Brooding 11

When Clint had been notified of the strange communications from Asgard, which indicated that the envoy coming with Thor wished to meet with him specifically, he wasn’t sure what to think. He had just returned to work with the understanding that he would only be given routine assignments for a while, and Fury had assured him that he did not have to comply with the Asgardians’ request; however, Clint decided at once to meet with them, hoping to hear some news of Loki. If he played his cards right and asked the right questions, all the while making them think that he wasn’t interested… he thought he might have a chance at gleaning some information about his former captor and lover.

So he was unprepared to see Loki arrive in person, his image magnified on the many screens of the command center. Clint noticed first the look of resignation wrapped around the demigod like a heavy cloak. Now that his memories had been restored, it troubled Clint to see Loki without his characteristic confidence. He also thought Loki looked gaunt and chalked it up to the trials of incarceration. Although Clint had no idea what an Asgardian prison looked like, he knew that confinement and solitude would grate upon Loki’s soul.

As the three visitors followed Fury down the halls, they were tracked by multiple security cameras. Clint noted the loose-fitting robes Loki was wearing and wondered if they were standard prison issue. Before, Loki had dressed with immaculate style, every cut and stitch enhancing his elegant physique. Clint realized those same clothes might hang loosely on him now. The hollow of Loki’s cheek was deeper; Clint’s instinctive desire was to press a kiss into it. His heart rate increased as he suddenly thought that he might – just possibly – have the chance to do so, but his excitement was suppressed by the sight of the chains on Loki’s wrists. He knew it was unlikely the trickster would be allowed anything that might afford him pleasure. Perhaps Asgardian justice had simply dictated that he apologize to his victims in person. Even so, Clint’s heart thudded with anticipation.

“Clint,” Natasha called. Her voice seemed to reach him from far away. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Actually, I do,” he said. “I have… unfinished business with him. And it seems he does too.”

Natasha nodded in understanding though she still looked confused. Knowing he could never fully explain this to her, Clint walked down the hall to the room they had set aside for the interview. Steve and Bruce were already standing in the large, brightly lit space, and Tony was just coming in through another door, having flown over the transport convoy in his latest suit as a precaution. Bruce glanced at Clint as they waited for the Asgardians to arrive.

“Any idea what this is all about?” Bruce asked mildly.

“No clue,” Clint admitted. Fury entered a moment later, leading the three visitors.

“Ah! My friends!” Thor cried with genuine pleasure, reaching out to clap Steve on the shoulder. “You did not all have to assemble on our account, but I am glad that I can present you to my mother. Mother, this is Steve, a fierce captain among most noble warriors; Bruce, whose strength surpasses that of any other mortal; Tony, a man of iron, as you see – he fashions his own armor to do wondrous things; the Lady Natasha, who rivals our own Lady Sif in combat; and Clint Barton, of whose courage and deeds you have already heard much.”

While Steve, Bruce, and Natasha nodded politely to Frigga, Tony irrepressibly took her hand and placed a kiss on her fingers. Clint, who had seen Thor do the same to Jane Foster in the surveillance footage, followed suit, much to Frigga’s delight.

“Great warriors all, to whom I owe much gratitude,” Frigga pronounced with a beaming smile.

“You honor us with your gracious presence,” Tony replied, determined to stand out as the most charming. Clint was in no position to contest him for the title, since he was preoccupied with staring at Loki – who in turn was preoccupied with staring at the floor, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze.

“Well, now that we’re all gathered, if you’d care to have a seat…?” Fury said with a wave of his hand. There were two long, white sofas on either side of a glass coffee table. Frigga nudged Loki to sit in the middle of one of the sofas, flanked by herself and Thor, while Clint placed himself firmly across the table from Loki, flanked by Natasha and Fury. Tony and Bruce sat in two armchairs at either end, poised to respond in case Loki was not as well subdued as Thor had promised. Maria slipped in and unobtrusively served coffee to everyone.

“So. Loki.” Clint broke the awkward silence. “I heard you wanted to see me?”

Loki tensed upon hearing Clint’s voice – for the first time since he had been hauled away in chains from Midgard – but he finally looked the other man in the eye.

“For the record,” he said, his tone haughty, “I am here against my will. This fool’s errand was planned against my advice. Were it up to me, we would not be sitting here at all.”

“Loki!” Frigga chided, making him falter, but he continued with his green eyes fixed upon Clint’s as though by sheer willpower he could force him to obey.

“However, since I am unavoidably here, I will say this: Clint Barton, if you value your life and future, do not hear the tidings the others would give you. Do not allow them to speak of it to any of your comrades. Insist that we return to Asgard at once. Of course my brother will wish to see his woman before departing,” Loki added with a sneer, “but you have the right to forbid him from revealing this secret and he will be honor-bound to comply.” Loki cast his eyes down to his hands, which were clasped tightly upon his knees. “That is all.”

Clint was stunned by Loki’s words, but what struck him most was that Loki feared the news would harm him – that Loki was (or at least claimed to be) concerned for Clint’s welfare. It sent a cold shiver down his spine which jangled his nerves and mixed in with the emotions already swirling in the pit of his stomach. Then he noticed Loki’s posture: how tense he was, his knuckles almost white, and how he was biting his lower lip and attempting to hide it by keeping his face turned down.

“He’s bracing himself for the worst,” flashed across Clint’s mind. Then he realized that Loki was afraid. Perhaps for Clint, perhaps for his own selfish reasons, but in either case he was nervously, desperately, heartrendingly afraid. “Of what?” Clint wondered, feeling the first twinge of fear himself. “What is it about this news that’s making him so scared?”

Aloud, Clint only said, “I don’t care much for secrets – for keeping them, anyway. I even had a shrink dig around in my brain so I could remember every detail of the time you kept me under your mind control. I knew I wouldn’t like what I’d see, but… Humans are like that. We don’t like losing control and we’d rather know the truth, no matter how bad it is, than believe a bunch of lies. At least I would, anyway. So I dug up all the memories you tried to hide from me. And in a way, I’m glad I did.”

Loki did not look up as he replied, “Your memories were vague and confused as a natural result of your being forcibly – and quite crudely – extracted from my spell. I did not intend to deprive you of the glorious hours you had served me, fulfilling a higher purpose than any other you will ever know in your short existence. But you may yet live to regret knowing the truth. I warn you again, do not allow the others to speak of it; but if you will not heed my counsel, so be it. I have done all that I could to spare you.”

Clint studied the shadows under Loki’s eyes and longed to touch him and hold him, to make him sleep in his arms until the darkness was replaced by the healthy glow he had seen so many mornings when they had woken in the tangle of each other’s embrace. He ached to see the sickly pallor of Loki’s skin and wondered what tortures awaited him in the prison of the gods. But right now Clint couldn’t do anything about that, so he simply said, “Tell me. Tell me everything.”

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