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One Last Time

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The pain filled screams echoed throughout the abandoned base. It was impossible to decipher if it was male or female, but the sounds only spurned the Avengers to move faster. All besides Bruce had come along, the area nearby was too populated in case a fight broke out. The screams were starting to have larger gaps between them and the Avengers exchanged a worried glance with each other.

They had been called in when SHIELD picked up strong energy signals. Electricity had vanished for a few minutes at first before returning as if nothing had happened in the nearby town, then the ground occasionally shook like an earthquake, though not powerful enough to do more than rattle a few pots before it stopped, but it was enough. They had not heard hide nor hair from the God of Mischief for nearly a year and they were concerned he was up to something big, after his appearances grew father apart before stopping altogether.

That was yesterday afternoon, and now, nearly ten hours later, they were close to finding the evil god.

“I’ve got two signals, but it’s shoddy. The place is messing with my scanners.” Ironman told them as they continued through the base. Thor’s lips thinned as he drove Mjolnir into yet another line of magical runes that blocked their paths.

The screams were closer now, only a long hallway left between them and a strong ward on a door with the barest hint of light peeking out from the bottom, a bright sheen of green obscuring anything else.

At halfway down the hall, the screams stopped.

It took longer than they would have liked for Thor to break the magical wards on the door, even if it was still fast. Tony had spoken up saying he’d lost both signals. There was another scream, just one more, before there was silence.

Thor kicked the door open violently, splintering the wood and freeing it from its hinges. They were not prepared for the sight before them and froze in their advances. They were in a nursery. There was a cot in the corner with what was obviously a handmade mobile hanging above it, coloured glass in the shape of a large wolf, a horse with eight legs, a serpent, two smaller wolves and what looked like a young girl. The room was painted in soft colours with foreign adorning’s and there was a well-loved bookshelf in the corner, along with a small box that only held a few small plush toys sitting in it.

And there in the middle of the room, covered in blood and fluids, lay Loki. Naked from the waist down and shaking with pain and exhaustion, afterbirth not properly expelled onto the once clean sheets of the bed. In his arms was a tiny form, shoddily wrapped in a small green blanket that was covered in intricate designs, some looking like more runes.

Loki hadn’t seemed to noticed their entrance, despite how loud it was. He was stroking the babe’s cheek and speaking to it softly. He was pale, hair dishevelled with deep bags bruising his eyes. He was covered in sweat and seemed to be having trouble completing the simple action of stroking his child’s face- for it could only be his child.

“Brother…” Thor finally broke the silence, but Loki didn’t respond. His body swayed, and for a moment it looked like he might collapse before it became apparent he was attempting to rock the babe cradled close to his chest, but he was barely sitting up against the headboard so the rocking was a bit awkward. It was only then the Avengers noticed something was wrong.

The baby had yet to make a single sound and it was too still. Dread began to grow as the implication dawned on them.

Thor moved forward slowly, still softly trying to get his brothers attention. It wasn’t until his hand reached towards Loki’s shoulder, and subsequently the child, that they finally got a reaction.

Suddenly, Loki let out an inarticulate, but no less vicious snarl that had them all flinching in shock, even Natasha. With a barely noticed twitch of his hand, Thor was pushed backwards. He stumbled, the blast having been too weak to push him back very far, but the message was clear and received.

A moment later they looked back and it was as if nothing had happened. Loki was once again speaking to the babe in his arms, the only indication he gave that he was at least somewhat aware was the tensing of his shoulders and the slightly more agitated rocking.

They could do nothing but stare at the scene. The swell of the gods stomach was distracting and the concept took time to get used of, before Steve turned to Tony with the obvious question on his lips.

“Is it…” He trailed off, but the question was understood all the same. Scanning once more, Tony shook his head sadly, retracting the faceplate to show his grim expression.

Taking a deep breath that only stuttered slightly, Steve pulled off his cowl and dropped it to the floor. Slowly the captain walked past Thor, who was gazing at his brother sadly, and made his way to stand beside Loki.

“Loki?” He asked quietly. He got no response other than that Loki’s voice suddenly grew louder, getting more visibly agitated with their presence, though his green eyes were glazed. It was then Steve realised he was singing something to the bundle in his arms. The language was unknown, but that was to be expected. Though the tune of a lullaby was universal and a lump began to form in his throat once again.

He looked at his teammates with a helpless expression, but they were all grim faced, or blank and emotionless in Natasha and Clint’s case, although Clint looked most affected by it of the two spies.

“Loki?” He said again, slightly louder, cautiously resting a hand on the bed by his knee, which had slipped down flat sometime after they’d entered the room. The other was still braced as it was for the birth.

Loki continued to sing softly to the still babe and Steve gently rested a hand on Loki’s knee. Abruptly, the singing stopped, but Loki did not move, still petting the cheek of the newborn. Carefully, Steve rested the full weight of his hand on the gods knee and squeezed it gently. The leg jerked and Loki hissed in pain, eyes flicking towards him briefly before apparently deeming him unimportant and going back to his task. It seemed that he was steadily wiping away the blood from the small face with his petting, but Steve couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not.

“Kari.” He suddenly spoke, startling Steve. His voice was rough from screaming and raw from emotion, though it did not show on his face. “She is Kari.” He continued. Thor made a distressed noise behind him and he caught the other Avengers stiffening.

“Kari? That’s a beautiful name, Loki.” He said softly, thumb rubbing circles on the bare skin his hand was rested on. The god nodded distractedly and made a shushing noise to Kari, as if she was making a fuss. Steve had to swallow down the bile that rose in his throat as he began to wonder if Loki even realised the little girl was dead.

“She sleeps now. A small breath, but too tired. That’s okay, little one, sleep now. Everything else can wait. You’ve had a trying day.” The dark-haired man said quietly, half talking to Steve and half to Kari.

“May I see her, Loki?” Steve asked, gesturing with his free hand towards the bundle.

No!” Loki suddenly screeched, reeling backwards and hugging the child closer in a grip that would not have harmed her were she still living. “No! I won’t let you take her! Not this one! This one is mine!” He snarled, wild and feral looking.

“No, no, no! Loki, it’s alright. I’m not going to take her, I just want to see her. I’m worried.”

Calming slightly, Loki shook his head, gazing back at Kari. “She is fine. She took her breath and now she sleeps.” He repeated, stroking her cheek once again and leaning down to kiss her forehead. His arms were shaking under the weight of the babe and he looked about ready to pass out.

“Hey, uh, Cap?” Tony suddenly spoke up. “We, um, need to- Jarvis says we need to remove the afterbirth. He’s still bleeding and that’s not a good thing.” The genius said haltingly, he was pale and clearly at a complete loss as to what to do.

“I’ll do it.” Natasha suddenly spoke up, face blank. She walked forward to the opposite side of the bed and gently reached for the bloody lump.

“Loki, I’m just going to pull this out, okay?” She told him clearly, loud enough that he glanced at her, then to where her hand was positioned, before looking back at his child and hugging her close and pressing another kiss to her cheek.

Taking that as a yes, she gripped it with gloved hands and pulled. Loki whimpered, legs trying to pull inwards but held down by Steve’s grip on his knee and Natasha’s hand on the other. Once the afterbirth was freed, she picked up a discarded towel and wrapped in up along with her soiled gloves and dropped in under the bed and out of sight.

Blood was still trickling between his legs, but JARVIS informed them that it was slowing as Loki could heal now that the obstruction was gone. With a sigh, Loki’s other leg slipped down flat against the bed and he shifted into a slightly more comfortable position.

For what seemed like hours, the Avengers stood inside the small nursey, listening as Loki began to sing that strange lullaby once again.

“Mother used to sing that to us when we were small.” Thor had told them, when Clint found his voice and asked what Loki was saying. “It is to aid in peaceful slumber and provide assurance of love. She oft sung this one to Loki when he woke from night terrors and sought her out.”

But now almost silence had descended and wasn’t broken until another figure appeared in the room with nary a whisper. Everyone but Thor tensed and shifted to stances ready for battle, but the girl paid them no mind. She merely glanced in their direction, revealing nearly half her face to be exposed bone and decaying flesh before she stepped over to Loki’s side and sat next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder to get his attention.

Loki looked up and his face split into a grin. “Hela, my sweet, I have brought you a little sister.” He told her, lifting a hand to brush black locks behind Hela’s ear. She smiled sadly down at him, but he did not seem to notice.

“Yes, Mother, you have.” She told him gently, a double meaning to her words now that the Avengers recognised who she was. Loki just smiled at her, then at the babe.

“She is Kari.” He told her, looking up. Hela smiled again and stroked his cheek with the back of her hand made of bone.

“A fine name, for one so pure.” She replied, still stroking his cheek.

“Yes. Yes, she is pure and will remain such. She will not suffer as you and your siblings did. Not this time. I won’t let the All-Father take her.”

“He will not, Mother.” She assured. It appeared as though they had both forgotten there were other people in the room, trapped in their own little bubble.

Loki smiled and kissed Kari once again, an action that became more and more disconcerting each time it was done.

“I think she will look much like you, Hela my sweet, once she is older.” He confided, brushing his fingers against the light tuft of dark hair on the babes head.

“I think she might’ve, Mother.” Her voice was remorseful as she gazed sadly at Loki, her mother.

“Might’ve?” He suddenly asks, face twisting in denial. “No. No, she will. Kari is strong yet, she will look like you, but she only sleeps now. She only sleeps.” He repeats with panicked breaths, pulling Kari closer to his chest and rocking once again.

“Yes, she is sleeping, but she will not wake.” Hela cupped Loki’s cheek even as he shook his head fervently, tears leaking from his eyes.

“No, no. No, she sleeps. She will wake, you’ll see. She will wake. She only sleeps.” His voice trembled as he stroked her face again as he repeated the last phrase over and over like a mantra. Everyone else in the room wanted to say something, to help, but they didn’t want to interrupt and make the situation worse.

Hela sighed sadly and pressed her flesh hand to the little girls cheek. Green danced along her fingers and the gore was vanished away from Kari’s small form and the blanket she was swaddled in. Loki smiled and kissed her head again.

“I promise to take care of her, Mother. You know I will.”

“But you do not need to, she is here.” He told her, although his voice no longer sounded so sure.

“Kari should meet her brothers, should she not? I know Vali and Narfi will be glad to meet her, as would the others.” Hela said patiently instead. Loki paused and nodded his head slowly.

“Yes, yes, they would like Kari, I think.”

She smiled encouragingly. “Then will you let me take her to them?” Loki hesitated, looking defiant, but Hela cut him off before he could speak. “And then you can come to us. We’ll wait as long as you need and then we can finally all be together, away from the All-Father. Does that sound nice?”

“…yes.” Loki finally conceded, hugging the babe closer and looking up at his eldest daughter. “You will take care of her? You will give her back to me?”

“Yes, Mother. You will see her again.”

Loki sat in silence for a long time, before he shakily began to lift the bundle towards Hela who smiled softly and cradled the babe in her arms. Black mist surrounded them and then dissipated. Then suddenly, Kari was wriggling lightly in her sisters hold. Loki smiled and kissed her head one last time before Hela stepped back.

A look of horror suddenly crossed Loki’s face, and he made to reach for Hela and Kari. “No, no, no, no-“ He cried, trying and failing to leave the bed, but Thor had come over and was firmly holding him back.

“I will take care of them, I promise you that.” And then they were both gone.

Loki screamed in denial and continued to struggle against his brothers hold to no avail. Tears streamed down his face as he screamed bloody murder, still straining towards the spot his daughters had just been. But he was still weak from the birth and events afterwards, so it did not take much strength to hold him down. If they’d thought the screaming when they arrived was bad, then this was absolute agony.

Not again! Not again!” He screamed, bucking weakly from where he was pinned to the mattress by his wrists. “I promised to keep her safe!” He wailed before devolving back into incoherent sobs with the occasionally understood string of ‘No’s.

Thankfully it was not long before Loki stopped struggling, suddenly falling very still and very quiet, eyes staring into nothing.

He did not respond as a team of S.H.I.E.L.D agents arrived. He did not stir as they carefully pulled loose fitting pants over his lower half. He let himself be carried away on a stretcher and made no sound as he was cuffed and transported to a holding cell.

He did not eat or drink the water provided for him. He did not respond when multiple people came in to question him. He did not care when he was moved and cleaned, then dressed like a doll. His eyes never focussed and they never stopped shifting listlessly around the room.

Loud noises did not startle him, and it wasn’t until some cruel agent- who immediately punished and fired, played a recording of a baby crying that he did anything. It was only a few seconds, but it was enough. Loki jerked upright from against the wall and began to panic once he realised there was no baby in the room with him.

He screamed and raged that the All-Father had taken his child before he finally exhausted his still recovering body and passed out in a fitful sleep with bloodied fists from where he’d tried to smash his way through the walls in search of the child long after the sound had stopped, mangled handcuffs forgotten on the floor.

No-one could figure out what to do, it had been two weeks and Loki had shown no improvement. His stomach had returned to normal abnormally fast, but his skin was still too pale, body too thin and his eyes were sunken from lack of rest.

By the third week, they were considering letting Thor take him back to Asgard. They eventually decided it might be for the best. Natasha was telling him the news, that if he didn’t co-operate with them then that’s where he’d be.

There was a moment, when his eyes cleared enough to focus on her as he looked up. Everyone watching the monitors held their breath, including Natasha, waiting for some reaction.

“I will not go back.” He rasped suddenly, then before anyone could have any hope of reacting, his face hardened. A dagger made of ice appeared in his previously lax hand and snapped up to burry itself in his own throat, before tearing it out sideways, gushing blood over his front as his eyes rolled and he slumped sideways. Natasha lurched forward when she saw the dagger but it was already too late.

Hela appeared, not long after, with various creatures in tow. Three wolves, two obviously twins, a large serpent and an eight-legged horse with the small form of Kari held by her blanket between his teeth.

Nobody moved as Hela stepped forward and took the bundled baby, who squirmed in her arms towards her mother, distressed coos escaping her little mouth. Hela moved her bone hand to lovingly caress the side of Loki’s face. The black mist came and went, then Loki stirred, blinking his eyes open to see his children. He cried out in joy and reached for them.

The last thing they saw of the God of Mischief, was Loki surrounded by his deceased children, cradling Kari in his arms and weeping happily in their embraces before they vanished with a swirl of mist and a sense of finality.