The sound of a door creaking open on rusty hinges pulled Jane from the test she’d been grading. It was a welcome distraction. Mary Henderson was just getting into how the land goddess descends from Heaven with her rainbow paintbrush to make the flowers bright and pretty (“That’s what Mommy told me!” the girl had loudly protested in the middle of Jane’s science lesson). Jane pushed the test paper back into the ‘to-be-graded’ pile for later. The finished tests were stacked much more haphazardly, covered in so much red that the ink in Jane’s pen might as well have been her blood. Pretty soon she’d be confusing igneous rocks with sedimentary rocks just like her kids did. At least this year, everyone knew how to spell them correctly.
It wasn’t that Jane didn’t like teaching second grade or anything, though it wasn’t like she loved it either. It definitely wasn’t where she’d expected to be at twenty-five back when she was an idealistic college kid dreaming of discovering portals to alternate dimensions. It was a shame reality had come knocking and drove her to pursue a ‘fallback’ teaching certificate ‘just in case’ (that is to say, just in case the scholarship that would have meant the difference between a Ph.D. and community college went to some slacker kid with well-connected parents instead of her).
Her night classes were coming along slowly as she spent her waking hours instructing seven year olds on the intricate mechanisms of writing in cursive. In the end, this job paid the bills, her kids were mostly good, and the principal had finally taken her suggestion to install a new coffee machine in the teacher’s lounge. She had a gourmet latte on her desk every day, so she couldn’t complain too much.
“Ms. Foster,” said the receptionist from her desk just outside Jane’s office. “Mr. Odinson is here to see you. Are you available?”
“Just getting some test grades finished,” Jane answered. She flicked her uncapped pen up the length of the desk, and then let it roll back to her. “You can send him in.”
Ah, yes. Time for another time honored tradition of the overworked elementary school teacher: the parent teacher conference. A time for tears and fears of academically challenged offspring, as her friend and drinking buddy, Darcy, liked to describe it. She may not have been a teacher herself, but Jane knew it for a fact, she wasn’t wrong.
This would be her first time meeting Loki Odinson, the elusive single father of the three most brilliant and troublesome children Jane had ever taught.
She should have met him on the first day of school, when he dropped his kids off like the rest of the parents, but he had an important meeting that day, or so Jane was told. The kids walked themselves into class and handed Jane a note of apology, written in handwriting so elegant that Jane could’ve fallen in love with the man based on that alone. She was supposed to meet him again on open house night a month ago. This time, the letter arrived by way of regular mail the next day, and the first line was not an apology for his truancy, but for the ‘plebian’ method by which he’d been forced to contact her.
And that was how she fell out of love with him.
His absence meant that Jane was essentially fighting a one-sided battle against a trio of seven year olds who really should’ve been taking college courses by now or discovering the cure for cancer. They were all smart enough. If one wasn’t submitting algebra homework in place of the multiplication tables she assigned (“I thought I’d get extra credit,” said Fenrir), then another was trying to create nuclear fusion as their project for the school science fair and nearly burning down the gymnasium in the process (“I saw it on TV,” said Hela). During recess, they could typically be found creating a playground hierarchy by getting everyone into a rousing game of Army, ‘conquering’ the slide, and then charging one candy apiece for the other kids to use it (“It’s for our gardener, Miss Foster, he’s diabetic and he needs the sugar,” said Jormungandr).
In general, the triplets weren’t bad kids, and they’d always been highly respectful of her and her authority. If she told them to stop breeding fruit flies in the locker room, they stopped. And when it was their turn to feed the class pet and take the roll call sheet to the main office, they did so promptly and without complaint. They’d bring her fresh flowers for her desk every day, which was nice. They paid an artistic sixth grader on the newspaper staff to include a portrait of her in the next issue’s art section, which was also nice, if a little much. They gave her a 24k gold apple ‘paperweight’ for Christmas, which was… really pushing it now. This was a parent teacher conference that had been waiting to happen; the playground fight last Monday had merely speeded things up.
Now, Jane was going to be in a room with Loki Odinson for the very first time.
Jane had no idea what to expect, and she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t nervous.
In the four or five seconds she had before he walked in, Jane checked herself in the tiny oval mirror kept in her bottom drawer. The last thing she needed was to have a piece of lettuce stuck in her teeth while talking to a parent, much less one as wealthy and powerful as this one. She shifted her stance- spine straight, feet together, hands joined- the picture of professionalism.
She came very close to faltering at the sight of Mr. Odinson. It may have been because he had entered her office without knocking, as was the courteous thing to do, and sat down in the seat opposite her without awaiting an invitation. It might have been because the way in which he did all of this spoke of total control and unbridled arrogance, like he owned the whole world and everything in it, and wanted her to know it. It might have been because, in following his path with her eyes, Jane caught sight of a crumpled up sandwich wrapper sitting on her desk that she’d forgotten to throw away, which already had a fly buzzing around it.
Or maybe it was because Loki Odinson was quite literally Tall, Dark, and Handsome personified.
It was a few seconds before Jane could get her mouth to close and her hands to move, but that was far too long for her liking. Clearing her throat, Jane dropped the balled up wrapper in the trash can next to her desk. Mr. Odinson was smiling when Jane looked up, a smile so devoid of warmth that he might as well have laughed in her face. At least that would’ve been straightforward.
“Ms. Foster, I presume?”
Jane tried to ignore the rough timbre of his voice and his posh British accent. This is the father of your students, she told herself, 'and he’s not even your type. You like blondes remember?
“Yes, thank you for meeting with me today,” Jane said in even tones.
She held out a hand, though entering his personal space felt a bit like putting her hand in a crocodile’s mouth. His fingers were soft to the touch, against her expectations. It had a calming effect on her nerves up until the moment he raised her hand to his mouth and let his lips brush over her knuckles.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” he purred.
Jane’s free hand clutched the table for leverage. She had to guard carefully against sudden movements when he let her go and she sat back.
“Um…” Jane swallowed. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked you here today, Mr. Odinson.”
From her initial appraisal of him, Jane half-expected him to ask that she call him ‘Loki.’ When that didn’t happen, Jane took that as a cue to get back to business. He probably (hopefully) had somewhere else to be right after this.
“I wanted to speak to you about your children’s classroom behavior.” Jane paused to gauge his reaction. There was none. “First, let me just say that their grades have been excellent. They're the most gifted students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching.”
“Of course they are,” said Mr. Odinson. “I would expect no less of my children.”
Jane nodded her head, suddenly reminded of all those times when she wondered if Mr. Odinson’s aloofness extended to the home life. If he was, in fact, truly neglectful of his children in all possible ways. If it weren’t for the triplet’s habit of singing their father’s praises whatever chance they had, Jane might’ve actually looked into that a long time ago. She heard enough from them about Mr. Odinson’s high class tastes and gentlemanly ways, along with his birthdate and how complementary it was to Jane’s (“I’ve been studying numerology as a hobby,” explained Hela). He was more or less a god to those kids, and though Jane was still trying to figure out why, he was at least sincere in his pride for them.
“Well, that’s very good,” Jane said. “Now that we’ve cleared that up, what I really wanted to talk to you about was-“
“Where’s your necklace?”
Jane blinked her eyes. A sound that was almost a word stumbled out of her mouth before she could close it and end that train of thought. Her hand instinctively went to the space below her neck along her collarbone. Until a few days ago, there had been a pendent in that spot.
“Oh that,” Jane said, feeling increasingly awkward as he stared hard at her bare expanse of neck. “I lost it at the park over the weekend. It was no big deal, just a piece of old costume jewelry… why do you ask?”
Mr. Odinson hummed, looking off into space for a moment like there was something on his mind.
“Jormungandr liked that necklace,” he said, and then he shook his head and waved his hand. “Such a shame… but, no matter. Now, I believe you wished to see me regarding the incident on the playground this past Monday afternoon.”
He turned on a dime so fast, it was giving Jane whiplash.
“They told you about what happened?” she asked.
“They told me enough.”
That was exactly what Jane didn’t want to hear. That the kids had already gone to their father with some big story about how they were the real victims, and the big mean teacher was trying to put the blame all on them, because in this day and age, no parent would ever allow their perfect little angel to take responsibility for their actions. Jane had never approved of coddling children. All it did was set them up to fail later in life, because they’d been protected for so long that they knew nothing of the pain and hardship the real world could bring. Her parents and her godfather had drilled it into her that she could be her own best friend or her own worst enemy, depending on the choices she made. They stressed work ethic and character building. That was why they’d be rolling in their graves if they knew she was teaching little kids about fractions instead of inventing interstellar space travel like she was supposed to. It was also why Jane was dreading the rest of this meeting before they’d even gotten started.
It was a shame. She’d been hoping Mr. Odinson might be an exception to the rule.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” she said, “what did they tell you?”
Jane braced herself for the screams.
“They were upfront with me about their role in the skirmish,” Mr. Odinson calmly stated. “They told me that it began with a classmate making impolite comments about my daugther’s appearance, and when she answered in kind, a fight broke out. That was when my sons rushed in to defend their sister. Do I have it all right so far?”
He did, and Jane was trying to reconcile his identical version of the fight with the one she knew to have happened when he reached into his pocket for his cell phone. As Jane watched, he tapped a few buttons, waited, then tapped a few more. Then he put it away again and crossed one leg over the other.
“My apologies. Work is never through for me,” he said.
Jane gave a tiny laugh, though she wasn’t certain if he’d meant that as a joke or not.
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” she said, though it sounded wrong to her ears. Of course she didn’t know what it was like to have work like he did. He was a big time CEO and she was just a schoolteacher.
“I’m sure you do,” he said vaguely. Once again, he was impossible to read. “Let me assure you that I have taken disciplinary action to ensure that this never happens again. My children have been taught to choose their battles, and a child of such dull wit as to use quips like ‘stitch face’ and ‘monster girl’ is hardly worthy of the dirt beneath their shoes, much less the force of their fists.”
Oh wait, never mind. He was glaringly obvious in his smug superiority that all rich people seemed to carry when addressing the ‘little people’. Jane resigned herself to ignore the last part of his statement and focus only on the parts that mattered.
“I’m happy to hear that,” she said, and though it was eating at her, she refrained from asking just what those ‘disciplinary actions’ of his were.
“Is that all you wanted to see me about?” Mr. Odinson asked.
‘I wish,’ Jane thought.
“I’m afraid not.” She sat up a little higher in her seat. She may have already ruined any illusion of professional detachment that she might have had, but that wouldn’t stop her from trying. “There’s something else that I wanted to talk to you about, Mr. Odinson.”
Mr. Odinson uncrossed his legs, and would’ve been mimicking her position perfectly were his legs not spread so far apart from each other (‘Don’t look down,’ Jane told herself. ‘Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down…’).
“Do tell,” he said.
Maybe she was paranoid, but that sounded a lot like a challenge.
“It’s nothing serious,” Jane said again. “It’s just that your children have been acting very… generous lately.”
Mr. Odinson raised an eyebrow. “Generous?”
“What I mean is that they seem to have developed a very strong liking for me,” Jane elaborated, “It wouldn’t bother me, except they don’t understand that there have to be boundaries between teachers and students, and the constant gifts are crossing that boundary.”
Mr. Odinson laced his fingers together, resting his chin leisurely upon them.
“Well for starters, there’s the poem they wrote for my birthday,” Jane said, triggering a memory of Jormungandr reading the entire thing to a class of twenty confused children and one mortified teacher.
“Ah,” said Mr. Odinson. “Might I assume you are referring to the epic ballad they penned featuring a fictional version of yourself as a warrior princess who defeats illiterate enemies and brings forth knowledge and enlightenment to her people?”
Jane’s jaw fell.
“You- you knew about that?”
“Well, I did proofread their work for them,” he said proudly. “I also added the scene where Princess Foster defeats the golden haired ogre who wished to carry her away as his bride.”
“I thought it added depth, you see. It emphasized an independent spirit that my daughter felt best characterized you. I hope you don’t mind.”
At this point, Jane was back to making formless nothing sounds as words failed her.
“I am a bit relieved that that is your main complaint. For a moment, I thought it would be the coffee machine.”
And the world fell back into place for Jane at either the best or the worst time possible.
“I’m sorry, what was that?”
Mr. Odinson cast a glance at the cooling latte she’d left forgotten on the side of her desk.
“Well, Hela overheard you speaking with another teacher several weeks ago about how subpar the coffee this school provides is and asked me to rectify the situation. You didn’t really believe that your skinflint principal would pay out of his own pocket to have a machine imported all the way from Italy, did you?”
There was quite suddenly an internal battle waging with Jane Foster’s mind. It was fought between the side of her that wanted to laugh maniacally at the surreal turn this conference had taken, the side that wanted to scream in indignation that he’d be so pompously intrusive at the behest of a child, and the final side- which was simultaneously the smallest and the most powerful of all- that wanted to get down on her knees and praise him for saving her poor, abused taste buds from the generic brand swill she used to drink.
Which side would have won remained a mystery to Jane, for Mr. Odinson saved her from having to make a quick response with his most welcome changing of the subject.
“I suppose it has occurred to you to wonder what it is that drives them to such open adulation of you. Why they wish to please you so,” he said, leaving the question hanging in the air for her to latch on to.
“Well- yeah, it has,” Jane answered, lacking the surety of several seconds ago.
“Let me first say that, however it may appear to you, I have not coached my children in any way, shape or form.”
‘Well, you haven’t discouraged it either, have you?’ Jane’s inner voice muttered.
“This is not the first time they have done something like this with a female figure in their lives,” Mr. Odinson said, and if Jane didn’t know any better, she’d say he was taking on a somber tone. “Ms. Foster, you are aware that I am a single father, yes?”
“Yes, I know,” said Jane. Where was he going with this?
“You should also know that I was not married to the mother of my children, nor did we intend to marry for their sake. Angrboda was a very independent woman, like yourself. She had little room for a child in her life, much less three of them. Together, we came to a decision that I would have sole custody of the triplets, and she would maintain monthly visitation rights, provided she was in the country and had some free time. Unfortunately, the stress of labor was too much for her, and she didn’t live to see her children at all.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” said Jane.
But Mr. Odinson wasn’t listening. “With her gone, there has been no one to take the role of a mother in their lives. True, the original plan would’ve seen Angrboda as more of a distant relative than a parent, but I suppose for my children, it would have been enough. Now, they are determined to find a mother who will be there for them always, and not just twelve times a year.
“I suppose it’s my fault. I’ve always taught them that they can’t wait around for good things to come, they have to go out and make them happen themselves.”
“I see,” Jane said, speaking words and phrases that barely held meaning anymore as she sank deeper and deeper into a dreamlike state.
“The first time, it was a woman who briefly apprenticed at my company. Oh, they showered her with gifts and tried whatever they could think of to get me alone with her. I hadn’t the heart to tell them I was uninterested, and that she was already happily engaged to one of the accountants. Now, it seems, they’ve turned their sights to you.”
This must have been a very rational and understandable motivation to him, because not once in that entire spiel did he appear at all distressed that a troupe of super smart seven year olds were trying to commandeer his love life and push him into a romance with someone he’d never met before. Maybe Jane was biased, but that seemed like something that warranted more of a reaction than, ‘Oh well, kids will be kids.’
Unfortunately, Jane couldn’t be bothered to waste time dissecting the mental processes of a potentially insane rich guy, father of her students or not. She discreetly cast her eyes on her little cat shaped desk clock, and felt like screaming when she saw the big hand on the one, where it had been on the twelve when Mr. Odinson first walked in.
“Um…” Jane had to think very, very hard about what she was going to say next. “Can I assume you’ve talked to them about that as well?”
Mr. Odinson tilted his head to one side. “About what?”
He was kidding, right? He had to be kidding.
“Well, you’re telling me that your kids are trying to make me their new mother.” She wanted to bury herself in a hole and die having even uttered that sentence in front of him.
“Are you repulsed by the idea?”
“No, not at all,” Jane said. She bit down hard on her tongue right after. “I’m just… well, I mean… what about you? Doesn’t it bother you that your kids are doing this?”
“Not really,” he answered without missing a beat, and serene as could be in the face of Jane’s growing ire. “True, their persistence can be daunting at times, but I am comforted in knowing they only do it out of love.”
“Love for you, you mean,” Jane said under her breath.
“For you as well,” he replied, and that made Jane jump. Never could she have imagined that his hearing would be sharp enough as to have heard that. “Now why make a face? Is it really that hard to believe that my children’s motivations are innocent?”
Jane schooled her features into something more neutral, more professional. “That’s not what I mean, Mr. Odinson. I just don’t see how any affection on their part could be for me when they don't even know me. You’re their father, and I’m just their teacher. The school year will be over in just a few months, and then they’ll probably never see me again.”
“Oh, I doubt that very much. They will have spirited you off to some luxurious Parisian spa or to witness the aurora borealis in Siberia long before it comes to that.”
“Is that them you’re talking about or you?” Jane bluntly asked. At this point, she couldn’t care less about being professional. She just wanted this guy out of her office ASAP. Maybe if she was bitchy enough, he’d take the hint and go.
But that line of thought went right out the window when that silky smile of his transformed into a lecherous grin.
“It’s whoever you want it to be, Ms. Foster.”
Jane was lucky she’d taken those yoga classes back in college. It had given her so much insight into staying calm under pressure and relieving stress. Right now, she was invoking every single deep breathing exercise she’d ever been taught to keep herself from lunging at Mr. Odinson and doing something she’d regret (and at this point she didn’t even know what that something would be).
“All right, Mr. Odinson,” Jane said with a sickening beam of her own. “Let me ask you one more time: are you going to tell your kids to stop giving me presents?”
“I don’t think so,” Mr. Odinson said, after a pause that Jane was sure had been just for the sake of it. “Perhaps I would have, had this meeting gone differently, but if you don’t mind me saying, Ms. Foster, I find you exceptionally fierce in nature and astonishingly beautiful. I think for once my children have chosen well a woman for me. I’m more inclined to ask you to dinner tonight, if you would so indulge me.”
“What makes you think I would ever go out with you?”
He looked wounded, but it was a front. It had to be.
“Shall we make a challenge of it?” he asked.
“What kind of challenge?”
“Well, I’ve always been fond of games.” Mr. Odinson rubbed his chin with long fingers that made Jane’s toes involuntarily curl. God, she hated this guy and what he did to her so much. “How about this? If I can render you completely speechless in the next ten seconds, you will agree to a date with me. If I fail, I will leave now and never darken your doorway again, and I give you my word that my children will cease to be a burden on you. I can even have them transfer to another teacher’s class if it pleases you. Do you accept these terms?”
Jane laughed, she laughed like she had never laughed before, like she hadn’t laughed in a hundred years.
“Yeah, sure. I accept,” she said while clutching her stomach. “You’re going to render me speechless, huh? And how do you plan to do that, buddy? You going to kiss me?”
Mr. Odinson shrugged. “Well, yes.”
Jane stopped laughing, both because his lack of pretense had caught her off guard and because he had- in the space of a second- pulled her out of her seat and pressed a firm hand to the back of her head, dragging her closer to him and then...
Was this really happening?
Was he really kissing her right now?
Was she really letting him kiss her?
Why wasn’t she fighting him off? His grip wasn’t that tight, and she’d taken self-defense classes. She could snap his neck if she wanted to (unless this guy really was as inhuman as he seemed). It could only be because of her sudden and acute awareness of how long it had been since she’d last kissed a man, touched a man, been in close quarters with a man without it involving paperwork or getting more coffee, that she let this happen.
It couldn’t possibly be because he was the best kisser she'd ever seen, and his hands felt amazing running along the small of her back just above the hem of her blouse, and the way he held her flush against him gave her some firsthand insight into how solid his form was, and oh God, oh God, oh God...
He let go slowly, letting his lips linger long after Jane had come down from her high and regained enough self-awareness to step back. Even so, her throat was closed up. Not even a hiss would issue forth.
His hands left her, and some strange, animal part of Jane mourned the loss. His grin had changed one more time, now into a smirk, both smooth and deadly.
“Fenrir tells me you tend to leave for home at six.” He looked down at his watch. “That would be… two hours from now. Excellent. Just enough time for me to attend another meeting and be ready to pick you up at a quarter to.”
He stepped towards the door, gliding around all obstacles as he refused to look anywhere but directly at her.
“You needn’t worry about your attire. I’m sure Hela can help you pick something out. I believe she has a wardrobe already prepared for you. She has kept your personal tastes in mind, so have no fear, Jane Foster.”
He was out of the room now, only his head fully visible to Jane, and his eyes were sparkling.
“And one more thing… call me ‘Loki’, please.”
Twenty five miles away (give or take a few feet), footage was being broadcast to an enormous room decorated in bright greens and golds. A trio of school aged children sat before a laptop as it projected for them an image the size of a movie theater screen. In it, their favorite teacher was standing rigid in the wake of their father, who had taken truly drastic measures to gain traction with their future mother.
It was so painful to watch, in fact, that two of them hadn’t had the stomach to. Though Hela couldn’t say she enjoyed the amorous display, she at least had the common sense to understand that mating and fornication were important in the development of adult relationships. Her brothers were just being big scaredy-cat babies was all.
“That was gross,” Fenrir said with a shudder. “They were actually kissing.”
“I know,” Jormungandr said, making Hela wince slightly. He was the smallest of them, and yet his voice could boom over a rocket taking off. “For a second there, I thought Dad was gonna eat Ms. Foster’s face off.”
Hela rolled her eyes, closing the feed on Ms. Foster collapsing in her chair and wiping sweat from her brow. The forest green Armani dress Hela had picked out for tonight was hanging over her closet door. With a little make-up and a haircut, Ms. Foster was sure to look like a princess. Father would be so pleased with them.
“So, you think it’s gonna work out this time?” Fenrir asked, and knowing him, he was speaking more to himself than to either of them.
“What are you nuts?” asked Hela as she clicked onto her email and hit ‘compose.’ She entered Father’s address in and started typing, not bothering with a title or a traditional greeting. “Of course it will. We were all wrong with those other women. Dad doesn’t need a housewife, he needs Ms. Foster, and she needs all of us. Just you wait, they’ll see it.”
Her words had the desired effect. In an instant, her brothers were typing away on their mobile devices, making dinner reservations and checking availability for a night at the town observatory (the one with the extra big telescope). Meanwhile, Hela completed and sent the email to her father, letting him know that the diamond replacement necklace had arrived on schedule.