Title: Bruises – Epilogue

Author: Lucky Gun

Summary: Because Loki's possession of one of the sharpest minds in SHIELD wasn't easy. In fact, it barely worked at all. A better take on Clint's forced defection, return to the Avengers, and the aftermath. Contains whump, language, torture, and all the horrors of a POW. AU.

A/N: Well, kiddoes, this is it! Hope you've enjoyed the ride so far, because I sure as hell have enjoyed writing it and hearing from all y'all in the process. I've had some great reviewers on this story and it's been an absolute pleasure to hear from all of you. I hope this tale has been worth the read. If you think it has, please add me to your Author Alerts to be notified when I start posting Scars, the sequel to this story, a concept created by Rikkamaru and beta read by my awesome best friend Spenchester. Please, please, PLEASE leave a review, as I'm hanging on y'all's every word!

He scrambled along the vent quickly, not even bothering with stealth as his vision spun and his ears rang. His left leg burned as he forced himself along the metal, but he continued on. His right hand was wrapped around the back of Natasha's jacket, and he hauled her along unceremoniously. He kept falling against the side of the vent as his balance twisted in his head, his equilibrium temporarily destroyed. He could barely hear the echoing whoops and hollers somewhere behind him, and he did his best to tune it out.

"Why you running, Barton? Come back and fight like a man, you sorry sack of shit!"

"Come on, you pussy! You think anyone even trusts you anymore, you traitor?"

"Keep running, you asshole! Hope you run off the edge of the damned ship and splat like a bug against a fucking sidewalk, you son of a bitch!"

Grinding his teeth, Clint moved down the vents, his chest screaming. He'd just finished recovering from the pneumonia that had compromised his lungs, and holding his breath for four minutes against the smoke that poured into the vent system from his room while dragging along his unconscious partner was something he was sure Deluca would disapprove of.

As he imagined the ass chewing he'd get for this, Clint abruptly found himself falling through a particularly weak point in the bottom of the vent, taking Natasha with him. A sharp chemical smell played against the inside of Barton's nose as he instinctively inhaled a bit, and they suddenly broke through the surface of the pool that was adjacent to the helicarrier's gym. The water was icy cold, maybe fifty five degrees, and it shocked the rest of the air from his lungs. Disoriented, he accidentally breathed in some of the water, swallowing a mouthful at the same time, choking. Still confused from the effects of the stun grenade, he couldn't tell up from down, and the panic that ate at him was a hungry, vicious animal.

Then, abruptly, he felt himself pulled bodily from the water and dropped onto the hard concrete poolside. Shivering, he coughed and gagged as he rolled onto his hands and knees, nausea tipping his stomach as his balance continued to shift. He looked up as he tried desperately to breathe, catching a flash of red hair through the water still burning his eyes, and attempted to move towards her.

"Easy, Legolas. She's all right. Breathe, buddy."

Accepting the words as truth as he identified the voice as one he trusted, he closed his eyes and finished coughing up the small amount of water he'd inhaled. He felt something heavy, warm, and dry drape over his frame, and he didn't care how childish he looked as he grabbed the fabric with one hand and bundled it around himself. Trembling as his soaked clothes sucked the heat from his body, he locked his eyes on Natasha again, relieved to find her alive, conscious, and gripping her own thick towel with the same possessive hold he had on his as shivers wracked her own body.

He blinked twice, she blinked once, he shook his head, and she blinked three times. He dropped his eyes for half a second before raising them again, and her eyes shifted left two millimeters before refocusing on him. He blinked twice and winced before she nodded.

"Has anyone ever told you two how annoying that is? Geesh, get a room already!"

Ending the silent conversation with his partner, Clint looked up and found they were surrounded by a few Avengers. Tony was leaning against the wall next to them, his hands in his pockets, looking for all the world an uncaring billionaire. Steve and Thor were standing next to the two assassins, dripping wet, both frustratingly unaffected by the freezing cold water. Hulk was somewhere nearby though not in the room; Barton could hear his howls.

"We tracked you through your comms system after the explosion. What happened?" Steve asked as he offered Natasha a hand up; surprisingly, she accepted it.

Clint allowed her to help him up as well before he answered, his teeth chattering slightly as the adrenaline started to wear off.

"We were cleaning our weapons," he started, and Tony seemed to physically bite back an innuendo at that. "Some people got past the security and forced their way in. We fought a few of them off and then someone set off a stun grenade; it blinded me and knocked Tasha out. It caught my quiver on fire and ignited one of the incendiary arrowheads. Then they locked the door, thinking we'd suffocate in the smoke, I guess. Made it out through the lower ventilation system."

Thor growled, "Some of your people have no concept of honor." Nodding, Tony said, "You're not wrong, Beach Boy. Any idea who it was?"

Shaking his head, Clint ignored the cold drops of water that slipped down his face.

"Faces were covered, nondescript uniforms, no nametags. They didn't speak until after the flashbang, so my memory on their voices is suspect. Suffice to say, judging by what they did and what they said afterwards, I don't think they like me."

Natasha bit the inside of her cheek as Banner walked in, more human than inhuman.

"Well, they got away, whoever they were. They had split by the time we got there, and Hulk couldn't sniff them out; the smoke was too thick. We're back to square one, I think," he informed, his doctor's eyes taking in the soaked team and the very smug Tony to the side.

"We can't sit around and wait for them to try again. We have to move up the timetable. We have to leave for Asgard. Now. Coulson and Fury can spend the next two weeks flushing them out," Steve said, and Clint blinked at the super soldier, confusion on his face.

"Wait, what? Asgard? Who's going to Asgard? Us?" he asked, shocked, and Steve nodded.

"It's the only way to get the Council off your back, Barton. It was this or a forceful debrief. We thought we had another week before we needed to leave, but this attack changes things," Tony informed.

Clint's teeth clicked as he shut his jaw, and he dropped his gaze, swallowing back the feeling of his life being decided for him yet again. It was growing all too familiar of a trend. But he kept his mouth shut and followed orders, as usual. A security team came in and escorted them to the showers, then to the armory for weapons, then to the quartermaster for supplies. The archer shuffled along silently, his eyes down, his features stoic. A few members of the team tried to draw him into conversation, but he ignored them.

All the could think about was that he was going to Asgard, where Loki was, and he prayed to any deity that cared to listen that he would never see the demigod again. Then they were airborne in a quinjet, flying through the air, the team still trying to get him to talk. But he just sat in the back of the jet, his weapons on his back, his duffel in his arms. He couldn't even think about speaking. If he opened his mouth, Clint was honestly, truly afraid what would come out of it.

He'd cuss out Thor for even offering the trip.

He'd threaten Tony with bodily arm for calling him Legolas yet again.

He'd distract Bruce with whatever method he could figure while he stole back his medical chart.

He'd tell Steve that he didn't care how much the soldier still didn't trust him, he'd proven himself a hundred times, and he was sick of the self-doubt the other man still incited in him.

And then he'd crawl on his hands and knees to Natasha and beg her not to make him go.

But they were in a remote, secluded location almost before he could blink, and then they were gathered in a loose circle, Thor shouting to the sky, his face at ease as he anticipated the trip home. Clint cast his eyes to the team, catching their gazes, his desperation clear. He would do anything to avoid going to Asgard.

They saw it as safety, as a calm, peaceful place for him to regain his bearings.

All he would be able to see is the palace where Loki grew up, the hallway where he practiced his magic, the city streets he still had claim to, even as a disgraced, imprisoned prince.

The bile was up his throat and out of his mouth before he could recognize it, and he doubled over as he threw up, his side aching as he wrapped his arms around his chest. The mess splattered to the dusty ground just as the world started streaming around them. They flew through space and time, their clothes flapping in some otherworldly breeze. Then they landed hard within a bright gold observatory, people all around, and Clint finished throwing up, moisture pricking the corners of his eyes.

He glanced up and saw people he didn't know dressed like Loki, disgust and shock visible on their faces.

"For the frigging record, I agree with Deluca," Clint murmured as he stood straighter.

And deep within the still-crumbled halls of his mind, beneath hot ash and ground stone and sharp splinters, a single tendril of blue energy started to brighten and pulse.

And grow.

End Bruises