"Come, children, and I will tell you a tale, the tale of the Jaegers and of the Kaiju, the tale of Asgard and of her warriors.
The mortals of Midgard sing about us in their ballads and poems, vague remnants of days long past, but they know little of Asgard, the Realm Eternal, connected to Midgard by the branches of Yggdrasil but hidden from all mortal sight. No ship can approach the halls of Odin, no weapon, no explorer. The ancient magic that shields us is unassailable, impossible to breach.
Or so we thought.
Then the portal opened, and from the Tenth Realm came the Kaiju, fearsome monsters unlike any other. Even we, the warriors of the Realm Eternal, could not drive back their might. For centuries Asgard had been at peace, our swords dulled by resting so long in their scabbards. When the first Kaiju attacked, hundreds died before it could be stopped, the golden palace of the king reduced to ruins.
In his wisdom, the aged Borr, king of Asgard, saw what must be done. At his word, the clever sons of Ivaldi created the first Jaeger, Gungnir, a mighty weapon unlike any other, a spear to strike at the very heart of the beast. None could master the Jaeger but the mighty Odin, son of Borr, and he rode it into battle against the Kaiju. The fight was long and arduous, but the Kaiju was at last defeated, Asgard safe.
We thought for a time that we had won the war, but little did we know that we were only beginning the first skirmishes. The Kaiju kept coming, attacking without mercy, and we showed no mercy to them. Asgard sharpened her swords, and though the Kaiju still attack, they do not reach our shores. The might of Asgard's Jaegers is unmatched, even by the loathsome Kaiju. There have been casualties, as there are in all wars, and we have mourned our dead, even as we celebrated their journey to Valhalla.
A Jaeger has not fallen in a century, not since the brave Balder Odinson and Nanna Nepsdóttir were lost, but we remain vigilant always. There will always be more Kaiju, and we will always beat them back. Asgard will never fall to the Kaiju, not until there is not a single hand to wield a single blade. We fight for Asgard, so that the Realm Eternal will always be so, so that the monsters of the Tenth Realm never claim what belongs to us, never drive us into the sea and destroy what is ours. We fight for all of Yggdrasil, so that the Kaiju never spread to attack realms more vulnerable. We will overcome the Kaiju, even if that day does not come until Ragnarok.
That is the tale of Asgard and her fight against the Kaiju, but do not let it worry you, child. We fight, but we make merry as well. If we do nothing but war, spending all our days in terror of the next attack, then why fight the Kaiju at all?"
"But Odin couldn't fight alone, could he?" Sif asked. "Somebody had to drift with him."
"His queen did," Frigga said, a smile on her face. She walked down the hallway, Sif on her heels and Heimdall following, as grave and calm as ever. "But no one likes a braggart."
"I want to drive a Jaeger," Sif said. "I'll be the strongest pilot who ever lived. I'll kill a thousand Kaiju just like that."
"A thousand Kaiju is a thousand Kaiju too many," Heimdall intoned.
"You're so serious, brother," Sif complained.
"Do not wish for Kaiju, my child," Frigga told her. "But if a thousand Kaiju is what we have, I know you will slay every one of them."
"I want to be just like you were, my queen," Sif said.
Frigga chuckled. "Don't be. Be better." She stopped, inclining her head at Heimdall. "But until then, perhaps you'd better follow your brother's example and concentrate on your studies. Your strength is natural, as anyone can see, but no one can learn without making an effort."
"I will," Sif promised.
"Good," Frigga said, smiling. "Now I think the two of you had better go and see what smells so good in the kitchen. Young warriors need to keep their strength up, especially with fresh cakes."
Grinning, Sif made to run off, but Heimdall caught her arm. "By your leave, my queen," he said politely.
"You may go," Frigga said, nodding. Heimdall let Sif go, running away before she knew he was going to do it. Their shouts echoed down the hallway, and Frigga smiled.
Odin stepped out of the shadows, walking up to stand beside Frigga. "The past sounds much more magnificent when you tell of it," he told her.
"You have your own way with words, husband," she said. "And just how long have you been hiding there?"
"Long enough to hear your tale," he said. "Talking to them like that, you'll raise another generation of warriors, hungry for Kaiju blood."
She lifted an eyebrow at him. "Are you complaining?"
He picked up her hand, kissing it. "Far from it, my queen," he said. "Consider it the highest of compliments."
"You old flatterer," she said, smiling at him. She held out her arm. "Now come. We mustn't let the children have all the fun."
The Jaeger was only a few weeks old, and it had hardly even moved yet, no more than was necessary for basic testing. Gone were the days of the old Jaegers, of huge, looming titans like Gungnir; Asgard's newest Jaeger was built for speed and cunning, as nimble and quick as was possible, given the rather obvious limitation of being enormous and made of metal. The mighty Mjolnir, still half-built in the dock beside it, looked huge in comparison, its heavy fists made to crush Kaiju before they ever had a chance to run.
"This was never my idea, you know," Loki said, as the last piece of his suit was fitted on.
"Of course it wasn't," Sif said, rolling her eyes. "You remind us of that fact often enough." She gave him a look. "Not that it's actually a fact."
"I don't know what you mean," he said.
"Oh, honestly," she said. "I've never heard someone protest so much and so poorly about anything in my life. 'Leave me with my books,'" she mimicked. "'I'll just haunt the training grounds every day for years. Oh, I suppose I can compete this once. Oh, what a surprise to find someone I'm Drift-compatible with. I guess I can be a pilot if I absolutely must.' You weren't even trying to conceal how much you wanted to."
"You're welcome to your version of events," Loki said, and Sif snorted.
They stepped into their positions, placing their hands on the controls. As the assistants made the final adjustments, Loki looked at Sif, feeling uncharacteristically hesitant. "I don't know if you really want to go through with this," he said quietly.
"Why shouldn't I?" Sif challenged.
His face grew grave. "You might not like what you see."
She laughed, and Loki wished in that moment that she'd give up, take him seriously, let all of this end now. Her jests had the ring of truth in them, unfortunately, though he'd never admit it. There was no denying the allure of the Jaegers, the thought of all that power at his command. All that with just a thought, just a step, all of it his for the taking. He wasn't sure that Asgard needed that, a person like him with that kind of might in his hands. Asgard was better served with someone like Thor; they were alike in strength, he and Thor, but, despite all his brash behavior and unshakeable stubbornness, Thor had higher aspirations, more noble goals.
There were other reasons that Loki really had wished he'd never find a compatible partner. Putting aside the thought of the Jaegers and their strength, there was the simple fact that he'd have to inflict himself on another person, all of him, every bit of his personality, all his memories, hiding absolutely nothing. His mind was sound and strong, but there were things in it, things no one needed to see. There were things that kept Loki awake at night, thoughts he couldn't control; the core of him was dark, and asking another person to share in it was asking for a sacrifice.
More than that, he didn't want anyone to see. His intentions would forevermore be shared with someone else, and that certainly didn't suit him. He had plans, contingencies- ultimately harmless, of course, but no one needed to see them. No one needed to misinterpret them, and most of all, no one needed to interrupt them.
It didn't help the situation that of all people, it should be the Lady Sif that he found himself compatible with; the affection he harbored for her was the least of his worries, but that didn't mean he didn't worry about it.
"Pilot One, ready," Sif said, ignoring him.
Loki turned away from her, looking straight ahead. "Pilot Two, ready."
"Initiating neural handshake," Heimdall's voice said through the speakers, and Loki shut his eyes. "Neural handshake initiated."
under a tree, leaves falling. her first blade, sharp and new. on the ground, her brother picks her up, his eyes are deep and fearless. a suitor touches her hand, she pulls it away. he breathes in the scent of books, of old things. an opponent lands a blow, fresh blood in her mouth. the snow is crisp underneath their feet as they walk, she smiles at him. his brother's face is slack and pale-
"Neural handshake complete," Heimdall said, and Loki opened his eyes. He looked to Sif, waiting to see revulsion and horror on her face.
She looked back at him and smiled. It was a slightly brittle smile, but it was a smile nonetheless.
"You'll learn one day not to underestimate me," Sif said.
"Somehow I doubt that," he said, despite feeling a bit in awe of her.
"Prepare for exercises," Heimdall said. "No changes to maneuvers. Proceed as planned."
"Are you ready?" Sif asked Loki. He'd seen her look this way before; it reminded him of the first time she'd ever fought on the training grounds, the mix of wonder and excitement with the unmistakable undercurrent of fear.
"As ever," Loki said, as the assistants cleared the Conn-Pod. "On your mark."
Sif nodded. There was a pause, a moment where they were doing nothing but breathing. They lifted their left foot-
Klaxons began to sound from all around them. "Did we take this short a time to break it?" Sif said, and it didn't sound like she was kidding.
"Kaiju spotted," Heimdall said. He didn't sound any more perturbed than usual, but Loki could feel it- Sif knew him well enough to know how much he dreaded these moments. "125 kilometers until landfall."
"What does that mean for us?" Loki asked.
"It means no exercises, I can tell you that much," Sif said.
"Warrior Three, prepare for deployment," Heimdall said. "Trickster, remain on standby."
"I thought we were going to call it Skidbladnir," Sif said disapprovingly.
"Trickster is shorter," Loki said innocently.
The wait for word while Warrior Three prepared was interminable; Loki resisted the urge to drum his fingers against the controls. He honestly didn't know what it would do, just that it wouldn't be pretty.
"Warrior Three deployed," Heimdall said finally, as if the shaking in the earth as it walked didn't make it obvious.
There was a subtle hiss as Warrior Three's comm system was patched into Trickster's Conn-Pod. "And prepared for glorious battle," Fandral said.
"And when are we not?" Volstagg said.
"When there is a banquet in front of you," Hogun said.
"Lies," Volstagg returned. "For the good of Asgard, I'd fight a Kaiju with nothing but a leg of mutton in my hand."
"Thankfully, we won't test that this day," Fandral said. "Forward, men! For Asgard!"
Warrior Three was a bit slow, weighed down with its three weapons, but it reached the Kaiju in good time. In Trickster's Conn-Pod, there was no visual on the other Jaeger, not at this distance; Loki really would have preferred not to be able to hear the audio feed either, not when it gave so little information, so much for his imagination to fill in.
"It's a strong one," Volstagg grunted.
"We'll lay waste to it, just like the others," Fandral said. Loki could hear the characteristic noise of the chain sword as Fandral lashed out, the roar of the Kaiju as it was wounded, but the next sound was less heartening. "Okay, so maybe it is a strong one."
There was a heavy thud, strong enough that Loki winced at the noise. "It's Hogun's mace," Sif said, and Loki wasn't sure who she was trying to convince. "It has to be Hogun."
"Couldn't be anything else," Loki said. He wanted more than anything to go, to run to the battle; he wasn't sure if it was his feeling or Sif's, or if the distinction even mattered, but it made him itch under his skin, the need for it.
"We'll bring him down," Fandral said. "We will not lose this day."
"He's circling," Hogun warned.
"For Asgard!" Volstagg shouted, and Loki heard him connect with his mighty gauntlet. Volstagg's attacks lacked a bit of finesse, but even Loki had to admit that punching a Kaiju in the face as hard as one could had a certain appeal.
As Loki and Sif listened, the fight continued, Warrior Three struggling against the Kaiju, the Kaiju screaming as Warrior Three hit it again and again. At this distance, with no visual to go by, It was beyond nerve-wracking, doing nothing but guessing, trying to judge attacks and successes by nothing but sound.
Suddenly, there was a sound of pain from Warrior Three's Conn-Pod, and Loki's heart leapt into his throat.
"Connection severed to left gauntlet," Hogun said.
"We need help out here," Volstagg said, his voice strained. "One should do it, but it needs to be fast."
"Trickster, are you prepared for deployment?" Heimdall asked.
"Ready," Loki and Sif said in unison.
"Trickster deployed," Heimdall said.
They picked up their foot, stepping forward and putting it down again. It was nothing like Loki had ever felt before, the connection with Sif, the feeling of this mass of metal and wires moving with them as if it were an extension of their bodies. Beside him Sif gave a battle cry, and he felt it like it was his own voice. They were quick on their feet; Loki knew intellectually that it was because of Trickster's construction, of its lightweight build, but when they ran, none of that mattered. It just felt like nothing could stop them.
"We're on our way, boys," Sif said, grinning.
"Save some for us," Loki added.
"If you don't get here soon, you'll have more than you can handle," Fandral said.
"Losing mobility in left arm," Hogun said.
"Faster," Loki said, but Sif was already moving with him, pushing on. They moved as fast as they could, spurred on by the sound of the escalating battle over the comm. The sound of the Kaiju still put fear in Loki's heart, but on this day, they'd meet it and best it.
Loki was sure he'd never seen anything quite so ugly as the Kaiju that faced them when they arrived at the battle. Just like every Asgardian, he'd studied the Kaiju for as long as he could remember, but this one was worse; whether it was because of the hate for it that filled him or because it was simply less aesthetically pleasing, he'd never know.
"Sif," he said warningly. "Don't get angry."
"I'm not angry," she said, deploying her spear, the weapon snapping together in Trickster's right hand. "Not any more than is necessary."
Loki brought his arm up, feeling the power surge down Trickster's left arm as he readied the pulse launcher. "Your view of what is appropriate is slightly different than mine."
She looked at him. "Not today."
"We'd been wondering when you'd show up," Fandral said. Looking at Warrior Three, it was obvious that one of its arms was dead, hanging limply at its side. It still fought on, engaging the Kaiju with its other two, but there was only so much it could do.
"Careful," Volstagg said, and Loki heard how he strained to cover his pain. "It's a nasty one."
"Keep it distracted," Sif said. "We'll attack from behind."
It was almost impossible to sneak up on anything in a Jaeger, but the Kaiju was blinded by its hate- and possibly literally, given the fact that Volstagg had hit it in the face several times before losing control. It kept its attentions on Warrior Three, grappling with it, giving Trickster ample time to attack.
"An arm for an arm," Sif said, bringing up the spear and swiping at one of the Kaiju's appendages; it pulled away at just the wrong moment, but Loki caught it, deploying the pulse launcher. The Kaiju screamed, turning to face them, angered by the loss of its arm.
"Did you have a plan for what we do now?" Loki said.
"Run," Sif said, and they bolted.
"Now you get to distract it," Hogun said. Behind them, his mace connected, and the Kaiju gave a terrible roar.
"With pleasure," Sif said.
"Never say that about anything involving a Kaiju ever again," Loki said.
"We're close," Fandral said, though he was clearly winded. "We're going to put it down. Courage, Volstagg, my friend. Soon you'll be at your table, your children on your knee, a feast laid before you."
"Defeating this monster is better reward than all the food in Asgard," Volstagg said.
The Kaiju caught up with them quickly, and Sif struck at it with the spear; she made contact this time, cutting a long gash along its stomach. Warrior Three was right behind, attacking the Kaiju from the other side. Now it had nowhere to run, stuck between two opponents who weren't going to give up. It went between the two of them, trying to wear them down, but it was quickly flagging. Victory seemed imminent.
"Trickster, look out-" Fandral shouted suddenly.
A fearsome strike from the Kaiju's tail sent them reeling, tumbling into the water. While the Kaiju was distracted, Warrior Three struck the killing blow; Loki heard the Kaiju's final howl as he and Sif were thrown from the motion rig, sent sprawling on the floor. He felt the moment of disconnection like a cord snapping somewhere within him, a spark suddenly snuffed out.
Neither of them moved for a long moment. On the comm, Warrior Three's elation was cut short as Trickster failed to respond.
"You win," Loki said, breathing heavily, putting his face against the cool surface of the floor in preference to moving. "We'll call it Skidbladnir. It isn't tricky enough."
"If we don't get out of here, neither of us will be calling it anything," she said. Loki followed her line of sight; there was a small crack in the visor of the Conn-Pod. She stood, pulling him up and putting his arm over her shoulders. He hissed in pain when he put weight on his foot, but Sif didn't stop, half-dragging him over to one of the escape pods and shoving him in, slapping the outer release button hard.
He was ejected just in time to see the crack in the visor start to run.
It was a short ride to the surface, but it was long enough. Loki scrambled to get the door of the pod open. He sat up, looking around wildly, hoping everything hadn't just gone as horribly as it seemed.
The noise from behind him startled him; he whipped his head around, though he was terrified of what he might see.
The door of Sif's escape pod opened. After a long moment, she sat up, looking a little dazed.
"So that's how long it took us to break it," he said, to prevent himself from saying anything that revealed how he really felt.
"I don't think it's entirely broken," Sif said. "Just a bit waterlogged."
He waved a hand weakly. "A few passes with a vacuum and it'll be good as new."
"To review," Sif said. "The new lightweight leg construction is a success. The new lightweight motion rig-"
"Is an abject failure," Loki said, laying back down in his pod. "Wake me when rescue gets here."
As much as Loki hated to admit it, studying Jaeger specifications and protocols had lost something of its allure now that he'd lived it; unfortunately, for the next few weeks, he wasn't going to be much of a pilot, not with the broken shin he'd gained when he was thrown out of the motion rig.
He readjusted his leg for the millionth time that day, still failing to find a comfortable position. "Come in," he called, as someone knocked at the doorway to his chambers.
It was a little surprising to see Sif; it had been two days since the battle, but she hadn't come by. Loki had had ample time to create any number of nightmare scenarios as to why she hadn't, halfway convincing himself that he'd never see her again. She'd decided their failure was his fault, she decided he was too annoying to stand anymore- more than anything, he feared that she'd learned more in the Drift than she ever wanted to know.
"I've just been to see Heimdall, and he says that Destroyer's repairs should be completed by the end of next month," she told him. "We'll have more than enough time for additional training before then. And before you ask, I'm not the one who picked that name."
"Isn't it bad luck to rename a Jaeger?" he said.
"We haven't exactly had good luck in it so far," she said, sitting down carefully at the edge of his bed. "What harm can it do?"
"It can always be worse, I assure you," he said, shifting his leg again.
Sif looked at him; he'd been speaking in jest, but there was no amusement in her eyes. "When we disconnected and I saw you on the floor, I-"
"I was fine," Loki said.
"You had a bone sticking out of your leg," Sif said, raising her eyebrow at him. She looked away. "I thought about how I didn't want anyone to lose you, not like they lost Balder."
He laughed softly, despite the pang he felt at the mention of his brother's death. "I thought about how I didn't want to lose you myself."
She looked him in the eye; her gaze was steady, but there was something underneath it, something deeper. "If we die, we die together," she said. "If I lose you, it's because I'm already gone."
"When we first entered the Drift, I thought you were going to run," Loki admitted. She already knew, but saying it out loud was still difficult. "You didn't deserve to see that."
"Loki," she said quietly. "I already knew you. I knew what I was getting into when I did it." She put her hand on his uninjured leg. "We're compatible for a reason."
"You're stronger than I am," he said. There was more, and he couldn't bring himself to say it; he looked into his head every day, and there was more than one time he'd wanted to run himself.
"No, I'm not," she said. "I know your strengths and your weaknesses, just as you know mine. There's no going back or turning away from it now."
A silence settled on them. Loki looked down, looking at her hand on his thigh, wanting something more but so unsure as to how to ask for it.
"Is there a way for me to come over there and kiss you without jostling your leg?" Sif said, and it didn't even surprise him now that she'd had exactly the same thought as him. "I don't want to hurt you."
"Never know until you try, my lady," he said, as she moved closer.
As it turned out, it didn't hurt at all.