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Hel is Being Other People

Chapter Text

The Old King looked smaller to the guard.

Not small, but smaller. As if he were if not a man, but a great monument to a man that had lost some of its finer details. Not worn down by time, but broken off by, say, toppling over after losing the thing that had propped it up.

Or maybe it was he did just look like a man for the first time, not a monument at all.

A man sitting in a ruined, cold hall, on a broken throne, with no one around.

The guard gave a low bow, and reported to the King. His elder son was still at large, but his younger son’s body had been found on the dead planet of their enemy. His icy corpse had been frozen to the ground and they had not been able to bring him home for burial. Yet. After their enemies were vanquished there would be time to-

The King silenced him with a small gesture. A flick of his fingers from the hand that covered his red, raw eyes from the sight of his inferiors. From everyone.

The guard bowed again and turned to leave his lord to his private (and surprising) new grief.

He had almost made it to the great iron doors of the throne room when his father’s voice, a whisper that could be heard in the vaults of heaven, said, “Loki.”

He stopped and turned back, “Loki is gone, All-Father.”

Odin may have been diminished and even broken. But a broken sword is just as dangerous as a whole one, if thrust hard enough. In a few steps he was nose to nose with the man dressed as a royal guard. “Even if you think me weak, even if you think I do not love you well enough to know you anywhere my child, do you really think I am so blind as to not know that imperious stride of yours anywhere? My son?”

The All-Father pressed the tip of his forefinger into the space between the other man’s eyes, his magic forcing him back into his Asgardian form.

For a long, still moment the two kings, past and present, of Asgard simply stared at each other.

Loki smirked and gave a one shouldered shrug, sending a wave of black hair down his back. “Well, it was worth a shot.”

“If Thor thought you dead why did you even return? You could have gone anywhere, the realms would be yours to walk and menace at will while we dealt with the chaos for ages to come.”

In a dead voice the prince responded, “This is home.”

 

“Ah, I see you saved my room for me! Lovely. On Midgard you would probably have already turned into a place to do your hobbies. Making little starships out of bits of wood. Collecting mead bottle labels from around the realms. Golf, perhaps.”

Loki stood in the cell he had so recently been freed from by his brother. Although he had left it in less than beautiful condition the silent, ever vigilant servants of the palace had been at work restoring it to the relative luxury his mother had-

No, he would not think about that.

Loki sprawled into one of the chairs, his long legs spread wide, and picked up the book he had been reading before his world had fallen into even greater darkness and misery than the old darkness and misery he had long since made himself friendly with.

Ah, a monograph on the role of mathematics in the magical structures of pre-literate societies. Yes, a perfect way to while away a few million afternoons.

He could feel his Not-Father’s eye on him. When he was a boy he had decided that because Odin only had one eye the disapproval that he so often felt from it was that much stronger and more focused than it would have been if he had had both. Thor had agreed, on the few occasions he gotten himself into real trouble. To give Thor credit, he had managed to be a real disaster more than once.

With a little help from his little brother. Of course.

He smiled thinly at the memories and tried to pretend Odin wasn’t there. Which he managed, he had always been good at escaping into himself. So he jumped when Odin spoke.

“I have decided, my son, to give you a chance at redemption.”

Loki stood and sauntered as imperiously as he could manage to stand facing Odin though the golden energy shield. “Well that is very generous of you All-Father. Or can I call you Borsson? Or just Odin? Or do prefer your majesty? The etiquette for our situation is sooooo tricky, don’t you think?”

“Call me father. I am your father, Loki.”

“How sweet of you to think so, sir.” Loki tapped a long finger on his chin, “No, I don’t like sir, too human.”

“You don’t care for the Midgardians, for all that you wished to rule them.”

“Thor said that you referred to his pretty, witty mate as a goat, so I would say I am not the only here who does not think highly of them.”

Odin scowled. “I did not call her a goat, I said she did not belong on Asgard. Which was wrong of me.”

Loki stood very still. His father had never admitted to being wrong before. At least not in his hearing.

“Jane Foster is a very fine woman. Intelligent, good hearted, and brave, all the things any being should be. Very much like your mother.” His mighty voice cracked, but he caught himself, “Even if she is bizarrely tiny.”

Loki nodded. “Yes, how is it that Thor managed to find the smallest possible woman to be his leman? He must have to be very, very careful when bedding her. I wonder if he can even find-“

“Enough! You will not distract me with vulgarities!”

“I don’t know if it is vulgar, but more a matter of physics…”

Odin gestured towards Loki, who found himself stilled as if grasped in a great, lightly squeezing hand.

“Your brother and his woman are not your concern. Thor’s punishment was the making of him. A bit of humbling might do you some good as well my son. And the Midgardians have already brought you low once.”

“Oh NO! You are not going to do to me what you did to that brute fool! Do you really think that sending me to Earth, powerless, will result in anything other than my death at best, the deaths of countless others at worst? Think, old man!”

“I know I cannot send you as yourself, powerless or otherwise. Your face is as well-known as any on Midgard. But you are a shapeshifter. If I change you, and then take your powers, there will be very little you can do but endure.”

Loki laughed. “Well that is a gorgeous punishment father. And really, why bother coming up with something too original for me? So what will it be? What punishment will humble your heartless child? Will you make me one of those boy soldiers in Africa? I will have my own kingdom in a month. A factory worker in China, going mad putting together electronics like a slave? Do you think I wouldn’t end up owning the industry before the end of the fiscal year? Or maybe a sex worker in the Favelas? I could go on, but I think you see the problem. There is no misery, no violence, or no corruption that I could not be able to turn to my profit.”

Odin gave Loki a smile that he had never seen on his father’s face before. But he had seen it in the mirror more than once. Suddenly he was a bit apprehensive.

 

One of the fluorescent lights was flickering just slightly, giving the off beige and off grey conference room a slight horror film quality. There were a few others in the room. An older black woman wearing a purple suit, with short hair and perfect posture that marked her as former military. Three very young men with the pallor of life-long computer gamers. Two woman in their late 20s who had already managed to bond over images they were sharing with each other from their phones.

Loki felt his whole body lurch with nausea. Except it wasn’t his body. It was a human body. It was limited. It was small. It appeared to have post nasal drip and slightly sweaty hands.

He turned, slowly, to look at himself in the window looking out over the open plan office.

No! No! NO!!!!!

Why couldn’t the All-Father have just killed him?

The door opened and a tall, tired looking woman with brunette hair falling out of a bun on the top of her head and the expression of someone who was disappointed not to be facing a firing squad entered the room holding a stack of folders. She gave a resigned smile.

“Good morning everybody, my name is Nora Walsh, and I will be running your orientation. Welcome to CDV, and Roxxon.”

Loki wondered if the All-Father had killed him, for this was surely Hel.

Chapter Text

When her alarm went off Nora had been having a dream about her dead aunt Claire trying to teach her to play “Willow Weep for Me,” on the harpsichord. They had both been dressed in evening gowns and elbow gloves, and every time Nora screwed up a passage her Aunt would burst into tears and run out of the room only to return a moment later in a different dress.

She was so deep in the dream that when the alarm went off, blaring the scream from “Sabotage,” she had to lay there holding her chest for a few minutes, certain that she was having a heart-attack.

Finally turning off the noise, and ignoring a glare from Claire’s ancient and cranky poodle Django, she realized that she almost wanted the heart-attack. A nice, peaceful trip to the emergency room sounded better than work.

She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror while brushing her teeth. She may have been a wee bit hungover. The circles under eyes were so dark they looked like faded corpse paint. Her hair had gone past bedhead into coffinhead. One week, just five more days and she would be on vacation. She could make it. She could. Then she remembered Andre had conned her into taking his turn doing orientation for the new employees this morning.

Nora thought of how nice a ride in an ambulance might be.

“First World problems,” she muttered, and then spat toothpaste into the face of her reflection.

 

Nothing had helped Nora get out of the funk woke up in. But the hangover had been banished by ibuprofen, bacon on toast, and masturbation. The hair was tamed. The dark circles were still there, but were now more hair metal than death metal. She had even gotten the dog to get out of bed long enough to pee a thimbleful of urine before she had to carry him back inside.

Her last neighbor, Marco, was sneaking a cigarette behind his garage and Nora gave him a wave as she headed to the el. “You selling yet?’ He called to her. He had lived in Chicago for fifty years, but his accent was just as thick as it had probably been when he had left Sinloa.

“Nope. You?”

“Mercedes would cut them off I thought about it. She wants to die in that shack.”

She nodded and continued on her way.

It was a beautiful spring morning. Or it might have been if her whole ‘hood wasn’t a construction zone. Most of businesses and all of the houses for blocks around had been forced to sell out due to gentrification and were in the process of being turned from postwar bungalows, four-flats, and useful businesses like laundromats and bodegas, into hipster kennels with corner balconies, too narrow townhomes, ever more redundant coffeehouses, and running shoe stores.

Nora hadn’t wanted to tell Marco, but she was considering selling herself. Only a stubborn desire to flip off the newcomers that would be flooding into her block in a few months had kept her there that long. That, and having nowhere she wanted to go. Any place she could afford would just make her commute untenably long, and at thirty going back to having a roommate seemed like admitting defeat.

Plus, there was a part of her that just couldn’t bear to lose Claire’s house.

Maybe when Django died.

Of course that nasty old cur would probably outlive plutonium.

 

“Nora, you’re –“

“Late?” HR Thing One, or Sharon, was standing next to her desk holding a stack of orange folders, smiling in a way that implied the deepest and coldest hate. Nora cocked her head and bit her lip coyly, and then spoke very slowly and with as much inflection as she could manage without breaking something. “Gosh, I am soooooo sorry. I hadn’t noticed. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped at Starbucks, but a girl just needs her frappucino. Because, Monday!” She held up the black coffee which was clearly not a frosty treat from Starbucks.

Sharon’s smile slid away. She and her partner in the Pit of Human Resources, Kelly, probably couldn’t help being demonic entities. Who else would even apply for let alone get a job in that division? But they could help being huge bullies. They had come in as part of the Roxxon takeover six months earlier, replacing the much feared and loved Larry who may have been an HR creature, but who had done his job perfectly and had made sure they had the best deal on insurance, that all vacation was paid correctly, and had been an actual resource. Sharon and Kelly were mostly interested in what the employees could do for Roxxon.

Nora had watched them be total cunts to people who had been with the former Greenfield Testing (now CDV) for years, treating them like losers for being loyal, talking down to Customer Service, belittling the engineers with smiles on their blonde faces, and generally making everyone miserable.

So Nora had taken to treating them like they were tweens suffering from mild cognitive disabilities and she was the cheerleader who was babysitting them. It drove them crazy because they couldn’t quite figure out how to get her to stop without acknowledging what she was doing.

It had been the only satisfying part of her job for months now.

“The new employees-“ Sharon started again, but Nora took the files out of her arms and patted her lightly on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry, I am going,” she took a sip of coffee, “right,” another sip, “now!” She dropped the empty cup into her Iron Man wastepaper basket and smiled brilliantly.

She could feel Sharon seething behind her. It wasn’t the worst morning ever.

 

The first part of Orientation was fine. For an hour everyone filled out paperwork, created passwords for different programs, and so on. Nora was mostly there to answer questions and make sure no one was having problems with the computers. It gave her time to drink a third cup of coffee and access the new talent. Such as it was.

Since Roxxon had bought out Greenfields’ the turn-over rate had been appalling. Of the seventy-some employees that had been with the company six months ago less than half remained. That was bad enough, but the new people were for the most part moving in and out like they were on a revolving door. They had even had to resort to upping their temps a few times just to keep functioning on a daily basis.

The three new IT guys were standard issue, recent graduates with that nerdy Mormon look that was the thing for geeks this year. They would probably last the longest, having the least real world experience to compare their new work situation to. They would probably just assume that, well, hell, office sitcoms were actually right about the corporate world. No doubt at least two of them use CDV as vlog material.

Loretta Elmore was an engineer, a veteran, and a grandmother. She asked the fewest questions, speaking with soft precision.

She wouldn’t be putting up with Roxxon’s shenanigans for long. Nora had her out the door in two months. Four if she wanted to try to Do Something about the dysfunction.

Eileen was going to replace Dougie as the receptionist. She was a new divorcee and needed the job. Reception was one of the only jobs that hadn’t become too terrible. She had two young kids and would probably stay the longest if for the insurance, if nothing else.

At least Roxxon gave them dental.

Eileen’s new bestie, Ashley, was a second income mom who lived nearby and would be joining Nora in Customer Service. She was pleasant and seemed happy to be out of the house. “I love my kids, but it is nice to talk to adults, you know?”

Nora felt the worst for her. She could almost visualize the arc Ashley’s disillusion would take.

So just a typical group.

Except there was Eddie. Weirdly Nora had almost not noticed him when she entered the little conference room, but when they all took turns standing up and introducing themselves there he was.

Eddie looked to be in his middle 30s, with a shock of greasy black hair in what had once, probably, been a pompadour or something. He was short and a bit heavy, with thick black hair on the back of his hands, with that look of being sweaty even when he wasn’t sweating. His khakis were very neatly pressed, as was his dark red polo shirt. There was something almost sadly eager about his expression.

When he spoke he had a thick, Minnesotan accent.

Great. Norske Elvis was belonged to her.

All of that was unpromising enough, but it seemed that in addition to the accent Eddie had some kind of speech impediment because he seemed to be fighting with himself to get his words out. The eager look on his face melted as he struggled. He seemed to sneer and his moist brown eyes became icy and furious. No one else noticed, they were all too busy reading the orientation materials to look at him while he spoke.

But Nora saw. She felt herself rear back a little. He saw her move and locked eyes with her for a moment. His gaze was transfixing, like a snake. Then there was a sort of lurch, like reality shaking itself like a wet dog, and Eddie was just another affable loser looking forward to his first day of work.

“Um, yes, thank you, Eddie. Customer Service is great. We are going to have a lot of fun,” Nora lied.

Chapter Text

The AllFather thought of everything.

Loki looked around the small apartment that was, based on the identification and driving cards in the wallet in the pants the body he was in was wearing, the home of Edward Rasmussen. He refused to think of any part of it has being him. Not this dreadful, ugly body. Not the utterly tedious automobile that the body he was in drove, with no instructions from him, to this place. Not the clothing the body wore, which reeked of the chemicals they were made of. And were itchy. And most assuredly not this foul, pestilential series of tiny rooms that this vile body dwelt in.

There was a miniscule kitchen that over looked a smallish main hall, a bathing chamber with a tub that would be confining to even a medium sized hound, and a room with what might have been a bed but seemed closer to a pallet one would use to drag the wounded from a battlefield. Each was furnished with the most rudimentary of comforts, the aforementioned pallet, a couch that even this little form would have trouble reclining on, several un-cushioned chairs, and what may have been a telephone in a past era of Midgardian life. A long past era.

He turned slowly, astounded. He had no idea that there were so many shade of off-white in the universe.

There was not a single book on any of the shelves. The closest thing was a slender volume that turned out to be instructions for the enormous television that dominated the room and probably Eddie’s life.

“You cannot do this to me!” He raised the body’s fists and shouted towards the heavens. Or the drop, acoustic tiled ceiling.

“The AllFather plainly can.”

Loki spun on his heel.

Sif.

Of course Odin would send the most contemptuous of Loki’s frenemies to comfort him in this time of need.

It gave him pleasure to see that she looked as appalled by their surroundings as he was.

He inclined his head towards her, “I gather you are here to take me home.”

“You cannot know how ridiculous that gesture looks coming from that form. And that haughty look of yours? Truly our King has given me the finest possible gift allowing me to see you like this, my Prince.” Sif normally had as much humor as a festering stomach wound, but she was positively vibrating with laughter at the sight of him.

Loki smiled brightly at her with Rasmussen’s questionably yellowish teeth. “And are you going to stop in London and have a lovely visit with Thor and Jane Foster while you are on Midgard? I am right that he has chosen her over the throne and the … um… delights of Asgard, aren’t I? How fine it is to see true love triumph.”

Ah, there was the grumpy bitch he knew and sometimes fucked! He smiled wider.

“I am here to explain the terms of your chastisement. In addition to being trapped in this handsome Midgardian body I am sure that in your cleverness you have realized you have no access to your magic.”

Yes. He had found that out in the breakroom when he had failed to turn Rod from Accounting’s luncheon meat and tomato sandwich into a pile of hissing beetles.

Loki had already decided that Rod was his sworn enemy. He had even heard the otherwise quite ladylike Loretta call him a “dick” under her breath, and he had no doubt that it was so.

“And your shapechanging.”

“Of course I can’t shapechange! This isn’t my body! This body is as powerful as a mouse with a dreadful wasting illness! It even grew winded from climbing those few staircases in this diminutive building!”

Sif was back to doing what in someone else might be laughing. He started to explain to her how tenderly and with so much love Thor had treated Jane during their journey to Svartalfheim but she cut him off.

“You are also unable to make a madman of yourself by speaking truth to any of the Midgardians about who you truly are and what your purpose amongst them is.”

He threw his arms into the air. “By all that is fiery and dark what is my purpose amongst them? Other than to serve as amusement for you and Odin, and Heimdall, I am certain. The golden eyed stooge must be even more delighted than you to see me laid so low. Thor, as well.”

“Your brother still thinks you dead. The AllFather does not trust that Thor -, never mind that. You know well what your purpose here is. While it IS amusing to see the vainest being that ever swaggered through the halls of Valhalla so reduced. Your punishment is to be human. To understand those whose lives you so cavalierly took, whose free will you desired to crush in your need to have ANYONE look on you with admiration!”

Loki cocked his head at her and smiled again. Sif blanched a bit. Apparently there was a bit of him revealing itself, because he knew that was the look she wore when trying to hide that he had frightened her.

“I see. How utterly trite.” He leaned a bit forward, “Between us, Maiden of Battles, I don’t think it is going to work.”

“We are all hoping it won’t, God of Lies. Because if you don’t learn to live as a human the King plans to leave you here to die as one.”

“What?”

“Farewell, my prince.” Sif gave a mocking bow, the only kind she had ever given him, and was gone. Loki threw open the door and looked up and down the poured concrete hallway. An elderly Asian man was letting himself into another apartment.

“Did you see a statuesque brunette dressed in leather armor come this way?”

“Kinky. No, I didn’t, but if you ever see her again ask her if she offers a senior discount.”

 

In the icebox in the very small kitchen Loki discovered many frozen pizzas and a large quantity of something called Lite Beer. He burned two of the pizzas but ate them anyway. This body’s papillae were so degraded that it found the greasy, cheap cheese and ersatz meat to be deeply satisfying. The beer was so foul it should have been a crime to call it anything other than ‘watery liver poison.’

He drank six of them before he found several bottles of hard liquor under the sink. He imagined they were kept there out of some puritanical sense of shame, but in truth he could not imagine how any of the humans survived their feculent existences without its aid.

 

Nora looked at the clock again. Fuck. One of her new hires was late already on their second day.

Eddie. And he hadn’t even called.

Now it was her problem to cover for him. Or not. On one hand she didn’t know him and felt no real sense of loyalty to him. On the other hand even though he looked and sounded like a moron who probably dreamed of having a Camaro just like his older brother used to have, Eddie was smart. Surprisingly smart. He had read all of the Welcome packet information in no time, as well as computer and phone system guides and had run through all of the test programs before anyone else was finished creating their log in information.

Ashley seemed nice, but she was going to be a slow learner. Nora loved Andre and Marissa, but while both of them were perfectly capable neither cared particularly what kind of job they did. And then there was Kelsey.

Nora side-eyed to where Kelsey was trying to use the fax machine without asking for help again this morning. She looked like she might cry. Nora reached over and swatted Andre’s arm, when he looked at her she motioned with her head for him to go help.

“Oh hell, no. Not again.”

“I’m sort of your boss. Do it.”

Plus Eddie HAD done that thing to piss off Rod at lunch yesterday. Rod was a dick.

Kelly, HR Thing Two, sauntered over to Nora’s desk. Nora hated Sharon, but her mutual loathing of Kelly was nearly an entity unto itself. It was like a miasma formed from the other woman’s clouds of drugstore perfume and her own coffee breath.

“So! You look a little short here today?” Kelly was a babyfaced, baby-voiced blonde who for some reason seemed to think of herself as a tough girl.

Nora was pretty sure in a fight Kelly would end up jumping behind the nearest man, if she knew him or not, whispering promises she didn’t intend to keep in his ear so he would protect her. If it was a bad enough fight Nora might do the first part, but she would keep her word even if it ended up being kind of distasteful.

“Oh, gosh, Kelly! Didn’t I message you that Eddie called and said he would be tinsey, tiny bit late this morning?” She waved her head from side to side with the last six words.

“No, but-“

“My Bad!” Nora practically shouted, pressing a hand between her breasts. “The poor guy found a bunch of baby ducklings behind his car this morning and he just HAD to take them to an animal hospital before he came in.”

“What?” Nora always saved her dumbest stories for Kelly.

“Look! He’s here.” Nora pointed out the window to the parking lot where Eddie was doing a poor job of parking his Subaru. He got out of the car, clearly hung over and possibly wearing the same clothes as yesterday.

“You know, I am going to catch him while he’s still out there. I need to run to Office Max.” She grabbed her messenger bag and threw it over her shoulder, clattering away as fast as the idiot heels she wore for some reason this morning would let her.

“But what do you-“ Kelly’s voice was cut off by the door closing behind her.

 

Loki had only felt worse than he did this morning once in his more than a thousand years, and it was not the first time he had had the Horrors. It had to be the pizza, as he could not believe such a small amount of swill could give anyone shaking agony, blurred vision, and an all over stench.

He had managed to get himself and his briefcase out of the car when Nora from yesterday came barreling out of the building straight at him. She was having a hard time in the surprisingly elegant footwear she had chosen for the day. She had struck him yesterday as someone made making little effort over her personal appearance was a point of misplaced pride.

Even today’s better shoes simply begged the question, did the woman not own any lipstick?

He expected her to go past him, but instead she grabbed his arm, squeezing hard. She had pretty fair upper body strength for a female.

“Ow!” He said. Humans actually said that?

“Get back in the car!” She hissed in his ear.

“Where are we going?” He was confused. And Eddie’s head and gut hated him.

“Your place.”

Loki reared back. Surely not. Nora was not particularly lovely, but she had to be able to do better than Eddie. Unless some of his own charisma was eking its way out, in spite of Odin’s curse.

“Um, Nora, I am very flattered but-“

She looked him up and down, revolted. “You must be fucking kidding. No, I am saving your job, ass. You need eggs and a shower. Jesus do you need a shower.”

Loki tried to get back in the driver’s seat but she gave him a hard shove to the other side and when they took off she was driving so fast the car nearly went up on two wheels.

“Please don’t make me vomit.”

“Get this straight, Rasmussen, only I am allowed to come in hungover, because I can handle it AND I am much harder to fire than you are.”

 

A half hour later Loki came out of the bathroom buttoning an oxford cloth shirt over Eddie’s hairy stomach to find Nora sitting at his table. She had made him eggs and coffee and was now reading a large book that she had pulled out of her large leather bag. Something called The Goldfinch.

He hoped the volume wouldn’t perish of loneliness in this terrible place.

“Why are you doing this for me?” He found it hard to choke the question out. It was something that he would say, rather than the abject thanks that would probably be Eddie’s response.

“Because I need someone who knows what they are doing in my department. Now I own you.”

“You think you own me because you made me plate of frankly dry eggs.”

She closed the book and leaned on the table. “Well, yes. I am guessing it has been a long time since anyone has done anything nice for you. Even if it just saving your job, possibly your life, and making you dry eggs.”

He nodded and salted the eggs a bit.

“I have a lot of enemies at work because I am one of the few department heads left over from pre-Roxxon days. They want me out but they haven’t managed to do it, and I spend most of my days protecting the people at work who aren’t assholes from the people who are.”

Loki snorted, “What a hero you are.”

“I’m not Captain America, but I bet he would be proud of me. Finish your breakfast, we need to get back. Besides, if you are one of mine I will cover for you when you fuck with Rod.”

Nora’s mention of the Captain irked him. Of course she would be an admirer of the damned Avengers. Still, she hadn’t mentioned Stark….

“Rod is a dick.” Maybe having an ally was not a bad thing.

“Yup.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the week went well. Or what passed for well at CDV these days. The new hires were not horrible and Nora thought she might coast into her vacation time easily. There were a few problems, of course.

On Tuesday afternoon there was a fire in the lab. Kelsey was blamed for filling out the form wrong, and Nora was willing to assume that was the case. Kelsey was sweet and eager and had the brains of a dandelion. The only reason she hadn’t been fired her first week was because she was related to someone higher up in Roxxon. Also, with the new expansion of the Testing Lab the form that Customer Service filled out had gone from two sheets to twenty-seven with a three-point font for most of the options. Even the good employees had trouble with it, but they knew enough to check their own work.

Because a fire was a Safety Issue there was a mandatory meeting the next day. Kelsey, Nora as her supervisor, Will who was the head of the lab, and Kelly were all called into Don’s office. Don Strand had come in with Roxxon and looked like what happened when a professional golfer and a Power Point presentation loved each other very, very much. His hair was so perfect and silver that Nora had more than once considered scalping him, selling his follicles to Hollywood, and running off to the South Seas to live off of the proceeds.

Don only communicated through silent signals given to his assistant, Lisa, the corporate version of Missandei. She nodded gravely to Nora.

“You have understand that this was a perfectly natural mistake-“ Nora started.

Kelly blew up, “Natural? She filled out a form for LECO Combustion Analysis!”

“Yes, but-“

Don gestured to Lisa who shot a silencing look to Kelly, who mumbled, “LECO is a metallurgical oxidation test…”

“The new forms are very confusing since we started testing such a LARGE range of items…”

“….and we were analyzing a new orange soda…”

“Pop! It’s pop, Kelly! No one in Chicago calls it soda!” Nora snapped.

Which turned into a different fight. Nora hated that Kelly was right about Kelsey. Or anything. Hated it.

It didn’t matter anyway. Kelsey would never be fired, but she was still crying and Nora hated that even more.

Eventually there was a verbal reprimand and few pages of regulations read and everyone was dismissed. Nora mouthed ‘sorry’ at Will who gave her a cool nod. He would find a way for her to make it up to him.

“Nora, we would appreciate you staying behind for a moment.” Lisa said.

Kelly smirked at her and winked as she left.

After the room emptied Don slid a piece of paper across his very empty desk to her. Don was a great believer in 5S, especially Shine. Everything in his office was spare and sparkling. The only decoration was an immense black mirror on the wall behind his desk.

Goddamn. Maybe this was it. Maybe she would be fired! Free! Unemployment! Joy!

Nora read the sheet. “Wait? What is this?”

Lisa spoke. “Don is concerned that our new hires are going to take some time to align with CDV/Roxxon and is certain that you are on the same page he is about this. So he understands that you may wish to delay your upcoming vacation by a few weeks. He doesn’t want that to go unappreciated so you are getting a temporary boost in pay grade.”

“Um, no, I can’t change my plans.” Nora’s hands were shaking. She really needed the money. It was a lot of money.

She really needed to get the hell away for a while.

Don nodded and Lisa said, “Very well. But if you can find that your plans are capable of change the offer is good through the end of the week. We need you, Nora. Your co-workers need you.”

“Sorry.”

Then on Wednesday Andre took the afternoon off to interview at a rival firm and nearly got caught. Luckily Sharon was too busy worrying about a problem in Accounting to spend too much time on it and Nora covered with an especially ridiculous story involving Dre’s nonexistent Aunt Ro finding a dead Pomeranian in her in-ground swimming pool.

Thursday was blissfully quiet and Nora fell asleep that night with Django wheezing at her feet and a worn copy of Deathless on her chest. Just one day to sweet freedom.

Then, Friday morning Rod from Accounting was escorted out of the building and when she went to find Eddie (certain, absolutely certain that the little shit had something to do with it) she found him in the little used janitorial closet on the far end of the dock. Going down, or in this case up, on Kelsey who was balanced precariously on the slop sink, her long legs on his shoulders.

Nora found herself standing perfectly still, just staring for probably twenty seconds longer than she should have. But SERIOUSLY who wouldn’t? She told herself. Eddie, beer-gutted and greasy haired Eddie, was apparently the King of Cunnilingus if the noises Kelsey was making were anything to go by as she pushed herself wildly against what looked to be an elegantly arabesquing tongue.

Before she could shake herself out of the fugue state the sight had her in Kelsey came, shouting Eddie’s name to the heavens.

“Well, this is really damned awkward….” Nora finally said, hoping her voice didn’t sound as husky to either of them as it did to her.

 

For Loki it had been a dreadful week all around, now capped off by Nora Walsh walking in on his doing a marginally adequate job of pleasuring the comely if dim Kelsey.

The nights had not been so bad. Using Eddie’s sense of direction he had taken a subterranean tram called the Blue Line to the Chicago Public Library – a horrendous brown block that someone had decorated with enlarged versions of esoteric torture devices – every evening. He drank too much coffee and read and read and read. Books, magazines, comic books, the Internet when unavoidable. Each night an aged guardian named Oscar chased him and several vagrants out at closing time.

Odin had trapped his powers but his mind was intact, albeit leashed by Eddie’s limited senses. When he had been engaged in his previous indiscretion on Midgard he had spent much of his waiting time studying human history and culture. It was a jumbled mess of trash and dreams and he would admit only to himself that the chaos thrilled him. The library was like a temple devoted to that delicious tumult and it pleased him to worship there.

The days, however….

The mind numbing work and brain churning décor made him wonder how it was that there wasn’t a constant rash of group suicides amongst adult humans working in offices. The Motivational Posters were so foul and trite he rather wished he had been responsible for their creation.

Far worse was the ‘chatting’ that occurred in the breakroom. The lab technicians, allegedly scientists, seemed to lack any of the curiosity about the greater universe that one would assume would be a key feature in anyone choosing such a career. The sales force seemed to be made up of clones, in various colors, sexes, and sizes, all with the same grey taste in clothing, and all originating from an ur-salesman. Probably named Steve.

Loki had theories about the executives that would bear further investigation….

His fellow customer servants were a mildly less dull group. Kelsey was the building beauty, a golden flower surrounded by weeds, with a ready laugh for the homely fellow who took it upon himself to comfort her and dry her tears after she had been chastised for a mistake. That caused a fire. That had hurt no one.

And that may have been his doing when trying to liven up an unengaging afternoon.

Ashley had many, many, many pictures of her children on her telephone. Her insisting on showing them over lunch may have also contributed to the fire.

Andre and Marissa, always dressed in black and seated together, served as a sort of Greek Chorus for the whole company. They seemed to know everyone’s secrets, both in and out of the office, and reported everything to Nora. They were her own Hugin and Munin.

Nora. Nora was not dull. He rather wished she was his sworn enemy instead of Rod the Dick. She would be as close to worthy opponent as he was like to find in the kennel he worked in, but she had decided that he was “one of hers.”

All of Asgard who knew Loki would have said that he had no sense of loyalty. That there was no one he would not betray for profit or just amusement. But he had always known it wasn’t true. Until he betrayed his mother without truly meaning to. He had killed her with his petty need to make a snide comment. Thor loved him, even Odin in his awful way, but only Frigga had ever chosen him, making him her son when it would have been easier to reject the stray monster her husband had brought home, making him her apprentice and teaching him magics that no one else knew.

And then he put his thoughts of her aside. Again.

Nora had taken one look at unpromising Eddie and had decided to save him. And make him eggs. For no reason other than she thought he was smart and perhaps useful. It might not be enough to win over a god, but it was more than enough to ensure the loyalty of a rather unsightly human with bad allergies.

On Friday during his fifteen minute break he had nodded sympathetically to a story that Kelsey was telling about one of her cats. Or maybe a cousin. He hadn’t really been paying attention. Then he had said something appropriately kind and made her laugh again. Which turned out to be sufficient to cause her to drag him into a small, dirty room with the intent of having sexual congress with him.

Kelsey jammed her open mouth against his and moaned into it. Then her tongue explored his, as well as his teeth and gums and seemed to be searching for his tonsils. He assumed she was kissing him. Or was secretly a cannibal. “Oh Eddie, I don’t care what you look like, you are sooooo sweet. I waaannnt yoooouuu.”

Loki considered the situation that was Eddie’s penis.

It was not delightful.

He could, of course, simply fuck her here and based on her skills with kissing and the peculiar way she kept grabbing at him, she would probably be fine with anything. Finesse was clearly outside of Kelsey’s sexual experience. But he couldn’t do it. He had his pride.

“Yes, pretty one. But not here. You deserve better. A bed draped in velvet, with linens scented with the rarest flowers and satin cushions to rest your beautiful head upon. Not this filthy place.”

“But Eddie!” She was whining, which was very nice. He had not had a woman since before his fall from the Bifrost. And Eddie’s unpleasant penis was very eager.

“No to worry, my pet, I won’t leave you in distress. Now take off your panties.”

Because Eddie lacked in upper body strength he helped her hoist herself on to the edge of a cistern that smelled of old water and took a knee before her.

He had forgotten Midgardian woman’s current fashion was for bald pudenda, which gave him a momentary jolt as he wondered if Kelsey were underage. “Wait… don’t… that’s dirty.” Kelsey’s voice was muffled by her legs covering his ears.

“Oh, yesssss,” he breathed, and then proceeded to feast as he had not in what seemed centuries. She tasted as fair as she looked. Human women were a different delight than Asgardians. Something about the short, speeding pace of their lives made their charms less rich and complex, but more delicate and refreshing. Loki carefully formed strange shapes with his tongue on her clit, not as nimbly as he would like, but more than good enough for Kelsey.

He could feel her cunt begin to pulse fast and faster and she pulled his hair hard enough to worry him. All Eddie needed as a big bald patch. As she came she shouted a name - not the right one - in a keening wail.

The voice behind him startled him so badly he pitched onto his hands and knees which caused Kelsey to fall on top of him.

“Well, this is really damned awkward….”

 

After letting them adjust themselves Nora ordered the lovers out to the parking lot and ripped them into as many pieces as she could. Those pieces she then doused with gasoline, lit on fire, and did a dance in the ashes.

“Oh, and that doesn’t even cover that the contract you signed expresses forbids you from getting involved with a coworker.”

“Noraaaaah!” Kelsey burst into tears.

Crap. Kelsey cried pretty easily, but it didn’t make Nora feel like any less of a bully.

“Oh, Christ, you know YOUR job is safe, Kels.” Nora’s shoulders dropped. “Just go. Not you Eddie.”

After the sobbing girl was gone Eddie looked at Nora, who was clearly still furious, “I really don’t see what-“

“What did you do to Rod?”

“Excuse me?”

“Rod. He was fired today. Security just escorted him from the building. And I know you did it.”

“How do you know it was me?”

“Because everyone hates Rod, but no one has done anything about it until you got here. And there is something about you. Everyone else sees shlubby doofus. But everyone else is wrong.”

“There may have been something on his computer that shouldn’t have been there…”

“Porn?”

“Personnel files.”

Nora threw her hands into the air. “For fuckssake Eddie that man has a family.”

“But he is dick. We were in agreement that he deserved to be punished.”

“To be messed with. You mess with dicks, frustrate them, you don’t get them fired so they lose their insurance and their families suffer. Jesus Jesus Jesus!”

“As I said, I really don’t see what all the fuss-“

“You may sound like an extra from Prairie Home Companion but you really don’t…. I , I am so mad I don’t even know where I was going with that! Stay away from Kelsey.”

“Our desk are adjacent.”

“You Know What I Mean!”

She turned on her heel and stalked away in fury. For a second he started to follow her, planning on wrenching her around. Who was she to judge a Prince of Asgard, to turn her back on a god?

Then he saw his reflection in a puddle.

 

Nora barged straight into Don’s office. He and Lisa had been looking at something on a laptop and they both jumped as if they were guilty of something.

“So the temporary pay grade increase if I stay the next two weeks, would that extend to my week of paid vacation?”

 

Don nodded at Lisa who answered, “Yes, I believe we can make that happen.”

Nora let her head fall forward, “I guess I can align with you on delaying my plans, then.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Loki spent his first weekend as a human drinking vodka in some horribly sweet, red liquid that Eddie’s body adored out of a thermos at the library. All while offering one word responses to Kelsey’s texts of unimaginative, and sporadically physically impossible, sexual offers.

He needed to estimate the quickest way to feign humanity and remove himself from this tiresome rock. And from the ticking of the clock. How were humans able to live with this constant awareness of death? There was simply no time to be had or wasted if he were to be free.

He tried philosophy. He tried religion. He tried what they thought of as science. He delved further into their history. He ran the edges of his thoughts over certain aspects of the current obsessions in physical culture. He skimmed over the major works in psychology and had a good hard laugh at most of them. The Arts. The Crafts. Medical textbooks. Fiction. Travel guides. Photography. Studies in fashion. The lives and works of the great artists. The lives and morality of important sportsmen (which gave him a brief, quickly suppressed, moment of missing his brother). Poetry. He downloaded music and listened to it through tiny earbuds that gave him a headache. He viewed recordings of theatrical productions.

He memorized several cookie recipes as he had learned that those who brought homemade bake goods to the office were treated as conquering heroes. And Eddie liked snickerdoodles.

By Sunday afternoon Loki had learned a few things of value and many more of no use at all. When he returned to Eddie’s painfully dull home he discovered his wonderfully lecherous neighbor Mr. Choe chatting up Kelsey who was wearing the idea of a dress and holding a bottle of what might have been liquor, but based on its colour was just as likely a window cleaning product.

“How did you find out where I live, my nectarous princess?” He tried purring in her ear. Being slightly shorter than she was, and having the accent of an overly ingratiating farmer dulled the effect a bit. Still, Kelsey squirmed with pleasure.

“I asked Andre to find it for me.”

“Oooohhh, you are clever.” Loki had not intended to pursue further congress with Kelsey. She was pretty enough but dull of mind. But in this moment, disheartened and terribly aware of the passage of every second of this brief mortal life that dullness seemed less significant than the pleasure of rubbing Nora’s nose in his transgression the next day.

“And clever girls get special treats.” He took her hand and led her into Eddie’s lair.

 

Nora seethed.

On Monday morning she had a pretty good idea that Kelsey and Eddie had spent at least part of the weekend together. She tried to pretend otherwise, even when they sat next to each other at the mandatory first of the month meeting, The Roxxon Experience, with Eddie whispering in Kel’s ear and her trying to suppress giggles.

She assigned Eddie three new clients : Rookwood Milk Products, JEV Cardboard Concepts, and the dreaded Wéixiǎn Yǒudú Toys and Collectables.

“It’s only his second week. Isn’t three kind of a heavy load? And Yondu? They even made Dre cry that one time.” Marissa asked. “Like everything their stuff is made out if pretty much illegal in the US. And all of Western Europe. And even, I think, Africa. I mean the guy isn’t so bad, even if his hair is, ugh. Hey, maybe he will let me fix it. It would be the ultimate expression of my genius if I could do that.”

It was strange, Marissa always took a long time to warm up to new hires. And she never offered to help anyone if there wasn’t a direct profit for her in it. “Eddie’s bright. He can handle it.”

Tuesday, after the Making Connections Happen! Meeting Nora saw them doing what could only be described as canoodling.

That day she had Eddie scan and shred old files for the rest of the day.

“Damn. He molested that creepy dog of yours or some shit, didn’t he?” Dre wondered. “Cause you must hate him the most. Maybe ease up on him a bit.”

“Django isn’t creepy, he’s just old you ageist. And it had to be done. Want to help him?” Nora snipped.

By Wednesday she was certain that they were still fooling around. But she wasn’t sure if she should do anything about it.

Eddie appeared to be a good influence on Kels. He had a way of explaining things to her that she seemed to not only to understand, but was able to retain. She was also falling less into her default behavior of flirting with any man around her in order to win their favor.

Plus, Eddie had brought pfeffernusse to HRs Breakthrough to Excellence meeting which had been the only reason Nora had not ritually killed herself in protest over having to attend. She decided not to give him the gift of more work that day since anyone who had to listen to Sharon talk about the importance of Cascading Information had suffered more than enough.

Thursday was company theme day. This week was A Spectrum of Opportunities, which meant that Nora spent all day doing professional development meetings with the other department heads.

At lunch Loretta sat next to her. “I know I am new here, too, but I am worried about Eddie. I think he is going to get himself into trouble with Kelsey. He’s such a sweet young man.”

Nora boggled at the sight of stern Loretta, who seemed to not care for any kind of foolishness, especially foolishness from spoiled white boys, worrying over the snakiest snake that had ever snaked his way into her life. Eddie was evil. Or a hypnotist. An evil hypnotist. It was the only explanation for it.

On her way out she heard Kelsey talking a low voice to one of the only women in IT, ‘-and then he did this thing? With his, um, fingers? It was, it was, I don’t even know! I think I might be falling in love!”

Friday, before the end of week Team CDV meeti- er, get together Nora grabbed, literally, Eddie and hustled him into an empty conference room.

 

“Why Miss Walsh, I believe that physical contact is expressly against the CDV – Roxxon Code of Conduct blood vow we all take on being hired.” Watching Nora become more and more furious all week had been delightful. Her petty revenges as he flaunted his relationship with Kelsey and subverted her allies had been amusing as well.

“Shut up!”

“And I also believe that verbal violence is not tolerated.” He could hear the smugness in his own voice.
“Do you know Kelsey thinks she’s in love with you?”

“What?” Was that even possible? Eddie was so distasteful.

“She thinks she might be in love with you. And I know you don’t feel the same way. It is all over you. You are just using her.”

“I can assure you that while, yes, I am far from in love,” he said ‘in love’ as if the words were coated in something foul, “with Kelsey I am more than fond of her in and out of –“

“I don’t mean you are using her for sex. Which you are. I mean you are using her to mess with me. Which I don’t understand, by the way. And Kelsey is one of those women who thinks of herself as only really good for one thing, because that is the only thing anyone has ever given her a sense of self-worth for, so you need to end it with her. Now.”

“Or what? What are you going to do, Nora? Make me file? Give me more vaguely criminal Asian conglomerates to deal with? Refuse to eat my cookies? I know you won’t get me fired because You Don’t Do That.” He gave a snippy imitation of her voice the day she had dared to judge him for his perfectly reasonable response to Rod’s existence. “And there is really nothing else you can do to me.”

“I won’t do anything to you. And I am sorry for all of the bullshit this week. This place is making me into someone that I does things like that and I hate it.” Nora sagged against a wall, looking defeated

For the slightest sliver of a moment Loki wanted to do something for her. He didn’t know what. Get her a cup of coffee. Tell her a joke. Offer her the heads of Roxxon’s Executive Board on shiny spikes. But it was just for that sliver of that moment.

“Kelsey is a nice person. A good person, even if she isn’t very bright. I used to think that being smart was the most important thing, but I think just being good is probably even more important and I just don’t want you to hurt her. She doesn’t deserve that. If you want to fuck with me for some reason, fine, go ahead. I don’t know what I did to make you so mad, but I am used to that.”

Loki looked at Nora. Her long, tea-colored hair pulled into a neat ponytail, her black pantsuit perfectly pressed, and the slightly too red for her fair skin neatly applied. The image of a modern woman, ambitious and competent. But her brown eyes were exhausted, no utterly worn out, but also hopeful. She was appealing to a common humanity in him.

Which didn’t exist.

And then Loki had an idea.

“I will find a way to end things with her that will not cause her pain. Give me a few days. Please.”

Nora nodded. “Um, listen, the department usually goes out on the first Friday of the month. Pizza and beer and, um, other…stuff. You should come. Everyone likes you. Everyone else, I mean.”

“I would be honored.” He put a hand to his chest and bowed a little.

“Yeah, sure. Well, we better get to the meeting.”

Loki followed her, watching the way she set her shoulders, steeling herself for her daily battle with the banal, pointless, and dehumanizing.

Nora was perfectly, gorgeously human. And if he proved a good enough student, soon he would be, too.

Chapter Text

“C’mon, you got to and you know you got to, so just get to it.” Andre was on his third gin and tonic and was standing at the head of the table gesturing to the stage.

“Dre’s right. And you know that fool is almost never right so just go before he keeps talking.” Marissa licked a bit of sugar off of the rim of her glass and gave Dre a look.

“No.”

Nora finished her stout and gave their waitress the nod for another one.

Loki had eaten most of a pizza by himself. It was infinitely better than the frozen dreadfulness that he had been living off of for the last few weeks. He noted the ingredients carefully.

When they had arrived he had started to order the light beer that Eddie’s body seemed to live off of when Nora shook her head.

“No, you will not shame me in the temple of my family gods. He will have a hefeweizen and he will like it.” She ordered for him. He had liked it so he had drunk seven of them.

It was close to midnight and for the last hour in the great pizza hall a musical band had been performing adequate renditions of popular songs. Those dining took turns singing to the great merriment of their mocking friends. It was entertaining in the extreme when Ashley, tipsy and out for the first time in ages, shouted her way through something called The Story of Us. Her performance was quickly followed by an enthusiastically off-key Kelsey dedicating her song to her former boyfriend and going on and on about how they were apparently nevernevernever getting back together again.

Lucky, lucky former boyfriend...

For the entire time Andre and Marissa had been haranguing Nora attempting to get her to perform. Oh, how he hoped she would! It would be delightful to see her shame herself a little. Or a great deal. Who did she think she was? This superior, judgmental mortal? This would be arbiter of office romances? This….this…Boss?

Loki was vaguely aware of two things. One was that Eddie’s weak human brain was intoxicated again. The other was that maybe he was still a weeee bit irritated with Nora, his resolution to attempt to ape her comportment notwithstanding. Looking around at the carousing foolishness of the humans, he felt ape was the operative term.

“Yes!” He roared. “Nora, I charge you to perform for us!”

Then he almost fell off of the high stool Eddie’s short and ungainly form was perched on. Oh to have his body back! Just his body would be enough. His beautiful, strong, agile, gorgeous, splendid, faultless, flawless, sublime, unblemished, choate, desirable, incomparable, unsullied, magnificent, beautiful – had he thought beautiful already? It was worth thinking again. Beautiful, divine –

Nora turned and frowned at him, with a slight snorting noise, cutting off Loki’s internal soliloquy to on his favorite subject.

They were sitting quite close together and her annoyance was like a wave of itchy wool. “You charge me?” Then she snorted. “Oh man, you are a LARPer, aren’t you? Shit that makes perfect sense.” Stood up and bowed with a showy wave of her hand. “I live to serve thee, my liege.”

He nodded rather grandly, he thought. “Well then, sing, thrall.”
For some reason she listened to him when she had ignored the importuning of her friends.

Loki was temporarily distracted from the stage by Kelsey whispering something into his ear about slipping away back to his place where he could do ‘you know….that.’ to her again.

“Kelsey, we need to talk. But later.”

From the look she gave him that made it clear that needing to talk meant the same thing on Midgard as it did on Asgard. And Vanaheim. And all the rest of the realms. It was comfort to know that there were a few things that transcended species: indigestion, hangovers, bad dancing at weddings, and stilted breakup platitudes.

When he turned back to the stage he noticed that the room was oddly quiet, with a low frisson of anticipation. Nora was standing behind the primative microphone, very straight and yet relaxed. She nodded to the guitar player who led the band.

“For you I was aflame/ Love is a losing game….”

Her voice was a clear light, touched with resigned sadness and a bit of a dreaminess, her sound WAS the lyric. Not really beautiful, but precise enough in interpretation to seem beautiful.

“One I wish we’d never played/ oh, what a mess we made….”

Clearly this was far from the first time she had performed with the musicians, who seemed freed from the constraint of trying to perfectly reproduce jingle-like music in order for the other singers to be able to fit the words in the correct places. They simply played and took pleasure in it.

The crowd, rightly, adored her. They cheered and clamored for more. The guitarist shook his head, “You know she won’t do it folks, so save your voices for the stage!”

Nora thanked everyone and came back to the table, dodging people who wanted to tell her how great she was. She sat across from him and gave him a cocky half-smile. “Art thou satisfied, sire?”

He mumbled something about his nature into his beer glass and rather wished he was in Eddie’s wretched bed. Asleep. Alone.

 

“And and and then he said… he said…” Kelsey burst into tears again, actually sobbing on Nora’s shoulder. “He said that a princess de-de-deserves a prince, not a mere troll like him. He had tears in his eyes! And I had to ask him what mere meant! It means-”

Nora patted her back, “I know what it means, honey.”

“He’s so sweeeeet! And I can’t convince him that he is good enough for me! That he isn’t terrible, and he isn’t that ugly. And anyway, he can change I can help-“

Nora grabbed the girl by the upper arms, “Look at me Kelsey, and repeat after me. When I guy tells you he is no good believe him. It means that if stay with him he can pretty much do anything he wants and you can’t call him on it because he warned you.”

“But-“

“Kelsey! We talked about this. Many times. Many. Times. Have I been wrong before?”

“Nu-no….”

“Well I am not wrong now, either. Buck up. Whatever that means. You are a um, strongish, sometimes nearly confident, um, adult-like person. Mostly. I have faith in you.”

Kelsey gave a weak smile, “Thanks, Nora.”

The second floor ladies’ bathroom had seen Kelsey through a rather large number of breakups since she had started at CDV. Nora had steered her to this bathroom time and again since the HR things never used it. She was convinced that they lived off of antacids and the tears of the innocent and she hated the thought of them feeding off any of her people.

“I know you don’t like Eddie, but he really is a good guy.” Kelsey said as they headed back to the department.

“I don’t dislike Eddie. Exactly. There is just something about him that doesn’t sit right with me. And anyway, if there is any dislike between us it isn’t on my side.”

“Oh, that’s not true. Eddie told me that he thinks you are exemplary.”

Nora felt her lip curl, “In what way?”

“He didn’t say. Just that he was going to use you as such. It so cute the way he speaks. All old timey. I guess it’s because he’s from Minneapolis.”

That didn’t sound good at all.

For the week leading up to her now long-delayed, dearly-needed vacation Eddie himself was exemplary. Not just in the quality of his work, which had always been there, indeed he had always given the impression he could do it in his sleep. No, rather he was exemplary in his behavior.

He was kind to Kelsey after their breakup, still helping her to find her way workwise. He made it less obvious that he was bored to death when listening to Ashley talk about her children. He let Marissa take him to her stylist so he was no longer an ugly man, he was an ugly man with really good hair. He helped cover for Dre’s latest failed job interview by telling Sharon and Kelly that Dre had stopped a homeless man from falling in front of the el on the way to work and was being treated to coffee and pastries by the grateful train driver. Wednesday morning he dropped a large black from Bridgeport coffee on her desk. “Still hot, boss,” he said with that bad-teeth smile of his that she was beginning to really hate.

“How is that possible? Why were you in Bridgeport this morning already?”

“Oh, you know. Uber.”

There was something more though, about his actions. Nora spent the next two days watching Eddie like it was her job. It was certainly more interesting than her job. She noticed certain turns of phrase he was taking on. Mannerisms that seemed new. The way he had gathered the rest of the department to his side. At lunch rather than talking he encouraged everyone else to speak about themselves.

Which was really, really strange since he was, well, a guy.

The way he cocked his head to the right rather than the left now…

Friday morning on the train it came to her. “He’s literally imitating me!”

Luckily everyone on the train was engrossed in their phones so no one cared that she had shouted it out loud.

 

Nora scooted into the seat next to Loki, neatly smoothing her narrow skirt and sitting very straight. “I know what you are doing, even if I don’t know why.” She whispered out of the corner of her mouth, while pretending to be engrossed in IT’s PowerPoint presentation - Ingenuity @ Work.

“I am certain I don’t know what you mean, Miss Walsh.” He whispered back. By Bor how many bullet points could actually be fitted into a single slide? What he was looking at seemed to defy all natural laws.

“You are imitating me. Pretty badly, actually. For one thing you are wearing khaki. Psycho.”

“Note to self, buy clothing that makes me look like an undertaker who has been clinically depressed for some time.”

“And you are sucking up to your boss. Namely me. I never suck up to anyone. On second thought ignore that. You keep sucking up to your heart’s content. I like Mexican wine cookies and Korean food. And French tulips.”

He smirked a bit. “I’ll have them waiting on your desk first thing Monday morning. Is pink acceptable? For the flowers? Or do they come in black? Grey, perhaps?”

“I won’t be here Monday. I am finally on vacation so you will just have to find someone else to be, Zelig. I recommend Loretta, or maybe Phil. They are both waaaay better people than I am. Or maybe just be yourself. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? It’s like I am seeing you go through a different psychological disorder every week you’re here.”

No. No. This wouldn’t do at all! Loki needed more time to study Nora. Superficially he understood her ways. The small considerations for the people around her, many invisible to their recipients. The not quite as small suborning of her those who were her superiors in name only. The peculiar sense he had that she was unaware of her worth to those around her most of the time.

Now he needed to understand why she did it.

Loki knew himself well enough to know that this would not be an easy area of mastery for himself.

“Are you going somewhere or are you having a staycation?” He pushed down his rising gorge at saying THAT word.

He could feel the sneer in Nora’s words, “Staycation? You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“No, she is dead.” It slid out without a thought. The frozen words sounding like breaking crystal.

“Oh.”

“Quite recently. If you care to know.” Why would she care to know? Why the Hel did he care to tell her?
“Oh, god, I am so-“

“She was murdered.” It came out with a stutter, getting a little too close to the truth for the Allfather’s curse’s liking.

Nora stood up, clearly forgetting her surroundings. “Jesus, Eddie! I am really sorry.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at them, even the functionary from IT.

Why had he even brought it up? He had managed to barely think on it since his banishment. But something about sitting in this darkened room, the droning of the presenter hypnotically sounding in the background, and Nora’s pleasantly soft, if deliciously annoyed, voice had made him feel…

It had made him feel something. Something that wasn’t angry or irritated. Something –

Loki stood himself, awkwardly pushing empty chairs so he could make his way around Nora without touching her, and practically ran out of the room.

He heard Nora’s voice behind him, “What are you looking at? Haven’t you ever seen a man so motivated by a slide he just couldn’t wait to launch a new methodology or something?”

Loki was certain the moisture in Eddie’s eyes was from laughter.

Chapter Text

There was something very wrong.

The night before, even though it had not been the regular outing Friday, several people from the office had gone out after work to have drinks with Nora before she started her vacation. Loki had not been invited, but as he was putting on his backpack (and why a grown man would have such a thing when he never engaged in outdoor activity was yet another part of the mystery that was Eddie), Nora had stopped him.

Her hand lightly rested on his forearm.

Why did humans feel the need to touch so often?

Moreover, why did Nora’s hand feel so pleasant? Did she possess superior hand crème to accompany her superior humanity?

“Hey, Eddie, I -…” She looked down, and he knew she was thinking of his PowerPoint inspired revelation. He jerked his arm away from her touch and sneered.

“I neither desire nor require your pity, Miss Walsh.”

“And I neither desire nor require your approval for my emotions. Dude. I was going to say I want to buy you a drink to apologize, but if you don’t want one that is fine with me.”

It ended up being two drinks and some popcorn. The last he had seen of Nora she was waiting for the Red Line talking to one of the vagrants who sold postcards on the el. He had wanted to hear what she was saying. Surely this was a very human act he was missing because things were spinning a bit and he felt oddly gray. Was it possible to feel a color?

He snorted. Of course it was.

Dre had kept offering him a bottle of water and telling him he looked like shit.

“Of course I look like shit. Eddie is incapable of looking like anything else. All of Marissa’s efforts aside.” He offered her a bow and would have fallen on to the tracks if Ashley and Dre had not grabbed his arms.

“Man, you need to go home. You must be sick. You can’t be that damned drunk on a couple beers.”

Loki must have followed Dre’s advice because now he lay in Eddie’s bed, trembling under an ocean of nylon and polyester.

He was not hungover. Loki was familiar with all of the rich variety that a morning after could inspire. Over a thousand years of drinking with Thor and his tedious sycophants had taught him every permutation of the Horrors, from a merely dry mouth to the dry heaves.

This was infinitely worse. No part of Eddie’s body was not in some agony. His brain was pierced by jagged blades. His throat and nostrils inflamed. His alleged muscles ached as if he had actually used them. And worst, oh worst of all, there was something terribly wrong with his skin. It felt like broken fingernails scrabbling on shale felt, and had broken into tiny bumps, which, thankfully, were not discolored in any way. When he tried to rise from the bed his body craved the coverings he had left behind, so he wrapped himself in an elegant cloak of beige polymeric amide and made his way down the hall to the only neighbor he had not avoided knowing.

He pounded on the door. “Mr. Choe! Mr. Choe! I am in need-, I require-… Mr. Choe!”

“Jesus, Eddie, what?” It must have been earlier in the morning than Loki had realized, as Mr. Choe was still dressed for bed in his undershirt and very, very baggy blue striped boxers. He squinted at Eddie’s face, and then raised a lip in disgust. More disgust than was even normal for a first thing in the morning Eddie. “You sick?”

“I believe I am perishing. My skin feels like I am being pressed all round with jagged glass, and I am unable to cease shuddering.”

“You have a cold, you moron. Summer colds are the worst. Don’t give it to me. At my age one hard sneeze could kill me. Wait here.”

Mr. Choe shuffled back into his darkened abode and Loki waited, clutching desperately at his coverlet. A cold? He had heard of this cold. There was one going around the office, with everyone commiserating with the victims over how horrible it was, and how the summer ones were (plainly) the worst. Cold was for humans not only a condition of temperature, but an incurable condition of the body that could only be endured.

Loki had never experienced an illness, let alone the feeling of being cold. This was what everyone was always complaining about? This was why everyone was perpetually lighting fires even when no light was needed or food in need of cooking?

It was DREADFUL! To find your skin assaulted and your muscles tensed hard enough to hurt! No wonder Volstagg owned all of those fuzzy sweaters!

“Here, take this and go back to bed. Only thing that works. And maybe take a shower first, a good hot one.” Mr. Choe handed him a plastic grocery bag with a few things in it.

Loki looked into the bag, “What is this? Ginseng? Song-gen mushrooms?”

“It’s aspirin and Liptons, you racist. Go back to be before I punch you and end up giving myself a heart-attack.”

 

Nora was celebrating the beginning of her vacation by going to the laundromat, since she couldn’t afford to get her aunt’s venerable washing machine fixed. She was just sorting whites when her phone rang.

Eddie.

Fuck.

Nora did not want to spend any of her vacation talking to anyone from work. Not even the few people that she liked. And she was mostly sure that Eddie was not on that list. Mostly. He had been funny the night before, though. He had insisted on buying all of the postcards that Ethan had been selling, and then had handed them out to all of the people waiting for the train, all the while turning to look back at her with a hopeful smile.

“What’s his deal?” Ethan had asked.

“Not sure. I have some ideas. The latest is that he used to be a trust fund kid and now daddy is insisting he work for a living, or he’s an alien. It could be. We have those now.”

“Oh, yeah, from Asgard and shit.”

“Totally.”

Now he was calling her on Saturday morning at a crucial point in her laundering.

“Hi, Eddie.”

“Nora,” his voice was raspy and weak, “I believe I am ill.”

“I would say that was pretty certain. Oh, damn, I better not get it!”

“I pray you do not. It is a monstrous thing.”

“Well, it’s a cold.” She stopped and then realized, “You’ve never had a cold before? How is that possible? You are so …. Eddie.”

“Sadly it is so. I fear I shall die that way, as well.”

“You aren’t dying. Force fluids and make yourself eat. And sleep a lot. You should be fine for work on Monday.”

“Oh, lord, is that all I have to do look forward to? Being well enough to do the mindless bidding of others until my eyes close for that final time?”

“Pretty much. Just like the rest of us.” Yup, poor little rich boy for certain. Nora had just about finished rolling her socks. “Was there something you wanted?”

“Hmmm?” Eddie sounded as if he was dropping off.

“Why did you call me?”

“I don’t know. I just thought of you, as I was suffering.”

Nora took the phone away from her ear and looked at it. The picture of Eddie was one she had caught while he was listening to Loretta tell a story about her time in Iraq. There was a look of concentration in his eyes, his rather full mouth was thinned, and he was leaning a bit forward. It was a good photo.

“Well, Eddie, I don’t know what to think of that.”

“I know how that must sound, but I think very highly of you Nora. Traditionally I think very lowly of, well, everyone other than myself. And maybe my brother when he is not being the largest ass in the Nine-“ That odd stutter of his cut him off and caused him to cough, “in our hometown. And my mother, when she was still alive. I don’t have a good grounding in how to behave myself, as you have noticed.”

Nora added dryer sheets and leaned her shoulder on the warm machine mounted in the wall. “You could be way worse, Eddie. Thanks for handling that thing with Kelsey in a nice way. Listen, I have to go, but we just got off on the wrong foot. We should maybe hang out sometime. Get to know each other.”

Eddie was silent for a bit, “You would wish to hang with me?”

“Sure. Sometime.”

“Thank you Nora. I am going to have some tea now.”

“Good.”

 

On Monday afternoon there was a freak chemical leak in the CDV lab, and the employees were sent home early with pay and were told they probably wouldn’t be called back until Wednesday at the earliest.

 

On Tuesday morning Nora went to pick up the Tribune and found Eddie on her porch.

With donuts.

Chapter Text

Nora had a more than passing acquaintance with the awkward and uncomfortable. She had walked in on at least three (maybe more) of her college roommates having sex with each other. Once, when working the drive thru at Paulie’s Red Hots in high school she and the fry girl had had an entire conversation about their periods without realizing she had forgotten to turn off the external microphone. And that had also led to the woman who had been waiting for her beef combo to give her some wildly unwanted advice on picking out tampons.

And then there was the time her parents dumped her at her Great-Aunt Claire’s house because they were moving to Alaska and they couldn’t afford to take all three of their kids and they figured the boys would be more useful up there.

That had been reeeeeaaaallllly awkward.

So on a scale of parental abandonment to unsought sex viewing, just having Eddie on her porch was nothing. Well, a little stalker-y, but otherwise not a big deal.

“Um…..” Nora was exceptionally aware that she was wearing an ancient Ben Franklin housecoat of Claire’s and her feet were bare. She hid one foot behind the other, hoping he wouldn’t notice the violet polish she had though was a good idea a few days before and hadn’t had a chance to rectify since.

“I should have called? Is that correct? Or perhaps texted?”

“Are those from the Donut Vault?”

“Obviously.”

“You’re good. Go around the back, I’ll get the coffee.”

Nora brought out the stovetop percolator and a couple Carnival glass cups. Eddie took his coffee black, too.

The backyard needed to be mowed, and the wildflower seeds that she had put in thinking that they would take care of themselves had gone crazy in the heat and humidity of the last few weeks. Eddie must have secretly been carrying a machete because he had managed to make it to the ancient umbrella table on the patio.

“If you wish me to leave I will go. But you heard about the spill at work, yes? I thought it might be a good chance to take you up on your kind offer of ‘hanging out.’” There it was again, that anomaly between Eddie’s golden retriever friendly accent and his coolly aristocratic language and pronunciation. Nora could actually hear the quotes around ‘hanging out.’

“Maybe I already have plans with someone else.”

“You have plans with other acquaintances?”

“Friends, Eddie, I have friends.”

“If you say so.” He took a sip of coffee and nodded. “This is quite good.”

“Of course it is.”

Nora ate two donuts, Eddie had eight. In complete silence. Other than chewing and sipping noises. And a few birds. And the breeze blowing through the sugar maple in the side yard. A bit of clanging from the construction down the block. The sound of Agnes from across the alley backing her car out, her radio blasting the Eric and Kathy Show and her little girl in the backseat singing something about ponies at the top of her lungs.

“So Marissa left me a message about the spill.” Nora finally spoke. “She said no one was hurt?”

“No, it was quite fortunate. Sadly it caused a freak eruption through one of the sewer lines and some rather hideous smelling muck ended up all over Sharon from HRs new vehicle. Apparently she had also forgotten to close one of the windows. She was quite distressed.”

Nora felt her lips break into a thin, unkind grin against the lip of her cup. “Wow that is too bad.”
“I also heard yesterday, before the incident, that Rod is coming back. It turns out there was some kind of misunderstanding with those files on his computer but it has been straightened out.” Eddie’s voice was bland.

Nora stared at him. “I guess that is good news, then.”

“Yes.” The coffee was gone and even Eddie couldn’t finish another donut, though he looked as if he might try.

He looked a little sad about it, too. Sad about something, anyway.

“Listen, I really do have plans. With friends. But, um, tomorrow night, maybe after work, I was going to go to 57th Street beach and hang out. Maybe swim. Want to meet up?”

Eddie crooked an eyebrow at her. Another gesture that didn’t match his face. “You wish to see me in a bathing costume?”

“Absolutely not. But I am willing to. Whatever, I’ll be there at 5:30 or so.”

 

It had taken Loki four hours and a huge sum of Imodium to find a combination of swim trunks and t-shirt that he could bear to have Eddie’s carcass exposed by. Even then, looking at himself in the mirror he felt like weeping.

Openly.

If anything he looked even more grotesque than he had a month ago. Eddie’s third-trimester sized beer belly was now about to enter its tenth month. His skin was pasty, as well as greasy, from too much time under artificial light. Only the hair was good. Marissa’s stylist had a divine touch.

The hair gave off an air of being deeply ashamed to be associated with the rest of him but was choosing to make the best of its bad lot in life.

By the time he had found parking and made his way across the white-hot sand to where Nora sat in a (surprisingly not funereal) blue one-piece suit under a large, black umbrella he was dripping and red-faced.

“Jesus, sit down before you pass out. Here!” Nora moved to the side of the old blanket she was perched on, while handing him an icy bottle of water from Styrofoam cooler.

“I. Loathe. The. Sun. And. The. Beach.” He managed to gasp out.

“Me, too.” Nora wore rather stylish black sunglasses that looked like something from an old film. Considering what little he had seen of her lifestyle at home they were probably just old.

Wait.

What?

“If you hate it why in all that is, was, and ever shall be, are we here?” He bellowed at her. A man who was just as unattractive and hairy as he, but with the shamelessness to wear a very tiny pair of trunks, turned to eye him. Loki growled at him and he quickly turned away.

Nora laughed, “Wow. That was kind of scary. Anyway, I come once a summer. We used to come here when I was a kid. Back then it was kind of fun. My brothers used to try to drown each other and then me, and my mom made sandwiches, and then we had ice cream.”

“That sounds terri- terri- terrifically pleasant.” Loki thought it sounded like a punishment for an exceptionally vile crime, but stopped himself from saying so.

“It was fine. Then we got older and they moved and-“

“They moved?” That sounded… odd.

“Here, I made sandwiches. My mother’s recipe. The secret is in taking the little bits of paper out from between the slices of cheese. Makes all the difference.”

 

Mr. Choe laughed so hard at Eddie’s sunburn that he started gasping for breath. Loki eventually called an ambulance.

Eventually.

 

On Thursday Nora’s phone chimed. There was a text from Eddie.

MOVIE?

when?

TONIGHT?

what?

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2?

Ok, but at 600 michigan, i want to go to rossi’s after.

 

Rossi’s turned out to be a venerable bar of the dive type, dark and filled with normal looking people, despite its being in a very expensive and tourist filled part of the city. Once again Nora insisted on picking what he drank, this time handing him a brown ale that reminded him a bit of something from home.

“Not that it isn’t tantalizingly down market, as are all of the places you seem to enjoy frequenting, but why here? I thought you claimed to be repulsed by this part of the city?”

“I usually am. But Rossi’s is like home to me. My aunt used to sing at a cabaret that was down the street, and I couldn’t afford to drink there, so when she was working I would wait down here for her to get off work so she wouldn’t have to take the train home alone.”

“She was a professional performer?”

“Yup. Almost famous in certain circles. She was part of the folk scene in the early 60s and then turned to jazz later. My great aunt, actually.”

“And she taught you to sing? Your voice is lovely.”

“It isn’t, really. But I yeah, I know how to sing because of her, and I have good pitch. So many people have good voices but can’t do fuck all with them, as she would say.” Nora finished her beer and signaled to the woman tending bar to bring them another round. “But enough about me, what was with you tearing up during the movie when Stoick died.”

“I never!” He pulled himself up as tall as he could manage, but even sitting Nora still had an inch or two on him. Loki let himself sag. “Fine. He reminds me of someone. Another giant oaf who has no business rul- rul-running anything. My brother. I find I rather miss him. In spite of his being the biggest ass to ever wiel- wi- lift perfectly normal construction tools.”

Nora shook her head lightly, “My friend, you just have too much backstory for me.”

Loki laughed, “You have no idea.”

 

On Saturday morning they met for breakfast at a diner that Nora liked and knew wouldn’t be too crowded on the weekends. She wore her favorite dress, the green and black plaid one that Claire had worn to sing at the Village Vanguard during her brief brush with fame in the mid-60s. It was too short on her, but it was cool enough out for her wear black tights under it.

Eddie kept telling her how nice she looked. “Green is clearly your colour,” he said.

Since he had taken the train afterwards she tried to persuade him to let her skitch him back to her place on her bike. After she explained to him that she meant the kind of skitching where she pedaled standing and he sat on the seat, not the kind that involved grabbing a passing car bumper on an icy street.

“How undignified. I have never heard of such a thing.”

“Please. Anyway, you have never been skitched? Either kind? You’re from Minnesota, I kind of assumed you guys invented winter skitching.” She was now convinced he came from a very, very wealthy family, the kind where the kids were watched too closely to ever do anything too dangerous or crazy. Or fun. Poor Eddie didn’t know what he had missed, not living a life of pre-teen danger.

So they walked. He insisted on pushing her bike and only caught his shins on the pedaled three or four times.

At her house they sat on the pink couch in the front room and listened to some of her aunt’s records on the cabinet hi-fi that had been purchased with the proceeds from the only one of those records that had sold well.

“Your aunt’s voice is truly beautiful.”

“She was truly beautiful.” Nora rested her head and rolled it to face Eddie. She hadn’t invited anyone over in close to two years. Very close to two years. It felt strange but right. “She took me in when I was twelve and my parents decided they didn’t want me anymore. She was already in her 60s, but she did it.”

“What! What do you mean your parents didn’t want you anymore?” Eddie sat us and stared at her, his eyes so outraged that for a moment she could have sworn there was a flash of red deep in their brown depths.

“Well, that’s not exactly the truth, but my dad was always coming up with get rich quick schemes, and he had one that they had to go to Alaska for, and it was just easier and cheaper to just take the boys because they could help out up there. Which was kind of hilarious in the short run since Sam, the younger one, ran away as soon as they got there and ended up living with us until he went to college two years later.”

“How could they not want you?” He sounded genuinely confused.

“Eh, I wasn’t really expected when I came along, and blah blah blah. Let’s just listen to the music, ok?”

That afternoon his leaving took a long time, with the two of them standing on the porch, each of them thinking of one last thing they wanted to say. Finally Nora brushed a soft, dry kiss on his cheek. He turned, startled.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Nora backed away.

“No, it’s just no one has done that for many, many years. It was -. Thank you.” He walked slowly down the stairs and turned at the foot, waving a bit. “See you Monday?”

“Monday.”

Chapter Text

“No.”

Nora had been surprised to wake up on Monday without the stomach full of muck and instant stress headache that was normal for her at the beginning of the work week.

She was cautiously not miserable. And for the weirdest reason she could think of. She was really looking forward to seeing a homely short man with bad taste in pants who sounded like what would happen if Owen Wilson had a child with an episode of Downton Abbey.

Walking to the el she felt good. Walking into work she had even given a friendly bit of a wave to Rod, who responded by saying, “Sup?”

Dick.

But now, all of the muck and headache were back, with shaking hands and a hot, prickling sweat to keep them company.

“No, Kelly. No. Don, we had an understanding about my travel situation.”

She was actually leaning on Don’s desk and trying not to shout.

Lisa shared a telepathic moment with Don and then spoke for him, “Nora, please calm down. Yes, we have an understanding, but this is a special circumstance and we need you in Atlanta for this conference. Kelly has already made all of the arrangements. It isn’t for a month so perhaps you could interface to your personal physician. Get some, um, tranquilizers, or, um, something. ” She sort of petered out at the end.

Kelly’s smile was very, very sweet. “I am sooooo sorry Nora. Because there is nothing in your contract about this ‘arrangement’,” the bitch actually made scare quotes with her fingers at that point, “I just plain forgot about your little problem. And we really have to have you. Why, no one else in the whole company is as qualified as you are for this presentation.”

Nora wanted to slam Kelly’s head onto the desk, catching that smile on the lip of the mahogany top and then to feed her back the teeth that flew out. She felt herself panting.

“It’s time for my mandatory break. Excuse me.”

 

Everyone but Nora was in the breakroom, eating the Mexican wine cookies Loki had brought as a welcome back for her. Loretta was telling a very funny story about a misunderstanding when she was stationed in Berlin when first in the military out of high school.

“And he kept saying, and he sounded just like Arnold Schwarzenegger, ‘drink beer now, dance later, pretty girl,’ and I kept saying, ‘uh, uh, baby, if you want American chocolate you got to dance for it, Hans.’”

Loki kept looking at the door waiting for Nora to come in. Something was wrong. Just before eleven her ravens had converged on her desk, whispering urgently their latest intelligence. Nora had turned white as a sheet.

Before he had known what he was doing had been moving towards her, but before he could find out what was wrong she had stalked out of the room, fists clenched, headed for HR.

Now Dre and Marissa stood whispering to each other, ignoring the delightfully bawdy tale from the ladylike Loretta.

Finally, with ten minutes left in break time, Nora came into the room and swept past their table and over to Dre and Marissa. Before they could say anything she gracefully shook her head and held out a hand. Marissa silently giving her a pack of cigarette and a lighter, and then she was gone again.

Dre slumped into a chair next to Loki. “Fucking HR bitches are sending her to a conference in Atlanta.”

Marissa slammed her fist into the candy machine and then stomped out.

Ashley looked confused but Kelsey put a hand to her mouth with a little sound of distress. “But-“

“Is Atlanta really so disagreeable?” Loki asked, confused.

“Well, yeah, but that is not the damned problem.” Dre said, “Nora doesn’t like to travel. Can’t bring herself to, actually. She has panic attacks, bad ones.”

“But she told me that she used to travel with her aunt when she was on tour at times. And that she spent a semester in Canada.”

“That was before. Last time our girl went out of town – it was – she’s a – she’s a survivor.”

“Of what?” Loretta asked.

“New York. The Battle of.” Dre said, falling back against his seat with a sigh.

 

He found her sitting outside in what Marissa called the Smokers’ Lounge, a pair of backless benches at the far side of the parking lot. She was holding a lit cigarette.

“I don’t smoke, actually. But Claire used to. When I get too worked up I like to burn one. I find the smell comforting. Like she’s here.”

Loki stood looking at her. Her coffee colored hair and tea colored eyes and Irish pale skin and that slightly too red lipstick she favored. The knob of her chin and the way she tilted her jaw forward as if daring the world to take a shot at her. He just looked.

“So I am guessing someone told you? Dre? How much did he tell you? Sit down.”

He sat as far away he could on while on the same bench, but it was still close enough to feel the warmth coming from her body.

“Just that you were there.”

“I was there to meet with some people from some music label who wanted to do a retrospective series on some of the more obscure folk artists of the 60s. Ones who were more influential than famous. Claire had been name checked a few times by people like Joan Baez and Buffy Saint Marie so they wanted to include her.

“I own the rights to all of her stuff so they offered me a free trip to New York to go over the contracts and I had never made it there before so I jumped at the chance. I was running late. Catching a cab in New York is, apparently, a specialized skill that I don’t have. All of those fuckers passing me by ended up saving my life, because the meeting was in one of the buildings that the Chitari brought down. “

She carefully stubbed out the filter that had been smoldering between her shaking fingers and then lit another cigarette. She coughed a tiny cough as she inhaled just enough for the tobacco to catch. “Really, they taste like crap. Lucky me, not liking them.”

Nora looked him in the face for the first time, “Do you want one?”

“No.” He could barely hear himself.

“I just thought maybe with your teeth. Sorry, that was a cheap shot. I get mean when I am freaking out. If you don’t want to hear this, but I don’t really talk about it, but I - anyway….

“Anyway,” she squared her narrow shoulders, “I had finally just started walking, hoping I could catch a taxi on the way, and I was trying to call their office when the sky opened up. Literally. Just a huge fucking hole in the sky and then those things everywhere. Chitari. What a stupid name.” Nora stood and began to pace, six steps one way, six steps back, over and over.

“I didn’t even have time to run or be afraid because WHAM! I was up in the air and then I was on the ground and I couldn’t hear anything but a whining noise and my head HURT. Here.” She grabbed his hand before he could shy away and pushed it into her hair over her right ear. He could feel the scar. He pulled his hand away like a child who had just learned a lesson about bit touching the stove. “I was lucky, if I had landed a foot away from where I was I would have fallen into a hole and into the subway.

“And then I was wandering around. I had no idea what was going on. People were screaming but I couldn’t hear them, and everyone was choking on white smoke. You couldn’t see most of the fight from the ground. At least where I was. I did see a flash of the Hulk at one point. He literally tore one of the Chitari in half and the cheering from everyone who saw it was so loud even I could hear it. And Cap. I saw Cap standing on a truck. He threw his shield. That was beautiful. He was beautiful. I just stared at him, I was so concussed I forget where I was and what I was doing for a moment.”

Nora sat next to him and he wanted so very much to get up and run away from her.

“Anyway, eventually good and decency and ponies and rainbows prevailed and I got home and I haven’t been able to leave since. Every single time I try to go much farther than Du Page County I have a complete breakdown. And that fucking cunt Kelly knows it.”

She once again carefully stubbed out the cigarette but didn’t light another. “I should get back. Are you coming?”

“In a minute.”

“I am sorry, this was kind of heavy-“

Loki looked up at her, “You shoud not ever be sorry for anything.”

“Right. See you in there.” She took a few steps and then turned back, “I never told anyone this but, well, I saw Him, too.”

“Who?” Oh but he knew, he knew, he knew! And he prayed she would not say.

“Loki.”

He had been in battle and taken grave wounds. He had been beaten, by those who claimed to be his friends as well as those who were honest enough to admit they were his foes. He had been tortured, and had fallen through the vast emptiness between realities, but only two things had ever hurt so badly as hearing how Nora said his name.

“I knew it was him. Just up there, flying around on one of those Chitari things. This golden …. Golden… golden… Jesus I don’t know what. I knew it was him. We all did. We had all seen the footage from Germany. And there he was. You know what I did?”

“What?” His voice hurt to use.

“I threw a rock at him. Well, a piece of rubble, actually. It kind of just went straight up and then down, but I threw it.” She laughed just a little bit. Her eyes were brighter.

“You are wonderful.”

“Thanks. Hurry up, by the way, break time is over.”

“Yes, it is.”

 

And thus began the worst week of Kelly-from-HRs life.

Chapter Text

If one were to ask the employees of the CDV / Roxxon Customer Service Department to name which event that occurred that week in August was the one they remember the most fondly you would get a variety of answers.

For Dre it was probably the squawking shriek that Kelly gave as she ran out of the building on Wednesday to try and stop her cherry red 2010 Toyota Camry from being repossessed. “But I ooooowwwwnnnnnn iiiiittttt!” He would cry out, imitating her flat, whining tone.

(Kelly, for the record, was not able to get her vehicle back. Apparently she had miscalculated her final payment and not only did not own her car, but owed $27,595 to her loan company.)

Marissa would just give an evil little smile and just say the words, “Bald patch.”

(Oddly, one of Kelly’s safety gloves for visiting the lab that day had a tiny, basically invisible hole in it.)

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but, you know, that thing on Thursday with her husband.” Kelsey would blushingly admit to. “I mean,” she would say, her voice dropping to a whisper, “I guess she walked in on them in HER OWN bed! I heard the girl is like nineteen. And Russian. And it was like the third time they had done it! So, you know.” Kelsey nodded sagely.

(Kelly’s husband Patrick swore that there was really, certainly, probably no way that he had passed that STD on to her.)

Ashley, who was also a homeowner, was just very grateful that she was more careful about her septic system than some other people were. And then she laughed.

(It was later discovered that Kelly WAS in the basement at that time, but she was not just putting her laundry in the washer, as first reported. She was just taking it out of the dryer.)

Loretta, who works in Engineering, but spends a good amount of time with the Customer Service crew, might, if pressed, say something about the thing that happened with coffee maker in the breakroom. “It’s the little things, you know?”

(Sadly they were Kelly’s favorite and most expensive shoes. But, really, who wears suede in August?)

“Identity theft is such a petty, yet deeply personal crime. Don’t you think?” Was all that Eddie would say.

(In a wacky bit of mix-up, one of the items purchased by the young man who had stolen Kelly’s information showed up at her place rather than his. Which explains some of the incident with Dominika Volkov and Kelly’s husband.)

“Oh, don’t ask me. That’s like asking a mother which child she loves the most,” Nora Walsh, head of Customer Service would eventually be able to tell you, “each one is beautiful and special in their own way.” But during the week in question she was not able to enjoy much at all, and everyone who knew her silently noted her paler and paler skin and ever more darkly circled eyes.

 

On Thursday night Loki was just sitting down with the laptop he had liberated from CDV and prepared for his final act against Kelly when there was a knock at his door.

Old habits died hard, and he whipped open the door, a knife at the ready behind his back. In this case it was a paring knife instead of one of his beloved daggers, but he had taken time to sharpen everything in the kitchen that could be sharpened, so if the situation called for it he was equally prepared to dispatch an enemy or supreme a tangelo.

Kelsey, dressed in a surprisingly grown-up fashion, stepped back, startled. As she had no bizarrely colored liquor and was wearing panties (he could always tell) Loki assumed she was not here to try and rekindle the fire in Eddie’s unsightly loins. “Sorry to not call first. We should talk.”

Loki slid the knife into his waistband. “Why?” There was something odd about Kelsey tonight. She had spoken two consecutive sentences without the word ‘like’ in them, and neither was graced with her typical rising inflection.

“Because I know you are the one fucking with Kelly. I don’t know how, but it is pretty impressive. And I am betting you have access to her home computer.”

Loki stepped back and gestured for her to enter.

“Just one thing,” she said before coming in, “when I am done showing you what I want to show you, promise me that you won’t use that knife on me.”

“I promise. Kels, I think I might have ended things with you a bit prematurely. You have hidden depths.” He gave her a wolfish smile, even knowing that on Eddie’s face it would appear more as the expression a bulldog has when it starts to hump your leg.

She gave a laugh, “Not really, my shallowness is just very wide. Get Kelly’s computer up on that thing and look for a file marked “Christmas recipes,” and then find the sub-file, “Cookie exchange.” “

Loki found the file and sub-file quickly enough. Within the sub-file were a few dozen recipes listed. “And?”

Kelsey leaned over his shoulder, “Take a look at one. Try ‘stained-glass cookies.”

He opened the document.

It was not, to his not great surprise, a cookie recipe.

He was surprised to see what it was.

“Try another.”

He opened another. And another.

“I take it there is one of these for every employee at CDV?”

“Everyone but HR, Don, Lisa, and me.”

Loki turned as quickly as he could in Eddie’s lumpen form and managed to catch Kelsey off guard. Even if he lacked the warrior reflexes and strength of his own body he still had centuries of experience. He grabbed the back of her thigh and used the spin of his desk chair to trip her other knee, sending her down onto her back with him on top, knife point just nicking her chin.

“You promised.” She was a bit winded but calm.

“Oh, I lied. Now, explain to me why you have decided to share this toothsome bit of knowledge with me. Clearly you are one of Roxxon’s agents and not just some executive’s dumb but nubile niece. And since Roxxon is clearly an even nastier piece of work than the typical corporation it seems strange you would be betraying them.” He lightly tapped her lips with the knife. “Be honest, darling. It will feel so good.”

“Talk about hidden depths. Who do you work for? SHIELD? Maybe SAFE? Not HATE, I hope. Those guys are dicks.”

“Does Rod work for them?”

“What? No, why would-“

“Never mind, now you give, or I will.”

“I am telling you because I think you can do something with it. Because I am sick of this whole thing. Back when I was first hired it was just the usual stuff, a little industrial espionage here and there. Steal some files, seduce the odd executive, make sure Roxxon’s own security was tight. But this thing at CDV its, its cruel. Playing with your own people? Using them as guinea pigs? It’s sick.”

Loki let her up, standing over her. She sat crossed-legged and stared at him. “I got to like everyone. Dre and Marissa are both funny and they take no shit. Phil in the lab is going to be a grandpa, and he is so proud. Ashley is always giving people rides home that are way out of her way since she lives so close to work. Loretta teaches self-defense to women for free. And they are all nice to Kelsey. I worked really hard to make Kelsey super annoying and helpless. And everyone still treats her well, helps her, no matter how badly I have her fuck up. They are just normal people. They are the first normal people I have ever met, and I like them.” She sounded surprised.

“Nora would never let anyone at work be mean to Kelsey.” Loki said, thinking out loud.

“That’s why when I realized what you were doing I had to show you this information. I am a bad person, but that business with Nora and the trip to Atlanta was a step too far. Nora is a good person. A genuinely good person who only screws with bad people to help other people. And she never hurts anyone. Ever. She protects people. She even protects Kelsey, whom I would personally toss in front of a moving truck if I had to deal with her. So this is for Nora.”

He reached down and helped her up. “I have a few ideas about what to do with this, but what are you going to do, poisonous angel?”

“Oh, next Monday is my last day, I plan on finding a special way to put in my notice.”

Loki tilted his head up a bit and pushed a sharp goodbye kiss onto her mouth. “It would never have worked between us, love, we are just too much alike.”

Chapter Text

On Friday afternoon Nora nearly walked into Loki as she was leaving Don’s office and he was trying to enter it. Her head hung a bit, as if it was simply too much effort to hold it all the way up. He reached out and gripped her arms just above the elbows.

“Nora?” She looked up at him and gave him the wannest smile he had ever seen. Considering some of the smiles that he had seen on Frigga’s face after some of his (and many more of Thor’s) youthful mishaps, it was deeply distressing. “Are you well?”

“Oh, hey, Eddie.” She patted his shoulder, “I’m fine. Just kind of tired. It’s been a long week.” Nora stepped around him, not asking what he wanted to see the big boss for. Such incuriousness worried him further.

“So, it’s the first of the month. Time for pizza and karaoke, yes?”

“I might be skipping tonight.” Before he could make an objection she raisd a hand, “Might be, I’ll see how I feel.” She turned and walked away. About half way down the she stopped and spoke to him over her shoulder. “Enough with Kelly, ok? More than enough, really. I should never have let it get so out of hand. She doesn’t-“

Loki cut her off, refusing to allow her to speak well of her enemy, “I have no idea what you are talking about. Kelly is clearly an example to live by of karma in action. Let us hope she is wise enough to take a lesson.”

“I don’t know what freaks me out more, how you talk or what you do. Or what it says about me that I like you anyway. See you later. There is a consultant coming through this afternoon. Now if you want to talk about foul deeds…. Consultancy is about the darkest thing I can think of.”

 

Don’s office was surprisingly grand for the manager of a facility the size and age of CDV. When Roxxon bought them out they must have allowed him to extensively remodel, which he did using design elements from the Vatican, the Kremlin, and any number of film sets of the 1960s. The overall impression might have been one of terrifying grandeur had it been in a space larger than 12 x 10 feet.

Loki held terrifying grandeur to a high standard. As a boy he had often scribbled his ideas for redesigning the throne room when idle. When he was king (again) there would be many more open flames and heroically posed statues of him.

The blandly handsome boss was pacing while yelling into his phone in Greek. Ancient Greek, if Loki was right. And he was. Sweat was dripping off his forehead and he periodically dabbed at it with the end of his red and black rep tie. Don was normally cool enough to chill water, so seeing him worked up was a delectable treat.

Don’s omnipresent assistant Lisa was also clearly in some distress, trying to pull something up on her boss’s computer and failing. “The virus is only-“

She noticed Loki lounging in the doorway. Well, he would have been lounging, Eddie was sort of stiffly slanted and had to keep catching himself from falling over.

“Mr. Rasmussen this is NOT a good time. If you would like to make an appointment for next week-“
“Escape, then dash dash 69743 and Enter.”

“What?”

“That will unlock your files.” She started to do it, “Of course it will also send copies of them in an email to everyone who works here, the Illinois State’s Attorney, the FBI, and SHIELD. Possibly the Secret Service. It was so late by the time I was finished I just can’t remember what I decided about them.” He made a waving motion with one of his hands as he crossed the floor and took one of the seats in front of the desk. He had to step around the astounded and very still Don, who hung up his call without another word.

“Now if you want to know how to unlock everything and not get yourself and your masters at Roxxon thrown into a deep and lonely cell I suggest we have a long conversation. Don.” Loki gestured for the other man to sit down. “Oh, and Lisa, don’t don’t don’t even think about shooting me. Please believe that I am so much smarter than you are it is actually physically painful for me to have to deal with your pitiful security. Really, Roxxon must have scraped the bottom of their huge barrel to give the two you this operation.

“Plus,” he reached into the pocket of the nasty sport coat he had fished out of the back of Eddie’s closet, “I already have your gun.” Loki aimed it at Don, smiling a most icky smile.

“Mr. Rasmussen, Eddie,” Don said, sitting slowly and spreading his hands, “I am sure we can come to an agreement that will satisfy you-“

Loki threw his head back and laughed harder than he had in years. Wiping his eyes and motioning with the gun for Lisa to sit the fuck back down, he said “Oh, Don, no. That is not possible. But what you can do, will do, will gladden a few people who deserve to be gladdened. Now, Lisa, please enter the following code, and Don, please follow all of the childishly clear instructions that will appear on the screen. And if you are very, very good and prompt I might even find a way to protect you from Roxxon.”

 

Nora finished her fourth beer and fifth shot and for the first time in days she was feeling no pain.

Well, not very much pain.

A little pain.

After all, she had spent the morning breathing the same air as a consultant. If the typical HR Thing was a creature from the pit, then most consultants were the annoying cousins that the creatures from the pit spent most of their family holiday gatherings avoiding. The last consultant CDV had brought in had spent a day looking over shoulders, making hmmmmiiinnnnngggg noises, and asking questions like, “If your office were a forest what kind of animal would you be? A tree dweller? A burrower? Maybe a bird?”

Nora had mumbled something about bioluminescent lichen and scurried off to the ladies’ for the rest of the afternoon.

Later the consultant turned in a report that had led to their office being repainted grape with yellow trim and had collected an enormous fee.

The one this morning she had been even less communicative with. After all, what difference did it make anyway? She would be gone from CDV in two weeks anyway.

“Another round!” She called to the waitress, “No complaining!” She said to the rest of the table. “Especially you, gloomy.” She whispered to Eddie who was sitting next to her, looking askance.

Or at least she thought that was what he was doing. She was never 100% certain what askance meant, but the disapproving look in his eyes seemed to match what she had always thought it meant. Which made her mad, because if he wasn’t being disapproving she would ask Eddie what askance meant, since he would DEFINITLY know. Eddie seemed to know all sorts of crazy shit. But she couldn’t ask him because –

It occurred to Nora that she might be a little drunk.

“Nora!” Marissa yelled across the table. Marissa was DEFINITELY drunk, she never raised her voice otherwise, “NORA! It’s your turn! Go sing, bitch!”

In the way of drunkenness Nora was on the stage giggling a bit before she was aware of getting up, “Sorry, sorry,” she said to the band. They all laughed a bit. Usually the rule for karaoke was anyone drunk was not allowed on the stage, but clearly they were making an exception for her.

“Ok, boys, you know what I want.” Which they knew because she had filled out a card when she got there. She just couldn’t remember what she had told them she was going to sing and she REALLY hoped that she would remember once they started playing.

Ooooohhhhhh, Nature Boy! Good one, Nor! She thought to herself. Could do this one in your sleep.

“There was a boy,
a very strange enchanted boy,
they say he wandered very far,
very far….”

Well, that was over fast! And everyone was applauding and applauding and oooohhhh, she was going to sing another song. She was. She never sang more than one song, but tonight she would DEFINITELY sing two songs.

“Guys, guys, can I sing…..” she circled her finger over the sheet listing the songs, “This one!”

The guitar player frowned, “Um, that’s not a standard. It’s The Jayhawks.”

She focused, eventually, on the page, “I know it!”

It took her a minute to find her stride, she muffed the first couple lines, but then-

“I’m gonna make you love me,
I’m gonna dry your tears,
We’re gonna stay together for a million years….”

Yeah! Nailed it. She was about to pick another song when suddenly everything seemed very far away. She grabbed the mic stand at the same time that someone grabbed her.

Oh, it was Eddie. He gave her a very stern look that seemed to not match his face in any way, shape, or form, as Claire would have said. Nora tried to smile at him, but suddenly she didn’t feel so well. He shook his head and said something about taking her home.

“Ok, but can I take a nap in the back seat of your car? I haven’t slept well this week, but I feel like I could close my eyes.” She whispered to him as he helped her off of the stage.

“I will have to insist on it.”

“Good. Because I think I might be a little drunk. I haven’t been drunk in a long time, Eddie. A long, long time.”

Eddie’s car had a rather cramped back seat, but he carefully folded the little grey sweater she had forgotten at the table under her head, and then draped his jacket over her like a blanket and Nora found herself quite comfortable. His jacket smelled nice. It smelled like him.

“Go to sleep, Nora,” she felt him lightly stroke her hair back. When was the last time anyone had stroked her hair? Had anyone, ever? “I’ll wake you when we arrive.”

“’Kay, Eddie.”

She felt him smoothly pull into traffic and drifted off to the sound of the road.

Chapter Text

Loki had been furious all afternoon, following his meeting with Don.

Burning.

Wild with rage.

Ready to explode in the way that normally left bone shards and weeping in his maddened wake.

Fortunately for everyone at CDV/Roxxon the scope of Odin’s curse made it not only impossible for him to give vent to his seething anger, but still he seemed like Eddie’s normal, pleasant self.

The first part of the meeting had gone exactly as Loki wanted all things to go : his way. Don blustered and threatened. He had started to call security at one point while listening to Loki’s more than reasonable requirements, but had wisely put down the phone before his bluff went too far. At that point Lisa, who had been quietly supporting her boss up to that point, rose up from her chair and loomed over Eddie, her eyes going entirely flat black and smoke drifting from the tips of her hair.

Loki pulled a refillable squirt bottle from the Dollar Store out of his other jacket pocket and sprayed a mixture of blackberry juice, galangal, and vinegar into her face.

Lisa made a sound rather like a hiccup, then changed unwillingly back into her human form, and retreated behind the desk to crouch at her master’s feet.

Loki may not have had access to his magics, but he did have access to Whole Foods.

Don stroked Lisa’s hair and frowned. “So you know about that, too?”

“Oh, I make it my business to do my due diligence before taking on any dark entity, corporate or otherwise.”

After that things went much more easily. Don really didn’t want his higher ups (or lower downs) to know how badly he had fucked up his security measures so he was more docile going forward. But when Loki made his final stipulation known Don gave him a broad smile.

“Well, I would be happy to give Miss Walsh all of the considerations you have outlined, but as of forty-five minutes ago she put in her two weeks. I guess there are few things you don’t know, hmmmm?” Lisa gave a deep, inhuman chortle from under the desk.

Loki leaned down in his chair and sprayed under it, causing her to shriek. Don looked distressed and made clucking noises to his hurting favorite.

“Oh, I knew she was intending it,” he lied with an even broader smile, “But I thought she was putting it off ‘til Monday. You know women, so flighty.” He spoke the last word with a little shake of his head and a humorous scowl. Then he stood up, leaned over the desk, and sprayed until the bottle was empty. She wouldn’t be able to transform for days. Weeks even.

If he couldn’t be himself, then no one else should be able to, either.

 

Nora leaving!

Loki stalked down the hall back to the office, his scowl no longer humorous. He caught a glimpse of himself in the glass of one of the conference rooms and realized how ridiculous he looked, Eddie being furious, but he didn’t give a damn.

How dare she?

Who did she think she was, abandoning him in this dreadful place? He had considered her an ally, he would have considered her a friend if he had need of such a thing. A thing that only the weak and pitiful found use for.

Clearly he had let Eddie’s disgusting form infect his mind. For the first time Loki considered that his reasoning had been flawed from the beginning. Nora was clearly a very poor example of a human. Easily fooled by not only himself, but Kelsey, into thinking they were nice, and good, and needed her in some way.

Pathetic!

She was also disloyal, recklessly moving on without a thought to all of those she was leaving behind. Or maybe not. No doubt she had told the others, Dre, Marissa, Ashley even, that she was quitting. Only he was of so little concern or value to her that she kept this a secret from him.

By Fenrir’s Teeth! They would probably expect him to supply cookies for her going away party!

No, no there would be no cookies for Nora! Never again!

Loki spent the afternoon watching his so-called co-workers, all clearly conspiring to hide the truth of Nora’s abandonment from him.

When everyone was leaving to head to the pizza hall he told them he would catch up, and slipped away to one of the empty testing labs.

If they thought they could treat him this way without some retaliation they clearly didn’t know who they were crossing.

Well, yes, that was factually true, he thought to himself, but still.

 

All night Loki nursed a lite beer. Nora had not even noticed Eddie ordering it, so little did she really care for him. Now that she was nearly out the door she had no regard for his taste buds or shameful appearance. No doubt she would be celebrating her freedom all night and he longed to find a way to spoil it for her.

Yet she did not seem celebratory. Indeed, Nora seemed to be determined to quickly reach a state of advanced wreckage, drinking horrible, sweet shots that she clearly hated and downing beers rapidly rather than savoring them, as he had observed was her wont. There was a manic, un-Noraness to her behavior that confused him.

When she was finally prevailed upon to sing Loki found himself deeply moved, his determined spite aside. It was a beautiful, aberrant song about … love, but about something else, as well. Nora gave him a broad drunken smile and for a fleeting moment he was sure that she knew his truth.

But that was impossible. No, the slightly less impossible truth was that Nora was attracted to Eddie, at least for the evening. Drink had clearly lowered her inhibitions, and that gave him an idea.

Loki gulped down the rest of Eddie’s (now warm) preferred swill. He should kindly offer to drive her home. How succulent her shame the next morning would be.

Shocking everyone at the table, and the band, Nora launched into an unprecedented second song, in a very different style from her normal choice. Although her voice was still lovely, she was having a hard time balancing and swayed to the sound of the liquor she had imbibed more than to the music.

Being a gentleman Eddie helped her from the stage and graciously drove her home.

 

Loki looked at Nora, peacefully sleeping in the backseat, albeit with an occasional snorting noise. He had been trying to decide if Eddie was strong enough to carry her into the house. Nora was an average, if tall, female, so best not to risk it. Perhaps if she had been Jane Foster sized….
“Nora, wake up,” he tapped her shoulder.

“Errruummmmm? Oh, are we here already?” She sat up, her hair snarled and askew, her red eyes bleary.

She looks dreadful, he thought, really.

“Yes, sweet kitten, now shall we go in?” He spoke close to her ear, then helped her out and made himself openly stare at her legs as her skirt rode up, even though his first impulse had been to look away.

He took the keys from her after letting her fumble embarrassedly for a bit. “Sorry! I am kind of drunk? Did I say that before?”

“Perhaps a few times.”

Her decrepit old house smelled of even older dog and a touch of black mold. It was hot and stuffy. The perfect place to debauch and abandon his undeserving ‘friend’. “Where is your bedroom, hmmm?”

“The attic.”

While they climbed the stairs, with Eddie’s hand firmly on her back to keep her from falling onto him. Nora told him about how the attic had been her room since she was a child. The stairs came up in the middle of the largish space. There was a faint glow from an old china lamp on the nightstand. Her bed was queen-sized, covered in a faded, homemade quilt, and would be more than adequate to his purpose.

But he found himself entranced by what filled the rest of the room.

Books. Hundreds and hundreds or more of books. The walls lined with brick and board shelves filled to bending. Stacks on the floor. A few on the chair that sat near the one large front window. Books and more books.

Nora spread her arms, “Do you like it? I decorated it myself. It took a while but I think it was worth the effort.” She spun over to him unsteadily and smiled very close to his face. “I have been wanting to bring you up here, since I know you like to read too. Want to borrow something? I have everything. Almost.” She started randomly grabbing volumes and making a stack on the floor for him to take with. Several novels, a poetry collection, some biographies, and history of the Thirty Years War. She put her hands on her hips and nodded, pleased with herself.

Then she kissed him.

Her soft, beery lips just pressed against his, nudging slightly, just a hint of the inside brushing against him, retreating a touch and then pressing again, for the space of twenty heart beats, each of which thudded wildly in his chest.

Loki had kissed so many. All with an agenda, either his or theirs, even if it was only that of selfish pleasure.

This was the sweetest kiss he had ever had, and it was wasted on Eddie’s lips.

It was then he knew he couldn’t do it. He could not seduce Nora, no matter how willing she might be. Not because he was no longer angry, but because for the first time his anger was not the most urgent of his emotions.

And because he could not bear the thought of touching Nora with flesh that was not his own. It would be a betrayal of both of them and he thought that it was one he might not forgive himself for.

“You should go to bed, Nora, I’ll get you some water before I go.”

She almost pouted at him, but her mouth seemed unable to make the form. His Nora was not pouter.

“But-“

“Don’t test me, I am learning to be a gentleman and I have not had enough lessons yet.”

When he returned from the kitchen with a large glass filled with water and the excess of ice he knew she preferred Nora had managed to kick off her shoes and was lying across her bed like a doll that had been tossed by a vexed child. Her eyes were closed. As he was about to leave she spoke, eyes still closed.

“I quit.”

“Really? Work, I presume, rather than sleeping?”

“Yup.”

“Was it because of Atlanta?”

She sat up, her elbows holding her in place, “Yup. Well, and I hate it. And you.”

Loki felt a pain somewhere in his gut, “You hate me? Of course you do.” He laughed. How ridiculous to think-
“No! God, you are dumb for someone so smart. I want to date you, and I can’t if I am your boss, so bam! You are my tipping point. Man, I hope you are into me or this is going to be sooooo embarrassing tomorrow. Hey! Want to get breakfast tomorrow?”

“May I cook you dinner, instead?”

“Oh! Yay! Frozen pizza for two! I’ll bring the Two Buck Chuck!” Her enthusiasm for his cooking seemed to have knocked the last pins from under Nora, and she slumped slowly back and fell asleep, for good it seemed.

Loki watched her sleep until he felt that it was growing creepy.

Chapter Text

Nora’s hands were shaking. And hot. And so damp the bottle of wine she was holding almost slipped out of her grasp twice. Which might have been for the best since she was dreadfully hung over and the idea of even smelling it made her stomach roil.

So did the thought of facing Eddie.

She had made an utter ass of herself last night. It was like a list of worst behaviors that she was trying to check off. Getting sloppy drunk. In public no less. Singing very loudly and probably badly, which particularly hurt. Passing out in Eddie’s car. Whirling about and possibly tossing books at the guy she was into just so he would see that she was AWESOMELY SMART AND COOL and therefore he should like her too. Blurting out that she liked him enough to quit a job (that was admittedly killing her) over him. And then more or less forcing him to see her again the next day.
If Nora’s previous night had been in a romantic comedy she would not only have asked for her money back but she would have raged to anyone in earshot about what sexist bullshit it was.

Now she was pacing back and forth outside of his door trying to decide if she should just text him that she couldn’t make it after all and flee home and never leave again. She could be the crazy lady all of the new Bridgeport hipsters would point out to their visiting friends as proof of local color.

Down the hall a door opened and an extremely old Asian man shuffled out carrying a bowling bag and wearing an honest to god porkpie hat. As he passed her Nora heard him mumble, “What does that ugly chud have? First Xena, then the prom queen, now the naughty librarian? Crazy, man.”

Right. She was leaving.

Then Eddie opened the door. “I was going to wait until you knocked, but I tend to be a bit impatient.” Then he reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her in.

The apartment had changed a bit in the few months since the morning she had made eggs. All of the generic beige and not-quite-white furniture was still the same, but the massive flat screen was now somehow hooked up to a laptop. There was a green glass vase on the table that had been moved closer to the windows, and it was overflowing with French tulips. And there were books.

Oh, so many books.

Placed in the center of the coffee table was the stack she had given him last night. Except for the copy of Mosher’s Disappearances, which was sitting next to it with a piece of paper holding a place about two-thirds of the way through.

“Um, sorry about forcing all of those on you last night,” she handed him the bottle of wine. It was not Two Buck Chuck, which was good, because whatever he was cooking it was not frozen pizza. It smelled amazing. Garlicy, buttery, and rich. Nora hoped she could eat it without being ill.

“Can a get you a glass of something?” He asked, moving back into the galley kitchen.

“Oh, water.”

“Try this instead.” He came back and handed her a glass of something pale pink and cold. It didn’t smell like booze so she took a sip. “Watermelon water. Good for hangovers.”

Nora felt herself blush. “God, I was such an idiot last night.” She sat down hard on the edge of sofa and took a bigger drink.

Eddie sat down beside her, close but not too close, “You were sweet and brave. And I was flattered.”

Great, flattered. Nora knew what that meant.

They sat quietly for a bit. Then Eddie spoke, “Um, I have to check the food. Put some music on.” He gestured to the laptop. Nora pulled up his iTunes. He had a huge variety of music, including, she was not surprised, the few songs of Claire’s that were available digitally. There were a few playlists, the normal things – most played, recently added, and few that seemed… odd.

There was one called, “TS Begs for Mercy.” Another was “My Brother, the Gigantic Idiot.” There was “Thanks, Dad,” and “I Didn’t Jump I Was Pushed,” and “The Morons Three,” and “Nora,:” and-

Wait, what?

Nora opened the Nora playlist. In it versions of the various songs he had heard her sing at karaoke night, Claire’s music, and a few other pieces by musicians she had mentioned to him.

Well, she wasn’t going to pick that. “Which should I put on, ‘That Golden Eyed Ass Is Going to Pay,’ or, ‘Give the People What They Want.’”

Eddie hustled out of the kitchen, hit shuffle on the program and closed laptop quickly. “That should be fine. Why don’t you come keep me company, I am just going to finish the mushrooms and we can eat.”

Nora perched on the counter and watched Eddie cook. He was surprisingly graceful in the kitchen, as if doing something with his hands eliminated the self-consciousness that made him so awkward the rest of the time. At one point he even pulled a wand-lighter out of a drawer and flamed the mushrooms with brandy and more butter.

“Sorry, I have never been able to resist a bit of showing off,” he laughed at himself, sipping a glass of the wine she had brought.

Nora finally worked up her courage as he started plating the … was that pheasant? Anyway, while his attention was occupied it was easier for her to speak, “About last night, about what I said, you know I didn’t quit because of you. I mean I have been wanting to leave for a long time and just stayed because I felt like I was abandoning everyone, so I stayed. But it was horrible. So when I finally had what seemed like a good reason, not going to Atlanta, I jumped, and you were there too, and that was a reason, but it wasn’t the only reason. I don’t want you to feel any guilt if you don’t feel the same way.” She blurted as quickly as someone could blurt so many rambling and silly words.

Eddie set their plates down and gripped the counter, squeezing it until his knuckles went white.

“Nora, I think you are a wonderful-“

“Whup, no, that’s good enough.” She hopped down from the counter and grabbed the plates taking them to the table. “We should eat because this is clearly amazing and because I really don’t want to hear what you are about to say. I am totally good pretending I never made an ass out of myself and we can just go on being friends.”

Nora felt Eddie standing right behind her, close enough to feel how warm he was and that he smelled of cooking and fire. She felt him nuzzle a bit into her hair. “Oh, Nora. I want to be with you. But you don’t know me. And if you did you wouldn’t want me.”

She sidestepped and sat down, putting a napkin on her lap, “It’s not me it’s you IS a classic for reason. Well done.”

“I-,” he started to do that strange, not-quite a stutter thing that he did, as if he was desperate to speak but couldn’t. It was painful to witness.

“Stop. Please.” Nora refused to cry. But there was an empty place behind the hollow of her throat that she had not felt for a long, long time. It was a raw ache that grew and grew and she knew at some point it would break open and the festering sick behind it would infect her whole body.

It wasn’t the first time that Nora had cared for someone to whom she didn’t matter very much. There had been Patrick in college, and Dan from Canada. And her parents, of course. So she knew exactly how the pain would go. It was comfortingly familiar.

Eddie looked stricken, “But it’s true. You really, really would not -, I can’t do this to you.”

Nora stood, knocking over her chair, and dropped the napkin on the plate. “Fuck you, Eddie.” She pushed by him, feeling herself shudder a bit when their arms brushed, “Keep the books, and tomorrow, and the rest of the time we are stuck working together? Just stay away from me as much as possible.”

On her way out she passed the same neighbor from the hallway, still muttering, “Yup, and they all leave pissed, too. Eddie must be the patron saint of fucking up a good thing.”

 

When things went wrong, Loki, like all other creatures, returned to the comfort of the known. In his case, destruction.

It was possible to glut oneself as much on havoc as it was on any drink or drug. For a night and a day he did as much damage as one short, fat man on a mission could. Eddie’s apartment, the terrible bar that claimed to feature PBR as if it were a thing to boast of, the face of a fellow who thought that having large muscles and knowing how to fight were the same thing, all fell before he rage.

It was glorious. To give in and just go a little mad.

Loki woke on Monday morning on the living room floor, the rancid smell of the spoiled dinner from Saturday in his nose, a bit of broken vase cutting his cheek, and one of the spy-formerly-known-as-Kelsey’s pointy toed shoes digging into his ribs.

“Eddie, what the fuck?”

He rolled onto his back and squinted up at her. He may also have stabbed himself in the back with more of the vase but who cared?

“Ah, my delicate provocateur, what brings you here this joyless morning? I am afraid breakfast is not an option as I think I threw the contents of my kitchen out of window at some point. Coffee may be possible but I wouldn’t count on it.”

He got on his hands and knees and crawled toward the bathroom.

“You did this yourself?”

“Yes, why waste money on a decorator?” The comment reminded him of Nora and her sweet room of books. The pain was bracing enough to get him on his feet. “Here to carpool to work? I thought you were handing them your walking papers today.”

While he showered she shouted over the sound of the water, “I did, in a way. That was why I was trying to get ahold of you for the last day. I need you, well, needed you, to make sure no one went in the server room when Charlie was on his break. But now you are probably going to be getting in too late and I am freaking out a little.”

“About what?”

“I may have set up an incendiary device to go off in there.” She mumbled.

Which reminded him of something else from the weekend, from when he was leaving on Friday….

Eddie’s one perfect feature were his ears. “What?” he yelled, pulling the curtain back, spraying her with cold water and the sight of his hairy bulk.

“Yikes! I told you I was going to do something. It won’t spread, it is just going to knock out all of the servers and fuck CDV over for a while. I do know what I am doing, you know.” She sounded offended and then made a squawking noise as he threw a towel at her hair.

“That is just wonderful! Because I set up for there to be a minor chemical incident that would cause a bit of discomfort for the Customer Service Department today. A little itching, some bad smells, maybe a few boils.” He started to run, ungainly and naked down the hall.

“What?!? Why would you do that?”

“It was a misunderstanding. But right now I am a little worried that depending on what you used for your device –“

“And what chemicals you used –“ fear started to dawn in her pretty eyes.

“Might not get along. You call in the bomb threat - I am assuming you have an untraceable phone, yes? I need to get dressed.”

 

Loki did everything he could to not ram other cars out of his way as he sped to the Near West Side, calling Nora over and over again and getting no response. Kelsey-Who-Was refused to call in the threat and they fought over it the whole way.

“We can get there and defuse everything and no authorities need to be involved.” She was quite certain.

“If anyone gets hurt, anyone other than HR, I will kill you with my bare hands. It will be slow and terrible. If only HR gets hurt I will buy you a large quantity of diamonds.” He gritted. “Call Dre, or Ashley, see if you can find out if any of them are there yet.”

The lot was still mostly empty, and Loki did a maneuver he had seen in several Midgardian films called a bootleggers turn, burning rubber and his brake lines. It might have been fun under other circumstances, but as he jumped out of the car and started running towards the employee entrance he saw Nora ahead of him.

He called out to her, waving and begging her to wait.

Nora stopped and reluctantly started to walk back towards him when she saw She Who Was No Longer Kelsey getting out of his car. She then spun on her heel and quick walked towards the building.

Eddie’s horrible, short-legged body quickened as much as it could, and Loki was vaguely aware of what might have been troubling pains in his jaw and stomach, and ever shorter breath. But he could not be bothered to care because Nora!

She was a few steps from the building when the blast knocked out the windows on the second floor, and heavy black smoke, tinged with unnatural greens, rolled out of the windows in foul clouds. Nora caught herself on the railing outside the door and stared with horror at the broken glass. Then, in a moment that nearly stopped his heart, she shouted “Oh my god!”

And Ran Into The Building!

He stopped, his head shaking like a dog with water in its ear. He could not have seen what he had just seen. Nora ran INTO the smoking building.

Of course she did. There were people in there. And she was Nora.

With the vague realization that Past Kelsey was no longer there, Loki girded Eddie’s fleshy loins and followed his Nora, if not his inclinations, into the morass.

Chapter Text

There was no part of Eddie’s body that wasn’t screaming in agony as Loki dragged it and what was left of his mind back to the apartment building at twilight. It looked to be a beautiful night.

The ever present Mr. Choe was heading to his sedan, “What happened to you this time, Eddie? Are those scrubs?”

“Yes.”

“Looks better than what you normally wear.”

“Yes, thank you for that.”

Loki didn’t bother with locking the door behind him, and found himself for the second time choosing the comforts of the acrylic, wall-to-wall, mud-flow colored carpeting, as he could not make it any farther. This time, at least, he was able to push the rubble out of his way and rest his head properly.

The pain in his jaw that had been there in the morning was back, as was a matching deep cramping in his back. That was all in addition to Eddie’s mostly imaginary muscles screaming from the work he had put them through.

His lungs were also displeased

As he lay there wanting to sleep but unable to because of the pain, Loki found the day coming back to him in strange, urgent flashes, some as vivid as if they were happening for the first time.

The noise, incredible: the continuing shattering of glass, the screaming of his co-workers, the fire itself bellowing like a lion scaring scavengers from its kill, and the incessant wails of the different devices that were outraged at so many security breaches happening simultaneously.

The smell. Sulfur, melting plastic, and fear creating a funk that burned the eyes, clogged the nose, and filled the throat like grave-clay.

The slight mercy of the fire sprinklers diffusing the black-green smoke and keeping everyone’s skin clean enough to prevent chemical burns.

And flashes of faces. Ashley holding Phil’s hand and leading him out, his glasses lost to the chaos. Dre, Marissa, and Loretta working together to move rubble from in front of the breakroom, and Dre looking comically disappointed when Sharon was the first person barreling her way out. Lisa smiling and looking at everything like this was the best present ever.

And Nora. Always Nora, slightly ahead of him, just out of reach. Helping people stand, pointing towards safety, taking care. Under her direction Loki remembered moving desks off of people, breaking the glass (and possibly Eddie’s elbow. He touched it, yes, broken,) on a jammed fire extinguisher case, and laughing a bit for no reason.

It seemed like hours. It seemed like seconds. Finally sirens blared outside as well as in and he grabbed Nora, “Enough, we have to get out.”

“But-“ she turned to look back for anyone who might still need help. Amazingly they seemed to be the only ones left.

Her face was covered in and she stank of burning hair. Bor, she had been on fire at one point! He had grabbed her smoldering ponytail and cut it off with a pair of shears. That had been the most terrifying moment he could remember in his hundreds of year. His blood ran like lava thinking about it.

“No.” And then, in a move he would have considered impossible for Eddie, he forced her from the building.

In the madness outside they were separated. Then there were lights and vehicles and running people and authoritative yelling and oxygen. Oxygen! Marvelous oxygen. Addicting, succulent oxygen.

Then the hospital. Strangely Loki found he could not remember much from the hospital, except that he wished very much to leave. He wanted to be home. He felt wrong in some way far within Eddie’s body and all he longed for was his own bed on Asgard, and to pull his own velvet blankets about him and to sleep for a very long time.

At some point he had showered and changed into the ludicrously oversized scrubs that had been left for him. The nurses had been polite but insistent about something that he ignored. He wandered through the waiting room looking for Nora. Maybe she would like to go with him. Home. Her house would be a better choice than Eddie’s place, if he couldn’t go to his real home. They could take a nap together. That would be nice.

Yes, there was something wrong with his head.

“Marissa, have you seen Nora?”

“Damn, Eddie, sit down.”

“No, no. I can’t.” He wasn’t sure why.

“She’s fine. Crazy bitch.” Marissa spoke affectionately. “The police are taking her statement.”

“Ok.” He kept wandering.

Somehow he had managed to wander into a cab and get home.

As Loki felt the carpet beneath his face and his breathing growing more and more labored he wondered if maybe he should have remained in the hospital. The pain was terrible, and had moved to his breast, but he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

He would close them for just a few, and then see about calling an ambulance. That was a good idea.

 

Realms away, an old god stirred in his sleep, having bad dreams.

 

It was close to three when Nora got home. She wondered if there was a word for ‘so tired it is like you have taken poison.’ Probably in German.

She pulled off the scrubs that the hospital had handed out and put on sweats and an old sweater. Summer seemed to be leaving quickly this year. It wasn’t even September and fall was already apparent. Too tired to sleep Nora took a bottle of water to her front stoop and checked her phone for the first time in hours.

She should probably call her brother Sam to let him know what had happened. He could tell their parents and other brother, Liam, if he felt like it. But not now.

It was like a miracle, but no one had been seriously hurt. A few broken bones, some chemical inhalation, but nothing that would cause anyone more than a day or two in the hospital. It didn’t seem possible.

The only total loss was her hair. Eddie had probably saved her life, or at least her face, thinking as fast as he had.

Eddie. He had followed her into the building. He had followed her through the building, and had practically carried her out.

He probably just felt guilty about their dinner that didn’t happen.

No. She knew better, but she was too tired to think about it right now.

Speaking of Eddie, she hadn’t seen him at the hospital. She checked her phone. There was a long string of texts from Marissa.

Oh fuck!

Nora called a cab and ran in her house to grab her emergency fifty.

 

Nora had tried to call Eddie the whole ride to his place, but there was no answer. She then tried to tell herself that he had probably lost his phone at CDV. Please, please, let it be that.

She threw the whole fifty at the Cameroonian cab driver, who clearly thought she was nuts. “Should I wait?”

“I don’t know!” She yelled back.

As she ran down the hall she could see that Eddie’s door was open just a crack. Nora stopped and stared at the opening, her chest heaving and her mouth slightly open. She bit her lips and walked slowly, pushing it open with the flat of her hand. “Eddie?”

Then she turned and carefully closed the door behind her. Because when everything was fine you didn’t leave your door open in the city. And everything was fine.

Everything was fine as she ignored the obvious destruction and the off smell of rotting food. Everything was fine.

“Oh, Eddie…” he lay face down on the carpet, surrounded by broken-spined books and browned, withered tulips.

“It’s ok, I am going to help you.” Nora knelt quietly next to him, not wanting to wake him up. The edges of her vision was closing up a bit. Like everything had a black frame around it. She carefully rolled him over, not wanting him to have trouble breathing.

Although he wasn’t. His breathing was so easy she couldn’t even hear it.

There was a bit of carpet lint stuck to his lips. Nora wiped it off. His lips were cold.

She nodded.

“I need to put my head down for a second, ok? Just close my eyes.”

Nora lay her head on his chest, and slid her hand under his scrub shirt, wanting to touch his skin. She felt the slightly wiry black hairs that covered his still stomach and a great sob overwhelmed her.

 

“No, my child. You will NOT escape into death yet again.”

 

Something woke Nora.

It was dawn, and a thin, gold light came from between the closed curtains. No. She didn’t want to be awake. She closed her eyes again and nestled her cheek against the firm, cotton covered chest, her fingers feeling smooth, cool skin rising and falling.

That was nice. Then she felt a large hand stroking her head, with long, graceful fingers working their way into what was left of her hair and finding the crescent-shaped scar there and gently smoothing it.

That was even nicer. She moved just slightly, getting more contact. Sighing a bit. Just that small touch felt so good, as if it was soothing away an ache that she’d had for so long she no was no longer aware of it.

Except.

Except.

Except something was very wrong. Something different than what had already been wrong.

How much wrong could happen in one day?

Nora slowly, slowly turned her head so she now lay looking towards Eddie’s face.

Except it wasn’t Eddie.

From that angle the high-cheek bones hid his eyes. But she could see the graceful length of his neck, the squared yet in no way blunt edge of his jaw. The thin but soft lower lip. The masses, actual masses, of gleaming black hair.

Nora, unable to stop herself, reached and touched the end of one of the locks. It seemed to want to coil around her fingers.

The movement woke him the rest of the way. He leaned up a little bit, carefully not jostling her, and his emerald eyes were sleepy and soft, as was the little smile he gave her.

“Good morning, Nora.”

She was up and running before the last drawling bit of ‘Aaaah’ left his lips.

Because he was between her and the door, Nora ran to the kitchen.

Part of her wished she was going crazy. Crazy would be good. A nice nervous breakdown and hallucinations due to stress and grief. Excellent. She would take it. But she knew it wasn’t true. This was real.

Nora didn’t know how or why, but it was true and real and oh god! It was Him!

She grabbed the lighter that was still sitting on the counter and a spray can of olive oil and rounded on him.

He stood in the doorway, taking up so much space, and she took a few steps back so he was not looming over her.

There was a look on his face she longed to punch off, but she knew better. Nora had read everything there was out there on the Asgardians after her near death in New York. She would probably just end up breaking her hand if she tried to hit him. But she guessed he didn’t like fire very much.

“Stay back!” She brandished the can and lighter, “I know from personal experience that it sucks to have your hair on fire!”

Loki leaned on the door frame, loose-limbed and cross-armed, a vulpine smile spreading over his lips.

“Oh, I was right. You are utterly wonderful.”

Chapter Text

Loki had been dead, or nearly so, often enough to know what was going on. Eddie’s heart was blocked. Along with the chemicals he had breathed earlier, the stress and fear, and the general horrible shape Eddie’s body was in, meant there was no getting up this time.

He had expected to be frightened, but it was strangely peaceful. The dreadful pain of the day, and the discomfort of the last months, the sense of his true self being compressed, and the loneliness of the last years, this wasn’t so bad.

Who was he trying to fool? He would never go gently into the good night, as the Midgardian poet described it. He was afraid, but he was just as enraged.

He was going to die. As Eddie. And there was nothing he could do about. Loki’s brain was like a madman in a cell, beating on the floor and ceiling, screaming until his throat bled. He wanted his mother. His brother. Even his father would be better than no one. Instead he was again falling into death and nothingness alone. Again.

Then he heard a voice. Soft, and quavering a bit. “Eddie?”

It was Nora.

He could tell she had rolled him over, and he could still feel through the numbness that blanketed him, her soft hands brushing over his face. He couldn’t see her, but he could tell she was crying. Not just dampened eyes, but real tears.

Loki wanted to tell her not to, that he was not worthy of her grief, but in the end even his tongue failed him. The last thing he felt was her head on his chest and her touch on his skin.

Damn.

What a waste.

 

Loki twitched. His father was prodding him.

“Five more minutes.”

“You’ve been dead long enough, my boy. Time for some living.”

 

Something felt wonderful. Silky and soft. His fingers worked their way deeper into it. Oh. He how sad. There was a long, curved scar under the lush hair. He petted it gently, making a fretting noise to himself.

The hand that was resting on his stomach moved, and he could feel the head on his chest turn slowly. Not wanting to jostle her Loki raised himself up just a bit, blinking slowly.

It was Nora. That was right. He had been dead. Again. And she had found him and had been clearly heartbroken.

For just a moment she looked at him, confused but calm, and then he saw the recognition in her eyes.

He did, of course, have a great deal of explaining to do.

But Loki had one question for himself before he started. When had Nora become so beautiful?

Clearly, she had always been attractive enough in a sort of harried way. Good legs, but in no other way remarkable. But now! The curve of her cheek, the gleam of her eyes, the fullness of her mouth, the length of her neck. Eddie’s stupid mortal eyes were patently incapable of understanding how achingly lovely she was. And right now he was having a very deep ache of his own.

“Good morning, Nora.” His voice sounded especially resonant after having been Eddie’s voice for so long.

Because he was still used to a shorter body, she managed to beat him to the kitchen and arm herself with a sort of makeshift flame-thrower.

Bright!

Brilliant!

His!

Eventually.

He realized this was going to take some delicacy on his part. After all, going from friends to lovers could be a very tricky. Also, he had tried to conquer her home-world and had nearly killed her in the process. She was so much more delicate than she realized, than even he has known before.

So she would probably have some additional reservations.

When she threatened him it was all he could do not to sweep her up in his arms and hold her to him. That marvelous singer’s voice! The clever, and well-reasoned threat! Loki had never been so delighted in any woman.

He was also slightly giddy from both not being dead and not being Eddie any longer.

There was a bright, familiar light outside, and several things happened quickly before Sif and the Simpletons Three burst in. One of them was Nora’s succulent body being pressed back against his, one hand holding her long throat, the other holding a knife.

“Ah, yes. I suppose I failed Odin’s little test, ay Sif? Tell me, does he have you pick up his dry cleaning these days, too?”

Loki started to turn the chefs’ knife he was holding when he looked down at Nora. She seemed small and fragile. She was also glassy-eyed and shaking. Between the physical dangers to her if they fought in such a small space, and her mental state…. No, he couldn’t risk her.

He offered Fandral his wrists. “You are usually the one with shackles,” he winked. As expected Fandral gave him a merry, knowing grin.

Sif made a growling noise, not the one that he sometimes liked her to make, and then pushed forward and slammed something around Loki’s neck. His fingers scrabbled against it. Twisted brass. A torc, heavily enchanted.

He refused to give any of them the satisfaction of trying to remove it.

“Why, Sif! So thoughtful, but I am not the one who usually wears one of these, am I?” He leaned over, purring in her ear. "Still, so thoughtful. And now I owe you a present...."

She blanched and then turned to Nora. “Mistress Walsh,” she bowed formally, handing the stricken woman a small, ornately carved wooden box, “from the AllFather.”

Nora put down her weapons and took the box, shaking badly now. Loki longed to do something. He had never comforted anyone, but he was anxious to make the effort.

In the box was a small brass disc, embedded with several gems. It was obviously connected to the torc by magic. “What is it?” Nora’s voice was hoarse and faint. She ran a fingertip over one of the stones.

Loki screamed and fell. writhing. It was like being struck by Thor’s lightning!

“He is in your keeping now.”

Loki propped himself against a cabinet and laughed. Oh, wonderful.

“I- no! No no no no! What the fuck are you even talking about? No!” Nora threw the device in the garbage.

“Please, miss, the Allfather believes –“

“Fuck the Allfather! He did this, right? It’s like the bullshit with Thor in New Mexico, right? Except worse because it’s him!“ Nora kicked Loki several times.

“Please, darling, I don’t want you to bruise your little toes.”

 

“ARRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!” Nora stalked into the living room, followed by a trail of giant people, all of them looking various degrees of sheepish, except for Loki who was smiling like the cat who was mentally undressing the canary.

“THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!”

She needed to be angry and stay angry. If she let herself be anything else she was going to fall apart. She stopped and stared at the place where she had found Eddie. Eddie. Was there even an Eddie?

Her heart lurched and hurt.

“Um, I am afraid, my lady-“ the pretty blonde one started.

“No, shut up! Anyone who is not from this planet needs to shut up!”

“But you are-“

“EXACTLY.”

Loki started to laugh, but when she glared at him, he made a key-lock gesture over his lips and just smirked at her instead.

She wanted him to stop looking at her. There was something in his expressions, in his gaze, something familiar, something warm and affectionate. God, she had been in love with Him! Not some wildly smart, shlubby guy with a silly accent and bad taste in clothes.

No, she hadn’t been in love with anyone, or rather she was in love with a figment of Odin’s imagination.

“Your father, your AllFather catfished me! Why? Wasn’t your almost taking my head off in New York enough? Does your family all have it in for me in some way? Is Thor going to show up and kick my dog?”

She whirled back towards Sif.

“That guy, the big guy on the bridge, he sees everything and tells your ‘Allfather’, right?”

Sif nodded.

Nora pushed open the window and leaned out, flipping off the sky. She came back in, looked at the array of warrior aliens in front of her and leaned out again, this time flipping him off with both hands.

It was too much for Loki, who burst out laughing. “Delightful, my-“

“I am going home.”

“Um, Mistress Nora, if you don’t agree to guard the prince then we will be taking him back with us.” Sif spoke quickly, clearly thinking Nora was as crazy as Loki and wanting this over with.

“Yes, fantastic. Have his daddy lock him in his room and take all of his toys away until he learns to be a good boy.”

“Mistress Nora, he won’t be going to Asgard. He will be sent to the Isle of Silence.”

Loki fell silent, and looked afraid.

 

 

Loki leaned on the door frame, loose-limbed and cross-armed, a vulpine smile spreading over his lips.

“Oh, I was right. You are utterly wonderful.”

“Wha-“ before she could say anything else there was a “whoomphing” sound outside, accompanied by a rush of wind and a flash of multicoloured light coming between the slats of the miniblinds.

In the less than a second that her eyes moved, Loki was on her. Her makeshift weapon clattered to the floor, and Nora was spun so quickly it made her nauseous. He pressed her back against his body. In his right hand was a butcher knife that lay along her belly, while not quite touching it. His left hand was wrapped around her throat.

Gently.

And his thumb caressed her pulse point.

She felt him bend his head over her, like a willow over a stream, and his dark, soft voice whispered in her ear. “Sorry, treasure, but this is for your own safety.” She felt him take a deep breath, “Under all of the sulfurous burning and the cheap hospital soap you smell delightful. Like apples and red wine.”
His voice dripped in Nora’s ear, and ran through her body, venom and opium, burning and soothing.

“I think I am going to throw up. And you aren’t wearing shoes.” Was all she could think to say.

He laughed, a ratching sound, “Petty revenge is better than no revenge at all, I agree. Now Sif and the Stooges Three are about to bust in the door, try not to let them upset you.”

Nora could not believe any of this was happening. “Not let THEM -. I hate you.” She whispered fiercely.

“How sad for me.” Loki’s voice was dry, cool, and disinterested, “However shall I survive?”

 

Four Months Later – The Winter Solstice

The door to the elevator slid open and Nora stepped out. Behind her, she could hear a few murmured words between the two men behind her.
“Thank you, Mr. Rasmussen!”

“Not at all, Rudy, you earned it. And don’t worry, I won’t forget you on Christmas. This is just an old family custom I like to keep. Now no interruptions tonight, yes?” Her companion’s cultured and pleasant British accent was surprisingly warm, but then he was always good with the staff of the 999 building. It made some of the irregularities of his life there easier.

“Of course, sir. Good night, Miss Walsh.”

“Nora, Rudy,” she turned and gave him a small smile, “I just work here, too.”

“Sure.” The old man winked at her as the doors closed.

The penthouse had been decked out for the holidays. The polished wood gleamed like red honey in the light from the fireplace, and the pine swags and the huge juniper tree before the balcony windows made the room smell like a northern forest.

Behind her, Nora heard the displacement of air as Loki shifted back to his own form. “Ahhhh… that is better.” She could hear the sensuous exhale as he stretched, his voice deepening and his musical accent shifting back with him. “Seeing you with my own eyes is always so much better.” He walked up to her, green eyes hooded.

Nora roughly tore off her parka and plopped ungracefully on to the couch, suddenly wanting to put him off, “I was thinking-“

Loki dropped next to her, pulling her across his lap in the same motion, “Oh, no. Don’t.” He held her there, sprawled, staring into her eyes. Finally, after four months of cat and mouse, no, tiger and mouse, Nora couldn’t any more. What little resistance she had left, after their ‘discussion’ at the bar, she didn’t so much lose as release.

She was his. They both knew it.

Nora was expecting him to kiss her again, but no kiss came. Instead he held her there, holding her arms behind her back while he unbuttoned her cardigan and then blouse so they hung open, then placing the tips of his graceful fingers on the hollow of her throat. She could feel the tiniest roughness of callouses on them. Very slowly he stroked her there, just the hollow for a few strokes, then each stroke growing a bit longer, but in the minutest of increments. As if he had eternity to touch her and was going to use every second of it.

And all the while Loki’s gaze was impassive as he studied her face. Only his eyes were burning. The burning green of a summer jungle.

Every inch of her body longed to be touched as her neck, her breastbone, were being brushed. It felt as if it were. The soft strokes radiated out and ached. Nora wanted to strip off her clothes and rub herself over him like a cat. He wouldn’t even have to do anything, he could sit there and check his social media while she did it and that would be fine with her.

It occurred to Nora that that might be a bit pathetic and looked away.

Loki stopped stroking her and firmly turned her face back to his, “I said don’t think, treasure.”

“I hate it when you call me that, you know.”

“Of course, that’s why I do it.” He grinned, and then started stroking again.

“Now, Nora, have I ever told you my favorite sexual activity?”

“Surprisingly, no-ah!” She found herself arching up into his hand as he circled her left nipple through her bra. If it felt that good with the bra on she was never going to survive the night.

Or the next ten minutes, as he slid his touch under the top of the cup and just brushed the very tip of her nipple over and over. Nora’s head lolled back, too heavy to hold up, and she moaned. It was too much.

“Guess.” His voice, velvet with just the slightest touch of sandpaper, went straight between her legs and Nora trembled.

“You? Oral.” Her voice was husky and faint, as she pulled enough of her mind together to think.

“Mmmm, good guess, but no,” Loki eased her onto the couch so he could stretch out along her, nuzzling against her ear and neck. “Try again.” He spoke so slowly and gently, as to someone falling asleep.

Nora pushed throat into his lips, which touched her as lightly as his fingers had. She made a frustrated noise, she needed so much more.

She tried to think of the names of sexual acts, but she could only picture them. All of them. She moaned, “I can’t.”

“Ah, now you are finally not thinking,” he kissed her, finally. His tongue licked into her, also slow, also in ever longer strokes. She moaned again, and he took it and returned it to her. “Sweet Nora,” he suckled on her tongue.

His hand left her breast, and she felt herself seeking it, while also enjoying moment of relief at the same time. She was able to think. Just a bit.
“What is it? What is your favorite?”

He lifted up and looked at her, burning, and giving that dry, dirty laugh of his, with a smile that gave her pause. Then he lay back down and whispered close in her ear, “Edging.”

Nora gulped. Audibly.

“Don’t worry, treasure. I think four months of foreplay has been enough even for me, for now. But believe me when I tell you that you will come to hate the memory of that answer. But now, right now,” his hand slid under the bottom of her blouse and he made slow circles with his large, flat palm, “at this moment, I need to see you come for me. And I always prefer to indulge myself.”

Slowly, slowly, (could he do nothing fast?), his fingertips snuck under the waist of her cotton tights, then his whole hand, now his palm circling her belly.

“Please.” Nora had enough control over her voice not to whine, but she did quaver. “Just touch me.”

“I am touching you. It is heady. I could pet you forever and it would never stale.”

Nora struggled to lift her own hand and place it on his forearm, gliding her own touch down it. It felt as good to touch him as it felt to be touched. She was so wet now, so swollen, so aching. She just needed him, any of him, between her legs. Her old, worn tights tore as her hand covered his, and he allowed her guide him to where she needed him to be.

One long, graceful finger parted her. “I can hear how wet you are for me, treasure.”

She didn’t care what he called her.

He continued his terrible, deliberate stroking. Just back and forth, lingering nowhere. “So wet and ripe for me.” When she tried to lift her hips into his touch he idly laid an elegant thigh over hers and held her down.

Then she whimpered. Loki whispered again, and Nora was so far gone that the words were just sounds and heat.

“Someday I will make you come with my voice alone, the words working within you. Someday I will serve you as a slave, and someday you will serve me likewise. I will take you every way you can be taken, ways you cannot even imagine. I would even make love to you, were I capable of such a thing, but now, now-“

He cut himself off, kissing her, his mouth wild and hard, aroused by his own words to her.

Finally his finger, then two of them, found her clit, circling and petting it, pressing down just to the softer side of pain. Helpless sounds were caught between their mouths and Nora’s one hand found a fistful of his hair and snarled in it while the other clawed at his that was giving her pleasure.
Loki’s thigh moved and her hips jerked up hard. His touch moved, the two fingers pushing into her at the same time that his hard palm slammed onto her clit, sending her into an orgasm that emptied her mind in luscious spasms. Years of her life peeled away with every aftershock, leaving her a nameless, thoughtless body cradled in the arms of a god.

He pressed a kiss against her temple, and she could feel him smirking. “Now that we have that out of the way things can get interesting.”
Trembling weakly, Nora managed to mirror his expression, “You are an annoying little shit.”

“So you have told me.” Loki smiled at her, and then kissed her, “Over and over,” he kissed her again, “for the whole of the autumn.” He kissed her again, and then stood, tossing her in the air and catching her effortlessly. Nora shrieked in freefall, grabbing him hard, even though she knew he would never drop her.

“You loved every minute of it.”

“True. Except for the business with the pumpkins. That I did not enjoy.”

Now she laughed as he carried her to his enormous, ridiculous bed.