Actions

Work Header

Adrift

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

It's still early and the light coming in through the bedroom window makes the ceiling all blue. Thor stares up at it, one arm tucked under his head, fingers curled in his hair at the nape of his neck. Calm sea suspended over his body. Like walking through an aquarium underwater tunnel, gallons of water pushing down on glass, and he gets this thought: the ceiling splits open and the sea comes crashing down and, glinting amongst all these translucent curtains of H2O will be his wedding ring and it'll slip down his throat like a pill and tumble into his windpipe and lodge itself there and he'll choke to death on gold and broken dreams.

Ha. He wishes.

It's blind date day and he doesn't want to go.

Thor kicks off the sheet and sits up, rubbing his sleep-numbed hands over his face. Stubble storm raging full force—date or no date he needs to shave.

"You're not gonna go and grow a beard on me or anything, right?"—Donna, post trying to kiss him one morning after he hasn't shaved for three days cause macho look.

Thor looked at her like hey why not , running his palm down the lower part of his face from cupid's bow to chin, blonde whiskers crackling like fire sparks, "it's trending."

"Trending, huh?" she arched a brow at him, "not with this girl it isn't. I hate the way it feels when I kiss you."

He did end up growing a beard, post breakup though. Wore his hair real short too, buzzcut. He just felt like being someone else for a while, someone who's not going through a stupid unnecessary divorce thing.

The hair grew out. The beard itched so he shaved it off and hey, the old Thor returning his gaze in the mirror—not good, not bad, just…familiar.

He gets up without glancing at Donna's side of the bed. Rubbing his eyes he stumbles into the bathroom. Gets the water running in the sink. Moves to remove his wedding ring.

C'mon not again.

Start to mutter fuck but it's just the F and his breath rushing past his bottom lip cause nevermind.

He just keeps doing the ring thing, when will it end.

Peeks out the window later as he's putting on his uniform. Looks grey outside now, like the street is shifting under a fine layer of dust, like a crab at the bottom of the ocean.

Fucking Stu and his stupid brain. Does Thor look like the kinda guy that needs to go on a date?

He's not feeling this at all. He's not ready for this. A new girl in his life. You can't just replace people like that.

It was an instant click with Donna. She was a receptionist back at the station. Gorgeous red hair and pencil skirts. She had a good head on her shoulders and could crack jokes just like the guys. She knew what she wanted and she was willing to fight to the death to get it. He loved that wild streak in her.

So. Strong, dominant women. Is that his type? What if the girl he's supposed to be meeting today has some of that in her? Will he go for another Donna or look for someone who's just the opposite cause he wouldn't want to be reminded of her?

Ha, that's a good one, who even says he's going?

How about he tells Stu date's off buddy, how about minding your own business next time and staying the hell out of my sex life.

Thor puts the coffee on. Loads the dishwasher. Snaps his wristwatch on. Tucks a strand of hair away as he's checking his phone. Got some pdf reports in his inbox, patrol business. A document he needs to have his secretary print out so he can sign and pass it on.

Thor squints a little bit and types ophelia's violets in the google search bar cause what does this username even mean anyways.

He gets a quote: "I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died."

Great, Shakespeare.

Thor's not a big reader so if this girl starts talking about Shakespeare it'll be a lot of awkward silence coming from his end of the table.

He steps out to the front porch with his coffee and smokes. He stands out there for a while, sipping coffee and smoking one cigarette after the other.

It's the taste of ash in his mouth and the street standing stock-still in the dull grey morning light, no wind to stir the raspy tree branches, no sun to bounce off the windows.

The corners of Thor's mouth are down, eyes squinting cause this light makes everything look blurry and stagnant.

Yeah, not the best day for a first date.

 

*

 

"He felt as though reality was becoming unreal, as if a dreamlike enchantment had begun, a shift of the world into the inexplicable, which perhaps could be opposed by closing his eyes and then taking another look. But in that moment he became aware of a sensation of floating and strangely startled he realized that the heavy and dark mass of the ship had detached itself from the quay. Inch by inch, with the engine running alternately forwards and backwards, the strip of dirtily iridescent water between the ship's hull and the shore widened and, after some stodgy maneuvers, the steamer's bow was pointing towards the open sea."

Death in Venice.

Loki closes the book, looking up from the cover towards the sky.

He takes a breath in and lets it out slowly, a faint dry gust of wind ruffling the front of his shirt and shifting the grey dust over the buildings.

He tucks his hair behind his ears, draws his knees together, book on his thighs.

He's sitting on a bench outside the library. Is he trying to keep his mind busy so he wouldn't have to think about what's gonna happen in the next 2 hours or so? Not really. He explains things to himself using books. Other people's words written a long time ago seem to work in the present too, not just in the past. Like events in real life repeat themselves like the cycles of the moon.

Trying to makes sense of this feeling tumbling from side to side inside his ribcage. His heart, it feels like it's sleeping. A faint beat here and there, like a wave that's trying to rise followed by long intervals of numbing silence. Not a feeling he's comfortable with, but it doesn't scare him. It makes him feel a bit drowsy and at the same time a little bit on edge. That feeling you get before the unexpected happens. All you can do is wait for it, not knowing what It'll be.

It rained all night long. Lying in bed with his cat Endymion and his copy of Death in Venice he kept thinking what today will look like. He expected rain, or total sunshine cause it happens, you expect the bad and you get the good.

But he did not expect this, grey and copper and electric stillness. It makes the skin on his forearms break out in goosebumps without him knowing why.

He braces the book on his knees. A peculiar cover this one has—an old man wearing a venetian mask—white, beak-like nose, panicked beady black irises—against the backdrop of an immense body of water. The photograph is in black and white and the water looks like crackling static.

The daylight out there is so poor it doesn't even bounce off the clean dustcover. Loki runs his fingers over the sleek plastic just to make sure it's really there.

Gustav Von Aschenbach, a famous author. Travels by ship to Venice, not knowing he'll never see his home again. He'll fall in love and perish in a strange land.

It's one of Loki's favorite books. His heart tends to send for it come winter.

"Hey there book boy!"

It's Johnny skipping towards him, slipping on a pair of candy-pink sunglasses. Black tank top that's all golden sequence on the front, fake leather pants and a cool pair of boots.

Johnny's been volunteering there for the past year, helping with everything he can, sometimes working mornings, sometimes afternoons. He's a lovely friend, listens to your trouble like a shrink, gives advice like that lovely part of you that always wants you to be happy.

He peeks over Loki's shoulder and pecks him on the cheek. Heart pendant dangling from Johnny's long chain brushing against Loki's clavicle.

Johnny spots the book and gives Loki a I'm so judging you right now look, "Thomas Mann again?"

Loki smiles a little, a you got me smile and Johnny walks around the bench and plops down next to him, snatching the book from Loki's hands. Turns it over to the author's photo.

"Same guy who had his heart removed post super sad death and then a dog ran away with it in its teeth?"

"Uh, no—" Loki tucks his hands between his knees, "that would be Thomas Hardy."

Johnny flashes him a playful smile, all teeth, "just checking!"

Loki returns the smile then points to Mann's picture on the back, "I like this photo. It's like he's a character in one of his books."

Johnny pulls his head back to admire the photo, "ugh, yeah! I'd marry him in a heartbeat. Look at that moustache!"

Johnny smacks the book against his knee and points his finger at Loki, "the porn stash is coming back, btw. Big time. Sleazy looks that say come over here and let me bend you over my knee, beautiful. Those guys wanting you to call them daddy."

Johnny shudders in a I like that way, pouts and takes a second look at the picture, "but seriously. I'd totally marry him. I'm into older men. Ooh, btw! Show me his photo!!"

"Whose."

"Mr. sexy cop!" Johnny turns sideways towards Loki, throwing his arm across the back of the bench, elbow sticking out, "you're meeting him today, right? Which reminds me, what the hell are you doing here working on a day like this. You should be home trying every single outfit on, freaking out over what you should wear. But here you are, sitting out here in this—"

Johnny waves his hand around like he's trying to swat a fly away, "horrible weather—really foul, like end of the world coming in 3…2…1… reading this super depressing book looking…really calm? Strangely calm. Like, I should be worried right now. Or afraid. Or both, actually."

Loki fishes the phone out of his pocket. He saved Thor's picture, showed it to Johnny yesterday cause Loki's going out on a date, Johnny has to know who he's gonna be meeting with. You have a bff you look after them and make sure nothing bad happens to them cause freaks are everywhere.

"I just don't know what to think," Loki says and passes the phone to Johnny.

Johnny pulls the sunglasses up, fixes them on his shiny black hair, crossing one leg over the other. He looks like he's gonna lick the screen.

"Well, I do!" he says and pokes photo Thor in the chest with his finger, "I think if I were you, I'd show up to this seafood restaurant looking glamorous cause look at this stud! I'd flirt like a friendly hurricane. Then I'd fake a shrimp allergy or something so he'd have to help me breathe, okay? Mouth to mouth."

He looks up smiling and fans himself, "phew! I'm getting flustered just thinking about this."

Loki's supposed to be smiling, the image of Johnny fake fainting in Thor's arms then after he has him all worried wrapping his arms around his neck and batting his lashes at him cause you're my hero! But Loki finds his gaze drifting away, not towards the sky this time but towards the peach-colored tiles under his feet. He thinks about how it rained yesterday, how the pitter-patter sounded like knuckles rapping on the library's window, wanting to draw Loki's attention.

Loki hugs his waist, leaning forward.

He shakes his head a little, "it just feels weird."

A soft whisper of fabric, Johnny uncrossing his legs to inch closer to him.

Johnny balances Loki's phone on his knees and grabs onto the seat of the bench with both hands, balls of his feet in the air, balancing on his tiptoes, "you know, I don't wanna be the one to tell you that there are good guys out there, but—" Johnny tilts his head a bit to try and look Loki in the eye, "there are good guys out there. There really are. It's not just Cooper clones everywhere. He was just bad luck. Like going through your wallet and finding a fake coin. But this one—"

Johnny points to Thor's pic, "is genuine. A Roman gold coin with like, Caesar's profile on it."

Loki manages a small smile cause Johnny's trying to cheer him up and he doesn't want him to think it's not working, "because of his handsome face?"

Johnny looks at the photo again, "I'm sensing a soft center here."

"Do you."

"Mm-hmm. Protective."

Loki plays along, "serve and protect?"

"Exactly. He's a cop, he has to be a good guy."

Apparently Johnny never heard the term corrupt cop before.

Loki meets Johnny's eyes, resting chin on shoulder.

"I don't know if I'm ready," he says quietly.

Johnny sets aside the photo analyzing task, Loki's sudden seriousness and silence sinking in.

"For what?" he asks, fixing the sunglasses on his hair.

The street reflects in the library's tall doors—a ghost image on glass. The light grows dimmer, licks of it disappearing off the lenses of Johnny's shades, getting sucked off his hair, rubbed off his lower lip. It doesn't look like it's going to rain. The day looks tired. It looks desolate. A ruin.

"For anything," Loki replies simply.

They stay quiet for a little while.

When it's time for Johnny to go back inside he hugs Loki's shoulders from behind and kisses his hair.

"See you tomorrow, 'kay?" he says and gives Loki's shoulders a tight squeeze before disappearing inside the shadowy library.

Loki stares at the book's cover in silence for a while.

 Then he slowly closes his eyes.

 

*

 

 

Thor taps the pen against his chest, clicking it closed and tosses it onto a railway of reports and paperwork, printed emails and desert-yellow filing folders.

He kicks back in the chair, pushing back from the table, runs both palms over his hair and clasps his hands behind his head. Cracks his neck with a satisfied sigh.

It's bay time and office time for him every day of the job. Patrolling the sea, reviewing reports, with some room for the occasional please don't try'n smuggle in any Heroin today guys, keep today's youth and water clean. He's used to it. But sometimes he still gets this thought that he puts one foot in front of the other on his office floor tiles they'll suck him under and he'll drown—or he steps off the bow of the patrol boat and the waves will be firm and support his weight and he'll just walk back to the harbor on water. You spend all day working without a minute to yourself you get some crazy thoughts, that's some kind of an unwritten law for sure.

Thor checks the time.

One more hour till lunchtime.

He has his badge strung from a lanyard around his neck and he's moving it around, gaze jumping from one item to another across his office desk: phone, planner, a shitload of papers.

Thor reaches to tuck the wallet into his pocket—soft black leather. He lets go of the badge and flips the wallet open.

They know him back at the fish market restaurant. Sometimes he brings a stupid sandwich from home and eats it in his office, but most of the time he gets his lunch there. Sometimes dinner too when he's working super late. The managers there keep insisting to let him dine for free. Thor took them up on their offer once or twice cause he didn't want to seem rude, but on all the other times he was bent on paying.

Thor checks to make sure his credit card is still there. He spots it, pushes down on it with his thumb so the shiny piece of plastic won't fall out, tucked away between a few 50 dollar bills. He moves to close the wallet. The folded up corner of a photograph is sticking out of it. With a soft blink Thor gives a little tug. It slips out—blurry shapes in blue and red. Thor hugging Donna from behind, one arm around her shoulders, the other around her waist. She's wearing red against the backdrop of the blinding-blue sea.

Thor tosses the wallet onto the desk, pushing a few pages over and they rearrange in the shape of a fan. He sits up in the chair and looks at the photo for a while. One of the guys took it out on the bay. The San Diego—Coronado Bridge looms in the distance like a winged shadow. Donna has one of her hands covering his. She looks happy.

What happened?

Thor sets the photo aside, turns the chair away from the table. The light coming in through the window gets him to rise to his feet and walk over to it. He cracks his neck again. Comes to stand by the window, jamming his hands into his back pockets.

Nothing has changed since morning. Same light, same dullness. The bridge looks like some unearthed skeleton of some giant bird; the boats sliding across the water like chunks of dirty ice.

When it's time to head out to lunch, he learns from the girl working the front desk that the boys already left to get food. He usually gives Stu a ride—not today.

"Thanks, Mariah," he says, palms his car keys and heads out to the parking lot, slipping his black ray bans on for no reason at all, just out of habit.

Once inside the car with the motor running, Bolton, one of the older patrol officers walks up to the car and taps on the window.

Thor rolls it down, sticking his elbow out, squinting up at him.

"Douglas went overboard," Bolton states kinda bored, wind playing with his clumsy comb-over.

"He ain't dead, is he."

"Ha. He wishes. The wife's been giving him a hard time lately. It's all he's been talking about for days now. She thinks he's messing around with some other woman."

Thor pulls a face cause what woman would wanna sleep with Brainless Douglas.

Thor checks his watch, "and you're telling me this why exactly."

Hey, you know maybe it's the universe trying to make Thor late so it sends Bolton over to kill some time. He doesn't believe in this stuff but sometimes you look at something and you can't just go yeah coincidence.

Bolton takes it personally. He nods like yep just wasting your time here sorry and steps back from the car, running a palm over the top of his head.

Thor grips onto the wheel with one hand, foot ready on the gas.

He smacks his palm against the side of the car, "hey, Bolt."

"Yes, sir?"

Thor sticks his head out the window, throwing a disgusted look towards the sky, "shitty weather, isn't it."

"Yeah. That's why Douglas had his little accident earlier. He looks up at the skies goes look at this what the fuck is that and then splat! Man in the water."

Thor clicks the radio on.

"No way this could have ended badly," Thor says, "all that air inside his skull would have kept him floating."

Bolton cackles.

Good. Laugh at the chief's stupid ass jokes, that's rule n. 1 of how not to get fired from duty around here.

It's a 7 minute drive to the fish market but to Thor it feels like forever.

 

 

*

 

 

Loki tugs on the rearview mirror.

He's sitting in his car outside the fish market, trying to muster up the courage to walk inside. He tucks his hair behind his ear, using one hand and then the other before he starts removing his Industrial Helix.

Eyes in the mirror following the gentle movements of his fingers as he's unscrewing the shiny ball at the top, the ends of his hair brushing the shoulders of his elegant sleeveless shirt.

Loki is so used to his Industrial he never remembers he has it in. But when you're out to meet a new person who knows nothing about you, you get self conscious, you think about the way you look. And suddenly the Industrial doesn't feel right. He was a different person when he had it done. The Industrial, it's like an object passing through time, it's here in the present but it belongs to the past. It belongs to Cooper's mouth—he loved licking around it and tugging on the bar with his teeth.

With a blink of silver, the piercing drops into Loki's palm, weightless.

Loki stares at it for a while then drops it into the glove compartment. It's quick to roll under a book and a small pack of gum and it disappears from sight.

Loki looks at himself in the mirror. He tried putting his contacts in this morning but after 20 minutes or so removed them, lashes wet. He always keeps them clean but he almost never wears them—they sting and hurt his eyes, turning them blush-red and teary. So his dark-green glasses will have to do.  He hopes having them on won't pose a problem—some people hate glasses, deeming them un-aesthetic, believing you're flawed for needing them. Happened to him before.

Loki places his hand on the car door. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

When he re-opens them, a nice view of trees shaking their leaves in the wind, this sort of party streamers wavy movement, zero sound. Then the leaves topple one over the other and Loki can hear it this time because he steps outside—sound hushed like waves skipping carelessly towards the shore.

Loki can smell the sea, a mix of sunlight, the color indigo and fluttering sails.

And it's Cooper's salty kisses in Loki's mouth, his sand-sprinkled hair tickling the side of Loki's neck, and Loki rubs his bare arms, walks round the car and to the front door.

A red fish shaped sign on the roof, white letters across it.

The Fish Market.

A row of potted plants leading to the entrance—mocha colored ceramics and dark green leaves, spots of sleepy purple and red on them. This buzz of charged silence just before he opens the door and walks in.

He's been here with Cooper many times before. The food is lovely, with an awesome menu of tacos, sashimi and sushi, chowder, fish and chips, pasta with bits of the fish of your choosing in it, shrimps and sandwiches, delicious deserts like cheese cake and crème brule.

It's a fish market as well as a restaurant so the produce is always fresh—salmon, yellowtail, prawns and clams on a bed of ice, swordfish teriyaki waiting to be grilled, crabs waiting to be plucked out of the tank.

It's lunch hour so a lot of the tables are occupied. The sound of clinking glasses, teeth biting into crunchy slices of toast, fingers crumpling up napkins, talking, and really soft music that finds its way somewhere inside your head and gets stuck there for the rest of the day.

Swordfish plaques everywhere on the walls, giant windows facing the sea.

And something, this little voice in Loki's head, tells him turn around, walk away. And he stands there about to start making his way between the tables, and he marvels at it, cause that secret part of himself wanting to keep his body and mind safe, it hasn't made its presence known for a long time now and Loki was starting to think that he was born without it.

Loki is moving carefully, trying not to bump into any chairs or tables, knock something over with his elbow or thigh.

His eyes jump from one face to another, looking for Thor's.

What's the worst thing that can happen? Thor standing him up. Thor and Loki having lunch with things going okay then Thor never calls. It's hard to guess what someone will act like just from looking at their photo.

Thor doesn't look like a bad guy.

Cooper didn't look like one, either.

A mother is cutting a slice of smoked salmon into pieces for her daughter who is munching on some tasty-looking fries with dressing on the side; two men eating the same dish, one wearing glasses, the other looking sleepy with his tousled black hair and heavy-lidded eyes.

And then, dark-blue almost black police uniform, blonde hair tied back into a bun.

Loki stops without meaning to. Takes a breath. Then walks up to the table.

When Loki created his profile on the soul search website, adding your picture was optional. Truth was he was in a weird mood when he set up his profile—it felt like taking a step in the right direction then pausing to sit down for an unspecified period of time, putting a foot in the door without walking in. Him writing stuff about himself and about what he's looking for in a future partner, posting it online without adding his photo, it was like copping out like I'm ready but I'm not really ready. He didn't think he was really bad looking or anything, but him putting up a pic would get people to talk to him and he might end up getting what he's looking for. It feeling both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time kept his finger away from the add photo button.

So here he is and he can't just find a place to stand in and wait for Thor to spot and recognize him; Thor doesn't know what Loki looks like. So Loki will have to initiate the conversation himself. He's really bad at these things, he never knows what to say.

"It's like the sun didn't rise at all today, isn't it?" Loki says, now standing by Thor's table in front of Thor, lightly squinting at the skies.

It's only once Loki starts speaking that Thor even notices him standing there. He lifts his head up a little bit, gives a tiny frown. His gaze lingers on Loki's eyes for a second, then he turns his face back to the window, bouncing his leg up and down, fingers cupping his knee. He runs his tongue over his upper teeth and the way his face moves as he's scanning the skies reminds Loki of James Dean.

Then a shrug and the sound of Thor's gruff voice, "yeah. I guess."

Loki thinks about it without taking his gaze away from the sea, that with all the light sparkles dancing across it, it looks like a sheet of aluminum foil left out in the sun. With the way Thor's looking at him and treating him, he hasn't figured out yet that Loki is Ophelia's Violets. Or maybe he has, hasn't liked what he's seen and decided to play the I'm ignoring you, take a fucking hint and take a walk game.

Something does seem odd though. Thor's body language, the leg bouncing thing, Thor constantly looking around the restaurant then back towards the window, repeat every 15 seconds or so—it feels like he's waiting for something, or someone. And Loki gets this pang of dread in his heart cause is Thor gonna pull a hey look who's unexpectedly arrived! This girl/guy I haven't seen in like forever and they wanna catch up and take me somewhere and it's been fun talking about the sun not rising today or whatever, but I gotta go, catch you around, okay kid?  thing.

It's usually fake phone calls but people can step up their game, not a problem. It's like calling for back up only in this case you don't do it cause guns and criminals, you do it cause ugly/boring/just plain blah dating material you don't wanna deal with or see ever again.

Loki sticks his hands in his pocket and bites his lip. He knows he's staring at Thor but he can't help it.

Cause Thor is gorgeous, staring is mandatory. You can't take your eyes off him. Huge biceps bulging under the coarse fabric of his uniform. A profile to die for; small nose, full lips, strong jaw, really long blonde lashes, eyes the color of ancient seas so beautiful from up close.

Loki pulls his gaze back to the small waves chasing each other just outside the window.

He decides to try again.

"Looks uneasy, doesn't it?" Loki says despite himself, "the sea."

Doesn't know why. Maybe he hopes Thor hasn't figured out who he is yet and maybe once he tells him it'll change everything, hopefully for the better.

Thor fidgets in his seat, throwing himself back in the chair. He runs his knuckles over his mouth absentmindedly, looks up at Loki. He looks distracted but he searches Loki's eyes for a moment again, probably so he can get what Loki is referring to. Then his gaze jumps around the restaurant again. Rubbing his open palm over the front of his neck, Thor lets out a short impatient breath through his nose and turns his eyes back to the window.

He starts bouncing his leg a little faster, "yeah."

Loki bites his lip, gives a little nod.

And they're both watching the sea at the same time.

"Like it's waiting for something," Loki adds.

Thor quirks an eyebrow, mouth set tight.

He keeps his gaze on the waves this time and Loki feels like Thor's not gonna reply to that, or to anything else actually. He looks annoyed and bored and Loki's rational side thinks that the most rude person in the world won't act like this on a date, they'll acknowledge the other person's presence at least. So Loki guesses Thor has no idea who he is and why he's standing there talking to him, so he decides to introduce himself.

"I'm Loki," He says quietly, shyly.

It doesn't seem to ring a bell for Thor and Loki remembers it's Ophelia's Violets on soul search, not his real name.

He opens his mouth to tell Thor but then, without looking away from the window comes a reply.

"Thor."

Loki smiles a little, relieved, "yeah, I know."

This gets Thor's attention. He looks up at him, frowning, "how."

Now it's Loki turn to frown, a small confused blink, an unsure smile, "you've said so."

Thor looks at him like what the hell are you talking about, "no I didn't."

Loki licks his lips, "no, I didn't mean just now. I meant in the text you sent me. Before."

"What are you talking about."

This is getting awkward and Loki feels how his eyes go all soft and insecure, his heart beating a little faster, a little harder.

"The message you sent me," he tries again, now hugging his own arms lightly, "online."

Thor looks him over from head to toe, eyes devoid of any expression other than the visible irritability, his body language saying why am I wasting my time on this. It's an inspection that leaves Loki feeling uncomfortable. The look Thor gives him like who are you anyways, how about you get lost.

"I didn't send you anything," he almost spits out and it looks like he's closing up even more, eyes growing bold and cold.

"Yes you did," Loki finds himself saying, not having the time to think anything through—like how come Thor doesn't seem to have any recollection of texting Loki yesterday. Loki manages to grasp that the confused look Thor is giving him looks more than genuine but it doesn't make sense because Thor has texted him, it's the reason why Loki came here.

And then Loki blurts it out.

"On soul search," a short nervous pause, "I'm Ophelia's Violets."

Thor processes it for a moment then shoots him an incredulous look, "what. No. Ophelia's Violets is a woman—"

His gaze skims up and down Loki's body like there's something wrong with it, "you're a guy."

Loki feels himself frowning, a growing sense of anxiety rising inside his chest, pushing against his ribs, "Uh—yes. On my profile in the gender section I ticked off male."

Thor starts shaking his head, "no, it said wom—"

Thor's look changes in a heartbeat. From anger to self doubt, then mind blowing rage.

He slams his hand down on the table, "Stu, you fucking son of a—"

Gaffs of laughter erupt from all around them. High-pitched like a pack of coyotes.

Loki turns on his heels, an instinctive reaction to see where the laughter is coming from and is it directed towards him. Some people put down their forks cause the noise bothers them.

A string of guys cracking up like idiots make their way down the stairs from the top floor of the restaurant and behind Loki's shoulders Thor jumps to his feet.

The one leading the other three to Thor's table, classic class clown. He laughs so hard it hurts your ears then sticks out his tongue and shakes his head like a wet dog, pointing at Thor, obviously very pleased with himself.

The look Thor gives the man; it makes Loki think it has to be Stu. Thor looks like he's gonna snap his neck and dump his severed head into a bowl of chowder.

Loki backs up a little bit, walking into the table. He feels his throat getting tighter and it hurts to swallow. He doesn’t even think about leaving, it's like his brain is having a hard time understanding what's going on. He gets it, but he can't react to it.

Then, Thor's voice booming over Stu's shrill laughter, "you think that's funny?"

The smile kinda freezes on Stu's face but it stays there, wide and white, grains of spittle shining on his upper and lower lip.

The rest of the guys kinda linger behind minding their own business, but Stu's right there in their faces, enjoying the ride.

"Uh, duh!" he says, eyebrows shooting up to his hairline, "and I think you should think so too cause let's face it, it's fucking hilarious. Like—"

And he gestures to the two of them like look at this!

And then: "c'mon! I can't believe you fell for it! Like, I say to you hey, let's hook you up with someone and you go yeah sure let's trust this idiot over here and go on this date without even checking first to see if the person you're meeting with wears boxers or fucking panties."

"You said it's a woman, pisshead."

Stu's eyes go all wide like duh! , "yeah and you believe me, you don't check for yourself?"

Thor gives Stu a dirty look, pockets his car keys and phone, "yeah, I don't. cause I can't even begin to imagine your head can be so fucking twisted to pull stupid shit like this."

"Well okay, but—"

It's Stu's arms around Loki's shoulders from behind all of a sudden and when he moves to tuck a strand of hair behind Loki's ear his watch catches the light and he smells poisonously sweet like liquorice and bubblegum.

"Look at him!" Stu twirls a strand of Loki's hair around his middle finger, strong forearm hugging Loki's neck from the front, "look at his hair. He can easily pass for a girl, right. I mean—"

As Stu lets go of Loki's hair, Loki wiggles his arms trying to push him off with his shoulders without making a scene.

"Will you get off me, please."

Stu only tightens his grip around him and pulls him back swiftly, smile never faltering, "hey now wait just a second I'm tryna make a point here, geez."

For some reason Loki's eyes find Thor's. He can't explain why. But he looks at him and Thor just looks annoyed and embarrassed cause everyone's looking at them and was Loki expecting this guy to take his side rather than his friend's/coworker's (Stu's wearing a uniform too).

And then it's Stu grabbing Loki's chin and then his thumb swiping across Loki's bottom lip really quick, "like look at those lips! Jennifer Lawrence who. Just imagine kissing thos—"

Loki jerks his face away, trying to push Stu back with his elbows.

Then, Thor's voice, "Stu, that's enough."

Stu doesn't even bother to listen. He's still staring at Loki open-mouthed, looking for other things he can use to put him down with.

"Holy shit boss!"

Stu's finger poking the corner of Loki's eye, "we’ve got a severe case of eyeliner here, call the cops! Oh wait. We are the cops. Blonde moment, duh!"

Stu smacks his own forehead and leans heavily on Loki's shoulders, almost knocking him face down onto the table, "he must have really liked your pic my captain, he made himself super gorgeous just for—"

This time Thor's voice is rough and punishing, "Richardson, I said that's enough!"

Stu aims a pout at Thor, "oh, c'mon. we're just fooling around here. No hard feelings—"

He shakes Loki a little bit, "right?"

Thor looks around, head lowered, cheeks flushed, "the fuck you think you're doing, hooking me up with a dude, I'm not gay you idiot."

The look he gives Loki. It's not the annoyed look from before, it's a look that's judging you for who you are and Loki is quick to look down, his heart beating hard and fast. He feels that terrible stinging behind his eyes. People's looks moving up and down his body.

Stu's face over Loki's right shoulder, "well but this pretty face here is. And he's single!"

Stu says the last part really loud and looks around at the crowd, "any takers, kind gentleman? He'll quote Shakespeare at ya and tell you that you look like good people. He believes in true love too—"

Loki manages to break free with Stu loosening his hold a little. He shoulders past him, hurrying towards the exit.

"Aww c'mon don't cry!" Stu calls after him, then says to Thor, "see that? He's got tears in his—ow!"

That's Thor shoving Stu back hard. Thor's finger in Stu's face.

"You do something like that again I fire you on the fucking spot. You hearing me. Not funny, asshole."

 

 

*

 

 

Loki drives to the Embarcadero Marina Park and sits there for a while.

First at an empty picnic table, then on a bench, with some walking in between.

The water looks textured, like green glass. Tall mirrored buildings on the other bank, curved like old fashioned lighters. Boats gently rocking from side to side in the port like hollowed out sea shells in a water bucket dreaming of the tide. You can see Downtown San Diego from here. You can see the bay. You can see Coronado Island. You can see Coronado Bridge.

From where Loki's sitting at he gets the most lovely optical illusion: a giant tree casts its shadow on the yellowing grass and silent walkway; the Coronado Bridge stretches behind it dark and dim in the dusty light; and it's the angle cause if you stare ahead and let your eyes lose their focus for a while the bridge is the tree's shadow, long and willowy, gliding above the water connecting two points of land and how can a tree have a bridge as its shadow?

Loki feels numb. He feels hollow. It's not the date thing going wrong, he can live with that. It's the crude realization that nothing more will follow.

 He sits there facing the bay and stares ahead, hunched over, forearms on his thighs. He stares until it looks like the buildings float on the water, until the view loses all its details and looks like a child's drawing on simple paper, until the shadows start pooling at the base of his neck and clavicles as the sun moves unseen across the sky.

Come summer the park fills up with music. Artists come from all over the US to play there and it's guitars and lovely voices, food and happiness and fresh sea air. It's friendships forming and strengthening, it's people meeting and falling in love.

Loki blinks and it's a ghost stage forming in the distance, along with a ghost crowd swaying at its feet and it's Cooper and him standing in the middle of it, shoulder to shoulder, the air between them charged cause Cooper didn't want to come and he's messing with the car keys nervously, jaw clenched tight doing his tongue clicking thing here and there—a tic Loki is familiar with but doesn't like, makes him anxious.

Another blink and the stage and the people all dissipate like fogged-up breath on a window.

Loki takes his phone out. He clicks on Thor's photo and stares at it for a while. And he thinks who sent him this pic, was it this guy Stu? Was he the one who texted Loki?

Just had a bit of a rough time lately and your profile got my attention. The text read. How about we have some lunch and try and see if it's worth giving this world another go.

Apparently, it's not.

Seeing that other people struggle too, that they're having a hard time but still keep hoping things will get better, it helped Loki decide to go and meet Thor, felt like Thor would be able to understand where he's coming from, like they'd have something in common.

And Loki studies the picture and gets the same feeling he got the first time he looked at it. Thor's smiling but it looks like his mind is miles and miles away from the party he's attending, a little sad, a little fed up with everything. A little lonely.

And it makes Loki think. Is Thor really struggling with something? Was he, when the picture was taken? Taking into consideration that Thor's definitely not the one who sent him the text, Thor did look affected by something, then and today, even. But was he really? The leg bouncing thing, the stiffness of his shoulders, was it something profound or just blind date nerves?

Loki doesn't want to think about it. Remembering what took place earlier today makes him feel like he's drowning, but ignoring it is impossible. He took a chance and it turned out to be a disaster. He put his heart out there and they served it up on a plate, and where does he go from here?

That piercing sound of ugly laughter, the violating touch of a stranger's hands, the feeling that he's all alone in a crowded place with no one to turn to.

Loki gulps. Takes a steadying breath. Blinks the tears away.

Loki deletes Thor's photo off his phone. He logs in to his soul search account and deletes that too. He watches his profile disappear from the screen with a thudding heart.

Loki hangs his head and stares at Coronado Bridge from under his lashes, only blinking when the wind gets into his eyes.

When he gets up to leave he leaves his phone behind.

He won't need it anymore.

 

 

*

 

 

Thor joined the crew when they went on patrol at the end of the day.

He stands out there on deck, big-knuckled hands holding on to the stark-white handrail.

It's two more hours till it's time for him to head home and when Donna was around he had something to look forward to, coming home to her, to a house that had the lights on in almost every window at night.

For the past months he's been dreading clock-in time, putting in extra hours just so he could postpone the painfully silent drive home ("heading home, sir," one of the guys would say, popping their head through his office door, "you staying in?" Thor would force out a sigh and wave a folder around, click his tongue, "yeah, long night. Go get some sleep, kid. Have a beer, get laid, whatever. Have fun."). That strategy worked fine for a while. He managed to keep the divorce thing a secret from the guys for sometime so the I'm working late thing looked legit. But they found out eventually (secretary directing a call to his office from Donna's attorney about some of the divorce settlement paperwork) and now whenever he stays overtime he gets this feeling they look at him all crooked, pitying him and it never fails to piss him off and make him just wanna get outta there as soon as possible just to prove them wrong.

So he'll stay on board until they finish their patrol then head back to his office and polish off what's left of those sweets he'd gotten earlier (Margaret Harolds is getting married in a week and she handed out these cute little purple boxes full of yummy sweets to celebrate the occasion) and then leave the station (on time!) and drive around for a while, maybe stop at a gas station and get a sandwich or something, keep things simple. Try not to think about what the hell happened today cause he's already so embarrassed he wants to fucking die.

No one's said anything about it so far back at the station but Stu never heard of this thing called keep your shit to yourself thing and there's no way he didn't tell anyone, everyone's just being polite about it cause they don't wanna lose their jobs.

And it's droplets of water spraying on his face and hair, neck and coat uniform, the wind rushing through him as the boat cuts through the grey sea, sending jets of water flying left and right. It passes under Coronado Bridge on its way back to the port and for a few seconds they're in its moving shadow. The elongated shadow moves like a barcode scanner light, traveling across the water then sliding past the boat, dimming the light and bringing with it a lick of coolness and dampness that washes over Thor like a cloud of fog.  He lifts his head and watches the bridge's belly high above them and he's sure he can hear the cars hurrying across it even over the rib-rattling sound of the boat's engine. And he gets this pang of uneasiness in his chest like the feeling you'd probably get if you were the only living human being standing in the ruins of an ancient amphitheatre.

And then the boat passes between two of the bridge's giant columns and Thor gets a shower of afternoon light and wind and the feeling passes.

Thor holds onto the handrail, brushes the heel of his hand over his forehead and eyes. He thinks about Stu. Talk about taking things too far. Maybe the guys thought the whole thing was funny but Thor sure as hell didn't. No surprise that Stu found it hilarious, he always had the most whacked-out sense of humor.

All it managed to do for Thor was piss him off. He was in a foul mood for a couple of hours afterwards. You can't say he feels calmer now, he still wants to smash stuff and put his fist through a wall but the feeling has changed—the fury turned to this intense sense of bitterness and this throbbing loneliness. You'd think he wouldn't have time to focus on this solitude that's closing in on him day after day cause with today's events his mind should be occupied with swift ruminations and thoughts exploding all over the place like firecrackers. But for some reason Thor actually feels it stronger today than in the past few months, but this time it arrives with his sense of urgency unlike the lighter more melancholy version from before. It feels heavy and threatening and it makes him feel on edge for some reason, like it's a problem that he needs to solve before it becomes too big, too complex.

He was too busy before being so angry, making this all about him, about how shitty he feels cause this little flash of light at the end of his tunnel turned out to be nothing more than a stupid shiny wall instead of a way out; about how unfair it was to him to be played like that when he finally thought he can try and put his hope in someone else's hands, hoping they'd maybe plant it somewhere and make it grow cause right now it's nothing but a shrunken seed, tough and bitter.

But now that he's cooled off a bit he thinks about that other guy. Said his name is Loki. Not the best day for him either.

Thor was really short with him. Really impolite. Cold. There was a point when Stu had his arms around him and he looked Thor in the eye. He was asking for his help but Thor didn't move a muscle for him, too consumed by his own anger and humiliation. He can still see it, that look, and the look that followed when Loki realized Thor wasn't going to do anything for him. Disappointment and a sad realization I'm in this alone.

Thor taps his fingers hard on the railing, jaw clenched tight. He should have stepped in, gotten Stu to back off him, stop crowding and restraining him.

Stu had clearly overstepped a line by holding him like that, touching him, not letting him go so he could milk the whole thing for a little while longer. And Thor thinks if he were to see someone doing it to someone else in a different situation, in a different time and setting there's no doubt that he would have done something about it straight away. The fact that he didn't caught him by surprise and he thinks what if he didn't do anything because he wanted to punish Loki for what took place? It was his fault after all, right? If he didn't have his fucking dating profile up none of this would have happened. And the thought that he's decided to punish this guy that actually had nothing to do with the whole thing instead of punishing Stu for being an idiot doesn't sit well with him for some reason.

Thor pinches the bridge of his nose and pushes himself away from the railing. Turning around to go and see how the crew's holding up, the giant Coronado Bridge finds its way into his line of vision and he squints up at it cause something just doesn't feel right.

 His eyes go wide when he realizes what's wrong.

Someone's standing on the edge, ready to walk off the bridge into nothing.

A jumper.

"Shit."

With the whirling sound of the engine in his ears, Thor runs for the cockpit, pushing crew men out of his way.

"Move!"

Men go flying left and right, turning to stare after him.

Out of breath he bursts into the cabin, slamming the door open so hard it rattles on its hinges.

The white-haired captain looks up at him, alarmed.

"Turn her around!" Thor screams, pupils blown out.

The captain turns the wheel sharply and Thor hurries back to the deck.

With the boat speeding rapidly under his feet he takes out his radio to alert the coastguard—he's not sure he can spot their boat with all the other boats zooming past them, the speed making them look like nothing more than white brush strokes.

With his thumb sinking into the side of the radio pushing the button in, Thor shoves past the crew members also rushing towards the deck, not taking his eyes off the figure standing up there on the ledge, white sleeveless tank top fluttering against the morose backdrop of dusty-grey skies.

A wave of shock rushes through him when he realizes it's Loki.

Thor's body slams against the railing and grasping onto it with one hand, he presses the radio to his mouth ready to shout his message to the coastguard when Loki walks off the edge.   

Losing his radio, coat, badge, and gun belt, Thor dives in after him.

 

Chapter Text

 

Leaping from the side of the boat sends Thor a few feet underwater.

Sound turns into silence, like snipping a thread with a pair of scissors, discontinuing the flow of the world around you. Transitioning from wind and light to cold and blinking shadows.

Straining to keep his eyes open despite the sharp sting, he stays still for a second.

The water wraps itself around his ankles and starts tugging him under lazily.

Thor keeps his gaze straight ahead. He kicks his legs once. Twice. Dragging himself upwards, gaze jumping from one twirling shadow to another.

His chest feels light like it's made of cotton wool and forget-me-nots. If it's from the large amount of air in his lungs still or from the rapid thrashing of his heart, he can't tell.

His body starts sinking again, slowly. Like a veil of sleep draping itself around your eyes without you noticing.

Thor kicks his legs again. Shoves water to the right and left using his arms, craning his neck.

His heart picks up its pace, thuds painfully. Sparks of panic shoot all the way into his fingertips. Because the sun was weak today. Because it's evening and it's getting darker. Because you take a sheet out into your backyard with a friend on a sunny day and the both of you holding on to it from opposite ends start moving it around in a wavy motion toying with a ball rolling from side to side on it, and you get this blinding display of spinning shadows and spears of light it makes your head spin.

The spiraling movement of the water makes it hard to see anything and Loki's sinking form is nowhere to be seen.

Thor starts swimming forward. Pounding heart making him swim fast and urgent. Violent.

It's his wristwatch insisting on catching the flickering light; it's his uniform limiting his movements—fabrics soaking with water getting heavier with each passing second—his hands coming together in front of him then pushing away from each other with the next rowing movement of his arms; the throbbing pressure in his ears, maddening, maddening…

Forward and down,

Forward and down.

Because falling from that height, it sends you deep under. But there's the current. And there's your lungs fighting for air. Both can force you to come back up and maybe he'll spot Loki struggling to swim up.

Forward and down.

And when he reaches the approximate depth, just forward, blinking water out of his eyes.

With his lungs starting to burn bad, Thor forces himself to keep going.

The shadow of a motor boat over his head, moving like quicksilver in a spoon.

His lips parting without him noticing it, lungs starving for air. Thor clamps his mouth shut tightly and starts swimming up towards the light because he can't hold his breath any longer.

And the sudden flash of a memory—himself and Balder as kids, playing around in the lake behind their old house, dropping an item into the water, a pen, a paperweight, a bracelet, and diving in after it, to see who will get it first.

Thor comes up for air with a loud gasp. Shakes the water out of his hair, wiping it off his face, out of his eyes.

The patrol boat to his right. Coronado Bridge's shadow not far ahead, snaking across the frothy grey waves like a thread of black lace.

He sucks a breath in rapidly, deeply. Scans the area, keeping his head above the water.

Then a splashing sound.

Loki's head emerges under the bridge and with his shiny black hair and the swirling shadow of the bridge, Thor could have easily missed it.

Thor starts swimming towards him fast.

He manages to get closer before Loki goes underwater again.

Thor takes a big breath in and dives after him.

Silence again. Skittering shadows.

And Thor swims as fast as he can.

When you drown, you usually come up for air once. You put all your strength into reaching the surface, your body is too tired to do it again. And Thor thinks it's fatigue and it's pain and there's a big chance Loki is hurt bad and Thor knows time is running out.

And then Thor sees him.

Loki is sinking. He falls like a leaf in the heart of winter, head tilted back, eyes closed, palms facing up. He's sinking and the shadows devour him as Thor swims down after him, slowly making their way up his ankles, legs, thighs. They wrap around his waist, eat his fingers, wrists, elbows.

Balder's grinning face in the noon sunlight, water dripping off his chin, waving one of their mother's light silver bracelets under Thor's nose cause he got to it first and Thor wasn't even close.

Splitting pain in Thor's head, nerve-wrecking pressure on his ears, it feels like his eardrums are about to split open as he dives deeper, leaving a trail of bubbles and swishing water in his wake.

Loki's head falls onto his left shoulder limply. The shadows crawl up his arms.

Thor presses his lips together tight, the need to breathe becoming more and more urgent until his lungs buzz with it.

Loki's right arm floats up.

Thor blinks hard, forcing his arms and legs to move.

The light white silk scarf Loki has on comes undone. It slips off his neck and twirls around itself in the water. It brushes against the side of Thor's face as he dives even deeper, a soft flutter, like butterfly wings.  

Then, Balder's voice, clear like summer in Thor's head, "I got it!"

Thor hooks his arm around Loki's waist. Pulls him up and against the left side of his body.

Loki's arm brushes lifelessly against his as Thor fights to get closer to the surface. Drawn by the dim light above their heads, Thor relies on his legs and free arm to get them out on time.

It's Loki's shoulder pressing into the side of his body, the side of his face on Thor's chest, and Thor's heart is going crazy with the lack of oxygen, his face contorted in pain, teeth showing.

And it's Stu's voice in his head see that? He's got tears in his—

Thor resurfaces with a panicked gasp. Panting, water dripping off his lashes and chin, he pulls Loki up. Supporting his weight, he keeps both their heads above the water.

The boat is speeding towards them, and, gasping audibly trying to catch his breath, Thor turns his head to look at Loki.

Loki's mouth is open, his eyes closed, the ends of his hair brushing the inner part of Thor's arm.

With the boat cutting through the water towards them, Thor can only watch helplessly as Loki's lips turn blue.

Once the boat is close enough, they stall the engine and one of the crew men jumps into the water to help Thor get Loki on deck. Another waits on the ladder to help hoist Loki up.

Thor starts swimming towards the first one, with Loki pressed to the side of his body.

"Have an ambulance ready on land!" Thor shouts to his crew men huddled against the railing, over the whirling sound of the passing boats.

One of the men takes out his radio and gets in touch with the station.

Thor passes Loki to the man waiting in the water, catching the way the man looks at Loki as he starts swimming with him under his arm, and it makes Thor's heart go faster because the man thinks this guy won't make it.

He passes him on to the one waiting on the ladder.

"Do it fast, c'mon!"

The man passes Loki's limp body to another crew member waiting on deck.

Thor pulls himself out of the water and onto the ladder as the second man hauls Loki up and over. Thor hears the sound of shuffling feet and that horrible dragging noise as they drag Loki's body to a spot where they can lay him down in.

Thor hurries up the ladder, the soles of his shoes smacking hard against the metal rungs painted blinding-white.

With all his men on deck Thor spots the captain in the crowd by the cockpit.

"Get her moving!" Thor calls over the sound of splashing water and rumbling motors.

He rushes to where they've placed Loki. A crew member is tilting Loki's head to the right and water drips down the corner of Loki's mouth, pooling under his cheek.

Thor drops to his knees to Loki's left.

The sky goes darker above them as the captain gets the engine running.

Someone turns on the lamps. It's a faint orange glow flooding the deck and it's the purple tint to Loki's mouth, the stunned silence from the crew, a radio randomly going off.

Thor feels up Loki's still chest quickly, up and around, looking for busted ribs. Once he starts CPR the immense pressure of the compressions can cause them to pierce through Loki's lungs.

Thor curses when he finds one on the right. He decides to go easy on that side and pray for the best.

Thor presses the heel of his hand to Loki's sternum. Clasps his right hand over the left.

The echoing sound of thunder rushing across the waves.

First compression. Water comes gurgling out of Loki's mouth.

Second compression. More water.

Thor 's hands sink into Loki's chest, bringing his ribs down against his heart.

Another compression.

And another

And another.

The sea hisses around them but Thor can still hear the drip-drip as the water drips from the corner of Loki's mouth and hits the ground.

Thor sets up a rhythm.

One, two, three, four.

The repeated harsh movement makes Loki's head rock gently, makes his lashes flutter.

Five, six, seven, eight.

A cold gust of wind rolls across the back of Thor's head.

Nine, ten, eleven, twelve.

One of the lamps flickers like a candle that's going out.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen.

A crew man peeks over another's shoulder.

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.

Water stops coming out of Loki's mouth.

It's the angry whispers of the waves all around them. A crew guy coughing. Blurred talking on the radio.

Thor is breathing hard and when he gets to a hundred compressions, he tilts Loki's head back, pinches his nose closed and gives him mouth-to-mouth.

Loki's mouth is soft, his lips cool, and Thor gives him two breaths.

On the end of the second breath he pulls back to watch Loki's chest, see if he takes the next breath on his own.

He doesn't.

Thor starts another round of compressions. Fast and hard he tries to get Loki's heart beating again.

And it's the sound of his own fast breathing in his ears; the feeling of the cold wet fabric of Loki's white shirt under his hands; the sleeping orange glow that casts heavy shadows over everything.

Two more breaths—Loki's face cradled in Thor's hand.

Thor pulls back, gaze flickering over Loki's closed eyes.

Thor clenches his jaw. Draws a shaky breath through his nose.

When he starts the third round of compressions, it starts to rain. It comes down light and easy at first, like icy kisses on Thor's bare forearms and the back of his neck. The droplets hit the side of Loki's neck next to his ear, the corner of his eye and to see him not flinching at their unexpectedness and coldness makes Thor press down harder till he's out of breath and his arms hurt.

By the fifth round of compressions the rain is coming down hard. The droplets embed themselves into Loki's hair, glow there for a few seconds then are shaken off by Thor's insistent compressions, trickling into his hair and get lost between the dark strands or drip down his neck.

Loki's face is getting paler and each time Thor presses his lips to Loki's his mouth feels colder.

Some of the crew men go to seek shelter from the storm. Some of the others that remain on deck exchange glances over Thor's head.

Two more breaths.

The lamp flickers weakly.

Thor starts the sixth round of compressions with a heavy feeling in his heart. His hands sink into Loki's chest and it feels horribly empty, hollow.

"C'mon breathe!" Thor says on a rushed breath.

Reaches forty chest compressions.

"Breathe!"

The rain soaks them from head to toe. It takes Thor a while to notice he's shivering.

It's dark now, apart from the orange glow of the lamps and the flashes of lightning slithering across the sky. The lights of the harbor in the distance twinkling like familiar stars.

Two more breaths.

Pulls back to watch Loki's chest.

One of the men above him: "sir…"

He's gone. Thor can read the man's thoughts through his eyes. There's nothing more you can do. Let the paramedics take it from here.

With his throat closing up on him, Thor starts the seventh round of compressions.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

He breathes through the stinging in his eyes.

"Don't do this, c'mon."

The men go still around them. They're getting ready to head down to the harbor, some starting to walk away to get their bags.

Thor switches hands for the third time. His palms press down on Loki's ribs but when he looks at him, Thor's face is crestfallen.

It looks uneasy, doesn't it? The sea.

The sound of the rain all around them, the earthy smell of it. The lamps swinging sadly from left to right, right to left.

And then a gasp. It's Loki and he stares up at Thor in a panic because he can't breathe.

Thor helps turn him onto his side because Loki's struggling to move, and Loki starts coughing out the water that's left at the bottom of his lungs.

Thor gives the sky a swift glance, a moment of thanking, a moment to catch his breath.

Thor's hand on Loki's shoulder, the other arm over Loki as Thor leans over him.

Loki's palm slides across the wet floor as he gasps and coughs and sputters, eyes wide as he fights for air.

"Easy, easy," Thor comforts quietly.

Loki's face contorts in pain and his wet hand shoots up to cradle the right side of his chest.

Thor brushes Loki's hair back from his face, peeks towards the approaching harbor lights bathed in the purple glow of the still young night.

The next time Loki coughs, he coughs up blood. Thick droplets of it on the white floor, quickly washed away by the falling rain.

Loki stops to lick his lips, shocked, panting shallowly.

Thor's breath speeds up as he watches the blood trickling down the corner of Loki's red mouth. It could be a punctured lung, Thor felt the sunken rib before he started CPR. The possibility of internal bleeding has Thor's gaze leaping from the cockpit to the harbor—they're going fast but he all he can think about is they could go even faster.

Talking close to Loki's ear, Thor murmurs, "it's alright, it's alright, it's alright."

He wipes the blood from Loki's mouth and slips his arm under Loki's shoulder, cradling the side of his face, giving him some leverage so it'll be easier for him to cough out the remaining water and blood.

Loki pauses for breath, shivering in Thor's arms.

One of the crew guys shouts all the way from the cockpit: "one more minute and we're there! Ambulance is on standy-by!"

Thor's head shoots up to the right. He can see the red lights of two ambulances flashing through the rain and light fog.

Loki blinks tiredly, chest working hard to breathe.

Thor leans over him, searching his eyes because he's not coughing anymore and it looks like he's ready to slip away quietly.

"Hey."

Loki closes his eyes.

Thor grips his shoulder, shakes it, "hey!"

Loki's eyes flutter open weakly, mouth open, struggling to suck air in.

"Stay with me, okay?" Thor says loudly over the sound of the rain, "stay with me, we're nearly there."

Thor shields Loki from the wind and the cold and the rain as much as he can. And he stares at Loki's shirt because Thor left his bloody handprint on it and for some reason seeing it hits him hard and what just happened, his brain only now starts processing it.

Loki chokes on his blood and Thor squeezes his hand.

"Be strong for me now, alright? We're getting through this."

Without returning his gaze, Loki's fingers faintly squeeze back. At least Thor thinks they do.

They reach the harbor and the ramp is brought down. The paramedics get on deck—black boots and stark-white uniforms, squinting against the rain.

Thor lets Loki's hand slip out of his own as two men coax him to move back as they prepare to load Loki onto the stretcher.

Thor stands up and slicks the hair back from his face, chest rapidly jerking up and down, not sure what to do with his hands, with himself.

And it's a thermal blanket wrapped around Loki's body;  straps around his shoulders, waist, legs; an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth.

A bald paramedic comes to stand by Thor as they await to follow the stretcher down the ramp.

"Knocked off a speeding boat and drowned?" the paramedic tries guessing.

Thor feels like he's choking on the words, shakes his head, "attempted suicide. Walked off the bridge."

The paramedic makes out Coronado Bridge looming in the darkness, all its lights on. He clicks his tongue.

Thor shivers, "pulled him out of the water. Did CPR on him. His heart stopped."

"For how long."

"Almost ten minutes."

The sound of Loki coughing, the wheels of the stretcher moving down the ramp. Thor and the paramedic follow it, the wind blowing stinging rain in their faces. Behind them the coastguard boat pulls into the port loudly.

The paramedic looks up at him, "he's lucky you were here."

And Thor shakes his head because he's part of the reason Loki did it in the first place.

The paramedic's eyes travel down and he stops Thor with a hand to his chest when his gaze hits Thor's shoulder.

He starts messing with Thor's sleeve and only then Thor notices he's bleeding from a wound to his shoulder, something that ripped through the fabric.

"How'd you get that."

"I don't know," Thor mutters and moves around the man, keeps following the stretcher, "doesn't matter."

The paramedic catches up to him, "you need to have it looked at."

"Not now."

He watches the crew load the stretcher into the ambulance.

"Sorry, sir," they say to him when he tells them he wants to go with Loki.

Another paramedic wants to guide Thor towards the second ambulance, see if they can treat his wound on location or if he needs to go to the hospital.

"Where are they taking him?" Thor asks as two men have him sit down at the back and start cutting through his uniform in the shoulder area with a pair of big steel scissors.

"Sharp Memorial Hospital," a female paramedic replies.

Thor keeps his eyes on his bloodied hands as they work on disinfecting the wound and bandaging him up.

A thought vaguely enters his mind. He remembers being grazed by a passing motor boat at some point while he was in the water.

It's Loki's blood on his hands and in the bright lights inside the ambulance it stains the skin of his palms dark dark red.

 

 

*

 

 

It's the sharp sound of the rain hitting the sides of the ambulance. It's the sound of being on land and the sound of being underwater and it sounds like everything and nothing at the same time.

A male paramedic cuts Loki's shirt down the middle. Starts from the abdomen with a gloved hand steady on Loki's chest and moves upwards, one blade under the fabric, one above and that crispy sound snip-snip as metal bites through fine white threads. The blades are cold and they catch the light making Loki's eyes hurt.

The scissors come to a halt at his sternum and take their final bite. His shirt falls open and the scissors move out of sight.

A bald male paramedic leans over him. One of his eyes is brown, the other green.

As the ambulance cuts through the flooded roads, the paramedic taps on Loki's chest, assessing different spots. He's exchanging opinions with the other two but Loki can't hear them well over the sound of the oxygen hissing through the tubing.

Another hooks him up to a heart monitor. The persistent wet blip-blip sound tires Loki and he wants to close his eyes.

Everything hurts and he can't breathe and the inner part of his oxygen mask is dotted with small droplets of blood.

A stethoscope to his chest, not for his heart this time, but for his lungs. The bald paramedic listens to the air flowing in and out of Loki's chest and his lashes look like threads of honey, shiny with sugar.

He draws back suddenly really quick, stethoscope hanging from his neck and motions for something. Then motions again impatiently because they didn't provide it fast enough.

The sound of plastic tearing, something being unwrapped.

The bald paramedic is back, leaning over him again.

The feeling of the sticky latex on the right side of Loki's chest.

Fingers and a needle flashing between them.

Fragments of sentences.

"Could explain why…"

A flash of white passes before Loki's eyes, something of the unreal, something from his mind, turning things blurry.

"…he's coughing up blood…"

Then a sharp flash of pain between Loki's ribs.

He blinks hard to clear the buzzing from his head.

"Pneumothorax."

"Minor or major?"

Loki closes his eyes and when he turns his face to the side his head feels heavy.

"Write down possibly major."

Then, "write inserted chest tube."

Behind Loki's lids a slip of paper he found in one of the returned library books once, gets snatched away by a sudden cool gust of wind. Loki watches it move farther and farther away from him, fluttering and drawing gentle shapes against the backdrop of the bright San Diego skies. His heart feels light because he'd seen what it said on the paper: inhale.

Loki does, lashes fluttering.

He breathes and the skies expand over his head.

"Vitals looking a bit better. His oxygen saturation levels are going up."

Breathing becomes easier.

One paramedic opens a vein in the crook of his elbow. Another cuts up his right pant leg, examines his leg.

"…looks like a broken fibula."

"Yeah?"

The bald paramedic again, attaching a syringe to the light green cannula in Loki's arm, clicking it into place.

He leans down to check Loki's pupils.

"Dilated."

He smells sweet, like fresh rain.

He looks softly into Loki's eyes.

"I'll make the pain go away, alright?" he says, his voice like a boat rocking from side to side on a wave, gentle.

Can you? Loki catches himself thinking. I've tried to do the same thing.

The paramedic starts injecting the painkiller slowly.

Loki feels it rushing up his arm, warm and soothing.

He blinks at the white light, eyes barely open, moving his fingers gently because they're turning numb.

"There we go."

A sharp click—the paramedic removing the syringe and tossing it into the bin.

A soothing whisper close to him.

"Shh."

A gloved hand on his forehead, combing his hair back from his face.

Loki sleeps and the rain never stops falling.

 

 

 

 

Thor pops two ibuprofens into his mouth.

He swallows them without water. Dumps the container into the glove compartment and slams it shut.

Rotates his shoulder a few times as he turns the key in the ignition. The headlights flicker on. The wipers start clearing the rain from the windshield.

He reverses out of the parking lot and feeds the hospital's name into his phone's GPS. Gets the address, route and estimated time it'll take him to get there.

Wearing dry clothes now (spare uniform set from his locker), driving away from the dark waves, it doesn't help restore Thor's sense of normality. It's like when you take the bus for a few hours, when you finally reach your destination you still feel that numbing rocking motion all throughout your body. Thor's in his car but it feels like he's still in the water. He's seeing road signs and passing headlights but his mind sees grey waves, his mind sees Coronado Bridge. It's the steering wheel in his hands but it's Loki's still chest under his palms. And that lamp, flickering, flickering…

Thor rubs his hand down his face, cups it over his mouth. Stays like that for a few beats, nostrils flaring, shiny eyes scanning the winding road. Then he slams his fist into the door, mouth set tight. The window rattles and shakes.

He runs his palm over his hair, grips unto the back of his neck.

Sticks his elbow against the window and covers his mouth again.

One blink and his eyes go soft. He gulps with great difficulty and the clicking sound echoes around the small enclosed space.

Thinking right now is hard. Feeling is dangerous. He can't put the horror of what he'd witnessed today into words because some things just can't be explained using reason. But they can be felt. Feeling is tricky, too. It can overwhelm you. It can grow to monstrous proportions. Force you to live in its shadow.

And Thor thinks Loki died alone in the water. And on deck he was alone too, even though he was surrounded by a circle of beating hearts. And he's alone in the hospital now, maybe even more so than ever before.

 

 

 

 

At the Sharp Memorial Hospital, front desk, they tell Thor they haven't placed Loki into a room yet as they're still running tests. Bloodwork and scans. They're not sure about his leg—broken fibula, he might need surgery. They're looking for traumatic injuries, internal bleeding. They tell Thor it'll take a few hours. They suggest he go home and come back in the morning. Thor replies he'll wait.

Thor walks the halls for a while, head down, hands In his pockets. Steps outside every once in a while for a smoke. The highway is bustling with activity, and the smell coming off it, tires and dust and rain, an earthy smell that lingers in Thor's nose. No stars up there, only stray droplets of rain coming down light and sparse, trickling off the greenish road signs and dotting the ground damp-black.

Watching the cars pass him by makes him feel lost. He's not used to this feeling. He watches the shiny trails the headlights leave behind and he thinks that for some people time stops, for others it keeps going.

He blinks and the light trails peel off like golden lettering on the cover of a notebook that you can scratch off with a fingernail, and scatter and scatter until there's nothing left of them.

A while later he's splashing water on his face in the men's room. He runs some of it into his hair, rubs the back of his neck with a cool palm.

The sound of the running water floods the room, overpowering the constant hiss of the passing cars below and the sounds coming from the halls. Thor blinks at the stream flowing from the faucet in a white straight thick line, like a column made of froth. He turns the tap off violently and closes his eyes in the slowly spreading silence.

He stands there with his eyes closed, gripping the edge of the sink, leaning forward. He hangs his head, squeezing his eyes tight. He takes a deep breath in, pushes the heels of his hands against the edge of the sink and spreads out his fingers only to clench them again, breathe out slowly and raise his head, open his eyes, stare at himself in the mirror.

Thor looks away quickly, shakes his head and pushes away from the sink. His injured shoulder protests, a searing pain that shoots to his collarbone. Thor clenches his jaw, brows set, nostrils flaring. Tries not to wince. This pain, he deserves it. He rolls his shoulder once, stretches it back, feeling the bandage tugging on his skin.

Back in the lobby, he inquires about Loki again. It's some other guy behind the desk not willing to give out any information if you're not family. Thor tells him who he is and the guy hurriedly makes a call.

"He's up at the radiology department, sir," the young man says, "full body CT scan. These take a while, with the contrast dye and all."

"Thanks," Thor murmurs.

He debates whether he should go out for another smoke or sit down for a while.

His tired body leads him to a row of colorful comfortable chairs. He sits down in one, knee bumping into a low table standing by with flyers and magazines scattered all over it.

Forearms on his thighs, Thor starts bouncing his leg and looks around.

It's nearly 10 PM and the bright lights contrasting with the giant windows framing nothing but darkness and shadowy trees spark a pain deep in his eye sockets, heavy and throbbing.

Thor closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. He stays like that for a few seconds then reopens them again with a harsh blink, dropping his hand.

Flowers in elongated grey vases to his left, yellow and purple and red.

He stares at them for a bit. The colors are so bright and vivid. He wouldn't have expected to find flowers here. And this silly thought in his head: he wonders if they're real. Donna would know. And Thor suddenly realizes he hasn't tried taking off his wedding ring when he ran the tap to splash water on his face.

He looks down at his ring finger. And he runs his thumb across the base of it because there's a thin faded-red line there, just above the knuckle.

Loki's blood.

He rubs at it but it won't come off.

Thor leans back in the seat, head against the wall. Prepares himself to wait for a while.

 

 

*

 

 

Thor's sitting at a table by the window back at the Fish Market.

His hands dangling between his knees, he blinks slowly at his glass of water. He doesn't feel like eating and his legs feel heavy, like he's wearing a pair of steel boots. It makes him feel uncomfortable and he flexes his ankles inside his shoes, moves his legs around a bit to try and get the feeling to go away.

He intertwines his fingers, bounces his legs a little bit, turns to look out the window.

It's not noisy in there today, seems really quiet out there, too.

Thor runs his tongue over his teeth, tries following the path of a white boat about to head towards Coronado Bridge.

Thor's eyes jump ahead to the next spot on the waves where it's supposed to appear next.

Only it never appears there.

Frowning, Thor moves his gaze back, spots the boat in the exact same spot she was a few moments ago. It's a white boat standing still in a lead-colored sea and Thor gives a confused blink because it looks like the water isn't moving either.

He squints. Focuses on the boat.

Moments pass.

As still as a drawing, both boat and sea, and Thor feels a stab of uneasiness inside him.

He turns away from the window. Presses a fingertip to the menu and slides it towards himself across the table. He doesn't want to order anything, just kill some time.

He runs his fingers down the shiny card and something doesn't feel right. Thor tries figuring out what it is when it suddenly dawns on him—the menu, he can't read it. The letters are all jumbled up, inverted, backwards, upside down.

And another thing—the little symbol of the red fish at the top next to the restaurant logo, it's gone. There's a red stain there instead, smeared, like a puddle of blood.

And the silence coming from all around him. No music, no talking, no glasses clinking, no grill sizzling.

Thor looks up.

The restaurant is packed. People at every table.

And every single one of them is looking at him.

Thor fidgets in his seat, legs heavy, heart speeding up.

Them staring at him sends a shiver down his spine and it doesn't take him long to figure out why.

It's all eyes.

None of them has a mouth.

Just stretched skin where the lips were supposed to be.

Realizing something is really wrong, Thor moves to open his mouth, say something, and then he realizes.

His mouth is gone, too.

 

 

*

 

 

Thor jerks awake, shooting forwards in the chair. Panting, heart beating so fast it hurts.

Thor's gaze jumps around.

An elevator lets out a gentle ping!

The skinny guy behind the desk clicks away on the keyboard.

He's still at the hospital.

He fell asleep.

Thor throws himself back in the chair, covers his face with his hands, eyes squeezed shut.

 

 

*

 

The third time Thor inquires about Loki, the guy gives him a room number, tells him to take the elevator up.

It's way past midnight already. Visitation hours ended a long time ago. But Thor gets a pass.

He rides the elevator up to the second floor.

Before he has a chance to reach Loki's room, he gets a call.

Coming to a halt in the middle of the hallway, he keeps his eyes on the door standing ajar by the window, fishes his phone out of his pocket.

"Odinson," he answers, turning his head after an older male doctor, passing by him, flipping through a folder.

"Bretel here, sir."

Sounds like the voice is coming from far away and Thor blinks hard.

"Bretel, what is it."

"Filled the suicide attempt report. Awaiting your signature, sir."

Bretel ends every single sentence in a way that makes it seem like he's asking you a question, always has, always will.

Thor gives a nod, "had his car towed."

"Yes, sir."

Thor rubs his fingers across his mouth, staring ahead. It's the image of a car standing abandoned on Coronado Bridge by the ledge with the driver's door wide open against the backdrop of the dim-grey sky in Thor's mind.

Thor shakes his head a little to clear it, presses the phone hard to his ear.

"Alright," he says, waits for a few seconds then hangs up. Slips the phone inside his pocket.

He moves down the hallway. Comes to stand by the door, soundlessly pushing it in.

There are two beds in the room. The closest one to Thor is empty.

Loki is lying in the other one by the window. He's lying on his back, face turned to the left, away from Thor.

Thor stands there for a long time, hand gripping the doorframe and Loki doesn't stir at all. You can't call it sleeping—the drugs they put in him knocked him out. It's dreamless, this state of unconsciousness. It also does not abide by the rules of the passage of time . It can feel like forever before you open your eyes again, or no more than a second. It chews and swallows  huge chunks of your memory. Thor doubts that Loki will wake up having forgotten what happened just hours before. Some things you just can't forget about.

Thor walks into the room.

The walls are a soothing sand dunes color with a small sofa positioned just under the window.

Thor takes the chair instead, sitting down beside Loki's bed.

The first thing that catches Thor's eye is the purple-blue bruise in the middle of Loki's chest. It spreads across the pale skin like the beginning of twilight and Thor thinks I did that. It's because of me. All this is because of me.

His compressions did that. That's what they teach you when you take a CPR course—press down as hard as you can, don't be afraid to go deep otherwise the compressions will not be effective.

Thor listens. It's the sound of Loki's heart all around them and Thor moves his gaze up Loki's body. More bruising at Loki's right clavicle, a mix of red and dark purple.

A chest tube draining the air around Loki's lung so it'll be able to re-expand, covered in a white bandage.

Heart monitor and oxygen mask, short breaths.

The pillowcase is a bit wet—Loki's hair is still damp and even amongst the spicy scents of cleaning agents and antiseptics, Thor can smell the sea on his hair, grey and silent.

And Thor notices Loki's glasses are missing. He turns for the bedside table, but they're not there either. They must have slipped off while he was in the water.

For some reason, it touches Thor and he can't explain why.

After some time, Loki stirs in his sleep.

Thor watches him cradle his right arm close to his chest. Loki curls his hand weakly into a fist and without turning his head falls back asleep with it resting over his heart.

Thor hangs his head and sits there with him as the moon moves from one spot to the other across the sky and the rain falls, sad and hushed.

 

Chapter Text

Thor goes out for a jog really early in the morning.

Pulls his running shoes on in the doorway, scanning the front yard. Tightens the strap of his sports watch around his wrist. Tosses his cap and shades onto a table under the kitchen window cause the light's weak, and off he goes.

He's running without any music on. It's just the sound of rubber on gravel, the sound of his breathing speeding up.

Music feels wrong. Thinking feels wrong too. He's tired of the sound of his own voice going on and on inside his head, never shutting up. It's not the content of these thoughts he's tired of, it's the frequency, It's one thought chasing another so fast he's just left with fragments of sentences, a bunch of unanswered questions, facts scattered all over the place so linking them together to create something that makes sense as a whole feels impossible. It's infuriating and he tries slowing them down sometimes like tuning out all the noise around you and focusing on just the one thing and for a few seconds it works for some reason and it makes him feel like maybe he can do it, make something out of it after all. But then the thought speeds past him dragging all the others with it and he's feeling lost again, like all the road signs you encounter are blank and you don't know which way you're supposed to go.   

Thor is slowly building up a sweat, blinking the salt out of his eyes. He made it back to Ramona around 3 in the morning. Didn't sleep a wink.

Took a long hot shower. Couldn't feel the warmth on his right shoulder cause of the plastic wrap they put over the bandages. Shampooed his hair twice to try and get rid of the sea smell sticking to it but it lingered and the water evaporating off his skin carried the sharp scent throughout the house and walking through it later Thor felt it in every room.

Sat on the edge of the bed, turning his badge over and over in his hands, gaze unfocused.

It's tall palm trees casting their light graceful shade on the ground. It's hills huddled together all around looking like soft piles of brown sugar. It's sleeping ranch houses sprinkled amongst the hills like bits of cooking salt, white and hushed.

Thor is running up the hill—heart going so fast it feels like it's heavy and is tugging him down.

Checks his watch.

180 bpm.

Wipes the sweat off his forehead. Runs faster.

And this weird thought pops into his head. He thinks about the Fish Market and how he always has his lunch there and he thinks not today. The thought of going back there makes him feel uneasy. He thinks it's going to be packed, people just having fun eating, none of them aware of what happened just the day before, how this place was a pre-suicide pit stop for someone. And Thor thinks he'll probably never go there again. At least not for a while.

Pretty soon, Thor's not jogging alone anymore. This neighbor of his, Randy, joins him. Middle-aged, stripy socks, bald spot and contacts that have him blinking like crazy.

"Hollered your name," Randy says, panting already, running to Thor's right.

"When."

"Just now. Didn't you hear me."

"Huh," then, "no, I didn't."

"I was kinda loud too. Startled a bird off a branch."

"Wow. That bad, huh."

Thor's never seen Randy jogging before. This guy takes his car everywhere. You never catch him just walking. He's either standing next to a sizzling grill or popping mentos into his mouth behind the wheel.

Thor looks him over, "taking up jogging?"

"Ha! My ex would bust a rib laughing if she were to hear you saying that."

"Yet here you are."

Randy smacks his lips, eyes darting from one palm tree to another, "yet here I am. Making memories."

"Going somewhere?"

"Moving out."

Catches Thor off guard. Randy and Margaret, he thought they'll stay in the valley forever—they'd often say just how much they love Ramona, how it feels like home there.

"You serious?" and after Randy nods: "when."

"Monday. The haul-it guys are coming tomorrow to get some of the stuff, aka Margaret's giant collection of stupid planters."

"But you guys love it here," Thor says, wiping off a trail of sweat heading under his collar, "is everything okay."

"No one's dying if that's what you're asking. It's not us needing to go take care of a family member," he then suddenly blinks up at Thor, "feels like I need to knock on wood here, you get me talking about things like this geez—"

He knocks on the bark of a willowy palm tree, both of them jogging in place till the bad thought goes away and then they pick up the pace again, "everyone is as healthy as they can be, thank god!"

"'kay that's good," Thor scans the horizon then looks back at Randy, "so what is it. Why you moving out?"

"Well."

Randy kinda winces cause cramp in his side, right between the ribs.

"It's—"

Starting to wheeze.

"It just came outta—"

Another wheeze.

"blue, really. For—"

Another.

"the both of—"

Randy reaches to swat lightly at Thor's arm, "hey, easy there roadrunner. Can't keep up with ya."

Thor slows down, tugging on the front of his tank top cause it's soaked and sticking to his chest. He blows a loose strand of hair out of his face and switches to walking cause Randy lags behind him and it looks like he's gonna keel over.

Randy catches up with him, walking all doubled over, cradling his rib, "how do you—"

Shakes his head, incredulous, "--do this every morning?"

"I try. Wanna rest for a bit?"

"Nah. I'm fine. Kinda."

Randy takes a moment to catch his breath, him and Thor walking side by side.

"So. As I was saying before I nearly had a heart attack. The decision, it just came out of the blue for us. And it wasn't me deciding on this. It wasn't Marge deciding on this. It was mutual, you know?"

Randy gives each leg a small shake cause tiny annoying muscles cramps. His head barely reaches Thor's shoulder so he's constantly looking up.

"We were having breakfast one day. You know, middle-aged style: zero fat cheese spread, rye bread with a bunch of seeds and stuff sprinkled everywhere, de-caffeinated coffee cause of Marge's blood pressure. And she was sipping her joe, flipping through a gardening magazine and she turns to me and she says I think it's time for us to move our love under a different roof. Direct quote. And I just find myself nodding and going good idea I think so too. And it's decided on. We never went let's talk about this or are you sure. Feels like the sun comes up and lights up a path for you and you say to yourself that's where I'm supposed to go and you just go, no questions asked."

Thor rolls his good shoulder a little bit, cracks his neck, thinking it through.

"Hm," he says finally.

"Well, yeah. That's a hm situation my friend because who knows what the future holds. Can be hard times waiting for us, can be good times. You have no way of knowing if you're making the right choice. The only thing you can do is just do it and see what happens cause it just feels right."

Randy thinks about it for a sec then smiles up at Thor, "I sound like a delusional teenager, don't I. I'm surprised you're not rolling your eyes at me."

"No, I think that's valid, what you said. I get it."

Thor smiles a little bit, "we'll miss your BBQs though."

He said we. He runs a palm over his hair, angry with himself.

Randy prepares awesome chorizos. Donna would always pick out at least two hot off the grill and place them on a napkin so it'll soak up all the extra fat.

Randy looks at him. Thor feels he's thinking ask him how Donna's doing or don't ask him. Ask him how he's holding up or just drop it.

Randy goes for a slight change of subject which Thor is very grateful for, "the Davidson's grill a mean chicken breast."

Thor shakes his head cause it's Donna again with a drink in her hand taking these really careful sips as to not mess up her lipstick saying no to a piece of grilled chicken offered to her on a plastic plate. It's these small things that leap at you all of a sudden that leave you feeling like you're not in the present, you're in the past.

Randy taps Thor on the arm, "this is where we part ways."

He stares up at the road ahead of them, "I have a feeling you're gonna want to run all the way up there and I can't, so."

It's a palm tree behind Thor and another behind Randy and they have their hands on their hips, saying goodbye.

"We're leaving on Monday," Randy reminds him, "come have dinner with us before. I'll have Margaret prepare her famous chilly dish. You'll love it. It's Gordon Ramsay delicious."

They part ways and from where Thor's standing the wind ruffling his top he can see their house.

His house.

The sun is up but there's no light reflecting off the windows. It's just standing there like a matchbox someone accidently dropped and Thor wipes the sweat off his face using his top and keeps running.

 

Dr. Gast makes his way to the elevator, clipboard under his arm, whistling the Brady Bunch theme song.

Squeaky soles, bright green mint under his tongue, a quick finger wave to grumpy nurse Hannah—always looks like she's having the worst day ever.

He skids to a stop by her station, blinking his eyes sweetly at her, "hey Han."

She looks up, left brow over plucked and rebellious.

He points at her and says in a sing-song voice, "you know that word that rhymes with mood."

She squints a little at him, fixing him with a I'm not impressed glare, "try rude."

Gast gives her a I know you can do better than that look, "ah, not quite the word I was going for. How about good?"

She flashes him a bitter smile, "I'll raise you the good and add a bye. How's that."

He slams a palm over his heart, "heartbreaking, yet impressive."

She tucks some hair behind her ear and sets a few empty vials aside, "maybe there will come a day when I'll take feel-good tips from a shrink like you, but today's not gonna be the day."

"Well. No to tips but yes to music, yes?"

He snaps his fingers cause boom a song in his head and starts singing, "I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine—take it, Han!"

He points at her, tongue peeking out from the corner of his mouth cause he's expecting a collab but all he gets is Hannah going: "knock knock knocking on heaven's door." And yep totally different song there and she looks super pleased with herself.

"We'll get there," he says, "baby steps, baby steps."

Back to the Brady Bunch tune on his way to the elevator.

Inside he presses second floor, taps his fingers on the clipboard.

He hates riding the elevator. Using the stairs gives him an adrenaline rush cause mini workout but the hospital staff says use the elevator so.

Day shift today. Had a chance to see 2 patients so far. One was this young guy who was in a car accident the night before. His girlfriend was driving. A pickup truck ran into them from the left. She died on the spot, he got away with a broken shoulder and some minor head trauma. It was grief counseling in this case—the guy wept and asked Gast to phone his dad so he'll come stay with him for a while.

The second was a catatonic patient. Middle-aged. Diagnosed with schizophrenia more than 20 years ago. For the past 2 days his wife couldn't get him to eat, drink or go to the bathroom so she brought him here. Gast signed the transfer papers to move him to a psychiatric facility. The wife thanked him kindly, relieved that her husband will be looked after for a while, made to feel better.

Next patient.

Gast flips through the pages on his way down the hall.

Loki Laufeyson.

Attempted suicide by walking off Coronado Bridge yesterday.

Gast clicks his tongue when he spots the patient's age: 26.

Gast has a brother living on Coronado Island. He drives over to see him at least twice a year. Gorgeous view of the ocean from that bridge. And the drive itself, it steals you heart, short and sweet and energizing, it makes you feel euphoric and giddy.

The Golden Gate Bridge is the most dangerous bridge in the US suicide-wise. Coronado Bridge comes second. It's a lethal drop and Gast wonders how Loki made it out alive.

Gast closes the clipboard. Looks at his left hand. Silver wristwatch and a medium sized leather bracelet there. He looks at his wrist for another moment then walks up to room n. 6.

Gast watches Loki from the doorway. He's awake, right cheek on his shoulder, playing with his hospital bracelet, tugging on it absentmindedly. There's the lunch tray still sitting on the bedside table, food untouched. Blood pressure cuff hanging loosely from his arm, a needle twinkling  in the crook of his left elbow.

The sky in the window is stagnant and really pale blue.

Faced with Loki's indifference, Gast isn't surprised. He wasn't expecting tears. You try and kill yourself and you survive—it leaves you feeling numb for a while. Anger is expected, directed at the person who intervened, at still being alive despite your wishes. Bitterness. But almost never tears.

Gast fixes the glasses on his nose and announces: "good morning!"

Loki looks up, squinting.

Gast tilts his head to the side a little, studying him. Looks like Loki can't see that well and Gast wonders if he's missing his glasses.

Gast walks in and Loki manages a quiet: "morning."

Left out the good, no surprise there.

Gast pulls a chair up to the bed and sits in it, tugging a bit on the front of his blue scrubs shirt before he fishes a pen out of his breast pocket.

"I'm Dr. Gast. I'm a psychiatrist," he says, flipping open the clipboard and propping it up on his knee, "I'm here to perform a psychological evaluation."

Taps his fingers on the page, "see how you're doing."

 

Thor watches the video footage from the Coronado Bridge security cams without blinking, elbow on the table, fist pressed to his mouth.

It's his second time viewing it and it doesn't get easier.

You get someone falling from a bridge, it can be attempted murder or it can be suicide, you can't really tell for certain until you watch the tapes, you need to put it in the official reports.

Thor knew watching it wouldn't be easy. It's not something he wanted to do. Imagining how it happened was horrible enough.

Thing is, you watch any kind of video, your brain tends to send you this message: whatever you're watching it's happening right now. It can't comprehend this thing happened a day, a month, years ago and you react to it as if it's real, doesn't matter how many times you re-watch it. There's this saying: film brings the dead home. You watch a video you took of a loved one you've lost they smile into the lens and it's magic because they never left at all, did they?

Thor cracks two fingers. Presses his thumbs against the knuckle of his ring finger, slowly applying pressure as he's following the path of the passing cars.

The footage isn't smooth. Some of it lags. It's the kinda thing where a car's there one second and totally gone the other—blink and you'll miss it. Makes your head hurt.

It's the same thing with Loki. Thor notices it on his first viewing. He's standing there on the ledge one moment and the next he's gone and it's just the empty space he left behind. And if not for his car stranded on the side there with the driver's door wide open you could think he was never there at all.

Thor presses down hard on the knuckle. It lets out a loud snap!

It's the numbers running—top left—and it's Loki's car suddenly appearing, slowing down, pulling over.

Thor bounces his leg, gaze leaping to the driver's side before the door even opens. Because Loki doesn't come out straight away. He sits there for a while and the numbers keep rolling, seconds and milliseconds and Thor clenches his fist, running his thumb over the knuckles back and forth.

Outside Thor's office, a faint crash. The sound of papers flying everywhere, some laughter, some talking.

Need a hand there?

No, thank you. It's fine.

The door opens. Loki climbs out.

White sleeveless shirt, black jeans. The image is super fuzzy but Thor can still make out the scarf, side knot and all.

For a moment Loki stands by the car, gripping the open door with his right hand, head turned towards the sea to his left.

"Do it!" a man's voice coming from the hallway gets Thor's attention for a sec, "help Riley, will you. You don't help her get all those pages back the whole file goes kaput."

Some mumbling. Riley saying she'll do it herself, no help needed.

Thor's gaze moves over the fluttering fabric of Loki's shirt, the wind blowing his hair over his left shoulder, his elbow jutting out, his head lowered.

Is Loki having second thoughts? It he trying to muster up the courage to go through with it?

Thor blinks and Loki is already heading toward the ledge.

Cars appear and disappear behind his back, driving past him and the sky looks like static.

Years of experience working as a detective have his mind fighting to watch this footage without any sort of emotional reaction—just cold facts he can add later to his report. You see so many things on this job you feel like nothing can touch you anymore. His mind says watch for a reaction see if maybe somewhere on the bridge there's a car with someone inside pointing a gun at Loki forcing him to walk off the edge—mock suicide, cold case homicide; it says watch again cause maybe you didn't put all your attention into it the first time and you missed a conflict , an argument,  a shove ; it says look at his body language, look for anyone else inside his car—front or back seat.

Thor watches. He knows what comes next.

Loki steps onto the ledge. He's holding his arms close to his body like he's cold.

Thor's heart picks up the pace and Loki stands there for a while as cars continue to zoom past and Thor thinks why is no one pulling over and coming to pull him away from the ledge?

The numbers keep going and Loki wraps his arms around himself, hands closing around his upper arms.

No one's coming up behind him, no one's playing the devil's advocate telling him to do it. A personal choice, nothing more.

Loki drops his head. There's a movement to his shoulders and back. He's about to take that last step forward and Thor's hand shoots out towards the space bar.

He hits it hard.

The image freezes.

No Loki there, just bleary skies.

Thor curls his fingers into a fist on the keyboard. Stares at the screen for a long time.

Then he taps the space bar.

The numbers start running again and a few seconds pass before a car pulls over by Loki's and the driver, a middle-aged man leaps out and hurries toward the ledge, shouting into his phone, peering over at the grey sea in a panic.

A small crowd gathers and Thor remembers the dream he had at the hospital, how none of the people sitting around him had a mouth.

Thor closes the tab. Blank desktop.

He leans back in the chair and runs his hands over his face.

He lets out a long sign and then gets his secretary on the phone.

"Have Richardson come see me at my office," he says.

 

"Have you ever attempted suicide before?"

Gast is toying with the pen and it's the tiny clicking noises that accentuate the silence in the room. From the corner of his eye Loki can see the shadows cast by the short scrubs sleeves sticking to Gast's skin.

And it's Loki's own hands on the sheet spread across his lap, hospital bracelet with his name on it loose around his wrist and it's external. Everything is. His mind keeps insisting he turns his attention inwards but he can't. He tries going to that spot inside his mind where everything is grey yet familiar, but he can't. He sees the spot, and he tries to get close to it but he's pushed out and he can't even be confused about it because the painkillers won't let him feel as deeply as he'd like, they just make him feel tired and numb and empty and his mind insists on trying to access that part of him over and over again as if it didn't get the memo that it's an off limits area. So it's internal haze and it's visual and auditory details presenting themselves to him with this awful clarity his brain feels overwhelmed and he just wants to close his eyes and shut everything out.

He turns his hand over so his wrist is facing up and the little holes in the plastic bracelet show glimpses of sickly skin and indigo veins.

The sheet is crinkled and Loki blinks down at it because with the bits of shadows sticking to the fabric the small peaks look like white sand dunes and they seem to shift around when he moves his eyes. And he thinks where there's sand there has to be water too—an ocean, cool and quiet and dangerously deep.

"Don't we all," he finds himself answering, despite wanting to say nothing at all, "attempt suicide."

Then he adds after a long pause, "at one point in our lives, or the other."

Gast gives an attentive blink.

"We do?"

Gast shifts in his seat, sitting back in the chair, "would you like to elaborate on that."

Loki picks at his nails, "well, don't we?"

Gast's brows twitch in response, a you tell me expression on his face.

"Plenty of times," Loki continues, "sometimes even multiple times a day. We choose to end a friendship over certain principles, knowing we shouldn't for it'll hurt not only the other person but us as well, knowing we'll be left on our own and have no one and the loneliness would eat us alive. We choose to take this job instead of the other, even though we know it'll make us unhappy. We choose this person over another, even though we feel it, we know that they won't be good for us, and we choose them all the same, not despite it, but because of it, because we know it'll hurt us. We kill off bits of ourselves every day. Does that mean that we're all crazy?"

Loki coughs, wincing all the way through it cause his side hurts bad. He clears his throat and leans back against the headboard.

Gast considers this for a while, gaze leaping curiously from one of Loki's eyes to the other.

"I see what you're trying to get at," Gast says, "that losing bits of this—"

He taps the end of the pen against his heart, "—everyday, is like losing this—" he gestures toward his entire body.

"Because if this dies—" heart again. "Then this—"  body,  "can't go on existing. Are we on the same page here?"

Loki replies with a slight brow raise.

"Okay, I'll accept it, I'll accept it," Gast fixes the glasses on his nose, searching the ceiling with his eyes, "as an argument, though. A point of view."

He gives his lips a swift lick and nods at Loki, "very poetic."

Then he shakes his head, "but they're not the same. One is a metaphorical suicide. The other one is physical. And real."

His eyes go soft, pitying, "and very, very painful."

In a moment of rebellion, Loki says: "it only hurts if you botch it. If you're dead you can't feel anything."

Gast's lips part and he rolls the pen between his thumb and palm, studying him with a grave expression for a while. Loki can't help but feel like he got an answer wrong, like he failed at some test Gast was conducting without telling him.

Gast shifts in his seat, pressing the pen down onto the clipboard.

"So have you?" Gast asks again, "attempted suicide before?"

Enough curveballs. Loki shakes his head no.

Gast writes something down, blinking all concentrated down at the page.

"What happened?" he asks and it's said in such a quiet tone it makes Loki blink not sure if any words were even said at all.

Everything is blurry. He lost his glasses and now trying to focus his eyes on things makes his head hurt. The walls all around are just smears of peach color like sunrise fog and the door looks like a part of a tree. And the skies, graphite grey with wounds of blue.

Loki shakes his head again because it wasn't just this one thing, and explaining feels difficult.

"Did you plan it?" pages rustling, "says here the police didn't find a suicide note in your car. Was it a spontaneous act?"

His throat feels dry. There's a glass of water on the table but he doesn't want it.

"Not really. I've been flirting with the idea for a while now."

"Flirting. That sounds intimate. Has death been like a friend to you?"

Loki's eyes move across the sheet, "maybe."

"You've been feeling sad?"

Loki nods.

"So, sadness happened."

Loki looks out the window, "sadness happens to everyone. It arrives and sometimes it lingers. For some it's only a guest. For others it's a permanent resident."

More scribbling.

"Were you diagnosed with depression?"

"Not officially, no."

"So you're not talking to a health professional about this."

"No."

The pen malfunctions, only scratches the paper instead of leaving traces of ink. Gast tests it again in the corner of the page. Clicks it closed then open again. More testing until it works fine again.

"Not taking any anti depressants then."

Loki shakes his head again.

Gast nods. Places a period at the end of the sentence. Reads over his notes quickly.

He crosses one leg over the other, clipboard propped on his knee, some of the pages slightly dog-eared.  He rubs at the back of his neck and lifts his eyes from his notes, blinking over his glasses at the skies. He clicks his tongue.

"Ugh, look at the sky!"

The pale light coming in through the large windows keeps playing over Loki's face, its glow fluttering just at the corner his eye, wanting to be seen by him. It feels cool on his cheek like leaning the side of his face against a window at night when the glass is thrumming with the hushed cries of the cicadas and the nomad winds coming from the sea. It falls over his hands and makes ignoring them impossible and his gaze is drawn to their restlessness, to how alive they seem despite everything.

"I love it," Gast says, "the grey. Keeps you guessing. Not as obvious as blue. You know what I like to call days like these? Moments of divine suspension. Because it feels like everything just stops. Right in its tracks. And the beauty of it, the mind gets to wander between the was, and the is, and the will be. And it's like they all become one and the same and co-exist. You're walking along this path and it's the trees of will be and the sun of was and anything can happen. A little bit of November magic, I say."

Loki twirls the hospital bracelet around his wrist slowly, the plastic warm in some places and cool in others. There's his name on it, printed in a light grey font, large spaces between the letters.

Loki Laufeyson.

Tightning his jaw, Loki tugs on the bracelet. It spins round his wrist, dragging along his skin and some of his name goes out of sight as the bracelet moves.

Loki Laufe—

Another tug. Determination keeping him from blinking.

Loki—

He tugs on it again.

There, no name at all, just the bracelet's clasp visible.

Loki looks down at it, a mixture of victory and sadness in his heart.

"Wanna tell me what happened?"

The crunchy sound of palm trees shaking their leaves in the wind.

Loki's gaze skips across the sheet.

A red fish-shaped sign against the backdrop of the silent November horizon.

Another gaze skip.

Evenings in the library, walking through the aisles collecting silence on his fingertips.

Another.

Two missed calls—staring down at his phone screen in the stillness of his bedroom, the threat of an unlocked door at his back. A flower of fear In his heart.

Gast studies him for some time. Silence is a language too, and some people are good listeners.

"Are you gonna try again?"

Loki stares at the bracelet, fingers still holding on to the band, unmoving.

Is he?

Loki stays silent for a while.

Gast huffs out a sigh through his nose, closing the clipboard and settling it in his lap. His eyes move from Loki to search the skies, fingers tending to his watch and bracelet.

"You know," he says slowly, wetting his lips, "there was this man I knew. He was married. No kids. No kids because you think it's too early, it's too early and you never think you'll get to say it's too late. They've been married for four years. Lived in a nice little house in a lovely neighborhood."

Gast gestures with his hand like look!, "and right across the street in someone's yard, there was this almond tree. You know these blossom in gorgeous pink. Like cotton candy. Really beautiful. You couldn't just walk past it, you had to stop and look because it sprouted these giant, soft blooms everywhere. You'd cup a flower between your palms it'd feel like you're about to set a soul free."

He gives this little head shake, eyes moving over the grey horizon, "his wife, she loved that tree. She really did. He'd catch her sneaking out during the late afternoon hours, crossing the street to stand in the neighbor's yard just so she could watch it for a bit."

"You know that line, from Strawberry Fields Forever:  living is easy with eyes closed. Because reality happened. One year, she got sick. You're thinking cancer, you're right. 16 months of agony. 16 months."

Gast blinks, "and then she died. And it's like looking at the still body of a bird waiting to see the wings flutter. And that almond tree, it always reminded him of her. He'd stand in the kitchen window and watch it for hours. It was the only thing that kept him from—"

Gast taps his temple with a finger, "—losing his mind. And then one day. They cut it down. They cut down the almond and he couldn't cope. And who chops down a tree when it's in full bloom?"

"A neighbor found him. Saved his life. Cause he made a train track of his wrist. Almost bled out. After, there was a lot of anger. A lot of why am I still here I shouldn't be.  And the years passes and. The pain, it became a companion."

Loki blinks and his eyes shift up to his.

Gast sets the clipboard on Loki's bed. He leans forward and unclasps his watch. Removes it. Takes off the leather bracelet. Holds out his arm.

A long thick scar runs from the heel of his hand all the way to the middle of his forearm, raised and hard and ugly.

 

"Wanted to see me chie—whoa! What's with the atmosphere here, man? Feels like something died in here. Phew!"

Thor's standing with his back to Stu by the filing cabinet, flipping through a giant folder, pen between his teeth.

It's Stu's heavy I'm here you better know it footsteps and the sound of him jangling the handcuffs attached to his belt and Thor takes the pen out, tosses it onto the photocopy machine.

"Close the door," he says, clipped, and he can hear Stu suddenly coming to a halt in the middle of his office.

"Close the door you say?"

Thor wets his thumb, turns the page. He doesn't say anything cause there's nothing wrong with Stu's ears, there's something wrong with Stu's attitude and Thor doesn't need to repeat himself, Stu needs to learn to follow orders.

Stu whistles the X-Files theme.

"Now that sounds serious, my captain," he says.

Thor turns around, watches Stu taking a few steps backwards.

Stu holds on to the doorframe with both hands, lets his torso hang out the door and everyone looks up from their workstations.

"Did you hear that, fine people. It's closing the door time, and we know what that means. If I don't come out in 15 check under the floorboards. I repeat, check under the floorboards—"

And then Stu grabs his uniform's collar from behind, pretends that someone is yanking him back into Thor's office.

He lets out a shriek and scrunches up his face like he's gonna burst out sobbing any second now.

"It was nice knowing all of ya," he says, giving a well-acted cry hiccup, "Burt—"

He points at Burt from the research team who's looking at him 100% unimpressed, "Burt, you get my toilet paper collection, 'kay man? It may or not be cause you're an ass, who knows, right. But I leave them all to you. I'm pretty sure you'll figure out what to do with 'em."

Stu yanks on his collar just as Burt's giving him the middle finger and Stu slams the door in his face with a fuck you smile on.

When Thor gives him the look, Stu shrugs, "what? You know what they say: always leave breadcrumbs behind just in case."

When Thor keeps his serious look on Stu gives him a c'mon! look.

"Holy guacamole, you're not still pissed at me about yesterday, right."

Stu stands there with his palms facing up and Thor closes the folder without taking his eyes off him.

Stu gets it and points his thumb at the door, "want me to lock it too so they won't come barging in when they see you wringing my neck."

Thor turns to toss the folder onto the file cabinet from a short distance. It lands with a flutter of pages and Thor runs a palm over his hair.

He thinks about facing Stu and telling him about Loki—there's no way Stu wouldn't have mentioned it by now if he had known about it—but Thor finds that he can't say it looking Stu in the eye like look at this, this is all your fault cause it isn't just Stu's fault, it's his too.

So he starts piling up some folders he needs to go through later and he keeps his eyes down, watching his hands when he says: "the guy from the restaurant walked off Coronado Bridge yesterday."

Stu's super quick to say: "guy, what guy?"

"The guy you set me up with," Thor says, barely moving his lips at all, blinking down at the growing yellow folder tower.

There's this period of silence when Thor can actually hear the wheels turning in Stu's head and the fact that Stu has to think back and try and figure out who that guy was makes Thor's mouth turn downwards at the corners cause Loki was just forgotten about—takes a lot more effort to remember than it takes to forget. And it makes Thor's heart ache for him all of a sudden cause he feels like maybe one of the reasons Loki did it was because he was feeling alone and invisible and you get that feeling sometimes you think people can't see you but you convince yourself otherwise cause it seems absurd and unrealistic that you mean nothing to so many people—but the truth is, for some reason, you really are invisible, Stu's memory lapse proves it and it hurts.

"Hold the phone. Hold. The. Fucking. Phone. That guy I set you up with. That skinny guy at the Fish Market with the granny scarf and the eyeliner. That Ophelia something."

"Violets."

"Violets, yeah. That's right. The most unattractive username in the entire history of dating sites btw. Who gets a boner seeing a name like this. Like yeah, she sounds like a good fuck, right."

Thor slams the folder down hard, turning to look at Stu, "stop fucking around!  he walked off the fucking bridge, you get that?"

"Which bridge," Stu points out the window, "old Coronado?"

Thor's looks confirms it and Stu goes all deadpan: "and. Did he go splat."

"You think that's funny?"

"Err, yeah! Talk about stupidity. It's a 200 feet freefall."

Stu blinks at Thor who's staring at him dead serious.

"What you looking at me like that for," Stu flops down in the chair, "I didn't push him."

"It didn't need to be a physical push."

"Oh, what. Now you're saying it's my fault he jumped? What you wanna do, make me stand in the corner and think about what I've done. That's bullshit, I didn't do anything. His head was all messed up, whatcha blaming me for."

"He drowned," Thor says through his teeth, "his heart stopped."

"Well, duh! Of course he drowned, that's what happens when you're being an idiot around water. And an even bigger duh to the heart stopping thing, this is what happens when you drown. It's not a brain twister here. Did he stay dead, though, that's what I wanna know. Is he like haunting the Fish Market now swatting people over the wrist if they order something that's not vegan."

Thor slams his palms down so hard on the table that faces come peeking above their workstations. He's all in Stu's face and Stu stares up at him unblinking with this look that says whoa everything ok there captain how about you take a chill pill, but he doesn't actually say anything.

"You fucking idiot! Can you take this seriously. We're talking about someone's life here, it's not some stupid joke in your stupid head. He's in the hospital right now with fucking internal bleeding, you get that. He was dead for ten minutes and you're sitting here giving me a Saturday Night Live audition."

Stu breaks eye contact to look out the window cause people are watching Thor leaning across the table towering over him with Thor's badge dangling in front of his face. Stu grabs on to the armrests. It looks like he's about to bolt right out of the chair but he doesn't.

"Yeah, and what," he gives a shrug, "you gonna say it's what, the way I've treated him that made him go all skydiving without a parachute? What, cause I ruffled up his feathers a little bit. It was just a joke. Any other dude would have like punched me in the fucking balls and moved on without giving it a second thought. The way he handled it means there was something not quite right in the fuse box up here—" Stu taps his forehead, "for a long time. The born with it kinda thing. You don't go on killing yourself cause someone pulls a prank on you. If it were the case there'd be like a thousand tombstones with my name on 'em doing the hora in the graveyard right now."

Thor shakes his head, talking right in Stu's face, "you don't know what people go through. Some have it hard in life and shit like this makes them snap."

"Oh what," Stu gives him a c'mon smile, "you gonna tell me you went all Oprah on him and got him to tell you all 'bout his life between CT scans. What, you're an expert on suicide cases now?"

"You can say what you want. Talk circles around me. But you can't talk me into thinking that the way you treated him was okay."

"The way I've treated him?" Stu gives him a oh hello look,"what about the way you treated him. You weren't exactly sunshine and daisies, mister. You looked him over like he was a 3 days old slice of pizza you find in the dumpster after some cat pissed all over it. Like, talk about being cold, man. Did you even stop to think that maybe he came over there looking for prince charming and all he got was you being all sour instead and went fuck it and took a swan dive between two passing boats. How about that as a sit on your conscience scenario if you're all into this game of finger pointing going all film noir on me here. Feeling guilty yet?"

"Yeah, I do," Thor says, smacking his knuckles against the table, a nervous habit, "I do feel guilty for this. For not stepping up when you stopped acting like a cop and started acting like a bully. What did you want him to do? Turn around and punch you in the mouth? He's a civilian, you're a police officer. He goes ahead and does that and you get him on the floor and cuff him on the spot and yeah maybe people go abuse of power but he still ends up at the station and gets a court hearing for hitting a cop. It's a fine or jail time, doesn't matter, he ends up losing anyway even if he stands up for himself. There was nothing he could have done in this situation and I should have stepped in—"

"Well, why didn't you! You're giving me all the shoulda coulda but you didn't do anything. Maybe I was mean, but you were indifferent. Now you tell me which one is worse."

"I was trying to save your ass!"

Was it just that?

"Aw now that's sweet."

As Thor pushes himself away from the table he thinks of course that's not the whole reason. Anger and shame, too, kept him from doing the right thing. He chose to save face instead of help somebody and it's something he finds is hard to live with.

Thor moves to pop out the surveillance CD out of the computer and Stu's eyes follow his movements, now sitting back in the chair.

"What happened with your shoulder there."

Thor doesn't even look at it. He hears the plastic wrap taped over the bandages crackling as he pops open the CD case. Stu must have noticed the bandage bulging out under his uniform. Thor sets the CD in the case, snaps it shut without saying anything.

Stu's eyes go wide and his mouth falls open when he gets it.

"You went in after him," he says, "you crazy, man. He wanted to die."

A pause and then: "were you on patrol?"

Thor sets the case onto a pile of papers, moves to hit print on the report he typed up after he watched the footage, "yeah."

Stu gives a sideways grin, "you gave him CPR?"

Thor feeds some pages into the printer.

"Wow. Very Baywatch. You sure he didn't fake the whole drowning thing just to get you to put his lips on him."

Thor has had enough. Watching the printed pages flying out one after the other he says, "I need you to take some time off."

A slight change in Stu's facial expression: from taking the piss to there's no way I've heard that right.

He leans forward in the seat, "I'm sorry, what."

Thor plucks the last page out, pulls open a drawer to get the stapler, "you heard me. I'll have someone give you a call when I want you back."

He staples the pages together, "without pay."

Stu processes it for a while, eyes huge.

"Why," he says finally.

"Let things cool off for a bit. Let the dust settle. Keep low for a while. You're fucking lucky no one filed a complaint against you."

"Whoa, whoa."

Stu rises up from the chair, backing away slowly, pointing his finger at Thor, "now wait a second. I'm getting this two faces to a coin vibe here and I don't like this, man. I don't like this at all. You turning on me?"

Thor drops the stapler into the drawer, slams it shut with his knee, "rumors will start going round, people will talk—"

"Fuck people, man. I don't care about that, I do care about that sticker that showed up on my back all of a sudden saying stab here friend. What's up with that. You ashamed of me? I'm tarnishing your superhero reputation or what."

"I'm trying to keep you out of trouble you fucking idiot."

"Nah," Stu gives a giant smile, the panicked kind, "you're trying to fuck me over, that's what you're doing. You're choosing this guy over me. You telling me to take some time off, we both know what that means, it's the career killer."

No more smiles and Stu stares at him with this look like look what you just did.

"I took a bullet for you," Stu says, Adam's apple jerking up and down.

Thor puts down the report.

"Yeah," Stu says, voice cracking, "remember that. Blasted my spleen, turned it into fucking porridge. You still got that memory in your head or did all that sea water flush it out."

He gulps, "I saved your life, man. And you sending me home? Not cool. Not cool at all."

Thor's gaze moves down Stu's body. He remembers. 3 days in the ICU, major blood loss. They didn't have enough of Stu's blood type for the transfusions so Thor donated for the first day cause they matched. It was Thor squeezing Stu's hand giving him a I'm here and you're going to get through this nod and smile.

"That's an order, Richardson," Thor says.

He holds out his hand for Stu's badge and gun.

Without blinking, not taking his eyes off him, Stu puts the gun in Thor's hand, holster and everything. Last comes the badge. All eyes are on them, silence in the hall.

"Well," Stu says, "you know how that song goes, right. Lookie here oh friend of mine, we stepped in shit just before the finish line."

He gives Thor a big smile, his eyes dead.

"Hope you have an amazing day captain," he says and exits Thor's office, closing the door behind him softly, leaving Thor to stare down at his badge and gun.

 

Thor clocks out earlier. He's already driving to the hospital by 7 pm.

He went on patrol again with the guys. Some gave him careful looks while the others just acted normal.

Was clear out there today. No rain. The lamps went on when the skies started growing dimmer. It was following routine on board, crew men passing him by, talking monotonously on the radio. They passed under the bridge twice, to and fro and nothing happened. Its shadow cooled the back of Thor's neck and there was the weight of it across Thor's shoulders and back but no unusual occurrences. What did he expect would happen? Did he expect it to happen all over again, like a video you put on shuffle and it's this endless loop of the same thing: appear on the ledge, walk off it, get pulled out of the water then wheeled away on a stretcher, then appear on the ledge again, walk off it… sometimes in color, sometimes in black and white, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes all sped up. Because terrible things like this, the mind keeps replaying them, you can't get rid of the images and why does it happen? So you can make sense of it? Is it just a desire to fix the wrong that was done, insert something that was missing or take something out in order to change that lethal chain of events?

When the ship docked, coming off the ramp, Thor stepped on something. There under the sole of his boot was a piece of plastic, what was left of a sterile pack you keep a syringe in.

Thor lifted the sole off the ground keeping the heel in place and the wind picked it up and Thor watched as the plastic tumbled and rolled towards the water. It toppled over the edge and fell into the mumbling waves. Thor watched it floating away.

He took the same route to the Sharp Memorial Hospital he had taken yesterday. All he could see of it then was rain and streetlamps; today it was colorful shop fronts and palm trees and light light light. The sun was setting and he was driving with the window partly open and it was this sweet dusty sound everywhere coming from above like wheat stalks rocking from side to side and when he poked his head out the window to look it was sparkly blue streamers hanging from wires and lampposts, flapping in the wind.  And a part of his mind tried thinking back trying to remember what event was it that called for streamers and the other part was mulling a thought over—why is it that some people feel the loneliest when the sun is out?

He stopped at a red light, cracking open the glove compartment to get his sunglasses. And it was toys strung from rearview mirrors of neighboring cars, the powerful engine making his ribs rattle and buzz, some sticky melancholic song playing from the right clinging like honey. And then someone at Thor's window.

Thor stopped mid putting the shades on, looked the man over. He was old, wet lips and sugar powder colored brows, sticking his face through the window.

"Change," he said and Thor's gaze wandered over the tattered jacket he had on, his messy hair, his sunken eyes.

He offered the man 20 dollars, green paper crackling in the wind.

The old man pushed Thor's hand back through the window without touching the money.

Thor frowned behind the dark lenses.

"You said you wanted change," he said.

The man shook his head, squinting against all that bright orange glow.

"Change," he said and gave Thor a meaningful look.

The light turned green and the man stepped away from the car. He stood there in his scarf and cut-off gloves, and his smile was a shadowy horizon.

 

Thor takes the elevator up to Loki's room.

It's his finger tapping away on the button board and he curls that hand into a fist and presses his forehead against it, closing his eyes for a moment.

Stepping out of the elevator at the second floor, he moves round a nurse and a doctor going through some papers, gets out of the way of a cart being wheeled down the hall.

He rounds a corner and spots a young man coming out of Loki's room, clicking the door shut behind him.  It's Johnny in a black and white striped sweater and running mascara, reaching into his bag to pull out some tissues and dab at his eyes and nose.

Thor gets two seconds to wonder who he is before Johnny spots him. His eyes flash and slinging the bag over his shoulder, he hurries towards Thor.

Thor gives the closed door a quick look, "is he awa—"

SLAP!

The stinging blow makes Thor's head snap to the side so fast the walls tilt around him. The sound makes a few heads turn.

Thor clenches his jaw and stares down at a cluster of tiles, hands curling into fists.  Nostrils flaring, he sees red, but at the same time he knows he deserves it.

Johnny looks up at him, blinking furiously, "how does that feel, getting slapped in the face like that. Cause that's what Loki got, a slap to the face from you and from your friends. He expected a little bit of humanity and all he got was some stupid shit prank."

Johnny sucks his lips in and gives him a cruel smile, "getting bored at the office so you and your other uniform wearing friends go out to mock people, to make yourselves feel more manly? Is that how this works."

Johnny wipes at his eyes with a shaking hand, face falling, "do you have any idea what it feels like to call someone you love for hours and they don't pick up and when you turn on the TV in the morning you see their car on the news, stranded on a bridge with this headline man jumps off Coronado Bridge  flashing there. And you start calling every hospital to find out if they're alive or lying in a morgue somewhere and you can't stop crying driving from one hospital to another and you think the last time you saw them you told them you'll see them tomorrow and there's a tomorrow for you but there was not supposed to be a tomorrow for them and they didn't say anything to you about it they didn't want you to hurt—"

Johnny's face crumples and he collapses into a chair, bag falling to the floor, hands covering his face.

Thor turns his head towards him, eyes still lowered.

He reaches over to touch Johnny's shoulder but Johnny slaps it away and hides his face again.

Thor stands there with his head down and what can he tell Johnny, that the whole prank thing wasn't his fault, that he wasn't involved in it, that he had nothing to do with it? What good would that do.

Collecting his bag, Johnny stands up and walks up to Thor, stopping in front of him on his way to the elevator.

His voice shakes when he says: "I'm sure you think you're god right now cause those hands of yours got his heart beating again. But this—"

He points at Thor's mouth, "this thing right here, seeing something like this happening and not saying anything, being a coward, not doing anything about it, this is what got him to do this in the first place. Your indifference killed him. You think about that for a while."

Johnny shoulders past him.

Jaw clenched tight, Thor stares at the floor. He can feel his cheek growing hotter and hotter. The heat spreads all the way up to his ear, stings just at the corner of his mouth where the heel of Johnny's hand got him.

Putting one hand on his hip, Thor lifts only his eyes to the elevator. He watches Johnny stepping into it and he think maybe he shouldn't be here. It's a get the hell outta here you're responsible for this and you have no right to be here slap that he got and it gets him to see that there's this line separating Loki's life from his. It's not a merging thing, it's a you can only go this far—this thing that happened, it didn't link your lives together. You giving him life doesn't make you a part of it. And he thinks how easy it is to believe  you're living someone else's life when you're just running from your own. Him investing himself in Loki's crisis made him forget about his own problems for a while and is he using it as an escape mechanism.

Thor closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. He stands like that for a while until he hears a small cough coming from Loki's room.

The latch slipped and Thor can see part of the wall and a bit of the bedside table.

He runs a hand over his hair and walking up to it he pushes the door in slowly.

Loki's sitting up and when he sees Thor, his hand comes up to his mouth and his fingers touch his lips without him being aware of it, remembering the feeling of Thor's mouth on his.

"Is it okay if I come in?" Thor asks.