Thank U Who: Nish and Rafael What: Friends lean on each other, and finally laugh together. Where: Closed Psychotherapy group, then a nearby coffee shop. When: Thursday, November 2, 2017 (after this )
The meeting ended, participants started leaving, but Nish stayed in her seat, unshed tears in her eyes, avoiding looking at anyone. She was new to the group, and it usually took her a few meetings to be comfortable enough to speak, but she’d needed desperately to talk to somebody about what had happened with the keys a few weeks ago.
She’d shared, perhaps overshared in her opinion, about her recent thoughts about Heather, and how her sister’s death was the flashpoint for her alcohol and drug abuse, though she was careful to leave out anything about what had actually happened to trigger those thoughts, or how she’d found out about her sister being in treatment. She doubted anyone but Rafe would accept or understand the fact that the god living inside her had revealed details of her childhood that she’d been too young to notice.
While she spoke, she’d briefly caught Rafe’s eyes, trying to tell him without saying a word that there was much more to the story, but then after found she couldn’t look at him or anyone for the rest of the session. Now with the room mostly empty, she took deep breaths to try and calm herself down, eyes closed as if she could stop the tears from showing. She knew Rafe was still there somewhere; they’d come together in his Jeep, so she’d be leaving with him. But she just needed a moment alone.
He let her have that time, at least at first. He milled around the coffee pots, a cup of bitter black coffee in one hand, talking in low tones with a few of his fellow recovering addicts and alcoholics. For the last half hour he had been in an intense conversation with a writer, someone whose name Rafe could swear he had seen on Gabriel's shelves. He would say nothing to his partner of this, of course, but he could not resist a small introduction all the same.
But at last the writer and his sponsor excused themselves, and Rafael was left with no recourse but to go bother his friend. He paused just beside her seat and looked down to her, concern—and no small degree of pride—shining in his eyes.
"You did good today," he said. "How are you feeling?"
She opened her eyes and turned in her seat, looking up at him. She'd managed, during that time, to calm herself as much as possible. The tears were gone, though her eyes were still red. She managed a weak smile, “better, I think,” she answered. She looked around them, noting that the room was almost empty.
“I guess it's time to go?” she asked, the barest hint of amusement in her eyes. “Coffee?” There was an artsy coffee shop not far away, where they could talk.
Rafe nodded. "It's got to be better than this," he said, raising the thin styrofoam cup in his hand. He beckoned her up from her chair, and walked in silence beside her as they left the little room.
Outside, in the sunlight, Rafael found a small smile for her. He slid his now-empty hands into his pockets and leaned over toward her, bumping her shoulder with his as they walked. "What's on your mind, Nish? You seem preoccupied. Or is that just the weirdness of the meeting?"
She found a smile for him and bumped him back. “It's...complicated,” she said carefully. Some of the heaviness of the meeting seemed to have left her, and she felt that she could breathe again. “And I'm going to need a mocha with whipped cream if I'm going to get into it,” she grinned, pausing in front of the coffee shop and opening the door for him.
She headed to the cash and ordered her coffee, finding a table with a bit of privacy and sitting down. “I used a key,” she said once he joined her, wrapping her hands around her coffee, watching him closely for a reaction.
He nodded, blowing lightly over the steaming surface of his café con leche. "I did, too," he confessed. "Two of them, and that's enough for me. Which one? What… what did you see?"
She paused, looking down into the ripples of whipped cream on top of her mug, “I saw my sister,” she said quietly. “I mean, sort of. I can't be sure exactly what I saw, but…” she sighed and picked up her spoon, swirling it in the whipped cream as she tried to find the right words.
“Loki confirmed it. She was Balder.”
Rafe's hand curled more tightly around his still-scalding mug. "Can you trust him?" He looked up to her from beneath thick lashes, the question reflected in his eyes. "I mean… you know who he is. The things he's done. And if he is right… what does that change? What would that mean for you?"
She shook her head. “I don't know,” she said, an answer to both questions. “He told me what really happened while we watched Balder's funeral. And I was finally able to properly mourn for her.” She looked up at him, frowning.
“He could have told me that at at any time,” she said, a hint of anger creeping into her voice.. “I've spent decades beating myself up over that. Why would he keep that from me?” She had grown to trust what Loki told her, but there was always a little bit of doubt in the back of her mind. And now, she felt a suddenly resentful of him. And he was very conveniently being silent now that she wanted answers.
Rafe bought himself time sipping slowly at his coffee. It was warm and comforting in the face of Loki's frigid presence; he could not feel the deity now, but he knew the chill of his touch well enough, and it came back all too easily when Rafe thought of him. His fingertips drummed against the sides of his mug.
"I don't know how this works any better than anyone else," Rafe began. "But I think that, no matter how long these gods have been with us, they weren't strong enough to make any real difference until recently. Maybe Loki couldn't tell you. Maybe you weren't meant to know until now. Maybe now someone wanted you to find out. Maybe…" He raked a hand through his sun-lightened hair. "Maybe none of it means anything, and we're all trying to find purpose and meaning where there isn't any."
Nish listened carefully to him, looking down at her mug in her hands. It was quickly growing too warm against her skin, but she didn’t let go. “I hope that’s all it is,” she sighed, “still, it’s not the first time he’s kept his own counsel on things. But I just...for this? That was below the belt.” She was angry with Loki now, and she thought maybe he knew it, and was staying away for now. She sat and pouted quietly for a minute, and then spooned a little whipped cream into her mouth, letting it melt before speaking again.
“What about you? How are you doing? And Freyr?”
"Better," Rafe said, smiling happily. "Some nightmares, lately. It's those keys, you know—" a convenient excuse— "and the new changes to the floors… but I'm doing better. Gabe's really helped. I think… for a while, I was putting a lot on Freyr, sort of assuming I would go the same way he did, according to the stories. But I think Gabe's right. They're still just stories, or things that happened a long time ago, and we aren't bound to go through all the same things. I hope you remember that, too, with Loki."
She put her mug down after a sip and nodded. “It’s hard sometimes, to separate. Especially now with the whole…” she gestured vaguely, “Loki...Sigyn...James...thing. It’s a little easier now, since Loki and I aren’t exactly speaking right now,” she said with a wince. “James said Sigyn doesn’t really interfere with him the way Loki does with me, but that they seem to be kindred spirits.” Her one interaction with James’ alter ego had been..strange to say the least.
“Gabe...is his Norse too?” she asked, taking another sip of mocha. She couldn’t remember either of them ever speaking about who was living inside his boyfriend.
Rafael shook his head. It still felt odd to say; his tongue tripped over the words. "His is Aztec," he said. "Xochipilli. Freyr, ah, met him once before." He cleared his throat. Color rushed to his cheeks. Met was not quite the appropriate word, but he had faith she could guess his true meaning. "He seems kind enough, if a little…" Violent, he almost said, though the word hardly seemed to fit the jovial, hospitable god he had met. "Odd," he decided.
Nish’s brows rose a little, as did the corners of her lips, but she stifled any comment with a sip of coffee. “So I guess I’m not the only one who has benefited from my visitor’s...previous acquaintances,” she mused with a grin, grateful at the change in topic to something lighter. Rafe cleared his throat, hiding his own sheepish smile behind his mug. “I don’t know much about the Aztec, but then I didn’t know much about Norse mythology until I started reading about it. My grandfather did tell me the old stories when I was little though,” she said, scooping up more whipped cream. “So that’s...Mexico, right?”
He nodded. "Right. I'm still learning about them, too. I wasn't exactly brought up on stories about Vikings, so even learning about Freyr has been a new thing for me." Chuckling, he set his cup down, turning his gaze to her in its stead. He liked that her mood had lifted, and badly wanted to keep it so. Still his curiosity would not abate, and his next question fell from his lips before he had fully considered it.
"Have you and Loki met others, then? I don't know if it's the recent changes or something else, but it just feels like things are… I don't know. Speeding up, lately."
She shook her head, “no one outside the building, though I didn’t know about my sister until recently. I didn’t realize he was there until I moved here, but it’s like...now that I think back to my childhood, I do remember things that hinted at him but meant nothing to me at the time.” The boy at her grandfather’s funeral, playing with her even though nobody else seemed to notice him. Her ‘conscience’ that didn’t always sound like herself. Little things that could be ignored until they suddenly all made sense at once.
“There was one thing...I didn’t tell you about it before because I didn’t remember until recently.” She hesitated to bring it up, but thought he should know about it. “That time when the floors all changed, I ran into…him...” she didn’t really want to say Abel’s name out loud, but she hoped Rafe would understand, “...sitting by the fire, by the kegs. Loki took over and started talking to him about things I didn’t understand, and then he...called Loki father. He was mad at Loki and he...grabbed me, choking me, but Loki did something to him to make him let go. When I hit the floor, I saw his hand was frostbitten.” The whole event still felt like something that had happened to someone else, not just because the memory had only recently returned, but because she hadn’t been herself at the time. “Rafe...he was Fenrir. Loki’s son.”
"Well he's gone now," Rafael said, too quickly. His hand had tightened once more on the cup, nearly scalding him, but he was too agitated to notice. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "But I guess that makes sense. So that time in the stairwell…" His jaw tightened, clamping shut so hard he felt his teeth sink into the edge of his tongue. Only with marked effort could he release that pressure and begin again.
"Maybe that's why he sought us out. Stayed after us. Maybe he felt that connection, too. Although that does make it all the stranger that he just… left."
Nish let her eyes slip from his for a moment in thought. But then she shook her head. “I don't know, maybe. But in retrospect, it makes sense. He pursued me, but...I swear, when he looked at me...I thought he was going to kill me.” She let out a breath and reached for her mug, taking another sip.
“Loki says he's dead,” she said quietly, “but with no evidence…” she shrugged, frowning. “His apartment is vacant now, that's all I care about.”
Rafael offered a solemn nod. He did not for an instant believe they were dead—neither Abel nor the thing that he housed. His nightmares were far too vivid, too real for that to be true. Still, there was a sort of relief in knowing that Abel was no longer present here, no longer an immediate threat. So he fought for a smile, and nodded again.
"We should talk about something a little… nicer," he said. But though he reached for other options, his thoughts kept coming back to unwanted things.
Her eyes met his, obviously grateful for the change in topic. “Yes, please,” she said with a forced smile and a relieved sigh. Abel was gone, and she didn’t want to give him one more minute of her time.
“We should plan a date,” she said, on a whim, “with James and Gabe, obviously,” she added quickly, so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea. “It’ll be hard to work around James’ work schedule, but we could find a few days and see if they work for everyone.” She was a little upset that she didn’t get to see him nearly as often as she’d like, but she hid it well, she hoped, especially from James.
This, then, put a sincere smile on Rafael's face. "I'd like that," he said. "Gabe's schedule can be like that, too. But I'm usually good on weekdays, and some weekends… and I'm sure we could find some time that would work, especially if we just do something in the building. Maybe a potluck, or I could cook for all of us. I'm starting to get back into French dishes these days. I'm a little rusty, but it's like riding a bike." He sipped at his coffee, cooling and already half gone.
"We could go out, too, though," he offered. "Maybe a movie."
“I do miss your cooking,” she said with a warm smile, “though James is a pretty good cook too. I’m planning on shocking him by actually cooking dinner one night,” she chuckled. “I have a more regular schedule with evenings and weekends off, but he works twelve and sixteen hour days at the hospital, so planning is hard. I’ll ask him when he’ll next have time off for a ‘date’,” she added, her smile fading just a little, which she hid by finishing her coffee.
“We could go to a movie now,” she blurted out, but then realized he might also be busy, “or...well, we don’t have to. It was just an idea,” she added with a shrug. “I’ve got nothing to do tonight except go home and feed my cat…”
"Me either," Rafe admitted. "Well. My fish." He chuckled. "But otherwise… I tend to leave my calendar clear after these meetings, for the days that end up being particularly difficult. So how about this." He downed the last of his coffee, then rose from his seat, reaching to take her empty mug as well. "I'll drop these off to wash, and you look up some movie times and things you might like to see. Sound good?"
Her smile now was a little more genuine when she met his eyes. “You’re sure I’m not imposing?” she asked, pulling out her phone to look up what movies were playing. He nodded a wordless response. “I’ll buy the popcorn,” she smiled, watching him bring their dishes to the counter and then doing a quick search on her phone. By the time he got back she was chuckling to herself.
“Well this might be a bit too close to home,” she said, once he returned, showing her phone to him, eyes filled with mirth. Now Playing: Thor Ragnarok.
Rafael laughed. "I'll be honest, I don't think I'm quite ready for that. Maybe something a little less relatable." Nish grinned back.
“Deal. Maybe a nice safe comedy,” she said, getting up and scrolling through the rest of the offerings as they left the shop.