And you want to travel with her,
And you want to travel blind,
And you know That she will trust you,
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.
(Suzanne, Leonard Cohen)
Next to a willow tree, in the muddy ground along the river, Loki falls, exhausted after an inter-dimensional travel. The starry patch of the universe above his head closes and the Liesmith sighs, slumping into the ground.
He has no strength. His stomach is bleeding profusely, pierced by a spear.
Loki clenches his teeth and holds the weapon with both hands; he extracts it in three movements. The pain takes over.
The god lets out a long moan and raises his head on the damp ground. His view is invaded by dozens of fiery sparks exploding in the blue sky. His right hand rests on his stomach as he tries to heal the wound. His magic is too weak and its warmth does nothing to heal the flesh.
That’s the exact moment when he sees her, as she emerges from the waters. The red-haired woman.
She’s wearing a long purple dress and her hair is shining in the light of day. Her eyes are black, dilated and without iris. She divides the water with her feet.
Loki tries to get up. He hisses in pain and dips his fingers in his own blood.
The mysterious woman leans in front of him and starts to heal him. She has soft and experienced hands. Her fragrance is sweet; it reminds Loki of something Midgardian …
During the fever that shakes his body, Loki sees and dreams of the red-haired woman.
He recognizes her. She’s the girl he spied centuries ago from Heimdall’s observatory, violating an express command of Father. He saw her sitting on a shore – as she’s sitting now, centuries ago, not yet – all pure and white. He saw her holding a baby deer in her arms and slaughtering him with a sacrificial knife.
Beside the willow tree, Willow mountain of roses.
“You’re weak. You shouldn’t strain yourself,” she says flatly.
Loki sighs and stops pushing himself up with his forearms. He lies back on the cushions and explores the room with his eyes.
It’s a log cabin filled with magic crystals. Dozens of charms are hanging from the ceiling reflecting their light into the sun. It’s almost sunset. From the window on the end of the room Loki can see the willow tree that plunges its roots into the river.
“Willow,” he whispers.
The red-haired woman turns to look at him. Her eyes are still dilated and black, so inhuman, but her expression seems to soften a bit.
“It’s nifty to hear your own name after centuries,” she whispers. And smiles.
He wakes up in the middle of the night. Willow is holding a cup of fresh tea. He feels the warmth of the mug pressed on his lips.
“What happened to you?” She asks.
Loki would like to anticipate her questions. To ask why she cares so much, to try to find the source of her power and to know her history. Inside her black eyes she hides a world of wonder.
“Oh this one?” He murmurs, pointing at the healing wound in his abdomen. “Nothing special. Just a souvenir from Asgard.”
“You're Loki of Asgard,” she says. “Do your fellow citizens always say hello to you like that?”
The Liesmith shows a cheeky grin.
“Who are you?” He asks without hesitation.
Willow tilts her face.
“I’m like you. Except that in my world we aren’t so ... mediocre, I guess. Once you reach the deity status there is no spear that can wound you. Immortality is a final gift.”
Loki would try to know the name of her dimension. He starts to speak but the feeling a numbness invades his body. He falls asleep.
“You forced me to sleep on regular basis?”
“It's my magic, that's right.”
“You’ll heal faster.”
Loki gets up. He takes a wooden plate filled with fishes. He’s very hungry.
Willow is sitting next to him and the air surrounding her buzzes with electricity. Loki is curious.
“So did you come from another dimension? Is your world different? Have you seen Valhalla?”
Willow presses a finger against his lips.
“Eat. Rest. Don’t ask.”
Apparently she doesn’t know Loki.
“Are you a goddess?” he insists.
But he doesn’t need to hear the answer. He feels it.
They are sitting on the bank of the river, where the roots of the willow tree sink into the mud and water. Loki holds a writhing fish in his grip. Willow watches him in silence.
“Does Yggdrasil, the cosmic tree, connect your universe to mine? Did you come along its branches of light?”
“I’ve traveled a lot more than that. I saw parallel dimensions, the boundaries between universes and the planets of the older magical guides. I even saw the world without shrimp.”
Loki is confused. Willow’s lips bend in a smirk.
Wrapped in furs, Loki suppresses the need to change his skin in the middle of the night. To escape. He looks at the dark ceiling where the amulets are suspended and he thinks of Thor.
“I have a brother,” he says. He’s certain that she is listening. “I ... I need him, to exist. There is no Loki without Thor; that’s the most important lesson I’ve learned in my life. There is no Loki without Thor. I tried to sever the invisible line that binds us together. It didn’t work and in the process I got this lovely wound. I tricked his mind more times than I can remember. I tried so desperately to forget him just to find myself more involved than before. Is this love?”
Willow doesn’t answer.
Loki holds back a sob, then a laugh.
“Do you want to know what I did?”
“I tried to kill him. Three times,” he confesses. He feels Willow’s breath and he pictures her as a girl in a far away universe, in a different life. “Then I stopped,” he simply says.
“Why?” She asks.
“Because I almost succeeded.”
They play a game of chess.
Willow is cunning and controlled as Loki. After each challenge they find the other at the same level, always equal in intelligence. They admire each other. They almost love each other, in a way that doesn’t involve passion or desperation.
One night Loki takes his shape of jotun. He shows his blue skin, so cold and hated by Odin (Does Thor hate it too?). His uncertainty is reflected in Willow’s divine indifference.
He’s deeply grateful.
“Why did you travel so much?” He asks one evening.
His head is resting on her belly and he sighs at her caresses.
“Why do everybody travel? For love, of course.”
Loki looks up. He’s almost sure to see in her empty eyes of the glows of Yggsadrill and an image older than time. A beloved one.
“Once I knew a woman,” she says. Her voice is honey and ice. “With her I helped to change the world. A world, to be precise. I accomplished the most divine thing that anybody could, but then I lost her.”
“I couldn’t save her for the third time. Maybe those who believe in the specialness of the number three are right,” she jokes. Then she’s serious again. “I bent the laws of God for her and I triumphed over all. I saved her from the grave, you know?”
Her thin lips hatch and a great power radiates from her niveous skin.
Loki feels it and feels the loneliness that goes along with it.
Buffy is the name that lingers in silence, almost as much as Thor.
Loki has built its entire existence around Thor. He tried to be his shadow, his brother and his nemesis. He suppressed the painful desire that he began to feel as a teenager. He dressed love as hate.
Willow struggled desperately to be seen, to be equal to Buffy. When she got her wish and her life became a river unable to flow into the sea of death, she experienced the pain of the defeat. She realized that she has lost forever the chance to really be like Buffy, so deeply human.
Loki and Willow love each other, because they are mirror images.
“I want to stop feeling the way I feel,” Loki snarls, blinded by fury. “I would like to be able to really kill him.”
“That would be interesting. And then what would happen?” Willow says.
Loki lowers his head, frustrated.
Willow caresses him.
“It all comes down to a moment. The moment when they became aware of us. We would love to forget or pretend. The truth is that they have helped us to become who we are and we will be forever in debt, in a way. We can’t deny even if it destroys us.”
“Why are you tied so much to her?” Loki asks, his eyes shining with unleashed tears. “You told me about another woman ...”
“If you asked me the moment when everything changed, the moment that forever transformed my life and one of the happiest moments ever ... I probably will tell you about of a sunny morning … a first day of school, a taste of fresh water and the smile of a friend. Being recognized for the first time is a powerful experience. I would give anything to be able to go back to relive that moment. Anything.”
They never think about the future, Willow and Loki, because their lives are almost completely oriented to the past. To desire and regret.
They love each other, Willow and Loki, like ancient gods destined to always remember.
When they are ready to embrace what is yet to come, their farewell is full of tenderness and fear.
Willow takes Loki’s hands. He stares at her like an astonished child.
“It won’t be bad,” she whispers. “He always forgave you. He will again.”
“More than anything ... more than anything I’m afraid that he’s grown tired of me,” he confesses and kisses his goddess.
A hole opens into the sky above the river.
Loki and Willow are apart. The electricity passes through their bodies and constellations over the dimensional wound shine more intensely. It’s the moment of their farewell, but they don’t need to hold hands.
Loki thinks about what awaits him: Thor, war, the hatred of the Asgardians, Thor.
Then he turns to Willow, the immortal goddess who lost her light. The communion he’s feeling gets stronger. He would like to call her as he disappears. Instead he chooses to silently look her one last time.
Willow’s red hair is blazing into the wind and inside her eyes the sky, the river and the stars are reflected.