"You know that I do."
Clint held Natasha's diamond-hard gaze. His jaw clenched, but he did not look away from her, even if he knew she would see the nervous jump of the muscle against his cheeks.
He was not so sure that she did know. How could she know what it was like, having someone slip deep into her head, reworking all that he knew and all that he was? She had no idea how he felt, because her experiences had nothing to do with the whimsy of an inhuman mind thousands of years more intelligent than her own.
Even now, Clint could remember being face to face with the god, a wall at his back and the point of the scepter aimed at his chest.
"You have heart."
For the first time since Budapest, Clint had felt panic. In that split second, he had seen everything that Loki was, everything he had been and the potential for what he could become.
He had seen the madness.
And his panic had taken the form of fear just as the scepter and moved forward, with the hand guiding it using just enough force to make Clint notice that Loki could have pushed the sharp edge through his Kevlar vest if he had wanted.
But none of that mattered the slightest bit, because all he could feel was ice seeping into his chest, forging a path through veins and arteries deep into his core. He thought his heart would freeze, he felt so cold. The tendrils of cold hadn't stopped. They moved like quicksilver, and with his eyes still locked with Loki's, he could feel it shooting up his spine, it was going too high---
All was color and silence, and then his focus had sharpened and stilled. All he could see was the man in front of him. The magic and the power undulated beneath his own skin; it curled in his mind like cool fingers, cajoling and scratching promises and vows into his skull.
Clint would have done anything for the man.
And he did.
He did everything asked of him. Never would he forget the way Loki spoke--- it could hardly be called language in the traditional sense when Clint had memorized the dulcet tones more than the words themselves, the weave of magic and silk-clad deception wrapped around every syllable.
The way he moved and carried himself, a rolling, swaying motion lead by hips and spine--- shoulders squared, head held high; as much a king at first glance as he would have everyone believe.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Clint's time serving Loki was that he could remember everything with such distinct clarity that it haunted him whenever he held his eyes closed for too long. He could remember the lives he had stolen away with bow and arrow at a single unspoken word from the otherworldly god. He could remember fastidiously articulated hand motions, magic twisting and bending as it was pulled from the very air around them.
He could remember pale skin, piercing green eyes fringed with feathery lashes, the curve of parted lips and a flickering red tongue within---
Clint could certainly remember the heat. His own fingers digging into white thighs and the silver laugh that followed. A long, lithe figure perched above him, bare but invulnerable, hips canting and taking every bit of what the archer could offer.
A sweep of pink over high cheek bones, velvet gasps and tender sighs--- lies formed with body language when the man's tongue had replaced them with moans.
"And what did the Tesseract show you, Clint Barton?"
To Loki, it seemed nothing more than a game. A play of his hand that would leave their newly-born team floundering in distress while Loki carried out his machinations and took his power to new heights.
"My next target."
And Clint had been eager to follow Loki's orders. Every job well done earned him a fluid whisper of satisfaction, and Clint could recall reveling in the ambiguity of it, his strengthened mind puzzling it through: had it been seduction or praise? It could very well have been both.
"Tell me what you need."
Long white fingertips sliding across his cheek and beneath his jaw, a curious tip of a black-haired head. His pulse beat steadily and loyally beneath those fingers, and Clint had felt the cool turn and scratch of the magic in his skull engraving the language of green eyes right into him.
Human. Fragile. Mine.
As he sat there on the cot, breathless, cold sweat gluing his black uniform to him like a second skin, he couldn't help but think it strange. Cognitive re-calibration be damned, magic like that could never be smashed out of someone's head.
Loki was finished with him. He had been released.
The echo of magic inside his head was like ice--- but it was not steady and it was not cajoling. It had left scars in the form of memories, jagged snarls of aching separation; a shadow of cruel amusement and the sensation of being yanked from his body and played with---
Natasha was sitting beside him now. The weight of her at his shoulder was a comfort, and he could feel himself starting to calm. He could feel all of his training coming back to him. His breathing was beginning to steady, he started to sit up straighter.
There was only one thing he could do now to keep himself sane. This withdrawal would need to be turned into something else. Before he let the memory of those inquisitive, poisonously green eyes overtake him.
"If I put an arrow in Loki's eye socket, I'd sleep better, I s'pose."