Disclaimer: If I owned... oh my gosh. We all know it's a pipe dream. I am not Marvel, or Disney, or Joss Whedon, or anyone. I am just a dumb fiction writer, and this, my dumb fiction.

Summary: It isn't a party until someone brings out the crossbow.

Characters/Pairings: Avengers, Loki, lil Clint/Natasha

Notes: attacked by this idea in the dead of night. I regret nothing.

Word Count: 1878


Crossbows
(or: How I Attended Natasha Romanoff's Birthday Party and Lived to Tell the Tale)

It isn't a party until someone brings out the crossbow.

It's Hawkeye's new thing. Different, ya know? He slurs and attempts to clamber on top Natasha's living room table. Because it's her birthday and she was stupid enough to invite them all. But she doesn't have any other friends besides, and they had all saved the world together once. So it made a sort of sense, eight hours and a handful of shots ago.

Tony brought the alcohol. Really expensive stuff in bottles without labels. And Steve thinks that was a little unfair. Because he can't get drunk. Can't even come close. Not even a placebo effect… whatever that is. So he's stuck as babysitter, which makes him a little grumpy. Because no one likes a babysitter… also, Tony keeps picking at him drunkenly. It would be funny and better tolerated would he be at the same level. But he's not, so it isn't.

And now Clint is on the table, wood groaning under his weight as he demonstrates the vastly varied positions in which a crossbow would come in handy and wishing he could show off the spring loaded trigger and trying desperately to remember where Bruce hid the arrows. Because at drunken heart, he's a five year old on the playground trying to impress the pretty girl with his new toy.

Unfortunately, Thor has her attention currently. As he's terribly perplexed by the television and it's tiny touch-sensitive buttons. Plus, it seems that Thor builds up static electricity without trying: he apologized four times before the drink kicked in about shorting out her microwave earlier when he volunteered to heat up the pizza rolls. He was then designated to the couch, where the proximity only caused Bruce's hair to frizz a little at the tips.

And Bruce doesn't mind. But he also doesn't drink. Except right now, and he's getting a little used to the idea. Although judging by Steve's grumpy face, and the amount of alcohol being spilled on the carpet, this whole birthday party idea won't be happening again. Which is ok. Because he doesn't believe they could top the happy memory of a surprise birthday cake -crafted miraculous by the whole group- followed by an off-key rendition of Happy Birthday. Nor the look on Natasha's face. And he definitely wouldn't trade it for… Calcutta. But there's a lesson here also, hidden beneath all the layers of continuing alcohol where his reasonable side is sleeping soundly, one that will have full effect in the next morning.

Left momentarily unattended, Clint has begun his snooping, searching out the cupboards and crannies. Steve is troubled to keep his cool as Tony is practically parked on his lap asking him all sorts of questions about life after the thaw and if he'd like a Turbo Rocket Popsicle or if he feels he has more in common with a red or blue snow cone. Meanwhile, Thor has just caused the television to smolder and Natasha can't quite work out where she feels emotionally about this and decides another shot is in order. Its called and everyone participates, even Steve, who figures that there has to be an effect gained somewhere, even if it is only deniability for his actions when he eventually cold-clocks Stark into the next apartment.

No one but Clint notices Loki. Because well, he isn't there of course. But a projection can do wonders, and the God of Mischief is quite good. He's standing in the kitchen, leaning against the stove -because why bother if you can't look good at being bad- and pointing toward the top cupboard where Natasha keeps her Mrs Dash, a single wooden spoon, three hand grenades, a knife she lovingly refers to as Abe, and where also currently resides three steel-tipped arrows.

Clint knows that he should be off-put by Loki's presence. The guy's in Asgardian jail after all. But he knows by the silent movement of Loki's mouth that upward lies the purpose of his search and all wariness goes right out the window and over a high cliff, irretrievable. He may not know what the arrows do, precisely, but he has a girl to impress anyway. Can't be bothered by warning labels or evil demi gods that aren't supposed to be there, but are there, and whatever sense that doesn't make.

Everyone's hair is beginning to frizz by now because apparently Thor has become a sour drunk and by innate design gives off waves of some sort of electromagnetic attraction. Steve keeps pushing the ends of his hair back to his head; Tony keeps mussing them up, giggling like a child.

Bruce is about ready to say something -although he has no idea what- as Natasha is looking rather upset as well over her smoldering television, wondering who she can threaten into fixing it.

All is forgotten as Clint pounces into the room, arrow cocked in the crossbow, his finger poised on the trigger, whooping like a banshee.

"Watch 'er go!" He hiccups and lets the arrow fly.

It's a well-made crossbow and the arrow likewise a beauty and inspiration: if it was a women, love-sick poets and deaf composers would have written their greatest works to it. The set is the best in fact that money can buy… or rather, that S.H.I.E.L.D can manufacture exclusively. And Clint is also a very good shot. The best. He can fire off twelve regular arrows in half a second, with his eyes closed, hanging upside down from a banana tree.

And yet.

And yet the stars have aligned -which is to say: the vodka shots have hit like a Chinese gong- and not even the world's greatest craftsman and his craft are safe.

The arrow bounces off the ceiling and ricochets around the room, shattering objects and splattering the occupants to the floor, out of it's deadly and insane trajectory.

Steve has just enough time to dive out of the way, taking Tony with him, crashing into the wooden table that splinters under the weight of the two men. Bruce flips over the back of the sofa with a grace heretofore unbeknownst to him. Natasha isn't sure what further insanity is transpiring around her and is too busy pouring another shot when the arrow whizzes past her head, missing her tousled red curls but taking her paper crown off completely. The arrow continues around the room, bouncing off walls and into vases and through lace curtains. It's a guided mini-missile after all, one Clint forgot to arm, and it, as with any purpose-made thing, is lost without a target -like a chicken without it's head, just working off the flaring impulses. Clint watches it destroy with a distant sinking feeling although he claps his hands like a delighted child with his Christmas present nonetheless.

Until the arrow head points straight for Thor's chest, drawn to him perhaps by the same electromagnetism set off by his foul mood. He is drunk and frustrated and is in no mood for zinging projectiles. As it nears him, he simply flicks his hand into the air and sends the tip wildly off-course… and straight into the center of Natasha's TV.

There is a moment of silence {although the dying television gives off a great amount of popping wails) as slowly the band assembles themselves into a standing position. Natasha is a little put off that her Birthday Girl crown is lying in a heap halfway across the room but all the others are staring at Clint in varying degrees of anger, ranging from the mild disinterest of Thor who is rather thinking that parties on Asgard are a safer place for someone of his formidable presence to the raging fury of Steve who admittedly is already put off by the way Tony is carrying on in a fake southern belle accent, hanging all over him and proclaiming Captain America his hero forever and ever. Its impossible to berate calmly with this sort of ridiculousness.

But he tries anyway, pushing Stark to the couch and ripping the crossbow from Clint's hands. The man is already starting to see the error of his drunken display; his face is a crestfallen frown like nothing Steve has ever seen before. So when he opens his mouth to firmly declare the severity of the situation, he instead finds his words tempered.

"This was wrong, Clint. You know that?"

Hawkeye nods quickly.

"Ok then," says Steve. "Go and play nice and leave the weaponry alone."

He feels like he's speaking to a child. And yet it seems perfectly appropriate. Clint immediate bounds away with a grin on his face, trailing after Natasha as she searches the apartment for a roll of tape to mend her broken crown. When the pair passes by Steve again Clint has apologized for ruining her TV but Natasha is waving away his concern with the admission that she thinks his crossbow is very sexy, a declaration that practically pops Clint's wide eyes from his delighted face.

Tony is passed out in the position he fell, snuggling up to Steve's discarded jacket. And drooling. Bruce has found his way to the bathroom and is there discovering the effects of one too many shots after one too long of a dry spell.

Thor is in the kitchen, having a heated debate with the ghostlike image of his brother, who is thoroughly unrepentant for his role in the evening's proceedings and blips out of sight right when Thor works up a really good speech about the endangerment of others and the need to tighten security in Asgard. With a roar that shudders the entire apartment, Thor follows after his brother.

Steve is left on the couch. The television smolders and whines, and the billionaire sleeps on. The confiscated crossbow sits on his knees. There is a cacophony: giggling and gagging and snoring and Steve feels very much exhausted. He stares at the empty bottles of expensive alcohol wistfully, wishing. And then he spies it and a devious desire takes seed in his mind.

He's a good boy, he figures as his eyes dart from black sharpie to the serenely-sleeping face of his tormentor. But even good boys fall off the wagon every now and then.

The next morning finds Clint under a kitchen table fort next to Natasha. Couch pillows and table cloths lay in a scattered radius around the collapsed fort along with swords and cannons fashioned from broom handles and empty paper towel containers. Natasha's got makeup smeared across her face like war paint and by the inflexibility of his face, Clint is sure he does too. He can't remember which warring historical army came out victorious. Bruce wakes up next to the toilet, feeling refreshed, considering. He has slept on worse things after all than the cold tile of a bathroom floor.

No one seems to remember when Thor left or if he said goodbye.

Steve is the only one with his wits of the evening fully about him and yet over breakfast he is strangely quiet when Tony demands to know who sharpie-d a uni-brow on his face during the night. Captain America is the poster boy of innocence as he sips his coffee and encourages the group to wish Natasha another round of Happy Birthday's over toasted waffles and concentrated orange juice.

Unanimously, all plans for Fury's Birthday Bash are put on hiatus.

fin