The scepter touches his heart, and for an anguishing moment, there is pain and panic as Clint tries to recall what SHIELD protocol for being brainwashed by Norse Gods is, as he tries to fight, to do something, to not just give in and let go.
Then the moment is over, and Clint is vaguely aware that he has never felt this relieved, this content in what must have been his life before. He recalls feeling fear and doubt, wondering what SHIELD needed a guy with a bow and a rather bad track record with authority for, wondering how long it'd be until they'd dispose of him with multiple forms or a single headshot. Now.. well, now he'll wait until his boss tells him what he needs a guy with a bow for.
Director Fury is a threat. So is Agent Hill. Clint has been trained to eliminate threats.
They need to get out of the facility. That's a mission directive; Clint can work with that.
He doesn't look back to see the bodies hit the ground. There's no need. He doesn't miss.
His boss introduces himself as Loki eventually. Loki, Fury, even the same number of letters. He gets to keep his bow and he continues to call his boss 'sir'. As far as that is concerned, nothing much has changed.
Things are different though in some respect. He was never Fury's entirely – he was always his own first and SHIELD's second. He's had enough reason for mistrust in his life.
Now, he is only Loki's. He sleeps in the antechamber of Loki's room as prime bodyguard, as second in command. He dreams of rainbow bridges, frost giants, realms full of wonders he'd never seen, never imagined. He doesn't dream of blood and explosions and being stabbed in the back by those he trusted anymore.
He doesn't quite forget that that used to be who he was, that there used to be an Agent Barton of SHIELD. But it doesn't matter anymore – he has a mission, not time to chase after fading memories of a past life.
Loki asks what he needs. He needs his bow; and premises to establish a preliminary basis; and an eyeball and a distraction. He needs a quinjet and a scientist who can make him an arrow to take out the Helicarrier's computer. He needs to be the one to take down Stark, because Stark is good at stalling and last-minute ideas.
When the adrenalin rush of the battle is over, when they have an army and everything that remained of SHIELD at their disposal, when Clint has showered and shaved without even noticing the new colour of his eyes and replenished the arrows in his quiver (the one that took down the helicarrier; the one that took down Cap; the one that took down Natasha), Loki asks what he needs.
There is no mission directive anymore, and so Clint answers that he needs to know that he is Loki's.
Loki smiles, tells him that he was from the beginning, and makes him his first lieutenant, the king's most treasured thane for the new reign. Clint kneels before Loki, not out of subservience, but as token of his loyalty, his heartfelt gratitude. Loki tells him that he is pleased and pets his hair, and in this life, Clint sees nothing untoward in this, nothing strange or degrading in sinking freely to his knees and making sure Loki remains pleased. It's what he does, and how things should be, because he is Loki's.
[When Loki beckons him forward, there is no hesitation, no discomfort. He gives that freely as well. The king may take as he pleases, but as far as Clint is concerned, there is no need to take, not from him.
Loki asks what he needs, and he answers that he'd like to stop thinking and focus on nothing but pleasing Loki for a while. Loki's smile is radiant when he calls him 'my lord'. Something settles in Clint. ]
He knows that psych had a file on him. Well, he was of SHIELD – everybody had a file on him. Medical, R & D, Fury – little pieces of paper trying to explain who he was, why he was, why he needed to do as he was told Or Else, because one file said how many years he'd spend in prison in which state and country if he didn't, and another said things like disrupted childhood – deeply rooted need to belong and to please, and if there was one thing SHIELD knew it was how to use intel to its advantage. But that was in a different life.
He sits at Hill's desk reading files [he needs to know how to utilize the new assets they've acquired, needs to know which are suitable for field duty immediately, which will require some convincing, which will need to be dealt with], the leather of his shooting glove a familiar anchor in this new world where he goes over files, gathers intel, makes the type of decisions handlers rather than agents make. The agent at his feet, the one who disobeyed his order to bring him the Eyes Only files, has gone still by now, breathing shallow, blood no longer seeping into the carpet. It'd been a warning shot, but he writes 'most likely irretrievably compromised' on her file anyway. SHIELD never took chances.
His own file says 'inability to obey authority'. He thumbs over the words, and in another life he might have laughed. Now he just throws the file into the newly established fireplace (the Director loves theatrics. But he's the Director, and it's not for Barton to question or mock open fireplaces in a high-tech office). SHIELD never knew anything about him, and they have enough superfluous paperwork as it is.
The Director asks him what he needs, and he provides a concise report of the initial selection of agents that need to be screened, of the trustworthy personnel for R & D, and of the weapon specs they have retrieved and will be able to utilize if they acquire sufficient material from somewhere. He's standing at parade rest, and in another life he would have gloated a little (everyone, EVERYONE else has to kneel for reports), but that was another life. It's a gift, and you treasure gifts, you don't play with them until they break. The Director looks at him, not unkindly, and repeats the question.
Clint exhales. He tells him. Something warm spreads in his chest at the smile on the Director's face.
It's not an uncommon arrangement – everybody wants something they never dared to ask for before, and so the shy doctor has human test subjects for the new project that seeks to combine genetics and magic in ways which are beyond what Clint understands of either, the accountant from personnel resources has more money than Tony Stark used to have (although he's on Clint's watchlist now, because there is nothing SHIELD doesn't provide for its own, and the desire to have more, to acquire potential leverage makes him suspicious. Not all gifts are without thorns), and the skinny agent with the blond pigtails from weapons development has Agent Sitwell. Level 7 is more than a simple keycard and a stack of eyes only files. The Director looks after his own, and he rewards the faithful and loyal. In another life, that would have been an incentive for Clint. Now it's a simple observation. He doesn't need an incentive to be faithful and loyal anymore.
They bring him Coulson, and there is something wrong about the situation – Coulson has always been unmoved, no matter what happened, but now his suit is ruined, his tie is missing, and a trickle of blood has escaped from his mouth, adding red to the canvas marred by bruises that is his face. Clint breaks one of the security detail's neck with his bare hands and tells the other in no uncertain terms that unharmed means unharmed, not 'a little roughed up'. Coulson looks at him, no judgement in his eyes, but also nothing of what Clint needed to see, and asks him if he's going to make it quick. Clint says no. Coulson nods, and that's all they say to each other.
Clint doesn't make it quick. He cleans and bandages Coulson's wounds and gets him something clean to wear (not a suit though. SHIELD doesn't need Coulson in a suit anymore). He cuffs him to the desk in his office and puts a bottle of water and one of the few books Clint owns in reaching distance before he leaves. He squeezes Coulson's shoulder before he leaves, and it's as warm and reassuring as it has always been, but what he needs is missing.
The Director summons him at the end of the day, and he goes, pliant and willing. The familiarities heal some of the ache in his heart – the floor under his knees, the fabric against his hands, the Director's cool, approving touch at the back of his neck. The Director talks as Clint's mouth is otherwise occupied, a soft murmur of terms of encouragement and musings about human nature and how to proceed, and Clint makes a broken sound he did not know he was still capable of making as the Director says, softly, 'It will not do – you must know that you are cherished and useful. I will always provide what you need, my hawk.' The Director lets him rest a while, divine hands petting his hair, and it feels like hours, yet his knees don't ache, and neither does his heart. He leaves when he is told to. The files were wrong in the first place, but the Director has earned his obedience in a way noone – nearly noone – else has.
They bring Coulson to the Director, and Clint hopes that if the inevitable is happening it's going to be him, because the agent who came to take him has a habit of wasting ammunition unnecessarily, and the Director has a habit of being unpleasant to displease. Coulson won't give Clint what he needs, but there is something that tugs at the back of his mind which calms his thoughts that Coulson is perhaps the most dangerous of the old SHIELD agents still alive and that they cannot take this risk and lets him recall missions a lifetime ago, warm hands, calm words in his ear, lives saved with cheap vodka and ripped-up dress shirts. They have means of containing threats, and imprisonments more effective than death. But then it's not his call to make. The Director is not nostalgic for Coulson, and Clint cannot afford to feel anything about not being summoned to witness this, and so Clint hopes he makes it quick at least.
The Director does make it quick. He says, 'I have a mission for you, Agent Coulson' as Coulson is pushed to his knees, and then the sceptre touches his heart.
They don't take Coulson back to Clint. Coulson comes on his own. Coulson comes to him, and finally talks to him, of missions old and new, of the pride he feels for Clint, of the Director's pride. Clint allows himself to close his eyes for a moment and listen to the 'Agent Barton, the Director needs you to set up a scenario in case the New York mission goes astray' while hearing all the things Agent Coulson isn't saying but Phil needs Clint to hear nevertheless. Maybe a small part of that file was true. Maybe a small part of Clint lets go and takes hold of Coulson's shirt as he leans on him, safe arms embracing and grounding him, so profoundly against the regulations SHIELD used to have but SHIELD no longer has. They stand like this for a while.
Coulson kisses his forehead and tells him to go and make the Director proud.
The Director smiles as Clint asks him whether he'd prefer him to reaffirm his oath of fealty on his knees or while standing. Clint doesn't see a point in subservience, but he does see necessity for expressing his gratitude because this, this is beyond what people have ever granted to Clint, and he's no longer willing to risk it with a witty comment and a disregard for authority. But the Director is a wise and benevolent man - God - and reminds Clint that he has no need for this sort of thing as he can tell a man's heart from his thoughts and deeds, and that he will let it slide because this is new, but that Clint must never doubt that he always looks out for his own and gives them what they need. The Director tells him what he would like, because needs are for mortal men and the Director is divine, and Clint files it away as the next mission directive nevertheless and tells the Director to consider it done.
The Director says, 'Do discuss the matter with Agent Coulson, Agent Barton, for the two of you were made for each other', and something settles in him. He remembers a past life which was filled with familiarities, with the announcer that cried out the same circus line-up every week, with the agent in medical who always gave him the same look as his handler said the same words he would smile and fall asleep to. The new SHIELD is much like the old SHIELD, but unlike the old SHIELD, the new SHIELD knows Clint Barton. The new SHIELD knows everything and everyone, because the Director does, and the Director was made to rule the intricate chaotic microcosm of SHIELD, and all the realms beyond.
Clint remembers a man he used to respect who is long gone now and who used to be closer to Coulson than perhaps anyone. He remembers the one time that man made Coulson smile, the one time Clint allowed himself to be angry and jealous over something as petty as a man rejoicing over a childhood obsession come to life. He remembers, vowing not to let pettiness distract him ever again, charming R & D into make him a new bow that day, because everyone needed something to love that they could rely on.
He remembers how he wondered how a man without a bow got through the day when that was the only time his boss ever made him smile.
He tells Coulson about the new mission directive. Coulson finishes cleaning his gun with an almost tender stroke and says, 'Excellent. Let's go see a man about some new arrows for you, Agent Barton.'.
Clint does not need to reaffirm his vows, but the smile on Coulson's face is all proof he needs for the benefits of allegiance to this new SHIELD.