In the months after, everything seemed to be different.
He knew that SHIELD didn't hold him accountable for the things that he had done under Loki's command, Loki's control, but he held himself accountable. He was the one who had requested a distraction to get the materials Selvig needed. He was the one who had headed up the attack on the helicarrier. He was the one who had killed over a dozen SHIELD agents, some of whom he had either trained with or worked alongside for years.
It didn't matter much whether SHIELD blamed him for those actions or not. He would always know that, when all was said and done, Loki's control hadn't really changed the person he was at the core.
Trained assassin. Killer for hire to the highest bidder. A nocked arrow waiting to be fired at whatever target his current handler pointed him at.
And for a brief few days, that handler had been Loki.
Clint Barton had had more than his share of handlers. Most of the SHIELD agents he'd worked under just didn't like him; the only one who had stuck around for more than a handful of missions was Phil Coulson. Before SHIELD, there had been a string of one-off jobs and the handlers that went with them, most of the time lasting no more and a week here and a month there, and generally ending when someone else offered better money to "remove" his previous handler from the picture.
And yet, somehow, even beneath the anger at having been so thoroughly controlled? Clint couldn't really find the rage to actually kill the bastard.
Yes, Loki had murdered several agents in cold blood, either by his own hands or through using others to do the job for him. Yes, it was Loki's fault that Coulson was currently laid up in a SHIELD hospital, cut off from visitors and with only a handful of people knowing he was still alive. (Clint was still a bit pissed with Fury over that, but it was the boss' decision on when to tell the other Avengers the truth. Clint and Natasha had found out completely by accident, and they'd decided it wasn't their place to share the news.)
Even so, Clint's mind insisted that the mission was the mission. And his mission, for however brief a time it was, had been to aid in Loki's mission. And Loki's mission was... confusing. He still wasn't sure what the end game was supposed to be.
While still under the little god's command, Clint had been positive that the end game was to lead the Chitauri on a full-scale attack to conquer the earth. After his cognitive recalibration courtesy of Natasha, he had started to wonder if the end game was for the Avengers to actually kick Chitauri ass and beat them back to where they had come from; it was more than a little weird that the means of shutting down the portal was in Loki's staff, that he'd oh so conveniently dropped while battling Thor.
But at the end, when he'd still believed that Coulson was dead and his mind was still running a mile a minute in trying to regain some mental ground, Clint had been with the rest of the team to see Thor off. He was returning to Asgard with the tesseract and Loki in tow, claiming that his father would see to dealing with his brother's punishment. But in the moment before Thor had activated the tesseract to take them home, Clint had shifted his attention from Natasha to Loki for just a second.
And in that second, he'd noticed the faintest glimmer of triumph in the bastard's grey-green eyes.
Now, months after the fact, Clint was still trying to figure out his place in the world. He wasn't sure just who he was anymore; SHIELD operative or free agent currently working for the highest bidder? Loyal employee to a super-secret government organization or an inside man waiting for his next orders from on high? Clint Barton or Hawkeye?
More than ever, he was happy that Natasha was there for him. That Coulson was still alive and would hopefully be back in action soon, to be his favorite handler once again. He was happy that the two constant stabilizing forces in his life were soon to both be there for him again. He really needed that balance back, more than ever.
Because he wasn't quite positive which side he would wind up choosing if Loki were to ever return.