Rudely awakened from his slumber by a voice that is altogether too loud, Bucky grunts in protest at both the fact it is morning, and the fact he’s being called sunshine. He gropes with his hand for his pillow and drags it down over his head.
“Oh no you don’t,” Steve says far too cheerfully. Bucky tightens his fingers on the pillow but Steve is insanely strong and has two arms, so manages to wrestle the pillow from him. He takes the other one that Bucky never uses for good measure, and then sits down on the edge of the bed, trapping the blankets so Bucky can’t pull them up over his head.
Bucky whines in the back of his throat, and turns a betrayed glare on Steve. Steve just snorts but does deign to hand over coffee in a chipped Superman mug. Bucky carries on glaring, but takes the coffee from Steve. He sets it on the mattress, keeping it in place with his fingertips and wishing for his other hand so he could wipe the fuzz from his eyes. He grunts at Steve again, who leans back on his elbows.
Bucky hears a rustle and the sound of Steve shifting and then his notepad hits him in the back of the head. He makes another indignant noise and then the pen hits him too. He flips to a blank page and scrawls ‘you’re an ass,’ holding it up for Steve to see.
“I am the only one here,” Steve says, reaching out to push the notepad down. “So you can use your words to call me an ass.”
Bucky opens his mouth to do just that, but the words won’t come out. His shoulders slump and when he pulls the notepad out from under Steve’s broad palm, he writes ‘I’m sorry ,’ but before he’s even finished the loop for the y, Steve is talking again.
“No, don’t. I’m sorry - I should be the one apologising. That was uncalled for - I just thought after yesterday…”
Steve tails off. Mindful of his coffee, Bucky rolls over onto his back and blinks up at Steve, who is looking forlorn. He knows yesterday was a good day; he was there. He was the one talking freely and not feeling that horrible empty space in his mouth, the gaps where the words should be.
Steve hangs his head, rubbing at his brow with his fingertips. Bucky feels his stomach swoop with guilt, and reaches for his notepad. He quickly scribbles on it, and then nudges Steve to show him the smiley face he's drawn.
Steve laughs shortly. “Alright, you gottit,” he says. “You got PT in an hour. Drink your coffee and get up.”
Bucky nods, already scribbling away again. ‘What time are you back?’
Steve stands up and stretches. “At the VA until two, dropping by the docs after that, then coming to fetch you to go for a drink.”
Bucky shakes his head, but Steve just smiles lopsidedly at him. “Yes,” he says gently. “You can bring your notepad. Drinks are on me.”
Bucky can’t hold up against that face for long, so just rolls his eyes and nods. Steve offers him another sort of sad-grateful smile and then leaves, much more quietly than he came in.
Bucky waits until he hears the apartment door slam, and then groans. “For fucks sake, Barnes,” he mutters. “It's Steve.”
He's had this argument with himself many times. His shrink tells him to ease up on himself, that it's only six months since he got back, that his anxiety and the resulting mutism isn't something he can just walk off (so tell your friend Captain Rogers that, thanks). Nevertheless, it's still a pain in the ass and he hates it. He'd swap for Steve's night terrors any day of the week.
Now feeling guilty as well as dumb and useless, he climbs out of bed, bringing his coffee with him. He mills around aimlessly in the kitchen for a moment before his best friend Mr. Anxiety starts up over the fact there's too many choices over what to have for breakfast. He takes a deep breath, tells him to shut the fuck up and grabs the box of Cheerios.
As he's munching his way through his third bowl, his phone buzzes happily from the coffee table. Snagging it, he sees a picture of Steve (seventeen and asleep and drooling, with a dick drawn on his forehead, because it's hilarious) and a text symbol.
‘I'm sorry I was an ass this morning. Go at your pace. Guess I still just miss you yammering on at me all the live long day.’
And Bucky sighs as the guilt comes back. Steve is his only friend in the world and he's done so much for him, and it must be unbearably frustrating and upsetting to see Bucky so messed up by that goddamn war.
“Fuck you and that goddamn apologetic puppy dog face,” he tells his phone as he picks it up to text back. “I know you're doing it.”
‘You're dumb, stop apologizing.’
He adds a heart emoji at the end to take the bite out of the words, then tosses his phone aside and gets ready to go out.
The walk to the hospital for his physical therapy is a challenge in itself. The sidewalks are slushy and wet with hidden patches of ice, and his acute awareness of his surroundings is undermined by his poor balance. Not to mention the fact it's ridiculously busy with people out Christmas shopping or being cheerful and shit, and none of them seem to heed the one armed veteran who is scowling murderously at everything festive.
PT is yet another challenge. It hurts and is boring and tedious, what with him unable to make small talk. He leaves feeling even grouchier than he did, cursing IEDs and the strained muscles of his left leg and the aching of his stump and-
He's almost out the door when something catches his eye. A leaflet amongst the million other leaflets, offering support for everything from alcoholism to obsessive compulsive disorder to yoga classes. All private services of course, so probably stupidly expensive. Not anything he'd normally even consider, but the purple leaflet is staring him in the face like it's got neon lights around it, like he's being magnetically drawn towards it-
“Are you okay Sir?” someone asks, and he realizes he’s been stood stationary for quite some time. Mr. Anxiety reacts with a loud, shrill scream, - not acting normal not acting normal no control someone has noticed we have to make a choice - and Bucky squashes him mercilessly into submission.
‘Behave,’ he thinks viciously, and then makes himself nod. He strides forwards, grabs a couple of the leaflets and then leaves without looking back.
“Buck! I thought I was gonna have to drag you here!”
Steve looks pleasantly surprised as Bucky slides into his seat opposite him in the bar. Steve is already halfway through an insanely large portion of burger and fries, two empty beer glasses yet to be collected.
“I got hungry, sorry,” Steve says, and Bucky sits back and grins. He holds up a finger in a gesture to wait, and then leans back to dig the leaflets from earlier out of his pocket. Steve watches curiously, and Bucky tosses one of the leaflets over to him.
Steve wipes his fingers on his shirt and picks it up. “Support group and therapy for compulsive eaters,” he reads aloud, voice going flat. “Oh, yeah, thanks Buck. Real funny.”
His mouth is twisting in an amused smile though, and Bucky grins wider. He wishes he could snatch the leaflet back, read out the rest in an overly-helpful voice, laughing loud when Steve would undoubtedly try and snatch it back.
“You’re a piece of work,” Steve says, and tosses the leaflet onto the table. “I take it you went to PT, then?”
Bucky nods, reaching over the table to snag Steve’s beer, taking a swig for himself. He wants to tell Steve all about it, how he thinks his shoulder is getting better and the nerves in his left leg don't pinch as bad no more, how annoying his therapist is with the way she nags at him about wearing his prosthetic. Apparently keeping millions of dollars of revolutionary tech in the bottom of his best friend's wardrobe is frowned upon for a whole multitude of reasons.
Mostly, he wants to tell Steve about what he found, the leaflet that caught his attention and got his brain whirring.
Steve’s looking mildly concerned now. Bucky quickly shakes his head and then pulls out the second leaflet, showing it to Steve.
Steve looks at it for a moment, expression unreadable. “Your idea?”
Bucky nods, then shrugs, taking the leaflet back and looking down at it, fingering the already creased edge.
“Your call,” Steve says evenly.
Bucky scowls at him, and Steve snorts. “I’m not telling you what to do, Bucky. You can make your own call on this one.”
Mr. Anxiety promptly rears back in affront, gearing up to make Bucky’s lungs go tight and his palms start sweating. Bucky takes a deep breath, reaches for his notepad. Steve waits patiently.
'I could talk even when I can’t,' he writes. 'And when I go out people wouldn’t just think I’m a dumbass who won’t talk.'
Steve nods as he reads. “You couldn’t use it as an excuse to not get past your anxiety though,’ he says matter of factly, and Bucky doesn’t know whether to hug him for the implication that he’ll never give up on Bucky, or punch him for being so stubborn and unyielding. He’s never going to get Bucky back the way he was, and some days he seems to forget that.
“And you’ll have to wear the prosthetic. You’re going to need both hands.”
Bucky flips to a new page. ‘I'm going. And you’re coming with me’, he writes, and underlines it all for good measure, tossing his pen aside and crossing his one arm over his chest, looking at Steve in challenge.
Steve just grins like it’s the answer he wanted all along. “Alright, Buck. ASL classes it is. Now are you going to call this guy or am I?”
Bucky just flips him off and steals the rest of Steve’s beer.
Steve books them in for their first ASL class the following week. This is one of two classes the guy runs, pitched at adults with hearing who want to learn to communicate with people in the deaf community. Or adults who have lost the capacity to talk after being blown up by an IED. It's on Thursday nights, in an old community college building not too far from their apartment. Bucky talks himself in and out of it approximately ten thousand times before Thursday rolls around. Steve endures it more or less patiently, but when Bucky decides ‘thanks but no thanks’ while they’re climbing the stairs he intervenes by simply picking Bucky up in a fireman's lift and carrying him the rest of the way. Bucky thinks he’s a dirty cheat, but Steve points out that class starts in five minutes so they don’t have time to wait for him to change his mind back.
Steve deposits him outside the door they’re looking for with two minutes to go. Bucky shoves at him with his real hand, angry and annoyed.
“Behave, you fuckin’ animal,” Steve says. “You got your note?”
Bucky nods, patting his pocket, and then before he can kick Steve in the shins, Steve is opening the door and going in. Bucky follows him in, metal hand hidden safely in his pocket. The guy who designed, made and fitted it - someone Steve knows through the tech contacts of the army and insists on not going on a date with despite the never-ending flirting - would be appalled that Bucky doesn’t like wearing the top of the range prosthetic, but Bucky can’t help it. It draws attention for one, and he also can never shake the feeling that he doesn't deserve it.
The room is a light, spacious place with terrible grey carpets and a bunch of mismatched furniture. All but one of the tables are pushed to the back; the exception is at the front with - thank christ - a coffee maker and a tray of mugs. There's a Labrador asleep under the table, head resting on its paws.
There’s a few people here already. A woman with red hair sits next to a huge giant of a man with blond hair scraped up into a bun. Bucky is a little concerned that if he moves around too much, the rickety chair beneath his frankly ridiculous amount of muscle is going to meet an untimely end. A second man in slacks and a pressed shirt is also waiting, tapping away on his phone. His tie is missing, and Bucky spots it shoved into the pocket of the jacket that is draped across the back of his chair.
The final occupant of the room is already walking towards them. He's a man of Bucky’s height, with sandy blond hair and bright grey eyes. He's wearing a purple shirt and purple sneakers, and Bucky spots the similarly purple hearing aids tucked behind both ears.
“Hey!” the man says. “I'm Clint - you're Steve and James, I take it?”
Bucky fixes Steve with a look. Steve ignores it and reaches out to shake Clint’s hand. “That’s us,” he says warmly. “Thanks for fitting us in.”
Clint shakes Steve's hand then turns to Bucky who mechanically copies, grasping Clint’s hand in his. “Hey no problem. We’re not fully booked; this is only like the second class I've run, so word is still getting out,” he says, letting go of Bucky's hand. “I'm kinda amazed anyone turns up at all. But hey, grab yourself a coffee if you want, I'm just waiting on one more and then we'll get going.”
Steve nods in agreement, but Bucky feels a wave of almost panic and takes a half step forwards, hand held up in a helpless gesture. Clint pauses and Bucky makes an apologetic face and digs his hand into his pocket. Steve tactfully departs, heading towards the other men and introducing himself, easy as he pleases.
Internally cursing Steve for his refusal to do the talking, Bucky thrusts the letter into Clint’s hands. Clint just takes it without question and shakes it open. His eyes - so light, almost like Bucky's own but more blue than grey - flick back and forth. He makes an intrigued acknowledging humming sound and then looks up.
“Mutism, huh? I knew a kid with that once. So you can't talk. Yeah we can work with that.”
Bucky is mildly taken aback. Most people seem to decide that he doesn't or won't talk, not understanding that he literally can't. He finds himself smiling gratefully at Clint, who grins back.
“There's some parts later on where I'd get you to say what someone is signing to you-”
Bucky pulls his pen and notepad out of his pocket, an eyebrow raised in question. Clint barks out a laugh. “You read my mind. Alright James, you wanna take a seat?”
On impulse Bucky quickly flicks his notepad down, balancing on one leg so he can lift his other to lean on his thigh. He scrawls 'call me Bucky.' He shows it to Clint who nods.
“Sorry bro, your friend introduced you on the phone as James.”
Bucky rolls his eyes and makes a rude gesture in Steve's direction. Clint chokes on a laugh, eyes dancing. “Alright, I assume from that he knows you don’t like being called James and was doing it on purpose?”
Bucky gives him a thumbs up and Clint chuckles. “Okay, I'll keep an eye on him.”
He gestures towards the front but Bucky feels a sudden impulse to come clean. He holds up his hand in a wait gesture and when Clint looks at him quizzically, he rallies the last of his courage, tells Mr. Anxiety to fuck off and takes his left hand out of his pocket.
Clint’s jaw drops. Literally. He looks up at Bucky's face then back to his arm and then back to his face.
“James Barnes,” he says like a lightbulb has gone on in his brain. He smacks a palm to his forehead just to complete the effect. “I knew I knew that name!”
Bucky just stares.
“I read about you,” Clint says. “Some article somewhere. A medical magazine at the docs - You got the one of a kind Stark arm, right? How good is it? I mean, are you going to be able to sign with it?”
Bucky lifts both hands, flexes all his fingers. Clint watches, looking impressed.
“Yeah you'll be fine,” he says. “Hey, do you-”
He's cut off by the door crashing open and a young man wearing glasses and clutching a backpack and skateboard in his hands. “I'm not late,” he pants, pulling his backpack from the door handle. “Am I late?”
Clint gives Bucky a grin and goes to meet the newcomer. Bucky ducks away to slide into the seat next to Steve. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he slumps down and waits for Steve to finish chatting with the huge guy he seems to have befriended.
“Alright, Buck? This is Thor,” Steve says, and Bucky sloppily salutes at the guy sitting on Steve's other side. Thor waves back, dipping his chin in a wordless greeting.
Steve elbows Bucky. “Did you just show him your hand?” he asks in an undertone.
Bucky elbows him back harder. He's a bit confused about that himself to be quite fair. Luckily he can't talk around anyone he's known less than twenty years so there's no chance of Steve trying to force a conversation right now.
Bucky ignores Steve. His anxiety is fluttering like a trapped moth in the back of his brain, and he wants to scream but he knows he won’t be able to make a sound-
“Okay guys, I think we’re ready to go,” Clint’s voice says loudly, walking to the front. Bucky focuses on listening, concentrating, watching as Clint’s hands move in time with his words, fluid and confident. “I'm Clint Barton, I've been deaf on and off since I was eight, took it up permanently around two years ago. And my glamorous assistant Natasha decided that I wasn’t allowed to sit on my ass any longer so I became qualified as an ASL teacher.”
He smiles awkwardly, scratching at the back of his head before starting with his signing again. “So we'll start with some basics today, greetings and the alphabet, see how we go. There's online content to go with each session, so you can practice at home too. So, yeah. Here we go.”
His glamorous assistant Natasha turns out to be the redhead that is there, already perfectly fluent in ASL. She helps Clint demonstrate and then they both float from person to person, checking in with them and helping them with their form.
It’s not exactly fun, but it get’s Bucky’s brain working and with every new sign he learns it’s an odd sense of relief. Steve takes it as seriously as Bucky, brow furrowed as he concentrates.
“Well you two are quick learners,” Clint’s voice says, and he kicks a chair around and drops into it. “Come on then,” he grins, and he signs slowly at Bucky.
"Hi. My name is Clint."
Bucky feels a returning smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Hi. My name is Bucky."
"How are you?"
Bucky thinks for a moment, and then he smiles and signs back.
"I’m good, thank you."
“Hey, Buck,” Steve says from the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb. “Whatcha doing?”
Bucky looks up from where he’s sat cross legged on his bed, laptop in front of him. They’ve not long been home from their first sign class and he’s buzzing, he wants to know more and learn more quickly. He feels invigorated in a way he hasn’t in a long time, the memory of Clint’s bright eyes and smile both encouragement and incentive.
“I….am...practicing,” Bucky says slowly, signing along the first two words. Steve's face cracks into a grin and he comes in to sit on the bed next to Bucky, peering at his laptop. It’s frozen on a video of Clint, wearing the same purple t-shirt as he had been today, hands held up in front of him.
“He's pretty good, huh?”
Bucky shrugs. “He's alright.”
Steve snorts. “You willingly interacted with him, I’d wager he’s more than okay.”
Bucky ignores him, and reaches out to tap the replay video button. Clint’s voice comes through his laptop speakers, easy going and low. It’s a calming voice, Bucky decides. Both he and Mr. Anxiety like it.
“So…” Steve says, all faux casual. “We going back then?”
Bucky shrugs, but then he lifts his hand and signs yes.
Steve throws an arm around his shoulder, squeezing him tight. Bucky lets out an indignant noise but Steve doesn't let him go.
“Proud of you,” Steve says, face squashed into Bucky’s metal shoulder.
“Oh god, get off!” Bucky says. “You're so lame.”
Steve lets go of him, grinning bright and wild. “Imma get us a beer,” he says decisively. “Celebrate.”
He practically jumps up off the bed and skips towards the doorway. Bucky is just quick enough to hurl a pillow after him, hitting him on the back of his legs.
“We are not celebrating the fact I managed to say hello to someone,” he yells after Steve.
“Yes we are,” Steve singsongs back, and Bucky gives up.
Clint trips through the door five minutes late, a coffee cup in one hand and the Labrador's leash in the other, though it is helpfully unattached to the Labrador that bounds in beside him. Natasha fixes him with a look of death, but Clint is either immune or doesn’t notice. He dashes to the front, the usually sedate Labrador bouncing around him and barking madly.
“Oh wow, my evaluations have just gone down the drain,” Clint says, even as Steve and Thor both chuckle. Even Phil Coulson - once again in his trademark suit - raises an amused eyebrow from his seat at the back. “Lucky, get down!”
The Labrador drops to the floor, tail thumping against the ground. Clint fixes Natasha with a winning smile. “Hey, I made it to session four without being late, that’s pretty good!”
“The one day I actually make it on time and you’re late,” Peter says, rolling his skateboard back and forth under his feet.
“Hey Parker, you wanna get snippy with me, you do it in sign,” Clint says.
Bucky wants to ask if there’s a session on sarcasm and insults. But he can’t.
“Teach me then,” Peter says with a grin.
Clint rolls his eyes, putting his coffee down on the table at the front. “Okay everyone, new sign. Shut, up, Peter.”
Everyone laughs, and Clint reaches up to scratch at the back of his head, a gesture he uses when he’s either embarrassed or trying to get his bearings. “Okay, so we’ve covered greetings, alphabet, numbers, and some basic vocabulary so far,” he says. “Today we’re going to give learning some new vocabulary a shot, and in the last hour we’re going to start looking at grammar and syntax. It’s not as fun, but you learn it now and you’ll find building up your ability to sign way easier.”
The group collectively nods and Clint blows out a breath. “Alright then. Partner up.”
The class is pretty relaxing. Bucky sticks by Steve’s side as he always does, mostly helping him out because Bucky may have already looked at the vocabulary for today via the website. He’s winding Steve up by shaking his head at everything he does whether it’s right or wrong, when Clint comes over, dropping to kneel on the floor next to him.
“Stop slacking,” he says to Bucky, signing along as he usually does. “Making your poor friend do all the work.”
Bucky wants to tell him, wants to talk to him. He even goes as far to open his mouth but the words won’t come. He clacks his jaw shut, frustration welling up in his gut. He wants to talk, dammit.
Clint looks at him evenly, and signs "are you okay?"
Bucky hesitates, and then shows Clint one of the signs he learned at home.
Steve looks between the two of them and then gets up and heads over to sit with Thor. It‘s anything but discreet and Bucky doesn’t know whether to kick him or thank him. As such, Bucky determinedly doesn’t watch him go, instead focussing on Clint.
“You learned some extra,” Clint says. Bucky nods curtly and then gives in and gets his notepad out.
'I figured that would be a word I would need a lot.'
Clint laughs. “Yeah, I can only imagine. I’ve been deaf on and off for so long I’ve forgotten what feeling frustrated with it feels like, I guess.”
Bucky cocks his head quizzically. ‘On and off?’
Clint bites his lip, looks over his shoulder. “I’ve got to actually teach,” he says. “You want to go get a beer afterwards? I mean, if you want to hear the whole boring story.”
Bucky blinks at him. This feels so weird. He’s having a conversation with someone other than Steve - and a conversation that Steve isn’t able to access to boot. It doesn’t quite erase the frustration of not being able to talk, but he’s communicating. It’s a start.
He puts his pen down and simply signs "yes."
Clint smiles and then gets up, walking over towards Peter and Phil, scratching at the back of his head. He’s barely gone two seconds before Natasha is slipping into Steve’s vacated seat.
“You want me to teach you to ask for a beer?” she says, an eyebrow lifted just enough.
He blinks at her. She’s beautiful and slightly terrifying; he suspects even if he did have the ability to speak, he’d be a little tongue tied around her anyway.
“Hands up,” she instructs. “This is how you say ‘your place or mine?’ ”
Bucky’s mouth falls open in affront, and he folds his arms across his chest. She just smirks at him and takes hold of his wrists and lifts his hands up.
“Don't argue with me,” she says. “I’ve been friends with Clint for years. I would take advantage of that if I were you.”
Unable to sign back or reach for his notepad with his hands in her grip, he just nods and lets her do her worst.
She smiles again. “Good choice. I think I like you. I think Clint likes you too.”
He manages to not act like Steve and just raises a bored eyebrow at her instead of blushing and losing his cool. That, she seems to like, her laugh low and musical.
“Yes, I definitely like you,” she says. “Clint can keep you.”
And in a way it’s possibly a good thing that he can’t talk, because what the hell would he say to that, anyway?
Steve’s face when Bucky tells him he’s going for a beer with Clint is priceless. It’s funny enough to beat Mr. Anxiety into submission, and his lingering worry vanishes as he follows Clint to the door, walking backwards and waving.
“Remember your curfew!” Steve manages to shout after him just before the door closes, and Bucky replies with a very succinct middle finger.
“Just so you know,” Clint says as he pushes the door to the bar open, hooking his heel against it so it doesn’t squash Lucky or swing back in Bucky’s face. “Everything that Nat says about me is a lie.”
Bucky’s mouth twitches. Clint lifts an eyebrow, clearly expecting a response, and Bucky hesitates for a moment before pulling his notepad out. Clint automatically turns around and Bucky is thrown for a moment before he realizes what Clint is getting at; he slowly steps forwards to rest the notepad against Clint’s shoulder. He quickly scribbles what he wants to say and then passes it forwards.
'She said you were the most handsome man she’d ever seen.'
Clint barks out a laugh and Bucky smiles. He reaches for the notepad again, and Clint hands it back.
'Yeah she was definitely lying.'
Clint laughs again, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I knew you had a good sense of humor,” he says. “Come on, what’re you having?”
Bucky signs beer at him and Clint doesn’t comment, just nods and nudges Bucky to go sit down. “Take the mutt,” he says, and Bucky blinks at him, because Lucky isn’t wearing a lead and Bucky can’t exactly call him. Clint either hasn’t noticed the issue or has a very high estimation of Bucky’s problem solving abilities, because he just walks off towards the bar.
Lucky cocks his head, blinking curiously at Bucky. He reaches out and brushes his fingers hesitantly over Lucky’s ear; Lucky responds with an enthusiastic bout of licking his hand, and then when Bucky turns away he happily follows. Bucky slides into a booth and Lucky ducks under the table and flops down on top of Bucky’s boots. He’s heavy but Bucky doesn’t really mind; he’s too busy fixating on Clint and the way he doesn’t seem remotely bothered about his inability to talk. Sometimes – and Bucky feels guilty even thinking it – he can sense Steve’s impatience, sadness and disappointment every time he goes to write something down, but with Clint he doesn’t get that at all.
Clint returns in short order, sliding two beers onto the table. Bucky already has his question ready written down and slides the notebook over the slightly sticky tabletop towards him.
'Are you even allowed to bring Lucky in here?'
Clint reads it, pulls a face. “Well, I think they’re under the impression he’s a service dog?” he says. “Labrador and me being deaf and all. They’ve never complained, so I just go with it.”
Bucky nods, and Clint laughs shortly. “You know, I was about to say that the background noise is playing hell with my hearing in here, so you’ll have to make sure I can read your lips too,” he says. “Which is not a problem for us.”
Bucky smiles wryly, reaches for his pen. 'Guess not.'
“So, what’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” Clint says, and then his eyes light up. “Oh man, I can use all my best lines on you and you can’t tell me to shut up.”
'My hand can crush steel,' Bucky writes. 'Fair substitute.'
Clint laughs and Bucky grins too, licking his bottom lip and tapping his pen against his chin for a moment before writing something slowly.
'Why would you be using your best lines on me?'
Clint just grins slyly. “Because you can’t tell me to shut up.”
Bucky rolls his eyes, corner of his mouth tugged into an unwilling smile. There’s nothing more he wants to say to that - not without making an ass out of himself anyway, so he changes the subject and writes, 'Boring story?'
Clint grimaces. “It really is boring,” he says. “And probably overshare.”
Bucky contemplates his answer. One bonus of not talking - he has a fraction more thinking time between thinking and communicating.
'I don’t mind,' he finally writes. 'I like hearing you talk. And you decide if it’s overshare or not. It’s your story.'
Clint reads the words and spends quite a while staring down at them. Then he nods slowly.
“It’s not that a big a deal,” he says. “My dad was an asshole. An asshole who drank too much and was fond of the phrase ‘I’ll box your ears, boy.’ ” He smiles ruefully. “I learned sign when I was...what, six?” he says, face scrunching as he remembers. Bucky’s stomach twists unhappily, because the thought of a six year old being on the receiving end of a beating enough to make him temporarily deaf is sickening. Clint doesn’t look like he wants sympathy though, so Bucky keeps his pen to himself.
“It happened like three, four times?” Clint continues. “Worst one was when I was eleven. Since all that shit my hearing has been like a faulty wire. One wrong knock and it winks out, loses signal kinda thing. It was almost yearly that something would happen and I’d lose it for a few weeks or months. Ear infections wiped my hearing out straight away.”
Bucky nods slowly. There’s nothing for him to say, but he wants Clint to know he’s listening. Clint half smiles at him, sipping his beer and licking his top lip. It makes Bucky shiver, aching with want that he’s not felt in a very long time.
“Then a few years back. I end up working for a sort of...private security firm, I guess you could call it?” he says. “High risk areas, personal protection, that sort of shit. Then there was an explosion, and I’m still waiting for my ears to come back.” He shrugs. “At least it removes all the uncertainty. And at least I learned ASL when I was younger.”
Bucky’s mouth twists. 'Brave,' he writes in his notebook. Clint shrugs. “That’s relative.”
Bucky nods in agreement. People called him brave when he got back all blown to hell, let himself be used as a guinea pig for Stark and his metal-limb fetish or whatever it was. But he lives with Steve, who has been awarded two fucking medals of honor - including one for returning into enemy territory under heavy fire to fish Bucky’s sorry ass out of the hole he was bleeding out in.
He reaches out again, wondering if he should be worried about how much he’s letting Clint in already. He’s not though, so he just goes for it and writes.
People called me brave. When I got back, when I walked again, when I had surgery.' He pauses, taps his open against the paper. 'Though you don’t exactly have to be brave for surgery, you’re unconscious.'
Clint laughs at that, and raises his beer.
“To being brave,” he says wryly. Bucky smiles back, and lifts his beer to clink gently against Clint’s.
Steve is up waiting for him when he gets in. Of course he is. Drinking coffee and doodling idly in his sketchbook, trying to appear nonchalant.
“You okay?” he asks, and Bucky goes to reply but he’s tired and even though he’s had a great time it’s been draining. The words don’t come, so he walks over to Steve instead, sitting down next to him and reaching for a pencil. Steve flips to a new page in his sketchpad and nudges it over.
'It was fine,' he writes. 'I’m just tired.'
"Good," Steve says sincerely. "That’s a huge step for you, Buck-"
Bucky shakes his head. 'Can you not? I know - but this isn’t about recovery and stuff. That’s not what I’m doing it for.'
Steve looks at him, concerned. “Yeah, but-”
Bucky quickly lifts a hand to press against Steve’s chin, his ‘stop talking’ signal. Steve does, though he looks reproachful.
'I just liked spending time with him ,' Bucky writes.
Steve nods. “He’s good for your anxiety,” he says. “I noticed when we first- hey!”
He breaks off indignantly as Bucky picks up the sketchpad and smacks him on the shoulder with it. Glowering, Bucky puts it down and flips to a new page, writing ‘STOP PLAYING THERAPIST’ in letters that cover the page. He huffs and then adds, ‘just be my friend about this, please. ’
Steve sighs. “Alright,” he says, in his tone of voice that clearly says he’s acknowledges the point but he’s not going to apologize. “So. Tell me about Clint then.”
Bucky’s mouth hitches in a smile. He swallows, breathes out. Repeats the action twice, three times. “He’s more of a loser than you,” he says aloud, and Steve looks flatly at him.
“You’re hilarious,” he says. “If we’re so bad, what does that make you for hanging out with us?”
“A fuckin’ saint,” Bucky replies, and Steve laughs loud and long.
“You remember my ma used to say that? That you were a saint for putting up with me?”
“Oh yeah,” Bucky says. “Though I think she was the saint for putting up with us.”
Steve chuckles. “You got that right,” he says wistfully.
“Remember that night we were up past curfew?”
“Oh man, yeah. Must have looked hilarious. Two nineteen year old idiots cowering because we knew she’d be waiting for us.”
“Was entirely your fault.”
“No it wasn’t, I had to wait for you because you were trying to get Emma Hall’s number!”
“And then you got in a fight with Joe Ellis on the way home!”
They were both laughing now, the reminiscing easy and warm. It was good to see Steve looking happy to talk about his ma, sometimes it wasn’t so. “Oh yeah, I did,” Steve says, scratching his ear. “He started it, though. Did you ever get her number?”
“No,” Bucky says, and pauses. “I did get her boyfriend’s, though.”
Steve laughs even louder, leaning forwards over the counter, and Bucky grins and pats his shoulder.
“Man, that seems life a lifetime ago,” Steve says, reclaiming his coffee and sipping at it. “We were idiots back then.”
“We’re idiots now,” Bucky says. “Hey, look.”
Steve looks up quizzically and Bucky quickly signs something at him. Steve just shakes his head, nonplussed.
“You're an idiot,” Bucky says as he repeats the signs. “Clint taught me, so I could tell him when he’s done something dumb.”
Steve snorts. “He gave you the ability to insult him? What was he thinking? Does he know you’re a terrible person?”
“No, he thinks I’m awesome,” Bucky says and Steve grins.
“Glad to see your confidence coming back,” he says, and then holds up his hands in defense as Bucky reaches for the sketchbook, lifting it threateningly. “I’m saying that as a friend! Calm down, you fuckin’ animal!”
Bucky hits him with it anyway.
Six ASL classes in, and Bucky really starts to enjoy himself. He never intended it to be a fun experience, but the more he hangs out with Clint the more he finds that it’s more than just something to do, a necessity in dealing with his communication needs. He even starts to willingly interact with other people; Natasha becomes easier and easier to get along with every week, he introduces himself to Phil using sign and even makes a coffee for Peter.
This week, he finds himself sitting with Steve and Thor; the two of them get on really well and Bucky is glad that Steve is finding someone to hang out with while he’s with Clint. His initial impression of Thor is that he’s just a massive jock, but it turns out he’s very wrong. He should have known better really; many people think the same of Steve when they first see him.
Point being, Thor turns out to be lots of things that Bucky doesn’t expect. First off, he’s ridiculously rich, thanks to family inheritance, but he’s also gentle and wise and insanely clever.
“You know how many languages?!”
Steve's question hangs in the air. Bucky stares at Thor, mouth partway open. He looks at Steve, who is looking just as shocked as he is. Thor just shrugs, looking supremely unconcerned.
“I am fluent in nine languages,” he says easily. “And can get by in another four.”
“Whoa,” Steve says, impressed. “That’s amazing.”
“My family have a gift for learning languages,” he says. “Though between me and my brother it has become something of a competition. He is currently in Iceland immersing himself in the language and culture. I would have joined him, but my girlfriend is studying here and I did not yet wish to leave her.”
“So you’re learning this just for fun?”
“You could say so,” Thor says. “Why are you learning?”
Steve looks to Bucky, who shrugs and then nods.
“Bucky can’t talk,” Steve says. “We’re trying to find a way around it.”
“A worthy enterprise,” says Thor. “You seem to be learning this incredibly quickly. You must have a good memory.”
Bucky leans forwards and scribbles a single word on his notepad.
Both Thor and Steve chuckle at that, though probably for very different reasons.
“He speaks Russian too,” Steve tells Thor, and then grimaces. “Well, he did. I know French, a bit of German and Italian. And Russian curse words, too.”
Thor laughs again. “I could teach you how to curse in a few more languages if you wish.”
“Cursing in ASL doesn’t come in until level three,” Clint’s voice says. The three turn around to greet him, leaning back over their chairs. “Though if you’re desperate, you already know the classics.”
Bucky grins, meeting Clint’s eye as the other two laugh. Standing up, Clint claps Bucky on the shoulder. “More grammar today, guys. Waiting on Parker and then we’ll get going.”
He walks away, but as he gets towards the table at the front he looks back towards Bucky. He smiles quietly at him, a genuine curve of his mouth, and then promptly trips over Lucky.
Bucky chokes on a laugh, clapping his palm over his mouth. Clint straightens up and looks at him sheepishly, waving awkwardly and stepping back, almost tripping over again.
“What’s so funny?” Steve asks.
Still grinning, Bucky just shakes his head. He notices Thor looking at him with quiet intrigue too, and it’s only when he replays the moment in his mind that he realizes that the laugh is the first sound anyone in the room aside from Steve has heard him make.
He surprises himself by wishing that Clint could have been the one to hear it.
Bucky huffs, glaring at his laptop, fingers tapping restlessly just below the keypad and eyes locked on the youtube search results.
“Come on,” he mutters to himself. “You can do this.”
Steeling himself, he clicks on the video titled ‘how to ask someone on a date using ASL,’ and then promptly jumps a mile as someone raps loudly at his door. Instantly, he slams the laptop lid shut just as Steve pushes the door open.
“You want to go – oh god, did I interrupt something?” Steve asks, looking at the laptop with a growing expression of horror creeping over his face. “Oh hell, I’m-”
“No, no you didn’t,” Bucky says hastily, and takes his hand off the top of the laptop, like that looks at all less incriminating. He can feel his cheeks flushing and honestly, he’d rather admit to Steve that he was watching porn than confess what he was actually doing.
“Oh,” Steve says, clearly not convinced. His ears have gone red. “Sure. I’ll just-”
Oh man. If he doesn’t fess up, he’ll have Steve side-eyeing him and acting all weird and embarrassed for days. For all that he’s an utter shit, the man cannot handle any discussion of his or anyone else’s sex life, especially not Bucky’s. Bucky understands because it’s the same for him; once he and Steve bypassed being friends and went straight into pretty much being brothers, hearing about the other's sexscapades just feels wrong.
“I was looking up how to ask someone out,” he says quickly, because he figures that it’s like ripping off a band-aid. “In ASL.”
Steve’s mouth slowly curves into a grin. “Are you going to ask Clint out?”
Bucky immediately feels deep, heartfelt regret. He’s changed his mind; this is worse.
“Yes you are, you’re going to ask Clint out!” Steve exclaims, way too excited by the prospect. “Hey, teach me as well so if you chicken out I can ask him for you-”
“Fuck off, Steve!” Bucky exclaims, making a dive for his laptop as Steve’s eyes flick towards it.
“Come on, just in case!”
Holding his laptop protectively close to his chest, Bucky reaches out with his metal hand, grabs a pillow and swings it towards Steve, hitting him full in the face. “If anyone’s a chicken here it’s you,” he says. “Asked my fancy technology doctor-mechanic out yet?”
“No,” Steve says easily as he shoves the pillow back towards Bucky, though the tips of his ears are going pink again. “I’m waiting for him to ask me.”
“Yeah right,” Bucky scoffed. “I’ll have married Clint before he asks you out. The guy’s famous. He’s used to getting what he wants, he won’t be prepared for you being stubborn and playing hard to get.”
Steve utterly disregards the commentary on both him and his not-quite-boy-toy. Instead, he just starts to laugh. “You want to kiss him, you want to marry him,” he sing-songs. “You want to have his babies, little one-armed deaf babies.”
Unfortunately, Steve is the marginally stronger out of the pair of them, so Bucky’s attempts to smother him with the pillow prove futile.
Bucky lowers his hands, feeling oddly calm even though Clint is staring at him with his mouth slightly open, like he’s just been caught unawares. Either Bucky has horribly misread this or he’s actually just signed something utterly ridiculous or inappropriate-
“Yes,” Clint finally says, sounding surprised, then he grins and repeats himself in sign. “Yes, definitely, that’d be amazing. Like, I mean, if you want, and you’re not just practicing signing on me because I’m your teacher and you want to ask someone else, wow that would be awkward.”
Amused, Bucky shakes his head and then points at the clock.
Clint is bemused for a moment and then his eyes light up. “Class hasn’t started yet! So i’m not your teacher right now!” he says triumphantly. “I’m reinstating my yes.”
Bucky nods back, half smiling. Behind Clint he sees Steve and Thor share a high five and vows once again to murder Steve in his sleep.
“Want me to teach you to ask for someone’s phone number?” Clint grins, and Bucky laughs and nods.
He leaves the class with Clint’s number scrawled on his real arm and Steve and Thor declaring that they need to go and celebrate. For once, he doesn’t say no.
They plan the date over text. Because of the combined issues of Clint’s hearing, Bucky’s not-talking, Lucky and both of them having problems with anxiety, they decide to stay in at Clint’s and watch a movie or two. Bucky is a-okay with that plan, and finds himself actually really looking forwards to it.
On the evening of the date, Steve beams at him from the kitchen table as Bucky shuffles out of him room, wearing his arm and the black jeans that Steve says clearly advertise the fact he could crush a man with his thighs.
Though since Steve is banned from talking until Bucky leaves the apartment - a decree instated immediately after Steve uttered the words ‘netflix and chill’ - he just nods and gives him a thumbs up. Bucky heads for the door but then quickly doubles back and wraps Steve up in a fierce hug, a wordless thank you.
And Steve is good for something, because he still doesn’t open his yap. Just claps Bucky on the shoulder and shoos him on his way without uttering a sound.
Bucky only knocks once on the apartment door before there comes the sound of frantic barking and an almighty crash from inside. He takes a wary step back, but then he hears Clint’s voice shouting at Lucky and then the door is opening.
“Hi,” Clint says, one hand on the door and the other hand on Lucky’s collar. “Hi, come in, I dropped the coffee pot so watch where you’re standing-”
It turns out that Clint Barton is a bit of a tragedy. When Bucky points this out, sitting at Clint’s counter with a beer in hand and notepad at the ready, Clint just shrugs.
“I kinda live on the hope that it makes me endearing,” he says, wringing out the coffee drenched towel into the sink. “And I know you’re very honest but please don’t shatter that illusion for me.”
Bucky grins and shrugs, waving his hand in a see-sawing motion. Clint’s face falls comically.
“Well, you’re the dumbass that’s on a date with me,” he says. “So if I’m tragic then you’re an idiot.”
'I can live with that ,' Bucky writes, and he smiles at the way Clint’s face lights up when he reads it.
They are supposed to be watching a movie, but what actually happens is that Bucky points at various things around Clint’s apartment and listens as Clint explains what it is, why it’s there and the story behind it. Clint does literally all of the talking, save for an occasional comment or question signed or written down, but Bucky doesn’t mind. He likes hearing Clint talk, likes the way Clint never ever seems bothered by his silence. Clint seems just as happy to have someone listen to him.
The targets at the end of the room reveal Clint does archery in his spare time. It also reveals that he used to be in the circus, and when he digs out a photo Bucky laughs so hard he nearly cries. Clint grumbles a lot about him looking hot in spandex, and purple totally being his color.
The ancient games console and shelf of trinkets reveal an odd tendency to magpie things, of an unwillingness to let go of things that Clint feels are his. It’s not a bad thing, Bucky tells him. What he doesn’t write down is that he’s secretly relieved by the admission; Bucky knows from glorious and bitter experience that when he falls he falls hard. So knowing Clint is the type to hold onto things he likes suits Bucky just fine.
They trade stories of siblings. Clint waits patiently for a good few minutes while Bucky writes down all about his sister and his family, spread out over the country as they are. When he reads it, he smiles. He asks about Steve, and when Bucky writes about him, he smiles sort of sadly and tells Bucky that he’s the kind of brother that everyone would be lucky to have. Bucky then tells Clint that Steve is not-quite-dating but has a sort of thing going on with Tony Stark, and Clint goes positively feral over the gossip.
“Since when? How? Really?” he demands. Bucky writes down the story of how Steve was sort-of famous for his heroics, how he met Tony at the White House of all places. How they’d sort of hit it off, after a bit of a clash of egos led them to nearly hitting each other. Bucky tells him how after he was sent home in pieces, he ended up in the right place at the right time with the exact right type of injury to catch Stark’s attention. The rest is history.
“Tell Steve he has to marry him,” Clint says seriously. “And then you can pull a brother-in-law favor and get him to make me some new ears.”
Bucky laughs at that, and Clint looks pleased with himself. He scratches at the back of his head, and Bucky lets his eyes drag leisurely down the underside of Clint’s arm, lingering on the corded muscle there. Clint has got amazing arms and shoulders, and Bucky guesses that it’s to do with his archery.
He takes a slow sip of his beer, licking at his bottom lip. It’s Clint’s turn to stare. Bucky feels a flare of recognition; this is an old and familiar dance, one he used to be pretty damn good at. For a moment, his anxiety whispers restlessly in the back of his brain, but it’s easy to ignore. This is Clint. He likes Clint, he trusts Clint.
He takes another swig of beer, eyes on Clint. Clint’s eyes flick up to his as he puts the bottle down and then swallows, and he watches Clint reflexively swallow in return, looking away.
“Um,” he says. “Dinner. I said dinner, that I’d cook dinner.”
Bucky raises an eyebrow, inviting him to continue.
“Pizza,” Clint says, still obviously flustered. “I can either order take out or we can make our own. I mean, how hard can it be to make pizza from scratch?”
Bucky smiles, reaches for his pen. ‘Making our own sounds good.’
Clint nods. “Alright, I was hoping you’d say that. Okay, I’ve got all the ingredients and shit, just wait a sex - I mean sec. Oh god. I mean, alright, I’ll just be over here.”
Now a very interesting shade of pink, Clint abruptly turns around and busies himself pulling things out of cupboards. Resting his elbow on the counter, Bucky clamps his palm over his mouth, stifling his laughter.
Yeah, for as much of a tragedy that he is turning out to be, Bucky really is starting to like Clint.
Making pizza is a wonderful, awful disaster. The oven only works after some wrangling with the electrics and a swift punch; Lucky makes off with a pack of chorizo that was definitely not supposed to be for him; there is an incident with an egg and Clint ends up covered in flour.
Bucky can’t remember the last time he had so much fun.
It’s stupid and dumb, but he finds himself easily and desperately falling tits over ass for Clint. Clint knows what it’s like, to be faulty, to have a part of you broken. He knows what it’s like to go through hell, and pick yourself back up again afterwards. He doesn’t pity or sympathize, he doesn’t make a fuss, he doesn’t seem to expect anything. That’s the best part.
“Okay,” Clint says, holding a floury hand out. “Pizza is in. It is successfully in the oven, and I am never doing this ever again.”
Bucky smiles. He leans across the counter and draws a smiley face in the flour that’s all over the counter.
“Oh how cheesy,” Clint says. “Are we in a rom-com? Is that what is happening right now?”
Bucky shrugs, a half-hearted hitch to his shoulder. He stands up, slowly walks around the counter. Clint turns to face him, leaning back into the corner where it bends at a right angle. He half-smiles as Bucky walks around to him, a brow lifting in something that might be a question, might be a challenge. Bucky smirks back and reaches up to brush flour from Clint’s forehead, and as he does Clint sways slightly closer to him.
Now here’s the tricky part. A lifetime ago, this would be the point where Bucky would ask for affirmation, to quietly breathe a question into someone’s ear.
And he hasn’t learn the sign for ‘can I kiss you’ yet, dammit. He should have asked Natasha.
He looks from Clint’s eyes to his mouth and back again, and then turns to carefully draw a question mark into the flour on the worktop.
“Yes,” Clint says before he’s even finished the dot. “Yes, ten times yes-”
Without wasting another breath, Bucky leans in and kisses him. He tastes of beer and his mouth is soft and gentle, breath catching in the back of his throat as he gently catches Bucky’s bottom lip between his own. His hands come up to hold onto Bucky’s waist, leaving floury handprints on Bucky’s black shirt. His eyes have fluttered closed and his mouth is curving in a smile as they kiss, and in that instant, Bucky knows he’s done for.
He doesn’t really mind.
Bucky gets home at gone midnight. Steve is still up - of course he is - and looks up expectantly as Bucky tries to sneak in, closing the door behind him and dropping his keys into the bowl by the front door.
“Hey, Buck! How-”
“You are still banned from talking,” Bucky says loudly, but he’s grinning and he can’t help it.
Steve blinks at him. “You’re covered in flour,” he says, utterly ignoring the no talking rule.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, heart skipping in his chest. He feels oddly helpless and is surprisingly kind of okay with feeling that way. “Yeah, I am.”
“Do we get to celebrate?” Steve asks brightly.
“Go to bed, Steve,” Bucky says with an amused shake of his head.
“No way did I wait up to not hear what happened!”
“Night, Steve,” Bucky says loudly, walking to his bedroom.
“See you in the morning,” he yells back, shutting the door and leaning back against it. He counts to five and sure enough, hears footsteps and indignant knocking against the door.
“I’m going to keep knocking until you tell me what happened,” Steve’s muffled voice says matter of factly.
Bucky just laughs softly, dipping his head and closing his eyes as his mouth curves in a smile.
“I can go out,” Steve says for the hundredth time, but Bucky shakes his head. He’s waiting on Clint to come over for official date number two - seeing him at class doesn’t count - and Steve is obviously torn between wanting to stay and wanting to give Bucky some space.
It’s quite hilarious to watch, really. “Nah, you’re good,” he says. “Stay for a bit. Talk me up some and then clear out so we can have sex on the couch.”
Steve draws back, mouth falling open. “Don’t you dare!”
Bucky nods seriously. “Couch, kitchen table,” he says, starting to laugh.
“No, absolutely fuckin’ not,” Steve says. “We eat there.”
“Yeah, I’ll be doing some eating there,” Bucky says with a wickedly raised eyebrow, and then breaks down into laughter as Steve clamps his hands over his ears.
“Great. Of all the things you reclaim it’s the part about you being a sex-fiend,” Steve says, looking distressed.
Bucky chuckles, shaking his head. “Stop using that word,” he says.
“No, reclaim,” he says. “We’ve talked about this.”
Steve lets his hands drop, sighing. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”
“Not a reset button on me,” Bucky reminds him. “And there’s not one on you, neither.”
“I’m not that different,” Steve begins, but tails off as Bucky just gives him a look.
“Stevie-boy, you are never going to be that twenty-two year old punk again,” he says evenly. “And that’s okay.”
“Why don’t you stop playing therapist,” Steve grouches, but when he looks up he’s almost smiling, and Bucky knows he’s alright.
“Why don’t you actually go to your therapist,” Bucky says, and Steve opens his mouth to argue but he’s cut off by a knocking at the door.
Mr Anxiety reacts first, a shrill someone in your safe space, someone you don’t know bringing unknown variables in, situation unpredictable, and then Bucky’s brain engages properly and he tells Mr. Anxiety to fuck off because it’s just Clint.
He gets up to go and open the door, ignoring Steve who thinks he’s being helpful by giving him an encouraging thumbs up. As he gets to the door he hears a thump and Clint cursing, and grins to himself before pulling the door open.
Lucky bounds in and makes a beeline for Steve, who exclaims in delight and then drops to his knees, fussing over Lucky who rolls over onto his back, tail wagging madly. Clint looks at him apologetically, and on impulse Bucky leans in and kisses him on the corner of his mouth.
“Hey,” Clint says, going pink as he edges in. “Um, hi. Yeah, I bought Lucky. I’m - hey Steve.”
He seems flustered, awkward. Bucky’s smile fades into uncertainty as Clint closes the door, because Clint is looking anywhere but at him and something isn’t right. Even Steve has noticed, glancing up as he rubs Lucky’s belly, quietly watching.
Bucky reaches out to touch Clint’s elbow. Clint looks up at him and Bucky frowns, signing "are you okay?"
Clint looks down, scratches the back of his head. “Um,” he says, and then he meets Bucky’s eyes and the words tumble out in a rush.
“I heard you talking,” he says. “I didn’t mean to, I just was outside the door and I could hear you.”
Bucky stands perfectly still. Clint just looks at him, apologetic and awkward. It’s a moment of held breath, where Bucky waits for his anxiety to kick in, waits for his throat to go tight and his palms to start sweating-
It doesn’t happen. He just feels calm and in control, not at all perturbed by the fact Clint heard his voice. With that in mind, he takes a deep breath, looks Clint in the eye and opens his mouth to tell him it’s okay, the words ready on the tip of his tongue.
And of course he can’t.
The words don’t come and he has a moment of fierce, annoyed disappointment before signing the words instead.
Clint immediately perks up. “As long as you don’t mind,” he says. “You’ve got a nice voice.”
Bucky reaches out and fists his metal hand in Clint’s shirt and yanks him in to kiss him. Clint wraps his arms around him, pulling him up close. Bucky pulls back after long, airless seconds and nudges Clint’s nose with his own, looking him in the eye with an unspoken question. And Clint gets it, because he just nods jerkily, gently kissing him again.
“Um, Clint, mind if I take Lucky for a walk?” Steve’s voice asks from behind them, sounding awkward. Good. Serves him right.
Bucky’s face cracks into a grin and Clint starts to laugh.
“Sure,” he says. “Just keep him away from the pizza place the next block over.”
“Yep, can do,” Steve says. Bucky hears him getting up and calling Lucky, and spares him a glance as he edges out of the apartment. Steve looks him in the eye and mouths ‘not the table,’ and Bucky gives him the finger just before the door clicks shut.
“So, you wanna talk?” Clint asks him as Steve’s footsteps fade. “Or you wanna sit on the couch and make out?”
Bucky is very tempted. He doesn't simply sign "option two" like he wants to do, because there's something he needs to say - or not, whatever - first. He wriggles out of Clint's arms and goes to reclaim his notepad, gesturing for Clint to follow. Clint stands shoulder to shoulder with him as Bucky writes his message.
'I don't know if you'll ever really hear my voice,' he writes. 'I'm working on it, but I can't promise anything.'
He turns the notepad towards Clint, who reads the words and then just looks up at Bucky evenly. Bucky's heart is thudding strangely, but he waits, hoping that this isn't going to put Clint off, hoping that it's not going to be a deal breaker-
And Clint's mouth hitches in a soft smile, and then he reaches up and slowly unclips his hearing aids, carefully removing them from behind each ear. Bucky swallows hard, watching at Clint sets them down ontop of Bucky's notepad before looking back up again.
"Doesn't matter if you don't talk," Clint says simply, signing along. "I couldn't hear you anyway."
And Bucky is grinning helplessly, reaching forwards and pulling Clint back in and kissing him fiercely. God, he's one lucky bastard. For once everything in his life is on the up, with his amazing friends - old and new - and his PT actually working and his robot arm not seeming like a big deal and being able to communicate and Clint. Hell, Clint is just - he's just -
Well, damn. Bucky's speechless. Good job no-one will notice, right?