The magic hits with the force of a bomb going off. Clint sees it far too late; the glowing light in the middle of the fight, the way it pulses and shrinks in on itself, going far too bright in the split second before it explodes. He turns around, sees the others all fighting with everything they’ve got.
“Watch out,” he bellows, and in the split second they have, Bucky turns to look at him, panting, eyes flashing-
The blast knocks them all off of their feet. Clint is hurled into a wall, and the world around him goes black.
He wakes in a hospital bed, sluggish and lethargic. There’s the quiet hum of machines around him, the beep of a monitor, quiet voices. He hurts all over. His left side feels numb.
He cracks an eye open, and relief bleeds through him as he spots Nat sitting at his bedside. She looks serious, something troubled in the hard-to-reach places in her eyes.
“Who died?” he croaks. “Was it me?”
“Don’t be an idiot,” she says, shaking her head. “No-one died. You, Bucky, Tony and Steve got hit.”
“By that glowy thingy,” Clint says, remembering. “God, it feels like I got-”
He looks down, and he freezes.
“Magic,” Natasha says, but he’s barely listening.
“Please tell me that’s not permanent,” Clint manages to say, staring down at the shining metal of his left hand, resting immobile atop the blankets.
Tony and Steve come in to see him later that afternoon. Tony is holding Steve up, an arm around his waist as he guides him in. Steve looks ashen and pale, though he’s refusing to show how much pain he’s actually in. Clint is confused for a moment, until he spots the shining circle of light glowing through Steve’s thin shirt.
“Oh no,” he says, and Steve blows out a breath as Tony carefully lowers him into a chair.
“Yeah,” Steve says, exhausted and miserable. Tony is looking at him with guilt all over his face, as if it’s his fault that Steve has ended up with a chunk of metal embedded in his chest.
“I fucking hate magic,” Clint says.
“You and me both,” Tony says, voice forced level, and he reaches out to hold onto Steve’s shoulder. Steve winces, reaching up to grab Tony’s wrist, and Tony jerks back as if burned.
“Shit, I forgot,” he curses, clenching his hands into fists. Steve reaches for him again, and Tony ever so gingerly extends his hand and wraps his fingers around Steve’s as if they’re made of glass.
Clint realizes what’s happened, and he blindly reaches up to his ear with his good hand, but he’s already knows the metal and plastic isn’t there, fuck, how had he not noticed before.
“Guys,” he says, palm clamped over his ear as foreboding rises in his gut. “Where’s Bucky?”
The noise Bucky makes is inhuman, a scream of anger and despair. The table goes flying across the room, shoved by his two very human hands. He screams again, and Clint knows how it feels to scream and scream and not be able to hear a sound you’re making-
The bed is shoved across the room too, metal shrieking under Bucky’s strength. Steve curses and tries to shove past, but Tony grabs his arm and easily pulls him back.
“Steve, no,” he says, and Steve seems to remember that his strength now belongs to someone else. He stares through the window at Bucky, agony all over his face.
“Why can’t I hear?!” Bucky is screaming. “Where the fuck is my arm?”
Clint feels the weight of the metal despite the fact it’s trussed up, held against his chest by something that’s part sling, part restraint. He can sense the cold of the plate embedded in his shoulder and feels like a thief.
“Fuck this,” he says, and he pulls open the door.
“Barton, no!” Tony shouts, but Clint is too quick. He slides into the room, heart beating high in his chest. Bucky hurls a monitor across the room; it hits the wall with a crack. Back heaving, he turns and abruptly stops when he spots Clint.
There is a moment of stillness, a deep breath. Bucky’s eyes lock on Clint, on the arm that doesn’t belong to him. His eyes are bright, his chin trembles.
“No,” he says, the word coming out thick and too loud. He lifts both his hands to his ears, clamps his palms to the side of his head. “No, Barton, no-”
“I’m so sorry,” Clint mouths, throat tight.
Bucky chokes on a sob. He steps back and sinks to the floor, clutching his hair in his hands. Clint hesitates, and then steps forwards. He sinks unsteadily to his knees in front of Bucky, reaching out and slipping his normal hand onto his shoulder.
Bucky reaches up blindly, grabbing Clint’s wrist and holding on so tightly it bruises.
They are all allowed to go home a week later, when the medics and doctors and so called experts finally admit defeat. There’s nothing they can do, they say. They’ll just have to wait and see what happens, try and see if there’s anyone who understands this type of magic.
Nat vanishes straight away, promising answers. Thor goes with her, solemn and serious.
Steve nods jerkily when he’s told the news, hand coming up convulsively to cover the light in his chest. Tony doesn't even seem to acknowledge the doctors, just looks at Steve with that horrible guilt etched into his features. He’s come out of this relatively well, and Clint would be lying if he said he wasn’t bitter about it.
Bucky doesn't say anything. He’s staring at the doctor with frustration and misery all over his face, and Clint realises it’s because he didn’t hear a word of what was said.
Clint very quickly works out that Bucky’s arm is not just a beautiful piece of shiny weaponry. He can barely move it; the first time he really tries, it moves so sharply and violently that it leaves him gasping in agony, feeling like he’s ripped his spine out of alignment.
It’s cold as well, and he can’t stop flinching every time it brushes against his own skin.
They all try and work things out by themselves. As the days pass and there is no word from Thor or Natasha, it gets harder and harder. Steve seems just to grit his teeth and get on with things, steadfastly holding onto the belief that Thor and Nat will be able to find a way to fix it, that they just need time. Clint reckons that he’d actually be dealing with it pretty well, if Tony wasn’t feeling so guilty, refusing to go anywhere near Steve because he’s not used to controlling his strength properly.
One night, Clint overhears them having a fight about it. Steve is bellowing at Tony and Tony is shouting back, all ‘for god’s sake Tony, you aren’t going to hurt me,’ and ‘I’d rather not even risk it, you idiot, I’m trying to keep you safe.'
Clint curls up tightly around the cold of the metal arm, because to be able to even hear the fight leaves him feeling thankful and guilty and twisted all at once.
Bucky turns up at Clint’s door after the third week of no answers, sullen and red-eyed. He’s been refusing to wear the hearing aids provided for him, and hasn’t uttered a word to anyone since his meltdown in the hospital.
“Teach me how to talk and listen,” he says too loudly, staring at Clint’s left arm, still strapped up against his chest.
Clint nods. He reaches out and pushes Bucky’s face up, fingers under his chin, so Bucky has to meet his eyes.
“Yes,” he mouths. “Okay.”
Bucky nods jerkily. “How do I say thank you,” he says, exhaling heavily and seeming to pull himself together.
The corner of Clint’s mouth hitches in a weak smile. “I’ll show you,” he mouths, and then hesitates. “But I’m going to need both hands.”
Bucky looks down at the metal arm, understanding. He nods jerkily.
“I’ll teach you,” he says, the words tumbling out, choppy and still far too loud.
“Deal,” Clint says to him, and stands back to let Bucky in.
“Pick it up,” Bucky instructs, and Clint nods, looking down at the arrow that’s on the coffee table between them. “Take your time.”
Clint reaches for the arrow, trying to ignore the sensation of machinery and electronics whirring under the plates of the arm. He reaches out slowly, fingers extending.
“Don’t think about it too hard,” Bucky says, slurring the ‘th’ sound slightly. Clint breathes out and nods again, and his fingers touch the arrow-
He jerks forwards too quickly and sends it skittering off the table onto the floor. “Fuck,” he says, drawing back. “Fuck.”
“Stop,” Bucky says loudly. Clint looks up at him, glaring.
“I can’t even pick an arrow up, how am I supposed to shoot my bow?” he snaps, and he knows he’s spoken too quickly for Bucky to follow. Even after four days of coaching him in lip-reading, he’s still not quite there.
“What?” Bucky asks, frustration flittering across his face.
“Nothing,” Clint mouths, slumping down into the couch and shielding his eyes with his good hand. “Sorry.”
He hears Bucky move, feels him take hold of his metal wrist. “Don’t give up,” Bucky says to him, and he presses his palm against Clint’s metal one. “Copy.”
He taps his forefinger against Clint’s, then his middle finger, then his ring finger and finally his little finger. “Copy."
Clint swallows, does as he’s told. It always takes him a while to get his little finger moving, but it’s getting better every day.
“Better,” Bucky says, and he pushes his fingers through Clint’s. He looks at Clint’s metal fingers with a contemplative look on his face, and Clint slowly bends them, curling his fingers through Bucky’s.
‘Why,’ Clint signs, and Bucky types the word into the tablet that’s balancing on his knee. ‘Won’t you wear the hearing aids?’
Bucky’s fingers falter, but he finishes typing out the sentence. He stares down at it, then sets it aside.
“Because if I didn’t have them,” he says slowly. “Then I’m helpless.”
Clint thinks of his bow, how long it’s been since he’s been able to hold it in his hand.
‘I understand that,’ he signs to Bucky.
“You understand a lot,” Bucky replies, and then pauses. “How do I sign that?”
Clint shows him.
The weeks have turned into months, and they’re watching a film with subtitles on, all gathered on the communal floor. Bruce is cooking, with Sam hovering at his elbow and attempting to help. Steve and Tony are taking up one couch, Steve lying down with his head in Tony’s lap as Tony sifts careful fingers through his hair. His other hand rests on Steve’s chest, over the reactor.
Clint and Bucky sit on the other couch, cross legged and facing each other.
‘Those two are gross,’ Bucky signs slowly at Clint.
‘They’re adorable,’ Clint signs back with a smirk, metal fingers moving easily. Not as smooth as Bucky, but better.
‘I’m glad they’re not fighting,’ Bucky signs. ‘Steve is happier when he’s with him.’
‘I’m happier when you’re happier,’ Clint signs, and Bucky frowns, unsure.
‘Why?’ He finally signs back.
‘No idea,’ Clint tells him, and his mouth flickers in a weak smile.
And they’re lying side by side on Bucky’s bed, watching reruns of Game of Thrones on the obscenely large television that Bucky had insisted was necessary when he’d moved in. Clint is only half watching; he’s dozing lazily, a hand thrown up behind his head and the metal one resting on his stomach.
He feels warm fingers poke him in the ribs and cracks an eye open, looking over at Bucky. His head is turned to the side on the pillows, his brow creased in a thoughtful frown.
“Do you consider yourself disabled?” Bucky asks, signing half the words as he goes. He gets lazy when they’re face to face like this, trusting Clint’s lip reading ability to get him through.
“What, like this?” Clint replies, and gestures to the arm.
Clint ponders it, frowning. “No,” he says. “I’m - I’m more vulnerable. But I’m not - less.”
Bucky rolls over, and he rests an arm across Clint’s chest, leaning over him and propping his chin on Clint’s sternum.
He lifts his head to sign ‘You’re very brave,’ at Clint, who just shrugs.
‘So are you,’ he signs back, and Bucky smiles.
And it’s four months since everything was turned back to front, and there’s a call to assemble. Bruce, Sam, Natasha and Thor set off immediately, but as the reports come in from SHIELD, it’s obvious that things are getting rapidly out of hand and that they’re going to need some back up.
Tony suits up without a second’s further hesitation. Steve watches him do it, gnawing on his lip and looking frustrated. Bucky has already confided in Clint that he’s worried about Steve being benched; apparently he doesn’t do sitting by very well. Clint hadn’t needed Bucky’s input to work that one out.
Stomach twisted in a sick, nervous knot, he retreats to his room to wait it out. He’s been there all of five minutes when a noise at the door draws his attention. Bucky is standing there, fully suited up, with a sniper rifle in one hand and something else clutched in the other.
Clint frowns at him, pushing himself up off of his bed.
“Promise me these won’t mess with my head,” Bucky blurts out, and he uncurls his fingers to reveal two hearing aids in the palm of his hand.
Clint exhales, steps over. “Promise,” he says quietly, face tilted up so Bucky can read the word easily.
Bucky nods, silently thrusts his hand out towards Clint. Clint takes the hearing aids and turns them on, stepping close and gently clipping them onto Bucky’s ears.
Bucky screws up his face, reaching out and grabbing Clint’s wrist. He feels the pressure of the touch on the metal plates, but nothing more. Bucky shudders, drawing in a breath and clenching his eyes tightly shut.
“I know,” Clint says. “Like you’ve broken the surface.”
Bucky nods, pulls himself together. He inhales and exhales heavily, before swallowing shakily and looking up. “Come with us.”
Shaking his head, Clint fights the urge to look away. “Can’t draw my bow with this,” he says, wriggling his metal fingers.
“Yes you can,” Bucky says, stubborn. “You can hold my hand without breaking my fingers, you can draw your bow.”
And he’s got a point, really. And Clint does not want to be sitting there whilst Bucky goes out into a fight, a fight in which he’s going to have to compensate for not having his arm-
“Okay,” Clint says. “Go get my bow. Suiting up now, boss.”
“Quickly,” Bucky says, and heads to the door. Just before he leaves, he turns back to Clint.
“Thank you,” he says, and then he’s gone before Clint can even think of a reply.
“You forgot, didn’t you,” Clint says to Bucky, as he sits there and lets the medic stitch up the gash on his left arm.
Bucky pulls a face. “Little bit,” he admits, glancing down as the medic finishes up the last stitch, spraying the whole thing down with antiseptic.
“Do not take them out yourself,” he says, and then shoves his chair away, getting up and stripping the gloves off, walking out of the room without looking back.
“It’s like they don’t trust us,” Bucky remarks.
“Would you trust us?” Clint asks, and Bucky laughs.
“No,” he says, and then he breathes out heavily, reaching up and rubbing his forehead with his hand. “That was hard,” he confesses.
Clint sets his bow at the foot of the bed, hopping up to sit next to Bucky, so close their hips are pressed together. “Because of your hearing?”
“No, because I’m so used to using my arm,” Bucky says. “It’s pretty much part of me now. Well, it was.”
“We’ll get it back to you,” Clint says. “Promise. Even if I have to sell a bit of my soul.”
Bucky frowns at him. “You’d swap back?” he asks. “Even if you lost your hearing again?”
“Yeah,” Clint shrugs. “I’m not so hot on the arm anyway. Can’t get used to jerking off right handed.”
Bucky laughs, surprised and delighted.
“You’re a tragedy,” he says, but he’s looking at Clint with the same fond and trusting expression that’s come to cross his face more and more often the more time they spend together-
Clint leans in and kisses him.
Bucky’s breath catches in his throat and he goes very still. Clint pulls back, eyes flickering over Bucky’s face.
“Sorry,” he says.
“You’re an idiot,” Bucky says, and he grabs hold of Clint’s shirt, pulling him in and kissing him again.
And it’s several weeks and several kisses since the incident in medical, and Clint is woken up at some ungodly hour of the morning by someone breaking into his apartment in the tower.
He knows who it is, so he’s not even remotely worried.
Sure enough, Bucky edges in around the bedroom door a few moments later, quiet and pensive. He’s wearing sweats and no shirt, all compact muscle and hard edges in the pale grey light that creeps in around the edge of the blind.
He pads over to Clint’s bed, sits on the edge. He’s wearing the hearing aids, Clint can see. “Woke up this morning and wanted to hear your voice,” Bucky says quietly. “Hearing things…It didn't matter so much before.”
Bucky shrugs, reaches for Clint’s hand. Takes it in both of his own, lifts it to his mouth. He presses his mouth to Clint’s knuckles, breathing heavily.
“Couldn't have done this without you,” he breathes, blinking slowly, his eyelashes a dark sweep against his skin.
Clint shivers. Bucky is very close. “Wouldn't have been in this mess if it hadn't been for me."
“Tony’s calling, he wants his martyr of the year award back.”
“Shut up,” Clint says, and Bucky laughs, breath hot against Clint’s fingers. Clint reaches out with the metal hand, brushes the fingers against Bucky’s cheek. Bucky hums, turns his fingers to kiss the fingertips.
“If I get my arm back,” Bucky says, lifts grey eyes to Clint’s. “Would you let me touch you with it?”
“Yes,” Clint replies without pause. “Wouldn't cross my mind to not let you.”
Bucky nods slowly. He blinks, eyes bright in the gloom. He’s pale and grey in the moonlight, and Clint wants to stay there in that moment with him forever.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “That you had to deal with,” he breaks off, gesturing up to Bucky’s ear.
Bucky looks at him for a long moment. He unconsciously licks his lower lip, momentarily biting down on it before slowly leaning in. Something electric curls up Clint’s spine and he shifts forwards to meet Bucky halfway, sliding his metal palm onto the side Bucky’s neck. He closes his eyes and their mouths meet, a single lingering press before Bucky presses even closer, moving over Clint as he catches his lower lip between his own.
Clint sinks back onto the pillows, pulling Bucky with him. Breathing heavily, he slides his other hand onto Bucky’s neck, holding him close as Bucky pushes him further back, climbing over him and settling his weight between Clint’s legs, body heavy and warm.
“Okay?” Bucky breathes, mouth in front of Clint’s, lips just brushing Clint’s.
Clint nods, unable to find the words, and steals whatever Bucky was about to say next with a kiss.
Clint wakes up in the morning, lying half on top of Bucky, metal fingers curled over Bucky’s shoulder and cheek resting on his sternum. One of Bucky’s arms is thrown across his shoulders, the other is folded up behind Bucky’s head, hand tucked into the pillows.
He breathes out heavily, shutting his eyes and listening to the comforting thump of Bucky’s heartbeat.
Another day, another call to assemble. Bucky doesn’t even hesitate this time; he scrambles out of bed with such haste that he nearly kicks Clint in the face. Hearing aids in place and fully geared up, he passes Clint his bow with a grim smile. They’re about to board the quinjet when Steve stalks up in his navy gear, looking determined.
“I’m piloting,” he says brusquely. “And I’m not discussing it,” he adds, glowering at Tony who throws his hands up in the air.
“Didn’t say a word,” he says, and leans over to pick up his helmet. “But if you get yourself shot, or injured in any way, I am going to kill you.”
“Deal,” Steve says shortly.
Bucky looks at Clint, somewhere between alarmed and pleading.
‘I’ll cover him if he gets out the jet,’ Clint quickly signs, and Bucky nods, expression melting into gratitude.
‘Keep yourself safe, idiot,’ he signs.
‘You too, moron,’ Clint replies, and Bucky smiles weakly.
They board the jet and sit by side. Tony and Steve sit up front and argue, and Bucky apparently deems them distracted enough to reach out for Clint’s hand. As the jet takes off, rumbling and shuddering beneath them, Clint threads his metal fingers through Bucky’s real ones, squeezing gently and stroking his thumb over Bucky’s knuckles.
A year to the day, and Clint wakes up to a world of silence.
It’s a cold Autumn morning and he’s in bed, Bucky curled up behind him with his face buried in the back of Clint’s neck and a metal arm thrown forwards over Clint’s waist. It’s cool and heavy against Clint’s skin, and Clint wonders if Bucky knows yet.
He debates waking Bucky up, showing him what’s happened.
He doesn’t. He breathes out deeply, shifts back into Bucky’s warm body, tangling their legs together under the sheets. He rests his flesh and blood hand over Bucky’s metal one, pulling his arm more securely around his middle, thumb stroking absently against the metal plates.
Part of him wishes that he could have woken up and had everything the same as it had been yesterday. Not because he wanted to keep the arm, hell no, but because for one whole year he'd been gloriously unburdened by his deafness. No having to examine every moment whilst considering his hearing, not having to make contingency plans and think everything through an extra time. Though really, like he told Bucky, being deaf doesn't make him less of a hero, less of a man, less of anything.
Bucky shifts in his sleep, stubble brushing against Clint's skin, and Clint smiles. By his count, he's still come out of this whole episode with more.