AUTHOR'S NOTE: Ahh! Less than a week to finish this before the movie comes out! I really want the whole thing to be published while it could still technically be canon, haha. Anyway we're closing in on the end. Only one more chapter after this one! A lot of stuff gets worked out in this chapter so I hope you enjoy it and it doesn't feel too rushed. Also, there are a lot of feels in this chapter, so I just hope Loki doesn't seem OOC. Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!
The extraction took much longer for Loki than it had for Barton. The difference came down to the sheer volume of Mind Stone influence requiring attention, as well as the depth and breadth of the damage. On top of all that, Alice felt even more pressure to work as precisely and carefully as possible since she was performing the procedure by herself without any backup from Wong or Latisha. It was up to her alone to make no mistakes, and at risk was Loki's very mind.
All in all, it ended up taking five hours. Alice withdrew from Loki's mind when she was done, nearly collapsing onto the couch behind her and noticing the golden rays of late afternoon light already streaming in through the blinds. She'd had no idea how much time had passed, the extraction process having sucked her in completely, making her forget time and space and leaving her feeling divorced from even her own body.
She melted into the couch, closing her eyes as the faded yellow and red haze in her vision threatened a loss of consciousness. Distantly she was aware of Loki stirring from his couch, and she forced her heavy eyelids open to take a look at her patient.
"Alice? Are you well?" Loki asked.
Alice shook her head weakly.
"I'm fine. The spell is just… draining. That's all."
Alice's eyes slid shut again, but she forced herself to stay awake. She needed to know if the extraction was a success.
"How do you feel? Any different?" she croaked.
Alice still couldn't manage to open her eyes, but she could hear the thoughtful curiosity in Loki's voice.
"I feel… different. Lighter. Perhaps… not myself."
"I suppose it makes sense. I have lived with the influence of the Mind Stone for so long, perhaps its anger started to feel like home."
"Well. I guess now you can find out who you really are, by yourself."
The armchair groaned, and Loki must have risen to his feet, because Alice heard him take several steps towards her. His cool hand landed gently on her shoulder.
"I will leave you to recover now. You have my thanks."
Alice dragged her eyes open and looked up at Loki through her messy hair.
"I'm sorry to not show you out. I'm just… so tired," she said, then her eyes fell closed again.
Loki let out a long-suffering sigh.
"I suppose if I leave you you'll fall asleep right here on this nasty couch, won't you?"
Alice nodded lazily, already halfway to dreamland. A few moments later, she felt lean arms gathering her up and lifting her off the couch.
"It's not that nasty…" she murmured, thoughts already drifting off.
"Your standards are almost staggeringly low."
She mumbled several half-hearted protests as Loki carried her back to her room, but she was already asleep by the time Loki tucked her into her bed.
Alice ambled happily down the street in Brooklyn by her mother's side, shopping bag in her hand. She nodded agreeably along to Kathy's easy chatter about he students, about the faculty who got on her nerves, and about the principal's latest ill-conceived crusade. Alice tried to listen, but the obnoxious sound of an ambulance heading their way from far down the street was making it difficult.
"What was that?"
Kathy repeated her last comment regarding one student's especially overbearing mother, but Alice still couldn't hear it. The siren was coming closer and closer, the sound rendering comprehension impossible. Alice kept waiting for the ambulance to pass them so she could hear again, but instead the sound became more and more regular, neither diminishing nor strengthening.
With a start, Alice jerked out of her bed, the insistent ringing of her cellphone pulling her bodily from dreamland. Alice grasped for her phone, sliding it unlocked before even checking to see the caller.
"...Hello?" she croaked into the phone.
"Alice? Are you alright? You're two hours late to your shift."
Blearily, Alice pulled her phone from her ear and checked the time. It was already past 8AM, which was indeed two hours after her 6AM shift start. She couldn't remember the last time she'd slept over twelve hours, and she still felt tired.
"I'm sorry, Ian, I… I'm not feeling very well. I completely slept past my alarms."
She could hear Ian swallow a frustrated sigh through the receiver, but he still hid it pretty well, all things considered.
"Don't worry about it, just rest up. We'll keep you covered."
"Thank you, Ian. I'll be back in tomorrow, I promise."
"It's alright if you need another day tomorrow, just let me know ahead of time, OK?"
"You got it."
Alice hung up the phone and collapsed back into her pillow, staring up at the ceiling for a long moment before closing her eyes. Well, this was a good bit of data to collect about her healing spell: it was incredibly fatiguing to the caster. Alice doubted she'd ever run into anyone else who needed to be healed from the mental impacts of the Mind Stone, but it still might be relevant to other healing spells.
Alice was about to let herself fall back to sleep when she remembered a notification she'd seen on her phone when Ian called. She unlocked her phone and checked the five new emails sitting in her inbox, fully expecting them all to be junk from the local yoga studio she'd signed up for last week or the book club she'd joined when feeling a bit overconfident in her willingness to leave the house after work for social activities. Sure enough, three of her emails were entirely forgettable, but the fourth and fifth were not.
The last email was from Loki, but the squirming nerves in Alice's gut wouldn't let her open that email first. Instead she opened the one underneath it—a message from an email address she'd never seen before but the contents of which intrigued her.
To: me Friday 11:32 PM
We met several months ago in New Asgard, but unfortunately have yet to meet formally. I am Thrym, assistant to Prince Loki as ambassador for Jotunheim to both the peoples of Earth and New Asgard. When Prince Loki returned from your home to our offices this evening, he informed me of his condition, as well as the healing ritual you performed.
It will please you to hear that Prince Loki does seem much improved after receiving your help. He is calmer, more measured in his emotions, and more confident in himself. I must admit I can already tell that he will be much more pleasant to work with. I can only hope that this improvement will not prove temporary.
I am writing not simply to thank you for aiding Prince Loki, for which indeed I am indeed very grateful, but also to provide you with some context as to what Prince Loki has been doing these past months and years. As I am sure you are aware, Loki is the son of Laufey, the former king of Jotunheim, and therefore rightful inheritor to the currently-vacant throne of Jotunheim. I am a member of a powerful clan of frost giants, and about a year ago, Prince Loki approached me with a proposal. He wanted to ascend the throne, but he wanted to gain the confidence of the frost giants beforehand to both improve their situation and also strengthen his claim to the throne.
Jotunheim's current state of disrepair is due primarily to our loss of the Casket of Ancient Winters. This relic is known to many as a weapon of immense power, but it was also used both to power the jotun's magic and to build and maintain our realm. Without it, we are but paupers huddling in a frozen wasteland,
Many believed the Casket lost in the events of Ragnarok, but Prince Loki told me he had a way to recover the relic—but only with the help of the Aesir. He proposed that together, we work out a truce such that the Casket be returned to Jotunheim, to be used only for the defense and maintenance of our realm. This would secure Loki's place on the throne, and his place on the throne would in turn help the Aesir feel more certain of their truce with our people. Through diplomacy, we would be able to ensure prosperity and security for our people without any loss of life. I agreed to Prince Loki's plan immediately, and together we have been working towards this goal ever since.
I am telling you all of this because I want you to be aware of two things:
Prince Loki will likely become King of Jotunheim within the year.
Prince Loki is also in an emotionally vulnerable state right now. He may be more likely to forget his long-term goals, but do not doubt his commitment to them. These are centuries-old ambitions, and they will not be forgotten for long.
I want to thank you once more for the assistance you have rendered the future monarch of Jotunheim. I hope that this is only the beginning of a long and mutually-beneficial relationship between yourself and the embassy of Jotunheim.
Thrym, Assistant Ambassador of Jotunheim
Alice stared for a long moment at the name at the end of the email, her brow furrowing in consternation. It was fascinating and… brilliant, really. Loki's plan to restore Jotunheim, improve relations between the Aesir and the jotun, and claim his father's throne could accomplish all of his goals simultaneously, without harming anyone. The most promising aspect of the plan was the overall win-win perspective. This scheme was the best evidence Alice had seen yet of Loki's abandonment of his zero-sum game way of viewing the universe. She felt immensely proud as she contemplated the prospect of Loki's success, and decided right then and there that she would pray for the realization of his plan. She felt slightly hurt that Loki had never shared his plan with her, but she was unsurprised by his secrecy. It was just the way he was.
Once she got past her initial thoughts surrounding Loki's aspirations, Alice began wondering about the author of the email. What could this Thrym mean by sending this kind of missive? Alice let out an undignified snort as she realized what his letter reminded her of: the meddlesome, snooty relative in soap operas who always tries to warn the heroine to stay away their son "or else." And that really was what he was doing, actually. Not threatening her, of course, but explaining to her the impracticalities of embarking on a more personal relationship with "Prince Loki."
Alice understood what Thrym trying to do, but it was all unnecessary. Loki had a deeper personal connection with her than he had with almost anyone else living, as far as she was aware, but she had no illusions of a sweeping romance with the jotun prince. He was over a millenia older than she, and had a massive ego matched only by his inferiority complex in size. Alice was confident he felt a wide range of emotions towards her, but she doubted those feelings could ever amount to what she required in a romantic relationship. As for what she felt for him… well, it didn't really matter much either way, did it?
Forcibly putting the jotun ambassador's carefully-worded presumptions out of her mind, Alice opened the next email.
To: me Saturday 2:33 AM
A weight has been lifted from my mind, the magnitude of which I do not believe I can fully express to you. Nevertheless, I still intend to try.
An errand of vital importance calls me away from Midgard for a time, but I should return within the week, and plan to see you as soon as possible. I hope my presence will be welcome—please inform me if it is not. I look forward to regaling you with my conquests upon my return.
Alice quickly typed out her response, expressing pleasure at his apparent recovery and stating that of course he was welcome to visit her once his task was accomplished. She briefly considered asking him if his mysterious errand involved retrieving the Casket of Ancient Winters, but decided against it. She wasn't sure how he would react, and if he asked her how she knew of the ancient artifact, she would not know how to respond without explaining Thrym's email. She sent the email before she could overthink any more and fell back into her bed, her exhaustion returning at full force. Her last conscious thought was a vague memory of Loki's arms around here—in the armchair, in her Brooklyn apartment, at Strange's wedding.
Alice eventually responded to Thrym's email with a short, professional thank-you, but no additional information or commentary on what his message implied but did not outright say. She then returned to work, spending almost three weeks straight working at the hospital without setting foot in the Sanctum. She'd taken more time off from her nursing job than usual to deal with Barton and Loki's treatment, and now that it was over she needed to make up the borrowed time.
It was pleasant, working almost full-time in a hospital again. It was nice to be helping more people in such a concrete way, to be reminded of her practical skills. Nice to have a break from all of the magical nonsense and inter-realm politics. Nice to feel normal again. It was so nice, Alice barely minded that it was two weeks past when Loki had said he'd return, and she'd still not heard from him.
On the Monday three weeks following Loki's treatment, Alice got home from her morning shift feeling exhausted, yet oddly satisfied. She'd managed to slip seamlessly back into work after getting a rare weekend off, and her weekend had been well-spent. She'd had Riya and Kathy over for dinner on Sunday night, both to enjoy Alice's poor attempt at a three-course meal and to watch the season premier of Kathy's favorite TV show. It had been a fun evening, and Alice was glad to remind herself that she had a life outside of magic and trauma and damaged princes.
Alice dug through her work bag in search of her keys at her front door, but instead her fingers found her buzzing cell phone. She pulled it out of the bag and answered, deciding answering the unknown number was worth the risk of hearing yet another robocall.
"Alice?" a voice on the other end of the phone said as soon as she answered.
"Loki!" Alice said, not fully realizing how much she'd wanted him to get back to her until she heard his voice, "you've never called me before."
"Yes, well. I'm inside your house. It only just occurred to me that you might want some advanced notice."
"Loki I'm sure you know that I'm right outside. Like, seconds away from walking through my door."
Alice could practically hear the smile in his voice.
"Ah, well. Baby steps, I suppose."
Alice rolled her eyes and pulled the phone away from her ear, talking into the microphone just before hanging up.
"Ok, consider me warned."
Alice finally fished her keys out of her bag and opened the door, and sure enough Loki was right inside, standing in the middle of the room with his back to the door.
"You're back!" Alice said brightly, awkwardly setting her full bag by the door before walking over to where Loki stood. He turned towards her, his eyes flicking to her feet before returning to her face, and smiled.
"Yes. My apologies, my errand took longer than I expected."
"That's fine. Things always end up more complicated with you, right?"
Alice laughed lightly as she sunk into the couch. She expected Loki to take his customary seat in the armchair across from her, but he remained standing, his arms folded and a slight strain tightening his smile.
"I suppose there's too much evidence to the contrary for me to argue with that," he said, shifting his weight from one foot to another.
Loki swallowed and took a step towards Alice, his hands moving behind his back.
"I have a gift for you."
Loki reached for one of Alice's hands and set something small and cool in her palm, covering it with his so she couldn't see the contents until he'd sat down next to her on the couch. Alice opened her palm to reveal a pair of large golden earrings, each one an elegant drop-shape easily an inch long. The weight and luster of the jewelry was evidence enough that this was a special, expensive gift. Alice looked up at Loki, brow furrowed. Perhaps items like this meant little to a prince like Loki, but they made Alice feel uncomfortable, and she didn't know how to react to Loki's unprecedented behavior.
"You really didn't have to get me anything, Loki. I'm a nurse. It's my job to help. And considering how inexperienced I am, you were practically doing me a favor, acting as my guinea pig and all that," she said, chuckling half-heartedly at her meager joke.
Loki frowned, then shifted a bit closer to her.
"Surely you must be joking. It's been almost a month since the spell, and I feel so much… more myself. You have given me back who I used to be. You have given me freedom. What could be more valuable than that?"
Alice squirmed to avoid Loki's piercing gaze.
"I… I helped, but I can't… Don't expect me to be able to fix you, Loki," she said, fiddling with her fingers in her lap.
"Do not mistake me, I take credit for my many strengths and virtues," he said with a smirk, "that doesn't mean I cannot properly thank you for what you've done."
Alice closed her fingers around the earrings.
She moved to put the earrings in the pocket of the zip-up sweatshirt she wore over her scrubs, but Loki stopped her, gingerly taking the earrings from her.
"Let me," he said, leaning towards her to fit the earrings onto each of Alice's earlobes.
Alice's heart jumped into her throat. He was so close to her, she could smell the oiled leather of his jacket, hear his breath in her ear. Loki wasn't a largely-built man, but this close he seemed broader, his body exuding a gravitational pull that had Alice digging her fingers into the seat of the couch to resist. He was doing it again—making her think something that wasn't true. Giving her silly, impractical, impossible ideas.
She could ignore it. She'd just wait it out, and they'd continue to have a normal, genial conversation. That was what Alice told herself, but once the earrings were properly affixed, Loki didn't move away. His head turned from her ear to face her, their noses almost touching. He looked intently into her eyes, and Alice just stared back dumbly, any and all thought completely vacant from her mind. As if in slow-motion, Loki closed his eyes and moved closer, his head tilting to the right to avoid colliding with Alice's nose.
He kissed her, tender but firm at first, then moving, moving towards something. No decisions made, no thoughts completed, Alice responded. Whatever Loki had done with his thousand years of life, he had at some point learned how to kiss, and it was joyous.
Alice moved onto her knees and turned towards Loki, and his hand wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer to him. His mouth was warm and soft, and his kisses pushed and pulled, but never in a domineering or aggressive way. It had been years since Alice had felt this way—like a teenager so lost in a discovery of feeling that everything else just seemed to melt away. The fingers of her right hand slipped under his leather coat and felt at his back, while her other hand found its way into his hair. There was so much of it, and Alice had never kissed a man with long hair before.
"Alice," Loki murmured between kisses, his voice rasping slightly.
Somehow her name acted like a magic word, kick-starting Alice's brain and reminding her that she wasn't just an empty vessel for the senses. She extricated her hand from his hair and removed her other hand from his shirt, creating some space between them as her eyes went wide. Loki returned her gaze with a somewhat dazed look, intent on Alice but confused.
"Is this real?" Alice asked.
A hurt look crossed Loki's features. He grabbed her hand and held it up between them, fingers touching the ring on her finger.
"I gave this to you so you would never have to wonder that any more. I would never do that to you."
Alice shook her head.
"That's not what I mean, I… What's happening? What are you trying to do?"
Loki sighed and shook his head from side to side.
"I realized that my actions in the past have confused you, so I will be entirely clear. I care for you. I wish to court you. I have no interest in anyone else."
Alice swallowed thickly, a part of her she'd largely ignored for the past several years filling with joy and excitement. The other part of her felt stunned and confused, uncertain as to what to do.
"When… when did this happen? Why now?"
"I've felt an interest in you from the very beginning of our acquaintance. At first I resisted because I believed you to be beneath me. Later I resisted because I believed I was not good enough for you. Now... I still do not think I deserve you, but at least I am free of the Mind Stone."
"You say you don't deserve me but… you seem to expect me to want to be with you," Alice said.
Loki sputtered, his pale face flushing.
"Well, anyone could see that you are attracted to me. And I may not be a good enough person for you, but I… I'm trying. And there is much I can give you. Magic, money, power."
"You know I don't want that, though."
Loki swallowed and leaned back, creating more space between them. He looked more unsure of himself than Alice had ever seen him.
"I apologize, I had thought that you harbored… romantic feelings for me. If I was mistaken I will leave immediately and trouble you no more."
He rose from the couch and straightened the jacket out, his eyes darting to the door. Alice jumped up after him and laid a hand on his arm.
"No, I'm sorry, don't go-"
"-Do you then?"
"Do I what?"
"Do you… care for me?"
Alice sputtered, her brain floundering over the question like a fish on land. Did she care for Loki? She knew she'd had something of a crush on him for a long time, but she'd also always known it was ill-advised. How many voices had joined the chorus telling her that he was not to be trusted, that she should not get too close? Her own voice had joined in, for goodness' sake. And yet, things had changed, hadn't they? Loki had changed, and that didn't count for nothing.
While Alice's thoughts raced, Loki's features hardened. He was one second away from disappearing forever, Alice knew, and she needed to act fast. Amidst all the uncertainty, she knew with perfect clarity that she didn't want to lose him.
"I do. I do care for you," she said, her grip on his arm tightening. "You're brilliant, clever, funny, ambitious. You understand people well—well, other people at least. You're willing to sacrifice for people you care about. And most of all, you want to be better. You want to change. That's… the hardest thing a person can do, you know?"
Loki's face retained its careful passivity.
"Then what objections remain?"
Alice slid her hand down to Loki's hand, then reached for his other hand and pulled him around to face her. This conversation would go much easier if she didn't feel like he was about to bolt.
"You know I am a practical person. Any objections I have are about the impracticalities of what you're proposing."
"What impracticalities? I am a prince of Asgard. I can think of no obstacles that could not be easily taken care of."
"But that's it exactly! You're a prince of Asgard! You plan to become King of Jotunheim—don't even act like you don't know what I'm talking about—and if you were king how could you be in a relationship with someone like me? And that's not even taking into account the age thing. I'm already practically middle-aged. In thirty years I will be old and wrinkled and you will look exactly the same."
"Who told you about Jotunheim?" he asked, his eyes narrowing, then he sighed. "It must have been Thrym. He is a capable ally, but somewhat meddlesome."
"Yes, it was Thrym. But I wish it had been you who told me."
Loki let Alice's hands go, placing them behind his back in a formal, rigid posture.
"I was going to tell you. I was just waiting for the right time."
"And when would that be?" Alice asked, folding her arms. She shook her head. "It doesn't even matter. The point is, you will be King of Jotunheim. And I want you to be! You could do so much good. But I don't see how a mortal, human girlfriend would fit into all that."
Loki jerked his head to the side and let out a low growl of frustration.
"I will make a place for you. I swear it."
Unexpected tears welled in Alice's eyes, startling her for a moment. She shook her head.
"Even if you somehow find a way for it to work, who's to say that I am what you will want in a month? A year? Five years? You regained full control of your mind only weeks ago. Now is not the time to be making these kinds of decisions."
"Is that what concerns you? I have lived over a thousand years, I know what I want."
"Loki, you know I am being reasonable. You know what I am saying makes sense."
Loki pursed his lips and looked hard at Alice for a long moment before lowering his head, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his hand, then opened up his fingers to cover his eyes. Alice swallowed nervously and waited for him. Eventually, he lowered his hand, a much calmer and more measured Loki appearing from behind the pale finers. He looked her right in the eyes, the blue of his irises vivid in her dim living room.
"I love you."
Alice's heart lurched. He was the first person to say those words to her since Andy, and she was pretty sure he meant it.
"If you are concerned that I will change my mind, then give me some time to prove myself. You can think of it as research—as an experiment."
Alice took a cautious step towards Loki.
"What kind of experiment, exactly?"
A slow smile crept its way across Loki's face, and he took a step towards Alice as well. He raised a hand to her cheek, cupping it gently beneath his cool fingers.
"It means that I see you often. It means we trust each other and help each other. It means I get to do things like this," he leaned forward and kissed her gently, his eyes closing briefly for the contact.
Alice couldn't help but shudder at his startling affection, her eyes pricking again with unshed tears.
"But… that will just make it harder. When it doesn't work out."
"No need to be so fatalistic. I am beginning to understand that I may not be able to achieve all of my goals. Sacrifices must be made in order to achieve what one desires the most, after all. But I do not intend for you to be one of those sacrifices. Please, Alice. Have a little faith."
Alice let out a wet laugh.
"Have a little faith? In the God of Mischief?"
Loki grasped her forearm gently and pulled her into his chest, wrapping his arms around her in a loose but comforting embrace.
"Some may call me the God of Lies, but I swear that with you, I will always be true. I… may not have said as much at the time, but that is why I enchanted your ring. Let it represent my promise to you."
Alice closed her eyes, allowing herself to rest her head fully on his chest. Even through the thick leather, she could hear his heartbeat. Alice had never much liked listening to heartbeats. Especially after Andy's death, they only ever reminded her that all it would take was for this organ to stop beating, and life would end. Strangely, however, listening to Loki's heartbeat was comforting. It made him feel more real, made the possibility of being with him—of loving him—seem more attainable. Perhaps he wasn't human, exactly, but he was a living being, capable of all of the things other living beings were. And she loved him.
Alice pulled away far enough to look into Loki's face, and she saw anxiety there. He really did want her, didn't he? That was strange. She saw the tightness across his features that signalled fear, a sign she had come to recognize over the months, though he worked very hard to hide any weaknesses. Her heart filled with affection for him, for this person who was so gifted and blessed, and so cursed at the same time. For this person who, above all else, tried. She brought her hands to his cheeks and met his fearful gaze with one full of warmth.
"Ok. Let's give it a shot."
Ninewood: I agree that Thor and Loki have a lot to talk about, but I'm not sure how much of that will happen in this story. I definitely think Odin hurt Loki a lot, but let's not forget that Odin didn't say the "No, Loki," line until after Loki had had Thor banished and tried to kill him. So like… I guess I just wouldn't say that you can pin Loki's actions on anyone else. Odin's not the greatest father, but that doesn't absolve Loki of everything. I dunno, does that make sense? I hope i'm not leaving major issues unresolved! Let me know if you think I am, and thank you for your comments!
XinterestingX: Thank you! I thought the vulnerability part was really important, too. Loki doesn't like to show weakness to anybody, so it was important to get his character to a place where he would be willing to be vulnerable in front of Alice. I'm glad you liked it! Thank you for your continued support.
SnowFlame2127: Has it been that long? I guess it has, sorry! :( I have not left this story behind, there is one more chapter and I am planning to have it published before Endgame comes out next week. ! Wish me luck! Anyway after reading this chapter Loki now does have a romantic partner. I hope their relationship still feels good and right and is giving you the UWUs :) Thank you for sticking with me, and thank you for the review!
Constipated Genius: I'm glad you liked how Loki waited to talk to Alice until after he knew how the procedure went with Barton. Loki's changed a lot over the course of this story, but I want him to retain that "Loki-ness" we all know and love. Thanks so much for your support, and I hope you enjoyed this chapter!
LRRH17: Haha, yeah I was worried the "you are not unloved" line would be a bit cliche, but if it made you fangirl/mini-scream then it was worth it! I hope you are enjoying the way I'm ending this story. Only one more chapter to go! Thank you for sticking with me the whole time!
Sulisaints: Thank you for returning! I'm pretty sure Loki makes a lot of people's hearts hurt, so you're not alone. Thank you for reviewing!
Guest: Thank you, that's very kind!
Ksecc1: Oh man I am so relieved that you don't think Alice is a Mary Sue. I try really hard to make her her own distinct person, and then every once in a while I read over what I've written and I'm just like, "Oh this personal detail is really about me, isn't it?" It can be hard to find a balance between making your characters distinct individuals and "writing what you know," so to speak. I'm also so glad you can feel the thought I've put into Loki's character! I'm trying to do him justice :) Thank you for your support, and I hope you enjoyed this latest chapter.