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Heir to Stormy Skies

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Steve Rogers had wondered more than once why it was that bad guys seemed to be able to generate pocket armies of foot-soldiers no matter how isolated they happened to be – or how crazy they were. He smacked down another human version of a worker ant with the flat of his shield and then threw the shield to take out two more, catching it when it rebounded back to him just in time to block a shot from some other worker ant’s red laser weapon.

He’d also wondered why they always had seemingly limitless stockpiles of science-fiction guns at their disposal while everyone else was stuck with regular artillery. That one had never been answered to his satisfaction either.

Three more worker ants attacked him, and he fended them off and set about disabling them so they couldn’t rejoin the fight. The rest of the Avengers were doing the same, and together they were slowly pushing the latest megalomaniac’s forces away from the buildings he’d been running his evil overlord startup out of in this isolated little coastal valley that boasted steep cliffs on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.

A shot rang out, then another, and to his horror Steve saw Natasha Romanov – the assassin known as Black Widow – crumple to the ground. A flash of movement caught his eye, running toward one of the already-cleared buildings, and Steve took off after it. “Thor’s got the Widow, stay where you are Hawkeye!” he ordered over his earpiece. “I’m going after the shooter, keep your eyes open for any more surprises.”

“Go get him, Cap,” came a growl from Tony Stark, who was harrying the enemy forces from overhead in his Iron Man suit. “We’ve got this.” The Hulk roared in agreement and leaped into the middle of a group of soldiers who were trying to converge on Thor’s position, knocking them away like annoying insects. “Well, Hulk’s got this. I’ll…back him up.”

Steve snickered as he ran. He plunged into the building after the shooter, knowing full well that he wasn’t in any danger of being ambushed – not only had he cleared that building himself, but if there had been more than one shooter then everyone not wearing armor would have gotten shot. And trying to take him as a hostage…well, the bad guys had learned the hard way, over the years, that capturing an Avenger was a very bad idea. This man was alone, and running from him, a mouse to Steve’s star-spangled cat.

His earpiece beeped as he followed the man downstairs, down under the building and into the underground parking garage – too much concrete overhead equaled no signal getting through, but Steve was all right with that. Even if something unexpected did happen, like him getting pinned down, his team would come after him if he wasn’t back in radio contact within a reasonable amount of time.

They reached the lowest level of the parking garage and Steve finally cornered the shooter. In, well, a corner. The man was breathing hard, but shook his head and raised his hands when Steve started to get close; the gun was on the ground where he’d apparently tossed it, a good ten feet away. “It’s not what you think, Captain,” he panted. “I had my instructions…”

“I’m sure you did,” Steve growled. “You shot one of my teammates, I’m supposed to think that was something other than what it was? Maybe that you aren’t really a bad guy?”

“I’m not.” The man saw the disbelief and shook his head. “No really, I’m not. I just had to do something to get you to follow me. I was supposed to save you…” Steve’s eyes widened – it had been a trap, just not the kind he’d anticipated – and he whirled and ran back towards the stairs. The man cried out in panic. “No, don’t go up there! I’m with sh…”

That was when a giant impact somewhere over their heads roared through the concrete, shaking it violently, and the lights went out.

 

Steve came back to his senses an indefinite amount of time later - he didn’t think he’d been unconscious, but he was definitely disoriented. He was lying near the base of the stairs, actually pushed up against the side of them, and when he looked up…he saw broken daylight pouring in where there had been several levels worth of concrete earlier. He got to his feet and moved back into the garage, retrieving the discarded gun, and saw the feet of the man he’d been chasing sticking out from behind a collapsed support pillar; a closer look showed that the upper part of the pillar had collapsed on top of the man’s body, and that he was never going to be telling anybody anything ever again. He checked the body anyway, but his eyes went back to the stairs, to the daylight. Going down into the garage had cut him out of radio contact with his team, but maybe now… “Guys? Iron Man? Anyone? Can anyone hear me?”

Silence. His earpiece didn’t even give back any static. Maybe he was still too far down? He slung his shield onto his back and raced up the stairs, vaulting over debris and holes, jumping, climbing, tossing chunks of concrete aside. The farther up he got, the faster he moved. He was panicking, he knew it…but he could see the sky, he should be able to hear something other than the sounds he himself was making. But there was nothing, nothing at all.

Finally, clawing his way up onto the ground floor, he pulled himself out of the garage level and got to his feet. The building was gone, flattened into rubble. Everything else was gone too, there was nothing standing as far as he could see. In the blue sky overhead, a fading set of twin contrails streaked upwards, disappearing through the clouds, the plane that had made them long since vanished back to wherever it had come from. He stared at them, hearing the shooter again: I was supposed to save you

And to do that, he’d shot Black Widow and lured Steve underground. He must have thought the lower level of the parking garage would be far enough down to save them both. Or maybe he’d been told it would be? Had he been planted in the garage for just that purpose, concealed to avoid their sweep of the buildings? By whoever had dropped the bomb?

I’m with sh…

Steve shoved aside growing horror. The wallet he’d taken off the shooter’s body was heavy in his pocket, but he didn’t take it out, wasn’t ready to confirm what he suspected the man had been about to confess to when the bomb had dropped. Slowly, he walked forward, toward the last place he’d seen his friends, his teammates, the other Avengers.

There were bodies, most of them unrecognizably charred, but he could tell which ones had been the enemy ground troops they’d been fighting. The one with a singed remnant of red hair, however, wasn’t. Steve scrounged a length of rebar, tore a strip off of his uniform shirt, and planted the improvised flag to mark the location of Natasha Romanov’s body. And then he started looking again.

More rebar flags went up. Bruce, his body grotesquely distorted as though he’d been caught in mid-transformation. Clint, half-buried in the rubble of the building he’d been perched on top of, his bow still in his hand. Thor, Mjolnir lying unscathed just out of his reach and his scale armor melted into a solid mass of warped silver. And Tony…Steve broke into a run when he saw the Iron Man armor, charred and partially melted but still mostly intact. The arc reactor wasn’t glowing, but he ripped off the faceplate anyway, hoping against hope, and haad subsequently been crushed by what he found underneath. He dismantled more of the suit just to check and found the once smooth and shiny surface of the arc reactor heat-warped and cracked, the flesh that had surrounded it drawn back crisp and black like overcooked bacon. Steve put the armor back together with shaking hands, and planted the last flag.

And then he pulled the billfold out of his pocket and looked inside. He was sure it was possible the ID inside could have been faked, but he didn’t think it was. He tucked the billfold away again and looked around. He didn’t think it had been a very big bomb, but it had been a hot one – he could feel the radiation on his skin like incipient sunburn. So nobody would be coming for a while, they wouldn’t be able to. He had time. Possibly he had until the next morning, maybe the morning after that, before they’d come to retrieve the only thing they’d wanted to keep.

I’m with SH…

He started to consider ways to take that away from them, then stopped. He had a day, maybe two or three – but he was going with a day, tops. And he had things he needed to do with that time, important things. Depriving this newly-revealed enemy of their serum-filled prize needed to be the last thing on that list, not the first.

He checked his flags, then walked down towards the rocky coastline. The sand was blackened but hadn’t turned to glass, confirming his supposition that the bomb hadn’t been all that big. He looked out over the waves. No ships in sight. Then he picked out a spot he liked and got to work. He was giving himself until morning, he wouldn’t count on having any more time than that.

By the time the sky had begun shading down to indigo and the moon had started to rise, five rough biers ringed a half-circle of clean-swept sand, and the remains of five heroes had been laid out in state, the makeshift flags that had marked the spots where they’d fallen re-planted in a line where the sand was black, like sentinels guarding them from the rest of the devastation the bomb had wrought. Steve came back from where he’d been pitching the remains of Tony’s suit and the arc reactor out into the sea – he’d be damned if anyone was going to ‘study’ any of it – and looked over the arrangement with a frown. He wanted to burn the bodies the rest of the way, but he was afraid that what little flammable material he’d been able to glean from the less-damaged areas of the parking garage might not be enough. For some of the others it might not be much of a problem – after all, except for Tony their bodies were pretty well burned already – but he wasn’t sure that would be good enough for Thor, considering who he was. He didn’t want to offend the Asgard or upset Thor’s family by not getting the thing done properly.

He walked over to Thor’s bier and looked down at Mjolnir, which he’d placed in the center of the fallen thunder god’s chest. He’d had a fleeting hope that the magic hammer of Asgard would do what he’d heard it had done before and raise its wielder from the dead, but that hadn’t happened. He looked up at the stars that were appearing in the creeping indigo of the night sky, picking out the constellation Thor had once pointed out to him as the location of the Bifrost, the celestial road that led home. Following some vague instinct, Steve knelt down and placed his hands on the hammer and begged it to have just a little bit of magic left, just enough to send a message. “Thor is dead. He was betrayed, but he died with honor,” he explained, hoping that somehow the ever-listening Heimdall would hear him. “I don’t have the resources to do things the way I’m sure you’d do them, but I’ll do the best I can…and leave as little as possible for those who come later to find. I don’t want them to get their hands on him, on any of them. I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep that from happening.”

And under his hands, he felt Mjolnir grow warm, and a star flared brightly in the distant sky. Steve smiled, they’d heard him. He took his hands away and went back to his gathered supplies, wondering if someone on Asgard would know once the pyre for their prince had been lit.

He had just finished kindling the small fire he’d be using to light the larger ones when blue-white light stabbed down onto the beach about a hundred feet away, flaring out into a circle and depositing a group of armed warriors. Steve got to his feet with an effort and met them halfway, bowing when they got close. “I’m glad you heard me,” he said. “I didn’t know if you’d be able to come.”

The man in the lead bowed back. “You alone survived, Captain of America?” he asked.

Steve nodded, bitter regret for that evident in his expression and voice. “A man shot Black Widow from the shelter of a building where our archer couldn’t reach him. I chased him down into the lower levels, and when I caught him he said his instructions had been to ‘save’ me by luring me away from the fight. I was trying to get back out of the building to rejoin my teammates when the bomb fell.”

The warrior scowled. “This man, did you kill him?”

“I didn’t have the chance – part of the building collapsed and crushed him,” Steve said, shaking his head. “I took what identification he had…and that was how I learned that the Avengers had been betrayed. By our own people.”

“A bitter pill for a warrior to swallow,” the other man conceded with genuine sympathy. “It is difficult to live when your comrades die, I know. But the blame lies only on those who killed them, not on those who survive.”

“I’m not sure I agree with you, but thank you anyway,” Steve replied. The other warriors had spread out, looking at the biers, the bodies, before clustering around Thor’s. “I was going to burn Mjolnir with him, I didn’t want anyone else to get hold of it.” He sighed. “I’d hoped…I’d heard it brought him back once before, but nothing happened when I put it in his hand. I’m sorry.”

“If it was our prince’s time to enter Valhalla, then it was his time,” the warrior said, moving closer and putting a hand on his shoulder. “We will…” Then he apparently realized something. “Wait, you placed Mjolnir in his hand?”

“Did I do something wrong?”

The man looked thunderstruck. “No, it was not wrong, but…” He took Steve’s arm, led him over to the bier. He seemed even more amazed to see the hammer in the center of his dead prince’s chest, the burned hands placed with care over its handle. He looked around at his fellow warriors, receiving nods of agreement to the question he did not need to voice. “Captain,” he said, sounding strained. “If you would…Mjolnir can call down the fire of the heavens, it can burn the bodies of these heroes with heat greater than any fire conjured on earth and stone. If you would take it up, and will this thing to happen, we will all then be assured that they will not be defiled in death.”

Steve was puzzled, but he shrugged. “Okay, if you want me to do it, I will.” He carefully moved Thor’s hands away from Mjolnir’s handle and wrapped his own around it, lifting it and stepping back, gesturing with his other hand for the warriors to move back as well. “Move back, I don’t want any of you to get hurt,” he warned. And then he lifted the hammer aloft, pointing it into the sky, into the stars. Words appeared in his mind, something he assumed he’d heard Thor say before. “Cleansing fire, I call you,” he whispered, closing his eyes so he could concentrate better. “Come and do that which I cannot do myself.”

Had his eyes been open, he would have seen what the openmouthed warriors of Asgard saw. Mjolnir glowed, and overhead clouds swirled into place, grey against the black sky. Then with a crack like a giant’s whip, five spears of lightning stabbed down out of the sky, igniting the five pyres and then incinerating them to ash. Steve dropped to his knees, feeling the power flow out of him like water out of a sieve. He lowered the hammer but didn’t let go of it, blinking open his eyes and seeing with relief that there was now nothing left for the people who had betrayed them to find and use.

Except for him, of course. But he’d figure out what to do about that once the Asgard warriors had left with Mjolnir.

Strong hands lifted him to his feet, and kept hold to steady him. Two of the warriors were checking the biers; they returned nodding. “The tide will carry all away at dawn,” one of them said. “It is well done.”

“Then we are finished here,” their leader, Brede, said – Steve couldn’t remember the man telling him his name, but he knew he must have because it was Brede. “Into the circle! Mjolnir shall guide us back to the Bifrost, and we shall shake the dust of cursed Midgard off our feet.”

“I don’t blame you for feeling that way,” Steve told him quietly. The others had melted away ahead of them, and now it was only Brede who kept his hand on Steve’s arm. “Just know that not all people here are bad. There are many, many people on Earth – Midgard – who would condemn what happened here if they ever found out about it.”

“That I know,” Brede assured him. “Your pardon, Captain; I meant no insult to the people your Avengers – our prince among them – found worthy of their protection. There is, however, nothing more you can do for them now.”

“I know.” It was a relief of sorts that Brede had recognized the problem. “I can’t…I wish I could avenge the deaths of my friends, but even if I fight until they kill me they’ll still have gotten what they wanted – I’m almost as valuable to them dead as I am alive. I can’t let that happen.”

“Nor can we,” Brede told him. They must have reached the circle now – Steve couldn’t tell in the dark – because they stopped walking and Brede gave the arm holding Mjolnir a little push. “Raise her, Captain, and we shall depart this place.”

Steve lifted his arm, once again pointing Mjolnir to the heavens. The others all raised their hands as well, wrapping them over and around his, and it wasn’t until he’d already thought Home at the hammer that he realized they were taking him with them. And then the power welled up and blue fire flooded over them all before he could question what was happening.

 

On Asgard, Odin had realized his son was dead long before any message came from Midgard to that effect; he was the All-Father, these things were known to him. He jumped from his seat and raced from the room, leaving a white-faced wife behind him as he ran with all speed for the gates of Valhalla. Those gates opened for him when he arrived, but he did not go through them. “My son, I must speak with him!” he called urgently. “Thor!”

Hel, his granddaughter and the guardian of the Ninth World, appeared beside the gates. It was not normally her job to guard them, but it was her duty to keep out those who would enter unworthily, or to call those back whose time had not been finished. “All-Father, calm yourself…”

“Hel, I felt him betrayed,” he snapped. “I must know who our vengeance is to fall upon, or if it is to fall at all. Call him!”

“No need.” Thor appeared, brushing back his red cloak. He sighed. “Father, there is nothing you can do. Those who betrayed myself and the other Avengers…they have precious little honor, but Midgard needs them. They defend her people from countless evils, both large and small.”

Odin froze. “They betrayed all of you?”

Thor nodded. “Yes, all – we were together, fighting their enemies, when they attacked us from above. Even the Man of Iron was helpless before the terrible weapon they dropped on us from the sky.” He shivered. “It burned, Father. It was a death most horrible.”

“I am sorry, my son.” Odin bowed his head, thinking, and when he raised it again his eye was placid, but determined. “Very well, I shall not punish Midgard at this time.” He drew in a breath. “But my eye will be upon them, and should they ever cease to defend those you protected…the wrath of Asgard shall fall and punish their lack of honor in the name of those whom they betrayed.”

Thor nodded. “As you say it, Father.” He smiled sadly. “I must go now. I would not see you or Mother any too soon, please – or our good captain, either. Take care of yourselves.”

“Go to your reward, my son,” Odin told him. “You have earned it, go.” Thor disappeared. Odin turned to Hel. “Thank you for holding his shade here that I might speak with him.”

“I did nothing, All-Father,” she intoned. “He waited, knowing you would come.” And then she vanished and the gates began to close. Odin stared at them for a long moment before turning away, and beginning the long walk back to his wife’s side with much to think about.

When he finally arrived back at the palace, many hours had passed – which he had expected, as time flowed differently at the gates than it did elsewhere. Frigga was waiting for him, red-eyed but calm. “Husband, there has been a development. The leader of those named the Avengers called out to Asgard; he burns the bodies of his companions that they might not fall into their betrayer’s hands.” She sighed. “I have sent Brede and his warriors four to him, to retrieve Mjolnir and to hear what tale the Captain of America has to tell of our son’s death.” She cast a wise eye over him. “Did Thor speak to you?”

“Our son waited by the gates for me to come,” he told her gravely. “He said all the Avengers were betrayed by those who defend the people of Midgard from threats both great and small. I gave him my word that I shall not call the wrath of Asgard down on them so long as they continue to protect the people in this manner. That was agreeable to him, and he bade us not to join him in Valhalla until our time of life was well ended before he departed to his reward.”

Frigga nodded. “I have already told Sif and the Warriors Three, and then had word of Thor’s death spread to the rest of Asgard and her allies,” she said. “But the feast shall not be held until Mjolnir is returned to us from Midgard.”

“As you say it,” Odin agreed, and then reached out and took her hand. And they sat in silence for a good long while, waiting.

 

Steve was having a hard time believing that Brede and the others had brought him to Asgard, and understanding why they insisted that he carry Thor’s hammer to Odin and present it himself. Was it because he’d been a fellow warrior who was there when Thor was killed, was this just the proper way of doing things among Thor’s people? Steve tried to walk as tall as he could, just in case, wanting anyone who saw him to know that he knew the importance of what he was carrying, hoping they would see by his example that some of the people of Earth did have honor.

Finally, they arrived at the throne room, the great doors swinging open silently to admit them. The room was full of staring people, but Steve only had eyes for the man and woman seated on thrones on the dais at the end of the room. Thor’s parents. He carried Mjolnir up to the foot of the dais and bowed. “Odin All-Father, I bring to you news of the death of your son, my shield brother. And I return Mjolnir to her home.” And he held out the hammer flat on both hands for Odin to take.

Slowly, Odin stood up and walked down the steps until he faced the mortal who had survived the betrayal his son had not. As he drew near, however, he realized that he was mistaken in thinking the boy a mortal, for mortals tended to appear somewhat diminished by the power of Asgard and this boy did not. Not to mention, he had walked in carrying Mjolnir and was even now holding it in his hands. Odin took the hammer, feeling the power running through it, letting it sing to him softly of what had occurred and the choice it had made, and then he held it back out to the boy his son had called captain – it made sense now, that Thor had included this one in his wish to not be joined in Valhalla any time soon. “Take her,” he said when Steve hesitated. “She has chosen a new wielder.”

Steve looked mystified. “But I’m not…I’m not from Asgard, I’m not one of you.”

“You are not from Asgard, but you are of Asgard,” Odin explained, frowning thoughtfully. Mjolnir was still singing. “Someone chose you, changed you. Who was it?”

A look of great sadness filled the boy’s eyes. “His name was Dr. Erskine,” he said. “He created a serum that was to be used to create supersoldiers – strong, perfect warriors. He was forced to use it on an evil man, and found that what it had been created for was not exactly what it did. It didn’t make a man perfect, it just made him more of what he truly was inside.” He swallowed. “The evil man became a monster called Red Skull, cruel and powerful and completely without humanity.”

Odin cocked his head. “And you?”

“He chose me…because I don’t like bullies,” the boy said softly. “He convinced the Army to let him give me the serum, and it worked the way he’d wanted it to…but he was killed only minutes later and the secret of the serum died with him.”

Odin nodded. “And the Red Skull?”

The boy’s spine straightened. “Once I finally managed to get there, my team and I chased him and his people all over Europe,” he said. “I finally caught up with him and we fought – it would have been to the death, but he tried to use the artifact he had aboard the ship and it…well, it sort of dissolved him, and then it sucked what was left into a portal much like the one your people use to travel to Ear…to Midgard. Thor brought you the artifact when he returned Loki to you.”

“Yes, we have it well-secured now – no one is quite sure how it came to be on Midgard in the first place,” Odin admitted. “But this man Erskine…he chose well, Mjolnir confirms it. And as her choice is made, mine must follow suit.” He frowned thoughtfully. “What is your Midgardian name? I know you only by your title as leader of the Avengers, the Captain of America, as my son called you.”

The boy blinked at him. “My name is Captain Steven Rogers, sir.”

Odin nodded, thought a moment. “That is your name on Midgard, but you are now of Asgard. I name you Stefan Erskineson, to honor the one who made you of Asgard, gave you his blessing, and sent you to defeat his enemy.” He held out the hammer again. “Take Mjolnir, she is yours to wield now.”

Steve hesitated, then reached out and took the hammer. The moment his fingers wrapped around it, something happened. He heard singing, soft and melancholy but happy at the same time, and a rush of power flowed through him like fresh water. He heard several people gasp, and realized that his torn, filthy uniform had been replaced by a laced blue shirt, black pants and tall boots, and a long grey hooded cloak. His shield was a reassuring weight on his back, and there was a hook on his belt like one he’d seen on Thor’s which was meant for holding Mjolnir. He blinked at the outfit, then back up at Odin. “I…I don’t understand.”

To his surprise, the old king smiled at him sadly. “You will,” he said. “But for now,” his voice rose, addressing the entire room, “it is time for us to honor Thor, Prince of Asgard and Defender of Midgard. His feast awaits!”

 

The feast for Thor was a surreal experience for Steve. First of all, he had never seen so much food in one place before in his entire life – Thor’s appetite was suddenly making a lot more sense to him. And secondly, he had been seated with Thor’s friends, Sif and the Warriors Three, and they were so much like his dead friends that he spent a good deal of the feast trying not to call any of them by someone else’s name.

The feast went on for a long, long time in Steve’s perception. There was eating, and toasting, and stories were told about Thor by pretty much everyone at the ridiculously long table. Even Steve was made to tell some stories, which he did, and was proud of himself for not breaking down into tears while he did it. He was so tired. Finally, though, the warrior called Fandral tugged on his arm and they all left the table, although it was plain that the party wasn’t anywhere near over yet.

Fandral kept hold of Steve’s arm all the way out of the feasting hall, leading him to a balcony that looked out over the city – was it a city? Steve didn’t know. There were seats there, low and comfortable, and a small firepit, and once they had all settled in a jug of mead was brought out and cups passed around. “Tell us of our shield brother,” Fandral requested. “I see stories within you that you would not share at the table, stories we would ask you to share with us. Tell us of Thor’s life on Midgard, and what he did there when he was not battling the strong that prey upon the weak.”

Steve nodded, taking a sip of his mead and then rolling the cup between his palms. “He lived with us in the tower Tony Stark – Iron Man, or as Thor called him, the Man of Iron – built,” he said. “He had his own rooms, on the floor above mine, but we all tended to get together in the family room and use the kitchen there to cook in.” A sad smile quirked one corner of his mouth. “He liked Pop Tarts, a lot. They’re a sort of pastry with something like sweet fruit jam inside of them and sugar frosting on the outside, and they don’t go bad for a very long time. Thor would usually eat a whole box at a sitting, we never were able to get him to understand that one of the six packages in the box was a serving, not the entire box at once.”

“Thor’s appetite was second only to mine,” the largest of the Three, Volstagg, boomed proudly.

“He, however, did not boast of it as though it were an achievement.” Heimdall had appeared out of the shadows; he took a seat next to Sif and held out a cup, which Fandral silently filled with mead. “I, too, would hear your stories, Stefan Erskineson,” he said quietly. “I may hear all from the Bifrost, but those are words, not tales.”

Steve nodded again, collecting his scattering thoughts. He was so tired. “I can tell you a story about my friend Thor,” he finally said. “A couple of years ago, we had just finished fighting a huge battle, and he found this little dog…”

 

The night had grown old and Thor’s feast had wound down, those who had attended breaking off into smaller, private groups to drink and remember on their own in comfort. Odin, however, had sought solitude, wishing to think over all the day had wrought. He stood on the wide balcony which wrapped around the side of his private chambers, leaning on the balustrade and staring up into the swath of stars that were like a brightly-lit road across the darkness of the void. Many things were on his mind, among them the boy who Mjolnir had chosen, and who he had seen taken off during the feast by Fandral and the others. He wondered if the boy was still with them; Frigga had forgotten, understandably considering the circumstances, to have the servants prepare a room for Stefan Erskineson – not that either of them knew as of yet what they were going to do with the boy in light of Mjolnir’s choosing, or where he should reside in Asgard. Odin wondered if he should send someone to find the boy, to make sure he was taken care of for the night at least.

A rustle – a deliberately made one – alerted him that he was no longer alone. “Stephan Erskineson sleeps, on a cot in Fandral’s chambers.” Heimdall glided out of the darkness and came to stand beside him. “I will have him as my apprentice.”

That surprised Odin. “You haven’t taken an apprentice in a thousand years.”

“I will take him.” Heimdall leaned on the balustrade himself, looking out over the soft lights of Asgard to the softer, brighter lights of the night sky. “Mjolnir did not just claim him, she marked him – his shield, which once bore the markings of the country of his birth, now bears a likeness of the Bifrost in silver with Midgard a star of gold in its proper place. He is the guardian of both, and I will train him in the ways of Asgard and the Bifrost.” He snorted. “He knows enough of Midgard already.”

Odin couldn’t disagree with that. “The boy had more tales than he told at the feast, did you hear them?”

Heimdall nodded. “Midgard teaches her sons to disdain tears as unmanly; he feared losing honor in our eyes as the loss is still too near for him not to feel it. His arms still ache with the weight of the bodies of his companions as he laid them to rest, his eyes still burn from the smoke of their passing.” Another glance sideways. “And although Mjolnir healed the burning in his skin from the weapon of death the betrayers used, I have told the healers to see to him when he wakes in the morning, that I might be sure he is well.”

“A good thought, and one that will reassure him as well as others,” Odin agreed. He sighed. “Asgard needs another heir.” He got another sideways look. “My wife would kill me for suggesting it, as you well know.”

Heimdall shrugged. “Then allow her to suggest it. It need not be done this night, or even this season – there is time.”

Odin smirked. “Time to train your apprentice to be to our next son what you are to me?”

A nod. “That and more, All-Father.” He was still looking at the stars. “Tonight, when you seek your bed, ask your wife what she has seen.” He waved a hand at the lights, bright and dim. “I see our future, and although it was born of loss and grief, it is nonetheless good.”

Odin sighed and leaned on the railing, looking back at the stars himself. “I will take your word for it.”

Heimdall smiled. “As it should be.”