Brooding 43

As they neared the impressive structure of the palace, Clint looked up and spotted the archers of the Herǫr Drengr at their posts high above, and he felt some of his doubts dissipate. Here, at least, was something he understood; if he were accepted into the Asgardian military’s archery division, he would be familiar with the work itself. There were many flying craft to look out for, but it wasn’t anything he couldn’t handle.

He gave Loki a reassuring squeeze when they stopped in front of the palace gate, causing the dark-haired demigod to look back at him with an unfathomable expression. Clint thought he saw resignation and despair, but there was certainly longing for him in that glance – as well as the fierce, stubborn pride that kept Loki’s head held high. After Clint helped him dismount, Loki stepped to the front of the stallion to stroke its nose.

“Farewell, Svadilfari. May they find for you a rider worthy of your mettle,” Loki murmured. The horse whickered as though it understood that its master would never ride it again. Groomsmen came to lead all of the horses back to the stables so Clint removed his things from the other horse, watching Hogun approach Loki with the shackles.

“One moment, if you will,” Loki said, then turned to face Clint, all traces of mirth gone from his face. “I want you to know,” he began, faltering a moment as his emotions nearly overcame him, “that… regardless of what happens… I am grateful that you even tried… that you were willing to do this for me… and for the child.”

“Baby,” Clint responded, wrapping his arms around him, “of course I would. No need to thank me… I love you.”

Loki’s face crumpled and he looked down, breathing hard as he struggled to maintain control. “I love you too,” he finally confessed under his breath, and Clint held him tightly, knowing how difficult it was for the god of lies to bare his heart in those words. Loki clung to him, gripping his shirt in desperate fistfuls while pulling himself together. “Remember what I had said… about our child,” he managed at last. “If he does not have outstanding powers, he will not be welcome here. Please… if you are able, take him to your world. My mother will give you such aid as you need. I would rather spend my days in solitude, knowing that my child is happy…” here his voice cracked, but he forced himself to continue, “than to have him ridiculed for his parentage.”

“I know, Baby,” Clint assured him, “but let’s cross that bridge when we get to it, all right? He might just blow everyone away with how talented he is. He is my son, after all!”

That elicited a half-hearted laugh from Loki. “Yes, of course… my very talented Hawk. But I must tell you this now… in case I am not able to speak with you again.”

The look in Loki’s eyes sent a shock of physical pain through Clint.

“You really think… he would do that? Keep us from meeting?” he asked, though it was mostly rhetorical.

“Yes,” was Loki’s simple answer. He gazed at Clint’s face as though trying to commit every detail of it to memory. Even Volstagg noisily clearing his throat did not distract him.

“Um… We’ve delayed quite a while, don’t you think?” Fandral mentioned to no one in particular. “We mustn’t keep the King waiting…”

Loki leaned in to give Clint a passionate, soul-searing kiss, which the Human eagerly reciprocated. Fandral fell silent as the two lovers locked their lips in a wordless pledge. When they finally parted, Loki’s cheeks were wet once again; Clint wiped them dry with his thumbs. The other Asgardians had been watching the couple’s exchange with varying degrees of shock, revulsion, and pity, but none of that registered with either Clint or Loki.

Then Loki stepped away from Clint and moved toward Hogun, submitting to being shackled. The somber party did not move into the palace until the prisoner was completely bound in chains, two of them trailing out from his waist to be held by Volstagg and Hogun. Frigga and Thor led the group with Loki and his captors following, then Clint who was flanked by Fandral and Sif. Two guards joined Heimdall to bring up the rear, and the other soldiers saluted as they passed through the cavernous entrance.

Clint could hear the blood rushing in his ears as adrenaline kicked in to prepare his body for fight-or-flight mode. He rarely ever chose flight; he focused on breathing deeply to calm himself, knowing he would need to rely on brains rather than brawn for this fight. When the group walked down corridors with soaring columns, he glanced around automatically for hidden ambush points and perches, gratified to find guards already in the positions he would have chosen to occupy. The architecture was designed to awe and intimidate, and while he could not help but admire the intricate craftsmanship of the bas relief carvings, he was not about to be cowed by the mere size of the place.

They walked a significant distance and rode in a lift with a breathtaking view of the city, arriving at last in the throne room where a stairway led up to the dais and the throne itself was comprised of even more steps. Clint took in the appearance of the All-Father, grim and authoritative and exuding an aura of power. He sensed Odin’s singular eye studying him in return but did not flinch from it; he knew he could not afford to show any sign of weakness. He set his weapons case and duffel bag down with as much nonchalance as he could muster.

“It is good to have you back, my Queen,” Odin said, deliberately addressing Frigga first. “And Thor… I trust your trip to Midgard was… fruitful?”

“I believe so,” Thor answered, genuflecting before the throne while Frigga mounted the stairs to stand at her usual place beside it. Odin’s eye traveled back to survey Loki and Clint.

“So. Loki. Is this the father of your child?”

Loki rolled his eyes, glancing up at the ceiling as though unbearably inconvenienced by such an obvious question. “Who else could it possibly be?” he scoffed, cloaking himself with a semblance of his old, haughty arrogance. “Yes, this is Clint Barton, the Midgardian archer.”

“Clint Barton,” Odin pronounced, staring at the Human as though attempting to bore a hole through him. “Why have you come? Asgard is no place for a mortal man.”

Clint was already detesting the way he had to crane his neck to look up at the throne, but he kept his tone neutral as he boldly replied, “My place is with Loki and my child. I wish to provide for them as best I can, wherever they may be. Surely, as the All-Father, you can appreciate that… Sir.”

There was a well-couched challenge in the statement, notwithstanding the respectful title added seemingly as an afterthought. The room was filled with stunned silence for a moment. The Asgardian warriors – Thor included – held their breath while they awaited Odin’s response. Loki turned to observe Clint with widened eyes.

“So you think yourself worthy of the Herǫr Drengr?” Odin said in a low voice, almost a growl.

“That remains to be seen,” Clint replied reasonably, unfazed. “But if not, I’m willing to do any other honest work available. I don’t intend to be a burden on anybody… or for my son to be a charity case.”

Another hidden barb, which only Odin, Frigga, and Loki recognized – a subtle reference to Loki and the difference of his treatment from Thor’s.

“And if you are, by some chance, deemed acceptable for the Herǫr Drengr, will you swear fealty to this throne?” Odin demanded, not-so-subtly reminding Clint of his position. “Will you swear to defend Asgard from its enemies, even at the cost of your fleeting Human life? To follow every order upon pain of death, in peacetime and in war?”

“I will,” Clint stated without hesitation, “so long as your cause is just and your quarrel honorable.”

He had no way of knowing that Odin had just presented him with the oath every Einherjar warrior was sworn to keep; he also did not realize that none of them had ever dared to add anything that might be construed as a stipulation. So he simply assumed that Odin was glaring at him in a continued effort to intimidate him. Not only was Clint undaunted, he considered the best defense to be a strong offense.

“However, I would like to suggest an alternative – one that might not have occurred to you before – which would be of mutual benefit,” he said, willing himself not to clench his hands and betray how nervous he felt.

“An alternative,” Odin echoed, scarcely believing his ears.

Clint gestured at the manacles on Loki’s wrists. “Your people have devised a way to prevent Loki from using his magic. During his recent stay on Midgard, it worked perfectly. He had no more powers than Thor did when you banished him to our realm.”

It was another subtle reminder of the disparity in the punishments for the two princes, or rather, the prince and the adopted Frost Giant. Clint thought he saw a vein throb at Odin’s temple and continued on, encouraged.

“As long as Loki is restricted by that device, he could be remanded to Midgard to pay for his crimes there. Having worked for S.H.I.E.L.D., I can assure you that he would be kept in a secure location, isolated from the rest of the world, where he would pose no threat. And, since he and my son will be on Midgard, so will I.”

Odin’s glower did not lessen one whit in its intensity. “What makes you think I would agree to this… arrangement?” he demanded.

Clint shrugged and spread his hands in a gesture of indifference. “Nothing… except that it’s a reasonable request. Loki may have been judged for his crimes on Asgard, but he hasn’t been made to answer for his crimes on Midgard yet.”

“You would presume to pass judgment on one of us?” Odin cried in outrage.

“As I understand it, Loki isn’t one of you,” Clint replied coolly. “And even though we Humans may be weak and short-lived compared to you, we’re not incapable of understanding the concept of justice. Ever since we first became aware of the existence of Asgard and the other realms – when you sent Thor to Midgard and your Destroyer leveled an entire town – we’ve been preparing to defend ourselves from powerful beings like you. I have to say we did a damn good job of fighting off the Chitauri, although we appreciated having Thor assist us. But I’m confident that Midgard is ready to shoulder the burden of her own future now. Humanity no longer needs gods… although we would be honored to have you as our allies.”

Loki had listened to his lover’s speech with increasing admiration. He hardly cared what Odin’s response would be, he was so thrilled to discover how capable Clint was of making cogent, logical arguments – a trait he hoped their child would inherit – and he was also moved to witness the Human do so to the All-Father’s face, perfectly calm despite the terrible risk. Loki knew Clint’s heart well enough to realize that he had done this for Loki and their child: for their family. He had never felt more proud of someone other than himself.

“You speak as though you have stolen Loki’s tongue,” Odin gruffly muttered, surprising all present with the unexpected compliment. “But Loki has not finished paying for his crimes on Asgard yet,” he continued. “If Midgard wishes to make him pay for his crimes there, it will have to wait until his term here is finished. Perhaps by then Midgard will be capable of enforcing his punishment on its own – without relying on Asgardian technology.”

Clint’s forehead furrowed and his eyes narrowed. “But Loki’s sentence is for life.”

“So it is,” Odin agreed, as though he had only just remembered it. “And since Loki’s crimes on Asgard predate his crimes on Midgard, it would seem your realm will not have satisfaction in this matter – except for the knowledge that he will be punished to the full extent of Asgardian law. Your request… is dismissed.”

Previous ɣ ð ɛ ø ɔ ð ɣ Next

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 302 other followers

%d bloggers like this: