Barton howls his name, a dulled echo up one of the tunnels reamed down into the heart of this mountain, sound waves distorted by the glaze of ice. “Banner, tell me you've got a kit!”
Bruce has been running again, doing weight work with Steve, doing his part to keep up with his team even in his lab-friendly form, but this place is more gerbil habitat than Bond villain lair and it's taking a toll, hours of rooting out some dickhead calling himself Doctor Doom. Bruce isn't built to withstand this much jogging while eye rolling.
He rounds the corner with a deft slide--some things never leave you, like how to pack an ice ball or skid across a frozen puddle--but it takes a moment to see Barton’s kneeling on the bare rock floor. The hacking gives his location away.
“Cap, we need extraction!” Bruce shouts over comms, already digging through the backpack of supplies, “What happened, I heard her not five minutes ago--”
“Freeze ray. Fun shit.” Barton has freed the chunk of ice from Natasha's face, and it looks like anything touching bare skin is loose enough to pull away once cracked. A thick layer of ice holds fast to her tac wear, though, and is chilling her down incredibly fast.
She's greyish blue, the skin of her neck waxy when Bruce feels for a pulse.
Barton wrenches ice from around her chest, ripping the fabric at her armpit, which is a neat trick with a Kevlar blended weave. Bruce tilts her head back and takes the sheathed combat knife from Barton’s hand.
Barton's rescue breath shifts Natasha’s ribs, textbook perfect. Bruce uses the knife handle to pry more ice from her belly, to crack the thick layer coating her legs.
It's like excavating your car after an ice storm, except she's not running hot enough to melt it from the inside. And it's spreading back onto areas they'd cleared, creeping toward her diaphragm again even as she pulls in a breath on her own.
“Atta girl,” Barton's smile is even more murderous than his resting face, and twice as contagious. Natasha's breathing is nothing to write home about but at least it's noticeable now. “Doc, please tell me our options aren't as shitty as they look.”
The ice is forming over a thin layer of some kind of supercooling fluid soaked into her uniform, an endothermic reaction pulling water from the atmosphere and heat from her body as long as it encases her.
“No, they're possibly shittier--we've got to get this off,” Bruce sits back on his heels, reticent. It's not like he hasn't thought about getting her out of the suit, though he can't think of a worse scenario right now than hypothermia in a combat zone.
“Nat, we've gotta peel you kid, sorry,” Barton says, plucking the knife from Bruce's hand. Barton cheats by going along the seams of the blade resistant fabric.
“Gently, gently,” Bruce tears open a thermal wrap and fumbles to shake it out. “Heart rhythm gets dodgy this cold, let’s not to jostle her too much.”
Barton eases her up to sit, singing with false cheer, “Bananas, in pajamas, running down the stairs.” It’s more like skinning than peeling, pulling her limbs free from the crackling suit, trying not to get any of the fluid on their own hands or gear.
“Ffkyou, Clnnt,” Natasha is sluggish, and Bruce can't tell if she's trying to help or fight back.
“That's the spirit,” Barton leaves her socks and boots on, and replaces her tainted gloves with a pair he pulls out of his pocket.
“ssch nnasshole...” she grumbles, stripped down to her undertank and something like bicycle shorts, a dark charcoal color that only makes her look more slate blue, her skin so goosepimpled it almost feels like shark skin.
They work together to try to wrap the thin shiny blanket around her, tucking ends under the straps of her athletic bra, shoving their legs beneath her to insulate her from the rock floor, Barton continues to sing, “Bananas, in pajamas, chasing little bears.”
“...sonofadog,” Natasha keeps mumbling, “cutoutyourfuckingtongue…”
“Won't stop me humming, sunshine,” Barton turns his head to the side to bark into his comm, “Cap!”
Tony's voice crackles through the comms instead, “Small tunnel collapse, Thor’s digging him out, I'm batting clean up, ETA fifteen at best if there isn't another squad hidden somewhere.” There's a crackle and he adds, “Make that thirty.”
The pulse under Bruce's fingertips is thready and slow, and she's too cold to shiver, too cold for the blanket to do any good even with them curled around her. Bruce shakes his head.
“We can't shelter in place, we're moving out” Barton's already jamming her guns and gear into pockets, shifting her weight onto Bruce, “She's gonna keep whispering sweet nothings in your ear, don't pay it any mind, just keep singing.”
“Helps her focus on the fact you're a friendly, you don't want the instincts kicking in,” Barton says, “I'll help you with the fireman carry but then you're on your own, I'll need to worry about covering you two.”
Natasha sighs out a syncopated length of consonants Bruce suspects are just as unintelligible in Russian, but they get her across his shoulders, still wrapped in the shiny thermal blanket like a burrito to go.
“Get singing, doc,” Barton shakes out his bow, “but no Christmas music. That was a nightmare assignment.”
“Um,” he feels pinned by the dense weight of muscle and bone across his shoulders, and by his inability to remember a lyric to save his life.
“No karaoke fallback, Banner? Jesus,” Barton takes point and leads them out.
A few yards down the tunnel Bruce feels her shift tighter around his neck and starts muttering the first thing to come to mind, from a tape Betty’d had stuck in the deck of her car for a whole semester until it finally broke, “One Saturday I took a walk to Zipperhead, I met a girl there and she almost knocked me dead…”
They get a few levels up, meeting only token resistance, and Bruce has unearthed nearly the whole song by stumbling through it several times. Natasha is still a cold weight, but Bruce has been doing farmer's walks under the expectant gaze of Captain America, so he's doing okay.
“Punk Rock Girl, give me a chance, let’s go slam dance, and we’ll dress like Minnie Pearl…”
Through another empty storage room to a metal submarine style round door, but the tunnel beyond is hazy with dust. Barton closes it decisively.
“Found the collapse.” He chews his lip, and by now Bruce knows he's turning around the map he's been building inside his head, and finding no good path around the blockage. The room is coated in ice and sports a few empty wire racks, no place to rest. Natasha is ice cold when Bruce reaches up to check her pulse.
Barton must read it on his face because he stashes the bow on a rack and half pulls, half catches Natasha as Bruce rolls her off. “Compressions,” he lays her out on the blanket on the ground, “might be enough to get her back in sinus rhythm.”
Barton sets to it, and Bruce keeps checking when he pauses, and shucking his outerwear in between.
Natasha brings a knee up hard into Barton's ribs, and the man laughs in relief. They gently bully her into Bruce's coat and ski pants. Her eyes look rimmed in blood and kohl, and she's spasming in something too slow to be a shiver, but he'll take it. Barton takes over the song, voice shaky as he curls around Natasha.
“We went to the Philly Pizza Company and ordered some hot tea, the waitress said, ‘Well no, we only have it iced’, so we jumped up on the table and shouted ‘Anarchy!’...”
Bruce aims his intent, strips off his shirt, and opens the door into the tunnel.
Hulk rips the door off.
Hulk holds it in two hands and rams his knee into the middle, bending it into something like a shovel.
He uses it to scoop the rubble blocking the tunnel. Doctor Builds-Robots thinks he’s smarter than Asimov but can’t dig a decent tunnel. Asshole.
Hulk roars when he gets to the hangar and the swarm of Doombots. Hulk plays jai alai, using the door to catch and launch the robots at the opposite wall. Hulk likes the sparks.
Hulk grunts with satisfaction, and turns back for the other two.
They are tiny, huddled like mice. He is angry for them, and also annoyed that Hawk is pointing a gun at him. He narrows his eyes, rumbles pointedly, “Hulk left coat.”
Hawk lowers the gun, but not his guard. Red mumbles, and Hawk relays, “She said she's not giving it back."
Hulk also works with assholes. But Hulk likes these assholes. “Hulk hot.”
“You're delusional,” Hawk mutters to her, “if he's coming on to anyone, it's you.”
Hulk tosses the battered door aside and lays his open hand on a wire rack, which starts to ping as the metal heats up.
Hawk gets it, scrambling his feet under him and pulling Red up gently. “Don't look at me like I'm stupid, I'm moving, I'm moving.”
Red sways, and eyes Hulk as he reaches for her and crouches down. She lets Hulk drape her across his shoulders like a towel. He shrugs against her ticklish hair. Hawk tucks the burrito wrapper around her, and it feels like a scarf warming up around Hulk’s neck.
Red mutters darkly violent thoughts about Doctor Doom. Hulk catches her arm and leg between the fingers of one hand.
“Sing,” Hulk tells Hawk.
Red’s teeth start to chatter in his ear. The other guy tells him that's good.
Like Hulk needs input from another asshole with a PhD.