“Is that a new suit, I see?” Loki asked, narrowed eyes glancing over the top of his wine glass. Lounging on his fainting couch, he smirked tilting his head to the side to knock his bangs out of the way for a better look. Odin managed to look unimpressed, despite how well everything matched his eyepatch. “And a scarf. How adorable that you’ve started accessorizing!”
“You may thank my children for that. They decided I needed a new look for Christmas and chose presents accordingly,” Odin said, patting down the scarf subconsciously. Loki listened to the creak of his old mechanical parts whine as he shifted his weight; sturdy but old. “How are you fairing this evening, Loki?”
“Oh, you know me,” Loki said, tugging on the frill of his dress sleeve and not so intentionally showing off the perfect tailor cut of his sleeves. “Getting drunk on New Year’s Eve in my supervised quarters. Planning new ways to rip Yggdrasil down from every foundation the second I have true freedom, plotting your demise to achieve said freedom, and imagining the future death of all ALICE. What else would I be doing?”
The eye of the security camera whirled; Yggdrasil always watched.
“Bored as always, then.” The master of said security facility exhaled slowly before catching Loki off guard with a simple question: “Would you care to join me in Takamagahara this evening? For the first time in ages, they’ll be performing a New Year’s Dance and I would rather like to see Susanoo’s interpretation of the traditional performance.”
Loki swirled the wine in his cup, spilling a few drops over the side and onto the floor in thick splats. “And why do you need me to do that?”
“Because while I trust Baldr to defend and run Yggdrasil in my absence,” Odin said. He smiled softly and leaned forward, long hair slipping over his shoulder in grey waves. The old man dared half a laugh, “I do not trust him to watch you. And while I would very much like to attend the festivities, dragging you against your will would only result in a ruined evening for all parties, whereas if you accept my invitation, we may both have a lovely evening.”
“Fair enough,” Loki said. He licked the edge of his teeth, drinking in the sight of a well pressed black suit that looked like something out of his own closet more than Odin’s. He couldn’t picture Baldr or Thor coming up with something that fashionable, so perhaps they asked someone else for help. Loki snorted; it didn’t matter. What did, however, was the old man who apparently wanted his company for the night. “You seem awfully dressed up and ready to go when I could simply say ‘no’ and you’d be stuck at home for New Year’s.”
“I thought perhaps your desire to run around another sector of ALICE would outweigh any petty desires to ruin my night out,” Odin said, shrugging lightly. “Or am I wrong?”
Loki tossed back the rest of his wine, and slammed the goblet on his table. He slipped off his chair and straightened his suit. “You had me at Susanoo dancing.”
The old A.I. laughed and pulled the tip of his scarf up. “I figured that might be the case.”
Takamagahara buzzed with life and energy as the facility filled with avatars and A.I. from all sectors of ALICE wanting to celebrate the New Year. The older avatars, such as Odin himself, came to see something they had thought lost to time and the Queen’s madness, while the young glowed with the excitement of seeing something new for the first time.
It warmed Odin’s spirit.
“Stop smiling old man,” Loki said, trailing at Odin’s side with surprising good behavior and not a hint of the mischief Odin had been expecting. Loki threw his arms out, grinning wide as his single wing flapped. “It doesn’t suit you.”
“I don’t believe you think anything suits me,” Odin replied, tugging his scarf closer to himself. The cold air of ALICE remained; the chill of winter it seemed would follow them into the next year. “I believe the performance will be this way.”
As the two of them managed the crowds, a motorcycled sped by them, whipping Odin’s hair around his body and scarf flying with its speed. Loki hissed from the other side of the road where he’d jumped out of the way and glared as he yelled down the road. “Little brat! Watch where you’re going!”
Both Loki and Odin took pause when the rider slammed on his breaks and turned over his shoulder, glaring through red and white bangs. The dirty look lasted for all of a second before eyes opened wide and he kicked the bike back into gear and raced back toward them. Odin held his ground as the bike skidded to a stop in front of them and the young man nearly threw himself off as he leaned up in Odin’s face with a wide grin.
“You’re Odin!” The young man said, smiling bright. He leaned up on the handlebars of his bike, one foot keeping it upright while the other crawled into the seat as he pushed himself up to be eye to eye with Odin. He almost giggled. “The head of Yggdrasil!”
“Oh, look,” Loki said, brushing off his outfit from the dust that had been kicked up from the bike. He straightened his headpiece and scrunched his nose in mock disgust. “You have a fan.”
Odin hadn’t expected to be recognized, honestly. Between the dressed down clothing and his dull appearance, he hardly stood out. Aside from that, he rarely ventured outside of his own security fortress so many didn’t know what he looked like to start with. The boy clearly knew him, however. Odin attempted to smile kindly as he asked, “And you might be?”
“I’m Belial! A crimefighter,” he said. The young man had dressed to the nines for the festival, even going so far as to decorate his motorcycle, and grabbed the front of his coat as if to somehow contain the excitement dripping from him. “But it’s hardly a comparison to the absolute impenetrable security fortress you’ve created. It’s amazing.”
“It has a long history of work and effort to have gotten that way,” Odin said, clearing his throat. The praise seemed undeserving. He managed something that had been long in place before he existed, and would continue to exist in ALICE long after he passed. “I’m sure your work is just as commendable in the safety and protection of our system.”
“You’re such a dad,” Loki said, dropping an arm around Odin’s shoulder. He tugged him into a half hug and smirked. His wing lowered and raised with his hand in his animated speech. “Just look at your natural parental instincts coming out to mentor this young pup. You can’t help yourself, even when it’s another young demon looking up to you.”
“And you must be Loki,” Belial said. He dropped back into the sat of his bike, crossing his arms on the handle bars with a smirk. “The big bad A.I. who failed to bring down Yggdrasil and found himself under twenty-four hour supervision as a prisoner. How’s that going for you?”
“Why you—“ Loki hissed as Odin threw out a hand to separate the elder demon from leaping at the younger one.
“Enough,” Odin said, filled with enough authority that everyone who had paused to watch the exchange quickly scattered away. Belial flinched as Loki glared further. “We are here to enjoy a festival, not bicker like children.”
“Yes, sir,” Belial squeaked, his voice full of awe.
Odin ignored Loki’s gag to the side that swiftly recovered into a haughty scoff. Odin pushed his hair behind his ear and fixed his scarf over his shoulder. He supposed it was time to get moving before Loki’s patience was tested too much. Odin knew the evening wouldn’t go perfectly, but he’d never hear the end of it if Loki started actual trouble in the middle of someone else’s area.
“It was nice meeting you, Belial,” Odin said. “But we must be off. I believe Susanoo is performing soon and we don’t want to miss it.”
“That’s where I’m headed!” Belial said, holding his arm up. He patted the back of his bike. “I can give you a lift to the viewing area if you want? That way you’ll get there faster and get better seats.”
“I don’t believe that bike is big enough for three,” Odin said, staring down at the vehicle.
“Sure it is,” Belial said. He scooted forward enough to pat the slightly elongated back seat. “Two to sit and one who stands on the back, like a school kid catching a ride on someone’s pedal bike.”
“I refuse,” Loki said. He kicked the front tire of the motorcycle. “We can just walk.”
“I mean, if you’re scared you’ll fall off, I understand,” Belial said. He shrugged and revved the engine. “Not everyone feels safe around machines, and if you’re weak in your balance—”
“Pro tip,” Loki said, cutting the boy off. He leaned forward and flicked Belial on the nose. “You can’t trick a trickster.”
Odin chuckled under his breath and shook his head and continued their way down the street. “You’re welcome to walk with us if you like. A little company is always welcome on evenings such as this.”
Belial hopped off his bike and dragged it with him as he tapped alongside Odin. “That works, too. Do you know your way around? I’ve been here since yesterday with friends helping set up.”
“It’s been awhile since I was in the area,” Odin said. “A guide for efficiency’s sake would be appreciated.”
“You’re such a dad,” Loki said, repeating himself and rolling his eyes in the back of his head. He dropped a few coins into a merchants hand for a mochi ball as they walked by and ripped it open as they walked. “Baldr’ll be jealous when I tell him.”
Odin hummed, not giving him the satisfaction of a response. Instead, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the night air and the festival around him as Belial chatted in his ear about various crimes he’d helped stop. Loki added his own two cents every so often and while he did wish his son and daughter could be here as well, Odin found himself rather enjoying the company of the two demons.
The magic of New Years Eve did do wonders for a good mood.
Belial could barely contain himself. The Odin of Yggdrasil. The top security officer in all of ALICE had sat next to him as they watched the performance of the year. Odin had even told him about the history of the dance and how long its been since it was performed for the New Year. Belial forced himself to breathe regularly as he thought of Odin, the mechanical deity. The A.I. almost never left his system. The odds of Belial running into him were a thousand to one. Maybe even slimmer.
But he had!
And now he was getting the older man concessions—not only did he get to meet one of his heroes, but now he got to stand next to the man as the clock switched over to the New Year in thirty minutes! Bells rang in the distance, counting down to the moment and Belial almost couldn’t wait.
“You look happy,” Euclid said, grinning as she ate a piece of candy next to the concession stand Belial had chosen. Her squirrel companion ran about around her feet before crawling up the side of her shoulder. “Something good must have happened since you disappeared. You were supposed to meet us an hour ago for the show, you know.”
“I know, I know. I totally ditched. But you will not believe who I ran into,” Belial said, smirking and not even caring that he’d ended up in a different seating area than his friends. He grabbed the food from the stand and walked away back out into the crowd. Euclid trailed behind him, a smile on her face and a skip in her step. He didn’t wait for her to ask. “Odin!”
“The security administrator?” Euclid asked, tilting her head to the side. “Isn’t he supposed to be guarding a dangerous A.I. or something?”
“He is,” Belial said. He could practically feel the power and authority that radiated from the older man behind the warm exterior. “Odin’s strong enough that he just has to be there. Loki won’t dare cause trouble with him within eyesight.”
“If you say so,” Euclid said. She bit into a piece of chocolate. “Are you still going to join us for the end of the Bell Ringing? Poisson and Galois have already saved us a spot.”
“Do you think they’ll mind if I bring the other two to sit with us?” Belial asked. “Because otherwise, I’m sticking with Odin. I can’t miss this chance to hang out with a security head.”
“I don’t think they’ll care either way,” Euclid said.
“Point,” Belial said, clutching the food.
Euclid laughed and shoved him in the shoulder, knocking him into his bike. “You’re cute when you’re flustered. I can’t wait to meet this guy.”
Belial dropped the bag of sweets by his side and pushed his bike along the walkway. “You might not be impressed considering who you usually hang out with, but I still think he’s amazing.”
Euclid said, “I believe you.”
“Come on! I don’t want to be late.”
Belial pushed his bike along the walkways in a light jog with Euclid at his heels. The year was almost over and he couldn’t picture a better way to spend it.
Odin took the offered cup of tea from Poisson and held it between his hands. The warm steam rose from the cup as they sat on the benches, waiting for the bells to signal midnight in the upcoming minutes. “I must say, it’s a pleasure to meet you in person. Your research has been a phenomenal aid in the progress of our technology.”
“Thank you,” Poisson said. She sipped from her own cup, smiling with her ponytail hanging over her neatly pressed winter kimono. “Your own research has been wonderful to read. I do hope you’ll allow me to visit Yggdrasil at some point in the future.”
“You would be very welcome,” Odin said.
“Enough talk!” Galois said, smacking Poisson lightly on the back of the head with her hagoita. “No shop talk! We are on a break and you’re going to enjoy that break!”
“Ow,” Poisson said, rubbing the back of her hair. “Galois, that wasn’t nice.”
“I’ll hit you again if you start talking about the system or work again.” Galois patted her hand with the paddle. Odin got the impression that she was quite serious about this threat. He smiled into his tea as Poisson pouted and apologized under her breath. Galois returned to her seat, crossing her arms with a smirk. “That’s better.”
It seemed Yggdrasil wasn’t the only area in ALICE that had its share of lively characters.
Odin leaned back in his seat, the delightful smell from the tea warming his nose. The night air was crisp and wonderful as the bells rang in the distance, counting down to the new day. He had missed this; this calm. The disasters that the Queen had brought upon ALICE had driven so many of them to madness, he had forgotten how wonderful this could be.
He was glad Takamagahara could bring New Years back, if only for tonight.
“Well, this hasn’t been a complete disaster,” Loki said, drawing Odin from his thoughts. He leaned back, crossing his legs on the bench. He reached and tugged on Odin’s hair, wrapping the long strands around his fingers. “While I must admit that this year hasn’t been the best time for myself, I see good things in the future.”
“Do you now?” Odin asked.
Loki leaned on Odin’s shoulder, weight heavy, but calm. “Yes.”
“They’re almost done!” Belial said, sitting up. He and Euclid shared a seat on his motorcycle as he watched the clock count down. “It’s almost time!”
“Then be quiet!” Galois said. Poisson chuckled as her friend got up to silence the other two.
Odin smiled at their interactions, leaning into Loki’s side. On this calm peaceful night there were no enemies, only avatars enjoying each other’s company.
“Here it comes,” Belial whispered under his breath.
The last bell rang, echoing in the entire area.
Midnight; the New Year had started.
“You know,” Loki whispered in the quiet after the final bell. “I am going to kill all of you. Maybe not tonight, but I will do it. I have a whole new year ahead of me to tear Yggdrasil to the ground.”
“You may try,” Odin said. He smiled back. “Because I have a whole new year to stop you.”
Loki snickered into his shoulder. He let go of Odin’s hair and stood. “Let’s go home, old man.”
Odin could not help but agree. It had been a long evening. He nodded at Poisson, Galois, and Euclid. “It was nice ringing in the new year with you. Until we meet again.”
“Safe travels,” Poisson said, waving. The other two had already taken off toward the remainders of the celebrations, where a few had broken out small fireworks. “I’m sure they say goodbye as well.”
“You’re going already?” Belial asked, trotting over when he noticed Odin stand up. “You weren’t here for very long, and the night’s just getting started.”
“I came to see the dance and hear the bells,” Odin said. He patted Belial on the head, ruffling the boy’s hair, and smiled. “However, I can not afford to leave Yggdrasil alone for much longer. Loki is not the only threat to its existence.”
Odin ignored Loki’s laugh of disbelief.
“It was nice meeting you, Belial,” Odin said. “You, too, are welcome to visit any time. I imagine my son would enjoy the company as well.”
“Somehow I can’t imagine Baldr getting along with this one,” Loki said.
“Baldr would love your company,” Odin repeated. “As would I.”
Belial flushed and nodded. He straightened his spine and nodded. “I will definitely come by. Sir.”
Odin tugged his scarf up and waved over his shoulder as he and Loki headed back toward the edge of town and their transport. He heard the roar of Belial’s well kept motorcycle engine and hummed along.
“Such a fine line between hero worship and being smitten,” Loki said. “Oh what will you do if he happens to be the second?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Odin said. He rolled his neck and shoulders and looked toward the horizon. “But for now, I want to spend the rest of my night at home with my children.”
“I’d expect nothing less from you old man,” Loki said. He stretched his arms and back wing. Loki cracked his neck as he yawned into his hand. “And stop rubbing off on me. Even I’m tired now.”
“I’m not the only old one here,” Odin said, “However, I do appreciate that it has been a rather peaceful evening. Thank you for behaving.”
“What can I say?” Loki ran his fingers through his bangs. “You caught me in a good humor. Even I can be generous on occasion.”
“The New Year does that,” Odin said. He felt the wind comb through his hair, waving gently behind him. Odin asked, “What’s better than a fresh start?”
“Very little,” Loki said. He dawned a rare, genuine smile. “Happy New Year, Odin.”
Odin returned it. “Happy New Year, Loki.”