Gods are proud creatures. They respond well to flattery, and with destruction to those who insult them. They are arrogant, and careless, and despicable.
It wasn’t Loki’s idea to bring them all together. That honor belongs to Aite, who walks invisible on mortal heads and brings chaos wherever she goes. Loki admires her for it.
They met first in 1910. Loki was surprised they’d never come across each other before, but the gods tend to keep to their own realms, and Loki has had very few reasons to visit Greece.
The United States has little sense of jurisdiction when it comes to the gods, since the ancient Native American deities tend to keep to themselves, uninterested in the vanities of other pantheons. And since so many subjects of that country are immigrants, with their ancestors’ pasts rooted in religions long gone quiet, one can see many deities wandering the streets, if one knows where to look.
Loki knew where to look.
In fact, his first meeting with Aite came because great minds do indeed think alike.
The woman’s name was Mary Mallon, and she worked as a cook in New York. She had typhoid fever, though she showed no symptoms, and almost all of the members of the family for whom she worked had fallen sick with it. She had no idea that she was the one causing their illness, but she was worried for fear that she’d contract it as well.
Loki’s intentions were to give her a little stroke in the back of her mind to flee from the family and go on to work for someone else, to spread and spread the fever without meaning to. Aite beat him to it.
He caught her in the streets, breathing against Mary’s ear in the market, not even words, just a soft breeze. Aite was a fair woman then, her hair upswept, her eyes dark, wearing the muted colors and full skirts that were fashionable for the time.
Loki recognized her immediately, by the soft glow around her, not of light but of evanescence, a sense that a stiff breath would blow her away, because she did not exist in the first place.
He clipped across the street, aiding himself with a walking stick, and paused beside her once Mary had stepped away. “You spoiled my fun a bit, I’m afraid.”
Aite smiled at him, her lips pressed tightly together in amusement. “Ah, well, disease is everybody’s sweet temptation, it seems. I earlier glimpsed a sign of that insufferable Dwyn as well. I’m sure there will be future opportunity in this country to cause mischief, my dear.”
Loki offered her his arm, and she slipped a gloved hand through his elbow. “Why have we not met before?” he asked wondrously as they began to walk. “Surely Greece is not so far from the Scandinavian lands, nor Olympus so far from Asgard.”
“Ah, our fathers are not exactly friends, I’m afraid,” she tutted, shaking her head. Her heels clicked on the pavement. “Your king once asked my father to go to war with him, against those insufferable Frost Giants, especially when they began to proceed south. Zeus was not interested in aiding him, though my half-sister Athena and my uncle Ares both encouraged him to. That was never quite forgiven, I fear.”
“I am not surprised. Odin is a proud warrior. Asking for aid was no doubt a difficult thing for him to do.”
“It turns out he did not need it anyway! He defeated the Frost Giants with his own power.” Aite patted his arm lightly and nodded toward Mary, who was buying meat in the marketplace. “She will be moving on soon, to another family. I’ve set the idea alight in her mind.”
“Good. Then we should leave your mischief to unfold.” He stepped away, took her hand and swooped to kiss her knuckles. “Until we meet again.”
“Certainly.” She dropped a curtsy and was gone.
Typhoid Mary went on to infect fifty-three people.
A century passed before they met again, and Aite visited Loki in his rooms, stretching onto his chaise as if she had been there all the time. In her natural state, she was dark, but still beautiful, draped in the robes of the ancient Greeks.
“A little old-fashioned, don’t you think?” Loki asked about them, nodding.
She toyed with the hem, pulling it straight and letting it fall to settle in place against her hip. “It reminds me of our former glory, when the Greeks weren’t so caught up with that insufferable Christ.”
Loki snorted, settling in his chair near the window. It overlooked the waters of Asgard, stretching out toward the Bifrost. He liked to be able to see Thor riding in from his trips to Midgard. He didn’t go there nearly as often as he used to, since most mortals no longer worshipped him as a god, but he was fond of the place. Loki could never quite discern why.
“What brings you here, Aite? Surely, you’re far from home.”
“I’ve grown bored, Loki. Olympus stagnates. Mother and Father quarrel constantly, and Greece will perish if it suffers anymore of his tantrums. The storms they draw down are too much.”
Loki quirked a smile at that. “Ah, I’ve quite a bit of experience with that sort of temper. How can I help you?”
“I hoped that you could help me arrange a little… celebration.” She grinned at him, and threw her legs over the edge of the chaise, resting her bare feet on the marble floor. She leaned her elbow on her knee and her chin in her hand. “Something to brighten their moods. Well, to be perfectly honest, more something to brighten mine.”
“Sounds promising.” Loki stood to pour out wine and brought a goblet to her. “And what should we celebrate?”
When she looked up, her eyes were dark. “The beginning of a new war.”
Most mortals would be surprised to learn how many wars they saw as good or were just really just the products of ego. Someone wounds someone else’s pride and demands recompense. Someone takes too much pride in himself and demands more land, jewels, women, gold, than everyone else. Someone thinks his god is greater than every other god. Someone thinks his race should be the master of all races.
When you think of it like that, war is incredibly easy to start.
It began with Loki, because he has sway over Thor.
Thor lay naked in his bed, the linens pooled about his waist. Loki was curled against his side, studying his profile, lazily tapping his fingers against Thor’s chest, unable to tell by Thor’s deep breaths if he were lightly sleeping or deeply relaxed. He didn’t speak, in case it was the former. No sense in waking him, especially since that usually instigates a wrestling match, and Loki almost always loses. (The rest of the time, he cheats.)
“Your thoughts are quite loud, my love,” Thor’s voice was gruff. “I don’t think I’ll rest at all with you beside me.”
“Shall I leave the bed then?” Loki asked lightly, pushing himself up on his elbow. “I suppose there are other matters I could see to…”
“Oh, shut up.” Thor laughed. He cracked an eye open to peer up at him. “What are you thinking about?”
“Did you know that Zeus, of Olympus, was thinking of inviting your family to dine in his palace?”
“Your family too, Loki,” Thor grumbled absently, giving a chastising tug to a strand of his hair. “How do you know this?”
“Aite told me. Don’t scowl! She doesn’t lie to me.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I would know.” Loki wiggled over to rest his head in the center of Thor’s chest, his hand framing his ribs. He liked to listen to his heart beating. It struck like thunder, like everything else about Thor.
“Father won’t accept the invitation.”
“Oh? Why not?”
“He will find it frivolous.”
“He feasts regularly!” Loki protested. “And this would be an opportunity for diplomacy. There are plenty of opportunities for Earth to need defending. Wouldn’t it be wise that he has Olympus at his disposal, should he need them?”
“Perhaps,” Thor conceded thoughtfully, his fingers threaded through Loki’s hair. It was enough to leave Loki loose-limbed and relaxed, happy to be still for once. “Earth has had little need for protection recently, thanks to you.”
The words were thoughtless at best, cruel at worst. They both knew well enough that Loki regretted what happened after his voluntary exile from Asgard and his attack on Earth. It took years to reconcile the hurts between them, years before Loki was allowed even to speak again.
Loki did not answer.
Thor touched his face, turned it up toward him. “Forgive me,” he said quietly. “That was unkind. You have done much to show penance for what happened, and I should not treat it like a wrong you have only recently committed. I have forgiven you. I should not make it seem otherwise.”
Loki’s mouth twitched into a smile. He squirmed over onto his back, tucking himself against Thor’s side and staring up at the ceiling. “The Avengers struggle with numbers, at times,” he pointed out slowly. “Strength is no obstacle, but if an army is too vast…”
“What are you saying?”
“Perhaps another ally as strong as Asgard will benefit Midgard.”
“Do you truly think Olympus as strong as Asgard?”
“I have seen Zeus wield thunder as powerful as yours.”
“Have you?” Thor inquired, clearly amused. “And when did you see this?”
“When he cast me from Olympus, after I stole the sandals of Hermes and flew there.”
His bark of laughter startled Loki, then filled him up with the gratified warmth of a joke well played. “And he cast you out on a bolt of lightning, did he?”
“Yes. Just as you did when I replaced all of your clothes with Sif’s gowns. I certainly frightened Steve Rogers, when I fell through his ceiling.”
“I assure you my aim was completely incidental.”
“Liar. You wanted him to hit me.” Loki rubbed his jaw, wincing at the memory. “If you hadn’t come to retrieve me, he would have returned me to SHIELD as a prisoner.”
“Perhaps I did go a bit overboard on my punishment.”
“A bit.” He stretched languidly, warm sunlight falling through the window across his bare ribs. “I forgive you.”
“I know.” Thor rolled over, finally awake enough to catch Loki’s mouth in a kiss.
Loki lifted his head, curling his hand into Thor’s hair, and nipped playfully at his mouth, enough to make Thor chuckle.
Between them, they didn’t speak about the feast on Mount Olympus again. But when the invitation came, Thor convinced Odin of its value with wise and well-formed words.
So they went.
Thor loves Loki more than anyone in the world.
He didn’t always show it, not the way he should have. When they were young, he should have stood up for him more. He should have insisted that their father - his father – be more attentive to him. He should have told him that he was never good enough; that he was always so much greater than good enough.
Thor knows that it was his own pride that kept them so distant. He was Odinson. He was the favored. Why would he give that up for anything? It was selfish and vain, and he knows it now. He only wished he realized it sooner, before so many people died and Loki suffered so much.
Odin took his power when they returned to Asgard, after Loki unleashed the Chitauri on New York City. Thor understood why, but he also felt an ache, a pull, toward Loki, who sat trapped in his rooms, unable to speak, helpless. Thor knew what that felt like; Odin had done the same to him after all.
He visited Loki regularly, sat across a table from him, watched those blue eyes, bright with betrayal, watch him over the seal across his mouth.
Loki couldn’t speak, but Thor did, often. He told him stories. He didn’t speak about their father. He talked of Jane Foster, and after Loki’s eyes turned hot and away, he did not mention her again.
Thor finally received permission to take away his gag, and so he did, carefully, aware of the tense, tight line of Loki’s shoulders, the proximity of his hands to Loki’s throat. When he was free, Loki didn’t speak. He only touched his fingertips to his chapped lips and looked weary.
Thor sat down beside him, peering into his face. “Are you alright? What do you need?”
“Nothing from you.” The words were hoarse, spoken on a cracked voice. “Why are you here? What could you possibly – what possible reason could you have?”
Thor poured him a goblet of water and set it down firmly in front of him. Loki glared at him, but drank. When he replaced the empty cup on the table, Thor poured out more water for him. “I’ve never forsaken you, Loki, even when you did. I have always loved you, even at your worst, just as you loved me when I didn’t deserve it.”
Loki scoffed. “How do you know I loved you?”
Thor ignored him. “I only wanted to bring you home,” he said quietly. “I wanted another chance.”
Loki’s eyes went stony, his head tilted away like he expected Thor to hit him. “Another chance for what?”
“To show you that you are important.”
“I know I’m important.”
“Loki,” Thor snorted, chastising, even as the edges of his face brightened with a smile. Loki looked almost pleased. “I meant that you are important to me.”
“You seem to think I hold your opinion in very high esteem,” Loki mused. He shrugged, his hands spread, mouth turned down, the very picture of bafflement. “Why would you think that? I have nothing left here.”
“Do you really think that’s true? I’m here, Loki. You have me. You’ve always had me.”
“Always?” Loki feigned surprised. “I’ve always had you? Please define always.”
Thor knew he deserved that. “Do you want anything to eat?” he asked quietly. “I can get you something.”
Loki looked away. “No. Please leave.”
Thor did, but as always, he returned the next day.
Tony Stark was not unused to war. It was, as Nick Fury so kindly pointed out, how he made his fortune, after all.
But war between men seemed to be very different than war between gods. If his fight with Thor was anything to go by, he would go so far as to say they were tragically outmatched. There was nothing they could do that would be any help, against them.
The gods, of course, weren’t the problem now. The Avengers had a whole different problem to focus on at this point. With the people rioting in the streets, there was so much chaos and death happening, and there was nothing they could do about it without harming civilians.
When he said as much to Steve, he got that hard-jawed, straight-shouldered look he did whenever he was going to say something he didn’t want to. “They’re not civilians anymore. They’re soldiers. Well, they’d probably call themselves ‘warriors.’” He turned to Tony, his eyes the same devastatingly blue and slightly sad they always were. “They’re fighting for a cause, for their gods.”
“They aren’t their gods.” Tony waved a hand to stow the hologram monitors of his computer, leaning back in his chair with a sharp exhale. He pinched the bridge of his nose. “They’re panicking. The gods are at war and the people of earth have no idea what to do about it. Until a few hours ago, most of them probably thought they were myths!”
Steve leaned his hip against the edge of Tony’s desk. “Even so, they’re taking sides. They’re ready to fight. They’re afraid enough of the gods to be scared not to root for the winning team. How do we stop it?”
Tony looked up at him, tapping a pen absently into the palm of his hand. “We’ll just have to be the winning team.”
Steve sighed heavily. “Or make them afraid of us,” he said quietly.
Tony was silent for a moment. “Or that.”
Loki really only meant to start a quarrel, not an entire war. Yes, Aite had expressed her intentions when they first spoke about it, to set both of their pantheons at each other like angry cats, but he always assumed that he could direct it in such a way that it would fizzle out the moment they left each other’s company.
He depended too much on his own kin, he found.
He’s interacted with Olympians before. He has often visited with Aite in her father’s kingdom. But the meetings he’s had have been few and isolated, in comparison to the great gods and goddesses that now sat perched in thrones at a table that seemed miles long. They were easily a match in size and grandeur for the Asgardians. The hall shone ivory, trimmed in gold, and stood in open air allowed by great columns, much in the style of the ancient Greek temples.
Loki did not care for it. The warrior in him felt exposed and unprotected, left to the elements. By the tense line of Thor’s shoulders, he shared his view on the situation. They were not able to sit together. As Odin’s only son, Thor was duty-bound to sit with his mother and father at the center of the table, opposite Zeus and Hera and their eldest children. Loki was allocated toward the end of the table, and from his position, he could not see nor hear Thor over the clatter of dishes and goblets, the raucous laughter of gods at play.
Aite bit grapes in half and sucked on them, eyebrows lifted in Loki’s direction like she was reading words printed across his eyelids. “They do not let you sit with your lover,” she commented, tutting softly and shaking her head. “How very unkind of them. And once Odin saw you as his son as well.”
“Do not play your games with me, my lady,” Loki said sharply, looking askance at her. “I am your match in those.”
“True.” Aite looked radiant in a robe the color of olive pits, her dark hair pinned back. Her features were altered slightly, cheekbones sharper than normal, chin longer. She almost looked like Sif. Loki imagined that was on purpose, meant to put him at ease. She ran her second finger around the rim of her goblet, sighing heavily. “They’ve banished me, you see. I am not allowed to claim a position as Zeus’s daughter at such an important feast. It was very diplomatic of my father, to assume I would cause mischief.”
“That was the plan, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed. I expected he might cut off my attempts before I could make them. That’s why I enlisted your aid.” She leaned on her hand, smiling brightly at him. “You can make the mess that I cannot.”
“Can I? Last I looked, I have the same rank as you do.”
“Indeed. Perhaps once we’ve eaten, you can mingle with your lover.”
“Stop calling him that.”
“Isn’t that what he is?” She feigned surprise. “Is it a secret between you? Do I alone know?”
“Of course not. Thor told his father many moons ago.”
“Well, then, of course he would see you separated. He cannot have his son mingling so publically with someone who has caused so much… chaos.” The word breathed out of her mouth like a living thing, a butterfly fluttering toward the light. “You must seem positively dangerous.”
Loki knew well enough that he was being baited. He was certainly not the only one born with a silver tongue. Still, the words grated at his bones, because there was truth in them. The best lies always had at least a little. Odin would attempt to separate them, to press Thor into a better match, or to at least keep him from the wrong one.
Aite said no more, knowing her work was done. Loki sat smarting at the discord she had successfully lit in his mind, a dismay mixed with admiration that she had manipulated him even as he knew she meant to.
The moon rose, and the party began to break up, moving from the table toward an even greater hall, Asgardian in design, with arching ceilings and windows that flashed and shone like armor, for dance and song and games. There was more drink to be had, and Odin’s face was flushed already, his nose ruddy. Thor was grinning the grin of a content man, and he only smiled more widely when Loki made his way to him.
“You look stunning tonight,” Thor murmured against his ear, his hand heavy against the small of his back. “You must always wear green. I command it as your future king.”
Loki rolled his eyes, but leaned into him anyway. It was true that he wore green well, and he knew that. It offset his fair skin and blue eyes, and his coat of leather and silk sat well on the sharp edges of his figure. “You can’t command me to do anything, and you know it. I’ll always defy you.”
“True, and I wouldn’t love you if you didn’t.” He dodged in for a kiss, and Loki turned his head away so that he caught the cut of his jaw. “What is it, Loki?”
“Your father has made it very clear he does not want us seen this way.” He peered into Thor’s eyes, standing near enough that their noses almost touched. “Would you defy him?”
Thor was silent for a moment, and he knocked back the last of his mead. “Sometimes, I think I would,” he said darkly, but nevertheless released Loki, smoothing a hand down his spine before taking a step away. “You surprised me by coming tonight.”
“It was my idea, if you recall.”
“Yes, I suppose it was. And a fine idea. The Olympians are more than gracious hosts. Odin and Zeus have even spoken in passing of a possible treaty between our peoples, to come to the aid of Midgard together, should they need us.”
“Oh?” Loki feigned disinterest, his arms folded, eyes wandering over the crowd. Hermes was fluttering around on those ridiculous winged sandals of his. Loki would have to steal them again soon. “So they’ve taken my suggestion to heart.”
“Well, yes. Though they do not know it was your suggestion.”
He jerked his head in his Thor’s direction, peering at him. “You did not tell Odin that I facilitated the feast?”
“If I had, he would never have agreed.”
Loki was silent for a long moment. “I see.”
“Loki,” Thor sighed. “It is not because he loves you less.”
“He always has. It matters not. I am going to ask Aite to dance with me.” He propelled himself away from Thor on heavy feet, and when he reached the youthful goddess, touched her on the arm. “I would like to see it done.”
She smiled at him, eyebrow hitched. “Then we shall.”
In the end, it only took a few well-placed whispers.
“Zeus would defeat Odin in battle.”
“Nay, Odin would slaughter Zeus.”
“Olympus would fall if the Asgardian warriors wished it so.”
“Zeus could strike down Asgard with a mere toss of his hand!”
Loki couldn’t be sure when the first sword was drawn, when Zeus took hold of the first thunderbolt, when Thor felt it necessary to call his hammer to his hand. He stood by and watched while the tension grew, molding itself into an ugly, bulbous thing, settling heavily amongst them. Between Thor and Zeus, the air crackled with electricity, and a low rumble could be heard in the distance, the first warning of thunder.
The silence was heavy. Odin looked weary. “I do not wish to fight with you.”
“Because you think us more powerful? A wise decision,” Zeus sneered. “Run home to Asgard.”
The All-Father pursed his lips. “I will defend the honor of my people to my death.”
“You may have to.”
There was a long pause. Loki felt weighed down by it. Odin shifted his staff, settled it against the ground. The crack that sounded had a certain air of finality. “To war then.”
Bruce has this way of pinching the bridge of his nose when he’s especially dismayed by something. Tony noticed it in particular when Thor appeared at Stark Tower with this truly terribly news.
“So what you’re telling us,” the physicist began, slowly, like if he didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be true, “is that our planet is going to be the battleground for a war between gods? People as poweful as you and Loki?”
Tony leaned back in his chair, tapping a pen between his forefinger and thumb. “You realize Fury’s going to have a whole litter of kittens at this news?”
“The last thing we need is him deciding to renew plans for nuclear weapons in response.” Steve pressed his hands to the tabletop. He pressed his lips together, let them dip down thoughtfully. “Maybe it would be best to keep it to ourselves for now.”
“You will not be able to hide this knowledge for long,” Thor warned. “It will be apparent that something is happening very soon. Asgard will try to keep the fighting to remote areas, when we have the opportunity to make such choices, but I cannot speak for Olympus.”
“But why here?” Steve shook his head. “Why aren’t you fighting between your… kingdoms?”
“This is not a war about power. One of us is not trying to conquer the other. My father, and Zeus, feel that there is no sense in destroying our homes in a fight that has more to do with pride than anything.”
“Great, so they’re going to tear our home apart instead.” Steve pushed off the table, paced across the room, the muscles in his back flexing tensely.
Tony eyed Thor. “You don’t seem to approve of the war.”
“I do not.” Thor winced. “It is unseemly to fight over something so petty. Such a human thing.”
No one contested the words, though they all may have taken offense to them if they chose to.
“Is Loki involved in this in some way?” Steve asked suddenly, turning toward them. “Did he provoke this?”
“Loki may have stoked the fire,” Thor admitted. “But he cares not about this manner of senseless battle. He has a strong contempt for this sort of pride.”
“Isn’t this a man who tried to take over the world in some attempt to save his pride?” Bruce asked, bewildered.
“He’s a different sort of man now,” Thor said quietly, his tone dangerous. “He did not mean to hasten anyone to war. Aite, however, may have.”
“Yes. She is of the house of Zeus. She cares not for either of our kingdoms, and casts chaos about her in an attempt to cause discord within them.”
“Well, she sounds like the belle of the ball,” Tony quipped. “Maybe she’s our target.”
“I do not understand.”
“Mischief-makers usually beget mischief.” Bruce picked up on the thread of Tony’s thought. “If she intended to start a war, she succeeded. If she wants the war to continue at full throttle, she’s going to have to continue misbehaving.”
“She’ll certainly be in this world,” Thor rubbed his thumb against his lip. “Humans are far more susceptible to suggestion than Asgardians or Olympians.”
“I wouldn’t put humans down so far right now, Thor.” Steve crossed his arms over his chest. “She managed to bruise a few egos and start a war over it – no humans involved.”
Bruce headed off the quarrel before it happened. “Olympus probably coincides with Greek, geographically, just as Asgard coincides with Norway, and the Scandinavian countries, right?” There was general consensus on the thought. “It’s safe to assume that we’re looking at a war across Europe. Maybe it would be a good idea to set up base in central Europe, so we can begin damage control as soon as the damage happens.”
“In that case, our best bet is to contact SHIELD.” Steve looked between them. “They’ll be best for transport and military aid for recovery operations.”
“We’re still going to be hopelessly outmatched,” Tony pointed out. “We’ll never be able to fight against the gods.”
“But I will,” Thor’s mouth twitched into a smile. “And Loki is a more than capable warrior, and a clever man to boot. I will gather a small band for resistance, those who oppose the war, and we will focus our energies on directing battle out of the cities and causing as little destruction as possible.”
“Then we have a skeleton of a plan.” Tony hopped to his feet, moved around the table to draw up his computers. “I’ll make sure our soldiers are armed.”
Steve nodded. “I’ll contact Nat and Clint and see who else SHIELD can wrangle for us.”
“I’ll try not to get angry,” Bruce joked.
Thor cracked a smile. “I will see you soon, my friends.” And then he was gone.
Thor’s mood hung dark and cloudy over the room, and Loki tried to stay away from the low rumbles of thunder he was beginning to hear, the sharp crackles of lightning that followed. He had been this way all the way home from Olympus, despite Loki’s every attempt to make light of the situation.
Now he lay sprawled on a chaise near Thor’s window, watching the storm roll in. In a kingdom so accustomed to sun as Asgard, the rain came heavy and swift, enough to send even the hardiest souls running for their homes. Loki wondered how aware they were of Thor’s moods, if they knew the rains and electricity came according to his whims.
“The All-Father is more prideful than I might have imagined,” Loki said into the liquid silence, his voice swimming through it to reach Thor. “I never imagined he would be coerced into war over something so miniscule as pride.”
“Of course you did,” Thor spat back, his first words in hours. “It was your plot all along, was it not? To set our kingdoms against each other? To cause chaos? That is what you do best, is it not, Loki?”
He blinked slowly at Thor, refusing to express his surprise at the words. He leaned back in his seat, leveling a steady gaze on him. “I had no intention of causing a war.”
“I am not so certain that I believe you.” Thor paced the room, footfalls heavy. “And why should I? You are a trickster. It is your duty to lie.”
“Not my duty, my pleasure,” Loki corrected patiently, tapping his fingers against the armrest. “But I do not lie to you. You know that. I did not intend to cause this war.”
Thor paused to look at him. His eyes shone especially blue when he had cause for anger. “How can I believe you after what I’ve seen?”
“I don’t know. You could trust me. I do not claim to speak for Aite. Her contempt for her father and his family far surpasses mine.” He pushed himself to his feet, rolling his shoulders back. “I care not for war any longer. It was a whim and fancy of an angry man that no longer exists. I would not bring war upon my people, even when they would happily see me die.”
Thor deflated at that. Outside, the sky grumbled unhappily. “I have always looked to Father for guidance,” he said quietly. “I have always looked to him to be wise when I could not. What do I do, Loki, when his wisdom has failed, and he shows himself to be as flawed as any of us?”
“I am not the best person to look to for wisdom,” Loki admitted, moving toward him, treading carefully. He touched his face with light fingertips. “But you should look to yourself for that. It’s always existed in you.”
Thor studied his face, and Loki knew that he still did not quite believe that he didn’t intend the outcome they had. He gripped his wrist, squeezing almost too hard. “Will you help me end this?”
Loki looked at the floor between them for a moment, then met Thor’s eyes again. He would never be the warrior that Thor was, but he certainly had a skill set unlike any others. “I will give you my best.”
Aite was furious. That was probably an understatement, because Aite wanted to tear the world apart.
She had been cast from Mount Olympus – again – and she was currently in the process of roaming the earth, sowing disaster and dismay wherever she lighted. No one could stop her. No one dared. Three months into the war, and even the mortals on Earth knew a god when they saw one.
Two sects of mortals had clashed in Britain, rising up in the names of their gods. While the Celtic pantheon was not at all involved in the war, and had openly denounced their neighbors to the north and south, the mortals that worshipped them, or whose ancestors had worshipped them, were stepping up to declare their allegiance, or to just defy the gods whose war was wreaking havoc on the western world.
It was with glee that Aite realized if the war continued at its current speed and savagery, the whole world would soon be involved. Perhaps, if she was very lucky, the other pantheons would descend from their perches in the heavens to aid those who showed their devotion.
But she was not pleased right now, because she was in Cardiff, where battle was heaviest. She had planned to sow some minor discord between the warriors of that army which fought in order to preserve the rights to religious freedom and peace between the gods, in order to diminish their opportunities to end the violence.
What she found instead was that the weapons of both armies involved had been utterly destroyed, made useless and inconsequential by missing pieces and lacking ammunition. The soldiers were dismayed, and confused, unaware of the equal uselessness of their enemies. A hostile, hesitant peace had been declared there, for the time being, seeing as weaponry was difficult to come by when nations and kingdoms were fighting amongst themselves as well as against their enemies.
It was obvious who was responsible.
She found Loki near the northern coast of Wales, in the easy, light dress of someone accustomed to cold weather. He was listening to a young soldier play the bagpipes on the pavement near the beach, the mournful tones falling flat against the high winds coming off the sea.
“That is a hateful sound,” Aite declared, glowering at the young man. “The Celts have always had the strangest sense of beauty.”
Loki hummed, non-committal. “I am rather fond of it,” he said quietly. “It is the cry made for all lost warriors and loved ones. No other instrument will ever come so close to expressing utter despair.”
“Hm. Despair is a pathetic emotion.” She climbed the rocks, up to where Loki perched high above the crashing waves of the water. “It is utterly human. Caring so deeply for someone only leaves you wretched.”
“Yes,” Loki agreed lightly, his tone even. He met her eyes, his own clear. “And caring for no one leaves you pathetic.”
Aite’s rage bubbled under her skin, and her hand closed around his throat, pinning him back. “Why have you sabotaged my every trick?” she demanded in a hiss, hovering over him. “Why won’t you let me have my war?”
Loki sucked in calm breaths around her tightening hand, his elbows holding him up away from the unforgiving pressure of stone at his back. He smiled wryly. “Being a trickster god has its different uses, wouldn’t you say?” he wheezed out. “If we all behaved as we expect each other to behave, no one would fall for our little jokes.”
Aite pushed him back with an annoyed growl, straightening. “You helped me begin this war.”
“Yes.” Loki rubbed his throat. “And I intend to help end it.”
“I do not wish it to end.”
“I do not end it for you.”
“Oh, I see.” She sneered. “You end it for Thor. You, his loyal dog, defending your master with all your gifts, though he would not wield his in your defense.”
Loki’s eyes go from liquid to ice. “You know nothing of Thor.”
“No, indeed. I see not why you care for him. I will make you both understand that you should not make an enemy of me.”
“I do not wish to be your enemy.” Loki sat forward, hooking his elbows over his knees. “But I also feel no desire to participate in war. It is tedious, and dull. Humans do not like tricks when their lives are at stake. I grow bored of laughing alone. Don’t you?”
Aite’s eyes swirled dark, like black smoke. “I shall laugh as loudly as I please when they have all fallen,” she swore. “And they will rue the day they cast me out.”
She stalked off, heels clipping sharp along the pavement. Across the beach, the young soldier’s song faltered and died away. The bagpipes lay broken at his feet.
Chaos hit the States more quickly than anyone might have anticipated. More than half of the country claims to have no faith at all and yet, a twenty-first century Crusades broke out throughout the major cities less than five months into this divine war. It started in Chicago, and spread outward to the west and then to the east, and Tony, Steve and Bruce agreed it was best that they return to the U.S. to attempt to recover the peace there before the military decided to get involved.
That left Clint and Natasha leading SHIELD in an attempt to keep fighting at bay across Europe. Thor appeared occasionally, but they were moving around so much, it was difficult to say when they would meet, or if Thor could find them.
Right now, they were stationed in Brussels, and were getting to sit down for the first time in two days. Natasha unzipped her boots and kicked them off, flexing her toes and rolling her ankles. She took several deep breaths, eyes closed.
Clint perched on the window seat of their hotel room, peering out into the street. A car was on fire half a block down. In the street, someone had spray-painted, “All bow before Zeus!” in red paint. He sighed and looked over at Natasha.
“We haven’t heard from Thor, have we?”
“Not since last week.” Natasha drew her legs up onto the bed, leaned her chin in her hand, her elbow on her knee. They haven’t seen each other in five days. Clint had volunteered for a mission to break up a group of soldiers calling themselves “The Olympians” that were squatting in an abandoned building in Vienna. It took less time than expected. Clint only had to kill one of them. “Loki got in contact three days ago. Aite’s been spotted in the U.K., and he was going to try to draw her out there, to see what her plans were. I haven’t had any updates though.”
Clint pressed his lips together, eyebrows drawn down. “How do we know we can trust Loki?” he said quietly. “After everything that went down?”
Natasha shrugged elegantly. “Thor trusts him,” she offered. “He said he’s changed. That he has more to offer us now than we’ll find anywhere else.”
“What if he’s deceiving Thor as well?”
“I don’t think we have a choice but to trust him right now. He’s the only one who knows what Aite is thinking.”
An explosion rocked the building. Car alarms started wailing close by. Natasha was already pulling her boots back on. Clint slung his quiver onto his back, snapping his bow into place. “Well, it doesn’t matter right now anyway. We just need to keep them from killing each other.”
Natasha followed him out of the room at a brisk, clipping walk, snapping a round into her gun. “Yeah, let’s not give the gods the satisfaction of behaving exactly as they expect us to.”