They are young, Thor standing bravely and brashly in front of his younger brother, little toy hammer at the ready. Loki watches her with wide, calculating eyes, one hand fisted in the back of Thor’s tunic and expression more curious than afraid.
When she says hello and crouches down in front of them, Thor’s bravado slips.
An adventure gone wrong, she suspects. How else would two children tumble into Helheim?
And if there is a way in, there is a way out.
“My name is Hela. And you are Thor, and Loki.”
“How do you know?” Her youngest brother asks, and he looks so awed by her –
“Can you read minds?” Thor asks, so stupidly excited he is nearly vibrating, and she nearly laughs when Loki shoots him a look of utter contempt.
“No, child. I am your sister. And you should not be here.”
She takes them with her, Loki’s arms looped around her neck and face pressed into her throat, Thor clinging to her hand and bouncing along at her side. They have no idea who or what she is, but her blood sings to theirs – they know she speaks truth. And they accept her.
“—said that I cannot because I am not a woman, but then I do not want to be a man! Loki does not have to be if he does not wish it.” Thor finishes, pouting, and Hela could not have kept herself from smiling if she had tried.
“Valkyries are the bravest warriors Asgard has to offer, child. Could you hope to stand with them?”
“I am the god of thunder! Well – Mother says I will be, eventually. When I am older. Then I will be! I will be the best warrior Asgard has ever had! And Loki will be the smartest!”
She chuckles softly, and Loki breathes a puff of air against her collarbone as he nuzzles closer to her. He’d fallen asleep a few miles back, though he had been pretending to since she had first picked him up.
They are both so small, so adorable. Odin had made a habit of visiting her, bragging of what she had missed, but nothing had ever enraged her more than knowing she had family who would never know her name, know she breathed – yet here they are, bright and trusting, smiling at her as if she was worth their love.
“How is Mother doing?” She asks, and the effort it takes to keep her voice from shaking is astronomical.
Thor looks up at her, and squeezes her hand gently, as if he can sense her weakness regardless.
“We followed her here, sister. There was a great black door that she could not pass through. She sits by it sometimes, though. Loki thought she must have lost something behind it, so we came to find it. But it is you!” He sounds delighted, squeezing her hand again and beaming
She nearly stumbles, her heart clenching so hard –
“Father’s going to kill us.” Loki’s voice is subdued, slurred with sleep, and Hela stops. Holds Loki perhaps a little more closely than she should and kneels, pulling Thor into an embrace as well. Thor giggles, returning the hug enthusiastically.
Odin had never spoken of Frigga. Hela had assumed, thought for the longest time, that it was because her mother had requested it. That Frigga had tossed her aside. But these children would not lie, could not lie. And if so…
“He may try, little ones. But that is what I am here for, is it not?”
“I always wanted a sister.” Thor chirps. Loki presses his face against her throat, and she feels his tentative smile against her skin like a brand.
They are hers, she decides. Not Frigga’s, though she would not begrudge her mother their love, and certainly not Odin’s.
She holds their hands as they lead her out, to the hole in her prison’s walls – and into Asgard. Into freedom.
“I’ve never been here before.” Loki says, somewhat accusingly, and Hela can’t help but smile.
“What is here?” Thor asks, a little more tactfully. She watches them for a moment, Loki suddenly all brave and curious while Thor inches closer and closer to his brother as he stares at the tombs around them.
Her loyal soldiers, her sister and brothers, aunts and uncles. She’d bled for them, would have died for them – had begged Odin to let her die for them, to spare them. Instead they’d died for her, to spare her.
“These are fallen heroes. My…family.”
“Why aren’t they in Valhalla?” Loki asks at the same time, and the boys flash each other irritated looks.
“They swore their souls to my service, and forsook any afterlife they would have enjoyed otherwise. They were not…they were never supposed to end up like this.”
Loki’s expression grows grave.
“There are no grave markers.”
“Odin removed them.”
She’d built these tombs herself. A symbol of her own loyalty, her own love for the warriors who promised her theirs. The youngest still shone in the green light of her fire, polish just a touch brighter than the rest.
“Can you put them to rest now?” Thor asks, and she looks at him. Sees his fingers curled around the hand of one of the fallen.
“Odin would burn Asgard to the ground if I did so now. It’s better to let them slumber a while longer.”
“Then why are we here? And why would Father do that?”
She meets Loki’s gaze and smiles, a little sadly.
It’s a greater gift than she could have ever hoped for, to give these boys her history. Her story. Untainted by their father’s lies and protests. It may not stick, they may reject it once she leaves, once Odin sinks his fangs into them – but if she can put that seed of doubt into them, save them from the agony of betrayal she endured, well.
“I am the Goddess of Death, little brother. He put me in charge of his armies, eons ago. And when he had no more use of them, he banished me. To resurrect my warriors now…he would think I wanted to battle. I’ve no wish for that. I have come for my oldest friend, to bring him with me.”
The children stay quiet, and she takes their hands. Leads them deeper into the crypt, to the great slab serving as a monument to her closest, most loyal companion. They both gasp at the sight of him, even mummified and half-rotted.
“It’s adorable.” Thor says. Loki nods in agreement, and Hela laughs.
“Fenris, darling. Come say hello.”
Frigga covers her mouth with her hands when she sees her, eyes widening. Hela spares only a moment, to make certain the boys make it to her side, lingers just long enough to see the joy light her mother’s eyes –
It hurts. That Odin would hurt Frigga, to hurt her. She’d never been anything but loving, kind, even when Odin’s love soured.
She hopes that, one day, she might actually get to speak to her – but now, standing on Asgard’s soil, she knows her time has run short. Odin will be there in but a moment.
Fenris nuzzles her cheek, and they disappear.
She travels. Visits the places she had once conquered, once thought to return to when she was not charged with spilling its denizens’ blood. Things have changed in ways she never would have thought possible, and she enjoys her time spent in other realms, other worlds. Asgard stands as some great peace-keeper, she learns, like a patronizing parent. Fitting.
Odin never comes after her, and it takes a great while before she realizes that, by erasing her existence from Asgard’s history, he also erased his own ability to stop her. She’s safe. Free.
So long as she starts no wars, she supposes. And that is hard – adjusting. Becoming less of what her father made her to be, what he abhorred her for. That burns, to find herself changing into the very thing he demanded of her, but…she can appreciate what it offers her.
That is not to say she does not slay the unworthy. She picks up arms on the behalf of those who show her kindness, staves off invaders and bandits and criminals when it suits her. Finding herself owing debts and, more importantly, repaying them – that is another adjustment, one that comes less easily to her, but it comes nonetheless.
The boys find her, years later. And again, and again, and again – seeking her out for adventures, to talk, to visit, to help her when she begrudgingly responds to Loki’s flicker-thin magicks and asks for their arms or political clout.
She appreciates their presence, their needling. Treasures their relationship.
And if it brings her no small amount of satisfaction to see them questioning their father, well – that was inevitable.
She wakes to the knowledge that something is wrong deep in her bones.
When she sits up, it is to the sound of sniffling. Fenris is not at her side, but rather curled around something – someone – on the opposite side of her fire. His eyes reflect the dim embers back at her, and a trail of green fabric spills from between his paws.
She knows the minute she sees the expression in Loki’s eyes, the tears on his cheeks, that he has finally found out.
“Can I stay?” He asks, and her heart hurts.