Clint wakes up to the worst headache he’s had since the morning after the time Tony challenged him and Thor to a drinking contest. He moans piteously and rolls over, pretty sure he’s going to vomit and not keen to choke on it, which is when it comes to his attention that he’s not in Avengers Mansion.
He opens his eyes. A daisy stares insolently back at him.
There’s a familiar-sounding groan a few feet away, and then Bruce’s voice says, “Oh, thank God. I’m wearing pants.”
“Bruce?” Clint says in lieu of raising his head.
“Clint? What happened?”
Clint manages to move his hand far enough to press on the side of his throbbing skull. “I dunno. Is anyone else here?”
In answer to this question there is a third whimper of pain from somewhere off to Clint’s left, and a smooth, cultured voice that Clint has very elaborate fantasies about never ever hearing again says, “Ohhh... Borr’s left testicle, what in Hel’s name happened?”
On the plus side, it gets Clint upright in a hurry. “Loki?”
“Who wants to know?” Loki asks suspiciously. He’s lying on his back in the field, eyes still tightly shut, wearing what Clint identifies, after a moment of severe cognitive dissonance, as flannel pajama pants and a neon green t-shirt with ‘Come to the dark side, we have cookies!’ written on it. And okay, he's apparently not evil anymore, but that's going native a little faster than Clint can really fit in his headspace.
Bruce is a few feet away, propped up on his elbows. He looks like he got bed-napped too, unless he habitually does science while only wearing boxer shorts. Clint takes a moment to thank his lucky stars that he fell asleep watching a movie on the couch and thus looks his usual badass self. No one really needs to know about his sincere affection for sleepwear advertising the Disney version of Robin Hood.
“Do you see anyone else?” Bruce asks, staggering upright.
“No,” Clint says. “We’re somewhere rural. I think I see a road over there, though. What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Going to sleep,” Bruce says, trying to fold his arms in a way that will cover as much of his chest as possible.
“I as well,” Loki supplies, deigning to sit up and join the conversation. “Whoever did this must have some degree of magical ability, for my chambers were warded.”
“Well,” Clint says, “I’m going to go check out the road, see if I can find a sign or something.”
He makes it about five feet before running into some kind of invisible barrier which, for the record, fucking smarts.
“That was a very impressive use of vocabulary,” Loki says witheringly when Clint’s done swearing. His outline blurs for a moment, and then he solidifies with a newly pissy look on his face. “I am also being prevented from leaving magically. Someone planned this well.”
“There’s a box over here,” Bruce calls, making his way back to where they’d woken up. “We’ve got water, granola bars, ooh, aspirin! Oh, and a note.”
Clint hurries back over and takes the box so Bruce can unfold the note. Loki stands up and they both hover anxiously as Bruce’s face takes on an expression that Clint can only describe as ‘pouting’.
“‘Dear Clint and Loki. Please work on your massive control issues. Love, everyone. P.S. Bruce, don’t cover up those abs, they look great! No homo.’”
“Stark,” Clint and Loki growl at the same time, then glare at each other.
“And Thor must have helped him,” Loki continues, still glaring. He puts his hands on his hips, tilts his head back, and shouts, “Stark! If you do not release us immediately I will see to it that your most precious body part is never functional again! Ask Thor if you do not believe I can do it!”
Clint coughs to hide a smile, because Loki is a bastard and does not deserve it. “Pretty sure he’s not here, actually.”
“Trust me,” Loki scowls. “I know his type. He is watching.”
“Loki’s right. I live with the man, he’s watching,” Bruce says absently, still frowning over the note. “Why are they only talking about your control issues? I mean, I’ve gotten a lot better but the Other Guy pretty much defines - oh. Oh dear lord, please tell me I’m not supposed to be the Obi Wan in this situation.”
“I have no issues,” Loki says stiffly, making a valiant attempt to pull off ‘haughty’ while wearing pajamas and standing in a field of daisies. “Only mortals of inferior mental prowess have ‘issues’.”
“Buddy, you’ve got more issues than National Geographic,” Clint says flatly. “Should I start with your god complex or go straight to the part where you had a tantrum and leveled Manhattan?”
“I am a god, there is nothing complex about that,” Loki shoots back. “And Manhattan was not my doing, as you should be well aware. I would have thought that Thor used small enough words when he explained the situation but I can see that he obviously overestimated your intelligence.”
“Okay,” Bruce says dryly. “So. I’m gonna guess we’re here to talk about the whole mind control thing.”
Clint scowls. He has talked about the whole mind control thing. He’s talked to a SHIELD psychiatrist, a SHIELD internal affairs investigator, Natasha, Steve, and Fury, all of which was just as scarring as one would expect. He’s fine, dammit. Okay, Thor reappearing with Loki in tow and a story about the Chitauri mind-controlling Loki too had been a bit of a blow, and okay, he hasn’t been entirely graceful about being in the same general vicinity as Loki, but honestly. Who would be?
It’s not an ‘issue’, it’s a rational concern. Is Clint the only one who’s read up on mythology? God of Lies ring a bell?
“I’m not talking about anything,” he says petulantly.
“Nor am I,” Loki sniffs. “I have stated my case. It is not my problem if others choose to disbelieve me.”
“Great!” Bruce says brightly. “Well, that should do it, oh gee, we’re still trapped. Dibs on the supplies.”
He grabs the box and stomps off to claim a spot a few feet away.
Clint scowls. Bruce has a point, damn him. They’re entirely at the mercy of Tony’s twisted sense of closure. From the sound of grinding teeth next to him, Loki’s come to the same conclusion.
“I still hate you,” he tells Loki conversationally.
“Oh yes, I despise you,” Loki returns blandly.
Clint makes his way over and sits down next to Bruce. “My head hurts,” he says plaintively, holding out a hand for the aspirin.
“I require sustenance,” Loki says, seating himself primly and staring off into the distance.
Bruce sighs. “All right. Clint, take these with some food. Loki, are you allergic to anything?”
“...No,” Loki says, giving Bruce a weirded-out look.
They eat their granola bars and painkillers in silence, studiously avoiding each other’s eyes. Finally Bruce clears his throat.
“Okay,” he says reluctantly. “Um, the first step is admitting you have a problem.”
“AA, really?” Clint says.
“I have admitted my problem,” Loki says, eyeballing him. “I am stranded in a field.”
“Loki, you know that’s not what I mean,” Bruce says irritably.
Loki considers this. “I cannot take you seriously while you are unclothed. That is a problem.” He snaps his fingers. The wrapper from his granola bar warps and expands, becoming a t-shirt with a giant picture of a rampaging Hulk on it. He hands it over.
“‘Why be normal?’” Bruce reads with a sigh. “Thanks. Okay, guys. Control issues - spit it out.”
“All right,” Clint says, manning up. “Here’s my problem: I don’t see that I have control issues. I’m a sniper - control’s pretty much my job description. And I’m good at it, so it must be working, ergo: no issues.”
“I agree,” Loki says. “Magic requires a great deal of control. My magic does not trouble me.”
“But you both ended up brainwashed,” Bruce points out.
“Allegedly,” Clint mutters. “And that was out of my control, and therefore not my problem.”
“In actuality,” Loki grits, looking at him with extreme dislike.
“Okay,” Bruce says doggedly. “So it’s lack-of-control issues, then. Those I think I’m pretty qualified for.”
Clint and Loki fall silent. Clint consults himself and decides that since he took the last bullet, this one’s all Loki’s.
There is a very long silence.
“Fine, it wasn’t fun,” Clint mutters rebelliously.
“Loki?” Bruce prompts.
Loki crosses his arms mutinously and refuses to speak. Bruce gives Clint a pleading look. Shit.
“The scariest part is the idea that it could happen again,” Clint mumbles to the ground, face heating.
“It will never happen again,” Loki says fiercely and then cuts himself off.
“You never know that for sure,” Bruce says quietly.
“I know!” Loki snarls, jumping to his feet. “I know their methods, I know how to protect myself from them. It will never. Happen. Again.”
“Great,” Clint says sarcastically. “I’m happy for you, but those of us without witchy voodoo powers are still pretty much screwed.”
“All you can do is fire an arrow,” Loki hisses. “I destroyed a city!”
Clint jumps to his feet. “You think that makes you special? I blew your ass up with one of my arrows, Mister I’m-a-God!”
“And a great deal of good it did both of us!” Loki yells. “You could not stop the destruction any more than I did!”
“At least I tried!”
The first punch hits Clint on the jaw, but he nails Loki in the groin as he’s going down and they both wind up on the ground. From there it pretty much devolves into the manly superhero version of a catfight.
About fifteen minutes later, Clint and Loki drag themselves off to opposite sides of Bruce. Loki’s licking blood off a very nicely split lip and Clint’s using the collar of his t-shirt to dab at the fingernail scratches down the side of his neck. Bruce is calmly eating another granola bar.
“Well,” Clint says grudgingly as he tries to figure out if his ribs are cracked or just badly bruised, “I believe you were actually brainwashed now.”
“I concede that you have skills other than marksmanship,” Loki says, prodding at a swelling eye and wincing.
“So, lack of control issues,” Bruce says cheerfully. “You were saying?”
Loki relents with bad grace. “Fine. I did not enjoy it either.”
Bruce watches him with an air of excessive patience, chin resting on his hand.
Loki rolls his eyes. “Banner, you have always been clever, yes?”
“Yes,” Bruce says cautiously.
“Were you tormented for it by those who did not understand?”
Bruce’s expression tightens a little. “Sometimes.”
“Imagine yourself, as that child, in a world populated entirely by Thors.”
Bruce winces. Loki smiles humorlessly. “My safety lay in my ability to control my surroundings. You ask if I have lack-of-control issues? Yes, I concede that I do. I contend that they were not of my own making.”
“Fair enough,” Bruce says quietly.
“I guess that’s something we have in common,” Clint says. “I’m a regular guy with pointy sticks going up against gods. My safety is all about me being able to control my surroundings, too.”
With a crackle, the barrier around them vanishes. Clint, Bruce, and Loki glance quickly at each other and then scramble to their feet and sprint for the boundary.
They pause expectantly when they get to the road, but there’s no one there.
“Really?” Clint complains. “He’s really going to make us walk?”
“Or worse, hitchhike,” Bruce says, eyeing his boxers. “Are we even on the East Coast any more?”
Loki tugs the hem of his pajama shirt straight with a smug expression. “I can transport us safely back to the Mansion, but I require something in return.”
Clint glances at Bruce. “Let’s hear it.”
“Bruce, you are clever, and Clint, you are stealthy. Will you aid me in my revenge against Stark and Thor?”
“Done,” Bruce says immediately.
“Hell yes,” Clint says.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“All right, pay up,” Tony says, making grabby hands at Agent Sitwell. “I told you Bruce would come through.”
Sitwell scowls and forks over a twenty. Natasha looms over his shoulder.
“You also owe me ten for Clint being more cooperative than Loki,” she reminds him.
“I’m glad they sorted out their differences,” Steve says slowly as Natasha gloats over her winnings. “But I’m still not entirely comfortable with this.”
Tony sighs. Steve’s the only person in the room who didn’t get in on the fun. He didn’t even have any of the popcorn. Coulson got himself a bowl, for crying out loud, although it was probably mostly because he’s so glad to be off his medically restricted diet since being released from the hospital.
“It worked, didn’t it?” He points out patiently. “And after the tension the rest of us have been dealing with we deserve a little fun at their expense.”
Steve looks unconvinced. Tony pulls out the big guns.
“It’s a bonding exercise, Steve.”
“All right,” Steve says, caving. “You’re not going to do anything funny with the video footage, though, are you? You’re not going to put it on the internet or anything?”
“Of course not,” Tony reassures him. Not all of it, anyway - the boring introspective stuff can be cut out, but that Clint/Loki hair-pulling fight is comedy gold. There’s no way he isn’t sharing that with the world. It would be mean.
“I believe five dollars of your winnings go to me, Man of Iron, for accurately predicting that my brother would threaten your manhood,” Thor rumbles from the seat behind him. “And another five because he was sensitive to Bruce’s discomfort.”
“You got it, big guy,” Tony says. “He was joking about my dick, though, right?”
Thor just laughs and pounds him on the shoulder. “Many of my brother’s perceived faults are greatly exaggerated by legend or unkindness. He is not, however, of a forgiving nature, and his reputation for trickery is well-deserved.” He beams at Tony. “Truly, you showed much courage by carrying through with this plan!”
“Oh,” Tony says weakly, crossing his legs. “Yes. Go me.”