Title: If It Ain't Broke
Summary: Clint blames this solely on R&D. You think they'd remember to make his hearing aids freaking waterproof. Idiots.
Warnings: Language, Non-physical established disability
Disclaimer: Not mine. Please don't sue.
Notes: Written as a fill for a prompt from avengerkink It can be gen or Clint/Coulson depending on which lens you're wearing as you read it.
Their next mission, Clint decides as he treads the murky water, is to clean up the environment. Saving the world is great and all, but really, what would it all be for if they didn’t have a world worth saving. And just think of all the great PR they‘d get. Hell, they could even make a day of it - the Avengers, saving the world from yourselves. Clear skies, sparkling rivers -
Abruptly, a wave of water catches him the face and Clint sputters. He spits out a mouthful of water and tries not to gag thinking about what was probably floating in there.
Inwardly, he sighs. There are some days when it’s just not worth it to get out of bed.
Clint starts a slow paddle towards shore when he spots a bright object heading towards him fast and in a manner that could only be Iron Man. Brightening, he stops and lifts a hand high out of the water. Tony fishes him out effortlessly then flips his grip so he won’t dislocate Clint’s shoulder, instead holding him up with an arm wrapped tightly across his chest.
It’s only after they’re in the air that Clint realizes that he can’t hear the sound of Tony’s repulsors. A quick check reveals that yup, sure enough, he’s managed to lose one of his hearing aids during his splash time adventures and the other one is waterlogged and useless.
Mentally, he curses out R&D for not making them waterproof. The aids were designed solely for his use and it’s going to take a while to replace them. There wasn’t exactly a demand among SHIELD agents for a communication device that seconded as a hearing aid.
When he had first joined SHIELD, he hadn’t needed one either. Not until about a year in, when he was still cocky as shit and thought he was invincible. He had got too close to a sonic weapon and the resulting blast reduced his hearing to basically nothing. When he had woken up in medical, he had thought for sure he’d be heading back to the streets. But instead of sending him packing, they essentially shove a pair of hearing aids in his ears and sent him on his next mission. He figured SHIELD must have had a severe shortage of snipers at the time to be that desperate to keep him. He’s done everything he can to earn his keep since then.
He thinks Tony’s saying something to him as they‘re flying, because really, when is that man not talking, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Tony has his head tilted down towards him as he speaks, and Clint fucking hates that face mask more than ever. He can read lips, could do it even before he lost his hearing, but in order to do that, he has to be looking at more than a piece of scrap metal. Trust fate to send him the one Avenger with whom he has no chance of communicating.
Clint yells for Tony to find Natasha, but the wind takes his voice and whips it away. Seconds later, Tony drops him off on the roof of a nearby building and is gone before Clint can get in another word.
He scans the field for Natasha but can’t see her anywhere. And suddenly, Clint is vulnerable in a way he hasn’t been since 8 years ago, stumbling almost drunkenly through rubble, head screaming at the force of the concussion. He touches his ear and looks at his finger - only water, not blood. Still, his anxiety spikes, and Clint has to fight to calm it down.
Quickly finding a corner to put his back to, Clint takes in the situation. He’s fucked as far as communicating with his teammates goes, but it’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s suppose to be doing. The street are still swarming with drones and Clint can practically hear Coulson’s wry voice proclaiming, aiming doesn’t require hearing. And because Clint’s been trained since day one at SHIELD to never, ever, for the love of god, don't you dare let go of your weapon, he still has his bow. The water’s fucked up the electronics, but the sight’s still good. He’ll just have to stick with normal arrows for the time being.
Clamping down tightly on his panic, he’ll have to save the freak out for later, Clint gets to work, targeting and picking off drone one by one. He has to compromise his aim significantly in order to shoot and still keep his back against a wall, but it’s doable.
When everything had first hit the fan, Coulson had been the one to help him retrain for field work. Back then, the earpieces had been clunkier, more likely to fall out during a fight, so he had split his training between fighting with them in and with them out. He hasn’t done that in years, but the training’s still paid off.
After an initial disorientation, Clint doesn’t let the near silence unnerve him. To compensate, he adds in extra checks of his surroundings, not being able to rely on his hearing to warn him. He has to take more shots without looking, relying only on his visual memory and extrapolating to target. This way, he has more time to take in his periphery. After that, it’s a steady rhythm of sighting and shooting, and the steadiness of the work calms him more than anything else.
When everything goes still for a while, Clint picks his way carefully back down into the street, heading towards their rendezvous place and hoping that it didn’t get changed.
It did. Unless they all decided to meet in the giant smoking crater in the ground.
“Fuck my life.” Clint shouts aloud and officially writes this day off as a total loss. He drops his head with a heavy sigh, then picks a direction and starts walking.
A few more steps and suddenly he feels himself get lifted off his feet, and heading to where he assumes is the new extraction point. When they get home, he’s going to teach Tony a thing or two about personal boundaries and freaking warning a guy before grabbing him. Said lesson might involve using a baseball bat, but Clint hasn‘t committed to the idea yet. He still has time to decide.
He thinks Tony is trying to talk to him again. It’s only when he feels a shake and what he just knows is Tony saying, anybody home in there?, that he snaps.
“Put me down so I can fucking see you, and pull up your fucking face mask.” Clint yells, exasperated.
Clint catches the end of Tony’s sentence as the metal lifts away and thinks he makes out the word ‘princess’.
“Where’s Natasha?” He demands, hating the way he can’t hear his own voice speaking. “I need to talk to her, now.”
He answers his own question when a hand grabs him from behind and whirls him around.
Natasha says something, angrily if he’s reading her body language correctly, but Clint can’t make it out. He curses silently and vows to spend more time practising lip reading again, because it’s been ages, and he’s rustier than he thought. That shit is nowhere near as easy as they make it seem on tv.
Natasha repeats it, slower when she sees his eyes focused on her lips, but Clint shakes his head.
“Comm’s fucked.” He says and knows Natasha will know what he didn’t say.
Natasha raises an eyebrow. “Both?”
Clint nods, “Blame the Hudson.”
She brings up her hands, but before she can say a word, Clint grabs her hands. “Don’t.” His eyes dart over to the other Avengers. He sees the realization in her eyes and he knows she doesn’t like it, but she understands. He loosens his grip. “Just not now. Please. Later, ok?”
He drops his voice to what he hopes is a whisper, “Do you have my spares on you?”
She purses her lips and shakes her head, knowing just as well as he does that she doesn’t. Coulson usually carried his spares, Clint remembers and tries to ignore the sudden pang in his chest. Coulson kept a pair in his office, a tiny cardboard box in his top locked drawer that he never forgot to grab before they left on missions.
Natasha lifts her hand so it’s mostly hidden between their bodies and spells out S-I-T-W-E-L-L with a raised eyebrow.
Clint shakes his head. Sitwell’s their new lead since Coulson - well, since the Loki incident. Sitwell wouldn’t think to do it, so Clint’s out of luck until they can get back home where he keeps a spare pair under the false bottom of his dresser.
Sitwell know that Clint is near deaf, everyone above a certain clearance knows, but it’s one thing to know it at the back of your mind, and another to have reminders constantly shoved in your face. Clint makes damn sure that Sitwell doesn’t have to deal with it. He never lets anyone see him put in his hearing aids, never lets anyone handle them, and never lets anyone see him sign. Nobody gets to see any sign of his weakness. Except for Natasha. And Coulson.
Coulson had been Clint’s handler since recruitment. Even after the accident, he was the logical one to keep working with Clint. Coulson had a first cousin who was deaf and he was the one who first pushed the idea of learning ASL on Clint.
Back when he was first adjusting to his hearing loss, adjusting to being disabled, Clint felt like he was walking around with a giant neon sign over his head. He hadn’t been entirely convinced that the Director wouldn’t change his mind and decide he was too much of a liability to keep.
Clint had been terrified to go around without being able to hear so he spent day and night with his hearing aids in, turned up to maximum. When he couldn’t hide his flinches any more, it was Coulson who gently coaxed him into removing the aids from his irritated and inflamed canals. Who convinced him that it was ok to sleep without them in when he was at home. And who taught him that he didn’t need to hear to communicate.
Learning ASL as an adult is not the easiest thing he‘s ever done. If not for Coulson’s patience, he thinks he would have given up. They had spent hours together, hands tracing words into the air until Clint felt comfortable enough to leave his aids out whenever they were alone. By the time Natasha joins them, signing almost feels natural to him.
The three of them had practiced often, bringing lunch to Coulson’s office and signing the entire time. He usually pulled his aids before he entered the office, tucking them out of sight in his pocket. They'd talk about anything and everything under the sun, fingers shiny with grease as they flew through the motions, finger spelling the words they don’t know, while Coulson provided the actual sign.
It’s not until they’re back in the front seat of the Quinjet and levelling out their altitude that Natasha starts signing in earnest. Clint glances behind to cargo nervously, but the rest of them are too preoccupied to look.
Once back at the towers, Clint slips away quickly to his room, showers off what remains of his impromptu trip into the Hudson, and grabs his spare hearing aids. It’s the newest pair he has, designed to fit into his ear canal and barely visible. He flicks them on and slides them in with a sigh of relief when he can once again hear all the ambient sounds in the room. Being without them makes him feel too exposed.
He heads back to the living room only to stop short in the doorway. Everyone’s gathered in the living room, and by the looks of it, they’re just waiting on him.
“Hey guys,” He says nervously, “Did I missed the memo on movie night?”
“Clint,” Tony says, mock serious. “This is an intervention.”
Natasha shoots him a glare. “Don‘t be an ass, Stark. This is serious.” She turns to him, softening. “Come sit down with us.”
Her tone is casual and Clint‘s mouth goes dry. Bruce and Steve have already taken the other couch, perched forward with their hands neatly folded in front of them, so slowly, Clint sinks into the recliner, feeling like he is very much on display. He has to work to swallow before talking and tries to keep his tone light. “What’s up?”
Steve doesn‘t beat around the bush. “We know about your hearing loss.”
Two years ago, Clint had tripped back and had taken a 10 foot fall off a piece of training equipment, and the resulting impact with the ground felt just like this. Clint struggles to speak. “You... you what?”
“He said,” Tony repeats in a loud voice, “We know about - ow, shit!”
With a slight frown of disapproval at Tony, Steve continues, “Clint, we just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to hide it. We know you're using hearing aids.”
Clint shoots a hurt look over at Natasha, “Did you tell them?”
She shakes her head , “You know I’d never do that.”
Tony makes a muffled sound from where he‘s been pinned face down into the couch by Natasha. Reluctantly, she loosens her grip. As he pulls himself up, he straightens his hair, sniffing indignantly. “It was easy enough to figure out. Really clued in when I asked if you were deaf or something, and you didn’t answer. So I hacked your SHIELD file while we were on the Quinjet. Love the purple by the way. It had a certain circus chic appeal to it. Don’t know why you didn’t keep that as your uniform.”
So his secret was out. Clint braces himself. He’s not going to beg for them to keep him on the team, he has more pride then that. He’s had a lifetime of hearing excuses and he’s learned to save them both time. “You guys can save your speeches. I can be out by morning.”
“Whoa, wait a minute.” Steve says, “What’s this about moving out? We‘re not asking you to move out.”
“Look, I get it, you can’t have a liability on the team.” He shrugs, embarrassed. Being 100% human already makes him the weak link, but having severe hearing loss on top of that makes him vulnerable. “It‘s enough that you have to save the world, you can‘t be watching my ass while you‘re at it. I get it.”
Bruce purses his lips. “I’m not really sensing that you do.”
Agitated, Clint protests, “I’m a danger to everyone on the field.”
Natasha‘s shaking her head in disagreement, but it‘s Tony who pipes up. “Relax Robin Hood, nobody’s making you leave.”
Clint pauses with his head cocked in confusion. “Then, why are we having this meeting?”
“Because Natasha wouldn’t let us shower until we all talked to you.”
Steve doesn‘t even bother glare, instead he just talks over Tony. “We just wanted to get it out in the open, and let you know that it’s ok. We would have liked it if you’d trusted us with that information, but I can understand why you wanted to keep it a secret.”
And because Clint can‘t hold back the glimmer of hope, he asks “So this means I’m not off the team?”
“But I could be a liability.”
Bruce smiles depreciatively. “I think I know a little about being a liability in the field. And you guys still insist on keeping me around.”
Natasha quirks her mouth to side and adds in wryly “Apparently I have severe intimacy issues.”
Pointing to himself, Tony says “Narcissistic, doesn’t play well with others.”
Steve blushes, “The first time I went out, I couldn’t figure out how to turn on my comm to respond to anyone.“ He pauses, before adding, “And I still can’t figure out how to use Stark’s toaster.”
“Well, in your defence, that thing’s a monstrosity.” Clint quips with a small smile. “NASA scientists would have trouble figuring it out.” He’s overwhelmed and quite frankly a little bewildered by what’s been offered to him and he tries to hide it in his usual way.
“Clint, the point is, none of us are perfect. We’re not asking you to be. We depend on each other in the field, and that means knowing everything about each other, whether that be hearing loss, emotional issues, or in Stark’s case, raging personality disorders.”
Tony laughs, “I knew there was a sense of humour in there somewhere. Great speech, Cap.” He claps his hands together . “Well, now that the warm fuzzies are over,” He leans forward, snaps his fingers and holds out his hand, palm up. “Let me see it. I can’t believe those geniuses at SHIELD didn’t think to make it waterproof. I bet you it‘ll take me less than a day to waterproof it and improve the filter and range on this baby.”
Clint hesitates. Up until now, he could count the number of people he’s let handle his hearing aids on an amputee’s hand and still have digits left over.
Unexpectedly, he feels a warm hand come to rest on his knee. Natasha looks him in the eye and gives him a gentle squeeze and Clint hears the same words that Coulson had first said to him, nonchalantly while he methodically wiped away the traces of blood from his ear. It’s the same words that Natasha had echoed as they had laid side by side in the dark, all those years ago. It’s okay. It’s okay to let someone in.
Clint takes a slow breath and takes the leap. He pulls one from his ear, flicks it off and reaches across the distance to drop it into Tony’s outstretched hand. “It’s not the one with the comm unit in it. R&D have the extras of those.”
But Tony doesn’t hear any of it, already lost in his own world. He wanders off to grab his tools.
Steve shifts over to Tony’s vacated seat. “Can you show me some sign language? Is it hard to learn? Can we start tonight?”
Bruce speaks up, “I picked up a little here and there over the past few years. Let‘s see if I still remember the alphabet.”
“Wait.” A memory flashes at the back of his mind and Clint holds up his hands, “Wait, you can’t learn sign language without first eating some super greasy, heartburn inducing food.”
Natasha smiles, reminiscing. “I’ll order the food. Usual place?”
Clint glances around. Tony’s muttering with a screwdriver hanging out of his mouth, the hearing aid already in pieces on the countertop. Bruce and Steve are both looking at him expectantly. “Nah,” he says, memories of Coulson’s office still fresh in his mind, “grab a couple of different menus. It’s time we start something new.”