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Loki – Family Ties

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The fleeting triumphant smile was already gone from his face when he turned back. He let Greg fondle the watch, and stood leaning against a wall while the man was inspecting the coveted piece closely, holding it next to his own, rubbing a finger over the glass, his lips pursed in a careful pretense of indecision.


Finally he asked, “So … how much?”


Not batting an eye, Loki named half the amount he had seen displayed in the jeweller’s window.


“Holy shit!” Greg shook his head violently, but was still clutching the watch.


“It is new,” Loki said. “It even is legal.”


“That’s too much, man,” Greg said, who didn’t seem to consider legality much of an issue. His voice whiney, he continued, “I’m not making that kind of money.”


Without further negotiatins, Loki held out his hand, but Greg still couldn’t part with the watch.


“Aww, man,” he said, licking his lips, “give me a break, won’t you? I’ve always sold you the good stuff, didn’t I?”


“Okay,” smiled Loki. “ten percent off, and you throw in a pound of the weed.”


“One pound!” Greg was exasperated. “That’s robbery!”


It took them almost ten more minutes to come to an agreement, every second of them grating on Loki’s nerves even though he seemed perfectly at ease, with all the time in the world. But eventually Greg disappeared into a dark doorway for a moment, to return with a substantial roll of bills, and a small plastic bag. Loki handed him the watch in exchange, one eyebrow lifting skeptically as he hefted the bag in his hand. Then, with a shrug and half a grin, he left Greg on the sidewalk, lost in admiration of his newly adorned wrist.


Loki just walked as far as the nearest corner, and there stepped up to a vacant store with a dust smeared and cracked mirror in the doorway. He looked left and right to make sure nobody was watching, and disappeared into the mirror.


He used the same restroom mirror in the abandoned factory he had used in the morning, and soon he was back on the fire escape stairs. Grabbing his cigarettes on the way, he ran down the iron stairs and strode up to the group of vans, just when the two girls who had been listening to him and Nseri earlier, came out of the make-up van. They were wearing everyday clothes now – the production clearly had wrapped for the day. They were giving him sour looks, disappointed that he didn’t stand Nseri up after her outrageous demands, but before anybody could say anything, the door opened again, and Nseri stood there in the dimming light of the pale after-sunset sky.


Loki smiled when he saw her; she was wearing a slim red silk dress, deceptively simple, the low neckline showing a creamy expanse of cleavage, the skirt slit halfway up her thigh, emphasizing her long, satiny legs. Over her shoulder she wore the same bag she had been toting at Anya’s, but instead of the flat sandals she was now wearing high heels the same red as the dress.


Her gaze flitted over the scene and found Loki immediately, a wide smile lighting up her face, mirroring his own, with added satisfaction in seeing him on time and waiting for her. She clattered down the steps from the van, took his arm, and said blithely, “I am so hungry!”


He laughed. Now that she was wearing heels, their eyes were almost at the same level; she was still wearing the make-up of her last shot, green eye shadow giving her smokey eyes, enhancing the green in the hazel of her iris, and bronze lipstick accentuating her sensuous mouth.


“Do you have a car?”, she asked, and pouted when he said, “Nope.” But whatever she was about to say in comment remained unsaid as Loki stopped a conveniently passing taxi with one ear-splitting whistle.


She tripped past her colleagues without wasting a glance on them, and got into the backseat of the car, showing a lot of leg in the process. Loki was an appreciative, if rather amused audience. For the duration of the short ride to the restaurant, Nseri was busy rummaging in her bag, not taking any notice of Loki as he was sitting and watching her. When the car turned into the street where the restaurant was, she finally found what she had been looking for, and extricated it from the depths of her bag with the delighted smile of a cat who had just managed to hook the fat mouse – a necklace, the big glittering drops of paste dripping from her fingers in the glow of the street lights as she held it up.


Loki raised his brows.


“I take it you’ve nicked that from the stylist,” he said with no censure whatsoever in his voice. She just smiled widely, and lifted both hands to put the necklace on. Fumbling with the catch, she finally turned around in her seat, asking, “Do you mind?”, and Loki leaned over to fasten the clasp, his fingers lingering on the silky skin of her neck for a moment.


Then the car had stopped in front of Tabula Rasa, and Nseri was out in the street, impatiently tapping her heel while Loki was paying the cabbie.

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Tabula Rasa was one of the currently chic places in town, and the only one without a dress code – which was fortunate, as Loki hadn’t even thought of that particular detail. As it was, the hostess didn’t bat an eye as he told her that he had booked a table; there were other guests in casual attire, mingling with those more formally dressed. When they were following the waiter to the table, Nseri whispered, “A-List? You booked this under the agency’s name?”


Loki shrugged with a grin, and then they sat down at a table for two, prominently positioned to show off the guests to maximum effect. The maître d’ was well aware of the fact that everybody wined and dined by The A-List was either beautiful or important – and either way an asset on display for a place like Tabula Rasa.


The open space of the restaurant was furnished with simple tables and comfortable but unimposing chairs, dark wood and dark red upholstery before exposed brick walls; the bare windows framing the busy street, the sidewalks teeming with the evening crowd. Every table was holding a long-stemmed candelabrum with white candles, the bright white table linen pooling with honey soft light.


The waiter placed tastefully designed menues before them, and Nseri pushed hers away immediately, and beamed at Loki, saying, “You order. I love surprises.”


He shot her a speculative look; then, with a smile, asked, “So – how hungry are you?”


“I am very, very hungry,” she replied earnestly, and the waiter, not used to this kind of statement from fashionable young ladies associated with model agencies, had to work hard to keep his face discreetly unmoved.


His smile did blossom eventually, though, when Loki proceded to order a substantial meal composed of three starters, soup, two main courses and an assortment of desserts both for himself and the young lady. In addition, he cheerfully went along with all the waiter’s suggestions for the wines to accompany this lavish repast, and it was clear that he was prepared to spend a handsome sum this evening. Quite elated, the waiter disappeared in direction of the dark red lacquered double winged doors leading into the kitchen, and Loki, who had kept one of the menus, pushed it in Nseri’s direction, indicating something on the open page.


“I ordered this,” he said, “I hope you’re going to like it.”


Fleetingly, she looked down at the menu, and then said with a smile, “I am sure I will.”


Without comment he closed the menu. The page he had shown her was telling of Tabula Rasa’s history, and didn’t contain any dishes. At one point he would have to take a closer look at his lovely companion’s rather colourful bag of properties and deficiencies …


Meanwhile the companion in question had been looking around her with interest, and said, “This is a nice place.”


“You haven’t been here before?” asked Loki. “What made you pick it, then?”


“The girls were raving about it, and said they couldn’t afford it,” she replied with a wide grin.


“Ah.” Loki laughed, charmed with her gamine qualities and the outright way she displayed them. He watched her as she sat looking around, her hazel eyes wide with excitement. She seemed so very young, suddenly …


More out of curiosity than worry, he asked, “How old are you, Nseri?”


She flicked a glance at him, her mouth puckering into a sly smile.


“I am legal,” she replied offhand, making him laugh again.


“Legal for what?”, he teased. “Getting a driver’s license? Drinking? Being out of doors in the dark without your Mommy?


The smile still on her lips, but with the shade of something new behind it, she leaned across the table and put a hand on his arm.


“Compared to you,” she murmured, “I am probably middle-aged.”


Loki’s brows shot up, and he retorted, “Oh really.”


But before he could elaborate, Nseri, looking closer at his face, asked, “Where did that nasty scratch go you had on your face yesterday?”


Loki blinked, remembering the cool fingers of the dream he had had last night while sitting on a hard bench in one of the the darker corners of the public waiting room; the touch of soft lips, the sweet scent of camomille. He did not intend to mix that dream and the current situation, so he just shrugged and said, “It wasn’t as bad as it probably looked.”


Her hazel eyes skeptical and curious, Nseri reached up and ran a slow and caressing hand from his cheekbone to his jaw, saying, “It was a bloody pulp. How did you get it to heal so fast?”


“Never mind,” Loki said with some finality, and then the waiter came with the starters, and nobody could keep discussing overnight healing with lobster, satéed duck, and truffled pasta on the table. With almost identical smiles on their faces, both Loki and the girl started to eat, and over the next two hours or so, conversation was mostly about food, with a little agency gossip thrown in as they joyfully demolished the delicious and very opulent meal Loki had ordered.


Intrigued by their unsophisticated but very refreshing enthusiasm, the waiter noticed that the beauty was holding her own – her plates went back to the kitchen just as empty as the gentleman’s, and a couple of times he saw her nick something from his share of the feast, even. He also noticed how she was surreptitiously watching her companion, imitating his use of cutlery and glasses. She was very adroit about it, but she clearly hadn’t spent much time in this kind of restaurant before.


Finally, when the last raspberry cream tartlet and the last cup of espresso had been taken care of, Loki earned himself even more of the waiter’s respect when he didn’t bat an eye at the check, and added a substantial tip, too. At that time of the night the young lady was in a very giggly mood, not surprisingly, considering the amount of wine that had gone with the food. She was swaying a little on her heels when she got up from her chair, and the gentleman, who in recent weeks had been dining in the company of Ms Anya Rostropova, the owner of the A-List agency, put an arm around that lovely silk-clad waist, and led the young lady to the door.


The waiter sighed soulfully. He was a sentimental man, and even though he suspected that Ms Rostropova would not be very happy about this development, these two were such an amazingly beautiful couple …


He silently wished them lucky, and went to ring in the tip.



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“Uh-oh …”


Nseri giggled. “I don’t think I can walk anywhere at all,” she said. “Let’s take a cab.”


Loki laughed, and raised a hand to flag down one of the cabs out of the stream of late traffic. Nseri was hanging on his arm, indeed a little less than sure on her high-heeled feet. Holding the door for her – again – he asked, “Where do you want for us to go now, then?”


He was taking for granted that they were going together; they way she had been clinging to him just now was a little too intimate to precede a sudden good-bye, even giving the lady’s whims.


The lady smiled widely, and told the driver, “The Hotel Rimbaud.”


Loki’s brows shot up.


“A hotel?” he asked. She beamed at him and nodded her head. Then she said in a confidential tone, “I guess Nick is at my place, packing, and I suspect the girls will be, too, and they are all of them angry with me.”


“So you’d rather not go there tonight.”


Smiling impishly, she said, “I’d rather not go back there at all. It’s a dump.”


His brows still up, Loki asked, “And your stuff?”


“I don’t have much stuff, anyway,” Nseri shrugged. “As soon as I pick up my check from the agency, I am going to go and buy new clothes.” Her eyes wide in pleasant anticipation, she added, “I love clothes.”


Regarding her with an indulgent smile, Loki said, “The Rimbaud then, huh? I can see you’re all about the big things tonight.”


She threw him a provocative look through her lashes and purred, “Oh, am I? We’ll see about that, shall we …”


“We shall indeed,” he gave back, pulling her close so he was looking down into her face from only inches away. Her hazel eyes returned his look openly, and she reached up to put one hand in the nape of his neck, drawing him down. Her lips opened under his kiss, and starting slow and tentative, the kiss grew more demanding as it lasted.


It lasted until the cabbie eventually cleared his throat, and announced, “The Hotel Rimbaud.”




The Hotel Rimbaud was a small, very exclusive, and hence immensely expensive place occupying the former private home of a wealthy family whose last member had expired in the early 1920s, leaving the place stocked with every luxury imaginable at that time. It had been carefully converted into a place for those travellers who shunned the crowds, and had enough money to pay for privacy, elegance, and first class service.


The cosy and discreetly lit lobby was deserted as they crossed to the reception desk, and they were lucky to find the place not booked to capacity. The desk clerk was far too well-trained to question the fact that neither of the late arrivals had any luggage. He trusted his own insight into human nature enough to be reasonably sure that even though they were probably not married, and were not really the kind of guests the Hotel Rimbaud normally catered to, they were not going to be an embarrassment, either. He permitted himself the assumption that they were artists – actors, perhaps? They were certainly better-looking than the average guests – on a tryst, with unsuspecting spouses somewhere. There certainly was nothing of a working girl about the young lady, even though there was an almost palpable sensuality about the situation.


The immensely discreet bill the gentleman slipped under the registration form in a way that made it possible to both notice and ignore it at the same time, was helpful in postponing any formalities until the next morning. It was, of course, a little unusual that the gentleman paid for the room in cash, but then – so many curious wives, so little time to enjoy life, so embarrassingly detailed credit card bills … who was he to grudge anyone a little hard-won pleasure? As long as the decorum remained unsullied, there was no need to be a nuisance.


With a smile he handed the key to the gentleman – no common plastic keycards for The Hotel Rimbaud, thank you so much! – and watched them walk across the red plush carpet of the small lobby to the ancient brass elevator. Such a beautiful couple


He sighed with an almost avuncular smile.



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In the elevator, Nseri was looking wide-eyed at the key with the small hardwood tag.


“Wasn’t that very expensive?”, she asked, her voice hushed in awe.


“It was,” Loki said with a laugh, tossing the key up and catching it right in front of Nseri’s nose.


“You must have quite a lot of money to care so little about it,” she mused, and Loki snorted.


“I am sorry to burst that bubble,” he said, “but I have no money at all.”


The hazel eyes widened.


“But – the dinner? And this room?”


He grinned, tossing the key again.


“That is precisely why I do not have any money”, said Loki.


“Oh!” It took her a moment to digest this, but she seemed rather intrigued.


“Don’t you mind spending it all on me?” she inquired, her eyes on his face.


“Not at all,” Loki said, and opened the door. With one hand in the small of her back, he led her out of the elevator into a cream and gold hallway. After a glance at the key, he said, “It’s room 205,” and staying half a step behind, he let Nseri go first.


There were only a few doors off the corridor, the numbers in highly polished brass letters ranging from 201 to 206. When Nseri reached the wall at the end, she stood looking a question at Loki, and smiling, and with an arrested look in his eyes, he said, “No, not 206 – 205.”


He turned to the door they had already passed, inserted the key and opened, saying, “You can’t read, can you?”


If he had thought that this would give her pause, he was mistaken. With the most fleeting of glances, she shrugged, saying, “Did you come here to have me read to you?”, and then she tripped past him into the big room, and when Loki flicked the light switch, she squealed with delight.


The spacious room had a dark hardwood floor that was probably the original one, with several carpets in shades of red, and the walls were covered in something looking like cream silk. The furniture was cherry wood upholstered in dark red velvet; the canvases on the walls, rather modern in contrast, added a few splashes of strong colours. There were two comfortable armchairs and a couch in front of a fireplace complete with a mantle in black marble, and a half open door on the left side of the room revealed a glimpse of a luxurious bathroom in white and blue.


The main feature of the room, though, was the huge four-poster bed hung with gauzy cream curtains, the bed linens a rich honey colour, offset by the glowing gold of the bedspread, with one corner turned down invitingly.


With another squeal, Nseri kicked off her high heels and ran across the floor to jump on the bed, where she was bouncing up and down, beaming at the room in general, and Loki in particular. Pleased with how things were proceeding, he abandoned all thoughts of her illiteracy for the moment, laughed, and shut the door, stating with satisfaction, “You like it.”


“It is wonderful,” she trilled. “Look at this bed! It is huge!”


She stopped bouncing and sat down, gracefully folding her legs under her. The room was the perfect frame for her red dress, the vibrant colour set off by the symphony of warm tones like a ruby mounted in gold. Now she pointed at the nightstand, crowing, “Look! Chocolates!”


There was indeed a tasteful arrangement of a few truffles on a small porcelain plate on each of the tables, and Nseri picked one, and popped it into her mouth.


“You can still eat?” Regarding her with amused indulgence, Loki took off his leather jacket and threw it on one of the armchairs.


“I think I can always eat chocolate,” Nseri nodded seriously, making him laugh again.


“You are such a baby,” he said, coming over to the bed.


“Do you think so?” She got up on her knees, reaching out to grab his hand and pull him closer until he was standing right before her, looking down into her face with a slight frown.


“Didn’t I tell you,” Nseri said, “that I am much older than you?” She lifted his hand and put it against her face, leaning into it like a kitten craving a caress.


“I do not believe everything you say,” Loki gave back, but the smile was back on his face. “I really am too old to be gullible, you know.”


He framed her face with his hands, and putting one knee on the bed, bent his head to kiss her, a slow, lingering kiss that had her purring like a cat. He could feel her hands on his bare skin, from his stomach to his chest, pushing up his t-shirt. With one fast movement he pulled the shirt over his head and dropped it, and Nseri wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his chest, breathing in his scent with a delighted sigh. Then she let herself fall back on the bed, pulling Loki with her, and on the silken bedspread the soft gold of his skin and the matte black of his jeans allowed only a sliver of the bright red of her dress to show as he lay on top of her, their faces only an inch apart.


Then they were sinking into another kiss, a harder kiss now; Loki was pushing his boots off his feet while one of Nseri’s long legs was wrapping itself around his hips, and he reached back to run a hand along its smooth silky length. He could feel her body arching up under him, pressing into him, and she gasped into their kiss.


Loki got up on one elbow, saying huskily, “Let’s get this dress off you …”


Pulling on his shoulder, trying to urge him back into a kiss, Nseri whispered, “Just rip it …”


With a shout of laughter Loki was on his knees. Registering in the back of his mind that it was rather weird to be sensible in this particular moment, he said, “Oh no – I don’t have enough money left to fund a shopping spree, especially not if you stick to your expensive habits. I probably wouldn’t even have enough for the kind of tip it would take to make the doorman overlook the fact that you are leaving in one of the Rimbaud’s doubtlessly superior bathrobes in the morning.”


Nseri giggled, and momentarily giving up her attempts for another kiss, she allowed him to roll her over so that he could get at the zipper in the back of the red dress.

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He pulled it down, and did so slowly, watching her skin goosebump in delight as his fingertip was brushing down the whole length of her back. Then he peeled the red dress away from her body, and bent over her to kiss her shoulderblades, and the smooth groove of her spine between the velvety columns of firm flesh. Nseri wriggled to free her arms of the dress, and Loki pushed it further down until she raised her hips, and he could pull it off completely.


As he did so, Nseri heard the sharp intake of his breath and smiled – there was no underwear to interrupt the smooth perfection of her body. She watched him over her shoulder as he dropped the dress unseeing to the floor – he was kneeling before her prone body, her creamy skin glowing on the golden silk, his eyes following his hands as he softly and carefully followed every dip and swell of her, worshipping the beauty before him in silence.


Finally his fingers were framing the green leaf tattoo in the small of her back; his voice husky, he said softly, “That is a very beautiful tattoo. I’ve never seen one like it.”


Her lips curling into a smile, Nseri said, “Oh, you still haven’t. It’s not a tattoo at all, you know. I was born with it.”


“What?” His seagreen eyes flickered up to her face for a glance, and returned to the leaf. “Yeah, sure.” He ran his fingers lightly over the leaf; she cold feel the heat off his hand rather than the touch of it.


“It is true,” she insisted. “I have inherited it from my mother.”


Smiling, Loki shook his head, and bent to brush his lips over the delicate green veins – they seemed to tremble under his touch as Nseri shivered in delight. Then the leaf moved away as she turned round to face him, and she pulled him down on her again, whispering, “Don’t you remember my mother?”


It was a strange moment. His mind filled entirely with the sensation of the warm, sensual and beautiful creature in his arms, Loki had no room for anything but his desire, and the certainty that this desire was about to find fulfilment. But as little as he was able or willing to process what she was saying – there was something like an alarm bell shrilling somewhere real close, maybe even in his own head.


Before he could try and think, Nseri continued in a soft and tender voice strangely at odds with what she was saying, “She told me all about you, and she was right … I am glad I came here to find you.”


Her hands in his hair, she pulled him again into a kiss; then she reached down to try and take off his jeans. But as if the sound of the zipper had finally managed to pierce the haze, Loki rolled away from her; lying on his side, he pushed himself up on his elbow, and staring at Nseri he said, “What? Wait.”


He grabbed her wrists with his free hand as she kept trying to undress him.


“Wait!”, he repeated, louder. His eyes turbulent and bewildered, he asked, “Your mother? What are you saying?”


Nseri’s lips twisted into a new smile, a cat-and-mouse smile; she said, a giggle in her voice, “Oh! You don’t remember her! She is not going to like that.”


There was a sharp crease between Loki’s eyes when he growled, “Why do you think I’d know your mother?”


Nseri laughed out loud, but she kept her eyes on him when she replied, “Oh, I am quite sure you know her, Loki. You might not remember, but you must have been really close, at least once …”


A long pause as Loki’s eyes suddenly grew silent and opaque, and Nseri watched from under her lashes, the smile still curling the corners of her mouth. Then the grip on her wrists slackened, and Loki whispered, “What do you mean, at least once …?”


“Well,” she explained, in the overly patient voice used when speaking to someone with a slow grasp, “it takes at least once to get a woman with child, doesn’t it? That is the same across all the nine worlds.”


One of her hands sneaked out, but when she touched the bare skin over Loki’s waistband, he yelled, “Stop that!”, and was out of the bed in a flash. Standing before her, just out of her reach, he asked, “You have a sibling I sired on your mother?”


“No,” Nseri beamed, “I am an only child.”


His face draining of all blood, he whispered, “What?”


“It is really simple,” she said helpfully. “I am the child you sired on my mother.”



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There was a sudden and resounding silence filling the room, and the warmth seemed to leak out of the colours as Loki stared into those hazel eyes.


“Don’t you feel well?” Nseri asked anxiously, eyeing Loki with growing worry. “Do you think it was the food? Perhaps you should sit down …”


“It wasn’t the bloody food!”, Loki roared, coming back to life with a vengeance, anger bringing some colour back into his face. “Who is your mother?”


Throwing him a dirty look, the girl folded her arms and said sullenly, “No reason to yell at me.”


Breathing carefully, trying hard to calm down, Loki bent down to pick up his t-shirt. He pulled it over his head, pulled up the zipper on his jeans, and then, avoiding to look directly at the naked girl on the bed, the memory of the warm velvet of her skin still alive on his fingertips, he said in as calm a voice as he could muster, “Who is your mother, Nseri? I do not remember anyone called Isla …”


She sighed with impatience. “Why are you getting dressed?”, she complained, ignoring his question, her brows knitting into a deep frown of disappoinment and growing irritation.


“Tell me who your mother is,” he repeated, and picking up one corner of the bedspread, he threw it over her, so that only her head and shoulders remained visible. Nseri sat up with an exasperated gasp, and the heavy silk was fraiming her naked torso, pooling around her hips in concentric golden waves.


“What is wrong with you?”, she asked. “A minute ago you wanted me. Well, I can see that you still do! This is so stupid. If I had known you’d be like this I’d never told you.”


“Who. Is. Your. Mother.”


Loki’s eyes were thunder and lightning now, his voice rough with the strain he was putting on it not to yell again.


The girl rolled her eyes.


“Oh well, if that is what it takes to bring you back to your senses …” she muttered. “You met her on an island. You came there on a boat – a sailboat. She wanted you from the moment she first saw you, and she always gets what she wants …”


Seeing Loki’s bewildered expression, she sighed.


“She is an earth spirit. The spirit of tha particular island. Her name isn’t Isla – I made that up to have a last name, you see? She doesn’t have a name – she just is. She is the island, and the island is her, so I thought Isla was making some sense …”


Something sparked in the depths of his eyes, and she smiled.


“There! You do remember.”


Loki jerked his head as if he was trying to free himself from cobwebs.


“Yes, I remember,” he said, his voice carrying irritation and confusion in equal parts. “But that is nonsense, and you know it. I was on that island …” – she could see how he was trying to focus and calculate – “two years ago? Three? So maybe she is your mother, and maybe she did tell you about me. Maybe I even did get her with child that day – but if I did, that child would be no more than two years old now, if that. And you are what? Twenty-two? Twenty-five? Even if she is your mother – you definitely haven’t been born out of that encounter.”


His frown darkened when Nseri, genuinely amused, trilled a laugh.


“Loki, dearest,” she teased, “you really have been spending to much time around humans – you started to believe in numbers. What makes you think my mother’s life – or mine – does run according to human clocks? A human child, that is true, would probably still be in diapers now, but you of all people should know that time has its own measure in each world. Trust me – in my mother’s world there was enough time to bear a daughter, and raise her, teaching her all she needed to know.”

She eyed Loki speculatively.


“One of the things she told me was that you had given her more pleasure than anything or anyone else. That is why I came to find you.”


He didn’t move, his turbulent eyes fixed on her face.


“Will you come back here now,” she purred, her brows smoothing as she gave him a look from under her lashes, promise and enticement sparkling in the hazel eyes, “and forget all this silliness? We still have the whole night before us …”


She patted the golden silk, smiling invitingly.

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Loki snorted an incredulous laugh.


“You gotta be kidding,” he said, stooping to pick up one of his boots. “After this little surprise, the last thing I am going to do is spend the night with you.”


She was out of the bed in a blink.


“What?” Her voice was rising an octave in indignation. “You don’t mean that. You can’t. what difference does it make?”


She grabbed his hand, trying to keep him from pulling on his boots, but he broke her hold easily.


"What difference?”, he snarled. “Either you are my daughter, or you are raving mad –either way, I am out of here.”


“But why?” She was clearly both puzzled and furious, and inspite of himself, Loki paused to look down into her face.


“Why?”, he repeated. “You think I am going to f … to sleep with you when there is only a remotest possibility that this story is true?”


“Yes, of course,” she said, matter-of-factly. “Why not?”


He took a few steps back, shaken by her attitude.


“If you really are my daughter, I cannot touch you,” he said tersely.


Nseri sighed angrily. Gloriously naked, her hair flying around her shoulders as she shook her head in frustration, she stood before Loki.


“I cannot believe this,” she hissed. “Where are these scruples coming from? Which – taboos do you think you have to observe? Human ones?”


His eyes narrowing in responding anger, he growled, “Jötuns are not into incest, either.”


Nseri laughed contemptuously.


“Jötuns. Of course. You have to live by jötun standards, and Aesir standards, and you clearly adopted the human ones, too. For somebody with your colourful reputation, you have quite a complex structure of honour. Wake up, Loki! Did you really never see that you are not as much a jötun as you have been told you are?”


He froze for a moment like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck, his eyes suddenly opaque as her words tumbled his thoughts all over again, flinging him into yet another labyrinth.


“What?”, he asked, his voice strangely bare of inflection.


She turned away and sat on the bed again, making sure that her pose was as seductive as possible, her perky breasts and softly rounded hips a blatant invitation, but by now Loki was feeling as if somebody was treating his head repeatedly to the loving attentions of a sledge hammer, and he didn’t even notice the careful tableau, but was staring into her eyes, trying to understand this new direction.


“How come,” Nseri said conversationally, “that you of all people never questioned your parentage? I have seen the lump who is claiming to be your father, and honestly – how can you look at that and even consider believing it? Maybe you should go and talk to your mother, my dear.”


There was another moment of loaded silence. Then Loki said very quietly, “That is the first thing you’ve said in a while that is making any sense. I really should go.”


He picked up his jacket, and before Nseri realised that he was taking her advice a little differently than she had meant it, the door slammed shut in his wake. She sat staring at the empty room for a long time, her face registering anger, disappointment, frustration, and finally speculation; and eventually her body relaxed, and she lay back, curling into the soft folds of the silk. The little cat-and-mouse smile was on her mouth again; she reached out and took another chocolate truffle from the nightstand, and said softly, “I’ll see you later, then, Loki …”


Then she slid deeper between the sheets, doused the light, and slept.



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At dusk he was still streaking through the streets like a lone wolf, too restless to allow himself to be tired; the little money he had left would provide food for only a few days – but he didn’t worry about that, never had. Aside from standard options like party crashing, or, of course, simply stealing, he never had had a problem to find somebody who offered a meal, among other things; but what he needed right now was not food, but breathing space and a chance to think over the utterly baffling new tangle he found himself in. But somehow he seemed unable to do that – wherever he tried to settle down for a while, it was either too crowded, or too quiet. When there were people around, he was constantly on edge because again and again he thought he saw the tall and slender figure of the girl with the hazel eyes in the crowd, only to realise that his nerves were playing tricks on him; but when he finally had found himself a deserted place on the pier, no living soul in sight apart from a few sullen seagulls, he had a persistent itch as if a pair of eyes were watching him from somewhere in his back. It had raised the hair in the nape of his neck, and as a result he was far too jumpy to even begin and collect his thoughts. She had truly and thoroughly spooked him, the little bitch.


And all this time, there was the nagging desire, unfulfilled and very much out of bonds now, a desire he tried not to touch on, not to think of, even; but the memory of her graceful body, her enticing scent, her voice, her skin were a constant backdrop throughout the day, however much he tried to keep a safe distance.


In the early evening he found himself standing on a streetcorner, a half-eaten sandwich in his hand. He frowned down on it, with no recollection whatsoever where it had come from – then he tossed it into a garbage bin, wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans, and finally made a decision.


He needed to know if what Nseri had told him was true. Because if it was not – and how could it be? – he could go back to square one, not go to jail, and untangle this coil of desires, quench this particular thirst, do something about this obnoxiously persistent itch that was keeping him from thinking straight.


“Dammit,” he muttered, “it is keeping me from thinking at all.”


So, he would go back to the island and find the spirit woman. Using the maze, he could be there within minutes … He tried to think of a convenient mirror on the island to use as an exit – nowhere near anyone who knew him from his last stay, that much was clear; the last thing he needed now was more people involving themselves in this mess, making things more complicated than they already were.


He tried to remember places with a mirror but without people, and caught himself yawining hugely. It probably would be a good idea to catch some sleep before he went anywhere near that island, and that woman in particular.


Dusk had fallen already, and soon he found an empty bench in a small park, deserted at this time of the day and small enough to be without interest for the darker elements of the populace. He zipped up his leather jacket and had fallen asleep within minutes, and slept soundly and undisturbed until he woke to a grey and foggy and very early morning.


Twenty minutes later he was standing in the shabby but clean-ish restroom of a 24hours-café close to the docks, where the taproom was full of dockers right off the night shift, ending the workday with a substantial breakfast. The restroom was not as crowded, but still Loki was not alone in it – before the sink a grey-faced, middle aged travelling salesman was going about his morning rituals. Waiting for this operation to be completed, Loki was making some use of the time by splashing cold water on his face to get rid of the last remnants of sleep. He looked at himself in the floorlength mirror on the wall at an angle with the sinks, rubbing a hand over his three day stubble and through his tousled hair, glancing sidelong at the other man.


How long could it take to comb a fringe of hair over a bald pate? Suppressing an impatient groan, Loki leaned his head against the chipped tiles of the wall, and closed his eyes, still sleepy.


Her face, filling his vision behind his closed lids, startled him into a gasp – he opened his eyes, and saw the salesman, the hand with the comb frozen in mid-air, staring at him with sudden suspicion. In his mind he heard a suft chuckle, and in the mirror he saw his jaw clenching, his eyes wide, troubled, and angry.


“Hello Loki,” the voice in his mind said. “Would you shut your eyes again, please?”

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“No!”, he said out loud, and the man in front of the sink took a hasty step back.


“Silly,” she said, “weren’t you planning on coming to see me anyway? Don’t be rude now. Close your eyes.”


He took a deep resigned breath, and closed his lids. She was standing before his inner eye, just as he remembered her from that first encounter, the hazel eyes the only part of her he could see clearly – and they were Nseri’s eyes alright.


“How did you know?”, he asked, his voice nearly a growl.


“How did I know what?”


“That I meant to come looking for you.”


She laughed, but at the same time another voice said, “Looking for me?”


Loki’s eyes flew open, and he realised that the man had gone rather pale.


“Not you,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, but even in his own ears it sounded rather wild.


“Nseri told me you would eventually get there,” the woman in his head said, and for the duration of one heartbeat’s time the worlds were spinning around Loki.


He closed his eyes.


“Nseri told you.”


“Yes. I am pleased she found you.”


“But I am not!” Loki roared, and a loud crash right next to him forced his eyes open again.


In his haste to leave the restroom, the salesman had pushed his case off the corner of the sink where it had been balancing precariously to begin with, and now the contents were spilling all over the tiled floor, a collection of power tools mingling with his personal possessions. Swearing frantically he hunkered down, scrambling to shove everything helter-skelter back into the case, nervously keeping one eye on the madman in front of the mirror.


“You do not like Nseri?”, the voice in Loki’s mind was asking with a purr, but he kept his eyes open and his mouth shut until the salesman had finally scuttled from the room, the case, lid gaping wide and contents spilling over, gathered awkwardly into his arms together with his jacket, one half of his hair sleeked against his skull, the other half damply sticking up in all directions. Loki watched the door fall shut, and only then he took a deep breath, and closed his eyes again.


“That is a tricky question,” he replied eventually.


“Tricky? But don’t you know if you like her or not?”


“That depends.”




She did not ask, so he had to get specific.


“Nseri told me …” he started, but under the gaze of the hazel eyes his words faltered and shrivelled.




She was not helping at all. He saw a tiny smile curling the corners of her mouth, and could feel anger blazing up.


“Is it true?”, he asked harshly. “Is she really my daughter?”


She laughed. “Why is that so hard to believe?”, she asked back without replying.


“Because of the time frame,” Loki said. “How can she be my daughter? I met you not three years ago – and Nseri is a full-grown woman.”

“And a beautiful one, too, isn’t she?” There definitely was a wink in those eyes now, and Loki could feel the heat rising in his face. It made him even more furious.


“That’s neither here not there,” he said hotly. “How? How could she possibly grow up in so short a time?”


The hazel eyes were mocking him.


“You do surprise me. So much faith in human clocks and calendars …”, she scoffed. “You can wander between worlds, Loki – I can wander in time. I went to bear and raise our daughter, and taught her all I have to teach, and we lived away from time, unhurried by seasons, the stars frozen in place for us until we were ready to go back into the flow of time. In the moment it took for a leaf to tumble from an autumn branch down to the frost rimmed ground, Nseri was born and grew up. Time is not a single thread – it is a weave. I am not shackled by hours, and neither is Nseri.”


“Tell her to stay away from me then,” Loki said, his brows knitting into a deep frown over his closed eyes.


“She will do as she chooses,” the spirit woman said indifferently, and she reached out, running a hand along Loki’s arm. “But I won’t complain if you do prefer me …”, she added, and suddenly her body was moulding itself against him.


“No!”, Loki yelled in frustration and dawning horror at the mental image of another fully-fledged child within a couple of years. In an attempt to escape her grasp he opened his eyes to the restroom again. He was looking into another pair of hazel eyes right in front of him, and a strong feeling of vertigo made him grasp the edge of the sink.

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“What?”, Nseri asked, standing only inches from him, dressed in jeans and a tank top, looking every inch as sexy as she had in the red dress and heels in the Hotel Rimbaud.


The woman behind his eyes ran her hands over his body, chuckling in his ear, and in the grey light of the restroom Nseri was linking her hands behind his neck. Finding himself in the embrace of an octopus, Loki shook his head violently. There was a pair of inquisitive hands on his hips and he wanted to push them away, but when he looked down, there were no hands; his senses in total confusion, he stood wedged in between the girl and the sink, every blink of his eyes bringing the other face before him. His temper exploded, and he yelled, “Leave me alone!”, turning away from Nseri, breaking her hold on his neck.


“Hmm, nice,” the voice in his mind purred, and he could feel the warm and very female body clinging to him, pressing against his back, arms wrapping around him, hands on his bare skin.


Two hands? Four hands?


With a furious growl Loki shook them off, part of his mind aware of the irony – in any other situation, he would have loved it. It would have appealed to him, would have aroused him, very much. But things being as they were, this was not going to happen if he could help it …


Grabbing hold of the hands he could see with his eyes open, he hissed, “Nseri, cut it out!”


The girl, her hazel eyes wide, leaned closer inspite of his hard grip on her wirsts, and said into his face, “Mother, go away.” Loki resented being addressed like this, even if he was aware that Nseri didn’t talk to him.


Behind his eyes laughter pealed, not entirely amused. “But I have older rights, child,” the voice in his mind said.


“Neither of you has any rights here!” Loki roared.


“Of course we do,” Nseri said with a smile, her mouth shimmering only inches away. “We are family.”


“No!” Loki forced her back, his fingers still in an iron grip around her wrists. “You are not family.”


“But then you can relax, and we can have a little fun, can’t we?”, the girl smiled, her tongue flicking over her lower lip in anticipation as she was straining against his hold to get closer again.


“Close your eyes, Loki,” the other voice urged, “look at me. She will go away when she understands that you’d rather be with me.”


“I most definitely will not,” Nseri said sharply. “You already had your chance, Mother. Now leave him to me.”


Shaking himself violently like a wet dog, Loki shouted, “Leave me alone, both of you! I am not some piece of bread to be shared as you please!”


“Oh no, of course not,” the amused voce inside his head said, “you are much more than that, surely.”


“More a piece of cake, actually,” Nseri agreed.


There was a red haze before Loki’s eyes now, even as he closed them for a second in a desperate attempt to gather his senses. It didn’t work particularly well, though. With a wordless roar, he pushed the girl away, hard enough to make her stumble against the dull tiles of the wall, and before she could close in on him again, a sheet of flames erupted between them, crackling and hot.


Nseri stood, eyes wide, gazing in delight at the red, gold and orange of the fire. Loki took a deep breath, closing his eyes in relief, only to see another wall of fire, and through it another pair of hazel eyes staring at him in astonishment.


“I have never seen anything like it before,” the spirit woman said softly. “You can bring your fire into my world … I never knew your power would reach so far. It must be your father’s heritage.”


He saw her reach out and touch the curtain of flickering flames; her hand seemed to caress them like the softest petals, and she plucked one of them and tucked it into her hair where it shone like a living flower. Then, with a wink, she smiled at Loki and was gone.


His eyes snapped open again, and Nseri was still there. She, too, reached out to touch the fire, but as soon as her fingertips came close, she snatched her hand back with a gasp.


“Don’t hurt yourself,” Loki said, staying safely on his side of the curtain of flames, his nerves calming down a little.


“Are you going to teach me how to do that?”, Nseri asked, still with child-like wonder in her eyes.


“No,” he gave back, intentionally rude.


She pouted, eyeing him speculatively from under her lashes. But if she was planning something, Loki never learned what it was, because suddenly the door was pushed open, and a well-dressed man came strolling into he restroom. Trim and neat, the very picture of a gentleman, he wore a three-piece suit and hand-made leather shoes, bearing himself with the self-assurance of secondary education, good taste and a lifetime of comfortable money.

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Loki wiped the wall of flames out immediately, and saw the man blink once as if he was wondering if something was wrong with his eyes. Then he came to a sudden halt, staring at Nseri, who in turn did not deign to take notice of him at all.


Two splotches of red appeared high on the gentleman’s lean cheeks, and he cleared his throat with some emphasis. But instead of paying attention to his enraged sense of propriety, Nseri was making good use of the fact that Loki’s defense was gone, and closed the distance between them, nestling close to him in intimate embrace.


This turned out to be too much. His voice probably an octave higher than its normal register, the gentleman said acidly, “Do you mind, young lady …?”


Not entirely pleased with the developments either, Loki pushed the girl away and said between gritted teeth, “Nseri. Go. Away. Now!”


Her hazel eyes flitted from his stormy face to the gentleman whose complexion was growing alarmingly purple. With a resigned sigh she let go of her prey, smiled saccharine sweetly at Loki and trilled, “I’ll be waiting for you outside, then …”


And she walked out, within a hair’s breadth of the gentleman’s disapproving person, swinging her hips in a sassy demonstration of impending victory.


Muttering under his breath, the man stepped up to the sink the salesman had abandoned earlier; scrutinising his regular if rather unspectecular features in the mirror, he reached up to adjust an already perfect conservative silk tie, and swept his hands lightly over his immaculate light brown hair and silver sideburns. Then, his eyes flitting to the closed door for only the fraction of a second, he looked at Loki’s reflection in the mirror, and when the seagreen eyes met his gaze, he said, his voice almost conspiratory, “The young lady was rather insistent.”


Loki’s only reaction consisted of one raised brow.


Not at all discouraged, the pale blue eyes of the gentleman ran swiftly and discreetly over him, registering the tall, well-built frame, the chiselled beauty of the face, the graceful, self-assured stance, the conspicuous charisma; then he returned his eyes to his own reflection and said casually, “I wonder if you might have a little spare time on your hands just now, or if you are committed to meet the young lady waiting outside.”


It was very quiet for several heartbeats, only the dripping faucet in one of the sinks counting time. Then, after a quick glance, he continued, “I am willing to make it well worth your while.”


When realisation hit him, Loki’s mouth dropped open for a moment. Then he snorted a laugh.


“Are you by any chance trying to hit on me?”, he asked, the lilt of amusement in his voice.


“I am trying to make a business proposal,” the gentleman clarified with a prim smile.


Loki rolled his eyes, exasperation and laughter alternating in his expression. Then, as the gentleman took a tentative step in his direction, he said, “I think I am not up to this right now,” turned to the floor length mirror, and through it, left the dim little room.



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A couple of minutes later, the gentleman was leaving the café rather hurriedly, and on his own, his face ashen under his light sunbed tan, his hands shaking as he fumbled with his keys, trying to open the door of his silver grey Mercedes convertible.


He was clearly suffering from shock, all thoughts of a little early morning dalliance driven from his mind; so when a strong hand gripped his shoulder from behind, he yelped, dropping his keys, and his legs buckled under him so that he was slumping against the car.


Then he heard a voice asking angrily, “Where did he go?”, and realised that it was the insistent young lady from the restroom, seething with fury, and looking as if she was able to do violence. Her hand still gripping his shoulder, she dragged him around so he was facing her, and started to shake him; shoving her face into his, she repeated, “Where? Where is he? How could he get past me? The windows are bolted shut in that place!”


It took all his courage – and all his strength – to straighten up into a more dignified position; he tried to brush her grip from his shoulder and failed. Still he managed to say, “I don’t know …” His voice was barely more than a whisper, but at least it wasn’t trembling.


She stood back a little, staring into his face, trying to see if he was lying.


“I really don’t know what happened,” he tried to explain. “Suddenly he was gone. One moment he was in front of that mirror, and then he was gone …”


Her face fell, anger making room for disappointment.


“I cannot believe he ran!”, she hissed, clearly more to herself than to him. Her hand dropped from his shoulder as if she was forgetting that he was there, and automatically he reached up to brush at the creases her hard grip had left in the expensive wool cloth of his jacket. Since she was not paying attention to him anymore, he hurried to retrieve his keys and unlock the door of the car; sliding into the driver’s seat with more haste than grace, he was deeply grateful to be able and close the door against this rather frightening girl. His heart still racing, he turned the key in the ignition, and the car pulled away with a gentle purr, leaving Nseri standing on the street in the grey light of early morning.


She scowled, her eyes narrow, and sparkling with anger. He had gotten away, and she didn’t know how he had managed, or where to go looking for him. On top of last night’s frustration, it was making her really mad. But as she stood staring blindly down the street, her expression slowly lit up, and finally she found that cat-and-mouse smile again.


“Two can play that game, Loki,” she said softly. “I am going to find you, and then we’ll see who’s getting the last laugh.”



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Not for the first time he was cursing Jötunheim’s complete and immensely inconvenient lack of mirrors. After a long day crossing the plain from Asgard, riding into the teeth of an eastern wind with increasingly cold bite, he had forded the Iving in driving sleet, the black stallion borrowed from Asgard’s stables shying and rearing away from the river’s icy torrent until they were both thoroughly drenched. Now they had reached the clearing with the grey stone cottage, and he was grumpy and way beyond the limits of his patience. Dusk had bled the colour from the woods, there was no smoke coming from the chimney, and no light in the small window; the scene was tinted grey and blue, with the sky hovering snow-heavy on top of the trees.


Loki gritted his teeth and urged the unhappy horse forward.


The shed she used to stable her own horse was empty, and he rubbed the stallion down, poured some grain from the leather sack for him, and threw down some hay from the loft; then he went past the small winter-dormant vegetable garden, and reached the cottage. When he pushed open the sturdy door he could feel a slight prickling sensation, and realised with a wry grin that she had shielded her house, probably aiming at smaller and four-legged trespassers … He entered the single room, dropped his belongings in front of the fireplace, where banked, cold ashes proved that the mistress of the house had been out all day, and flicked his fingers to start a fire. Then he stripped, and draped his soggy clothes in front of it as the heat started to drive the chill from the room. Naked, he went to rummage in the small but well-stocked larder, and returned with a plate with goat cheese, cold meat, and bread, putting it next to the bed. As an afterthought, he retrieved his sword from the pile before the fire, and laid it on the bed; then he curled up under the furs, ate his cold dinner, and fell asleep.


It was fully dark outside when the door opened, and the woman came in, bringing with her a gust of wind and a spatter of grainly sleet. She closed the door against the weather and cloak and hair dripping with wetness, stood staring at the room before her – the toasty heat from the fire in the hearth with nothing to feed from, steaming clothes spread everywhere, and on the bed a blonde head halfway obscured by the furs, a body quiet as he lay sleeping. The firelight was unsteady enough, shadows dancing over the corner with the bed, but she would have known that hair – and that self-assured arrogance – everywhere.


Dropping her bundles she walked to the hearth to throw wood under the flames dancing over the bare stones – she preferred to know what precisely was burning in her house. For a moment she stood considering the clothes sspread to dry – the hooded and fur lined anoraq and the tunic, clearly Asgard made both, as were the soft leather boots, and in contrast the black pants of a make she had never seen before, with yellow double stitching along the legs, flat pockets on the back, and the opening in front mysteriously lined with rows of weird little metal teeth. She frowned. He must have brought that from Midgard, like the soft shirt lying next to it.


With a last disapproving glance she went to pick up her bundle where she had dropped it next to the door, and took it to the work bench to unpack. Then she hung a kettle of water over the fire, lit the lamp on the table, and finally went to stand beside the bed. Naked next to the sleeper, the long blade was reflecting the firelight in a narrow golden flame; the man’s shoulder and neck, barely visible under the pile of fur, was a softer gold next to it.




He didn’t move, his breathing slow and regular.


“You are not really sleeping, are you?”, she asked conversationally.


“No,” he said gruffly, his face still hidden. “Not after you’ve made such a racket with your pots and pans.”

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“Well,” she said equanimously, “if you want a share of my night meal, you’ll have t put up with the noise.”


He rolled over and looked up at her, his eyes dark in the flickering shadows.


“i didn’t come for dinner,” he said, his voice still raw with sleep.


“Maybe not,” Angrboda retorted, “but then it would be a first for you to refuse it.”


Inspite of himself, he laughed. Then, his arms over his head, he yawned widely, the furs slipping as he arched in a stretch, his skin glowing softly in the dim light.


Angrboda stood looking down at him and he returned her gaze, and when she finally said, “Could you put some clothes on?”, the skin around his eyes creased in a grin.


“Not when my clothes are still soggy,” he said. “Am I distracting you, by any chance?”


He watched with some amusement how she pressed her lips into a thin line with replying; then, picking up the empty plate from the floor with one brow rising in mute comment, she returned to the table and the preparation of food, and he stayed in bed, drifting drowsily along the dim border between wakefulness and sleep, watching the shadows dancing black and umber over the walls of the cottage.


Dreamlike, time was dissolving, and memories came sneaking close, memories of a boy on the morning of a long life, not yet driven by neither love nor hatred, with the open horizon of an unknown future stretching before him. He was drifting through these memories like a leaf swirling lazily on the slow and ponderous water of a lake in summer, and when, like dreams go, he suddenly realised that he was lying spread-eagled, wrists and ankles cruelly bound with harsh and heavy fetters, the panic was blinding and immediate.


He wanted to thrash and fight, to roll out from under the obscene coil of heavy, scaled bodies writing above him, pale fangs glittering in the low firelight, but he could not move. He knew that there was venom collecting on the tips of those fangs, gathering into trembling drops until they were heavy enough to shake free of the bleached ivory of their perch and fall on his face, to burn immeasurable pain into his body and mind. There was nothing between him and that pain, and he knew that he was not able to stand it – not anymore. There still seemed to be a terrible echo hovering under the high rock ceiling like a cloud of acrid smoke – the screeching, skrieking, mind-shattering echo of screams.


His own screams.


He wanted to close his eyes not to have to watch the drops grow ripe and heavy, and could not – his eyelids had been burned away by the venom long since, leaving him helpless under the eternal waxing, the merciless repetition, the continuous prospect of the next onslaught, his mind shrunken to a burning pinpoint of terror, focusing against his will on the drops of liquid trembling above him, noticing every tremor until one of them finally shook loose from the fang, falling, closing the short distance to his face, to the skin raw and stiff with encrusted blood, his eyeballs gritty and dry as he lay watching. The venom was murky and evil, the drop spinning forever on its way down, dinmly reflecting a spark of firelight before it filled his defenseless vision in the last moment before pain, unendurable, was to hit again.


The cool hand on his bare shoulder shocked him awake, and gasping with remembered panic he scrambled out of the furs, staring up at her face with eyes dark with nightmare.


“Loki?”, Angrboda said softly. “Wake up. You are dreaming.”


His breathing ragged, his mind still reeling with the image of the venom dripping fangs, he tried to return to the peaceful half-light and silence of the cabin. He rubbed his eyes hard with the heels of both hands, and then ran his fingers through his hair until it was standing on end. Giving him some space, the woman returned to the last preparations for their meal, and when Loki finally got up, wrapping himself in a blanket of coarse wool, she had put bowls and beakers on the table, a pitcher with water, and the blackended pot from the fire, steaming with a thick and savoury stew. Noticing Loki’s glance, she said, “Roots, greens, and rabbit. You are lucky I caught something today.”


The shadows in his eyes gave way to sparkling seagreen, and he grinned, and went over to where his saddlebag was sitting among the small pile of his belongings. He returned with a skin sloshing with liquid, and a linen bag.


“Mead from Odin’s table,” he said, pouring some of it into one beaker, and looking a question at his hostess. She pushed the second beaker in his direction, but said, “I am quite sure it was not a gift, though.”


The flash of his teeth white in the dim light, he laughed.

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“Let’s call it an unwitting contribution,” he said. “I am sure he would be polite enough to offer if he knew who is drinking it.”


“The jötun witch?” Angrboda asked, her brows high and incredulous. “He probably would send a curse rather than drink.”


“Sometimes he needs to be reminded of his better impulses,” Loki said mildly and sat down, taking a golden loaf of bread out of the linen bag to lay it on the table between them.


“Another of Odin’s gifts?”, the woman asked, mocking.


“No – from the lady my wife,” Loki said, unperturbed.


“But unwitting as well, I suppose.”


He shrugged.


“I didn’t have the time to go and ask,” he said without embarrassment.


Shaking her head, Angrboda eyed him in silence; then she ladled the stew into their bowls, and they started eating.


“Why the hurry?”, she finally asked as her bowl was empty. “You didn’t even go to see Sigyn?”


Loki shot her a swift glance, but instead of a reply, he pulled the pot close for a second helping of stew, and the woman sat sipping on her mead, watching him as he continued to eat in silence, uncharacteristically self-contained. When his bowl and the pot both were empty, she got up and cleared the table, and cleaned the bowls and spoons they had used. When she returned to the table, Loki had got up, too, and was standing in the storage corner of the cabin, taking a lidded wooden box from the top shelf. He lifted the lid to look inside, and a delighted smile lit up his face. He brought the box to the table wth him, and Angrboda couldn’t suppress a smile at the memory of a much younger Loki.


“You’re still making them,” he said, picking one of the sticky squares out of the box.


“When I find enough honey,” she replied. “but they last much longer now.”


He laughed, his mouth full of honey cake, and his fingers sticky with it.


“So,” Angrboda returned to the still unanswered question, “why the hurry?”


Loki sighed and slid back on the bench. “I need to find out about a few things.”


“In Jötunheim?”


“In Jötunheim.”


He lifted his eyes from the almost drained beaker he was turning in his hands, and returned Angrboda’s scrutiny with a calm and open look out of bluegreen eyes.


“So you are here to ask questions,” she said.


“I am.”


She waited, and he sat sipping his mead. When he put the beaker down to reach for the box of honey cakes again, she swiftly pushed it out of his reach. She had to laugh whe the exasperated look he threw her was so precise an echo of his younger self.


“What’s the question?”, she asked, holding the cakes hostage. He rolled his eyes, but gave in.


“The question is …”, he said slowly, “concerning Farbauti.”

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