The mission is in an underground weapon's cache in Bolivia and nobody realizes that the terrorist leader behind it is in possession of a weapon strong enough to kill the Hulk, because seriously, who just has those?
It is Loki who notices the plasma blast heading straight for the Hulk and the stockpile of chemicals behind him. If ignited they will surely destroy everything within a 50 mile radius and deposit untold amounts of chemical death into the atmosphere.
And well, Loki just won't have that, not on a Monday.
It is only the reinforcement of the finest Asgardian armor that keeps the blast from piercing through Loki's back-plate, his chest-guard and all that lies beneath it is an entirely different story.
Loki lands but doesn't feel it and the world spins and kaleidoscopes into thousands of shards of color. Thor face swims before him, eyes wet and wide, mouth open and mouthing what looks like his name but Loki can't here anything other than the oddly foreign beating of his own heart.
The world fades to black and Loki sighs.
Loki groans and sits up, glancing around and wondering how exactly he has gotten from an underground terrorist base to...here. It's quiet here, wherever this is. The sun shines dully overhead and and a lukewarm breeze blows the smell of damp and dirt past Loki's nose.
"Well aren't you a sight to see?"
Loki turns in surprise at the voice, only to immediately turn back once he sees what the owner of the voice is wearing.
Phil Coulson stands before him, clad in nothing more than a very small loincloth and a wolf pelt that is draped over his shoulders in just such a way that it manages to cover absolutely nothing of importance.
"Hello there," Coulson says, smiling. "You're dead."
"I suppose I am." Loki answers back. It really is the only explanation for why he's looking at, or more accurately avoiding looking at the late Phil Coulson. "You're naked."
"Because I woke up in these when I got here. You don't like them? I think they're very comfortable."
"They're has to be something there for it to be comfortable. And I woke up fully clothed." Loki motions down towards his tunic and cloak.
"That's because you have major issues with your body image." Coulson stands proudly akimbo. "I don't."
Loki raises an eyebrow. "I can see that." He glances around. "Where is this place exactly?"
"Valhalla, Fokvangr, The Afterlife, Elysian Fields, Heaven...it's got a lot of names."
"Ah." Loki says. "So I'm really..."
"Dead? Oh yes. I thought we'd been over this."
"But then..." Loki frowns a bit. "Why am I here...with you...shouldn't I be...you know...somewhere else?"
"Do you mean Hell?"
"I was trying to be a bit more delicate about it than that, but yes."
"Well you've tried and failed to wipe out an entire race of people twice, and now you've successfully saved an entire race of people twice...the way I see it you're toeing the line now."
"So I'm what? In moral limbo?"
"No, if you were in moral limbo you wouldn't be here, this place is far too nice to be limbo."
Loki glanced around. "A glen in the middle of a forest? Seems pretty neutral to me."
Coulson frowned. "What are you seeing? Because I'm on a beach in Fiji with nothing but miles of sand and scantily clad women."
"I guess we're not exactly on the same page then are we?"
"No, I suppose not. Hey, am I still wearing my speedo in this forest glen of yours or is it something else?"
Loki shudders. "Now I'm actually sort of glad about the loincloth."
"It's cheetah print."
"Well," Coulson shrugs. "Being dead is pretty weird huh?"
"I suppose." Loki pauses, looking around at the silent forest that surrounds him. Finally, he mutters a quiet. "I'm sorry."
Coulson glances down at him. "For what?"
"For...you know," Loki says louder now, motioning to the world around him. "Killing you."
"Oh," Coulson waves him off. "Yeah well, I liked being alive, but here's pretty damn nice."
"Well if it wasn't for me you'd still be-"
Coulson silences him with yet another wave. "Yeah yeah, look, if it wasn't for you that little blue and green marble would have been completely wrecked twice over by now, no hard feelings on my part, really."
Loki stares up at him and Coulson shrugs. "What? Being dead sort of does that to you. Water under the bridge and such."
There's a lump that feels entirely out of place in his throat and Loki swallows to displace it. "Thank you." He says finally, voice uncharacteristically choked and soft.
"No problem. See you later Loki."
Loki frowns. "Wait, aren't you staying here? I thought this was a beach full of scantily clad women."
Coulson smiles and nods. "Yeah, I'm staying, but you're not. You haven't exactly done your time just yet."
Loki wants to say something, but there's an odd tugging sensation at his core, and he finds that coherent words, or even thoughts, are suddenly hard to come by.
"Make sure you earn your stripes while you're there!" Coulson yells after him. "Then maybe we can have a mojito or something when you get back." He grins holding a pinecone to his lips and waves. "Oh yes, and your daughter says 'hi'! She's a very nice girl that Hel."
Loki has just enough time to feel indignant before his vision fades back to black.
Loki's chest really really really hurts. Like a lot. His mouth tastes like blood and there are voices above him, all sounding concerned.
"Look! Look! He's waking up!"
Loki cracks an eye to see the team assembled around him, faces tight and expectant. He coughs, spits out some blood, and groans. "That green monstrosity owes me dearly for this."
Tony blinks. "Actually, I think he's already paid you back."
"And what exactly has he done between my getting shot in the chest, and my surprising revival with a hole in my chest?"
"I'm not exactly sure, because my knowledge of Norse Mythology is pretty damn limited, but uh...I think he might have saved your life."
With much effort Loki manages to lift his head and look over at the Hulk. The massive green rage monster is looking sheepish, standing ashamedly next to a pile of bloody feathers and...
"By Jotunheimr! Is that a Valkyrie?" He looks up at the Hulk who blushes a deeper shade of green. "You killed a Valkyrie?"
"I was surprised as well, Brother." Thor says, prodding at the twitching remains with one foot. "I did not think it possible to slay an Inciter of Victory, but our friend did it with the greatest of ease."
"It try take puny god away." The Hulk says in a surprisingly tender voice. "Make mad."
Loki examines the beaten figure before him and then touches at the edge of the hole in his chest. Though his magic has already begun to repair the worst of the damage it is clear that a few minutes earlier the blow had been fatal.
"Thank you." Loki says, looking up at the Hulk with honest gratitude. "I guess you sort of saved my life...or something."
The Hulk smiles, already on his gradual journey back to humanity. "What are friends for?" Bruce says, voice still a touch rougher than usual.
Loki knows that it's a rhetorical question but he still wants to answer. Instead, he just smiles.