"Come, little god," the stranger says, from atop the back of a tall horse.
"Who are you, that I should let you take me?" Loki demands, trying to stifle his gasps. The All-Father had made it truly difficult to escape his cage, but escaped it Loki had. For the moment.
And now he is back on Midgard, the last place anyone would expect him to run.
"I know what hunts you," the stranger says, one hand holding the reins, the other petting the horse's neck. She dances in place, ears flicking between listening to the stranger and out at what might be coming. “And I know how to kill it.”
Loki’s mouth falls open. “That… what?” he asks, getting his feet under him and staggering up, trying to disguise how hard it is to stay there.
The stranger tilts his head, giving Loki an unimpressed look. “Pride goeth, little god,” he quotes from somewhere. It makes no sense to Loki, but he will only be on Midgard until his strength is fully returned, and then he’s going to find a hole somewhere else, somewhere far away, and wait until – after.
Another horse steps out of the darkness. “Come, little god,” the stranger repeats. “You’re a masterful manipulator, I’ll grant you that, but you need better allies, and actual friends, before you can get anywhere worth your talent.”
“I…” Loki is at a loss. He’d expected that anyone who recognized him would attempt capture or execution. But offering aid? No. Surely a trap.
Loki will never be trapped again.
“I thank you for your kindness,” he grits out, pain stealing his renowned silver tongue, “but, please, take your leave.”
“Yeah, no,” the stranger says. “I know you for what you are, and I know what hunts you.” His smile seems kind, and his eyes as all-seeing as Heimdallr’s, but Loki will not be tricked, Loki will not be caught, he will survive and endure, and he will not -
“Oh, child,” the stranger whispers, dismounting and catching Loki as he collapses.
I know what you are, Loki hears, distantly, echoing around him, in him, through him. You are mine.
Who are you? Loki asks, all the fight gone out of him. In the stranger’s embrace, he is warm. Sheltered. Maybe Frigga had held him like this, once, but it is long enough ago to be a faded dream.
The stranger laughs. “Your kind once called me Hel, ages and ages hence. I go by Ben now.”
Hel. Goddess of those who died away from battle – goddess of the old and the young, of the cowards or accidents. Hel, a legend even to the aesir. And, apparently, not a goddess at all.
What will you do with me? he mutters, sleep coming the easiest it has in decades.
I need a student, Ben says, standing, cradling Loki in his arms. Loki feels small, and young, and so much relief it floods him. You need a teacher, little chaos-maker.
And they are on the horse, though Loki knows not how. The horse, a magnificent creature, pale as Jötunheimr. They are on the mare, Loki with his back to Ben’s chest, still bracketed by his arms.
“Rest,” Ben murmurs into Loki’s ear. “You’ve lived, Loki. Now you must grow stronger. And when what hunts you arrives… I will show you how to kill.”
Loki surrenders to sleep. Either this is a perfectly woven trap – or Loki has been found by someone even more powerful than Odin, someone who (so far, at least) is on his side. And that…
Oh, that is something he so dearly wants.
You are safe with me, Ben promises, as Loki’s nightmare changes to nonsense about Thor and a dress and the days when things were good. I take such good care of that which is mine.
And the little god of trickery and lies, he is such a find.
That which hunts the child seeks Death.
Ben clucks to his horse, and Loki’s unused mount follows, and Ben’s laugh echoes through the night, because it is Death the child’s once-master will find.
He, however, will not be glad of it.