Clint has switched sides before, and this time isn't so different. One minute he's reaching for his gun to stop the alien taking the Tesseract.
There's a chill touch on his chest, and a thousand voices spread out from it whispering kneel, and worship and obey.
His consciousness rushes up like a wave to meet them with yes and of course and my king.
And then there's just Loki. He's weak—Clint can see that now he's looking—unsteady on his feet. In his hand, the staff trembles so slightly that no one else will see.
"Director Fury is stalling," Clint says, moving closer in case Loki needs a gun arm or someone to lean on or a human shield. "This place is about to blow."
Loki follows Clint's gaze up to the blue light shimmering on the ceiling and nods.
One minute Clint's reaching for his gun to stop Loki stealing the Tesseract, the next he's shooting Fury and taking it. Easy as switching sides.
Selvig takes the case, leaving Clint with his gun arm free. Loki is stumbling, but right now Clint's priority is getting him out of the base—when they're all safe and alive he can start worrying about how Loki is exhausted and too thin.
Hill is standing by the parked cars and she turns as they approach. This is where betrayal is so much easier than infiltration because the trust is already there. Clint has earned the right to be trusted and Hill's hand leaves her gun without a second thought as Clint requisitions the nearest car.
"Who's that?" Hill asks.
Lord? Master? Clint really isn't sure and at some point when Loki is no longer in danger he should find out. "He didn't tell me," he says as Loki settles in the back of the car. There's less protection there, but his grip is steady enough on the scepter for defense. He had no problems with the bullets flying earlier so Clint leaves him be and moves for the driver's side.
That's when Hill's radio goes off, Fury's voice coming in loud and clear. Clint has a moment to wonder why he didn't just shoot Fury through the heart when he had the chance before he's raising his gun again.
He misses Hill's head by a matter of inches, which is completely unacceptable. He's going to be no good at all to Loki if he keeps this up but there's no time to worry about that now. He swings into the driver's seat and starts the car moving before Hill can break cover.
Clint drives. The road is full of SHIELD evacuation vehicles, there's the sound of the scepter firing and cars exploding behind him, but he's focused on pushing the car as hard as it will go. Who knows how long they have before the roof comes down. In the rear view mirror, he sees the car with the third man Loki enslaved flip over and explode.
"What if they shoot him?" Selvig asks.
It doesn't really bear thinking about. Clint should have put Selvig in the back with Loki as a human shield. Except, Selvig knows the Tesseract and Loki wants the Tesseract so maybe it's better to keep him safe too. As soon as they're out of this alive, Clint is going to demand some clear cut instructions for such situations.
"Car ahead," Selvig shouts.
Fuck. He hits Hill straight on—of course she knows a short cut—and pulls his gun out again. Selvig lets out a low moan and sinks lower in his seat, holding the case up to protect his face as Hill shoots.
Clint misses. Again.
"I thought you were a marksman."
"Shut up," Clint says, wrenching the wheel sideways to knock Hill off the road. There's a rumbling sound behind them that suggests the faculty is on the verge of crushing them to death and he pushes the pedal right down to the floor as the exit door comes in sight.
They make it through. In the rear view mirror Clint sees rocks come down on Hill's car. She was one of the first people to advocate him being made a full SHIELD agent and now she's been crushed to death. If they went back now—he could just make sure she was alive.
"Is he okay?" Selvig asks.
Right. Priorities. The most important thing now is getting Loki the hell away from here as fast as possible, a plan which has an immediate impediment in the form of Nick motherfucking Fury coming up next to them in a helicopter. Clint spins the car across the sand, throwing Selvig into the door.
"What are you doing?" Selvig demands as Clint tries to watch the helicopter in front of him and Loki in the rearview mirror at the same time. "Don't face him, are you crazy? I don't want to die."
"You're not my priority," Clint says and hits the acceleration as Loki pulls himself upright and a burst of blue light flashes over the top of the car.
The helicopter goes over their heads and down. Fury jumps out before it hits the dirt but by the time he's up and shooting, they're away. The base is down, there are no more helicopters in the air. When Clint switches off all the car's lights, they disappear into the darkness.
"Is he okay?" Selvig asks again and for a bizarre moment Clint thinks he's asking about Fury. Then reality sets back in.
"Yes," Clint says, more because he refuses to believe Loki might not be than through any certainty either way.
"Where are we going?"
Clint hasn't put any thought in it beyond as far away as possible, but soon they're going to come to an intersection and he'll have to pick a road. He's been with SHIELD long enough that they know almost all of his hiding places, but luckily he's been paranoid for a just a little longer. "Somewhere safe."
Selvig nods, settling into his seat and hugging the case tighter in his arms. "And what are we going to do there?"
Clint glances up at the rear view mirror, the blue shimmer in his eyes bright enough to let him see the shape of Loki slumped down in the back of the truck. "Whatever we're told."
Clint is sitting tipped back on the back two legs of a chair, tossing darts into the kitchen cupboard behind him, when the door opens and Loki comes in. His hair is still sticking up a little at the back and he hasn't put on all the layers of coats and armor that Clint and Selvig had to work to remove after he fell asleep.
"How long was I out?" he asks, no longer the confident, smooth-talker from the SHIELD headquarters. His voice cracks a little and he leans on the doorframe like he couldn't stay up otherwise.
"A little over a day," Clint says, kicking a second chair out from under the table in invitation. "We had to carry you inside... sir?"
"Lord," Loki corrects, dropping into the chair and stealing the mug of coffee Selvig left when he went to take a shower. "Or King. What a pity I missed it." He takes a sip and his head jerks up. "The scepter?"
Clint rocks his chair back onto all four legs and lifts up the top of the table to reveal the secret compartment and the still-glowing scepter inside. "Safe and sound, King." It sounds kind of stupid, really.
Loki seems to realize this, thinking for a moment as he holds out a hand for the scepter. "'Sir' then," he says, twisting it between his fingers and watching the play of light. "It doesn't matter, either way you're mine."
"Yes," Clint says, pulling the darts out of the roughly sketched cross on the kitchen cabinet. "Did you want something to eat? A drink of your own?"
Loki looks down at the mug in his hand in apparent confusion. "What is this?"
"Selvig's coffee," Clint says. "It's supposed to be hot."
"It's disgusting," Loki says, taking another long gulp from it anyway. "Where is Selvig? How much space is there here? Will they find this place?"
"Selvig's in the shower, there's a room large enough for an archery range downstairs and no one knows about this place." He slides a sheet of paper across the table. "I also took the liberty of compiling a list of SHIELD enemies if you wanted to make treaties with them or do your blue light thing."
Loki nods slowly, draining the last of the coffee. "Mind control," he says. "The blue light is mind control."
"Well," Clint says, taking his mug and refilling it from the ancient coffee machine. "Obviously."
He opens the cupboards and finds a box of cereal that went out of date five years ago and a handful of twinkies. He passes one of them to Loki along with the refilled mug. "You need to eat something."
"I need to start work," Loki says, taking the mug and sniffing it with clear distaste. "I am burdened with glorious purpose."
"So you keep saying," Clint says, pushing the twinkie closer. "Eat first."
Loki pokes the snack experimentally then picks it up. "You're a terrible mind slave. I'm going to need that list of names, Selvig downstairs in the range and more coffee." He opens the packet and takes a bite. "This is disgusting," he says, already standing up and grabbing the staff with the little finger of his coffee hand. "Bring the rest of them down with you."
"My king," Clint says dryly, grabbing the handful of snack packets.
Loki pauses in the doorway, turning to look Clint up and down. "Yes," he says after a moment. "That's the one."
Loki's smile spreads slowly and as it does so, his coat and armor shimmer back into place across his shoulders and arms, as though Clint had never painstakingly undone every lace, hook and button. "Well," he says. "Maybe this planet won't be so bad."
Eventually Clint will find a team where no one has a penchant for melodrama and he can just do his job like a normal deadly assassin. He could even go freelance, some day when Loki no longer needs him.
Loki is using the staff to steady himself on the stairs, balancing the coffee and twinkie in his other hand. Clint reaches out and grabs the back of his coat just in time to stop him tripping over his own feet and breaking his head open on the banister.
So that day is probably a long way off.
Loki looks around Clint's range for ten minutes, spends an hour shut in the bedroom with Selvig and the Tesseract, then walks through the nearest mirror and disappears entirely from the building.
Selvig is apparently quite happy to ignore his absence and start destroying all of Clint's spare equipment to assemble the beginnings of a lab because Loki has apparently given him a list of instructions and orders. Clint is the one left to pace up and down clutching the bow and arrows he salvaged from his equipment store before Selvig started butchering everything.
Clint is the one left to run through every possible danger Loki could find himself in. The whole of SHIELD is out looking for him. Fury has Stark on speed dial and Captain America in his basement and Loki needs at least another month of sleep before he can hope to fight off the mercenaries on Clint's list of SHIELD enemies, let alone the top two Avengers.
Clint's one and only consolation is that Natasha is on mission and she won't let herself be pulled out for anything. She's been working on this far too long.
So that just leaves the elite team of soldiers, the billionaire in the world's-deadliest-flight-suit and the genetically modified national treasure. Loki is doomed. He is going to die and Clint is going to be sat on a step watching an old man stacking archery bosses into a table unable to do anything about it.
"Did he say when he was going to be back?" Clint asks for the tenth time.
Selvig looks over. "You need to trust him more, Barton."
Clint scowls. He would happily trust his own life to Loki—not that he'd expect to survive it necessarily, but he'd do whatever was needed—he just doesn't quite trust Loki with Loki's life. Something that important is best left to people who can look after it properly. Like Clint.
"If you want to make him happy, you could come and help me with these targets. I'm not as young as I used to be."
Clint cares a lot more about Loki being safe than Loki being happy—if he could just shut Loki in a small room with no sharp objects that would be wonderful—but any distraction is better than pacing until he wears a hole through the floor. He leans his bow and arrows in the opposite corner of the room to Selvig and walks over. "So what are we building?"
"I am building a hugely complicated device out of scraps in a warehouse based on an artefact built by the gods, the details of which are given out on a need to know basis," Selvig says, kicking a straw boss in Clint's direction. "You can build tables out of these straw things."
Clint gives him a scandalized look. "Bosses. They're called bosses. You pin targets to them."
"Or you stack them for use as tables. Get to it."
It's gone midnight by the time Loki returns. All of Clint's bosses are stacked at various heights now and for the last hour he's been taking apart explosive arrow tips while Selvig hid behind a metal crate, extracting whatever materials the doctor apparently couldn't build his magic god cube machine without.
He's just sliding a pair of tweezers into the hair-thin crack around the tip of the explosive point when Loki stumbles out through the vaguely reflective surface of Selvig's shield and trips over a stack of rocket launchers.
Clint thankfully remembers to pull the tweezers clear of the highly explosive equipment before he storms across the range to grab Loki and pin him to the nearest wall.
Loki doesn't look too much worse for wear—his eyes are still sunken, surrounded by more shadow than skin, and his arms are still trembling—but it's not significantly worse than he was when he left. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?" Clint demands.
Loki blinks, lifting the scepter between them to touch the point to Clint's chest again. "I was assuming not from you," he says, calm as anything, like he gets pinned to walls on a daily basis.
Serve, revere, acquiesce, the scepter whispers through him.
Yeah, Clint's subconscious snaps back. Working on it. "Where did you go?" he says, shaking Loki's shoulders for good measure. "Did anyone hurt you? Why didn't you take me with you?"
Loki blinks again, slightly slower, and raises a hand to push Clint's arm lightly. Clint takes a step back, letting Loki drop back onto the floor and brush himself off. Loki is still watching him carefully, head tilted as though trying to work through some complex problem. "Are you trying to find out more about my plans, Barton?"
God, it's like no one has ever been worried about him before. "I'm trying to keep you safe. How am I supposed to protect you if you just disappear off for hours and don't so much as tell me where you're going?"
"I was locating allies," Loki says, Clint's list appearing in his hand. "They should arrive with supplies over the next day or so—a few were a great distance away." He hesitates as Clint doesn't move away. "I can only transport myself through the mirror pathways. It's true there are other ways to travel across space, but they are more cumbersome and I am less able to access them in my current state."
Clint folds his arms. "So you should have waited."
Loki straightens up so he can look down on Clint. "In future, would you prefer it if I delayed all my plans to appease your need to pander to my every whim?"
Clint meets his gaze without flinching. "If that's what it takes to keep you safe, yes."
The scepter gets as far as his chest, and he has a moment to think that Loki is going to kill Clint and then he's going to get himself killed without Clint to protect him. "Then it's lucky," Loki says, letting the spear drop. "That you're the one who has to obey me." He pushes Clint aside and walks across to where Selvig is standing. "Show me what you've accomplished."
Selvig inclines his head politely. "My king."
Loki being Loki, he doesn't say anything. He doesn't say that he's tired or that he hasn't eaten properly or that he's clearly favoring his right leg. He follows Selvig around the workshop taking in the stacked tables, the various piles of ordered components. He asks questions and makes points and leans heavily on the scepter so he doesn't fall over.
Clint follows them, keeping a meter behind Loki at all times. The two of them have to tilt their heads close and speak in barely more than a whisper to guarantee he doesn't hear, but Clint doesn't care. If Loki falls, someone has to be there to catch him.
Halfway down the range Loki stumbles. He catches himself on the nearest stack of bosses and straightens again in a moment, but now Clint is beyond the point of caring.
"Sir," he says, pushing forward into the one-meter privacy zone. "You should go upstairs. Rest, food, I'll take a look at your leg—"
He's interrupted by the sharp side of the scepter in his face. "I do not require your assistance," Loki says, using his grip on the scepter to push himself up to his full height. "I have work to do here. If you require a respite, you have my leave to go upstairs and pass the hours until the new men arrive in whatever way you see fit. I have no tasks for you as yet, there is no need for you to follow me." He turns back to Selvig, dismissing Clint with a leather-clad shoulder as he leans back over to what the doctor is demonstrating.
"So as I was saying, my king," Selvig says. "I'm hoping we can use the palladium from Agent Barton's arrows to stabilize the core—"
Selvig seems to have latched onto the honorific like a dog to a bone, throwing it into every sentence like he's working on a points system. Clint would object more to the ridiculous time-wasting nature of it all, if not for the fact that every time he hears it, Loki's mouth twists slightly closer to a smile.
"Fine," Clint says, stepping back again as they continue to speak over him. "Fine, don't get any rest. When the Avengers come bursting through that door good luck fighting them off with exhaustion and an inability to stand."
Loki lets out a low snarl and spins round again. "What would you have me do?" he demands, leaning heavy on the staff but still towering over Clint. "You would have me just woken and wholly unprepared when your men arrive? You would have me unconscious and vulnerable with my life in the hands of mortals." The word drips off his tongue like venom.
Clint reaches out, placing his hand over Loki's where it's clenched so tight on the scepter his knuckles are turning blue. "I would have you leave Selvig do his job, and let me do mine."
Loki's face is still twisted up, so Clint reaches out to rub the frown lines out of his forehead and smooth down his hair. "We are yours, my king. You're safe."
"I don't need you," Loki says, a last sharp whisper as his hand loosens slightly beneath Clint's.
"No," Clint agrees, letting Loki lean against his shoulder instead of the staff. "But you have me, so you may as well take advantage."
"Selvig," Loki says, over Clint's shoulder as Clint half carries him towards the stairs. He's light as a feather, there will definitely be McDonalds or takeout pizza sometime in the near future. "Continue working. Sound the alarm the moment anything or anyone is sighted on the approach."
Clint would mention that the building doesn't so much have an alarm and a security system as it has one cheap camera over the main doorway, but he's making too much progress to ruin it now.
"This will be a very brief rest," Loki says as Clint drags him up the stairs. "There is much to do and an almost impossibly narrow window of time." Clint drops him on the bed and crouches to undo his shoes—already regretting not bringing Selvig with him. Getting Loki out of the buttons, laces and hooks will take all night on his own.
Loki pushes him back with one hand. "It's no matter," he says and with a shimmer of the air he's suddenly back to the leather trousers and undershirt that Clint left him in the night before.
Clint raises his head and sees all the coats, boots and armor is still folded neatly into a pile on the crate where he left it the night before.
"In future," Loki says, falling back onto the covers. "It would be appreciated if you made no more attempts to command my actions. I will rest if it will help your peace of mind to have me more fit to fight alongside you, but I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."
"Never doubted you were capable," Clint says, tugging the covers out from underneath him and pulling them up over his chest. "But you don't."
Loki laughs a little and closes his eyes. Clint stands up to leave but a hand closes on his wrist before he can take a step.
"Don't," Loki says, without opening his eyes.
Loki tugs, pulling Clint down so he's sitting on the covers. "Stay."
Clint hesitates for the briefest moment, before kicking off his shoes and lying back beside Loki. Whatever Selvig is doing downstairs in unimportant in comparison to being here, to being able to keep Loki safe. "My king," he says.
Loki's already half asleep, his face falling into an easy smile. "Yes," he says. "Just like that."
When Clint opens his eyes, Loki is propped up on one elbow watching him. His hair is messed up at the back again, and his shadowed eyes seem slightly curious. The emotion shuts down as he realizes Clint is awake.
"Did you sleep at all?" Clint asks.
"A little," Loki says. "I watched you sleep. It was... relaxing." Cast in the dawn light from the grimy window his face looks softer, and he's hesitant, like he's looking for something and isn't sure it it'll be there.
Clint reaches out slowly, wary that any wrong move could break the strange peace Loki seems to have found, and smoothes his hair down flat at the back. Loki turns his head a little into the touch.
"When did I tell you to look after me?" he asks.
Clint lets his hand curve to Loki's cheek, feeling the hesitance and the way Loki is tensed as though waiting for a rejection. He's too thin and too delicate and too difficult to keep safe. "You never told me to do anything," Clint says, running his thumb back and forth across Loki's cheek like it will be enough to convince him that he's not alone.
Loki closes his eyes. "I've never given you an order?" He seems surprised. "I suppose I'll have to remedy that. This late in the game, it ought to be something special."
Clint rolls onto his back, pulling Loki on top of him. "I look forward to it."
Loki's knees drop to either side of Clint's legs, his hands resting on the pillow beneath Clint's head. Clint's hand is still on Loki's cheek but Loki won't touch. "I don't need you to help me," Loki says. "I don't need anyone. I put all this together on my own, I will rule on my own. Nothing and nobody will stand in my way." He's pulling back again, closing himself off. Clint catches his fingers around the back of Loki's neck before he can make to move away.
"What if I need to help you?" Clint says. "What if I need to see you wanted, if I want to remind you what it feels like to have another person with you? Completely."
"It isn't you," Loki says. "Not really."
"Does it matter?" Clint says, pulling Loki's head down to kiss him.
Loki likes kissing. He's fine with Clint tugging off his shirt to run his fingers across the raised lines of every single one of Loki's ribs but his focus seems to be purely on Clint's mouth. Taking it, tasting it. He bites at Clint's lips, traces the shape of Clint's mouth with his tongue. When Clint pulls back, Loki smiles and whispers words, millimeters from his mouth so that every time his mouth opens, his tongue brushes against Clint's lips.
"I don't need you," Loki says as Clint runs his palms up Loki's back, tracing the cords of muscle and the sharpness of bone where there's not enough fat to be comfortable.
"You're nothing," Loki says, as Clint flips them over so that he can press a trail of kisses across Loki's collarbone—just kisses—as a reminder that this can be gentle, people can be gentle.
"I don't need to be looked after," Loki says, as Clint reaches for his belt for the first time.
Clint pauses, then leans up to steal another, lingering kiss from Loki's lips. "I want to look after you."
Loki closes his eyes as Clint slowly tugs apart the numerous ties and fastenings that make up Loki's flies. "You're mine," Loki says softly.
"Always," Clint says, dropping his pants onto the floor. "My king."
The knock comes a few hours later. "My king," Selvig calls. "There are some men coming."
Loki twists, stretching out like a long, lithe cat and incidentally pressing the full length of his naked body against Clint in the process. "So put them to work," he says. "I'm—" his fingers press against Clint's mouth. "- resting."
Loki stays perfectly still as Selvig shuffles away. Clint opens his mouth, letting his tongue flick out to brush back and forth against Loki's fingertips. As soon as the sound of footsteps fades, Loki leans in, fingers dragging Clint's bottom lip down as he catches it in another kiss.
"What if they kill Selvig?" Clint asks, as Loki's fingers drag down his chin and throat.
"We'll cope," Loki says, fingers sliding around to press against Clint's ass. "He's something of a bore, wouldn't you say?"
Clint laughs as Loki's slick fingers press back against his hole. "What happened to being burdened with glorious purpose?"
"Hmm," Loki says as Clint gasps. "You make an excellent point. I think you should tell me about the Avengers Initiative."
"Really?" Clint manages. "Right now."
Loki tilts his head, slipping a second finger down alongside the first. "Unless you can think of something better to do?"
Loki sends Clint to make him some food—which is probably going to be a cold can of beans judging by the contents of his kitchen—and Clint doesn't realize it's a trick until he returns to the bedroom and Loki is gone.
Clint is going to get him a leash. A leash and maybe a bell. He climbs out through the tiny window over the kitchen sink which leads directly to the rafters of the archery range and looks down. There are at least thirty people milling around now: a group of black suited men in badges proclaiming them to be a very confused SWAT team, a whole host of people in lab coats who are examining a range of white boards that Selvig is covering in equations and saying 'hmm' toward at appropriate intervals.
Loki is standing in the centre of the crowd of men clutching the largest guns, which—well—of course he is. Clint edges to the side of the roof, gripping his toes onto the slight ledge so he can inch closer to them. The closer he gets, the more he recognizes from the list he made out with half the men he's been chasing for years and the vague directions of the last time they were seen. Years of searching and Clint has never got closer to these men than a place they'd been or a person they'd talked to. Loki has apparently found all twelve in a matter of hours.
Loki is spinning the staff carelessly in one hand, occasionally tapping it against someone's chest to make a point. There's no telltale blue shimmer from the staff point, or in any of the men's eyes.
Loki doesn't look up until Clint is right over head and dropping onto the balcony he installed to practice on higher targets, and then his expression is one of mild exasperation rather than surprise. Even then he doesn't bother with a greeting, he just waves up at Clint and fits "- and that's Agent Barton-" into whatever he was saying before.
The crowd all look up, at least half of them recognize him—he can tell by the way their eyes narrow and their grips tighten on the aforementioned massive guns.
"Barton used to be with SHIELD," Loki continues, as though he hasn't noticed. "Now he's with me." Loki glances up again, eyes sparkling. "He has talented fingers and always hits the target. If I'm not around, you will obey him."
One of these days, Clint is going to punch him in the face. Gently.
"So," Loki continues, tossing the spear lightly from hand to hand. "Who wants to assist in the manufacture, who wants to guard the perimeter and who wants to be chosen for a very important and dangerous mission?" He eyes them all carefully then starts splitting them off. He sends the stronger looking ones over to Selvig, the ones with the bigger guns to guard the doorways. After a minute, only the three largest and most angry looking men are left. Each of them towers at least half a head over Loki and Clint is pretty sure one of them is holding a grenade launcher.
"And that leaves you three for the mission," Loki says, checking them over one last time. "The scientist over there, the woman in the blue jumper, she brought a hamper of food with her. Find out where she put it, and then I need you to make sandwiches."
The men both stare at him, hands tightening almost imperceptibly on the weapons and—shit—has Loki even tried to mind control these guys? Clint squints down at their eyes and naturally, no, he hasn't. "I'm sorry?" says the tallest of the three. He has a triple speed, pulsar ten barreled Uzi that Tony designed before he realized that people tend to die in wars. Clint has never found out this merc's actual name, but on his file it says 'NFW: Not to be Fucked With.' "What did you say?"
Loki's smile is innocent as the driven snow. "Sandwiches," he repeats. "They are a very Midgardian food choice, I will admit, but there is much that is convenient to them and we cannot work on empty stomachs." He tilts his head up. "Agent Barton, what would you like in your sandwich?"
Clint should have brought his bow. Explosive arrows would be lovely right now. He pulls his gun out in one hand and a throwing knife in the other.
"I didn't come here to do the fucking catering," NFW says, twisting the grip on his gun. The barrel is nearly as big as Loki's head which Clint knows because it is directly in Loki's face. "You promised me fucking Europe."
The butt end of the scepter hits the barrel of the gun, effectively stopping the spin. "And all associated whores and harlots, I do recall," Loki says. The man lets out a low snarl, finger going for the trigger -
Loki swings the butt of the scepter down, sending the bladed end directly up between his legs and halfway through his torso. "You promised me obedience," he says, calm as anything. "But I suppose we must all be disappointed on occasion."
Loki spins the scepter back upright. NFW falls to his knees, blood flowing out across the floor.
The other two men take one look at their fallen comrade then they're raising their guns too. This time Loki skips the theatrics, touching the tip of the scepter to each of their chests and setting off the ripple of blue light into their eyes. "Sandwiches," he says, when they have both lowered their weapons. "Now."
"Sir," they echo in perfect unison.
Loki looks down at the man bleeding out at his feet, makes a faintly disgusted noise and kicks him over. "I need someone to deal with this. Clint, get down from the roof, you're not a bird and I need you to meet your team. Selvig, work faster."
Clint grabs the chain hanging from the balcony and lets himself down hand over hand, dropping the last meter to land at Loki's right hand side. "I have a team?"
"Well," Loki says, heading towards the crowd of bemused SWAT officers, all with blue shimmers in their eyes. "Since you insist on following me around like a particularly dedicated guard dog, it seemed prudent to bring in some men to actually do your job." He turns to the men. "This is Agent Barton. You will do whatever he tells you to do, whenever he tells you to do it, understood?"
All the men salute in perfect unison. Clint stares at them for a moment. He has never exactly been a team player, more of a lone assassin with occasional assistance from another lone assassin. He has absolutely no idea how to lead a team.
He turns to Loki. "What exactly is my job?"
Loki's grin doesn't make him feel any better. "I'll let you know. For now, we need more sandwiches."
Clint dreams of the day Loki starts explaining himself in ways that make sense. "Okay, men," he says, trying to mimic the officers in all the action movies Natasha makes him mock with her. "Sandwich duty. Look to it."
"You look tired," Clint says, sitting next to Loki on the stack of unused bosses. "Again."
Loki lets out a low laugh and leans his head on Clint's shoulder. "The staff weakens me," he admits in a low voice. "I had hoped more people would serve without it."
"And you decided to experiment with the biggest, brashest and proudest?" Clint wraps an arm around his shoulders because he always seems cold.
"I have not a little pride myself," Loki admits, resting his hand on Clint's leg. "It is possible that on occasion I have forced you to care about my safety more than I acknowledge it myself."
Clint snorts, then drops a quick kiss on the top of Loki's head. "You don't take care of your safety at all. Sometimes I worry that you want them to attack you."
Loki closes his eyes. "I am hard to kill," he says. It isn't a no.
They sit in silence for a long moment, watching Selvig forget which hand his sandwich is in and accidentally bite the tip of his marker pen.
"If I ordered you to love me," Loki says, so soft that Clint would have to strain to hear it if he wasn't already attuned to every slight shiver of change in Loki's state. "Do you think you would?"
It's almost like Loki is fishing, and Clint could easily lie and say what it seems like Loki wants to hear but he won't. Loki doesn't need any more lies. "I don't know," he says. "I imagine I would try very hard. Are you planning on commanding it any time soon?"
Loki sighs and looks back over the construction site. They're building... something? To be honest, Clint has no idea. It looks a lot like what SHIELD were working on except slightly more glitzy and, despite only being worked on for a day or so, much more finished. "I suppose not."
"You know this won't make you happy," Clint says. "Finishing the machine, ruling the world. You're doing all of this because you think it'll make things feel better but it won't. It won't give you back your family or make you any less who you are." He wants to say that he'll do whatever it takes to make Loki happy. He'll track people down, he'll force them at gunpoint to do whatever Loki asks.
But from the way Loki always leans in when Clint puts and arm around him, the way he shuts down around anyone he hasn't mind-controlled into following his every whim, Clint is pretty sure it won't be that easy.
"What's the matter Clint," Loki says, in a passable imitation of his trickster's cadence. "You don't want me to be king?"
Clint holds him tighter, but stops pushing. "You're already my king. Maybe I don't want to share you."
The entire lower floor of the warehouse has become occupied. Loki and Clint still sleep in Clint's bedroom, and the perimeter guards apparently have coffee privileges in their contract, but other than that all the people in Loki's service—and it must be coming up on fifty now—seem to spend all their time downstairs in the corridors and the main room. Clint had considered for a while the possibility that they didn't sleep, then he caught one of the techs napping at her desk and amended that assessment to 'didn't sleep regularly.'
Clint dragged Loki upstairs every six hours or so, but they didn't exactly sleep much either. Mostly it was just because every second Loki spent on the warehouse floor he got more and more concerned about how long it was taking. This wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't for the fact that he would then go and yell at Selvig or skewer more workers for not being fast enough and then the whole process would slow down further.
Now, though, he's lost Loki entirely. He has the SWAT team located in apparently innocent but very specific locations throughout the whole warehouse where they can conveniently keep track of all the available mirrors and has heard no reports.
He sees a sharp movement in the corner of his eye and turns. Loki is sitting on a step, hidden between two workbenches full of people ignoring him.
Clint walks over and sits beside him, saying nothing as he takes in the tremble of Loki's fingers and the way he reaches up to gingerly touch his cheek.
He's learnt from experience that Loki will give explanations in his own time, if they're necessary and he will be left utterly in the dark whenever they're not.
"Believe it or not," Loki says, proving him right in a low voice. "I am not the most dangerous thing out there."
Clint ruffles his hair lightly with one hand. "That is not actually at all hard to believe."
He gets a small laugh for that, and Loki's still half smiling when he reaches up to knock Clint's hand away. "How are things progressing?"
"Selvig's been 'talking to the cube,'" Clint says, because he's been hearing about it all fucking morning. "He thinks we need more materials, I'm running a trace on where they can be found."
Loki goes perfectly still for a moment, like Clint at full draw, then forces himself to relax. "Talk to the Tesseract," he says. "Will you get them once you've sourced them?"
Clint knocks him gently on the shoulder. "If you promise not to goad anyone carrying a weapon larger than your face while I'm gone."
Loki smiles, touching his hand for a moment. "How about I don't goad anyone carrying any weapon, how does that sound?"
"It sounds like you're almost getting the hang of this 'looking out for yourself' thing." He kisses Loki quickly on the cheek. "Do you want to go upstairs while my search runs?"
Loki sighs, tapping the staff against his knees. "I think you should tell me about the girl you like."
It's Clint's turn to freeze up. "Natasha," he says, as though Loki might have been thinking of some other girl and is just casually jealous that Clint is in love with someone else. "I thought she wasn't involved."
Loki keeps tapping the staff, not looking at Clint. It's a bad sign. "She has become involved," he says eventually. "I may have to kill her."
Clint finds himself staring at the staff too, thinking about Natasha and he's known her for years. He found her, he saved her when no one else would. "Oh," he says. There doesn't seem much else to say.
"Would you try and stop me?" Loki asks. "If I did?"
Clint swallows, looking down at his own knees—bent up in front of his chest. "I don't think I could," he says, because Loki comes first—Loki always comes first—and if Natasha was hurting him... or if Loki ordered Clint to stay back for the plan. The plan is important. At least, it's important to Loki and Loki is—Loki is.
"I'm in love with her," Clint says and he's never said it before, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Loki looks down at the scepter on his lap. "Oh."
"Do you want me to beg?" Clint asks, turning his head and hoping like he can reverse the bond between them until Loki will do whatever he asks. "Because I will."
Loki rolls the scepter slowly up and down his knees. "I thought you had more pride than that," he says.
Clint reaches out to catch his hand, stilling the movement and forcing Loki to look at him. "There are things worth shelving your pride for," he says. "My king."
Upstairs, Loki turns his back to undress. Clint watches as Loki's hair lengthens and when he turns he has softer features, curved hips and bare breasts. "Is this better?" he asks in a voice pitched higher but still unmistakably the same. "Do you prefer it like this?"
He's getting closer, and Clint isn't sure if he should back off or—"Is this an illusion?"
Loki laughs, his face shimmering from female to male and back again. "Everything is an illusion, Clint," he says, pushing Clint down onto the bed. "I'm not human."
Clint rests his fingers hesitantly on the curve of his hips. "You don't have to change for me."
Loki smiles a sickly smile and leans in to whisper in his ear. "I think you should fuck me," he says, moving Clint's fingers down.
"This won't make me any less in love with her," Clint says, because he still can't see Loki's angle.
Loki closes his eyes for a moment. "I never asked you to be." He straightens up a little, moving half a step back. "It makes no difference to me either way, I thought you might be more comfortable. If you'd prefer I leave—"
Clint catches him by the waist, pulling him back to the bed. "No," he says, pulling Loki flush against him to get used to the new shape. "This is good."
He tastes the same.
"I won't touch her," Loki says, slowly fastening the clasps of the leather coat that falls straight down his now flat chest.
Clint sits up in the bed and rests his elbow on his knees. "Are you going to make me do it?"
Loki's lips curve into a false smile. "You're reading me far too well, Agent Barton," he says, with no more than a touch of his normal aloof disposition.
That tells Clint all he needs to know, really. "You're going to kill me too then."
Loki freezes for a moment, then reaches up to brush his hair back into place. "You know too much," he says, and Clint knows that what he means is 'You know me too much. I have been too unguarded in front of you.'
"I would stay with you," Clint says. "As long as you needed me."
Loki turns back, kissing him lightly on the side of the mouth. "And as long as the spell lasts," he says. "I know."
It's strange, hating yourself for being who you are. Strange knowing that you're under a spell and hating the part of you that isn't. "I wish I could offer you more," he says.
Loki drags his thumb across Clint's cheek, then steps away. "And you will keep wishing that," he says. "As long as the spell lasts."
He opens the door and slips out, leaving Clint to punch the wall and scream into the pillow. Damn him. Damn him and Clint and the damn scepter for making him feel this way.
He hopes Loki is the one to kill him. It seems like he deserves that much.
The Tesseract is like the scepter magnified by a thousand. The whispers rush through him, this time not with commands or the urge to kneel but with images. He sees himself, standing on a crane in the rain with a compound bow trained at Thor's head.
He sees Loki stand before a kneeling crowd of people, a horned helmet resplendent on his brow.
He sees Natasha stand in front of Bruce Banner and go for a gun, the scene fading out before he can see Banner change.
He sees New York City reduced to rubble, giant metal creatures strewn through the buildings and across the streets.
He sees an alley, guards, a figure with his eye open wide in front of a panel. Sees him walk through white paneled corridors, sees the code he types into a drawer to pull out a tube filled with a rough metal.
He closes his eyes, and when he opens them he sees the Tesseract sitting on its pedestal, shimmering happily to itself like a particularly gaudy ornament.
He knows what he has to do.
Loki is sitting on the same step as before and as before none of the workers milling around seem to have any clue he's there. It's probably fortunate, because it means they don't see the bright blue tone of his skin and the red contrasting eyes.
"Feeling blue?" Clint says, dropping onto the step beside him.
Loki turns his head and there are dark ridges across his forehead that Clint wants to reach out and trace. "Don't you have work to be doing?" he asks, turning his head away and dropping his eyes like he's trying to keep their color out of Clint's sight.
"I'm doing it," Clint says, tilting Loki's chin back up and running across the ridged blue skin. It's chill to the touch but as his finger warms it, it fades back to flesh tones.
"So which one is real?" Clint asks, pressing his palm to Loki's cheek to see the flesh-toned imprint of his fingers in the blue.
Loki catches his hand before he can pull it away, fingers painfully tight around his wrist and sending tendrils of cold spreading across Clint's skin. "Why does one of them have to be real?" he replies. Clint tries to ease the grip looser because he's an archer; he needs his hands functional. "Maybe everything I am is a lie."
Clint tilts his head forward to catch Loki's blue lips, feeling the prick of sharp teeth that slowly smooth out as he licks warmth against them.
Loki's fingers release his wrist and curve up against his shoulder. Clint traces lines in his neck, down across his throat—pulling back to watch flesh tones spread out everywhere he touches. He smiles, leaning in a little. "Does the blue go all the way down?"
Loki stares at him for a moment, like after everything they've been through he still can't quite believe that Clint wants him no matter what he looks like, what he's going to do, what he is.
"You shouldn't have to see me like this," he says eventually, standing up. "He was trying to prove a point and I suppose he succeeded."
Clint follows him, standing on the step to wrap his arms around the cool waist and lean his chin in the painfully cold hollow of Loki's throat. "Who?"
Loki shakes his head, turning to hold Clint, cold fingers pressing against his spine. "It doesn't matter. Are you ready to get the irradium?"
Clint rubs his fingers up and down Loki's sides to warm them up. "Are you ready to send someone to fetch me an eyeball?"
"You're still not talking me out of going," Loki says. "I promised you a distraction and that's what you're going to get."
Clint keeps rubbing his hands across Loki's back, finding cool patches and warming them under his fingers. "How about you send Selvig to do naked karaoke for them, or mind control the mercenaries on the doors to tap dance. All of these are wonderful distractions."
Loki takes a step back, tugging Clint with him so he drops off the step and is back to feeling far too small as Loki kisses his forehead. "I promised you I wouldn't goad anyone carrying a weapon and I'll keep that promise. I'm going to be fine."
Clint sighs. "You'd better be. It's going to fuck up your whole taking-over-the-world plan if I have to take all the men and come rescue you."
The blue runs all the way down. Clint has to press his fingers everywhere—touching and tasting and watching it fade to flesh under the pressure until Loki is lying beneath him as human as he ever was. "Is it an illusion?" Clint asks, chasing away the last blue streaks behind his ears.
Loki is spread out boneless on the mattress, rolling easily in whatever direction Clint nudges but apparently perfectly happy for Clint to take the lead. "I don't know," he says. "It's not my spell."
"Could you break it?"
Loki stretches his unmarked arms out, twisting them to see the perfectly smooth skin. "I've never tried," he says. "I don't see how one lie is so very different to another."
"They're both you," Clint says. "In different ways."
Loki sighs. "Do you have a brother?" he asks. "An identical twin? A clone?" His fingers curl absently through Clint's hair. "I could use your pearls of wisdom when I'm king."
Clint slides up next to him, content for the moment to just trace fingertips across Loki's bare chest and be there for him. "That's something I've been wondering. I thought you used to be a God here, why the decision to try for a throne?"
Loki laughs darkly. "Did you ever read your myths and legends, Barton? The only thing I got from being God of your people was a detailed description of how I would die."
"Exactly how many different types of arrow are there?" Loki asks, picking up a grappling hook point and testing the sharpness against his thumb. "Back home there's really just the sharp pointy kind that you fire at deer when you can't be bothered to sneak up on them."
It's the first time Clint has ever heard Loki refer to Asgard as home, and from the way Loki tenses and drops the arrow tip he's realized too. "SHIELD special issue," he says, picking up the grappling hook point, purely coincidentally brushing Loki's hand reassuringly as he drops it into its hole in his quiver. "It takes a long time to learn how to shoot the different ones, the balance is all wrong and they never quite do what you expect at first." He starts sliding shafts into their slots, spinning each one in his palm and discarding any that aren't perfectly straight. "But if you put the time in, you can bring down much more than a deer."
Loki picks up the bow, running his fingers down the string that Clint has just spent ten minutes waxing—ignoring Loki's pointed comments that if he's going to be lubing anything, Loki has some far better ideas. "And that's how you spend your time, learning how to fire the bow?"
Clint takes it from his hand, replacing it with one of the slightly bent shafts. "Seemed as good a skill as any." It would be nice to have a compound, for the additional assurance that there was no way he would miss and no chance of him letting Loki down; but he went through a phase where all he bought were recurves and this base is still a testament to that.
Loki runs his fingers across the artificial feather fletchings. "Did you ever think it was cowardice, learning to fight battles from a position where you can kill your enemy but he can't kill you?"
Says the man who specializes in illusions? "No. If I'm honest, mostly it seemed pretty smart."
Loki smiles a little, dropping the shaft onto the pile of discards and reaching to take the bow from Clint's hands, laying it on the floor with the rest. "I knew I liked you for a reason," he says, pulling Clint closer to him.
"Well," Clint says, placing his quiver carefully against the wall next to the bow. "You clearly have excellent taste."
Clint is lying on his stomach on the bed, Loki kneeling over him. Loki's lips are forming words against Clint's back that he can feel but not hear.
"What's that?" Clint asks.
Loki's lips curve into a smile against his skin. "Your order."
Clint rolls onto his back, catching Loki in his arms. "Do I get to know what it is?"
Loki considers this for a moment, then reaches for the pen on the bedside table and starts writing on Clint's arm, shaping careful letters none of which show up on the skin. "The ink will stay invisible until after we're done tomorrow," Loki says, tilting Clint's arm away so he can't guess the letters from seeing the movements of the pen. "I think you'll enjoy it."
He smiles a wicked little smile, Clint laughs and knocks him lightly on the side of the head. "You don't have to give me orders for that," he says. "You know I'd do anything for you."
Loki's smile widens as he pushes Clint down into the pillows. "My way's more fun," he says. "You'll see."
One of the mercs has a stolen SHIELD plane at a base half an hour's drive away. Loki mirrorwalks there, leaving Clint to share the back of a cramped Landrover with a team of sweaty overdressed SWAT agents.
The man can pilot the plan though, which is useful because it means Clint can glare at his SWAT team until they all squash up front and leave him and Loki with the whole back compartment to themselves.
"Is the scarf really necessary?"
Loki smoothes the carefully selected green scarf over the tailored jacket. "Image is important."
"Right." Clint reaches up to run a hand back through Loki's hair, flattening it down. "You still couldn't take a shower?"
Loki knocks his hand away."You don't have a shower, Clint. You have a tap and a bucket. I am so very sorry that my standards for living are higher than yours and that I can use magic to get clean."
Clint laughs but it's too forced. Back at the base, talking about this, it all seemed so far away. So easy to think they could just live in limbo forever, but now they're in the first stages of a plan that ends with Loki ruling the world and Clint dying.
Who's going to take care of Loki when Clint's gone? Who's going to know that he hates pickle and drinks whatever you put in his hand—especially if it's coffee—and smiles a certain kind of smile when he feels so alone that he just needs someone to wrap an arm around him.
"I wish I knew this would make you happy," Clint says.
"It will," Loki says, fingers tightening on the scepter-cum-walking stick resting on his lap. "I will be a king, if not of my rightful land then at least of somewhere my—of somewhere important. I will be victorious."
"And that will make you happy?"
Clint reaches across to take his hand, interlacing their fingers around the scepter. "Then I wish I could be there at the end, to see your smile."
Beneath the illusion, Loki is shaking. "What other hope do I have?" he asks of their clasped hands. "I'm too far gone, I have to believe—" he stops, pulling away. "I will be a king."
Clint lets his hand drop and nods, sliding off the seat. "Then let me be the first to kneel," he says, going down slowly. "My king."
The door to the front compartment slides open. "Landing in thirty seconds," says one of the SWAT men. "Get ready to move."
Loki nods and the door shuts. Clint stands, turning to swing his quiver onto his back and pick up his bow, clicking it out with a sharp movement. He hesitates by the door, watching Loki still sitting down—turning the shrunken scepter between his hands. "Stay safe," Clint says, a last plea.
Loki looks up at him and smiles the smile that means he's lying. "See you on the other side."
Then the SWAT team are swarming through, dragging Clint down the ramp with them. When he looks back Loki is gone.
Clint had told Loki he needed a ten minute distraction, but luck was on their side and they were in and out in five. He calls Selvig from the roof, waves the camera on his phone vaguely in the direction of the tube to check with him that it was indeed what they were looking for.
"Loki isn't back yet?" Selvig says, after Clint has babbled at him for at least two minutes.
"He'll be okay," Clint says, because he refuses to believe Loki might not be. "He promised."
The door to the roof slams open and Clint drops the arm holding the phone as he spins around because he sent the SWAT scout down the moment they got back and Loki wasn't here. The man is panting, clutching his side but he runs across the roof anyway and offers Clint a feeble, bent-double salute. "They got him," he pants. "Iron Man and Captain America."
Clint's blood runs cold. The rest of the squad have all turned to listen and Clint should say something about maintaining a perimeter but he honestly doesn't care. "What?"
The man takes a few deep breathes and straightens up a little more. "He was out there with the crowd, they were all kneeling and then Captain America was just there. They fought and Loki was winning but when Iron Man showed up he surrendered."
Clint throws his bow into the back of their plane and waves for the men to follow him up. "What did they do with him?"
"They were taking him up into their plane," the man says. "We could catch them before they leave, or follow them and get him while they're in the air."
"Clint?" comes Selvig's tinny voice from the phone. "Clint, what's happening there?"
Clint lifts the phone to his ear. "They got him. The fucking Avengers, they've got him in their plane." He waves the pilot into the cockpit. "He surrendered to them. He fucking surrendered."
"Are you coming back to base?" Selvig asks.
"Of course I'm no—" Clint starts, then stops when he realizes the plane hasn't moved. He lets the phone fall again so he can look at his men. "Why aren't we going anywhere?"
The SWAT team look distinctly uncomfortable. "Orders," one of them says. "We can't disobey Loki's orders."
Right. Of course. They're all looking to him because he's the only person they know who will happily disregard anything Loki tells him in order to keep Loki safe. He just has to find a loophole in whatever Loki has commanded of them. "Okay," he says. "Close the hatch and let's get off the ground. What are your orders?"
The pilot slides into the cockpit and there's the whirr of the engines starting up. The man who spoke first glances at his companions before replying. "We're commanded to carry out Loki's plan, assist Selvig in building the Tesseract machine and obey your orders. In Loki's absence, the primary order becomes to obey his second in command."
Clint can work with that, Clint can totally work with that. He just has to find this mythical second in command and get them to give the order to go after Loki. "Who's the second in command?"
The team all give him strange looks. "You, sir," says the first man slowly. "Who else would it be?"
Right. Because Loki doesn't have anyone else, even though he should. He needs a whole team of people. "That's perfect," Clint says, putting all other thoughts of his head because Loki and priorities. "My first command to you is that we take this plane and—" he chokes. The words catch in his throat, his mouth stops moving.
He stops and frowns because that's—that's strange. He takes a deeper breath and starts again. "We're going to take the plane and go—"
He can't even shape the words, can't even push the air out of his lungs to make the sounds. "I want you to re-"
"I order you to—"
"Sir?" says one of the SWAT men, taking a hesitant step forward. "Are you okay?"
No, Clint thinks wildly. No, no I'm not. He claws at his sleeve, tugging the jacket up and twisting his arm guard around to bare the skin on the inside of his arm and the words slowly fading into view. Neatly formed letters, curved in black against his skin.
Don't try to rescue me.
Damn him. Damn him damn him DAMN HIM. The stupid, arrogant, reckless fool. He's so infuriating and why does he never tell Clint ANYTHING? Now he's going to be killed by the fucking Avengers and Clint won't even be there and who's going to stand beside him? Is he just going to die on his own, plummeting from ten thousand feet in a prison built to hold a monster?
Clint pulls an arrow at random from his quiver and snaps it in half over his knee so he doesn't start shooting his own men. "Turn the plane around," he spits out through gritted teeth. "We're going home."
"But sir, Loki is literally right—"
"You have your orders," Clint shouts. "Now get to the front of the plane and leave me in peace!"
The men snap to attention, then scurry out, sliding the door between the sections closed behind them. Clint closes his eyes, lifting his legs up onto the bench and resting his head between his knees before picking up the phone again. "Selvig?"
"Are you going to rescue him?" Selvig says.
Clint turns his arm so the command catches the light. Don't try to rescue me. "I can't," he says. "He won't let me."
Clint lets his arm fall again. "Loki. That's my order: don't try to rescue him. He knew this would happen, he fucking knew and he let me be talked into it like a fool. It should be me, they should have taken me."
"Yes," Selvig says. "That would've been better."
Clint swallows and forces himself to voice the thought going round and round his head. "What if they kill him?"
Selvig is quiet for a long time. "I don't know," he says eventually.
"He must have a plan. He always has a plan."
"And all his plans have worked out brilliantly so far," Selvig says. "Which is why he's King of Asgard and Thor is dead."
Clint slams his fist into the seat, sending stabs of pain up his arm. "I need you to get the machine in the truck and get moving," he snaps. "Send us your GPS signal and we'll meet up with you to pass on the irradium. You take the machine and get it set up, I'll take the rest of the mercenaries to hunt down the helicarrier and take it down. We stick to Loki's plan and hope to god that there's nothing else he hasn't told us."
"What if Loki is in the helicarrier when you bring it down?"
Clint shakes his head at the floor and runs a hand through his hair. "We follow the plan," he says. "What else can we do?"
They meet in an empty car park just off the road. Selvig's got his entire team in the back of a fitted out lorry that came from who knows where. Clint goes through them, picking out the mind controlled mercenaries and leaving the scientists for Selvig. "Where are the allied mercs?" he asks, looking for the telltale dark eyes as his SWAT team fetch the irradium from the plane.
"They left as soon as they heard about Loki," Selvig says. "Apparently they don't regard someone who was caught in their first fight with SHIELD as someone worth following."
A scientist comes over from the back of the van and holds out a small computer. "Here's your tracking device, Agent Barton."
Clint glances at her, then back to Selvig. "My what?"
Selvig turns to the woman. "His what?"
She looks between the two of them, apparently confused. "The program you need to track the staff based on the Tesseract radiation that it emits? I've been working on it since I arrived, Loki said to give it to you now so that you could track down the helicarrier."
Clint stares at her for a moment. "Selvig," he says through gritted teeth. "Is anything in my immediate vicinity unimportant?"
There is a pause, then Selvig pushes a glass sheet into his hand. Clint snarls and throws it to the floor. "I hate him. How long was he planning this?" He grabs the woman's shoulders. "How long did you know about this? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I don't understand—" she stammers.
Selvig grabs Clint's shoulder. "Focus, Barton. You know as well as I do that she couldn't have. At least you won't have to hunt to find it now."
"And we'll know for certain Loki is on it when we send it crashing to the ground in a thousand pieces," Clint snaps, snatching the tablet from the woman's hands. "How perfect. Where's my team?" He turns to see them assembled in a line across the parking lot. "Why are none of you in the damn plane? Get moving, we haven't got all day."
"Try to get him out alive," Selvig says.
Clint snorts and holds out his arm with its 'don't try to rescue me' for Selvig's inspection. "I'm following orders just like the rest of you."
Selvig sighs, then reaches out to pull Clint into an unexpected one-armed hug. "Try to get yourself out alive then."
Loki probably didn't name a third in command. Clint pulls out of the hug and glances around the back of the truck one last time.
Then he turns to run and board the plane, tossing the tablet computer at the pilot's head. "There are your co-ordinates. Let's bring down a helicarrier."
"Why not just take out two engines from the air?" Clint has no idea if it's a merc or a SWAT guy, they're all wearing SHIELD's face covering helmets. He's going to assume it's a merc because there is no way his team is that stupid.
"We're taking out the second engine from the SHIELD control room," Clint says. "We get on board the helicarrier, guard the engine we've already destroyed and use Selvig's arrow to take out the ship's controls so it will fall slowly out of the sky."
"It just seems like a lot of complications to what could be a fast and easy plan."
Clint resists the urge to bang his head against a wall. "Yes," he says. "Anyone would think there was someone on board the helicarrier who we wanted to give enough time to get out. You can go guard the engine we blew up. Feel free to get yourself killed in the process." He turns to the rest of the group, tilting his head to pick out his two favorite SWAT team members based on the way they're standing. "Our very important job is to take down the helicarrier and not try to rescue anyone. Make sure you take all the time you need to do it right. You two, with me. The rest of you, you know your jobs. Get to it."
He loses all his men to the SHIELD agents on the bridge, but the arrow he'd been saving in his quiver to take out the engine does its job perfectly. That leaves him with ten minutes before he has to be back on the plane and away.
It's not technically trying to rescue if he just goes to take a look. He won't try to rescue at all, he just needs the confirmation that Loki is alive and if Loki happens to be out of his cage, Clint will be there to guide him back to the plane.
He's not trying to rescue anyone.
Clint ducks away from the bridge and runs through the corridors thanking all the gods for loopholes.
Something moves behind him and he's barely turned before Natasha's there.
I'm in love with you, he thinks, fitting an arrow to his string. It's strange thinking it to her face but at the same time he knows that Loki is close and Loki is the priority and Natasha should just move before Clint has to kill her.
Before Clint has to kill her early. Get out of my way.
Natasha's better at hand to hand than he is. Always has been, always will be and normally he wouldn't even try to fight her but Loki.
Then his head slams into a bar and everything goes black for a moment, his head is suddenly full of the scepter again kneelkneel, obeyobey, serveserve, submitsubmit
Actually, comes a voice rushing up from his subconscious to meet it. You know what?
xXx >>————> xXx
It's easy as switching sides.
Which is to say, everyone looks at him like he might turn around and betray them any second and every so often he catches himself wondering if Loki has eaten recently.
He shoots an arrow at Loki's face, and after he find himself wondering if he knew Loki would catch it, if he hoped Loki would recognize it for what it was and let it go.
He can't seem to stop second guessing himself.
Selvig built a failsafe into the Tesseract machine. Clint woke up twice in the night and reached out an arm before he remembered he was sleeping alone. Which of them is supposed to be the hero again?
xXx >>————> xXx
The emergency SHIELD base where they came after eating—with the exception of Stark who apparently found a bedroom in Stark tower which hadn't been destroyed, and Banner because he's Stark's new BFF—is rudimentary, and built like every other SHIELD base. Finding the prison where they're keeping Loki for the night while Selvig modifies the Tesseract machine to take Thor and Loki home isn't hard.
There is no fancy flying containment for him this time. The bars are made from normal, solid steel and Thor checked both the muzzle and the cuffs three times before he was satisfied Loki wouldn't escape them.
The lights come on automatically as Clint enters and Loki raises his head.
"Thor's taking you back to Asgard in the morning," Clint says. "I don't know what'll happen to you there. I guess they'll take away your powers, but then who knows? They exiled Thor here and I can't imagine you lasting long if that happens. I mean, SHIELD would only lock you up until the end of forever but there are a handful of very powerful ex-mind controlled mercenaries who would like nothing more than to kill you. Slowly. In every way you fear."
Loki turns slowly to look at him, hands clasped loosely behind him so the chains ring out every time he moves.
"I wish I had put an arrow through your eye," Clint says, pulling a chair off a stack to sit down in front of the prison. "I wish I could go back in time and do it before any of this started. I wish I could forget all the things you made me do."
A muzzle isn't enough. Clint knows Loki's eyes too well, he knows when Loki's gloating.
"But I can't," Clint says. "And I can't forget everything I know about you either. I know you want to sit there and feel maligned. You want to simmer on the fact that everybody hates you and always has. You have no family, you're a monster."
Loki stares back at him clearly saying 'yes, I am. My story is tragic and no one cares for me and people should feel sympathy for my plight.'
"Well I'm not going to let you do that," Clint says. "Because you hurt my planet, you insulted the woman I love and you killed the man who always believed in me. I'm going to tell you exactly why you have no right to any pity."
Loki's eyes narrow but he still can't speak.
"You want to believe you're unloved," Clint says. "But I've heard Thor talk about you. He spends half his time telling us about all your exploits and explaining that you're confused and this is all some big misunderstanding. I was in the room when Odin commanded that we send you straight home. I have listened to gods threaten war on behalf of a skinny blue frost giant who destroyed half a city because he hasn't grown past the stage of a toddler throwing his toys out of the pram to get his parent's attention."
Clint stands up, pushing his chair back to the edge of the room. "And you have it, you've always had it. You're just too blind and arrogant to see it." He lets out a low, laugh. "There are people who love you," he says. "People who want to help you, who want to protect you, who will keep believing the best of you however many time you prove them wrong.
"But I'm just not one of them. I never was."
Loki looks up at him, his eyes cool and expressionless. Clint has no idea what he's thinking, and he's entirely tired of caring.
"If I ever see you again," Clint says. "You won't catch the arrow."
He turns around and walks away.