Recovering from an injury sucked; Clint Barton was well aware of this, considering how many times he'd gotten injured in the past. He hated physical therapy; the chirpy can-do attitude that seemed to be a factory setting for all physical therapists was specifically designed to maximize his desire to punch people in the head.
That said, this time he didn't mind it so much. Because while it hurt and it sucked and he wanted to choke the life out of the physical therapist, he was still walking. Natasha always claimed that Clint could manage to complain about absolutely anything, given three seconds and an even halfway receptive ear in the vicinity. But this, he wasn't going to complain about. Ever. Because walking, even the first little shuffling steps with the aid hand rails, was like the biggest 'fuck you' he had aimed at the universe yet.
He sincerely hoped he'd never have reason to outdo himself on that count.
He was working on getting a little of his swagger back – hand rails were still necessary, but he was pretty sure he needed them less today than he had yesterday – when Loki wandered into the room. The room that was deep in the bowels of the Avengers base.
"Ah, Hawkeye. How is my favorite little perforator of bodies today?" Loki said, in the extremely agreeable tone that normally meant some sort of mass casualty incident was imminent.
Clint couldn't help it: he stared. While Loki had made it plain over and over that he played by his own rules, he still had to admire the guy for just how ballsy he was about it. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Just checking to see how my brother is doing. I brought him a present."
Clint opened his mouth, then shook his head. "I don't want to know. Really. Leave me out of your little soap opera."
Loki smiled cheerfully and looked toward the ceiling. "Three... two... one."
The floor rumbled. An alarm started sounding out in the hall.
"Seriously, are you for real?" Clint demanded.
"Come now, Hawkeye. We're always trying to kill each other." Loki gave him a shrug that seemed more like a practiced, theatrical movement than the real thing; it was far too careless.
Clint snorted; this brought up everything he'd been wondering about since the entire strange incident with the robot. "Try, and yet somehow always fail," he muttered.
Loki looked sharply at him and stalked forward. This was not on Clint's list of things he wanted to happen; it was somewhere in the desirability range of a shark attack. But he was also effectively trapped; he couldn't run, and even letting go of the railings he clutched would probably mean falling over. It was better to face one's impending demise standing up, because that made it easier to spit in the bad guy's eye, he decided.
Loki leaned an elbow on the railing and gave him a lazy smile. "Really, would you like me to try to kill you and succeed?"
Clint looked Loki in the eye, noting that his mouth had suddenly gone far too dry for any level of spitting. But he'd learned long ago that what really got people killed in situations like this was getting cold feet halfway through when they'd decided to do something bold and stupid. It was all about the follow through. "You know what the doctors told me?"
It was nice to see just a hint of confusion in Loki's face. "Excuse me?"
"When the robot snapped my back like a fucking Slim Jim, they said it was done and over and that I was never going to walk again. But suddenly, it's all better. And then someone uses this little phrase off-hand as a joke – 'like magic' – and, well, a guy has to wonder." He leaned forward just a little for effect. "Kind of your signature move, isn't it?"
Loki looked thoughtful and vaguely amused for a moment, like someone that had just seen an animal perform an unexpected trick. "That's an interesting thought. And coming from someone that seemed incapable of thinking at all, so bravo."
"I'm going to pretend that was a compliment."
"It was intended to be." Loki reached forward and ran his fingers lightly over Clint's short cropped hair. Clint jerked back, but it was so bizarre he wasn't even certain how to respond, since his normal method of opening fire wasn't an option. Loki simply leaned forward enough to follow him, and after the initial shock, it did feel strangely nice. His tone was nothing but sweet and pleasant as he said: "You'd better hope it wasn't me. Because we all know what I'm like. I've got plots within plots within plots, like one of those tacky sets of Russian nesting dolls. And if you really think I had something to do with this..."
Loki grabbed Clint's hair – which should have been impossible, as short as it was, but Loki never let a little thing like physical impossibility stop him – and yanked him very, very close. His breath was hot against Clint's ear as he murmured, "Then you ought to wonder what I'll want in return."
And was that... his tongue?
Clint stared resolutely at the wall, his hands so tight on the railings that they shook. He cleared his throat. "So..." His voice sounded hoarse to his own ears, tangled with something in the pit of his stomach that wasn't actually fear. "So... not you, huh."
"Precisely." Loki planted a feather-light kiss on the line of Clint's jaw. "I'm so glad we've cleared up this little misunderstanding. I'd hate to see our working relationship threatened." He let go of Clint's hair, then gave his head one last, light pat before simply vanishing.
"Sure," Clint rasped. "Any time."