Brooding 42

The group landed on the Rainbow Bridge some distance from the broken edge where reconstruction of the Bifröst had begun. The Bridge no longer pulsed with light and power, its structure as clear as ice over the roiling waters. Heimdall, Sif, and the Warriors Three were there to welcome them.

“We rejoice at your safe return, Queen Frigga,” Sif said with a formal bow. “I trust your stay in Midgard was not too unpleasant?”

“It was delightful,” Frigga told her with a smile.

“And you must be Clint Barton,” Fandral said, assessing the man with frank curiosity. “Heimdall told us you would be coming. Welcome to Asgard.”

“Thanks,” Clint responded, also taking the measure of each of the Æsir warriors as he shifted his duffel bag onto his shoulder. He had seen all but Heimdall in the video footage from the New Mexico incident, but he thought to himself that they were far more intimidating in person. Then he looked around at the skeletal structure of the new Bifröst cannon, the water’s edge where the sea spilled over endlessly into space, and the golden city in the distance. “Nice place,” was his succinct comment.

“The All-Father has ordered that the prisoner and the Human be brought before him,” Heimdall announced. “We have prepared horses for all of you.”

Clint heard a sudden gasp escape Loki and turned to him. “What is it?” he asked, concerned to see Loki’s face grow ashen. “What’s the matter, Baby?”

Loki was biting his lower lip hard – so hard that Clint worried he would draw blood – and clenching the handle of Clint’s bow case in an attempt to keep his hands from trembling. Clint enveloped him in his arms at once.

“He means to send you back,” Loki whispered against his ear.

“What?”

“Odin… He would not have called for us unless…” Loki’s voice trailed off.

“Shhh,” Clint said, holding him tightly. “You don’t know that.”

“Oh, but I do,” Loki hissed, bitterness tainting each word. “I should have known better than to hope… Why would he allow me to have any solace in my punishment? He had already decreed that I never see my mother again; why would he let me enjoy your company, however limited as it might be through the prison walls? Now that he knows how much you mean to me… of course he would not allow it. I was a fool…”

Clint continued to rub Loki’s back, trying to console him but to no avail – the hapless demigod choked back the first few sobs, then gave up any pretense and wept on Clint’s shoulder openly. Clint felt his gut clench with frustration and helplessness. While he wanted to believe that the All-Father could not be so cruel, he had only ever heard Loki’s terse remarks about him, so he had to admit the possibility that Loki’s conjecture was correct. And if so, there was nothing a mere mortal could do about it.

“What is troubling you, Loki?” Frigga asked, coming to his side. When Loki did not answer, she focused her questioning gaze on Clint.

“He’s worried… Odin won’t let me stay,” he explained. “Or if he does, that he won’t let me visit him in the prison.”

“Loki! What foolishness is this,” Frigga chided, reaching out to stroke his hair. “Your father knows I have sanctioned this arrangement; he will not gainsay it. What reason could he have to do so? Shush, my dearest… there is no cause for such distress.”

As Loki’s sobs slowly abated, Clint noticed that the smallest of the Warriors Three was standing near, waiting, with something in his hands. The archer’s heart seemed to fall through his feet, straight through the darkened Bridge to the waters below, when he recognized what Hogun was holding.

Shackles?” Clint burst out, feeling a flush of rage spreading through his body. Hogun did not so much as flinch, the heavy chains lying still in his hands. Clint asked in a tone dripping with sarcasm, “Are those for Loki… or me?”

“Of course they are not for you,” Thor replied in Hogun’s stead, frowning with indignation. “You are our guest and under the Queen’s protection. Loki, however… is still a criminal. He cannot enter the All-Father’s presence unless properly bound.”

“Seems like overkill to me,” Clint retorted. “He’s already got the manacles to keep him from using his magic. They worked well enough on Earth. What’s Odin so afraid of?”

“It is our law,” Thor said with a hint of a growl. “No violent criminal may enter the throne room without being bound hand and foot. The All-Father fears nothing; it is to remind the criminal of his place.”

“To humiliate him, in other words.” Clint returned Thor’s glare with an equally stony one. “I get it. That’s just how you operate around here: shock and awe.”

“Surely that can wait until we have entered the palace?” Frigga interjected, addressing Hogun and disrupting the growing tension. “It would make the ride back needlessly difficult.”

Hogun inclined his head in acknowledgment and withdrew a few paces. Clint returned his attention to Loki, who was struggling to pull himself back together, leaving Thor to stare balefully at the two of them.

“Baby, shhh… It’ll be all right. We’ll work it out somehow,” Clint whispered, kissing Loki’s tear-stained cheeks. “Don’t get yourself so worked up – it’s not good for the kid. We’ll figure something out, I promise…”

Loki hiccupped, fighting to control his emotions, and spit out the words, “Damn hormones!”

Clint let out a light chuckle, realizing that the demigod was trying to save face even now. “No kidding. You’re a perfect mess… but a hot mess, Baby.” He took the weapons case that Loki had been gripping and set it down, freeing Loki’s delicate hands so he could hold them in his own. “Listen… I know I don’t have the clout to get anything done in this world, but we’ve got your mom on our side, and she’s got a shitload of clout, right? And I’m never gonna stop trying. I want to be with you, and the kid is going to need you, so I’m gonna keep looking for some way to make that happen. I promise.”

Loki swallowed and hiccupped again, but he fixed his bleary eyes on Clint’s and nodded.

“I know you will,” he answered, gripping his lover’s hands tightly.

“Damn right,” Clint assured him before pulling him into a bear hug. “You’re damn right I will!”

Loki sniffed as he clung to Clint’s shoulders. After a few minutes, sensing that their escorts were growing restless, he pressed his lips to the Human’s cheek and straightened his spine to stand tall.

“I have one request, if I may,” he said, addressing Frigga. “I see that my old horse has been brought for me. I would ask that Clint be allowed to ride with me to the palace; Svadilfari is strong enough to carry both of us.”

“I see no reason to deny your wish.” Frigga glanced at Thor and, when he did not object, nodded her assent. Loki walked over to the stallion with as much dignity as he could muster after having such a total meltdown. Clint followed with his luggage.

“How are you supposed to get up on there with your hands bound?” he asked Loki in an undertone.

“I can manage it if you will assist me,” he replied, placing one foot in the stirrup. “Hold me so I do not fall when I swing my leg over.” Clint steadied Loki in his strong arms as the demigod leaned forward to straddle the horse. When Loki sat erect and proud on the stallion’s back, Clint grinned, marveling at the gracefulness of Loki’s fluid movements.

“This one will carry your bags,” a female voice stated from behind him, startling Clint. Sif placed a coil of rope on the back of another horse. “They do not seem heavy, but there is no need to burden Svadilfari with them as well.”

Clint gave her a curt nod and used the rope to strap his case and duffel bag securely to the horse’s saddle. Then he returned to Loki’s horse and swung up into the saddle behind him, circling his arms around his waist to find the baby bump. When Clint patted it, he could feel Loki take a deep breath, attempting to relax.

“It’s all right, Baby. I’ve got you,” Clint told him, squeezing him above his precious bulge.

Loki twisted around to face him and get a quick kiss. “For now,” he replied, pain shadowing his brow. As the group began to move along the Bridge toward the city, Loki leaned back against Clint, obviously trying to maintain as much physical contact for as long as possible.

Clint tried to think of a plan while they rode closer to the impossibly high skyscrapers. Almost every pertinent piece of information he had on Odin had come from Loki, and Clint was clear-sighted enough to realize that his lover was probably biased in his opinion from having had such a tumultuous relationship with the All-Father.

Would he really try to kick me out of Asgard? he wondered. Or even if he wouldn’t do that, knowing it would piss off the Queen, would he keep me from seeing Loki? If so, why would he do that? Because Loki needs to be punished for his crimes, or because he just hates Loki and wants to hit him where it hurts? But then, why did he even adopt Loki in the first place? Was that a “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” sort of deal?

Clint wished he knew more about Odin before he had to meet him for such a crucial moment. As an assassin, the archer had handled himself in many unexpected scenarios, but he always preferred going into situations with as much background information available. However, that was not a luxury he had at the moment.

Even assuming he lets me stay and visit Loki, what will happen once the kid is born? Will Loki be allowed to take care of it and be a parent, or will the Queen take over and Loki only have some visiting hours? Would I still be able to visit him then, or will I have to ask the Queen to smuggle notes to Loki? And what will my role as the dad look like? Dammit, I don’t know anything about babies, but they better not try to cut me – or Loki – out of the kid’s life!

Clint tightened his hold on Loki, causing the demigod to drop the reins to place his hands on Clint’s. Svadilfari did not need to be told where to go, anyway.

Would it be possible to appeal to his better nature? Clint continued to ponder. Would it even matter to Odin that the kid will need Loki to be available as a parent? If so, I might have a fighting chance to persuade him. Even if he doesn’t give a shit about Loki, if he cares about the baby at all – or if I could guilt-trip him into caring – that might be a way to gain some latitude. If he really wants Loki to rot in jail, there would be nothing I could do… except hope that Thor becomes King soon. But if Odin just wants to forget about Loki, maybe there’s a way… These manacles seemed to work okay on Earth, after all…

The Asgardian horses thundered up the Bridge to the palace, drawing some attention from curious citizens, but Clint was lost in thought, his brow furrowed in concentration.

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