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In Which the Truth of Loki's Children is Revealed

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Thor stepped into the kitchen with Loki on his heels. His brother never strayed far from his side now, and Thor rightly suspected it had to do with whatever punishment is set off if he stays away too long. But he can only guess. Loki still wouldn’t talk about it. He wouldn’t tell them anything about what happened with Doom. It was a small mercy when SHIELD, after a short medical examination that had Loki clinging to Thor like a frightened child, informed him that Loki had suffered minor injuries at Doom’s hands, apart from the stitches of course. They were removed, though Loki spent several days with his jaw in heavy bandages. In the few weeks since that horrifying incident, Loki had had nightmares and panic attacks that left him weeping softly. Thor had slept in his bed every night, ready to take whatever action was necessary to comfort his brother. Only very recently had the two of them taken part in battles, and that was when they absolutely had to. Mostly they just spent their time learning to bake with May and using Peter as an impromptu tour guide/lecturer on modern culture. It helped that Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen, found the two of them amusing and was willing to help them understand the world. But for now they were only trying to make breakfast, and they could handle that on their own. “Good morning, Tony. How did you sleep?” Thor asked as he padded over to the pantry.

Tony sipped his coffee and contemplated the question. “Okay, I guess. How about you, Thor?”

“We slept well, though I hope my snoring did not keep Loki awake. Sif and the Warrior’s Three were most unimpressed when we would go questing and my snores shook the ground and kept them up.”

“I can imagine. You haven’t seen them in awhile, have you?” Tony asked lightly.

Thor shook his head. He very pointedly didn’t look at Loki, focusing on putting four poptarts in the toaster. “For all I know, years could have passed since last I laid eyes on them, decades even.”

“Time’s a little different in Asgard, huh?”

“Yes. Brother could explain it better than I ever could,” Thor said. “It is very complicated, though Lady Jane has an understanding of it no mortal has been capable of.”

Tony nodded, refilling his coffee cup. “Tea, Loki?”

“You would… make tea for me?” Loki’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What is your price?”

“Please, like you could ever afford me. And it’s a onetime offer, no strings attached. Just tea,” Tony replied.

“Just tea?”

“Yep.”

“All right. Thank you,” Loki said, hands folded on the table delicately. “You aren’t doing this out of pity, are you?” he added, his eyes focused on the table.

“Pity? The only thing I do out of pity involves the bedroom and I doubt we’ll be doing that,” Tony said cheerfully. He set a cup of steaming chamomile tea in front of the god and pulled up a seat.

Thor put a plate of poptarts and toast on the table and sat down. He was quiet for a few minutes, munching on one of the pastries. “Loki… although you were declared well, I must know. Did Doom… touch you inappropriately?”

Tony choked on his coffee, spraying it over the table. “Thor!”

Thor ignored him, staring intently at his brother. Loki pretended not to have heard him, sipping his tea with a blank expression. When Thor rested his hand on Loki’s considerably slimmer wrist, the latter let out an exasperated sigh and finally turned his gaze on Thor. “Define inappropriately.”

“In places he did not have consent to touch.”

“I wouldn’t give him consent to touch my thumb much less my privates,” Loki replied. His poker face was impeccable, but his entire body had stilled the minute Thor had spoken.

“Did he rape you?” Thor asked bluntly.

Loki twitched, eyes falling shut. “No.” A pause. “But he planned to.”

Thor tensed. “Did he do anything else to you?”

“Thor, can we please not-” Loki began tiredly.

“I must know, brother. It is the only way I can make sure I am giving you the help you need,” Thor said, dropping his tone to a low whisper.

“I do not-”

“Yes, you do. You need not be ashamed. It is not your fault. You did not deserve it; it is not a punishment for your misdeeds. And you can tell me, you know that.” Thor placed his hand next to Loki’s, palm up. An invitation for comfort, but not a demand. “I will not judge you or mock you.”

Loki took the offered hand, squeezing it gently. “Aye, brother. I am well aware. And… I do not know what happened while I was unconscious, but he did not… nothing so harmful that I cannot forget it.” Thor nodded, his features a smooth mask of calm. He turned back to his breakfast, the topic dismissed, though he continued to hold Loki’s hand. Tony watched the both of them carefully a minute before fetching a towel to clean up his spilt coffee. May’s arrival brought a welcome distraction, and Peter stumbled up a few minutes after. Tony engaged him in a heavy discussion about his web-shooters while simultaneously mulling over the gods’ exchange.

 


 

“You wished to speak with me?” Thor stepped into Tony’s laboratory, glancing back to see his brother watching as Bruce wrote out a complex formula on a whiteboard.

Tony was hammering out a dent in his suit, mouth set in a grim line. He looked up at Thor’s entrance and beckoned him over. “Yeah. Take a seat.” He put his hammer to the side. “Look, I know this is none of business and you can tell me to piss off if you want. I’ll understand, I will. It’s a tough subject matter, and again, none of my business. But I just-”

“You wish to know if Loki has been raped. Before Doom,” Thor guessed. He leant against the bench Tony’s armour was laying on, watching as the repulsor sparked dangerously. He let out a sigh, his eyes troubled as looked up. “I wish the answer was no. I would give anything. But…”

Tony fidgeted with a bundle of wires, chewing his cheek. “There are… stories. About you. Well, about most of the Norse gods.”

“I am aware. Selvig told me of some of them.”

“The main source for them is called ‘The Edda’. There are stories about Loki in there. One of them involves… well, you know.”

“Do you speak of the stallion?”

“Er, yeah. Did that happen?”

“Yes and no. In the story, the labourer and the horse are separate beings, yes? That was not so in reality. He was a shape-shifter. I do not… I know what he did to my brother, but I do not know why. Loki had no reason to go near him, much less to try to lead the beast astray.” Thor shook his head, frowning. “I never questioned Loki about it. It was too raw, too soon. It was always too soon, and then it was too late.”

“Was there… did he…?” At this point, Tony was deeply regretting this conversation. It was uncomfortable. He didn’t have the skill set required to talk about this. But at the same time, he could tell that Thor was grateful for someone to talk to. So he barrelled on, ignoring his discomfort and disgust. “Did he really give birth to a foal?”

Thor nodded, a soft smile appearing. “My nephew, Sleipnir. He is a gorgeous creature. Stronger than most could believe, and faster than lightning. But he is also kind, inquisitive, and intelligent. He serves as my father’s warhorse.”

“I think you may have the wrong definition of babysitting,” Tony pointed out.

“Father said that it was best for him. He can do little else, and we prefer to keep him away from prying eyes. Loki… Loki does not like to be reminded of it, so he rarely sees his son. We do not talk about him.”

“That’s… kind of sad, actually. Does he, I don’t know, love Sleipnir?”

Thor shrugged. “From his actions, I would say he does not, but then my brother often does not show his true feelings. He has much practice in hiding them.”

Tony turned away, picking up a screwdriver and attacking a motherboard he’d left lying on the table. He struggled with it for a moment before tossing it aside. “How old was he?”

“In Midgardian terms?” Thor was quiet, trying to calculate the numbers. “I think… sixteen? Yes, I believe that is correct.”

“Sixteen!” Tony dropped the screwdriver, his mouth falling open. For a moment, he spluttered. Only for a moment. “Fuck. No wonder he just… Shit. I’m… sorry.”

“It is… Never mind it, Anthony. It is many ages past.”

“Still. That kind of thing… You can’t just brush it off. If you don’t deal with it properly it can… Jesus, I am not equipped for this. I- Has he mentioned it to his therapist?”

“I don’t know. He tells her some things. He does not trust her, not totally. But he may tell her or he may not. He has spent many years simply ignoring it. He isn’t used to… On Asgard, he was mocked for it. Rumours were spread that he-” Thor cut himself off, clenching his hands into fists. “Someone began rumours that he initiated it. Enjoyed it. They never said it to his face, or when I was within earshot, but he still heard it. All of it. I- I lost my temper a number of times because of it. I wanted to protect him from their words, from their stares.”

“Didn’t anyone try to help him? Talk to him?” Tony said, voice low.

“Our mother did. I do not know what it accomplished. She would brew potions to ease his fears and allow him peace of mind; they were more effective than words could ever be. Sif tried, but she only ever tolerated my brother because I asked her. The Warriors Three did not engage in mockery, they didn’t mention it at all. I was grateful for that.” Thor shifted, moving to a stool. “They helped me to hunt down the- the thing responsible.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “Did you kill him?”

“I gave him what he deserved,” Thor replied diplomatically.

“Good,” Tony said. He went back to fiddling with his armour, needing something to do with his hands. “Does Loki know?”

Thor smiled, and it would have been pleasant if not for the glint in his eyes. “Aye. I brought him before Loki and let him decide how justice would be served.”

“And he chose…?”

Thor’s smile widened, becoming more terrifying. “Exactly what he deserved.”

Tony blinked and decided not to ask further. He licked his lips, thinking. “Has it happened since then?”

“Not that I know of.”

Tony tapped his hands on the bench, his mouth twitching. “In the Edda it said Loki has other children? Depending on the translation, it was… Jormungandr, Sleipnir, Hela, Fenrir, and I think Vali and Narfi?”

Thor frowned, looking thoughtful. “Your pronunciation is… off. But yes, he had other children. Jormungandr is on Midgard, I believe. Hela is to be Queen of Hel; her birth had complications. She was half-dead when we reached her. Father sent her to be raised by Priestesses, as they would be more capable at caring for her. Fenrir… I don’t know his exact location, but I know that he is restrained. I was not allowed to know, for it was feared that I would try to help him. I was always very protective of my niblings.” Thor shook his head, eyes downcast. He scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Vali and Narfi. As far as I know, they are dead. Their mother was Sigyn, a young maiden. Loki was not supposed to be with her; she was… below him, according to our father. He ran away with her. I think it was love. I hope it was, considering...”

“What happened?” Tony  prompted.

“Odin had them retrieved. Loki was punished for his disobedience. Sigyn was… executed.”

“What!” Tony exclaimed. “Why would he- In what twisted world does that make sense?”

Thor shrugged; the mask was back in place, keeping his true feelings hidden. He stared at the wall, his tone carefully even. “I do not often question my father. I could have only made it worse had I tried, but I desperately wish I had done something. My father turned Vali into a wolf and had him kill Narfi. When Narfi was dead, he killed Vali himself and used his intestines to bind my brother to a rock. A venomous serpent guarded him, and for a year my brother was forced to lay still as its venom dripped into his eyes.”

Tony threw the gauntlet he’d been holding. It didn’t help, but it was the only thing he could do. “I’m going to need alcohol. God, I wish I could have alcohol.”

“I was not allowed to see him, but Sif would sneak in and cleanse his eyes when she could,” Thor continued, ignoring Tony’s outburst. “It wasn’t much, but there was little else we could do. She was caught twice, but it didn’t stop her.”

“I thought she only tolerated Loki.”

“Sif has experience with people who believe that things like status or gender should dictate how one acts or who one associates with. It is a sentiment she has always found distasteful,” Thor said, a trace of a smile in his voice. It disappeared quickly. “Loki- At the end of his ordeal, he had convinced himself that he deserved it. He became so much colder. I suppose it was to be expected.”

Tony nodded. “What about the mother of the other three? Or did Loki-”

“An enchantress… and a Frost Giant in disguise. I do not know her name, only that she had Loki under a spell. He thought he loved her.”

Tony bit back anything he might have to say about that. He was beginning to wonder if anything Thor knew was a hundred percent true. Not that he thought Thor was lying, just getting it from an unreliable source. “So… that’s six children.”

“Yes.”

“I really need a drink,” Tony muttered, running his hands through his hair.

Thor hummed in agreement, his face still too blank. “I think I shall see what my brother has learnt from Bruce.” He left, clapping Tony on the shoulder as he went.

 


 

Two weeks after his talk with Thor, Tony was abruptly awoken by a sharp knocking on his window. He approached cautiously, peering through the blinds. His eyes widened at the sight of four amour-clad Asgardians standing on his balcony. Opening the door slowly, he arched an eyebrow at them. “If you’re here to tell me that Jesus Christ loves me I will shut this door so fast.”

“I beg your pardon?” the man with bright red hair asked, frowning.

“We are in the right place, aren’t we? This is where we can find Thor?” the woman said, looking to the others.

“You must be Sif and the Warriors Three,” Tony guessed, opening the door wider. He stepped back as he let them in, rubbing his eyes. “Jarvis? Is Thor awake?” he asked the AI, pulling on a shirt.

“Yes, sir. He is making hot chocolate. Shall I request his presence?” Jarvis responded.

“Nah, it’s okay, J. I’ll bring them down, just tell him we’re coming,” Tony said, gesturing for the Asgardians to follow him.

“So, you are… the Captain?” the redheaded one said uncertainly.

Tony barked a laugh that he blamed on the ungodly hour. Turning round so that he was facing him, he offered a bright smile and his hand. “Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Pretty sure Cap’s still asleep, but you never know with that guy.”

“A pleasure to meet you. I am Volstagg. This is Fandral, Hogun, and Lady Sif,” the redhead proclaimed cheerfully. Like Thor, he didn’t seem aware of the concept of an inside voice.

“Huh, so it’s an Asgardian thing then,” Tony murmured.

“Pardon?” Fandral said, cocking his head.

Tony waved the question away, moving into the elevator. It was silent apart from the gentle hum of the elevator. “So… this official business or a personal visit?”

“We wished to see Thor. So here we are,” Sif told him.

Tony nodded. He led them out of the elevator and into Thor’s apartment, poking his head into the kitchenette. “Hey, thunderclap, you’ve got visitors.”

Thor grinned widely and moved away from the microwave. “My friends! So good to see you!” he cried. He spent several minutes giving each of them hugs, and Tony continued with the hot chocolate making while Thor was distracted.

“Is Loki up?” he asked.

Thor nodded grimly. “He has told me he is not feeling his best.”

“I’ll go check on him.” Tony turned and padded down the hallway. He knocked twice on the bedroom door and let himself in. Loki was sitting upright, his head resting on his knees. Shudders ran up and down his body, and he seemed paler than usual. Tony cleared his throat, letting Loki know he was there, before sitting at the end of the bed. “Loki, I see you and I have similar problems finding sleep.”

Loki smiled uneasily, darting a look at the door. “I suppose we do. Where’s Thor?”

“In the living room. The Warriors Three and Sif are here,” Tony said.

Loki swallowed, his fingers gripping the comforter tightly. “Oh, they are? How lovely,” he said. His voice doesn’t show a hint of anxiety, which Tony thinks is rather impressive.

“You could go out and say hello if you want.”

Loki looks terrified by the idea. “I- I would love to but… I am feeling- I am not feeling my best.”

“Okay.” Tony knew Loki was lying. Well, it was more that he was telling a very subjective version of the truth because obviously he couldn’t lie.

“What has kept you up, Tony?”

“Oh, you know. Nightmares. Then your friends knocked on my window and I decided sleep was for the weak. What about you?”

“You have… nightmares?”

Tony nodded, lying back on the bed. “Ever since the whole wormhole thing I haven’t been sleeping that well. I just keep thinking, ‘what if I hadn’t made it?’ and then my mind decides to show me exactly what it thinks would have happened.”

Loki shifted, moving to lie down next to Tony. He was quiet for a few moments, but his hands were resting against his stomach in a way that revealed his thoughts. “It is almost the anniversary of- You are aware that I have borne a child with my own body, yes? Well, it is almost the day of its conception.”

Tony refrained from cringing from the use of ‘it’. “In Asgard time or our time?”

“Both. I would know it no matter where I was, no matter what realm I was in. I would always know.”

“I’m sorry you had to… go through all of that. And I understand how you’re feeling, sort of. The last anniversary of- of when I got this,” Tony tapped his arc reactor, “I got drunk at eight in the morning and stayed that way ‘til Pep locked me in my bedroom.”

“Thank you for your concern. It’s very kind of you to come sit with me,” Loki said.

“That’s what friends are for.”

“Has Thor told you… the circumstances that lead to me being… with child?”

Tony briefly considered lying, but it wouldn’t have accomplished anything. “Yeah. I asked him, because of the conversation you two had a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t any of my business-”

“No, its fine. Everyone in Asgard knew… They weren’t kind.”

“I heard about that. Do they do that to women too or was it just-”

“-Because I’m a man? Because I am a Prince of Asgard, but not the favourite? I suppose it was because I was not what they wanted. They expected more of me. They saw it as a sign of weakness that I could not fight, that I did not die fighting. In their minds, I surrendered, and that is shameful.” Loki’s voice was quiet, and Tony could easily hear the loud laughter from the living room. It jarred heavily with the atmosphere in the room. Loki was lying still, seemingly unaffected by what he was saying. It couldn’t have been how he truly felt. He couldn’t have been so detached from it.

Tony cleared his throat, his voice rough. “They’re wrong. There are some things you can’t fight, some fights you can’t win. Sometimes there’s someone bigger than you, stronger than you, who’s willing to be so much more vicious. Someone who doesn’t care about the rules of engagement or a code of honour. And you can’t do anything to stop them. It isn’t fair to blame you for doing what you can to survive when the only other option is death.”

“It is more honourable to die than to live with weakness,” Loki told him without conviction. It sounded like something he had repeated to himself until it was practically ingrained on his mind.

“Death isn’t honourable. Death is death. Death is the end. It’s gonna happen and you can’t escape it when it does, but that doesn’t mean you just give up. Who cares about honour? Honour isn’t gonna matter when you’re dead. You have to be alive to live.”

Loki was quiet. He still hadn’t moved an inch, resembling a statue. “You are surprisingly wise, Tony. I would not have guessed,” he said, the sound just above a whisper. His eyes were suspiciously wet.

“Thanks. I guess when I’m not constantly drunk I’m capable of deep thoughts.”

Loki smirked, just slightly, and sat up. “You are doing well with your personal quest, Anthony. I am impressed with your restraint.”

“Coming from you that’s a serious compliment,” Tony said. He got to his feet, pretending to brush himself off. “Gah, I think I’m coming out in hives from this emotional stuff. Want to go play a video game or something?”

“Not the one with the little red man in a car. I hate that one,” Loki smiled.

“Only because Nat always beats you,” Tony teased, opening the door. “Whatever. How about COD? The insults you scream at everyone are hilarious. Seriously, haggard, whiny McDouche-nugget? Beautiful.”

“I’m glad you appreciated it. The witless fools on the receiving end seem unable to comprehend even the simplest of insults.”

Tony shrugged, still grinning. “Mortals, what are you gonna do?”

“You’re a mortal,” Loki pointed out.

“I am a god among men, what are you talking about?”

Loki chuckled, turning away. He froze for the barest of seconds when he saw the others and then focused on Thor. “Tony has invited me to play a video game with him. Do you wish to join us, brother?”

“Yes, certainly!” Thor beamed. He adored playing games with Loki, if only because he and his brother were equally matched in the digital world. “I shall be with you in a few minutes. Would you mind if I showed my friends to the guest rooms?”

“Go ahead, Point Break. You know where to go,” Tony said. He breezed out the door with Loki following close behind, pausing only to bid the visitors good night.

“Come, I will show you to the guest quarters where you may rest. We shall talk more in the morning, and you can meet the rest of my friends!” Thor told the others cheerfully.

“Your brother seems very… different since we last saw him,” Fandral said carefully.

Thor nodded, leading them out of the apartment. He elected to take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. “My brother is fitting in well on Midgard. He is even looking to enrol at one of their fine Academies,” Thor told them proudly.

“An Academy?” Sif queried.

“I believe he is looking into political courses, though he also found one that concerned Harry Potter and his literary adventures. Even I was sorely tempted to attend,” Thor said. Fandral and Volstagg traded amused glances as Sif let out an indelicate snort. Hogun’s lips twitched. They emerged onto the guest floor with Thor explaining how to ask Jarvis for help. Bidding them goodnight, he took the elevator to the living room just in time to hear his brother’s scream of rage.

“You gutless mortal! I will end you!”

“Headshot?” Thor asked Peter with a smile.

Peter nodded. “From behind.”

“Ah.”

“Get him, Loki! Kick his ass!” Tony yelled, gripping his controller tightly. He cocked his head slightly, listening as a voice crackled through his headset. “Hey, fuck you! I am Tony fucking Stark, you little fuck.”

Peter rolled his eyes. He was watching from the couch, his cellphone held loosely in hand. “So, guess everyone’s having trouble sleeping, huh?”

Thor shrugged. “Perhaps. I’m just glad my brother is feeling better. What has kept you up?”

“Gwen just called. Her dad finally woke up. She said she’d call me back when they left the hospital, so…”

“I am glad to hear that his recovery is going well. He is a brave warrior from what I have heard,” Thor said, sitting on the end of the sofa by Peter’s feet.

“Yeah, he is.” Peter smiled, tucking the phone to his chest.

“Haha! Fuck you!” Loki shrieked victoriously, while Tony fist pumped beside him. “We have bested you, foul denizens of Xbox Online. Be gone, lest we give your ego another sound thrashing!”

Thor laughed, accepting the controller Tony offered him. Loki was looking at the screen in outrage; no doubt someone had issued a depraved challenge. “Well, brother, shall we show them what two mighty Norse Gods can do?” Thor asked.

“Yes, lets.”

 


 

“Well, this is cosy. How come we weren’t invited to the sleepover?” Clint chirped, perched on the arm of the sofa. Natasha was leaning against the back, smiling innocently. No one was fooled.

Tony blinked at them stupidly, still half asleep. A weight was resting against his shoulder and when he turned, he realised that Loki was slumped against him. The god in question was half crushed under Thor, and Peter was curled up on the couch behind them with his phone pressed to his ear. “Sorry, but this is a club for insomniacs only,” Tony replied weakly.

Clint shook his head and threw himself onto the still sleeping Peter. Who screamed loudly and tried to bolt upright. “Wh- What the shi-”

“Ah, ah, ahh, Petey. No swearing or I’ll tell Auntie May,” Clint sang. “And then she’ll ground youuuu!”

“Eat a dick,” Peter growled, trying to wriggle out from underneath the archer.

“Oh, don’t be like that. Tash? Do you think Mr Grumpy needs cheering up?”

“Definitely. You get his legs, I’ll get his arms,” Natasha said, smoothly leaping over the couch. Peter struggled vainly, thrashing and giggling as the assassins tickled him. Thor jumped to his feet, having been kicked in the head by Peter, looking around wildly for an enemy to fight. Noticing the fight raging on the couch, he leapt into the fray and seized Clint around the middle.

“Argh, Thor no! It’s for his own good,” Clint shouted. Peter flipped himself up and over Natasha, having finally regained control of his legs. Natasha let him go, stealing his spot on the sofa with a Cheshire Cat grin.

“Be quiet, all of you. Can’t you see there are people trying to sleep?” Loki groaned. He tried to roll over and bury his head into Stark’s shoulder further, making a growling noise deep in his throat.

“Sorry, princess, but if you sleep in the living room you’re getting the seven am wakeup call whether you want it or not,” Clint said. Thor dropped him on the couch, and then tried to sit on him.

Tony grumbled, getting to his feet. Loki made a noise of protest and sat up, glaring at everything. Tony’s back cracked unpleasantly as he stumbled towards the kitchen. “God, I’m getting to old for this bullshit,” he moaned.

“Morning,” Bruce greeted. He pushed a cup of coffee towards Tony, who groaned obscenely and drank half of it in one go.

“Thank you, Bruce, you are an angel.”

Bruce rolled his eyes, glancing over at Steve. The super-soldier hummed a greeting as he put together the beginnings of an omelette. “How’d you sleep, Tony?”

“Before or after the arrival of the Three Musketeers?”

“What?”

“Thor’s friends showed up on my balcony at two in the morning,” Tony explained, rubbing his eyes. “Hey, Thor! Wanna go make sure your friends haven’t trashed my guest rooms?” he called over his shoulder.

“Certainly! I shall return swiftly!” Thor shouted happily. “Good morning, Lady May,” he added as he passed her.

“Good morning all. Have you seen Peter?” May asked, moving into the kitchen. Just as they were about to reply, Peter scurried into the kitchen via the ceiling, closely followed by Clint and Natasha.

“Oh c’mon, Petey! You’re not even trying!” Clint called, flicking rubber bands at the teenager.

“That’s ‘cause I don’t wanna play!”

“Of course you want to play! Everyone likes dodge,” Natasha said.

“Not when they’re playing against two ruthless assassins!”

“Ruthless? You wound me, Pete. How could you say such a thing?” Clint said dramatically, throwing himself at Bruce. Bruce squirms for a second before accepting his fate, letting the archer pretend cry into his shoulder.

“Now, now, boys. Play nice,” May said, smiling at them. “Natasha, please keep them in line.”

Natasha nodded, seizing Clint by the ear and dragging him into a chair. “Ouch, Nat. Not so rough.”

Peter dropped into a graceful crouch on the table, glaring at Clint. “You are a mean big brother.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. Here, let’s hug it out!”

“What, no! Get off me!”

“Hey, careful, this is expensive coffee,” Tony complained, lifting his coffee cup off the table. In an effort to escape the flying limbs, he climbed up onto his chair and balanced his bowl of cereal on his knee. No one wanted to ask how he’d perfected that stance.

“Guys, we eat on that table. Get off,” Steve said. He left his omelette sizzling in the pan and approached the table, dodging Peter’s legs. Wrapping an arm around Clint’s waist, he pulled, only to have the marksman drape his leg over the edge of the table and hold on tight. Peter grabbed hold of Bruce’s shirt, trying to pull himself out from under Clint. Natasha had moved to the head of the table, taking pictures with her phone and snickering.

“Well, this is interesting. I hope this isn’t going to become part of our morning ritual,” Loki commented, breezing into the kitchen. He greeted May with a kiss to the cheek, accepting the plate of toast she offered him.

“Avengers and associates, please welcome Lady Sif and the Warrior’s-” Thor stopped, looking over the scene of chaos. Grinning, he ran forwards and jumped, sliding across the table and pulling everyone with him as he fell off the other side.

“Oh my god, Thor! Were you a bowling ball in another life?” Clint wheezed, worming his way out from under the thunder god.

“What’s wrong, Clint? I thought you wanted a hug,” Peter snarked, pulling himself up.

“Yeah, a hug not a fu- freaking power tackle,” the archer shot back.

Thor looked extremely pleased with himself as he got up and helped Bruce back into his chair. “That was fun! I haven’t done that since I was eight-hundred.”

Fandral chuckled, and walked over to help Steve to his feet. “For good reason. Didn’t you upend two statues and set a tapestry on fire the last time you did that?”

“That wasn’t my fault,” Thor grumbled. He spotted May preparing breakfast and pulled her into a hug.

“Thor, be a dear and get me the marmalade please?” May asked when he let go.

Thor rushed to the pantry, nearly knocking Loki from his perch on the counter. He beamed when May gave him a kiss on the cheek in thanks. Volstagg walked towards her, edging round the table as best he could. “Lady May? A pleasure to meet you. Thor has told us of your prowess with a spatula,” he said, bowing slightly.

“My cooking?”

“No, he said you fought off a… slug monster? It was a most interesting tale, though we didn’t get to hear it in detail,” Sif explained.

“Oh, yes, I remember. I took a few fencing classes when I was younger, never thought I’d get a chance to use them,” May said. She set a large plate of toast on the table, setting the various types of jelly next to it, and starts pulling out flour, milk, and eggs. It was a signal the Avengers had learnt to recognise, and it meant waffles. They all settled in at the table, their guests sandwiched in between Thor and Clint. Steve put down plates of bacon and eggs and a fresh pot of tea for Bruce and Loki, taking his seat and snagging the Sports section from Bruce.

“Lady May has a most magnificent creation. It is called the banana and peanut butter waffle. It is delicious,” Thor told the four visitors as he took a few pieces of bacon. He passed the plates down the line, taking a bit of everything on offer.

“It is like… bread?” Sif asked, watching May pour the batter into the waffle iron.

“More like sweet pastry,” Loki corrected automatically. He was watching May cautiously, passing her things when she asked for them, and simply enjoying the calm, predictable movements. His hands are resting against his stomach again, but the presence of May keeps him from dwelling on the nightmare at the centre of his memories. She’s like an anchor, he decides, sure and steadfast and stronger than any storm that might try to pull him under.

“How have you found Midgard, Loki?” Fandral queried.

“Hard to miss when Odin throws you at it,” Loki replied dryly, watching steam rise up from the waffle iron. Fandral stilled, looking to Thor uncertainly. The temperature seemed to plummet and everyone at the table tensed. Loki’s banishment wasn’t something they talked about. Ever.

Tony laughed. Because he’s Tony Stark and he’s very good at sensing when someone needs to bite the metaphorical bullet. He’s usually drunk, though. “What, with one eye? His aim must be better than Hawkeye’s.”

“Blasphemy!” Clint exclaimed. Loki had grinned at Stark’s comment, his eyes shining. Clint continued with his mock outrage until the atmosphere of the room had returned to normal, cutting himself off when May started serving heaping piles of waffles. Everyone quieted and waited for her and Loki to take their seats – Loki next to Tony and Peter, May on Peter’s other side at the head of the table – and then dug in, the chatter rising immediately.

Thor was quietly pointing out who’s who to the other four. Well, as quietly as Thor can get on a non-serious topic. He then launches into an in depth explanation of their exploits as the Avengers (and his adventures in civilian life) and most of the others stop him to add in their two cents as well. It’s chaos, but it’s the kind that they’d prefer over raging robots or dunderheads with super powers any day. Jarvis coughs, gaining the attention of most of the room. “Mr Stark, there is an Asgardian on the living room balcony requesting permission to enter.” There was a pause. “She has an eight-legged horse with her.”

“Mother!” Thor cried, jumping to his feet. He raced out of the room, quickly followed by the others, and threw open the door to the balcony. Holding the reins of a massive black stallion daintily, a blonde woman stood on the balcony. She stood tall, her shoulders back and her chin raised. Everything about her reeked of royalty and power. But her eyes were kind and she was smiling, pulling Thor into a hug the minute he was in reach.

“Thor. It is so good to see you. I have missed you,” Frigga breathed, kissing his fore head.

“Mother,” Thor smiled. “What brings you here?”

Frigga didn’t answer, peering towards the doorway. Loki hung back, his eyes uncertain despite his impassive expression. Frigga stepped towards him, holding out her arms. Loki hesitated for the barest second before rushing to hug her. “Loki, my son. How have you fared since last I saw you?”

“I have fared well, mother,” Loki answered neutrally, tightening his grip.

“I have missed you. I have missed both of you so much,” Frigga said, brushing her hand through Loki’s hair. She gently stepped back, clasping her hands together in front of her. Sleipnir nickered and headbutted her upper arm, making her smile at him. “I am about to betray your father,” she said to her sons.

Thor froze, his mouth falling open. Loki tensed as if he expected Odin to fall out of the sky and smite them all. “What could you mean by such a statement?” Thor managed after several seconds of stunned silence.

“He made me swear that I would keep this secret until the end of my days. But I can’t. It has never felt right and it never will. I must speak the truth to you Loki. We lied to you once and it nearly killed you, I cannot let that happen again. And please, please forgive me. I beg of you, Loki, forgive me. If there is one thing in this universe that is true, know that it is that I love you.”

Loki was silent, staring at his adopted mother. His hands had curled into fists at his side as he waited for the bomb to be dropped.

Frigga led Sleipnir forward until he was level with Loki, winding her hand into his mane. “Your first born did not die. He was not killed by Odin, but transformed.” Her eyes wandered from Loki to Sleipnir, eying the horse sadly. “He is before you now. Your son is Sleipnir.”

Chapter Text

Loki sat unmoving in an armchair, his head in his hands. Frigga sat nearest, not touching him or speaking, simply watching. Outside Thor’s shouts could be heard as he kept Sleipnir occupied with some kind of game. Sif and the Warrior’s Three had followed Natasha and Clint down to the training area for a few sparring matches while May, Peter, and Steve washed up the breakfast dishes. Tony and Bruce were sitting on the loveseat across from Loki, watching him with similar expressions of serenity. After ten minutes of near-catatonia, Loki looked up. “Why?” he asked.

“I… I suppose he thought-” Frigga began.

“No. No. Why did you lie to me? Why is it always you?” Loki asked desperately, his eyes shining. “I thought you loved me.”

“I do love you. I promise that that is true. I swear- I swear on- on Baldur’s gr-grave,” Frigga’s voice wobbled and she took a deep breath to compose herself, “that I love you. I love you and Thor more than anything. You are my children-”

“But I’m not,” Loki laughed bitterly. “I’m not. I never was. I was just the unwanted child you burdened yourself with. And look how that turned out.”

“Don’t say that! You are not a burden. I could never regret taking you in. Never,” Frigga said fiercely, her hands shaking. “I love you and Thor as if you were my own. I love you the way I never got to love Baldur. You are my children. I raised you both, and even though you’re not mine, I love you all the same.”

Loki’s jaw was slack, turning over her words in his head. “Thor is… Thor is not…”

“No. He already knows. I told him when he was a child, and explained to him that it did not change the fact that I loved him. I should have told you the truth when you were small.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Odin had forbidden it. He told me that your origins could not be discussed. I thought something had happened, that there was danger awaiting you, but I did not think…”

“That I was a monster?”

“You’re not. You are not a monster, Loki. You’re my son. You’re my little, mischief-making imp,” Frigga said with a smile, reaching out to tuck a lock of his hair behind his ear. Loki flinched at her touch, and she quickly withdrew her hand. “I love you, Loki. I had to tell you the truth. Now more than ever.”

“You lied to me.”

“I know. I’ve hurt you and betrayed your trust. I admit it. And if you hate me, then that is fair. But I couldn’t let it go on any longer. I’m sorry.”

Loki took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, sitting up straight. “What about Thor? Did he know?”

“No. Odin told him that you did not want to see Sleipnir because you… because you were disgusted and frightened by him. That he was a reminder of your pain. Thor promised not to speak of Sleipnir around you, not to show any sign that Sleipnir was anything more than an animal, unless you spoke of him first.”

“And I thought he was dead.”

Frigga nodded. “Thor was only trying to be a good brother. He has done his best to show Sleipnir twice the love, twice the care, twice the happiness. He has protected you and Sleipnir as best he could and done his best to show you both the love you deserve. Any lie Thor has told was not done with malice.”

“He was a baby. I may have seen very little of him, but I think I would remember him whinnying! How did he become… that?”

“Like you, he is a shape-shifter. Odin forced him to take the form of a horse so you wouldn’t recognise him, and then locked him into that form. He is cursed. No matter what I tried, nothing worked. I cannot break it.”

Loki got to his feet, gently moving to the window. He peered out at his brother and son, watching Thor throw hoops for Sleipnir to catch. A smile flashed across his features and he felt warmth in his chest. “So long as he’s here, I don’t care how he looks.”

“There’s more, Loki,” Frigga said.

Loki closed his eyes, his hand resting against the glass. He was silent for a few moments. When he turned around, he was akin to a blank slate, his skin pale and his eyes vacant. “What more could there be?”

“Your children were never monsters. That is what Odin made them into. The only spell the Jotun cast was a glamour upon herself. She knew you wouldn’t accept her if you could see her true form, so she hid it from you. There was no love spell,” Frigga said.

Loki nodded, sitting on the opposite end of the couch. Bruce rested his hand lightly on Loki’s shoulder, his thumb rubbing small circles on the material of his shirt. Loki leant back, his fingers twitching. “What did he do?” he asked quietly. “What did he do to my children?”

“Jormungandr is not a giant serpent and Fenrir is not a wolf. Just like Sleipnir, they were cursed to live as creatures. Hela did have complications after her birth, but she was not sent away for her health. She is to be the next Queen of Hel. Odin could do nothing to her but send her away.”

“They live?”

“Yes.”

Loki let out a sigh, his shoulders slumping. He covered his face with his hands, his breathing unsteady. “What of Vali and Narfi?”

“I’m so sorry, Loki. I didn’t know. I honestly didn’t think he would do that to his grandsons,” Frigga said tearfully.

“But they weren’t his grandsons. He is not my father. He has no right to me or my children.” Loki leant forwards, taking one of Frigga’s hands in his own. “But… You have hurt me and lied to me. I am so angry at you. But you’re still my mother. I still love you.”

Frigga let out a small sob, pressing a kiss to Loki’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you. My son, I am so sorry.”

Gently, Loki brushed a strand of hair away from Frigga’s face, tucking it behind her ear. “I know you are. Do you… Do you want to go see your grandson?”

“Of course! Of course I would,” Frigga smiled, rising gracefully. Loki followed her to the door, rocking on his heels before taking a resolute step outside.

Thor stopped the game when he spotted them, absently offering Sleipnir an apple. He glanced from his mother to his brother nervously. “Loki?”

“Can I say hello to him?” Loki asked uncertainly.

Thor beamed, leading Sleipnir over. “Sleipnir, I want you to meet someone very special. This is your…” He trailed off, looking to Loki.

“Father. I am your father, Sleipnir. I’m so sorry it’s taken me so long to see you,” Loki choked out. He reached out a tentative hand to rub Sleipnir’s nose. The stallion nickered happily, nuzzling Loki’s hand. Thor and Frigga retreated a few steps, letting the pair have a moment alone. “You’re a beautiful boy, aren’t you? I’ve missed you so much.”

“I told him all about you,” Thor said. “I wanted him to… know you.”

“Thank you.” Loki buried his face in Sleipnir’s dark mane, his arms locked around his neck in a tight hug that not even his shaking shoulders could break. Sleipnir huffed, his breath sending Loki’s hair flying and making the trickster laugh. Gently, he pulled Sleipnir over to the door to peer at Bruce and Tony, not caring that his eyes were redder than normal. "These are two of my... teammates, Bruce and Anthony."

"We're also his friends and occasionally bad influences," Tony grinned, offering his hand for Sleipnir to sniff. Loki raised an eyebrow at him.

"You're the bad influence? I'm the God of Mischief; I am the baddest of the bad influences."

"I have nothing to do with this," Bruce said to Sleipnir as Loki and Tony bickered playfully. "I just drink tea and meditate."

"And occasionally destroy a building or two while fighting giant robots," Thor remarked as he passed. Sleipnir nickered in a way that could have been interpreted as a laugh. Bruce ignored the comment, though he blushed when Frigga gave him a knowing smile, and busied himself in feeding Sleipnir the entire contents of the fruitbowl. Steve appeared to drag Tony away from what was quickly becoming a pissing contest, asking him to explain how the oven had gained the ability to make its own decisions. All in all. it was just another, slightly more turbulent, day in Avengers tower.

 


 

Tony leant against the kitchen bench, gazing at the ceiling in thought. There were discrepancies between what Thor had told him and what Frigga had said, and it was bothering him enough that he couldn’t sleep. He straightened suddenly and headed for the elevator, filled with resolve. Stepping off on Thor’s floor, he listened for signs of life. Light flooded through the crack under the door of Thor’s exercise room, and soft whispers reached his ears. He knocked twice, waiting a few seconds, and then let himself in. Loki was sitting cross-legged on the floor beside Sleipnir, a book open in his lap, apparently reading to the stallion. He stared at Tony as the inventor walked over, his eyebrow raised. “Tony, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I had some questions. Things aren’t really adding up with this whole… mess. I mean, I have Thor’s side, which was apparently wrong, and I have bits and pieces from Frigga, but I don’t have your side of it,” Tony told him. “There are things I don’t get, that don’t add up, and I don’t like it.”

“And you think my version can clear things up?”

“Well, you’re the one this all happened to. Who else would know more than you do?”

Loki grimaced. “I suppose I have no ch-”

“You can say no if you want to,” Tony said sharply. “You have a choice here. I’m not gonna make you tell me.”

“How kind of you,” Loki drawled. He closed his book and pressed a soft kiss to Sleipnir’s head. After whispering goodnight, he followed Tony out into the hallway. “What do you want to know?”

Tony scratched his ear, looking uncomfortable. “Well, when I talked to Thor, he mentioned how he didn’t know why you were ever near the, er, labourer guy. I was wondering if you’d tell me.”

The god sighed and sat down, his back against the wall. He waited for Tony to sit beside him before taking a deep breath. “The shape-shifter came to court with an offer for Odin. In exchange for a service we sorely needed, a strong outer wall to defend the city, he wanted the most beautiful woman in Asgard. The Aesir debated amongst themselves before Odin agreed, on one condition: the wall had to be completed in twenty days, or else he would get nothing. The labourer agreed, which should have been a sign that it would not end well. When fifteen days had gone by and the labourer was close to finishing, the Aesir began to panic. They tried everything they could think of to slow him down, but nothing worked. His stallion made him practically unstoppable. No one knew he was a shape-shifter.”

“So they were going to doublecross him? Isn’t that against the whole code of honour thing every Asgardian lives by?” Tony pointed out.

Loki smiled bitterly. “People will do anything to win a bet.”

“So, they wanted to fuck over the guy building the wall? How do you come into that?”

“My father came and spoke to me, privately. He asked me to use my magic to sabotage the labourer if I could. It was the only time he’d ever shown an interest in my tricks, and I was happy to do it. I suppose I still thought… But it doesn’t matter. He made me promise not to tell anyone what I was doing.

“I left that night, making my way to where the labourer was working. His horse was there, carrying blocks of stone for the labourer to use when morning came. He was almost done. I knew I had to act, or else… I would disappoint my father. That was something I didn’t want. So, I transformed myself into a mare. It took me a few minutes, but I managed to perk the stallion’s interest. He chased me, and I led him far away, deep into the forest. When I tried to lose him, he caught me. And then he…

“Thor found me afterwards. He seemed to know what had happened to me. He was angry. He would have killed the labourer right then if Odin hadn’t intervened. A few weeks later I realised I was… pregnant. I went to mother, she went to father, and he sent me far away to an isolated, little shack with a healer and a single guard. Neither was allowed to ask me anything.

“Months passed, and I gave birth to a boy. The healer took him away the minute he was born and the guard summoned my father. Odin told me that he drowned my child in the river, and that I was to return home. We never spoke of it again. I… I fell into a depression. I never spoke about my son to anyone; I never even named him. Eventually I was forced to ‘shake it off’ and go back to my duties.”

“That’s bullshit,” Tony growled.

Loki shrugged. “My son has returned to me. That’s something I had only dreamed about. The rest does not matter.”

“Yes it does. That shit stays with you no matter what. I mean, how could you even look your dad in the eye after that?”

Loki shrugged again, picking at the hem of his shirt. “I was young. I was willing to pretend that my father had done what was best for me.”

“But you didn’t really believe that.”

“No.”

Tony let his head rest against the wall. “And no one ever knew?”

“The healer and guard were sworn to secrecy. Thor and mother knew that I was with child, but everyone else was kept in the dark. There were many stories about where I was, but none of them were close to the truth.”

“Thor said that someone started a rumour?”

“I think it was a joke started by some drunken lout,” Loki said.

“Yes, because getting raped is just so funny,” Tony replied bitterly. “So, some guy just went ‘you know what would be funny? If the youngest prince gave birth to a horse because rape isn’t traumatic enough!’ and everyone else agreed? That is a fucked up sense of humour.”

Loki was quiet, staring at his hands. “Why does this bother you so much? Few have ever shown such concern for me. I am not worthy of it.”

“Don’t say that. You can’t decide your own worth, especially for other people. You may be a complicated, malicious fuck sometimes but that doesn’t mean we’re going to just drop you. Sure, Clint is still kinda twitchy around you when he has a bad day, but he wouldn’t want you to be tortured. Not even Fury’s- Well, the point is, we consider you a friend, maybe even family, and Thor’ll tell anyone and everyone how fucking great you are. We’re here for you, no matter what,” Tony told him seriously. “So don’t say you’re not worthy, okay?”

“…Thank you. I- You are very kind,” Loki replied.

“So… what are you going to do now?”

“I guess I should look into finding a way to break Sleipnir’s curse. Not that I mind him being an eight-legged stallion. But… I’d like him to have a choice in his appearance.”

“That sounds reasonable. How are we going to do it?”

“We?”

“Your team; you know, the Avengers? If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask, okay?”

Loki smiled, pulling himself to his feet. “Thank you, Tony. I am… glad to have you as a friend. Please, excuse me. I wish to finish reading to my son.”

“Goodnight, Loki, and if you need me, just give Jarvis a yell,” Tony said, waving to the god. He waited until the door was firmly closed before levering himself up. He stretched, trying to withhold a yawn, and heard a few cracks and pops. Cursing under his breath, he started back towards the elevator.

“Tony,” a heavy rumble intoned. Thor had one hand braced against the doorframe of his apartment, the other clutching a heavy, leather-bound book. “May I borrow a few moments of your time?”

Tony darted a look at the door Loki had disappeared into and then shrugged; because what the hell, he could do the whole ‘wise and sympathetic mentor/guidance counsellor for Norse gods’ for another hour or so. He followed Thor into the apartment and let the door close behind him with a soft click. Sitting down on the couch next to Thor, he rested his hands on his knees and waited.

Thor was drumming his fingers against the book’s cover, frowning. “As you may have guessed,” he began in a tired voice, “I am not as studious as my brother. When we were younger, while he spent his time in the library, I preferred to practise fighting with my friends. But even I knew that the wisdom of our elders should not be ignored.” He waved the book at Tony. “This tome is one of the few I possess and it is my favourite. It is a collection of tales regarding the greatest warriors in the history of the Nine Realms, even those who are not Asgardian.”

“That sounds… interesting,” Tony hedged.

“Aye, much advice can be gleamed from its pages. It was often a guide for my adventures.” Thor smiled nostalgically, stroking the cover with his forefinger. “Thinking of what happened to my brother’s children… I was wondering where my father might have kept Fenrir. He was such a large pup when they took him away… and, of course, they would want to make sure no one stumbled upon him, especially not Loki. It seemed impossible. A place so hidden that it had never been depicted on any map, or accessible to just any adventurer who happened to wander through its entrance. For much time I thought they had merely killed Fenrir despite their oath, because how could they simply hide him? And then, one night as I glanced through these well-worn pages, I remembered a story so ancient and unknown that only the royal librarians and those they serve know of it.

“A warrior, an ancestor of mine, had ventured out into the wilds of a small, uncharted planet. He had left without his companions after they had quarrelled; you see, he had a very… wild temper, which brought him no small means of misfortune. Alone, the trials he faced were much worse than they should have been. It is said that he fought monsters unlike anything in the Nine Realms. They were vicious, malicious, nightmarish creatures made to bring death and suffering. He was forced to retreat many a time, with barely any flesh left upon his bones. Near the end of his journey, and most certainly his mortal coil, he stumbled upon an… opening, I suppose you would call it. Desperate for a moment’s reprieve he hurried inside. He followed a passageway lit only by the soft glow of crystals that grew from the ceiling, and came upon a massive cavern. It was larger than any beast he had ever seen, larger than the entirety of Asgard even. He could hear water in the distance, and saw bushes bearing fruits of all shapes and colours. He was nearly delirious with joy, for a moment he thought he was in Valhalla. He stayed there many nights as he rested and healed, he might have considered staying forever, but he had a wife waiting for him and little ones who would miss him.

“He assured himself that he would return at a later date, perhaps with his family and companions in tow, and set to readying himself for the journey back. To make sure he would remember where the entrance was, he carved symbols into some pebbles and buried them alongside the opening. In his journal, the very last entry, he wrote ‘I must return to that paradise if it is the last thing I do’.”

“Did he?”

Thor shook his head. “His companions found him dead near the Bifrost landing site. It seems in his haste he forgot to be wary of the monsters still lurking in the forest.”

“Well, that sucks.”

“Aye. A tragic ending for such an esteemed man,” Thor said in agreement. “But I have been thinking that, if you were trying to hide something – or someone – that you didn’t want anyone to find, a hidden cave on a planet filled with monsters would be a good place to start.”

“Wait. How long have you been planning on breaking Fenny out?”

Thor smiled guiltily. “Since the sun first set?” he offered.

“Uh huh. I’m beginning to see the family resemblance between you and Loki. I mean that in the nicest way,” Tony said.

Thor let out a half-hearted laugh, shaking his head. “Thank you. So, would you help me?”

“Sure. But are we gonna include Loki?”

“My brother cannot leave the planet, and neither can I.”

“Oh. That’s a problem.”

“I trust that Lady Sif and the Warrior’s Three would take up the challenge if I asked them.”

“But?”

“It is dangerous. More dangerous than any adventure we have ever been on. And… It does not feel just for me to send them into such horror when I cannot follow. It is my quest, and yet I shall carry none of the risk.”

Tony frowned, twisting so that he was facing Thor. He thought the god’s words over carefully, piecing together his response. “It’s not your fault. I’m a hundred percent sure that, if it weren’t for all the magic-y mumbo jumbo keeping you here, you’d be first into the fray. We’d have to have the Hulk drag your ass out of there if things went bad before we finished. Besides, you aren’t forcing them to go, are you? Them choosing to go on this mission for you is no different than if you were going for Loki. Plus, you got the Avenger’s too! We can have a meeting and talk it out. You aren’t alone in this, Thor.”

Thor smiled widely, turning to pull Tony into a tight (though thankfully not bone-crushing) hug. “Thank you, my friend. You are truly a heroic and wise man!”

“Didn’t Steve tell you? Giving me compliments only encourages me. So... how ‘bout a few more?”

Chapter Text

Clint stretched and downed the last of his coffee. He crumpled the paper cup between his fingers and ditched it into a nearby trashcan. After a final once over of his bow and arrows, he moved into the rough circle Tony had nicknamed ‘the Rainbow Bridge Airstrip’. Natasha nodded to him, before turning her attention back to Sif. The dark-haired warrior was explaining, briefly, how the Bifrost worked, and where they expected to emerge. It had taken a lot of organisation and pushing to convince Heimdall to help them, but he had finally agreed after Frigga made the request in person. Steve was listening seriously, ignoring the click of Tony’s camera phone. It was vaguely surreal for him to be heading into a mission without his stars and stripes, having instead opted for a more inconspicuous and agile suit (something Stark had put together at four in the morning no doubt). At least, it was surreal to Clint. Natasha had just smirked approvingly and moved on.  Finally, when everything had been checked and double-checked, Sif threw her head back and shouted sky-wards, “Heimdall! Open the Bifrost!”

It was like trying to stand upright in a hurricane. Wind pulled at his clothes and nipped at his skin, nearly throwing him off balance. Clint closed his eyes as they were enveloped in a rush of colours. His feet left the ground and his stomach did flips at the sudden weightlessness. You’re gonna fall. You’re gonna go so, so, so HIGH and then you’re gonna crash. You’re GONNA DIE. Enjoy the fall, hawk, ‘cause this is gonna HURT. DON’T LOOK DOWN ‘CAUSE YOU’RE GONNA CRASH! It’s nothing personal, just business, little brother.

“Clint!” Natasha called. She ran her fingers over his arm gently and tugged on his hand. “Clint, open your eyes. You’ve gotta see this.”

Clint gritted his teeth and forced his eyelids open. His jaw slackened at the sight. Stars were strewn across the sky amongst a lightshow that put the Aurora Borealis to shame. A planet was suspended in the distance, looking no larger than a basketball. It was cast in shadow, small moons swirling around it like a space junk ballet. He glanced to Natasha and saw it all reflected in her eyes. Turning, he could only just see the expression on Steve’s face, and he wondered if he looked that lost and small too. The three of them stared out the universe, quiet and contemplating how utterly insignificant they were. Clint was almost disappointed when the air around them started to frizzle, signifying that they were closing in on their destination, but he was definitely thankful when his boots hit solid earth. “That- That was quite a ride,” he managed breathlessly.

“Enjoy yourself?” Fandral asked.

“Oh yeah. Reminds me of the Tilt-A-Whirl,” Clint replied, scanning the area around them.

“The… what?”

“It’s a… It’s a thrill ride. For fun, you know? You get on it and it,” Clint made a complicated motion with his fingers “does its thing.”

“Do you often partake in this… thrill riding?”

“I haven’t gone to an amusement park since I left the circus.”

“They have places on Midgard entirely for amusements?” Sif queried.

“Dozens,” Cap told her.

“How charming.” Sif shouldered her travel bag and jerked her head towards the parse beginnings of a forest. “According to Thor’s directions, we head eastward until we come to a large, black stone with runes carved into it. We’ll need to keep our eyes open and our weapons drawn. This place is dangerous; we have no idea the sort of creatures that roam this land.”

“Fandral and I will take the lead,” Hogun said. He gestured to Fandral, who nodded, and they trudged forward.

“Stay in sight! We don’t want to lose one another,” Volstagg called after them. It sounded unbearably loud in the silence. Clint could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing on end and he wasn’t sure if something was moving in the corner of his eye or if his imagination was just being a dick.

“Let’s move. The longer we stand still, the longer this will take,” Sif said brusquely. She glanced at each of them before pointedly marching into the forest. The rest of them eyed the trees with suspicion before following her.

“What did Thor say lived here, exactly?” Steve asked as the passed a fallen tree. The scratches along the bark were taller than Volstagg and almost as wide as Natasha.

“He didn’t,” Volstagg responded, his tone devoid of enthusiasm.

“Great,” Natasha muttered. She carefully adjusted the intensity of her Widow’s Bites, meeting Clint’s eyes for the barest of seconds. We’re screwed.

Several hours of walking later, they reached the obelisk, but they still hadn’t seen anything living. There weren’t even bones or half-eaten meals lying around. Clint hoped that whatever had used to live here had simply moved to a nicer planet and became beatnik hippies. They took a break next to the stone, breaking out some of their rations. While they ate, Sif and Hogun considered the directions Thor had given them. “We’ll need to go north-east for ten leagues, and then due north for another seven.” Sif pulled out some sort of compass and studied it.

“Who do you think put this here?” Clint asked. His nose was almost pressed flat to the smooth, shiny surface of the stone as he squinted at the markings. It was like an optical illusion; when he let his vision go blurry, he could almost make sense of it.

“Who cares?” Fandral said. “It is hardly important to the task at hand.”

Clint turned, his hands on his hips. “Doesn’t it bother you that something on this planet was sentient enough to write a note? I mean, this is supposed to be Jurassic Park on steroids. But where are all the monsters?”

“Perhaps we are lucky enough to catch them hibernating?” Volstagg suggested.

“For all we know this thing could tell us a shortcut to the Cave of Wonders,” Clint continued. “If it wasn’t important, why bother to put it here in the first place?”

“Clint has a point. If something on this planet was smart enough to scratch a message into a rock, it could be dangerous,” Natasha said.

“It would be a waste of time. We have directions, we don’t need a shortcut,” Sif insisted.

“Can any of you read it?” Steve asked. “Asgardians speak All-speak, right?”

Volstagg shifted uncomfortably. “Yes, but… this seems to be unreadable.”

“Probably doesn’t mean anything,” Fandral said.

Steve grimaced, looking dissatisfied. He got to his feet, inspecting the ground and peering up at the trees. He paced from the stone to the edge of the clearing, turning around every step or so and squinting at the words. “Pr- par- paradise? Paradise is-” he murmured.

“A trap?” Natasha suggested, standing by his side. She tilted her head. “Paradise is a trap?”

“No. Yes? No, cage? Or- pit?” Steve shook his head, massaging his temple with one hand. “I think I’m getting a headache.”

“Either way, it’s saying all that glitters ain’t gold,” Clint said.

“There’s more. I think.” Natasha leant back on her heels, eyes nearly shut. “It looks like it’s in different handwriting.”

“How can you tell?”

“The first one is more consistent. The words are straight and precise, and they’re nearly two inches deep. The second bit is more… scratchy and rushed.” Natasha jerked her head away, her eyes falling closed. Clint was at her side in seconds.

“Are you okay?” he asked in an undertone.

“Fine. Don’t worry about me,” Natasha replied, shaking herself. She straightened up, pursing her lips. “There’s something really off about this.”

“You can’t leave. I won’t let you leave. You can’t leave me,” Hogun read, staring at the stone. He grimaced, shaking his head. “It appears to be a threat.”

“Not you too,” Sif complained. Hogun shrugged and her mouth twisted. “We’re here to find Loki’s son. Not study rocks.”

“We’re just curious,” Clint said. “And now we know that something here is intelligent enough to write coherently. It may also be slightly psychotic. I don’t know about you, but I like to know if there are any psychos around who might take a swing at me.”

There was a tense silence as Clint and Sif stared one another down. “Have you ever tried Asgardian salmon, Steven?” Volstagg said loudly, offering Steve a pinkish square. “It’s very good.”

“Er, no. Thank you, Volstagg.” Steve accepted the square, handing Volstagg a cracker in exchange. He glanced at the others before popping it into his mouth. “Hey. That is pretty good!”

Volstagg smiled, offering him another one. “I thought you might enjoy them.”

“I think that is enough rest for now,” Sif declared, throwing her pack on. “We don’t know how long the light will last. Fandral, with me.”

Steve, Clint, and Natasha traded looks. “I think we might have made her mad,” Clint remarked.

“It isn’t you,” Hogun said.

“Then what is it?” Steve frowned. Hogun didn’t reply, following the other two.

“I still think she doesn’t like us,” Clint said to Natasha as they moved off. Natasha nodded, thinking.

 


 

“So, this is the Cave of Wonders?” Clint was not impressed. They had walked for hours through weird terrain with the threat of attack hanging over them. The tension had built up in his shoulders and in the set of his jaw, keeping him on edge and suspicious of everything. And nothing had happened. There wasn’t even a cat-scare they could all overreact to. All of that fear and anxiety had led to this; a literal hole in the wall.

Natasha seemed to agree with Clint. “Are we sure this is the right one? Didn’t the warrior mark this place with stones?”

“The wildlife probably scattered them,” Fandral said.

“Are we all going in?” Volstagg queried. He was eying the gap, doubting that he could fit into the small space.

“Yes. We need everyone. If Fenrir’s in there, he might not be happy to see us,” Sif replied with a shake of her head. “I’ll go in first. Volstagg, you can go last. And,” she added with a slight smirk, “if you do get stuck, we can always widen the tunnel.”

Volstagg narrowed his eyes at her, grinning. “Good to know I have comrades willing undertake such an effort on my behalf.”

Fandral shook his head with a smile. “Captain, if you’d like to go second, I’ll follow you,” he offered to Steve. Steve nodded, stepping up behind Sif.

“After you,” he said. “I’ll follow your lead.”

“Will you?” Sif smiled, just slightly, and ducked into the tunnel entrance. Slowly the others trickled in, one at a time. Volstagg glanced around with a grimace before he followed Hogan inside, scrunching himself up as small as he could.

“So… did Thor say how long this tunnel is?” Clint asked, dodging a stalactite.

“No. But I can hear growling already, so it can’t be far,” Sif called back. “How are you faring Volstagg?”

“I think,” Volstagg managed with a grunt, “I shall reserve judgement… until after I make it out.”

Sif chuckled. She wound her way through the rocky tunnel with ease, though there was still the occasional “clunk” when her armour bumped against the stone. “Here we are,” she said after nearly fifteen minutes of walking. “I can see a bit of light.”

“Light?” Steve questioned. “What- Oh.”

The cavern before them was huge. It stretched out into darkness, lit only by the soft, pink glow of crystals that sprung from the ground and ceiling. Water could be heard, but not seen, in the distance. There were plants of all kinds growing determinedly out of the harsh ground, bearing fruit and bulbous seeds. A half-hearted growl had them turning. Chains strained and creaked as a wolf larger than an elephant raised its head. He watched them warily; his intelligent eyes were alight with suspicion and misery. The crystals illuminated his thin, bedraggled appearance with a horrifying clarity.

“How could they,” Natasha said angrily, her voice like the crack of a whip in the silence. She approached slowly, her eyes fixed on Fenrir’s. It took effort not to stare at the injuries covering him – some of them were bleeding openly – and they had been worsened by malnutrition and dehydration. The worst were the sores that were obviously infected, tinged an unpleasant green and crusted over with pus. Carefully, she laid her hand on Fenrir’s nose. “We’re going to take you to your father, Fenrir. Don’t worry.”

“Volstagg, bring out your healing stones,” Sif ordered, dropping her pack onto the floor. Fenrir whimpered, straining to back away. “It’s all right, boy. I won’t hurt you, I promise. I- I know your father. We’re here to rescue you.”

“Let’s see if we can get that thing around his mouth off,” Steve added. “Clint, can you and Nat go find some water? He needs to be cleaned up.”

The pair nodded, gathering empty water skins and disappearing into the murky darkness. By the time they’d returned, Fenrir was no longer bleeding and eagerly eating the meat scraps Volstagg was feeding him. “He’s much more agreeable than I expected,” Fandral mused.

“I doubt anyone’s been nice to him in a long time,” Clint said. He passed one of the water skins to Steve, and then poured water onto a cloth. Gently and with a practised hand, he dabbed at Fenrir’s skin. The wolf leaned into the touch, its eyes half-closing. “You like that, big guy? I know I’ll want a bath after all of this. Maybe if I get Thor to do his puppy eyes thing at Tony, he’ll build a big bathtub for you, and a ginormous rubber ducky. This’ll work for now, though.”

“He knows how to say ‘can I pet your dog?’ in pretty much every language,” Natasha murmured to Steve.

“Every language?”

“I’m ninety percent sure he could write it in hieroglyphics if he had to.” Natasha smiled fondly, her eyes darting over to Clint, who was keeping up a steady flow of commentary.

“He a fan of animals?” Steve asked, keeping his attention on clearing the muck from Fenrir’s skin.

“I think… I think a lot of it comes from being very lonely. He spent most of his time around the circus animals when he was younger,” Natasha confided. “And he tends to bring home strays. I’m proof of that.”

Steve smiled. “He does seem to bring home quite a few kittens and puppies, doesn’t he?”

“Yeah.” Natasha brushed her hair away from her eyes. “Don’t tell anyone what I told you, okay?”

“I’ll die first.”

“Don’t you dare,” Natasha warned, wringing out her cloth. “I mean it, you’ll make Coulson cry. And when Coulson cries, Clint starts blubbering. The two of them are messy criers.”

“You wouldn’t? Cry for me, I mean.”

“I would. After I killed whoever killed you.”

“Thank you, Nat.”

“That’s what- what friends do, Cap. Well, it’s what assassins do for their friends.” Steve beamed at her, and were she a few years younger and a little less battle-hardened, she might have swooned. But she didn’t, just let her lips kick up at the sides, and then went back to washing the sore, inflamed skin. “What do you think did this?”

“I don’t know,” Steve murmured. “It’s too recent to have been done by any of the guys who dropped him off. I mean, some of them are still bleeding.”

“Nothing living outside, creepy message on a rock, Fenrir freshly wounded inside a supposedly sealed cave. It’s safe to say there’s more here than dirt,” Clint commented.

“I fear you might be right,” Fandral said. He set down a large bowl of water at Fenrir’s feet. “Here, boy. Rinse out your mouth, but do not swallow it.”

Fenrir lowered his muzzle uncertainly, lapping at the water. When Fandral set down another bowl, this one empty, he looked confused. “Here, let me show you,” Clint offered. He walked over to the first bowl and dunked his head into it. Sitting back, he gargled the water, swishing it about his mouth. Finally he spit it into the second bowl and sat back, grinning. “See? Now you try!”

Fenrir shook his head, trying to imitate Clint’s motions. The water, once he finally spat it out, came back reddish-brown. Fandral sighed. “I think the boy needs his teeth cleaned,” he said to Clint.

“I can do that, just promise not to bite me.” Clint fetched more cloths from his back and a fresh water skin. Tipping it into the clean bowl, he added a small amount of toothpaste. “This should help freshen up your dog breath,” he told Fenrir brightly. “Here, lay your head down and say ‘aah’ for me, would you?”

Fenrir, after a pause, did so. He tensed when Clint approached, but the archer merely patted his nose. Natasha made soothing sounds as she continued washing the wolf, keeping an eye on Clint. She trusted he knew what he was doing, but Clint always needed watching. Not watching him was just asking for trouble (or itching powder in your underwear). Steve, his water skin empty, joined Volstagg in heading to the river. “So, what’re you cooking?” he asked, motioning to the large pot the other man was clutching to his chest.

“Just some soup. I’m hoping the pup will be able to keep that down, and it should warm him up,” the bearded man told him. When they reached the shore, Steve looked for a pebble. Volstagg watched him curiously, his pot forgotten for the moment. Steve found one and tossed it into the darkness, listening intently. There was a ‘plop’ as it hit the water, nearly a minute after it had been thrown.

“I’m guessing there’s no way out through there then,” Steve mused.

“This must be more a lake than a river,” Volstagg agreed. “Though, the water must come from somewhere.”

Steve’s eyes narrowed, his muscles tense. For a moment, a bare, shudder-inducing moment, he thought he saw something move. But there was no sound; there was no churning water to signify something was swimming to shore. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess. Let’s get that soup started,” he said, forcing a smile.

Volstagg raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t call attention to the abrupt subject change. They gathered their water in silence. “You know, I’m starting to get attached to this place,” Volstagg said as they returned to Fenrir and the others. “I’ll be sad to leave it.

Steve nodded. Frankly, he couldn’t wait to get away from the cavern and the planet. He rolled his shoulders, trying to shake off the feeling of being watched. Clint apparently shared his sentiments, shifting from foot to foot as he waited for Volstagg’s pot of water to boil. “When are we going to leave?” he queried.

“Why? Are you feeling scared?” Sif grinned.

“Yes,” Clint said. “Do you not feel how… weird this place is? And I don’t mean weird; I mean weird-y McWeird weird.”

Sif snorted, shaking her head. “It is only nerves. Forget them and focus on the task at hand.”

“Look, I’m a veteran of creepy, fucked up shit. My weird-o-meter is top of the line. Right now it’s pointing at the bat-shit insane ‘get-the-fuck-out’ end. I refuse to be the white guy in a horror movie walking into the abandoned hotel going ‘hey, this place looks swell, I’m sure there’s no angry ghosts waiting to butcher my ass!’ I don’t care if it makes me look like a chicken. I want to leave as soon as possible, but preferably before we die a horrible death.”

Sif stared at Clint for a moment, arms crossed. She glanced to the others and then back again. “I suppose the sooner we get this over with, the sooner we’re all home.”

Steve stiffened as a squelching sound reached his ears. He turned, listening intently and staring into the darkness. Behind him, Fenrir began to growl and whine. Slowly, his heart thumping wildly against his ribs, he saw a shape moving through the darkness. It approached slowly, staying out of the light cast by the crystals. Without even seeing it, he knew it was bad news. “Guys?” he said, nearly choking.

“What the hell is that?” Clint frowned.

Steve shook his head, refusing to look away from where the shadow was crawling towards them. If he looked away it might disappear, and not knowing where it was would be worse than watching it. The way it moved was predatory, too graceful on legs and arms as long as tree branches. His skin felt ready to flee his body by the time it reached the light. In hindsight, he wished he had closed his eyes. The creature, whatever it was, was tall. Its skin was stretched tight over bone, pale and scarred. Jagged, stained teeth snapped together, its lipless mouth like a slash across the bottom half of its face. It had eyes like black holes, seemingly endless and dark and dangerous. The too-thin, too-long neck wobbled slightly every time it moved its head. At the sight of them, it’s mouth widened and the clicking of its teeth quickened. “You cannot leave. I will not let you,” it growled. “You cannot take what is mine.”

“Holy shit,” Clint squeaked, already notching an arrow. “What the fuck are you?

The creature tilted its head towards him, a rotted, slimy tongue flickering between its teeth. “Once called Grulsta. You smell like fresh flesh. Rip. Drip. Rip.

Sif took a deep breath, taking a step forward. “We have no quarrel with you. Allow us to leave in peace and there shall be no needless bloodshed,” she told the creature firmly.

Rip. Rip. Rip. Die. Bleed. Taste good,” Grulsta muttered. “Kill. Kill you, eat you. Keep what is mine.”

“Fenrir is not yours,” Volstagg began, clutching his axe tightly. Before he could continue, Grulsta leapt at him, screeching. The blunt side of the axe hit Grulsta, and the force of the blow threw the creature off course.

Grulsta righted itself with a hiss, its head hanging at an odd angle. “MINE. MINE. Rip! Eat.

“Kill it!” Hawkeye shrieked, loosing an arrow directly into its chest. The creature tore it out, the wound disappearing without a trace. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit.” Clint fumbled for another arrow, backing up. Grulsta scurried along on all fours, rushing towards Clint. Hogun grabbed the archer and hauled him back, out of reach. Fenrir snapped his teeth together, growling and barking and leaping towards Grulsta. The monster growled back, jagged nails raking the air. Fandral’s sword sliced through the air, inches from where Grulsta had been crouching. It scampered back, towards the tunnel. The group encircled it, cutting it off from the shelter of the darkness. Sensing a trap, it barrelled forwards, aiming for Hawkeye once more. Clint fired off three arrows, but they did nothing to slow the creature down, and it landed on top of him. He struggled, straining to throw it off. Cap‘s shield caught it in the side, bouncing off its ribs with a sickening crunch, and it rolled into a crouch. Sif brought her sword down on Grulsta’s back, cleaving the flesh down to the bone. For a moment, it lay still, face down in the dirt. Its eyes darted around wildly, jeering at them. It’s hands tensed as it dragged itself towards Fenrir, it’s back already healing.

“Cut off its head,” Natasha ordered calmly, shooting Grulsta in the forehead. “Quickly.”

Volstagg’s axe came down on its thin neck, its head swept away. Clint picked it up with the tips of his fingers and dumped it in the fire. “Can we go home now, please?” he asked breathlessly.

 


 

Steve fell to the ground in exhaustion, his breaths stirring up the dirt. It felt like it had been hours since he’d last slept. His eyes were half closed and it took a lot of effort for him to stay awake. Clint coughed, leaning against a tree for support. It seemed, after the death of Grulsta, all the monsters they’d been missing out on had come out of the woodwork. They’d had to fight their way back to the Bifrost site, and barely escaped another barrage of nightmarish shark-like creatures capable of shredding armour with a single swipe of their claws by the time the rainbow bridge had swept them away. “Call Life Alert, we’ve got a senior citizen down,” Clint huffed.

“I’d punch you but I might break my hip,” Steve replied with a small smile. He could feel the aches settling into his muscles. The only thing keeping him from just sleeping right here was that if he did fall asleep Clint would do something unholy to him. The man carried a Sharpie like it was a weapon of mass destruction.

“How exactly would punching him break your hip?” Natasha asked. She was just as breathless as the other two, sprawled on her back on the grass. The Black Widow would never have allowed anyone to see her like this, but Natasha didn’t mind her teammates knowing how human she was.

“I am a delicate, delicate man,” Steve answered, rolling onto his back. Natasha giggled, her composure shattered by the utter terror still coursing through her. Clint snorted, pushing himself to his feet. The other four were doing better, having kept a solid grip on Fenrir. The giant wolfhound seemed delighted by the green of his surroundings, his nose pressed flat to the grass as he inhaled. The sky was bright and unclouded above them, and the trees swayed slowly in the breeze. It was likely he’d never seen such things before, or at least not for a very long time.

Sif stepped over to them, helping Romanoff to her feet. “It was a pleasure to fight by your side. You are quite skilled.”

“Even though we remind you of Loki?” Natasha replied quietly.

Sif held her gaze, her expression neutral. “Yes. I apologise for my brusque attitude. It was unfair.”

“It’s fine. We reminded you of someone you had negative feelings for, who betrayed your trust. While it may have been irrational, it’s understandable. It was a pleasure to fight by your side as well, Lady Sif,” Natasha said. She held out her hand and, after a brief pause, Sif took it. They parted with a nod to one another.

“Question: How are we going to fit Fenrir into the tower?” Clint asked.

“I’ll call Tony. He’ll figure something out,” Steve replied. “I’m sure an elephant-sized doggy door isn't beyond his capabilities.”

Chapter Text

Loki cried when he saw Fenrir – saw the barely healed gouges and the missing fur and the way his ribs were pressing against his skin. He held him as best he could and cried and apologised until his shoulders heaved and his voice cracked. Fenrir had rebuffed him at first, curling up in a corner and growling. But when Clint led Loki over and carefully explained what had happened, Fenrir had grudgingly allowed Loki to touch him. After the first few tear-filled words, Fenrir had crumbled and curled around Loki, whimpering. Now the two were silent, lying together on the floor of Thor’s gym without a care.

While the quest party had headed for a shower, Thor had taken it upon himself to feed Fenrir every scrap of meat in the tower. “Here, nephew. Eat this while Banner checks over your wounds,” he told the wolf, offering a link of sausages. “He is a capable healer and a friend. You can trust him.”

Bruce nodded helpfully, his arms loose at his sides. Fenrir sniffed him once and sneezed, then turned to lick his father, who had fallen asleep beside him. Bruce took that as a good sign. He made notes as he worked, stopping to frown at a gouge that hadn’t quite healed. “What did this?” he asked.

“I don’t know what it was, but it was disgusting,” Natasha informed him. She raised an eyebrow when he jumped, withholding a smile. “Think of an A-grade horror movie written by Scandinavian, drug-addicted, nightmare fetishists with more money and special effects than sense.”

“Surprisingly specific,” Bruce murmured. “Thor? Do you have any of those healing stones?”

Thor nodded, giving control of the barbeque he’d commandeered to Coulson. “Yes. I shall fetch them at once.” He nodded once to Bruce, striding out the door. Inside his apartment, he leant back against the solid wood of the door and counted back from ten. When the rage subsided, he was left with only the heavy stone of despair resting in his gut. He could remember, all those years ago, when Fenrir had been dragged out of Asgard like common vermin. Fenrir’s howls still haunted him. If there were any justice in life, Odin would hear it until the end of his days. But the knowledge of what had happened to his nephew, and the thought that he could have done something to prevent it, stabbed at him. He tried to force it down, clenching his hands against his sides and biting down on his tongue; he didn’t realise he was crying until an ugly sound spewed from his lips.

“Thor?” Jarvis said gently. “Do you need me to summon someone?”

Thor shook his head and pawed at his cheeks, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his palms. “No, I- I am fine. I just- I need to- the healing crystals, where have I left them?”

“They are on the top shelf of the cupboard on the left of your bed. Will there be anything else?”

“No, thank you. And… thank you for worrying, Jarvis. Your concern is touching.” Thor pushed up from the door and headed for his bedroom, stopping only to splash some cold water on his face. He handed the stones to Bruce with a friendly smile and headed down to Tony’s workshop.

Tony looked up from the hologram he was manipulating. It looked to be a scale model of a giant serpent. “Oh, hey big guy, what’s- Oh god please don’t cry. Oh shit, um, Dummy? Cloth, handkerchief, something! No not that that has oil on it. No that’s my shirt. No- Okay, fine. Fine.” Tony gave up with a shake of his head.

Thor accepted the black fabric with a small smile. He was always amused by the antics of Tony’s metal beings, even now. But his lips still quivered and his hands shook as he tightened his grip. He pressed his face to the cloth and wiped away the tears, grateful for somewhere to hide his face. “Thank you, Tony. I apologise for my lapse in control.”

Tony waved the apology away. “Nah, it’s cool. I understand. This whole thing is just… yeah. But we’re gonna make it better. Somehow.”

“Your optimism is admirable,” Thor said, moving to Tony’s side. He stared at the hologram. It wasn’t exact, but it was a very good likeness. “Is that…?”

“Jor? Yeah. While the others were on their amazing adventure me and Bruce started scanning the seas. Well, actually we got in contact with this guy named Namor and asked him to ask around about large sea serpents of unknown origin. He told us that there was something in the Arctic Circle that only Orcas were dumb enough to pick a fight with. There was a lot of technology and coffee involved after that so my memory gets a little hazy. But we found him. He’s made himself some sort of den under the ice; he spends most of his time sleeping or eating,” Tony explained. He brought up more images, including a picture of Jormungandr in his watery lair.

“Cameras can survive under water?” Thor asked, momentarily distracted.

“Only certain kinds. This one was specially made solely for this purpose. We only got the one shot because apparently no one taught Jor that it isn’t nice to break other people’s toys.” Tony pushed the pictures off to the side and pulled a short video into view. “I’ve run a few simulations on what a direct approach could do and-”

The digital submarine was crushed as digital-Jormungandr wrapped his body around it.

“I see. What if we were to let Loki approach him alone?”

Tony shook his head. “I don’t know. I mean, Jor might not recognise him. Or he might blame Loki for the whole ‘thrown-off-Asgard-onto-an-unknown-planet’ thing and kill him immediately. I thought we could lure him out and then trap him but… Well, a) I don’t know if I could build a net to hold him; b) I feel that netting a child – no matter how big and scaly he is – will land me in eternal damnation; and c) I do not want Loki to punch me in the face for treating his kid like the catch of the day.”

“Yes, I suppose Loki would not appreciate that, no matter how well meant,” Thor agreed. “Perhaps I could wrestle him?”

“…We’ll leave that as plan B. Do you think we should ask Loki for his opinion? Maybe he knows a way to get in touch with his son that won’t end in bodily harm?”

“A fair point. Although… I worry that we are getting his hopes up,” Thor admitted. “There are so many things that could go wrong. And there is always a chance that Odin could intervene.”

“I’m entirely willing to fight the king of the Norse gods about this. Which is surprising because I don’t really like children.”

Thor laughed, loud and booming, and patted Tony’s shoulder. “I would be happy to face such a battle at your side, my friend. Although I could not guarantee us victory.”

“I’m okay with that,” Tony said, and strangely enough he meant it. He packed away the holograms, leaving only the picture of Jor. “J? Send that picture to Loki in a few minutes, preferably when he isn’t too busy with Fenrir and Sleipnir. Tell me when he gets it so I can come up and explain it all for him, ‘kay?”

“Certainly, sir,” Jarvis replied, and the picture disappeared with a ‘ping’ sound that was more for show than anything else.

Tony frowned, bringing up more plans and holograms. “On to the next problem: where to keep the giant sea serpent until we can break the curse?” He wasn’t asking anyone but himself, and turned his back on Thor. “If I appropriate a couple floors of the tower… Maybe I could give those aquarium guys a call? Who knows, it could be fun.”

Thor said goodnight and headed back to his gym.

 


 

 

Loki was not a man who startled easily. But when Clint had appeared in his doorway with a quiet, “Hey,” his heart had nearly shot out of his throat. The archer took no notice as he coughed, moving to sit in the armchair in the corner. “Barton,” Loki managed eventually, “what brings you here?”

Clint shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean? Why would you-”

“I just… wanted to see how you were doing, I s’pose.”

“Why?” Loki’s eyes narrowed. He and Clint were still on shaky ground. The man avoided being alone with him. Not that Loki blamed him. Even so, they were polite, civil, maybe even nice, to one another. But they were not close. They would never be friends – not properly – and especially not the kind that dropped in unannounced of their own free will.

Clint wasn’t looking at him, too busy frowning at a book on the dresser. When Loki cleared his throat, he looked up but still didn’t meet Loki’s eyes. “Look, I just- You’re going through a lot of shit right now and- and I wanted to know how you’re doing. I- When we- I saw all- Just never mind.”

Loki waited for him to leave but he didn’t. He knew what he was saying – had tried to say – and he didn’t want to talk about it. Not even his therapist had gotten that much out of him. “Barton, we don’t have to-”

“Yeah, we do. Because I don’t know about you, but I really need to talk about it. To someone. And Selvig kind of checked himself into a mental hospital. So you’re the only one I can talk to,” Clint said. He sounded… defeated. “I don’t want to. But I need to. If I don’t… I don’t know. You need to talk about it too. You need to talk about a lot of things.”

“I have Dr Leiland for that,” Loki pointed out.

Clint snorted, his whole body jerking. “Uh huh. I had a therapist. Doesn’t mean I told them everything.”

Loki sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Fine. You start.”

Clint fidgeted. “I- I remember things. About the brain washing thing,” he said, sounding so blasé that it might not have mattered. “Sometimes when I’m sleeping, I wake up and forget it’s over. I get up and suddenly the world comes crashing in. And I feel- happy but disappointed.”

Loki nodded, taking a deep breath. “It was… In a way it felt liberating. It felt as though everything was as it should be. I knew what to do, I knew it in a way I never had before. As much as I fought it, reviled it, part of me wanted to accept it.”

“I know,” Clint murmured. “I saw.”

Loki flinched. He shifted uncomfortably, pulling his feet up onto the bed. “How much did you see?”

“Enough. It was more like I felt it, rather than saw it. Sadness and anger and then sadness again. Shock, betrayal, despair. But there were sometimes images – faces I didn’t know. I heard things. But it’s only recently that I’ve figured out what the fuck it all was. At the time, it was just… this massive swirl of information. Like someone had downloaded a bunch of things into my brain, but they were all in binary.

“I didn’t… I didn’t think I’d ever actually have to- to deal with you again, so I just sort of shoved it all into the back of my mind and… ignored it. But I saw so much. I saw and felt everything. All at once, in the space of a few seconds. Did you- Did you know it would show me all of that?” Clint looked at him now, searching Loki’s face for the answer.

“I didn’t. My own experience was much different to yours. It was more drawn out. A simple knock to the head wouldn’t have cleared it up for long. And it didn’t just take control of me. Over time, if you are under its control long enough, it corrupts you. It brings you back to the worst person you ever were, ever would be, and sets you free. There is no ethic or moral too sacred. There is no oath you will not break, no love you won’t betray – except for the love of it. You will be so loyal, so grateful, that for as long as it controls you, as long as its wielder has use of you, you will do anything it wishes.”

“Selvig… He said it showed him truth?”

“Of a kind. Truth and fact are two very different creatures. Truth depends on what is real, and what is real is dependent on the individual who perceives it. Why are my illusions not real, if they can be perceived by every sense except touch? I could never tell you what Erik was shown. That is something he alone knows. I know what it showed me. You know what it showed you. Whether it is your truth depends on you,” Loki said.

“Thank you,” Clint replied. Loki inclined his head and got to his feet. He gestured for Clint to follow him.”

“Fenrir likes you,” he said.

Clint chuckled. “I give awesome belly rubs,” he said with no trace of humility.

“How about a game of catch? My son versus you and your aim?”

“Bring it on.”

Chapter Text

The cold, cracking ice between his feet was weirdly comforting. Biologically speaking, he probably enjoyed it for the similarities to his own flesh. But it brought memories of the end of his family – not their deaths of course, but the moment they stopped pretending to be whatever it was they were for so many centuries. That day on Jotunheim felt like it was a lifetime ago. Was that really the day everything had fallen apart? Or was it simply the day that the cracks became obvious? He remembered it all in clear, crisp detail, the same way he remembered falling from the Bifrost. How long had it been, really? On Midgard, time passed slowly. Here, it had only taken three days for the son of Odin to become no-one’s son. On Asgard, surely it had taken longer? At least a week, maybe more. Surely everything couldn’t have spiralled so far out of control so fast? How long had he spent in the Void? How long before he fell into Thanos’s grasp? How long between then and leading an attack on Midgard? It felt so distant.

“Brother.” Thor’s hand landed on his shoulder, knocking the thoughts from his mind.  He was looking grim, but there was a spark of hope in his eye. “Are you certain about this?”

“Yes. This is the only way I will allow this to go,” Loki answered.

“I will follow your lead, brother,” Thor said. It was unfair that he managed to look that dashing in a scuba suit. Beside him, Clint and Natasha looked like children out for a paddle at the shoreline. It would have annoyed Loki, in that petty way that siblings annoy each other, if Stark hadn’t convinced Thor that pool floaties were a necessary accessory for deep sea diving.

The mini-submarine for Natasha and Clint was waiting in the water, an abhorrent yellow beehive bobbing gently. Tony and Steve, being the two teammates with water/cold-related triggers, would be their eyes in the sky, ready to direct the borrowed Helicarrier into position. Bruce was on standby, ready to provide some extra muscle in case Jor didn’t want to get in the sling. Loki cast a look back at the others. Without any other warning, he dived headfirst into the icy water. He felt his skin tingle as his body reacted, returning him to his natural state. The chill became pleasant and his eyes adjusted easily to the change in light. He heard Thor’s massive splash, felt the ripples, and looked over his shoulder. His brother was using one of Stark’s interesting devices, the one that propelled Thor along and let out small streams of bubbles. The sub wasn’t far behind, its lights dimmed. Loki led the way, following the thrum of a heartbeat.

Jormungandr’s lair was far, far below. Even Loki struggled to see clearly. There were no signs of wildlife, only ice and rocks, but after nearly an hour of swimming they came to a boneyard. Beyond was a large opening worn into the ice. Clint and Natasha hung back as Loki and Thor approached. There was a disturbance in the water, and then slowly Loki could make out an uncoiling figure in the middle of the cave floor. “Gentle, my child. We mean you no harm,” Loki thought. He focused his attention on repeating that phrase, looking for the connection that would allow him to communicate with his son.

Who are you?” came the ferocious snarl.

I am your father.”

I have no father. I am alone. You do not even look like me. Why don’t you think of a better lie?”

It is the truth. Many centuries ago, you were born to me. My father took you away and cursed you. He threw you from our home, into the oceans of this world. My name is Loki. Your name is Jormungandr. You had a younger brother named Fenrir and a younger sister named Hela. They were cursed as well. Our family was split apart, but now I have found allies willing to help us. We will be protected.

How can I be sure you speak the truth?

Think back, Jormungandr. In your heart you know the truth. Surely there is one memory left of your family?

I have been alone for so long. I do not want to be alone. I- I want my daddy!” It was shocking how much he sounded like a child. A child crying, although in this form he had no ability to shed tears. Loki drifted towards him, resting his hand on Jor’s skin. He gently sang a lullaby, one that his mother used to croon when he had a fever or an upset stomach. Soon, Jor calmed. “Alright. I’ll go with you. But, please, promise me this isn’t a lie,” he sniffled.

I promise, my son. My friends are going to bring you to our home. For a little while, you will be out of the water, but I will be with you. And your Uncle Thor will conjure a rainstorm for you, so that you do not dry out too much. Do not fear. Your family is here.

 


 

They made the news that day. Not that that was unusual for them, but few had anticipated it being on the Weather Channel! Social media exploded when the Avengers were sighted carrying in a giant serpent and depositing it in a tank on the outside of Avengers Tower. The Stark Industries PR team were fielding calls from local New Yorkers wondering if traffic was going to be disrupted to the President formally asking if they were under attack. They were used to this by now, not to mention having a wage some might consider exorbitant, and approached the situation with the type of nonchalance you gain through experience. What no one was expecting was the Asgardian diplomat who turned up at the Tower with a small entourage.

“What is the meaning of this?” the Asgardian demanded.

“Is there a problem?” Thor replied curtly. He stepped forward, his arms crossed. “What are you doing here, Mimir?”

“Your father banished that creature for a reason,” Mimir said. He glanced at Jormungandr, clearly uncomfortable. “Your actions have not gone unnoticed. King Odin is not blind.”

“Good. I want him to see his mistakes. I want him to see what I am willing to do – what my friends are willing to do – to correct them. My brother did not deserve the punishments levied at him, nor did his children.”

“They were monsters, not children,” Mimir protested. “The Allfather did what was best. The serpent was fated to outgrow Asgard. Sending him to this place was an act of mercy.”

“How sure are you of that claim?”

Mimir faltered, looking back at his delegation. After a moment he turned back, straightening his back and squaring his shoulders. “Whatever may have happened to make you cast such doubts upon our king, I shall not bother investigating! If you continue to slander the Allfather and question his decrees, severe action will be taken.”

Thor raised an eyebrow at Mimir, his face stony. “Go ahead. I will do what I know is right. As long as I breathe I will let no more harm come to these children. Now leave, Mimir. Surely you must have better things to do than harass my family.”

Mimir huffed and turned away, marching out with his group trailing behind. The Avengers ignored them, turning back to Jormungandr. His scaled head poked out of the water as he surveyed the group. ‘You are my family?’ he asked hopefully.

“Yes, son. Tomorrow, when you are properly rested, I shall bring Sleipnir and Fenrir – your brothers – down to meet you. They will be so happy to see you,” Loki told him.

I am glad. I remember little from our childhood. Are they like me?

“A little. Go to sleep now; I’ll stay here with you for the night so you aren’t alone.”

Thank you, father. Good night.’ Jormungandr’s head disappeared beneath the water as he coiled himself tightly upon the rough pool floor.

“Goodnight, Jormungandr. I wish you sweet dreams,” Loki whispered. He accepted the blankets and pillows Natasha had fetched for him and bid the Avengers good night. It was after nearly a minute of silence that he realised he still wasn’t alone. “Dr Banner? Is there something you needed?”

“No. I just thought you might want some company,” Bruce replied. He gestured to the spot beside Loki. “May I?”

“As you wish.” Loki scooted over so that Bruce could sit down, glancing out at the slowly darkening sky. It was never quite dark in this city, what with all the lights, but it was still a beautiful sight.

“He’s a big guy, but smaller than I was expecting,” Bruce commented quietly, nodding towards Jor’s sleeping form.

“Mortals exaggerate much in their stories. He was no bigger than an average serpent when last I saw him. Now he is gigantic. It makes me glad.”

“How so?”

“To grow big, to have survived this long, he must have been well fed at least. He has kept himself safe all these years. It was all I wished,” Loki replied. “I could never have done as good a job as he has done for himself.”

Bruce eyed him thoughtfully. “I think you could have.”

“Forgive me, Doctor, but I do not believe you have not known me long enough to make that judgement,” Loki said softly.

“Fair enough. Just… can I ask… do you love your children?”

“Yes. I love them with all my heart. Although… it would have been better if they had been born to someone else. They might’ve had a chance to be… to be happy.”

“From what I’ve seen… they seem pretty happy right now. I don’t think they’d want anyone else to be their dad.”

Loki shook his head. “No. They have been punished because of me. They have suffered because of me. All of their pain was because of me. They should not have to bear the indignity of a monster for a father.”

“Did you turn them into monsters?”

“What? No! They are my children, I-”

“Did you tie Fenrir up in a cave on a planet full of deadly creatures?”

“No, I-”

“Did you throw Jor off of Asgard? Did you purposefully ignore Sleipnir? Did you separate them from their family? Did you beat them?” Bruce took a deep breath, silencing his rant. When he continued, his tone was much gentler. “No. You didn’t. You didn’t hurt them, Loki. You loved them, but you were manipulated. You were abused and mistreated. But you didn’t do this to them. Who did?”

“Odin. Odin did this to them.”

“So, who’s the monster?”

“It’s still me. Nothing will change that. I’m still a monster.”

“Why do you think you’re a monster?”

“Because I am. Don’t you know? Surely Thor has told you?” Loki demanded. He stilled, quickly checking to make sure his outburst hadn’t woken Jor. He took a deep breath. “I’m a Jotun. A Frost Giant. They’re known for being savages and murderers and monsters.”

“How do you know? Did someone tell you about them?” Bruce queried.

“Everyone knows. For as long as I remember, the only Jotuns in stories were evil or stupid!”

“Stories told by the Asgardian parents? To their Asgardian children? That sounds a little biased if you ask me.”

“It isn’t. I’ve met them. That was why Thor was banished; he disobeyed Odin and went to Jotunheim. I have seen it with my own eyes. It’s a terrible place.”

“What did you see? Tell me about it?”

“It was a wasteland. Nothing prospered. The people lived in caves, in shadow. Their king sat upon a worthless, broken throne. Lord of nothing. It was disgusting. Part of me is glad I never grew up in such a place,” Loki told him.

“Did you see everything? The entire planet?”

“No. I know where you’re going with this, Banner.”

“Then you know that it’s stupid to judge an entire race after only seeing a small group of them. There are a lot of bad humans – terrible ones – but they don’t represent the entirety of humanity.”

“Is now really the time for this conversation?” Loki hissed, glaring at the other man. “Can we not leave my- my shortcomings alone for a night?”

“I’m sorry,” Bruce replied, sounding sincere. “But… there are a lot of things you’re going to have to face up to. And your children… Fen and Jor and Hela, they’re full siblings right? And their other parent was Ang- er- a Jotun, right?”

“I know where you’re going with this. Drop it!”

Bruce looked away, sighing. “Fine. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just… I want to help you. For your children’s sake as much as yours.”

“I appreciate your concern. But I… I just want time with my children, to not think of such things and just… be. There is much I want to tell them and teach them. Can all this discussion of lineage and- race not wait a few days?”

“All right. When you are ready to talk, just let me know… If you want. I mean, I’m sure you’d prefer to talk to your brother or someone else about it, but you can talk with me about it.”

“I will think about it. For now, it is time to rest,” Loki said.

“Right.” Bruce got to his feet, offering Loki a kind smile. “Have a good sleep, Loki.”

“Good night. And… thank you; your concern for me is appreciated.” Loki lay down, listening as Bruce departed, until silence settled over the room. The water before him rippled each time Jor moved in his sleep, and he watched it with a smile. The hum of the building, flooded with electricity and life and love, lulled him to sleep.

Chapter Text

Loki awoke to the sound of outrageous laughter and barking and whinnying and splashing. He sat up, stifling an ungodly yawn, just in time to be splashed in the face. Spitting and coughing, Loki scowled. “Who did-” he began, stopping when he saw a sheepish Peter trying to hide behind Natasha.

“Morning, Loki,” Clint greeted cheerfully. “Sleep well?”

“I slept fine. I must say, your wake up calls could use a little more… finesse,” Loki replied.

“Sorry about that,” Peter offered.

“It is fine.” Loki got to his feet, brushing himself off. Looking around, he noticed Fenrir and Sleipnir prancing around one another, seemingly trying to goad one another into jumping into the pool. “How did you get them down here?” he asked Natasha.

“Spies don’t reveal their secrets,” Natasha answered cryptically.

Loki rolled his eyes, glancing to Jor. “I suppose they’ve got you in on it too?”

My lips are sealed, father,” Jor told him. “…But may I ask a question?

“What is it?”

Why are my siblings and I so different?” Jor inclined his head towards Fenrir and Sleipnir.

“You were cursed. You and your siblings were transformed into creatures so that no one would ever know the truth. If you want me to I’ll find a way to break it. You only need to ask.”

Fenrir and Sleipnir quieted, having heard the tail end of the conversation. Fenrir gave a concerned whimper, slinking back. “Fenrir says it will hurt,” Jor said, slithering partially out of the water to nuzzle at his distressed sibling.

“I can’t promise that it won’t,” Loki admitted. He gently rubbed Fenrir’s ear, avoiding any of the still-visible sores. “Breaking curses, ending spells, they can be painful. But it is your choice how we proceed. I will not force you to do anything you do not want to.”

Sleipnir whinnied, approaching Loki. He gently pawed the ground, looking shy. “I would love you as much as I love you now,” Loki said. “You do not need to change yourself to secure my love. I will accept you however you choose to be.”

Do you truly mean that father?” Jor asked, pulling back into the water.

“I do. It is your choice whether the spell is broken or not; I cannot stress that enough,” he stroked Sleipnir’s ears softly, contemplating. “But… if you do choose to break this curse, I could always teach you to change your shape like I can. Then you could look however you like.”

You can change your shape?” Jor peeked out of the water looking interested. Loki nodded. He closed his eyes and suddenly he started to shrink. His skin turned to luminous green scales and his limbs merged with the rest of his body.

“Uh that was not what I needed to see on a Sunday morning,” Peter said.

“Yeah… Pete, let’s go, um, get some more food for the children,” Clint suggested, sounding disturbed. The two quickly filed out, not sparing a backwards glance.

“Sss-scared of a little trans-sss-formation?” Loki the Serpent said. He wriggled his way into the pool, and swam laps around his son.

“How did you say that without moving your mouth?” Natasha asked curiously, leaning forwards.

Father, you’re like an infant!” Jor exclaimed.

Regular Loki reappeared in an instant, backstroking around the pool. “I can teach you other magic as well if you like.”

Both Fenrir and Sleipnir made raucous noise of approval, leaping into the water. Natasha calmly leapt out of the way of the tidal wave they created, looking amused. Loki chuckled, swimming out of the way of his eldest son’s many legs. They swam together for a little longer before Loki, spurred on by a gesture from Natasha, pulled himself out of the pool. Running his hands over himself, he forced the water from his clothes and back into the pool. Natasha rolled her eyes, wrapping a towel around her waist. “Show off,” she murmured with a smirk.

“I’m sorry, who was it that took out a giant, mutated goldfish with a Civil War era cannon just because she could?” Loki asked innocently.

“Touché. So… now that your boys are all here, what’s our plan for getting your girl?”

“In all honesty, I do not know. She is amongst the priestesses, in an area of Asgard largely forbidden to the common people. Thor and I visited it only once when we were young, when mother had us blessed for our name day. Retrieving Jormungandr and Fenrir was a matter of force. To get to Hela would take either finesse or magic, and I cannot leave this planet to go to her,” Loki explained softly.

Natasha quirked her eyebrow at him. “You realise who you’re talking to, don’t you? I have contacts.”

“Contacts who can breach the laws of the mortal plane and reach beyond time and space?”

“Easy peasy. Give me an hour after breakfast.” Natasha stepped into the elevator, flashing Loki a thumbs up.

“I do not doubt you, Lady Natasha,” Loki murmured to himself, turning away. “But one wonders how long this streak of luck can continue to run?”

 


 

Natasha was looking particularly smug as she showed Doctor Strange into the living room, where the Avengers were waiting. “And this is Loki, the person you’re here to help. Loki, this is Doctor Stephen Strange. He’s the one I told you about.”

Doctor Strange nodded, offering a hand to Loki. “A pleasure, despite the circumstances. I would have spoken to you sooner, but SHIELD delights in placing obstructions in my way. It seems they’re still bitter about a certain incident.” He briefly glanced over to Clint and Natasha. “Oh well, no use dwelling on it. Now, what of my services do you require?”

“Natasha has told me you are well-versed in various magics?” Loki questioned, his face stony.

“Indeed. I am the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth,” Strange answered.

“Do you have knowledge of the Priestesses of Hela?”

Dr Strange stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Hmm, I take it you mean the Hela who resides over Hel, one of Asgard’s realms of the dead? Yes, I have heard of them, but information is hard to come by on anything other than their base function. They send tributes to the Death Goddess, and are her link to the living world.”

“An adequate understanding for one outside of Asgard,” Loki said, inclining his head. “There is another duty that the Priestesses perform: it is their job to seek out Hela’s future successors and raise them. They teach them the intricate magic of life and death to prepare them for the day when the current Queen resigns – or dies.” Loki waved his hand and an illusion appeared; a woman with golden hair tucked beneath a black hood held a small, blue-skinned infant swathed in grey rags. The child isn’t moving, it’s eyes glassy. Loki eyes the baby sadly. “My daughter was identified as one of Her successors, so she was sent to them by Odin.”

“The Priestesses do not allow anyone inside their temple. Unless they are looking to commit themselves to the Priesthood, or are young children seeking shelter,” Thor said.

“They care about kids?” Tony queried.

“Of course. Death takes all, regardless of age, but Hela has a certain fondness for children.”

“So, you wish to reach this temple and see your child?” Doctor Strange mused. “I suppose that is as noble a cause as any.”

“I don’t know about noble, but it is the right thing to do. This young girl was taken from her family, her siblings transformed, and her parents brutalised. It’s our duty to bring her back,” Steve said, his arms crossed over his chest. “The question is: who do we send on this mission?”

“There’s no question. We’re sending me,” Natasha replied. “This is an undercover retrieval mission. It’s what I do best.”

Steve shook his head. “I can’t send you without backup.”

“Then don’t. Hawkeye and I have run plenty of them with SHIELD.”

Loki cleared his throat, a slightly guilty look in his eyes. “I’m afraid the Hawk may be ineligible for this quest. Trace amounts of the magic of the Infinity Stone used to enslave you would be picked up by the sorcerers. They would think he was there as my servant,” he explained.

Clint sighed. “Of course.”

“I could go,” Steve offered.

“No, you already got to ride the rainbow road. I’ll go,” Tony said.

Natasha shook her head, looking over Tony’s tense posture with a critical eye. He was only offering out of pride, hoping no one would guess that the thought of going through another wormhole filled him with icy, clawing anxiety. Even if he did force himself through it, he had only just started to sleep through the night – she wasn’t going to let him undo that progress. “Your arc reactor is probably in the same boat as Clint,” she reasoned. “It’s based on the Tesseract, isn’t it?”

Tony paused. “Oh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. ‘If only it was always that easy.’

Clint clapped his hand onto Tony’s shoulder. “Looks like we’ll have to make our own fun, Stark.”

Tony grinned at him. “I have a few ideas.”

Natasha cleared her throat, glancing around. “Considering that this is a covert operation, I think there’s only one Avenger I can take with me.”

Steve narrowed his eyes and followed Natasha’s gaze. “No. Absolutely not.”

“He’s perfectly unassuming. I mean, no one thinks he’s-”

“No. We’re not putting him in that situation.”

“I volunteer!” Peter blurted. “I mean, you were talking about me, right?”

Natasha nodded. “You’re better suited for this mission. Plus, you’re young. People tend to overlook you,” she said.

Steve looked unconvinced. “Peter, you don’t have to do this. I can go. I would prefer to go.”

“This is undercover right? So, it’s not like we’re expecting me to get shot,” Peter argued. “C’mon, Captain, if I’m gonna be an Avenger, I’ve gotta pull my weight. I'm gonna be eighteen soon - old enough to be a full Avenger. I can't do that If I have no idea what I'm doing. And I'll be with Natasha. Who better to teach me the ropes of undercover operation?”

“He kinda has a point,” Clint said.

Aunt May cleared her throat, looking pointedly to Natasha. “If I may? As much as I dislike the idea of Peter going into danger, I think he does deserve a chance to prove his skills. Peter will be an adult soon, and he’s better off knowing how to handle things before he’s in hot water. I don't like it, mind you, but I understand.”

Steve considered her point before turning to Peter. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yes. Just tell me what to do,” Peter said.

Natasha walked forwards, looking him in the eyes. “Peter, this is a stealth mission in hostile territory. There’s a high chance we’ll be separated. You’ll need to be able to make decisions for yourself; and they’ll have to be the right decisions. I’ll do my best to keep you safe, but I can’t make any promises. More to the point, we’re rescuing a young girl. Depending on how she’s been treated, she may not want to come with us at all. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I get it.”

“Do you?”

“Yes, Black Widow. I understand. Just let me go get my costume on and I’ll be ready.” Peter turned to leave, only to be stopped by Loki.

“I would not suggest going in costume – at least not yours. You would stand out like a Bilgesnipe amongst in an orchard,” Loki said. “Thor and Miss Lewis have gathered together some more appropriate clothing for you. I doubt it will be comfortable, but you’ll blend in much better than you would otherwise.”

“So, while they dress, you had best run me through the magic I am supposed to perform,” Strange said. “Or am I meant to guess.”

“That is the other thing. In order for them to return, someone needs to be on their side, ready to open a portal for them. I had hoped my mother could do it herself, but since she brought Sleipnir here, Odin has been keeping a close eye on her. And since I am not allowed on Asgard…”

“You want me to go.” Strange looked thoughtful. “I suppose I must. But I will need to send word back to… my home to let them know I’ll be away.”

Loki looked relieved, tension falling away from his shoulders. “As you wish. I’ll give you a moment to send your message, and then I will show you the ritual. When you’re on the other side, you’ll have to do it in reverse.”

 


 

Peter and Natasha kept their heads down, trying not fidget under the heavy, itchy wool of their cloaks. They had arrived at a forest, not too far from the glittering lights of Asgard, where they had left Dr Strange to his own devices. He had assured them that he would be content to watch the world go by as he waited, and perhaps catch up on his reading for book club. The path to the Temple of Queen Hera was rough, winding between mountains and through tunnels dug millennia ago by creatures unknown. Neither person spoke; Peter was quiet for fear of awaking some wild animal that had a taste for Spider-Men, whereas Natasha was contemplating the plan and whether any modifications were necessary. So far, it had been as Loki told them. The map he had transcribed directly into their minds – not the most comfortable feeling in the world, though useful – had yet to lead them astray. Eventually, after two hours of walking, they came upon a gate. The stone guardians standing idle beside the entrance looked down on them, their eyes shining in the weak, grey sunlight.

“This is nice,” Peter murmured. “I've always wanted to go to Silent Hill. Oh wait, no I didn’t.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “It’s a temple for the Queen of Death. Were you expecting rainbows and cuddly animals to greet you?”

“It might've been nice to see someone break the stereotype.” Peter paused, looking around in suspicion. “Did you hear that?”

“No. Come on. The temple should be just over this hill,” Natasha replied.

“I’m serious!”

“I know you are. But it’s just a scouting party for the Priestesses, making sure we’re not raiders or bandits,” Natasha whispered. Louder, she added, “Hurry up, would you? If we want to have a chance to study under Priestess Bodil, we have to go quickly.”

“Stop where you are,” a voice commanded. A robed figure appeared on the path before them, their face unseen beneath the hood. “Identify yourselves.”

“I am Natalia. This is my younger brother Piotr. We wish to learn,” Natasha said.

The figure stared at her, unmoving, while others gathered around. Natasha kept her face passive, staring steadily back. Finally, the figure nodded and stepped aside. “Then I welcome you to the Temple of Queen Hela, keeper of the unworthy dead.”

Natasha bowed shortly. “Thank you.”

“Two of the disciples shall lead you inside, while the Priestesses and I return to our patrols. A warm meal will await you, and then you shall be taken to Priestess Bodil. I will warn you now, Bodil can see into the hearts of all beings, and should she find you possessing impure intentions, you will be cast out. Understood?”

Natasha nodded, grabbing Peter by the arm and hurrying him forwards. “Yes, thank you.”

The two disciples led them into the temple and down a winding corridor to a small dining hall. No one else was about, and the disciples left them with instructions to wait for their meal and not to stray from the room. Natasha scouted the room, finding nothing of use. Peter picked nervously at a fruit bowl, devouring several apples and pears. “So… do you think they have bathrooms in this place?” Peter asked.

Natasha rolled her eyes, sneaking over to the door. “I thought I told you to go the bathroom before we left.”

“I did!”

“You shouldn’t have had all that soda,” Natasha scolded. There was no one guarding the door, and the hallway was empty. She gestured for Peter to hurry over, checking that her guns were still well hidden and easy to reach. “Ready?”

“Sure. That shaking in my legs has nothing to do with my bladder,” Peter replied.

Natasha allowed herself a small smirk before sinking back into herself. No time for jokes now. She pulled the door open and the two of them slunk out into the hall. Haunting, rising music echoed from one end of the hallway. They headed the other direction, straining their ears for any sign of life. Natasha was counting the seconds, expecting to hear an alarm or to see armed guards marching towards them. Instead, the hallway grew colder, the haunting music replaced with silence. It seemed, for now, that luck was on their side.

“D-do we h-have any idea wha-what we’re do-doing?” Peter murmured. He rubbed his hands along his arms, wishing he had his insulated Spider-suit.

“We're looking for Hela,” Natasha told him steadily. “When we find her, we’re going to bring her to Strange, and then he’ll take us back to Earth.”

“Doesn't it concern you that our entire plan is pretty much ‘wander around and hope we’re not found’?”

“I've dealt with worse.” Natasha glanced at Peter over her shoulder, noting his discomfort. “Try thinking of something warm.”

“What do you think of?” Peter asked.

Natasha shrugged. “A desert.”

“Oh… Okay.”

“Why? What are you thinking of?”

“Just… well, you remember after our battle against that weather machine dude who wanted to freeze Manhattan? How we got back to the Tower and most of us were shivering and shaking but insisting we were fine?”

“And Aunt May insisted on giving us all blankets and hot chocolate, and we watched kids movies until we fell asleep.” Natasha smiled at the thought. The cold did little to faze her, after all her years training in the Russian winter – running barefoot along miles and miles of frozen ground, swimming across a lake while dodging ice thickets, her lungs burning from the frigid air. Still, she couldn't deny that she’d enjoyed the drink and attention that Aunt May provided. Sometimes she wondered what it would have been like to be raised in Peter’s place – maybe she would have been Spider-Woman, a carefree hero swinging through the sunlight rather than a predator stalking the night.

“Do you think Hela will listen to us?” Peter asked after a long silence.

Natasha sighed. “I honestly don’t know. She has no reason to believe us-”

Natasha grabbed Peter, pulling him back round a corner. She tucked them into the space behind an ornate statue, her hand covering his mouth. Two modestly dressed women walked passed, oblivious to their presence. One carried a tray, the remains of a meal covered by a handkerchief. Natasha waited for their footsteps to fade before she crept out from the shadows. She led Peter forward with a wave of the hand, pointing to the door the servants had emerged from. It was plain, coloured the same as the stone walls. It was as though the Priestesses were hoping no one would notice it.

The door opened easily, without a sound, and the marching feet of steel boots echoed behind them. They slipped into the room, closing the door with a solid snap. The room wasn’t large, containing a bed, a wardrobe, and a washbasin. A girl blinked wearily at them, propped up on ancient-looking pillows. She looked to be in her early teens, if a little thinner than most. Her hair was dark, cropped to her earlobes, and her eyes a glowing red. But her skin was the most eye-catching, the colour of a summer sky, crisscrossed with deep lines that meant something long forgotten. “Are you here to kill me?” she asked quietly.

“What? No! Why would we want to kill you?” Peter replied, moving forward.

Hela was silent. Natasha stepped forward, lowering her hood. “Hela? My name is Natasha. This is Peter. We’re friends of your father, Loki.”

Hela tilted her head and frowned. “I… But the Priestesses said…” Hela’s frown turned vicious, glaring at the two of them. “You’re trying to trick me! You want to hurt me- Or kidnap me!”

“Hela, I swear to you, we are not here to hurt you, and we’re not trying to trick you. We only want to offer you a chance to go to your father.”

“What proof do you have?!” Hela demanded.

Peter reached into his pocket and brought out a small hand mirror, holding it up to show Hela. The surface flickered, running like molten earth. Loki’s face appeared, though it was his Jotun self rather than Odin’s illusion. “Hela. I know I have much to explain, and I promise I will. But please believe me: I am your father. And Natasha and Peter are here to ask you something important. If- If you want to, they can bring you to Midgard. That’s where I am. I… I’m so sorry I haven’t been there for you. Please, give me a chance.”

Hela took the mirror, running her fingers across Loki’s image. After a minute of quiet contemplation, she nodded. “Okay. A chance. That sounds good.” She looked to Natasha and Peter. “However you got in, they will have noticed that you are not where you are supposed to be. They will come to check on me, but I can protect you. You must hide though. My magic only goes so far.”

“Thank you,” Natasha said. She moved towards the wardrobe, while Peter sidled under the bed, complaining under his breath.

A harsh knock rattled the door, and a voice called, “Hela? May we come in?”

Hela lay back against her pillows, her face falling into a blank, withdrawn stare. “I allow you entrance.”

A handful of guards shamble in, glancing around at the room. The lead guard stepped toward Hela, briefly placing her hand on her chest and bowing her head. “Hela, are you alright? We have reports that there are two imposters within the Temple. We fear they may be after you.”

“I am unharmed. Am I allowed to stay within my room?”

“You may. I will leave two guards outside your room. You need only call them.” The guard bowed again and led the others out.

Hela slowly sat up, reaching over to grab a crude pair of crutches leaning against the wall. She pulled herself out of the bed, while Natasha and Peter came out of hiding. Peter gestured towards the door, with a ‘what do we do now?’ look. Hela brought them over to a blank wall, and tapped it gently. Her hand glowed briefly, the colour seeping into the stone. It shifted, gliding silently away and leaving a smooth tunnel behind.

“How long have you had this?” Peter whispered.

“For as long as I've not been allowed to go outside.” Hela lifted her hand towards her bed, and an illusion shimmered into being. Hela waved goodbye to the image, before leading Peter and Natasha into the tunnel. “The illusion will not last for long, but it will give us some time.”

“Thanks for giving us a chance, Hela. Your dad’s gonna be glad to see you,” Peter said.

Hela nodded. “I would hope so, or else this would be pointless.”

“You look a lot like him.” Peter fidgeted, shivering again. “You also freeze a room like him.”

“My apologies. It is an unfortunate side-effect of my heritage.” Hera shifted, turning to study Peter. “You are a mortal?”

“Er, yes. I'm a human, from Earth,” Peter said.

“Strange. You seem different to other mortal souls I have seen,” Hela said. “How did you come to meet my father?”

“Well, I'm, like, a Junior Avenger, and Loki is one of the actual Avengers so… We go on patrol together from time to time.”

“Avengers? Is that some sort of army?”

“No. We’re superheroes. It’s – I’ll explain when we get to Earth. It’ll be easier there.”

After nearly two hours, they came to a rough circle cut into the stone, just large enough to squeeze out. They emerged at the base of the mountain, their exit hidden by an outcropping of rock. The forest where Doctor Strange waited could be seen in the far distance. Beyond them, the weak light of sunset streamed over the mountains. Hela sighed, looking over her shoulder. “I feel… saddened. As much as I disliked being separated for the world, this was my home. Am I wrong to abandon it?”

Natasha placed a gentle hand on Hela’s shoulder. “You aren't being ungrateful. It isn't wrong to want to see your father, or to have a life beyond what you've been told to do. You deserve to have a choice. We won't force you to come with us, but you don't have to stay either.”

Hela considered Natasha for a moment, before nodding. “I want to go to Midgard. I want to see my father – to find out what kind of person he is.”

“Then we will make sure of it,” Natasha promised. In the distance, bells rang wildly. “I think we need to get moving. Hela, would you be against letting Peter carry you?”

“I will allow it,” Hela said and dropped her crutches. With Natasha’s help, Hela climbed onto Peter’s back. Natasha led the way down the path.

“How do we know they won’t spot us?” Peter asked.

“I can provide some cover, but it won’t fool them for long. Nightfall isn't far away. We’ll have better cover then,” Hela said.

Quietly, they slipped away, the world around them growing darker with each step. When they reached the forest, a moon – golden and large and very much unlike their own – was hanging high in the sky and the stars shone without restraint. Doctor Strange was waiting for them, sitting beside a hillock, having summoned a small fire to keep himself warm. “Welcome back, adventurers. How did it go?” he asked, getting to his feet.

Peter turned so that Hela could be seen, peering at Strange with curiosity. “You have magic,” she stated. “Are you a sorcerer?”

Doctor Strange bowed in a smooth, sweeping motion. “Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, at your service. Your father enlisted my help to transport you back to Earth.”

Hela nodded, frowning. “Is it all right if I rest a moment? The illusions have left me tired.”

Strange traded looks with Natasha, before nodding. “Take your time. I shall prepare the spell.”

Peter and Natasha lowered Hera to the ground, where she sat looking contemplative. Peter sat beside her, offering her his fur overcoat. Natasha leant against a tree, allowing herself to breathe. She noticed Hela’s troubled expression. “Something wrong?”

“My father… Loki. They say he- he tried to kill the Jotuns.”

“He did.”

“So… Why would he want me? Surely he must know what I am?”

Natasha sighed. “It’s… complicated. Loki is a Jotun, but he didn’t know until very recently. Ever since he was a kid, he was taught that Jotuns are monsters. Bad things that are to be hated and hunted. He spent his childhood believing it, and listening to how they were defeated by the bright and glorious Asgard. When he found out he was one of them, he couldn’t handle it. He thought that by killing them all, he could prove something to Asgard – to his father.”

“What Loki did was wrong, and he’s starting to realise it. But it’s hard to unlearn those kinds of things,” Peter explained. “But he’s getting there. I’m sure meeting you will help.”

“What if he hates me?” Hela asked quietly.

“He won’t. He loves your brothers, no matter what, and he’ll love you just the same.”

Hela’s mouth fell open, her eyes wide. “Brothers?”

“Oh, yeah. You have two brothers and one half-brother. Sleipnir is the oldest, then Jormungandr, and then Fenrir. I can introduce you when we get to the Tower,” Peter said.

Hela smiled. “That sounds nice. But… cursed?”

“You’ll see when we get there.” Natasha stood up, looking to Strange. “Ready?”

Strange nodded and stood straight, his hands aloft. He chanted softly, his eyes focused on empty air. Light appeared, spiralling into existence, bringing with it a warm wind. The portal opened like a window, the rooftop of Avengers Tower clearly visible. Peter picked up Hela and stepped forward, waiting for the signal. Strange brought his hands together, delivering the last line as a shout. The portal stabilised, taking root in the world. Peter was first through with Hela, followed by Natasha. Doctor Strange made a complex motion before stepping through, the portal collapsing behind him.

Chapter Text

Loki stood on top of Avengers Tower, watching the cloud-covered sky. He had spent the week with his children – Hela had taken to her brothers with great glee, though it was taking time for her to warm up to Loki. Not that she was afraid of him, but she had many preconceived notions about him that the Priestesses had done nothing to discourage. Every spare moment he had was spent researching, looking for a way to undo the spell. He had even asked the Midgardian sorcerers for help. That had, admittedly, been a sign of desperation, as none of them knew anything useful about Asgardian magic. Now he had exhausted every possible resource, and he had to tell himself that it was impossible. There was no way to help his children. He couldn’t help his children. There was no way for him to fight the Allfather – no way to fight his wishes.

“Why?” Loki choked out, his eyes watering. “Why couldn’t you have just killed me? Why didn’t you just drive your spear through me? What was one more Jotun child killed on your orders?”

The sky didn’t respond. But Loki continued anyway.

“Why my children? Why couldn’t you just kill me and leave my children alone?! They were babies! They were innocent! You always talked about law and justice and honour – where is the honour in harming children? Where is your honour, Odin? Your justice?”

The sky above him opened at that moment, and the rain fell like needles. Thunder and lightning clashed, but he paid it no mind. He was set upon releasing his words into the air. If he was cursed to speak the truth, then Odin was cursed to hear it.

“Thor was right! You are a fool. It has taken me so long to see that, but now I have. I have spent so many years hoping to prove my worth to you. I wanted you to love me so badly. I wanted, just once, to be your favoured son. But now? Now it’s your turn! Now it is my love that must be won. I am the one who has been disappointed. It is my anger that must be appeased.”

Loki took a deep breath, turning away. He walked to the other edge, looking out over New York – not as a conqueror or an invader, but as an inhabitant. People were bustling about with their usual fervour. As much as he looked down on them – a god’s mind is not changed with ease after all – Loki couldn’t help but admire their dedication and stubbornness in the face of giant monsters and super-villains.

“I have found a place for myself and my children. A family. But… I find myself once again thrown upon your mercy. And… I. I beg you… take anything you like of me – my life, my mind, my free will – but please… free my children. Give them back their lives. Their choice. Please. If there was ever one minute of love for me in your life, please grant me this. Please, Odin. I only want their happiness. Do what you like to me, but give them their freedom. Please.”

Breathing heavily, he sat down. His face felt sore and red, and his chest had been heaving for most of his rant. But he did feel better, even if he had accomplished nothing. Loki nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand land on his shoulder. Steve gave him an apologetic smile, his umbrella keeping the rain off them.

“I promise I wasn’t eavesdropping,” he said. He helped Loki to his feet, grimacing at his water-soaked clothes. “We’d better get you inside before you catch your death of cold.”

Loki shook his head. “Was that a joke, Steven?”

Steve let out a chuckle. “Sorry. Didn’t mean it… like that. It’s just something humans say. But still. You shouldn’t be out here by yourself.”

Loki resisted Steve’s gentle nudging, stepping back into the downpour. “I’m having a conversation with… Odin.”

“Oh. Are you winning?”

“I don’t think that’s possible.” Loki sighed, pushing his hair back from his face. “Do you think me pathetic?”

“No. You’re just venting, Loki. It’s understandable. I won’t tell you how many punching bags I broke trying to… Yeah. But I think it’s time to go inside now.”

Loki nodded. He paused, wrapping his arms around himself. “I… I don’t want Thor to see.”

“You can come down to my floor and dry off. I’ve got some chicken soup cooking.”

“Did Jarvis tell you I was up here?” Loki asked as they left the roof. Jarvis was quiet when they got into the elevator, confirming Loki’s suspicions.

“Well, he might have given me a couple clues.”

“I thought you might need companionship,” Jarvis added.

“Thank you, Jarvis. You were… correct.” Loki leant against the wall of the elevator, playing with the strings of his sweatshirt. “How am I going to tell them I can’t undo it?”

“They know you’re doing everything you can, Loki.”

“And I failed them. What does that say about me?”

“I think it says more good things than you think,” Steve replied. He stepped out of the elevator, leading Loki into his kitchen. A pot was bubbling on the stove and Steve spent a few minutes making sure he hadn’t burned anything. Loki took a seat at the breakfast bar, his stomach rumbling as the heavy, warm scent filled the air. “Loki… I want you to know you’re not alone, okay? We’re here. And we’ll do anything to help you.” Steve looked up from where he was pulling down bowls and fresh bread rolls, fixing Loki with a look of pure sincerity.

“I know,” Loki said, because you couldn’t respond to an expression like that with anything other than heartfelt honesty. “You have all been so kind. I know it frustrates Thor to no end. He and his friends have pursued many avenues, looking for something that might help, only to find dead ends.”

You’ve nearly turned yourself inside out to find a solution,” Steve pointed out. “You’re the one who spent hours researching those avenues until your eyes had practically pasted themselves shut. How much sleep have you gotten this week?”

“I do not require as much sleep as mortals,” Loki began tiredly.

“They’re worried about you.”

Loki blinked, frowning. “And they would be?”

“Your children. They’re very perceptive, Loki. They know you’re half-killing yourself trying every spell you know and even ones you don’t. They won’t blame you if you can’t undo it. They know it’s not your fault.” Steve set down two bowls of steaming hot soup and a plate of bread and butter. He sat next to Loki, digging into his own meal.

Loki looked into his, frowning thoughtfully. “I did not know I was causing them such concern. But… I can’t help but feel I’m responsible. And don’t try to say that it isn’t. My actions led to this. Even if I didn’t do it, I had a hand it.”

“If that’s what you want to think,” Steve said.

They lapsed into silence, finishing their meal. Loki helped Steve clean up afterwards without complaint, and then fell asleep on the couch watching a documentary about Vincent Van Gogh. He slept soundly, not even noticing when Steve moved him into a guest bedroom.

 


 

Loki awoke groggy and confused, looking around the unfamiliar room. Weak light was streaming through the window, dawn breaking over the city of New York. He lay still, letting his brain kick in. Normally Jarvis would tell him where he was, the date, the location of his children and Thor, the top news of the day, that sort of thing. But the AI was silent. Loki frowned, uneasiness gripping his stomach. He sat up, calling his magic to pool in his hands. It wouldn’t.

The ravens perched on the dresser eyed him with contempt. Hugin and Munin cawed in tandem, stretching out their massive wings. Loki let out a small whimper, staring down the two creatures who had given him nightmares as a child. He tried to cautiously scoot back, but one of the ravens let out a sharp caw that stopped him in his tracks.

“What- What do you want from me?”

The birds opened their beaks impossibly wide, giving him a good view of their teeth-lined throats. And then, from seemingly far away, he heard it. “Loki.”

“O- Odin? Why… What is this?”

“I am angered, Loki. I had hoped your time on Midgard would have shown you humility and wisdom. Instead, you continue to commit transgressions. You have even corrupted Midgard’s so-called heroes to help you with your crimes.”

“You had hoped I would become weak and submissive!” Loki fired back, his anger overriding his fear. “I no longer fear you, so you’ve sent your birds to intimidate me. But it won’t work. You’re on Asgard, I’m on Midgard. Not even you are stupid enough to try to invade. I am, technically, under the protection of the Avengers and SHIELD. Your favourite son as well. And they know what you did. To me, my children, to Sigyn – anyone who got in the way of your master plan. I have not corrupted them; I have enlightened them to your schemes!”

“I did what was best for you! You made mistakes and I cleaned them up. And this is how you repay me? Defying my wishes? I had hoped you might be able to return to Asgard one day. But now I see that you cannot be redeemed. I will send Heimdall – he will end your suffering.”

Loki awoke with an angered yell, glaring at the dresser. There was no sign of the ravens. He pulled himself out of the bed, falling when his legs tangled in the bed sheet. Steve appeared at the door, rumpled but wide-awake. “Loki? What’s wrong?” he asked, helping the god to his feet.

“I- I don’t. Odin. Odin was here. He sent his ravens and-” Steve caught Loki

“Jarvis?”

“I have registered no sign of intruders,” Jarvis answered. “Should I alert Thor?”

“Just… ask him to come down.” Steve led Loki out to the living room and sat him in an overstuffed armchair, the one Clint had tried to steal for several weeks. “Loki, are you okay?”

Loki shook his head, curling up in the chair. “It… I believe it was not a simple dream. Odin said… he was going to send Heimdall. To end my suffering. He sent his ravens to deliver the message.”

Steve frowned, pulling out a plastic card. It was Tony’s new ‘toy’ that he had gifted the team with. A membership cards of sorts, which came with a panic button and a GPS. Steve pressed the glossy ‘A’ at the centre of the card. He fetched Loki a glass of water, and the god held it awkwardly to his chest, looking into it as though he might divine his fate in its surface. “Jarvis? Activate shutdown protocols – minimum security. Code 0062. Possible hostiles en route.”

“Minimum security protocols activated,” Jarvis intoned, losing his usual warmth. “The Avengers have received your alert and have reported that they are on their way. Sif and the Warrior’s Three have received your alert, but have reported that they are a day away. SHIELD have been alerted, but have not responded. The National Security Agency has been alerted, and they are relaying instructions to Police Precincts in New York City.”

Steve nodded, turning to Loki. “Will you be okay while I suit up? The others should be here soon.”

Loki nodded. He waited until Steve was out of sight before setting down his glass, looking up at the ceiling. “Are my children all right, Jarvis?” Loki asked, sounding as tired as he looked.

“Hela, Fenrir, and Sleipnir have been brought to Jormungandr’s room, and are watching the Little Mermaid. They have had food delivered to them and Peter is watching over them.”

Loki sighed in relief. “That is good. They like Peter.”

Thor arrived first, Mjolnir strapped to his belt. His brow was furrowed in worry, and it worsened when he saw his brother. “What has happened?”

“Odin spoke to him. He’s sending Heimdall,” Steve explained. His cowl was down, but otherwise he looked prepared for a lengthy battle.

There was a long pause as Thor visibly fought his desire to destroy something. Eventually, his hands shaking, he nodded. “I will contact Jane and ask her to look for any signs of the Bifrost. Sif and-”

“Are on standby. They are making their way back, but at their current speed, they will not arrive for one day,” Jarvis told him.

“SHIELD still not responded?” Steve called, tightening a strap as he made his way back.

“No. I have sent a message to Director Fury, as well as Agent Hill and Coulson. I will inform you when they send a reply.”

The remaining Avengers filed in, nearly tripping over each other. Steve filled them in, speaking in grim, clipped tones. “A message has been sent to Jane Foster, so hopefully she’ll be able to give us some warning.”

“What’s the plan?” Clint asked.

“Haven’t had the time to come up with one.” Steve turned to look at Loki. “Anything you can tell us? When he’ll get here, where he’ll show up, weapons?”

Loki nodded, getting to his feet. He raised his hands, projecting an image of Heimdall. “He’s the gatekeeper of the Bifrost. He is all seeing and all knowing. He wields Hofund, a sword of Dwarven origin, which acts as the key of the Bifrost. He is equal in might to most Asgardians, including Thor. But he’s only one man, if you were to work in tandem you could keep him distracted.”

“Distracted? Shouldn’t we, you know, look into defeating him completely?” Tony said.

Thor shifted uncomfortably. “I do not… Heimdall is sworn to be faithful to Odin. He must trust in his orders. I… I do not wish to kill him. But if we hold him back, perhaps he will tire enough that we could find another way.”

“I never thought I’d see the day where you were the one suggesting non-violence,” Loki said drily.

“Okay. Natasha, can you get in contact with Doctor Strange? Tony, see if the Fantastic Four are in town, and ask them to be on standby. If this guy is on level with Thor, we’re gonna need as much help as we can,” Steve ordered. Natasha excused herself whereas Tony flipped down his faceplate. Steve rubbed his head, sighing. “Thor, I know you’re not going to like this but-”

“I shall remain by Loki’s side,” Thor said solemnly. “We will go elsewhere, so that Heimdall shall not reach you so easily.”

“What? Thor, no! I am the cause of this; I won’t let them face Heimdall by themselves!” Loki barked, whirling to stare at his brother. “I will not wait like some fainthearted wretch in my lonesome tower! Without you, without us, they will perish.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Clint snarked.

Loki glared. “I assure you it is not a comment on your abilities – it is a fact. There is a reason few have ever breached Asgard, and none have done so without being half-killed.”

“Loki is correct. Heimdall is one of the fiercest warriors Asgard possesses,” Thor said, his expression grave. “Little can deter him from his task… But if we are to be there Loki, you must remain hidden. We cannot allow him to get near you.”

“Of course,” Loki replied, looking to his feet. “I can do that.”

Thor looked like he might press the issue, but was interrupted by Jane Foster’s voice filtering through Jarvis’s speakers. “Thor? I’m picking up signs of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge over Central Park. It started fluctuating a few minutes ago, but it’s getting stronger every minute.”

“Then we don’t have much time. Jarvis, keep us updated and relay relevant information to the police. Avengers, meet at the Quinjet – we’re heading for Central Park,” Steve ordered, pulling his cowl over his face. The Avengers followed him out, rushing as fast as they could go. Natasha drew level with Steve, giving him a nod.

 


 

Heimdall stepped onto Earth, Hofund clutched in his hands. Thor stood before him, the Avengers at his side. Heimdall scanned the area, looking for his target. “It is good of you to meet me here, despite what I must do, Thor,” he said.

“We are not here to welcome you. I cannot let you do this. Loki has done nothing to deserve this. He has followed the terms of his banishment,” Thor called back.

“It appears King Odin does not share your thoughts. I have been instructed to end Loki’s corruption of this planet.”

“You see all in this universe, Heimdall. You know Odin’s words are not true. We are not corrupted. Surely you would not have helped my mother if you believed Odin,” Thor said.

Heimdall walked forwards, stopping only when Clint drew an arrow. “I have been reminded of my duties. My beliefs do not matter – I am sworn to follow Odin’s orders. I am sorry, but I must do as I am bid.”

“I forgive you old friend. I hope you can offer me the same.”

Clint loosed an arrow, aiming for the opening at Heimdall’s neck. The Asgardian caught the arrow with ease, snapping it in half. The arrowhead beeped once before emitting a flume of acidic smoke. “They always fall for that,” Clint murmured, grinning at Natasha.

Thor took advantage of the smoke to fly forwards and swing Mjolnir into Heimdall’s stomach. Tony shot upwards, hovering in place as Heimdall threw Thor across the park. Clint aimed for the god’s feet, releasing more smoke. Heimdall dived out of the way, avoiding Steve’s shield throw by inches. He deflected the next barrage of arrows, grabbing a bench and slinging it towards Clint. Natasha slunk up behind, her Bites charging up. She latched onto Heimdall’s neck, the electricity spitting and sparking as it lanced through his skin. He shook her off, shouting angrily, and she landed smoothly. Before he could advance towards her, she pulled out her guns and fired at his chest. He deflected the bullets with his sword, cringing at the sound.

“Enough!” Thor cried, bringing Mjolnir down at Heimdall’s feet. The god was flung back, smacking into a tree. “You cannot defeat us! Give up now.”

Heimdall dropped to his feet, hefting Hofund into the air. The blade was lit with eerie blue flame, and he whirled it towards Clint – the most exposed of the group. A beastly roar signalled the arrival of the Hulk, who leapt in front of his teammate and swiped at the fire. Clint showed his gratitude by hitting Heimdall square on the helm, this particular arrow unleashing a sticky, viscous substance. The gatekeeper set fire to it, burning it off his armour. Thor returned with a harsh upswing, knocking him forward just as Tony swooped down and plucked Heimdall from the earth. The pair struggled, climbing higher and higher in altitude. Tony dug his fingers in, ignoring the various warnings Jarvis was rattling off. “This isn’t anything personal. I just don’t like it when my resident magical god gets threatened,” he grunted. “It takes forever to bond with them, you know?”

Heimdall grabbed at the body of the Iron Man armour and began to squeeze, the metal slowly giving way. He tore at Tony’s hands, managing to strip away the gauntlet. He let the pieces fall to the earth, the suit flashing red as alerts screamed. “I understand,” he said.

Tony shrieked as the metal encompassing his chest started to cave in, shattering and bending and squealing. A jagged piece broke off, slicing into his side. He let go of Heimdall to grasp his side, and the god dropped like a stone, snagging several important looking wires on his way. Tony plummeted, cart wheeling through the air as he desperately tried to regain control. Hulk caught him, carrying Tony off to the sideline.

Cap bounced his shield into Heimdall’s head, the metal singing from the collision, and the Asgardian flinched. Thor called down a stream of lightning, swirling Mjolnir through the air as it crackled and popped. He directed it at Heimdall, knocking him off his feet. Clint chimed in with a trio of sonic-scream arrows directly near his head. Heimdall yelled out in agony, gripping his ears as he scrabbled away from the noise. “Super-senses, super-sensitive!” Clint yelled to Steve in explanation.

Hulk seemed to have the same idea, charging at Heimdall with an ear-splitting roar. He cornered the god, punching him in the chest, making his armour ring like a gong. He continued pummelling the warrior, nearly embedding him into the dirt. “Enough!” Heimdall said, lashing out at the Hulk with his sword. Hulk leapt away, one hand covering his injured chest. Heimdall got to his feet, panting, his armour dented. “I have had enough. Loki, come forth and face me!” he intoned, his voice carrying far further than it should have. He slammed his sword into the earth, and the few Avengers still standing were thrown back. Natasha tried to grab onto a pole, but missed by centimetres and collided with a bench. Clint was whipped into a tree, falling to the ground with a sickening crack. Steve flipped end over end, landing roughly in a heap.

Thor stumbled, but remained on his feet. He took a step forward, but was stopped by a hand on his chest. Loki materialised next to him, looking tired beneath his armour. “Brother… perhaps it is for-”

No. Loki, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. You need not make a foolish sacrifice,” Thor snapped.

Heimdall launched himself towards Loki, snarling. Thor met him in mid air, only to be tossed aside. A net of flame crisscrossed over his body, no doubt a distraction to keep him out of the way. Loki began to glow as he tried to teleport himself away, but Heimdall grabbed hold of his wrist. The trickster screamed, driven to his knees as though the contact burned. He thrashed his way to the ground, trying to break away from Heimdall’s grip. But Heimdall merely tightened his hold and bent down to look Loki in the eyes. “Odin has granted me power, Loki, so that your tricks cannot get the best of me. And now, I can see you,” Heimdall told him, staring down impassively at Loki’s twitching form. He let go of the god, taking his sword in two hands. “Even if you were to run from me, you could not hide. With this blow, I declare the battle over.”

“It has only just begun!” a voice retorted. Perched on the wing of the Quinjet were Sif and the Warriors Three, looking extra dashing as the wind whipped their hair. They leapt to the ground, and Loki seized the chance to disappear. “This is truly unjust, Heimdall. Your foe is not even armed. Have you no honour as a warrior?” Sif called, unsheathing her sword.

Hogun split off from the rest of the group, circling round to stand between Heimdall and Thor. Volstagg and Fandral followed suit, each taking a point around the Watcher. He glared at them. “This is not about honour! This is duty. This is loyalty. I do what I am bid by my King. But you will understand, one day. Assist me now, and Odin shall allow you to return home.”

“To a prison cell? I think not!” Fandral called. “C’mon, enough stalling.”

Sif was the first forward, her sword clanging against Heimdall’s. He threw her back using all his weight, only for his attention to be occupied by Hogun.  Volstagg went to Thor’s side, helping him untangle himself from the net. “Thank you, friend. I cannot tell you how glad I am that you made it, but how?” Thor asked.

“You’re friend, the Son of Coul, was kind enough to give us a lift,” Volstagg said, pointing to where the Quinjet was hovering. Coulson waved from the co-pilot’s seat.

Thor grinned, and tightened his grip on Mjolnir. His grin was wiped away when Heimdall once again threw off his attackers and slammed his sword into the ground. He reached into a small pouch tied at his waist, pulling out a handful of dark powder. “I had hoped I would not have to use this,” he said, his tone grave. He tossed the powder onto the ground, and the minute it hit dark figures started to rise up.

“Shadow sand,” Volstagg whispered in horror.

“What’s shadow sand?” Steve asked, bruises forming on his forehead. No doubt they’d be gone by the time he woke up tomorrow. Behind him, Natasha and Clint were hurriedly trying to stop Tony from bleeding out.

“It creates an echo of its foe,” Thor said. The dark sand shaped itself into a perfect copy of Sif, pulling out a sword of its own. Heimdall threw down more sand, emptying the pouch, creating a double for each of the Avengers and the warriors.

Steve grimaced, glancing back at his teammates. Clint was holding one arm at an awkward angle, his other stained red where it pressed to Tony’s chest. Natasha’s head had several cuts crisscrossing it, blood pouring from her nose and the corners of her mouth. And Tony… Steve gestured to Hulk, who bent down and focused on listening. “Hulk, I need you to take Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Iron Man to safety. I know it’s not smashing, but you’re the only one I can trust right now. Do you understand?”

Hulk looked into Steve’s eyes, frowning. Slowly, he nodded. “I… under… stand.” He loped over to where the others were huddled and, with a remarkable amount of care that few would have expected, lifted them into his arms. He waited patiently for them to settle themselves, sporting a stern look that brooked no argument, and then took off towards the swarm of SHIELD agents who had – finally – turned up.

When Steve turned around, he was met with a dark, glassy shield spinning straight at his face. Jumping to the side, he rolled, ducked and dodged a barrage of familiar attacks. His doppelganger, as well as Natasha’s and Tony’s, was slowly marching towards him. In the background, he was vaguely aware that Thor, Sif, and the Warrior’s Three were fighting against their own doubles. He couldn’t see Clint’s though. A ground-shaking roar made his ears ring, and he was seized by a giant hand. He struggled desperately, images of being ripped in half flashing through his mind. “Let go, let go,” he shouted, pulling at the thick, green fingers.

“Stop that,” Hulk growled. He set Steve on his shoulder and slammed his other fist onto the shadow copies. He snorted derisively as they crumbled into the grass. “Weak.”

“Nice job, Hulk. Now where did Heimdall go?” Steve asked.

Hulk pointed to where Heimdall stood, fixated on a specific spot in the air. He began to charge, his growls carrying across the battlefield. A black arrow hit the ground in front of him, a cloud of bees coming to life. They swarmed towards Hulk, stinging every piece of exposed flesh that they could get to. He flailed his arms as he tried desperately to keep them away, crying in pain as a thousand tiny barbs pierced his skin. Steve was thrown to the ground and Hulk ran for a nearby fountain, chased by the dark, buzzing cloud.

“Captain!” Sif shouted, ducking a sword. She threw herself across him as a giant, shadowy hammer was swung at the small of his back. A small gasp escaped her before she pushed herself up, catching her sword against the hammer. The Thor doppelganger struggled against her, silent, glaring at them with hollow eyes. “Where’s Thor?” Sif asked breathlessly.

Steve dodged several blows, scanning the area. He paled when he realised where Thor was. Heimdall had the blond in a headlock, his sword forgotten on the ground. Thor was far too still. Mjolnir was far from his hands. Steve raced forwards, settling his shield in front of him. An arrow buzzed by his head and a sword bounced off his shield, but he paid them no mind. Before he could reach them, though, a massive black hand swatted at him, sending Steve flying. He tumbled to the earth, feeling his bones rattle and a strange, foggy hum in the back of his mind. The figure loomed over him, blocking out the sky.

“It’s clobbering time!” a voice yelled. An orange blur burst through his vision, colliding with the dark form. The pair fell away, grappling against one another.

A hand appeared in front of him. “Need some help?” Susan Storm asked, pulling him onto his feet.

“Thanks,” Steve said. He whirled round to where Heimdall had been throttling Thor, only to find Reed restraining the Watcher. “I can’t say how good it is to see you.”

Sue smiled, one hand lifting to idly block the remains of a lamppost that was hurled at them. “It’s no trouble, Steve. Anything for my brother’s doppelganger.”

Steve grinned. Behind them, Johnny was circling the remaining shadow sand clones. He whirled around them at breakneck speed. When he finished, the doubles had been turned to glass. He stepped back, eying his handiwork. Steve shook his head, still not used to seeing his face outside of a mirror, and headed to Thor’s side. Loki was kneeling over his brother, a healing stone pressed over his heart. “He okay?” Steve asked.

“He’ll be fine. Just stunned. I’ve sent Volstagg with some healing stones to the others.” Loki looked over his shoulder, watching Heimdall suspiciously. “He’s too quiet. I didn’t think it would be this easy.”

“I wouldn’t call Tony almost dying ‘easy’,” Steve said.

“But he didn’t die. I’ve never heard of anyone walking away from a battle with the Watcher,” Loki said.

“Maybe he got tired,” Johnny said.

Loki snorted, casting a dark look in his direction. “He watches over all of Asgard, never ceasing, never sleeping. It’s unlikely he just got tired.”

“Hey, everyone needs a vacation. This one time I got invited on the Playboy private jet and let me tell you, those bunnies know how to party. That Jacuzzi didn’t know what hit it,” Johnny said.

“It’s strange. Looking at him, I see the Captain. Listening to him, I hear Stark,” Sif mused.

Johnny threw his arm around Steve, shooting her a winning smile. “My brother from another mother, right Stevie?”

Ben stomped over, rolling his eyes at Johnny. He nodded to the Asgardians. “Ben Grimm, how do you do?”

Neither Sif nor the Warriors seemed sure of what to do, though Fandral was the first to offer a weak handshake. Ben shrugged and headed to Reed’s side. Sif turned towards Steve, brow furrowed. “I am becoming more impressed with Midgard the longer I stay here.”

“You’re impressed by Ben? Low standards much?” Johnny said loudly. Ben tossed a rock at him.

“Sif, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg’s over there,” Steve said, pointing to each person in turn. “This is Sue, Johnny, Reed, and Ben. They’re the Fantastic Four.”

Reed stretched his hand over, shaking each of the Asgardian’s hands. “It’s lucky you caught us when you did. We were just considering an inter-dimensional trip.”

“You say that like it’s a vacation to the Bahamas,” Clint quipped. He had been stripped of his shirt so that the attendants could check his ribs, and his arm, head, and left foot had various bandages covering them, but he was grinning. A luminous green stone was sitting in the crook of his arm.

“Clint, you should be resting,” Steve began, but Clint waved him away.

“Hey, I got the stone. I’m fine.” Clint jerked his head towards the congregation of SHIELD agents, who were joined by police cruisers and fire trucks. “They’re taking Tony to hospital. Make sure nothing important got severed. He and Nat went together – she may have a concussion. How’s Thor?”

“I am fine,” Thor said weakly, sitting up. He took the healing stone from Loki and pressed it to his forehead. He accepted Volstagg’s help in getting to his feet. “Thank you my friends. If it were in my power, I would find all of you worthy to wield Mjolnir.”

“Sweet. I’m gonna put it on top of Ben’s car.”

“Johnny no,” Sue said with a tired eye roll. “So you’re going to explain, preferably over coffee, what this was all about.”

Before they could plan further, a beam of light hit the earth. The Bifrost widened, a figure appearing within it. Thor summoned Mjolnir, moving to the front while those able raised their weapons. Frigga stepped forward, a golden spear glinting in her hands. A helm sat upon her head, giving off an aura of power. “Hello, my son. Lower your weapon. I come in the interest of righting wrongs.”

“Mother? You have Gungir. And Odin’s helm,” Thor said.

“Your father has fallen into the Odin-sleep. I have taken over as ruler,” Frigga explained. She looked over to where Heimdall was restrained, meeting his eyes. “I rescind Odin’s previous order. You are to return to your duties guarding the Bifrost.”

Heimdall bowed his head, and Reed cautiously unwrapped. Loki stepped forward, looking to his mother. “You didn’t… Not for me…”

“I did what was good for Asgard,” Frigga replied. “And if my sons and grandchildren happen to benefit from that decision, then it is no one’s business.”

“Royalty for the win,” Johnny exclaimed, offering Frigga his palm. “C’mon, Queenie, don’t leave me hanging.”

Frigga tapped her hand against his in amusement, while her sons varied between loud, bellowing laughs and spitting in outrage. She turned her attention to Loki, smiling. “And, now, I think I should see to my grandchildren.”

The colour in Loki’s face changed from a blotchy red to a stark white in a matter of seconds. His mouth hung open, as it hit him that – after all these months of worry and stress – it was over. If Gungir had been the one to cast the magic, it was the one to undo it. His children would be free. He would be free to live with them, without worry of annihilation from above. Thor seized him about the waist, his laughter infectious, and swung his brother around. For once Loki didn’t want to curse him.

 


 

The children were gathered nervously in Jormungandr’s room, eying their grandmother warily. Though Hela didn’t require a curse to be broken, she stood with her brothers in solidarity. The Avengers, even Tony and Natasha, Coulson, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange and his wife, and the Warriors Four were standing behind her, offering the children encouraging smiles. Loki beckoned them forward, smiling widely. Frigga inclined her head to them, holding her arms open. “My grandchildren, today is a day you are granted the freedom you so rightly deserve. Today, you will walk your own path, and pursue your own desires. But first,” she laid a hand on Loki’s forehead. “Loki, my son. You were banished to this planet for your crimes. Curses were laid upon you to ensure your compliance. In light of the changes this planet has made to you, I remove the Mark of Truth from your tongue, and the bindings that tie you to Thor. Now it is your love and brotherhood that keeps you together, not magic. I appoint you, Loki Friggason, and you, Thor Friggason, guardians of Midgard. But… you may return home whenever you wish. You, your children, and your friends are always welcome in my kingdom.”

Loki bowed his head, a sigh escaping him. A weight seemed to slip from his shoulders, the tightness around his wrists fading. His tongue itched and crawled, but soon settled feeling better than it had in months. He stepped back from Frigga. “Thank you, my queen. I am unworthy of your kindness.”

“I think I’m the one to decide that,” Frigga remarked. She stepped in front of the children, holding Gungir with two hands. “Children of Loki, hear me. I release you from the magic that binds. Take the form natural to you. Become your true self. I, Frigga, queen of Asgard, dissolve your chains. Go in peace, to live and love with your father and your family. You, too, are always welcome in Asgard.”

Hela gasped as her brothers were enveloped in a blinding light. Those gathered covered their eyes as the light pulsed out. The shapes of Sleipnir, Jormungandr, and Fenrir shrank, becoming more humanoid. Eventually, the light dissipated. Loki, who had been anticipating it, immediately placed towels around his sons. The boys looked out through red eyes, their blue skin like a midafternoon sky. Each had a mane of unruly, black hair, and intricate lines that ran across their face. They looked to be teenagers, Sleipnir being the oldest and tallest. Loki and Thor, as one, descended on them, hugging whoever they could reach. The gathered crowd cheered and applauded before filing into the elevator (well, they had to make two trips, but it was quick).

May brought over shirts and pants for the boys to wear, old hand-me-downs from the other Avengers. “Once you’re settled, I think we’ll take you shopping and get you something nicer,” she said.

“They’re lovely!” Fenrir exclaimed, cuddling the shirt to his face. “So soft.”

Jormungandr wriggled uncomfortably, scratching all over. "These soft scales are so itchy!"

Sleipnir snickered. "It's called skin, dum-dum."

Hela slapped Sleipnir on the arm. "Don't call him a dum-dum."

Tony limped over on his crutches, handing a fake cigar to Loki. “Congratulations, its triplets,” he said straight-faced.

“Thank you, Tony,” Thor grinned. He helped Jormungandr with his clothes, patting the boy on the back. “My niblings, you will love Midgard. It is a glorious place of battles, good food, and better companions.”

“And cool shit,” Tony added.

“Don’t swear in front of my children,” Loki said.

“They’ve probably heard worse.”

“They’ve been un-cursed less than a minute and you’re already being a bad influence,” Loki snarked, leading them into the elevator.

“I’m sorry, but who was claiming to the baddest of bad influences? Or have you missed lying so much you’ve decided to get back into practice immediately?” Tony retorted.

Loki fixed him with a wicked grin. “Oh, you have no idea. You, my friend, are in for trying times. My magic is back to full potential.”

Tony let out a distinct ‘eep’ and hid behind Aunt May, who fixed Loki with a severe look that said ‘do not break my kitchen’. They reached the common floor and were greeted by a mostly child-friendly party in full swing. Tony leapt out, as much as his stitches would allow, and switched into ‘Tony the Awesome Host’ mode, while directing Jarvis to invite Pepper and Rhodey. And the X-Men, they were always fun. Bruce and Ben were surreptitiously trying to cook popcorn over Johnny’s head. Doctor Strange and his wife were slow dancing to wildly inappropriate pop music. May took Frigga by the arm, sharing details about their decidedly not average lives. Natasha and Clint were slumped together on the couch, still nursing injuries, though nothing was stopping them from a competitive game of snakes and ladders. Sue, Reed, and Peter were chatting mildly, unfazed by the wrestling match going on between Coulson and Dummy (the robot had developed a fascination with ties that meant anyone in formal wear wasn’t safe in Stark Tower). The children descended on Peter like a tidal wave, pinning him to the ground. Thor joined in, and quickly followed by the Warriors Four. Soft drinks and take out was ordered from various places, other heroes arrived by the dozen, and soon the Children’s first ‘birthday’ was a roaring success. And Loki, watching all of this with a smile, wanted nothing more than this.