by the look on your face the burden's on your back Who: Nish and Rafael What: Catching up. Where: Pax Letale beachfront, Sunday morning after yoga When: October 29th
Sunlight beamed brightly down on them. Rafael basked in it, stretching his sweat-slick body out on the mat below. The sand was warm even through the thin material of his yoga mat; he reached off of its edge and plunged his fingertips into the soft, white earth, scratching catlike at the ground. Thomas had packed up his things; the rest of the class were following after him. But Rafe was content to linger, to enjoy the warmth and light and feeling good down to his very core.
He spotted Nish on the other side of the class, more visible now that the gathered throng was dissipating. He waved to her, flashing a welcoming smile.
Nish happened to look up just as he did and smiled back, a truly happy smile, and finished towelling off her neck while walking over to him. She'd wanted to talk to him ever since she and James patched things up last weekend, but hadn't had the opportunity until now.
“Hey,” she greeted him. She seemed to radiate happiness, and it was all James’ fault. “I've been wanting to talk to you...about things. Do you have a minute?”
Nodding, Rafe scooted over toward the end of his mat, and folded his legs neatly beneath him. He patted the vacated space just beside him. "I do," he answered, beaming up at her. "Have a seat. Or did you want to go somewhere else? There's a little bar a little walk up from here, if you want to get some breakfast or something."
She sat next to him, crossing her legs, a slight jolt making her hesitate at the word ‘bar.’ “No, here is fine; it’s beautiful out today.” She looked over at him still smiling, though she forced herself to tone it down. “A lot’s happened, and I’m not exactly sure where to start,” she said. After a pause, she finally decided.
“I remember,” she told him, catching his eyes. “All of it...Loki, Freyr…Fenrir. Everything.” She took a breath and looked down at her hands in her lap. “My therapist told me I’d blocked out something traumatic, but...I don’t think that’s what happened. Loki says those memories were stolen from me. Something...pushed him away from me, and his memories went with him.”
Rafe's smile faded; a small crease appeared in his brow. His voice had lowered, as though he feared they might be overheard. The class had disbanded, even their instructor wandered off to parts unknown, but countless events centered on Pax had taught Rafe to be cautious.
"What could do that?" he asked. "I don't understand."
She shook her head, “I don’t know, but that’s why he was so angry at first when he came back. He saw everyone as a threat.” She sighed and looked down at her hands. “I don’t know how it happened...I don’t think I ever knew. But it was shortly after we broke up.” That brought to mind other things she felt she needed to tell him, before he found out on his own.
“Uhhm...there’s more. I think the reason I can remember now is because I…Loki has been reunited with his wife.” She winced a little at how weird that must sound, but seeing as how they were discussing gods and mysterious memory loss, it couldn’t be that weird. “She’s…he’s my ex, James.” She smiled softly, thinking about how pronouns were going to be a bitch in their relationship.
Rafael blinked doeishly. A small smile played on his lips. "James? The James who just moved in?" She nodded, and he shook his head, chuckling at the seeming coincidence; but after a second thought, he realized there were very few coincidences in their strange building. "I helped him unpack a bit. He seems very friendly."
Nish’s smile widened a little. “He told me,” she said, a sense of relief coming out of nowhere. She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous about telling him who James was to her, but now it seemed silly that she had been. They’d both moved on months ago, there was no reason to worry about telling him.
She bit her lip, hesitating, and then dove in with the rest. “Actually...this is going to sound really…” she cleared her throat, glancing nervously to check no one else was around who could listen in. “Loki...took over,” she said, “and he...well, it’s been centuries, apparently, since he and his wife…” she winced a little, hoping he would get the idea. “Her name is Sigyn,” she added, “and she seems to have Loki’s sense of humour.”
Rafael laughed, raising one hand to cover his mouth. "I'm sorry," he said. "It isn't funny, but it sort of is, isn't it. I do hope you both enjoyed yourselves. Or… all four of you, I suppose." An impish light gleamed in his eyes; he looked almost boyish, happy in a way he had not been in the better part of a year. "That's good, Nish. Really. Congratulations. Is it safe to assume he's not an ex anymore?"
She laughed when he did, definitely seeing the humour in the situation, as she was meant to. “Yeah, we had a long, long talk, and...things are different now. Better.” She smiled again, practically glowing with happiness. But then a cloud passed over the sun and her face fell just a little.
“But...what if all of this, James and I, what if it isn’t real?” she asked, looking over at Rafe, searching his expression as if he had the answers. She’d said as much to James, and he’d done his best to soothe her worries, but...it was an idea she couldn’t quite shake.
“I know for certain that Loki was with me for a lot longer than a few months. Now that I have my memories back...I remember him from when I was a child. What if...the only reason I was attracted to James in the first place is because Loki recognized his wife when we met? What if what I’m feeling is all a lie, and it’s not me?”
Already Rafe was shaking his head. "I don't think that's how it works," he said. His sincerity shone in his face, in the steady gaze he leveled at hers. "You and I liked one another… we aren't right for each other, but we had fun in spite of that. And from everything I've read, Loki and Freyr have no reason to feel that way. We should've nearly hated one another, but we didn't." He reached across, giving her leg a reassuring pat.
"It's a weird situation. I've had similar thoughts before. But I think Gabe's right. I think they're part of us, but we aren't bound to them in that way. We're more than just them. Our choices are ours. Whatever James felt for you, or feels now… you have to trust that it's him."
She nodded, letting his words work their way into her. “James said as much to me, I guess I just need time to sort it all out,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I told him about who Loki is, how...he’s the villain, but he said that wasn’t me. I’m not Loki, but he does share my head. I’m just so afraid of turning into him. I guess it’s good I’m dating a psychiatrist,” she grinned. Rafe could not help but chuckle once more.
She looked up at him, took a deep breath and sighed it out slowly, as if to purge those anxious thoughts. Even just being around him like this relaxed her, and now she knew that was Freyr’s influence at work. “The love I felt for you...I know now that it must have been because of Freyr, at least at first,” she said. “You felt…right, to me, and then when we got together, you were so kind and warm...I wanted more of that. I tricked myself into thinking it was romantic love, but it was something else. It was more...belonging. Kinship.”
Rafael smiled, and it was as bright and sunny as the deity within him had ever been. He slid an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into tight, if sideways, hug, and she leant her head on his shoulder in return. "There's nothing wrong with belonging," he said. "I'm still your friend, Nish, and I'm glad you know you can still talk to me. It sounds like James is good for you, though. And if he's good for Loki, too, then that's an added bonus, right?" She chuckled softly and nodded, sitting up again.
“Yeah; I’ve learned that Sigyn seems to know how to handle him, which is...useful,” she added.
Nodding, he shifted again, bringing his hands to rest in his lap. He didn't want to broach the subject, but now seemed as good a time as any. Given his own struggle, how it reared its head when he least expected or wanted it, he ached to speak with someone else who understood. He cleared his throat, uncomfortable, and forced himself to ask.
"And the, um… the drugs? How are you doing, lately?"
She looked over at him, her face falling just a little as she recognized his tone of voice. “I’m going to meetings,” she said softly, fidgeting with her own hands in her lap. “It’s hard sometimes, especially when I’m stressed or upset. Talking to people can help, but...they’re all strangers.” Now it was her turn to be uncomfortable. In the spirit of openness between them, she felt that she could tell him what she hadn’t even told James. She told herself she didn’t want to worry him, but she was really just scared to admit it to anyone, especially herself.
“I’ve been…dying for a drink lately,” she confessed, picking at the edge of her shoe with one nail. “It started just after Loki came back, and it’s getting harder every day. It’s him, I know it is,” she said, looking up at Rafe with a frown, “in all the stories he’s a drunk, and so I guess that’s why…” she shrugged, even as Rafael began to shake his head. “It’s a little easier to resist the drugs, though...Lucas told me it would be too much for my heart if I did it again. But the thought of just...getting horribly drunk...sometimes it’s all I can do to hold myself back.”
"I understand," Rafe began. "I really do. But I'm glad you're going to meetings. I, um… I got into an outpatient sort of program. Meetings are difficult, but this is a good little group. Very private. A lot of them have… sort of high profile careers, you know? So I trust them to keep quiet about me going there…" He laughed, a soft blush creeping over his cheeks. "That sounds so narcissistic.” Nish smiled softly and shook her head, putting a hand on his knee. “I just… you know how it is, I think. Right? So if you ever want to come, maybe we could help each other."
She smiled and nodded, thinking for a moment before looking up at him. “I think I’d like that,” she said. “I went to one of those after...when I was released from the hospital. It was nice. Safe. It was always the same people, so I didn’t feel quite as...exposed.” It was hard for her to describe exactly how that felt, but she was sure he knew what she meant. “Maybe I can ask my therapist for a referral. It would be nice to go to a group where I already have a friend.” She found his hand and laced her fingers with his, “I’m glad I can talk to you about this,” she said quietly, “I don’t really know anyone else who really understands.”
James drank, probably a little more than average, but he’d never had a problem with it like she had. His smoking was a mild annoyance to her, but she couldn’t fault him his vice in the face of all of hers. He’d never struggled with addiction, never overdosed, never been to group therapy, as a patient rather than a psychiatrist. She understood that he knew what she was going through, but he didn’t have the experience to truly understand. Not like Rafe did.
Rafael's thoughts ran nearly parallel to hers. He squeezed her hand, glad of this moment, of this bond they could still share. "I'll text you the information," he said. "I go once a week, sometimes more if I'm feeling like I really need it. Just let me know when you're interested. We could drive over together, if you wanted."
She smiled and squeezed his hand back, “I’d like that,” she said, then picked herself up. “I gotta go shower; I have a date,” she said with a bit of a blush. She and James were meeting for lunch, like an actual couple. She looked down at him and her expression softened. “Thanks, for listening and...being a friend.”
"Any time," Rafe answered. His face showed his sincerity; he smiled up at her. "Have fun. And tell James I said hello. We should, you know, do a double date some time."
“I will,” she said, and then nodded, an amused smile gracing her lips, “and we should,” she added happily, waving at him and then turning to head back to their building.
Then he lay back on his yoga mat, his toes buried in the sand; and as he watched her go, that earnestly contented smile still brightened his sun-bronzed face.