He wasn't quite certain how they had fallen in together, how they had managed to get to this point. Perhaps it was because he had never for a moment been afraid to stand up to the Hulk, a feat impressive for the strongest of men, let alone an archer who had somehow made his way into a team of superhumans. Perhaps it was a shared struggle with depression. Perhaps it was something like shared alienation, neither of them the most popular of Avengers, the two of them never quite living up to the fame and hype of Tony Stark, or the gold and glory of Thor Odinson, neither even coming close to America’s Golden Boy. The archer and the scientist, living together in the shadows of their friends. Not that either of them particularly minded.
Whatever the reason, they found their way together, and Bruce had fallen hard. There was warmth, and there was snark, and these was mutual admiration. And for the first time in his life, Bruce Banner was not afraid of the beast within him. Because if there was one person that could stop him, one person that could talk him down, it was Clint Barton.
The first time that he had ever watched Clint sign was nearly a year after they had first met, though there was still only a budding friendship between them. Bruce had first noticed Clint’s hearing aids while treating him for some minor injuries after a mission gone slightly awry. It was before anything beyond friendship had spurred between them, and Bruce had asked out of medical, and perhaps a slight personal, curiosity. Eighty percent deaf, after an injury sustained during a mission a few years back. Bruce had clung to every word, watched with rapt attention as Clint absently signed along with what he said. Mesmerized.
The second time he saw Clint sign was three months into their relationship. Bruce had pretty much forgotten about Clint’s condition until after an invasion at a Hydra base. There had been no reason for him to dwell on it beforehand, his hearing aids always offering him a bit of normalcy. But after taking a hard blow to the head and making a hasty escape, Clint was left without his hearing aids, almost completely deaf for three weeks, until replacements were sent. Those were a rough, silent three weeks, with struggles in communication. It was then, barely into this little love affair of theirs, that he decided to learn.
The third time he ever saw Clint sign was six months later, nearing nine months into their relationship, and four months into Bruce’s attempts at teaching himself the language. During a mission, Clint had taken his hearing aids out, as he had made a habit of doing, preferring the focus and clarity that came when he was stripped of sound. He lay in the snow, shirtless and cold, as he tended to be after Hulk-outs; though, the cold was welcome, given the terrible fevers that tended to strike once he came back down. The war was nearly over and Clint had rushed over to him, talking a bit too loudly, offering some attempt at comfort. Clint had signed to Natasha to keep watch over them until they were safe inside of the Helicarrier. It was the first time that Bruce had been able to pluck out words well enough to understand what he was saying.
The fourth time he saw Clint sign was a year and a half into their relationship. In moments of great anxiety, Clint Barton forgot how to speak, and his hands took over instead. Bruce had been pushed, provoked, until the Hulk had taken him over, pushed into rampage. It took three days for the others to find him, curled up on a street corner in Berlin with nothing more than a blanket he’d stolen from a homeless shelter wrapped around his shoulders. Clint had been frantic, hands moving too quick for him to read beyond picking up something along the lines of “are you okay?” Bruce had taken Clint’s hands in his, kissing them over and over until he settled down.
The first time Clint Barton ever saw Bruce Banner sign was on their wedding day. Bruce had reached up, plucked out his hearing aids and dropped them into his pocket before taking the archer’s hands, calloused and rough, in his own hands, kissing them softly before letting go, signing his vows in a language only they understood.