Author's note: Apologies for the delay. My house was broken into and the %$# stole my laptop. Thankfully I back everything up online, but I've been reduced to my phone as my only regular source of internet browsing for the last couple of weeks and editing chapters that way just isn't working for me! But I'm back on deck now, and will hopefully have the next chapter up in a few days. Thanks for your patience, and thanks also to my wonderful reviewers. You light up my life!


"So what else can you do?" Loki asked curiously as they waded into the shallows and climbed up to lean back against the rocks.

Karla ducked her head with embarrassment as she started to wring the water out of her hair. Admitting her ignorance to one of the foremost masters of magic wasn't going to be easy, but she decided she had more to gain by being honest. Better by far to be a little embarrassed now than overstate her abilities and risk being utterly humiliated if she got caught in a lie. "A hodge-podge of strange, small things," she said with a small laugh. "Oddly enough, there isn't anywhere to get training around here so I sort of make it up as I go along."

He flashed her a quick smile. "Naturally. And that's why I'm so interested. I'd like to see what you've come up with."

"Ah." She shivered, and not from the breeze on damp skin. That smile does terrible things for my concentration. "Well, a lot of it I discovered by accident. That thing with the water? Tantrum in the bath when I was a kid. I'm not sure who was more scared, me or my mother."

Loki chuckled. "I'm glad it didn't keep you from experimenting."

She shook her head. "I'm way too curious for that," she replied with a grin. "But I guess you can divide what I can do into three categories, really. There's the accidental, like that one. And being able to... push things away from me, I guess. Like if something's thrown at me I can sometimes make it change course so it doesn't hit me." Her smile turned rueful. "I don't always manage that one though, sadly. But then there's practical, utilitarian things that I learned to do because when it comes right down to it I can be lazy about some things. And if you can do magic, then it should make your life easier, right? So I can do things like plait my hair without using my hands, or dry it quickly." She held up a lock of mostly dry hair as an example. "I can also bring things to me that I can't reach, if they're small. Useful when you're not very tall, which isn't something I'd expect you to understand." She grinned at him and ran a hand up his thigh. "You with your legs that go on forever!"

He laughed and captured her hand in his own. "Ah, but you forget that I was once a small boy. And those are not skills to be discounted, for all that they're relatively simple. Now, before you distract me completely, shameless girl, tell me about the third category."

Karla couldn't help smiling at the thought that she might be able to distract him, especially from a topic clearly of interest to him. Does that mean I'm a topic of interest to him as well? she wondered. It was a pleasant thought, but she forced her mind back to the question. "Well, the last category is things I learned from books. Sort of. See, I've always read a lot of fantasy - made-up stories with magic and monsters and adventures and all that. And sometimes I'd come across a description of something done by magic and I'd think, 'I wonder if I can do that?' Sometimes the book would outline the way it was done based on the rules of magic in that story's universe, and I'd try to duplicate the method if it made sense and didn't rely on something I didn't have access to. More often though I'd just try and duplicate the results. My success rate was variable, but I did manage a few things. I can walk on air, although not for long because it's damn hard, and if I really concentrate I can stick my hand in a fire without burning. That sort of thing."

"Now that is a very interesting way of going about it," he mused. "I've occasionally worked backwards from a description in an old book, figuring out how to achieve a particular effect when only the end result was described. But the books I was working from all assumed the same rules, and I had centuries of training in what those rules were and how to apply them. To do the same when the rules keep changing... That would be quite a challenge." He sounded impressed, and she didn't bother trying to hide how pleased that made her.

Of course, the way he tossed off 'centuries of training' was hard to ignore. "Some of us don't have the benefit of either training or centuries, my dear," she said with a laugh. "It's more a matter of 'poke at it while you can and hope you don't blow yourself up'."

He gave her an odd look. "Does it bother you? The centuries part?"

She didn't even have to think about that one. With a grin and a shrug, she quipped, "I've always had a thing for tall, older men." He deserved better than that, she thought immediately, contrite. He asked the question seriously, he deserves a serious answer. Their hands were still entwined, so she gave his a reassuring squeeze. "When the age difference measures in multiple decades, I guess that can be a bit weird. And potentially ick, maybe. But you're immortal. After a certain point it stops being meaningful as an age difference as far as I'm concerned. And you don't look much older than me, a consideration which probably makes me terribly shallow." She considered the situation for a moment from the other side. What must it be like for him, talking to someone whose life-span was such a tiny fraction of his? The question gave her a strange feeling, but it had always been her way to confront strange head-on. "What about for you? Does it bother you to be spending the evening with someone who, at best, will only ever measure their life as a century?"

It was gratifying, in a way, that he took some time to consider his answer. It was also unnerving. Just as she was starting to regret having asked the question, he shook his head. "It doesn't, but it does feel... odd. Because I've enjoyed talking to you as much as I've enjoyed the evening's more... physical entertainment. I never expected a mortal to be this interesting."

"Arrogant bugger, aren't you?" she said teasingly, poking him in the chest with her free hand.

"Well I am a god," he replied with a grin. His eyes were alight with amusement and something else she couldn't quite place.

As she returned the grin and stretched up to kiss him, she thought, He enjoys the banter too. I wonder how many people in Asgard are comfortable enough with him to play? Not many I suspect, given what he said earlier. The thought made her feel sad. She liked Loki. She wanted him to be happy, and she sensed that he wasn't. From the friction between him and those he was closest to, to the knowledge that Asgardian women had no interest in him as a person, his life must be pretty hollow. She could understand why he had slipped away for some time alone.

Winding her fingers through his hair as the kiss deepened, another thought occurred to her. Despite the vast difference in their ages, despite his far greater experience and (if she was being honest) skill at sex, he'd said that none of the women he'd been with had cared about ensuring his pleasure. That meant that anything she did was going to have serious novelty value. Like when they'd been playing with magic earlier. He was less surprised that she could than that she did. That she'd wanted to. It was an odd realisation, one that didn't sit comfortably at all. How could you want to have sex with someone and not care if they were enjoying it? She couldn't imagine not wanting to give pleasure as well as receive it.

They were definitely moving into 'distracted' territory now. Loki had rolled so that he lay half on top of her, his hands roaming freely. It was tempting to just relax into it - he was extremely skilled, after all - but she had a point to make. She broke the kiss and pushed gently at his chest with her open palm. "My turn now, I believe." He looked at her in confusion and she gave him a wicked smile. "You've had a chance to thoroughly explore and play and tease. Therefore it's my turn."

His eyes widened and for a moment he seemed on the verge of saying something. Then he chuckled and shook his head. "Full of surprises," he murmured. "What did you have in mind?"

"For you to lie back and enjoy," she replied, her eyes sparkling. "I want to learn what you like."

A puzzled frown creased his brow for a moment. She kept her gaze locked on his, daring him to step outside his comfort zone, and felt a thrill of achievement when he rolled onto his back and tucked his hands behind his head. "I am at your disposal, my lady," he said. There was a mocking bite to the words, however, and a stiffness to his posture. She wondered if they hid fear, and if so what he was afraid of. Surely he didn't think she could hurt him? An inner voice whispered, Perhaps he fears you mock him. That you're setting him up to look foolish. That thought was like a punch to the gut, but she did her best to keep her disquiet from showing on her face. She could give him this much at least: a counterbalance to whoever had left such a deep scar on his soul.

She rolled onto her knees beside him and drew her nails softly over the underside of each arm, starting at the wrists where they rested either side of his head and ending alongside his shoulders. A shiver chased over his skin and she smiled, even though he was still watching her with narrowed eyes. She ran her hands down his chest as she had at the start of the night and whispered, "I don't think you truly understand just how attractive I find you, Loki. Your body, your mind, your voice..." Her hands ran back up again and rested lightly on his shoulders as she leaned over to kiss him lingeringly. It felt like some of the defensive wariness was leaving him, which pleased her.

A trail of kisses along his jaw and down his throat led to a more thorough exploration of his chest, and she grinned to herself when she flicked her tongue over his nipple in passing and made him jump. She worked slowly, feeling him gradually relax and respond to her ministrations. It wasn't until she ran her tongue over the indentation at the curve of his hip, however, feeling him buck beneath her and hearing his groan of pleasure, that she knew he'd truly accepted what she was offering. That knowledge was intoxicating, as was the taste and the smell of his skin - something spicy and wild and altogether male.

Her hair was spilled over his lap, and she had the impish thought, It can't be that different from plaiting it. A bit of concentration and the long tresses took on a life of their own, slithering teasingly over his thighs. The sound he made was somewhere between a groan and a chuckle, and she looked up to see that he'd closed his eyes, his lips relaxed in a smile. Her attention was drawn by further evidence of his arousal, though, in the form of the very large, very hard cock twitching mere inches away from her face. Her mind boggled slightly at the thought that she'd somehow managed to fit all of him inside her but it made a tempting target, and she took a mischievous delight in licking slowly from the base to the tip.

Loki's back arched and he gasped a curse in a language that she didn't recognise. His native tongue? she had a moment to wonder before she felt his hand tangle in her hair and draw her up. He wasn't rough but he was insistent. She was happy to let herself be drawn, sliding her body along his until she was in his arms, his mouth hot and hungry on hers. The feeling of drowning in him was becoming familiar, and that familiarity and her own stubborn pride gave her the strength to resist letting him take back control. She broke the kiss with a laugh and said teasingly, "Patience isn't your strong suit, is it?"

"Not tonight, it seems." There was enough heat in his eyes to melt a glacier and it sent a shiver of delight through her. He slipped a hand between her thighs and hissed, even as his caress made her squirm and whimper. "So wet," he whispered, his surprise obvious. "You truly are enjoying this, aren't you?"

Karla nodded, swallowing hard before she could find her voice. "Oh yes. And I haven't finished with you yet."

He gave another of those dark chuckles. "Not like that, though," he murmured. "I would prefer to spend myself inside you."

"Are you that close?" she asked, combing her fingers through his hair and continuing on across his shoulder. He shivered and his arms tightened around her briefly.

"Yes, damn you." His expression was somewhere between amusement and annoyance, as if he couldn't figure out how he'd gotten into this situation but was enjoying himself too much to really object.

"Let me do something about that for you, then." It was difficult not to laugh at his surprise when she pushed him onto his back and swung her leg over so she straddled his hips. Reaching down, she guided him into her and began to sink down slowly over him. When he growled and moved his hands to her waist, obviously intending to hurry her progress, she caught them and crossed them over his chest instead. "My turn," she reminded him playfully. It was hard enough to keep to the slow pace she'd decided on, when she wanted him so badly. She didn't need his encouragement. Even if the idea of him grabbing her hips while she rode him was such a very, very attractive one.

Loki, for his part, made an odd strangled noise in his throat and glared at her. Then she shifted again and his expression softened. "Your turn," he agreed with a grin. He drew her hands to his lips and kissed them. "I want to touch you, though." When she nodded, he slid his hands up her legs and over the curve of her hips. She wasn't surprised when he began to tease her with his magic once more, although the fact that it wasn't the deluge of sensation from earlier was unexpected. It was gentler, more subtle, but still enough to leave her gasping.

The mischief and amusement in his eyes made her laugh. "Cheat." Still, she enjoyed the fact that he had relaxed enough to be playful. And it wasn't as though she couldn't respond in kind. Sinking down to cover him fully, she tried to match the gentle flow of power back into him and was rewarded with a chuckle. "That isn't going to get you the upper hand this time, you know," she pointed out with a grin.

"Ah, but it is such fun trying," he replied. He hissed as she began moving slowly along him. His smile turned challenging as he added, "And you know that I could."

She shrugged and drew her nails slowly down his chest. "But you won't."

"Oh? And what makes you so sure of that?"

"Because you're having too much fun seeing what I'll do next."

He opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again. Laughing softly, he said, "I concede the point. But if you don't start moving faster, I will be forced to intervene."

"Tsk, tsk, so impatient," she murmured, reaching behind her to run her nails up the backs of his thighs. His growl of frustration and the way he narrowed his eyes, together with her own growing need, saw her increase the tempo anyway. Skill and planning rapidly gave way to urgent desire as Karla slid along the length of him and heard his groans of pleasure. His hands were everywhere, stroking and teasing, and still there was that thread of magic running between them heightening every sensation. It was fighting a losing battle to try and draw it out much more, and as she approached the crest she felt a certain satisfaction in feeling him follow her over the edge.

He drew her down to lay across his chest while they were still both twitching and gasping from the intensity of their pleasure, shifting his hips so she could stretch her legs out more comfortably. They lay like that for a while in companionable silence before he pressed his lips against the top of her head and murmured, "Your point is made."

She wrinkled her nose. "Mind reading, Loki?"

Loki shook his head with a chuckle, sounding deeper than usual with her ear against his chest. "Not necessary. I think I'm coming to understand you passably well, however. And... I thank you." That last sounded hesitant, but she suspected that the hesitation came from unfamiliarity rather than a lack of honesty. It's probably not often he has cause to genuinely thank someone, she thought sadly.

"You're very welcome," she replied softly, planting a kiss on his shoulder as she snuggled deeper into his embrace.