AN- hello, Nasomta here! I've definitely found my niche in the MCU, and I figured I'd post this oneshot I whipped up last night after talking to one of my close friends on twitter. Be aware, this contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. As in, major spoilers. Events of the movie aren't readily discussed, but one of the characters in it is, if that makes sense! I apologize if its a bit rough and has a handful of errors; I did my proofing at 6am and therefore might have glossed over some things. I just really wanted to write some platonic dynamics, sarcasm and cuddling. The other titles for this fic are "Snipers are Made of Sarcasm and Snark" and "Steve is the Biggest Mother Hen You Will Ever Meet". Hope you enjoy it!
Never Trust Secondhand Intel
For such a simple mission, things had gone south painfully quickly. It'd been little more than a routine cleanup mission; flush out and eliminate a nest of HYDRA and ex-SHIELD agents who had joined their ranks. In fact, it was such a simple premise that only some of the team had been dispatched- Natasha was to sneak in and take out as many as she could quietly while Clint and Bucky picked off stragglers from a roost point, with Steve in the wings in case things went sour and force was needed. Quick, clean, quiet. In and out. Back to the tower within the day.
Oh, if only it had been that simple. The intel had been spotty at best, but from a rather reliable source, they were all assured. Within a few minutes of infiltrating, Natasha had chimed in through their coms that there were a lot more operatives, a lot more heavily armed operatives at that, than previously expected. It hadn't seemed like a huge problem at first; they'd stopped the invasion of New York, how bad could a group of holed up, unaware HYDRA agents be?
The term nothing fights like a cornered animal flitted through the ex-Soviet's mind, releasing a shell casing from his rife before lining up another shot. He and Clint were perched far up on an adjacent hillside in a shallowly dug out 'nest', the fractured rocks of the cliff at their back and stand of scraggy trees helping disguise them from immediate view. It was a perfect position, really, with a wide and unobstructed view of the compound's windows and courtyard. He owed Barton a drink; his bet that he could find a better sniping spot than this had failed miserably.
Said archer was crouched beside him, peeking over the boulder in front of him for a handful of seconds to get a bead on a new target, fire, and duck back to safety. Bucky was pressed right up against the side of the same rock, flattened out against the ground with his rifle, braced with his artificial arm while living fingers rested on the trigger guard. Cold from the air and the ground he was pressed against seeped through his tactical gear, each breath a hot burst of vapor as he exhaled with another shot. The close proximity of the two snipers helped fight off the worst of the cold, body heat shared between them with mutual gratitude. They both donned snow camouflage, their silhouettes melting into the sparsely snow-covered mountain trail. After joining the Avengers at Steve's urging he'd expected to return to the solitary life of a sniper and was not the least bit surprised when he started getting requests for such missions. What was unexpected, however, was the company.
Clint was an excellent marksman and the World War veteran admired and respected him for it greatly. He'd warmed up to him considerably after discovering his connections to Natasha, and his past encounters with Loki. In an odd sort of way, being near someone who knew the waking nightmare that was being prisoner in your own body and mind was comforting; they had a mutual understanding that had made their bond that much stronger. He'd even go so far as to openly consider him a friend, family even. In the past months the odd group had grown rather tight-knit.
"Hey Barnes, Rogers is heading up to floor three, give him some cover fire and I'll take the ones in the courtyard that he missed." The archer spoke softly, notching another arrow in his bow (explosive tip, Bucky noticed out of the corner of his eye), before leaning to look around the boulder, firing the arrow off into a cluster of targets. Neither sharpshooter so much as twitched at the concussive sound that bounced off the stone at their backs. There was a soft clicking of metal as the rifle was rearranged, scope now trained on the floor the Captain was now clearing of HYDRA soldiers. "Nat's cleared out the first floor and Rogers is getting the holdouts upstairs; she'll be joining him shortly." He added, finger pressed to his earpiece for a brief moment before reaching for another arrow. The soldier silently acknowledged the information, quietly hoping that meant getting off this damn mountainside soon.
Breathing halted, heartbeat slowed, Bucky squeezed the trigger at a flash of movement in his scope. The black-clad soldier that had just jumped from a doorway with pistol drawn gave a violent shudder, wall behind him stained with a crimson flower as he crumpled to the floor. He always kept Steve in the corner of his scope, ready to pick off anyone who dared get too close. There was a slight pinprick of familiarity at the back of his mind, hazy memories of watching Steve's back in the war brought to the surface. A few months prior such a sudden intrusion of memory might have caused a panic attack, but now he regarded it with a warm acceptance. He was healing, slowly, but healing nonetheless.
"So, when are you going to buy me that drink," Clint's voice spoke up suddenly, loosing another arrow into a throng of soldiers, "Because I'm sure we're gonna need one after this."
"Or several." Bucky replied, the edge of his mouth turning up a bit in a smile, "Several is good. Shoulder hurts pretty bad and a few drinks sounds pretty damn good right about now." he ejected another spent casing, sliding a new bullet into the chamber before planting the crosshairs on another target. He heard Clint's rough snort, and didn't need to glance from the scope to know he'd cracked a smirk.
"What's the matter old man, back hurting you?" the Hawk's eyes never strayed from a target in the exposed yard, releasing an arrow and seamlessly maneuvering another into its place. Bucky couldn't help but roll his eyes a bit, snuffing out another of the operatives that had crept up in Steve's blind spot.
"Oh, you have no idea, sonny." Another bullet was loaded into the chamber as he spoke, "You just might have to drag your old, decrepit partner back down the mountain; my legs aren't what they were seventy years ago, you know." The sarcasm was laid on thick, and the resulting stifled laughter from the archer was enough to make him smile fully.
A comfortable silence fell over the both of them, the two snipers deeply absorbed into their craft. The lack of communication was only broken by the rifle firing or the soft twang of the bowstrings. HYDRA numbers were dropping, but the tension had yet to leave either of them. This had been a close call; they'd expected a few stings but instead tumbled right into the hornet's nest. Buck's eyes only lifted from the scope when Hawkeye suddenly kicked his ribs. He was about to make a smartass comment about asking nicely for his attention when he noticed the intense expression he wore, eyes locked down the trail and an arrow at half-draw.
Some must have noticed us and come up the mountain. The rifle was all but forgotten, metallic arm retrieving a pistol from his jacket. Now that his concentration on the compound was broken, he could hear the soft crunch of snow underfoot as someone approached from the straggly thicket a few dozen yards to their left. Cautiously rousing into a crouch the soldier took a stance next to his partner and never took his eyes from the direction of the noise, scanning for any movement—
Without giving any warning he threw himself at Clint and roughly shoved him into the hard dirt, landing on top of him as shards of rock from the boulder at their backs rained on them from gunfire. The assassin had caught a glint of light off of the metal weapons seconds before they'd been fired; two rounds had struck right where they had been mere moments before. Both snipers scrambled back to their feet, ducking on the other side of the boulder as another volley of fire was aimed at them. "We need some assistance!" Clint relayed into his communicator as Bucky hissed a Russian curse under his breath, leveling his pistol and firing off a round over the top of the rock. There was a muffled thump as one of the agents went down.
"I don't know how many there are." Bucky growled in annoyance, firing off another round from their shared hiding place; one of the bullets from the soldiers pinged off of his metal arm. He could hear Clint doing something off to his left, but his attention was on returning fire and trying to cut down on the number of men hiding in the brush. Before he could ask what he was up to, he suddenly heard him fire off an arrow, grab him and hook his arm under the shoulder his metal limb joined to and then jump from the cliff face to their right.
The movement had been so sudden and dramatic that it startled the living hell out of the former Soviet, tightening his grip on the archer with much more force than he really meant. He eased up as soon as heard the muffled grunt of pain from him (he was later told he accidentally bruised his ribs with his artificial arm, oops), but the fact that they were now swinging in open air above the river at the mountain base didn't exactly ease his nerves any. It was quick and brilliant thinking, using a grappling arrow to swing themselves out and parallel to the cliff face, but not exactly easy on one's anxiety.
"Hold on!" Clint shouted suddenly, cable releasing with a metallic pop, sending them both tumbling down towards the ground. There wasn't even enough time to register fear before the pair crashed into the river's surface, water cutting straight through their thick gear like icy claws. Bucky hadn't expected it in the slightest and gasped involuntarily, inhaling a mouthful of the revolting cold that swirled around the two of them. His grip was broken and the current threatened to seize him, but Clint had already hooked his fingers into the back of Buck's hood and hauled him to the surface.
He gagged and coughed violently, thankful to be breathing air instead of river water and for Clint's steel grip on his jacket. He'd have slipped back under if he'd let go; the sensation of sudden cold caused his body to seize up in fear, even months after escaping HYDRA. Seconds passed before the shock wore off enough for him to move his limbs again, although the archer still practically dragged him to shore, just to be sure.
"Oh yeah, w-we might be getting wet so brace yourself." Clint's voice chattered with cold, and Buck's only response was to lightly punch him in the shoulder with his right arm. Another minute was spent ridding his lungs of the last traces of water while Clint shed his thoroughly soaked jacket, slipping his quiver back on as he watched the trail they had jumped from through some trees. Hopefully the soldiers wouldn't be able to see through the thick evergreen boughs. "You alright?" he spoke quietly as he turned his attention back to his partner, still bent and coughing and being not at all quiet. The archer patted his back, trying to help jar the last bits of water out of him. It took another thirty seconds or so for him to fully catch his breath.
Bucky removed his sopping winter gear as well, both of them left in shirts that clung to their skin. It didn't offer much protection from the wind, but it was better than dying of hypothermia. "… my com's fried, is yours working?" the soldier asked suddenly, realizing he couldn't hear a thing through his earpiece. Clint shook his head; the pieces were waterproof, but submerging them in water was a different matter entirely. They wouldn't be able to contact Steve or Natasha, or call for an evac. Fantastic. It was going to be on uncomfortable hike back to the compound, especially with them having to stick to cover. Without any further hesitation the two snipers ducked into the closest thicket, weaving their way back towards the predetermined rendezvous point to hopefully catch the rest of the team finishing up.
As soon as Clint had called for help, Steve had hastened his efforts on the last floor of the building. He'd finished mere moments before the link with the two snipers had crackled loudly then gone deathly quiet. The sudden silence had set an acidic fear into his heart; there was not even a moment's hesitation before he'd bolted out of the building. "Natasha, I need you to get the last agents in the courtyard; I'm going after Clint and Buck." He heard no response from the spy, but he knew that she had heard and would do as he asked.
The sprint across the still-occupied courtyard would have been alarming normally, but the Captain hardly blinked as bullets whizzed past or smacked against his shield. He melted into the tree line before anyone could get a shot into him. Even though he was out of immediate danger now he didn't slow one bit, rushing up to where he knew the two had dug themselves in. They had relayed earlier there was a poorly-marked trail leading to their roost, and he was able to find it quickly.
Dread was starting to weigh down his bones. The Captain had had a bad feeling about this mission from the beginning. We should have brought Stark along. But Stark wasn't involved with HYDRA as much as they were, and getting him tangled up in the web with them didn't seem fair. Besides, he was still recovering from stress, and this would no doubt bother him greatly.
The trail suddenly forked and he took the left branch of it, seeing faint footprints outlined in the snow. There were a lot of them, and he picked up his pace in an attempt to get there sooner. Even though he had only met Clint relatively recently, he'd grown attached to him readily. He had the sharp gaze of a sniper and young eyes that, at the time, had reminded him of Bucky. The whole horror of Loki's attack on New York and the mind control had only fostered a protectiveness of him which hadn't diminished in the slightest once his long lost friend had been rescued from HYDRA and brought into the Avengers fold.
Those minutes climbing the trail might as well have been hours, but when he reached the small ledge where they had planted their nest, he caught a small group of HYDRA agents by surprise as they picked through a handful of items. He recognized them as Bucky and Clint's packs. A few wore the patches of the Strike team and it was enough to cause Steve to grit his teeth in anger.
Without even giving them the chance to acknowledge his presence and attack, he had flung his shield at them as hard as he could, downing three of the men instantly with the direct impact and when it rebounded back to his waiting hands. The remaining four were hardly an obstacle, dispatched fast as lightning with both his shield and hand to hand. One of the bullets fired from the men knicked his arm, leaving just the barest of grazes, but the pain hardly registered as he searched the ledge frantically for any sign of the missing pair. Their sniper nest had been abandoned, Bucky's rifle left behind along with a few of Clint's stray arrows. He discovered footsteps on the opposite side of the boulder that their things had been propped up against, looking like something had been dragged over the edge. His heart sank into his stomach.
The height was about fifteen, twenty feet from what he could judge, with thick snowbanks piled up at the bottom. It was a rather risky choice but he took it anyway, jumping down so as not to waste time, the spongy snow absorbing most of the impact. He searched and searched but turned up nothing, at least, not until he reached the river a few dozen yards away.
Stiff, muddy jackets were abandoned on the far bank, matching the ones that both of the missing Avengers had been wearing. They must have jumped, or Clint used a grapple arrow. It was reassuring, as were the footsteps leading away back towards the compound, but the fact remained that they could have been gunned down before they got to the site or the meeting point. "Natasha, how are you holding up?" he spoke through his communicator, starting down the trail the footprints had left in the snow.
"Finished up about two minutes ago and waiting at the rendezvous point. You find them?" the Widow sounded a bit winded, but then again they all had just fought an uphill battle of a lot more soldiers than they had been prepared for.
"Not yet, but I'm following some footprints. Some HYDRA soldiers seemed to have ambushed them but I didn't find bodies or blood so I'm hoping they got away alright." Optimistic as always; it brought to mind a handful of times back in the war when Bucky had referred to him as 'Captain Optimism'. If she responded then he didn't hear it, eyes down on the trail and hearing trained for any telling sounds. He was going to find them no matter what; he wasn't leaving anyone behind in the cold again.
The long walk back to the meeting point was exhausting and strenuous; it was a hard enough hike on its own, but being soaking wet and chilled to the bone had only compounded that difficulty. Clint and his partner had arrived to find Natasha waiting for them, hidden behind the trunk of a long-fallen tree so as not to be seen easily by any stragglers. She looked surprised when she first spotted them, but it quickly melted away to irritation.
"And just what the hell happened to you?" Natasha might have looked angry, but her voice was all relief, "Rogers about worried himself sick when he lost you guys on the com." She added, digging through a small pack she had brought along, producing a handful of emergency blankets. Both snipers took them eagerly, huddling up against the tree trunk to try and get warm. They both might have been wet and chilled through still, but as far as they were concerned any heat was still heat. Clint's train of thought consisted primarily of cold, cold, cold and he was sure Barnes's was the same, perhaps with a few Russian expletives added in. They pulled the biggest blanket around the both of them and practically made of nest of it in the snow.
"Well it looks we've all figured out secondhand intel is rotten at best." The Widow gave the two an amused look before calling Rogers back, explaining she'd found them. Clint and the soldier were too exhausted and cold to really pay attention after that, too focused on getting warm and trying to ignore that they couldn't feel their hands or feet very well. Both of them probably would have killed a man right then and there just to sit in front of a fire.
It took all of ten minutes for Steve to return, sprinting into the small clearing from the direction of the snipers' abandoned post, breathing heavily and eyes alight with the wild look of panic. Barnes piped up first with some quip he didn't catch, but it sounded like it was funny and he felt a little bad for missing it. Whatever humor it may have held seemed lost on Rogers; he was looking at them both with nothing but clear and obvious relief.
"Are you guys hurt?" the Captain questioned, crouching down in front of their makeshift tangle of foil and thin fabric blankets. Both of them simply shook their heads in a negative, although it was hard to see as they were practically cocooned up together. "That's good, you two had me scared half to death." If Steve asked anything else, Clint didn't hear it. He had closed his eyes and practically melted into the blankets. Although he didn't say anything, he had seen the small blood stain on the man's uniform when he had gotten up to go speak to Nat out of his range of vision, but he didn't seem to be in pain so he left it for another discussion. Rogers was tough and a tiny scratch like that wouldn't slow him down any. As of then, however, his only priority was not feeling like he was part of the frozen ground he was sitting on, so he left to talking and planning of what next to Steve and Natasha.
To say he was relieved when he burst into the clearing to see both missing men wrapped up safe and sound in a mess of blankets was a hell of an understatement. The worst case scenarios had been playing over and over in his mind for the ten minute run back to the meeting point, and to then arrive and find them relatively unhurt? The three years he'd just docked off his lifespan due to worry came back, just glad that they weren't grievously injured or worse. He glanced over to Natasha after a moment of silence. "When is the pickup due?"
"Agent Hill said about three hours from mission start time." She murmured, checking her watch, "So we've got about… forty-five minutes." That was considerably longer than what Steve had been hoping for. Even though the two had said they were uninjured he was now more concerned with the very real threat of hypothermia.
"Those all the blankets we have?" he added, thinking of what to do to get them warmed up. They'd done the correct thing by leaving their soaked jackets behind, but without the ability to start a fire to dry them they were stuck like they were until Hill arrived with the SUV. Natasha's response was a nod; he'd been afraid of that. "Alright. Can you keep an eye open in case any of the HYDRA soldiers got away and try to get at us?" he knew he didn't need to ask, but it felt better just to speak it out loud.
"Sure, I'll do a sweep of the perimeter and be back in a few minutes." Was her only response before she practically disappeared into the shadows cast by the tall trees around their small clearing. Although he was rather sure all of the HYDRA personnel had been dealt with, it was always better to be safe than sorry when they were involved. He'd learned that lesson far too harshly in the past. Letting out a soft sigh the Captain walked back over to where the snipers were curled up, thinking for a moment before coming up with an idea.
"Alright you two, move." He said it sternly, but it was a soft sort of sternly. The sort of tone one would use after resigning oneself to something they weren't very thrilled about having to do in the first place. Internally he didn't mind, but he figured he'd act like it in case Natasha was still lurking around within earshot. The two just peeked at him from under all those blankets before reluctantly parting, Steve picking apart the cluster of fabric (he'd wonder the rest of the day how they managed to knot fabric and Mylar together so tightly) until the haphazard nest was deconstructed.
"Mylar first, even though it feels awful," he was more or less talking to himself, but he figured if either of the two were listening he might as well teach, "it'll keep your body heat close to you. Then the fabric, and anything waterproof on the outside if you have it." He spoke as he covered both Avengers in layers of the blankets in the correct order this time, so they wouldn't lose whatever heat they had left.
They both looked miserable, uninjured, but miserable. The soldier thought for a few moments before sighing, nudging Bucky a little with his foot, prompting him to move away from Barton another few feet. That gave him just enough space to sit between them, and hopefully help warm them up and keep them warm until Hill arrived to get them back to Avengers tower. He didn't even get a chance to pull the blankets around the three of them before Bucky had leaned heavily onto his side, trying to soak up as much of Steve's warmth as he could. There was a moment of quiet relief when he realized his friend's metal arm was on his other side, and not pressed into his ribs. Clint at least waited the five seconds it took him to finish tucking in the blankets before he did the same thing. This wasn't exactly a rare occurrence back at the tower, especially after long missions, but he was worried about being unable to jump up quickly should anyone stumble into the clearing. He'd just have to trust Natasha to take care of that if that happened.
Just out of sight Natasha was watching for any signs of danger, but also sneakily texting a picture of the scene with the label 'look at papa eagle in his nest' to Stark. She was sure he'd get a kick out of it.