Story [The Avengers] "fingers laced to crown", The Spooky Story Challenge - Clint, Natasha, Loki oneshot

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  1. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

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    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    "fingers laced to crown"

    Genre: Angst, Drama
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Post-Avengers
    Characters: Clint Barton, Natasha Romanov, Loki, Thor

    Summary: He's still picking Loki from his mind piece by piece. It is a process she knows well.


    Notes: This was done for the Spooky Story Challenge, my prompt being Possession, Separate, and Memory. And while my story quickly went from being a spooky tale to a flat out character study, I still love it to pieces and am excited to share it.

    . . . now I should probably see if I can actually get something spooky written, seeing as how this is decidedly not. [face_blush] :p

    As a heads up, this fic contains speculation for Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you don't want to know any spoilers whatsoever about the films, then I suggest the back button. :)


    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words.





    "fingers laced to crown"
    by Mira_Jade


    The dream that woke him was a familiar one.

    He dreamed of a serpent with coils that surrounded the world itself; of sea water sloshing over diamond-hard scales as if the ocean were something living, undulated in crashing shapes against the massive body rising from its depths. He dreamed of nine stolen steps before a strong body fell, never to walk again; of shaking finger as they pressed lifeless hair behind a burnt ear. He dreamed of sinking to his knees besides the corpse of the Thunderer as the broken whisper of brother fell from chapped and ruined lips.

    It was not Clint's dream, but rather his dream instead. But it may as well have been his own for how he awakened, his palms sweating and his breathing choppy and quick as his lungs worked too fast to press the air out from his mouth. His mind clamped down over itself, as if shielding from a blow. This is not me . . . not me, not me, not me . . . his thoughts chanted, but it was Loki's mouth who formed the words. It was Loki's mouth who lied, willing himself to believe, and Clint closed his eyes against the sound.

    "This is not me," he whispered aloud, and his voice sounded like a stranger to his own ears. It should have been deeper, smoother. Liquid molten silver twisting thorn strewn words.

    No, he told himself . . . that voice was the stranger. He hummed in the back of his throat, assuring himself that he was he. Not him. Never him.

    Clint swallowed, and ran his tongue against the back of his teeth as if to erase the taste of the other voice. He dug his fingers into his palms and felt the bite of pain from his nails breaking skin. But it was his pain he felt. His.

    "That was not me," he whispered again, and it was him, it was Clint who spoke, not the other.

    In return, there was only silence.



    .
    .

    He was still tearing Loki from his mind piece by piece, even though four months had passed since the Battle of Manhattan. It was a slow process, a process that itched and burned and scarred in all of the wrong places, but at least it was a process. At least it was progress.

    He had not been allowed back into the field for active duty yet, which wasn't really surprising. As much as he grumbled about the constraint Clint wasn't sure what he would actually make of any orders to march again, and so he didn't press the matter when Fury sat him before a desk with an uncertain future of eternal paperwork. Low level paperwork at that. Like Level 3 low. His eyes passed over no secrets greater than what Loki would already know, in case of . . .

    Just . . . in case.

    It was a prudent decision, it was a smart decision, but that didn't mean he had to like it.

    He didn't much care for the shrink SHIELD had set him up with either, but he paid his dues, he served his time. He talked about his feelings and his memories and his not-dreams, feeling all the while as if he were betraying a secret, as if he were breaking confidence whenever he told a memory that was not his own to tell. That whisper of unease was even worse than the usual cocktail of frustration and guilt that twisted his gut – the black aftertaste of being used, of being passed aside and made other by a force that was not his own. . .

    Better than the shrink he sat dutifully for was the Professor from Winchester whom Fury had him meet with. Charles Xavier technically did not exist as anything more than a wealthy teacher of young minds. A brilliant scholar in his own right and a graceful presence for the passing of mutant rights. Unofficially, he was one of the few metahumans whom SHIELD had registered on their Index as a friendly, and as a personal favor to Fury, Clint sat with the other man and let him delve into his mind to see the damage left behind. There was something soothing about the other man, and Clint felt more at ease with Xavier in his mind than he did with any of the SHIELD doctors talking about how he felt.

    While Xavier said his mind was his own, there were still imprints from where Loki had pushed too hard; from where Clint had struggled too wildly. There were pieces still untangling themselves, one from the other, and it would be a long process until those smaller pieces snapped free - until Clint let them go fee, Xavier clarified gently, and Clint didn't much care for the minute difference in the phrasing.

    Either way, he was stuck ground-side with pen and paper and fighting the last parts of the Asgardian Mussolini from his mind with everything he had.

    In the end . . . it was a process she knew even better than him.

    Natasha was base-side more often than not as of late. She took fewer and fewer missions solo, and when he asked she simply shrugged and said that she was helping the Captain get into gear for the ops Fury had lined up for them. It was only a half-truth on her lips, and if she were anyone else he would have accused her of lingering – of hovering. But she wasn't anyone else, and so he didn't. Instead he sat with her in the mess hall, drinking his coffee black while she sipped her tea, talking about the general goings on of the base around them. His new seat at the desk has given him plenty of gossip, and Natasha listened to it all with a raised brow, amused and alert as he rambled.

    She knew what it is like to fill yourself up with bits of you – your own opinions and thoughts after they had belonged to someone else, and this was no different.

    "Sometimes I have to remind myself that my favourite color is blue, not green," he said abruptly, shifting gears from the latest scandal with Abby in accounting and one of Fury's Level 6 agents, knowing that Natasha would understand without him having to explain. She followed him from one point to the next, hardly blinking as he gave the confession on an exhale.

    "I would have guessed purple," she said in reply, a sly teasing in her words. She was still blowing steam from the rim of her mug, her red lips and red hair a slash of colour against the grey of the walls. The matte metal of the table between them.

    "I had a brother once," he had told Loki when the other's mind had twisted carefully through his own, as if by doing so he could shelter and keep the memories of Barney safe from the god's touch. They were his, his own, and he would not . . .

    Surprisingly, Loki had let the memories lay. He had not touched them, instead passing nearly reverently over that path in his mind with hardly a glance. "So did I," Loki whispered, and then his presence had lessened. He had turned, and Clint clung to the time of before as he fell into a restless half-sleep.

    "Barney liked the purple, not me," he said matter of factly, as if by acting so he could make the words roll from his tongue like water from wings. He was only half successful in the end.

    Natasha raised a brow. "I like green," she said softly. She ran the pads of her fingers over the porcelain of the mug, lingering over the sensation of heat. "At least . . . I think I like green. Before . . . Natalia liked red. Natalia's memories were told to like red. But, I have thought about it a lot since then and green it is."

    He smiled, a sad, stretching thing as he tapped the mug in front of him for the sake of doing something with his hands. "It's a good colour for you."

    When she smiled, it reached her eyes. "Yeah . . . I think so too," she said as she leaned back in the hard plastic of her chair. "I think so too."



    .
    .

    His dream was an old dream; a familiar dream. Well, for the other's mind, it was.

    Clint dreamed of a time centuries ago (and how odd that was, thinking in terms of the millennial where Clint had a mind made for days and their counting), back when he had still been considered little more than a child to a race of immortal beings. He dreamed of sitting quiet and still, so still that he could be called a stone if it were not for the slow flicker of his eyelashes, the tell-tale pulse at his neck.

    . . . and the faint hum of power singing from his skin as before him he other – the golden one, the first son, brother even still in the most unguarded parts of Loki's mind – rested his hands upon a great war hammer and tried to summon the storms.

    "It is hopeless," Thor said. Youth gave his voice a higher pitch, a plaintive quality. His eyes were still as blue as storm-light and his scowl fierce even though his beard was thin to cover it.

    By his side, Loki chuckled. The sound reminded Clint of serpents, one slithering about the other as they hissed. He licked his lips and could feel strange wounds decorating his mouth. They were half healed and sluggishly tasted of copper, irritated and abrasive to his taste. He blinked, his stolen memories whispering of thick dwarfish fingers and golden twine before the memory suddenly cut off, allowing him to see no more.

    "How do you do it?" Thor finally asked. For he had summoned the storms a first time and not the next. Odin himself had to call an end to the rain that had fallen over Asgard for three day's time from that first attempt. Now, Thor's gift was proving to be nothing but a useless mass of Ivaldi steel in his hands, no matter its forging.

    "Oh, you mean this?" Loki asked, amused as he flicked his fingers and water like rain began to fall over Thor's head.

    Thor patted his hair dry with a mighty scowl, knocking his elbow against Loki's shoulders. "You are unkind to toy with me so," Thor protested. "I came to you truly seeking your aid, but if you would treat me thusly, I shall take my leave."

    "And cover Asgard in another ever-rain?" Loki said, not unkindly as he rolled his eyes. "Here," he said instead, and his words were surprisingly gentle, surprisingly kind. Clint could taste the feeling in his own throat, and knew love, knew the fellowship of siblings as something tangible.

    He wanted to wake up. He wanted to claw the memory from his mind's eye, worse than any nightmare.

    "Here," Loki said gently, laying a near reverent hand over the inscribing on Mjölnir's side. He closed his eyes as Thor's hand covered his own, and Loki began to hum in the back of his throat. The faint whisper of the world around him became a heated cadence against his skin. Clint felt, and suddenly he was aware of everything – of the heaviness of the water in the air; the very make of the rock and earth beneath their feet. He could feel the roots and their deep reach, the boughs and their great heights. He could feel above them, the dance of the stars and the song of the Great Mother. The Mother whom Loki called upon for his gifts, and Yggdrasil herself answered . . .

    Clint, human boned and mortal shaped, could not understand such a power, even when gazing on another's memories. But he looked on as Thor looked on, and the first prince whispered, "Is that how it feels . . . all of the time?"

    "Yes," Loki whispered on a voice that quivered. Clint knew his eyes were bleeding green. He could see the glare reflected in the white of Thor's gaze.

    "How do you keep it in?" Thor asked on an exhale, his hand tightening over his brother as if he could shield his sibling from the great gift of his power. The great curse of his might, so beyond the Aesir that it was uncanny, that it was unnatural.

    "I don't," Loki admitted honestly. Clint could feel the truth in the tightness of his throat, the fierce cadence of the Mother's song, beating against his skin like wings. "I keep it in as you keep in your tempers, your call to arms. It . . . it spills from me sometimes, and I feel . . ."

    . . . as if his skin would burst like paper set aflame from the great inferno within him, Clint understood, but did not say. He could not say as Loki could not say, and suddenly Thor inhaled. His eyes were alight. "I think I understand," he said softly.

    With his brother's hand still beneath his own, he looked to the sky, and summoned the storm.



    .
    .

    "I dreamed last night," he told Natasha the next day. They were walking through a small park about a block away from the base. Around them, the trees were spear-heads against the steel of the city, the grass was a shield to feet long used to concrete.

    Natasha hummed in the back of her throat in reply. Clint tilted his head. "It just seems . . . odd that he let me see all of this." He ran a hand through his hair, stumped with his thoughts, uncomfortable with his own mind. "I just . . ." he did not know how to shape his words. He did not know how to give them a voice.

    Natasha understood, even still. "You have to give to receive," she said simply, her head tilted in the way that meant that she was choosing her words carefully. She selected them for their weight before she gave them as sound. "The greater the price you pay, the greater the yield you receive in return."

    "And what did you give to him?" Clint asked, the words tripping off of his tongue. For a moment, he hated her answer.

    Her smile was a sad, lopsided shape on her face as she said, "I gave him the truth."

    There was silence between them as she turned her gaze back to the path.



    .
    .

    Rare were the times when Loki caught his brother by surprise, but when he did, he did so with gusto.

    Clint dreamed. He dreamed that he sat on the edge of a bridge that hung over the stars and the nothingness of time and space. He dreamed that he let his feet dangle, that he wondered what held the stars in their place, what great conductor orchestrated the cosmos and her mad swirl across the Mother's branches. He felt a teasing in his bones, whispering that he could walk the ways between ways if he would only set his feet to the right path. He could . . .

    But his arm ached at his side, drawing his thoughts away from the intangible. His eye was blackened, the flesh around the orb swelling purple as a bruise. He had already popped his nose back into place, and even though every breath hurt, he was breathing unobstructed. Distantly he thought that it had been worth it, just to see . . .

    When Thor plopped down beside him, he was the last person Loki wished to see. Like an animal who wished to lick his wounds in private, he turned to glare at the other, his teeth bared. He still remembered earlier in the practice yards - remembered standing tall underneath Thor's blows as Odin had watched from a balcony up above. Suddenly, it had not mattered that he did not want to be there. It had not mattered that he preferred his books and spells over steel and blows - all that mattered was that Odin saw, and Odin's court whispered, and Loki had been desperate and near wild and consumed by thoughts of not again. He had thought only, Father, let me show you . . .

    He had slipped into Thor's shadow, only to materialize again behind him, quicker than a blink. He had drawn a gasp from the crowd when Thor had been too slow to follow, and finally Loki had stood over Thor in the ring, who looked up at him with eyes wide in surprise. He had touched a massive hand to his mouth, and Loki saw his fingers draw away with the kiss of blood.

    Satisfaction bloomed, quick and heady in his gut as his hands clenched with the realization. Finally, finally, finally, something inside of him swelled, loud in the silence. In the end, the still that had fallen was broken only by Sif's loud, baying laughter at the side of the ring. The sudden murmur of the older warriors who had gathered to watch was deafening in his ears.

    And Loki saw the dark look that fell over Thor's face at the laughter - at the whispers. He thought, It wounds you, does it not brother, but he had no time to finish the thought before Thor was stalking towards him. "Cheater," Thor rumbled the one word, that one damning word. And all the court would remember that day was that Thor had been victorious over his deceitful younger brother. They would not call Loki clever. They would not praise him with thinking with his brain before his brawn. They would not see.

    Now, Loki did not wish to see his brother. Not yet. Not with his nose broken and his eye swollen - for even though Odin had turned away, Loki would not step into the shadows again. He would not flee. But he was not as strong as Thor, and speed could only protect him for so long against the might of the other.

    Vengefully, he was glad that Thor's lip still bled. He was not untouched as he would pretend to be. He held his side as he sat down next to him, hesitant to jostle the ribs within. Darkly, Loki hoped that he had bruised bone.

    "How many times have you beaten me?" Loki finally hissed when Thor did not speak. "You prove stronger with arms, and I bear it every time. This once, I proved victorious over you, and you had to call it trickery. Who will remember this centuries from now, I ask? Will they recall your moment of defeat, or my cowards ways? You have branded me, Thor."

    Thor snorted. "I did you a favor," he returned. "Learn your steel, and thus end the court's whispers. I thought you would see only if I called you so."

    Rage swelled in Loki, black and consuming. Clint could feel it like something living in his veins as suddenly he was standing over his brother. He did not have to touch him to freeze him in place, he knew. With the Mother's powers, he could end Odin's golden son with nary a thought. He could turn him to little more than ash; flay skin from bone, and peel soft organic tissue apart piece by piece. Great was the power to war within him, but not to war as they warred. Not to war as Asgard warred.

    Thor looked on him with unease - but he was not worried, never that, and Loki thought only, I could crush him like an ant right now, and never even have to move a finger. It would be so easy . . .

    And Clint held his breath. He expecting him to do it.

    Instead, Loki clenched his jaw, and let his hands make fists at his sides. He turned from his brother, and walked back the way he had came. For once, Thor did not stand to follow.



    .
    .

    Some days his body only felt half his own. He saw the world with different senses; he felt with different fingers, he tasted with a different tongue.

    And now, his stomach was rumbling, and there was naught he could do about it.

    "I could quite literally kill for a plate of wild boar right now," he complained as he stuffed another bite of pulled pork into his mouth – the closest he could come without an interplanetary trip to satisfy his craving. Unfortunately, the science for that just wasn't there yet. No matter how hard one Jane Foster tried.

    Across from him, Natasha raised a scarlet brow. Her eyes glittered with her mirth. "I was told that I was allergic to milk," she said with a shrug of her shoulders. "And it's true – I don't digest it well. However they built me, they reached a hiccup with that part of my DNA. But it doesn't matter, I eat chocolate every chance I get now."

    Because it was her choice, not theirs, he knew. It was something that she dug out with scraping fingers and placed back in with her own will, her own might. It was hers.

    He drummed his fingers against the table. He rolled his tongue as if tasting a thick German beer on the back of his tastebuds, but it was no use.

    Finally, he sighed, pushing the plate back in disappointment. He looked at Natasha askance from the corner of his eyes. "What exactly is mead anyway?" he asked. "And do you know where I could get some?"

    Natasha snorted her laughed, and Clint shook his own head, choosing to be amused – needing to be amused over anything else.

    "Hey," he said, and by every will within him, he words came out without bitterness. "Something tells me it would be easier to find than goblin ale."



    .
    .

    He dreamed of summer that night, sweet and sticking against his skin.

    The hot months never had sat well with him – with Loki that was. His body sweated profusely for the first week of the season like clockwork, his skin seemingly melting from his frame as his mind washed him in fever and the dreams that accompanied such things.

    It was rare for the children of Asgard to take sick. It was unheard of for them to do so with such regularness. Eir had said that it was a malady he would outgrow with time as his body learned to tolerate the heat, but the fact remained that it was merely another way he was different. Another way he was not the same. His mother whispered unique against his brow while the other youths chuckled and called freak in the same undertones, and Loki knew a burning against his skin even worse than the fever.

    The curtains of his rooms were pulled tight against the sun. The air stank of sickness and herbs, and Thor scrunched his face without apology as he entered, never one to keep his thoughts from their telling.

    "It smells as a troll horde in here," his brother complained, moving to the windows to pull back the heavy drapes. The sunlight bit into the room like a blade, and Loki rolled weakly underneath the sheets to avoid the light.

    He made a childish face, unseen from the other. "Surtr's flaming beard," Loki cursed under his breath, "Could you not have a little more consideration, brother?"

    Thor raised a brow, painfully golden in the sunlight. He gave a crooked grin. "I thought I was," he said honestly. "You cannot enjoy the summer, and so I shall bring it to you. You lose yourself in these shadows."

    "It is called an illness, brother," Loki scathed, spitting each word as he would for a particularly daft child. "Perhaps you have heard of it?"

    And yet, Thor was unaffected by the venom in his voice. Always was he so when Loki's words were shaped to cut. "I have had the concept explained to me," he gave in return, and Loki muffled an audible groan. "You lose yourself in pity," Thor said, gently so, and how Clint's bones itched at the sound. "And I will have no more of it. Here," he tossed and Loki caught the apple thrown to him even sluggish and hazy from Eir's potions. "The first yield," Thor explained. "I know they are your favourite."

    Loki still glared, but he was hungry, and so he ate. He felt better than he had in days, but he would not tell Thor that. He would not tell the other that secretly he was touched by the concern – the care. He held onto the apple like a dragon would its gold, and tasted the juice sweet and crisp against his tongue.

    "It is better than Eir's herbs," he said neutrally, and Thor laughed, ever able to see his words for their truths.

    Loki sighed, and decided to let the other do what he would – the quicker to have him gone, that was.

    "Here," Thor said next, reaching for the satchel at his side. "I was unsure what interested you right now, but I asked the Keeper what last you read and found books near to there. And a few others."

    Loki looked on, amused as Thor's cheeks flushed pink. "You ventured into the library for me?" he asked.

    "A perilous journey," Thor replied solemnly. "But I survived the encounter with only one or two wounds to show for the quest."

    "One or two?" Loki raised a brow.

    "Paper cuts," Thor shrugged, tossing him the books, and Loki caught them, scowling at the damage a fall would have done to the antique covers. The collection of Bor was even older than Odin himself, and Loki ran a soothing thumb over the leather in the same way Clint would touch the fletching of his arrows, the string of his bow . . .

    "A history of defensive forms from Álfheimr?" Loki read one tittle, amused. "Written by a Master Eldgrim?"

    Thor made a face. "You may as well learn something useful while you read your other nonsense," the books on seiðr and its ways Thor had garnered for him. "And besides," Thor said brightly. "You may read that one and then show me what it says. That way I need not suffer through its pages."

    "Ah, what a thoughtful gift," Loki drawled.

    "Call it a carrier's fee," Thor said brightly, reaching over to clap him on the shoulder. Loki scowled at the touch, but did not push him away. He never did.

    Clint felt a warm feeling, deep in his core, and he turned the feeling over, ever curious. When he looked up, the look on his face was true. "I . . . I thank-you brother."

    Thor smiled in return, pleased. "Just . . . get better soon. And read quickly. I expect to learn those forms by the week's end, hear me?"

    Loki rolled his eyes and swatted at his brother, but in that too there was fondness.



    .
    .

    Clint stayed the next morning in the air-vents, letting the cold wash over him in crisp, cool waves.

    He had never been particularly fond of summer himself, but this was just getting ridiculous. He could not get his temperature down. His brow beaded with sweat. His clothes stuck to his skin. The sides of the vents were close, as high in the base as he could get – and that was his own comfort, not Loki's, but they were one and the same in that moment.

    He closed his eyes; forcing himself to settle, forcing himself to breathe.

    He was not like them, Clint thought after a moment, his blood beating warm and thick in his veins. Thor had told them how Loki was not of Odin's blood, but born of the winter instead. He had told them that he was different, holding the Mother's mysticism in his veins as none of the Aesir could and . . .

    Clint felt his throat seize. Like a twisted, messed up version of Stockholm's Syndrome he thought unkindly, suddenly wanting to bare his teeth at his own mind. He did not want to know sympathy. He did not want to understand his pain. He should have enjoyed knowing that the other man had felt as lost and used as he. He should have laughed at the dreams, should have pressed his thumb into the hurt like an open wound. And yet . . .

    Curiously, he felt at that part of his mind that ached like a bruise. He poked his fingers into that tender spot, wondering if he could wake up that old connection, that old link. He wondered if he could use it like he was used, and -

    He felt a faint feeling of shock – of surprise, and then of wry humor, and he was being pushed – thrown, and Clint was back in his own mind, blinking at the jolt.

    He touched a hand to his temple, and felt a faint brush against his own mind – a familiar glow of alien power, and Clint blanched. But it was gone as soon as it had come, nothing more than curiosity – feeling over the protective block of the Professor's wards, looking at the own scars he had left behind, and then it was gone. There was something final about the touch, something freeing.

    And Clint looked at the ceiling of the vent with open eyes, wondering why his mind suddenly felt so empty in its wake.



    .
    .

    He dreamed of golden hair that night, soft and silken through his fingertips. He dreamed of shears, of shorn strands cut close to her skull as the girl-warrior raised her fingers and asked, "How does it suit me?"

    "You look like a horse without your hair to take attention from your nose," was the unkind reply, but the girl was smiling and pushing at his shoulder, rolling, "Silver-tongue," from her mouth like an endearment as her eyes narrowed in determination. For steel would belong to Sif now, war and her call to march, and she would fight as Loki had to fight to stand against the current of Asgard and its ways, Asgard and its traditions. Its shades of white and black.

    Her hair grew back as black as the blank spaces between the stars. Black as none of the children of Asgard had. Black as war. Black as Loki's own unusual shade of hair. Black as the gaze of the woman the girl was now – staring at him through the wards of his cell. Only, one memory was then while the other was now, just now, and -

    Clint awakened, unable to process what he had seen. And so, he rolled over and closed his eyes again. When he slept, his dreams were his own.



    .
    .

    He woke that day with an uneasy feeling in his gut.

    His steps did not quite seem to be his own from the first moment he climbed out of bed. His heart rolled in his chest like a wave, uncertain and dizzy. He tasted the buzz of adrenaline in the back of his mouth, he could feel the hum of purpose in his veins, even though there was nothing special going on around him. It was just another day for Clint - paperwork and exercise and reporting to the shrink Fury still insisted he saw, and yet . . .

    He rhythmically punched at the bag Natasha held. Crisply she called out corrections and critiques, but that was all that passed her mouth that day. It had been the same since SHIELD had first taken her in, back in the days when an armed guard – and Coulson to boot – had followed her every step with wariness in their eyes. She had proclaimed him sloppy and inept and taken his training into her own hands. Red Room forged, she had been more than anyone else he had ever seen fight, and he had taken her instruction as an attentive pupil. His pride was never so great to keep him from learning, and so, learn he did.

    Now, Natasha watched him critically, seeing the shadows beneath his eyes, the distracted humming beneath his skin. She saw but did not comment, and there was something soothing about her simple presence. Her simple understanding. She did not need to talk, she simply knew. That suited Clint just fine - he had too few words to give that day.

    His heart was fast in his chest, as if there was a foe to face. Worry lanced though him like dread, but he could not understand it as the feeling built and built. He did not . . .

    Behind him, they were not alone in the gym. He could hear the rhythmic sounds of a pair of junior agents sparring with each other. But they were not quiet with their words, not quiet enough anyway, and he could tell when their conversation turned to him.

    "Not strong enough," one said, cocky and self assured and so very green that Clint would have laughed if he had been able to think without the haze that blanketed his mind.

    "I would have fought it," the other said, and Clint paused in his blows. He let the bag hang from the ceiling, leaning forward to rest his forehead against the synthetic material. Dully, he forced his heartbeat to calm.

    "I wouldn't have let him in," the first agreed, and for a moment Clint saw red.

    "Clint," Natasha's voice was a warning. But he was not listening, instead he was turning.

    "Clint," she said again, sharper this time.

    But it didn't matter. Because his fist was flying a moment later, making contact with the first agents nose just as a strong lance of feeling exploded in his mind, catching at his cells and lighting up his bones. She is gone, a voice wailed. She is gone, she is gone, she is gone . . .

    He saw flashes of vision – but not quite a vision, his mind somehow knew. It was happening now: there were Dark Elves within Asgard, Malekith's fell kin from the shadow-wood. They were in the palace, in Odin's own throneroom, and his Queen stepped forth . . .

    Mother.

    Gone.

    He felt grief rip through him, tangible enough to touch, and it was Barney all over again as Loki stalked forward to where those still breathing stood, the Allmother's blood on their hands, even as Clint struck again and again and -

    Knives and spells? How laughable for the son of Odin. How the Allfather must turn his head in shame for such a son, and -

    - I am not his son. Of course I am not. No matter. I shall earn the name I have grown with. I shall be equal to Odin's name. Greater than it, even. Even the ghost of Buri shall tremble at the might of my passing -

    - please, Father, I can make you see. Please, if you would just let me . . .

    . . . I am not Thor, the thought lanced through Clint, and he raised a hand as if to turn the agent's blood before him to fire and his skin to ash. He raised a hand for bones to crumble and for dust to fly before him where once there was life, and -

    "Clint!" Natasha hissed. "Clint," she all but snarled – and he blinked to see her eyes bearing down at him as if he were other, if he were him . . .

    Clint came back to himself with a jolt. He looked down to see that he had the agent pinned, with wide eyes and a bleeding nose, but alive, still alive . . . He was breathing heavily, too heavily, his blood moving much too fast . . . as if his body was not his own. He blinked, and forced his pulse to still. When his limbs were his again to move he pushed down one last time on the agent's chest before getting to his feet.

    He stumbled that first step as he fled, but none after.



    .
    .

    He found the highest perch he could in the base, and stayed there.

    He nested himself high in the rafters. Here, no one could touch him. Here, no one could find him. Here he was safe - but only as long as he hid above everyone else, as if he had both roost and beak and wing. Here, he was only him, and he could stare wide eyed at the shadows in silence.

    Natasha found him about an hour later, right when he was calm enough to want for her company. Her timing was uncanny, as if she knew exactly when his armor would chip and fall away to reveal the skin tender and bruised underneath. She did know, he reflected ruefully. She knew all too well as she settled in behind him, resting her head against his back and winding her arms about his chest. Her breathing was slow and steady, and unconsciously his calmed to match her. She did not say anything, but then, she did not need to. She never had.

    "She was the only one who cared," he whispered, turning his head to meet her gaze and Natasha peered into his eyes as if looking for something else . . . someone else . . . before she wrapped her arms around him even tighter. She exhaled heavily into his shirt, and he sank into her embrace like a man drowning and clinking to debris from the wreck on the waves.

    "She was the only one . . ." he repeated like a mantra. A hymn without grace. "The only one . . ."



    .
    .

    The next day, he agreed to see the Professor again.

    This time Xavier took everything. He covered each cell in his mind that Loki had ever touched like drawing a drape over a mirror, and where Clint had first protested loosing so much of his own mind, now he did not. Now, he could not. He simply closed his eyes, and let the Professor take it all.

    That night he slept, and he slept without dreams.



    .
    .

    He was without . . . incident for nearly a month when Natasha returned from a mission with the Captain in Cairo. Her steps were heavy and her mouth was tight, and she plopped down next to him and knocked her shoulder against his own with a graceless sort of affection.

    "Tell me a story," she said.

    "I don't know any stories," he shrugged.

    "Liar," she said. Silver-tongue, he heard, and for a moment, his chest ached. But it was a passing feeling; his own feeling. He closed his eyes, and tasted beer and pizza in his mouth. He had a craving for one of Steve's omelets. He could not feel the earth move beneath his feet.

    "I don't hate him," he finally said. "It's hard . . . it's hard to hate what you understand. And I do . . . I do understand."

    "That is not a story," she said, but the curve of her shoulder pressed against his as she matched the side of her body to fit against his own.

    "No," he agreed, his voice soft. "No it's not."



    .
    .

    He had been taking on small missions for Fury for nearly two months when Asgard stepped forward to meet the Earth again.

    Doctor Foster had completed her work, bright eyed and breathless as she walked through the stars to take hold of that which was hers. The ways between the Realms was restored, and Thor walked on the world of men once more after fighting a permanent night-fall from his own world.

    Clint stood at loose attention besides Fury as Thor stepped forward and bowed his head, pledging his sword and shield to the defense of the Earth and her interests as if it was centuries gone by and such oaths were still given. When Thor's gaze found him after, Clint looked away, unsure of what he looked for . . . unsure of what he would find.

    It took the better part of a week for the Thunderer to seek him out, but when he did Thor found him in the gym, punching a bag with a loose, easy rhythm to help sooth the restlessness in his bones.

    Thor was the only person he knew who went through more bags than even Steve. The last few days, they found that they much preferred hitting on each other, and Clint wished them all the best for it. Hand to hand combat was useful, but long distance weapons suited him just fine for a reason.

    "No," Clint said before Thor could ask. "It's all me up there."

    Thor closed his mouth, nodding so that his chin struck his chest. His eyes were full, his jaw was clenched. Clint has long since learned how to read people who thought they could not be read, and he turned his head to the side to do so again. "But I remember," he said. "I remember it all."

    Thor sighed as if exhaling a ghost, and whispered, "You are not the only one," in a soft voice. A voice more shaped for prayers rather than anything stronger, and Clint hesitated, asking himself if he truly waned to know before he asked.

    "He . . ." Clint started awkwardly. "Your brother . . ."

    "Loki aided us against Malekith," Thor said, understanding the question even without its completion. His words were slow and careful, as if he thought over each syllable before giving them a voice. "Without his aid, our world would have fallen – all of the worlds would have fallen. But he took to the shadows after. He . . . he has not been found since, though there are times I thought that I could feel him near. He . . . he has not gone far, but he is beyond my reach."

    There was a frustrated note in his voice, and Clint thought of Barney and lost chances, and tasted something sour on the back of his own tongue. He thought of the Chitauri on the branches of the Tree that Loki so revered, and felt a pang. He was not running, Clint thought, he was hiding, keeping those dearest to him far from the threat nipping and his heels . . .

    And Thor knew it as well as he.

    "I cannot help him when he is alone," Thor said miserably, and Clint wondered how many of Thor's people would understand the hurt in his voice. The frustration. Clint wondered when he had become one of those people.

    "He will be back," Clint rolled his shoulders before striking the bag again. The truth did not unsettle him as it once did. "And you have all the time in the world to wait."

    "Time enough," Thor said, running a hand through his hair. Clint remembered the gesture from Loki's memories; he remembered the pride he had felt whenever he had been able to move his brother to such a frustration. He tasted the fondness of the memory like something tangible, and he felt his expression soften.

    He stepped back from the bag, and gestured to the ring. "Here," he said. "I am not Steve, but I can still provide you with a distraction for all of ten seconds before I go down."

    Thor raised a brow, a smile slowly stretching over his face. "I would not deny you should you wish to face me," he said carefully, and Clint grinned – a sharp, wicked thing he knew that Thor would know better than his own face.

    "I've learned a trick or two. A whole slew of defensive moves from Álfheimr," Clint tapped the side of his head, wondering if this was how Natasha felt – taking what was forced on her, keeping the pieces she wanted and throwing the rest aside until she was her own person again. A new person, but her own nonetheless. "It's time to put them to use."

    Softly, Thor smiled. "Far be it from me to turn such a challenge aside, then."

    Clint stepped between the ropes, still smiling.



    ~MJ@};-
    Last edited by Mira_Jade, Oct 31, 2013
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  2. PonyTricks Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 25, 2003
    star 4
    Thank you for the PM, giving me a background for all these characters! Your story is great, and it's plenty spooky for a Halloween story. Someone else taking over a mind is always scary! Great job! =D=

    (Although, your PM made me laugh when you said Natasha was an (ex) Russian spy.... *images from Rocky and Bullwinkle pop into old PT's brain*)
    Last edited by PonyTricks, Oct 31, 2013
  3. Master_Jaina1011 Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 20, 2002
    star 4
    Clint!

    You had me there.

    You got him so right, and then including Loki in there. You have him and Thor's relationship down girl! ^:)^

    and I loved the cameo by Professor X (On that note did you see that trailer?!!!)

    I have read many fics of Clint having to get over having Loki in his head. This one is definitely at the top, because you added in the fact that Clint could still feel him, dream what he dreamt and all that jazz.

    and Natasha's and Clint's relationship and partnership. You hit that head on too. Everything I imagine that canon to be. :p

    But what got me was the end. Thor showing up, and Clint and him finally letting go of what happened.

    Can I have more please?! :p
  4. Moonspun Dragon Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 6, 2011
    star 4
    That was amazing!! :D

    GO, CLINT!!!! *punches air with fist*

    Great job! :D =D=
  5. serendipityaey Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2004
    star 4
    So many wonderful, wonderful things in this story... where to start... I love how this experience binds Clint and Natasha...it's not pleasant but I've always loved, and explored myself, the idea of our faults (or baggage) as the thing that can make us perfect for one another. I enjoyed seeing it played out so subtly here in the way they are able to understand each other. I loved the way you captured each characters voice, even though we were seeing them through Clint, they were still evident. I loved the feel/tone of it...slow and easy, subtle, melancholy but not heavy - true talent and beautifully done. I loved seeing Clint work through what happened. Loved the line about the German beer on the back of his tongue - I LOVE beer :D And loved Natasha's laugh and his comment about mead (as I said the same thing a few nights ago when we were out, lol, what is it??). Another coinicidence, I talked with someone once about who Ewan could play... as 85 percent of my thoughts revolve around Ewan McGregor - and we talked about him playing Barney (sexy and very much alive with a complicated but ultimately redeeming brother relationship to explore, etc, etc,) so I loved the mentions of Barney as well. :) lol

    Anyway, thanks for sharing, it was wonderful!!

    D'oh! And loved Professor X in there as well! I can't help thinking anytime I watch... I wonder what the X-Men are doing right now, lol. Love!
    Last edited by serendipityaey, Nov 19, 2013
  6. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    I didn't even think of it that way, but that had me laughing too! [face_laugh]

    I had so much fun writing this. So much fun!! [face_love]

    Basically, Clint is Clint, and Loki is Loki, and both give me so many feelings - I am just thrilled that you enjoyed this! I have read so many Clint-post-Loki stories that were sooo simmering in angst - they all had me saying 'Clint is stronger than that'. And he finding common ground with Loki just makes my heart happy. I want it to be so, canon! [face_batting]

    And that said, the new X-men trailer!! I have been annoyed with the X-men franchise for a while now (and this Wolverine movie was the last straw :mad:), but that trailer actually moved me - as none of the X-men films have in quite a while. I am actually giddy about the movie, and I hope it is as good as it looks to be. [face_love]

    [:D]

    Why thank-you. :D

    Thank-you for the lovely, lovely review! :D

    From experience I know how well you can weave together two characters with 'baggage', so that just made my day. ;) There is just something so beautiful about picking yourself up after something so life changing, and being the better for it - especially when you have a partner like Natasha helping you. I am glad the tone of this came across so clearly, that was really what I was going for.[face_love]

    I just had to include the line about the beer. I normally only crave beer in the summer after a day in the heat, but none of that Bud-crap for me, give me the good stuff. [face_mischief] Mead is a wine made from honey, of all things. It was popular in Medieval times, but there are still places you can get it! Now, for the goblin-ale, you may have to look a little harder. ;)

    And Ewan as Barney!!! Yes, please, oh powers that be - I think I would die from sheer fangirl overload if that were ever so. What a lovely, lovely idea to think upon. (I am just glad someone got the Barney references. :p)

    Again, thank-you so much for the kind words! [:D]
    Last edited by Mira_Jade, Nov 22, 2013
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  7. serendipityaey Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2004
    star 4
    You're very welcome, reading this story was such a treat, and thank you! I've been rewatching all the Avenger related things lately so I was excited to read this. Do you have any other Avenger things?

    I'm glad I got the Barney references too!! Yeah! [face_dancing]I don't know a lot beyond the movies, but yes, I think Ewan can make a fantastic Barney from what I've read, with a few tweaks. I would absolutely die from fangirl overload as well, mmmmmm, sighhhh.... I love exploring all types of relationships, usually more sisters, since I know a bit more about that, but I really liked the way you included the brother-relationship stuff here, and the comparison with Loki and Thor.

    I normally only crave beer.... on days that end in 'y' :D I'm with you tho! The good stuff for sure. And we were at a place that had mead! Thus the 'what is that' thought. Thanks for the info! I will have to try it. I don't know if I'm up for goblin ale, lol. In Oregon we have microbreweries everywhere - at the house next door, the old building turned bar around the corner, taphouses everywhere, so there are a lot of local fine crafted drinks. My favorite place (that has mead) has a lovely beer made from tea instead of hops, and a coffee-porter called Vader that is amazing :) Also one called the Millenium Falconer that's good too.

    And I agree with you as well! I love that you had Clint able to handle this as you said, without the overload of angst. I also love and think there is something beautiful about being able to pick yourself up and strive to be better for it. The scars remain, but they give you that thicker skin and hopefully lead to wonderful relationships, so fabulous job!
  8. Mira_Jade The NSWFF Manager With The Cape

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Jun 29, 2004
    star 4
    @serendipityaey

    You're very welcome, reading this story was such a treat, and thank you! I've been rewatching all the Avenger related things lately so I was excited to read this. Do you have any other Avenger things?
    Oooh, too many things to mention. 8-} Most of them are at FF.N or AO3, including an epic length Sif/Loki series of stories that's in the 200,000+ realm of words, the latest of which includes Loki trying to fit into the Avengers and lots of angst and baggage and other fun things, along with a terrific mauling of Norse Mythology. ;) On these boards, I have a Coulson viggie, and a Bruce/Natasha story and its follow-up that I adore. [face_love] I have never been able to ship the way canon tells me to ship, what can I say? :p

    I also have a kid Loki and Thor viggie here. And there is a Captain America: WS speculation fic that I am going to post here soon, too. So, all in time! :D

    I'm glad I got the Barney references too!! Yeah! [face_dancing]I don't know a lot beyond the movies, but yes, I think Ewan can make a fantastic Barney from what I've read, with a few tweaks. I would absolutely die from fangirl overload as well, mmmmmm, sighhhh.... I love exploring all types of relationships, usually more sisters, since I know a bit more about that, but I really liked the way you included the brother-relationship stuff here, and the comparison with Loki and Thor.

    Loki and Thor just break my heart in so many ways. Which is funny - because I have two sisters, and no idea how brothers work, and yet those two just flow for me. I love their interaction, and the idea that Clint can understand and just get that . . . He is the only one of the Avengers with a brother in dark place, and I would love to see that dynamic played with more. [face_love]

    I am going to be stuck on Ewan!Barney now . . . such a lovely place for the mind to be. [face_love] Lovely indeed. [face_mischief]

    I normally only crave beer.... on days that end in 'y' :D I'm with you tho! The good stuff for sure. And we were at a place that had mead! Thus the 'what is that' thought. Thanks for the info! I will have to try it. I don't know if I'm up for goblin ale, lol. In Oregon we have microbreweries everywhere - at the house next door, the old building turned bar around the corner, taphouses everywhere, so there are a lot of local fine crafted drinks. My favorite place (that has mead) has a lovely beer made from tea instead of hops, and a coffee-porter called Vader that is amazing :) Also one called the Millenium Falconer that's good too.

    [face_laugh] That sounds amazing. Especially the coffee-porter. All things coffee are a gift from the gods, in my opinion. And it's called the Vader. How cool is that?? [face_love] You should try mead when you can! What I have had is just delicious. [face_love]

    Again, thank-you for reading, and for the kind words! [:D]
    Last edited by Mira_Jade, Nov 23, 2013
    serendipityaey likes this.
  9. serendipityaey Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jan 24, 2004
    star 4
    I am so with you [face_love] coffee and Ewannnnnnnn
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