Clint doesn’t need to hear the words to know what Steve is saying to him.
“What have you done?”
He looks up from where he’s crumbled into a heap, into Steve’s desperate face and the worried frown. The sides of his face are warm and sticky with blood, blood that is still pouring out of his ears, and he knows perfectly well who he has to blame for that.
He remembers the horrible mess of scars on Phil’s chest and back, and he knows that he made the right call, that this was the right decision.
Never again, he swore to himself and to Phil, and he swears it again, sitting on a broken piece of concrete with blood drying tackily on his skin, whispering the words, unheard, until his throat feels raw and achy.
They bring him to the hospital wing on board of the Helicarrier, and he doesn’t need to hear anything to know that there are worried whispers.
It’s not long until Phil arrives, dressed in an impeccable suit that hides all those scars. He brings a pad of paper and stays while Clint undergoes testing and exams, and he doesn’t protest when Clint steals it and starts folding paper airplanes while they wait for the doctors to make a diagnosis.
When the doctor returns, he carries a tablet pc, on which he writes in big, blocky letters words like “trauma” and “most likely permanent damage” and “further testing needed”.
Clint plasters on a cheerful smile and lets an airplane sail through the air, his eyes tracking its progress until it lands in the sad excuse of a plant that is decorating a corner, and wonders if he can leave soon, ignoring “surgery” and “hearing aids” and “implants” and “possibilities”. He feels miles away from his own fate, disconnected from himself in a strange way.
He knows that what he did was necessary, because Mindbend was getting too close, and Clint realized too late that he’s a mutant, that he’s influencing people by literally whispering in their ears and influencing their minds.
Clint made a promise that he would do everything in his power to prevent getting mind-wiped again, after Loki.
He made a promise, and he’s going to stick with it.
Even if it costs him his hearing.
Phil has that bland expression on his face that tells him he’s worried and doesn’t want to show it. Clint knows him too well for it to work, and the fact that Phil is trying to hide how he feels, after all they’ve been through, rankles.
He avoids him for the rest of the day, and if he decides to crash in the rarely used room he has at Stark Tower instead of returning to the apartment they share, it’s his own decision and nobody can tell him differently.
Or, they can try to tell him differently, but he can’t hear them, so why bother?
Phil keeps his distance from him. He doesn’t even manage to look at him, but Clint pretends he doesn’t notice, doesn’t mind.
He’s on medical leave, and nobody knows what to do with him now, when he’s pretty much useless for the team, when radio-contact is impossible and it doesn’t matter anymore that he is a good tactician and an even better sniper.
It’s not that he was always good at listening to orders, but at least he was able to hear them.
It was Tony Stark who developed the sonic arrows that ruined his hearing; Tony Stark who presented them to Clint with a cocky smirk and a carefree glint in his eyes.
Now Stark can’t look him in the eye anymore, and the glint has been replaced by guilt.
Clint doesn’t know how to make it clear that this was his decision, that he knew exactly what would happen if the sonic arrow was triggered while still in his quiver.
It was his decision.
Phil is still not speaking to him. He walks past Clint when he comes to Stark Tower without more than a brief, polite nod.
Clint can deal with that.
He knows he made the right decision.
He holds his head up high and pretends not to be lonely when he curls up in his bed at night.
His balance is off, making him stumble instead of moving gracefully through the gymnastic course he’s set up in their gym.
Clint sets his jaw and remembers the many hours spent with the circus, how long it took to ingrain habits and flexibility into his body.
He takes a deep breath and starts from the beginning, not giving up until he can backflip and walk the tightrope better than he ever did.
It’s strange, speaking without hearing his own words. He has to focus on not slurring them together, on making people understand him.
After a while, he stops trying and just doesn’t say anything anymore.
It’s not like he can hear their replies, anyway.
Being on the range is soothing and familiar. He nocks arrow after arrow, focuses on the target and lets them fly, his mind carefully blank and at peace.
They are good, old-fashioned regular arrows, straight-forward and simple.
He pretends he didn’t notice that the rest of the sonic arrows have disappeared from his quiver.
Tasha, Steve and he start communicating in their own mix of hand signs. They make do, despite the occasional miscommunication, and it allows him to communicate.
Tony simply shoves his phone under Clint’s nose, blinking text with whatever Tony wants him to know.
For the rest, Clint watches. Body language and lip reading are useful skills for a man in his profession, and he only needs to touch up on his already pre-existing abilities to get by.
He can see Thor’s lips move, sees Tony and Bruce flinch, and then, he is wrapped in a wall of solid muscle and chain mail. It’s pretty amusing, all together.
Thor pretty much treats him the same, except that he talks louder, as if that would cure Clint’s deafness.
The only thing that happens is that the others keep a good distance from Thor everytime he opens his mouth to address Clint.
He misses music. And Phil.
It’s raining soundlessly, the air around him a drab grey. People are hurrying to get out of the weather around him, their umbrellas little dots of color in front of the grey-in-grey background of New York City.
Clint burrows deeper in his hoodie, pushes his hands deep into his pockets and hunches his shoulders up as he continues on his way. He’s going stir-crazy in the tower, while the Avengers are out, doing their job, and he’s useless.
It doesn’t matter how often he reminds himself that it was worth it, that he chose this fate.
He still feels useless.
His sharp eyes catch movement, a red coat disappearing around an edge with two hooded men following behind, and his senses tug at him, alarming him that something bad is happening right here, in front of him.
He quickens his steps, follows them, and when he rounds the corner, he sees the woman sprawled against a dirty wet brick wall, long blonde hair disheveled and her mouth opened comically wide, her palms bloody and lifted helplessly in the air while one of the goons is holding a gun to her temple and the other one digs through her purse.
He doesn’t have a bow and no arrows, but that doesn’t mean he’s unarmed. The first knife hits the armed goon’s wrist at a perfect angle, making him open his mouth wide in surprise and agony, the gun dropping from suddenly nerveless fingers. Clint doesn’t hesitate and knocks out the second man, taking advantage of his distraction and choking him until he’s unconscious.
Adrenaline makes his heart rate pick up, throwing everything in sharp relief - the expression on the woman’s face, the faces of the two men on the ground, the dirt and the puddles on the ground, and when he asks her, “Are you okay, ma’am?” he forgets for a split second that he can’t hear her reply.
He also can’t hear what’s going on behind him, his focus on the woman, but when her eyes widen and she screams - he can’t hear it, but he can see it - he ducks, following his instincts, and the blade of his own knife scrapes along his raised forearm, neatly cutting through the sleeve of his hoodie and the skin underneath.
It’s more a scratch than a serious injury, and it only serves to piss him off. A pissed-off Hawkeye is a dangerous Hawkeye; and also a Hawkeye who is careless and ruthless. Steve would frown if he could see him now, but then, Clint has seen Steve take out people with the edge of his shield without looking back. He thinks Steve doesn’t have much of a higher ground to stand on, here.
He reaches into his pocket with blood-slicked fingers, fishes out his phone and asks the woman to call the police, please.
He’s sitting on the edge of a cot in the ER, stark-white bandage on his arm and shivering, when another instinct makes him look up just in time to see Phil walking toward him, a worried expression clouding his face. He blinks, not quite believing Phil is here - who called him, Clint didn’t call anyone, and he didn’t tell anyone to call Phil; he knows for a fact that Phil can not read thoughts or anything - and then, his thoughts get derailed because he gets wrapped into a fierce, tight hug, despite the fact that they’re almost in public, nurses and doctors watching as Phil fusses wordlessly over him and types out concerned messages on his phone, questions Clint answers with gestures and grimaces and the occasional word when that doesn’t seem to be enough.
He doesn’t mind. Phil is here, his hands warm on Clint’s upper arm and his spine, and Clint leans into the touch, feeling thankful and pathetic and loved.
Phil bundles him up and takes him home, lets Clint slip into an old faded shirt from his college days and sits with him on the couch. Clint leans into him and just breathes in his smell, enjoys the feeling of Phil’s arm around him and the warmth of his breath against his temple.
He knows that Phil’s phone is ringing the exact second Phil does, because it vibrates against his side.
Phil doesn’t let go of him when he answers it, and Clint watches his mouth move as he assures someone on the other side - Steve, Phil mouths at him - that they are both fine, that Clint is fine, and that they will both come back to the Tower the next morning.
When he ends the call, Phil turns off his phone and drops it onto the table before tugging Clint toward their bedroom.
Turns out they don’t need to talk to communicate there, not that it stops Phil from whispering words against Clint’s bare chest; words he doesn’t need to hear to understand.
Phil drags him to someone who is supposed to teach him proper sign language, “just in case.” Clint goes only reluctantly, and even then, he only stays because Phil does.
The next day, Natasha joins them silently.
But then, everything is silent for Clint nowadays.
He picks up sign language relatively quickly - just because he never really went to school for long doesn’t make him stupid - and he doesn’t even blink twice when he shows up for his class one day and finds Bruce there as well, a sheepish expression on his face.
It’s just another week until Steve is there, and he drags Tony along as well, turning it into a kind of bonding exercise that usually ends with pizza or Chinese takeout.
Tony grabs his arm and tugs impatiently, his mouth moving a mile a minute without regard to the fact that Clint catches only every tenth word. He drags him into his workshop, and Clint, amused by the ambush, allows it, lets Stark push him into a chair and move around, hands moving in wide sweeping arcs as he tries to explain something.
He can feel the beat of Tony’s music through the soles of his boots, and he smiles a little.
And then, Tony gives him a pair of dark-tinted sunglasses and makes impatient signs with his fingers, urging him to put them on.
Clint gives him a carefully measured look before he does.
At first, nothing happens beside the fact that the room is suddenly tinted dark, and then, something moves against his skull, behind his ears, where the arms are resting and text appears in front of his eyes.
Text that he can hear, somehow.
“...it’s wired into JARVIS, and I’m aware that it’s not a really permanent solution, but for a prototype, I think there’s a few things we can fix, if you want, and you could get a permanent implant, you know, like a Cochlear Implant, but I’m going to design you something different, something better...”
“Whoa, Tony.” Clint lifts a hand to the glasses, takes them off. Tony watches him with wide eyes, his mouth moving, but Clint can’t hear him.
He slips the glasses back on.
“Are you okay?” Tony asks.
He swallows again.
Then, he nods.
He barely stops himself from hugging Tony.
Phil’s hands are quick, forming words in between touches and caresses. He’s lying curled on his side next to Clint, his eyes half-closed and a small smile on his face. He’s relaxed, his free hand drawing random patterns on Clint’s chest and stomach.
Clint slides one thigh over Phil’s. The glasses Tony designed for him are safely folded up on the table behind him, next to a half-empty bottle of lube and the tip of one of his trick arrows, slightly charred after Clint pulled it out of Mindbend’s shoulder after taking him down - the first mission he was included in after losing his hearing, and everything went according to plan.
He grabs Phil’s hand mid-word and pulls it close to kiss his knuckles gently, his other hand reaching out and tracing the mess of scars over Phil’s heart.
He knows it was the right decision.