Brooding 41

Steve was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what Frigga was saying as Loki and Clint, on the other side of the SUV’s spacious but limited interior, grew more passionate in their expressions of affection. In fact he was quite certain that if he and the Queen were not also in the cabin, the couple would have started doing what they had been doing on the viewscreen the previous day, so he was very relieved when the vehicle pulled up to the Bifröst landing/takeoff site a few miles from the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. He was even happier to see Bruce waiting for them along with Fury and Thor. Tony landed as the convoy slowed to a stop.

Steve assisted the Queen out of the vehicle before joining Bruce, who was smiling but hanging back shyly. Before they could engage in small talk, however, Thor’s voice rumbled out in challenge.

“Director Fury has told me that you desire to live on Asgard to be near your child. Is this still your intention?”

“It is,” Clint answered calmly. “I just went and packed my bags. You got a problem with that?”

“I must speak with you before I can agree to this. You may be grievously deceived.”

“What do you mean?” Clint asked, his brow furrowing. He kept his arm around Loki’s waist, holding him by his side.

“I have been informed about a condition that affects Humans,” Thor said. “It is called Stockholm Syndrome. It may be affecting your judgment in matters pertaining to Loki.”

Clint’s easy laugh startled Thor. “I’m aware of it, and no, I don’t have it – never did.”

“But… how can you be so certain? By its very nature, it will warp your perception of the truth.”

“It would if I had it, sure,” Clint agreed, “but think about what I did after I got knocked to my senses: I tried to kill Loki. Shot a grenade at him and even managed to blast him off his flyer. If I’d had any trace of Stockholm Syndrome, I shouldn’t have been able to release that arrow. But the fact of the matter is, I hated Loki’s guts when I was snapped out of his mind control; I only fell in love with him after I got back all of my memories, including the one he tried to hide from me.”

Remembering what had happened during the time Loki had suppressed his memory – and what had been revealed – made Clint’s blood boil with anger. However, Thor merely looked to and fro between the lovers, his expression confused, unaware that the archer knew of his sordid past with his adopted brother.

“Then… are you claiming that you only felt affection for him… after he had been taken back to Asgard?” Thor asked to be certain.

“Yeah. Although I’ll admit, it was fun running around with him… apart from the whole take-over-the-world ploy, you know.” Clint smirked and pulled Loki even closer. “But it was only after I was freed from the mind control and could remember everything, see everything with my own eyes – with some time to cool off and be rational about what had happened, too – that I realized what an amazing, intelligent, and… interesting guy he is. You really are, you know,” he said, turning to address Loki directly. “Amazing.”

Loki allowed a small smile to curve his lips, which tantalized Clint into kissing them. It left Thor gaping at the two with a burning desire to pull them apart and beat some sense into them, which he only barely resisted.

Clint returned his attention to Thor and noticed his clenched fists with surprise. He then observed the veins pulsing in Thor’s temple and had an epiphany: Thor still cares about Loki. Since Clint had heard only Loki’s version of the events of their youth, he had assumed that Thor had abandoned Loki because he had never truly loved him; to see the hulking god of thunder now seething with rage over their kiss forced Clint into a paradigm shift. Perhaps Loki had misjudged his brother – perhaps Thor had not wanted to end their relationship. It made him feel more kindly towards Thor, even though he still considered it reprehensible that the demigod had initiated an incestuous relationship with his younger brother. But if Thor had any noble feelings left toward Loki, it might be possible for him to repair some of the damage he had done to Loki’s heart and self-worth. And for Loki’s sake, Clint was willing to give Thor the benefit of the doubt.

“Thanks for looking out for me,” Clint told him, even though he suspected Thor’s motive for trying to dissuade him from going to Asgard was tainted with a selfish desire to keep Loki for himself. “I realize how it looks, but really, I’m fine. If it’s any consolation, even if I hated Loki’s guts I would still want to go to Asgard just to be close to the kid… but that’s simply not the case.”

Thor studied Clint’s face as if assessing his sanity, then turned to Loki, who had remained unwontedly silent throughout their exchange. His expression was closed at the moment, his lips pursed into a thin line, and he was refusing to meet Thor’s gaze.

“I don’t mean to be a wet blanket,” Steve spoke up, startling everyone, “but Clint… I was also going to ask if you’re aware of the high level of pheromones Loki’s putting out. They could be affecting your judgment as well, so I wouldn’t want you to make such a big decision based on what you’re feeling – although I understand how you’d want to be close to your kid, regardless.”

“I’m aware of that, too,” Clint replied testily. “Loki told me about it himself.”

“He did?” Steve said, surprised. Clint nodded.

“And like I said before, I started having feelings for him when he was in a prison on Asgard – when there was no way the pheromones could have been affecting me. So while I appreciate all your concern, I’m really not delusional or under the influence or suffering from some weird-ass mental disorder. Are you all satisfied? Or does anybody else want to raise an objection?”

Tony broke the uncomfortable, absolute silence that followed with the mock-solemn invocation, “Speak now or forever hold your peace!”

“Damn right,” Clint muttered under his breath, then placed another kiss on Loki’s drawn cheek. As he did so, however, a flash of red caught his eye – Natasha had turned away as though unwilling to witness any more of their public displays of affection.

“There is one last thing I need to clear up, though,” Clint told Loki before releasing his grip on him to walk over to her. She looked up at him and, for a brief moment, panic flashed in her eyes. “Tasha,” he said quietly, “I need to know you’re okay with this.”

She stared at him, desperately trying to hide her internal struggle although she knew she was deceiving no one. After a minute, she answered honestly.

“No. I am not okay with this. But… I think you’re doing the right thing… for the baby. You… You’re a father now… and that changes everything.”

“Yeah,” Clint agreed. “It does. But it would mean a lot to me if… if I could have your blessing.”

Shocked, Natasha let her mouth hang open; she did not know what to say to that. In her agitation she happened to glance at Loki, who was staring at her with a haunted expression. As a trained expert in reading emotions, she saw the fear in Loki’s eyes – the fear that if she disapproved vehemently enough, Clint might change his mind… that Loki might lose the support and comfort of having the father of his child by his side. Suddenly she realized that the Loki who had mocked her from inside the cage, who had placed such horrific images in her mind with only his voice as a weapon, had been bluffing; he would never have killed Clint as long as his puppet remained loyal to him, and his spiteful words about killing her had merely been an outlet for the obvious jealousy he felt towards Clint’s former lover. And in that instant she realized that Loki was human, not a god, with insecurities as well as faults – and that enabled her to feel pity for him.

“You have it,” she told Clint crisply, not trusting her voice to keep from wavering any longer than that.

“Thanks,” Clint said, equally tersely, but the way he looked at her communicated that he understood what an effort it had cost her to say those three short words. When he wrapped her in a strong embrace, she knew he was thanking her – for everything. For their entire relationship, which Natasha was certain had now become a thing of the past.

When they broke apart, Steve stepped forward to shake Clint’s hand and wish him good luck, followed closely by Bruce, then Tony and Maria. Fury was last, clapping the archer’s shoulder and saying under his breath, “I hope you know what you’re getting into.”

“I guess I’ll find out soon enough,” Clint answered.

Fury nodded. “Take care of yourself.”

“I will. Thanks.” Clint looked around at the assembled group. “Okay, so… if there aren’t any other objections, I’m ready to be beamed up… or however the hell this works.”

“Wait!” Tony ordered. “You can’t leave yet – not for another… five minutes. I have a baby slash congratulations-on-your-new-job-on-another-planet, assuming you get one as planned, gift coming.”

Clint let out an exasperated sound but Loki quietly sighed in relief. Every second they could delay their return to Asgard was another second he was able to be with Clint, physically touching him. When Loki sidled up to his lover, Clint realized this and held him close.

Meanwhile, Frigga approached Thor. “There is another matter we should discuss while we wait,” she told him. “I had suggested to the Director that Clint could be considered a man ‘on loan’ to the Herǫr Drengr and that we might arrange for an Asgardian warrior to take his place here on Midgard.”

Thor’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “That is… unusual… though not unreasonable.”

Frigga smiled sweetly at him. “I thought perhaps you might know of someone who would be willing to remain on Midgard…”

“Do you mean to suggest… that I remain here in Clint Barton’s place?” Thor asked, stunned.

“It would allow you to be near Jane Foster,” she pointed out.

“So it would…” Thor said, pondering the idea. However, remembering how Jane had said she needed more time to get her life in order, he was doubtful that she would be ready to welcome him at the present. “I must consider this further before making a decision.” He turned to Fury and promised, “I will see that you are compensated with a worthy warrior ere long. Who it shall be… I will relay to you through the radio communicator.”

“Fair enough,” Fury agreed.

An older model Iron Man suit landed nearby in a cloud of desert dust. Tony took out a rectangular device from the empty chest cavity, then presented it to Clint with unrestrained glee.

“Behold: the StarkTunes model 3000, the most advanced technology for portable music enjoyment! This is actually a prototype – it won’t hit the market until next year – but it’s got a few features that will come in handy where you’re going. First of all, it’s solar powered,” he said while pressing a button. Two sections slid out of the top and unfolded to create panels that tilted automatically for maximum light exposure. “You won’t have to worry about interfacing it with whatever power system they have in Asgard. Secondly, it’s got an Ultra-HD display that will show you the lyrics, with a bouncing ball option. Thirdly,” Tony added, bringing up the index on the display, “I’ve got all of the classic rock, pop, and metal songs from the past five decades programmed into it, for like a gazillion hours of music altogether. Enjoy!”

Clint had listened with growing pleasure evident in his grin.

“Thanks, Tony. This is… wow… it’s perfect!”

“Oh, and here’s something for your baby-mama,” Tony said, pulling out another box from the delivery suit. “The finest Swiss chocolates for all your preggo cravings,” he told Loki while presenting the 2-pound box with a flourish. Loki was too astonished to form a reply.

“Thanks, man,” Clint said, accepting it on his lover’s behalf. “These are really great. You didn’t have to, but I appreciate it.”

Tony made a self-deprecating gesture. “Don’t mention it! After all, it’s not every day that I get to send off a friend to another realm to have a half-alien baby with our former nemesis.”

Clint managed to stuff both the device and the box of chocolates into his duffel bag, which he then slung over his shoulder, while Loki held his weapons case. Frigga thanked the group, and Maria in particular, for their hospitality. Then she pulled out the Tesseract from the ether and bid her sons and Clint to take hold of the various handles on its new, Asgardian container. In a flash of light that lit up the sky, they left Midgard.

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