Sleipnir was first. Loki doesn’t like to remember his conception, the pain and fear, and the shame that came after, when the courtiers murmured like he couldn’t hear, laughed, called him so many things. Thor never defended him. Father never spoke of it. Mother simply smiled any time Loki had a question.
He could not resume his true shape until after Sleipnir’s birth; Father took the colt even as Loki named him. Father told him to forget the child had ever been. (No one else, he noticed, ever forgot. Just a little more hypocrisy in a life full of it.)
Loki was too weak to do anything, his magick spent in surviving the year-long pregnancy.
As soon as he could, he followed the tiny little spark that was his magick in his son’s blood. The trail ended on Midgardr – Father had done something to block Sleipnir, and no matter how many times Loki asked, Heimdallr never told him where Sleipnir was, or how he was doing.
All Loki knew, for the longest time, was that his son lived.
(All Loki knew, for the rest of his life, was that his father stole his child and no one cared.
All Loki knew, for the rest of his life, was that he, eventually, would have vengeance – no matter who got in the way, or how long it would take.)
His first memory is warmth. A brief second of warmth all through him and then it is gone. He will never know how long he searched for that warmth before finding a group of two-leggers. He feels like something is missing; his legs ache no matter how long he rests.
One of the two-leggers calls him horse and enslaves him, no matter how he fights, how he screams.
Eventually, he submits.
He outlives every one of those two-leggers, and their children, and their children’s children, and by that time, he’s learned how to become a two-legger himself.
He learns to speak as a man. Learns to walk on two legs, learns to eat meat, learns to control fire. Learns how to lock everything inside so it isn’t written across his face. Learns to read and to write the two-legger scribbles. Learns to lie.
Learns how to sense when things are getting dangerous, and learns to move on.
He will never know how old he is, how long he’s lived. He travels and learns, and finally, a long long time later, he finds someone who is almost as warm as that first memory.
The language is different, the place is warmer, the people are more ‘civilized’ (whatever that means), and he is sweeping a porch when violence breaks out and he meets a man’s cold green eyes.
Warmth surges through him and he knows that he has found something he’s long been searching for: family.
Fenrir was next, followed in consecutive years by Jörmungandr and Hel. When Thor, somewhere between disgust and laughter, demanded to know how the ‘natural’ pairing of a man and woman ended up with the man pregnant, Loki truly had no explanation beyond waving his hand and saying, “Magick did it.”
Thor had rolled his eyes, shook his head, and stalked away.
Angrboða was patient with Loki during the long days of his pregnancies, and he knew that these three children, his little wolf and serpent and goddess, would fare better than Sleipnir. Surely this time hearts would be open to them? These pregnancies themselves were easier than Sleipnir and for each, Loki shifted into one of his female forms for the last month to actually give birth.
No one, whether his brother or mother or father, whether his magician colleagues, whether his ‘friends’ from the historian guild, ever visited to meet his children.
And Loki learned his lesson well when Odin came for them all. Angrboða was banished by order of the king, and Loki’s pup was locked in a cave, and Loki’s serpent was cast into the sea, and Loki’s only daughter was lost in the snow.
He could not find them. All of his children gone again, hidden by magick greater than he had yet learned, than he could yet do, and he swore to one day topple ‘Father’ from his throne. (How could a father do such a thing? Loki was a parent himself and could never do to his children what his father did to him.)
But Odin said to forget his children had ever been, and Thor called them monsters, laughing about it with his friends, and Mother would not meet Loki’s eyes whenever he tried to talk about his babies, and everyone spoke in loud voices of the Liesmith’s cursed spawn.
And so Loki, lesson learned, buried it all beneath his silver-tongue veneer and pretended.
All he knows is darkness. There was more, once, light and laughter and love, but it is gone now in the darkness. Cold and hard keep him immobile; silence keeps him in tears.
He is so bored. And terrified, and lonely, but mostly bored.
Someone somewhere is looking for him, but until they find him, he waits. Trapped. Alone. Bored.
After he lands in the water, he searches for Mother and Mummy. Once he realizes he will never find them (the beacon that is Mummy is gone gone out of sight, gone out of sight, gone away), he searches instead for his brother and sister. He quickly realizes they are not in the water with him, which means they must still be on land.
The moment he returns to land, the hard hands and biting magic of the One Who Tore Him Away From Mummy are on him again, and he lands back in the water, further out.
He makes a mistake but once. Clearly, if he goes on land in this form, he is found and banished. Again.
So he tries on a different form, like Mother and Mummy had barely begun teaching him.
When wearing the shape of prey, there are no hard hands, no biting magic, no cruel gaze of the One Who Tore Him Away From Mummy.
He must find his brother and sister, must find Mummy and Mother, must destroy the One Who Tore Him Away From Mummy, The Enemy. (The Enemy that he will one day twine around and crush like ripened fruit.)
But before all of that, he must learn a better shape, because being prey is exhausting.
She is cold and alone and frightened – but burning through all of that is fury. She had been in Mama’s arms, and something ripped her away, and there was pain and fear, and rage, and now there is only cold and wet. Everything is loud and cold and wet, and she’s alone.
A creature finds her in the cold; it cannot speak the language she had barely begun to learn, but it picks her up gently, cradles her close, and lumbers into the wind.
Whatever it is, it’s not Mama, but it’ll do for now, until she can find her Mama and Mother and brothers again.
Váli and Nari were just as much of a surprise as Sleipnir, though a far more pleasant conception. Again, it was magick turning in odd ways, and Loki was not hopeful that time.
That time, he grabbed Sigyn and he ran, going to ground far from Asgardr. In a little village on Múspellsheimr, they made new lives.
Loki gave birth to two strong sons. He named Váli, the older by eleven minutes; Sigyn named the younger Nari.
For the first few years, all seemed well.
And then Odin All-Father knocked on the door.
“Your brother has need of you, Loki of Asgardr,” Odin told him, not even sparing a glance at the first of his grandchildren born in ás shape. Sigyn stood between the children and Odin, and Loki stood before Sigyn, everything in him waiting for Odin’s blow.
He never saw it come. Everything went white and he woke in his room in the palace, and no one spoke of the years he was gone. It was like he never was.
When he tried to leave, Heimdallr stopped him every time.
Like each time before, he could still feel his children, their tiny little sparks. But he could not find them. Could not even leave to search for them or for Sigyn, who he knew still lived.
And so, he did what he could, what he must. As before, he pretended.
As before, he planned.
(As before, he hated, in the slow burn of Jötunheimr’s coldest depths.)
He remembers his brother, always half a step behind him after they learned how to walk. There’s a blink between walking and being alone, and he knows something important happened there, something –
Ma screamed, he knows that, and Mama was just gone, but where is Nari, Nari -
The people are kind to a foundling, but it’s not home.
It’s not home, and his brother isn’t here, and he shouldn’t remember everything, there’s a lie trying to scramble his mind, but he won’t let it, no he won’t, because his brother is out there somewhere, and Ma, and Mama–
He pulls on the locals’ shape, like Mama had just begun to teach him, and he looks adult even though he knows he’s not, and he leaves. Nari is out there somewhere.
He’ll find his brother, and then he’ll find his parents, and then he’ll find the man whose lie keeps trying to take over his life.
He doesn’t remember anything. He wakes up to a woman and an old man staring at him, in a hard and dirty bed, and they jabber at him; it takes too long before he understands, and the woman calls him stupid, and he doesn’t protest because he doesn’t understand. Who is he? Who are they, and where is he, and why does he feel – there’s a gaping hole inside him.
He’s shoved in with a group of children. There’s never enough food, and he’s always cold, and the work is hard. But he learns quickly; because he never speaks, everyone still thinks him stupid.
He notices, thankfully before anyone else, that he doesn’t age as quickly as the boys around him. He spends a few days studying the others and matches his age to theirs.
When he is turned out, he leaves the town because there is still a giant hole gaping inside and everything in him yearns for something, and he has nothing else to do but search the world until he finds it.
Unlike the rest of the seven, Vin Tanner is not a predator born. It's been a very long time, hundreds of years by two-le - no, human count, for he is a human now, has been human in longer than he wasn't, since he learned man-shape. But his instincts are still to flee before fighting, though he fights in defense of his family where he would not fight for himself.
The little town of Four Corners his territory and his companions watch with interest as he cares for his horse far better than he does himself, and they ask about his past because, unlike the others, it is not obvious.
Chris’ family burned while he was gone; Josiah is a priest who lost his faith; Nathan was born a slave; Buck is Chris’ oldest (and only, until now) friend; JD is a kid trying to prove himself; Ezra is a slick con man (lie); and then Vin. He’s a white man who acts like an Indian, who defends a black man and all others who have ever been enslaved, who has a death sentence waiting for him, who rides like he’s part of the horse.
“You are very intriguing, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said that first night they were all together, getting ready to defend the village made of Indians and once-slaves. “I believe you might even be older than me, and that is a neat trick.”
“I don’t know how old I am,” Vin had confessed, the first time he’d ever admitted to anyone that he was much more than he seemed.
Chris stalked down from where he’d been with Buck and JD; Ezra tipped his hat and vanished into the night.
After everything is done, after they’ve all settled into Four Corners, Ezra will occasionally ask Vin questions, trying to pin down his age. He finally decides on somewhere around 350 and informs Vin that, from what he’s described, he spent those first years in Mongolia, most likely.
Vin hasn’t mentioned that he was a horse in those early years, but Ezra is quite clever and already figured out on his own, from what Vin did and didn’t say, that Vin can change his shape. Ezra is coy about his own past and his true age, but Vin can tell it's at least a century younger than his. When Maude takes Four Corners by storm, Vin learns a whole lot more about Ezra Standish's true nature.
Maude is simply a conjurer, though, who uses small magic; she summoned Ezra but only maintains the tiniest control of him anymore. And she looks upon Vin without any idea of what he truly is.
"I await the day she dies and I am free again," Ezra confesses to Vin while Maude charms the rest of their group.
Vin doesn't try to comfort him. Instead, he tells Ezra a story that's mostly fictional about a horse who traveled from one side of the planet to the other, and Ezra listens with a sad smile.
"And at last the horse walked out of the desert, ghosts of the first peoples behind him, and chose a name: Vin, for the wind he ran with," Vin says, and Ezra laughs. That very same wind twirls around them and Vin knows that Ezra's freedom will come soon.
When the man steps into his cave, the wolf has long since forgotten how to speak. His mind has eaten itself up, seeking an escape, and all he has is his growl.
The man walks up to him, entirely unafraid, and doesn’t blink before setting his fragile little hand on the wolf’s nose. “This is unacceptable, brother mine,” the man says. “I demand you remember right now.”
It’s ridiculous, and the wolf will pretend he can’t recall it later, but the man’s command works: everything Fenrir once was, all the potential, pours back into him from the dark hole he’d shoved it into, and magick chains he’s long since outgrown shatter.
He snarls, low and vicious, and the man’s smile matches the sound.
They call her Hela, and she’s almost sure that was her name in the Before. Or something very like it. They are made of snow and ice and the deepest cold; she can touch them and not be hurt, unlike any other NotUs in the realms.
They call her Hela and their queen is dying; when the queen leaves them behind for the Great Winter, Hela shall assume the throne of ice, and it will be wonderful.
Because she remembers Mama and Mother and Brothers. She knows that it was none of their choices to leave her here in Niflheimr.
The Enemy, whoever it is, tried to kill her in the Dark Winter, and instead it has given her an army of the most powerful mages in the realms – only magick allows her people to survive the Dark Days, and it has cost her half her life to learn the magick… but learn it she has, and she will have the throne and an army, and she will find her family, and she will turn her Enemy to ice and throw it into the deepest chasm in all the realms.
They call her Hela and her will shall be done.
Jörmungandr teaches him how to become prey. “We need shapes other than our own to escape The Enemy,” he explains patiently while Fenrir takes his time becoming accustomed to his size and the magick frothing around him.
Prey are boring, Fenrir snaps, but he lets Jörmungandr lead him in his first transformation.
Jörmungandr also explains that they cannot use their names aloud because The Enemy has a Watcher and a Listener. Fenrir snarls at losing his name after just regaining it, but Jörmungandr doesn’t flinch.
“Come, little brother,” he says, guiding Fenrir out of the cave and into the light. He shields his eyes, but strains every other sense trying to learn everything.
“I do remember being older than you,” Fenrir retorts, pausing to feel the world, but Jörmungandr just smiles.
This, this chaos, this wildness, this freedom is what he was kept from. This is what was taken from him, and he remembers everything now. He was still toddling around on unsteady legs, but the memories are all there.
“How long?” he demands softly.
“Just under two hundred years,” Jörmungandr murmurs. “I’ve spent the past half century simply trying to sneak past The Enemy’s magick guarding you.”
“What of Mummy and Mother?” Fenrir asks after a moment of shock. “Or – or Sister?”He just keeps himself from saying her name.
Jörmungandr nods approvingly. “I know that she is safe; she was taken in by the ice behemoths of Niflheimr, where The Enemy cast her.” He smiles again. “She is their queen; they worship her, brother, and it is quite adorable.”
“Sister is not adorable,” Fenrir says. “She’s terrifying.” But he’s smiling at the thought, too.
“Mother, I found on Ālfheimr,” Jörmungandr continues. “She is a mage-for-hire, and she takes particular joy in attacking aesir.”
Aesir, yes – The Enemy is their All-Father, is he not? And Fenrir and his siblings’ grandfather. Oh, yes, Fenrir wouldn’t mind tearing a few aesir apart.
“But Mummy,” Jörmungandr murmurs, and Fenrir turns to stare at him because that does not sound good. “Mummy,” Jörmungandr continues, “I cannot find him at all. No scent, no trace – nothing. It’s as if he never was. I know his name; I know he is on Asgardr – but I cannot find him, and he has not found me.”
Fenrir bites down a howl; Mummy had always found him when he howled, but he has been locked in a cave for two hundred years and Mummy never came.
“What is your plan, brother?” he asks after regaining control.
“We must have patience,” Jörmungandr says. “We must be very careful.” He walks to an empty patch of ground on the edge of the mountain. “The Enemy has not spent much energy on Midgardr in a long time and that is where we will go.”
Jörmungandr decides everything; Fenrir follows along docilely enough. He was alone for too long and there is so much he does not know. Jörmungandr settles them in a metropolis known as London and begins taking over quietly yet firmly. The little humans have no idea what is in their midst and Jörmungandr's network grows.
He comes home one day, after a few decades have passed, and tells Fenrir, "Our name now is Holmes."
Fenrir growls a little, but the sound is weak with his human throat. He has not used his name in so long - but it is still his. He is still Fenrir, eldest magechild of Loki and Angrboða.
"I know, brother," Jörmungandr says gently, stroking along the crown of Fenrir's head, tangling his fingers in Fenrir's long hair. "But we must play the part so well that no one notices. Find something to do. Become someone. When the time is right, we will strike with all the venom in our teeth and all the strength of our coils, and not a moment before."
Fenrir sighs but pushes into Jörmungandr's touch; any touch at all settles his mind, gives him something to focus on. Jörmungandr often takes advantage because otherwise Fenrir's mind goes down tangents and he can get lost for hours inside his own head.
"I read something interesting in the paper this morning," Fenrir finally says, rising up out of his thoughts. "The humans are so stupid they cannot see it, but the answer is obvious."
"Then show them," Jörmungandr says, sounding indulgent and thrilled at the same time.
Fenrir huffs at him but rises to his feet and stalks towards the door.
"Clothes, brother," Jörmungandr calls after him, chuckling. "The humans prefer to see as little as possible of each other."
Without glancing back, Fenrir wills dark trousers and a loose shirt onto his human-self and walks out.
That afternoon, Sherlock Holmes solves three murders, foils two thefts, and makes numerous enemies. His brother Mycroft already controls England's government and from there most of the world.
No one realizes that yesterday, only one of them existed - or that, last year, neither of them did.
He takes names as he likes, traveling the little planet called Earth, every continent, every country, every people. He learns to shift his shape, the better to blend, and he learns the languages, and he learns the people.
He cares for no one he meets; ever he searches for Nari. He forgets everything else but his brother - even his former name is lost, the name before whatever he uses this week, the life before this tiny little rock, his parents, his enemy. He is only a mask, and he searches for Nari, and he learns everything there is to know about the realm he inhabits... the realm, he knows, he will rule when he finds his brother.
... but he never finds his brother. Years pass; every few decades he changes his appearance and tries somewhere new. He blinks one day and realizes it's been over a century and a half since he was cast onto Earth (he no longer remembers the other name he knew for it).
This life, he is an ex-SAS dream thief forever trying to seduce an ex-American Navy SEAL dream thief and has been for just over a decade; he is consistently underestimated as a threat; he has only one name despite all the IDs that go along with it; and wolves always appear in his dreams, though he cannot remember why, and a green-eyed man, and a blue-eyed woman, and Nari is forever five years old and laughing.
And then, when he's in the human city known as New York (still healing from an alien invasion), on holiday from his current identity as Earth's premier dream-thief, he sees his brother. Eames is walking along the street with Arthur, who finally succumbed to his wiles a few scant months ago, and Eames just freezes on the sidewalk. "What’s wrong?" Arthur murmurs, covertly gazing around for a threat while getting ready to attack.
Now that he's finally found Nari, Eames' mind is blank. He has no idea what to do, but his magick is roiling beneath his skin, trying to – he doesn't even know. He’s shifted so many times he doesn't remember his first shape. Nari definitely won't recognize him. He has no idea if Nari has ever searched, or even remembers.
But he cannot help saying, “Nari.”
And then Nari's gaze locks on his. “Váli.”
His first life after leaving the orphanage, he becomes a writer. He travels south, ever seeking warmth, and gets lost in the greatest forest in the world - Amazon, everyone else calls it. For a hundred years, he simply calls it home. He masters changing his shape there, leaves the native people alone, and learns how to kill by destroying invaders. So many come to explore and exploit; he punishes them. Some of the natives call him a vengeful spirit and some worship him as a god of protection. He ignores them all.
It is a very different world when he decides to move on. He relearns how to be a man and goes west to Australia, where he tries to find what he's been missing. It’s not there. He travels north to Japan and steadily works his way towards Australia’s motherland, where he masters being a gentleman, not just a man.
It's in London that he discovers art. For a few years, he thinks that might be what he's been seeking all along, but it's not. It is a lovely way to pass the time, though.
In London, Neal Caffrey is born.
In New York, Neal Caffrey, world-class master thief, is caught, caged, and shackled. He knows that he could escape at any moment, and has from worse prisons, but it is restful.
Until Kate gives him a new mystery to solve.
Kate is sweet and beautiful and so clever. She is tricking him at the same time he tricks her, and it is fun, so much fun. Everything is beautiful and everything is fun –
And so Neal lets the situation play out with Peter, and June, the wonderful Elizabeth, Kate and Fowler, and then even Adler and Kramer, protects his own when the invaders from the sky attack his home, and then -
Then there is a man on the street and everything in Neal just stops.
And the man steps forward, grey-green-blue eyes wide and hopeful and longing, and he says, "Nari."
Everything in Neal sharpens, and he says, without knowing why, "Váli."
Josiah dies first, taking three bullets meant for Nathan. Nathan dies in the ensuing struggle, then JD a day later. Buck dies avenging JD, and Chris avenging him.
Had they not been magick, Vin and Ezra would've died, too. But they are magick and though Four Corners thinks them dead, they seek bloody retribution for their dead brothers and move on, free as the wind and just as immortal.
It is 1873 as the humans count, and the west is still wild. "Where to, brother?" Ezra asks, letting his human shape fall with the sun.
"North," Vin says, shaking out of his skin, wearing his first shape again. He feels complete for the first time since he woke on this realm. I miss the cold.
"Vin," Ezra says, sounding awestruck. "You are magnificent."
Vin has never seen himself, but he runs faster than he did last time he was horse; it's all Ezra can do to keep up with him, wearing wings and feathers. Vin laughs, wild and free, and Ezra's cry pierces the night.
I'll race you to the northern lights, Ezra calls down, and Vin tosses his head, aiming for the north.
Controlling Midgardr is easy; far easier than corralling Fenrir.
Two years after choosing the name Sherlock, Mycroft's brother meets Dr. John Watson. Watson is the only person on Midgardr who seems to derive some sort of pleasure from Sherlock's company. He actually seems to like Sherlock. For all that he loves his brother, Mycroft knows that, most of the time, Sherlock is not pleasant to be around.
But Watson seeks him out, delights in Sherlock’s sharp tongue and sharper gaze, is impressed with everything Sherlock deduces. Sherlock is using more senses than any man on Earth has, of course, but that is only obvious to someone else with those senses, and so the humans are amazed at Sherlock’s genius (and enraged, and jealous – save for Watson, who is only ever awestruck).
Sherlock, for his part, becomes obsessed with Watson. Mycroft knows it can only end poorly for everyone involved.
He is right, of course.
John Watson is amazing. Sometimes, Sherlock feels like he’s drowning in him. Sherlock has never had anything to feel possessive over, so when he tries to claim Watson, he doesn’t at first understand. He knows only that Watson is his and his alone – except Watson doesn’t agree. Watson seeks out others for companionship where Sherlock needs only him, and every time, Sherlock has to bite down the growl building in his throat.
“He is only a man, brother,” Mycroft tells him, taking a break from his busy schedule of ruling England to bother Sherlock. “He’ll die as all men die.”
“No, he won’t,” Sherlock says. “I won’t let him.”
Watson meets a woman and falls in love.
Sherlock wants to rip out her throat. Instead… instead, he ensures Watson gets to the wedding on time, and saves her life from Moriarty’s assassins, and fakes his own death so that Watson will no longer have Sherlock endangering him.
“I’m going to travel,” he tells Mycroft.
Being in England without Watson hurts, and part of him wishes his brother had never saved him from the chains.
Surely, someone somewhere will be as amazing as John Watson.
No one ever is.
She has been queen for only a fingerful of centuries when her magick calls for her to go to Midgardr. She dreams of her brothers (the serpent that found her so recently, and told her he had to keep traveling to find their wolf; the horse she never met; the twins trapped on the same rock and who yet keep missing each other) and knows that soon, it will be time.
They are all on Midgard now, all save her, Mama, and the twins’ mother. She places the keeping of her realm into the strong arms of her IceMother, who saved her from the cold that very first day in Niflheimr. Helheimr, the capitol of her empire and her home, will be safe in her absence and she goes.
On Midgardr, she takes the form of a squalling infant like she hasn't been in centuries. She is adopted by a lovely couple and has human brothers, an extended family, and all the love a child could want. She lets Hela rest inside and fully becomes Abigail Sciuto… until the time is right.
The All-Father has a price on Angrboða’s head that could buy a realm. One of the poorer ones, yes, but a realm nonetheless. She has been outlawed from Asgardr for 300 years, since he took her children and imprisoned or cast them away.
She searched for and could not find any of them. So instead she turned to revenge. She focused on learning all there was to know about magick and she let it be known throughout the realms that she would spell for money.
Angrboða has coins and jewels hidden throughout the realms. Enough to buy her home village, Quila, a thousand times over; enough to keep her parents in finery for a thousand years, were she so inclined. Not that she is: they sold her to a noble family to be a servant, and she escaped when that family vacationed on Asgardr.
On Asgardr, she met Loki. She did not know that he was the prince until he used that position to ensure her freedom remained hers. It came as no surprise to her when she fell in love with him. She owes him everything, from her freedom to her children to her life.
And she intends to live for a very long time. Until she finds her children. Until she avenges herself on the monster that stole them from her, the monster that cages Loki still with the shackles of the finery of prince.
Oh, how dearly she loved Loki. She loves him still, yes, but it has been so long… they are different people now. They dreamwalk to communicate, and she knows the time is soon. But he is not the daring prince he was when they met, the clever and laughing boy-almost-a-man. And she is no longer that bright-eyed girl, determined to survive no matter the cost.
Angrboða is a woman grown, a powerful sorceress, and a cold-hearted killer who takes pleasure in executing aesir with lingering death curses. Were it not for the dreamwalks, Loki might not recognize her.
And Loki… before, when they lived and loved together, there was no part of him that was cruel. But she has heard tell of the second son of Asgardr, of the shadowed prince, of Loki Silvertongue. She does not know what the All-Father has planned –
But she will not be caught or kept until the All-Father is brought low and his golden palace torn down, and Loki has long been plotting the same.
Her magick calls her to Midgardr. She dreamwalks with Loki and he tells her to go. So Angrboða, hunted and hated in six of the realms, the most sought-after sorceresses of all, steps onto Midgardr and becomes an up-and-coming spy in one of the most powerful countries of the realm.
Her name is Miriam Mansfield and before she dies, she will be the most powerful woman in the world.
“Who is that?” Arthur asks, keeping a watch out for anyone untoward.
Nari keeps inching forward, eyes only on Váli, and Váli – Váli says, “Nari, I’ve been lookin’ for you for ages.”
“I know you,” Nari says, “but I’ve never seen you before. And I know your name, and I know the name you keep calling me.”
It hits Eames suddenly that the Enemy has a Watcher and a Listener, the Enemy he hasn’t even thought about in decades, and their names were probably stolen for a reason. “Shit,” he mutters. “Brother, darling, we have to go now.”
“What?” Arthur demands, still without looking away from the street. “Ea-“
“No!” Eames says. “No names, not until – well, I’ll know when.”
Nari’s eyes widen. “I thought that was a nightmare,” he says, flicking a glance at the sky.
“Yes, but a factual one,” Eames says. “Please, darling,” he entreats, turning to Arthur and gripping his shoulder. “Trust me.”
Arthur meets his eyes. “I do,” he says.
“Thank you.” Eames breathes a sigh of relief. “No names for any of us until I give the word.”
“Wait a sec,” Nari says. He crouches and holds a hand to his ankle, where fire flares. “Tracking anklet,” he explains, standing back up. “Let’s go.”
Arthur’s brow is furrowed but he remains silent, nodding at Eames, who murmurs, “Follow me.”
Maybe the Enemy is still Watching and Listening; maybe it’s not. Better to be safe than sorry, Eames thinks, and he’ll know when the Watcher and Listener is out of reach.
Neal burns the tracking anklet into less than nothing and follows two strangers into the subway. He doesn’t know either of their names or faces, but Váli is echoing inside him, and Nari, and he feels complete and right for the first time since he woke up nameless and without language.
He spares a moment’s thought for Peter, for Elizabeth, for June and Mozzie – but Neal has always been a stepping-stone and Nari is filling him up, as deep and wide as a mountain.
He watches Váli watch him. Neither of them seems capable of looking away. “Do you have somewhere safe set up?” Váli asks.
Ne - Nari nods. “I made it about a century ago.”
Váli grabs his hand; none of the mortals seem to notice them, except for Váli’s companion, the man he keeps calling darling. “Do you trust me, brother?” Váli asks quietly, solemn and serious and sad.
“Yes,” Nari answers simply, the bare and unvarnished truth, because for some reason he does.
“Take us both there,” Váli says, grabbing his love with his other hand. “I’ll guard the way; no one will be watching, I promise.”
Nari glances at Váli’s darling, but the man – despite the questions clearly building in his throat – only nods. “It’s fine,” he says.
At that, Váli pauses. He doesn’t let go of Nari’s hand, but he does turn to look at his darling. “Are you sure, darling?” he asks. “I didn’t – you won’t be safe. You won’t – I can’t explain yet, but there won’t be any turning back.”
Váli’s boyfriend, husband, lover, partner, whatever he is, scoffs aloud. “There hasn’t been any turning back since Somnus, you idiot,” he says fondly.
Nari smiles and they’re standing in the heart of the Amazon.
Abigail Sciuto is the apple in the eye of everyone she meets. She’s a sweetheart. She’s bubbly and lovely and full of joy.
She’s the smartest person in any room she’s in; everyone knows she’s going places.
She goes all the way to Washington DC, is recruited by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service as a forensic specialist, and quickly becomes world-renowned in her field.
In-between cases and keeping up with her mortal family, Abby searches for her first family, the one she was stolen from. She uses a mixture of magick and technology to track down all the ones on Midgardr – all of them, now, except for Mama.
When M of Britain’s MI6 pops into Washington for a visit with the heads of all the American agencies, Abby Sciuto just happens to be at the same venue; they have a nice chat, and M even hugs her before leaving.
You have done well for yourself, my dear, Mother tells her before letting go and stepping back. She’s smiling as she adds, It gladdens my heart to see you, after everything, so content.
I found all of my brothers, Abby says. I’m sure you’ve seen Fenrir and Jörmungandr?
Mother chuckles. Jörmungandr is quite the thorn in my side. His coils span the whole world, did you know?
Abby nods. I’m going to take a vacation soon, go to London. Fenrir needs a distraction, I think.
Mother’s eyes sharpen. He’s been looking for someone in particular, Jörmungandr said. Will he find that soul soon?
Abby nods again. His magick gripped that soul tight; it was easy to find in the After. This second incarnation will be as immortal as Fenrir, should the soul wish it. She smiles. I’m sure he will; Fenrir is magnetic, after all. Once you’re in, it’s hard to stay away.
Mother pats her on the back; Abby pulls her in for another hug.
It will be soon, my love, Mother murmurs. I’ve been dreamwalking with your mama and my soul-sister. Everything is tightening; we will all know when it snaps. We must move quickly, when the time comes.
Abby’s smile is cold as the heart of her realm when she says, We will. Mother’s smile is vicious.
After M leaves, everyone looks at Abby with different eyes for a few days. M is one of the most formidable people in the world, and the most powerful woman –so how on earth did Abby dare hug her and kiss her cheek?
Abby just laughs; there are scarier people than Angrboða in the realms, and Abby is one of them.
In the summer of 1985, a young girl walks out of the woods in northern California. She has strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, and sunburned skin. She tells the couple who stop to pick her up that she doesn’t know who she is.
That’s a lie.
She tells Dr. Harris in the ER that she has no memory before waking up in the woods.
That is also a lie.
She is fostered in Weaverville with Roger and Yelena Potts; they name her Virginia for their favorite place in the world. Before the year is out, she’s attending school and at the top of her class. She is quiet, kind, and well-liked.
Since she doesn’t know how old she is, Dr. Harris and the court-appointed psychologist decide together that she must be around thirteen or fourteen; her birthday is declared as the day she was found, and so she is suddenly 14 years old.
Again…that is a lie.
After graduating high-school, she goes to the University of California in Santa Cruz. There, she is also well-liked, but not as quiet and not as kind. There, she takes the nickname Pepper because it is her favorite flavor, and it strikes her as amusing. It is also a name she chooses, and so those who know her history understand.
She graduates in four years with a double Bachelor’s in history and language studies, at the very top of her class.
The next fall, she’s in New York and enrolled at NYU’s Stern School of Business. She is Pepper Potts, and there is nothing she cannot do.
That is the truth.
(There is nothing she will not do – and that, too, is a truth that should terrify those who earned her enmity. But, as ever, Pepper Potts is underestimated, and therein lays the downfall of so many.
Therein lays the fun)
Once, she had been Sigyn, princess of Ālfheimr and a respected sorceress. She was the younger prince of Asgardr’s closest companion and they studied together in Asgardr’s forgotten libraries of magick. She wasn’t as powerful as Loki; few were, the older he got. The summer before their sons were born, the oldest magician in Ālfheimr told Loki that only the All-Father and Queen of Asgardr were yet more powerful than him. The Sage of Múspellsheimr told them later that same year that eventually, Loki would surpass all who had come before.
They were young, Sigyn and Loki, and they were powerful. Had she known what would come…
Oh, she would have still done the same, for those scant few years with her sons and her lover were glorious.
After magick twisted so that Loki became pregnant instead of Sigyn, he tearfully confessed in her arms about his other children – Sleipnir, Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Hel. Listening to his heartrending tale, Sigyn had never felt such hatred; how dare the All-Father, how could he? And so when Loki told her they had to flee, had to find somewhere to hide, to become someone else, Sigyn did not hesitate, not even for a moment.
The next six years were glorious, but she always knew they would end. Never did she or Loki speak of their plans aloud, or even each other’s names; he was ‘love’ and she was ‘darling,’ and their sons, who the All-Father had never met, were Váli and Nari. Their sons were born in ás shape, though Sigyn was álfr; both Váli and Nari showed skill with shifting skins in the months before Odin arrived.
“They are powerful,” Loki told her one night. “They’ll need it for what’s ahead.”
“I wish I understood his reasoning,” she said, glancing towards their sons, curled up together like kittens; Váli even had tiny little claws while Nari had a tail snaking around them both. “What could he possibly be thinking, love?”
“I do not know,” Loki murmured, following her gaze. “And I no longer care.”
And that was right, of course, Sigyn knew. Whatever the All-Father believed, whatever he did, there was ever only one outcome.
The night after Sigyn woke alone in the house she had shared with her lover and her sons, she went to Ālfheimr. It was the first time she had gone home since she had fled with Loki. She appeared in her mother’s room, saw her mother’s face, and burst into tears.
“My daughter,” Mother said, wrapping her arms around Sigyn, “tell me.”
Sigyn had long known that her parents held a grudge against Odin; when they were not in counsel with anyone, Mother called himGinnarr and Father would only nod. Until Loki and their children, Sigyn had not understood.
“What shall we do, husband?” Gefion asked, cradling her youngest daughter close, wishing she could hold her grandsons so, already spinning plans in her mind.
“We wait for our daughter’s signal, wife,” Gylfe replied, hands longing for his sword, already phrasing messages for his far-flung family, “and then we strike with the surety and quickness of a serpent.”
Sigyn’s mother ruled half of Ālfheimr; her father ruled the other.
Odin surely knew that; he just as surely didn’t care. Compared to Asgardr’s ocean of power, Ālfheimr was merely a puddle, and puddles often dried up. Or swelled until they became lakes, Sigyn thought, watching her father pace.
“Our people will stand with us, Sigyn,” Mother said. “When the time is right, let us know.”
Long ago, Gefion herself had been snared in one of Odin’s schemes. Long ago, Gylfe himself had been abandoned when Odin’s use for him ran out.
Always, Odin could explain things away. Always, he escaped all punishment, for surely the All-Father can do nothing that is not right. Always, he was Ginnarr, the deceiver, the clever, the twisted and liar. And still she had gone to his palace, for his library was the greatest of all the realms.
And there she met Loki. There, she fell in love. There, she conceived two sons with the most powerful sorcerer in nine realms, and from there she fled.
But now she was home in Ālfheimr, and Mother said, “There is a woman you should meet, my daughter. I believe you have much in common.”
Thor is to be crowned King of Asgardr so that Father may at last rest.
Loki arranges things to prove to everyone that Thor is not yet ready.
Things go too far, and then –
Loki is a jötunn.
That explains everything, and all his tenuous control splinters.
“My name is Sigyn,” the princess tells the assassin. “Teach me, please.”
“My name is Angrboða,” the assassin tells the princess. “Let’s get started.”
When the unassuming, unnoticeable man walks into the laboratory, everything in Sherlock focuses on him.
“John Watson,” Stamford introduces him as, and Fenrir thinks, Thank you, Sister, thank you so much.
John is different than Watson had been, but he is still perfect, he is still Sherlock’s in every way, and now that he has returned immortal-
But Moriarty is back, too, and there is something otherworldly about what Moriarty can do, now, and while John is immortal, he can still be hurt.
Keep him safe, he tells his brother, and then the Great Wolf goes hunting.
When he lets go of his not-brother’s hand, Loki does not think of his children or the women he loves. He thinks only of centuries of pain finally at an end.
He falls and he falls and he falls – and he comes out the other side, hitting cold rock so hard every bone in his body breaks, and he thinks, Please.
But his body heals, though his magick is completely spent, and his eyes open to unrecognized stars and a monster that says, “Hello, Loki of Asgardr. I am Thanos.”
Loki survives. That is all that can be said of his time in and after the void. As always, he survives.
As always, he plans. Thanos breaks his body a thousand ways, but he never reaches the tiny spark of fire and ice that is Loki, and it is there, curled up in the tendril of magick that means his children, that Loki survives.
On Midgardr, Loki battles mortals and his not-brother; the only reason he is caught in Stark’s tower is the green beast.
You have failed, Thanos intones in the back of his mind, and Loki laughs, Have I?
In Central Park, SHIELD gathers to send two aliens – one ally, one enemy – home.
Scattered within sight of the launching point are the head of MI6, the CEO of Stark Industries, the British government, a legally dead consulting detective, a forensic scientist, and two bounty hunters.
Loki meets each of their gazes and feels part of his shattered psyche healing as he says, Angrboða. Sigyn. Jörmungandr. Fenrir. Hel. Sleipnir. He doesn’t know Sleipnir’s companion, but he acknowledges him with a small nod that none of the Earth’s greatest heroes notice.
Love, Angrboða tells him, letting all of them hear , we have this in hand. Rest. Soon it will be time and you must have all your strength.
That is the best news I’ve heard in… a long time, Loki whispers, so weary and worn.
Soon, we will squeeze until The Enemy pops, Mummy, Jörmungandr says. But until then, Mother is right. Rest. That is all you must do for the next little while.
We need only Váli and Nari, Sigyn tells him. The time is almost right.
Loki looks at his not-brother and says to his family, I love you all. I’ll see you soon.
The portal opens and Thor drags him through, but Loki’s eyes catch Sleipnir’s, and he says, I would’ve kept you. Sleipnir’s expression is confused, but Loki cannot -
And then he is shoved to his knees before his not-father’s throne, his not-brother’s hand hard on the back of his neck.
Aesir justice, his not-brother had promised the mortals.
Loki’s looking forward to it. He really needs the break.
When Hawkeye glances around to see what had caught Loki’s attention, there is nothing. He doesn’t mention it to anyone.
Pepper Potts graduates from Stern with a Master’s in Management, specialization Strategy. She bounces around New York for a couple of years, following her Sight to the path her magick wants her to take. She dreamwalks with Loki and Angrboða both, finalizing everything.
She can feel her children, but cannot find them, even with her Sight.
Finally, Stark Industries announces that they’re hiring, so she applies with a few dozen others pooled from every temp agency in New York.
Over the next few months, those forty or so are whittled down until only Pepper and five others are put on a rotating schedule as Tony Stark’s personal assistant.
Within three weeks, only Pepper is left.
She is exceedingly overqualified, but everyone, as has always been the case, consistently underestimates her, and she knows this is where she needs to be.
“Mother,” Mycroft says, when they are back in M’s apartment in London, “I feel that things should quicken a pace.”
“No, my dear,” Mother replies. “Everything is going just as it should.” She hugs Abby and Sherlock, then Mycroft; she kisses Pepper on the cheek and says, “You’re doing well, sister.” Then she turns to Mycroft’s oldest brother and tells him, “Come here, boy, and let me look at you.”
“Vin,” he says. “My name is Vin. The name I chose for myself.”
“Your mother told me about you,” Mother says, sounding gentle for the first time since Mycroft’s childhood. “When he realized he carried our oldest. He missed you; it was an ache that never faded.” Mother smiles sadly. “You are what started this whole thing.” She holds out a hand. “Let me introduce you, child.”
Vin looks at his companion, who shrugs, and shuffles forward.
He takes her hand.
Vin and Ezra were in southern Lebanon, hunting a man worth over 80 million dollars, when the news broke across the world about the aliens in New York.
“I have to,” Vin said, surer than he’d ever been about anything, and Ezra nodded.
Vin raced until he ran out of land, and then Ezra helped him to fly. They got there just after the fighting ended, and watched humans in uniform roughly carry something man-shaped to a van.
The man-shape looked at Vin until the door closed between them.
“I have to stay,” Vin said, watching the van drive away.
“Then we’ll stay,” Ezra said.
“We cannot use our true names, of course,” Mother says, looking small next to Vin. “Not until war has been declared between us and The Enemy. This place is shielded, so we can use our Midgardr names. And two of our number are still missing, the youngest of your brothers.”
Sleipnir, the horse, Mycroft thinks. Prey. No wonder he seems so skittish.
“Brothers?” Vin repeats. “I have brothers, blood-kin?”
“Yes,” Pepper says. “My sons. And these two here,” she adds, gesturing to Mycroft and Sherlock. “And your younger sister, as well. But until my boys realize who they are, until they find each other, none of us can find them.”
“That’s terrible,” Vin’s companion says. “But maybe now y’all can give us whatever explanation you can?”
“Of course,” Mother says indulgently. “Vin, I am Miriam Mansfield, head of Britain’s MI6. My soul-sister is Pepper Potts, CEO of Stark Industries.” Pepper waves, smiling gently. “My oldest child is Sherlock Holmes, my middle child is Mycroft Holmes, and my only daughter and youngest child is Abby Sciuto.” Sherlock bares his teeth, Mycroft nods, and Abby waves at Vin.
Vin looks completely overwhelmed; Abby steps forward and slowly takes his hand from Mother, grabs his other, and hold them both between hers. “Mama is a shapeshifter,” she says. “He carried all of us. You were the first, way before the rest of us. The Enemy took all of us from Mama and our mothers.” She pauses, but Vin stays silent. “We’ve been planning our vengeance for centuries, with the magick that connects us all. Do you want in?”
They all wait patiently, even Sherlock, until Vin says, “I remember warmth. It’s the first thing I can, and it kept me going for… a long time.” He stares down at Abby for a few moments before glancing at his companion. “I’m stayin’, Ez, but I understand if you don’t wanna.”
“Of course I’m staying, Vin,” ‘Ez’ replies. He smirks, teeth glinting gold. “I’m sure your family can use a man who cheats.”
He turns to Mother and says, “I am Ezra, son of Coyote and Raven, and protégé of Anansi. There is another I could claim, but I am certain that is a name not to be spoken in this company, and a connection that is not of blood.”
Mother laughs, sharing an unspoken joke with Pepper. “Well met, trickster,” she says. “I’ll include you in the true introductions, then.”
Around the room, in turn, each of them speaks. Miriam, Angrboða. Pepper, Sigyn. Sherlock, Fenrir. Mycroft, Jörmungandr. Abby, Hel. Vin…
Your name is Sleipnir, Abby tells him softly, and she and Ezra wrap him up in their arms from both directions.
Vin, he says again. And then, Sleipnir.
Soon, my family, Mother says. I swear to you that it will be soon.
As they leave, they each reach out to touch Vin, and he seems to steady more, until finally only Mycroft remains. “I have thought of myself as the eldest since The Enemy took us,” he informs Vin coolly. “I am a brother and a son – and a predator. What are you?”
Ezra tries to edge between them, but Vin boldly steps forward. “I am a brother,” he says, “and a killer, and a hunter.” He adds, still closing in, I am the greatest horse of this world or any other – I am Sleipnir Lokison, and I do not fear you, serpent.
Mycroft tilts his head. “You see me?”
“Of course,” Vin scoffs. And the wolf, and the goddess, the two mages. I have always seen true.
Ezra steps up next to him and I may be the oldest in age, Vin tells Mycroft, but I spent most of it alone or enslaved.
Mycroft thinks of Fenrir, locked in a cave, and winces. I don’t want your place, Jörmungandr, Vin says. I merely want a place.
Mycroft reaches for his shoulder and smiles proudly when Vin doesn’t flinch away. “Welcome to the family, brother,” he says and departs.
In Nari’s safe place, while Arthur keeps watch, Váli and Nari dreamwalk together. The wall hiding Nari’s memories collapses between their combined onslaught; all of the memories Váli’s mind had hidden in self-defense come streaming in.
They wake together with those first years of life bright as Midgardr’s sun and they both know who was in New York last year. Now, with all the knowledge of their parents, they can feel all the wells of magick on Midgardr calling their names.
“Ma is here,” Váli says, one hand still clutching Nari’s, the other reaching for Arthur.
Arthur. Váli looks at him with the Sight his ma had been teaching him, just before The Enemy came, and Arthur’s soul is blinding. There is no treachery in him, not for Váli, and Váli can’t help but kiss him.
“I suppose I can have an explanation now?” Arthur asks dryly when Váli pulls away.
Váli exchanges a glance with Nari. “He’s your darling, brother,” Nari tells him. “If you trust him, so do I.” Nari stretches. “I’ll go find food; take all the time you need.”
He’s gone in a blink and Arthur just turns to watch Váli with a placid expression. Váli has seen that expression fool countless enemies into thinking Arthur harmless, but he knows it merely means Arthur is waiting.
And so he says, “I was born on Múspellsheimr, in a little village the locals called Brimir’s Forge and no one else called anything at all.”
And he says, “My brother was such a prankster, and I always got the blame because his innocent expression was a thousand times more potent, and I always laughed first.”
And he says, “The Enemy grabbed us and I woke up in a town a few hours from Berlin, and I couldn’t find my family.”
And he says, “I wandered, looking for my brother, and I forgot everything else, even my name.”
And he says, “I am at least a century and a half old, but I’m not sure.”
And he says, “Everything else is a lie, darling, but I love you. That’s always been true since Somnus.”
And he doesn’t breathe again until Arthur says, “I believe you.”
Then Arthur says, “Tell me the rest.”
So Váli says, “Our mama is the one who tore up New York last year.”
Arthur just looks at him, placid expression back on his face, so Váli adds, “His eyes were blue in all the footage I’ve seen – but I remember them being bright green. Something’s wrong, darling, and the both us, my brother and me, can feel our family waiting.” Arthur keeps waiting, so Váli continues, “I’ve wandered this realm for decades, and I find it fascinating, and the people, and humans invented their own form of dreamwalking, I adore it – but you, you are the one thing on Midgardr I truly care about, and I never want to live without you, but I can, if I must, if you cannot bear to stay with me now that everything is laid bare.”
Arthur says, “I love you, but I need a moment.”
So Váli gets up and steps outside, to stare into the depths of the greatest forest left on Midgardr. He waits.
Nari comes back and stands beside him, and still he waits.
M dies from a mistake made years before; Miriam Mansfield is buried in a grave that will never name her true. Few people mourn the woman; many mourn the age that dies with her.
Angela Burns turns up outside Pepper Potts’ office and is hired on the spot as a bodyguard. She handles Tony Stark with the same ease Pepper always has. Happy is creeped out by her, but she saves Pepper from two hits within a week, the remnants of AIM that want the woman who killed Aldrich Killian dead.
You should’ve kept Extremis, little sister, Angela tells Pepper while the surviving attackers are loaded into police cars. It would’ve been a good explanation for the unexplainable in the near future.
Pepper laughs, letting Tony Stark hold her close.
Angela watches the human with cold eyes, but she can see that Pepper truly does care for him. You were the most powerful woman in the world, Pepper says. He is the most powerful man. And he has a good heart. She sighs, tucking her head onto his shoulder. Like a young prince we both once knew.
He is very similar to that young prince, Angela admits. But that could be dangerous, and you know it.
Angela melts away to give the lovers time for reassurance, and part of her hopes Pepper finds a way to keep her mortal when the time comes.
Abby shields her mortal family (all of it) as best she can, but she knows that when the time comes, she will step back from them. Her IceMother has been dreaming with her in the past months, ever since Mama went back to Asgardr in chains, and Mother has already left MI6.
Everyone is so busy, so caught up in such dangerous things, and faking her death as Mother did would only distract them. So instead Abby takes a leave of absence, citing personal reasons, and she has so much vacation time built up that the paperwork goes through with no problem.
She doesn’t say goodbye to anyone, but she leaves Bert on Gibbs’ desk and weaves a spell of protection around them all.
What they are doing is dangerous – but they all shall survive, and they all shall be well.
Her name is Hela, Goddess of the Dead and Queen of Niflheimr, youngest magechild of Angrboða and Loki, and her will shall be done.
Moriarty does have otherworldly contacts, including something called The Other, mouthpiece of a mad titan heading for Midgardr. The Other stinks of Mummy’s blood, so Fenrir grabs it and pulls it through the portal open between it and Moriarty and slaughters them both.
Brother, Jörmungandr sighs, you have just angered a very powerful creature.
Fenrir huffs at him, licking his chops. The titan was already our enemy. We have so many; what’s one more, honestly? And then his ears perk up as he realizes what Moriarty’s death means: I can go back to John!
Yes, of course. Jörmungandr sighs again. As ever, I’ll clean up your mess, brother mine. Return to your mortal.
Fenrir doesn’t howl, but oh how he wants to. Instead, he races across Midgardr and pulls his man-shape back on just outside 221B Baker Street.
When John goes to punch him, Sherlock lets him. When John pulls him into a full-body hug, Sherlock hugs back.
When John demands an explanation, Sherlock tells him everything.
While Vin sleeps in an apartment made safe by Pepper Potts, Ezra travels to the desert that birthed him. A coyote waits for him; as he settles down beside her, a raven appears in the sky and perches on his shoulder.
“This place is my home,” Ezra tells them, “but he is my soul. I hadn’t thought I had one before I met him.”
The coyote nudges his side; the raven preens his hair.
“Our home isn’t the endgame, and I’m pretty sure all of the players on his side want it safe. They love people from here.” He shrugs, tilting his head to give the raven more access. “I just wanted to let our people know. I’m not sure if any of them have.”
They sit in silence while he rubs a hand along the coyote’s spine, while the raven hops to his other shoulder to preen the hair on that side. Then Ezra says, “If he needs help, I’ll give him all that I am.”
Should the situation become that dire, Coyote says, let us know.
Yes, Raven adds. We are tricksters born and your horse’s mother is our king. If we had a king, of course. But we are not that organized.
Ezra chuckles. “Thank you,” he says.
He stays there until sunrise, visiting with his parents, updating them on everything that had happened since he left the desert on his twentieth birthday. He leaves with the dawn, going to see Anansi, and by the time he returns to Vin, tricksters all over the world are planning their part.
Ezra tells Angela Burns that the Spider will be getting in touch, because while Mom and Dad are powerful, Anansi has a web that spans the globe. Angela gives Ezra a long look before thanking him and turning back to her laptop.
Ezra laughs and shifts into a coyote to slip between Vin and the bed; he wakes up for a second to shift back into his man-shape when Vin mumbles in his ear, and the rest of the morning is lost in fun.
Arthur opens the door to watch two world-class criminals pretend they’re not watching him. They look nothing like each other, but then, they wouldn’t, would they? Not if what Eames told him is true.
Arthur is standing in the Amazon. He has no idea how he got here, but his totem proves he’s awake, so he steps outside. Eames turns to face him square on but can’t keep his gaze. Eames’ brother, who Arthur has finally recognized as Neal Caffrey, turns and stands beside Eames. He looks far more dangerous than any of his files show him to be. (Of course, Eames’ files are all lies, too.)
“Can you promise that this planet will not be collateral damage?” is the only question he has.
“… no,” Eames admits, shoulders falling. “I will do my best to keep this realm safe, but there is no guarantee.”
Arthur nods, considering his lover, his lover’s brother, his lover’s unbelievable-yet-true tale, and the scope of everything he most now acknowledge as fact.
“You won’t survive without me,” he tells Eames. “Of course I’m staying with you.”
Eames straightens, grinning, and Arthur kisses him.
“We can feel where they are,” Neal says, “our family. We were waiting for your decision.”
Arthur smiles and grabs Eames’ hand. “Well, let’s go.”
While they wait for Váli and Nari, they finalize everything. Mycroft tightens his hold on the United Kingdom and all of its offspring spread out over the globe. Sherlock and his lover John keep playing at detectives in London. Abby transfers to MI6, citing personal reasons, and befriends the newly-promoted Q, a brilliant young hacker who could rival Tony Stark, if he really put his mind to it. Angela Burns continues protecting Pepper Potts; Vin Lock and Ezra Wynd continue hunting bounties.
In the middle of the night in Tokyo, at a conference she would’ve rather not attended, Pepper Potts jerks upright in bed and cries.
“Babe?” Tony mumbles before fully waking up in a panic because Pepper is outright sobbing. “Pepper, what’s wrong? JARVIS?”
“I do not know, sir,” JARVIS replies.
Angela ghosts into the room but Pepper says, “I’m fine, I’m fine. Just… I had the most wonderful dream.” She meets Angela’s eyes and tells her entire family, My sons have found each other at last.
Angela smirks and ghosts back out. Tony looks completely confused, but he pulls Pepper into his arms and asks, “So, these are happy tears?”
Pepper nods. “They’re the best tears I’ve cried in my life.”
Tony knows everything there is to know about Pepper Potts (though he has no idea about Sigyn, beyond what research into Norse mythology told him, and he doesn’t believe a lick of that because he doesn’t want to sympathize with the jerk-off who killed Agent, and yes, he ranted at length about it to Pepper, and she went out and bought herself a store’s worth of pretty things after), so he doesn’t ask her why she would wake up crying.
Instead, he says, “You want to tell me about this happy dream?”
What she tells him sounds like a lie, but he listens to every word anyway, and he doesn’t let her go.
Because London is the safest of anywhere on Midgardr, that is where those of the family who do not wander reside. Their mortal identities do not all live together, but they all return to Angela Burns’ apartment building to sleep, whenever they decide to sleep. Pepper sleeps wherever Tony does at the moment, and that fluctuates between New York’s tower and the almost fully-reconstructed house in Malibu.
After Sigyn’s announcement, everyone prepares. So when the knock comes at the door of Angela’s apartment, they are all inside – everyone but Loki.
Pepper takes a deep breath, puts her hand on the knob, and turns.
In the hallway stand three men; two of them, she recognizes at first glance, and she does not try to stop the tears that start pouring down her cheeks.
“Váli,” she says. “Nari.”
Váli steps forward first. “Ma,” he says, “you’re exactly as I remember.”
She sobs a laugh and wraps her arms around him. Nari tentatively joins in and she grips him just as hard.
Angela and Mycroft share a glance. “Why am I not surprised that two of the greatest thieves on Midgardr are your younger brothers?” Angela asks rhetorically.
Ezra laughs. “Sounds about right to me, mage-queen.”
In solitary confinement in a cell that dampens magick, Loki lifts his head. Infinite roads stretch before him and he must choose which to walk.
Down one road is the ruin of nine realms; in the void, he learned that that road, ending in Ragnarök, is the reason his children were all stolen.
Down another road is the ruin of but the Realm Eternal, also called Ragnarök.
Ever has Odin been more powerful than Loki. Ever has Loki been told he would one day surpass the All-Father, King of Asgardr.
Loki learned much in the void. He learned much in the forgotten libraries of magick. He learned much from the greatest sages and mages in all the realms.
And he learned much from watching his father. His not-father. The All-Father. His not-mother had been his first teacher, but Odin taught him a great deal, too, and not all of the lessons were intentional.
Infinite roads are at his feet. He sees them because of his not-mother, and he knows that the choice he makes can never be undone.
Heimdallr is watching, as he always is, when Loki’s choice is made and all the magick imprisoning him splinters into shards, raining down onto the lonely ground in a cell empty of any ex-prince of Asgardr.
Sigyn stays close to her sons as all of Loki’s children catch up; Angrboða and Ezra shore up all of the protection spells while Arthur walks the perimeter to get a feel for it.
Arthur is the only human amongst legends, but he doesn’t let that faze him. Eames - Váli - introduces him as my Arthur and Arthur knows what that means. So does everyone else, if the assessing looks are anything to go by.
“Had you been born in the UK,” Angrboða tells him, “I would have recruited you for MI6 myself. I know my counterparts were extremely displeased when you went rogue.” Arthur grins when she adds, “I see now that your reason was worthy,” and nods at Váli.
Arthur’s grin softens into the smile few have ever seen. “He’s been trying to catch me for years,” Arthur says. “He didn’t realize for the longest time that he already had me.”
Angrboða smiles. “His mother was the same. Neither of them realize how easy they are to love, I think.”
Arthur nods, glancing at Váli laughing with Vin Lock (Sleipnir) and Abby Sciuto (Hel). He recognizes so many people in this room, and he knows that most of them recognize him, as well.
If this is the army that Váli’s family has, there is little chance they’ll lose. It’s reassuring. It’s also frightening.
But his choice is made and when Váli gestures him over, Arthur goes.
“The spells are as strong as we can make them,” Angrboða says. “Now, we wait.”
They all settle in for the night and Sigyn calls Tony Stark, Fenrir texts John Watson, and Hel hacks Q’s system for a laugh.
Váli and Nari have a shapeshifting contest, and Nari declares Arthur a biased judge, so they drag Sleipnir’s love into it, and he laughingly calls it a draw. From there, things devolve into a drinking game and Arthur bows out early on because he’s only human.
He’s also the only one sober enough to notice when the newcomer arrives in the corner, and he recognizes the man blamed for the destruction in New York. Angrboða and Sigyn are singing a drinking song from Múspellsheimr, Sleipnir, Hel, Ezra, and Jörmungandr are comparing war stories, and Fenrir is deducing everything Váli and Nari have ever done, and Arthur walks up to Loki and says, “Hello, sir.”
Loki’s eyes are a piercing green and Arthur meets his gaze straight on. “Hello, Arthur,” he says.
The room goes silent in an instant; Loki looks away from Arthur, smiling, and Arthur holds in his sigh of relief, turning to look at the family.
Angrboða and Sigyn move first, both across the room instantaneously and tearfully laughing. After that, it is impossible to tell who moves next. Arthur and Ezra both stay to the side, letting the reunion happen and guarding the doors – Ezra magically and Arthur with a gun that would probably be useless if someone got past the magic.
“This is your final chance, human,” Ezra tells him, looking more like a raven and coyote than a man. “You can still leave, return to your life.”
Arthur raises an eyebrow at him before glancing towards Váli, in the middle of a dog pile and more happy than he’d ever been, and then back towards the door. “You know what I did for the navy?” he asks. “Or how young I was when I chose it?” He scoffs. “I’m an assassin and a thief, trickster, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than watching his back.”
Ezra smiles at him. “Well, you certainly fit right in.”
That night, all they do is bask in each other’s presence, everyone finally together again. They all talk over each other, someone is always touching someone else, and Loki is content for the first time since he lost that bet about the wall.
In the morning, as Midgardr’s sun touches London, where Loki’s true family have settled in and built a stronghold, they will discuss the plan that has been forming in Loki’s mind since his colt was taken from him.
Infinite paths stretch before him and most of them end in Ragnarök, what the gods fear above all, what is the gods’ due, a debt that has been long coming.
“Rest,” Angrboða tells him. “We are all here, and everything can wait for morning.”
Loki smiles at her, kisses her, then Sigyn, and then each of his children. His hands clutch at them all, the babies he could not even search for, the children banished and imprisoned and lost. He can feel everything he has strained missing them healing, and his magick has never been stronger, will never be stronger.
“I love you all,” he says softly, gazing at each of them, the hardened women who were once bright-eyed girls, the long-scarred men and the ice-cold woman who were once infants and toddlers he never had the time to raise or care for as they should’ve been cared for.
“Rest,” Sleipnir tells him. “We have eternity to make things right now.”
Sleipnir, Loki’s greatest regret – Sleipnir, the only one with no memories of Loki at all. Sleipnir, the first of Loki’s true family that he loved with everything in him, the spark that will explode into Ragnarök.
“Yes,” Loki says and walks into the bedroom that all of them poured a part of themselves into. Angrboða follows, and then Fenrir, and then the rest of the children and Sigyn, and Loki sleeps deeply for the first time in longer than he wants to remember.
The mortals are left on Midgardr, with the tricksters. Whatever spillover there is from Asgardr is for them to deal with as best they can. Q takes one look at John and Arthur, at Ezra halfway into coyote-shape, at Anansi, and says, “Oh, I knew it.”
After a moment, John says, “Right, then. Let’s get to it.” Arthur shares an eye-roll with Ezra and Anansi laughs, but Q looks simply delighted.
“I was right, wasn’t I?” Q asks, managing to look even younger. “M is Abby’s mother? They’re too similar, and similarly terrifying, and nothing would be better in the world.”
“Yes,” Arthur says, “you were right.”
Q’s grin brightens. “Well, let’s go win the ladies a world, shall we?” he says and heads for the computers.
“I know he’s older than he looks,” John mutters to Arthur, “but I just feel really uncomfortable because he looks so young.”
Arthur laughs. “He’s older than I am.”
John gapes at him, but Arthur heads after Q.
“You’re all children to me,” he hears Anansi say, “even the king.” A pause and then, “If we had a king, of course. But we’re tricksters – we have no royalty but the wind.”
Ezra laughs and Arthur shakes his head, pulling up a chair beside Q. “Here’s the basic plan,” he says, and lays it all out.
I am Sleipnir Lokison, he says in his first form, his true form, the great eight-legged horse of legend, as howling fills the air, as the waters roil behind him, as ice sweeps in from the north. Two men stand beside him on either side; as he trumpets his identity to all the realms, the three most powerful mages appear between him and Odin All-Father’s army.
I am Sleipnir Lokison, he repeats. And I give to you your Ragnarök.
Magick fills the air, thrums in the ground, and the Realm Eternal begins to wither.