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First I Commit a Crime (And Then You Get to Blame Me For It)

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Loki, goddess of mischief and mayhem, gazed down at the Celestial Globe. The pinnacle of magical artifacts and the work of many generations of sorcerers and sorceresses, the last and best of which being Loki’s own mother, Frigga. The Globe tracked the mystical energy of every living creature on the planet. The more powerful the creature, the more there was to track. Loki was bored. And there was a fine urge in her this day to create chaos. Glorious chaos.

“Good morning,” she said, addressing her followers. She had some who had come to her for power, some for protection and some were held in sway by Loki’s staff and the tesseract within. “It’s a brand new day, and another opportunity to create mischief. Look at these mortals. I pluck one tiny thread and their whole world dissolves into chaos. Glorious chaos.” She traced the lines on the planet, seeking. The map was difficult to read; so many people, so much energy. Like looking for a specific needle in a stack of needles; mostly all you got were pricks.

The monsters and aliens alike cheered.

Loki ignored them. She pulled up the map, studied the currents. She’d eventually found one of the heroes, those troublemakers, who stood boldly in the path of her goal, had forced her back, time and time again. Aided by her meddlesome brother, they had interfered with her enjoyment and her conquests. Well, no more. She would destroy them, surely, this time. She just needed to figure out… how?

She yanked the Globe up, expanding it until she could see that pesky little mortal, Steven Rogers, better known as Captain America. What… now what could he be doing?

“What could be more perfect than this?” She focused. Rogers had one of the Infinity Stones; was taking it from its safeguarded location in England to… she traced the lines… ah, he hoped to consult with Dr. Strange, in New York, about protecting it. Because, of course, they certainly had not the skill or strength to wield such a powerful artifact. More, Rogers did not know that Strange was a member of the Illuminati, and that his goals, and Roger’s goals, were not entirely in alignment. That could be… intriguing.

If Loki had one weakness, it was that she liked to play with her food.

Captain America had the stone on a ship; of course he did. One couldn’t fly in a dirigible with something that powerful; that caused tremors in its wake. Captain America might survive the fall, but then the Infinity Stone would be who knew where, doing who knew what? A boat was the safest way to carry the item.

There were more currents here than even Loki could unravel. She traced one line backward; there was another ship, in pursuit. She expanded her view; a former Asset led the crew. And her brother looked to the man for guidance. Now that was interesting.

“Oh, this is going to be fun.” Loki looked around at her collection of monsters. She twisted the ring on her finger, which allowed her to teleport. “Let’s go, my pet.”

The nameless, faceless creature, with a snakelike body and a dozen tentacles that descended from under its gaping maw, went to her side. She touched it, one hand against its slimy side, and twisted the ring. “Let’s go fishing…”

***

The Winter Soldier strode up the deck of the Hydra, Lucky at his heel. The sea air was pleasant, the sun was shining. It was a lovely, lovely day. And the Infinity Stone, the Reality stone, he’d sought for so long, the only thing that could save his life, was within his grasp. Just ahead, on a ship that wasn’t even watching out for pirates.

“Gentlemen,” the Winter Soldier addressed his crew, “this is what we’ve been training for. One of the world’s most dangerous items is on its way to New York. Such a shame it will never get there. After today, we’re going to retire! But for now, to arms!” There were more things the Reality Stone could do, after it had rid him of the defect that would take his life, and his crew would get their reward. It was only fair.

His crew of loyal rabble, defectors, rebels, and scum, cheered.

“Thor!”

The burly godling saluted. “Aye, Soldier,” he yelled, bringing the ship alongside with a deft turn of sails.

“Clint!”

The archer scrambled into the lines, headed to the crow’s nest. “Ready, Soldier!”

The Hydra broadsided the Lemurian Star, ship blades coming out to tear the hull, pin the ships together. With a savage roar, the crew of the Hydra crossed to the other, smaller ship, weapons at the ready. Clint stayed in the crow’s nest, his deadly aim thinning the ranks of the soldiers who came up to defend the ship.

The Winter Soldier’s favorite close-quarters weapon, a deadly sharp dagger, was already in his hand as he leaped from one ship to the other and moved in. Shield’s soldiers were good, very good. The Winter Soldier had to hand it to them, they had better training than the majority of the Hydra’s enemies; but the Winter Soldier had a hand-selected crew.

The Asgardian warrior, Thor, was particularly powerful, knocking enemies aside with blows from his mighty hammer.

The Winter Soldier dashed into the fight, striking deep cuts and using the pommels of his daggers to slam into enemy heads. He managed a particularly dextrous feat, leaping over oncoming soldiers and using the mast of the Lemurian Star as a kick-off point to knock several more Shield agents down.

“Huh, how about that move?” he asked Thor as the two of them came back to back among the battle. “Lethal and efficient.”

“T’was a trifle overworked,” Thor remarked. He had an agent tucked in a headlock under one brawny arm. “Just a bit.” He punched the agent in the face, knocking him out.

“Overworked it?” The Winter Soldier scoffed. “Why y--”

An agent charged them, sword at the ready. Thor didn’t even blink, he turned and opened his mouth, catching the blade in his teeth, then twisted his jaw, pulling the agent with it and tossed him overboard.

The Winter Soldier followed the track of the agent, listened to the splash, then raised an eyebrow. “Oh… and I was overworking it? I see.”

Thor grinned and spit out the sword like it was a toothpick.

The Winter Soldier gazed around the deck of the Lemurian Star; most of the agents of Shield were down. One remained, fighting half a dozen of the Winter Soldier’s hand-picked crew, and holding his own. The man turned in battle and the Winter Soldier froze.

“Steve.”