I speak: “I, Clinton Francis Barton, superhero alias Hawkeye, declare as follows...”
Asgard affidavits are a little different from Earth ones. Maybe the biggest difference is you can’t lie in them. The stone will know, and the consequences won’t be too pleasant, Thor’s warned us. Certainly none of us plan to try. Which is probably why the witnessing is also a little simpler; witnesses don’t have to make any verbal or written declaration; the stone apparently just registers on its own that they were there.
Maybe that’s also why we’re all being allowed to swear these in liu of actually going to Asgard to testify at Loki’s trial. That’s typical procedure there for mortal witnesses, we’ve been told; it is presumed they do not need to testify in person, and if Loki’s defense wants to get any of us there for cross-examination they have to persuade the judge to issue an order. Though they’ve been arguing lately whether that rule should apply to superheroes, or if they should be expected to appear. Also, since I’m arguably the star witness, Thor’s warned me the defense is definitely going to motion to compel me there, and they’ve got a pretty good chance of compelling a proper deposition with cross-examination at the very least.
I hope not, though. I haven’t even told the others about everything yet, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s bad enough I’m having to talk about this once. They’re watching me, ready to swear their own affidavits after me, and I’m not looking at them too much. Even without doing so, this isn’t going to be easy at all.
The first part’s fine; I explain who I am and what I was doing at the base when Loki invaded. Even the first part of getting taken under his control isn’t the worst part, if only because everyone there knows all about it already. But as we approach Germany, I look over at Erik and see the sympathy on his face. He knows what’s coming, even if he didn’t witness it in person. The others are about to find out.
“En route, we stopped in Tubingen,” I say, and though I’m definitely not looking at the others now I can sense their confusion. “Loki took control of a young woman in her first year at Eberhard Karis University and brought her and me to a vacant apartment, where he introduced her to me as Maria. I do not know whether or not that is her real name. He asked me if I would rape her of my own free will. I said no, that my morals would keep me from doing that.”
That I wouldn’t is absolute truth; I’d be perfectly happy to say that on the stone too. The important part, of course, is that Loki thus knew I wouldn’t, so his lawyer can’t say later there’s no proof he’d forced me to do it. After all, I’m alleging two counts of rape, instead of just one.
That’s exactly what he’s guilty of. That’s what happened. Intellectually, I know that. I understand that I am a victim here, not a rapist. But it doesn’t feel like that.
I hope the full recording of this is played to the jury, since I know they can do that. I want them to hear how my voice is shaking as I go on, talking about how Loki compelled her to lie down for me to just take her, only to reverse and have her fight me halfway through, just to make the whole thing worse. How he goaded me on, saying how he knew I was enjoying it, and how I should thank him for dispensing with my pesky morals. At least I don’t have to talk about how I actually was enjoying it, that there was a black, twisted, ugly part of me that I’d like to think Loki created wholesale but I can’t assume he didn’t find somewhere in me to enjoy killing people and hurting that poor young woman.
I don’t even think, and I talk about this too, that Loki took particular pleasure in making me rape someone more than he did in making me kill people, or even would’ve in making me do handstands, though he sure did enjoy the basic exercise of power over the both of us. I think his motivations were mostly to make me feel that much more unforgivable, weaken me mentally to increase his control over me to that much more.
But when I finally force myself to look at the others, they all look compassionately sad. Of course they do. They’d already had to deal with some of the people I’d killed, after all, even met with a handful of families to offer condolences in person; Steve insisted on that. I didn’t go with them, for obvious reasons, but they told me about crying wives and children, and how Phil’s mother told them through her tears how proud she was of how her son had fallen. If they can keep themselves from holding me responsible for that, what’s one rape?
Natasha especially looks concerned for me. Well, she definitely can’t condemn me, when she did equally despicable things of her own free will before changing sides, though none of us like to remember that. Of course there are other things one can think about there, things she does not talk about from her earliest years; things would just make her more sympathetic towards me right now.
There are no more surprises after that; I talk about the technical details of the attacks, stuff I’ve already resigned myself to repeating when it comes time to figure out how to better protect the Helicarrier in the future; the others haven’t heard all those details yet, but it doesn’t change the overall story that much. Some of it’s painful, but I get through it all, and once I’m past Natasha knocking me out, the rest is a relative breeze.
Finally I’m able to swear on penalty of perjury that all these facts are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge and memory, which you don’t have to actually do for an Asgard affidavit, since you lie on the stone and perjury charges are the least of your worries, but I need the feeling of being done. I remove my hands from the stone, and wish there was something to sign.
“If you want more details about Maria,” I say to Thor, “I’d rather give them right after this and be done with it, though I really can’t give you more besides a basic physical description. I don’t even know where in the city we were; Loki told me nothing besides her being a freshman at Eberhard Karis, and I only know we were even in Tubingen because of that. I suppose he could’ve even been lying about that, but that honestly didn’t feel like a lie.”
“Sounds like we’re not going to find her unless she comes forward on her own,” notes Tony grimly. “Though you’d know her if you saw her again, I assume.”
“I would,” I say, and I find my heart sinking as I realize it’s probably going to end with me having to go back to the scene of the crime and to the university campus to see if I can spot her, which means she’ll have to see me again too, and while she experienced Loki’s takeover too so she knows I’m not responsible, she probably noticed I was enjoying it. If I was her I wouldn’t want to ever see me again.
“We will discuss finding other witnesses shortly,” said Thor. “If we leave the stone too idle, I will have to prepare it again.”
Much as I was wanting to get as much over with as soon as possible, I’m grateful for the respite. Only with the knowledge that my part in this scene is over do I become aware I’m feeling like I’ve just been hammered by the Hulk. I all but slink back to the group and watch as Tony steps forward and Thor maneuvers his hands onto the stone.
Bruce decided to take a room near the hospital he’s working at, Steve decided to keep him company because he thought he needed it, and I’m not sure Thor is even staying in New York overnight, but Natasha and I are staying in Stark Tower for at least a little while longer. Tony and Pepper are enjoying having an audience at dinner to listen to whatever they want to talk about, though they’re both more than busy enough we’re not seeing them much except for things like the swearing of affidavits which involve the whole group, and the occasional meal out-not shawarma again.
Tonight, however, Tony and Pepper are too busy to even eat with us, though when I see the careful way Pepper looks at me, I think she’s contrived for them to be too busy because Tony’s told her and she doesn’t think I’m up for their company. I’d be insulted if she wasn’t all too right.
So it’s just Natasha and me and Chinese takeout, and we eat it by a little nook in the tower we’ve found near our bedroom, with this big round window that offers a great view. I stare out it as we eat, sitting on the large sill, trying to make out the various features of Central Park. She doesn’t try to stop me, but I can feel her getting huffy. She wants to demand why I’m behaving like this, when I should know perfectly well what I confessed today could never change her view of me one bit. And I do know that. But I haven’t even looked at her much since confessing.
Finally, when we’re down to the fortune cookies, she says, “I’d been hoping tonight we could...”
We’ve had sex exactly once since the whole thing went down. The evening after, when the adrenaline was still charging like mad and I was in a state of delayed shock where most of what had happened hadn’t really sunk in. That had been very fast and furious, no time to feel anything except relief we were both there and alive, and I had been foolish enough to think as I fell asleep I was hardened enough not to suffer any aftereffects. Then that night I woke up yelling from a nightmare where I raped Natasha at knifepoint, with Loki goading me on, of course, talking about how she deserved it for everything she’d done even without her mind being controlled. I haven’t had any nightmares since, but I haven’t touched her since either.
“I can’t promise you I won’t freak out in the middle of it,” I warned her. I’ve never had flashbacks, and I’ve been through some pretty bad shit, but it’s still a risk.
“We’ll go slow then,” she shrugged.
I take a look at my fortune. You will understand yourself better through adversity. Thanks, but I’m not entirely sure I want to.
If I’m going to try to have sex with her again, I probably should look at her. So I do. She’s looking down too, eating her fortune cookie slowly. Then she realizes I’m looking, raises her gaze, and very deliberately starts to lick the crumbs from her fingers.
Unfortunately it’s not doing much for me at the moment except make my heart race with panic. I’m not ready for this, to try to get naked with her when there’s time and mental space with which to think about what I’m doing. I’m not even afraid of hurting her. She might even be able to stop me, though of course we’re both good enough at hand to hand. I’m terrified I’ll want to.
She can’t fail to notice I’m not looking that turned on, so she tries a new approach, leaning forward to take my hand, and kissing me in that soft, gentle way that we don’t really do that often. It’s soothing, reassuring, and yet not, because I’m not entirely sure I can believe in it.
It’s better when she climbs into my lap, presses her curves against me, takes hold of me by the back, shoves her tongue into my mouth hard. That’s her; instantly my brain knows Natasha, so strongly I don’t have to think about anything else. I even get a little hard.
We come up for breath, and all I want to do is breathe her in. I press my head into her collarbone, feel her hands settle in my hair, a little awkwardly but I don’t care, and force myself to keep thinking it, Natasha, Natasha, Natasha. I don’t want to know what I’ll think if I don’t.
I become aware of something else, though, when I’m cradled to her breast like this. Namely, that I haven’t felt something like this for someone else this strongly since things broke apart with Barbara. I thought I wouldn’t, that if I couldn’t make it work with her, I couldn’t make it work with anyone. Natasha and I aren’t supposed to have the kind of relationship where that’s necessary. But right now, I’m not scared by what I feel. Not when I know there are much worse things I could be feeling.
Eventually we untangle and walk back to the bedroom together. I focus on her ankle, starting to recover, now, but she’s still not walking entirely normally. I try to remember when in events she injured it; it was before New York. The fight between us went so fast, I can’t remember for sure if it was my fault, but I have the feeling it must have been.
She sees where I’m looking, and whispers, “Not important,” as we reach the bedroom door, and inside she seizes me and kisses me hard, hard enough again to keep me from thinking. The powerful want I feel for her is another relief, even after we part again. But then without thinking my hand strays down to her ass, and I have to jerk it away as the memory comes back vividly, grabbing Maria there when she tried to scramble away, laughing along with Loki as she tried hopelessly to get a kick on me.
Sensing my reaction, she steps back. I look over her. Her shirt it tight enough I can see the nipples hardened, and I can smell her arousal. I need that smell. On instinct I drop my knees and press my face to her crotch. This is safe; this brings back no memories of Maria.
“Yes,” Natasha hisses, and that makes me feel even safer. It’s kind of ironic, since I know for a fact that more than one man has met his death in this exact position. But I want to stay here forever, just as we are right now, except that I kind of also want to get Natasha’s pants undone and her clit on my tongue.
So does she, and she’s already moving to get them undone. I’d help, but I remember undoing Maria’s skirt buttons, so I don’t; maybe some other time, but I don’t want to push it tonight. Instead I just nuzzle at her thighs, going for the spots that drive her crazy, which means it takes longer to get the pants undone, but at last she pushes me off so she can pull everything down, and there it is, the red curls unshaven since a while ago now, which I’m happy about, the smell now strong enough to overpower me, clit swollen like she’s been thinking about this for an hour.
I don’t go for the clit right away. I need to savor this first, press my nose between her folds, my cheek to the hair, feel the weight of it against my face, her juices getting smeared all across my lips and chin. I poke my tongue out and give a long, slow lick. She shivers; I hear her breath hitch, louder than I’d expect her to get until she’s much more excited than this.
The first time I was obliged to be in the adjoining room when Natasha was doing the honeypot thing, back when I was happily married to Barbara so I thought her attractive but that was as far as it went, I didn’t sleep, not because I was bothered much-I’ve never been-but simply because she was so ridiculously loud. I would’ve known it was fake even if I hadn’t known the context. I even had to ask her the next day how she could expect to fool anyone with such an obviously exaggerated display. She told me most of the guys she had to seduce have really big egos, to the point that they will be fooled. Much later, when we’d gotten more able to really confide in each other, she said she found it easier mentally if she didn’t try to sound like she did when she was actually enjoying herself. Still, whenever I'm in earshot now, I have to muffle my laughter.
So I wasn’t all together surprised the first time I had sex with her, and discovered when she’s not putting on a show, but doing it for herself and her own pleasure, she’s really quiet. Even when she comes you can barely hear anything. It took me some time to learn her other tells, to figure out without her telling me when she really wants something, when I’ve got the right spot, when to ease off, and when to keep going harder.
I know now, though. I know by how quickly she moves her hips against my head she’s raring for this, even before I move my tongue up to her clit and her hands dig almost painfully into my scalp. My lips follow; I wrap my mouth around her and suck, and I can tell just by the rise and fall of her stomach under one of my hands how much its doing it for her.
The other is against her thigh, and as I continue to suck and lick she disentangles one of her own from her hair to nudge it upward. For a moment I hesitate; it’s much easier for me tonight to deal with her clit than with her cunt. But she wants it, and I know she really wants it. I hammer that through my head, She wants it, it won’t hurt her. I won’t hurt her. I sure wouldn’t do it if she didn’t want it.
I get another slight noise out of her, a tiny sigh, when I slide a finger in, then immediately add another; she’s more than slick enough. She could probably even take three, and much quicker than I still dare move them, but two’s enough when my mouth’s still working her clit and I can feel her pulse pounding through it. Her thighs are starting to knock against my head as they shake; she’s close.
“Clint...” It’s barely a whisper, but she’s never said my name during sex before. I open my eyes and raise them, but her head is thrown back and I can’t see her face. But even while one of her hands, both back on my head, presses harder, the other reaches up and lays over the hand I still have on her stomach. Some knot in me dissolves, and my fingers really start fucking her, now completely without fear.
When Natasha has a good orgasm I can really feel it. In her clit, in her cunt, in her thighs, in her hands, in her stomach. They’re all of them shaking and clenching tonight as she lets go, and I hear her breath pause, and exhale long and slow, though it’s close to drowned out just by the sound of my own blood in my ears.
That’s when I also become aware I’m really hard and aching, and as she comes down I have to get a hand down and try to get my fly undone. But she can read me too, and she’s already kneeling down to do it herself, batting my hands away. I groan as she springs me free, but a stab of fear comes back, and I have to say, “You don’t have to...”
She grabs my dick with one hand and my head with the other to force me to look into her eyes. “You are never a thing to be used, Clint,” she whispers, her voice more fierce with emotion than I’ve ever heard it be. “You taught me that about me and it’s true for you too.”
Since that first night I haven’t even dared jerk off so I last about five seconds. She kisses me as I come, hard at first, then more softly as I go loose and sag in her arms.
We’re wrapped up in each other, and when my hand moves over her back it finds her heartbeat even through her shirt. The level of trust she’s putting in me I’d normally take for granted, but not tonight. Especially as it sinks in what she’s just said to me.
She never put it like that before. I’ve heard her say she owes me for turning her from the villainous life, talk about “red in my ledger,” things like that. But it has always been about what I kept her from doing, thanking me for what I did for the world’s sake. It’s never been solely about my doing good for her and her well-being, saving her soul if you like. Sometimes I’ve worried she doesn’t think she deserves those kinds of favors. Even now she’s obviously reminding me of it solely for my own sake.
Because I did do that. I did give her that. That is what I do, and this is what I do when I have any say about what I’m doing. I’ve been telling myself things like that for days, but at last, coming down in her arms with her completely relaxed against me, I can finally truly feel it. I know who I am and what I do, and I know beyond any doubt I’ll never of my own free will hurt her or any other woman the way Loki forced me to hurt Maria, or kill the way or for the cause he forced me to kill for. And it’s enough. The relief is overwhelming; I squeeze my eyes tight to hold back the tears.
“Want to shower together?” she whispers, and I nod. I kind of like the idea of getting naked with her now, after we didn’t bother for the sex itself, and I wasn’t sure then I was ready to have her naked with me anyway. But I am now. That’s not a problem.
At least I think it isn’t until the shower is running and we’re both stripping down. Suddenly she’s already undressed and gone behind the shower curtain and my pants and underwear are completely off, but I don’t want to take off my shirt. Somehow, and I know it makes no sense but I’m still convinced of it, I feel that I shouldn’t make myself vulnerable like this, that I shouldn’t let my guard down, because even here in Stark Tower Loki might be able to come in, and if he tried to take control of me again I couldn’t stop him.
The second part of tonight’s realization sinks in. Now that I’ve let go any guilt for my actions it hits home what was done to me. Distantly I feel my knees hit the floor. You are never a thing to be used. It was nice of her to say that, but I was. Loki made me just a thing to be used for whatever he wanted, overrode every thought and choice I would’ve made, destroyed completely who I am and who I choose to be, treated my body and mind alike as his own personal playthings. And there was nothing I could do about it. He made me rape a woman. He made me kill...I can’t think about the killings. The hardest, toughest man in the world can’t be asked to bear this.
“Clint?” Natasha’s discovered something’s wrong. I look up to her alarmed face.
I shouldn’t let her see me like this. I shouldn’t let anyone see me like this. “I’m sorry,” I say, and I can’t even keep myself from whimpering it. I feel so weak.
“Don’t be, Clint. You were raped and tortured. Why should you not be allowed to have a breakdown over it at a time when you don’t need to be strong anymore?”
I was raped and tortured. I’ve actually had the latter explained to be in recent days; Bruce telling me that alteration of a victim’s mental state so automatically qualifies as torture even Dick Cheney wouldn’t dare deny what had happened to me. But until now I haven’t felt like a torture victim. Feeling like any kind of victim has been pretty high on the list of last things I ever want to do. But maybe I need to tonight, just to own what happened to me, get my understanding of the situation right so I can get my recovery right.
Natasha has hauled me up and into the shower. As one would expect in Stark Tower the bathroom is luxurious; the shower is roomy and the shower head can spray the water in multiple ways, spread further or concentrated more intensely, or even in weird spouts. Not to mention the water is the perfect temperature. I let her wash me, putting pride aside in the face of extraordinary circumstances, and just concentrate on the feel or the water and the smell of her and light touch of her hands. It’s good having her here; I’ll always feel at least a little safer in the company of she who has watched my back for most of my career now.
The terror doesn’t go away, but it fades, diminishing to the point that I can live with it until it maybe goes away completely later, though right now it’s hard to imagine it ever will. And I know I’ve made progress tonight. Even when I’m still trembling a little, and I know I’ll have nightmares again tonight, and I hope Natasha doesn’t mind another long wait for sex because while I’m no longer scared of touching her, I’m not sure how I’ll react now to her trying to touch me too much. This state, where I’m certain of my sense of self, is still a hundred times better than the state I was in.
There are certain things Natasha understands, too, about when people don’t want to be touched too much, and when I start to tense up she stops and pulls away, and gives me space from then on. We’ve been sharing the bed no problem, but without my even saying anything when we come out of the bathroom she offers to sleep in another room. I quickly say no. I want her there with me.
But as I lay down and try to relax myself, she puts on her bathrobe and sits down at the high-tech computer Tony of course installs in his guest bedrooms. “We’re no longer the top headline,” she announces. “Mitt Romney said another thing to make people mad at him. So did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about Israel of course, but that’s getting less attention.”
I’m glad. Well, not that politicians are saying stupid things, obviously, and not entirely at what the news focuses on, but it gets tiring to see people continually debating your legitimacy and trustworthiness in the news all the time. The better missions are the ones where the world doesn’t notice my involvement.
“I think Loki mentioned Romney at one point to the guards,” she comments, turning away from the screen. “Cited him as a reason humans shouldn’t be allowed to elect their own leaders.” She smiles; but it’s mirthless. “In Russia,” she mused idly, “I was raised to think of humans as being stupid. You Americans have to learn it on your own, of course, but you do learn it.”
That is the most directly she has ever talked about what happened to her before she became what I first found her to be. Is she trying to say more, to help me further? Or is just easier for her to talk to me because she knows I now understand what it is to be brainwashed?
She sighs and joins me on top of the blankets, still not touching, but close enough I can feel the warmth from her body. “Think we’ll go out again soon?” she asks. “Just the two of us, together?”
“Not sure,” I say. I wouldn’t be in a state to tomorrow, or next week. “You might have to go it alone again.”
“Don’t know if I want to,” she replies. “I don’t think I want to have anything to do with the World Security Council for a long time, at the very least, and I don’t know about the rest of it either. If you have to take sick leave, I might tap into my own time. We could go somewhere together.”
“If we can agree on where to go,” I agree readily.
That makes her truly grin, and she says, “Somewhere cold.”
“You would.” I’m smiling too, and she’s laughing, and now I feel more myself than I have since I was battling Chitauri. The determination takes me to seize this, these moments of my life, of me, that I took for granted but no more, to find a whole new very literally meaning to the phrase “be yourself,” and not let Loki or anyone else take that from me, not let what he made me in the past keep me from being what I choose to be in the future.
“I love you,” I say to her, and that’s the start of it right there. This was another thing I was afraid of, have been afraid of since we first fell into each other’s arms a year or so back, and I’m not afraid of anymore. It’s the first time I’ve even let myself accept these words, let alone say them out loud, but tnoight I own my love for this woman like I’ve already owned the abuse I suffered at the hands of Loki. Let the consequences be what they have to; this, too, is part of who I am now. I am a man with the bow, I am the man who fights for the side of good, I am the man who saved Natasha Romanoff and her would-be victims, I am the man who’s saved her ass multiple times, I am the man whose ass has been saved by her multiple times, I am the man who fights alongside her and she fights alongside, and now, I am the man who loves her.
Maybe I regret saying it to her for a split second, when she tenses up. But our partnership isn’t going to be bothered by this. Just as easily I say, “It’s okay. You can just carry on.” It works; the tension is gone; she closes her eyes. I just stay as I am, content to look at her until I finally get so tired my eyes close on their own.
If she can’t love me back, if she’s simply not in a place where she can do that when she’s suffered much more than I have, that’s okay. I have to accept she might never be. So long as I can love her, I’ll be fine. That’s all.