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The Brady Bunch Wolf Pack

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Thrud

Though she begged to stay home that summer, Daddy told her no. There was no one there during the day to watch her. So instead, after a lot of tears, she chose riding camp. The horses were big and a little scary. Every day, her counselor Amber asked her if she wanted to ride.

“No, thank you,” she said politely, but firmly.

Instead, she’d get to brush Mo, the Shetland pony that liked to roll in the dirt. They were the same height and he wasn't scary at all.

Uncle Loki picked her up instead of Daddy on the fourth day. As he was signing her out, Amber approached. She stopped dead when her uncle looked up.

“Yes?” he asked shortly.

“Um. We were just all a little worried about Thrud. She seems afraid of the horses. We want her to have the best possible time, and...” she trailed off under Uncle Loki’s look.

“I see,” he set down his pen. “Thank you.”

“Um. You’re welcome.”

Thrud got into the car with a sick feeling in her stomach. Uncle Loki could be mean sometimes Not to her though. Just... everyone that wasn't family.

“Are you enjoying camp?” he asked and she bit her lip and nodded. “Truly, Thrud. Do you like it here?”

“I do!” She sniffed. “Really. The other kids are really nice and I like brushing Mo.”

“All right,” he just nodded. “That’s fine then.”

When they got home, he made her a snack. Riding camp started early, so she was the first one home. Usually Daddy picked her up and they would eat junk food. Uncle Loki sliced an apple and spread them with peanut butter. He let her sit by the window and didn't ask her anything. Instead he brought over some sheets of paper and some crayons, so she could draw. When Daddy got home with the others, Loki got up to greet them. Thrud held the purple crayon tightly.

A few minutes later, Daddy sat down next to her. He looked at her drawing.

“It’s Mo,” she explained. “Except he’s a unicorn.”

“Good job,” he put his arm around the back of her chair and she relaxed a little. She loved how Daddy was like a wall between her and everything else.

“Can I keep going to riding camp? Even if I never ride a horse?” she blurted.

“Of course, sweetheart,” he kissed the top of her head. “But why don’t you want to ride one?”

“They’re really big. And sometimes they throw people.”

“The ponies that they have for the camp are very gentle though,” he frowned. “When did you see someone get thrown?”

“The older kids,” she looked down at her drawing and added a sun. “One of them tried to do a trick and the pony didn't like it.”

“That would be scary,” he agreed. “But I don’t think that you’ll do something a pony doesn't like, right?”

“I guess not,” she drew a smile on the sun.

The weekend was next and she spent it collecting rocks with Sleepy. They were building a little castle with mud and pebbles in the front lawn. She forgot all about camp until Monday, but no one said anything to her in the morning. Daddy drove her in and gave her a hug and a kiss before leaving her with Amber and driving off to drop off Jojo.

The day went normally. She talked to her friends and brushed Mo and fed one of the goats a carrot.

But Uncle Loki picked her up again. Except this time, he didn't go right to the sign out book. Instead, he approached Muffin, one of the training ponies. Amber looked at him with wide eyes,

“If you’ll indulge me,” he held out a carrot which Muffin accepted. As she ate it, he leaned in and pressed his cheek close to one of Muffin’s twitching ears. He spoke softly, to her. So quietly that Thrud only knew he was talking at all because she could see his lips moving. Then he drew away and gave her an affectionate pat on the neck. “Come here, Thrud.”

She took her time walking up to him, but he didn't hurry her along. He only waited until she was close and then gently picked her up. Uncle Loki was very tall, taller than the counselors and she was brought straight to eye level with Muffin.

“What’re you doing?”

“I’ve had a talk with this one,” Loki explained, very seriously. “I’ve told her that you are my beloved niece and that you are a kind little girl. She said that she knew that already because she’s watched you with the other animals. We came to an agreement. If we bring her a carrot once a week, then she will let you ride her with no trouble at all. You don’t have to, but you can.”

“You talked to Muffin?” She frowned. “But horses don’t talk.”

“Everything living has a voice if you know how to listen,” he didn’t look like he was making fun or making things up. When Uncle Loki was teasing, his eyes did a sideways thing that they weren’t doing now. “And according to her, her name isn’t Muffin. She prefers Dandelion.”

Thrud, very slowly, reached out to touch Dandelion’s neck. It was soft and one black eye tracked her movements without concern.

She didn’t ride her that day or the day after, but on Thursday when her turn came up, Thrud summoned all her bravery and approached Dandelion. Amber beamed and helped her up into the saddle, explaining everything that Thrud had heard her say to the other girls. Dandelion moved slowly around the ring, unconcerned by Thrud’s trembling hands.

Thrud could feel the life beneath her, large and peaceful. The day was hot, insects buzzing wild in the trees.

She’d remember that day for the rest of her life. It was the first time she fell in love.

Sleepy

Town camp was great! Sleepy loved the arts and crafts room where they could use as much glitter as they wanted and wide open field where they could play tag after lunch. He liked riding the bus with Modi, the way that Modi always sat on the outside and gave the other older kids looks if they tried to pick on his little cousin.

“What’d you get for lunch?” Modi would always ask and they’d take out their sandwiches and snacks, switching them around until they were both happy with their meals. Sleepy enjoyed his double serving of plums every day while Modi relished extra chips.

Every day was running and laughing and awesome.

Until the very bad, no good day when he was skipping with his friend Tina and his shoe got caught and he fell down. There was a lot of pain.

He tried not to cry, but it was hard and it hurt a lot. The nurse wouldn't let them move him, so he had to sit in the dirt for a long time until two people in blue jumpsuits showed up with board and they put him on it, and talked to him while looking at his ankle.

“His father will meet you at the hospital!” The nurse called out as they carted him away.

The ride in the ambulance would have been fun if he hadn't hurt so much. He tried to ask questions about all the things he could see, but the answers wouldn't stick in his head.

The hospital was big and loud and scary. He couldn't stop crying now, big hiccuping sobs.

“I want my daddy,” he heaved a heavy breath. “Please.”

“He’s coming sweetheart, promise,” a nice lady in white clothes assured him. “Just hold on.”

The door to the E.R. slid open and Uncle Thor came thundering through, his eyes wide.

“I’m looking for Sleipnir Laufeyson,” he said desperately.

“I’m over here!” He waved to him and then he was being wrapped up in a big hug, strong arms around him.

“Your father is on his way,” his uncle pet his hair. “He was at a meeting in the next town over.”

“I fell,” Sleepy explained, drying his face on his uncle’s soft red t-shirt.

“We’re going to take him to x-ray now.”

Uncle Thor couldn't stay in the room while they took pictures of his ankle, but he came back in as soon as they were done. He held his hand while they waited for the picture to develop and then, Daddy was there.

“Sleepy,” his father’s eyes were went and he hugged him so hard and then they were both crying. “I’m so sorry, baby. I should’ve been here faster.”

“It’s okay, Daddy. Uncle Thor kept me company.”

His ankle was broken and he had to get a cast. He chose a lime green cover for it and Daddy bought duct tape the same color and decorated his crutches with it. Everyone at the house signed his cast.

It was hard to go back to camp because he wasn't allowed to run and he had to swim with a plastic bag on his foot. But the other kids thought his cast was cool and they let him spend extra time in the arts and crafts room.

And the whole time he had it on, Uncle Thor let him ride around on his shoulders whenever they went out.

Magni

Cooking classes only ran for two weeks, but for those two whole weeks Magni didn't go to town camp with his brother. Instead, he walked into a real live professional kitchen and he got an apron that he’d carefully written his name on with a fabric marker.

The instructor’s name was Clarence and he a short man with a big mustache and a loud laugh. There were only five other kids in the class, so they all got plenty of attention.

“Today, we make art!” Clarence would boom every morning. He would write the list of ingredients on the board, but not tell them what they were making. Usually Magni could figure it out just from that, but sometimes it was new.

They got to use real knives and Clarence showed them how to hold the blades so they wouldn't cut themselves.

Magni’s favorite day was Friday. On Friday they could experiment.

“You can do whatever you like, but think carefully about flavors,” Clarence warned. “We want to be able to eat it when we are done.”

On the first Friday, Magni made lasagna, but the noodles came out rubbery and weird. Clarence pat him on the back,

“A good try.”

He thought about it most of the weekend then approached his uncle on Sunday.

“Can we make lasagna tonight?”

“I don’t see why not,” Uncle Loki didn’t look up from his laptop. “Why don’t you make sure we have everything for it?”

Magni laid out all the ingredients then went back to his uncle.

“It’s all out.”

“All right, preheat the oven and put a pot of water on the stove. Come get me when it’s boiled.”

The oven was easy. He had to be more careful with the water as it was heavy, but he managed and turned the flame on high. It took a long time for the water to boil, but he stayed in the kitchen. Modi drifted in, flicking the back of Magni’s neck,

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Making dinner.”

“Cool. Do you want to play Mario Kart after?”

“Yeah, okay.”

Modi leaned against his back.

“When do you start camp with me again?”

“After this week.”

“Okay,” Modi sighed. “Cause it’s not the same without you.”

Magni smiled a little at his hands.

“Miss you too.”

It had been kind of okay to be in different classrooms this year. Magni missed being able to talk to Modi whenever he wanted, but it was also kind of nice never being called by the wrong name or get their work confused.

Town camp would be fun, but it was nice to have this sliver of time with a pot of water and the promise of good food.

When the water boiled, Modi had already left again. Magni went back up to Uncle Loki’s office.

“It’s boiling.”

Uncle Loki saved his work and came downstairs as he promised. He was very good about promises. Together they let the noodles slither into the water, even if Uncle Loki wouldn't let him drain them.

“It’s too heavy,” he chided and shooed him back. The puff of steam rose up from the stove and put waves into his uncle’s hair.

Together they browned the meat and layered the dish. Together they made broccoli to eat on the side and slathered a white bread in garlic and butter.

They never talked much when they cooked and Magni liked that. He liked how quiet Uncle Loki could be. How they could move together like a team.

And he really liked how when the dish came out and the family said it was good, Loki deferred entirely to him,

“Magni made it,” he’d shrug. “I’m just the sous chef.”

The next Friday, Magni didn’t make lasagna. He’d already perfected that. Instead he tried a souffle and when it collapsed, he just smiled. Uncle Loki would help him do it right later.

Hel

“You want to go to school?” Modi had pulled a face. “It’s summer! Come to camp with us.”

“I like school,” Hel sniffed. “And anyway, it’s different school. And there aren't any grades or tests.”

“Still sounds boring,” Modi groaned. “At least Magni is making cupcakes and stuff.”

“I’ll be making explosions.”

There weren't actually many explosions, to her disappointment, but there were lots of other fun things. The first week was chemistry themed and they did get to make some cool slimes. She explained to Magni how bread was held together and how yeast was alive and he actually listened.

She gave Jojo the slime, pleased when he played with it all night.

The second week was forensics and she loved every second of it. The teachers set up a fake burglary and set up clues. Each day they went over different kinds of evidence.

“And then we got to match fingerprints!” She explained to her father. “It was so cool! And then we got to look at hair under a microscope. Tomorrow we get to look at different kinds of people’s blood because there’s lots of different kinds.”

“You’re O positive,” her father told her with a smile. “In case you get asked.”

“Cool!”

When Sleepy broke his ankle, her Uncle Thor gave her one of the x-rays when they came home.

“I can keep this?” She asked, eyes wide. She felt terrible for her little brother, of course and had already brought him her best pillow and his favorite action figure while he lay too small and pale on the couch.

“He said you could and I bet the rest of your class would like to see it.”

She brought it with her the next day and the teacher showed them all how to read it.

It was pretty much the best summer ever.

Modi

It was pretty much the worst summer ever. For two whole weeks, Modi had waited patiently for his brother to finish up cooking classes and start coming to camp with him. At least he’d had Sleepy for company, even if all he ever wanted to talk about was Minecraft and lanyard stitches. Then the kid had gone and busted his ankle and for three whole days Modi rode the bus alone.

He’d never really done that. Been alone. The other kids on the bus were fine, they mostly left him alone though. So he spent the whole half hour ride just by himself.

It was the worst.

And then there was camp itself. The other boys in his group were okay, he got along with them all mostly, but none of them were really his friends. He spent a lot of time alone, drawing in his notebook. Hel had told him once that before they had come to school, she hadn't had any friends and at all. It seemed weird then and worse now. How could she stand it?

The first day Magni came with him, he was overjoyed, but when they got to camp Magni hit it off with a boy called Justin and his friend Thomas and they included Modi mostly. It was just...not what he’d hoped.

“I’m bored,” he whined to Hel.

“You should’ve come to science camp with me,” she sniffed.

“But that’s school!”

“I’m not the one who’s bored.”

“Maybe try a few new things,” his father suggested.

So Magni tried out for the play, but he got put in the chorus and he just mumbled along in the back. He played different sports and he was pretty good at most of them, but none of them were as fun as soccer. He made daisy chains with some of the younger kids and helped paint a mural.

None of it was right. None of it was with his brother.

He crept into his dad’s room after he was meant to be in bed. Dad was still awake, the little television in his room playing a football game. He was sitting on his bed, some financial papers spread out in front of him.

“What’s wrong?” he looked up immediately. Modi climbed up on the bed and leaned into him.

“I don’t like camp.”

“No?” Dad frowned. “What don’t you like about it?”

“It’s just...boring. And I don’t have any friends. And Magni has plenty even though he wasn't even there for two weeks which isn't fair. And he won’t be in my class next year,” he turned his face into his dad’s arm, hiding. “He doesn't want to be my brother anymore.”

Dad pulled him in close and rubbed his back,

“You know that your uncle Loki and I didn't talk for many years.”

“Uh huh.”

“It’s what makes me saddest in life,” his father sighed. “We both had good reasons, but in the end, we lost years of each other’s lives. I don’t know what it’s like to be a twin, but I do know that you and Magni are much smarter than I was.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely.”

Dad didn't tell him what to do, but Modi thought he understood. He went back up to there shared room. Magni wasn't sleeping either. He was using a flashlight to read though he turned it off hastily when he heard someone coming near.

“It’s just me,” Modi sat down on his brother’s bed.

“You okay?” Magni sat up, frowning.

“No,” he sat his chin on his knee. “Camp is really boring.”

“I like it.” Magni countered.

“Because you have friends and I don’t.”

“Sure you do. The only reason I made friends was everyone already liked you. You just don’t pay attention.”

“That’s not true,” he frowned. Was it? “I want you to pay attention.”

Magni’s frown matched his. They were quiet for awhile then Magni nodded.

“Okay. Want to play soccer tomorrow?”

“But there’s no game scheduled.”

“So what?”

It turned out that you could start a spontaneous soccer game if bought a ball and were willing to make a few adults mad when you were supposed to be playing freeze tag. They played for an hour and Magni passed Modi the ball every time.

Jojo

The whole summer, Jojo got to paint. The program was almost an hour away from home, but Jojo didn’t mind the long bus ride there or the car ride back with just him and Dad. On the way there, he listened to his hand-me-down iPod full of Fen’s music. He liked some of it and he gave all of it a chance.

The teachers at the art school were really easy going. They didn't make him talk so he did more often because they didn't know that he never did. The kids there were totally different from his old school. All of them liked to paint and draw.

“I like to make things out of garbage,” one girl said proudly, showing off a mobile of soda can tabs.

“That’s really cool,” he mumbled and she smiled at him. It poured over him like warm water.

Her name was Alyce and the whole summer they sat next to each other. Jojo painted a picture of her face and she made him one of her mobiles with cut up sharp bits of plastic from soda bottles. He hung it over his bed and it caught the light just right, sending arcs of green and brown over his walls.

He came home with dirty fingernails, messy pinch pots, and lots of paintings. At the end of the summer, he had a little notepad with email addresses written in it from four different classmates, but Alyce’s was on the top with an angry face sketched next to it with the words ‘Write me or else!’

It was much easier to write an email than talk a blue streak. He wrote her the first email that night and was pleased that she wrote back right away.

“She’s the love of my life,” he told his father as he showed her the selfie Alyce had sent of her new purple hair. “Can I have purple hair?”

His dad looked at the photo, looked at Jojo and sighed,

“I really cannot be upset. You come by it honestly.”

Uncle Thor suppressed a laugh.

“Shut up you,” Dad ordered without looking up from the picture. “I’m glad you found someone you care about, Jojo. Think about the purple hair. If you still want it next week then I’ll find a place to do it right.”

He did still want it in a week. Dad made the appointment for a week after that. Jojo didn't change his mind.

He walked into the salon, a little nervous, because he can tell that Dad was a little nervous for him. The stylist is a tall thin man with a lot of tattoos. When he smiled, he had a gold tooth like a pirate.

“Hel is going to be so jealous,” Jojo whispered and that made his father smile.

“She will,” he agreed. “This is Jojo. He would like purple hair.”

“Bold move,” the stylist didn’t look phased. “What shade of purple?”

Jojo showed him Alyse’s picture. She had a pretty pastel.

“I like this. But also darker?”

“Ombre,” the stylist suggested. He showed Jojo a picture of what he meant, with light purple at the top and dark at the bottom. “When you’re hair grows back in, it’ll be black, light purple, then dark purple. So if you don’t want to keep it up, it’ll still look cool.”

“Okay!”

It took a long time to get the dye done, but Jojo was good at waiting. When it was done, his dad let him use his phone to send a picture to Alyce.

No fair! she texted back, You look way cooler than me!

“If the kids at school make fun of you,” his dad started in the car.

“They won’t,” he shrugged.

“Why?”

“They just won’t.”

Because Jojo knew how to stare at someone until they got creeped out and walked away. Because they were scared of his little sister and his big brother, who might not go to the school anymore, but everyone remembered as being very big for a little kid.

Because Jojo wouldn't let them either.

“All right,” his dad sighed, then glanced at him. “It looks amazing. I wish I’d had the guts to do something like that as a kid.”

“You could still do it,” Jojo pointed out.

“Well, not really. I mean with my job and....” his dad trailed off and looked down the road. Then he grinned. “What do you think about green?”

They turned the car around and the stylist laughed, but made time for them. His dad didn't do his whole head, just one thick dark stripe near the front of his face.

When they got home, everyone gave Jojo compliments until he was flushed. Only Uncle Thor had the guts to say anything to Dad.

“I like it,” Thor smiled and touched the green streak with one finger. “Reminds me of a boy I used to know.”

“Yes,” his dad grinned. “Me too.”

Fen

A few months before summer started, his dad had started a conversation with a frown.

“It has been brought, rather rudely, to my attention that you’re too old for day camp.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Fen rolled his eyes. “I aged out of town camp last year. You were mad about it then too.”

“You could be a counselor,” he offered. “Or one in training anyway. They don’t seem to pay which seems unfair.”

“Or,” Fen prompted.

“Or,” his dad swallowed hard, “you could go to sleep away camp.”

“Really?” His eyes went wide.

“Yes. Really. Your uncle seems to think that I’m holding you back from the joys of the great outdoors. There’s a four week program, lots of outdoor activities. Hiking, boating, swimming in a lake” his dad looked like the words were choking him. “Even some real outdoor camping.”

He gave his dad the fastest hardest hug he could manage.

“I can’t wait!”

On the day, his bags packed, Fen might have felt a little more reluctant. It was sort of scary to hug his siblings and cousins goodbye.

The camp was only about an hour away, but it wound away from the town Fen had spent his whole life in and around a huge mountain. The camp was in the valley, a shining jewel of a lake at its center. As they pulled up amid dozens of other minivans, his heart fluttered nervously.

His bunk was a low slung wood cabin and inside there were beds for ten boys and two counselors. Half the boys were already clustered at the back talking animatedly while their parents said their goodbyes.

“You must be Fenrir,” a tall teenage boy smiled down at him over a clipboard. Not that far down. Fen was tall.

“Fen,” he corrected quietly.

“And I’m Ben!” The counselor laughed. “Easy to remember than. Do you like top bunk or bottom bunk?”

“Either is okay,” he eyed the top bunk with interest. It was high, but there were bars if he rolled over too much.

His dad’s hand tightened on his shoulder and Fen waited for him to protest, but there was nothing. The grip loosened and when Fen glanced back, his uncle had an eyebrow pointedly lifted. His dad nodded and his hand dropped away.

One of the boys peeled off the group, looking up at Fen’s dad then at Fen,

“My name is Sigurd. You should bunk with me.”

“Uh,” Fen blinked. “Okay?”

Sigurd took his arm and dragged him to a bed in the back corner, he whispered,

“It’s cool. I’ve got two moms, so I get it.”

“I-” Fen looked back at where his dad and uncle were having a fierce conversation. “Okay.”

After settling on the bed situation, Jeremy started giving him advice about how to set up the top bunk so he’d be comfortable. His dad helped make the bed and unpack most of his things. But by then a lot of the other parents were going.

“Ben says you can call us on Friday,” his Dad leaned down and pulled him into a hard hug. “But if you need me, I’ll be here in a blink.”

“Okay, Dad,” he tried to sound bored, but he maybe clinged a little into the hug. His dad’s eyes looked a little wet.

“And we’ll bring everyone to come see you on Family Day in two weeks,” his uncle gave him a hug too. “Have fun, Fenny.”

The first night was hard. He didn’t know where anything was and the food wasn’t very good. Sigurd helped some and with his lead, a lot of the other boys were friendly enough. He did miss his attic room though, the cabin was full of strange noises and too many strangers. He curled up and slid his hand under his pillow, surprised when it brushed a square of paper.

He pulled it out and held it up to the moonlight. It was a photo, a picture of his entire family posed on the steps of their house. They’d taken it only the second day they’d moved in and everyone looked tired and a little irritated. Hel had a scratch on her nose and his dad had a smudge of something on his cheek.

It was great. He slid it back under his pillow and closed his eyes. Maybe his dad had put it there or maybe his uncle. It didn't really matter. They were out there, not so far away really, and he’d be home soon.

The very next day they went on their first hike and Fen fell in love with sleep away camp. Ben turned out to know a lot about trees, and he didn't mind all of Fen’s questions. Sigurd stuck to Fen like glue, explaining all about camp traditions like the first swim of the summer where they all jumped off the dock into the lake in a shrieking mass. The water was cold and muddy. Fen could sink his toes into the muck.

The month passed by in a blur, punctuated with phone calls home and Family Day where he had by far the biggest family. After they all left, his entire cabin had besieged him asking questions about what it was like living with so many people all year round.

“Loud,” he summarized with a laugh.

On the last day, he felt nervous all over again.

When he saw the minivan, distinctive among the others because Uncle Thor had put up their entire stick figure family in the back so that it took up almost the entire back window over Dad’s vehement protests, he found himself smiling.

“Nope,” his dad got out of the car. “That’s not my son. My son is a boy and that is not a boy. That is a teenager.”

“Dad!” He laughed.

“You've gone up another inch,” his dad hugged him tight and he smelled just like home. “And you've got a tan. I didn't even know we could tan. Are you all packed up?”

“Mostly?”

“Of course,” his dad laughed. “Why don’t you say goodbye to your friends and we’ll finish up for you.”

“Fen, say hi to my moms!” Sigurd grabbed his hand and dragged him to two very tall, imposing women.

“Nice to meet you,” he said politely.

“We’ve heard a lot about you, Fen. You can call me Val and this is Brunhilde.”

“Fen has two dads!” Jeremy exclaimed, “Isn't that cool?”

Fen had never really gotten around to correcting this idea of Sigurd's. If it had been a kid from school, he would've said so right away and probably with some meanness. But Sigurd had been so nice to him.

“Yes,” Val laughed. “That’s very cool. Should we meet them too?”

Before Fen could protest or come up with a diversion, they were there. His uncle shook hands with them both with a broad smile,

“By your names, I would guess we once came from the same part of the world.”

“Likely,” Val looked away. “But that was a long time ago.”

“Wasn't it though?” his dad stepped up beside his uncle. “Let’s not talk about it. We do have an extra hour or so before we have to be back for the sitter though. Would you like to get lunch?”

So Fen got to spend an extra lunch with just Sigurd and he forgot to warn his dad about the mis-impression. Instead, they ate burgers and read each other the Trivial Pursuit cards that the diner had on the tables.

“Maybe we can see each other again before next summer,” Sigurd said hopefully.

“Yeah, maybe,” Fen nodded. “Dad said I can get a phone for my birthday this year. I’ll send you the number when I do.”

“Awesome!”

To Fen’s great surprise, he fell asleep on the drive home before anyone could say anything to him. He was exhausted as though the entire summer of staying up late had caught up with him all at once.

When he got home, the mob was waiting. Sleepy climbed his brother like a tree, settling himself on his shoulders with a triumphant whoop while Hel tried to tell him about everything she’d learned all at once. Jojo presented himself, his hair gleaming in the sun. Fen touched the purple locks,

“Looks really good, bro.” He was rewarded with a toothy grin.

His cousins came on as a second wave, Modi offering up a soccer ball with an extortion for a game later. Magni held up a plate of cookies for him to take one and Thrud gave him a sparkly picture that left glitter all over his hands.

“I missed you brats,” he laughed and the collective hug almost brought him down to his knees.

He did play soccer with Modi once the crowd subsided. Magni, Hel, and Jojo joined after awhile and Fen switched to more of a referee to keep things fair. He missed camp already, but he’d missed this too.

Dinner was everyone trying to talk at once and Dad smiling so hard, Fen was actually a little worried about him. He even let everyone stay up late to finish watching Fellowship of the Ring, the little ones deemed old enough now to watch it with parents present.

Sleepy climbed into Fen’s lap at Rivendell and was sleep before they left it. Fen played with his hair idly. When the movie ended, only he, Jojo, Dad and Uncle Thor were still awake.

“Help us get them to bed?”

Fen nodded and picked up Sleepy. He carried his little brother, who was definitely heavier than he was a month ago. He’d missed the last half the saga of the broken ankle, the cast removed a few days ago. The ankle still looked skinner than the other one, but otherwise all was well. Fen tucked him into his bed, pulling the Minecraft printed blanket up around his shoulders.

“Night, Sleepy.”

To his surprise, his brother turned and pat Fen’s hand gently.

“Night, Fenny.” Then seemed to fall back into a deep sleep.

He went back to the living room, and found just Hel left, curled tight around her pillow. Her hair was longer, he realized. And her face had changed somehow. Not a lot, just a little. He picked her up too and she roused enough to grumble.

“You could walk,” he suggested and she snorted.

“Carry me.”

“Yes, princess.”

He took her up the stairs. Uncle Thor was talking quietly to Thrud, who had apparently stirred on her journey as well.

“Tuck me in,” Hel ordered and Fen did with a laugh though he might’ve argued on another night. “I missed your stupid face.”

“I missed yours too, pointy nose.”

She dug said pointy nose into his arm until he yelped in protest and tickled her soundly.

“Enough,” his uncle laughed. “It’s time for all of us to sleep.”

Fen poked her one last time for good measure, then stood before they could retaliate. Uncle Thor put a hand on the back of Fen’s neck, gentle, but firm and propelled him from the room. He guided him to the steps up to the attic.

They paused there, in the growing quiet.

“It’s good to have you home, son.”

Before Fen could reply, his uncle was gone and his heart thudded unevenly in his chest. His eyes stung for some reason and he ignored it to take the stairs up to his room two at time. He returned to his kingdom in the stars, flinging open the window to let out the musty smell.

Home again.