“The night was as cool misty rain kissing the window panes, aglow the color of far-away streetlights--”
“What, you’d rather go back to LA and eat microwave lasagna for Thanksgiving dinner? Or visit all your friends in New York and freeze your ass off?” Becky asked, as she sidled up behind the dark, brooding, craggy-faced archer, snapping the elastic of the Captain America Underoos he was wearing while standing directly in front of the large, full-length windows of the cute Seattle apartment they had scooped up for the weekend. Air BNB, baby. So much better than awkward hookups in the home of your … girl-slash-friend’s parents, especially when you hadn’t met them yet and were sort of hoping to make a good impression and not get thrown out.
“He leaned back against her, asking in a gravelly voice thick with sexiness and stale coffee… ‘Wouldn’t that be a waste of a perfectly good ass?’” He wondered briefly if he could coerce Becky into firing up the coffee pot this close to her usual bedtime. Dramatic pulp noir narration just worked better with a nice, fresh brew in lieu of something that was starting to taste like sour water.
Becky slung her arms around his neck and nipped at the back of his ear, which was extremely distracting and made it difficult for our noble hero to continue to narrate his every action as if he were the suave, mysterious protagonist of a noir detective film-or-novel. “The sexiness and the stale coffee counteract each other,” she pointed out.
“-said nobody, ever, in the history of everrrrnnn...” he groaned, tipping his head to one side before abandoning his sad coffee mug on the window sill. He turned to her, sliding his hands down her body to her waist. “Come on, Becks, I’m trying to be suave, here.”
Becky was wearing a pair of fuzzy pink pajama pants and a tee shirt that Clint had only barely managed to get back from Natasha before it had found its way directly into Becky’s closet. She stood up on her tiptoes and licked his nose. “Okay, Sam Spade. You want to help me solve a mystery?”
“Do I ever,” he licked back, grinning. “Is the mystery whether or not it hurt when you fell from heaven, because--”
“No, I need to file a missing persons report,” Becky answered, batting her eyelashes. “Because I keep getting lost in your eyes.”
“Will you have time for that, when you’re so busy washing your pants in windex?” He backed her towards the bedroom in a manly, manly fashion. “I really can see myself in --”
An explosion of rainbow-colored light burst forth from nowhere and everywhere at once, flooding the bedroom in candy-colored waves. Clint groaned, one hand hanging on to Becky’s slim waist while the other came up to shield his eyes instinctively. As the brilliant light crescendoed the reassuring weight of her body against him vanished and he went tumbling forward, landing on cold, hard, marble rather than the soft, feminine curves he had been expecting.
“Fucknuggets,” he groaned as his temple hit the ground with a crack. For a moment all he could do was lay there, black spots dancing in his vision.
“Rise, Son of Midgard,” said an all-too-familiar voice. It was a voice, in fact, that presently ranked at the very top of the List of Voices Clint Never Wanted to Hear Again.
The only consolation, Clint thought, bitterly, with his cheek pressed against the marble, was that it was also probably also at the very top of the List of Clint’s Ultimate Boner-Killers.
“Aw, man,” he sighed, surreptitiously adjusting his Underoos before standing up, bare-legged and covered in goose pimples.
“Nice undies,” said Tony “Winner-of-Seventeen-Teen-Choice-Awards” Stark around a half-eaten corn dog. Wasn’t it like… three am in New York? Why the fuck was he eating a corn dog?
“Did you buy a pair for everyone, Tony?” Steve asked, his tone a cross between resigned and amused that seemed to have developed fairly quickly after the pair had moved in together. They shared one of the dopey, vomit-inducing mutual glances that had been instrumental in Clint’s decision to move out to LA and handle the west coast operations. There was only so much shmoopy May-November romance a dude could take, really, sweet film noir narration and all.
“Can you think of a better Fourth of July gift than you-themed undies?” Tony asked, licking the end of the corn-dog-stick flirtatiously.
So did Steve. “I just think it’s a little…uh...”
Clint was pretty sure Steve was going to say ‘creepy,’ but instead, he finished with “ostentatious.”
“I find them most impressive, and have worn my own pair on many a night!” Thor confided respectfully, clapping a big, manly hand against Clint’s shoulder as he sidled up next to him. “Though ...perhaps they are not entirely suited as one's sole raiment for a visit to the courts of mighty Asgard?”
“Well, I wasn’t exactly warned I was going to be, uh, dropping in.” Clint looked past the team, out at the sea of nervous-looking faces, nobles and noblewomen and dwarves and some half-bird creature with three legs, reminding him eerily of LARPer kids he’d gone to high school with. “This is just like that dream where I end up at the talent show with no pants,” he sighed, trying not to stare at Thor’s enormous bicep, which was directly at eye-level at the moment.
It was a very nice bicep.
“Fear not, my friend,” Thor assured him, Clint rubbing his forehead as Thor removed his arm. “I shall order more appropriate accoutrements for all of our guests, forthwith. You shall be arrayed in splendor as our most welcome dignitaries.”
“Brother,” Loki said irritably. “I have assured you run of the coffers, but that does not imply permission to spend frivolously. I do have a kingdom to run, and money does not come from water as some might suggest. If you will permit a more economical solution--”
Loki waved a hand in Clint’s direction, and just the motion made Clint shudder. He stepped back, but, just as his heel hit the floor, it fell comfortably into a soft leather boot.
“Please tell me these are +2 Boots of Striding and Springing?” he asked hopefully, but Loki merely sneered and turned to face Steve and Tony. Typical - the fully-clothed leaders of the pack got all the play.
Clint was pretty okay with that, in this particular case.
Steve and Tony looked between each other. It was a fleeting expression, but Clint knew it well-- it stood in for an exchange that would require a full five-minute conversation between other human beings.
Steve nodded and took a step forward, hands on his hips, chest puffed out like the limited edition action figure that had sold out in the first eighty minutes of San Diego Comic-con -- not that Clint had been standing in line for hours or anything. “Loki,” he said, his chin jutted forward, looking for all the world as if he were trying to grow to the Asgardian’s height just by standing taller.
“Captain,” Loki replied, a slight sneer on his face.
“I believe,” Steve said calmly, “that we might be owed an explanation for the...summons?”
“Call a spade a spade, Steve.” Tony swallowed his last bite of corndog and flicking the stick away carelessly. “This is a kidnapping if I’ve ever seen one.”
“A kidnapping? Hardly.” Loki scowled. “Kings do not kidnap, kings acquire volunteers; I merely require your particular skills.”
Oh god. He’d seen this episode of Dog Cops. This was the part where some massive earth-shattering threat had Loki shitting his pants to the point of enlisting his brother and his wayward mortal friends to assist in defending the universe or guarding the galaxy or whatever. There would be blood and violence and an inevitable double-crossing and--
“What is it?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest. “Kree? Skrulls? Titano-gods? Megashark? Asteroids hurtling towards our solar sys-- does Asgard even have a solar system?”
Loki shifted, looking even slightly more constipated than usual.
“My dear brother,” Thor said, giving Loki a syrupy smile that was either the most innocent smile in the world or deviously calculated to make Loki shudder. Clint never really could tell when it came to Thor. “...seems to have misplaced our beloved father.”
“Your father,” Loki corrected.
“Before sunrise he’s your father…” Clint intoned, seriously. Tony snickered, at least, which made Clint feel slightly bad about the fact that he’d dropped Tony's toothbrush in the toilet and forgot to tell him the last time he was in New York.
“Our father,” Thor continued, as if nothing had been said. “Who was possessed of his Odinsleep at the time, and whom my brother had removed to an undisclosed location, unbeknownst to me or the people of Asgard. He has been ruling falsely in his stead for more than a year.”
A year? Jesus haploid christ, nobody had noticed?
“A decision,” Loki said, turning to Thor, hissing as his tongue tripped over the s-sounds in his words, exactly like a terrible movie villain, “that allowed you to run off to your Midgardian beloved without fear of responsibility.”
There was a gasp from the surrounding crowd.
Thor let the words roll off him with a shrug. “My talents were needed elsewhere, and I had eyes on the throne. Though he believed his guise to be without flaw, his every move has been reported unto me by those most loyal.”
“And you didn’t think we needed to know a mass-murdering psychopath was on the throne of Asgard?” Tony groused, hands on his hips. He was armorless, of course he was. Clint was starting to suspect he left his armor behind on purpose, just to fill his life with cool-under-pressure montage sequences.
“He would not murder Asgardians,” Thor replied, with an air of casual assurance that sounded as if he were defending a child who slaughtered bunnies and frogs in the backyard but would never kill a human.
“Who aren’t related to him,” broke in a female voice. Clint’s entire body lit up like a Christmas tree.
“Awwwww yeah.” He beamed, day improved by the addition of anyone who looked that good in leather and was completely capable of breaking necks with her thighs. He had a thing for lady-thighs. And man-thighs. Thighs in general. And turkey thighs, which he was looking forward to, tomorrow. Hopefully with cornbread stuffing. He had no idea if Becky’s folks went in for cornbread.
The woman turned toward Clint, eyebrows quirking upward. “Aw yeah?” she asked. “Is that the customary greeting of your people? Aw yeah to you, too, sir.”
Clint waved, wanting to be friendly.
Tony groaned again. “So we have a problem any way you slice this. It’s Thanksgiving-eve an Asgard lacks its official turkey-carver.”
“I beg your pardon?” Sif asked. “I am not familiar with these terms.”
“Thanksgiving!” Thor said, only too delighted to explain. “It is a charming tradition among the American Midgardians in which they stuff themselves with rich food to celebrate the genocide of the indigenous peoples which allowed them to conquer their land and prosper.”
“I find this primitive holiday oddly charming,” said Loki.
“It is quite exceptional, brother,” Thor agreed. “Everyone eats a traditional bird with starchy tubers and very tart berries, and then they watch a gladiatorial exposition on their television sets. Then the underclasses are forced to go back to work so that the wealthy can purchase expensive objects at a paltry cost.”
“Well...” Loki was clearly schooling his expression from one of intrigue to one more typically snide. “Before anyone indulges in gluttonous urges or avails of their indentured servants, I insist you draw your attention back to the matter at hand, as the former king of Asgard is missing!”
He slammed his staff against the ground, the sharp note echoing in the overly-grandiose hall.
Sif walked up to Loki, and slapped her foot down beside his staff, glaring at him, her nostrils flaring. “I believe you misspoke. The king of Asgard is missing.”
Steve drew in a deep breath. “Thor,” he said, addressing their teammate with a sympathetic nod. “What can we do to help you locate your father?”
“My father holds dear the council of two ravens, Hugin and Munin,” Thor expositioned. “They are thought and memory incarnate, but they have vanished along with my father. With their council, we believe our father’s--”
“Your father’s,” Loki muttered again. Christ, this dude had a chip on his shoulder the size of the Washington monument.
“--location may be discerned.”
“Fortunately, my brother has summoned Midgard’s foremost expert on these matters, someone whose keen intellect and eye for detail I have become acquainted with, to an unfortunately intimate degree.”
Beside Clint, Tony preened.
“Master Barton,” Loki continued, teeth grinding like whetstones, “We require your counsel as to the behavior of birds.”
When Loki first said his name, Clint couldn’t help but shoot Tony a smug look, and at “require,” he opened his mouth, all prepared to tell Loki to shove it up his ass, but that he’d be happy to help his buddy and pub trivia teammate, Thor.
But then Loki finished his sentence, and Clint did an honest-to-god spit-take, which was especially impressive since he hadn’t had anything to drink since that stale coffee.
Behind him, he could hear Tony cackling through a hand that was probably intended to muffle the sound a lot better than it did.
“Your traitorous tongue does what it will to disguise a mind that is keen of wit,” Loki said, simply. “And your name in and of itself - the Hawk-Eyed man, heralds your expertise. Now. If you were a raven, where would you flee?”
Clint snapped his jaw - still hanging open, whoops - closed with an audible click of teeth. “Well…” he trailed off. “I always did like high places. So maybe like a … you know, a…”
“A mountain!” Thor cried out, throwing his hands up. “Brother, his words ring of truth! We must embark at once for the Asgard Mountains; let us form a party for the journey.”
Tony, meanwhile, cleared his throat. “Ahem,” he said, “And, uh, I don’t mean to be a wet blanket here, but did you bring the rest of us along for a reason?”
“Well,” Loki said with a sniff, “You yourself are not lacking in intellect, and the good Captain would hardly stand for his teammates being whisked away to Asgard without his oversight.”
“Not-lacking?!” Tony repeated, aghast. Clint cracked his knuckles and grinned.
“How the fuck did Elsa make this look good?” Clint wondered aloud, wrapped from toes to nose in fur. “Frozen fractals, kiss my ass.”
“Fractals?” asked Tony. “That’s not even possible; snowflakes are built by the rotation of water particles; they’re not even symmetrical.”
“There are two roads,” Steve shouted over the wind, pointing first to the main pass, well-marked and paved at this low altitude, and then to another path, a narrow, winding one that seemed much steeper and significantly more hazardous. “I think we should split up.”
“Jinkies!” Clint shouted back, but Steve ignored him, even though Clint had definitely made Steve watch the Harlem Globetrotters on Scooby-Doo.
“We’ll cover more ground. Thor, we’re going to need you to keep an eye on your brother.”
“Because that’s worked so well in the past.” Clint sighed into his muffler.
“He is in need of our assistance,” Thor answered, though Clint saw him give Loki a pointed look.
“Yes, brother, I am on my knees pleading and groveling, I am bereft without you, all is lost, woe,” Loki replied, rolling his eyes.
“Look, as long as I don’t have to be his buddy, whatever the rest of you want to do is fine with me,” Clint said, taking a step away from Loki to emphasize his preference.
“Perhaps you would feel most comfortable with Loki as your charge,” Sif suggested, glaring at the man in question.
Steve nodded. “I would. So you pair with Barton. Away from Loki.”
“I am the bird whisperer,” Clint said to Sif, feeling obligated to sell himself at least a little bit. “Your odds are better with me.”
“The irony being Steve’s new bestie is an actual bird whisperer,” Tony put in. “Steve, why couldn't we bring Sam?” Tony asked.
“Sam's busy running the food drive at the school and then cooking dinner for his mom," Steve answered. "Remember? He invited us. You said no."
"I never said--"
"Your exact words," Steve answered, "were 'I only eat turkeys that have been pardoned by a President.'"
Clint was pretty impressed by how good Steve's Tony Stark impression had gotten. He had the twitchy hand motions down and everything.
"We are getting nowhere," Loki said, tapping his foot. "I care not one whit for your inconsequential heads of state. We will take the Great Road," he said, pointing to the broader trail, "and leave the Old Road to the experts."
Loki smirked at Clint as he thrust a hand grandly toward the treacherous-looking path. That was it. The bastard was actually trying to kill him. Knowing his luck, he'd defeat some ancient evil, and then trip and break his neck on a patch of ice. Just when he'd finally found a pretty great all-night sushi place in his new neighborhood, too.
“This is the worst actual plan." Clint sighed, but shifted the - admittedly sweet - Asgardian longbow he’d been gifted with against his shoulder. “Alrighty, then. We’ll continue to wade through snowy bullshit in this direction,” he muttered, stomping away from the pack without a backwards glance.
The terrain, naturally, didn’t get any more comfortable. The narrow pathway took them up through a gap in the rocks where the wind was so brittle and bitter Clint was half afraid it’d blow him right off the mountain, Underoos and all. Past the gap was a deep, deep, deep chasm.
“Cloven by the blade of Odin’s own father in his quest to slay the giants,” Sif informed him, eagerly, her eyes bright with pride. Clint resolved to keep his eyes peeled for any giants he might have missed.
“So, uh, Sif,” Clint said, hesitantly, as he trudged along the narrow path. “I hate to tell you this, but--”
“You do not speak to birds,” Sif replied, nodding, as if it were common knowledge. “It is no matter. I am very much in favor of anything which makes that traitorous Jotunn look like the fool he is.”
Clint grinned. “Great. Just so long as we’re on the same page.”
Sif waved a hand in the air. “We need only find the ravens. And from the ravens, we will find the Allfather. You did battle in New Mexico, did you not? When we came to fight the Destroyer?”
“In a way,” Clint said, carefully stepping over an icy patch. “I was ordered to keep the perimeter secure. We needed Loki contained if the battle went sour.”
He squinted over at her. “I saw the footage of the fight, though. More times than I care to admit. You guys showing up on Earth really rocked our world.” It was hard to imagine that there had been a time when gods and monsters weren’t a part of his life. The new normal was pretty wild.
“I apologize,” Sif said, bowing her head toward him. “We did not intend to rock it with quite so much force.”
Clint laughed. “Well, you know what they say. Go big or go home.”
The rocky crevasse continued on, bisecting the mountain into two frigid half-peaks stacked high with snow packed cold and hard as nails. The footing was as treacherous as the most dangerous crossings on the Misty Mountains, but the brave pair struggled on, snowflakes catching in the lovely lady’s thick plait, whirling into their eyes and melting into false tears. Their tears would dry soon enough, once the skin grew so cold it merely froze there, a sheen of blue over bloodless white. The lady--
“I have sighted a cavern,” Sif said, squinting through the flurries. “Let us step in and bide our time, I wish to stamp the snow from my boots.”
Clint pressed his lips together. The Asgardian clothing he’d been given was miraculously good at keeping off the chill, but his lips were beginning to crack from the wind. “I don’t suppose you have any chapstick?” he asked.
Sif frowned as she trudged toward the mouth of the cave. “I am not familiar with such a wood,” she replied. “Our vegetation is most dissimilar from yours.”
“No, it’s uh...lip balm? Lip gloss? My, uh...girl...person...thingie...she has this pomegranate-flavored stuff.” He mimed the International Symbol For Putting On Chapstick. “It’s pretty great.”
“Oh!” Sif grinned over the curve of her furry scarf and dipped a hand into her pocket, tossing him a small clay container.
Clint popped it open and tugged a glove off with his teeth. “Cool, thanks.”
“We save the drippings year round for the long winter months,” Sif said, waving away his thanks. “My family cuts ours with wax and thyme.”
“Drippings?” Clint repeated. Don’t lick your lips, don’t -- ewwwww, definitely not pomegranate. “Tastes like chicken,” he said, trying his hardest not to smear it off on the back of his glove.
“Goose, actually,” Sif nodded, approvingly. When she took the container back she smudged her own lips before pocketing the container once again.
The cave drew nearer, the once-fresh mountain air now flavored with oil and aged goose fat. Our dashing hero tucked his chin down against the unforgiving slush of cold, wet --
The cave was guarded on either side by two ancient carvings, Asgardian knights in full battle armor, though their faces were weathered smooth after ages upon a mountaintop.
“SPEAK, FRIEND!” Clint cried, throwing his gloved hands up in front of the cave mouth. “AND ENTER!”
“What should I speak about?” Sif ducked to the left, immediately clapping her hands to her shoulders and head, knocking the little piles caught there to the floor.
“Err. Uh. Figure of speech,” Clint explained. He began knocking his feet up against a stalagmite, scraping the soles free and patting it apologetically. “Just don’t throw rocks down wells and shit.”
“I will do my best to respect your human customs,” Sif nodded, seriously. Clint shoved his gloved fingers into his armpits.
“So, uh,” he said, after a moment. “You knew I didn’t know anything about….birdery.”
“Indeed.” Sif pulled a flask from her belt, took a swig, passed it to him. “Drink. It will fill you with warmth.”
“Is that...literally, or figuratively? Because I’m not too keen on getting drunk in a freezing mountain cave,” Clint said. “I feel like that could be bad.”
He sniffed at the contents of the flask; it was sweet, and sort of fruity.
Sif smiled. “Both,” she replied. “Fear not; I will see it to you are returned home safely.”
Clint tipped the flask back. It was warming, and tasted a little bit like boozey candy. “So?” he asked, as he handed the flask back to its owner.
“So…?” Sif asked.
“Why’d you drag me up into a mountain cave when you know I’m kind of useless for this sort of operation?”
“I heard tell,” said Sif, “that Loki did you much abuse in his time on your home planet. I would hear your inclinations toward him now.”
Clint’s eyebrows crawled upwards - that was good, crawling was good, it meant he wouldn’t be losing them to frostbite. “Are you kidding? That dickbag scrambled my brains and used me to help murder thousands of people just because he has daddy issues. I mean seriously, who doesn’t have daddy issues? Loki thinks he’s a special non-fractal snowflake, when he’s really just an asshole.”
“He has also turned upon the people who took him in, fostered him, raised him as one of their own,” Sif replied, with a serious nod. She took a sharp knife from her belt, and began polishing it.
Clint edged back, just a little bit.
“And yet his brother seeks to forgive him at every turn.”
She took out a fruit that looked something like a cross between a pear and an apple, and began slicing it. “I would not be so generous, were he my brother. And now this latest act-- he spirited away our king and reigned in his stead for a year, without revealing himself. I would have had him locked away, yet Thor allows him to assist in the hunt."
She offered Clint a slice of the fruit. He took it, hunkering down and leaning up against the wall. He gave the fruit a sniff - nope, couldn’t smell anything other than goose fat - and tried a bite. It was crisp and frigid, with a snappy crunch.
“It’s hard to see past the failures in your own family,” Clint said quietly, mouth half-full. “It’s hard to know when to give up. But…. genocide. That’s a lot for a person to forgive, even a dude with a heart as big as Thor’s.”
He spit out a seed. “He’s doing his best.”
“Is he?” Sif asked, and she, too, ate a slice of fruit. “He believes that Loki’s preoccupation with your people was intended as a personal affront, that his brother did not think of the greater repercussions of his actions, so blinded he was with jealousy. But I also do not believe he would have returned to your Midgard if he had known that he was leaving us in Loki’s hands.”
For a moment, she was quiet, and between the two of them, there was nothing but a slow, crunching sound as they ate their...Clint wasn’t sure what to call it. Papple just sounded silly.
“Do you believe he is happy there?” Sif asked.
Clint’s mouth twisted sideways, a thin slant above the curve of his coat’s top button. “Not since Frigga.”
Sif was quiet again, and she nodded. “I thank you for your honesty. And...if we were to find the Allfather, relying on your lack of skill in birdery, what would you speak to him?”
“Uh,” Clint said, blinking. “I dunno. It’s Thanksgiving back on Earth. I’d probably just remind him to be thankful for his kid, even if he’s not where he hoped he’d be.”
He picked a shred of seed out of one tooth. “And maybe tell him to hire better guards when he goes down for one of his mega-naps, Thor’s always freaking out about it.”
Sif smiled-- and Clint knew that kind of smile, it was definitely the “I am trying not to laugh at this asshole” sort of smile. She looked away, a hand to her mouth.
Behind him, someone coughed. Clint turned, nocking an arrow out of reflex, but the only thing in his line of sight was that stalagmite, and it didn’t really look capable of coughing.
But sure enough, there was another cough, and Clint was almost positive it was coming from the stalagmite.
“Is somebody there?” Clint asked.
He could hear Sif chuckling behind him.
“Come on, really, what’s so--”
And in front of his eyes, the rock formation melted away to reveal flesh-- an imperious figure, no less grand for his advanced age, dressed in royal finery. Clint was pretty sure he knew who the guy was, if only due to the fact that the only other person he knew with an eyepatch had significantly darker skin and no hair and was probably making cranberry sauce at his sister's about now, even if Clint really wasn't supposed to know he had a sister.
“Awww….” Clint groaned, lowering his bow. “Odin.”
Then he ducked sideways and yelped as soft black feathers swept across his face. The staggering half-fall wasn’t enough to keep one of Odin’s massive ravens from settling on his head, talons poking his scalp through the plush hood of his coat.
Odin laughed aloud, a deep chuckle that made him tip back just the way Thor did. He shifted, a dusting of frost falling from his shoulders.
“Really?” Clint looked from Odin to Sif and then back again, trying to scrape up the shards of his shattered dignity. “Are you seriously just sitting in a cave in the middle of bumfuck nowhere Asgard, punking Thor’s dickish brother?”
“Truly, the Odinsleep was upon me,” Odin said quietly, rubbing his hands together as if to warm them. The cave immediately felt toastier. “When I awoke and learned Loki had deceived me, I chose to remove myself and observe his movements. I was not expecting him to turn to his brother for assistance.”
“Loki’s not the only one worried about you, you know,” Clint scowled. “Really, do you just not bother to tell anybody when you settle down for your long winter’s nap and all? That asshole has been pretending to be you, and you know...it doesn’t seem like he made too much of a mess of things, but he could have kicked off another genocide.”
“I believe he has learned that lesson too well to try such a thing again,” Odin answered.
“Well, he could have, I don’t know, ordered all your subjects to wear pancakes on their heads or something equally tragic. Point is, he was king. And Thor didn’t know. And doesn’t know where you are now.”
“Hence Sif, my agent in all things pertaining to the wayward ingrate, suggesting that Thor be summoned. Do not assume my infinite ways to be meaningless simply because you cannot see the complete picture.”
Clint sighed. “Yeah, yeah, immortal-until-the-plot-requires-otherwise deities, tree of life, all part of a plan beyond mortal ken, blah blah blah. I just feel like a tool, standing here and letting him worry when we could be home stuffing our face on Turkey and watching ridiculous holiday football ads.”
“I would not spare too much concern for our dear Thor,” Sif said, lip curling up in a smirk. “I expect he is sufficiently distracted.”
“Distracted by what?” Clint asked. “We’ve all seen Stark and Cap suck face way too much for it to be entertaining anymore.”
Clint was also too well aware that he was not sufficiently distracted, seeing as he should have been comfortably in bed by now, or, who knows, given there might be some intergalactic shift in the space-time continuum, he could possibly be eating pie. It was very difficult to be distracted when pie was on the line.
"Well," said Odin, cracking a smile. "Let us see, shall we?"
“Pardon?” asked Sif.
“It’s...uh…” Clint started. “When...apparating…”
But now he was distracted, because a few yards ahead of where they were standing, Thor had caught Loki in a chokehold. Loki, for his part, had apparently transformed Thor’s boots into a tangle of writhing snakes. Either that, or Thor’s taste in footwear had changed significantly in the last few hours.
“Snakes,” Clint muttered, because he couldn’t not. “Why did it have to be snakes?”
“Release them, brother!” Thor cried, grunting as Loki thrust an elbow back into his gut.
“Hawkeye, have you--” Thor froze. Loki croaked, spittle catching at the corner of his mouth, then froze as well. Clint wondered, for a moment, why they were so startled to see him - until he recalled that Odin himself was at his back.
Tearing his eyes away from the roughhousing pair he squinted around for any sign of his friends. Behind the tussling pair was a massive, frozen tree. Its branches were gnarled and warped with wind and the weight of endless snow, but they looked thick and strong - certainly strong enough to support the two dangling green-laced cocoons hanging there. One gloved hand stuck out of the left one, half a shield protruded from the right.
Odin stepped forward, running a hand over his forehead with a very long-suffering look. “Loki,” he said, his tone imperious. “What have we always said about enchanting mortals?”
“Odin, you live!” Thor loosened his grasp on the man slightly, his face lighting up at the sight of his father.
Loki seized the moment of weakness to squirm and writhe, trying slip through Thor’s fingers, but his older brother appeared to have - for once - learned from past experiences regarding the slimy bastard. The words choked off into a gasp as Thor redoubled on his efforts to contain his wayward kind-of-sort-of sibling.
“Sorry to disappoint,” Odin said, his voice dry.
Thor, however, trundled over, arm still firmly around Loki’s neck, and seized his father in a one-armed bear hug. It sort of gave the impression of a family group hug, which was sort of cute, if Clint ignored the fact that one of the family members was a genocidal maniac and was also struggling to free himself while gasping for breath.
The snakes scattered, looking somewhat traumatized by both their stint as footwear as well as the foot of snow on the ground. Thor wriggled his now-bare toes against the icy precipitation and grinned.
“Father, forgive me,” he said to Odin, bowing his head in deference. “I knew not that you were absent, else I would never have left the realm.”
“I am less concerned that you should break your promise to me than that you should trust this monster’s word,” Odin answered sternly once the weird snake-scattering love fest broke up and Thor hauled Loki away, forcing him to his knees. “You are not the young man you once were, and you brought these Midgardians into the mountains, braving wind and weather and certain treachery.”
His face softened. “But in doing so, you have shown your care for me. It has been… a time, since I knew with such certainty that your family held a place in your heart.”
“Do you not know,” Thor replied, “that you have always been first in my heart, Father?”
He glanced up, then, at the icy cocoons above. “But there is still the matter of my mortal friends to attend to.”
“Yeah, and, uh, one of them already has very bad memories of being frozen in ice,” Clint volunteered.
“Some of us,” Loki said, with a sneer, “have very bad memories of listening to him try to give us orders.”
“Oh come on, he’s great at that,” Clint said, loyally.
“Like a newborn pup barking at a king,” Loki retorted.
“You are no king,” Sif immediately interjected, raising her weapon.
“Unhand my friends, brother,” Thor demanded, tightening his grip and digging his knuckles into Loki’s skull.
“My hands are nowhere near them,” Loki pointed out, waggling his fingers, his smirk vanishing as the noogie-ing increased in strength. “Perhaps you might unhand me before making demands.”
Thor glared at his brother, an expression Clint rarely saw on the usually-jovial man’s face. He then grabbed Loki by the scruff of his shirt, and shoved him backward, so that Loki stumbled, and fell to his knees. Loki began to push himself up, but Thor stalked forward, stepping, in his bare foot, on the hem of Loki’s cloak, so that Loki was pinned close to the ground, with his hands in the snow.
“Thor does not usually act in such--” Sif began, murmuring to Clint.
“Naw,” Clint assured her. “I get it. I have a brother.”
A defiant second or two passed, ticking by slowly. Then Loki sighed, wiggled a finger, and Steve and Tony went plummeting into the soft mounds of snow piled up at the foot of the three.
They were alright, Clint figured. Otherwise there wouldn’t be quite so much sneezing and swearing.
Clint gagged quietly.
“Let us be thankful,” said Sif, “that the Hawk-Eyed man’s talents were put to good use.”
“Huh--” Clint started, but Sif glanced sidelong at him and winked.
“His skills with the creatures of the air is unparalleled.”
“Well." He shrugged, a self-satisfied smirk on his face, “I do try.”
“For your efforts, friend Hawk-eye, we shall have you carve the bilgesnipe!” cried Thor, brandishing a frighteningly large, utterly unhygenic short sword overhead.
“The what?” Clint asked.
“The bilgesnipe,” Thor replied. “We customarily roast the bilgesnipe only in honor of the greatest heroes.”
“Ah, shit,” Clint said, his face falling. “Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to be, uh, having family Thanksgiving probably, like, any minute now.”
“Nonsense,” said a voice from the doorway, and Odin, now in full royal vestments, walked into the room. “You will dine with us. I have even procured the great bird of your nation in celebration of your holiday, as Thor has informed me is your custom.”
Odin raised a feathery carcass over his head, and, across the table, Steve blanched.
“That’s...not a turkey,” Clint said, slowly.
Thor looked from their faces up to the lifeless bird and back again. “Do you not regularly consume the body of your most sacred symbols in order to celebrate them?”
“Well,” Tony sighed. “Yes and no. Not so much with, you know, endangered bald eagles.”
Clint tipped back his chair. “I mean,” he said. “Seeing as it’s already dead, I’m not gonna turn down hospitality or anything.”
“Spoken like a true lover of birds,” Sif agreed, happily.
Clint-- and, he presumed, Steve and Tony-- was whisked away by a team of very eager Asgardian servants,who scrubbed every inch of him in a steaming-hot bath, which is why he still smells like a cross between flowers and bubblegum, and then combed his hair. They even clipped his sideburns, which was probably a good thing. He definitely hadn’t had time to go to the barber before he left for Seattle.
Then they dressed him in what he imagined were the finest Asgardian raiments-- this weird leather-vest thing with fancy shoulder pads, and a big purple bird emblazoned on its front, and a pretty sweet cape, which is exactly what he would wear if he had actual superpowers and went into vigilante crimefighting.
Sif fetched him, having swapped her furs and leathers for a gleaming set of armor, a tunic studded with metal bits, massive shoulder guards and a chain shirt underneath. She offered him her arm, which he accepted gratefully.
“You ever heard of the show Dog Cops?”
“Dog Cops?” she repeated, eyebrows arched.
“It’s… a daring and heroic tale of canine law enforcement,” Clint said, gesturing with his free hand.
“It is… a play? An act put on for revels?”
“Sort of. I tivo it,” Clint admitted. “But it means we can watch whenever, so if you ever feel like swinging by the West Coast, I’ve got a six pack of beer with your name on it.”
Sif kissed his cheek. “I do enjoy my ale,” she admitted. Clint was not at all surprised, considering the company she kept.
Odin placed the massive roast eagle - identifiable only by the feathery white head still attached - at the center of the table.
“It smells… nice,” Steve managed, looking a bit green around the gills. The green totally did nothing to match the cool Asgardian get-up they’d given him, with its shiny blue scale mail, because it pretty much made Steve look like fish.
“Zesty, with a hint of freedom,” Tony agreed, earning himself a swat.
Course after course appeared, constituting what was certainly the most unique Thanksgiving Clint had ever partaken of, and that included the year post-circus when he’d been scavenging from dumpsters. There was definitely one course that was still alive and kept peeping at them, so Clint kind of felt bad about eating it, until he found out that it tasted exactly like a Fluffernutter sandwich, and then it didn’t bother him so much that it was making little cheepy baby bird sounds.
Steve ate almost half of the eagle, and when the kraken was served up -- its tentacles pale and covered in suction cups the size of hands -- he and Tony began making dopey, inside-joke faces at one another and declared the night “Squidsgiving 2.0”.
Seriously, it was just gross.
Steve and Tony, that is, not the kraken. The kraken tasted like a cross between steak and a really great calamari, and the Asgardians served it in this spicy sauce that kind of tasted like the chili--garlic-peanut stuff at that Thai place down the street.
"Well, I figured when you disappeared with the rainbow glitter and--" Becky stared at his armful, then let a smile quirk at the corner of her mouth. “You brought five whole pies?”
“Yeah, but, uh...that one’s bilgesnipe,” Clint said, pointing to the pink one with the weird foam on top. “And I promise you, bilgesnipe tastes exactly like it sounds.”
She took one long, hard look at his face.
“Clint,” she said, seriously. “My parents think all my boyfriends are deadbeats. They probably expected you to be late. They’re not gonna expect pie.”
She propped herself up on her tiptoes, kissed his cheek, and tossed the bilgesnipe pie out into the yard as she dragged him inside.