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Until the Break of Dawn

Chapter Text

He tired of running; yet, he still ran.

There was no safe space left. Thor had found them all. He was either to abandon his compatriot and to take to the galaxy beyond, or he was to stand here and fight. Both options were poor. He had more allies on Midgard at least, and almost none out in the vast worlds. He spent a lifetime being hated and being pushed to his knees and his face crushed to the ground and would not, would not go back.

So, because he was afforded no other options, he ran.

To the very ends of the earth, they ran.

He had a safehouse in a small cabin hidden in the woods, very far in the north.

They had hidden inside these wards for the past three weeks. Every snap of a branch, every storm overhead, was a threat. There was no escape, not now.

He had betrayed the one he had vowed his loyalty to for the rest of their lives. There was no where he could run, no unturned rock, no shade of a tree, no clear sky.

They were hunted.

Loki laid in between two tall trees, eyes on the blue sky above. His hands were clasped behind his head, and he was fighting sleep. He had been so tired for so very long, but this was no time for rest, not for him. He did not know where his compatriot was, only that he was inside the small confines of the wards. But Loki wished for rest, among many other things.

He wished he had killed his brother when he had the chance.

It was a wish he had oft repeated in the past long months. If Thor had perished at his hand, there would be no hunt, there would not be the two of them on the endless run. He had been the fool to leave Thor’s death to chance by way of the long fall off the Bifrost. If he himself had not died, all those lives ago, then the chance of the mighty Thor perishing? But he knew now his mistake. At the end of this, if there ever was to be an end, one of them would die. He was certain of it.

He looked up the length of the great trees around him, out into the expanding cosmos, the vast blue sky. A small white cloud drifted past.

The ground shifted near him and Loki turned his head to see Bucky Barnes step up next to him. “My friend,” he greeted, and looked back to the sky.

Bucky sat down next to him, crossing his legs. His metal hand came forward to rest on Loki’s arm. “Perimeter is secure.”

Loki stayed quiet. He was so very, very tired.

Months of running only to end up here, in the middle of nowhere, at the end of all things.

They sat in companionable silence for a very long time, until the sun lowered. They had both long learned the value of time spent together, with no expectation for conversation outside necessity. It was good to be known well enough that speech was no longer needed to fill the quiet between them, especially in the yawning expanse of months they had spent running.

Bucky tugged Loki to his feet, and they leaned on each other while they walked back to the cabin.

It was not only Loki being hunted.

They had a routine established in the long weeks they had been hidden at the cabin. As Loki could not use his seidr, with not only being within the confines of seidr-constricting wards but also having placed a block on his own seidr months ago to stop Thor from tracking him through it, he grew more and more weak, which caused Bucky to provide for them. He spent most of the day hunting, gathering up either small game or some few plants that Loki had read about. There was a small stream within the wards, and Bucky brought back waterskins to boil.

Loki survived mostly on stewed meats and whatever was closest to tea that Bucky could scrounge up. He ate only at Bucky’s insistence.

They were on their last few canned goods. They had a can of black beans, a can of corn, and a can of peas. Bucky helped Loki to the chair closest to the fire and then ducked around the small cabin, double checking the doors and windows. He pulled the curtains over the windows and re-tacked a blanket up over the only door. The only light in the small room was from the low fire.

Loki leaned his head back against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. He was so tired.

Bucky added a few small bits of wood to the fire and blew on it until it caught. He hunched down next to it and added sticks until the fire was roaring and the entire cabin was warm.

He pushed to his feet, lit a match, and lit the candles around the cabin, Loki’s face lighting up in dark relief. He was so very thin. He’d been trim as long as Bucky had known him, but the past few months had dropped pounds off him that he couldn’t afford to lose. But the god refused more sustenance, and it took everything in Bucky’s power to get him to eat and drink what little he did.

He filled up his small cooking pot with his catch for the day and a bit of water. He decided on using up a bit of corn, and carefully pried open the can with his metal hand. He hung the pot from the bar over the fire after covering it, and then ducked back over to the small bed to change. The entire cabin was only one room, no longer than twenty paces, and no wider than twelve feet. It was Loki’s absolute last resort, in case every other safehouse had been found. He had warded it well enough that all the powers and seidrmadrs in Asgard, or any Realm, could not find him. If Thor was using Heimdall’s powers of sight, surely even he could not see them.

They had been hidden there for almost a month. It was the closest place to a reprieve they had found, in their long run.

Loki had supplies hidden in small caches inside the wards, but they all took seidr to open, and they still didn’t know how Thor was finding them, if he could find them even through the wards if Loki used his powers. So they were putting on finding out until they were much closer to starving. They both had far longer to go until opening the caches was necessary.

He changed into a worn pair of black sweats and a long-sleeved black shirt, tucking his boots and socks underneath the bed. He padded back over to the fire, checked the pot, and then checked on Loki. He still slept.

Loki had been frightfully tight-lipped lately. Before, he was prone to long exposition about important and unimportant aspects of his life, generally for the attention, but now, he answered Bucky in grunts or short, clipped sentences, often not even replying at all.

Bucky was poor at taking care of himself, let alone anyone else. He barely knew who he was most days, and it was difficult enough to figure his own self out while Loki was barely functional. But he managed. They both did. No option otherwise.

It took awhile for the meat to cook and for the smell to twitch Loki’s nose, and the god woke up right before Bucky took the pot off the fire. He stretched and watched Bucky serve up each of them a bowl through dark eyes, candlelight dancing between them.

Bucky handed Loki a bowl and then leaned on the wall near the fire, watching Loki as he stirred the steaming soup with his finger. He sipped as his own bowl, chewing absently on a bit of meat.

“You need to eat,” Bucky pointed out.

Loki scowled at him. “I have gone months without food before,” he grumbled. But he ate, glaring into the fire as he did so.

“You probably had access to your freaky magic,” Bucky pointed out, and Loki scowled again. Even just a few bites of meat and broth made him look better.

Loki finished his bowl and dropped it onto the floor beneath his chair. He used to just hold it out until Bucky came to collect it, like Bucky was some kind of indentured servant or something. Dropping it to the floor wasn’t really any better, but at least Bucky didn’t have to collect it from his hand like a pet or whatever. He’d leave that weird shit up to Barton.

He handed Loki a waterskin and stood next to the god until he drank half of it. Then he herded Loki to bed and pulled the screen over the fire and then put out the candles. He ducked outside to piss and look up at the stars.

It really was beautiful. The trees were tall and straight and the sky was so, so clear. There were more stars out here than he had ever seen in his life. It was cold and he leaned against the side of the cabin, arms crossed over his chest, head tipped back.

They’d left everything behind when they had run. Thor had come crashing from the sky and there had been no time to plan, no time for anything other than Bucky to go with him and Loki had grabbed his arm and they had disappeared between the worlds. It had been only them, in Bucky’s small apartment, when Thor had come hunting for retribution. No time to even tell Steve, or Wilson, or anyone else. He assumed Barton knew, but Loki had no reciprocal connection to him, something the god had grudgingly lamented over the past few months. He knew that was going to be rectified, if they ever escaped Thor’s grasp, if Barton ever came for them.

But now, even if just for the moment, if just for the next few minutes, or even the next few days, they were safe.

Bucky watched the sky for a while longer before going back inside, double checking the windows and door. He slid in the bed next to Loki, who grumbled Steve’s name and then pushed his head into Bucky’s chest like a big, ugly cat.

He slid his arms around Loki’s shoulders and his eyes slowly slid shut.

He dreamed of being a bird, tipping his wings through the air currents, high above the trees.

Loki was no better the next day. Bucky had left early in the morning, before the sun rose, and had found a small nest of eggs. He’d checked his traps again, reset the one that was sprung, and then made his way back to the cabin. Loki dragged himself out of bed with a glare and then Bucky helped him to his seat in front of the fire.

“Can you take the block off your magic? Just for a few minutes?”

He quickly cleaned their one small pan and cracked the eggs into it, holding it over the fire with his metal arm.

Loki curled over his midsection with a small, muted groan, and he shook his head. “I still do not know how we are being tracked. Even under the protection wards, he could still find us.” Loki was so powerful, so ferocious, so cruel and cold, and he was absolutely terrified of Thor. Loki would rather die from his own seidr poisoning him than have Thor find him.

Once, Bucky had asked what he thought Thor would do to him if he found them. Loki hadn’t been able to answer, but by the look on his would be exquisitely painful. Something beyond pain, beyond words.

He hadn’t asked again.

Bucky finished cooking the eggs in the quiet between them, and gave Loki the lion’s share.

“You gotta eat, sir,” he murmured, and after a moment of staring listlessly into the fire, Loki complied, digging through the eggs with his fingers. He’d long ago stopped using utensils. He’d assumed at first it was some Asgardian thing, but after awhile, he’d realized it was probably a Jotun thing, something that Loki did when he wasn’t being held up to whatever ridiculous standards he’d cultivated for himself, or that Asgard had held him to. So he hadn’t mentioned it.

The next few days continued on in the same path the last few weeks had. They’d been in the cabin for nearly a month, and Loki was growing worse by the day. He spent his days outside, laid out in the grass, eyes up to the sky. They’d settled into something of a comfortable routine.

The same trap had been tripped every time he checked it but hadn’t caught anything for over a week. He’d thought of mentioning it to Loki, but he ended up just moving the trap and setting up a tripwire. He had a good idea of what was going on but knew Loki would panic, so he glanced over the trees above and then took his leave.

He’d gotten a good catch that day, and used up the last of the aluminum foil to cook the rabbits underneath some coals. Loki had dragged himself inside while Bucky cleaned up their dishes from the last few meals, and he made sure the door was shut and the windows were closed before hissing, “I felt a presence out in the woods today.”

Bucky nodded. “He’s been out there for almost a week.”

Loki frowned a bit. “You knew of this?” He staggered to his chair in front of the fire and held his stomach as he tried not to pant. “You said...nothing?” he gasped. Bucky dropped the pans and brought Loki a glass of water, rubbing his hand over the god’s back.

“Drink,” Bucky told him, and Loki shot him a dark glare before shakingly bringing the glass up to his mouth and sipping at it. “Didn’t see a point in saying anything. I know who it is.”

“As long as it isn’t Thor, I don’t care who it is,” Loki grumbled, and he handed Bucky the empty glass, turning imperiously away from him to stare uncomfortably into the fire. Bucky put the glass back near the sink and then went to stoke the fire, Loki tipping his head back and reveling in the heat. It was cold outside; they were lucky to have not been snowed in during their time at the cabin.

Loki napped while their dinner cooked. Bucky finished cleaning the pots and pans and the rest of the dishes, wiping them down with a small towel. There was a creak on the front porch, but when he pushed back the curtain over the window, there wasn’t anyone out front. So he shrugged and went back to cleaning. It was quieting work, straightening out blankets and sweeping up under the bed and tidying up their various clothes.

He used a pair of metal tongs to fish their food out from the embers and kicked Loki’s leg as he walked by, the god jerking awake. He served up the steaming meat on two small plates and had to guilt Loki into picking at his by mentioning that Steve wouldn’t want him to starve. It was his last resort but always worked.

Loki finished half of his food and then dropped his plate to the floor, staggering to bed. He fell asleep on top of the covers and Bucky rolled his eyes, swiping his plate up and finishing his food before dropping both of their plates in the sink and putting a couple more logs on the fire, making sure to drag the screen across the front. He double checked the windows and the door and then pushed and shoved at Loki until he was under the covers and Bucky slid in the bed next to him.

It was kind of nice to have a routine. It was nice to know what he was going to do every day, even as part of what he did every day was watch Loki step ever closer to death. If he kept himself busy, he didn’t have to think of how they were being hunted, and of the memories he was trying to outrun.

He laid awake for a long time. Loki breathed shallowly next to him.

He decided they were going to find the first of the caches the next day. Thor hadn’t found them so far, and they were running low enough on supplies that he thought the risk was worth it, even if Loki’s magic was how Thor was tracking them.

Next to him, Loki wheezed, and then turned his head so his cheek was pressed up against Bucky’s metal arm. He moved a bit so that his arm was under Loki’s head, and he wrapped his other arm around Loki’s waist, pulling him close.

Sleep was a long time coming, and when it did, he was sat on the ground in a wide, endless clearing, a hawk circling overhead.

Loki was particularly difficult to wake the next morning. Bucky finally got him up when he poured half a bowl of water over the god’s face, and Loki immediately sat up, snarling and the air crackled around them.

Bucky just grinned at the idiot. “Good. Glad you still got it.” He dragged Loki out of bed and kicked him outside. Loki stumbled down the steps off the porch and fell down to his knees, loudly panting as his seidr twisted around his fingers.

The sky did not darken. The clouds did not turn grey. No one was coming for them.

Loki slowly scanned the trees around them and then pushed his fingers into the dirt. Bucky stayed on the porch, sipping at his tea while Loki’s head fell forward and he let out a weak cry, pushing into the ground.

There was a rustle in the trees around them, but neither of them paid it any mind.

“We need food,” Bucky told him. “I think it’s safe for you to pull out one of the caches.”

Loki spoke quietly, but Bucky caught every word. “At this point, I could barely stop myself.”

He growled and the world shook.

Green light flashed from Loki’s trembling body, and every noise around them stopped. A few hundred feet away, a literal treasure chest was yanked from the ground and flew through the air to slam into the ground in front of Loki.

Loki screamed, curling around himself as he pushed his face into the dirt, and Bucky tried to rush forward to help him, but an invisible wall kept him back. Bucky idly kicked at it for a moment and then shrugged, leaning back against the doorway into the cabin and sipping at the rest of his tea. Loki just had to work himself out.

Loud panting filled the clearing as Loki slowly stopped screaming. He uncurled himself, twisting his hands into fists.

The sky was still blue. For the moment, the wards held.

Loki swayed as he pushed himself to his feet. Bucky left his cup on the porch railing and he jogged across the clearing to help Loki back to the cabin, but the god waved him away, staggering back to the cabin himself.

Bucky shrugged and turned to the treasure chest. It really did look like something he’d see in a movie, like he was going to open it and it was going to be full of gold coins and otherworldly valuables. The chest was made out of wood with tarnished bindings and heavy nails holding it all together.

He took a moment to think. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a movie. He’d watched a few while he was in his apartment, but usually he got so bored that he never finished one. There’d been a few times that Loki had chosen something for them to watch, when he’d come over, but Bucky was usually more interested in reading than whatever was on the TV.

He opened the chest. The lid creaked and fell back as he looked at the contents. He pushed aside various bags of what felt like coins, and picked up a bag that had a few runes on it. It felt like it was full of strangely shaped stones. There was a small jar with a line of runes around the middle, and a few amulets with their chains tangled up in some bracelets. There was also a coat that he tugged on, and he felt the magic in it change so that it fit him properly. There was a bigger bag along the bottom of the chest, and it opened when he touched it. There were various foodstuffs inside the bag and Bucky sighed in relief, piling everything back into the chest and hefting it into his arms, groaning as he hauled himself to his feet.

He made his way back to the cabin. Loki was curled up in bed, but he looked up when Bucky kicked the door open, dropping the chest to the counter next to the sink.

“Ah, my shadow thread coat,” Loki murmured, eyes fluttering shut. “It suits you.”

“What’s it do?” Bucky asked, digging through the chest for the bag of food. There was something that looked like a loaf of bread and he dropped it onto the porch before shutting and locking the door.

Loki rolled his eyes. “You put on a coat you didn’t know the purpose of?”

“I trust you,” Bucky shrugged, and he pulled out a whole cooked bird from the food bag. He just shook his head and picked up the spit he used for cooking, sliding it through the bird and putting it over the fire so it could get heated up.

“Shadow thread uses light manipulation to turn the user invisible. I used it regularly when I was young, before I learned the art of being unnoticed.” Loki sat up and looked at the chest. “Is there a bag of potions?”

Bucky set the various bags out on the counter and the last one was medium-sized and lumpy. He tugged on the tie holding it shut and it opened, revealing the various vials and containers inside. “Sure looks like it. Which one do you need?”

“A green one, it should be in a tall, cylindrical container.” Bucky quickly found it and brought it over to Loki, who popped the cork and swallowed the potion down, grimacing as he did. He immediately looked brighter and Bucky helped him to the chair near the fire. Loki sat and waved Bucky back towards the chest.

He rolled his eyes and held up the contents as he described them. “A bag full of coins, another bag of coins, another bag of coins, some kind of rocks, a weird container with runes on it, some jewelry.”

“Any books?”

Bucky peered back into the chest and shook his head. “None that I can see.”

Loki made a curious sound and then sighed. “Bring me the bag of stones.”

Bucky tossed them over and Loki made an affronted sound as he caught them. The bag opened as he touched the tie keeping it closed and the stones spilled out into his hand, glimmering in the fire light. A soft smile creased the god’s face. “Ah. The Norn Stones.”

“What do they do?”

Loki held a handful of them up to the fire. “They grant the bearer a wish. Any wish, as long as the bearer is true of self. A wish of self.”

“What does that mean?”

“Whatever you wish to be true, the stones will judge and grant it if you are found worthy.” He dropped the stones back into the bag. “Very useful in some circumstances. However, they can be very...judgemental, for lack of a better word. They only work for some people.”

“Do they work for you?”

Loki smiled. “Oh, many times. But they seem to be a bit temperamental. For instance, they never allowed me freedom.” He thought about it for a moment and his brow furrowed, opening the bag again and picking up one of the stones and holding it up. “ very interesting.”

“I can’t read your mind, you know,” Bucky informed him amusedly after Loki trailed off, staring thoughtfully into the fire.

“I have long wondered how Thor managed such power, how he managed to twist time and space and thousands of dimensions. Perhaps he found Norn Stones.” Loki squeezed the stone in his hand and it glowed brightly enough to illuminate through his fist. “He never would have managed such a spell on his own. It is nearly impossible.”

“So you think Thor found these in some alternate dimension then?”

Loki, lost in thought, did not reply. Bucky shrugged and went to turn the bird on the fire, making sure it was heated all the way through on both sides. There was a small sound from the porch, but neither of them paid it any mind.

After awhile, long enough for the bird to be heated up and Bucky to eat his half of it, and cut up the rest of it for Loki to eat if he deigned to, and then clean up the rest of the dinner and even clean up the rest of the dirty dishes, Loki shook himself out of his thoughts and glowered into the fire. “He stole seidr, you know. He ripped it from my body every time after he killed me, and he twisted that into the power of the Norn Stones to take us into another dimension, to start it all over. He must have lost them this last time, or they must have stopped granting his wish. How dare he.”

“That’s crazy,” Bucky replied when it seemed obvious that Loki was looking for an answer. Loki finally sealed the Norn Stones back into the bag and threw them back into the chest. He motioned at the chest and Bucky hefted it, bringing it over to drop it at Loki’s feet. Loki dug through it and pulled out an amulet.

“This is an invisibility amulet,” Loki smiled, holding it up to the fire light.

“You really had a thing for disappearing, huh?”

Loki shot him a mild glare but then dropped the amulet back into the chest, picking up the other pieces of jewelry. “This chest has been hidden for nearly 500 years, Bucky. I spent a good deal of my life wishing to be invisible so that my monstrous brother could not get his hands on me.” Another one of the necklaces was an invisibility pendant, which he dropped back into the chest. However, the next necklace was charmed for speed and stealth, which, after thinking about it for a moment, he handed to Bucky, explaining what it did. Bucky shrugged and dropped it over his head, handing Loki his plate of meat. Loki picked at it while examining the rest of the jewelry. He remembered a few of them; the necklace of healing, the bracelet of pick-pocketing, another pendant of speed and stealth, a few rings of thievery, and a bracelet of writing. He slid the rings on and dropped the rest of the jewelry back into the chest.

It really did make sense that Thor had come across a bag of Norn Stones. In his past life upon Midgard, he had read through nearly every book in Stephen’s library. There had been a few books he’d known that Stephen would collect later, especially after the Decimation, but Thor would have had to use the books already there as a place to begin his research into his spell. Loki had seen nothing that would have been a good jumping off point for Thor. He had done little thinking about it over the past year or so, figuring that he would never know the answer, but truly, Norn Stones were the only reasonable explanation. No wonder Thor had never explained it to him.

He finished about half of the meat that Bucky had given him, and he dropped the plate to the floor before pushing to his feet and moving slowly to the bed. The potion he had taken earlier was wearing off. Bucky helped him into bed and Loki was soon asleep.

Bucky picked up Loki’s uneaten food and opened the porch door. He softly closed the door and then sat next to the man keeping guard on the front steps, handing him the plate. The man took the plate and the two of them looked out into the dark.

“Does he come?” Bucky asked, after they’d sat in the quiet for a long time and the man had finished eating.

He nodded. “Only a few days at most.”

“Got a plan?”

"Usually not."

Chapter Text

Loki woke up to see Clint Barton keeping guard in the chair next to the bed. He reached out and Clint obediently caught his hand, tangling their fingers together. Loki let out a great sigh and a small smile creased his lips.

“Barnes is outside,” Clint offered up when Loki didn’t say anything.

“I assumed.” He struggled to sit up and Clint quickly moved over, slinging his arm around Loki’s waist and sitting next to him on the bed so Loki could lean against him. “Thor will be here in a few days.”

Loki sighed and nodded. “Let him come.”

“I know what we have to do.”

“Thank the Norns,” Loki muttered, and Clint helped him to his feet. The two of them stayed quiet while Clint helped Loki into a clean pair of sweatpants and one of Clint’s long-sleeved shirts. Loki leaned on Clint as they moved outside, and Loki motioned towards the middle of the clearing in front of the cabin. Clint nodded and the two of them knelt across from each other in the middle of the field. From the porch of the cabin, Bucky watched. “Tell me your plan.”

“You’ve been thinking about it for months now.”

Loki nodded and his eyes shuttered shut as he sagged into Clint’s grasp. “I’m going to have to remove the block on my seidr,” he murmured. “It will be painful.”

“I can take it,” Clint promised.

Loki curled around himself and moaned, green seidr lighting up the grass around him. He groaned loudly enough that Bucky jumped off the porch, coming a bit closer. He stayed out of the reach of the circle of seidr flames and kept a glance on the sky to make sure it was still blue and clear. He watched as Clint brought up both of his hands and grabbed Loki by the neck as Loki contorted and held in his screams and grabbed at Clint’s clothes and there was suddenly a great burst of power, and Clint screamed.

It was one short, two-second burst of sound, but Clint’s scream echoed loudly in the woods. Loki cupped his jaw and the two of them sagged against each other for a few minutes. Then Loki pushed to his feet and lifted his hand, the door to the cabin slamming open and the chest darting out, nearly hitting Bucky in the side of the head. It dropped to the ground right next to Clint, who was still panting and on his knees, and the top opened, one of the bags of coins floating out. The bag landed in Loki’s outstretched hand, and he poured the gold coins into his palm.

He lifted his palm full of coins and closed his eyes. It only took a moment and a small flash of light, and Bucky would’ve missed it if he had blinked, and the coins turned into dust. He moved back over to Clint and tossed the dust over him.

Clint gasped and threw his head back. His eyes were open and stared unseeingly at the sky. Loki pressed his palm to the archer’s forehead and the two of them stiffened.

Loki stepped into Clint’s mind. He had been here before, and it welcomed him. As before, there was no place closed to him. He stepped through Clint’s mind and at the front of it, down past a long hallway of memories, there was a chair. Loki took the seat and the darkness before him spread open, a long streak of green out into the distance. It looked similar to the Bifrost bridge. It stretched off into the distance and Loki could reach out and touch it and hear his own thoughts, see his own memories.

An embodiment of Clint stepped up next to him, shot him a grin. He looked a bit younger, a bit less stressed. “That light stretches into all of me,” he said, looking at the green light. “Every organ, every cell, every fiber. I don’t have any part of me that isn’t yours.”

“I wish to make it reciprocal,” Loki told the embodiment, who nodded. “I only wish to be able to speak to you.”

“I’d like that,” the embodiment admitted. “But you knew that already.” He leaned forward and ran his hand over a few of the green strands. “Touch it right here.”

Loki nodded and obliged, getting out of the chair to brush his hands over the bridge. A rush of his own thoughts passed over him—Where is my Captain What is this Does he come for me Oh pet you have done so well for me Is Bucky going to leave—and he smiled.

He tugged at the strings and tightened them, climbing over the small railing and stepping onto the bridge.

It was a long walk back to himself. He could feel Clint’s mind trying to pull him back, trying to show him that he didn’t have to leave; he could feel Clint’s desperation, always under the skin, always trying to show him that he was worthy, that he was truly loyal, that Loki could believe him and trust him. But he finally made it, the long way up.

The bridge between them only pulsed one way, and Loki grabbed the strands that Clint had showed him, yanking them up and over the wall that his mind kept up. He regularly tended his mental shields, but Clint was able to step right through them, and coming from Clint’s mind, his own mind opened right up for him. How very interesting. He could not even feel it.

Loki tied the bond to his own mind and clutched at his head, feeling the connection tremble and quake. He jumped back down the bridge between their minds and ran back down into Clint’s mind, sweeping through and exiting where he had entered.

The two of them curled against each other as Loki came back to himself, panting and arms wrapped around one another and slowly, cautiously, Clint thought, Sir?

Loki smiled. Fascinating. It is only telepathic, he replied. I cannot see your memories or your thoughts. You are open enough to me, I do not need any more distractions.

Whatever you want to see, sir, Clint promised. I can’t say any of it is very interesting but it’s yours.

Loki smirked and the two of them pushed to their feet. Loki stretched and tipped his head back to look at the sky. It was still blue, but there seemed to be a storm on the horizon. He was nearing full strength again, now that he had Clint to funnel any excess seidr into, and he threw the unused coins back into the chest. Clint obediently picked it up and carried it back into the cabin. Loki stepped up next to Bucky, who had been watching them with a look torn between concern and amusement.

Loki tugged the spell off Bucky’s arm that had turned the star on his arm from red to green. Bucky frowned at him. “That’s it? That’s how he was tracking us?” Bucky asked, looking at his arm with wide eyes. He’d spent months watching Loki suffer and starve and be poisoned by his own magic and it was that? A little color changing spell? It felt ridiculous. Bucky shook his head.

Loki nodded in Bucky’s vague direction and ducked inside the cabin. He came back out a few moments later holding his gem bag. Clint ducked outside and took the bag when Loki held it out.

Is that it? Clint asked. Just choose one?

The seidr isn’t difficult. Loki glanced over him and smiled, just a bit. I’ll give you this: a modified transportation spell that will bring you to me, and...would you like to show me memories? Anything else?

That works, Clint replied, shaking his head. He didn’t dare ask for more. He’d spent the past almost six months going between his newly pregnant wife and Cap, along with being interrogated by Einherjar and Thor, helping with the Avengers non-profit and doing volunteer work for them, along with whatever missions he was needed on, and the remnants of SHIELD that had risen from the ashes. He just wanted Loki where he knew the god was going to be safe. He’d take what he could get. It was enough of a sacrifice on Loki’s part to give him anything at all, much less more than basic telepathy.

He picked through the bag and decided on a small emerald with blue veins. He handed it and the bag to Loki. Loki disappeared the bag and held the emerald up to the light, giving Clint a wry grin. You have expensive taste.

Wouldn’t want you to be embarrassed.

Loki gave him a curious look and felt a bit confused, as if Clint couldn’t embarrass him, but Clint just shrugged it off and motioned towards the gem. Loki squeezed it in his fist and green light flashed over his hand, and then he pressed the gem in the soft spot right behind Clint’s right ear. He felt a small jolt and a rush of awareness about exactly where Loki was, and then everything settled back to normal. Loki raised an eyebrow at him and he nodded.

I can now summon you at will, and if I am incapacitated, you can appear within ten feet of me. Usually this type of spell is activated by a certain set of words, but I believe a strong enough emotion is enough between us. Clint nodded, relieved. Try to push a memory at me.

It was difficult to focus on an entire memory without being distracted, but Clint was well trained. He finally pulled up an old one of a warm fire and a warm, heavy blanket over his legs and his head resting on Laura’s lap and she pet her fingers through his hair and it was all quiet and calm and lovely. He pushed it towards Loki, who dropped down into it and scanned through it, pushing it back towards Clint just a moment later.

That’s one of mine. I asked for one of yours.

Well then. He’d been fairly certain that was one of his. He made a curious sound and sat down on the porch steps to think about it, glancing over the memory again. Maybe it was Loki with Frigga? It felt like it was him, though. He’d known his head was getting more and more tied up with Loki’s, but he’d always been able to tell their memories apart. He realized that he didn’t know who half of his memories belonged to. The older ones, the ones with magic or Thor or unfamiliar faces, were obviously Loki’s, but there were some that were so tangled up and twisted between them that he honestly could not remember if it’d been him or Loki on his knees before Steve. He could logically figure out that it was Loki on his knees, but it felt like it was him. Son of a bitch.

He remembered something suddenly, something that definitely wasn’t a Loki memory, and shoved it at the god, who slowly and carefully smiled at him. Well, what are you waiting for? Loki questioned him, and sent him off with a few motions of his hands. He darted off into the woods, scurried up a tree. He grabbed the bag he’d left hanging on a branch and slid back down.

The more he indexed his memories, the easier it was to push them at Loki. He picked one that was soon after his connection with Loki clicked into place, when he felt like he was going crazy, feeling like his own mind was holding him for ransom, and all the absolute hate and fury in his heart from being attached to someone he didn’t know without any warning. He sent the memory Loki’s way and Loki glanced over it, slipping it back with a side of amusement, like Clint’s absolute detest wasn’t even marked high enough to rate as an inconvenience. His master was an absolute bastard. Clint loved the hell out of him.

Loki turned back to Bucky, who looked profoundly bored. The soldier hadn’t moved an inch while he and Clint were mucking around in each other’s minds.

“I’m not doing that,” Bucky finally informed him. Loki merely raised an eyebrow.

“I would never ask you to,” he replied. “One is enough.”

Clint was jogging back to the cabin when he slowed to a stop. Good time as any to test out the new spell. He closed his eyes and wanted. He was yanked through the air just a moment later, feeling like someone had just tried to yank his spine out through his asshole, and he landed right next to Loki, who already had a hand outstretched to steady him. Loki smirked at him and Clint waved him off, staggering a few feet to lean on the side of the cabin. He noted that Bucky didn’t seem at all discomfited by him just appearing out of nowhere.

“We’re just waiting, then?” Bucky clarified, motioning at the sky. There was a sure storm on the horizon now. Loki estimated they had a day or two at most.

“Oh no,” Loki told him. “We don’t just wait.” He held his hand out and Clint, finally having shaken his body back to where everything felt like it belonged, obliged him and handed him his backpack. Loki tugged out Clint’s collapsible bow and his quiver of arrows and tossed them over before digging through the bag and showing Bucky what Clint had brought.

Bucky grinned. “Looks like you had a plan after all, Barton,” he told the archer, clapping him roughly on the back.

When Thor arrived, it was with a great wind and a tree-shattering thunderclap. He landed on the edge of the wards and roared Loki’s name, bringing Mjolnir down upon them with a mighty crash. Behind him, the Bifrost opened and a small horde of Einherjar landed behind Thor, fanning out behind him and readying their weapons.

From the cabin, the three of them looked on. Bucky had already complained about Loki and Clint not having actual conversations and leaving him out of it, which meant they just did it more. You got this much faith in us, sir? Clint asked, peering through the trees.

Loki was a bit amused. He had already given Clint the Norn Stones and there was nothing Thor could do to keep him here. The only real threat was one of the Einherjar getting in a lucky strike and capturing him, but he was weaselly enough to escape. Even Bucky had an escape route if needed. It is not faith. It is our good planning.

He looked at Bucky, who gave him a short nod. With a wave of his hand, the wards fell. Thor and the Einherjar came marching in.

Clint jumped over the porch railing and scaled the nearest tree. Bucky lifted his gun to his shoulder and took aim.

The land mines that Clint had rigged up to pressure sensors and trip wires began to go off, loud explosions throwing a few of the Einherjar into the air, screaming as they went. Not even Aesir had bodies strong enough to not get injured from a land mine, and none of them had the imagination to protect themselves against it. Loki knew that seidrmadrs would’ve cast wards upon them to protect them from whatever schemes they’d expected of him, but none of them would’ve thought about Midgardian weapons.

Up in the tree, Clint began taking out Einherjar with carefully aimed arrows. They caught a few of the arrows on their shields or caught them out of the air, but he pulled the same trick he had all those lives ago with Loki in New York: exploding tips. A few of the Einherjar were incapacitated, a few of them fell to the ground, dead.

Bucky just shot the hell out of them. Clint had brought him a submachine gun, and it was easier to use it to take down Einherjar than he was expecting. Most of them were bullet proof, but there were a few weak spots that he could take advantage of. It was easy to slip back into the training he’d received through HYDRA, and while his memories of before were still murky, he remembered his army training as well. He didn’t want to fight, but there was always another war.

Thor moved through the mines and the arrows and the bullets without stopping.

Loki stepped down the porch stairs and stopped only a few feet away from the cabin, hands clasped behind his back. Thor was coming for him and he was ready.

“Loki!” Thor roared. “Come out!”

Loki merely stood, and he did not move. The ground quaked as Thor came closer, and soon, far too soon for Loki’s liking, Thor came storming out of the trees.

He stopped a few yards from Loki, uru hand outstretched. “Loki,” Thor said, his voice stern yet quiet. “Come to me.”

“Hello, brother,” Loki greeted, his tone casual. “I see you have found me.”

Thor slowly nodded, eyes narrowing. “You have been running from me for far too long.” He looked up into the tree where Clint was perched, and then slowly down at the porch of the cabin where Bucky was still shooting. “If you come with me now, I will not kill either of them.”

Loki merely smiled without showing his teeth. “Oh, we both know you’re going to kill them regardless. I welcome you to it. But, I swear you this: I will go nowhere with you. Feel welcome to kill me, for it is the only way I will return to you.”

Thor snarled, lightning shooting out of his mouth and down his arms and over the heritage plates on his chest. His uru arm became wrapped with and crackled with lightning. He raised Mjolnir in a massive fist and the sky cracked open, lightning striking the tree Clint was in. Loki did not react at all.

In the tree, Clint shrieked and fell down the branches.

“You belong to me,” Thor snarled. “You broke our bonds and committed treason against Asgard. You will be brought back to Asgard and you will face punishment.”

“You are welcome to try.”

Thor stepped closer and in one fluid movement, Loki brought his hand from behind his back and threw the grenade at Thor. It exploded right as it hit Thor in the chest and threw him back into the trees. It was not a simple Midgardian grenade, which would have only inconvenienced him. He had crumbled an Alfar gem into dust and cast the charm on it to turn it into a listening device, as well as curling an explosive spell into a ball and wrapping the dust inside it. The dust covered Thor from head to toe.

Loki dropped his spells and Clint up in the tree and Bucky on the porch both disappeared. Thor groaned and sat up, calling for a healer, but the Einherjar were distracted by Clint and Bucky appearing behind them, both of them attacking with Loki’s knives. Loki looked down at his brother and he smiled.

“Oh, you didn’t think it would be that easy, did you?”

Thor growled his name and then collapsed back to the ground. He tried to lift Mjolnir but couldn’t even manage the strength to do that. He called for Heimdall in a low, pained voice.

In a flash of light, the Bifrost took Thor away.

Loki stared down at the place where his brother had been and he frowned. He really needed to kill him. Existing in the same universe as Thor was growing tiring. The risk of possibly being captured and captured and forced back under Thor’s rule was outweighing any benefits of being free.

An Einherjar burst out from the trees, an arrow in his neck. He tried to raise his sword but fell to his knees. Loki looked at the man and then summoned a knife, throwing it at the Einherjar, hitting him right in the chest. The soldier gasped out his name and then fell forward, dead. Loki called back his knife and then walked into the trees, heading towards the sound of Clint and Bucky arguing and the dying, ragged breaths of the Einherjar. Good. Let them suffer, let them see how Loki suffered under Thor for so many centuries. How dare they come for him.

“How do you fare?” Loki called out.

Got almost all of ‘em. Bastards are hard to kill.

Yes, it is a fortunate part of Aesir nature. Or unfortunate, if you oppose them.

“This one won’t die!” Bucky yelled over, and Loki headed in his direction. He saw them through the trees and threw a knife into the Einherjar’s temple. The soldier crumpled over and Bucky grunted, pulling his daggers out of the Einherjar’s chest. He kicked the body over and stood up, he and Clint looking over the bodies around them.

Looks like we got all of ‘em.

“Good,” Loki replied out loud, stepping out of the tree line and glancing over the corpses of the Einherjar. Interesting. “He brought varying levels of warriors, but most of them are fairly low level.” Loki toed at the nearest body and tipped it over, bending over to peer at the disks on his armor. “These are medium level Einherjar.” He straightened back up and motioned at the Einherjar that he had killed. “That is a trainee.” He shook his head. “Shameful of him to believe that he could take me back to Asgard with such low-level soldiers.”

“He’s underestimating you,” Bucky noted, and both Clint and Loki nodded. “He won’t do it again.”

“I think he will,” Clint said after thinking about it for a moment. “I just spent six months with him frantic over Loki being on the run. He’s convinced himself you were just acting out.”

“Like I am a child,” Loki hissed, giving another corpse a particularly hard kick in the side. He glanced over the remains of the Einherjar and then waved Clint and Bucky back to the cabin. They followed him through the trees.

He blames Steve. He thinks Cap twisted your brain up and made you think Thor’s the devil or something. So he and Cap have been fighting over that.

Loki shot him a curious look. I expect to see this later.

Sure, boss.

They arrived back at the cabin and quickly gathered their belongings. Loki sat down on the chair in front of the fire and shuddered as his body began to break down. He had pushed himself too far too fast with the short battle against Thor. He was unbound, unanchored; he was swimming in a rift, barely able to stay afloat.

“I will be able to take us to your home, Clint, but nothing beyond that. I will need to rest once we arrive.”

“Sir,” Bucky started, and Loki lifted his head from his hands. “I think I’m going to stay here.”

Loki and Clint raised simultaneous eyebrows. “His house is quite safe,” Loki offered. “You will not be found there.”

Bucky shook his head and zipped up his backpack. “I have a lot of stuff to figure out. I think I need to be on my own for awhile.”

Loki nodded slowly and turned his attention to Clint, who jumped to attention and dug through his own backpack, pulling out two familiar notebooks. Bucky smiled when Clint handed them to him, and he flicked through them.

“If you have need,” Loki said, his voice soft, “You know how to summon me.” He looked at Clint, who quickly finished gathering supplies and Loki’s belongings. “Keep in touch, Bucky.”

“You too, sir.” He opened his mouth to say something and then seemed to rethink it. He helped Loki to his feet and held the god close for a moment before assisting him outside. Clint made another check of the cabin and glanced over the chest, leaving behind a bag of coins and a couple potions, just in case. He met the two of them out in the clearing in front of the cabin, sliding his arm around Loki’s waist when Bucky stepped away.

The three of them glanced at each other and Bucky cleared his throat. “Stay hi to Steve for me,” he asked, and Loki nodded.

“Stay safe,” Loki ordered, and they were gone.

They landed right at the steps of Clint’s house, and Loki collapsed immediately. Clint struggled to keep him standing and it took Loki a moment to regain his footing and lean on the archer as they struggled up the front steps. Loki barely made it as far as the couch and Clint helped him lay down, tugging off his boots. Loki flicked his fingers and his Asgardian clothes changed into more comfortable sweats and a sweater. Clint covered him in a blanket and fed him a potion and Loki passed out.

“Clint?” Laura called from upstairs.

“Hey, hon,” Clint yelled back, dropping his bag to the floor and stretching the kinks out of his back. He looked over Loki one more time and then darted upstairs, greeting his kids and kissing his pregnant wife on the cheek. “Loki is downstairs.”

She nodded, handing Clint the book she had been reading to Lila and Cooper, who were both curled up together in bed, half-asleep and half-excited their dad was home. “You finish up here, I’ll go heat up some leftovers.”

Clint grabbed her arm. “He’s asleep. He’s...he’s had a rough go. Just let him sleep.”

Laura nodded and they both slid into bed with their kids. Clint restarted the book and read through it, smoothing his hand over Lila’s back when she curled up next to him, following the words in the book with her finger. The kids were soon asleep and Clint dropped the book onto the nightstand, meeting Laura’s hand in the middle of the bed, moving his thumb over her knuckles.

“You look ready to pop,” he smiled. “How much longer?”

She rolled over onto her back and laughed at him, cradling her heavy stomach in her hands. “Due date’s in two months. You staying?”

He nodded. “I put in for some paternity leave. They finally approved it.” He reached across the kids and rested his hand on her stomach. “They gave me four months. I’m only on emergency call.” She smiled and intertwined their fingers, the two of them just breathing and existing and finally, after a long while, Laura fell asleep.

Clint watched his family sleep for a few more minutes before sliding out of bed, making sure they were all tucked in, and turning off the light. He changed into an old, worn t-shirt and flannel pants and trotted back downstairs. Loki was still asleep. Clint brushed his hair off his face and sat down on the floor in front of the couch, leaning his head back and staring at the ceiling.

He fell asleep there, waking up only briefly when he felt long fingers stroke over his hair and then pull a blanket over him.

The fire was warm, the hand in his hair was gentle, and his kids and his wife were all outside, taking a walk through the fields. He pressed his head to Loki’s thigh and swam in the feeling of warm contentment. Loki was in his mind, paging slowly and thoroughly through his thoughts and memories, and simultaneously outside of him, long fingers petting down his hair and down his neck and back up, soothing and caring and he was calm and Loki was calm and there was peace in his heart.

He was sitting on the floor next to the massive armchair and footstool Loki had pulled out of one of his pocket dimensions. Loki had tucked a heavy blanket over his shoulders and Clint had obediently tucked himself in between the chair and footstool, leaning up and back against Loki’s stretched out legs. Loki had started a fire in the wood stove and pushed Clint to drink a glass of water and then absolutely swarmed him, pushing inside his mind and peeking in every door and rifling through every memory and Clint was so content, so warm with it all.

Loki was looking for memories of the past few months, hovering over the ones with Thor and Steve. He’d already reorganized Clint’s memory structure to his liking, changing everything from long hallways and doors to a more orderly file system. He sat on the chair at the front of Clint’s mind, flicking through files of memories and then pulling them up on the empty space before him. He could stretch out a hand and twinge his fingers through the bridge between their minds.

Clint felt as if he had stepped into heaven.

Loki moved through his memories perfunctorily, only slowing over the ones with Steve. He glanced through six months of memories in just under an hour.

Thor somehow heard of our connection, Lok mused, tapping on his knee and conjuring up a chalice of wine. He pushed through a few more memories and stopped on one where Clint and Steve were alone in his apartment.

You said he’s alright? Steve asked, and Loki leaned forward, stretching out a hand to brush it against memory-Steve’s jaw, but his fingers brushed right through. He turned his head away and clenched his fingers into a fist.

Memory-Clint nodded, turned his beer bottle in his hand. He’s tired all the time, and Barnes has to force him to eat, but he’s fine. He’s alive.

Coulson asked me to keep an eye on you, Steve said in a different memory. He and Clint were sitting in a conference room in Avengers Tower. Memory-Clint was fixing one of his arrows and barely threw Steve a glance. Thor says you’re compromised.

Memory-Clint snorted. They sure were quick to trust that bastard. He comes down and tells them Loki is a threat and they just believe him. He shook his head and slid the fixed arrow back into his quiver. He spent two years helping us but they turn on him the first chance they get.

Tony didn’t help, Memory-Steve replied, rubbing at his forehead. He never liked Loki. Remember when he got taken by Killian? Tony jumped right to thinking it was a trap. He gave Clint a strange look and frowned at him. I never asked...I remember you disappearing right after that. What happened?

Memory-Clint shrugged and leaned back in his chair. Loki was taken. I’d spent about a year, year-and-a-half in his head at that point. But he’d never been hurt before, not like that. Killian kept him in a room with nothing. It was so dark...I’d never experienced dark like that before. Loki had, when he fell, but I didn’t...there wasn’t a way for me to deal with it. So I just left. And then Thor came, and I can’t stand the guy.

Memory-Steve nodded. How is he...doing with that? With what Killian did to him? He never talks about it.

Memory-Clint looked up from his arrows and met Steve’s solemn gaze. He doesn’t think about it. He glanced away and traced his fingers over the grain of the wood on the table. If you ask him, he’ll tell you. But I can’t be the go-between for you two anymore. Just ask him.

Loki stepped out of that memory and sat by himself for a moment, just thinking. He finally called Clint forward and his face was carefully blank when Clint looked at him. You know I bear no argument with you telling him my history. Which means this is a...feeling of your own. It does not come from me.

Clint shrugged. The hand in his hair had stopped moving and he had to stop himself from pushing back into it. You’re both grown-ass adults. Act like it.

You’re not getting out of it that easy. Tell me.

He tried to turn away, but Loki did not even allow him that courtesy. Instead, Loki twitched his hand through the bridge to his own mind and Clint froze. He belonged so completely to Loki that he did not even have control of himself in his own mind. He sunk back into himself and thought about it for a moment. It feels like a betrayal. Every time one of them asks me about you, I feel like I am going to break in two. It weakens me.

But you know that I do not mind if you speak to my Captain, Lok pointed out.

He asks me instead of talking to you! I should not be your go-between because you are so unthreatened by me that you have put no rules on what I should say,

Loki pounced. If they were operating outside of Clint’s mind, he would be a massive cat and Clint, a small mouse, his prey.

Oh, you wish for rules? Loki purred. My little strain at your leash.

He tried not to sink into it, sink into the role Loki wanted him to play, but it was so easy, so warm. He did his best to push through it but Loki had such a hold on him that he felt as if he could barely breathe with the weight of it all. It takes away from what I do for you, he finally whispered, and Loki leaned close, his mental representation growing massive and overpowering and he was suffocating. I am reduced to being your spokesman.

Loki pushed him back down and he gasped, not even attempting resistance. There was no point. He swam back down and curled up in the warmth and the belonging and the pleasure in being told what to do.

Loki ignored him as he returned to Clint’s memories. He brought up one between Thor and Steve and Clint let himself be pulled into it. A dog on the leash was he. He’d considered himself a bit of a fighter, once upon a time. But that man was not nearly kneeling at a god’s feet and promising his fidelity. That man had been gone for nearly three years. Whatever Loki wanted was what was left of him.

My brother is a danger to my society and yours, Memory-Thor said, and he was majestic, arms crossed over his chest, uru arm catching the light, mismatched eyes sharp as he looked over Steve and Stark and the rest of the Avengers. Clint had been part of the meeting because Steve refused to talk to Thor without backup, and Clint was apparently backup. They both knew that Clint would die before Thor hurt Steve.

He’s not a danger, Memory-Steve argued, and Loki paused the memory, stepping closer and brushing his fingers through the mirage.

My Captain is so dedicated, so...passionate. He will always fight for me.

If you’re going to jerk off, please let me go.

Loki laughed in that mocking way that always made Clint think of long council meetings or unending gatherings between realm delegates and having to walk on eggshells around Thor and laughing at unfunny jokes because it was expected of him and if he was impolite, Odin would just about sic Thor on him. It made him want to smack the guy.

I have no current interest in masturbation. The memory resumed for just a brief second, and then Loki paused it again, turning to yank Clint’s attention back towards him, as if Clint could ever look at anyone else. Do you desire another conversation about my sexual activities? You have more interest in—

Because I have to feel it! Clint interrupted because Loki could get too monologue-y or insult him anymore. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t want to feel your weird satisfaction at getting Steve to jerk off on your face when I’m trying to feed my kids. Loki felt smug at that. I know there’s no way to stop it, you just need to warn me. I can’t imagine that’s too much to ask from the guy who is basically holed up in your head.

Loki made a curious sound and didn’t answer, turning back to the memory.

Memory-Steve continued, You’re only here because Loki decided he was better off without you. I’m here to tell you, Thor, that you’re not getting him back. If Loki wants to stay on Earth, then he stays. He looked around the room and briefly met Clint’s gaze before looking back at Thor. He’s not going anywhere with you.

Before memory-Thor could reply, there was a strange tug on Clint’s mind, just a quiet calling of his name, a whisper of a tapping at the door to his consciousness. It sounded like Laura. He struggled for a moment, needing to get to her, but Loki pushed him back down.

Through the haze and the warmth, he heard, “Do you require assistance?”

He couldn’t quite make out what she replied with, but it was something about contractions. Loki was ready for him, swarming over him, one foot on his throat as Clint tried to get to his wife.

“I suppose you’re going to need him for that, then,” Loki mused, and he let Clint go.

Four hours later, Clint hung on Laura’s hand as the doctor explained to them what a false labor was and how they had successfully stopped it. “It can oftentimes be triggered by stress,” the doctor said, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Has anything particularly stressful happened in the past few days?”

Clint looked out through the window in the door, where he could see Loki feigning interest in whatever story Lila and Cooper had come up with for them. Loki wasn’t particularly worried about Laura, but he did have a vague concern about the unborn child. How kind of the jackass, really. He turned back and shrugged one shoulder, copying Laura as she did the same thing. “Can’t think of anything,” Clint replied.

The doctor nodded and recommended further preventative measures, including bed rest for the remaining months of her pregnancy. They exchanged concerned glances and Clint quietly assured her that Loki would help. She saw right through the lie and the doctor finished talking, excusing herself when they didn’t have any more questions.

Clint helped Laura down from the examination table and handed her her purse and coat, opening the door for her. Loki’s head swung around and he glanced over them, picking Lila and Cooper up in each arm, much to their shrieking amusement. He had conjured up little golden helms for the two of them that matched his own, and Clint just rolled his eyes and herded them out of the doctor’s office.

“You’re going to stay and help,” Laura ordered of Loki as he followed them to their truck. Loki was walking between the kids, both of them jumping up and down and demanding that he lift them one-handedly, and he amusedly complied. Loki raised an eyebrow at her.

Clint sent out a quick prayer that he’d behave himself and he helped Laura into the truck, opening the back door for Loki and the kids. They filed in and Loki duly buckled himself in, rolling down the window. “Am I?” he finally replied, clasping his hands in his lap.

“Please,” Lila begged. “Daddy’s happier when you’re here.”

Loki slowly turned to her like some kind of big freaky bird. Clint slid behind the wheel and made sure everyone was secured before driving off. “Is he now?” As she nodded empathetically, Loki’s face slowly creased into a nasty smile.

Laura just rolled her eyes. “You’re staying. Now roll up the window.”

Loki tapped his fingers on his knee and complied. Clint glanced at him in the rear view mirror, only to find dark green eyes already watching him. He shot Loki a smile and a shrug and turned his attention back to the road. They were all quiet for the rest of the drive home.

Chapter Text

Loki spent the next day building himself a bedroom. He looked over the entire house and found the absolute worst spot for it, two huge wooden ornate doors right at the bottom of the stairs. It was absolutely out of place and dominated the wall, reaching almost to the ceiling, and when the doors were open, they blocked off the stairs. When Clint mentioned it, Loki merely shrugged and said that he didn’t know how to change it, even though Clint was in his head and knew he’d done it intentionally. Because he was the world’s biggest asshole. But he was staying.

He let Lila and Cooper watch him as he crafted the room. Clint checked in on them a few times every hour, and watched as the massive room took shape. It was a toned-down version of his bedroom on Asgard, which meant it was absolutely over the top and unreasonably extravagant. The walls were all made out of some kind of Asgardian wood that Loki had apparently just been carting around for a few hundred years, and then set his seidr to work carving vast, expressive scenes into it. A few of the scenes were what Clint would have expected—Cap, standing tall and proud in his uniform, shield in hand, on the edge of a field; Loki and a faceless man hiking through a crowded wood, an animal resembling a deer thrown over the faceless man’s shoulder; a remarkable resemblance of Asgard in all it’s glory—and them a few that Clint stared at with shock. There was an entire wall of scenes from Jotunheim, and a panel of great trees, the tallest with a hawk perched in its top branches. Above Loki’s bed, which was covered in furs and three times bigger than the biggest bed Clint had ever seen, there was a panel depicting a vast garden. Clint knew it from Loki’s memories: Frigga’s garden.

He finished his room off with an entire wall of clothes cabinets, an arm’s length deep and a man wide. There was a lavish bathroom with a tub big enough for five men, and a twenty-foot vanity for all of Loki’s jewels and adornments and oils and salves, with a gold-trimmed mirror that wrapped around the walls. The last wall was full of shelves, and Loki filled it full of curiosities and expensive, small items, gems, and most of all, books. The kids were fascinated.

When he was done, Clint brought him a warm bowl of soup and a few slices of heavy, warm bread, and a mug of ale, and he watched Loki’s hands tremble as he ate.

Laura walked in, looked around, picked up a gem and glanced at it. She set it down and raised and eyebrow at Loki and Clint. “You can start on the nursery next,” she said, and walked slowly out. She got ten minutes of walking every hour and was thoroughly displeased about the entire situation, but she was willing to do it without too much complaint, especially since Clint was going to be home to help.

I do not believe your wife to be as fond of me as you had previously thought.

Clint watched the empty doorway with a frown on his face. I thought she liked you. Well, much as anyone can like you. Maybe just hormones?

I cannot fault her for being unfond of the god who stole her husband’s mind from him, intentionally or otherwise. Loki finished the ale and then turned the cup into a teacup, leaning back against the couch and sipping delicately at it. Clint turned his attention to him, as he always would.

I’ll ask her.

Loki ignored him in favor of eating some of the bread.

Have you heard from Barnes?

That got Loki’s attention. He tugged his green journal out of a seidr-pocket and paged through it, handing Clint his teacup so he could hold it. He wrote me last night. He has left the cabin. He walks.

Where does he go?

Loki took the teacup back, took a sip, and then put it back into Clint’s hand. He tapped his fingers on the page and conjured a pen, flicking it across the page of the journal. He says west.

Clint nodded and leaned back, resting Loki’s cup on his knee. He could be following your seidr, you know. My home is west of the cabin. Hundreds and hundreds of miles, but still west.

Loki stopped writing and side-eyed Clint. If he does follow me, Thor could follow him.

He disappeared the journal and summoned a gem bag, pulling out a few jewels that were wrapped in brown paper. Light spilled over the room as Loki picked out an Alfheim gem, rubbing his thumb over it and activating the listening spell.

He tossed it into the air and it hovered a few feet in front of them, the intensity of its light dying down to a manageable glow. They both stiffened as Thor’s voice washed over the room.

“He killed every Einherjar I brought with me,” Thor bellowed. “They were loyal, highly trained soldiers of Asgard, and Loki slayed each and every one of them. He cannot be allowed to roam free upon your Realm.”

Steve’s voice came through the gem, tired and worn, and Loki froze, heart beating so loud that even Clint could hear it. “He killed them because you’re trying to kidnap him, Thor. You want to take him back to Asgard to punish him for crimes he didn’t commit, and for what? Because he didn’t want to be bound to you anymore? That’s not a crime, on this planet or any other.”

There was a rustling sound, as if Thor suddenly pushed to his feet or swung his arm. “Loki belongs to me,” Thor snarled. “I noticed your hawk and the metal-armed man helping him as well. I can claim them as conspirators and bring them to Asgard for punishment as well.”

“I find myself agreeing with the Capsicle,” Stark’s voice said, and he sounded exhausted. “I was on your side for awhile there, Thor, but you haven't told us what Loki’s done. No more help from ole Tony on this. Whatever Loki did to you, let it go, Elsa.”

Thor snarled and Loki flinched reflexively. “He attempted to murder me!” he roared. “He broke every bond that tied him to Asgard and then destroyed the Bifrost! He is a traitor and deserves punishment for his crimes.”

“Why?” Banner asked, and his voice was quiet and thoughtful. “Loki’s a smart guy. He wouldn’t just try to kill you out of the blue.”

“Barton said something about bonds once,” Natasha offered up, and her voice sounded further away, as if she was hovering in the doorway.

Steve sighed and fabric rustled like he was sitting down. “I know Loki’s history with you, Thor,” he finally said, and his voice was low and dangerous. “You don’t have to tell anyone else, but you and I both know you have no ground to stand on. Loki had every right to break those bonds.” Thor swore under his breath in Asgardian. “He was desperate,” Steve continued. “He wanted what we all want: freedom. You don’t get to take that away. Not now, not ever.”

There was a clap of thunder and the voices through the gem faded away. Loki took a moment to gather himself before tucking the jewel away and taking his cup of tea from Clint’s knee.

“Thor’s proving to be quite the irritant,” Loki said quietly, brow furrowed. “The Avengers seem to have their hands full with him.”

Clint nodded and then frowned after a moment of thought. “I’m on paternity leave until the baby is born.”

Loki leveled him with an amused look. “You will be called in soon. There is always some emergency.” He then waved Clint out of the room and the massive doors creaked shut behind him. Really. He’d built a creak into the doors. What a weirdo.

Laura’s behavior ended up being straight concern for her husband, as well as irritation from being on bed rest. Clint asked her about it a few days later, bringing her a bowl of oatmeal and berries and caffeine-free coffee after he took the kids to school. She was curled up on the couch, glancing through a magazine while also watching Loki through one of the windows. He was out there doing some weird shit to the wards or changing them or maybe putting in a doorway to hell. Clint didn’t know what he was up to most of the time and he was in the damn god’s head.

Laura ran her spoon through the oatmeal and she just sighed. “He gave me some book a week ago about bonds. I read through it, well, what I could understand, at least. You’re tied to him forever, you know.” She glanced at him through her lashes. “It’s not going to be easy.”

You jackass, he sent to Loki as he wrapped his arms around his wife. You could’ve just talked to her.

Oh, what’s the fun in that?

He assured her that he wasn’t going to leave them, and she waved him off, replying that she knew he’d never abandon them. But they would grow old, and he would not. He would stay the same, permanently etched in stone. Far more than Clint’s mind and soul belonged to Loki—his body, his very life, were property. He was functionally immortal unless Loki wished him to die.

It sucked. It really and truly did. He would rather live another fifty years and die an old man than watch his wife and his kids go on without him. But it wasn’t his lot. So he just held her close, because there was nothing else he could do.

I’ll have the three of you with me for a very long time, Loki mused, and Clint could feel him ripping up grass with his hands. You’ll have to find me some way to bring Sam Wilson along for the ride.

You just don’t want to be alone, Clint accused as he gently wiped tears away from his wife’s eyes, lifting her chin to kiss her. You managed to find the only two enhanced humans on the entire planet and got them to like you, and then you got me all twisted up enough—

“Can you stop talking to him while you’re talking to me?” Laura asked, and her voice was quiet but firm. Clint jerked and stared down at her. “He should at least have the courtesy to come in here and ignore me face-to-face.”

Because he was the biggest asshole in the Nine Realms, Loki appeared right in front of them, floating cross-legged over the coffee table. “As I was saying,” he said out loud, glancing between the two of them. “Perhaps you and Wilson?”

Clint just rolled his eyes and Laura frowned. “I’m not going to bond to Sam Wilson just so you can have your weird harem,” Clint retorted, and Loki pouted.

“He is very handsome,” Loki pointed out, floating up and down a few inches as he thought. Green eyes flickered over Laura, and his lips stretched in a grin. “Perhaps the two of you, then?”

Clint wanted to throw himself into the garbage disposal. He wanted to cover himself in raw meat and let the birds pick at him until he was bones. He wanted to bury himself in an anthill. “My wife isn’t going to have sex with Wilson,” he reiterated.

Laura just rolled her eyes at the two of them and heaved herself off the couch to go finish her meal in the kitchen.

Loki shot Clint a sharp look of amusement and then the double faded away. Clint made sure Laura didn’t need anything and ignored her dark look before joining Loki outside.

He was yanking grass out of the ground in a circle. Clint thought about messing up the circle but instead just sat down at the edge of it. “You’re going to have to tell her you were joking,” he finally said, his voice quiet.

Loki continued pulling out grass and did not speak for a very long time.

Finally, he said, “Very well.” He pulled a piece of paper out from thin air and used his seidr to fold it into a bird. He pet it’s paper wings and murmured to it, and it darted off. He regarded Clint with something approaching pleased amusement, and then went back to pulling grass. His fingers were stained green and it was very slow going.

“You’re going to have to start helping around the house,” Clint said, and he didn’t manage to duck the hand that swiped him across the side of the head. “Sir.”

Loki only looked at the grass. “I do believe I was told to stay,” he sniped out. “I am a guest. I do not do chores.”

Clint shrugged one shoulder and picked up some of the grass Loki had pulled out. He rubbed it between his fingers. “She’s going to ask soon. Better to get ahead of it.”

Loki still didn’t look at him. “She can give me a list of chores and I will use my seidr. I am not going to get down on my hands and knees and scrub the floor like a maid.”

Clint frowned at him. “No one would think less of you,” he tried, and that got Loki’s attention. His hands stopped pulling grass and his eyes narrowed as he looked up at Clint.

“You imagine I care about your opinion of me? Your wife is important to you and you alone, Clint. Your children are ants to me. I tolerate them because I would take no amusement in their demise.” Very quickly, Loki moved forward, pressing Clint back to the grass, flat on his back with Loki’s hand tightening around his throat. Loki snarled at him and spat out, “Your opinion does not matter, Clint Barton. You are in service to me regardless of how you feel towards me. You cannot fight it, and it will not change.” He leaned closer and his poisonous green eyes were all that Clint could see. “I tolerate your acting out, your opinions, your emotions, because I have use of you.” His hand briefly tightened around Clint’s neck and he tried to gasp, but couldn’t get enough air. “Count yourself lucky you’re even allowed that.” He moved back suddenly and Clint darted back on his hands and knees, watching Loki warily.

Loki pushed to his feet and wiped his hands off on his shirt. He glanced around and motioned towards the unfinished circle. “Finish this. When you’re done, go help your wife with the chores. Ask her to explain what she read in that book of mine.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint murmured, watching Loki stalk back to the house.

He put his head down and started pulling grass.

Bucky walked.

He’d grown used to walking in the long months he and Loki had been on the run. They’d walked from safe house to safe house, unsure of how Thor was tracking them, worried at every storm on the horizon and every gust of wind was a herald to something far worse. It frustrated him that it was something so simple that had lead Thor towards him. The star on his arm, changed with a bit of magic? Thor was even more powerful than he’d been led to believe if he could track him through something as small as that. Or he assumed, anyway.

He went west. It seemed the easiest direction. Now that he was well and truly anonymous, he walked next to roads, traveling in the morning and the evening, resting at night and in the afternoon when the sun was the highest and the hottest.

But he liked walking. It was easy, and he didn’t have to think.

Now that he had his journals back, he had somewhere to put everything he’d remembered. That was hard, far more difficult than the walking.

There were a few times he would stop for lunch and drink some water and write until the sun went down, until he could no longer see and he was peering into the dark around him, trying to figure out where the time went.

He remembered a few more trigger words—one and homecoming—and sent them to Loki, who only sent his careless message of Stay safe. Be on your guard. If you have need of me, call for me. I am and then it cut off, and Loki never finished it. Must’ve been up to some more important shit. Maybe Steve found him.

Bucky thought about that for awhile, as he walked. He thought about walking into a gas station and buying a sandwich and a gallon of water and turning around and Steve was leaning against the counter, big and beautiful and every bit the punk Bucky grew up with. He thought about Steve wrapping his arms around him and asking him to come home and kissing him.

He walked and he realized he was no longer in love. He had loved Steve for as long as he could remember. Yet the thought of kissing him now filled him with apathy. He had thought himself jealous at first, when he realized that Loki and Steve were seeing each other, but it was only yearning to be a man he could no longer be. He wanted to be Bucky-before-HYDRA. He didn’t know who he was after HYDRA got their claws stuck in him. He didn’t know if he would ever know.

So he walked.

A few people pulled over, asked him if he wanted a ride. He always declined. One nice old lady pushed a bag of chips on him at a rest stop and he took them and threw them away once she drove off. Nothing these days tasted right.

He wondered how many times he’d eaten in the past seventy years.

It was easy to walk. One foot in front of the other. One boot in front of the other. His metal hand in a glove and then in his pocket so the sun couldn’t catch it and draw attention. Sunglasses and a hat to disguise his face. Just in case. He wore long sleeves while he walked and made sure no one could see his arm if he pulled the shirt off to cool down.

When they had first ran, before Loki suspected that Thor was tracking him through his magic, he’d cast an illusion charm on Bucky’s arm. Made it look human again. He remembered running his fingers over it and feeling the give of fake flesh to the metal underneath. It wasn’t meant for physical contact, Loki had chided him, smacking his hands away. Just so that no one looked beneath the surface.

On the surface or below, he still didn’t know who he was.

He remembered, though. He remembered more every day.

Once they had figured out that Thor was tracking them through magic, and Loki had blocked all of his off, Loki had grown progressively weaker every day. It had only taken the god a few months to become a shadow of his former self. He’d begun to refuse food and water and Bucky had had to guilt him into eating by saying Steve would want him to stay sharp. He’d been surprised it had actually worked.

He stopped keeping track of the days. It didn’t matter how long he was walking for. It could’ve been a week, it could’ve been a month.

He started noticing he was being followed fairly soon after he realized the guy checking out the chips had been at a gas station a few towns back. Handsome, easy on the eyes. Vaguely familiar. Bucky had seen him somewhere before, but that didn’t mean much.

He kept an eye out, noticed the guy at the next rest stop as well. He was reading a book a few picnic tables over, headphones in his ears, drinking a Coke.

Bucky drew a picture of him and folded it up, left it under a rock.

He walked on.

After Loki had pulled him to Avengers Tower and had disappeared with Thor, he’d shared one frantic look with Steve before Barton had grabbed him by the arm and yanked him out of the room. Barton had shoved him in the elevator and glowered at him on the long ride down.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Barton had told him, and he’d shoved a wad of money into Bucky’s hands and yanked away his gun and hailed a cab for him.

He hadn’t disagreed. “Why’d the hell he call me in, then?” he’d asked.

“To be dramatic,” Barton had griped, and then shoved him in the cab.

A month later, when he and Loki were leaning against each other under an umbrella beneath a tree in the middle of a rainstorm, he’d asked about it. Loki had said that he had wanted Thor and everyone else to think he was going to have some big fight in the Tower, and that his bond to Thor was powerful enough to overcome that urge. He’d wanted the poetic irony of Thor falling to his demise from the Bifrost, wanted his very last emotion to be that of betrayal. Bucky had nodded but hadn’t really believed him.

It hadn’t worked out that way, of course.

Bucky had learned that about half of Loki’s schemes backfired on him, and the rest of them usually failed. There were a small percentage that actually worked, and apparently Loki just jerked off to chaos enough to make it worth it.

At the next rest stop a few days later, Bucky got a can of Coke out of the vending machine and set it on the picnic table. He pulled out his black journal and a pen and got to writing.

The man sat down across from him, picked up the soda, and cracked it open. Bucky could see his grin from where his head was bent over his journal.

“I’ve been looking for you for awhile,” the man said.

Bucky wrote a few more lines in his journal and tucked it away. He slid his hand into his bag and grabbed one of the gems Loki had given him, and he looked up at the man.

“You here to take me in?”

The man shook his head. “Just here on orders from Cap. He just wanted to make sure you’re safe. Took me a long time to find you, you know. Hard man to track down.” He took another swig of the soda and then pulled Bucky’s drawing out from his pocket, smoothing it down onto the table. “Figured you want to see the real thing against your picture. Maybe try again.”

The man winked at him and in his surprise, Bucky thought the word of the stone, and his stomach tried to enter his lungs as he was yanked through the dimensions and through time and through space.

He landed on his knees in the middle of a clearing.

He tipped his head back and laughed. He was back at the cabin.

He shrugged and slung his backpack over his shoulder and ducked inside, starting up a fire and digging through the few pieces of food in his bag. He made himself a small dinner of a plain bean burrito, and drew a picture of the man into the red journal, asking Loki if he knew him.

When he woke the next morning, he had his answer: His name is Sam Wilson. He is an ally and a friend of Steve’s.

Well then.

He stayed in the cabin for a few more days and on the morning he was set to walk out, there was a strange noise above, and he looked up to see a man flying above the trees. Maybe Barton had finally grown wings. Maybe Loki had turned into a bat or something.

The man flew down through the trees and gracefully landed in the middle of the clearing. His wings folded up into a pack on his back, and Bucky could hear that they were mechanical. The man pushed his goggles up his forehead and grinned at him.

Sam Wilson.

“Wilson,” he greeted, and yanked the cabin door shut behind him. He glanced at the sky, pulled out his compass, and headed west.

“Where you goin’?” Wilson asked, jogging to keep up.


West was good. It felt right. He had a long way to go to catch up with himself, but at least there was always west.

Wilson walked with him for a time, tried to make conversation, but Bucky had barely been good at that with Loki, who thought manners and societal norms were for those lesser than him, so he definitely didn’t have any damn way to keep a conversation going with a normal human, so he stayed quiet. Wilson didn’t seem to mind. He just stuck his hands in his pockets and ambled along.

They came to the nearest road a few hours later.

“I have a truck,” Wilson spoke up, thumbing down the road. “Perfectly willing to take you wherever you want to go.”

Bucky glanced over him again. Wilson was more dangerous than the average citizen, but compared to Bucky? He was no threat. So there wasn’t any harm in going with him, at least none that Bucky could see. And Loki said Steve trusted him.

“You’re Steve’s friend?” he asked, and his voice was hoarse.

“I sure like to think so,” Wilson replied with an easy smile. “Hell, even Loki likes me.”

Loki didn’t like anyone, but he tolerated some people better than others. But Bucky just frowned.

Wilson’s face lit up and he dug around in one of his pockets for a moment, and then pulled out a small Alfheim gem. It flowed faintly in his grasp, threw a warm cast to his face. If Loki did like the guy, he would give him the gem because he would think he was funny. How else would he have gotten his hands on it?

Bucky nodded slowly and followed Wilson to his truck. He’d ditch him once he got far enough west anyway.

Wilson was easy company. He made Bucky stop every few hours for rest and fuel and food, and made him rest overnight. He didn’t ask where they were headed, didn’t seem concerned that Bucky was doggedly going towards something unknown. He just shrugged and said that his job was to keep Bucky out of trouble. When Bucky had questioned that, Wilson had told him that Steve had sent him after him, since Loki was off the grid at Barton’s or wherever he was alienating everyone around him.

So they went west.

Wilson kept in contact with someone, texting them a couple times a day, and every few days, he spent a few minutes on the phone with them. Bucky assumed it was Steve, but never said anything.

He wrote in his journal while Wilson drove, sent a few messages to Loki, and spent the rest of his time cycling through radio stations and figuring out modern music. He and Wilson had a day-long conversation about how different music and movies were now, and two weeks in to their drive, they stopped on the edges of a small town and went to a theater and watched a movie about an animated sponge. Wilson thought it was funny, and even funnier that Bucky was watching it.

It was getting warmer. The seasons barely affected him, but Wilson got happier.

Three weeks into their trip, Bucky pulled over on the side of the small county road they were driving down. He got out of the truck, slid his hands into his pockets, and just looked out at the world before him. It was vast, with great horizons. The earth around them was flat, with long fields, long grass moving in the gentle wind.

Wilson got out and stood next to him.

“This where we go our separate ways?”

Bucky nodded.

“Sure is beautiful here,” Wilson remarked, leaning against the side of the truck.

The two of them stood in silence for a long time.

Bucky finally moved when the sun was low in the sky. He slid his backpack on and glanced at Wilson, who pulled him in for a hug and clapped him on the back.

He nodded at the man and turned away. He began to walk.

He knew Wilson had been detouring them. He didn’t really care. When Bucky drove, he headed as dead west as possible. Wilson would take whatever road caught his fancy and if it meant they weren’t going west, then so be it. But Bucky had somewhere to be. He didn’t know where that was, but he knew it was west.

So he walked.

Wilson got in the truck and turned around, headed in the opposite direction. Once his truck was gone, Bucky stopped again, and watched the sunset.

He found a small shed, holed up inside of it for the night.

He picked up the small Alfheim gem he’d lifted from Wilson. It lit up the shed enough that he could dig through his backpack.

Wilson had left him a bag full of wrapped burritos and chips. Inside a ziploc, there was a cell phone with the battery taken out. He thought about it for a few minutes and then slid the battery in.

The phone lit up, and he paged through the contacts. There were three: Steve, Wilson, and Loki.

He nodded and pulled the battery back out, putting the phone back into the ziploc. He ate one of the burritos and then pulled a coat over himself, falling asleep very quickly.

He woke the next morning and began to walk.

Chapter Text

A rattling truck rolled up to his house, and Clint met it outside, lowering his bow when he realized who was driving. Sam Wilson slid out and greeted Clint with a slap on the back and a look around his home.

“Really living out here in the middle of God and nowhere, huh?” Sam asked, face creased in a smile. “Where’s the old green geezer?”

Clint just rolled his eyes and led Sam to the house, where Loki was in his bedroom, artfully laying on a lounge with a book on his knee, a teacup floating beside him. Clint just waved Wilson to a seat and then went back to the kitchen to finish making lunch.

Loki glanced over him and then put his book down, sitting up and greeting Sam with a kind smile. He offered him tea and Sam denied it, asking for water instead. A minute later, Clint brought him a tall glass.

“You have news?” Loki asked, his tone mild.

Sam shrugged. “Sure. I texted you a few times, you never replied. I wouldn’t have had to come here if you’d answered.”

Loki waved him off, pulled his phone from a pocket dimension and glowered down at it when it wouldn’t turn on. “Useless Midgardian invention,” he grumbled, and Clint came in a minute later to take the phone to charge it, rolling his eyes as Sam shot him a grin.

“Trouble in paradise?” Sam queried, thumbing at Clint as he went back to the kitchen. Loki raised an eyebrow and Sam expounded, “I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with Barton over the past few months. Now, I’m not one to argue if a man wants to keep quiet, especially if that man is Barton, but he’s acting like a kicked dog.”

Loki elegantly shrugged one shoulder and took a sip of his tea. “We had a...disagreement a few weeks ago, one might say. It is being rectified. Now, what is Bucky doing? That is the purpose of your visit, was it not? Surely you’re not here to argue better treatment on Clint’s behalf.”

“Does someone need to?” Sam frowned. He ignored the way Loki tried to ask him again about Bucky and he pushed to his feet, going back into the kitchen. Loki rolled his eyes and went back to his book.

“Hey, buddy, everything alright here? I can call Cap in and he’ll straighten the guy out.”

Clint looked up from where he was stirring noodles. He looked exhausted. “He’s panicking about Thor,” he grumbled. “He’s dealing with our bond settling and he misses Cap. Nothing I can really blame him for.”

“Sure,” Sam agreed easily, leaning against the kitchen counter. “And he didn’t have the best role model for how to treat people, sure, but that’s not really an excuse. I’ll talk to him.”

Clint threw him a tired look and turned off the stove. “Go for it, man. I’m sure Loki’s all ears. While you’re at it, why don’t you just call Cap now and have him apologize to my wife because Loki got pissed enough to take my damn head off? I can take care of my own damn self.” He pulled the pot off the stove and dumped the noodles into the strainer he had in the sink.

Clint took a deep breath and then turned to look back at Sam. “Loki isn’t going to hurt me. He knows I’m a hell of a lot more valuable to him alive. He just thinks it’s funny.”

“Of course I do,” Loki said from the doorway to his rooms. He sauntered into the kitchen and peered down into the cooling noodles in the sink. “Sam, are you going to tell me why you’re here? Or must I begin to guess?”

Sam just rolled his eyes. “Alright, fine. Stubborn old bats, the two of you. Barnes is fine. I spent the last few weeks with him. Hey, Barton, you know Spongebob? I got him to go see that movie.”

Clint grinned. “Laura took the kids to see that three times.” He dumped a jar of sauce into the pan and stirred it around, turning the stove back on to warm it up. He slid the noodles into a serving bowl and got out a few bowls for them.

“He’s doing alright, I think. Won’t talk about it. He’s just tired of it. Tired of fighting, tired of being a weapon, tired of all of it.” Sam shook his head and took the beer that Clint offered him.

Clint turned off the stove and served the three of them bowls of spaghetti. They all sat down at the kitchen table and Loki used his seidr to spin up small bites and feed them to himself. He watched Clint eat with dark, hooded eyes. Sam glanced between the two of them, not making an effort to hide his concern. Clint focused on his food and ignored Loki.

“He’s still working on giving us information to finish taking HYDRA down,” Sam finally said as he finished up his food. Loki floated Sam’s bowl over to the sink and propped his elbow up on the table, leaning his chin on his hand as he stared at Clint. “But he still doesn’t remember much. How about I go outside and you two hash this out?” Sam excused himself and ducked outside, going over to the barn to rummage through Clint’s weapons.

Clint didn’t look up from his bowl. I know you’re pissed because you feel like I’m trapping you here like Thor used to trap you. I’m not gonna let you shit all over me because you’re too stuck in yourself to realize you’re being an asshole.

A gentle hand reached out and brushed over the back of his hand. Clint blinked and looked up, caught Loki’s hand in his own. Clint...I am poor at caring for others. Any measure of vulnerability makes my hackles rise and I bite at the closest one. Long fingers brushed over his, a long thumb gently moving over his knuckles. I fear my...sense of humor is often considered by most to simply be cruelty. I...apologize.

He snorted and shook his head. I should get some kind of mental recording device so other people can see you’re not as big of a dick as you seem.

Would any believe you? Loki pulled away and he tapped his fingers on the table, sending both of their bowls to the sink with a flick of his fingers. I will be growing poorer in disposition until I see my Captain again. My seidr revolts without an anchor.

Clint shrugged but nodded. I’ll make you a deal, sir. You do whatever you want to me. I can take it. But you help Laura, help around the house, and you don’t do anything to the kids.

Loki looked genuinely offended. Clint almost believed him. I may be cruel at times but I am not cruel at heart.

Nodding, Clint tried again. Fine then, no hurting me. Unless you want to, of course. But you’re just going to get more and more emotional, we both know that. So you lay it all on me. You’ll make it up to me anyway.

Loki sat back in his chair. You’ve put a great deal of thought into this.

I care about you. I also know you’re a jackass. Loki rolled his eyes. Loki, I...I’m a realist. I know that at the end of the day, I belong to you. I know that. I get the next thirty or forty years with my wife and kids and then I live the rest of my life with you.

Loki stiffened. “This feels...remarkably familiar,” he murmured out loud. “I had a very similar conversation with Thor, a very long time ago.” He brushed his fingers over the grain of the table and looked away from Clint. “If he had given me fifty years with Stephen, I would have served him for the rest of our lives. I would have done whatever he wished for as long as he wished. How does your situation differ?”

Clint thought about that for a moment. He could definitely see the parallels. “I’m choosing you,” he finally said. Loki sat back in his chair, blinking in thought. “I could take myself out of the equation, you know. I thought about it. I didn’t even have to tell you. But I put myself in your path and I don’t have any regrets. Doubt I ever will, honestly.”

“It will cost you everything.”

Clint grabbed Loki’s hand. “It’s worth it.”

Steve called Clint back in a few days later. They needed his help infiltrating a HYDRA base somewhere in Russia. Thor was going to be there, and Clint almost begged out, but Steve sighed and said that he’d called him because he needed backup. Clint had given in, of course. Sure he’d come. But he was retiring at the end of this. Steve just snorted at him and Clint had said he’d be in by the next day.

Sam ended up staying the night, saying he’d drive out the next morning. He helped Laura in the kitchen, entertaining the kids by putting the mashed potatoes on their plates in shapes of animals and cutting up their chicken into funny shapes. Lila and Cooper thought he was hilarious. Clint had taken him aside and quietly thanked him for knocking some sense into Loki, and Sam had hugged him.

Loki and Clint were digging around in the barn. Well, Clint was digging around and Loki was laying back on a chaise lounge that he had conjured, feeding himself grapes. Clint had been on vacation for almost a month, and had put all of his gear and weapons away once he’d gotten home. He was cleaning one of his bows when Loki spoke into his mind.

He never chose me, you know. All those centuries together, all those lives, all those universes he pulled me into...he killed me instead of choosing me. Loki dropped another grape into his mouth and bit down on the fruit, juice wetting his lips. Clint glanced over him and went back to cleaning his bow, his movements slow so he could focus on Loki. He harnessed a great and terrible power in his quest to defeat Thanos, at any cost. He claimed he needed me to do so. But he could not tell me? I found out about his scheme, what, five years after being brought back? How did he expect my assistance in defeating Thanos if I did not know that was my purpose in that life?

He didn’t, Clint replied, restringing the bow and sliding wax down the string. He used Thanos as an excuse. He could’ve used any iteration of you, over the thousands of you he brought back.

None of me were good enough. Loki tore another grape in two with his teeth and glowered at the ceiling. He told me so many times of how I was insufficient before, how he brought Mjolnir down upon me so many times prior.

Simultaneously, they both brought up one hand and touched the place on their brow where Mjolnir had breached him out in the snow.

He could’ve made it work, Clint pointed out. Any version of you would’ve listened.

He’s a monster, Loki hissed. He swung his feet off the lounge and sat up, pointing at Clint. If you have an opportunity, do whatever needs doing. By the end of all this, however long it takes, Thor will be dead at my feet. I will bring down another Ragnarok if that is what it takes. He clenched his hands into fists. He will no longer get away with it.

Clint pulled a handgun out of a holster and set it down onto the table in front of him to begin disassembling it and cleaning it. The only way I would be able to hurt him, much less kill him, would be one of those bullets that Barnes shot you with last year. I’ll make a note to ask Steve. Maybe Stark got his hands on their tech?

Consider the risk of Stark knowing you’re looking for weapons to harm Aesir, he pointed out. You’re a spy, do the reconnaissance first. Do ask Steve as well. He threw himself back into the lounge and glowered up at the ceiling. When you see him, send me a memory. And tell him I long for him.

I’m not telling Cap you long for him, you freak.

Loki harrumphed and tossed a grape up into the air, catching it into his mouth. How much longer will you be? Eating conjured grapes is horribly boring.

You could help, you know. I understand what a foreign concept that might be but…

Loki groaned theatrically and threw his hands up into the air, conjuring a loose ball of bright green seidr, which he threw at Clint. It landed on the table in front of him, floating a foot above it. Clint gave into the urge to pet it. It felt like a real fucked up dog.

Tell it what to do.

Clint shrugged and did what he was told. “Clean the gun,” he told the seidr, which didn’t do anything.

Loki burst out laughing.

“You’re an asshole,” Clint told him, and Loki laughed for a minute longer before waving his hand and the ball of seidr began to do as Clint wanted. “It’s not even a funny prank,” Clint groused. “It’s just—”

“Mischievous?” Loki interrupted, sitting up and dismissing the conjured grapes. Clint rolled his eyes, pulling out a few more guns from his bag. The seidr quickly got to work on disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling. Clint shrugged and picked up another bag, this one full of arrows, and he got to renocking and checking the vanes, flexing a few of them in his hands. He threw the ones that didn’t pass muster at Loki, who snatched them out of the air and glanced them over before breaking them.

It was soothing work. It was routine.

He was spinning a few of the arrows and checking for wobbling when Loki finally decided he was done. He sent the lounge to whatever dimension he’d pulled it out of, and tugged Clint’s attention away from the arrows. “Can I just finish this?” he grumbled, but got out of his chair and went over to stand next to Loki, who was looking at the tractor with disgust. “It’s a tractor. We use it for tilling fields, planting, moving snow, what have you.”


“What do you want?”

Loki was a bundle of emotion. He was frustrated over dealing with years of abuse from Thor and knowing that those effects would last a lifetime, annoyed with the Avengers putting up with Thor just because he was useful, and missing Steve. But there was something else. Clint frowned up at him. “You’re worried about me!”

Loki sent him a filthy glare. “I merely know what Thor is capable of,” he argued. “He is a very cruel creature.”

Clint elbowed him in the side. “I’ll be fine. If he tries anything, I’ll call you. He tries anything to Cap, I’ll call you. I can’t keep anything from you anyway.”

“I’ll expect a full memory of the mission,” Loki murmured, turning away from him.

“Sure, boss,” Clint agreed easily. “Mind if I get back to my arrows now?”

Loki just left instead of saying anything.

Clint rolled his eyes and went back to his arrows.

Sam brought Loki a plate. He was relaxing on the huge armchair he’d put in the living room, bare feet up on the footstool, blanket over his legs. He took the plate and waved Sam to the couch. Sam sat down.

“It’s not your couch, you know.”

“It’s Clint’s,” Loki replied, spooning up mashed potatoes and glowering at them. “Which means it’s mine.”

“You apologize to him yet?”

Loki waved his hand dismissively and then ate some of the chicken. “We have come to an...agreement.”

“That’s not an answer,” Sam pointed out.

“Yes,” Loki ground out, not looking at him. “I apologized. Clint was very grateful, very appreciative, very loyal. As always.”

Sam looked over at him. “I know you and I haven’t spent much time together besides that week after I met Steve, but you’re a good man. You care a lot about the people in your life. And we all care about you too. I don’t think Steve could love someone that isn’t good. We spent months searching for you and Barnes, not just because Steve asked, but because you’re important to people. Because we needed to bring you home.”

“I’m not a man,” Loki grumbled, but his eyes were suspiciously shiny as he looked down at his plate. “I did appreciate the endeavour to assist Bucky and myself. I...admit to panicking when Thor came for me. He is...vile. Monstrous. But I am free of him, because of your efforts. I only wish that the Avengers were not working with him.”

Sam nodded in agreement. “I haven’t met him yet, don’t particularly want to either. Stark was really the only one pushing for him to join up. Steve and I have a suspicion that Thor gave him something. Don’t know what yet. You have any ideas?”

Loki thought for a moment, tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair. He sent his plate to the kitchen with a flick of his fingers, and after considering it, his seidr cleaned the plate and slid it into the dishwasher. He looked back at Sam and pulled his seidr journals from a pocket dimension, paging through them. “It could be any number of things,” Loki murmured. “Odin had a great many valuables, some of which were fake. But many of them were real, and many more of them were hidden.” His fingers stopped on one of the items in his list and he made a curious sound. “I cannot know which of the items he gave Stark without more information.”

“They’re all going to Russia,” Sam offered up. “Lab will be empty.”

“Are you asking me to help you break into Avengers Tower? Break into Stark’s lab and rummage through his computers and files and his experiments?” His lips curled into a dark smile. “Oh, Sam, it would be my absolute pleasure.”

Laura pressed a kiss to Clint’s cheek and pet his hair down and patted the back of Loki’s hand. They were reclining together on the couch, Clint asleep, his head buried in Loki’s shoulder. Sam helped her upstairs and then ducked into Loki’s rooms to crash on his couch. The kids had been asleep in their rooms for a few hours. Loki slid his hand into Clint’s hair and tugged at it.

Wake up. A poor servant you are, sleeping upon your master.

You’re not even comfortable. All bones and sharp edges. He pulled away from Loki and stretched, rolling his shoulders and wincing as his neck cracked.

Loki huffed and tugged Clint into his rooms, pushing him down into the lounge. Pull your shirt off. He summoned a few jars of oils and salves and sat down on the lounge, Clint resting on the floor in front of him. He warmed up the salve in his hands and moved his hands over Clint’s shoulders, pressing his fingers in and massaging up and down his neck.

Sam watched from the couch. “You two are freakin’ weird,” he muttered, and pulled his blanket over his head so he didn’t have to watch.

A King takes care of his possessions, Loki murmured. I have no intention of you coming to harm because your human body is so weak it cannot take stress. He stood up and tugged Clint to his feet, laying him down on the lounge, spreading his hands over Clint’s back. You will take better care of yourself. I cannot be saddled with a broken hirdman.

My apologies, sir, Clint whispered tiredly. My body belongs to you. I should have taken better care of it.

Good boy.

Long fingers pressed into the tense muscles in his lower back and Clint groaned.

“You guys can’t do that anywhere else?” Sam called out.

Loki flicked a small silencing ward over the two of them, a green bubble surrounding them.

He used to comb your hair.

Loki hummed as he poured more oil into his hands. So did our mother. But it was never about the act of doing something for another person, it was always about me on my knees for him. He used brushing my hair as an excuse for his cruelty.

I’ll brush your hair for you.

Clint surrendered to sleep a few minutes later, Loki laying a few seidr-warmed towels on his back and then laying a soft sheet over him. He dropped the ward and put his salves and oils away. He was wiping his hands clean on a towel when Sam spoke up, “You gonna do me next? My right shoulder has been bothering me lately.”

Loki rolled his eyes and pulled a healing stone out of his pocket. He stepped over to look down his nose at Sam, who just grinned at him. He crumbled the healing stone over Sam’s chest and raised an eyebrow. “Does that feel better?”

Sam sat up and rolled his shoulders. “You know, it actually does. You got any more of those?”

Loki frowned at him. “Have you opened the pocket dimension that I made specifically for you in any of these past months?”

Sam rubbed the back of his neck. “Uh...once or twice?”

Loki rolled his eyes and kicked the coffee table away, summoning a chair. He sat down and waved at Sam to summon it.

“You know I have to sleep, right? Like that’s a basic human need.”

“You should have fallen asleep earlier then. Your inability to mind your own business is not my problem. Now, summon the dimension.”

“You brought him in here! I was trying to sleep!”

“These are my rooms,” Loki reminded him pointedly. “Do not continue to procrastinate.”

Sam groaned and closed his eyes, pulling with all his might through time and space to summon the pocket dimension. It took a few times but he finally managed it, the small rift stuttering to a stop in front of him. He opened his eyes and looked at Loki, who was unimaginably bored.

“Five minutes,” Loki grumbled with a shake of his head. “Have you brought it to you even once? I could create one for Clint and he would be better than that.”

“I didn’t really see the point in it!”

Loki glowered at him. “You are a soldier who did not see the purpose of an invisible, nearly limitless, weightless, dimension that only you could access? Surely you cannot be serious.”

He probably forgot about it or couldn’t figure out how to access it. Christ, let the guy go to bed. Clint lifted his head off the lounge and yawned. “He’ll badger you until you admit you forgot about it or whatever. Like a big ugly hound dog.”

Loki sniffed and sent a sleeping spell at Clint, who didn’t even bother struggling against it. He looked back at Sam, who just shrugged. “I may have...not remembered. Or thought it not useful. Or I may have...just not remembered.”

Loki rolled his eyes and just stood up and left, going into his bathroom with a loud slam of the door.

“Sorry!” Sam called after him. After a minute of struggle, he sent the pocket dimension away, and exhausted from the effort, he lay back down and was quickly asleep.

Chapter Text

I got hit.

Did Thor do it? I will rip his insides out, I will tear him in two—

For the love of—no, calm down. Jesus. HYDRA made enhanced humans. I don’t know how, nobody tells me anything. Anyway, one of them got me. First time I ever missed. They’re stitching me up now. Well, it’s more of some kind of tissue creation.

Loki snorted. Your planet is so primitive. Very well, let them heal you. I will fix you once you return to me. He had been reading while his seidr cleaned the floors in the living room and kitchen. But he called his seidr back to himself and closed the book, closing his eyes as well. Let me in.

Sure, Clint agreed, and when he opened his eyes again, he couldn’t see anything. Loki had slipped up the bridge between them and had taken over his eyes.

Loki looked up at Natasha, feeling Clint wince as the machine worked on his wounded side. Natasha was next to him, watching the lasers work. “You sure he’s gonna be okay?” she asked an unfamiliar woman. “Pretending to need this guy really brings the team together.”

She stood up and flashed Loki a smile, and Clint tried to smile back, but it all hurt and he just groaned instead.

The unfamiliar woman looked over the machine that was operating on Clint and pressed a few buttons as she spoke. “There's no possibility of deterioration. The nano-molecular functionality is instantaneous. His cells don't know they're bonding with simulacrum.”

Banner was on the other side of him and he sounded impressed. “She’s creating tissue.” Loki managed to catch Natasha’s warm look as she glanced at Banner. Oh, isn’t that interesting.

“If you brought him to my lab, the Regeneration Cradle could do this in twenty minutes.”

Loki snorted in Clint’s mind. Twenty minutes and hours of my time to reverse the damage caused by your prehistoric technology. What information do you have on this Cradle?

Not much. You’ll probably find information on it in Stark’s lab.

Oh, we already went. I copied all of his files and what information on his experiments I could find. Sam is looking it over now. You can see it once I have healed the damage this woman is causing you.

Stark walked in, carrying a drink tray. “Oh, he’s flatlining. Call it. Time?” He checked his watch and then handed out drinks.

He’s very funny, isn’t he.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Clint called out, taking the drink Stark handed him. “I’m gonna live forever.” He let out a quiet, pained chuckle. “I’m gonna be made of plastic.” He sipped the drink and hid his grimace. Loki glanced around the room and slid out of Clint’s body.

“Here’s your beverage.”

What is that? It’s disgusting.

One of Stark’s Superfood drinks. I think he likes the fact that they taste gross.

“You’re going to be made of you, Mr. Barton,” Dr. Cho told him. “Your own girlfriend won’t be able to tell the difference.”

Your society is so...simple. It is so very boring. Different clothes for different genders, differentiating between male and female attraction. Midgardians divide themselves along some peculiar lines. Did you know that Sam apologized earlier to me for calling me a man?

“Well, I don’t have a girlfriend.” He took another sip of the smoothie. Huh, it kind of tasted better the more he drank it. Asgard isn’t any better you know. Well, are you a man?

“That I can’t fix,” Dr. Cho replied, looking back over the Cradle. “This is the next thing, Tony. Your clunky metal suits are a thing of the past.”

“Well, that is exactly the plan.” Tony glanced between Banner and Natasha. “And, Helen, I expect to see you at the party on Saturday.”

Man implies human. I am far superior to humans. But no, you know I am far beyond your boring concept of a man. Why would I ever want to be any one thing?

“Unlike you, I don’t have a lot of time for parties.” She paused for a moment and looked down at her clipboard. “Will Thor be there?”

Oh, damn. I gotta go to this party. I was kinda hoping they’d let me skip, on account of getting shot in the side and all. Getting shot used to mean something, you know. Now they just smack some plastic in you and call it a day.

They talked around him, but Clint focused on finishing the smoothie and the pain of his organs being repaired. Yes, Thor was going to be at the party. Yes, all of the Avengers would be there.

Banner and Stark excused themselves a few minutes later to go down to the lab. Natasha pulled up a chair and sat next to Clint’s table, the two of them watching the lasers move over his side. Cho was busy doing something on the other side of the lab.

“Surprised you’re not complaining about the party,” she said quietly.

Clint turned his attention to her. “Getting shot used to mean something,” he grumbled. “Now it doesn’t even get me out of one of Stark’s parties.”

“You almost died, you know.”

What have you told her?

Less than you wanted, probably.

“I’m a fighter. Too damn stubborn to die.”

He spent the next few days recovering, even though Dr. Cho told him he was completely healed. His side still ached. Loki was a constant presence in his head. It was very strange to think that this was just how his life was going to be for the next few hundred or few thousand years, just listening to Loki’s commentary on everything, feeling Loki occasionally rummage through his thoughts, page through his memories and sometimes just decide he was going to use his eyes or his hands or sometimes just take his whole body on a walk around the Tower. He looked forward to it.

Steve came to visit the day after he’d been declared healed up. Loki was pushing images of documents to him. He and Sam were trying to figure out what Thor had given Stark to gain his favor. Steve tapped on the door and Clint waved him in.

Steve took a seat and looked solemnly at him. “You fixed up?” He was wearing khakis and a green button up shirt and brown loafers. Christ.

He sighed, rolled his shoulders. “Didn’t even need any pain meds. Just smacked some plastic in me and I’m good to go.”

“Is...have you talked to him?”

If you kiss him with my mouth, I’ll throw myself off the Tower.

Loki smiled at Steve, who blinked and glanced down Clint’s body before smiling tentatively back. “My Captain,” Loki said warmly, and he reached for Steve, who took Clint’s hand in his own. “It has been a very long time.”

“I miss you,” Steve admitted quietly. “I fought for you. He’s here anyway.”

“Sam and I are working on your theory that Thor gave Stark an item. What were you gathering from the HYDRA base?”

“A Scepter.”

Clint stiffened and then shook his head, looking at Steve. He looked down at their clasped hands and Steve quickly dropped it. “He didn’t kiss you, did he?”

“The Scepter?” Steve asked. “The one we got from Algrim? What about it?”

No wonder he wanted me gone, I would have known what he was up to immediately. He must have brought it to Midgard and HYDRA somehow got their hands on it. But for what reason?

You think he promised it to Stark?

I have no doubts about it.

“Loki thinks Thor gave it to HYDRA after we got it from Algrim,” Clint said quietly, and they both glanced around Clint’s room in the tower. “Maybe he promised it to Stark.”

Steve pushed to his feet. “Sam is coming to the party on Saturday. He’ll update me. You, heal up. Don’t mention this to anyone.” He stopped in the doorway and looked back. “You’re a pain in the ass, Barton, but I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Watch your language!” Clint yelled after him.

Clint spent most of the party attempting to engage. He had over 1000 years of Asgardian diplomacy training from Loki rolling around in his head, but Loki was svelte and suave and regularly did shit like this. Clint could spend a week holed up in a tree watching a mark, but a company party? Not his deal. One of the reasons he joined up with SHIELD was because Fury had promised him no holiday parties. He probably should’ve asked if the whole non-profit thing meant they still had to have parties, not like he was caught up with the runnings of that whole thing anyway. But he had Loki yammering away in his head, so to shut him up, he did his best.

He found Helen Cho, who was probably more uncomfortable at the party than he was, and tried to calm her down, thanking her for helping him. He asked her about other work she was doing and she found her groove, talking about her work on the Cradle for nearly five minutes before catching herself and apologizing. He told her she didn’t need to and she ended up excusing herself. He sat by himself for a few minutes and then joined the party.

He joined in on a pool game, but got chased away after he kept winning. He ended up watching Steve and Sam play a game, and Steve offered to let him break the next game, so he hit the cue ball and every ball went in a pocket. Sam smacked him on the back of the head and Clint held his hands up.

“Hey, still wounded over here!” he cried out, and one of the WWII vets tried to ask him about his wound, but Clint really didn’t want to deal with that, so he escaped over to the bar where Natasha was pouring drinks.

She glanced over him and then put two shot glasses on the bar, tipping vodka into each of them. They tapped glasses and shot them back, and Clint nodded when she lifted the bottle again. They did another shot and Clint slid onto a stool, taking the glass of soda water she handed him. He swallowed down half of it and then he grinned at his friend.

“Feeling better?” she queried, mixing together some ingredients in a shaker.

He glanced around the party, saw Steve and Sam going up the stairs. He reached across the bar, poured himself a few fingers of rum into the soda water, and winked at Nat. “You look great,” he called back as he darted through the various party members after Steve and Sam, patting Banner on the shoulder as he passed him.

He got side tracked by one of the SHIELD agents, who pulled him aside to ask him about one of her upcoming missions. There was a section within SHIELD, even rebuilt SHIELD, where he was fairly well known, and she’d heard of him. Well, she claimed to be a SHIELD agent, but boy, hadn’t she just not brought her creds to the party, silly her. So he gave her a few lines, winked at her, and left her giggling.

He darted up the stairs and came up behind Sam as he was talking about home being home. “Really getting deep into the philosophical, huh?” He leaned against the railing and glanced over the party downstairs. Steve and Sam simultaneously rolled their eyes at him. “Home is home and all that. Can’t escape your past.”

“Any updates?” Steve asked.

“I wasn’t the guy who was with him up until yesterday,” Clint replied defensively.

“You’re always with him,” Sam shot back. “It’s like talking to the same person at this point.”

“He better not be going after my wife,” Clint said. Sam just sighed.

“I don’t have any updates. On either of them. One of them is safe at your house, the other is walking down some back road in Illinois. Both still missing persons.” Sam looked pointedly at him. “You need anything, Barton?”

You better not be going after my wife,” he replied, and darted off before Sam could punch him.

My Captain looks very handsome. Blue is certainly his most complementary color.

Are you going to start dressing in blue? He watched as Steve made his way down the stairs and over to where Banner and Nat were talking. He grabbed an entire serving plate of sushi and a glass of champagne and dropped into one of the empty armchairs.

Heavens no! I know my colors. I noticed that you wore green.

Huh. Clint looked down and damn if he had. He’d picked a plaid off-white and green flannel button-up under his leather jacket. He finished off the platter and swallowed down the rest of the champagne, standing up to go to the bar. He turned and nearly ran into Thor.

“Barton,” Thor greeted, his mismatched eyes glittering in the low light. “I have spoken little with you.” He pushed a glass of Brunhilde’s mead into Clint’s hand. “Sit,” he ordered, and Clint retook his seat. He could feel Loki’s own pain from where Mjolnir had killed him.

Do not drink it.

You know, I’m not as dumb as you think.

“Thor,” he said, his voice quiet and dark. “You need something from me?”

Thor merely looked at him. “I understand you have great loyalty to my brother. I would ask you to assist me.” He took a small sip from his own glass and his shoulders relaxed. “Loki is very sick. He committed great crimes against me because of this sickness. I merely want to bring him back to Asgard and help him.”

Clint spun the mead around in the glass. “You really thought that was gonna work on me?”

Thor stiffened. He dropped all pretense and glared at Clint. “Tell Loki he cannot run, not forever. He will come back to me.”

“I think Loki can do whatever he wants,” Clint replied. “I also think that public opinion of you is going to change once it comes out that you were working with HYDRA. What, did they tell you they could track Loki? They could find him? We know you gave HYDRA the Scepter.”

“I did no such thing,” Thor bluffed. Clint just shrugged and dropped the glass onto the coffee table, wiping his hands on his pants.

“You’re the one who took it to Asgard. Loki was locked out of there for over a year. There’s really only one way HYDRA could’ve gotten their hands on it. The math isn’t hard.”

Thor pushed to his feet and glared at him. “He cannot hide forever. I will find him, and I will bring him home. He merely has the option to control my...treatment of him, if he comes to me before I find him again.”

Clint looked up at him and stood as well, brushing his fingers over the invisible sheath on his belt. Thor glanced down and his eyes widened at the ruby-hilted dagger at his waist. “I know you can kill me with one lightning blast or with one swing of your fist. But I’ll spend the rest of my life doing what Loki couldn’t: telling you to fuck off. Now fuck off.”

Thor stormed off, probably going off to punch a hole through a wall or something before he could pull himself back enough to be presentable for everyone else. Clint shook his head and staggered for a moment before catching himself on the chair.

Oh, my dear. How very brave.

You owe me another massage, you asshole. Thor is fucking terrifying.

He could feel Loki’s laughter through his mind and he shuddered at it. He shook his head. Go get another drink, dear. Your very kind wife is making something called chicken wings. I will keep you updated.

I’m glad chicken wings are the most important thing on your docket.

Steve came out of nowhere and handed him a beer. Clint popped the top off and swallowed down half of it. “He scares the shit outta me,” Clint muttered, and Steve patted him awkwardly on the back. Clint shivered and swallowed down the rest of the beer. “I need some heavier shit than this.”

Steve followed him over to the bar, leaned against it while Clint fiddled around behind it, pouring himself another shot and then a rum and Coke that was mostly rum. “Was that true? About Thor working with HYDRA?”

“It’s a...hypothesis, I guess. But it’s better than anything else we’ve come up with.”

Steve nodded slowly, rapping his knuckles against the bar. “He’s not going to get away with this,” he hissed, eyes dark. But he gathered himself back up again after a minute, and he glanced over the gathered party-goers. They were slowly filtering out as the hour grew late, but there was still nothing to be done. No purpose in attracting unneeded attention, not yet. “You keep me updated. We’re gonna fight, and we’re gonna win. Tomorrow or a year, it’s going to happen.” Steve cleared his throat and Clint looked up from his glass. “You tell him that. And...tell him...tell him I’m thinking about him. I’ll find my way back to him as soon as I can.”

Clint gave him a weak smile and Steve stepped away, probably going to go find Sam again.

Drink some water. You’re getting dizzy.

Yeah, good idea. He drank a couple glasses of cold water and tried to shake the haze out of his head. I didn’t mean to get this drunk.

If you have need of it, there is a sobering stone in your pocket.

How the hell did you—

Sam. Now, focus on your party. It seems that your compatriots are gathering.

Clint grabbed a beer and went over to where the other Avengers seemed to be gathering around a cluster of couches and chairs. He sat there for a minute and then Sam Wilson came up to him, wishing him a good night. Clint stood up, clapped the guy on the back, and told him to not party too hard. Sam just shook his head and ducked out.

There was a tray of sushi left on the coffee table, and he glanced around before eating all of it and then dropping back onto the couch.

He looked up to see Thor frowning at him.

They all gathered together a few minutes later as the rest of the guests left. There were drumsticks on the coffee table and Clint grabbed them, fiddling with them in his hands as Maria sat down gently next to him, a glass of whiskey in her own hand. Banner leaned on the armrest to his left, and he was talking quietly to Natasha, who was perched on the edge of an armchair. Thor sat on a separate couch directly across from Clint, and set down his hammer. Steve glanced around and then sat next to Thor. Good. Keep an eye on him.

Stark brought up the myth about needing to be worthy to wield Mjolnir.

Loki’s voice purred through his mind. You wish to antagonize him? Claim it to be a trick.

“Whatever man, it’s a trick!” he exclaimed before he was really conscious of it.

“Oh no,” Thor replied, a kind smile on his face. “It is much more than that.”

Stark mocked him and Clint let himself be pushed into it. He hated touching the handle. It was warm even though Thor had put it down many minutes before, and he grabbed it down low. “Oh, please. I’ve seen it all before.”

Uncomfortable chuckles burst forth as the hammer refused to move. “I still don’t know how you do it,” he admitted, and held his hands up in defeat. Stark made another mocking comment, because he apparently couldn’t help himself, and Clint offered it to him before retaking his seat.

“So if I lift it, I rule Asgard?”

“Yes, of course,” Thor replied, humoring him.

Stark didn’t budge it a centimeter. He tried, of course, even using one of his Iron Man gauntlets, and getting Rhodes to help him. Banner tried next, and everyone glanced at him warily, worried he would go green, but he just put up his hands and stepped back. Nat denied trying, as Clint knew she would.

Steve let himself be pushed into it.

For the very first time, Clint saw real fear on Thor’s face.

Mjolnir moved. It was only a shift, only a nudge. But it moved.

Oh yes, Loki rumbled, and sweet satisfaction poured through Clint’s mind. My Captain is so very strong, isn’t he? So powerful, so—

Nope! Jerk off over him on your own time! Not in my head!

Loki harrumphed and rolled his eyes. I’m going to copy that memory when you come back to me.

Thor pushed to his feet and held his hand over Mjolnir, which nearly jumped up into his hand. “I have another theory: you’re all not worthy.”

They all put up token protests as Clint asked Loki, What does worthy mean, anyway? Who decides that?

Odin was the one to enchant the hammer, Loki mused. So it is his definition of ‘worthy’. But now that he is dead, I assume it is Thor’s own definition of worthiness. And he will always be worthy in his own mind.

Before Clint could reply, a great, high-pitched whine that made them all flinch and cover their ears echoed through the room.

What is this? Loki asked as a strange, almost-destroyed robot staggered into the room. It looked...almost like an Iron Man suit. But held together by wires and bits of metal. Clint was surprised it was even able to move.

All of them stood, turning to look at the robot as it began to speak. “ could you be worthy? You’re all killers.” It spoke in a strange, robotic voice that sounded almost familiar.

Steve barked out Stark’s name as Stark called for JARVIS, who did not answer.

Oh, this promises to be very...interesting.

Clint lost vision in one eye as Loki took it over. Couldn’t even give me any warning?

What’s the fun in that?

The robot was still talking. How were the chicken wings?

Your wife is a very good cook. But they were...messy. Focus.

Clint looked back around with his one usable eye as the robot played a recording of Stark’s voice. “I see a suit of armor around the world.” What the hell did that mean?

Banner turned his head and stared at Stark. “Ultron,” he realized.

“In the flesh,” the robot said. They all glanced at each other. “Or, no. Not yet. Not this...chrysalis. But I’m ready. I’m on mission.”

“What mission?” Natasha asked.

“Peace in our time.”

Robot suits burst out of the walls and Clint was thrown back, but he quickly jumped up and ran out of the way, sliding under a table and just managing to dodge out of the way of one of the suits. Loki roared in his mind and for just a moment, he lost complete control over his body, green seidr flickering over his hands.

He didn’t think about any of that. He didn’t have time to think. Instead, he remembered—he’d left a handgun and his bow in the same closet that Steve had left his shield. They’d brought weapons, just in case. He jumped up, threw his ruby dagger at the nearest suit, catching it in the back of the head. It seized and turned on him, but he was able to slide down the stairs and dodge out of the way. There was a faint noise in the back of his head and one of his eyes still wasn’t working, but he had to get to that damn shield, nevermind all the ruckus around him.

He looked up to see Thor on the upper level bash a suit with his hammer, and then he scrambled to his feet. Stark was on the back of one of the robots.

Summon the dagger back.

His hand opened and the dagger appeared in his hand.

Find his shield. Now.

He complied.

He found the shield, threw it across the room to Steve, who caught it and used it to destroy one of the suits in an admittedly impressive spin.

Ultron began to monologue. Clint should be more used to long, pointless speeches by now, given that Loki gave one about once a day, but really, they were just so boring. Thor apparently thought the same, as Ultron said that the only way to peace was through the end of the Avengers, throwing Mjolnir at the robot and disintegrating it.

They all took a few moments to gather themselves, and then Steve sent Thor after the suit that had stolen the Scepter. Thor changed into his armor with a burst of lightning, and with a twist of his wrist, he flew out the window.

They met in Tony’s lab.

Clint stayed in the entryway, one step above them, hands on the railing.

You’re more comfortable the higher up you are.

You took one of my eyes. I see better from a distance.

He blinked a few times and was briefly able to see out of both eyes, and then Loki took the other one. He rolled his eyes and paid attention as Banner started speaking from where he was looking through one of the computers.

Did you see any work on Ultron when you copied his computers?

He had a theory of some manner of peace-keeping technology, but he was years away from even theorizing it. He used the Mind Stone. Ah. The Mind Stone. Is he being influenced?

I saw your memories of what I was like under the Mind Stone, and I still have a hazy recollection of it. I think...I think he’s just doing what he thinks is right.

Loki didn’t reply to that.

Clint turned his attention to the Avengers. He pointed out that Ultron had also mentioned killing somebody. Stark had brought up some weird floaty orange diagram that apparently meant something to the rest of them. Steve crossed his arms and lowered his chin as he thought.

“JARVIS was the first line of defense. He would’ve shut Ultron down, it makes sense.”

Banner was looking over the diagram. Now that Clint thought about it, it looked all wrecked up. “No, Ultron could’ve assimilated JARVIS. This isn’t strategy, this is...rage.”

There was a loud thundercrack and a flutter of wind and cape as Thor landed outside the lab, and he stormed in. He grabbed Stark by the neck and lifted him up, Banner immediately trying to calm him down.

“It’s going around,” Clint shrugged. He didn’t think Thor would do it, but hey, if he killed Stark, one asshole down.

“Come on, use your words, buddy,” Stark tried as Thor’s hand closed about his neck.

“I have more than enough words to describe you, Stark,” Thor said, and his voice was quiet and dangerous. He held Mjolnir in one mighty fist.

The great thing was, Steve didn’t even care. He just barked for Thor to report on the robot that had taken the Scepter, which apparently calmed Thor down enough to drop Stark and turn to him. “Trail went cold about a hundred miles north. But it has the Scepter. Now we have to retrieve it, again.”

He brought it to Midgard for humans to use, and was surprised when other humans took it. Loki hummed in his head and Clint blinked rapidly as both of his eyes darkened.

Oh, come on. I have to at least pretend to listen. Cap’ll get mad.

Loki tugged on his arms and legs and Clint’s body responded immediately. He ducked out of the lab and sunk within his own mind, sitting back while Loki took control. He could push into Loki’s mind, and could see what the god saw. So he could see through his own eyes through Loki’s eyes, a kind of triple feedback that made him nauseous.

Loki walked him down the hall, knelt over one of the destroyed robots, running his fingers over where Mjolnir had shattered one of the suits. He continued on, brushing his fingers over broken chairs and the destroyed couch. He picked up a glass and peered into the contents.

Loki fed seidr through his hands, ignored the way it made Clint’s skin burn. He picked up another glass and finally found the glass of mead Thor had poured for Clint. He poured it into a small container in a pocket dimension and then hid it away, looking around the ruined rooms.

Really, you looking for anything in particular?

Just...looking. Loki picked up a bit of broken glass and held it up to the light.

A few minutes later, Natasha called for him. Clint blinked and got his sight back. He jogged back upstairs to her, shrugging when she shot him a questioning look.

“We’re getting together in the morning. Everyone meet back here 0800.”

With that, Steve dismissed them, and he gave Stark a disappointed look before leaving.

Clint just shrugged and went back down to the elevator, following Natasha. They still had a shared floor, with separate living quarters but a big shared kitchen. He wasn’t really hungry but Natasha had that hollow look she got from not eating on a mission, so Clint started up the oven and threw a cast iron pot in there to heat up. He tossed a steak in oil and butter and garlic while she went in her room to change.

Someone knocked on the door. Clint called for them to come in, and Steve stepped in.

“Nat, you’re gonna have to cook this yourself!” he called out, and followed Steve out of the rooms after she called back an affirmative.

“I could’ve used another minute to change, you know,” Clint groused as they got into the elevator up to Steve’s floor. He’d been staying in Avengers Tower ever since Loki had gone missing, and had given up his lease on his apartment in Washington, DC. Apparently he was looking for a place closer, but Clint wasn’t really partial to that information.

“I have clothes you can borrow,” Steve said, his voice quiet.

“People will talk,” Clint pointed out.

Steve just frowned at him as the elevator stopped on his floor. “I think you talk the most out of anyone,” he replied, and Clint followed him into his rooms. Once the main door was closed, he pulled off his jacket and Steve went into the bedroom to get a sweatshirt and sweatpants for him. He gave them to Clint and then ducked back into his bedroom to change himself.

Clint changed and toed off his boots and socks. You really owe me another massage, he sent to Loki, who merely hummed at him and continued...was he taking a bath? Christ.

Clint went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Steve kept it stocked with a few different types of beer, and Clint grabbed one and opened it, going back to relax on the couch.

Steve came back into the living room with a glass of water in his hand. He crossed the living room, put the glass of water on the table, and knelt down in front of the fireplace to turn it on. When he stood up, he summoned his pocket dimension and tugged out a wardstone. He dropped it on the floor and stepped on it, and a dark grey ward circled around them, enveloping the small area around the couch and the coffee table in a circle.

Steve sat on the couch next to him and took a sip of his water. Clint turned and leaned against the arm of the couch. “Cap?”

“I don’t appreciate being left in the dark,” Steve finally said. “We’re teammates. Hell, at this point, we’re probably in-laws. You tell me what you know, now.” He looked up from looking into the fireplace and pinned Clint to his seat with a sharp gaze.

He let Loki swarm him.

“Oh, my Captain,” Loki purred, changing the bottle of beer into a glass of wine. He took a sip and frowned. “Hmm, his palate is so...underdeveloped.”

“Loki,” Steve sighed. “I need to know what’s going on. Now.”

Loki glanced up at him, a slow, smooth smile spreading across Clint’s face. “He knows little. I know only a bit more. I have a great deal of information that I took from Stark’s computers.”

“When were you in his computers? That was last year, after Killian.”

“No, my dear. Perhaps a week or two ago? The day Clint returned to you. Sam Wilson and I...slid through time and copied every single bit of information on every single one of Stark’s computers.”

“Barton didn’t say anything.”

Loki shrugged one of Clint’s shoulders. It managed to look elegant even in Clint’s body. “I did not say he could. I feel as if you have forgotten, Steve, that Clint belongs to me. His loyalty belongs to me first.”

Steve frowned. His free hand flexed into a fist, and then he put his water down onto the coffee table so he could cross his arms over his chest. “I seem to remember you belonging to me,” he reminded Loki, who smiled in satisfaction. “Which means what you know, you tell me. So either you tell me, or you give me Barton back, and he tells me.”

Before Loki could say anything, Steve reminded him, “I also seem to remember you agreeing to not hide anything from me.”

Loki rolled his eyes and then thought about it for a moment. It would be far easier to slide out of Clint’s body and press him into telling Steve what he wanted to know. But Clint had expressed that he didn’t want to be the go-between for them any more. He wanted Loki to tell Steve himself. So Loki took a deep breath and he looked up at his Captain and he smiled.

“Stark has been working with foreign technology for the past few months. It is very similar to Asgardian technology. I believe...the technology that helped design the Regeneration Cradle came from Asgard. It is remarkably similar, disregarding the plastic, of course, to healing technology that our healers used approximately six-or-seven hundred years ago. We used seidr in place of the simulacrum that your...healers use. He also has many other projects going, of course, but the most pressing is his alliance with Thor. He was clearly feeding information from Thor to SHIELD before it was taken down.”

“And what about Thor working with HYDRA?”

“There’s no other explanation for how Strucker got hold of it. Again, I have a year gap in my knowledge, but he has lived through this over a thousand times. He knew of HYDRA. He told me once that I was the first Loki, or the last version of me, was the first one to make it anywhere close to defeating Thanos. The longer I live, the less I believe him. He killed me thousands of times. I cannot imagine he did not get even closer to defeating Thanos than the time I remember. Which means, of course, that he remembers HYDRA. And he remembered how to get into contact with them, and somehow, that seemed to be a good way to get the Scepter back to Midgard, for whatever plans he had with it.”

Steve shook his head. “He’s done enough, but HYDRA? How could he help them?”

Loki tipped his head back and drummed his fingers on Clint’s thigh. “Yes, I could see how that would be the bigger worry than the thousands of times my maniacal brother murdered me.” He jerked out of Clint’s mind and Clint pressed his hand to his forehead, swallowing down his groan of pain.

“Good job, Cap,” Clint muttered. “Really got your priorities straight there.” He outwardly groaned this time and pressed his fingers to his temples. “I’m gonna need a bath of my own to deal with this.”

“Loki’s in the bath?” Because that was the important thing to focus on.

“Yeah, he’s in the bath.” Clint pushed to his feet and looked blearily around Steve’s rooms. “Get me some pain meds. I’m gonna go crash in your bed.”

Steve helped him under the covers and fed him pain meds, making sure he drank an entire glass of water. As Clint squeezed his eyes shut and tried to press the agony of Loki’s own headache out of his head, he heard Steve’s quiet apology and felt the brush of a hand over his hair. Apparently Steve had also fed him a sleeping pill, since Clint was able to fall into sleep without any of Loki’s dreams brushing up against his own.

Chapter Text

Steve woke him up at the ass crack of dawn the next morning. He was already showered and dressed, of course, wearing one of his skin-tight grey shirts and his Captain America pants. Really, he looked ridiculous. He’d made breakfast, which was what got Clint out of bed. “You really know how to treat a guy,” he commented as he slid into the seat at the kitchen table that Steve pointed him to. “I’ll have to pass out in your bed more often.”

Steve just shook his head and joined him, handing Clint a mug of coffee. “Tell him I’m sorry.” He’d made pancakes, because Clint was a sucker for pancakes. He’d also made bacon, because Steve Rogers was secretly an asshole who manipulated everyone into doing what he wanted or whatever. Clint piled his plate high and dug in.

Cap says he’s sorry.

It took Loki two pancakes to reply. He was frightfully rude. I suppose I have no option but to forgive him. Now, if you will, please kneel before him. He does look very handsome in his uniform pants and deserves to be thanked properly.

Clint choked on his food and waved Steve off when he asked if he was okay. He leaned across the table and stole Steve’s water, drinking it all down.

“You’re usually more respectful than this,” Steve noted, a bit amused.

“I usually don’t have Loki in my head telling me to suck your dick,” Clint shot back, and Steve coughed and flushed. “You’re also usually my boss, but right now, you’re just my friend. Or Loki’s friend. Or my boss’s boss. I still don’t know.”

Steve methodically ate through what was left on his plate, which was a shockingly large amount of food, and then looked at Clint. “Regardless of Loki, you’re my friend and teammate, Clint. We’re in this together. So outside of the team, you can act however you want.”

“Thanks for the permission, Cap.” Like he hadn’t lived with him and Loki for months, or hadn’t lived in Loki’s head for a couple years. Hell, almost three. Jesus.

“Finish your breakfast,” Steve ordered, and Clint shrugged and complied. Once he was done, he helped Steve clean up the table and the kitchen and then excused himself back to his floor. Natasha was in the kitchen when he walked in, eating a bowl of oatmeal.

She looked him over and raised an eyebrow. “Are those Steve’s clothes?”

He shrugged. “He’s the one who gave them to me.” He ducked into his own bathroom. He turned on the shower and threw the clothes he’d been wearing into the laundry bin, climbing under the warm water a minute later. It only took him a few minutes to wash his hair and run a washcloth with soap over himself, and then he hung his head under the spray and just breathed in the steam and the heat and felt the water beating down on his muscles.

He turned off the water and pushed the shower curtain open. He grabbed a towel off the rack and dried off his face before wiping down his arms and legs and then tying it around his waist.

Natasha was sitting on the toilet.

“Hey, Nat,” he greeted, because why not.

“Why did you spend the night in Steve’s room?” she asked, because that was really the question to ask after someone just sat in a bathroom while their friend took a shower.

She’s going to ask you about me. You should tell her what she wants to know.

He grabbed another towel and rubbed down his hair, stepping out of the shower and over to the sink. “Well, he said something that gave me a headache, so he let me sleep in his bed.” That wouldn’t work, but hey, at least he tried.

“He also made you breakfast.” They were both spies, right. Probably smelled the syrup on him or something.

Clint looked at his reflection in the mirror. Sometimes, when he saw himself, he was surprised it wasn’t Loki looking back. “You mind if I get dressed, Nat?”

She glowered at him and then ducked out of the bathroom. It took him just a few minutes to shave and brush his teeth and put on deodorant before going into his bedroom and dressing in a green shirt, a grey hoodie, and his leather jacket from the night before. Jeans were easiest, so he pulled a pair on, and then brown boots. He looked at himself in the mirror and shrugged. Well, he’d looked worse.

He went out into the living room and grabbed his bow and quiver from the closet.

“You’re not getting out of it that easy,” Natasha told him, leaning against the door to her own bedroom.

He sighed and sat down on the couch. Natasha took the chair to his right and put her chin in her hand, looking at him. She handed him a cup of coffee and he took a sip.

“I know Loki made a comment to you before he disappeared about us being...bonded.” She nodded. They’d both tried to bring it up over the past few months, with Nat trying to get more information and Clint awkwardly trying to explain it to her, but he’d never gotten up the guts. “He’s, well. I’m in his head, and he’s in mine. About three years ago at this point, Thor made a big ceremony to bind the two of them. From what I understand, Loki’s magic reached out to Earth for a...suitable soul.”

“And that soul was you?” she asked.

He nodded. No need to explain to her the various universes and alternate realities and multiverses. “Sympathetic souls,” he agreed. “Anyway, his magic bound us. I realized after he came to help us with Algrim that first time. And, uh...well, it’s gotten tighter now. Telepathy, emotion-sharing, I kind of just do whatever he says.”

“He unmade you,” she said, her voice quiet.

Clint nodded. “Yeah, of a sort. It wasn’t conscious, not at first. But once I told him, he kind of...changed me. Made me his.”

“And how did he change you?”

He thought about that one for a moment. “We’re kind of...twisted up, I guess. I hear everything he thinks, feel what he feels, see what he sees. So I guess I can’t really define exactly what’s different, but I know I am.”

She looked at him. “Prove it.”

He closed his eyes and tugged at Loki, who was helping Laura put out breakfast for the kids. He excused himself and then asked Clint what he wanted, and then glanced over the information Clint sent him. He slid into Clint’s mind and pushed him down, taking his seat at the forefront of Clint’s brain.

He blinked and then Loki was there, lips curling into a slow smile as he looked at Natasha. “I will not attempt to kiss your hand this time, Widow,” he said to her, and her mouth actually dropped in shock. Loki felt a bit smug at that.

“I thought he was pulling my leg,” she muttered, shaking her head. “But it’s really you.” Her eyes flashed as she looked back up at Loki. “Why didn’t you tell Thor where Loki was?”

I am Loki,” Loki told her through Clint’s mouth, somehow managing to make Clint’s rough voice sound low and smooth. He readjusted the hoodie and jacket so they sat better on his shoulders, and leaned back against the couch, crossing his legs. “Clint did not tell Thor my location because Thor is a great and terrible beast who would kill me given the chance.” He pointed at her. “In fact, he happened upon me only a month ago and attempted to kill me then. Luckily, I am far more shrewd than him, and I escaped.”

Natasha blinked in shock and sat back against her own chair, glancing between Loki and the coffee table. “So everything Steve said about Thor was true? It all sounded too fantastic to be real.”

“I can only imagine my Captain vastly underplayed Thor’s mistreatment of me,” Loki informed her, and he peered down into the cup of coffee that Clint was drinking. “Does he oft drink plain coffee? How disgusting.”

“How else would he drink it?”

Loki turned Clint’s head to look back at the kitchen. “I prefer my coffee with chocolate. My Captain can make a delicious cup.” He looked back at her through Clint’s lashes and Clint’s mouth curled in a nasty smile. “Your friend’s virtues are intact. Steve did not proposition him.”

“I wasn’t worried about him,” she shot back. “I was thinking about Laura.”

Loki waved Clint’s hand at her. “Oh, no need to worry. She is in perfect health. I have been doing my utmost to assist around the house and keep her off her feet.”

Natasha smiled slightly. “So you’ve been sitting on your ass and she’s been doing everything.”

Loki managed to school Clint’s face into a genuine look of shock. “She is pregnant! I have merely been using my seidr, of course. I could not be lowered enough to actually scrub a toilet, you know.” His narrowed Clint’s eyes at her. “Now, ask what you truly wish to ask.”

Natasha looked at him for a moment and took a small sip of her water. “Bring Clint back. My question is for him.”

Loki inclined his head and slid out of Clint’s body, going back into the living room to use his seidr to freeze Lila and Cooper’s juices into funny shapes. They both thought he was hilarious.

“What’s it like?” she asked as Clint slotted his mind back into place with a shiver. “Does it hurt?”

“When he takes me over? Or when he’s in my head?”


Clint just shrugged. “I guess I didn’t explain it right. Every single bit of me belongs to him. My soul, my mind, my heart, every bone and molecule is all his. So when he steps in me, I just feel warm. Like I’m back somewhere I belong. There really isn’t anything like it. Or if I pushes into my brain, it’s like I open up to him. Sometimes he’ll just slide his hand into my head and I’ll just...melt is the only word I can think of. Like I just turn to liquid in his grasp.”

“You don’t even talk about Laura like that.”

His face creased into a smile. “I love Laura. I love her more than my own life. But I belong to Loki, in a way I can’t belong to anyone else. It’s...hard to not love that. Really, truly, honestly love that. I know more about him than I know about anyone else. I can’t not care for that kind of intimacy with someone else. He’s kind of a possessive bastard anyway.” He looked over at her and winced at the disbelief on her face. “Nat, I swear.”

She looked at him for a long minute. “If you were anyone else, I’d stab you for lying to me.”

He just shrugged. “I owe you enough to tell you the truth.”

Nat smiled at him. “Yeah, you do,” she agreed quietly, and they reached for each other at the same time. He rubbed his thumb over her knuckles and she ducked her head.

You love her. Loki actually sounded surprised.

Of course I do. I can love more than one person at once.

You have heart, Loki murmured, and a warm hand pressed down on his chest, slipped through his skin and his bones and his muscles, and wrapped long, cold fingers around his heart. Clint’s eyes shuttered shut and he dropped Natasha’s hand, clapping his palm to his chest. You would let me, wouldn’t you?

Not in front of her.

Loki pressed the image of him smiling into Clint’s mind and then faded away, his fingers slipping away from around Clint’s heart. He opened his eyes and nodded at Natasha, who was watching him with a worried frown on her face. “Ready? Team meeting in 10.” He pushed to his feet, picked up his bow and quiver, and then thought better of it. He left them on the kitchen counter and just made sure his ruby dagger was on his belt and his phone was in his pocket.

Natasha was watching him, still sitting in the armchair.

“You need something? Gonna start charging you,” he teased, ducking into the kitchen to grab a bottle of water.

She just shook her head and followed him out of their rooms.

They took the elevator up to the penthouse, glancing around at the destruction and chaos. They were walking up the stairs when Clint’s phone rang, and he waved her past him as he answered it.

He leaned against the railing at the top of the stairs, glancing down at the destroyed showcase and the shattered glass all over the floor. Really, Stark didn’t have anyone to clean it up?

“Hey, hon,” Laura greeted him. “Loki said you got hit?”

He winced, hunched his shoulders, rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, but they fixed me right up.”

He could hear her lack of amusement through the static. “You have any more plans on getting hurt?”

“That’s a negative. You know I answer to you.”

She laughed at him that time. “I got two kids waiting for you to come home. You let us know when you’ll be back.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Barton,” Steve called from down the hallway, and Clint hung up on instinct after telling her he had to go. “We might have something.” He was holding a tablet in his hand. “Who was that?”

Oh damn. Somehow Steve didn’t know about Laura. Huh. “My girlfriend,” he tried, and Steve just frowned at him and then led him down the hall to the lab. Maybe Steve thought he was talking to Loki.

They entered the lab and Clint hung around the upper railing while they all talked about Ultron killing Strucker. Did you get any information from Stark’s computers about him? he asked Loki, who was helping Cooper pick out his outfit for school. Loki was trying to dress his kid up in something that looked like a Halloween costume. Jeans, t-shirt.

Ask Sam, Loki replied distractedly.

Wilson isn’t here, he left during the party last night. Stop trying to fuck my kid up. Jeans, t-shirt.

Loki gave in and transferred an image of Captain America’s shield onto a plain shirt for Cooper, which the boy yelled over and then pulled on, running out of the room to go show Lila and Laura. Loki went downstairs and pulled a few drink carafes out of the fridge, using his seidr to set the table while he thought about anything he’d seen about Strucker. Stark had suspicions about him using the Scepter, which means that Thor most likely gave it to him after we got it from Algrim.

Clint sighed. Thor had really fucked them all over big time and they were now cleaning up his mistakes. He helped pull boxes of files from storage and pulled one of the boxes over to the stairs. None of it was really interesting or helpful, but he sent memories of the files to Loki anyway. He watched Thor throw the top of one of the boxes across the room and then pick up a file like the entire thing was beneath him.

Banner was looking at a picture of some ugly guy. Clint abandoned what he was doing and wandered over, hanging back behind Steve so that he was between him and Thor. “I know that guy,” Stark muttered, and he explained how he knew Klaue, much to everyone’s disgust.

Thor pointed to the brand on his neck. “That’s not a tattoo. That’s a brand.”

It took damn near everything in Clint’s power not to say, Oh, you’d know, wouldn’t you? He didn’t need to be splattered across the floor and make more of a mess for Stark to clean up.

They decided to go after Klaue.

“Suit up,” Steve ordered them.

It went bad. It went very bad. It went about as bad as it could go.

Their heavyweights were all out of commission. Whatever that witch had done, it had messed them all up bad. He’d taken great pleasure in hitting the witch in the head with an electric arrow, even if the freaky fast one had taken her before he’d been able to shoot her again.

“Good luck with the mind control thing,” he’d told her. Really not that witty. Hopefully he’d have a better one for when he saw her again.

Stark called for help with Banner, but Clint was the only one standing. He managed to get himself up, shook out the pain, and went to go help. None of the heavies answered and he looked down over the railing to see Thor standing still, staring off into space, and Steve dropped his helmet, looking around like he was on the moon. Nat—

Nat was bad. She stumbled forward and Clint ran to catch her.

He helped her sit down and looked her over. Should I hit her? Cognitive recalibration and all that?

Loki was deep in thought. He hadn’t thought humans capable of what that witch had done. No. It looks like she is having a vision. They said the witch is capable of that, yes?

Sure, maybe. Her head fell forward and Clint propped it back up, cradling her jaw in his hand. If it can take Cap and Thor out of commission, what the hell else can she do?

You are going to need to get far from Ultron. Bring them home. I will help.

He helped Nat up when it looked like she was coming back to herself. “We gotta get to the jet,” he told her, and slowly, they made their way off the ship. Nat leaned heavily on him and he practically had to carry her. He managed to get her laying down in the med bay, and she was awake enough to take the pain meds and water he fed her.

He started up the Quinjet and took a brief moment while everything was lighting up to put his head in his hands.

A long fingered hand clasped the back of his neck and he looked up. Loki stood next to him, looking down at him with solemn green eyes. He was wearing a black hoodie with the Avengers logo over the left breast, and a pair of lime green leggings. Clint leaned into his side. He took just a moment and then nodded to himself, sat back up, and the jet took off. Loki’s double sat in the co-pilot’s seat, crossing his legs and looking out through the window.

Clint set the jet down in front of the ship, dropping the gangway down so it was easy enough to get Thor and Steve down into. He went for Steve first. He was a bit more awake and let Clint sling his arm over his shoulders and help him down the stairs.

Loki’s double met them at the bottom of the stairs.

Steve stopped moving when he saw him. “Oh, no, you can’t be here,” Steve groaned, closing his eyes. Loki frowned and took a step back. He disappeared a moment later.

“Steve, you asshole,” Clint grunted, and he heaved Steve onto the ship. There was a small sleeping quarters section, and he helped Steve lay down. “We’re going to my house,” Clint told him. “Loki is there, and you’re gonna explain that to him.”

Steve turned his head away and closed his eyes. Well, then.

Thor had mostly recovered by the time Clint got to him, which was good, since Clint hated touching him. He got onto the Quinjet mostly by himself, and Clint made sure they were all good to go before flying the Quinjet out of there, going into Johannesburg to pick up Stark and Banner, who had apparently destroyed half the city. Great. Sure there wouldn’t be any repercussions from that.

He set coordinates in the jet and turned on autopilot, ducking back to the med bay to check on Nat. She was still asleep, so Clint brushed her hair off her face and went back to the helm.

Stark got off the phone a few minutes later and came out of the sleeping quarters.

“You wanna switch out?”

Clint shook his head and didn’t look back at him. “Naw, I’m good. If you wanna get some kip, now’s a good time. We’re still a few hours out.”

“A few hours from where?”

“A safe house.”

Stark moved back into the sleeping quarters and Loki’s double reappeared in the co-pilot’s chair. “Is this wise?”

“We just fought a sentient robot who has every bit of Stark’s reach and history and intelligence. I don’t think there’s a wise decision.”

Loki nodded, clasping his hands in his lap. He looked out through the windshield, over the great expanse of land and water beneath him. “I will help,” he decided. “Even if there, I will help. I will not let the Avengers fail in this.”

“My hero,” Clint dead-panned, and if Loki was corporeal, he would have slapped him. Worth it.

They sat in silence for the long flight home.

Loki’s double disappeared as Clint went over the intercom with only ten minutes out. He roused the Avengers and they all joined him at the helm as he landed the Quinjet.

It was good to be home. Clint slung his arm around Natasha’s waist and helped her down the hill, ignoring Stark’s comment about parking closer. His shoulders relaxed as they passed through the wards and he glanced back to see Thor frowning. Oh, hell, he could probably sense the magic.

One of the wards is designed to push his attention away. He will leave soon. Being here will make him very uncomfortable and he will look for any excuse to leave. If he stays, the geas in the grass will release poisoned seidr upon him.

Thought of everything, huh, sir?

Loki felt smug. Someone must. Something drew his attention away from Clint and he could feel Loki frowning.

They walked through the gate and up the stairs as Thor asked, “What is this place?”

“A safe house?” Stark replied, a question in his voice.

“Let’s hope,” Clint called back. He pushed open the front door and led them all inside. The doors to Loki’s room were closed, but none of the Avengers besides Clint and Steve even seemed to notice they were there. “Honey, I’m home!”

He took a lot of pleasure in shocking the rest of the Avengers. It even took Steve a moment to not look stunned, and he was obviously looking around the place, seeing small signs of Loki everywhere. There was his huge armchair in the living room, an absolutely hilarious drawing of him hanging on the fridge, a few green accents on the furniture and the walls that hadn’t been there when Clint had left.

Thor stormed out just a minute later, and Steve followed. Thor spun his hammer and flew off into the sky.

Steve turned around to go back inside, and Loki was leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed over his chest. For a moment, he was certain he was back in the vision, blinking a few times to make sure the dance hall didn’t come back. By God, it was really him. All those months later, all that time of pain and worry and just missing him. A weight he hadn’t even realized was there eased off his heart.

“My Captain,” Loki greeted, and his voice was quiet and lovely and Steve gathered him up in his arms and held him close.

“Loki,” he breathed, closing his eyes. “Why are your pants so green?”

Loki smiled against his ear. “I let Lila choose the color.” He leaned back and cupped Steve’s jaw in his hands, eyes moving slowly and lovingly over his face. “Oh, how I have missed you.”

Steve wrapped an arm around Loki’s waist and pressed their foreheads together. “The girl...she—”

They were interrupted by Clint crashing outside and beaming at the two of them, Lila in his arms. “Come on in. Lila wants to show you Loki’s rooms.”

“Yes,” Loki droned, and he slid his hand down Steve’s arm to catch his gloved hand in his own. “Let the child show you where I sleep and bathe.”

Steve couldn’t stop his smile as he followed them inside. The other Avengers all greeted Loki with various exclamations ranging from surprised to excitement, and he inclined his head briefly to them, saying that he would be offering his assistance to them in the future. Stark was the only one that didn’t look grateful.

Lila tugged on his arm and Loki turned to look down at her. “You’re leaving?”

Loki patted the top of her head. “I will return. Now, can you and your brother see if any of the Avengers need food? They just fought a great battle and are surely hungry.” She beamed up at him and her and Cooper ran into the kitchen, each of them grabbing onto one of Natasha’s hands and pulling her over to Banner and Stark. Clint and Laura had already gone upstairs, and Loki smirked at Steve, pulling him into his room, the massive doors creaking shut behind him.

Steve pulled his shield off his back and then let Loki pin him to the nearest wall, rucking Loki’s sweatshirt up as they kissed, sliding his gloved hands over Loki’s back. Loki smiled against his mouth and did his damnedest to find Steve’s tonsils with his tongue. It was more aggression than affection, but it was exactly what Steve needed, bringing up a hand to tug at Loki’s hair. Loki broke away and pressed his hand to the bulge in Steve’s uniform pants, a sly smile slipping over his face.

He hardened even further as Loki slid to his knees, long fingers deftly undoing his belt and slowly pulling the zipper down. “I have missed you, my Captain,” Loki purred, and slid Steve into his mouth.

Steve threw his head back and his hands clenched in Loki’s hair. Loki’s mouth was hot, hotter than he remembered, and his cock slid over his tongue and down his throat and Loki moved quickly over him, swallowing around him, and when Steve pulled on his hair, Loki hummed and his tongue moved over him, and it just took a minute before Steve gasped and his hips jerked and he came down Loki’s throat. Loki licked him clean and then tucked him back in, sitting back on his heels while Steve’s hands shook as he redid his belt.

“Been awhile,” he muttered, and Loki slid up his body and kissed him again.

“Slide your hand into my pants,” Loki murmured against his mouth, and Steve went to pull his glove off, but Loki stopped him. “Leave them on.”

“You’re going to get my uniform dirty.” Loki grinned at him and then pushed his forehead into Steve’s shoulder when his hand slid into Loki’s leggings and wrapped around his length. Loki gasped, hips twitching. “Tell me how it feels, Loki. Put your mouth to work.”

“Good,” Loki gasped. “It’s rough. Harder.” He thrust up into Steve’s grasp, into the tight circle of his fingers, Steve tightening around him as Loki’s hips twisted. “I was so very alone for so many months, you know. None to take care of my needs except for my own hand.” Steve’s hand tightened and Loki gasped. “Only my Captain can take such good care of me,” Loki purred, and Steve nodded, tugging at his hair again.

Suddenly, Steve switched their positions, pressing Loki face first up against the wall, hand still down his pants, tight around his length, and he slid his other hand down the back of Loki’s pants, teasing at his hole. Loki arched against him. “If I had known,” he panted, “that you were missing me as much as I missed you, I would have been slightly less desperate for your cock down my throat. Only a bit though. I was positively gagging for it.”

Steve pressed his mouth to Loki’s neck and after a moment of consideration, he bit down.

Loki gasped and his entire body trembled as he came. Steve slid both of his hands out of Loki’s leggings and stepped back to find a bathroom, but Loki grabbed his arm and licked his glove clean of his own spend, giving Steve a sly look once he finished. He flicked his hand and Steve’s gloves were cleaned, but he ducked into the bathroom anyway to wash them with soap.

He wiped down his gloves with a towel and then glanced around Loki’s bathroom. It was gaudy and over the top and huge, bigger than the entire apartment they’d shared in Washington, DC. There was a massive tub and Steve called out, “We’re going to take a bath together next time we’re here!”

He heard Loki’s light laughter from the bedroom, and he ducked out of the bathroom to see Loki reclining on the chaise lounge, hair and clothes put to rights. There was a pile of clothes on the bed, which was also huge, and he began undressing out of his uniform. Loki darted over and slapped his hands away, pushing Steve up against the bed and helping him.

“What did the witch show you?”

Steve sighed as he pulled on the grey shirt Loki handed him. “You fine with me showing you?”

Loki glanced over his face and his eyes narrowed briefly, but then he nodded. “My seidr is yours to use as you wish.”

Steve pressed his hand to Loki’s forehead.

There was loud music, people dancing, various types of food on round tables. There were other enlisted men dancing with women in beautiful dresses, talking to each other, drinking, laughing. He was in a dance hall. The war was over.

Steve stepped through the mass of people. The music was so loud. But he kept looking, saw a man shot in the chest and still laughing, saw two officers fighting, saw another officer pull out a gun. He stopped in the middle of the dance floor. He still didn’t know how to dance.

“Are you ready for our dance?” Peggy asked, and Steve turned his head to look at her. She was so beautiful. He held his hand out for her and watched as her hand changed once she touched him, fingers lengthening and his eyes moved slowly from her hand to her arm and up her neck to her face, where Loki was smiling at him.

“Loki,” he breathed, and pulled him close. They moved together through the mass of people, moved together with grace and they were two parts of the same whole and he felt his love for Loki well up in his throat and God, he loved him.

“The war is over,” Loki whispered in his ear. “You can go home.”

He turned and Loki was gone. The entire dance hall was empty.

He was alone.

If the war ended, he was alone.

He blinked and the crowd was back, but his arms were empty. He turned around and there was absolute bloodshed, officers fighting enlisted men, women punching each other and clawing at each other, guns and knives in the fray.

In the center of it all, untouched, Loki.

He held his hand out towards Steve. “Come home,” Loki asked of him.

Steve pulled his hand away from Loki’s forehead and Loki narrowed his eyes at him. “You saw my double in the airship, assumed you were still in the throes of the vision.”

Steve nodded, leaning down to undo the buckles on his boots. Loki moved away and crossed his arms over his chest. “Can you...ward our minds against her?” Steve asked. “She can debilitate us with just a wave of her hand.”

Loki frowned at him. “It would take weeks. Such spells are very difficult and very intricate. I could ward your mind, perhaps, given a few days. It would be easier if you and I were bound, of course.”

“Is Barton’s mind warded?” Steve pulled on his jeans and something caught his eye. He turned to see that on the far wall, there was a huge wood panel with his face and torso in stark relief. “You really…”

Loki smirked at him. “I had to have something to remind me of my great Captain. But yes, Clint’s mind is protected. I doubt her...abilities would work on him.”

Steve just shook his head at the big shrine to himself, figuring that he shouldn’t really have expected anything different, and finished getting dressed. “Are you proposing to me, by the way?”

Loki stiffened and opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

“Because if you are, by saying we needed to get bonded, I’m saying yes.”

Steve pressed a kiss to Loki’s cheek and pushed open the massive doors, glancing around the house and seeing Stark outside chopping wood. He joined him and Loki followed him out, joining Clint and Cooper on the porch. Clint nudged him in the side and Loki just shook his head, glancing over the post they were fixing.

“Do I hear bells?” Clint asked, shooting Loki a grin, and Cooper’s head shot up.

“I don’t! Are your ears ringing, Daddy? Mom said we should tell her if your ears started hurting.”

“Now that you mention it, child,” Loki drawled, “I don’t hear any bells. Perhaps you should find your mother, child. She would not want your father to go back in the field with injured ears.”

Cooper nodded and ran back into the house. Loki flicked his hand and the porch railing was repaired. He leaned his elbows on the railing and watched Steve.

“You know, I actually like spending time with my kids,” Clint informed him, leaning back against the repaired railing and crossing his arms over his chest. “One of the ways I can do that is teaching them how to fix things.”

“I have spent plenty of time with them, just look at the memories,” Loki replied distractedly, as Steve brought the axe down and chopped another log. He smiled and Clint tugged aggressively on his consciousness, dragging his attention away from Steve. Loki swung his head around and glared at him.

“Fine,” he spat, throwing his hands up. “Forbid I help! Would you like me to break the railing again so you can have your precious quality time with your children?”

“Wait, again? Did you break it the first time? Why didn’t you just fix it then?”

Loki raised an eyebrow at him and sniffed, turning his head back to look at Steve right as he tore a stump apart with his bare hands. A flush travelled up Loki’s neck and he turned away, delicately clearing his throat. Clint rolled his eyes. “I may have broken the post,” Loki finally pointed out. “I may have broken it and not cared enough to repair it.”

Clint just shook his head. They both stood in silence while Loki calmed himself down. “I noticed you did not comment on my...exuberant greeting of my Captain,” Loki pointed out with a small smile.

Clint shot him a nasty grin. “Oh, Laura appreciated it.”

Loki tipped his head back and laughed. “I am glad for it. Hopefully she was not quite as...excitable.”

“I didn’t want to say anything,” Clint grinned. “He’d probably been thinking about it ever since he made me breakfast. Or maybe fighting just gets him excited.” He pointed a finger at Loki. “Maybe you’re just too good at it.”

“I have been highly lauded for my skills,” Loki mused, and the two of them turned as Stark walked behind them up to the barn. They looked back to see Laura and Steve talking, too quiet for even Loki to hear.

“That’s no good,” Clint muttered. “Don’t want them giving away state secrets.”

Steve said something that had Laura doing a small half turn and smiling at the two of them. Clint gave an awkward half wave and Loki just rolled his eyes.

“You’re gonna have to get him a ring, you know,” Clint pointed out. “Steve’s the traditional type.”

Loki froze.

Loki had every intention of joining Steve in the shower after the Avengers met with Fury, but he was distracted by Laura finding him and pulling him upstairs, where Clint was pulling his gear on. She tugged off Clint’s shirt, ignoring his protests, and pointed to the scar on his side. “Did you know about this?”

Loki nodded slowly, eyeing her cautiously.

“Can you fix it?” she asked, and moved out of the way when Loki came closer, pressing one hand to Clint’s chest and the other over his neck, fingers pressed to the stone behind his ear. Clint went nearly limp, leaning on Loki, Laura helping him sling his arm over Loki’s waist. They ended up sitting him down on the bed, Loki sitting at his hip. Laura hovered over them.

“It will take longer than I have today to remove and repair the damage,” Loki finally admitted, and he removed his hands. Clint gasped and sat up.

“What the hell was that?” he panted, looking between Loki and Laura.

“What did it feel like?” Loki asked instead, pushing to his feet and looking down at Clint.

“Like I was sinking into a big vat of syrup or something.” His gaze darted between the two of them and then he scrambled across the bed, clambering down to pull his gear back on. “I feel like I need a nap.”

“It’s essentially a quick way to push you into in the dissociative state that you enter when I am inside your mind. It can be...uncomfortable if you do not know it is coming. But it is part of the bond, of course.”

Clint relaxed. “Alright. I can deal with that. I thought it...I don’t know what I thought it was. I haven’t been disconnected like that in, well, three years.” He glanced uncomfortably at Laura, who was watching him solemnly. “Sorry, hon. I know you don’t want to hear about this stuff.”

She shook her head. “No, don’t hide anything from me. I read about this, you know, in that book Loki gave me. It’s just...difficult, seeing it in person.”

Loki inclined his head. “Then I will endeavour to keep our bond behind closed doors.”

Laura sighed and shook her head again. “No, not that. Don’t hide it. I just need to get used to it.”

Loki and Clint nodded at the same time and then Loki excused himself as Laura asked about what Nat knew. That was absolutely not a conversation he needed to be part of. He went back downstairs to his rooms, where Steve was partially dressed, sitting on the couch in just his boots and uniform pants and gloves, his top spread out on the table in front of him.

Steve inclined his head and waved Loki closer, sliding his hand around Loki’s wrist and tugging him to the floor. Loki shifted his weight around and gracefully went to his knees, propping his chin up on Steve’s thigh.

“It’s been awhile,” Steve said, and his voice was solemn. “How have you been doing? I’m surprised the house is still standing.”

“I was able to funnel some of my seidr into Clint when I enhanced our bond,” Loki said quietly. “And I was able to sink the rest of the poisoned seidr into a geas out in the grass. But I have...struggled on my own. I have not been taken to heel. My mind is chaos, my seidr is twisted, I am not whole.”

Steve nodded slowly, brushing his fingers over the sharp planes of Loki’s face. “I meant it, you know. I promised you forever.”

“I would marry you tomorrow.”

Steve’s hand shook, just for a moment, as his fingers moved over Loki’s eyebrows. “We make it through this, you bind us, and I’ll find us somewhere we can get married.”

Loki glanced away as he thought. “If I am tied to a person on Midgard, Thor would have even less of a case convincing others to bring me back to Asgard. It is not a reason, of course, but merely a bonus to our bond.”

Something flashed over Steve’s face. “You know, I never asked. Why did Thor want the Mind Stone back in the first place? What reason would he have for bringing it to Earth?”

Loki frowned at him and then he stiffened.

Upstairs, Clint kissed his wife and then disappeared.

Chapter Text

Clint appeared in front of the coffee table and did not even look at Steve as he helped Loki to his feet. He was stone-faced and his attention was solely on Loki. Steve pulled on the rest of his uniform and then watched as Clint helped Loki to the lounge, going to one knee in front of him, both of Loki’s hands clasped in Clint’s.

They stared at each other.

Laura rushed downstairs and looked into Loki’s room, sighing in relief when she saw them. “Is he alright? He just vanished out of my arms.” She tried to move across the room but Steve caught her.

“Wait a minute. I don’t think we should disrupt them.”

She nodded and grabbed his hand, the two of them watching in desperate silence as Clint and Loki stared at each other.

Loki’s mind was frantic. The only reason he had not already run was that Clint had begged him not to. Clint was in his mind, having been yanked up the bridge between them, and he was desperately trying to calm Loki down, hands on either side of the face of the personification of Loki inside his mind.

He brought the Scepter to Midgard to use it upon me.

I know. You’re going to bring the house down. Steve’s in the house, Laura’s in the house, my kids are in the house. Nat’s here, Stark is here, Banner is here. If you need to push magic into me, I can handle it.

He found HYDRA and they promised to help him. They would find me, use it upon me, and give me back to him.

Hey now, it’s not all bad. Look at me.

A fortunate side effect of a curse, Loki snarled. He would turn me into a mindless automaton. At least you retained your mind. He would dismantle me.

I know. We’re not going to let him.

Loki crumpled and Clint caught him. He waved Steve over and the two of them worked together to get Loki laying out on the lounge, his hand in Clint’s. Laura brought in a damp cloth and laid it over Loki’s forehead.

I will keep you safe to my dying breath. He will never lay a hand on you again.

Green eyes fluttered open and Loki jerked back, attempting to escape before Clint pulled him back down. He glanced over them and then relaxed into the lounge, Clint immediately helping him sit up, wiping his face gently with the washcloth.

“Back with us?” Steve asked, sitting on the edge of the lounge and rubbing Loki’s back. “Was it the Mind Stone?”

Loki’s eyes narrowed and his knuckles turned white as his grasp on Clint’s hand tightened. “My...monstrous brother only has one use for the Mind Stone.”

Laura looked confused but Steve understood immediately. He swore under his breath. He pulled up a chair for Laura and then leaned against the arm of the couch, shaking his head. “And we have to keep working with him,” Steve muttered. “The only way to keep an eye on him is to keep him on the team.” He looked disgusted.

Loki looked horrified as he looked away from Clint and up at Steve. “I refuse to help him. I will let this world come to an end before I give him my assistance.”

I will not leave your side. We need your help, sir. You can help us.

Loki’s head turned towards Clint and he shuddered, squeezing Clint’s hand ever tighter. I will find a bond to tie my mind to Steve’s.

You sure you don’t want me for that? We’re already halfway there.

Loki thought about that for a moment. I will consider it. His mind is very strong, and you are already weak to me. The type of bond I am considering is very close to a marriage bond.

You don’t want to be married to me? Come on!

Loki snorted and pulled himself out of it, Clint helping him to his feet. Steve immediately moved forward to steady him. “I will help,” he finally said, his voice quiet but strong. “If I am left alone with him, I will go to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, and I will run from him.”

Laura looked absolutely horrified, and Clint reached around Loki to clasp her on the shoulder and squeeze reassuringly.

“You won’t be alone with him,” Steve promised. “One of us will be with you.”

“I’ll be like glue,” Clint swore, and at Loki’s dark look, he gave a mocking bow and then escorted Laura from the room.

Steve gathered Loki in his arms and held him close. “I know you’re strong, and you’ve suffered. But we’re here to help. I know you’re not used to it. But Thor won’t lay a finger on you.”

Loki nodded, wrapping his arms around Steve’s shoulders and letting himself be held. “I will run,” he swore.

“Just don’t go where I can’t follow.”

Loki hovered in the hallway as Clint and Laura said goodbye to one another. He was outfitted in battle gear, with scalemail down his legs and tall black books covering his shins. His torso was covered in thick black leather, from his neck to his wrists, and he had pulled on a new cape, green on the outside and blue on the inside.

Last mission?

Been thinking about retiring. You need a full time bodyguard anyway.

Loki bowed slightly to Laura and then followed Clint out to the Quinjet, the two of them walking in tandem. They were going with Steve and Natasha, going after Ultron and the Scepter. Loki kept one eye on the sky as they strode up the hill.

What is worship like?

Clint settled behind the controls and started the warm-up process as Loki took the co-pilot’s chair. He threw Loki a curious look and then called for Steve and Nat to make sure they were both in the jet before he closed the hatch. Steve replied in the affirmative and the jet lifted off the ground.

Is this really the time?

Loki looked out the window at the ground that was rapidly disappearing from beneath them. Is there ever a time? Tell me.

He thought about it for a minute. Behind them, Nat and Steve were discussing strategy. He figured they’d say his name if it was important enough for him to know. I guess it’s just easy to tell me what to do, Clint mused. But I don’t know if I know what worship feels like. I’ve never been religious. Are you looking for a specific answer?

Loki glanced over him. No. You seem to be avoiding the question.

I think you want me to tell you that I worship you like a god. I’ll tell you that if you want, if it’ll make you feel better. Or, if this about Thor, you can just say that, and I’ll tell you.

Loki hummed. Focus on your flying. He turned the seat around, a seat that was very specifically designed to not move, and crossed his legs, looking at Steve and Nat. “Do we have a plan?”

Nat looked up at him. “Steve goes in, sees if Cho is in there. You go with, in case the witch is still there. We’ll hang back and go after Ultron once we find him.”

“Very well.” Loki inclined his head and then opened a pocket dimension, pulling out a bag of healing stones. “If you are harmed, use it.” He handed one to each of them and Nat frowned at it, holding it up to the light. “It is a healing stone,” he said to her unasked question “It will cure you of what ails you. Break it apart in your hands and spread it over yourself.”

She shrugged and slid the stone into a pocket. Steve had already put his away, and Clint just did as he was told. Loki sent the pocket dimension away and glanced over them. He motioned Steve closer and with a flick of his wrist, a green mist settled over him. At his questioning look, Loki expounded, “A protective ward. It is admittedly untested on humans, but it can keep an Aesir from harm in battle.” He didn’t tell them that it was generally used on children, but Clint snorted.

Loki glanced over Nat. “Do you wish for one?”

“ETA 5,” Clint interrupted.

Loki merely raised an eyebrow. Natasha thought about it for a moment, and she looked at Steve, who gave her a short nod. She looked back at Loki and stepped closer. Loki flicked his fingers at her and a green mist of seidr settled over her before sinking into her skin. “How does it work?” she asked.

“Essentially an invisible layer of armor. It will deflect physical attacks, and subdue seidr attacks. Hopefully, if the witch is there, her powers will be less effective. I will not know until I see her in battle, of course.”

They all prepared for battle differently. If given proper warning, Loki would flex his seidr and stretch out his limbs and send out a magpie to see if he could find any of his enemies weaknesses. Nat would infiltrate, catch them at their own game, break them apart from the inside. Clint always wanted to go high up, was good at playing the long-distance game. Steve, of course, was sheer power. He had a highly adaptable, strategic mind that Clint shamelessly admired. Steve was courageous in a way that Clint had rarely seen in his life. Clint listened with half an ear as Steve and Nat talked their approach for Steve and Loki going in after Cho.

You’re broadcasting, Loki informed him, but he sounded smug. My Captain is a very capable warrior.

Shut up.

They pulled up in front of the building, Clint dropping down the hatch, looking over his shoulder as Loki stepped to the end of it, and together, both he and Steve dropped off the edge. He and Nat rolled their eyes simultaneously. Dumbasses.

“Two minutes,” Steve spoke into his transponder. “Stay close.” He looked at Loki, gave him a sharp nod, and the two of them ran into the building, Loki staying a step behind his Captain as they looked through the wreckage that Ultron had left behind. Loki darted off as Steve jogged through the building, looking for Helen Cho. The witch and the fast one had clearly already left, but Loki could feel the touch of her strange, peculiar seidr all over the lab. He was following their trail when Steve came through the communication device he’d given Loki, along with the woman Loki had seen operating on Clint’s wound.

“Loki, my position,” Steve ordered, and Loki stepped through space towards him, glancing around the destroyed lab and then down at Steve, who had a white cloth pressed to Dr. Cho’s bleeding wound. She looked terrible. Loki pulled out a healing stone and crumpled it over her, and she gasped, sitting up on her own and staring up at him.

Steve pulled him away before Loki could make a comment about Midgard’s lesser healing sciences. Surely the smart move, if a bit boring. He followed Steve through the building, darting ahead of him as he caught onto the witch’s trail again. She really did leave seidr behind her like breadcrumbs. What poor behavior.

Clint reported that a truck left the hub, and Loki pulled Steve through the air to the top of the closest bridge. He watched in shock as they both caught view of the truck and Steve threw himself bodily off the bridge on top of it. It was very nearly suicidal! What little regard for his own life. It was preposterous. What on Midgard was he thinking? He was a warrior who had a very highly trained seidrmadr at his disposal, yet acted so rashly?

Loki ran through the air after them, landing on top of the truck right as Ultron shot a power blast through the back doors of the truck, Steve hanging onto one of the doors for dear life. Ultron blasted the doors again and Steve nearly went flying, but Loki managed to tie a bit of seidr to his waist and pull him back down.

“Well, he’s definitely unhappy!” Steve called. Loki rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna try and keep him that way.”

Clint, surely Loki’s saving grace, replied back with a hiss of static, “You’re not a match for him, Cap.”

Steve just shook his head and grumbled out a sarcastic thanks as Loki yanked him to the top of the truck. “You are unduly risking your life,” Loki hissed. “And the lives of civilians, may I remind you.”

Steve went to fight Ultron as he floated out of the back of the truck and one of the cannons on his arm began to charge up, but then he turned back to Loki. The look on his face was peculiar. Did he want the fight? Loki frowned at him, remembering the vision the witch had given Steve.

Before Steve could answer, Loki flicked his hand and the truck and everyone inside of it was encased in a thick green shield. The truck careened to a stop and Ultron immediately fired at the sphere around them, but it only absorbed the blow and briefly grew brighter. Steve immediately whipped his shield at the robot and Ultron snarled, “The power inside that Cradle can outpower you. It has the capability for real change, and that terrifies you.”

Loki merely raised an eyebrow as Steve threw his shield again, twisting in the air to kick it back when Ultron sent it back, a sure feat of unreasonable athletics. Ultron was distracted from trying to destroy Loki’s ward as Steve relentlessly attacked him. The two of them were embroiled in battle while Loki dropped down into the back of the truck and decapitated the two robots inside with a quick flash of a seidr sword.

Nat’s coming your way.

The ward will let her in.

Was this meant to be a battle? Loki had been bored from the beginning. He could hear Ultron taunting Steve on top of the truck and he rolled his eyes. He turned his attention to the Cradle. How very boring.

He heard Natasha come through the ward and looked up at her as she climbed into the truck. “They still comparing sizes up there?” she queried, stepping past him to tap at the control panel on the Cradle. Loki raised an eyebrow at her and she sighed. “We have to get this up to the jet.”

“I would assume Ultron doesn’t have a penis,” Loki mused. “Would you like to come with as I move the Cradle, or would you like to stay here?”

She wasn’t given a chance to answer as Ultron blasted through the top of the top of the truck with a roar of rage. Loki tapped the Cradle and it disappeared, and they all heard Clint’s exclamation of surprise as it appeared in the Quinjet.

“What are you?” Ultron purred, and he reached down through the truck to pluck Loki up. Loki slid out of his grasp and suddenly, the three of them were on the bridge Steve had jumped from. Ultron glanced around and Loki smirked. Natasha looked faintly pissed off, but not enough that Loki was concerned. The Cradle was safe, their objective was complete.

Both Steve and Clint were roaring through the transponders. Loki took his out and crushed it beneath his boot. “Very obnoxious,” he offered up at Ultron’s questioning look, the strange metal parts above the robot’s eyes that served as eyebrows narrowing. “You will find that I am less...lenient towards your outbursts than the humans.”

“Loki,” Natasha warned, her voice quiet.

Ultron looked between them for a moment. “I just needed more time. I have a mission.”

“I don’t particularly care,” Loki replied. He glanced over the railing of the bridge, to where he could see the Quinjet flying off into the distance and red seidr outlining the truck he had left Steve on. His instinct was to run, but he turned his head back to see Nat. For all her strengths and training, she was still human. “You bore me.”

“I bore you?” Ultron replied, taking a step back in shock. “I have come to save the world, and I bore you?”

“You’re doing a particularly poor job of it,” he pointed out, and rolled his eyes when Ultron tried to lunge forward and grab Natasha, who jumped out of the way with an admittedly impressive backflip. “Now, you do know this is merely a distraction, yes? I can’t have you taking one of my most skilled teammates.”

With that, Ultron surged up, readying himself for battle, and Loki merely reached out and yanked himself and Natasha through time and air and space, depositing them next to the wrecked remains of the truck. She bent over and heaved as Loki glanced over the remains. “This was boring,” Loki groused, turning back to look at the horrified civilians. “Does nothing on your planet pose a challenge?”

“That was not a challenge?” a new voice asked. It had a strange accent, one that Loki had never heard before. He turned to see a tall, thin, young man with a shock of white hair. Next to him was a small woman with dark red hair, dressed in red and black. Ah, the witch. He flicked out a little wisp of his own seidr and hers reacted violently and if she posed a risk, he would’ve been more than merely amused.

Loki didn’t deign him with an answer, but he did look at the witch. “I have been looking for you,” he told her, and she stiffened, putting her shoulders back and lifting her hands. Red seidr flickered through her fingers. “Oh, none of that.” He turned his head as Steve came up behind them and asked Natasha if she was doing alright. “I see you managed to cause quite a bit of damage to the city in the three minutes I was not watching you.”

“We stopped the threat,” Steve pointed out, and then he glared at the witch and the fast one. Did they have names? “Explain yourselves.”

The witch turned on Steve. “The Cradle, did you get it?” She spoke with the same accent as the fast one. Were they related? Loki really had to start paying attention during the team meetings where such information was passed around.

She looked genuinely concerned when Steve replied that Stark would take care of the Cradle. “No, he won’t.”

Natasha and Loki exchanged a glance.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Steve told her. “Stark’s not crazy.” He moved away and called for Stark over the transponder, and going by his face, Stark wasn’t responding.

“Ultron can’t tell the difference between saving the world and ending it. Where do you think he gets that?”

Steve turned to Loki and Natasha. “Where did Ultron go?”

“I tagged him with a tracking chip,” Natasha offered up. “Barton has the locating device on the Quinjet.”

“I also put a trace of seidr on him,” Loki said once Nat was finished. Steve nodded and then glared at the witch and the fast one.

“You’re coming with us. Whatever Stark has planned, we’re stopping him.” He turned to Loki. “Take us to the Tower.”

Loki sniffed and held out his hand towards the group. He held out his free hand to Steve, who immediately took it, and Natasha wrapped her hand around the wrist of the hand he’d held out. Loki motioned with his head towards his hand and cautiously, the witch and the fast one touched his fingers.

It had admittedly been time since Loki had pulled more than one or two people through the dimensions, but that was not the difficulty. The witch’s seidr fought him in a way Loki had never been fought before. She was so untrained, so edging on the verge of wildness. He could barely contain his own seidr for the few seconds of pulling them across the worlds to Stark’s lab. His feet touched down and he staggered back, unable to keep the snarl from erupting from between his lips.

What the hell did she do? Clint asked, his voice frantic. You’re—

His mind was static. Loki snarled again, focused only on the witch, gathering up a great ball of green seidr, trying to shake out the red in his mind. “What did you do?” he screamed, holding his hands to his head. He could not even think, he was losing his mind, it was all grey and red and there wasn’t a single thought, his seidr was a great, furious ocean and he was going to drown in it, how dare she—

Hot breath on his ear and his Captain demanding he calm.

The static pulled from his mind and Clint’s voice filled his thoughts. —s that? Sir? I nearly crashed the jet. What the hell?

Loki’s head slowly turned and he smiled at the scene presented before him: the man in handcuffs and Natasha standing over the witch, a gun leveled at her head. “Oh, you do think you’re clever, don’t you,” Loki murmured, and he smiled, showing all of his teeth. “A bit of offensive seidr to confound me and you believe me incapacitated.”

The fast one looked up from where he was trying to twist out of the handcuffs and he frowned. “Weren’t you?”

Loki summoned a bit of ice and encased him from the waist down. He turned his head back to the witch. “Captain, she and I need to have a...conversation. Go find Stark.”

Steve nodded and he and Natasha made to leave the room, but Steve paused and turned back. “Don’t kill her,” he ordered. “We might need her.”

“Oh, I have no intentions of that.” He flicked through the frantic thoughts that Clint was still sending him and called after them, “Clint just landed.”

He turned his attention to the witch. “Tell me your names.”

“Wanda and Pietro,” the witch told him. He thought about asking which one was which, but humans were so easily offended by such things. Clint had complained about Pietro before, so Loki knew he was the fast one. Wanda moved her fingers in a peculiar fashion and red seidr flashed between them. It was very strange; it moved like strings in water, instead of slick light or harsh and heavy ropes or flashes of power.

Loki watched her fingers with interest. “Do you enjoy the thought of overpowering me? Do you believe you can?”

“I know I can,” she replied, and a red cloak of seidr settled over him. For a moment, just one second, static overwhelmed him, but he shook it off, watching his own seidr overtake hers with interest.

“You took advantage of me in a vulnerable moment,” Loki commended her. “But it will not happen again.” He glanced at Pietro and smirked, encasing him in another layer of ice. He had been attempting to move his legs in minute, fast motions to melt the ice. “I have defeated far more powerful and far smarter enemies than you,” he told the witch, and tied her hands up in balls of his own seidr. “Now, are you two going to comply?”

Stark is trying to put JARVIS into the Cradle.

I understand those words separately.

Clint yanked on their bond and then appeared in front of him, glancing over the bound siblings. He turned around and looked up at Loki, who raised an eyebrow at him. “Stark found JARVIS hiding away, basically. He’s trying to upload the program into the body Ultron was creating in the Cradle.”

“He cannot do that!” Pietro exclaimed, and he redoubled his efforts to escape the ice. Loki rolled his eyes and flicked his fingers, the ice disappearing and Pietro fell to the floor. He got an amused snort from Clint.

“No shit,” Clint replied, and herded them out of the room. Nat and I are tracking Ultron. We’ll meet you up there.

Loki nodded and Clint jogged down a different hallway as Loki pushed the siblings into the nearest elevator. They were silent as the elevator rose, and the doors opened a few moments later, revealing Steve arguing with Stark and Banner, the Cradle humming in front of them. Loki ducked off to the side and stood in the shadows as Wanda and Pietro stepped forward into the argument.

“Shut it down,” Steve demanded.

“Nope, not gonna happen.”

“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Steve argued. It was like watching children.

“And you do? She’s not in your head?” Banner shot back, motioning towards Wanda, who had the absolute gall to look offended.

“I know you’re angry,” she tried, but Banner wasn’t having it. Loki was fairly impressed. He didn’t think the man had it in him.

“Oh, we’re way past that. I could choke the life out of you and never change a shade.” For the first time, Loki found himself wondering what the witch had shown the Beast. After all, Stark had nearly destroyed an entire city trying to subdue him.

“Banner, after everything that’s happened—” Steve started.

“That’s nothing compared to what’s coming!” Stark interrupted.

“You don’t know what’s in there.”

“This isn’t a game,” Steve said.

Pietro had the same bored and spent look that Loki was sure was on his own face. He watched, almost impressed, as Pietro darted around the lab, unplugging and destroying a few things. He really was very fast. Loki was only able to see what he was doing because of his own superior physiology. He wondered if Steve could see what he was doing better than a regular human.

There was a gunshot and Pietro fell through the floor. Loki smiled. Have you been waiting for an opportunity?

They heard Clint’s voice through the broken glass, “What, you didn’t see that coming?” Can’t stand the guy.

Stark moved to fix what Pietro had broken, but Steve threw his shield, ricocheting it off various computers and destroying them. Stark blasted him in the chest and Steve flew back.

Oh, that was enough of that.

Loki lifted his hand to bind everyone in place with his seidr, but in the distance, there was a great boom of thunder and a flash of lightning, and suddenly, Thor burst into the room.

For just a moment, just one split second, Loki was relieved. His brother would fix everything, would stop them, halt the in-fighting. And then fear overwhelmed him, choked him.

No, wait—

He had been running from Thor for months, for years, for as long as he could remember. He would not survive if his brother took him to Asgard. Had this all been some plan to get him into Thor’s grasp? Loki shuddered and staggered back, instinctually summoning whatever he could get his hands on, daggers appearing in his hands, seidr bubbling from his skin.

He could feel a hand clamp down on his wrist as he tried to run.

Thor leapt onto the Cradle and brought his hammer down.

There was a great explosion as a red being jumped from the Cradle, throwing everyone back.

The being looked between all of them, strangely human eyes in an inhuman face.

In his forehead, the Mind Stone.

Loki felt nauseous at the sight of it.

The being flew forward and Thor managed to twist around and throw it through another plane of glass.

“Loki, stop him!” Thor barked, and it was over a thousand years of training and being on his knees before Thor that had Loki readying a dagger to throw it at the being before catching himself and turning to throw it at Thor. Clint’s hand on his wrist stopped him.

The being was staring at his reflection in the window.

Once the being was stable and talking to them, Clint let Loki go.

He ran.

Even if he had wanted to stay, he knew he couldn’t.

He reappeared on the landing pad just outside of the penthouse.

Even now, even as he was his own, even as he had spent months and over a year fighting out from Thor’s clutches, his body still obeyed. His seidr still obeyed. Was he truly his own? How could he combat so many years of Thor’s rule when he could not even combat himself? There were no more bonds between them, yet he had moved to obey Thor’s orders as if he had never broken them.

Loki stiffened as he heard a small footstep behind him.

“They can take care of themselves,” Clint said, his voice quiet. “You’re about to take this whole building down.”

“I obeyed,” Loki hissed, staring off over the twinkling lights of the city beneath them. “He ordered and I obeyed.”

“Sure you did,” Clint agreed. “But you stopped yourself. Isn’t that what counts, really?”

“What will he order me to do next?” Loki turned his head as Clint stepped up next to him. “Surely he cannot be trusted.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Clint snorted.

“He gave the Mind Stone life. He has the...being’s trust. He can use it and take me to Asgard.” He shook his head and stepped away from Clint, rubbing at his temples. “I cannot stay here. He will shatter my very soul and crush it beneath his fingers.”

“He can damn sure try. No one is going to let him.”

“Let him,” Loki scoffed. “Thor does not know the meaning of the word let. There is only what he does, and you will find a puny Midgardian such as yourself cannot stop him.”

“I stopped you, didn’t I?”

That gave Loki pause. He frowned and looked down at Clint, who smirked at him. “He underestimates us, just like you do. But here’s where we differ—most of us like you. I think Stark’s the only one that can stand Thor at this point. He’s the only one that didn’t have to be bullied into helping Stark like Banner did. So, boss, you with us?”

Loki sighed. “You’re particularly good at motivational speeches,” he pointed out, and let Clint lead him back into the penthouse, where the being had just picked up Thor’s hammer.

Oh, how very interesting.

Thor looked stunned, and the being walked off, handing Mjolnir back to Thor.

Loki smiled, just a bit. Perhaps all hope was not lost, after all.

Thor patted Stark on the back and told him, “Well done.”

Steve told them they had three minutes to leave and Clint darted off as Steve met Loki’s gaze across the room.

They met in the middle, taking just a moment to glance over each other and reassure themselves of their wholeness, and Loki’s eyes fluttered shut, just for a moment, as Steve clasped his neck and brought their mouths together in a brief kiss. Loki smiled against his Captain’s lips and his eyes opened as they pulled apart. Behind Steve, towards where the red being had gone, Thor was watching them, a murderous look on his face. Loki merely smiled sweetly at his Captain and ignored his brother.

“After this,” Loki murmured, dropping his gaze to Steve’s lips, “I’m going to fuck you in that suit.”

Steve brushed Loki’s hair back and grinned. “We’re going to have to win first, but I’ll hold you to that. Now, we gonna talk about it?”

Loki hooked his fingers into Steve’s belt and tugged him closer. “He is going to use the Mind Stone to take me back to Asgard once Ultron is defeated,” he murmured against Steve’s mouth. “I will die before he puts his hands on me again.”

Steve swallowed thickly. “I won’t let that happen,” he promised, and Loki nodded, stepping back and glancing around the penthouse.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he told Steve, and followed him back upstairs to the lab, where Stark and Banner were readying up. Thor and the being—they were apparently calling it Vision, for whatever vapid reason—were on the lower floor, most assuredly arguing over Loki’s imminent destruction.

Clint pushed a picture of his wife and children into Loki’s mind. Sir, if anything happens…

Yes, I’ll kill them so they can be with you in the afterlife. Really, you didn’t even need to ask.

“No way we all get through this,” Stark was saying as he fiddled with one of his computers. “If even one tin soldier is left standing, we’ve lost. It’s gonna be blood on the ground.”

“I got no plans tomorrow night,” Steve replied, because he apparently had no regard for his own life and no one other than Loki noticed.

Thanks for that, boss. Just take them all out at once, if you don’t mind. I’d prefer something painless, if you could do that for me.

“I get first crack at the big guy. Iron Man’s the one he’s waiting for.”

Vision walked past and called out, “Yes, he hates you the most.”

Everyone looked a bit smug at that.

It took them all a bit longer than three minutes to get everything together, and Loki waited for Clint to reappear back in the lab before they followed Steve and Stark and Banner and Natasha to the Quinjet. Loki took the co-pilot’s seat and antagonized Clint by pressing a few buttons while the siblings—apparently they were twins—and Thor and Vision filed onto the jet.

“Ultron knows we’re coming. Odds are, we’ll be riding into heavy fire. Now, that’s what we signed up for. But the people of Sokovia, they didn’t. So the priority is getting them out.” Steve nodded at the gathered Avengers and then turned to nod at Clint, who started up the Quinjet and after a moment, they took off. “All they want is to live their lives in peace, and that's not going to happen today. But we can do our best to protect them. And we can get the job done, and find out what Ultron's been building. We find Ultron, and we clear the field. Keep the fight between us. Ultron thinks we're monsters and we're what's wrong with the world. This isn't just about beating him. It's about whether he's right.” Oh, his Captain was so very passionate. Loki sent him a heated look that Steve did his best to ignore.

The flight was quick, aided by Loki’s seidr. He spent most of the trip trying to annoy Clint into crashing the plane and also looking between the Maximoff twins and Thor, who was relaxed near the exit hatch. He knew better than to believe that Thor’s closed eyes meant he was resting.

When they were nearly there, Steve made sure everyone was ready to go, and then he stepped up between them, putting his hands on both of their shoulders. Both Clint and Loki looked up at him.

“We ready?” Steve asked, looking solemnly through the windshield. Loki knew he was asking about far more than just the battle against Ultron.

As one, they nodded.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the witch was that she did not realize there were rules to seidr. For instance, she had never been told that it was supposed to be impossible to influence nearly an entire city to leave whatever they were doing and vacate their homes. Loki watched her for a few minutes as she sent out tendrils of seidr, thousands of them, and then watched as people subsequently left their homes and retreated to safety. It was absolutely fascinating. Not that he would ever tell her such a thing, of course.

Finally, he lifted his hand and conjured a ball of light green light. He tossed it up high into the air and it expanded and then exploded out in a flat line, settling over the houses that Wanda’s seidr had not yet reached. The inhabitants of those homes ran for safety and Loki shot the witch a smug look.

She had the gall to not even be looking at him. How rude.

They moved apart as they pushed people out of the city. It was easy enough, and Loki was on the verge of growing bored with it when the robots started coming after them.

He lifted up into the air, hands glowing green and seidr slipping in waves around him, and he smiled. Finally, a real battle.

The robots were just enough of a challenge that defeating them wasn’t easy and he had to stay on his toes. The perfect level of chaos. Loki watched as the witch created an absolutely massive shield across an entire street to protect a group of civilians. Of course, he then created a bigger one that took less energy to maintain. That time, she did see and looked impressed.

Loki smugly killed a few more robots and watched as Clint killed a couple robots with his arrows. They pulled the civilians off the bridge as it began to shudder. All three of them glanced around as the world began to shake.

What in the world?

Then, of course, the three of them sprang into action, pulling civilians away from the edge, as the entire city began to rise from the ground.

Ultron’s voice came through the various robots still around them. Loki and Wanda blasted them with seidr as Clint shot a few of them, but more and more robots still filled the space before them as Sokovia was lifted from the ground.

“The beauty of it. The inevitability.” Ultron’s voice rang through the city as it raised ever higher. “You rise only to fall.”

Robot might have you beat for over-dramatic monologues.

Loki threw a bit of seidr at Clint, who fell off the top of the car he was on.

Okay! He definitely has you beat!

“You, Avengers, you are my meteor. My swift and terrible sword. And the Earth with crack with the weight of your failure. Purge me from your computers, turn my own flesh against me! It means nothing! When the dust settles, the only living thing in the world will be metal.”

Both Clint and Loki killed the robots that finished talking with Ultron’s voice, and Steve’s voice came through the comms, “Loki, can you put a shield around the city?”

Loki blinked a few times. “It is theoretically possible,” he admitted, stepping up through the air to save a civilian that was hunkering in fear on the roof of the nearest building. “I would need to go to ground, build up seidr.”

“Good. Get to it.”

Loki and Clint exchanged a nod as Loki lowered the civilian to the ground, watching them run to join the others at the end of the road. The city creaked and groaned as it was lifted ever higher, and Wanda rushed up to Loki. “Can I help?” she asked him breathlessly. “I can help you.”

Loki shook his head. “Stay here, witch. You will be of more assistance here.”

He stepped through the air and then ran off the side of the city, dropping off the side and plummeting towards the ground. Loki landed in the middle of the massive crater the city had left, and he tugged at the leylines in the ground, finding that two dormant ones passed directly under Sokovia. Loki found the exact spot where they crossed and knelt in the middle of it, spreading his coat out around him as he closed his eyes.

“Stark, you worry about getting the city down safely. The rest of us have one job: tear these things apart. You get hurt, hurt ‘em back. You get killed...walk it off.”

Loki took the communicator out of his ear and slid it into his pocket. He’d gotten tired of being yelled at for destroying more of Stark’s technology. Midgard was not a realm gifted with native seidr; in fact, the realm had almost none at all. He often likened it to a desert. But there was innate seidr, even in deserts. Even on Midgard.

He dug down deep. He slid his seidr into the ground, wrapped it around the leylines, and pulled.

It was like being filled with fire.

He tipped his head back and laughed. Oh, how could he believe Midgard was barren? This was delightful! There was so much dormant seidr that the native peoples of Midgard did not know how to tap into, and Loki had given it a way out. He had expected it to be difficult, expected Midgard to deny him the power he needed to shield the city. But this? He could shield the entire Realm and have power left over.

He pushed to his feet, pushed his communicator back into his ear, and took off.

Might have you and Ultron beat for dramatic monologues.

What did you do? Lok replied amusedly, flying up behind a robot and yanking its head off. Clint pressed the memory of his speech to the witch, and Loki laughed at him. You are a fool.

He found Steve on the edge of the city, surrounded by robots. Loki immediately joined the fray, pulling out long seidr swords and slicing through the nearest robots like butter. “That was fast!” Steve yelled at him, throwing his shield and doing some kind of kick maneuver when it ricocheted back to him. Loki spun around, jumping off the nearest car to flip over a robot and stab it while he was in midair.

“Your planet is not as barren and desolate as I had previously believed!” Loki called back.

“Alright, we’re all clear here,” Clint informed them through the comms.

Steve flipped his shield at the nearest robot and jumped up to kick it through the robot’s neck. “We’re not clear! We are very not clear!” Steve cried back, jumping up off the ground and slinging his shield around to kill another robot. Loki leapt into the air and brought down his seidr swords on a few robots, tearing them to pieces.

“Alright, comin’ to you,” Clint replied. A moment later, he sent to Loki, If you see Pietro, push him off the edge.

Loki held in his smile and looked up as a robot flew over head, carrying a person with a red cape down to crash into a building. Seeing that, Loki did not bother to hold in his smile, and he grinned as he helped Steve kill the rest of the robots, darting around and leaping into the sky to cut robot’s heads from their shoulders and tear their arms off and kick them over the edge as the city rose ever higher.

Natasha joined them, throwing her batons and damn near kicking off a few heads. Loki rose up ever higher, the city rising beneath him, and a few robots took off after him, swiftly meeting their ends at his hands. He watched as Clint joined the twins in helping people to as much safety as they could find. In the distance, he could see something rising up through the clouds.

There is a ship coming.

Everyone regrouped beneath him, gathering their breath and their strength. “The next waves gonna hit any minute. What have you got, Stark?” Steve asked through the comms.

Stark’s voice crackled, “Well, nothing great. Maybe a way to blow up the city. That’ll keep it from impacting the surface if you guys can get clear.”

He could hear Steve’s frustration. “I asked for a solution, not an escape plan.”

“The impact radius is getting bigger every second. We’re going to have to make a choice.”

Loki touched back down and stepped onto the roof of a car, crushing it beneath his feet. He jumped down, helped a few civilians to safety, and listened as Natasha told Steve, “Cap, these people are going nowhere. If Stark finds a way to blow this rock.”

Boring. He needed to get somewhere where he could focus. Loki paused as Steve replied, “Not ‘til everyone’s safe.”

He was certain the look on Natasha’s face mirrored his own. “Everyone up here versus everyone down there? There’s no math here.”

“I’m not leaving this rock with one civilian on it.”

Again, Loki was often rather cavalier with his own life, given that he’d died enough times that it was essentially meaningless to him, but at least he tried to not actively want to die. His Captain had a core of responsibility towards other humans that Loki, quite honestly, did not understand. It seemed to run deeper than that, however. They needed to discuss this, he and Steve. Once everyone was safe, of course.

Natasha turned to Steve and nodded. “I didn’t say we should leave.” Their gazes met. “There’s worse ways to go. Where else am I going to get a view like this?”

Of course, Fury took that opportunity to make a dramatic entrance, and Loki left them to it. He made sure there weren’t any civilians in any of the crumbling houses and apartments and stepped through the air, sitting on top of one the intact buildings. He crossed his legs and watched as the lifeboats left the Helicarrier, the Avengers helping civilians towards them.

He closed his eyes. Now that they could be assured of the safety of the civilians, surely Stark and Thor were going to destroy the city. Which meant he needed to create his shield as quickly as possible.

He still had the power he’d funneled from the leylines, and he was able to step into it, feel the fire from it dance over his arms, and he stepped into it.

It was warm. His seidr was an ocean constantly pulling at him, an abyss he had to be wary of, a cold ocean at his heels. He wondered if Wanda’s seidr was similar to the seidr he had pulled from the leylines, if it was comforting in a way his own seidr could never be.

It was strange, to be comforted by flame. It had long been such a source of agony for him, even before the epiphany that he was Jotun, but now it flickered over his skin and through his veins and it was not painful.

Loki did not know how long he sat on the roof, but it was long enough that when he opened his eyes, the city was silent.

He pushed to his feet and looked around. The last of the lifeboats was being filled with the last of the civilians.

He nodded to himself, and leapt into the sky, closing his eyes as he held his hands out to his sides.

In one great motion, Loki flicked his fingers and a sphere exploded out from beneath him, expanding ever further and further, and beneath him, he heard it.

The cry of a seidrkonr.

The witch.

Even Loki could not turn away from such a cry.

Once the shield was in place, it was easy enough to maintain, especially with the fire flowing through him. So he clenched his fist and there it stayed, and he was able to jump down from the building and run to where he could see and feel the witch, and Loki stepped into the train as she clenched her fists and ripped Ultron’s heart out.

“Commendable,” he said, and she turned on him. “Oh, none of that.” He flicked his hand at her and she disappeared.

Beneath him, the city dropped.

It felt like his stomach was attempting to come out of his mouth. Hopefully, Stark was working on his plan to explode the spire before it could hit Midgard. Loki tapped his finger against his lips as he thought. Well, there wasn’t much he could do besides maintain the shield. He exited the train and jogged over to the edge of the city, glancing down to see the clouds rapidly parting way beneath it. He could slow it down a bit, give Stark some time.

Fire licked at his chest as he created a ward beneath the city to slow its descent.

There was a strange noise in his ear. Loki frowned and shook his head as the noise turned into static and then turned into Steve’s voice, and then a cacophony of noise exploded inside his own mind.

We can all see the shield, how much longer can you m—

“Loki! Report! Are you safe?”

—aintain it? Stark and Thor are going to explode the—

The world turned to dust around him.

A great green sphere contained it.

In the middle of the crater left by Sokovia, Loki stumbled, and fell to his knees.

Before him, Thor landed.

Loki tipped his head back and laughed.

“A wise plan,” he rasped, looking down at his shaking hands. “You must be truly desperate.”

Thor frowned at him, and then held his hand out to touch Loki’s head. He scrambled back into the dirt, panting as his body refused to move further away, every bone feeling like it was broken, every muscle straining beyond pain. “Come home to me, Loki,” he said, his voice quiet. “You will come to Asgard.”

Loki looked up and smiled again, blood on his teeth. “Oh, brother,” he sighed, his voice rattling. “I would rather die.”

Chapter Text

He did not die, but he did return to Asgard.

Thor grabbed him around the neck and called for Heimdall.

Loki did not even put up a fight.

He let Thor drag him to the palace and to the healers. He was shackled to the bed and his hands cuffed together. At least he was given clean linens and the bed was comfortable and the food was good.

You gonna make me come there to get you?

Oh, give me time.

Thor left him alone for an entire day as Loki healed from nearly pulling his own seidr out of himself. He took various potions and ate well, waking up in a panic to find that he had dozed off. He woke again to Thor sitting at his bedside, one of Loki’s hands clasped in both of his own. He swallowed down the nausea and the vomit that rose in his throat from feeling Thor’s skin against his own, and he pulled his hand back, obviously wiping it on the sheets before curling back under the covers.

“What are you going to do to me?” he asked, and took the glass of water Thor handed him.

Thor sighed, making himself seem rather put-upon. “If you plead guilty to treason and an attempt on the life of the King, I will give you leniency. You will be bound to me, of course.” Oh, of course. “If you plead not guilty, you will be taken to trial.”

He pretended to think about it. He had no reason to believe Thor would actually let him go through the entire process of a trial before the council. He also had no reason to believe that Thor would even let him plead anything. It would be easy to escape, of course, but he had something he wanted to do first.

“I wish to see Mother,” he said, finishing the water and handing it back to Thor.

Thor frowned at him, but even Thor couldn’t come up with a possible scheme for Loki wanting to see his comatose mother. “If I allow you to see her,” he started. Loki’s lips twisted.

“I will plead guilty,” he promised. Thor searched his face for a long minute and then nodded.

“In the morning,” Thor said, and he pushed to his feet, brushing his hand over Loki’s hair before leaving the room.

Loki curled into a ball under the covers.

Everyone is worried about you.

I must speak to my mother.

She’s in a coma.

Loki rolled his eyes. You believe the coincidence of Odin dying and Frigga falling into a coma, all while I am off Realm? No, I believe it a ruse. If it is not, I will merely wake her up.

Does Thor think you’re up to something?

He knows I’m always up to something. He doesn’t believe I would come back after running from him for nearly a year. He may be a dullard, but he is not stupid. He may want me to come crawling back to him, but he knows better. He will have a plan of his own, but all I need is a moment alone with Frigga.

Think he’ll give it?

Being doubted bores me.

Does anything not bore you?

He thought about that for a moment. Few things. How did the rescue go?

Clint sent him a wave of exhaustion and frustration. Pietro died.

I offer apologies.

I’d say thanks but we both know you don’t mean it and I wouldn’t mean it either. Banner bolted. Stark is building some new facility for the Avengers. Oh, I retired. Officially. Stark says he’s retired too, but I don’t believe him.

Interesting. Hopefully he stays that way. What do you intend to do with your retirement, if I may ask?

Well, my goal was to try to spend time with my wife and kids, but it seems like you’re doing your damnedest to stop me from doing that. He sent Loki a memory of his dinner with his family the night before, the four of them around the table, Laura’s hand in Clint’s.

How very domestic.

Clint sighed. You really need a full-time bodyguard. Hard to do that and do the whole Avenging thing.

The bed dipped next to him and Loki angrily poked his head out from under the covers. Thor slid his hand under the covers and tugged at Loki until he sat up, pulling him against Thor’s side and Thor laid a dinner tray over their laps.

“You want to kneel?” Thor asked, not looking at him.

He felt faint with disgust. He shook his head and let Thor wrap his arm around him and hold him close. It took everything in Loki’s power not to summon a dagger and stab Thor through the heart.

He waved Thor’s hand away when he tried to feed him, and Thor merely nodded, handing Loki the bit of bread. He forced himself to eat, let Thor watch him as he picked off the edges and added bits of meat and chewed slowly and thoughtfully.

Technically, you’re in danger.

He won’t hurt me. Not yet. Not while I can still run.

But once Thor truly had him back in his grasp...Loki shuddered at the thought.

A heavy hand settled on the back of his neck. For the first time in Loki’s remembrance, his seidr did not settle at Thor’s touch, but he forced himself to lean into the grasp anyway. He heard Thor’s quiet sigh and let his brother pull him closer. Loki settled against Thor’s chest and closed his eyes as fingers passed through his hair, and then, slowly, slid down his back to settle at his waist, fingertips sliding under the band of his pants, resting upon the soft skin of his belly.

They sat in silence for a long time, Thor’s heart hammering in his chest. Every minute yawned out in front of Loki like an eternity. He would take his own life before this would be his future.

Finally, after eons, blessed peace. Someone tapped on the door and called for Thor. He pressed a dry kiss to Loki’s cheek and slipped out of the bed, closing the door behind him as he left.

Loki slid out of bed and went over to the wash basin, pulling his linens off and scrubbing the feel of Thor from his skin.

Oh, he knew what was coming next. This was only the beginning, if Loki did not stop it now. He knew what Thor wanted from him, what the bonding between them would entail, how he would be dragged through Asgard on his hands and knees, in chains for the rest of his life. He had only the one chance. If not, if he failed, he knew what Thor would do to him.

His hands shook, just for a moment. His wrists ached.

Oh, Thor would not win. He would not be taken, not again. Loki looked up into the small mirror above the wash basin. He could feel his seidr answering his call.

He would rather die than be subjected to Thor. But if he did die, he would not die afraid.

Frigga was a few rooms over, cocooned in a golden wrap of seidr, floating a few inches above her bed. Loki was allowed in, and he shut the door behind him. He looked at his mother, resting peacefully.

He opened a pocket dimension and pulled out a small cloth bag. He pulled out one of the Norn Stones and rested it on her chest. It glowed so brightly it hurt to look at.

“Wake up,” he ordered, and her eyes flashed open.

The Norn Stone floated back into his hand and he closed his fingers around it. Frigga did not look shocked to see him. Her lips curled in a soft smile and she slowly sat up, leaning against the massive headboard. “My son,” she greeted, her voice gentle. “You have come home.”

“I was kidnapped,” he informed her, clasping his hands behind his back and digging his nails into his palms. “Thor stole me from Midgard.” He turned his head away from her and frowned. “You know, I spent my life blaming Odin for the...misfortunes I suffered. Thor and Odin, of course. But, I never considered you.”

“Loki,” she started, but he talked over her.

“I thought on it for a very long time after I found the Norn Stones near my cabin.” Her face tightened and Loki smirked. “You see, mother, I spent a year exiled from Asgard. I had been looking, ever so casually, mind you, for just how Thor could have created such a powerful spell. How indeed, could Thor find such a spell that would allow him to pull me through thousands and thousands of alternate dimensions? How could he find a spell that would allow him to kill me so many times? I realized I must have been getting close to the truth when I was exiled.”

Green eyes pinned her to the bed. “Thor always did have a tendency to panic whenever I acted out, you know. But I found the Norn Stones and I remembered: you had given them to me. Which meant you gave them to Thor. And then I continued thinking, mother, and I remembered something I believe you will find rather interesting. You see, Odin detested the seidrmadr-anchor bond between Thor and I.”

Her lips pursed and she shook her head.

“Oh, but I remembered the decades of you telling me it was my duty. Did you know that all of your weavings are written down in a book?”

With a flourish, Loki pulled a copy of that same book out of the air. Frigga’s mouth fell open. “How did you—”

“I am quite wily,” Loki informed her, cracking the book open and running his finger down the page. “I’ve been carrying this for, say, three or four hundred years. I copied your book just to see if I could. Now, here is something you might find interesting: a weaving that could be interpreted as three children of Odin rising up to defeat another. Or, it could be interpreted as three prisoners breaking out of their chains to dethrone a murderous, mad King.” He slammed the book shut and smiled at her. “Now, which do you believe I would prefer?”

“Loki, you can’t do this!”

Loki lifted the Norn Stone and smiled at her. “I never did like being told what to do.”

White light flashed from the stone and she was unconscious again, lying flat above the bed, the same peaceful look on her face.

Clint appeared in a flash of green light, suited up with a bow in his hand and a full quiver on his back. “You could’ve just vanished without talking to her,” he grumbled, and handed Loki a small stone.

He didn’t deign to give Clint an answer, merely pressing his thumb to the stone and then the two of them disappeared in a puff of smoke just as the door to Frigga’s chambers opened. They reappeared in Loki’s rooms in Clint’s house, and the god staggered with exhaustion. Clint quickly helped him to bed, obediently sliding beneath the covers when Loki’s hand wrapped around his wrist. He dropped his weapons to the floor and kicked off his boots and slid his arms around Loki’s shoulders.

“He will never let me rest,” Loki murmured into the pillow.

“Probably not,” Clint agreed, sliding his hand across Loki’s trembling shoulders. “That’s why we’ve got a plan.”

Loki turned over and nodded, propping his chin up on Clint’s chest and peering up at him. “Tomorrow, then. I must rest.” Green eyes narrowed, just for a moment. “I must thank you for coming to my rescue.”

“Sure thing, boss. You know, you really did rescue yourself. I was just the one who brought the transportation stone to you and waited patiently while you made sure your exit was as dramatic as possible and also had to just sit around while your brother practically molested you and you wouldn’t let me do anything about it. Just a regular day for ole Barton.”

Loki’s eyes fluttered shut. “A hero after my own heart,” he murmured, and a moment later, one eye slid open and he glared up at Clint. “How does my Captain fare?”

Clint shrugged one shoulder. “Last I heard, he’s staying with Wilson while Stark finishes building the New Avengers Facility, and then he’ll move in there. He’s waiting to hear from you.”

Loki thought about that for a moment and then his other eye opened. Clint could feel him struggle to sit up but he pushed Loki back down. “Another few hours won’t kill the guy. Get some sleep.”

Loki shot him another small glare before he curled up with his head on Clint’s stomach and went quickly asleep.

Clint pulled Loki’s phone out from his pocket and unlocked it, sending Steve a picture of Loki asleep.

Loki was a choice he made every day. It wasn’t easy, at times. Sometimes Clint just wanted to go back to before, when it was just him and his wife and he was working for SHIELD and there wasn’t anyone else in his head. But it was the right choice. He couldn’t take himself out of the game, not now, not even if he wanted to. He’d seen Loki across the dimensions and across yawning expanses of time and his soul had said, Yes. And it was still saying yes and it always would.

I am his.

It wasn’t always easy, but it was the right choice, and in the end, that made it easy. He knew Loki more intimately, and was known by him, than any other person or being alive had ever been known before. He had stepped into Loki’s mind and been welcomed. Even Steve didn’t get that.

He knew what Loki thought of him, how he would always think of him. He was a tool, a possession, a weapon. He’d known even before he’d admitted the truth of what he was going to get himself into. But he didn’t mind, and actually found himself enjoying it. He was treated fairly, and he was able to put his skills to use, and Loki was a decent master, even for his flaws. And, by God, Clint loved him. He loved him in a way that he thought would be dangerous or too much for anyone else, but Loki not only welcomed it, but demanded it, and wanted more.

All those lives ago, he had become Loki’s under the influence of the Mind Stone. He relived his past lives every night, and that moment was the first and only time in any of his lives he had been at peace. If he knew anything, he knew that.

It had taken this long to get back to that peace, and Clint was holding on with both hands and his teeth and he wasn’t letting go for anything. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Clint woke up to warm hands pressing him down into the bed, long fingers pressing into the knots in his muscles, seidr warming through his spine and his shoulders and down to his toes. He could feel Loki both inside and out, paging through his mind, reorganizing and shuffling things around and picking through what belonged to him.

You said I owed you a massage.

I didn’t think you’d remember, Clint admitted with a smile. He pushed back into Loki’s hands and moaned. Loki’s fingers slid up his back and pressed into his neck, holding Clint down to the bed. He didn’t fight and let Loki work him over, warm seeping through his muscles and bones and he was complete.

We have much to do. But you need to be taken care of first. Loki snorted in his mind and Clint could feel him pet down his hair. You took damage in Sokovia. I gave you a healing stone.

I gave it to a kid, Clint replied. Anyway, I got you to fix me up.

You’re lucky I care, Lok murmured, and Clint turned his head to grin at him. Loki pulled him back down and Clint could feel Loki physically moving to sit on his back. He tried to take in air but Loki was heavy, far heavier than his body could take, and he could feel the creak in his ribs and the way his body wanted to throw Loki off him and take in a full lungful of air. But he stayed quiet. Like most things, it was a test.

Loki moved when Clint didn’t react and pressed his knee to the middle of Clint’s back. Clint let himself be sucked back in, let himself go to his knees at Loki’s side in his mind, let him do whatever he wished.

He heard a frustrated noise from behind him and Loki disappeared. Clint stepped out of the sweet honey of having Loki in his mind and turned over onto his back, sitting up and stretching, glancing around the room to see Loki frustratingly pacing on the far side of the room. “If you need me to do something,” Clint started, but Loki dismissively waved his hand at him.

“You are too accepting,” Loki groused. “You do not fight back.”

“That’s kind of my job, isn’t it?” Clint replied, sliding out of bed and pulling on the shirt and pants that Loki threw at him. “Let you do whatever you want, keep you alive?” He looked down at his clothes and shrugged. He’d wear a green shirt and purple pants, it didn’t matter. “I’ll admit to seeing a bit of a pattern with you, sir. I’m happy to help, you know that, but you have to tell me what you want me to do. If someone hurts you and you need to hurt me, just tell me. Or tell me that if you act a certain way, I should fight back, because we both know I’m really not partial to fighting you.” They both knew that Clint could just see in Loki’s mind what he wanted, but Clint wanted to be told. Loki needed to say it, have the strength to say out loud what he needed from another person.

Loki slowly came to a stop and just looked at him. Clint merely let him. They both knew he didn’t have anything to prove, that he would let Loki crush him to pieces if he wanted. Clint just raised an eyebrow at him when Loki didn’t say anything.

Finally, after a few uncomfortable minutes, Loki nodded and stepped closer, slipping his hands over Clint’s shoulders and then cradling his neck. “It is...instinctual, at this point, to act out. Thor...he terrifies me. You know this. I...suppose I take that fear out on you.”

Clint leaned into his touch. “You can do whatever you want to me, sir. Just tell me.”

“Everyone on this realm expects me to talk,” he complained, and Clint let himself be tipped forward and press his face to Loki’s chest. Long nails dug into his neck and he let his eyes fall shut as endorphins flooded his system. Loki’s thumbs dug into the thin skin under his chin and he swallowed as nails pierced his skin, feeling the blood seep down his skin and stain Loki’s hands. “I have you for the express reason of not talking.”

“I’m good to practice on,” Clint whispered, head lolling back as Loki pulled his shirt off and dragged his nails down Clint’s back, thin red lines rising in their wake, blood beading up. He could feel Loki’s frustration ebbing away and his satisfaction at Clint’s obedience rearing its head.

“Everyone must be good for something,” Loki replied dismissively, and he cut into Clint’s skin one last time before stuffing his shirt back into Clint’s hands and stepping away.

It was the same kind of swimming through warm honey that he had to deal with when Loki was in his mind, and it took him a bit to surface, pushing up through the heat and the waves to see Loki tapping away on his phone. His shoulders hurt, and he stretched before tugging his shirt back on, feeling the fabric slide against the small cuts on his back. Loki waved him closer, and he slid a hand over the back of Clint’s neck as he led him to the couch. They sat next to each other and Loki handed him his phone, pulling a massive book out of one of his dimensions. Clint recognized it as the book he’d shown Frigga the day before.

He looked down at the phone. Loki was texting Barnes, who had been sending him shaky pictures and painfully long descriptions of what he’d seen that day. Why is he sending you this?

Loki didn’t look up from the book. Why not? Anyway, I asked him for updates. I take it he assumed I required physical proof of his location.

Clint leaned against Loki’s side and tapped through the pictures. You gonna call Steve anytime today? Noticed you’re really focusing on not thinking about him. He shifted as his shirt caught on one of the cuts on his back and Loki turned his head to glance over him. Loki smirked at him and reached one of his hands over to reopen one of the cuts on the back of Clint’s neck.

Someone tapped on the door and the two of them froze, almost guiltily. One of the doors creaked open and Laura stepped in, glaring at them. Clint got up and gave her a sheepish smile and a shrug and a kiss on the cheek. He glanced at Loki, who waved him away, and followed her into the kitchen to make breakfast for her and the kids. He pocketed Loki’s phone and thought about what he should text Steve and he started cracking eggs into a bowl.

Tell him I will return to him within the week, Loki finally told him. You and I have a scheme to begin. He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. I also must...recover. Thor is...a great horror upon my life.

Sure, boss. Clint dipped a few slices of bread into the eggs and began frying them, winking at Lila when she asked for hers in a dinosaur shapes. Loki deigned to come out from his rooms and he joined Clint at the stove, flicking his fingers and all the toast turned into animal shapes, much to the kids’ delight. He began the coffee maker and after glancing over Laura’s grumpy demeanor, pulled a long cylindrical container out of a pocket dimension and twirled it around in his hand before making a big show of pouring it into a mug and handing it to her with a flourish. It was a strange golden drink, with various types of sparkles inside of it, and when she brought it up to her mouth to taste it, Clint could see that it had the viscosity of molasses.

Loki cocked a hip against a cabinet. “It will help,” was all he offered, and Laura turned her gaze to Clint.

“It helps with the aches and pains associated with pregnancy,” Clint offered up, and then he turned to Loki with a frown, pointing at him with the spatula. “You brewed that yourself after she went to the hospital. You like her.” Laura just rolled her eyes at them and tried to sip at the drink, but only managed to take a mouthful of it before having to set the mug down. She looked brighter and calmer after even one drink of the concoction.

Loki turned away from him. “I did no such thing,” he argued, and Lila and Cooper both started yelling at him that he loved their mom. Loki turned his nose up in the air and crossed his arms. “I merely tolerate her,” he retorted.

“It’s okay,” Laura teased, smiling as she picked up the mug again. “We can be friends, Loki.”

He turned his head away. “I may have spun up the potion when I heard you whining about your back pain,” he murmured. “I did not do it because we are friends.” Loki turned his head back to see every member of the Barton family grinning at him and he rolled his eyes and stole a piece of toast and hunkered down at the far side of the kitchen table.

Lila sidled up next to him and leaned against Loki’s side. She took the piece of toast Loki handed her and ate it the same way he did—tearing the edges into small bits and generally taking three times as long to digest it as reasonably expected. Everyone made small talk about school and Clint leaving his job and what he wanted to around the house next and what they were all going to do that day and when Auntie Nat was coming over again and if the nursery was ready for the baby and Loki just reveled in it. They had accepted him so easily and so quickly. He had never before experienced family like this.

Clint palmed the back of his neck and slid a plate down the table to Lila, who dug her elbow into Loki’s side and asked him, with a big toothy smile, to pass the syrup. Loki raised an eyebrow at her and floated the container over to her. “Can you teach that to me?” Lila asked, watching in amazement as her French toast was covered in syrup. “Teach me magic tricks?”

Loki awkwardly patted the top of her head and glanced down the table to see Clint’s commiserating look. “Sadly, child, no, I cannot. Humans have no innate seidr—magic, I mean, which means you cannot wield it. But let me think about it, perhaps something similar to a wand…” Lila grinned up at him and then nestled back into Loki’s side as she ate.

Across the table, Cooper swallowed down half his orange juice and then leaned on the table, saying he wanted a wand too. Loki nodded and turned his head slowly to look at Clint, who finished choking down his own food and then excused the two of them.

He tousled Cooper’s hair, gave Laura a kiss, and followed Loki back to his rooms. Right before the doors closed behind them, Loki sent a snake of seidr to clean up the kitchen, much to Lila’s excitement.

“You’re safe?” Steve asked, cradling the phone between his shoulder and his ear. Loki’s sigh crackled through. “What did he do to you?”

“Less than he could have,” Loki said finally. “He wished to harm me, but could not until I was bound to him again, not without questions he does not wish to answer. I left before he could cause me any pain.”

“Answer the question, Loki.”

It took Loki nearly a minute to gather the courage. “He touched me,” Loki finally breathed. “He held me close and pressed his hand to my skin until he was all that I could feel, until there was nothing other than him.”

The glass in Steve’s hand shattered and he swore under his breath, shaking glass shards out of his palm.

“Steve?” Loki asked, sitting up.

“It’s nothing,” Steve muttered. “Just dropped a glass.” He shook his head at himself. “I’m glad you’re okay, Loki. I...I know Thor is more powerful than any of us, that you're scared of him, but I still wish I could’ve kept you safe. Will he come for you again?”

Loki looked out the front window at the storm raging over head. “He cannot get me here. The wards keep me safe. But I have...we have much to do.”

“Loki, stay safe. For me.”

Loki inclined his head, bit at his lips. “Steve…” he tried, but the words died in his throat.

“Yeah, I know. Me too.”

Chapter Text

One month upon the Isle of Silence was often likened to a year, and one year an eon. Besides the lack of sound and the exile, it was considered such a place of punishment because it gave a god the feeling of being mortal. Every moment stretched out for centuries, yet there was no definitive end. It would drive a lesser Aesir mad.

Balder the Exiled—he who was once Balder the Brave, the Bearded, the Beautiful, the Future King—heard his first sound in two years. He lifted his head from his hands, where he could not even hear or feel the touch of his own skin against skin, and turned to see a human man. A Midgardian. He was plain looking, with a few scratches on his arms and neck, dressed in black leather, with a strange insignia of an A over his left breast. An Aesir bow and quiver was across his back, a pack slung over his shoulder.

“Hello,” Balder said. His own voice sounded strange, after so long of nothing. Surely that was not his voice? He blinked, and then blinked again. He could hear it. He pushed to his feet and towered over the Midgardian, who just smiled up at him.

“I’m Clint,” the human said, and Balder shook his head at the sound of another’s voice. “Loki sent me.” He smiled even wider.

When Balder was young, only 150, his mother gave birth. He already had an older sister and was vastly against the idea of a younger brother, but of course, his parents overruled him. Thor was small and loud and thunderous. He will make a great King, Odin had said, and Balder had peeked in through the open door to see his entire future come down before him. When Frigga weaved a telling of the future that showed Balder taking Thor’s throne, Odin had grown dangerous and cruel. The two older Odin’s children had been sent to Frigga’s relatives in Vanaheim. Hela left, went to the stars, but Balder stayed. Perhaps his parents would let him back home? He had gone asking when he reached 500. Instead of being welcomed into his mother’s arms, Odin had permanently exiled him.

Thor had found upon Odin’s death of two siblings he did not know he had. For whatever crimes he would commit, Balder was sentenced to the Isle of Silence where Thor could keep an eye on him. He sent Hela to Helheim, perhaps a far worse fate if Thor did not know she was destined to rule it.

“You say Loki sent you?” Balder said, his voice low and slow and growling. Loki, the cause of Thor’s madness. Loki, the Prince on the run.

Clint nodded and glanced around the small isle. He kicked at some dirt and stepped closer to the lone tree, peering down at the carving left centuries ago by Loki’s ragged hands. “I’m here to give you a proposition.” He straightened up and turned on his heel to stare up at Balder. “Your rightful place is King of Asgard. Loki wants nothing to do with this Realm anymore, not after his history here.” Clint smiled. “He wants you to help him kill Thor.”

Oh, gladly. Balder would rip the thunderer’s head clean off his shoulders. But he knew better than to trust Loki, or any agent of Loki’s. Even he had heard the stories. Even he had witnessed Loki’s atrocities upon Vanaheim. He straightened up, and if he’d had his axe, he would have drawn it. “Why did Loki send his...servant to deal with me? Why not come himself?”

“He’s down in Hel, making a deal with Hela. She wants Thor, you know. He sent her there, she wants his soul. Loki is willing to make that deal to be free of Thor.”

Balder frowned, ran his fingers through his beard, did it again when he realized he could hear the brush of his hand against the coarse hair. “Why did Loki send a human?” he asked instead. Clint seemed weak, and he was very small. He barely came up to Balder’s chest. Perhaps he was of normal size for a human? Balder had seen few humans in his life.

“I’m bound to him,” Clint replied, his voice steadfast. “You called me his servant; that’s not exactly wrong. But I belong to him. So it’s my job to keep him safe, and Thor keeps trying to kill him.”

His frown merely deepened. “Thor may be mad but why would Loki wish death upon him? Thor only wishes to bring Loki home.”

Clint raised an eyebrow. “Loki broke the bonds between them, nearly a year ago, in fact. Didn’t you see it? They fell from the Bifrost.” He looked out from the Isle towards Asgard and pointed down at the rainbow bridge stretching from the Observatory to the palace. “Loki found a new anchor, and Thor can’t use that bond against him anymore. He’s tired of being Thor’s plaything, and wants nothing to do with Asgard, since the whole Realm kind of let Thor beat the crap out of him for about 1500 years.”

Balder merely shook his head and sat back down, the entire Isle rocking with his movement. “Thor says Loki is mad, that he is sick from his time upon Midgard or from his fall from the Bifrost. And what bond do you speak of? Why would Loki and Thor be bound? They be but brothers, not even of blood.”

A deep crease appeared between Clint’s eyebrows. “It was a seidrmadr-anchor bond,” he said slowly. “They bound themselves to each other when they were around 100.”

“A seidrmadr does not need an anchor,” Balder replied, his tone mirroring Clint’s slow confusion. “What manner of nonsense is this, human?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“No seidrmadr in any Realm needs to be bound, human.” He ignored Clint’s grumble of ‘My name is Clint.’ “For what reason would Loki tie himself to Thor?”

“He was told that seidrmadrs need anchors to control their seidr,” Clint replied.

Balder threw his head back and laughed. Ah, it felt good to laugh! It felt good to laugh and be merry and hear his own voice and joy on the wind. “No seidrmadr can be controlled by a bond, human! No, I have never heard of this, not in any Realm. I do not know which bond Thor and Loki tied themselves with, but it could not have been an anchor bond, for there is no such thing.”

“So you’re saying that Thor made up some...other bond to tie Loki to himself?”

He shrugged one shoulder. “That knowledge is beyond me. If I was not there to witness the bonding, I could not know. But my knowledge of seidr is vast, little Clint, and there is no such binding as a seidrmadr-anchor bond.”

Clint just shook his head. “I’ll deal with that later. So, you still willing to help me kill Thor?”

He cracked his knuckles and nodded. “Oh, I have been ready for many centuries, little human. I owe my exile to that boy, and I will not see such a thief upon my throne any longer! Even if I must work with the Lie-smith in order to achieve such a goal. Now, what would you have me do next?”

Clint set down his pack and knelt to dig through it. He pulled out a small cloth bag and tugged at the drawstring until it opened. “He enchanted a few wardstones for you, and also found your axe.” Balder yanked the bag out of his grasp and dug around in it, pulling an axe out and holding it up to peer at it. It was unfamiliar to him, but he could feel how frightfully powerful it was, the strength it would give him. He nodded and hung it off his belt. “It isn’t time yet,” Clint informed him, pushing back to his feet and slinging his pack over his shoulder. “He’ll come for you when it is. One of those stones is spelled to give you sound, but only for 100 hours. I was told to tell you to use it wisely.” He glanced around and shrugged. “Good luck.”

He disappeared with a small, dull flash of green light.

He took the sound with him and Balder dropped the axe, clapping his hands to his ears. The silence was deafening. He immediately dug through the cloth bag and felt for the silence-breaker with his fingers, finding it quickly and pulling it out, holding it up to the light. He could not use it all at once, for he did not know when he would be summoned. He could only imagine the unending loss of sound would be worse than only a few minutes of hearing his own heart beat and his voice and the sound of his hair every day.

He dropped the silence-breaker back into the bag and leaned back against the tree, his fingers going to the place where Loki had, once upon a time, carved the rune of his name with his nails during one of his own various imprisonments here. Perhaps he had more evidence for Thor’s mistreatment of the lad than he’d given the human. After all, he’d been part of the Vanir council that had been convinced by Thor to entomb Loki in a tree for nearly a decade. No man with their brother’s best intentions at heart would wish for such a thing. Now, he merely wished he had been more vocal with his disgust at Thor’s wish. He had believed the thunderer was reporting back to Odin, but surely it was all Thor’s idea. Surely only Thor would treat Loki as such.

Balder had grown cold with his exile. He had done his best to unlearn Odin’s teachings, unlearn his own cold nature, but even he had not done as such cruelty as Thor. He had heard the rumors, after all, and heard from Thor’s own mouth of Loki’s apparent cruelty towards him.

He would stand with the Trickster, and he would fight. Thor would come to regret his actions against the firstborn son of Odin. With any luck, they would kill the monster, and they would all be free.

Clint landed back in Loki’s rooms at his house, pulling out his phone and calling Steve. “Hey, Cap,” he greeted. “How quick you think you can get to my place?”

“A few hours, probably. I’ll head out now. Why?”

Clint cleared his throat and shed his weapons onto the coffee table, tugging off his boots and glancing around the room. “Just got some news that Loki is going to...well, he won’t be happy. He’ll get calmer if you’re here.”

“What news?”

He thought about that for a moment. “How about I just tell you when you’re here?” He could feel Loki’s own emotions start to overwhelm his own and he squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath. “Just get here. Soon.”

He hung up and dropped onto the couch, pressing his forehead into his hands.

It only took a few minutes for Loki to appear. Clint’s shoulders stiffened and he slowly looked up to see Loki standing perfectly still in front of him, eyes bright and murderous. He dove into Clint’s mind like a knife, all fury and agony and he spread Clint open like a butterfly on a pinboard and clawed his way in and dug into him with his claws and his hate and his fury.

Loki went over every single second of Clint’s interaction with Balder. He reviewed every moment dozens of times and when he was finally done and pulled out of Clint’s mind, Clint sagged back into the couch and couldn’t stop his entire body from trembling. Loki gave him a furious, dismissive look and paced in front of the fireplace as he thought.

Balder believes I was tricked. How can he claim there to be no such thing as a seidrmadr-anchor bond when I have felt it? I have seen other seidrmadrs with their anchors and known their bond to be true and nothing of a farce. When Clint wasn’t even able to reply, Loki snarled at him and threw a healing stone at his chest. The shakes abated but it still took a few moments for his mind to work properly.

The Norn Stones? Could Frigga have used them to change the laws of seidr?

Loki turned to him and unhinged his jaw and roared.

They were lucky that Loki had warded his rooms so effectively, in case of a situation such as this one. Even still, Clint felt the house tremble. He didn’t bother hiding his own fear, but he pushed past it and met Loki’s poisonous gaze.

Is it possible?

Loki turned away from him. Of course it’s possible. I merely cannot see the reason for it.

Clint thought about that for a moment. I think what you’re doing is looking at it in terms of you. She did all this to protect Thor, right? Have Hela and Balder sent out of Asgard, bind you to him, etcetera. So you’re a threat, right? They were so intimidated by you that they had to shackle you to Thor to keep you in line. So think about it that she’s trying to protect Thor.

Loki turned to him and stepped closer, crowding Clint against the couch. She harmed three of her children to protect the one. It is madness.

Sure it is. Where the hell you think Thor got it from?

Loki dropped to the couch next to him and put his head in his hands. Why Thor? Of all her children, she chose him?

Give me the book. I’ll read through it while you angst.

Loki glowered at him but made a motion with his fingers and the book dropped into Clint’s lap. He leaned against the back of the couch and paged through it, running his fingers over the heavy pages and the elegant writing and kept an eye on Loki as he restlessly moved around the room. They were both just waiting, stuck in time, holding out for whatever was coming.

The tension in Clint’s shoulders bled out when they heard the pass of the Quinjet over head. Loki’s head turned and he shot Clint a filthy look, and the two of them stayed in place as they heard Steve greet Laura and the kids and then excuse himself to Loki’s rooms. He tapped on the door and neither of them called him in, so Steve just pulled one of the doors open, stepping inside and looking slowly between them.

“Captain,” Loki greeted stiffly, hands clasped behind his back as he stood next to the fireplace, chin lifted high. Clint rolled his eyes and waved Steve over to the couch. Steve complied, pulling the door shut behind himself, and he dropped to the couch next to Clint, who went back to looking through the weavings book, studiously ignoring the awkward looks between Loki and Steve.

“Thanks for coming, Cap,” Clint said quietly, rereading one of the pages. “We just learned that even more of Loki’s life has been a big old lie and he’s about thirty seconds from spontaneous combustion, so I figured that someone who doesn’t have the same memories all spinning around in their head could help out.”

Loki took a step closer and then made a pained, high-pitched sound in the back of his throat, turning away and glaring into the fire. Over-dramatic son of a bitch. Steve looked faintly confused, but he was always up to help, so he nodded and leaned back against the couch and cleared his throat. “Loki,” he ordered, his voice gentle, “Come over here.”

Loki took a step closer and then stopped, green eyes flicking between them and then landing on Clint, who blinked a few times and then looked up at him.

He’s not doing it just because of the bond, Clint told him. Even if it does turn out to be fake, Cap’s still going to love you.

We began our...relationship because I needed an anchor, Loki retorted. He will surely leave. He will want nothing to do with me.

He wants to marry you. Bond or not. Anyone who looks at you two can see that he thinks the absolute world of you.

Steve let out a small sigh and after a moment, he pushed to his feet and stepped around the coffee table and across the rest of the living room and stopped a couple feet away from Loki, holding his hand out to him. Loki looked down at Steve’s palm and his fingers and a small, quiet sound escaped his mouth. He pressed his fingers to his lips, as if ashamed of himself.

“Whatever is going on,” Steve soothed, “I can fix it. I can help.”

You wanted him on your side, right? Well, you got him.

Long fingers pressed into Steve’s palm and Steve gently, carefully, pulled Loki close, winding his arm around Loki’s waist and slotting the two of them together, pressing his mouth to the side of Loki’s face and holding on as tight as he was able. Loki shuddered and his knees went weak and Steve held him tight. “I’m sorry he got you,” Steve murmured into Loki’s ear. “I’m sorry I didn’t keep you safe.”

Loki shuddered again, twisting his fingers into Steve’s shirt and squeezing his eyes shut. “He is going to kill me,” he breathed. Steve’s muscles tightened. “We have...discovered more untruths. He will tear me in two.”

Steve pulled back just enough to lead Loki to the couch. Loki wavered for a moment before crashing to his knees in between Steve’s thighs, pressing his face to Steve’s stomach. Strong fingers pressed into his hair and down his neck and Loki let out a shivering, deep sigh, tension seeping out of his shoulders.

Clint continued reading.

“I spoke to Hela,” Loki said, pulling back a few inches to nestle his cheek against Steve’s thigh, a green sparkle dancing over his leathers and changing them into black and green linens.

“Hela...your sister? Didn’t you tell me Thor imprisoned her?”

I told you that,” Clint offered up, turning the page and winking at Loki when he tilted his head to glare at him.

Steve tugged on Loki’s hair and green eyes flicked back to him. “Start from the beginning.”

Loki nodded and took a few moments to think. He rested his hands on Steve’s thighs and then slowly pushed one hand under Steve’s shirt, splaying his fingers over Steve’s stomach. He sat back on his heels and rested his chin on Steve’s knee closest to Clint, who reached over and patted Loki’s head like he was a dog. Loki pinched him and then Steve cleared his throat.

“Ah,” Loki started, and then he frowned, gathering his thoughts. “Hela is the eldest. She is approximately five hundred years older than Thor and I. Balder is the next, and he is destined to rule Asgard.”

“Why not Hela?” Steve asked.

“I am unsure,” Loki admitted. “Perhaps she abdicated, perhaps she was passed over. Perhaps her destiny made her unsuitable. However, Balder is meant to be the Allfather, and Hela is meant to rule Helheim. Thor was also destined to rule Asgard, but Frigga foretold that his siblings would take his throne from him.” That was where Loki paused and seemed unable to continue.

“Frigga found the Norn Stones, items of great power that can essentially grant any wish,” Clint picked up, not looking up from the book. “We think she foretold Thor’s death and spent her entire life working to keep him alive. She and Odin exiled their own kids.”

“For Thor? For what end?”

Loki let out a sob and Steve shushed him, wiping away his tears with his fingers, gentle on Loki’s skin. “He is the thunderer,” Loki murmured, pressing his face into Steve’s palm. “He controls the storms and the skies and the earth. You have no...idea, no concept of how frightfully powerful he is. Frigga knew. She wove it.” Clint helpfully lifted the book in his lap. “She saw. She knew that given a chance, Thor could become one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy. So she changed everything.”

Steve looked slowly between them and gently pulled Loki off his knees and onto the couch next to him, both of Loki’s hands in both of Steve’s. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” Steve asked quietly.

Loki pressed his chin to his chest and nodded. “We believe she used the Norn Stones to force bonds between Thor and myself,” he whispered. “She tied our souls together.”

Steve nodded. “You broke them, though. You’re stronger than she is.”

Both Loki and Clint gave him a shocked look. “That’s what you took from that?” Clint questioned.

“Something I missed?”

“The seidrmadr-anchor bond,” Loki breathed, and he tried to tear himself away from Steve, who refused to let him go. “Everything is fake. She, somehow...managed to change the very laws of seidr. She tied me to him and now I cannot be untied.”

Steve looked between them. “You sure about that? From what I can tell, you’ve been doing pretty alright since you tore off. No talks of an abyss, no trying to tear buildings down, none of that.”

Loki was able to school the surprised look off his face after a second. “You believe I am...whole? Even without the bond?”

Steve clasped his hand over Loki’s neck and Loki leaned into it. “If she took something from you, and you got it back when you broke the bonds, then you were whole regardless.” He turned his head to look at Clint and frowned at him. “What are you two trying to tell me?”

“He thinks your entire relationship is a sham and you’re going to leave him,” Clint offered up helpfully. Steve raised both his eyebrows and looked back at Loki, who turned stiffly away from him and pointedly refused to look at him.

“Alright, before I do that, you gonna tell me why?” Steve questioned, rubbing his thumb over the back of Loki’s hand.

“You are only affectionate towards me because of the seidrmadr-anchor bond,” Loki informed him, his voice tight. “My seidr already began the process of tying us together. I will break it, of course, to not bind myself to you against your wishes.”

“You really think that, huh,” Steve muttered.

“Of course,” Loki hissed, pulling his hands out of Steve’s grasp and shoving to his feet, pacing haphazardly around the room. “We began this...farce in order to stave off questions, and continued it because of my need for an anchor. Now that you see you are not required to hold me down, you will leave. You will go back to him.”

“Bucky?” Steve asked. “You think I’ve just been dragging you along, hoping Buck is going to come back to me? That I’ll just drop you the second he wants me again?”

“Of course!” Loki cried, turning on him and throwing his hands up in the air. “He has always been first in your heart! Now that you have no duty tying yourself to me, of course you will leave. I can give you his location, if you wish. But—”

“Alright, I get it,” Steve interrupted, and he turned away from Loki to look at Clint, who was studiously ignoring them and looking intently at the same page of the weaving book. “This all true?”

“He sure thinks it is,” Clint replied. “I don’t believe it, but he’s been trying to convince himself it’s true for about a day now.”

Steve nodded and looked back at Loki. “Alright,” he said, patting his thighs and standing up. Loki reached out towards him and then recoiled back, turning his head away. “Barton, give us a minute.”

Clint looked relieved for a moment and then he looked at Loki, who gave him a small nod, so he shrugged and slid the weaving book onto the coffee table and he left, closing the doors behind him.

“I love Bucky,” Steve said into the quiet between them. “I always have. Even when I had nothing, I had Bucky.” Loki nodded and curled over himself, pressing his hands to the pain in his chest. Steve cocked his hip against the back of the couch and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m in love with you. Not Buck. Not anyone else. When I think about who I want to spend the rest of my life with, for however many years or decades or centuries that is, it’s you I want.”

Loki looked up at him.

“I love you, Loki,” Steve said, his voice raw. He held his hands out for Loki, who just looked at him, disbelief etched on every line of his face. “I would marry you today, tomorrow, whenever. Anchor bond or not. You told me once that you would stay with me for as long as I would have you, even though you thought you’d always be second in my heart. I...regret every day that I didn’t tell you how wrong you were, Loki. The man that went into the ice loved Bucky with all his heart. The man that came out doesn’t. He loves you more.”

Very carefully, Loki stepped closer, caught Steve’s hand in his own, holding the other up to his face. “I still do not yet know the full reaches of their machinations,” Loki murmured, trying his best to be courageous when everything in him was telling him to run. “But I love you as well. Dearly and with all of my heart.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Steve promised, and he let Loki press up into him and slot their mouths together, long arms twisting around his waist and holding him close and Steve tried to pour his heart into Loki’s mouth, make him believe that he was never going to leave him.

Loki leaned back and fluttered his fingers over Steve’s throat, a small smile creasing his lips. “Perhaps, if you are my gift at the end of all this, it may have been worth it.”

“He’s not going to get away with it any longer,” Steve swore. “Whatever it takes.”

Loki looked down at him and nodded. “Whatever it takes.” Then, his gaze slipped down to Steve’s mouth and down his neck and to the blue t-shirt he was wearing. “I see my Captain no longer wears his uniform,” he murmured. “Perhaps he forgot my promise.”

Steve shivered. With a grin, he pulled up his pocket dimension and reached inside, bringing out the uniform he’d been wearing in Sokovia, along with his shield, which he leaned against the back of the couch. He sent the dimension away and Loki’s face curled in a dark smile, stealing the uniform from Steve’s hands and spinning away from him, holding it up and looking over it. He hadn’t cleaned it or gotten any of the tears repaired.

“Never forgot,” Steve assured him, a smile of his own crossing his face. “Now, how do you want me?”

Loki smiled and with a flick of his fingers, Steve’s clothes vanished and he was dressed in the uniform. He looked down and flexed his fingers and lifted his shield onto his back and Loki smirked at him. Green seidr flickered over him and suddenly, Loki was dressed in his leathers, all green and gleaming gold and black leather, his cape flowing out behind him, his horned helm bright upon his brow. Steve’s shoulders stiffened and his feet moved further apart and he reached out, taking Loki’s horns in his hands as he went to his knees before him.

Loki looked up and smiled, showing all his teeth. “I’m going to fuck the shine right out of you, my Captain,” he promised, and dug his nails into Steve’s uniform pants and licked his lips.

“Get to work,” Steve ordered, and held Loki’s head in place as he tore through Steve’s pants and eagerly complied.

Steve was dozing on the bed, still in his shredded uniform, when Clint came back in, holding a tray full of dinner for the three of them. Loki was perched on the couch, looking entirely too satisfied with himself as he used his seidr to paint his nails purple. He was wearing a black v-neck sweater that showed off the hickies on his neck and chest, and tight black leggings with green stripes up the sides. He waved Clint to the couch next to him and Clint rolled his eyes, setting the tray on the coffee table and sitting down.

“How long is he gonna be out of commission?” Clint asked, picking up a bowl and waving it in Loki’s direction, who made a disgusted face and turned his head away. “Come on, boss, you gotta eat. You even like mac’n’cheese.”

“Mac’n’cheese,” Loki repeated mockingly under his breath, but he took the bowl, floating it between them. His seidr rippled over the bowl and fed him a few bites. Then, Loki’s mouth curved in a satisfied smile again as he looked at Steve, who really did look like he’d been absolutely massacred. “Oh, he’s going to need to rest for a good while after I showed my...appreciation.”

Clint flipped through the memories and shook his head. “For two old fucks, you two really just go to town on each other, huh. I’m surprised he’s still alive after that.”

Loki preened. “I am very good,” he informed Clint, who just rolled his eyes and picked up his own bowl. “I always leave my partners satisfied.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” Clint groused.

“My Captain also has great stamina, of course,” Loki pointed out. “I would have surely broken a regular Midgardian in two. But he is very flexible and so very receptive,” he purred, and then he reached out to lift a spoonful of noodles from the bowl. “This is better than the boxed food your wife usually makes.”

“Yeah,” Clint grumped. “I hand-made it. As a distraction. Because you were fucking Captain America and I just had to live with that.”

“I had to show my regard for his loyalty,” Loki noted, taking another bite of mac’n’cheese and humming in appreciation. “Perhaps you could have done the same to your wife.”

“They went into town when Steve showed up. He told them to. So I could’ve either jerked off or I could’ve made some food. I chose the food because I really don’t enjoy the thought of masturbating to you or Cap. It’s like...thinking about your uncle or something. Your ugly uncle.”

“Are you calling me or Steve ugly?” Loki questioned, holding his hand up to the light and examining the drying paint on his nails.

Clint actually thought about it. “Well, I can’t really call Steve ugly, can I? We’d both know I was lying, and you’d get pissed at me. So you’re the ugly one. Comparatively, of course.”

Loki hummed. “How rude,” he murmured, and upturned the small container of nail polish over Clint’s head. He jumped up and shouted and tried to wipe it out of his hair. Loki tipped his head back and laughed. He let Clint try to clean himself up for a few minutes and then told him to come close.

Clint grumbled and obliged, hands covered in purple polish, and he knelt before Loki, who tapped the top of his head and all the polish was gone, along with all of his hair. Clint patted his bare skull and cried out in dismay, jumping to his feet. “My hair!”

Loki smirked and finished his food. He let Clint panic about his hair for a few minutes before he got tired of it and returned it, polish-free. Clint sighed in relief and ducked into the bathroom to scrub his hands and make sure Loki had done it right.

From the bed, Steve jerked awake and groaned.

“Are you sore?” Loki called over, a smile in his voice.

“You didn’t even change me out of the uniform,” Steve grumbled, sitting up with a pained moan, frowning at the sound of water running in the bathroom. “Did Barton see me like that? Jesus, Loki, you couldn’t have covered me up?”

Loki shot him a smirk from the couch. “He already knew,” he replied dismissively, and pushed to his feet, slinking around the couch and stopping in front of Steve, sliding his hands over Steve’s shoulders. “And I...enjoyed seeing you like that. Ruined. Because of me.”

Steve brushed his fingers over the bites on Loki’s neck and he grinned to himself, shaking his head. He let Loki help him to his feet and he quickly disrobed, pulling a blanket around himself and waiting uncomfortably for Clint to leave the bathroom so he could duck in and shower.

“Hey,” Steve called after Loki as he moved back to recline dramatically on the couch, “You’re going to have to tell me who you want at the wedding.”

Loki looked horrified and from the bathroom, Clint burst out in laughter.

Chapter Text

He turned back to Steve. “You...want others there?” Loki looked stuck between horrified and disgusted. “I agreed to your custom of a wedding ring, but you wish for others to be present? At our ceremony?”

Clint was still laughing. He turned off the sink and ducked out of the bathroom, shaking the water off his hands. “Oh, don’t mind me,” he grinned. “I can’t wait to see this big culture clash.”

Steve frowned. “Culture clash? Why—oh, do you not have witnesses? Not invite your family?”

Loki still looked horrified, but the disgust had slid off his face. “I would say that we do not,” he replied stiffly. “Clint will be there, of course, but no one else will be present.”

“I’m not going to marry Barton,” Steve informed them, and Clint cracked up again, and even Loki had a small smile on his face.

“Of course not,” Loki reassured, the tension seeping out of his shoulders. “But he is mine, and when I become yours, your mind will also be tied to his. I doubt you will even notice it, but he could come to harm if not present.”

Steve just shook his head. “Fine, alright. Let me tell you this: I’m going to go take a shower. You two hash out the differences in Asgardian and Jotun and Earth weddings and I’m going to get clean.” He hiked the blanket up over his shoulders and stalked into the bathroom, slamming the door shut behind him.

“Got a bit of hitch in his step,” Clint noted, and Loki pressed a hand to his mouth to hide his laughter. The two of them smiled at each other and then Clint frowned. “Jotun?”

“Ah.” Loki turned away from him. “I know...little about their wedding ceremonies. I assume they have them; even the frost giants are not so monstrous to not love one another.” Clint shrugged. “How would we find their rituals?”

“You have a whole library,” Clint pointed out. “You don’t have a single book in there about Jotunheim?”

They both thought about it. “There may be one,” Loki replied sulkily. He moved to pull the glass marble out of his pocket and then paused, thinking of something else. He could go to his library later. “Come here.”

Clint obeyed, stepping up next to the couch and kneeling next to Loki, who gently rested his hand on Clint’s forehead. He slid down the bridge between their minds and stepped into Clint’s head, an embodiment of Clint greeting him with a grin and an outstretched hand. Loki took it and Clint led him down a well-travelled hall to the memory of his and Laura’s wedding.

Loki took a seat in the back and the two of them watched as Clint and Laura exchanged vows.

You are young here, Loki realized. Before SHIELD found you.

Nodding, Clint replied, About two years before. I started out in the circus, you know. At Loki’s questioning look, he explained, Basically, a travelling band of freaks. People pay to come see us do tricks. They called me the greatest marksman to ever walk the earth, the famous Hawkeye.

You kept the name.

Sure I did. SHIELD wanted a codename, I wanted something I knew already. Anyway, my brother and I were in the carnival—

Brother! Loki exclaimed, pausing the memory and turning to look at Clint. I have seen no brother.

Clint sighed and leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. Yeah, I’d guess not. I don’t think you went that far back. Older brother. Barney. We both ran after our dad whooped me so hard I went deaf for a month.

Loki stilled and one of his hands touched over Clint’s ear. That is the cause of your… he trailed off, but Clint nodded.

Hearing was always a bit shot after that, Clint shrugged. Life happens, you know. Anyway, joined the circus. That’s where I figured out the whole ‘greatest marksman to ever live’ thing. There was a guy who did the whole ‘shoot an apple off a lady’s head’ thing, and he saw me watching him, so he showed me how to shoot a bow and arrow. I tried it as a kid, but never really put any work into it, y’know? I haven’t been able to put it down since.

Loki brushed his hand over the back of Clint’s head, palmed his skull, threaded his fingers into Clint’s hair. Clint leaned into his touch and the two of them watched as the priest told memory-Clint that he could kiss the bride.

This is the ceremony Steve considers marriage, Loki realized, a heavy note of disgust layering his tone. This is...this bores me.

I’m glad one of the happiest days of my life bores you, Clint replied dryly. You want to watch the births of my kids next and tell me how much that sucks?

Loki smacked him upside the head and pushed to his feet, the memory bleeding away around them. They made their way back to the front of Clint’s mind, Loki settling into his throne, Clint taking up his post at Loki’s right hand. What about Aesir weddings? Clint questioned.

Loki sighed. They are rare occasions, of course. Many couples go centuries or even longer without formalizing their bond. But they are grand occasions, grand celebrations. There is a party beforehand, with an officiant, and then the celebrants go into a ceremonial room and bind themselves to one another.

Only two people?

They stepped out of Clint’s mind and continued the conversation as Clint settled on the floor next to the couch, leaning his head into Loki’s hand as Loki scratched his scalp. “It is most often two people,” Loki mused. “I have, of course, heard of triad bonds. It is rare, but it happens. Our situation is unique, of course. But an Aesir wedding is a glorious thing. Very intimate, very romantic, very soul-bearing. We can bring some aspects of your culture into it, of course, but the thought of being wed in front of other people is...terrifying. I refuse.”

Steve’s voice came from behind them. “What does marriage mean on Asgard?”

Loki turned his head and propped his chin up on his free hand. Steve dressed in low-slung sweats and a tight grey shirt and came around the couch, raising an eyebrow at Clint’s position on the floor. He didn’t say anything and just dropped onto the nearest armchair, rubbing a towel over his damp hair. Loki finally said, “It is a commitment beyond any other. It is a beautiful thing, to share eternity with someone. There is a common saying in Asgard, that loving another is the closest we can get to living forever.”

Steve looked shocked. “You...want to share that with me?” He tried to catch Clint’s eye, but Clint’s eyes were closed as he leaned his head on the couch cushion, Loki’s thumb massaging his forehead. “You’ve known me for, what, a couple years?”

“I know you, Steve.” Loki’s green eyes pinned him to his seat. “You are a good man. You inspire goodness in others. And you will never hurt me or use me. It is not in your blood. You watched as I suffered, in two lives, and you helped me. As none had done before. When my life was hopeless, you opened a door, and helped me through it.” He tapped his fingers against his lips. “You inspire hope in one who has been hopeless for over a thousand years.” Loki smiled, just a bit.

“I know what you must think of me. I saw, of course, that my attraction to Stephen was because he was the only release I had in a world where Thor dominated every moment of my life. It wasn’t entirely true, of course, as I enjoyed Stephen’s treatment of me, even now as I realize how unhealthy it was. But you are so very kind, Steve. You care for me because of who I am, not what I can do for you. It would be the greatest honor of my life to spend eternity with you.”

Steve was speechless. His mouth was hanging open, a damp towel in one hand. Clint peeked an eye open and shot Steve a sly grin.

“Barton,” Steve started, his voice quiet, “Get the hell out of here.”

“Course, Cap,” Clint shot back, jumping to his feet and touselling Loki’s hair before darting out of the room. Loki scowled at him and ran his fingers through his hair to put it to rights.

“Sometimes I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life for you,” Steve finally said into the quiet between them. Loki dropped his hands from his hair and stared at him. “The only reason I ever thought about trying to find out the future was to make sure I spent it with you.” He cleared his throat and glanced at Loki before looking away from him. “I remember asking you once if you could find out if two people were soulmates. I was thinking about Buck, at the time, but I know now that if you looked at my soul, there wouldn’t be a tie stronger than the one binding me to you.”

Loki was blushing. He couldn’t help it. He tugged at a bit of his hair so it hung over his face and he directed his voice to the coffee table. “You are very romantic,” he murmured.

“Not really,” Steve said back with a shrug. “I can try, but I never had a chance to figure that kind of thing out. But I’d like to learn. I’m willing to put up with Barton forever if it means I’m with you.”

“A very honorable sacrifice,” Loki drawled, pushing elegantly to his feet. His mouth twisted in a sly smile. He slid closer to Steve, who opened his knees as Loki knelt before him. “You are so very noble.”

“I do my best.”

Loki leaned his cheek against the inside of Steve’s thigh, resting his hands on Steve’s hips, slipping his fingers under his waistband and petting the delicate skin there. Steve threaded his fingers into Loki’s hair. Loki closed his eyes for a moment and then looked up at Steve, licking his lips and taking a deep breath to get up the courage. “I trust you.”

Steve brushed his fingers over Loki’s face. “I trust you,” he said back, his face soft. “Loki, I...come here.” He tugged Loki into his lap and they curled together, Loki’s shoulder pressed into his chest, both of his arms wrapped around Loki. Loki let out a long, trembling sigh, relaxing into Steve’s hold, letting himself be held.

“What kind of bonds are there in a marriage bond?” Steve questioned, keeping his voice quiet.

“It is up to the parties involved,” Loki mused. “Thor and I were one bond away from marriage when he was crowned. The traditional bonds run along similar lines of loyalty and fidelity and communication. There are various aspects we can tweak, including telepathy, emotion-sensing, seidr-sharing, among others. It usually takes decades of consideration for a couple to come to an agreement on their marriage bonds, given that they can be exceedingly complicated and intricate.”

Steve nodded. “What will you need from me?”

Loki hummed. “I will write a list of possible bonds, along with my preferences. We will, of course, have to take Clint’s preferences into account.”

“Why’s that?”

Loki lifted a hand and Clint appeared in front of them. He stumbled and spilled his mug of coffee, letting out a frustrated sigh and glowering at them. “I don’t want Steve’s thoughts in my head,” Clint groused, snatching the towel that Loki conjured and threw at him to wipe up the coffee. “I barely have enough room for the two of us.”

Loki looked pointedly at Clint. “We have to take his preferences into account because he won’t let us rest if we do otherwise,” he drawled.

Clint nodded. “Damn straight,” he muttered, throwing the soiled towel in the direction of the bathroom for some reason, and then he dropped onto the couch, glaring at them over the rim of his mug.

Steve pressed a smile into Loki’s hair. “I see.” The three of them sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes before Loki stiffened and slid out of Steve’s grasp. He curled up on the floor at Steve’s feet and leaned his head against Steve’s knee, back against the chair, bracketed between Steve’s calves.

I seem to have forgotten a promise to you.

Yeah? Clint drained his coffee and Loki disappeared the mug to the kitchen. Which one?

That horrid plastic in your side.

Clint shot Steve a grin and jumped to his feet, yanking off his shirt and striding over to lay on the floor in front of Loki. Make me look sexy.

“I may be a seidrmadr but even I cannot work miracles,” Loki drawled out loud, spreading his hands over the scar on Clint’s side. “Captain, this will take a good while. Do you have anything else to do? You may wish to leave.”

Steve just shook his head and brushed his fingers over the back of Loki’s neck. “I’m good here.”

Loki and Clint shared a look and they both nodded, the two of them closing their eyes, Loki’s hands lighting up green.

Steve watched in interest as Clint relaxed as Loki’s hands moved over the scar tissue on his side. It took a long time for Loki to vanish the simulacrum and replace it with seidr, over an hour. He wondered what it would be like to trust someone that much, to know that even with all that furious power at his fingers, Loki still did not wish him harm. Well, permanent harm, anyway.

He thought about it, wondered what it felt like. He trusted Loki, but Clint went a step further. He had faith in Loki, in a way that Steve hadn’t even felt for Bucky or any of the Howling Commandos. He never believed in someone the way Clint believed in Loki. He remembered that Clint didn’t have to tell Loki anything, that he spent years trapped in Loki’s head and decided to choose him regardless of everything he saw. He wondered what it was like to choose someone like that, to follow them into the fire and the dark and to almost certain death, to have faith in them.

He looked forward to learning how.

A few days later, Steve decided to go back to the New Avengers Facility. It was just a few days away from being completed and opened, and he and Sam had gotten permission to pick out rooms before everyone else. Natasha, Wanda, Rhodes, and the Vision were also moving in. Loki gave Steve an aggressive goodbye that left him with a limp and bruised lips, along with a few wardstones and a summoning stone. Steve had made sure to give Loki a limp of his own in his own goodbye. Clint decided to stay retired, especially as Laura was just a few days away from giving birth.

Loki made sure to take pictures of him and Steve around the farm, posting a few of them on Instagram, especially the one of Steve chopping wood while shirtless. There were a few others; Loki’s favorite was the one of them in the woods, a shaft of light over his face, Steve pressing a kiss to his cheek. He’d gotten Clint to follow them around with a camera for an afternoon; in return, Loki had enchanted the camera to take pictures of Clint while he shot arrows down his range and out in one of the fields, which Loki obligingly posted on his Instagram as well. He made sure to post the pictures where Clint’s face was turned away or out of focus, in order to keep up his aura of mystery, as Clint put it. Loki had no idea why he put up with him.

He continued to flesh out his plan to dethrone Thor. He already had Balder and Hela on his side, but he needed more. More proof, more allies, more power. Now that he had uncovered Frigga’s machinations, he hid in his rooms and paged back through his memories, looking for more proof of how far her schemes went back. As far as he could tell, she had been planning his servitude ever since he had been stolen from Jotunheim. But there was something he was missing, something that tied it all together, explained why Thor hadn’t come for him once he’d run from Asgard. It didn’t make sense.

Loki decided he was due for a good long sulk. He’d filled his bed with various pillows and furs and blankets and had a power block for his phone to charge and he was getting settled in for one of his melancholies. It was strange how he hadn’t had once since he’d been exiled from Asgard.

Of course, just as Loki was really settling in, Clint burst in. “Laura’s going into labor!” he yelled, and scrambled across the bed to pull the furs and blankets off Loki, who sulked at him. “I gotta get her to a hospital. You can sit around and feel bad for yourself later. You need to watch my kids for me.”

“Hospital? She cannot have the child here?”

Clint glared at him. “We need doctors. Actual medical professionals. I’m sure you can watch the kids for a day.”

“I am a master seidrmadr,” Loki pointed out, like Clint needed reminding. He dug through one of his closets and pulled on a pair of black leggings and a purple tank top. He followed Clint out of his rooms and upstairs, where Laura was white-faced and clutching her stomach on the edge of their bed.

“With seidr untested on humans,” Clint hissed back, slinging Laura’s birth-bag over his shoulder and helping her to her feet. Loki grumbled under his breath and followed them back downstairs. Something in Clint’s shoulders was tightening and Loki smothered his own smile as they came to a stop in the kitchen.

Clint sighed, held Laura close as he turned his head to look at Loki. “You’ll help?” Clint asked, his voice quiet. Laura growled his name but Clint was focused on Loki.

“If she wishes,” Loki tried, and Laura snarled.

“I don’t care where I have this kid, it’s coming out now,” she growled at them, and Loki gave her a bright smile, flicking his fingers at her and floating her down the hall to his room. Clint called upstairs to the kids that they needed to stay in their rooms, and grudgingly followed, smacking Loki’s hands away when he moved to pull Laura’s clothes off.

“Do you wish to lay down or squat?” Loki queried as he summoned various towels and easily cleaned furs, handing Laura a robe.

“Why the fuck would I squat?” Laura asked, leaning on Clint as he dressed her in the robe.

Loki frowned. “It is the more natural position. I understand that your culture often—”

“She’ll squat,” Clint snapped. “It’s the only thing that’ll make you shut up.”

Loki inclined his head and motioned them towards the small nest he’d set up. He levitated a few towels around them so they had a modicum of privacy, and carefully knelt on a folded towel at the edge of the birthing area, helping Laura sit in front of him. “I am going to check your birthing canal,” he informed her, and at her nod, he twisted his fingers and a snake-like sliver of seidr slipped out of his hands and went between her legs.

“Somehow that’s worse than you actually looking,” Clint commented, petting Laura’s hair back from her sweaty face. Loki just rolled his eyes and nodded to himself, thinking about what he’d read about giving birth. Laura was panting, leaning back against Clint’s chest, both of her hands squeezing Clint’s, her legs shaking as she kept them open.

“Your body knows how to give birth. It is something the body already knows how to do, not even including the two children you have upstairs. I am going to cast a burdr spell to ease the birth and cause less pain.”

“What does burdr mean?” she panted out, gritting her teeth as she beared down during another contraction.

“It is merely a birthing spell. Aesir give birth very rarely, and when we do, we take great pride in difficult and painful births. It is meant to signify the power of the child, how much pain it causes the mother.” As he was talking, Loki moved his hands and a gentle wave of light green seidr washed over Laura. She relaxed immediately, sagging back against Clint, who was watching the two of them with guarded eyes. “I was told that Thor nearly killed Frigga,” he mused, sending another spell between Laura’s legs. “I assume it is one of the reasons she hung her hopes so high on him. Now, your contractions will feel less painful. I cast the spell at a very low intensity, but do tell me if you begin to feel pain again.”

“What other spells do you have?” Laura asked between deep breaths.

“What would you like?” Loki asked instead, sitting back on his heels and looking kindly at her.

“He can knock you out,” Clint replied for him, “or send you into a kind of dissociative state where you’re aware your body is giving birth but you can’t feel anything.”

“It’s kind of a twin thing,” Laura mused. “Like you’re twins who always know what the other one is thinking.”

“Sam told me that we’re essentially the same person,” Loki noted.

“He actually told me that.”

Laura leaned her head back against Clint’s shoulder and let out a pained, exhausted laugh. “I don’t want to be unconscious for the birth of my son, but I’m not prideful enough to say I don’t want to be in pain. So do that, Loki.”

“As you wish,” Loki murmured, and he pulled open a pocket dimension to summon a few vials and decanters. He summoned an empty glass and filled it with water, dropping a few drops in it and then looking between them with a frown. Clint reached out for the glass with a sigh. We really have to experiment with all of your potions to make them human-safe. He swallowed the glass down and when he didn’t die, Loki repeated the process and Clint helped Laura drink the watered-down potion, the two of them listing against each other as the potion took effect.

Loki rolled his eyes and leaned forward to press his fingers to Clint’s forehead, burning the potion out of him. I’ll let you intoxicate yourself on whatever you want once your wife is done bringing your child into the world.

You know what, I’m holding you to that.

Laura splayed out, letting Loki examine her without comment. She was nearly fully dilated and Loki manipulated a few pillows from his bed to support her so Clint could come around and examine her himself. They helped Laura sit up so gravity was helping her, and Loki had her drink another glass of water so she was hydrated enough.

It was a few more minutes of struggle and Clint gasping, “I can see the head,” and then, suddenly, their son was in the world. Loki cut the umbilical cord, made sure Laura passed the placenta, and then handed Clint a few towels so he could clean his child. He sent a gentle cleansing charm over the area. Laura held out her hands and Loki moved back as the two of them curled over their son. He summoned his phone and took a few pictures, sending them to Steve and Sam. He knew Clint wanted to tell Natasha himself.

Clint blinked away some tears and waved Loki closer. With a frown, he obliged, and kept the shake out of his hands when Clint gently handed him the baby. “Meet Loki,” Clint murmured, brushing the tips of his fingers over the baby’s face, “He’s your uncle. Say hi to your Uncle Loki.”

He looked at Clint in wonder, met Laura’s tired, smiling gaze, and then looked down at the baby. “What are you naming him?” he queried, keeping his voice quiet.

“Nathaniel Pietro,” Laura said, reaching out for her son. Nathaniel seemed to finally realize that something was wrong and he opened his mouth in a wail, but the three of them just looked at him in amazement.

“A good name,” Loki replied, and he leaned against Clint’s side as they watched Laura hush the baby and check his fingers and toes and a few minutes later, Lila and Cooper stumbled in, gasping at the sight of their baby brother. Loki made to leave, to leave the family to greet their new member, but Clint caught his hand, intertwined their fingers as Laura showed Lila and Cooper how to hold the baby.

Thank you, sir.

I am...honored.

Clint smiled at him, a bit shy. We would’ve named him after you, you know. But Pietro…

I require no explanation. Name the next one after me.

Clint snorted out loud at that, reached across the circle of family to brush his free hand over Nathaniel’s downy hair. Doubt we’ll have another. Three is enough. We’ll name the family dog after you.

A dog!?

Lila curled up in Loki’s lap and leaned her head against his chest as Laura took Nathaniel and began feeding him, looking down at him with all the love in the world in her eyes.

Steve summoned Loki a few days later. He appeared in Steve’s new quarters inside the New Avengers Facility, hands behind his back as he looked around the rooms. It was similar to the apartment they’d shared in Washington, DC, with two bedrooms on either side of a spacious living room. The kitchen was more open, with much more counter space, and Loki assumed they were higher end appliances. It was done in muted colors, shades of grey and brown.

“Can you re-decorate?” he questioned Steve, who was reclining at his desk under the massive windows, the desk covered in various drawings. “The color scheme, dear...very bland.”

“You’re not willing to do it for me?” Steve asked with a small smile, pushing to his feet.

Loki smirked. He was wearing a faded purple shirt that he’d stolen from Clint, along with dark green leggings over black slip-ons. Steve was wearing agonizingly boring khakis and a light blue shirt and brown loafers. He looked boring but completely lovely. “If my Captain requests it of me,” he purred, stepping closer, Steve standing up and catching Loki’s hips in his hands. They greeted each other with a warm, slow kiss, Loki opening himself up for Steve, who chased his tongue with his own and then stepped back, greedily looking over Loki’s face.

“I missed you,” Steve murmured. “As much as I’d like to bend you over the couch, we have work to do.”

“When we’ve finished with the work, then,” Loki decreed, stepping away from him and wrinkling his brow when he was again assaulted with the mediocrity of Steve’s chosen quarters. “What were the other options? Did you specifically choose the blandest room in the entire campus?”

Steve didn’t even try to hide his grin. He tugged Loki back over to the window, opening the blinds. “I chose it for this.”


They were on the top floor of the building, looking out over a massive, thick forest, and a long, wide river. In the distance, Loki could see birds ducking in and out of trees, fish flitting about, the blue expanse of the sky slightly cloudy and bright. Steve slid his hand over the back of Loki’s neck and down his back to slip his arm around Loki’s waist. “He left already,” Steve said, pressing his nose into Loki’s hair. “Stark is gone, Thor is gone. You’re safe here.”

“I would hope he left,” Loki mused, leaning against Steve’s side. “Given that I have set events in motion to dethrone him and imprison him, and every plan requires him in Asgard.”

Steve made a surprised sound. “Do you need me for anything?”

“Perhaps you should show me your warriors, and then I will tell you. But I will always need you.”

Steve flushed and tugged Loki out of his rooms, but not before Loki turned the walls a far more pleasing shade of light pink. Steve just laughed and they walked down the halls, Loki’s hand tucked in Steve’s elbow.

Steve was showing him one of the physical training rooms when Fury came up behind them. “Ah, Loki! Our monitors didn’t show you arrived.”

Loki continued to examine a boxing glove, a faintly disgusted look on his face. “I did not come through traditional means, Director,” he said, dropped the glove to the ground and turning on his heel to look down at Fury, green shimmering over his arms and covering him in a thin leather coat. “I must admit to being impressed with the Facility. My Captain tells me he is, quote, ‘Whipping the trainees into shape.’ I do hope there is no actual whipping.”

Fury didn’t seem impressed. “You here to help? The witch needs more training than what Rogers and Romanoff can give her.”

Loki flicked his fingers and the three of them appeared in one of the firing ranges, where Wanda was working on destroying targets with her seidr while a SHIELD agent watched and kept track of her successes and failures. Fury gasped and staggered, catching himself on the wall as he tried to re-calibrate himself. Steve and Loki glanced amusedly at each other as Wanda and the SHIELD agent both jumped in surprise.

“I have considered being persuaded into assisting your endeavours, Director,” Loki informed him, motioning at Wanda to continue hitting the targets. Fury glowered at him.

“That’s a yes, but on his own terms,” Steve translated.

“Good. We need someone trained in energy manipulation to help her.”

Loki raised an eyebrow and turned his gaze away from watching the witch to pin on Fury. “Energy manipulation? You consider my abilities to be energy manipulation?”

“Loki,” Steve tried.

Fury frowned. “Our research indicates that you pull energy from the world around you and manipulate it to serve your needs. Maximoff’s powers work similarly.”

“The witch’s powers come from the Scepter that Thor brought to Midgard and gave to HYDRA,” Loki hissed. “Take me to these researchers. I have much to teach them.”

Fury glanced at Steve, who nodded and motioned for him to lead them, and they all followed Fury out of the firing range, Wanda tagging along. Loki was rather annoyed, but he supposed he couldn’t fault the Midgardian researchers for their false information. He tucked his hand back into Steve’s elbow and glared at every SHIELD agent they passed.

You’ve been there for barely an hour. What pissed you off so much?

The researchers misappropriated my seidr to energy manipulation. As if I am a child.

Are you setting them straight?

He sniffed. Of course. How is the boy?

He could feel Clint’s grin crease across his mind. Oh, he’s a little terror. He’s been screaming for about the past two hours for what I can tell is no damn good reason. Takes after you.

Good. I am glad someone in your home has a good influence.

Steve cleared his throat and Loki looked down at him. “How’s Barton?” Steve asked, a bit of a smile in his voice.

“Clint?” Wanda asked from behind them, and Loki turned his head to look at her. “He is well?”

Loki inclined his head. “His wife just gave him another child. They named the boy Nathaniel Pietro.” He turned his attention back to the door Fury was showing them through. Wanda’s footsteps stopped behind them.

“Oh,” she whispered, and Loki turned his head to see her clench her fists, just for a moment, before she followed them into the room. He smirked and then turned his attention to the room.

It was filled with various scientists and all manners of strange technology and computers and Loki looked at all of them. “Which one of you fools came up with the theory that my seidr is energy manipulation?”

“Loki,” Steve sighed.

A few of the scientists stepped forward. “Dr. Jan,” one of them introduced, holding out his hand. Loki didn’t even look at it, merely stepping away from Steve and clasping his hands behind his back.

“I have studied and practiced seidr for over a thousand years. I have more knowledge in a strand of my hair than everyone in this room could gather in all of your collective lifetimes. Now, on what realm would seidr be considered something as plebeian as energy manipulation?”

A different scientist stepped up and uncomfortably introduced herself. “Dr. Hennig. We studied various videos and consulted with a few masters of energy manipulation here on Earth, from the Kamar-Taj.” At that, Loki stiffened. “Your magic is so different than anything possible on Earth,” she said eagerly. “Ms. Maximoff uses neuro-electric impulses to change the static energy in the air around her. Given our lack of comparisons, we believed your abilities to be similar.”

Loki turned his head to watch as Fury tugged Steve out into the hallway. “Witch,” he barked, “come here.” After a moment, she stepped up next to him. “Conjure up an energy ball of seidr in your palm. Like this.” Loki held out his right hand and pulled up a small green ball of seidr in his palm.

Wanda tried to do the same and it took her a couple tries. But she managed to hold an energy ball in her palm for long enough for the scientists to take pictures and write down various information.

“Can you feel the difference?” Loki questioned them, frowning at the various confused looks thrown his way. “Her seidr feels as if it is a vacuum. I can feel the way it pulls at me. My seidr, on the other hand, is the opposite, because my powers come from within. On Asgard, seidr is a very personal thing. It begins from latent powers, and grows with difficult study and practice over many centuries.”

“Which is more powerful?” Wanda questioned, her red ball of seidr dissappating. Loki absorbed his back into his fingers and smirked at her.

“Are you asking if you could overpower me, witch? I have been practicing seidr for millennia. You are an infant.”

She lifted her chin and Loki curved his lips on a dark smile. The scientists all excitedly gathered various notebooks and computers and Loki called for Steve, who was leaning casually against the doorway.

“Bring me to a training field, outside,” Loki requested.

“This is really what you want to do?” Steve asked, arms crossed over his chest, looking between them. At Loki’s sharp nod, Steve just sighed and led them outside to something that looked like a soccer field, which Loki recognized from Clint’s memories.

Glad I’m useful for something. You got a plan here?

Yes. I have no intention to harm her. I merely wish to teach her a lesson.

Your lessons tend to be pretty psychopathic, just so you know. She’s just a kid.

I remember the harm she caused to my Captain. A child would not be so cruel.

You ever met a kid? Cruelty is kind of their whole thing.

Loki rolled his eyes and pressed a kiss to Steve’s mouth and then led Wanda out into the middle of the field. “This is your first lesson,” he told her with a dark smile, and raised one of his hands. “Be prepared for anything.”

Chapter Text

Lila noticed him first. She tugged Clint outside, pointed to the man sleeping against a tree a few hundred feet away from the house. He went to go get his bow and a few arrows, but the sun glinted off the man’s metal hand, so he sent Lila inside and grabbed a handful of rocks instead. Clint jogged up and lobbed a rock, hitting Barnes in the forehead. Barnes jerked awake, jumping to his feet, fists raised for just a moment before he saw Clint.

“What are you doing here?” Barnes asked gruffly, rubbing at his forehead. Clint decided against throwing another and tossed it up in the air, catching it back in his hand.

“What am I doing here? At my house? Come on, get inside. You want a sandwich? You look like you need a sandwich, man.”

Barnes threw him a strange look but obliged, shouldering his pack and following Clint up to the house. Clint called for Laura, telling her they had company, and he showed Barnes to Loki’s room, pointing out the bed and the massive wood panel with Steve on it and Loki’s huge bed and Barnes frowned at him, dropping his pack next to the couch. “Where is this?”

“I told him you were probably following his seidr,” Clint pointed out, leaning against one of the carved bed posts and crossing his arms. “We’re in Iowa. Hey, you should tell Wilson where you are.” He pulled out his phone and tapped through the screens. “I’ll tell Steve, you tell Wilson. Or you can tell Steve and I’ll tell Wilson.”

Hey, boss, your murder-bot showed up at my house.

Barnes was still frowning. “I’ll tell Steve,” he said slowly, and pulled a flip phone out of his pocket. He tapped slowly at it and then glowered at Clint. “You think I followed Loki out here?”

Do record his reaction for me when you accidentally call him that out loud.

“You spent six months on the run with him. His seidr kind of gets under your skin, tugs at you. I could probably follow him across the entire world, not just across a couple states like you did.”

Barnes’ frown only deepened. He was going to have permanent creases in his face if he kept that up. “This is your house? Show me around.”

“Happy to do it, man. I’m also happy to be ordered around in my own house. My house that I own, by the way,” he pointed out, and motioned Barnes out of Loki’s rooms. He called for Laura, who was upstairs with Nathaniel, and Clint weighed the pros and cons of introducing his wife to an ex-brainwashed assassin and then shrugged. It’d probably be funny. “Come on, Barnes. My wife’s upstairs. You know what a wife is? Did dinosaurs have wives?” Clint glanced back at him as they walked up the stairs. Barnes looked a bit more pissed off than usual. “Because you’re so old, you’re the same age as—”

“I understood,” Barnes interrupted. “Where’s Loki?”

“With Steve.” He nudged open their bedroom door and waved awkwardly at his wife and then pointed at Barnes. “This is...Barnes. Barnes, this is my wife, Laura, and the baby is Nathaniel.”

Barnes stepped over to the bed and stuck out his hand. Bemusedly, Laura shook it, and Bucky quietly introduced himself. “Call me Bucky. Apologize for the intrusion, ma’am.”

“Not an intrusion, Bucky,” she said with a small smile. “And only my husband calls me ma’am. Just Laura is fine. You staying for awhile?”

Barnes turned to look at Clint, who just about stopped himself from throwing his hands up. “However long he needs,” Clint said sweetly, and herded Barnes out of the room after giving his wife a brief kiss on the cheek and brushing his thumb over Nate’s forehead. He could hear Lila and Cooper arguing down the hall, but showed Barnes downstairs instead. Kitchen, family room, dining room he was really going to renovate into a sunroom or an office, bathroom, mud room. Barnes looked a bit harried, so Clint took him outside and deliberated showing him every tree in the forest. It’d be funny, but Barnes would probably kill him.

He was still deliberating it when his phone vibrated and he pulled it out to see a text from Steve. Still retired?

He looked over at Barnes, who was regarding the tractor with something approaching concern. “You tell anyone you’re here yet?”

Barnes scowled at him and pulled his phone out. “I don’t have service,” he finally said, sending Clint a glare like that was his fault.

Clint nodded and tapped out a reply to Steve. I’ll come in once or twice, show your kids up. Figure Loki didn’t tell you but Barnes showed up here this morning. He’s probably gonna camp out at my house for awhile, in case you want to see him.

His phone rang less than a minute later. Clint left Barnes to his inspection of the tractor and the riding mower and answered it. “Cap, hey.”

“Bucky is at your house? How’d he get there?”

“Beats me. I bet he didn’t fly.”


“Right, yeah. Loki said he’s been walking for about a month or so, ever since he left Wilson. We think he—”

Barnes pulled his phone out of his hand and held it up to his own ear. Clint squawked at him. “Steve? Did you know Barton has a wife?

He couldn’t hear Steve’s reply, but Clint assumed it was something along the lines of, Isn’t it strange we’re all shocked at Barton being married? He might be a walking disaster but Laura knows that and tolerates him and might even love him a bit more because of it. Is it really so strange—

“Can you take pity on me for an entire minute and shut up?”

He turned and grinned up at Loki, who was standing a few feet behind him, dressed in clothes he’d obviously stolen from Steve, still somehow managing to look like he was above everyone around him. He waved his hand at Clint, who obediently ducked over and let Loki slide his fingers over the back of his neck, brushing against the stone behind his ear. Barnes glanced at them but was engrossed in his phone call.

“Did you terrorize the witch?” Clint asked, leaning against Loki’s side and catching Loki’s free hand in his, rubbing his thumb over the back of it.

Loki sniffed. “I funneled a wave of river water into a box around us, and when she managed not to panic and was able to levitate herself out, I wrapped a seidr rope around her and tossed her about. She was summarily very displeased with me, as were observers.”


“He may have expressed disapproval that I seemed more interested in punishing the witch than actually instructing her.”

Clint sent him a concerned look. “You two argue?”

“I came here instead,” Loki replied, shooting Clint a look like he was supposed to be grateful that Loki was putting him in the middle again. But it was fine, he could deal with it. He was used to it. He just leaned into Loki’s side and the two of them watched Barnes talk with Steve. Loki got bored quickly, but he entertained himself with rooting around the barn and demanding explanations for his various arrows. Barnes finally got off the phone and frowned down at it before handing it back to Clint and telling Loki that Steve wanted to talk to him.

Clint’s phone buzzed a few minutes later while he was explaining the various uses of a net arrow to an apathetic Loki. Ask Loki to call me. He loved it when people thought he could tell Loki what to do.

Steve wants you to call him.

Loki snorted. And intentionally subject myself to his ire?

Barnes was glancing between them with a frown. “How many people have to ask you guys to talk out loud?”

“Less than you’d think,” Clint replied, sliding his phone back into his pocket.

“I’d think it was everyone,” Barnes bit out, looking over Loki’s intentionally expressionless face.

“Steve isn’t going to yell at you,” Clint said out loud. Loki’s lips tightened.

“What’d you do?” Barnes questioned.

“I may have gone against his...orders,” Loki said while holding up a recurve bow and pretending to know what he was doing by examining it.

“Did you hurt someone?”

“Not permanently,” Loki replied, setting the bow back into its case and leaning casually back against the table and crossing his arms. “It was the witch.”

“The witch?” Bucky asked, looking between them. “Aren’t you a witch?”

Clint talked over Loki’s offended exclamation. “He’s a seidrmadr, basically a master of his chosen field of magic. A witch is...less than that. Someone who uses magic from other dimensions, or draws their power from potions or a geas or even stealing it from other people. They can sometimes predict the future if they take power from seidrmadrs or even from other witches. It’s kind of like a weird, competitive coven or something. Anyway, they’re even less liked than seidrmadrs.”

Loki turned to him. “I almost considered her a seidrkonr, but after battling her, she is merely a witch. Disgraceful.”

“Sure, boss,” Clint agreed easily.

Barnes ignored them talking. “So you did something to the witch? Why’d Steve be mad over that?”

Loki sniffed and tossed his hair over his shoulder. “He may have asked me to instruct her in seidr and in controlling herself. I may have punished her for her transgressions instead of doing as Steve asked.”

Barnes sighed. “Can’t you just say what you did?”

“Really not his thing,” Clint interjected, and his phone vibrated again. Steve was calling. He sighed and answered it. “Yeah, hey, Cap.”

“Give the phone to Loki.”

“It’s a real shitty thing to put me in the middle like this,” Clint pointed out, but obligingly handed the phone over. Loki regarded it like a poisonous snake and instead of taking it, he just disappeared. Steve hung up the call just a moment later, and Clint shrugged, turning back to Barnes. “Hey, you want lunch? It’s probably lunchtime.” Somewhere, anyway.

He led Barnes back to the house, deposited him in front of the TV, and ducked into the kitchen to dig through the fridge. Loki had gone back to Steve, and was doing a remarkably poor job of trying to lie his way out of an argument.

Just tell him you were pissed at her. He pulled out some shredded chicken and lettuce and cheese and shrugged. Barnes could go eat some leaves or something if it wasn’t good enough. “You want mayo?”

Barnes didn’t reply for nearly ten seconds, and then called back a quiet, “Sure,” like Clint really cared or was trying to test him.

He is disappointed in my behavior. He wishes me to apologize to the witch.

Shouldn’t you? I won’t say its the decent thing to do, even though it is, since that’d make you even more resistant, but do it for Cap.

Clint finished making the sandwiches and put the leftovers back into the fridge, sliding the food onto plates and taking them into the family room, handing one to Barnes. He’d been sitting for less than an entire second when he was suddenly yanked through space and landing on the floor in front of Steve and Loki, who were glaring at each other. Clint sighed and took a bite of his sandwich. Hey, not bad.

He looked around the room. It looked like it was probably Steve’s bedroom. The bed was unmade, which meant that Loki had either been sleeping in it last or had intentionally messed up the covers to irritate Steve, who always made his bed with military precision. He leaned back against the bed and kicked his feet out in front of him, toeing off his boots. “It’s weird that neither of you are speaking,” he pointed out, taking another bite.

“Steve refuses to acknowledge that the witch deserved punishment for her harmful actions,” Loki bit out.

Clint nodded. “Cap?”

“Loki doesn’t want to forgive her for something she did under duress and while believing it was her only reasonable course of action. She turned to the right side in the end.”

He nodded again and took another bite of his sandwich. “You know that you’re both adults, right? I just want to make sure I’m not the only one here that knows that.” Neither of them dignified that with an answer, which was pretty rude. “Alright.” He sighed and glanced around the room, standing up and then dropping back down back on the bed. Pretty comfortable. “You guys know my kids are better than this, right? The baby is better at communication.”

Steve turned and glared at him. “Are you going to help?”

Clint shrugged one shoulder. “Do I need to? You both know you need to apologize and Loki knows he needs to stop holding grudges for no real reason. He’s using this as a distraction from planning Thor’s dethronement and also his nerves over your wedding. I also told you two that I’m not your go-between anymore.” He finished off his sandwich and held up his plate. Loki obligingly vanished it back to his house, or he hoped so anyway. Clint jumped to his feet. “Anyone gonna show me around?”

Loki glanced over him and then flicked his hand. Clint landed back on his couch, where he immediately fell off because Loki had placed him on the back of it. Barnes snorted at him. Clint picked himself up with a groan and a moment later, his empty plate crashed to the floor in front of him, shattering to pieces. So Loki was pissed at him. Great.

Barnes helped him sweep up the shards of porcelain and stayed blessedly quiet while Clint tried to figure out the strange emotions Loki was tunneling through. He was obviously annoyed with Steve, who was just flat-out refusing to understand why Loki would have felt the need to punish Wanda, but there was a strange undercurrent of fear that Clint just couldn’t parse that was making Loki hold on to his grudge even more steadfast than usual.

It took him making Barnes another sandwich and the two of them arguing over what to watch for Clint to realize: Loki had never really been in an argument with Steve before. There’d been one or two little spats, but nothing that had really constituted an actual fight. Loki had no experience with healthy ups and downs in a relationship; he was probably waiting for Steve to lock him in a closet or beat the snot out of him or break it off between them.

He pulled out his phone and texted Steve, Even if you don’t forgive him, just tell him you’re not going to hurt him.

Just a minute later, he was pulled through space again, landing in a heap on top of Steve’s bed. “You really gotta quit doing that,” he told Loki, who took his hand and pulled him off the bed, strategically keeping Clint between him and Steve. Oh, what now?

Steve looked exhausted. He opened his mouth to speak but Loki interrupted him. Clint really had chosen this life, huh. This really was how he wanted to spend eternity. Jesus.

“Why is he promising not to hurt me?” Loki hissed.

“Probably because I told him to,” Clint mused. Loki cuffed him on the back of the head. “Hey!”

“In what world would I need to be reassured that I am not going to be harmed?” Loki drawled. “Especially by a human.

“Loki,” Steve said lowly, warningly. Loki shook his head dismissively.

Clint sighed, loudly and obnoxiously. “Every time you and Thor got in a fight, he hurt you. He hurt you even when you didn’t argue. So, yeah, you’re obviously worried about Steve doing the same thing. I’m in your head, remember? So you’re prolonging a fight that you know is stupid because it’s the only part of the whole situation you can control.” Loki cuffed him on the back of the head again and Clint elbowed him in the side. Jackass.

Steve straightened already very straight shoulders and lifted his chin and looked sternly at Clint. “Give us a minute, Barton,” he said, his voice quiet and commanding and Clint gave him a mocking salute and ducked out of the bedroom and into the living room. The walls were light pink, obviously Loki’s doing, and now the various appliances were all light teal. Everything else was in various shades of brown and grey. Clint shrugged. He didn’t know anything about interior decorating. Loki was probably going to slowly change the entire apartment into something resembling pastel vomit.

He probably couldn’t go snooping around a secure facility, so he dropped over the back of the couch and pulled out his phone. No service, of course. He didn’t even have any fun games or anything. Clint sighed. Time to go snooping, then. He got up off the couch and walked over to the closet. Uniforms, Steve’s shield, Loki’s helm, Steve’s generic coats. Boring. Clint went over to the fridge. Did Steve just not eat? Clint knew he had to eat like 4000 calories a day because of the serum. Why did he never have any food in his home?

He decided to leave the apartment. Loki could pull him back if he needed him. Clint glanced up and down the hall, actually a little surprised that Steve was actually living in what looked like the residential part of the Facility. He’d assume Steve would’ve taken up a small apartment in the middle of the weapons room or something.

Hey, no cameras.

Clint shrugged to himself and after a glance at the carpets—Steve usually went left after leaving the apartment—he decided to go right. It lead to a dead end. Alright, then.

Clint decided to go left. He got as far as the end of the hallway when Loki yanked him back. He landed in a heap at the god’s feet and groaned out, “Come on, man.”

Loki dug the toe of his boot into Clint’s side. “Not a man. Get up.” He glared down at Clint, who just laid on the floor for a few moments. Really, being dragged through time and space and however many dimensions or whatever three times in one day actually wasn’t as fun as it sounded. Kind of made his gut hurt, actually. But he obliged and Steve helped him to his feet.

“Can I go home yet?”

Instead of answering, Loki reached out and pressed his palm to Clint’s forehead. He staggered and went to his knees.

Really, you could’ve just left me on the floor.

Loki was standing at the front of his mind, hands clasped behind his back. Clint sighed loudly in his direction and sat down on Loki’s chair. Surprisingly, Loki only shot him a dark look but didn’t make him move.

Is this some power play or something? Clint asked. Steve isn’t going to be impressed.

Something—something was happening. Loki didn’t reply, and Clint could feel something—his body was being moved. After a minute of trying to get Loki’s attention, Clint rolled his eyes and just sat back down. It wasn’t even a comfortable throne. Loki really had gone through all the effort of making a throne for himself in Clint’s mind and hadn’t even made it comfortable.

Usually, when Loki was in his mind, Clint was warm and relaxed and his thoughts felt like moving through slow water. But Loki was being quiet, detached almost. It felt like he was just half inside Clint’s mind, like he was just there enough to make him be quiet and placid and obedient. It sucked.

Since he was in his own mind, he conjured up a bouncy ball and hit it against the back of of Loki’s head enough times that Loki ducked inside and glowered at him. You gonna tell me what’s going on?

Poisonous green eyes pinned him to the throne. You are too talkative.

Sure, Clint agreed. But I do have a right to know what’s going on.

Do you? Loki asked dismissively, and Clint thought about that as Loki stepped half-out of his mind and his body began moving again. He belonged to Loki more than he belonged to himself. He’d had plenty of missions for SHIELD where he’d been given less than enough information, or intentionally inaccurate information, and he’d grown used to it. He was used to openness with Loki because Loki didn’t have a choice.


Loki had shut him inside his own mind and closed him off so he couldn’t see what Loki was thinking. Interesting.

Well, whatever.

Clint conjured up ten more bouncy balls and lobbed them all, one at a time, at the back of Loki’s head. Something felt weird. Weirder than his own body being moved without his consent while he was locked inside his own mind. Something was knocking at the door. Since when was there a door?

There was a door in front of Loki’s throne. Clint sat up straight, knives appearing in his hands, and the knob turned.

He blinked and was sitting in what looked like a doctor’s office. Loki dropped his hand from Clint’s forehead and stepped away from him, a pleased smile on his face. Clint glanced down to make sure he was still dressed—he was—and then looked around the room. He was sitting on an examination table, and there was a computer with a SHIELD agent sitting behind it, a stethoscope around his neck. In front of Clint were Loki, Steve, and Wanda.

“Did it work?” Clint asked, giving Wanda a nod before turning to Loki.

“No,” Loki replied, looking altogether too pleased with himself. He brushed Clint’s hair off his forehead and then looked at Steve, who was also looking a bit smug.

Wanda looked frustrated and curious. “Your mind is very strong,” she told Clint. Was this some kind of forgiveness trial or something? It wasn’t really an act of sacrifice if Loki was offering Clint’s mind up. He considered that. Well, maybe it was.

“Sure it is,” Clint agreed, turning his head to look at Loki and Steve. “Anyway I can get home anytime soon? I’m supposed to be retired.”

They both ignored him, of course, in lieu of talking quietly to each other. So he looked back at Wanda. “What were you looking for?”

Wanda glanced over his face with a small frown. “They did not tell you?”

“Oh, nobody tells me anything. Did you find it? Whatever it was they wanted you to find?”

“No,” she said slowly. “Your mind is too well warded. The bond between you and Loki makes your mind nearly impenetrable.”

“That’s what they wanted to see,” Clint said with a nod. Really, life would be so much easier if people just told him what was going on. By the way Loki and Steve were talking, it was probably something to do with their wedding bonds. Loki also felt extremely smug, which was just a bit more smug than usual. Having Wanda go into Clint’s mind was probably Loki’s apology to Steve for their fight. Great. Real great. Because that made sense to anyone besides Loki.

His head kinda hurt. Clint rubbed at his forehead. Maybe he was supposed to let her in? Show Steve what had bothered Loki so much about her going into other people’s minds? Sure would’ve been nice for someone to tell him what was going on.

What was also great was that he had an ex-brainwashed assassin back at his house with his wife and newborn son and also his kids. Loki didn’t show any signs of sending him back home soon.

Can you send a message to my wife that I haven’t been kidnapped by evil scientists or something?

I already have. Loki motioned him closer with a casual, lazy wave of his fingers. Clint jumped off the examination table and strolled over. Loki slid his hand across the back of Clint’s neck. She knows you are with me. Now, we are going to try something else.

Clint looked between Loki and Steve and sighed. Whatever, boss, sure. Barnes better not be hitting on my wife. You think he’s eaten any of my kids yet?

The SHIELD agent and Wanda both left the room, apparently at some unseen signal from Steve. Loki summoned the chair the agent had been sitting in, and sat, Clint obediently sitting on the floor in front of him. Steve stepped up next to him as Loki laid his fingers on Clint’s forehead. Steve had a strange look on his face, reluctant almost.

But whatever was bothering Steve, he dealt with it quickly, jaw clenching. He reached out and pressed his fingers to the stone behind Clint’s ear.

“Oh, shit,” Clint said out loud, and the world went white.

Chapter Text

“Jump,” Steve said, and Clint leapt.

The connection between the three of them lasted just long enough for Clint to jump as high and far as he could manage, and then he broke his hold on Loki’s hand and nearly fell to the floor.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he gasped, staggering and leaning against the nearest wall. “What the fuck?”

“It worked,” Loki murmured, smoothly pushing to his feet and brushing his clothes off. Steve still looked stunned.

Clint took a few more gasping breaths and then managed to calm himself down. Just for a moment, for that one long second where Steve had owned him, he’d gotten a glimpse into Steve’s mind. It was cold. There was something cold and dark in Steve’s mind, something yawning and on the edge of pulling him in. Clint shuddered and rubbed his hands over his arms. Beyond the cold, there was a fear, a fear so old that it felt ancient, and beyond that, beyond that fear, there was rigidity. There was an absolute certainty inside Steve’s soul that was more secure and more true than anything Clint had ever felt in his life. He never wanted to feel it again, either. He was perfectly fine with having his own mind and Loki’s mind and just the two of them and not having Steve anywhere in there. His head hurt.

“You two think you want to fill me in on what’s going on?” Clint finally asked, looking to Steve. “You know you don’t have to mind-control me to do what you want, right? Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” He rubbed at his forehead and shook his head.

Steve sighed.

Loki spoke up before Steve could say anything. “I was...convinced of giving the witch a chance to prove herself. I asked her to step into your mind and find the bond between us.”

Steve helped him sit down on the examination table when Clint staggered. “You wanted her to break it,” Clint sighed, digging his fingers into his eyes. “Loki, I really...wait. You didn’t want her to break it. You wanted her to fail.” Loki felt smug but gave Clint an expressionless look when he looked up at the god. “It was just another test. You’re trying to push everyone away before you go fight Thor again.”

“Loki,” Steve said slowly. “Did you intentionally instigate a fight with Wanda because you knew I would be displeased?”

Loki’s mouth tightened and he lifted his chin. Clint interrupted him as he opened his mouth to speak, “He did. He didn’t care if the Midgardian scientists called his seidr energy manipulation. It’s wrong but it’s not an insult.” He shook his head. “How am I in your mind and you still manage to piss me off? It’s just stupid.”

“Watch your tone,” Loki warned.

Clint rolled his eyes. “Oh, what are you going to do? Beat me up? You’ll just heal me after. You can’t send me away, you can’t do anything.”

“Isn’t that the issue?” Loki snarled. “You’re always here. I never—”

“You summoned me!” Clint cried out. “I was at home, dealing with the issue of having a brainwashed assassin around my kids, when you decided you couldn’t be a mature adult and figure out a regular conversation with your boyfriend and you had to drag me into the middle of it! Again! You two refuse to listen to each other! Loki, Steve knows you’re an asshole. He gets it. For some insane reason, he loves you regardless. He just wants you to admit to being an asshole. You can let him into my mind all you want but it isn’t showing him anything.” He turned to Steve, who was watching him with wide eyes. “Cap, you gotta be the reasonable one here. I know that asking you to open up emotionally is like trying to open a coconut with your teeth but you have to at least try. And—”

He blinked and he was sitting in Loki’s massive armchair in the middle of his living room. Barnes was flicking through channels on the TV, and barely glanced at him when he reappeared.

Clint got up and went to the kitchen. He had a bottle of vodka or something on top of the fridge, and poured himself a shot. It took two more shots before his brain felt normal again. He capped the bottle of vodka and put it back on top of the fridge before digging through it and finding a bottle of beer. Hopefully it wasn’t expired. He went back to the living room and dropped back into Loki’s chair, propping his chin up on his hand and staring at Barnes.

“What’d Loki want?” Barnes asked, not looking away from the TV.

“He and Steve were fighting,” Clint sighed. “Apparently that means it’s my job to fix their problems. They can’t just talk to each other, they both have to act like their problems are my problems until I get pissed at them and yell at them. Loki usually gets horny about halfway through their fights and I just have to deal with that until Steve catches up and fucks him until he shuts up.”

Barnes shot him a filthy grin. “Steve always did like getting in fights he could only punch or fuck his way out of.”

Clint stared at him for a long moment before tipping his head back and almost crying in laughter. “How often did you two fight?” he asked, wiping at his eyes.

Barnes shrugged. “Depended on how often he got laid. Did you know he tried to fight more people before he got the serum? You know those little yappy rat dogs?”

“Chihuahua?” Clint offered, and Barnes nodded.

“Yeah, those. That was Steve. He was tiny and weak and pissed as all hell about it. He’d fight anyone that looked at him. It got a bit better once we started going steady. Then he’d get in a fight and come back home and I’d have to drag him into bed to calm him down. He never did know how to stop fighting.” Barnes looked up at the TV and frowned at it like it had personally done him harm. Hey, maybe it had. What did Clint know.

“Do you miss that?” Clint asked softly.

Barnes thought about it for a minute and then shook his head. “I suppose,” he replied slowly, “as much as I miss anything before the war. We were happy, we were in love, we were always hungry and cold and never had any money. Steve just wanted to do what was right, and I kinda let him pull me into it. But I’m not in love with him anymore. I don’t even know if I can. Sometimes, I don’t even miss him. I know he’s there, but I have so much shit going on in my head that Steve just falls by the wayside.” He sighed and rubbed at his forehead with his metal hand. “Loki told me my only duty is to get better. That’s all I can focus on.” He then gave Clint a suspicious look. “Why am I telling you all of this?”

Clint shrugged. “I’m a trusting type of guy.” He finished off his beer and crumpled up the can. “I’m gonna go talk to my wife. You do...whatever. Keep the TV volume down and, hey, do you sleep?” Barnes glared at him, which wasn’t an answer. “If you do sleep, do it in Loki’s room. I don’t want my kids waking up with you hovering over their beds. Actually, now that I think about it, just stay downstairs.”

He got up, decided against patting Barnes on the shoulder, tossed his beer can into the trash, and wished Barnes a good night.

Clint went upstairs and washed his face and brushed his teeth and changed into pyjamas. He slid into bed next to his wife and their three sleeping kids and turned off the light, pulling the covers over himself and staring up at the ceiling.

He had just closed his eyes to go to sleep when, of course, Loki and Steve started having sex. He sighed, and then sighed again. It was kind of like hearing his parents have sex or something.

He slid out of bed and grabbed his pillow and then an extra blanket from the closet. The floor looked welcoming.

He stared up at the ceiling for a long time before he was able to get to sleep.

C’est la vie.

There was radio silence from Loki for the next few days. Clint didn’t let himself think about it. He’d sent a few mental questions and a few texts that all went unanswered, and Loki wasn’t feeling or thinking anything particularly useful. So Clint shrugged it away and got to work. Barnes was apparently just going to stay at his home for the indefinite future, and after a long conversation with Laura where he’d basically shrugged a lot and told her that if anything, Barnes was good security, which strangely enough, hadn’t reassured her, she’d agreed to Barnes staying if he helped with the housework and with whatever Clint was working on.

Barnes was actually kind of funny, too. Sure, he always looked like he was one step away from mass murder, but who didn’t these days? Sure, his jokes were more dry sarcasm than actual humor, but it wasn’t like Clint was any better. They got along just fine.

Well, kind of.

Clint had always kind of taken in strays. He’d been taken in by the circus as a kid, and the habit had stuck. He’d adopted cats and dogs when he was young, and the only reason that his house wasn’t currently overflowing with animals was that he was rarely home. He was hoping to change that, of course.

The thing was, Barnes was very resistant to being taken in. He treated every one of Clint’s offerings like it was poisonous or a test of some kind. But then he’d turn around and talk and practically bare his soul. He was just lucky that Clint was half-living inside the mind of a god who was practically the poster child of double-talk and mercurial moods. But Clint had gotten Loki to care for him, so Barnes was easy compared to that. They’d already beaten the snot out of each other anyway, so there wasn’t much left to do other than become something resembling friends.

It was on the fourth day of silence from Loki that Wilson showed up. Clint and Barnes were beginning the remodeling of the dining room, figuring out what they should do with the big dining room table that Clint wasn’t even sure he’s ever eaten at, and trying to keep it all down so Nathaniel didn’t wake up, when a car drove up to the house. Barnes immediately pulled a gun from somewhere and stalked past Clint and shouldered the front door open.

Clint just sighed loudly at him and followed him outside.

Wilson didn’t even blink at the handgun Barnes had trained on him. He just clambered out of his car and held up something that looked like a cake and a few boxes of pizza and grinned at them.

Barnes holstered his gun and ducked his chin so his hair fell over his face and holy shit. Holy shit.

Clint grinned at Wilson and slapped him on the back and helped him inside. Barnes took Wilson’s bag and silently followed them in while Clint asked him why he was there.

Wilson dropped the cake and the pizzas onto the heretofore unused dining room table. So it did have a use. “Cap sent me off on our missing persons case,” he said, shooting Barnes a wink. “I think he also wanted me to give you two an update.”

Because Barnes was weird and over-intense and creepy, he stalked right up into Wilson’s personal space and glowered at him. “How’s Steve?” he asked, and Clint would bet that he hadn’t been as close as they were to his own wife in at least a week. Impressive.

Wilson just grinned, not at all peterubed. Oh right, they’d spent, what, a few weeks on the road together? Wilson definitely knew how weird Barnes was.

Clint texted his wife if she wanted any pizza and got a resounding Oh my god YES back, so he stole one of the pies and darted upstairs, leaving Barnes and Wilson to their awkward flirting. It was kind of great, actually.

Laura ate half the pizza on her own. Clint had never loved her more.

Lila and Cooper split the rest and Clint ducked back downstairs to see Wilson and Barnes sitting next to each other, talking quietly over a single plate of pizza. Really, the cutest thing he’d ever seen. He pulled out his phone and took a couple sneaky pictures. He sent one each to Steve and Loki, and then leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed.

Barnes hadn’t been exactly uncomfortable in his house, but he hadn’t been at ease either. But with Wilson sitting next to him and cracking jokes and telling him about whatever ridiculous training Steve was putting them through in guise of ‘team bonding’, Barnes was relaxed. There was no tension in his shoulders, his hands weren’t fisted, he wasn’t even scowling.

“You two are cute as hell,” Clint told them, and Barnes jumped about six feet into the air. Wilson patted Barnes on the arm and shrugged. “Steve could’ve sent anyone, you asked to come.”

“I’m the only one who knows where your house is,” Wilson pointed out.

Clint shrugged. “He could’ve asked Loki to send me a mental telegram. You wanted to come.”

Wilson was shameless. He grinned at Clint and shrugged one shoulder. “Can you blame me?”

Barnes bolted. Both of them watched him go with amused grins on their faces.

Once the front door had slammed behind Barnes, Clint waited a few more seconds and looked back at Wilson. “You here to tell me why I’ve been on mental lockdown? Loki’s been silent and it’s really starting to get to me.”

Wilson started cleaning up the table for something to do with his hands. Clint moved quickly to help him. “That’s really why I’m here,” Wilson said lowly. “Loki’s gone missing.”

Great. Just what he needed.

As if on cue, Nathaniel started wailing upstairs.

Wilson stayed for another couple days, spending most of his time flirting with Barnes, who was generally uncomfortable and had no idea what to do. It was pretty great, actually, especially since Clint knew that Barnes had been fairly well-rounded and forward with his sex life before he’d been kidnapped by HYDRA.

Clint had decided not to go looking for Loki. He could tell that the god was alive and that he was still on Earth and that he wasn’t being held captive or anything, so that was good enough for him. If Loki wanted him, he could talk to him. Clint was just tired. So he hung out with Wilson and Barnes and decided he and Wilson were Bird Bros. Wilson thought it was great and got Barnes to grumpily admit it wasn’t a terrible name, which it was, but it was funny and absolutely worth it to see Barnes do whatever Wilson wanted.

They’d stalled on the renovation of the dining room. They kept waking up Nathaniel, which in turn got Laura pissed, which in turn made all of their lives miserable, so they moved outside to the barn. He and Wilson were goading Barnes into a shooting contest while Clint waxed his bowstrings.

“What kind of sniper doesn’t want to show off his skills?” Clint pointed out, pointing at Barnes with an arrow. Barnes always looked uncomfortable, but he was at least more at ease with Wilson around. It was great.

“I am very skilled,” Barnes grumbled. “I just don’t see the purpose in—”

“He shoots a bow and arrow,” Wilson said with a grin. “You telling me you can’t beat that?”

“You can’t,” Clint said assuredly. “But I’ll make it easy on you. How about 200 yards? I have a long bow that maxes out around there.” He motioned towards the long bow mounted up on the wall.

Barnes frowned at him. “200 yards?” he repeated incredulously. “I thought you wanted to show off.”

Clint shook his head and got up to pick the bow off the wall. “I don’t need to show off.” He motioned at the gleaming Aesir bow on the bench. “I’ve made 500 yard shots with that thing. Loki took me out to a field and had me shoot until I physically couldn’t pull the draw anymore. But 200? Even Wilson could make that. We can push out further if you impress me.”

Barnes lifted his chin and crossed his arms, clenching his jaw as he glanced between them. “Come on,” Wilson goaded, and Barnes sighed and gave in.

“You got a gun for me?” Barnes sighed, and Wilson slapped him on the back and ran out to his car.

Barnes stayed quiet while Wilson was gone. Clint smirked at him. “Wilson’s a nice guy,” he tried, oiling down the long bow and smoothing his fingers over the curves.

Barnes rubbed at his mouth and nodded. “I’m glad Steve has a friend like him,” he muttered.

Clint looked up from the bow. “You know he’s not here because Steve asked him, right? He’s here because of you.”

Barnes stared at him.

Clint shrugged and went back to his bow. Wilson jogged in with a hard-sided gun case and a bag over his shoulder, handing the case over to Barnes, who nodded at him and set the case down on Clint’s table. Wilson leaned up next to him, watching Barnes’s hands as he smoothed them over the case and then flicked up the latches.

Clint whistled. He leaned over the table as Barnes picked up the rifle, checked the chamber, and then examined it. Guns weren’t Clint’s thing—he was good with them, SHIELD had him do a lot of training with them just in case, and sometimes sent him on missions with a rifle when a bow wouldn’t work—but damn. “What is it?”

“SHIELD modified .338 IWI US DAN Tactical Precision Rifle. They changed the scope, the stand, and put more shock absorption into the stock. One of the scientists told me it’s accurate up to 1200 yards.”

Barnes ran his fingers over the long barrel, turned away from them and settled the stock into his shoulder, leaning his head over and peering down the scope. “And you want me to use it on 200 yards,” he commented, lowering the weapon and turning back to Wilson.

Clint picked up his Aesir bow. “Let’s go 500.”

Wilson set his bag down on the work table, unzipping it and pulling out a box of bullets. He held it out to Barnes, who didn’t take it.

“What’s the catch? What, they want me to come shoot for them? I’m not doing that anymore.” He regretfully and gently laid the rifle back into its case, stepping back from it with a shake of his head.

Wilson shot Clint a look, so he turned away and picked up a quiver of arrows and glanced through them.

“It’s nothing like that,” Wilson assured quietly. “I wouldn’t let them do that to you. Steve got it for me, said I was thinking of becoming a sniper.”

“You?” Barnes asked incredulously, and Clint held in his snort. “You’re a flier, you’re not a sniper.”

He could hear the grin in Wilson’s voice. “Yeah, dude, I know. I got it for you. No strings, nothing to go fight, you don’t even have to take it if you want.” He cleared his throat and leaned in closer and Clint turned his head to hear better. “Sniping was the only thing they left you, right? All you had from before HYDRA took you.” Barnes made a choked off sound and Wilson cautiously and slowly wrapped his hands around both of his biceps. “I got handguns out in the trunk. You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want. No more fighting, no more shooting, nothin’. You really want to let punk-ass Barton beat you with a bow and arrow, though?”

Barnes snorted and Clint turned around. “We’ll see who the punk is when I whoop your ass,” he threatened with a grin, waving an arrow around. Barnes smiled at Wilson and then nodded, and maybe, just maybe, if Clint hadn’t been there, they might’ve smooched. Aww. How cute.

Barnes took the bag and closed it, latching up the rifle case and glaring at Clint, who scrambled to gather up his quiver and his Aesir bow and his arm guard and his shooting glove and show Barnes where they’d be shooting from.

He had a few targets set up on the other side of the big field, and asked Barnes and Wilson to wait a sec for him while he ducked into the house. The kids were watching TV even though it was a nice spring day, and Laura was curled up in Loki’s chair, feeding Nathaniel. She had a book on the arm of the chair and she looked exhausted.

Clint leaned over to brush his fingers over Nate’s head and press a kiss to Laura’s cheek.

“Having fun with your friends?” she asked cheekily, turning into the kiss so his mouth landed on hers. Both Lila and Cooper yelled at they were being gross and Clint smiled into the kiss and pulled away from her, tucking Laura’s hair behind her ear and straightening up.

“Just wanted to tell you guys we’re going to go shoot,” he said quietly, motioning through the front window where Barnes and Wilson were standing very close to one another and talking very quietly. Laura snorted.

“They kiss yet?” she asked, sliding her shirt back up over her breast and patting Nate on the back as she lifted him up to her shoulder.

Clint leaned down again and kissed her again. “No, but we have,” he said with a grin, and then looked at his kids when they both asked to go with. “How about next time? I bet Wilson has a gun that wouldn’t blow you two over.” He actually had bought a .22 rifle for them a year or two ago, and had just never had enough time to sit them both down and teach them gun safety.

Both Lila and Cooper groaned at him but Clint shot them a grin and went into the kitchen to get the sandwiches Laura told him she made for them. He dug through the closet and grabbed a few paper targets with sticky backs, folding them up and sliding them into his pocket. Clint called a goodbye to his family and ducked back outside, handing the sandwiches over to Wilson.

They walked across the biggest field, Clint brushing his hands over the top of the growing hay.

“How much property do you have?” Wilson asked, walking in tandem with Barnes a few feet behind Clint.

He had to think about it for a minute. “We started out with 100 acres.” He pointed back towards the house and at the tree line on the other side of it, and then towards the field they were standing on. “This is part of the original property. Then our neighbors retired, their property went to auction, and we bought it. That was about, I think, 3- or 400 acres. We lease out about 200 of that to our neighbor’s kids.” He pointed towards the field they were walking through and then the adjourning field, which was full of growing corn. “This field is hay, that’s corn. Then we bought all the surrounding forest property, not sure how much. But no one is anywhere around. We just wanted to be left alone.”

Barnes and Wilson nodded and then exchanged significant glances.

Clint shrugged at them. They were about halfway through the field, and he crested the smallest hill, peering into the shadows of the forest. There was a small clearing about 20 yards into the forest, with sparse trees leading up to it. He’d long ago set up targets and built stands up in the trees every twenty to fifty yards, with the last being 560 yards, the furthest he’d been able to find a clear visual to the targets.

He’d marked a tree on the edge of the field, and finally caught sight of it, turning their party in that direction.

Barnes and Wilson stayed mostly quiet during their walk. Clint assumed Barnes was preparing his speech about how Clint was the much better sniper.

They reached the trees and Wilson stepped up next to him. “You mind if I ask you a personal question?”

Clint glanced over him with a smirk. “Go ahead,” he snarked.

“Why’d you join SHIELD?”

Clint paused and thought about it. “I was a kid,” he said slowly. “I’d run from everyone else in my life. SHIELD was the first thing to ever run after me first.” He hadn’t thought about his past or his shitty childhood in ages. “Coulson and Fury found out about me taking whatever job I could get my hands on, heard I was a good shot, decided to give me a job. I was half-feral and an even bigger asshole than I am now.”

Barnes snorted and Clint shot him a grin.

“They made me respectable. I met Laura, you know, before SHIELD found me. She saw the same potential in me that SHIELD saw, and stuck with me through the therapy and the anger and all the years of just absolute bullshit. I guess I joined SHIELD because I would’ve died otherwise.” He frowned at the thought. “That what you were asking?”

“Circus?” Barnes questioned, even though Clint hadn’t mentioned that at all. Clint shot him a confused look but then he shrugged.

“Yeah. My brother and I ran away from our asshole dad and joined a circus. It was our only option at the time.”

They entered the clearing and Clint motioned towards the straw bales and stumps he’d set up for targets. Barnes glanced around and then looked down the long line of sparse trees that lead to Clint’s tree stands. Clint had spent all of his off time for over a year after they’d bought this property pulling down trees and branches and making the shooting range. He would’ve liked to have made it more out in the open, but Laura had refused on account of the kids. Barnes met Clint’s gaze and nodded.

Clint pulled the paper targets out of his pocket and peeled off the back paper, sticking a few of them to the straw bales and a few more to the various stumps he had around. Wilson handed them each a sandwich and glared at Barnes until he ate, and to avoid a similar glare, Clint quickly ate his. He waited for Barnes to finish eating and then watched as the sniper pulled out his rifle and a box of bullets.

“Wilson is the judge. We each get five shots at each stand. We start at, what, 300 yards? Move out to 500? You want straw or stumps?”

Barnes nodded. “Start at 250,” he decided. “Let’s get this started. I’ll take stumps.”

Clint smiled and lead them down the line of tree stands. Each tree was marked with a sprayed number of how many yards it was from the targets, and it took them just a couple minutes to reach the 250 yards. Clint bowed and waved Barnes up. He clambered up the nailed-in rungs and Wilson pulled out a pair of binoculars.

It took a couple minutes for Barnes to yell down, “Line’s hot!” and the two of them made sure they were standing behind the tree.

Five shots rang out, one after another. Wilson whistled under his breath and then held the binoculars out to Clint, who pushed them away and shook his head. Barnes called down, “Line’s cold!” and then slid down the tree, giving Clint a smug look.

Clint shimmied up the tree and glanced through the branches at the targets and slid his bow down his arm.

He stretched out his shoulders and nocked an arrow.

Breathe in.

Pull the draw.

Breathe out.


Breathe in.

Breathe out.


He wished he was closer so he could hear the satisfying thump of the arrow landing in the straw bale.

Clint smiled to himself and nocked another arrow.

Take every shot.

The next four arrows all sailed through the air.

He slid down the tree and Wilson was shaking his head. He slid his bow back onto his shoulder and shrugged at them.

They all stayed quiet during the walk back up through the trees to the targets.

They looked at Barnes’ target first. He’d grouped three bullets right in the bullseye, and then two more up and slightly to the right. Clint handed him a new target, which Barnes slapped over the old.

Four of Clint’s arrows were in the bullseye, and the fifth was perfectly split into the first arrow he’d shot. He yanked his arrows out of the hay and slid them back into his quiver, throwing the broken one at Wilson, who was shaking his head. He put another target over the first and then turned to Barnes, who was scowling.

“250 is boring,” Barnes grumbled. “Let’s go straight to 500. We each get two targets, five each.” Clint shrugged and handed Barnes another target, which he put next to the first. Clint obliged him and slapped another target above his own. “Wilson tells us where to shoot. Clear sight from the ground at 500 to the targets?”

Clint shook his head. “Only from up top. Last clear spot from the ground is at about 400. He could go up with each of us.”

Barnes looked a little uncomfortable. “Those tree stands are a little small,” he muttered, and Clint and Wilson shared a simultaneous eye roll.

“I get you’re nervous,” Clint needled, “but don’t take it out on poor Wilson. He’ll promise to only hit on me if that makes you feel better.” He led them back into the woods and could practically feel the blush radiate off Barnes.

Wilson patted Barnes on the back and conspiratorially leaned in to loudly whisper to him, “I’ll only hit on you, promise,” which caused Barnes to let out a weird surprised grunt that had Clint chuckling to himself and Wilson giving Barnes a smug smile.

They walked in comfortable quiet to the 500 yard tree stand. Clint let Barnes go first, watching him and Wilson scramble up the tree. He leaned against the trunk and used an arrow to dig the scum out from under his nails.

“Line’s hot,” Barnes called down, and after a quiet word from Wilson, he quickly fired off five shots, and then a minute later, five more. “Line’s cold.”

There was a quiet minute of conversation between Barnes and Wilson, and then Barnes slid down the tree and Clint climbed up. He patted Wilson on the back and slid his bow down his arm. “Gonna need those binoculars for this one.”

Wilson obligingly handed them over and Clint peered through them, taking a moment to orient himself and check the wind and the distance. He took one last long look and handed the binoculars back, stretching out his shoulders and his arm and then nocking an arrow.

“Top target. First two, third ring from the inside, right at the top.”

Clint aimed and breathed and let go.

“Next one, bullseye. Last two, outermost ring, one to the left, one to the right.”

Arrow, rest, anchor point, breathe in, breathe out.

He let the fifth arrow fly and then lowered his bow, turning to look at Wilson, who was doing his best to keep his face expressionless while he looked through the binoculars. “Bottom target. You ready, Barton? Not wussing out on me, are you?” He lowered the binoculars and grinned. “I know Buck’s the better shot, but you should at least try.”

Clint just shook his head and pulled out another arrow, brushing his fingers over the fletching before nocking it and taking aim.

Wilson looked back through the binoculars. “Five shots on the edge of the bullseye. Shape of a star.”

Clint snorted and shook his head. “Dumbass,” he muttered.


Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Let go.

Draw. Breathe. Anchor point. Let loose.

Take every shot.

He let loose the fifth and final arrow and lowered his bow, shaking out his arm and his shoulder and his fingers. Wilson didn’t say anything, just shook his head. He climbed down the tree first and Clint slung his bow over his back and breathed in the scent of the trees and the woods and felt the wind on his face and then jumped down the tree.

Wilson wasn’t looking at either of them.

The three of them walked through the trees in silence. At about fifty yards away, Barnes made a confused sound and jogged up ahead. Wilson finally broke and laughed, both him and Clint running after Barnes.

Clint had shot arrows into Barnes’s targets, landing each of them exactly where Wilson had said. He’d nestled each arrow right into each of Barnes’s bullet holes. Wilson finally leaned his head back and let out a loud laugh. “I thought it was an accident at first,” he said through giggles. “But you kept hitting the target.” Clint gave him a smug smile.

“You…” Barnes was speechless. “I made those shots.”

“Sure you did,” Clint said with a grin, yanking out one of his arrows and flicking it around in his fingers. “Strange, I don’t see any bullet holes from you. Looks like you missed, Barnes. I really am the better sniper.”

Barnes pointed a metal finger at him. “We’re redoing this. I made those shots.”

“We gotta be getting back to the house,” Wilson said with a shrug, helping Clint yank out the rest of his arrows. “We can try again later, Bucky. Hey, did you two ever bet on anything?”

“Shit, we didn’t,” Clint realized, and he rubbed a hand over his chin. He honestly couldn’t think of anything. He glanced at Wilson and then smiled. “Hey, loser has to kiss Wilson.”

Barnes looked at him with wide eyes. “I don’t,” he stuttered and then trailed off, turning away from them to put his rifle away in the hard case.

Wilson elbowed Clint in the side. “He was kidding,” he called over to Barnes, who nodded jerkily without looking over at them. “How about loser has to drive into town and get dinner?”

Clint shrugged. “There’s a decent Thai place. My kids like the egg rolls and the pad thai. I also like the egg rolls and the pad thai. Laura is more of a wonton type lady, and she likes curry and rice. I’ll get you some cash since we all know you’re broke.”

Barnes latched the gun case closed and walked past them with his hair over his face. Wilson shot a glare at Clint, who groaned and followed behind. They walked back to the house in uneasy silence, Wilson glaring at Clint whenever he tried to say anything. He’d thought it would be funny! Maybe break the really obvious tension between Barnes and Wilson. They made it back to the barn, where Barnes reservedly and gingerly put his gun case and the bag of bullets in the locked room behind Clint’s work benches, and then he waited awkwardly out near Wilson’s car.

Clint pulled the string off his Aesir bow and frowned at Wilson when he stepped into his line of sight. “He probably thinks you were making fun of him,” Wilson hissed, and Clint just sighed.

“Look, Wilson, I was just trying to help. Maybe I did it in a shitty way, sure, whatever. You and Barnes have been dancing around each other for what, a few months now? He’s obviously into you.”

“I was trying to wait, to make sure he doesn’t feel pressured or guilted into it.” Wilson stepped up next to him and pressed a finger into Clint’s chest. Clint raised an eyebrow and looked down at the finger and then back up at Wilson’s face. The audacity. “Stay out of it. He’s vulnerable, Barton. Remember what Loki said after he caught him after the fight on the Helicarrier? He’s fractured. I’m just trying to help. What I want doesn’t have any part in that.”

“It could, though,” Clint tried. “I know what it’s like to not know who you are besides a weapon. Laura showed me I could be someone.” Wilson just shook his head and Clint tried again. “The only thing I’ve ever been good at is archery. Ever. I was trash before I picked up a bow. It’s the only thing I’ve ever had going for me, and it got me a job, and a wife, and it saved my life. So I know how it feels to just be used for one thing. Laura was the only one who saw past that. She’s the only one who didn’t care. She saw me as a person. You can do the same for Barnes.”

Wilson turned away from him and walked down to his car, herding Barnes into the passenger seat. A minute later, they tore off in a cloud of dust.

“He’s probably broke too,” Clint muttered as he put away his bow and quiver, shaking his head. “Dumbasses.” He pulled off his shooting glove and arm guard and wiped them down, sliding them back into the drawers where he kept his safety gear.

He walked back to the house and kissed his wife on her cheek and told her that Wilson and Barnes were bringing dinner. Lila and Cooper cheered and Clint let them drag him outside so they could play fight with sticks for swords. Clint sat on the porch stairs and watched his kids with a smile.

Chapter Text

Loki called for him a week later.

He was back at the cabin in the woods, which Clint had suspected ever since Wilson had said he’d gone missing. Barnes and Wilson had spent the last week being awkward around each other, so Clint wasn’t too bothered about leaving them and going to Loki. Well, Wilson had been normal, since he was a regular person, but Barnes had been more reclusive and more monotone than usual, really only speaking to Clint’s kids and Laura. He’d gotten a promise out of Barnes that he wasn’t going to run off while Clint was with Loki and another promise that he was going to continue helping Laura with the kids and around the house, so Clint was only 50% sure that his house would burn down while he was gone.

Wilson decided to spend a few more days at Clint’s house, since he was apparently running a free hotel or something, before going back to the Avengers Facility. Steve had been texting him, asking him to come back for training because they were gearing up for a mission.

Clint swung his pack over his shoulder and kissed Laura on the cheek, kissed Nathaniel’s forehead, tousled Cooper’s hair, and gave Lila a quick, one-armed hug. He shot both Barnes and Wilson a mocking salute and grinned when they rolled their eyes and he walked outside, picking up his case of weapons.

Ready, boss.

He blinked and he was in front of the cabin. It looked the same as it had the time he’d found Barnes and Loki there while they were on the run.

Loki opened the door. He was wearing all black, a long sleeved shirt and leggings. Idiot. It had to be at least 70 degrees out.

“Honey, I’m home,” Clint called up to him with a grin.

“I should send you back,” Loki grumbled, but waved him inside. Clint obliged him and set his stuff down on the small kitchen counter, letting Loki immediately pull him back outside so he could look Clint over. A few minutes of poking and prodding later, Loki dragged Clint back inside and deposited him in the only chair and then went over four feet and made a ruckus in the tiny kitchen.

“How’d you stay so quiet?” Clint finally questioned. It was nearing the end of spring, so there wasn’t a fire in the grate, but it felt like there should have been. Give him something to look at, at least. “I caught glimpses, little moments, but nothing like what I’m used to.”

Loki floated a cup of tea over to him and Clint wrapped his fingers around the mug. “Meditation,” Loki finally informed him, his voice tired. “Isolation is a common tradition before Aesir weddings.”

It wasn’t like Loki could’ve just told him that, of course not. But Clint just nodded, then thought about it, and then shook his head. “You and Cap aren’t getting married for a while yet.”

Loki frowned at him. “What makes you say such a thing?”

“You have this big battle against Thor, right? Steve is busy as all hell right now, he can’t take time off for a month-long seclusion. And I remember some big fight that’s coming up from that first life you and I had. That’s only like two or so months away. So I know Cap knows about that and is gearing up for it. The only time you’re going to get is after that when Steve goes into hiding.”

Loki looked genuinely affronted. It took him a moment to think about it, and he leaned dramatically over the kitchen counter and tapped his fingers against his lips and frowned. “Suppose you are correct,” he drawled finally. “Is this...battle not able to be postponed?”

“Naw,” Clint replied, shaking his head. “Life has eventualities, boss. Sometimes things are meant to happen regardless of how you specifically feel about them. Focus on Thor right now. Steve isn’t going to want to marry you any less in a year.”

That was the issue, of course. Loki was certain that if he didn’t bind Steve up quick that he’d realize there were a lot better options than a cantankerous, abused god, and start looking elsewhere. But Clint knew better, and he knew better for both of them.

He reached out for Loki’s hand and Loki grabbed him like a lifeline, not daring to look at him. Clint intertwined their fingers and sighed. “I’ll put an arrow in his ass myself if he changes his mind. Hell, I’ll put an arrow through his eye. That make you feel better?”

Long fingers brushed through his hair. “So very loyal,” Loki murmured, and Clint let his eyes flutter shut, leaning on Loki’s torso when he stepped closer. Loki floated the tea mug out of his hand and Clint twisted his fingers in Loki’s shirt. “I missed you,” Loki said softly. “We have both grown dependent on one another, I found. I assumed it was only you, but I felt...lesser without your presence. Such a precious pet.”

He’d long ago stopped taking offense to whatever weird shit Loki said about him. He let Loki pull him over to the small bed in the corner, and quick fingers tugged his shirt and boots and pants off and strong hands smoothed down his skin.

Please don’t shut me out again.

I will endeavor not to. Cold fingers brushed over his face and he turned into their touch, opened his mouth when they pressed at his lips, let them scuttle over his teeth and investigate the roof of his mouth and under his tongue and then move on to his ears and eyebrows and the soft skin under his chin. I needed space.

Not from me.

Loki didn’t reply, only pressed his fingers to the round end of Clint’s nose. Then he opened a pocket dimension and Clint glanced over to see him digging through a bag of various vials and containers and Clint frowned.

You really going to test those on me?

You often wish to be intoxicated, Loki said, like he was reminding Clint of the great powers of alcohol. This is merely a way where I can control it.

That’s what it all boiled down to, really. So Clint shrugged and sat up a bit and opened his mouth when Loki dropped a few drops of a red potion on his tongue. Loki pulled out a notebook and a quill and floated them both next to the bed.

“First trial,” he said out loud, and the quill immediately began scratching away. “Energizing potion, three drops placed on the tongue. Physical signs: sweating, flushed.”

“Horny,” Clint gasped out, digging his fingers into his thighs and feeling his hips twitch and his dick press against the zipper of his pants. “Really, really horny.”

Loki stayed quiet for a moment and then pressed his hand to his mouth, suppressing a giggle. His head fell back and he laughed loudly, Clint ducking his chin and smiling as well, but he was absolutely too turned on to really find humor in the situation. It took a minute for Loki to calm down enough to press his fingers to Clint’s forehead and burn the potion out of him.

“Duration, three minutes,” Loki said with a smile as Clint gasped and collapsed back into the bed, all arousal suddenly out of his system. “Do you believe Steve would need one drop or two of the potion to achieve the same result?”

“What the hell was supposed to happen?” Clint asked, finally letting out a tired chuckle and kicking his boots off. He brushed his hand over his flaccid dick and shuddered at the over stimulation. Loki casually reached out and smacked his hand away, and Clint rolled his eyes.

“Energizing potion,” Loki murmured, putting the red vial back into his bag and pulling out a familiar green potion in a tall, cylindrical container. “The purpose is to allow a warrior to continue in battle past the need for sleep or food or water. I will look into brewing a less potent mixture up for you and my Captain. Now, this is a healing potion. It is very potent, able to cure someone of nearly any ailment with only one mouthful. We call it heill.”

“You want to hurt me, then?”

Loki looked ashamed of himself for a brief moment and then smoothed his face. “If you are amenable to it.”

Clint grabbed Loki’s hand and levered himself to a sitting position, dutifully raising his arms when Loki brushed his free hand over the hem of his shirt. Loki stripped him of his shirt and turned him around and ran his nails down Clint’s back. He shivered and sighed, relaxing his shoulders and letting the tension seep out of his back.

“I often wish you did not allow me this,” Loki murmured, and Clint shrugged one shoulder.

“Tell me to fight if you want.” He’d thought about the why of the whole situation too, and hadn’t really been able to find a satisfactory answer. Loki’s reasons were easier; he’d been hurt his entire life, and knew no other way to show affection. There was something dark and cruel in his heart and the only way he could express it was through pain. He yearned for control and Clint willingly gave it to him, enjoyed it even. They both knew that Steve would have some serious words for both of them if he ever found out.

Loki dug the sharp point of his thumb nail into Clint’s back, and he hissed and tensed and then sighed and let himself relax. There was also the fact that Loki thoroughly enjoyed power and pushing that to its limits and Clint enjoyed being owned, liked the pain that came with it. It was easier to let Loki hurt him than it was for Loki to confront his own feelings.

Loki made a frustrated sound and summoned a knife. He pressed the cold blade to Clint’s back. “Do you mind if I leave scars?”

Clint snorted. “Couldn’t give a shit, boss.”

Loki drew the knife down the length of his back to the right of his spine, just a little cut that hurt more than it bled. He made a frustrated sound and Clint twisted around to see Loki glaring at the knife. “It is...unsatisfying,” Loki grumbled, vanishing the knife and glowering at Clint.

He shrugged his right shoulder so it pulled on the cut. “Last time you did it, you’d just pushed me under. You could try that again?”

Loki pursed his lips. “Perhaps. It is irrelevant.” He picked the potion up and pinched at Clint’s sides until he turned around. “Open.” He opened his mouth and Loki pushed down on his tongue and waited until he started drooling to deposit a single drop of the green potion on his tongue. “Trial two, heill, green. One drop upon the tongue.” Loki let him close his mouth and Clint hissed. The quill scratched at the paper in the journal. “Physical signs: cuts are healing, eyes are bright.” He dug his fingers into Clint’s lips and he opened his mouth. “Perhaps I will find more satisfaction in more pain.” Loki dug his nails into Clint’s tongue and he gagged, wincing away as blood welled up, Loki watching with narrowed eyes as Clint drooled the blood out, staining his pants.

After a minute of watching him, Loki pulled his fingers from Clint’s mouth and wiped them off on Clint’s pants. The potion slowly worked to heal the cuts in his tongue, and Clint spit the remaining blood into the towel that Loki summoned over for him. “Did that help?” he asked, his voice a bit slurred by his swollen tongue.

Loki looked a bit pleased with himself and gave Clint a smug look. “Turn back around so I can examine your back.” Clint obliged and shuffled around, chin dropping down to his chest while Loki’s long fingers smoothed over his back. “Very satisfying results. The wounds are completely healed with no adverse effects. Do you feel anything?”

“Good. Like I just slept ten hours after taking a bath. Nothing hurts.”

Loki brushed his fingers over Clint’s bare shoulders. “Are you often in pain?”

“Sure. My left shoulder hurts almost constantly. I’m usually busted up and hurt somewhere, so I’m used to that. I also have neck pain, and my left arm is usually sore, no matter what kinds of salves or ointments I put on it.”

Loki made a curious sound and Clint could hear the clinking of vials and containers from behind him as Loki dug through his bag. “I told you to start taking better care of yourself,” Loki reminded him, his voice quiet. Clint sighed.

“Yeah, I didn’t forget. I just didn’t do it.”

Loki made a disapproving sound and handed Clint a glass of water. “Drink all of it. We have three more potions for today, and then we have...plans.”

“You taking me out to dinner?” Clint asked between sipping mouthfuls of water. Loki flicked him on the back of the head and Clint snorted. “I’m an easy date.”

Loki didn’t grace him with an answer, merely dug his nails into the meat of Clint’s back until his muscles seized and then he yanked at his shoulder to turn him around. He pinched at Clint’s jaw until he opened his mouth and then brushed his tongue with a thick grey potion. “Trial four, three drops dispersed over the tongue. Andskoti.”

“Enemy?” Clint asked, and then he collapsed off the bed, crumpling to a heap on the floor. Something pressed down on his chest and he tried to gasp, tried to draw a breath, tried to inflate his lungs, but he could not even move, he could not even blink. He couldn’t even think. He tried to just shift a finger, flex a muscle, but there was nothing.

“Results in congruence with the potion’s purpose,” Loki noted, his voice almost bored. “Full paralysis, subject is unable to breathe or move. Duration, one minute.”

He brushed his fingers down Clint’s sunken, shocked face, and then with a press of his hand, burnt the potion out of him.

Clint shuddered, drawing in a great, gasping breath, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing his hands to his face. He just laid on the floor for a minute and panted. Loki felt...pleased. Preening like a peacock. “You liked that,” Clint rasped, digging his fingers into Loki’s leg while he pulled himself up into a sitting position. “Bet Steve would take some of it for you, let you do whatever you wanted to him.”

Loki flushed at that. “Perhaps,” he murmured.

Clint snorted, drew in another breath and held it. “Or you could take it for him.”

At that, Loki dug his fingers into Clint’s mouth and dropped a few more drops of a blue potion on his tongue. Clint swallowed and snorted.

“Trial four,” Loki said pointedly. “Kveda a. Two drops on the tongue.” The quill stopped scratching. “You look...remarkably well. It is a very, very powerful healing potion, very difficult to brew.” Loki glanced away from him. “When HYDRA caught me in their base and set that bomb off, Steve fed me this potion. Along with his command for my seidr to heal me, this potion was all that kept me alive.”

“What’s kveda a?”

“To fix, essentially,” Loki replied, pulling down Clint’s eyelids and checking his gums and flexing and stretching out his shoulders and prodding at his neck. “Physical reactions: very good. Increased capillary refill, brighter eyes, increased range of motion in both shoulders, no more tenderness in the neck. Note for next trial, try three drops, or dilute in water.”

They both sat in silence for a while as Loki brushed his fingers through Clint’s hair and the potion quickly healed his body. He leaned his head against Loki’s knee and let his eyes fall shut.

“Last one,” Loki said softly, gently. “I...this will not be pleasant. But it is the only potion that will not interact poorly with the others I have used.”

“How unpleasant?” Clint asked drowsily.

“We call it ovaettr-bita. Bite. It is likened to being bit by dragons.”

Clint knew that, knew that Loki knew that. There was a memory somewhere, of Loki screaming, begging.

“Thor used it on you.”

Loki brushed his knuckles over Clint’s jaw and nodded. “Yes. Once. I had behaved poorly, spoken against him at a council meeting. Odin had the brew ready for a prisoner, and gave it to Thor instead.”

Clint leaned his head back against the bed, looked up at Loki with a frown. “Odin gave it to him?”

Loki thought about that. “I believe so? Frigga was present at the meeting, but I recall her pulling me aside and admonishing me while Odin handed Thor a vial of the poison. It is entirely possible that Frigga gave it to him before, and I merely did not see it.”

“It’s more likely she did it,” Clint offered up, and Loki pressed his fingers to his temples, sighing roughly.

“You are most likely right,” Loki ground out, and he opened his eyes and stared down at Clint with a frown. “Thor was very effective in his lessons.” He looked irritated for a moment and then picked up the bag of potions again, pulling out a very small black vial with a purple dragon’s head on the front of it. It was closed with a large black cork. Loki closed his eyes and the two of them briefly relived the pain, the seizures, the screaming.

Clint swallowed. Well, he’d do it if Loki wanted.

Loki pulled the cork out of the bottle and the two of them winced at the strong smell emanating from it. It even smelled poisonous.

“You’re not anything like him, even if you do this,” Clint said gently, almost in a whisper.

Loki looked at him and reached out, cupped Clint’s chin in his hand.

He conjured a glove and slipped it on, the vial floating in the air. He dipped a finger into the neck of the bottle, and a single shining drop of poison glimmered on his gloved fingertip.

Clint opened his mouth.

The effects were instantaneous.

Fire lit him from inside. It didn’t even feel like a dragon biting him, it felt like a thousand dragons biting him, tearing him from within, biting down and breaking every bone in his body and he knew he was screaming but he didn’t care. Screaming didn’t even help, he didn’t even want to, he just couldn’t stop it. It felt like every single vein was being ripped apart and every single muscle was being torn from bone, and he could feel teeth digging into his chest and ripping out his heart and—

Loki’s hands on his face.

Clint gasped. For a moment, he didn’t even know how to live without pain, didn’t know how to exist, and then he could feel cold hands lifting him off the floor and tucking him into bed, pressing a glass of water to his mouth and quietly bidding him to drink it. He didn’t know if he slept, but he closed his eyes, and opened them when he could hear some type of buzzing.

The buzzing faded into Loki’s voice, whispering quiet apologies.

“I should not have done it,” Loki murmured into his hair, and Clint let out a rattling breath, flailing one of his hands through the air until it landed somewhere on Loki’s body. He tried to pat him, tried to reassure him, but his hand refused to cooperate.

His brain felt like sludge, but finally worked well enough to say, It’s fine. I’m fine. Just give me a massage or something. Clint shifted under the sheet and then frowned. Why am I naked?

He could feel Loki’s lips curl into a smile against his forehead. You pissed yourself.

Clint tried to laugh but his body refused to cooperate. It felt like there was a big elephant sitting on his chest. Can’t believe you had to clean up my piss.

Loki sniffed and pushed him over, laying down in the bed next to him, resting his hand on the middle of Clint’s chest. Perhaps I should’ve left it for you to clean up. Put you to use.

I’m just glad you didn’t leave me laying in it.

Loki’s fingers brushed along his lips and Clint opened his mouth for it, the sour taste of the green healing potion spreading over his tongue. Warmth spread through his body and he smiled, leaning into Loki’s touch and letting sleep swim up on him. How long was I under? Clint asked.

Ten seconds.

He nodded and let sleep take him.

He woke up in a bathtub in the middle of the clearing in front of the cabin. Loki was sitting on a chair next to him, pretending to read a book. The water was warm and Loki had dumped some kind of soothing potion in it, sending tingles through his aching muscles. He blinked up at the blue sky and sighed.

“Whatever happened to all the bodies of the Einherjar we killed?”

Loki didn’t look up from his book. “God-death is a strange thing,” he said, his voice deep and quiet. “If it is a natural death, come of old age or sickness, we fade into dust. If it is borne of sadness or pain or battle, we return from whence we came.” He disappeared his book and looked fondly down at Clint. “They went back to Asgard for funeral rites. Their bodies were most likely burnt and sent off the edge of the great waters.”

“When you died in Svartalfheim,” Clint started, and Loki’s face tightened, “Thor just left you there.”

“Yes,” Loki said finally. “I was only mostly dead, but he did leave me. I was...disappointed, to say the least. It was remarkably cruel of him.”

“If I died,” Clint started, and Loki physically turned away from him. Clint rolled his eyes. “Look, it might happen, alright? We have to be prepared.”

“I will not let you die.”

“I know,” Clint soothed. “But if I do, what would you do?”

“Kill whoever responsible,” Loki replied immediately. “I would give you the funeral of a proper warrior. I already have plans in place to care for your family if you are incapacitated or upon your demise. I still do not know what would happen to you if I died, but I can assure you it would be particularly unpleasant.”

Clint nodded and sunk down under the water, letting the potion do its work. Thank you.

Of course. I take care of what is mine.

They were both quiet as Clint soaked, Loki watching with sharp eyes, refreshing the heating charm on the water every so often. Clint finally climbed out of the tub and Loki brusquely patted him down with a towel and then pulled him towards the cabin. He got dressed and then they went to sit outside in the shade.

Clint stretched out on the ground, his head in Loki’s lap. When Thor fed you that potion, how much did he give you? How long were you under?

A mouthful. Every drop is meant to last for a minute. I was under for over an hour before a healer came to burn the potion out of me. I learned that spell soon after, so I could not be held like that again.

How were you not, like, brain-damaged after that?

I am very hardy.

His ears hurt. Clint rubbed at them while he asked, You said you had a plan?

Loki made a curious sound while he brushed the tips of his fingers over the lines of Clint’s face. I always have a plan. Usually more than one. Sometimes they are very poor plans, but I always have them.

Clint just rolled his eyes. Loki slapped his hands away from his ears and replaced them with his own, long fingers massaging his temples and his ears. Clint sighed and closed his eyes and let himself sink down.

Loki slid down the bridge between their minds and stood in front of his throne in Clint’s mind. After a moment, he knelt in front of it. Clint shrugged and sat down, a brush appearing in his hand. Loki leaned back against his legs as Clint brushed his hair.

Does it really count if we’re in this metaphysical space?

Does what count? Loki asked in barely a murmur.

Me brushing your hair. It’s still gonna be greasy and gross when we get out of here. You should let me wash it. You know, you don’t have to oil it anymore. Nobody here cares about your hair.

It is a matter of pride, Loki replied haughtily. It is the only thing that cannot be taken from me.

Clint tugged on his hair. I’m gonna shave it all off.

Loki merely rolled his eyes. He leaned into Clint’s touch and briefly, for the first time in a very long time, was truly at peace. Clint smiled to himself and continued combing through Loki’s hair.

I regret feeding you the ovaettr-bita. I should not have done it.

Yeah, I know. Eventually we’ll both learn we don’t have anything to prove to each other.

Loki made a curious sound and turned his torso so he was resting his chin on Clint’s knee. A very articulate way of putting it.

Some of your bullshit lessons had to stick. Loki stood up and Clint moved out of the throne, letting Loki take his place at the helm of Clint’s mind. Loki conjured a smaller chair for him and Clint perched on it, resting his chin in his hand. Loki cycled through a few of Clint’s memories, pausing on a recollection he’d gotten in a dream of their first life.

The Widow told you I was going to have you kill her.

He glanced through the memory Loki was sticking his fingers into. He’d woken up in the infirmary, head throbbing, swamped by having his mind being his own again and the absolute sense of loss, the feeling of rage spinning him out of control. It’d been strange, coming back to himself. There’d been little time after that for him to come to terms with it, but it had been strange to look at Nat and know that if Loki had wanted it, he would’ve torn her head from her shoulders. Would you have?

Loki pulled him out of the memory and then with a sharp movement, yanked them both completely out of Clint’s mind. He rubbed his thumbs over Clint’s temples and smiled just a bit. You already know the answer, but yes. I had every intention of keeping you. The easiest way to do that would be to take away what tied you to this realm.

He wasn’t wrong. Well, you got to keep me anyway. But you know that I would’ve stayed.

I know that now. Loki hummed. I wonder how that timeline would’ve gone differently if you’d stayed with me.

I’m here now. Nothing else matters, not really.

Clint groaned as the pressure in his ears released and they finally stopped hurting. They stayed together in silence until the wind picked up. Clint started shivering and Loki quickly rushed them inside, starting a fire and pushing blankets over Clint’s shoulders until he was sweating. “It’s really not that cold out,” he grumbled, but let Loki harass him into sipping from a bowl of soup and swelter under the heavy blankets. The temperature had dropped quite a bit from the unseasonably warm day before, and it felt like snow on the horizon.

“Our first task is to break Balder free from his prison,” Loki announced, paging through one of his seidr journals. While Loki was distracted, Clint threw a few of the blankets into the corner so he was more comfortable. “Hela already has the ability to leave Helheim. She will bring an army.”

“You bringing any of the Avengers?”

Loki tapped his fingers on his knee as he thought. “Perhaps Banner? He would be rather useful if he could bring out the Beast and crush Thor’s head into dust.”

“I thought he was helping SHIELD look for the Stones?”

Loki shrugged. “Why would I care where he is?”

Good point. “I haven’t seen Banner in months, but Nat’s been keeping up with him. He went into hiding after the whole Ultron debacle. Coulson and Fury put him to work with some of their scientists.”

“Send a message to Steve, see if he’s at the Facility.” Loki looked back down at his notebook while Clint happily threw all the blankets to the floor and dug through his discarded clothes to find his phone. No service, of course, because they were in the middle of nowhere. He told Loki, who rolled his eyes and waved his fingers and viola, cell service.

“Why do you have Steve paying for a phone contract if you can just magic it?”

Loki smirked and didn’t deign to answer. “I have also considered asking Bucky. He would be displeased, but he feels indebted to me.”

Clint sent a message to Steve and then sat back in front of the fire. “Hasn’t the guy been manipulated enough? Let him live out his days without you rummaging around in his head.”

“He refuses to allow me in his mind,” Loki pointed out and Clint rolled his eyes.

“We both know you know what I meant. I’m nixing Barnes.”

“You do not get a say in this!” Loki exclaimed. “That is not your place.”

Clint shrugged. “I get one refusal for every one of your nutso plans, boss. This is mine.”

“You cannot just...tell me no,” Loki growled at him.

“Sure does look like that’s what I’m doing,” Clint replied pleasantly, and Loki frowned. “Barnes stays on Earth. Pick someone else. Hell, why not Cap?”

“Steve stays on Midgard,” Loki said, a tone of finality in his voice. He looked back down at his journal. “Perhaps Sam, then. I could have both of the Bird Bros.”

Clint grinned at the name. He’d almost forgotten. “Sure, Wilson would be helpful.” He paused and thought about it. “Actually, did you ever find those schematics for the bullets HYDRA came up with to inhibit seidr?” Loki frowned as he thought about it, and then pulled another journal from a pocket dimension, floating it flat in front of him. He tapped the cover and it opened, pages flicking past various drawn diagrams and formulas and long pages of small, cramped writing. The journal stopped and Loki glanced over the page, an illusion of the words floating above him so Clint could peer at them.

“This is my research of what SHIELD could glean from the bullet they pulled from me. Perhaps I could experiment and see what I can do.”

“How would you test them?” Loki glanced at him and Clint groaned. “I’m not going to shoot you. Cap would hunt me down and pull all my toenails off or something.”

“Perhaps I could cast some manner of spell on you,” Loki mused. “Or wrap a target in seidr and see how the experimental bullet reacts to it.”

“So the two options are to cause irreparable damage to me or to shoot a stump.”

“Oh, I would fix you. Perhaps the stump first.” He closed the notebook and vanished it, frowning at Clint, who just rolled his eyes and picked up his phone when it vibrated. A text from his wife, a text from Steve.

Barnes and Wilson slept on the couch together last night. Lila took a picture for you when you come home. They’re good for each other.

Glad to hear you two are doing well. Bruce is here at the Facility. He was caught in the shield that contained the blast. Romanoff spent three weeks calming him down once we caught him. Oh, that made sense. Clint had retired right after Ultron and Sokovia, had spent a week doing exit interviews and signing a hundred documents saying he wasn’t going to spill state secrets, and hadn’t even thought about anyone else other than his family and Loki. He’d texted Nat a few times, but neither of them had mentioned Banner.

He slid his phone back onto the kitchen counter and turned back to Loki, crossing his arms over his chest. “I wouldn’t count on Banner, but we can still ask him. So you just think that Balder and Hela and her army will be enough?”

“We caused quite a dent in the Einherjar when they were unsuccessful in capturing us,” Loki reminded him.

“That was only three months ago. Jesus.”

“Quite,” Loki drawled. “My estimation for remaining Einherjar is just under 1000 warriors. He will have Frigga on his side, and she is frightfully powerful. There are also various seidrmadrs around Asgard that I am quite certain will be drafted into his battle.”

“How many is Hela’s army?”

Loki snorted. “She rules Helheim. It is her destiny. She controls the forces of the undead, which is every Asgardian that fell and did not go to Valhalla.”

“So, thousands?”

“Oh, at the minimum.” Loki’s lips curled in a nasty smile. “She also has the Valkyries. The most powerful warriors of all, who all perished in a battle many thousands of years ago. They went to Hel.”

“If they died in battle, why didn’t they go to Valhalla?”

“Because Hela killed them herself and dragged them there.” Loki twisted his lips and Clint whistled, a bit impressed despite himself. “I made a deal with her. She wants Thor, and I want him dead and gone.”

Clint nodded. Killing Thor didn’t feel feasible. Thor was such an overarching, monstrous, looming creature in both of their minds; it didn’t seem possible that he could even die. But not even gods were truly immortal. Even Thor could die.

They met each other’s gazes across the cabin. If anyone could do it, could take down the Mad King from his stolen throne, it was them.

Chapter Text

Clint just wanted a week.

Well, he’d started with wanting a month, and Loki had tried to bargain with a single day, but Clint had convinced him up to a week. He couldn’t do all of his scheming and planning and spending time with Steve and antagonizing Banner just in one day. So Clint got a week to pretend like he was a normal, regular dad with a regular, normal family. Sure, he had an ex-assassin living in his house, and a god in his head, but he could pretend otherwise for a week. Well, he could pretend to pretend, anyway.

Wilson had gone back to the Avengers Facility, which left Barnes in a fairly foul mood. He was still helping and being his version of congenial with the kids and Laura, but when it was just him and Clint, he was surly and taciturn and angry. Clint had taken his kids to the zoo that day, giving Laura a day off, and Barnes had spent his day mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms and being angry about being alive or whatever.

They were sitting on the porch swing, Clint doggedly making his way through a six-pack. Barnes had declined any alcohol, saying it didn’t work on him. Dumbass super-soldiers.

They watched the sun set in comfortable quiet.

“Wilson said you…” Barnes trailed off and frowned a bit deeper than his normal everyday frown. “You told him you were only good at archery.”

Clint nodded and looked out over the sunset. “I was stuck, you know, when I was a kid. We were stuck with our parents, stuck in the circus, and then I was stuck without anything except for the bow in my hand. I’d heard about some folks wanting other people hurt for money, and it was the only thing I was able to do. SHIELD picked me up a few years into that, told me they wanted me to work for them.” He loosely shrugged one shoulder. “Consistent pay, consistent work, still got to fire a bow. Didn’t really have a reason to turn them down.”

Barnes looked frustrated. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, and then finally said, “The only thing I know how to do anymore is kill people.”

“Barnes,” he sighed, “we both know that’s not true. Look, I thought the same thing for a long time. Did you know I never even wanted kids? I was convinced I was gonna be like my dad. But Laura wanted kids, and she gave me everything, so I gave in. I’m still worried I’m gonna hurt them, you know. Every day. I could’ve taken a desk job, even worked from home. But I still thought that I could only be good at one thing. Did you know I met Laura before I even heard of SHIELD? She saw some idiot guy who could split an arrow blindfolded and thought, ‘Hey, maybe he’s worth something’. She was the first person who didn’t let me run when running was all I knew how to do. Barnes, I’m going to be blunt here, and you’ll probably punch me for it, but Wilson wants to do that for you. I’m not saying you have to let him. I’m just saying, maybe give him a chance.”

Barnes sat for another moment and then got up and went inside, slamming the front door behind him. Clint shrugged and turned back to the sunset.

The next morning, Loki was sitting at the kitchen table when Clint tripped downstairs to start breakfast for the kids. He had clearly been up all night, or perhaps more than a few nights, with dark circles under his eyes and a shake in his hands. He kept massaging his wrists, alternating hands as he read through some huge tome. Clint patted him on the top of his head and went to start up the coffee maker, pulling out a container of eggs and the rest of the ingredients for omelettes.

How’s Cap?

Loki flooded him with images of just how good Steve was doing, and Clint made a loud retching sound, Loki gifting him with a small, amused smile. He is well. He does not understand why I refuse to allow him to join our fight.

Clint turned the stove on and whisked up some eggs, cutting up kale and mushrooms and peppers and pulling out a container of shredded cheese. He poured some eggs into a pan and folded in some of the vegetables, letting it finish cooking while he poured Loki a mug of coffee and mixed in more than enough chocolate. Loki affectionately brushed his fingers over the back of Clint’s hand when he set the mug down. He continued making notes from his book while Clint finished cooking up breakfast for everyone.

Lila and Cooper came tumbling downstairs a while later, after Loki had eaten four omelettes and drank three cups of coffee. He looked far more awake and lively, and vanished his book and notebook when Lila bowled into his side. Loki let her sit in his lap and patiently answered her questions about where he’d been over the past few weeks, explaining that he was with Steve and helping him train the new Avengers. He asked her how school was going and Lila excitedly explained about what she was learning.

Laura brought Nate down once everyone was finishing up, and Clint jumped up from the table to make her breakfast and get her a cup of orange juice. Loki held his hands out for the baby and Laura gratefully handed him over, relaxing into the chair at the end of the table. Clint pulled out his phone and took a picture of Loki smiling down at Nate, sending it to Steve.

He plated Laura’s omelette and brought it over to her, pressing a kiss to her cheek and sitting next to her. He watched her eat, keeping an eye on Loki, who was obligingly entertaining Lila and Cooper and Nate. “I heard you and Bucky talking last night,” she said quietly, leaning closer to him and smiling at him.

God, he loved her so much.

“Yeah? What’d I say?” he replied slyly, taking his hand and brushing his thumb over her knuckles.

“I love you,” Laura told him, and leaned in for a kiss.

Clint smiled against her mouth and turned his head away when he heard the doors to Loki’s rooms creak open. Barnes tramped into the kitchen and shook his head when Clint moved to get up to make him breakfast. Barnes slanted all of them a glance and something strange passed over his face, but he turned away from them and busied himself at the stove.

Nathaniel started crying a few minutes later, and Loki obligingly handed him over, politely averting his gaze when Laura pulled down her shirt to feed him. Clint would guess it was the first time Loki had ever been polite in his life.

“Time to get ready for school!” Clint told Lila and Cooper, who both groaned and took their dishes to the sink and then dragged themselves upstairs. Cooper called back, asking if Loki would change his shirt colors, and Loki sternly informed him that if he was ready before his sister then he would change his clothes into whatever colors he wanted. Lila yelled down and Loki told her the same thing, leading to a rush of footsteps upstairs.

Barnes started on the dishes, but Loki called his name and waved his hand, sending a snake of seidr to clean the kitchen. Barnes shrugged and brought over his plate and his coffee, and sat next to Loki, hiding his face behind his hair as he ate.

“Have you been well?” Loki asked softly.

“Good enough.”

“Clint has been treating you kindly?”

Barnes tightened his hand around his fork hard enough to bend it. “He’s an asshole. Laura is fine.”

Clint chuckled and both he and Laura went upstairs to get ready. Clint brushed his teeth and changed into different sweats and a cleaner t-shirt. He was planning on hanging out on the couch and watching TV all day. Laura checked the time and handed him Nathaniel and got into the shower. He cradled his son to his chest and brushed his fingers through his downy hair and leaned against the door jamb into the bathroom.

“What are they talking about?” Laura called through the shower door.

Clint blinked and let himself focus on what Loki was thinking. He truly wishes for this Oh how very sweet No you cannot go on the run again you imbecile Yes he will say yes Oh he is truly a warrior hmmm I wonder what my Captain Steve Steve Steve will say Clint? Clint come. Here.

“Be right back!” he told Laura, who probably flipped him off, and he gently set Nate down in his bassinet and then jogged downstairs. Barnes and Loki were still sitting in the same places at the kitchen table, and Clint took the seat directly across from Loki, glancing between them with a frown.

“How’d you convince him to come with us?”

Loki looked smug, the big bastard. “I merely had to mention our upcoming battle and Bucky was heroic enough to offer himself up.”

Clint shook his head. “I’m still using my veto. Barnes, you’re staying here.”

“I can help,” Barnes growled.

“You do not get a veto,” Lok informed him, aggressively pointing a finger at Clint, who shrugged.

“Yes, I do. Barnes is staying here. Do you really want to explain to Steve that you got Barnes killed? Especially if you wouldn’t let Steve come in the first place?”

Loki’s finger lowered and he swallowed. “Point taken. Bucky, I must insist you stay here.”

Barnes looked pissed. “Fighting is the only thing I’m good at,” he snarled. “I have to be able to help.”

“Help by staying here and watching my wife and making sure my kids don’t die. You don’t have to prove anything to us.” Clint sighed at the dark look that passed over Barnes’s face. “Why do you want to come anyway?”

“I can help,” Barnes ground out again.

A slow smile spread over Loki’s face, and he dropped his hand from his chin and clasped Barnes on the shoulder. Barnes gave him a strange, confused look.

“Bucky, dear, just because Sam has volunteered to help, does not mean you are required to come as well. I can promise you that he will be kept safe. Your skills are not necessary. Perhaps in the next great battle for my life and the future of my home realm, you can help. No, you will stay here, and be useful in Clint’s home.” He pointed at Clint. “This still counts as your veto.” Loki ignored Clint’s protests and pushed to his feet, looking briefly between the two of them and then sauntering to his rooms.

Barnes turned his glare onto Clint, who just raised his hands defensively. “I can’t help you.” Barnes’s expression didn’t change and Clint sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Look, I’ll try to talk Wilson out of it, but Cap wants someone from the Avengers to go. Loki won’t let him come, I won’t let you go, Loki can’t stand any of the other Avengers, so Wilson is the only one left.”

Clint pushed to his feet and was about to leave the table when Barnes ground out, “I’m not weak. I can fight.”

God fucking damn it. Clint dropped back down to the chair and put his head in his hands. “We all know you’re not weak,” he said through his hands, and then dropped them and caught Barnes’s sullen gaze. “Barnes, look. I’d love to have you there. Few people I trust more to have my six.” That was a lie. But Barnes didn’t need to know that, and the big lug looked a bit touched. “But we both know you can’t. It’s not even just because of HYDRA, although I can promise you that Asgard has seidrmadrs powerful enough to activate you again. That’s not the worry, I swear. Loki could bring you down regardless. But it’s not about you, which I know it sucks to hear. Loki is an asshole. He’s going to twist you up until you don’t know who you are and which way is up and which way is down and then he’s going to set you off like a bomb. I think you deserve better than that, man. Just stay retired.”

Barnes looked down at his hands, flat on the table in front of him. He curled the fingers of his metal hand into a fist, and then did the same with a moment later with his flesh hand. “Barton...Clint. I’ve been fighting for as long as I can remember. It’s all I know how to do. But if you think I’d be better here, I’m inclined to listen.”

Clint sighed and nodded. Thank God. “Good. Now, I’m getting yelled at, so how about you finish eating?” Barnes nodded and Clint jumped up and darted off into Loki’s rooms.

Loki was in the bath, and when Clint leaned into the bathroom, a long, pale arm stretched out of the water, holding a container of shampoo. Clint rolled his eyes but took the container, pulling a stool over next to the tub and sliding his hands into Loki’s hair.

‘Few people I trust more to have my six’?

Clint grinned, pouring shampoo into his palms and then moving them through Loki’s hair, sudsing up the long strands. Learned the whole lying thing from you. It’s more fun than I thought. Did you see his face when I said that?

Loki snorted, water bubbling around his nose and mouth. He pressed back up into Clint’s hands. He looked genuinely moved. So very proud of my little pet. Are you still insistent on lazing away the day? I have many...errands to run.

Clint shoved Loki under the water to rinse out his hair. What, you’re going to go see Cap, probably argue with him, definitely have sex with him, then go interrogate Wilson? You can give me a day before you drag me around and act like I’m your dog or whatever.

Loki pushed up from the water and reheated it with a quick charm, wringing water out of his hair before handing Clint the bottle of conditioner. Clint smoothed his fingers through Loki’s hair and then applied the conditioner, massaging it into Loki’s scalp. Loki tipped his head back into Clint’s hands and closed his eyes. Are you not?

He rolled his eyes. Whatever you say, boss. Just don’t make me crawl around on the floor.

Loki lifted a hand from the water and waved it through the air. You would if I asked.

Clint shoved his head back under the water. Dumbass.

Once his hair was clean, Loki emptied the water from the bath and refilled it halfway, handing Clint a body brush and a crystal that he broke and it turned into soap. Clint sighed. You know I don’t even do this for my wife, right?

Perhaps you should.

Whatever. Clint began scrubbing, starting with Loki’s feet and moving up his body, deftly avoiding his genitals even when Loki huffed at him. I’m not cleaning your dick. Absolutely not. Loki sniffed and smacked the back of his head. Get Steve to do it.

A poor hirdman.

I’ll be shitty at my job if that means I don’t have to clean your ballsack. I’ll bear that weight.

He finished up a couple minutes later and wiped Loki down with a wet towel, briefly pressing his forehead into Loki’s hip when long fingers pet through his hair. “You clean enough?” he asked out loud, and at Loki’s nod, helped him out of the bath and quickly dried him off with a towel.

Loki watched him with dark eyes as Clint led him back into the bedroom. He cradled Clint’s jaw and brushed the fingers of his free hand over Clint’s face. His hand slid down Clint’s neck and then pressed down on his shoulder. It took Clint a moment to understand, and then he slowly went down to his knees, sitting back and looking up at Loki with narrowed eyes.

Loki lifted a foot and propped it up on Clint’s shoulder, summoning a jar of lotion and lotioning up his legs. Clint rolled his eyes. You know for something to be a power play, there has to be someone around that can be impressed? At least Loki had started wearing underwear.

I have a query for you. Loki twisted around to lotion under his knee and thigh. Clint narrowed his eyes at the god, who was dutifully not looking at him.


Is that all you consider our...partnership? A job?

Oh, Christ in heaven.

Clint looked up at him. I’ve had my fair share of jobs. None of them ever got me this close to someone else’s junk. He thought about it. Well, maybe. One time I was on mission with Nat and we had to pretend to—

No. Answer the question.

He sighed. I think you see me calling something a job as a negative thing. It’s not. But, I wouldn’t really call you a job. It’s more of a lifestyle. I quit my real job, the one that paid the bills and let me change the world and save people, to be with you. If that’s a job, then yeah, it’s a job. That answer your question?

Loki looked down at him and dropped his foot from his shoulder. He turned away instead of answering and the jar of lotion dropped down into Clint’s hand. He rolled his eyes and stood up, smoothing the lotion over Loki’s back.

One of the doors to the rooms creaked open, and Barnes leaned his head in. “Sir? Loki? Can we talk?” He stepped into the rooms and saw them, giving Clint a frown. “Are you—”

“Ignore him,” Loki interrupted, waving Barnes closer. “Come here, talk to Loki.” What a creep.

Barnes glanced between them again and then shrugged, coming into the room and sitting on the end of the bed, arms crossed over his chest. Loki turned and held out his hand to Clint, who obligingly massaged lotion into his hand and arm.

“Loki, I…” Barnes took a deep breath. “I’ve tried to do right by you. You saved my life when you made me stay in that apartment. I keep...remembering. It doesn’t stop. I see the face of every person I’ve killed.”

“You have made your opinion on my mental seidr very clear,” Loki said, and Barnes turned to frown at him.

“I don’t want you to cast a spell on me. That’s not what I’m saying. I’d rather remember than be their weapon again.” He took a deep breath and Loki waved a hand at Clint, who prayed briefly for strength and then went over to get Loki a pile of clothes from one of the dressers. “I’m glad you said I shouldn’t go with you.”

Before anyone could say anything, Laura called Clint’s name. He glanced at Loki, who nodded, and he pushed open the door to Loki’s rooms. Laura stood on the stairs, Nate wrapped in a swaddling cloth up against her chest. “You coming with?” she asked him, looking behind him to see Loki pulling on a shirt and Barnes watching him with a furrowed brow.

“Duty calls,” he told her with a shrug, kissing her cheek as she walked by. Lila and Cooper both tumbled downstairs and yelled for Loki, who pulled on a pair of hot pink leggings and wrapped a blanket over his shoulders and sauntered out of his rooms like he was some kind of big ugly bird. Or a prince. But big and ugly for sure.

Lila wanted a rainbow shirt with sparkles. Loki obliged, turning to Clint with a smirk. Your child has better fashion sense than you.

Clint shrugged. You’re damn right she does.

Cooper wanted a grey shirt with a red star on the left sleeve. Barnes overheard and hovered in the doorway, watching with wide eyes as Loki changed his shirt. Cooper then ran over and showed off his clothes to Laura and Clint, and then blushed and nervously showed his shirt to Barnes, who gently patted him on the head and gruffly told him it looked good. It was good he had someone to look up to. Clint helped them all get their backpacks ready and then herded everyone outside.


They followed Loki back into his rooms, where he sat in front of one of his vanities and pointed Clint to a pillow he’d put on the floor. Clint rolled his eyes and sat on it. Barnes pulled up a stool and put his head in his hands and none of them talked for a few minutes while Loki oiled up his hair and smacked salves into his face or whatever he was doing.

“When do you two leave?” Barnes finally asked.

“Six days. Perhaps seven.” Loki met Barnes’s gaze in the mirror. “We will be going to the Facility—”

“What’s this we business?” Clint interjected. “You gave me a week.”

Loki glowered at him and then picked up a hair brush and briefly considered smacking him across the face with it before just pushing it into his hands. Clint stood up and obliged him, gently brushing his hair. Loki closed his eyes and leaned back and Barnes awkwardly cleared his throat.

I will be going to the Avengers Facility tomorrow,” Loki said, not opening his eyes. “I have to speak over strategy and attack theory with Steve, and Sam will also be joining us. I will ask him to stay here until we depart for Asgard. Dear, I will also need one afternoon of your precious week for us to speak with Balder and Hela.”

“Sure, boss,” Clint replied, his voice soft.

“He’s coming back?” Barnes asked.

Loki opened one eye. “You are aware that I nearly had to drag him out of here? Steve requested his presence for training purposes. We are lucky, of course, that Clint and his wife are so willing to host our merry band of misfits.” Clint affectinally tugged his hair. “I also have many more tasks to complete before the week is up. I do not have the luxury of leisure.”

Barnes nodded at them and then excused himself to go chop wood or tear down a tree with his bare hands or rip apart the side of the house or something.

You know, Clint started, doing his best to keep his tone light and conversational, I read a bunch of books when I was a kid on Captain America. I never told him any of that. But I read a lot about Barnes. Everything written about him says he was cocky, confident, real go-getter, especially when it came to relationships. Now, I don’t believe half the crap in history books, but Barnes has been...weird around Wilson. It was cute at first, but he’s acting like a kid. He finished brushing Loki’s hair and set the brush down on the vanity, stepping back and watching Loki smooth down his hair and apply another layer of some gross stuff to it.

Did you pursue Laura or did she pursue you? Loki asked, meeting his gaze in the mirror.

Clint scoffed. You’d think I had the balls to go after a gal like that? I’ve never been ugly but she’s way outta my league.

Loki gave him a significant look. Must I be the empathetic voice of reason between us? Is that the role you wish me to play?

He grinned. No, God no. Of course not. You think HYDRA messed him up that much?

They erased his memories, did they not? Of course that would come with a personality change, perhaps even permanent brain damage. If he would only allow me in his mind, but alas, it seems to be a lost cause. Loki held out his hand and Clint took it, helping Loki to his feet and leading him out through the bedroom to the living room, where they sat on the couch next to each other. Loki glanced over Clint and then delicately furrowed his brow and waved his hand, and a moment later, the TV floated in, already playing Dog Cops.

Clint grinned and kicked his heels up and glued his eyes to the TV. A minute later, Barnes ducked his head in and nervously shuffled over to the couch, and Clint leaned against Loki’s side, patting the empty seat cushion. Barnes sat down and Clint handed him a blanket. Loki opened a pocket dimension and pulled out a book, resting it in his lap and taking notes.

Two episodes later, Laura walked in, and Loki obligingly lengthened the couch so she could sit between Clint and Barnes. Clint took her hand and she leaned her head against his shoulder and for a while, it was all very, very good.

Clint and Barnes spent the next day doing general maintenance around the house. They fixed a leaky faucet, fixed a squeaky stair, cleaned out the deep freezer in the garage, and hammered down a few loose shingles. Clint had realized that neither he nor Loki had thought of asking Nat to help their battle, so he’d texted her and she was going to show up with Wilson to see if any of her weapons would be useful against Aesir. Clint was really looking forward to throwing a few of the Widow Bites at Loki, who had waved him off when Clint had gone to ask if he’d be their test dummy, which Clint had taken to mean that Loki wanted to be caught off guard by the electric bracelets. Barnes had offered himself up, but Clint would’ve actually felt bad about that, so he’d used the excuse that they didn’t know how the electricity would affect his arm, which had had Barnes’s shoulders falling in relief. Well, Clint thought it was relief. He’d been busy plotting ways to sneak up on Loki once Nat and Wilson arrived.

They’d both changed into pajamas and were sitting on the couch in Loki’s rooms together. One thing that Clint enjoyed about Barnes was that HYDRA had completely blown any social norms out of his brain, which meant he didn’t believe in any type of masculine posturing. It was fantastic. Clint had always been the touchy-feely type, and Barnes had told Loki that touch helped him feel grounded. So when Wilson and Loki weren’t around, Barnes would lean against his side and wrap his hand around Clint’s arm and the tension in his shoulders would finally leave and Clint would feel good.

He’d always liked caring for other people. Gave him an excuse to not focus on himself, anyway. Loki had figured that out pretty quick and was working on it, and Laura obviously knew, and he was a lot better than he’d been when he’d first met her.

Barnes perked up when a car rolled up the driveway. He glanced down at his pajamas and Clint rolled his eyes. “They don’t care what you’re wearing,” Clint grinned, and elbowed Barnes in the side and Barnes glared at him and elbowed him back, which led to Clint punching him, and then Barnes had to punch back, and then they were wrestling on the floor.

Barnes had him in a choke hold with his metal arm when the doors to Loki’s room creaked open. “You yield?” Barnes asked.

“I wouldn’t,” Wilson offered up from the doorway, a smile in his voice. “Been trying to get him to lay me down like that for months. What’s your secret, Barton?”

Barnes stiffened and Clint choked, patting at his arm, and Barnes let him go, shoving Clint back down to the floor as he pushed to his feet. Clint rubbed ruefully at his neck and levered himself back onto the couch, greeting Wilson and Nat with a wave. Wilson just grinned at both of them and greeted Barnes with a hug, keeping an arm around his waist when he pulled away. It was cute.

Nat motioned to the relief of Steve on the wall, and Clint just shook his head and waved her over. “Don’t ask,” he grumbled, and greeted her with a one-armed hug.

“What’d Steve think about it?” she asked, sitting next to him on the couch.

“I think he thought it was funny,” Clint finally said. “Or weird. But he’s pretty chill about Loki’s weirdness.”

She nodded. “House looks good,” she offered. “Where’s Laura and the kids? How’s Nate?”

“Loki took the kids out into the woods to enchant some fake wands for them. Laura and Nate went into town to one of her friends’ houses. They’re having two masseuses come in and one of them is going to give Nate a small baby massage.”

Nat turned to him and smiled. “You seem a lot happier.”

“I would hope so. How’s Banner?”

She actually blushed a little, which was adorable. The only time Clint had ever seen her blush was when they were on mission together and she was manipulating a mark. “We’ve tracked the use of Stones through the galaxy. Bruce was able to find their energy signature and he created an entire computer program that scans the galaxy. The Vision has been helping, but Bruce did it mostly on his own.”

Clint whistled. “Impressive.”

Natasha leaned in close. “We have evidence supporting your theory that Thor brought the Mind Stone to Earth to give to HYDRA. Using the Stones leaves energy in the atmosphere that leaves a very specific residue, and Bruce figured out how to track the time use. Each Stone has a unique energy. We—”

“How many Stones have you tracked?” Loki interrupted from behind them as Lila and Cooper both shouted Natasha’s name and jumped on her. Wilson and Barnes both greeted Loki, who gave them a bit of a wave and then turned his gaze back on Natasha with a laser-like focus. Natasha hugged both of the kids and Lila jumped up onto the coffee table and waved her wand around and was able to conjure a small red dragon that flew around the room once before fizzling out.

Wilson whistled and came over, asking Lila a bunch of questions about how she’d gotten so powerful and incredible and if she was even more powerful than Loki, and then he picked her up and spun her around, Lila tipping her head back and giggling loudly. Clint looked over his shoulder to see Barnes watching them with a small, soft smile on his face. Loki’s hand patted the top of his head and Clint turned back to look up at him.

“What else have you learned?” Loki asked after Cooper ran after Wilson to get him to spin him around and throw him onto the couch. Wilson ended up pulling them outside, Barnes following along.

Natasha sighed. “We have two Infinity Stones on Earth, and there is one on Asgard.”

Loki pulled a notebook out from a pocket dimension and paced in front of the fireplace as he paged through it. “Research indicates the Reality Stone is currently on Knowhere, under the supervision of an ancient being called the Collector. The Power Stone is on the planet Xandar after being placed there by a Kree soldier. And the Soul Stone is hidden on Vormir. Thanos will go for the Soul Stone last, as it is very difficult to obtain.”

Natasha nodded and dug through her bag, pulling out a StarkPad. She tapped through it and then showed a diagram of the various locations of the Infinity Stones. Loki took the tablet and frowned at it, shaking his head. “It’s is pitiful my brother is so evil,” he mused. “He has a very powerful weapon called Stormbreaker that can harness the power of the Bifrost. I have not seen it in a very long time, but it is a frightfully powerful weapon. He would have it secreted away somewhere.”

Clint frowned. “Do you have a memory of it?”

Loki sighed at him and handed the tablet back to Natasha. “I have never seen it. I have merely heard descriptions of it from Thor’s own mouth. I believe it is a very large axe. He is very fond of it.”

Clint looked at Natasha. “We’re about to be really rude,” he apologized, and she glanced between them with narrowed eyes. Loki stepped up next to him and pressed his fingers to the emerald behind Clint’s ear.

He went under immediately. Loki immediately began rummaging through his memories. Clint followed behind. I remember Thor telling us he would have to go to Nidavellir to have the Dwarves create Stormbreaker for him.

Loki stopped paging through a file of memories and looked up at Clint, who was leaning against a wall, arms crossed over his chest. Was it a lie? Did he have the weapon already?

He came from that first life, right? He would’ve already had Stormbreaker by the time he resurrected you.

Loki curled his hands into fists and pushed to his feet, glaring at Clint. He was already planning on killing me. He was using going to Nidavellir as a way to stall. He used my behavior on Jotunheim as an excuse.

Clint sighed. They were probably going to be uncovering the depths of Thor’s manipulations for the next century. You know, neither of us have ever asked: why is Thor killing you before you can help defeat Thanos? Isn’t that what this was all about, in the beginning? He knew that the only way to defeat Thanos was to bring you back. So why keep killing you before you can do that?

Loki stared at him. Surely he cannot be...working with Thanos? Is this all a ploy?

You think Thanos promised you to him? If he helped Thanos collect the Infinity Stones, he’d make sure you survived and he’d give you to Thor?

Loki crumpled to the ground. Clint immediately knelt next to him, wrapping his arms around the trembling god. He brought the Scepter to Midgard in attempt to capture me first. No wonder he has not been hunting me these past few months. I thought my wards were powerful enough to draw him away, but he found Thanos, he’s been working with him.

Loki pulled himself out of Clint’s mind and staggered to the nearest armchair, tucking his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around his legs. “Please call Steve,” he requested quietly, and Clint nodded, grabbing Natasha’s hand and pulling her out of the room.

“What the hell was that?” she hissed. “He just made you go limp.”

Clint shook his head and pulled his phone out of his pocket, dialing Steve’s number. “We’ll talk about it later. Kind of a bigger deal right now.”

Steve didn’t answer, of course. He left a hurried message saying that Loki needed him, and hung up. Clint jogged outside, calling for Wilson, who was playing a game of tag with Lila and Cooper and had somehow gotten Barnes to grudgingly join in.

“Wilson! Is there an emergency way to get in touch with Steve? He’s not answering his phone.”

Wilson jogged over to him and slowed to a stop, glancing over Clint. “Everything alright, man? Yeah, I’ll call the emergency phone at the Facility, hold on.” He tapped at his phone as Barnes and Lila and Cooper came over. Whatever he saw on Clint’s face had Barnes looking concerned, and he herded the kids inside, telling them he’d make them sandwiches, which were the only thing that Barnes knew how to make in the kitchen.

Wilson was talking to someone on the phone. “Yeah, it’s an emergency. Barton says he needs to talk to him, I’m assuming it’s about Loki.” He frowned at Clint. “They’re saying he’s not anywhere on the grounds.”

“God damn it,” Clint hissed, running back inside to Loki’s rooms. Yeah, Loki had just grabbed Steve and dragged him through space. He’d been in the shower. Great. Good. Everything was just going great.

Clint closed the doors to Loki’s rooms and got Steve a towel. Steve nodded at him and rubbed it through his hair before wrapping it around his waist. “What’s going on?” Steve asked Loki, who was still curled up in the armchair. “I don’t really mind being yanked through space and time and all with no warning, but what is it?” He sighed when Loki refused to answer and bent over to lift him into his arms. Impressive. Loki was way heavier than he looked.

Steve sat back down in the armchair, Loki cradled against his chest. “What happened?” Steve asked, his voice quiet. Clint waffled for a place to sit and finally shrugged and sat on the floor at Steve’s feet.

“We think Thor is working with Thanos,” Clint said quietly, and Loki shuddered, pressing his face to Steve’s neck.

Steve frowned. “Alright. I can work with that. What’s the proof?”

“He has not continued to hunt me after we defeated him at the cabin. I was also able to escape Asgard without any repercussions, and while I have stayed here under the safety of the wards, I have left on occasion. If he was looking for me, he surely would’ve found me. He worked with HYDRA, he brought the Scepter to Midgard...I assumed he sent the Tesseract to the vaults in Asgard, but he never answered me when I asked.”

“If Thanos had the Tesseract, wouldn’t he already be here?” Steve questioned. Loki let out a long, trembling sigh.

“Perhaps he is holding it for leverage. We know that his goal is to have me. He brought the Scepter to Midgard to use it on me, but he brought it to life instead. Perhaps he was thinking that the Vision would help him.”

Steve nodded at him. The doors creaked open and Natasha poked her head in, frowning at Clint’s position on the floor. “Laura’s back. She wants to know if you guys want any pizza.”

Clint made to push to his feet but a hand on his head stopped him. He turned and looked up to see Steve looking sternly down at him. Clint sat back down and Steve’s fingers scratched through his hair for a moment before retreating. “Yeah, we’ll have a pizza or two,” Clint said faintly. Natasha frowned at them but left the doorway, coming back a minute later with two pizzas. Laura followed her in, not even blinking at Clint’s position on the floor. Steve cleared his throat uncomfortably and Loki wiggled his fingers, seidr dressing Steve in grey sweats and a blue tank top.

“I just brought dinner, I’m going back to Em’s for the night,” Laura told him, leaning over to give Clint a kiss. He nodded and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles and then she made to leave.

“You’re fine with this?” Natasha asked, motioning towards Clint and Steve and Loki.

Laura turned back with a frown. “Excuse me?”

“He’s on the floor.”

Clint busied himself with the pizza.

Laura crossed her arms over her chest. “What about it?”

“It’s disrespectful. Why are you letting him treat Clint like this?”

Clint looked up at Nat, who was clearly pissed off. He’d thought he’d explained everything to her. Laura let out a long sigh. “I know that you and Clint are close, Nat, but this really isn’t your place.” Clint winced.

“My place?”

“Laura,” Clint tried, but she glared at him and gathered herself.

“There’s things we don’t get a say in,” Laura finally said. “There’s eventualities, inevitabilities. I was uncomfortable with their relationship at first, of course, but Loki gave me a book. When I read it, I understood. All I want is my husband and a father to my kids. There’s no one more dedicated to keeping Clint alive than Loki. However that works out is fine with me.” She glanced at the rest of them and when Nat didn’t seem inclined to say anything, she nodded at Clint and left.

Nat dropped onto the couch and put her head in her hands. Clint turned and offered up a few pieces of pizza to Loki and Steve.

“You told me about it,” she finally said, dropping her hands and squeezing them around her knees. “I’d just never seen it. Do you know what you do, Clint, when he touches you like that? You just...collapse. Like your strings were cut.”

“You thought I was making it all up or something?”

She shook her head. “No, you wouldn’t lie to me, not about something like that. It’s obvious how much you care for him.”

“This is all very interesting,” Loki drawled, uncurling on Steve’s lap and laying his legs over the arm of the chair, leaning his head on the other armrest. “I’m certain that your emotions matter in this situation, Widow.”

“Jesus,” Clint muttered, shaking his head. Steve echoed his sentiment, rubbing his fingers over his forehead. “She’s my best friend, Loki.”

Her relationship with you has no bearing on the fact that my brother is working with Thanos! She can angst about you belonging to me all she wants, but it changes nothing. I do not care.

I care, though. She’s been controlled by other people her whole life, of course she would have a problem with me being yours. She doesn’t understand.

Her understanding is irrelevant to me. It is a fact. Her understanding does not change the reality of our situation, which is far more dire than her caring that you’re on the floor.

“We good?” Steve asked, tapping his fingers on Loki’s chest. “You good, Romanoff?”

She sighed. “Alright, I’ll leave it alone for now. Clue me in on what’s going on.”

“How much do you know of Thanos?” Loki asked, gaze still on the ceiling.

“Only what you’ve told us,” Nat replied, taking a piece of pizza and picking the pepperonis off. Steve tapped Clint on the neck and he handed up another piece of pizza.

“He is terrible. Monstrous. He wishes to erase half of all life in every galaxy, in every universe. I believe that Thor is so lost in his madness that he has allied himself with Thanos.”

“He wants you back that badly?”

Loki sighed and ate the bit of pizza that Steve fed him. “Again, he is mad. Clint and I are going to Asgard within the week to dethrone him and send him to Hel.” He turned his head and narrowed his gaze at Nat. “Sam Wilson will be coming with us. I don’t believe that any of your weapons will be useful against Aesir.”

Clint sighed. Loki floated Nat’s bag over so he could root through it or whatever but Clint grabbed it out of the air before he could take it. He pulled the Widow Bites out of one of the pockets and tossed Nat her bag back. He switched the bracelet on and twisted around, activating one of the probes so it shot into Loki’s side. He twitched a bit and stiffened and then reached down and smacked the bracelet out of Clint’s hand.

“See?” Loki drawled. “Useless. Hardly effective.”

“I think she should go,” Steve said slowly. He’d been quiet for the first time in his life, watching all of them talk. “I think you’re underestimating her.”

Loki rolled his eyes. “Very well. Let her come and be killed and then I will be blamed for her death.”

“No,” Nat spoke up. “I’m not going to die. You’re going to put one of those protective spells on me. I’ll call Bruce, see if he’ll come with too. What about you, Steve?”

“I’ll be staying on Earth. Loki...refuses to let me come with.”

At Natasha’s shocked look, Clint explained, “Loki’s terrified of Thor anywhere near Steve. Worst fear is Thor killing Steve, or somehow manipulating him into helping Thor kidnap him.” He ducked the hand that came to cuff him on the back of his head and started eating another slice of pizza. “What? It’s not like I’m wrong, and you’ve never even told Cap why you don’t want him to come with.”

Steve just sighed and readjusted Loki in his lap so he was leaning back against his chest. Loki kicked out his feet and rested them on Clint’s shoulders. Clint leaned his cheek against Loki’s ankle as he handed back another couple slices of pizza. This day had started off so well.

“I’ll stay on Earth,” Steve repeated. “You talk to Banner, have him give you two cameras so I can stay connected. Loki, you’re going to enchant the cameras so they’ll still transmit video feed from Asgard to the Avengers Facility.” Loki groaned. “Barton, what do you need?”

Clint shrugged. “You know me, Cap. I’m good.”

“Clint,” Steve said sternly.

“I’d like the rest of my week off,” Clint groused. “I’d take a day.”

Loki hummed. “If you give me an hour with my Captain, you can have tomorrow.”

Clint shoved to his feet and yanked Natasha out of the room, slamming the doors behind them. “Are they…” she trailed off, and Clint had a full body shudder.

“Don’t let me think about it. Let’s go find Wilson and Barnes, maybe we can get Wilson to make us some dinner. Guys a great cook.”

“Thanks, Barton!” Wilson called from the kitchen, where he and Barnes were finishing up lunch with Lila and Cooper. “You want sandwiches? They’re Buck’s specialty.”

“They made meatball sandwiches!” Cooper called out, and Clint grinned at him, dropping Nat’s hand as they walked into the kitchen. Barnes brought him a plate with a meatball sub on it, and Clint thanked him and sat down at the kitchen table.

“Didn’t want any pizza that your mom brought home?” Nat asked, taking her own sandwich from Barnes and sitting next to Clint.

“We ate all of it,” Lila grinned, her teeth and mouth covered in sauce. “We were still hungry. Do Uncle Loki and Steve want any meatballs?”

Clint snorted and elbowed Nat in the side. She rolled her eyes at him. “Naw, they’re good. Maybe later. They’ll work up an appetite.”

Wilson chuckled and sat down next to Cooper, Barnes sitting next to him. “They, uh, re-acquaintancing themselves?”

“That’s not a word,” Barnes grumbled.

Wilson bumped Barnes’s shoulder with his and winked at Clint, who was nodding. “They missed each other,” Clint explained to his kids.

Lila was nodding sagely as she finished her own sandwich. “I missed Steve too,” she said quietly. “I think he’s my favorite.”

“Even more favorite than me?” Nat asked with a smile, cutting her sandwich in half and giving one half of it to Lila.

Lila thought about it and Clint just shook his head. Kids.

Awhile later, once they’d all finished eating and Clint and Nat were cleaning up the kitchen and Barnes and Wilson had taken the two kids outside, Loki and Steve exited Loki’s rooms.

“Feel better?” Clint called back to them. Loki sat down at the kitchen table with a barely hidden wince, and Steve relaxed next to him, a smug look on his face. Clint brought them both a sandwich and sat next to Loki. Nat grumbled about having to clean the kitchen herself so Loki sent seidr to do it for her and waved her to sit down. Nat got a glass of juice and then sat across from them, glancing between the three of them.

“I apologize for my poor behavior,” Loki said stiffly. “You are a capable warrior and I would be honored to have you and the Beast join me in battle.”

Nat looked at Steve. “How hard did you have to fuck him to get him to sound like he means it?”

Steve just shook his head. Clint burst out in laughter and leaned across the table to give Nat a high five.

They all took the next day off. Clint spent the day with Lila and Cooper, hiking through the woods and wrestling in the fields and taking a nap with them in the sun. Loki and Steve spent most of the day curled up together on the porch swing. Nat spent her day with Barnes and Wilson, talking over strategy and weapons and Loki’s enhanced bullets and everything else.

It was a good day. Laura came home in the afternoon while Clint and his kids were napping on the front lawn, and she lowered herself down next to him, resting Nathaniel on his chest and laying her head on his stomach.

Can you save a memory for me? I want to keep this day safe.

Of course.

Chapter Text

The five of them landed in the Observatory.

“Hello,” Frigga said. She was standing next to Heimdall, who was refusing to look at any of them.

Loki regarded her with faint amusement. “Hello, mother.”

“Is this what you truly wish to do, my son? You cannot walk this back.”

Loki lifted his chin. “You will have to kill me.” He turned to Clint and nodded sharply, and Clint disappeared. Loki turned to his remaining compatriots: Sam Wilson, Natasha Romanoff, and Bruce Banner. “You may wish to bring out the Beast. I must make a quick detour, and then the battle will truly begin.”

Sam nodded once, sharply, and extended his wings, pulling his goggles down over his eyes. He shook out his hands and wrists and activated Redwing, the small robot darting off and hovering over the massive Bifrost bridge. Natasha stretched and pulled her batons out of her backpack, briefly turning them on to make sure the electricity was working. She holstered her various weapons and then turned to Bruce, who was methodically disrobing down to his Hulk-out shorts.

“I do not know what Loki told you,” Frigga began, “but he is very misguided. This is a mistake that will cost you your lives.”

“Frigga, right?” Natasha asked, stepping away from Bruce as his skin began to change color. “You’re not going to convince us. What you can do, though, is get the hell out of our way.”

Blue seidr erupted from Frigga’s hands and curled up her arms. “This is your last chance to leave, humans.”

Clint and Baldr reappeared in front of them. Frigga startled at the sight of her son, who glanced over the gathered humans and smiled at them. “More humans!” he boomed. “Are any of them as skilled as you, little Clint? We will be a formidable force.” Balder looked down at his mother, who was staring wide-eyed at the axe in his hands. “Frigga. It has been a very long time, mother. I have not been home in over a thousand years. I look forward to ripping Thor’s head from his shoulders.”

“Little Clint,” Sam grinned, and Clint rolled his eyes. He stretched out his arms and his shoulders and readied his bow and his arrows, making sure his knives and guns were all easily accessible and ready.

“How do you have Stormbreaker?” Frigga asked.

Clint looked up from where he was checking his arrows. Loki had sent him into the weapons vault in the dungeons of Asgard, and he’d been looking for an axe. He’d assumed the biggest one, covered in a blanket, shoved in the back away from all the other weapons, was Balder’s. All Loki had told him was that it was an axe. Apparently he’d stolen Thor’s weapon. Hell yeah. He turned his head to see Natasha talking quietly to the Hulk on the other side of the Observatory.

Balder hefted the axe. “The little human gave it to me when he came to query if I would help him take back my destiny. I thought to mention to him that he had given me someone else’s axe, but I realized quickly that it was a mighty and powerful weapon. Far more powerful than anything I have ever wielded before. I found out quickly that it can even harness the power of the Bifrost. So, mother, tell me this: are you ready to face your reckoning?”

Loki appeared in front of them, a tall woman dressed in a black leather bodysuit with a black crown that stretched out behind her with long, sharp spikes, standing next to him. Hela turned her head and glanced over them, and then she lifted a pale hand and pointed out into the universe.

A rift opened between the stars.

An army of the undead headed towards them.

Frigga stumbled back.

“You believe that I came to fight,” Loki said with a smile. “Nay, mother. I came to win.”

They looked out over the bridge. Asgard’s army advanced upon them, Thor in the lead.

Frigga took strength from the sight of her son, and she squared her shoulders, turning back to look at Loki. “Do you not have questions, Loki? Do you not wish to know why?”

He paused. Clint stepped up next to him, and Sam next to him. Natasha pointed out the Einherjar coming down the bridge, and the Hulk roared.

“I believe I already know why,” Loki said finally. “You always did love Thor best.” He patted down his pockets and Clint obligingly handed him a small cloth bag. Loki opened it and light spilled out. Loki lifted one of the Norn Stones and Frigga took a step back. “I am more powerful now than ever before. For your crimes against seidr, for what you have done to me, Frigga, All-Mother, you are to be put to death.”

“Wait!” she cried, and the two of them stood like stones in a river as everyone rushed past them, the Hulk roaring as he galloped down the bridge, every one of them meeting the Einherjar with bullets and knives and electricity. Clint stayed back in the entryway to the Observatory, taking down Aesir with arrows.

“There is nothing you can say that can stay your execution,” Loki told her, and the two of them looked out onto the bridge as the army of the undead and the Valkyries met the Einherjar on the Bifrost. “I will have you put to death and you will rise again and you will fight your own people.”

“I created a soul bond between you and Thor to control him,” she said finally. “Now that you have broken it, your soul attached yourself to the closest available suitor. You believe that your Steve Rogers truly cares for you? He is influenced by your soul twisting around his. You have bound him to you with no regard for his wishes.”

Loki’s mouth tightened. Clint turned back and trained an arrow on Frigga. “You got a lot of nerve,” Clint growled.

Loki held up a hand. “Calm yourself, dear. We both know she is attempting to enrage me. Steve is with me of his own choosing.” He paused and then smiled. “You know, I believed something similar, before we found of the farce of a seidrmadr-anchor bond. Very clever of you to disguise a fealty bond as an anchor bond. I almost did not notice. But then I remembered something: you were able to trick him. You transferred the bond temporarily to an unsuspecting servant. You, mother, made it so that only I could calm him from his rages. And you manipulated our minds and our souls and tied us up so tight that neither of us knew where we ended and the other one began.”

“When you were young,” Frigga said, her voice quiet, “you were so very powerful. We were worried that you would hurt yourself.”

Clint turned and shot an Einherjar between the eyes, yanking the arrow out of the corpse and jumping back, firing the same arrow at another warrior that ran up on him. Loki sighed and created a green, one-way barrier in the entryway that Clint could fire through. “You couldn’t do that before?” Clint yelled. Down the bridge, Hulk was tearing Einherjar apart and crashing them into the bridge and roaring at the top of his lungs. Natasha had killed her fair share of warriors, and was currently beating one of them off of her with her batons. Sam was flying above them, shooting his guns with the enhanced bullets in it.

Thor was striding through the battle, no one touching him, thunderous gaze intent on the Observatory.

“Is that your justification?” Loki asked quietly. “You taught him to see me as a weapon, an object for his use.”

“I cannot be blamed! Thor acted of his own will. You needed to be kept in check, Loki. Thor was the only one capable.”

“Oh, I place equal blame upon both of your shoulders,” Loki assured her. “You were the rider that spurred the horse on. You were the ballast that steadied the ship. Thor has cruelty in his heart, and that fire was only sent higher by you. Perhaps he would have been just as cruel without your influence. Perhaps he would have been my brother and not my subjugator.” Loki lifted the Norn Stone. “Have you any last words?”

She smiled at him, a cruel and bitter thing. “Would you not like to know the name of your soulmate?”

Before Loki could reply, Heimdall stepped up next to her and with one great strike of his great sword, Hofund, he lopped Frigga’s head off her shoulders.

Loki took a step back in shock. “Heimdall,” he said quietly, his voice almost awed.

Heimdall inclined his head and Hofund fell from his fingers. “I saw. She committed atrocities unlike any other being in any Realm.”

“You gonna kill Thor next?” Clint called over.

Heimdall inclined his head. “I will leave the thunderer’s death to the one who was most harmed by him.”

Loki nodded and lowered his hand. He put the Norn Stones away and looked at Clint.

“Are you ready?”

Clint nodded once. “Right behind you, boss.”

They stepped through the barrier, Clint at Loki’s right hand.

Green seidr erupted from Loki’s hands as he struck down every Einherjar in sight. Thor came through the dust and the smoke and the wind, Mjolnir in hand.

Loki’s lips curled in a smile. “Hello, brother.” Thor snarled at him. Clint leveled an arrow at him. “I have a proposition for you.” He motioned towards the chaos behind Thor. “I want you to know that this is your doing. You are the one that pushed me to this.” The Hulk roared behind Thor and threw an armful of Einherjar off the bridge. From the rift in space behind the Observatory, more and more undead funneled through, suffocating the dwindling members of the Einherjar and Asgard’s seidermadrs and allies with sheer numbers. “You will not win.”

“I will die before I bow to the likes of you,” Thor spat.

Clint laughed as he jumped over a body and did a spin kick at an Einherjar, vaulting them off the bridge.

“Little in the world is how you were raised to see it,” Loki placacted mockingly. “You refuse to bow to your own brother, yet you ally with one as monstrous as Thanos?”

Thor stiffened, then fury spread over his face.

Behind him, Balder stepped through the chaos, Stormbreaker hefted high in his hands. “Wait!” Loki called. “Bring Hela forward.”

Hela fought her way through the swarm, her deadly knives glinting in the sunlight. She stopped next to Balder, and the two of them came around to stand next to Loki and Clint. Behind Thor, Sam landed next to Natasha and Hulk.

“You are surrounded. There is no escape.” Loki smiled. “You know, I crave little more than your death. I dream about it. I fantasize about the myriad of ways that you meet your inevitable end.” His hands were covered in green seidr and Clint stepped closer, dropping his bow and his quiver and pulling a strange looking knife from his belt. It had a ruby embedded in the hilt and scrolling engravings on the gleaming blade. Loki held his hand out and Clint handed it to him. Loki held the knife up to the light and Thor took a step back. “You know of this weapon,” Loki noted with a smile. “You know what it will do to you.”

Thor tossed Mjolnir up in the air and caught the hammer again. “I offered up two Infinity Stones in exchange for you, Loki. He has sent his hounds after you, and they will drag you before him, and you thought what he did to you before was bad?” He let out a cold, cruel laugh. “Oh, you have never suffered as he will make you suffer. At the end of it all, Loki, you will be mine once again.”

Hela snapped her fingers and before her appeared the shackled, ghostly forms of the Other and the four members of the Black Order. “We were not able to find Thanos himself,” she said, and her voice was a dry, dusty rasp, the voice of someone who had just risen from a coffin. “But I have his hounds, Thor. And once he hears of your death, he will come after me.” Her red mouth split in a smile. “Oh, do I have plans for him, brother.”

Thor took a step back. Natasha pressed a knife into his back and Sam pressed a gun into the base of his skull.

“There is nowhere to run,” Loki said with a smile. “Drop the hammer. On your knees. I will even make it quick.”

In the end, Thor died without fanfare.

Loki cut open his throat with the god-killer knife and he bled out on the Bifrost bridge. The very knife that Thor had commissioned for him all that time ago, and Loki had enchanted it for one very specific task, using the very same seidr Thor had stolen from him. He cut his throat in the same place where he had collared Loki, so long ago. It was a weapon crafted for one purpose: revenge.

His soul was shackled and dragged to Hel.

But for Thor’s very final act, in the moment before Loki’s knife touched his throat, Thor looked up at his brother and with a smile, he promised, “You will always be mine.”

And as the thunderer died, one last lightning strike hit the bridge.

Clint staggered and crumpled, unresponsive. Natasha cried out his name and gathered him up in her arms. She lifted Clint in her arms and carried him to the Observatory, where Heimdall sent the archer and the spy to Earth. Loki turned back to the last of the battle, chin held high.

He pulled out his phone and took a picture of Thor’s body.

It did not feel real. He went to his knees at Thor’s side. He expected his brother to wake at any moment and to raise Mjolnir against him and such a weight had lifted from his chest that he could barely breathe for the relief of it all.

Sam sat down across from him, metal wings retreating back inside the casing on his back. “It’s really over,” Sam told him. “You’re free.”

Loki looked up from Thor’s corpse with a wondrous smile, looking out over the bridge and the great waters and the many stars beyond, and then Thor's body collapsed into dust, as Hela had sworn he would. “I am free,” he breathed. “I am free.”

A great and terrible ringing in Clint’s ears woke him. He tried to clap his hands over his ears but they were tied down to the bed. He opened his eyes and groaned at realizing he was in a damn hospital again.

He frowned, and groaned again. Maybe the concussion or whatever that he was suffering from was causing the ringing in his ears, and he couldn’t hear himself over it. Slowly, the ringing began to lessen, and he couldn’t hear anything.

Clint yelled out for a nurse, yelling again when there was just nothing besides the pain in his ears and the vibration of his throat. He cried out again and then sagged back into his bed when Loki appeared. Loki would fix it.

The doctors tell me you have permanent deafness in both ears, Loki informed him, sitting elegantly in the chair next to Clint’s bed and watching amusedly as a nurse came rushing in, a doctor on her heels. They have the idea that you and I are life partners. It was the only way I could get information.

Deaf? Clint shrieked, and going by the way the doctor flinched, he’d also yelled out loud. Clint glared at the doctor, who held out a paper with writing on it.

You are deaf.
We think it’s permanent.
Your partner said you were struck by lightning. Is this correct?

If Thor’s dying fucking wish was the same as him being struck by lightning, then sure. He bared his teeth and nodded. Deaf. Jesus fucking Christ.

Stark is already working with audiologists on hearing aids, once your inner ears are healed well enough to utilize them. Loki leaned forward and wrapped his hand around Clint’s wrist. I offer you genuine apologies. For what it is worth, I am sorry.

Clint nodded and looked back at the doctor, who held out another piece of paper.

We have to examine your ears. Is this okay?

No, it wasn’t okay, none of it was okay. He was fucking deaf. At least he’d retired already. Christ.

“What kind of examination?” he said out loud, hoping he wasn’t yelling or whispering.

The doctor scribbled on his paper for a minute and then held it up again.

We look inside the ear canal and will also be bringing in an audiologist. We also need to see how your inner ear is healing.

Clint nodded. “It’s fine,” he said. He turned to Loki. Why haven’t you fixed this?

Loki shifted uncomfortably. I fed you various potions. Even an entire vial of the heill potion, and an entire mouthful of kveda a. All it did was heal your pain. You were still wounded. He looked away from Clint, a frown creasing his forehead. Thor is dead. This is his last gift to me. I am so very sorry.

Clint jumped as a nurse placed her hand on his cheek to tilt his head. He grit his teeth and glared at Loki. So you get freedom and I get this shit.

Again, I offer my most sincere apologies.

Usually I’d take what I could get, but this is bullshit and you know it. The ringing started back up and he tried to bring his hands up to run at his ears, but they were still tied to the bed. Why the hell am I restrained, anyway?

Loki frowned at him. You do not remember? You tried to kill yourself.



I—I what? Why?

Loki shuffled around in his seat and crossed his legs and clasped his hands. When Natasha brought you to Midgard, you took a knife and sliced both your arms open from wrist to elbow. It was only her quick thinking and action that saved you.

He looked down at his hands and turned them over. Bright white bandages covered his forearms from his wrists to his elbows.

Why can’t I feel anything?

Loki’s fingers settled on his wrist and turned them back over. Clint looked up at Loki and he let out a long sigh that felt like it was coming from his soul. You cut deep enough that you have nerve damage. Again, none of my potions or spells have helped except to take away the pain. Clint...I am so terribly sorry.

He shook his head. So this...this was Thor’s last act. Take away something of yours.

A life for a life.

Clint leaned his head back against the pillows once the doctors were done looking in his ears. They didn’t find anything. He was still deaf as a doornail. There was some hope that he’d have some minor hearing again once his ears finished healing, and all the doctors were confident that hearing aids would be helpful.

He stared up at the ceiling.

Does Laura know?

Yes. She is on a plane as we speak. Lila and Cooper are at your home with Bucky and Sam. They have assured me that they will be—

What does she know? All of it or just the deafness?

Loki shifted in his seat and Clint turned his head to look at him. The god looked mighty uncomfortable. Only the hearing loss. I was...unsure.

He didn’t even have anything to say to that. Fine. Whatever. You’re the one who has to tell her. I don’t care how you say it, if you say it was Thor’s fault or whatever, but you’re telling her.

Loki nodded and pushed to his feet. His mouth twisted. Of course. Now, if you will excuse me…

Clint watched as Loki left the room and his eyes moved back to the ceiling.

He wondered if this was it, if this was the end. Loki had no reason to keep him around now that Thor was dead.

Thor, dead. Good god.

He closed his eyes.

And immediately opened them.

Jesus, not being able to see on top of not being able to hear? No thanks.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time, ignoring the fading ringing in his ears.

The door to his room opened and an entire pile of people filed in. Nat, Banner, Balder for some reason, Laura, Steve, a few of Stark’s employees, some SHIELD scientists. No Loki, though. He put on a brave face and Laura hugged him, her mouth moving a mile a minute. He could feel it against the side of his neck.

“I can’t hear anything,” he said out loud, and all of them stared at him. He wanted to ask for Loki but he knew better. Loki was angsting furiously and Clint didn’t want to delve into that. “The doc from earlier wrote stuff down.” He hoped he wasn’t yelling.

Steve sat in the chair that Loki had been sitting in and someone pushed another chair closer for Laura to perch on. She pulled out her phone and typed on it and then held it up.

How do you feel? Are you in pain? What happened to your arms?

Laura turned her head and Clint followed her gaze to one of Stark’s employees. Almost everyone in the room was talking, their mouths moving, and Clint squeezed his eyes shut. He took a deep breath in, held it, and then slowly let it out.


Get it over with.

He opened his eyes and looked at his wife. She held up her phone again.

They’re here from Stark Industries. They want to measure your ears and look at your medical chart. Is that okay?

He nodded. Sure, whatever. Stark was an asshole but he was a genius. Maybe this was his way of apologizing for working with a megalomaniac king.

The various scientists swarmed him and took a few minutes peering at him and sticking small metal rods in his ears and generally making big nuisances of themselves. But they were gone a few minutes later and Clint looked back around at the gathered crowd.

He looked at Balder, who was leaning on Stormbreaker. He was still in the same clothes he’d gone to battle on. “Are you King now?” Clint said out loud. He wanted to scream; maybe if he cried out loud enough he’d be able to hear it.

Balder nodded and his mouth moved. After a moment, Steve held out his phone, where a voice-to-text app was transcribing Balder’s words. He smiled gratefully at Steve, who patted him on the hand.

Yes, little human! I am now King of Asgard. I have been returned to my rightful place upon the throne. I am here to grant you a boon. You were imperative in the quest to regain my crown, so I am now in your debt. Do you have a request of me, little Clint?

“You can’t fix it, right?” Clint asked, tilting his head to the side. Balder regretfully shook his head and Clint looked back down at Steve’s phone when the god’s mouth started moving again.

Loki demanded our greatest seidrmadrs come to look at you. He gave you many potions and cast many spells. None of them worked. I am very regretful to tell you that often, a dead man’s curse cannot be undone. If there is anyone who can do it, it is Loki.

Balder gave him a sympathetic look when Clint looked back up at him. This whole thing sucked, it really sucked.

“Was I in a coma or something?” Clint asked, looking at Nat and Steve.

Steve spoke first. Clint could understand ‘two days’ and then he looked back down at the phone.

You were unconscious when you were brought in. They kept you in an induced coma for two days to let your arms heal.

What happened to your arms?

Laura brushed her fingers over Clint’s hand and nudged the restraints around his wrists. He let her turn his arm over and look at the bright white bandage on his inner arms. Of course, Loki had managed to disappear right when he could fulfil his promise. Clint would have to tell her himself. He would rather Thor come back to life and attempt to kill him again than say the words out loud to her.

“It was Thor,” Clint said out loud. “He tried to kill me.” He couldn’t say anything else.

He did this to you?

The spell Thor cast had Clint try to take his own life.

Clint looked up and met Nat’s gaze. God, he’d done that right in front of her. He didn’t remember it at all, but he could only imagine himself, digging a knife out of an ankle sheath and determinedly cutting and slicing at himself until she probably knocked him out or forced him to stop. Jesus.

Steve’s phone filled with various words as nearly everyone in the room tried to talk over each other, and Clint just closed his eyes. The second he didn’t have anything to focus on, the ringing in his ears came back. So he opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling.

Fingers brushed over his arm and he turned his head to look at Cap. Steve held up his phone.

You want everyone to leave? The SHIELD agents want to ask you a few questions.

“You can stay,” Clint said. “You and Laura.”

Balder came up next to the bed and awkwardly patted Clint’s shoulder.

When you wish to fulfil my debt to you, Loki will find me. You will be fine, little Clint.

Nat just nodded at him and followed Balder out of the room. Banner had been uncomfortably hovering in the corner the entire time, and he mouthed I’m sorry at Clint before scurrying out. The SHIELD scientists handed him a few sheets to fill out and when he just stared at them, they handed the paper to Laura, who just stared at them, tears in her eyes.

Steve ended up filling out the paperwork. He had to ask Clint a few questions but managed to get through most of it on his own. Once he was done, he handed the paperwork back to the scientists and they filed out of the room.

“Why’d they need paperwork anyway? I’m retired.”

There were three SHIELD agents on your team in Asgard. All three of them were technically on SHIELD time when they went with you. So their actions have to be accounted for. Banner is saying he doesn’t remember, Romanoff is saying she doesn’t remember, Wilson is saying he doesn’t remember.

“What’d you say?”

Steve shot him a small smile. I wasn’t there. Strangely enough, the cameras I sent all stopped working. Loki forgot about the camera on Redwing, but it was usually too high up to see anything. He shrugged. You want me to stick around? I don’t have anywhere to be now.

Clint looked at Laura, who was looking at Steve like he was a lifeline. He probably was. “Yeah, Cap, stick around. Practically family anyway.”

Where’s Loki? Laura asked, but Clint didn’t look at the voice-to-text app to see Steve’s answer. Instead, he swiped through the pages until he found Instagram. Loki had posted the picture he’d took of Thor’s dead body. Dumbass. He scrolled through the comments without really reading any of them.

He exited out of the app and frowned at Steve’s phone. Steve probably wouldn’t care if he snooped. He finally ended up handing it back to remove the temptation and watched as Steve consoled his wife. Maybe that’s what he needed, a good cry.

He just felt numb. Tired. Like there was a weight on his chest.

He just wanted a nap.

They were placing him on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. Great. It was because of his Thor-induced suicide attempt; they had to make sure he wasn’t going try again. They had a psych floor in the hospital, and he got enough time to give his wife a hug and give Steve a hug before they wheeled him into the elevator and up and up and up.

They wheeled him down the hall and into a tiny room. Clint just let them. Usually he’d have a few opinions on having someone else cart him around, but he was too tired to think about any of that. He wanted to go home and not have to deal with a bunch of doctors and scientists all poking at his ears and having to figure out how he was going to tell his kids and having to get a sign language teacher and he was just tired.

A doctor came into the room and held out her hand. She showed him a piece of paper with her name—Dr. Mary Hudson—after he shook her hand and then she glanced through his file and sat down at the table they’d wheeled him up next to. She wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to him.

I understand your deafness and your suicide attempt happened at the same time. Did you try to take your own life because of your sudden deafness?

Clint stared wide-eyed at the piece of paper. She had nice handwriting. Just jumping right into it then. Christ on the cross. Who even—was this just his life now? The guy who tore his arms open because he’d been made deaf? That’s who he was now?

“No,” he said out loud, letting the paper fall from his hands instead of tearing it into pieces like he wanted to. “They happened at the same time but were unrelated.”

The doc nodded. You’re yelling, she wrote, which was just great. Clint placed his hand on his throat and tried to tone down his voice. Does being deaf now make you suicidal?

“I’ve been deaf before,” he said, and she nodded when he sent her a questioning look. Hopefully that nod meant he wasn’t screeching. “When I was a kid. So, no, I’m not suicidal over being deaf again.” Clint turned his head away from her and stared at the floor. “I don’t remember why I tried to kill myself. I remember the world going white and then I woke up in the hospital.”

She nodded again. Your partner indicated that you were struck by lightning. When he sighed and nodded an affirmative, she wrote in his chart. Do you feel suicidal now?

“No. I’m just tired and I want to go home.”

Dr. Hudson wrote down a few more questions and Clint absently answered them, and eventually, she called for a nurse to take him to his room. They ended up taking the wheelchair away once he was in his temporary accommodations, and a nurse wrote down for him that there was a menu for the next day on his bed, and lights out were in an hour. The nurse brought him a tray with garbage on it. Dry meatloaf and even drier mashed potatoes and a bottle of water. Fucking great.

Clint sat on the bed and put his head in his hands.

A nurse came and collected his uneaten food and handed him a note that lights were going out in ten minutes.

He just nodded.

He had a damn headache. His ears hurt.

He wanted to go home.

He blinked and the room was dark. Not dark enough that it was hard to see, just dark enough that he finally felt safe enough to press his palms to his eyes and let the tears come.

Long fingers rubbed over the back of his neck and he crumpled, turning into Loki’s chest and screaming. He screamed and he screamed and he didn’t hear a thing.

Loki leaned against the wall and wrapped his arms around Clint.

I have found no solution to your predicament.

It fucking sucks so much that the only thing I get to hear now is your goddamn shitty voice.

Loki smiled against his temple. Clint shuddered and twisted his fingers in Loki’s sweatshirt and curled closer until he felt like he could climb inside Loki.

I believe you will be able to hear in memories. I will not stop searching for a solution.

Clint nodded. My head hurts. He closed his eyes and Loki tightened his arms ever tighter around him.

I am not going anywhere.

Being in a psych ward wasn’t really a good time. It wasn’t even interesting. He met with a therapist in the morning, after whatever garbage breakfast they gave him, got the slices on his forearms cleaned and rebandaged, ate whatever trash they were passing off for lunch, met with an audiologist, met with Dr. Hudson, avoided every single other patient in the ward, ignored the dinner, hung out with Loki and cried a lot and screamed a lot and stared at the ceiling a lot.

It wasn’t great. It sucked. But it was only three days. He could deal with things sucking for three days, even though it was going to suck for a lot longer than three days.

He was healing quickly. Loki had dug through his stores and found some ancient healing potion that was apparently the most powerful one to ever exist or whatever and Clint had drank an entire mouthful and felt nothing. He was still fucking deaf. He still had numb and tingling fingers on both hands, and his damn wrists hurt. It sucked.

They’d given him plenty of resources for going deaf as an adult. Pamphlet after pamphlet, statistic after statistic, information on support groups, associations, implants, hearing aids, sign language teachers, adaptive technology. It went on and on and he wanted to scream at them and tear the stitches out of his arms and just let Thor’s curse be his end.

But then Loki would appear in his room and he would remember his family, his wife, his kids, his friends, his god. And he would remember that they would love him regardless of what had been done to him.

And then he would press his face into Loki’s chest and he would weep.

And then he would wake up in the morning and do it all again.

When they let him out, Laura and Loki and Steve met him in front of the hospital. Loki looked as put together as always, wearing a loose, black long-sleeved shirt over dark purple leggings, and his hair was up in a loose bun at the back of his head, and he had on black flats. Steve was wearing khakis and a blue t-shirt and brown loafers. Good god. It was about as good as the outfit they’d given Clint, a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt and white sneakers.

The nurse helped him out of the wheelchair and Clint looked at his wife. Oh, Laura.

Her eyes were red and her hair was messy and she was so beautiful. She was wearing grey sweatpants and one of Steve’s sweaters and flip-flops and she smiled at him like he’d given her the moon.

She hugged him and Clint squeezed her as close as he could.

Would you like to go home?

Get me the hell out of here.

Steve herded them around the side of the hospital where they couldn’t be witnessed vanishing out of thin air, and Loki slid his hand over the back of Clint’s neck and Steve wrapped his arms around the four of them and Clint gasped as Loki yanked them through space and time and dimensions. They landed at the beginning of their driveway. Clint looked around.

I thought you would desire a conversation before you have to explain to your children that you can no longer hear them.

Clint stepped away from the three of them and stared into the trees. He could see that it was a bit breezy out, could feel it on his skin, but he couldn’t hear it. He turned to Loki. You tell them.

Loki frowned at him and then inclined his head slightly. As you wish. He turned on his heel and disappeared, leaving them half a mile from the house. Clint rolled his eyes and motioned towards the house.

Steve handed him his phone. Do you need help walking?

His first instinct was to deny any help, but he was exhausted, so he nodded and both Laura and Steve slung an arm around his waist and helped him walk. His damn arms hurt. Hopefully he wasn’t bleeding on Steve. Wouldn’t be the first time, but Clint liked to avoid it as much as possible.

It took them fifteen minutes to walk the half mile, and Clint was shaking by the time they reached the house. Loki was holding court in the front lawn, floating cross-legged above the ground. Wilson and Barnes had Lila and Cooper in their laps, all four of their gazes locked on Loki.

God, his kids. He missed their voices already.

Steve helped him and Laura sit down, and then he jogged into the garage to dig folding chairs out of the pile of useless crap they kept in there, and then carried seven chairs back like they were feathers or something. Whatever. His analogies didn’t have to be good.

Wilson and Barnes helped him set up the chairs and all seven of them sat down in front of Loki, who was watching them with a visibly amused look on his face. He moved his mouth and spoke out loud while simultaneously speaking into Clint’s mind.

Would it not be easier for us all to move inside?

God, he wanted to sleep in his own damn bed.

Steve handed Clint his phone again and he watched the comments roll in. It was impossible to understand anything when they all insisted on speaking over each other. One of the kids was upset, but they were both facing away from him. Steve was absolutely stone-faced, thank God, because Clint really needed a rock and if Steve was anything, he was a port in a storm.

It got too confusing, so Clint handed Steve his phone back and pushed to his feet.

“I’m going to bed,” he announced.

He patted both of his kids on the back, ignored the sympathetic looks from Barnes and Wilson, and walked right past Loki, who just watched him go. He walked up the porch steps and stopped at the top of them. Clint turned to look out over the fields.

Couldn’t hear a damn thing.

He opened the front door and stepped into his house. It was strange to move when there was no sound. He kept expecting it to be a dream, to wake up and be able to hear.

Clint made it halfway up the stairs before he had to sit down and rest.

He put his head in his hands and tried unsuccessfully not to sob.

He was sitting on the stair that he and Barnes had fixed a week ago. He’d give damn near anything to hear it squeak again.

Chapter Text

I had no reason to believe I would survive.

Clint blearily opened his eyes. Oh, it wasn’t even dawn yet. Perfect time for another one of Loki’s melancholies. He turned over in bed and slapped his hand out. Instead of Loki, he almost hit his wife, who was still sleeping, given that it wasn’t even early o’clock yet. Right, he’d gone to sleep in his own bed last night. He’d spent the last few days in a depressed funk and had gone to sleep the night before determined to fucking figure himself out. It felt like he’d gotten over the depression fairly quickly, but he’d always been the kind of guy who bounced back easily enough.

Just give me a damn minute.

He sat up, closed his eyes, and pulled. He landed next to Steve in their bed, and turned to look up at Loki, who had conjured a window into the wall and was silhouetted against the moonlight. Okay, Clint should be getting paid for this. That wasn’t even where the moon was in the sky. It wasn’t even a full moon.

Clint rubbed at his ears. Alright, angst at me. Can I get some water or something? If Steve cuddles with me, I’m cuddling back. Once in a lifetime opportunity. Bet he’s a good cuddler.

Loki slowly turned his head so his profile was dramatically awash in the pale light. I assumed that Thor would kill me in his final act. I had no reason to think he would go after you. He flicked his hand and a cold glass of water appeared in Clint’s grasp. He took a few swallows while he thought, leaning back against the headboard.

I know you didn’t want Steve to come because of that. So, what’s the complaint here? You’re alive and free?

He turned his head back to look out the fake window. I made plans without believing I would see them through.

Clint rubbed at his forehead and placed the water on the nightstand. He watched it land on the dark wood and heard nothing. It was still weird. I still don’t know what you’re trying to get at here. Literally anyone else would be happy they lived instead of their brother killing them for the six thousandth time.

Loki sighed exasperatingly. Now that Clint couldn’t hear it, he took better note of the slight furrow of Loki’s brow, the way he tipped his head back a bit, the minute rolling of his eyes. He could also feel it, which helped. I must now plan a wedding! I have to provide for you and your family, I have to repair relations with Asgard, I must live with the fact that Thanos still lives, your Realm is an inhospitable place and I detest it here! Must I continue?

Clint tipped his head back and looked up at the high ceiling. He was happy that he didn’t have to pay the heating and AC bills for Loki’s rooms. It would be expensive as all hell. You got me, you got Cap, you got everyone in this house. And you don’t have Thor anymore. That part of your life is gone. He looked back at Loki, whose green eyes were shimmering in the moonlight. Whatever fear it is that he instilled in you that the future was something to be afraid of, that you don’t have anything to live for without takes time to unlearn crap like that. But we got all the time in the world.

Loki nodded and took a deep breath. He disappeared the window after being dramatic for another minute and stepped back up to the bed, taking Clint’s head in his hands and turning it so he could peer into Clint’s ear. I found a potion you may enjoy me using. Would you allow me to test it?

When the fuck have I ever allowed you to do anything?

Loki snorted at him and grabbed his hands, lifting them so he could peer down at Clint’s forearms. It was dark as hell in the room without the fake window, so Clint had no idea how he could see anything.

You are healing remarkably well. I will take your stitches out in perhaps a week. Loki pinched at Clint’s side and he budged over, freezing when he ran into Steve. Loki apparently didn’t care and Steve didn’t wake up, so Clint just laid there while Loki slithered into bed and rested his hand on the skin over Clint’s heart. Thank you, he finally said, almost a whisper. I know I am prone to...fretting.

Fretting was maybe the biggest understatement of the century, but Clint just nodded. I knew you were like that before I chose you. You don’t gotta worry about me changing my mind. Can I sleep now? Panic when the sun is up.

Loki ruffled his hair and sunk down under the covers, leaving just his forehead and nose poking out like an ugly baby bird. Steve rolled over and wrapped his arm around Clint’s middle. Hey, he’d been right. Steve was a fantastic cuddler.

“Why am I cuddling with Barton?”

Oh. Loki peeked over the back of the couch. “You attached yourself to him like a leech.” He looked back at his book and then thought about it, and looked back at Steve. He looked frumpled. Very adorable. “A handsome leech,” Loki offered up. Steve continued to glare at him. “A sexy—”

“Stop calling me a leech,” Steve requested tiredly, holding up a hand. Loki smiled slightly at him. “I’m not saying it’s weird or anything, your relationship with him that is, even though it kind of is, but I’d like to wake up with the same number of bed partners that I went to sleep with.”

Loki stiffened. “I can assure you that neither of us feel anything sexual towards the other—”

“Wasn’t implying that,” Steve interrupted. “I’m not even going to say he shouldn’t be allowed in our bed. I know I wouldn’t win that. Just...wake me up. I’ll cuddle the guy, I don’t care. Just tell me.” He swung the covers off himself and got out of bed. He looked at his naked crotch with a sigh. “I was really cuddling naked with Barton,” he sighed, and padded into the bathroom.

Humans were so strange. They had such strange rituals around their sleeping habits and their personal boundaries. He supposed he was lucky that Steve’s appeared to be somewhat lax compared to others of his species, but they were still so bothersome. Loki had rarely been one for friends upon Asgard, but he had oft watched in envy as other Aesir curled up with their friends and sat in one another’s laps and slept in the same bed and even showered together. So very strange that Steve would be uncomfortable being naked around Clint, who was practically their family dog.

“I’m not a dog,” Clint groused out loud, his voice a pitch too high, as he sat up and rubbed at his eyes. Loki wondered if there was a spell for his vocal chords; perhaps he could control them himself. Oh, he would enjoy that. “You weirdo. You’d make me bark or something. Don’t do that.”

Steve poked his head out of the bathroom, the strange Midgardian invention of a toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. “Tell him I’m sorry I cuddled naked with him,” he told Loki, and went back into the bathroom.

Steve apologizes for being naked in bed with you.

Clint rolled his eyes. Couldn’t give a shit.

“Clint says he does not care about your penis,” Loki called back, and raised an eyebrow at the sound of Steve choking from the bathroom. He was a super-soldier, he was probably fine.

Clint grabbed his water from the nightstand and finished the glass, raising his eyebrow when it automatically filled again. He drained it two more times before realizing it wasn’t some spell that was telling him he was dehydrated, it was just a charm on the glass itself. Loki watched him in astonishment. The absolute moron.

Clint clambered out of bed and went into the bathroom. “Hey, Cap, nice dick!” he yelled, and Loki heard Steve choke again.

It was shaping up to be a pleasant morning. Far better than the poor night he’d suffered. He was wondering if he should tell Steve that he’d told him he’d agreed to marry him because he thought he was going to die when Steve came out of the bathroom, a stubborn blush on his cheekbones. Something in Loki’s chest softened. Perhaps it was a wish born out of desperation and fatality, but yes, he could see no other option for his life than to spend it with this man. Even if he was a bit ridiculous.

Steve got dressed quickly and then joined Loki on the couch. He didn’t even raise an eyebrow at Loki’s hot pink leggings. He let Loki drop his feet into his lap and he rested his warm hands on Loki’s ankles.

Loki wondered if the urge to kneel would ever go away. Even now, in the quiet and sanctity of his rooms, he wished to go to his knees. His hands trembled as he closed his book and sent it away.

Steve seemed to know what he was thinking and opened his knees. Steve was so good to him. It was still difficult sometimes for Loki to ask for it, but when it was like this, when they were calm and it felt soft and—

“Uhh, boss? Mind coming here for a sec?” Clint, in the bathroom.

Loki rolled his eyes and Steve followed him into the bathroom, where Clint had somehow managed to bust half of the stitches in his left arm during the four minutes in the past week where someone hadn’t been watching him. There was blood all over the sink and Clint was pale-faced and dizzy and Steve held him up while Loki poured a diluted healing potion down his throat.

This time, it worked.

Miracles of miracles of miracles, it worked.

Loki slumped with relief. He remembered the desperation, the panic he’d felt when he’d pushed potion after potion into Clint, even resorting to full, undiluted vials and nothing. Clint still bleeding out in front of him, still deaf. He snapped his fingers behind Clint’s head and frowned at the lack of reaction. Perhaps Thor’s spell had only affected his attempted suicide. But he did not understand why his ears refused treatment. Perhaps Thor’s spell was only effective permanently on one? Hmmm.

Was this…

Jesus, no! I tripped and caught my arm on the edge of the sink. You know I’d never…do that.

The three of them watched as the deep wounds in Clint’s arms stitched together and faded into thick, ropey scars. They were pink and purple against the white of his skin. He flexed his wrists and frowned when a few of his fingers were still numb and tingly. Well, better than having big wounds down his arms. Hopefully it’d heal over time.

Loki waved his arm and the blood was cleaned up. He offered Clint the red energizing potion, which had him blushing, and then led him back to the couch. Loki summoned a glass of orange juice and stood over Clint while he drank it.

“What was the potion he didn’t want?” Steve asked.

Loki smirked. “An energizing potion. It is commonly used for warriors in battle. We found that it can make humans very...energetic.”

It took Steve a minute to get it. He cleared his throat and then thought about it. Realization dawned on his face and he thought some more. He leaned in and gently put his hand on Loki’s hip. “You think it’d work on me?”

Loki leaned forward and traced the skin behind the collar of Steve’s shirt. “Oh, we’ll just have to see, won’t we,” he purred, and leaned in for a kiss. Clint clearing his throat distracted him away from Steve.

Clint held up the empty glass. Oh, don’t mind me!

I don’t. Loki vanished the glass while Clint rolled his eyes, and he pulled Steve down onto the couch so they could all pile together. Clint groaned and kicked his feet out into Loki’s lap.

Am I getting out of here any time today? I’d like to shower sometime in the near future.

Loki thought about that. He waved a hand and the doors to his rooms opened, and a few minutes later, Laura and the kids all filed in. Loki conjured up a larger table in front of the couch and opened a pocket dimension, pulling out another long couch for the family. Clint moved to join them but Loki’s hands pincered on his ankles. He leaned his head back on the armrest of the couch and Loki patted his calf. Silly little boy.

Sam and Bucky brought in breakfast and Steve got up to help them, briefly tugging Bucky aside to quietly talk to him. Sam handed everyone a plate and cutlery and Loki flicked his hand and waffles landed on everyone’s plate. He cut up a waffle and held a bite out to Clint, who glared at him. Do I gotta do this in front of my kids?

I can send them away if you prefer. He held the waffle over Clint’s mouth and smirked when the bowman finally arched his head up to take it from his hand. Loki turned his head to see Laura rolling her eyes and Lila and Cooper watching them with wide eyes. Sam pulled up the armchair and was dutifully ignoring all of them.

He held another piece out for Clint as Steve and Bucky walked back. Steve slid onto the couch next to Loki and poured himself a mug of coffee, which Loki promptly stole. Bucky dithered around the couch and Sam finally tugged him down to perch on the arm of the chair.

“Are your arms still hurt, Daddy?” Lila asked softly, watching Loki feed her father with wide eyes. Loki grabbed Clint’s hand and held his arm up, running his fingers over the healed scar.

“I healed him,” Loki informed her proudly. “He is still deaf.” Both kids frowned and Loki dropped Clint’s hand.

“Can you tell him I love him, Uncle Loki?” Cooper asked.

Loki froze. Uncle. Him. He had never been part of a family before, not like this. He had never been accepted. He had thought himself burnt out of the desire for a family long ago; his own had been so cruel and unendingly horrible to him that any mention of family had been a trigger for him. He turned his head and looked at Clint, who was trying to sneak his hand onto the table to steal Loki’s food.

Why are you all over the place? Clint asked after he pouted that Loki had slapped his hand away from his plate.

Your son called me Uncle.

When did Nathaniel learn how to speak?

“He says he loves you too,” Loki said out loud, rolling his eyes. Clint furrowed his brow but Loki fed him another piece of waffle to distract him. He turned his attention to Bucky and Steve and Sam.

“And then Romanoff jumped off his chest and did a backflip and stabbed two more of them! She kicked one of them so hard he flew back and the Hulk literally tore the guy in two.” Sam shook his head in awe. “Did you ever get the film off those cameras, Steve?”

Steve shook his head. “No, they somehow malfunctioned. I even put a secret one on Barton and it somehow got covered up. The only one that managed to work was Redwing’s, but it was usually too high up to get anything good.” He looked at Loki and raised his eyebrows. “I remember you saying that you’d make sure the cameras functioned properly.”

Loki elegantly shrugged one shoulder and crossed one leg over the other. “I must have forgotten to check them after we arrived. I was taken aback by the sudden presence of my mother, after all.”

Steve smiled at him. Oh, he was so kind. So caring. Loki rested his hand on his Captain’s thigh and Steve’s hand covered his. Not only did he have a family in this humble little home, but he had a lover, friends even. He briefly closed his eyes, swimming in all of it. He had thought his life would always be the same horrors and same endless suffocation under Thor that it had been for so many centuries. This reality was something he had long ago thought he’d stopped wanting, and now it was his.

Clint sat up and wrapped his arms around Loki’s waist, leaning against him as Loki’s eyes opened and he stared disbelieving down at the man.

Calm down, boss. It’s fine. It’s all fine.

“What else happened, Sam?” Bucky asked. “We all saw the picture Loki posted. Pity you didn’t get video of that. I would’ve liked to see it.”

Sam snorted and shook his head. “It was kind of anti-climatic, actually. I expected Thor to go out in a cloud of smoke or for the world to crack in two. But Loki just cut his throat and he fell. Then, uh...oh, Hela collected up his soul and carted him away.”

“Cut his throat?” Bucky repeated. “That’s all it takes?”

“It takes a god-killer,” Loki said, his voice stiff. “Two years ago, after Thor bound me to him, he attempted to ply my favor with various furs and jewels. I have always been partial to expensive things, after all. He found a ruby for me nearly the size of my fist. I had the palace’s jewelry maker craft it into the hilt of a knife, which I later gave to Clint.”

“Oh, I saw that knife,” Laura said, looking a bit worried. “I held that knife. You mean that was a...god-killer?”

“I had to keep the knife safe. A weapon that powerful must be kept on someone loyal, someone with heart.” He looked down at Clint, who had his eyes closed and his cheek over Loki’s heart. Laura had tears in her eyes as she looked at her husband. “Someone who knows the value of fidelity.”

“You’d die for him, wouldn’t you?” she asked, her voice soft.

Loki looked at her and everyone else faded away. “Laura, I...he is very precious to me.”

She looked at him across the table and nodded. “He’s going to be yours for a very long time. He damn better be.” Laura blinked a few times and seemed to realize where they were, and she stared down everyone that was looking at her.

Precious, huh?

Shut up.

But he pet Clint’s hair and held him close anyway.

Steve watched from the couch as Loki and Clint messed around in each others heads or meditated together or whatever. There’d been some kind of...change ever since they got back from Asgard, ever since Thor’s death. Something in the air was different. He’d known that there was a chance that Loki wasn’t coming back to him, had known that could have had to go on knowing that Loki had died or had chosen not to return to him. He’d tried to prove that he was worth returning to, even if he wasn’t worth going with him to kill Thor.

This was different. Loki was back with him, sharing his bed, physically he was with Steve, but all of his attention was on Barton of all people. Steve liked the guy, he really did. But he was obnoxious.

He grimaced to himself. Maybe he couldn’t say that now the guy was deaf.

He’d meant it when he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Loki. If Clint was part of that, fine. He was useful most of the time, funny sometimes, and, most importantly, Loki cared about him.

Steve knew he was probably making something out of nothing. Clint was all up in Loki’s head, connected to him through whatever bonds they had, of course Loki was more affectionate with him than he was with Steve.

Maybe that was it. The bonds. After their conversation about Loki coming up with marriage bonds, Steve hadn’t heard anything about it. They’d all been busy, him especially with the new Avengers and trying to deal with Fury and Coulson and all the new political rumors that he was hearing that were stemming from some big-shot politicians kids being killed or something. He remembered some Accords thing, some big fight between him and Tony, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. Last time, Clint had come out of retirement for him.

He watched them and wondered what it was like. He’d been in Clint’s mind for that brief moment a few months ago, had had Loki in his mind twice for just a minute or two, nothing like what they had.

Oh. He was jealous.

Steve rolled his eyes at himself. He was jealous of Barton.

He looked back at them and managed to stop himself from jumping when Clint’s bright eyes were locked on him. Loki was looking at his phone, his hand petting Clint’s hair.

“You think any more about our marriage?” Steve said into the quiet.

Loki stiffened. Clint turned his head and looked up at Loki. “I have...put thought into it,” Loki said, his voice soft. “If you are still amenable.”

Steve smiled. Amenable was a better word than he was thinking of: desperate, hungry, greedy. Aching for whatever connection he could get. “This isn’t very Captain America of me,” he started, spreading his knees, and heat started up in Loki’s eyes, and Clint turned his head, a laugh turning up his mouth, “but I’m a bit more than amenable.” He smiled. “I can’t wait to own you where everyone can see.”

Loki shivered.

“He doesn’t have a list yet,” Clint interrupted, his voice jarring. “But I could probably tell you what he wants.”

Steve looked at him and motioned for him to continue. Clint clambered up from the floor and pulled over another armchair, sitting across from Steve so he could see him clearly. Steve pulled out his phone and pulled up the voice-to-text app. “Alright, Barton. What are my options?”

Loki trapaised over and reclined on the arm of Clint’s chair, resting his elbow on the top of Clint’s head.

Clint settled against Loki and that same strange feeling welled back up in Steve’s chest. They were so comfortable around each other. Loki was relaxed around Steve, but there was still some barrier between them that Steve knew would only be removed by their bonding.

“Let’s see,” Clint mused, his voice still too loud. Loki tapped his throat and Clint’s voice lowered. “Wow, there’s a lot. Different levels of telepathy, from talking to even more in depth than what we have. Emotion sharing, protection bonds, pain bonds, dominance bonds...fealty bonds, loyalty bonds, seidr-sharing, the whole deal.” Clint shrugged one shoulder. His voice had begun to change already, becoming flatter and less inflective. Loki patted him on the top of the head and Steve looked at him. He knew what he wanted. He didn’t need much.

He just wanted Loki.

“Tell me what you want, Loki,” Steve requested, his voice quiet.

Loki looked everywhere but at him while he thought. Clint looked amused, which meant that Loki was probably trying to get out of answering him. Part of him was jealous at Clint’s insight into Loki’s mind, and part of him knew he knew Loki well enough to not need it. He wanted to earn it organically, not through a bond.

When Loki finally spoke, it sounded like he was speaking through a stone wall. His voice was far away and tense. “I have no desire for a loyalty bond. The hylli was...uncomfortable while I was away. We should have a method of communication that is not verbal.” He paused for a moment and then pinched Clint on the side. Clint just grinned. “There are a myriad of types of soul bonds.”

Steve asked before he could continue, “Aren’t we already soul-bound? I thought your seidr reached out and bound with me after you broke your bond with Thor.”

Loki looked away from him. “She broke my bond with another to tie me to Thor. I should find out the type of bond to know what my soul yearns for.”

Steve sat back, stunned. He’d thought that Loki and Thor had been soulmates, not that Frigga had broken Loki’s connection with another to tie him even closer to Thor.

He wasn’t the insecure type. Steve knew he had Loki, well and forever. Loki was it for him. But he looked across the space between them and it felt like eons. To know there was someone out there that was meant to be with Loki, that was a perfect match to his was disheartening.

But he nodded. “How about you find out both of ours? Just so we both know.”

Loki gave him a strange look and then nodded. He sat up from leaning against Clint and the two of them had one of their silent conversations. Clint kept his gaze locked on Steve the entire time. Creepy bastard.

Something in Steve’s stomach clenched. God, just let him have this. This one thing. He’d given up enough, right? He just wanted to get married. Hadn’t they both earned it by now?

Loki didn’t even know where to begin. Finding a soulmate was no easy task. It was not as if a soulmate’s name was carved onto one’s heart. He had listlessly trailed through his library, examining various books, not entirely certain he even wanted to begin, or even where exactly to begin. It was even more difficult to examine his own feelings on his own broken soul bond.

He had accepted long ago that he and his brother were soulmates. He had never doubted it; there had never been a reason to. Of course he had pushed against it and denied it and fought it, but there had never been doubt. It was no more of a fact of life than breathing. Thor has been his anchor, his soulmate, his King.

Loki sat on the floor in the middle of his library and then laid back to look up at the vast ceilings. More and more of his mother’s machinations were coming to light every day. Odin had been cruel in his own way, but she had been especially heinous. To break another’s soul bond in order to tie them to someone else...he shook his head. He wondered if Thor had known or suspected. If Thor’s own bond had been broken to tie him to Loki.

No wonder Thor had thought so little of stealing his seidr after he’d killed him. Loki could probably assume Frigga taught him the spell.

He frowned and sat up. How had Frigga...known? Surely different versions of her could not have changed the soul bond? The likeliness of the same things happening exactly in such different dimensions…it was not impossible, of course, but improbable was most likely. But she had died.

He’d never seen her body.

Loki stood up and paced.

Had she known? Had she been by Thor’s side all those countless iterations, always playing her part and still knowing Thor was going to raise Mjolnir to him again and again? Oh, surely not. He could scarcely believe it.

But it had to be true.

A sob welled up in his throat and he pushed it back down. He would not cry for that...vile wench. Mother? Pah! He had no mother, he had no father, he had no brother. He was his and his alone.

Loki smoothed down the fronts of his leggings and the sweater he’d stolen from Steve and took in a shuddering breath. He was not weak. He had to stay strong. His own machinations had caused permanent damage to one dear to him, and he would not allow that pain to become worse. He knew what Steve must think of him now, a weak-willed creature who could be so easily swayed away from his destiny.

Perhaps he should call off the marriage, no matter his own wishes. Perhaps he could find a way to show Steve his true soulmate was Bucky, let them find their way back to one other. Loki could spend out his days with Clint.

He curled his hands into fists. Could he? Could he truly step away? Had he not earned it?

He decided to not consider the option yet. Plan B. First he had to find a seidrmadr who specialized in soul magic.

To Asgard.

He left his library and stepped out into his rooms, pocketing the glass marble and taking a moment to gather himself. Once he felt centered enough, Loki glanced around with a frown. There was an open laptop sitting on the coffee table where someone had been watching videos about sign language, but there was no one around.

Out front, boss.

Loki sighed and rolled his eyes. He was not a dog to be summoned. But he went, leaving his rooms and then the house, pausing briefly at the site of everyone gathered around a Quinjet. Clint waved him over and some tension in Loki’s chest eased when he saw Clint and Steve standing next to each other. Bucky and Sam were there as well, same with the children and Laura. Apparently Natasha and Bruce had shown up, because they were standing next to the small, suited man that Loki vaguely recognized but did not know the name of.

He walked over, enjoying the grass between his toes and the sun on his face. The small crowd parted for him once he stepped up near them and he came to a halt between Steve and Clint. The suited man looked awfully familiar. He had a strangely placid look on his face, almost a bit amused.

Loki inclined his head to the Widow and the Beast. He inquired after their health and didn’t listen to the answers.

The suited man spoke, “There’s some backlash from Sokovia. We’re hearing rumors of something happening with the United Nations.” He turned and looked at Steve, something in his eyes similar to what Loki was used to seeing from people who stopped them on the street for a selfie. Interesting. “This is especially bad for you,” and here, he turned to Loki, “and you.”

“Whatever a United Nation is,” Loki said with a small smile, “I can promise you that they pose no threat to me.”

“You publicly posted the picture of your brother’s death,” the man told him. Loki nodded. Yes, he remembered. “That’s not going over well.”


And?” the man repeated incredulously.

“What the hell do you expect us to do?” Sam exclaimed from behind Loki, who turned to look at him. “I wasn’t even in Sokovia. I went to Asgard to help a friend.”

Loki raised up a finger. “Fair point. Whatever you are warning us about, Thor’s death took place upon another Realm. It is of no matter of this United Nation.” He looked at Natasha and Bruce. “Why are you really here?”

She held out a box. “Prototype hearing aids.”

Loki swiped them before Clint could grab them, eliciting a loud, “Oh, come on!” from the man. He tucked them away in a pocket dimension and inclined his head at the Widow. She visibly stopped herself from glaring at him, and Loki gave her a small, smug smile.

“Whatever’s coming,” Steve said, his voice solemn, “it’s bad. We stick together and we watch out for each other. No do-overs, not this time.” He looked at Loki and then at the suited man. “You folks staying for dinner?”

“Please stay!” Lila finally yelped, pulling free from Laura’s hand and darting into Natasha’s arms. Loki looked back to see Cooper hanging back with Bucky, who looked vastly uncomfortable. That was right, he was supposed to be on the run. A wanted man. Well, no one seemed particularly interested in taking him anywhere, and Sam looked like he was about ten minutes away from murdering someone. It was a good look on him.

Loki ignored whatever they were talking about and pulled Clint off to the side. I must go to Asgard.

Give me the damn hearing aids, you sanctimonious bastard.

Agree to go with Asgard with me and I will give them to you.

No, give me the aids and I’ll think about going to Asgard. Clint glared up at him and crossed his arms over his chest.

Loki frowned at him. You’ll come to Asgard whether you choose to or not.

True, but you get to choose between me helping out and me spending the entire time screaming at the top of my lungs. Or I’ll use my boon from Balder to get you thrown out. Or I’ll get Heimdall to restrict your access. Or I’ll take a fucking shit on the throne. I don’t care. Give me the hearing aids, you asshole.

Loki frowned. I could merely make you assist me. But how would you even get onto the throne? It is very tall and spelled to ward off trespassers.

Clint threw his hands up in exasperation. I’d ask Balder to let me sit on it! He owes me!

He furrowed his brow. And then you would defecate on it? In front of him? You would have to be very fast.

Clint just walked away. Understandable. Loki ignored what everyone else was talking about and went over to Laura and handed her the box. She gave him a small smile. “What’d he threaten you with?” She handed him Nathaniel and Loki gladly took the sleeping babe.

“Something too horrible to name,” he said solemnly, and Laura giggled. He leaned in close. “Who is that man?”

Laura smiled up at him. “Phil Coulson. He recruited Clint to SHIELD all those years ago.”

Loki frowned. The name sounded very familiar. Perhaps he was still at SHIELD? Oh, he really did have to start paying attention at all those meetings. He shrugged to himself and looked down at Nate, who yawned and curled his little hands into fists and Loki smiled gently at the babe. He wondered what it was like to be so innocent, so unaware of the troubles of the world.

Clint stepped up next to him, eyebrows drawn together. Loki obligingly handed Nathaniel back to Laura and followed Clint back to the house, glancing over his shoulder at the group that was slowly making their way towards the house. Where did he know that man from? It was very strange; he usually had a good memory for names and faces.

Clint led him to the barn. Loki glanced around and conjured a lounge for himself, reclining back on it when Clint handed him the box with the hearing aids. Loki opened it and held one out for him. Should not one of your doctors be here for this?

Clint took the purple hearing aid in one hand and looked at it, something fragile and raw crossing his face. Oh, a doctor couldn’t do anything you couldn’t do. He sighed and fit the aid into and over his ear, working his jaw to seat it properly. His hand trembled as he switched it on, and Loki winced a bit as a high pitched whine briefly echoed through the room. Then, Clint fiddled with the volume and glanced around.

Loki conjured a small music box that played a childhood lullabye. Clint frowned and then staggered towards Loki as he managed to hear a bit of sound. Loki gently caught him and handed Clint the other aid, helping him sit down on the lounge as he pressed his forehead into his hands and wept.

“Are you able to understand me?” Loki asked kindly, stroking his fingers over the back of Clint’s neck. Clint rubbed his palms into his eyes and nodded.

“You sound like shit,” Clint grunted out, his voice closer to normal. “Everything sounds weird.” Like through a computer or something, he finished, shaking his head and turning his head in his hands to look at Loki, his eyes bright red. I can’t filter anything out.

You will grow used to it if you choose to wear them. Loki looked up when Steve stepped through the barn doors and he clenched his jaw.

“You good, Barton?” Steve asked, coming in and standing in front of the lounge after glancing around the barn. He crossed his arms over his chest and then seemed to second guess himself, slinging his thumbs in his belt and giving Loki an uncomfortable look. Clint nodded and wiped the tears out of his eyes, dropping his hands from his face and looking up at Steve. “How do I sound?”

Clint let out a long, trembling sigh. Loki’s hand dropped away from his lap and he clasped them primly in his lap. “It’s kind of like everything is far away. Like it’s through speakers or something. My voice sounds weird. Everything sounds weird.”

“That’s along the lines of what we were expecting,” Bruce said from the doorway. Steve stepped back, closer to Loki, as Bruce came closer, pulling out a few things from his bag. “Tony wanted me to test them. You gonna bite me or anything?”

“You asking me or Loki?” Clint shot back with a grin. Loki huffed and rolled his eyes.

Bruce set his bag down next to Clint on the lounge and held out a listening stethoscope, running a few tests to test the aids while Loki avoided Steve’s gaze.

“We will be venturing to Asgard soon,” Loki said, examining his nails. Steve made an encouraging sound. “Do you wish to accompany us?”

“So I can go there now that Thor is dead?” Steve winced after he blurted it out, and both Clint and Bruce froze and then slowly looked up at him.

Loki set his jaw and lowered his hands, slowly looking up to glare at Steve. “If you do not wish to see my ancestral home, you must merely say so. I have no desire to force you into anything.” He stood up and vanished the lounge as he stalked out of the barn, leaving Clint and Bruce to splay out in the dust and the dirt. Steve sighed as he helped them both to their feet, helping Clint brush his clothes off.

Clint glanced over Steve’s face and sighed, rubbing at his ears. “I’m tired of you two not talking to each other,” he sighed. “But that’s my lot in life, huh? There’s an old seidrmadr in Asgard, named Hjalmar. He’s this old recluse who specialized in soul magic. Well, guess he still specializes in it. But Loki had a run in with him when he was about 400, and he’s kept shy of him ever since then.” Clint thought about that for a moment. “Actually, I bet that could’ve been orchestrated by Frigga or Odin. Anyway, he’s going to go bribe Hjalmar to show him his soulmate. If you want to know yours, you’ll have to come with. Both of you want to be each other’s soulmates and you’re also hoping its someone else so you can make a clean break, because you two would both rather be in pain than have to take maybe the smallest risk of your lives. So I get to just deal with all of that. That’s just something I have to live with because neither of you want to admit a modicum of weakness. God forbid the two of you sit down and have a conversation that I don’t have to be a part of.” Clint turned to Bruce, who was pretending to be involved in looking in his bag. “Am I good?”

“You’re fine,” Bruce replied, his voice coming out in an uncomfortable squeak. He cleared his throat as Clint swept away.

Steve looked at Bruce and he sighed. “Bruce…”

“I didn’t hear anything,” Bruce said quickly, and he rushed out of the barn.

Steve just shook his head. He had no damn clue what to do.

Back in the house, Loki had been summoned into the kitchen to help make dinner. He helped Bucky and Sam make sandwiches, as it was easiest for the large group of people. Loki did the difficult work of pulling sliced cheese out of the package and placing it on a slice of bread.

“You’re doing it wrong,” Sam told Bucky, who was doing the nearly as difficult work of spreading mayonnaise on the bread before he passed it to Loki.

“I know how to put mayo on bread,” Bucky grumbled.

Sam grinned at him and came up behind him, sliding his hand down Bucky’s arm and taking his hand in his own. Bucky took in a hissed, surprised breath. Loki rolled his eyes.

“You’re doing it the exact same way I was doing it.”

“No, I’m doing it better. You’re holding the knife wrong.”

“I know how to hold a knife, Wilson.”

Loki abandoned his post. Clint walked into the house and everyone crowded him, exclaiming over his new hearing aids, and Bruce quickly followed behind him, explaining what Stark had worked on and how they were different from traditional aids. It was a bunch of nonsense to Loki, but he listened in, conjuring up a chalice of mead for himself. He took a sip and watched in amusement as Lila and Cooper shouted at their dad from different parts of the living room and kitchen to see if he could hear them.

Steve came into the house and walked up to Loki, looking a bit troubled. Loki caught his hand in his own and Steve lifted his hand to brush his fingers over the front of Loki’s neck. “I don’t want to lose you,” Steve admitted, his voice hoarse and quiet. “That’s all that matters. You and me.”

Loki looked solemnly down at him and took a sip of mead. “You will go to Asgard with us? No matter the consequences?”

Steve nodded sharply. “It doesn’t matter what we learn. Doesn’t matter the consequences.”

Loki looked away from him. “Even if Thor was your soulmate?” he teased, and Steve slid his hand around the back of his neck and pulled him in for a kiss, smiling against Loki’s mouth.

“I’ll even take Barton being my soulmate,” Steve said as he pulled back. “God knows I’m stuck with him anyway.”

“Hey!” Clint yelled from across the room. “I take offense to that!”

“He is merely jealous he is not fit to marry you,” Loki cheekily informed Steve, who rolled his eyes. Loki tipped his head forward to press his forehead to Steve’s. “I have never considered myself lucky before. I look forward to believing otherwise.”

Chapter Text

Loki lengthened the kitchen table and duplicated a few chairs so they all had room to sit. He sat between Steve and Clint, who sat next to Laura, with Lila and Cooper on her far side. Bucky and Sam sat across from Steve and Loki, with Natasha and Bruce next to them. Coulson sat at the head of the table next to Steve. They all passed the salad bowl around and Loki floated the sandwich tray around so everyone could grab one.

“Perhaps you can answer me a question that has gone unanswered for a good amount of time now. Whatever happened with the mole in SHIELD a year ago?” Loki finally asked Coulson, who looked up from taking a bite of his salad. “I have been kept woefully out of the loop with my brother terrorizing me.”

“HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD was exposed through traditional means and no files were given to the public, other than the ones released by Stark Industries, which were approved later by SHIELD. We utilized Thor as an impartial third party to go on various news stations to detail to the public how HYDRA was operating within SHIELD for decades. The Avengers Initiative also gave their assistance in reassuring the public that HYDRA was removed from their government.”

Loki raised an eyebrow. “Were you not aware Thor was working with HYDRA? He gave them the Scepter and had attempted to utilize their forces to kidnap me. I also have it on good faith that he worked with Aldrich Killian to kidnap me.”

“He what?” Coulson glanced around the table.

Loki’s mouth turned down. “I found it interesting he was able to contain me. Only an Asgardian would know how to incapacitate a seidrmadr without the use of specific spells or potions or uru restraints. He also had specific information about my healing abilities that would have taken prior knowledge to learn.”

“You never told me any of this,” Steve said quietly.

Loki shrugged one shoulder. “I did not wish to speak of it.” He kept his gaze on the table. “Son of Coul, were you aware of my brother’s alliance with HYDRA?”

“Not at the time,” Coulson sighed. “It became clear after we enlisted him to infiltrate and take down bases and he killed high-ranking members that we could have interrogated. We also had agents investigating the files that were on Stark’s website, and we found a mention or two of him. But not at the time. SHIELD refused to work with him once we found out, but the Avengers Initiative still needed him. So we kept him on as a very limited consultant. No information other than the minimum needed to complete the mission. He spent most of his time looking for you, anyway. Better the devil you know and all.”

Loki looked interested at that phrase and Clint rolled his eyes.

Coulson turned his attention back to his food as Sam narrowed his eyes at Steve, who had looked rather lost during Loki and Coulson’s conversation. Sam leaned across the table. “Cap, you want to talk?”

After a moment, Steve nodded. Nat and Bruce got together to clean up the kitchen. Laura busied herself with herding her kids upstairs. Clint moved to help her but Loki’s hand on his wrist stopped him. Steve looked distinctly uncomfortable and then thumbed towards Loki’s room, pushing up from the table, Sam copying him. Loki glanced over him with a frown and watched them leave.

You think Cap’s gonna tell him?

I am...unsure. I believe Sam to have our best interests at heart but Thor’s spell is a far different matter. Only those affected need told. I would also hope my Captain would consult with me prior to giving out such information.

Bucky made an uncomfortable sound and made to push up from the table, but Coulson’s voice stopped him. “Sergeant Barnes, I am glad to see you alive and well.” Bucky glanced around the table, eyes wide, and the fingers of his metal hand dug into the edge of the table. “Fury is still looking for consultants and trainers for the new Avengers—”

Get him out of here.

“Barnes, hey, I had something I needed to show you that’s not in here. It’s somewhere else,” Clint interjected loudly, jumping up from the table and pointing at the front door. Loki managed to restrain himself from rubbing at his temples. “Let’s go to where that thing is.”

Bucky nodded slowly and followed Clint out of the house. Loki motioned towards Coulson’s sandwich as he used his seidr to clean up the varying dishes everyone had left. “Are you finished? We must be readying to leave for Asgard.”

Coulson shook his head and continued eating, a peculiar look crossing his face as he thought. Loki sent all the dishes to the kitchen, where Bruce and Natasha busied themselves cleaning. He propped his chin on his hand and watched the agent eat.

“I know you from somewhere,” Loki said finally, his voice quiet. “I have not met you but I know you.”

Coulson glanced over him. “You worked with the Avengers for over a year, and now you’re allied with the strongest members of that team. We’ve met.”

“Is that so.” He dropped his hand from his chin and tapped his fingers on the table. Coulson picked up his sandwich and took a few bites, seemingly unperturbed by Loki’s examination of him. It was entirely possible that Loki had met him, he was sure. So many humans looked and acted the same, especially the members of SHIELD. Ugh. Boring. “Very well. What is the news you brought us? Some manner of United Nations?”

Coulson put down his sandwich and glanced over Loki. “You’re actually interested?” Perhaps he really had met Loki before. Loki nodded slightly. Coulson took a sip of his water and let out a small sigh. “It’s being deliberated if you’re a danger to world peace. Thor was publicly lauded before he was exposed as being allied with HYDRA. It was well documented how powerful he was. We have publicly released footage that indicates how powerful Thor was, and even more classified footage that SHIELD decided was too violatale and damaging to our reputation to release.”

“How so?” Loki inquired, actually curious. It was interesting that someone called United Nation could classify him as a danger to an entire realm. Perhaps he could be, if he was truly resolved to attempt an invasion or something similar. But just by killing his brother? Preposterous.

“Thor gave us information about Asgardians. Everything he outlined made it clear that your race is nearly impossible to kill. He showed us documentation of you killing a few hundred of his soldiers, all Asgardians, at that cabin of yours. At the time, he had us convinced you were mad, even though Steve and Barton were adamant otherwise. Then you posted that picture…” Coulson shook his head. “Thor’s powers were well documented. We were pressed to release them to the United Nations so if he moved to use them against Earth, we could be prepared, but you killed him instead. So, someone who can kill Thor has to be a danger. Especially as no one seems to have a similar dossier of your powers.”

Loki nodded slowly. So Thor’s schemes stretched even further than Asgard. Now that he knew his mother had been involved in all of this, Thor’s plans made far more sense. He could see Frigga’s fingerprints all over this. She was more devious than Thor, more schemeful and more like Loki than she would have ever admitted. No wonder Thor had survived for so long. She had been working from the inside to keep Loki on his knees.

He pressed a hand to his chest, suddenly nauseous. Had she known? Had she known of Thor’s...proclivities? What he wanted from Loki?

“Loki?” Coulson said, his voice far away.

Had she known? Had she pushed for Thor to pin him down, to molest him, to hurt him? Had she wanted Thor to do those things to him? Had she listened to Loki’s grievances over the decades and turned around to push Thor further? What else had she told Thor to do to him?

He wanted her to die all over again. He wanted to rend her head from her shoulders and tear her flesh from her bones and watch her suffer as he had suffered for so long. Have her struck with lightning and collared and scarred and broken down into shattered pieces.

Loki pushed up from the table. He looked down his nose at Coulson, who looked concerned. “My brother tortured me for a millenia. He harmed me in ways that your feeble human mind cannot even comprehend. For centuries. I killed him. I will stand before every syndication, every media outlet of your world, and I will tell them that my brother hunted me and harmed me and tortured me until I rose up against him and sliced his throat. If that means I am a threat against your world, then so be it. But none on your realm can order me around. None here can tell me what to do. So tell this United Nation, whoever he is, that I am my own, and they can classify me as whatever they like, but I will not be cowed. I will not be collared.”

He turned away and walked into his rooms. Steve and Sam had been watching and listening from the doorway, and Steve tried to say something to him, but Loki pushed past him and rushed into the bathroom and warded and locked the door behind him.

He looked into the mirror, his hands trembling.

It took a long time for his soul to calm down.

He was free. He could never be imprisoned again. If he chose, he never had to go on his knees again. None could force him. None could make him do anything. His entire life was his choice now. He belonged to himself.

He took a deep breath and stripped, not looking at himself in the mirror.

He turned to the bath and sighed at seeing Clint perched against the tub.

He was just trying to warn you. No need to get all imperial and preachy and defensive.

Loki rolled his eyes. Perhaps he’d...acted rashly. He waved his hand and the tub began filling with hot water. Clint helped him into the bath and pulled up a stool, clasping his hands between his knees as he sat down.

What would...happen to Steve if I was classified as a danger to the realm?

Clint kicked his feet out and shrugged. Loki looked up and sighed. Clint had taken his hearing aids out and Loki felt a bit of relief twinge in his chest. It was good to be trusted in such a way that Clint could let his guard down.

Not sure. Might be considered a danger for associating with you. Whole world knows you’re shacked up.

Shacked up.

Clint gave him a bit of a grin and Loki rolled his eyes, leaning back against the back of the tub and filling it with more warm water. Living together. Fucking. Whatever. So, yeah, there might be some danger to him, but you know Steve doesn’t care about that. He cares about you.

Loki nodded a minute later. Yes, he is very compassionate. Loyal, one could argue. He ducked his head under the water and scrubbed his hands through his hair. He stuck his hand up above the water and Clint pushed a container of shampoo into his fingers. Loki washed his hair while Clint sat in silence.

Cap doesn’t care about the danger if it’s something he believes in. He’s been by your side through all of this. Never doubted you, never second-guessed you. Sir, I think you have something really special with him, and I think you’re trying to sabotage it because you’re thinking it’s gonna go bad. No matter what we find out, I think you need to trust him.

Loki smoothed the water out of his hair and summoned a towel to dry his arms before applying lotion. I do trust him.

Sure, you trust him to not beat you up or not to take advantage of you. But you don’t trust him with yourself. Look, I’m actually literally qualified to give you advice on this. I’m maybe the only married person you know. If you need this to trust him, fine. But I think you’re using this soulmate thing to push him away.

Loki reached over the side of the tub and pinched Clint in the side. He jumped and rolled his eyes and smacked Loki’s hand away. Loki drained the water out of the tub and pushed to his feet, Clint obligingly helping him out and handing him a towel.

Loki dried himself off and wrapped it around his waist, taking a seat in front of his vanity. Clint lotioned up his back and took the brush Loki handed back towards him.

Regardless of the turnout, you will be with me.

Clint met Loki’s gaze in the mirror, a soft smile curving the edges of his face. Sure, boss. I’m stuck with you regardless of how dumb you act.

Loki hummed and batted Clint away, opening a vial of oil and beginning to work it through his hair. Clint leaned up against the vanity and crossed his arms over his chest.

We will leave in the morn, Loki decided. I cannot bear to wait.

Clint nodded and waited for Loki to finish oiling himself up. Loki glanced over him and clenched his teeth. Whatever pained thing that roiled through him and burst through his skin and caused him to act out, Loki did not have a name for it. But he was beholden to it. And Clint was so easy.

He let Loki dig his nails into his shirt and tear it from him. He tipped his head back and grabbed onto the edge of the vanity counter and let his eyes slide shut. Loki’s fingers trailed over his bare shoulders and he lengthened his nails and after a thought, Loki opened a pocket dimension and pulled out a small bag of glass vials. A small, half-empty round bottle floated out of the bag, and Loki wiped his nails clean on his towel before opening the vial and dipping his nails in. Clint slit his eyes open and smiled.

You really know how to treat a man, huh.

Loki glanced over him. You would’ve gotten the pain you desire if you’d told me instead of pushing the need at me.

Clint smiled slowly, sliding his eyes shut again. Loki trailed his fingers over Clint’s neck and then pressed his thumb into the hollow of Clint’s throat. Clint swallowed around it and shuddered as Loki pressed his long, pointed thumbnail into the weak, soft skin. Clint grunted and Loki’s lips curled into a smile. It felt good. It was relief. It was having the power to take and create life, of feeling a heartbeat under his skin, of having someone be his.

When you give in to me like this, when you grab onto me like I am the only light in your life, I see the attraction. I see why Thor fought so hard for me.

He pressed his poisoned nails into the side of Clint’s face and he gasped, pushing into the touch as the red potion burned through his skin. Would you fight? Clint asked. If someone took me, would you fight?

Who would want you?

Clint smiled. You do.

Loki made a soft sound in the back of his throat. He scratched deeply down the length of Clint’s chest and then stepped back. Clint blinked a few times and then his hooded eyes slowly focused on Loki, who was carefully capping the potion and putting it back into the bag.

What was that?

Topical poison. It emphasizes pain over approximately twelve to twenty hours. It will burn and then freeze and then needle. Tell me when you wish me to reapply it.

Clint shivered. Hey, let me see your hand.

Loki narrowed his eyes at him, slowly setting the bag back into a pocket dimension and then sending it away. He sat back on his gilded stool in front of his vanity and crossed his legs, delicately placing his hand into Clint’s.

Clint swallowed and slowly and thoroughly licked the potion from Loki’s fingers, shuddering as his mouth lit on fire.

It’s going to be difficult to explain this, Loki noted with a raise of an eyebrow.

Clint shrugged as he finished. We both know you don’t care. He dropped Loki’s hand and wiped his hands on the tattered remains of his shirt. You gonna get dressed? I’m gonna find some peppers or something and see if I can make myself cry. Loki repaired his shirt and then turned back to the mirror as Clint ducked out of the bathroom.

He felt settled. It was strange. He was still a bit...anxious about the upcoming trip, but Clint was always good to him.

If their time with Hjalmar went the way he was expecting, it was good to know that even if he could not go to his knees in front of Clint, he could still be anchored. Perhaps it would not be perfect, but surely it would work.

He finished smoothing down his hair and left the bathroom. Steve was curled up on the bed, back against the massive headboard, a drawing pad on his knees. He was sketching Sam and Bucky on the couch. Loki pulled on a pair of leggings and an old sweater of Clint’s and climbed onto the couch, leaning his head on Steve’s shoulder. If this was the last night he was able to have his Captain, he would make the most of it.

“We leave tomorrow for Asgard,” Loki said softly, and he felt Steve nod and press a kiss to the top of his head. Hopefully nothing would change. Hopefully he could keep this.

Even water hurts! You think I can get an entire gallon jug of that stuff? I want to take a bath in it.

Loki snorted and turned his face into Steve’s neck. It is rather difficult to make. But I will find the recipe and make you more.

Aw. Thanks for making me a pain potion. How sweet.

The three of them landed in the Observatory, Heimdall greeting them with a short bow. Loki inclined his head at the Gatekeeper and glanced over the spot where Frigga had died. “Are we ready?” He’d waffled on what he was going to wear, and had decided on a mix between Asgardian and Midgardian formal wear. He had on his horned helm, shined to a gleam, with a long green cape coming off floating gold spalders, and knee-height boots with heavy buckles and thick tread. He had decided on thick green scale mail for his legs and a skin-tight black cardigan with heavy gold embroidery around the chest and shoulders.

Steve nodded. He was in his Captain America uniform, red and white stripes down his stomach, dark blue covering his chest and arms and legs. Loki had reinforced the legs and arms with Asgardian scalemail, and hidden a few small bags of holding inside the small pouches on his belt. There was a red outline around the silver star on his chest and thin red lines down the length of his legs. His gloves and heavy combat boots were the same blue as his suit. Loki thought he looked lovely and heroic and so very handsome. He held out his hand to Heimdall, who looked at him with surprise. “Steve Rogers.”

Heimdall removed Hofund from the Bifrost switch and held the great sword in one hand as he stepped up in front of Steve. He placed his hand in Steve’s and shook it once before stepping back. “Heimdall, the Gatekeeper and All-Seeing.” He inclined his head to Clint, who waved awkwardly. “Bowman.”

Clint had decided to wear whatever Loki thought was best, which turned out to be a black sleeveless tunic with a dark purple vest over it, black scalemail down his legs, and light black boots that were spelled to allow him to move soundlessly. He wore a dark purple bracer and finger gloves, and his black Aesir bow was slung over his shoulder, a filled quiver on his back. The ruby-hilted knife that had killed Thor was displayed prominently on his belt. There was a line of bright red, inflamed scratches down the line of his throat, and in his ears, bright purple hearing aids.

“Has there been fallout?” Loki asked as he looked down the bridge to Asgard, shining in the distance.

Heimdall held Hofund’s hilt in both hands as he turned slowly to look at Loki, gold eyes glittering in the dark. “Destiny is being fulfilled,” was all he would say. Loki nodded and Steve and Clint exchanged confused looks.

Loki stepped out onto the Bifrost, cape fluttering about his heels.

On the bridge where he killed his brother, Mjolnir lay.

The hammer that had brought death to him so many times. His head throbbed.

He dug his nails into his palms.

“You gonna pick it up?” Clint asked, stepping up next to him. “You probably earned it.”

“I am not worthy,” Loki murmured, eyes locked on the hammer.

“You ever tried?” Steve stepped up to Loki’s left hand.

“I never had to try,” Loki replied, his voice a bit amused. “It held me down and suffocated me enough times that I was well aware I was not worthy.”

“Won’t know until you try,” Clint offered up with a shrug. When no one else moved, he walked up to Mjolnir and wrapped his hand around the hammer. He pulled and it did not even budge. “See, I’m unworthy. Big pile of garbage. Should throw myself off the Bifrost.”

Loki rolled his eyes.

Steve went up to the mighty weapon and took the handle in his hand. Before he could tighten his grasp and lift it, Loki opened his hand.

It happened in slow motion. The hammer twisted around out of Steve’s grasp and flew down the bridge, slamming into Loki’s hand. His fingers automatically tightened around the handle and he held it tight, looking down at the weapon that had caused him so much harm.

It was merely a hammer. Still, it filled him with disgust to even touch it.

Loki dropped the hammer from his hand and it fell to the bridge. He shook his head and stepped away from it.

“We can gift it,” he decided, wiping his hands on his cardigan. “Steve, you carry it.”

“I can’t lift it,” Steve replied, his tone a bit amused.

Loki raised an eyebrow as he strode away down the bridge. “Can you not?” he called back.

Steve shrugged to himself and walked up to Mjolnir. The handle was warm in his fingers.

It lifted easily in his grasp. For a brief moment, he felt filled with power and strength far beyond his own, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Then he grimaced and slung the hammer onto a hook on his belt and jogged to catch up with Loki and Clint.

Einherjar met them at the end of the bridge. Loki was welcomed first, and then Steve, and then Clint. Clint was a bit surprised he was acknowledged at all. One of the guards broke protocol by bowing low to Loki.

“My Lord,” the Einherjar greeted, his voice solemn, “I wish to apologize for my grievances against your person. The Mad King brought us into an unwise battle and I am glad to see you unharmed. If you desire, you may take your umbrage out upon me.”

Clint opened his mouth. Loki conjured a tall staff to hit him in the shins so he’d shut up. Steve tried to interject but Loki spoke before he could say anything.

He looked down at the Einherjar. The soldier’s head was inclined and he kept his gaze on the floor. Loki looked around at the other warriors, who all stared straight ahead. “Does this man speak for all of you?” Loki asked, his voice soft. “He is your...sacrificial lamb?”

The Einherjar all nodded, one after another.

Loki frowned. “Very well. Come with us, then, soldier.” The Einherjar nodded and followed them as Loki swept away. They followed behind him.

Steve leaned in close to Clint. “So this is where he grew up?”

Clint nodded and shot him a grin. “Sure did, Cap. You gettin’ cold feet? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This is just the front walk. We still have to get to the throne room. Hey, you know how Loki’s got such good calves? It’s because he had to walk a mile to just get some waffles.”

“Waffles,” Steve repeated.

Clint’s grin widened. “Yeah, waffles. Eats them daily. Twice a day, sometimes. Hell, one time you were on mission and all he ate was waffles.”

“Barton,” Steve sighed, “one of these days…” He looked around, taking in the gold-plated walls, the heavy curtains, the deep carvings on the ceiling, the massive paintings. They passed huge doors with beautiful relief carvings depicting battles and hunts and various other accomplishments. Steve was stunned.

They turned down another hall and a massive staircase looked in front of them. At the bottom stood Boda and her assistants.

Loki let out a small, sharp sigh but then straightened up and lifted his chin and stopped in front of her, Clint on his right and Steve on his left. The Einherjar hung back.

Loki motioned at Steve with his staff. “Captain Rogers.” It didn’t miss anyone’s attention that he’d addressed Steve formally. “This is Boda, the palace’s most lauded jewelry maker. She made my knife.” He pointed the staff at the knife on Clint’s belt.

Boda bowed, ignoring or unsure of what to do with Steve’s outstretched hand. “Captain,” she said, her voice kind. She glanced over Clint. “I see you still have the bodyguard, your Highness. Is it treating you well?”

“Poorly,” Loki drawled. “Do you have something for me?”

One of her assistants stepped forward, giving the three of them an elegant bow before holding out a hand and whisking the cloth off it. In their hand, a perfectly shaped Alfheim crystal. “We heard of your...Midgardian’s injury. If it can be helped, we offer a fine crystal already casted with hearing spells. Our most humblest of sympathies.” The assistant bowed again and Loki blinked rapidly before gathering himself again and motioning Clint towards the crystal.

The possibility of using an Alfheim crystal never crossed my mind, Loki admitted quietly and shamefully as Clint pocketed the crystal.

The second assistant came forward, bowed, and pulled a red cloth off their hand. “For your lover, if we may.” They held out a handful of glass balls of various sizes, ranging from the size of a thumbnail to the size of an orange. When Steve didn’t move forward to take them, the assistant cleared their throat and expounded, “For the warrior who must fight many battles, we give seidr bombs.”

“How very kind,” Loki drawled, a bit mockingly, but he motioned Steve to take them. The assistant wrapped the glass balls in the red cloth and handed them to Steve, who nervously put them into one of the pouches on his belt.

“Thank you,” Steve told the assistant, who bowed again and then stepped back behind Boda.

“These are your gifts?” Loki queried, his voice expressionless. A bit of nervousness flashed over Boda’s long, thin face as she looked over Loki.

Before she could say anything else, Steve gently interrupted, “Thank you, ma’am. It was more than enough.”

Clint just sighed as Boda bowed to Loki and then swept away, her assistants trailing behind her. “You’re lucky Loki is considered a bit of an eccentric,” Clint informed him as Loki glanced over them and then moved away towards the stairs.

They followed behind him and Steve shot Clint a frown. “Why’s that?”

“Remember how I told you you can’t think of Loki like a person? That’s what all of Asgard’s like. Usually humans are kind of like...slaves. Or dogs, maybe. They think we’re funny.”

“Is that why they kept calling you ‘it’?”

Loki shot them an amused glance over his shoulder as they started up the absolutely unreasonably large staircase. Clint snorted.

“No, that’s actually deference to Loki, weird as it sounds. Aesir can...see bonds, kind of. Sense them is a better way to describe it. They know that I belong to Loki. Some of them call me his bodyguard, which isn’t entirely wrong. But if he hasn’t referred to me as ‘he’, then they’re not going to refer to me that way either. You’re treated more autonomously, partially because of your station and partially because you’re Loki’s, uh, bedmate. He might not be a King anymore but he’s still royalty. Probably the second highest ranking member of the royal family next to the King.”

“Is that the reason behind the gifts?”

Clint snorted again. “Loki murdered the last King. I can only assume that a lot of Thor’s shit was brought to light by Balder.” He looked over his shoulder at the silent Einherjar still following behind them. “Is that right? What’d Balder say, Einherjar?”

The soldier looked up, a bit surprised to be addressed, but he nodded. “The King informed us of the Mad King’s cruelty towards Loki. He told a raven, who told another raven, who told a bard, who went through the city and sang the tale of Loki’s woes. An entire lifetime at Thor’s feet, forced to bond with him…” The Einherjar shook his head and glanced over the two of them. “He is very strong to have survived so much.”

“That’s not even the half of it,” Clint muttered to Steve as they both turned away from the Einherjar. “Anyway, the social systems in Asgard are super complex. Loki kind of likes it. He thinks humans are boring. We’re a lot more straightforward and less elegant and stand on less tradition and happenstance and so he gets bored with us super easily.”

“Have I insulted anyone or anything?” Steve finally asked as they neared the top of the staircase. Clint was a bit out of breath. It really was a long way up for no reason.

Both Loki and the Einherjar snorted at the same time.

Clint just gave Steve an easy, placid smile. “Don’t worry about it. Again, Loki is an eccentric so we’re allowed and expected to not act perfectly. Hell, we were both allowed to keep weapons when we entered the palace. Even if anyone does say anything, Loki’ll stick up for us. He’s been itching for an argument ever since we got here and you thought shaking Heimdall’s hand was a good idea.”

Steve looked exhausted and they’d only been in Asgard for an hour. “Shaking a man’s hand was a bad idea?”

“Not a man,” Loki called back from where he was talking to a few Einherjar posted outside the throne room doors.

Clint rolled his eyes. “Hey, Einherjar, what would happen to you if you touched the Gatekeeper?”

“My hands would be shorn from my body,” the Einherjar replied back, his voice stiff. Steve swallowed loudly.

“Any touch upon a Gatekeeper can be taken as an act upon their life,” Clint informed Steve, sounding a bit like he was reciting lines. “His hands hold Hofund, the sword that controls the Bifrost, which means that his hands are particularly sacred.”

“So I’m, what, one or two strikes down already, and we haven’t even met the King,” Steve groaned, rubbing at the tight skin between his eyes. “Great.”

Clint offered him a shrug. “You didn’t know, Cap. But maybe stop offering to touch people.” He turned his head to look at Loki, who turned away from the Einherjar and strode confidently back towards them. “We good, boss?”

Loki lifted his chin, hands clasped behind his back as he stepped up between Clint and Steve. “Balder will summon us soon.” He tilted his head to look at the quiet Einherjar who had accompanied them. “You will come with.” Loki looked down at Mjolnir, a heavy look of distaste creasing his face.

“I don’t even like holding it,” Steve admitted.

“Can’t be destroyed, can it,” Clint mused, thinking about it. He had Loki’s memory of first-life Hela destroying it, but she probably wouldn’t do it for them this go-round. Loki had a plan for the hammer anyway, but Clint just hated being near it or knowing that Steve was carrying it or that it was touching him.

Before Loki could answer, the Einherjar closest to the door called for them as the massive gold doors began to creak open. Maybe doors creaking was just an Asgardian thing. Loki turned to them and frowned. “Steve, you’ll walk at my left hand, and Clint at my right. Einherjar, stay a length behind us. Clint, keep an eye on him.” Clint nodded and stepped up to Loki to readjust his leathers and settle his cape, rubbing a scuff out of his helm. He raised an eyebrow at Steve, who just shook his head.

Loki inclined his head and turned on his heel towards the throne room. Steve stepped up a stride behind him, picking his shield off his back and hefting it up in his left arm. Clint moved up a step behind Steve, to Loki’s right, and a few feet behind him, the Einherjar nodded his readiness. Loki nervously fluttered his hands over the length of his staff and then he set it to the polished floor, striding forward into the room he had not stepped in for nearly two years, his staff tapping the floor with every other long step.

Balder lounged upon the throne, reading through a thick, long scroll. Various attendants and council and cabinet members scurried about. Loki paused, just for a moment, as his boots touched the thick scarlet rug that lead up to the steps of the throne. It was the same runner that Thor had had when he was King, when Loki had been under his rule.

You’re doing fine, Clint soothed.

Loki ignored him, which was better than the alternative. Clint looked around the massive room. Their footsteps echoed against the far walls, the cavernous ceilings, the long length of the room. It seemed smaller in Loki’s memories. He turned his gaze to Steve, who was doing his damnedest to not look intimidated.

Balder noticed them and called out Loki’s name with a booming cry, dropping the scroll to the floor and pushing to his feet. He opened his arms and darted down the long steps of the throne, meeting them before Loki could step up to the step where he had knelt before Thor on the day of his coronation. “My friends! You picked a day of much monotony to come to the Golden Realm.” He slapped Loki on the back and wrapped a strong arm around Clint’s shoulders, beaming at Steve. “Loki, you and I have much to discuss. But first, tell me why you have brought one of my soldiers to me.”

Loki inclined his head. “King Balder,” he began, but Balder cut him off with an offended cry, dragging Clint with him as he rushed to stand in front of Loki.

“None of that between us,” Balder ordered, and Loki’s eyes widened briefly before he nodded. He began to bow but Balder’s free hand caught him, and Balder tugged him close. Steve narrowed his eyes at the King but stayed his place. “Thor named you Regent King, Loki. Regardless of his treatment of you and your bond breakage, you were his most trusted.” Loki turned his head away, swallowing thickly. “I have no duties for you, nothing to request of you. You are a free citizen. But I must ask of you this: will you take upon a title?”

Loki tipped his head back to look up at Balder, who stared down at him with unabashed fondness. “I do not answer to you,” Loki finally said, eyes narrowed. “I once vowed I would never return to Asgard. I do not abide by her laws.”

“I wish for you to be my Emissary.”

Stark fear flashed over Loki’s face for a moment before he lifted his spear and pressed the tip to Balder’s throat. At his side, Clint lifted the ruby-hilted dagger to tease the skin between Balder’s chest armor and his leather pants. Steve lifted his shield and stopped the lone Einherjar from reaching Loki.

“I have no compunction against killing a King,” Loki hissed.

Balder merely smiled. “I would not have fulfilled my destiny if you had any reasonable morals,” he chuckled. “Yet I request this of you regardless. You currently do not have a title or position in the courts, and are the only one of Thor’s court that I trust. I wish to show you that you can serve Asgard without pain, without compunction.” Loki glanced at Steve.

Loki slowly lowered his staff, gaze intent on Balder’s face. “I have no desire to return to Asgard,” he said finally, after much deliberation. “I will not be bound to you.”

Clint slowly removed his dagger from Balder’s side and ducked out from under his massive arm, taking his place back at Loki’s right side. Steve stepped up, shield in hand, to Loki’s left side. The Einherjar stayed a few paces back, sword held at the ready.

“I know your history here,” Balder announced suddenly, turning away from Loki to motion towards the stairs to the throne. “Some of our seidrmadrs showed me the memory of Thor’s coronation. I learned of his history with you, Loki, how he twisted you up until you were contorted into a something that was barely alive, someone who could barely be believed to have existed at all. I believe Asgard owes you recompense, Loki. I would give you the Kingship if I believed you to take it.” His eyes softened as he looked between Loki and Clint. “Will you take this?”

Loki bared his teeth and turned his back on the King, looking between Clint and Steve with dark, flashing eyes. “So, you wish to give me an honorary position? Call me Emissary to keep my quarters unmolested? Keep my position in the ranks of royalty? What is your aim here, King?” He spun on his heel to glare again at Balder, who looked placidly down at him. “I gave you your throne. I will no longer work for a King of Asgard. I am my own. I must deny your request, Balder,” he informed him, his voice stiff.

Balder nodded and turned back, pacing a few steps back and forth along the scarlet runner that led up to the throne. “Then what will you request of me? Prince is no lesser than Emissary.” He nodded once, almost to himself. “Then you shall still be Prince. Being lost to Asgard is not reason to give up your position in the royal house.”

Loki turned and looked at Steve. “It would be a great honor if the King of Asgard could marry my Captain and I.”

Steve’s eyes went wide and he lowered his shield. “Loki,” he said slowly, an amazed smile spreading across his face. “Now?”

Loki tipped his head. “After we speak with Hjalmar, perhaps. If my Captain is amenable.”

Steve slid his shield onto his back and stepped forward, pulling his helmet off and earnestly intertwining his fingers with Loki’s. “I’m amenable,” he breathed excitedly, looking nervously between Clint and Balder. Balder beamed at them and clapped his hands.

“Yes! A great boon for the savior of Asgard.” He turned to Clint with a wide smile still on his face. Loki exchanged a nervous, fleeting look with Steve, who brushed his lips over Loki’s cheek and then released his hand to wrap both of his arms around Loki. “Little Clint! What boon would you ask of the King?”

Clint didn’t hesitate. “The Tesseract.”

Loki stiffened in Steve’s grasp, and they quickly separated, both of them staring at Clint.

What on Midgard are you thinking? He will not give up such a powerful artifact to you.

You know damn well what I’m thinking.

Balder blinked a few times, and then he thoughtfully stroked his hand through his beard. He thought for a very long time, walking back to the steps up to the throne and sitting down on them, resting his chin on his hand as he stared at Clint.

“Before I grant you this, little human, tell me why.”

Clint didn’t hesitate, sheathing his dagger as he moved closer to Balder, hands upturned. “Thanos comes for it. If we have it, we can figure out how it works. We can try to replicate it. Then we can destroy it.”

“Destroy an Infinity Stone?” Balder leaned back against the stairs and let out a full belly laugh. “You have a very high opinion of your skills, little Clint!”

“Not my skills,” Clint replied shortly. “Loki can do it. We both know that. My boon is the Tesseract. You want a rundown on the rules of a King’s boon? Because I can list it all out.” He grit his teeth and glared at Balder, who unhurriedly pushed to his feet and confidently went down the steps, hands clasped behind his back. He walked up to Clint and looked down at him. Loki’s fingers tightened on his staff and Steve lifted Mjolnir off his belt, eyes narrowed at the King.

“There is a tale of you in Asgard,” Balder finally said. “Your bond with Loki is well known. You stood next to him against an entire squadron of highly trained Einherjar. You faced down the God of Thunder himself. Bravery such as yours is oft celebrated in this realm. We reward such great acts.” He lifted his hand and a moment later, the Tesseract appeared. “I have fulfilled your boon, little Clint.”

Clint took the Tesseract in his hands and shuddered as the power of the Stone swarmed him. For a moment, it was too much. He was only human, after all. He squeezed his eyes shut and everything was blue, far too blue, and he could not breathe for the blueness of it all. He could feel the power, the strength, the yawning chasm that stretched before him, every place in the galaxy open to him.

He blindly reached out for Loki and long, cool fingers caught his hand and he spilled the Tesseract into whatever he could reach. He could feel it tumble from his hands, eyes flashing open as it fell from his numb fingers. He looked up to see Loki smiling as he lifted the Tesseract high into the air. “Oh, Clint,” he breathed, eyes bright, “you are so useful.”

Clint took in a deep breath and nodded, gasping a bit as his heart settled. Loki disappeared the Tesseract and was unable to keep the satisfied smirk off his face as he looked from Clint to Steve and then back to Balder.

“Are you satisfied?” the King boomed, turning his back on them to climb the stairs back up to his throne. Loki thumped the butt of his spear against the floor and roared his appreciation. Balder sat down on his throne and bellowed back, opening his hand high in the air, Stormbreaker flying in from a side room and smacking into his palm. “Now that we have completed our debts, tell me why you brought one of my soldiers to my throne, Prince Loki.”

Loki smiled and turned back to wave the Einherjar forward. “He claimed to be a sacrifice for debts against the whole of the Einherjar. Tell him, soldier.”

The Einherjar inclined his head to the King and dropped down to one knee. He rested his right forearm over his knee, and held his sword down to the floor with his left hand. “An apology for our actions against his person, my King,” the Einherjar said, his voice solemn. “I wished to give Loki an opportunity to enact his revenge, if he so wished.”

Balder set Stormbreaker down on the floor and rested his chin in his palm as he thought. “Was this your plan alone?” he asked finally.

The Einherjar bowed his head. His right hand clenched and both Loki and Clint narrowed their eyes at him. Without anyone noticing, Clint slid his bow down his arm and carefully nocked an arrow, stepping back so that no one besides the Einherjar was in his line of fire. “No, Sire,” he said, and lifted his chin. His hand tightened around the hilt of his sword. “We were all in agreement.”

Steve stepped up next to the Einherjar and pressed his foot down onto his sword, rendering him incapable of moving it and pinning his fingers to the floor. He lifted Mjolnir from his belt and held it out, resting one end of the hammer’s head on the Einherjar’s shoulder. “This is not a wise course of action,” he informed him, and when the Einherjar snarled and twisted around to punch him in the gut, Steve let go of Mjolnir, which caught the Einjerjar on the shoulder and then pushed him down so he was pinned to the floor, face pressed to the scarlet carpet runner. Loki rushed forward and pressed the point of his spear into the back of the soldier’s neck, and Clint had an arrow at the ready.

Balder laughed at them. “Very good! I see I have protectors in the three of you. Perhaps my offer should have been for a bodyguard, Prince Loki.” He called for a few other Einherjar, who marched in and dragged the betrayer out. “How did you know?”

Clint slowly released the tension on the string of his bow and he shrugged, turning to Loki, who steadied his spear, and Steve, who put Mjolnir back on his belt with that same faintly disgusted look on his face that he had whenever he touched the hammer. “An Einherjar does not have individual thought,” Loki finally declared. “His duty is to the throne, and to protect whatever assets the throne may own and acquire. His duty is to Asgard. He does not question orders, does not do anything other than what he is ordered. So apologizing for obeying Thor? He clearly had an ulterior motive, which could’ve been one of two things.” He shrugged a shoulder and glanced between Clint and Steve and then looked back up at Balder. “When the other Einherjar were in agreement, I knew it was not...bedroom relations, one could say. He did want to come with us to the throne room, after all.”

“Bedroom relations?” Steve repeated incredulously. “But you’re—”

“Oh, it’s common behavior.” Loki waved a hand at him. “I’ve been propositioned by more Einherjar than you could imagine.”

Balder chortled. “Yes, they are a randy bunch, eh? I’ll have my council go through the ranks and weed out the unloyal. Final offer, Prince: will you help?”

Loki inclined his head at the offer. “No, King, I will not. I have forsworn Asgard.”

Balder nodded. “Then be off.” He stood and motioned for Loki to come up the steps of the throne. Loki grit his teeth and his fingers tightened on his staff as he shook his head. Balder looked down at him and nodded, brushing his fingers over his beard as he slowly descended the steps of his throne. He clasped both of Loki’s shoulders in his broad hands, looking down at the dour Prince with kind blue eyes. “I wish to apologize to you again,” Balder said, his voice gentle. Loki ducked his chin, hair covering his face. “Asgard has done you a great disservice. But you will be made whole.”

“You are kind,” Loki murmured, and stepped quickly back when Balder released him. “Hjalmar awaits,” Loki declared, and hit the butt of his spear on the floor. A burst of seidr and the three of them were gone.

Chapter Text

“Is everyone in Asgard just fuckin’ huge?” Clint asked as Hjalmar exited his cabin on the far side of the field they'd landed in, lifting a hand at the three of them as they strode toward him. Even from far away, Hjalmar was a bear of a man, with a wild mane of bright red hair and a big beard, and he wore various furs stretched over leather pants and his leather tunic.

“He’s gotta be at least seven feet tall,” Steve realized as they got closer, his fist tightening around the strap of his shield. “Is it something in the water?”

“Apples?” Clint offered up. “Hey, do we get one of those?”

Loki rolled his eyes. “No, Idunn would not give two humans her apples,” he replied mockingly. “Perhaps we will stop by her garden later. I would like to see her face when you ask.”

Clint shrugged. “Not like we need them anyway.”

Before Steve could say anything to that, Hjalmar called for them to come to a halt in his great booming voice. Loki handed Clint his spear and gave Hjalmar a great, sweeping bow. “Seidrmadr Hjalmar! We have come seeking your guidance.”

Hjalmar pulled out a sword from a scabbard on his back. Clint made to give Loki his sword back so he could ready his bow, but Loki shook his head, clasping his hands behind his back and raising his chin as Hjalmar stomped forward. “Loki,” Hjalmar snarled. “You have more than enough nerve to show up at my home. Leave before I cut your throat.”

Steve lifted Mjolnir from his belt and Hjalmar stuttered to a stop, eyes locked on the hammer. “So it is true,” he breathed, lowering his sword. “You killed the thunderer.”

Loki smirked and raised his hand, Steve letting Mjolnir go so it could fly from his fingers and smack soundly into Loki’s palm. He tossed the hammer up into the air and caught it again. “I cut his throat.” Clint held up the ruby-hilted dagger. “He dragged me through universe after universe after universe in order to exact control over every aspect of my life. I bested him anyway. He saw nothing of use in a thousand different versions of me.” He carelessly dropped Mjolnir to the ground and opened a pocket dimension, pulling out a small cloth bag.

“Are you attempting to threaten me?” Hjalmar asked, sheathing his sword. He looked rather amused by the whole situation. “I seem to recall you doing something similar 1100 years ago. You believe it will go better this time?”

“I seem to recall being barely an adult and begging you to break the soul bond between me and my brother,” Loki retorted, his voice tense. “I seem to recall you telling me that a soul bond could not be broken by nothing other than death.” He snorted. “More fool you, Hjalmar. Frigga did the same thing you claimed impossible, and then I did it again. So you owe me, seidrmadr.”

Hjalmar turned away from them and waved his hand at his cabin. The door opened and he motioned them inside. Loki nodded to Steve and Clint and pushed his shoulders back and followed Hjalmar inside. Steve picked up Mjolnir and hung the hammer off his belt.

His cabin was small, almost too small for such a large man. It was just one room, with his bed pushed up against one wall, with a small kitchenette directly across, the large sink filled with various pots and pans and plates. The rest of the room was dominated by a large table that was covered in books, and every space on the wall was filled up with bookshelves.

“Like to read?” Clint asked, picking up a book and paging through it.

Steve sighed, sounding far more put upon than Clint thought the situation required, and he put the book back on the stack.

Hjalmar dug through the cabinet above the kitchen sink to pull out three wooden mugs. He bent down and rooted through the cold cabinet to pull out a jug of caffeinated mead, or mun-gat. He filled the three mugs and dropped two of them onto the table, motioning Steve and Loki towards them as he guzzled his own drink down, pouring himself another mug before joining them at the table. Steve picked up his mug and sniffed at it, waiting for Loki to take a sip before he followed suit. He made a face at the overwhelming sweetness of the drink and then offered it to Clint, who snorted and shook his head, leaning against the back of the chair Loki sat in.

“I’m good,” Clint assured him. Steve frowned at him but sat down next to Loki. They watched as Hjalmar came around the table and roughly searched through his various books, grumbling to himself under his breath.

After searching for a few long, tense minutes, Hjalmar found whatever he was looking for and tossed the book on the table. Loki dropped the cloth bag he was holding next to the book and picked up the wooden mug of mun-gat while they waited for Hjalmar to speak. Steve took another sip and then shook his head, putting the mug on the table and pushing it far away from himself.

“Why are you here?” Hjalmar finally asked, motioning toward the book. When Loki didn’t move to take it, Steve reached forward and paged through it.

“Yeah, I don’t understand any of this,” he muttered to Clint, who rolled his eyes and snatched the book from him.

“It’s about breaking soul bonds,” Clint informed them as he glanced through it. “Very old, dark-as-Hel magic. Seidr, sorry. But it’s nasty shit, for sure. Why do you have this?” he asked, looking up at Hjalmar, who frowned at him.

“I cannot be a master of soul-seidr if I do know everything about it,” Hjalmar said, and his voice was low and tired. “Answer my question, Prince. Why have you disturbed my rest?”

“My soul bond was broken in order to tie myself to Thor,” Loki said solemnly. “I would like to be shown my soulmate, to know what manner of bond my soul yearns for. My compatriots desire the same.” He motioned toward the bag on the table and then Mjolnir on Steve’s belt. “Our payment is the Norn Stones and Mjolnir.”

Hjalmar frowned at him and then dropped heavily onto the seat across the table, reaching over to snag Steve’s full mug. He downed the mun-gat and burped loudly. “I have no use for the hammer,” he gruffly informed them. “But I will take the Stones.”

“Sir,” Clint tried, and Loki slowly turned his head to look at him. Won’t you need the Norn Stones destroy the Infinity Stones?

These Norn Stones are not powerful enough. These Stones are also spelled so that they are functionally worthless to me. I cannot wield them.

Sure, but couldn’t Steve or I try?

Loki tapped his fingers on the table as he thought about that, ignoring Hjalmar’s curious look and Steve’s concerned glance. Would you have me risk either of you on a chance? The possibility of either of you being powerful enough is minute. It would be far more likely that the use of the Norn Stones would kill you.

Clint shrugged and dropped the book back onto the table, where Loki opened it and flicked through it. Sure, boss. You’d miss me too much.

“The Stones?” Hjalmar prompted when no one deigned to speak out loud. Loki pushed the bag across the table and the seidrmadr pulled it open and lifted one so that he could examine it. He nodded after a moment and waved his hand over the bag, blue seidr slipping from his fingers. “Very well,” Hjalmar said after nothing of note happened. “I have a supply of the soul seeking potion ready. I foretold your coming, Prince, but the outcome is unclear.” He heaved a great sigh and his chair creaked loudly under him. “How many doses?”

“Three,” Steve answered. “One for each of us.”

Hjalmar motioned toward Clint with his mug. “Even it? Does it even have a soul?”

He,” Steve said, a frown on his face, “has a soul. Same as me, same as the rest of us.”

Loki settled his hand over Steve’s, brushing his thumb along the back of Steve’s glove. “Calm yourself, my Captain,” Loki murmured. “Clint does not take offense, nor should you.”


“Cap, don’t worry about it.” Clint looked at Hjalmar, who looked thoroughly amused at their antics. “I’ll take the potion. I got dragged all the way here, might as well see.”

“Do you give permission?” Hjalmar asked Loki, who inclined his head.

“Yes,” Loki said. “All three of us will take it. I am curious, after all.” Clint put a hand on Loki’s shoulder and Loki patted his fingers. Hjalmar heaved to his feet and dug around the cabinet above the sink, going so far as to clamber up onto the countertop and put his entire torso inside the cabinet. Steve watched him for a moment with wide eyes and then turned to Loki.

“He…” Steve started, but Loki shook his head.

“It is not offensive,” Loki told him, his voice soft. “On Midgard, it would be. But you are not on Midgard.”

“He’s a person,” Steve said gruffly. “He deserves to be treated with respect.”

Clint rubbed the back of his neck. Aw geez.

Loki shrugged elegantly, leaning back and crossing his legs. “It is being respectful. It is merely not what you consider respectful.” He motioned with his fingers, rings clinking, and Clint moved around to stand in the space between them. “There are many aspects of Midgardian culture I personally find distasteful.”

Before Steve could say anything, Hjalmar yelled from inside the cupboard and pushed himself out, a large black vial in his right hand. Clint stopped Steve from standing up and going over to help him get down from the cabinet. He had two small ivory cups in his left hand, and after glancing incredulously over the three of them, picked up a third. He pushed a few pots and pans to the floor and placed the ivory cups on it. Carefully, he filled each cup to the brim and waved them over.

“What will we see, seidrmadr?” Loki asked, picking up his own cup and peering into the black depths of the potion.

“It depends,” Hjalmar said, catching his breath. “Every person sees something different. I saw the potion and saw my wife with another man. That man became my husband, and two millenia later, they murdered each other. I have heard from other recipients of the potion that it can range from their own parents to someone they fought in battle. Only you can see the vision, but the name of your soulmate is shown to all. So I ask again, Prince of Asgard, is this what you want?”

In lieu of an answer, Loki tipped the potion down his throat and closed his eyes.

Clint appeared in front of him. He grinned up at Loki, eyes bright. “You know,” he said, conversationally, pacing around the small empty room they were in, “I spent my whole life running away from anyone who could tell me what to do. Resistant to authority, one of my therapists wrote in my file. Overly subservient, another one said. Just does what he’s told.” He stopped and turned his head to look at Loki. “Kind of like I was made for you, huh?”

The scene changed and the two of them were outside in a field in front of Clint’s home. They both turned as one and looked up at the house. “I spent more time in your head than I have in mine,” Clint finally said, his voice tired. “I know you better than I know myself. I’m not human anymore. Just some half-human, half-seidr thing.” Before his eyes, Clint began to change, began to age and wrinkle and hunch forward. Loki took a horrified step backwards. “You did this to me,” Clint croaked, staggering forward.

“You’re going to drag me through time and space and galaxies and I’m just supposed to let you? Supposed to let you take me away from my wife? My kids? That’s what you want from me? Everyone should sacrifice everything important to them for you? And who are you? Some stolen relic? A fake prince? You’re nothing, Loki. Some moderately-talented seidrmadr with a stick up his ass.”

Loki took another step back and then windmilled his arms, trying not to fall down the cliff he suddenly found himself on the edge of. Clint, back to normal, reached out and grabbed the front of Loki’s cardigan, held him just on the edge of falling back. Loki tried to speak but his mouth refused to open.

“I was the one who took the brunt of your bullshit from Killian. I’m the one who gets the nightmares, the fear of being in dark rooms, the fear of being held down. You can’t even deal with your own trauma. You just push it onto everyone around you. But I get the most of it, because some past version of you got off to mind control and tore some past version of me into pieces and now I get this shit. I get all of the shit you refuse to deal with because it’s easier to give it to me than it is to figure yourself out. You made me.” Clint let Loki go and he fell back into the dirt, laying stunned on the ground.

Clint pulled a bow out of thin air and glanced over it, an arrow appearing in his other hand. He nocked it and pointed the arrow at Loki, who tried to move but found himself incapable. “Should I do it right now, boss? Put you out of your misery? Right between the eyes?”

Loki opened his eyes and he was back in Hjalmar’s cabin. He scrambled back from everyone and then bolted outside, falling to his knees in the sun.

Rough fingers brushed over the back of his neck and Loki flinched away.

“Did you see?” he breathed, trying to catch his breath.

“Sure,” Clint said with a shrug. “Doesn’t mean it was real. Doesn’t mean it meant anything other than your brain fucking with you. You wanna see what happens to me and Steve? Think he already took his.”

Loki let Clint help him to his feet and he rested his hands on the archer’s shoulders. “None of it?” he whispered. “It was only a dream?”

Clint sighed. “Boss, I’m not hiding any sort of animosity. I knew what I was getting into and that hasn’t changed. Look, we can talk about this later. I want to see what Steve is going through.”

Loki searched his face and felt tension ease out of his chest. Whatever this day wrought, he had least had Clint. They stepped back into the cabin to see Hjalmar helping Steve to sit on the bed. Loki rushed to his Captain’s side, Clint a sedate pace behind.

“What did you see, seidrmadr?” Loki queried, conjuring a glass of water for Steve, who was pale-faced and sweaty. Steve gratefully took the glass and they all looked up at Hjalmar, who summoned a scroll.

“I will answer you once it has taken the potion,” Hjalmar announced, eyeing Clint, and he sighed, walking over to pick up his ivory cup. He swallowed it and squeezed his eyes shut. Tasted like fuckin’ garbage.

His own vision didn’t last long. It was dark and even when he strained his eyes, he couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything. Deaf and blind. Surely this could not be his fate? Surely he wouldn’t have to spend his life only seeing things through Loki’s eyes? Surely he would—

A light in the darkness. He stepped forward towards it, and then ran, bursting through something like a curtain, out into the light. He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked around. For a moment, it felt like he was on the surface of the sun, and then his eyes adjusted, and he was able to see. It was still soundless, but it was Alfheim.

In the distance, Loki showed Stephen Strange the trees and the grass and the ausa and the two of them stopped on top of a small bridge over the stream. Stephen looked around in wonder and his gaze stopped on Clint for only a moment, but he did not see him.

“What am I doing here?” Clint asked out loud, but neither of them heard him. He could not even hear his own voice. He cried out Loki’s name and the god did not even turn to look. He screamed as loud as he could and still nothing.

He panted and blinked and suddenly it was all black again. He was in a small room, barely big enough for him to lay down in. He could feel panic rising up in his chest but tried to push it down. Even as he strained to see, even as he rubbed at his eyes, there was only pitch black.

Then he was back in Hjalmar’s cabin, Loki and Hjalmar helping him sit on the messy bed next to Steve. He leaned against Steve’s side and panted, resting his head against Steve when the Captain wrapped his arm around his shoulders.

“What were the results?” Loki asked.

Hjalmar picked up his scroll and sighed, eyes flicking over the parchment. “Clint Barton, you have no soulmate.” Clint frowned and then shrugged, sitting up a bit more so he wasn’t leaning quite as heavily on Steve. “ were done a terrible disservice. Whatever bond you may have had with another, it is gone. Your soul and seidr seek it out. It will be difficult to fulfill that urge.” He glanced over the three of them. “I can estimate that your soulbond was a romantic one, going by what I see here.” Loki walked around to look at the scroll but it was blank to his eyes. “You wouldn’t be able to see anything, no.”

Hjalmar looked at Steve. “You have a soulmate, Steve Rogers of Midgard. But first, I must ask: are you comfortable with them knowing? Your soul is already being bound to Loki’s. It is incomplete, which has many unfortunate and fortunate symptoms. This information could be dangerous or unwanted.”

Clint spoke up, “Is one symptom constant declarations of affection? It’s really their thing and I sure would like a reason for it.”

Hjalmar grinned at him and took a swig of mun-gat from the jug on the counter. “Yes! That is very common in incomplete soulbonds. The souls are attempting to connect, reaching across endless space for one another. Now, answer the question, Steve of Midgard.”

Steve swallowed and dropped his arm from Clint’s shoulders. “Just tell us.”

“Your soulmate is James Buchanan Barnes of Midgard.”

The Bifrost landed them in front of Clint’s house. He grumbled about his front lawn being wrecked and followed a silent Loki and Steve into the house. Steve had tried to talk to Loki, but he was being more uncooperative than usual, which was really saying something. Loki rushed past everyone to lock himself in his rooms. Steve rested his shield on the kitchen table and then let Lila and Cooper take it outside so they could play with it. Bucky and Sam were leaning against each other on the couch, while Laura and Nate were taking a nap in Loki’s massive arm chair.

“Buck, hey,” Steve rasped, pulling off his gloves and motioning outside. He rested Mjolnir on the kitchen counter and sighed at it. “We need to talk.”

Clint watched as Steve and Bucky went outside. He gave Sam an awkward wave and then dug around in the fridge for a bottle of juice. He grabbed the bottle and then shut the fridge door and closed his eyes and pulled, landing in the middle of Loki’s rooms.

Loki was in the bathroom. Clint dropped his gear onto the coffee table in the living room and kicked off his boots. He took a swig of juice and yanked off his pants and socks and vest and tunic, leaving them all in a pile in front of the couch. He took off his hearing aids and turned them off, putting them in a small wooden bowl on the coffee table. He went over to the nearest closet and opened the door to dig through a pile of Steve’s sweatshirts. He found the biggest one and shrugged it on, then padded into the bathroom.

Loki was naked, standing in front of his vanity. He’d already destroyed half the mirrors in the place, and long, thin coils of green seidr wrapped up his hands and his arms and curled over his shoulders.

Clint took a swig of juice. You’re really gonna get all emo over this, huh?

I believed myself owed something. That after all I had suffered, I deserved one good thing. He shook his head, curling his hands into fists.

You can still have him. Hjalmar said their bond wasn’t romantic. They’re just friends.

Loki scoffed and with one massive swipe of his hand, cleared the entire counter of his vials and containers. They watched them all fall to the floor, some of them shattering at his feet. Clint took another sip of juice and offered it to Loki, who ignored him. Understandable. Bucky is his soulmate. How can I compete with that?

You’re practically soulbound already. You basically just have to marry the guy with some soul. He snorted. Literally. Loki glared at him and Clint rolled his eyes. Jesus, Loki, I know it sucks. I get that you had one foot out the door anyway. But you don’t have to. You can talk to Steve like an adult and figure all this out.

Loki turned away from him and Clint rolled his eyes. You’re really gonna let Thor win, huh. Thought you better than that.

Loki waved his hand and the bathtub began filling up with steaming water. Clint shrugged and pushed up his sleeves and set the container of juice on the counter, moving over to help Loki into the bath. He poured in a bit of salt and a few relaxing potions, letting Loki hold his hand as he leaned his head back against the tub and closed his eyes, tears slipping down his cheeks.

Steve ended up deciding to go back to the Avengers Facility after Clint shamefully told him that Loki didn’t want to talk to him. Steve had tried to get information out of the archer, but he’d just shrugged and said he couldn’t betray Loki’s confidence like that. Steve told him to tell Loki that this didn’t change anything, that he still wanted to marry him. He'd spent the last few days trying to get Loki to talk to him, and even though Loki had tried locking him out of his rooms, the wards continued to let him in, which only annoyed Loki further, and he took to using the Tesseract whenever Steve came near.

Clint followed him outside to where the Quinjet was waiting. Steve held out a hand for him to shake and then thought better of himself, wrapping Clint in a hug. Clint sagged into him, arms tight around Steve’s waist. They stood together for a long moment, holding each other up.

“What’d Barnes say?” Clint asked as he pulled back, looking up at Steve.

Steve sighed, running his hand over his brow. He was in his uniform, his shield on his back. He’d decided to leave Mjolnir with Loki, figuring he would be able to use it better than Steve. It wasn’t like he couldn’t call the weapon to his hand anyway. “Said he wasn’t surprised. We’ve always been pulled to each other. Hjalmar gave me a book that I paged through. Sometimes platonic soulbonds can be mistaken as romantic ones. Figure that’s what happened to us. Wish I hadn’t gone with you two now, though.” He sighed again and looked at the house. “What’s done is done. You keep wearin’ him down for me?”

“Sure, Cap.” Clint accompanied him to the gangway of the Quinjet. “Take care of yourself, boss.”

Steve looked back at him. “You too, Barton. There’s a big storm on the horizon. We’re going to be in the thick of it, so get ready.”

The gangway rose up as Clint yelled after him, “Hey, what the hell does that mean?”

He jogged out of range of the engines and waved as the Quinjet lifted off and then tore off into the distance.

Loki appeared next to him, clad in all black, hands clasped behind his back. He looked exhausted. “Laura has dinner prepared,” Loki informed him, eyes tracking the Quinjet in the sky.

“You’re really gonna do this,” Clint sighed, and then pushed Loki toward the house. “Whatever. You’re really impossible, you know that? Not even in the fun way. Just impossible.”

Loki rolled his eyes as they strolled through the grass. “There are bigger priorities in life than my failed love life. Whatever your Agent Coulson was speaking of, this United Nation, that is my concern now.”

“Are there, though? You really think that I think that you think that either of us give a crap about you being a threat?” He thought about that sentence and frowned. Well, it mostly made sense. “We both know you’d just ignore it anyway. You’ve pretty much set up shop here. Not like you’re goin’ anywhere. Now, look, I’m not gonna let up on this. You really can’t do this to him. It’s shitty. It’s beyond shitty.”

Loki stopped walking and Clint followed suit. Loki reached out and pressed his fingers to Clint’s forehead. You will no longer speak to me about my relationship with Steve, Loki ordered, his voice stern and rough, and Clint shuddered.

“Oh, come on!” he yelled, and smacked Loki’s hand away. “That’s not fair. I’m the only one you listen to.”

“Exactly why I cannot have you yammering away,” Loki pointed out, and Clint followed him into the house. Loki went into his rooms and Clint filled him a plate, grinning at Sam and Bucky trying to lift Mjolnir off the table.

“Steve can lift it!” he called back, resulting in twin groans. He went into Loki’s rooms and the doors creaked shut behind him. He took a seat next to Loki on the couch and handed him the plate, letting Loki push him down so his head was in the god’s lap. Loki fed him a drop of the red pain potion and then conjured up a dish of spiced meat, alternating between that and the food Laura and Sam and Bucky had made for them.

Clint let his eyes close and he sunk down into the deep. Loki pulled out his hearing aids and pet his hair and dipped his fingers into the tears streaming down Clint’s face.

If I have anything, I have you.

Not goin’ anywhere. No matter what.