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as the gods sleep who have no need to dream

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Sometimes, Fenrir dreams about caverns and chains and swords and blood. He dreams about his family being out of reach, of being unable to protect them. He dreams about Nari's screams and Váli's sobs, about Jörmungandr swearing vengeance on all the gods, and Sleipnir's oath to herald the end if his family didn't go free. He dreams of their mother, strong hands and gentle voice, a heartbeat as sure as the sun.

And he dreams of Hela. Hela, who touched the chains and shattered them. Hela, who carefully pulled the sword from his mouth. Hela, who whispered her will and sent him away from Asgard until Ragnarök and he had his strength again, until it was time for vengeance and blood on his teeth.

Hela, whose heartbeat sounded like the pulse of magick itself.

But until that end comes, until their mother sounds the call, Fenrir will wear the skin of a bumbling bodyguard and curl up with his only sister and favorite brother and dream in safety of the revenge that will be exacted on all the foolish gods.

Hey, Jörmungandr says drowsily, loosening his coils just a little. You're dreaming so loud I can hear it. Hush.

Hela laughs, one hand on Fenrir's shoulder, the other under Jörmungandr’s jaw. Both of you be quiet, she commands sleepily. I need my beauty rest.

You're the most gorgeous woman in nine realms, Jörmungandr tells her. Fenrir chimes in his agreement because she really is.

You're both sweet, she murmurs. Now, sleep. I have to wrangle with the board tomorrow since Tony'll be on the way to Afghanistan.

Fenrir tucks in closer while Jörmungandr tightens his grip again. Hela's hand is cold on Fenrir's shoulder, cold as Niflheimr. Her hand on Jörmungandr is warm as blood, as the sun Fenrir will swallow someday, when Ma tires of being Asgard's whipping boy.

Fenrir resumes his constraining human form with a sigh. Jörmungandr follows and then arches his back, spine popping. "Thumbs don't make up for how small this form is," he grumbles.

Hela looks at them, one eye green as their mother's, the other a cloudy, murky blue, and then she changes, too - her black-and-white hair into strawberry blonde and her eyes a soft, bright blue.

Nothing about her is at all dangerous except her smile.

Of course, to look at Fenrir and Jörmungandr's human forms, as well... Fenrir snorts, muffling his laughter in Jörmungandr’s chest.

"Sleep!" Hela commands again, wrapping her arms around Fenrir, back pressed against Jörmungandr.

"Aye, aye, ma'am," Jörmungandr mumbles, eyes on Fenrir. Both their eyes are brown in these forms, just like their hair. Fenrir is taller and broader - he's the protector now, like he wasn't before. Like he failed before, so trusting, so weak.

The aesir have never been kind to the Liesmith's children. Hypocrites, the lot of them.

Jörmungandr's eyes slip closed. He has a full day tomorrow, traveling across the world without Fenrir, without Hela. They have only a fraction of their power while human. He won't be safe.

Sleep, Hela whispers. Fenrir sighs, one hand around Hela's wrist, the other in Jörmungandr’s hair, and does.

.

James Rhodes didn’t exist before he met Tony Stark. Yeah, he was a good kid and a lot of people remember him fondly, and everyone always knew he was going places – smoke and mirrors and sawdust.

James Rhodes has always dreamed of going faster. It led him to the Air Force. Before that, it led him to Tony Stark, whose mind was quicker than any hooves. Before that, he chafed beneath the All-Father and dreamed of freedom.

He has freedom now. He has all the freedom eight realms can give him and watches the sky diligently for any hint that the All-Father has located them.

.

Harold Hogan was a good kid, an alright student, and a terrible boxer. His parents died when he was twenty-three, he’s completely unremarkable, and no one questions it when Tony Stark hires him as a chauffeur-bodyguard.

Well, a lot of people question it. But no one makes a fuss. If Stark wants to make it easy for assassins, that's his problem.

Happy Hogan is a horrible fighter. He's worse with guns. He's strong and he's fast, but is Stark's life safe in his hands?

Well, Stark hasn't died yet.

.

Howard Stark never had a son. He had a brother, though, who stayed out of the spotlight, and that brother had a kid, and wasn't it so nice of Howard to adopt the boy and raise him and give him everything in the world?

Sure is lucky that the kid had brains, though. Smart enough to follow Howard's thoughts. Smart as Howard.

Smarter, even.

.

Virginia Potts is an only child and an orphan. She was at the top of her class all the way through school and the twenty-eighth assistant assigned to Tony Stark.

She is the only one he never chased off, the only one who can meet the eyes of every board member, the only one who will kill or die for Stark.

No one asks Pepper why. They just get out of her way and let her do her job, and are silently grateful that someone is taking responsibility for Stark.

.

James Howlett and Victor Creed are usually brothers. They've fought in every human war since the fourteenth century and never cared about the rightness of the cause. They fight because it's in their blood and their bones. They switch sides whenever they get bored, and they get bored easily.

They’re mutants, this life. Mutants on opposite sides of a barely-hidden war until it grows boring. No one, even their masters, questions their history – sloppy, especially for a telepath.

Whatever. Sabertooth and Wolverine have gotten terribly bored.

.

Tony Stark goes missing in Afghanistan. A goddess and a wolf step across the world, but when Jörmungandr says, No, I have to do this, they let him be.

Tony Stark is missing for three months. Assumed dead.

James Rhodes spends more time with Pepper Potts than he probably should, but no one notices how often he’s with Harold Hogan. Everyone knows he’s Stark’s best friend, and Potts is Stark’s keeper, and Hogan was supposed to keep him safe.

For three months, the world believes Tony Stark is dead, and Happy never lets Pepper out of his sight.

.

And then Tony comes back and makes a suit of armor that rivals his natural scales.

Sleipnir keeps the United States military off his back and plots with Fenrir to keep him from ever going off on his own again. Váli and Nari pop in for a quick visit. None of Jörmungandr’s siblings are pleased that he felt the need to let himself be kidnapped and tortured, but he finally shifts and coils around them all and says, I had to. Please forgive me and let it go.

Fenrir can't bring himself to ask, but Nari says gently, What did you learn, brother?

Nari, the youngest of them. Nari, whose memory is the sharpest of them all and still holds his twin close, unafraid.

In my human form, Jörmungandr says, I control Midgard now. No one on this planet can stop me. He rattles his coils in a shrug and nine realms tremble. I have suffered, now, he says, avoiding everyone's gaze. I was the only of us who yet hadn't.

Oh, Jörmungandr, Sleipnir says. You didn't have to do that. None of us have ever thought less of you for being free.

Jörmungandr shrugs again. It had mattered to him.

.

Yinsen is given everything his heart desires; he did his best to keep Tony Stark safe, though Tony didn’t need the help.

Obadiah Stane goes missing and is never found. Tony offers a million dollar reward for anyone with information.

Fenrir licks his chops and says, The fucker’s all yours. Váli grins; Nari smiles.

.

Hela feels it first when Mjölnir falls to Midgard. Pepper tells Jarvis to hack into SHIELD and keep Tony apprised of the situation. So they know about Thor and the Destroyer (which makes Fenrir snarl, hackles rising), and then, while Happy and SHIELD's best undercover operative are fighting their way to Vanko, all of Loki's children feel his fall.

But Hela, Hela reacts first, ever the strongest. The void is wide and deep, but Hela steals Sleipnir’s speed and Jörmungandr's size, Váli’s viciousness and Nari's determination, and then she pulls Fenrir's heart right out of his chest to power her spell.

And she catches Loki. She cradles him close, soothing him with the lullaby he sang to her, and she returns everything to her brothers without apology or regret.

Had any of them the skill, they would have done the same.

.

Black Widow reports back to SHIELD, Iron Man, yes; Tony Stark, no. Rhodey and Pepper smooth everything over and Justin Hammer suffers a fatal accident on the way to his holding cell. Happy patrols the Malibu house and the North American continent while Jarvis monitors the world. Victor hunts down anyone who even wears the appearance of a threat and Logan watches his back.

And Tony plans everything. Mom is curled up beneath covers, looking younger than Tony's ever imagined, and he's heartbroken, and he's tired, and they all know he'd intended to die.

Unacceptable.

Midgard is completely cutoff from Asgard for the first time in eons and this is the time to act.

Fenrir stalks into the room, Hela just behind him. Sleipnir, Váli, and Nari are out solidifying allegiances and dealing with potential threats. And Jörmungandr holds it all, ready to claim what the gods will never give him. What the gods will refuse them all, cursed spawn of Loki Silvertongue.

Tony slides onto the bed next to his mother, wraps around him as gently as he can, and whispers, What do you want, Mama?

Happy slips in on Tony's other side, Pepper on Mom's, and they all drop their human skins.

Loki doesn't weep for all that has been lost. He doesn’t mourn for the lie he lived for a thousand years, or the torment he lost his children to until his clever daughter saved and freed them all. Loki doesn't weep. Instead, he echoes, What do I want? with his eyes closed and body warm in Jörmungandr’s grasp. His powerful, lovely children - he feels them all, now. So bright. So strong.

He is no son of Asgard. He had always denied that Ragnarök could come from him, even as Odin took, banished, and imprisoned his children. Loki had been Odin's son, and Loki valued family, and he was sure that eventually Odin would realize his folly and bring Loki's children home.

But Loki is a monster and the Mother of Monsters, and Agard will burn and fall from the sky.

Loki has been a fool and willfully blind, and Odin will pay. Oh, how they all will pay.

Hela's hand holds Loki's. Fenrir is a solid warmth along his side. Jörmungandr is wrapped around him, waiting for his word.

I want to rest, Loki finally murmurs. I want to learn who my beloveds have grown to be. And then I want to exact retribution on everyone who has ever hurt us.

Then that's what we'll do, Jörmungandr says, and all the rest echo agreement.

Loki sighs and lets all his worries go. He's safe. He's warm. He's with his children for the first time in over five hundred years. He is no son of Asgard and everything makes sense - the silences, the slights, the sneers, the scowls. The very existence of his children, in fact.

He is no son of Asgard, but nor is he of Jötunheimr. He belongs nowhere, but his children have carved a piece out of Midgard and so this is the ground they will hold.

Sleep, Hela whispers. We have all the time in nine worlds.