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a drink, a lay, a grave

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This is the story of how she survives Hela:

Hela lifts her by the throat. Her hands are cold—what else for a goddess of death?—but gloved in warm blood. She has been screaming, wordless nonsense, battle cries, and her voice is past hoarse and into gone. She is something that Brunnhilde can’t hear. Her face is streaked with ashes. Her hair bristles with horns. She digs her thumb and fingers into Brunnhilde’s skin but the carnage has made her grip silky, slippery. She drops her.

Brunnhilde falls to the battlefield and lands on her knees. She doesn’t need to hear Hela now to know what she’s saying. She knows it by the shape of her lips, those beautiful lips: Yes. That’s right. Kneel.

Hela is weak now, wounded, but she is still the heir to Asgard. She knows neither mercy nor pity. What is one more dead Valkyrie on a field full of them? She draws her sword.

The bridge comes for Brunnhilde as Hela’s blade falls. She loses only a piece of her hair. Then she screams until her voice is gone, too.

What right did they have to make her live?

 

Brunnhilde knows her at once, of course. She may have grown up far from the heart of Asgard, but she’s seen portraits, and she’s no fool. And no amount of stable-muck and metal polish and liniment-smell can tarnish Hela Odinsdottir’s beauty, which shimmers black and rainbow-bright, like light on volcanic glass.

“Highness,” she says. She bows her head.

But Hela shakes her head. She wears her hair loose unless she has put on her helm; Brunnhilde has never seen a woman with such long hair. “Here and now, little pretty, I prefer Commander. Any royal get can call herself a princess. I like something rarer.”

“And I like my name,” Brunnhilde says, though Hela could have her tongue cut out for speaking so. “Which is not ‘little pretty.’”

Hela smiles a smile that looks as though she has bitten into something she likes the taste of. “No more it is,” she agrees. “But if you’d insist on hearing it, you must tell it to me.”

The noise of the training yard is deafening. The clash of sword on sword. The thick grunts of exertion as women in armor take full-body blows. The air stinks with hope. Maybe she is a fool after all, to risk the distance she has come and the work she has done on such a chancy, insolent flirtation.

But she says, “I’ll tell it to you later, Commander.”

“And why only later?”

“I’m sure you have much to occupy you,” Brunnhilde says, with a politeness that is thin and sheer, fine-knit silk drawn across a hot, wet cunt. “I wouldn’t want to chance you forgetting it before we meet again. You’ll have to remember it to scream it.”

Hela laughs. She takes Brunnhilde’s hand, and she neither asks her for it nor seduces her for it—she takes it as the property it has always been. All of Asgard belongs to her. She turns her palm out and bares Brunnhilde’s wrist. “I could just call you Valkyrie.”

But her skin there is unmarked. She’s been wrong-footed, which is surely what Hela wants. Any commander worth her salt knows the virtue of the higher ground. “Not yet you can’t.”

“But I have the highest hopes for you, Valkyrie,” Hela says, and she traces the symbols on the delicate inside of Brunnhilde’s wrist. Her fingers are icy-cold. “I believe you’ll go far.”

 

Oh, she knows what they say about her, she knows they whisper that she earned her ink on her back, on her knees. It makes no difference that it is the captain, not the princess, who determines the ranks of the Valkyries. What rashness would it take not to promote Hela’s lover?

Brunnhilde spits on the gossip. Hela came to watch her in the training ring before she ever took her to bed, and she knows Hela would not have taken her if she were not good enough. Would not call her Valkyrie if she were not worthy of the name. And there is this, too: any soldier who would fuck a princess has courage enough for a whole legion. There are so many chances for execution even when things are going well, and Hela in particular kills as easily as she breathes.

All these little deaths at the hands of the goddess of death. If she can survive Hela, she can survive anything.

This is not bed-sport, not any way she has ever played it. There is a crackling intensity to Hela when they fuck; there is something dangerous behind her eyes. Sometimes she holds Valkyrie’s throat in one cold hand as she splits her open with the other: it is like taking an icicle inside herself and she comes until it feels like her muscles will cramp. She flips Hela over, knowing that Hela is letting her, knowing that this is not victory but only an especially delicious defeat. She finds the leather harness where it has fallen on the floor and straps it across her hips.

“There you are, Valkyrie,” Hela says. “Girded and ready for battle.”

“I serve at the Commander’s pleasure,” she says, and she thrusts the glass cock into Hela with no warning at all, half-wanting to hurt her, entirely knowing that it is impossible for Hela to be hurt, impossible for her faithful terror to ever even approach the doing of real harm. She palms one of Hela’s breasts roughly with her hand and bites her neck. She used to make love tenderly, but Hela forbids it. There is no way to care for her without combat. Valkyrie slaps the breast she was holding and pushes her hips forward harder, farther.

It is always difficult to get Hela to come. She is never used up, is never exhausted. Valkyrie suspects she waits deliberately, as if she wins their encounters by denying herself pleasure.

This night, at least, she is determined to bring Hela to release when she wants, not when Hela wants, and so she slides out, the cock wobbling between her legs, glossy and slick, and she takes one of Hela’s legs and lifts it off the bed, bending it back. She lines the cock up with Hela’s asshole now and takes that, with no more request for permission than the slightest of pauses.

Hela gasps, the sound throaty and desperate.

“There you go, Highness,” Valkyrie whispers, grinding into her. Her hand works at Hela’s clit. “Is that what you like? Is that what you wanted when you first saw me?”

“No,” and Hela’s voice is far away somehow. Her hands move against Valkyrie’s shoulders, her fingers making claws that rip red lines down the length of her back. “No—I wanted you down on your knees—only that.”

“You had that a long time ago.”

“The more I know you, the more I want,” Hela says. “The more I’ll take.”

“Tell me you love me.” She is surprised by what she is saying but she keeps on saying it. “You love me, tell me that you love me. Tell me that I may wear your favor into battle.”

Hela goes unimaginably tight around her and she really does scream, though not a name, and certainly not her name. Not Brunnhilde, and not Valkyrie, either.

 

This is the story of how she survives Hela:

Hela goes into exile and Valkyrie goes before Odin to plead her cause. When she accepts that she will not win, she does not stop, she only changes to trying to get herself killed. She doesn’t want this new, bleached-to-innocence Asgard, she does not want princesses who are not commanders. She does not want to remember her own name. She has been Valkyrie in Hela’s bed and Hela’s army for three thousand years.

Odin is merciful, not because she deserves mercy or because he cares for her, but because he has decided that it is mercy he wants to show. He doesn’t listen to her at all. She is nothing to him, not even his daughter’s companion. He knew his decision before she ever stepped onto the palace floor to beg her lover’s pardon and Valkyrie is just the door his words go through, destined for posterity.

Oh, yes, he forgives her this impertinence, this rudeness, this unspeakable behavior. This treachery. It seems Hela is the only one who is not to be forgiven.

She thinks of killing him. Maybe she would, if it were not for Frigga, the queen whose belly swells with some new child not yet disappointed by the crown.

Odin, damn him, sends her out into the Nine Realms, to do the work of peace, as though she knows the first thing about the word. In the mud of Midgard and the snow of Jotunheim, she looks for the first time in years at the faces of Asgard’s conquered—not just at the sullen reserve or downcast honor of those who once opposed the throne but at the fearful faces of those who never held a sword in all their life.

What right have we to bring destruction only for the sake of glory? Odin says ponderously, and Valkyrie thinks, Fuck you, Your Majesty, but she brings water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.

So when the goddess of death takes all joy of violence from her, she has some little life inside her still. No bigger than a piece of dust or a fragment of bone, but it is something. She holds onto it.

 

No one calls her Brunnhilde any longer.

She pays an exorbitant fee to a witch who promises to send her image to Hela in her prison. In the musty dimness of the witch’s hut, Valkyrie gets down on her knees and begs Hela, whom she cannot see, to give up her bloodlust and her desire for war. Come back to me, she says, and I will give you all the roughness you can handle and then some. She tries to smile, but she is crying and cannot stop. Come back to me, she says over and over again, because she wants so badly to believe that there is enough of Hela to return to her even with all that left behind. She wants to be faithful.

She cannot yet believe that she wants to be good, by the new plans Asgard has drawn for what will comprise goodness, but she suspects it, and it terrifies her. What will she have to give up to do so little harm?

Let me have both love and honor, she prays. Let me be true to myself without breaking with her.

“Come home, Hela,” she says, and it is the first time she has said her lover’s name aloud. “Come home, and I will take you to wife. I will pledge myself to you forever.”

The witch regards all this begging with a small, wrinkled smirk, and when Valkyrie has at last fallen silent, she says, “Are you done now?”

She can’t even speak anymore. She nods.

The witch stares into the darkness that has formed in the corner of her house. She chuckles. She turns back to Valkyrie.

The witch says, “She says you are a coward who does not deserve the name she gave you.”

But Valkyrie does. She knows she does. With difficulty, and with further tears, she stands. She pays the witch the rest of what she owes her. She keeps the name, but she leaves Hela behind.

 

This is the story of how she survives Hela:

She is the only one of her legion to come home. She lies in white-gauze healing beds for months, her body slowly knitting itself back together, and Odin himself visits her there. She refuses to look at him. But she cannot shake his favor, and still less can she rid herself of the forced glory of being the only survivor of all her friends, and she will not live that way. She gave up love for honor and her love took everything else. Fuck it. Honor isn’t worth it. Asgard isn’t worth it.

She is probably the only person in the universe who went to Sakaar voluntarily.

“You’re a gem, aren’t you?” the Grandmaster says to her. “A rare, sparkling little gem.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “A little pretty.”

He smiles. He has a child’s smile, fickle and sincere. She likes him and hates him at the same time; she neither loves nor respects him. They’re perfect for each other. He asks for her name and she gives him a number: the tally of those who died quashing Hela’s rebellion. She wants to make it meaningless through repetition. She doesn’t.

 

She took another lover, between Hela’s first and second falls. Another Valkyrie, who calls her Val when she is being serious and sweetling when she is not. She has long fair hair and freckles and looks nothing like Hela. She tells Val she loves her.

On the mornings Val wakes up beside her, she looks at her lover’s bare limbs in the sunrise through the window, her whole body persimmon-orange and pomegranate-red from the light, and she believes that she is happy. It is a small, fragile thing, like a marble in the palm of her hand. Easily chipped but not, she thinks, easily destroyed. Over the course of her lifetime, she has been wrong about so many things.

 

This is the story of how she survives Hela:

Hela lets her fall from her grasp. Valkyrie knows this. Hela lets her slip because even Hela has a heart, and for the barest second, Hela wants her alive.

Then she is on her knees, and Hela remembers. However much she wants, she always wants more. Her eyes change. She wants this, but it’s too late.

 

This is the story of how she survives Hela:

She doesn’t.

“If I were still alive,” Scrapper 142 says to the woman she’s undressing for, the bought-and-paid for pretty of the night, “I think I’d know.”