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Loki scanned the pool for an empty lane. Later in the morning, after the before-work swimmers had rinsed off and headed to the office, he could usually grab a lane all to himself. He spied some of the usual swimming suspects as he made his way to an empty fast lane at the far end of the pool: silver-cap lady with a kick board, black cap lady with her enviable freestyle form, the old man who wore the cream speedos that Thor found disturbingly close to nude whenever he joined in Loki’s morning laps, and the bitchy lifeguard. Loki telegraphed a special ‘fuck you’ to the lifeguard as he popped on his goggles, curled his toes over the pool edge, and pushed off into an “illegal” shallow dive. He would never dive into a lane with another swimmer, of course not. But if the lane was empty: fuck the pool rules. They hadn’t banned him from lap swimming yet … yet. One of the perks of being faculty maybe.

He flew through the water. Lap after lap of freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, and some breaststroke (begrudgingly). The freestyle laps were always the best. Face down in the pool, watching the black tiled lane line stream beneath him as he pushed his lungs to go one … more … stroke … before he finally came up for air. Flying. Weightless. Deep in his body and miles away from his chattering mind.

Bliss.

Loose limbed and toweled dry, he headed to the studio for their meeting with a prospective new collaborator - a young poet with a penchant for owls as metaphor. She was a decent writer with some potential if she didn’t get led astray by the need for an emergency savings accounts, retirement planning, the trappings of stable adulthood. Loki didn’t have too much hope for her in that respect. The call to cultural norms was a vicious undertow, pulling the sensitive and creative impulses out to a watery death.

Well. I’m looking forward to this, he thought.
I hope Thor has fresh coffee waiting.

The blended aroma of strong coffee, leather, and printing ink greeted him as he walked through the back door.

“You are an acceptable husband, Thor,” he called out into the studio. Doughnuts waited next to his coffee mug in the little pantry area. He had a mouthful of crumb cake when Thor walked in.

“I was about to say you didn’t have to wait to have a doughnut … but … here you are,” he chuckled and kissed Loki’s crumby lips. “Ahhh, chlorine.”

“I showered,” Loki huffed. “But it just seeps into my skin.” Thor leaned in for another kiss. Loki caught the lingering scent of leather on his hands from paring a piece for a new binding.

“I worry that you’re being pickled by pool chemicals.”

“That’s not how chlorine works. Besides you should be more worried about us pickling our livers with cocktails.”

Thor had arranged a selection of past work on the center work table for their meeting. There were a few chapbooks in a spectrum styles, traditionally refined pieces bound in leather with tastefully conservative typography and more experimental, playful work in untraditional materials where Loki had pushed the words around on the pages, a mix of typefaces and inks jumbled just so for maximum effect. A couple framed typographic prints and a whole suite of broadsides in one of Thor’s gorgeous custom clamshell boxes completed the grouping. Loki was surprised to see the prints out for this discussion. He suspected she wasn’t *that kind* of poet, but he trusted Thor. It was a good overview. He loved seeing the physical gathering of their creative relationship laid out before him.

“Are we really listening to the “acoustic indie” playlist again?” Loki grumbled.

“I don’t even know why…” Thor whispered in mock exasperation with a slow shake of his head.

“Oh you do. Shut up.”

Thor leaned into the table, dropped his chin to his chest and sighed for dramatic effect. He had shaved his head at the beginning of summer. Loki did and did not approve. He loved the shock of the change, all that silky blonde hair gone. But he also missed it, all that silky blonde hair … gone. He ran a hand along Thor’s bearded jaw and kissed his cheek softly. He felt Thor’s cheek rise with a smile.

“To battle,” Loki whispered in his ear.

Thor chuckled. “It’s not a battle, Loki. It’s a conversation.”

“Oh,” he stepped back and crossed his arms. “It’s always a battle, my love.”

The young poetess arrived on time. She reminded Loki of so many students that had passed through his print studio over the last ten years. She ran her hands over the clamshell press reverently. Oohed and awwwed over the cases of metal type. Stood back respectfully as Thor pulled out rolls of bookcloth and laid out leather samples.

“This place is magical. I’m at a total loss for words,” she gushed.

Apparently not at a total loss, Loki thought.

“So my choices are a chapbook or some broadsides?” She fingered a blind-tooled goat skin binding.

“It’s not exactly a binary either or choice,” Loki said. “We’re here to talk about creating something unique, specifically for your work.”

“I assume you’ve read my manuscript. What do you see for it?” Overhead Lord Huron’s lead singer garbled though his indie refrain as the poet waited for Loki’s reply.

“It could be a book or some prints,” Loki responded flatly. She caught the dismissive edge in his remark and turned to Thor with a raised eyebrow.

“This is custom work for your first manuscript. We can make it whatever you can dream up. Within reason.” Thor smiled warmly.

“That means within budget,” Loki added.

“Well. I had been thinking of the classic chapbook. I mean, I never thought, I’d even have a small press publisher interested in my work. Much less the budget for a limited edition.” She shuffled through the broadsides, lingering on one of Loki’s personal favorites with a ghostly background print of a mountainscape in a soft, barely visible mix of silver and gray ink, under the stronger sans serif type of the text. He had worked through so much ink to mix just the right shade for this print. The mere memory of that moment sparked a phantom ache in his bicep. In the end, he surely lost money, but he loved the end result so much he simply didn’t care. “I love these broadsides. I do,” she continued. “But I think I’m picturing something more classic that my Grandmother would recognize as a book of poetry.”

As if she had flipped a switch, Loki checked out from the conversation instantaneously. As Thor talked her through some paper options, he leafed through type specimen sheets for the more Grandmother-friendly options: Palatino perhaps or Baskerville. He virtually sleepwalked through the ensuing discussion. Thor would get the particulars, he knew that. He loved him for it. Loki would help put it on the page and pull it all together. His name would be in the colophon. But his heart would be absent from yet another project.

He sighed as they watched the poet drive away.

“Boring.”

“Loki. You know this is the kind of work that pays the bills. Channel your creative need into—”

Loki cut him off. “I know. I know. Personal projects. Competition work. Like what you do. I know. But…” That sounded boring, too. It was all so very boring. He watched Thor pack away the displayed work. Thor was right. And Thor was also wrong. Did he not see that? How could he be satisfied? Was he really satisfied with … just … this?

“You’re plotting. What are you plotting?”

“I’m praying.”

“Ha!”

“For delivery from boredom.”

“Okay, now I’m getting a complex.”

“Not delivery from you. Delivery from this.” He swept his hand toward the studio.

“Well. Aren’t you lucky that a new semester starts next week.”

Ah. Yes. Maybe this year there would be someone *not* boring?