"D One to D Two."
"D Two," Clint whispers into his headset. "I'm in position. What's the play?"
"The sheepdog maneuver."
Clint grins, wishing he could see himself in a mirror, because he has a feeling this is one of the more vicious grins in his repertoire.
"Roger that, D One. D Three-P-O, what's your status?"
"Thirty seconds to position, had to dodge Banner. He's still human-shaped."
"Good work, D Three. D One proceeding to head."
Clint clicks his tongue twice in confirmation, hears Natasha do the same. He crouches down behind the small snow mound he'd scraped together, and runs his eye over his weaponry again. Sixty projectiles in varying sizes, from walnut to tennis ball depending on the distance it has to travel. This arctic freeze was good for something; there is no danger his munitions are going to melt prematurely when it's this cold.
"D Three in position," Natasha says.
Clint pokes his white-fleece-capped head up above his cover, enough so he can take the lay of the land. He can see Coulson's inconspicuous shape creep to his two, nearly indistinguishable from the snow-covered ground and trees. He can also see their targets, only hoping they could ever learn to be anything as stealthy as Phil Coulson.
Well, okay, that's a slight exaggeration. Cap is nearly invisible, too; if Clint wasn't who he was, he might've missed him. Rhodey is also giving them a run for their money; he's not too far off Nat's position, probably smelling ambush.
Too late, of course. Natasha slips to Clint's ten, crouching in position.
"D Three is go."
"D One is go."
"I see you both," Clint murmurs. "Natasha, watch your nine, you've got company. All right, folks. Time to show them how it's done."
Clint can hear the anticipatory smile in Phil's voice when he says, "Strike Team Delta, let's get 'em."
Not a second after Phil finished speaking, Natasha has launched a snowball at Rhodey, who goes down with a surprised splutter. Clint straightens and lobs his first two forays into the fray, taking Tony at forehead and stomach. Tony doubles over, choking, and Clint allows himself a punch to the air.
Then, he has to dodge really very fast as Steve rears up on the other side of his blockade, using his bulk to narrow down Clint's reach and cut off his line of sight to his team. He vaults over the top of the snow wall, tackling Clint in the same move. Clint was this close to getting away, except the damn snow slows him down, always has done. Natasha never lets him live it down. Steve pulls him to the ground, stuffing his head into the snow and laughing gleefully. Clint would be disgruntled, except Steve sounds so damn happy, it's contagious.
Just when he thinks he's gonna have to eat snow and call 'uncle', Steve makes a shocked sound and goes over face-first into a drift. In his place, Coulson looms over Clint, offering him a hand up. Clint takes it, grinning.
"Thanks, boss," he says, already rushing past, going to cover the position Coulson had to abandon to save his ass.
"Don't mention it," Phil calls easily, dropping into a defensive stance as Steve rolls back to his feet with a feral grin.
"You really think you can take me, Phil?" Steve says, and Clint hisses through his teeth.
"Ooh, Cap, you asked for that one."
Steve raises a challenging eyebrow at Coulson, who just smiles. Hot damn, but Clint would've loved to stay and watch. Good thing Jarvis is taping this, so that they can all look it over and talk strategy when they're inside and dry and sipping their beverage of choice.
Banner roars somewhere in the distance, the pitch changing as he goes. He's letting the Big Guy out to play, then. Clint has to wonder for a second about the size of snow balls he'd be able to heft, before shaking his head. They're in for it now, and to the Hulk, it doesn't much matter which of them are on his team, and which are nominally his enemies in this game. Big Guy just likes playing in the snow.
"Friend Hulk, throw me in the air and I shall valiantly defeat mine enemy Clint," Thor yells, and the Hulk is only too happy to oblige. He likes throwing Thor at the bad guys. It's a thing, and at least it's an improvement on punching him just because he knew Thor was big enough to take it. Then Thor is splitting the air in two with a victorious bellow, bearing down on Clint.
So, of course, Clint beats a strategic retreat, using Tony's unwary leg - squishy and human out of the armor - as a stepping stone to somersault overhead and twist to a ten-point landing on the other side. He grins madly at Tony's squawking protests, and legs it.
"Not so fast, Bird Boy," he hears, just before he's borne off his feet and dumped into a drift as tall as him, sinking fast through the soft powder.
"Unfair," he yells, teeth chattering. Even with Tony's super-cold-resistant undersuits, he's got snow in his neck and is this close to just plonking himself on his ass and complaining until he gets to go inside again. Unlike his former Strike Force Delta team member, he hates the snow. Nothing good ever happened to him when it was this cold; he'd nearly gotten frostbite up to his knees and elbows at least twice apiece.
"Dude, you're the fool who insisted your old Special Ops team could wipe the floor with all seven of us. You got no one to blame but yourself," Sam tells him, far too happy about it.
Oh, yeah. Team Member Seven. Clint had forgotten all about him, until he feels a shiver crawl up his spine, and knows with pants-wetting certainty that the Winter Soldier is standing behind him.
"I didn't know he'd want to play," Clint whines, because the odds were good before, but once Barnes deigned to get off his high horse and join in the horsing around, they'd gone to minus eighty at least. "We should have him on our team, actually, if you wanted to make a point of it."
"How'd you figure that?" Barnes asks. His voice is much, much better than the deathly rasp that had emerged from his mouth when he'd first turned up, painfully undernourished and with an arm that hadn't quite set right and had had to be rebroken before it could heal; but it's still a far cry from the easy, warm drawl Clint had gotten used to from the old reels that Phil is obsessed with.
He's talking, though, and that's a straight-up win as far as Clint's concerned.
He also clearly expects an answer, and let's be honest, Clint's got nothing. He just feels like the Soldier ought to be on their side, because it's winter. (Hey, he never said he had to make sense.)
"Well," he starts, but he's saved by the pained grunt of Rhodey flying towards them to land at Clint's feet, limbs spread every-which-way.
"I give," Rhodey wheezes. "Barton, I wanna switch teams. Don't wanna fight the Widow no more. That's cruel and unusual punishment and I ain't done nothing wrong."
Clint leans over, offering Rhodey a hand up. "Well, that's one way to win, I guess. Seduce everyone over to our side with the promise not to let Natasha beat them to a pulp."
Barnes' mouth lifts in one corner, and Clint swears he can see something very much like anticipation spark in his eyes.
"I'm game for a good fight," he says quietly, already stalking in the direction of Natasha darting around the Hulk as fast as a wasp.
"D Three-P-O, you got incoming," Clint says, but the fight's gone out of him. He's as competitive as the next person, but when it's not life-and-death, he's just as pleased to sit the skirmish out, crunch popcorn and heckle the players. Rhodey sits down next to him, and Sam takes his other side. Tony slinks over, too, looking forlorn.
"This is just because Pepper refused to play," he laments. "She'd have melted all your projectiles with her brain and then you'd be sitting ducks."
"You're assuming Pepper would be on our side," Rhodey points out, not unreasonably. Pepper's best friends are Natasha and Phil. Tony and Rhodey's team handicap would've gone way down.
"Oh, yeah," Tony says, sulking. "Can't believe my girlfriend would have only been too pleased to shaft me."
"Didn't you guys break up?" Sam muses.
Tony waves a dismissive hand. "Semantics," he says. "Pepper loves me."
"When she doesn't want to kill you," Rhodey counters.
"Stop making sense, Rhodes, it's not attractive," Tony grumbles.
"I beg to differ, Sir. I find it a pleasant change."
"See, Tony? Jarvis likes me," Rhodey says smugly.
"JARVIS would date you if he could. He loves you."
Rhodey preens, while Sam looks to the heavens, shaking his head.
"Y'all are crazycakes," he says despairingly. "I miss my nice, sane, uncomplicated life."
Rhodey grins slyly. "But then you wouldn't have Cap to ogle, and let's face it, that'd be a terrible loss," he drawls.
Sam offers Rhodey his fist to bump. "I like your friends, Steve," he yells, as Steve trails closer, looking a little winded. Phil pads easily at his side, fresh as a daisy, if a little flushed. Clint knows Phil just had his seven-year-old self's daydream enacted in real life, and can't begrudge him the slightly dazed grin.
"They're crazy," Steve echoes. Then, after a tiny pause, he adds, "But the good kind," shooting them a pleased little grin. He looks around. "Hey, where's—oh."
The six of them turn to watch Natasha and Barnes spar, little more than shadows slinking over the snow, barely disturbing it despite their combined weight.
"That's sorta hypnotizing," Rhodey says, hushed. The others nod, eyes trying to follow the fight, mostly without success.
"How the hell do you sleep in the same bed as him?" Tony says, with his usual elephant-shaped tact.
"Very comfortably," Steve says dryly. He used to rise to Tony's bullshit a lot more, before he worked out that Tony actually likes that.
Clint shifts a little, leaning back into the strong, muscled legs he knows he'll find behind him. Phil's hand closes briefly over his left shoulder, thumb rubbing at his collarbone. Clint would go boneless and let Phil hold him up, except that he's too cold, damn it.
"I'm heading inside," he decides. He's seen Nat fight in the snow too many times for it to still make him feel like a little mouse in the presence of a crafty cat. "And I'm taking the longest bath. What're we having for dinner? Not Chinese," he says when Tony opens his mouth. They've had it delivered three times this week already, and while Clint loves Chinese food, if he sees one more won ton this month, he might cry.
"Thai?" Tony tries, while Sam snickers.
"Pizza," Phil suggests. Rhodey perks up, and that's before Thor walks nearer.
"Pizza! I love this mighty Midgardian savory pie. I would be much pleased with a feast of peperoni and pineapple."
"How does he eat that stuff," Rhodey mutters, appalled.
"Bruce likes it, too," Clint tells him, shrugging at Rhodey's disgusted face.
He levers himself to his feet, gaze catching on Phil's smiling eyes, and maybe he loses a little time staring into the blue. He could sink into those eyes, bask in that look of gentle affection for decades.
Which is why he is definitely, woefully unprepared for the truck-load of snow that lands over his head, sending him careening into Phil and nearly taking both of them down onto the ground. Above them, the Hulk laughs like two tombstones crashing together, slow and full of a simple kind of glee. Thor laughs too, loud and booming, hands resting on his stomach. Clint watches him through hair lumpy with snow, wanting to be annoyed but finding himself full of the kind of cheer that is too long in coming, too precious to waste.
The commotion does have the bonus effect of bringing Nat and Barnes out of their little world. When Clint pushes himself upright again, reluctantly withdrawing from Phil's warm, reassuringly strong arms, they are walking over, and even Barnes' face holds something soft and open, making him look much closer to the man standing at Steve's side in all the photographs that survived from the years of the Howling Commandos. Well, Clint's glad to have given him reason for levity, at least.
"Very funny, Big Guy," he grumbles, while the Hulk keeps laughing and looking like the vast snowdrifts around them are as warm as a sandy beach. "Now I definitely need a shower – and Stark, I'm raiding your brandy cabinet. You wanna keep something for yourself, hide it now."
"You insult me," Tony scoffs. "What's mine is yours, et cetera."
"Mighty generous of you, Stark," Phil says evenly, nudging Clint away and towards where they're taking advantage of the unexpected pre-holiday lull in superhero crime. The house is a large, sprawling mansion, closer to the definition of an estate than any kind of mountain cabin could hope to achieve. More importantly, it's warm, the insulation a work of art that Clint appreciates the hell out of. Every room comes with its own bath and fireplace. It's like a dream home he gets to stay at for free, and share with his friends.
Life, Clint has learned the hard way, is all about the small things. And if Phil enjoys so very much sprawling on the sofa before said fireplace, clad in thin sleep clothes and bundled up in myriad blankets, shoulder leaning into Clint's chest and head resting on Clint's shoulder - well, it's not something Clint is going to complain about in this lifetime. He ignores Tony's snarking, which he knows Phil in fact enjoys way too much to discourage, takes Phil's hand and, shoving subtlety off a cliff in favor of getting Phil where he wants him, drags him off towards the house.
"We may be late for pizza," he calls over his shoulder. Phil flushes crimson at the resulting catcalls, but doesn't let go of his hand. It makes Clint all kinds of warm inside, the way Phil just... commits to them, and doesn't care who knows it.
"You realize Captain Rogers is thinking about us having sex right now," Phil hisses.
Clint gives him a raised eyebrow. "I would. It's a hot mental picture. Besides, what d'you think him and Barnes've been doing for the past month, playing scrabble in their room all night?"
Phil swallows thickly. Clint grins, a wicked, wicked thought coming into his head that he knows he's going to have to indulge in – it's simply too tempting to dismiss. Phil is going to hate it, as much as he's going to love it; and besides, what is life without a little adventure?
He tries to school his face, knows he's mostly unsuccessful by the suspicious look Phil sends him.
"I'm going to tell you a little story as soon as I get you in that bath, Phil, and you're going to enjoy it a lot. I promise."