Bruce was falling asleep in front of some documentary about termites. It wasn’t the most fascinating thing but he’d had a particularly trying day at the lab and he needed something boring and monotonous to calm him down enough for bed. He was about to turn it off when the door to his bathroom glowed a bright white, the light so dense he couldn’t see inside anymore. He jumped to his feet as a figure stepped through. She was a young woman, the two sides of her body divided straight down the middle. The right was lovely, long black hair and pale pink skin with delicate limbs and a green eye. The left was black, the flesh withered back from two of her fingers, the eye white and piercing. Her hair on that side was streaked with silver. Her dress was a pale grey, the bodice tight above skirts that floated out behind her as if wind-blown.
“Bruce of the house Banner?” she spoke, and the words were like two voices at once, one light and melodious and the other a hushed, chilling echo.
“Come.” She offered her good hand.
“What? Jarvis, get the others!”
“Come.” She took a step closer.
“No thanks. I mean, you seem lovely, but I don’t run off with every strange woman who shows up in my lounge room.”
“Come.” There was steel in her tone, and something almost desperate. Bruce suddenly felt a wave of doubt. She hadn’t attacked him. Maybe she needed his help.
“Who are you?” he whispered.
There were footsteps in the hall outside and they both looked at the door as someone called his name.
She tugged him to her, some unseen force pushing him into her arms no matter how hard he tried to get away. The door burst open behind him but they were already stepping back through the doorway, and then there was only an instant of blinding light before his apartment was gone.
“What the fuck?”
She released him, but did not move away. He scrambled back a few steps, taking in his surroundings as he fought to control the Other Guy. It was no good Hulking out unless he knew where he was and what was going on – it might only make things worse.
They were in some kind of great hall carved out of pale marble. It was incredibly cold, his breath coming in small white puffs of mist. He shivered deeper into his thin green dressing gown. There was no one else there, just the strange girl, the empty hall, and a large magnificent throne of silver on a dais.
“Where are we?”
“Helheim. It is the only city of my realm.”
“Your realm? So we’re not on earth anymore?”
Bruce racked his brain for everything Loki and Thor had ever mentioned about the nine realms. He drew a blank on Niflheim.
“Okay, so it’s your realm. Who are you?”
“Hel Lokidóttir, queen of the dishonoured dead.”
“Queen of the dead?” he gaped, “Am I dead?”
“No. You are my guest.”
“Your guest, right. Funny, I don’t remember packing my bags.”
“It was the only way I could keep you, since you are a hero and would not come to my halls naturally. I have been watching you, Bruce of the house Banner.”
“Just Bruce is fine, alright.” He turned to look the place over again, trembling.
Hel stepped forward. “You are cold. Let me help.”
He flinched as she rested a hand on his gown, but it only transformed into a large, thick cloak lined with grey fur. Bruce was instantly warmer, and looked up at her with some gratitude.
“If you could just take me home, that would be great.”
“You belong here with me now.” She tilted her head as if puzzled he hadn’t got it yet.
“The others, my friends, they’ll be looking for me. They need me. And you seem really nice but I kinda have a life on Midgard that I’d like to get back to.”
“You are mine,” her eyes blazed, voice echoing terribly through the hall, “And you belong with me now.”
Bruce struggled for a moment against the Hulk. He was obviously in the power of some magical otherworldly person, a queen of the dead no less, and he couldn’t afford to lose control. The Other Guy didn’t take too kindly to being claimed though, and he pushed back against Bruce’s walls. When he felt calmer he cleared his throat, but she cut him off.
“Come. I will show you your chambers.”
She took his arm and tugged, and there was no way he could fight that strength. Bruce had no choice but to trot along after her.
“Bruce?” Tony gaped at the spot where Banner had disappeared.
“He’s gone!” Steve looked around, “He was just here!”
“You know, for a guy who gets big and green when he’s angry, Bruce gets captured a lot.” Clint snickered.
“Magic. Loki!” Nat waved her husband forward.
Thor sniffed suspiciously as he entered. “One of Asgard was here.”
The green-clad god pushed through them and went straight to the doorway, hands up as he scanned the ground and the frame.
“Not of Asgard...” he muttered.
The magic felt familiar, but there was something both very powerful and very odd about it. It felt almost insubstantial when he tried to grasp it. Loki reached into the portal and drew up a ghost of what had passed, a vision in his mind of the white light that had claimed Bruce. His eyes rocketed open and he fell onto his knees.
“Loki!” Natasha ran to his side, afraid to touch him.
“Banner is in Niflheim.”
“Niflheim?” Thor frowned.
“Someone wanna enlighten us human types?” Clint raised a brow.
“If you die heroically, you go to the halls of Valhalla to feast eternally and be lauded throughout the ages,” the blond explained, “If you die otherwise you go to Niflheim.”
“And what happens to you there?” Steve asked, sounding hesitant.
“Hel has him.” Loki gasped out, getting to his feet.
Thor’s face darkened.
“That’s not good, is it?” Tony looked between the gods.
“It could be worse,” Loki smiled, bemused, “She’s my daughter.”
Nat was very quiet as they sat around Fury’s meeting table. Loki glanced at her worriedly while trying to field the director’s questions.
“So you’re saying one of my Avengers got kidnapped into a mythical land of the dead by your goddess daughter.”
“Something like that.”
“Nobody even told me you had kids!” Fury glared at Thor.
“Please, director, if you had studied your mythology half as well as you ought, you would have known.” Loki rolled his eyes.
Natasha’s nostrils flared at that, and she looked away hurriedly.
“Why?” Clint asked.
Even Steve turned an incredulous look on him.
“No, director, why would Hel take Bruce? What does she want with him?”
They all looked silently at Loki.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her in a century.”
“Fine, you go to Niflheim, tell her to give him back, end of story.” Fury barked.
“It may not be that simple.”
“Why the hell not?”
Tony and Clint sniggered and Fury sighed, giving them a cold glare.
“Because my daughter is a queen in her own right. She does not have to obey me. I can ask, but if she refuses we will be in a complicated position.”
“Ask. Then if she says no, take him anyway and figure out some deal to keep her off our case. I want my Avenger back!”
Loki inclined a head and headed out, Thor close behind him.
“Let me come with you, brother. We shall provide a united front and convince my niece it is in her best interests to undo this wrong.”
“You really think Hel wants to see you?” Loki said frostily.
The thunder god ducked his head. “Perhaps not. You are her mother; you will know best how to reach her.”
Loki continued on alone, headed for the roof. The crossing to Niflheim was trickier than most realms, since it actively rejected those not dead while touching on every realm of the living. He needed the space and height to get there. He was so distracted thinking of what to say to Hel he didn’t notice the arm that struck him in the face as he reached the top of the stairs.
Loki ducked and spun, taking another hit to the diaphragm. He caught the next kick, pushing Nat back against the wall so she couldn’t swing again. Her face was hard, but there were tears down both cheeks and her eyes were red.
“How could you keep this from me?”
“What?” he snapped, confused by the attack.
“You have children, Loki! Actual beings out there in the universe that call you father, and I’m your wife and I had to find out with everyone else.”
“They call me mother, actually.”
She headbutted him and he growled through clenched teeth, pushing her more firmly into the wall.
“My children are a touchy subject, Natasha. They were taken from me and cast off by Odin in his wisdom, and since I do not have much of a relationship with any of them now, I did not wish to discuss it.”
“I get not wanting to talk about stuff that sucks. I get that you’ve just been through all this shit with Odin and Thor and you’ll never be great at sharing or family. But you could have given me a hint instead of making me look like an idiot.”
“I apologise. On my return I will tell you whatever you want to know, but it is important I reach Hel before any harm befalls Bruce.”
He released her warily, half-expecting another hit, but she wiped her face and looked up at him.
“I tell you things.”
“Not everything.” He smiled sadly.
“No, I guess not.”
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I overreacted. Sorry about the face.”
“No harm done. Do you want to watch me go?”
“Alright.” She took his hand, following him out onto the roof.
The room Hel had given him was still cold despite having a fireplace that was big enough to fit the Hulk in it. The walls, ceiling and floor were carved out of that same pale marble. There was a large bed covered in grey satin, a few odd pieces of furniture and a desk with a smoky mirror.
“What am I doing here?” he insisted, moving closer to the fire.
“You don’t like it?” she sounded hurt.
“No, it’s nice, but what am I doing here? What do you want with me?”
She stepped forward until her skirts were touching his bare feet, bringing her hand up to trace the side of his face. The skeletal fingers brushed his neck and he stiffened, not wanting to offend her by moving away.
“Dishonoured dead. Do you know what that means?”
He shook his head carefully.
“It means I am condemned to watch heroes but never live among them. That the good, the pure, are forever beyond my reach. My subjects are the elderly, the infirm, women and children who’d never touched a blade in their lives. It is an insult – a prison for the hated daughter of Loki.”
“You know, the more I hear about Asgard, the less I wanna go there.”
“You are a hero, Bruce, but you are like me. Alone, tormented, feared and loathed for what you are. You even harbour such resentments against yourself, as I do sometimes. You are sad. I watched you on Midgard, and I saw a kindred soul.”
He laughed uneasily. “Usually when you like someone you ask them on a date before whisking them back to your underworld lair.”
“Would you have come?” she raised a sceptical brow, looking so much like Loki it scared him.
Bruce wasn’t sure what to say, so he chose the route least likely to piss her off and said nothing.
“Do you know what they call Loki on Asgard? Mother of Monsters. That is all anyone sees when they look at me, Bruce.”
He cleared his throat, looking away ruefully. “I guess I know how that feels.”
“So you must stay and be mine.”
He sighed. “Look, I understand where you’re coming from. But that doesn’t make this okay! You can’t just wave your fingers and expect me to forget my whole life to keep you company.”
Hel opened her mouth to respond when her whole face changed into something so ominous Bruce shrank back against the wall. Without another word she spun and marched out, and figuring it was better to keep her in sight than risk running into some unknown danger, he ran after her.
They went back to the same hall they’d appeared in, and Bruce could have wept when he saw Loki standing with his arms clasped casually behind his back.
“Hello Banner. Greetings daughter.” He bobbed his head.
“Mother.” Hel said so stiffly she might have been made of metal.
“You’re looking well.”
“Might I ask what you were doing kidnapping Dr Banner here earlier tonight?”
“The Midgardian is mine. It was no kidnapping but a rescue.”
“I disagree, as does Bruce I’m sure.”
Hel shot the scientist a dark look and he smiled slightly. “We were just having this debate, actually.”
“Hel, you cannot pluck people out of the other realms as you see fit. Odin Allfather will-”
She smirked scornfully. “What? What will Odin Allfather do? Punish me further for my unhappiness at his banishment?”
Loki looked down. “He is a flawed man, but he has forgiven me my recent indiscretions. Surely he will be lenient on you.”
“And have you forgiven him, Mother?”
Loki’s eyes were green fire as he stared at her, jaw tight. There was something triumphant in Hel’s smile, and the silence dragged on too long for Bruce’s liking. He took a tentative step towards Loki.
“You know Mother, if not for your exploits in New York I would not have found Bruce. You were almost swallowed whole in chaos, too enraged and emotional to see defeat coming for you.”
“I had a plan.” Loki said petulantly.
“The Midgardians you faced had their own troubles and still they banded together valiantly and attained victory. I’ve been watching them ever since.”
“Will you release him?” the mischief god asked.
“No. He is mine.”
“Even when he is not himself? When he tears your castle down around your ears? His inner beast will not take to being tamed.”
Bruce gave him a hurt look but Loki’s eye twinkled reassuringly and the doctor knew he didn’t mean it. Hel however looked even more ghastly and cross.
“He is no more a beast than I. He could turn this entire realm to nothing but heaps of ice and stone and I would still love him.”
As terrifying as that statement was, Bruce found it kind of sweet. The Other Guy certainly did.
Loki stared at her. “Do you truly think that? You love him?”
He was quiet for a very long moment, eyes on the floor. When he looked up he seemed almost guilty.
“I have neglected you. Odin placed you here against my will but I did nothing to comfort you after. I wanted so badly to save face in Asgard I turned from you, as I turned from your brothers. That was wrong. It is time to make us a family again, now that Odin’s arm cannot reach us. Now that we do not have to face him alone.”
Hel looked startled. Evidently she was as surprised as Bruce.
“What do you mean?”
“If you love Bruce as you claim, you will return him to Midgard. But you will come with us. We shall free your brothers and live together with the humans, and I shall correct the mistreatment I have shown you all.”
Hel was quiet, giving Bruce a moment to be afraid of what Loki’s other children looked like.
“What of Niflheim?”
“The dead will still be here if you choose to return.”
The distrust was clear in her face, but Bruce could see she wanted it. Hel was lonely. She needed to feel someone cared. He reached out and took her hand.
“Come on. You can take me on a date.”
She bit her lip uncertainly, but nodded. “Alright. Let’s go find the others.”
Bruce thought that meant he was going to get dropped back in Manhattan while Loki and Hel had some mother-daughter bonding time. He did not expect to get transported through a harrowing swirl of black sky and stars to a craggy rock ledge, Hel and Loki grasping his hands as he swayed.
“Where are we?”
“Asgard.” Loki said bitterly.
“The prison of Fenrir.” Hel said, not letting go of his hand as they crept along the outcrop.
Up ahead the rock was covered in mist, but as they got closer Bruce could just make out the shape of a wolf as big as a horse. His fur was shaggy, a mixture of white and grey patches, his eyes a dark amber. There was a golden rope holding his right forepaw to a loop in the stone. As they approached, he growled and all the hairs on the back of Bruce’s neck stood up.
“Fenrir,” Loki held up his hands, “It’s Mother. I have come to release you. I should have brought you home long before now.”
The wolf regarded them suspiciously, but as Loki got closer he sniffed the god and straightened, tongue hanging out. Loki ruffled the fur on his neck.
“Yes, it is good to see you. Hel, Banner, I shall need your help.”
He knelt and pressed a hand to the rope. It glowed green but otherwise didn’t change.
“This was built to resist Fenrir’s strength, but I think with the four of us we can break it now.”
“Four of us? You mean the Other Guy.”
“Would you change, Banner? For me? For my children?”
He looked at the longing in Loki’s eyes, and the acceptance in Hel’s. He sighed.
“I can’t promise he’ll be very co-operative.”
He stripped off the cloak, figuring he’d need it again when he changed back. Bruce stood more at a distance just in case, reaching into himself for that familiar feeling of being stretched in his skin. He grew and twisted and roared and then there was a Hulk standing over them in a defensive pose.
“Hello friend,” Loki smiled, “Will you lend us your strength?”
“Loki?” Hulk frowned.
“Yes. We need your help.”
Loki showed him where to put his hands on the rope and together they all got a grip.
“Ready? One, two, heave!”
They strained and tugged and yanked, muscles bulging as their feet slid over the rock. Hulk dug himself in as best he could, dragging at the cord. He felt something give and then it snapped, sending them all flat on their backs. Hulk bellowed and rolled back to his feet as Fenrir stood, the golden rope falling away from his ankle now it was broken. As soon as he was free he gave a howl, standing on his hind legs and pawing at the sky.
Loki and Hel picked themselves up slowly. The god waved a hand at Fenrir.
“Yes, yes, but quiet now. We don’t want the whole realm knowing.”
The wolf cocked his head at him, then shivered as if shucking off its fur. Falling on all fours it began to shrink and change, until where the animal had been stood a young man with grey-blonde hair and a sharp face, his eyes green and his tunic silver under a thick fur cape.
“Mother. Sister.” He said gruffly, clapping a hand on their shoulders.
“We must be out of here before Odin interferes. Join hands.” Loki grabbed Hulk’s.
“Wait,” Hel frowned, “What about Sleipnir?”
“He is in Odin’s stables.” The god of lies muttered.
“We can’t just leave him there.”
“There is a big difference between breaking your brother’s chains and stealing Odin’s personal steed from the palace!’ he said with exasperation.
Her face was hard. “You promised to free us all.”
Hulk grunted and the goddess looked up at him. “Thank you for your help, friend Hulk.”
Loki looked at his son, half-defeated already with his uncertain frown.
“What do you think, Fenrir? It is you who will be in most danger.”
The youth’s eyes glittered. “I won’t let grandfather Odin keep a brother of mine in shackles, no matter how he paints it.”
“Alright then. We’re going to the palace. But we will need stealth...Hulk, may we have Bruce back?”
“Just for a time.”
He scowled but sat heavily, his body slowly rippling and shrinking and collapsing back into Bruce. He gasped, sprawled out on the stone. Hel giggled and he realised he was naked, quickly running back to get the cloak he’d abandoned earlier.
“Fenrir, this is Bruce.”
“I see you are a shape shifter too.”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“You were magnificent.” Hel beamed, and he blushed.
“So, uh, what’s the plan?”
Loki and his children possessed more than their fair share of magic and had lots of practice getting around unnoticed, so it was simple to sneak the four of them into the Asgardian palace. They reached the stables without incident, people passing without seeming to notice them. When Hulk looked at himself he seemed shadowy, half-formed. It was disconcerting.
The stables were huge, and the horses more majestic than any Bruce had ever seen. Their coats gleamed and their manes seemed like real gold. Loki led them straight to a stall at the end that was bigger than the others, the door high enough to cut off the view inside. Loki laid his hand on the gap and they swung open.
“You know Odin’s charm?” Fenrir asked.
“I used to come and visit sometimes, when I could get away.” Loki said gloomily, leading them in.
As if Bruce hadn’t seen enough weird shit today, an eight-legged white horse neighed affectionately and rushed towards them so fast he almost bowled the human over. Loki giggled as the stallion licked his face, even Hel smiling at the boisterous child.
“Alright, alright. Mother and the others have come to take you from here. Will you come?”
He whinnied cheerfully and Loki patted his neck.
“Hel, I shall need your help. We cannot take Sleipnir through the normal paths.”
“Can’t he turn into a person, like Fenrir?” Bruce said.
“Sleipnir was taken from me young, and never studied at my knee. He has neither language nor magic. I will change that.” Loki’s voice was like a knife.
“I do not know where to take him, Mother.” Hel admitted.
Loki touched her hand for a second and she smiled.
She traced a finger over the stall doors, making rune shapes that glowed a bright white for a second after she was done before disappearing. As she finished the last she stood back and raised her hands.
“The Allfather will know of this the second it is done.” She looked at Loki, slightly afraid now.
She spoke a word and the doors disappeared into that same bright white light Bruce had seen in his apartment. When it cleared, he could see the meeting room at SHIELD HQ, Fury and Agent Hill standing by a wall of screens while the other Avengers lazed around the table waiting for Loki and Bruce.
“Now everyone hold onto me.” Hel reached behind her with her hands.
Fenrir and Loki each grabbed a shoulder. Bruce took her hand tightly, not wanting to get left behind. Sleipnir gripped her dress gently in his teeth.
Tony rolled his head on his neck, helmet discarded on the table. “They’ve been gone awhile.”
“If Hel is anything like Loki they’ll probably argue it out for another day.” Clint sneered.
Thor looked nothing like his usual self, his expression worried and grim. “She is too much like him.”
“What’s the deal there anyway, your niece living in the underworld?” Tony drummed on the table.
“It was the Allfather’s decision to honour her with the throne.” Thor muttered.
The doors were suddenly a wall of white light. Fury and Hill grabbed their guns as Steve jumped to his feet. Four people stepped through, followed by a huge eight-legged horse that whickered happily as the light faded.
If ever a group redefined speechless, it was them. Tony’s jaw just about hit the table. Fury’s gun wavered uncertainly, the sight of Bruce and Loki holding him back. Natasha took one look at the motley group and knew exactly who they were. Only Thor seemed able to move, standing with a stormy expression.
“Loki, what have you done?”
His brother looked guilty for a second before drawing himself up. “I have undone Odin’s treachery. I have freed my children, and he will not touch them again.”
Bruce let go of Hel’s hand, smiling apologetically. “Look, I’m exhausted. I’m just gonna sit down.”
“Loki, you have stolen the Allfather’s steed! You have freed Fenrir and taken Hel from her rightful place! This is an act Asgard cannot overlook!”
Fenrir growled, the noise inhuman despite his form. Clint visibly jumped in his seat.
“I have changed, Thor! I am no longer Loki of Asgard. I have a life here now, a love, allies. I thought I had a brother. If you would choose to take Odin’s side and condemn my actions, to condemn me drawing in my scattered family, then it is best you leave now.”
The blond looked pained. “Loki, I know how it has been for you. The Allfather is not always right in his judgements but his heart is good!”
Loki gave Thor a scornful look and turned to Fury.
“Director, I ask that you extend your protection to my children. If I am a member of your team and a defender of Midgard, so too must you vow to keep what is precious to me safe.”
Fury nodded thoughtfully, holstering his weapon. “It would be careless to let an Asgardian take retribution on Earth soil. I will protect them.”
“And I will.” Natasha stood.
Loki gave her a grateful look and held out his hand, and she came closer until he could kiss her cheek.
“Children, this is Natasha, my wife. Natasha this is Fenrir, Hel and Sleipnir.”
“Um, pleased to meet you.”
They eyed her quietly, Hel and Fenrir exchanging some kind of look before smiling.
“Nat’s stepkids are gods. This is the most awesome thing ever.” Clint said under his breath. Nat glared at him over her shoulder.
“Thor? Will you watch over them? They are your kin.” Loki pleaded.
He took a deep breath and looked at his niece and nephews. Sleipnir whuffed at him and flicked his tail, and Thor smiled.
“Children should be with their mother. I will watch over them, Loki.”
Loki grinned and clapped forearms with the thunder god. “Then you must start now. I am going to get Jormungand.”
Thor paled. “Jormungand?”
“He is a child of mine, Thor.” Loki said threateningly.
“I know, I know. Just...we never got along, brother.” He whispered. Of course Thor’s idea of a whisper was still loud enough for the whole room to hear.
“He has grown up a bit - you both have. I’m sure you can work it out.” Loki smiled evilly.
He offered his hands to Fenrir and Hel. “Coming?”
Hel glanced at Bruce nodding sleepily at the table. “I think I shall stay, mother. Keep Sleipnir company.”
Fenrir took his hand and Loki frowned, turning to Natasha. “Would you like to meet Jormungand?”
She raised her brows. “Uh, sure. Yeah.”
She slid her hand in his, and the three of them disappeared.
They popped onto a beach Natasha didn’t recognise, the air balmy and still. She couldn’t hear any signs of human activity, just wildlife and waves. Loki walked until his toes almost touched the water, raising his hands.
“Jormungand, son, serpent of the world! Your mother returns for you! Your brother misses you! Come to us!”
At first there was nothing. Nat stood awkwardly next to her new stepson and watched the water and waited. Then in the distance she made out a ripple. It was tiny, nothing unusual, but it moved across the ocean towards them. The closer it got the bigger it became, until right in front of the sand a snake-like creature reared up and towered over them, his head almost touching the clouds. His body was as thick as Stark Tower, his scales a cobalt blue, and she stumbled backward without meaning to, only staying upright by Fenrir’s hand on her arm.
‘No problem, Lady Father.”
She gaped at him and he grinned almost wolfishly. “Oh, we’re going to have a talk about that name.”
“But that is what you are, the bride of our mother.”
“Can’t we just settle on something innocuous like Tash?”
“Jormungand!” Loki called, distracting them, “It’s a bit hard to talk like this. Think you could come down here?”
The serpent’s voice was a deep boom. “Why don’t you come up here, little mother?”
“Jormungand, I didn’t come to take lip from you. I’ll change you myself if I have to.”
The snake gave a hissing laugh but twirled its neck, the motion sending it into a spin as it shrank and grew limbs, until a dark haired young man with huge muscles and a broad chest stood before them in nothing but navy leather pants. His bare skin was covered in an almost scale-like pattern.
“Mother, I have not seen you for some time.” His voice was still low, musical, and his smile devilish.
“I apologise. I have been busy elsewhere.”
“I do not mind. There is plenty of entertainment on Midgard.”
“Brother.” Fenrir stepped forward, bowing slightly.
“Fenrir! Is that my baby brother? Look at you!” he laughed.
“And this is Natasha. Natasha, Jormungand, my eldest.”
“She’s our new Lady Father.” Fenrir said in a stage whisper.
“I’m just Tash.” She protested.
“You do well for yourself, mother,” Jormungand looked her up and down, “She is strong and courageous.”
“They’re all here – Hel, and Sleipnir too. We are going to take back the time Odin took from us.”
“Sounds grand. I suppose I’m invited.”
“I would not have it otherwise. Only...you must behave with Thor.”
Jormungand scowled. “Uncle is right to fear me. He is a fool.”
“He is my brother, and he is trying.” Loki said sternly.
Jormungand sighed. “Very well. As you like. Take me to see my little brother, I want to tug his horsey tail.”
“We’re going to need a seriously bigger apartment.” Natasha shook her head.
Loki found a place on Long Island that was large, secluded and had a high wall for privacy and defence. There were pastures for Sleipnir to prance in and enough rooms for everyone, and best of all a swimming pool that after a little magical tweaking was big enough for Milo. The octopus chatted to the children when Loki introduced them, but his favourite seemed to be Sleipnir, who several times a day would come down to splash his hooves in the water and play.
“Maybe it’s an eight legs thing.” Nat shrugged it off.
They stood in their half-decorated lounge room watching movers carry in their new bed. Loki had told the children to decorate their own chambers, and Tony put it on his tab because ‘I’m guessing nobody ever got you guys birthday presents before.’ The god had troubled eyes, biting his finger. Nat slid a hand around his waist.
“You’re worried about Odin.”
“Every second I expect some terrible wrath, and yet it doesn’t come.”
“Maybe he’s like Thor. He wants to make up for his mistakes towards you and the kids.”
“Maybe.” Loki said half-heartedly.
“Hey, are you going to be okay here?”
“I had planned to start teaching Sleipnir magic and Allspeak. It will take most of my days for a time. Why?”
“I was going to head to SHIELD. I need a break from all the ‘Lady Father’ snickers. If I didn’t already know they were your kids, the delighted look they get whenever they say it would tip me off.”
“They mean well.”
“I’m sure,” she rolled her eyes before squeezing him, “They’re great, Loki.”
“Aren’t they?” he said proudly, and she smiled.
They spent a little time with the Avengers. Fenrir got along best with Clint, the two of them discussing different combat techniques or weaponry for hours at a time. Jormungand preferred to trail after Tony or Jane, contributing to their research with his centuries of knowledge. But Hel had eyes for only one Avenger, and it was Bruce.
He walked into the lab just before lunch and she was already there, sitting on the edge of the counter twirling her feet. It was the first time he’d seen them and they matched the rest of her, one whole and pink, the other black and ragged, bones peeking through flesh. He smiled.
“You promised we could have a date, Bruce of the house Banner.”
“I did. Yeah, look, sorry, I’ve just been so caught up in my work-”
“You will take me on this date now.”
“Um, okay,’ he set down his tea, “Look, I kinda thought when you got here and saw that pretty much everyone who works at SHIELD is different or unique, you wouldn’t be so infatuated with me. I’m not very special.”
“You are. You are kind, and intelligent. You are fierce and strong. The Lady Darcy pronounced you hot, though I am not sure what she meant since your temperature appears normal to me, but she said it was a good thing.”
“Wait – have you been talking to Darcy about me?”
“Once. Fenrir was talking to Clint of house Barton and the Lady Darcy, and she declared my look ‘most rad’. She is a strange Midgardian.”
Bruce stifled a chuckle. “Yeah, she’s out there. Alright, we’ll go on a date. Do you, um, can you do that thing your brothers do? The shape shifting?”
“Maybe do it now? It’s not that you’re not great and uh, most rad, but if we’re going out in public people will ask a lot of questions. I think you and your brothers are supposed to be a secret.”
His words stopped any wound she might feel about the request, and Hel tilted her head as if thinking. Starting from her head, her left side changed until it resembled her right perfectly, spreading down to the end of her toes. She looked like any normal girl in a ballgown. Bruce winced.
“And the clothes too?”
She tilted again and the flowing pale dress became a more sensible halterneck, almost Grecian in style and not so wide. Bruce smiled.
“Where would you like to go?”
Clint was spooning ice cream straight out of the tub into his mouth when Darcy walked into the break room.
“Hey my sugary sugar.” She kissed his cream-covered lips.
“Hey. Have I mentioned you’re looking hot as fuck today?”
She gave him a shimmy and poured herself a coffee. “Some guy’s taking me out after work, you know. Thought I should dress up.”
Clint smiled. “Have you figured out where we’re going yet?”
“No, but I’ll get it, you’ll see!” she twitched a finger at him.
Fenrir came in, hair slicked back with sweat.
“Friend Clint!” he high-fived the agent.
Barton beamed at Darcy. “I taught him that.”
“Hey Fen, seen your sister?”
He shook his head, refilling his water bottle. “I have not, Lady Darcy. Do you need her?”
“Just wanted to see how it was going.” She said innocently.
Clint’s eyes narrowed. “How what’s going?”
“Um, you know, life. Death. That sort of stuff.”
“Okay, well she told me things with Bruce were kinda awkward because he’s always in the lab ignoring her, and I told her to take the initiative. Make the first move.”
“Oh my god. Poor Bruce is gonna have a heart attack.”
“It’ll be fine!”
Fenrir smiled. “My sister is not well versed in the romantic arts. I cannot begin to envision how badly her attempts are going.”
“Way to be supportive.” Darcy hit him in the arm affectionately.
“No more matchmaking. Promise me, Darce.”
“Fine! After I hook up Steve and Agent Hill, no more.”
“No! What did I just say?”
“See you tonight.” She blew him a kiss and flounced out.
Fenrir watched her go with a chuckle. “Your woman is spirited.”
“Sometimes a bit too spirited,” Clint scowled, getting to his feet, “Well I gotta get ready for our mystery date. Wish me luck.”
“The best of fortune to you both, Hawk.”
Fenrir conjured himself a bowl of Froot Loops. He hadn’t eaten much else since Natasha introduced him to them, though he doubted they held much nutritional value. He was finishing his third bowl when Thor entered and drew up short at the sight of him.
“Oh. Uh, nephew – I was looking for the Lady Jane.”
“I haven’t seen her, uncle.” He drawled.
Thor looked at the table as if searching for words and grinned. “I see you have discovered Froot Loops! A most magical invention.”
“Our lady father’s been showing us lots of Midgardian things. I think she feels it helps us settle in. She is most welcoming for such an unusual brood.”
“Agent Romanov is a wondrous woman.” He agreed, nodding to fill the new silence.
They both stopped and the younger god smiled. “You first.”
“I wanted to offer my apology for allowing your captivity in Asgard. I followed Odin blindly, believing his wisdom infinite and unshakable. I now know that not to be true.”
“It’s alright Uncle Thor. I know how things are there. I mean don’t get me wrong, if I wasn’t going to eat Grandfather before I definitely will now if I get the chance, but he sort of brought it on himself you know.”
Thor’s brow furrowed but he nodded. “I suppose that is fair.”
“Did you want to spar with me tomorrow? I was stuck on that rock so long I can’t stand to be still, and I’ve got kinks in my muscles from four centuries ago. I could use the exercise.”
“I would like that.” Thor smiled.
Their touching family moment was interrupted by red lights and alarms.
“All personnel report to their stations. Avengers to the operations room. All personnel to their stations. Avengers assemble.”
“Duty calls, little nephew.” Thor stood. He stopped at the interested and almost wistful look on Fenrir’s face.
“Would you...like to come?”
“If it’s no trouble.”
“No, no, we can always use an extra fighter. Come along!”
The wolf boy smiled and hurried after his uncle.
Fury frowned as they entered the ops room. “What is this?”
“My nephew can be of great service in our battles.” Thor said proudly.
“Fine, so long as he understands the rules.”
Clint was there a second later, grumbling. “This better not interfere with my awesome date.”
“Still going on about that?” Tony guffawed as he walked in, followed by Jormungand.
Fury raised a brow. “Guess you’re helping too?”
“Mother and the lady father are at the house on Long Island,” he explained, “Friend Tony assured me if I helped we need not disturb them.”
“We’ll see. Where’s Banner?”
“Out.” Clint said shortly.
Steve jogged in and took stock of the strange company. “Director?”
“We’re a few regulars down, so Fenrir and Jormungand have offered to help. There are enemy troops of some kind moving through SoHo, blasting shops, burning people. Get down there.”
“Do you have a picture, Man of Fury?” Jormungand asked.
He muttered and flicked up a video of the affected area. Weird neon green lizard things were walking around on two legs attacking anything in sight. Tony squinted at the screen.
“Oh look at their funny little hats!”
“Focus, Stark. Any idea what they are?”
Fenrir and Jormungand exchanged a look. “Possibly demons, though none I am familiar with.” The elder brother answered.
“Well see what you can do. Move out!”
They ran out onto the deck where the quinjet waited. Thor swung Mjölnir, taking off with Tony close behind. Fenrir and Jormungand both grabbed an Avenger by the wrist.
“You know this SoHo?” Fenrir asked.
“Yeah.” Clint frowned.
“Think of it.”
He closed his eyes and a second later opened them on the edge of the destruction.
“Awesome! Can you drop me up there, actually?” He pointed to a rooftop as Jormungand and Steve appeared next to them.
“Jorm can do it. He’ll want the height too.”
Dropping to all fours, Fenrir burst out of his shape, charging at the nearest demon with a snarl.
“Did your brother just turn into a giant wolf?” Clint gaped.
“He is a wolf.” The other god said matter-of-factly.
Jormungand placed a hand on his arm and moved them to a nearby roof, raining down green fire on the nearest demons as soon as he let go.
Steve shook his head and ran into battle. “Norse. Odd bunch.”
It was going fairly well. The demons weren’t hard to kill, and with three gods and a super soldier on their side the Avengers were cutting a swathe through them. Fenrir grabbed them up in his giant jaws and shook, or batted them aside with paws as big as dinner plates. Tony was zipping around almost too fast to see, repulsors going off in all directions. Thor was throwing his hammer when a stray ball of the demon fire struck him in the side of the face. He staggered back, colliding with a fire hydrant and falling. As if by some signal, the nearest demons all flocked to him.
“Cap, Thor has a situation!” Clint called, raising his bow.
“I’m on it!” Steve replied, darting through the street towards the god.
Clint did a double take as Jormungand disappeared beside him, but when he looked back at Thor the god was standing just outside the ring of demons surrounding his uncle. He lay curled on the ground, hugging his knees.
“Uh, guys? Jorm’s having some kind of weird moment.”
Fenrir raised his head and whined, immediately running in the opposite direction, trampling demons as he went. Jormungand started to swell and shift until his top half was bigger than a car, his bottom half still human sized as he raised a reptilian head on a neck as wide as the street.
“What in the name of me is that?” Tony blared over the comms, hovering just out of reach.
Quicker than lightning the snake darted down and plucked the demons away from his uncle. He grabbed every one he could reach, sucking them between his mighty jaws. Thor picked himself up angrily as Jormungand looked around for more. Calling Mjölnir, he shook it at his nephew.
“Jormungand Lokison, on Midgard we do not eat our enemies! You are the same as ever!”
“Thor, he just helped you out.” Tony said pointedly.
“Maybe I was just saving him for myself.” He chuckled in that deep serpent’s voice.
Thor scowled and Jormungand shrank down until both parts of him were human again, dusting himself off as he stood.
“Why do you fret, uncle? They were demons. Evildoers. Were you not also striking them down with lethal intent?”
“I suppose...” Thor trailed off.
“It is only my monstrousness that upset you. Ah, then it’s fine.” The younger god said sarcastically.
But he stalked off, crisping the last few demons as he went. Fenrir was waiting patiently, and he nuzzled at his brother as the other stopped.
“Let’s go home, brother. I tire of this.”
“Want a ride?” Fenrir asked. His voice in his wolf form was a sort of wheezy laugh.
Jormungand hopped onto his back, curling his fingers in the fur there. Fenrir turned and sprinted down the street towards the bridge.
“Um, anyone else going to object to a guy riding a huge wolf through the city?” Clint asked.
“It’s New York, Barton,” Steve shrugged, “The people here have seen worse.”
Nat sat in a yoga pose patiently watching her husband try to coach Sleipnir into his first shift on their deck.
“Come on, you can do it, I know.”
Sleipnir replied in something like Swedish that was apparently Old Norse, according to Loki. They were working on the Allspeak but he hadn’t quite mastered English yet.
“Whatever form you like for now. You can pick the one you really want later.”
The horse concentrated for a moment, eyes closed and legs braced. Nat flashed a supportive smile at Loki as he glanced at her excitedly. Sleipnir shuddered for a second and held up a leg that looked human apart from the hoof at the end.
“Good try! Again.”
Sleipnir glanced at the pool as if suddenly inspired, and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he extended all eight legs as they turned sinuous and orange, his body closing in on itself until he beamed up at Loki with large eyes and a floppy octopus head.
“Like Milo! Excellent!”
Sleipnir cooed happily and dragged himself across the grass, waving to the much bigger octopus in the pool. Milo stuck his arms up and waved back, and Sleipnir dropped over the side, rushing through the water playfully.
“Aw, look at them!” Loki clapped his hands, “Aren’t they adorable?”
Nat gave him a mock-concerned look. “I’ve never seen this side of you. It’s not very wrathful.”
“Sleipnir is my youngest, my baby. Imagine what I was like when he was born, all tiny shaking legs and soft whickering.” Loki sighed fondly.
He eyed the water wistfully for a moment before turning to Nat.
“You don’t mind if I...”
“Go for it.” She smiled.
Loki smiled and ran towards the water with a whoop. He jumped in the air and landed underwater as a bright green octopus, quickly joining in the game.
“That’s my husband.” She rolled her eyes, switching position.
Bruce hadn’t had a date in years. He wasn’t entirely sure where to take Hel – what was a nice place to go these days? What would interest a thousand year old queen of the dead? These weren’t questions he felt very equipped to answer. He almost wished he’d asked Nat or Darcy for advice. Pepper would probably have made a perfect suggestion. In the end he decided simple was best for both of them, and directed a cab to the Central Park Zoo.
Bruce led her past a couple of exhibits, stopping to explain briefly the animals she didn’t recognise. Hel gazed into the enclosures eagerly, asking a hundred questions at once.
“How did these animals come to be here? Are they content in their cages? Why do they not escape? Have they always been here or were they once wild? What happens when they die?”
“Whoa, whoa!” Bruce chuckled, “One at a time. I don’t know if they’re happy, but they seem to like it alright.”
She stroked a hand down the glass of the penguin tank sadly. “Then they are better off than I.”
“Don’t look so glum. You’re free now too, living with your dad – I mean Loki – and your brothers.”
“For as long as Odin will tolerate it.” She muttered darkly.
“Hey, as long as we have some say in it, he’s not gonna take you away.”
She looked at him curiously. “You would protect me, Bruce?”
“Me and the Other Guy.”
“You are both sweet.” She smiled.
Hel skipped ahead. She was almost childlike in her enthusiasm, and Bruce wondered if she’d ever had friends on Niflheim that weren’t dead.
“Have you seen many of the other realms?” he asked.
“No. Midgard and Asgard are the sole extent of my ventures outside Niflheim. But Mother has promised to take us all on a tour when things are more settled and it’s safe.”
“It’s hard to imagine what it’s like for you, having such different brothers.”
“You don’t have siblings?” she frowned.
“Uh, no. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”
“You have your Avengers, and they are your kin now.” She said finitely, as if that ended the matter.
“Yeah they are. They’re great. I mean sometimes I want to kill them, but we usually get along.”
“Family is important. Heritage, lineage...these things determine who you are and will be.”
He caught a hint of disappointment in her tone and shook his head.
“I disagree. My dad wasn’t a very nice person, but I like to think I’ve turned out differently. You don’t have to be what other people expect.”
“Like you and your other half? Most view him as a wild monster but he can be gentle and good.”
“Yeah.” Bruce said awkwardly.
They came to the entrance again and he looked around, spotting a pretzel stand.
“You want something to eat?”
“Gladly. Maintaining this form is quite a drain on me.” she admitted as they walked over.
“I didn’t really want to bring it up, but if you can change how you look why don’t you do it all the time? It might smooth over all your problems with the Asgardians – I mean you said they rejected you because of how you looked.”
She gave him a scornful look and he hurried to explain.
“Which is a dick move on their part, but still.”
“I am my parents’ daughter, and I should not have to hide.”
He raised his brows. “That’s actually totally fair. Do you want mustard?”
“Sooooo Brucey Brucey, how’d it go?” Darcy leaned over his desk with a cheeky grin.
“Aw come on!” she protested, “Where’s the details!”
“Not really any of your business, I’d say.” He smiled teasingly.
“You know I’ll just go find Hel and ask her.”
He scowled. “I know. Fine, I took her to the zoo, we got pretzels and then ice cream which she loved – is there something about gods being super addicted to sugar?”
“Dunno but Jane’s always complaining about Thor having a hundred bowls of cereal a day.”
“Maybe we should look into that...” his gaze drifted off, lost in thought.
“Uh, right. Dropped her back at SHIELD, that was it.”
“That was it! No kiss? No second date set up?”
“We might go out again, but I don’t really do that stuff, Darcy. I mean, the physical stuff. It’s too dangerous.”
“She’s an indestructible goddess who thinks the Hulk is awesome. I think she can handle it if a smooch goes badly.”
“I guess. It’s hard though, because I barely know her and she’s been watching me for months.”
“But she’s cute, right?” Darcy wiggled her brows.
“Yes.” He blushed.
“Then go for it!”
“Go make mischief elsewhere, you.” He tutted, waving a hand at her.
Darcy spotted Steve walking past. “Will do.”
She pushed off the desk and hurried out, catching him by the elbow.
“Hey Studley, got a second?”
“Um, sure ma’am.”
“Don’t you think Agent Hill is the most luscious, badass female ever? After Natasha of course.”
Steve went bright red. “She’s a fine lady and a good commander, yes.”
“And she totally digs you.”
“She’s all about the Captain.”
Steve said nothing for awhile, thinking over the unfortunate body swap.
“I like her, but...I’m not sure how to do things now. I mean back when I was young, you asked them to a dance or a movie.”
“This is why you have me! I’m gonna give you a full rundown on how to be a smoothie.”
“You know that big party thing on Friday?”
“Yeah, Loki’s feast.”
“Well here’s what you do...”
Loki scowled at his son currently entwined with Milo in a wriggly, fluid tickle fight.
“Jormungand! The guests will be arriving any minute!”
The serpent hissed but shrank until the human Jormungand pulled himself up by the edge of the pool.
“It’s only the Avengers, mother.”
“Still. We’re supposed to be showing them Asgardian hospitality, and I want to do it right. Go get changed.”
“If you want to show them true Asgardian hospitality, banish them somewhere.” He snorted, heading inside.
Loki cursed and knelt. “Milo, I’m going to cast an illusion over the water now. You must stay under the surface. It’s only for tonight, okay?”
Loki blackened the water until the octopus wasn’t visible anymore. He hurried inside, dress robes swirling around his knees as he made sure everything was perfect. Nat looked up from where she was draped over the couch in a backless red gown. It was as close to traditional as he could convince her to wear, the sleeves long and the bodice trimmed in gold.
“Stop stressing. We’ve got ample mead and so much food I almost feel guilty, and you know it doesn’t take more than that to please them.”
“I know. I’m calm.”
Their living room had been transformed into as close a replica to the palace dining hall as Loki could fashion. The floors gleamed and the walls were hung with tapestries, a long ebony table stretching the length of the room and piled high with food. He’d foregone the harps and lutes though in favour of Darcy’s iPod, which he estimated would last for five minutes before Tony hacked in and started playing his own stuff.
Fenrir was sitting impatiently waiting for them to open the kegs, looking impossibly princely in his silver and grey robes. Jormungand re-entered in deep blackish-blue and white as the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” Nat got up, heading out into the hall.
It was Fury and Hill, the director in exactly the same outfit as always, but Maria at least had dressed up. Her gown was a pale sky blue with short off-the-shoulder sleeves, her hair coiled up in a silver net.
“Hi. Come in.”
“Thanks.” Fury said uncomfortably.
“Director!” Loki grinned, “Good you could make it.”
“How could I refuse when you were so...persuasive.”
“You can say annoying. Sending an invite every five minutes is annoying.” Nat shot her god a look.
“I wanted to thank him for welcoming me and my children, that’s all.” Loki pouted.
“And thanks to them for their unorthodox help the other day. Any chance you’d like to contribute again in future?”
“Sure.” Fenrir shrugged.
“I would relish the challenge.” Jorm smiled his creepiest smile, and Maria shuddered at the perfect white teeth. She’d read the reports.
“What about your sister? Would she be willing to help?”
Fenrir laughed and Jorm hid a smirk. “You would not like her kind of help.”
Thor walked in rolling a barrel in front of him.
“Man of Fury! Care for some ale?”
“No thank you.”
Fenrir jumped up, running to help as more guests arrived. Jane and Darcy had gone all out, Nat suspected because the assistant had picked the dresses herself. The petite scientist was in pink and gold, and Thor’s face when he saw her made everyone feel sort of uncomfortable, like they were intruding. Darcy had gone with purple and Nat raised a brow.
“Thanks.” She winked.
Erik was with them, so excited he looked about five years old, running after Thor and Loki asking questions. Bruce, Clint, Steve and Tony arrived together because Tony had heard the words ‘feast’ and gone all Hollywood, organising an actual horse-drawn carriage to take them out to Loki and Nat’s house. He’d also gone with a gaudy red and gold outfit that sort of matched his suit. Bruce was in normal clothes, the only nice set he had, while Clint had picked a purple and green tunic and purple trousers. He laughed so hard when he saw Darcy’s dress she elbowed him.
“Shut up! Last time I do something nice for you.”
“No, no it’s great.” He kissed her, still laughing.
Maria’s face went a bit funny at the sight of Steve in his navy blue tunic, the fabric stretched tight over his chest, his pants a deep maroon. Darcy threw him a wink that made Clint frown.
“What did I say?”
“Almost done, promised.”
A young boy who looked about eighteen walked in, his robes a striking orange and brown. He had black hair and the same green eyes as Loki. The god raised his brows.
He nodded proudly and Loki laughed.
“Very nice. Go show your brothers.”
His youngest skipped over to Jormungand and Fenrir.
“Well done!” Fenrir ruffled his hair.
“Not sure about the colours though. I think you’re spending too much time with that octopus.”
“If you’d like to be seated, we’ll get started.” Loki sat at the end of the table.
They arranged themselves in the heavy chairs, Darcy raising her tankard to be filled.
“Let’s get this bacchanalia started!”
Thor frowned. “Where is Hel?”
Loki checked the guests and frowned. “I don’t know. Have you seen her, boys?”
The trio shrugged, Fenrir shaking his head. Sleipnir said something in Norse.
“He says the last he saw her she was getting ready.”
Nat stood, putting her napkin down. “I’ll check. You guys start.”
She walked through the house to the stairs that led down to Hel’s room. Being more used to the cold climes of Niflheim she’d made herself a sort of cellar that was easily a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house.
“Hel? Hel, you down here?” Nat knocked on the door.
She was sitting on her bed, and Nat actually gasped.
“You look incredible.”
“Really?” Hel ducked her head, “I was worried.”
She was in a gown more beautiful than any Nat had ever seen, so ethereal it seemed to fade into the air around her at the edges. She wore a delicate silver crown, her lips coloured blood red. She looked like a spirit, or the queen she was, regal and lovely.
“Do you think Bruce will like it?” she asked quietly.
Nat sat on the bed beside her, thinking before she answered. “Bruce is a really sweet and totally complicated guy. I’m certain he’ll like it, but I’m not sure he’ll do anything about it.”
“I adore him.” Hel sighed like a teenage girl. Nat wasn’t sure exactly how old she was, but it seemed some things never changed with age.
“He’s spent a long time not being able to get close to anybody. It’s hard for him to trust himself, especially around people he likes.”
“I understand. I will be his friend and show him not to fear.” She perked up.
“You’re doing well at this, you know.”
“What?” Nat frowned.
“I know you worry about what we think of you, but you’re doing well. Sleipnir loves you to pieces already, and the other boys like you too.”
Hel kissed her on the cheek and smoothed out her skirts. “Well I’m going up then I guess.”
“Um, yeah. Let’s do that.” Nat spluttered, stunned.
It was nothing compared to the look on several faces when Hel walked into the banquet room. Clint stared for a second before whistling, and Loki beamed at her lovingly. Fenrir shoved her as she sat next to him.
“Looking splendid tonight sis.”
“We’re in Midgard now. I’m learning to be hip.” He smiled.
Fury glared at Darcy. “Is this your influence?”
“I don’t know what you mean, director.”
Bruce was opposite Hel, and he grinned goofily as he took her in.
“Thank you,” She blushed, “You’re sure you don’t prefer the other way?”
She held up her left hand, the blackened skin turning pink for a second before changing back. Bruce shook his head.
“This is who you are, and you’re beautiful.”
“Is this a feast or not, brother?” Thor complained, emptying his tankard.
“You’re right. Fenrir, fetch another keg from the kitchen and everybody dig in!”
Maria thought her stomach actually might burst. She couldn’t help it though – everything was so goddamn delicious, and there was lots of new stuff to try. She tried to eat like a lady while inhaling as much as possible. Finally she was forced to give in though, sinking back in her chair.
Everyone except Fury was tipsy or worse by then, the table covered in the ruins of their meal. Natasha stood and took her husband’s hand.
“Come on, let’s dance.”
“We do not dance at feasts.” Thor frowned.
“We do at Midgardian ones.” She told him primly, dragging the dark-haired god to an open space on the deck and swaying lazily with him.
“Come on Thor, you might like it if you try.” Jane said.
“Alright. Let us dance.” He let her lead him to join the others.
“Darce?” Clint asked.
“Sure thing, hot stuff. I need to burn off all this boar.”
Tony scowled. “Uncool, guys. Just cos Pepper had a thing in Malibu, you’re leaving me to stag it here with the god bros etc.”
“Ask Agent Hill.” Clint suggested, earning him a punch in the kidneys from Darcy.
“Sorry Tony, I don’t think I can move.” Maria shook her head.
“Fine. I see how it is. Hel?”
She looked flattered, taking his hand. Tony spun her and she laughed, letting him guide her to the music.
“Well I’ve had enough socialising for one night,” Fury stood, “I’m off.”
“See you director.” Steve waved.
He turned to Maria, smiling shyly. She looked away quickly.
“So has Tony shown you his art collection yet? It’s supposed to be the best post-Impressionist set in the country. I know Pepper worked really hard on it.”
“He did, yeah. There was some great stuff.”
They sat awkwardly for another moment before she tried again.
“Have you been to MoMA?”
“No. I keep meaning to but something always comes up.”
“You really should.”
“Actually, I was thinking maybe you’d like to go with me sometime.”
“Yeah. I had fun that day we went out.”
“Steve, I’m not really supposed to date members of SHIELD-”
“I’m not going to kiss and tell, ma’am. I like you. You’re strong and pretty and smart. I’d like to go to the museum with you, if that’s okay?”
Maria looked down at her lap, blushing. “Um, sure. Yes. Let’s do that then.”
“It’s a date.” He smiled.
“I think I’m ready to dance now.”
He stood and offered his hand.
Clint and Darcy were pressed together, her face in the crook of his neck as they hovered in the darkness at the edge of the deck.
“I really do like the dress. It’s a great colour on you.”
“Tonight’s kind of fun, like a rehearsal for when Jane and Thor eventually tie the knot.”
“You think they will?”
“Duh! Look how in love they are!”
Clint chuckled at Jane trying to help Thor co-ordinate his feet so he wouldn’t step on her all the time.
“Maybe Daddy Odin’s taken too much shit from his kids lately. Maybe he’ll say no.”
“I don’t think Thor will care that much what Odin Suckfather says.”
“Yeah, lot of badness there with Loki and the grandkids.”
“I guess when one son’s destined to kill Odin and the other to bring about the end of the world and kill Thor, it’s hard to form close family ties.”
He stared at her.
“What? I read!”
He squeezed her waist, inhaling the soft scent of her with a happy sigh.
“So...have I mentioned how insanely good looking you are?”
“No, but I think you should know I’m not wearing underwear, and I want to drag that tight little tunic right off you.”
“Should we make our farewells then?”
She smirked. “Why wait that long? There’s a bush down there that looks pretty thick.”
He kissed her fiercely for a second, lips wet and demanding as Clint pulled her tight to him.
“This is why I love you.”
Snickering like schoolkids they slunk off into the dark.
The feast had devolved into drunk Thor sitting on the couch laughing raucously at Clint’s jokes, Jane snug in the god’s lap while Erik slept beside them. Darcy was refereeing a drinking contest between Tony and Natasha that was shaping up to be legendary. Steve put Maria in a cab home before heading off himself, claiming he had something important on the next day, and since the mead was wasted on him anyway everyone let him go. With the others drunk and occupied, Bruce found himself standing in the door out to the deck. Hel sat on the edge, feet dangling in the dark water. He walked over quietly and sat beside her.
“Hi. I hope you don’t mind-”
“No, it’s fine. How’s the feast going?”
“I think Tony may give himself alcohol poisoning.”
“Mother said he would be a great fan of the mead.”
The tip of an orange arm peeped out of the water and tapped Hel carefully.
“Milo, mother told you to stay hidden.”
“I think it’s okay, Fury and Agent Hill left. Hey buddy, how’s it going?”
“He says the music is good.” Hel interpreted from the bubbly squeak.
“He has questionable taste then,” Bruce smiled, “I’m not sure if you ever went to an Asgardian feast, but are they anything like this?”
“I went to a few before Odin sent me to Niflheim. There were in some ways duller – no dancing, lots of boring people. But there’s a lot more rowdiness once the warriors get into their mead.”
“If we can keep Tony from putting on his suit, I think our current level of rowdiness will be fine.”
She turned her face up to the moon and Bruce was struck by the contrast of the light over her two-toned skin. If he hadn’t already known she was a goddess he would have said she looked like Titania or Hecate, mysterious and bewitching. He reached out and entwined his hand with hers.
“You were right, the things you said when you took me to Niflheim. It’s hard for me to get close to people.”
“I wanted to apologise for that. Mother had a conversation with me about consent and I should have asked before I-”
“It’s okay,” he cut her off with a laugh, “You’re a goddess, you do things slightly differently, I get it. I just wanted to explain because I think I like you, but there might be some difficulties involved in that.”
“I trust you. You can’t break me.” she laughed.
Bruce leaned forward very slowly, bringing his hand up to her face. He very carefully pressed his lips to hers, mind racing as he judged second by second the Other Guy’s reaction. But he stayed silent and Bruce found himself pulling away with a grin.
“See?” she teased.
“Yeah. What would you say to a second date?”