Chapter 1: Part the First: Fairytails
Sleipnir wasn’t hard to love, but it was hard to remember to love him as a person. He was a bright foal, affectionate and quick to play (very quick in fact: he outpaced Árvakr and Alsviðr before he wore his first set of shoes) but Thor was always brought up short by that irrevocable fact. Sleipnir was a foal, an eight legged foal, but still a foal. Loki’s first born, their parents’ first grandchild, was an animal, no matter how intelligent he was.
He got over it, eventually, with no little help from Sleipnir himself. The little foal made it impossible to write him off, chatting away in whinnies and chirps as if they could understand him- Thor was certain Loki could, but his brother was the only one- and just so happy to see any of his family that Thor couldn’t walk away from him once he’d been caught. He lost hours and hours playing tag in the long hallways of the palace.
(Sleipnir always won).
Odin never saw past Sleipnir’s exterior. He seemed determined never to look at Sleipnir, and the gaze that fell on Loki only spoke of disappointment. Thor watched his brother run himself into the ground trying to change that expression, all while insisting on caring for his son almost entirely alone. He wanted to prove to their father that he could cope, when even Thor could see he couldn’t, and was foolish to try. Trying to tell him was pointless though: Loki was as mulish as their father when he had a wont to be.
Frigg, much like Odin, had looked askance at Sleipnir living in the palace during his first weeks, especially when the exuberant foal took to skittering along the hallways at speed the minute Loki turned his back (Thor’s fault; he never repented). She was always the first to offer to bottle feed her grandson though- the only one able to coax Loki into accepting help without hurting his pride- and told the tiny foal stories as Thor remembered her doing for he and Loki when they were young.
He could never quite convince himself to join them- it was too gentle an event for him- but Thor paused to watch them several nights in a row. Loki sat on the floor, amidst a mountain of duvets and pillows, already dozing off from the moment he sat down. Sleipnir sprawled across his lap, wriggling until he was comfortable, while Frigg sat on the bed with a book in one hand, the other carding through Loki’s hair while she read to her sleepy grandson. It was a peaceful scene he didn’t dare disturb.
One night he caught his father watching from the doorway and crept away, smiling to himself. Perhaps Odin was warming to their unusual family after all.
Sleipnir was confined to the stables not long after.
The arguments that followed were almost literally explosive. It was only Loki’s love for their father that stayed his hand; their mother’s gentle words did little to calm either side. Thor stood with his mother, too loyal to side with his brother or father. Odin was quick to dismiss his youngest son: Loki was quicker to condemn him for it, spitting vitriol in his father’s face before he stormed out. His tears were shed in the corridor, out of sight of anyone.
Frigg wouldn’t read stories in the stables, not when it upset her husband. She visited with apples, Sleipnir’s favourites and appropriate food for a foal, chatted about nothing as one does with animals. She didn’t read though. It was months before Loki would talk to her again. He struggled to forgive her; Thor wanted to agree with him again but could not bear to side against their parents. Their cosy evenings were reduced by one, and spent curled up in straw rather than blankets. Loki read to his son instead and tried to be as good as Frigg at spinning tales. He slept in a stall more often than a bed.
Odin’s stables were beautiful, and the horses kept within were treated like gold. Sleipnir was given pride of place, a stall reserved for the prized stallions, quite a thing to waste on a barely weaned foal. Every (animal) need was tended to: only gentle treatment for Odin’s favourite.
Favourite horse. Not grandson.
The saddest thing about the whole fiasco was how happy Sleipnir was in the first weeks. He revelled in his grandfather’s attention, Odin having been a stranger on the periphery of Sleipnir’s world until the move. In his rare moments between work and surreptitious trips to the stables, Loki spoke of his son’s eagerness to do his grandfather proud, his words laced with poison and loosened by fatigue. Thor wondered at how much Sleipnir took after his mother, but was wise enough not to say as much to Loki.
Thor did not intend to get involved. He knew his father watched him for the same dissent he accused Loki of, and Thor didn’t dare bring any further displeasure down on Loki when his brother was struggling so much already. There was little he could do to make it easier, though what there was to be done he readily took off Loki’s hands without ever mentioning it. His brother never noticed; it showed how tired he was that such a clumsy deceit could fool him.
It started with apples. Loki forgot them sometimes when he visited Sleipnir- he didn’t mean to but giving the appearance of functioning normally took more energy than he really had to spare- and the foal was disappointed, even if he tried to hide it because he hated making his mother feel bad. So Thor made a point of strategically positioning fruit bowls all over the palace so it was impossible for Loki to forget (Iðunn had been a great help there: she found it all rather funny). The few times it didn’t work, he’d actually hand his weary brother an apple, accompanied by a cautious offer to help. Loki took the apples, but never the offer.
He also took to minding the stables whenever Loki sat within with Sleipnir. Thor feared for what his father might do if he discovered the time Loki still spent with his son, though he could not put a name to what it was he feared. It seemed so unnatural to think ill of the good man his father was, but his actions so far had done him little credit. So Thor kept watch and when Loki fell asleep- something that had moved from occurring often to always- he wished Sleipnir goodnight and carried Loki to bed.
Inevitably there came a night where his brother dozed off against his son, an unread book open in his lap. Sleipnir didn’t move, but looked expectantly at the door until Thor had to reveal himself. The colt- he grew so fast foal didn’t seem very accurate anymore- made his point clear without the need for words, a talent he’d cultivated since his first stumbling hours on his new legs.
“Ok,” Thor acquiesced and somehow extracted the book without waking Loki up, “but just this once. Bed straight after.”
These nights went on for years.
(Thor tried not to sit next to Sleipnir when he read. His nephew had an unfortunate tendency to chew his hair. He lost a fair amount to the colt’s enthusiastic tugging.)
Chapter 2: Part the Second: Hel Hath No Fury
The first years were more difficult with Hel. Thor was loathe to admit that his first reaction to her was much the same as his father’s, as most of Asgard’s. Loki’s strange, piebald little girl who never cried but croaked and sighed and breathed out little sounds like the last gasps of dying men. It unnerved Thor so much he could hardly stand to be in the same room, watching Loki and sometimes Frigg rocking a tiny white-black corpse.
She grew at the rate of Asgardian children, unlike her elder brother, but it seemed that her mind developed faster. Hel wasn’t given to what Thor considered the norm for young children: she struggled to play and seemed to find her fellows as bizarre as they found her. Sleipnir would let himself free of his box to follow her around when he saw her alone and would take the apples she brought him daintily from her hand. They always withered in her black hand, but Sleipnir never seemed to mind.
It was the first time the children were invited to a feast, and it was always quite the event. A chance to stay up late was never passed up, but the excitement caught up with all the children, especially the girls. Frigg, with Loki’s insistent help, had made Hel’s dress herself, and fitted her granddaughter before the great mirrors in her own room. Despite Hel’s usual predilection for green, in imitation of her father, Frigg had chosen to dress her in blue. Thor had to admit she almost looked pretty, were it not for the pinto effect of her skin.
Asgardian feasts did not tend to give way to much dancing except on special occasions, and this was one of them. The girls danced with their fathers or other male relatives, unless one young boy managed to screw up enough courage to actually ask for a dance. No one asked Hel, and no one was surprised either, but Loki stepped up and proved to be an almost alarmingly good dancer. Thor caught himself watching them constantly, and found the uncertain smile on Hel’s face- they were few and far between, she was such a solemn child- contagious.
Odin had not offered to dance with his granddaughter, and none of them had been surprised. Even Loki had not seen fit to argue, just gave his father a look that spoke clearly of his disappointment and ensured that Hel’s attention was elsewhere.
It was hard to ignore when he chose to dance with Ægir’s youngest, Kólga, at the nervous child’s request. Thor winced and hoped Loki would have the sense to keep Hel turned away, if he noticed before she did. No such luck, when their father moved on to dance with Nepr’s daughter, pretty little Nanna. Thor could not fathom what his father was thinking, to so clearly favour others over his own grandchildren.
Thor was not surprised when Hel excused herself from Loki and sat at the children’s table by herself, but it broke his heart a little. He tried to catch his mother’s eye and gesture to Loki, who was caught between comforting Hel and confronting Odin, but Frigg already had it under control, intercepting her fuming son before he did someone damage. With extreme trepidation and utter lack of experience, Thor went to sit with his niece.
Hel did not look at him as he sat down, watching the other dancers and fidgeting with the folds of her dress. She removed the clip from her hair and let Frigg’s elaborate arrangement unravel til it shrouded the black half of her face.
“Nanna looks pretty tonight,” she told him with no inflection. “Kólga too.”
“Do they?” he asked lamely, unable to think of a lie that wouldn’t have sounded horribly false. Hel was a better liar than him already.
“They do. Baldr has been watching Nanna all night: look how jealous he is of grandfather. He doesn’t dare ask the prettiest girl to dance with him.”
She said it all as if she was bored, but he didn’t believe it. Hel might have been a good liar, like her father, but she didn’t have his mastery; a good thing, given she was barely a couple of decades old.
“Wouldn’t you like to dance again, rather than watch?”
“No,” she insisted, fiddling with the hairclip in her hand, “I don’t want to keep father all night. He will want to dance with the adults as well.”
“There’s no need to worry about that,” Thor replied, smiling. “Your father loves dancing with you. Didn’t you see him smiling and-”
“And getting angry and upset over me?” Hel cut across. “Yes, I saw.”
“It is just a little disagreement with your grandfather, little one. There’s no need to worry.”
“Because Odin will dance with pretty Nanna and pretty Kólga but not with me.” She shrugged, trying for a nonchalance that failed when her shoulders trembled. “I’m not worried: I don’t mind.”
Hel was so quiet, he almost missed it, but the soft blue of her gown showed the dark spots of teardrops and gave her away.
That was when Thor really fell in love with his niece, when Odin refused to and made sure she knew.
“Oh, Hel, please don’t cry,” he hugged her close, “not over them. They don’t deserve it.” She shuddered and curled against him, hiding.
“Why don’t we dance instead?” She looked up immediately, tears halted by shock.
“You... you want to dance with me?” It hurt to see the uncertainty in her expression, but truthfully what could he say he had done til now to convince her otherwise? A flat nothing.
“Of course!” Thor stood and pulled her to her feet with him, drying her tears with a handkerchief that spontaneously appeared in his hand. Had he looked at Loki, his brother probably would have been whistling innocently. “Why wouldn’t I want to dance with my beautiful niece? I thought you would not want to dance with me; Sif has probably told you all sorts of stories about my lack of grace and ability.”
“Sif doesn’t talk to me,” Hel muttered, frowning. “None of the women do, except grandmother.”
It was a misstep, but Thor pushed onwards regardless. “Well the stories are far too widespread for you not to have heard them, like the time I tripped and knocked my partner straight into the remains of the evening’s feast.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “That’s why Lady Iðunn will not dance with me anymore. It took too long to get the roast boar of out her hair last time.”
Hel actually giggled, and his heart lifted at the sound.
“Are you willing to face the danger? They served stew this evening: it could get messy.”
“I think I can take the chance, Uncle Thor,” she whispered back, smiling wider than he’d seen all evening. “Maybe I can teach you.”
“You’re welcome to try,” he agreed, letting her lead him back to the floor.
They pointedly ignored Odin for the rest of the evening. Hel managed to teach her uncle a basic step before he succeeded in tripping himself into a tureen of something slimy and had to retire, handing Hel back to her father. He thoroughly enjoyed himself watching them for the last three rounds before it was time for bed.
(Baldr got to dance with Nanna in the end. He stood on her foot he was so nervous: she offered to teach him for the next dance. They never danced with anyone else after that.)
Chapter 3: Part the Third: Around the World in 80,000 Scales
Thor sat beside Loki, watching his brother’s tense expression and waited for him to speak. Loki remained stubbornly silent.
“What has you thinking so deeply, brother?”
“My son is a slave. My daughter is an outcast.” There was a suspicious glimmer in his eyes. “Sometimes I wonder if I was right to...” he couldn’t finish the sentence, but Thor knew the way his thoughts had turned and found it more than a little disturbing.
“You wish you hadn’t had them?”
“Never!” Loki hissed without hesitation. He relented at Thor’s contrite expression and turned back to his view. “But I worry for them, and it is increasingly clear that they will never be accepted, not as they are.”
The hand Loki rested on his stomach should have been Thor’s first clue.
“Would it be more of a crime to bring another child into such unfriendly circumstances, or to not give that child a chance out of fear?”
Jörmungandr was considered large even as a hatchling, but considered himself very small. This was not helped by his ground hugging view of the world, where even other infants towered over him. He disliked his elder brother for years on the principal that Sleipnir had taken his share of the legs and left him to life as a draught excluder.
The young serpent developed a phobia of being trampled that became so bad he refused to touch the floor. At first, Loki was willing to carry him as he had when Jörmungandr was younger, despite Jörmungandr’s tendency to wrap a few coils round his father’s face which made it very difficult to see, but his youngest quickly grew too heavy for him. Thor had offered to take over, more than willing and more than capable but Jörmungandr rejected the offer and disappeared. It was Thor’s misfortune that his youngest nephew was the one to take after Loki the most, particularly in his penchant and talent for disappearing acts.
Thor eventually found his nephew (where he should have looked in the first place) hiding in the room he shared with Hel, draped forlornly around the Midgard globe he’d had in place of a stuffed animal as a hatchling (possibly the most intelligent gag gift to date) though it was now far too small for him.
“We were all small once,” he began, wondering if he was going to spend the rest of his natural life reiterating to Loki’s children everything Frigg ever told him. “It doesn’t last long. You will be big soon, and then you will find yourself wishing you were small.”
“I’ll never wish to be small,” Jörmungandr grumbled, overstressing the sibilants for purely ironic value. “Being small means being forgotten and stood on. I hate it.”
“Your father is small,” he said and knew Loki would kill him and feed him to their father’s wolves if he ever found out, “and no one ever forgets him.”
“Father is tall,” Jörmungandr corrected him with that withering tone already so reminiscent of Loki. “Tall is as good as big. I am short and small: unless I rear my head I have an ankle view of the world. Small and low and forgettable.”
Thor couldn’t disagree with him. He sat down on Hel’s bed, ruining the military precision of her sheets (he’d have to fix it later) and wondered idly why it was that he always seemed to have these conversations with his niece and nephews, and not their father. Unless Loki already had, and this was just a rehash of old issues. What would Loki say?
Trying to imitate his brother’s silver tongue would be an exercise in futility, but it did give him an idea. He knew he’d regret it later, but not as much as he’d regret it now if he didn’t say it.
“Then make sure they can’t forget you.”
“It isn’t that easy,” hissed Jörmungandr, with just the right inflection to make it sound like he’d said “you’re an idiot” instead.
“Yes it is.”
Jörmungandr turned on him, coils slipping on the globe til he fit snugly round the Equator.
“Your father isn’t impossible to forget because he’s tall,” Thor replied, and wondered how Jörmungandr could have missed one of the cornerstones of Loki’s personality. Then again, his brother had had little opportunity for mischief with three children to care for and one father to please. “You would be better off asking him than me.”
Thor found he didn’t regret it in the end. The palace was never quiet now but rang with a mix of laughter and outrage: it reminded Thor of his own childhood.
Jörmungandr turned out to be a natural at playing tricks, and his father was more than willing to teach him whatever he wanted to know. Despite his wish to not be forgotten, the first trick he learned was how to disappear. Being remembered was one thing, being caught another entirely.
Loki was quick to admit, with a rare grin lighting his face in a way Thor had rarely seen of late, that his son might have had him beat in the mischief department, though Jörmungandr was less particular about his targets than his father was. Everyone was fair game to a serpent with a grudge against big feet and the people who owned them.
Jörmungandr didn’t do anything by half, always pushing to see what he could achieve, and it was obvious that it stemmed as much from a natural affinity for magic (courtesy of Loki) as a delight with playing tricks. He was frustrated in his efforts at times- a lack of hands proved his downfall with books- but his immediate family were more than willing to help when that happened.
If they could that was: Thor took one look at the book Jörmungandr wanted read to him, and suggested instead that he would turn the pages and his nephew could read it to him. He couldn’t pronounce most of the words in the tome though he was loathe to admit it.
The reading session was a success of sorts in the end, after an hour spent trying to negotiate both Thor and Jörmungandr into one of the spacious chairs in the library. His nephew had almost doubled in length over the course of the year, so their arrangement resembled a hostage situation, with Thor in the chair and Jörmungandr wrapped around him and still with enough extra to have a six foot puddle of him in Thor’s lap.
As expected Thor didn’t understand much, if any, of what Jörmungandr read him- it was all gibberish beyond “Father knows how but he’s had loads of practice” and “How amazing would it be if I could?”- but his nephew’s enthusiasm was such that he still enjoyed it. It took them another hour to untangle themselves after, but it was still worth it.
A week later, Thor was faced with his brother as a teenager, though bouncing with the pent up energy of a younger boy.
“I did it!” the teenage Loki crowed, smiling with unusually sharp teeth, and floored Thor with a hug. His brother was never that heavy: his fifty odd feet of nephew definitely was.
He blinked at the boy sitting on his chest and tried to connect the dark haired doppelganger with the scaled image of his nephew he had in his head.
Jörmungandr grinned, positively smug.
Chapter 4: Part the Fourth: Dog Days
Fenrir was a true accident. While it was the case that Loki could and did control his fertility as it pleased him, that did not guarantee he would take when he intended to, only that he couldn’t when he did not wish to. His other children had made their presence felt as soon as they had a mind with which to conceive being difficult. Fenrir was so quiet that Loki was not even aware of him until the cub savaged him with contractions.
When he was born, Fenrir was no bigger than an average wolf pup: he could have been Freki’s pup as easily as Loki’s. In fact, it was whispered- and Asgardians tongues did love to wag when it came to Loki’s children- that Geri was Fenrir’s father. Nonsense of course- Fenrir was no more Geri’s than Jörmungandr was Níðhöggr’s- but Loki was in no position to argue against accusations of bestiality; not after Sleipnir.
The little cub was a favourite of his siblings, who agreed amongst themselves he would probably be the cutest, if not the most handsome. He was that much younger than all of them that they did not covet the attention he had from Loki (though Thor’s unintended “second parent” position might have accounted for that); in fact, he suffered from a surfeit of babysitters.
He grew at an Asgardian rate, unlike his brothers who had grown like weeds in their early years- Jörmungandr had yet to stop- which meant months rather than weeks of blind, mewling wolf cub. Ample babysitters should have made it easy, but Fenrir proved to be picky with his sitters.
Jörmungandr, now approaching half a mile in length with no sign of stopping, and struggling to keep his bulk crammed into an Asgardian shape, found his enthusiasm for sitting his younger brother somewhat foiled by his inability to maintain a steady temperature. As young animals were wont, Fenrir preferred to cuddle up to someone comfortable and warm, of which, unfortunately, Jörmungandr was neither.
Still, he refused to be foiled, and eventually managed well enough with heavy blankets and a multitude of hot water bottles. It was not the most comfortable experience (and had the unfortunate tendency to send him to sleep he was so warm) but it gave him the chance to cosy up with his brother, and father as well on quiet evenings when Loki had raided the library for the spell books he’d learned from as a child, and now taught to his doppelganger.
Sleipnir occasionally had the pleasure of sitting with Fenrir, but these moments were few and far between. As careful as he was, and Sleipnir was gentle was silk with his tiny brother, his bulk and lack of hands made things awkward. Nudges of his nose could only do so much to shift Fenrir; there was no way to lift him without risking harm. Nor could he feed the constantly hungry pup without help.
The soft spoken stallion- he’d gone quiet as he’d grown, but it was embarrassment over how the curb bit garbled his voice that tended to silence him- quickly gave up on the idea of sitting for Fenrir. Being trained to saddle- “trained”, because even Odin faltered from the word “broken”- took most of his time anyway. He was already full grown, very late to begin training a stallion, and that was entirely Loki’s doing. The younger prince had promised Odin that if he put a bridle on his grandson without Sleipnir’s consent, Loki would bring the palace down around his ears. Odin didn’t doubt it for a second. Neither did Thor.
Sleipnir had consented though, and Loki remained quiet on the matter, though Thor knew it pained his brother to see Sleipnir bridled and saddled like a common animal. He accepted it though, because Sleipnir wished him to, and perhaps because he understood, even if he couldn’t agree with it. His eldest son responded to his grandfather’s love like a morning glory to the sun, and was willing to do anything for his regard.
Loki understood that far too well.
Hel wouldn’t even come near her brother after their first two meetings. The first time Fenrir had shivered when she touched him and whimpered until she backed off. Despite her misgivings, she’d tried again with him a second time but Fenrir had gone frighteningly still. Hel had been assured she’d killed him, and when she’d brought her father and uncle running with her frantic screams, for one heart stopping split second, they’d thought she had too.
All it took was a little warmth to perk up the tiny cub, but Hel remained frantic at the potential damage she could do him, and stayed away. Hel proved remarkably intractable even with the rest of the family: visiting with Sleipnir rarely, and briefly when she did; moving out of the rooms she’d shared with Jörmungandr (they’d had a floor to themselves to accommodate his bulk); making herself absent whenever her uncle tried to speak to her. Loki tried to encourage his daughter to spend more time with them, but his silver tongue failed him when it came to Hel, and despite his efforts she grew more distant.
Hel didn’t even try to pretend she had anything in common with her peers, rapidly approaching considerations such as marriage, family and vocation, not always in that order. She had proved in her studies to be as quick as her father, but lacked his interest in it. Her tutors couldn’t fault her for her work, but her boredom was clear. Even magic failed to appeal to her, as Hel had about as much talent for it as Thor did. She left it to Jörmungandr to learn their father’s trade, as he’d already taken to it like a duck to water.
With all of the emerging issues, it seemed there just weren’t enough hours in the day to see to it all. Thor found himself minding Fenrir more often than not while Loki tried his utmost to keep his splintering family together. The little cub was content enough with him but it made days awkward when you only had one arm free. Sleipnir had recommended a saddlebag but was summarily ignored: he was used to it.
The Warriors Three frankly thought Thor’s babysitting duties bizarre, as did Sif, but they wouldn’t argue the point. It was a little late to, as Thor had already installed himself as uncle to the first three of Loki’s
monsters children. A noble endeavour, if a little misguided, seemed the consensus, though they definitely drew the line at helping. Thor was disheartened at his friends’ reaction, but when he said as much to Loki, his brother laughed. It was an ugly sound.
“You say that like it’s new. What did you think they would do? Did you imagine Volstagg would invite Jörmungandr to sit with him at feasts? That Hogun or Fandral would forgo our father’s command and acknowledge Sleipnir as an equal? Perhaps the Lady Sif would dandle Fenrir and invite Hel to sit with her?”
Loki’s bitterness was pure venom, and Thor was truly stung by it. His brother took Fenrir from him, hushing the cub when he whimpered.
“Don’t be a fool, Thor. You don’t have that excuse anymore.”
When Fenrir finally opened his eyes near his first birthday, they were blue as Jötunheim ice, and a whole new swathe of rumours that he was Thor’s sprouted within a week. Loki gave up denying them- he’d never been one to waste his breath on futility- and that was taken as confirmation. Thor himself was so utterly bemused by it all that he had no comments to offer.
All of Loki’s children had been intelligent thus far, and there was no reason to suspect otherwise in Fenrir’s case, but if the cub had more of a mind than a dog, he was inclined to keep it to himself. Once he learnt how his feet worked, he insisted on trailing Loki and Thor everywhere, though it was clear he knew which his parent was. Thor was fun to play with- and play they did, regardless of the bemused stares most of Asgard gifted any game of tag that involved a wolf cub, five furlongs of serpent and the heir to the throne- but Fenrir practically glowed with adoration in Loki’s presence, and vice versa (though Loki would never admit it).
More than once Thor caught Hel watching, but she always departed before he could invite her to join them. She wore her hair out of her face more often now, which should have cheered him, but the endless regard of her dead eye made him shiver. It was not often Hel saw anything through the cataract of that eye, and whatever it was she saw when her gaze passed over her growing family, it did not bode well.
“Do you remember Ragnarok?” Jörmungandr asked him one night when they’d shared looking after Fenrir. For the sake of ease, the great snake wore his Æsir shape. Thor had believed him asleep after a stint holding his brother and a multitude of blankets.
“Do I want to know why you’re asking?” Thor answered, while he tried to scrape together a real response.
Jörmungandr was always hard to read. Serpentine facial expression didn’t translate well, and he had long mastered deadpan anyway for when he needed to hide mischief in the works. Now it seemed he was just unwilling to speak, something Thor had never encountered with his chatty nephew before.
“I do,” Thor finally ventured when his nephew remained stubbornly silent, “but only a little. I think remembering it all would drive me insane.”
It was not a subject he’d dwelt on for a very long time. No one liked to dwell on the end of the world.
“I guess that makes sense,” Jörmungandr muttered, lisping as he hadn’t since he was much younger.
Thor feared he already knew the answer.
Chapter 5: Part the Fifth: Gone to the Dogs
When he hit his second birthday, Fenrir began growing as they’d always assumed he would. From barely half the size of Geri and Freki- who fiercely disliked the cub; after a few harsh lessons, Fenrir no longer ventured within range of their teeth- Fenrir filled out to a size rivalling his eldest brother within the year. Whatever size he was though, Fenrir was still a puppy and puppies loved to play.
After the first few “incidents” Loki had to set rules, for the sake of Fenrir’s safety as much as the other Asgardians who frequented the palace. Play was fine, Loki would never deny his son that, but he had to be careful around certain people.
All the rules were a variation on the familiar theme of Be Careful and Fenrir was, after a fashion, especially as he continued to grow and his size made him clumsy. He crashed into things just by virtue of being too big to fit into most places anymore. Jörmungandr commiserated with him on that topic a lot, but unlike Jörmungandr Fenrir had no way to make himself smaller, and so eventually there was talk of the cub being relegated outside when he could no longer comfortably fit through doorways.
It caused yet another confrontation between Loki and Odin, so heated that Frigg actually intervened for once. Thor still didn’t dare take sides- and felt a coward for it when both his father and brother burned their gaze into his back- but he backed his mother up when she insisted that Loki had a point about not putting Fenrir in a glorified dog house. (That wasn’t actually what he had said, but by this point Loki claimed whatever small victories he could).
They did not reach a decision that day. Neither father would concede, but Loki in particular was so vicious on Fenrir’s behalf that it gave even Odin reason to pause, and led the cub to wonder if he should be calling Loki mother. When his father/mother stormed out Fenrir tried to follow as quietly as possible: he knocked over two torches, sent a table skittering back and scrambled out of the room trying not to feel the glare of his grandfather’s single eye scorching his fur.
The doors closed on excruciating silence.
Odin finally sat on his throne, heavy with something Thor could not identify through the stone of his face. Frigg laid a hand within reach of her husband’s- even here, with only their eldest to see them, she would not so much as imply any weakness on Odin’s part- and watched him in silence, without so much as glancing at her son.
Thor couldn’t remember his parents ever having looked so old.
“Father...” Thor began, with no idea of what he intended to say next.
Why are you doing this?
Can’t you see you’re driving him away?
Why can’t you love them?
He shouldn’t have spoken. Odin did not speak, just gestured at the doors with a sharp movement that was more appropriate with Gungnir in his hand. If he hadn’t had sympathy for his youngest nephew before, Thor certainly did now, as he retreated with his tail between his legs.
The corridor beyond the throne room was empty, and yet Thor was certain Loki had seen him and didn’t need to see his brother to feel his disapproval. Thor was doing a remarkably poor job of keeping any of his family happy. Still, he insisted on trying. It was small wonder Loki thought him a fool.
It was an unfortunately easy task to find Fenrir. Anxiety did not make the cub any more agile, and the trail of destruction left by his consistent tripping over his large paws was one even Thor could follow. He wasn’t even vaguely surprised when it led him straight to the floor Jörmungandr called a room.
Thor saw Loki first, perched on one of Jörmungandr’s coils and leaning against his son’s head between one huge, acid green eye and the subtle fringe of scales that hid his ear. Fenrir was curled up and tucked securely under Jörmungandr’s chin. Even Hel was there, though she sat a distance away where even Jörmungandr couldn’t touch her, though the closest length of him was limned in frost.
He could feel the rumble of Jörmungandr’s voice through his grip on the doorframe, but couldn’t discern a word of the conversation. Fenrir appeared to have dozed off. Hel was almost animated, the black half of her face twisting when the white half pulled into a frown. There was something like a smile on Loki’s face, strained but painfully genuine.
Thor wanted to join them, but it was so rare to have all of them together he didn’t dare intrude. The best he could do for them was give them this time.
The stalemate lasted for weeks, the tension in the palace only broken by sharp words. Frigg tried to keep the peace between her husband and youngest son as best she could, finding the midway between the two that would be most conciliatory, and yet Thor couldn’t help but notice it was curiously bereft of concern for Fenrir. Odin eventually listened to Frigg in a way he never did to Loki, and agreed to place Fenrir in a house big enough to fit him comfortably.
Under someone else’s care.
“If you cannot control your... children, then someone else will be appointed to do so. I have tolerated their antics, and yours, but no more.”
Thor was appalled. Frigg was compliant. Jörmungandr, hiding quietly at the back to listen in, was so incensed he lost control of his transformative spell and collapsed into furious hissing coils, then vanished in a flash of green fire. Hel was a gust of cold air as if she’d never been there.
Loki reacted exactly as predicted. It was only Fenrir’s frightened whimpering of “Mother” that finally forced him to calm down and soothe his son with trembling hands. The throne room was in tatters around them.
“Father...” Thor could not say more. He didn’t need to. Every objection he had, every ounce of his incredulity at Odin’s ruling was encapsulated in that one word. The only other noise to break the silence was Fenrir’s soft whining. Frigg kept her eyes on her husband; she couldn’t bear to look at Loki and Fenrir.
Odin could. He did not say another word, nor even acknowledge that Thor had spoken. His eyes were only for his son and grandson, huddled on the floor and trembling together, until Thor could no longer stand it and ushered the two of them out as gently as he could.
He did not look back. He couldn’t.
Loki insisted on choosing the person who would raise Fenrir if he could not, and threatened violence if Odin took that decision away from him. Odin’s warrior, carefully picked within the week, attempted to come near Fenrir with all the gentleness one would use with an abused dog.
Loki put him down just as promised. It was only Thor’s interference that ensured the unfortunate man survived.
Odin did not concede, he never did, but his extended silence on the matter and the lack of a new fool to take up the challenge were all the hint Loki needed to choose someone himself.
Thor was surprised at Loki’s choice for a split second, before his brother’s reasoning became clear. The only Asgardian Loki could trust to be fair to Fenrir, regardless of his opinion of Loki, was Tyr. The Midgardians believed him to be the god of Justice with good reason. He was a good man. He would be good to Fenrir.
Thor still made a point of taking Tyr to one side after Loki was through with him, to make sure he realised exactly what would happen to him if Fenrir was in any way unhappy. Loki would always get to him first, but Thor’s frustration at his own inability to help his brother and nephew pushed him to make the loyal, if empty gesture.
Hel and Jörmungandr watched from the doorway, their heavy eyes always on Tyr. They made a grim pair: a death’s head and a doppelganger.
“He said “children”,” Hel murmured, just loud enough for Thor to hear, though she made a show of keeping it for Jörmungandr’s ears only. “Children, not child.”
Jörmungandr understood her. “We’re next.”
She saw Thor’s eyes on them and ushered her brother away, glancing back at him over her shoulder. He didn’t understand what she was asking of him, but he feared she was right.
Chapter 6: Part the Sixth: The Living End
I am so sorry this took as long as it did, guys. Thanks for sticking with me. Only a couple more to go now.
This has not been betaed yet, since my beta is rather busy and I am very behind with getting this to you guys, so all mistakes are entirely mine.
Loki’s choice had been a sound one: Tyr was as good to Fenrir as he was to any Asgardian child, though Fenrir required a more careful hand than most. The cub thrived away from the palace, under Tyr’s attentive care.
The rest of the family did not cope as well with the change, particularly when it came to light that their contact with Fenrir was restricted. Not that it was couched in such terms, but the fact was that Tyr would be present for everything, and they were very aware Tyr was the AllFather’s first, even if Loki had picked him. Anything said could get back to Odin, and the AllFather didn’t need more than the thinnest of excuses to hurt them further. He’d already proven that.
Fenrir’s siblings never visited, too wary of Tyr to do so (though in Sleipnir’s case it was an impossibility: Odin conveniently required his prized stallion elsewhere). Thor had seen nothing of Sleipnir, and very little of the stallion’s younger siblings in the weeks since Fenrir had been moved out of the palace. He had encountered Jörmungandr wandering the palace gardens a few times, but found his nephew unwilling to spend any time with him. His chatty nephew had grown quiet, just like Sleipnir. Nor did Jörmungandr appear to be staying in his rooms in the palace: the entire floor that Jörmungandr called his own gathered dust in his absence.
Hel, meanwhile, had all but disappeared. Thor had only seen her once at a distance, speaking with Jörmungandr, but the two of them had disappeared before he could get close. Since then, Hel had been conspicuous by her absence.
The family was falling apart, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Loki was scarcely better, though the world without was oblivious. He visited Fenrir as often as he could, smiling and lively with his son, despite Tyr’s looming presence. As far as Asgard was concerned he was happy with the arrangement as long as Fenrir was happy. He even managed to be civil with their parents, despite Odin’s hand in everything, and Frigg’s complacency.
It was the most convincing lie Thor had ever seen.
He had even been fooled himself at first, and rightly worried at Loki’s response. Until he’d visited Fenrir himself- Thor went every third day to play after Fenrir asked him to teach Tyr how- and caught his brother on his way out. Loki didn’t stop, or even acknowledge Thor as he passed, hurrying out of the house and vanishing.
“Is Mother very busy?” Fenrir asked later when he lounged across Thor’s lap, taking a breather. Tyr sat at a polite distance and pretended he wasn’t watching.
“No more than usual,” Thor replied, though he wasn’t actually certain. “Couldn’t you ask him earlier?”
“Of course not,” Fenrir huffed. “He hasn’t been here today.”
Thor didn’t even have to ask. He should have known.
“Jörmungandr has been visiting?”
“He always visits when Mother can’t. He’s here a lot.”
That was all Fenrir would say on the subject. If there was more to Jörmungandr’s visits, Fenrir didn’t know it.
They spent the rest of the visit playing until Fenrir finally tired and fell asleep on Tyr. Thor tried not to be jealous. And failed.
He caught up to Jörmungandr surprisingly easily, basking in the last of the afternoon sun on a disused west facing balcony. The stone fairly rippled with heat, perfect for Jörmungandr’s cold blood, though even alone his nephew still wore his other shape.
“Are you joining me?” Jörmungandr asked, slow with the warmth. He was sprawled out on the balcony ledge with one leg hanging over the long fall to the gardens below.
“You visited Fenrir today.”
“Yes, and?” He fixed Thor with one poison green eye and slowly levered himself up to sit.
Jörmungandr looked at him like he was crazed.
“You’re honestly asking me why I visit my little brother after Odin-” he spat his grandfather’s name as if it were a hot coal on his tongue, “took him away from us by implying my father is a bad parent. You do realise that’s what you’re asking, right?”
Thor was a little embarrassed at how it sounded, but he persisted.
“What I want to know is why you pretend to be Loki. Fenrir knows that it’s you.”
Jörmungandr scoffed. “Of course he does. He’s always known. Only you æsir get it wrong.”
The last was nothing short of vitriolic. Thor was stunned.
“Where did that come from?” He reached out to lay a hand on his nephew’s narrow shoulder and felt the tremble that Jörmungandr was pretending didn’t exist. “You are æsir t-”
Jörmungandr snarled and slapped him away, forgetting his own strength and sending his uncle to the floor.
“Don’t call me that!” he snapped. “I am not an ás!”
Thor was stunned. Where had this come from?
“You should not let the whispers at court affect how you view yourself,” he said, doubtful that that was the real reason and probing for the truth.
Jörmungandr laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound.
“You think that’s why? You think I’d let that velvet wrapped cattle herd dictate my identity with their poorly constructed insults? Well, you think a lot of erroneous things then, don’t you uncle.”
He flickered, oh so briefly, just to remind Thor of the great serpent confined into the slender ás form. His shadow unfurled to its real size, falling over Thor like the weight of Jotunheim’s sky piercing mountains.
“My real shape should be evidence enough for you.”
“You are of my blood,” Thor protested, dragging himself up at least as far as his knees. He did not rise to his feet while Jörmungandr loomed over him. His irate nephew would likely take it as an invitation to hit him again, and he was strong enough to reduce Thor’s bones to dust if he chose to.
“I don’t claim anything by blood,” Jörmungandr retorted. “I refuse to give the AllFather and his wife any hold over me that they do not deserve. My father is mine by love, as my siblings are, and that is something that no one else can claim over us.”
Thor struggled to hide how much that hurt. “Not even me?”
“You love us. I know that.” Jörmungandr grimaced and turned away. “But then Sleipnir and Hel remember the Queen being much the same when they were young. Frigg once loved Sleipnir enough to read to him, and to make that beautiful dress Hel hides in her room. Enough for that, but not enough to stand between us and Odin. It occurred to me, as it has already occurred to them, that you are from the same stock.”
Jörmungandr glared at his uncle as Thor rose from the floor, his arm already bruising. “You have been good to us, I don’t doubt you love us, but it is not enough. When it comes down to it, it is only Father standing between us and Odin, and he cannot protect us anymore.”
He stormed away without letting Thor say a single word in his own defence.
“I’m not sure he ever could.”
When Thor finally left, long after Jörmungandr departed, he immediately went to find Loki. Jörmungandr was right: Thor had been fooled by his nephew’s impersonation of Loki before, and now he couldn’t be sure how much of what he’d seen recently had been Loki himself, or Jörmungandr.
Loki’s door was locked; no surprise. Thor knocked regardless, hoping, as was often the case, that Loki was inside and simply being very particular about his visitors today.
The door opened on the first knock, cold air gusting through the gap. Thor pushed it gently open, uneasy when he saw no one at the door.
“You may as well come in.”
That was not Loki’s voice.
“Hel?” The curtains were closed, so it was too dim to see well, but he saw the grey shape of his niece shift at the sound of her name. She sat on Loki’s bed, tucked away in the corner, her single white eye glowing like a ghost lantern in the half light. As Thor approached, Loki emerged from the gloom, curled beside Hel on the bed. Hel’s dark fingers combed through her father’s hair, over and over, quiet as a feather touch.
“Father is sleeping,” she said as Thor stopped beside her. Hel traced a gentle hand over her father’s face. (Only she saw the trails of blue following the lines of her chill fingertips.) Loki didn’t stir, unnaturally still.
“What have you-”
“Let him sleep,” Hel murmured across him as if he’d never spoken. “He needs it.”
She rose and tucked the blanket around her father. When she turned his way, Thor could just see the salt tracks drying on her cheeks glinting in the low light.
“I have somewhere to be,” Hel said. “Tell father not to worry. We’ll be safe.”
“Where are you going?” Thor asked. He wanted to check on Loki, but could not bring himself to move. There was a finality in Hel’s voice that scared him.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” He reached for Hel. She walked straight through him, cool and insubstantial as moonlight.
Thor turned to follow her, and just caught the fading edge of her smile as she disappeared.
“Because you would try to follow.”
The Bifrost chimed underfoot, rippling through the light spectrum with each step. It hardly mattered. There was no surreptitious approach to the dome with Heimdall watching. There was nowhere to hide on the bridge: even without his far reaching gaze, Heimdall would have known her approach from the moment she made her first glittering step towards the dome.
Hel slowed to a halt several feet from where the gatekeeper stood.
“Good evening, Heimdall.”
“You do not have permission to use the Bifrost,” he said without preamble.
“Members of the royal family do not require permission in peace time.”
Heimdall matched Hel’s gaze, his golden eyes as piercing as hers were shadowed.
“Then you understand why the Bifrost is closed to you.”
A smile opened like a gash across Hel’s face, splitting her piebald face. Her mirth was a desperate, clawing thing.
“Now now, Heimdall. You know that will hardly stop me.”
His expression didn’t so much as flicker, it never did, but Hǫfuð rose as he shifted his grip, until Hel could see her white eye flickering in the flat of the blade.
“Do you intend to kill me, Heimdall?” Hel reached out with her black hand, withered fingers skating over Hǫfuð’s burnished steel. “Odin would thank you.”
“I intend to stop you.”
“That isn’t a no,” purred another voice. Loki stepped from the shadows of the doorway, poison eyed and panther-gaited.
Heimdall didn’t even bother to look.
“Your tricks don’t fool me, Jörmungandr.”
Jörmungandr didn’t break stride, but the shape of his father’s face slid away. The great snake smiled right through his Asgardian illusion. It was no less dangerous than the expression Hel wore.
“Step away from my sister, Gatekeeper.”
Ice spread from Hel’s fingertips, rushing up the length of Hǫfuð and freezing Heimdall’s hands to the hilt before the Gatekeeper could even recognise the danger.
“Yes, Gatekeeper,” she whispered, breath fogging against the icy metal. “Do step away.”
Heimdall brought Hǫfuð to bear with a speed that belied the greatsword’s size. Hel dropped back just out of reach as Hǫfuð cut the air before her, a move that would have split her hip to shoulder.
“You missed,” Hel sneered, then had to duck as the sword came back at throat level, intent on taking her head. She crashed backwards into her brother as he surged forward to help her. Jörmungandr caught her and tugged her behind him as Heimdall followed up his strike with another fit to cleave right through Jörmungandr’s skull.
He caught the blade right above his head.
“Nice try,” he snarled through gritted teeth, straining to hold onto the blade and twisting as though he meant to snap Hǫfuð in half.
“No, don’t break it!” Hel cried.
Jörmungandr faltered, just for a moment. It was enough to allow Heimdall to wrench Hǫfuð free of his grip, and bring the sword scything back. The devastating strike caught Jörmungandr just under his ribs. His scales saved him from being cleaved in two, but they buckled under the pressure. The force was enough to send him tumbling back down the Bifrost. He struggled to rise again, hand clamped over his side, blood dripping between his fingers.
Hel faced Heimdall, looking down the length of Hǫfuð as he raised it once more.
“Well?” she said, meeting Heimdall’s still gaze. “Kill me, or be assured, I will kill you.”
Hǫfuð fell like the inexorable rush of a sickle blade. Hel did not move.
Heimdall was strong, and easily more skilled in a hand to hand fight, but Jörmungandr had sheer weight on his side and he knocked Heimdall down before Hǫfuð could be brought to bear again. The struggle ended with a strike, in the shadow of the Bifrost dome.
Jörmungandr staggered back from the fallen Gatekeeper, tremors shivering through him. His mouth bled long lines of black and red that trailed over his chin and dripped onto the flickering crystal of the Bifrost.
He sobbed, biting his lip until his own blood joined the mess on his face.
“Why did you-”
“We need to go,” Hel interrupted him. “Now.”
Hel darted forward and dragged Hǫfuð free of Heimdall’s lax fingers, the ice clearing with a touch. She reached to catch Jörmungandr by his shoulder, but her brother slapped her away, turning on her, hissing blood and venom.
“Why did you do it?” Jörmungandr snarled. “You baited him, knowing he would react and knowing I would stop him, ignorant fool that I am!” He threw a fist into the wall beside him. The metal crumpled like silk beneath his scaled hand.
“Why would you do that to me?” he sobbed.
“Odin is coming for us, Jörmungandr.”
“There is nowhere in the nine realms we could run to where Heimdall couldn’t find us,” Jörmungandr said, wiping at the mess on his face with shaking hands. It achieved little.
“Heimdall sees nothing now,” Hel said and had to ignore her brother’s flinch. They didn’t have time for it now. “The only eye watching us is the one Laufey deigned to leave the AllFather, and his gaze can be slipped, but only if we get away now.”
Hel hefted the weight of Hǫfuð, hands freezing to the slick metal of the hilt, and mounted the dais, sliding the sword into its cradle. The power of the Bifrost bloomed around her hands, a tiny mockery of Yggdrasil, built of pure energy. Needle sharp branches forked towards the domed ceiling as the mechanism beneath their feet hummed to life and the walls around them shifted, erasing the entrance.
“Where to, little brother? Álfheim? Vanaheim?” The dome’s rotations picked up speed. “Jötunheim?”
Jörmungandr stood at the portal, the brimming light playing a melody of gold across his tear streaked face, painting new scales over the glamour of his ás face. The drying blood shone like old rune marks, black against the brightness.
“Midgard,” he said, biting the tremble from his voice. “We’ll go to Midgard.”
She smiled. “Good choice.” The static crawl of unfocussed energy across her skin dissipated as she locked the destination in with little more than a thought. The ozone taste lingered in the air a few moments longer, a lightning kiss of vibrancy like the first breath of cold air.
The needle dropped as the mechanism hit its peak, spinning so fast it fooled the eye so that it hardly seemed to move at all. The portal burst to life in a whirl of white light that fractured into rainbows with each rotation.
“As soon as it opens, run,” Hel said, her hands still frozen in place around Hǫfuð’s hilt. “I’ll be right behind you.”
He glanced over his shoulder at her, the bridge energy already dragging him forward, and nodded. “See you on the other side.”
“Safe journey, Jörmungandr.”
Jörmungandr stepped into the bridge vortex.
The blurring wall of the Bifrost chamber exploded.
Hel was flung against Hǫfuð in an eruption of light and gold debris, knocking the breath out of her and shattering the ice that held her hands to the greatsword’s hilt. She sprawled on the dais, blinking away the flickering points of light obscuring her vision.
The Bifrost dome crashed to a halt, but the portal just held, shuddering for a moment before it settled again.
Hel dragged herself up and turned to face the ruined doorway, her face bloodied where she’d clattered against Hǫfuð.
Odin stood in the doorway, Gleipnir glinting wickedly in his hands, flanked by palace guards.
“You’re late,” Hel said, grinning at him with bloodied teeth. “I’m surprised you’d want an audience for this, AllFather, but then you always liked witnesses who would call death and slavery salvation if it were by your hand.”
Jörmungandr was still on the bridge. She had to keep Odin back long enough for him to reach Midgard.
“Or are they here to collect what’s left of the Gatekeeper?” She gestured to the slumped form of Heimdall, now half hidden by debris.
Odin gestured to his flanking guards who obediently moved to check on Heimdall, never taking his single eye off of her. They matched, in an odd way, had for as long as Hel had been alive. Hel had always suspected Odin saw more with his missing eye than he let on, just as the cloudy cataract of her dark eye didn’t hamper her as much as people thought.
“Why have you done this?” he finally asked, and Hel wanted to laugh at the trace of bemusement in his tone. Such a good actor.
“This was always going to happen, AllFather,” Hel said, dragging the back of her hand across her mouth to clear the blood. “This is always what happens; only for once I have taken it upon myself to see to our exile without your aid.”
Odin looked troubled. His grip on Gleipnir tightened. “The future is not set in stone.”
“No, it isn’t,” Hel retorted, grinning like a skull. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Gleipnir flashed in Odin’s grasp, blazing gold. The blast threw Hel clear of the dais and against the far wall, where she slumped, burnt and breathless. For all she’d intended to goad him, she never thought the Allfather would turn Gleipnir on her.
By the time her sight cleared, Odin had already gained the platform, reaching for Hǫfuð.
“No you can’t! He’s still on the bridge!” Hel lunged at Odin, seething with ice. He knocked her back but she surged forward again, snarling and biting and clawing at him like a frenzied lindworm. Anything to get him away from Hǫfuð. Anything to keep the Bifrost open.
But Odin wasn’t alone.
All it took was a hilt strike to the back of her head by the guard she’d forgotten to account for. Just enough to drop her; daze her for those precious few seconds...
Hǫfuð came free of its mooring.
The Bifrost light died.
“Jörmungandr!” Hel staggered up, slapping away the guard that reached to restrain her, who backed off, clutching his frostbitten hands. She stumbled to the empty portal. Asgard’s horizon, seamed with the last of the sunlight, gleamed through the doorway where the bridge should have been.
“It was long enough. He made it. He must have...” she stuttered, clutching the golden lip of the gate with trembling hands. The world blurred like a white lie as tears blinded her, carving tracks down her face. “Jörmungandr...”
I'm sorry it's been so long between chapters, guys. It's been a busy (and somewhat scary) couple of months. We're nearly at the end now though, so it shouldn't be long until the next chapter.
Chapter 8: Part the Eighth: Fit to be Tied
I'm so sorry to have left you guys hanging for this long. The trouble this summer got to me more than I thought it would. Thanks for sticking with me despite the absence. I'll try not to let it go so long until the next chapter this time.
Fenrir suffered the monotony of his life with ill grace. He did his best to be patient, playing by himself when Týr took himself off to the palace, sitting out the passing days with Loki and Thor as they visited by turn, craving their attention as much as the limits on it irritated him. It was difficult to keep a lid on his frustrations, especially with Loki, but his father looked so strained beneath his smiles each time he visited that Fenrir could not hand him more. No one else seemed to see it, or perhaps they chose not to, but to Fenrir it was plain as day, and it troubled him.
“I’ll behave,” he wanted to say, “and then I’ll be free.” He didn’t really believe it, not anymore, but he wanted Loki to believe it if it would make his smiles easier. Fenrir worried that he was the cause of his father’s distress, but he was too selfish to ask Loki to stop coming.
When Loki eventually stopped visiting one day, Fenrir wasn’t surprised, and as much as it hurt he couldn’t help but be relieved. What did surprise him was that Jörmungandr took his place, arriving every other day wearing the wrong face. No one else seemed to notice though, continuing on as if nothing was wrong. The only one he trusted enough to ask was Jörmungandr himself, but his brother wouldn’t tell him anything of Loki or why he had suddenly chosen to visit where he had been so vehemently against it before.
“What of Hel?” Fenrir asked, though Jörmungandr grew sour and silent when Fenrir’s questions turned that way. “Did she put you up to this?”
“Hel keeps her own counsel,” Jörmungandr hissed which was as good as a yes, “and for now she sees fit to have us all in the dark. Don’t ask again.”
So Jörmungandr played Loki every day, with Týr looking on and none the wiser, and Fenrir stifled the questions bubbling up in him by chewing his way through every single toy in the house. He left the busted remains all over the lawn for Jörmungandr, but if his brother understood the sign of his frustration, he never mentioned it. Only Týr brought it up, when he collected the broken pieces up and disposed of them. Fenrir liked his guardian well enough, but the fact that Týr knew him better than his sibling was galling.
He ran out of toys to break quickly enough, but his frustration didn’t run out just because his supply of things to vent it on had. Fenrir was a huge cub, but still only a cub, and found a new way to voice his dissatisfaction by throwing a tantrum. When Týr left him yet again for whatever it was that detained him so frequently at the palace, Fenrir made a good effort to wreck the house.
The foundations were the sum of what still stood by the evening, and Týr had yet to return. The warmth of the night was such that Fenrir was curled up in the grass outside, watching Mani as he passed overhead, the silver light glinting off the spires of the palace where it rose in the distance. He was very deliberately idle, and kept his back to the wreckage he’d created at all times. Let Týr deal with it whenever he saw fit to come back.
He became aware of the frosted tips of the grass and the fresh chill of the air long before she actually emerged and sat near him. There was always more than an arm’s length between them. Hel’s icy touch had only grown with age.
“I see you’ve added your own touches to Týr’s decorating.”
“What else do I do when my father won’t visit, and his substitute keeps leaving,” Fenrir growled. “Oh, and my sibs are planning behind my back and probably going to leave me too.” He stood and turned a circle in his anxiety, glaring at his sister with eyes that glowed the same dim red as hers in the twilight.
“People pay attention to damage where they don’t to words. You’re all like Odin that way.”
Hel’s response was so cold that a frost settled on Fenrir’s fur. “I’d keep that particular pearl of wisdom to yourself from now on.”
Fenrir flopped back down on a patch of grass that had started to thaw and huffed. “Fine. You’re nothing like Odin. At least you admit we’re family. What do you want anyway, Hel? You’ve been keeping to yourself even more than usual, and Jörmungandr won’t say why.”
“We’re leaving, little brother.”
Fenrir didn’t question it. He’d known it was coming since Loki had stopped coming, maybe even before that, back to when he’d first been placed with Týr. Eventually, the situation had to shatter.
“All of us?”
Hel shook her head, a single sharp motion. “Sleipnir will not leave. I did not think he would.”
“He’s loved here,” Fenrir said. “Why would he?”
“He’s a pet,” Hel hissed, snapping a blade of grass between her white fingers. “And he lets himself be. He barely even talks anymore, and never where anyone but us could hear him. Sometimes I wonder if he’s forgetting how.”
“He’s happy, Hel,” Fenrir replied, kicking his feet in the spreading frost. “Which is more than the rest of us can say. Isn’t that enough?”
“He isn’t happy. He just thinks he is. If you pretend for long enough, you can even fool yourself.” She stood, the grass cracking under her bare feet. Mani’s light lit up her living side, so it seemed she had been cleaved in half by the falling shadow of the palace. “Regardless, this isn’t about him. This is about us. We’re leaving.”
“Tonight?” he asked, trying to smother the hope in his tone.
“No, but soon.” She twisted her hands in the fabric of her skirt. “You’ll have to stay for now, Fenrir.”
“What?” he barked. “You’re going to leave me here?”
“Do you think that if I take you with me now Odin won’t catch us before we even make the bridge?” she snapped. “Jörmungandr and I still have enough freedom to move around as we please. You do not have that luxury. You’ll have to wait.”
“And do you think that you’ll be able to come back and get me if you do get free?” he snapped right back. “I’ll have such a guard on me I’ll never get loose.”
“Calm down, little brother,” she said. “We’re not leaving Asgard without you, but we have to have access to the gate. Once it’s open, I’ll come back for you. Jörmungandr can hold it until then.”
“You promise?” he asked, scuffing his paws in the frost. “You won’t leave without me?”
“Never, little brother.” She looked like she meant to reach out to him, but it was a move long bred out of her. “Together or not at all. Just give me time.”
Hel was gone a moment later, and Fenrir lay amongst the thawing grass with that same frustration that had made him set his teeth to the house boiling low in his stomach again.
Just time, as if it were a paltry gift. But Fenrir had too much of it, and that was the sum of most of his problems.
Fenrir missed Týr’s return, having fallen asleep under the light of Mani, and did not see him til the morning, when he slunk back into the house as Týr finished assembling what was left of the contents.
He waited for harsh words, but there were none. Týr welcomed him in and told him Thor would be visiting, as if the walls weren’t marked by teeth and the kitchen table didn’t lie shattered to kindling in the centre of the floor.
Relief didn’t mask how unnerving the lack of retribution was.
Fenrir waited to be punished for his tantrum, but nothing emerged. Jörmungandr said nothing about it when he visited, but his distraction was all too clear to Fenrir. He only smiled when they played, and it was for Týr who watched them, not for his little brother. He might as well not have bothered: Týr never saw past the Loki face Jörmungandr wore.
No one mentioned Fenrir’s tantrum, but he was oh so aware of what he had done. The last time he had caused damage like that, he had been separated from his father. It hadn’t been as bad last time. The punishment Fenrir waited for could only be worse by the same measure as the damage he had wreaked. He was certain of that.
But nothing happened. Weeks went by and there was nothing. Until Týr came back from one of his many visits away from the house, and brought a chain with him. Fenrir watched him approach from the door, his eyes never shifting from the chain and it’s strange dull links that failed to glint in the light.
“Are you going to bind me?” he asked, thinking he already knew the answer.
“What? No, of course not.” Týr knelt beside him. “It is a present from the AllFather. I told him what happened to your toys and to our furniture, and he made this for you. Its name is Leyding, and it should be more than strong enough for a godchild.”
Týr offered up the chain he carried, and Fenrir took it gently from his hands, testing his teeth on the strange not-metal of the links. It held.
“Why don’t you go play until your uncle arrives?”
Fenrir had already broken the chain before Thor appeared, and ran crying to Týr.
“I broke Odin’s present!” he wailed, pawing at the busted links. “Now he’ll hate me again!”
Týr hushed him, gathering up the pieces. “The AllFather won’t hate you, Fenrir. I will show him the chain and tell him it simply wasn’t robust enough for a child of the royal family. He will understand.”
“Really?” Fenrir’s tail gave a feeble wag. “Do you think he might be... proud I’m so strong?”
Týr smiled. “I will watch very carefully and tell you when I get back. We’ll keep it to ourselves for now though. The AllFather is very private in his affections.”
Fenrir agreed almost immediately, riding on the elation that he might count in the AllFather’s affections.
A triumphant Týr returned later that day, long after Thor had left, with a length of metal cord clad in silk and offered it to Fenrir.
“From the AllFather,” he said to the elated pup. “This is Dromi, and it shouldn’t break.”
It was two days before Fenrir came shuffling back to Týr with another busted toy.
“I didn’t even get to show Father yet,” he grumbled. His brother had not visited recently, tied up in whatever it was that kept Hel away for so long, but he knew Jörmungandr would not leave him for too long. If Fenrir showed his brother Odin’s present, maybe it would be enough for Loki to come back. He had to say goodbye before they ran. If they were still going to run. With their grandfather actually showing him a shred of kindness, maybe it was a sign of change. Maybe they could work on it.
It was a lot of ifs and maybes for a cub. He tried not to get too wrapped up in them. Better to wait for Jörmungandr and go from there.
Týr took the mangled toy from him, examining where the sheared off edge of the cord had cut out through the fabric cladding.
“We’ll have to get another,” he said, smiling like he had the last time. “I’ll ask tomorrow.”
“Will Father come tomorrow?”
“I don’t know until he comes, Fenrir,” Týr told him, as he had done a thousand times before. Fenrir asked after his family a lot, and always got the same reply. “Your brother isn’t one for informing anyone of his plans before he implements them.”
Fenrir stopped cold.
“No, I guess he isn’t,” the cub said, feigning that he hadn’t heard the admission.
Jörmungandr did come, later than was usual for him and still wearing Loki’s face, but he was smiling for once, a match for Fenrir’s good mood.
“Týr knows it’s you,” Fenrir told him while they played along the fence line.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Jörmungandr replied, and bent low to whisper the last part in his ear. “Tonight, Fenrir.”
It was all Fenrir could do to keep the excitement welling in him down to enthusiastic play. He kept his words to himself when Jörmungandr excused himself, when Thor arrived later and Fenrir couldn’t help but ask after Loki. If they were going tonight, he wanted to see Mother before. It hadn’t occurred to him that Thor hadn’t been able to tell between Jörmungandr and Loki, that Thor hadn’t known even after so long, so he hid his words in play again rather than spill any further secrets.
At some point, he dozed off on Týr, careful to act as if nothing was different, and did not wake again until Thor was long gone and the sun was drifting down past the horizon. He stirred to the feeling of Týr’s hand on his fur, and the sound of footsteps approaching. He sat up immediately, thinking it might be Loki, but when he saw Odin approaching it was fear, not excitement that closed his throat so he had to fight for breath.
“AllFather...” he whimpered, huddling back against Týr.
The AllFather was dressed as if for war, or ceremony, a pattern of gold plate and heavy brocade, only lacking the horned helmet to top it off. He held the long staff of Gungnir in one hand, thunderbolt bright in the last of the dimming sun. In his other hand, he carried another of his creations, though this one looked nothing like a chain. It resembled a ribbon that flickered with its own internal light, like it had been shaved from the Bifrost.
“Another toy?” Fenrir asked, laughing so he wouldn’t whine, wanting nothing more than to tuck up his tail and flee.
When Týr didn’t laugh as well, when he didn’t even smile, and Odin held out the sunbeam thin length of Gleipnir, his expression severe, Fenrir went quiet.
“I don’t like this game anymore,” he whined, backing up and flinching when he realised he was cornered. “I know my strength. I broke your chains!” He surged forward and snapped at Odin, his teeth coming together with a sharp click right in front of his grandfather’s face.
His expression didn’t flicker.
Fenrir backed up, growling and posturing and completely unnerved.
“You can’t hold me!”
“Fenrir, it is only a game,” Týr said from his place behind the cub. “There is nothing to fear.”
Fenrir didn’t believe it for a second. His grandfather advanced on him and Fenrir retreated, snarling.
The wolf cub whirled on Týr with a snarl. “If it’s only a game, will you take it off if I can’t break it?”
“Of course,” Týr responded immediately, but there was a flicker in his eyes and his pulse that set Fenrir on edge.
He edged back out of Týr’s reach, but Odin was there- when had he moved?- and the first loop of Gleipnir slipped around one of his back legs. Shrieking and snarling, Fenrir frantically tried to kick the chain loose but only became more entangled in it. The fetter twisted round his back legs, stilling his kicks, and snaked, silk slick and cold, over his back.
“Get it off! Get it off!” Fenrir felt the chain trail down his shoulder and panicked, thrashing and rolling and tearing at it with his teeth, succeeding in nothing except breaking a fang against the links. He finally fell at Týr’s feet, his struggles dying down to nothing as he exhausted himself. His guardian knelt by his massive head, and dared to look guilty.
“Release me!” Fenrir wailed. “Týr, you promised!”
Týr said nothing but ran a hand over Fenrir’s muzzle, a futile attempt at comfort and far too late. As soon as he could reach, Fenrir closed his jaws on that treacherous hand and bit down.
The blood that flooded over his tongue was bitter and he revelled in it.