They are in the middle of the desert. Hel insisted that it wasn't necessary, but Jormungand said that coming to the Bifrost site would let Heimdall see them coming. He wanted Heimdall to see them coming.
Hel is on her knees, drawing runes in the dust and complaining about the state of her jeans, which were totally new last week.
"Are you sure this will work?" asks Fenrir mildly. He's sitting on a fold-out camp chair, and pretending not to be smug that he's the only one who thought to bring one. Jormungand is standing behind him at parade rest, looking awesome with his long coat and eye patch, and not shifting on the balls of his feet. Fenrir is holding a ream of printed equations taken from the desk of Jane Foster. "It was designed by mortals."
"Yeah, and I'm not really into all this 'science' stuff," Hel had her tongue between her teeth as she surveyed her runework. "Seriously, uncle Thor was all, science is just the same as magic, Jane! and I just wanted to smack him. I think he just lists things, 'stuff I can understand', and 'all of the other stuff'." She waves her hands miming Thor sweeping the 'other stuff' away, then snaps her fingers at Fenrir. He leans forward to place a printout in her open hand. "But this is good stuff. Jane knows what she's doing, and I can translate it. At least--" She holds the paper at arm's length and squints. "--I'm pretty sure I can."
Jormungand rolls his good eye, steps forward and twitches the sheet out of her hands, turning it over and putting it back. Hel grins sheepishly.
"I didn't expect to find you here." Darcy looked up as the SHIELD agent from earlier, Agend Coulson slid into her booth. She glared, out of habit.
"I thought you Men in Black types could find everyone. You track us through our breakfast cereals."
The agent raised an eyebrow with a faint smile. "Breakfast cereals?" he repeated as the waitress walked by to fill his coffee cup.
"I read it online. There's drugs in the sugar they use. So they can track us."
"If we had drugs like that, wouldn't it be more useful to put them in the water supply?" His eyes followed the waitress as she walked away, and Darcy got the sudden impression that he was waiting for her to get out of earshot. "What I meant, though... was 'I didn't expect to find you here, sister'."
His eyes met hers, and Darcy saw a glint of gold. Her jaw dropped. "I -- you--" She leaned across the table. "Fenrir?"
He smiled and inclined his head. "It's good to see you, Hel."
Darcy squeaked. "Oh my god, Bro! You're here! But... how? Weren't you supposed to be all chained up safe?" Her lips twisted on the last word, safe. All of their family over the years had been taken somewhere safe.
Coulson stretched out his arm, letting the cuff of his suit jacket and shirt ride up his wrist. Darcy could just about see, with sight that only she possessed, the thin shimmering chain embedded in his skin. She could also see the trailing end of it, and easily see what had cut it. "No. Way," she breathed. "Jor got you out? Is he here?"
He inclined his head again in an almost-nod, and Darcy stood up half out of her seat to look. He reached out with the unchained hand and gestured for her to sit back down. "Jormungand is here, circling the earth with his coils."
Darcy frowned. They'd all noticed the wording in Jor's curse - difficult to circle a globe, really. One too many dimensions. "What, er... what do his coils look like these days?"
Fenrir grinned, and turned his jacket to flash the SHIELD badge. "Something like that."
Darcy laughed just loud enough to turn heads, and Coulson's pager sounded at his belt. "Duty calls," he muttered, but dug in his pocket for a second and laid an object on the table. "Here. Don't tell anyone, Hel." He walked out of the diner without another look.
Darcy picked up her iPod, and laughed and laughed.
"Finished?" Jormungand asks, and Hel sits back on her heels.
"...yes." she says slowly. "This'll totally work."
"You don't sound all that convinced," says Fenrir, folding away his chair. He comes forward to stand in the circle anyway.
"Remember, it only needs to get us onto the branches of Yggdrasil." Jormungand moves Fenrir into position with a hand on his shoulder, lacing his fingers in with Hel's. "After that I can guide us the rest of the way. I know a doorway into Asgard proper."
Fenrir takes Hel's other hand. "Who did you have to devour to get that information?" he asks in a deadpan, and Hel elbows him in the ribs.
"I got it from intel," says Jormungand. His deadpan is less practiced, but just as airtight. "There's a report on my desk."
"Oh, you are such a liar," Hel grins. "Right, are we ready?"
"Can you guarantee you're not going to leave us stranded somewhere in deep space?" Fenrir asks.
"Then I guess I'm ready."
Hel is trying to glare, but the wind called by the runes has begun to whip her hair about her, and the dust on her glasses makes the expression less than intimidating. She lifts her brothers' hands in hers and starts to hum. At their feet, the runes in the dust shift and spark with light, and her voice rises to an ululation. Jormungand and Fenrir have to remind themselves to hold their breath, then a stream of light and cloud sweeps the three of them up into the sky.
It is not the Bifrost. They have each known the bright lights and screaming not-winds of the Bifrost exactly once, when they were removed from Asgard. But they remember what the Bifrost felt like, and this isn't it. They each of them feel the bite of fear, the creeping suspicion that they were wrong to try and combine Hel's magic with Midgardian science, and then the clouds around them clear and they are standing in star speckled silence. There is nothing beneath their feet, but that nothing is solid and safe, and wider than space itself. It is beautiful, and they feel like they are vacuum packed in diamonds.
Hel breathes a sigh of relief and feels the air gust out through the papery dry decayed holes of her throat. Fenrir shakes out his hackles, and the chains in his fur sound like a wind chime, musical. Jormungand coils his form around both of them, in a snake-squeeze of a hug. It's the closest he'll get to telling them he was afraid for their lives.
"There," says Hel. "Told you it was gonna work."
"Ohmigod, Jor!" Darcy squealed in joy as Coulson lead her through the hallway. Fury turned where he stood to be assaulted by a flying teenage girl. A faceless SHIELD agent wandering past gave them an odd look, but at a glare from Director Fury he put his head down and walked on.
Darcy flung her arms around her brother's neck and wrapped her legs around him for balance. "You're here! Look at you, you're all... human shaped!"
Coulson, behind her, shook his head despairingly and ushered them into an empty conference room, Darcy still hanging round Fury's neck. Fury deposited her in a chair. "Hel." He was obviously trying to sound disapproving, but he couldn't quite suppress the smile at seeing his sister again. "We still have to work here. A little discretion?"
"Sorry." Darcy didn't look sorry at all. "It's just! You guys are secret agents!"
"I'm not a secret agent, Hel. That wouldn't be enough -- I own all the secret agents."
Darcy laughed, then hugged Fury again. And dragged Coulson in with a hand in his jacket to hug both her brothers.
"But what are you even doing here, Hel?" Coulson asked when she finally released him. "I thought you were stuck in Niflheim?"
"Um," said Darcy. Fury raised an eyebrow.
"Where you're supposed to be ruling the dead," he added, watching her. "You have a city named after you down there."
Darcy gave a little flounce. "Ugh, I'm so sick of Helheim!" she said. "I swear, when I get back down there, I'm renaming it Darcyheim, and we're gonna open a Starbucks."
"Please don't," muttered Coulson, "The dead don't need caffeinating."
Darcy grinned. "It's fine, though. I took care of it. No one's gonna notice if I skip school for a couple decades. I've been here for months already -- I'm a poli-sci major!"
Fury winced at the words poli sci. They were going to have to do something about that. Get her on a scholarship to a real course; engineering or mathematics -- as concerned brothers, of course.
They need to move quickly. Jormungand made sure that Heimdall couldn't see them from the moment their feet left earth, but that doesn't mean he didn't know they were on their way. But the three of them are Loki's brood, and they did inherit a few things from their mother. They know how to behave when they can feel unwelcome eyes on them.
It was far too easy to convince Heimdall (without letting him know he was being convinced) that he knew which way they were headed. They heard everything that happened on Midgard, either because they were there or because they own all the secret agents. They saw the look on Thor's face as he left the planet, and they know that the Bifrost went up in flames after that. They know by now that their mother is dead or in the wind, because there's no other way this could have ended.
And they are the children of Loki the cursed. So it was far too easy to convince Heimdall that they would return to Asgard for revenge.
So if Heimdall has decided to set a guard to wait for them, the guard will sit cold and disappointed in the Allfather's chamber while Jormungand, Fenrir and Hel break into the king's stables.
"All right, we can't afford to let anything go wrong," Jormungand says as they move, the three of them in human form again. "We get in, we get out, and if we're lucky no one but Heimdall ever knows we were here."
"He is gonna look so stupid," says Hel. "I hope he did send guards to granddaddy's room."
"Let Loki take Loki's revenge," says Fenrir shortly. "We don't want to make Heimdall our enemy if we don't have to."
"Oh, go ahead and be reasonable. We all know that whole Tyr thing wasn't necessary, when you were already bound."
"Hey, he offered," Fenrir says hotly, "He said if he betrayed me that I could--"
They round a corner into the stables proper and Jormungand curses out loud. Hel pulls herself up short just in time to avoid running straight into her uncle Thor.
Thor's hand is reaching for Mjolnir at his belt before he sees who is standing in front of him. The poleaxed expression on his face would be funny if this didn't mean they were all screwed. "...Darcy?" he says in a stunned voice, "And... Agent Coul--"
Hel darts forward and presses her hand over Thor's eyes. "Nope!" she says brightly, "It's just Chuck Testa." Thor folds, unconscious in a second, and Jormungand and Fenrir both have to scramble to catch him. They lower him gently and drag him over to prop him up against the stable wall.
"Will he remember seeing us?" Jormungand asks urgently. Hel starts painting runes in the air with her fingernails.
"Working on it. We'll be fine."
Fenrir holds up Thor's head to give her better access. He frowns. "Who's Chuck Testa?"
"Guys." Jormungand snaps his fingers and points. "This way."
Sleipnir is dozing on his feet in his stall. He has been left for days, weeks since the Allfather had need of him, and his only company has been the other horses and their drinking trough. It's lonely, but there is little point to wishing for anything else. The honour of being proclaimed king of horses would be enough for any other beast in this stable, and if there is something in Sleipnir that bridles at the word beast even in his own head, well... That's best left in his own head.
Besides, today has been a better day than most. Less lonely.
He looks up as a jumble of sound and activity approaches his stall. "Oh, oh! There you are! Hey, little bro-dude!" Hel comes barrelling into the stall without hesitation and Sleipnir backs up, alarmed. She gasps. "Oh, look at you! What are you wearing, a bridle? Jor, they've got him in a bridle! Not cool!"
She reaches in with both hands and pulls at the leather around Sleipnir's muzzle and neck. "Come on, we gotta hurry if we're gonna get you out of here!" Twisting away from her hands, Sleipnir starts to whinny in distress, dancing in place with his front four legs.
Fenrir reaches in and pulls her bodily out of the stall before Sleipnir can trample her in his growing panic. "We do have to hurry, but we're not here to scare the guy." He holds up both hands and steps in front of Sleipnir offering him a half bow. "We've not met, but you and I are blood, on our mother's side."
"Father's?" interjects Hel. Fenrir frowns.
"Loki." Jormungand says firmly. "We're Loki's kids. And so are you. Which is why it's shameful that you've been kept here like you're any other animal."
Sleipnir's eyes have been following the conversation back and forth between the three of them, but he's stopped shying. He does look like he can understand what they're saying, and he tilts his head when he hears Loki's name. Jormungand regards him.
"Can't speak, huh?" he asks, and Sleipnir ducks his head, nodding. "That's okay. I don't have much of a voice in my natural form either. I can teach you to speak anyway - there's a knack to it."
Hel's hands come back to Sleipnir's neck, unfastening the bridle more carefully now. "But we can't teach you anything if we don't get out of here quick, little brother. Someone's gonna think to check here soon."
Ever practical, Fenrir starts to gather up a couple of horse blankets, hoof picks and brushes and slings them in a bundle over his shoulder. If all goes well they'll be on Yggdrasil's branches before they need any of that, and then home on Midgard, but it never hurts to be prepared.
Jormungand leans in close. "Sleipnir," he says. "You were born to do more than carry our grandfather on your back. Come with us?"
Sleipnir dips his head to let Hel remove the leather bridle, then when it's gone he dips his head again. Yes, I'll come with you.
He moves nervously, slowly, disobeying the Allfather for the first time since he was broken as a colt, but this suits his brothers and sister fine as they pause to listen at every corner. As they round one such corner, they come across the sleeping form of their uncle, and Sleipnir stops. He bends his neck down as far as it will go to snuffle at Thor's hair and nudge his head with his nose.
Fenrir stops and watches, unreadable. "He was here visiting you." It's not quite a question, but Sleipnir looks up and nods anyway. Fenrir crouches next to their uncle. "That's... more than he ever did for the three of us."
Sleipnir looks up at the others, and Hel and Jormungand shift uncomfortably. "Let me guess," Fenrir says softly, "He started visiting after he lost Loki?"
Sleipnir nods, and Hel scoffs indignantly. "Oh, that is so not cool."
But Jormungand is looking thoughtful. "It's cooler than what he might have done."
After another second's contemplation, Fenrir unwinds his bundle and spreads one of the blankets up to Thor's chest. "I promise he'll be okay, brother," he says, touching a hand to Sleipnir's flank. "Hel's actually not terrible at magic. And he's promised to visit earth when the Bifrost is repaired, so you'll see him again."
Hel looks around nervously. "We still have to go, dudes." Reluctantly, Sleipnir allows them to lead him away from his uncle, and they make their escape from Asgard.
Sleipnir is skittish on the branches of the world tree, though now he's decided he's escaping to Midgard he's obviously trying not to show it. He places his feet very carefully as though he thinks that the void underneath him might break like glass and let them all fall into the stars. Hel's steady hand on his flank seems to help, though her steady monologue might be going a bit far. She hasn't stopped talking since they hit Yggdrasil, and Fenrir murmurs to Jormungand that she's found a new favourite brother in the one who can't interrupt her.
Quietly, so Hel doesn't hear.
"--and when we get to Midgard we can get you a mortal form, set you up an identity. Can we set him up an identity? I think we can set one up -- we're secret agents!"
"We're secret agents." Fenrir corrects.
"Fenrir's a secret agent." Says Jormungand. "I own the secret agents."
Hel rolls her eyes, but she's smiling. "Whatever. They mean yes. We can set you up." She pauses to twitch his blanket up his flank. "We just gotta get you home first, little brother."
Home. Sleipnir whickers, a tiny noise for the way he feels, and Hel laughs like he's made a joke.
She still doesn't stop talking until they reach New Mexico.