It started with a high frightened mewing from a box in the corner of their new lair. Stray cat, probably a kitten by the sound of the thing. Clint shouldered the case he was carrying and crossed over to kick the cardboard box open. The little calico ball of fluff mewed at him again, piteously, and he dropped to one knee.
Knowing his new master, he could see the words kill the vermin coming his way soon. He sighed. The things he did for enlightenment.
"Barton?" Loki called. "What's that?"
"Just a stray, sir. You want I should get rid of it?"
His master appeared at his shoulder with that slightly unhinged smile that Clint was really trying to get used to. "A stray what?" he asked, peering into the box. Clint heard the intake of breath.
Clint knew he was being mind controlled. The best thing about mind control was the not caring about being mind controlled. He didn't understand the power of the sceptre, though. Hadn't been aware it carried emotion from his master straight into his hind brain. Probably because Loki hadn't had any emotions up until that moment. The white-and-orange kitten looked up and let out a wailing meow. Loki's eyes went wide. And Clint was plunged into a sea of emotion, breaking like a tidal wave.
He struggled to keep afloat in it, to keep hold of what was him and what was Loki. Clint was a human with a physical body, standing in a cold alleyway, and he had just grunted in surprise. Loki was the elemental knowledge that at last everything was going to be all right. Everything was going to be all right. Nobody was alone, no reason to be scared or unhappy.
Clint could not shake the feeling that this random cat was the first creature Loki had ever set eyes upon that he truly believed was alive. That explained a few things about his sceptre-happy overlord.
Loki had dropped to his knees when Clint wasn't looking, and thrown the sceptre carelessly to one side. "Oh, what are you?" he breathed in wonder. "Do you speak, little one?"
The kitten mewed again at the top of its voice, and Loki immediately lifted it into his lap. Clint set his case down next to his feet. It was heavy. "That's a cat, sir," he supplied. "They don't speak. People keep them as pets."
"...should keep them as gods..." Loki muttered. The kitten yowled under his petting and he gasped. "She's hurt!" Clint braced himself against the wave of horror from the sceptre's power. It was easier when he was expecting it. "Her little leg... How could this have happened?"
Clint took a moment to note how the surreal experience of watching his alien master clutch an injured kitten to his chest in distress didn't really faze him. Mind control was a hell of a drug. Loki bounced the little animal like a baby.
"Shh, sh, shhh..." he calmed her. "Barton, what's her name?"
"Her na...?" Clint thought it would probably be a bad idea to explain to him that kittens left in alleyways to die didn't really get names. The cat had three white feet. "Mittens. Her name's probably Mittens."
"Mittens," Loki repeated, smoothing fingers over her bloodied leg.
"You know, she was probably abandoned here." Oh, right. Clint had forgotten that he didn't keep information from Loki. Not even when it made his face look like that and the psychic backlash was like a physical blow.
"Abandoned?" Tears, actual tears sprang up in his eyes. "Mittens, no! Barton, your realm is brutish and savage." Mittens let out a tiny squeak, her face pressed to Loki's shoulder. "Did nobody want you, my love?" Loki muttered. "How?"
Clint sat on the case he'd set down. It probably didn't contain explosives, and he would be here a while.
Loki scratched despondently behind Mittens' ears, and threw thoughtful looks at the tent where the Tesseract was being kept. He looked at Mittens, dewy eyed. Back at the Tesseract tent. Back at the kitten.
"...Barton?" he asked at length.
"Do you have any handcuffs?"
Clint did not. "I can get some."
His master was pretty absorbed in stroking his kitten's fur. Clint dropped the case he'd been lugging off in the tent, then went in search of a sex shop. Probably the easiest place to get hold of handcuffs without questions.
When he returned with the sturdiest pair he could find (guaranteed to take the full weight of a small man if suspension was your thing), the Tesseract tent had been dismantled and the Tesseract was sitting unassumingly in its case. Nobody was around, and Loki was sitting cross legged in the middle of the floor playing with Mittens. Her leg seemed to be completely healed, and she was purring as she hunted Loki's hand, loud enough for Clint to hear her across the room.
He cleared his throat to get Loki's attention.
"Ah, Agent Barton," Loki said without looking away from the kitten. "Go and have a look at that piping over there. Is it stable?" He gestured with a tilt of his chin, still trailing his fingers along the dusty floor for Mittens to pounce on. Clint put both hands on the piping, pulling with all his weight. It didn't budge an inch.
"It's pretty strong, sir."
"Wonderful. Handcuff yourself to it, sitting down, hands behind your back."
When he was handcuffed, Loki came over to check his bonds. Mittens sat on his shoulder, and he moved carefully as he knelt behind Clint. "Can you escape from this?" he asked.
Clint nodded. "There's a lock pick sewn into the back of my pants. I can get it loose in about a minute."
Loki nodded, and his fingers searched out the little metal pick. He threw it across the room, and Clint rolled his shoulders.
"That's it. I'm stuck here. The key is right there by my boot."
"Good. I'll leave that there." Loki dragged the key back until Clint signalled okay, it was out of his reach. He set Mittens down and grabbed the sceptre. The sharp tip of it dug in to Clint's chest. "Open your heart for me a moment, Agent..."
Clarity flooded into him like an ice pane being broken. He pitched against the cuffs and gasped. "Loki!" he shouted, not knowing what else to say. "Loki! You son of a bitch, surrender the Tesser-"
He looked up for half a second into Loki's mad bright eyes, and that smile, before the business end of the sceptre swung around to meet his left temple.
Tasha and Captain America found him a few hours later, just regaining consciousness. They'd broken out Captain America for this. Clint was almost sorry it was over so quickly. Maybe the Cap could help track down their AWOL alien, though Clint thought it would only be as hard as checking out every cat shelter in the city.
"So, it was just there next to you when you woke up?" Director Fury had both hands on the clasps of the Tesseract's case. They'd had Stark and Doctor Banner check it out - and it was a hell of a thing that they had brought Banner out of hiding only for a false emergency too - but they couldn't detect any kind of trap. Selvig, who had passed every test Clint had gone through to prove he wasn't mid controlled either, had confirmed their findings.
"Yessir," Clint said. "And the note."
"Yes," said Fury in a hollow voice. "The note."
"That's what I said, sir. The note." Fury sank into a seat and rubbed a hand over his face. "Are you all right, sir?"
"Yes," Fury gritted out. "That'll be all, Agent. I'll... I'll figure something to do."
"Yes sir. Thank you sir." Clint stood and crossed to the door. He paused, because he sometimes had terrible impulse control, and it was written up in every psyche evaluation he had. Terrible decisions outside of combat. "So, sir, are you thinking of adopting--?"
Dear SHIELD. Sorry about your compound. Here's the Tesseract and your people back, I'm sure you'll find some use for them. This is my declaration of cessation of hostilities between us. I hope you'll accept.
If you don't, I can still destroy you without too much trouble.
~Loki, of Asgard.
P.S. I had an army of space aliens. They have space ships, and a brand new grudge. You'll want to make some preparations, though it may take them a few years to get here without my assistance.
P.P.S. Can I persuade any of you to adopt a homeless cat? I have several here, all in need of a good home. Just call me if you want to set anything up, I'll hear my name.