They had sent Barton out to get the team dinner.
And isn’t that how it usually starts? The tipping point? That one moment everyone can look back on and say, with certainly, ‘yeah that’s when shit started getting weird.’ It’s never a huge moment. It starts with something small. Like, when the wife starts going out for lunch instead of packing. A coworker stops drinking coffee. The mailman develops a twitch. The cat begins eyeing the goldfish. The children are quiet for once.
With Barton, it started with dinner. Well, one dinner in particular.
At least, from Tony’s perspective, it started with that dinner. The same could probably be said for Sam, Bucky, Cap, and maybe Thor… Or, you know, anyone who isn’t Natasha.
They had sent Barton out to get dinner. Well, what actually happened is Steve asked who wanted to run out and grab take-out for the team, and Clint had shot up. He had slapped Sam’s volunteering hand back onto the table, pinned it there and said, “Bro, I got this. I am all over this. I am so all over this.”
His enthusiasm seemed a little misplaced. Then again, they’d been at it since the crack of dawn. To be fair, Tony had never actually seen Hawkeye sit in a boardroom for six hours and figured, maybe the guy really needed some fresh air? Maybe he needed to stretch? Tony hadn’t cared. With one of the team gone they couldn’t possibly continue and he was going to find a couch and assume a horizontal position.
His brained needed a break.
Of course, he hadn’t counted on Hill being a work horse. Nor had he figured for her to be completely overbearing about it. Definitely hadn’t figured they’d still be working by the time Clint returned. But then again, you never know how you’ll react in a situation until you’re living it.
And who would’ve guessed? Ex- Assistant Director Maria Hill intimidates the hell out of Tony. Enough for him to wait until her back is turned before reopening Centipede.
Either way, time has this way of standing still when you’re being held hostage in a board room, forced into creating a hand gesture language from scratch to help organize fellow captives into staging a mutiny. Color him distracted, Tony kind of forgot Clint had left until the guy returned…two hours later.
Arms laden down with plastic bags, the distinctive peanut butter smell flooding the air.
“Barton?” Tony doesn’t actually want to ask; relatively certain he already knows the answer. The smell is hard to dispute. Except everyone else looks just as confused and his thought to mouth connection is the best by far. “Did you get Thai food?”
Clint is distracted, trying to find uncluttered surfaces for all the containers. “Yeah, we probably should’ve ordered ahead first. My bad.” And yeah, it is his bad and Clint would’ve known that already had he bothered to look around. Tony’s not the only one staring at the guy with some level of confusion plain on his face.
Hill clears her throat. “Barton, you got Thai food?” It’s the wording and her overall tone that should clue Barton into the situation.
It flies right over his head. “Yes, Thai food. Some help would be great. Not an octopus here.”
No one rushes over. Not out of spite. Tony thinks they’re in shock. Because how? Why?
Clint huffs and settles for plopping the bags wherever, paper work be damned.
“Tacos, Barton,” Tony clarifies, unnecessarily, might he add. They had bickered about what to order for half an hour. Things had gotten tense. Tony had feared for his safety.
“Tacos?” It’s unmistakable the way he perks up, spine straighter, shoulders back, alert. “Aw, man tacos sound great. Why didn’t we go for that?”
“If this is a joke, I’m not getting it.” Caps throws in, shooting a glance to Bruce, who only shrugs.
If Tony were an android operating on a Windows OS, his eyeballs would be displaying little blue screens of death. “Am I crazy? Or did Barton pick up the wrong thing? Did we or did we not nearly come to blows over ordering Mexican food for our archer to go AWOL and come back with Asian cuisine? Someone tell me I’m not making any of this up.”
Sam flicks the lid off a carton, and peeks inside. “I think the term is “go rogue” but yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Hey, man,” he addresses Clint. “Got any plastic ware, chop sticks, what have you? I don’t care. I’m starving.”
The interaction is enough for Bruce to wander over.
“Okay, no. This isn’t going to be one of those things everyone is just okay with.” There hadn’t been words, but Widow pretty much insinuated she was going to take Tony out with a blue ink Bic pen if he hadn’t switched his vote. There had been a glare.
“Relax, Iron Man.” Natasha smirks as if she can read Tony’s mind. Playing up a casual attitude as if she didn’t know what he was remembering. It’s all psychological warfare with her. “Honest mistake, these things happen.”
He glares. “No.”
Bruce wrangling a mouthful of Pad Thai, catches Tony’s eye and slurpes.
“Traitor. I’ll remember this day, Banner.”
“Tony, let it drop. Just grab something to eat.”
Okay, everything does smell delicious. “Fine, I’m not the one making the run to grab the Mexican food. It’s probably cold, by the way, but still paid for.”
“Wait.” Clint looks up from a carton. “You actually pre-ordered?”
…For the love…“Yes, where have you been?”
“Aw, man. Some chili con carne would be so good right now with this. Where at? I’ll go-“
“That’ll be a hard pass, Barton. I don’t even want to know what you’ll accidently bring back if we unleash you a second time. No, thank you.”
Tony found out about Clint’s hearing loss the way Tony makes most of his important discoveries: in the lab, on accident, by way of explosion.
Not the fiery, lose an eyebrow, get covered in ash residue kind of explosion. It was more of the crossed a wire and set off an electrical magnetic pulse kind of explosion. Whatever, not a big deal. Kind of happens all the time with the type of tech Tony needs to upgrade and maintain. The tower’s protected from it.
That is the important bit. The tower, Tony’s lab in particular, is protected and insulated. That protection does not extend to electronics inside the lab. There’s a strict ban on outside technology wandering into the lab- Unless you happen to be Pepper. Pepper is exempted because Tony doesn’t attempt risky behaviors, like touching wires, when she is present. Tony kind of likes her a lot. She also happens to run his company. She may have her phones. So you can sue on grounds of nepotism and be completely correct; except legal’s got enough factual evidence for the contrary, but nice try.
Clint Barton is not Pepper Potts. Clint Barton was made aware of the lab policies. Clint Barton neglects to inform the main grease monkey (that’d be Tony) of some very pertinent information. The information one Clint Barton neglects to mention is that he wears tiny pieces of battery operated technology in his ears at all times.
So when Tony begins tuning the very sophisticated weaponry, such as the ones responsible for emitting magnetic waves on command, and crosses a wire, he kind of freaks the hell out when Clint falls to the cement.
Bruce gets to him first. For what good it had done. There isn’t been any blood, only Clint, hunkered down and swearing.
“Fucking shit damn.” He hollers, eyes screwed shut, palms pressed tight against the sides of his head. “Hell, holy Hell. Jesus. Mary and Joseph, and that damn stupid donkey my ears.”
Tony would later still remember how his stomach bottoms out. The odds of what he had done effecting one out of three people in the very same room were slim. Slim, but still plausible. He remembers running the numbers, again and again. As if any calculation could take back what had already happened. He also remembers panicking, guilty, when Clint failed to respond to any of their verbal cues.
Then Natasha appears. She asks some general questions. Those questions grow very specific in a short amount of time. Then she waits for Clint to get his bearings.
She gets his attention as soon as he is able to give it. Tony doesn’t remember the exact hand gestures, only that they seemed overly done in an angry, violent sort of way.
“I’m sorry.” He hollers, too loud. “Sorry,” he tries again, this time too quite. With some effort he plucks out small, plastic buds from his ears. “I forgot.”
And well, that kind of sums it up.
The tactical team is comprised of Cap, Widow, Hill and Hawkeye. Two assassins, one moral compass, and well… Hill. It’s one power house of a team, that’s for sure. They haven’t departed yet. So there is still time for the bad guys to wise up and get their act together. However, the jet is fueled up and bags are packed. Time’s running out. Hill’s the hold up. From the sounds of it she’s sassing some guy in a language Tony hasn’t bothered to learn. He could have Jarvis translate. Honestly though, Tony doesn’t really care.
He’s caught up in a different interaction, the one closer to his end of the room. The players include Steve, Natasha, and Clint. So far it’s been nothing but Cap’s facial expressions, filtering from confusion to concern, before morphing into a truly homely spawn of the two. In terms of dialogue, the scene lacks. However, the potential? Astronomical.
Barton showed up in snow gear.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. The guy is dressed for a cooler climate set in a harder terrain. Think lumberjack: jeans, thick canvas jacket, layered shirts, and hiking boots. Steve, on the other hand, is in cargo shorts and a t-shirt.
Steve is dressed appropriately. Clint is dressed for heat stroke.
Clearly Steve wants to say something. Jaw working, eyes flickering to Natasha as if seeking one of her permission granted head tilts. His need for approval is adorable.
Natasha looks… Okay, Tony’s not sure how to interpret that one. Assessing?
Clint’s mostly oblivious. “Right, let’s do this,” he pronounces, dropping an overstuffed duffel on the carpet with a grin. Hands set on his hips.
SHEILD didn’t hire stupid. In fact, actually, SHEILD hired protégés, the best of the best. So it’s not a testament against Barton’s observational skills, but rather a testament against wearing dark purple-tinted sunglasses indoors when he fails to immediately notice Natasha’s brightly patterned sundress.
“Dressed a little warm there,” jokes Steve. “Don’t ‘cha think, buddy?”
“What? No, never. I looked the weather up. I got this.”
“Hey Bono,” Tony calls out, because playing the part of uninvolved observer isn’t in his DNA. He plucks a heart shaped stress ball of the table and lobs it at Hawkeye’s head. Of course that, a small dark object, the guy sees. Clint plucks it out of the air. “The cool kids don’t wear shades inside anymore.”
Clint wears confusion the way most near-sided folk read wall clocks. There’s a lot of squinting involved. “Okay, I’m missing something. Definitely missing something,” he admits with his purple glasses in hand, turning from Steve, to Natasha, to Hill. “Unless… where are we going again?”
Tony can only roll his eyes. “Yes, occasionally the bad guys shack up in the tropics, Barton. A real downer I’m sure, but do try to roll with it.”
The group falls silent for a beat. Clint is pondering the floor. Steve and Natasha ponder Clint. Hill is not quite screaming into the handset. Tony takes the time to bask in the unfortunate fact that they run a top-secret security agency and all the reasons why one day everything’s going to end in some form of multi-national armistice.
“Okay fine,” Hawkeye grunts. “I’ll go change, grab my other bag. Packing’s the worst.”
Bucky has never known Clint without knowing about his impairment as well.
For all of Cap’s grand touring of the world’s seedier nooks and crannies, it had been Hawkeye who found Bucky. This had been fortunate, because Hawkeye found Bucky. Also it had been unfortunate, because Hawkeye found Bucky. Two sides of the same coin. The side you preferred pretty much depended on your philosophical outlook on life and your familiarity with Clint or Bucky.
Essentially, the guy who disliked talking had been found by the guy who talked a lot without saying much.
From what anyone could gather, Bucky had been running blind, burning bridges while trying to make sense of it all. Clint had been, for simplicities sake, stealing back national secrets. Neither had been having a very good time of it, but then again, that very statement is conjecture.
One reported little. The other had reported a lot and almost all of it had been useless.
These are the facts: Hawkeye had been compromised and fell off the radar nearly the second he landed in the country. He had been given a sat phone. He had neglected to use it. He had neglected to answer it. He had the tech team riled into frenzy, to the point they were willing to suffer Tony’s ego and brought him in. From that point on, tech ops burned through thirty-four pots of coffee. Still they hadn’t been able to figure it out. The resulting caffeine crash had devastated.
A week into the mission, Hill receives a call. It is the Winter Soldier. He is calling from Hawkeye’s number. There’s a mild amount of panic.
“Your agent’s in rough shape. Every big time assassin and small time punk is gunning for him.”
The room goes deathly silent. “And your terms?” Hill asks, tone tight and controlled.
“Terms? You’ve got it wrong. I’m trying to help him get out, but we’re going to need help.”
“Help? You’re helping? I’m sorry, but you can understand why I’m a bit skeptical.”
“Look, it’s not something I understand either. I’m turning myself in. If we get out of here alive that is, I’d appreciate it if your men did use undue force upon sight. Clint said it’s within my rights to ask for Captain America to do the apprehending. That is, again, assuming we get out of this shit hole alive.”
Clint? Hill shares a look with Natasha. Widow only shrugs.
“Fine, I’d like to speak with my agent before we set anything in stone.”
There is a pause, a lengthy one. “I’m not sure how that’s going to go. Your guy said he’s deaf; claims a Taser blew out his electronic ears. Hence me calling, he can’t hear. But…”
Noise, the static garble commonly heard when a phone with crappy reception is passed from one hand to another and then: “Things you need to know,” states Clint, voice too loud. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Except, you know, for the concussion and a mild case of getting electrocuted. Uh, hazard pay: I’m getting it. Or I’m tossing the package into the Atlantic. Also, Bucky’s been nice. Please send Cap. What? Don’t look at me like that. Oh, am I loud?”
They send Steve. Natasha goes too. And Sam. Things work out, more or less.
Overall, the debacle lasts two weeks.
To this day, no one knows what happened during that first week. Hawkeye filed his mission report a day after their return. It amounted to one run-on sentence spanning over five pages. The debriefing hadn't gone much better.
Bucky has nothing to say on the matter.
Natasha, quite honestly, doesn’t know if something is up with Clint.
Either there is something wrong, or he’s bored and causing mischief. If there is something wrong, true to his past behavior, he’s standing on it very well and refusing to drag any of them down with him. Clint is a good friend, but also an idiot.
If he is causing mischief, then outright asking him would be the worst plan of attack. That would only make it worse. Like throwing TNT onto a fire.
She’ll just have to wait it out. And maybe bug his apartment… that too.
Bruce likes to think of himself as observant. If not observant than perhaps he pushes the outer boundaries of hyper vigilance. Try running from the government, living off the grid on the lam, and coming out of that unchanged. After a while, you notice things. You notice people. You notice how people act.
Bruce doesn’t like how Clint has been acting.
The man hasn’t been withdrawn, per se. He interacts. He socializes. However, Clint has been leaning more towards the introverted end of the personality spectrum than usual. He still contributes, but less so. He’s taken a liking to sitting back and watching. Something Bruce notices, if only because he does the same thing himself. Sitting back, letting everyone else inhabit the spot light.
Natasha doesn’t seem overly worried; Bruce noticed her noticing. He also noticed her lack of action. Given Clint’s naturally avoidant personality, she’s a better gage on his health than asking Clint outright. If she isn’t badgering him, he must be okay.
However, that doesn’t mean Bruce can’t do something about it in the meantime. Just a small check, make sure this new found reserved behavior isn’t a symptom of a larger problem.
“Aw,” Clint mourns with an almost child-like sadness, “betrayal.”
Bruce might’ve also enlisted Bucky’s help, if only because Bucky wouldn’t drag the process out, whereas Natasha would enjoy prolonging the experience.
Bucky rolls his eyes, and grabs Clint’s elbow before the guy can even think of escaping out of the lab and down the hall. “Taking potshots from the roof of a sky scraper is illegal, even if it’s only with Nurf guns.” Bucky almost sounds exasperated, on the border of impatience. “Not to mention impossible. I can’t believe you fell for that.”
“That’s what would make it a challenge,” Clint whines, allowing himself to be manhandled past the threshold and onto a chair. “My ears are fine. I hear fine.”
“Everything’s fine?” Bucky finishes for him, sarcastically.
Bruce doesn’t bother biting back his grin.
“Yes. I object to a hearing test on the grounds that I don’t want one.”
It’s oddly endearing how childish Clint reacts to questions about his health. On most days, however, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Bruce suspects that’s what Clint has in mind. Classical conditioning at its finest, if he’s extra obnoxious whenever the topic of deafness is brought up eventually no one will want to bring it up. They will all be trained to reflexively avoid the topic.
Bruce wouldn’t be surprised, honestly.
Luckily, Bucky is having none of it. He’s the sort to always be riding his last nerve anyway. He shoves the padded head phones of the audiometer into Clint’s hands. “Just put them on; get this over with.”
“You get it over with,” Clint grumbles.
With a shrug, Bucky pulls out a cellphone. “Okay, fine. I have two numbers on speed dial. One is Nat, the other Hill. Any guesses which one I’m going to call? Or should I hit a number at random, see what happens?”
The shift in Clint’s demeanor isn’t hard to miss. He quirks his mouth to one side, eyes narrow. “Fine. This is all very Big Brother, by the way,” and he says big brother in a way that sounds a lot like Communist Russia without actually saying the words.
Anyone other than Nat or Bucky would take that as an invite to escalate things further. Take the bait consequently giving Barton the out he’s needling for. Except it is Bucky, so all he does is smile a smug sort of victorious grin and take sentry by the door.
“Okay, Clint,” Bruce takes over. “You know the drill.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hear a buzz on the right, raise the right hand. On the left, raise the left. Whatever.”
“Barton, what the hell?”
If Clint’s tactical plan was to verbally shock Sam into becoming an unmoving target, it worked. Hawkeye lunges, flying squirrel style, right into the trunk of Falcon’s body. The two go down in a heap. Steve can’t help but wince sympathetically.
“You’re the one who said it.” Clint grunts, turning with Sam’s defensive kick and rolls across the mats away from striking range.
In an angered haze Sam takes a well-aimed dive at Clint. He misses.
The two combatants circle the ring.
“I did not say that.”
“Dude, bro, you did.”
“It doesn’t even make sense, why would I ever say something like that, man!?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen Men in Black.”
“And when have I ever talked about that movie?”
Off to the side, grouped among a row of well used punching bags, stands Natasha, Steve, and Tony. They watch the professional spar divulge into a full out grappling match. None of them move to intervene.
“I’ve reviewed the video feeds.” Tony states just loud enough for the other two to hear over the bickering. “Nothing out of the ordinary, he’s alert. He’s focused. Bruce says his hearing aids are fully functional. I’ve got nothing.”
Natasha rolls her eyes. “Helpful, Stark.”
“Hey, attitude, Little Miss Sunshine. Short of becoming his very own personal stalker, there’s not much more I can do. He spends a lot of time away from the tower. Maybe he’s getting mixed up in something and doesn’t want to invite us to the party.”
“He’s not.” She admits confidently, without explanation. “Besides, he’d have more bruises.”
“Would you like me to point out exactly how unhelpful your contribution has been to the group?” Tony sasses, feeling vindicated. “We are still no closer to figuring out why our resident Bird Brain’s grasp on reality is selective to the point that’s he’s now making shit up.”
Natasha had discovered Clint disability in Budapest.
That’s really all there is to say on the subject.
Steve feels responsible.
Steve probably is responsible.
Trace the line of fallen dominoes all the way to the start you’ll find Steve. You’ll find Steve and his good intentions. Steve had pushed Sam into Clint and now tech ops is scrambling to erase the Facebook and YouTube videos before civilians catch on and those videos go viral. If tech ops traced the line of fallen dominoes, they would hate Steve.
Sam had tried to warn him, Steve recalls this clearly.
“It would be like asking the world’s most gullible person to watch the world’s most devious toddlers, for an entire weekend.” Had been the analogy Sam employed. “To say it’s a bad idea is an understatement. Everything is going to wind up covered in Sharpie. There’s going to be red Kool-Aid stains on the carpet. Steve, I’m not equipped. “
But still, Steve had asked.
“I counsel veterans.” Sam refused again. “I counsel people ready and willing to accept help. What he does for a living, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know I’m not up to working through the type defense mechanisms a guy like him is going to have. Steve, he plays mind games with the Black Widow. They do that for fun.”
But still, Steve had asked again. Sam didn’t have to counsel Clint. That hadn’t necessarily been Steve’s goal. He had only wanted Clint to know they were there for him. All members of the team, Sam included. No one else had made any progress with the guy. And maybe there wasn’t anything wrong; maybe Clint was simply having an off couple of months. However, Steve still felt attempts should be made. Just in case.
“Okay man,” was what Sam had said when he finally gave in. “I’ll try my best. No promises.”
That’s all Steve had wanted.
Steve pushed Sam into Clint. The dominoes fell, and now there’s footage online.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sam lies when Tony pulls the video up for the team to see. “That guy doesn’t look or sound a thing like me.”
“I’ve never been to an out-door paint ball arena in my life,” supports Clint.
The both of them are still covered in neon splatters. After all they just returned. Indisputable visual evidence, splotches of orange, yellow, and bright blue staining their cloths and skin. They’re both grinning like maniacs. Sam has paint on his teeth. There’s a clump plastered in Clint’s hair.
Steve doesn’t have any right to be disappointed. Clearly they’ve bonded. That’s a good thing. Right?
The two teams at the outdoor arena had largely been made up of a single bridal party: The bridesmaids versus the groomsmen. “You sided with the bridesmaids?” Natasha asks, eyebrow quirked.
“Man, have you seen the video?” Sam asks in return, disbelief plan on his face, dropping his previous cover of ignorance. “Even I was a little terrified of them. I think the best man went AWOL towards the end. Here.” He budges Tony out of the way, assuming control of the monitor. “Watch this, watch. See this girl? Tiny, right? But she just absolutely-”
“There was an attempt at talking,” Clint asserts to Steve. “He gets credit for trying.”
“I would like to take the time to sincerely thank you all for coming,” is how Maria Hill chooses to greet their little ragtag group of superheroes. A syrupy sweet smile on her face and all Tony can think is: someone hecked up.
Someone hecked up bad.
“It’s not easy, I realize for everyone to be here. You have jobs and social lives, and families.” Her smile continues growing sweeter by the second. Not good, abort. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to reschedule this meeting.” She pauses patiently waiting for the fallout that never comes. No one actually wants to be here. No one is disappointed by the early dismissal. “Barton, would you like to explain why?”
Clint’s propping his head up by the knuckles of his left hand digging into the skin of his cheekbone. “Uh,” he grimaces, fighting for cognitive control. “The Gods realized a meeting before 9AM is cruel and unusual and took pity upon us poor mortals?”
Maria laughs. It’s not a happy sound. Tony winces. Her laugh is more of the thing someone does when they are incredibly pissed off and trying their hardest to downplay exactly how much they want to run someone over with a Hummer. “Maybe, yes. Or maybe, it’s because I asked you to compose a briefing on Deveraux and you gave me a fifty-seven slide PowerPoint presentation on dinosaurs.”
Clint frowns. He slides up out of his slouch over the table and questions, “But that’s what you asked me to do.”
“No, I definitely did not. Deveraux,” she reiterates. “Not dinosaurs.”
“Huh. That does make more sense.”
“In what context,” Maria doesn’t shout, but her hand gestures grow wilder with each syllable, “would it make sense for me to ask you to compose a presentation about prehistoric reptiles? What would ever make you think I’d want to stand in front of a crowd and discuss Velociraptors?”
The answer doesn’t come immediately. Clint’s frown deepens. He screws up one eye into some kind of squint, his fingers tap an eccentric pattern on the table. “I’m not embarrassed.” He decides at long last. “We’ve all seen Jurassic Park. Aliens were pouring out of a portal over Manhattan not too long ago. Anything could happen.”
Sam's battle with keeping a stoic front is a short one, and he loses almost immediately. “Jesus, man,” he laughs. “Did you really?”
“Seven slides on pterodactyls,” Clint informs prideful, almost smug.
“We don’t need seven slides on pterodactyls,” Maria clenches her teeth. “We need an overview on the wanted criminal who is using go-betweens to acquire dangerous amounts of land and uranium.”
“Oh, easy.” Clint responds with his usual brand of causal confidence. “Field me some questions. I got this.”
It had begun with dinner.
Months ago, Cap had sent Clint to bring back Mexican food for the team and the guy returned with Thai. Since then, Barton has generated a steady stream of confusion. Not a constant stream, but steady. The guy’s been missing facts, throwing in non sequiturs, and has been accusing people of saying very specific things that they had never, in fact, ever said. All-in-all the situation isn’t too serious… just a cause for mild concern.
If it began with dinner, it ended with Thor.
It ends with Thor, leaning over Tony and Bruce’s workbench. The Asgardian glancing over the blue print, a spec for hearing aids. The two scientists were bickering. They both agree that the aids are fine, yet they both wonder if there isn’t something wrong. They keep swapping counterpoints at a confusing rate.
“They are serviceable,” Thor interrupts, confused though not by their argument. Mortals squabble seemingly over the most petty of things. It seems a past time of theirs. “However, perhaps this would be best resolved by speaking with Hawkeye.”
Tony and Bruce frown in tandem.
“Explain.” Tony points a screw driver at Thor like a King would point a scepter.
Thor hesitates. A feeling has sprouted. A familiar sinking in his gut that typically grew whenever he had stumbled blind into one of his brother’s mischiefs. He has stepped in the middle of something. He knows not what.
Too late for a retreat, Thor continues forward cautiously. “Admittedly, I do not know the full extent of the situation. Only that Hawkeye has been displaying erratic behavior which you feel stems from his hearing impairment.”
“Yes, and?” Tony encourages impatiently, waving the metal tool around.
“If you find his misunderstandings to be such a great force of frustration, why not simply ask him to refrain from switching them off?” he asks, clearly confused. “I do not foresee him refusing such a reasonable request.”
A moment passes. The mortals act as if frozen in time. Unmoving, their faces blank. The moment passes when Banner brings a single hand up to his eyes, slipping under glasses and using fingers in an act to knead out frustration.
Tony’s eyes bug out. “He does what now?”
“I thought it obvious,” is the only thing Thor can think to say. It doesn’t help matters.
Okay, that was a lie. It didn’t end with Thor.
“Ow, shit, Jesus, Tasha,” Clint hollers.
The two have been at it for a little over a half hour. Natasha not quite yet out of breath. She’s sweating, the little hairs on the back of her neck already reverted back to their natural curl. There’s a scary light in the back of her eyes. Her maneuvers are swift, and curt, and borderline violent.
Clint’s scrambling. Matching pace, but only just, and tripping over himself in the effort.
“Thor!” Clint cries out at one point. It’s not a summons for help, more of a scornful accusation jammed into a single name.
“I will not apologize, my friend, for doing so would require me to be sorry,” Thor responds, laughing. “It is not wise to turn your ears off without informing your friends. Not even for the sake of practicing your speech reading.”
“Because you were bored,” Nat corrects. She drops low, sweeps a leg out and catches Clint behind the knees. He drops with a squawk.
Of course, it doesn’t end here either, with Natasha terrorizing Clint, their teammates cheering her on. It possibly could have. But Bucky has always been the team’s wild card. He lopes into the ring, wearing the same smile he had weeks before during a certain hearing test.
“I’m not ready to tag out,” Nat huffs, fiery.
“Okay,” Clint interjects. “Not fair.”
“You suck at lip reading,” Bucky says like the explanation it’s not.
“Correction,” Tony calls from the sidelines. “He’s awful at it.”
“Shut-up, we know you love Thai food.” Clint sasses back.
Okay, but it does end a while after that. With two ex-assassins pinning the third on the ground, one sitting on Clint’s back, the other on his legs. “Rude,” Clint grumbles into the floor. “Lip reading is 80% context. I was doing pretty good, really good actually.”
Nat yanks his leg.
Clint grunts. “Not proud. Not proud, I won’t ever do it again.”
Tony is lounging against the ropes, close enough to goad, but far enough to skedaddle should the situation degenerate back into violence. “Here’s what I’d like to know,” he interrupts, because now’s as good a time as any. With Barton pinned there is even a chance he’ll give the truth. “Why now, Beethoven? This couldn’t have been the first time you thought about doing it.”
“Interesting question,” Nat says, shooting a look to Bucky.
Bucky flicks their captive’s ear. “Answer it.”
“You guys are awful,” Clint mopes, wiggling and getting nowhere with it. “Fine. It was Coulson. Before you came along, Nat. He figured it out and made me sign a contract. But you know, SHEILD isn’t a thing anymore and I don’t honor contracts with HYDRA. Because, you know, terrorists.”
“How’d he find out?” Nat doesn’t tug on his leg, simply adds enough pressure to serve as a reminder that she could.
“Aren’t there laws against this?”
“Some of us really wanted a burrito that night, Barton. Now answer the question.”
“That same way he found out about anything. Stalked me like a jungle cat, and then pounced when I least expected it. Seriously, it was embarrassing. And I grew up in the circus.” Clint makes another abortive attempt at freedom. “Can I get up now? I’m cold.”
“No.” Bucky chides. “Shut up and learn your lesson.”
“The worst ever,” Clint grumbles.
That’s where it ended.
Until, you know, the next hearing aid related debacle. And that’s a different story entirely, thank God.