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of all the fights in all the back alleys in all of new york

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Clint’s aids are on the fritz.

It’s not exactly surprising, because he’s standing in the aftermath of one of those brutal ten-on-one brawls that his tracksuits are so fond of. It’s not a tactic Natasha’s fond of, so he’s always been pretty sure it’s not just a Russian thing, but these guys were definitely Russian and yet definitely not dressed in cheap maroon tracksuits, so it’s possible he should rethink that theory.

Either way, Clint never comes out of these fights in a good way, although it helped that this time he had help. Or, well, he was the help. The tracksuit-less Russians were already beating the shit out of the man standing across from Clint in a black get-up and matching mask when Clint arrived on the scene and joined in, because, well, Russians in a ten-on-one brawl.

It’s not that Clint thinks all the Russians in Brooklyn are part of his tracksuit mob. Just the ones who enjoy ganging up on do-gooders.

And Clint’s pretty sure the guy in the mask is a do-gooder. He carries himself like one, for one; the same angry-but-righteous slant to his shoulders that Steve gets when he’s about to start a fight or a lecture. And Clint’s been hearing things about a masked man making trouble for the nastier guys down in Hell’s Kitchen. Vigilantes have been on the rise since the Chitauri invasion, but most of them are ex-SHIELD agents, the ones who don’t think the cosy security jobs they were given after SHIELD folded are enough, and Clint would recognise any of them. This guy is a stranger.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Mr. Masked and Mysterious doesn’t really look like he’d survive another round, but he’s got one fist up anyway, the other pressed against the stab wound Clint saw him take on his left hip. Clint knows just how dangerous a guy who won’t give up is, and he never enjoys being on the wrong side of one.

He clears his throat, trying to think up the quickest way to defuse the situation. Natasha would probably already have this guy giving up his full name and home address, but Clint’s not quite so smooth. Or pretty.

The guy snaps to attention at the sound, head twisting to look directly at Clint. Clint freezes, then lifts his hands slowly, palms out. “Hey, man,” he says, “I don’t know about you, but I’d really rather not get into another fight tonight.”

The masked man hesitates for all of three seconds before relaxing, his fisted hand uncurling and dropping to his side. A crooked smile flashes across his face, and he opens his mouth to reply. Clint throws a quick prayer to whichever deity is laughing down at him this week that his aids will hold out until he gets home, but no such luck. He catches a few vowels, a definite hard k, but not much else.

“Figures,” he mutters, lifting his head to scowl at the sky. He intends it to be too low for the man to catch, but his hearing must be off enough that he’s misjudging his volume, because when he looks back down the man is frowning, confused. “Sorry,” he says, waving a hand at his ear. “I’m, uh, deaf. Can’t hear you.”

The guy tilts his head to one side. Clint imagines he’s be raising an eyebrow under his mask. When he repeats, “Deaf?” it’s exaggerated, loud enough that Clint can hear it despite his futzed aids.

Clint frowns. It’s been a while since he got any shit for his hearing – the Avengers took it surprisingly easily in their varied strides, but then Clint supposes deafness doesn’t really compare to turning into a rage monster or needing an electromagnet in his chest to keep shrapnel out of his heart – but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten the stigmas. “Yeah, man, deaf” he says, voice flat. “That a problem?”

The guy pauses again, and then shakes his head, another smile on his lips. “Not a problem,” he replies, still talking louder than usual so Clint’s aids still pick him up, which Clint appreciates despite himself. He’s better at lip reading than most thanks to his eyes, but it’s not really enough to get by on without signs or at least some sound. Most people don’t seem to realise it’s not a cure-all. This guy, though, nudges one of the bodies on the ground with his foot, a purposefully obvious action, and says, “The Russians. Thanks.”

“Oh.” Clint scratches behind his head, glancing down at the mobsters. “That’s alright, man. Pretty sure you did most of the work.” It’s true – Clint helped, sure, but the guy handled almost all the Russians on his own. “Besides,” Clint adds, because what the hell, it’s not like his face hasn’t been splashed all over the media these past few years. “S’what I do. Well. Part of what I do.”

The guy’s mouth twists as he looks between Clint and the men on the floor. Again, Clint’s pretty sure there’s eyebrow action going on under his mask. “What?”

“As in, what do I do?” Clint laughs awkwardly. “Well, hell, nobody’s mixed me up with Iron Fist for a while, I guess I am due an ego check. You don’t recognise me?”

The guy shakes his head and says something too low for Clint to catch. He grimaces. “Sorry, but you gotta speak up. Unless you know how to sign,” he adds, hopeful. He gets a rueful smile from the guy, and then another shake of his head.

“Sorry,” the guy says, louder again. “No signs.” And then, after a short pause, like he’s debating whether or not to say it, “I can’t see.”

“You can’t,” Clint parrots, fairly sure he’s misheard, although ‘see’ isn’t exactly a hard word to miss. “See?”

The guy’s smile twists into something wry as he waves a hand in front of his eyes like Clint had for his ears earlier. “Blind,” he says, clear enough that there’s no doubting it.

“Huh.” Clint runs a hand through his hair again, stumped – but amused – by this development. At the very least, it explains the guy’s easy accommodation of Clint’s hearing. “Deaf and blind. This is like something out of a sitcom.”

The guy laughs, and even though Clint can’t hear it he likes the way it fits what he can see of the guy’s face. He’s always liked people who laugh at his jokes. “You know,” he says, tucking his hands into his pockets. Time to go out on a limb. “We’re a long way from Hell’s Kitchen.”

The guy stiffens fast as a bullet, the smile dropping from his face. Clint smiles grimly. “Yeah, I figured you were the same guy starting all the fights down there.” The guy shifts back into a defensive stance, hands staying where they are but feet slipping apart, weight on the balls of his feet. Clint exhales slowly. “I meant it when I said I didn’t want a fight,” he says, keeping his voice light. Blind or not, the guy obviously has a good idea of what’s going on around him – Clint saw plenty of evidence of that in the fight – so Clint keeps himself in a neutral stance, just in case. “I’m not with any of those guys. I’m not an enemy.”

“Not a friend,” the guy says, and even with his futzed aid Clint can tell how tired those words are.

Clint shrugs. “Not yet.” The guy still looks sceptical, so Clint sighs and plays his master card. “My name’s Clint,” he says. “Clint Barton.”

The guy inhales sharply. In Clint’s ongoing mental picture of what’s under the mask, his eyes widen. He rocks back onto his heels, his defensive pose all but forgotten.

“Hawkeye,” he says, mostly to himself, but that’s a word Clint’s learnt to recognise on anyone’s lips. “The Avenger?”

“I’m with the big guys, yeah. I can, like, call Captain America or Iron Man or something if you want proof.” The guy laughs again, a little more tension draining away from him. Clint’s shoulder slump slightly with the victory. “Look, I’m not telling you to trust me, but I just fought these guys off with you, and I’ve got an apartment like ten blocks from here. Let me stitch you up, and then I swear I’ll let you walk right back out.” He nods to the wound on the guy’s hip, only remembering at the last minute that he won’t see it. “That cut can’t wait until you get back to Hell’s Kitchen.”

The guy wavers. Clint can’t read his face, but he doesn’t have to to know that the guy’s caught between the very real facts of his multiple injuries and the equally real fact that, despite his credentials, Clint is a stranger. A dangerous stranger.

Eventually, though, the guy sighs and says, “Do you often invite bleeding strangers back to yours?”

Clint doesn’t quite catch all of it – his aids are getting more useless the longer he leaves them in – but he’s pretty sure he’s got enough to smile widely and say, “You wouldn’t be the first, don’t worry.” The guy laughs again, and it’s enough for Clint to add, “And you wouldn’t be a stranger if you told me your name.”

It’s a gamble – Clint doesn’t need to know the guy’s name, and doubtless the guy knows that; asking could scare him off – but he’s good in a fight and he’s been laughing at Clint’s jokes, so Clint risks it. Plus, well, it’s always good to have an ally against the Russians, even if they don’t turn out to be facing the same group. There’s always a chance that Russian-mob-enmity might be transferrable between Russian mob groups.

The guy just smiles. It’s got that same tiredness in it, like maybe the guy wouldn’t have been talking to Clint when he started out, and Clint understands, he knows how this kind of job can wear you down. Now, the guy says, “Matt,” without looking away from Clint, after only a few beats of silence.

“Matt,” Clint repeats, to make sure he’s got it right, and the guy – Matt – nods. “So, Matt. You coming back to mine?”

This time, Matt only hesitates for a beat before nodding. He picks his way through the bodies – all unconscious, Clint notes, not dead – with a surprising grace that Clint will have to remember to ask about later, once he’s got his spare aids in and he’s stitched up the nastiest cuts on the both of them. Maybe they’ll get pizza. Either way, Clint’s hoping they can hold off a little while on the heavy conversation, so when Matt reaches him, he runs his eyes over him and says, “I like the outfit, by the way. Very Princess Bride, Man in Black.”

Matt’s smile is small but already looks a little fond. “I’m going to take that as a compliment,” he says, close enough now that Clint picks pretty much the whole sentence up, “Seeing as I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You should,” Clint reassures him. “Wesley is a very attractive man. Gets the girl in the end. You could look worse.”

Matt nods down to his hip, the cut still bleeding through his gloves. “Somehow I doubt that,” he says, and Clint laughs, slinging his arm over Matt’s shoulders and ignoring the pain that shoots down his side at the action. He’s pretty sure he hasn’t broken any ribs. He’s still breathing fine, at least. That’s enough for now.

“Nah, man,” he says, starting them both moving out onto the main street. “I have definitely seen worse than this,” and, before Matt can say anything else, hoping desperately that his aids will hold onto what little strength they have left until they get back to his apartment, Clint launches into a story involving his own personal brand of Russian mobster, three half-finished prototype arrows gone badly wrong, and a half-hour game of deadly hide and seek in a laundromat.

And, well, if it makes Matt laugh more often than the walk makes him hiss in pain, that’s just a bonus victory.