Loki was on the floor, in front of the sofa.  Verity didn’t know why.  That’s just where he always seemed to wind up, stretched out on his back like an enormous cat, leaving Verity the entire sofa to herself.  He tended to have two natural states, either stretched out as horizontal as possible, or with more energy than a fuzzy, pink bunny with a drum.  Sometimes Verity thought that was why he tended to gravitate toward the floor.  Verity’s sofa wasn’t exactly small, but neither was Loki.  He could stretch out on the floor without having to worry about where to fit his feet or his elbows.  While the TV played quietly, droning on with some bizarre thing from the hidden depths of Netflix’s library, they both had their phones in their hands, taking turns frowning and tapping at the screen as they tried to out-score the other at a Scrabble-type game.

“Oh, that is so a word,” Verity said when the app rejected ‘unmuted’.

 Below her, Loki made a sound that was almost a laugh.  “It rejects most words I know,” he said.

“Yeah, well.  Good,” Verity said as she struggled to find a new word to play. 

If Loki were allowed to play even half of the words he knew, she’d never win.  It was why she never played chess with him.  He had insane advantages nobody should have, starting with a several-thousand-year head start.  And yet he lay on the floor with an open bottle of beer precariously close to his elbow, quietly bitching about not being able to find suitable words to play.  He’d forgotten about the beer again.  She just knew it.  In another ten minutes, it would be staining her carpet.  Again.

“After I trounce you, shall we order dinner?” Loki asked.

Verity managed to fit ‘mute’ into a different slot.  “Are you paying?” she asked. 

If she ordered in half as often as Loki did, she’d be broke in a week.  She was pretty sure the thing he called his day job wasn’t what paid his bills, but she had no idea where he got his money.  And he seemed to have an endless supply of it.

“Of course,” Loki said, tapping away at his own phone. 

Verity’s phone buzzed, signalling that he’d played.  How ‘jazzy’ was valid, she had no idea.  It wasn’t fair.

“Look, we need to find a new game, because this one’s cheating,” Verity said, looking at her complete jumble of useless letters.

“Let me see,” Loki said, reaching up. 

He’d come over straight from his latest mission, having only shed his armour.  He still wore his tunic and leather bracers, sleeves untucked and rolled up to his elbows, while at one point his horns had migrated to the coffee table.  For a moment, Verity hesitated before handing her phone over.  Loki spent just a few seconds looking at it before tapping away, moving tiles around.  Then he handed it back, and Verity frowned.

“That’s a web browser.  How did you play that?” she asked.  She could have sworn he cheated somehow.

“It’s also a processed metal,” Loki said.

Verity had forgotten about that.  She didn’t know how, but somehow she had completely forgotten about the existence of chrome plating.

“Oh, just order dinner.  You win,” she said, closing the app.  They really needed to find a new game.

Below on the floor, Loki chuckled quietly to himself while he scrolled through his phone.  Verity tossed her own phone to the other side of the sofa and leaned against the armrest, turning her focus to whatever was happening on the television.  It was always on, playing something in the background, but they rarely just sat and watched.  It was background noise to fill the silence.  Verity didn’t mind the silence, but Loki seemed to despise it.  He always had something playing whenever he could.  Music, TV, video games.  Constant, endless noise to drown out whatever it was he didn’t want in his head.  As if having the opportunity to think was something he sought to avoid.  He lived only next door, and there were nights when he’d kept his TV or his stereo on just a little too loud, and she could hear the base note of whatever he’d fallen asleep to.

A side effect of it was extreme, intense immersion therapy.  Loki often watched the worst kind of absolute garbage.  He didn’t seem to care what he watched, as long as it had sound.  Comedy, fantasy, suspense, action.  All things that only a year previous would have driven Verity up the wall from that little buzz in the back of her head.  That little tickle that told her that it was all fake, a lie, something someone made up. And yet she watched someone get eaten alive by a piece of modern art, and she wasn’t angry or irritated.  That tickle, that buzz was still there, telling her it was fake, wrong, lies.  But she didn’t care.  The lie was the point.  People who weren’t Verity would believe the lie, willingly be taken in, and maybe even be frightened.  Verity couldn’t do that, and likely would never be able to.  But she could watch, and even become interested enough to want to see where the lie went.

Loki reached up to her again, this time offering over his phone, open to a delivery app.  Verity scrolled through the menu of the little Chinese place he liked to order from, picking out a few side dishes to turn into a full meal.  She knew he spent money like it was meaningless, but always felt a little dirty whenever he just handed over his phone like that.  Making a few quick choices of chicken, rice, and vegetables, she handed it back so he could complete the order.  A few more seconds of tapping, and then Loki locked his phone and tossed it off to the side, nearly knocking over his beer.  He made a worried little noise as he quickly reached over and caught it, before it toppled and made a mess.

“Oh my god, Loki,” Verity muttered.

He at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish about it. 

“Sorry,” he said.  He sat up just enough to finish it off and put the empty bottle up on the coffee table, next to his horns.

Loki brushed his hair from his eyes and sat up a bit more like an actual person, leaning against the front of the sofa.  After a few minutes, Loki shifted, leaning his head back against Verity’s hip.  Almost without thought, Verity’s hand moved to his hair, carding through it and finding it full of some sort of pulverised plaster or concrete.  Even as she picked out the worst of it, she did not ask him what he had been doing, because she wasn’t sure she could handle both the terrible movie and Loki’s special way of telling stories that both rang true and completely false all at once.  Instead, they sat quietly, watching whatever the hell was happening in that evening’s bizarre movie until the door buzzer interrupted them.  Verity quickly got up to unlock the door downstairs, and waited for the delivery guy to get to her door.  Loki was no longer watching the movie, but her.  He sat lazily, leaning against the sofa like he was trying to decide if he wanted to take a nap, but Verity knew better.  He was one of the most dangerous people she’d ever known, and yet there was always a little part of him that seemed wary of threats.  Delivery drivers ranked pretty low on the threat list, all things considered, but it was New York.  Everything and everyone was a threat, and Loki had built up a long list of enemies over he years.

Then the knock came to the door, and Verity opened it.  But she didn’t find a delivery driver with $60 of Chinese food in a bag.

“Mom!” she said, surprised to find Eloise standing on the other side.

As she turned to let Eloise in, she saw Loki quickly grab his horns from the coffee table and make them disappear.  Then he put on that smile he wore when he was trying to be charming and polite, completely fake and utterly convincing all at the same time.

“Hello, Mrs Willis,” he said from the floor.

When Eloise smiled back, it was genuine, if maybe a touch smug. 

“Oh, hello, Loki.  I didn’t know you’d have company,” she said as she walked across the room to the recliner nobody but her used.

Verity had never intended to introduce Loki to her mother.  It had just sort of happened through her tendency to show up unannounced, and Loki’s tendency to be sitting on her floor.  And now she knew him by name, and very little else, and Verity couldn’t tell if that’s how she wanted it, or if it felt a bit too dangerous for comfort.

“Yeah.  Most nights,” Verity said.  “I throw him out, and he comes right back.”

Never mind that they’d swapped keys months before, both having developed a habit of dropping in on one another with no more warning than a text.  Still, Verity didn’t miss that little smile on her mother’s face.  The smile that said ‘I told you so,’ even if her words did not.  The smile that betrayed her validation in signing Verity up for that idiotic speed dating event.  The smile that came from the knowledge that the idiotic speed dating event was exactly where Loki and Verity had met.

The smile that persisted, despite Verity repeatedly insisting that she and Loki were not dating.  Despite Verity blaming her for having met a complete weirdo, just like she’d known she would.

“Oh, well I was on my way home from the centre, and thought I’d stop in,” Eloise said, still wearing that same smile.

Loki stayed on the floor, as if trying to go unseen without actually turning invisible, even as Verity returned to her seat on the sofa.  She did not miss the way Eloise looked at Loki, though Loki pretended not to notice at all.  He confused Eloise, and Verity knew it.  Loki confused a lot of people.  Not because he was always hanging around.  But because he was sometimes so unapologetically not human.  He often passed as one, and did so very well when he tried.  But then he’d do something like sit on the floor dressed like he was ready for a ren faire, and people didn’t seem to know what to do with that.  He may have hidden his horns, but he was still wearing leather trousers and bracers, and boots with buckles instead of laces.  But they also lived in Manhattan, where normal was relative, and everyone had some little quirk or eccentricity.

Then he leaned back, not quite as lazily as he had before, and returned his attention to his movie.  And just like that, everything odd about him completely disappeared.

“Well, we just ordered dinner, if you want some,” Verity said.  “I thought that’s who was buzzing the door.”

“Oh, no.  I won’t stay that long,” Eloise said.  She waved her hand in front of her, physically dismissing the idea.  “I just thought I’d pop in and see how you were doing.”

Verity nodded.  “I’m good.  Work’s good.  We went out to a show last week.”

“It’s good that you’re getting out more,” Eloise said.  “It’s just that I worry about you.”

She returned her gaze to Loki, like she was still trying to figure him out.  Like he wasn’t trying very hard to be ignored.

“I knew you just needed to find someone to get you out of the house more,” Eloise said.

Verity tried not to take offense to that.  Though she knew her mother meant well, every little remark about her social life—or lack of one—seemed to stab right through her.  Those remarks had been the catalyst for this entirely new lifestyle she’d found herself living, whether she wanted it or not.

“Well, if he stays in his apartment for too long he explodes.  But I’m still perfectly fine,” Verity said.  “I like it here, and I don’t need to go out every other night to have fun.”

She liked her apartment.  It was safe there.  Quiet.  She did go out more often, whenever Loki wanted to see a new band, or there was something playing in theatres he desperately wanted to see and didn’t want to go to alone.  But he went alone far more often than he dragged her out with him.

The door buzzed again, but before Verity could get up, Loki beat her to it.  He was on his feet and at the door before Verity could even sit up.  He was trying to get out of the firing range.  And Verity didn’t blame him.

“So what’s going on at the centre?” Verity asked, trying to move conversation away from her lack of relationship with Loki.

“Oh, just the usual,” said Eloise.  “I’m taking a few extra days here and there up until the trip.”

Verity froze, and felt herself go cold inside.  Somehow, with Loki a constant force of chaos in her life, she had completely forgotten about the things that were normal.

“Is that already coming up?” she asked.

She looked up at Loki, watching as he paid the delivery guy and locked the door back up.  He just looked confused, which wasn’t exactly surprising, since she’d forgotten to tell him she’d be disappearing for a while.

“You can both get the time off, can’t you?” Eloise asked.

“Both?” asked Verity, slowly starting to panic.

If Eloise noticed, she didn’t let on.  Even as Loki brought the giant paper bag back over and sat down on the floor with it, Eloise remained infuriatingly calm.

“You hadn’t said anything otherwise, so I assumed you’d already got it all squared away,” she said.

Verity wanted to be annoyed, but Eloise always planned their trip that way.  The same week, every year.  And Verity had forgotten all about it.  She felt like a spotlight was being shone on her, yet she didn’t know any of her lines.

“We’d have to change the reservations, and adding another ticket can’t be easy,” she said, stumbling in trying to find the eloquent way out.

“Oh, I already thought you’d be bringing Loki,” Eloise said, turning her attention to Loki for a moment.

Verity nearly forgot how to breathe.

“We hadn’t really discussed it,” she said, looking over at Loki.

Through all of this, Loki sat quietly, watching the two of them talk about him as though he weren’t right there in front of them.  As though he weren’t the single largest source of vexation in Verity’s life at the moment.

“No?  I’d figured you wouldn’t want to leave him behind,” Eloise said, not feigning innocence nearly as well as she thought she was.  “It’s been close to a year, hasn’t it?”

“Yuh—” Verity managed to get out, before stopping herself from accidentally confirming her mother’s suspicions.

“What’s going on?” Loki asked quickly.  He looked up between the two of them, looking perfectly innocent and not at all like he was the source of all of Verity’s frustration.

“The trip next month,” Eloise said.  She looked over to Verity, still as calm and collected as ever.  “I hope it’s not too short notice.”

Loki looked back and forth between Eloise and Verity.  “I can take time off,” he said.  “Where are we going?”

Verity kicked him hard in the ribs, but he was like a solid wall that nearly broke her toes.

“Las Vegas,” Verity said, seeing no way out.

“Would you believe I’ve never been?” Loki asked.

Whether he was lying or not, Verity couldn’t tell, because he’d found an infuriating way of not actually stating anything, just to wind her up.

“Really?” she asked.  She wanted to kick him again, but didn’t dare.

“Well if you can get a week off from the fifteenth next month, you’re more than welcome,” Eloise said.

Loki smiled, some of that innocence completely gone. 

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.  He looked up at Verity, and didn’t even have the decency to pretend to be sorry.  “Are you sure you won’t be staying for dinner?”

Eloise looked between the two of them and shook her head.  “No, I really should be going.  I’ll leave you two kids alone.”

She got up and walked over to give Verity a hug. 

“I’ll be by this Saturday,” she said.

Verity hugged her mother, trying not to be completely annoyed at both of them.  “I’ll be here,” she said.

She got up to see Eloise out, and to lock the door again behind her.  Once everything was secured and fastened, she turned back to Loki, watching him as he finally unpacked their dinner.

“What the hell was that?” she asked.

Loki stopped, looked up at her, and shrugged.  “What?” he asked.

“She thinks we’re dating!” Verity said.  “Why does everyone think we’re dating?”

“I dunno,” Loki said.  He pulled out box after box from the bag, and then fished around at the bottom for the chopsticks.  “She already thought that anyway.  Might as well let her keep thinking it if it means taking a vacation.”

“You’re the worst!”  Verity wanted to throw him out of her apartment.  “Loki, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want!  Since when do you need an excuse?” she said.

He shrugged again.  “Yeah, but it’s boring to go alone.  Who else would I go with?  Sigurd?  Ew.”

Verity let herself growl just a little bit as she walked over to the sofa.

“I don’t want her to think that we’re dating,” she said, speaking slowly just to make sure he understood.

Loki was already digging into one of the boxes, picking at questionable strips of beef.

“I can make an excuse and not go,” he said, shrugging again.

Verity almost told him to do that, but then she realised she’d have to live with explaining those excuses all week.  And then she realised she’d have to deal with whatever changes Eloise had already made to their reservations to accommodate Loki tagging along.

“No.  Don’t do that,” she said, taking one of the boxes he offered her.  “Just promise me you’ll just be a little bit normal.  I don’t know if I can handle a solid week of unrelentingly weird.”

Loki opened another one of his boxes.  “If you wanted normal, you would have changed your locks by now.”

He was right.  She kicked him again anyway.