Loki just won’t shut up, is the thing. It’s bad enough when he’s in Clint’s head and Clint’s got to find some way to work around him but like this, even when he’s out and captured and heading off to be “dealt Asgardian justice” like Thor promises, he still won’t shut his fucking mouth.
Clint’s been so good about it, too. Clint has been an angel. Clint hasn’t called him out on any of the bullshit yet, Clint has left Loki his delusions, because there is no way to deal with them without oversharing and Clint absolutely does not want to get into all his own shit with virtual strangers.
He hasn’t even really gotten into it with Natasha, and he knows he trusts her.
But Loki just will. not. stop. and Thor seems to be accommodating him, nobody’s calling him out on anything, and so the thousandth fucking time Clint hears about Loki and his stolen throne, Clint Barton snaps.
“You ruined my life, fuckhead. If there is anybody in this room who’s going to feel sorry for you, I don’t want to know about it.”
Loki’s attention snaps right to him then. Clint suspects Loki’s not the only one staring but hell, Clint knows where his attention needs to be. “It speaks.” Loki’s smile is cold and victorious. Clint wants to rip it off his smug face. “And here I thought I’d struck you dumb, Archer.”
“Nah. You just talk enough for both of us. Can’t stop running your damned fool mouth. Can’t say as I’d mind ordinarily but it seems to me you really believe this bullshit you’re spouting. And after everything you’ve done t—” He catches himself, refocuses. “—for me, how can I not return the favor?”
He doesn’t need to see his own face now to know what’s there, the coldness of a target acquired, the hot flush of an arrow ready in his quiver. The people in this room have seen him fight but this is not his battle face.
This is the one he saves for wet work, the black bag ops he runs for Fury. Ran for Fury. Fuck.
Still, as last marks go, Loki’s not a bad one.
“You think to instruct me? You, who were a squalling, mewling ape when I found you?” Loki’s eyes shine; Clint can only call it lit bright with crazy, because whatever Loki’s got ain’t in the psych-ops manual. “I have gifted you with freedom, little hawk, and your refusal to accept it with gratitude only serves to display how very much you need a master.”
“Yeah, tell me more about that. Because, you know, masters…Wouldn’t know a damned thing about them.”
Natasha touches him before she speaks, her shoulder pressing into his. “Clint, don’t. This is just what Loki wants.”
“You know, I don’t think it is. Princess Self Pity over there doesn’t get called out on his bullshit much.” Clint sniffs indelicately. “Must be rough for him, all that persecution complex and no one to take him up on it.”
“Nice call, Legolas,” Stark says, as Thor says, “Asgard does not have this persecution complex you speak of.”
Clint knows his smile is terrible. “But as he keeps the fuck reminding us, he’s not really an Asgardian, is he?”
“I am a king,” Loki snaps, feral and venomous. Clint thinks he looks like an irate snake, wonders if he’s been defanged yet and if that’s even possible. “I am rightful king of Asgard.”
“Actually, Reindeer Games, right now you’re a political prisoner. War criminal. Take your pick.”
Clint’s only know Stark a few hours but he thinks he could get used to that, his quickfire humor, the bite true as any arrow Clint’s ever fired. The snarky nicknames help.
“I would have an answer,” Thor says, tight and tense. “What is this persecution complex?”
“Means he thinks everyone’s out to get him,” Banner answers, quiet and soft. The contrast is striking.
“Spare me your chicanery.” Oh yeah, Loki’s pissed. Not so funny now, is it?
“Means he likes it,” Natasha clarifies.
Loki’s face twists spiteful. “Listen, quim—”
But that’s as far as he gets. “Use that word about her again, asshole, and I’m going to spend what’s left of my career putting arrows through you.” Clint feels himself hardening as his muscles tense, steeling himself for battle. “Might not be lengthy but it’ll damned well be glorious.”
No one else gets that but fuck, Loki does. Looks like it’s only just occurred to him all that time he spent poking through Clint’s head gave Clint a chance to poke through his.
Mewling ape, Clint’s ass.
When Loki tips his head, Clint can feel his reluctance. It’s not enough; Clint doesn’t give a shit if Loki likes him or approves of him or whatever, Clint just wants to get in close enough to really twist the fucking knife.
“Perhaps I have underestimated you, my pretty hawk,” Loki says, as though it’s a gift he’s bestowing. “Perhaps you might prove useful yet.”
“Not where you’re going.”
“Loki, cease.” Thor sounds pained. “Still your poisonous tongue. You have no need of anything save our father’s mercy and you will not gain it thusly.”
“Your father,” Loki snaps. “And what mercy has he shown me? I, his most obedient son? What has he given me but the kindness of lies?”
“Love,” Thor says, the word startled plainly out of him. “He has shown you love. You are not as a son to him, you are his son and my brother. And I cannot help but think that even now, he loves you still.”
Loki’s not the first person Clint’s ever met who could make love sound like a curse, he’s just the most convenient, so when he shits all over Thor’s words again on some sort of prissy prima dona tear, Clint doesn’t bother holding his own tongue.
It’s not like Clint has anything left to lose.
“He beat you?”
Beside him, Natasha goes stiff. Fuck, Clint is going to miss her so much, and he has the whiny shithead in front of him to thank for losing her.
“He has chosen brute strength over power and ambition,” Loki rages. “He has kept me from my birthright and he will until he is dead. No, I cannot count on the mercy of Odin All-Father, for he has none to show me.”
Clint tries again a little louder. “He beat you? This guy, your dad, he go out drinking with his friends and come home mad? He take it out on you that he drank the fucking rent again?”
“What?” Thor blurts, shaken. “The man who would do this is no father.”
“My thoughts exactly, big guy.” Clint’s tempted, so tempted to look at Thor but if he sees anything that looks like pity, he’s sure he’s going to shut down again. Clint’s got all this hate and rage and anger welling up in him and it needs someplace to go and he knows from experience that he either vents it at its cause or he’ll vent it at himself.
And this time, SHIELD won’t be there to catch him.
“Hey, well, if we’re talking Daddy Issues,” Stark says, clapping his palms together once and sounding very much like he means to join the conversation. Clint likes Stark just fine but he needs to vent. Too much coming at him once this is all over to let this shit fester.
Clint’s life is going to suck enough, he figures. No sense holding on to this, too. Turns out, he doesn’t have to; Captain fucking America speaks up for him.
“Stark, just don’t.” Cap sounds tired. Not happy and not surprised, just exhausted.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Katniss, I thought this was a team sport.” Natasha moves beside him. Clint’s not sure exactly what she does but Stark shuts the fuck up. “Okay, he’s all yours.”
Clint nods vaguely, studying the way Loki’s seething.
“Don’t be so quick to want him dead.” Loki’s a blank slate of arrogant mask. “It don’t fix a thing when they are.”
“A true son of Odin would never stand for such a thing,” Loki dismisses.
“You saying it’s my fault?” Clint’s almost, almost amused.
“You were weak.”
“I was seven.”
Which is, fuck, more than Clint planned to give away but there it is, hanging between them.
“So much rage for one so young, yet you wonder where mine comes from. Can you truly not comprehend the injustice of neglect? Of a life burdened and bound by lies from one who demands fealty?”
“Loki, that was not our childhood,” Thor says; Clint wants to call it plaintive but he’s not sure that’s something gods can do. “You are determined to remember falsely to your own detriment. I cannot think what you hope to accomplish.” Clint lets Thor talk because he figures that guy’s got to be a world of hurt, too, and if what Clint’s seen of Loki’s childhood is accurate, Thor’s not likely to get much chance for a clean shot at him once they’re back. “Barton, I must apologize. My brother’s tongue is as spiteful as it is forked.”
Clint waves him off, a gesture he hopes translates into no worries in Asgardian. He can’t afford the softness it’ll take to deal with Thor and shit, it’s not like Clint’s going to be seeing the guy around much after this.
“Actually, I’d have taken neglect from most of ‘em as a kindness.” Clint’s not…He won’t give this sick fuck his foster homes with their religious fervor or their crowded, apathetic poverty; won’t give him Barney’s resentment when it’s clear Loki doesn’t understand how good he’s got it in Thor. “I hear you on the fealty, though. That shit never ends well.”
Loki’s all over that, baits so easily Clint fights the hysterical urge to laugh. All the things in his life Clint’s lived through and walked away from and this stupid, selfish prick is what finally gets him? Clint’s not sure he’s ever felt this unworthy of his badge.
“Can it be this simple?” Loki asks no one, naked interest in Clint now. “Might one of you be reasoned with after all? All I asked was a chance to be recognized for my own talents and what was I given? Him as a role model? You ask blind obedience, Odin son, my supplication, and you offer nothing in return.”
And okay, so it looks like maybe Clint’s going to have to own up to Barney after all.
“What blind obedience?” Thor demands, pushed far enough that his voice is raising. “There is wisdom in the All-Father’s words, brother. Always. All you need do is listen.” Thor laughs then, as tired as Cap sounded, as raw as Clint feels. “There is no supplication asked or demanded of you that is not asked and given by us all. And as ever, you forget I am not the only Odinson in this room.”
“Were I a true Odinson, I would not have been scorned all my life,” Loki says, sharp as glass. “Perhaps the things Asgard finds so distasteful in me are the product of my heritage. And what more could the All-Father have expected of them, raising his Jotun monster in Asir garb to make me palatable. I have always been a thing of nightmares, brother. It is only recently I’ve come to know why.”
Banner snorts. Clint thinks maybe he won’t have to mention Barney at all and honestly, he’s pretty stoked about it, more than willing to consider it a small mercy on the day. Then he makes the mistake of glancing at Thor, finding him leaning weary and looking lost, so sad Clint knows he’s going to do something stupid in a minute.
“No, Loki. You have never been a monster beyond your own making.”
“I know that I have!” Loki snaps. “Do not pander to me, Thor. You were not raised as I was, to believe yourself lacking in every respect. Cast out at the first opportunity, despite all I’d done to advance Father’s interests.”
“So was I,” Thor fires back, then shakes his head in disgust. “And I was cast out first, for the same crime. Did you not learn from my banishment, brother? Must you repeat your mistakes again before you understand? You cannot declare war on another realm, Loki. You cannot attack innocent people.”
Someone whistles. Apparently, it’s Stark. “Point Break got banished, too?”
Cap shushes him again, sounds pained about it. Natasha’s pressed so close to Clint’s shoulder, he figures it’s only a matter of time before she’s in his lap.
“You know, if my brother had ever had the decency to get himself caught first, I’d like to think I would have had the fucking sense to quit while I was ahead.” It’s lazy, easy, but dead serious; Clint can’t be any other way about Barney. Can’t just let it rest there when Thor still looks so hurt. Clint liked to think when he was younger that brothers took care of each other, that they were safe even when nothing else was. He hasn’t thought that in a long time but watching Thor, it hits again, hurts again, because maybe Clint hadn’t been the only brother who’d wanted that. “Don’t sweat it, big guy. At least you didn’t throw yours under a bus.”
Thor looks…grateful? Fuck, Clint’s pretty sure gods shouldn’t look like that. “I would not throw an enemy to the bilgesnipes,” he says. “To do otherwise is unconscionable.”
And okay, now Clint sort of wants to brofist him. Has to remind himself that he can’t get attached here, there’s no future in it, he’ll be lucky if he limps away from this without a burn notice hanging over him.
“You weren’t raised as a weapon,” Natasha says, flat as ever and out of fucking nowhere. “If you were, you’d be better at it.”
Her smile is so small, so cold, and this time, it’s Clint’s turn to lean into her.
“You know nothing of it, Midgardian,” Loki snaps, but he glances at Clint before he names her. Clint is going to take that as a win, though the prospect of putting arrows through him is still pretty damned tempting. Loki’s immortal, Clint figures. He’d probably shake them right off.
“Oh, that I do.” There is a world in her tone, more bad memories and morally dubious decisions than Clint even wants to think about, and that she’d go anywhere near them now makes him want to break their private protocol and sling an arm around her shoulder.
“He’s not even trying,” Banner says. “I know a thing or two about control and that — you — that’s not it. If you really did think part of you was monstrous, you wouldn’t revel in it.” Banner’s head dips a little; he looks up through his lashes, crooks a corner of his mouth in a smile that makes Nat’s look broad. “I’m not always a mindless beast.”
“Now is it a team sport?” Stark asks and actually, yeah, Clint can totally get behind someone with that kind of timing.
“Dammit, Stark,” Cap groans.
Loki’s face lights again, more brittle than crazy. “Yes. By all means, Man of Iron, have your pound of flesh. Where would you all be without someone lesser to serve as whipping boy?”
“At home with my girlfriend and a nice bottle of Chardonnay,” Stark fires back, and Clint figures if the others make a go of this Avengers thing, they’re going to appreciate that about him. Clint’s sorry he’ll miss it. “So you have Daddy Issues. Who doesn’t? This whole room’s crawling in ‘em. Well, except for Point Break over there, but he’s got Brother Issues so big, they’ve probably started growing Daddy Issues of their own. But you don’t see anyone else in here invading a planet to get a hug. Now maybe that’s our problem and you’re on to something — in which case, good on you, we should all be taking notes — but since you’re the one in the cell here and I don’t see anyone hanging around to tell you what a good boy you’ve been, I’m guessing that might not have been the best of plans.”
Thor’s been glancing Stark’s way and wincing through most of that but when Stark wraps up, Thor says Stark’s name just loud enough to get Stark’s attention. “That’s why I was banished,” Thor mutters. “I attacked Jotunheimr first. It’s how I came to be on this planet.”
Stark whistles. “But you’re over it now?”
“Yes, of course. I was headstrong and foolish. I did not understand what I asked in my call to war. I have learned the error of my ways.”
“Perhaps Odin All-Father will punish me as he did you.” Clint fucking hates Loki’s smile.
“He comes anywhere near this planet again, you dig me out of whatever hole Fury puts me in so I can get a shot at him,” Clint says quietly, pitched just for Natasha, who gives him a long-suffering look.
“He’s not going to put you anywhere, Clint.”
He wants to believe her but that’s not a promise she can make. Hell, he can only speculate at how much Natasha knows about how Clint’s spent his time lately.
“You’ve had your shot, Archer. Yet here I stand. What reason have you to believe your next will fare any better?”
“Probably won’t,” Clint agrees. “But I’m a big fan of catharsis.”
“No one’s shooting anyone,” Cap says. “I’m sure after all this, Asgard isn’t going to send Loki back to Earth but if they do, we’ll handle it together. As a team.”
Clint snorts again. “Speak for yourself, Cap. I wasn’t kidding when I said he wrecked my life.” Clint takes a breath, wishes like hell he still couldn’t remember anything from when he’d been under Loki’s mind-whammy. “I shot Nick Fury for this sad and sorry fuck. I turned a standard scientist-sitting gig into an alien invasion. That’s not exactly something they let you keep your security clearance for, you know?”
The closest thing Clint’s ever had to a decent father figure and he’d tried to put a bullet through him, had fucking left him for dead, just to appease the jackass in the cell. Fitting, he thinks, since Loki apparently stuck a knife through the closest thing Clint’s got now to a brother.
Natasha is full of questions; she doesn’t ask any of them aloud. She has so much faith in him, he hates to lose it but hell, this isn’t anything she won’t find out eventually. “What, you thought he’d just let us walk out of there with the Tesseract?”
“I wrecked his helicarrier,” Banner offers tentatively. “And possibly Manhattan.”
“I invaded his helicarrier and got a bunch of agents killed,” Clint counters. “Thanks for trying, though.” Then he groans, drops his face into his palms. “Fuck, he loves that helicarrier.”
“And then you both helped save the world,” Stark dismisses impatiently. “Even Fury’s not that short-sighted.” When Clint just stares balefully, Stark rolls his eyes and makes a show of concession. “Fine. I’ll fix his damned helicarrier. Yes, Banner, and Manhattan. Now, can we get back to the point, please? Because Point Break’s been invading worlds, apparently, and I for one find that fascinating.”
“For pete’s sake, Stark,” Cap says in a huff of strained patience but it’s different this time, less tense than it’s been, and when Thor starts trying to explain that no, actually, Asgardian princes aren’t meant to be invading anything as a coming of age ritual, Clint thinks maybe it didn’t take a volley of arrows to get him catharsis after all.
Natasha squeezes his hand, which is as big as a hug from her, as encouraging as she gets around other people. “Last I saw it, the helicarrier was still technically flying,” she points out.
“Stole a plane, too,” he adds. “Left him for dead, let a hostile go rooting through my head, hacked the database to find contacts for Loki’s team. Might have tried to bury Hill in a cave-in, too.”
“And if he held any of that against you, he wouldn’t have let me into your room in Medical.” She arches a brow at him, then sighs and stretches and lays her head on his shoulder.
From Natasha, that’s like getting jumped.
“Whoa,” he jokes because he thinks she needs it, one little bit of them before the second wave of the shitstorm hits. “Careful, Nat. You’re going to make the other guys jealous.”
She rolls her eyes at him, he knows she does, but she doesn’t move away.
“Who we are isn’t where we come from, Clint. It’s our choices.”
And when Thor’s put the gag on Loki, when they’re set to go their separate ways to Central Park for the Asgardian send-off, Thor stops Clint with a careful hand to his arm.
Natasha hovers, protective, until Clint nods at her.
“There can be no recompense for the harm my brother has done you. He has behaved reprehensibly to the people of your world and it is beyond even my ability to make adequate amends.” Thor frowns, looks like he’s searching for words. “There is a tradition on my world, a bond between warriors. I do not know if you have anything similar here.”
Because Thor’s still frowning, Clint throws him a bone. “Shield brothers?” he hazards.
Thor’s smile lights up his face. “Yes. That’s it. You know it?”
Clint shrugs. “Phil — Coulson — made me read up on Norse mythology while we were killing time in New Mexico.”
“Ah, yes, the Son of Coul is very wise.” Thor says that without irony; Clint’s sorry Phil’s not here to hear it. “I realize we have not known each other long and that we have but one shared fight between us, but I will be recalled to this world to aid in its protection and while I have shield brothers on Asgard, I am without such companions here. I should very much like to count you among them, Clint Barton. If you are agreeable?”
And shit, Clint can’t even process that for a moment because he has fucked this op up every possible way and he’s probably even found a few ways that aren’t even in the SHIELD handbook yet and here’s a fucking demi-god trying to keep Clint around. Clint likes to think he’d have known about Loki even without that prolonged look in his head just by virtue of watching Loki spit repeatedly in the face of this sort of acceptance.
Has no fucking clue how Loki sees what’s in Thor’s face now and finds persecution in it.
Clint must spend a moment too long trying to figure out Loki’s problem and regretting that he’ll never see anything like this from Barney, though, because Thor’s hopeful look dims. “I mean no offense,” Thor says quickly. “If it is too soon to ask such a thing, you have only to say.”
“What? No,” Clint blurts. “No, hell, shield bros sounds good.”
Thor’s smile, Clint swears, could light up all of Stark Tower, easy. “Excellent.”
And maybe Thor’s idea of a brofist comes tragically close to breaking Clint’s knuckles, maybe Clint still won’t know if Thor’s going to be a shield bro or a SHIELD bro until he’s had his awkward sitdown with Fury, but it’s better than Clint has any right or reason to expect.
~ f ~