So this was how it felt to die.

Rollo stared up at the leaden sky as the ravens circled above him, but he was not listening to the sounds of battle, far in the distance. His thoughts were only of Kara, his imp, his Valkyrie.

He'd seen her for the first time on a battlefield much like this. He knew he would not see her this time, could not see her. She was no longer a Valkyrie, not in truth, and that - in part- was his doing.

But there was nothing that he regretted, apart, perhaps, from the sword that was lodged in his gut. The blow had not been lucky, Rollo had not been lacking in his skills or strength, he knew that. He had simply found himself fighting someone of equal - or apparently greater - talent. He had fought well on this day, he had been valiant and he was dying a warrior's could be no doubt that he would enter Valhalla. He had earned his place several times over. There was no way that Odin could deny him entrance to the Great Hall.

Rollo felt regret for the sadness that he knew Kara would feel. He winced to think of her heart breaking when she received the news. He hoped that she had built enough friendships in his absence that there would be arms to hold her when Ragnar told her what had happened. But she would not long be in pain. Days, mere days, and they would be together again. Once he was in Valhalla, such time would probably pass in the blink of an eye.

Rollo felt his body grow ever colder. Even the pool of blood underneath him that had been his only warmth, was now as cold as ice water. There would be no intervening Valkyrie this time. No, his destiny was at hand, on this day he would ascend and look upon Odin and Freya. Rollo wished that Kara was nearby to hold his hand, a weakness he was willing to admit to in these final moments. If he tried, he could imagine her slim fingers in his own. If he tried, he could remember the touch of those delicate hands all over his body.

There had never been much room in his life for regrets, at least, not many that he would have admitted to. Sometimes, there were thoughts and feelings that were best left buried in the pit of the soul. But the one thing that Rollo did find himself regretting, was that his time here with his Valkyrie had been so brief. Barely a year. He had hoped for many years, ones not consumed with a battle to be able to trust and use his own body. He hadn't dared hope for a family, even if thoughts of fierce girls with hair like sunrays and tumbling boys with hair as black as their eyes would sneak up on him when he was without distraction. He'd hoped that they'd have longer to know each other, to enjoy each, to love each other.

Rollo smiled to himself, and welcomed the numbness that was creeping over him, blanketing him against the fire that had been searing his stomach, burning his entire torso to ashes, had finally died to embers and been snuffed out. That might have been Ragnar shouting in the distance. There might have been the thump of boots, more vibration than sound. Bjorn may have been calling his name, but Rollo had no interest in frantic pleas and entreaties. He closed his eyes, and concentrated on becoming… whatever he would be. The sooner he left Midgard, the sooner he would see his beloved Valkyrie again.

~o0o~

Kara watched the lights flickering in the night sky and allowed the tears to fall, unchecked, down her cheeks. That Rollo would be one of the fallen who her sisters were, at this very moment, collecting, she had no doubt. This was her punishment, to be left behind for the rest of her life, while Rollo took his rightful place in Valhalla. Unbidden her hand touched her belly and she took a deep breath. If she sacrificed herself—allowed the priestess to slit her throat—their child would be lost, and she didn't need the seer to tell her that the son of Rollo was destined for greatness beyond his father's wildest imaginings.

A sob escaped, and Kara hugged herself a little tighter. She should have known that Freya would never allow her to return to her home. Rollo would quickly forget her; why should he not? Freya would offer to take the pain of losing her away, and he would grab the chance with both hands.

One kiss. That would be all it took. One kiss from the most beautiful goddess any realm had ever seen, and she would be forgotten forever.

~oOo~

There was no day or night in Valhalla. No winter or summer, and no way of marking the passage of time. There was no tiredness or pain, no hunger pangs or thirst. And for his fellow warriors, no memories of past attachments. They would remember and share tales of battles or sweet maidens, but there was no talk of families, of children or wives. They had eagerly accepted Freya's offer to wipe such sadness from their thoughts, and only he alone, remembered his imp, and waited for… days? Weeks? Years?

He drank, and fought. He laughed and reminisced with his friends. But mostly, he waited.

And waited.

"Let me ease your pain, Rollo."

How many times had Freya offered? Rollo had no idea, but each time she did, he refused. "He raised his eyes and forced his mouth into a smile. "I am not in pain, my queen. I am just waiting for Kara to join me."

Freya returned his smile. "Maybe she doesn't wish to. Maybe she has found another to love."

That thought had troubled him, but in truth, he didn't believe it. He had no idea why Kara hadn't joined him. Maybe no time had passed in Midgard, Rollo had no way of knowing, but it mattered not. He had pledged to always remember her, and to guarantee her passage home. He frowned. "Will she be able to return home with her new love?"

"No." Freya moved closer, so that their bodies were almost touching. "But that need not be any of your concern. Forget her, Rollo. There are many maidens here who are as beautiful as her."

One kiss. That would be all it took. All he had to do was let his queen brush her beautiful lips against his, and the heaviness in his heart would disappear for ever. Rollo closed his eyes, "I do not wish to forget her, my queen. I will wait."

"And if she loves another?"

He laughed. "I have loved before, and not had that love returned to me. If I have to spend eternity watching my love in the arms of another, so be it. But Kara did love me, and I love her. I promised that I would not forget her and I will not go back on my word."

~o0o~

She hadn't been able to stay in Kattegat, but she had not been without friends. Kara had refused to sacrifice herself to Rollo's funeral pyre. People had whispered about shame and disgrace, until the mutterings had become too much for her to bear. She had known, almost to exact moment it seemed, exactly when Rollo had died. When the boat had arrived back, carrying its miserable load, Kara hadn't bothered calling out for Rollo. She had known that he, or what remained of his mortal body, was in the bundle of blankets that Bjorn, Ragnar and Floki carried.

Floki had been skittish around her. She wasn't sure if he expected her to take a bloody and violent revenge against all those who had been unable to keep her man alive. She could have told him, if he'd given her the chance, that she had no power or inclination to do any such thing.

Ragnar had been the first to come to her, but she had ignored him, to the point of rudeness, and had pushed past him to Bjorn. It was from Bjorn that she sought the details of Rollo's last was from Bjorn that she learned the tale of the battle, the tale she could pass on to the son she carried. She would make sure that he knew every axe swing and sword thrust of his father's exploits.

After the funeral, when the raging inferno of the long boat was but a twist of smoke on the horizon, only Lagertha, Bjorn and Siggy would speak to Kara. The cottage had been Lagertha's idea. At first, Kara had been unsure. She had spent so many moons living in the cottage with Rollo, she didn't imagine that returning to it would hold anything more than torturous memories of what might have been. But as the days progressed, as more and more people turned from her in the street, she began to not care if there was pain waiting for her. Better to be alone with the agonising comfort of her memories, than rejected by ignorant fools. Of course, everyone knew her reasoning from not joining Rollo immediately in the afterlife, but it appeared they all thought that three deaths were better than one. Kara did not share their opinion.

Returning to the closest thing they had ever known as their own home was every bit as painful as Kara had thought it might be, but it was also strangely comforting. Every memory, triggered by anything from the sight of a familiar cup to the wisping steam of the hot springs, brought both happiness and time, she was able to remember with fondness, and without the sadness bursting forth.

In time, the people of Kattegat began to forgive her, at least a little. Or rather, their need overcame their condemnation. But still Kara would not return to the town. She wanted to live where she and Rollo had lived the best of their life together. At the cottage, she felt closest to him, as though he was somehow watching over her, although she knew that was as impossible as it was did not doubt that Freya would have tried to tempt Rollo, but Kara felt as though she would know if her sister had succeeded. She still felt linked to her warrior, a feeling that she could not put into words. And if he would wait for her, then she would wait for him.

So Kara waited, and she healed the people of Kattegat - in return for their coin - when they came to her. And when Rollo's son was born, healthy and strong, she spun him tales of his warrior father. Every night, as she rocked her babe in her arms, she told him of strength, of honour, of wit, and of stubbornness. She told him of a light heart, and a hard head, and a heart so strong it could beat for all eternity. She told him of a love that could transcend all the realms, and she hoped that she did not tell him lies.

~o0o~

"Rollo, come with me."

Rollo raised his head at the sound of Odin's voice. When he looked around, he realised that he was alone in the Great Hall, something that he would have said was impossible, if the King of Gods had not been standing in front of him.

"Now?"

"You can stare into that cup of mead some more, if you'd prefer?" Odin said, with a touch of irritation.

It wouldn't do to keep Odin waiting. The capricious deity could change his mind in an instant. Rollo set his untouched mug of mead aside, and went to Odin's side. He made sure to stand on the side of the working eye. He'd heard more than a few irritable words spoken when people approached Odin from his blinded side.

"Will you tell me where we're going?" Rollo asked, as they began to walk into the forest.

"No. But you'll remember the way without my telling you." Odin replied.

They continued to walk for some time. They did not speak much, Odin did not seem inclined towards conversation, and Rollo was in no mood for talking about trivialities. He missed his imp. The lack of her was like the ache of an old wound on an icy winter's day. They made their way through pine trees taller than any Rollo had seen on Midgard. Their footsteps were muffled by a thick blanket of fallen dense canopy blocked out all but the most stubborn strands of sunlight, but they did not have any difficulty picking their way through the dim shadows.

Eventually, Rollo heard the trickle of water. Not many steps later, they came upon a stream. Odin led the way along the trickle of crystal water, until they reached a place where the water swirled into a bowl that it's passage had carved from the earth, before flowing on to somewhere unseen.

Odin knelt by the pool. "Come," he beckoned Rollo. "Kneel. Look."

Rollo had no idea what Odin intended, but he'd seen enough fantastical things in the realm of Valhalla that he knew now not to question the magic that surrounded him. The never-emptying banquet tables, the bottomless jugs of mead, the battles from which fallen warriors rose again and again, all continued to happen without any explanation.

Odin pointed again at the eddying water. Rollo followed his direction, knelt, and gazed into what, at first, appeared to be nothing more than water running over earth. And then… the ripples seemed to catch a shaft of sunlight a certain way. The liquid sparkled a thousand times more brightly, and it was no longer a pool, it was a mirror. But it did not show him himself and Odin. Rollo realised he was looking at Midgard.

"What the…?" he murmured, but when the silence of rush of the wind through the trees and the chirp of the birds was his only response, he looked around and realised that Odin had vanished.

Rollo turned back to the pool, hoping that he vision hadn't faded. It was as clear as ever. He continued to look, hoping for a some clue as to what he was seeing. He nearly fell back onto his arse when he realised that he could see Lagertha's winter cottage. It was a place so full of memories for him, and they all stabbed his heart as a volley of arrows.

He wanted to ask Odin what the meaning of the portal was, whether the mischievous god-king had shown him such a thing for petty amusement, but Odin was not there to ask. Rollo continued to watch. He watched birds fly across the sky, in a realm long lost to him. He saw the waves of the fjord break over the stones of the beach. Eventually, he saw the door to the cottage open. He expected to see Lagertha, but instead he saw Kara. Rollo did sit then, overwhelmed by love and longing. He felt as though someone had punched him in the gut, so great was his need to reach into the water and touch the woman he loved, but he was afraid of disturbing the vision. He clenched his hands into fists, and continued to watch.

Kara had aged a little. It was only evident in the way the corners of her eyes creased more than they had, but it brought with it the realisation that he had been in Valhalla for years. It was summer, and fluffy white clouds scurried across the blue sky. When Kara's head jerked up, Rollo thought she might have somehow sensed him, but then he realised she was reacting to a sound he could not hear.

And then a little boy ran out of the cottage, a sturdy lad, who looked to have at least six summers to his age. He was a handsome lad, with his mother's clear blue eyes, and hair as dark as freshly turned earth. The boy arrived at his mother's side, and looked up to tell his mother some tale, gifting Rollo with a clear view of his face. Rollo understood why Kara had not yet joined him, and why he must continue to wait.