Brooding 25

“You don’t know that,” Clint countered. “Things change. People change. Once the baby’s born, even Odin might have a change of heart. It’s… well, it’s the closest thing he’s got to a grandchild, right?”

Loki snorted, a sardonic grin twisting his features. “Why would he even begin to claim the child? He has made it clear that I am not his son, and by now all of Asgard – if not all the Nine Realms – must know that I am Jötun. And then you, the father, are a Midgardian mortal. Even if the Norns, in some fickle fancy of generosity, grant that the child be powerful and brilliantly intelligent… it would not be enough to tempt the All-Father to give it more than a passing glance. And even if he were to show more than a cursory interest in the child, it would have no bearing on my status.” Loki’s slender fingers gripped Clint’s shoulders as he insisted, “I will never have another reprieve from my punishment. This time I have with you… is the most precious of my life. Every word, every touch… I will cherish forever.”

“You told me that… once before,” Clint said, his brow furrowed. “Just before you erased my memory.”

“Yes. You were not supposed to remember that,” Loki replied, chagrined.

“But I’m glad I do, now. That’s what made me fall in love with you, you know – realizing why you were doing what you were doing.”

Loki, startled, looked at his lover askance. “And why was that?”

“You had put me under your mind control because… well, to start with, so I would do your bidding and get what you needed; but also because you were afraid that without it, I would abandon you and leave you hurting… like Thor did. Like what’s-his-name, the guard, did. You were just scared and… tired of being hurt.”

Loki blinked and stared at Clint blankly for a long moment, then admitted, “Yes… I suppose I was. And my fears were well-founded, of course – you shot at me the first chance you had. Even Thor, for all his arrogance and cruelty, had never tried to harm me… until I had attacked him first.”

“I won’t apologize for that, Loki,” Clint told him. “You were trying to take over my world at the time, after all. But I understand why you were doing that, too: you were trying to prove to your dad that you could do a better job of being a king than Thor… maybe even trying to prove to yourself that you didn’t need your dad’s help to get a kingdom. And while I would normally object to having my world conquered by anybody, some of your plans that you told me about – like putting an end to war and making sure everybody had enough food – sounded really good. Hell, if I had powers like yours and had been raised to be a king, I might have tried the same thing. Not that it would have worked, you know, and not that I’m condoning how you went about it, but still… I can understand why you tried.”

As Clint spoke, a sad smile had crept into Loki’s face. The god of lies took a deep breath before revealing a truth, but it had been a long time since anyone had even tried to understand him, and he was startled to realize that he wanted this Human to understand him.

“You’re very perceptive for a mortal,” he said without meaning to slight his lover. “Of course, you’ve seen more of my heart than any other… more than I intended you to, at times. And so you understand me better than any other, except perhaps my mother. But those aren’t the real reasons why I attacked Midgard.” Loki laughed, and it came out as a bitter sound. “I didn’t even want to rule Midgard. Why would I? Such a tiny, backward planet. I might as well have ruled Svartalfheim, a barren wasteland. There’s little glory in conquering and subduing an anthill.”

“Wh-What?” Clint asked, confused. “You didn’t even want…? But then… why…?”

“It was the only choice I had,” Loki said, his tone quiet and resigned. “I had been rescued from the Void by Thanos… a being so powerful that I cannot even describe him in a way you would understand. He deduced my origins easily enough – my Asgardian garb told him that much – and demanded that I help him gain access to the royal weapons vault of Asgard, where there are many treasures which would make him even more powerful. I… refused. Despite all I had suffered at the hands of Odin… and despite the fact Asgard had never been my true home, any kindness I had ever known had come from my – from Queen Frigga.” Loki’s chest tightened as he corrected himself, but he forged on. “I knew that once Thanos gained new powers, he would want to test them, and he would not have spared the Queen solely for any… sentiment… I might have expressed. He… tortured me, but I chose death over betraying the only one who had ever loved me.”

“Loki,” Clint whispered, stroking his hair. The demigod smiled.

“It was not a hard decision. I had already chosen death, had given myself up to it. The pain… that was another matter.” Loki rubbed his left wrist, just above the manacle, although there were no marks remaining on his skin. “I thought I would go mad… Thanos could have killed me at any time, but he preferred to make sport of me… and he was also sifting through my mind, as a child might sift through sand looking for shells and pebbles. He found something he thought useful: my hatred of Midgard. Not even of Midgard as a whole, really, just… Jane Foster. And he had already sensed the presence of the Tesseract there, so when he relieved me from the pain and offered me the task of conquering Midgard instead, to present him with the Tesseract… I gladly agreed.”

Clint stared at him, feeling as though the last pieces of a puzzle were finally fitting into place, allowing him to see the entire picture.

“So you attacked Earth… so you wouldn’t have to attack Asgard,” he concluded for him. “You chose to attack the woman you hated so your mother wouldn’t be harmed.”

Loki smirked, attempting to look carefree, although he fooled no one. “It’s not so difficult a choice, is it? Especially when you put it that way. One minor, backward realm scarcely makes a difference in the grand scheme of things. And Thanos had promised me a kingdom, as paltry as it might be… More importantly, it bought me time.”

“Time? For what?”

“To do something. To make a plan. To warn… Queen Frigga, or at least to remove her to a safe place. I could have lured her away from the palace; there’s not much she would not do for me. And as long as I continued to make myself useful to Thanos, I could hope to protect her.” Loki sensed Clint’s arguments before he even spoke them. “I know, you think I was a fool to believe Thanos would keep me as his lackey for long, useful or not – but I never deluded myself on that point. I knew he would kill me when my usefulness had run its course, perhaps even sooner… but I was also gambling on Odin putting up a good fight. He would have the weapons in the vault to use against the Tesseract, and the old man still has a few tricks that might keep Thanos at bay. That, too, would buy me some time, and if Thanos were injured or weakened… I might have found an opportunity to tip the balance of power. I would have understood more about the workings of the Tesseract by then and might have found some way to use it against him.”

“Sounds like a long shot to me,” Clint said, feeling his blood run cold at the dire situation his lover had faced.

“It was,” Loki agreed, “but it was better than having no chance at all. If I had led Thanos into the vault, he would have obliterated the new Destroyer in moments, and once he had gained the powers from the treasures in the vault… there would have been nothing left of Asgard. And he might have chosen to destroy me along with it. So you see, I truly had no other choice but to invade Midgard.”

“It was the devil’s alternative,” Clint slowly stated, “but you’re right – it was better than no chance at all.”

“Neither I nor Thanos had expected to meet any real resistance, of course, so it was a shock to have the Chitauri defeated,” Loki continued. “I had wondered about their dependence on their power system… They do not eat food for sustenance, like most races do, but take their energy directly from their mother ship’s catalytic distributor. It was a critical flaw, but they never expected your Midgardian weapons to penetrate so deep past their defenses.” Loki reflected for a moment and added, “I suppose I owe you and your friends some gratitude… for releasing me from Thanos’ grip. Although if he acquires another weapon like the Tesseract and uses it to attack Asgard, I will be in no position to save myself.”

“You think he might attack again?”

“I am certain he will… when the time is right. He will wait until he knows he has the advantage.”

“Have you warned Odin?” Clint demanded. Loki shrugged, and this time his nonchalance was genuine.

“No. He’s never asked. And any information I have on Thanos is… rudimentary. I know nothing that would help to defeat him.”

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