Brooding 23

Loki was charming at dinner, assisting Frigga in keeping the conversation light and engaging, but Clint noticed that he merely picked at his food, even though it was the best the facility’s kitchen could offer. The steak he had ordered cooked medium well rather than medium rare, which had been his preference the last time he had visited Earth (although Clint realized why his tastes might be different now), and he ate maybe half of it. The only thing Loki finished was his small portion of salad, and that over time. The wine he did not touch, asking instead for hot herbal tea – something he had discovered and enjoyed during his previous stay.

Loki caught Clint staring at him often but only smiled in reply, slipping his hand onto Clint’s knee to reassure him that he was fine. Clint wasn’t buying it, of course, but he didn’t want to press Loki in front of the others. Tony and Bruce were gleaning precious nuggets of scientific information from both of their Asgardian guests; Steve was courteous and respectful, even to Loki; and Fury, while not thrilled to be hosting two powerful aliens (one of whom was a known aggressor), was at least being professional.

Clint turned to the end of the table where Maria and Natasha were seated. Natasha seemed to be avoiding his gaze, which was understandable, although it lay heavily on his heart. They had been an item at one time and he still considered her his best friend, but they had agreed long ago that their relationship was best kept casual. The nature of their work, and the hectic schedule it demanded, made a conventional romance impossible. And the one time Clint had brought the subject up, Natasha had made it clear that she did not intend to settle down and become a mainstream domestic goddess. The mere thought of driving children to soccer practice every day in a minivan, she had declared, was enough to make her put a bullet in her own head. Clint did not need any proof, and at the time he had agreed with her full-heartedly.

And yet it was strange how happy and excited he now felt about the prospect of having a child – a son, if Loki’s extrasensory perception was correct. He found himself looking forward to fatherhood, teaching his boy the sorts of things fathers had been teaching their sons for time immemorial: how to play catch, how to build a fire, how to fish, how to hunt. The last one in particular sparked his imagination (while the conversation over dessert turned to technical things beyond his ken or interest) and set him to thinking about different bows that would be easy for little hands to handle. He had almost finished designing the perfect custom-built bow in his mind when he saw Loki put a hand on his stomach. The brief shadow that crossed the demigod’s face spoke of uncertainty and concern.

Clint placed his own hand on Loki’s belly and leaned close to whisper in his ear: “It’ll be all right. You’ll see. We can work anything out… together.”

The grateful smile Loki gave him was so lovely that Clint kissed him without thinking. The conversation around them skidded to a halt.

“Geez, guys – get a room!” Tony complained, breaking the awkward silence. “Oh, wait – you already have a room. Couldn’t you wait until you got back to it, at least?”

An even more awkward silence ensued, since all of them knew exactly what the pair had been doing in said room. However, not knowing about the hidden camera, Clint retorted, “I wouldn’t have pegged you as a squeamish one, Stark. Besides, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

“Well, ah… while that statement is open for debate,” Tony hedged, “maybe you should save your best material for the main performance?”

“Oh, I am,” Clint said with a grin as he turned to Loki. The demigod pursed his lips and let a sultry smirk grow across his features. For an instant, they were lost in each other’s eyes.

“That reminds me,” Frigga began, making the others wonder what had actually reminded her to ask, “earlier you had mentioned, Clint, that you intend to visit Loki every day. How were you planning on doing that?”

“Well, I hadn’t really thought it through,” Clint confessed, “but I’m a firm believer that ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ I guess I was hoping to find some sort of work over in your world so I could be close by… not that there would be much call for a Human, I suppose, since we’re so much less… advanced than your people, but I don’t care what I do as long as it’s honest work.”

“There is always work to be found, even though it might be menial,” Frigga assured him. “But I have been told that you are an excellent archer. The palace guard has a special division of archers, the Herǫr Drengr, which might suit you best.”

“Oh, uh… that’s very, um… kind of you,” Clint replied, “but I’m not sure… I’d be up to snuff, so to speak, for your people… being a Human and all…”

“You would be a valuable asset to them,” Loki suddenly put in. “I know you will – I’ve seen you shoot.”

“Then you should apply to the chief archer,” Frigga followed up. “They test all applicants, of course, so you would be accepted or denied according to your skill alone. If I grant you permission to dwell in Asgard, they cannot deny you solely for being Human.”

“That’s… That’s very generous of you. Thank you,” Clint said to the Queen.

“Does this mean I should expect a letter of resignation in the morning?” Fury asked, his expression stony.

“Yes,” Clint answered without hesitation, making Loki start. “I’m sorry, Commander.”

“I don’t see why it should mean he must resign his post here,” Frigga interrupted. “Why could he not be working with our military as a liaison? Perhaps as a man ‘on loan’ from Midgard.” She gave Fury her most disarming smile and added, “I can think of at least one Asgardian warrior who would be glad to serve as a man ‘on loan’ to Midgard in his place… if it’s agreeable with you.”

“Are you saying… you would have Thor be ‘on loan’ to S.H.I.E.L.D.?” Fury asked in disbelief.

“I think he could be persuaded to, yes. Love is a great incentive, after all,” she said demurely.

“No offense, Hawkeye, but it sounds like we’re getting the better end of the deal,” Tony declared, rubbing his hands together. “But hey, if everybody’s gonna be happy, it’s a win-win!”

“Yeah,” Clint answered, his eyes still locked with Loki’s. “Seems like things will work out, after all.”

Loki smiled, but Clint sensed that it was somewhat forced. He did not try to delve into the reason then, however, knowing that he would have plenty of time later to ply his secretive lover with questions.

As the party left the dining room, Frigga expressed a desire to see the Midgardian constellations again, so Maria led her up to the observation deck, and Tony asked Bruce to help him experiment with some of the concepts they had garnered from Asgardian technology. Steve and Fury were escorting Loki and Clint back to their room when Clint stopped at an intersecting hallway.

“You go on ahead,” Clint said, trying to unwrap Loki’s arm from his own. “I’ll be right there.”

“What? Where are you going?” Loki demanded, alarmed.

“I’m going to pick up some Hooah bars,” Clint explained. “You hardly ate anything at dinner, and you’re supposed to be eating for two now.” He gave Loki a peck on the cheek while rubbing his belly affectionately. “The bars aren’t the best-tasting things, but they’ve got a lot of nutrition in them. Even if you only eat a few bites, it should help.”

“Let me come with you,” Loki said, not releasing his hand. The undisguised longing in his wan face tugged at Clint’s heart, making him pull Loki down into a deeper, more expressive kiss. After a minute, Steve coughed and Fury cleared his throat. Clint grinned as he pulled away from Loki but did not take his eyes off his lover.

“You’re so beautiful, I could do you right here,” he whispered.

“And I would let you,” Loki murmured back.

“Gentlemen, if you’d like to order room service,” Fury began, not bothering to suppress a longsuffering sigh, when Steve started walking down the other hallway.

“You mean the new Logan Bars – the D-Ration bars, right?” he called back over his shoulder.

“Um, yeah.” Clint wrenched his gaze off of Loki for a moment. “Cap, you don’t have to…”

“I know.” Steve turned to them with a chuckle. “You two lovebirds go on. I’ll knock three times and leave them at the door.”

“You’re a prince, Captain,” Clint told him, meaning it. “A real prince!”

Loki watched Steve’s retreating figure with a thoughtful expression for a moment before Clint tugged on him to lead him back to the bedroom. Fury followed with another sigh, wondering what pantheon of gods he had angered to be forced to chaperone two grown men who could barely keep from making out in the corridors of a military installation.

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