A/N: Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate! Or if you don't, happy Monday. I wrote this fic for crazy4orcas over on LJ, thought I'd share it here, too. Thanks to the wonderful Ayefah for encouraging this madness and helping me research zoological concerns.

Talking Like Peter Lorre

"Barton." Fury finds him in his bunk since it's downtime and his shift doesn't start for another four hours. "Change of plans. Get in your gear. Dr. Romanoff needs a buddy."

"What?" Clint asks, and a second later, puts it together. "No can do. She's mammals, I'm avian, our sort simply doesn't mix."

"I'm sorry, who was it that made the call that we needed an Orcinus orca expert to round out our research party? Yeah, I thought so. Get your ass in your long johns, Doctor, she wants to leave five minutes ago."

The base commander strides off, muttering under his breath about impulsive Russians and the bird-brained bird scientists who insist upon fairness, and Clint knows enough about Dr. Natasha Romanoff that he scrambles into gear—she'll definitely leave without him. She regards base rules as more like guidelines. Guidelines to be ignored, specifically. So he tugs on his gear as he runs through the Selvig/Hill Information, Experimentation, and Learning Division (any excuse, he thinks, to give a place a nickname like SHIELD) base, blowing past Banner's crustacean lab, Tony's engineering division, and the cafeteria, which is full of the night shift getting dinner before they collapse.

Night and day look pretty much the same in Antarctica. It throws the newbies off, but Clint's four months into his stint, so he's used to it.

He finds Dr. Natasha "Call me 'Sweetheart' again and I shall use you for chum, Dr. Barton" Romanoff down at the harbor, signing out a zodiac. She doesn't seem particularly impressed with how fast he's made it across base, though she should be, Clint thinks. He was really booking it. "You made it," is all she says.

"Fury didn't let me know until five minutes ago. Give me a break." He signs the acquisition form, too, and notes their charted course. It makes him groan. He was hoping to get out of the zodiac and walk at some point, but it's all water. "Really? Weren't you there last week?"

She raises an eyebrow. Her parka is black, with a stripe of bright red down the front, but she's wearing the same cold-weather gear he is, otherwise. His own parka is a lurid shade of purple. What? He likes purple. It's easy to spot, not as easy as red or anything, and he likes it. Everything in the science world is orange or red.

"You've been paying attention to where I go, Barton?" she asks as she picks up the med-kit, leaving him the second, heavier bag of her surveying equipment, and the camera bag as well.

For a second, though, he falters. "I just happened to spot it while I was signing out some equipment last week," he says, and it's probably the lamest lie he's ever told, but Natasha mercifully says nothing as they head down to the slip where their zodiac is located. From there, they check the comms, report their destination and ETA to dispatch, and head out, Clint at the rudder. He prefers piloting the boats.

He doesn't prefer the cold, but he should have thought about that before he decided that penguins sounded pretty cool.

Natasha doesn't speak as the zodiac cuts through the miles of brackish water. He watches her out of the corner of his eye—though she's as covered up as he is and it's kind of pointless. Miles pass in silence.

When she goes tense and grabs his arm, he eases back on the throttle. "What?" he asks.

"I spotted a fluke. Cut the engine a minute, will you."

He shrugs and does so without pointing out that it'll take them even longer to reach their destination. She's smart. The two PhDs in zoology mean she can probably do math. He scans the water, looking for any signs of tail or fin. "Why orcas?" he asks, quite without meaning to.

She doesn't look away from the water. "Why chinstraps?"

"Well, duh. They're cool. Also, they don't eat innocent penguins."

Though he's teasing (well, about some of it, chinstrap penguins are cool), Natasha finally looks away from the water. "You really believe in innocence in the wild, Barton?"

"Well, yeah, have you seen orcas' faces? They look so evil." He attempts to make a grimacing face, but the effect is probably ruined by that his face is covered by a balaclava.

"You're an idiot," Natasha says, but she sounds actually affectionate for once.

"Plus, every time I think about it, I can't help but think if they had human voices, they'd all talk like Peter Lorre."

"I do not understand your American pop culture, Barton."

"So many cultural gaps, Romanoff. You, me, movie marathon in the cantina tonight. This can be fixed."

She tells him something in Russian. Clint figures it's probably not kind to him or his relatives, but at least she's kind of smiling at him. For a minute, silence falls over the zodiac as they drift in the chop, waiting for a tailfin or a dorsal fin to make an appearance.

Nothing happens. After a moment, Natasha lets out a soft sigh. "We'd best get on with it," she says, her voice neutral, "if we're going to make it back to base on time."

Clint, however, is torn by the desire to wait just a few minutes longer, to see if any of the whales surface. For all of his joking, he does like orcas. He just doesn't like the fact that they eat penguins, even though he understands it. So he reluctantly reaches to pull the choke—

And twenty feet away, a massive orca, probably the biggest he's ever seen, explodes out of the water. He hears Natasha's gasp as it porpoises beautifully, arcing up and out of the water so that he can clearly see the four black spots on its white belly. For one beautiful moment, frozen in time, the orca seems to hang gracefully in the air…and then they're drenched with water so frigid it burns as it crashes back to the sea.

Clint swears a blue streak, but Natasha, Natasha is laughing like a lunatic.

"That," she says, "right there is why orcas, Barton. Now let's get a move on."

Clint, however, reaches for a dry face-mask from his waterproof bag. "They still eat penguins," he says, and that settles that.