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Gypsies

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Gypsies Poster

Gypsies

(Alternative Universe to Nightingale)

By: Lalaith Quetzalli

Prince Loki died, and his loss brought about a change in fate no one could have ever predicted. As three princesses are left alone, forgotten by the world that was once their home, left to wander through the Realms… until the day comes when they may find some sign and make a new home for themselves.

Doom

Nothing in life is ever quite as certain as change, not even death.

It began with a funeral, the likes of which had never been seen, and probably would never again be seen in Asgard. It was the funeral of the younger, adopted, prince: Loki Odinson, God of Mischief and Lies, son of Odin Allfather and his wife Frigg, brother of Thor, father of Helena Miriel (and adopted father of Jormungandr, Fenrir and wedded father of Ylva)… my consort and match. For I was Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim and Asgard, the one who'd given up her right to the elven crown out of love for him, for my match…

My beloved prince had been laid to rest in his best clothes, Lady Frigg's and my handmaidens working together to hide the signs of the terrible curse that claimed his life. I had been too overcome by grief to do it myself, and the healers refused to let me do much of anything, afraid any effort might cause me to lose the baby. It was such a miracle that she survived, that we both did, when her father did not…

In his raft, the empty body of my love (and I knew it to be empty, for if his soul had been there I would feel it, but it wasn't, and the other end of our bond remained empty, broken and sore) was surrounded by all kinds of flowers, jewels, trinkets, offerings from not only the Aesir, but also from some across all the realms. He was never the kind to limit himself to one world, something he taught me; we so loved traveling, and meeting new people. There was a reason he gained a variety of titles through the years: Silvertongue, Skytreader, Shadowwalker, among many others. We'd been travelers, ambassadors, an aid to so many, most who would never know. Though those who did, they were there to honor him, to pay his respects to the prince that was no longer among the living, and offer what comfort they could to myself and our daughter, reminding us they were there, would always be there for us.

Those of my people who were present began singing as the raft was finally pushed off the coast to float down towards the edge of the sea, the edge of the world. A funeral song. They sang it in Sindarin, that alone an honor that had been granted to none before him; and though the choice of language meant few understood, the beauty and sadness of the song just couldn't be denied:

"Immen dúath caeda (Shadow lies between us)

Sui tollech gwanna(thach) ommen (As you came, so you shall leave from us)

Boe naid bain gwannathar (All things must pass away)

Boe cuil ban firitha (All life is doomed to fade)"

I took a deep breath before adding my own voice to the song. I did it in Common though. Even if the traditional hymn they were honoring my love with was meant to be sung in elvish, I wanted all our people, including those of Asgard, to know at least some of what being sung. I also took care to keep my eyes away when Ylva (my head handmaiden and bodyguard, as well as one of the strongest Valkyries) gave a step forward and shot the flaming arrow that lit my match's pyre.

"With a sigh, you turn away

With a deepening heart,

No more words to say

You will find that the world has changed forever."

"I amar prestar aen (The world has changed)"

"And the trees are now

Turning from green to gold

And the sun is now fading

I wish I could hold you closer."

The moment came when I just couldn't do it anymore, the huge grief, the pain of the loss, of the broken soul-bond was too great. And then our daughter took care of finishing the song for me. Helena, who'd never ever sung, or even seemed to care for it, did it, for me, and for her father…

"Time and tide will sweep all away"

The elves followed, with the finish of the hymn, right as the remains of the funeral pyre turned into stardust that rose into the sky, and all I could do was drop to my knees, head bowed, letting the curtain of my long hair conceal somewhat my crying face. Helena stood beside me through it all, a hand on my shoulder, offering what comfort she could; she made no sound, though I knew her to be crying as well, I felt her own grief as much as I felt my own, and I knew she did as well.

"Boe naid bain gwannathar (All things must pass away)

Boe cuil ban firitha (All life is doomed to fade)"

xXx

I would never be sure just how long I stayed in that half-stupor. It wasn't that long, and I still did my best to eat, sleep and walk around at least a little, if only for Meril. As much as my soul might cry out for the loss of my match, as much as my heart might hurt, missing its other half; I knew both would be all the worse if I were to lose our unborn child as well. I was all too aware how much of a miracle it was that she'd survived, that we both had, and it was all due to my beloved's sacrifice. A sacrifice I wasn't going to ruin by risking either of our lives. Which was why I stayed in my private apartments, with only Helena for company; though Ylva was never far away, seeing to my every need, and making sure I… we were safe. She was also the one who brought us the dark news…

"What do you mean the stars-forsaken witch hasn't been executed yet?!" Helena demanded, voice cold and hard like I'd never heard before.

Just her announcement of that fact was almost enough to send me back into the thrice-cursed memory: the handmaiden's wing, Amora, that terrible spell, Helena's wail, her call for her father… and suddenly Loki had been there. He'd thrown Amora against the wall so hard she was knocked out, and then he was by my side. I was in so much pain, yet I still knew he was there. At first I could hardly focus on his eyes, could only vaguely hear his voice as he pleaded for me to fight, to stay with him and then… and then those fateful words:

"I'm not giving you up!"

And then I was suddenly very much aware: of him, and of his magic, which he began pouring straight into me. It was like when I'd been pregnant with Helena and she fed on his magic, except more, a hundred times. Amora's curse began feeding on his magic, instead of my baby's, but as the seconds kept passing, eventually that magic was too much for the curse to handle. It broke. I thought that was it, we'd won… how wrong I was…

I realized something was wrong the moment my love fell upon me:

"My love… Fintalëharyon…? Answer me. What's wrong? My match… Answer me!"

It was too late by then. He was gone. In between the trauma of the curse and the fact that literally all of my beloved's magic was inside me I just hadn't realized it yet. Wouldn't realize it until a short while later.

His magic was still with me, I had a feeling it probably would always be. I knew it was the reason why we'd survived, why my innocent baby girl had lived despite Amora's terrible curse, why I wasn't going insane from the torture of the broken soul-bond.

So much we'd suffered (were still suffering), so much had been lost, and to learn that Amora still remained among the living!

The doors slammed open without need for me to so much as touch them. It was Loki's magic, probably. And there they were. In the middle of the Royal Hall. Amora was heavy with chains, half a dozen of Asgard's best warriors all around. There were also Odin Allfather, Queen Frigg, Thor, the Warriors Three, Sif, a number of Elders, and even the head of the Queen's handmaidens (probably because she'd witnessed the whole thing).

"What's the meaning of this?!" The Head of the Council demanded.

"Princess Tinúviel!" Several voices cried out in unison.

"That is, indeed, what I would like to know." I stated, completely serious. "Why is the murderess of my match still breathing?!"

"A proper trial must be conducted…" Another of the Elders began.

"A proper… a proper trial?!" I could have shrieked right then. "That witch is the reason why you no longer have your prince, why I no longer have my consort, and you wish her to have a fair trial?! What fairness has she given any of us?! She's the reason my daughters no longer have a father! That my baby will never know him!"

"I am your doom little princess…" Amora spoke up, voice half-hissed, like a snake.

I will never know how exactly things happened next, how any of it was possible. If Amora had some help among those who were supposed to be loyal to us, or if perhaps she was trickier than we ever gave her credit for. She availed herself of a blade, which she used for blood magic (which was a lot stronger, and a lot darker, than normal magic) to break the chains holding her. The magical whiplash was enough to send the warriors surrounding her flying, even killing one and permanently disabling another. Then she went straight for me.

I may not have been thinking exactly clearly when I decided to crash the so-called trial, but neither was I stupid… or defenseless. I pulled a dagger from the folds of my dress just in time. Amora didn't see it coming, she didn't stop herself in time and ended pretty much throwing herself on my blade. I took advantage of the opportunity to make sure the wound wasn't one she would be coming back from.

"Seems you aren't quite as useless as I thought." She gasped, blood falling from the edge of her mouth and a drop jumping to me as she spoke.

"You already took too much from me." I replied in my coldest voice. "You'll take nothing more."

"Oh, but I'll take a lot more little princess." She cackled.

I always knew Amora to be insane. Who else would use amortentia to try and get into the crown prince's bed and think she'd get away with it? Then again, I was the only one who noticed it in time to stop it…

"I may die this day, little princess, but I'll make sure you have nothing to celebrate." She spat.

I didn't understand. She'd already taken my beloved, what else could she possibly take from me? (Not my baby, I would never give her the chance). And then I noticed the way her blood (on the edge of her mouth, on her nose, dripping from her mouth to the floor and even on the hand in which I still held my blade) began glowing. I tried to step back, to pull away, but I couldn't move, she was already working her magic, and it wouldn't release me until she'd finished her spell (or died, whichever happened first). In the background I could hear voices crying out, but it was too late. Whatever Amora threw at us, we'd have to see it through…

"I might not be able to take your brat from you like I once wished, but that doesn't mean you will be happy." The Enchantress hissed at me. "You dared take from me the life I'd chosen for myself, now I shall do the same, even if it's the last thing I ever do."

When she smirked, her expression, with the blood painting her teeth and her lips and down the edges of her mouth in such a macabre manner; it would have frozen me in place, even if I hadn't been immobilized already.

"Tell me little princess, why are you here?" She asked me.

I didn't answer her, I had no intention to, though truth was even if I had, I wouldn't have known what to say. Her question was simply too odd, there were so many answers I could have given…

"You are not Aesir, you do not belong here." Amora went on. "Loki may have brought you here, but now he's gone, and with him gone, what have you to make you belong? Nothing at all. That shall be your curse." She cackled again. "I shall be your doom."

My eyes widened, as ever so slowly I began too comprehend what it was she intended; all too late to be able to do anything about it.

"I curse you!" She shrieked. "Your anchor is gone and you now belong nowhere. You shall wander, un-tethered, forgotten… with no home, no place to belong. As I will it, so mote it be!"

I sensed the exact moment the magic took hold. I was released, half falling backwards, Ylva just getting there in time to hold me up, with some help from Helena. Amora's magic couldn't touch me directly, thanks to my love's, but I couldn't fail to see the way it not just touched but actually burrowed into everyone else inside the Hall, and beyond…

Amora laid dead in the middle of the room, and no one said a word. As if they were all in a trance. I knew instantly what it meant, and that I needed to move, fast; which wasn't exactly easy, considering I was heavily pregnant (three quarters through the pregnancy) and still in a bit of a stupor after the breaking of my soul-bond.

"Get me out of here!" I snapped at Ylva.

"M… My princess…" She began, hesitant.

I could almost see her fighting against Amora's curse. I understood it then: Fenrir. Amora didn't know about him, so there was a chance her curse wouldn't include him, Ylva's bond to him might be enough to protect her as well… yet I couldn't be sure.

"I need you to get me out of here, now!" I pressed.

"What is happening?" Helena asked, even as she did as I asked. "Nana?!"

"Amora just cursed me, cursed us all." I answered even as I recovered my footing and took the lead (or at least as much as I could) towards my private apartments.

"What kind of curse?" Helena's eyes immediately went to my belly.

"Meril is fine, we both are." I assured her. "It's… we're going to be forgotten."

I was probably being more blunt than entirely necessary, but my mind was going in circles with all the things I needed to do before someone saw me and I was considered an intruder, or worse! We needed to get out of Asgard!

"Forgotten?!" Ylva cried out as she opened the doors to my rooms. "How? Why?"

"I'm not Aesir." I reminded them both. "The only reason I'm even here is because of Loki. I don't know the details, but the curse will basically make everyone forget I was ever Loki's match. It's not actually about him, but about me, about leaving me without a home. Because if no one knows I was married to Loki, then I cannot be here, I won't belong here."

"So we need to get out of here before someone begins asking questions." Helena murmured.

The moment she understood she began moving much faster, pulling out a chest and we both began throwing things in. Clothes, books, everything we thought we might need.

"You think the curse will affect me?" Ylva asked, even as she did her best to help me.

"I don't know." I admitted, as I took a seat for a moment, in between all the motion and the stress I was exhausted. "Your bond with Fenrir might protect you, it might not."

There was also the chance that the curse would work on her and eventually break down as the bond reasserted itself.

"You cannot take the risk." Ylva nodded in understanding. "I'll do my best to make sure no one will come your way and find you. Give you as much time as I can."

"Thank you Ylva." I took a moment to kiss her brow, giving her what blessing I could.

It was probably a good thing Helena was such an accomplished sorceress, she managed to pack all our things, and a good deal of Loki's (just in case) in record time. Then we covered ourselves in a pair of cloaks from the handmaidens she got us (one more layer of protection, in case we were seen), as we made our way to one of the gardens. There, on a nook behind a huge fountain, was the entrance into one of the Hidden Roads leading directly to Alfheim.

It was terrible. We were basically being forced to leave our lives, our home, in secret, like thieves stealing in the middle of the night. Not knowing when, or if we'd ever be able to return. As if losing my match hadn't been bad enough, in that moment I had nothing: not the family I'd married into, not my friends, our home…

"Nana…?" Helena offered her hand to me then.

That was all the reminder I needed. I still had her, and the babe in my womb. I still had my daughters, Loki's daughters… we'd make it work.

xXx

It was raining in Faerûn, the capital of Alfheim, when we arrived. Thenidiel and a couple of servants were waiting for us, immediately leading us to the quarters reserved for visiting royals. Baths had already been arranged for us and a healer would be visiting to make sure we were alright; all that was asked of us was to meet with the Queen in the morning.

Queen Gwaedhiel Tasarinan met us in the morning, a number of the princesses as well as the elders, in the room with us. After the traditional greetings and protocol, we dove right into things:

"I hope everything is to your liking, my lady." The Queen stated solemnly.

"Very much so." I agreed serenely. "You have my undying gratitude, my Queen. Your assistance to me and my daughter has been more than I could have asked for."

"What has happened in Asgard?" The head of the Elders' Council asked. "What could have possibly brought Her Highness to us in such a manner, without proper planning, announcements or even an official escort?"

I realized it then. While they'd been ready for us, they still didn't know why exactly we were there. There was no doubt Thenidiel must know, she was too good a Seer not to; but still, she'd kept most of it to herself, leaving me to decide how to address the situation I found myself in.

"I'm afraid my daughters and I have been made victims of a terrible curse." I revealed. "From Amora Enchantress, blood magic done just before her death." I did not say she'd found death at my hand, the elves would have been scandalized by that. "Essentially, Asgard has forgotten me, the fact that I was ever married to Prince Loki. Her intent, I knew because she told me as much, was to leave me without a family and without a home. So I took what belongings I could and left. I came here hoping to find asylum in Alfheim, a place where I might give birth to my baby and raise both her and Helena in safety."

"You'll have that and more." One of the Elders stated straight out.

"Indeed." The Queen agreed. "As much as is in our power to give."

It didn't occur to me then, how odd it was, for the Elders to speak before the Queen, for them to make a decision. The Queen was the ruler of Alfheim after all, not them. And chances are that even if I had noticed, I'd have done nothing about it. The situation being what it was, I… we needed a refuge, and Alfheim was our best chance at that.

Alfheim refused to forget that I was royalty, even if Asgard probably had by that point. So we stayed in the visiting-royalty apartments.

I was ten months pregnant (Ljósálfar pregnancies usually lasted a full year) when I heard the servants talking… about me. It actually took me a few seconds to understand what was being said, but when I did… pregnancy was making me a tad more emotional than I usually was (and being an Empath I was already plenty emotional, though usually I could control it just fine) and the pain of the broken soul-bond meant that darker emotions took hold more easily. That was pretty much what happened that day.

"What's this I've been hearing about me claiming back my birthright?" I demanded as I made my way into the Royal Hall.

The Queen was there, with the whole Sisterhood, the Council of Elders, the Coven (lead by the Lady Santiel, and with Thenidiel as her second) and even most of the Protectors assigned directly to them all (lead by Erynion).

"It is your right, brennil nin (my lady)." Queen Gwaedhiel. "Your rightful place is on a throne, and not just any throne, but the throne of Alfheim."

"You are the Queen!" I felt almost hysterical, what was wrong with her?

"Only by a twist of Fate." She stated. "It's you that this crown should belong to, you the Ljósálfar have always wanted for a Queen."

"I was a bride, a wife;" I enunciated very carefully. "I'm a mother and a… widow." There was no word in elvish for widow, for there were no widows in Alfheim! "It is well-known that a Queen in Alfheim cannot be married, much less could she be any of the others. I'm ineligible. As ineligible as I was when I first accepted my match's suit, all those years ago…"

I almost didn't hear what one of the Elders said to that… almost.

"He was not her match."

"What…?!" I spun around to face him instantly, staring at him with all the coldness I was capable of (which, with my love's magic still in me, was nothing to scoff at).

"What?" He clearly cared not for my anger. "It's been made clear to us all, Your Highness. Prince Loki, the stars may keep his soul, was not your match."

"Why?" I retorted, barely controlling my emotions. "Because I chose not to fall when he did? Because I loved my daughters, both Helena and Meril enough that I'd rather endure the pain of a broken soul-bond than leave my eldest and take my unborn baby with me into the mists of the Other Side? Who are you to decide whether we were a match or not? What gives you the right to decide I did not love my match enough?!" I waved my hand wildly when he tried to interrupt. "No one. That's who. You do not rule me, or my heart. Loki Odinson was my match, my one and only love. I shall take no other but him to my side; and if I'm ever to wear a crown, it will be none but that which he himself places on my head."

Which meant, essentially, I'd never wear one, or be a Queen.

"I am not your Queen." I added stoically. "And whatever you might choose to believe, Fate never intended for me to be so. If it did, I'd have been the one chosen to be part of the Sisterhood, rather than my own sister, Merilwen, may the Mother of the Stars keep her; and then I'd have died, along with all others who did on the Bloody Night." I began settling then. "I took a place that was never meant for me, because all I wanted was to serve Alfheim, to help our people. And I did, for twenty years! I think I've earned a right to my own life now." I took a deep breath as I made another, rather sudden decision. "Though it's become clear that life will not be had here. So I shall be taking my leave. My Queen, Lord and Ladies…"

I bowed respectfully to the Queen, the Sisterhood, and even took a moment to acknowledge the coven and the Protectors, the Elders I didn't even glance at as I turned around and left the room. In less than two hours Helena and I were packed again and on our way to Jewel Forest. My old home… I could only hope we'd do better there than in Faerûn.

xXx

Meril Alfdis Tinúvieldottir (for, while everyone in Alfheim knew I had been married to Loki, I could not legally give her his name; especially not with the state of things in Asgard) was born two days later, right during Ostara. It was a very stressful few hours, with Helena unspeakably angry against the Ljósálfar royals for daring to want to force me into a position I never wanted, and dismissing her father while doing so; and me so incredibly concerned for my baby girl. I was still almost a full two months from what was supposed to be the end of my pregnancy after all. And Helena had taken almost the full-term!

But thankfully there were very good midwives to be found in Jewel Forest, and Thenidiel herself dropped by briefly to reassure me.

I loved my baby from the moment she was placed in my arms. She was perfect: with her light skin, fiery red-brown hair and her ever-changing eyes (continuously shifting between red, orange and black, like the tiger's eye stone).

We stayed in Jewel Forest for twenty years, and good years they were too. In the house that had once belonged to my mother. It was a good place to grow up, even if some people looked at me oddly, being a widow… it was well-known that few Ljósálfar ever married, and those who did, those who were a match… when one went the other was never far behind. It was why they had no word for widow (or widower) because it wasn't normal for one half to survive the other; and when they did they weren't a match, they didn't truly love their spouse, so they had no need to mourn them, they were essentially single and took no time to make new lives for themselves. Except for me… and my mother. It was odd, to find myself in her place, the reason for the gossip about how I probably didn't love my husband as much as I claimed I did, how we must not have been a match… I said not a word. I knew Helena hated it, and we both did our best to keep Meril from hearing them. I held on, constantly reminding myself of Naneth's quiet strength, praying that she'd somehow know how sorry I was that I ever doubted her, that I had failed to understand how strong she was, and just how much she loved us, choosing to stay with my sister and I, even when the absence of her spouse must have hurt so much…

When Meril first manifested when she turned ten I was absolutely terrified. I had known she'd be gifted, of course, I could even remember one particular vision I had while carrying her (the night I learned I was pregnant with her): it had been her, all grown, in an off-white dress, her feet bare, hair down and a crown of red roses on her head, with fire dancing around her. Her being a fire elemental would have been cause enough for worry, that the Coven might 'insist' on taking her for training; then I discovered she also had the Sight…

It was Helena who told me. While, being noble (even if minor ones) meant we had an estate and from that income enough to keep ourselves well fed and clothed, I still felt the need to use my gift, especially my healing, to help my community. So I'd go out every other day and see to those who needed me. Helena would stay with Meril, watch over her, she loved her little sister very much. Seeing the two of them together… it made me wonder at how it would have been if Loki had been with us, he'd have loved them so much, spoiled them rotten!

So Helena was the first to notice that her little sister was special, not quite like her. Helena was a spellweaver, and she had a particular affinity with wind and water (even if she wasn't quite an elemental); but Meril… Meril was fire, in ways few outside of the Eldojotnar could be, or even understand. And then there were the times when she just seemed to know things, without anyone having to say a thing!

It was the latter that made me nervous, because I knew that if word ever got out the Coven would be after her. Seers, true seers, who could see things, rather than just 'sense' them coming, were rare. In fact, the only current ones were Thenidiel and Haldaraina, and the latter wasn't quite as gifted. Someone with Meril's power, with that way she seemed to just 'know' things sometimes, and the dreams she would have, sometimes of events far into the future… there was no way they'd ever let her go. So we kept her status a secret.

It was the second time I remembered Naneth. She too had had the Sight, thought she'd been more of a Prophetess than an actual Seer. She didn't see things, not really, but sometimes she'd say things, cryptic phrases that not many would understand, until they came true. Like how she predicted that both Merilwen and I would wear crowns, one by Fate and the other by Choice. And so it came to be, that my elder sister was chosen to be a princess, while I chose to be one myself. She'd also predicted my relationship with Loki, not with those words exactly, but enough for me to understand almost as soon as we met.

There was no way I would ever allow anyone to take Meril from me (neither of my daughters, in fact), so when Helena approached to me and warned me about the bad dreams that she'd been having, and the whispers she herself had heard, I took them seriously and told her to pack and be ready. A fortnight later, when one woman whose daughter I'd just treated for a bad cough, made a comment about visitors from Faerûn (visitors I hadn't been warned about, despite the fact that Thenidiel always sent a messenger bird ahead when there would be any kind of visit, even if they weren't going to see me directly), I knew that was all the warning we'd be getting. So I took my leave, doing my best not to call any attention upon myself. Rose had apparently had a vision of her own, because by the time I arrived my girls were dressed and our packs were ready.

In the time since our departure from Asgard we'd made our peace with a lot of things. Loki's belongings were in a trunk, and would be remaining in our place there. We'd also be leaving all the things we didn't definitely need. We each had a knapsack that held several changes of clothes, toiletries and the like; there were two additional traveling bags: one that held emergency supplies (like bandages, herbs, medicines and currency) and the other with food. All but the food could be put away in our pocket dimensions, and while Rose was no spellweaver, Helena was willing to keep hers when necessary.

We left Jewel Forest less than an hour later, and just before the 'visitors' made their arrival. We didn't know it at the time, but that was the start of our legend. Even if no one knew how special Meril was, no one could fail to notice that we took off right before the entourage from the capital arrived. Whispers began almost right away about why exactly we left, what we might have to fear and, more importantly, why we had reason to fear at all (no one liked to think that there might be a reason to fear their own royalty…).

Truth was, we didn't exactly have a plan, when we first left Jewel Forest. All I knew was that I needed to stay away from all royalty. It was Helena's idea for us to simply keep moving. Never stay somewhere long enough to call attention upon ourselves. It was Meril's to change our names. I agreed to both. Thus Helena became Tegaladwen, Meril became Beril, and I became Lindaew; each variations of our original names, or the same in a different dialect.

We took to traveling every so often, though we stayed longest in Noirinan, as it was the farthest from Faerûn, and as it was known to be a place for outcasts, and not an official district (there was no princess that represented it in the Sisterhood), the royals took very little interest in it, so we felt, ironically enough, safer there than anywhere else.

Of course, even that was an arrangement that couldn't last forever. I knew that, sooner or later, whether it be due to someone's Sight, a whisper of a rumor, or entirely coincidental, we'd be found. When a huge magic storm left Noirinan so badly off that even with our intervention those in Faerûn took notice and decided to send some help, we knew the time had come. Meril had just celebrated her hundredth birthday, Helena was about two decades older and I in my third century already; though I knew if anyone were to see us, they would have a hard time telling our ages, or which of us was older than who. That made it easier to travel, as we could make up different stories as necessary. Though I knew of at least one more place where we'd need no stories…

That was how, on the day when the group from Faerûn was set to arrive, we left Noirinan and slipped into a Hidden Path to Nidavellir.

xXx

We were received with open arms by King Thorne. The dwarven king had known that something was off in Asgard, but hadn't known what exactly. The last news he'd known he could trust had been those related to the passing of my match; afterwards he'd heard nothing from me, not for good or for ill, and after the first couple tentative inquiries brought nothing but confusion, he decided not to insist. He was happy to see me, delighted to meet both my daughters, and promised we could stay for as long as we wanted.

I knew it wouldn't be forever. It seemed that Amora's curse extended not just to Asgard, but it was in us (in me), I wouldn't find a home. Without Loki I was left to wander, unable to belong anywhere. And yes, we'd stayed in Alfheim a whole century, but when one counted their lifetime in millennia, one century wasn't that long.

In Nidavellir we only stayed for a bit under five decades. Incredible as the Realm was, and as welcome as King Thorne made sure to make us feel, it just wasn't the same. In the end, all three of us were elves (or half elves) and it was next to impossible for us to be comfortable away from the forests, and especially from the stars. It had been said in many a poem, and even some formal chronicles, that elves had the light of the stars in their eyes; that they were the first thing we, as a race laid our eyes on, and thus we sought them, instinctively. They were the axis of our whole history and mythology: the stars, and the Mother that put them there.

Still, our time in Nidavellir was good. It was where Meril learned to fight, both hand to hand, and with knives. I too learned to fight with knives, though mostly throwing them (unlike Meril, who favored direct combat). Some of the dwarven warriors even gave Helena pointers, though they were well aware that her choice of weapon (a thin, delicate-looking chain that could be used either as a whip, a chain or a flexible blade) was one no dwarf had ever learned how to use. Meril and I were gifted each with a set of knives, crafted exclusively for us (they held the special, secret magic of the dwarves which meant they could never be used against us, and would return to us once their purpose had been fulfilled); while Helena herself received a collapsible staff, as eventually some of the dwarves became close enough to her to learn of the vow she'd made in a previous life, where she'd sworn never to kill a souled being again. Being a warrior race, the dwarves didn't fully understand what could make a clearly talented warrior-lady make such a vow, but they respected it, and were all too willing to aid her in protecting herself, even if she wouldn't actually kill her enemies.

It was during our time in Nidavellir that I came to a realization regarding Meril. She was a warrior, through and through. It wasn't only that she was willing to fight head on, something none of us did, as Helena and I were the kind to only fight when absolutely necessary and always preferred to be on the defensive. Meril for her part would rather take her enemy straight on, and not just that, but she wasn't afraid to use trickery when it'd grant her victory; she did not buy into the whole honorable-combat ideology the Aesir seemed to love so much; if she had to cheat to win, she would do so, and happily. And yet, that did not mean she valued life any less than the rest of us did; she did, protection was her prime motivation, it was just that she believed that the best way to protect someone was to make sure their attacker would never be able to come back (which wasn't an unreasonable idea, just not one either her sister or I favored).

When we left Nidavellir we made our way to Vanaheim. That was where things began changing. Either by chance or fate, on our very first day we found the little town we'd arrived to, being attacked by about half a dozen marauders. They weren't exactly a big number, but the village was small, its people farmers, none of them with the slightest idea of how to defend themselves. At first I was at odds, not wanting to call attention upon myself, yet at the same time hating what was happening. And then one of the marauders turned in the direction of the only family who had children… I never knew what it was he intended, exactly, though by Meril's reaction I could tell it must not have been good, at all.

The knife left my daughter's hand before anyone even saw her move, even me. Still, even with the little battle experience I had, I knew we had to move while we still had the advantage of surprise. Thankfully I had my weapons on me, as I'd intended to hunt something for meat in the nearby forest (we had no vanir currency and had noticed from the start the people in the village might not have much to either sell or trade in the first place). The first arrow was on my hand and being fired instantly.

Helena focused only on protecting us, but that was good enough. And even the three of us, with little experience as we had (neither of my daughters had experience in actual combat at all), were enough to take down four of the marauders, the last two surrendering after seeing just what we were capable of (and not once was magic used).

The people loved us. It soon became apparent that it wasn't the first time they'd been attacked, it was the reason why they were so poor. And they hardly got any help. Of course I knew we would not be able to stay after that. A young man had been sent to take a message to next town (a bigger one), so they might send guards to pick up the marauders; we couldn't afford to be identified by them. Even if we weren't criminals, three she-elves fighting, it wasn't exactly normal, and being in Vanaheim, such news would take no time in reaching Asgard. We had no idea what exactly they thought about Helena after the curse had taken hold, but I just wasn't willing to risk it. So we waited until they all were distracted and, taking hold of Meril in between us, Helena and I teleported away, into the woods, from where we made our way to the next village (another small one, where they might not have heard about what had happened).

That was more or less how things went for the next years, decades. We'd stay in small towns; at first we'd do odd jobs here and there, then… it was Helena's idea for us to perform. She and I would play music with whatever instruments were handy (she was especially good at playing the violin, but could also play the harp and the guitar; while my preference was for flutes, but could in a pinch also play the piano and the harp), I refused to sing, it just didn't feel right without my match, but Meril was a good dancer, and that helped. So we traveled around, performing, we'd help around for a few coins where needed too, and when there was some kind of trouble, we stepped in then as well. And we always took our leave afterwards, before anyone could pay enough attention to us to be able to identify us, before we became known well-enough for word of us to get out.

Even with all that planning, some things did get out. They called us Thalill (which was elvish for 'valiant daughters/girls/maids'), those who'd seen us fight; and those who did not, called us Gypsies, for our performances, playing and dancing. More than one person had asked if none of us could sing… they never got an answer.

xXx

After a little over a century living like that in Vanaheim, we got even more fluid. We embraced our new lives as wandering performers (and warrior ladies), moving not just from town to town, but from realm to realm too. Sometimes we'd return to those we'd been before, though we also took time to visit the smaller realms, the ones not many people knew of, as we mapped all the different Hidden Roads (between Helena's knowledge and my own, and Meril's gift we knew a good many of them, yet even then we managed to be surprised as we discovered a few others). We even visited Jotunheim briefly twice (though we always made sure to go nowhere near their capital: Utgard, and Laufey), Muspelheim once (very briefly, the place was awful, even Meril with her dominion over fire didn't quite feel comfortable there). We never did go to Asgard though, I didn't want to risk it.

By either chance or fate, we also managed to miss every single Road to Midgard for many centuries. Until we'd been everywhere else, and could no longer find out peace anywhere. Then, after one very short visit to Alfheim, we happened upon one that lead straight into a forest we'd never been to before. And thus we ended in Midgard.

The world of mortals was a chaotic, complex, incredible wonder I was sure not many would be able to understand, much less appreciate:

"Your Ada did so love this Realm…" I whispered to my girls.

Yes he had. It had actually occurred to me that I might be purposefully avoiding the Roads leading to Midgard, if not consciously, at least instinctively, for the memories of Loki such a trip would carry. Except, while I couldn't help but remember him, the world was so changed from the last time we'd visited that it seemed like a completely different world!

It was in Midgard that we mostly settled; for a value of it, seeing as we kept moving every so often (we stayed anywhere from a fortnight to six months in any given place before moving on). We were still involved in battles every so often, and I had no doubt that more legends were sprouting up regarding us, but I didn't fear them. Asgard cared so little about Midgard, there was very little chance the stories would ever reach them. Also, despite how much humans might have advances in the centuries since my last visit, they still had nowhere near the resources they'd need to be able to track us down, to identify us, and that gave us all a sense of security.

Midgard was also so big, and its places so varied. We got to live in desserts, jungles, beaches, forests, big cities and small villages; it was like jumping between worlds in moments. I loved learning the language and traditions of every place we arrived to, Helena and Meril learned too, though they were more interested in other things, like history, technology, architecture, etc. They were good lives. Even if we were still cursed, still unable to find a place we could call home, even if we were all still missing Loki; we were content, and that was good enough.

We didn't always stay long. We all knew how to fight, and how to survive, so after learning enough of our new realm, and getting used to the rather chaotic way time and life seemed to move among mortals, we sometimes would take off on our own. Helena spent many years in a place called Nepal, in the mountains, learning about a new style of magic, after the head of that particular order, a woman who called herself the Ancient One (and whom Helena confided to me she'd known in a previous life) told her that it would be through the Mystic Order than her path and that of her match would finally cross once again. Helena was delighted, as was I for her, I knew how much she missed her Stephanos. It was also the Ancient One who gave me hope like I'd barely allowed myself to have throughout all the years and decades: I too would be seeing my match again, in life rather than in death. He'd return to me. She couldn't tell me when, or how, just that I was to follow my heart, and it'd happen in due time.

Rose for her part spent a lot of time in Africa, she'd always loved my stories about Egypt (the very same reason I couldn't bear to stay there, the memories of Kontar and Sharifa, and the memory of my own beloved… sometimes they were too much). She also eventually told me about the hidden kingdom in the southern part of Africa: Wakanda, of its royals and their amazing culture, and how she managed to gain their friendship, something not easily achieved.

For my part I liked Europe, found a special kinship in the Romani, tribes who would travel from one place to another regularly, either due to desire or need. I became well acquainted, and was ever considered as an honorary member of a few of them. And when constant traveling became too much I'd stay in London, Paris, Vienna, Rome… cities so beautiful, I loved seeing them change, evolve, through the years and lifetimes.

When war came… I was no novice to war, none of us were, but as I soon discovered (as I know my girls discovered in their own way), if there was one thing Midgardians were adept at, it was doing war. Alfheim hardly saw any way since the Bloody Night, we were a pacifist race by nature (there were ancient stories of a time where we hadn't been, where brother had slayed brother, but back then elves had lived even longer, and eventually they'd learned), dwarves had been very much a warrior race, until the time came when their numbers dwindled so it was decided they could allow such no more, not if they wanted their race to survive the next few generations; dark-elves had been very much a warrior race, cruel and terrible, and for that same reason they were no more; Jotun… many of them were warriors as well, though not all, and their numbers weren't great; the same applied to the Eldjotnar; while Vanir and Aesir… they were both warrior races, though the former well-used to following the latter, and Asgardians were so used to being the strongest wherever they went, whatever war they might end involved in didn't tend to last long. Midgardians… humans, were another matter entirely.

Humans when they waged war, they didn't care for ending things quickly, they didn't care for the innocents, for those who might not know what was going on. A man called Paul Valery had put it very succinctly when describing war as a massacre between people who didn't know each other for the profit of people who did know but did not massacre one another. I inadvertently found myself in the middle of the whole terrible mess while in a small town close to the northern end of Belgium. I arrived a couple of years into the war, seeking to get away from the worst of it; didn't exactly work out when the town was invaded shortly after my arrival, by the kind of people who cared not for the innocents. I did my best to protect them, the women and the children, the elderly, all the non-combatants. Sometimes I'd use my empathy to influence the invaders, make them turn away from the villagers, but it didn't always work. And as the fights just outside the town got worse, my use of the empathy made things harder on me, as I couldn't help but feel all of it: the anger, the despair, the disgust, the horror, the pain… it was driving me crazy.

It got to the point where I made a last, desperate offer to the people. I'd seclude myself and those they were willing to leave with me, put them in a magical sleep, where they'd be safe (no hunger, no pain) and then shield all of us as much as my magic could handle. We wouldn't be coming out until I had reason to believe we'd be safe. They agreed and, to my huge surprise, they delivered all the children to me, as well as at least half of the mothers. The rest of them, as well as the men and the elderly would be staying. They knew that if they all disappeared it would call the wrong kind of attention, and I knew some were afraid that if I tried to shield too many it might not be as effective, and that would endanger the children.

In my last meeting with the leadership of the town I told them about Helena and Meril (who'd been going by Rose since our arrival to Midgard), so they'd trust them if they ever came around, and so they might tell my girls where I was and why. Everything settled I went into the biggest basement, underneath the church and began playing a lullaby on my traversal flute, willing a sleeping spell into it. Once that was settled, I activated the protective runes I'd carved into every wall, door and window into the room, then recited the enchantment and went to sleep myself.

More than a year had passed when we woke up. I was confused, when I first opened my eyes. Around me everyone was beginning to awaken, though the moment I was focused enough I could tell the war hadn't ended, not yet. There was a sense of joy outside our refuge, but the anxiety and nervousness were still present. No, the war wasn't over just yet. Then I opened the door, and got my very first surprise: Rose was standing there.

"Meril!" I smiled in delight, not even noticing when I slipped into elvish. "Lirimaer (lovely one), how have you been?"

"Just fine Nana (Mama)." She purposefully used English, except for the elvish word for mom. "Everything alright here?"

"As well as we can be." I nodded, also speaking English. "I imagine if you're here things must have been explained to you?"

"Enough." Rose nodded. "Food is being readied and I came to lead you all out. There was a fight recently and part of the church collapsed."

"I see…" That made our whole awakening even stranger. "Rose, why are we awake? It's clear to me that the war isn't over yet. The enchantment was meant to last until we were all safe."

"Indeed." Rose nodded serenely. "Though I have to say it's a long story, one you won't believe unless you meet all the people involved. For now, suffice it to say that Veld is safe, and we'll make sure it stays that way."

Minutes later we were all joining the celebration going on in the streets. It was snowing, but people were still so happy as they hadn't been for quite a while before we'd gone to sleep. And then Rose introduced me to her new friends: Charlie, Sameer, Chief, Steve Trevor and Diana Prince… who was in fact Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, princess of the Amazons… yeah, hers was one hell of a story.

xXx Meril's POV xXx

I never intended to be a hero. Not at all. I'd have been happy enough being just mama's daughter, a seer and fire elemental. Yet at the same time I wasn't the kind to witness another's misfortune, grief, either in person or through visions, and do nothing about it. It began in Alfheim, when I wasn't quite a century old, when a terrible magic storm caused mayhem and destruction in what was then our home in Noirinan. I was the one to insist to mama and Helena that we should help our neighbors, even if that meant revealing our gifts, even if that meant risking being discovered by those who would wish to use us for their own benefit. The whole thing ended with us having to leave Alfheim once and for all, but I would always believe it was worth it.

I was born Meril Alfdis Tinúvieldottir, the unacknowledged daughter of Loki Odinson (if only because he died before I was ever born, and due to the Enchantress's curse his family no longer remembered Nana, much less me.

It was my choice to learn to fight. On the one hand because both my mother and sister knew how to do it, even if the former didn't like doing it and only did it when she absolutely had to, and the latter had a binding vow that limited her in what she could do. I made the choice, from a fairly young age (for someone who was expected to live at the very least several millennia, unless something went very wrong, a century was certainly young) to not limit myself. I would fight, for those I loved and also for myself; and if I ever had to kill, I would, not because I didn't value life, but because I valued my own, and that of those I cared for enough that I was willing to carry the burden of taking another's when necessary.

That choice pushed me through learning everything I could about fighting while we were in Nidavellir (and I'd be forever proud to be one of less than a handful of 'outsiders' to have been granted the honor of learning and using khuzdul, as well as being gifted with weapons made by the very best among the dwarven weapon-smiths). It was also what motivated me in Vanaheim and even afterwards, as Helena, Mama and myself became the Thalill (or the Gypsies, depending on who you asked, and which part of our lives they knew us for).

I knew I was the only one who really changed her name when getting to Midgard. Helena remained as she was, even if at times she'd use the name of Elaine, for the connection it had in her mind to her past lives and her match: Stephanos. Also, Nana would at times drop the name of Tinúviel and adopt a new one, though they were always names with similar meanings referencing songbirds, and especially nightingales. I took the name of Rose, not just because it sounded more human than Meril (I could have easily claimed the name was from another country, if needed), but it just felt right for some reason I couldn't fully explain.

Africa was a fascinating continent, I greatly enjoyed my time there. First in Egypt… I'd always wanted to go there, to see the place where two of her parents dearest friends: Kontar and Sharifa hailed from. It didn't matter that I myself had never met them, I so loved their story, the way they'd meet and love each other in every lifetime, it was like a dream come true for the everlasting romantic in me.

Then there was Wakanda. I took an oath, to never betray the secrets of that nation and its people, which meant that there was a lot about my time there I would never be able to share with my family. But they understood, and that didn't make me feel any less about my experiences there. I could only hope to return some day, to see how that country might advance and evolve. Already they were so far ahead from the rest of the world, isolated as they chose to be; I could hardly imagine what they might be able to achieve in the coming years! It was certainly something to look forward to.

Even then, when the war began, I just couldn't stay in Wakanda. It wasn't in my nature, to hide away from a fight. Also, I worried about my sister and mother, hadn't seen them in years, and last I'd heard of her, mama had been in northern Europe, where some of the worst of the war was taking place. So with that in mind I thanked my hosts, said goodbye to Wakanda and began my journey to Europe.

In the way I came across a friend of mine. Chief, or at least that's what most called him. I knew his name to be Napi, and that the moniker Chief came from the fact that he'd once been chief of his tribe, in America. He knew my true name, and that I wasn't as human as I pretended to be (then again, neither was he, and I knew that). He told me about his friend: Steve Trevor, and how he was on a mission to hopefully stop the war. While I didn't exactly have a vision, an instinct told me that the right thing to do was to stay with him, with them, and I knew better than to ignore any facet of my foresight, so I stayed.

It was good, meeting Chief's friends. Charlie was a good man, if tormented by his past, Sameer was such an optimist despite the war, Steve… he was my kind of warrior, willing to believe the best, all while still preparing for the worst; and then there was Diana… I could have never imagined someone like Diana to exist in Midgard.

"You're not human." The Amazon princess said to me when it was just the two of us (and Chief, silent in the background) awake in the middle of the night.

"I am not." I agreed easily enough. "And neither are you."

"Why are you here?" Diana wanted to know.

She'd already told her own story, about Ares and her duty to stop him; and while I found the whole thing mightily interesting, and actually believed Ares might exist… wars had existed for a very long time, and I doubted they were all the fault of a so-called god of war!

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." I shrugged.

"You believed me when I told you who I was." Diana pointed out calmly. "No one else has. At times I wonder if even Steve Trevor would believe it, if he hadn't seen Themyscira."

"That, I do not know." I admitted. "As to myself. I was born Meril Alfdis, my mother is an elven princess who was once in line to inherit the throne, yet gave it up out of love for my father. As for him, he was the adopted second son of the King of the Aesir, who styled themselves as gods, much as your own Zeus and his people once did. My father himself was known as God of Lies, Mischief and even Magic. He died weeks before I was born, at the hands of the Enchantress Amora, who wished to kill my mother. He saved her, and through her, me as well, as I was in her womb, and it cost him his life. Afterwards, King Odin made a mistake, the Enchantress wasn't dead quickly enough and she got the chance to curse our mother, and my sister and I with her."

"What kind of curse?" Diana wanted to know.

"My parents weren't from the same world, the only reason she was there at all was him. Without him, she no longer belonged. Amora's curse made it so everyone forgot Mother belonged in Asgard. And it's not just that, it's like… we don't belong anywhere. I haven't had an actual home at any point in my whole life."

"How old are you?" Chief asked, for the very first time.

"Honestly? I don't know." I shrugged a bit, mostly to myself. "Stopped counting a while ago, but it must be at least eight hundred years now."

Neither of them seemed to have any words with which to reply to that, which I had expected. Chief might be a nomad himself, but that was by his own choice; as for Diana, while she was certainly much older than me, she'd always had a home, she probably couldn't imagine not being able to live in her little paradise island (Steve's words for the place!).

"Do not pity me Diana." I couldn't actually read her mind, but there was no need, her thoughts were written clearly across her face. "I may have been dealt a rough hand, but I've done quite well for myself. I'm proud of who I am, and I hope one day my father will be as well."

Getting to No Man's Land… it was terrible. I hated seeing all those people hurt, knowing there was nothing we could do. Yet with Diana along… the Amazon might have been older, but she was certainly far more innocent than I could ever claim to be. She still believed her will alone would be enough to save people, to stop a war… I wasn't sure if I ought to admire or pity her for that. In the end I did neither. Regardless, I probably should have realized that along with an empathy that was probably equivalent to Nana's, Diana also had stubbornness to match any of us. It would probably have made it less of a surprise when the Amazon, with hardly any explanation, decided to climb out of the trenches and march straight across the blackened battlefield, a one-woman army… at least until Steve, Charlie, Sameer, Chief and myself finally pushed past our shock and followed.

It was absolute insanity. I didn't know how to shoot, had never learned, but that was okay, I'd become really good with explosives of all kinds, so I threw those at the enemies, using my gift with fire to make sure both that the ones I threw exploded exactly where and when I wanted, and to prevent those the enemy used against us from harming our side. The best part was that the whole thing was so absolutely insane that no one even noticed what I was doing.

From the moment I stepped into Veld, I knew there was something there, even if I hadn't the slightest idea what. Then I saw the church… I actually got separated from the rest of the group for a short while, dealing with some stragglers who'd been planning on ambushing my new friends; got close enough to deal with them in my own preferred manner. Then, when I finally made it to the center of the town, it was about right at the same time when Diana jumped off the piece of tank the boys were holding over their backs, crashing onto the bell tower. I saw it then, as the church as a whole shuddered briefly, at the same time the tower fell into the rubble (the rest of the structure remaining seemingly untouched) a green spark, so brief I could almost believe I hallucinated it, except I sensed it too!

"Nana!" I cried out reflexively.

She had quite the fascinating story to tell… then again, so did I.

xXx

I woke up with a scream trapped in my throat. Eyes wide and unseeing for the first few seconds. Then, as my mind cleared, as did my sight, the first I became aware of was my mother sitting on the edge of the bed I'd been granted for the night.

"What did you see?" She asked me, quiet but tense.

She probably could sense the myriad of emotions fighting inside of me. She knew that whatever I had seen, it couldn't be good (nevermind that we were at war, and that was reason enough for my visions to be bad).

"Annihilation." I answered grimly, a single tear falling down as I remembered all I'd seen the night before: the elderly talking among themselves, the couples dancing to the odd tune of a half-broken piano, the children running around… "Terrible and absolute."

"I shall not allow it." Nana was grimly determined as she announced that. "What must I do?"

In that moment I couldn't help but be reminded just how strong she was. Living on without her match, something that was said to be impossible; she endured absolute torture to her heart and soul solely to remain alive, to stay with us. Even when Amora's curse had taken most of what comfort remained after the loss of her beloved, his family, she still held on. I'd never doubted how much she loved both me and my sister. How could I, when I saw it in her every word, her every breath, every day?

I told her what I'd seen, letting her decide what she could do to prevent it, after warning her of my own plans. There was no doubt that Ludendorff would be connected to the despicable attack. Which meant that if we managed to stop him in time, that might be enough to guarantee Veld's continued survival.

I didn't quite manage to catch up with Chief and the others, and they didn't wait for me. That was quite alright. I knew that Diana would be completely focused on trying to kill who she believed to be Ares, while Steve would do his best to make sure she didn't get herself killed in the attempt. I was more focused on ensuring the town survived.

Except things didn't quite work as I intended. There were more soldiers around than I expected.

"Hey!" One of the soldiers called to me. "What are you doing here?"

I had been so sure I could slip by unnoticed, so sure that my visions would give me enough of an advantage… I hadn't prepared a cover-story, a disguise, nothing at all. They were all shooting at me before I could say a single word and then… then I just reacted. It was something we had discovered while in one of the smaller realms, a black land dangerously close to Muspelheim (it looked like the remains of a devastation caused by a volcano, or dragon-fire, something terrible like that). We'd only been there once, and the creatures had been upon us so fast… Helena barely managed to push Nana behind her, her shield barely holding up (there was no water around for her to manipulate and even the air was little more than noxious fumes). The creatures, goblin-like, were upon me so fast I couldn't even draw my weapons and then… fire. There was fire, around me, on me, in me… It was instinctive, a sort-of automatic defense for a life-or-death situation. Where the fire at my very core raged in my defense without my conscious control.

It was bad, the fire came so fast… there was no warning, all the soldiers around me were ashes before they could do little more than scream. Except for one… he ran, tried to escape the room we were in except, as was made clear later on, the machine we rushed to did not open the door, it activated a weapon… a weapon that shot a missile full of mustard gas, straight to Veld.

The last thing I did before blacking out was pray Nana had a plan of her own…

xXx

The fire was still raging when I woke up. The fire was dancing all around, it didn't so much as touch me though. I didn't feel as drained as I'd have expected, considering what had happened; that did not help me though, because it meant that I'd been unconscious for a while, and that just couldn't be good. At least I knew not all hope was lost. We still had a chance to end the war, of course, some choices still had to be made, decisions that weren't in my hands to make; I could make sure I'd be there to offer my aid when the time came though.

With that in mind I called the fire to end (the last thing I needed was for it to either expand or end up causing some other catastrophe, and then I rushed out. My traveling clothes were more than a little singed, half revealing what I wore underneath, a sleeveless bodysuit that was completely invisible under my normal clothes, pale-gray with red highlights, it was lined with vibranium. A gift from the royal family of Wakanda. The boots I wore were dark-red, dragonskin and a gift from friends I'd made in Nidavellir, same as all the sheathes for my knives.

I ran. Luck was on my side as I found a bike, it wasn't in the best condition, but at least it'd get me to where I needed to go faster than going on foot.

I had a vision on the way to the military base where I knew everything was going down. It broke my heart just a little. The expression on Diana's face the moment she realized that war wouldn't end just with the death of one man. He wasn't the real Ares, of course, and she'd be finding that out soon enough, but still. It was as if she'd lost a huge part of her innocence right then and it pained me, because however older than me the Amazon princess might be, she was a girl in many ways, a child who'd just discovered the real world wasn't just black and white. It was a hard lesson to learn, and the worst part was there was no time to let her digest it, not if we wanted to prevent the kind of death and destruction I'd seen in my vision, which would come to be if that plane wasn't stopped before it got to London!

Things got only more complicated as I finally made it to the base, with fighting and explosions all around. Sameer, Charlie and Chief were blowing up as much of the base as they could, the Germans trying to fight back, Diana had finally begun fighting the real Ares, and Steve had a mission all his own… except, I'd already made up my mind, I wouldn't let him sacrifice himself, give up his life just like that. It wasn't right, not when I could do something about it.

Jumping off a bike and onto a moving plane (and right as it took off too) wasn't the easiest thing I'd ever done, it wasn't the hardest either. The only complication was perhaps when I ended hanging off from the wing for a handful of seconds when I was forced to get out of the way of a falling German soldier fast. Even then, I was strong enough to hold on, and agile enough to pull myself up and into the plane as soon as possible.

I got inside just in time to see another soldier searching for his gun and turning towards where Steve Trevor was taking the controls. I didn't even stop to think about it, which a flick of my wrist one of my knives dropped into my hand, I flipped it around and then stabbed the soldier with it on the back of the neck, he was dead before he even knew I was there. The moment his body dropped, that was when Trevor finally realized he wasn't alone.

"We need to put this plane down." I stated even as Steve looked at me in obvious shock.

"Rose…?" Steve was beyond shocked. "What the hell are you doing here?!"

"We need to put this plane down." I repeated, trying to remain calm. "Now."

"You need to get off this plane while you still can." He replied, tense as he held onto the controls.

"Why?" I retorted, rolling my eyes, I'd officially run out of patience. "So you can go and be stupidly noble and get yourself killed?"

"I'd be saving innocents!" He exclaimed. "All those who will end up dead if this plane reaches its destination as Maru and Ludendorff planned."

"No one said the plane needed to reach its destination. I said I need you to land it."

"What? So we'll sacrifice the people here in Belgium rather than those in England?"

"No one needs to die!"

That certainly made him focus.

"How?" He asked, suspicious.

"I'm not exactly normal." I answered with a shrug, and at his disbelief I added. "Really Steve? You've spent the last week with one who might be the last Greek demigoddess, and it surprises you to discover there just might be others not entirely human walking this world?"

The young (compared to me at least) soldier canted his head to a side and I could almost hear the moment he admitted (if only in his own head) that I was right.

"Can you really do it?" He asked me then seriously, knuckles white as he clenched the controls. "Can you get rid of all this gas without me having to blow the whole plane up?"

I wasn't an empath, not to the degree Mama was anyway, and even then I could practically feel the hope fill him. The idea that maybe he wouldn't have to die in order to do the right thing, to protect those that should be protected. That he could be a hero without dying in the process. I had always hated that idea, that heroes had to die, that they couldn't be happy. It was completely stupid, in my opinion. Just like the idea that a love story had to end in tragedy in order to cause an impact. Really, I knew Mama loved William Shakespeare's works, but if I had ever met the man I'd have told him how stupid the idea that love needed tragedy to be real actually was.

"I can." I forced myself to focus, it was dangerous to get myself lost in memories right then.

Steve did land the plane. It wasn't easy. As there was some kind of implosion and the earth itself rumbled right as we were landing… for a moment I was afraid the whole plane might go up in flames without me having to do a thing about it.

"What now?" Steve asked the moment we came to a full stop.

"Now we get out of this death-trap and then you let me do my thing." I said as I reached the door.

We'd actually made it back fairly close to the base, which would be good; I so didn't want to have to walk long distances in the middle of nowhere when I was going to end quite tired.

"What now?" Steve asked anxiously once we were out of the plane.

I didn't mind his attitude, I knew he worried about someone taking control of such a weapon, all the innocents that would end up dead if we didn't do things right.

"Now you step back and let me do my part." I instructed evenly. "Things are about to get really hot around here."

I waited for him to do exactly that. He didn't move as far back as I'd have hoped; but I knew he just might once he realized just how hot things would get. So I just took a deep breath, braced myself, and then called on fire with all my strength. I heard Steve's half-drowned cry, and it was no surprise, I knew I could paint a shocking (if not scary) picture before those who'd never seen me use my powers (a friend in Wakanda had once told me I looked like a daughter of the gods, calling on powers beyond the comprehension of mere mortals… I found it very poetic as well as an exaggeration, but still). It began with my aura enveloping me, an aura that turned into flame very fast and if I wasn't careful enough, that flame soon began consuming anything that wasn't myself, clothes included. That was alright, there was a reason why my boots and blade-sheathes were made from dragon-hide, and the vibranium in the bodysuit had been treated to do well even under my hottest fire, so that held on as well. Soon the flames began growing, twisting around me (in a way that Mama had, more than once, describing as the fire 'dancing' around me). Then, when I decided the flames were good enough (and hot enough) I twisted my arms and sent them away from me. It all happened in a matter of seconds.

I made sure that the fire would surround the plane completely, all around and even over it, before I closed my fists, pushing the fire in, so it'd consume the plane and, more importantly, the poison it carried, without letting a single drop of it through. It wasn't easy, I had to keep the fire constant and under complete control; also, the mustard gas didn't burn the same way oxygen or other flammable things did, so I had some trouble keeping the flames at the right potency.

Never before had I needed to use my power in such a way. Even if I first discovered my gift in Alfheim, back then we'd been so careful that no one found out about the things I could do. Mama so terribly afraid that I'd be taken from her. In Nidavellir I'd received some instruction, but we were always so aware of the limits of the training grounds, of how disastrous it'd be if I reached too high and ended up losing control. So no, I'd never before used my power to that degree. Still, I knew it could be done, and I'd do it, because that weapon couldn't be allowed to exist, to hurt innocents, so I wouldn't give up. I'd focus and I'd do it.

The sun was fully risen from behind the distant mountains and trees and on its way up the sky when I was fully sure that there was nothing left of the mustard gas, and little more than scraps of the plane. Then I cut off the fire. I'd been so focused on it that when I first did that I couldn't help but sway, almost falling to my knees, until Steve helped steady me.

"Are you alright?" He asked me, concerned.

"Fine, thirsty as hell, and a bit hungry, but aside from that just fine." I answered honestly.

It was true. Using my fire, keeping it close to me, it consumed the water in me, dehydrating me; also, when working with fire, it used me as fuel as much as it did whatever I was burning (more when there was no other actual fuel available) which was what actually drained me in the end, making me both hungry and tired.

He was actually chuckling, so much I was beginning to wonder if he might be more than a little hysteric… much as I might criticize his willingness to get himself killed saving others, I was aware it couldn't be an easy thing, accepting that one was about to die. It was something that had actually gone through my mind more than a few times, as I tried to imagine what might have been running through Adar's (Papa's) as he chose to give all of him to save Nana (and myself) taking our place, dying for us. It was a rather morbid line of thought, I knew, which was why I'd never told Nana anything about it. But it allowed me, if not to truly understand Steve, at least realize that it might not be an easy thing, what he was going through.

"Steve…? Steve!"

Diana's voice finally pulled us out of our thoughts. Steve let go of me once he was sure I could stay standing, then turned just in time to catch Diana as she threw herself at him. They both ended sprawled on the ground, but neither seemed to really mind.

Steve's friends were looking at him like he was an apparition, and I could only imagine what they might feel. There was no doubt in my head that they'd known what Steve was doing when he got on that plane, what he intended. They probably hadn't expected to ever see him again and yet…

The moment Diana moved aside they were upon Steve, and then I was the one laughing; never mind that at some point at least one of them got the idea that if their friend was alive I must somehow be responsible, and so they threw themselves at me too.

"Where to now?" Sameer asked after a few minutes.

"Veld." I answered immediately.

So much had happened. It had been an insane day, and night as well, and all I wanted in that moment was to see my mother, make sure she was alright.

"Veld… oh Rose…" Diana began.

And she wasn't the only one, Steve looked quite grim himself, though he said nothing.

I wondered if they'd gone to Veld, following her failed first attempt at killing Ludendorff, what they might have seen… I just shook my head and repeated my request. Steve nodded, though I could imagine he was already expecting the worst.

It took several hours, but we finally made it to Veld. There was still a bit of an orange cloud around the city, which didn't surprise me at all. I just jumped off the jeep and readied myself.

"Rose…" Diana began, probably worried about me.

Thankfully, Steve thought to hold her back, right as fire enveloped my arm. I didn't need it to be as big as what I'd done with the plane, as the gas had already had hours to begin to disperse and lose potency. Once I was ready I threw it out, sending the fire to consume the gas, and only the gas (the last thing I needed was to end up destroying what little the people in that town still had). It took longer than the plane, even if the gas was actually less than what had been on the plane, the area was bigger, and I needed to be careful with how I handled things. Eventually though, the work was finished, the gas was fully gone.

I didn't wait for any of the others to say anything, immediately going into the town and hurrying towards the very center, the church. We made it to the street just outside it right on time to watch the translucent shield, with the slightest green-violet tint, fall.

"What the hell was that?!" Sameer and Charlie cried out at the same time.

When the Church's doors opened and people began walking out, all the children rushing out, cheering in happiness for being out again, Diana actually began to cry.

"H-how…?" Steve gasped, voice breaking before he could even finish the question.

Nana came out then. She was looking almost as tired as I felt, but she still stood tall and proud. As she should be, considering she'd managed to save a whole town single-handed.

"My friends." I called, almost giddy with joy and relief. "Meet my mother: Nightingale."

xXx Tinúviel's POV xXx

The war was declared over days later. We stayed in Veld until Rose and I were well-enough to travel. The people probably would have liked for us to stay longer, but it just didn't feel right. One thing I did not expect was when Diana and Steve came to me and asked me to marry them. They'd heard my story, the whole of it, and they wanted the Ancient Vows:

"You do realize this isn't actually legally binding?" I asked Steve.

"We can have a legal marriage once we get back to London." Steve said dismissively. "But this, this is more important to us."

"Why?" I had an idea, but still wanted to hear their answer.

"Because it means that no matter what happens, how good or bad things might get, when this life ends, we'll find each other again, in whatever might come next." Steve answered honestly. "Be it another life in this world, or in the afterlife."

I agreed, of course I did. We had a private and very heart-felt ceremony right there in Veld the day before we finally left the little town. What took us all, even Steven, by surprise, was when Diana followed it with some kind of enchantment where she renounced her immortality.

"Why… why did you do that?" Steve asked, clearly shocked.

"It's like you said." Diana said brightly. "Wake up, have breakfast, read the paper, go to work, get married, have children, grow old… those are the things people do when there's peace, right?"

"Yes…" Steve visibly swallowed, tears on the corners of his eyes. "Yes they are."

I could only imagine what each of them might be feeling. Diana, giving up everything she'd once known, any chance to have her old life back, out of love for Steve. And him, knowing exactly what she was giving up, that she loved him that much, and loving her back just the same. It made me wonder just how much I'd be willing to give up for my own match… I didn't know, not really. But I did know that the one thing I'd never give up on, was the hope that we'd find each other again, some day…

Chapter Text

Boon

Some bad things might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

WWII broke my heart in ways few could ever comprehend. It was… at the end of the Great War, things were supposed to be better, and they were, for a while. Rose and I found Helena in London (going by Helen Lucas), she'd been working with some of the spies, against the Germans, during the war. Always from the shadows, making sure she wouldn't be seen, wouldn't be remembered when it was all over and done.

We came together then, let the world believe us to be sisters. She, Steve Trevor and his secretary: Etta Candy, became fast friends. They did something together that made it so suddenly she was believed to be Sir Patrick Morgan's (the man who had turned out to be Ares) secret daughter. I didn't much liked the idea, but it gave us security, and allowed us to claim all his monies and assets, which we made sure to use for the better of our own.

Steve and Diana did marry as soon as we got back to London, just like they said they would. And the following year, Diana gave birth to one who'd be their only child, a daughter: Hippolyta (Lyta, for short). That was also the only time we received amazon visitors. I knew not what happened really, but I knew Diana was sad for a long time after they left, and once I heard her whisper about never seeing them again. It made me think about those I myself had left behind, in Asgard and Alfheim both.

We spent a few good years together, but eventually we began going our own ways again. Rose took off for Egypt. I had a feeling she'd been badly shaken by the war and wished to return somewhere comforting, and she'd liked that place. Eventually I began getting letters from her about how well she was doing, and the great friend she'd made: a librarian called Evelyn. Helena kept her work in the shadows, which meant she at times would stay gone for days or weeks without a word. I understood, I knew she was doing good work. It was why, even though I missed them both very much I never tried to call either of them back.

Eventually I decided I might as well make a new life for myself. While I'd stayed in London for years, Steve and the others did not need me, not really. They'd always been more Rose's friends than mine, and that was just fine. So I took off for the continent.

Years later, I was in Rome admiring the work of some very talented (and long since dead) artists, when I heard rumors about something going on in Germany. They were very contradictory rumors. Some spoke of a man rising in power who promised to give back what their country had lost during the Great War; give people back their dignity, good work, a better economical situation. Others said he was a power hungry man seeking power for himself and willing to go over anyone he had to, to achieve it. I worried what the truth might be and what it might cause, so I ended my sort-of vacation and traveled to Germany.

I knew right away something was definitely off. It couldn't be normal, so many military, and the way they would treat some people as less simply for their beliefs (I myself didn't ascribe to any particular belief system Midgardians possessed; though I did like some parts of a few. In the end I believed in the existence of a Higher Power, a being who was beyond life and death, beyond time and space, who'd created the universe, for good and for evil).

I tried to get close enough to those in power to find out what was going on exactly, didn't realize how badly things were getting until it was much too late. I'd discovered enough about the ghetto to be concerned, and was trying to find out more about the camps. I knew things were very wrong, and was getting ready to call on any and all contacts to warn them; but first I wanted to have as much information as possible to give to them. I was even willing to use my empathy to get the information if needed when… it was as if something broke, or many somethings. Lives extinguished, so many at the same time, and me with my empathy wide open. I screamed, louder than I ever had, before blacking out completely.

xXx Helena's POV xXx

When Nana screamed I was in New York, working with the SSR (and more specifically, Agent Peggy Carter) in Project Rebirth; I heard her, all the way from Germany.

Peggy and I were in the office, trying to deal with the shit-load of paperwork caused by the fact that, as successful as Project Rebirth might have been, there had only been one successful subject and now Dr. Erskine was dead, and the formula had died with him. Even Howard Stark didn't know all that had gone into it. Erskine had been too careful, too paranoid after the terrible mess with the man-monster most knew as the Red Skull.

The scream was terrible, I felt as if the very blood in my veins had gone cold. It didn't matter if I knew no one else could hear it, that there was no way I could possibly begin to explain, I still couldn't hold back my reaction: which was dropping everything I was holding in my hands (which were a folder of papers, and a half-empty cup of very bad coffee), as I half curled into myself, fighting the instinct to cover my ears (pointless as the gesture would have been).

"Elaine?" Peggy asked worriedly as she approached me.

I had changed my name right after leaving London, years after the Great War (which would eventually come to be known as WWI), I was going by Elaine Serrure.

I looked straight at Peggy for a few seconds, considering how much I could, or even should tell her. She was a good woman, there was no doubt about that, nor was there any doubt regarding her trustworthiness; but being good and trustworthy didn't mean she was the kind of woman who could deal with her whole world being tilted on its axis. Which was exactly what would happen if I were to tell her even a fraction of the truth about myself. Still, I liked her, she was a dear friend to me, and I couldn't help but want to share at least a part of myself with her, so I did:

"Something is wrong." I offered simply.

"How wrong?" She inquired.

"Very, very wrong." I answered quietly.

And really, for Mama to have screamed like that… she'd been through so much, from the loss of her human friends before I was ever born, the loss of Adar, of his family, of Asgard, and then her family in Alfheim, as well as the realm itself, the loss of any home at all. She'd experienced loss, grief, pain, like few individuals ever had, yet I had never so much as imagined a cry such as that leaving her lips. Yes, something had to be beyond wrong.

"How do you know?" She inquired, curious.

Curious, but not disbelieving, or in denial. She might not understand how I could be telling her that, but she did indeed believe it to be true (or that at least I believed it to be true).

"That… is a very long story." I admitted.

"Well, how about you tell me where we need to go, and then you can tell me the story on our way there?" She proposed.

I accepted. And we did. She had no idea why we were going to Germany exactly (neither did I for that matter), but she trusted that there must be a reason. I told her my story (and my family's) on our way to Europe. For the longest time I wasn't sure how much she'd actually believed, but she never claimed it to be impossible, and never treated me any different, which was more than I could have dared hope for.

Rose was waiting for us in Germany, having already collected our unconscious mother, as well as everything that had been in the tiny room she'd been renting. What we found there… it was a lot more (and worse) than anything we could have imagined.

"This is… it's amazing…" Peggy commented as she went through the pages and pages of notes.

Some things she didn't understand, I knew, Nana had mixed languages, and not all of them were human. Still, Peggy had been a code-breaker before being an agent, and the repetition of some key words was helping her understand at least the ideas, if not the exact words being used.

"We need to get all this back to HQ." She decided after several more pages. "Though it might be a good idea for one of you to rewrite some of the notes, if you don't want these other languages to fall into the hands of the SSR."

I nodded. While I didn't think the SSR would do anything particularly malignant with the pieces of language they'd find there, it still was a good idea to change it. Especially the words that almost resembled khuzdul. Nana hadn't actually used the language of the dwarves of course, but words in a human language that sounded enough like it; if someone who only knew languages from Midgard tried to translate it the word they'd come up with wouldn't fit at all, because it'd been chosen for its sound, the similar phonetics to the khuzdul, rather than its actual meaning. Nana was an insane genius like that, probably would give the best linguists of the age the time of their lives; but still, it was better if khuzdul and the various elvish dialects were taken out entirely. Old English and Ancient Norse could be justified, the others not so much.

"We need to get Mama out of here." Rose stated solemnly.

"Shouldn't we wait until she's awake?" Peggy inquired, worriedly. "Make sure she's alright."

"She's not alright." Rose answered grimly. "And she won't wake up, not now. Not until it's all over. Her empathy won't let her."

I let out a breath. It made sense. Nana's empathy was so strong, with things being as bad as what was implied in those notes (and probably worse), I couldn't quite imagine what might have happened exactly to cause her to shut down, but it must have been bad certainly. And the worst part? It clearly wasn't over yet. It would happen again, and again… and thus Nana wouldn't be waking until we could make certain it'd happen no more.

"We can get her to London, a safe-house, make sure she'll be protected." Peggy proposed.

"Not with the SSR." Rose shook her head. "The last thing we need is the government getting too interested in us." She pondered for a moment before adding. "Find Etta, or one of her children. They will help."

"You're not coming with us." Peggy realized right then.

I'd known it already. Could see it in every line of my sister's body, the way she was practically vibrating where she stood, dying to get moving, to go into her next mission.

"Chief is waiting for me." She answered simply. "And Lyta, and a few others. We'll try and stop as much of what's coming as we can, while we still can."

I wondered then, if only for a moment, how much she'd seen. Did she know what had made Nana scream like that and then shut down? Probably. If so she wasn't telling, and I could respect that. Something told me that I'd be finding out, sooner or later, and if it was as bad as I suspected, I'd rather not deal with it until I really had to. Avoiding things because they were bad, or hard, wasn't my usual choice of action, but I was already stressed out enough. I'd rather deal with one thing at a time; and in that moment my priority was making sure Nana would be safe.

xXx

I was right. Things were really, really bad, worse than anything I could have ever imagined, because even after everything I'd been through up until then, even after going through so many battles and the Great War, I still hadn't imagined the depravity and pure evil souled beings could be capable of. In all my lives (because I remembered them all, due to a disastrous magic accident when I was still young) I'd been through countless wars, some so very bad they still gave me nightmares at times. There was a reason why I'd made a vow never again to kill a souled being. And yet, seeing what was going on during that war, what a man dared order being done, to men, women and children… it was the first time I ever truly wished I'd never made that oath. Because if I hadn't then I'd have walked right into his house, gone through as many so-called soldiers as dare step in my way, and I'd have ended his life with my own hands. No one would have been able to stop me.

It surprised me, my own bloodthirstiness, but it's just… I saw the survivors. From the prison-camps, but even worse, from the concentration camps! I had no doubt that, anyone else who had seen what I had, with my power at their disposal, would feel exactly the same.

Yet I couldn't do it, I couldn't just go and kill him. So instead I did my best to save as many people as I possibly could. Peggy got me the information I needed, and then she made sure our superiors focused completely on Captain America and his Howling Commandos, while I went on my own missions. Sometimes Peggy even joined me. We worked well together, and we really saved as many as we could.

We came across Rose and her friends a couple of times. But for the most part, we focused on different things. The SSR's objective was HYDRA, while Rose and the others were taking on the Nazis in general. It was good, we both did our best.

I had the pleasure of seeing a rare wonder, a match-by-choice (unlike my parents, who were an involuntary match). It was said that almost all matches started by choice, until the Ancient Vows were pronounced, then from their next life on, they became an involuntary one, for their souls were already bound. The only exception was with those who were said to have been a match from the beginning of time, those who'd once, before the creation of the universe itself, been a single soul, which was split into two bodies when they gained form as part of Yggdrasil. Most believed that part to be a myth, to have never happened… I knew better.

I witnessed the love between Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers, and it was truly a thing of wonder. At least until the day Steve sacrificed his life, crashing Red Skull's plane (with all its bombs) on the arctic. Then Peggy was left alone to mourn for the love that was lost so suddenly.

Nana woke up when the war ended (for a value of it, judging by the shadows in the eyes of those who'd been to war and lived to return home, I had a feeling the war never truly ended for them), close to a month after the second bomb was detonated in the Far East. And the fact that she didn't wake up the moment Hitler was defeated told me something else had gone wrong, even if I could not quite put my finger on it for the longest time.

"I dreamt." She explained quietly when we finally had a moment of privacy. "Night after night, day after day, the whole time I was unconscious I dreamt… they weren't nice dreams."

She never said it outright, but then again, she didn't need to. She knew what had happened, perhaps not in detail, but enough. She knew of all the lives lost, all the pain, the loss, the grief, the despair… even being unconscious hadn't spared her from all the suffering the war had caused. Especially not for the catastrophic loss of life at the end, she'd felt it, all of it. Maybe not as badly as if she'd been right there, in Japan, or actively using her empathy, but still enough to know just how far humans were willing to go while waging war. It was the kind of answer I'd always wish we'd never asked the question for.

Rose arrived a week before Nana woke, and the two of them were ready to leave in just a month. I wasn't going with them. After Peggy had taken some days to mourn the loss of her chosen match she'd informed me about the plans she and Howard had for the future, and asked me to help. I promised to, as long as my involvement was kept completely secret. She agreed. So I said my goodbyes and watched my mother and sister walk away. All I could really hope for in that moment was that it wouldn't take yet another war for us to come together again.

xXx Meril's POV xXx

Mama and I spent the years following the end of the war wandering across Europe, reclaiming our identity as wanderers, as gypsies. The times weren't easy, the war had left too many in the worst conditions: impoverished and nearly in ruin. We helped all we could, in every way we could think of, yet I couldn't help but feel that it just wasn't enough, it'd never be enough.

It was almost midsummer in 1954 (by our traditions at least, for I knew humans had taken to celebrating the start of summer in what for us was already midsummer) when I woke up after a vision potent enough that every single candle in my room was burning when I finally opened my eyes, some of them with flames so intense half the wax had been consumed in a very short time. And Mama was there too, sitting on her own bed in the room we were sharing in that particular town in Ukraine (far south, we'd actually just crossed into the country from Romania less than a handful of days earlier).

"Meril?" She only ever used my birth-name as a pet-name anymore, and I liked it well enough that way. "Sweet-heart?"

"Fire." I answered in a croak, even as I extinguished all my candles and reached for the water on the small bedside table. "There's going to be fire. Bad."

"Anything we can do?" She asked softly.

"We have to." I gasped, I was so thirsty, but swallowing so fast made me cough. "She's going to die if we don't."

"Where?" Of course she'd never want people to die, not after everything we'd already witnessed.

"Northeast from here." I answered, recalling as much as I could. "Near Odessa. The village isn't even on the map!"

"We'll find it." She did her best to reassure me, though we both knew it to be hard. "How long do we have?"

"Two days at most." I answered grimly.

"Then we better get ourselves a mode of transport." She decided.

I knew how big that was, for her. She still didn't like cars, despite the fact that they were the favored method of transportation for most. Then again, I didn't like them either. We were so used to walking places, or using horses, when walking might be impractical. Cars were bigger, harder to control, and while we might be good at adapting, it still wasn't easy sometimes.

We waited only long enough for our landlord's wife to have opened the kitchens (we were paying for the room and breakfast). It was still quite early, but not so much that someone might have had something negative to say about our stay.

We were lucky enough to find a farmer that was taking the same route we intended. He was on a cart, rather than a truck, and we were warned he had many stops to make, but it was still better than walking the whole distance ourselves.

As fate would have it, there was a bit of an accident on the way. A truck passed us at some point, too fast, and going too close, it spooked our horses. Mama managed to calm the animals with some judicious use of her empathy, but by then the man was already on the ground. I barely managed to get him out of the way of the horses before they could step on him. He still had a bit of a sprain on the wrist, where he tried to keep hold of the reins until the horses moved in just the wrong way, so Mama insisted that he let her lead, while he directed her. He agreed.

We made it to Odessa that same night, and the man insisted that we stay with him once he learned we had nowhere to go. He had an empty room, where his daughters (who'd since married and left the house) had slept. Mama agreed, she could sense he was a good man who felt the need to pay us back for our assistance. I was also quite sure that he suspected, if not actually knew, that his sprain was healing quite fast because of us. Gifted weren't talked about so openly, not since some of the worst things that had been done during the war, the experiments… no one wanted to end up in a lab or a camp somewhere. So nothing was ever said. Still, I was glad to find there were still good people left in the world. It gave me hope for the future, that perhaps one day we might not be all in such danger simply for being who we were.

In the morning we left Odessa and took off walking towards the nearest settlements, those that couldn't be found in maps; that, if history held, would eventually be absorbed by either of the cities surrounding them as they expanded. It took hours, but we found it, the place didn't even seem to have a name; it was little more than a bunch of buildings and streets close to a mine. One I knew, even without a vision to back me, would be closing very soon.

We'd just begun walking down what looked like the only actual street when the screaming began, and the rumbles. The earth seemed to be practically shifting beneath our feet. Mama began saying something but I didn't listen, because my vision was almost overtaking me… time was running out! And fast!

"Mama…" I gasped, barely able to pull myself to the present.

"Go!" She nodded at me. "Save her."

That was all I needed, I took off running. Following my instincts. I made it to what looked like a hostel. There were people at the front, arguing, screaming in a mix of Russian, Ukrainian and even Romanian, it was bad but I ignored them completely, taking off to a side before any of them could see me and looking for another way in. I found the backdoor and didn't even stop to think about it, I rushed in. The fire was bad, and getting worse but I ignored it completely, going through it and straight to the stairs. I needed to get to the top floor.

I heard the child crying right as I reached the top, she was calling for her parents in Romani. It hurt, to hear her like that, but at least as long as she was crying, she was still alive.

I burst into the room, hand extended, calling the fire to bend to my will, just in time, as the child was curled up into a ball in the furthest corner of the room, trying to hide from the flames that had already consumed most of the room. She couldn't have been more than five years old! Small even for that age, with hair so red… redder than even mine, and hazel eyes.

"Little one…?" I called swiftly switching to Romani myself. "I'm here to help you."

Her head turned immediately my way and she stopped crying out. She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything she stopped, cocked her head.

"You're not burning…" She whispered.

"No, I'm not." To prove my point I ran my hand through the flames beside me a few times, before extending it before me so she could see. "The fire cannot hurt me, and if you come with me, I will make sure it doesn't hurt you either."

"Can you get me to dai (mama) and dadro (papa)?" She asked me very softly.

"I promise you, I will." I assured her.

That seemed to be all she needed, she rushed out of her corner and straight into my arms. I held her tightly, making sure to keep my focus so no flame would touch her. She still hid her face against my neck when I stepped into the flames and out of the room, but she didn't let go, or scream. It wasn't exactly easy, getting out, the building was wooden, and falling apart already. So I held her tighter and began running, making use of my light body (as half elf, I was less dense than most races), my speed and agility to make it out. We made it out just in time.

There was a loud, awful sound right then, something I'd only heard once before, during the war, and a moment later the cars near me seemed to crumple. As if some giant, invisible hand had closed around them. And it didn't stop there. Buildings all around, the same began happening to them as the very foundations collapsed under a force that couldn't be seen. I could hear a woman still screaming, calling for her baby; though even louder was the voice of a man, there were no words with his voice, just a roar that I could almost feel in my blood. And then there was Mama:

"Magnus!" She was speaking Romani too, and straight to the man. "Magnus stop it! She's alive! I promise you! Your daughter is alive!"

Right on time, the little girl twisted in my arms.

"Dadro!" She cried out loudly.

She immediately began reaching for him, even as I tightened my own hold on her to keep her from falling.

"Anya!" The man cried out.

His whole demeanor changed in an instant, and I couldn't help but notice the way the rumble and the shifting of the ground stopped instantly. Whatever had caused all the destruction, he was the one behind it.

"Draga mea (my dear)!" The woman who had been wailing cried out as she hurried to her feet and towards me.

"Liebling (darling)." It surprised me, to hear the man use an endearment in German, rather than any of the languages the argument had been on, but I pushed it aside.

The two were instantly upon the child and I let her go then, going to stand by my mother. While I wasn't sure why we weren't leaving yet, it just felt right to stay.

"Thank you..." The woman eventually turned her attention to us. "Oh thank you so much!"

"It's our pleasure." Mama said very softly.

"I'm Magnus." The man announced, as he too turned his attention towards us. "Magnus Eisenhardt. My wife, Magda. And this little darling is our daughter: Anya. Thank you so much for saving her."

"I am Solovey, and this is Roza." Mama introduced us.

xXx

I was never fully sure how it happened, but we stuck together. The five of us, we left the small settlement together and walked for hours until we found a town far away enough that they were unlikely to connect us with the destruction, whenever someone finally came across it. Then… we just didn't left. Maybe it was destiny, or that saving a life created that sort of bond, we became almost like family.

There was trouble. I got a feeling that there had been trouble since before we left the village. At first I only noticed the little things: how Magda and Max never went to bed at the same time, how there were never any 'suspicious' noises. At first I thought that might be exactly the reason; we were renting rooms, one beside the other, that maybe they were embarrassed that we might hear them or something. Then I began noticing the bigger things: like how they never embraced, or kissed, never stood together; what was more, Magda seemed to avoid Max as much as she could through the day.

"She's scared of him." Mama finally told me one night, when I told her all the things I noticed.

I had forgotten, that as much as I might be able to see, she could also sense, and there was no lying or hiding things from her empathy.

"What Max did in the middle of his fear and hatred…" Mama exhaled, shaking her head sadly. "She's absolutely terrified of him. There's no doubt in my mind, she'll be running away, soon."

"What about Anya?" I worried deeply.

Would she try to take the girl with her? And how would Max react if she did that?

"I don't know." Mama admitted. "Magda cares for the girl, but I think she fears that Anya might turn out to be too much like Max."

"Bad temper?" I tried for levity and fell flat.

"Gifted." Mama corrected grimly.

"So what? She'll abandon her daughter because she might be gifted?"

"Keep in mind that the only example Magda has of Gifted right now is Max. And if I'm right, she discovered his Gift back in that village, when he destroyed it and killed practically everyone there. We might be willing to accept it, because he did it when he snapped, when those same villagers were willing to let Anya die, simply because her father was different. I… I don't agree with what Max did, but I understand him. Magda… she's not had an easy life. Max has been her security for so long, and now she feels she cannot trust him."

The worst part? I understood her too. It wasn't that she hated Gifted simply for being different, it was just that her discovery of such had been so traumatic, and with her past (being a survivor of the concentration camps…). Yeah, I could understand where she was coming from too, I had seen too much during the war myself.

"That's not all." Mama admitted.

Her tone alone told me I was really not going to like what came next:

"Magda's pregnant."

I was right, I definitely did not like that. It was one complication we did not need. Things being what they were, there was a chance Magda didn't know, and if she left as she was… aside from the fact that she was taking Max's children, what would she even do with the children? If she was even considering leaving Anya I very much doubted she would want to keep any other children of Max. Would she abandon them? Give them up for adoption? And to what kind of people? Or would she keep them? And if she did, would she fear them? Resent them? Worse? Too many options, and none of them were good.

"We cannot let Magda go." I blurted out. "Not with those babies."

Mama arched a brow, and it was until then that I noticed I'd spoken in the plural, and I hadn't the slightest idea why. I hadn't had any visions, but I knew it, instinctively, Magda was going to have twins… and they were going to be Gifted.

xXx

Magda did try to run. Mama stopped her. She never told me what she told her exactly, but Magda decided to stay. Even then, she told Max that she no longer wished to be married to him. She would wait until the twins were born, leave them with us, and then she'd leave. Max agreed. I wasn't sure if he even loved Magda anymore, if he ever had; but at least the knowledge that he'd get to keep his kids helped him.

Mama was with Magda while she gave birth, while I got to stay out with Max and Anya. We were all very worried as we had once again ended in a place where medical services weren't exactly the best; they still had midwives rather than doctors, then again, at least Mama and I were more used to dealing with the former than the latter.

It took several hours, but eventually Mama came out, expertly holding a twin on each arm.

"Max," She called with a gentle smile. "Come meet your children. Anya, these are your little brother and sister."

Carefully, she passed the boy to him, before leading Anya to one of the sofas, making sure she was sitting down, before placing the baby girl in her arms.

"Just hold her head like this." Mama guided her. "That's it, perfect!"

"What are their names?" I asked right away.

Max turned to look at Mama briefly and she shook her head in silence. I knew it had to be about Magda, and it didn't surprise me. She probably hadn't wanted to even hold the babies, I knew already she'd be leaving the following morning, chances were we'd never see her again.

"Well, this big boy is Pietro." He placed a kiss on the baby's head before whispering a prayer in Yiddish, then turned towards the girl still in Anya's arms. "And our newest princess is…"

"Wanda!" Anya cried out brightly.

The baby in question whined, seemingly about to start crying, causing Anya to snap her mouth closed hurriedly. Mama began humming softly then, an old melody, an elven lullaby, lightly gracing the back of the baby's head with her fingers even as Anya began shifting a bit, trying her best to rock her without risking dropping her. It worked, soon enough baby Wanda was deeply asleep again.

Max said nothing, just smiled, big and proud at his daughter. And when Anya raised her head to look at him and noticed, she smiled just as bright.

Max told me to hold Wanda then, while he gave Anya a chance to hold her little brother too. I did easily enough. Holding the baby girl… it was a wonder, I had no kids, obviously, and in all my centuries I'd never imagined myself as a mom, had never found someone who made me wish for marriage, much less motherhood. And it wasn't that just holding Wanda made me desire it but, it brought the idea of motherhood to my mind, and for a moment I wasn't sure how I should be feeling about it exactly.

Eventually Mama took Wanda, and Max asked me if I wanted to hold Pietro. I saw no reason not to, and I was curious, if it'd feel any different… I never expected what happened the moment the baby was placed in my arms:

It hit me with the force of a train, the exhilaration of jumping off the edge of a cliff, not quite knowing what might be at the bottom (I'd had to do that once, and thankfully there was water at the bottom), the terrifying uncertainty of arriving to a new place, not knowing how you might be received (which might have lessened with time, as we kept traveling, on and on, but it never truly went away, not completely).

A brunette boy, looking at the world with wonder, his auburn-haired sister always at his side… a boy whose hair keeps lightening in shade, even as his sister's becomes redder, discovering the world, both the good and the bad… the same boy, going into a sprint, a friendly race against other kids, to suddenly find himself miles from where he started, not knowing how it happened… constantly moving, never being completely safe… the father, and the godmother, always doing their very best to keep both the boy and his sisters safe…

And the boy is grown. He knows the world isn't perfect, isn't truly safe, but he's thankful nonetheless for all his family have done to keep him so. And when he looks at me (and I know it is me he's looking at) his eyes fill with a light I've seen in no one else:

"Ves'tacha (beloved)…"

I blinked, tears shining in the corner of my eyes as I pulled the baby closer to my chest for a moment, against my heart, before lowering my head to kiss his brow softly.

"Neshama (soul)…" I breathed out quietly. "I'll wait for you."

Then, before anyone could so much to think to ask what was going on, I carefully placed the baby in Max's arms, spun around, and fled.

Mama caught up with me, of course she did. Her eyes following me even as I began throwing things haphazardly into my knapsack.

"What's going on?" She asked eventually.

"I have to leave." I replied simply as I closed my bag. "I cannot stay."

"I can see that." She nodded evenly. "Why?"

"I…" I had all the intention to make up something, anything, until I saw her eyes, and then I deflated, letting myself drop onto the bed. "Pietro's my match."

She said nothing, just waiting, and I just couldn't hold back.

"I don't think it's supposed to be like this." I admitted quietly. "You've told me stories, and I've done a lot of research on the topic, in every Realm we've been to. Even with 'destined', the involuntary matches; the bond is only revealed suddenly when they're both mature enough to understand what it means, to embrace it. If they meet when they're too young they'll be friends, confidantes, as good as family, they'll be all to each other, but only as much as their minds can comprehend. Except… I'm centuries old while Pietro was just born!"

"You'd never do anything to hurt him."

"Of course not! That's not the problem here. The problem is that the moment I held him I had a vision, I saw him grow up. He and Wanda are going to be inseparable, and Anya will take very good care of them both. All three of them will always be very close, and even when they find out how cruel the world can be, they'll also understand how much you and Max have done to protect them, to give them the best possible lives, and they'll love you all the more for it."

"That doesn't sound like a problem."

"No, but my vision did not end there. I… I saw him, looking at me… he… it was the same way Papa used to look at you…"

I knew, of course I did. My visions weren't always of the future, or the present, sometimes they were of the past. I hadn't seen everything, but enough to know my father, and to know just how much he and my mother had loved one another… how much she still loved him (would always love him), and how fortunate Helena and I were that she loved us enough to stay.

"I'm afraid…" I added quietly. "I fear that one day I might look at that little boy, and expect to find a light in his eyes, that won't be there. Not yet. That wouldn't be fair on him."

"Or on you either." Mama replied kindly. "You're very brave my darling. I don't know that I'd have been strong enough."

"You are Mama. You are the strongest person I know. As for me… I've lived centuries, my whole life really, alone. I can wait a few years more."

It'd be worth it, I knew now what was waiting for me at the end of that path: my very soul.

"I'll make your excuses with Max." She assured me. "Go, take care of yourself."

"I will." I nodded. "We'll meet again soon enough Mama."

"Of course we will." She replied easily enough.

What was a couple of decades when we'd lived centuries? Granted, living in Midgard, where things happened so quickly, changed so fast, time no longer passed us by; but it didn't appear to last forever either. We'd been apart for much longer before, we'd handle it.

I was leaving the hostel when I heard Anya's voice, she was babbling at the babies. I wanted so much to look at her, sure she'd have a bright, precious smile on her face. But I knew if I did it'd only make it all the harder to leave, and I had to. It was the problem with being a Seer, I live as much in the Future (or the Past) as I do in the Present. I had no fear I'd do anything that might hurt my match, but he deserved to grow up, to become who he was meant to be, without having to wonder why I might sometimes stare at him, searching for someone who wasn't there. It might never come to that, but I wouldn't risk it, not for anything. So I walked away.

xXx Tinuviel's POV xXx

Trouble started when the twins were two. Or perhaps it would be more precise to say that trouble caught up with us when the twins were two. It was late in the night, it was raining. We were living in the outskirts of Prague, in the Czech Republic, renting a house, all of us together. To the community Max was the children's father, while I was their mother's sister. It was the easiest way to connect us while us two adults looked nothing alike. Thankfully, the fact that both Anya and Wanda were redheads, and my own hair was mahogany helped a lot.

Rose had left the same day the twins were born. It was relatively easy to tell Max and Anya that she'd had a vision that made it necessary for her to leave immediately, and while she'd be coming back, it was unlikely that it'd happen any time soon. The best part? Not a single word in all that was a lie, so there was no need to feel guilty at all.

We'd stayed in that particular village just long enough to make sure we wouldn't be putting the babies in any danger by traveling with then, then we moved. It had taken close to a year, moving from place to place, yet staying longer and longer in each place, until we finally decided to just stay in one place. Prague being our choice.

Until that night. It was late when Max finally got back home, it had been raining for hours. So it was no surprise to find him drenched to the bone. Anya had fallen asleep on the sofa while doing her best to wait up, worried about her dadro. I couldn't fail to notice the way he stood.

"What happened to you?" I asked in a whispered hiss, not wanting to wake up Anya.

She was so young, and yet she still did her best to help around the house, and to take care of the twins. I had taken it upon myself to school her, as we didn't exactly have the necessary papers to send her to school (and Max was too paranoid to let her go anyway).

"We need to leave Prague." Max announced. "Tonight."

"Max…?" I had a very bad feeling.

"Someone just tried to kill me." He explained grimly. "Or no, it was worse than that, they were trying to abduct me. On orders from Schmidt."

I swallowed. Of course I knew who Schmidt was. Max had shared his story and Magda's with both Rose and I early on. At least the basics. The rest had come after Magda had left, which was also about when I told him my own story, and that of my daughters.

"What does Schmidt want with you now?" I asked, feeling I wasn't going to like the answer.

"He never let me go." Max's answer was worse than I feared. "The Mine Chief in Ukraine? The one who refused to pay me what I was due because I supposedly stole it from others? He was sent by Schmidt too. The idea was to make me desperate, so when they offered me a way out, by going back to him, I'd take it."

"The… the children…" I gasped. "Do they know about the children?"

"They know about Anya." Max answered darkly. "Only, they think she died in Ukraine. They have pictures of you and the twins, but haven't quite managed to connect you to me just yet. Apparently they thought you might be Magda, they know I wasn't alone when I escaped the Camp. But they found Magda in France."

"Is she…?"

"They left her alone. She's of no interest to them. I am. And you, if they ever find out you're Gifted as well."

"If they ever come anywhere near me they'll discover that a thousand years do not pass in vain." I couldn't help it, I practically snarled.

"Tanti (Auntie) Solovey…?" Anya's sleepy voice pulled me out of my dark mood instantly.

"I'm here, my darling." I called softly to her. "Papa's home."

"Dadro!" Anya cried out brightly.

A look from me, told him all. We'd pack up and leave soon enough, but Anya had been worried about him and she deserved a moment of his time. It would be alright. We could be quick when needed. We'd be long gone by the time anyone came calling.

xXx

That was how it began, Max's life as a Nazi-hunter. Because he decided that if Schmidt was going to send people after him, and potentially after his family, then he'd be the hunter, rather than the prey. I changed my name: to Eos Eisenhardt, Anya becoming Willow Eisenhardt; the twins still had the same names, only changing surnames. Max for his part went back to his birth-name, that of Erik Lehnsherr, while he hunted Schmidt's cronies; while with us he used the name of Max (Maximus) Eisenhardt. It was Helena who got all of us papers, thanks to some contacts of hers, though she never met with us directly.

Five years later, in 1962, Erik went on a hunt, first to a bank in Switzerland, then to a bar in Argentina, before ending on a yacht off the coast of Florida. As for the children and I, we'd been living in Greece, near the coast, when Erik had first taken off for Switzerland, then we moved to Spain, where we stayed for several weeks, until he left Argentina for the States. It was then that I decided we might as well go to America and got us plane tickets to Massachusetts, where my eldest put one of her own safe-houses at our disposal.

It was something she and Rose had started doing at some point; because such a thing honestly never occurred to me. There were three places I'd considered as home in my life: Naneth's talan in Jewel Forest, the palace in Faerûn, and the Golden Palace in Asgard; and two of those places had never been mine. I wasn't sure how it had started, exactly, but I knew Rose and especially Helena, had a number of houses and apartments across the world that belonged to them. Such was the case of the small townhouse in Salem where we arrived.

And then Erik dropped off the radar. At first we didn't notice. The trip from Spain to the US had had more than a few delays and complications, so when we first got to Salem we were so tired I didn't pay attention to the fact that there were no telegrams, no letters, no calls. Then a day passed, and another, and on the third I realized something was definitely off. Thankfully that was when Erik finally deigned to get in touch, he actually phoned us.

"Eos…?" He asked the moment I answered.

"Erik?!" I exclaimed, very relieved. "By the Stars, it was about time. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to call in some reinforcements to track you down."

Because of course I couldn't have done it myself, I had to stay with the children.

"I am alright, I promise." He reassured me. "Things… didn't exactly go as planned, in Florida. I… it's a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say, I'm on the right track now."

"What does that mean?"

"We're after Shaw now. That's the name he goes by nowadays, Sebastian Shaw. He has others with him. He's planning… he plans to cause a new war. We're tracking him, are going to take him down. It will all be over soon."

I had no reply for several seconds. The blood in my veins had almost frozen solid at the thought of a new war. Hadn't two been bad enough?!

"Eos?" Erik called. "Eos answer me!"

"Another war…" I finally croaked. "Who would want that?!"

"Someone who thrives on other people's pain and tragedy." Erik answered grimly. "But we won't let it come to that. We will find Shaw. And I will kill him. I promise you Eos. He will be gone, once and for all, and then we'll all be safe again. You, and the children, we'll finally be able to live our lives in peace."

"You better not get yourself killed in this endeavor Erik. I will not forgive you if you do."

"I won't. And I'm not alone."

"That's a point I wanted to ask. Who's we?"

"Well… whether you believe it or not, I've made a friend. His name's Charles, he's Gifted too. A telepath… I don't like it much. The idea of someone in my head… not that I think he'd even want to be there, my mind is too dark a place for one such as him. Too good, too innocent."

"Do not put people on a pedestal Erik. You know how that can turn out. Just like I wasn't a noble, vulnerable princess, there may be more to your Charles than can be seen at first sight. And one thing I think you should consider. I am an Empath, and while I may respect your privacy, that doesn't stop me being one. I try my best not to use what I sense from you, but sometimes I just cannot help myself; sensing another's feelings is as much a part of me as breathing. Consider the possibility that it might be the same with your Charles's telepathy. If so, then asking him to stay completely out of your head might not be feasible, it might even be uncomfortable, if not outright painful to him. I'm not telling you to give him carte blanche to dive into your head. Just be understanding when it happens. Accept him, and all that makes him who he is, as much as it seems that he's accepted you."

"What makes you so sure he has?"

"You wouldn't be sticking around if he hadn't."

"True enough." He actually chuckled. "And he's not my Charles, you know?"

I said nothing about that, just chuckled to myself. I may not have been Rose, may not even be near enough him to be able to pick up on his feelings. But some things I could just feel…

xXx

Anya, Pietro, Wanda and I settled well enough in Salem and spent a nice, uneventful summer. Then, in October, we got one visit we weren't expecting. Things were a bit tense, what with the threat of Nuclear War (a Third World War! What the hell were humans thinking?! Hadn't they had enough of violence, and pain and pointless death?!). There was no reason to believe Shaw and his minions might have found us, but still I couldn't help but worry and stress out, things getting worse the longer we went without hearing from Erik (whom, I knew, wasn't calling to lessen the chance of us being found, but still). Anya picked up on my mood and became increasingly worried as well.

And then it happened. We had a pretty decent-sized back-yard and I'd been teaching Anya how to shoot a bow at her insistence. I also knew she was planning on asking her dadro how to use a gun, though that one might take longer; I wasn't sure Erik would be too willing to do it, at least not yet, seeing how she was barely thirteen and all.

I sensed the arrivals and couldn't help but tense up. Anya responded to my own tension, and then to the sound of a branch breaking. She spun around on the heel of one foot, finished drawing the bow, and shot an arrow. Which then stopped in mid-air, less than inch from a newcomer's body.

"Anya!" Erik and I cried out at the same time.

"That's remarkable." The man who'd almost been shot commented.

I could sense he was honestly fascinated, whether by Anya's marksmanship, Erik's skill with his own gift, or both at the same time I had no idea.

"Erik." I forced myself to focus. "I didn't know you were coming. Who's this?"

"This is Charles Xavier, I've told you about him." He informed me. "Charles, this is Eos. One of the four most important people in my life, and my dearest friend."

"Mrs. Lehnsherr…" He bowed his head at me, kissing the back of my hand.

I couldn't help myself, I snorted.

"Ma'am?" He inquired, clearly confused.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Xavier." I nodded calmly. "But you must know, I'm not Erik's wife. We're actually not related to each other at all, but if we were to choose, we'd be siblings. I've been helping look after his kids since the twins were born."

As if on cue the two rushed out of the house right then and straight to their father, demanding his attention for hugs, kisses and more.

"My apologies for the misunderstanding." Charles murmured apologetically. "I just thought… I didn't even know Erik had children."

"It's quite alright, and no one knows, really." I couldn't help but smile a bit at the hurt he couldn't fully hide. "Erik has spent the last five years, since a crazy Nazi sympathizer made the mistake of planning a hit against us in his presence, fighting to keep us all safe. For the most part that means no one knowing we so much as exist. He must trust you a lot, to bring you here. And I'm sure we both know how hard it is for Erik to trust…"

"I'm deeply honored, and very grateful, that he's decided to trust me." Charles admitted quietly. "He's the best friend I've had in my whole life."

I nodded at him, before deciding to focus on the matter at hand.

"Erik, as delighted as the children and I are to see you, why are you here exactly?" I inquired. "You are still much too tense for Shaw to have been dealt with already. Which means there's something else going on, what is it?"

He explained it then. The trip to Turkey, the disaster they found there, and the even worse one they discovered upon their return to Richmond. How the base was attacked, every single human killed, how one of their new students lost his life fighting back, while another chose to switch sides to ensure her own survival…"

"Stupid little girl." I couldn't help but mutter to myself.

Erik nodded silently. He knew what made me said that. We'd both seen it before, during the war (even if I had been technically unconscious for most of WWII, I hadn't been entirely unaware, and there had also been WWI), people switching sides, going to the Germans, believing it was their only true chance at survival. They thought that because they were the strongest at one point, it would remain that way. They thought that because they chose to serve, that they'd be protected in return. They didn't realize that the kind of men who would be willing to take them, to accept double-crossers, couldn't be trusted, for they were liable to be the same, or even worse.

"How bad is it?" I asked grimly.

"Unless we do something about it, there will be war." Erik admitted.

I couldn't help it, I dropped to my knees, tears falling from my eyes as I stared at my closest friend. I was terrified.

"No…" I gasped, horrified. "Not again. Max… I cannot go through that, not again."

I didn't even notice when I slipped and called him by his fake name, the one I'd known him by first. I was so distraught.

"It won't come to that." He assured me, dropping to his knees beside me and embracing me, the children following suit. "I promise you Eos, Shaw will not get away with this."

We stayed there, kneeling on the grass, for nearly a full minute.

"What happens now?" I asked eventually.

"Now, you all come with us." Erik explained. "Charles is allowing us all to stay at his estate. It'll be safer than here. I don't wanna risk Shaw finding any of you or, if he were to succeed…"

He didn't finish, and I didn't need him to. It was also until then that I remembered we weren't the only ones in that backyard.

"Thank you Mr. Xavier." I told him as I got on my feet. "I promise we'll be no bother, and if there's any way I can help, don't hesitate to ask."

"You are no bother Miss, and please call me Charles." He replied easily. "Now, I don't know how you might be able to help exactly but…"

"Erik didn't tell you?" I interrupted, then chuckled to myself. "No, of course he didn't. I'm Gifted myself. I'm primarily an empath, though I do have a few other tricks under my sleeve…"

As much as Erik might trust him, as much as my instincts might agree, I wasn't going to be telling Charles everything, not yet. The time would come. Still, that was enough.

"An empath?" He asked, fascinated. "Groovy… I've never met one. I'd be delighted to hear all about it, my dear."

I considered telling him that whatever I told him might not help at all, there was no way of knowing if humans with a gift for empathy would be in any way like me, but I wasn't sure he was ready to know about other Realms just yet. It had been hard enough with Erik so… I pushed the matter aside for the time being.

We were packed easy and fast enough (after all the years, we'd truly become pros at it). Anya was such a good girl, she never complained; and the twins were so delighted by the prospect of going with their papa that neither of them said a negative word about it. Soon enough we were on the military jeep Erik and Charles had appropriated at some point from the people they'd been working with (for?) before Shaw decimated the base and on our way to the Xavier Estate.

xXx

Everyone was watching out for us when we arrived to the Xavier estate. The property was huge and beautiful, it almost reminded me of my own estate in Jewel Forest, the only place I'd ever called home that had been truly mine. I knew that when people looked at me they didn't think much about me, I was just a woman in an old, plain green dress, nothing special. Anya called more everyone's attention if only for the way she ran all around, trying to take in everything at the same time.

"Who are you?" The pretty blonde girl asked, the only one apparently brave enough to go to us and actually ask the question.

"Raven!" Charles's explanation answered my own question about who she might be.

"I am Eos Eisenhardt." I introduced myself, then added, so as not to have more people calling me Mrs. Lehnsherr: "Erik's sister in all but blood."

"You're so cute!" Raven practically shrieked as she turned towards Anya.

"I am…" She broke off, turning to look at me, questions in her eyes.

"It's alright schatz (treasure), I trust them, they're friends." Erik nodded at her.

"Are they special, like dadro (papa) and tanti (auntie)?" Anya wanted to know.

"Yes, they're all very special indeed." Erik nodded.

"I am Anya Willow." The girl introduced herself with a bright smile. "I'm not special but I love meeting special people!"

"You're not…" Raven looked more than a little confused.

"She's not a mutant." Charles clarified. "She's Erik's daughter, as are the twins."

All eyes (not just Raven's, but also those of the boys who had finally dared approach, and a woman about Erik's and Charles's age standing in the back) turned to me.

"I'm not their mother, no." I shook my head.

"Mama did not want us because of what made us special." Anya said simply.

It pained me, that she knew that Magda had abandoned them and why. All the same, I would have never lied to her about it, it wouldn't have been right, especially because the truth had a way of coming out, always.

All eyes turned to Erik but he just looked at me, he just hated explaining things, but knew that the others would need to at least know the basics.

"Magda, the children's mother, she was Erik's wife." I explained as succinctly as possible. "She found out about Erik's ability in the worst possible circumstances. The town turned against them, Anya almost died, Erik killed people trying to save her… Roza and I got there just in time to get her out of the burning building before it was too late. Magda couldn't handle it. The only reason she didn't leave immediately was because she was pregnant and we knew the twins would be gifted. So she chose to stay only long enough to give birth, then left the twins with us and took off. We haven't seen her since."

"But what about Anya?" The oldest of the boys, asked.

"What about me?" Anya piped up. "I wanted to stay with dadro. And he said I could stay, even if I wasn't special like him!"

"You're very special schatz…" Erik assured her, picking her up. "Perfectly human as you are, you will always be special to me, and that's what really matters."

Everyone looked at Erik in shock, like they couldn't reconcile who he was in that moment, with the thirteen-year-old in his arms, with the man they had known the previous few months. I could only smile. Erik and Anya loved each other so much, and they obviously had missed each other. It made me feel that no matter what risks we might be putting ourselves in, joining their little group, it would be worth it.

xXx

For the first week or so of 'training' I did and said nothing at all. At the children's insistence I took over the kitchen when it became obvious that no one really knew much about cooking, except the kind of things that only needed boiling water and the like… everyone loved me for that, though I could tell they didn't think much of me. At least once a day Erik and I would look at each other and it took everything in us not to laugh.

Even Charles, who knew about my empathy, he seemed to have dismissed it completely, like it wasn't useful for what was coming their way and thus unimportant. The only thing that bothered me was the way even Agent MacTaggert dismissed me. She, who was perfectly human (as all but Charles and my little family believed me to be), who knew how hard it was to be a woman in a man's world… she too looked at me like I was less.

It was early on the eighth day of training that things finally changed. I was outside, with Anya, the both of us going through our Tai chi routine, as was tradition.

"So… what's so especial about that?" Alex Summers asked as he looked us up and down.

"Tai chi is a martial art." I explained calmly. "It's good defense training, it also helps promote health. I learned it from a master, many years ago. Anya has been learning for a few years now, as well as Jujitsu; they will serve as a basis once she's ready to learn other forms of combat."

"You would send your daughter to fight?" Moira asked, horrified, turning to Erik.

"Dadro's not doing anything!" Anya cried out immediately.

"I'd rather she never were in any danger." Erik said at the same time, more calmly than his daughter. "But she's already in danger, just being my daughter, just living in this world, puts her in danger. And so, I'll make sure that if she'll be in danger anyway, at least she'll have a fair chance. So yes, Eos teaches her Tai Chi, and Jujitsu, and archery. I've taught her how to throw a punch, to run, to blend in; one day I'll teach her how to fight dirty."

"And to shoot!" Anya added.

"And to shoot." Erik added, though it was obvious it cost him.

"I don't know how you think that kind of moves would manage much." Alex scoffed.

For all answer Anya rushed him. Alex didn't even know what was going on before he suddenly found himself on his back in the grass.

"Wha… that's not fair!" He cried out, jumping onto his feet. "I wasn't ready!"

"An enemy will not wait for you to be ready." Anya snapped at him, already on her guard. "You have to be ready, always."

"That's true." Erik nodded.

The blonde ended on the grass three more times in the following five minutes. He never could so much as get a hold of Anya. She was fast, agile and very slippery. Even if she didn't know much about fighting just yet, she knew enough. We all knew Alex was holding back, even when he did manage to get close, he didn't really want to hurt her, but then again, Anya did know some dirty tricks already, and she wasn't using those either. She knew Alex wasn't an enemy, but she still believed he needed to learn a lesson.

"You taught her all that?" Hank asked, looking at me with a mix of surprise and disbelief.

"I cannot believe it." Erik scoffed. "A whole week and you still think she's a weak little woman? What, you think she's just with my family because of how good she can cook?!"

I snorted at that, as did Anya.

"And it's not about being a mutant or not." Erik went on. "I've been hunting Nazis for the past five years, since they tried going after me, and my children! Most of the time I'm hunting down someone, she's the one who stays with them. Do you think I would trust my children, my greatest treasures in the world, to someone who couldn't look after them? Who wasn't strong and capable of protecting them from anyone, even Shaw if he came calling?"

That certainly made everyone take notice.

"Come on." Erik called, turning to look at me.

"What…?" I had a feeling what he wanted, yet wasn't sure yet.

"Lets show them how its done." He announced.

I didn't even try to stop him. Due to the training, I'd taken to wearing sweats, sleeveless tops and loose sweatshirts on top. I followed Erik to a wide expanse of grass, where I took off my shoes before dropping into a simple, defensive stance.

No words were said, no warning, nothing. One moment Erik was looking around, making sure we had everyone's attention, the next he was throwing himself at me, two punches followed by a kick. I reacted automatically, moving to a side to avoid his first punch, bowing my head to evade the second, before dropping to my knees and letting my body fold backwards to avoid the kick. The last move caused him to over-reach and before he could recover I was moving myself. Twisting slightly to the side to release my legs, which I then proceeded to use for a sweep in his direction. He barely managed to avoid me, going into a backwards roll so as not to end up sprawled on his back. And that was just the start.

Soon enough I stopped thinking about our audience. I stopped thinking about anything but the fight. It was something my match had taught me. To think of nothing but the moment I was in, to let my instincts guide me as I fought with everything I had.

It wasn't the first time Erik and I sparred. Before ever beginning his activities as a Nazi-hunter he made sure I had what it took to keep myself and the children safe. I had no idea what he'd have done if I hadn't proven to be up to the task, but thankfully we never needed to find out.

Right as when, during a normal spar, Erik would be calling on the nearest weapon (giving me just a fraction of a second to conjure something to fight back), instead he stopped completely.

"Halt!" He called strongly.

I froze, my body in an angle, one knee flexed, the other extended, one arm on guard while the other hand was on the ground. I had been about to pivot on it, using my extended leg to kick out at him before shooting up (using the hand on the ground to push myself into the air), flipping either onto him, or clear over him where I'd have been able to then attack his back. It was one of my more flashy moves, and a well-practiced one. Only possible at all because of how lighter my body was when compared to a human's, I knew others couldn't do it unless they had either a special ability, or very special training.

"I think we've proven our point by now." He said simply.

He probably knew what I'd been about to do and decided we'd shocked our audience enough for the time being.

"That was… awesome!" Raven practically shrieked, rushing towards me. "Can you teach me how to do that?"

"I can teach you a lot of things, but you have to do something first." I told her calmly. "Not for me, but for yourself."

"What?" She was confused by that.

"Be yourself." I said simply.

That truly seemed to throw them all for a loop.

When she didn't seem to get it I threw a two-punch-kick combo at her. She dodged the first punch, blocked the second, but the kick hit her. Then, I purposefully went to kick her again. In a second her whole body seemed to ripple, the blue-eyed blonde facade falling away to reveal a blue-skinned, red-haired woman with amber eyes who managed to catch my leg in the nick of time. She let go a moment later, as she realized what had just happened. Though, thankfully, she didn't force herself back to the facade.

"You have a remarkable gift for shapeshifting Raven." I told her kindly. "And I have no doubt that your facade has kept you safe for many years, out in the world. But in here you are among friends, among family. You don't need to hide here, no one needs to hide here. Which means you can be blue. You also need to understand that because your blonde form is not natural, it takes a degree of concentration for you to keep it up all the time. Concentration you're then not putting on fighting, or whatever else you might be doing at the time. That makes it dangerous for you to go into a fight like that. You understand?" I needed her to, needed them all to, it was important. "I can teach you a hundred battle-styles, thousands of moves, but they will all be useless if you're not a hundred percent focused when you go into a fight." I placed a hand on her blue, scaly skin, projecting as much serenity as I could without actually using my empathy on her. "Out there, among the baseline humans. Among those who aren't yet ready to understand how different some people might be. There you may use your facade. It will keep you safe. But here… here you don't need it. And when you are ready to go into a fight you shouldn't, it could mean the difference between victory or defeat; but more importantly, it could mean the difference between you living or dying… You understand?"

"I understand." She nodded.

Something shifted in her. Not something that could be seen, but I could feel it, the moment she took in everything I had just said and not just understood it, but made it a part of her. I wasn't sure how I knew it (I wasn't a precog after all), but in that moment I was sure fate itself had just shifted, for good.

It still took a few days to get Raven to find a balance between being blue, and still being decently clothed. Charles almost had an apoplexy with that one, while Erik couldn't seem to stop laughing at him… at least until I asked him what he'd feel if it were Anya… then he was all for Raven getting over herself and putting on some clothes already… and then Anya and I were the ones who couldn't stop laughing.

xXx

For a while being there in the Xavier estate, it almost seemed like we were in some kind of bubble, like the outside world couldn't touch us… of course, that couldn't last forever. Eventually the bubble burst. In our case with a speech made by Kennedy. There was a lot I didn't understand; but then again, even with all my years living in Midgard, sometimes human politics still escaped me. All I knew was that the fleets of two countries were heading for Cuba, WWIII would begin unless they were stopped; and since that was exactly what Shaw wanted, chances were he'd be there… which also meant we'd be right there too, as we were the only ones with any chance at stopping him and his group.

Anya was surprisingly understanding when we told her she couldn't join us. Even though she wanted to learn how to fight, wanted to help… she knew she was much too young and nowhere near ready to be part of the confrontation against someone like Shaw. So she'd be staying in the mansion with the twins, safe, awaiting our return.

On the night before we were to go off to war, it took Erik and I forever to get the kids to sleep, though it was then next to impossible for us to do the same. Which was probably not surprising, all things told. So he went to find Charles and play some chess, inviting me to join them for a drink. I agreed, though I wanted to find Moira, have a little chat with her first. I had been wanting to talk with the woman all week, but it just never seemed to be the right time for it. Also, the one time I'd gotten close to actually talking to her I'd gotten an unexpected long-distance call… from Rose. She was in Moscow, doing her best to keep things from getting worse than they already were. I had no idea what she was doing exactly, and I didn't want to. At least she could assure me that if we managed to get things under control in Cuba, that was as far as the Russians would be taking things. She also let me know Helena was handling things in Washington.

While that certainly reassured me, at least enough to know that once we dealt with Shaw and his Hellfire Club the two countries wouldn't go and unleash war upon us all anyway. There was still the matter of Moira though, and time was running out, so it was then or never.

I found her on the back porch, with a glass of red-wine.

"It would seem no one around here is getting any sleep tonight." She commented when I sat on the chair beside her.

"Not really that surprising, considering what we know we'll be facing tomorrow." I replied.

"True." She agreed, taking a sip of her wine. "I imagine it's not a coincidence that you came here now. As you usually prefer Erik's company, or Charles's. So, what is it?"

"It's nothing against you, I assure you." I told her right away. "But yes, I was looking for you now." I took a deep breath. "Have you thought about what you'll be doing once this is over?"

Moira blinked, seemingly not understanding the question.

"Tomorrow we'll avert WWIII." I explained. "I have no doubt about that, because none of us will settle for anything less. I know Charles has great plans for the future, and Erik and the kids will all be helping him with that. As will I, of course. But have you thought about what you'll be doing then?"

"Are you sending me away?"

"Not at all. I have the utmost respect for you Moira… not so much for your superiors. The mere fact that you've been here the last two weeks and we haven't so much as heard a word from your superiors tells me a lot. It tells me that either they have no idea what's going on with you, and with us, or they're conveniently ignoring us all for the time being. The former means that they'll all be getting a hell of a wake-up call tomorrow, and it'll be a coin-toss whether they'll support us or turn against us; the latter means that they're waiting until it's all said and done either to try and use us, or to get rid of us. None of those are options I like. Most of them leave us with no option but going to ground and hope they'll not try and come after us… I think we both know how things will end if they try that. I know you've researched Erik enough to have an idea what he's capable of when those he cares for are threatened. He became the most fearsome Nazi-hunter in order to keep his three children safe, what do you think he'll do to protect not just them, but everyone else in this mansion right now? What do you imagine Charles will do?"

I didn't mention myself but she was a clever woman, I was sure she could read between the lines.

"I didn't actually expect an answer right now." I went on. "But I do think it's something you need to think about. Like I said, I'm not sending you away. I think you're a remarkable woman Moira. You could do great good with us, and also with the CIA. In the end it'll be up to you, what path you choose to walk. But I think it'd be better if you stop and think about it, make your choice calmly now, rather than when time's finally run out on us all. We could use the help of someone like you, no doubt about it. But it's not easy, being a baseline human among gifted; and it will be especially complicated, as long as the world at large isn't ready to know the truth. Only you can know how much you're willing to sacrifice. In the end, the choice is yours."

"I will think on it." She assured me eventually.

I nodded, turning around to leave her to do the thinking on her own.

"Eos…" She called just before I went back inside. "Thank you."

I bowed my head briefly, then left her.

Neither Erik nor Charles noticed when I slipped into the library. There were drinks on the table in between their two armchairs, and a half-finished game of chess, though they appeared to be completely lost in their chat/argument for the time being. I said not a word, just stood in a corner of the room, watching, listening, until they got to what seemed to be the biggest disagreement between them both:

"After tomorrow they're gonna turn on us." Erik was saying. "But you're blind to it, because you believe they're all like Moira, like Anya."

"And you believe they're all like Shaw." Charles said in return, his demeanor going completely serious, almost grim as he added: "Listen to me very carefully my friend… killing Shaw will not bring you peace."

Erik took a deep breath, I knew he was fighting against his instincts to lash out. Charles may have been a good man, but he'd managed to miss the point completely, and it was taking every ounce of Erik's patience (most of which I was sure he'd only learned having to deal with me and the kids over the past seven years…) not to say the first thing that came to his mind, which wouldn't have helped any, and might have created a chasm between the two men nothing would have been able to bridge over, not in time. So I decided to step in.

"Charles, you are a good man, there's no doubt about that, the way you want to help everyone, not just gifted, but baseline humans is commendable." I told him with a kind smile, before turning on the other hand. "At the same time, you're so terrible naive that it actually frightens me at times. Erik… you know I admire your tenacity, your strength; you also know I hate the way you sometimes allow the darkness in your past to guide you. It's dangerous, and it could lead you down a path I will not follow, and I certainly won't let the children either."

Erik bowed his head soberly; we'd had talks on that same topic in the past. I was quite sure the only reason he hadn't allowed those same shadows to take him over already were Anya and the twins. Anya especially, the fact that she was his daughter, she loved him, and was so very human… it had been the wake-up call Erik so dearly needed at the lowest point in his life. Knowing he couldn't go into an us-and-them mentality, not with Anya there with him.

Charles just stared at me, mouth slightly open, blinking, it was obvious he didn't quite know what to say to my words.

"You say killing Shaw will not bring Erik peace, but it will." I clarified. "It will bring peace, not just to him, but to me, to the children, to all of us."

"Eos…" Charles began.

"I… I have no idea what kind of life you've lead Charles." I did my best to present my point of view. "Though I'm quite sure it wasn't quite as perfect and pampered as many would believe, as a place like this would make them think. I know because I can feel it in you. I don't need to go deep into your heart, to invade your privacy, you project it, much like I'm sure we all project some of our surface thoughts most of the time. Until very recently this place wasn't home to you. Even now, I have a feeling it's only become home because we're all here, rather than because of the place itself."

"That's true." He admitted.

"And are you willing to allow that home to be threatened simply so you won't have the death of someone, even a man as despicable as Sebastian Shaw, on your conscience?" I challenged.

Again, he seemed to have no words.

A wave of my hand was enough for a nearby chair to rise a few inches into the air and then float to us before settling down again, close enough for me to sit on it. Charles's eyes widened; it was the first time I used magic in his presence, at least in such a way that he knew for sure it was me. I didn't allow him to focus on that, as I had much more pressing matters to focus on, like what was going to happen in the morning.

"I'm going to tell you a little story Charles, and I need you to listen, really listen." I informed him. "A long time ago, there was a woman called Amora. She wan an Enchantress, and a very powerful one. She could have had a great life, gold, admiration, a good consort, everything. But she fancied herself in love with the crown prince. She sought him, and when he turned her down, she insisted. She was willing to use everything at her disposal, even the darkest of arts to get him into her bed, to make him her consort. Her plans were discovered in the nick of time by a young princess, the wife of the crown prince's younger brother. Amora was stopped, but instead of giving up, instead of seeing the error of her ways, she decided the princess was to blame for her situation. She tried to kill the princess, more than once. The last attempt almost killed the princess, her husband arriving just in time. He saved her… and it cost him his life. Leaving the young princess a widow with a young daughter and an unborn child."

Charles was practically gaping at me. It was obvious he hadn't the slightest idea of what the point of the story was, or why I was even telling it, though it had managed to enthrall him nonetheless.

"Amora was arrested." I went on.

"Arrested, not killed?" Charles interrupted.

I nodded, wondering if he was beginning to draw the parallels. Erik said nothing, he knew the story, though never before had I told it in quite that way, or with that level of detail.

"That was pretty much the princess's reaction." I agreed. "Which she went and expressed to the King, Queen and Crown Prince, at length. She was told that Amora deserved a proper trial. What no one, not the Royal Family, not the young princess, were expecting, was when Amora chose that precise moment to make her move. She freed herself from her chains and rushed the young princess, and when the princess defended herself and lethally wounded Amora, the Enchantress used her last breath and the power of her own death to curse the princess. Cursed her to be forgotten by those she saw as family, to never have a home again. See, the princess was not from that Kingdom, she was from another Realm and only there because she married the prince. Amora's curse made it so everyone forgot she'd ever been married to the prince. She lost her family, lost her home. She and her daughters were left to wander, alone…"

"Eos…" Charles was clearly speechless.

"I was that princess." I finally threw the bomb. "I was known as Tinúviel, wife of Loki, back then. My match gave his life to save me and our unborn daughter from Amora's curse. They let her live, even after she took Loki from me, from all of us. And because of that, she got the chance to curse me, and my daughters. We've spent the last… more than eight hundred years now, wandering. We have no home. I don't even know if there's a way to break Amora's curse. I do know that it could have all been prevented if someone had just killed Amora when they had the chance, when they caught her after her attack on us… I've felt, on my own flesh, and that of my own daughters, the consequences of not eliminating your enemies when you have the chance. I will not allow it to happen again. The question is, will you? Will you let Shaw keep breathing and risk him killing even more innocents, risk him coming after you, after your children, next? What is more important for you Charles, your conscience, or the safety of those you care for?"

"It's no contest." Charles finally answered after what seemed like forever. "Because if by my action or inaction I were to cause any kind of hurt to any of the children… I'd never forgive myself. My conscience could never be clean then. I'd rather stain my hands with Shaw's blood, than with that of anyone else he kills."

And just like that, with that one choice, fate shifted, again…

xXx 3 rd  Person POV xXx

The next morning the Fleets of two of the most powerful countries in the world, witnessed things they could have never imagined possible. They had gone there expecting it to be the opening salvo of a new war, a confrontation none of them truly expected to survive. Instead they ended witnessing a fight that would go down into legends, between beings they could hardly believe to exist. It was the kind of thing that seemed to almost have been pulled out of the pages of old books, old myths. Yet it was all so very real.

They witnessed a man pulling a submarine out of the sea through the strength of his own will (and power over magnetism); witnessed devils, fairies, beasts and flying children fighting all around among themselves; witnessed the elements bending to one or more of them in different ways. Witnessed one group defeat the other and, instead of seeking a new enemy, stand down, satisfied by what they had achieved, by averting a war…

And then, when their own governments chose that very moment to forget their past enmity and turn on those who had just saved them all, they witnessed how one man stopped a hundred missiles in the air, before disabling them into useless pieces. Then they heard the voice of the second man inside all their heads, informing them of what had just taken place, giving them a chance to turn away, to leave them in peace. And when that wasn't enough, they witnessed a third person, a young woman, stand in between them and wave her hands before their own ships began sailing away without any of their input.

Legend was made that day, the legends of Professor X, Magneto, Hekate and the children behind them, their X-Men. Though… no one really knew what their real names might be, for any of them, if they even had normal names at all. Where they'd come from, where they'd gone from there, nothing at all.

Days later, in the main Meeting Room of the CIA HQs a very important (and top secret) meeting was taking place. Director McCone and his top-ranked men were debriefing Agent MacTaggert upon her return from wherever their assets had gone after the utter destruction of Division X. Or at least, they were trying, which wasn't exactly easy considering the woman apparently couldn't remember a thing about Cuba, or the two weeks she'd been absent before that:

"All that time wiped clean from your mind. Just gone." The Director stated in disbelief. "He can do that? You don't remember anything?"

"Sometimes I get fragments." Moira murmured in her most empty tone. "Like...trees, sunlight, screams, a kiss…"

The last one was probably too much, but then again, she had a part to play. It had been her choice. Even if it would cost her on the short-term, she believed it was worth it.

"Oh, Jesus!" McCone explained. "Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman."

Just a few words, and they saw her as little more than a secretary, again… It irked her, yet she knew it was the best course of action. They would demote her, and she'd have to fight her way back up, but that was alright. She knew she could do it. Soon enough they'd forget about her, would see her as non-important. And that was when her plan would really go into effect. After all, no one would ever expect a woman who had lost so much because of the mutants, to be spying on the CIA for them…

It wouldn't be easy, and there would likely be times when she would doubt herself, but she didn't fully trust the government anymore. And as much as she would have liked to just walk away, she knew she could do more good right where she was, so she stayed. Moira MacTaggert had chosen the path she'd walk, for her friends, for her chosen family; and she wasn't one for regrets.

Chapter Text

Balance

For every dusk there is a dawn, for every wrong there is a right.

xXx Meril's POV xXx

When the photo came across my desk, I was already expecting it. I was in Moscow, where I'd been for a few months, doing my best to undo what damage Shaw had done in his dealings with some members of the Russian High Command. They knew me as Roza, a Fire Elemental. Some listened to me because they believed I was some envoy from god, there to help 'Mother Russia' rise again; others simply believed that I'd grant them power, like Shaw had for a while. All I wanted was to ensure there would be no war.

I had been through enough. Two World Wars were enough for anyone. Human memories seemed to be so short. So many men in power who convinced themselves that they could do what their predecessors hadn't, that they could have power, could push further, and things wouldn't go as terribly wrong as they had in the past… with every war and every revolution. Too short their memories were.

As for me… I'd never forget the sound of my mother's psychic scream, the first time so many lives were lost in a short period of time, in one of the German's camps. Would never be able to forget the taste of her horror, her desperation. My empathy was very little, compared to her, and even then, her emotions had hit me in such a way, nothing would ever be able to compare. If I never had to feel such despair again I would be happy enough.

The photograph itself was of terrible quality, probably taken from one of the ships, all blurry and unfocused. All one could really make out were a bunch of people on a half-destroyed beach, and the fact that there were three standing at the front, facing the sea (the fleets), two men and one woman, wearing identical blue and yellow bodysuits. According to the notes the first male, the taller one (by four or five inches), with short dark mahogany hair was tagged as Magneto, he was said to have stopped at least a hundred missiles and disabled them completely. The second male, with floppy, chestnut brown hair was Professor X, he was the one who'd spoken into everyone's minds, asking them to leave that beach, to leave them alone. The woman, the shortest of the three, with her dark auburn hair in a tight braid, tagged as Hekate; according to the notes she was the most terrifying of the three as, when the fleets wouldn't move, she sent them away. Made their ships turn and sail away, towards their respective countries.

If only they knew, that any of the three could have done exactly that, though the men probably wouldn't have been as nice. That was probably why Mama did it, she chose to play the part of the overprotective mother, to make any possible future enemies think twice before going against them; without actually hurting anyone. If Magneto had turned those missiles on the fleets, or if Professor X had gone into their heads and forced them to do things… that would have been a direct attack, the first salvo in a new war. Hekate never touched them, she just sent them away, and in such a way that no one could be sure she'd done anything other than turn their ships around and then left them to do the rest. It was seen as defense, rather than attack, though with enough power behind them that people would think twice, and more, before daring to go against the newly formed X-Men, or any other Gifted.

It wouldn't be the end, of course not, it was just the beginning, but one that gave me more hope than I'd felt at any other point since first arriving to Midgard all those years prior.

Things weren't all perfect, of course not. The picture was blurry enough that no one would be able to identify any of those in it just with that, they had no names, and it would stay that way. Helena had made sure that what files might have survived Shaw's attacks, none would have any names, nothing more than the code-names the self-named Mystique had given them. I had no idea who exactly decided to make Mama into the goddess of magic… but it was fitting, somehow, a tribute not just to herself, but to Papa, to his magic that still ran under her skin, that she learned to wield like it was a part of her.

I like to believe that my presence in Russia helped, that it made things better for Gifted. Those with authority began seeking the youngsters with power, less to control them, and more to ingratiate themselves to them, courting their favor. It wasn't always like that, but after I had to 'express my displeasure' a number of times, they seemed to understand. There were those who tried to have me killed, of course, when I refused to agree with them and they decided that my power was not worth it; but they never knew all about me, they knew I could control fire, but not that I was fire, that it was as much a part of me as the blood in my veins. And none of them ever knew I was also a Seer. So no matter how hard they tried, they could never really take me down.

Eventually I left them. Not long after the Vietnam War began… it wasn't quite as bad as the WW, but still a war. I heard whispers about some governments using their own gifted, trying to get an advantage over their enemies. I couldn't stop that from happening, but I couldn't just leave them alone either. So I shed my last identity, stepped into the jungles and began making a new name for myself, a legend all my own…

xXx Helena's POV xXx

When the name 'Rose of Chaos' first came across my desk I didn't pay it much attention. The number of Gifted kept growing, and while some had proven to have considerable power, and there were those whose intentions might not be so good, humanity as a whole hadn't had any trouble. Not with the X-Men policing mutants, helping them and stopping them as needed; not with the Triumvirate in charge.

It was almost funny, because there were all kinds of rumors about those three. About the possible relationships between two, or even the three of them. The part that caused me no end of mirth was that while most were very sure that the young woman was related to one of them and married to the other, or they might possibly be all together in some way or another… it never occurred to them to believe that the men might be the ones in the relationship, with Hekate nothing more than a dear friend, sister-by-choice to them. Then again, it was the 1960s and homosexuality was seen as a crime in most countries, so that might be why.

That was probably the one thing I missed about the other realms. In Nidavellir, males taking another male as a partner was as normal as them taking a female, and while the fact that there were fewer females than males might be part of it, I knew it wasn't the only factor (though it might have helped into making it so easily accepted). Alfheim did not seem to have concepts of heterosexuality and homosexuality, an elf chose their partner for many reason, but their gender was unimportant, especially when it came to matches. While Jotnar and Eldojotnar did not even have genders as such. Finally, Vanaheim and Asgard never really talked about it, but everyone knew it happened anyway.

I didn't actually pay attention when the code-name 'Rose of Chaos', or sometimes simply Chaos-Rose, began crossing my desk (by then I was working in a top-secret, believed-abandoned, old SSR base; the only person who even knew about me was Director Marge Sholto); with the War in Vietnam there were a good number of Gifted going around and most weren't that impressive. The biggest fight I had on my hands was when Bolivar Trask tried to make his own experimentation on gifted legal and even government funded. Thankfully Meril had managed to warn me about it on time for me to cut him off before any innocent lives had been lost. It required me making a few promises to certain people in power… but I believed it to be well worth it with all the lives that taking out Trask in that moment (before the rise of Trask Industries, before the creation of the Sentinels, before the government had reason to turn against mutants) would save in the long run (hundreds, thousands… possibly the whole world, according to one of my little sister's vaguer visions)… even if that meant that one day I would have to answer a call from the Director of SHIELD.

Back then the most I ever did for SHIELD was when we began hearing whispers of HYDRA enduring, burrowing itself into organizations and governments. I didn't even see that as work, but as my right. I was there, when the battle took place, when the world believed HYDRA defeated, when we thought we had won… I refused to allow all those fights, all the sacrifices to be in vain. And while I couldn't actually go and hunt them down myself, my own vow making such a thing impossible, I could set up things against them as much as possible. The right whispers in the right (or wrong, depending on one's point of view) ears made it so spies were found, some people had all kinds of 'accidents', were 'made' when it should have been impossible. And when coincidence simply wasn't enough, I called on old friends. The Commandos all felt like I, they were all more than willing to do anything to make sure our enemy would not be rising again on our watch.

I did not actually know my own sister was the famous Chaos-Rose until I learned of the murder of Major William Stryker (that one was not on me, though as I found out later, HYDRA had been close to approaching the man for recruitment). The official version said that some secret project the Major had been working on in (the supposedly abandoned) Three Mile Island had gone wrong and it had ended with the man's death and the place in such bad condition that they couldn't even send a team to investigate. The truth, as Marge herself revealed to me, was that Stryker had been doing something so terrible they wanted no one to so much as get a whisper about it. They had reason to believe that he'd been just in the planning stages, though still, that was probably why no one was trying too hard to find whoever was responsible for his death.

Rose herself told me the truth. Told me what the man had been working on, his team of gifted who had been little more than mercenaries, and how much worse it would have gotten in the next five years, all the lives that would have been lost, starting with Stryker's own son. A young gifted boy who in that moment was in the Xavier Institute. When Mystique picked him up following the mother's funeral, Stryker had believed that the Institute would 'cure' his son of his 'freakishness'; upon finding out the truth he would have demanded his son be returned to him. Xavier, unable to do anything about it without getting himself and the whole Institute into trouble, would have let him go, and then Stryker would have decided to use the boy's gift for his own benefit, no longer seeing him as a boy but as a tool. And it wouldn't have ended there.

"I know you made a vow that prohibits you from killing any being who possesses a soul." She murmured softly. "But even if you tell me that Stryker had a soul… to me he was a monster, the worst kind, and he would have been responsible of so many deaths of innocents…" She seemed to get lost in her own memories, probably of some vision or another for a moment. "So I cannot say I regret what I did."

"You need to be careful sister." I told her in return, worried about her rather than her actions. "The more the world knows about you, the more dangerous it becomes for you."

"I will always stand for what's right, fight for those I believe deserve it." She said in return. "I will not stand down, will not turn my back on those who might need me. It's not who I am Helena. And I know it's not who you are either. We are who we are, even if we're separate for now, even if we've stopped wandering for the most part, we, all three of us, still are who we've always been: the Gypsies… the Thalill…"

She was right, of course. No matter how many years I, any of us, stayed in one place, how long we spent apart, we would never really change. We remained true to ourselves and our choice to do what was right, always.

xXx Tinúviel's POV xXx

A lot changed for us, after Cuba. I never expected to become a public figure, sure I'd left that all behind along with my old crown and the name of Tinúviel (princess of Alfheim and Asgard…). Then again, I didn't go into things seeking any kind of power, authority, nothing at all. I didn't take the role of leader, they made me into that. In between the photograph someone in one of those ships took of the three of us, standing together on that beach; and the fact that, while not much was known of us, everyone had been able to tell that we were the eldest in the group, and thus the ones most likely to be the leaders. Also, according to the newly-minted X-Men, and Anya, there was just something about me that screamed 'Mom', which apparently was only right, since Charles and Erik had made themselves into the fathers of the group.

The name Hekate… I was never sure where it came from exactly. The kids had taken to jokingly calling me 'goddess' when realizing I could cook up a meal for everyone, diffuse an argument between Charles and Erik and keep an eye on the twins (and Sean, because sometimes he could be worse than even them, and they had yet to turn eight!), all at the same time. I still had no idea when or who had made the leap from that to Hekate, only found out when Moira first dropped by for a visit after starting the ruse that she'd been made to forget everything after the attack on Division X HQ (though Charles had done something to her mind that, in case of an emergency she just needed to think of a number of things in a specific order and a 'safeguard' of-sorts would be activated, truly erasing all those memories from her mind; of course, that was a last resource). She had told us about the photograph and what little those at the CIA knew and/or guessed about us. And while I certainly felt that naming me after the Greek goddess of magic and crossroads was a tad much (nevermind that I was technically a Goddess, that of Compassion, even if no one is Asgard so much as remembered my name anymore), a part of me liked it, felt that the name was a way of honoring my match, I could never be against that.

There was only one really big fight we all got into back in the sixties, nearly a year after Cuba. President Kennedy was one of a kind, not only had he dealt with the aftermath of the mess in Cuba, but he actually seemed supportive of mutants. We had it on good authority that he was a mutant, as was his brother, and there were people trying to kill him for that very reason. It was why Erik wanted to follow him, keep an eye on him, just in case. Charles wasn't exactly against it, though I knew he hated the fact that they couldn't just both go (someone needed to stay in charge at the Institute and while I was really good with the younger children, the older ones were another matter entirely; also, unlike Charles I did not have the kind of name, money or influence necessary to deal with all the bureaucracy that came with opening a brand new, very exclusive, private school). We were trying to find a compromise that made everyone happy when I got a frantic call from Rose warning me that if Erik left we wouldn't see him again for nearly a decade and everything we were trying to build would be forever ruined. I knew Charles would only be able to think of one way to stop him, and Erik would never forgive him if he used his telepathy like that, so I decided to take it on myself.

The night before he was supposed to leave, I made sure to actually sing a lullaby to put the twins to sleep, I also made sure that Erik would be listening, and infused it with all my magic. Neither of the three woke up for nearly 36 hours, and by then it was already too late. Charles was actually worried at first, as I hadn't told him what I was doing, not even about Rose's call, until it was already all said and done.

When he finally woke up, Erik was furious, he refused to believe that there was nothing he could have done, wouldn't speak to me for days, until Anya set him straight:

"I don't want you to go dadro!" She cried out to him. "Tanti says sometimes you have to go away because you want to protect people, want to make sure no one else will lose their dai (mama) like you lost yours, but what happens if they take you away forever? Dai did not want us, you are all we have, dadro, I don't want you to go away and then never come back. You are all we have! Tanti is really nice, and so is unchi (uncle) Charles, and everyone else, but you are dadro, you are our father, you and no one else! I don't want to lose you!"

Erik threw himself to his knees then, embracing Anya tightly, not knowing what to say. Especially when the twins rushed into the room from wherever they might have been earlier and joined the hug with almost enough force for them all to end sprawled on the carpeted floor.

"I promise you liebling (darling), I will always come back to you, always." He whispered into her auburn hair eventually.

Nothing more was said about the trip to Dallas that never happened, after that day, or Kennedy's assassination. Thankfully, even if the next president didn't exactly do much to help us, neither did they try to move against us, so that was good enough for us.

And then came the war (how I hated war, it's probably the worst thing to ever exist!)…

The Vietnam War changed us all. It took all Erik and I had, same as the children, to keep Charles from falling into despair as, one by one, we lost most of the Institute's staff and first generation of students as they were drafted. Even Alex and Sean were called.

It was Raven's idea to follow them in order to keep them safe. So we perfected a plan. We were too well-known for all of us to disappear at the same time. Even though the government had kept their distance from us, Charles, Erik and I were known as the triumvirate, I was sure they kept notice of us whenever we left the estate to recruit, rescue vulnerable mutants or to stop those who might be using their gifts to commit crimes and hurt others. So we couldn't all disappear.

Since it was her idea, it was Raven who took point, Azazel, Emma and a newly returned Darwin with her. They would make incursions into the Vietnamese jungles, rescuing the gifted injured, abandoned, left to die; and sometimes humans in the same condition too. They also went and rescued those who were being 'used' by their superiors. When necessary it was easy enough for Azazel to teleport back to Westchester and get me so I could heal someone, or Charles when Emma's powers weren't enough, or Erik when they needed more power.

We came across the legend of the Rose of Chaos several times, but across Meril herself only once. Erik tried to convince her to go back with us, but she was much too dedicated to what she was doing, and too used to working on her own, so while she did go back to help Mystique on a number of occasions, I wasn't around for any of those.

Kurt Azrael Darkholme was born in the Fall of 1972, on the day of the Autumnal Equinox (or, as we had called it in Alfheim, Mabon). He was born months after the death of his father, Azazel, who sacrificed his life to protect his lover and the young children she'd been guarding from both American and Vietnamese soldiers at the time. He never even knew she was pregnant, Raven herself hadn't known until after that.

Charles tried to convince her to leave Vietnam, first when she began showing, and then when Kurt was born, but she refused. She needed to finish what she'd begun, felt like she wouldn't be at peace otherwise. So she left Kurt with us and went back to her mission. Thankfully the war ended less than five months later. She arrived to the mansion with her team, Alex, and a number of members of his own unit that had nowhere else to go. Sean had been back for over a year, since being honorably discharged over an injury to his leg that left him with a permanent limp (I had been nowhere near for that and by the time he made it to us there was nothing I could do).

When Irene Adler arrived, things got interesting. Raven hadn't been in love with Azazel, nor him with her; in her own words, they had been friends and a safe outlet for each other. Irene… she was Raven's match, I knew that from the moment the young blonde arrived to the Institute. She needed no education, or training, she was a precog, and good at it. The problem? She was so used to seeing the future, she was actually quite insecure about the present. It took Raven walking straight to her and kissing her right on the mouth (so unexpectedly I was quite sure Irene could have never seen it coming, no matter how powerful she was), for the younger mutant to see that the shape-shifter loved her too.

On 1975 Anya married Johann Reynolds, a Vietnam Vet Alex had served with, whose younger sister Vera was a mutant and attending our school (one of the few with human family who didn't just know the truth about their gifts but were fully supportive). A year later she gave birth to their first-born, a perfectly human boy they named Django Maximilian Reynolds. Seven years later Nina Solovey Reynolds was born, as perfect as her big-brother, though as Hank's test showed: she possessed the mutant gene.

"Is that bad?" Django asked innocently when he first heard about the test and how the results were different from his. "For her? Or for me?"

"There's absolutely nothing wrong, little one, with either of you." Erik assured him vehemently. "You are perfect exactly the way you are. You and your sister both."

"But Nina is a mutant, and you are a mutant… and I'm not." Django murmured, nervous.

"Yes, just like Pietro and Wanda are mutants, while Anya isn't." Erik reminded him. "I love all three of my children equally. Just like your mom and dad love you and Nina equally regardless of who is gifted and who isn't. We're all still family, we will always be family."

"Okay." Django nodded, confident once again.

I couldn't help but wonder what might have happened in another world. One where he didn't have Erik there to reassure him when necessary. Thankfully it wasn't something I needed to focus on for long, because Erik was right there, as were the rest of us. Things were always getting a tad crazy around Westchester but that was alright, that was life for us and we loved it.

I loved those children like they were my own family, my own grandchildren, just like I loved Anya and the twins as much as I loved my own daughters. It didn't make me forget what I had lost, the love of my existence, but it allowed me to be content with my own existence. I still hoped one day my beloved and I would meet again, but I could wait. His magic running beneath my skin and our daughters would forever remind me of him, of our bond and the love we shared, I could wait until he was ready to return to me.

xXx Meril's POV xXx

Pietro found me sometime in the mid-to-late eighties (I stopped keeping track of the date at some point). It was entirely accidental, at least on my part. I consciously chose to walk away, to isolate myself from everything and everyone. The vision I had back in Wakanda… I had once gotten a glimpse into a possible end of the world, and even that wasn't as bad as what I witnessed that night in my dreams. The things Stryker was planning… and it all would start the moment he got his hands on his son. I couldn't allow it.

I felt so bad about the way I woke up everyone in the palace with my screams, but King T'Chaka understood, I was almost as much a figure of legend in Wakanda as the first Black Panther. Everyone knew I had helped past kings throughout the years, I had a standing invitation to spend time in Wakanda whenever I wanted, even had my own cottage on the outskirts of the capital, and a set of rooms in the palace. Not that I used them that often, but sometimes I just wanted time off, to be somewhere where I could disconnect from the rest of the world, where I didn't have to feel like the fate of the world depended on me. It was insane, of course, but thus was the curse of being a Seer who chose to live history rather than stand aside and watch it pass me by. I felt responsible for every thing I did, and every one I did not as well.

The vision that night, it showed me a level of depravity, of wickedness I would have believed impossible until that day. I never told anyone what I saw, but there must have been something in my eyes, for King T'Chaka asked no questions, just put his fastest plane at my disposal, with instructions to one of his best pilots and a team of warriors to go with me and assist me in any way necessary. He also promised me that I would always have a home in Wakanda, whenever I chose to return (I was sure he knew it wouldn't be any time soon).

We made it to Three Mile Island just in time. Razed the place to the ground. I killed Stryker personally, didn't even give him the honor of seeing his death coming, just took him down with extreme prejudice the moment he was in my sight. He deserved no more than that, the monster that he was.

And then, after I made sure that all the evil I had witnessed that night would never come to happen, and thanking the Wakandans for their assistance I walked away, from the island, and from the world. It was too much, I may have been almost nine hundred years old, mature for my years, a Warrior in every sense… yet it was still too much. The mere thought that someone living, someone with a soul, could have that much evil in them. I couldn't reconcile my mind with that. So I let myself become lost for a while, for a good while.

Helena was the only one I told anything to. Mostly because I needed to vent, and because I knew that if no one claimed responsibility for what had happened I risked governments turning on any and all gifted seeking someone to blame.

I still did not expect someone to find me, to be looking for me at all. Yet Pietro did and, as he told me, he'd been looking for me for years.

"Why?" I asked him when he told me that last part.

"Because you're mine… and I'm yours." He answered, as if it ought to be the simplest thing in the world. "Because without you I'm only half of who I'm meant to be." He exhaled. "Wanda is my twin sister, and I love her. She's one of the most important people in the world to me, but even she could never make me whole. She knows that, and accepts it. She knows one day a person made just for her will come and he will make her whole. Just like you make me. Will make me, if you give me, give us, a chance."

"How can you make such declarations? You don't even know me!"

"Maybe not in the traditional sense, but I can feel you inside, I've always been able to do that, since I was a baby. I always knew that something, a part of me was missing. It was Wanda who found the memory, buried deep into my consciousness. You were there when I was born, when we were born. You were there and something happened… and you walked away."

For a moment I actually considered doing exactly that, again. Yet the moment the thought so much as went through my head, it was too much. Even just thinking it, I'm sure I could have never brought myself to actually do it. It had been hard enough the first time around, a second one would have been just impossible. Even half-broken as I was, as I had been since the terrible vision that had taken me from the closest thing I had to a home, I couldn't imagine walking away from him again.

"I knew you were my match from the moment I first held you in my arms." I confessed after what felt like a very long silence. "I knew you would feel it too one day. That's why I couldn't stay. Because one day wasn't that day, and I couldn't imagine standing by you for years, waiting for when you might be ready. Feared that anything I did, said, might have pushed you into doing things before you were ready for them, or made you turn away from me completely." I exhaled, shaking my head. "Matches… they aren't meant to be like this. Even when those involved have great difference in ages, a match should always go at the pace of the youngest person involved. But my gift… my Sight… it worked against me. I live as much in the future, and the past, as I do in the present, sometimes more so. And I didn't want that to affect the way you lived your own life. So I chose to walk away. To wait for you to come to me."

"Well, here I am now." He pointed out unnecessarily.

"Yes, here you are." I agreed.

What else was there to say? It's not like I would have turned him away. The only reason I walked away the first time was because I managed to convince myself it was for the best, for him; his sake would always be the first priority for me.

"I know you've been hurt." He admitted very softly, one of his hands reaching for one of mine. "I don't know what happened all those years ago, but I know you hurt still because of it. I couldn't be there for you then, but I'm here for you now. Let me be here for you."

"Yes." There was no other response I could have given, no other I would have wanted to give. "Yes, always."

I still wasn't ready to rejoin society at large and he seemed to both know and accept that. A week or so later we met up with his sister, Wanda had been waiting for us in some town (it took me a while to learn we were in South America). Then the three of us took to traveling together, helping those we could, gifted and baseline alike.

xXx Helena's POV xXx

I met Stephen Strange in January of 2014. So much had happened by that point, the world had changed in ways I could have never expected it too. We managed to defeat HYDRA, for good, though in the end it cost the life of half of the Commandos who had made it out of WWII, and of my very best friend: Peggy… She was the very first to fall. Still, we knew the world wasn't ready to lose her, not yet, and especially not when we couldn't even begin to explain why it had happened, as no one outside our small group knew of the war we'd been fighting.

So we kept Peggy's death quiet, and with the help of Jacob Sholto, Dum Dum Dugan, Howard Stark and myself, Marguerite Cartier took her place. She was a french singer who'd been spy for the allies during the war, had applied for political asylum after the end of the war and was denied. The governments doing all they could to hide the things women had done in service of their countries, not wanting to admit the 'valiant men' couldn't do it all on their own. It was absolutely ridiculous. Peggy and I had done our best to keep her safe, with Howard sending her money through fake accounts when necessary. Hardly anyone knew of her by the time she took Peggy's place, which was actually quite convenient.

None of them really knew about me, none but Peggy. The rest believed me to be my own niece or something (it was how I kept changing identities, yet sticking around; all I did was change my hairdo, my makeup and take a new name; if any of them suspected the truth, none ever said).

With HYDRA finally gone, with the Winter Soldier and Von Strucker (the last known members) finally dead for good, I decided I was tired of it all. So I dropped my latest identity and, after warning Marge that I was taking off and how to contact me in case of an emergency, I left the shadows I'd been living in since the end of WWII and began a new life for myself.

In the early 2010s I was going by Helen Carver and working for Stark Industries. Somehow (I was never sure how exactly), I became Miss Potts's executive assistant when when her previous one, Miss Natalie Rushman, had to go away for personal reasons in the Summer of 2011. It was a boring job, all things told, but different enough from what I'd been doing for decades that I didn't mind it much.

I'd heard about Stephen Strange, of course, who hadn't? The man was a legend in medicine, the best Neurosurgeon in the country, possibly the world; part of the most exclusive social circles (which I had effectively become a part of while working for Pepper Potts). I danced with him once, during a gala on the first week of January of 2014, and as much as I loved being in his arms again… I knew he wasn't my Stephanos.

Stephen Strange looked nothing like the man I'd loved, like my match, but then again, that was perfectly normal. A reincarnation concerned the soul, not the body. I'd noticed only one physical thing never changed regardless of how many times we reincarnated: the eyes. Mine were always the lightest green, almost translucent under a certain light, while his were a perfect mix of blue, green and the lightest hint of gold, absolutely enthralling. Then again, magic also tended to be a thing for him, he had once been the most powerful warlock in Midgard after all… though that had been a long time prior, even before I was born as Helena Miriel, daughter of Loki and Tinúviel… But it wasn't about the physical, not really; I could tell it was him, could feel it in my core. But he was nothing like the man I loved, there was none of the kindness, the care for others, the protectiveness, the courage to defy any and all obstacles, all the things I remembered about him. Stephen Strange had the potential for all those things of course, but they weren't a part of him, not yet.

So I danced with him one song, turned away when he tried to kiss me, just enough for his lips to just touch the edge of my mouth. What I never expected was when, less than an hour later my phone was ringing, my little sister's near hysterical voice on the other end of the line:

"Helena you need to hurry!" She practically screamed at me.

I didn't even stop to wonder how exactly she knew my mobile number when Tony had just given it to me, a Stark Tech prototype he was asking some of us to test for him before they were mass produced and sold. It was Meril and she was still the best Seer I'd ever known.

"What…? Meril…? Muinthel…? Slow down!" I cried out, confused.

"No time, Helena you need to hurry or your match is going to die!" She screamed.

I barely managed to make out what followed, a highway, a mile, something about an accident. The very blood in my veins seemed to freeze as my brain finally caught up with what she was saying: Stephen Strange was about to have an accident in his car, or had just had it, and unless I intervened he was going to die!

I didn't even think about it. The desperation so strong I forgot everything about the times, the technology and the fact that I'd been trying so hard to stay off-radar for more years than I could faithfully keep count of. I just stepped into the shadows and rushed to where the very core of my soul knew I needed to be.

What I found… it was almost as bad as my worst nightmares, the kind that still held the edge of the memories from the darkest times of the wars. It was raining in that particular part of NY. I stepped out of the shadows and straight onto the highway. There was burnt rubber, glass and even pieces of mangled metal on the edge, just at the end of a sharp curve (or the start, depending what direction one was driving to and from). I rushed to the spot where the security guardrail had been completely ripped into pieces. There was a drop just past it, a cliff at least fifteen feet deep, possibly more; at the bottom a stream, or at least that's what it seemed to have become with all the rainwater accumulating there.

"Stephanos!" I screeched, not even noticing that I was screaming out-loud.

It took but a thought to get down there, teleporting without even having to focus. Stephen was in the car, the seat-belt keeping him in place though he was so badly hurt I was beyond horrified. For a moment I actually considered taking him, using magic to get us straight to the nearest hospital and damn my anonymity. And then I remembered the first-aid course I had taken, and how they'd taught us it was a bad idea to move someone badly injured. I knew first-aid, but I wasn't certified in any sense, wasn't even a healer but…

"Nana!" I screamed at the top of my lungs, willing my magic to get the message to the person I needed to hear me.

She was there in less than two minutes, in a long nightgown, half-open robe thrown haphazardly on, feet bare, long hair in a messy braid over one of her shoulders. She seemed to care not at all, not about her clothes, the rain, or where she'd just appeared. She hurried to me anyway.

"Cala amin (light mine)… what is wrong?" She asked the moment she got to my side.

"I need you nana, he needs you." I told her anxiously.

It was then that nana took notice of him, immediately getting as close as he could, with the car half turned and partially under the rising water as it was.

"Who is he?" She asked even as she took careful note of all his injuries.

"Elwen amin (mine heart)… enda amin (mine core/soul)…" I whispered, not even noticing when I switched to elvish.

Nana said nothing else, but I could sense as her magic rose and she began working on healing, first the major injuries, the ones that actually threatened Stephen's life, then the lesser ones.

"I'm afraid I know nowhere near enough about biology to do a perfect healing." She admitted to me. "I do know nerves are very delicate. Your match will need a hospital the moment we can get him out of here, and quite probably surgery. I can assure you he won't die tonight, but not much more than that."

"I understand." And I did, already she was doing more than enough.

Nana still kept healing Stephen until she was almost swaying with exhaustion. Just before I rushed to her there was a poof, the smell of sulfur and a man with blue skin and a devil's tail appeared right on time to scoop her up into his arms. He then turned towards me, still holding my mother in his arms.

"Hello, I am Nightcrawler." He introduced himself with a respectful nod of his head. "I'm here to get Hekate home."

"I am Elaine." I use the closest I had to a code-name. "Thank you for looking after her."

"She's family." Nightcrawler said with a shrug.

I knew that. It was ironic, that when we finally managed to stop our wanderings, we did so apart rather than together. We knew so little of the lives each of us had had over the past decades, more than half a century… and yet, for those like us, who measured their lives in millennia, it was such a short time it would probably be a few more decades yet before we began truly missing each other. And it's not like he never got in touch, didn't visit. We were never exactly publicly together (and there was that time when Meril practically dropped off the face of the earth for about five or seven years…), but we still visited one another every so often, and there were calls of course. We didn't stop being family just because we had separate lives.

"You need any help?" He asked, glancing at me, at Stephen, the car, as if wondering if I had a plan on how to proceed.

"No, I can take it from here." I assured him and then, because I had nothing else to say I repeated: "Thank you."

Nightcrawler nodded once and then he was gone in a cloud of blue smoke and sulfur.

I pulled out my mobile, thankful I had kept it on me when shadow-walking out of my floor at Stark Tower and straight to the highway (and that was something else I was going to have to deal with, either making sure JARVIS hadn't discovered me gone, or being honest with him… or at least as honest as I could be) and was about to dial for an ambulance when the last thing I could have ever expected happened: Stephen was still completely unconscious, and yet a word slipped past his lips, just one, but it was enough to turn my world upside down:

"Elaine…"

I froze. My own heart seemed to skip a beat. And then I decided to throw caution to the wind, took hold of Stephen and magicked us both out of there and straight to the nearest hospital. I could deal with explanations (to the hospital staff, to Stephen, to Tony and Pepper) later, in that moment all I needed was to ensure Stephanos would be alright.

xXx 3 rd  Person POV xXx

When Nicholas Fury became Director of SHIELD he got two gifts from his predecessor, Marge Sholto: the first was a bottle of very good scotch, the second were two files, hard-copy, which he was warned were for his eyes only, that there was never and should never be a digital version of them, as it was information only the Director of SHIELD should have access to. After seeing what was inside them, Nick wholeheartedly agreed.

The first file was on HYDRA and on the war that had been secretly waged against the terrorist organization for decades, after WWII. The way each of its members were investigated, and once confirmed, taken down with prejudice. All the ways everything was covered up, so as to avoid the complications and world-wide nervousness that would have happened if any of it had gotten out. It also included information on the Winter Soldier, the list of his known kills, which included Howard and Maria Stark, as well as Shannon Carter (Nicholas's former teammate, and Director Sholto's niece); it even included the assassin's real name and how exactly he'd become the phantom most intelligence organizations still didn't know for sure had ever existed. Only one name had been taken from the list, that of Margaret Carter… there was no need for it to be included, as there was no need for Nicholas to know that the woman who'd handed him his new post wasn't the same one who'd once been known as Captain America's sweetheart.

The secrets that concerned the lives of Margaret 'Peggy' Carter and Marguerite 'Marge' Sholto (nee Cartier), and their switch were need-to-know only; and Nicholas simply did not need to know. Truth was that, aside from Marge's eldest granddaughter, Harriet and Helena Miriel there was no one left who even knew anything about it. Harriet had decided that her siblings did not need to know about it, their grandmother was old and dying, and there was no need to stir things on that front. A day would come when no one but Helena would ever know that the 'famous' Miss Carter had ever been two women, or that Marguerite ever existed.

The other file Nicholas got, was about one Helena Miriel. It included pictures of her through the time, the feats she was known to have done, especially in each of the World Wars, and a list of her known aliases (Elaine Serrure, Lucia Grayson, Eileen Hvedrungr, Lucille Nova, among others). It also included the way of contacting her, and how it was something that should only be done in the most dire emergency.

Fury memorized everything he believed to be necessary and then locked both files away, only keeping them so as to one day be able to pass them on to his successor (if he even believed it was necessary when the time came). Truth was that while he did believe it to be a good idea to keep an eye out in case HYDRA made an attempt at returning, he didn't think there would ever be a situation that would make calling on Helena Miriel necessary. And then the world, the universe apparently, went crazy on him.

Tony Stark with his whole I-am-Iron-Man mess was bad enough, one of the most promising scientists in the country turning into a green-rage-monster and then almost breaking Harlem, while actually protecting it from a worse monster was twisted enough, the mutants with their leading triumvirate and their communities that few 'normal' police dare even go into and a school that was effectively considered a haven and thus even the government of the freaking US had no power over what happened there! All that was more than bad, twisted and crazy enough, he really did not need half a dozen holes opening up in the sky in the middle of London and then monsters, in an honest-to-god spaceship dropping out of one of them before a pseudo god followed and they had it out on Greenwich of all places!

It was until about the third time that Drs. Foster and Hvedrungr went through the explanation that Nicholas began accepting that no, he hadn't gone completely nuts in the last 48 hrs (or at least no more so than usual) somehow the world (the universe) had managed to become even crazier than it already was, instead. Because somehow mutants, metas, magicals and freaking inhumans (the last of which he only knew about because of his 3iC's own protegé, she was one of them, she was their freaking princess!) hadn't been bad enough, they had to add other worlds and at least a score of alien races, at least one of which called themselves gods, and had each enough power to be able to sustain that claim… Oh, and their own crown prince was courting Dr. Foster!

Yes, the world had definitely gone absolutely crazy on him at some point. The only saving grace was that, with Dr. Foster working for SHIELD that gave them an in with Thor and Asgard, which was good if they were going to be dealing with beings like him in the future. He was also very thankful for Dr. Hvedrungr; Nicholas had no idea how the man managed to remain perfectly calm even after just discovering that everything he'd studied, had believed to be nothing more than myths and legends was actually real to a point.

"It's not something new Director." The man actually answered that question, eventually. "The idea that the so-called gods of any given mythology might have existed at some point. Many believe that they may have been gifted in ancient times, times where it was easier to see them as gods than as anything else. Of course, there are also those who choose to believe that they were, in fact, gods, and their reproducing with humans brought about the gifted as we know them today. It just depends how one chooses to look at things."

"And how do you choose to look at them?" Nicholas inquired, honestly curious.

"It's irrelevant to me." The younger man shrugged. "They existed. That much has been made clear, and I'd always suspected. The hows and the whys change nothing at all and are of no use to me so I choose not to ponder on them."

Nicholas was a clever enough man to know that Dr. Hvedrungr was holding back, something, somehow, for reasons that the Director could not begin to fathom. But just like he could tell that, he could also tell it was not relevant to the mess they were in, so he let it go, at least for the time being. He was lucky enough to have managed to convince the man of working for SHIELD, and he was certainly a much better option than Professor Randolph.

Of course, because things weren't complicated enough already, right as they were all finally recovering from the mess in London, Thor told him the last thing Nicholas ever wanted to hear: an army, a huge, alien army, lead by a warlord known as Thanos the Mad Titan was heading for Earth, they'd be arriving in a year at most and their chances (humanity's chances) of defeating them were so small it wasn't even funny. Unless… unless they managed to all work together, all of them: baseline humans, inhumans, metas, mutants, magic-users… gifted and non-gifted… Fury couldn't help but think it was more likely for him to meet an actual god and like him than for such a thing to ever happen.

And then he went to his office the following morning and found about more than a dozen people waiting on him… inside his office (his private, very secure office!).

"Who the hell are you all?!" He demanded loudly, not in the mood for pleasantries, at all.

And then the introductions began:

On one side of the room, standing against the wall were two well-known mutants: Hekate and Nina Reynolds (known in some circles as the 'Mutant Lawyer); near the front of the room, on a couch, sat Coulson's own protegé and her husband: Daisy and Grant Johnson; on a corner, in his usual garish costume was Superman (called himself Kal El though Nick knew for a fact there was no one with that name registered anywhere) and the healer of their team: Cyan (another he had no idea the real name of, and they weren't sharing); on the back of the room, sitting on the floor (the male of the pair seemingly vibrating in place, were Chaos-Rose and Quicksilver (again, no names that could be in any way considered proper and legal), and finally, on the opposite side of the room six people stood closely, they were the leaders of the three biggest magical enclaves in the world and their respective spouses/fiancé: Piper Halliwell and Leo Wyatt from San Francisco, Cassie (aka Muse) and Adam Blake-Conant from New Salem; and finally, Dr. Stephen Strange and… Nicholas recognized the woman standing with him, even if the name Helen Carver hadn't been in the file, and she wore different clothes and a different hairdo, he knew she was the woman in the file he'd been given.

"Helena Miriel, I presume." He blurted out, seeking a way to regain at least some control.

"I go by Helen Carver nowadays." The raven-haired woman in a smart dark skirt-suit and a tight pony-tail stated evenly. "And if you, Nicholas Fury, are the kind of man who would use such private, sensitive information in a petty attempt at a tantrum, then you're not the man Marge thought you were when she chose you to succeed her."

There was no reaction from Nicholas, nothing to give away his feelings regarding what Helena had just said, but inside he was feeling worse than if she'd chosen to slap him. She'd managed to insult him in the worst possible way, and it was clear she knew what she was doing. And if that weren't bad enough, the redhead in the ivory wrap dress with a print of big red roses and red-leather knee-high boots chose that very moment to get on her feet and put in her two cents:

"Now, can we all talk together like adults about the threat coming our way and what we'll be doing about it, or will you continue to whine about not being able to control things?"

Nicholas would have groaned if that wouldn't have just served to prove her point. He was already getting a migraine, and the day was just starting.

xXx

The meeting reconvened in Stark Tower; where Fury called his own 2nd and 3rd in command to join them: Maria Hill and Phil Coulson, as well as Drs. Foster and Hvedrungr. And of course, the Starks and Banners who lived on the top floors of the tower. It was Tony Stark's greatest coup in the last decade, finding Bruce Banner and convincing him to work for him. Banner who, before the end of the year had been married to Dr. Betty Banner (nee Ross), and has recognized her son: Robbie, as his, officially.

SHIELD had kept an eye on things for a while, concerned about the man that held the Hulk inside him, being back on the States, but nothing had happened. And the one time General Ross had tried anything Tony and, surprisingly enough, his own daughter had come on him hard enough the man had been dishonorably discharged from the military and quietly 'retired' to somewhere in the country before the month ended.

There was a reason why the two men had been candidates for the Avengers Initiative, even if the project had never taken off, not really. While Fury never really erased the idea completely, he wasn't sure about giving gifted people even more power, he was already continuously on edge with the kind of powerful people that tended to run around with no one to direct (or more like control, it was the same in Fury's book) them properly.

Another two possible candidates were Spider-Man and his associate, the Green Goblin, though Nicholas, to his own annoyance, had no idea where to even begin looking for them. Somehow those two had managed to keep their civilian identities secret despite several years active and the Director of SHIELD pouring not few resources into tracking at least one of them down. All he knew for sure was that they were connected to OsCorp somehow (then again, the Goblin's tech gave that away to anyone who knew enough).

The moment Tony and Pepper watched all the newcomers, saw her own PA among them and had no reaction, Fury knew they had to have known.

"How long have you known Stark?" He demanded of the other man.

Helena rolled her eyes, that man obsessed too much over completely unimportant things.

"What? That Helen's a gifted? A while." Tony shrugged. "There's nothing extraordinary about that Nick, not anymore. Gifted are the next step of human evolution, haven't you read Dr. Xavier's papers? Whether they're born different or mutate later in life in order to survive a great event or tragedy, they're the future. Everyone with enough brains knows that. Each year more are born, it's perfectly natural. Evolution at its finest."

"Aylen is a latent." Pepper added for good measure.

Aylen Marianna Stark, their daughter. A latent meant someone with the potential to be gifted, one who hadn't manifested just yet but they knew would one day.

A loud thump on the viewing deck outside served as prelude for the arrival of the last few members of the group. Whom Fury had to introduce then:

"Crown Prince Thor, son of Odin, from Asgard, and his guards and friends: Fandral, Fenrir and the Lady Ylva."

All eyes went instantly to the newcomers, they all looked particularly impressive. Even the second blonde, with the rather garish scar that went down the right side of his face, barely having missed the eye. It was clear right away that the latter two were together, it was in the way they walked and stood, so very close. And the way the Aesir prince went to stand beside Dr. Foster and actually placed a hand on the small of her back gave them away too.

"Norse Gods, really, that's a thing now?" A young-sounding voice called.

All eyes turned to the speaker and Fury had to do a double take, as apparently someone in the room did know Spider-Man, at least enough to get him there.

"I knew it!" Tony's cry broke the stunned silence.

"What?" All eyes turned to him then.

"I knew someone else had come through those portal-thingies last year." Tony clarified. "Beyond those trying to kill us, I mean."

Fury exhaled in exasperation. He had known that if those people ever met things would go absolutely crazy. The worst part? He would have to be the one to put a stop to their jokes and remind them there was still a psychotic warlord with a huge army coming their way and they needed to be ready. Looking around, at all the people beginning to get to know each other, laughing at the most idiotic things, we couldn't believe those were the heroes who would save the world… then again, it wouldn't be the first time.

Truth was that, Nicholas Fury might not exactly like gifted, though it had nothing to do with being a human supremacist or anything of the like. It was the lack of control he was so against. He knew he was a control freak, and he owned to it, he still didn't like it when he couldn't do anything about it. He wasn't an idiot though, he knew the kind of things the people currently in the room were capable of. Knew that the mutants, the first generation of X-Men were the only reason why there hadn't been a third world war, back in the sixties; both them and the inhumans had helped during a lot of natural disasters over the years, Superman and his League had their own thing going elsewhere in America; and Iron Man had almost single-handedly stopped one of the worst terrorist organizations operating in many countries from Eastern Europe to the Middle East (that being the Ten Rings). So no, it wasn't that he didn't believe them all more than capable of fighting to protect the world, it was just the knew he'd end up being the one to have to put up with them in the following year without actually being able to exercise any sort of real power over them and that grated on him. Still, as long as the world was saved, he'd deal with it.

xXx

Introductions were made, each person present explaining what position they had in their respective groups (those who were part of one), and what numbers and abilities they were bringing to the table. Most were team leaders, except for the magicals, who each represented either a number of covens (Muse), or a whole society/community (Piper and Stephen), and Hekate and Nina, who were there in the name of the X-Men in particular (there were currently three active teams, and others that would be willing to run back-up or just to assist with rescue, defense of those most vulnerable, etc.) and the mutant community as a whole.

They also put together all they knew already of the upcoming invasion thanks to the precogs: Destiny of the mutants, Angel of the inhumans, Dr. Fate of the Justice League, Phoebe Halliwell, Muse and Chaos-Rose.

The first real surprise came as Thor, who'd been stealing glances at a certain person for the last hour, finally approached her.

"You seem familiar to me, my lady, why is that?" He asked her seriously.

"Your path and mine have crossed before, Prince Thor, a very long time ago." Helena answered calmly, then, for the benefit of not just him but everyone around she added. "I am long-lived, more than most would ever expect. My name, as has been stated before, is Helena Miriel, I am the Nightingale's daughter."

"The Nightingale's…" Fandral repeated, as if trying to remember why it sounded familiar.

"The Nightingale, the lady with the most beautiful voice in all the realms." Thor quoted, before focusing on Helena again. "Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim is your mother?!"

"She is." Helena nodded regally.

"You're a princess?" Daisy asked in awe.

"I am not a princess of Alfheim." Helena shook her head. "In the realm of the elves, the Queen and Princesses are chosen by their people. My mother was chosen when she was very young, and served for twenty years. But royals are meant to live for the realm alone, Alfheim is their husband and every Ljósálfar their children, they cannot marry or have any family of their own. So my mother gave up her position when she met and fell in love with my father."

If anyone noticed that she had specified not being a princess of Alfheim but never said about being or not a princess at all, nobody mentioned it.

Others things were shared later on, including about Helena, Rose and Hekate (she still was going by that name only) being the Thalil/Gypsies that had become so legendary across the realms. Though the connection between the three was never clarified. Also, when Helena mentioned her father being murdered that killed the topic stone-dead.

Plans were made for getting to know each other better, for training. They had a year before the Mad Titan's arrival and they weren't planning on wasting a single minute of it. It would be more than a little insane, but they believed they could do it, there was simply no acceptable alternative.

xXx Tinúviel's POV xXx

From the moment I first laid eyes on him, I knew exactly who Dr. Clavis Hvedrungr was. It went beyond his well-groomed dark brown (almost black) short-hair, the bare-hint of facial hair, or his gorgeous jade-green eyes. I knew it because the moment my eyes laid on his I could feel the tug, could feel his soul calling to mine, and it took every ounce of my will not to surrender to the siren's call in an instant.

It was the one thing I had wanted most, had dreamt of for centuries; it nearly destroyed me to not allow my soul to reach out to his, to initiate our bond right then and there. It was how it had happened before, all those years ago, the moment we first laid eyes on each other, when we met for the first time in Alfheim, back when I was still a Princess, set to be a Queen, and he the second Prince of Asgard. The greatest proof I could have ever had that we were a perfect match, we'd been together before, and would be again…

But I couldn't allow it. Not because I didn't love him, because I did, even before I knew anything more than his name (and more so after I learned about him, about the amazing man, scholar, he was in his current life); but because he had a life all his own, with Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig, he had friends (a family of choice) and a job with SHIELD, he did not need me and all my baggage to destroy what he'd made for himself. And it would have, if he'd found out about me, about us… he was as much a man of honor as Loki had been, he wouldn't have walked away. Even without any proof he would have done the honorable thing, but I didn't want it to be about honor, I wanted more, I wanted it to be about us… and yet I couldn't bring myself to do it. Who was I to destroy a man's life? Everything he knew, had, everything he was…

It was a mess, even in my own head. Wanting him yet not wanting to force him, wanting him to love me for me yet not willing to get any closer. It made no sense at all, but that was probably why matches weren't supposed to reincarnate without their other halves. We were supposed to go into things without baggage, clean slates both of us… it was why Rose chose to walk away when she learned Pietro was meant for her (and even then, the only baggage had been a vision, nothing more, no past, no tragedy or grief); Helena and Stephen, they had met when he was already an adult, and he remembered without anyone telling him, being so close to death (he'd technically died for a few seconds there) somehow turning the right switch in his head, allowing him to know her for who she really was. My situation was very different.

So I did nothing, I said nothing. I kept my distance from Clavis and the Asgardian contingent to the best of my abilities. I didn't even train with them, aside from hand-to-hand and a few times using weapons. It was no secret that I favored my bow and a collection of enchanted knives when necessary. But I avoided using magic, the last thing I needed was one of the Asgardians noticing the green aura that tended to cling to the edge of my spells, a color very different from my own lilac-white aura. A color they might be able to remember characterized my match's magic.

Officially I was recognized as an Omega level mutant. I wasn't a mutant, but no one had known that until our little meeting and our revelation about being the Thallil (because if I wasn't midgardian, I clearly couldn't be a mutant). Still, they knew I had great power, though like with the rest who were known to be Omegas (The Professor, Magneto, Phoenix and Rogue), we tended to let baseline humans believe that our powers had more limits and conditions than they actually did. Like how people still believed that Charles needed Cerebro to reach more people than those in a five mile radius, or that Magneto could only control simple metals (most people seemed to forget that there was iron in the blood, even if it couldn't be seen, and that Magneto was as capable of controlling that as a tire iron), they still thought I needed to see things to use my magic on them; no one knew that Jean had so great a power and so fine a control she was capable of moving individual atoms, not just as she moved objects, but to separate them, to effectively vaporize something (it was terrifying), or just how many powers Rogue possessed by now (and that she could wield they all perfectly, and even simultaneously if necessary); and they especially did not know about Onslaught… Yes, it was much better if we did not actually terrify people (those who weren't yet ready to understand us completely, to accept us) with the true scope of our gifts.

Some days I'd find myself thinking about the curse, the one Amora had placed on us, on me, with her dying breath. It had brought us so terrible griefs, but also amazing opportunities; it was fair to say that neither my daughters nor I would be where we were in that moment (in Midgard, among their own warriors, and getting ready to fight among them, against a threat so great most Realms refused to even acknowledge his existence). Some might even be inclined to believe that, because we had stayed in one place for decades, the curse was losing its potency, that maybe it was fully broken by now… but it was not so. I knew it, could practically feel the threads of it, of Amora's magic, still on me. It was true we might have stayed in Midgard for a long time, even mostly in the same spot (except for Rose, who could never seem to stop traveling, at least she wasn't doing it alone anymore). But the curse was still as real as it had been nine centuries prior, we still had no home, as much as Helena and I might love the places where we lived, the people we were with, we weren't all together, and we weren't home, not really. Chances were we would never be home again… that was a sad reality I'd long since accepted. Focusing instead on making the best I could of my situation. We all did that, and it worked, for the most part.

We weren't the only ones getting ready for the upcoming attack. There were many others that approached one of us in the months following that first, fateful meeting. The Fantastic Four right there in New York, the Flowers in Mexico, several other, smaller, groups in Central and South America, the Loup-garou pack in Eastern Europe; and of course there were mutants, metas, inhumans and sometimes magic-users (either those who followed the Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange, or the Halliwell sisters) in practically every corner of the globe.

When the day came for the war to be fought we were definitely as ready as we could be. It still wasn't enough. Watching the battle take place from my perch on a branch of a tree on the Southwestern corner of Central park, I wasn't sure anything could have ever been enough.

Us X-Men had the south end of the park. And we were giving it our all. Jean, after securing her bond to Scott, had unleashed the full force of the Phoenix on her enemies, disintegrating them the moment they got into her range. Scott was her anchor to reality, as well as her guardian so no one would attack her from a blindspot. Erik and Charles, after talking it over, had decided to reveal their ace-in-the-hole and called on their combined power, what we all called Onslaught. Django, while not a mutant himself, was still a hell of a shot, and his daughter Lorna (codenamed Polaris) was on her way to become as great as her great-grandfather, whose power she shared, they served as the Professor's and Magneto's 'bodyguards'. Meanwhile, the rest of the X-Men had taken over small areas or even streets, dealing with the Chitauri as they came. The twins were the only ones not with them, as they'd chosen to go with Rose, which wasn't exactly a new development, so no one felt bad about it.

We'd gotten a huge shock about three months into the preparations for war, when representatives of Vanaheim, Alfheim, Nidavellir, and eventually even Jotunheim had dropped by, offering their assistance in the upcoming conflict. The real shocker? They weren't there because of Odin, or even Thor, they were there because of us, the Thallil… (the fact that Erynion and Thenidiel were leading the Ljósálfar contingent told me they knew exactly who I was, who all three of us were, but as they did not approach us, neither did we go to them).

At first I had focused mostly on my weapons, my arrows and throwing knives. Using just enough to ensure that one hit would be enough to take down an enemy, regardless of where I hit them exactly (the knives were also spelled to return to me, and I'd spelled a caché of arrows to ensure they were replaced and my quiver would never be empty). I was also the only one aside from Iceman and Pyro themselves who could get close enough to the winter-wonderland they'd turned their particular street without my teeth chattering, getting frostbite, or losing my footing in the icy… everything. No one knew why that was though, I let them believe that it was a natural side-effect of my magic/mutation; I was Hekate after all.

And then it happened… I got distracted. Just for a fraction of a second, but it was enough. I did not even scream (wasn't sure I could, actually). I still had enough reflexes to react and totally obliterate the Chitauri that had manage to wound me, but that didn't change the fact that there was a freaking spear in my gut!

The next handful of seconds there was screaming all around me. It took me a beat to realize they were calling to me, using more of my names than I would have ever expected anyone to know. From one moment to the next Kurt was there and then, he actually apologized a moment before picking me up and teleporting with me in his arms.

I actually groaned as I was placed back down, this time on the floor of the viewing deck of what some people had recently been calling Avengers Tower… Kurt apologized again but I waved a hand at him in dismissal. It's not like it was his fault, he'd done enough getting me out of there before something else could attack me, or worse, kill me. He nodded once and then he was gone, back to helping get civilians out, and whatever else he might be able to do.

I didn't stay long there alone, soon enough there were people rushing to me. Those who'd been left in the Tower, both to protect it and to help with what they could without actually putting themselves in danger (mostly coordinating the various groups, keeping in touch with authorities and keeping an eye out for those who might need evacuation and/or extraction).

Of course, once they got there things got a tad more complicated, because while, with a bit of effort, they could have gotten me to the infirmary, I still had a spear through my gut! And it would have been a very bad idea to try moving with it still there. And while at least some of them were certified paramedics, none of them wanted to risk doing anything when they had no way of knowing how much damage getting the thing out may cause.

"What if we end up killing you?!" Jane cried out, horrified by the idea.

"With all due respect my lady, I'm not that easy to kill." I couldn't help but take a bit of offense at that comment.

"Please, no 'my lady', I'm nothing special." She murmured, abashed.

"You're the future Queen of Asgard." I pointed out evenly.

"I'm not in it for a crown." She stated strongly.

"I know, which is precisely why you're the best person for the job." I assured her. "Because you are in it out of love for Thor, not for any crown or throne."

I was quite sure Alfheim had gotten that one wrong. They were so insistent that a ruler should love no one more than their own realm, that it was the only way to be sure they'd would never betray it, never put anyone or anything above the realm, their people… but if so, who could the Queen ever turn to? They'd even looked down on Erynion's and mine bond, because we saw each other as siblings. If I hadn't even had him, what kind of life would that have been for me? So alone, with nothing but the ghosts of those who'd preceded me. It wasn't that I regretted giving up the crown. I could never regret that, could never regret Loki, Helena, Meril… I just thought Alfheim was wrong in believing one couldn't be Queen and Consort at the same time.

"What can we do to help?" Clavis finally asked me.

As he had explained it to me, he was no good with guns, and while he knew some hand-to-hand, it would have never been enough against Thanos's army, so he stayed in the Tower.

"I have… in my quiver, there's a small cloth bag, with Asgardian healing stones. When you pull the spear out, press it against my wound." I explained, panting. "That should help heal me."

I was beginning to have trouble breathing. Wasn't sure if it was the pain, that the damage was extending, or the teleporting had aggravated the wound and managed to damage my lung.

"Should?!" Several cried out at the same time.

Nina was among them, and I could only be thankful that Anya wasn't. It wasn't that I loved Nina any less, but Anya… she was as good as another of my daughters, and even if after so many years she looked older than me, more like my mother than the other way around, I still felt the same, and would have hated for her to see me like that.

"Usually it'd be better for the stone to be crushed… but as no one here has that kind of strength… yeah, we'll have to go with should." I replied, trying my best not to sound too sarcastic.

It actually worked better than I could have ever expected; though a part of me was sure that the fact that it had been Clavis manipulating the stone had something to do with it. Even if he was perfectly human, without an ounce of magic to his name… the magic in me (the magic that should rightfully be his!) had reacted in the way we needed it to, causing the stone to turn to dust on contact with my wound.

It wasn't perfect, the wound was closed but the damage hadn't been fully undone. I wouldn't die, which was definitely a good thing. But I couldn't go back to the battle either, which was bad. I was one of their strongest fighters with my magic, and we couldn't afford to lose anyone…

I cursed (I couldn't help myself), long a hard… in elvish. Took me a moment to notice people were staring at me and blinking in shock.

"I didn't know some of those words even existed, or could be used in such combinations." Clavis stated in a perfect deadpan.

"You know elvish?" That definitely took me by surprise.

"Been learning in the last few months." He shrugged. "It's actually not that different from a language that was used by a writer in his books. I actually have a theory that he might have been either a descendant of the Ljósálfar, or met one of them… one of you."

It was my turn to blink.

"You know…" I blurted out.

"I know." He nodded. "I don't think anyone else does, but yes, I do."

"How?" I couldn't help but ask.

"You may not have noticed, but you tend to hum, sometimes." He explained. "When you're worried, or just sitting staring at nothing. It's not too obvious, but I couldn't help but notice it."

It made me wonder, for a moment, if he felt the same pull I did. And then I felt a different pull. It was absolute insane, beyond that even, yet it was also all I could think of!

"Do you want to help?" I asked him, dead serious.

"I would love to, but I'm just… I'm just me, I'm not a warrior." He shrugged, and I could sense the string of depression that thought caused.

"Neither was I." I pointed out serenely. "I was never meant to be a warrior. Ljósálfar… doing war isn't natural for us. It's a necessity for the males, but for us females, especially those of us who have a particularly marked empathy… It's not natural."

"But you're a warrior." He murmured.

"Because my match made me into one." I told him. "Oh, I'd learned to fight before, by my own choice. But I always did it just for protection, never actually meant to be a warrior. And then my match died, and his last actions, the same one with which he saved me, left me with his magic. The magic of the most powerful sorcerer in the Nine Realms… I couldn't just ignore that. Could not just bottle it all up, ignore it. Nevermind that it's too much power for me to ignore it, but if I had just pushed it aside, I think that would have been an insult to him. I knew I had to do something with it, something worthy of it, of him…"

"So you became a warrior."

"So I became a warrior."

"And let me see if I'm understanding this correctly. You intend to give me this magic? Want me to become a warrior in your place."

"I know it's insane! I know I shouldn't be asking something like this of you…"

"I'll do it!"

"Think about it Clavis!"

"You were the one that offered!"

"I know I did, and I'm not taking it back, but I need you to understand what it means. This magic, it will change you, like it changed me. This is not something that you or I will be able to take back later. Whatever happens… there will be no going back."

"If it helps us win this war, it will be worth it."

"Will it? If it upends your life forever? If it destroys the life you've lead thus far?"

"You managed well enough, think I can't?"

I wanted to pull at my hair (such a human gesture!). He wasn't getting it! Then again, there was a war going on around us, maybe he did get it and just decided the war had priority over whatever might happen to him. The worst part? I didn't think I would have made a different choice, were I in his place. And I was quite sure the same could be said of my Loki…

And yes, the war, there was no time for thinking twice. I'd had the idea, and I had to go through with it. Really. Midgard, and the Nine, we needed all the help that could be given, and I couldn't give it, not with my body still so weak. But the magic… the magic was still there, as strong as ever, and I knew he would be able to wield. It was, after all, essentially meant for him all along (I was quite sure he'd have been born with it, regardless of his status as a human, if he hadn't poured it all into me just before his death).

"Goheno nin (Forgive me)…" I whispered, as I used a hand to draw him closer to me, our mouths so close it almost seemed like I was about to kiss him. "Le melin (love you) Fintalëharyon amin (my Trick-prince)…"

All it took was a thought, and as I willed it, all the magic in me, Loki's magic, poured out of me and straight into him.

Clavis's whole body convulsed, all but his head, which didn't move a millimeter. I could hear the wordless exclamations of those around us yet paid them no mind, focusing all my attention on the man so close to me. When the exchange was finally finished, for a moment (a fraction of a second… a single beat of our hearts) I could feel him almost swaying, closer, our lips grazed for the slightest of instants, the lightest kiss I had ever felt, and yet it seared through me, body and soul, as effectively as the most passionate one I'd ever been a part of. And when I opened my eyes (and I hadn't the faintest idea when exactly I closed them), he was staring straight at me, green on hazel, and there was a light in his that hadn't been there before.

"A'maelamin (My beloved)…"

I wasn't sure if I'd really heard that coming from his lips, or somehow hallucinated it.

Then he straightened up, still staring at me.

"We'll be talking about this." He informed me. "At length. When this battle is over."

I nodded, what else could I do? It was only then, as I watched him walk to the very edge of the viewing deck that it occurred to me that I might have done more than just return the magic to him… a lot more. And then the confirmation came in the most unexpected way. As the dark shirt, open jacket and black-jeans he'd been wearing abruptly changed into a black and dark-green ensemble, golden armor on top. He waved in a most mischievous way at us all before turning around and effectively diving off the tower.

Jane screeched his name in horror, rushing to the edge of the deck. I didn't need her to say anything, I knew she wouldn't find him, not splattered on the pavement, nor anywhere nearby. He'd probably teleported the moment he was in the air.

xXx 3 rd  Person POV xXx

At first Thor thought he was hallucinating. That maybe one of the chitauri had hit him in the head too hard. Or maybe he was dead, he'd died all those years ago, in that stupid fight against the dragon, the 'valiant quest' he insisted on going even when some people told him it was too risky. The same that claimed the lives of one of his dear friends and permanently maimed two others; even Fandral's own scars came from that same 'event'. Thor was quite surprised that he'd chosen to stay with him, after the loss of Hogun, of Sif, after Volstagg had chosen to walk away, to just be with his wife and children.

So perhaps it was no surprise that when he first saw the figure in black, green and gold, 'jumping' around, seemingly everywhere at the same time, throwing magic around like it was the easiest thing in the universe… in his whole life he'd only known one person capable of that. And yes, he knew one of the mutant leaders was called Hekate, that some referred to her as a goddess, that she was a spellweaver, but the crown prince of Asgard had never doubted that if there was one God of Magic, it was his little brother, Loki… who had been dead for almost a millennia!

They won the battle that day. The war wasn't over, not by a long shot, it wouldn't be until Thanos was well and truly defeated, and that wasn't an easy thing to achieve. He was a Titan after all! But there was a hope. The Alliance had managed to defeat the Chitauri, kill the 'Other', Thanos's lieutenant who'd been leading the army on the ground. The Titan never actually appeared, but that was good too. They had hope for the next time.

The moment the battle was over Thor wanted nothing more than to rush to find the man in green, black and gold, but he knew he had responsibilities. So instead he sought Fandral. He was hurt, but not too badly. Fenrir was still in wolf form, and there was a deep gash just above his left paw. Ylva was standing beside him, there were some minor wounds on her but she refused to even think about them until someone had seen to Fenrir. Which wasn't exactly easy, considering that even being one of Thor's protectors, there were some who still saw him as the 'Demon Wolf'. In the end the surprise was great when they saw one of the humans approaching; a dark-haired male in jeans, a shirt, boots, with a rifle slung on his back, a gun under one of his arms and blades in his boots.

"Hey." He greeted them with a bow of his head. "My name is Aiden, I am Vivian's mate." The man introduced himself. "I am not magical, but I do know how to treat wolves."

Thor got one of the healers to surrender a healing stone which helped too; though Fenrir, not really being Aesir, it didn't fully heal him, but between that and what Aiden was doing, it was good. Enough so that Fenrir returned to his humanoid form once they were finished.

Just in time for the silver-furred she-wolf to join them. It went to stand beside Aiden, pressing against his leg for a moment before it seemed to shimmer, leaving in its place a young blonde woman in a loose, sleeveless, off-white dress.

"I am Vivian, Aiden's mate." She introduced himself, bowing her head, enough to show respect, yet not submission. "Alpha of the loup-garou pack."

Fenrir and Ylva had known about them of course, had heard of them, but they'd never actually met. The pack had known not many were comfortable with them, and had kept their distance from those who might not accept them.

General Tyr had everything under control with the Aesir battalion that had been there to assist, same as Lord Freyr with the Vanir, and Prince Hymir (son of Helblindi) with the Jotnar. The real surprise though was when they saw Prince Caél of Nidavellir, who had a deep gash right above his brow, which was being tended to by none other than Princess Tawariell of Alfheim (the leader of the Ljósálfar contingent though she hadn't been there as a warrior, but as a healer, and an ambassador to the other realms).

It took a while, but eventually his responsibilities were done with and Thor headed for Stark's Tower. He really wanted to find the man who reminded him of his brother but had no idea where to even begin looking. So he headed for the Tower, where he immediately went to his beloved, kissing her hair and thanking the stars that she hadn't been in danger, while giving her a chance to look him over and reassure herself of his own well-being. And then, the most unexpected thing, as he caught a mix of black, green and gold from the corner of his eye. He turned then and found the man he'd been thinking about was right there, on the Tower's viewing deck, bent over none other than Hekate and kissing her like his life depended on it.

xXx Tinúviel's POV xXx

I wasn't sure how I managed to convince Jane and the others to let me stay on the viewing deck but I did (the fact that they stayed right there with me, that they'd wanted to, probably had something to do with it). From there we watched the rest of the battle. We witnessed the moment when Quake (Daisy Johnson of the Inhumans) brought down the last group of Leviathans, right on time for Meril to shoot white-fire straight at the Other, fast and hard enough not even ashes were left afterwards.

We watched as people began celebrating, though we did none of that; we couldn't, not until our beloveds returned safe and sound to us.

Spider-Man was the first to arrive, carrying his partner-in-crime, the Green Goblin, who was unconscious and missing so many pieces of his armor we all knew he was bad off even before seeing all the blood on him.

"Harry!" His wife, Mary Jane Osborn shrieked in horror.

"We need a doctor!" Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's (Spider-Man) soon-to-be-wife, yelled to anyone who might listen.

I heard JARVIS repeat the call inside, probably also calling to those stationed in the infirmary floor, but I didn't focus on that, instead turning to Nina.

"Help me." I requested of her.

I didn't need to say more, she knew exactly what I was asking of her and why. I was still more than a bit tender, but refused to let any physical weakness stop me. It took a bit, but we managed to get the people to move enough for me to kneel beside where Spider-Man had placed his friend on a cement bench, waiting for a gurney and maybe the paramedics.

"What do you want?" Gwen asked, confused by my insistence to get closer.

"Trust me." I asked of her, of all of them. "I may have given up my magic, but I can still do this."

I didn't give them a chance to ask what exactly 'this' was, the moment Gwen moved just a bit aside, that was enough. I took the opportunity to get just a bit closer, placing my hands right over the auburn haired man's chest, half an inch from his skin. Then I took a deep breath, and called on the part of my power than I hadn't been given by my match, the part that had always been mine, and mine alone.

"Wha…?" Whatever MJ had been about to say, she broke off as she clearly saw it beginning to take effect.

I felt the warmth first. Starting at my core and extending across my chest, down my arms and straight into my hands. Couldn't see the white-lilac glow as my eyes were close but I didn't need to, I knew it was there. Instead I focused on guiding it, on healing…

It took several seconds, very long, very stressful seconds. But suddenly Harry breathed in sharply and his eyes snapped open.

"Don't move." Nina, thankfully, was quick enough to stop him before he could reflexively sit up. "Tanti (Auntie) is still working on you."

My own eyes were open by then and I guided my power, both by magic and by sight to heal the worst of his injuries. It wouldn't be perfect, it couldn't, otherwise his body would go into shock. But it was enough, especially because once he was out of danger his own enhanced healing kicked in, making things even easier.

"I… thank you!" MJ waited just long enough for me to stop using magic to throw herself at me, hugging me tight. "Thank you so much!"

That was just the start. Soon enough we were all coordinating and the gals got some of the worst injured, those most in danger (especially those who had no special healing to help them) to me. It was tiring work, but oh so very satisfying. I was back to my roots, as an empath, and as a healer.

The next couple of hours went mostly the same. Jane and Nina refused to leave my sight, making sure I didn't overexert myself too much, and insisting that I drank honeyed water every so often and ate a couple of cereal-and-nuts bars. Jane actually offered me energy drinks and protein bars first, the kind that had been somewhat modified by Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and a few others working together, meant to work best for enhanced who required a lot of energy to use their powers effectively; however I wasn't a mutant, meta, or an enhanced human; thankfully Nina did know what worked best for me, as we'd discovered through the years (the honeyed water to keep me hydrated and up my sugar, and it tasted similar to an elven drink I'd favored in the past; the nuts and cereals gave me the energy I needed as we elves had never favored meats, could eat them, but didn't have a preference for them).

I sensed the exact moment when my match reached the tower. It was like some inexplicable warmth filled me even before I had the chance to so much as lay eyes on him. And then, a second later he was there. I didn't get the chance to ask anything, not even to say hello when he was suddenly on me, his mouth devouring mine in a kiss so intense I could do nothing except surrender to it, to him…

That was all that was necessary, really. I felt the exact moment when our bond snapped (back) into place, like a rubber band let go after having been pulled at almost too hard, for way too long. Except it wasn't painful, it was the exact opposite of painful; it was like the first sip of a perfect cup of hot cocoa, or like burrowing deeper under warm covers on a cold morning, or like finally coming home after a long, tiring journey… I realized it then, that was it exactly, it was coming home. A home that hadn't existed for me for nearly a millennia. Asgard, Alfheim, they no longer mattered (mayhap they never did), it was about my match; he was my home, and after so long he was back…

He finally pulled away when oxygen became an an issue for us both, and it was until I looked into his eyes and opened my mouth to say something that I realized I had no idea what to call him exactly. Strictly speaking he wasn't Loki, not really, but was he still Clavis?

"My Maverick…" I settled on eventually.

It seemed right for him.

"My Nightingale." He stated in return.

Yeah, that sounded quite right too.

"I thought you wanted us to talk about things." I couldn't help but blurt out.

Really, I was so stressed out, had been stressing out for hours! While I didn't exactly think he might send me away, or turn his back on me… it still hadn't been good.

"I decided about… five minutes after I left the tower that there was no point in 'talking' about things." He shrugged in an almost careless manner. "I don't care how I came to be here now, even though we were once taught that one match cannot move on, to the Other Side or onto another life, without its other half. I'm here, that's the important part. I also don't care why exactly you said nothing about any of this to me in the past year… Well, scratch that, I do care, but I know you, I remember enough to know that you probably made a perfectly logical and reasonable argument to yourself, probably about not messing up my life or something along those lines, never mind the fact that you should have known I would want to know and we both know that, had our roles been inverted, and had I even thought about trying something like this you would have had my head on a platter…"

He was right, of course he was; and there was no argument I could make, no excuse I could give, and of course he knew that too. So in the end I said nothing at all.

"And in the end… I'm too happy you're here, that we're both here now, together, to even want to focus on the past." He finished.

"I lost you once…" I whispered, a hand cupping his cheek as he bent over me where I was sitting on a bench, Jane and Nina having walked to the other side of the deck to give us some semblance of privacy. "There was nothing I could do then. Now… now it's different. I may not have stepped onto this life exactly by my own choice at first, but it's long since been my choice to stay on it. I will not back down now. Whatever might come, whoever may come, may it be a Titan, or anything else, I'm not leaving your side again, and you're not leaving mine."

"Never again." He assured me vehemently.

The two of us began speaking at the same time, the words of the Ancient Vows falling from our lips practically in unison. They probably weren't entirely necessary, we had both felt our bond snapping into place, but they just felt right. A reminder of the love and commitment and devotion he had for one another. And then, of course, we sealed our promise with a kiss…

That was pretty much how Thor found us. He didn't say a word, but I could feel his eyes on us, and I was sure so could my love. Of course, because whatever name he might be using, whatever his face, he was still the God of Mischief, my match just couldn't help himself.

"Hello, brother…" He called in a perfect drawl, eyes shining with mirth.

Less than two seconds later Thor was right there, embracing Clavis/Loki so tightly that I was quite sure that if it weren't for his returned magic the hold might have cracked some bones.

"Let go you oaf!" My love snarled with no real bite. "This body is still quite new and you're going to break it!"

Thor put him down so fast and looked so chagrined that a part of me really wanted to laugh. The last time I had seen that look on Thor had been when my consort had said something quite similar, except regarding a then baby Helena. Thor had been absolutely horrified back then, and it had taken him a very long time to forgive his brother for the joke (though I had been worrying, when he began swaying with Helena, that he might drop her, Ljósálfar bodies are so much more fragile than Aesir ones, especially infants).

"It is you, brother!" He cried out, his hands still on my beloved's shoulders.

"It is me… somewhat." My reincarnated consort shrugged at the clarification. "Different body but the same soul."

"How…?" Thor didn't even seem to know what to ask exactly.

"No idea." He shrugged.

Finally, Thor let him go, and it was then his attention turned to me.

"My lady Hekate…" The blonde began, until I raised a hand to stop him.

"Tinúviel." I corrected him.

The crown prince blinked.

"I've had many names throughout my very long life, but the one I hold closest to my heart, is the one my match gave me when we fell in love: Tinúviel…" I told him serenely, one of my hands automatically reaching for one of my love's.

"Your match…" Thor's eyes widened, as he looked at one of us and then the other. "Brother…"

"Brother, meet my match, Princess Tinúviel of Alfheim and Asgard." My love introduced me.

"Brother, sister…" Thor added after a moment of thought, addressing us both. "There's one thing I don't understand. If you're match… this clearly is not a new development. I do not believe you have spent much, if any time together since we all began preparing for the confrontation against the Mad Titan. And the Princess Tinúviel… the last that is known about her is from centuries ago. That would imply…"

"That she was my consort before I died." My match finished for me. "That is true."

"Then, why is it that I have no memory of this?" The blonde inquired, he turned to me. "I have no memory of you princess, except for the whispers of your voice being the most beautiful in all the realms. I have no memory of you ever being in Asgard, or my brother's consort!"

"That, I'm afraid, is a bit of a long story Thor." I admitted with an exhale. "And there is one thing I'd really like to do now."

The way he looked at the both of us I had no doubt what he was thinking, I wasn't sure if I wanted to smack him or roll my eyes. In the end, my daughters choosing that very moment to approach kept me from doing either (probably the reason why they chose that exact moment).

"My love," I call to him, directing his attention to our eldest. "You remember Helena Miriel Lokidottir, of course."

"Of course I do." He responded promptly, placing a kiss on her brow. "The light of our lives…"

"Ada (Papa)…" Helena whispered, voice watery, even as she did her best to hold back her tears.

"And…" I added, pulling his attention. "This is Meril Alfdis Tinúvieldottir."

"Lokidottir." He stated automatically, even as he took her in.

Meril just smiled at him, giving him all of a handful of seconds to take a good look at her before throwing herself into his arms, whispering all the words she knew for Father into his ear as she refused to let go. It was understandable, she had never had a father before that moment.

"My baby girl…" He whispered back, kissing her temple repeatedly.

I just couldn't help myself anymore in that moment, I began to cry. Not in sadness, not at all, but in joy, the perfect happiness I was feeling in that moment… I just couldn't imagine anything making the moment any more perfect.

And then Helena had the idea:

"Sing Nana…" She whispered softly, an eagerness in her voice that I hadn't heard in centuries. "I haven't heard you sing in so long…"

"Yes my Nightingale," My love agreed wholeheartedly. "Sing."

I just looked at him. Just for a moment, as I let everything I felt for him fill me; every ounce of love, of hope, of joy, of peace… everything that had carried me to that moment; through all the grief, the pain, the desperation, and made all of that worth it, just to be able to live that instant.

"A thousand years, a thousand more,

A thousand times a million doors to eternity

I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times

An endless turning stairway climbs

To a tower of souls

If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars,

The towers rise to numberless floors in space

I could shed another million tears, a million breaths,

A million names but only one truth to face"

Stephen and Pietro approached us eventually, holding their respective matches close. Once the song came to an end Helena and Meril would get their chance to introduce them to their father, and he'd get the chance to intimidate them properly. I had no doubt that there would be weddings soon, at least one. Stephen had approached me to ask for Helena's hand nearly six months prior. I had been waiting for them to announce a date for almost that long; and in that moment, as we all stood together, I couldn't help but wonder if there had been a reason why they hadn't. If perhaps she had been waiting all along, waiting for the return of the man who would give her away…

"A million roads, a million fears

A million suns, ten million years of uncertainty

I could speak a million lies, a million songs,

A million rights, a million wrongs in this balance of time

But if there was a single truth, a single light

A single thought, a singular touch of grace

Then following this single point, this single flame,

This single haunted memory of your face"

"I still love you

I still want you

A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves

Like galaxies in my head"

Soon our story would have to be told. There was no way of knowing if Thor, his parents and everyone else in Asgard would ever remember, but it was irrelevant, at least for me. I had my match, along with our daughters, they were my home; that was all I needed, all I could ever need. And it wasn't even just them, not anymore. Even if we had never really felt at home, none of us, not completely, that didn't change that we each had new lives, people we cared for. Meril, with the twins, and her contacts across the Realm; Helena, with those at SHIELD, and Stephen's Mystic Order. And me? I had Charles, Erik, Anya, Django, Nina and every single mutant that was part of the Institute (past and present). I could hardly wait for my love to meet them all, to see the lives we'd built for ourselves; just like I wanted us to learn everything there was to know about his own life, the life of Clavis Hvedrungr, Doctor of Culture and Folklore, SHIELD Consultant.

"I may be numberless, I may be innocent

I may know many things, I may be ignorant

Or I could ride with kings who conquer many lands

Or win this world at cards and let it slip my hands

I could be cannon food, destroyed a thousand times

Reborn as fortune's child to judge another's crimes

Or wear this pilgrim's cloak, or be a common thief

I've kept this single faith, I have but one belief"

"I still love you

I still want you

A thousand times the mysteries unfold themselves

Like galaxies in my head

On and on the mysteries unwind themselves

Eternities still unsaid

'Til you love me"

A thousand years… I had been alive for more than a millennia, and from the moment I first laid eyes on him, as I sat on my throne as crown princess of Alfheim, and the second prince of Asgard surprised me by pronouncing the formal elven greeting… I had never known another like him, never loved another like him, and I never would. It didn't matter if Clavis looked hardly at all like Loki, if he was a bit shorter, less muscled. None of that mattered at all. The truth was there, in his eyes, for me to see. He was, indeed, my match. It was his soul shining through those jade green eyes, calling to me, just like they, like he, always had.

And then my love looked straight into my hazel eyes and began reciting, in a low, husky voice:

"I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…

In life after life, in age after age, forever.

My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,

That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,

In life after life, in age after age, forever."

Yes, that was it exactly. I had always loved him, and he'd always loved me, regardless of what forms our bodies may take, our souls were always the same, they always would be. We were matched souls and we'd love each other, until the last star fell from the sky…