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Sigyn (binding is not punishment)

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The first time Darcy meets him, it is in a dying autumn after the strangest summer of Darcy's short life. She's thinking of changing majors again. It was computer science, and then political science, and now it's maybe comparative religions, which doesn't have 'science' in it at all, except Darcy knows it does. She's witnessed an extradimensional godlike being eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Darcy doesn't dwell on it. She knows how amazing it is, but photosynthesis is amazing too, and those Sassy Gay Friend videos are amazing, and her cousin Derek on Red Bull is amazing. Darcy has met a Norse god; now she has to file a change of major form and buy some new rain boots. She walks along through the dismal pattering rain that in Western states passes for early winter, one foot becoming progressively colder and damper, and she sees him standing at a bus stop.

It's one of the stops without a shelter, and his black hair is slicked to his head, the ends curling and dripping on his collar. His shoulders are damp, but it's the worst of the damage. Darcy stops, unhooking an earbud before she addresses him. "You missed the last bus by like five minutes," she tells him. "It only comes on the hour."

He looks at her unsmiling, but the angles of his face become a little softer. "Yes," he says. "I'm waiting for someone."

"Okay, well, hope you don't have to wait too long," Darcy says, already moving again, ducking to put her earbud back in. Bass guitar obscures the sound of rain, and all the way down the block, until she turns a corner, she can feel him watching her, which should be creepy but isn't.

*

The following summer Darcy sees him again, more or less. She's in a SHIELD compound, which is Jane's fault. Darcy is definitely a comp sci major now, and earning street cred by helping SHIELD design cutting-edge computer code. ("You're the one who forged Thor's fake ID?" Coulson, the agent in charge, asks when Jane introduces them. "Yes I did," Darcy tells him smugly; Coulson says, without a trace of sarcasm, "It took us thirty seconds to uncover the forgery. Good work," and Darcy decides she likes him even if he took her iPod that one time.) Darcy enjoys the work she's doing, though she suspects she has this internship because SHIELD wants to keep an eye on her.

As part of her orientation, Darcy and her fellow code monkeys are given a list of bad guys SHIELD's looking out for. The list is limited to tech criminals, people who can and do use their advanced scientific powers for evil, and are therefore threats to national security. The list comes with a short file on each baddie, stats and headshots and everything Darcy imagines James Bond would have on these guys. She flips through them, and there he is, a photo of the man from the bus stop.

His name is Loki. Not much more is known about him, besides that he likes to do things that cause lots of damage and that what he does looks a lot like magic. There's an addendum from Erik Selvig noting that it's likely this Loki has a connection to Thor, and that the fire-breathing robot in Puente Antiguo was probably Loki's work.

Darcy wonders if there's such a thing as coincidence. She wonders why she's completely failing to freak out.

*

Thor returns. Darcy thinks of his return like a graduation present: she's done with school, she has a sweet job at SHIELD, and Jane isn't mooning anymore because she's been reunited with her space boyfriend. Darcy's happy for them.

She says hi to Thor. Thor bows over her hand, hilariously archaic; Jane is the one who's into that. Darcy wonders if anyone has mentioned to Thor that an evil Asgardian is on the loose down here, and she wonders if Thor is the one Loki was waiting for that day in the rain, but she doesn't ask Thor.

She does ask Loki.

About a month after Thor's arrival, Loki breaks in to do something weird and nefarious to their weapons systems. Somewhere a bunch of agents are probably running around like headless chickens, but Darcy can't be sure, because she's in the room with the bank of computers that Loki is hacking. All the other code monkeys and scientists and guards have collapsed into peaceful slumber, but Darcy is still wide awake. Alarms blare until Loki cuts them off with a wave of his hand, and in the ensuing silence, Darcy asks, "Were you waiting for Thor?"

Loki glances up for a moment from the bank of computers, meeting Darcy's gaze. In the artificial light his eyes are very green. "Of course," he says. Darcy has known enough liars in her life to think he's lying now, but she doesn't know anything about him. Maybe Thor always makes his voice curve into bitterness.

"Why am I still awake?" Darcy asks, because that's the next obvious question.

"You are no threat," Loki says dismissively, turning back to the computers.

Darcy's eyes narrow. Moving quietly, she reaches under the table, finds her handbag, and closes her hand around her taser. She straightens slowly, judges the distance between them, takes aim, and squeezes.

An inch from Loki, the crackling wire dissolves into a cloud of velvet-black butterflies. Darcy leaps to her feet, her chair clattering backwards, and meets Loki's eyes again through the dissipating cloud of insect bodies. Her heart is pounding double time.

"Don't underestimate me," Loki tells her, gentle and cold.

"Yeah, well, right back at you," Darcy says. "Another second and you would've been fried."

Loki laughs. Something strange twists in Darcy's stomach, wilder than fear.

The SHIELD agents burst in then, finally, and Loki vanishes. The moths don't, though, and the next day Darcy has to get a new taser. It's too bad no one has cornered the market on magic-proof ones.

*

The next time Loki breaks in, Darcy goes after him with pepper spray. It turns into weightless glitter, and Darcy can't get it out of her hair for a week. "Darcy used pepper spray!" she tells her bathroom mirror, annoyed. "It's not very effective!" When she tests it, though, the rest of the can hasn't been turned to glitter, so that's something.

And even though he knew she'd attack him, Loki didn't enchant her directly. That's something too.

*

Darcy packs a paintball gun, on the theory that it might make Loki accidentally turn something harmless into something deadly; the gun turns into a banana before she can fire it. She eats the banana and doesn't even get sick from it.

*

She tries throwing a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at Loki's head. He simply catches it and gives her a look. "This isn't even any good," he says.

"Yeah, it was all downhill after Prisoner of Azkaban," Darcy agrees.

Loki stares at her for a long moment, and then he laughs. It is soft and delighted and joyful and utterly infectious. Darcy laughs with him, the feeling in her belly becoming the familiar wobbly adrenaline of flirting with a hot boy. It's so absurd and misguided and awesome that she laughs harder.

When she's done with her debrief and gone home at the end of the day, Darcy sits down and makes a list of all the things that she can throw at Loki: conversation starters. Her favorite books. The graduation cap that she decorated with what was supposed to be the spiral of the Milky Way but looks like a hypnotist's card from a cartoon. Her lucky underwear.

They talk, and they laugh, and Agent Coulson is a little more flustered at every debriefing. A guy with an eye patch and an air of command sits in on one of them, and at the end he leans forward and says, "Miss Lewis, do you think you could -- ask him to stand down? You have a rapport. Use it."

"Sure," Darcy says, so the next time she sees Loki, she suggests, "Stand down."

Loki looks at her, a long, measuring look. He wears his armor not like a statement, the way Thor does, but like skin, or maybe like a costume. Darcy twists her hands together and gives Loki his look right back, over her glasses, though he goes a little blurred; the effect is worth it.

"No," Loki says.

"You never actually destroy anything," Darcy points out. "Or they fix it. It seems kinda pointless."

"It's a long game, Miss Lewis," Loki tells her.

Darcy narrows her eyes. She'd ask who the players are, but obviously he's playing with Thor, and with SHIELD, and probably with her. Darcy doesn't much like being played with. She says, "So go out with me sometime," and crosses her arms, turning her look up to a challenging glare when Loki stares at her. "This is stupid. Get an ice cream sundae with me. It'll freak 'em out."

"I have work to do," Loki says, but Darcy doesn't miss the flicker of a smile, there on his face like a split second of honesty.

*

"Do you know what you're doing?" Jane demands. She and Thor have dragged Darcy out on a lunch date. Jane is all harried looks and flyaway hair. Thor sits big and quiet at her side; he's always subdued after an encounter with Loki, whether it's Loki infiltrating SHIELD or Loki facing down the Avengers. Darcy wonders whether Thor has ever tried talking to Loki instead of hitting him with the superpowered Mew-Mew hammer, but it's a personal question and Jane's disapproving glare might actually get lethal. Darcy isn't a scientist. She doesn't need to test this hypothesis.

"Uh, sometimes?" Darcy hazards. "I know my way around a computer better than he does. Seriously, he steals data but he doesn't even install viruses. Amateur."

"See, you're not taking this seriously!" Jane says. "Loki's dangerous, Darcy. Maybe you're forgetting that."

Darcy thinks of the sharp curve of Loki's smile, of his long pale fingers and his eyes like chips of ice. Some things are much more amazing and important than photosynthesis and YouTube and the ability to eat a whole box of Pop Tarts. "Nope," she says. "I remember."

*

There's a café Darcy goes to sometimes, more or less equidistant from her apartment and the SHIELD compound. It's a little hipster for her taste, but Darcy rocks the hipster glasses and no one looks at her funny for ordering a normal coffee and reading old Batman comics. Reading about fictional superheroes gives her a bit of perspective on the real ones.

Usually when she's reading she's left alone, but one bright morning Darcy stops in for her coffee and is barely a page into her comic when she feels someone watching her. She ignores it, but the feeling persists, so Darcy lowers the comic enough to say something sarcastic -- and stops, staring.

She's never seen Loki out of his armor before. He's still all in black and green and gray, but now it's all fingerless gloves, v-necked sweater, striped scarf. He looks utterly normal, like a gangling graduate student who comes to this café every day. And then Darcy remembers that she has seen him in Earth clothes before -- on that first day, only he was wearing a three-piece suit and an overcoat then. Armor. What she's seeing now isn't armor.

"Hey there," Darcy says. "What's today's nefarious plan?"

"I believe someone suggested ice cream sundaes," Loki returns.

Darcy blinks.

She isn't stupid, no matter what Jane thinks sometimes. She knows that Loki makes life difficult for SHIELD, and the Avengers, and Thor in particular. She knows that she's betraying her job in a big way if she consorts with Loki and it isn't secretly a spy mission or something. She knows Loki is dangerous, for all that he causes a lot less collateral than almost anyone else SHIELD is after; she knows that her taser is useless, and if he wanted to, he could damage her very badly.

She isn't stupid, because she's beginning to suspect that he wants her for something, that he's been testing her out. He doesn't want a minion, or he would have gone for someone besides an awkward techie, all idiosyncrasies and long hair. And he definitely doesn't just want a date, because Darcy can always tell, and what Loki wants is a lot more complicated.

"All right," she says, folding her comic and getting to her feet. "You pay."

*

It is like dating, but like dating an alien. Loki wants to know the chemical composition of ice cream, and when Darcy looks it up on her smart phone, Loki wants to know about the inner workings of the internet, which turns into a black hole of questions; Loki is fascinated. Darcy makes sure not to mention TV Tropes or 4chan.

Loki shows up at the café, at the local library, at the park. Not at SHIELD. He doesn't come to SHIELD anymore, or at least not to the compound where Darcy works. She still gets reports of his tangles with the Avengers, mostly from Jane, but she never sees him at work. Agent Coulson is bewildered. Darcy doesn't explain that Loki already has what he came for.

She starts lending him Batman comics. Loki speaks gingerly of adopted family, and Darcy, sensing deep waters and maybe unpleasant lurking figurative tentacled creatures, asks him instead to rate the Rogues Gallery. Unsurprisingly Loki is only impressed with the Joker.

In return Loki tells Darcy stories. They're old, old stories; Darcy suspects she could find strange translated fragments of them in yellowing books. In Loki's stories, gods ask someone who is one of their own, and not their own at all, to do for them those things the gods are unwilling or unable to do; the nameless someone bleeds and fights and tricks and lies for them, and nothing he does is good enough for the gods, who distrust him until the next time they need saving. Loki could be subtle, and disguise the stories better, but he doesn't.

"Didn't he eventually get tired of being screwed around?" Darcy asks. They're sitting side-by-side on swings at the park, purple evening lowering around them. "Seriously, fuck those gods."

"He did," Loki says quietly. "There came a day when he went to their great feast hall and finally spoke every truth he knew, of their hypocrisy and their falsehood and their cruelty. But when something ugly is shown its reflection, the mirror is the thing smashed."

Darcy's heel drags through woodchips. She twists, the chains of her swing drawing inwards. "So what did they do?"

Loki stares up at the sky. The line of his neck is so vulnerable that Darcy reaches automatically for her taser, as though Loki can't protect himself much better than she could ever protect him. "Nothing," Loki murmurs. "They've done nothing yet."

There is a deep dread under the words. Darcy doesn't ask what they're going to do. She just curls her fingers around the taser inside her bag and says, "They'd better not."

*

Darcy takes Jane out shopping, because when Jane is left on her own, she just wears jeans and plaid shirts until they fall apart. Jane hates shopping, so Darcy hustles her through the department store, coaxing her into buying a few nice outfits for public functions. "You can totally rock business chic just as well as Pepper or Agent Romanoff," Darcy tells Jane, and then to apologize for the total trauma of making Jane try on clothes for an hour, she treats Jane to greasy pizza at the food court. She lets Jane ramble on about the latest non-classified science project, and wonders what the hell Jane and Thor talk about. Probably not Batman.

"Does it ever freak you out?" Darcy asks, during a lull in Jane's monologue.

Jane gives her a bewildered look. "The computer simulation?"

"No." Darcy fiddles with her straw. "Dating a -- an Avenger." She was going to say a god, but that's more honesty than she wants to give Jane right now.

Jane goes quiet. "Sometimes I worry he won't come back," she says. "He keeps ticking off really powerful people. And it's not like I could go save him if he got in trouble." She shrugs, a funny twitchy movement. "Sometimes I wish I'd trained as a doctor or something. Then I wouldn't have to worry about feeling useless."

"You got him back to Earth," Darcy points out, but she knows it won't help. All the same, Jane gives Darcy a startled smile. Jane's always so surprised when Darcy says the right thing. Darcy smiles back and wonders when it started to bother her.

*

She's never been a big fan of planning ahead. She's up for going-to-a-movie-next-week levels of planning, but never nefariously-seize-the-throne levels, not that she has a throne to seize. Knowing Loki is making Darcy strike a compromise between the two.

They're walking back from the comic shop, and it's raining, a bitterly cold autumn rain. Darcy doesn't have an umbrella, but Loki makes a negligent gesture with one hand, murmuring something, and though the rain kisses Darcy's face and patters across her shoulders, both of them stay perfectly dry. Darcy wonders if she can talk Loki into putting the spell on her glasses permanently. The spell doesn't do anything for the chill, though, so she and Loki walk pressed together, mostly for Darcy's benefit. Loki doesn't feel cold.

"If," Darcy says, and remembers that honesty is a weapon. "When they catch you, what should I do?"

Loki's hand on Darcy's arm tightens, minutely. "You make a choice," he says.

Darcy sort of likes that this isn't any harder, or any easier, than anything else she's done. She nods, and watches the rain fall on her skin without touching. It's funny, Darcy thinks -- not amusing-funny, but strange, that they live in a world where Jane dates Thor, and Thor has the Avengers, and Thor and Loki are brothers, and Loki and Darcy eat ice cream on swing sets, and they're still all alone. The rain is probably a metaphor.

"Take off the spell," Darcy says.

Loki looks down at her, expressionless. Then he snaps his fingers, and the raindrops start soaking into Darcy's hair and clothes and skin, dotting her glasses and blurring Loki's face. Her vision is still good enough, though, that she can see Loki is getting soaked too. Darcy grins, and after a moment Loki's mouth curves into a smile. She steps closer, wrapping her arms around him, looking for something less simple than body heat. Being tangled up in other people isn't a bad thing.

"Darcy," Loki murmurs. Darcy tips her face up, blinking rain from her eyes. Loki is still smiling a faint amused smile, and he says, "You don't have to do anything."

"And waste all your hard work?" Darcy wants to know. "Uh-uh. Also? Don't try reverse psychology on me. It's way too obvious."

"I will try to be more subtle," Loki tells her, eyes glittering with amusement or mockery or the rain.

"Oh, for --" Darcy says, and pulls him down into a kiss, because Loki is apparently subtle enough to steal her common sense when she wasn't looking. He draws her closer, kissing her back at once, so he was definitely planning for this. Darcy doesn't care. Loki doesn't kiss like tipsy girls at parties or boys who think she's a sure thing; he is careful and precise and not gentle at all; he makes Darcy want to laugh, and her knees go weak, because they're kissing in the rain and she might as well hit all the clichés. The world needs more girls who go in open-eyed and fall for villains anyway.

Loki draws back gently and brushes wet hair from Darcy's face. "I won't take that as a promise," he says, because he wasn't listening to Darcy's warnings about reverse psychology at all.

Darcy steps back, but she keeps holding onto Loki's sleeve for a long moment, because she means it: they really need to get bound up in a thousand amazing messy ways. "See you around," she says.

*

When he appears uninvited in Darcy's kitchen, she knows. She's eating breakfast, and suddenly, where Loki wasn't, he is, terribly pale in the morning light. The eggs and toast in Darcy's stomach go leaden. She gulps the last of her orange juice and stands. "Hey."

"Hi," Loki whispers. She goes to him, and he sags gratefully into her arms, no weight at all. He isn't pale after all, Darcy sees, but semi-transparent, like a ghost or a bad television signal. "I thought," he says, "as a courtesy, I should say goodbye."

"Shut up," Darcy tells him. Holding him is like holding air given shape and pressure, the idea of a body. "Dramatic goodbyes? Totally a waste of time. What do you want me to do?"

He looks at her with eyes the color of the pale-green wallpaper behind his head. "Thor knows," he says, and for the first time there is something besides that twist of bitterness in his voice when he says his brother's name. Darcy nods. Loki leans down and kisses her, faint pressure against her lips, and is gone.

Darcy squares her shoulders and finishes her breakfast. Then she goes down to SHIELD, finds Jane, and says, "Where's Thor?"

Jane doesn't look away from her computer screen. "I haven't seen him today."

Darcy grabs Jane's arm and drags her away from the desk. "It's important," she says. "Please call him or something?"

"Okay, okay." Jane gives Darcy a suspicious sideways look, but she gets her phone. After a moment she says into it, "Hey, Thor. Darcy wants to talk with you." She smiles, even though Thor isn't there to see, and hands the phone over to Darcy.

"Hi," Darcy says into it. "Where is he?"

Startled silence for a moment. "We've caught him," Thor says finally, quiet with distance. "He's ... contained." He says the word like it's a clean, safe term he learned from people who know better. Contained.

"I want to see him," Darcy says, and Thor doesn't argue.

*

It's the first time Darcy has been to the Avengers Mansion. Thor walks her nonchalantly through the halls, and Darcy walks with him, chill and confident, like she belongs here, when it's incredibly obvious Thor's doing this against orders, or at least that it would be against orders if someone caught them.

"So," Darcy asks, "you caught him?"

"Yes," Thor says. "A team effort." He won't look at her. Darcy has the sudden impression that Thor has come a long way from being the goofy guy who smashed coffee cups in a small-town diner; that he's come a long way even from being the guy who laid down his life to the flame robot thing to give them time to escape. Whatever they've done to Loki, Thor doesn't like it any more than she does. Darcy tucks her thumbs inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt and doesn't ask questions.

They take an elevator unmarked levels down through the mansion, Darcy's stomach swooping. Of course Tony Stark has a top-of-the-line elevator. She hugs herself and waits until they're deposited gently at the bottom. The passage here isn't polished marble anymore, but some rough grey stone, like they're miles below the earth or in another time. Darcy shivers and follows Thor, their footsteps echoing faintly.

Finally they reach the end of the passage; a blank stone wall faces them, but there's a strange shimmer to it. Magic, or technology indistinguishable from magic. Darcy looks at Thor, and he gazes back at her, gravely. "It is the only thing that will contain him," Thor says, halfway between matter-of-fact and pleading. "Free, he'll kill, and twist things to his own ends, and ... it is better this way."

Darcy watches him patiently.

"I would stay," Thor says in a rush. "He's my brother. I would do what I can to make it comfortable for him. But while I was here, the people of Midgard would be less protected --"

"Let me see him," Darcy says.

Thor falls silent. He makes some complicated gesture, far less elegant than any of Loki's, and suddenly Darcy is on the other side of the wall of rock.

Strange runic inscriptions spiral on the floor, glowing sickly. They light Loki from below, shadowed and strange. He's lying in a sprawl, in a position that might even be comfortable, except that he's stark naked, his wrists and ankles bound by some shiny substance Darcy can't and won't identify. That would be enough, but something is collecting on the ceiling, pooling and dripping, soft and steady, onto Loki's chest. It hisses as it hits, and Loki is panting, the soft animal pants of someone in terrible pain.

Darcy's hands clench, and she realizes they are clenching around a ceramic bowl, like a salad bowl, flat-bottomed. She shuffles forward, ignoring the weird inscriptions on the floor. Loki's head turns at the noise. He stares at her for a long minute, eyes glazed, before focusing. "Sigyn," he whispers.

"Darcy," Darcy says.

Loki laughs, a harsh sound more pain than amusement. "No," he says. "Sigyn. 'The woman who brings victory.' It was only a vain hope."

"I could get you out," Darcy says. Taser wires become butterflies, and she wants rain to touch her skin, and she has learned how to lie from a god who kisses like he expects things from Darcy when no one else would bother. She has a bowl in her hands.

She steps forward and holds it over Loki, catching the dripping liquid. It hisses as it hits the bowl, too, but it pools there without burning through. Beneath her, Loki slowly goes limp, shaking.

"I'll get you out," Darcy says again.

Loki looks at her. "You won't," he says. "Not yet. You cannot leave any more than I can. I shouldn't worry, though; the stasis is beautifully constructed. Our bodies will want for nothing here. Your mortality doesn't matter."

Darcy waits, patiently, for the horror she should feel at this revelation. When it doesn't come, she tries feeling anger at Thor for being too much of a coward to do this himself; she tries homesickness, and comes up with a vague regret that she's here without her iPod. They'll have to talk about Batman and Harry Potter, or sing Lady Gaga songs from memory, she supposes. Maybe being in stasis has muffled her ability to feel emotions. But she looks at Loki, lying there shivering with the aftershocks of pain and watching her like he still knows her secret, knows she's capable of things, and her heart wells up with the desire to take on anything for Loki or with him.

"If," Darcy says, and remembers that hope is a weapon too. "When we escape, what's going to happen?"

Loki's mouth curves up into the familiar sharp smile. "The end of the world," he says.

Darcy smiles back.