“Winged assmonkeys was a pretty good description.”
A moment ago, the only sound in the clearing had been the soft shiver of dry grass as Michael and Lucifer sized one another up, Lucifer trying to decide if this alternate vessel Michael had chosen would be an advantage or a disadvantage - it was smaller and weaker than his true vessel, and didn’t hold the same emotional connection to his own vessel, though there was still some kind of connection there - but Michael might just take it as a challenge, and the vessel had said yes to him, which meant it wouldn’t fight Michael’s control in the least, and Adam didn’t like Sam.
A moment ago, things had been clear, the future laid out as a bright stripe of road, one-way, straight as an arrow.
Now both heads snapped around to focus on someone who really shouldn’t be there at all.
“How are you here? No angel could survive,” Lucifer said in Sam’s voice, tilting his head curiously to one side.
“Why are you here? This isn’t your concern,” Michael added, his ever-present arrogance deepening Adam’s voice.
Gabriel’s eyes were a deceptively soft brown as he stared first at Lucifer, then at Michael, then back at Lucifer. “You don’t even know. You can’t even see. Hel’s tits, are you always like this? I can’t blame him for leaving, but I can’t imagine why he missed you so much. Either of you.”
“Sorry.” The word snapped through the air like the deadly crack of a glacier fissuring under your feet. “Gabriel’s not here right now.”
That got a brow-furrow from both archangels. “Then who-” Lucifer started but Michael cut him off.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh, sorry, kids. The name’s Loki Laufeysson. Lie-Smith, Sky-Walker, father to the Moon-Eater, the World-Serpent, et cetera, et cetera. It’s cold in the Norselands, we collect titles to throw on the fire for warmth.” There was absolutely no humor in the bright smile he turned on them. “So. Which one are you, pipsqueak? You arrogant featherbrains all look alike to me, even after two thousand years of sharing mindspace with one.”
“I am Michael, how dare you presume!” he thundered, dark with rage at being referred to as such, but Loki had already turned away.
“Which makes you...Lucifer.” Even Michael had never hissed the name with such venom. Loki’s voice was low now, low and dangerous, a tone any of his pantheon, and several others, would back away from. “He was the only decent one in your entire spanning Heaven and you-” He made a slashing motion across his throat, “took him. And you!” He stared at Michael, who stared back, still outraged at the way he’d been addressed. “You’re supposed to be the good guy? I have more mercy in my little finger than you, and I once made a woman starve to death by making every word she spoke into roses and diamonds, just because I thought it was fun.”
“What relevance has this?” Michael snapped. “We have business here, heathen.” Then he choked as Loki zipped two fingers through the air, silencing his vessel.
“Know your place, angel. You may have existed in Heaven since before this place was nothing more than one seething plate of cooling lava, but you’re not in Heaven now. You kids picked the seething lava-plate for your little squabble, and guess what, geniuses? I’ve been here awhile. Your kid-brother and I were together a long time, by human reckoning, but it wasn’t like I didn’t already know my way around.”
“Why are you here?” Lucifer asked, lifting his chin as Michael seethed in silence, looking for a way around the freeze Loki had placed on his vessel’s vocal cords. “This is not your fight.”
“Oh, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy,” Loki said amiably, tipping his head to one side and the other with each singsong repeat of the childish nickname. “It wasn’t my fight.” His voice went low and hot, flames crackling through each word as he added, “But you brought the fight to me.“
Lucifer’s eyes narrowed. “I killed half a dozen of your kind that night. If you’re trying to make me fear you, try again.”
Loki’s bark of laughter - high and rough and sharp, the snarl of winter-hungry packs on a fresh scent - showed that Fenris-Wolf, destined slayer of Odin, was truly a son of Loki. “Look at you. Listen to you. What do you think you are? Spun-sugar cosmic wind, crammed inside flesh-and-blood. We are gods. If it were that easy, don’t you think someone would have killed us off already?”
“Would that they had,” Michael managed, hoarse and cracking, with a fleck of blood at the corner of his vessel’s lips. The damage he was doing by speaking was being healed even as his vocal cords shredded and snapped.
“This is why no one likes you,” Loki said conversationally. “You’re just rude. I should thank you, it makes this a lot easier. You brought the fight to me, Lucifer,” he continued, still in the same easy, relaxed tone. “And whatever else I am, I am Norse. We live in darkness and cold, with strings of titles held close to warm us, we wait on Ragnarok - which I will be starting, by the way, I don’t appreciate your little Apocalypse trying to eclipse mine, it isn’t nearly time for it - and we have long memories. We feel trespasses keenly. The butchery of those we take in as kin, for example. And we take our vengeance in blood.” He smiled. “That’s where you come in.”
“Are you threatening us?” Michael hissed and Loki rolled his eyes.
“Did you just get here? But no, I’m not threatening you. That implies there’s a chance I might not actually go through with it. That’s where I have you to thank, kiddo, because until I got here I wasn’t sure which one of you I’d be going after. I don’t care who wins - it’ll be short-lived anyway, you have no idea how many of us you’ve pissed off with your little stunt at the motel, and like I said, you feathery fucks all look the same to us - but Gabriel had a soft spot for you.”
Lucifer looked triumphant, but Loki snorted. “Not you. The skin you’re wearing. He wouldn’t like seeing harm come to it, and even I have to have loyalty to something.”
“You, on the other hand,” Loki continued, looking back at Michael. “He didn’t give two damns for your meat-suit.” Then he held up a hand and Michael screamed as he was immediately washed in flame so hot it looked white in the sunlight. It seemed to go on forever and it seemed to be over almost before it had started. White lightning earthed itself on nothing, a wind flattened the grass. There was hardly more left than a few long bones when it burned out a few seconds later, an incongruously small pile in the center of two fanned wings traced in ash.
“He’ll be back,” Lucifer breathed, staring at the unmoving pile of ash, dark as charcoal, dark as nothing. “He’ll find another vessel, he’ll-”
“He’ll do this, he’ll do that, you have no idea what just happened, do you.” Loki glared. “I should be offended at your ignorance. You really didn’t bother to learn about anyone else.” He held out a hand and a softball-sized ball of flame appeared, near-white and almost sizzling in the silent clearing. “Those two boys trapped us in a ring of holy fire once,” he said softly, eyes fixed on the flame in his hand, licking, nuzzling his palm and leaving no mark at all. “Gabriel was terrified of it. He wouldn’t cross it, wouldn’t even go near it. I didn’t push it. But my soul is fire; I’ve never found a flame yet that didn’t love me, and holy fire, it turns out, is no different.”
“That wasn’t holy fire, you need-”
“What? Holy oil? Humans need holy oil. Angels need holy oil. I don’t need anything. Not once I’ve seen the shape and play of it, heard its hiss, tasted and smelled and touched it and explored its every curl. I thought it might come in handy.” He held up the ball. “Looks like you won by default. Good for you. Now get out, go home, and let the other kids have a chance to play with the toys, huh?”
“Michael,” Lucifer whispered, dropping to his knees and staring, tears streaking his cheeks.
“Michael? Michael? You slaughtered Gabriel! Weep for him, weep for the only angel worth a second thought! Gabriel is all that’s keeping you alive right now, Lucifer, it’s in his memory that I don’t burn you to the ground right next to your arrogant brother and leave your ashes to the winds and the rains!” The ball of fire snapped out of existence as Loki reached out and shoved, sending Lucifer sprawling onto his back, staring up in shock.
"You wanted to win,” he said finally, quietly, watching the prostrate angel with something unreadable behind the ice in his eyes. “Careful what you wish for. You just got it. Get out, before I break my promise and get really angry.”
Lucifer only stared for a moment longer before his head tipped back and brilliant white light blanketed the meadow. Loki watched as the body slumped against the dry grass, then looked back at the outline of Michael's wings, ash clinging strangely to the dry stalks of grass. "It isn't a pyre," he whispered, "it's so much less than what you deserve, but it's all I have to offer, angel." Moving automatically, Loki dropped to one knee to check Sam's pulse. Still alive, and unharmed, he assumed. He’d better be, or Loki would be hunting.
“You’ll never know,” he addressed the still form - in a voice so subdued, cracked and ragged at the very edges from grief, and hollow, unused to being alone after this long, it bore no resemblance to the scathing tone that had nearly scorched by itself - “you’ll never know how unlucky you are that he never tried to get you to love him back, Sam. I never even tried.”
Sam’s eyes opened to the echo of what sounded like snapping fingers.