"Hey, Old Man!" the bartender calls with a laugh as Van and Da step out of the rain, Da setting the umbrella by the door. "Long time no see!"
"Hello, Joe," Da says, inclining his head. Van follows him to the bar, glancing around the room: half-full, live music, no one else like Da present. “I’m Ashton Piers this life,” Da tells the man, settling on a stool. Van sits beside him, watching the musician as he starts a new song. “This is my brother, Evan.”
“Evan, good to meet you,” Joe says, holding his hand across the bar. “’Bout time this guy got another student.”
Van shakes his hand, smiling. “Best time of my life so far,” he replies.
Three songs later, Joe hobbles to a backroom, gesturing for Da and Van to follow him. “Have a seat,” he says, falling into a chair. Da is more graceful as he slouches into another, and Van takes his elegantly. “Where’ve you been?” Joe asks Da. “Mac comes in a couple times a year asking about you. Fifteen years… I was startin’ to think I’d die without ever seein’ you again.”
Da shrugs. “I had business to attend to,” he says. “And then I had my hands full with the kid.”
Joe looks at him assessing. “Ad-Ashton doesn’t take many students. You must be somethin’ special.”
Van ducks his head. Before Da, it had been centuries since someone complimented him without wanting something in return.
Hours pass, Joe and Da talking about the last decade and a half. Someone named ‘Mac’ is mentioned frequently; Van commits all the information to memory. When it’s time to go, Joe asks, “I gotta know. Ashton and Evan?”
Da smiles. “Ash and Van, actually. Ash is the Norse equivalent of Adam.” Joe chuckles and Da shrugs eloquently, smirking. “And Van…” Da meets his eyes, smirk gentling into the smile Van can hardly bear, because the last – and only – person to give it to him was Mother, who knew the truth and lied for a thousand years. “Van is an approximation of hope.”
Van flushes. Of course, he’d known that, but he and Da never talked about it.
Joe nodded. “How soon till you drop in again, Old Man?”
Standing, Da says, “Not a clue. I was thinking the kid and I could go on a walkabout, see all the sights. Make sure that note I left on Stonehenge is still there.”
Joe gapes at him. “You messed with Stonehenge?” he demands, caught somewhere between amusement and indignation.
Da smirks again. “Well, it wasn’t a big deal yet, when I left the note. Nothing important, I’m just curious.”
Van shakes his head. His research into Midgard had revealed how today’s mortals revered the past and all the monuments still standing. Of course, Da had also told him about the little messages he’d left on them all, his joke to the future.
Joe just sighs. “Couldn’t help yourself, could you?”
“Of course not,” Da laughs. “You know me, Dawson.” He grins his trickster-grin, the one Van’s begun to emulate. It’s better than the knife-sharp, ice-cold smile he wore as Loki Silvertongue, Odin’s shadowed spawn.
“It was nice to meet you,” Van tells Joe as he escorts them to the door.
“You, too, kid,” Joe says, clapping Da on the back. “Don’t be fifteen years again, Old Man.” He looks conflicted for a moment. “Mac’ll be disappointed he missed you.”
“Joe,” Da says gently, turning to meet his gaze. “MacLeod and I have eternity to catch up.” Joe nods, but he still seems bothered. Da lightly bops him on the chin. “Don’t worry, my friend. Take care of yourself.”
“Yeah,” Joe promises. “I will.”
Van grabs the umbrella and they walk back into the rain.
Once back at their home, Van curls up in a comfortable chair with a volume of Native American myths. Da sits at his desk, writing in a language Van doesn’t recognize. Seven myths into the book, Van decides to ask the question he’s been wondering about since Da found him.
“Da?” he begins softly, glancing at Da before dropping his gaze. “How old are you?”
Da’s quiet for almost five minutes; he turns to look at Van, setting his pen down, and Van can’t meet his eyes. Finally, Da says, “I am old, child. Does it matter?”
“No,” Van says, shaking his head. But he’s still worried – what if Odin or the Æsir or the Jotnar learn he lives? He’d been mad, yes, and despairing, and so enraged. And Da had taught him other, better ways to do things, should he ever again feel the need to commit genocide. But surely not even Da could stand against two worlds.
“I am older than Odin,” Da says. “I am older than Asgard and Jötunheimr and any other realm you could name. I am old, Van, and I am powerful. Do not fear.” He stands and walks over, carefully taking the book from Van, marking the page, and setting it aside. He places one hand on Van’s face, cupping his jaw, and the other over Van’s heart. “You are mine,” he says, “and I am yours, for however long you want me to be.”
The lightning in Van’s blood surges, confirming the oath. Da nods, face solemn. “I will stand before you and by you. I will defend and protect. I will avenge, if you like, and bring the Æsir to their knees, choking on their own blood and bile.”
Van closes his eyes and bites his lip, so that he doesn’t burst into tears. Not even his brother ever… “Oh, my child,” Da whispers, and pulls Van into his arms.
“You are mine,” he repeats again. “I will say it every day unto forever, if I must. Never doubt it.”
“Da,” Van gasps out, fingers clutching his shirt, letting the tears he never wept during the jotnar debacle come. “Da, thank you, thank you so much.”
“Shh,” Da murmurs, shifting them around so that his back is to Van’s chair and Van is spread across his lap, cradled in his arms. “There is no shame in grief, or love. Let it out, Van. You are safe and free to do whatever you wish.”
So Van cries in his da’s arms, and he’s never been happier.