The day was decidedly cheerful even if the archer wasn't. Both he and Stark had been released from medical a few days before and had returned to the Tower. Tony still wasn't a hundred percent; he wasn't even seventy-five percent and, while it was good to be back home, he was still sentenced to bed rest by Warden Potts, who had managed to keep him locked in their bedroom. Clint didn't have a scratch on him and was, therefore, allowed to wander the tower, but the team was insistent that he stay close, mostly to settle their nerves that he was, in fact, alright.

Trying to pretend that everything was okay was exhausting. Clint wondered if the team found it exhausting as well. He had been brought up to speed on Fury's wrath. Barton had to applaud the team's effort at pretending they weren't six feet under and still managing to dig themselves deeper. There weren't enough remote outposts in Siberia, so clearly Fury was going to have to send them in shifts. The archer was roused from his musings about possible punishments by Thor. He had returned a few days ago and Clint found it disconcerting for the god to be so reserved.

"You wanna talk about it?" asked Clint as Thor joined him in leaning on the roof railing.

Thor let out a deep sigh. "Forgive my sorrow. I do not wish to dampen your mood."

"I think moods are dampened all around. It's nothing you did."

"I fear it is. I am responsible for Loki and his actions."

"Look, Thor, despite my personal feelings that Loki should spend an eternity suffering unspeakable torment somewhere, he's your brother and I know how much all of this affects you. But you are not responsible for him. Brothers will just let you down sometimes."

Thor could tell by the droop of Hawkeye's shoulders that the man could empathize with the situation. "The Allfather has decided to strip Loki of all his powers and banish him from our realm. He will be alone and powerless and he has incurred many enemies."

"I'm sorry," offered Clint. Thor tilted his head and cocked his eyebrow, confused by such sentiment from someone who had suffered greatly at his brother's hands. Barton just shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, he deserves what's coming to him and so much more, but… people forget that those that know them and love them suffer too."

"It pains me to cut ties with Loki, but I cannot allow him to continue to use me in the manner in which he has. I cannot end him, but I will not let myself fall prey to his machinations again even if it means I have spoken my last to him. I think Loki's greatest trouble was that no one had faith in him. I do not want to make that same mistake with you," explained Thor.

Loki's words tumbled through Clint's head. We're not so different, you and I. We are but a means to their ends. "So you agree that Loki and I are the same?"

"No," insisted Thor. "You are nothing like him, but I do not wish to repeat my mistakes. I must confess I did doubt your ability to overcome Loki's control and I am sorry for that."

Barton let out a self-deprecating laugh. "I doubted too," he confessed.

The god of thunder shuddered at the thought that his brother's actions could cause such a warrior to doubt himself the way Clint seemed to. "You are the heart of this team. You venture out every day without armor or magic and you fight alongside those of us that do. You put the team's welfare above your own no matter the cost and you ask for nothing in return. You do it because you believe in something better. I am proud to call you a fellow warrior, a friend, a brother," he proclaimed as he clamped a large hand on Barton's shoulder.

"I don't know that I believe that, Thor."

"I would not lie to you about such matters. In your darkest hour, you managed to find the strength to overcome my brother's control and stop him. Others cannot boast such feats. Only someone with true heart can overcome such obstacles."

Natasha choosing to walk away, to play it safe, had left a hole, but hearing that Thor was still willing to have his back after everything filled the loneliness a little. "Thanks for choosing me over Loki. I know how hard it is to go against family, even when you don't agree with them. And you could have let him walk away, could have let him take me through that portal to who knows where but you didn't. So thank you."

"Come, my brother, we must drink such to victories," declared Thor as he started to drag Clint off the roof and down to the living room. It was good to hear the joy back in the god's boisterous voice. Even though they still had to find a way to climb out of the hole the team found themselves in, at least now it felt like there was hope.

The end


This Is Why We Fight by The Decemberists


Thank-you to everyone that read this story.

Thank-you to anyone who took the time to review this story, especially my dedicated little review crew that has stuck with me since the first story in this series. Your support means a lot.

Many thanks to Red Aurora for all the beta work!

*This concludes the Keres story line and launches the next story arch in this series. The next story is a one shot that focuses on Steve (but Clint makes an appearance) and it's probably the fluffiest that I'm ever going to get. Following that will be Can't Win for Losing. Clint will start to pick himself out of the dark hole he's found himself in and the team will have to start dealing with the consequences from this story.*