him about ‘the old country,’ which he suspected was Texas. Mrs. Franklin whose cookies were absolutely not to be trusted.
But Clint still didn’t know the name of that man.
As far as he could discern, no one else did either. Clint leaned against Ms. Abbott’s (sugar cookies, good only for dunking in milk) fence and struck up some idle gossip.
“Oh, him?” she asked, leaning against the fence as well and not-so-surreptitiously checking Clint out. “I don’t think I’ve noticed him before. He must not live in the neighborhood or he’d come to the potlucks.”
Clint shivered. Those potlucks were a scary, scary place, whose only saving grace was the chocolate mouse Mr. Profit would always bring. “I notice him all the time,” Clint said, not thinking much of the comment.
Ms. Abbott, apparently, thought that comment was a Pretty Big Deal.
The next time he stopped by Mrs. Haverhoft’s place she looked positively giddy as she handed off her raisin cookies. “Why, Clinton,” she said, winking at him before looking off over his shoulder. “You’ve been holding out on us.”
“Huh?” Clint said, turning to look and seeing the man walking determinedly down the street, looking straight down at the sidewalk. The only thing that could have made him more suspicious was if he’d been whistling. Confused, Clint turned back. “I don’t know what you mean.”
She smiled and patted his hand, lingered a moment, then said, “Now, you know this is an accepting neighborhood. We already drove out any wrong-headed types who protested when Mr. and Mr. Lang moved in.”
Clint blinked. He looked down at Lucky, but Lucky seemed just as confused as he was. “I see,” he said, then, “Thanks for the cookies.”
He ran home and arrived in a sweaty, glistening mess. He realized the irony later.
Two more weeks and it was finally cool enough to wear a shirt again. Clint considered it and decided, nah.
Lucky tagged after him, tail wagging, as he snuck up behind the curly-haired guy.
“Hey there,” he said, and the guy jumped.
“Um!” he exclaimed. Thankfully Lucky chose that moment to nearly bowl him over again, and there was a brief moment where Clint grabbed his arm to keep him from falling. Clint set him upright, apologizing, and the guy said, “Um,” again, but this time in a deeper register.
Clint smirked. “I’ve seen you around but never properly introduced myself. Clint Barton.”
The man eyed his proffered hand dubiously. “Bruce Banner,” he finally said, shaking his hand firmly. “I’ve, uh, also seen you around.”
Subtle, Banner, Clint thought to himself, trying to keep his grin internal. He mostly succeeded. “Do you live nearby?”
“A few blocks over.” Bruce waved a hand in the general direction of thataway. “This neighborhood is a nicer walk.”
Clint puffed out his chest a little, pleased. “I think so, too,” he said. Lucky was winding his way around Clint’s legs, and Clint tried to disentangle the leash. “Since you’re around so much you should come to the potluck next week.”
“Oh,” Bruce said. He really was doing a marvelous job of keeping eye-contact with Clint, but Clint could see his resolve wavering. “That would be, ah, lovely.”
“You can be my guest,” Clint told him earnestly, hoping Bruce didn’t think he was just being polite. “Are you available?”
They exchanged information and Lucky finally grew bored, pulling Clint away and down the street, leaving a star-struck looking Bruce in their wake.
Clint had to wear a shirt to the potluck because really. Even he wasn’t that much of an exhibitionist.
Still, he knew to rock what he had. He chose a button-down with little chevrons stitched on it that was slightly too tight and he rolled the already-short sleeves all the way up.
He curled up with Bruce at the edge of Mrs. Klinenberg’s lawn, grinning as flirtatiously as he could as he gazed up at Bruce from under his eyelashes. He took a bite of a Klinenberg cookie and grimaced. Another for the no-go list.
“Enjoying yourself?” he asked.
Bruce had taken precisely one bite of his cookie as well. No more than that. He looked over and shyly smiled back at Clint. “Yes, actually. Thank you for inviting me.”
Lucky was sleeping at his feet. Clint reached out with one foot and rubbed at Lucky’s head. His dog sighed, content. “They don’t do this kind of stuff in your neighborhood?”
“No.” Bruce sighed. “They’re very… individualistic people.”
“Mm.” Clint eyed the assembled crowd and leaned a little closer to Bruce. It could have been an accident, the way he shifted nearer. “Maybe you’ll come over more often?”
Bruce leaned closer as well, which was clearly no accident. “I’d like that.”
“Maybe,” Clint said slowly. “Sometime you’d like to come over to my place?”
It was probably a bit forward, but Bruce’s grin got positively delighted. “I would definitely like that,” he said earnestly.
Lucky chose that moment to jump up and make a dash for the hamburgers. Clint’s precarious balance was upset and he tumbled into Bruce, who caught him gracefully.
“That’s familiar,” Clint said, starting to laugh before he realized that Bruce hadn’t let him go. Was, in fact, leaning closer. Clint looked up and his breath caught in his throat.
Their kiss was soft and gentle, and Clint barely noticed the whooping hollers of joy coming from the crowd.