“I will not be pushed about in that wheeled conveyance,” Loki says adamantly, eyeing the wheelchair disdainfully.
“It’s hospital policy, Mister Laufeyson,” the nurse tells him patiently.
Loki’s eyes narrow. “Then I will simply change it to a more suitable transport,” he says, and raises his hands.
“No!” Pepper and Tony exclaim in unison.
Pepper hurries over and takes his arm, turning him around to face her.
“Hey,” she says softly. “No turning things into other things, OK? That poor nurse who came in to take your blood yesterday almost had a heart attack.”
“I only turned her sampling tubes into snakes,” he replies with a shrug. “They were very small ones, and they were not even venomous!”
“Still… “ And then, to the nurse, “How about we bend the rules just this once?”
Tony smirks. “Unless, you know, you actually want that wheelchair turned into something with twelve legs that breathes fire and can – ”
“Fine,” the nurse agrees, looking unhappy. She takes the wheelchair away.
“Too bad,” Tony mutters. “I kinda wouldn’t have minded seeing that.” He turns to Loki. “I don’t blame you a bit, though. I wouldn’t want to be pushed around in a wheelchair either.”
“Yes, I remember,” Pepper says pointedly.
“Hey, that was only the one time. And it wasn’t my fault!”
She just gives him a look and goes back to gathering up Loki’s few possessions.
“It wasn’t my fault!” Tony tells Loki, looking for a more sympathetic audience. “Butterfingers let an engine block fall on my legs, and then Dummy doused me with the fire extinguisher!”
Loki frowns. “I haven’t the faintest idea what most of that means.”
“You got the whole fiasco on video, too.”
Loki’s frown deepens. “I did?”
“No, You did.”
“I was not involved in that incident at all, Stark. Is your mind going?”
“Not you, YOU.”
Loki is staring at him, absolutely baffled.
“And Who’s on first?” Pepper murmurs.
“Never mind,” Tony sighs. “It’s not important.”
Pepper produces Loki’s helmet and his battered and bloodstained emerald and gold armor from the back of the closet.
“I… don’t think you want to wear this,” she tells him, wrinkling her nose. “It’s… nobody cleaned it.”
Loki looks at the armor with dismay. “How fond are you of your rule regarding me turning things into other things?”
“Hmm. I could probably let it slide in this case,” she tells him with a grin.
Loki takes his helmet and armor and disappears into the bathroom.
“Hey.” They turn to see Bruce standing in the doorway. “Just about ready to go?”
“I think so,” Pepper says, and sighs. “Unless they manage to dig up more paperwork for me to figure out.”
“This is still the most incredible thing – medically – that I’ve ever seen,” Bruce says. “He basically grew a whole new brain.”
“Let’s hope it’s saner than the old one,” Tony says before he can stop himself.
“Tony…” Pepper says warningly.
“And then his Daughter the Queen of Hell – who’s super hot, by the way – somehow stuck his soul back inside him,” Tony continues. “Too bad you missed that part, Bruce – that was the best!”
“Yeah…” Bruce says vaguely. “These people are… yeah.”
“And then she grabbed me and made out with me for like – ”
The bathroom door opens and Loki – now in street clothes – emerges.
“And then I told her I’m not that kind of boy!” Tony finishes quickly.
“What in the world are you babbling on about now, Stark?” Loki asks, straightening his tie.
Tony is whistling “I’ve Got Plenty of Nothing”.
Pepper sighs. “Can we just get out of here now, please?”
“Come on,” Bruce says with a smile. “I’ll walk you out.”
Pepper had thought that Loki should go back to her apartment and go directly to bed (“To rest, Tony!” she’d said in response to his smirk), but Loki quite reasonably pointed out that he’d been “resting” for several months now.
And so instead, they went to dinner and for once managed not to destroy the entire place in the process.
The dishes have been cleared away and Pepper has excused herself to the ladies’ room, leaving Tony and Loki alone with their drinks.
“So,” Tony asks, sipping his scotch. “What was it like being dead?”
“I was with Hel,” Loki replies, and his face softens in a way that Tony has never seen before. “I so rarely get to see her.”
Tony frowns. “You can’t visit?”
“Niflheim is the Realm of the Dead,” Loki says softly. “None still living can dwell there. And she cannot leave… not for very long.”
Tony wants to ask, wants to push, wants to know… but he sees the haunted look in Loki’s eyes and so for once he just lets it go and sips his scotch instead.
“So, party tomorrow night,” Tony says, changing the subject. “All the Avengers… we’re having it at Stark Tower this time. You know, after The Pie Incident… we’re not really welcome in many restaurants in Manhattan now. Kind of a… I don’t know, a preemptive ban.”
“Party for what?”
“For you, Loki. We’re celebrating your triumphant return!” He takes another drink of scotch, and a new thought occurs to him. “Unless you’re busy. I guess the folks in Asgard probably want to see you…”
“If they did, they would have,” Loki says shortly. “And so obviously, they do not.”
“OK, so maybe your dad kind of sucks, but your mom must want to see you. And Thor… that guy thinks you hung the moon.”
Loki frowns. “I did not. Why would he ever think such a thing?”
Tony sighs. “It’s an expression. It means… you’re his whole world. His baby brother, the magical psycho nutjob who can do no wrong in his eyes.”
“Thank you, Stark,” Loki says, rolling his eyes. “I am still trying to decide if there was a compliment buried in there somewhere.”
“There was. That man would die for you. Happily. Gladly.” Tony sighs. “We still can’t figure out why we haven’t heard from him.”
“He mustn’t know,” Loki says quietly. “Heimdall must not have told him.”
“The Guardian. He can see all… and he must not have told Thor what befell me.”
“But why wouldn’t – ”
“Hi guys,” Pepper says, returning. “Sorry I took so long… I ran into Grace at the bar. You remember Grace, Tony.”
“Nope, sure don’t.”
Pepper rolls her eyes as she sits down. “So, what did I miss?”
Tony is standing in the kitchen of the Stark Tower penthouse, glass of scotch in hand.
He’s making a bologna sandwich… or rather, supervising the construction of a bologna sandwich.
“No, no, Dummy,” he’s saying. “Put the Dijon mustard on first.”
He glances at the refrigerator, where the door is standing open.
“You. What are you doing, what do you have there?”
The robot shows its jar to him.
“I told you before, peanut butter does not go on bologna,” he says. “Put that away. And close the damn door! We’re making a sandwich, not air conditioning the kitchen!”
There’s a crash behind him and he turns to see the broken plate on the floor.
“Dammit, Butterfingers! What did I tell you just five minutes ago? Go get a broom and dustpan!” He takes a sip of scotch. “Jesus, it would be easier just to do this myself!”
And then the emergency claxon is sounding and JARVIS is announcing, “INTRUDER ALERT, INTRUDER ALERT, INTRUDER ALERT…”
“What? Where?” Tony spins around, sloshing scotch everywhere.
And there she is, sitting there at the kitchen table, looking up at him with her father’s emerald eyes.
“Jesus Christ!” Tony exclaims over the claxon. “Hel! What are you doing here? JARVIS, cancel alarm, override Stark one one four alpha six beta slash cancel one cancel.”
The claxon immediately ceases.
Steve, Natasha, and Clint come racing into the kitchen, all in sleepwear.
Steve is clutching his shield, and Clint has his bow in hand, arrow notched and ready.
“What’s going on, what’s happening?” Steve demands.
Natasha has a knife in each hand and a twitchy look in her eyes that makes Tony nervous.
“So who’s this, Tony?” Clint asks in a casual tone, but he’s aiming his arrow directly at Hel’s heart.
She shrinks back, her eyes huge. It occurs to Tony how frail she looks.
“Guys, guys,” he says, holding up his hands. “It’s OK. She’s… ah, she’s…” He runs a hand through his hair. “This is Hel.”
“Hell, huh? She looks more like Heaven to me,” Clint says with a smirk, but his posture never wavers.
“Everyone, whoa, wait. This is Hel. She’s Loki’s daughter.”
The others gape at her.
“JARVIS,” Tony says, “Note our visitor’s identity and classify her as ‘civilian’, effective immediately. Authorization access six five seven two, my voiceprint.”
“Yes, sir. Scanning and uploading now, recording identity.”
Tony sips his scotch. “Verify.”
“Identity verified. Welcome, Miss Lokidóttir.”
Hel is still staring up at them with huge, frightened eyes.
“Uh, guys… you can lower your weapons now,” Tony says. “She’s OK. I mean, I’m not sure what she’s doing here, but she’s fine.”
Clint lowers his bow and arrow.
Natasha’s knives just seem to vanish and Tony wonders idly where they went, as she’s dressed only in a small tank top and a pair of tiny shorts… and then he thinks that maybe he’s better off not knowing.
Steve lowers his shield.
“Steve Rogers, Ma’am,” he says politely. Tony thinks that he should be wearing a hat just so he could tip it at her.
“Clint Barton,” Clint says, and gestures. “Natasha Romanov.”
“Yes,” Hel says quietly. “I know of all of you, and of your many valiant deeds.”
Clint smirks. “She obviously has us confused with other people!”
Hel looks puzzled. “No, you are the Hawk,” she says, but her voice is uncertain and she glances at Tony.
“He’s making a joke, Hel,” Tony explains gently.
“Oh,” she says, looking puzzled. “All right.”
Tony suddenly remembers the three robots.
“You – what are you doing?” The robot is back at the refrigerator, pulling out the peanut butter.
Tony looks over at where Butterfingers is attempting to clean up the broken plate, but is instead spreading fragments of broken glass all over the floor.
And Dummy is attempting to retrieve the knife that it had accidentally dropped down the garbage disposal.
“I swear to God, you three are such a pain in my ass.” He sighs. “Look, just get out. Go back to the workshop, OK? All of you, just go.”
The robots leave, looking as guilty as it is possible for robots to look.
“What are you even doing up, Tony?” Steve asks. “It’s two-thirty in the morning!”
“Yeah, got caught up in work. You know how it is. So, who wants a bologna sandwich?” He frowns. “Fair warning, though: there might be peanut butter involved.”
Tony is assembling more bologna sandwiches with help from Clint.
Steve is kneeling on the floor with a broom and dustpan, sweeping up the broken glass.
Natasha leans against the counter and stares down at their visitor, arms folded across her chest.
“I thought Hel was supposed to be hideously ugly,” she finally says. “All rotten and corrupted.”
“’Tasha!” Clint says. “That’s… really rude.”
She shrugs. “It’s part of the mythology. And don’t call me ‘Tasha’.”
Hel looks down at the table, saying nothing.
“All right, here we go,” Tony says. He and Clint begin putting plates with sandwiches on the table.
Steve finishes sweeping up the broken glass and moves to join them.
“Come on, Natasha, my most deadly love,” Tony says, earning a glare. “Sit down and eat.”
Clint puts a sandwich down in front of Hel.
“What is this?” she asks with a frown.
“Bologna,” Clint says. “Lunchmeat.”
Tony is getting out glasses and putting them on the table.
Natasha rummages in the cupboard, coming up with a bottle of scotch and a bottle of vodka.
Clint retrieves a beer and a grape soda from the fridge.
“Here ya go, Cap,” Clint says, putting the soda down in front of Steve.
They all take their seats. Natasha reaches for the vodka bottle, and Clint opens his beer.
Tony picks up the scotch bottle and fills his glass. “Want some?” he asks Hel.
“I don’t know… what is it?”
“Scotch. Oh, you’ll love it,” he says as he fills her glass. “Trust me!”
“Famous last words, coming from Tony Stark,” Clint says, grinning. “Especially when he’s saying them to a pretty girl!”
“Fuck you,” Tony says, and Clint shoots him the bird.
“I am not pretty,” Hel says, and reaches for her sandwich. She sniffs it cautiously before taking a dainty little bite.
“OK, seriously?” Clint asks, staring at her. “You really are.”
“I was.” Her voice is barely a whisper.
Natasha asks the question that's on everyone's mind:
Hel’s green eyes dart up and find her, and then she looks back down at her plate.
“I apologize for what I said before,” Natasha says. “Clint was right, that was very rude of me, and I’m sorry.”
Hel takes a drink of her scotch and makes a face.
“Too strong?” Tony asks. “Want ice?”
She shakes her head and takes another sip.
“The All-Father declared us monsters… my brothers and I. I was but half-grown when we were all cast out… the Warriors Three were holding my father back… he was screaming, crying, begging.”
“And your Uncle Thor?” Tony asks, sipping his scotch.
She takes a deep breath. There are tears on her cheeks.
“He was not there.”
“Yeah, I should’ve guessed that.”
“I was sent to Niflheim, to reign over the dead. None living may enter that realm.”
“So basically, Odin killed you,” Natasha says flatly.
“Yes. And no. As long as I dwell in Niflheim, my beauty will not tarnish. But should I leave for long…” she bites her lip.
“You will begin to rot,” Natasha says bluntly.
Hel nods silently.
“Jesus,” Tony says quietly.
“That’s… one of the worst things I’ve ever heard,” Clint says quietly.
“I’m so sorry, Ma’am,” Steve says quietly.
“Thank you,” she murmurs, and sips her drink.
Tony suddenly has an idea.
“You know, we’re having this party for your dad tomorrow night…”
She smiles ruefully. “I should not.” She puts her hand on the table, and they can see that her fingertips are black. “In just this short time, I have been away for too long.”
“Yeah, but look,” Tony says, plunging ahead without thinking, as he is wont to do. “I’m a genius inventor science-y guy. Banner is a scientist and an MD. Maybe we can… I don’t know, figure something out for you?”
“There is no hope for me.”
Suddenly Natasha reaches across the table and takes Hel’s hand, blackened fingertips and all.
“There is always hope,” she says softly. “You could at least let them try?”
“I will consider it,” she agrees quietly, and then is gone.
No one speaks for a moment.
“Well, that was pretty heavy duty, huh?” Clint says.
Tony downs his scotch in a gulp, gets up, and walks out.
“JARVIS, new project,” Tony says as he enters his workshop. “Norse mythology. Get me all references to Hel, Loki, Loki’s other kids, and Niflheim.”
He strides over to his workbench and picks up a tool. “And how about some music?”
And now U2 is blaring out of the speakers:
If you wanna kiss the sky,
Better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!
“Very fucking funny, JARVIS. You’ve got a very sick sense of humor.”
“You programmed me this way, sir.”
It’s all right, it’s all right, all right
She moves in mysterious ways.
“JARVIS…” he says in a warning voice. “Kill it.”
“Immediately, sir,” JARVIS agrees, and the music stops.
“Seriously, put on some decent music, and then go back to your Sudoku or whatever the fuck it is you do when you’re not bothering me.”
AC/DC’s “Back in Black” beings playing, and Tony loses himself in his work.