Clint blinks and is free.
He swallows. It's the first self-directed act in he-doesn't-know how many days. He feels it in every cell of his throat. By the time he realises he has control of the rest of his body, he is already up and running for cover - behind an iron safe of all things, an antique that smells of damp and dust. He takes stock; the room isn't large, and by the dullness of sound there's no windows or open doors nearby. There’s a closed door just ahead – locked? Guarded? Impossible to tell. The wallpaper is forty years old. The slightest whisper of breath, a faint rustle of paper, tells him there's someone nearby. Not someone on their guard - whoever they are, they don't know he's here.
How? How did he get in here? No, that's not a question he needs to ask. He remembers everything, in the cutting detail of an observer. He remembers screaming and screaming inside his skull without a word passing his lips, until even the screaming was silenced and his will vanished as easily as trying to hold a single thought in your head. He remembers saying things he didn't want to say, secrets he'd have died rather than give up. If that had been an option.
He remembers walking into this room behind Loki. Watching the immortal sit down at the desk. He is still there, less than six feet away, sitting and scribbling his evil plans under the yellowed light of a single bulb.
Clint's heartbeat sounds loud as a church bell. Even free, he can’t control that part of his body. He presses himself against the cold metal of the safe, eyes locked on a door in front of him. He can still hear the aimless noises of Loki at the desk. The so-called god doesn’t know yet that anything is wrong.
Clint holds his breath, crouches and reaches for the handle of the door.
His feet freeze on the second step. His hand stills a few inches from the handle. His body straightens up, turns and walks around the safe. He stands to attention, hands behind his back, eyes glazed and staring at the wall just above his master's head. "Your orders, boss?"
Inside the closing prison, Clint screams.
"Nothing at the moment, Barton," Loki glances up and then back to the papers he is skimming through.
Clint feels the tendons in his wrists twitch and then relax. He flexes his fingers. Yes, it’s happening again! Loki's control must be slipping. He has to take advantage of it now. "I'll patrol the corridor until you need me," he says in what he hopes is a casual tone. He walks as slowly as he can, though he wants to run, sprint, fight anyone and anything that gets in his way. His fingers close sweaty and shaking around the handle and twist--
"Stay here with me," Loki said distractedly.
Clint's hand releases the door. His feet walk back to the desk and resume a military stance. Now he can’t speak. He can’t even breathe unless Loki allows it.
Without looking up, his master begins to laugh.
"Go on," Loki says, still seemingly absorbed by the papers in front of him. He’s writing notes in the margins with a nib pen which he refilled from a dark green jar of ink. "Try it again. I'll give you forty seconds this time."
The truth boils black through Clint's mind. But he feels his control returned a third time, and now he doesn’t waste a nanosecond. He bolts for the door - unlocked - and takes off down the musty corridor beyond, past a bright-lit dining hall with the rest of Loki's slaves, round the next corner -
His paces slow and halt. His body turns and walks back the way it had come. That was fifteen seconds! Clint rages at the agony of strutting with his head high and a skip in his step when it isn’t his choice to do so. That’s not fair! And he is losing himself again as he enters the room and sees Loki once more, smiling to himself. Clint’s body smiles too as his willpower is eaten up. It takes seconds to die.
“Alright, alright,” Loki chuckles, raising his head to look at Clint at last. “That wasn’t forty seconds. But you know, I can’t have you go more than three hundred feet or I’ll lose control of you like that,” he snaps his fingers, and Clint’s mind rushes back into his nerves.
Loki is still grinning, leaning one elbow on the desk. Clint doesn’t run immediately this time. He can see the thrill in Loki’s eyes. Three hundred feet – bullshit. It’s as much a lie as forty seconds. Loki’s bored, and he’s playing, building paper ladders for the spider he’s trapped in his little jam jar, and under absolutely no circumstances is he going to let the spider reach the rim.
Clint lunges over the desk with his eyes on Loki’s throat.
His body reverses the movement halfway through. He lands on the desk with arms clutching at empty air, smacking his ribs on the edge, scattering papers. Loki jumps, and Clint would take pleasure in that if he wasn’t already losing his grip on his hate. His body slides back off the desk as if it isn’t sure where it should be going and he ends up kneeling with his top half still clinging onto the wood, awkward and uncomfortable.
“Oh, that was adorable,” Loki coos, leaning forward to muss up Clint’s hair. “Do it again.”
Like flipping a card, Clint’s free once more, and he doesn’t waste it, launching himself upright and towards Loki again, and even as he feels Asgardian silk giving way under his clutching hands, he’s under the spell once more. He can’t move. He struggles to hold onto his crumbling mind.
Loki grabs him around the neck and pushes him without any apparent effort. Clint’s body is hurled back and crashes down onto the threadbare carpet. It lies where it is, breathing steadily. Loki laughs and goes back to his paperwork. He rolls his eyes when he sees half of it tossed onto the floor.
“For goodness’ sake, look at this mess,” he waves his hand. “Fetch that, would you?”
Clint’s body gets to its feet and does as it’s told. Clint is still holding onto a scrap of his real self, but nothing shows on his face. His hands collect up papers, walk them to the desk, shuffle them into a neat pile. Loki looks him in the eye as he does it, and Clint roars at him from behind his eyeballs. I’M STILL HERE.
Loki glances at the tidy pile and pushes it off the desk. White printouts zig-zag to the ground and come to rest against Clint’s feet.
“Pick it up,” Loki says dryly, cocking his head. “But this time,” a smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth, “do it yourself.”
He drops his hold. Clint’s mind is released once again. All he feels now is exhaustion, though he'd gladly have another crack at ripping the son-of-a-bitch's throat out if he thought he stood a chance. But he doesn’t. He kneels instead. A desperate, tragically optimistic part of him hopes that if he obeys willingly, maybe Loki will leave him in control long enough for the god to let down his guard. Maybe if he plays his cards right. His pair of threes against Loki's royal flush. Yeah, right.
As he sweeps the papers together he recognises SHIELD reports on fellow agents and the engine designs of the Helicarrier. It's stuff that he himself gave Loki access to. He even remembers doing it.
"Don't give up already!" Loki simpers at him, getting up and walking around the desk. "Come on Agent Barton, we were just starting to have fun!"
Clint stands and puts the gathered papers on the desk. His legs are shaking as if he's forgotten how to use them without Loki's control. The bastard moves in until standing right in front of him.
"Show some spine for me," Loki gives him a conspiring wink and puts his hand on Clint's shoulder. Clint imagines grabbing the two forefingers and snapping them with a quick spin, but he doesn't act on the urge. Play it cool, Clint.
"Kneel," Loki says at last.
Clint thinks of himself as a patient guy, but it takes a lot of strength to get down onto his knees. He keeps his eyes on the immortal’s face.
Loki is still smiling. There is something anticipatory in that smile. He reaches over to the desk, picks up his inkwell and with a quick glance down, upends it over his own shoes. The ink, so deep a green it is almost black, spills across his leather boots and the anachronistic Asgardian gaiters that enclose his calves.
“Clean that up,” Loki says softly. “No hands.”
Clint doesn’t move.
“Giving up the docility act already?” Loki rubs his thumb across Clint’s forehead, fingers brushing around the bone of his cheek. “Please don’t. I want to see how far you’ll go. See if you’d suck me off. Carve out your own eye. Eat it afterwards. It was going to be such a laugh.”
“Make me,” Clint sneers through gritted teeth.
Loki points at his shoes. “Clean,” he says, “that up.”
The chains wind around his brain once more. He tries to fight it, he really does, and for a second he’s convinced he’s getting somewhere. But his body bends at the waist and he thinks he hears his mind whimper as it shrinks and is consumed by the pervading fog of Loki’s will.
He curls down and puts his tongue to the toe of Loki’s boot. The leather tastes of metal and forest streams and he sucks on the corner for a moment. He opens his mouth wider to press his whole tongue down and trails it along the curve of the shoe, lapping up the chalk-tasting ink when it pools against the corners of his mouth. He swallows. He tongues around the seams of the leather with thorough strokes.
“Now the other shoe,” Loki says.
There’s only a couple of drops of liquid, but Clint washes every inch of the boot’s surface. He sucks gently at the seam of the gaiter, trying to deepen the taste. There is ink on the dusty carpet too, but when he goes to suck it up Loki tells him to stand.
He looks at his master and wonders why he was struggling a few minutes ago. Loki touches the corner of his mouth. Clint can imagine the stain there. “I don’t think that’s going to wash out very easily,” he narrows his eyes in an exaggerated wince. “Better go and scrub as much as you can.”
He goes back to sit at the desk, picking up empty inkwell. “But could you refill this for me first, Agent Barton. There’s a good boy.”
He pulls a sheet of paper closer and begins to read. Clint takes the inkwell and walks away without another word. He has a faint, distant urge to scream, but he can’t for the life of him remember why.