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Adrift

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Thor Odinson, the chief of the San Diego Harbor Police Department is standing outside the station having a smoke.

It's one of those days when everything is kinda quiet and the skies have this sleepy kind of shade to them and the smoke doesn't just get carried off straight away-it lingers for a while- and there's the palm trees standing all crooked in their spots looking like alien fountains spraying greenish water everywhere and the US flag is flapping in the wind high above him and the coffee he just got from the dying coffee machine is shit and his life totally sucks.

The cigarette filter is gold (his favorite Marlboro Red) and it makes him frown and look at his now bare ring finger and it's crazy how there isn't a single trace left there, not a scrape or a scratch or a fold in the skin, nothing at all that could suggest that, not so long ago, six months to be exact, there was a ring wrapped around that finger, gold and heavy, a part of this fancy wedding band set he got at Enhancry's for two thousand dollars. It had this flowers design or something you could only notice if you took the time to actually press your eyeball to the damn thing; he never liked it but the guy who sold him the set got it into Thor's head that all these flowers symbolize some sort of nirvana thing and all Thor could think about was Nirvana the band and Donna always idolized those guys and had the hots for that blonde dude who splattered his brains all over the carpet, so he saw it as a fucking sign and it was a done deal.

These wedding rings, they must have some kind of magic in them because they just move at the speed of light, one second they're on your finger and the next they're off and it's like there was never anything there at all.

What did Donna do with hers? Thor doesn't have a clue so he can only guess she sold it or something; she wasn't wearing it the day she moved out of their ranch house in Ramona. But he kept wearing his for a while because none of the guys back at the station knew he was getting a divorce at the time and there was something in him that wanted to keep it that way, not change anything, leave everything exactly as it was because if you leave things undisturbed there's this thought just doing laps in your head that's constantly saying: maybe she'll come back and maybe it will be as if she never left at all.

And there's this thing that keeps dragging him from his sleep at that beautiful hour in the morning when the light looks like purple dust and there's this pull inside his chest and it throbs like an open wound and it makes him reach for a shoulder that isn't there anymore, wanting to get his fingers all tangled up in the straps of her night gown, to brush his knuckles down her arm and feel how warm it is, and sweet with sleep. But she's never there and the morning air just ends up sticking to his skin, cooling down and Thor flips over to his back and throws one arm over his eyes and squeezes them shut.

Donna just couldn't handle it. She kept saying he's never home; they'd sit out on the porch with all the lights burning in the windows behind them and all this darkness before them and she'd talk with a palm covering her mouth and one soft shoe dangling from her toes and she'd tell him about how lonely she is and the night would caress her hair and the moon and the stars would listen and in all that silence everything would make sense and he'd promise to be home more and he'd take her hands and think: things will get better. But they never did. He kept his word, cut on his hours a few times a week and got home before the sun was down; they'd have dinner together and watch TV before bed. Thor loved her just as before, always craving the taste of her skin, but Donna was insistent. She changed her story and she'd tell him his body is there with her but his mind is somewhere else entirely and whether it was true or not, Thor couldn't fix this and he got angry because there it was, sitting there right in front of him, the possibility of losing her, and it wasn't going away. And he did lose her because she wanted him to and Donna always got exactly what she wanted, and her going away from him fucked him up so bad it hurt and he couldn't imagine a day when it would stop hurting.

And what about his ring? It's right down there at the bottom of the ocean and with all the nirvana thing it has going on for it there has to be this circle of fish just floating around it, chanting a mantra, deep in some kind of meditation. He walked out to the bay one night when no one was looking, with this wild alcohol buzz rushing through his head and just stood in the shadows for a while, moving the ring around in his palm, watching the dim light of the San Diego-Coronado bridge flashing above the waters before he finally tossed it. It moved in this perfect arc catching the white lights of the passing boats and then it was gone, just like that, and he can still hear that splashing sound sometimes and it never fails to mess with his mind.

And it's been six months already and he still feels shitty and when he feels shitty he's angry as fuck and it's impossible to be around him and he's a 6'5 guy all muscles and attitude and when you see something like this heading your way foaming at the mouth because of this stupid thing you did you just want to pull a Houdini and disappear because he'd tear you down and make you feel like a complete idiot. And this attitude of his has some of the guys at the station treating him like some sort of god because they're scared shitless and they just want to get out of his way; but the other guys just bathe in his glory and all his power and strength sticks to them and makes them act like assholes to everyone else.

Here we have Stu, short for Stewart, or just Chicken Stew (that's what his buddies used to call him in high school and they actually thought it was the coolest name ever invented). Stu's the one who spots Thor through the large doors now, smoking there outside and makes his way over to him, holding two screws in his hand and grinning like an idiot. Everyone knows Stu's not right in the head but because he's not Ted Bundy crazy just this kind of 'pull your pants down right there at the front desk on the chief's birthday and show him the pair of underwear you got at Target with all these birthday cakes printed all over 'em' harmless joker, the guys love having him around cause they think the dude's got some balls and Thor keeps him around because Stu's a good patrol officer and because maybe, somewhere inside him, he loves it when Stu drives him crazy.

Next, we have Carver. This dude was a bouncer back at Club Crawl for a while, got arrested twice for breaking and entering, got his face split open in this incident that involved a broken vodka bottle, a whole lot of attitude and a tiny plastic bag full of Disco Biscuits. He's one of those hot 6'4 dudes with a criminal record, covered in ink and has the shiftiest pair of eyes you'd ever seen and there was every reason in the world not to hire him but Thor saw something in him, had one of those gut feelings and he just went with it and Carver turned out to be a shooting star, something so incredible you only see once in your lifetime, a baddie turned good, and just three weeks ago helped bust some guys that steered their boat close to shore with this huge load of Freeze stashed away deep in its belly.

And then, there's Gunner. The guys love teasing him cause he's got red Dr. Pepper hair (all natural, the hair on his arms and his lashes are the exact same color) but they don't really do it often cause he's built like a building and before he got this job at the station he worked for all kinds of guys just collecting debts and cracking some ribs if someone came up short with the money thing or just tried to make a run for it. Gunner's a tobacco-chewing, pack-leading tough guy and Thor loves having him around cause he helps keep the other guys in check.

And last but not least in this little group that always manages to drive Thor crazy is Drew. The best way to describe him is that guy you always spot sitting behind his desk just being all shy and quiet and ignored by everyone, this guy's who's there today but might not show up for work tomorrow cause he got even sadder than usual on his way home, closed his eyes and stepped in front of a speeding truck. This soon to be suicide case wears the most depressing pair of glasses you'd ever seen and the guys are too rough on him and he never gets their dirty jokes but he still tags along and the only reason they let him hang out with them is because Thor insists on it cause he keeps getting this feeling that if Drew isn't with them there, he's nowhere and the thought creeps him out and it's wintertime and what's more depressing than attending a funeral in the rain?

The doors slide open and Stu walks out; he has this pair of mirrored sunglasses on with a red tint to them and he's chewing this piece of strawberry gum with his mouth open cause coolness.

Thor fills his lungs with smoke, flicks the ashes aside and watches Stu. Stu comes to stand next to him and points right at the sky. Thor quirks an eyebrow and Stu shakes his head and bites his lips.

"He knew it, man," Stu says and the sunglasses wrap around so much Thor can't see his eyes, "he knew it! That cool bearded dude up there, he knew this was comin'. He was there in my bedroom the other night and his sandals left cloud dust all over my floor and he leaned over really close to me, like really really close, like this-"

And there's Stu with his heavy arm on Thor's right shoulder and he's so close Thor can see his own reflection in those crazy lenses but all distorted like seeing someone through a peephole and the tip of Stu's nose presses into Thor's hair right at the temple and Thor can hears Stu's wristwatch ticking and the strawberry fog is everywhere.

"And he, the almighty keeper of all those corgis that just vanish one day and no one can find 'em, just put his lips to my ear like this-"

Thor rolls his eyes and scrunches his nose when he feels Stu's mouth on his ear.

"And he said to me-"

Here Stu takes a huge breath in and the lenses flash like lightning.

Thor offers one bored blink, "is this going somewhere, man?"

Stu crashes into him and hugs his shoulders, "indeed, my captain! 'tomorrow,' he said, 'have a cappuccino, my son! Savor it, for it will be your last, and search as you might all throughout your life, you'll never again come across this magical combo of some prehistoric ground coffee that tastes like a fucking bath house and smells like some horny jock's underwear."

Stu pulls his face away and flashes his teeth at Thor, "god has spoken!"

And he shows Thor his palm.

"The fuck's this?"

Two silver screws lay right there at the center of Stu's palm and Thor gives him a look.

"I regret to inform you, sir, that Gloria, or the coffee machine as everyone else likes to call her, passed away today, the fourth of November, after a long battle with the not so rare disease some of the guys from the ground floor also battle with-danielskick. She leaves behind a bunch of paper cup kids. See? Keeper of lost corgis was right. It is, indeed, a sad day for all of us. Saw Gunner shedding some man tears in the men's room but shhh don't tell anyone."

"How'd you get the screws?" Thor asks and takes a sip from his coffee; knowing he'll never get a chance to drink this hell water nightmare again kinda makes him feel fucking good.

Stu checks to make sure no sun rays are about to head his way before he slides the sunglasses up and puts them on his hair, "Manny took the whole thing apart just now. It was post mortem for Gloria today. So I just took these two bad boys when Manny wasn't lookin'. He tried fixing her, but girls like her they don't want to be fixed, you know what I mean? Some girls, you can't change 'em. It's like, try taking a shitload of blue paint and paint the pyramids. You do it and then you step back and you look at 'em and you go: holy shit, blue pyramids! But after a while the winds just peel all this paint off and they're normal pyramids again. You feelin' me, man?"

"You're trying to tell me Donna's a blue pyramid, right? That I can't change her no matter what I do, that I can't make her come back?' Thor blows out the smoke and his pack of Marlboros feels heavy in his pocket, "you're talking in fucking riddles with me here, Richardson and I'm not feeling it. I don't wanna talk about Donna."

"I don't wanna talk about Donna either!" Stu jumps in front of Thor and then starts taking huge steps back, arms flapping all over the place, smiling like an idiot, "there's no need to talk about Donna. Donna's gone! You see all this? This, my friend, is free space, just like on a fucking hardrive. See, free space right here and free space over there and oh, look! More free space over here as well! Donna's not here and Donna's not there and you-"

Stu hurries over to Thor and pokes him right in the chest, "you are a free man."

"Doesn't feel like it," Thor says, "I said I don't wanna talk about Donna."

"But we're not talking about Donna, we're talking about the absence of Donna!"

"Same thing."

"Nope. Not the same thing at all, my friend."

Thor sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips, gives Stu a crooked smile and taps his temple with his lighter, "trying to mess with my mind here, Richardson?"

"No, no, no, you're not getting this at all. Look," Stu raises one finger, "here's the thing-"

Thor lights the cigarette up. It takes a few tries cause the lighter is one of those cheap clear blue plastic ones you just throw away after a day or two cause it just pisses you off, and in the meantime Stu gets all animated cause he's trying to prove a point.

"See, talking about Donna is talking about the past," Stu totally sings it, "talking about the absence of Donna is talking about the future."

"Huh."

"What do you mean 'huh'?"

"Just huh."

"Man," Stu says, "you're not excited about this at all!"

"What am I supposed to get all excited about?"

"Uh, I don't know, Mr. Morose, your future, maybe?"

Thor pretends to think about it for a bit.

"Nah," he says and starts walking to find a comfortable spot to smoke in.

Stu catches up to him and there's this glint in his eyes and the sun is out but they don't really get any warmth from it because there's a bit of a chill in the air but you can feel it if you move around.

Future? What kind of future is Stu going on about? Thinking about the future just brings images to his mind of days just like this one where it's all work and then it's back to that fucking haunted place he has to call home where every cream-colored tile and every doorknob reminds him of Donna and the house feels so hollow like a ribcage that's lost its heart and he keeps finding all these things that she's just left behind and it's small things of no significance to most people but they make him stop and stare and pick up and touch and it's a red hairpin and a blue button that popped off one of her jackets and an empty green tube of mascara hiding under the bed close to the wall and a dog-eared shopping list snoozing behind the fridge and the feeling of them in his palm is just like feeling her hair and her skin and the soft flesh of her arm and Thor has no idea anymore if he's the one looking for them or are they the ones looking for him and finding these things is like losing and then finding her again and then finding and losing and it's like this circle that never ends. Is it even possible to tear Donna out of him? Does he even want to?

And then there's Stu walking to his left and how is it even possible that he has all this energy when it's barely noon! Stu grabs his sunglasses so they won't slide off his hair and snaps his head up and he's about to grab clouds in his fists.

"You hearin' that, all mighty gods? This man right here doesn't give a shit about his future! All he wants to do is be Mr. Grumpy Grump and just think about how shitty his life is right now."

"I'm not grumpy," Thor says and takes a sip of his coffee, "and my life is shit."

Thor pulls a face cause the coffee is so bitter it makes his brain hurt and with a flick of his wrist dumps all that's left of it in a bush.

"Why'd you do that for? Now this thing's gonna keel over."

"Good. It'll be dead like me," Thor smirks, "I like it."

Thor throws the cup into a bin and Stu looks at the sky.

"Help this poor man!"

"Let sleeping dogs lay," Thor says and sits down on the pavement, "you don't want them noticing me. You get 'em to notice and I get struck by lightning next time it rains. Just my luck."

"You know, I had this uncle-"

"Had? You don't have him anymore?"

"Well, I kinda do," Stu says and sits next to him, "see, it was a long time ago, and when I say long I mean loooooong time ago. Like 1993, something like that. There was this huge storm here at the time- I don't remember shit about it cause back then I had my head shoved up my ass constantly cause I was a fucking spoiled bitch of a kid-but my entire family remembers it and told me this story like a hundred times. So, my uncle was out in the mountains for some reason, don't ask me why, and he was feeling all one with nature, thinking he's the coolest person ever and he got caught up in this storm. So, he's in the middle of it, right? Right in the middle and he gets struck by lightning. It was supposed to fry him but it didn't and he didn't come home for like three days or so and the police went crazy just searching for uncle Stevie and they found him around that area and they asked him why he didn't come home and they said everyone's worried and stuff and he told them he can't come home and they asked him why and he said he can't cause he's dead. That lightning thing totally messed his brain up and that's why I said 'I had this uncle' cause he keeps telling us he's dead. Uncle Stevie, dead since 1993."

Stu lifts his pant leg and tugs on his sock, "still makes the meanest bacon in the world, though. Dead people aren't afraid of pans apparently."

Thor looks at him, "you smoking again, Richardson?"

"Hey, uncle Stevie and weed are two different things. I'm not making this shit up."

"You sure your uncle didn't find the family's stash around the time he decided to go out there and have his brains served up as an omelet?" Thor says and lights another on up.

"Well, he did love his Giggle Smoke."

"No shit."

"He always said it makes everything work much smoother with the ladies," Stu pops his gum and looks at Thor, "speaking of ladies…"

Stu fishes around for his phone and when he finds it he unlocks it and starts scrolling, "guess what you're doing tomorrow?"

"I don't like this," Thor says with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

"You don't like what?"

"This," Thor says, blows out a stream of smoke  and lets the cigarette hang from his fingers, "whatever it is you're gonna come up with, I don't like it."

"But you don't know what it is yet."

"I get the word ladies and I'm getting you telling me I'm doing something tomorrow and you better not be trying to hook me up with someone cause I'm not doing it."

"Hey, you know what they say," Stu says and his shoulders touch his ears, "one night of naughty takes away all the grumpy."

"Yeah?" Thor nods, "you know what else they say?"

Stu lifts his eyes from the phone and stares at Thor with his mouth open, "no, what?"

"You have a friend that's a little too wired, he better watch his back or he's gonna get fired."

Stu lets out this noise that sounds like a coyote and a banshee had a baby and it's his 'you got me' sound and he smiles so wide all his dimples show and there's so many crinkles around his eyes you can never even begin to count them.

"That's a tie, my man," Stu says and his long bony thumb slides across the screen, "rhymed, too."

Thor leans over and takes a peek, "is that a fucking dating site?"

"Yep. Soul Search dot com."

"These places are full of weirdos."

"And widows."

"You on that?"

"C'mon, look at me," Stu says and his chin's all stuck in the air and his hand is on his heart, "do I look like the kinda guy-"

"Yeah, you do," Thor cuts him off and motions with his chin, "got a profile pic?"

"Duh! There it is, in all its glory."

And there's Stu's profile picture and he looks like a fucking loon, hair spiked up, tongue sticking out.

"Wow," Thor says, "I bet you got 'em girls dropping like flies with this."

"Girls dig this look man, what are ya talking about? Now," Stu's thumb comes off the screen, "check this out."

The sun is coming out and Thor grabs his sunglasses; they're Ray-Bans and they're just this simple black, grey-black wide lenses and black frames and they're his favorite pair. He slides them on and it's like this blink paints everything this mousy shade and it looks like everything stops moving, even the palm trees so close to the sky. He puffs on his cigarette and as the sun warms him up and makes the pendant of the chain sticking to his chest underneath his shirt burn, Thor has to ask himself why he's still sitting there and why Stu about to read aloud the profile details of this stranger he's never met before doesn't just make him get outta there as quickly as he can. Is it because he's angry? Is it because he doesn't care? Is it possible that Stu's speech about all this future thing got to him somehow? Is it this part of him that he's been ignoring all this time finally finding its voice and telling him he's an idiot for still missing Donna and thinking she'd come back someday?

And there's the sound of the sea in his ears because after so many years of working so close to it you can hear it even when you can't hear it, it's like a brain tattoo and his ring is right there at the bottom of it and there's no getting it out of there.

All his hair is pulled back into this ponytail and he can feel the sun beating down on the back of his neck getting under the stiff collar of his uniform and he looks at all the cars parked there with their roofs all shiny and warm and thinks: the rains will come soon. It hasn't actually rained all that much yet, just this little cool shower here and there in the evenings, but the storms with all their crazy lightning are on their way and the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer and Thor hates it when it rains and even more than that he hates lying alone in an empty bed with all the lights out and listening to these icy drops tapping on his window, it always makes him feel miserable.

Stu knocks the sunglasses down onto the bridge of his nose, holds the phone up like prince Hamlet loved holding that skull in all those play adaptations and clears his throat.

Thor mumbles from the corner of his mouth: "you're wasting your breath."

"Nah," Stu says, "listen, me and the guys are just trying to help you out, man-"

"Hold on, they're in on this too?"

"We all are," Stu says and his lips twitch with this crooked smile, "we just want you to snap out of this."

"Snap outta what exactly?"

"This black mood you're in! You've fired Keith yesterday and all he did was bump into you in the hall."

Thor flicks the ashes away, "never liked the guy. He was sloppy. And slow. You need to fight hard to keep your job. No slacking off. You slack off, you get your stuff and you're outta my sight before you piss me off even more."

"It's been six months. All this emo stuff, it's gotta end, man. All of us are in on this and we think the only way we're getting this done is with us showing you there are other women out there, y'know? And you know, maybe this girl won't be a Donna, maybe she'll be a Michelle or a Layla, but that's not a bad thing. Michelles are really awesome in bed. Celias are a blast and all the beths hate wearing bras. This one doesn't have a name, though. She just has this username: Ophelia's Violets."

Thor pulls a face, "what kinda name is Ophelia?"

"It's a movie thing, I think."

"I don't like it," Thor says and sticks the cigarette between his lips and peeks at Stu's phone, "she has a pic?"

"Nope," Stu shows him the screen, "just this flowers thing."

Thor squints and there they are, all those violets floating on what seems to be a quiet lake, sitting there in the frame of the profile picture instead of this girl's face.

Thor shakes his head, "no name, no picture, what's the fucking point?"

"You can put a description of yourself here," Stu points to the corner of the page.

"Yeah? What did she put there? Water three times a day?"

"In the hair bit, she," Stu says and there's a glint in his eyes, "says black. In the eye color thing, she says green."

Donna's a redhead with blue eyes. Thor doesn't like brunettes and he never found green eyes beautiful, they always seemed too foresty, but blue eyes always reminded him of the ocean.

"She's quite tall. Six feet."

Thor lets out a whistle.

"And here," Stu points to the body type bit, "she says slender."

Thor shakes his head again and fixes the sunglasses on his nose, "she can weigh eighty pounds for all I care, I don't do blind dates."

Stu looks at him incredulously, "how can you say 'no' to a girl that calls herself Ophelia's Violets, man?"

"Easy."

"There's the say something about yourself thing here. She says and I quote: 'lover of books and solitude. Believes with all my heart that flowers have the ability to grow out of fire. Been burned, but still trust because trust is always the last to perish. Always smile in a thunderstorm.  Looking for a man with gentle hands and a gentle heart."

Thor eyes Stu suspiciously, "why this one? There had to be like thousands of other girl in there."

"Well, cause Donna fucked you up so bad and this girl is a fucking nerd and nerds can undo all kinds of damages. She can un-grumpy you."

"You sent her my picture, didn't you? Thor asks and Stu smiles like a loon.

"Is the pope religious?"

"Why you even have pictures of me on your phone?"

"Uh, cause you look like a fucking god and I'm secretly crushing on you, maybe?" Stu says with a geeky grin and shows Thor the picture he sent this Ophelia chick.

It's from a party they had back at the station like a month ago and everyone was casual, no uniforms in sight. Someone snapped a picture of him standing there next to a table full of food and coffee in his cut off black shirt and his sunglasses on his head, blonde hair down and veins bulging on his huge arms. He was smiling and had this playful glint in his eyes and Thor can't even remember himself smiling; it feels as if he hasn't smiled at all since Donna left. And he missed that light feeling in his chest, the feeling you get when you smile and feel like life's being good to you today and everything seems fun and hope is everywhere like sunlight in the summertime.

Thor throws the cigarette on the ground and snuffs it out, "did she say anything?

Stu looks at the screen and then at Thor, "about what?"

"The picture."

"Yeah, she did, actually! See?"

And Stu shows Thor a message from her, sent yesterday around noon. Thor takes the phone and angles it so the sunlight doesn't hit the screen head on. And there's one line on the screen and Thor lifts the sunglasses so he can see it better.

'You've got kind eyes. That's rare to see.'

Thor runs his tongue over his teeth and re-reads it. For some reason this message coaxes a soft blink out of him. The fact someone can look into his eyes and still find kindness there after all this hurt and anger and pain makes him feel a bit like smiling.

He hits the profile picture again and there they are, gentle purple violets floating on the water and there's a pull inside his chest because for some reason he suddenly finds this painting hauntingly beautiful.

There's this cool wind wafting over their faces all of a sudden and Thor lifts his eyes to the sky. Clouds are making their way over their heads and they smother the sun and Thor thinks of sleepless rainy nights and the phone grows warm in his palm.

"We decided on a place," Stu says, "Our ol' favorite restaurant at The Fish Market, tomorrow for lunch."

And Thor can see it with all its windows looking out to the ocean, the close overhead lights, the soft seats, and he can picture himself sitting there at the sushi bar surrounded by all this endless chatter and he can see all the people sitting down to eat, the utensils glowing in the lights, but he can't see her, it's just this empty seat next to him and why can't he imagine what she looks like? Is it because he hasn't seen her face? And everything in him is ready to say no to this because he's not ready for even the slightest change in his life right now and this feels too big and too sudden for him and it makes him dizzy and there's the 'no way I'm doing this' on his tongue but instead he finds himself saying 'fine'."

And Stu's smile is huge and all his teeth are showing all the way to his molars.

"Awesome!" he says, snatches his phone back and he's outta there before Thor gets a chance to say anything, probably going to tell the guys the chief's finally ready to stop being such an asshole all the time cause he's gonna get laid soon.

And Thor gets up and walks over to the bay and stands there for the longest time, hands in his pockets, now cool wind at his back and he watches the ships moving on the water like rays of light and the San Diego-Coronado bridge stands there in the shade and Thor's heart feels different and there's no explaining it.

 

****

It's past closing time at The North Park Library in San Diego; it's a Tuesday, so Loki locked the doors at 8 pm and now there he is in his favorite spot, lying on the grey carpeted floor, holding a book propped up on his chest with one hand and fixing his glasses on the bridge of his nose with the other.

Some of the lights are out way in the back where it's cool and airy but the books never fall asleep on the shelves, they just stand there, eternal spectators, their clean, sleek dustcovers blinking in the lights coming in from the windows, resisting the urge to hum along with the silence that's this vibrating fog crawling like a serpent around corners, wrapping itself around the thin legs of chairs, sticking to the carpets and seeping like water between the tiles and down to the earth below.

Mr. Cain arrived at his usual time today-he's there every day and sometimes Loki thinks he's there even when he's not really there, like a part of him lingers in the air and becomes one with that silence and never really goes away. Loki never really managed to find out just how old Mr. Cain is, he always wanted to ask but it just felt rude for some reason so he didn't.

Mr. Cain's first name is Abel and sometimes he runs into someone who knows him by one bookshelf or another and that person goes "Abel!" and Mr. Cain always replies with something like: "able to smile!" or "able to laugh!" and people just think he's weird but Loki thinks he's just being optimistic and having some harmless fun.

He's never late; around four Loki stops everything and looks out the window. Sometimes he just sees a ray of bluish light on the sidewalk or a window sparkling silver in the afternoon glow, and he goes back to doing his thing, and the next time he looks up, usually a minute later, there's Mr. Cain making his way around the corner, his cheeks hollow cause he's always sucking on a clear blue mint candy, the ones that always make you feel like your nose is on fire.

He always sits in the same spot where he can't feel the AC at all and keeps his small sparrow-shaped wallet in the pocket over his heart in case he'll need to feed the photocopy machine cause he has this idea that in all these books hides one epic poem by an unknown writer from long ago and that if you look hard enough you can actually find it, piece it together from certain words and punctuation marks, so he's constantly on the lookout and he's jotting things down in his black notepad and he's making that photocopy machine grow fat and tired and it's throwing one warm page after the other into his hands and he organizes all of them with his tongue stuck between his teeth and his eyes jumping all over the place looking for an unexpected breeze attack.

Loki thinks he's getting somewhere; he pops in to see him sometimes and with the constant hum of the machine in their ears and the smell of mint in their noses, Mr. Cain uses Loki's pen to circle the most bizarre words like 'astrobleme' and 'benthos' and 'eucatastrophe' and shows them to Loki and Loki points to a word Mr. Cain had missed like the word 'chiliad' and Mr. Cain looks up at him like a little boy with his bottom lip caught between his teeth, nods with such force his white hair floats everywhere like he's underwater, licks the tip of the pen and circles it too. And Loki stands there with his hands in the pockets of his skinny jeans and looks at him with all the softness of the world reflected in his eyes because he finds it touching, and he can't decide whether the old man is a poet at heart or a man out to find something no one believes in, or maybe a poet actually is one who constantly believes when other don't, or all those who search and search and never find are the true poets of this world.

When it's 7:45 pm it's time to go; Mr. Cain just feels it. He never looks at his watch and he's never wrong. Small blinking coins go back into the sparrow's mouth, clear plastic bag of mints pops into a pocket and there's Mr. Cain placing the pen back on Loki's desk and Loki always tells him the same thing.

"Keep it," he says, and he keeps saying it because he really wants him to keep it because what if a crazy word like 'funambulist' jumps at him from the dark on his way home and he can't write it down? And Mr. Cain always gives him a different answer but it's never a 'no', he says things like: "all that we can touch we cannot keep", or, "we keep track of time" and, "unseen keeper of imaginary constellations" and Loki always gives him a small smile and the man unwraps another mint and pops it in his mouth and Loki thinks about this arts supply store where he keeps seeing this pack of black ball point pens, four in total, a different word printed in white on each one: 'souls' 'in' 'sings' 'silence'. And he'll get them for Mr. Cain someday; it's a librarian's promise.

There's a copy of Hamlet balancing there on his sternum; it's the annotated version, hardcover, all sleek black and the dustcover crackles when he presses on it with his fingers. He's holding the book from the top and whenever he flips over to a new page he needs to move his fingertips because they end up covering the words, and the pages let out this sound like silk being handled and it's so quiet in there he can hear the movement of his hair falling over his shoulders, his long black sleeves brushing against the carpet, each one of his blinks when his lashes brush the lenses of his glasses when they sink and soar.

Loki's on Act 4 Scene 7; Queen Gertrude talks to Laertes and tells him about the death of Ophelia, his sister. Loki knows this scene by heart. It has within it all the beauty of a lie; facts are changed, motives altered and you get ten people looking at something that's happening right there in front of them and each will breathe new life into it and make the story their own. One story has a thousand faces, one pair of hands countless kinds of flowers held there in the loving knot of pale fingers.

A sleeping lake, a willow tree, scattered petals floating on the waters, ebony wrists facing the canopy of branches heavy with bloom overhead.

Ophelia drowned. Queen Gertrude tries convincing Laertes it was an accident; Ophelia climbed the willow tree to hang on its branches the flower crowns she made and when one of the branches snapped, she fell with it, soft flowers tainting the air with colors. A mystery to some, like the everlasting riddle of the stars and their beauty, but Loki knows the truth; it was a beautiful suicide.

Loki licks his lips and in all that silence it sounds like fire cracking and his gaze caresses lines 167-170 and he takes a breath in and his voice presses against the pages like kisses.

"'There with fantastic garlands did she make of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples that liberal shepherds give a grosser name, but our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them.'"

And Loki raises his eyes and looks at those five long fingers holding the book, thumb sticking out, nails short and thin, casting long shadows on the pages. And there it is, a soft dry flash of lightning outside that makes him blink and the thought is gone for a while.

There's Madame Bovary there on the chair next to him, and on top of it a copy of Romeo and Juliet, blue spine, white letters curving like soft bows; on the table a copy of John Keats' letters. And there at arm's reach his phone, its screen dark, the overhead lights reflecting on it like silver raindrops.

Loki turns his head to look at his phone and after a few seconds of just staring, he grabs his copy of Hamlet with both hands. He squeezes it until it groans, tendons flexing at his wrists, bony knuckles dusted with pink sticking out, one corner of a nail leaving a tiny dent close to the heart of one page.

Then, a soft whisper of flowing fabric. Loki lowers the book to his chest and, still gripping it, presses it face down against his clavicles. He looks up and there it is, a trail of white fabric disappearing behind a dark bookcase, leaving dusty blue colored petals on the carpeted floor.

Loki sits up and crosses his legs. He has a pair of grey Converse on, no socks, and the pant legs of his black jeans ride up and expose a pair of pale, bony ankles. He presses the spine of the book against his slim calves and flips through the pages until he finds the lines he's looking for.

He raises his head and peers around, looking for a pale face amongst the shadows.

"'There's a daisy'," he says and his voice is soft, "'I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died.'"

Loki glances around, eyes moving from a framed painting of the San Diego-Coronado bridge at twilight to a dark window and then to an empty table and chair breathing in the back. He leans his forearms on his thighs and lets his hands dangle, fingertips about brushing the carpet.

More silence for a while, and then an almost inaudible whisper of fabric. Then, an eye, brown and delicate, appears there in the distance between two books on a shelf, followed by a small palm with gentle fingers holding on to the corner of a bookcase.

Loki smiles; it's slow and gentle and angles his head a bit to look. He spots the abrupt rise of a shoulder blade and the smoothness of sleepy curls the color of spring.

She watches him for a while, and the scent of silky petals dancing over the waters is everywhere and it's so sweet it sticks to the inside of his lungs, threatening to smother.

Loki's smile goes away bit by bit until his face becomes an architecture of sadness.

"So many daisies for loves that have no happiness in them," he says, "and no violets at all, no faithfulness. People promise to take care of your heart forever and they end up scarring it."

A soft blink of those eyes, a sign of recognition.

Loki looks at her, his lips parted, gaze moving from one of her eyes to the other, heart full of dangerous wonder.

"What does it feel like?" he asks and his soon to be spoken word hangs in the air before his vocal chords and tongue and lips give it life.

And there's all this gravity anchoring him to the floor and the delicate skin of his ankles gets burns from the grainy carpet and the bones of his ankles ache from being pressed so harshly to the tiles beneath.

"Falling," he says and there's another pale flash of lightning outside like a flickering lamp and there's vulnerability in her eyes, innocence, but also a sense of understanding, like if she'd tell him he'll know exactly what she means.

He still can't see all her face but her eyes are there and they soften like a summer wind when she thinks of an old tree and a canopy of bloom and a flower crown sitting lightly on her hair.

And then she closes her eyes; Loki watches her lids drop and they're thin like rays of sunlight and the lashes rest there on the peaks of her cheekbones like afternoon shadows on grass and all the worry and pain are gone and all that's left is just calmness , all that's left is just peace and Loki finds his eyes drifting closed too.

Then, a sharp tap on the glass and Loki's eyes snap open, head turning towards the row of windows and his eyes jump from one to the next to the next, searching the darkness for a flash of copper-colored hair and two sharp knuckles suspended in the air following a quick rap on the glass, his heart going like crazy in his chest.

It's been six months since Cooper and there's no way of getting that wide set of shoulders waiting for him out there out of Loki's head; they're always there, blazing red in the summer, covered in a leather jacket in the winter, illuminated by a weak streetlight in the fall and resisting the gentle winds in the spring. Six months and he can still hear that tapping when it's not there, making its way to him out of the dark, toying with his mind, making him lose all his air.

It's only the rain this time; it started so slow and soft he didn't even hear it and now it's wild, hitting the glass with force, prickly and heavy like grit.

The adrenaline makes his fingertips feel like they're on fire and it's like electric shocks are circulating through his veins. He squeezes his hands into fists to make the fear go away and looks back at the bookcase. No Ophelia there, just the sounds of the rain falling and a light flickering in the distance, throwing cracks in the shadows huddled far away in the back.

Loki looks down at the pages. Somehow he's back at Act 4 Scene 7 and he has no idea how he got there. The dustcover makes the book unstable on his jeans and Loki adjusts it and there's his fingers there at the top holding the book open and the word 'drowned' is resting there right next to his ring finger; there's nothing following it, no more words, just one full stop and there are no faded parts in that single black dot.

Loki closes the book over his fingers and the weight of all those pages presses down on his bones. The cover is all black with a skull at the right hand corner and there's even more black inside the round, empty eye sockets. Loki slides his fingers out and the book closes with a soft rustle. He holds and squeezes it in his hands for a while, staring at all that darkness that's sleeping there where eyes once were before he puts it away.

And there's all this open space at his back and every book casts a shadow and the sound of the rain blots everything out and suddenly it feels like he's a pill sitting inside someone's mouth and he turned the heater off a while ago and his hair feels cool pressing against the back of his neck and it's that feeling that you get sometimes when something you know and love puts a mask on and Loki reaches for his phone.

He unlocks it and types 'soul search' in the URL bar. He needs to wait a bit because the connection is giving him trouble, but when he reaches the site he taps the username option with his thumb and types with both hands. The letters appear in groups on the screen, small and black, and together they spell 'Ophelia's Violets'.

Loki had created this account two months ago. It was a desperate move, and some would look at it as a ray of hope, an attempt to heal. He never uploaded a photo because in his mind he has no face, he's just this blank space and even describing himself and what he's looking for was hard. Is he actually looking for something, for someone, or is he just buying time, trying, for a while, to push the inevitable away?

And there's his profile page with its lake painting at the corner there and there's his inbox and yesterday was the first time someone had texted him since he joined this little dating site. People don't try talking to you if they can't see what you look like, they're scared. But someone got courageous and texted him around noon and Loki hits the inbox and there are all these open envelope icons there and this one guy thought they should hook up.

Loki opens the e-mail chain and there's the first text there.

'Just had a bit of a rough time lately and your profile got my attention. How about we have some lunch and try and see if it's worth giving this world another go. Attaching a pic. Name's Thor, btw.'

Loki was on his lunch break when he got this. He was sitting outside, legs all curled up against his chest, a cool white pillar pressing between his shoulder blades, keeping him upright like a second spine, light pink colored tiles there under his feet. There was a single leaf clinging to a branch, fluttering in the wind, and the skies were the color of ancient seashells and the air was filled with this bright silver light and his pupils were tiny and sensitive, soft lashes framing quiet, troubled eyes, searching the skies for memories.

He was drifting away without actually moving, like flowers on water, footsteps passing near him, clothes rustling, children laughing, the doors behind him closing and opening and there was this feeling that the light was turning him into nothing, making him crumble like chalk dust, scatter and disappear and he felt like his body had no weight to it at all and it felt like space was expending inside him, a black fog tasting tiny flashes of light, unfurling, traveling in a whisper, great and unknown and endless and unexplained. He was just a boy with a peach colored building at his back and all this silence from within heavy on his shoulders.

And then in all that, a hushed vibrating sound, a voice reaching out to him across roads and hours, contemplating the banality of it all, a lonely heart reaching out for his and the face of a stranger smiling at him, traces of memories clinging to his lashes, kind blue eyes searching his own, traveling down the roads of his past, a curious traveler searching for the flowers of Eden inside his heart where Satan's feet never dared to tread.

And Loki crossed his legs and held the phone in both hands, hunched over it and there was this feeling inside him, familiar and intimate of finding something beautiful and basking in the timelessness of it when seconds turn into years but the heart never grows old and the soul is illuminated by a profound and lovely realization.

This face, with all its lines of shadows and light, kept him company for the rest of that day and Loki's eyes kept searching the pairs of hands returning and borrowing books, looking for this man's hands, not daring to ask himself why. Since yesterday a boyish smile lives in the shadows stretching across the ceiling over his bed.

Loki blinks. His eyes wander down to the second text this man sent him after Loki complimented him on how kind his eyes are.

'Thank you! How about we meet at the restaurant at The Fish Market? It's close to where I work at the harbour police department. Around 12?'

And then there's Loki's reply, a simple 'okay' and nothing more.

Loki knows words are meaningless, it's the feeling you get when you look at someone that's important; words deceive and lie but the eyes tell the truth. And the kindness in this man's eyes is the same you get when you smile at a child and it left traces on Loki's heart. But also a little bit of loneliness in that smile, in those eyes. A little bit of sadness Loki feels like he can relate too, like his own sadness blooming inside of him.

Loki knows that restaurant. Cooper still works at fixing cars but he loves to surf. He drowned when he was six and since then it's like the ocean runs through his veins and each wild wave is a rabid beat of his heart. He loves seafood and that restaurant was always his favorite and Loki remembers those sharp white canines biting into a cream-colored shrimp, tugging and tearing it to pieces, with the salty wind coming from the ocean sticking to the windows and the waiters circling the tables carrying plates full of colored sushi rolls and tough-shelled oysters, the magical coins of the ocean.

Loki logs out and puts the phone back on the carpet. In the milky light of a streetlamp, Loki watches the rain trickling down the glass and the night becomes even darker and at some point he'll have to lock up and go home. His car is waiting out there somewhere in the rain and he can already feel the water soaking the collar of his t-shirt, making his shoulders slick and shimmery.

There's a tiny apartment out there that's breathing in the dark and inside it, his cat Endymion is dreaming by the coffee table and Loki's still sitting there and his thumb runs across a pale scar on his left ankle, one inch long, shaped like a half moon. It runs diagonally, crawling across the pointy bone and it's so thin it looks like a fish bone, very white and raised. Loki fingers it, running his fingertips over it over and over again, like someone trying to brush eraser shaving off some page, but it's still there whenever he takes his fingers away. There was something there before that, all bright and silver, and the sound of the rain makes Loki think of the ocean.

He and Cooper met one summer on the Pacific Beach there is San Diego. It was one of those days when the heat feels like a wise companion and it feels like time has no meaning at all and like the sun would just stand there forever in its spot, a perfect golden orb and Loki was sitting there on the sand in his jeans, his feet bare and the sand wasn't sticky at all and felt like soft powder between his toes.

He never wore any sunscreen, he didn't have any because he never did things like these, he didn't like the ocean and his pale skin was fine as it was; but he had borrowed a copy of 'The Old Man and the Sea' and reading it on the beach seemed like a much better idea than reading it on his living room floor, sitting in the shadows between two towers of books, one on each side, looming high over his head.

He was feeling the sun's wrath however and it already managed to paint a pale pink ring around his neck where the collar of his shirt was and it stung a bit but he hasn't noticed it as much yet but he was certain he'll feel the burn and the tingles and the itch later and will spend the following days roaming around the library like crazy searching for those spots where he can feel the AC best (maybe he could ask Mr. Cain about those since he's always so keen on avoiding them) and find an excuse to stay there for as long as he can.

The sea was calm and the waves were lazy and quiet sparkling blue and silver in the sunlight; they were dotted with white and red and yellow surfboards, the glint of dripping wetsuits and flashes of bare skin-ankles and wrists and necks. There wasn't a single surfer there who wasn't stable on his board that day, the sea just wouldn't allow it; they zigzagged across the waves crushing frothy foam under their boards, high-fiving friends and pausing to sit on the boards, hands raised to shelter eyes from the sun's glare and watch the horizon and marvel at just how big the world really is and how you can travel around it until you get old and still you won't manage to see every corner of it.

It was a Saturday and Loki was wearing one of his favorite shirts at the time; it was black, had short sleeves that wrapped tight around his arms and on the front there was this print of a pair of wings that stretched all the way across his delicate ribcage; they had no feathers or skin or flesh on them, just bones and shadows and sharp ends. His hair was black and wavy and still a bit wet, brushing his shoulders and pushed back behind his left ear. That ear was pierced; he got an Industrial earlier that year and there it was, a silver bar passing from the top of his ear close to his temple and out the other side ending in a small ball screwed on tight. The sun licked it and made it burn and gleam. He had a pair of green horn-rimmed glasses on and he was sitting there cross-legged, reading and biting the nail of his thumb and for him there were no surfers there at all, just this old man with his squinty eyes, hauling slick wiggly fish onto his boat, waiting for the big one his heart has wished for all along. Hemingway said it's just a story about a man and a fish inspired by a real fisherman and his tale; critics said it's a story about the cycle of life and Loki was reading it because of how alone he felt the old man was, an earth creature surrounded by this never-ending sea and all its silence floating up like a fog from the bottom of it; a human being, an object created by men, and a force of nature, three different things existing in their own way in the same place and time, creating solitude.

The book was slim, it was a novella after all; Loki got there an hour ago and even though he was reading slow so he won't rush it, he was already halfway in and so engrossed by it he never noticed the surfer heading his way, blue surfboard under his arm, until he got so close that Loki could smell the salt sticking to his skin.

"Hey there."

Loki closed the book over his fingers. It was this habit he formed during these past two years since he started working at the library; he'd do it whenever someone would come up to him, he'd leave his fingers in because sometimes they just had a quick question and didn't really need him to come over and help with something major which involved leaving his desk, so the fingers stayed in to mark the spot.

The voice was male and hoarse and Loki lifted his eyes, squinting. Up his gaze went, from the twinkle of a thin silver ankle bracelet closed around one strong ankle, to a tall, lean body clad in a black and blue wetsuit, and finally pausing to rest on an angular face, slightly tanned, where the whites of a pair of beautiful cerulean eyes looked shockingly bright. He seemed to be in his early thirties, thin sandy eyebrows, long honey colored lashes and a wide mouth the color of sunset. His hair was chin-length, blazing blonde and wavy and wet and he was smiling. His gaze was direct but his eyes were shifty and he had this quality of fire to him-you get mesmerized and your fingers end up getting burned.

"You know," the surfer said and there was this raspy voice again, scratchy like sandpaper but warm, "I was out there, just doing my thing, it's a fucking beautiful day and the ocean just calls your name, you know? So I was just doing my thing and then there's this flash in my eyes and it's all blinking and stuff and it almost cost me a wave. So, I'm riding this out, right? Just doing my thing again and I forget all about it cause I'm just in this waves mindset, right? And there it is again and it's driving me crazy. So I'm like: I'm checking this out cause reasons. And it's this thing right here-"

The surfer bent over and touched the silver bar in Loki's ear, "it's your Industrial. It's flickering like a broken light, and see, it got me over here. Your book's reflecting some light too."

"The dustcover?" Loki asked and his hands got a little sweaty and the surfer's wet hair was so close to him it smelled like discoveries and sea castles.

"Yeah," the surfer answered really short, "but I don't wanna talk about that, I wanna talk about your Industrial. When did you get that done?"

No one has ever asked him about it before and Loki's hand was drawn to his ear, long pale fingers tucking black waves behind it.

"Uh, six months ago, I think," he said and all this attention directed his way was making him blush.

"Yeah?" the surfer said and straightened up to tug on the black string attached to the wetsuit's zipper at the back, "was it a big needle going in?"

"It kinda was," Loki said and there it was, the sound of plastic tearing and a needle the size of a pill container blinked in the light, "I saw it but I tried to just not think about it."

"You don't think about stuff, they're still there," the surfer said and the zipper went down.

"True," Loki said and decided to deflect some of the attention heading his way so he asked: "you have any?"

"Thoughts?" the surfer asked and peeled the wetsuit from his neck and shoulders.

"No, piercings."

"I know what you mean," he grinned and started freeing his arms as well, "I'm just giving you a hard time."

Loki smiled and the surfer's chest was all bare now, "so, do you? Or did you?"

"Yeah, I do," the surfer said and stuck his tongue out between his teeth and a golden bar was stuck right there in the middle of it.

"Wow."

"Yours is a wow," the surfer said and flopped down next to him, brushing the sand from his palms, eyeing Loki's Industrial and lashes, "looks good on 'ya."

Loki sucked his cheeks in and laughed, his eyes closing, feeling the blush rushing up his neck, "ah-thank you. I don't really know what to say to that!"

The surfer grinned all crooked, eyes twinkling, voice cracking a bit when he said, "your ears just got all red."

Loki couldn't bring himself to look him in the eye so he just tucked his hair behind his ears instead, "it's just the sun, I'm not blushing!"

"No one's blushing here, right?" the surfer flashed his teeth, pulled one knee close to his chest and propped his forearm on it, "so is there a story behind it?"

"What, the Industrial?"

"Yeah. Piece together all the piercing stories in the world and you'll get some cool shit. What's this fucker's story?"

"Why you wanna know?"

"Why do you care?" the surfer shrugged and Loki got a chance to think this guy's got some attitude before the surfer added with his tongue pressing behind his teeth, toying with his own piercing, "tell me yours and I'll tell you mine."

Loki slipped his fingers out of the book and it closed with a hushed whisper; he knew he wasn't about to go back to reading it anytime soon.

Loki licked his lips and balanced his forearms on his knees, his legs still crossed with 'The Old Man and the Sea' resting in his lap, tiny grains of sand sticking to his pale ankles.

He turned his head to look at the surfer and shut one eye against the glare, "so, I work at this library-"

"Holy shit, a librarian!"

Loki found himself staring at him, gaze moving from one blue eye to the other, mouth open.

"Extinct species," the surfer said and motioned to the book glowing in the sunlight with his chin, "it explains this."

"Some people read on the beach."

"Yeah, old people."

"I'm an old soul."

The surfer pulled a face but kept his smile on, "I hate it when people say that."

"Why?"

The surfer pulled a one-shouldered shrug, "just pisses me off. They're all like look at me, I'm so fucking special!."

"I didn't say I was special-"

"We'll see just how special you are when you tell me why you got this," the surfer said and flicked Loki's Industrial with one finger.

Loki took a breath in and held it, staring at this blonde guy that leaned back with his hands behind him on the sand and had this I'm waiting look on his face.

The surfer raised his chin and smirked, "why you looking at me like that?"

"Just trying to figure out if you're really rude, or just different."

"Both, why?

"You've insulted me twice already and we've just met."

"It's cause I think I'm liking you," the surfer said, "liking people always brings out my bad side."

"What's your good side?"

"I'm really good with this," he said and flicked his tongue, piercing catching the light.

Loki looked down and the surfer laughed.

"So, c'mon! What's the story with the Industrial?"

"So, I work at this library, like I've said-"

"Which one?"

"North Park Library."

"Okay."

"So I borrowed this ancient mythology book one day. Just this collection of myths from all over the world. And there was this Irish one there about a sword. The sword's name was Fragarach. They say the gods made it themselves and it's so strong it can pierce through anything, force people to tell the truth if it's pressed against their throats and control the winds. Manannan Mac Lir used it."

The surfer got this look people sometimes get when you tell them a story; it didn't totally sweep him away but it brought some wonder to his eyes, "who's that?"

"He was the guardian of the Other World," Loki said, "he was also the one that carried souls into the afterlife using his boat."

"Worked two shifts, that's impressive," the surfer said and pointed to Loki's Industrial, "so what, that's like this guy's sword?"

"Yeah," Loki said and touched the Industrial without even realizing it.

The surfer looked at him for a while, eyes studying, adoring, his lips parted, wind moving his heavy hair; then he sat up and their arms touched. His face was so close to Loki's and he had this wet sheen to his sharp cheekbones and Loki noticed a trace of a scar splitting his left eyebrow in two.

"I've found the keeper of the Other world," he said slowly and touched his shoulder to Loki's "what's your name?"

"Loki," he answered and his voice was as silent as a noon shimmering wave.

"Loki," he repeated, "I like it."

And Loki found himself asking: "what's yours?"

"Cooper," he said and his voice was raspy.

Loki gave him a tiny playful smile, "Cooper. I like it."

Cooper never told him the story behind his tongue piercing; it wasn't the only thing he'd said he'd do and didn't throughout the two years they'd spent together, but at that moment the sun was so bright and the waves so blue and soft and the smell of the ocean was everywhere and it was soon forgotten.

They ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there, walking close to the water, sinking their fingers in the sand looking for shells.

"They're like skeletons," Loki said, cupping a few pale pink ones in his palm, sitting there with Cooper to his left, the afternoon light purple in their hair.

"Like the ones on your shirt?"

"Kinda."

"What are those, anyway?" Cooper asked, pulling Loki's arm away from his body so he can see better.

"I think they're bat wings."

And Loki's skin burned where Cooper's long warm fingers closed around his arm and the cone shaped shells felt cool in his hand.

"Just the bones," Cooper observed and his gaze wandered down Loki's long legs covered in a pair of black skinny jeans and lingered on his ankles.

"That's all that's left of them," Loki said, running his thumbs over the shells and they felt both hard as marble and fragile as glass, "all these things lived inside those and now they're gone and it's the same with people, it's just bones left behind. I wish ours were as beautiful, though."

And Loki watched Cooper's golden lashes flutter down as he unclasped the silver bracelet from his own ankle. His fingers closed easily around Loki's slim left ankle and Loki felt the cool sting of the sleek metal on his skin. Cooper clasped it around the thin bone and when he was done he smiled at Loki and all the light in those eyes made Loki dizzy.

"I take my words back," Cooper said, "you are fucking special, Loki, the guardian of the Otherworld."

And it wasn't until much later that Loki realized he's missing his book. He jumped up and Cooper followed him with his eyes, hair all dry now, looking like rivers of gold.

"Where you going?"

"My book!" Loki said all out of breath and with his pockets full of shells, his toes dusted with fine sand and Cooper's bracelet a light weight on his ankle but still noticeable, he ran all the way back to the spot he was sitting in when Cooper first appeared in front of him, wet and smirking and blocking the sunlight. The sand there was dark and sticky and clumpy and the book was nowhere to be found; the tide came like all the important things in life do, slowly and when no one was watching and carefully, and oh so quietly, swept it away.

Loki covers the scar with the pant leg of his jeans and gets up. He slips the phone into his pocket and with the sound of the rain in his ears puts all the books back in their place. When he's done he flicks all the lights off and heads out into the rain.