"A gift," says Loki. "For services rendered."
It's just a dream and all Clint remembers when he wakes are the words and a sense of giddy, weightless freedom.
Three weeks later, he's perched atop a twenty story building, taking pot-shots at a swarm of gargoyle-monsters summoned up by lunatic with a magic sword. He hears it coming before one of them swoops in and knocks him over the edge but he's not quite fast enough and so he falls.
That's when he remembers the other part of the dream. The most important part. He changes without thinking about it, bow and arrows falling away to the ground far below as he shifts and becomes his other self. An instant later his wings catch the air and he's soaring and there's nothing else in the world except this.
Later, there are questions, most of which he can't answer and the rest of which he doesn't want to answer. He feigns ignorance and confusion and tries to ignore Natasha's flat, disbelieving stare. She can read him far too well, but for the moment she lets him have his secrets.
Later still, Clint will come to regret his reticence as the truth of Loki's gift becomes clear to him. He doesn't know if it was intentional or accidental, but the gift of flight and total freedom is an addictive one. Each time he shifts, he flies longer and farther and higher than before. He loses himself in a way that is far more complete than Loki's control of him had ever been and far more terrifying as well, for when he remembers that he is a man and not a bird, it is with a sense of great and heavy sadness. Each time, the shift back into his true form - it is his true form, being human, isn't it? - is longer and harder and more painful.
He finds himself on his bedroom floor, sobbing with guilt and the agony of the shift. His arms ache from hours of flight and his heart aches from the desire for more. He hates himself for his weakness. He loathes this gift that Loki gave him, this gift that has unmade him completely. Natasha's rooms are right next door. He could scream out her name and she would come to him, in an instant, and save him from this. Instead he hides from her and muffles his cries and waits for the moment when he can slip away and change once more.
The time comes, as he knew it would from the very beginning, when he finally stops fighting and lets go of the last tattered remains of himself. One morning he wakes up and without really thinking about what he's doing he finds himself standing on the small balcony outside his bedroom. There's no conscious decision to make because it was made weeks or months ago - he's lost all track of time by now - and the only thing left is to act upon the decision that he doesn't remember making, if it was ever his choice to make in the first place.
All that's left is to fall one more time.
Fall and change and fly, high over the city that has no name to him anymore.
When the blue-eyed hawk finds its way to Loki and alights on his arm, the Asgardian regards it with sad amusement.
"You poor little thing," he murmurs as strokes the soft brown feathers. "You never had a chance, did you?" He can't help but feel sympathy though, for he knows the pull of the change and knows the strength of will it takes to overcome it. He feels no guilt though, for gift as precious as what he gave could not be expected to come easily. It was up to the archer to make the right choice, if indeed there was ever a right or wrong choice to be made. Maybe there were only different paths and none of them ever meant anything at all.
"You don't seem unhappy," observes the god of mischief. "That's more than most people ever get."