They were in Siberia when Odin came at last. Not Gabriel's favourite place, but coming back from Niflheim usually dumped you somewhere chilly, and Hel had been due a visit. They were in Siberia when the past caught up with them.
It was Loki who saw the ravens first, saw Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory. Loki whose sudden fear caught their heart in their chest, and almost knocked Gabriel over. Loki who turned them towards the boreal forests behind them, so they could face him.
He sat on a boulder, grizzled and bearded, his one eye gleaming speculatively, a spear held casually in his hand. The ravens drifted down through a light snowfall to settle on his shoulders, silent and ghostly.
Odin All-father. Loki's enemy.
"Well met, blood-brother," the All-father said at last, smiling a little at them. Cautious. Appraising. For all that Ragnarok was supposed to follow on a freed Loki's heels, Odin didn't strike. There was something not right in this, and he knew it.
It had always been hard to fool the All-father.
"Not exactly," Gabriel answered after a moment, straightening to his full height as he pushed Loki down slightly, protectively, and spread his hands with an easy grin. "Loki can't really talk right now. Would you like me to take a message?"
Odin bared his teeth at him, in what could only very charitably be called a smile. "Oh?" he murmured. "And who is taking the message, may I ask?" A tilt of the head, and the baleful glare of a lost eye. "Who holds my blood-brother?"
Gabriel smiled back, as toothily, and tilted his head towards the ravens. "Don't you know?" he asked ingenuously. "They do. Didn't they tell you?" He smiled at the All-father's eyes and messengers, stifling a grin as Odin looked up at them in suspicion. "It's been a while, Huginn, I know, and I looked a bit different then, but come on! How many beings can claim to have raced Thought ... and won?"
The raven turned beady eyes on him in shock, squawking in outrage, and Odin threw back his head with a laugh, grinning unrepentantly as the bird glared daggers at him. "Gabriel!" he chortled, wiping his eye. "The archangel. First-father's speedy messenger, yes?"
Gabriel bowed, ignoring the thread of Loki's sudden curiosity, the sly pokings of the god inside him. That story could wait for another day. They had bigger problems right now ...
"I hope you don't mind," he demurred, waving a depreciating hand at the body. Inside him, Loki growled at him. "I'm trying to be incognito for a few centuries, you know how it is, and I needed a body and ... well. You did leave him all splayed out and ready for the taking, didn't you? Desperate and ready to sell his soul, let alone his body, for someone to make it stop ..."
Loki snarled, pressing tight around Gabriel's soul in savage warning, and he flinched. And let the All-father see that flinch. Odin's eye narrowed.
"Not quite allies, then," the All-father murmured, studying them. "Not quite enemies. And Loki not quite helpless, either."
Gabriel winced a little, smiling sheepishly at the god. "He is, ah, not quite subdued yet, I admit. We had to ... negotiate ... a little. Exchange some favours, since I don't particularly feel like spending the next decade or so trying to wrestle his soul into submission. It would be so ... messy, you understand?"
Odin smiled at him. Or bared his teeth. Gabriel was beginning to think it was the same thing. "And that would be why Huginn and Muninn here tell me you have freed the wolf, would it? And been to see the serpent and Hel? A bribe, to my blood-brother?"
And finally. Here we got to the dangerous part in this little charade. Loki coiled tight inside him, readying himself to move, while Gabriel pasted on his best grin and nodded.
"More or less," he murmured softly. "You needn't worry, though. I am not completely ignorant, All-father. The Jotunsson's children will not start Ragnarok, nor harm you or yours. Not while I hold their father. Not unless you strike them first. Even Loki couldn't stop them, if you did that ..."
Odin tilted his head for a second, the eyes of Thought and Memory beside him fixed on Gabriel's face, the god thinking slowly and carefully. And then ... he stood. Prowled closer as the ravens took flight above him, circling ominously, and for all he looked ancient there was power in those limbs, a warrior's ready strength. Gabriel could feel ancient instincts waking at the sight. Could feel the whisper of times long gone or yet to come in the back of his mind.
It had been a long time since he'd had to fight. It would hopefully be another long time before he had to again.
"You ... guarantee their actions?" Odin asked slowly, standing far too close for comfort, that spear ready and waiting. An obvious threat, rare for him. Fenrir's freedom obviously wasn't doing the old man's peace of mind any favours. "You will guarantee the actions of these monsters? You think you can?"
Loki snapped at that. Rushed upwards in fury, and Gabriel only headed him off by a bare second, only shoved him down by bare panic. But too late. Far too late. Odin only needed that split second of sight. Odin only needed to see.
"Liar," he whispered quietly, laying the tip of his spear against Gabriel's throat, his one eye baleful. "You are a liar, First-father's son. No opportunist, to hold my blood-brother hostage. You stand with him. I see that."
Well, fuck. Loki, a little restraint would have been so helpful, just there. But Gabriel wasn't quite running yet. There was a well of his own hate running under the surface, here, a well of his own anger, and this god who threatened them was no family of his. And that ... that made Odin fair game.
"No," he said quietly. "I'm not lying, All-father. Or not completely, anyway." He raised one hand, one finger, and gently pushed the spear-tip aside, his eyes never leaving the god's. Gabriel had always been pretty damn good at Chicken. "I will guarantee them," he continued softly. "That part of the deal is real. Neither Loki or his children will move for Ragnarok while I am part of them, and that I guarantee. Until I am dead or thrown back to Heaven, or until you should strike at them, they will not move against you."
Odin glared at him, face twisted in contempt for a second as he looked at familiar features. Loki's features. "And you trust their word, do you? Archangel? You trust the word of monsters?"
Gabriel growled silently, reaching out with one hand faster than thought, resting it against the god's chest and pushing. Smirking coldly as Odin ended up in a snowdrift, as the god floundered for a second before pulling himself furiously to his feet. "Better theirs than yours," he said harshly, into the All-father's glare.
For a second, Odin struggled for control, struggled to master a war god's wrath at the offense, and Gabriel shifted on his feet, feeling his wings spread silently and invisibly behind him. Ready for battle, ready for war. For a second.
And then ... then Odin calmed. Completely, absolutely, and only a chill smile to remind them of his rage. Odin calmed.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" the All-father asked quietly, while Loki went suddenly cold in Gabriel's chest, while his god cried suddenly in warning. "Will you join this war, archangel, and pay the price?"
"No," Gabriel answered, cold himself, all trickery gone. "No, Odin. Not unless you push me. Not unless you hurt what is now mine." He stepped forward, threat to match threat, and smiled his own dark smile. "And you don't want to do that," he whispered softly. "You really don't, All-father. Because while I may be alone, while I may be running, while I will never, ever raise a sword against my family ... I am not helpless. I am not safe. And if you push me, Odin ... we'll find out how an archangel of the First Father may tip the scales of Ragnarok."
The god went still. Still and careful and wary, and there was consideration in his eyes. Because that was indeed a threat, and they all knew it. Ragnarok was prophesied up the wazoo, but prophecies were guidelines at best, and an intrusive event, such as Gabriel deciding to take up arms on Loki's behalf, could knock the whole thing off. Could destroy everything Odin had lived his life knowing, lived his life building. Gabriel could destroy it all.
"And how long," the All-father said at last, very carefully. "How long do you think you will hold to your monsters? How long do you think you will be among us?"
Gabriel tipped his head, and shivered from the touch of something that had nothing to do with Siberia's chill. Shivered from the memory of all he had run from, and all that, in the end, he could never escape. He knew that. Oh, how he knew.
"Until First-father's apocalypse," he whispered raggedly, feeling Loki uncurl within him, feeling the god wrap him in confused warmth and distant understanding. "Until my family comes for me, All-father. Once that comes ... I will be a threat to no-one and nothing. I promise you."
The god stared at him, weighed him, and nodded silently. "So we hold our Ragnarok until you have had yours," he mused, watching them obliquely. "Until you can no longer stand between us. And in that time ... you will stand for them? Guarantor and keeper? You will stand watch over our monsters?"
"I will stand watch over my family, yes." Gabriel growled, echoing Loki, and then added: "All my family, Odin. There is one child remaining that you keep from us. I would ... remedy that, were I you."
Odin narrowed his eye, but nodded. "He may not wish to stay with you," he warned coldly. "Sleipnir, of all Loki's brood, is actually loyal."
Gabriel felt his lip curl. "Oh, we'll let him decide for himself, never fear." Rich contempt, warning. "We're not planning to hold anyone against their will ..."
Odin laughed at him, then. For that, for possession, for threats and warnings and the straight face he said it with, and maybe Gabriel couldn't blame him for that. After Heaven, after Loki, Gabriel maybe couldn't blame him. But he meant it, and he would keep to it, and he didn't care at all for the All-father's laughter. For the way Odin hunched over in raw, real mirth, laughing until Gabriel couldn't bear it anymore, until Loki stirred in disgust and they turned away from him. Until First-father's archangel and the god of mischief made to leave.
And then, the All-father took his parting shot.
"Archangel?" he called softly, voice hoarse from laughter. Gabriel stiffened, but did not turn. "Gabriel? You said, yes, that you would never raise a sword against your family?" He raised an eyebrow as Gabriel frowned, as he turned before he could think better of it, looking back into the glittering maw of an old god's malice. Odin smiled at him.
"Yes," Gabriel said, cautiously, nervously, because that expression could mean nothing good, and socket of the god's lost eye leered at him, sent a chill of foreboding skating up his spine. "Old family or new, Odin All-father. I will not raise my sword."
All-father nodded, lips pursed musingly, eye gleaming with cold cunning. "Then when First-father's apocalypse comes," he said, weight and promise in his voice. "Look for me, archangel. Look for me when your end of days comes. And when you find me ... there will be a sword waiting for you, and we will see how well you raise it. That, I promise, First-father's son. That I promise."
And he vanished in a swirl of snow and raven feathers, and there was nothing Gabriel could do except curl in the snow, sick with fear, and let Loki curl around him in the cold.
All-father had named his price.