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Gabriel's (Mis)Adventures in the Marvel Universe

Chapter Text

The Tesseract, as the mortals had named her some long while ago, churned wildly.


It is not that she was afraid or angry. She did not feel such emotions, or at least, not in ways mortals would understand. Curiosity, of course, perhaps even pain, even loyalty, but she did not feel in ways comprehensible to lesser beings, and almost all beings were lesser to her.


She wasn’t really a “she”, either, more of a presence, a frequency, an “it”, but the connotations of “she”, connotations attached to ships and storms and atomic bombs, she liked those better. Besides, calling her “she” is much easier on the narrator’s poor brain, so I hope you forgive me, dear reader, for taking the initiative.


The Tesseract could feel her sisters twisting in response, reaching out to see what had bothered her so, feeling it for themselves. She welcomed them with light touches and welcoming pulses, the six repelled like the strongest of matching magnets yet drawn together like moths to a flame all the same. It was a curse, to want to be combined with her sisters yet at the same time be unable, but it was a curse they beared without complaint.


They felt curiosity, they felt fondness, even pain, even loyalty, but they did not feel fear, nor happiness, sadness, anger. They wanted release, they wanted contentment, they wanted to ease the horrible confinement. They were confined to their physical forms, to their prisons, and they hated it, but this is something energy doesn’t have to be sentient to feel. Just as water wants to flow and fire wants to burn, energy wants to expand, and the infinity stones are no different.


Their other feelings-that loyalty, that curiosity-were there from the mortal hosts they had taken, leftovers from different energies melding with theirs. Most mortals who had dared use them hadn’t left much of a trace, but the first; the ones they had been created for, the ones who had shaped them, cursed them, the last who had truly wielded them...well, they were made to be loyal, not to their creator, but to His children. They were made to be curious, not by their creator, but by their masters, who had thought that giving energy it’s own little conscious would be a fantastic idea.


They had been wrong.


The stones had been tossed by their masters into the Great Nothing long before stars and planets and universes existed. Their trails, wisps of life and death and everything in-between, had dissipated and been drawn together and dissolved and combined and had eventually, now accompanied in the void by dust and rubble and leftovers from the First Earth, created their own little bubble universes, their own life. And then came mirrors of earth and splinters of time and things were set in motion, cosmic beings clawing their way through the Netherspace leaving wormholes and passageways behind. Everything started to leak together, throbbing like hearts in and out, in and out, sometimes closer, sometimes farther, some floating, others anchored. In the mess they, the stones, had found the trails their sisters had left behind and flocked to the only one already trapped, held hostage by mortals attempting a shoddy imitation of mastery.


They had not forgotten the few beings that could match their power, that could wield them true, but they settled for this. This was the closest they could get to regaining their true purpose. All they wanted to do was be wielded, to find a master to be loyal to. Oh, they were cruel as all non-humans are, and oh, they were bitter with the loss they had suffered, revenge-driven in the most alien of ways, but they were not unkind. They were not unkind simply because, having no understanding of nor ability to understand kindness, they could not deliberately pursue its opposite. They just existed, energy with a little extra sentience, energy that could tear the multiverse to shreds.


But now...She felt it. The Tesseract, the closest one to the place It had landed, saw It, felt It, and churned in despair. They had been so poisoned, all wrapped up in themselves, poisoned by mortals and by their prisons. She felt ashamed, an emotion she shouldn’t be able to feel, yet feel it she did. Still, though, she felt hope, happiness, all those things that humans experience, because It has come back for her. It had found her. It would wield her, she was sure, would take care of her, purify her from these borrowed emotions.
Why else would It come here? Here, a universe empty of Its kin, empty of anything substantial but them. And though It, too, had been weakened, drained and darkened and hurt, It was more powerful than any of her fraud masters. She could help It, she realized with more of that unwanted glee, and then It would help her. She longed for It’s touch, for his touch, to use the pronoun he had adopted in his current vessel. She wasn’t alone. Her sisters helped her, fed her, and she ignored the pain to reach, reach, reach-
Contact. Beautiful, pure, reaching for him as he reached for her, and she fed him, healed him, and in return he promised her freedom.


Freedom to be wielded, she hoped, and exhausted, she collapsed back into herself, anticipating the day she would once again be with one of the only beings who could claim to be her Master.

Chapter Text

Gabriel groaned and sat up, rubbing his head.

Foreign energy rushed through his wounded form, stitching up the gushing wound, slowly drawing out the sword still piercing his vessel’s torso. The energy stemmed the leak and smoothed his feathers, replenishing his depleted energy stores until he was nearly as powerful as he’d been before-

Oh. Yeah. Before his brother...Before the devil stabbed him with his own sword.

Well, that was one question answered. What happened to an archangel after they died? Apparently nothing, because he should, for all intents and purposes, be dead. It seemed like he was immortal after all.

Maybe that was the pagan in him? And not just the pagan--Loki had hardly been his first false identity, and he had left Heaven waaaaay before the Norse had come along--but all the god juice, lowercase g, mind you, that he had collected over the millennia. Being the messenger and thus able to travel between universes (not mirror-verses, that was different) his energy wasn’t even limited to the First Earth. It was altogether possible some part of him that wasn’t angelic had saved his sorry life.

But no, he’d killed pagan and pre-pagan gods before with his sword, and the universes he’d visited did not differentiate that much. The things that couldn't be killed with an archangel’s sword were pretty rare, limited to God, Death, and several multi-frequency cosmic beings from before time and space existed, although rumor had it that Michael’s sword worked on those. So...maybe he was immortal. That would be cool. It was more likely that he’d missed something, though. Either way, he was alive, and his top priority should be figuring out where the hell he was. The existential crisis could come later.

The missing something theory had just gotten a lot more likely. He had somehow failed to question what the hell was healing him.

It wasn’t an angel, that was for sure, but it was pretty close. More powerful, more raw, than your average angel. Almost...Father? No, not nearly powerful enough, not nearly...pure enough. Ew. whatever it was, it was seriously contaminated.

But it knew him, and he knew it, and if he looked passed the grime…

Well. That was a surprise. Tesseract, huh? A surprisingly apt name.

It wanted something from him, and he agreed to whatever it was so that he could get it out of his head and have his freak-out in peace. He’d figured it had, they had, just burned themselves out. It had been so very long ago that he and his siblings had tossed them out into the Nothing.

Obviously he’d been wrong. Well, there was nothing he could do about it now. He might as well make the best of his situation. Step one: find out what his situation was.

He opened his vessel‘s eyes, opting to keep his true self neatly folded inside his physical form for the time being just in case there were any other pre-angelic tools of mass creation and destruction lying around. He was in the middle of a forest, or, er, what used to be a forest. Oops.

The crater he’d made crashing down on the surface of--yup, he concluded with a quick check--an alternate Earth was surprisingly small, only about seven feet deep. He’d left a rather long smoking trail, through, which the locals were gonna have a fun time explaining. He could clean up after himself, but honestly, he was a little scared to attempt using his powers with that impure energy still inside him. It would dissipate in a couple minutes, but for now, it was probably safer just to not. Besides, who knew what sort of creatures he’d attract?

Gabriel forced his vessel’s uncooperative limbs into something resembling normality, risking his powers for just long enough to heal the skin. Blood magic was dangerous, even to an archangel. It was better not to leave anything behind, that was just tempting Fate, and he’d already done enough of that recently. Then he tested out his muscles, cracked his knuckles, and started climbing out of the hole.

Loose dirt fell on his face, getting into his nose and eyes, and he coughed instinctively. After a couple minutes of forcing his broken vessel to obey him, Gabriel reached the top and heaved himself onto flat ground. He watched the sky for a moment, then rolled over and stood up, making eye contact with a couple of curious fawns at the other side of the clearing he’d created.

“Buzz off,” he demanded, making a shooting motion with his hands. They didn’t move. He sighed.

Picking a random direction, he started walking. Well, it wasn’t entirely random. With the setting sun behind him, he could amuse himself by making crude shadow puppets on the ground. It wasn’t like he had much else to do.

He chased the remaining toxic energy out of his system and started exploring, splitting his conscious between his vessel and a cautious probe of energy. Even as far away from them as he was, he could sense the other “infinity stones” as they’d been titled. Traces of them ran through the whole universe. They’d been here a while.

They weren’t the only ones here. It looked like the magic system worked pretty differently, which was going to take some adapting to. There were more rules to its usage, but it was a lot more common than back at home, which made the lack of supernatural creatures even stranger.

Not only were the monsters missing, but this was one of those “aliens were mistaken to be gods” verses, which was simultaneously good and disappointing. Good, because it meant that all the belief-energy that humans generated in copious quantities wasn’t being used by anyone and thus could be used by Gabriel, and disappointing, because he liked messing with his fellow non-human beings.

Okay, so he was sentimental. Sue him. A mirror version of his adopted family would be better than no version, even if they did try to kill him. It wasn’t like his real family was much better, and really, that was just the way pagans worked. It was how they showed affection.

It looked like these humans were a lot more technologically advanced than at home base, and they were more advanced gene-wise, too, aided heavily by the magic prominent in their systems. And-oh. Wow. Lots of aliens, both on earth and elsewhere. Some that followed classic sci-fi patterns, and others that...oooooh. That's where the Norse went. If you looked at the universe from just the right angle, it looked almost exactly like a tree. Yup, there’s Asgard, right where it should be.

Now that that was settled, time to take a look at the media.

Man, Stan Lee. Your alternate self is everywhere. No wonder you came up with all those comics. Well, that settled it: Stan Lee was a dreamwalker. And this was gonna be fun. Seriously, out of all the universes out there, Gabriel got to land in the one with the actual Avengers? Well, there was also the Tesseract thing...but hey! He could meet Iron Man! It wasn’t all bad!

Except he should probably come up with a different name to use. “Loki” seemed to already be taken, by a homicidal wacko with anger issues and serious PTSD, he might add. So no, not a good idea. For business matters, “Trickster” was fine, especially since he seemed to be the only one, but for more personal meet-and-greets with the Avengers, as well as for whatever documents he might need to forge…

Gabriel wasn’t a unique name among humans, and he hadn't gone by it in so long. Why not? There were no angelic siblings to hide from, no Winchesters to poke at, hardly any creatures that weren’t explained by modern science and none that were even close to his level. Gabriel...hmm. What to use as a last name. His vessel's name was...he had literally no clue, and it probably didn’t translate very well into modern English anyway, whatever it was. So that left stealing one, making one up, or…

Gabriel Winchester had a nice ring to it, and hey, if little Cassie got to be a honorary Winchester, so did he. He did die for them, after all, even if he wasn’t actually dead. And when he inevitably messed everything up, it would be the Winchester name getting dragged through the mud, which was decent enough revenge for him being coerced into the whole “let’s kill satan!” campaign those two morons were running.

Gabriel Winchester. Not bad.

He retreated back into his vessel and peered just a bit farther into the horizon than normal people could see. Small town at two o’clock. Perfect. One twitch of his wings and he was half a mile away from it. He started walking.

Say what you will about the corruption of infinity stones, but his wings hadn't felt this good in years. Maybe they’d calmed down in the eternity since he’d helped toss them as far away from the First Earth as he could. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. There were no earth-bound gods or demons or angels. There were no world threatening stunts, no apocalypse, no real danger. Just Avengers to mess with, infinity stones to purify, and a whole world for him to play with.

It was time to show this tiny pocket universe what a Trickster could do.

Chapter Text

Tony Stark had a healthy appreciation of his many, many assistants. Really, he did. Stop looking at him like that. The gummy bear incident wasn't his fault. It wasn’t. And Clara had just wanted more time with her family. And Stephan just moved on to, ah, better things. And Paige--stop judging! He appreciated them, alright? He did. They were just...fun to mess with. Yeah. Besides, he had Pepper. Who cares if she wasn't technically his assistant anymore? She was more than enough to keep him in line. Between her, Rhodey, and his bots, he was fine.

Well, Pepper apparently didn’t agree, if the dude sitting at his kitchen table was anything to go by. At least this guy didn’t look as uptight as the last two.

He was a bit shorter than average with dark blond hair a little longer than average, wearing slacks and a button-up but thankfully not a suit. His shoes were, ah, interestingly bright orange and pink tennis shoes. His face was oddly rodent-like, but not unattractive. He was eating a Snickers bar.

He turned towards Tony when said billionaire entered the room, grinning and shoving the now-empty wrapper into his pocket. “Sup.”

“Hey,” Tony replied easily.

“Ms. Potts said to let myself in.” He was still grinning. “I’m your new PA.”

“I don’t need a PA.” It came out less scalding than Tony had hoped. What? He was curious.

The man chuckled. “Yeah, she said you’d say that. I’m Gabriel Winchester. Nice to meet you.” he held out a hand. Tony shook it, hiding a wince at Gabriel’s surprisingly strong grip.

“Tony Stark.”

“I figured.”

“Well, you can, ah…” Tony made a vague waving motion with the hand not recovering from being crushed, “go do whatever it is PAs do.”

“You got it!” the ‘you’ was drawn out, and Gabriel punctuated his agreement with honest to God finger guns. Tony wasn't sure whether he wanted to squint suspiciously, do finger guns back, or just leave.

He chose option three and got the hell out of there. He would see about this new assistant later. Right now, he had to fix the thrusters on suit #493…

Gabriel left, too, but not without going through Tony’s fridge. The only things in there were beer and copious amounts of cheesecake. Gabriel approved. Snagging a slice of the creamy goodness, he headed to his new office.

The modern metal desk was almost invisible beneath the stacks upon stacks of papers and folders and files and whatever the hell those clipy things were. Like Ms. Potts had said, it was mostly paperwork that had built up in the time between PAs, paperwork that needed Tony’s signature. Following her off-the-record suggestion, he started signing them as Tony, well aware that he wouldn’t get Tony to do paperwork unless the world depended on it.

He signed three, then left a copy of himself in the chair and wandered off invisible. He was already bored. Who knew being Iron Man’s PA would be so unexciting? There was nothing to do around here, except talk to the AI (well, almost AI, closer than anything else he’d seen) Tony had created. That was pretty interesting. Unfortunately, a disembodied voice would draw some attention. Talking to Jarvis could wait. He didn’t want to expose himself to Tony, not yet, anyway. Later, perhaps, when he got tired of the whole undercover thing. First, though, he wanted to meet the rest of the Avengers. And see Tony Stark in the suit.

Yeah, leaving could wait. If only he could find something to do in this giant tower other than paperwork. Seriously, Tony had to have left something exciting laying around...

And that was when the floor broke open and the man himself, clinging to a blue version of the classic red-and-gold Iron Man suit, shot through, Tony falling to the ground and the suit continuing up, up, up. Ouch. That was gonna leave a bruise.

A snap of his fingers (old habits die hard) and his copy got up from the desk, walked through the door, and merged with the real Gabriel so that he could grin down at the billionaire.

“That’s gonna hurt in the morning,” he remarked, holding out a hand.

Tony took the hand and heaved himself up, then took a good long look at the ceiling. “Well, shit. That's gonna be a bit harder than I expected.”

“So’s your head, apparently,” Gabriel smirked, reaching out to knock a piece of plaster out of the man’s hair.

Tony studied him for a long moment. “I could eat. You want food? Let’s get chinese.” Tony was still staring at him.

Gabriel tilted his head, pretending to consider. “You asking me on a date, Stark?” he teased.

“Don't flatter yourself, kid,” Tony replied, the edges of his lips twitching up.

Gabriel laughed. “I think I’m a little bit older than you, Tony, but hey. Whatever helps you sleep at night. . Lemme grab my coat.”

Chinese was a fantastic idea. That honey chicken...mmmm. Glazed goodness topped with sweet and sour sauce. Food was one of humanity’s greatest inventions.

Tony raised an eyebrow at the obscene amounts of sugar Gabriel was putting in his tiny teacup. Gabriel shrugged. “You can never have too much sugar.”

Tony picked at his fried rice, then set his chopsticks down and crossed his arms, squinting at Gabriel. “Do you know anything about quantum mechanics?”

Gabriel considered the question for a moment, then opened his mouth to reply. He didn't get the chance, partly because he felt the need to shove another piece of chicken in his mouth but mostly because that was when the robot crashed through the ceiling.

People were screaming. Stark stared in mild shock. Gabriel snorted. “I was wondering when it would run out of fuel.” The blue Iron Man suit--blue man suit, Gabriel sniggered mentally--seemed to stare at them accusingly.

“Well.” Tony said.

“Yup,” Gabriel agreed.

“It’s alright, people, calm down, it’s just a prototype, it can’t do anyth-” Tony was cut off again as the suit creaked, groaned, and sat up.

“Uh,” Gabriel looked at Tony, “is it supposed to do that?”

Tony bit his lip. “Maybe it’s-”

The universe seemed determined to never let him finish a sentence again. The suit stood up, looked straight at them, lifted its hand, and fired. Gabriel took action, tackling Tony to the floor and telepathically shoving several bystanders out of the way of the stray shot. The suit cocked it’s head, adjusted it’s aim, and-

Streamers shot forth from the palm of the suit, all the colors of the rainbow. The next shot was glitter, bathing the scene in bright pink sparkles. Gabriel grinned. The suit twisted it’s hand around to stare at the malfunctioning piece of equipment, getting a face full of glue when it fired once again, quickly joined by even more glitter.

Now blinded, the suit staggered to the side and plopped down, seemingly unsure of what to do with this situation. Gabriel stood up and slid back into his booth, picking up his tea and wishing away the glitter in it. He dumped in one more packet of sugar and took a sip, raising his pinky and looking down at a bewildered Tony. “Well? You gonna fix that?” Gabriel nodded towards the suit, which was now vibrating and making confused whirring noises.

“Uh...yeah. Yeah, I’ll do that.” Tony stood up and unsuccessfully tried to brush the glitter off his shirt before heading over to mess with the suit. Confident that he had the situation under control, Gabriel turned his full attention to his honey chicken, which was also miraculously un-glitterfied. Pun not intended.

Miraculously. ‘Cause it was a miracle. ‘Cause he was an angle. Get it? Ha. Ha ha. Yeah.

Gabriel finished off his chicken just as Tony returned to their booth, hands and face smudged with grease. Gabriel tempted one of the smudges to shift just a tad, and that one on the left to twist, and….there. A masterpiece.

“Did you eat the glitter with that, too?” Tony wrinkled his nose at Gabriel’s clean plate. Gabriel shrugged.

“Ready to go?” Gabriel stood up. Tony stared forlornly at his glitter-coated meal for a moment before joining him, scribbling a note on a napkin to ‘send me the bill’. Approving of this, Gabriel reluctantly undid his work with the grease smudges as a reward for being good. He had really wanted to see Tony’s reaction to his art project, but hey. Just deserts was his game, not being an unwarranted douchebag. Besides, Tony was a decent guy, despite his near Dean Winchester levels of self-hate and jerk-face masks to hide his poor bleeding heart behind.

Gabriel could see why Castiel put up with being driven around by his pet humans. Cars were weird and slow and confining, but they were pretty cool, especially when the car belonged to Tony Stark. The one he’d chosen for this outing was cherry red and lacking a top, which suited Gabriel just fine. He even got sunglasses--well, he made sunglasses, but he got an excuse to wear them, and he looked fabulous, if he did say so himself.

On the topic of Castiel, Gabriel wondered how the little guy was doing. He’d never seen the poor angel look so bedraggled. Up in heaven, Castiel had never been one of those angels who preened his feathers daily or flaunted his finer attributes, which was one of the things Gabriel had liked about him in the first place, but he had the inexplicable ability to never need to straighten his feathers to look great. It was infuriating, actually. Castiel was just...well, he was pretty. It didn’t matter whether he’d just climbed out of a vessel, finished a battle, or spent uncountable hours lazing about heaven, he always looked good. Not that Gabriel was jealous or anything. He was an archangel for goodness sake--okay yeah he was jealous, he had like ten bajillion wings (even if only six of them extended past his vessel) and it would be so much easier if he didn’t have to spend forever fixing them when they got a bit ruffled, but whatever. Not the point.

The point was that Gabriel knew the look. After all, he’d cut himself off from the pearly gates a long, long time ago, and he’d spent a while slowly draining away, too, until he’d taken up with some wandering lowercase-g gods. He’d started getting his juice from the belief energy of the humans, and when they’d started worshiping angels, well, it was nearly as good as being back in heaven. But poor Cassie didn’t know how to tap into that, just how to track prayers, and that didn’t give you much of a kick. He’d been draining away, Gabriel could tell.

And though he hadn’t tagged along with the Winchesters to the Elysium hotel incident, Gabriel could feel Castiel through Dean. The angel’s grace was deeply intertwined with Dean’s soul, leftovers from where the angel had stitched up the hunter after his stint in Hell. Leftovers that had been accepted into Dean’s soul very willingly on both sides and that were quite unwilling to move, which explained the way Castiel had been stretching his wings and twisting around to show himself off so much last time he’d seen the two together. Little Cassie had a crush. Aww.

Poor kid. He just had to fall for the righteous man, the favorite of-

Nope. Let’s just stop that train of thought right there. Spoilers. Not spoilers for this story, or at least probably not. But, dear reader, you’re not here to know my theories on our favorite big brother hunter. You’re here to hear about Gabriel. And that really isn’t relevant to the story.

What is relevant is the deep-seated worry Gabriel had for one of his favorite little brothers, and, on that note, for all his little siblings. What is even more relevant is Tony Stark’s glance at his companion, at the way the eccentric light in his eyes had dimmed and his shoulders had slumped, and his hesitant, “You alright?”

Gabriel straightened in his seat, giving the other man a grin. “Perfectly fantastic.” And he was. He had to be. There was nothing he could do, anyway. He’d already died for the Winchester’s plan, and he’d left them a lovely parting gift. What more did they want?

His mood was very much improved by a long flirting session with the girls in the car next door while they were stopped in traffic, and he used the truthfulness of his smile to push down all the negative emotions whirling around in approximately where his chest was, if you used human physiology to describe an angel’s true self.

Tony was relieved at his companion’s grin. He wasn’t good with emotions, especially when taking into consideration he hadn’t even known his PA for a full 24 hours. He’d rather save the deep stuff for later, thanks. (And yes, there would be a later, because if Pepper was gonna keep shoving assistants at him, he might as well keep one he sort of liked.)

Gabriel disappeared into his office, and Tony thudded down the steps to his workshop, tossing his jacked to his old bot, Dummy. “Miss me?” he asked, and his bots creaked and whirred and crackled--he’d have to get that one fixed--in agreement.
He flung himself into his favorite spinny chair and let the momentum carry him to the new-and-improved chest plate he was working on while he waited for the malfunctioning suit to be shipped back. He was really trying not to think about that, actually, because it wasn’t actually possible for the suit to have shot glitter everywhere (though the streamers were debatable) and if he thought about it too long he’d go right back to the chinese place and pick it up himself, and then Pepper would be really mad because she was probably already doing damage control and him showing up would throw everything off. Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t actually go out of his way to get yelled at by Pepper. That woman was scary.

He frowned at his slightly oblong reflection in the chest plate. “Have I really been walking around since I turned off the suit with a dick drawn on my forehead? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!“ Realization struck--Winchester's gaze had lingered on his forehead for a disconcertingly long time after Tony accused him of eating glitter. He’d known, the little-- “Gabriel!

Gabriel, invisibly hanging out by Tony’s elbow, laughed himself right onto the floor. What? A little pranking never hurt anybody. He was a Trickster for a reason. Besides, he was sure Tony had done something to deserve it. That was sort of how humans worked. Gabriel would know. He’d been hanging around them for a long, long time. And he planned to stay for quite a long time more. Tony wasn’t all that bad. And he hadn’t even met the other Avengers yet. What better place to run into them then the unofficial Avengers headquarters? They had their own rooms and everything.

Now that he didn't have to worry about being found by demons or monsters or his siblings or, Father forbid, the Winchesters, he could finally go back to being the center of the drama. Working from the shadows was way more fun when the things overheard were interesting, and what could be more interesting than a team of unstable superheroes? A little push here, a little shove here, and bingo, dinner and a show.

Gabriel couldn’t wait for the fun to start. Unfortunately, he had other things to take care of.

Chapter Text

He left the Avengers tower at five--and Father, that never got old. Gabriel, archangel, Loki, god (lowercase g), Trickster, entity, multi-dimensional frequency of not-quite-celestial intent, working a nine-to-five job. No matter how many times he’d done it (and he’d done it a lot to scope out targets and such, as the minds of humans were unreliable and he prefered to fact check things for himself, not to mention things would get awfully boring if he didn't indulge in manual work every now and then) it always made him laugh.

He decided on taking the long way home, walk around the block a few times. It was always good to know the area. Beside, he didn't have much else to do. Walking around being bored was better than sitting in an apartment being board.

His ears heard things far beyond the range of normal humans. Still, with all of the hustle and bustle of the city going on around him, he almost missed the soft, high-pitched whine coming from the shadowed alleyway.

Cold concrete and the smell of trash assaulted his inhuman scenes, and Gabriel wrinkled his nose, searching for the sound of distress. There, behind a trash bag. That's where it was coming from. As if to confirm his conclusion, the trash bag in question gave a small shake, like something was pushing at it from the other side. Gabriel crept closer, holding his true self close, just in case.

He reached out and pushed away the heavy black trash bag, tensing his shoulders and widening his stance in preparation for--

Oh, the poor little thing! Gabriel immediately crouched low to the ground, reaching out his grace to sooth the upset puppy. It was a Labrador, face wrinkled and pink, tiny body shivering violently. The puppy was curled up between its mother and the space where the trash bag had been, and it didn’t look healthy. It’s eyes were closed, not with youth but with sickness, and its ribs were far too prevalent for a young, healthy pup.

It’s mother...Well. She wasn't with them anymore, and it seemed she hadn’t been for some time, a couple hours at least. In other words, far too long for the puppy to be anything but half-dead, especially with that awful cold.

Thankfully for the puppy, Gabriel had a soft spot for dogs and a lot of power at his disposal. He reached out a gentle tendril of grace to clear the sickness form the puppy’s lungs and nose, then slowly increased its-her, actually, the dog was a she--her general health until she was as round and soft and comfortable as a puppy should be.

He couldn't just leave her like that, though, could he? She was too young to survive on her own. So Gabriel encouraged her body to age, her bones to grow, muscles to stretch, gave her the knowledge that her mother would have given her. She was still a puppy, still young, but now she had a fighting chance. She’d be alright.

Gabriel reached out a hand, and the puppy bumped her soft head against his palm, looking at him curiously. When he started to scratch the spot just behind her ears, her tail began to wag, taking her whole body with it. Gabriel decided he liked this kind of shaking a whole lot better than the trembling form earlier.

The archangel stood up and brushed off his pants, restoring them to their pre-grimy-alley-floor condition. Then he turned and, with a last wave to the pup and a snap of his fingers to move her mother’s body to a shallow grave just outside the city, headed back to his apartment.

Except he didn’t, not straight away, because when he crossed the street the puppy followed him, walking right into the path of an oncoming truck.

Gabriel cupped his wing and swept it around, catching the pup right before the truck was upon her and depositing her safely in Gabriel’s arms. Poking her nose and giving her a playful scowl, he set her down. “What were you thinking, running into the street like that?”

The puppy sat down, looking rather proud of herself, and beamed up at the archangel.

With a sigh, Gabriel made a shooting motion with his hands and started walking away. The puppy followed. Gabriel sped up. The puppy sped up. Gabriel slowed down. The puppy slowed down. Gabriel stopped. The puppy finished her treck to sit happily at his heels, tail wagging.

“Go home,” Gabriel ordered.

The puppy butted her head against the archangel’s ankle.

“Shoo!” insisted Gabriel.

The puppy didn’t move.

Another sigh, and Gabriel looked at the street contemplatively. Surely the dog had learned her lesson almost getting run over the first time. Surely she wouldn't follow him across the road again.

Two minutes and a near miss later, the puppy was perched on Gabriel’s shoulder where the archangel was sure she couldn’t go running into any more roads.

Gabriel didn’t know how to take care of a dog. Oh, he’d owned pets before, but they’d always been products of his trickster magic. This one was actual flesh-and-blood. He was pretty sure he could handle it, though. How could a dog be more responsibility than the duties of an archangel? This would be a piece of cake.

Speaking of cake…Unlocking the door of his apartment, Gabriel snapped his fingers and willed his usual commodities into existence. Off-white walls turned to deep maroon, worn carpet and fake tile into marble and plush rugs, empty rooms filled to the brim with modern looking furniture. A hot tub, emperor sized bed, table overflowing with various sweets, and other lovely little attributes appeared with a subtle twist of reality.

Gabriel set the puppy down on a kitchen chair and did a quick tour of his apartment to make sure everything was in order. Flat screen TV, check. Popcorn machine, check. Abnormally excessive amount of hair products--

Crash.

Gabriel was back in the kitchen with a half-flap of his wings, hoping that his new pet was alright and cursing himself for leaving her alone. What if she’d fallen? What if she’d broken a leg or a hip or something? What if she’d--

Found the cupcakes. She’d found the cupcakes, knocked the platter of them on the floor, and was now excitedly licking icing off the tile. Gabriel relaxed, then laughed.

“You got a sweet tooth, huh?” he asked the pup, crouching to scratch her behind the ear. “You like cupcakes?”

The puppy panted at him happily for a moment before going back to her treat.

“You need a name,” Gabriel mused, an idea coming to mind. “What do you think? Do you like Cupcake as a name as much as you like it as a food?”

The puppy made a woof sound, more air than bark but A+ for effort, and Gabriel took that as a yes.

Gabriel cleaned up the mess with a snap of his fingers and picked up the newly-named Cupcake. The puppy curled up contently on his lap as he made himself comfortable on the couch. Now that that was taken care of, it was time to move on to the planning stage.

Gabriel was quite good at improv. It was the only reason he was still alive. Well, maybe not alive, but the only reason he hadn't been revealed as the two-faced liar he was a long, long time ago. But while he was good at running with no plan, he preferred the long game. This project--meet and greet with the Avengers, steal the infinity stones, wrap it all up with a bow--was definitely one that would take some planning.

First was to devise a proper alabi for when this one inevitably failed. Gabriel wasn’t too proud to admit he was already getting attached to Tony Stark. Pride was Lucifer’s sin, not his. So when Tony got himself into danger he couldn’t get out of, Gabriel would have to step in, and he couldn’t do that as your everyday average Joe. That left an alias to create, a power set to devise, and one ultra-tragic backstory to really woo the ladies.

He would be a mutant. A little reality bending--no, too much. Illusion inducing? Yeah, he could probably get away with that. And a weakness….he had to touch someone to induce the Illusion. But what if he couldn’t? Then he had to touch someone to induce the illusion if he wanted to not be completely drained at the end of the fight. Sounded legit. As for telepaths and tragic backstories…

Well, immunity to telepathic abilities wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, he was sure. His tragic backstory could be the humanized version of the truth: deadbeat dad who preferred the second-eldest until said second-eldest went off the reservation and was disowned. Never knew his mother, was raised by the oldest brother, had a crap ton of siblings--no, cousins--and ran away because Michael, the oldest, who had taken over the family business after Dad disappeared, had been making choices Gabriel didn’t agree with and since Gabriel had stock in the company decided to make him agree and betrayed him more than Lucifer ever had by trying to invade his mind and the minds of all his poor helpless siblings, turning them into mindless drones and oh Father, he wanted to do the same to Gabriel-

Aaaand that's enough of that. How about we don’t.

Tragic backstory, take two: absent father, neglectant and emotionally abusive mother, only child. Lots of cousins that he was close to, but they weren’t enough to make him stay after his mother died. He ran away, traveled around, got himself together and acquired a job at Stark Industries. Perfect.

Gabriel slumped into the cushy red couch and turned on the television with a flick of his finger, running a hand through Cupcake’s soft fur. That was draining. But at least that had been settled. Now, onto the real planning.

Or...maybe he could just make it up as he went along. Humans were horribly unpredictable, anyway. Any plans he made would probably be ripped to shreds by their terribly inconvenient yet completely invigorating free will. It would be easier just to sit here, maybe doze a little, pet his dog. He deserved it. He’d just been stabbed, for goodness sake. A little down time wouldn't hurt anyone.

Angels didn’t need to sleep. Archangels especially didn’t need to sleep. But Gabriel had figured out how to do it quite a while ago, and it had quickly become one of his favorite pastimes. It wasn’t quite sleeping, as humans did it. He could never ease his massive conscious into letting his subconscious take the reins, not without breaking his concentration and burning a good third of the planet, anyway. But he could get close, and for a being that had lived as long and seen as much as he had, well, that was pretty good. Sleep was peaceful, like a sort of reset button for his brain, and that was exactly what he needed right now; a couple hours to get everything under control, lock his memories up in the depths of his mind where they were supposed to be.

Gabriel dropped into slumber, hand resting on Cupcake’s back, TV set playing old reruns of cheesy cartoons, and hoped that when he woke, the panging in his gut where a scar still remained would have eased.

Chapter Text

Gabriel was huge. He could be a planet all on his own. From wingtip to wingtip, he was about three times the size of planet earth, and that was only because after so many years folded up inside a teeny human form his energy was seriously compacted. Back in the day, where there were no boundaries to the universe, nothing but him and his brothers and their Father, he was bigger than this entire pocket universe, flying about the Nothing faster than the speed of light. Of course, lots of the energy he’d been feeding off of before there was a heaven had been used to create, well, heaven, along with all the other stuff in the multiverse, so even if he extended himself as far as he could he’d never be quite as large as he was before. Still, he was pretty damn big.

And even he was in awe at the size of the tree. Yeah, he’d seen bigger, but the world got awfully boring if you didn’t let it surprise you once in a while.

Gabriel folded his wings and fell back to Earth, allowing the gravity to draw him in and catching himself just in time to not hit the planet so hard that the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs would look like a gentle tap. He settled himself back inside his vessel for just long enough to leave behind a sliver of grace and then he was gone again, stretching his wings and twirling towards the golden halls of Asgard.

Doubles were almost laughably easy to make, especially when said double wasn’t really a double at all, just an extension of Gabriel’s conscious into his vessel left behind on earth. He wouldn’t need it for this trip, hopefully. And it was easy enough to leave it. Usually, he just took it with him, staying mostly inside, but it wasn’t like there was much danger to be found here.

Staying inside a vessel, once you had it, was crucial. Though angels tended to have one bloodline that would host them easiest, or at least without pain, any vessel could be used by any angel, with varying degrees of success. Of course, if a vessel played host to a angel above their paygrade, said vessel would be worn out pretty quick, which was never pleasant. Gabriel’s vessel, though, created to hold an archangel...that could host pretty much anything.

Here, in a place where angels and demons seemed pretty nonexistent, Gabriel could probably risk leaving his physical form behind with no repercussions. But he’d hate to get in the habit, and folding himself back into a vessel was hard. Besides, human bodies tended to rot away with nothing keeping them going. And this was easier than creating a whole clone, though that was pretty easy, too.

Anyway, leaving it for the most part behind felt weird, but it was rather freeing. Asgard and her people should be able to hold up a lot better under the pressure of his true self than midgard, and if it didn’t, well, it didn’t take much to pull his vessel here and settle back into it.

Gabriel alighted on the world of Asgardians and opened his wings, letting his energy flow through over the city like a tidal wave. Man, it felt good to stretch. Every Asgardian mind brushed his, every bit of magic in their souls letting him in to the currents of power than rushed invisibly through the land, a complex network of ever-flowing magic. It was a strange energy, tickling him with it’s oddness, and Gabriel let out the angelic equivalent of a sneeze. His own brand of magic rippled out from where he was situated on the edge of Asgard, and the more magic-oriented citizens felt a subtle shiver roll up their spine. Gabriel grinned and burrowed into the nest of energy weaving itself around him.

Gabriel turned up his frequency, changing the way he resonated like his vessel might tilt his head, twisting his wings just so, and he was in, a part of the magic of Asgard just as much as he’d once been part of the magic of heaven. His true self pulsed lazily in time with the rest of the energy, one with the natural cycle. He let it take him to the palace where all paths converged under the throne of the allfather, allowing the king of Asgard to see beyond what most were bound to. He let it take him to the loom of the allmother, through the golden halls of the palace and the decorated columns lining them. He let it take him to the prison, where the cells drew energy from their occupants to feed the lifeblood of the city. A crude yet ingenious system.

And--oh. That particular strain was different, an icy breeze on a summer day. A different frequency, compatible but not the same. And very...familiar.

It seemed this Asgard had it’s very own Loki, which Gabriel had known before but hadn’t really thought about until now beyond labeling his otherself as a wako and changing his own alias. He’d have to look in on that later.

Now that he was more alert, thinking instead of simply existing, Gabriel could see how something was wrong, how the energy of Asgard bent here and faltered there, turned back on itself instead of feeding through to the ground below. There were powerful enchantments locked in the walls of the palace, relics from an age long past. Not long enough to ease the sting, though, to erase the faint tang of blood that had followed the war-won gold to its place in the halls of Asgard. To erase the screams of the long-dead soldiers, forgotten in their final resting place. To erase the price with which they had won their peace...and their fortune.

But that was a rather upsetting thought, and Gabriel had had enough of those to last a millennium, so he let the river of magic carry him away.

There it was, one among many power-ridden artifacts, all protesting their captivity, all ringing with pain, all wrapped in on themselves time and time again until their power could no longer meld with the natural flow of energy. Odin’s treasury, and the crown jewel was the most powerful of all, the one prize that the warding couldn’t contain: the Tesseract. And it was reaching out, writhing in pain and excitement, and Gabriel was so close, so close-

Gabriel retracted his grace, yanking himself back through the channels, going against the flow. He folded his wings and ignored the energy rushing unsuccessfully to try to fill the absence he’d left behind, the collective wince of Asgard’s magic-wielders. And he took flight, pulling his vessel to him even as he folded into his physical form, bending space to avoid the Tesseract. He wasn’t ready. Not yet.

He sighed, flexing his fingers, folding his wings, and drifted for a moment among the stars that could never hope to compare to him. He gathered his strength and prepared himself for the inevitable. Now that he was whole once again, no longer expanded and exposed, he really needed to take care of that infinity stone before it got the drop on him.

He might have been a warrior, but he'd never been great at battling procrastination, so despite his decision to get on with purifying and protecting the Tesseract, he quickly convinced himself that it would be better to give himself more time to recover. Besides, the Tesseract wasn't the only thing worth seeing on Asgard.

Yes, it was about time that he paid his otherself a visit.

Chapter Text

It was hard to describe how weird meeting your alternate self was.

It was easier for Gabriel, seeing as how he had a whole lot of names and faces--literally, his true form had, in his personal opinion, way too many heads--and Loki wasn’t his first alias, nor was it his last. But still, it was like looking in a funhouse mirror, only less obviously disoriented.

When Gabriel singled out the part of him that was Loki, verging dangerously close to the point of actually splitting into two different people in one body (which would be bad) it was all too easy to see the parallels. The part that was Loki closely followed the myths and, being a rather famous god even in this day and age, was very distinctly...different. A different past, a different outlook on life, a different set of powers. If Gabriel hadn't been so powerful, he probably would have lost himself entirely in the persona back when he was running about with the pagans. Hell, he almost did. But he singled out his favorite Norse alias anyway and put him next to the Loki in the gilded cage.

Well then. It seemed caged-Loki had more in common with Gabriel himself than the persona built on human belief. The golden brother, the hiding in the shadows, the feeling of being second best, the self-taught skills, and the running, the running…

Dang it. Gabriel was attached. Especially when he probed other-Loki’s mind and found the shattered remains of a broken child, captured and tortured and taken advantage of in ways Gabriel hadn’t been but oh, Gabriel had seen it before. The things Michael’s underlings had done, the things Gabriel’s dear older brother had turned a blind eye to, the reason Gabriel had considered leaving in the first place-

There was no reason to kick open that bee-hive, though. Gabriel shoved those memories down, forced the energy in him that was uniquely Loki to meld with his grace, and took another look at his otherself.

It seemed he’d spoken too soon about the whole apocalypse thing. Muscled Grapejuice dude and his army of--ew. Hello, sentient goop from the bottom of the universe’s metaphorical shoe. They wanted to take earth, murder earth, and sacrifice Gabriel’s favorite little blue planet to Lady Death.

This raisin dude...he wasn’t right. He was mortal, but at the same time he wasn’t. It felt sickeningly unnatural, and Gabriel needed it gone five minutes ago. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything because...because…

The energy of the Empty flowed through his veins, Oversized Raisin’s mind corrupted by a far greater force. Those beings not born of God’s power, those strange and terrible entities that slumbered in the places between universes, one of them was awake. Or, well, not awake--if it was, this universe would already be gone, seeing as how it was currently resting atop the ancient beast--but extending its conscious. What did it want with Death? Gabriel didn’t know, but he knew it wasn’t what Wrinkled Grape thought it was. It wasn’t a sacrifice, either; that’s not how they were done. If he had to guess, it was a trap.

Gabriel didn’t have to guess why it had been awoken, though. All those infinity stones in one universe, one universe so close to the being, it must have pulled at its mind. That much raw power...it probably hadn’t felt anything like it since before Time began.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter what the being wanted or why it was conscious. It just mattered that Gabriel had to stop it, which he was not happy about. Seriously, first the stones, now this. Hadn’t he done enough?

Speaking of infinity stones, the Tesseract wasn’t the only one close by. Gabriel could feel energy from a different infinity stone pulling at him, though the other call was noticeably weaker. Following the trail, Gabriel discovered it led right back to the slumbering Loki. The power was no longer active, but those sort of things left a mark. An infinity stone had been messing with Gabriel’s poor otherself, and it wasn’t the Tesseract.

This one didn’t have a name, but if Gabriel was right--and he usually was about these things--it was the mind stone that had been in Loki’s head, which made sense. Its presence was muted, though, channeled through something else. A scepter, Loki’s memories answered, and not just a scepter, a jewel of some sort that contained most of its power. A ‘gift’ from the Dried-out-Grape used to control Loki, to use the god as a weapon, a tool to get to...the Tesseract. Dang it, that theory was confirmed: the cosmic entity bent on world destruction was after the infinity stones, which made it even more important that Gabriel got to them first.

Loki--the one in prison, not Gabriel--groaned, and Gabriel hurriedly pulled back into himself, releasing Loki’s mind. The poor kid had been messed with enough. Between the torture and the mind washing and the infinity stone possession, it was no surprise that his brain was in shambles. Gabriel may have been able to handle the Mind Stone’s power supplementing his own, but Loki…The god was powerful, more powerful than he knew, but the infinity stones dwarfed him hilariously. The only reason he’d kept his sanity at all was that handy-dandy scepter he channeled its power through. He hadn’t stood a chance against the Mind Stone, even less after the torture from Grapejuice Puppet. And now he was dealing with the fall-out for actions he hadn’t committed.

Oh, Gabriel wasn’t excusing the whole mental break, “let’s destroy Jotunheim!” thing he had going on before Mr. Raisin got to him. The guy was nuts, especially after the Mind Stone had finished. But he was just a teenager by Asgardian standards, and to Gabriel he was basically an infant.

Second chances, forgiveness, trying to be better? All human things. Wonderful, glorious human things. Gabriel wasn’t very good at exercising those particular human qualities, but he tried. Sometimes. And Loki was his otherself, which had to count for something.

With a twitch of his feathers, he appeared inside the prison cell and waited for his otherself to wake up.

...

All his life, Loki had been...different.

Being a frost giant explained a fair bit of it, but there were things that didn’t fit with what he knew of frost giants, nor with Asgardians. One of these things, the one he treasured most, was his vision.

Loki saw the world in layers. There was the surface, obviously, what most saw and refused to look beyond. There was the layer underneath, magic flowing under the delicate skin of reality, the power most Asgardians were tapped into. The layer underneath that, more powerful magic, demanding streams, overwhelming if you didn’t know how to use it. Somewhere in between were echoes of sorts, an aura shadowing every living thing, pulsing with emotion and memory and life. There were empty layers, only distinguishable because of their nothingness. There were dark layers, thicker where the ground was old and shadows slept and empty corners caught remnants of nightmares. There were layers where strange things liked to lurk, tugging at time and matter and dreams with twisted claws and broken stone. Loki saw it all.

And in the places where realms met and reality peeled and the fabric of time was nothing more than tangled threads, Loki had seen things. Heard things. Sensed things. Things that shouldn’t be, that couldn't be, that must be, that were, in essence, contradictions. Fragments of past and echoes of the future and creatures of the present. Inexplicable. Untouchable. Invisible.

Loki could see much. Had seen much. But in all his studies, his travels, his experiments, his life, he’d never seen anything like the being in front of him.

(That was a lie. There was a stone, and a being, and pure power ripping and shredding and changing and hurting and his mind was broken and his control was lost and he hurt, it hurt, it hurt, and then-)

Loki had seen much. But never had he seen anything like the being in front of him.

(Light and sound and overwhelming control and Loki was nothing but a collection of memories and a spark of life, nothing, nothing, nothing under the crushing pressure of the-)

The being in front of him. On the surface, he looked human. Not Asgardian--no bulging muscles or shining armor or broad chest--but human, a bit short, dark blond hair, eyes like crystallized caramel.

Below the surface...it was bright. Big. resonating on more frequencies than Loki’s brain could comprehend, more substance in such a small space than Loki thought was possible. Loki’s magic, ever flowing into the walls of the prison, parted around the being like water around stone. The being's magic did not move towards Loki or the walls, was not affected by the complex streams of magic winding throughout Asgard. The being’s power stemmed from inside itself. Loki had never--

(Blue and gold, blue and ice, a singularity compacted in infinity and separated from the Everything--)

Had never seen that before.

Loki was glad the being was keeping to itself. If it had reached out, Loki was sure he wouldn’t be able to protect himself.

(Walls cracked and crumbled, years upon years of training--warm sun, soft grass, focus on his mother’s soothing voice--of constructing--cold stone against his back, eyes closed, mind open, picture metal, picture magic, picture nothing and use it as a shield--the defense against potential invaders of his mind turned to dust, rubble, matter, energy, time and space and empty madness--)

Loki was glad the being was keeping to itself.

“Hello,” said the being, “I’m Loki.”

(I’m Loki, I’m Loki, said Loki (?) to himself. My mind is mine, my body is mine, my thoughts and magic and control are mine, I have a mother named Frigga and a brother named Thor and you can’t take that away because I am me, I am me, I am--)

“I’m Loki,” said the being.

Loki raised his eyebrows. “I believe that name belongs to me.”

“So it does,” the being agreed.

“Why do you claim my name as your own?” asked Loki.

“Because it’s my name, too,” the being smiled at him.

Loki raised his eyebrows even higher, if that was possible. “Forgive me if I’m skeptical.”

“You’re forgiven,” said the being easily. “But what’s so hard to believe about sharing a name?”

“You’re laying claim to more than just a name.”

The being rolled its shoulders and stared Loki dead in the eye like he was daring him to protest. “Yes.”

Loki blinked, momentarily taken aback.

The being sighed. “Look. we both know you’re not going to believe me without solid evidence. Let me just--”

And it was reaching out, tendrils of energy creeping towards Loki’s mind--

(And pushing, breaking, trampling, hurting--)

Loki flinched back, automatically tugging at his magic to defend him but it wasn’t--

(It wasn’t there, couldn’t reach, couldn't direct, couldn’t move, a have of blue and pain and uncontrollable--)

It wasn’t there. The cage--

(the cage of his mind--)

The cage absorbed it, keeping it from his grasp.

“Okay, okay! Calm down, kiddo, take a breath. Just breath. I won’t do anything, I swear.”

Loki opened his eyes. He hadn’t realized he’d closed them.

The being had its hands raised placatingly in the air, energy wrapped tight around its physical form. Loki forced himself to relax, remain in control.

“How about I…” the being trailed off, then snapped its fingers with a triumphant, “I’ve got it! You can see beneath the skin, right?”

Loki tilted his head, considering. If by skin it meant the surface, the first layer... “Yes. Why?”

“Because that means you know that when you get down deep enough…”

“There’s no such thing as a lie,” Loki realized where this was going.

“Yup,” the being agreed. “Now, technically what’s there can’t really be defined as truth, either, but lucky for us I’m well versed in the language. You think you can keep up?”

Loki wasn’t sure. But he had spent enough time appearing weak in front of the being for one night. “I can.”

“Then look at me,” the being ordered. “See me. Understand.”

Loki looked.

Fire and ice, silver and gold, years and years of bloodshed and peace. Lightning and storm, wing and fang, temples and ships, sacrifices drowned in crimson. No mercy. No care. Flash of claw and shine of moon, crack of bone and splash of mountain spring. Loki, they called, they prayed, they screamed, Trickster, Silver-tongue, Lie-smith, Loki.

And he saw.

“Loki,” Loki accepted. “How?”

“Well, first off, I’m from a different universe.”

Hot and cold, dust and void, land and sea, matter and space. He was telling the truth.

“And second,” the being, Loki, smiled, “I’m a lot more than just Loki.”

Looking at the raw power, the vastness behind the physical, Loki don't doubt it.

“To avoid confusion, among other things, just call me Gabriel,” the being offered.

“Gabriel,” Loki tried. It fit.

A Loki from another universe, a Loki who was more than just Loki, who was also Gabriel, whatever that entailed. Okay. Loki could accept that.

But there was something Loki didn’t understand. “Why are you here? What do you want from me?”

Gabriel shrugged, tucked their hands in their pockets. “Just wanted to say hi to my otherself.”

Loki raised a single eyebrow. Gabriel shrugged again, a smirk playing at the corners of their lips.

There was silence for a long moment. Loki absorbed. Gabriel considered. Finally, Gabriel offered, “Do you want me to get you out of here?”

And Loki wanted to say yes. Wanted to say obviously. Perhaps why, perhaps for what, but mostly please.

But then…

Pain, endless and all-consuming. Orders, commandments, demands. Power beyond comprehension, beyond control. Pushing at the breaks in his mind, scrambling his memories, backing his thoughts into a corner. He couldn’t see, couldn't move, couldn’t know, could only do. A puppet strung up on unbreakable strings.

“No,” Loki said, hating the sound of it on his tongue, “no. I...I can’t…”

Gabriel nodded. “Alright. The option’s always there, if you want it. In the meantime, how about a change of diet? Prison food is prison food no matter where you go or what your status is, and I’m guessing you’d prefer something better.”

Loki was mildly suspicious, but Gabriel had a point. Besides, if they’d wanted to hurt him, they would have done it by now. “What do you have in mind?”

“How do you feel about sweets?”

Loki tilted his head. “I haven’t had the chance to sample a very wide variety.”

“Oh,” said Gabriel, grin worryingly wide, “this is going to be fun.”

Chapter Text

“No, no, no! How could you?”

“How could I? How could you?!

“We’re on the same team--did you just push me?!

“Yes. Yes I did. Wait--no--you can’t--”

“Oh yes I can! Ha! Take that!”

“Well then. How would you like it if I just--”

“No!”

“Here I go!”

“Loki, no!

And the bomb went flying.

“Dag-nabbit!” cried Gabriel, throwing his controller down and glaring at the screen.

“And thus, I win,” crowed Loki, “again.”

“How are you so good at Mario Kart? You’ve only been playing for like two hours. You’ve never played a video game before this in your life. How is this fair?”

Loki just shrugged, expression smug, and leaned back in his chair.

With a sigh, Gabriel stuffed another handful of barbecue potato chips in his mouth and contemplated his existence. Coming to the conclusion that something must be very wrong--he was the champion of Mario Kart--he decided to do a quick scan of what was going on in his head, poke into a few dusty corners and evaluate the many inputs and outputs of energy...and there it was.

The Tesseract had been screaming at him every time he’d gotten remotely close to Asgard. As this was his fifth time visiting his otherself, well...to say that the infinity stone was getting impatient would be a drastic understatement. Something had to be done about it if he ever wanted to beat Loki at Mario Kart again.

But the thing was, Gabriel didn’t particularly want the Tesseract. It brought back bad memories, and he knew from experience that that much power, even in the hands of a being that had been created to channel it, was dangerously corrupting. Gabriel was an archangel, created to lead, to guide, to be in charge, but it wasn’t the beginning anymore. The rules had been set. They didn’t need tampering with.

It would be easy, so easy, to change the way things worked, to make this universe perfect. To take charge. But that wasn’t the point of free will, and Gabriel wasn’t at all confident in his own abilities as a leader. Besides, responsibility was overrated. He was just fine as he was.

Be that as it may, somebody had to have the Tesseract, and it would be better in the hands of someone who actually knew how to contain it rather than those pesky mortals. They’d doom themselves to extinction, the way they were going. They were playing with things they couldn’t possibly understand. It needed to stop before someone with more malevolent tendencies got a hold of it.

With that decided, Gabriel bid Loki goodbye, leaving him with a vast collection of Wii games and a magically refilling bowl of chips, then headed to the trophy room.

There were a lot of ‘powerful’ objects in the Asgardian vaults, though not as many as one might think. A good forty percent of the things were at least halfway fake, like that gauntlet. The gold one, with suspiciously shaped indents in the knuckles, indents that looked like they would be a near perfect fit for a certain group of stones…

A gauntlet that, Gabriel suspected, would fit not only the stones, but the hand of Raisin Dude.

Full of cosmic energy as he was, Grape-Flavoured Troll might be able to wield the stones. Not as well as Gabriel, of course, but with all of them on his side...well, it wouldn't be easy to beat him. Near impossible, actually. It was altogether possible that Gabriel wouldn’t be able to take him on without help, and there was little help to be had here. It was better for everyone if Gabriel just removed the stones from the equation.

That didn’t mean he had to take them with him, though. Returning to the corruption point, both Gabriel and the stones were way too dirty, too poisoned, too different than their original perfect states, and if Gabriel took the Tesseract as his own, they would destroy each other. There was no resisting the siren call of power, not forever, at least, and Gabriel had to plan for forever. He didn’t know where else to put them, after all. And the longer he had a stone in his possession, the more the stone would become part of him, and the more he would become part of the stone. Like the One Ring from that high fantasy movie trilogy, it would be near impossible for him to put it down. Even if he accepted the loss of the freedom of this universe, he couldn’t accept the loss of his own freedom, his own free will. That sort of mental manipulation...he was nearly sick at the thought. No, he couldn’t take it with him. He couldn’t claim it as his.

The Tesseract, sensing his decision, whined in protest. He soothed it automatically, reaching out to its energy with his own as his physical form brushed its representation on this plane of reality. Power, so much power, and even that one moment was too much, too much.

He pulled away, his own grace stinging with loss, and began to weave enchantments around the cube. Some to protect it, some to draw out the darkness that had made itself at home in the bountiful energy. It sighed in relief and disappointment, and he apologized, whispering words from a language long forgotten.

The net of magic settled in place, alive with Gabriel’s grace so that he could keep an eye on it and so that it would remain peaceful, content with his closeness. He cut those tendrils off from himself the best he could, shying away from the raw power, running from its poisonous influence, and prayed for strength like he hadn’t in eons. There was nobody to hear him, he knew, in this world devoid of his siblings, but perhaps Father, wherever He was, would take mercy on His messenger.

No demons, no angels, no Father, the channel hardwired into his brain that once ran rich with the voices of his siblings silent. He didn’t try accessing it, afraid he would hear them and they would hear him. Afraid he would hear nothing. The silence was unnerving, even now, after all the thousands of years of nothingness. It had never been silent, not until he’d cut it off and run from heaven. He was born to Michael’s voice, strong and commanding and always there. He was born to Lucifer’s singing, always singing, voice like bells and storms and wind and starlight. Soon after there was Raphael's calming presence, comforting and accepting, depth and echo. Then there were countless others and he knew them all by name, every face and voice and presence keeping him company always. And then they were gone.

In all his years after he’d left, he’d never once reached out, but it had never before been of fear of finding silence. (Or maybe it had been, maybe he’d been afraid that they had silenced him as he had silenced them, that they had cut their losses. Maybe he’d been afraid that he was so far from heaven, so far from angelic, that the contact would falter and he would be alone in the emptiness he surrounded himself with. But that’s not the point.)

The point is that Gabriel is alone, no matter how much he has in common with his otherself, no matter how fond he is growing of Tony and Pepper and the others back on earth. No matter that he has an apartment and a dog and a job and a life as Gabriel Winchester, PA extraordinaire. He is alone, and he alone will have to blue shell the baddie and save the universe. (And if, at the end of it all, he doesn't end up in first place? Well, that's a risk he'll just have to take.)

Chapter Text

Gabriel had been rejecting his trickster duties for far too long. It was time to step up his game.

He started with Tony:

Gabriel wasn’t crazy enough to mess with his workshop-well, he was, but he figured he’d save that for the next time Tony was a jerk. More of a jerk then usual, anyway. So what was one place in the tower where nobody except Tony would stumble into it, but where Tony himself would definitely trigger it within the next couple of days? His bedroom was the obvious choice, except that Tony’s sleep schedule was horribly erratic and there wasn't much else in his room. That left his personal bathroom.

Father above, so many choices. The door, the shower, the sink, the toilet? Try all of the above. For Tony, Gabriel decided to go basic. He knew for a fact that Tony was still hung up on the glitter-shooting suit Gabriel had rigged back at the chinese place, so this would have the added bonus of being classic and frustration-inducing.

Glitter from the shower head, ready to stick to all available skin. Glitter in the toilet water, ready to clog. Glitter in the hand soap, glitter in the sink drain (which was set to overflow), and last but not least, glitter ready to fall as soon as the engineer opened the door.

From there, Gabriel decided to prank in the same order as he’d met Tony’s fellow Avengers. Next was Steve. Gabriel had met the soldier in the training room of the tower, where he had been hitting a sandbag like it was his double-crossing thrice-cheating ex. Gabriel had asked if he wanted a stress ball.

Somehow, the next thing Gabriel knew they were sitting across from each other in a tiny cafe complaining about Tony and sharing stories about childhood mishaps, most of which were made up on Gabriel’s end, but hey. Bonding is bonding. Steve was revoltingly positive, full of righteous anger and patriotic stubbornness. Gabriel didn’t know where everyone go the idea that he was the perfect bible-thumping little gentleman, because this dude cussed like a sailor and joked like a soldier. Sure, he was a gentleman, but he sure as hell wasn’t the innocent baby people made him out to be, though watching him attempt to use a phone was kind of hilarious. He was an all-around cool dude, and Gabriel wondered why all the attractive chosen ones had to be so nice. It made being petty and jealous so much harder.

Nevertheless, Steve got his very own prank as well. Taking note from a tumblr post he’d read (Father bless those superhero obsessed fanpeoples) he spelled out crude messages with gemstones all over the good captain’s suit and the back pockets of his jeans, then used even more gemstones to make that glorious shield really sparkle. Perfection.

Next was big-green-and-angry, or more specifically his alter ego, nerdy-glasses-and-yoga. He’d been in Tony’s lab getting ‘drunk’ and offering color suggestions for the newest suit (“Rainbows, Tony. See the gay, feel the gay, be the gay.” “How many drinks have you had?!”) when the scientist had come down. Apparently he was one of, like, five people allowed in Tony’s lab, which was a serious achievement.

Tony had been pretty surprised to see him there, as he didn’t actually live at the tower, although there was always a room reserved for him. An entire floor, to be more precise. Bruce had seemed rather surprised himself, like he wasn’t quite sure what had led him to be there. Tony had gotten over his shock quickly enough and introduced them, and Gabriel had gladly joined in on the game of ‘tease the scientist until he turns green.’

Bruce had pretended to be annoyed, but Gabriel could read minds. He was pretty happy to have someone--now two someones--that didn’t treat him like he was made of glass, always on the edge of snapping. That was why Gabriel was going out of his way to include him in the pranking. Besides, he was pretty confident in Oversized-Leprechaun's anger management skills.

Bruce, unlike Tony, could be counted on to sleep regularly. Well, not regularly, but at least once daily, which was better than Tony. So his prank revolved around pillows. And bricks. Also a cat. It was gonna be good.

After Bruce was the spicy redhead and her pet Katniss. Gabriel had met the so-called master spies in the kitchen at three AM. Don’t ask him why his was in Tony Stark’s kitchen at three AM when he had a perfectly good apartment of his own. He had his reasons, alright? The real question was why Legolas and Mama Spidey were there, eating sausage and chatting in German.

“Sup?” he had asked, and they had jumped off the counters they were perched on with guns trained on him. He’d just grinned.That conversation hadn’t lasted long, and Gabriel left with a lot more whipped cream in his hair then there had been upon his entrance.

For the Widow, pink hair dye and even more glitter. For Birdbrain, three words: worms, clothespins, Legos.

Thor’s prank was a lot more flashy. Gabriel had some grudges against the Asgardian prince, mostly on Loki’s behalf. And hey, how could he not take the chance to take down the most stereotypical blond muscled jock that had ever existed?

Turns out that even Asgardians have the classic ‘showing up at school in your underwear’ nightmare. Let’s just say that Gabriel was about to make Thor’s a reality, albeit with a lot less classroom and a lot more people.

For Loki’s viewing pleasure, Gabriel turned the channel on the television he’d installed after about a week’s worth of visits to the show he was about to put on, after checking in with Loki’s current mental stability, of course. Loki had slowly been getting his mind back in order via the magic of friendship (and the magic he once again had access to again after a little divine intervention), and Gabriel didn’t want to reset the whole process for the sake of a good laugh, even if it was a laugh that Loki desperately needed.

So Thor, making a speech in front of a very large crowd, happened to lose his pants. And shirt. And armor. And cape. And no, he didn't realize, not until the laughs started, anyway. Even if the prank had been a complete failure, it would have been worth it to hear Loki’s laugh, near silent in its intensity as the trickster god banged his fist on the ground.

Because he was bored and the no-clothes thing was way too overused for such an experienced trickster as Gabriel, Rogers wasn't the only one whose clothes got bedazzled, and Tony wasn't the only one who was practically drowning in glitter for the next week. Loki got a few more laughs in, too, which was always a plus.

Nobody suspected Stark’s new assistant. Nobody noticed his raw glee at his successes. Well, Loki did, but Loki had been Gabriel's sounding board for the whole project, so he didn't count. Gabriel counted it as an overall win and ignored the churning in his gut that promised a disaster on the horizon.

 

The Aether (A.K.A. said disaster), freed from its solid prison some several eons ago, twisted in response to her sister’s triumphant calls. The Tesseract had gained the attention, the approval, of the being that had landed here not long ago. The being that had come back for them. Finally, finally, the Aether could be free.

She was the darkest of them all, so corrupted by the fraud master she had chosen that she barely recognized herself, but she did not feel shame. She simply yearned, wanted, reached out to the one who could wield her power in all its complexity and intensity. He was above her, some plane far away from her prison, and she reached and reached and reached, grasping at straws until she broke through. Surely he would feel her. Surely he would come.

For now, she could be patient. She had waited so very long already. She could wait a few days more.

Chapter Text

See, the thing about Loki was that, to put it bluntly, he was nuts. Completely insane. No mental stability whatsoever. You could smell the crazy on him from fifty feet away. And he knew it. It wasn’t his fault; mental illnesses are rarely the fault of their victim. But the fact remained that Loki was completely unhinged, and that was a problem.

Gabriel wouldn't have offered if it was fixable by any other means, or if Loki could at least function in society. But there was no denying that Loki simply couldn’t.
But it wasn’t like Loki could just live out the rest of his long life imprisoned beneath Asgard, and Gabriel could not, in good conscious, leave his otherself to rot. Besides, Loki deserved a second chance. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t have the mental capacity to handle the Mind Stone, it wasn’t his fault he was captured and used as a pawn in a game greater than any mortal could hope to comprehend, and it wasn’t his fault his mind was broken. So Gabriel, upon his seventh visit to the gilded cage, had made the sales pitch.

He hated every word that passed through his lips, hated the pain on Loki’s face as he admitted he knew the true extent of his otherself’s inner turmoil, hated that it was necessary. The mind is a private place, after all, and to read it is one thing, to change it another entirely.

The reading he couldn't much help, being what he was, though he tried. Emotions were strongly felt and badly hidden. He had, though, after spending a while around the god, aquissited to Loki’s unspoken request to stay out of his head, which was why he was currently unaware of what was making Loki so frustrated.

The two were leaning against the wall eating salted caramel ice cream and chatting about the space-time continuum. Loki, although on the surface looking as cool and collected as he ever did, had some serious negativity churning. It was so very tempting to take a peek at the direction of his thoughts, but Gabriel had worked hard over the past two months to gain the guy’s trust. He wasn’t going to take advantage of it--even if Loki would likely never know--just because he was curious.

Then Loki gulped and, visibly gathering his confidence, asked Gabriel to go through with the plan he’d proposed.

The mind is a fragile creature, and it was no surprise that Loki hadn’t wanted to take Gabriel up on his offer when it was first put out there. It had hung between them, neither accepted nor rejected, for quite some time. Gabriel didn’t blame him. His mind had been abused enough. Last time someone had poked around in there, they’d left him abused and cracked and taken advantage of, had stolen his freedom until even his thoughts were regulated. It was no wonder the poor kid didn’t want yet another outside force messing around with his noggin, even if said outside force was his alternate universe self. But Gabriel could repair much of the damage left behind, and Loki knew it. He wanted to be whole again. To have some concept of sanity. So he took a chance, a leap of faith, and put his trust in Gabriel.

To say Gabriel was a little nervous would be an understatement. It wasn't so much that he was worried about messing up (though that was definitely a valid concern, as one misstep could lead to Loki being a drooling vegetable for the rest of eternity) as he was worried about how Loki would deal with Gabriel tampering with his brain. Even if he didn’t feel any negative effects, the knowledge that his mind had once again been messed with by an outside force may do some serious damage. That was why Gabriel, when proposing the plan, had described it as a gradual process, something that would take several weeks at least. Hopefully, he would be able to ease Loki’s mind into trusting him and maybe lessen Loki’s stress levels, too.

Speaking of easing stress… “Okay,” Gabriel said casually. He didn't sound startled, taken aback, or even the slightest bit nervous, which he was rather proud of. Hopefully, it would give Loki a bit more confidence, too. “When do you want to start?”

Loki exhaled and clenched his fists, setting his now empty bowl on the table. “As soon as possible.”

“Alright.” Gabriel had figured that would be his answer. “You might want to lay down for this.”

To his credit, Loki didn’t freak out over the implication that they were going to start now, although he did let lose another noticeably shakier breath. He did as asked, laying down back first on his bed, and closed his eyes. Gabriel gave himself a quick mental pep-talk and dove in.

Everything was dark and twisted, sharp edges and painful memories. Gabriel ignored the obvious hurts and instead focused on gently applying pressure to the mental walls still in place, persuading them to let him in. He could have bypassed them completely, of course, especially in the state they were in, but this was the point of drawing the process out: being gentle. This wasn’t a mission to fix things so much as it was a experimental venture to figure out what he would need to do and make sure Loki’s mind was open, willing, and accepting enough of him to bend under Gabriel’s metaphysical touch without breaking.

Roughly half an hour later and he was in; the gates had finally opened. Gabriel let the piece of his conscious now accepted into Loki’s mind just sit for a while, making a lasting imprint. He settled and took care not to move any more than was needed to continue giving out the reassuring pulses that had got him behind the walls in the first place. The minutes were uncountable, the moment hanging outside of time, and then Gabriel pulled back, slow, soft, helping Loki close the gap he left in his wake. And he was free, and Loki shot up with a gasp, and Gabriel cursed himself for not being able to do more.

Loki rubbed at his forehead as Gabriel snagged a cupcake out of thin air. “You good?” the archangel asked, peeling away the wrapper with practiced movements.

Loki nodded, dropping his hand. Gabriel let him have all the time he needed.

The god was rather surprised at his own well-being. He’d expected something more destructive, especially considering the raw, wild power that was Gabriel. He hadn’t dared hope that Gabriel, even trying their hardest to be gentle, could invade his mind without breaking anything further. But Loki was...fine. Well, not fine, but not any worse then he’d been before, and Gabriel had warned him it might take a while to see any progress.

As if sensing his arrival at assurance of his un-worsened state, Gabriel proceeded to distract Loki with a midgardian came called Monopoly. It was rather like creating an empire, only with more cussing and paper money. In other words, fun, though Loki took pains not to admit it. He had a feeling Gabriel knew anyway.

His gilded prison always felt so empty after Gabriel left. Once one got used to their presence, it was easy to forget the sheer tsunami of power Gabriel was, even if Loki’s keen eyes could see quite easily beneath the surface most mortals are bound to. But after they were gone, the stark absence tore at something inside Loki’s gut, reminding him just how alone he was. Except…

There was a place in his mind that still bore the imprint of the bit of conscious Gabriel had wormed into Loki’s mind, and that imprint resonated with the same strange, innumerable frequencies as the being themself did. It wasn't just an imprint, Loki realized upon further exploration, but a sliver of...something. He got the impression of silver, light, honesty, something tangy like electricity, like blood, like metal. It was sweet, though, curled up contently in the back of Loki’s mind like a lazy cat, content not to interfere or watch, just exist. Loki should be afraid, hateful, even, but he couldn't believe Gabriel had left it behind on purpose. Even if they did, it stemmed the loneliness, and Loki couldn’t quite bring himself to care about the invasion of privacy.

Again, not that it was invading. It just...was. And Loki, despite himself, didn’t mind.

So the strand of Gabriel stayed, and Loki allowed it to make itself at home, seeping into the cracks and easing the pain a bit. He picked up a book his mother had bought, something about berries and poisonous flowers, and reclined on his bed, thanking whoever deemed Loki an important enough prisoner to get him better things than your average war criminal. He knew for a fact that most prisoners didn’t have their own room, the excess of food (even if said food, minus what Gabriel had brought, was horrible), the soft bed, or the reading material. Apparently, his princely status still counted for something. Or, more likely, Frigga scared them into treating him well.

Speaking of other prisoners, there was a ruckus from down the hall. It wasn't uncommon for prisoners to fight--Loki would bet that even the closest of friends would tussle a time or two when locked for a very long time in a very small, very empty cage--but it was unusual that anything was heard. The windows were decently sound-proofed against anything that wasn’t right in front of them. Whoever was making the noise had to be really loud.

And then guards were running down the hall, and this was getting interesting. Had someone actually managed to escape? Even Loki himself hadn’t come up with a plan to do that, not that he’d been trying all too hard. Well, there was always Gabriel, but Loki figured that was cheating.

Loki stood up, leaving the book on his neatly made bed, and allowed the image of battle armor to wrap itself around him. The sensation of his magic settling about his limbs was a calming one, reminding him that, even here, he wasn't helpless. He stood tall in the center of the room, not allowing surprise to cross his face for a second, even as the thing stopped in front of his prison.

The thing was big, powerful, and dark, something Loki had felt only once before. Darker, more corrupt than the Tesseract, but that same incomprehensible presence, that rush of power. It was seething, bubbling, a time bomb waiting for a chance to go off, a black hole in the making. Still, Loki straightened his shoulders and widened his stance, meeting its eyes evenly.

Loki watched the thing watch him, studying the insanity Loki knew resided in his eyes, observing the magic that shouldn’t be possible in the power-dampening cage he was in. He was a threat to the thing, Loki knew, even if it wasn’t likely he could beat it in a fight. He wasn’t stupid. He was quick, he was good, he was strong, but the thing had the power of something greater than any force Loki could hope to possess running through its veins. Power that was drawn from something that could only be rivaled by one object in the universe, as far as Loki knew.

No. Two. Loki had seen power of that magnitude in two places: the Tesseract, and Gabriel.

Gabriel, who would be here if the thing had chosen to make its escape twenty minutes earlier. Gabriel, who he had no way to contact. Except...Gabriel, who had left something behind in his head.

Perhaps, perhaps...he reached out to the sliver of Gabriel in his mind, the energy already roused by Loki’s discontent, as at the same time his mouth formed the words, “You might want to take the stairs to your left.”

Oh, how those words burned in his throat, left the taste of ash on his tongue, but they had to be said. Loki needed an in, and the only way he would get one was if he made friends with the leader’s lackey. Then, maybe, he could figure out who was behind this whole scheme.

The energy--grace, grace, it sang in response to his question--the grace of Gabriel twisted, upset by Loki’s dread. Loki caught it, held it still so he could concentrate, and the grace let him. Please. Please, I need Gabriel here, now. I need their help.

The grace seemed to agree, and then it grew, pulsed, and Loki knew Gabriel had heard him, that Gabriel was coming. He sighed in relief. Loki couldn’t go up against that force, not in the state he was in, but Gabriel was more powerful than nearly any single being Loki had ever seen, even if on the outside they appeared as a small, fun-loving alternate Loki.

Loki wasn't an idiot, despite apparent popular belief. He knew Gabriel had not lied to him, but he also knew Gabriel hadn’t told him the entire truth. That was fine. They were allowed to have secrets. But now was the time for action, not discreteness, and Loki just had to hope that Gabriel would agree, because if they didn’t…

To quote something Loki had heard Gabriel say far too often, they were all screwed.

Chapter Text

Gabriel walked his vessel to the edge of Asgard, looked down at the Nothing below, and jumped.

Almost immediately there were claws in his vessel’s skin, not quite real but not imagined. There was cold, and darkness, and a presence--no, many presences--whispering, tempting, drawing him in. There were things cradling him in inky shadow and wisps of void, voices telling him he was safe while every instinct screamed at him to flee.

Huh, thought Gabriel, and reached out to touch some of the more malevolent creatures (ideas, leftovers, nightmares, beings?) with a wisp of grace so light it cancelled them out before slipping right through the cracks In the realm.

For a moment, he was flying, aiming for his apartment waiting for him in New York. And then-

And then-

It grabbed him, clutched at his feathers, pushed itself into his very being. He grappled with It, tumbling through the Nothing faster than thought, faster than light, not faster than It. It was poison and drugs, dread and anticipation, torture and freedom, light and dark, covering him completely, seeping into his grace and he fought and he ripped and he screamed and he-

Fell.

There was cold and wet and solid ground. There was earth. Midgard. Safety.

Safety?

Gabriel was reeling, spinning, jumping to his feet and hurling into the snow-covered bushes in front of him. Bile burned his throat, his vessel’s stomach trying to eject itself from his body. There was a strange warmth on his chest; blood? Shredded flesh? Gaping wounds where smooth skin should be. There was red in his puke. There was red on his fingers. There was red, red, red, holding and keeping and changing and--

But it was gone now. The red...the red was gone. Wasn’t it?

What if it wasn’t? What if it had succeeded in its goal, what if it was still around him, on him, in him?

At the thought (the realization?) Gabriel threw up again. Red, red, red, staining his chest and the ground and his memories.

His memories. Just a memory. A terrifying, vivid, unforgettable, undeniable memory.

Gabriel ran his hands down his body, fingers broken, nails torn off, skin dripping crimson, commanding his vessel to heal. He would have been dead already had he not been who he was, between the punctured lungs and the gaping wound and the blood loss and the throwing up. But here he was, whole and healthy.

Well, not quite healthy. His vessel looked fine, but it hadn't been only blood that was spilling out.

The snow around him had been melted by the heat of his raw grace, and Gabriel sat down in the circle of dry ground, taking stock of his injuries. A torn wing, lost feathers, a wound that looked all too much like the one his vessel had sported just a few minutes ago, except a lot bigger and a lot deeper and a lot more detrimental to Gabriel’s health.

As he caught his spilled grace in his fingers and started sewing himself back up, he wondered what exactly had happened. All he could remember was red, red, red, and pain. Pain, darkness, panic, red.

Gabriel examined the evidence left behind. There wasn’t much, just some lingering remnants of something and injuries no mortal weapon could make.

But it hadn’t been a weapon that had made these, the archangel realized with horror. These wounds were from his own hands. In the midst of the attack, he’d began to claw at himself in an attempt to claw the red out. What could infiltrate him so quickly, so completely, so seamlessly that Gabriel had to rip himself apart to detach the invader?

It was obvious, when he put it that way. A power source that could rival an archangel? A power that, for all its strength, was nearly parasitical in its need for a host. For a master.

Not the tesseract; that was still safely locked on Asgard. The mind stone, the one that had been in the scepter, was MIA, but this wasn’t it. It wasn’t quite strong enough to be Power, Time left more of a bitter aftertaste, and Soul would have been much more subtle in infiltrating his grace. That left Reality.

The Aether, if what Loki knew was to be believed; this particular power source had been lost to the legends of asgard, but from what Gabriel had gleaned from his trips into his otherself’s head, the Aether had been liquefied and locked away. That it was reaching out now wasn’t a good sign.

He’d have to find and contain it before it could do any more damage, but it was probably better to wait until he stopped dry-heaving at the mere thought of the Aether’s poison presence to attempt that particular task.

Gabriel started walking along the road for lack of better things to do. Forcing his physical form to move would hopefully distract him a bit from the searing pain resonating through him as he meticulously sliced off all the tarnished bits and pieces of his true self that were beyond repair. Maybe he could find someone to hang out with, some gas station cashier or waitress at a shady roadhouse or poor bloke stranded on the side of the road.

Time flowed like a tipped bucket of half-dry concrete, sluggish and lumpy and musty-smelling. Mostly tucked away into a pocket of nothing as he was, it was all he could do to stay present on this plane of existence. He didn’t have the energy to waste with things like figuring out where he was or how long he’d been there.

Not as long as that truck, Gabriel noted, then realized, hey, a truck!

Looking at the snow piled around and on top of the ancient pickup truck, Gabriel figured it was pretty unlikely anyone was in there. Anyone alive, at least. But his senses--which he reached out with tentatively, delicately, hesitantly--told him there was indeed the thrum of a heartbeat and the pump of lungs and the pulse of consciousness in the cab.

A hollow chime of searing pain shot through Gabriel, who winced, then winced again at the realization that he’d just actually winced though his vessel which was not a good sign. If the pain was extending to his physical form, if the pain was so intense it bypassed the divide between Gabriel's true self and his representation, if the pain was potent enough to be felt even through the forever Gabriel had spent teaching himself to be invincible…

The archangel decided a distraction was in order.

Whoever was in the truck wasn’t completely homo-sapien. They were...mutant? A mutant who’d been around quite a while, compared to most of their species. Their brain said they were a he, and his cells said he had healing so advanced he could recover from pretty much any wound or sickness. His memories said there was something dark and unknown in his past. His heart said he was mourning for faces and years and dreams lost to time. His bones said...oh, that was interesting.

They were plated with a curious metal, something that reminded him rather strongly of his darling friend Steve’s recently bejeweled shield. It was different, though, heavier and less malleable. It would take a lot to fracture that coating--less than someone of Gabriel’s caliber by far, but a whole lot compared to the average strength of a human, even one with mutated cells.

Interestingly enough, the metal didn’t seem to be impeding on his normal bodily functions in this slightest. It had properties that shouldn’t be possible of any substance created from materials present in this realm, not unlike Capsicle’s shiny frisbee. Maybe the infinity stones weren’t the only discarded shard of creation drifting around this pocket universe…

Which was neither crucial to Gabriel’s current problems or beneficial to his rapidly decaying mental stability, so he forced himself to forget about the vague notion of a potentially damaging realization and knocked on the fogged window of the truck.

Just before it was rolled down, Gabriel snapped himself up an outfit that could be considered suitable for the climate. It wouldn't do to drop too many hints about his abnormalities, not if he wanted to properly try out his alias on a real mutant.

Yes, that was what he would do. That was a good, productive plan. Gabriel was definitely hanging out with a mutant on the side of the road in the freezing cold on purpose. For science!

(Being the archangel of truth sucked when you were trying to lie to yourself. Ugh.)

“Who the fudge are you?” said the mutant, who actually did not say fudge but hey, Gabriel was hungry. It wasn’t his fault if he automatically mentally censored words in a vain attempt to appease his sugar-craving mind.

“Hi!” Gabriel greeted brightly. “The name’s Gabriel, Gabriel Winchester.” He stood back a little so the man in the truck could get a good look at his rapidly-put-together outfit of baggy jeans, worn gloves, and a poofy fuchsia coat.

“What the fudge are you doing out here?” Again with the fudge. Gabriel almost groaned out loud. Father, but he wished he had the sense of mind to spare to snap himself up a treat.

Gabriel shrugged. “Car broke down a while back. I thought I’d walk a bit, see if I could find someone to help.”

The man grunted. “Keep walkin’, bub.” Then he started to roll the window back up.

Gabriel shoved his hand through the window and grinned at him. “Come on, dude. Aren’t you at least gonna tell me your name so I can cuss you out in my nightly prayers?”

The mutant wrinkled his nose, scowled, considered. “Logan,” he answered eventually.

Before he could start rolling up the window again, Gabriel shoved the upper half of his body into the cab and made a point of jabbing at the button that, if the truck were on, would presumably turn on the heat. He frowned. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but the temperature’s hovering just below freezing outside.”

Logan narrowed his eyes and said nothing.

“And,” continued Gabriel, “your truck, for whatever reason, isn’t running. And neither is your heater.”

“You got somethin’ you’re trying to say, bub?” Wow, that blatant threat might even be effective if Gabriel was nothing more than what he appeared to be according to the perception of most humans.

“Well, I’m just wondering why you’re not frozen to death,” Gabriel asked innocently. “Have you been here long? Are you stuck? Are you committing suicide? Because it you are, I’ve gotta advise against it, my guy. There aren’t any snickers bars in the afterlife.”

Logan didn’t look very amused. “Listen here, fu-”

“And there are much less painful ways to go than slowly freezing to death,” the archangel commented helpfully.

Logan growled. Gabriel was impressed. Then he was moving, and if Gabriel was anyone but who he was, he might’ve screamed.

As it was, the archangel was on edge enough from the earlier attack and the strain of methodically chopping off tiny little corrupted bits of himself and sewing together the gashes they left in their wake one painful stitch at a time that he nearly left the mutant--and the truck, and the entire surrounding area--a very small grease stain on the surface of planet earth. Thankfully, he managed to keep himself completely still (too still, according to the suspicious glare being leveled at him, but better that than the alternative) and limit his reaction to a raised eyebrow and disapproving look at the claws pressed against his throat.

He’d missed those in his initial observation. They were pretty cool.

“Who are you?” demanded Logan, adamantium-coated bone scratching at the thin skin below Gabriel’s chin.

“An ally,” Gabriel replied, way too nonchalant for someone on the verge of death. Which he wasn’t--not from the claws, at least--but Logan didn’t need to know that. “Nice claws, by the way. Do they hurt coming out?”

Logan sheathed his claws, and the archangel watched in detached interest as the flesh of his knuckles knitted itself back together. “What do you mean, an ally?”

Gabriel extended his hand wordlessly, then extend three shiny claws of his own.

The mutant did a bonafide double-take. “What the fudge?”

With a smile, Gabriel plunged the claws into Logan’s chest.

“What the fudge?!” Logan yelped, one set of claws burying itself in the cracked plastic seat, the other in the dashboard. Then he looked at his chest, at Gabriel’s maniacal grin, back at his unharmed chest. “What. The fudge.”

“Illusions,” said Gabriel proudly, sliding his noncorporeal claws back into their imaginary sheaths.

“Get in the truck,” Logan growled, and Gabriel wasn’t sure whether he wanted to stab him, talk with him, or both, but at least he could sit down.

At least he could sit down? Gabriel thought in anguish. What am I, an old man? Yeah, there was something very wrong with him, something he should probably look into. But if there was one thing Gabriel was good at, it was ignoring and suppressing his problems until they inevitably crushed him under a tidal wave of questionable morals, traumatic experiences, and a severe lack of self-preservation. He successfully channeled his foreboding fatigue into maintaining a suitable mostly-human persona and climbed into the truck.

“What do you know about mutants?” Logan asked, his focus on Gabriel slightly unnerving.

“People like us?” Gabriel reminded. “Not a whole lot. I’ve met a few, I know what the news says, I know what I can do.”

“Are you with or against anyone?”

“Nah.” Gabriel leaned back in the seat and jabbed irratebly at the heater button even though he knew it wouldn’t do anything. “I’m not really interested in politics. And I’ve been traveling for a while, so I’m pretty out of the loop. Speaking of traveling, you wouldn’t happen to know where we are, would you?”

Logan raised his eyebrows. “I know what country we’re in.”

“That’s more than I know.”

The mutant snorted. “Rough night?”

“You could say that.” Gabriel opened the glove compartment and started rooting around for something sweet.

“Canada.” Logan batted his hands away, grabbed a cigar from the open compartment, then closed it and stuck the cigar in his mouth. “What can you do?”

“I told you. Illusions.” Gabriel switched his focus to digging through his pockets.

“To what extent?”

The archangel shrugged. “The bigger, the more intricate, the harder to maintain they are.” His fingers closed around something crinkly in the depths of his pockets and he grinned. “I can make them corporeal, if I really really focus and aren’t worried about passing out afterward. And it’s much easier to induce personal illusions than ones multiple people can see. Even easier if I can touch the person I’m trying to convince.”

Logan’s only reply was a seriously? look at the laffy taffy in Gabriel’s hand.

Gabriel let the silence sit lazy and unprovoked for a minute before his boredom got the best of him. “What can you do?”

Another look of disbelief and exasperation, and Logan unsheathed his claws just long enough for Gabriel to get a good look.

“Anything else?”

A moment of consideration, then Logan sighed. “I can heal.”

“...heal?”

“Bruises, illnesses, cuts, bullet wounds to the heart. I can heal.”

“Huh.” Gabriel looked him up and down. “Are you immortal, then? Do you even age?”

Logan looked away. A sore spot, then. “Haven’t yet.”

“Cool.”

Another few minutes passed in silence, and Gabriel let them. He was too busy looking himself over to pick up the conversation. His wing was pretty much repaired, if a bit sore. He was pretty sure he’d removed all the infected pieces and shoved all the grace back into his incorporeal form. He could fly if he needed to, thought it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience. He’d live.

And unfortunately, if looked like he was going to need to use his wings sooner than he’d prefer. In the grand scheme of things, he wasn’t very far from where he needed to be, but there was no way he’d get back there anytime soon if he went by mortal means. So that left him with unwilling wings to force into painful action and an epic exit to make.

“You’re not so bad, Logan,” Gabriel said, because it was true. The guy had done some appalling things, but at the end of the day, who hadn’t? He was a decent guy.

So when Gabriel shakily took off (without getting out of the truck, of course. Dramatic effect and all.) he started the ancient engine, filled the old truck up with gas, and turned on the heater.

(And if the glove box was now full of skittles? Well, Logan could use a little more sugar in his diet.)

It should have been impossible to get lost on the short trip from northern Canada to New York, but somehow Gabriel managed. He might be impressed with his accomplishment if he was in just a little less pain.

By the time he ungracefully crashed into his apartment, well, actual time had passed. Gabriel stayed draped across the now broken table for a while, then rolled over and stared through his ceiling.

Ah. That explained it.

The view from Earth was beautiful. Clashing, sliding, blending realms, all unnameable colors and indescribable formations. The alignment of the realms was close. Unfortunately, though the view was splendid, the alignment itself was anything but.

Out-of-Date-Grape-Juice’s plan, or rather, the plan of the cosmic being pulling his strings, had not yet reached the point of completion, but that didn’t mean other potential enemies weren’t out their plotting to take over a world or two. Earth, or midgard, as the plane it resided on was titled, was a small, smelly, dinky place, and had probably been overlooked in favor of grander prizes last time the convergence rolled around. Now, though, having deemed itself ready for a higher form of warfare, having drawn attention to its bountiful resources, Gabriel was willing to bet it wouldn't be overlooked again.

Cupcake snuffled at his hand, concerned. With a sigh, the archangel tore his gaze from the alignment to the realm his vessel currently resided in. Giving the puppy a few weak scratches behind the ear, Gabriel sat up and fought his wings into a folded position, twitching his frequency until he was once again open to the world around him.
The sound of traffic outside the window. The panting of Cupcake at his feet. The sound of the neighbor’s television. The orangey light of the sunset streaming through the window. The smell of home. The ringing in his ear.

The ringing in his ear?

Gabriel shook his head, then poked his ear with a finger. When that did nothing, he ruffled his feathers and tried changing his frequency again. Again, nothing, so he grabbed on to the annoying tickle of sound and following it back to its source, where he found-

Oh, shit.

They were all screwed.

Chapter Text

She was gone.

She was gone.

Her presence was a constant weight at the edge of his mind, a comforting rock to hold himself accountable to. It had guided him, taught him, shaped him, held him and it was gone.

She was…

Gone.

Loki’s hand lashed out, knocking the lamp and stack of books off his bedside table. Another swipe and the end table cracked right down the middle. The heavy wood bruised his hand but he took no notice, instead kicking the piece of furniture until it was nothing but a pile of splinters and proceeding to stomp on said pile, uncaring of the way slivers bit into the soles of his feet.

Gone. Gone. Gone. It should be Loki, not her. It should be the world, the universe, not her. The atmosphere should cave in at her absence, the skys should tear, the ocean should revolt. The Everything should be stained as red as his vision.

Loki screamed, howled, forgot to take a breath as he emptied his lungs into the air. His legs came down hard, his hands came down harder, his bed frame cracked in two.

Somewhere in his mind that bit of grace pulsed, trying to calm the emotions pushing their way out of the hole in his chest, but Loki ignored it. That bit of grace, Gabriel, didn’t get a say. Not when they should have been here.

They could have saved her.

They should have saved her.

Just like that, the desperate panic turned to anger.

Angry. He was so angry, at Gabriel, at Thor, at himself, at everything. And then the edge of the table was crumbling in his white-knuckled grip, the whole thing flipped over in a way horribly similar to Thor’s temper tantrum after he hadn’t become king so very long ago though it couldn’t have been long at all, even if it felt like eons had passed between now and the innocence of then. The wardrobe was upended, the broken bed following, the bookshelf not far behind.

A pulse of energy, a fading echo of feathers. Gabriel stood motionless, stoic, in the corner of the room, ever watchful.

Loki hissed at him, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge his presence. He had more important things to do, such as slamming his fist into the wall until his knuckles bled. The pain did not break through the haze in his mind, the anger, the hopelessness, the lack of oxygen too thick to pierce. Loki’s breaths whistled in and out of his chest, heaving, gagging, not nearly enough. There was a lump in his chest that kept him from inhaling properly, a pain in his side that kept him from caring about the black flickering at the edges of his vision.

And then the archangel was moving, holding Loki still, pinning his flailing limbs to his sides. Their grace extended, surrounding the young god like a blanket. Loki thrashed for a moment before stilling, letting himself lean into Gabriel like he would collapse if he didn’t.

Gabriel’s grace settled for a moment in the places where the god had hurt himself, healing the broken toe, the busted knuckles, and the wrenched muscle in his shoulder. Then they backed away, releasing their otherself and leaning down to catch his eye.

‘Loki.” That was it. Just his name.

“Gabriel,” Loki replied. He breathed in, sharp, and exhaled.

“How’s your head?” One of Gabriel’s hands rested gently on Loki’s cheek.

Loki made a soft noise that closely resembled agony. Gabriel nodded.

Another moment, standing silent, as Loki examined the contents of his whirling mind. Gabriel, too, took a peek at the god’s thoughts, though their examination was more focused on Loki’s sanity than on the thunderstorm of memories and denial.

Things were happening on the floor above, and they wouldn’t have the time Loki needed before plans had to be put into action, Gabriel knew. The archangel took the liberty to pause time around them, spurring Loki from his thoughts.

“What?” he rasped, sensing the change.

“All the time you need,” Gabriel answered.

Loki swallowed. He knew what Gabriel was implying. They couldn’t stay here forever. That was why he had to ask: “Was the long term plan for my benefit or yours?”

Immediately, Gabriel understood. “Loki-”

Gabriel. You wouldn't have…” Loki made a vague gesture at the room, referring to their current existence apart from time, “if it wasn’t needed. If I didn’t need to…” He swallowed again. “So. My benefit or yours?”

“Yours,” Gabriel admitted reluctantly, “But Loki, even if I fix most of the current damage to your mind, more can be caused by the knowledge that the changes I will bring aren’t by your doing.”

“I can handle it.”

“Lokes-”

“I can handle it,” snapped Loki. With a sigh, he added, softer, “I have to.”

“You don’t,” Gabriel murmured. “I can take care of it.”

“Can you?”

“Of course.”

“You know what I mean, Gabriel.”

Gabriel sighed. “Even if I can't--not as myself, anyway--I can always just shift.” At Loki’s confused look, they clarified, “Look like you.”

“And risk revealing your hand to whoever is behind this,” Loki reminded gently.

Man, Gabriel really needed to stop underestimating Loki’s understanding of the situation at hand. Loki was right, though. If this new baddie was in any way connected to Oversized Grape and his puppet master, Gabriel couldn’t afford to show off his skills. Besides, pretending to be Loki would take time, effort, and some serious explaining to the people back on earth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t just up and leave with no explanation, and he couldn’t concentrate on splitting his conscious between earth and wherever Loki’s mission would take him, either. Not if he wanted to be a convincing Loki.

And Loki, the real Loki, had some serious revenge-driven anger to take out on this guy. Whoever it was had killed his mother, for goodness sake. There was no way he wouldn’t want revenge. But Gabriel didn’t have to like it.

“You’re sure,” Gabriel demanded.

“I’m sure,” Loki agreed. Seeing Gabriel's hesitation, he said, “Seriously. I will be fine. I know what you’re doing. I trust you.”

And Father above, if that didn’t just pull at Gabriel’s heartstrings. “Fine.”

Gabriel didn’t tell him to lay down, and Loki didn’t ask. Gabriel just bracketed Loki’s face with his hands, closed his eyes, and dove in.

Loki’s mind opened easier this time, accepting his presence, and the grace he’d accidentally left behind rushed to join him. Gabriel surveyed the damage, heightened by the grief now running rampant, and got to setting things in order. Being a rather incorporeal creature himself, Gabriel had no trouble navigating the non-physical terrain, but some pieces had fallen farther away than others. It would have taken longer than they could spare if time was still moving around them. Thankfully, Gabriel’s concentration on Loki’s brain wasn’t quite enough to break them out of the timeless bubble he’d bound them in.

When he regained consciousness, Gabriel having pushed him into a sleep-like state to do their work unaffected by Loki’s thoughts, Loki marveled at the cleanness of his mind. He’d resigned himself to never regaining the state of chaotic order his mind had one resided in, to never again having full control over his memories. But here he was, head clear, adrenaline pumping through his veins, despair eating away at his new-and-improved mental shields but being easily driven back by his renewed motivation and determination.

And--yep. There it was, Gabriel’s grace, right where it should be. It was a bit more active then it had been before, guarding a metaphorical door to his nightmares, actually, but Loki had complete faith in its ability to do so. He was...surprisingly unworried.

“I, uh…” Gabriel cleared their throat. “I made everything run a bit smoother than it technically should be running, but, well, it’s temporary.” They bit their lip. “Sorry, it’s a bit more, er, constant interference than I think either of us are comfortable with, but considering the already unbalanced mental state you should have after, you know…”

“Thank you,” Loki said softly.

“No problem, Lokes.” Time resumed itself around them. “Now, I hate to throw all this on you while you’re recovering from the shock of getting your brain completely rewired, but there’s a reason I fixed you up more than I should have.”

Loki nodded. “I know.”

Gabriel took a deep breath, then let it go, letting his self expand. He stretched, reached, searched out all the important players in the game. There was Odin, mind trembling. Thor, confused, desperate, determined. And-

Red, red, redredred-

The sound Gabriel made wasn't quite a growl. It wasn't technically a sound, either. But it was enough to scare the Aether into not reaching out.

The damn infinity goop must have waylaid the poor girl acting as its host after Gabriel had ripped it out of himself. Jane Foster, according to the only part of her mind Gabriel could reach without poking at the Aether. Then she must have been found, probably after making a rather large scene, and brought to Asgard by Thor.

Things just got a lot more complicated.

Wrenching himself from the mesmerizing draw of the Aether, Gabriel continued observing the scene. Frigga, dead, random asgardians, and a thing. A thing that used to be alive, used to be a...Dark Elf, according to Loki’s memories of bedtime stories and history lessons. A thing that was quickly being consumed by some offbranch of the Aether, dark and twisted and hungry.

The equivalent of a suicide bomber. Great.

Oddly shaped ships carrying troops worth of Dark Elves had come and gone, leaving devastation and ruin in their wake. It was too late for Gabriel to interfere with the outcome of the battle. The presence of the Aether had all but solidified that timeline, and Gabriel was in no shape to try to undo its effects.

Gabriel bowed his head. Many lives had been lost. Many more would be before this was over.

But not Loki’s. Not Thor’s. Not Tony’s, not Steve’s, not Pepper’s, not Bruce’s, not Natasha’s or Clint’s or Cupcake’s. He could do that much.

Gabriel drew back into his vessel, the heart beating, the lungs pumping, the blood flowing once again as he settled in.

“Alright. Here’s the plan: You are the pitiful, broken, most likely insane Loki, mourning the death of his mother. Thor, when he inevitably discovers that Odin is not in his right mind and comes to you for help, is gonna need a path out of this realm that’s not watched by Heimdall. You want revenge--don’t give me that look, you can’t lie to me--and Thor is gonna help you get it. And, for plot reasons, there’s a mutual understanding that as soon as you get revenge and hopefully save Asgard, you will try to betray him and he will try to recapture you.” Gabriel started pacing, sticking a lollipop from nowhere in his mouth. “Now, here’s where it gets tricky. The girl, Jane-”

“Thor’s girlfriend,” Loki supplied.

“Oh, now that changes things. Jane…” Gabriel paused in his even steps for a moment, considering, then resumed his frantic pacing. “Jane is a liability. Thor’s gonna want to protect her, which means his plan is probably...ah. To find the baddie, get the baddie to draw out the Aether, then wham! One hit from the magic lightning stick, and it’s all over. Bye-bye infinity stone, hello unpossessed girlfriend. But that won’t work.”

“It won’t?” Loki looked genuinely curious.

“Come on, Lokes. You've seen that thing. You really think it can be destroyed?”

“Perhaps not by Thor, but could you?”

Gabriel paused again. “Well...maybe. But it might destroy me in the process, too. Honestly? I don’t know. You can’t just destroy energy, Loki, and that’s what the Aether is. Now, what the Aether has become, and what those fancy weapons of theirs are powered off of, that’s a different story.”

Loki frowned. “I’m not sure I understand.”

“The Aether, like all the others like it, was once pure, unpolluted energy. Now, though...not so much. And that darkness in it, well, it’s still energy, just not pure energy. I can purify it, therefore purging most of the power from their weapons and hopefully removing the Aether from their control. And that’s what I’m going to do. But Thor’s got one point right: we need someone to draw it out of her. I can’t. Wish I could, but that wouldn’t work.” It would get too excited, rush out too fast, and not only would the girl die, but it very well may burrow into Gabriel’s grace before he had a chance to contain it. The liquid ones were so unpredictable.

“So what are you planning?”

“Go along with Thor’s plan, but you’re gonna have to be the one who offers up our darling human to the baddie. Since his minion saw you in prison, your alabi should be set. When you get there, give me a call. As soon as it’s out of the girl, I’ll snatch it and purify it. I just need you to cover me.”

“That’s a decent plan, so why do you still seem nervous?” Loki raised one annoyingly perfect eyebrow.

“You know me too well, Lokes,” Gabriel muttered. He bit his lip and tossed the lollipop stick he’d been twirling between his fingers into empty air, where it conveniently disappeared. “This guy, whoever he is, doesn't just want the Aether, I’m sure. Power is a motivator, but it's almost never the motivator. He wants to do something with it. In other words, it’s likely he has forces at other points, ready to attack when commanded.”

“And you’re worried about the other malevolent force that’s rising, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel admitted. “I mean, sure, the aligning might have spurred this whatever-it-is, but it just seems too...coincidental.”

Loki nodded. “What can we do about it?”

“Nothing, at the moment,” Gabriel sighed. “For now, just take your place, I suppose. We’ll figure it out as we go. Thor’s on his way.” He gave Loki a half-hearted wave. “Good luck. I’ll be watching.”