The mission was supposed to be a pretty run-of-the-mill, just dispatching the Doom Bots that were terrorizing midtown (and damn could Manhattan just not catch a break), and honestly, it was. Mostly, it was just bad luck that Clint had to evacuate the roof of his building by taking a dive with a well-placed grappling arrow. He swung in through a previously broken window and headed for the stairs. If he was lucky, he could get Tony to lift him to another perch. If not, he could fight on the ground. Either way, this building was not where he wanted to be. He slammed through the door to the staircase, descending as fast as he could without tripping himself up, looping his recurve bow over one arm to keep his hands free.
Running in tight circles down stairs, even for someone in the very best shape, was dizzying. By the time he got to the fifth floor, he was ready to sit for a minute. Unfortunately, there was still a battle going on and he didn’t have time-especially because he had to jump back to avoid being hit by the solid metal fire door as it was blasted off his hinges and in-to the stairwell, followed closely by some Doom Bots.
Clint was grabbed before he could even try to get a hand on his bow and thrown into the wall with enough force that he knew he’d be feeling it for weeks. He groaned but forced himself back onto his feet, grabbing his bow just in time to bring it up to block the next hit. The reinforced handle took the brunt of the impact without breaking, but the shock rippled through his arms and jarred his shoulders enough to make him grunt. He pushed back, knocking the Bot off balance and swung his bow up to catch it across the head. The Doom Bots were super strong, and while Clint was highly trained, he didn’t have the benefit of Super Strength to fight them off completely. His best bet was to try and get past them and out in to the street where he’d have enough space to use his bow the way it was meant to be used, rather than as a shield.
As the Bot stumbled back, Clint kicked out at the knee joint on the one blocking the staircase, not breaking it but definitely knocking it off balance, and slipped past, stumbling just slightly on the steps as he went. The Bots started down after him; Clint thought his impromptu plan was working out pretty well until, in unison, they let out a pulse and promptly exploded. He had just enough time to register the force throwing him the rest of the way down his current set of stairs before his head slammed into the wall and everything went black.
Coulson tried to keep his face calm as he watched the building that Barton had been on top of collapse in on itself. There was so much clutter around the bottom of the building he hadn’t been able to see if Barton had cleared the site before it had collapsed.
“Barton, report,” he commanded, heart gripped tightly in his chest as he was met with only static, “Hawkeye, report!”
“Hawkeye’s comm unit is down,” Tony said, the whine of repulsors sounding in the background. “Signal blinked out about forty seconds ago. What’s happening?”
“The building went down, Barton is unreachable. Does anyone have sights on Hawkeye?” Coulson demanded.
“Black Widow here, that’s a negative,” Natasha replied. “I’m not far off; I think he’s still inside.”
The rest sounded off, all negative responses. “The fight is slowing down. Thor, Iron Man, locate Hawkeye while the rest of us neutralize the threat,” Cap commanded.
More than anything, Coulson wanted to rush out and started searching through the rubble himself, every inch of his being desperate to find Clint, to see him and be absolutely sure that he was alive. But he had to keep his head and stay where he was, the calm voice on the other side of disaster.
“On it, Cap,” Tony responded. “Scanning for carbon-based life form in the wreckage as we speak. And…oooh, there we go. Right there, Thor.” Coulson could only assume that Tony was pointing out a spot to Thor, and he listened, trying to grab every detail he could from over the comm.
“He’s definitely alive, my scanners show that,” Tony reported, and Coulson let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, “As far as I can tell, he’s not responding; unconscious, most likely. Lucky bastard was in a reinforced staircase when the building fell. Gave him enough cover to keep from being crushed to death.” The sound of shifting rubble and the whine of repulsors mixed with the last dregs of fighting from the rest of the Avengers, and Phil leaned heavily against the wall, legs going weak with a mix of adrenaline and pure relief.
It took a few minutes of shifting, enough time for the rest of the Doom Bots to be dispatched, before they uncovered Clint from the wreckage. By that time, Coulson had called in a medical team and hurried down to the site of the collapsed building, unable to wait any longer. He arrived just as Thor was shifting away the last piece of building, which had been pinning Clint down at the chest. His face and neck and even his ears were covered in blood, his nose slightly off center in an obvious break. Other than that, though, there didn’t seem to be any other damage, though it wouldn’t be easy to tell about internal damage just by sight alone.
The medics rushed him, checking vitals and cataloguing damage before coming to the conclusion that he could be moved. They lifted him on to a stretcher and carefully carried Clint out over the collapsed stone and in to a SHIELD issue ambulance. Coulson didn’t hesitate in climbing in after him, trusting Steve and Sitwell to handle the rest. He would be there when Clint woke up, just as Clint had been for Phil after being skewered by Loki. There were many things in their lives that were uncertain, but the one thing that Phil was absolutely positive about was that he would be there for Clint as long as he was needed, no matter what.
Clint woke up in Medical, attached to various instruments and a dull pain that encompassed pretty much every inch of his body. His ribs were definitely bruised, if not cracked, and he was pretty sure his nose was broken. Thankfully that seemed to be the only thing broken. The rest of it was just the slight twinge of pain, dulled by morphine judging by the strange heaviness at the nape of his neck. It was only after he’d run his routine cataloguing of injuries and resigned himself to the dull ache of pain that he noticed the utter silence. Medical always had noises, beeps and alarms from the machines, the low buzz of voices. It was unnerving. Hell, he should have been able to hear the hum of the helicarrier all around him, but there was nothing but silence. What the hell?
“Phil?” He tried to call out for his husband, but it was like his voice was sucked into the void as soon as it left his lips. He could feel the vibration of his voice very vaguely in the bones of his face and his throat, so he knew it was working. He just couldn’t hear anything. Oh god. He couldn’t hear anything.
He was just about to launch himself out of the bed in a fit of pure panic when Phil leaned over him, hands grabbing his arms gentle but firm, mouth moving but making no sound. He was still panicking, but Phil’s presence was enough to keep him from completely flipping out. Phil wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. Phil was safety.
It took a few moments and Phil giving his cheek a gentle stroke before Clint calmed enough to remember that, due to his extensive experience as the eyes up high, he was pretty good at reading lips. Phil wasn’t actually saying anything important, just trying to keep him calm, and he nodded, taking Phil’s hand and giving it a squeeze to reassure him that Clint was back in control. Phil squeezed his fingers back gently and turned away to talk to someone else, just enough to where Clint couldn’t see his mouth. He huffed in frustration, and Phil cast him an apologetic glance, as if he knew exactly what Clint was thinking.
Tired of staring at the ceiling and feeling more helpless than he had in a long time, Clint pushed the button to angle his bed upward. The doctor, whose name Clint never bothered to remember just to piss with him, was looking at him with that pity face that he couldn’t stand. He was holding a tablet in his hands, poking at it quickly, before he turned it so that Clint could see what he’d written.
“Agent Barton, I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that you’ve suffered hearing loss. The close proximity of the explosion blew out both of your eardrums. We ran an Auditory Brainstem Response while you were unconscious, with permission from your Health Care Proxy, which is a test that records the response of your brain to sound. You are eighty percent deaf in both ears.”
Clint blinked at the tablet that confirmed what he’d feared to be true, hoping every time that his eyes slipped closed and then opened again that it would say something different. It didn’t. He looked at the doctor, determinedly avoiding Phil’s gaze, knowing he would lose it if he had to see that pitying look on his husband’s face.
“Is there any way to fix it?” he asked, and judging by the wince on the doctor’s face, with too much volume. He started typing on his tablet again, and Phil tightened his grip around Clint’s hand again and then leaned down and pressed his lips to Clint’s forehead. Clint sighed and leaned against Phil’s side, readily accepting the physical comfort that usually wouldn’t be offered in front of coworkers. The doctor finished his note and handed the tablet back once more.
“Hearing aids are always an option, or you could choose to have a cochlear implant surgically added to either one or both ears. It would bypass the damaged tissue and interact with the auditory nerve, allowing your brain to interpret sound. There would be an attachment behind your ear on the outside of your head as well. Neither option will make you hear the same way you did before, and neither will allow you to continue field work, as it’s too easy to disable the parts on the outside and leave you open to attack.”
Clint showed the tablet to Phil, who barely glanced at it before nodding. Apparently he’d already had this discussion. So even if he were to get surgery to help his hearing, it wouldn’t matter. He’d never be Hawkeye again. His days as an Avenger were over. He was, for the first time in a long time, completely useless. Much to his horror, he felt pressure building in his throat and tears springing up in his eyes. He sucked in a breath and looked up towards the ceiling trying to get himself under control. He was not going to fucking cry in the middle of SHIELD.
“Thanks,” he said when he finally shoved his emotions down and locked them away. “I need some time to think about it before I make any decisions.” The doctor nodded, mouthed ‘of course’ and then said something to Phil, mouth moving so fast that Clint only caught the word “visitors”. Phil nodded and the doctor bustled away. Less than thirty seconds later, the rest of the Avengers had filed in to the room, Nat in the lead. She kissed his forehead, hugged him tightly, and then punched him in the shoulder with a glare and a quick flurry of Russian he wouldn’t have understood even if he could still hear it instead of just seeing it.
They were all talking at once, demanding answers most likely, but Clint couldn’t look at them all at the same time, and it was very hard to read lips when people were babbling, so he just stared at them all helplessly, completely unable to answer any of their questions. It was frustrating as all hell, and he’d have yelled at them if he’d thought it would do any good. As it turned out, he didn’t have to. Phil shifted next to him and spoke, or maybe it was a yell, Clint wasn’t really sure. Whatever it was, it worked, because he had their attention.
Clint stayed quiet as Phil explained, just watching as the understanding dawned on each of his teammate’s-former teammates- faces. They were all completely still for a moment, and then they erupted again, all talking over each other, and Clint gave up even trying to understand. He just closed his eyes and tried to focus on the comfort of Phil; his scent, his presence, his warmth, anything to keep Clint from having a breakdown. It was a minute or so before there was a touch on his arm and he opened his eyes to see that Tony had thrust his cell phone in Clint’s face, a message written on it.
“Don’t you worry, Hawk-Ass, I’m gonna figure something out. Something that’ll help you hear and keep you on the field with us where you belong. And I’m fucking brilliant, so you know I can do it.”
Clint couldn’t help the smile that Tony’s assurance (hidden under arrogance, of course) brought over his face. He gripped Tony’s shoulder in lieu of voicing heartfelt thanks that would have embarrassed them both. Plus, he wasn’t sure if his voice sounded funny because he couldn’t hear it, and he had no doubts that Tony would mock him for the rest of his life if it did.
Tony just clapped his hand over Clint’s, gave a sarcastic salute, and left, already making notes on his phone and muttering to JARVIS as he went. Bruce gave Clint a nod of acknowledgement before taking off after Tony, presumably to go help with the science.
Steve clapped him on the shoulder and gave him a bright grin, Thor said a whole bunch of words he couldn’t figure out, though the few he did understand made it appear that he was going to return to Asgard to search for a magical cure, and Natasha promised to quit out of solidarity if Clint was forced into retirement. He just grinned at them, feeling the best he had since he’d woken up with all their dedication and support, waving them off as they filed out of the room.
Then, it was just him and Phil again. Clint knew that they’d have to talk about everything, discuss what would happen and what they were going to do, and how it would affect their relationship. But right now, he just wanted to curl up in bed, cuddle like the giant girl he secretly was, and feel safe and loved in Phil’s arms. So he scooted over to make room on the mattress and tugged on Phil’s arm until he got the hint, kicked off his shoes and discarded his jacket and tie, and squeezed his way in to the bed with Clint.
“Thank you for being here when I woke up,” Clint said as he settled his head against Phil’s chest, and Phil held his hand up in the one sign that Clint actually knew, his middle two fingers curled in towards his palm, with his thumb, pointer, and pinkie fingers extended.
“I love you, too,” Clint responded before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
Clint was stuck in the hospital for three more days before his ribs (and they were only bruised) stopped hurting enough for him to lift his arms over his head and haul himself up through the ceiling. After the exertion of the lift, though, they had protested fiercely, and getting back down again had been quite the adventure. Of course, by the time he managed to get to the floor he shared with Phil in Avenger’s Tower and land awkwardly on the couch in several different variations of pain, Phil had been patiently waiting for him with a glass of water and a tab of Percocet.
He really didn’t like Percocet (or any heavy pain killer, really) because it made him fuzzy and slow, and sometimes a little loopy. But Phil was giving him that no-nonsense if-you-don’t-do-this-I-will-make-you-regret-it look, so he swallowed the pill and then some water obediently. Realizing how thirsty his trip had made him, he then drained the rest of the glass and set it on the coffee table. Climbing through the vents with bruised ribs (and bruised everything else, really) was definitely not something he’d suggest for fun.
Phil lightly tapped his wrist to get his attention, and when Clint turned his eyes to his husband’s face, he hesitated for only a moment, as if to make sure that Clint was actually watching (not listening, not anymore) before he spoke.
“You left your hearing aids,” he said, setting them on the coffee table close to Clint’s cup.
Clint shifted uncomfortably, wanting to look away but not wanting to not be able to know that Phil was talking to him. He ducked his eyes for only a moment before snapping them up again. He was met with Phil’s calm blue gaze, not judging, not angry, simply looking. He almost wished he was angry or something of the like, because then it would be easy to change focus. He looked away from Phil’s eyes and focused on his mouth instead.
“I don’t like ‘em,” he said with a shrug. “They’re uncomfortable. They make my ears hurt when they sit in the same place for so long.” The very tiniest of frowns marred Phil’s face, and he looked thoughtful for a long moment. Finally, he nodded.
“You know you don’t…wear them, if you don’t...” He spoke so quickly, Clint had trouble keeping up, unsure of the exact words but pretty positive of their meaning.
“Yeah, I do,” Clint sighed. “I can’t hear, Phil. Without them I’m totally cut off, like right now. You’re talking to me and I’m answering, but I can’t hear what you’re saying. I’m reading your lips and hoping that I get it right. I can’t live like this.”
“Hearing aids aren’t your only option, Clint. The doctors…very confident that a cochlear…work…”
“Damn it, Phil, no! I already said it; I’m not getting any surgery until Tony figures out a way to keep me in the field!”
“And what if he doesn’t?” This was the first time anyone had addressed the idea that maybe Tony couldn’t fix Clint’s problem. It was disheartening to “hear” it from Phil, and he felt his heart sink at the idea that his husband didn’t think it was possible.
“If he doesn’t, I’ll figure it out then,” Clint said quietly. “But I’m not gonna give up yet. I can’t, Phil. This: being an Avenger. It’s all I have. It’s everything I am. If I don’t have this, I’m nothing.” He only had a moment to stare at the floor in self-pity before Phil grabbed his chin, forcing his face up. His eyes were lit with that same impassioned flare that had made Clint so receptive to him as a handler in the first place, and he had on his stern Agent face.
“Don’t you give me that bullshit. You’re so much more than an Avenger. You’re an amazing dancer and a terrible cook, and you hate mornings but love to run around the city while it’s still waking up. You love to read anything that you can get your hands on, and your favorite color is purple. You love Chinese food, but only the bastardized American interpretation of it, and you are loyal to a fault. You’re tragic and beautiful. You’re Tasha’s best friend, Tony’s sparring partner, and my husband. And right now, Clint Barton, you are having yourself a grand pity party, and I understand that. But eventually you’re going to need to stand up and take responsibility for yourself and your life. Do you understand me?”
Something about Phil’s intensity had allowed Clint to capture every single word he’d said, and it made him want to cry and laugh and exude every other emotion he’d ever felt all at the same time. Even if he lost the Avengers as a team, he’d always have them. And he’d always have Phil. And that was okay. Phil was staring at him, obviously expecting an answer, so Clint just said,
Phil paused, and then frowned, clearly bewildered as to why Clint acting like they were at work in the privacy of their own home. “What?”
“It’s Clint Coulson. Sir.” Phil stared for another moment before a small smile spread over his face. He rolled his eyes and kissed Clint lightly on the lips before pulling back to speak again.
“Right, of course. I’m sorry, love.”
“Me too. I’ve been going kind of crazy, but I shouldn’t let this take me down. I’ve survived worse, right? Right,” he answered his own question decisively.
“It’s okay. I understand, I really do. But you know hearing aids aren’t the only way to stay connected. If you really hate them that much, why don’t you start learning sign language? I’ll learn too, and then you won’t have to wear them with me.”
The idea that Phil was willing to put aside what little free time he had to cater to Clint made him smile a little deliriously. He returned the kiss Phil had given him a minute before and then nodded firmly.
“I’d like that. A lot. Thanks.” And Phil just smiled that adorable smile that Clint loved so much and pulled him in to a hug. Things weren’t great, but Clint was confident that they would be okay, as long as Phil was around to keep him afloat.
It had been two months and Tony and Bruce hadn’t come any closer to making a breakthrough, but Clint had finally got to the point where he could operate with confidence. He no longer attacked when people grabbed him from behind - and god had it been halfway mortifying, halfway impressive when he’d taken Cap down in the kitchen as he was trying to get past Clint in to the cupboard - and as long as Phil was there, he could sleep a full night without jerking awake in a panic that someone would sneak up on him. Learning a new language as an adult was pretty hard, and Clint had never been very good with languages as it was, but he’d gotten pretty proficient at sign language. Phil and Natasha, of course, were both already fluent, Thor knew every language in existence, and Cap and Bruce were learning to show their support. Tony was learning too, but he’d never actually admit that he cared so mostly they just texted each other. They all knew, though; Tony had a habit of signing to himself what he was thinking.
Besides not being cleared for field work, Clint spent most of his time doing what he’d always done: sparring with Nat and Phil, teaching Tony how to fight sans suit, and spending a few hours every day on the range, keeping his skills sharp for the day when he’d be able to use them again. Then, of course, there was always quality time with the team (it was a thing), personal time with Phil, and traipsing through the air vents just to see what he could see, though it was less fun when he didn’t get to overhear various things for later use.
Despite the lack of changes, however, he was honestly pretty fucking bored. Every time the Avengers suited up, he was left behind to stew in the tower, watching the news on the edge of his seat. It had become a thing, really, where the team would leave and within ten minutes Pepper would be there to watch anxiously with him. He almost never caught sight of Phil during these things, as the few camera people who were crazy enough to stay behind tended to focus on the flashy superheroes instead of the unassuming suits. It was a blessing and a curse. If he didn’t see Phil, then it was likely that he was out of the direct line of fire, but he didn’t see Phil so he couldn’t know for sure. For as long as they’d known each other, Clint had been Phil’s eyes up high, watching his back, seeing everything long before Phil did himself. Knowing that his husband was out there without that backup made Clint sick to his stomach with nerves.
Clint was distracted from his musings when his phone buzzed in his pocket and he had to maneuver a bit creatively in his chosen vent to free it from his pocket and check what turned out to be a text from Thor.
“WE ARE TAKING PART IN A MOVIE NIGHT, FRIEND CLINT, IF YOU WOULD JOIN US IN THE MAIN LIVING ROOM.”
Thor texted in full sentences with complete grammar, and honestly it looked better than Clint sounded when he talked. They’d all spent a few months trying to explain to him that not everything had to be written in caps before they found out that Tony had programmed the phone to do it no matter what because he thought it was hilarious to have his texts look like he sounded. Tony did a lot of ridiculous things because he thought they were hilarious. They’d learned to live with it.
He shot back a quick, “yeah 1 sec” before shimmying his phone back into his pocket and heading towards the main living room, which was like the common room of Avenger’s Tower. It was in the center of the residential floors, and was more like a movie theater than a living room. The same floor also held a full kitchen and dining room for those times when they wanted to be together as a family instead of using the facilities on their personal floors.
They definitely knew him well; when he reached the living room, he discovered the spot that had been saved for him between Phil and Steve on the couch was directly below the access point to the vent. He flipped out and landed neatly in his spot before kicking off his boots and tucking his feet up under him, wiggling around against Phil’s side to get comfortable.
“What are we watching?” he signed to the room in general and was met with several different responses from everyone in the room. He shot Phil a bemused look, but he just shrugged with an exasperated smile. Exasperated fondness was a near-constant state for Phil when they were around the Avengers.
“Thor and Tony want something action-y and explosive, Bruce is pulling for a foreign film that won some obscure award, and Steve wants classic Christmas claymation because it’s our last night of family time before you and Phil leave for his parents’ and he says there should be some celebration together. Plus, he’s never seen them before and that’s pretty un-American,” Natasha signed from her place curled up on the floor, hands moving rapidly as if she’d been doing it her whole life.
“Oh god, can’t have Captain America being un-American. The world might actually implode,” he responded laughing. “Queue it up!” Someone must have said something to JARVIS, because the lights dimmed and the window flickered to life with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, accompanied by bright yellow subtitles across the bottom. Clint heaved a sigh of contentment and settled in to a little holiday cheer with his family. Maybe he’d get his Christmas wish and be back to fighting with them again when the holidays reached their end.
Clint didn’t get his Christmas miracle, but the fact that his husband hadn’t been called off to do some damage control somewhere or that the Earth hadn’t been invaded by aliens was a miracle enough, really. He was able to spend five uninterrupted days in Michigan with Phil and Phil’s family, and he loved Phil’s family. Phil’s mother was the type of mother he’d always dreamed of having, sweet and loving with the best, warmest hugs on the planet and a need to feed people (she was Italian). Phil’s father was pretty quiet and stoic, but also the ultimate handy-man. He’d made changes and added on to every room in the house and built the garage in the back yard where he put together old cars for fun. Phil’s sister Jane was sassy and sarcastic, and made Clint able to understand how Phil was able to handle him so well when they’d first met and he’d been hell-bent on being as obnoxious as possible. Clint loved them, and he was pretty sure they loved him too. Spending the holidays with them had been excellent and Clint always looked forward to it.
It was now reaching the last few weeks of March, and while it was still cold, the perpetual gray overcast of a New York winter was starting to let up, making the city look a lot less miserable and prison-like. Tony and Bruce hadn’t made much progress with the hearing devices, except for amping up their hearing capability substantially, which was great for modern medicine and all, but not entirely helpful for Clint. Admittedly, it was nice to be able to hear better, the hearing aids now having the ability to pick up more subtle noises and tones, almost as well as he’d been able to hear before the accident, but the fact remained that he couldn’t go in to the field if there was a chance his devices could be taken out easily. Something about the way the devices worked made it necessary for there to be external pieces, and Bruce had tried to explain it to him, but neither of them were fluent enough in sign language to explain scientific theories through it, so he’d just accepted that it would take a bit longer to figure out and tried not to dwell on the thought that, if Tony Stark hadn’t figured out an engineering problem in five months, it probably couldn’t be done. He was getting to the point where he was secretly starting to accept to himself that he was no longer an Avenger and never would be again.
That was why he was so surprised to find the team sitting at the kitchen table in full costume when he arrived for breakfast on Wednesday morning, his own uniform sitting folded in front of his chair, apparently having been completely mended and restored from the last time he’d worn it. He narrowed his eyes at them, waiting for an explanation. If there was something big enough going down that the Avengers needed to assemble, he couldn’t figure out why they were all eating breakfast first.
“School visit contest, remember?” Natasha signed while chewing on a strip of bacon and scanning the headlines in the newspaper she’d undoubtedly stolen from Steve. Everyone else read their news online. In all honesty, he had forgotten about it completely. Phil had mentioned it to them once a few months ago, and honestly Clint had had a lot more on his mind than some school visit. Still, it would feel good to be back in the uniform again, to feel like part of the team, so he grabbed his clothes off the table and headed back to his room to change. The multiple buckles and straps took longer than usual, because he was so out of practice, but when he finally had his boots on, tied, and strapped in the right place he felt more like himself than he had in a while, despite the pressure of the hearing aids that he wore whenever he left the tower. It was weird to not have the reassuring weight of a quiver on his back, but bringing explosive weapons to an elementary school was probably a bad idea.
They took two SHIELD-issue cars, because using the Quinjet seemed a little unnecessary. Normally, this would have done nothing to stop Tony, but Phil was continuously reminding them that it was a press event as well, and they last thing the team needed was to look as if they were callously wasting resources. The class they were visiting was of fourth graders, and honestly it was really awkward for most of them. Cap had a history of entertaining kids, Tony was Tony, and Thor was the nicest person you would ever meet ever, but Clint, Bruce and Natasha tried to stay back and be as unobtrusive as possible. The kids weren’t really all that interested in Bruce because they didn’t recognize him, but he seemed to be perfectly fine with that, staying in the corner with Phil. Natasha had been commandeered by several little girls who wanted to touch her hair and be assured that girls could be just as awesome as boys. The press, of course, was eating it all up, and Clint could foresee see the way the vein in Natasha’s forehead would bulge in irritation when, inevitably, the headlines spouted something about girl power and then continued on to be completely misogynistic anyway.
Clint had been talking to a little boy about how cool arrows were when he noticed a dark haired boy sitting sullenly at his desk in the back of the room. He was staring at the desk top with a scowl marring his face, arms crossed tight in front of him. He convinced the kid he was talking with to go ask Thor if he could try to lift Mjolnir before stepping over to the teacher, who was looking just as awestruck from her place in next to Phil and Bruce.
“Hey, I’m Clint Coulson,” he introduced with a smile and a handshake. “What’s up with that kid back there? Not a fan, I take it?”
“Sally Jennings,” she responded, a troubled look crossing her face as she looked at the boy. “And I’m not really sure if Tyler is a fan or not. The problem is, he’s deaf and lately he’s been refusing to wear his hearing aids. His parents can’t get him to, I can’t get him to. So he just sits back there all day like that. No one knows why he suddenly stopped wearing them, and no one can convince him to put them back in. It’s very sad, really.”
And Clint didn’t believe in God, but he felt like that was some sort of divine intervention. He was never gonna be able to go into the field again, but maybe he could still be a hero in a small way. He looked over and met Phil’s eyes, hoping that Phil would be able to read his intentions like he was usually so apt at. And Phil just stared hard at him for a second before giving a small, encouraging nod. Phil’s support was all he really needed, so he turned and headed back to the boy, Tyler, perching on top of the desk next to him. Tyler looked at him warily and Clint gave him his best grin and a wave, before he started to sign.
“Hi, I’m C-L-I-N-T,” he started, and then showed the boy his name sign, holding his hand up next to his mouth and pushing his index finger and thumb together, open and closed, twice. The sign for bird, but used to describe him instead of finger spelling his name all the time. There were about a billion flashes from the photographers. Maybe Nat wouldn’t have to worry about being in the headlines this time. The boy stared at him for a long moment as if assessing him before he hesitantly lifted his hands and signed back.
“T-Y-L-E-R.” and then he raised both his hands over his cheeks and dragged them down with fluttering fingers. It was the sign for ‘freckles’, clearly chosen for him because of the tons of dark dots that peppered his cheeks and nose.
“Why aren’t you visiting with the rest of the class? Too cool for us superheroes?” Tyler’s eyes widened as if the thought had never even crossed his mind, and then he shook his head violently.
“I can’t talk right. And I can’t hear anyway.”
“Don’t you have hearing aids?” Clint pressed, and Tyler looked away from him for a second, pressing his lips together as if he might start to cry, and God was that the last thing Clint wanted. Before he could try to backtrack, however, Tyler was signing again.
“I don’t like wearing them. The other kids make fun of me. At least with them out, I can’t hear them doing it.” And boy, could Clint understand that. Being made fun of as a kid and the insecurity of a disability were both things he had experience with, unfortunately. He glanced over to Phil again to see if he was watching and realized that his signing session with Tyler had grabbed the attention of the whole room. He made a split-second decision and signed, this time while also speaking aloud.
“You know what? I understand not wanting to wear your hearing aids. I hate wearing mine, too.” And then he switched his off and took them out, tucking them into the pocket of his field uniform. “But I always wear them when I’m in public so that I can communicate with my team.” A quick glance around the room seemed to confirm the minor uproar as the students verified a deaf Avenger. “I talk kind of funny when I don’t have my hearing aids in because I can’t hear myself, but I hate the way they feel in my ears. They’re uncomfortable. But you know something? I think its way braver of you to come here to a public school where it’s harder for people to understand you than to hide out at home. That’s totally awesome, man.”
“But I’m not brave!” Tyler signed back quickly. “I’m weird! No one wants to talk to me except to make fun of me.”
“Well, from one deaf guy to another, I think you’re awesome,” Clint responded, still both out loud and in sign. “There’s nothing wrong with being deaf, and just because some people are being jerks about your hearing aids doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed. Own it, man.”
Tyler ducked his head and smiled before he peeked back up. “My mom says I should wear my hearing aids while I’m at school so I can learn, and that I don’t have to wear them at home if I don’t want to. But I still don’t like them.”
“Well, let me tell you something: my husband says the same thing. And he’s way better at sign language than I am, so I can’t even slack.” He wasn’t trying to have the attention of the class anymore, so he returned to just signing. The kids didn’t need to know everything. “I hate my hearing aids. I tried to lose them when I first got them. But what if I make you a deal? You wear your hearing aids wherever your mom says you should, and I’ll wear mine wherever my husband says I should, and we’ll both hate them together. So we’ll both know we’re not miserable about it alone, okay?” Clint stuck out his hand for a shake, and Tyler hesitated for only a second before he shook it. He opened his pencil box and grabbed out his hearing aid case, looking at Clint expectantly as he popped one out and turned it on. Clint obediently retrieved his from his pocket once more, turning them on and settling them back in his ears as Tyler did the same.
“We good?” Clint asked.
“Good,” Tyler confirmed with a small smile. “Can you sign this for me?” He pulled a pocket folder out of his bag, Avengers themed, of course, and Clint pulled it toward him, reaching out for the sharpie he knew Phil would inevitably place in his hand. He signed his name to the folder (Barton, not Coulson), crossing his t’s with an arrow, and stood up to congregate again with the rest of the team.
He could see that they wanted to question and cross-examine him, to figure out why he had made his hearing loss public when it could be detrimental to his place on the team, but knowing they couldn’t in front of this kid he’d just made so much progress with. Maybe later he might regret putting the ax in any chance he might have had at being an Avenger again, but for the moment he just felt elated. He’d helped that kid in a way that only he could have, and he felt proud about it. His days as an Avenger were over, but maybe that didn’t mean his days of helping people had to be.
Clint had expected there to be a press riot about his deafness and all sorts of debate over whether he could be on a team with such a heightened disability (and there was a surprising amount of people who stood up for him, especially those in the deaf community). He had not, however, expected those headlines to be fighting for the spotlight with the revelation of a gay Avenger. Apparently, there had been filming along with picture taking in that classroom, and people had been hired to translate the signing, and that news had blown up the day after the deaf news, and so now it was a shit storm of gay and deaf and was he capable of keeping up his post, and should a paradigm of immorality be allowed a position in which he acted as a role model to young children everywhere and blah blah blah. Needless to say, the PR team was having a meltdown.
They’d fielded no less than a hundred calls with requests for interviews in the first week, and Clint really did not think it was a good idea for him to be interviewed one on one. With the rest of the team, it was fine, because he was able to slip into the background and remain generally unnoticed. Tony was a master at interviews and making the press jump to his own whims and everyone loved Steve and Thor because how could you not? But alone? That was absolutely a no-go. Clint preferred a certain level of anonymity (that had been completely destroyed as soon as the Avengers Initiative was started, admittedly), and on top of that, honestly, Clint was an asshole. Giving interviews would just make him uncomfortable, thus making him even more of an ass than usual, and the PR team would conspire to have him killed.
There were news crews camped 24/7 outside of Avengers Tower, like they expected that maybe Clint would come traipsing out the front door with his husband and give them a scoop. The press hadn’t managed to make a connection as to who his husband was, but that didn’t mean they weren’t dying to. Clint didn’t really see why it mattered. It wasn’t like he’d ever actively hidden his relationship with Phil, more like it was something that didn’t generally come up in mixed company. Generally, the only times they were comfortable enough to act with any sort of intimacy were when they were alone or safely surrounded by family. Again, not out of any sort of shame, but simply because they were private people. After Clint had been cleared from the hospital after he lost his hearing, he’d been mortified to remember all the cuddling he’d partaken in in front of the doctor. Clearly Phil had acquiesced to his clinginess, but Clint generally wouldn’t have even considered it if he hadn’t been so high on medication.
But anyway, the whole thing had just made Clint way more popular than he’d ever really wanted to be. It had started out really cool, but now it was just kind of annoying. He couldn’t even walk down the block from SHIELD headquarters to the little coffee shop on the corner without being accosted by cameras and people yelling at him to get a quote or ask a question or whatever. None of them ever touched him, and he wasn’t sure if it was to avoid being sued or because he put off a dangerous vibe, but it was still annoying to have flashes going off in his face all the time. He’d taken to leaving his hearing aids out almost all the time now, so he didn’t have to hear the pervasive questions being shouted at him from every direction. And naturally, this turned out to be a big mistake.
He got really good at avoiding news people, taking roof routes, ducking down random alleyways, and basically putting to use all the skills he’d learned as both a thief and an assassin throughout the years. Well, besides the killing skills. He hadn’t gotten quite that annoyed yet. He was on his way to a pastry shop three blocks from Avengers tower to buy these cheese-filled croissants that Phil loved as both a token of affection as well as an apology. With being the Avengers’ handler, much of the paperwork and decisions from the media frenzy had to go through him first. His work had tripled over the last few weeks, and while Clint was suffering from his lack of Phil-time too, he still felt bad that it was his fault. He was hoping the promise of delicious cheesy goodness would convince Phil to take a break for at least an hour.
He randomly turned down an alleyway, trying to keep his routes as sporadic as possible, hands shoved in the pockets of his Hawkeye hoodie that had been a gift from Tony. In all honesty, it was completely awesome and he had discovered that people tended to not think that a person would wear their own merchandise. Eight times out of ten, if he was recognized by random passeby, they’d write it off as their imagination when they saw the hoodie. He was halfway through the alley when the hairs on the back of his neck prickled, that unmistakable feeling of being watched. He tried to stay relaxed, so as not to warn anyone that he’d noticed, and just a second later an arm grabbed him around the neck.
He reacted instantly, shoving his elbow back into his attacker’s kidney before throwing his weight forward and launching the man over his head and onto the ground. He kicked the gun out of his hands, glad that the goal had been to subdue him and not kill him. Clint hadn’t known he was there until seconds before he’d been grabbed. If the man had wanted to kill Clint, he’d already be dead. He reached down and grabbed a handful of the man’s shirt, ready to interrogate him, or at least hold on to him until he could contact SHIELD, when he felt a pinch in the back of his neck. He immediately reached up to grab the tranq dart, but whatever they had used was potent as hell. His vision had gone dark before his hand had even touched his neck, and he was on his knees a few seconds later. He was groggily aware of his hands being lashed together as he finally fell completely unconscious, less than thirty seconds after he’d been hit.
Clint awoke, quite originally, in some sort of warehouse, tied to a chair with his hands zip tied behind his back. Something that was less stereotypical kidnap scenario, however, was the large notepad on an easel, like the kind Kindergarten teachers used to write thank you notes to the places that hosted their field trips. There must have been some sort of video surveillance going on, because it was hardly five minutes before the guy from the alleyway appeared with two flunkies at his back. He didn’t look like anyone particularly important; Clint certainly didn’t recognize him. He looked down at Clint with narrowed eyes for a moment, and Clint wondered if it was supposed to be threatening, before he turned away to the notepad. He wrote on it in neat blocky letters, “Agent Barton. Clearly you are the weakest link on your team. You are going to tell us everything we want to know.”
Clint stared at him blankly, but he didn’t speak. They obviously knew he was deaf (hard not to, really), but they hadn’t seemed to account for sign language or writing by the way they’d bound his hands. Yeah, he could talk without his hearing aids, but they probably didn’t know that. Honestly, this all kind of seemed like a hack job. He was a kind of embarrassed that they’d got the jump on him at all.
The guy stared at him harshly for a moment, again trying for threatening and not really succeeding, before huffing and turning back to the notepad. Clint did his best to look entirely disinterested as he read what the guy was writing, “You can sit there and look as tough as you want, but we have ways of making you talk.” Cliché lines for four hundred Alex. Clint continued to stare at him disinterestedly, even as he nodded to one of his thugs definitively. The thug crossed the room and came up behind Clint, which admittedly had him tensing up again. As soon as the guy touched his hands, he knew what was coming and tried to psych himself up for it. When he felt his pointer finger on his right hand snap, he was able to keep from yelling, but not from gasping in pain. It completely sucked to have a finger broken, but he’d been there before, and really it did more to tell him about them than to make him betray his team mates. Clint was left-handed. The incompetent idiots were breaking fingers on the wrong hand. Clearly they didn’t know that much about him, and were mostly likely just hired goons meant to report back to a bigger division. He could use that to his advantage. As the next finger was broken, he let out a small, choked sob. He had another set of skills, courtesy of Natasha, and a plan. If things went his way, he’d be home in time for dinner.
The head idiot grinned at the sound of Clint’s sob, writing on the notepad again. “I see you understand now that we are serious. Tell us what you know about the Avengers and their weaknesses.” Clint shook his head, though a little less defiantly than he’d been before, and then another one of his fingers was breaking. He cried now, shaking his head faster and letting out a little sob. Maybe he was pushing it, on how quickly he was breaking, but these guys didn’t seem to know shit and he’d honestly rather avoid having all his fingers broken, if he could help it. He started “talking” as his fourth finger broke, making guttural noises that didn’t actually make any sense, and he saw realization dawn on one of the goon’s faces. Excellent.
He leaned his mouth towards the Head Idiot’s ear, muttering something quickly and the Head Idiot nodded. He waved off the guy who was just about to snap Clint’s fifth finger, and Clint let out another sobbing breath as the guy let him go, cowering down and away, trying to make himself look as pathetic as possible. This was turning out to be way too easy. If not for the fact that these guys were definitely willing to use pain as a motivator, he might be disappointed. Head Idiot wrote on the notepad once more. “You can’t talk.” Clint nodded quickly. He wrote again. “You can write?” Clint nodded. Head Idiot nodded and made a motion to finger-breaking thug, and suddenly Clint’s hands were free from the zip tie. These guys were seriously the worst kidnappers he’d ever met. He was now officially ashamed of having been taken in the first place. They didn’t untie him from the chair, opting instead to move the notepad towards him. That was okay. He didn’t need to be standing to take them out, now that his hands were free. He took the offered pen in his mangled right hand, glad that his thumb hadn’t been broken. It gave him a little more leverage, and he needed his operational hand free. He carefully settled the pen in his hand and started to write on the pad.
He simply wrote “dumbass” before turning his hand and thrusting the pen with as much strength as he could muster in to Head Idiot’s side. While he was distracted by the pain, he grabbed the gun out of the guy’s side holster, turned it quick, and shot the closest goon in the knee. As he went down, he flipped the gun in his hand, grabbed it by the barrel and beat the second goon around the temple with it. As he lost consciousness, Clint turned back to the Head Idiot, who had gained enough sense to come at him, and shot him in the knee as well. It was enough to drop him low enough so that Clint could administer another pistol-whipping, this time without flipping the gun. He didn’t have time for cool right that second. The first guy, the one who’d broken his fingers, got one more shot, right between the eyes. SHIELD wouldn’t need all three for questioning, and god dammit his hand hurt.
Assured that they were all down for the count, Clint reached into Head Goon’s jacket pocket and procured a cell phone. Texting with one hand was a bitch, but he managed to send a simple, “Phil, I’m gonna need an extraction team” to his husband. He wondered if he’d even been gone long enough for anyone to notice. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been unconscious for. The phone’s clock said it was eleven thirty, so apparently a lot longer than he had thought. He’d missed dinner, dammit. It was Bruce’s night to cook, and Bruce always made the best food.
The phone buzzed with Phil’s response, a simple, “Clint? Where are you?”
He tried to explain as best he could in shorthand, adding a request for a pickup as soon as possible. He didn’t know how long the two would be unconscious, and if they woke up to see their buddy dead and he was still tied to a chair, things would not end well. His only comfort was that he still had the gun. Phil promised to trace the phone signal and send a team as quickly as possible. Within half an hour, the place was swarming with SHIELD personnel, and Clint was sitting in the back of an ambulance having his fingers set and wrapped.
After a debriefing with Phil, a welcome-home-we’re-happy-you-didn’t-die greeting from the rest of the team, and then another sort of “de-briefing” with Phil, Clint was home in bed wrapped around his husband and pleasantly pain-free because of some Tylenol and endorphins. He’d definitely had more trying days in the past, but it was nice to feel safe and secure after everything. He slept well that night.
The next morning he was a little touchy about having been snuck up on, so he put in his hearing aids before heading down for breakfast. What he found was not at all what he was expecting. There was a huge home-made banner spread across the kitchen that said “Welcome back, Hawkeye!” with a little drawing of him shooting an arrow from his perch on top of the H (definitely contributed by Steve), and the whole team grinning at him, even Phil, who would usually be at work by now.
“Uh…thanks?” he said, confused. “It wasn’t that big of a deal, guys…”
“Your actions yesterday proved to Fury that you’re capable of doing your job, with or without being able to hear,” Steve explained, both signing and speaking, more out of habit than anything else now. Clint felt a moment of confusion before his heart began to rise in his chest.
“You’ve been reinstated to active duty on the Avenger’s Initiative,” Natasha said, lips quirking in a smile as Clint let out a howl of victory, grabbing the nearest person (Bruce) in an enthusiastic hug.
“You’ll be required to have yearly evaluations, to prove that you’re able to compensate for your disability,” Phil added, ever the professional. “And you are required to wear your hearing aids when outside the Tower, god dammit.”
“Yes sir,” Clint grumbled, faking annoyance. He was far too elated to feel anything but joy at the moment. He grabbed the lapels of Phil’s jacket, pulling him forward into a celebratory kiss that had Tony groaning and protesting like a five-year-old. After he pulled away, Tony shoved a small box in to his hands.
“Newest solution,” he said, tapping the lid with a finger. “Still the same sound quality, but smaller; harder to force out, harder to lose.” Clint looked at the small purple hearing aids nestled in the box and grinned his thanks at Tony.
“We’re still working on a permanent fix…” Tony started, but Clint shook his head. “You know? I’m actually okay with this. Being deaf. Clearly I’m just as capable as I was before, and the hearing aids really are amazing. So thanks, but you don’t have to beat your head against the wall anymore. I’m good.”
Tony looked at him for a long moment, and Clint thought he saw some sort of approval in his eyes. Tony unconsciously ran his hand over the arc reactor, nodding at the same time, and Clint felt like they understood each other on a level they never could have before. They shared a bro nod, and then the team went to eat breakfast.
So yeah, Clint had lost his hearing, but along with it, he’d gained a new way to connect to people; a new way to understand. A whole new legion of kids who could look up to him, see all that he was able to do, and know that they could do it too, if they worked hard enough. Yeah, the media attention was annoying, but eventually it would die down. He could still be an Avenger, still help people using the skills he’d spent a lifetime perfecting. He had his husband, he had his team, and they were a family that was willing to go to the end of the Earth to help each other, and in the end, that was all that really mattered.