[personal profile] psifi872
Author's note: I've decided Protecting the Nest canon diverges after Avengers, mainly because I refuse to have Frigga dead. This is chapter nine.

Bruce Banner sat at a table in his lab, working through some equations for Tony's next improvements to his arc reactor technology. He was vaguely aware when another presence came into the room, but only vaguely. He started, when the other person landed with a solid thud in the chair next to him. Looking up, Bruce saw Loki and frowned. His lover's eyes were wide and troubled.

"What's wrong?" Bruce asked, tensing.

"I've been summoned to Asgard," Loki said, his voice almost low enough to be a whisper. "The All-father has summoned both me and Clint."

Bruce whistled, setting his work down and moving closer to Loki.

"What does he want?" Bruce asked.

"To pardon me, if Thor is not being overly optimistic. Thor has been filling Asgard's ears with tales of my deeds as an Avenger...and probably exaggerating them."

Bruce smiled ruefully, nodding in agreement.

"You've said you wish you could go back, if only to see Frigga."

"Yes. It is a good thing--at least mostly. Still. I was a prince of Asgard and thought myself an Odinson. Then, suddenly, I was not an Odinson, but a criminal, then an exile...apart from what had been."

"Now, you have to find a balance, between the two," Bruce concluded kindly, watching as Loki nodded stiffly.

"How do I act with him? I can't begin to guess his expectations!"

"That isn't the real issue."

"Is it not?" Loki asked, incredulous.

"No. The real question is how do you want things to be between you and how will you cope, if you can't get it?" Bruce asked.

"I don't know anymore."

"Well, maybe this trip will help you sort it out."

"Will you come, too? I do want you to meet Frigga, at least."

"Sure," Bruce assured him. "When are you going?"

Loki gave a wry smile.

"Bruce, love, I've been summoned by my king. At once is rather implied."

"Can we take the time to pack some luggage?" Bruce asked dryly.

"If we're quick about it," Loki said.

Bruce rolled his eyes, but went upstairs and packed hurriedly. Fortunately, he was used to quick exits and was ready within twenty minutes. Loki used magic to tuck their bags away, leaving their hands free.

"Um. Where do we go?" Bruce asked, assuming they would be using the Bifrost and only had to go to where it would touch down.

"Thor arranged with Tony for a landing pad to be cleared."

They headed for the top of the tower and found Thor and Clint waiting patiently on the landing pad. Thor was grinning widely and clapped Loki on the shoulder, once he was near enough.

"This is a fine day, brother! You are to be united in honor with our friends and family once more!"

Loki gave a wan smile that did little to hide his irritation.

"Yes, well, let's wait and see how that goes," Loki said, an edge to his voice.

Bruce stepped closer to his lover, placing a gentle hand on his wrist.

"Do you have to do this? If you don't want to..." he began, ignoring Thor's stricken expression.

"No! I do want to go," Loki assured them, taking a deep breath. "It's time to face them again."

"They are not enemies you must conquer," Thor protested, though keeping his voice measured. "They are family. Friends."

"Well, whoever they are--or aren't--we shouldn't keep them waiting," Loki said, dismissing the subject. "You should probably call to Heimdall."

Thor almost demanded that Loki call on Heimdall instead, but wisely swallowed the impulse. There was no love between those two and he did not want to start this trip by antagonizing his brother. Thor desperately wanted things to go well, for Asgard and Loki to accept each other. In Thor's opinion, Loki had proven himself a great hero, with his work as an Avenger. He was certain Asgard would celebrate that. So, he called to Heimdall himself and beamed, when the Bifrost opened.

Loki and Bruce followed Thor, with Clint following up behind. Heimdall waited until they were all present and relatively settled, before shutting down the Bifrost and bowing to Thor.

"Welcome home," he intoned, before turning to Loki. "Loki. Asgard bids you welcome."

"Thank you," Loki said, polite and distant, as if addressing an utter stranger, rather than a man he had known since earliest childhood. It was easier than feigning friendship or indulging in animosity.

Something flickered in Heimdall's eyes, but he gave a small bow.

"The All-father awaits you in his audience chamber."

"Thank you, Heimdall," Thor said, smiling at his friend. He motioned for the others to follow him and led the way through the palace's golden halls.

Loki squared his shoulders and followed. He gazed around at the hallway, struck by how utterly familiar everything was. He had expected to find things changed or different than he remembered. Loki gave a silent sigh. This was home. Nothing that happened had changed that, despite his fervent wishing.

A warm hand settled on Loki's back, pulling him out of his thoughts. Bruce walked closely beside Loki, smiling gently at his lover. Loki smiled back, feeling a rush of gratitude and confidence. Things were different now. However Asgard felt about him, he had this man's love. He had made friends and earned a place as an Avenger. Loki no longer needed to strive and strive for approval from people who couldn't or wouldn't understand him. He wanted Odin's approval, but he no longer needed it.

Thor led them straight to the base of Odin's throne, then knelt in front of his father. Loki joined him, but Bruce and Clint remained standing, in various attitudes of awkwardness and defiance. Odin's mouth twitched, though Bruce couldn't tell if it was with amusement or annoyance.

"Rise, my sons," Odin commanded, waiting for them to comply, before continuing. "Loki. It is good to see you returned, my son, with your honor restored."

"Thank you, Father. It is good to be in Asgard again," Loki said, bowing his head.

"Heimdall has said you have brought your son and a mortal companion. Present them to us," Odin commanded.

Loki placed his hand on Bruce's shoulder, as Clint stepped forward.

"You may remember my son, Clint Barton, who was last here as a child. He is grown now and is a famous archer on Midgard and an Avenger, as well. This man is Bruce Banner, a physician and scientist. He is a man of great intellect and a powerful berserker. He too is an Avenger and my lover."

A great murmur came from the crowd and Bruce could hear a fair amount of snickering and derision. Thor looked at the crowd, a bit displeased by the response. This should be a time of greeting and reconciliation! He looked to Sif and the Warriors Three. They stood silent, but Thor could see they were not favorably impressed. He sighed silently, his lips tightening. Thor had hoped his brother's doubts would prove more unfounded than this. Finally, Odin silenced the crowd by pounding on the floor with Gungnir.

"My grandson and my younger son's companion are welcome here. Clint Barton Lokison is an acknowledged prince of Asgard. Who Loki consorts with is of no importance. This audience is at an end. There will be a welcoming feast in five hours in the great hall."

Loki twitched, ever so slightly, at Odin's words, but he stood patiently, waiting as the crowd dispersed. He wished he was of more importance to his adopted father and his people, but accepted that he was not. The most he could do was conduct himself with honor and strengthen his family ties as best he could. It would be easiest with Thor and Frigga.

Frigga, indeed, was eager to greet her younger son, coming down from the throne to embrace him eagerly. Loki clung to her for a moment or two, more than would be considered seemly by most Asgardians, but, as Tony would say, to hell with them. He had missed her, perhaps almost more than anyone else.

"Mother. It does me so much good to see you again."

"Loki. You have been missed, my son. Welcome home," Frigga said, smiling, with tears in her eyes.

"Mother, I want you to meet Bruce. He is very important to me," Loki told her, turning her to face Bruce.

Frigga smiled warmly, studying Bruce a bit. She smiled and gave a slight bow. Thor had told her and Odin about the scientist, giving him a great deal of credit for bringing Loki peace of mind. He didn't look much like a warrior, though Thor insisted he was one and Frigga trusted Thor's judgement in such things. More importantly, Loki's gaze was loving, when it settled on the man.

"It is a great pleasure to meet you, Dr. Banner. We have heard much about you from Thor. You are very welcome here."

"Thank you, All-mother," Bruce said politely, his smile warm, but somewhat nervous.

"You may call me Frigga," she told him, pleased with his courtesy.

"I'm Bruce, please," he countered, looking down, before meeting her eyes again.

Sif, Volstagg, and Fandral exchanged confused glances. From Thor's stories, they had expected more than this soft, aging mortal, whose hair was beginning to gray. They weren't surprised that Loki had chosen someone so easily dominated as a lover. Sif wondered if it was the man's intellect that kept Loki interested. Still, he was Thor's shield brother, so Sif stepped forward, giving a slight bow.

"I am Sif, a friend to Thor."

Bruce smiled, the expression awkward, but not strained.

"It's good to meet you. I've heard a lot about you," he said, assuming she would realize he had both Thor's and Loki's perspectives on her and everyone else.

Sif confirmed this by cutting her eyes to Loki, before smiling ruefully, giving a small nod of acceptance. Bruce's smile became wry and amused, as he greeted Thor's other friends. Fandral was polite, but his attention was elsewhere. After a brief exchange of greetings, he turned to Clint.

"Clint Lokison. Do you remember me?"

Clint studied the man, then nodded.

"I think I do a bit and not just from Thor's descriptions. Gotta thank you for the bow and the lessons. They've come in handy."

"It has been too long, since we saw you last," Frigga interrupted. "Come here and let your grandmother look at you."

Clint made a face somewhere between a grimace and a grin, obeying.

"Hi, Grandma," he said impudently.

Frigga gave a light laugh, reaching up and removing Clint's sunglasses.

"Greetings, grandson," she responded, leaning toward him and kissing his cheek. Frigga reached up and ruffled Clint's hair, laughing when he blushed and ducked.

"Mother, please," Loki said, laughing. "He is a warrior, not a boy."

"He's my grandson. He is a boy compared to me," Frigga countered, smirking.

"You don't look a day over forty," Clint said charmingly.

Frigga tweaked his nose.

"Good boy. I'm glad Loki has taught you how to talk to a woman."

Laughter in the group broke some of the tension that had been growing. Fandral clapped Clint on the back.

"So, you're famous with your bow in Midgard? Shall we see how you fare in Asgard, then?"

"Yes, let's have contests and see how the Avengers do," Sif agreed heartily. "Some sparring would be welcome!"

"It's okay with me, if it's okay with the others," Clint agreed, grinning.

Loki shrugged casually, a move designed to rid himself of tension, while conceding.

"Very well. Archery first, then."

Thor's friends led the way, walking comfortably together. Thor knew he could fall in with them easily enough, but he kept back, keeping pace with his family. Loki gave Thor a rueful, but grateful smile, chuckling almost silently. Thor clasped Loki's shoulder gently. Sif noted the exchange, unable to stop a tremor of unease. Yes, Loki was forgiven and they would give him a second chance, but he had already betrayed Thor once. She didn't plan to let her guard down.

Bruce stared pointedly at Sif, as they came to a halt on the archery grounds. She arched an eyebrow at him, silently challenging the mortal to confront her. To her disappointment, Banner just shook his head, cutting his eyes away, his mouth a tight line. Sif kept her own expression smooth, but she doubted, more and more, the accuracy of Thor's tales. He had said this man was a warrior and, if he made excuses for Banner, how much more was he covering for Loki?

Bruce moved away from Sif to stand close to Loki, watching Clint and Fandral ready their bows.

"All right. As guest, you can choose to go first or pass to me," Fandral offered, cheerfully.

"I'll go first," Clint chose, boldly.

Stepping up, he drew his bow, barely looking at the target, as he let loose his arrow, which thunked satisfyingly into the middle of the first target. Everyone cheered, clapping. Everyone took a turn, except Bruce, but only Fandral did as well as Clint. Volstagg turned to Bruce, offering him his bow.

"It is your turn, Banner! Let us see what you can do."

"Um, thank you, but I don't actually know how to use a bow. I was never trained."

Sif and the Warriors Three exchanged glances, briefly, but then Fandral shrugged, clapping Bruce on the shoulder. Bruce winced, folding his hands together.

"Well, we don't have to stay with archery. What weapons do you use?" Hogun asked, politely.

"I don't. I'm a scientist. I'm more brains than brawn."

"Thor told us you fight with the Avengers," Sif said, trying to not sound accusing.

"Um, yeah. I do, in, well, you call it a berserker form. It's complicated," Bruce said, his shoulders hunching with his discomfort.

"How can your berserker form emerge, if you yourself do not engage in battle?" Fandral asked, puzzled.

"Ah, bringing the Other Guy out isn't a problem," Bruce said, laughing dryly.

"Let us see," Sif suggested, the idea almost an order.

"Um, no, sorry," Bruce said, shaking his head firmly.

"Why not? We came out to spar and if that is how you fight, then you should change," Sif insisted.

"He said no, Sif," Loki said, his voice soft and angry. "Now, please, leave him alone."

"Loki. It's okay," Bruce assured him. "Lady Sif, you don't seem to understand. The Other Guy is dangerous. He sometimes comes out to spend time with Loki and the others, yes, but not to spar. Once he starts smashing things, it's hard to get him to stop. It's too risky."

"Battle is always risky, Dr. Banner. As a warrior, you should understand that," Hogun lectured gently.

"I do understand it and that's why the Other Guy is not coming out," Bruce said firmly.

"Enough. My friends, I would ask you not to pressure my shield brother. This has gone beyond the bounds of politeness," Thor commanded.

Sif and the Warriors Three looked from Bruce to Thor to each other, with varying degrees of guilt. Volstagg set his bow aside, approaching Bruce and holding out his hand.

"I apologize. We did not mean to make you uncomfortable. We are not overly familiar with the ways of Midgard's modern warrior system. We meant no offense. To us, sparring is a casual pastime, as well as a way of training."

Bruce smiled, shaking the offered hand.

"That's okay. I understand. I'm afraid I'm a bit of an exception, even to the Midgard customs of being a warrior."

"Well, you've survived being Thor's shield brother this long. You must be doing something right," Fandral said, winking at Bruce.

Bruce gave him a rueful grin, shrugging modestly.

"The best I can."

"Which is very good indeed," Loki told him, unable to keep a bit of a purr from his voice.

Sif smiled politely, while Volstagg gave a laugh, clapping Loki on the back. Fandral just smirked.

The group moved from archery to hand to hand combat to swords. Bruce watched, chatting politely with whoever wasn't currently fighting, unless it was Loki. They just stood close together, holding hands quietly. Bruce knew Loki needed to talk, but it would be later, when they were utterly alone.

"I still wish we could see you fight," Fandral complained to Bruce. "Surely you must have some fighting skill that isn't dependent on your berserker!"

"Um, no, not really. I've been taught some basic self defense, because our leader, Steve, insisted. Basically, though, I provide technology and other forms of support to the team and leave the other guy to do the fighting."

Volstagg stood close to Loki, keeping his voice low, while Bruce was distracted by Fandral.

"He seems a very decent man, Loki, but was it wise to bring him here? Asgard isn't a safe place for someone who can't or won't defend himself. He seems not only incapable of, but adverse to, fighting."

"Adverse. Yes, that's true, in a way. You needn't worry for him, though. If any of our people are foolish enough to force a fight on him, he is more than capable of defending himself. Bruce doesn't like violence. His other self relishes it."

"He doesn't seem your type," Sif said, her tone polite, but cool.

"You don't know my type, Sif," Loki said impatiently, "nor do you know what type Bruce is. If you bother to make more than snap judgments, he will surprise you."

Volstagg gave Sif a warning look, then clapped Loki rather gently on the shoulder.

"Well, you and Thor know him better. You won't be offended, though, if I keep an eye out for him? Just in case someone is rude enough to play a bit too rough."

"If someone causes him trouble, you're welcome to interfere," Loki conceded, a bit touched that any of them would bother. "I want this trip to be pleasant for Bruce. It distresses him, when he's forced to become Hulk."

"Bruce will have a fine time on Asgard," Thor predicted cheerfully. "Our good doctor may not have much taste for fighting, but he isn't adverse to a good, hearty meal! Come! We should wash up now. The feast will begin soon. Come, Clint, and I will show you to your chambers."

"Chambers?" Bruce asked, amused.

"You are in a palace, love," Loki teased. "Come on. Let's see what time has done to my rooms."

Loki found his rooms almost exactly as he had left them. Being neat in his personal habits, Loki had left them relatively clean, so the housemaids had only needed to do a bit of dusting. They had unmade his bed and packed away his clothes, but the bed and clothes had been put in proper order, when Odin announced Loki would be returning.

Bruce looked around, feeling a bit of unease. The rooms, consisting of a bedroom, study, bathroom, and sitting room, weren't merely well-appointed. They were sumptuous. Fine, soft linens, furs, and wool blankets, some trimmed in gold, covered the bed. The walls were draped with what Bruce suspected was silk. Thick, heavy, elaborate carpets covered every inch of the floors. The ceiling itself had a golden hue to it.

Loki followed Bruce's gaze around the room and stepped up behind him, wrapping his arms around Bruce's waist. He kissed the back of his lover's neck. Slowly, Bruce relaxed into Loki's arms.

"Does this worry you? It's not really more comfortable than our rooms at home. It only looks a bit fancier."

"I know. I'm not worried. I just hadn't really thought about it."

"If wealth was determined by a person's worth, your rooms would be ten times as large and luxurious."

"No, they wouldn't," Bruce said, wryly, turning and kissing Loki softly. "You're a good man. Don't forget that, even if Asgard doesn't see it."

"As you wish, my love," Loki promised. "We should dress. The feast will start soon. Mother laid out clothes for us."

Bruce walked over to the dressing area and stared at his outfit. He didn't mind so much the brown leather pants. The white tunic had a nice, loose collar and looked comfortable, though the ruffled cuffs were a bit much. The dark green cape with the gold embroidery just was not him. He turned to Loki, his brown eyes wide.

"It could be worse, Bruce," Loki said, amused. "Most people will be wearing long robes."

Bruce considered that, before smiling wryly.

"You're right. That would be worse."

"I'm looking forward to seeing you in that outfit, actually," Loki admitted.

"Oh, you are?" Bruce said, chuckling.

"Very much so. Mother has excellent taste in such things."

"Well, I won't keep you in suspense."

Loki watched Bruce change clothes, somehow soothed by the easy, casual display of his body. Sighing, Loki changed into a green silk shirt and long coat, with black leather trousers. Bruce came over and ran his hands down the lapels of Loki's coat.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes. And you?"

"As I'll ever be," Bruce admitted, stretching up to kiss the corner of Loki's mouth.

Loki took Bruce's hand and led him out the door and on to the dining hall. Bruce shifted nervously, clinging a bit harder to Loki's hand. The room was full and, yes, most of the people were in fancy robes. The ones who weren't were wearing armor, the kind that actually gets used in battle. Loki turned, ran a thumb across Bruce's cheek and over his lips. Bruce gave a nod and an awkward smile, then followed Loki deeper into the room.

Loki led him to the head of the long table in the middle of the room, where Odin sat. They bowed to him from the waist. Frigga stood, smiling warmly.

"Loki, Bruce, please be seated. The servants will start serving meat soon. Bruce, you look very dashing in Asgardian clothing."

"Thank you, and, um, thank you for not putting me in a robe," Bruce joked, ducking his head a bit.

"You're very welcome," Frigga said, with a merry laugh.

A servant came up, bearing a large jug of wine. She indicated a large goblet on the table beside Bruce.

"May I serve you wine, good guest?"

"Um, no, thank you," Bruce demurred. "I'll stick with water, thanks."

"Water?" a nearby man in armor sneered. "Midgardian blood must be thin, indeed. I heard you refused to spar earlier today, too. Perhaps you think it is not your place to prove yourself too much a man!"

"I'm not a man and I can both out-drink and out-fight you, Brant," Sif said, coming over. "Is it suddenly unmanly to have good manners?"

Brant spat to one side, standing.

"Forgive my bad manners," he said sarcastically. "There just remain some of us who still think a man should have blood in his veins, not watered down milk."

Sif started to retort, but Bruce reached out and place a hand lightly on her lower arm, shaking his head. Brant gave a huff of disgust, walking away. Sif turned on Bruce, impatient.

"If you won't defend your own honor, you could allow us, as Thor's other friends, to do so. Don't you understand that your honor reflects on his? You won't impress people with this submissiveness."

"I'm not here to impress people, Sif," Bruce told her, calmly, giving a shrug. "I'm here to give Loki emotional support."

"What about Thor, then? He's told everyone you're a warrior and you're making him look like a liar," Sif said, forcing her own voice to be low and steady.

"Thor can defend himself. He knows me. As my friend, he supports my choices and understands the balance between me and the Other Guy."

"Then, as Thor's friend, I can do nothing less. Though, I don't claim to understand."

"That's all right. Most humans don't understand either," Bruce admitted, wryly.

"Be careful. Many will agree with Brant and not all will be so easily chased off. You might find yourself fighting, like it or not. We'll do our best to protect you, of course, but we won't be favored for doing it."

"Don't worry. I'm harder to hurt than you think. I won't destroy your reputation, either. If someone attacks me, don't interfere. Just leave them to me and Loki."

"As you wish," Sif conceded, reluctantly.

Bruce nodded, still smiling, and walked off to find Loki again. Sif watched him go, filled with misgiving. Hogun came to her side, shaking his head.

"Which seems more unlikely? That he can defend himself or that he can rely on Loki?"

"I don't give much credit to either claim. I'm not trusting them. I'm trusting Thor," Sif assured him.

Sif and Hogun watched as Bruce walked around on the outskirts of the feast. They're fears only seemed to be confirmed. Many people openly sneered at Banner, turning their backs to him. Worse, others planted themselves in front of him, refusing to move. Sif wanted to intervene, but saw Thor noticed too. Her prince merely shook his head, looking disappointed, but not worried.

Sif and Hogun exchanged glances and made their way to Thor. He stood near a balcony that took up most of one wall. He smiled warmly at them, nodding in greeting. A burst of laughter caught their attention and they turned to see Bruce pulling away from a knot of Asgardians, one of them giving him a shove. Sif tensed, but Thor placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Leave it be. Bruce can control his reactions and cares nothing for their opinions."

"Control his reactions?" Sif said, incredulous. "Thor, I'm sorry. I like him well enough, but why would you bring such a soft person here?"

Thor chuckled.

"Ah, Sif. I hope someday you do get to see the magnificence of Hulk fighting! Then, you will see how baseless your concerns are."

"I don't know. They might not like that, if they keep irritating Bruce," Clint said, smirking lightly.

"Fledgling. We brought him, Sif, because he is my lover, our friend, and our shield brother," Loki said, appearing close behind Thor. "My only wish is that Asgardians were more accepting. I was hoping Bruce would enjoy this visit."

"Perhaps he can teach them acceptance," Thor suggested.

"Perhaps. Sif and the others could set the example by befriending him, instead of wishing he would mold himself to Asgardian ways," Loki retorted smoothly.

"Or, maybe, we can let me deal with my social awkwardness in my own way. You can't make people like me," Bruce scolded gently, coming to stand beside Loki.

"We do like you," Sif protested, a bit ashamed. "We're merely concerned for your welfare and reputation here."

"I can handle both of those myself, believe it or not," Bruce told her, smiling slightly.

A hissing roar filled the air, coming from outside. Bruce frowned, watching everyone else freeze. He turned to the balcony, searching the sky. Bruce's eyes widened at the amazing, but terrifying sight. The late afternoon sky was full of what looked like dragons. The sun glinted off gold, green, and red scales the size of hubcaps. Each beast was at least the size of an eighteen wheeler, not including the wings and tail. The creatures had long tails and powerful back legs. They had shorter and weaker front legs, but all of the appendages were tipped with long, sharp talons. Bruce didn't bother to look at mouths that he knew would be full of teeth.

"Dragons," he sighed, knowing it was almost inevitable that the Other Guy would be appearing.

"Wyverns," Hogun corrected. "They do not breathe fire, as dragons do."

"Oh. That's good. So, its only teeth and claws we have to worry about."

"Don't be afraid," Hogun comforted. "We are well use to dealing with this menace. We will protect you."

"Too late," Bruce whispered, horrified, his gaze fixed on a spot below.

The others followed his gaze and watched as a group of Asgardian children came out of a nearby building, straight into the path of the wyverns. Sif gasped, knowing the Asgardian forces couldn't move fast enough to protect the young ones. Everyone, save Thor and Loki, gasped, when Bruce took off running for the edge of the balcony.

"Bruce!" Volstagg shouted, running after the small Midgardian.

Thor and the others followed Volstagg. Sif watched as Bruce hopped nimbly onto the balcony's railing, just as they reached him. He didn't even pause before jumping off for the ground below. Several Asgardians screamed in shock. Sif watched, fascinated, as Bruce changed. Tan skin turned emerald green. Muscle swelled impossibly, stretching skin, which relaxed around it. Banner grew in height, gaining an impossible amount of mass. The medium length, curly hair now sat close to B-Hulk's scalp.

Hulk landed in front of the children and turned to face the wyverns. He let loose a defiant roar that Sif could hear easily. As the first wyvern reached him, Hulk grabbed it about the neck, spinning it above his head, before throwing it back at the other beasts. The wyverns shrieked in defiance.

"LEAVE BABIES ALONE!" Hulk shouted.

Another wyvern attacked the Hulk, hitting him in the midsection with its tail and sending him flying. The Hulk landed against one of the other wyverns and climbed onto it's back. From there, he leaped across to the one that had hit him and began pounding on it's head. The wyvern shrieked and went into a spin, trying to dislodge the Hulk. Sif almost didn't believe what she was seeing. The wyvern were powerful. Even Asgardians were vulnerable to them. Most mortals would have been dead from the beginning.

"Now do you understand?" Loki asked Sif and the others softly. "He could tear this realm apart and he wants very desperately not to."

"Later, Loki. We must help our shield brother and defend the realm," Thor ordered.

Loki nodded, transporting himself to the ground. He threw magic energy at the wyverns, who turned to attack. Thor and the others joined the battle, each taking on a wyvern. Loki ducked as a wyvern through past, then cursed. The beast's wing struck one of the children, sending him flying into the hard stone wall of the building behind him. The child gave a weak grunt and lost consciousness. Loki sent a blast of magic at the monster, sending it hurling towards Hulk. Clint fired a round of arrows at the wyverns, trying to provide Loki some cover.

"The red is the leader!" Thor shouted. "We must concentrate on her!"

Hulk gave an enthusiastic roar and launched himself at the red wyvern. She snapped at him, managing to close her jaws on his thigh. Hulk gave a pained, outraged cry and grew even larger in size. He brought his closed fists down on the jaw of the wyvern, who gave an answering cry of pain. Loki fired more magic at her, aiming for her eyes. Sif and the other warriors distracted the other wyverns, so Thor, Loki, and Hulk could concentrate on the red.

Hulk had fallen back to the ground, when the red released his thigh. Now, he jumped back up, landing on the back of one of the greens. Hulk got the beast in a choke hold and forced it to fly towards the red. Giving a roar of triumph, Hulk leaped from the green to the red, landing high on her neck. Hulk climbed to the front of her head and brought both of his fists down between the red's eyes. The red rolled, but Hulk clung to her head, refusing to be dislodged. When she righted herself, Hulk landed another blow that was swiftly followed by blows from Mjolnir and more of Loki's magic energy.

The multiple attacks proved too much and the red sagged. Hulk leaped off of her, landing next to Loki. The other wyverns screeched in rage and flew to their leader. Two of them grabbed the red by her wings, while the others formed a protective guard around her. Turning with their fallen leader, the wyverns flew away. Loki grinned. Sif and the others joined Loki and Hulk, staring at him in amazement. Hulk gave a warning growl. Smiling proudly, Loki placed a hand on Hulk's chest.

"Easy, my darling. They are not enemies. Join us back on the balcony. We must report our victory to Odin."

"Loki," Hulk rumbled, passing a large hand carefully over his lover's head.

"I'm all right," Loki assured him. "I'll see you in a moment."

Loki transported himself and the others to the balcony. They approached the throne and knelt. Odin gestured for them to rise.

"Where is Dr. Banner?" Odin asked.

Even as Odin asked, they heard Hulk's roar. Everyone turned back to the balcony and saw the Hulk land. In his arms was the boy Loki had seen injured. Hulk cradled the child against his chest and began walking towards the throne. The Asgardians watched silently, clearing a path for him, awed. As Hulk walked, he transformed back into Bruce Banner.

Bruce walked the rest of the way, still holding the child. His back was straight, though his steps were slow and careful. Despite the dark circles beneath them, his eyes were bright. The finery Frigga had set out for him hung off of him in shreds. Only the top part of his trousers and the wide collar at his neck, still glinting with gold thread, remained intact. Bruce reached the base of the throne and gently laid the boy down.

"He needs help," Bruce announced thickly, his voice heavy with weariness.

"Our healers will tend to him," Frigga promised.

The Asgardians watched the exchange silently, then burst into applause once it was done. Cheers filled the air, as the healers carried the child away. Bruce gave a tight smile, nodding awkwardly at the crowd. He sat on the steps of the throne, recovering, as the applause slowly died. One of the servants came forward, leaning towards Bruce with a tray holding a goblet and pitcher.

"Water, my Lord Banner?" she offered.

"Thank you," Bruce said, taking the goblet and drinking deeply. "I'm not actually a lord, though."

"I would say your nobility is without question, even if without legal standing," Odin told him. "We are all most grateful, Dr. Banner."

'Well done, my love," Loki said, grinning in amusement, even as he sat down and draped a supportive arm around Bruce. Bruce gave him a genuine, if dry, smile back.

"Thanks, I think. I was glad to help," Bruce assured Odin and the others.

"Bruce always helps, even when it is not necessary to release Hulk," Thor said firmly.

"Don't worry, Thor. We do understand better, now, why Bruce keeps his berserker contained," Hogun assured his friend.

"I'm glad to hear that. I hate to leave the feast, I'd like to put some clothes back on, please," Bruce told them.

"Of course, Bruce. I'll have clothes brought for you to Loki's rooms again," Frigga promised. "I hope you will return and enjoy the evening with us."

"I'll be glad to," Bruce promised, standing.

Loki stood as well, starting to follow his lover, in case he didn't remember the way. He stopped, when he felt his father's hand on his shoulder.

"You've chosen well, my son," Odin praised.

"Thank you, Father," Loki replied.

"Go with him," Odin granted, smiling warmly for the first time in ages. Loki smiled back, then hurried after Bruce.

Clint watched them go, then turned to the Warriors Three.

"So, what do you people do for fun at these things?"

"We drink and fight!" Volstagg declared, grinning.

"Sounds good to me," Clint answered.



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