If anyone had asked Clint Barton, otherwise known as Hawkeye, otherwise known as Clint Fucking Barton That's Who, what he thought he'd be doing with his Wednesday evening, it wouldn't have been this.
No, it would have involved beer, and a pizza (because damnit, for once Natasha could just suck it up and eat some American food, one week without sesame chicken wouldn't actually kill her no matter what she claimed) and maybe skunking Thor at a game of pool. Or showing Thor and Steve another classic action movie1 if he was feeling generous and didn't need the beer money2.
There would not have been smoke. Or if there had, it would have been good old bar smoke, the kind that stained your skin yellow with nicotine on contact because damnit, that was how real men played pool. It wouldn't have smelled faintly of electricity and burning hair and something green and smoldering.
There wouldn't have been a jungle. After the great Foot Funk Incident of '94, Clint Barton had sworn off jungles for life. There certainly wouldn't have been mist creeping between the tall, dark trees, or suspicious, alien animal noises emanating from between said trees.
And there definitely wouldn't have been aliens dressed like something out of Xena: Warrior Princess3 and trying to stab each other with swords. There would not have been battle cries either, definitely. Outside of the occasional fist pump accompanied by a manly, "Fuck yeah!" battle cries were a thing Clint Barton simply Did Not Do. At least not without a dose of irony so hefty that it would contribute to the overall World Irony Shortage4.
And most of all, had his Wednesday evening by necessity included the requisite shooting of things and possibly blowing them up – both activities that Clint really had no objection to, so long as his acquisition of pizza was not permanently interrupted – he would have been an active and enthusiastic participant in said perforating and creation of explosions. Because he was Clint Fucking Barton, and he believed he'd been put on Earth to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and for that precise reason he made certain he never had a pack of gum in his pocket.
Smoke wafted toward him; the change in the air currents warned him to raise his bow, angled to be parallel to the ground this time, smoothly draw, and shoot. Something or someone in the fog shrieked. The sound was followed immediately by a satisfying, meaty thud.
Okay, so maybe there was some fun to be had, except it wasn't that fun, trying to draw while kneeling. It was a challenge, he told himself for the hundredth time, but it was difficult to enjoy because it wasn't just a little game he was playing with himself. There was a body weighing down his legs, and that was the exact kind of nightmare he'd been trying to forget since that little thing in Yemen, reborn and a thousand times worse because this wasn't just some nameless kid in a uniform that he'd decided would be the place where he'd take his stand.
This was someone that he knew. And hated, he reminded himself, only that was a lie because it was just a bizarre holiday wreathe of circular dislike–annoyance–weird fascination that sometimes felt creepily similar to friendship or something else until one of them forgot the key to a good relationship was just shutting the fuck up.
He looked down at Loki. The man's face was pale to the point of a yellow-green tinge, like a bruise almost healed, cheekbones sharp enough to cut.
"I'm sorry," Clint said. His voice sounded weird and rough to his own ears. Maybe because he'd been repeating himself a lot over the last hour – when he wasn't just shouting to try to locate the rest of the team because he wanted relief. He was a man of action, and while this waiting game wasn't Hell, exactly, it definitely qualified as Heck.
Loki cracked his eyes open, which had really been the point of Clint speaking. He didn't want to take his hands from his bow long enough to check for a pulse, and there was something about touching Loki that just seemed wrong anyway. It always went the other way, Loki reaching out to him, and it was annoying and creepy and other things Clint refused to consider, but that was the way the world worked and he'd managed to find a certain amount of comfort with it.
And how fucked was it to begin with, that Loki had become a point of stability in his life?
Loki stared at him, the green of his eyes almost swallowed by blown-out pupils. He expected something; he knew what came next, because it was always what Clint said to make him react and show life, as routine as a prayer.
Clint gritted his teeth and looked back up, scanning the area, what little he could see of it "I'm sorry," he repeated. "I didn't mean for this to happen."
"I know," Loki whispered. "I didn't either." Blood showed on Loki's lips, vivid as cherries. Clint tried not to look, but it was like every one of Loki's train wrecks, you couldn't help but stare in horrified fascination and wonder just how much worse this could get. Only this wasn't Loki's train wreck. It was Clint's, and it was Steve's.
In the distance, he heard a faint bong, which hopefully translated to a vibranium shield inverting some nasty thing's face. "It'll be over soon," Clint said. Loki shuddered against his legs, as if he was trying to escape some creeping chill.
Loki closed his eyes. "That's what I'm afraid of," he murmured.
Clint didn't quite know what he meant, but whatever it was, he knew he wasn't going to like it. Because for whatever fucked up reason in a fucked up world that wasn't even pretending to be logical any more, he actually cared to begin with.
And that was the real bitch about Loki, Clint thought as he half drew the bow, then relaxed as the sense of movement turned out to be only a roil in the billowing smoke and fog. Even by bleeding out in a man's lap like a wounded bird, he had a way of taking one's world view and fucking it gently in the ear.
Out in the mist, another faint bong, but Clint told himself it was coming closer. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen," he told the man in his lap.
Only this time, Loki didn't open his eyes.
1 – Since they were approaching this alphabetically because Tony was lazy as opposed to systematically like Clint had wanted (because really, what was the point in watching anything until you'd covered Rambo and Predator) they were only at Die Harder.
2 – He actually never did; SHIELD paid more than well enough to keep him swimming in beer and the occasional double shot of tequila for the rest of his natural life. It was just the lie Clint told himself so he could feel like slightly less of a bastard.
3 – Clint still claimed that he had watched the show for Lucy Lawless being smoking hot and there was absolutely no other reason and he was sticking by his story, damnit.
4 – Initiated by Tony Stark shortly after he hit puberty and discovered that glib douchebaggery wasn't so much a hobby as a calling.