This was originally supposed to be a one shot but as it turned up over 20 000 words long, I cut it into nine short chapters. It's all finished so I'll just post a chapter every few days.
The story expanded mainly because my brain decided to play a game with me, a game called "Let's see how many members of Loki's family we'll be able to cram in there." Biological or not, and including just mentioning them. Spoiler: The final number is twelve. Thirteen, if you count Tony's quip about Loki dating horses. Oh well, at least I still managed to keep Loki, Thor and Hela as the main characters. And yeah, it's "Hela", not "Hel", because people around here seem to prefer that version. Which means that the title is actually misleading as there's no Hel, only Hela and Helheim, but I like puns, so...
Cover image drawn by me because I'm not sure I'd find a fitting one somewhere.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Marvel and to whomever who feels like they own the Norse mythology. Anyway, not to me.
Roaring thunder cracked above the New York City, heavy grey clouds making the spring afternoon uncharacteristically dark, but so far, no rain fell.
At least not from the sky.
Unending streams of tears stained Thor's cheeks as he furiously shook his head in disbelief. Silent, frantic "no, no, nonono" was interrupted only by wailing sobs that jerked his torso every few seconds. Sitting uncomfortably on the cracked road in a torn cape and with dishevelled, tangled hair, he paid no heed to his surroundings. In his arms he cradled a prone body of a tall, dark-haired man.
The rest of the Avengers was standing around the two, rubble from the buildings destroyed in the battle crushing under their feet as they shuffled them nervously, not sure what to say to the mourning god.
In the end it was Bruce, dressed only in a pair of dirty, tattered pants, who spoke first:
"Well... it's not as bad as it looks..."
The others silently agreed but wisely kept their mouths shut, waiting for Thor's outburst. They weren't disappointed.
"Not as bad?!" the God of Thunder growled dangerously through his tears and the thunder above echoed him. "My brother is dead!"
"Yeah, what an unexpected and unprecedented development," Tony piped up sarcastically, once again proving that he had no sense of self-preservation.
One of Thor's hands jerked in the direction of Mjollnir, lying a few paces away, indicating that its owner wanted more than anything else to grip the hammer and do some irreparable damage to the inventor's suit of armour – with said person still inside. Steve quickly stepped between the blond and the brunet, put a firm, steadying hand on Thor's shoulder and shot Tony a pointed look.
"What?" the Iron Man asked, surprised. "Don't tell me any of you believe it's for real this time?"
"Let's hope," Clint whispered to Natasha.
"It's always 'for real,'" Steve said seriously, modern colloquialisms sounding strange coming from his mouth.
"Oh come on, you know what I mean," Tony threw his armoured hands in the air but quickly put them down, not wanting to leave an opening for Thor.
The god fortunately didn't seem to be wanting to strike him anymore. His initial shock had passed and with a clearer head he could now placate himself with the admission that this had indeed happened before and his brother always came back among the living. He looked down at his calm, pale face, for once lacking the scowl or the maniacal grin, and gently stroked his hair with his clumsy fingers. He just hoped it would be soon.
"So what was his reason this time?" Stark graced everyone with his voice once again. "Running late for his daughter's birthday party?"
"He did look like he suddenly realized something," Natasha nodded, speaking up for the first time, and shielded her eyes with her hand as sharp sun rays pierced the dispersing clouds.
"Yeah and then he just commits suicide?!" Clint waved his hand towards the dead god accusingly. Meeting the sceptical stares of his teammates, he elaborated: "I mean if he wanted to die so badly, I'd gladly do him the favour."
Apparently, not only Loki (and Tony) had a death wish.
Thor did look furious again but as this was Barton, he decided to take a few calming breaths – Clint should really thank Bruce, if not for him teaching Thor the calming techniques, he'd be dead more times than Loki by now – for he knew that the archer had a good reason and a right to hate his brother and that despite his words now, he did not make an attempt on Loki's life when the opportunity presented itself, whether in a fortunate moment on the battlefield or whenever they managed to – at least for a while – capture the slippery God of Mischief. Not that the agent would ever be successful (Clint did not take it well when Thor alluded that) but it's the thought that counts. So right now, Thor decided to explain his brother's behaviour to his friends instead of smashing Clint to the ground:
"My niece Hela rules over the disgraced dead. If Loki were to die by the hands of an enemy on a battlefield, he would come to the hall of Valhalla designated for the honourable warriors. Or..." he added with a little shrug, "to the meadow of Fólkvangr ruled by Freya, but she does not like him and would never let him enter her dominion."
Clint muttered something about 'liking Loki,' 'probability' and 'mental illnesses.'
"So, Valhalla then," Steve said slowly, trying to wrap his head bout the new information. "And he couldn't come back from there?"
"He could," Thor admitted, "but it would not be the decision of Hela but of our father Odin. He himself presides over the Hall of the Slain."
The Avengers silently traded understanding glances, well aware of Loki's less than stellar relationship with his adoptive father.
"And he wouldn't let him leave," Natasha concluded in a matter-of-fact voice.
Thor sighed, suddenly looking old and tired. "Father would need a very good reason to let him go. If Loki's return would be beneficial for the realms or maybe even..." a sparkle of sad hope flickered in the god's eyes. "The Allfather is not known for playing favourites, but there have been such occasions..."
"So," Clint started, "you say that if he were killed in battle – purely theoretically speaking, of course –" he quickly added as Thor's eyes indicated another oncoming storm, "he wouldn't get back unless it's useful for this world – or another world, whatever – or unless daddy likes him enough?"
"Well, yes, most probably," Thor nodded, still eyeing the archer a bit suspiciously. Then he sighed. "If only Loki would give up this life of villainy, this – this madness. He deals with dangerous people but is all alone, I fear one day I will hold his lifeless body with..." his eyes teared up once again, taking in Loki's still figure, "with no hope..."
"But you could still visit him in this Valhalla?" Steve asked.
"Maybe, once in a long while. It is not encouraged to visit the dead out of sentimentality."
"So why did he willingly kick the bucket this time?" Tony repeated his earlier question, not liking the sombre mood.
Thor blinked, confused as to what his shield-brother meant, but as he was not as dimwitted as the general public thought and expected (he was not going to accept an invitation to this "talk show" again anytime soon), he swiftly answered: "It is the easiest and quickest way to Helheim. I have heard from Heimdall that the dark realm faces great trouble lately and it seems that Loki is determined to help her daughter by any means." The face of the God of Thunder was now lit up by a fond smile, happy that Loki could still be able to care for someone so much.
"And he doesn't mind that he's, well," Bruce scratched his head, "missing his body?"
Thor stood up, his younger brother's corpse in his arms as he clutched him in something that could almost be seen as an awkward hug. The Avengers noticed well the behaviour. Sad as it was, this was the only way for Thor to be close to his brother without fighting him – it was hard not to feel sorry for the blond Asgardian.
"Physical body is not needed as long as one stays in the realm of the dead," he explained. Then, because he knew the questions would come up eventually, added: "As I said, this is the fastest way to the realm, something grave must have happened. Loki is – is the only ally Hela has. Other realms are not... fond of her or her kingdom and she is too proud to ask for help." A trait she surely inherited from her father, though Thor was not one to judge.
Steve frowned a little, aware of Thor's fondness in his voice. "And you wouldn't help them?"
Thor gave a sad, crooked smile: "Loki would not let me."
"What happens if the realm falls?" Natasha asked emotionlessly.
"I do not know," the god admitted, "but I do not think the danger is so grave for it to happen, even if I do not know the details. Hela is strong, just as her father. They will be victorious." The pride almost radiated from Thor at these words, though he could not fully mask the worry in his voice.
"Good to know," Tony exclaimed, "so let's wait somewhere else for the god who's saving a whole realm with his little girl to come back and trash our realm again."
He got a few irritated looks but no one said anything and at Steve's nod of agreement they slowly made their way back to the Avengers Tower, comforted at least by the knowledge that – judging by the previous occurrences – Loki would be in his not-so-eternal sleep for at least another half a day or so which they could use for some much needed rest.
When Loki came to, he didn't immediately open his eyes. His whole body ached and a dull pain throbbed in his head, courtesy of the deadly poison he had drunk earlier. he groaned silently and moved his hand to his forehead, when he felt unexpected weight on his wrist. Slowly, he blinked before he opened his eyes fully, immediately despising whomever was responsible from the bright lights on the ceiling.
Pushing himself up from the prostrate position on a narrow cot, his sight finally fell on his hands. Heavy metal cuffs were encircling his wrists, sturdy chain binding them together. Low hum in the restraints indicated one more function which Loki confirmed when he tried a simple spell and failed. So much for healing his headache then.
He propped himself up against the wall and slung his legs, restrained in a similar fashion as his arms, over the edge of the cot. As they touched the ground, the resurrected god took in his surroundings. He was in a round cell made of metal and reinforced glass, a similar but improved version of the one on the Helicarrier. This one though was on one of the lower floors of the Avengers Tower – Loki had been the honoured guest of this suite many times before. It was always entertaining to find out which new security measures were added since his last visit, as well as how long it would take to get out of the magic restraints. Stark was getting better and better at its designs, Loki had to admit to himself – but still not good enough to contain a god.
As if summoning him with his thoughts, the genius inventor strolled into the room in which the cell was situated.
"Is this how you treat you dead on Midgard?" Loki asked in a voice of innocent curiosity.
Tony grinned: "Only in case of zombie apocalypse."
The god raised an eyebrow but did not deign that with an answer, instead stating: "It seems that Thor finally realized my deaths are but temporary." This was actually the first time Loki didn't wake up to the tearful face of his not-brother, fully unrestrained and therefore able to vanish before the oaf managed to do something intolerable, such as hugging. Mercifully Thor wasn't present at this time.
"Yeah," Tony agreed cheerfully, "and it took him only about... what? Five, six times?"
"This is the sixth," Loki nodded.
"Uh-huh," the inventor was unconsciously playing with his phone, then as if only in passing mentioned: "Heard your little girl's in trouble."
"I do not see how this concerns you," Loki narrowed his eyes a notch.
"It doesn't," Tony shrugged and looked up at the god, "but Thor sounded kinda worried."
"It does not concern him either."
"Yeah I'm not sure about that," Tony disagreed, still in the flippant tone, "I think it's technically his right to be concerned about his niece..."
Loki's voice got a tinge of danger: "Hela is not his niece, he is in no way a part of our family and he would be wise to remember it. You may tell him so."
"Oh no, I'm not 'telling him so,' Reindeer Games, you can talk to him yourself. Actually, I'm sure he'll be happy to hear you got bored of pushing up the daisies already. Jarvis, can you tell Thor-"
"I have no wish to talk to him," Loki hissed.
"Oh well, too late," Tony grinned as he heard the quickly approaching heavy footsteps. Was Jarvis so quick or did Thor develop some kind of Loki-sensors? Despite how much Tony took pride in his technology, he would be more inclined towards the latter – Thor was clingy like that. "Enjoy the chat!" Tony wished mockingly and with that, he slipped out of the room before he could find out just how god-proof his newest magic restraints were.