Brooding 45

The group made its way slowly down through the castle to the dungeons below after being dismissed by the All-Father. At Frigga’s request, Hogun had removed Loki’s shackles as soon as they had left the throne room, but the disgraced prince was unsteady on his feet from the shock of Odin’s many revelations, hampering their progress. Clint had offered his arm for support, which Loki had gratefully taken. Thor longed to offer his own on Loki’s other side but feared a haughty rebuff or, worse yet, a response of genuine confusion followed by polite refusal, for Loki and Clint were intimate in their silence in a way that Thor had never experienced with his former brother; a third member to their coupled walk would have been an unwelcome intrusion, and Thor feared his own presence was so far from Loki’s mind as to be practically forgotten.

Still, despite their slow progress, it did not take long for them to arrive in the dungeon halls and stand before Loki’s cell. Clint assessed the furniture and sterile cleanliness of the room at a glance, then refocused his attention on his lover.

“You know I won’t give up,” he told Loki, his gaze steady and strong. “I’ll keep looking for a way, all right? Just take care of yourself for now and try to rest… for the baby’s sake.”

Loki nodded and clung to him with his still-manacled hands, wishing with all his heart that they did not have to be parted – that he could undo the past and reshape it in some manner so he could stay in the Human’s embrace forever. When Loki heaved a sigh, knowing that such a wish could never be realized, he caught a whiff of Clint’s scent: earthy and masculine and inexplicably comforting.

“My dearest Hawk,” Loki murmured, his lips pressed to Clint’s ear, “might I keep this shirt you are wearing now? To remember you by?”

“Oh! Right. Sure.”

Clint disentangled himself from Loki’s reluctant arms and removed his sleeveless uniform top, much to the surprise of the Asgardians. While Clint opened his duffel bag to pull out a clean shirt and put it on, the Warriors Three and Sif exchanged glances of bewilderment with Thor; the reason for the Human’s actions became clear, however, when they saw Loki clutching the old shirt and burying his face in it. Frigga, having heard Loki’s initial request, grimaced and held a handkerchief to her own eyes, and even Heimdall’s stoic features grew grim.

“It’s all right, Baby,” Clint whispered, cupping Loki’s cheek with one hand. “It’ll be all right, I promise. Here, you should eat some of the chocolate Tony gave you – it’ll make you feel better – all right? And I want you to keep this too,” he added, pulling out the StarkTunes machine and handing it to Loki along with the box of chocolate. “I don’t know if you’ll even like rock music, but at least it’ll keep you company in there.”

“But… Clint,” Loki protested, taken aback, “this was a gift for you – the songs of your people, to remind you of your home.”

Clint grinned in his slightly lopsided way and shrugged. “Nah, don’t worry about it; I’ve got all my favorites in my head already. Besides, I’ll be working, while you’ll be… stuck in this box all day.” His face contorted with distaste as he spoke the word, but his eyes never left Loki’s. “I want you to know something about my culture, about the music I grew up with, ’cuz it’s shaped who I am. I want my son to know it too, eventually… although it might just be noise to him right now. Maybe he’ll feel the beat; they say babies can hear more than we think inside their mama’s tummy…” He rubbed Loki’s bump affectionately. “I hope he grows up to like my world… just as much as yours, so he can take the best of both. He’s got some amazing opportunities that no one else has ever had before. He’ll have plenty of choices…”

“Yes,” Loki agreed, bowing his head to press his cheek against Clint’s. “I hope he will choose wiser paths than I.”

“He will. Because you’ll teach him to.”

Loki pursed his lips and did not answer. He dared not speculate how much time he would be allowed to spend with the child, if at all, but he did not wish to mar their parting with needless argument. He knew that Clint would continue seeking ways to bring about, if not his freedom, at least his ability to nurture their child, and also that the determined archer would protest any pessimistic words he spoke right now. Thinking Clint would need all the help Frigga could give him, Loki looked up at her and noticed she was still struggling to regain her composure.

“If I might be so bold…” he began, causing Frigga to approach him, eager to grant whatever it was he desired. “Would it be permissible for Clint to occupy my former rooms?” Loki asked. “You had mentioned they were still as I had left them…”

“They are. I will not give up hope that you might yet be pardoned and returned to your previous estate,” Frigga confirmed. “But if you wish to have Clint occupy them, I can think of no better use for them.”

“Wait, hold on a sec!” Clint interrupted. “I was going to live in the barracks, just like any other guy. I don’t want to get special treatment.”

“Loki’s rooms are more luxurious than most, as befitting a prince of Asgard,” Frigga told him, “but it would not seem preferential, since as a warrior from Midgard here at my invitation, you would be expected to live in the palace; I would have provided you with rooms similar to Loki’s as my honored guest. And many men of the Herǫr Drengr live with their families in their own homes.”

“Oh,” Clint responded, surprised. Loki managed a faint smile.

“This way you might learn something of my culture – what shaped me. My books, my collections… I hope they might compensate you, in a small way, for leaving your realm.”

Clint felt humbled at having a prince’s chambers offered to him in exchange for a glorified iPod, even if he had left his entire world for Loki and their child’s sake, but he tried not to show how awkward he felt as he said, “Thanks. I… I’ll try not to break anything.”

The ridiculousness of Clint’s concern – as though he could damage something beyond Asgard’s ability to repair – made Loki burst out in a tight laugh, which just as suddenly turned to a sob. The tears he had been holding back broke through his strained control at the remark because it was so quintessentially Clint-like. Frigga swiftly removed the items in Loki’s hands, allowing him to fling his chain over his lover’s head and cling to him once again.

“It’s all right, Baby… It’ll be all right,” Clint repeated in Loki’s ear, wishing (not for the first time) that he were a little taller; as it was, Loki was draped over Clint’s shoulder. But while Clint held his trembling body and rubbed the small of his back, trying to comfort him, Loki’s sobs subsided, and eventually the two of them stood in perfect unity, simply enjoying the ability to touch and be together.

A cough from one of the guards reminded them that it was a privilege about to be revoked.

“You can do this. I know you can,” Clint murmured, stroking Loki’s hair. “I know how strong you are. You have to be strong for the baby, but I’m here for you, all right? I won’t ever leave you.”

Loki nodded, although a cruel voice in the back of his mind reminded him that his Human would die in a matter of decades, not millennia or even centuries, ultimately leaving him; he crushed the thought by reassuring himself that Clint would not leave him of his own will – and was that not the important thing? That his lover wanted to be with him for as long as possible, that he cared for him even to the point of forsaking all he knew and loved in his own realm. That was a sort of loyalty and devotion Loki had scarcely merited before in his life, and as he felt the strength of it in Clint’s loving embrace, he vowed to be worthy of it henceforward.

Frigga had finished putting away his gifts in his cell and now hovered close by, awaiting her turn to embrace him and bid him farewell. Drawing in a deep breath and sniffling one last time, Loki stood at his full height and straightened his shoulders.

“Well, then… it seems our time has run out,” he said, schooling his features into a passable mask of indifference, although Clint noticed how his green eyes flitted about as they tried to commit the archer’s face to memory. “Thank you. For everything.” Loki bit his lower lip for a moment to keep it from quivering. “I wish you the best of fortune as you join the Herǫr Drengr – for I have no doubt that you will – and I hope the pleasures of the Golden City will ease your heart for the loss of… everything you have left behind.”

“Loki… Baby,” Clint replied, gripping his lover by the elbows, “I don’t need to be compensated for that. Don’t you get it? I’m gonna be a father – you’re giving me a son. There’s nothing greater than that. It’s no sacrifice at all, Baby, to leave an old job for my family. Don’t worry about it.”

In spite of his resolve, Loki felt hot tears running down his cheeks again. He looked down to hide them, swallowing hard to regain control. Clint wiped them away with his thumbs, then covered the damp tracks with kisses. When Loki had pulled himself together at last, he forced his lips into a small, crooked smile. Clint returned the expression knowingly as they cursed in unison:

“Damn hormones!”

The laugh they shared was genuine, even if laced with pain, and it bolstered Loki enough that he was able to give Frigga a grateful hug without breaking down again. Thor stepped up behind her hesitantly and was relieved when Loki gave him a sheepish smile, reminding him of days long past when they had played together as brothers. The god of thunder wrapped his arms around the god of mischief, mindful of the growing life in Loki’s belly and glad to have him safely home again, regardless of the circumstances.

“All right, I’ll admit it,” Loki spoke in a mockingly grudging tone. “For once, you were right.”

“To what are you referring?” Thor asked, puzzled, then added in jest, “I have been right on more than one occasion.”

“You were right to insist that I tell Clint of his child,” Loki answered, grinning to hide the deeper emotions threatening to overwhelm him. “Though I did not expect him to receive the news so well… Perhaps you did learn something of the Midgardians during your sojourn there…”

“As I told you, he is an honorable man – as are many of his people,” Thor said seriously. “He will be a good father to your child, and for this I am glad, Brother.”

A muscle in Loki’s cheek twitched as if he wished to deny their relation again, but he held his peace, instead turning back to Clint for one last, chaste kiss. The lovers lingered on it as long as they dared but after a final, yearning taste of each other’s lips and a wordless moment with their foreheads pressed together, Clint patted Loki’s back and escorted him to the threshold of his cell. Once inside, Loki willed himself to stand erect and poised as a guard removed his manacles, while six others surrounded him, spears at the ready, to prevent him from escaping before they retreated and raised the barriers. When the shimmering wall arose with its all-too-familiar hum of power, Loki felt his chest constrict. It cost him a tremendous effort to keep his face blank.

Since there was nothing more to be said, Clint only nodded to him before gathering up his half-empty duffel bag and case. Loki watched as the archer followed Thor and Frigga down the hallway and was gratified when Clint turned around before he was completely lost to sight. The gesture the Human made, with his fingers almost touching his brow, Loki recognized as a Midgardian salute. He waited until the last of the group was beyond his line of vision, then counted their steps until they must have entered the stairwell.

With a heavy sigh, he used his newly released powers to draw the sheer white privacy curtains around the cell while he walked over to the bed. He paused for a moment, sitting on its edge, to place his hands on his stomach and reach out to the child within.

“We’re alone again, Heideral,” he whispered. Feeling the child moving, he lay down on his side and curled around it protectively. “I miss him already as well,” he confided.

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