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Heroes Die

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Perhaps this, all of this, was punishment for his laundry list of criminal acts. For his birth, his attempt to steal away the glistening golden throne of Asgard, his attempt to take over Midgard, his needless slaughter of innocents, his faked death, his successful usurping of the throne, his absolute disregard for his family…

Contrary to the pointless drivel that constantly spewed from Thor’s mouth, Loki was not inherently good. He was a monster, only interested in that which would prove to be beneficial for him. His life was a story of pain.

The pain of betrayal in learning the truth about his heritage.

The pain of loss in hearing of their mother’s demise at the hands of the Dark Elves.

The pain of heartbreak whenever Thor proclaimed that he’d lost all faith in Loki’s goodness.

And yet none of that compared to the way he could feel the life within him ebb away into nothingness as the electric current cut through his belly. His mind raced, his brain frantically firing off signals that were disrupted by the flow of electricity – he needed to tell Thor to turn off the device, needed to tell him about the baby…

And then he felt it, hot and wet and sticky on his thighs. Blood. He was bleeding, and the pain tearing through his belly was excruciating – worse than when he’d been impaled by that blasted pike on the Dark World – and Thor just looked so bloody satisfied. Like he knew that Loki would never amount to anything more than a worthless trickster that would betray him in a heartbeat to save his own neck.

Loki had been with child before – three times, in fact. Three beautiful baby girls, two with Thor’s bright blue eyes and one, his youngest, with eyes as green as his own. Thor was, among other things, a god of fertility. It made sense that he would have little difficulty populating the nine realms with his progeny. Loki had never before experienced issues with infertility or loss of pregnancy, so this was both new and terrifying.

There was a sharp clack as the trigger was tossed just out of his reach, and then Thor was walking away, mumbling something about leaving him like this indefinitely. Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes as his body continued to convulse, the unfamiliar pain tearing through him as the current took his unborn baby.

--

“Heimdall… my daughters…” There was not much time. Hela’s undead army could be heard in the distance, a mess of rattling bones and clanking metal, and the cluster of frightened children in Heimdall’s care could only keep so quiet.

“My liege, do not ask questions that you are unprepared to know the answer to.” Heimdall’s lack of response was all the answer that Thor needed, and he felt a painful, white-hot burning in his chest.

Unbearable agony had tears glistening in the King’s eyes, “Even my little Torhild..?”

Torhild was their youngest, born just months before that fateful trip to Jotunheim that began Loki’s descent into madness. She was only seven in Midgardian years, and just a babe as far as the Asgardians were concerned. She and Loki could have been twins, with their radiant green eyes and thick manes of inky black hair. Pale as the moon in the midnight sky and every bit as beautiful, she was his last connection to the perfect world before.

“It was… as painless as it could have been, my liege. Many were not awarded such courtesy. A draft of poison. She never felt a thing.” Heimdall continued, as if these words would be of any comfort to his grieving King.

“Karin...?” Heimdall looked on him with sympathy, the young goddess of music and merriment had never been much of a fighter. She was about fifty years Torhild’s senior, but just coming into her adolescence.

“Why do you insist on torturing yourself?” The elder god looked on Thor curiously, before shoving him aside, not unkindly, to slice into the impending skeletal horde. Thor found that he had no answer, save that he needed to know. It might not make sense, but…

“This is my fault. I never should have left them.” He said softly.

Heimdall shook his head, “You couldn’t have known all that would come to pass. This was not your fault.”

But Thor, ever the stubborn heir-apparent, pushed on, “What of Karin, Heimdall?”

Hela had not been so generous with the second-born princess’ life, it would seem. She and their firstborn, Gunnhild, the goddess of war, had seen the blood and destruction the would-be Queen left in her wake and had insisted upon helping him to usher their people to relative safety. That was, until Karin had been badly wounded in one of their excursions – a nasty cut to the leg, made by a hunter’s trap in the forest.

Gunnhild was able to free her from the trap, but there was no time to work a healing spell – Hela’s army of the undead were closing in upon them and they needed to move quickly. Unfortunately, Karin was bleeding heavily and leaving a trail for the army to follow. Eventually, the young princess bravely sacrificed herself for the masses, allowing herself to be taken by Hela’s forces so that the rest of them might escape.

Heimdall, who had seen her death, mercifully spared Thor many of the details. He simply described it as a ‘swift beheading’, emphasizing that she felt very little pain and that, at the first opportunity, he had retrieved the body and performed the necessary burial rites. Which left just one question?

“My firstborn… surely, she could not have killed the goddess of war?” Their eldest, nearly a century old (the Midgardian equivalent of fourteen to fifteen years) and though she was identical to Thor in both appearance and demeanor, she had Loki’s carefully analytical mind.

Heimdall smiled ruefully, “War and death, they go hand in hand. It is like trying to fight fire with smoke.” He turned to his wards, beginning to usher them out of the tunnel, “She is alive, but very far away. It is dark, and I can no longer see her.”

“You cannot see her?” Nothing in the nine realms was out of Heimdall’s line of sight, so how..?

The other man shook his head, “There is no time. You must go back.”

“How do I escape Sakaar?” Thor asked suddenly, realizing that their time was, indeed, about to come to an abrupt end.

“Through the big hole at the center of the planet.”

Suddenly, Heimdall swung the Bifrost sword, and just as it would have traveled through Thor’s body the god of thunder disappeared. He came-to in the cockpit of the Grandmaster’s ship, blinking his eyes several times to clear his mind from his abrupt travel through space and time. Casting one last look at his convulsing husband, he powered up the engines and took to the skies.

There was no time to reflect on what might have been. Not anymore.

 

Chapter Text

It soon became apparent that, while the Grandmaster’s ship might’ve been ideal for escaping through a wormhole that had rather crassly been titled ‘The Devil’s Anus’, it was not in the least equipped to make a quick retreat whilst minimalizing casualties.

In other words, it was being torn to shreds in a hail of blaster fire from the dozens of actual battle-worthy ships that the Grandmaster had sent after them.

He barely had time to slow down long enough for Valkyrie to catapult Bruce into the ship before heading, full throttle, toward their escape route. Thor could hear the scientist cuss as the rapid acceleration nearly sent him tumbling back out of the ship and to his demise, and he felt a pang of something similar to guilt rise within him – only to be quickly stifled by a blast that rocked the entire ship to its core.

Outside, he could hear the commotion as Valkyrie set to taking out some of the opposition. He needed to help. Throwing himself into battle had always seemed like an apt way to handle his grief – he’d done it when their mother died, throwing himself somewhat carelessly into the battle with the Dark Elves, and he’d done it again when Loki ‘died’, giving his all in the battle against Ultron and ultimately wandering the nine realms listlessly, looking to recapture that same thrill of the battle that blocked out everything else from his mind.

With that thought in mind, he handed the controls over to Bruce. The scientist looked at him as if he’d grown a second head, “I need you to handle the controls while I go and help her.”

Bruce, if possible, looked even more skeptical, “This is high-tech alien equipment. I wouldn’t even know where to begin -,” tentatively, he touched one of the buttons, which caused loud and raunchy music to come over the overhead stereo system.

Thor smacked him on the shoulder, giving him an overly confident grin. “Use one of those PhDs you’re always going on about.” Not even bothering to await an answer, he slipped off the ship and allowed himself to be whisked away into the throng of battle.

Nevertheless, Bruce screamed after him, “None of them are for flying alien spaceships!”

Surprisingly, it was not difficult to do significant damage to the alien spacecrafts in pursuit. Brute strength alone was all it took to dismember one of the wings, and with relatively little effort he sent the jagged piece of metal soaring through the front windshield and subsequently, the entire craft plummeting to the ground. Above him, Valkyrie had made similarly quick work of a small blue ship – she’d managed to discombobulate the operator to the point where they were flying in the wrong direction and crashed into a large, red destroyer.

A loud pop could be heard in the distance. A quick glance showed that Bruce had managed to get the Grandmaster’s pleasure ship to do something useful – bright, radiant (and exceptionally loud) fireworks were exploding in the sky. One of the colorful little explosions took out Topaz’s ship, while the others served to disorient the remaining stragglers. Perfect.

Karin would have liked to see the fireworks, Thor thought ruefully. As a goddess of merriment, she’d loved anything that brought a smile to another’s face. And explosions… which, while concerning, was neither here nor there.

With little difficulty, Thor and Valkyrie managed to re-board the ship. They were already dangerously close to The Devil’s Anus, as evident by the way the ship violently rocked from the wormhole’s gravitational pull. Bruce was doing his best to hold steady, but there was very little time for them to buckle themselves in before they were inevitably sucked into the abyss.

“And you’re sure that the Anus will take us to Asgard?” Valkyrie was practically screaming to be heard over the combined roar of the engines and the wormhole.

“There’s only one way to find out.” Thor countered. There were no other options, no time to turn back.

A brief warning sign flashed on the dash, and then the ship disappeared into the wormhole. The few stragglers that were just coming ‘round after the fireworks display were not properly equipped to handle the potential dangers of the wormhole and ceased their pursuit. The escape had been successful.

--

“Hey, mate.” Korg held the small, golden trigger in his hand, having finally, blissfully ended the cycle of electrical current cutting through Loki’s body. “We’re looking to escape on that there ship? Are you in?”

Loki, with a great deal of difficulty, forced himself upright. He was not yet able to muster the energy to climb to his feet, “Well, you do seem to be in desperate need of leadership.”

Korg smiled, “Thank you.” But then, the alien faltered. “Are you alright there, mate? You seem to be bleeding quite a bit.” A cursory glance at the smaller man turned up no obvious wounds, so it was unclear where the blood was coming from… just that there was a lot of it.

“I don’t suppose that any of you…” here, he bit his tongue, not wanting to offend the creature who’d finally ended his cycle of torment. “…have a towel on you?”

As one would have suspected, they did not have a towel. However, one of the larger creatures – he looked to be straight out of a cheesy Midgardian horror movie, where a mad scientist took a human male’s lower half and the upper half of an ape and messily stuck them together – took off their offensively white t-shirt (or, more accurately, tore it off of their body and handed him the scraps) to use in its stead.

With Korg’s help, Loki was able to make it the rest of the way to his feet. He was able to take two steps forward before the pain overwhelmed him and he collapsed. Instinctually, his hand went to protect his still-flat stomach… only for him to begin to laugh ruefully, realizing that there was no longer any child to protect. The others looked at him strangely and he offered them no explanation for his unusual behavior, just took Korg’s arm once more and dragged himself to his feet. He could do this… He could…

Oh Norns, but did it hurt! He doubled over in pain, his stomach threatening to revolt as yet another hot pulse of blood coated his thighs. Undoubtedly, the entire back of his leather pants were discolored from the heavy flow, but thankfully none of his new companions said a word. They probably thought it was some sort of adverse, alien reaction to the convulsions. How were they to know that he was pregnant?

After several more minutes of the pitiful struggle, Korg moved to pick him clean up off of the ground and carry him onto the Ark. Loki would have none of it, “I’m fine. Just… allow me a moment to get my bearings.”

The blade-handed alien beside him made a scraping sound with his hands, which Korg seemed to be able to decipher as actual speech, “Yeah, I don’t think that it’s particularly normal for anyone to bleed that much, either.” He said, concern leaking into his soft tone.

“Are we really gonna take him with us? The fella’s half-alive as-is, he’ll just be dead weight if he up and dies on us on the way there.” That came from a slim, blue-skinned man in the back. He looked to be part fish, if the gills on his cheeks and the razor-sharp teeth were any indication.

Korg ignored him, “How long were you under the influence of the obedience device?”

What a wonderfully accurate name for the little device that had robbed everything from him, “I don’t know.”

“Well, we need to get you aboard the Ark and get you some water, at the very least, mate. And a hot bath.” Korg said, “We leave no man behind. That’s rule number one.”

Still, Loki was not about to sacrifice his pride. He might not have the strength to summon a glamour, but he would be damned if he let this stranger carry him aboard the Ark. Biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, and squeezing the rock-man’s arm hard enough that it would have broken a mortal’s fragile bones, he took one step forward… then another… He kept pressing on until finally, blissfully, he was being lowered down onto a rudimentary toilet seat and left with a promise to return soon with food and drink.

--

Surprisingly, for a planet as technologically advanced as Sakaar, the Ark was painfully lacking in the comforts of home. Like hot, running water. Loki slipped out of his pants, wincing at the wet squelch that followed as the leather pulled away from his skin. It hit the ground with a heavy thwack, painting the white tile a startling red.

He filled the sink with the hottest water the ship would provide… which was just a few degrees above freezing. There was no soap to speak of, so he simply took the scraps of t-shirt and, after dunking them into the water, began to scrub at his blood-caked skin. Blood continued to ooze sluggishly from his birth canal, each hot pulse seemingly accompanied by a tightening of his belly that made him want to double over with the pain.

Loki had never felt pain like this before, not even in the Dark World, and it terrified him. He’d done everything within his power to protect the precious life budding within him, even weaseling his way into the Grandmaster’s good graces to avoid being offered to the Champion as his latest chew toy… and it was ultimately Thor, his own husband, who killed their baby. A vicious sob tore its way from the raven’s throat.

“If only the bumbling oaf could see you now,” he mumbled, cackling maniacally beneath his breath. He scrubbed viciously at the insides of his thighs, till the dark, clotting blood was replaced with fresh streaks of bright red.

Dunking the scraps in the clean water again, he finished cleaning himself with the messy, frantic precision of one who just wanted to call a task complete. He was just beginning to wonder what he would do about clothing (surely, he wasn’t expected to redress in the blood soaked mess on the floor) when there was a knock on the door. Loki had been so absorbed in his internal struggle that he’d all but forgotten about Korg.

“Hey there, mate. I brought that water, and what I think might be a protein bar. It also might be horse manure. Hard to tell from the color… or the smell.” Loki stared at him in upmost suspicion and horror.

“Um… that’s…” he swallowed, his tongue suddenly feeling much too large for his mouth. “The water, if you would.” He held his hand out, and Korg handed him the glass, along with two ovular white pills.

“Found those in the infirmary. They’re a little over their expiration date, considering that nobody’s used this here vessel in almost a decade, but…” Loki was looking at him expectantly, and it must have made the rock-man nervous, because he hurriedly cut to the chase, “I figured you could use them. For your… y’know…”

How oddly… sweet? Loki was somehow touched. “Thank you. The pain is most debilitating.”

Korg smiled a little at that, seemingly calmed by Loki’s somewhat relaxed demeanor. “Oh, I almost forgot!” Reaching behind him, he pulled out a pair of pants. “They might be a little small on you. You look like you have an inch or two on the Grandmaster. But surely they’re better than -,”

His words trailed off into nothingness as both turned to stare at the bloody mess on the floor. Loki felt another sob welling with him, and he turned his back on the giant rock-man before the first tear stubbornly fell. Raising his right hand, he violently scrubbed at his cheek until no remnant of his weakness remained and the skin had turned a blotchy, unhealthy red.

Korg, thankfully, granted him enough privacy to dress – the clothes were slightly tight, and just this side of uncomfortable on his overly sensitive abdomen and genital regions, but nothing that he couldn’t handle. He took a long drag of the water, leaving the protein bar, which might also have been horse manure, for a later time. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to keep down anything that he put into his stomach right now, anyhow.

“Come. I know the perfect place to put your revolutionary talents to good use.” And Loki, ever the master of disguise, plastered on a smile and held himself tall as he left the bloody bath behind.

Later, there would be time to mourn his loss. But now… there was work that needed to be done.

 

Chapter Text

Time seemed to move unbearably slowly aboard the Ark.

While the rock-man seemed to have taken a shine to Loki, the other former combatants were less welcoming of the outsider. A few remembered him from the Contest of Champions, where he’d had a seat of honor beside the Grandmaster where they both might watch the spectacle in both safety and opulence. Some, like the fish-man, were concerned that he was more of a liability than an ally and adamantly refused to adhere to his ‘leadership’.

When he wasn’t speaking with Korg, the only one of the whole lot that would actually take the time to listen to what it was he had to say, he spent much of his time in the library. As it turned out, for a planet that was, quite literally, the equivalent of the galaxy’s garbage disposal, many of the books that had washed up on their shores were actually rather decent. There were several Midgardian texts that particularly piqued Loki’s interest – they detailed their, rather rudimentary, understanding of black magic. They should prove useful, should he encounter that would-be sorcerer again.

Reading had always been the god of mischief’s refuge, a means of blocking out the world around him and drowning himself in knowledge and wonder and adventure. Thor did not share his husband’s love of reading – he’d asked him to read to him once upon a time, only to complain halfway through the story that the main character was just so bland, he was utterly unable to do anything but hate him. Loki had attempted to explain the subtle complexities of the character, tried to open his eyes and have him see beyond the superficial to the true heart of the story… and the great oaf had responded by falling asleep. Loki never did read to him again.

“…And they call that magic?” Loki scoffed, managing to look both horribly offended and amused. “That is nothing more than child’s play.” He rolled his eyes, turning to the next page with a wave of his hand.

“Oh, so you’re a sorcerer?” The raven nearly jumped out of his skin. How had he not noticed a giant man made of rock entering into his quiet little abode? “I met a sorcerer once. Nice fellow, he was. Till he accidentally turned himself into a toad, that is.”

Loki rolled his eyes. This creature’s ability to incessantly ramble on about everything and nothing would never cease to amaze him, “A god, actually.”

If Korg had eyebrows, he imagined that they would be raised in amazement. “A god? You seem rather… small… for a god.” Loki’s left eye twitched, and Korg hurriedly corrected, “Not that there’s anything wrong with being sm- vertically challenged. Not a thing, mate.”

“Did you come here for a reason?” Loki asked, his tone just shy of irritated. There were still about half a dozen tomes that needed his attention, and he was not quite in the mood for company.

“Actually, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, “I feel like I’ve seen you before, somewhere. You don’t happen to be familiar with New Doug? He’s about this high, blond hair, blue eyes… a real pretty boy.”

Was he attempting to describe Thor? Why in the Nine Realms would he… and then he remembered. When Thor had first been sent down to the barracks, he’d come to him to attempt to explain his plan to win the Grandmaster’s favor. Of course, he’d realized at the time that his husband was not alone – it would have been utterly foolish to expect that he would have been, what with the minimal privacy that the slaves were afforded – but he hadn’t thought it would matter at the time, seeing as the discussion was not regarding personal affairs.

It occurred to him now that the rock-man had been there. He seemed to be too oddly polite to be the kind to eavesdrop, but then, he was also weirdly protective of the scissor-handed alien… maybe he thought that Loki posed some sort of threat to Thor, and had been keeping a close watch to make sure that things didn’t spiral out of control? He distantly remembered Korg screaming something at him before he’d vanished, but he’d already made himself scarce before the big man could think to make good on any sort of threat.

Perhaps more importantly, why did he feel the need to bring this up now? Now, when they were hurtling through space together, with no way of escaping one another’s company without leaping into the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space? What good would it do to reopen old wounds when what really mattered was, right now, they were on the same side?

For the first time in recent memory, Loki decided to be perfectly honest. “If you mean Thor, then yes. I am well acquainted with the blond oaf.” A moment passed, and, with a sigh, he placed the text he was currently analyzing down on the table, “He’s my husband.”

“Your husband?” Loki had previously not thought it possible for a pile of rocks to look shocked, but the proof stood there before him. “Sorry, mate. With the way he’d talked about that hammer he lost, the guys and I all thought there was a little somethin’-somethin’ going on there.”

Loki offered him a blank stare, “With a hammer.”

Korg was immediately on the defensive, “He described it quite romantically. It seemed like a very lovely hammer.” He cleared his throat, “Not that you’re not very lovely, as well. Just -,”

Loki smirked, enjoying the helpless way that the bigger man squirmed, trying to get himself out of a hole that he just kept digging deeper and deeper. “I’d prefer to be thought of as… charming.”

“I’m sure that you charmed the pants right off of New Doug.” Korg said awkwardly.

“Thor,” Loki absently corrected.

“Yes, New Doug. That’s what I said.”

Loki rubbed a hand over his lower abdomen. The cramps were coming less frequently now, but every once in awhile they were still strong enough to knock him on his ass. He was fairly certain that the worst was over, but then, he’d never gone through this before, so he couldn’t say for sure. His heart clenched at the thought of his little Torhild… they were two peas of the same pod, so to speak. Neither were very physically affectionate individuals, but oh did the little girl give the best hugs. And she always knew just when he needed them most. What he wouldn’t give to feel her little arms around him now.

“Did something, uh… happen… between you and New Doug? I only ask ‘cause he didn’t seem too happy to see you back at the barracks.” Korg asked. Ordinarily, Loki would have been affronted by some stranger sticking their nose into his business, but Korg seemed genuinely… concerned.

He was also the only reason that he hadn’t, quite literally, been fed to the fishes. So Loki figured that it would be best not to piss him off.

He offered the larger alien a placating smile, “No. We’re quite alright. Just a little lover’s quarrel, is all.” A lover’s quarrel that cost him everything, but then, when did fighting with Thor ever turn out well for him? “Now, since you’re apparently so fascinated with sorcery, tell me… what do you know of black magic?”

--

“Daddy!” A sweet little face peeked out from amidst a massive bouquet of bright yellow flowers, “Karin helped me pick them! Aren’t they lovely?”

The scene was a familiar one, which often haunted the god of thunder’s dreams. Before he’d dragged Loki back to their home in chains, before he’d become an Avenger… he’d been a single father, attempting to cope with the tremendous loss of watching his husband willingly let himself fall to his demise.

Gunnhild stood before him, her thick mane of blonde hair done up in an elaborate bun, the folds of her light pink dress stained brown with dirt. His mother would probably have words with him later for letting the rambunctious girl run about in her court finery, but she was smiling at him so brightly that he just couldn’t bring himself to care. His sweet baby hadn’t looked so happy since… well, since Loki was still alive.

“They are quite beautiful, Gunnhild.” He placed a massive hand atop her head, ruffling her hair a bit. The young girl giggled, before thrusting the bouquet at Thor’s massive chest.

“I want you to have them.” She said, “Papa showed me a spell to make the flowers bloom longer before they die, even if you don’t remember to water them.” Here, she offered him a knowing glance.

Thor raised an eyebrow, “You’ve kept up with your magical studies?” He was mightily impressed.

“It’s what Papa would want, is it not?” She countered easily, as if this were abundantly obvious and Thor was just blind.

She wandered off, presumably to find a vase to house the flowers, and Thor followed her absently. There was something distinctly… different… about the Great Hall. The ceiling, which had once been covered in colorful murals depicting the triumphs of the Allfather, was now a dark and twisted portrayal of war. Hela stood, commanding a massive army, above the bodies of countless men and women, face-down in pools of blood.

If Gunnhild noticed that anything was out of the ordinary, she said nothing. Making her way into the kitchens, she started rummaging through the chest in the far corner for a vase. Just a few feet to her right, there was… was that a foot? Heart hammering madly in his chest, Thor carefully approached… that was definitely a foot, the lavender slipper covered in something that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to blood. The woman’s skirts were ruffled, and just slightly higher, on her torso, there was a hole where it appeared she’d been impaled.

In fact, if he wasn’t mistaken, that was blood splatter on the larder… and the floor… How was she not seeing this? Thor felt an icy panic start to rise within him. This wasn’t how the dream was supposed to go. Karin was supposed to wander in, covered from head-to-toe in flower and smiling from ear-to-ear as she happily proclaimed that she’d baked him a cake – only for him to discover that, more accurately, the cake she’d made had exploded and covered half of the kitchen in strawberry gook.

“Found it!” Gunnhild proclaimed happily, before turning around and proudly displaying her find to Thor. “It’s perfect, don’t you think?” As she said this, a thin dribble of blood spilled over the corner of her mouth and traced a path down to her chin.

Thor’s heart just about froze in his chest, “Gunnhild… Gunnhild, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Hurt?” She looked at him strangely, “I don’t understand what you mean -,”

A dark red rose began to bloom on her right side, just above her hip bone. It grew at an alarming rate, and yet Gunnhild remained blissfully oblivious until… she lost her balance and staggered forward. Thor dropped the flowers, not even noticing when they landed in the puddle of blood on the floor. He caught her just seconds before she hit the ground, falling to his knees from the sudden weight. Gunnhild began sobbing, and his hands became slick with blood that seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

It was just like in the Dark World, when he’d held Loki’s dying body in his arms, powerless to do anything save for plead with the younger god to want to save his own life. But this… he didn’t even know what had wounded her, let alone how to help her. He didn’t think he’d ever felt so absolutely powerless before…

“My leg!” She howled, and for the first time Thor realized that he could only see one foot peeking out from beneath the folds of her dress. About where the other knee should have been was a rapidly growing dark red stain, “It hurts, Daddy! Make it stop!”

Thor didn’t understand. A minute ago, she’d been perfectly fine. He’d never taken his eyes off of her. So how...? “We need to take you to see a healer, there’s not much time -,”

But before he could move, Gunnhild continued, “Why did you let her hurt us, Daddy? Why did you leave us here all by ourselves?” She looked at him with her big, teary blue eyes. “Why did you go away?”

“I didn’t mean to leave you, darling! I never meant for any of this to -,”

“She’s going to kill me, Daddy!”

Thor’s eyes snapped open, and he was back aboard the Grandmaster’s pleasure ship. Had all of that… just been one horrible, terrifying nightmare? He looked down at his hands, not surprised to find them trembling. His two companies continued to sleep soundly, most likely knocked unconscious by the sheer strain of entering the wormhole. In the distance, he could just barely make out the golden city of Asgard.

Gunnhild’s screams were still ringing in his ears as he set course for the palace.

--

Plink. Plink. Plink.

The room was illuminated by unholy green fire, the ancient burial tomb suspiciously bereft of corpses. Instead, it currently served as a jail…

Water dripped down from the massive hole in the ceiling, leading up to Odin’s Treasures. She wasn’t sure where the water was coming from, just that it had been there from the start, the only sound in the spacious cavern aside from her own pitiful sobs. The chain that held her in place had been warded against magic, and in her weakened state she would not have the strength to break it by sheer force alone.

She tilted her head back, half-lidded blue eyes staring into the brilliant green fire. The light just barely reached her, the dark embers revealing a smattering of blood on the floor around her. Where her left leg had been, from the knee down, there was only air. Blood oozed sluggishly from the old wound, and she knew better than to look at the damage lest she retch… again. The pain was damn near unbearable and kept her on the brink of consciousness…

A delicate hand, most unbefitting the goddess of war, rose to press gently at her abdomen, just above her right hip. The gentle touch alone was enough to send fresh blood spilling over her tanned fingers, and she hissed as another wave of pain racked her lithe body. How much longer could she survive down here, without the aid of her magic? It was only a matter of time until…

She coughed, a splatter of dark red blood staining the crook of her arm. She stared at it mildly, no longer able to muster the strength needed to feel frightened any longer. “Daddy… h-hurry…”

Chapter Text

“I found these in the armory.” Thor said, sliding a massive weapon across the floor toward Valkyrie. It appeared to be an extremely primitive weapon, one of the many that Skurge had acquired in his misuse of the Bifrost.

He also handed her a crumpled silvery-white cloth. Their eyes met for a moment, unspoken words hanging heavily in the air between them. Could she really do this? Could she don the armor that she’d cast aside all those years before without so much as a second thought? She’d seen the way that Odin had abused his power, had seen her comrades fall, one after the other, to Hela’s incomparable power. This… This plan, if it could even warrant that title, was the practical equivalent of a death sentence.

Hela would not hesitate to kill them. She’d paint the streets of their golden city in the blood of innocents and laugh, never so much as breaking a sweat. She was the goddess of death, and eventually all those in the nine realms would bow to her. The memories that Loki had stirred back in the Grandmaster’s palace were enough to bring her pause – what made this so-called god of thunder any different than his father? Why did she blindly trust him not to lead her to her death?

Thor smiled wryly, “We don’t have much time. I need to divert her attention just long enough to allow Heimdall to lead the others to the Bifrost.” He continued, “I need you to clear the path, make sure it’s safe.”

He wasn’t about to wait for her answer – perhaps the second thoughts racing through her mind were not as quiet as she’d originally thought. “Your Majesty…” he paused, but did not turn around. “Don’t die.”

Thor cocked his head to the side, before letting out a deep, belly laugh. Valkyrie scowled – apparently, the dumbass didn’t need anything else to inflate his ego. “You know what I mean.” She growled, before turning her back on him.

--

The Great Hall was not as he remembered it. Where once the enormous room was bathed in rays of warm, golden light, the room was now awash in shadows. The floor was littered with bits of the colorful ceiling tiles that had once formed a mural depicting Odin’s rule as Allfather. One piece in particular showed Thor’s head, a crack not-quite splitting his face in two. He swallowed hard, cutting a path through the rubble and making his way to the Allfather’s throne. There was no time to dwell on what was.

He took a seat, his body landing heavily on the massive throne. Once upon a time, he would have given anything to be able to sit in this very spot, an entire nation on bended knee before him. But so much had transpired over the last several weeks – that brief moment where he’d thought that finally, finally he and Loki might start over… that they might finally have a chance to be a family once more… and then losing his father and daughters, abandoning his husband for the final time…

Taking the nearby staff, he hit the ground three times. The sound reverberated through the empty Great Hall, the echoes carrying throughout Asgard. It would be enough to summon the goddess of death, of that he had no doubt. And she would come. Perhaps not having taken his life when she had the chance was her greatest mistake, because now that he knew what she’d done… there was no mercy left in his heart. If the chance arose, he would kill Hela without hesitation.

He heard the clack-clack of her heels on the tile before he saw her. She looked considerably better than she had the last time that their paths crossed – being back in Asgard was doing wonders for her pallid complexion. “Brother… what a lovely surprise.”

“I am not here for pleasantries, Hela. You have taken everything from me.” Thor growled, “You destroyed my home. You killed my children in cold blood. You slaughtered my friends…”

Hela scoffed, “Some children you had, dear brother. It was all too easy to kill them.” She smiled brightly, and it made Thor’s stomach turn. “Tell me, would you like to hear about how they died?”

Thor’s skin took on an unhealthy green sheen, “You take pleasure in exploiting the pain associated with their demise.”

Hela’s smile seemed to widen, until she looked positively manic, “Or perhaps you’d like to hear about Gunnhild. She has such a pretty scream…” She concluded, her tone almost dreamy. “She cried for you. Over and over, your name fell from her lips…”

“Silence…” Thor was scarcely able to force his voice above a whisper, feeling his chest grow unbearably tight.

“It was so… beautiful, watching the light fade from her eyes as the blood flowed from her like water.” Hela crooned. “I just couldn’t help myself… I took her leg so she couldn’t run away and rob me of such beauty.”

“Silence!” Thor thundered this time, his voice so powerful it brought more tiles down from the broken mural above them.

Thor had never felt such righteous anger before. Not even when he’d discovered Loki to be alive after four years worth of mourning. He’d never felt such an all-encompassing rage, which swallowed him whole and made red bleed before his vision. He’d kill her. He’d kill her, or he’d die trying. And even that did not seem quite so horrific, as he would then be reunited with his mother and father and precious angels in Valhalla. There was no reason for him to fear.

“You’re just like him, did you know that?” Hela continued. Her words cut through the tense silence and brought him careening back to reality, “A shit excuse for a father. The minute your children become inconvenient, you cast them aside.”

Thor couldn’t help it – he took the bait. “I have never abandoned my children!”

“Four years, dear brother. It has been four years since you last set eyes on your children.” Hela smiled darkly, “Your return to Asgard was not even long enough to pay them a visit before you and your husband went hunting for daddy dearest.”

“I have always been there for my children. They are my world, and you killed them!” Thor screamed.

Hela shook her head, “You resented them. You resented the way that they took away your freedom, forced you to settle down instead of traverse the nine realms and fight all manner of creatures. You resented the fact that your husband died and left you alone with children you felt no connection to -,”

“You lie!” Thor screamed. He loved his children, he did. She twisted his words, his motives… she was trying to goad him.

“Tell me that you were not disappointed when your firstborn, the goddess of war no less, turned out to be a sorcerer.”

That clearly struck a nerve. Sorcerers were not highly regarded in Asgard – men and women were valued for their physical prowess on the battlefield, and even the lowest of civilians was able to wield a sword with some proficiency. Sorcery was seen as trickery, and in most cases was nowhere near as powerful as raw strength and improved technology. Loki was perhaps the one exception, and he’d passed that magical ability onto their children – at least, that was what had happened with Gunnhild.

Gunnhild was not physically strong. She would’ve never been able to be a Valkyrie – for a long time, he’d been afraid to give her any sort of weapon, fearful that she might somehow hurt herself. She was clumsy and slow with a sword, but with a staff she was positively murderous. Thor had been disappointed that she was not a traditional warrior, yes, but she was still his daughter. He loved her, despite the fact that she would never lead an army into combat. Or perhaps, because of that fact.

“Silence!” He rose off of the throne, lightening crackling at his fingertips as anger rose within him. “I will not have you speak ill of my children any longer. You already took their lives, I will not let you defile their memory.”

Hela materialized a long, black spear, and she leveled the blade at Thor’s neck. “Show me what you’ve got, little brother.”

--

“Ahh!” There was a loud crash above head, and the hole that Hela had created weeks earlier seemed to grow larger. A giant stone came crashing down from the ceiling and landed just centimeters from her good leg.

Her heart began pounding wildly in her chest. Was something happening upstairs? When Hela hosted her public executions, there was not nearly this much commotion. Usually just screams and muffled wails as the number of those still faithful to Odin and the rightful ruler, Thor, continued to dwindle. But then… there was another crash, this one significantly larger than the first. If they kept this up, the ceiling would undoubtedly collapse and then… Gunnhild looked around her prison forlornly.

And that’s when she heard it. Was that… That was her Dad’s voice! She couldn’t quite make out full sentences, but it was evident that they were in the midst of a heated argument about something… And then she heard her name. That was Hela’s voice, her sickly sweet tone going into explicit detail about how she’d severed the eldest princess’ leg. Her stomach began to turn at the particularly unpleasant memory, the pain seemingly intensifying tenfold. And that’s when Hela spoke again.

“Tell me that you were not disappointed when your firstborn, the goddess of war no less, turned out to be a sorcerer.”

Gunnhild felt as if someone had slapped her across the face. She knew that she was considered an outsider by conventional Asgardian standards, that she was not the warrior that firstborn children were expected to be. And, to make matters worse, her father wasn’t saying anything. Was he silent because he knew it to be true, that she was not the child that she ‘should’ have been… that she could never be the child that he truly wanted. Why was he being silent? Why didn’t he stand up for her..?

She wanted to scream out to him, to let him know that she was still alive… but what was the point? If she was such a burden to him before, what made her think that things would be any better now?  “D-Daddy…” she choked back a sob.

With all of the energy she could muster, she yanked at the chain binding her to the wall. There was a loud clank as the metal clicked together, the cuff cutting into the tan, tender flesh of her wrist. A scream tore from her throat as she pulled, tiny bits of ash and cinder flying into the air. Pain ripped through her upper body as she poured all of her strength into that one, simple motion – she could do this, could prove that she was worth something without her magic. She could… she could

“Shit!” Her voice broke off in another scream as the sheer force of her movement yanked her arm out of its socket. “S-Somebody… Anybody… please…”

--

Loki had spent most of the last night in the bathroom, hugging the toilet bowl. The pain had given way to nausea, and when he’d made the mistake of trying to eat a small bowl of bitter porridge for supper, he’d ended up in here. When the Ark crested the cliff and finally came into view of the golden city, Loki was dry-heaving bile. The door opened, Korg entering the tiny room without knocking, and drawing him away from the porcelain fixture just long enough to press a glass of water to his lips.

Once Loki collected himself, Korg asked. “Well, we’re here, mate. Wherever ‘here’ is, exactly. You didn’t quite make that clear.”

Loki rinsed out his mouth, before spitting the water into the toilet and flushing. “We are home.” He said simply.

He did not bother to dress in his usual finery. This was a rescue mission, not a feast in his honor. Loki instructed them to lower the Ark down by the bridge, where the majority of the Asgardians had gathered – trapped between the monstrous wolf, Fenris, and the rapidly encroaching horde of the undead. The doors had barely opened before the grateful people were pouring onto the ship, huddled closely together and sobbing for those that had been lost.

Heimdall was awaiting him, the Bifrost sword raised and ready to strike. He offered him a knowing glance, unwanted sympathy bright in his soft brown eyes. “I saw you coming. Are you sure that you are in any condition to participate in this fight?”

Loki managed to summon enough strength to look offended, “Whatever do you mean? I’ve never felt better!”

“I have seen your suffering, my prince. My condolences for your loss.” Loki felt something tighten in his chest. He didn’t want to – no, he couldn’t – deal with this right now. “All of your losses.” That gave Loki pause.

“All of them?” But it was clear that Heimdall would speak no more on the subject, turning instead to send the blade clean through a small cluster of skeletons. “Heimdall, what do you -,”

“On your left!” The man cried, and Loki barely had the presence of mind to turn his head to look before he saw the blade come barreling toward him.

Chapter Text

In the years since Loki had died on the Dark World and Thor had made it his mission to traverse the nine realms in search of any information regarding the mysterious Infinity Stones, the Allfather had made it a habit of summoning their little ones to his side to tell them stories. He had been a… different man since the Allmother’s passing. The children were uncertain as to what exactly was different, but they could sense it all the same.

He’d called for them that afternoon, and now they sat in a half-circle about his throne. Gunnhild sat to his left, a smudge of dirt dusting across her high cheekbones and her pooled around her like a spring of fresh water. A matching blue ribbon was woven into her intricate blonde braid, a single dark strand of hair twined almost reverently into the elaborate hairstyle. Little Torhild sat on her lap, her legs stretched out to the side. In her arms she clutched a teddybear dressed in verdant green armor, with eyes to match and a shock of ebony hair atop its fluffy head. The Allfather smiled at her kindly, and she offered a shy smile in return.

Karin sat to his right, an endless stream of energy. She was constantly in motion, unable to remain comfortable sitting in one position for any length of time. If she wasn’t making silly faces for Torhild, she was prancing about, making bunny ears behind the Allfather’s head and sticking out her tongue when he merely rolled his eyes fondly, not rising to the bait.

Karin bore little resemblance to either of her sisters. In fact, she very much resembled the late Allmother. Her hair was a warm golden brown, with curls so thick that even the strongest of combs could not tame them. Her eyes were dark and expressive, bearing each of her emotions for the casual observer to see. Frigga had delighted in her company – even if she was not a sorceress, like her sister, she was quite clever and intuitive. And she loved to make people laugh.

“Come now, my child,” Odin extended a hand to the small child, which she took after a beat of hesitation, “I promised you three a story, yes? And could I ever disappoint the three most precious girls in all the nine realms?” That earned a soft smile.

Gunnhild bounced the little girl on her knee, earning an excited squeal from the tiny girl. “What will you tell us of this time, grandfather? Will you tell us more about those archaic death machines that scientist used to try and kill Daddy?”

Odin laughed, “You mean ‘cars’, my child?” That story had been particularly amusing, yes, but it was not what he had in mind for today’s session. “Today… I wish to tell you a story about your Papa.”

Torhild stared at the teddybear in her arms, before muttering softly, “Papa dead.”

“We heard that story already, grandfather.” Karin said, “And we saw the play like… six times. I really think we need to improve the quality of our theatre productions, by the way. That acting was positively atrocious.”

Odin sighed, “I do not mean to tell you a story about how he died, children. Rather, I wish to share a story far more precious.”

Reaching down, he scooped little Torhild out of Gunnhild’s arms and placed her onto his lap. She looked up at him expectantly, “Grandpa..?”

“I wish to tell the story of how you came to be, little one.” He said, smoothing raven locks gently away from her small face.

It was the feast of Midsummer, a celebration of the Summer Solstice. However, it had also taken on a new meaning about a half-century before, as it was also the celebration of Prince Thor’s firstborn, Gunnhild. Thor, who’d been questing for several months to find a gift worthy of his beloved child, had returned on the eve of the Solstice with his offering. It was a necklace of great power, the golden chain infused with potent magic and the radiant, fiery red gemstone seeming to radiate an unquenchable heat. This necklace was called Brisingamen.

When he returned to the golden city, however, all was not as he remembered it. The halls were eerily silent, the mead did not flow like water, the feast was entirely unprepared… It was if the entirety of the castle had fallen into a deep, unshakeable slumber. As Thor advanced further into the castle, he felt an otherworldly chill take hold of him and settle deep in his bones. The necklace in his pocket burned hotly, the enchanted artifact the only thing keeping him from succumbing to the same curse that seemed to have felled the entire castle.

When Thor came upon their bedchamber, he could scarce bring himself to open the door, fearful of what he might find on the other side. Mustering his courage, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. Inside, it was if someone had crafted a tomb made out of ice… there Loki lay, unnaturally still, his skin tinged blue from the cold. At his left lay Gunnhild, her hand on Loki’s belly and a single tear frozen on her ruddy cheek. On his right lay Karin, her warm brown eyes open but visionless, her mouth open with no sound escaping her soft pink lips. Sadness overwhelmed the god of thunder - what had become of his family?

It was then that he remembered Brisingamen. Taking the necklace in hand, he carefully took one of Loki’s frozen hands and pressed the fiery trinket into his skin. Immediately, color began to return to his pallid cheeks, and his green eyes popped open as he took the first breath that he could remember since… since… And then an amazing thing transpired. His belly began to swell tremendously, the tiny life inside of him seemingly also awakened by the warmth of the necklace’s power. He grew in leaps and bounds until suddenly, he was wracked with such pain that it could only be the first pangs of labor…

Odin turned to Gunnhild fondly, “You are quite a powerful cyromancer, my dear. Powerful enough to cast an enchantment over the entirety of the castle whilst you slept.” He smiled, “I’ve no doubt that Loki was mightily impressed.”

Gunnhild sighed, “Once he got past the fact that he went from being three months pregnant to in labor in what felt like a matter of minutes, yes. He was quite impressed with my abilities, and began training with me.”

“Grandpa..?” Torhild asked softly, “Papa love us?”

Odin looked hurt… more so than was perhaps expected for such a question, but the children did not think too deeply on this. “Your Papa loves you more than words could possibly express. I know that he would give anything to be reunited with you.”

Gunnhild frowned, “Then why did he let himself die? He’s an incredibly powerful sorcerer, he could’ve saved himself!”

Odin placed a hand on his chest, rubbing soothingly over the place where the pike had impaled Loki on the Dark World. This time, it was Karin who spoke, “And father, he’s no better! He just left us after Papa died, like he didn’t care at all!”

“Enough!” Odin said, perhaps a bit too harshly if the way that the girls flinched away was any indication.

After several more minutes of tense silence, Gunnhild finally spoke up, offering a soft, “We just want to know why everyone left us all alone… Why we weren’t enough to make them stay…”

--

Heroes die. Thankfully, as Loki was often so painfully reminded, he was no hero.

He flinched, anticipating the searing kiss of a blade that never came. Instead, he heard a smart thwack, and he turned just in time to see a thick pillar of ice, perhaps twice his size, jutting out from the bridge like an icy dagger. The skeleton goon’s sword was buried about an inch and a half into the side of the glacier, and try as he might, he found himself unable to pull it back out.

Confusion colored his features… until he saw them. The entire bridge was littered with silvery-white glyphs, magically powered traps specifically designed to ward against hostile magic. Loki could remember showing a young Gunnhild how to create them – she’d been remarkably proficient at it, and had clearly been putting her talents to good use.

There was a loud, anguished gurgle as yet another icy spike tore its way through the bridge, impaling the skeleton and hoisting its dying visage far and away from the surviving Asgardians. Slowly, Loki returned his attention back to Heimdall, who seemed to be as much in awe of what had just transpired as he himself was. To his left, another member of the horde triggered another glyph. This one sent him and a host of others catapulting backward through the air, a sea of bloody ice-daggers rendering them almost completely immobile.

“Where is Gunnhild?” Loki asked suddenly. “And the others? They need to be led safely away from the battle… you need to take them from here with the rest of the survivors.” He said firmly, leaving no room for debate.

Heimdall considered this for a moment before speaking, “My prince, in this dark moment in our history, the people rally behind you for safety and protection. The monstrosities you committed under the guise of the Allfather have practically been forgotten in the wake of this crisis.”

Dark green eyes narrowed upon the older god, “You’re avoiding the question, Heimdall. Where are my children?”

Heimdall chose to ignore him, in favor of continuing with his speech. “The people need you to keep a level head and a clear mind. Trust that your children are well and truly cared for, and focus all of your energy on providing for the people.”

“Heimdall,” he was suddenly reminded of the dagger in his hand, and with narrowed eyes he turned the blade on the elder.

Much to his credit, he simply looked unimpressed. “Your blades do not scare me, my prince. The people, on the other hand…”

He inclined his head toward the survivors, who were watching the scene before them unfold with an expression of abject horror. Loki felt his stomach twist in a painfully familiar manner – he’d thought he’d steeled himself against the effect of the judgmental stares,  but apparently four years in the Allfather’s skin had made him soft. No matter what, their people… Thor’s people… would always see him as a monster. The blade trembled in his hand, his heart pounding so harshly he could hear the rush of it in his ears. If they thought him a monster, why not give them what they wanted?

Apparently Heimdall could read the struggle on his face, because his grip on the Bifrost sword tightened – if Loki intended to make an attempt on his life, it would not be easy. If Loki killed Heimdall, he would solidify his role as the monster. If Heimdall killed Loki, he would be hailed as a hero. Bards would tell stories of him for generations to come, glorifying the tale of how he slayed the monstrous creature that just wanted someone… just wanted… Loki shook his head. It didn’t matter. Slowly, he lowered his blade. He’d come so far already, it wouldn’t do to be sliced in half now.

Heimdall nodded, as if he’d known that this would be the outcome the whole time. Perhaps he had. “Go to your husband, my prince. He, and your people, are what matter right now.” He said softly.

And that’s when he uttered the words that seemed to make time stand still, albeit only for a moment. “They’re dead, aren’t they? My children.” His voice was so soft, it almost could not be heard over the roar of the ocean and the din of battle…

Golden eyes seared into olive green, “Your children are well, my prince. Go now to your husband.”

Something shifted in the god of mischief’s expression, his features melting from a righteous anger to an unsettling neutral… He didn’t know what he was expecting, but it was certainly not for the younger god to nod and re-sheath his daggers in their holsters at his hip. He gave Heimdall a curt nod, before turning and beginning to make his way toward the crumbling remains of their once golden home. And the entire time, he never uttered a word.

--

Thor’s look of surprise (and was that a hint of shame on his goofy face… no, that was probably only wishful thinking on Loki’s part) at Loki’s arrival was a small consolation for what had happened. He certainly did not deserve to have his husband there, to expect that he would still fight by his side after everything that had transpired on Sakaar. Even before the baby, before Thor had left him writhing in pain in a growing pool of his own blood…

“You’re late.” Thor decided on finally. He gave his husband an appraising look, and Loki noted with disdain how much of a resemblance he bore to the late Allfather now that he was bereft one eye.

“You’re missing an eye.” Loki shot back, not truly feeling all of the malice that was dripping from his words.

“Much as I hate to break up this… touching family reunion,” Valkyrie chose that moment to make her presence known, offering the god of mischief a dark glare that would have made lesser men cower. Loki only smirked. “We have more pressing matters.”

Hela appeared before them, looking considerably healthier than the last time that Loki had seen her on Midgard. The horrendously dark circles around her eyes had all but vanished, and the sickly pallor had left her skin. She was adorned in full armor, a sickly smirk on her face as she took in the motley crew of warriors that deigned to challenge her power. When her eyes fell on Thor and his mangled face, she let out an abrupt laugh. He looked so much different without that pesky eye…

The glyphs would not help them here, as Hela was first and foremost a warrior. While she did use some magic to summon her weapons, it was not nearly enough to trigger the traps. Thor, without waiting to form any sort of plan, let out what probably could have been called a war cry in another life (Loki rolled his eyes – the big oaf was always one for dramatics) and charged. A lightning-charged fist was caught easily in Hela’s hand, the sparks seemingly being absorbed into her being. Valkyrie had taken a spear off of one of the skeleton goons and charged, meaning to stab Hela directly through the heart…

Hela summoned a long black pike with her right hand, and using it like a baseball bat, swung around and whacked Valkyrie hard in the stomach, effectively stopping her in her tracks. She went skittering back with such force that an outsider might’ve thought she’d been struck by the Hulk, and Loki, thinking fast, caught her in a web of green magic. She looked at him disdainfully, and he offered her a sanctimonious smile in return.

“While I realize it pains you so to think of the well-being of anyone other than yourself, brother…” Loki hissed lowly, dropping Valkyrie to the ground in an ungraceful heap and readying himself for Hela’s next attack, “Perhaps we should devise a plan.”

Valkyrie, clearly unimpressed with his treatment of her, bit back with, “We don’t have time. We’ve just got to hit her with everything that we’ve got and hope that something sticks.”

Loki scowled, “Why are you even here? You betrayed Asgard once, are you truly so eager to watch her fall once and for all?”

He really should have expected the sharp smack that followed, but it still sent his head flying off to the side. “Don’t talk to me as if you know me.”

Loki’s eyes flashed momentarily, and then he grinned, “Oh, I understand it now. He is quite handsome, isn’t he? He has this way about him – it makes you forget that he’s an absolute idiot just long enough to pledge your life to him. Most people just can’t say no to a pretty face…” She slapped him again, this time hard enough that he tasted blood.

“You’re insane!” Valkyrie hissed. “Are you trying to get us all killed?”

“No,” Loki smiled darkly, “Just trying to see how long it takes for husband-dear to make me the sacrificial lamb again.”

The words were cutting, and Thor visibly flinched – Hela laughed at the incredibly obvious show of weakness and with a flick of her wrist, knocked Thor’s jaw back into his skull and sent him careening backward. Loki was not so kind this time as to provide a safety net. The god of thunder collapsed to the ground, face swelling and purpling rapidly and blood pouring from the side of his mouth. He likely had a few broken teeth, perhaps a dislocated jaw…

Quickly summoning three more pikes, Hela sent them soaring through the air directly at the god of mischief. Casting a simple misdirection hex, a greenish haze formed around the black projectiles – they swiveled around him harmlessly, changed their course and made a beeline for Hela. She side-stepped them easily, but it provided just enough of a distraction for Loki to unsheathe on of his blades and ram it directly into her stomach.

Hela laughed wetly, blood frothing over her dark lips, “Hmm… you’re much stronger than I’d imagined. Certainly not the coward who ran from me all those weeks ago.”

Loki’s face darkened considerably at her words, “Hold your tongue. I am no coward.”

“’Then why did he let himself die? He’s an incredibly powerful sorcerer, he could’ve saved himself!’ Were those not your daughter’s exact words to you whilst you continued to hide behind that bastard’s face?” Hela crooned darkly. “Could you not tell her that you were too ashamed to face them after what you’d done, to tell them the truth of what happened when you fell off the Bifrost..?”

“Quiet!” Hot blood rushed over his fingers as he drove the blade in deeper, but it seemed to have no effect. The bitch only seemed to laugh harder, “You have no right to speak on that. You don’t know -,”

“I can feel the corruption rolling off of you in waves. I can sense a power much stronger than your own sustaining you, protecting you from harm.” Hela smiled almost sweetly, “Do you think our dear brother is so blind that he doesn’t sense it as well?”

Chapter Text

A horrific ache tore through his lower abdomen, and before he even had time to acknowledge what had happened, he spat out a mouthful of dark red blood. Slowly, he looked down to find on of Hela’s thick, black pikes imbedded in his stomach, just above his bellybutton. Her hand, deceptively dainty, was wrapped around the thin shaft of the weapon and twisting it slowly… Loki’s face contorted in a pained grimace and his hand dropped from the handle of the dagger still buried deep in her belly to wrap around the blood-slick shaft of the pike, trying to force it back out of his body.

“Loki!” Though Thor’s face was a bloody, swollen mess, it was still clear that his features were contorted into a mask of concern. He struggled to his feet, still a bit woozy from the blow to the head. “Loki, don’t pull it out! You’ll only make it worse!”

The Dark World flashed before his eyes, long-buried memories surfacing of that monstrous creature tearing the pike out of his chest and leaving nothing but a bloody, gaping hole in its wake. “You think I don’t know that!”

Valkyrie came up behind her, hooking an arm around her neck and yanking her back. The momentum was barely enough to take her off her feet, and she pivoted around and tackled Valkyrie to the ground. Loki’s hands tightened around the pike, his palms slipping on the blood that continued to slick the shaft of the weapon. His stomach began to cramp once more, the pain from the miscarriage that had mostly abated coming back full-force. He cursed underneath his breath… this really wasn’t the time. Tugging at the weapon, his face twisted in absolute misery. It hurt so badly

A weight settled on the other side of the pike – Thor had made his way over to him and had gripped the weapon. “I need to know, before I help you with this… Are you going to heal yourself?”

“Do we really have time to be discussing this right now?” Loki hissed – he was losing blood at an alarming rate and Valkyrie could only hold Hela’s attention for so long. “Just help me pull it out, you buffoon!”

“I’m not going to help you kill yourself, Loki. I can’t watch you die again.” Thor said firmly.

Loki appeared wholly unimpressed. “Yet you leave me on a hostile planet, tortured with a bloody obedience device, convulsing for hours. How am I supposed to believe anything you say?”

“As adorable as this little heart-to-heart is,” Valkyrie croaked, the entire left side of her face swollen from a particularly nasty blow. “I could really use some help over here.” She rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding a knee to the ribs, and swung up to kick the side of the goddess of death’s head.

But Thor would not be dissuaded, “I need you to promise me, Loki.”

Valkyrie rolled her eyes, using Hela’s momentary distraction to twist to her feet. She shoved Thor to the side a little too easily, grabbed the pike, and yanked with a surprising amount of strength. “For fuck’s sake, you two are positively useless.”

Loki positively howled as the pike was ripped from him, doing more damage on the way out than it had when Hela had originally impaled him with it. Thor’s eyes blew wide and he immediately panicked, hands going to cover the hole in Loki’s stomach and trying to staunch the flow of blood. He shook his head frantically, murmuring incoherently under his breath as the blood seemed to come from everywhere all at once. Valkyrie turned around, still holding the pike, and swung it like a bat at Hela. She deflected, summoning three ebony blades from thin air and sending them flying toward the small gaggle of heroes.

Loki’s eyes flashed an unnatural green, and the flow of blood suddenly stopped altogether. He shoved Thor off of him none too gently, twisted his hand in the air and the blades flying toward them dissolved in mid-air in a cloud of dark green smoke. Lightning cackled from Thor’s fingertips, anger swelling within him at Loki having cast him aside so callously. He was able to channel that anger toward Hela, bringing down a tremendous bolt of lightning on the goddess’ head. She disappeared into a wash of bluish light, buying them a precious few moments to regroup. It seemed like nothing they did had a lasting effect on the goddess.

“Loki…” Thor turned to the raven, who was looking at the hole in his armor disdainfully. “There’s only one way to defeat her. She’s drawing her power from Asgard…”

Loki stared at him as if he’d suddenly acquired a second head, “You can’t possibly be serious.”

“Valkyrie and I can hold her off long enough for you to head to the vault and grab the helmet.” The unspoken fact that Thor was unwilling to allow his husband to be put in the direct line of fire again hung heavy in the air between them. “Trust me, if I thought that there could be any other way…”

Loki seemed to consider this for a moment, before asking, “Has everyone been evacuated?”

A troubled look came over the god of thunder’s face, and for a moment it looked as if he would say ‘no’. And then, “Yes, everyone has been evacuated. Heimdall has made sure of it.”

Hela was charging for them again. Valkyrie intercepted her, sweeping her feet and landing a low blow on her spine. Hela doubled over momentarily, before turning her new position to her advantage and headbutting her opponent in the stomach. The warrior made a guttural sound as all of the air evacuated her lungs and a painful ache began to radiate throughout her body. Thor took the opportunity to hit her with another blast of lightning, which did little more than scorch the end of her cloak. He turned to his brother helplessly, willing him to do the right thing…

“Fare thee well, brother.” Loki spat venomously, before disappearing in a cloud of green smoke.

--

Since the fight had first broken out, it had grown eerily silent in the burial chamber. The ceiling above her no longer shook from the sheer force of the blows exchanged, and there were no voices raised in the din of battle. She could only fear the worst, if she had the energy to feel anything at all.

The world around her had dulled to a blur of crystalline colors, and she could no longer make out the definite shapes of the objects in the tomb alongside her. It was only a matter of time, then… A single tear trekked down her cheek at the thought of being reunited with her beloved Papa, with her sisters, with her grandmother. She had fought the good fight, there would be no shame in laying down her arms now.

And then, she heard the distinctive pat-pat-pat of footfalls abovehead. She swallowed hard: it must be time, then. Either she’d already passed on and her ancestors had come to whisk her away, or Hela had sent Skurge down to finish her bloody deed. Either way, she would accept her fate. There was no use in fighting when the black door was slowly, steadily closing upon her. All of the color in her world was slowly fading out to black.

“Who shall sing me, into the death-sleep sling me? When I walk on the Path of Death, and the tracks I tread are cold, so cold…” she sang softly, her voice hoarse from hours of screaming.

The shuffling above her stopped, but she took little notice. The song flowed through her like rushing water in a spring – it was the same song that they’d sung at the Allmother’s funeral, to honor all those that had died at the hands of the Dark Elves. There was a loud thunk, most likely a body plummeting through the hole in the ceiling. Gunnhild smiled ruefully, so she’d sent Skurge after all.

“When you stand by the Gate of Death and you have to tear free, I shall follow you across the Resounding Bridge with my song…” she shifted slightly, tensing for the impact of a scythe against her neck.

Instead, she felt a large, smooth hand cup her cheek. “Gunnhild? Gunnhild, darling, open your eyes for Papa.”

Tired blue eyes fluttered, their field of vision so small that it was almost impossible to make out the face of the man before her, “Am I… Have I died..?”

“No. No, no, no darling, you’re still here. You’re here with me, and I’m going to get you out.” Green eyes flickered down to the chain keeping her bound to the wall. Reaching for the dagger at his hip, he took aim.

Her head lolled to the side, “But you died… Even your magic is not strong enough to bring the dead back to life.” She murmured, her words slurring together as she fought a losing battle with consciousness.

All it took was one blow from the dagger to severe the chain binding her to the prison of death. Her body began to drift to the side and he caught her easily, mumbling a healing spell beneath his breath. Green light emanated from his hands, staunching the flow of blood from her amputation and her wounded abdomen.

“Not the same,” Gunnhild whispered as Loki hoisted her into his arms, “Your magic… It’s stronger. Different. It doesn’t feel right.” Loki’s healing magic usually felt like cool water lapping at feverish skin, a soothing caress…

Now, it was more aggressive, like an exfoliating sponge on a bullet wound.

A dark look came over Loki’s face, Hela’s last words to him reverberating in his ears: “I can feel the corruption rolling off of you in waves.” He shook his head, “You’ve lost quite a bit of blood, darling. You’re delirious.”

“I’m coherent enough to recognize when something is wrong.” She slurred, her head drooping down to rest on his shoulder. “Your hands are too soft… Your voice is too sweet… Your body is too warm…”

Even when he bore the skin of an Aesir, Loki’s skin was always cold. “Maybe you’re just cold?” He offered.

But he knew that that was not the case, could feel Brisingamen dig a hot groove into his shoulder… the necklace always kept Gunnhild preternaturally warm, almost to the point of feeling feverish. Even with her half-Jotun heritage, her skin was never cold to the touch. She squirmed uncomfortably in his arms, presumably attempting to distance herself from the overwhelming heat that his body was putting off. Loki held her fast.

Casting a quick spell, green tendrils of magic steadily wove together to form a ladder back into the vault. After making sure that his hold on Gunnhild was secure, he began to steadily ascend back to the surface. The blonde was murmuring beneath her breath, hot puffs of air causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand up. She was lighter than he’d anticipated, and so the return trip did not take long. Which left one final thing…

Racing back into the vault, he made his way over to the Tesseract. Blue eyes, glazed with pain and exhaustion, widened in horror as the unnatural blue light washed over them. “Papa, what’re you..?”

Loki hushed her softly, “Don’t worry about it, my darling. Papa knows what he’s doing.” He lifted the Infinity Stone and slipped it underneath his cloak, attaching it at his waist. “Papa is going to fix everything…”

Quickly, he made his way over to the helmet. He’d already taken way too much time, and he didn’t know how much longer Thor and Valkyrie would be able to hold Hela off. He made quick work of depositing the helmet into the Eternal Flame, watching as the supernatural flames seemed to swallow the silver headpiece in its entirety. And he did not need to turn and look to know that Gunnhild was watching the flames with a similar sense of awe and fear.

Asgard’s reckoning was upon them.