"I am not," Clint says, turning on the shower head with rather more force than is strictly necessary, 'Going to any fucking carnival.'

"It's not a carnival," Romanoff says as she strips down and clambers in after him. "It's a street fair."

"A rose by any other name still smells like shit. No."

"Aren't you the romantic. Good thing I don't like flowers; it's obvious that I won't be getting any from you. It's not optional, Clint. Fury's laid down the law; we made the mess, so we get to celebrate the clean up.'

"Loki and the Chitauri made the mess," her partner corrected. "And I don't attend funerals any more than you do."

"Hey, I don't like the idea either," the Black Widow said. It sounded patently unconvincing. "Sunshine, falafel, street-meat, balloon animals, buskers, a special performance of Much Ado about Nothing by the troupe that does Shakespeare in the Park, in the actual park, such as it is these days anyway… There are even going to be fireworks after dark.'

"You work it, baby. No. Invite Cap if you want to go so badly. He loves that sort of thing, and is probably counting the days on his calendar.'

"It's not optional!"

"What're they going to do to me, if I refuse to go? Take away my birthday?"

"Cut the funding for R&D as pertains to your proposed winter line of arrowheads," Natasha said. Clint nearly slipped and fell on his bare ass. She caught him neatly.

"What? They wouldn't! Those arrowheads will save lives! Peripherally, anyway!"

"Fury's desperate. S.H.I.E.L.D's own funding at stake; the Chitauri might have thrown the first apartment complex, but they're not here to blame for the tax increases that result, are they? We are, or rather S.H.I.E.L.D is, and we're the new Faces Of."

"Can't Stark just throw money at them and make them shut up?'

"He could, but he won't. He wants to ride the Ferris wheel with Pepper, all night long. Hell, he's donating the Ferris wheel."

"What kind of Director," Clint said between clenched teeth as he scrubbed her back, "puts his two best undercover assassins on the front page of the proverbial paper?'

"The kind who was responsible, indirectly, for averting a nuclear crisis in Manhattan?"

"Nuclear crises are bad! Bad, bad, bad!"

"Not if they're appropriately authorized."

Clint threw the soap down. Hard.

"It would help," he snarled. "If you would act even a little sympathetic here. I have issues, dammit!"

"I'm sympathetic!" his partner protested. "I am!'

"Oh, you are not. He roped you in and dazzled you with that promise of falafel, never mind the animal balloons and Shakespeare in the fucking Park. You're a total sell-out, Romanoff, and…" He gurgled.

"Don't push me, Barton," she said. "Or I'll pull, and there's no amount of funding or R&D anywhere that will provide you with an appropriate replacement arrowhead.'

"Bitch," he said, strangled. "Ow. Leggo, leggo, or I'll…"

On the counter, outside the tub, the phone rang.

"That'll be Fury," Natasha said. "What shall I tell him?'

"That I'll be at his fucking street fair, and to watch his back, because he may not see me at any given point, but I'll definitely see him.'

"Sounds good," she said, and abruptly released him. He sank, gasping, to the floor of the tub as she clambered out again. "Hello, Nicolai. Yes, he'll go. On one condition; he wants a prototype of the new static arrowhead – item number fourteen on the list – to play within two weeks. Yes. Two weeks from today. Don't give me that bullshit; he has issues, you know that, and aside from which, I'm going to have to be actively controlling myself all day when it comes to all the drooling cows slinking up and petting his arms and admiring his hand-eye coordination. You do want me to control myself, don't you? I mean, we all know that I can be subtle in my expressions of distress, but you've promised me falafel. My fervid and unbridled inability to contain my enthusiasm there might just translate.'

Clint snorted with laughter, however painfully yet, as he hauled himself up.

"Mmhmm. Yes. Absolutely. Bye now."

The phone clattered back to the counter.

"There," she said, hauling back the shower curtain and stepping daintily back into the tub. "Never say that I do nothing for you, Barton."

"I've never, ever said that," Barton said. "I wouldn't dare. You'd eat me. Or rather… You wouldn't."

"And it would be a blatant lie besides?' she prompted.

"You talk too much," he said. "Don't make me buy you roses, woman. Between my allergies and your autonomic aversion to the principle there, we'd never recover.'

"I have no problem with the principle. I have a problem with the cliché. Thor brings Jane roses. Tony brings Pepper roses."

"Jarvis orders roses on Tony's behalf," Barton corrected.

"My point is, is that I'm not so easily impressed.'

"I shall keep that in mind,' he said. "When I feel the need to impress you. More so than I already do, anyway.' He reached for the shampoo

"Mm. What do you think Banner brings Cap? And vice versa?'

"That there's a dead horse, Romanoff. Let it rot, really."

"I can't. I haven't figured out all the hypothetical logistics yet, and that leaves it as unfinished psychological business. Ignore those long enough, and it'll turn into an actual issue, and then where will I be? Up the Hudson River without so much as the proverbial falafel or balloon-on-a-stick.'

Barton just rolled his eyes and reached for the conditioner.