It had been centuries since Odin the Allfather had stood in a child’s nursery. He still recalled the room that Thor and, later, Loki had slept their infancies in. Frigga had woven blanket after blanket, more than any child could ever use. The dwarves had sent an exquisitely crafted mobile, so that stars and moons danced over the babe’s head as he slept.
The nursery at Alfheim was different and yet exactly the same. Here a pile of blankets and nappies. There a collection of presents from the other realms. There the crib, with a mobile dancing above it, this one of carved wooden animals. And in the crib rested the child. A little girl with fair skin and a cap of black curls, swaddled in pale yellow muslin, sleeping peacefully.
Odin stood over the crib, inspecting his granddaughter. He could see Loki in her, even at rest. It brought him back to that ill-fated day in Jotunheim, finding a Jotun babe left to die. How different the realms would be if he had never picked up that child.
There was a quiet gasp and Odin looked up to see the queen of Alfheim standing in the nursery door. The gasp had come from the plump, red-haired woman at her side who was holding a hand over her gaping mouth. The queen didn’t look a bit surprised, watching him with a serene, almost amused, expression on her face. Finally, she spoke, “Hilde, be a darling and go tell the king his father is visiting. Walk slow, there’s no need to rush.”
The other woman nodded, bobbed a little curtsy at Odin, and disappeared down the hall.
Syn of Alfheim stepped into the nursery and stood across the crib from him. She glanced down at her daughter, as if confirming she was well, before looking at Odin again. “Sneaking in, Allfather?”
“As the front door would likely be barred to me-”
“We would have greeted you as a fellow realm sovereign.”
“But not as a visiting grandfather.” He couldn’t hide the anger in his voice, or the regret.
She tilted her head. “Grandfather? Last I heard, Loki was no longer your son. So how could you claim his kin as yours?”
Odin grit his teeth. “My wife’s kin, then.”
Her face softened and she looked at the babe again. “Your wife was always kind to me,” she said thoughtfully. She bent and stroked her daughter’s cheek. The babe’s eyes opened, wide and bright blue, just like her father’s.
Syn slid her hands beneath the little body and lifted her up to her shoulder, murmuring reassurances. She came around the crib and set the baby in his hands. “Her name is Hela.”
Odin gazed down at the baby in his arms. She blinked up at him with bleary eyes. He had braced for her to cry but, like her father before her, she only cooed, smiling a little. He felt something deep inside him unclench as he held her and found himself smiling in return.
“It’s a strange name for a child,” he commented.
“She helped bring her father back from the dead,” Syn said with an easy shrug. “It seemed to fit.”
Pain lanced through him at that. His son so close to death. For no matter what he said, no matter what sins they both committed, Loki would always be his son. It was the way of fathers. There was more of him in Loki than either of them would ever admit.
“For a very long time, I hated you,” the queen said quietly, interrupting his thoughts. He risked a glance at her and found her watching him hold her daughter with her own gentle smile. “But I’ve seen first hand what could have become of me had you not taken me. And if you’d left me here, I would never have met Loki. So, I suppose I find myself grateful to you, in some small way.”
Odin held her gaze a moment, then looked down at Hela again. “I should like to claim it was all part of a grand plan, centuries in the making. In truth, I saw a child crying and couldn’t leave her.”
Syn smiled a little. “You’ve a soft heart on occasion.” Her expression turned sly. “How much did you plan?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said gruffly, even as he thought, She is his match, isn’t she?
“You knew who I was. You knew the Alfan people were growing restless under your extended rule. We were the only allied realm with a steward instead of a proper regent.” She tilted her head. “You told Thor to bring me to the Capital. You must have suspected there was a chance I would end up on the throne. My only question is, was that for me? Or was it for Loki?”
He looked down at the baby again. It seemed a safer place to put his gaze then her canny green eyes. “You think I’d want Loki on a throne? After all he’s done?”
“He was good at it,” she said softly. “The year he was you. He played at king well. Better than you thought he would.”
“You helped him,” he snapped, realizing too late he hadn’t, actually, contradicted her.
She noticed, too, based on the size of her grin. “Of course. I give excellent advice, you know.” She paused and tilted her head. “He’s coming now. If you want to disappear.”
Odin had never considered himself a coward. Was fairly sure he’d have imprisoned anyone who insinuated it. But he did, for a split second, consider handing her the child and taking his leave.
Instead, he stood his ground as his younger son swept through the nursery door and stopped just inside to stare at him.
“Hilde said it was my father visiting,” Loki said in a voice so casual it tipped into bored. “But, as I have no father, I couldn’t imagine who she meant.”
Odin sighed and saw the queen roll her eyes rather expressively. “I did not come to fight, Loki,” he said quietly.
“Then I’ve no idea what we might do since that does seem to be our favorite activity.”
“Loki,” Syn said in a quiet, warning tone. “Not in front of the baby.”
A muscle flexed in Loki’s jaw, but when he spoke it was more measured. “Does she meet with your approval? The child of your two foundlings?”
As Odin watched, the baby yawned and flailed both her fists in the air. He smiled almost in spite of himself. “I think she has your eyes. And I’ll pray for your wife’s sake she doesn’t have your mischief.” He glanced back at his son. “She doesn’t deserve that.”
“No mother does,” Loki replied, with a hint of real humor in his voice.
Hela let out a quiet cry and Odin moved to hand her to Syn. Loki stepped in and took her instead, cradling the babe in his big hands before tucking her against his shoulder. Her fussing stopped immediately and Loki smiled softly at her. Odin was certain he had never seen that expression on his son’s face before.
Odin was old, even by Asgardian standards. It had become obvious that his death would be in bed and not the battlefield. His days were long and, if he was honest, lonely, with Frigga gone and his sons scattered. He had not expected to see a grandchild.
He had not thought he would see Loki happy.
Whatever else his last years brought, that, at least, he could count as a triumph.
“I will take my leave,” he said, fighting emotion. “While we can still part civilly.”
Syn lifted a hand and touched his arm. “We’ll be having a ceremony in the spring to plant her tree,” she said quietly. “It would be nice to have your attendance.”
He nodded without a word, turning away to leave.
“Allfather,” Loki called as he reached the door. Odin turned to regard him and his son continued. “Next time, enter by the front door.” Loki’s eyes gleamed with some unnamable emotion. It wasn’t forgiveness, but it may have been something close. Acceptance, perhaps. “We may even see fit to serve you some wine.”