Actions

Work Header

Brother's Keeper

Work Text:

The entrance to the Afterlife was not a particularly appealing place.

Thor had found it, ironically enough, in one of his brother’s prized books, tucked away and covered in dust in the rubble of what had once been the gleaming palace of Asgard. Somehow, even though they’d managed to warp and distort reality to save all the universe… the Realm Eternal had only been restored to the half-destroyed, ravaged state it had been in under Hela’s rule.

Worst still was the fact that Loki had not been restored, at all.

They weren’t entirely certain why that was, but the mortals of Midgard - clever though they were - had even less experience with theoretical magics than Thor, and he’d decided that he’d have to do things the old-fashioned way.

Unfortunately, doing things ‘the old-fashioned way’ meant that he had no choice but to journey to Helheim to bargain with his sister.

Hela, from what he could tell, seemed to relish the prospect of eternally ruling over the land of the dead. Thor supposed that, as the Goddess of Death, she’d really finally found her niche. At the very least, he hadn’t heard of any complaints… not that messages from Helheim were very common, in the first place.

The entry to the passage to Hel was located below one of the three main roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil; navigating that had been quite an undertaking, of itself, and Thor had nearly fallen into a portal that would’ve apparently (if Loki’s notes were to be believed) landed him in Jotunheim.

Nestled within the twining offshoots of the root was a massive black orb, an unnaturally-dark sort of thing that seemed to suck every last bit of light into it.

Thor didn’t particularly care for the dark.

Sighing, he hefted Stormbreaker over his shoulder. There was no helping it, he supposed.

He could feel the warmth bleeding from his skin as he pushed his way into the orb, the energy swirling about fiercely as it tried to repel him. Thor wasn’t entirely used to welding the power of the Allfather - and he still thought of it as the Odinforce, for there was something entirely surreal about accepting the fact that he was now the Allfather. Instead, he relied on his brute strength, and before long, he shoved through to the other side.

More darkness.

Thor didn’t know why he’d dared to hope for anything different, but he was strangely disappointed at the prospect of walking miles and miles in the pitch-black void that surrounded the road to Hel. Stormbreaker’s glow barely illuminated the narrow stone path; perhaps he should’ve brought along one of the Midgardian flashlights Stark had left lying about the palace during the reconstruction efforts.

Eventually, he reached a large iron door. It was covered in chains, but when he gave it a suspicious little push, it opened easily enough. Once through, Thor found himself standing in the middle of a foggy wasteland, the ground cracked and pockmarked, seeping with mud.

It wasn’t very pleasant.

Turning, he discovered that the door appeared to be freely-standing in the middle of the road; behind it, the wasteland stretched on, dimly-lit by the glow of moonlight. Were the stars here real? Was the night sky?

Thor scratched his head, frowning. Magic. He’d never cared much for it.

He kept to the path, trying to ignore the distant sounds of wailing and the occasional burst of steam from the swampy patches of bubbling mud he occasionally came across. Swamps and deserts, he decided, did not make a very picturesque combination. People always spoke of the wolves of Helheim, and knowing his sister… he had no doubt that she had flocks of them roaming about, ravenous, just like her beloved Fenris.

His grip on Stormbreaker tightened.

It came as a relief when he finally spied Hela’s fortress Éljúðnir, a dark, foreboding sort of place that looked… well, it looked as if its walls were shored up with bones, blackened and charred. It turned his stomach; he sincerely hoped that Loki did not lie among those bones.

That might complicate things.

Thor had expected a fight, but even when he made it to the gate of the fortress, even when he shoved open the great iron gate and stormed into the courtyard filled with undead Einherjar, no one made any attempt to impede him. Truly, he found that even more unsettling.

The Goddess of Death held court out in the open, apparently. If the massive room holding her throne and her wolf had ever had a roof, she must’ve blasted it away, because now she sat ghastly and pale in starlight, rows of the undead standing at attention all around the chamber.

Hela sighed grandly, leaning back in her throne. “You.”

“Me,” Thor replied. The whole thing was damnably awkward.

“Are you here to try to banish me from my new kingdom, Odinson? I’m quite taken with it already.”

“No.” He shifted his weight from foot to foot, wondering when she’d fly at him with those blades of hers. She was very like Loki, in that way. “I am here for our brother, of course.”

She rolled her eyes. “He isn't our brother,” she said. “He isn’t yours, and he certainly isn’t mine.”

“He is my brother, and I will not be leaving this place without him.”

“So sentimental.”

That reminded him of Loki, too. Thor briefly wondered if Odin had neglected to speak of some shared lineage between the Asgardian and Jötunn royal families. “I’m not leaving without him,” he repeated, his voice firm.

Hela snapped her fingers, and one of her soldiers clattered into motion. Thor tensed, but the creature simply lurched towards one of the darkened doorways on the far side of the chamber, a few others falling into line behind him as he went.

“Did you know,” she said, her expression uncomfortably friendly, “that our dear brother is known as Silvertongue?”

“I did. He is the God of Lies, after all.”

“Yes, well, as it turns out, the ridiculous creature can clone himself.”

Thor was lost, though he did his best to avoid showing it. Hela pretended to examine her nails for a few moments, and the uncomfortable silence grew even more unbearable. He fidgeted. In the distance, there was a faint clanking of metal.

Conversational stalemate.

“His clones can speak,” she finally said, and right in that moment, the guards dragged the battered body of his brother out into the moonlight. The reason for her ire was obvious at once.

“I simply cannot understand it,” Hela said, her irritation bubbling into her tone. “He is incapable of learning any sort of lesson.”

Loki’s lips were sewn shut.

It looked grotesque - in fact, all of Loki looked grotesque; his hair was long and matted, his clothing was tattered and covered in blood, and the thin wires holding his mouth sealed were, as the Midgardian saying went, just icing on the cake.

That was how one used that expression, wasn’t it? It seemed out-of-place.

Loki’s head was bowed, and for a moment, Thor worried that he wasn’t even aware of his surroundings. But then, he looked up slightly, his eyes glittering behind the thick curtain of filthy hair, and winked.

Thor stifled a smile.

“He is incorrigible,” he said. “Allow me to take him off your hands, Sister, and I would be more than happy to allow you to keep Helheim as your realm. It suits you well, I think.”

“I can’t imagine why you’d want him,” Hela replied, “but I must be in an excellent mood. Take him and leave. Before I change my mind.”

One of the soldiers gave Loki a hard shove, and he staggered across the courtyard, practically collapsing in Thor’s arms. Thor was a bit suspicious as to how much of it was genuine, but… given Hela’s proclivities, he decided that it would probably be best to assume that it was.

He hefted Loki into his arms. “Nice doing business with you, Your Majesty,” he said, and then he turned to leave.

“Wait.”

Thor bristled, but kept a smile on his face as he turned. She wasn’t going to go back on her word already, was she?

“If you truly consider me sovereign,” she said, “then obviously, I will be invited to the Council of the Nine, whenever it meets next.”

Was that really all she wanted?

“Of course,” Thor bit out. “I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.”

“Good. Now, shoo.”

 


 

Thor winced in sympathy as Eir pulled the last of the wires from Loki’s lips; at least Loki appeared to be blissfully unconscious. There was a lot of blood involved, and Thor wondered if he should try to wash Loki up himself, or delegate to one of the maids. Loki would likely prefer to wake up in the arms of a maid, after all...

Eir threw up her hands. “I do not know what to do with him, sire, beyond that. His bones are healed, and his wounds are closing over, but I have never treated a patient recently released from Death. If there is more that I should do…”

“You have done enough, Lady Eir. Loki is strong, and he will heal quickly; I’m sure of it. Can I leave him in your care? I have to meet with the dwarves. It’s urgent.”

“Of course, sire.” She bowed her head, then stepped to the door. “Sigyn!” she called into the hallway. “Sigyn, take Hlíf and fetch a stretcher; you are going to be looking after Prince Loki.”

“Prince Loki is… alive?” he heard a woman’s voice respond, and Thor smiled. He remembered Lady Sigyn; he wondered if his brother would, as well.

“Yes,” Eir said. “Yes, it seems that he is.”

 


 

“Why are you here again, Odinson?”

Thor leaned on Stormbreaker, feeling a bit more casual this time. “I assume you know.”

“If you want him alive so badly, perhaps you should recommend that he stop dying.”

“Heroes.” Thor shrugged one shoulder. “It’s what we do. Protecting the universe is a dangerous thing, after all, Sister.”

“Hmm. What can you offer me this time?”

What could he possibly offer her? Though, she did seem to have a voracious appetite for wealth, if what she’d said of her conquest of the Nine was to be believed…

Thor pulled the golden ring from his finger. “Draupnir,” he said, holding it out to her. “Odin’s ring, it—”

“I know what it does, boy,” Hela replied, her eyes narrowing. “I was there when it was forged.”

“So, then, do you accept? Eternally-multiplying gold in exchange for our little brother?”

“I suppose. I will certainly be getting the better part of that trade.”

He dropped the ring into her waiting palm.

Loki wasn’t quite as pitiful-looking this time, at least, though she had managed to chain him up in something that apparently kept him trapped in his giant-form. Really, Loki seemed more upset about that than he had about having his mouth sewn shut.

He also had the nerve to act offended at even the idea that he might need Thor to carry him from Hel, despite his extremely-obvious limping. Thor simply rolled his eyes and pretended that he did not notice it.

Loki and his pride.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Thor said. “The volcano. We could’ve found another way.”

“No, we couldn’t have. Alfheim would be overrun with fire demons right now, had I hesitated.”

Thor sighed. “Sigyn missed you.”

His brother, unsurprisingly, ignored him. “It took you… what was it? A year, out there?”

“I can’t spend all my time ferrying you back and forth from the afterlife, Loki; I do have to rule the Nine Realms, you know.”

Loki grinned. “About that—”

“No.”

 


 

“He really doesn’t even deserve to be here,” Thor argued. “These heroic deaths should lead to Valhalla—”

“Take it up with the Norns, Allfather,” Hela snapped. “I don’t decide who comes here, only what is done with them once they arrive.”

“And what has been done with Loki, then?”

She crossed one leg over her knee, the picture of queenly elegance. “I’ve decided to keep him underwater, this time,” she replied. “I thought that it might help with all of the chatter. After all, it isn’t as if he can die while he’s already here, can he?”

Thor wanted to wipe the smug smile from her face with his axe, but the years as king had sobered him somewhat; he grit his teeth and offered her the magical golden boar Gullinbursti.

She accepted.

Loki emerged from the door to her prisons, sodden and pale.

This time, he allowed Thor to support him as they made the long trek back home.

 


 

“If he died opposing you,” Hela said, “then I fail to understand why you’ve come.”

Thor ran his fingers through his hair. It was beginning to get a bit shaggy, lately. “Well,” he replied, “helping the Frost Giants invade Midgard was admittedly a poor choice on Loki’s part, but I trust that his heart wasn’t in it. He’s just been struggling, lately, to connect to his birth-family. And had I reached him first—”

“Spare me. You’ll have to carry him - he’s a bit of a mess.” She jerked her head towards the door, and one of her soldiers stepped forward. “They’ll lead you to his cell. I want the Singasteinn amulet.”

“You’ll have it.”

He had no idea what that was. Loki would likely know; Loki knew all manner of things that he shouldn’t, particularly when it came to obscure, arcane objects.

Thor wasn’t entirely certain what he was even going to do with Loki, this time around. It had been a few years on Midgard since his brother had opened a passage from Jotunheim, so he hoped that tempers had cooled somewhat.

And he could hardly leave Loki here, could he?

 


 

“It was terribly cruel of her,” the little maid Sigyn whispered, her hands hovering over Loki’s reddened skin. “Using fire on a Frost Giant.”

“The Goddess of Death is not known for her kindness,” Thor replied. “And in truth, Sigyn, I believe that if he would not taunt her so, she would not take so much pleasure in it.”

“He cannot help it.” Her hand came to rest on Loki’s forehead, and the faint white glow of healing seiðr began to spread over his skin. If he hadn’t known better, Thor might’ve said that she sounded slightly proud. “Loki is Loki.”

He couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes,” he said. “Loki is Loki. Loki is also forbidden from leaving his chambers. You’ll see to his care, Lady Sigyn, won’t you?”

She nodded, a faint blush burning in her cheeks.

Thor drew the curtains closed, taking a moment to make sure that the windows were warded. He was getting better and better at wielding the Allfather’s power, though he still thought of it as their father’s - not his.

Would he ever feel like the Allfather?

He patted Loki’s foot, giving a reassuring smile to the little maiden, who was now clearly attempting to take his brother’s hand without drawing any attention to herself. Utterly guileless, he thought. He wondered if they realized what a strange pair they’d make. Maybe they did, and that was why they refused to admit it.

“He will be just fine,” he told her. “He’s in good hands, after all.”

Then he left.

 


 

“Well, well. I never expected to see you here. Rosy-cheeked. Breathing.”

Loki’s smile was charming, and he spread his hands wide. “It only seemed fair, Sister-dear; I was the one who killed him.”

Hela’s lip curled, but she waved a dismissive hand towards the doorway behind her. “Take him,” she said. “He is a terrible bore - he does nothing but talk about the family and happy childhood memories. Perfectly dreadful. It’s almost as if you sent him here just to torture me.”

It was slightly difficult to hide his laugh, but Loki thought that he made an admirable attempt. He swept into a bow, his cloak fluttering as a hot vent of steam suddenly cracked open in the ground near his feet. The Goddess of Death was clearly in a mood.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” he said. “However will I repay—”

“Oh, just go get him and get out,” Hela snapped. “He’s in the dungeon. You know the way.”

Yes, that was certainly true.

Loki grinned.

 


 

Hela’s fortress had grown to be something rather magnificent over the years, adorned with black obsidian and gold. At least she is putting some of her ransoms to good use, Thor thought as the gates opened to allow him into the courtyard.

She’d also planted a very depressing-looking tree there, in what he assumed was supposed to be some sort of antithesis to the one the goddess Iðunn tended to in Asgard. Rather than golden apples of immortality, this one appeared to bear some sort of spiky, blackened fruit. He imagined that it would probably kill him, if he so much as touched it.

That was generally the assumption he held about everything in this wretched place. He was growing tired of their visits.

“Are you going to make me haggle this time, Sister, or will you just release him to me?”

“I spoke with him, this time,” she said, ignoring his question entirely. “He said that his brother killed him, but strangely, your name wasn’t mentioned.”

“That’s because it wasn’t me; it was Helblindi, his blood-brother.”

“Hmm. Not very good at making friends, is he?”

Thor didn’t know what she expected him to say to that. Hela seemed a little more talkative than usual, though, and he had a nagging suspicion that perhaps she was growing bored with her rule. A bored Goddess of Death might prove problematic.

“Will you release him?”

She sighed. “Such a one-track mind. Let him out!” she called over her shoulder, and Loki sauntered into the courtyard only a moment later, bound in chains but (relatively) intact.

Thor stared. Half of Loki’s hair was gone, and he was sporting an impressive black eye. “Why do you torture him like this?” he demanded, his temper finally snapping. “There’s no point to it.”

“I enjoy it, you fool. Get out of my kingdom. This is the last time I’ll humor you.”

He managed to hold his tongue until they’d neared to door to Yggdrasil, but once he was certain that none of Hela’s lackies were around, Thor broke down. “I know that you want to be a king, Loki, but the Frost Giants cannot be trusted, they–”

“Oh, stop weeping like an old woman,” Loki snapped.

“I’m not weeping.”

“You are. There are tears in your eyes - I’m not blind.” After a few moments of scowling, Loki finally broke character and sighed. “Thank you, Brother,” he said, “for coming to fetch me. But you’ll see - most of the Jötnar support my claim as king, and once I deal with that traitor brother of mine, we’ll be unstoppable.”

That’s part of the problem, Thor wanted to say. I don’t know that I want Jotunheim to be unstoppable. But then… maybe, just maybe, Loki didn’t mean Jotunheim. Maybe he meant the two of them, together. Brother-kings, watching over the Nine Realms, ushering in another Golden Age…

Was it too much to dream?

He didn’t dare ask; Loki would likely dash his hopes, and it was much better to hope.

 


 

“Norns above, why are the two of you here?”

Hela stood on one of her parapets, her silent courtiers clumped around her, watching as two armies of the undead battled in the valley below. Half of the soldiers were clad in gold, and half were clad in black. As best as Thor could tell, she was simply playing some sort of game… against herself.

He found it disturbing.

Loki, on the other hand, was clearly entertained. “Well, Sister,” he said, “we’ve only come to pay a friendly visit; the Council of the Nine will be meeting on Vanaheim in three months—” He paused, frowning thoughtfully. “Do you even have months here?”

Hela turned to glare at him. “I’ll be there,” she said, her lip curling. “I hadn’t forgotten. Why are you really here?”

Thor shoved his elbow into Loki’s side, and Loki laughed. “Actually,” he said, “it seems that I made a small error—”

“He killed our cousin Baldr,” Thor interrupted. “We’ve come to ask for him back.”

“It was an honest mistake,” Loki said. “How was I to know that he could be killed by something as harmless as a sprig of mistletoe. I thought he spoke in jest.”

He pointed over the wall, down to her courtyard, a smile on his face. How Loki managed to smile after all that he’d endured here, Thor couldn’t begin to imagine.

“Look,” Loki said, drawing Hela to his side. “I’ve even brought you a present.”

Fortunately, her curiosity seemed to be piqued. “What is that?”

“That is Sleipnir.” Loki sounded astonishingly proud of himself. “Given to me by one of my vassals, when I was crowned King of Jotunheim. They say he can carry one to and from Hel.”

“I’ve heard of him,” she said. “There aren’t many eight-legged horses in the Nine.”

“Well,” Loki said, “he’s yours, if you’re prepared to release Baldr into our care.”

Thor was not a tremendous fan of this plan; to his mind, giving their mad, bloodthirsty sister the means to travel was sure to cause trouble. Loki had reassured him, time and time again, that he knew what he was doing, and Thor had eventually given in. It was clear that this was part of some larger scheme… not that he could begin to imagine what it might be.

Loki was the cleverer of the two of them, just as he always had been.

Hela smiled. “I accept.”

 


 

“After all these times, Thor, I can’t imagine that you even have anything left to offer me.”

The Queen of Helheim was in a temper, stalking around the great black tree in her courtyard, where Loki was tied and bleeding.

“I can offer you conquest,” Thor told her. “There is a creature in another dimension - he moves to threaten the Nine Realms once again. Dormammu, he is called, and he is worshipped by his followers as a being beyond Death. Surely you’re up to the challenge, Sister?”

Hela regarded him for a moment or two in silence, her hands on her hips. She wore her helm - it was the first time Thor had seen it in years. The walls around the courtyard were cracked and charred. He wondered what Loki had said to anger her so greatly. Perhaps he’d just happened to die at a bad time.

“You want to use me,” she finally said. “You think to make me your Executioner.” The tip of her blade dug into the dirt, and she leaned heavily against it. “I do miss executing people. The dead won’t die, and it’s… frustrating.”

“Bring splendor to Helheim,” Thor offered. “Protect the Nine. I will grant you passage, if you fight for our interests. And if you free Loki, of course.”

“This monster of yours is supposedly unkillable, you say?”

Thor nodded, and his sister smiled. “We have a deal.”

 


 

Loki was in a particularly sullen mood.

There were parts of Yggdrasil that the Bifrost could not safely access, which meant that every single time Loki died (and the few times that Thor had), they had to spend a great deal of time hiking and climbing up the World Tree’s roots.

Really, Thor typically did most of the climbing, considering the sorry state that Loki was usually in by the time their sister let him go. It made things much easier if Thor just carried him.

He was refusing any assistance, this time, however, and the journey was dragging on far longer than Thor felt necessary.

“Just swallow your pride and lean on me,” he finally snapped. “You look like you’ve been gutted.”

“Well, maybe I wouldn’t,” Loki replied, voice dripping venom, “if it hadn’t taken three years for you to retrieve me.”

“I’m sorry - have you forgotten that I had a war to deal with?”

They trudged along in silence for a time.

“Did you preside over the Lady Sigyn’s wedding?” Loki finally asked.

“Lady Sigyn has been stalling her wedding for years, Loki. Why do you keep playing these games? The woman loves you, and you know it.”

“Her father hates me,” Loki said, wheezing slightly as they vaulted over a massive fallen branch.

Thor huffed. “Since when do you care? Besides, I told you that I’d take care of it. I do have some authority, you know.”

“I thought about getting rid of her betrothed,” Loki continued after a moment. “But I think that she would never forgive me. She is very… moral.”

His nose crinkled as he said it, like it was some mighty flaw that he found difficult to overlook. Thor fought the urge to shake him. “Just agree to let me help you, you insufferable idiot. You are too proud for your own good. Besides, her father can hardly object to her becoming a queen.”

“Really? Queen of Jotunheim is hardly every Asgardian’s—“

“Shut up, Loki.”

Silence fell, and continued along for some time, both irritated. Finally, Thor relented with a sigh. He was supposed to be older and wiser, wasn’t he?

“Never take the woman you love for granted, Brother. Even if you can cheat death,” he added, clapping Loki’s shoulder. “Those moments that you miss - you can never get them back.”

It took Loki a moment or two to respond, his lips pressing together in a thin line. “You’ll deal with her father?” he finally asked. “The political fallout?”

“Of course, Loki.”

“Do it, then.”

 


 

“What have you done with him this time, Hela?” Thor had asked, already knowing from the manic light in her eyes that he likely wouldn’t enjoy her answer.

“I’ve decided to make it a challenge,” she had informed him, pointing towards a distant mountain in the east. “You’ll have to rescue him.”

He’d groaned in protest; these retrievals were getting more and more ridiculous every time. Why did she even bother?

Hours later and much worse for wear, Thor and Loki bolted across the scorched earth, a flock of blazing hawks hot on their trail. First lava-monsters, then fire-birds… it seemed that Hela was becoming very taken with the concept of burning in Hel.

“Quickly, you great oaf,” Loki cried, and then he flung himself into the door to Yggdrasil with all of his might.

Thor lunged after him, yanking the door closed as they collapsed into a heap, the both of them laughing in nervous relief.

“Brother,” he said, “I am sorry; I did not expect it to take so long. It seems unlikely that we will make it back in time for—”

“We will.” Loki pulled something out of one of his pockets, placing it carefully on the ground and muttering a few indecipherable phrases.

Thor jumped back in surprise as the horse Sleipnir sprung forth before them, neighing wildly, and his brother turned to him with a mad grin.

“I borrowed him,” Loki said, launching himself into Sleipnir’s back. He held out a hand, impatient. “Hurry up.”

Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Thor edged closer to the many stamping hooves. “Borrowed?”

“Stole,” he amended, hoisting Thor up behind him. “But I’m not about to miss the birth of my heir.”

He dug his heels in, and Thor clung to him for dear life as the massive horse tore off through space.

 


 

Thor was getting tired of war and strife.

Even with the Nine Realms relatively united, even with the power that he now wielded, even with his brother (usually) on his side… threats kept emerging.

The latest had left his brother torn to pieces by some Void-mutant from Midgard. Really, Midgard seemed to almost always be the root of any trouble. Mortals just seemed to invite trouble. It was baffling.

He was surprised, when he arrived in Helheim, to find his brother and sister in the courtyard of the palace, playing what appeared to be an oversized game of chess.

“Hela,” he said tiredly, “his wife wants him back, so—”

“I have this under control, Thor,” Loki interrupted. He stood for a moment with his finger pressed to his lips, then jerked his head slightly. One of the massive black pieces scraped along the stone, and Hela howled in rage.

Thor blinked in confusion. They were true oddities, his siblings.

“That’s the final win for me, Sister,” Loki said. “I’ll just be off, then.”

He turned to saunter away, sending a very worrying wink Thor’s way as he did.

What—?

“Wait.”

Hela was clearly seething, and Thor bristled. It was always best to be prepared for a fight, and his grip on Stormbreaker tightened, though Loki looked entirely unconcerned.

A wide sweeping motion of her hand did not produce the blades Thor expected, but rather a massive, decaying book, which thumped to the ground in a swirl of ash. He snuck a peek at Loki; his brother was smirking.

Loki smirking could either mean that something very good was about to happen, or something very bad.

“No more of this,” Hela snapped, flipping the book open with her elegantly booted foot, a sneer on her face. Bending, she seized hold of one of the heavy pages, a knife appearing in her hand. “I never want to see either of you here again.”

Thor was entirely flabbergasted, and he started to demand an explanation, but Loki caught his arm and shushed him before he could utter so much as a word.

“You might also want to take my wife into account, Sister, and my dear little Narfi - I’d have no choice but to come fetch them, you know. And I suppose any other offspring I might produce, as Sigyn has expressed interest in a large brood, and who am I to deny her?”

“You wretched—”

Loki spread his hands wide, the picture of innocence. “And if Thor ever manages to find a woman who can tolerate him,” he continued quickly, “I have no doubt that he’d show the same persistence in retrieving his queen as he’s shown in retrieving me, so—”

“I think you’ve made yourself quite clear.”

She seized hold of the top of the page, wrenching the entire thing free from the book. Loki winced slightly as the paper ripped, but stayed silent until it was completely torn asunder.

Thor got the feeling that he was witnessing something rather significant… he just didn’t understand what it might be.

“There,” Hela sneered, the page quickly beginning to blacken and crumple in her hand. “The whole family is out of it. Now get out of my castle.”

“Thank you, O Gracious Queen,” Loki replied, turning and dragging his brother through the gate and down the path to Yggdrasil. To Thor, he whispered, “Brother, get ready to run.”

“What—“ Thor began to ask again, for from the sounds of crashing and the wailing souls of Hela’s court, it seemed like it must’ve made things extremely dire.

“Hush,” Loki whispered, but then it seemed that he could not help himself, he grinned and added, “We are immortal.”

“But we have always—“

“Truly immortal.” Their speed was slowly increasing, though they tried to maintain some dignity as they walked quickly down the path from the castle; it wouldn’t do for the two most powerful kings in the Nine to simply turn tail and run from their sister, would it? “She cannot hold us here by authority.”

Then, the howling of the hellhounds broke out behind them. “But she can hold us here by force,” Loki amended, breaking into a full sprint. “Run!”

Thor surged after him, feeling the same irritation he always felt when Loki didn’t let him in on a plan, only this time, it was much, much worse. “The book, Loki!” he roared. “What was the book?”

A crack opened up in the ground beneath them, and Loki artfully dodged it - Thor dodged it, also, though perhaps not quite as artfully. “The Book of Hel,” he called over his shoulder. “Can this not wait?”

Yes, Thor decided as the howling behind them grew louder still, he supposed it could wait.

When they’d safely reached the other side of the door - which they’d barely managed to do, really - Thor was shocked as his little brother enveloped him in an actual, seemingly-genuine hug. As confused (and suspicious) as he was, Thor returned it.

“I’ve done it,” Loki announced, breaking away and hopping onto the nearest anchor-root to begin their climb, as if he didn’t have a thousand questions to answer, as if he hadn’t just escaped Hel for the hundredth time.

Thor scrambled to follow; Loki seemed to have much more of a spring in his step than he usually did when he’d just returned to the living. Maybe it was because Hela hadn’t bothered torturing him, this time around. “What have you done, Loki?”

“Hela has torn our names - and in fact, our entire family line - from the Book of Hel,” he declared proudly. “You and I, Sigyn, Narfi… any other children that we might have, any family that you might have someday… they are all in that book. It is written by the Norns.”

“What? But Hela—”

“Inherited it from the previous Mistress of Death,” Loki interrupted. “A dear old friend gave me the idea, actually; he vexed Death so greatly that she banished him.” He turned and grinned over his shoulder. “As have we. Imagine, Brother, being so utterly dreadful to be around that you are barred from Death itself.”

Thor’s forehead creased in a concerned frown. “What friend?”

“En Dwi Gast,” he replied.

“The Grandmaster? Loki, the man—”

“He is mad, yes. But it worked, didn’t it?”

“You planned this.” Thor wasn’t entirely certain if he was making a statement, or asking a question. Truth be told, he was a bit shaken. He was… immortal? They were immortal? Truly immortal?

“I did. Well, I will admit that the first few times were entirely unintentional, but things eventually fell into place rather nicely. The universe needs us, Brother - eternal defenders of the Nine. Greater than Father. Greater than anyone who has come before us.” He laughed, then, and Thor thought that in that moment, he looked more youthful than he had in years.

“And the… the children that are yet to be,” Thor said, struggling to make sense of it all. “Our descendants. They were on that page?”

“Yes.”

“You had no desire to see it? That seems... unlike you.”

“No,” Loki replied. “No, I did not. For once, I believe that I am entirely happy with the prospect of not knowing, in fact. Whatever comes next, I am certain that it will be glorious.”