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She tells Jane she’s going to New York for Spring Break to spend time with her family. She’s not even lying, but it doesn’t stop her from feeling slightly guilty. Jane’s been a wreck since Thor left, throwing herself into her work in a way that puts her previous enthusiasm to shame. She’s her best friend on Midgard, and Hela hates leaving her like this, but she needs a break.

She misses her brothers.

She knows that Jane is expecting her to return to a white picket fence, possibly a dog, doting parents and a couple of older brothers who will spoil her in between bestowing noogies. That there will be home-made pie and roast dinners and a batch of cookies on the counter waiting for her to arrive and devour them.

The truth is…somewhat different.

She is heading to Jormungandr’s apartment, which has enough security to put the Pentagon to shame. Her serpent brother will have the heating turned on full blast. There is no dog because no animal would have the nerve to live with him. If he offers food, it’s most likely to be sashimi by the ton – a childhood spent haunting the darkness of the world’s oceans has removed his taste for anything else – but even that is unlikely. It’s Fenris who will bring the good stuff: the popcorn and candy and that thing that he absolutely has to show them. The three of them will live on take-out for a week.

There is no picket fence for the children of Loki, but that doesn’t stop them from being a family.

She plugs her swanky new iPod into her car radio on the long drive north. Jor had offered to pay for her to catch a flight, but she had declined. She likes driving. She likes seeing the diversity of Midgard up close and personal, and having the ability to do anything she chooses.

She knows that her fate was kinder than that of her brothers, but they have never been to Niflheim. They don’t know how blank and boring and colourless it is with its swirling mists and ruined buildings and the endless echoes of her footsteps ringing out over the moans of the inglorious dead.

Midgard, with its sights and sounds; its joys and tragedies; its life, is perfect in her eyes.

But that doesn’t mean that she lingers. Her fuel stops are only for that. As someone not truly alive, she has no need for sustenance even though she does enjoy it. Coffee, especially. When she returns to Nifleheim – and one day, she will have to – she will mourn for Starbucks almost as much as her freedom.

Jormungandr’s hugs are the best thing ever. He bestows them rarely, but when he does the feel of his arms squeezing her tight and the papery smell of his skin envelop her completely. She clings to him, presses her face into his strong shoulder. He’s gentle with her, never uses his full strength on anyone save Fenris who can not only take it but return the favour in kind. His hands run up and down her back and he presses a kiss to her temple. It’s light, only a brush of cool, dry lips against her skin, but it ignites a warmth in her heart at the same time as it worries her.

His kisses are even rarer than his embraces. Something is wrong.

“Come in,” he tells her.

She does as she’s told, and the door closes and locks automatically in her wake. As it does, she allows her magic to drop away. She’s the only one of them who can reveal their true form without destroying buildings in the process, and she does so without guilt. That she does at all is a sign of how comfortable she is.

Jormungandr does not bat his eyelid at the transformation. He has seen it before.

“Is Fen here yet?” she asks.

He has an apartment in the city as well, but they won’t meet there. He shares it with his human lover, and though the guy knows Fen has siblings, he does not know who or what they are. It’s better if it stays that way.

Jormungandr shakes his head in answer to her question and offers her a drink. She accepts, cracking open a chilled can of Diet Coke with skeletal fingers.

“Any idea what it is he wants to show us?” she asks.

“No.” If anything, Jormungandr sounds irritated. She covers her amusement by taking a swig of her soda. He’s probably tried to hack into Fen’s computer to find it. Jormungandr doesn’t like surprises – they make him more venomous than usual.

“It’s beautiful,” Fenris promises as he slips a DVD into Jor’s highly impressive home cinema. He shoots a wolfish grin over his shoulder at them and if his teeth are longer and sharper than they should have been then they say nothing.

Hela flicks popcorn at him. He snaps it out of the air with ease.

“Thanks,” he says.

The blank screen crackles to life with a view of rain falling in a dark desert, turning the dust to mud, and Fenris rejoins them on the couch.

Jormungandr shoots him a confused look. “This is S.H.I.E.L.D security footage,” he says. His eyebrow raises in question.

“From New Mexico,” Fenris admits. “Just watch.”

For a few minutes there’s nothing but the feet of S.H.I.E.L.D agents as they wade through mud out of the camera’s range of vision. Hela munches on a handful of popcorn and leans into Fenris’ side. The youngest of her brothers is always warm, and he smells of fur coats and forests and wilderness no matter what he does to cover it up. He steals the bowl from her, and she quickly nabs another handful, knowing that it will be her last from that batch. He’s a bottomless pit.

“So, uh, does anything actually happen in this?” she asks.

Not that she really minds. Even if the footage sucks, she likes the snuggling that goes with it. On her other side, Jormungandr shifts, and she swiftly tucks her feet up onto his lap to stop him from going anywhere. He stops moving, and drops a hand to rub at the delicate bones of her left foot.

Then, Eric Selvig comes on screen, escorted by two S.H.I.E.L.D agents who are so regular looking that they’re instantly forgettable. She straightens, shoots Fenris a look from the corner of her eye. He’s smirking.

“What?” she whispers.

“Just watch,” he whispers back.

When Eric opens his mouth to speak, she knows exactly what she is going to see. This must be from when Eric had to go and talk Fen into releasing their Uncle Thor from S.H.I.E.L.D custody. The camera is angled to show Eric from above, slightly from the side. Fenris is out of shot, but she can hear his voice just as clearly as Eric’s.

“His name is Donald Blake?”

“Doctor Donald Blake.”

She remembers how desperate Jane was to rescue Thor from the custody of the ‘evil’ secret agents. She’d raved about he was the only proof to her theory, that he didn’t deserve whatever she’d imagined they were going to do to him. Hela had argued her side of the point rather than Eric’s because she’d known that Thor deserved exactly what Fenris had probably wanted to do to him, and she hadn’t wanted to risk Fenris blowing their cover.

As much as him using Thor as a toothpick would have brought momentary satisfaction to all of them, the consequences wouldn’t have been worth it.

She knows now that there was no need to worry; that Fenris has an iron control over his wild temper. But still, the worry had been there, and she’d played her part in forging Thor’s fake identity, flimsy though it had been.

“You have dangerous co-workers Doctor Selvig.”

It’s beautiful because it’s true. She snuggles closer into Fenris’ side and he shifts so that his arm is draped around her shoulders.

“He was distraught when he found out you had taken all of our research. That was years of his life, gone. You can understand how a man can go off like that. A big, faceless organisation like yours coming in with their jack-booted thugs and –“ she watches as a nervous expression crosses Eric’s face before he forces an innocent look, wide eyes and a manically pleading grin. “That’s how he put it.”

He’s such a bad liar that she can’t stop herself from giggling.

“That still doesn’t explain how he managed to tear through our security.”

She’d realised it, in New Mexico, when he’d stood in front of a newly-empowered Thor and listened to him talk about how they were on the same side, that Fenris was a good actor. There was no inflection in his recorded voice at all. She was sure that if she’d been able to see his face that there wouldn’t have been any expression there either.

She can’t help but wonder what excuse Eric had used. He’d never told her or Jane, and Thor hadn’t been present to know either.

“Steroids! He’s a bit of a fitness nut!”

That…she hadn’t been expecting. Her jaw drops. Eric couldn’t possibly have thought that would work, could he?

Not only that, but. But. Thor. On steroids.

She can’t stop it. Her laughter escapes her with a shriek. She throws her head back into the crook of Fenris’ shoulder and cackles madly. There’s no other way to describe it. She realises, distantly, that she sounds completely mad, but she doesn’t care.

She can feel Fenris’ own laughter vibrating in his chest. On her other side, Jormungandr’s grip on her foot tightens. She glances over and he’s grinning too, sniggering so quietly that it’s not audible over her own laughter. She catches his eye and there’s something vicious there. No words in any language will ever be able to describe just how deep Jor’s hatred of their uncle runs, and the extent of it – his ability to control it – frightens her in a way. He runs his thumb over the exposed metatarsus in the arch of her foot and the gesture comforts her.

He relaxes again instantly. She closes her eyes, buries her face in Fenris, and giggles helplessly.

“I want this,” she gasps out. “Please, Fen. God. Make it so.”

“It says here that he’s an MD,” says the Fenris on the screen.

She can only laugh harder. Their alias for Thor truly had been awful. There are tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. She feels bad for Eric, laughing at him like this, but she just can’t stop.

“He is! …Or he was. He switched careers and, um, became a physicist. A brilliant physicist. He’s a wonderful man. He’s a man in pain!”

There’s a loud ‘ha!’ from down by her feet, and a quick look over shows Jormungandr looking embarrassed. The hand he’s not using to caress her foot is clapped over his mouth, and his shoulders are shaking. On her other side, Fen has descended into a gigglefit so spectacular that he spills the remains of the popcorn over Jormungandr’s carpet.

Hela, for her part, is glad that she doesn’t need to breathe. She couldn’t have done in that moment if she’d tried.

She wakes up the next day still on the sofa. Her head is pillowed on Fenris’ chest, and his arms are holding her in a warm embrace. Jormungandr is curled around her legs, wedged between her butt and the sofa with his head resting on the jut of her pelvis. Every so often, his tongue darts out – black and forked; his control relaxed slightly in repose – to taste the air.

The TV bathes them in blue light. Behind the closed curtains, the sun has come up.

She wants nothing more than to savour this moment forever. She is warm and comfortable and so, so loved in her brothers’ embraces.

But they have to move.

She strokes Jormungandr’s head, traces the scars around his patch with gentle phalanges. They aren’t really scars as much as they are compacted bits of fractured scale that, thanks to their uncle, he will never be able to transform or fully hide. His remaining eye cracks open at her touch. When he darts his tongue out again, this time to lick his lips, it is pink and human-looking. She smiles at him faintly.

“Wakey wakey,” she murmurs.

He shifts against her legs, and then doesn’t straighten so much as he uncoils from around her. His spine clicks as he pulls himself upright, and he yawns too widely to be humanly possible.

She accepts Jormungandr’s offered hand and lets him pull her up, out of the warm cocoon of Fenris’ arms. He slumbers on without her, and she grins slightly. He’s going to get a crick in his neck.

She pats Jormungandr on the shoulder as she passes him. “I’ll leave him to you,” she says. She’s barely even out of the room when she hears Fenris yelp in surprise, and she doesn’t even try to hide her giggle.

She changes clothes in Jormungandr’s bathroom. She swaps her jeans for a denim skirt and her T-Shirt for a long-sleeved jumper that clings to the right side of her body. It hangs awkwardly over the left. Most things do.

Hela is beautiful. She inherited her mother’s bone-structure, and mother is beautiful, so naturally she is as well.

It just happens that with her, most of that bone-structure is out in the open.

She checks herself in the mirror once before leaving, heading through to the kitchen where she knows she will find them. Sure enough, Jormungandr is leaning on the counter, nursing a coffee while two others sit next to him. Fenris has his head in the fridge and is searching, without success, for something other than raw fish.

“Is one of those mine?” Hela asks, making a bee-line for the coffees.

Jor just nods but it makes her morning. She snags one, takes a sip, and sighs in bliss.

She’s in heaven.

She leans against the counter next to him, watching as Fenris gives up with a huff of frustration and levels a glare at their older sibling. He pads silently across the room on socked feet and takes his own drink, muttering about a lack of hospitality.

Jormungandr ignores him. As usual.

A wicked thought curves her lips into a wide grin. “So,” she says. “New York. Which of you is taking me shopping?”

And she laughs as they both choke and splutter.

She’s halfway back to New Mexico when her phone buzzes on the seat to her.

She opens the message in a gas station while in a queue to pay for some petrol and a soda. It contains an audio file and without thinking, she opens it. Eric Selvig’s voice erupts over her phone’s speakers, shouting “Steroids!” to the entire store.

The queue, she notices, moves a lot faster with her laughing like a maniac at the back of it.

If her uncle ever returns to Midgard, that is so becoming his ringtone.