When Norah was seventeen, she invited a boyfriend over to her place when her parents went out for the evening. Technically this was against her parents’ rules, but she was practically an adult anyways, right?
As they crunched on popcorn and laughed at a stupid movie, she could feel the air bristle with Loki’s presence. She could tell he was agitated, but ignored him. Later as she clumsily made out on the couch with her guest, things started to move too quickly.
“Wait, Chris,” she whispered, pushing him back gently.
He persisted, trying to undo her jeans button.
“I said no. What is wrong with you?”
The boy tried to further force himself on her and she screamed, shoving him roughly to the floor. Suddenly Loki appeared behind him, ferociously choking the teen and snarling like a hellcat with a mad grin.
The boy struggled, sputtering, trying desperately to pry off the unseen hands that held his throat in a crushing grip. He tore at his neck frantically, scratching himself hard enough to draw blood.
“You’re going to kill him! Stop!” Norah cried.
Loki hesitated, then dropped the boy to the ground with a dull thud.
“What the fuck was that?” he screamed, gasping for air.
“My guardian angel, you asshole. Now get the hell out of here!”
Clumsily he gathered his shaking limbs underneath him to flee. “Freak!” he hissed at her, frightened beyond the pale.
“You tell anyone and you’re dead!” she retorted, throwing his pants at him and slamming the front door.
Loki reappeared, sitting at the foot of the stairwell. He was panting from his efforts, hair mussed.
“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, his face drawn bowstring-tight with anger.
“I’ll be okay,” she said, slumping down against the door. “Thank the gods for you,” she sighed, running a trembling hand over her mouth.
He gave a haughty snort and tamed a chaotic lock of ink-black hair behind his ear. “I doubt any god but my dull brother is thankful for me.”
“I saw him on tv again, waving his stupid hammer around. What a dilhole.”
There was a long beat of silence between them before either spoke again.
“If you are ever in any grave danger…if there is another attack on this realm, for instance…you must find him. He will protect you where I cannot, Norah Fall.” Loki’s eyes shone with tension. He was loathe to admit his limitations – and even more hesitant to recommend his brother’s company to anyone, most especially to her.
“Promise me,” he insisted.
She drew in a long breathe. “I promise.”
“It was lucky I could muster enough energy to incapacitate that fool. What were you thinking, associating with such dregs?”
“Dregs? He’s just an idiot classmate with too many hormones. It got out of hand, but I could have taken care of myself. Stop treating me like I’m some helpless little Asgardian damsel in distress. You don’t have to defend my honor!”
Loki stood abruptly, fists balled with shimmering green magic swirling about them.
“Helpless?” he ground out between clenched teeth. “Any Asgardian shield maiden would have decapitated him before he could have blinked. What he got from me was a slap on the wrist by comparison.”
Norah started to shoot off a nasty response but he cut off her reply.
“And you’re a stupid, silly girl to think I defend your honor. No, darling. I do not defend your honor. I defend mine. YOU. ARE. MINE!” he barked, tendrils of his magic now spinning dangerously all around him.
Shock chilled down Norah’s spine but before she could utter a word, Loki’s projection flickered like a dying light bulb, struggling to maintain the last bit of its luminescence. He’d stretched himself too far, used too many words, used the last of some immeasurable reservoir of strength.
“You’ve exhausted yourself. Go rest.”
He gave a thin, wistful smile and faded entirely.
The next morning she found a section of newspaper folded on her bedroom desk. An advertisement for a martial arts center was circled, accompanied by a note scrawled in the margins in Loki’s familiar hand.
Tae kwan do, capoiera, and tai chi will teach you (respectively) to be deadly, nimble, and focused. You have six months.
It was signed as usual with an elaborately swooped and curling ornamental ‘L.’
Norah gasped in disbelief at his audacity. Loki had never interfered in her life directly. Certainly he had never demanded that she pursue something, though not surprisingly sometimes his interests did influence her own. But the same could be said of him; most of what Loki seemed to know about “Midgard,” as he called it, came from her.
Almost instinctively her first urge was to refuse his request, if it could even be considered such. It was outrageous, not to mention costly.
“Villain!” she cursed, stomping her foot, just as she did when he beat her in Hnefetafl.
Yet his declaration last night had stunned her and she couldn’t help but feel the queasy unease of disappointment. If she was reading his vague missive correctly, Norah wouldn’t see him for half a year. Had using his projection physically taxed him that much? He’d never been away so long. She worried about him – about what he was hiding from her and what she would say when he returned. She consoled herself with the thought that at least this break would give her the necessary time to digest what ‘being his’ meant, or more importantly, what she herself wanted it to mean. It all seemed so confusing. She was still a kid. He was an immortal god. Did he expect her to be his vestal priestess, for crying out loud? She loved him to pieces, but there was no way in Hel she was going to worship the man! Loki had told her one too many fart jokes for her to ever take him that seriously.
In the months that followed, Loki’s absence proved more difficult than she anticipated. There wasn’t a day that went by where Norah didn’t catch herself talking to him, though never once did she feel the telltale crackle of magic energy in the air that announced his presence to her. She coped by throwing herself into the martial arts classes he had “suggested” and wrote long letters to him. She’d leave these and other little gifts out in his favorite sunny spot by the window – dog eared books she had enjoyed, a goofy Lego action figure in his likeness. Occasionally they would inexplicably disappear and it warmed her to know he’d transported them to wherever he was. She tried to cultivate her friendships at school, but she struggled to invest herself fully in others knowing how soon they would all scatter to the wind. It was her senior year of high school and the more Norah tried to be a good mate, her thoughts increasingly turned to college and what the future might bring.
She should have known better when the second alien attack struck in London. Loki never spoke out of turn, never uttered something that wasn’t somehow significant. Hadn’t he slyly warned her of impending planetary doom? The least the jerk could do is come straight out with it, not casually drop a “Oh hey you might want to call Thor when aliens attack” and slink back into whatever intergalactic gateway he used to beam up to her side.
Norah was studying for final exams at her friend Rachel’s house when the girl’s mother tore through their study group screaming to turn on the news.
“Oh my god! Oh my god!” she kept repeating, pointing stupidly at the television.
Norah froze. She didn’t dare breathe. They all watched as a terrifyingly familiar portal opened over England.
“Switch it to BBC,” Norah calmly asked.
“What? Oh my god we’re all going to die!” the woman incoherently blubbered, turning up the volume instead.
Norah carefully pried the remote from her hand and changed the channel.
“They’ll have live coverage on BBC,” she explained. “Let’s just see first what is going on. Maybe it won’t affect us?”
For the next four hours they sat glued to that tv set, watching with bated breath. The broadcast kept replaying brief footage of Thor dropping through the hole in the sky, but nothing seemed to be happening. A giant spaceship settled over London, yet no army marched forth.
“Where are the Avengers?” Rachel cried. “Where ARE they? What is even happening!?”
Norah felt lightheaded and flashbacks of New York seemed as fresh in her mind as the day they happened. Her phone lay on her knee at the ready, a number for the creepy SHIELD agent who had once grilled her dialed, waiting for her to press ‘send.’ If necessary, she was ready to give herself up, if only in the hopes the agency would connect her with Thor. She figured they probably wouldn’t help her, but she owed it to Loki to try. Part of her kept hoping she’d catch a glimpse of him on screen, yet what would that mean? She didn’t know whether to be relieved if she saw him or even more frightened.
Loki had intimated over the years that he may have, quote, “inadvertently encouraged,” the first invasion, but he insisted it would have happened with or without him. There were mitigating circumstances, he claimed, although he refused to elaborate. Norah knew this to be true, otherwise what could explain why he stiffened at the mention of those events, or why he unconsciously pulled at the vambrace that covered an especially nasty scar on his left wrist? There was far more to the story than anyone knew, and whatever it was, it was seriously bad business.
In the end, Loki blessedly didn’t appear on screen, either for or against the alien horde. Thor halted the incursion with the help of a smallish, mouse-haired physicist and the realm was saved yet again. Once the excitement drew to a close and her friends realized they were safe, the girls began to chatter away giddily about the God of Thunder and his golden mane and fluttering red cape.
“Hey guys, I’m gonna head out,” Norah announced to a completely uninterested audience.
“Uh hmm,” Rachel replied. “Oh, and did you hear how tall he is in real life? You know what that means!”
They were too preoccupied to even hear her. Norah quietly packed her bag and left without another word.
Seasons came and went. She graduated school with flying colors and spent the summer in Sweden to learn more about Nordic culture. It was a phenomenal time, full of far flung travel and European nightclubs and amazing art galleries. Rachel and a couple other friends accompanied her, but she couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t the same. She missed Loki.
Soon enough it was time to start college. He’d now been gone well beyond his promised six months. In the early days of his absence, Norah had almost been grateful to have time to think about her relationship with the opaque, mysterious god and where he fit into her life. Now all she could do was pray that she would ever have him in it at all.
In her darkest moments she’d beseeched the sky, crying up to Heimdall, whom she now knew actually stood guard over the Nine Realms. She hoped beyond hope that he might take pity and send her a sinister sylph in emerald leather. At first she tried asking sweetly. Nothing happened. Then for a spell she attempted variations of jokes about how Heimdall might benefit from watching Loki screw up in Midgard or how Loki was such a jokester he probably couldn’t even run Ragnarok right. Maybe she was a lousy comedian or perhaps Heimdall lacked a sense of humor, because that failed to work as well. Norah wanted to hurl insults in the end, but she figured that might be a bad way to ingratiate herself with Asgard’s elite, so she turned to Frigga instead. She read up on praise poems offered to the goddess and made her garlands of flowers over which she poured honey and left under ash trees in offering. It felt completely stupid, but she also knew there was a chance, however small, that one of these Viking space aliens might actually hear her and throw her a frickin’ bone. It turned out she didn’t have much longer to wait.
True to form, just when she least expected Loki, he appeared as though he had never been gone at all.
“What a dump!” she heard him exclaim in disgust.
“I know, but it’s supposed to be part of the experience,” she answered automatically. Norah suddenly paused over the box she had been unpacking in her dorm room. After all this time, she still imagined the silken voice in her head. She chastised herself inwardly for thinking her god had returned. Just to prove how silly she was, Norah tossed her long dark hair back in a huff and cast a glance over her shoulder. What she saw made her nearly collapse of a heart attack.
Loki stood in the common room, towering over her in full royal armor, larger than life. He gave her a caddish, lopsided smile. “Miss me, poppet?” he asked, cocking his ridiculous horned helmet to the side.
Norah dropped the box in her hands with a crash and bolted to him.
“Loki! Look at you!!” she squeaked. She wanted to throw her arms around his neck – or punch him in the shoulder. She wasn’t sure which. If only he could be solid for once.
Norah scurried to shut the door to the bustling hallway where parents and freshman were similarly busy moving in.
“I believe I owe you a belated birthday gift. But,” he said, popping the final consonant with a click of his teeth, “You have to show me you’ve earned it.”
The smile dropped off Norah’s face. “What? Cmon!” Norah circled him, trying to see if he concealed something behind his back. He did have something in his hand, tucked behind his long cloak.
“Ah, ah, ah! No cheating!”
“Says the King of Cheats! Show me, Lo!”
“That is absolutely no way to speak to a god. Now let’s see how the young shield maiden progresses,” he said with glee, practically prancing in excitement.
She tried bargaining, explaining that there wasn’t enough space in her crowded double suite to demonstrate her fighting skills. Loki was having none of it. Unfortunately, that meant waiting around until she could schedule a room in the practice gym.
By the time she was finally able to squeeze a slot into her schedule, Loki was no longer giddy about the test. She went through her paces in front of a very grave looking apparition and it made her unusually nervous. He studied her movements carefully. When she bowed to him after her demonstration, he mumbled something disparaging about her “idiot mortal” teachers. Only she knew Loki’s projected form didn’t mutter unless he intended for it to be heard.
“Seriously? You’re freaking me out over there Mister Stern and Serious. It’s not helping that you clearly think I suck.”
“It is not you, darling. You’re clearly just trying to do what you’ve been taught; it is the flaws of your so-called masters that concern me. Begin again,” he ordered.
“Loki, you realize you have been gone almost a year? That might not seem like much to an immortal being but I missed you terribly! I haven’t been waiting around for you to return just to play ninja with you. Don’t you want to know how I’ve been?”
“Again!” he barked sharply, cutting short her pleas. Norah shook her head in dismay and acquiesced. Loki stopped her multiple times to correct her stances, shifting an elbow in an inch, nudging her heel outward. She quickly found her movements felt far more fluid and connected as she kicked and punched her way through the air.
“Better. Now the Tai Chi. Let’s try it together.” Loki bowed and began to mirror her every move, copying the measured paces as her exact opposite. They glided effortlessly across the mats in a strange meditative dance. When she finished the routine, Norah felt more relaxed than she had in ages. She felt whole again. Not realizing she’d closed her eyes halfway through the exercise, Norah opened them to find Loki had popped away, leaving a polished wood box in the middle of the floor.
She knelt down to inspect it. The wood had an extraordinary luster and the top was engraved with the ornate helm and crest of Loki’s divine heraldry. Norah ran her fingers over the deep etchings and swallowed as she unfastened the latch.
She gasped, unable to believe what lay before her.
Nine razor sharp, perfectly deadly throwing knives gleamed back up at her. The marbling in the Damascus steel was so fine and precisely hewn that it resembled the bark of a sacred oak; the blades were so immaculately crafted that these ribbons and swirls in the metal reflected the light in dazzling rainbows. She suspected they might be enchanted and didn’t dare touch them until Loki explained their provenance.
“Thank you,” she finally said, barely audible. He was still somewhere nearby. He gave no reply. Instead she felt him ghost a kiss at her temple and dissipate into the ether.