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Title: Speak So We Can Hear Your Heart Beat
Author name: jaune_chat
Beta name: brighteyed_jill
Characters/Pairing: Clint Barton/Natasha Romanov, Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Thor/Jane Foster, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, James "Rhodey" Rhodes, Sam Wilson
Fandom/Universe: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Rating: R
Word count: 15,403
Warnings: R for violence, and implied consensual sexual situations
Summary: The Avengers are rendered mute by Amora the Enchantress. As a search for a cure grows more and more dim every day, the Avengers have to deal with the reality of learning to communicate with each other in a whole different way. Uncertain if they'll be able to fight again, they enlist the help of their friends, and learn some surprising things about each other as they struggle to hold onto their identities as the World's Greatest Heroes.



Nine days after Amora rendered the Avengers mute, there was an escape of bio-mechanical giant razor-winged flying eyeballs from an underground research lab (literally underground, as in they set up shop in an old, abandoned subway station). They were too fast for the police, and too powerful for the National Guard, and JARVIS had the information on the threat on the screen in the central media room right before the desperate tweets and high-level phone calls started pouring in, begging for help.

War Machine and Falcon were on the scene in minutes, the TV cameras following their fast swoops and bullet blasts with frantic twists, trying to catch all the action. Pepper, her identity concealed with a mask, was glowing brightly with Extremis as she pounded falling foes back into scrap, was far easier to see, and the cameras lingered. The sounds of the fight were filtering in through two tracks, one from the cameras, the other from the communicators between Rhodey, Wilson, and a very special heat-proof one for Pepper.

“Left high!” “Two on your six!” “Jim, right!” “Pepper, two coming down!” “On it!”

It was like watching an action movie with real stakes, and it was horribly, horribly worse when they all knew the people on the screen who were spinning away from razor-edged wings. Steve kept making abortive little moves on the couch, hand clenching and unclenching like he wanted to put his shield in between his friends and danger. Of the three, Sam was the most vulnerable, sacrificing armor for more speed and maneuverability, and a wrong turn could sever a wing, or a limb. Tony found himself with his heart in his throat, as two of his best friends threw their bodies between civilians and danger. He trusted Rhodey, and he knew Rhodey was tough as nails with experience to boot, but he also knew the capabilities of the armor to a fault, and every hit it took he could feel it through his own body. And Pepper… He’d watched her kill Aldrich Killian with extreme prejudice and awe, and knew that she was practically tough as Thor, but he still found himself calculating trajectories and routes for Iron Man to keep those damn things off her back.

Sam had gotten upgraded body armor, upgraded wings, upgraded weapons, upgraded everything at Tony's insistence before they'd even started training last week, but no matter how much he'd done to help, and no matter how much Steve knew about Sam's skill, it didn't help the roiling in both of their stomachs.

The rest of the Avengers might not know them nearly as well, but they’d all met the three people who were taking up their load, and the strain of that was… It was suddenly understandable how people saw them and wondered why they did what they did.

When the last of the razor-winged eyes finally fell to a one-two War Machine-Falcon combo with Pepper finishing it off, there was a collective release of breath and tension that was nearly comical.

“Tony, we’re all right. We’re fine, we’re coming home.” Pepper’s voice was a godsend. Breathless, but still steady, she sounded all right.

It shouldn’t be all right. This was not Pepper’s thing. And Tony could only text back, You looked great out there. Come home.

Steve stared at the floor for ten seconds, then got up to face everyone. He picked up the tablet; despite Clint’s intensive lessoning in ASL, he wanted there to be no misunderstandings in what he wanted to say.

Can we still How can we fight? What can we do so we can communicate in the field? Steve wrote. He had his uniform helmet in his hand, and unceremoniously dumped it on the table. The tiny earbud communicator he wore during fights rolled out the eyehole.

That idea had been on everyone's mind for days, from the minute Amora had taken their voices, ideas that probably overlapped. Seeing their friends in action, doing the job they should have been doing, brought the need home with urgency.

Sound… code? Clint signed. He snatched up another tablet from the table and flipped through some of the candid shots civilians had taken during fights. (Answer to questions about why he had such a collection he would answer precisely never, or maybe later than that.) He found a good one of his bow and flipped the tablet around so everyone could see. He pointed to the buttons on the grip, the ones he used to tell his quiver which kind of arrow he needed at any given moment.

One button, Tasha, second button, Steve, Clint signed, adding an “etcetera” by waving at everyone else. Then direction. Left, right, up, down, behind. Use different tones.

You aren't Captain von Trapp, Tony texted, smirking.

Clint extended his middle finger in a sign that needed no translation. Though that also revealed he'd seen The Sound of Music. Luckily no one could rib him without revealing the same.

Thor leaned over the picture, frowning. Slowly, he signed, One cannot add things to Mjolnir. For his mystic hammer, Thor used the letter M, made quite large.

Or the Other Guy, Bruce added. He switched to texting to make things clearer. I've never found anything that delicate that survives a transformation.

Tony made a swooping double thumbs-up followed by a double-handed inward grasping motion Challenge accepted.

And I'm not sure the Hulk would have the patience to use it even if you did make one, Bruce continued texting in response, raising an eyebrow.

What do we lose by trying? Natasha texted, picking out her words as loudly as she could, her phone's sounds set on maximum. She flicked her eyes up as the others raised their heads from their screens, and Bruce nodded to her before looking away.

Not a damn thing, Tony texted back, getting to his feet and looking up at the ceiling.

“Shall I bring up the Morse code earpiece you made as a joke gift to Agent Coulson a few years ago as a base, sir?” JARVIS asked.

Clint grinned despite the quiet pain of the reminded loss as Tony blushed.

Tony started texting again, his words coming up on the TV screen for all to see, Yeah J, I'll be down right after the party.

Party? Clint signed.

Yeah, party. If you think Rhodey, Pepper, and Wilson are coming back to a not-party after their first joint Avenging, then you're very, very wrong.

Then Tony furiously started to bring up a playlist of music, heedless of the fact that everyone could see it on the screen.

Of course there was going to be music. Most of it Tony's beloved loud rock. Because those would be the only voices the rest of the Avengers could give.



There were no bruises on Pepper's skin. Tony made sure to check after the impromptu party was over, when they were finally alone again, just her, him, and JARVIS. He was certain enough of War Machine and the upgrades to the Falcon wings to be sure that Rhodey and Sam were as well as they said they were. Rhodey wouldn't hesitate to tell Tony if there was a problem, and if anyone had the power to resist telling Steve the truth when he put on his earnest face, it wasn't Sam Wilson (or any other person with a pulse).

But this was Pepper, who had never asked for this but had volunteered anyway, and yes, thank you, that was the same story with half the team, himself included, but that entirely wasn't the point.

He just wanted to make sure she was all right. He wanted to tease her into the best mood possible and laugh with her and commiserate about the entirely ridiculous ways bad guys tried to take over the world sometimes.

And Tony had tried with Rhodey at the party, texting using macros and a thoroughly-hacked autocorrect that actually freaking worked so he could try to recapture some semblance of their old banter. It had sort of worked. Tony and Rhodey had been doing a lot of cross-country conversations via Iron Man-War Machine HUD over the last year or two, so texting wasn't so far out of their comfort zone.

Steve, Natasha, and Sam had abandoned proper technology for the signing they'd been learning from Clint, because of course Wilson had a jump start on that from more than one veteran he'd worked with who'd come home minus eardrums as well as with ripe cases of PTSD. Since Tony had come home with an electromagnet in his chest, there had been several rather large anonymous donations made to organizations like Sam's.

So fine, Rhodey and Sam were doing well. Great.

Tony needed to be sure with Pepper. Because he could be a lousy communicator at the best of times, saying everything and meaning nothing. It was one of those things he was working on. It was one of the promises he'd made.

He ghosted his hands across Pepper's back when the door to their room closed, chasing his fingers with his mouth. Pepper froze, shivered, still hot under his lips, and turned to catch him up in a kiss.

“I'm fine,” she said, whispered, her arms going around him. Tony danced them backwards, wishing for another useless moment that he could even hum because he was struck by the impulse to really try a few dance moves to make things a little more lighthearted, but it would have taken all the fun out of things to have to pause to explain to JARVIS what he wanted.

Instead he just kept moving them back, swaying like they did during those endless galas and parties and fundraisers where they actually did dance until they both fell onto the bed.

“I'm fine, Tony,” Pepper kept whispering, holding him. He just kept touching her, unbuttoning buttons, getting clothing out of the way until he could see everything, making sure she was all right. Tony whispered uselessly against her skin, and Pepper murmured back at him all the words he wanted to say. Shivering a little, Tony slid lower against her hot skin to put his mouth to better use.

Pepper didn't need to speak at all after that.



“Are you sure that isn't 'after?' I'm sure that's 'after,'” Jane said, looking at Thor curiously as he repeated his signs to her over Skype. A gloriously useless bit of technology considering his current predicament, but at least he was able to see Jane's face, even if neither of them were particularly conversant in Clinton's sign language yet. Thor switched to the chat program to clarify himself, smiling as Jane's attention drifted to the side of the camera, probably seeking a website to confirm or deny his accuracy.

“Oh, that was 'after,'” she said sheepishly.

Indeed. After the battle, there was a party with excessive amount of music and a great deal of attempting to converse in every way but verbally. Considering the volume of the music, we might have been using the same techniques even if we still had our voices, Thor said. That brought a smile to Jane's face, and Thor echoed it gladly. His lady was still halfway across the planet, observing energy pattern echoes from the conjunction of worlds. She had been understandably annoyed that involuntarily bearing the Aether had prevented her from closer examinations during most of the event. Despite the outcome for him personally, the people he had lost, he knew how important it was for the people of Midgard to understand such things. And no one could understand them better than his lady Jane and Erik Selvig. Jane had grieved with him for his mother, but his sorrow for his brother was a private thing, best mourned in silence. He hadn't wanted to hold her back, and had encouraged her to go.

Better, perhaps, to fumble with smiles across half the world than to fumble in silence as some of his shieldbrothers still did. Both of them were determined to bridge the gap, and he hoped by the time they saw each other face-to-face again, there would be less misunderstandings.

“So, if that sign was 'again,' what's the sign for 'always?' Or better yet how about 'boneheaded astrophysicist,' because I need something to call Erik behind his back,” Jane asked with a grin. Thor smiled back at her, laughing silently.



The problem about supervillains was that they didn't take a day off.

Five days after the razor-winged eye incident, three days after the Avengers had started practicing with small, finger-activated connectors in their gauntlets or wrist cuffs for field warnings, automatons crawled out of the Hudson river. Shimmering blue and green, looking uncannily like pieces of Chitauri technology that had somehow taking on a life of its own, there were calls pouring in over 911 so fast that the Avengers didn't even need a heads-up from anyone else. JARVIS made the alert himself, the alarm ringing all over the Tower.

At the lunch table, Steve leapt to his feet automatically before stopping himself, Natasha's hand on his wrist as Sam and Jim were up and out of the room in seconds. Steve didn't think he was misinterpreting the sympathetic glance Sam gave him before he disappeared out of the doorway onto the launch pad, the glass wall just muffling the sound of the Falcon wings firing up. Pepper ran by a few moments later in fireproof clothing and her mask, Jim already armored up and ready to carry her to the banks of the river to where the automatons were emerging.

“Tony,” she said quickly, torn between going where she had to and knowing Tony and everyone else was struggling not to dive for their own suits and weapons to follow her. Tony pulled her in for quick kiss and thumbs-up, barely slowing her down as she braced herself for Rhodey's blast-off. Rhodey just nodded at everyone before his faceplate clacked closed, and lifted from the launch pad, following Sam towards the emerging disaster.

Steve clenched his fist and banged it against his thigh, frustration plain across his face as he followed their friends with his eyes. They'd been trying, they'd been practicing, but there just hadn't been enough time to really coordinate their fighting styles yet. Tony had misheard Clint's cues three times the last fight alone, Thor and Steve twice each, and Bruce really very much did not want to bring the Hulk out unless there was dire need. Not that that was any different than normal. All of which had resulted in them losing the simulations badly, their costumes streaked with colored chalk dust from simulated weapons killing them. One misheard cue could send any of them down, and they didn't want to head into the field only to get themselves messily dead.

It didn't mean it didn't burn though.

JARVIS turned on the TV automatically, finding the footage of the most foolish, daring news helicopter pilot as they swooped in dangerously close to the battlefield. The sound of Rhodey, Pepper, and Sam replaced whatever inane commentary was going on as the Avengers settled down to watch. All except Clint, who was staring at the screen fixedly. Suddenly he lunged forward, stabbing his finger at the screen, mouth moving uselessly. The picture shifted and Clint scanned it again, pointing at a building in the background some distance from the fight. He looked back frantically and pointed again, at tiny forms of people milling about on the building roof.

Natasha and Steve drew closer, and Tony rapidly texted a series of commands to JARVIS. The picture stopped, steadied, the building taking on more definition as JARVIS made a composite picture from all the live feeds in the area. The mosaic picture became clearer and clearer until they could all see what Clint had – the people milling atop the building weren't office workers watching the carnage, but men in combat gear setting up a series of very large guns.

Tony was mouthing something with a look of alarm on his face, forgetting to sign, but by the sharp gestures and expansion he was making with his hands, the weapons likely made some very big holes in things.

Steve only needed one clean look at the men assembling the guns to raise one finger to the sky and making a punching motion towards it with his opposite fist, expression grim. STRIKE.

It was HYDRA. The Avengers had dropped out of sight, so they were targeting the newest superheroes before they could get any better and more savvy, knocking out support before it could get established.

The Avengers weren't ready. Thor was still beating chalk dust out of his cape.

And no one hesitated when Steve made the sign for go.



Clint landed the stealthed Quinjet five buildings away from their target to keep them from noticing their arrival.

Everyone was signing and texting at once, and Steve didn't even know where to look. He banged his shield against the side of the Quinjet to get everyone to look up. He held out his arm, hand flat and palm down, and stroked up it with his other hand. Slow, he admonished. Then he cupped his hand by his ear. Listen. And pointed to Clint. He started, and then slid his eyes over to where they could see the top of their enemies' building. Clint had to coordinate them all if things got complicated. Right.

No fuck-ups.

Steve traced a fast battle plan on one of the tablets, sending Tony and Thor high to destroy the guns, the Hulk with them if needed (Thor's lightning as Bruce's signal), with Clint on the opposite roof to help Steve and Natasha cover the ground and any retreating STRIKE members.

Simple. Easy. They could do this, voices or no voices.



Steve caught his shield on its last return flight, the remaining fleeing STRIKE member slumping to the ground. And suddenly he heard the rapid signal for Steve up. There were no more enemies in sight or sound, Natasha having chased down the last STRIKE member around the building a minute ago. Then Steve realized Clint hadn't called for Natasha. And Clint was the only one who was “up.” He turned to look at their eyes in the sky, his heart in his throat. It couldn't be; she had only been gone a minute...

Clint made the plucking motion of “take,” and then the palms-down, wrist-crossed, finger-writhing sign for “spider.” Add that to the fear Steve could see under his usual mien of hard determination, and Clint might as well shouted, “They’ve taken Natasha.”

No!

They rounded up the others as they came at the sound of Clint’s signal arrow, and he abandoned every attempt at courtesy to start signing fast, taxing all of their inexperience and limited vocabularies as he frantically tried to convey what he knew.

She was on the other side of the building chasing that one one. The STRIKE team was coming up from below, their backup. She was coming up to get better ground, and someone had managed to get above her. She tapped SOS on her communicator before she went quiet. I didn't see where they went! They’re going to question her. Clint didn’t quite throw his hands up in frustration, but he wasn’t the only one feeling helpless.

But they can not question her, Thor signed carefully.

They. Don’t. Know. That. Clint’s signs were sharp, forceful, abrupt, and he clenched his hands into fists as the implications all hit them.

~

“First thing I do? I lie. I start talking right away, give them something plausible. I’ll give them something they want to hear. Then you can change that story as they try to ‘make you talk,’ letting the story develop as they ‘get the truth out of you.’ If they want you to scream, you scream. Some of these guys take it as a personal challenge if you clam up and try to be a tough guy. You’re not here to be stoic, you’re here to get information, to confuse the enemy, and to return with what you know. If you give them enough information, no matter what it is, they’ll concentrate on that. Give them something to work with, and you’ll spare yourself a lot of damage in the field.”

Clint sat in the back of the SHIELD seminar on the realities of fieldwork and gave Natasha a big thumbs-up with an ironic smile as the last of the agents filed out.

“And all that jazz,” he said with a straight face. “You know, just the fundamentals.”

She dropped in the seat next to him with a wordless smile.


~

JARVIS, do you see her? Tony mouthed. He signed, J, to the others in quick explanation.

“Sir, I will track the location of vehicles leaving the location,” the AI said aloud. Five seconds later, he reported back with, “There is only one vehicle which was parked in close proximity to the building where Agent Romanov was taken. That vehicle is en route to the waterfront, heading for a heavy concentration of warehouses.”

We’re going now, Steve signed, and pointed in the direction of the Quinjet. Hulk stared at Steve and snorted silently, looking in the direction of the louder explosions where Rhodey, Sam, and Pepper were destroying the automatons that had drawn them out. Too late, they realized it had been a distraction, a lethal one, but a distraction nevertheless. HYDRA had wanted revenge on the people to have brought them to their knees, and had been ready to get the Avengers' allies out of the way by any means necessary.

Clint waved to get Hulk’s attention, silently (always silently, forever silently) praying that the big man had managed to absorb any of the lessons Bruce had mastered. HYDRA has Natasha, he signed, using the sign for “head” repeated rapidly to substitute for the Nazi death cult, because he wasn’t sure if Hulk could spell.

Hulk got a grimace on his face, one that usually just preceded a goodly bit of smashing, and clenched his giant ham hands into fists, bringing them together in front of his face then throwing them apart, following by crabbing one of his hands. RESCUE BLACK WIDOW.

Oh thank God, he did understand.

“Sir, I have found the location where the vehicle has stopped,” JARVIS piped up.

They didn’t have time to argue, or to get their friends who were fighting on their behalf. The shattered HYDRA team was getting away as they were standing there, and to call Rhodey, Sam, and Pepper away from their fight would mean a lot of preventable destruction.

Pepper is going to kick my ass, Tony muttered silently inside his helmet.

“As you say, sir,” JARVIS said for his ears alone.

Tony took off, beckoning to the others. Thor whipped Mjölnir into a blur and followed, Hulk right behind him in a bound. Clint and Steve ran for the Quinjet, hearts in their silent throats.



The warehouse was quiet, the van the remainder of STRIKE has used parked in the back inconspicuously. If things had been different, this might have been the time to do more scouting, sneak in, and get Natasha back. If things had been different, this would have never happened in the first place. Steve had been texting Tony in the plane to accomplish the one thing they could do, checking the exits, all of them, as fast and thoroughly as he could. If one of them went in, STRIKE would and could put a bullet in Natasha's head before they could get to her. But if everyone went in together, suddenly things became less about the mission and more about immediate survival.

Thor kicked off that immediate survival with a hammer blow that caved in the front door.

The different chime-tones of everyone's designation began to ring across their comms as the Avengers stormed in, each one looking out for each other. Steve, down. Clint, left. Tony, up. Steve right, down. Thor, back. Adrenaline narrowed Clint's focus as he moved his bow to cover the widest arc, making every arrow count, and fast because he needed to keep coordinating the others, fingers dancing on the grip of his bow to speak to them. Whenever a warning came his way he tracked quickly, like his arm belonged to someone else for a moment.

No chalk dust. They couldn't afford it.

The few remaining heavies with their weapons probably back-engineered from You Don't Even Want To Know were learning why it wasn't smart to make the Hulk angry, particularly when that
Hulk had Iron Man watching his back, while Thor, Steve, and Clint were still working their way in to the middle where a lone figure with red hair was tied to a chair in isolated splendor, bright splotches of blood on her skin as her captors ran for cover.

Steve left, right, up. Thor, left, left, right, Clint warned, and felt time slow down as one STRIKE agent popped up between crates in Natasha's blind spot and thrust his gun towards her. Clint somehow managed to get off, Natasha down!, praying she still had her earbud before the arrow left his bow, making the shooter snap backwards, his gun going flying as he collapsed. The last bullet passed harmlessly through the air where Natasha's head had been a moment before she ducked at Clint's warning.

Clint owed Captain von Trapp a thank-you.

She used the motion to continue the roll and break herself out of her bonds, now that she didn't have a gun to her head. Clint saw her hand moving as she scooped up a gun, and threw himself to the ground as he heard the tones for, Clint down! Natasha's bullet, Cap's shield, and Thor's hammer all flew over him to strike the man who'd thought to shoot him in the back. Clint stood again warily, shoulders tense and hands twitchy as he looked all around, seeing the Avengers as the only ones standing in an entire warehouse of heavily-armed commandos.

Edelwiess, motherfuckers.

--

Thor’s big hand clapped on Natasha's shoulder with some care for what she’d gone through today. Before the Avengers had managed to arrive, the STRIKE team had taken special pleasure in getting artistic with pain. But they hadn't wanted her to die, not right away, and had taken her silence as a challenge. Thor took up one of the now-ubiquitous tablets from the bench in the Quinjet and began to write in his refined, almost runic way.

I thought perhaps today, you would wish a release from the frustration of our silence.

She raised a bloodied eyebrow at him, and Thor deliberately held her gaze. He beckoned to everyone, an all-inclusive sweep of his big arm. Come with me.

After the jet had landed, Thor led them up the stairs to the roof, the warm summer evening cloudy and muggy, heavy and oppressive. After today, the weather felt like they did, closed in. Even though they'd won, they'd proved themselves, it still hadn't changed the fact that none of them had been able to quickly explain what had happened to the police. The captain had been justifiably baffled when Captain America texted him the entire story of who the men in the warehouse were. Things weren't back to normal. They wouldn't be again. Some release from that, somehow, was more welcome than anything else.

In the dim light of the reflections from the city, Thor hoisted Mjölnir to the heavens, and a flicker of lightning chased through the clouds, followed by a rumble of thunder. Natasha kept her eyes nailed on the sky, her breathing growing faster as Clint saw her control slip a little. The thunder boomed louder, closer, and finally an eye-smiting bolt struck Mjölnir as Thor silently cried out with the blast of thunder.

It was a city-sized shout, a scream of gigantic proportions, and Clint saw Natasha open her mouth to scream out her anger, fear, and frustration as the next roar of thunder split the skies. In the flashes of lightning, Clint could see the rest of his friends taking the full-throated voice of the storm and using it to make the first sound they’d been able to claim as their own since Amora had taken theirs. Clint threw his head back as the next crash reverberated through the city, and imagined his own voice joining theirs.

--

Thor had kept them from being soaked to the skin, but there was no stopping some rain from falling from the storm. Clint had twined his hand with Natasha’s as they made their way down from the roof and to an elevator well ahead of the others. Or maybe, he realized belatedly, they had slowed their pace to let them have their privacy. Steve and Tony wanted to get back to Sam, Pepper, and Rhodey, and Bruce was understandably worn out from another appearance of the Hulk.

Clint turned to face Natasha in the elevator, eyes looking her over for the bruises and cuts he knew the HYDRA team had inflicted on her. With their hands entwined, signing was hard, but he didn’t want to let go quite yet. And Natasha allowed it, permitted it. Encouraged it. She turned her head from side to side, letting him see the bruises on her pale skin. They would fade fast, but for now they hurt, were reminders of her vulnerability. That they’d survived, silently.

He pressed his forehead against hers, eyes closed, breathing out slow, and let his entwined hand form a sign against hers, middle and ring fingers folded against his palm, index, pinky, and thumb extended.

Love you.

The door opened, and Clint recognized by the smell of juniper JARVIS had brought them to Natasha’s floor.

Natasha covered his eyes with her hand as they stepped out of the elevator, and he could feel her pressed up against him, warm and with subtle perfume that made his heart race. She whispered something silent in his ear, her lips brushing against him in a tease that made him catch his breath. He didn’t know what she was saying, but her breath against his cheek made shivers go down his spine.

But he didn’t need to know what she was saying to know what she meant. He followed her into the darkened bedroom, and let the door shut behind them.

--
Part 2
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