A Minor Bird

Endless Sleep

"-n."

His eyes, dilated, tried to focus as he felt the air around him sway. Everything seemed out of focus and blurred and he tried to reach for something but there was nothing there. Stumbling, he finally caught himself at a rail, the weight of himself buckling on his legs. He tried to groan, but nothing came out, and suddenly the world was sideways.

He'd toppled over, and clearly felt something gathering in his throat that either was blood or vomit or both.

"-ton!"

He felt it more than heard, as the explosion sent a shiver in the earth that rippled over him. Debris hit him, light tapings of rubble and wood and stone that to his numbed and bruised body felt more like water droplets. He rolled his eyes, shifting the focus to the incoming blur that approached him. It was a dark blur with a flash of red, and he knew it was her.

Suddenly, he's being gripped at and yanked upward, forward, and the world swirls again. He feels her shaking his shoulders, trying to get a response, so he nods to calm her. There's a moment's hesitation, and his head is throbbing. Something trickles down the side of his jaw line, and he thinks it's a head injury that's bleeding. He'll be checked for a concussion the moment they get back.

If they get back.

And there's a second rumble and he knows what's coming, so he instinctively pulls at Natasha and yanks them both down for cover. Sure enough, he feels the pellets of debris hit his back and his arm refuses to let Natasha stand, pinning her chest down beside him as he waits out the blast.

Natasha is thrashing next to him, shaking him and he strains to hear what she's yelling but he doesn't hear a thing. He can't make out the string of curses she's giving him because he only catches every other syllable and even then it's a light, faint trace of noise that is hardly audible, like far off whispers.

But he does feel the air whirl and he can judge the pressure enough to know that Thor has made his entrance, surrounded by some flashy show of lightning.

It's overwhelming but it's also a distraction, and Natasha yanks at him to stand as they take the chance to escape.

As soon as they're close enough, she practically throws him forward, twisting her arm to push him down behind the upturned car that is currently being used as their cover.

He falls on his side, and despite his best efforts to push himself up, he can't seem to find the footing or balance so he decides it's better if he stays laying down on his side.

The moment Natasha frantically joins him, a fraction of a second later, behind the car, she's thrashing about, motioning him to get up, to move, to make room or-

And then it hits her that he can't understand her. So she's propping him against the car and screaming in his face and, again, he isn't catching any of it. His vision hasn't fully cleared so his focus slips in and out and he can't read her mouth very well because of it. So, whatever she is trying to say is now completely lost to him.

Then, without any real warning, he slumps forward and he's out like a light. Everything is quiet, because he can't hear the turmoil taking place just ahead of their position, where he was a moment ago, and he can't hear Natasha screaming at the Captain to come over, because something is definitely wrong with Barton and she doesn't have a damn clue what.


Banner scratches the back of his head, eyes still glued to the sight through the glass window. Baffled, he exhales, looking behind him at the others in the room.

Tony is sitting and looking at the floor, and not looking at it. His eyes are distant and the doctor isn't sure what's going through his head, because his face is unreadable and his mouth is hidden in his hands, propped by his knees. He has a nasty cut on his temple that hasn't been checked, but otherwise, outside of the suit, he looks untouched.

Thor is sitting opposite him, his arms crossed, and he's just a blank in expression as Stark, but he looks better as far as any damage goes.

Steve is the least composed, pacing a running a grimy hand through his hair every few minutes, occasionally letting out the tiniest of curses. Then, he'll all of a sudden drop into a chair and look as forlorn and unfazed as any other, Because he knows loss and he's seen men fall and this isn't anything new to the hardened soldier.

And then he'll jump back up, fooling no one, and the cycle continues.

Natasha is visible through the glass window, separating them and the patient, but from where Banner is standing, only her back can be seen. Her face is hidden, but she's seated on the side of the cot, a hand hesitantly lingering at the brow of the unconscious figure.

His face is the one Banner can see.

It's peaceful and pale and looks like death, and Banner knows that as haunting as the expression on the archer is to him, from where he's standing, it's even worse up close to Natasha. He sees small shudders pass over her, but he knows she isn't crying. She doesn't cry.

And he can't imagine what face would be worse to look at right now; His, with no life, or hers, with no tears.


It's almost noon when he wakes up the next morning. He wakes up abruptly. No slow, eyes fluttering-crap for him. It's a fit of coughing that jolts him awake and it near startles Natasha right off the bed. The others are quick to jump to his side and pretty soon there's a gentle hand at each shoulder, cautious of applying too much pressure.

He shakes his head, about to mutter out something along the lines of that he's "fine" but stops when he realizes he can't. He coughs again, but he only feels the scratch in his throat and the straining of his lungs. He doesn't hear it.

Blinking at this realization, he forgets to even look up and now that gentle hand at his shoulder is deathly gripping his arm instead. He finally looks up, meeting Natasha's face and despite all her training and what not, her face is clear-as-day worried.

And then her lips part and they're moving, forming words and saying something, but he can't hear a thing.

He stares at her, dumbfounded, straining to hear something. When she does stop, waiting for some kind of response, he doesn't take his eyes off her. He nods, because he's pretty sure she's asking if he feels alright. He feels fucking terrible, but he nods.

Then she whips her head to face the others and he quickly darts to them as well. They're all exchanging glances between each other, ending with a final lingering look on him, and finally it's Banner who steps forward.

"A-?"

Clint scowls and looks between Banner and Natasha, because he can't hear and because he doesn't know what Banner is asking. He watches as Natasha tenses up, turning away from him and moving quickly to stand. It's like watching a film, with mute on, and suddenly everyone's moving.

Steve is out the door in a flash, and Natasha is turned, facing after him and Clint can tell by her bobbing head that's she yelling something after him, maybe a command or something.

Tony doesn't say anything and his face is neither shocked nor desperate and he's by Banner's side in an instant. Banner is directly in Clint's face, his mouth moving slow, forming each letter and consonant and vowel and emphasizing the mouthing for each.

And Clint makes it out that Banner is asking if Clint can hear him.

And it's not pride that stops him but he hesitates. He knows Natasha is watching him intensely, no doubt holding her breadth, and Stark has pulled out his phone and is rapidly tapping at it. Clint makes the mistake of looking at Natasha, and the pain in her eyes, because it's subtle and hardly recognizable to anyone but him and it's damn obvious to him, and he knows this will all but ruin her.

He shakes his head.


He's released a day later, sore and stiff and with a limp in his leg. He reads through the report and inhales sharply as he plays over the mission in his head, over and over. From the time they touch down to the attack, to being flushed out from his perch and forced to ground run for cover. Then being too close as some undisclosed sonic attack breaches, landing him on his back and sending him a killer headache. Everything else is blur and soundless, and at this point he gives up in recollecting because his head hurts too much.

Everything is quiet, but it's not just because he can't hear. He knows because he keeps watching their faces. Steve refuses to look at him, and he hates how the Captain feels such guilt and pity that he won't even look him in the eye.

Stark is worse, because all he does is stare. He doesn't flinch or try to say anything, or communicate. He just stares, making up for what Steve won't.

Banner tries, writing things down and mouthing slowly. He's trying his hardest not to alienate the deaf, but it's awkward and the strain is taking it's toll on both of them. Neither of them like this compromise, and it's too much effort so Clint stops looking to Banner. Because he won't talk unless he catches Barton's attention first.

Natasha is by his side constantly, but she's no better than Steve. He knows she's watching him when he isn't looking, but the moment he turns to face her, her eyes shoot to the floor or her feet or her lap or his hands. She can't look at him, and it's killing him the most that she isn't able to.

Thor is probably the best, because Thor emotionally isn't as effected. That, and his voice is so loud and booming that Clint can feel it.

It's truly something when everyone's faces light up when Thor asks how one is supposed to open a can, stepping in the room from procuring a drink from the vending machine, courtesy of some loose change Stark offered, and Clint offers to get it for him.

What's amazing about it is because Clint wasn't even looking up. He had been forlornly looking out the window, his back to Thor when he entered. He'd felt the footsteps of Thor approaching, but he hadn't turned around to greet the God.

Still, he'd managed to faintly make out the question, and so even Natasha jumped when he turned his head nonchalantly, not even noticing himself, and offered to help Thor.

Of course everyone jumped in and began shouting all sorts of questions, eager to know or confirm if Barton could hear again. But, he'd shaken his head. While the rise in volume had perked at his ears slightly, it still was no louder than a faint vibration, and he managed to tell them so, though without the ability to hear himself it came out more as a shout. He realized as much when Steve jumped and he attempted to lower the volume of his voice, then gave up and turned away again.

Their window of hope lost, the team patiently waited for Barton to be released from the hospital's care, taking him home that evening to the Stark Tower through the duration of an awkward, silent car ride.

At the tower, he doesn't bother putting them through any more of the torture that is tip-toeing on eggshells around him. He tries to mumble a thanks, curt and quick, but he can't hear what it sounds like and he's grateful enough for that. He shoots Natasha a final look, hoping she'll face him, but she doesn't. He avoids the others, and walks out.

He knows Natasha will inform Fury. That kind of handicap could get him disbanded. He could jeopardize a mission. He's a liability now and he can't do anything about it but accept the honorable discharge, maybe write up a decent speech that someone else will read for him.

In his room, he remains just as rigid and quiet as out there. Because the walls aren't as sound proof as he is. After sitting at the edge of his mattress for a whole two seconds, he decides he can't sit still. So, he bolts for the door and down the hall. Everyone has cleared out from the den and he's thankful for it, if not a bit curious as to where they all are. Bitterly, he reminds himself they could be right behind him, watching him, and he wouldn't know. Because he can't hear them.

But he knows that isn't true. He would've seen their reflection in the windows, or felt the floors or some light tip off of their presence. He was mostly deaf, apparently, but that didn't mean he hadn't still been trained to adapt to situations where senses were dulled.

It just was a bit difficult when those training scenarios involved operations and recon missions and this is his own house (roughly speaking) and his own friends (again, so to speak).


On the roof, he finally lets it out. He screams because they don't exactly encourage you to do so in SHIELD, but from where he's standing he won't have to worry about that for very long. He screams and he's not sure how loud he is, because it's barely registering in his head the volume of his yell and because he can feel the gurgle in his throat but he can't hear it. He doesn't count the seconds, but he knows it doesn't last long because he's tired and his head hurts.

So, he drops to his knees and closes his eyes. No one will look at him, not the way they used to, before...this. And he doesn't want to see anything either. He's as lost and confused as they are, and he doesn't condemn them for being so. In a minute, he's on his back, the sun long having passed the sky scraper but not quite yet night. There's wind, but it's mostly blocked by the balcony that looms over Barton, the final level on the roof, and he doesn't feel cold at all. Actually, he's pretty comfortable, despite laying on his back on the graveled assault of the roof.

So, he closes his eyes and sleeps. He strains to, but doesn't, hear the city below him or birds above him or something. Anything.


Natasha finds him a few hours later and shakes him awake. He throws himself awake and in an instant he's got her pinned and he's reaching for a weapon that's not there (He just got out of a hospital). And in horror, he realizes he finally got what he wants. She's finally looking at him, except it's in horror and shock.

He jumps off of her and walks away before she can grab a hold of him, because he's sick with himself and because in all his self-hatred he's hoping she'll sit and think for a moment after she calls out his name with his back to her, once she realizes that that is futile now.

And he doesn't look at the others when he passes them, nor does he react when they call his name, because in truth they all forgot.

And they each regret it when they remember.


Almost a week passes and he's all but given up on food. Natasha stops by, or did the first few days. She'd tug at him and carry around a notepad that urged him to come eat. He'd refuse and she'd push for him to join the others and then there was no debate because he'd flash a glare and she wouldn't bother arguing. After a day or so, he got wise and locked his door.

He never knew how much it pained her to lift a fist to his door, prepped to knock, only to remember.

The first time around, she kicked the door down. Honest to god, off of it's hinges.

Despite all the trouble, the two got into argument. She tried speaking slowly so he could read her lips, and he'd yell uncharacteristically loudly. The others quickly swarmed in on the two, and eventually it got too heated. A few fists were thrown, and she started yelling more rapidly, unable to think as quickly as she was speaking.

It was at that point in the conversation that she lost him, and he went from yelling at her to frantically searching her face, trying to make out her words. He tried to mutter "I can't-" but his voice was too soft and she had completely forgotten about his condition and then she began pacing. He reached for her, but she'd turn away, everything she was saying lost, only to turn around and walk towards him, and then to turn back again. Helpless, he just watched her, stuck between anger and grief. Because he couldn't hear her angry words directed towards him, at him.

He couldn't hear Natasha anymore.

Natasha stopped when she saw the remnants of the team huddled in the doorway, shaking their heads and looking horrified between the two agents. She whipped her head around to see Clint just staring at her, helpless and vulnerable.

She'd down some terrible things in her life, but she'd never felt more disgusted in herself than at that moment.

Her pride swelled and she nodded like it was nothing, playing the mask she was so skilled at and emphasizing her decision to "let him sulk and starve then," if that's how he wanted to be.

And she left. The others did, too, and later that night Clint moved from his room to a guest room on a different level, further from the rest of the team's.


He did eat, just not with the others. He snuck in a light snack after they'd mostly gone to sleep. He took to naps and trained during the day, because those were the only two things that kept his mind off of everything. He either worked mindlessly on his physique, punching out frustration or shooting range to prove to himself he wasn't loosing his touch, or sleep, where his mind shut down and he passed away hours.

Twice he felt Natasha enter his room, when he was awake, but he pretended not to be. He kept his breathing slow and relaxed his body, just enough to fool her. He couldn't hear her, but he knew she wanted him to come eat. She was always trying to convince him to eat.

She'd leave after rounding the corner of his mattress, checking his eyes and noticing he was asleep. She wouldn't try to wake him. She knew not to, not after the last time. He knew that she didn't blame him. Spies, people like them, were trained to be light sleepers. To react when something amiss happened and to stir awake and alert when necessary. But, he hadn't heard her. He hadn't woken until the moment she was upon him, and that's when he'd reacted.


The rare times he did make a public appearance amongst the house, he always had the luck to run into Thor. He never admitted it, but this was probably the most comforting thing. Because Thor he could hear, in technical terms. He knew even Thor was straining to boom ever so louder when Clint was around, and it comforted him knowing he wasn't completely deaf (Just mostly, so that doctor had confirmed).

Banner still pitied him. The Captain still felt guilty. Clint actually never saw Tony anymore. On the rare occasions when Clint would pick up a pen and paper and ask such, he'd always get a written response of 'in his lab'. If he was really curious e could have taken a visit to harass Tony what he was up to, but he never felt motivated enough to do so.

But, he did kind of miss how Tony wouldn't beat around the bush with things. If Clint wanted to ever be truly treated normal, and not like he had a clinical condition that no one wanted to talk about, he could trust Tony to prod it with a stick.

He heard nothing from Fury, or anyone a SHIELD for that matter. He tried to ask Natasha about it once, when she finally did manage to corner him to sit at the counter. Despite all her skill and wording, her answer had been a shrug without so much as a glance his way.

That was the most he got out of her on that.


Two weeks went by and he started seeing less of Banner, along with Stark. The two kept disappearing. It wasn't that unheard of-no doubt they'd moved on with their latest science project.

That's what hurt the most. Was that everyone had moved on. Tony and Bruce were again breaking every law of physics and science. Steve was always with some new device in hand, picking up slowly on today's technology. Recently, he'd seemed addicted enough on the lap top that Stark had outfitted him with that he looked to fit in just fine with the 21st century.

And Natasha had been on a few missions.

He never got the direct letter suspending him from SHIELD, but he knew it was probably just lagging in the mail or sitting unaccounted for on some desk, unsigned yet. Like SHIELD was hesitating. Hoping that he'd pull a miracle out last minute.

So was he.


His miracle came abruptly in the form a storming Stark one afternoon when Clint was standing on the roof.

He'd heard Thor before he felt the foot steps of a crowd approaching him, and turned around to see the assembled team speed walking towards him, purpose lit in their eyes, with Stark eluding them.

Taken aback slightly, he dropped his hands to his side and eyed them all, slightly nervous at what was going on. Because Natasha was holding her breath and Banner looked twitchy and Stark looked as dead-panned and least-comical that Barton could ever remember.

Stark opened his mouth and began a jumbled speech that Clint hardly caught a word of. He did manage 'wave' and 'frequency' and he followed Tony's hands whenever he'd point behind him at a fellow member, but the meanings were loss and a good minute into it all Clint threw up his hands, shaking in protest for Stark to slow down.

Rather than stop talking (Clint wasn't exactly holding his breadth concerning that option), Stark reached up for the side of Clint's face. Clint instinctively flinched backwards but Stark's hand caught him by the ear and suddenly something cold and hard was being crammed into it.

Clint pushed Tony away and stepped back, just as it registered to him what was going on.

"...-nk you, I mean, what, we did just spend, I don't know, the past two weeks in a vigil of as little food, water and sex as possible-"

"He's not kidding," Bruce interjected.

"-trying to piece together that custom little earring for you, and if this is how you show your gratitude then I'd hate to see what kind of act you pull on Chekoff over here after she practically spoon fed you through your self-pity party-"

"-Stark." Natasha barked a warning.

"Right, sorry, just the caffeine draining agitation kicking in. What I really mean is-"

His words were lost as Clint, only half listening (Ironically now that he could) to Stark as he fiddled with the ear piece, found the source of a dial and turned it. Watching Tony babble on for a moment, he waited until Stark paused before he turned the dial back again.

"Clint."

This time, he turned his attention to Natasha, who looked relieved beyond belief that he'd responded to the sound of her voice.

"You-" He stuttered out, and stopped. Because he could hear his own voice and because he knew he wasn't yelling at them this time around because he could hear his own voice.


Natasha found Clint standing on the roof that night. She purposely dug her heels into the gravel, and smiled when she caught him tense up, obviously hearing her arrival.

When she rounded to face him, standing next to him, her smirk grew. He wasn't smiling, but it was just as satisfying, because he was back to the way he'd been. He was himself again.

"You knew." He finally murmured. She didn't nod because he hadn't asked and he didn't need an answer, or even confirmation at that.

"SHIELD did, too, didn't they?"

She'd indulged enough to answer him that at least, she reasoned.

"They commissioned for it, actually. Or, tried to. Thing was, they didn't contract Stark into the project until two days after you were released from the hospital, when I finally did get around to reporting on it. Stark started the project the night we came home."

"So that's what him and Banner were working on?"

Again, no answer.

"Steve helped, too. Or, tried to. He quickly adapted to using the internet, reading up on as many deaf cases and hearing aid products as possible. Stark thought, what with you being as much as a necessity as you are to this team, that you deserved a little more than just any regular old aid. It is custom, you know."

"Sensitive, too," he muttered, again fumbling with the dial. Natasha frowned at this.

"Sorry, is my voice too loud?"

"No, it's perfect," he exhaled, glad to hear her, and everyone, and everything, again. Glad to hear Stark thought he was important, or that Steve was had been trying to adjust to accommodate to Clint. She might have punched him for the comment, or bite back some remark, but she didn't. She followed his eyes over the city, and sighed.

"What are you doing up here, anyway?"

"Listening to the city."


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