It was a lot to think about, and Loki wasn't entirely certain he was up to it at the moment. He also wasn't entirely certain what surprised him more: the new insight into humanity, or the fact that it came from such an unexpected source. How many people take the time to really think about their own people critically? he wondered. Few do in Asgard, and I saw evidence of few doing it here. But there are obviously some like her. Like me. It was a strange thought. He had little experience with people who ever gave such questions space, let alone were interested in debating them. And yet even before he learned that he wasn't of the people he had always thought of as his, he had watched and questioned and probed into 'why'. Why people did things. Why they believed things. And, of course, how those beliefs and actions could be influenced, because that was the most intriguing puzzle of all.

Too much thinking, he decided abruptly. Tonight was supposed to be relaxing. I can mull this over some other time. He looked down at his companion, curled against his side with one hand splayed out across his chest, and suggested with a smile, "Neither of us did get that swim we came for."

Karla snuggled closer to him. "True. But I'm not sure I'm capable of standing just yet."

"Still feeling a little shaky, my dear?" he sniggered. She stuck her tongue out at him. "Allow me to be of assistance," he purred, gathering her closer. It amused him - and aroused him, a little - how readily she rolled into the closer embrace. When he felt he had a firm enough grip, however, he twisted gracefully to his feet with her still held against him. Her squeak of surprise made him laugh, and before she had a chance to recover he took a few running steps to where he had originally intended to dive from and jumped.

Her yelp was cut off as they hit the water. They came up still entwined, Karla spluttering and gasping for breath, he laughing in glee. The glare she shot him would have been more effective if it hadn't been obvious that she too was trying not to laugh. "You know that demands payback," she said, her eyes alight with mischief. Without giving him a chance to respond, she braced her hands against his shoulders and heaved herself up, pushing him under the water.

The next few minutes were a confusion of water and tangled limbs and laughter as they both sought advantage. It was a more even contest than he had expected. He was stronger by far, but she was small and quick and slipped out of his grasp time and again when he tried to pin her. When the burst of energy finally subsided he had a pain in his side from laughing so hard and from the way she held herself he suspected she did too. They floated side by side for a while, recovering their breath. "You're good at this," he remarked at last, flashing her a quick grin.

"Lots of practise," she replied blandly. "I may be older than all my cousins, but they're all bigger than me. When we'd go to the beach every summer as kids, it was good practise of evasion skills. That or drown." She laughed and flicked water at him. "You're not exactly a slouch yourself, sir. And a lot more fun to grapple with than my cousins."

He snorted and said with mock injury, "I should hope so!" Considering her words for a moment, he ventured, "So you've no siblings then?" She shook her head, and he sighed. "I envy you."

She eyed him cautiously for a long moment, her lower lip caught between her teeth. Finally she said, "Now, I don't even pretend to have the whole story, but... Thor's your brother?"

"No, he's not," he snapped. The flash of hurt in her eyes made him regret his tone and he drew a hand over his face as he tried to find a way to explain what had become a familiar pain to him. "We thought we were brothers our whole lives. Until very recently, in fact. Then I learned that I was a foundling, adopted into the royal house of Asgard when I was a mere babe. That I'd been lied to my whole life." And we won't mention where I was adopted from, he thought sourly.

Karla winced and moved closer so she could wrap her arms around him. "Ouch," she murmured. "I think I understand why you wanted to break something. It just would have been nice if it wasn't my world."

He chuckled, marvelling again at the easy acceptance she offered. It was disarming, he thought later, this sharing of confidences with someone who listened and understood and accepted. He found himself continuing, "It made a lot of things make sense, though. Why Thor was always favoured by Odin. By the Court. By pretty much everyone. I never asked how many of them knew, but it can't have been that much of a secret. Mother's not one to closet herself away, so they had to have known she never bore me." The bitterness of that last statement surprised him a little - he'd never put that thought into words before and now he realised how much it had been festering.

Then she threw him a new question that knocked the metaphorical floor out from under him with its simplicity: "So why is he 'Odin' but she's still 'Mother'?"

His mind whirled, and when he opened his mouth to defend himself nothing came out at first. He struggled to make sense of the conflicting thoughts and finally, hesitantly, said, "We were always close. She always had time for me when I was a child, while Odin was often busy. She shared with me her love of learning, and of magic, and taught me to love them too. When I was imprisoned for my crimes she made sure I had a few basic comforts, and a lot of books to keep me from going mad alone in my cell." A small tremor went through him as he concluded, "Because she's the only one I've never doubted loves me for me. For who I really am."

"Sounds like she's the only one who really knows," Karla mused, giving him a squeeze. "Let me run a scenario by you, and tell me if I've gotten anything wrong. Based on the myths and legends we have here about your people, I understand Asgard to have a fairly martial culture. In fact, I'm guessing that to be a Warrior of Asgard is the dream of most youths. Now, I've seen some footage of Thor from New York. Long distance, but it's obvious the man's built like a brick shit-house. There's warrior material right there if ever I've seen it. Then there's you, smaller and slimmer as well as being younger - you are younger, aren't you?" He nodded, his lips still twitching from the 'brick shit-house' comment even as something in him quailed in expectation of her assessment of him. But she surprised him again as she went on, "You wouldn't have been able to keep pace with him in the training yard, but you would have run rings around him at any studies the pair of you were set. And your mother noticed that, and so fostered that side of you and made sure that you had a skill - a powerful skill - that would let you hold your own against anything the world threw at you." She gave him an unsure-but-game smile. "How did I do?"

He pressed his lips against her forehead and drew in a shuddering breath. "You missed Thor's friends," he replied, struggling to keep his tone neutral. "Proven warriors all four of them, and while there is no shame in Asgard in pursuing magic as a focus, none of them ever missed an opportunity to belittle me for it. To dismiss what I did as mere tricks, not worthy of adulation or even rememberance. And this despite the number of times my 'tricks' saved us all or got us out of a difficult spot."

She hissed in displeasure. "They all deserve a smack upside the head," she told him seriously. "Or maybe a good hard kick in the balls would drive the message that they're idiots home better."

"Wouldn't work for Sif," he replied with a wry smile. "But I do thank you for the thought."

Karla grinned. "Well, I'm sure we could come up with something. But for what it's worth, I think you - and what you can do - are amazing." She chuckled, the colour rising in her cheeks once more. "In fact, if this was a different kind of meeting, I'd ask you for a magic lesson."

It's worth more than you might think, he mused silently, unwilling to express such a sentiment out loud. The second admission made him smile, though. "I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask for an absolute basics lesson," he admitted. "Magic has been such a part of me for so long that much of it has become instinctive. Automatic. I could teach someone who already knew the basics of sorcery, but..." He trailed off in regret. It would have been fun to teach her. To share his knowledge and his passion for knowledge with someone who seemed to truly appreciate its value.

The water rippled around them and a small wave rose up to slap against the side of his head. "Like that, you mean?" She looked up at him with a smug smile, her eyes dancing merrily.

He gaped at her for a moment as he tried to reconcile what had just happened with the idea he'd had of human capabilities. Then, hastily, he extended those other senses - senses he hadn't even thought to exert because he was on Midgard, and what did humans know of magic? - and felt the thread of power running through her. Weak by Asgardian standards, of course, and erratic, but the fact that it was there at all was a surprise. He threw back his head and laughed until his convulsions threatened to swamp both of them.

When he finally brought himself under control once more, he found her still watching him. Her smile was still in place, but there was a hint of wariness in her eyes that hadn't been there before. He gathered her back into his arms. "My sweet, sweet girl, do you have any idea what a treasure you are?" he asked softly. She blinked up at him in surprise and he grinned. "I'd no idea that humanity had progressed so far. Or are you unique?"

She shook her head. "Not unique, but rare." She dropped her gaze and shifted uncertainly. "To be honest, it's a large part of what drew me to this spot tonight. I'd been coming for a swim anyway, and then I sensed... well, you, as it turned out." Her smile turned self-conscious. "Back when I was in my teens, when I first started to wonder if there were other people like me, I taught myself to recognise the... the feel of magic, I guess. To see it, in some way. So that if I did come across people like me I'd know. Does that make sense?"

He nodded. "Perfect sense. I can do something similar, and usually do when I'm not in the one realm in all nine where I never expected to need to." And that was as close to an admission of error as he was willing to come. "I'm curious, though. What did you sense of me?"

"You shine like a beacon," she replied simply. "I've never seen anything like it before. Which isn't surprising, really. But I had to block that awareness off, because you're just too dazzling for me to look at like that." She paused, then ran one hand down his chest and added with a smirk, "Of course, it turned out you're pretty dazzling in your own right as well, so I'm not sure how much that helped."

The touch and the admiring words sent a jolt through him, and with it came a realisation. There were certain techniques he had held off using because he hadn't been sure of their effect on an unprotected mortal mind, but she wasn't unprotected. Untrained, yes, but her mind knew how to deal with the coursings of magic. Nuzzling her ear, he whispered, "Let me show you some magic, then." She smiled up at him expectantly, then gasped as he began to pour power into her and along her nerves, sensitising them, stroking them, layering sensation on sensation until she was clinging to him and whimpering. Feeling smugly pleased with himself, he eased the flow of power and cupped her chin so he could see her face.

Her eyes were wide, her mouth open in wonder. "How?" she whispered. "Show me, please?"

"How? Magic of course." He laughed when she made a face and splashed water at him. "But why do you need me to show you how it's done? Isn't it enough to enjoy the results?" It was an odd request, he thought, and not one he'd ever received before.

She shook her head. "I'd never known you could use magic like that. And you said you'd teach me if I knew the basics." She was challenging him now, but playfully, and it made him smile.

"Very well." He taught her the way Frigga had taught him his first uses of power: with a light touch to the mind and guidance in the feel and the shaping of it to the desired end. For her part, she was quick and eager and before long he could tell she had the understanding of what he had done.

Then she did the last thing he expected. With a wicked grin she turned that power outward and poured it into him instead. For a moment it was as if he couldn't breathe, couldn't see, couldn't think. The unexpectedness coupled with the sheer physical ecstasy left him gasping. All the times he had used his own body as a testing ground while he refined his technique had not in any way prepared him for what it was like to have someone else set out to pleasure him this way. He clenched his teeth together, unsure whether he was on the verge of pleading with her to stop or pleading with her to never stop, but determined not to do either.

Moments - an eternity - later, the flood of power slowed and he was able to process rational thought again. He looked down into smiling eyes and found a smile tugging at his own lips in response. His groin ached with a need more intense than any he'd felt before and he captured her lips in a searing kiss even as he pulled her against him and thrust into her. She was ready and eager for him, and a small corner of his mind wondered if she had been left with such an all-consuming need as he had. If so, the fact that she had pushed him to teach her just so she could turn his own skills back on him was doubly amazing. Then their motion sent them dipping below the water's surface and he lost the train of thought as they surfaced, laughing and spluttering, to twine further around each other.

His magic was never far from him, even when he was so consumed by passion as this. Indeed, during their first coupling on the rocks it had taken a constant awareness to not use it. Now he gladly poured himself into her and revelled in her cries of pleasure, the way she gasped his name over and over, the feeling of her body contracting around him. He didn't let up then, either, pushing her to further heights while her nails scored his shoulders and she trailed hot, desperate kisses down his throat. This, for him, had always been the headiest aspect of sex: the knowledge that no matter how poised and self-possessed the woman, he could reduce them to the point where nothing existed in their world but him. Then that sweet fire raced through him once more and he groaned. His movements became more frantic and they went under more than once. She didn't let up, though, and neither did he, and the loop of pleasure between them was building to the point where he was no longer able to hold back and he finished with a cry the next time she did.

They both let the flow of power between them die away as they floated, still entwined and gasping for breath. Loki felt dazed, not just from the aftermath of such intense pleasure but from the realisation of what had just happened. Without being fully aware of speaking aloud, he murmured, "I was definitely not prepared for that."

Karla, cushioned against his shoulder, peered up at him with interest. "It really surprised you, didn't it? Why? Do you usually avoid sleeping with fellow sorcerers or something?"

He chuckled and tried to find the words to explain it to her even as he wondered why it mattered so much to him that she understand. "I've bedded women with great skill in magic before, but not one of them has ever asked to learn what I taught you. And even if they had, I doubt they would have bothered to use it with me." He read the question in her eyes and sighed. "What you have to understand is the position I occupied at court. Even before my fall from grace, I was never seen as a particularly desirable match. The younger son, skinny and weak, devoted to games of the mind rather than of battle." He snorted derisively. "I did manage a tryst now and then, and word started to spread of my... talents. I think over the years I became the guilty secret of at least half the women of the court. The man you went to for a night of excitement and pleasure and a hint of danger, but not the man you'd want to be seen with socially." He drew in a deep breath, trying to ease the bitterness of those memories. The times he'd been turned down or laughed at for suggesting to a woman he'd taken as a lover that it might become more than just a single night's romp.

"Are all the women in Asgard insane?" The incredulous tone of the woman in his arms jolted him out of his reverie. "Why would... How... Can they even..." She shook her head, possibly as much at her inability to finish any of those questions as at the questions themselves. Composing herself, she took a deep breath and began again. "They're mad. There's no other explanation for it. You're intelligent, fun, so damn gorgeous it hurts, and while I can't say anything about how good you are in bed you're pretty sensational in a lake!" He laughed, startled and charmed by both her frankness and her support, and after a moment she joined in. Then she sobered and added, "If you ever feel like a change of pace, come and find me again and we'll go dancing or something. You do dance, don't you?"

The offer caught him by surprise and he felt his eyes prick with moisture. Grateful that they were both so wet it was unlikely to be noticed, he managed a smile and nodded. "I've always enjoyed dancing."

She grinned. "Thus elevating yourself above at least ninety per cent of the men of my acquaintance. So keep it in mind. I'd be more than happy to spend a social evening with you on the town, with or without the prospect of getting naked with you at some point later in the evening." She considered this for a moment. "Preferably with, though," she added with a chuckle.