Hel-lo once again readers. First off, thank you to those who have reviewed, followed, read, and in any other way supported this story. I've worked hard on it and it means a lot. Part 1 (this bit) is finished and is ten chapters or so. I have started on Part 2 (where the rest of the Avengers appear, and boy is that gonna be fun...), but it's slow going what with uni work. But it is going.
Anyway, part 3. Usual disclaimers apply.
Regardless of how many strangers she found in ditches (to use her own words), Niamh still had a yard to run. She lent Loki a pair of her old shoes (tall, a horrible shade of green, and made of a material he had never seen before – she called them 'wellies'), deposited Loki in the Yardhouse again (this time giving him free reign over the bookshelves, the kettle, and her coffee mug and 'mini-fridge') and left him to it.
Loki could tell by the way his fingers ran over the spines of the volumes that he was a book lover. They were on subjects he had never heard of – the training of ex-racehorses, raising foals to the age of backing, natural horsemanship and forming a 'natural' bond with your animal. He took them down from the shelves and spent a while perusing them with his third cup of coffee. They spoke of treating the horse with respect and forming a partnership; working together as opposed as the animal working for the human. They spoke of bonds of trust.
Loki glanced out of the small window, dulled a little by accumulated dust and dirt and watched as Niamh cleared out stables. Her black hair was pulled back from her face and she looked tired, but happy. A dark horse with a white mark between his eyes still in his stable reached out a nipped at her sleeve. She laughed, the movement a silent joy through the wood and glass barrier, reached out and petted his nose.
He could see why Niamh was persuaded by this thinking. She obviously cared for her horses as she had never cared for people. Free from the bonds she placed upon herself when around people, she suited her name. 'Radiance.'
Loki himself was confused and trying not to show it. Earlier, he had sat on this very couch and tried to recall what he could. Images had come, certainly – the city of golden spires and gleaming heights and trees. Not of this world, certainly. A father, white bearded and one-eyed, an important figure in this place. His mother, a small woman with curling honey tresses, with a demeanour as fierce as her husbands'. And a brother with hair the colour of spun gold, dressed in silver and scarlet. Always laughing.
He wondered why he had lost them. He wondered if they had anything to do with his current situation. He hoped not. He recalled feelings of strife, but also of unity. He recalled defending one another against many foes, fantastical foes that he would not have believed existed if he wasn't gripped by the conviction that these events were real. But when he tried to recall any more than that, the sensation of resistance returned and he began to get a headache.
Many of these details had been lost when he tried to recall it to Niamh later. He was left with the nagging sensation that he was missing something. That something had happened to them.
Or to him.
Loki flung out a hand and hit the painted brick wall beside him. Oh, but it was frustrating! Knowing the information was there and being unable to access it. He wanted to know. He needed to know. He wanted to know if he was worthy of this woman and her gruff kindness, or if there was a reason he had no memory of who he was. With every answer, more questions were posed.
Perhaps they had been brought together for a reason. Niamh herself has secrets that revolved around her family history, that much he knew for certain. He face had clammed up when Loki had mentioned family. Only the slightest flash of – pain, perhaps? – had crossed her ice blue eyes before vanishing behind her wall.
"I don't like having you here." What happened to you, the beautiful Niamh? What happened to both of us?
It was frustrating beyond belief that he did not know. It seemed the mystery of Niamh would be easier to solve than his own. That was something that would take time.
Loki didn't know if he could wait.
I finished Dawn's stable and took a breather, leaning on the door and just enjoying the breathing of the sea breeze on my face. Dawn was a young dressage horse who was very nappy, according to her owner, forever backing off the bit and refusing to move forward and bucking when she was asked to perform a transition. I was still trying to work out how to break it to said owner (of the huge ego, 'all the gear, no idea,' ilk) that the problem lay with the rider, not the horse. I had watched them together – the woman rode with the grace of a sack of potatoes and about the skill level. It was full of mixed messages, and Dawn was a clever horse. No wonder the poor creature was confused.
Still, I was being paid for it, so I had given the horse some simple hacking and schooling to get her enjoying life again and was going to recommend the owner got herself a decent instructor. They never listened. It was frustrating. It's bad for the horse, and eventually they become bitter and moody. I had treated far too many horses that had been wrecked by one owner or other. Some of them I'd happily kill.
The radio, set to a golden oldie station, crooned Vienna, one of my favourite Billy Joel tracks. I hummed along. Give me an eighties rock n roll classic any day. It's my motivation, like a kind of musical espresso (if there's any such a thing.)
In the next stall, Cavalier nipped at my sleeve in a friendly manner, asking for treats. I laughed and stroked his nose. "No carrots," I said firmly. He snorted in annoyance, but accepted the contact.
I allowed myself a second of pride. There was a time a few weeks ago that the warmblood would have done that out of spite, in addition to the barging, bucking and jumping out of paddocks. His first week here I had had to raise the height of his paddock fence to stop him jumping into the mare's field and causing havoc, and that had been the least of my problems. It had been a bit of an uphill struggle, but the gelding was now behaving himself. He had a big personality underneath his ill-mannered treatment of his young owner.
He would be ready to go home in a few days, along with a few hints and tips for keeping up his training. This owner, I knew, would take the advice on board, for which I was grateful, and I fully expected to see him in the national magazines next year.
The song changed to Pink Floyd. I could feel Loki watching me from all the way across the yard through the Yardhouse windows. With an effort, I ignored him and continued mucking out.
His bright emerald stare made me uncomfortable…but it wasn't unpleasant. Which was just confusing.
For the first time in my life I had another human – or an approximation of one, according to him - to plan for. It was overwhelming. What did he eat? Did he eat? Where would he sleep? I would have to open up parts of the house I rarely ventured into – my sister's old room perhaps, or my childhood one.
Could I trust him to help with the horses?
I thought so…perhaps. He was familiar with them, but to what degree? Could he ride? Would he be rough, would he hurt them? Would he…would he…would he…I had to lean against the wall of Quickie's stable and take a deep breath or three to stop myself having an all-out panic attack.
His presence was almost tangible after living so long by myself. It almost made me itch.
With some difficulty I finished the mucking out. Loki hadn't emerged from the Yardhouse at any point so I tacked up Cavalier and took him into the school for half an hour. My ménage is a point of pride for me – almost square, surrounded by bushes and stained fencing, filled with rubber. Jump wings, white plastic poles and cavaletti are stored in one corner. I put up three fairly low straight bars jumps in a line across the middle, mounted, and concentrated on asking Cavalier to listen to me as opposed to taking the bit between his teeth, disregarding my leg, and jumping everything in sight (including the ménage fences), as he had done the first time I'd ridden him.
I'd used a mixture of tried and tested schooling techniques and some natural horsemanship to focus the showjumper's attention on the rider, building trust and a good working relationship. Cavalier was supple in my hands, working into the bridle and leaping off my leg. Once we had warmed up, we flew around the grid.
I forgot my mysterious houseguest, I forgot everything. There was nothing but the horse at the end of the reins.
Therefore it came as something of a surprise when I dropped back to trot and found Loki watching me over the gate, so I rode over to him. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Not long. You ride like poetry in motion."
I supposed I should have been flattered. Instead I felt naked. Exposed. "Why are you watching me?" I snapped.
Loki's face fell into confusion. "I'm sorry, I don't…I wasn't aware that you-"
I dismounted so I was at his level, incensed. "In case you hadn't noticed, mister, I live on my own, I work on my own, I exist on my own, and I don't appreciate some random amnesiac that I found in a ditch snooping around in my life! It's not…it's…not nice. It's my private things. There are lines you don't cross." I had to stop myself from spluttering and making myself look like an idiot.
Wheeling, I tried to tug Cavalier after me but a hand on my arm stopped me. Loki.
"The way you handle him, the way you ride – it's like magic. It's a gift, Niamh. Why would you not want to share it?"
I pulled away. Cavalier snorted, unsettled by the tension. "Don't presume to know me. You don't. I dragged you out of a ditch. That doesn't give you the right to pry." I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. "You can't stay here. I'll take you to the police in the morning. They might be able to help you with your-" I tapped the side of my temple, "problems."
Unable to meet his gaze any more, wound up and even a little frightened by the intensity of feelings I'd had no cause to feel in years regarding another person, I turned away, tugging Cavalier after me. I left him standing by the gate.
I didn't turn back. I couldn't.
For the rest of the day I kept out of his way. He still had the run of the Yardhouse while I did some of what I term the 'preliminary' work with Winter. He was a black show cob gelding who had an intense dislike of trailers. I found him a real gentleman, with good manners and a clear head who responded well to my no-nonsense way of handling. I merely did some lunge work with him that afternoon, deciding the real work would begin tomorrow.
Loki did not reappear for the rest of the day.
I'm not used to feeling guilty, yet guilty I felt. I wasn't sure what was more annoying. I didn't trust him, yet had let him into my house. Was I really about to turn on him like this?
I tucked a stray bit of hair behind my ear.
(He might have a family out there somewhere, waiting. The police could help him find them.)
(But rattling on about alien planets and otherworldly cities? They'd lock him away. It would destroy him.)
I decided I couldn't put off the conversation with Dawn's owner any longer, and called her in the office over my lunch break. We set up an appointment for Monday afternoon.
I also made the bittersweet call to Cavalier's owner, and told her she could pick him up in a couple of days. She was ecstatic, of course, but I felt a sense of tainted pride. The horse had really grown on me. But, as with all the rest, it was onwards and upwards.
Loki noticed my expression as I put the phone down, nursing his coffee mug (how many is that now?)
"It troubles you to let them go," he mused.
"I can't keep them forever, much as I'd like to keep some of them," I replied shortly, still annoyed with myself from earlier. (Jesus, this guy is so perceptive.)"Would you stop with the 'reading me' thing? It's intrusive."
"Sorry…I can't help it. I notice you. Maybe I notice other people in the same way."
"Maybe. Not much chance to test it out here…just you and me."
"Though not for much longer, it seems."
He sounded resigned. It nudged something within me.
I know horses. I had sorted out one last year who had been lifeless after a rough ride with an ignorant owner. The idiot had taken instruction from a "family friend" whose ideas about training horses dated from the Victorian era. When he had finally been sold and his new owner bought him to me, I had been all-out scared by the resigned look in his eyes, the way his head hung at half-mast, exhausted, uncaring, helpless.
Watching him come back to life had been the sweetest moment in mine.
I tucked my hair behind my ear.
"Niamh…" he said at the same time.
I fell silent, waiting.
"I…I want to apologise. As I said this morning, I understand I'm intruding on your life here and I don't want to make you uncomfortable. If I've…if I've crossed any irretrievable lines since what you said this morning, then I am truly sorry. And I can respect that you might not want me around if I have."
"No, I'm the one who should be sorry," I said quietly. "I shouldn't have said that to you this morning. I shouldn't have threatened to take you to the police. It was rude." I couldn't bring myself to meet his eye.
"So…you're not going to…"
I could. I could say, "Sorry, yes I am. I can't deal with other people," I could pack him into the car in the morning... "I don't know."
I looked out at the darkening sky. It was barely seven. The evenings were getting lighter, but not that much. They sky was scudded with dark grey, almost purple clouds that gave way to lighter blues and pinks between the gaps. Sooner they would deepen into burnt orange and clear violet fading into midnight blue as the night drew down. The ever constant wash of the sea played soothingly in the background as a peculiar sensation infused the room. It occurred to me, much later than it should have, that a comfortable, companionable silence stretched over us. The horses were in, the feeds done. It was time for my own feed.
Well…mine and his.
I was, however, reluctant to move. Moments like this were something I could get used to.
(Bugger it, Niamh, chap falls out of the sky and you throw all your principles out of the window…what is so special about him? He's just a man. A sentient being, if not a human. They're unreliable. You know that. )
Reluctantly I broke the silence. "I need food, and so do you. You can't survive on coffee."
The man was turning out to be more of an addict than me. It didn't seem to be affecting him – I knew most humans would have keeled over from overdose by now, but not Loki. Maybe he really was from outer space.
Loki smiled at the spotty mug in his hands. "It's nice. Even after seven cups."
I shook my head. "How you haven't collapsed from a caffeine overdose I do not know…"
Loki's brow furrowed in confusion. Of course he had never heard of caffeine. "If you…we…have too much of the stuff that's in coffee, it can be poisonous." I clarified.
"I have not felt any ill effects."
"I can tell. Come on, I want to eat."
I couldn't let Loki starve, obviously. But all I have is ready meals. I can't cook, I never learnt. I was lucky, or maybe he was just being polite, but Loki didn't seem to mind a microwaved meal of lasagne and some vegetables on the side. True, he regarded it a little suspiciously, but he ate the lot. That was one less headache.
Loki was being nice, trying to work out the hot taps to rinse his plate off. Again, I wondered if he was trying to make up for making me uncomfortable earlier on, or whether I was being taken for a ride. Whether he wanted something from me, and I didn't want to think about what that something might be. It was so confusing.
I never stopped to think about how it must have been for him.
I distracted myself by searching for the keys to the shut – up parts of the house in the big drawer. I was going to put him in my old room – all I needed to do was set the bed up. He would have to sleep in his clothes, there was no way I was giving him my pyjamas as well.
Loki seemed occupied playing with the taps so I left him to it. As I spread pressed sheets over the old mattress and plumped pillows I tried not to think about having company, another person sleeping in my house.
It had been building all day. The feeling that made me want to run.
I closed my eyes. I was NOT going to having a moment.
I had a moment. I showed Loki to his room, went back down to the living room, and hid under a blanket.
This house is full of memories. Not all of them are good ones.
This was the first time in years the house had an extra person in it.
Eventually I forced myself to stop shaking. Normally I hate myself after one of these…attacks, but usually they occur after something stupid like the weekly shop or a client meeting.
That was why Loki couldn't stay here.
Once again, I ascended the dark stairs. The night had drawn in with my curtains, all the lights were off. The door was ajar and a sliver of weak light fell upon his sleeping face.
He looked at peace. The shadows beneath his cheekbones seemed as black as his hair, just a smear of night on the pillow. He retained his ethereal quality beneath the duvet, however.
(Loki. Who are you?)
The name was unfamiliar, and unusual. The library, and an internet search might turn up something.
And the question remained – would I turn him over to strangers?
My aunt would, in an instant. Probably my mother and father too. Edina? Maybe. Nothing could be permitted to tarnish the family reputation, after all.
Would I turn him over? I wanted to. I could.
The smug voice in the back of my head said I wouldn't. I knew it was right. I am not my family.
The man shifted suddenly. Tensed, and shivered. His face twitched as he dreamed. A nightmare? Or a memory? I knew myself that there was sometimes little difference between the two.
Seized with an unexpected protectiveness, I grabbed an extra blanket from the back of the chair and threw it over his sleeping form. Then, scared by so much sentimentality shown towards another human being, I retreated to the relative safety of my bed and book.
"Are you sure this is wise, Father? He does not know who he is."
The old man with the silver eye-patch looked down over his shining city, and away over the rainbow bridge. "Neither does she. They will teach each other much."
"I just hope you and Heimdell know what you're doing." The young man with the blue eyes looked troubled. "If the Chitauri return, and he has no way to defend her, or himself…"
"We shall see. But we should not interfere. It is his choice now, whether he will follow the right path to regain his memory. This is the chance I give to him."
P.S I drew the despcription for Niamh's 'moment' if you like from my own experiences. I wouldn't necessarily call them panic attacks, but I have had one or two panic attacks and they are highly unplesant. Apologies to anyone reading this who might have been a little offended by that description.
Working into the bridle - when a horse is being schooled, it ought to be working with its neck relaxed, its head in a vertical(ish) position and it should be using it's back end (hind legs, quarters and back) to provide the power for the movements. My horse is capbale of it, he just hates it.