I don’t know how, but Ares’ words reach me clearly in the hubbub. “This is wrong. Not supposed to happen. I can’t bleed.”
The idiot. He’ll die. For real.
No, I’m the idiot. I should have known this was a stupid idea. He’s not from our pantheon, not a Valkyrie, and not dead. No reason the rules of Valhalla should apply to him.
“Tilje,” he cries, and I’m beside him in a heartbeat.
“Stop.” My voice bounces off nonexistent walls, and it works. The fighters freeze in place, allowing me to drag Ares out from under the dead body pinned to his sword. As I lay him on damp patch of soil and press my hands to the wound on his side, I call for Odin. “Please save him, Allfather,” I scream. Can he hear me? Will he reach us in time?
Of course he can. He’s a god.
His expression shows concern when he appears before me, but his single pale-blue eye sparkles. “I did not think he would be in any danger. He never was before.”
“He doesn’t have his powers back yet.” Keeping recrimination from sliding into my voice takes more effort than I’m willing to put into it.
“Right.” Odin snaps his fingers, and Ares is no longer on the ground beside us. “He is in his cabin. You had better tend to his wound. He will make a complete recovery, but he has to stay in bed for the next couple of days.”
“Why aren’t you healing him?” My voice is shrill to my ears, but I’m beyond caring. Odin can’t see outside Valhalla, but he must have seen Ares, being in danger, as sure as he saw him recovering completely. Why keep him here? Why invite him to the fight?
Odin shrugs. “It is as it must be. Go, child. Your destiny awaits.”
“What destiny?” I ask thin air, because Odin’s gone too. “What destiny?” I yell at the sky masking Valhalla’s roof.
I kick at the dirt, barely refraining from running as I make my way to Ares’ cabin. He’ll be all right. Odin may be a schemer and master manipulator, but he’s never been a liar—that I know of.
The closer I get to the cabin, the more I pick up my pace. Will Ares be bleeding till I get to him? Will he think I abandoned him?
Stupid thing to worry about. He has no expectations of me. Isn’t even thinking of me right now. He has more important things to worry about, like staying alive. Ugh.
I throw his door open and hurry inside. He’s spread out on a bench that wasn’t here when we left. The pallor of his skin is as horrible as the rattling that accompanies his every breath. I hurry to his side and press my hand to the gaping wound, frantically searching the room with my gaze for anything that can help him. I need hot water and clean rags, to wash his wound, and then something to bandage it with. Should I use some ointment or a potion? Freya help me, I’ve been taught how to do this, but it’s never been needed till now. And the blood keeps seeping between my fingers.
“Freya can’t come to your aid, since she’s been gone for the past few hundred years, but I’m here.”
I look up, blood-sleeked hand on my hilt.
Loki is leaning against the wall, arms crossed and a dark eyebrow shooting for the hairline. “Odin said you might need these.” He tilts his head toward me, and a table materializes beside me. On top of it appear a basin of steaming-hot water and a pile of stark-white pieces of cloth.
“Thank you.” I soak the first rag in the water and use it to gently wipe Ares’ stomach clean. When I soak the cloth in water again, the surface turns red for a heartbeat, before clearing.
Loki approaches us, hands behind his back, and studies Ares as if he’s an insect. “He looks exactly like I remember.” He hums. “And is apparently still as dense as a brick wall. At least he’s hot.”
The need to take Ares’ side bubbles up my throat. “He didn’t know he could get killed.” But Odin did. Did Loki?
“He didn’t ask, either. Always the jump-in-first-ask-questions-later type.”
I snort. “You’re one to talk.” I wouldn’t make such a remark to any other god—of this pantheon—but Loki always brings out this snarky side of me, and he seems to enjoy it too.
“I don’t need to think of consequences, because I always have an exit plan,” he says with a deep bow.
Usually, after a witty comeback would be when he blinked out of sight, but he straightens and produces a small container. “Ibuprofen. Human creation. Good for fighting pain. They have stronger stuff, too, but he won’t need them.”
I take the container gingerly, afraid he’ll snatch it away. I pop open the lid and look inside. White capsules, like large seeds. Painkillers. The word pops in my brain, and now I know he should take two with some water… which magically appears in a cup beside me.
“The table is based on an idea I may have stolen from the Greeks.” Loki waves dismissively. “It’ll produce anything you desire.”
“Can it get me some tsikoudia?” Ares rasps.
My heart jumps in my chest. He’s talking. He must be feeling better. And this tsikoudia thing is a very strong alcoholic drink from Crete. Not sure I love the way information pops up in my head, but it’s useful. “You shouldn’t be taking these with alcohol.” I hold two capsules—pills—to his mouth, and he swallows them dry.
Groaning, he sort of rolls toward me and reaches for the tumbler of clear liquid that now sits beside the basin.
“Hey,” I say.
He ignores me and pours the drink on his chest. “Fuck.” He drops onto his back again, and the tumbler slips from his fingers and shatters on the floor.
Was this a mobility issue? Did he miss his mouth, or—?
“It’s to disinfect the wound,” Loki says. “Unnecessary, since his healing will be kicking in any moment now, but like I said, he’s lucky he’s hot.”
“Who’s this fucker?” Ares’ voice is marginally stronger.
“It speaks,” Loki says mockingly. “I’m the god of mischief. Ring a bell?”
“Tinker Bell?” Ares asks.
I don’t know who that is, but Loki must, because he harrumphs. “And to think I wanted to help you. I should take my painkillers and go.”
“Loki, wait.” Ares half-raises an arm, before it falls to his side. “My brothers. Tell them I’m okay, or they’ll come looking for me.”
“You call that okay?” Loki asks with a chuckle.
“They won’t be coming as friends.” Ares’ voice sounds grave.
Only three Olympians against our numbers isn’t much of a threat, but with the balance at stake, we can’t afford to make enemies of them.
“I’ll go,” I say. “They know me.”
“No.” He curls his hand around my wrist, and his palm is cold and clammy. “Don’t leave me.”
How can I, when he sounds so desolate? My heart demands I stay by his side.
Not my heart. This is my sense of duty, turning my hand in Ares’ loose hold, to caress his inner arm. “All right. I’m not going anywhere. Loki will talk to them.” And hopefully not annoy them to the point of declaring war against us.
“Tell Sei it’s all about the chase. He’ll know I sent you.” Ares’ eyes flutter shut.
“Lovely. A code phrase,” Loki grumbles. “I don’t even get to know what message I’m relegating. Might be telling them to kill the messenger.” The next moment, he’s gone.
And I’m left alone with an unconscious Olympian. A remarkably clean unconscious Olympian. His long, dark hair looks and smells freshly washed, and the harness and pants are spotless. Did Loki do this? Or was it the table?
I look at the table. “Can you produce something to carry his large frame to bed?” The bench can’t possibly be comfortable.
Unsurprisingly, Ares doesn’t magically sprout wheels.
I’ll find a way to move him, but first, I need something to bind his chest with. As modern-day bandages pop up on the table, I start unfastening the harness from around his torso. His wound has finally stopped oozing, and I wipe all remnants of blood from his skin before covering it with gauze. I need to wrap the bandage around him. This would be so much easier if he came to, but he’s unresponsive while I wedge the roll of gauze beneath him two, then three times. Thankfully, his breathing is steady and color is returning to his skin.
I secure the end of the bandage in place, folding it neatly under the last couple layers. There. It’ll be okay, as long as he doesn’t move much.
And of course Ares chooses this exact moment to open his eyes and sit up.
I grasp his upper arm. He’s marginally warmer. More room temperature than… dead. “Hey. Careful. You’ll reopen the wound,” I say.
“Doesn’t hurt much anymore.” And he no longer sounds like he has one foot in the grave.
Still, there’s a red spot on the bandage, and I don’t want it to grow any wider. He can’t stay here, though. “Can you walk the few steps to the bed?”
I take his grunt as a yes and sling his arm across my shoulders.
Leaning some of his weight on me, he makes it off the bench and to the bed. He drops on it more carelessly than I’d like, but there’s no more bleeding as I help him stretch out and tuck him in under the furs. I should probably go. He’ll be fine on his own. Sleep it off.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
Eh, I’ll go in a few. I can stay here, with him, for a while. Make sure he doesn’t need anything.
I unbuckle my belt and lay it and my sword on the bench, then perch at the edge of the bed and lace my fingers together in my lap.
Hey, I’m remarkably clean too. No blood on my fingers or under my nails. I lift my skirt to check my boots, and there’s no hint of dirt on them or under their soles. Awesome. I kick them off and shift to prop my legs up on the bed. There. This is more comfortable.
I lean against the headboard, but my breastplate digs into my stomach. I could take it off. Not like someone will attack me in here. I undo the fastenings and leave it on the floor beside me. Ah, much better.
Now I’ll stick around till I’m sure Ares is deep asleep, and then I’ll go check if Loki is back. Assuming the Olympians didn’t kick his ass, he should be; unlike me, he travels with the speed of thought.
It’s so quiet in here. And the furs beneath me are soft and inviting.
My eyes sting. I haven’t slept in forever.
Sleep is for the weak.