Two hours earlier

The pale tangle of light wrestles with the folds of the makeshift curtains, pinning them into submission as it slips the grasp of the overcast sky and pounces triumphantly on the occupants of the high, small room. Said occupants pay it no mind, caught up as they are in a rather less metaphorical tangle, and even after they collapse in a sweaty, undignified pile, it takes them more than a few moments to process anything but the renewed necessity for oxygen.

"Mmmm,' the smaller occupant purrs when she manages it, and sits up, shaking the metaphorical fire out of her eyes. The jewels of her eyes, Clint Barton thinks, and self-consciously catching himself- yet again – descending past the brink of such inane and badly poetic madness, fails yet again at his attempts to recover. Natasha Romanoff flops down beside him, kicking the duvet aside and throwing out her slender, pale arms to cool herself.

"Hot,' she excuses herself. Clint smiles at her. It is a lopsided, endearing smile: small but genuine, and the blush that overwhelms her at the nakedly soft expression directed her way nearly overwhelms him.

"Stop that,' they both say simultaneously, and laugh simultaneously, and retreat together into their embarrassment even as they re-knot themselves. Clint blushes as the Black Widow kisses his ear gently, and yelps -loudly – as she follows it up with a not-quite-vicious bite.

"OW! What the hell did you do that for?'

"Just following form.' She burrows into his strong, tanned neck. "I have that reputation to maintain, after all. Fuck, this is just...'

"Nice?' he suggests as she pauses, and feels her lips curve against his throat. I would welcome such a death, he thinks, and then... Fuck. I've gone pathetic. Next you know I'll be telling her I love her.

"Beg your pardon?' the Black Widow says politely, and Clint Barton freezes in panic.

I did NOT say that out loud. Please, God. Tell me I did not say that out lou...

"Oh for... You just have to ruin everything, don't you?'


"I didn't mean it,' Clint babbles. "I didn't, Tasha, I swear. It was just the moment, I was just caught up in the moment, I ...'

She vaults out of the bed, and flings open the door. Clint's babbling ceases abruptly as the vision in crimson drapes and chainmail beyond squeaks just as abruptly, and claps its huge hands over its piercing blue and godly eyes.

"If you're going to interrupt, your Highness' Natasha snaps, stomping back to the piles of abandoned clothes by the foot of the bed and yanking her archer's t-shirt over her head, 'you'd best be prepared for the consequences.'

"I did knock,' the vision says, though it doesn't remove its hands. 'My apologies, friend Clint. I saw nothing: I swear it on my honor!'

"Yes you did,' Clint tosses the duvet back all the way and hauls on his sweat pants. "And I'd challenge you to a duel for the privilege, save for the fact that now you have to manage all of eternity with the knowledge that I get to screw her and you never will.' He shoved his feet in the Big Bird slippers that Bruce Banner had gotten him for his birthday, and tossed Natasha her thong. "What can we do for you, oh Mighty Thor?'

"I need someone killed,' Thor says, removing his hands. 'Or rather, several someones.'

"We've taken a long weekend.' Natasha hauls on the thong. "What part of 'off the grid' doesn't Fury understand?'

'Commander Fury has no part in my request. And it is my request. I have dire need, Friend Clint and Lady Natasha, of a pair of heroes, armed yet with the minds and instincts of villains, and no artificial or magically induced skills that our enemies might employ to their advantage.'


"My enemies,' Thor translates. "Or rather, Asgard's enemies, have an artifact that would render encroaching armies both divine and arcane as helpless mortals. Permanent helpless mortals, and neither my divine or arcane armies are eager to act, as Friend Stark puts it, 'laboratory experiments.' They are willing, of course, if there are no other alternatives – the structural integrity, as the Great Green Horror puts it, of all of the universes are at stake -'

"The Great Green Horror? Does he know you call him that?'

'But naturally,' Thor continues, determinedly undeterred, 'they would prefer that we explore all of our other options first.'

"Naturally.' Clint's tone is only a little sardonic. "And as Tash and I are already helpless mortals and have nothing to lose but our lives...'

"Hardly helpless,' Thor protests, though his sunny, hopeful (quite calculatingly so, Barton thinks sourly) smile quite belies the token protest. "That is why I am here. And all of Creation is at stake, as I said.'

"Will we get paid?' Natasha inquires, rummaging for clean socks, and at the god's injured look... 'What? A girl's gotta eat.'

"Paydays are in the third drawer there, babe. I stocked up when you e-mailed me that you were coming home.'

"Yum.' She dives with alacrity. "So?'

"Father has authorized a bounty, yes,' Thor said. "Though not in pecuniary measures. If you succeed...' He paused. "He will bestow upon you a favor.'

"What kind of favor?'

"That would depend on the favor you ask for.'

The room is suddenly very quiet. Agent Barton and Agent Romanoff look at each other.

"Let me get this straight,' Agent Romanoff says. "Odin, the All-Father... is offering us, as payment for services rendered... a blank check?'

"A joint blank check?' Agent Barton inquires. "Or individual ones?'

"I already know what I want,' Agent Romanoff says grimly. "Loki's head. On a fucking gold-plated, diamond and ruby encrusted silver platter.'

"I want his head,' her lover says. "You can have the rest of him to play with.'

"Before or after the fact?'

"The check is not quite that blank, my friends. There is such a thing as family loyalty, however misplaced.'

"He's not going to reform, you know. He may have been inside my head, but doors open both ways, and you just can't fix batshit fucking insane.'

"I am aware, Friend Clint,' is all Thor says. Clint sighs, sinking down onto the edge of the bed.

"Fine,' he says, with sudden tired unenthusiasm. "Fine. Where are we going, what will we need, and most importantly, what's waiting for us there?.'

"The very heights of Asgard,' the god says "Warm clothes, and time-eating demons.'

"Literal demons?'

"There are no other kind, Lady Natasha. Those who would tell you otherwise are liars or fools.' Thor scratches his chin. "You will need some kind of sturdy conveyance. The heights are steep, and the known paths predictably and unequivocally treacherous.

'"Right.' The Black Widow reaches for a scrap of paper and a pencil. "How long do you estimate we'll have to complete the assignment?'

"No more than twelve hours, by your mortal reckoning.'

"Starting now, or when we get there?'

'Time-eating demons have a way of making such estimations unreliable at best, Lady Natasha, and once their agenda has proceeded past the certain point, dimensionally irrelevant.'

'We're stopping at Starbucks first,' the assassin says firmly. "I am not headed off to the frozen depths... heights... Whatever... of hell without a full and steaming thermos of cinnamon latte to sustain me.'

"So what kind of sturdy conveyance are we talking?' Clint asks as he flings open his closet and begins to browse the stacks and piles of incipient death within. "Exactly?'

'"If we're traveling the road, and mountain passages less taken,' Natasha says, 'we're going to need something like a toboggan, at the very least.' She pulls a drawer open. "Are we actually going to meet your father, Thor? Because if we're going to meet him, I'm going to need an appropriate outfit. Leathers great, but the perfect lipstick is always a challenge.'

"I don't think Sports World makes a toboggan that could survive the kind of mountain passes we're talking, Tash. If I had a few hours I could rig something up, but...' Barton pauses, struck. 'Ooh. I just had a great idea!'

"Excellent.' Thor beams. 'You shall need all of those you can muster, Friend Clint...'