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Blame it on the Vodka

Chapter Text

Loki was fairly certain that Darcy Lewis had had too much to drink. The little mortal was entertaining, but now her conversation had segued into incomprehensibility.

"Dry spell – you know." Darcy rolled her eyes. "I can't believe I hafta explain this." She refilled her shot glass. "Ah…grape vodka is the best!"

"I prefer the cherry vodka," Loki stated, raising his own shot glass in a toast. "Tell me of this spell of dehydration. Who has cast it?"

The little mortal laughed until she snorted. "A dry spell, Loki. You know…I'm not getting any action."

He frowned, absently refilling his shot glass. "You desire exercise? What is stopping you?"

"One on one exercise," Darcy tried to clarify. Were her cheeks always that red? Loki raised an eyebrow in question.

"So you desire sparring? Again, what is stopping you?"

The little mortal sighed, and slapped a hand to her forehead. "Apparently, there's more of culture barrier here than Jane led me to believe. Not even Thor would be this dense."

Loki bristled at the mention of his brother. He hated comparisons to Thor! "I assure you, the only barrier we are experiencing is in communication. Say what you mean, plainly."

He watched her duck her head, and the flame color in her cheeks spread. "Discussing this with you is … awkward. Discussing this with anyone would be awkward." She downed her shot, seeking liquid courage. "I'm not getting any boy/girl action, you know?"

She looked up at him hopefully. "Please tell me you understand what I mean. Please don't make me have to explain it."

Loki found himself in the unlikeliest of scenarios as his own cheeks flushed. "I do not require an explanation of your meaning. You are betrothed? I was not aware of this."

Darcy choked and then laughed. "Betrothed? Are you serious? Hell no! Why would you think that?"

The God of Mischief frowned. "If you are not betrothed, why is it that you are seeking boy/girl action?" His thoughts were slow; the vodka must be affecting him. "You have already had boy/girl action?"

"Well duh!" She squinted up at him. "Why is that such a surprise? Don't tell me Asgardians wait until they are betrothed?"

Loki absently poured himself another shot and downed it. "Asgardian men do not. The women do."

Her loud, braying laughter startled him. "Get real, Loki! Unless the men are doing each other, the women indulge in pre-betrothal action too."

He knew that, of course. The swarms of women that had always surrounded his brother weren't there to brush his glorious hair, and none of them had been betrothed to Thor. But he had always clung to his belief that the women were….pure. Silly, really.

"I….of course you are correct." He inclined his head to Darcy. "So….why have you not had boy/girl action?"

"Oh man. I really don't feel comfortable discussing this with you." Darcy covered her face with her hands, and then peeked at him through her fingers. "Why do you even care? A month ago, you were a super-villain about to lay waste to the planet. Now you're chilling out with the Avengers. Bi-polar much?"

Loki tried to puzzle through her meaning, but the bi-polar reference stumped him. "I do not understand what you are trying to say. It took some time for my anger and feelings of betrayal to pass, but they did. And you are avoiding the question, Miss Lewis. Why have you not had action?"

He watched Darcy pour herself another shot. She picked up the shot glass and swirled it in front of her face. She didn't seem to notice that some of the liquid was sloshing out onto the table.

"After meeting all these super heroes, and gods…..regular guys are boring. My expectations are a little unrealistic at this point. I can't even have a conversation with regular guys anymore." She slumped in her seat, peering into her shot glass as if it held all the answers.

Loki felt a pang of sympathy, an emotion previously foreign to him. "Patience, Darcy. All things worth having are worth waiting for."

"What would you know about that?" she asked, voice muffled. "You're a freaking god. What have you ever had to wait for?"

It had to be the vodka. Loki looked down at his hands, long, elegant fingers laced through each other as they rested on the table. "I, too, have suffered a dry spell, Darcy Lewis. All my life."

Darcy's head snapped up. Her mouth was open and her eyes were wide. "What? You're not talking about boy/girl action!"

"I have never trusted anyone enough to be intimate," Loki mused. "Women flocked to my brother, but overlooked me. Even if any had expressed an interest, I knew that they longed for Thor. I did not want to suffer by comparison. I did not want to be a substitution for my brother."

"Loki dude – no way!" Darcy's shot glass slammed down on the table, and vodka splashed all over.

The God of Mischief grimaced. Of all the mortals that he could have confided in, Darcy was probably the poorest choice. She could not hold her tongue. Soon, his "deficiency" would be bandied about the Avengers.

Darcy appeared to be having some type of seizure. She was pounding on the table, and rocking back and forth.

"Do you require medical assistance?" he asked.

She was laughing, he realized as she gasped for breath. "Oh Loki! Poor Loki! No wonder you tried to destroy everything. Being backed up is a bitch."

Loki downed another shot. "I hardly think that had anything to do with my actions."

Darcy reached over and patted his hand. "Okay, sure. Dude – we have got to get you laid. Stress relief does wonders for preventing acts of villainy."

Loki sighed. "It seems that both of our problems can be solved with a simple solution."

She stopped laughing abruptly, looking up at him with wide eyes. "Are you suggesting what I think you are?"

"I am a god. I trust that I will not bore you? And I will gain….stress relief."

Darcy gulped. "Uh…okay?"

"Excellent. I believe we should retire to someplace a bit more private."

Chapter Text

Darcy did not want to open her eyes. She could see a blinding light through her closed eyelids, and if she opened her eyes, it would overwhelm her. It would probably make the lunatic doing a jackhammer number on her head go crazy too, and he didn't need any help. Besides, if she didn't open her eyes, she could avoid any consequences from her vodka fueled night. And if the flashes of memory she had were accurate, she really didn't want to own up to today.

Still, the world was conspiring against her. Eventually, the need to empty her bladder would force her eyes to open. Not even Darcy was brave enough to try to stumble from the bedroom to the bathroom in her tiny little deathtrap of an apartment with her eyes closed.

She was afraid to move. At this point, she couldn't tell if she was alone in bed, or not. If she moved, and she bumped into someone else, then those consequences she was trying to avoid would bitchslap her right in the face. Better to stay still.

On the bright side, if her memory was accurate, she was over her dry spell in a major way. Apparently, gods had incredible staying power. Like really awesome staying power. And being backed up for centuries ensured that one time wasn't enough to relieve all that tension.

A dismayed 'eep' escaped her mouth as her brain went where she didn't want it to go. Darcy clamped her lips together to avoid any more noises, but the damage had been done. If she wasn't alone…

"Stop pretending to still be asleep, Miss Lewis."

Oh shit.

Darcy peeled her eyes open, and squinted against the afternoon sun shining in her apartment window. There was a god in her bed. He was sprawled out like a Playgirl centerfold, one arm behind his head while the other rested casually along his side. He was propped up on one side, staring at her. Naked. With no sheet covering him.

"Gah," was all she could manage to say before squeezing her eyes shut again. Loki was always incredibly poised and controlled, except when he'd been crazed and evil. He looked reallygood all disheveled, naughty, and relaxed. And naked. Really, really naked.

"Is something wrong?"

"Can you….cover yourself?" she asked plaintively.

She could hear the confusion in his voice. "Do you find my body repellent? It did not appear to distress you last night." Was that a touch of humor as well?

"Your body is fine, Loki. Really fine. But it's a naked body, and I can't deal with that right now. I can't think with all of your 'godly parts' on display."

She heard something that sounded suspiciously like a soft chuckle, and then the whisper of a bed sheet gliding over skin. Really awesome, fantastic skin. Lickable, even. Stop!

"My godly parts are now covered. I still do not understand why this disturbs you so much."

He probably didn't. "Staring at your naked body just kind of reinforces that I shouldn't drink large amounts of vodka before falling into bed with someone. Because when the vodka comes before the falling into bed part, you don't think through what will happen after the falling into bed. And in this case, there's a lot of after bed consideration."

She cautiously opened her eyes again. He was frowning as he tried to puzzle his way through her meaning. But at least all his godly awesomeness was covered now. With a pink sheet. That was kinda funny, actually.

Loki finally met her eyes. "Were you bored? You seemed very engaged in what was happening." A small smile escaped his usually serious demeanor. "In fact, I thought that you were expressing your appreciation of my ability to keep your attention quite loudly. Was I mistaken?"

Oh wow. Darcy felt her cheeks begin to flame. "Really Loki? Us mortals keep it much simpler by asking 'was it good for you'?"

He was studying her face, with that small, not-quite smile. "Well?" he asked finally.

"Well what?"

"Was it good for you?"

Darcy pulled a pillow over her head and groaned. "It was freaking, mind blowingly, awesome," she admitted. "I'm completely ruined now, you know?" She uncovered her face to look at him, suddenly curious but almost afraid to ask. "What about you? Worth the wait? Or are you wishing that you'd held out for a super powered woman in spandex?"

It was the first time she'd ever seen Loki truly smile. "It was most enjoyable, Darcy. My tensions have been relieved, and I will not be resorting to acts of super villainy any time in the near future." A very naughty smirk twisted his mouth. " In fact, I think this solution should be recommended to Nicholas Fury for dealing with all super villains."

Darcy gaped at him. "You think that we should recommend to Fury that all super villain types need to get laid so that they won't be super villain types anymore? Yeah, that'll go over well."

"It is a completely plausible solution. It would be very difficult to concentrate on planning acts of mayhem and destruction when one is wrestling with a loudly appreciative female. Surely Fury would see the merits of this suggestion."

"You want to save the world with sex. That has to be a first." Darcy shook her head. "No Loki. We're not going to mention this to Fury. Or anyone else." She sat up, with the sheet clutched to her chest. "What now?" Her mind was racing as it rolled through the possible consequences of last night.

Her very own Playgirl God of Mischief centerfold raised one jet black eyebrow. "What do you mean?" His not-quite smile returned.

Darcy covered her face with the pillow again. "What happens now? I mean, do we just go back to where we were before?" She peeked out from under the pillow, dreading his answer.

He took a long time considering her words. "One night of wicked pleasure, to be forgotten in the light of day? One memory?" His lips curved into a wicked smile. "Although my brother is typically the one to indulge in excess, I make exceptions when I find an activity worth indulging in." He reached out to stroke a finger down her arm, making Darcy shiver violently. "I would very much like a repeat performance, Darcy Lewis. I believe you mortals call it dating."

Darcy's mind went away, and the most intelligent thing she could muster was "ungh." Maybe vodka indulgence wasn't so bad after all.

Chapter Text

Loki had never been one to indulge in excess. That had always been Thor's specialty. So how he ended up consuming enough vodka to loosen his famed silver tongue was beyond his comprehension.

It felt a little like a purging. He had been so lost. In the blackest of black places, alone and adrift with no ties to anything. His despair had given way to rage, and the only way he could avoid complete madness was to destroy everything.

The voracious emptiness inside had threatened to consume him, and in the end, it was Thor who had saved him. Thor had reached out to him, through the blistering magical attack Loki had unleashed, and said the simplest of things.

"You are my brother, and I love you. Who you were born to does not change or lesson that fact."

Loki had never cried until that day. But the battle had ended with him weeping in his brother's arms, while the other members of the Avengers looked on in confusion. They had suspected a trap. Weapons had been targeted on him as they waited for him to spring his trap, but Thor had believed in him unconditionally. His brother had cradled Loki's broken spirit in his strong arms that day, and warned the Avengers to stand down.

It had been so very painful to realize that he was not alone or adrift. It had been almost crushing to realize that his family did not love him any less even though he did not share their blood.

Still, there were years of hurtful feelings to overcome. Thor had been a bastard, until his exile to Midgard had changed him. Loki wasn't prepared to completely forgive him, yet.

The trip back to some semblance of sanity and rationality had been full of pain. It had pushed Loki in twenty different directions, and left him grasping for a purpose to his existence. Maybe that was why he had accepted Darcy's offer of a drink. The amusing little mortal was one of the few who didn't shy from his presence, so he felt that her offer had no hidden agendas.

He had never confessed his lack of boy/girl action (as Darcy had so eloquently named it) to anyone before. No one had even suspected. There had been women, trying to reach Thor through him, who had very aggressively tried to bed them. Their minds had been easily overcome, and they had been left with false memories that he could never hope to live up to. The little brother in him hoped that those stories had made their way back to Thor and made him feel inadequate.

Loki had turned his attention to leaning magic and making mischief instead of pursuing acts of physical pleasure. What could physical pleasure do for him that his magic and wit could not?

A lot, apparently. Loki's senses were still reeling. He could now understand his brother's fascination with the pleasures of flesh. The entire experience had sent him spinning, and he was still trying to regain his equilibrium. He needed to find stability, and there was nothing more stable than his big brother.

Jane Foster was not happy to see him when she answered his knock on the door of the apartment she was sharing with Thor. She was trying, for Thor's sake, to forget that Loki had tried to kill his brother, but it was a work in progress.

"Loki." It was not a greeting, but rather a statement of unwanted fact. He wondered what her reaction would be when she found out that he had bedded her friend.

"Ms. Foster. Is my brother home?"

"He should be in about ten minutes." Perhaps Jane sensed some of his inner turmoil, as she seemed to unbend a little. "Would you like to come in and wait?"

"I would like that, yes. Thank you for your gracious offer."

He followed her inside, and took a seat on the sofa when she gestured to it. Jane sat down across from him on the love seat. Loki had to wonder why it was called a love seat. He knew that it was, because Thor had told him, but he failed to see the reason why. Unless…what if it was called that because there were sordid physical acts performed upon it? The more he thought about that, the more he became convinced that he never wanted to sit on the love seat.

Jane titled her head to one side. "Loki, are you blushing?"

"No of course not," he answered. But of course he was, and it was more than a little embarrassing. He was a Frost Giant by birth. Blushing should not have even been possible.

Jane raised one eyebrow. "You are blushing. And you know what? I'm pretty sure that I don't want to know why."

Relief was a cool wave through his system. "That would be a prudent decision. Thank you."

Their conversation was stilted at best, and it was a relief to both when the door banged open gustily. Thor swept in and swept Jane into his arms immediately, pressing his mouth to her's. Loki watched in amusement as Jane tried to break free, to let Thor know he had company, but it was several minutes until she was released.

"Hello my love," he finally said.

Jane was flushed now, and took a moment to fan herself. Her feet were dangling in air, since Thor had not yet released her. "You have a visitor," she was finally able to gasp out.

"Loki!"

Loki stood as Thor placed Jane back on her feet (and safely off to one side), and approached him with the same level of enthusiasm. He fought back a smile, and held up a forestalling hand.

"If you try to kiss me, brother, I shall be most put out with you."

Thor roared with laughter, and embraced Loki warmly. "Your silver tongue is put to better use in bringing laughter, brother." He stepped back. "What brings you here?"

"I find myself in need of your council." Loki's eyes darted to Jane, and he briefly debated about asking for privacy, but he feared that would only lead to further problems.

Thor seemed tickled that Loki was coming to him for advice. "This is a day to remember. You are normally far wiser than I in most areas. What can I offer council on?"

"Mortal dating customs." Loki was proud that he could make that statement without wanting to crawl into a hole and hide. "I need more information, and who else should I turn to but my big brother."

He saw Jane's mouth drop open, and then close abruptly. Then a rather devious smile surfaced. "You could ask Tony. He has far more experience in mortal dating customs."

Loki raised one eyebrow. "As I understand it, Tony does not date. He pillages. I prefer a more subtle approach."

He watched Jane's lips twitch. "I'll leave you two to it then." She withdrew to give some privacy, and Thor settled down on the love seat, while Loki resumed his position on the sofa.

"This is unexpected, brother."

Loki nodded. "I am 'turning over a new leaf' as the mortals call it." He glanced at the clock on the wall behind Thor's head. "I'll take whatever council you can offer. And do you know what time it would be best to approach Nicholas Fury? There is a suggestion I feel compelled to make to him."

Curiosity was an amusing look for Thor. "Midday is the best time to approach him. He's not quite as cranky at that time."

Loki inclined his head. "My thanks." They stared at each other in silence for several moments, until Thor grinned.

"Will you not tell me who the lucky mortal girl is?"

"In time, brother." A small grin grew. "Do not ruffle your feathers."

Thor shook his head. "Oh Loki. Jane will be very upset with me if I use you to break furniture."

"Then it is a good thing that you will not get that chance." Loki looked down at the floor, and then back up to his brother. "Tell me what you can of mortal dating customs. I wish to avoid any cultural misunderstandings." He frowned. "Did you know that the phrase 'dry spell' does not refer to magic?"

Chapter Text

Nick Fury was about to get wrapped in a slithering scarf. A really nasty one, too. Loki clenched his fists, and tried to contain his irritation. He did not understand Fury's hasty and harsh rejection of his suggestion.

"Thor's pretty simple, so I could see this coming from him, but not you!" The one-eyed mortal was almost spitting in his agitation. "You're the God of Mischief. You brought three realms to their knees and barely blinked. Your nickname is Silver Tongue. And this awesome suggestion you have for curing or preventing super villains is SEX?"

Loki could not resist. "Perhaps if you were getting any, you would appreciate the potential of mayhem prevention."

Fascinating. He had not known that dark skinned mortals could still turn red. It was one of the most disturbing sights he had seen in over a century. Nick Fury's bulging eye and tendon popping appearance suggested he might be copying Bruce Banner's signature move. This was what Loki lived for!

He could not seem to stop. "I understand that there are discreet mortal women who sell pleasure, if you are willing to pay the price. Perhaps one of them could tutor you in the field of stress reduction."

He wondered if Thor would yell at him for causing Fury to pop like a puss-filled pimple. Rage seemed to have strangled the S.H.I.E.L.D agent, and his hands were clenched like claws, no doubt wanting to rip out Loki's heart.

"You really should try to calm down. Your eye is about to pop." Loki pressed his fingertips together, and allowed a tragic look to flow across his face. "It would be most unfortunate if you were rendered blind. I believe it would hamper your ability to battle super villains." He found his serenity in the mischief that had defined his life. "Should you not find some reliable means of stress relief for yourself, you may become the very thing you battle."

This was becoming tedious. Fury seemed right on the edge of exploding, but his impotent rage was not pushing him over into the abyss. It was a pity. Loki always enjoyed when Banner's rage broke free, because it wasn't worried about what it said, or did. It embraced the darker personality traits.

A noise at the door to Fury's office had Loki turning his head to see who was brave enough to peek in. It was Stark.

"Huh," the playboy said thoughtfully. "What did you say to him? I've never seem him incapable of speech before."

"I merely suggested that he look into the merits of sex as aggression prevention. Your thoughts on that? Do you truly think that a super villain would be able to continue an evil campaign if being ambushed by an energetic woman? Would he have turned into a super villain at all?" He cast his eyes toward the ceiling. "I may have also suggested that he was suffering a terrible dry spell, and it could push him into becoming a super villain himself."

Stark blinked at him. "Thor didn't mention this side of you, Loki. It's disturbing. And relatable. I'm not sure if I want to applaud you, or vomit."

The God of Mischief smirked. "I have that affect on most beings who meet me. I like to think that it makes my father proud."

The annoyingly good Steve Rogers poked his head around the door frame. "What's going on in here?"

"Beat it kid," Stark advised. "Loki's embraced his God of Mischief personality again. You can't handle it. Trust me." His lips twisted into a smile. "Send Natasha in. She'll handle it and appreciate it."

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Exactly how will she 'handle' it? I have no needs at this time, but Fury appears to require massive stress relief. Natasha is very capable, but I thought that mortals frowned upon that sort of thing amongst co-workers."

Rogers turned red, made a few inarticulate noises, and fled. Stark just laughed. "Way to go, Loki. He'll be having naughty dreams tonight."

Loki shuddered as he imagined what Rogers might do with the suggested naughty dreams. "I could have lived out the rest of my near immortal existence without thinking about that. I believe that now you have made me want to vomit."

"Then my day is complete. You're fun. Thor kinda hinted that you were a wet blanket at parties, but I bet you'd be a blast."

"I have my moments. Thor…talks about me?"

"Of course he does. You're his brother. He's very proud of you."

Loki's brow wrinkled. "Why?" he asked in genuine confusion. What have I done to make him proud of me?"

"Maybe you should ask him," Stark suggested. "Nick. You breathing yet?"

Loki had almost forgotten Fury. He turned to check on the S.H.I.E.L.D director. Fury had regained some control, and was staring daggers. He did not appear to share Stark's amusement of Loki's proposal, and his fingers were still flexing. Had Loki not been Asgardian (well, adopted Asgardian), he might be intimidated. But he had survived Odin's wrath, and Heimdall's, so an angry mortal did not frighten him.

"I think you're late, Loki," Fury told him in a clipped, icy voice.

"Late for what, Nicholas?"

"Your funeral. You try your God of Mischief shit on me again, and I'll stomp your skinny ass. Now, unless you have a useful suggestion to make, I suggest you find your way out of here as quickly as possible."

"But Nicholas…I like you. I think I will hang out here more often. We will have good times. I have developed a fondness for vodka. You might like it. In lieu of sex, it can help you relax."

He tried to contain a wide smile as Fury growled. "I don't care if you're Thor's brother. You need a good old fashioned ass beating. Why didn't Odin ever do it? You might have turned out better."

That was crossing the line in a big way. Loki moved so quickly that Fury did not even know he had moved until the God of Mischief was right in his face. "You risk your continued health by making negative comments about my father. There are some things that are off limit to discussion. My family is one of those topics."

Fury did not back down. "Fine. We don't discuss my sex life either!"

"Or lack of?" Stark dared to ask.

"Stark – you need to shut up. Or you'll be second on my ass beating list."

Loki's mouth stretched into a tight smile. "Do not trouble yourself, Iron Man. He will not be capable of moving past the first being on his list." Loki bared his teeth at the foolish mortal in front of him, leaning closer until their noses almost brushed. "Do not make the mistake of thinking that I have been tamed and neutered. Verbal sparring and juvenile tricks may be entertaining, but for me, they are no more than an afterthought." He drew back, and smoothed his coat. "You would do well to not forget what I am capable of."

Fury did not back down. "You have daddy issues. I get that. Have some respect for those of us that are trying to make a difference. Those of us who are fighting against the chaos. If you can't do that, then stay away from us."

"But come to the parties," Stark interjected. He grinned rakishly. "You'd be a blast. I want to take you out with me. Ladies love the naughty guy. You could make their clothes disappear, right?"

Loki turned a quizzical eye on the billionaire child. "I thought you more creative than that. Magically stealing a woman's clothes is the best you think of? A strategic tightening of their undergarments would put them into a state of continuous arousal, without satisfaction. You and I would provide that satisfaction. After hours of stimulation, their poor minds would be well and completely blown. We would be Gods of Sex. We could rule the world." He frowned. "Well, I would rule the world. You would tire and wither before long, and the women would no longer flock to you. You can be my naughty sex minion."

It was the first time he had ever seen Tony Stark off balance. The Iron Man was doing a great impersonation of a fish out of water, with his mouth opening and closing. Then he seemed to shake himself. "I forgot, for a minute, that you are truly disturbed. Thank you for reminding me. I feel Thor's pain right now."

"Children – I do have matters of national and worldly security to attend to." Fury was composed again as Loki turned back to him. He was even almost smiling. "Loki, you may return when you've outgrown your horny teenager stage, or if I call you. Stark – just go. Right now I don't want to look at you. What the two of you do outside of this place, I don't want to know." He pointed imperiously toward the door of his office.

Loki debated it for a moment, but decided that Fury was right. It was time to go. He was getting bored, and wanted to begin exploring mortal dating customs. He inclined his head in acceptance.

"If you require assistance in implementing my suggestion, Nicholas, you may call on me."

A tic in the corner of Fury's eye was the only hint of irritation Loki could spot. "I'll be sure to do that. Go."

Loki exited the office, gliding past Tony Stark imperiously. "Come minion. Let us go stimulate." He grinned wickedly as he strode down the hallway. The grin faltered when Agent Coulson and six other S.H.I.E.L.D agents took up flanking positions around him. And Stark.

"Director Fury was concerned that you may have forgotten your way out," Coulson explained smoothly. "He didn't want you to wander around in circles."

One jet black eyebrow arched. "Am I to understand that I am being escorted out of Avengers Headquarters?"

Coulson's serene little smile was almost insulting. "Escorted is such a strong word. Think of me as a guide."

Loki drew himself up like the king's son that he was, and turned cold looks upon any he passed. Yes, he was that important that he required an escort of seven agents. The effect was only slightly tarnished by Tony Stark's complaints as the playboy was hustled along behind the Asgardian.

"Why am I getting kicked out, Coulson? I'm part of the team! I AM the team!"

"Your continued presence was deemed 'disruptive' today, Mr. Stark. The hope is that you'll mature a few years after you leave."

Loki could not prevent the chuckle that escaped his mouth. "I fear there is little hope of that, Agent Coulson. However, I will attempt to keep my minion occupied so that he does not annoy Director Fury."

Stark huffed. "Stop calling me a minion, Loki. I'm no one's minion."

"You are my bitch now, Stark." Loki grinned. "Be grateful. It was either that, or I would have enchanted you into perpetual impotence. I will be in touch regarding our nights of debauchery. Agent Coulson – please give Nicholas a smacking big kiss for me."

The unflappable agent's disturbing little smile didn't waver. "I'll be sure to do that, Loki. Here's the out door."

Loki's coat flared around him, and he melted from sight. An echoing laugh was his final parting gesture. Inside, he cringed a little. Thor would never let him hear the end of this.

Chapter Text

Darcy fell out of bed, and rubbed sleep crust from her eyes. Someone was knocking on her door. It was dark. She was disoriented and tired. Her hair was standing out in a cloud around her head. Why was someone knocking on her door? She fumbled for the light switch, not daring to move until she could see. There were too many things she could trip over.

"Awe crap," she hissed as she got the light switch flipped up to the on position. She was now blinded.

Grumbling, she stumbled her way out to the door, flipping lights on as she went. It was 4 freaking am, she saw as her clock was illuminated. Who the hell was knocking on her door at 4 freaking am? She was going to kick someone's ass. Into next week. After dancing on their back in stiletto heels. And tasering them with extreme prejudice. In no particular order.

She stretched up to peer through the peep hole, and swore softly. It was the Playgirl God of Mischief centerfold she'd had sex with the other night. Amazing sex. Blow her mind and omigod can she have more please sex?

"Loki dammit!" She unlocked the door, and pulled it open. "It's freaking 4 in the morning! Don't you sleep?"

He had that little not-quite smile that was a weird turn-on. "Of course I do. But the night is ripe for mischief, and that is when I choose to be awake and alert."

Darcy leaned against the door frame, tugging self consciously at the ratty old tee shirt she was wearing. "Good for you. Us normal folks usually sleep at night." She ran a hand through her fright nest of hair, trying to tame it into something halfway presentable. "I was sleeping. But now I'm awake."

She watched him nod. "You have a very clear grasp on current events. May I come in?"

Snarky sarcasm apparently didn't phase him at all. "Sure. Why not?" She stepped back as he swept in. Mmmm….he smelled of leather, fall leaves, and the mysterious 'other' scent that defined him. She couldn't describe it, but it made her think of skinny dipping in a holy water fountain in the middle of a church service. It was so, so wrong, but really freaking fun. Of course, she'd never seen a holy water fountain large enough to skinny dip in, but the idea is what counted.

Her brain clicked back into reality, and smugly pointed out to her that she was leaning as close to him as she could get, and practically rubbing her nose on him. Considering that they had tumbled into bed the other night, she should probably try to act a little more casually.

She closed her apartment door, and turned to face Loki. He was smiling.

"Do you find my scent appealing?"

Darcy leaned back against her door, getting a good eyeful. "The way you smell, and look, makes me want to lick you like a giant, naughty, ice cream cone." It was a little too truthful, but totally worth it to see Loki blush. The God of Mischief – blushing at what she said. Majorly cool. But she was still a little irritated at being woken at 4 freaking am. "Is this the Asgardian version of a booty call?"

She really should have expected his confused glance at her feet. "Booty call? What does my visit have to do with footwear?"

She was too tired for this. "Sit down, Loki." She pointed at her tiny sofa. Watching him stalk around it, poking the cushions tentatively with one finger, made her wonder what she had done to deserve this baffling visitor, at 4 freaking am. Did he think the sofa was going to bite him or something?

He finally looked at her, lip curled. "Is this a … loveseat?"

Darcy thought about jumping out of her window. Just so she could find peace in oblivion. But then she remembered that she lived on the ground floor. "No. It's just a really small sofa. Why? Have a thing against loveseats?"

He sat down gingerly, on the very edge of the cushion. "The thought of sitting on a piece of furniture designed for sordid sex acts makes me cringe. Why are such things displayed for visitors? Should it not be kept somewhere private?"

The window was still beckoning, promising an escape from her current madness. "What the hell are you talking about, Loki? Loveseats are just something to sit on. I think they got their name by being designed for a couple to cuddle. Sordid sex acts? Who told you that? Loveseats are too damn small for sordid sex acts. Well, unless it's a midget couple. Then it would be the perfect size."

Darcy slid down the door until she was sitting on the floor. She hugged her knees to her chest. "Why are we talking about loveseats? Why are you here? My head hurts."

Loki frowned at her. "You seem disoriented."

Darcy squeezed her eyes shut. "It's 4 freaking am, Loki. You woke me up. After only three hours of sleep. Of course I'm disoriented. What do you want?"

"It's customary, when dating, to spend time together. To talk about each other's lives." His voice was hesitant. Loki was on unfamiliar ground. Darcy wanted to feel sorry for him, but she was cranky and tired.

"It's also customary to discuss when to spend time together," she told him softly, leaning her head back against the door. She opened her eyes. He almost looked like a lost little boy right then, with a faint air of regret. "I totally get that you're a nocturnal mischief maker. That's cool. But the middle of the night, for me, is reserved for sleeping."

"The other night-"

"Was out of the ordinary." Darcy had to cut him off before he pointed out that they had stayed up all night have wildly fantastic sex. First time sex for him. He was probably all confused and shit. Sex did that at first, until you learned to deal with it. And she was sure he couldn't talk about this with anyone, because then he'd have to explain why he was all in turmoil. "I'm sorry Loki. I'm cranky because I'm tired. And I'm not being very understanding of you having to learn all new customs." She pushed herself up, back braced against the door, until she was standing. Sleep could wait. It wasn't every day that a completely intoxicating man came to visit. "You want a drink?"

He nodded, so Darcy picked her way to the kitchenette, avoiding a stack of books, three DVDs, and a sweatshirt. She needed to clean. Or at least put things away.

She poured him a glass of cherry vodka, and got herself a glass of orange juice. No vodka at this time of the morning. It would ruin her whole day. Which was probably going to suck anyhow.

Loki offered her a grateful smile as she handed him the vodka, and settled down beside him on the sofa. It was kinda small. They were sitting very close. She could smell him. Mmm…..

"So, Loki….what have you been doing since we last saw each other?"

He took a sip of his vodka, and leaned back into the sofa cushions. "I made Tony Stark my bitch naughty sex minion, and was escorted out of Avengers Headquarters after almost popping Nicholas Fury like a puss filled pimple."

Maybe she should have some vodka. "You got kicked out of Avengers Headquarters?" Darcy shook her head, trying to force her brain to process what he'd said. "Tony's your bitch? Naughty sex minion?" Her imagination took the bit and ran away with her. "Uh … please tell me you are not into guys. I mean, Tony is a man whore, but he's strictly hetero. Um…please explain."

"I'm going to become the God of Sex. Stark will be my minion. He wanted to be a God of Sex too, but he is mortal. Eventually, he will fade and wither."

"Ah." Darcy nodded as if he was making any sense at all. "That's why Tony's your bitch. He can't meet the requirements to be a god."

"Exactly," Loki agreed.

This conversation would probably make more sense with some vodka. "Wait…you got kicked out of Avengers Headquarters, and Nick Fury almost popped…" Darcy covered her face with her hands. "You didn't make that suggestion to him, did you?" She put her hands down, folding them on her lap.

"He was not receptive to the idea," Loki admitted with a frown. "I believe that he is suffering from a massive backup of sexual tension. He would not admit to it, of course, but the symptoms are there."

It took a moment for his words to process. But then they did. "You asked Nick Fury if he was backed up?" she yelped. "And he let you live?"

"I hardly think he would be able to kill me, but he was rather upset."

Darcy pulled her feet up onto the sofa and hugged her knees. "Does Thor know about this? He won't be very happy."

"He is used to it," Loki sniffed. "After all, I am well known as a trickster. He will find out soon enough." A truly wicked grin lit his face. "They all will."

Darcy gulped. "What did you do, Loki? Not anything that will hurt anyone, right?"

"I have moved past that time in my life," he assured. "At least for now." He sipped his vodka, eyes lit with an unwholesome glee.

"I don't want to know any more," Darcy told him. "What I don't know, I can deny. Geez! Fury doesn't have a sense of humor, Loki. You're gonna really piss him off if you start playing tricks on the Avengers."

He shrugged. "I am sure he prefers my tricks to my rage and madness. It will be beneficial for all of them to be more alert." He turned to face her fully, finishing off the vodka and placing the glass on her tiny little coffee table. Darcy's insides shivered at the look he turned upon her. It was longing, and heat, and complete wickedness, and she liquefied on the spot.

"I want," he said simply.

She gulped. "I see that."

He reached out to trail a finger down her arm. "What I want, I usually get."

"No arguments here." Darcy swallowed hard, and tried to compose herself. It wasn't like she hadn't prepared for a follow up visit. And he was still relatively inexperienced. She should be able to blow his mind.

She stood. "I'll meet you in the bedroom. I need to get some supplies."

She almost stumbled over herself as she gathered her supplies. Her skin was tingling. Of course this was where the visit had been leading, but she was nervous. The last time, she'd been completely intoxicated. She was sober now, and highly anxious.

Loki was removing his coat when she arrived back in the bedroom. He raised an eyebrow at the items in her hands. "Whipped cream, cherries, and fudge sauce? Are we having dessert?"

Darcy offered him a saucy smirk. "I am. Banana split."

He titled his head to the side. "Where's the banana?"

"I'll show you where it is. You'll be begging."

He snorted. "I don't beg."

He was so wrong.

***************************************************************************************************************************

Once again, a knock at the door woke her. Darcy untangled herself from sheets and Loki, and went to answer the door. At least it was light out this time. She wasn't cranky. And she had been talented enough to make a god beg for mercy. Life was good.

Her newest visitor was a bit more tame than the last. "Darcy?"

She only opened the door a few inches. "I can't let you in, Jane. I totally ravaged some lucky guy, and made a banana split with his not-so wee willie winkie. It was delicious. But now he's passed out in my bed. I screwed him senseless." She beamed at her friend.

Jane's mouth dropped open, and color ran up her cheeks. "Um, well….good for you. And him, I suppose. Um….okay, I wasn't prepared for that."

"So what's up? Needed a Darcy fix?"

Jane took a deep breath. "That's always nice. But I was hoping we could get a night out sometime soon. You know, a girl's night. Sounds like you have some juicy gossip to share, and I need some testosterone free time. It gets a little much with all those super egoes, you know?"

"Got ya covered!" Darcy assured with a wink. "Friday good for you?"

"Yeah. Thor and the others are heading out Thursday for some big deal that he can't talk about, so that would be perfect." She grinned. "Thanks Darcy. You're my anchor." She tried to peek over Darcy's head. "So…anyone I know?"

Darcy wagged a finger. "That would be telling. Later, Jane!"

Once the door was safely closed, Darcy practically ran back the hall to her bedroom. Loki was sitting up, looking wonderfully disheveled. She could see smears of fudge sauce on his thighs, and a flash of heat punched her in the stomach. She very vividly remembered him quivering as she ate her 'banana' split.

"So….made ya beg," she gloated.

His lips twisted in a smile. "I bow to your superior skills. Some day, I hope to return the favor. Now, please excuse me, but there is something I simply must not miss. Can I call on you again? At an arranged time?"

Darcy was a little bummed that he was leaving. "Of course. Saturday? No later than 9, okay?"

He nodded, and rose gracefully to his feet. Wow. That was a nice sight in the light of day. Darcy licked her lips, and Loki threw his head back and laughed. Between one blink and the next, he was clothed. Another blink, and he was gone.

************************************************************************************************************************************

Stark's security system was ridiculously easy to overcome, again. Loki eased into the apartment like a shadow, and waited. The playboy would awaken soon. He could not miss this. Stark had a public appearance this afternoon, which meant he would be wearing a suit. He had a whole closet full of suits, but Loki suspected he would have difficulty finding something to wear.

It was music to his ears when it finally happened. "LOKI!" Stark bellowed.

He shifted out of the shadows right beside the raging billionaire. "Yes, minion?"

Stark didn't startle, to his credit. He turned in a fury. "What the HELL is this?" he asked, gesturing at his closet.

All the suits in the closet had been replaced with skin tight, hot pink tee shirts. On the front and back they proudly announced – "Loki's Bitch."

The God of Mischief smirked. "It is just a reminder. Have a pleasant day." He melted back into the shadows, with the echo of his name being shouted once more.

Chapter Text

Loki couldn't tell if Jane was surprised, irritated, or worried that he was visiting again. Her brow wrinkled, and her mouth twisted up on one side when she opened the door to his knock. She did not speak at first, chewing on her lower lip as she stared at him. But finally, she stepped back into the apartment, and indicated with a hand beckon that he should come in.

"He'll be home soon," she advised, as Loki steered clear of the loveseat and folded himself down onto the sofa. "Have you tried catching him at Avengers Headquarters?"

The God of Mischief winced. "I am unwelcome there at this time."

Thor's woman tried to hide a smile. "Does it have something to do with suggesting that Nick Fury is backed up?"

"I believe that was the cause, yes. It seems that he was insulted at the idea of anyone thinking him sexually inactive currently."

Jane closed the door, and walked over to sit down on the loveseat, facing him. "Most guys would be. Are you here for more mortal dating advice?"

"Mostly," he admitted candidly. He picked up the small pillow beside him, and absently squeezed it. "I find myself in a situation where I cannot control the events, nor my reaction to them. I am not accustomed to not being in control of a situation, and I do not like the feeling of helplessness that it has caused." His nostrils flared as the memories assaulted him. He had lost all semblance of control and rationality when Darcy had assembled her "banana split," and then teased that she would not eat it. He had begged. He, the God of Mischief, had begged a mortal girl to pleasure him. Begged. In a breathless, trembling, WEAK voice. A mortal girl. Who tended to wear bulky, oversized clothes, and blush if a guy talked to her. Yet she had completely owned him! He would have done anything in that moment, if only to make sure she completed what she had started.

"Uh Loki?"

He looked up to meet Jane's eyes. She looked concerned and frightened.

"Yes Jane?"

She tried to smile reassuringly, but it was more of a frightened smile. "You're not about to go psychotic again, are you? Or has my pillow done something to offend you?"

He looked down at his hands. The small pillow was shredded, gutted remains littering the floor and his legs. Was he about to go psychotic? No. But he felt like he was tumbling end over end, and he didn't know which way was up. How did people, mortal or otherwise, handle these feelings and still function? An unexpected admiration for others was not what he had expected to gain from finally exploring physical intimacy. It was unwelcome and troubling.

"I apologize." A slight wave of his fingers, and the pillow reassembled itself. A startled indrawn breath had him raising his eyes to look at Jane again. Her face had lost some color, and Loki understood why she feared him, but wished it were not so.

"That's….wow."

He tried an unthreatening smile. "It is a minor talent of mine. All things carry an inherent memory of their totality. It is an easy thing to encourage it to resume that totality."

"Easy for you, maybe. Most people are not able to encourage things to reassemble themselves. It's a little scary."

Loki stared down at the reassembled pillow resting on his legs. "Others have always found me scary, or unimportant. It defined my entire life. When I went 'psychotic', I was the important one. Everyone was talking about me."

"Not in a good way," Jane said softly.

"No. But I was no longer being overlooked, or dismissed. It was a very powerful feeling." Loki exhaled slowly. He was scaring Jane. He could feel her fear. He could almost taste it. For a brief moment, he thought about embracing that part of himself again. The part that had only ever wanted to be Thor's equal. The part of him that reasoned if people weren't going to notice him in a positive way, then he'd burn his name into the most terrified shadows of their souls. That slimy little inner part of him had reveled in the screams. It had been so very powerful.

But Thor expected better of him, and Loki owed his big brother a debt that could never be repaid. Thor had believed in him, and never stopped loving him, even at his worst, and Loki would not disappoint him.

He looked up at Jane and smiled. "Thankfully, I am no longer that person. Thor saved me from my darker traits. It is my hope that he can save me yet again."

"Help with mortal dating?" He saw her tense muscles relax.

"That would be one area where I seek assistance, yes. Asgardians are a bit more…reserved…when it comes to courting."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Yes, I remember. I practically had to assault your brother and drag –" She flushed bright red when Loki's eyes widened. "Um never mind. I can't believe I was just about to discuss that with you." She slapped her hands onto her flaming cheeks. "Oh my god. I really can't believe I said that to you."

Loki grinned wickedly. "I believe that your little…slip of the tongue…can be used to my advantage should my brother decide to heckle me about mortal dating. Thank you Jane. This has proven to be a very illuminating and profitable conversation."

"Thor's gonna kill me."

"I doubt that. He seems quite smitten with you."

The outside door banged open. Noticing the dents in the wall behind the door, Loki wondered if his brother would ever learn to temper his great strength.

"Loki!" Thor greeted. "You've come for further advice?" He only needed two steps to cross the room and clasp Loki's arm in greeting. His smile was nearly as big as his heart, the God of Mischief noted absently. He watched his brother settle down beside Jane, whose cheeks were slowly regaining a normal coloration.

"Unusual though it might be, yes." He couldn't resist. "I have discovered, and Jane has confirmed, that mortal women are far less reserved than Asgardian women. I am not accustomed to women attacking and ravishing me." He watched in delight as Thor blushed and cast a quick look at Jane. She was looking anywhere but at his brother, with an embarrassed little smile. "I find myself quite…unsettled."

"It is quite different here," Thor agreed. "You will require some time to adjust, but you shall, Loki. You are far more clever than I, and better able to adapt to change."

Loki balled his hands into fists. "I know my own abilities, Thor. I was hoping that you could provide some sort of solution to my maddening inability to control my own reactions to these situations."

Thor leaned forward to peer into his eyes. It made Loki uncomfortable. Being the trickster, and the silver tongued God of Lies, he had developed the habit of avoiding other's eyes, often looking off to the side or just above the head of the person he was speaking to. But this was his brother, and Thor was searching for something. He stared steadily into his brother's blue eyes, and clutched the pillow on his legs even tighter.

"I have never seen you unsettled around women before, Loki." That caused a bitter old anger to resurface. Thor had never realized that Loki would not, could not, become intimate with the women in Asgard. The comparison to his brother would have been inevitable, and the thought of women gossiping about who was more impressive in bed had left him cold. In retrospect, maybe his temperature difficulties had been caused more by his frost giant heritage than the thought of being compared to Thor, but still….

Thor was relentless. "Are mortal women truly that disturbing to you? Or is it that you feel some emotion for one of them, in that cold heart of yours?"

Loki didn't really appreciate the sly underhanded reference to his heritage in Thor's question, and he was unpleasantly surprised by his brother's insight. He had not considered the possibility that there could be emotions involved in his activities with Darcy. Did he have feelings for her? Outside of the purely physical feelings of lust and satisfaction? He could not answer that question. There was too much confusion. Living in the mortal realm was adding unexpected depth to Thor's character.

"I….I honestly do not know, brother. The concept is foreign to me. I…do not relate well to people."

Thor sat back, and waved a dismissive hand. "Bah. That was on Asgard. You did not relate well to others there because they expected you to be like them, and you were not. I love Asgard, and it will always be our home, but they do have a rather narrow view of what is considered acceptable. Here on Earth, diversity is accepted and encouraged. You may find that you relate better to mortals than you ever did with our own people."

Loki almost swallowed his tongue. He had never expected that such depth of thought could come from his brother. He could not even dismiss Thor's suggestion, because he felt that it was probably true. He had always felt comfortable around Darcy, and amused by Tony Stark. He was even able to speak to the other Avengers with little difficulty, knowing that they watched him for signs of turning evil, but did not judge him on his choice to wield magic rather than a sword.

"Thor….you have given me much to think about."

His brother was not so easily distracted. "Good. Is there a mortal woman who has captured your attention?"

"Perhaps," he mused. "As I said, it is a foreign concept. I need to further evaluate the situation."

"Ah but there is a situation!" Thor smiled in triumph. "So you have been attacked and ravaged by a mortal woman. Ah, Loki. She must be special to capture your interest." He winked, and cast a covert look at Jane. "Mortal women can be very inventive. Knowing how easily you become bored, this is a good thing."

How was it possible that he was blushing, again? And why did it have to be in front of his brother? Thor did not forget things like that, and would use it to make him horribly uncomfortable.

"You are blushing, brother. I cannot even imagine what this mortal woman may have done to you to cause that reaction."

Jane bumped Thor's side with a smile. "And tear apart my pillow with his bare hands."

Thor threw his head back and laughed. "Oh Loki! Someone has bewitched and beguiled you."

He nodded. "I suspected as much. Do you know of a cure?"

"There is no cure, brother." Thor reached out to pat him on the shoulder. "You will be fine, Loki. I should like to meet this mortal woman who has so unsettled you."

He had no idea that he knew her quite well already. "In time, brother. Thank you again for the council."

"I am here for you, Loki. Always. However, if you transform any of my wardrobe to a hot pink color, I will thrash you."

Loki grinned. "It might be worth it."

Thor's return grin had a lot of teeth. "I think not."

"Perhaps some off-color jokes printed on your undergarments?"

Jane, who had been taking a swig of water, spit it out as she was startled into a laugh. She looked at Thor's sour countenance, and brought herself back under control. "Oh Loki. You wouldn't."

His wicked grin broadened. "Of course I would. Ask Stark to model my tailoring efforts for you."

Thor laughed again. "He had no choice. Everything he wore altered to hot pink within minutes, and labeled him your bitch. It kept disrupting our meeting. You were aware he had a public appearance as Iron Man, yes?"

"Of course. I imagine he looked quite fetching in a hot pink suit of armor."

"You may want to ensure that he has no weapons within reach when next you see him. He was rather upset."

Loki stood. "He will adapt. Thank you both for your council. I have…enjoyed…spending time in your company." He was a little surprised to find that it was true.

Thor and Jane both stood as well. "You are welcome any time, Loki," Thor told him. "We have not always held the same views or values, and I was often insensitive to how my actions affected you. I was as unyielding as any Asgardian in my beliefs of my superiority. After all, I was a warrior. You were merely a trickster who played with magic."

Loki gritted his teeth, but said nothing. That Thor was able to understand this without it being explained to him was a monumental indication of his brother's development.

Thor reached out to clasp his shoulder. "I am sorry, brother. I was not done growing yet, and I unfairly took that out on you. But know that I always loved you. At some point, I would like to see you resolve your issues with father. He did not love you any less because you were not of his flesh and blood. But he is inflexible as well, and you did not fit the mold of an Asgardian, no matter how hard he tried to force you into it. I believe that he is ready to begin accepting you as you are."

Loki's muscles clenched. "I love Father dearly, but I am not quite ready to forgive him. When I am, I will take that step." He forced himself to relax, and grinned. "Perhaps he would benefit from my tailoring?"

The expression on Thor's face was priceless. "Loki, you would not dare!" There was true fear in his brother's voice.

Surprisingly, it was Jane who saw past the jest. She placed a reassuring hand on Thor's arm. "He's just joking, Thor. You should know that by now. Loki likes to agitate."

It was nice that she noticed. "My thanks to you, Jane. I will take my leave of you both now. My situation requires further consideration."

He withdrew and sought solitude in Central Park. Alone amongst the trees, he settled in for long period of contemplation. At least it would keep him out of trouble with the Avengers.

Chapter Text

Vodka in public was not the best idea, but Darcy needed to unwind a little. Well, a lot. It wasn't every day that a girl finds herself tangled up in the sheets with a formerly evil god from another realm. And even if some other girl did manage to find herself in that situation, Darcy was pretty sure she was the only one who could lay claim to popping a god's cherry. Hah! She had a place in the history books for sure. That was assuming she could ever tell anyone about it. Which she wouldn't. Loki still had the power to turn her inside out and wring her dry if he wanted to, and she was pretty sure he didn't want it to be known that he'd spent centuries as a virgin.

Thankfully, enough vodka kept those thoughts from happening. She had to be careful though. Too much vodka could unravel the leash on her tongue, and Darcy didn't want to find out what it was like to be turned inside out. It would probably hurt. A lot.

Jane looked like she wanted to share some juicy gossip, but Darcy had put the brakes on. "Not a word until I've had at least one glass of vodka," she warned.

Jane grinned at her. "Wow. I didn't think you'd be this tense after your little adventure the other day. Didn't your lucky guy do for you?"

Darcy glared at her over the vodka. "I said not a word. That was a lot of words." She tossed back the whole glass, and waited patiently, while Jane stared at her with a smile. Finally, her edges began to blur a little, and she was feeling good. "Now….you can speak."

Jane laughed at her. "You are too funny. Seriously, did you not get any satisfaction out of your lucky guy?"

Even thinking about it made Darcy's whole body jiggle like jello. "I can't even describe it. OMG. But it's complicated." She grinned. "What about you? You look like you're bursting to share something."

Jane laughed a little. "It's the most amazing thing. Loki is dating a human. He's stopped by a couple of times in the last few days to get Thor's advice on mortal dating customers."

That called for another glass of vodka, after she pried her jaw off the table. Darcy shut her mouth, poured her vodka, and put on her best poker face. "Wow. That's SO far from what I was thinking you wanted to gossip about." She took a big gulp of her second glass.

Jane rolled her eyes. "Oh c'mon Darcy. I've gossiped about Thor before. I've probably told you things you didn't want to know."

That was the truth. When you're not getting any, the last thing you want to do is listen to your friend brag about her boyfriend's godly prowess in bed. That type of thing makes a girl's happy place very sad, which can lead to other bad things. Or just a lot of quality alone time with herself. But hey! She didn't have that problem anymore.

"You're right," she said aloud, when she realized that Jane was waiting for some type of response. "It's hard to look a guy in the eye when the girl he's banging has totally shared his performance. It's all you can think about. It actually made me not want to talk to him. What if, in the middle of chilling with you guys, I accidentally popped out some detail about how he wiggles his hips and drives it to the right a little bit to hit your magic spot?"

"DARCY!" Jane yelped. "I did not tell you anything like that!" She looked absolutely mortified, with cheeks so red Darcy was expecting actual flame.

"Well no, but I had to fill in the blanks. You left a lot of those, and I'm an information kinda gal. I gotta know these things." She was dimly aware that she may have had too much vodka too fast, but this was funny as hell, and she needed to unwind, especially after hearing Jane's Loki gossip. "Since you left it vague, I'm making up my own shit. Maybe I'll run it by Thor and see how close I hit it."

"Don't you dare!" Jane's whole head was red now. It looked kinda cool. Maybe this was how Nick Fury had looked the other day, when Loki had almost 'popped him like a puss filled pimple'. The thought that Jane might pop and spray her with nasty goop had Darcy reconsidering saying more, but the vodka had the bit in its teeth and was running wild.

"I bet he's a missionary guy, right? Likes to stare down at you, quivering beneath the thrust of his godly loins?" Well that flashed vivid memories into her brain.

Jane sounded like she was gargling something. Darcy dimly wondered if she'd swallowed her tongue.

"Of course, Thor's got a lazy streak. I could totally see him laying on his back while you do the wild cowgirl routine. He'd act all godly then too. With a little smirk. And when you're done, he'd smash a glass and yell 'another!' You'd be at it all night. Cuz gods have staying power." Oops. That was straying a little too close to where she didn't want to go. Think of being wrung out. Reconnect tongue to brain. Move past vodka haze. Breathe calmly. Stop thinking of Thor and Jane (or Loki and Darcy) having sex. Stop it. Not one more evil little thought.

"BANANA SPLIT!" she blurted, then snapped her mouth shut.

The other patrons of the little dive bar they were sitting in glared at her. They should be used to it by now. Darcy came here a lot.

She focused every last vodka sopped brain cell on stopping her tongue from forming another word. Then she saw the threek. It was a lifesaver. She snatched it up from beside her vodka bottle, and waved it at Jane. "Look Foster! It's a threek! Most places don't have threeks. I wonder why they don't make more of them? What's the benefit of a fork versus a threek? To conserve metal, shouldn't we all switch to threeks? Oh that's brilliant! We gotta get that out to the planet huggers and the silverware manufacturers right away. Save the planet! Only use threeks!"

She was vaguely offended when their waitress hustled over and removed the bottle of vodka. "Hey – what? That's ours! We paid for the whole thing. Well, not yet. But we will later. You can't take it away. I need it. Life is complicated and I don't want to look at it without vodka right now."

Jane wasn't any help. She was holding a glass of ice water to her flaming cheeks. Darcy glared up at their waitress. "You are so not getting a tip if you take that away."

"I'll bring it back after you've had some food," the woman assured. "Can you put the fork down? You're scaring people."

"It's not a fork. It's a threek!" Duh. Apparently, the woman couldn't count. Darcy filed a mental note to check their bill to make sure they weren't charged for the wrong amount of items. But the note floated away on a stream of vodka. Ah….that was serene. She was floating around her own brain, in a stream of vodka. Nice. She sat the threek down and admired it.

"Water," she blurted suddenly. She totally needed water to dilute the vodka. She knew better than to drink vodka on an empty stomach.

Oh wait! There was water right in front of her. How cool was that? She drank the whole glass, ignoring the stuff she didn't quite get in her mouth. It dripped down onto her chest, making a big wet spot. That was cool too. It looked like someone had their mouth-

Bad thought! Stop! How was Jane doing? She put down her empty water glass and peeked at her friend. Jane was looking back at her. Her cheeks were mostly normal again.

"Hey girl." Darcy wiggled her fingers. "Can you speak now?"

Jane bit her lip. "I can. What about you?"

"I am totally cool. I've got a little too much vodka sloshing around an empty stomach, but other than that, I am good." She barked out a laugh. "I'm so good I make men beg!" Bad thought. "Talk to me, Foster. If you talk, I won't, and right now that would be a great thing."

"Ooookay. Well…I'm actually feeling a little sorry for Loki."

"Huh? Why would you feel sorry for Loki?" Darcy really, really wanted to hear more, but tried to play it cool.

"He's all unsettled by things right now. I get the impression that he didn't fit in on Asgard at all, and that no one really paid much attention to him. He's trying to learn how to handle emotions like a normal person, but I think it's very difficult for him. He looks conflicted and confused, and that's why he keeps visiting, because Thor is his constant." Jane smiled thoughtfully. "He's intriguing."

Hands off, bitch. "Whoa Jane. Sounds like you're developing a Loki crush."

Foster laughed. "Darcy you are so drunk. I'm just saying that he may not be the raging psychotic animal that I thought he was originally. I feel bad for him right now. He won't tell Thor who he's dating, but apparently, she did a number on him. They're not used to women who are aggressive." She snickered a little. "He actually looked like he'd been hit by Mjolnir in the back of the head. And he blushed!"

Darcy was about to embarrass herself in a big way. "Loki blushed?" She felt misty eyed thinking that her actions had had that much of an affect on Loki. He always seemed so controlled. But then again, he had begged. Pleaded with her to eat her banana split. He hadn't been very controlled right then. "So he's getting some mortal action and he likes it?" Tell me more, Foster. Talk!

"It's overwhelmed him. Thor thinks he likes the girl, and he really doesn't know how to deal with that fact." Jane took a sip of her water. "It will be interesting to see how this plays out." She laughed out loud. "He's keeping the Avengers on their toes right now. Poor Stark. Apparently, everything he put on the other day kept turning hot pink and had the words 'Loki's Bitch' on it. Including the Iron Man suit. Fury was not amused, but Thor couldn't stop laughing about it. He said it's typical Loki mischief."

She wanted to hear more. Why the fascination? Well, okay, Loki was a god, and fantastic in bed, even though he was still learning, and he was dangerous and tortured and all the things that girls should stay away from. Right.

"Where does he go?" she heard herself asking.

"What?"

"Where does he go when he's not punking the Avengers or visiting you and Thor? Does he have an apartment in NYC or something? Does he blip in and out of Asgard? Does he steal food, or does he have money?" Stop talking, Lewis. "I mean, I'm drunk and I'm thinking weird things, and I am an information gal. Now I'm curious."

Jane frowned. "I…I don't know. I'll have to ask Thor. Maybe he knows." She shook her head. "Enough about the godly brothers! What about this lucky guy of yours? Casual, or is there something there?"

Darcy propped her chin on her hand. "I don't know. But he keeps coming back for more, so I guess that's a good thing, huh?" She shrugged. "Like I said, it's complicated."

"Who is he?" Jane was very curious, leaning forward with wide eyes.

"Just a guy. I don't want to talk about it, or I'll jinx myself. Once I'm sure where it's going, then maybe I'll share some identity details. Wouldn't want the guy to get a reputation, you know?" She snorted laughter. "I think he has a freaky side in bed, but I haven't cracked it yet." She cracked her knuckles with a slightly tipsy grin. "I will though. I'll coax the freak out to play with me."

Jane blushed. "You're wicked, Darcy. I almost feel sorry for this guy."

"Oh you do. You do!" Shut the hell up, Lewis! Why don't you just announce to the world that you're banging Loki and you popped his cherry? It'll be way too cool for the five minutes that he lets you live.

A banana split plopped itself down on the table between them. Darcy titled her head up to frown at their waitress. What the hell? Was the woman trying to encourage her bad thoughts?

"Why?" she asked.

The girl smiled gently. "You ordered it. Loudly. So here it is."

Shit. She had yelled banana split, but only because her evil mind went right there when trying to stop thinking about god sex. She needed to send it back, but she was hungry, and it was a banana split, and oh those memories were very potent.

Jane scooped up a spoon. "Well, let's dig in. You're sharing, right?"

Ha! "Only this one. You can't have the other one."

Foster's nose wrinkled. "I have Thor. I'll make my own."

They dug right in and polished it off quickly. Then it was time to walk next door, to a dance club, to work off the vodka and any frustrations. Darcy managed to lose herself to the moment, and it wasn't until she got home that she thought about her date with Loki the next night. She was going to fret about it until he arrived. What to wear? What to expect? Did she like him?

But finally, it was time to sleep. Tomorrow was another day, and it would work out the way it did.

Chapter Text

Someone had conducted chemical experiments in her mouth, and the packed it with cotton. Blah. Darcy pried her eyes open. She had to stop with vodka overindulgence. But she had needed to unwind a little, and the vodka had helped. She was kinda fuzzy on the details, but she did remember making Jane blush till it looked like her head was gonna pop. That had been fun.

She dragged herself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. The face in the mirror was enough to frighten her – sleep puffed with a fright nest of hair. It looked like she'd had a fight with a rabid hedgehog and lost. Ugh.

A pounding hot shower and teeth brushing later, she felt human again. Mostly. She pulled on a ratty tee and torn jeans, and twisted her hair into a pony tail. A few minutes in the kitchen, and she was settling down on her sofa with scrambled eggs, toast, and a nice tall glass of milk. Mmmm…that went a long way toward easing the morning after feeling.

Between one bite and the next, she remembered that it was Saturday, and Loki was coming to see her. "Shit!" She finished up her breakfast quickly, and headed back to the bathroom. A girl's gotta look her best when the company is godly, and they'd probably be naked by the end of the night. No unsightly body hair or dry skin!

Boosting her body confidence took about two hours. Then it was time to raid her closet and dresser for clothing that was worth wearing. And taking off. What did gods like? She had no idea. Would he appreciate something slutty? Something demure? Considering what she'd been wearing the last time she saw him, anything would be an improvement.

Cell phones were lifesavers. She dialed Jane, hoping her friend would be awake and alert.

Of course she was. "Hey girl. Recovered from last night?" Jane's voice was a little scratchy, but otherwise sounded alert.

"I'm having a crisis, Foster. I've got a date with my lucky guy tonight, and I need clothing advice. Gimme some ideas. What does Thor like? Slutty do-me clothes? Prim and proper, normal Foster-wear? Playful prudish?"

She tapped her foot impatiently while listening to Jane choke with laughter. "C'mon Foster this is serious! I don't think I should look like Schlumpy Shelly again, but I'll do whatever the guys like. So tell me what gets Thor's loincloth all in a bunch!"

She heard a few hiccups over the phone as Jane finally recovered. "Oh god Darcy. He does not wear a loincloth!" She took a few breaths. "Playful prudish, I think. You should look like a tease, like your legs are glued together, but you really, really want him to want you."

Darcy 'eeped' in appreciation. "That's perfect! Thanks Foster! I'll gossip with you later."

"Don't wear him out, Darcy."

She rolled her eyes. "Won't happen. Later!"

She went through her clothes and under things in a flurry, trying to find that combination that said what she wanted it to. Playful prudish wasn't a look she usually did, so it took some effort, but she finally had what she wanted. Once dressed, she was at a complete loss for what to do next. She hadn't told Loki what time to visit, only that it shouldn't be later than 9:00.

After pacing for 30 minutes, Darcy flopped down onto her sofa in a huff. After another 30 minutes, she opened a bag of chips. Thirty minutes after that, she went after the ice cream.

Thor's tutelage in mortal dating customs had not included accepted attire. Loki intended on escorting Darcy to a fine establishment for dinner. His Asgardian clothing would simply not do, and he wanted the right look. He thought about consulting with Thor again, but his brother's wardrobe was fairly limited. Bruce Banner had the same boring scientist look every day, and Steve Rogers was still trying to fit in to the 21st century. But Stark usually dressed to the occasion, and Clint Barton didn't look too bad.

It took longer than anticipated to locate them. The Avengers were apparently on a mission. Loki appeared by Thor's side, and suppressed a smile as his brother jumped.

"Loki!" he whispered in surprise. "This is not a good time, brother. We suspect an invasion by a hostile alien species." He pointed straight ahead, through trees, to a dimly lit compound. There was a huge device at the edge of the compound, looking something like a giant centrifuge. It was spinning, crackling with energy.

He nodded thoughtfully. "Fascinating. I wish to consult with my minion, and Barton."

Stark was in his armor, and he turned to look at Loki. "Consult about what, Loki? If we're right, we're about to be in a pitched battle. Can it wait?"

"Not really, no. I am taking a lady friend to dinner, and I require apparel suggestions."

It was Steve Rogers who answered. "You're here to ask about clothes?"

"As I said, yes. Much as I hate to admit it, Stark is quite the appropriate dresser. What would you suggest, minion?"

"That depends. First date?" Stark popped open his helmet, flipping it up.

"Technically, yes."

"What does that mean?" Natasha asked curiously.

"We have had prior physical encounters. This will be our first planned foray into public."

Stark was opening his mouth to respond when hell broke loose. A shimmering portal winked into existence yards in front of them, in the middle of the device they had been observing. An army of alien creatures began walking out of that portal. They were tall, nearly frost giant size, with reptilian like green skin. There were a lot of them.

Loki frowned at the aliens, and curled his lip as Stark flipped his face plate back down. "Could you not spare some tidbits of advice before your battle?"

Barton snorted. "Are you serious? If you want fashion advice, help us."

He considered it. "If it is the only way you will share advice…."

The aliens spotted them, and strange looking weapons were drawn. The Avengers scattered as a hale of sizzling energy bolts shot their way. Loki deflected those that came at him, one of the many benefits of being adept with magic. There really were a lot of the aliens.

He sighed. "Fine. I will assist you."

It was midnight, and he hadn't come. Darcy had eaten almost everything in the apartment, trying to stave off the overwhelming feeling of being ignored. It was no big deal, right? It had happened all the time in her awkward teenage years. Well okay, even when she started college. Because guys were idiots, right? It wasn't like there was always a common denominator involved - herself. It was the guys. Right? She'd had her moments, few and usually far between, but she was a bit of major geek-dork, and most guys that she met didn't go for that. She'd thought that Loki was different, but apparently, he was just the same.

She curled up on the sofa, clutching a pillow to her chest. She hated the tears, and the thoughts that came with them. He was probably banging Natasha. She seemed more his type – wicked and dangerous. What was Darcy, but just a geek-dork assistant? S.H.I.E.L.D had forcibly relocated her to NYC after Thor's visit. She knew too much, and Coulson had bluntly told her that his agency kept its assets close, and its liabilities closer. She had no illusions about which she was.

She wanted to puke. It might help empty her bulging stomach of all the junk she'd put into it. Maybe she'd lose some weight and be more appealing to men then? She leaned over to snatch up a tissue, using it soak up the tears. This really sucked. She was tired of being overlooked.

A knock on the door startled her, and then made her very angry, because she knew who it was. "It is way past 9:00, jerk!" she called through the door. "I'm not here."

"Darcy please. I am very sorry." His voice was strangely subdued, and sounded almost weak. She gritted her teeth. Natasha must have worn him out.

"I said I'm not home. I went out to find a guy to bang. Someone normal who will just roll over when finished, say 'thanks babe', and take off."

She heard the knob turning, and wanted to smack herself. She'd been expecting him, so she hadn't locked the door. Well, she didn't even want to look at him, so she rolled over to press her face into the back of the sofa. Screw him. Or not, actually.

The slow dragging footsteps couldn't be his, could they? It sounded like a zombie moving toward her, one of those Resident Evil types. She started getting prickles on the back of her neck, imagining him bending over to totally gnosh on her and turn her into a zombie too.

"I didn't invite you in. You need to leave. I don't want to talk to you."

The zombie footsteps moved closer. "I am so sorry, Darcy. I meant to be here hours earlier." He sounded sincere, but also very winded.

"Yeah. That damn Natasha just couldn't be satisfied, could she? Wore ya right out?"

A thud sounded behind her. It sounded suspiciously like a body hitting the floor. "Loki? Loki?"

Well shit. She scrubbed her eyes with the tissue still clenched in one hand, and rolled over. Loki was on the floor. Unconscious. He looked like he'd been through a freaking war: clothes torn, with bloody cuts and dark bruises forming on his pale skin. His hair was a tangled, snarled mess. He was dirty, so filthy that she could see tracks where sweat droplets had run down his face.

"Oh my god!" She fell off the sofa, landing on her knees beside him. He was breathing; she could see the shallow rise and fall of his chest. But he was unconscious!

"Loki?"

Shit? What did she do with a god who'd had his ass handed to him? Maybe bend over and kiss her own ass goodbye, cuz anyone tough enough to beat the shit out of Loki was tough enough to destroy everything?

Darcy jumped to her feet and ran to the bathroom. She threw a towel into the sink and ran hot water over it. She squeezed it out only a little, and returned to the living room. He looked so helpless, collapsed in a sprawl on her floor. (bleeding on the carpet too, shit) What the hell had happened to him? She sat down cross legged, and lifted his head into her lap as gently as possible. Keeping her touch light, she bathed his face with the wet towel, removing blood and dirt.

Without the dirt and dried blood, his face was shockingly pale, and the bruises stood out in glaring contrast. His lips were slightly twisted, as if in a grimace of pain. Darcy twisted her hair back out of the way, and picked up one elegant hand. His fingertips looked scorched under the dirt and blood, as if he'd been playing with electricity, and they were curled into a claw shape. She carefully cleaned each hand, easing the fingers back into a normal position. Then she smoothed his hair back, bits of tree and bushes coming off in her fingers. What had happened?

Then she thought that maybe Thor might be targeted by whatever had torn Loki apart, and she had to warn Jane, so she called her friend.

"Darcy? It's late, and I have a bit of situation here, so can it wait?"

She heard Thor's voice in the background. "Darcy? I need to speak to her please." Then he was on the phone, and he sounded exactly like Loki had. "Darcy. I am happy that you have called."

"Thor, buddy, you sound terrible."

She could hear his slow, painful exhale. "I have felt better. We were on a mission, and it did not go as planned. But, to the reason I wished to speak to you…my brother was with us. He was in worst shape than I, and he withdraws from me when hurt. You are one of the very few mortals to know of us, and you are trustworthy. If you see him, please make sure he is all right. I believe he will be fine, but I worry for him, as he will be vulnerable till recovered."

"Is everyone okay?" Darcy asked, staring down at Loki. He withdrew from his brother, but came to her?

"Stark is badly hurt. He was overwhelmed, and the suit was grievously damaged while he was still inside it. He is with the best of doctors now. He would have died, we all would have perished, had it not been for Loki. He was there on a whim, but he stayed." Thor's choked voice betrayed his emotions. "He did not abandon us to our fate, but fought at our side. We fought back hundreds of alien warriors, and when Stark fell to them, Loki leaped into their midst, wielding magic and knives to free Tony. He expended what magic he had left to force the aliens back, and destroy their portal into this world. It drained him terribly; he appeared little more than a spirit when he took his leave of us."

Darcy felt all warm inside, and wasn't sure she could speak around the giant lump in her throat. "He looks terrible, Thor."

There was a long, long moment of silence. "He came to you?"

"Yeah. We've hung out a couple times. Got drunk together once. I think he trusts me. He passed out on my floor, big guy. He's bleeding on my carpet right now. Well….it's mostly stopped. He looks like hell."

She heard Jane sputtering in the background, and then she grabbed the phone. "Loki is with you?"

Darcy bit her lip. Thor wouldn't have made the connection between Loki's human interest and her, but Jane would. "Yeah. Like I told the big guy, Loki and I are drinking buddies. I guess he feels safe with me."

"Interesting. Take care of him, okay? He's starting to grow on me, and Thor would be devastated if anything permanent happened to him."

Darcy traced a finger down Loki's pain twisted face. "I will. If there's anything I can do to help with the Avengers, let me know. Will Tony be okay?" Stark was a pain in the ass, and a womanizing sonofabitch, but strangely endearing nonetheless.

Jane's voice was subdued. "Thor said…he doesn't know if Tony will make it." Her voice hitched. "He's not in good shape at all."

Darcy felt tears build. "Then I'll be saying prayers for him. I gotta scoot, Foster. I've got a bleeding, unconscious god on my living room floor, and I've got to get him patched up."

"Call us if you need anything. Thor will respect Loki's desire to be alone, but he'll come if you ask him."

Darcy nodded. "Yeah. This brother shit is confusing. I think it'll be okay, but I'll call if I need you."

She clicked off the phone and eased Loki's head back to the floor. The idea of him laying there in his torn, bloody clothes really bugged her, and it wasn't like she hadn't already seen him naked. She began removing his clothes. It must be some type of battle armor, made of stiffened leather and metal plating. The buckles that secured it were nearly destroyed, and she had to pick at them to get them to release. She cracked three nails in the process, ripping one of them off painfully. Nobody heard her yelp, but she could finally peel back the chest plate thingie. There were claw scratches in the metal that she didn't want to think about. They hadn't gone through, but Loki had been very close to being gutted.

She finally got the outer layer of armor completely off him, and worked on the softer clothing underneath, which was also torn and bloodied. She tried not to think of how badly it must have hurt him at the time. Even now, unconscious, his face was twisted in pain.

Finally, he was free of everything but what she imagined was the Asgardian version of briefs. Cute. She hopped up to get a bowl of warm water, and brought it over to the coffee table. She had never seen herself as a sponge bath type of girl, but it was amazing what one would do when inspired. The water was a dirty pink by the time she was done cleaning the dirt and blood from his lean frame. It was strange that two brothers could be so completely different. Thor was this sprawling, muscled mass, and Loki was lean and refined. One dark, and one blond. Blue eyes and green. Physical prowess, and magical. He was…unique. It gave her this mad tingling feeling to know that he'd chosen her to introduce him to the pleasures of the flesh. Maybe it had been vodka induced, but he kept coming back.

Some of the wounds looked bad, and she wondered if he'd heal at an accelerated rate, like Thor did. Stitching was out of the question, but she should at least try to close the wounds.

Darcy hopped up again, and went to raid her bathroom. She didn't have anything other than bandaids, and they wouldn't work. Oh well. Duct tape worked in a pinch. She had a small roll for emergency repairs, and it should work for pulling shut the edges of his worst wounds.

He didn't stir as she pinched the wounds shut, and tore off strips of duct tape with her teeth, using them like butterfly closures. He looked like a hip Frankenstein when she was finished, and she hoped that he would forgive her.

Then, at a loss of what else she could do, Darcy stretched out beside him on the carpet, pillowing her head on her arm so she could keep her eyes on him. Her very heavy eyes.

A gentle shake woke her. Darcy opened her eyes, and smiled when she saw Loki's face. The bruising had faded, and the wounds had closed and were beginning to heal already. He did heal much faster than normal. He was kneeling by her side, clothed once more in clean, normal looking human attire. Neat trick.

"Hi," she greeted softly.

He reached out to cup her cheek. "Thank you. I deserved nothing from you, yet you took care of me."

Darcy smile was a little fluttery. "Kinda like you didn't have to stick around to save the Avengers' butts?"

He frowned. "My brother has a big mouth. I am so sorry that I was not able to be here earlier, and I will make it up to you, but first I must see to Tony's recovery. Your mortal doctors cannot save him. He will not survive without my intervention." An amused smile warmed his face. "It's such a bother to have to replace a minion. I prefer not to have to. Besides, I could not bear the anguish should Pepper Potts lose him. One cannot understand why she loves him, but she does."

The hand cupping her cheek trailed down her arm, then turned palm up in an offer. Darcy slid her hand into his, and allowed him to pull her to her feet. The room spun maddeningly for a moment, but then stabilized.

"I will return when I have improved Stark's condition." He made a slight bow over her hand. "You are worthy, Darcy. Do not doubt that. The problem lies with the men of this realm." He blinked out of existence, leaving Darcy gaping. How had he known? And why was she feeling like she'd run a marathon on two hours of sleep and no food? As the room began to spin again, Darcy sank back to the floor, hoping for answers.

Chapter Text

"Lower your guns!" Natasha snapped at the S.H.I.E.L.D agents who had gone into full alert when Loki popped into their midst.

"My thanks," Loki inclined his head graciously to the woman. She looked very tired still, with her own set of bruises and cuts. The other four Avengers solemnly gathered outside of Tony Stark's hospital room looked equally tired and hurt, although Thor appeared to be recovering much faster. Loki did not hesitate, but stepped forward to clap a hand to his brother's shoulder in support. "How is he?"

"Dying." Steve Rogers' face was creased with grief. It was oddly unsettling coupled with the mottled bruises. "He's not going to make it." He tilted his head to one side. "You look fine."

"I am blessed with an extraordinary recovery rate." Loki strode toward the door leading into Stark's room, and drew up short when Barton and Banner stepped into his path. "I mean no harm."

"He's with Pepper until….until it's over," Bruce Banner explained. The normally calm scientist was already grieving. They were all grieving.

"I understand. I merely wish to pay my respects. Stark is the unlikeliest of heroes, but a hero nonetheless."

Banner and Barton stepped aside reluctantly, and Loki pushed open the door.

Pepper Potts was seated in a chair beside the hospital bed, head bowed in misery. She cradled one of Stark's hands in her own, tears dripping from her chin to fall onto those hands. A blood spotted rag was loosely clenched in her other hand, and the matching red stain on Stark's lips told Loki how little time the man had left.

"Hello minion," he greeted softly.

Pepper's head snapped up, and her eyes widened when she recognized him. "You!" she almost snarled. "You're the one who threw him out the window!"

Loki winced. The defenestration of Tony Stark had occurred during a highly emotional debate. He regretted it. Fortunately, Thor had been there to pluck Iron Man out of the air. Pepper had not forgotten, it seemed.

"I am sorry, Ms. Potts. I was not fully in control of my emotions at that time. It will not happen again. I truly regret it."

"Pepper." Stark's voice was no more than a pained whisper, but it drew both of them to look at him. The gray tone of his skin and the blood bubbling from his mouth as he tried to speak was a ghastly preview of his inevitable death.

"Don't try to talk, Tony. You have to save your strength to get better." Pepper dabbed at the blood on his mouth, tears running freely down her cheeks.

"I'm dying Pepper. I wouldn't be here to say goodbye if it weren't for Loki. Don't hate him" Stark tried a smile. "I had a good run."

Pepper was going to be a distraction, and Loki did not need that. "Ms. Potts. I would like a word with Stark privately."

Her head snapped up suspiciously. "No! I don't trust you!"

Stark's breath was wheezing in his throat, and every breath brought more blood with it. He did not have much time. "Pepper – step out for a moment. I owe Loki that much."

She shot a furious glare at Loki, stroked a tender hand along Stark's brow, and then stomped out the door, slamming it shut.

"That went well," Stark gurgled faintly. "I don't have much time, Loki. Thank you, for what you did. You didn't have to risk your own life to save mine. You only prolonged the inevitable"

Loki shrugged. "Good minions are hard to replace. Who else will want to assist me with the eventual sexual domination of the world? Steve Rogers cannot even hear the word 'sex' without blushing. Banner is boring unless he's raging, and I doubt that any female would want to experience that. If he's even capable of it in his rage form." He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Barton might be fun, but he lacks the arrogance to be a truly satisfying minion. I would not even consider my brother for such a position. At heart, Thor is a prude."

Stark smiled faintly "Take care of the others. Especially Rogers and your brother. They both have a limited understanding of current Earth culture." A wet, tearing cough shook him. Loki reached out to dab blood from the man's mouth with the corner of the bed sheet covering him.

"I will not need to. What would you live for, Stark?"

"Pepper. My teammates. The eventual sexual domination of the world."

The God of Mischief smiled. Even on the brink of death, the man was incorrigible. "That will do, I suppose. This will hurt, Tony Stark. Terribly. I trust that you will prevent my swift execution afterward."

"What are you talking about?"

Loki leaned over him. "Redemption." He put a hand on Stark's forehead, and prepared to initiate the reassembly. He had used this ability on himself once, after emerging from the black void. It was excruciatingly painful at best, but effective, while requiring a high amount of personal energy. It would most likely drain him to the point of near unconsciousness. His motivation for doing so was not entirely clear, but he would think on that later.

"Brace yourself, minion." He spared a brief moment to magically seal the door, and then loosed the energy into Stark's body.

Tony Stark arched up off the bed with a mortal scream of agony. Every muscle snapped tight, and he convulsed, still screaming. Loki pressed him back down onto the bed with a firm hand to his shoulder. He sympathized.

The door shuddered as someone pounded on it. Loki heard shouts and threats, and hoped Stark would take steps to prevent what Pepper Potts wanted to do to him. It sounded very painful and creative. He stared down at Stark, watching the man's body twist and writhe as it reformed itself into a vessel capable of sustaining life. As Stark improved, Loki wilted. The energy drain felt like a mortal wound, running out of him and taking all of his concerns with it.

He heard the roar of rage from outside, and knew that Banner was 'getting his freak on' as Darcy called it. The door should hold. If Loki didn't lose consciousness. He hoped it didn't occur to Thor to use…

The door exploded inwards with the boom of thunder. Loki deflected it, barely, and heard Stark's last agonized cry as the spell completed. Just in time. He felt the Hulk's crushing grip on his arms, and the beast roared at him, shaking him like a rag doll. Loki's head snapped back painfully, and darkness beckoned.

"Kill him!" Pepper shrieked. "Kill him now!" She was clawing at him with her nails, and pummeling him with her fists. At a different time, Loki might find amusement in her attack, but right now he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Brother what have you done?" Thor's disappointed and betrayed tone cut him deeply, but Loki knew all would be forgiven momentarily.

"Put one in him to slow him down!" Natasha snapped to Barton, who was already drawing his bow.

"STOP!" Stark roared, sitting up in his bed.

Everyone did. Hulk stopped shaking Loki, and powered down to Bruce Banner almost immediately, looking from Loki to the healed Stark, and then back to Loki. Barton eased his bow back to a neutral position, and Pepper Potts put a hand to her mouth, tears shining in her eyes. Loki didn't care. He was about to lose the battle with gravity and hit the floor, but Banner still held his arms, so he just dangled.

"Loki?" Thor lifted him away from Banner, and helped him to a chair. "Brother…you healed him?"

Stark was taking control. He stood, wrapping a sheet around his waist, since the hospital gown was not very substantial. "Yes, he healed me. After saving all of us yesterday. You guys have a short memory?"

Their embarrassment was slight vindication for the God of Mischief. He was struggling to stay conscious, and Thor was worrying over him like a mother hen.

"Stop feathering me, brother. I will be fine, eventually. That took more than I thought."

"I am so very sorry that I doubted you, Loki."

"You should have told them what you had planned," Stark called. Then he frowned thoughtfully, remembering what he had gone through. "Then again, their reactions probably wouldn't have been any different." He grinned cheekily, and looked at his teammates. "You guys love me! You really do. I'm touched. Bruce – you Hulked for me. And I didn't even get you anything for Valentine's Day. Pepper….you attacked the God of Mischief with your nails. That takes balls, woman. Gives me tingles."

Natasha threw her hands into the air. "He's fine. Loki – I'm sorry I doubted your intentions. It probably would have been better to tell us what you had planned first."

"I chose not to, because I was not certain that a mortal body could withstand the reconstruction."

Stark's head whipped around fast. "I could have died? What the hell, Loki?"

"You would have died, Stark. You were hours away from it at the most. Had I told everyone there was a possibility you would not survive, they would have clamored for your attention to say goodbye, and prevented me from initiating the reconstruction. It seemed better to avoid that possibility."

Stark was prevented from commenting by Pepper. She threw herself into his arms and hugged him fiercely. "He saved you!" she cried into his shoulder.

Tony slung an arm around her. "Yeah. I can almost forgive him for my wardrobe alterations the other day. He's redeemed himself." He looked over Pepper's head at Loki. "Will you be okay?"

"I will be fine." Although he felt like he'd been turned inside out and squeezed.

When Coulson, Fury and a large contingent of heavily armed S.H.I.E.L.D agents arrived seconds later, Stark invited them out to a local bar to celebrate his recovery.

Nick Fury was not happy. As usual. "We were told that Loki was killing you."

Pepper Potts ducked her head against Stark's shoulder in embarrassment. "Well, I thought he was," she said weakly. "Tony was screaming."

"What? I don't scream!"

Fury dismissed Stark with a wave of his hand, and turned his attention to Loki. "This is new mischief for you. I'm not sure what to think."

"Do not try. I do what I want. Stark is a serviceable minion, and I prefer to keep him. Recruiting, dominating and training a new minion is so tiresome." Loki swayed in his chair.

"You are not well," Thor told him. Trust his brother to make a truly obvious and unnecessary comment. It was annoying, yet strangely endearing.

"I will recover."

"You drained yourself yesterday. How is it that you were able to perform so great a magic today? Your physical hurts have almost entirely healed, much faster than my own. Where did that power come from, Loki?"

"Brother, I wondered the same thing myself. I do not have answers. Perhaps I was changed after falling from the Bifrost." Loki shrugged wearily. "It is a puzzle for another day." He looked up at Nick Fury, managing a slightly naughty grin. "You look more relaxed then when last I saw you, Nicholas. Did you take my advice?"

"Nicky got laid?" Stark called over Pepper's head. "Awesome! How's it feel, Nicky?"

"Did you really have to save him?" Fury's one eye was rolling.

Loki tried a weak chuckle. "Think of Pepper. She would be so distraught without him. And who would your media love to hate and hate to love?"

Fury sighed. "I should be getting hazard pay for this. Stay out of trouble, Loki. One of these days, we'll shoot first before your true intentions can be revealed."

"On a normal day, Nicholas, that would not cause me concern. I believe I have already proven my worth against your team."

As Fury drew in a breath in preparation of a verbal blasting, it was Banner who spoke up, much to everyone's surprise. "You two can snipe at each other. I'm going home."

Loki's eyes narrowed as Coulson's disturbing little smile widened. "An excellent suggestion for all of us, Dr. Banner. Glad to see you're feeling better, Mr. Stark." He pointedly gestured back down the hallway from where they'd come.

Thor pulled him to his feet, and was a steadying presence at his side as Loki followed Coulson, Fury, and Banner in the general exodus.

"Loki!" Stark called.

He turned, wobbling only a little. "Yes minion?"

The billionaire playboy grinned. "Thank you for saving my life." He still had one arm slung around Pepper, and he squeezed her as he said it.

Loki inclined his head. "You are welcome. We will discuss how you can repay me later." He was completely unprepared for Pepper to cast herself loose from Stark, throw herself at him, wrap her arms around him, and hug him tightly. It was highly irregular. He wasn't really a huggable person.

Pepper stepped back, brushing happy tears from her eyes. "I…thank you for saving him, Loki. Thank you."

He bowed his head. "You are also welcome."

Thor guided him behind the others to an elevator. They crowded in with Coulson and Banner. Loki did not feel comfortable in the moving box. He typically popped in and out of where he wanted to go. Traveling by mundane means was…..mundane.

Their elevator stopped three floors above the ground floor. An elderly woman starred at them with wide eyes: Thor's bulk took up a good deal of the elevator, there were several gun toting S.H.I.E.L.D agents, and Banner's clothes were ripped.

"Going down?" Coulson asked coolly.

"I'll wait," she assured. "You go ahead."

There were muted snickers when the elevator doors closed.

Once outside the hospital, Thor turned to him. "You are barely able to stand. Let me bring you home. Jane and I will care for you."

Loki genuinely appreciated the offer. "Thank you, but no. I have a promise to keep to someone else."

"Darcy?"

"Yes. I am in her debt. She cleaned and dressed my wounds last night." Loki shrugged. He really should still have those wounds, but they had closed and mostly healed. He was healing far faster than he ever had before.

"You must also clean her carpet," Thor told him. "She expressed a concern that you were bleeding on it."

Loki suppressed a smile. "I will." He looked around a little helplessly. "Would you know how to find Darcy from here? I usually do not use standard methods of transportation, but right now I do not have the energy for my typical mode."

Thor clapped his back lightly. "Stick your hand out like this and wave." He demonstrated, and a taxi swerved over to the curb. Thor grinned in delight. "You need only tell them where you wish to go from here, and they will take you." He opened the door of the cab, and Loki settled in with a wrinkle of his nose. The cleanliness and odor of the wheeled conveyance were offensive.

The cabbie turned around. "Where to, buddy?"

"Take me to Darcy's place," Loki answered absently.

"I don't know that one. What's the address?"

Loki looked to his brother for guidance, and Thor frowned. "I do not know. One moment." He fumbled a cell phone from his pocket, and managed to call Jane.

"What is Darcy's… address? Loki needs to thank her, but cannot spare energy to travel as he normally does. I have procured a…taxi…for him, but the driver does not know where to find Darcy and requires her…address."

Loki could hear the squawk of surprise from the little rectangular object Thor was talking into. Apparently, it was a magical device that could bring Jane's voice to him, and send his to her. Fascinating.

Thor dutifully repeated something to the cabbie, and then paused as the little box he was talking to told him something else. He held it away from his ear. "Do you have money, Jane wants to know."

Loki shook his head. "I have not yet seen a reason to procure it." He watched Thor pat down the pockets of the human pants he was wearing, and shrug.

Luck was with them as Stark emerged from the hospital with his adoring entourage of Pepper and the other Avengers. Thor waved him over, and the billionaire leaned into the taxi.

"You're taking a taxi, Loki? This is a downfall for you." He grinned.

"It is your fault, minion. Had I not expended a ridiculous amount of energy to save your life…."

"Good point. What's the problem?"

"I need money. I do not have any of my own yet, nor does Thor."

Stark sighed. "You boys need to start integrating into Earth life a little more." He straightened. "Pepper?"

The blond woman dug in the bag she carried, and pulled out folded paper. She passed it to the cabbie. "Take him wherever he wants to go for the rest of your shift."

"My thanks," Loki said. "I will attempt to learn more of Earth culture, as you have suggested, minion." A thought occurred to him. "How is my apparel? Suitable for a date?"

Pepper's mouth dropped open. "You're dating someone? A human?"

Loki sighed. "Yes."

Stark grinned. "You look fine. But you should probably warn her that you're completely worn out. Women get all crazy when a man tries to perform, and can't." He ducked out of the way of Pepper's punch.

Loki lifted his head regally. "I am a god, Stark. I am never that worn out." He would not admit that Tony Stark had just called the situation perfectly. There was no way he would have the energy for sex right now.

Stark waved a dismissing hand. "Yeah, whatever. I'm not judging, because you saved my life. But you should probably warn her."

They were all crazy and too intrusive. Loki did not want their help. He bid them farewell, and pulled the door shut.

The taxi ride had been noisy and frightening. Loki did not like the mortal way of getting from one place to another.

He took the stairs to the third floor of the building where Darcy lived, and knocked on her door. There was no answer, so he knocked again. Still no answer, so he tried the knob. It was unlocked, so he pushed it open with a frown.

Darcy was sprawled out on the floor, in the same spot he had left her standing. Loki rushed to her side, dropping to his knees. She was cold, he found when he picked up her hand. Loki checked her pulse, feeling a little frantic, and was relieved to feel her heart beating, but very slowly. What had happened to her? He didn't know what to do.

He saw the strange talk device like Thor had used sitting on the little table in front of the sofa. He picked it up, and tried to sense what to press to make it work. Some buttons felt more likely than others, so he pressed those. When he heard a noise, he held the device to his ear, as he had seen Thor do.

"Darcy?" It was Jane's voice coming from inside the device.

"Jane! Jane it is Loki."

"You know how to use a cell phone?"

"Please. Something is terribly wrong with Darcy. I have no energy to help her. I….I do not know what to do."

He reached out to take Darcy's hand again, and almost flinched. She was even colder. He felt stronger. Strong enough to help her? He had barely been able to walk when he left the hospital, but it seemed he was recovering quickly. Too quickly.

Loki dropped her hand as if he'd been scorched, and moved as far away from her as he could. "It is me, Jane Foster. I am causing this, somehow. Please….I cannot be near her to help her."

"Thor and I will be right there, Loki. Open her window."

The talk device went dead, and Loki moved to the single window in the apartment, in the bedroom. He yanked it open, and stepped back to wait the arrival of his brother and Jane Foster. He felt…sick. He was somehow draining Darcy's vital energy for his own use, just by being near her. It had not happened previously. What had changed to turn his body into a reflexive energy vampire?

As Thor and Jane dropped through the window, Mjolnir still humming, Loki found that he had no answers. He would have to keep his distance from Darcy Lewis until he found them.

Chapter Text

Loki very quickly learned how to use a cell phone.

Stark had taken control of the situation as soon as he'd been notified. He took the saving of his life, both times, very seriously. Loki had popped into his office after Thor and Jane left for the hospital with Darcy. Stark had taken one look at his anguish, and tossed him a bottle of some type of alcohol.

"Drink. What's wrong?"

"It is Darcy." Loki sank into a chair, and took a hefty swig from the bottle. It burned his throat and stomach. "I have killed her, I think."

"What?" Stark crossed the office and took the bottle from him. "What happened? You could barely stand when you left the hospital. That was only…two, three hours ago? How could you have killed someone? Oh shit! You were planning on a date when you left. With Darcy?" He frowned. "You magicked yourself here. You keep recovering very quickly. How?"

Loki grabbed the bottle from Stark's hands, and took another huge swallow, relishing the burn, and hoping that it would numb his jagged edges. "I am…my very presence is draining her of her life essence, to replace what I have expended. I...did not know it was happening."

Stark pulled a talk device from his pocket. "You left her? We've got to get her to a hospital."

He held up a hand. "She is already there. Thor and Jane took her. As soon as I realized what was happening….it makes no sense!" He threw the bottle and it shattered against a wall.

Stark looked after it with a strange expression. "That was Scotch, Loki. You never waste Scotch."

"I prefer vodka," the God of Mischief snarled. "And the company that goes with it!"

Stark nodded thoughtfully. "You like her. Oh hell. You had sex with Darcy. Before the invasion, you said-"

"Be careful Stark. I am not in a forgiving mood right now, and I hold you marginally responsible for what has happened."

"Me? What did I do?"

"Saving your life, both times, is what drained me to the point that I began draining Darcy. Or so I think." He slumped in the chair. "It did not happen previously."

"And you were together before?"

"Yes." He stood. "I need to know how she is, but I cannot go near her."

Stark flipped his phone open. "Pepper – get my doctors to the hospital. Darcy was just admitted, and normal doctors may not be able to help her. Thor and Jane are there. It's a long story, apparently. I'll tell you about it later. I need a cell phone for Loki. Don't ask. Have Jane call me with any updates to Darcy's condition." He peeked at Loki uncomfortably. "You complete me." He closed the phone. "Let's break it down. Did you leech off of anyone else?"

That was a revelation. "No. Neither time."

Stark started pacing. "So it's Darcy. Well….you had sex with her. That's different than everyone else you've been around since being drained, I assume."

"You assume correctly," he assured stiffly. "There are...other variables involved, that I will not discuss with you."

Stark paused in his pacing. "The more information we have…"

"Deal with what I give you."

The playboy resumed pacing. "It only happened when you were severely drained."

"Yes. The first time, I was unconscious. The second time I was not."

"Jarvis. What information do we have on frost giants?"

"You must be joking, sir."

"Shit." Stark stopped pacing and faced Loki. "Do you know anything about your frost giant heritage?"

Some things were not acceptable. Loki drew himself up, feeling that dark place inside himself threaten, and his power swelling. "I do not," he said coldly. "And the fact that you do-"

"Hold on, Loki." Stark held a hand up. "If you remember, you went all frost giant on me when you defenestrated me."

He remembered that, vaguely. Loki looked down at the floor, allowing his power to fade. "I am…not in the best frame of mind right now, Stark."

"No kidding." Stark resumed pacing. "Can't you give some of the energy back to her?"

Loki tilted his head to one side in thought. "Perhaps. But at the same time, I do not think I should risk approaching her."

"Well…can't you…I don't know…put it into something to take to her?" Stark threw his hands into the air. "I'm a little out of my element when it comes to magic, Loki. I don't know how it works."

"No….that is a solid idea, Tony." Loki lowered himself into a chair again, and folded his fingers together, staring into them. "It might work."

Stark stopped pacing, and grinned at him. "You called me Tony. I'm all girlishly aflutter right now."

Loki was proud that his only reaction was a slight tightening of his fingers. "If you are feeling so much like a girl, minion, that is something I can arrange to become real." His eyes glittered. "You would become a very unattractive girl, Stark."

Iron Man snorted. "Now you're just hating."

Loki waved a hand at him. "I need to think. I need you to be still and quiet."

In retrospect, he probably couldn't have asked for anything more difficult from Tony Stark. Well….except maybe to be humble, but that would never happen. Still, Loki was rather impressed when Stark sank down in a chair, and stayed quiet. He had to think his way through the idea Stark had suggested. Could he infuse an object with some of his life energy to transfer to Darcy? How would he keep the energy within the object until it reached Darcy? Once it reached her, how could it be triggered to transfer the energy to her?

Thor had never understood his ability to turn inward while thinking on a problem. Loki could tune out everything when he needed to. He did so now, eyes closed, mind racing through the complexity of what he needed to do. It might be possible. It just might. But it would require a great deal of energy. Something which was in short supply recently. How to overcome that problem?

The ringing of a cell phone brought him out of it. Stark answered it immediately. "Yes Jane? Got it. I'll let him know. We're working on a solution to the immediate problem. Yeah, I am an ass. Call if you have news, or we'll call you with an update." He clicked the phone shut and looked over at Loki. "Can I move now? And talk? And I hate to be crude, but I gotta go, you know?"

Loki raised an eyebrow. He was stiff, telling him he'd been internalizing far longer than he had expected. "You may move and talk. What news on Darcy?"

Tony's face fell. "She's comatose, but stable. The doctors are…baffled. The usual, ya know?" He danced a little. "Can we discuss this later?"

Loki smiled "What do you do if you're in your suit of armor for that long?"

Stark thought long and hard about his response, and then finally stuck his tongue out. He popped to his feet, and made a grateful exit to the nearest bathroom.

Loki himself stood and stretched. Guilt was eating him, and the emotion was foreign to him. But he was at fault. He had, however unintentionally, hurt Darcy. Drained her to the point of being comatose. Had he stayed in her company any longer, he most likely would have killed her. And he…he liked her. That thought was foreign too. She was mortal, and he had found mortals to be mostly useless, previously. But Darcy was…different. Entertaining. Cynical. Yet strangely innocent. A complex package, rolled up into a lush package. She might hide herself under shapeless clothing, but her curves were sinful.

And then there was Stark. Despite how much Stark irritated him, Loki found the billionaire to be almost as smart as himself. He wasn't afraid to think in new directions, and his take charge personality was rather impressive. Everyone looked to him to be the leader when it mattered. It was why he was usually leading the charge in a battle, because he provided the example. Granted, the man was a mess at most other times. But no one would deny his abilities. Strange how these mortals were creeping under his skin.

Stark finally reappeared, looking considerably more relaxed and relieved. "You do realize that you were lost in the zone for hours, right? Was it time well spent?"

"It was productive. I believe I have a solution, but I will require your help, and my brother's."

Stark titled his head to the side. "You are admitting to needing help? This is unlike you, Loki."

"I am going through a humble stage right now," he admitted. "It likely will not last long, so enjoy it while it is here." He stretched again. "You and I must craft the vessel that will hold the life essence. It's specifications will need to be precise."

"What are we working with?"

"Copper and Asgardian uru."

Tony blinked. "What the hell is Asgardian uru?"

Loki grimaced. "A very precious metal. I will need to employ all of my silver tongued skills to obtain it."

"Can you give me a hint?"

"Use your talk box to call my brother."

Stark tossed one of the talk devices at him. "Use it yourself. This one is yours. Pepper brought it while you were in la-la land." He stalked across the room. "This button turns it on. This button shows who you can call. See Thor's picture? Press on it and wait."

Loki did as instructed, frowning in concentration. When he touched his brother's likeness, a message popped up on the talk device, advising that it was 'calling Thor.' Loki held the device to his ear, and was soon gratified to hear his brother's voice.

"I need your help, brother." With a somewhat hesitant glance at Stark, he made his biggest request. "I require an ounce of Mjolnir."

The outraged squawk from the cell phone told Loki he was in for a battle. With a sigh, he began to pace, mind already racing ahead to what his silver tongue could say to win the war.

Chapter Text

"If you laugh at me again, minion, I will alter your gender."

Stark was still snorting in amusement. He had insisted on safety, and Loki, under threat of being banished from the work room, had reluctantly settled a pair of safety glasses over his eyes. He could only imagine how ridiculous he appeared.

"So will Mjolnir's abilities be affected?" Stark prepared his tools. Loki had warned that the reaction of the uru would be energetic when introduced into the copper ore. Stark seemed to be taking him very seriously.

"The uru did not come from Mjolnir. Thor did not believe that it would be possible to separate an ounce of the metal from the hammer without destroying it." Loki frowned and adjusted the safety glasses again. They were annoying and uncomfortable, and he did not like them. How did Darcy tolerate the eyeglasses she wore? It was maddening.

"Where did it come from?" Stark was impressive in his concentration and focus. This was the side of the Iron Man that the public did not see. They saw the billionaire playboy, but they were not permitted to see the sweat that had made the man. The man had layers.

"Thor returned to Asgard, and petitioned our father to grant the uru, after explaining the need. "

"And Odin just gave it to him? The most precious metal in your realm?"

Loki adjusted his glasses again. Irritating things. "There were…conditions."

"Sounds ominous. What did Daddy want?"

"Family related things, Stark. Not something I am prepared to discuss with others."

"Shit. It must be bad." Stark exhaled hugely. "I think we're ready. Just a friendly reminder – if this stuff kills me, Pepper will gut you. Slowly."

"Understood. Let us hope that your precautions are adequate."

Loki knew very little about metalwork. He watched Stark shake the dull grey flakes of uru over the glowing copper ore. For several moments, nothing happened. Stark was turning his head to make a sarcastic comment when the reaction began. The uru melted and combined with the copper ore. The ore flashed a wicked green color, and then began to rapidly expand, sparks shooting from it. Loki watched, a little nervously, as the ore climbed the sides of the oversized vat that held it. It looked alive and hungry, reaching for freedom.

Odin had warned Thor that the forging of uru was not likely undertaken.

"Uh….this is a little scary," Stark told him, backing a step away.

"Do not abandon it!" Loki ordered. "Remember the instructions given by my father. You must mix the ores together."

Stark grimaced, but stepped forward and lifted the special stirring tool provided by Odin. He dipped the tool into the vat of seething ore, and stirred clockwise three times, folded the ore five times, and then stirred counterclockwise three more times. The ore spat and almost seemed to snarl at the man, tendrils of sparking green clawing toward freedom. Stark continued in a steady mixing rhythm, and gradually the green color faded from the ore, and it receded.

"Shit." Stark lifted the stirring tool, and took a quick swipe at his sweating brow with the back of one hand. "This is nervous work, Loki."

The God of Mischief could only agree. His muscles were a bit more tense than normal. "You are doing a fine job, Tony."

"Tony again? Wow."

"Do not try my patience, minion."

The Iron Man only snorted. He moved the mold into place. Loki was proud of the mold. He'd created it himself from the intense calculations in his head. The shape of the metal was the key to both holding and transferring the life energy that would bring Darcy back.

"Ready?" Stark asked, looking to Loki.

He readied his magic. It would fuse with the metal, to turn it into a conductor. "I am."

Ore poured slowly into the mold, as Loki layered his magic into it. He had never worked with uru before, and found the metal to be almost sentient, resisting his attempts to shape it into a life essence conductor. He found himself snarling at it, his will fighting against the metal to thread his magic through it.

He was wrung out when it was over, sweat beading on his forehead to slowly trickle down his face. He had been in this condition far too often in the past few days. It was not right.

"Done?" Stark asked. He looked wiped out, with exhausted tremors in his arms from holding the mold and pouring the ore.

"Yes," Loki answered. He exhaled and rolled his shoulders, then reached out to unlatch Stark's fingers from the mold.

"Thanks. I was cramping. That stuff is…energetic." Stark went through his own motions of stretching. Things cracked and creaked alarmingly, and Loki had to remind himself that the man was mortal. It was normal for a mortal, he thought.

"Did it work?"

"Yes. It was resistant to my guidance, but I was able to overcome it and bend it to my purpose." Loki slumped into a nearby chair, and pulled one over for Stark. The mortal gave one more cracking, creaking stretch, and then sank down gratefully. He looked over at Loki, assessing, and then he shook his head.

"How long before you have the energy to spare?"

"I will call Thor. We have an arrangement that will allow me to proceed at any time."

Stark's probing stare was making him uncomfortable. "Conditions from Odin. Arrangements with Thor. It sounds like you sold your soul, Loki."

"It is of no concern to you, Stark."

"See…you're making assumptions. It is my concern, because it happened because of me."

"No! I made the choices that led to my actions, no one else. I take responsibility for those actions, and their consequences."

"Despite the whole 'tossing me out the window' thing, I've developed a certain irrational fondness for you, Loki. I don't like to think about the favors you may owe."

"I said to not worry about it, Stark." Loki's jaw clenched. "What else could I do? I nearly killed her. I have to make that right."

"Two months ago, you would have drained her dry without a thought."

"Yes, I would have. I would have killed my brother, and an entire race as well. Anything to try to make the feelings of betrayal go away." Loki's hands clenched. "I am done talking about this, minion. Thank you for your assistance." He stood angrily, chair falling over backward. "I will return shortly."

He traveled to Central Park, needing quiet and serenity. The absurdity of Stark being concerned over the debts he was wracking up was unnerving. The thought that he was growing weak, sentimental and conscientious, was eating at him. Nothing in this entire situation benefited him. Thor would say he was finally beginning to 'grow.' Loki did not like it. Not at all. The debts he was incurring would change his life.

He stayed in the park until his mind felt somewhat settled, and then he used the talk box to call Thor.

"Meet me at the hospital in one hour, brother. It is time."

***********************************************************************************************************************************************

Stark had insisted on going with him to the hospital, when he popped back in to collect the life essence conductor. It had cooled with the barest of green tints. The shape was similar to a very complex Celtic knot, with the metal weaving in and around itself. Stark had attached a simple silver chain to it, turning it into a pendant, and handed it over to Loki with an air of pride.

"I've never worked with magic before," the mortal mused, watching Loki drape the pendant chain around his neck. "It was an adventure."

"It always is," the God of Mischief assured. He stared down at the pendant resting on his chest. "It is very heavy."

Stark raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think so."

"Not the weight, Stark. What comes with it." Loki exhaled, lips pressing together. He could not afford to think too far ahead right now. He had to bring Darcy back. That should be his only goal right now.

"I'm coming with you."

"As you wish." Loki smiled grimly. "We will use standard transportation."

Stark's car was much nicer than the taxi Loki had been forced into the other day. The billionaire playboy was a little manic while driving, and made Loki very nervous once or twice, but they arrived at the hospital safely. Thor and Jane were waiting for them in the lobby. They both looked troubled. Stark looked back and forth for a minute, and then pressed the elevator button.

"Loki." Thor paused, with a regretful expression. "Are you certain you wish to go through with this?"

"It is too late to stop. And I will not allow Darcy to dwell in the purgatory she currently inhabits. This realm is a darker place without her."

"Is there no other way?" Thor asked, hands clenched at his sides.

"The bargain has already been struck, brother. Are you certain you wish to support me in this madness?"

The hand that clapped onto his shoulder brought slight comfort. "Not helping was never an option, Loki." Thor squeezed his shoulder, and they stepped into the elevator together when the door opened.

Stark and Jane squeezed in with them, and the elevator door closed. "We should initiate the transfer now," Loki said to Thor. "I should not come into contact with Darcy in a drained state."

Thor nodded. "What do I need to do?"

Loki placed one hand on the pendant. "Stand behind me, with your hands on my shoulders. You should probably lean back and brace yourself."

Thor did as instructed, as Jane looked on nervously. Loki glanced at Stark. "Be ready to catch me if necessary, minion."

Stark stepped in front of him. "I probably don't want to know what's going on, do I?"

"Probably not," Loki agreed, and activated the pendant.

The draining sensation was all too familiar of late. First the battle, then Stark's reconstruction, and now this. Loki swayed forward, but was held upright by Thor's grip, and Stark's hastily raised hands against his chest. He could feel his life energy draining into the pendant on his chest, and for one brief second, a flash of his previous self resurfaced. Why was he doing this for a mortal?

But then he remembered her touch, and the playful way she had guided his actions when they had first come together. He remembered her naughtiness when she had crafted her 'banana' split. He could not forget her simple acceptance of him, after the madness had passed and he had stopped trying to kill everyone. She was the only person who did not act uncomfortable in his presence, and she sought him out on occasion. Such a person had to be saved. And the energy he was giving back had been stolen from her.

Loki's knees buckled, but Stark propped him up. The world was fading, faces and sights blending into a dark haze. He dimly heard Thor's voice: "This is madness, brother. You must stop."

"No," he protested. "Not yet. I have need of your strength, Thor."

"It is yours."

The bond between them, forged not by blood, but by centuries of living and fighting together as brothers, allowed Loki to borrow energy from Thor. He did so now, pulling energy into his failing body, converting it to his own, and passing it on to the pendant that would restore Darcy.

When he felt Thor sway back, Loki knew it was time to end it. He turned off the siphon portion of the pendant, and only Stark's bracing hands kept him upright, lodged against Thor's own slumping form.

"Are you well, Thor?"

"I feel drained, but I will recover."

Loki could not see anything. There was too much darkness in his eyes. "Take the pendant to Darcy, Jane. Place it against her skin. Come for me when you have completed this."

The elevator pinged its arrival on the correct floor, and Jane slipped the pendant over Loki's head with Stark's help. While she walked ahead to Darcy's room, Stark ducked under Loki's left arm and helped him move from the elevator, with a swaying Thor following close behind.

"Don't fall on your face, big guy," Stark called over his shoulder to Thor. "I don't think I could pick you up off the floor."

"I will not fall," Thor assured. "See to my brother."

Loki was so tired. He only wanted to sleep. Four or five years sounded good for a start. But he had to see it through. The trigger, to activate the transfer of energy from the pendant into Darcy, had to come from him. He had crafted it that way. Once complete, he would never be able to drain her again. A little bit of magic he had crafted into the pendant would be carried into her, and it would protect her from him.

By the time they stumbled to Darcy's room, Loki's vision had cleared enough that he see again. Darcy was deathly white, skin drained of all color. Even her lush lips were colorless. The hospital gown she wore was open enough to allow the pendant to rest against her skin. Jane stood by the bed, one hand gently stroking one of Darcy's hands, resting limply on the bed.

It hurt him, inside, to see the formerly vibrant mortal girl just laying there. She wasn't even really there. She was a shell, needing to be filled with life essence once more. She was barely clinging to life, and he had caused it. Without a second thought, Loki flicked out with the last of his strength, and triggered the pendant.

The change was gradual, but perceptible. The faintest flush of color began to spread through Darcy's cheeks. Loki, still leaning heavily on Stark's shoulders, watched life come back into the mortal girl who had so affected his own. He watched the glow of his own magic infusing her skin, protecting her from him. It would be soon. He felt an odd buoyancy at the sight of Darcy's return, and flutter of something like hope that everything would work out well.

With a gentle exhale, and the fluttering of eyelashes, Darcy woke. She blinked a few times, and then looked around. A small frown creased her brow as she tried to understand where she was, and she looked up at the others around her bed.

"Hey guys. What's up?" She licked her lips. "I'm crazy thirsty. Can someone get me a drink?"

Jane poured her a glass of water from the pitcher on the bedside table, and stuck a straw in it. She held it down for Darcy, who sucked water from the straw and smiled happily. She finally nodded to Jane that it was enough, and Thor's woman pulled the glass back.

"Why am I in a hospital?" Darcy asked. She frowned up at Loki and Stark. "Loki – you look like shit. Tony – I thought you were dying. I'm so confused."

"All will be explained," Loki assured. "You will be fine now." He shuffled forward and bent to press a kiss to her brow. "I must go, Darcy."

"Go? What's going on, Loki?"

"Stark will explain." Loki turned to his brother. "Take me to the Bifrost site."

Thor nodded wearily, pulling Mjolnir from the duffel bag he typically carried it in when dressed in mortal clothes.

"Wait!" Jane cried. "Thor – you're too tired. You should wait."

Thor pushed open the window. "We cannot delay, Jane. I will return shortly."

Both Jane and Stark looked sharply at Loki, not missing Thor's statement. He would be returning, but Loki would not?

Loki moved toward Thor and the window, but Darcy caught his arm. "Loki, where are you going? What's going on?"

"Jane and Tony will explain," he said, gently disengaging her hand from his arm. "I must go, Darcy."

He stepped to Thor's side, and his brother's arm held him up as they rocketed out of the window and into the air.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki collapsed onto the floor of the rebuilt observatory. Traveling the Bifrost was never easy, in the best of situations, and he was drained to the point of near unconsciousness, again. It did not matter, as he was roughly pulled to his feet by an escort of guards.

Heimdall stepped into his vision. "The betrayer returns to Asgard to face his punishment." He inclined his head. Odin was already waiting within the observatory.

It was somewhat demeaning to be dragged before his father. Not that Loki could have stood on his own, but the image only reinforced everyone's opinion of him. He was dropped to his knees in front of the All-Father, and glanced up at the man he had called 'father' for centuries.

Odin's expression was granite and unyielding. "Was the crafting of the device successful?"

"It was."

"And the stolen energy has been returned to the mortal girl? She lives?"

"Yes and yes."

"You have come to accept whatever punishment I issue?"

"Those were the terms. An ounce of uru for my unconditional surrender to your custody."

"If I tell you that your life is forfeit in payment for your actions?"

Loki was sure it was his mother's sob that echoed in the strangely quiet room. "Then my life is yours to take."

"Why would the trickster, the God of Mischief and Lies, make this sacrifice? For a mortal girl?"

Loki's head dropped. "She is worthy of it. She has more faith in my character than I deserve, and I find myself trying to live up to those expectations."

"You have found the capacity to care for another's well being above your own?"

"Perhaps."

Odin still appeared so very grim. "You come before me, too weak to walk due to the saving of not one, but multiple mortals. How shall I respond, Loki? My son."

"As you see fit, father."

"You have changed, my son. For the better. Yet that change does not erase the evil you have done. You must serve a penance for your crimes." He drew himself up to his full height, Gungnir rapping stoutly upon the floor. "I cannot take your magic from you, as it was not given by me, but I can block your access to it."

A blinding light shot from the spear and enveloped Loki. He grunted and stiffened, feeling Odin's own power blanketing his own, cutting him off from it. It left an emptiness inside Loki that seemed to be a path to madness.

"I now banish you to the one place where you may properly atone for your crimes."

The spear activated the Bifrost, and Loki was torn from Asgard. Odin's words filled him with a dread unlike anything before. He was hurtling toward Jotunheim, toward his true heritage and the realm he had tried to destroy. The All-Father had chosen a wickedly appropriate punishment.

Chapter Text

Darcy stared out the window in shock. “They just flew off. I’m in a hospital, I have no idea what’s going on, and your boyfriend just flew off with the man who has the answers!” She turned her head to glare at Jane. “What the hell is going on?” She turned her glare on Stark. “Last thing I heard, you were dying! You look fine!” She plucked at the pendant resting on her chest. “What is this? Will someone please talk to me?”

“Are you done talking?” Stark quipped.

Darcy glared daggers at him. “Do not piss me off, Tony. What the hell is going on?” She struggled to sit up, and Jane helped her, propping pillows behind her back. “Last thing I remember was Loki getting the shit beaten out of him, and you being near death.”

“That was four days ago,” Stark told her grimly. “Loki was somehow draining you to replace the energy he’d lost in the battle. He says he didn’t know it was happening.”

Darcy frowned. She remembered being so exhausted after cleaning Loki’s wounds. “He was unconscious. He couldn’t have known it was happening. Do we know how?”

Jane shook her head. “No. He woke up, and went to save Tony.”

“Which required a lot of energy, again,” Stark interjected. The corner of his mouth twitched. “I was almost dead. He…repaired me, and then practically collapsed. Thor put him in a cab and sent him back to you.” He paused. “Thanks for the heads up that you were doing the tango with the God of Mischief, by the way. It was a bit of a shock. We didn’t really think of Loki that way.”

“Oh my God!” Jane slapped a hand to her mouth, cheeks flushing red. She gaped at Darcy. “Loki? The banana split?”

Even though everything was all confusing and pissing her off, Darcy couldn’t prevent her smile. “Bingo. He begged, Foster. Keep that visual image in your head, huh?”

“Oh wow. I think I just threw up in my throat.” Stark swallowed hard, and then made a yuck face, sticking his tongue out. “I’m trying really hard not to think about this, but the words ‘banana split’, ‘begging’, and ‘Loki’ all being uttered at the same time is giving me a visual I can’t get out of my head.” He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. “Dammit Darcy. Why did you have to say something like that?”

“Be jealous, Tony. Now…where were we? Loki in a cab?”

Stark exhaled hugely, and cracked his eyes open. “You’re a bad little girl. Yes, Loki was in a cab, on his way back to you. He found you on the floor, drained, and managed to figure out how to call Jane on the cell. As he was talking to her, he realized you were getting worse and he was getting stronger, and that’s when he figured it all out. Jane and Thor came to get you and take you to the hospital. Loki worked out how to reverse it all, and then we just had to build the cool doohickey around your neck.”

Darcy looked down at the knotted metal pendant on her chest. “So this thing gave me my life back? By taking it back from Loki?”

“Yup.”

“What aren’t you telling me? Why did Loki just fly outta here with Thor? Why did Thor look all strung out? Something is going on, Tony. What?”

Stark shrugged. “The pendant needed Asgardian uru, the same metal that Mjolnir was forged from.”

Jane wrung her hands. “Loki came to Thor. Asked for an ounce of uru from Mjolnir, but Thor didn’t think it could be done without destroying the hammer. The only alternative was to ask Odin for the uru.” She looked down at the floor. “Neither of them thought it was likely that Odin would just give the uru. Loki said….he said to Thor to tell their father that he, Loki, would do anything. Whatever Odin asked of him, Loki would do. So Thor went. And came back with the uru. Odin’s demand was simple. Loki had to surrender himself immediately upon your recovery.”

Darcy gasped. “What will Odin do?”

Jane stared resolutely at the floor. “Thor seems to think it will be some sort of terrible punishment. Something that Loki may not come back from.”

Darcy threw the blankets off her body, and struggled to sit up. “I can’t let that happen. We have to stop it.”

Stark reached out to place a restraining hand on her shoulder. “He made that choice, Darcy. He knew what it might come to. You don’t have the right to take that away from him.”

She sank back into the bed. “But….but I like him. And he shouldn’t have to suffer something terrible because of me.”

“It’s not because of you. It’s because of what he did in the past. Loki has been avoiding this moment, but now he has to face it. He did terrible things, Darcy.”

She wilted. “I know. But….he changed.”

“It doesn’t take away what he did. He has to face justice for what he’s done.” Stark’s expression was grim. “I like him too. Wardrobe alterations and defenestration aside, he’s not a bad guy, and he’s come a long way toward being a better one. But the past hasn’t changed.”

Darcy covered her face with her hands. She didn’t want to think about it. Stark was right, but she didn’t want to think about Loki suffering some terrible punishment. “I want to get out of here. Get me out of here, huh?”

It took longer than she wanted it to, but since Darcy seemed to be completely recovered, her doctors couldn’t fight about discharging her.

Jane took charge when they were leaving the hospital. “You’re staying with Thor and I for a little. I want to be able to keep my eye on you.”

Darcy was still too tired to fight. “Fine.” She swallowed hard. Were those tears burning at her eyes? No way! “Just don’t try to talk to me about this situation much, cuz I’m really not liking it.”

Jane nodded and turned to Stark. “Tony, you’ve been exceptionally helpful the past couple of days. Almost dying seems to have benefited your people skills.”

Stark’s mouth twisted. “Don’t get used to it, Jane. I’m sure it’s just a phase I’m going through.” He led them to his car. “Tell the big guy to keep us posted with any news about Loki, okay? I…I don’t feel great about this situation either.”

“You’ll know anything as soon as we do.”

Darcy stayed quiet as Stark drove them first to her place, so she could gather clothes and necessities, and then back to Jane and Thor’s home. The big guy was already back, sprawled out on the sofa, sound asleep. Darcy wanted to wake him up and demand to know why he wasn’t with his brother, but she knew that was unfair. Plus, Thor looked pretty wiped out. She’d gotten used to seeing him at his godly best, and now there were dark circles under his eyes.

“Why is Thor so tired?” she whispered to Jane, as Foster showed her the spare bedroom.

“Loki used too much of the energy he drained from you, to heal Stark. He didn’t have enough to give back. Or at least, not as much as he wanted so he could bring you back most of the way. He asked if he could borrow some of Thor’s energy. They both recover much faster than us poor mortals, so it made sense.”

That made Darcy pause. “So eventually, I would have recovered?”

“Probably. But it probably would have taken months. You were drained almost completely. That was not an acceptable situation for Loki.” Jane smiled. “He was quite insistent about setting things right immediately. He seemed to think that the world would be a darker place without you awake and alert.”

Oh wow. And there came those tears that she’d been trying to hold back. Darcy plopped gracelessly down onto the spare bed, and bowed her head while the tears ran. Jane sat down beside her and hugged her, patting her on the back.

“Loki’s strong. He should be okay.”

“Odin’s mean. He banished Thor. What will he do to Loki?”

“I don’t know, Darcy. But don’t you think Loki can handle it? He’s amazingly resourceful.”

“That’s not the point.” Darcy took a deep breath. “I’m a geek-dork and I finally met someone who didn’t care. And now….he’s probably getting his ass handed to him by his father in some cruel and unusual manner, and ….it’s just not fair.”

“Life usually isn’t,” Jane told her softly. “Darcy…have faith. Loki has taken amazing steps toward becoming a better person. I’m sure Odin won’t forget that.”

Darcy hoped she was right.

That didn’t mean that Thor was off the hook for abandoning his brother. When Jane’s man woke up, Darcy was all over him.

“You just sent him back to Odin for whatever punishment Odin’s going to give to him?” She hit Thor with a pillow. It was fair. She had given him time to shower and eat, and now it was time to go crazy on him.

Thor ducked his head. “Darcy…Loki would not allow me to go with him. He said he would face the consequences of his actions on his own. He wanted me to return here, to keep you safe; to keep this realm and its people safe.”

She hit him with the pillow again. “That’s not good enough, Thor. You just handed him over to your father, who probably is gonna go medieval all over his ass. That’s not cool!” She whacked him again. It felt good to let it all out on someone.

Thor looked over at Jane beseechingly, but she was too busy laughing to come to his rescue. “Darcy…Loki can handle whatever punishment our father deems fitting. He has endured punishment before. One does not become the God of Mischief and Lies without being caught and punished on occasion.”

“Not. Good. Enough!” She punctuated each word with another pillow hit. “I really want to talk to your father.”

Odin must be truly horrific, if the look of terror on Thor’s face was any indication. “That, Darcy, would be one of my worst nightmares. Second only to Stark having a conversation with my father.”

Jane snorted inelegantly as she tried to contain her giggles. Darcy frowned at her, but then turned her smoldering gaze back to the big guy. “Fine. Tony and I both want to talk to your father.” She hit Thor again, just to be sure he was getting the picture.

The blond god reached out and snatched the pillow from her hands. “I will not grant you an audience with my father, Darcy. It truly might only make matters worse.” He put the pillow safely out of her reach, and spared a glare for Jane, who had not defended him. “I will ask my father about Loki’s punishment in a day or so. It is not seemly to do it too quickly. The All-Father does not like to have his judgment questioned.”

Darcy knew when the fight was over. Thor was not budging. And really, he was right. Loki was tough, adaptable, and very resourceful.

But when the big guy returned from Asgard two days later with a worried expression, Darcy felt sick.

“What is it?” she asked in a small voice.

Thor paced anxiously. “My father has banished Loki to Jotunheim.”

Jane’s gasp told Darcy that that was bad. “What’s Jotunheim?” She had never really asked for details on the awful things that Loki had supposedly done in the other realms before falling to Earth and continuing his terror.

“Jotunheim is the realm he tried to destroy. His birthplace.”

Darcy titled her head to one side. “Huh? He wasn’t born in Asgard?”

Thor stopped pacing to look down at her. “He did not tell you of his heritage?”

She shook her head. “No. What do you mean? I know he’s adopted, I got that much from the little snipes I’ve overheard here and there.”

“Loki is a frost giant. He was the abandoned child of their king Laufey, left to die because of his small stature. My father found him and brought him home. He was raised believing himself to be Asgardian, and my father’s son. That knowledge, of his true heritage, is what caused him to go mad.”

Darcy swallowed hard. “What’s a frost giant?” Okay, she was starting to freak a little, cuz she was pretty sure she’d seen a picture of a ‘frost giant’ in one of those mythology books, and Loki didn’t look anything like that. He wasn’t blue.

Jane pulled out one of those very mythology books, and showed her the picture. Blue. Tall. Scary red eyes.

“Loki doesn’t look anything like that,” she scoffed. “You’ve got to be wrong.”

“He is a shape shifter,” Thor explained. “He has been in the shape of an Asgardian for so long, it is natural to him, but his true form is this.” He tapped a finger down on the picture.

Well that was a mindscrew. Darcy stared down at the picture, trying to wrap her brain around it. She’d been very intimate with someone who was naturally blue and red eyed. This was getting so weird. Her life had always been pretty boring, before Thor dropped from the sky.

“So Loki found out he was a frost giant, and that he’d been abandoned to die?”

Thor nodded in confirmation.

“So he tries to destroy his realm of birth, for abandoning him because he didn’t fit the ideal?”

Thor nodded again.

Darcy freaked a little. “And your father banishes him to Jotunheim??? Do they know he tried to destroy them?”

“They do. They also know he was responsible for Laufey’s death.”

She hadn’t heard that part before. “How?”

Thor seemed uncomfortable. “He lured Laufey to Asgard, with the promise of giving access to my father while helpless in the Odinsleep, so that Laufey could kill him. Instead, Loki used Gungnir to destroy Laufey.”

Darcy was waiting for her mind to implode, but it was taking its time. “He did this before or after he learned that Laufey was his true father?”

“After.”

“Shit! No wonder he did all the shit he did. Finding out he’d been lied to for centuries, and that he is a different race entirely, and that his real father had cast him out to die?” She felt tears again. “I can’t even imagine how he must have felt. What the hell is wrong with your father?”
Thor seemed quite startled. “What do you mean?”

“Loki’s still gotta be all screwed up from his recently revealed heritage, and your father banishes him to that very place?” Darcy stomped a foot on the floor. “I really, really want to talk to your father, Thor.”

“No Darcy. My father felt this was an appropriate punishment for what Loki did, and tried to do.”

He wasn’t going to help? Fine. She’d find her own way to Asgard. She really wanted to talk to Odin. Tony would probably help, just for the sheer mischief it would cause. He was a lot like Loki in some ways.

Plans of action tumbling through her head, Darcy withdrew from both Jane and Thor with one last jibe. “You suck, Thor.” Silently, she promised herself that she would get to Asgard, and make Odin see reason.

Chapter Text

He was small, for a giant. It kept him from being noticed much. Except maybe to get kicked out of annoyance every now and then.

Loki stayed clear of the others, as much as possible. He had arrived in Jotunheim already shifted to his natural form, thanks to Odin’s powers suppressing his own. Knowing it was suicide to stay at the Bifrost site, he had fled, shedding clothing as he went. Frost giants typically wore little more than a kilt type covering, and he did not want to call attention to himself. The cold did not bother him. He was, after all, a frost giant.

He had thought that Odin’s punishment was sure death, which was unlike his father. It was not until he accidentally encountered the first frost giants that he understood the genius of his father’s plan. The Jotuns had no idea who he was. The betrayer they had experienced was Asgardian, the son of Odin. He was a runt frost giant that had been allowed to live.

The Jotuns he encountered were not kind. He frequently heard comments about ‘misbegotten offspring’ and speculation as to why natural selection had been circumvented in his case. Why had he been allowed to live? Those that commented were not shy about doing so.

In a way, it was just like being back in Asgard. He had not belonged there either. In both realms, his appearance was not enough to guarantee his acceptance. The peoples of both realms knew he was different from them, and both shunned him. Loki wasn’t sure if he should feel grateful that he was not recognized, or bitter. He did not like to think of himself as insignificant, because he’d felt that way for centuries. Primarily due to Thor and his ego.

Still, rather insignificant than dead.

Loki felt horribly exposed, physically. Asgardians were modest, and he was uncomfortable seeing so much of his own skin while around others. Especially in its hated blue color. He had grown up with stories of the frost giants as the evil monsters. It was a part of him. Being able to accept that he was one of these creatures was eluding him.

Still, he needed to learn to become comfortable in this skin, since he feared he would be stuck here for some time. Without access to his magic, he could not open the secret pathways between the worlds. He could not leave Jotunheim.

Time had never traveled so slowly before. He had no access to his magic, so had to beg food from wherever he could get it. Typically this included menial tasks for arrogant frost giants who would throw ‘scraps at the runt’ once completed. Loki had never felt so utterly demeaned in his life. Here he was, begging again. Not for physical pleasure this time, but for his very survival through sustenance.

He was not welcomed anywhere. Others of his kind looked down at him, scorning his small frame. That felt startlingly familiar. He had had the same reaction from Asgardians who did not understand or appreciate a lean, non-warrior type in their midst.

But he had found a place where he fit, sort of. Midgard, Earth, was full of diversity, with the wonderful madness of mortals. They lived in an ever fluctuating medium that demanded adaptability. They could appreciate differences and the uniqueness of an individual. He had felt more at ease there than he had ever felt in Asgard. Strange how things worked out. At one point in his life, not so long ago, he had scorned the very idea of mortals. He had scoffed at his brother’s affection for one. Strange that what he had considered his brother’s weakness would now become his own strength.

It was surprisingly easy to pick up information when he was often not seen. The giants did not wish to see one so frail, so they purposely overlooked him. It was as if he did not exist to them. Loki didn’t care, of course. It was much more beneficial that he not be noticed. He lingered at the very edges of their gatherings, listening and learning.

He heard pieces of conversation about the death of Laufey. There was reluctant admiration for the deception practiced by the younger son of Odin. It had been a well played game that Laufey had not won. The frost giants appreciated such trickery.

He learned the nature of the life essence draining that had nearly killed Darcy. It was a survival technique that had been actively bred into the males of the species. The females were unimportant in frost giant society, so if a male was in a state of near death, it only made sense that a mate should give her life for his. Loki was able to uncover rumors of a deal with a Svartalfar sorcerer centuries ago who had first bespelled the males. The spell required mating. Had Loki not become intimate with her, Darcy would have been safe from him. He would have recovered at a normal rate, or died from overextending himself. It was ironic that his vodka induced moment of weakness had kicked off such a cascading series of events, leading to this.

As he spent time among them, Loki found himself surprised at the frost giants’ coldness. It extended to their emotions. He did not believe that they had the capacity for love, or even fondness. But was that a product of environment? He had the ability to love. He did love his parents and his brother. It was a complex emotion, and often disturbing, but it was there nonetheless. He could not deny it. Was his capacity for love because of his ‘misbegotton’ nature, or because of the way he’d been raised?

Time was a heavy weight around his very soul. How did beings survive like this? He was adrift, with no purpose to his life. The only goal was immediate: survival. He kept his eyes trained to the ground, as befitted a runt that did not wish to call attention to himself. He begged for his scraps of food, and listened for his scraps of information.

He wondered how much time was truly passing. It seemed an eternity. He thought that time passed differently on Earth, and hoped that Darcy was fully recovered. She brought a brightness with her that should not be dimmed. He found that he missed that brightness. He missed a lot of things that he had become accustomed to while on Earth.

Odin must be enjoying the breaking of his spirit. Loki was unsure what lesson the All-Father wanted him to take from this experience, or if there was even a lesson in mind. He was paying a penance for his betrayal to the throne of Asgard. He was serving out that penance in the company of the creatures he had been raised to fear and hate. The beings he had tried to destroy, because they had hurt his father. They had tried to kill him, an innocent baby with the simple misfortune of being born too small to fit into their society. He wanted to hate them. He had hated them. But the more time he spent in their company, the more he found, strangely, that he pitied them. There was no joy, no possibility of enjoyment, in their lives. They lived in the grey twilight of existence, as he lived it with them currently. It was a relentless weight of oppression, of deadening hopelessness.

Some days, the Jotun warriors liked a bit of sport, and if he was not careful and they caught him unawares, he became a kick-toy for them. He was pummeled, pushed, kicked and ridiculed. This too only made him pity them. Rather than have compassion for an unfortunate, they could only demean and belittle to elevate themselves. Loki would not protest their actions. He had no magic to protect himself. Nor would he call for help. He did not believe the Bifrost would open for him, no matter how loudly he called for help.

He would…endure.

Time was so slow. Like the ice around him. Caught in a moment. Preserved for the endless existence of nothingness. Emptiness. Life like the ice. Blurred edges, hazy colors.

He toyed with the idea of stretching out on the ice and allowing it to take him, as he had allowed the black void to pull him in. The ice would creep over him, blanketing his blue form like a lover. It would hold him and take him into oblivion. There would be no more concerns of belonging anywhere. The ice did not care what he looked like. It did not care what he actions he took. It was ice.

But Loki was not one to give in to despair. He was stronger than that. His capacity for positive emotion, twisted though it might be, buoyed him and kept him afloat. He would endure. Madness and despair would not claim him again.

Who knew the amount of time that passed? There was no night or day on Jotunheim. There was only the twilight, color leeched from the land. The runt, a misbegotten mistake that should have been destroyed, continued to eek out his existence, begging for his scraps. But he listened. He learned. He pitied them. They had nothing to hold on to, but he held tight to his thoughts of family, and friends.

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

The Jotuns knew something had come through the Bifrost. They found Loki’s discarded clothes, and the footprints leading away from the Bifrost site. But those footprints were Jotun, and the giants believed that one of their own had destroyed the intruder. They wanted to know more. Memories of Thor’s visit, and Loki’s own, were still fresh, and the giants did not want surprises. Anything new was a suspicion.

The fact that a misbegotten runt had suddenly appeared among them did not immediately draw suspicion. It was commonly believed that the runt had kept to itself (runts had no gender), and the arrival of yet another intruder had drawn it out. It had acted against the intruder, and now sought to convert that action into group acceptance.

The misbegotten could still be put to death. It was a runt, a sport, a mistake that did not belong. It should not have been allowed to live, yet it had. Had it survived on its own for all this time, or had others helped it? The thought was unsettling to the giants. All knew, for the benefit of the race, that misbegotten offspring must be destroyed. There was no place for them. Jotuns had no room and no tolerance for weakness.

They watched and observed the runt, wondering what it would do. It seemed only concerned with survival, begging scraps of food, performing duties that other Jotun shunned. It made itself useful, so they did not immediately destroy it when it first came to their attention. And it was useful for the taking of frustrations without a warrior or a breeding female being injured or killed.

Still, they watched it. Eventually, the determination was made to terminate it. A misbegotten should not live, and the fact that it had was a very affront to their race. A party was dispatched to hunt it down and kill it.

****************************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki was not so far gone that he missed the warning signs. He felt the prickles between his blue shoulder blades, and saw the shifty eyes. It was all the warning he needed to flee from the outskirts of the community. A hunting party was hot on his heels. Apparently, their tolerance of his existence had ended. Perversely, it seemed to wake him up. He shook the despair and lethargy from his very soul, and engaged his mind. He was the God of Mischief, the trickster, and no mere race of soulless monsters was going to destroy him.

It took all of his talents to elude the hunters. Centuries in Asgard, trying to be a warrior, had given him the skills to survive. Loki found it ironic that he would actually feel gratitude toward Sif and the Warriors Three. The skills they had imparted (sometimes beaten into him) were the only thing keeping him alive currently.
He was beyond weary from lack of sleep. His stomach was gnawing through his backbone. His feet hurt. But he was alive!

When the Bifrost activated, he felt and heard it, even from a distance. It was a shock, a balm to his wounded soul, and he fled toward it. The Jotuns were quick after him, but he was almost an afterthought. They were going after whoever had come through the Bifrost. Loki had to get there first, to warn and protect.

When he crested an ice swell and looked down on the Bifrost site, a mad laugh bubbled out of his mouth. Of all the possibilities he had expected to see….

They were all going to die here.

Chapter Text

It wasn't easy arranging a clandestine raid on another realm while under the watchful eyes of one its denizens. And his girlfriend. But Darcy was determined. She could not live with herself if she didn't at least try to make Odin understand that Loki had truly changed. She wanted the father to see that he had been the cause of some of the terrible things Loki had done.

She snuck texts to Tony Stark whenever she could get a moment away from Thor and Jane's prying eyes. At first, his replies were cautionary. He stuck to his convictions that it wasn't their place to intervene. But Darcy was relentless, and kept challenging him. He was Tony Stark. He'd met the most important people on the planet. He should be meeting with important people in other realms too.

Stark couldn't resist that thought. It stroked his ego too well. He had every right to meet with the All-Father. And if he happened to plead for Loki's release at the same time, well that was just an added bonus.

It still wasn't easy. Fury had been tipped off by Thor to a possible mutiny from the Iron Man, so Tony found himself under close watch. He had to employ every trick he could muster to avoid S.H.I.E.L.D spies, and still keep in touch with Darcy, planning their escape to the Bifrost site in New Mexico. He shamelessly dragged Pepper right into the conspiracy, but she was willing to do anything to help Loki at this point, after the saving of Stark's life.

Pepper had a way of innocently redirecting Coulson and Fury so that they didn't suspect anything. She smiled her guileless little smile, and made her little snarky comments about Stark, keeping suspicion from ever falling upon her shoulders. She was probably the only reason that Stark could continue his secret plans.

Darcy had her own set of plans. She knew that they couldn't crash Asgard, so to speak. Neither she nor Tony had the ability to activate the Bifrost. But she knew, through listening to Thor and Jane, that this guy named Heimlich was the gatekeeper, and he could open the Bifrost. She would plead her case to him at the Bifrost site, the way Thor had when he'd first arrived. She'd stand there and yell for a week, until this Heimlich guy was so tired of hearing her that he'd just give in and open it up. She was relentless that way.

She felt like she had absorbed some of Loki's mischief, because she just couldn't let it go. Loki would never back down from such a challenge. At least, she didn't think he would. When it came to his father, she had very little information.

Thor watched her suspiciously. He had expressed, several times, that he did not trust her sudden compliance. "You strike me as the type to do something rash, Darcy. That would not be wise in this situation."

"What do you know about it, big guy? I'm the poster child for good behavior."

But finally, with Darcy almost frantic with worry the whole time, all the plans came together. Stark's masterfully created diversion, while the billionaire was playing himself in a company meeting, called the Avengers out to duty. As soon as it happened, Pepper texted the all-clear. Stark abandoned his meeting, and picked Darcy up. They were in Stark's private jet ten minutes later, and heading for New Mexico.

"Hope you know what you're doing," Tony kept telling her, as he lounged. "Thor's gonna be pissed."

"He'll get over it," Darcy told him. "I don't care about him right now. All I'm worried about is Loki. Well….and maybe I'm a little worried about getting this Heimlich guy to open the Bifrost for us. But I'm persistant."

The flight to New Mexico took too long, and they had to dodge S.H.I.E.L.D agents once they arrived. But Stark had planned for that as well, and had a diversion to draw them away from the site. It worked remarkably well, and the two conspirators, one now in his Iron Man armor, stood within the Bifrost circle.

"Are you sure about this?" Stark seemed nervous.

"Of course I am. You don't have to go, Tony. I can handle Odin."

"That's mostly what I'm afraid of," he admitted. "War with Asgard would suck, Darcy."

"I won't cause a war as long as I get what I want," she quipped. She stared up at the sky. "Hey there, Heimlich! Hi. I'm Darcy. This is Tony. We'd really like to come up there and talk to Odin. It's about Loki."

"That was impressive."

"Shut up, Tony."

She waited patiently, but nothing happened. Hmm…well, she had said that she would yell for a week. "Uh Heimlich? I'm not going away. I should tell you, I'm the reason Loki came back to Asgard. I feel a pretty big obligation to make sure he's okay. I'm not gonna go away until I get to talk to Odin!"

Still nothing. How irritating. "I get it. You gotta check with the boss man first. I totally understand that. You should probably mention that I'm a friend of Thor's and Thor's girlfriend Jane. Thor is currently hosting a panty raid at the local community college and couldn't be here right now, but he sends his best."

"Darcy!" Stark choked. "What the hell are you saying?"

She shrugged. "Whatever." She tapped her foot. "C'mon Heimlich! I can call you Heimlich, right? Or maybe sounds like Heinylich. Heineken! Woohoo Heineken. Rustle up some brewskies, okay? I just wanna talk!"

"We're gonna die," Stark decided. "If Odin doesn't kill us, Thor will."

"We'll be fine, Tony. People do this all the time." She shot an irritated glare at him. "You could help, you know."

Tony sighed, and looked up, flipping his face plate up. "As a teammate of Thor's, and as one of the most influential men in this realm, I respectfully request an audience with the All-Father."

"Please Heineken?" Darcy added in a small voice.

She almost peed herself when the clouds began to form and swirl. "Shit Tony! Shit! We're going to Asgard! Ohmigod!"

He was strangely calm. "Wasn't that the plan?"

Darcy twitched nervously. "Well yeah, but I didn't really think it would work. I thought he'd blow us off."

Tony flipped his face plate back down. "Had me fooled. I hope this doesn't hurt."

"Shit. I hope mortals can do this without being splattered everywhere."

"Why did you have to say that? What the hell is wrong with you?"

The portal flashed down, and they were engulfed. It was light and wind and a rushing, roaring noise. Darcy wanted to scream, but she had no body to draw a breath. It was like all the little particles of her being had come apart and were shooting in a little Darcy-clump toward Asgard. She'd be shitting her pants, if she had pants. Or bowels. Or anything.

Then it was over. Normality restored itself (thank you Hitchhikers) and Darcy tried to pop her ears, because there was a huge pressure in her head. It ebbed, and she was finally able to look around. They were standing (well, Tony was still swaying) in a big domed room, with a raised dais in the center. A truly huge guy, like the biggest ever, was lifting a really big sword out of a block on top of the dais. Hmmm…sword in the stone myths much?

"Heineken?" she asked softly.

There was a definite chill from the huge guy. "Heimdall," he corrected. "Gatekeeper to Asgard. Loki's mortal folly and her armored paladin have arrived. Escort them to our King."

Tony was tickled, even as they were surrounded by heavily armored guards. "I'm a paladin."

"Get over yourself," Darcy hissed to him.

They were taken, via horseback of all things, from the edge of the world to the sprawling, soaring city. Darcy was gonna have major neck cramps from all the rubbernecking, but this was awesomely cool. It was another mark in her book. Sex with a god – check. Popped said god's cherry – check. Visited city of gold in the heavens – check. Survived the experience….pending.

Asgardians must be compensating for something, she decided. Everything was too big, and too gold and too awesome. Thankfully, Loki didn't suffer from any need to compensate. She briefly wondered about Thor, and decided she'd have to get Jane really drunk before a discussion about the size of Thor's hammer could take place.

They were marched into a giant assembly hall, down steps and across a huge expanse of floor until more steps rose to a central dais. The guards stopped them at the foot of the steps, and drew back a few steps.

Darcy looked up at Odin All-Father for the first time. Not impressed. Sure, he only had one eye, but she was used to Nick Fury by now, so it didn't faze her. He did have pretty kick ass armor, like Thor, but she'd already seen Thor's so that wasn't doing anything for her. He didn't really even give off an aura of being the most powerful being of this realm. He just seemed like a tired, old man.

Tony elbowed her. "Say something."

Darcy swallowed. "Um…hi Odin. Should I call you Odin, or All-Father? Or something else? Rat-bastard comes to mind, but I'm a little upset at the moment." The last was uttered very low, so that no one else heard it. Well, Tony did.

Stark choked again. "A little diplomacy probably wouldn't hurt right now, Darcy." He kept tugging at his suit, forgetting he was wearing the iron one. "Pepper will be very angry if I come home in little pieces."

"You may address me as Odin." The side of his mouth twitched. Darcy wasn't sure why, until he spoke again. "Rat-bastard might incite a riot from my people." Oops. The All-Father might be old, but he had good hearing. He had spoken very softly back to her. She didn't think anyone else had heard it.

"Odin. Okay cool. I'm Darcy, from Earth. Thank you for granting me an audience. That sounds so silly. It's like you handed me a bunch of people who are gonna watch and listen to me. Then again, I guess you did." She glanced around the great hall, filled with Asgardians.

Tony elbowed her again. "Anyhow…I'm Darcy. This is Tony Stark. He's Thor's teammate, and a pretty important guy on Earth. Uh…you have to know why I'm here, right? I was dying, and to save me, Loki needed uru. Thor got it from you in exchange for Loki's surrender."

"That does sum up the situation."

Darcy looked around, to see if she had any support, but it didn't look like Loki had any supporters. Except for the older woman standing at Odin's side. Ah...the mom.

"Thor said you banished Loki to Jotunheim."

"I did."

"I know he did terrible things. But I also know that there was family stuff you told him that kinda blew his mind, and I think that's probably why he did the terrible things. He….he's done awesome things to help people recently. He saved me."

Odin's face wasn't giving anything away. "He was responsible for what befell you."

"But he didn't know that," Darcy argued. "And I would have gotten better, eventually."

Stark finally found his tongue. "He saved my life twice. There wasn't anything in it for him. He actually risked being torn apart by really nasty beings to save me the first time. And he risked being gutted by my teammates the second time, but he did it."

"I need him back," Darcy stated firmly.

Odin didn't look like he was bending. "Why should I do that?"

"He deserves a chance to find a place where he belongs. Earth could be that place."

"He should be left to rot on Jotunheim!" It was the dark haired warrior woman, Thor's friend, whose voice rang out.

Darcy turned to glare daggers at her. "Bitch, please. You're just jealous because you never hopped on the L-train. And let me tell you, you don't know what you're missing." She turned back to Odin. "Your son deserves a chance to shine beside his brother, not walk in his shadow."

"That was beautiful," Stark whispered to her.

The warrior bitch, Sif, wasn't done. "Loki is a monster, and he should be left with the monsters of Jotunheim."

Darcy swiveled to face her again. "Seriously. I'm gonna bitch slap you into next century. Shut your hole."

"That wasn't so beautiful," Stark advised softly.

There was gonna be a fight. Darcy could see it in the curl of Sif's lip. "You would choose to defend the monster? Have you debased yourself with him?"

"Sif!" The mother finally spoke. "Loki is our son, and we love him."

It seemed like the entire hall held it's breath for a moment, but then the warrior woman turned away. She would not go up against Thor and Loki's mother.

Darcy turned back to the parents. "Bring Loki back."

Odin studied her. "If I bring my son back, there is an important lesson that he will not learn. I will not bring him back."

Darcy stared at him, feeling her stomach drop. "That's not gonna work for me." She looked around, considering mayhem. "I….I have no choice but to declare war on Asgard."

"What the hell are you doing?" Tony yelped, as weapons came to a ready all around the great hall, pointing at them.

Odin only looked faintly amused. "I believe we have you outnumbered."

"For now. But there's a lot of us pesky mortals. And we have access to awesome weapons. Stark here is a genius with them. We'll lay waste to this place."

"Shut up!" Poor Tony wasn't quite ready for her Plan B.

But Darcy couldn't be quiet. "Loki makes sense to me. He's the first guy who didn't care that I was a geek-dork and just accepted me like I am. He's the first guy who never made me feel so self conscious that I couldn't speak. Maybe that doesn't mean shit to you, but it's huge to me. It makes me want to wake up in the morning, and that's something that's worth fighting for."

"Beautiful again," Tony noted. "Just keep in mind that we are really outnumbered, and our governments frown upon declarations of war on other realms."

"I don't care, " Darcy snarled back at him. "The governments haven't done shit for me, but Loki has. I'm not letting this go." She glared up at Odin. "Well?"

"I will not bring him back."

"Then send me there. I'll bring him back my damn self. I don't need your help."

The All-Father's expression was like rock. "You? You would go to Jotunheim, mortal girl? The frost giants would tear you apart."

"Only if they catch me," she argued. "Send me there. Let me bring Loki back. That way you don't compromise your stick up the ass ideals." She folded her arms across her chest, ignoring the outraged cries from the gathered Asgardians.

Funny. She'd felt that same chill from the Heineken guy earlier. Odin made a gesture with his hand, and the guards were surrounding them again.

"Oh shit. Oh shit."

"Shut up Tony."

Darcy wasn't sure if she should be terrified or shitting herself as they were taken back to the Bifrost observatory. Tony was swearing colorfully, and heaping promises of punishment on her.

"You tried to declare war on Asgard, Darcy!"

"It's not like I have the power to do that, Tony. Odin knows that. Chill out. You're being such a little girl."

The big guy wasn't happy to see them again. "You will insult Jotunheim with your intrusion," he warned.

Darcy snorted at him. "No doubt. Just make sure you open up quick when I call for the return trip."

"I will do my best. Should Loki betray us once more, that responsibility will fall on your head."

"Won't happen, Heineken dude."

***********************************************************************************************************************************

Jotunheim was cold. And dark. And very scary. Darcy took a moment to orient herself, and wondered how the hell they were going to find Loki before the frost giants found them. Asgardians she could handle. The frost giants, maybe not so much.

"We're gonna die here," Tony decided. "They have to know something came through. We're sitting ducks if we stay here. Where are we supposed to look?"

Everything looked the same. Very cold and very unfriendly. Darcy was freezing already, shivering violently. She'd been dressed for New Mexico, not Antarctica. She hadn't considered that they might be going to Jotunheim. She hadn't really even believed that they'd make it to Asgard.

"I'm not sure," she answered, teeth chattering.

"Are you mad?"

A frost giant with Loki's voice and face came racing over an ice hill toward them. Darcy was intrigued. He didn't really look that different. Just blue. With red eyes. And raised lines on his blue skin. And he was almost naked. Wow. Apparently, going blue released some inhibitions.

He skidded to a halt in front of them, red eyes a little wild. "I can understand it from you, Stark. You are egotistical enough to believe you could do this. But what were you thinking, bringing her here?

"Whoa!" Tony protested, hands up defensively. "I didn't bring her."

"Bring me?" Darcy was upset. As if she had not instigated all of this. "Bring me? I came on my own, your blueness. I invited Tony to come with me, because I needed his jet to get me to the Bifrost site. What do you think I am? Some helpless female?" She stomped a foot. "I made Odin send me here!"

Loki crossed the distance between them and took her hand in his own. He was cold to touch. The relief she felt welled up from her very core, trying to force freezing tears out of her eyes. He looked weary, and hungry, and there were dark bruises all over his blue skin. But a great weight seemed to be lifting from him.

He bent close to her face. "You are mad to be here, Darcy. There is a hunting party of Jotuns behind me. They will kill us all."

"Nah, not today," she replied cheekily. "We're blowing this popsicle stand." She cocked her head at him. "You're blue."

He drew back warily. "This is my true form."

"Nice. We should probably get out of here." She turned her face to the sky. "Hey Heinekin! Pop us back, okay?"

Loki nearly choked. She'd just called Heimdall a beer? He wasn't sure he wanted to go back to Asgard. "You and Stark were in Asgard?"

"She declared war on your father," Tony said dryly. He clapped a hand to Loki's blue back. "Good to see you in one piece, my lord." Then he froze and removed his hand. "Shit. I only said that to cheer you up, you know. You looked like you needed it. It doesn't mean that I think I'm your minion or anything." He cursed softly and stepped back.

Just before the Bifrost took them, Darcy wormed her way into Loki's side, sliding an arm around his slumping form.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

The great hall of Asgard nearly exploded when Loki came before them in all of his blue awesomeness. They hadn't known of his true heritage, even after his betrayal. But it was clear now.

Darcy was proud of him. Loki walked with complete composure through the tumult, his right arm wound around her shoulders. His mien was princely, and he wore his God of Mischief attitude, although little else. He was deliciously cool to touch in this form, and his skin felt…different. She was liking the almost naked thing.

Loki bowed his head to his father. "You have permitted me to return from my banishment?"

"I have," Odin agreed. "You have spent time among your birth kind, in your natural form. Tell me your thoughts of them."

"They are a pitiable and weak race," Loki answered, ignoring the mocking calls from those gathered. "Pitiable because there is no enjoyment in their lives. Weak because they will never know the strength of friendship and love. They dwell in the ice, but the ice dwells within them – cold and brittle." He looked up at his father. "How long was I there?"

"Two weeks," Darcy answered. "Two long weeks."

He looked down to her. "Two weeks? It seemed so much longer." He lifted his head to meet his father's eyes again. "What will you do with me now?"

"I release you," Odin answered. "You have learned more than I had hoped. You have recognized your own capacity for love and friendship. You have inspired others to risk their very lives for yours. I do not yet understand you, my son, but I will try." He inclined his head toward Darcy. "It has been suggested that you have found a place for yourself amongst the mortals."

"I believe that I have. I would return to Midgard."

Odin sighed deeply. "So be it." He rapped Gungnir on the floor, and a gentle light stole out to envelope Loki. Darcy shivered as it tingled over her, but when it whisped away into vapor, she saw Loki shifting to the form she was used to seeing. And there was a lot of it to see.

"I like this look," she told him. "Bare. Bold."

He smiled his not-quite smile. "You would." Then his expression hardened and he looked back up at his father. "You sent two mortals to Jotunheim, father. They could have been killed. These two are under my protection. I will not look kindly upon a repeat of those actions."

A shocked hush fell upon the great hall. Even Darcy was a little shocked. But she had to speak up. "He didn't send us, Loki. I made him send us. I didn't do all this to get sent home without you. I did it to find you and save you. Because you saved me. I couldn't let it go. Don't blame Daddy for that. I take full responsibility."

He turned to her. "Why Darcy? Why risk your life? I would have been fine."

"Maybe the same reason you did the same thing for me. I would have been fine. Why did you risk your life to bring me back?" She squeezed him. "Because. Let's let it go at that for now." She grinned. "I like the whole 'protective of my mortals' routine. It gave me tingles."

"Me too," Stark chimed in. He flipped his face plate up. "Can we get out of here now? The longer we stick around, the more likely Darcy is to cause an incident." He cringed. "Although we just might get slaughtered when we return."

Between one blink and the next, Loki was wearing clothes again. "Father. We will return to Earth. My thanks for giving me the chance to redeem myself." He bowed deeply, and turned sharply, cloak flaring. Darcy bit back a giggle at the theatrics.

"Nice meeting you, All-Father sir," Stark called over his shoulder, as Loki ushered them from the great hall. "I can't believe I went all tongue tied around him. Geez Loki. How did you deal with that, growing up?"

"Poorly, minion. Were you not paying attention?" Loki smirked. "How much trouble will you two be in when we return?"

"Heaps," Darcy admitted. "Your silver tongue better be loose and ready to go."

"Why Darcy…that sounds like an invitation."

She bit her lip at his completely evil smile. "Now you're just making me wet."

"Too much information, you guys!" Stark snapped.

They managed to make it to the Bifrost without any further incidents. Heimdall did not try to hide his satisfaction that they were leaving.

"Asgard will rest easier tonight, knowing that you have returned to Midgard. Know that I will watch you."

"And know that I can cloud your vision whenever I choose, gatekeeper." Loki's smile was almost feral. "Farewell."

Darcy was tickled to feel his arm wrap around her shoulders again, as the Bifrost activated. There was a whole shit-storm waiting for them when they got back, but it was worth every second of it.

Chapter Text

Apparently, Hell hath no fury like Nick.

Fury, the rest of the Avengers, and tons of S.H.I.E.L.D agents were waiting when Loki, Darcy and Tony arrived back on Earth. Darcy cringed.

"Oh shit," Stark uttered under his breath. Then he popped his face plate up. "Hey guys! Thanks for coming, but I have it completely under control!"

Thor stepped forward. He looked worried. "Tony. Darcy. What have you done?"

"Darcy declared war on Asgard! I tried to stop her, but she was way outta control!"

Darcy snorted. "You are such a girl, Stark. It's fine, Thor. I had a nice little chat with your dad, I got to visit Jotunheim, and I found this guy hanging out there, so I brought him back." She jerked her head toward Loki.

Thor seemed torn. "Brother…I am very grateful to see you again. But…will there be fallout from your rescue?"

Loki smirked. "All of Asgard is currently unsettled, Thor. But not due to the actions of Tony and Darcy. They saw me as I truly am. I believe that Father will have much explaining to do." He looked around at the welcoming party. "My thanks for such a warm welcome back to Earth, Nicholas. You did not have to bring so many."

Fury said nothing, but jerked his head just the tiniest bit. The three travelers were surrounded and escorted into the S.H.I.E.L.D facility that had been built around the Bifrost site. No one spoke a word to them, except for Thor, who was concerned about the unrest in Asgard.

He fell into step beside Loki, unconsciously putting himself into custody. "You revealed your true form?"

Darcy watched the subtle play of emotions on Loki's face. He still was not sure how to deal with his true heritage, but he seemed to be more at peace with it than before. "I did not reveal my true form. Father blocked my access to my own magic, and this caused my form to alter to its natural state. When we were brought back from Jotunheim, all of Asgard saw me as I am." He smiled his not-smile. "It may be soothing to Father if you visit. There was a lot of…unrest….when we departed."

Thor nodded. "I will visit. Has all been forgiven?"

Loki shrugged. "No. But we have taken steps toward understanding each other. I imagine it will be a long process. I regret that I was not able to visit with Mother while there, so in the near future, I will visit again." A Loki-mischief smile broke out. "Shall we go together? Asgard still trembles from the last time we stood face to face there."

Thor was startled into a laugh. "Loki – you are wicked. I am happy to see that your time on Jotunheim did not break you." He clapped his brother on the shoulder. "We shall visit together. You should appear in your natural state when we do so. That will show all of Asgard that your family accepts you for who you are."

It was the faintest flicker of emotion that crossed Loki's face, but Darcy saw it. He briefly looked like he'd been sucker punched to the gut. Thor's acceptance meant so much to him, and she wondered if Loki even realized how much he craved it.

Coulson fell into step beside Thor. "I have to remind you, Thor, that these three are currently being detained. Please cease discussion with them until they have been debriefed."

Thor cast his eyes to the sky, but then nodded his head like the prince he was, and moved away.

Stark turned to Coulson. "Seriously? What's the issue, Couls? We hopped to another dimension to rescue a valued ally."

"You were forbidden from doing exactly that, Mr. Stark. In the interest of preserving peace between our realms."

Tony shrugged. "There is still peace between our realms. No harm done."

"No harm? You said Darcy declared war on Asgard."

Stark made a piffing noise. "Darcy doesn't have the power to do that. Odin knew that. It wasn't really a big deal. Odin was cool with the whole thing."

Coulson shushed him until they were inside and settled into a debriefing room. It was just the three of them, with Coulson and Fury. Darcy was a little worried. Fury still hadn't said a word, and a silent, rock-faced Fury was a little scary. He sat down at the head of the table, and placed his hands flat on the surface. Darcy found that she couldn't tear her eyes from those hands. There was a subtle hint of menace in how they rested on the table. As if Fury had stretched them out there to keep from throttling the threesome who had recently returned from Asgard.

She glanced at Loki and bit her lip. He was in the mood for mischief. A slight, mocking, smile stretched his lips, and he had placed his own hands on the table, fingers laced together serenely. He was staring at Nick Fury staring at Tony Stark, who had been allowed to remove the Iron Man suit. Stark was sprawled out comfortably, with a nonchalant air of boredom.

"You have a problem with authority, Mr. Stark."

Fury's voice was low, and so over-controlled that it was a wonder his head wasn't popping like a puss filled pimple.

"Awe Nick, you're just jealous because I'm my own authority."

Darcy glanced at Tony, silently willing him to shut up. Fury was so not in the mood.

"You will remain silent for right now, Mr. Stark, or I will have your mouth stapled shut."

Stark's mouth was opening, but the loud click of a stapler drew his eyes to the side. Coulson, standing just behind Fury, wore his disturbing little smile, and was absently clicking an industrial sized stapler. Staples the size of breath mints were falling out of it.

Tony watched them fall to the floor, and remained silent. He even sat up a little bit.

The barest twitch of an eyelid seemed to indicate Fury's approval of that wise decision. "You interfered in the internal government affairs of another realm. In the course of doing that, you hired mercenaries to pose as a threat, drawing our team out while you were in a meeting. There were local ruffians hired here, to draw our staff away from the Bifrost site. The resources expended dealing with both diversions will be billed to you."

Tony blinked, but since he had more money then he would ever miss, Darcy couldn't see it really affecting him.

"You were forbidden from this very course of action, Mr. Stark. Thor suspected that either you or Miss Lewis, or both, would attempt something rash like this. I again remind you that this was an internal affair of Asgard, and had nothing to do with us. Loki is not one of us."

The God of Mischief inclined his head. "Indeed Nicholas. Well stated."

Fury's calm-about-to-explode-and-tear-you-apart-with-his-bare-hands gaze turned to Loki. "You will also be silent for now."

Darcy could feel the chill suddenly emanating from the man beside her. "If you dare to threaten my mouth, Nicholas, things may get very ugly. As you have pointed out, I am not one of you. You have no authority over me. I will speak if I wish." He reclined in his chair, emulating Stark's sprawl.

The crack of Fury's knuckle, as his hand curled into a claw on top of the table, was very loud. But score one for Loki, because he was right. Fury had no authority over him. Darcy silently cheered, but didn't dare crack a smile.

"Well stated, Loki," Fury repeated in his calm-doom-wrath-of-vengeance voice. He turned back to Stark. "If you wish to continue to be a part of this team, Mr. Stark, you will learn to obey the authority. If you cannot do that, you will no longer be a part of this team. S.H.I.E.L.D will not tolerate embarrassment in government dealings."

When he turned his gaze on Darcy, she gulped. "Miss Lewis. You are with this agency because you know too much and you cannot be trusted to keep your mouth shut if not with this agency. You are under my authority. Who you are banging in your spare time does not change that fact."

"Be very careful, Nicholas." The smooth venom of Loki's tone was like nectar to Darcy's ears. She had a god on her side.

"Nobody told me not to go to Asgard." Darcy had to defend herself. "Everyone was too busy tiptoeing around me after finding out who I was banging." She folded her arms across her chest. "It was a personal matter. It had nothing to do with S.H.I.E.L.D."

"You represent S.H.I.E.L.D every day, Miss Lewis. This will not happen again. Had Odin taken your little declaration of war seriously…."

"Wouldn't ever happen," she scoffed. "I hope you don't really think I'm that stupid, Nick. I just had to do something for the shock value, so Odin would know how serious I was. I wasn't leaving without Loki. Haven't you learned anything from being around Thor? You have to go over the top to make an impression on the Asgardians, or they completely miss the point. Or think that you're beneath them, so they don't have to bother with you. That's all I did with Odin. I made sure that I made an impression."

Fury stared at her hard for a long time. The longer he stared, the more Darcy wanted to hide. It was super creepy. But she had Loki beside her, and that gave her strength. He was still smirking, sprawled out in a calculated mirror image of Stark. She liked it that he was letting her fight her own fight. He could have shut things down, but he was letter her say what she wanted to.

She finally had to say something. "Uh Nick, you're really being a creeper just staring like that. It's not gonna change what happened, or how I feel about it. I'd do it again. Maybe next time I'll tell you I'm gonna do it, so you can forbid me, but I'd still do it again. Some things are worth saving at any cost."

She saw and felt the twitch of surprise from the man sitting beside her, and for one moment, his expression was vulnerable, amazed. Then, his usual mask slid back into place, and he sat up a little bit.

"I assume that we are done here, Nicholas. Staring and lip stapling threats aside, no harm was done from Tony and Darcy's visit to Asgard. It was actually a beneficial thing to the people of my realm, since it forced them out of their usual comfort zone. In addition, Tony and Darcy will have valuable information for you from both Jotunheim and Asgard, as seen from mortal eyes." Loki rose to his feet. "I would be very upset if you were to kick Stark off the team because he chose to honor what he felt was a life debt. I would even be a little upset if you stapled his mouth shut. Well…perhaps."

"Hey," Stark protested. At the kuchunk of the stapler, he snapped his mouth shut again, eyeing Coulson suspiciously.

Fury looked up at Loki, finally releasing Darcy from his creepout stare. He seemed softer now, less likely to explode into physical-maiming-torture-kill. "I'm not sure if I like your influence on this team and agency, Loki. I'll be keeping an eye on these two, since their loyalties aren't clear at this point." Fury sat back, a little bit of the chill leaving his frame. "I'm done with you. These two still need debriefed. As you suggested, they have valuable information on two other realms."

Loki inclined his head. "Don't keep them too long. I was exiled to Jotunheim for two long weeks, and I wish to spend some quality time with Darcy."

Oh wow. Talk about waking up a girl's happy place. Darcy sat up and pressed her legs together a little. Fury wasn't impressed, she noticed. In fact, he was scowling.

"Isn't that what almost killed her before?" he asked. "Do you really think it's wise to go back to it?"

"Shut up, Nick!" Darcy jumped up and stared up at Loki. "It'll be okay, right?"

He reached out to trail a finger down her arm. "Of course it will. I crafted a bit of protection magic into the pendant when we made it. That magic is part of you now. I will not be able to drain you again."

Oh yeah. Happy place will be having some happy times! Darcy bit her lip. "Good! Then I will see you later."

"Count on it."

"What about me?" Stark asked, sitting up in his chair a little more.

Loki turned to him. "I am not having sex with you, minion. No matter how much you beg for it."

While Stark was still stuttering a response, Loki blinked out of the conference room. Darcy frowned, and plopped back down in her seat.

"C'mon let's get this show on the road," she urged. "I've got a date with a god."

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki popped in on Thor, who was nervously pacing amongst the other Avengers in a nearby meeting room.

"Brother! Is all well?"

"Mostly. Fury and his disturbing minion have many questions for Darcy and Stark about the other realms. Fury has calmed from his…fury…and will not be removing heads from bodies."

"Stark would look ridiculous without his head," Steve Rogers commented. Then he rolled his eyes. "Of course, he looks ridiculous with it, too. I'm glad Darcy won't be losing her head. It's a pretty head."

Oh so unwise. Loki fixed the man with a chill stare worthy of his heritage. "You are correct. It is a pretty head. I have layed claim to that head. I am very possessive about what I consider mine."

Rogers held both hands up defensively. "Hey! Not trying to steal your girl or anything. I'm just saying that she has a pretty head, that's all."

"I still don't get it," Natasha called from where she was lounging. "I don't see you and Darcy together. Sorry. She seems a little young for you, Loki. You seem like the type that should be with a more mature woman. More wicked." Her grin was hard.

"Darcy has depths of perversion that I never imagined," Loki answered honestly, with a smile. "She may be young, but there is a part of her that is an old soul, and it appeals to me. She was the only person to make me feel completely welcome in this realm, aside from my brother. I am sorry, Natasha. As I told Stark just minutes ago – I am not having sex with you no matter how much you beg." His grin was completely wicked now. "You will have to merely wonder what it is that you have missed. And when you see Darcy walking around with a very satisfied smile on her face, you may feel jealousy."

He turned back to his brother. "I will be coming for Darcy when Fury has finished his interrogation. I owe her a date that is weeks overdue. You and I must then discuss when best to visit Asgard again, to show our support for our father."

Thor nodded. "Of course. If you need more dating tips…"

Loki raised an eyebrow. "Thank you." He looked around at the other Avengers. "I trust that I will not have to warn everyone that Darcy is mine, correct?" He stared at Banner and Barton. They both shook their heads, and Loki nodded in satisfaction.

"Very good." With a nod, Loki blinked out of the compound.

Chapter Text

Darcy was practically twitching, three hours later, when Fury and Coulson finally released them.

After a desperately needed bathroom break (oh geez, don't look in the mirror!), she wandered around the S.H.I.E.L.D compound, looking for Loki. He was nowhere to be found, but she did manage to track down Thor. It looked like he had been waiting on her debriefing to finish.

"Where did Loki go?" she asked the big guy.

Thor shrugged. "To wherever it is that Loki goes when not around us, I suppose."

Oh yeah. "Where is that, Thor? Does he blip back to Asgard? Does he have a condo somewhere?" Darcy frowned. "I know I wonder about stupid stuff like that, but call me curious. Where does Loki go?"

The God of Thunder looked puzzled. "I do not know."

The puff of air at her back was all the warning Darcy had. She managed to stifle her yelp of surprise as hands fell on her shoulders. And just like that, she was wearing different clothes and she felt as if she'd just showered.

"That is such a neat trick!" She turned to look up at Loki. He looked more rested than he had when they'd initially returned from Jotunheim. The bruises were still there though, so that reassured her that he would not be draining her life essence again. Whew. He was dressed sharply in Earth clothes.

"I trust that Nicholas behaved himself after I left?"

"Other than growling a lot, he was fine." Darcy grinned. "But I think you ruined Tony's day. He has a man-crush on you. So…what are we doing?"

Loki offered his arm. "I thought dining at a fine establishment would be a start. You must be hungry. You have had a busy day. And I am very much looking forward to eating something of quality."

Darcy slipped her arm through his, trying not to think too hard about what he might have been eating on Jotunheim. "Dining it is. I can afford something quick, but not of quality." She shrugged.

He grinned. "I visited with Pepper while you were being debriefed. She supplied me with several stacks of your paper money, and assured me that it will be sufficient for whatever needs I have. I only brought one stack with me. Do you think that will be enough?" He reached into his coat pocket with his free hand and pulled out a thick bundle of $100 bills.

Darcy gaped. "Holy shit, Loki! That's plenty! Remind me to thank Pepper." She glanced around. "There's not really any place near here that's quality dining."

He smiled down at her. "Of course not. Do you trust me?"

"Well duh. You saved my life, I saved you from banishment, I think that creates a bond of trust."

"Farewell, Thor," Loki called to his brother, still smiling down at Darcy. "Do not panic," he warned her.

Traveling with Loki was much different than the Bifrost. The Bifrost had been light and wind and a rushing, roaring noise, with no sense of self. 'Blinking' with Loki was exactly that. There was a brief moment of nothing, and then they emerged into an alleyway, somewhere else.

Darcy laughed in wonder. "That was too cool! Don't panic? Why would I? That's tons better than the Bifrost!"

Loki appeared delighted, and she wondered how long it had been since someone had expressed appreciation of his abilities. Poor, poor Loki. She silently vowed that she would try to make up for others overlooking him.

"Where are we?" she asked.

He smiled. "Back in New York. I have eaten food from this particular establishment before, but not while they were aware of it."

Darcy stifled a laugh behind her free hand. "Oh wow. So, we're going to dine like normal patrons tonight?"

"Of course."

It was surreal. Darcy kept glancing around at others, waiting for someone to realize that she was having dinner with a god, but no one was really paying attention to them as they were seated. Well, there were some women who were staring and licking their lips, and that pissed her off. Every time she saw it, she placed a hand on Loki's arm. Mine, bitches!

After the fourth time of doing this, Darcy looked up from her menu when Loki chuckled. He was trying not to smile at her, or the hand on his arm.

She pulled her hand back. "What?"

"I do believe you are jealous."

"What? Jealous?" She thought about it. "Nah. Just staking my claim so that none of these bitches think they can hop on the L-train."

His smile broke through. "The 'L-train' does not give rides to just anyone. But by all means, carry on. I find I rather enjoy the display. It is a new experience for me."

Their server arrived. In another time, another life, Darcy might have found him attractive. College boy, she figured. He had gym-sculpted muscles, lightly gelled hair, and a smile that said he knew he was attractive. He gave a perfunctory greeting with the specials of the day, and then his eyes strayed to her chest, outlined in the form fitting green silk top Loki had magicked her into.

It was flattering, but annoying. She usually wore shapeless clothing, to avoid this type of thing. She couldn't help that she'd been blessed with a generous chest, and men were so predictable. She'd gone through high school with men focused on her chest, unable to hold a decent conversation with her. Once they'd figured out that she was snarky and a geek-dork, they either lost interest, or went for a bag and brag. Either situation made her mad, so Darcy had retaliated with buying a taser. That kept men even more distant, because she always warned them right up front. She would tase them without a second thought.

She listened to Loki order his food, and then flinched with what their server said next.

"What can I do for you?" It was laced with such heavy innuendo that she was surprised his tongue wasn't lolling out. His eyes were fixed on her chest, and Darcy could practically see the plotting on his face.

"You are taking her order, correct?" Loki's tone set off warning flags and she glanced across the table at him. He had noticed their server noticing her chest. He was not happy about it.

The college dude blinked, and looked up at Loki. "Yeah."

"See to it that your eyes remain on her face, or your little notepad."

The guy gulped, and looked obediently down at his notepad. "What would you like to order, ma'am?"

She almost laughed in his face, but settled for a Loki-worthy smirk and ordered her food. After the server made his escape, she looked over at Loki again. He was smiling, but there was a sharp edge to it.

"Loki…I think you're jealous."

"Just staking my claim," he echoed her earlier words. "He is a server in this place. It is not seemly that he…oogles…the patrons. Besides, he was beginning to think of how he would talk you away from me so that he might ravish you. I could not allow those thoughts to continue."

She smiled, secretly thrilled. "Thank you."

"No. Thank you. You endangered yourself to save me. It was reckless and foolhardy, Darcy. Both you and Tony could have been killed." Loki laced his fingers together, staring at her with disconcerting directness. "You must promise that you will not do anything so dangerous again."

She laced her own fingers together, mocking him. "I can't do that, Loki. Maybe I've spent too much time around the Avengers, but I've learned that there are things worth fighting for. At any cost."

He frowned, nostrils flaring in agitation, lips pressing together tightly. "You are…a liability to my peace of mind, Darcy. Will you promise me to try to be more careful?"

"I will. But if it's my friends or family in danger, all bets are off." She smiled. "That includes you."

He unlaced his fingers and drummed them on the table. "Know that the same applies to your welfare."

They fell silent, staring at each other. Darcy felt sorry for Loki. All this emotional stuff was clearly frustrating for him. It had him agitated and on edge, and she wondered what had occurred on Jotunheim to open his emotional floodgates, so to speak. She'd get to the bottom of that in time. Now wasn't the time to talk about it. Right now, he wanted to forget about it. That was easy enough to see. She could help with that.

She wiggled her foot out of its shoe, and sent it questing out under the table. Loki's eyes widened at first contact, and his eyebrows jumped up sharply when her toes worked their way up his leg. Darcy grinned, and trailed one finger around the rim of her wine glass, staring at Loki over its rim. He stared back, two spots of color popping out on his cheeks as her toes wormed their way between his legs.

It never failed to amaze her how she could undo his restraint. She watched him grip the edge of the table and shudder as her toes wiggled and teased. The spots of color in his cheeks spread, and tendons stood out on his neck. It was fascinating to watch him be ruled by the reaction of his body.

She slid down in her seat a little, giving her better access. It couldn't last too much longer. He was breathing in gasps, staring at her glassily while his hips moved with her toes. She smirked in triumph when he tensed, fingers clenching on the end of the table, and then exhaled with a trembling breath. His head fell back, and he squeezed his eyes shut, body slumping in his chair.

Darcy sat up straight, withdrawing her toes, and took a long gulp of wine. That had been freaking hot. She was all worked up now, and looking forward to after the meal. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the lip licking women from a nearby table staring with wide eyes. Darcy smirked, licked her forefinger, and trailed it down through the air. Yeah bitch, I'm all that. That's why he's sitting with me. Hah!

"You okay over there, Loki?"

He pried his eyes open, tried to say something, swallowed, and tried again. "You are a wicked, wicked woman, Darcy Lewis." He picked up his own glass of wine and drained it.

Their food arrived then, and Loki was able to compose himself as their server settled plates in front of them. He procured more wine, and drained off a second glass, finally seeming to regain some of his usual control. Then, as their server withdrew, he glanced at Darcy through half-lidded eyes.

"I will pay you back for that, Darcy. Believe me."

His expression was sheer naughtiness, and Darcy grinned. "I believe you. I look forward to it."

He put on quite a show while eating. Darcy had never seen a man make love to food with his mouth before, but Loki did it. Every bite was its own little orgasm; teeth nipping at the food, tongue darting out to taste it, or a lick to his lips as a drop of sauce escaped. She was riveted, watching him with her mouth open, wanting to be on his plate so she could have that much attention lavished on herself. For someone who was still relatively new to sex games, he was learning very quickly what worked.

Watching his tongue swirl around a forkful of dripping meat, Darcy squirmed in her chair. "You are evil."

He paused, tongue in the process of catching another drip of sauce. He drew it into his mouth, and then licked his lips. "Whatever do you mean?" His tone was almost honeyed innocence, but the expression was still naughty.

"Don't play. You know exactly what I mean. Effective. You're a fast learner."

He smirked. "I aim to exceed at anything I do."

She laughed a little. "I believe that. You're making a killer impression on the first date, by the way." She tried to hide a smile, but couldn't. That he had sought help to find out about dating customs, for her, made her tingle. "Killer transportation, great restaurant, great clothes."

He shrugged. "As I said, I aim to exceed." Then he looked thoughtful. "Although it will make a second date challenging."

She laughed out loud. "You're creative. I'm sure you'll think of something."

His eyes flashed. "Oh I will. I am thinking of things right now."

A heady chill traveled the whole way down her spine, making Darcy shiver violently. She watched Loki's eyes drift downward, and a small smile surfaced on his lips. Looking down herself, she realized the girls had woken up and were saying hello.

"There are benefits to form fitting clothing," Loki pointed out conversationally. "You should wear such clothing more often."

Darcy propped her chin up with her hand. "If I do that, more men will stare at me."

His frown was instant. "That could be dangerous for them."

Their server interrupted the moment by appearing and asking if everything had been satisfactory. Loki gave very brief answers, and seemed to lose his patience entirely when the poor guy asked if they wished to have dessert.

"Yes, yes, I do wish to have dessert. But not here and nothing from your menu. I wish to pay our bill now."

Darcy was tingling. He was so intent now, staring at her darkly, leaving their server no doubts as to what he wanted for dessert. Apparently, his patience, already tried after two weeks of banishment, was at an end. Loki wanted what he wanted…right now.

After paying the bill, he rose and offered his hand to pull her up out of her chair. Darcy almost laughed, almost, at his haste, and allowed him to pull her upright. She almost had to jog to keep up with him as they exited the restaurant, and the other poor mortals scattered at his approach. Loki looked…a little intimidating…as he stalked out of the restaurant, towing her by one hand. She couldn't help but smirk at all the women they passed. Yeah…dine on liver, bitches.

Once safely out of sight, Loki pulled her closer, and they popped into somewhere else. Darcy looked around in awe.

"This isn't my place," she pointed out.

"No." His voice was just a bit strained.

"Is this your place?"

"For now."

It had to be hotel suite of some sort. It was huge. And later, Darcy might take the time to explore it, because it wasn't something she'd ever see on her salary. But right now, the only thing she was really thinking of was the huge bed.

Seconds later, she found herself tossed onto it. Wow. And pinned down.

"There are consequences to teasing and tempting me, girl," Loki growled. His eyes were burning her skin, and Darcy shuddered.

"Yeah? Bring em. I've been waiting two weeks for this."

He almost snarled, a feral sound as he bent his head to bite at her lips. "And I have been waiting three weeks."

It was almost funny, how the tables had turned. She had been in control, but Loki took it from her now. His actions were almost desperate, and she realized that he trying to erase thoughts of Jotunheim, and banish the last fears of hurting her again. It was going to be a wild time.

********************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki had fallen asleep, head pillowed on her chest, listening to her heartbeat slow. Darcy was wrung out, but she wasn't quite ready to sleep. She wanted to enjoy the spoils of two weeks worth of plotting. Besides, it's not everyday that you can brag that a god fell asleep in your arms. She liked this look on him. Small content smile, hair all disheveled against her skin, careless sprawl pinning her down. Plus, she had a great view of his back and his ass and that was awesome. He had the cutiest, perkiest ass she had seen in forever.

It had been a little crazy. A lot hasty, the first time, and super intense. Loki had growled at her a lot, which had been crazy arousing, and they had fought each other for domination. It was never in question who would win though. Loki had managed to keep an air of civility and restraint all day when they had returned to Earth, never once hinting at how much he needed to…unwind. But her little stunt at the restaurant had completely unhinged him.

The second time had been a little slower and calmer, but only a little. He still seemed like he had some demons to banish. That was okay. Darcy had been more than happy to help him with that. She suspected that physicality was easier for him to deal with right now then all the emotional stuff.

He had simply collapsed on her afterward. A few hours of rest, while she was being debriefed, wasn't enough to make up for two weeks of short rest and food. He had muttered an almost incoherent apology that he couldn't stay awake before pillowing his head on her chest and drifting off. It had helped convince her, more than ever, that fighting to rescue him had been the smartest thing she'd ever done.

She liked how he could relax his guard with her. She had the feeling that in Asgard, he'd always been wary of others, and that he'd never truly relaxed. Even if he'd chosen to become intimate with a woman there, she doubted he would have allowed himself to fall asleep in her arms. But here, with her, he could do just that. It made Darcy fell all warm and fuzzy.

She worried a little bit that it seemed to be getting too intense, too fast. It had started so casually, with a romp of a good time and his first experience. But it seemed to have changed into something a lot more serious, and she liked it, but she was scared. She didn't want him to break her heart.

Still….she would enjoy whatever time with him she was given.

With a soft sigh, Darcy drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

It was the nicest way to wake up. Loki slept more deeply than he ever had, and slowly, oh so slowly, swam back to the waking world. A steady, measured beat filled his entire being, and it soothed him. He smiled in his not-quite-awakened state, and exhaled deeply. There was a pleasant fragrance tickling his nose, and his head was resting on a soft pillow that seemed to gently move with him.

Best of all, he was warm from head to toe. Cold could not hurt him, due to his heritage, but it was still uncomfortable. The two weeks (years, centuries) on Jotunheim had been miserable. But now he was warm, lying on a soft pillow that smelled wonderful and had a nice relaxing beat within it.

He opened his eyes and let out a low laugh when he realized what his head rested on. Darcy's ample chest had eased him into wakefulness.

"Good morning to you too," she greeted in a gravelly voice. "Enjoying your pillows?"

"Very much so," he admitted. "I have not slept so peacefully ever before." He pressed an appreciative kiss to his pillows, and then raised his head to meet Darcy's eyes. "Thank you. You gave me exactly what I needed to move past my time in Jotunheim."

She grinned. "You're welcome. I really enjoyed our first date. Dinner was…fun."

"Wicked girl. I cannot believe you did that in the middle of a restaurant. Are mortals always so…unrestrained?"

"Not all the time. But sometimes it's fun to cut loose." She grinned again. "Hey! It's the morning after, and your magic worked apparently, cuz you didn't drain me."

How she could be so positive about something that had almost killed her…Loki pushed himself up with his hands so he could look down at her. "I nearly killed you. How can you be so positive about it?"

"Because you made it right," she answered. "And it would have really sucked if you hadn't, because this wouldn't have happened."

Very true. Loki smiled down at her. "That would have sucked, yes." He shook his head wryly, and slowly drew back and away from her. "Are you expected at your job today?"

Darcy sat up, frowning thoughtfully. "I assume so. They can wait." She glanced around the hotel room in appreciation. "Nice digs, Loki."

"Adequate," he answered, rising to his feet. Actually, it was a very nice room, but not his. For right now, the hotel had 'forgotten' about this room. "I will provide us with breakfast."

Darcy grinned at him. "Cool. I'm gonna grab a quick shower." She rolled out of the bed, and Loki watched with amusement as she picked up her clothes, still magically altered, and frowned at them. "Can you change them back?" she asked, glancing at him.

"Why would I want to do that?"

"So guys aren't staring at my chest all day?"

He growled a little, but did as she asked. It would be safer for him if men were not encouraged to look at her. Darcy flashed him an impertinent wink when her clothes altered, and then bounced toward the bathroom. That was a sight worth watching, and Loki found himself doing so with real appreciation. This was why he had promised his father anything. She was worthy of it.

He did not need to shower, employing his 'trick' to be fresh and clothed. Showering or bathing left one vulnerable, and he preferred not to take the risk.

Breakfast was easy enough to procure. A room service delivery was redirected to their room, which the hotel staff promptly forgot. Doing so left him with a slight feeling of guilt. Would his new mortal friends disapprove of such petty theft by magic? He had been doing it since his arrival on Earth, but this was the first time he had truly thought about it. He was, or had been, a prince of Asgard. It was his right to take what was due to him. But here on Earth things were different. He was not a prince, and casually stealing a meal meant for someone else was beneath him.

How far he had fallen. With a deep sigh, Loki allowed the hotel staff to remember this room, and even create a registry in his name. The meal was billed to it. He had stacks of paper money from the appreciative Pepper Potts, and that should be more than sufficient to cover the cost of the room. But he would need to make long term arrangements. Perhaps Stark would be able to offer suggestions.

Darcy took an incredibly long time in the bathroom. Eventually, Loki grew concerned and crossed the room to poke his head in the door.

"Whatever are you doing?" he asked curiously. She was sprawled out in the deep bathtub, with mounds of bubbles surrounding her, and forceful jets of water trained on her. Her face was the only part of her visible, and she cracked one eye open at his voice.

"I have died and gone to Valhalla," she stated.

"Silly girl. Valhalla is finer than this place."

"Does Valhalla have a Jacuzzi?"

She was making no sense. "What manner of creature is a Jacuzzi?"

She laughed. "Sometimes I forget that you're still new to Earth. This is a Jacuzzi, Loki. This wonderful creation that I am laying in right now. Have you used it before? It's heavenly. Sinful."

There were too many bad memories associated with bathing for him to want to indulge in it. Taunts from Thor or the Warriors Three over his lean non-warrior frame. Not-so playful dunkings where a young Loki had almost drowned. He remembered his mother's rage on several occasions as she had had to press water out of his lungs. He had quickly learned to bathe in secret.

"Loki…." Darcy's voice was almost a taunt. He shook himself free of bad memories and stared down at her. She was staring back with an impish grin. "Get in here."

He shook his head. "No. I have breakfast waiting for us."

"Lokiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…"

"No Darcy."

He wasn't prepared for the splash of water that caught him on the leg, and it made him jump a little. Darcy's silvery laugh was maddening as she peeked up at him through the bubbles surrounding her face.

"Lokiiiiiiiiiiiiiii… I want you to get in here. Think of it as an essential step in your new life here on Earth."

She couldn't possibly understand what she was asking. To her it was a simple request that he join her in the bath. To him….it represented a terrifying step back to his childhood. Not having to bathe was one of the primary motives for him to learn to use magic. It would be one less source of vulnerability.

Darcy seemed to sense something was wrong, and her expression of dreamy contentment altered to concern. "What's wrong?" She sat up.

Loki's hands clenched. It was such a simple request, really. He was far past his childhood and old memories, old habits, should not have the same affect on him. It was an innocent request. No one was waiting to ambush him the minute he stepped a toe into the bath. No one would force him down and scrub him until he bled.

He slowly uncurled his hands. "Nothing," he finally answered Darcy. "Nothing is wrong." He stripped quickly. He could have just magicked his clothes away, but it was a frivolous use of his abilities. Besides, Darcy seemed to enjoy the visual.

The water was almost painfully warm on his skin when he stepped into the bathtub. It felt…nice. He hadn't been in a bath for centuries. Loki sank down into it, muscles tensed and ready for anything.

Well, almost anything. Darcy wound herself around him, pulling him back against her as she rested against the back of the Jacuzzi. "I'm sure there's a story here," she whispered in his ear, "That explains why you look like someone is going to kill you. Relax, Loki. It's just you and me right now, and you're making my muscles hurt."

He tried. He leaned back against her and willed his muscles to relax. Eventually, they did. The jets of water helped, pounding into his skin until the muscles loosened.

"You want to talk about it?" Darcy asked. Her fingers were lightly massaging his shoulders and arms.

"Not right now," he admitted. "This feels…nice. Thank you."

He was actually beginning to enjoy himself when he heard Darcy's talk device blare out some music.

"Crap," she swore softly. "That's Jane. Can you….get that for me?"

He grinned and held his hand out. The talk device appeared in his palm, and Darcy snatched it up.

"Hey Foster, what's shaking? Am I coming in to work? Eventually. Right now I'm taking a bubble bath with the God of Mischief." Darcy's voice turned pure naughty. "Yep. Loki, dripping wet and covered in bubbles. Best morning of my life."

He flushed. She had a way of making him feel so unbalanced. Hopefully, Jane wouldn't tell –

"Hey Thor! What's shaking, big guy? Yes, I'm really in a bathtub with your brother. I'm sensing old issues here, cuz I had to be all silver tongued to get him in the water. I probably don't wanna know what it's all about. Yes, he's in the water. Wet. Maybe you should give the phone back to Jane now. You sound a little shell-shocked."

Loki could sympathize with his brother. Darcy had that effect on him all the time.

"Listen Jane, I'll be in after I finish my bubble bath. What? What are they gonna do? Fire me? Later."

Darcy dropped her phone on the floor, and leaned back. "I like being the mischief maker. It's appealing."

Loki laughed. He couldn't help it. She sounded so smugly satisfied with herself, and he could only picture S.H.I.E.L.D's reaction when she did finally arrive to work. Darcy wouldn't be shy about why she'd been late. It would drive Fury and Coulson crazy, if they had returned from New Mexico yet.

"I believe I am a bad influence on you," he mused.

"On anyone," she quipped. "Seriously though, one of these days, we should probably talk about the water issue. Thor was kinda stunned that you were in a bathtub."

Loki tensed. "Someday, perhaps."

He had to admit that he was enjoying the bubble bath, but it probably had more to do with the company than anything else. Darcy had helped soothe some of the old hurts without even knowing she was doing it. And those hurts were so very old. He had been a young boy. Yet he had kept that hurt to himself and nurtured it. It was one of the many things he suspected had led to his madness and hate.

"I'm getting wrinkly," Darcy announced, breaking him out of his introspection. "I guess it's time to go to work." She wiggled out from behind him and stepped out of the bathtub. Before Loki even suspected what she was doing, she'd scooped her talk device off the floor and made it flash at him.

"What did you just do?" he asked, sitting up.

Darcy flashed him a saucy wink. "Took a picture of ya."

She took a picture of him? Naked in a bathtub? Covered in bubbles? Loki raised an eyebrow. She was laughing, the fledgling mischief maker, and almost irresistible with bubbles sliding down her body. He rose to his feet, and held his hand out.

"Give me your talk device."

Darcy tucked it behind her back, eyes twinkling. "Cell phone, Loki. Nope. Not giving it up. I think this picture needs to go on Facebook."

Loki advanced a step. "What is a Facebook?"

Darcy chortled. "I can't even really describe it. Everyone I know will see this picture."

He advanced another step. "I think not."

The bubble clad little vixen danced away from him. "I'll do another banana split if I can keep the picture."

She knew what enticement to offer. Loki sighed. "Two banana splits. Heavy on the fudge sauce."

"Deal."

He could have taken the…cell phone…from her at any time, and she knew that. But he found himself enjoying her mischief. No one tried to trick the trickster. But here was this maddening mortal who had stormed Asgard and Jotunheim for him, and now she was making mischief for him? Loki was so lost….

"I will be in touch about our deal," he told her when she'd finally gotten dressed. "And our second date."

Darcy smirked. "Sounds good." She winked at him. "Thank you again, Loki. We should talk, at some point. Work out some of those issues."

"I will call you," he assured. "I have my own talk device. Somewhere."

"You have my number?"

"Pepper took care of it. I saw your face on my…cell phone. It had the faces of all those I know."

"Sweet. All right then. I'll chat at ya later."

Darcy breezed out, leaving Loki's mind reeling.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

He really should have expected the smug look from his brother when he visited later that day. Jane opened the door after his knock, and burst into a red-faced giggle. She tried to say something, but could only cover her face with her hands, blush even redder, and flee, leaving the door open. Loki sighed, and entered the apartment. Thor was bent over a desk, staring at one of the glass screens with pictures on it that Darcy had called a 'laptop.'

"Brother…" he ventured.

Thor looked up at him and tried, unsuccessfully, to hide his smile. "Hello Loki."

Apparently, this Facebook was a wicked thing. Loki crossed the room, and peered at the laptop. There was the picture of him in the bathtub. At least he was mostly covered with bubbles. There was text underneath the picture. 'Cost to post the photo to Facebook? Two banana splits.' What a little hell-cat.

Thor was laughing. "Oh brother. You have truly been bewitched. She is a fine match for you."

He sat down on the sofa with a thump. "Who has seen this?"

"Everyone. Stark was very quick to put the picture on every screen in Headquarters." Thor quieted, and looked at him thoughtfully. "I never thought, ever, that she would get you into a bath." He ducked his head. "I am sorry that I brought such hurt to you, so long ago."

Loki found that he could not hold on to his anger. "It is in the past, Thor. We were young. It is time to put it behind me. I have new memories of bathing now."

"I see that." There was such restrained mirth in his brother's tone that Loki wanted to punch him in the face, just for the reaction. He would probably hurt his hand.

"I think that you look very…fetching…in bubbles, brother."

"Shut up, Thor."

"And you have developed a sweet tooth? You allowed yourself to be bribed with dessert?"

Jane's shriek of laughter, from behind a closed door, had Thor looking after her. "What is so funny, my love?"

Loki wasn't sure if he wanted Jane to explain it to his brother, or not. On one hand, Thor might be envious. On the other hand, he might find even more humor in the situation.

"When shall we visit home, Thor? Father still needs our support."

Thor nodded thoughtfully. "It should be soon. Perhaps at the beginning of this week's end?"

That was acceptable. That would allow him time to plan for a second date with Darcy, and speak to Stark about a permanent dwelling arrangement.

"Acceptable," he voiced. "I look forward to visiting with Mother." He wasn't sure how he felt about facing his father again.

Thor closed the laptop and rose to his feet. "It will be good to return to Asgard as brothers, and not adversaries."

It would be, yes. Thor was his brother, and despite all that had happened, there were centuries of brotherhood between them. Good times. Loki had lost sight of that. But now he could see it again.

He also rose to his feet, and cast a look toward the closed door behind which Jane was still laughing. "I shall go for now. I have plans to make."

"Enjoy your dessert." Thor smiled at him, innocent of the true meaning.

Loki smirked. "I will, brother. Farewell."

Chapter Text

"You need a place to live?"

Loki suppressed a grin at Stark's tone. "It is customary to have a permanent dwelling, yes? I prefer to end my vagabond days. While the variety has been very entertaining, I find myself entering a new phase of my life."

Stark stared at him in horror. "You're serious? You want a place to live?" He shook his head. "Oh. Kay. No. Not okay. How the hell do you go from trying to take over the world a couple of months ago to…apartment hunting?"

Loki shrugged. "I do what I want."

Stark stared at him for another minute, then crossed his office for a drink. "Scotch?"

"Thank you." Loki accepted the drink, and tossed it back, enjoying the burn. "Are you able to help me?"

"I'm sure Pepper can find something and make arrangements." Stark tossed back his own drink. "Shit. Bubble baths and househunting. Who are you, and what have you done with the God of Mischief?"

"Do you prefer wardrobe alterations?" Loki couldn't suppress his smirk at that thought.

"Ah..no." Stark poured them both another drink. "So…I'll get Pepper to hook you up with a place. You gonna be mooching off me forever?" He grinned.

"Mooching? I am not familiar with the term."

"Yeah….it's not really applicable in this situation, since you did save my life and all. But I like thinking that a god is mooching off of me." Stark tossed back his second Scotch. "So your first real date was a success?"

Loki smiled. "Very much so. Darcy had never eaten at such a fine establishment before, so she was very appreciative."

The billionaire frowned. "Wait. How did you pay for your meal? Darcy doesn't have that kind of money. Did you pay for the meal?"

"I did. Continuing to use my abilities for petty theft of food and housing is beneath me. I will need to make long term plans, of course, but in the short term, I visited with Pepper and she supplied me with what she called 'petty cash'. I am not certain how the term applies, but it was more than sufficient to cover the cost of dinner and the hotel room." Loki grinned. "Pepper is very grateful that I saved your life. One wonders why she puts up with you."

Stark rolled his eyes. "Cuz I'm awesome. Seriously, you didn't know that? Would you have a less than awesome person as your minion?"

"Good point. Only the best for me." Loki smirked . "That's why I have Darcy."

Stark shuddered. "Keep her. She makes me very nervous. Storming Asgard, calling your father a rat-bastard, declaring war…you'll have your hands full with her."

She had called Odin a rat-bastard? Loki threw his head back and laughed. "I was not aware she had called my father such a name. What a woman!"

Stark shook his head. "You know…she was sorta quiet and wallflower-ish before you started hanging out. Nobody really noticed her much. Now she's got everyone a little on edge."

"Good. I am happy that no one noticed her. My good fortune." He remembered something then. "I seem to have left my cell phone on Jotunheim. Would it be possible to obtain a replacement?"

The playboy slapped a hand to his forehead. "How the hell did you leave the cell phone on Jotunheim? No wait! You were almost naked. No clothes….got it. Yeah, I'll have Pepper get you a replacement."

Loki tilted his head. "One wonders if you do anything, minion. Does Pepper do everything for you?"

"Only the stuff I can't be bothered with." Stark smirked. "Finding apartments and buying cell phones are not on my priority list." He pulled his cell phone out of a pocket. "Hey Pepper. Loki needs a new cell phone. He lost his when he was banished. And he needs an apartment. At least a year lease. Furnished tastefully. I'll ask." He lifted the phone away from his head. "Do you trust Pepper's judgment?"

Loki smiled. "She has impeccable taste. Well, except for this unwholesome love of you. Of course I trust her judgment."

The Iron Man grinned, and put the phone back to his head. "Yeah, Loki's cool with your judgment. Thanks Pepper. You're the best." He clicked the phone off. "She'll have something for you by the end of the day, most likely. She completely adores you now."

"I am adorable. Ask my mother."

"She seemed a little easier to be around then your father," Stark mused.

"Most definitely. With Mother, you did not have to worry about hidden agendas. It was a less complicated relationship than with our father. Everything our father does is done with a further purpose." He felt bitterness almost overwhelm him for a moment, and uttered a humorless laugh. "Even the taking of a Jotun baby left to die had its own purpose. Sadly for my father, he did not realize the deep hatred Jotun feel for misborn freaks. I could never be the link of peace between our two peoples that he envisioned."

Stark was staring at him thoughtfully, with what looked like a touch of pity, and that made Loki angry. He did not want pity. He held his hand out and brought the bottle of Scotch to it. Ignoring the billionaire's half-hearted protest, he raised the bottle to his lips and took a long drink. The burn was glorious.

"How did we get on this subject?" he asked finally.

"You. Being adorable. Mom's affection versus Daddy's manipulations. Shit man. It's no wonder you lost it for awhile and tried to destroy everything." Stark dared to pat him on the back. "It's okay to be upset about it, you know."

Was Tony Stark comforting him? It seemed completely unnatural for his character, but the man's face was oddly sincere. Mortals were so unfathomable sometimes. Still, Loki appreciated the effort.

"Thank you, minion."

Stark nodded. "I'm trying to be more sensitive to others. Pepper thinks I'm an unmitigated ass most of time."

Loki smiled. "Pepper has an amazing insight. It is a testament to your own feelings for her that you are trying to be a better man."

Stark ducked his head. Was he embarrassed? "Yeah well….Pepper makes me want to be a better man. So that she doesn't have to give me that look, you know?"

The God of Mischief had received plenty of those looks, from just about everyone he'd been close to in Asgard. "Indeed."

Tony's cell phone rang. Pepper already? But Stark's facial expression said not. He nodded curtly, and spoke a brief affirmative before disconnecting the call.

"Avengers business. Gotta run." Then he grinned. "You wanna tag along?"

Hmm…he really didn't have anything better to do, and he could pick Stark's brain for a second date idea. "Why not."

*************************************************************************************************************************************

He wasn't sure of his reception since he had not officially been invited, but Fury merely rolled with it.

"Loki. We could use your skills on this one, if you're here to help."

"I have nothing better to do at the moment," he admitted, taking a seat beside his brother.

"No mischief?" Fury raised his one eyebrow. "I find that hard to believe."

Loki shrugged, sharing a quick smile with Thor. "One cannot be mischievous all the time, Nicholas." He folded his hands in front of him. "We will discuss the cost for my services at a later time."

Fury blinked at him. "Yes we will." It appeared he hadn't even given consideration to that, since Loki had previously supplied any help free of charge. He turned to Coulson, and they seemed to communicate silently. Loki only smirked, watching Fury and his minion staring at each other. It was almost disturbing to watch. Could the two communicate telepathically? It almost appeared so.

Natasha leaned forward in her chair with a wicked expression. "Loki…you look good wet and bubbled. About the banana split thing..."

He felt a blush rising in his face. "Yes?"

"I really can't believe you would allow that photo to be posted for two desserts. What's the story?"

All eyes were on him, full of curiosity. Except for Stark. He looked nauseated. "Don't ask, Natasha. You truly don't want to know, trust me."

Her smile was wicked. "Now I'm really curious. What's got your briefs all in a twist, Tony?"

"Geez. Which part of 'you don't want to know' was so hard to understand?" Stark shuddered.

"Children," Fury said softly.

Natasha ignored him, staring at Stark. "C'mon Tony, give it up. You obviously know what it's all about."

Stark covered his face. "I don't want to think about this."

"Children…"

"C'mon Tony. Loki's not sharing. I want to know. I won't stop until-"

"There's no banana, okay?" Stark blurted.

Loki sighed. Both his brother and Steve Rogers looked completely lost. They would require an explanation. Banner and Barton were wide eyed and looked a little…jealous? As they should be. They obviously weren't experiencing the banana split. Fury and Coulson also looked somewhat jealous, but Natasha was grinning at him.

"Wow. Darcy so did not strike me as that kind of girl. I am impressed. Who's got that satisfied little smile now, Loki?" Her laugh was loud in the silence of the conference room. "I think it's you!"

"Children!" Fury snapped, drawing everyone's attention. "If we are done with this disturbing conversation…we do have business to attend to."

"I don't get it," Rogers voiced, with a frown. "A banana split without a banana? Then why call it a banana split? And what does it have to do with Loki being satisfied?"

Fury's sigh was huge.

"Oh Rogers seriously?" Stark slapped his forehead. "You have access to TV and the internet. You can't keep up the innocent routine forever! Watch some porn! There's no banana, okay? A certain…appendage…takes the place of the banana!"

Loki had to suppress a laugh. His brother finally got it, as Thor's eyes widened, and then he blushed. But Rogers was completely clueless. He needed someone like Darcy to ease him into the 21st century, but apparently he was still pining for an old girlfriend.

"I still don't get it," Rogers said.

"Little Captain America," the Iron Man explained a little desperately. "Little Captain America takes the place of the banana." He looked pointedly at Rogers' groin.

"Oh. Oh!" Rogers' face and neck turned scarlet, and he looked at Loki with wide eyes. "You…Darcy…oh!" He jumped up. "I've…I gotta leave for a little!"

Loki watched him flee the conference room and tried not to laugh. At the same time, he felt a certain kinship to the captain. He'd been in that same situation not too long ago. Rogers was probably feeling confused and overwhelmed with the strange things his body was telling him. He would speak to Darcy about it. Maybe she could suggest a young woman to help out poor Rogers.

Fury drummed his fingers on the conference room table. He did not look pleased. "Why is it that every time you're around this team, Loki, everyone seems to regress to horny teenager behavior?"

"I am simply too sexy to keep it to myself. It spills over into everyone else." Loki smirked and then laughed. "Nicholas – we are simply trying to make you laugh. I am certain that you have the ability. Being so serious all the time is not healthy for you. Your digestion will suffer and flatulence will increase."

"You said flatulence!" Stark laughed. "Nicky will fart!"

Poor Fury looked very weary. "They don't pay me enough for this. They really don't. I didn't sign up for babysitting services."

Rogers finally returned, still a little red. He avoided looking at Loki, and took his seat. "Let's get to business," he suggested shakily.

"Finally," Fury agreed.

***********************************************************************************************************************************

The mission went very well, and Loki returned with Stark to his penthouse. Pepper was waiting for them with a new cell phone and keys to an apartment.

"Loki," she greeted with a beaming smile. "Welcome back." She hugged him, making a kissing noise near his ear. Loki froze, but then patted her on the back awkwardly. He smiled as she drew back.

"Thank you, Pepper. I am very happy to have returned. I understand that you helped Tony and Darcy make their escape to the Bifrost site. Thank you for your help."

"Anything to help you, Loki. You saved Tony's life." She had such a bright smile. Stark really did not deserve her.

"I have your new cell phone, already programmed with everyone's numbers." She handed it to him. "Press here to see who you can call, and press their face to call them. Or, to answer your phone if someone is calling you, press this button."

He nodded and pocketed the cell phone. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I've found a very nice apartment, already furnished. I took the liberty of stocking it with necessities and groceries. It's paid for, for a year, including all utilities."

He was very grateful. "That is…very generous."

"You saved Tony. Besides, he's paying for it."

Stark was attempting to disappear when Loki turned to look at him. He seemed very uncomfortable.

"Thank you, Tony."

Stark rubbed a hand through his hair, face twisting. "Well…you know…you saved my life. I owe you for that." He shrugged. "Let's go get you settled in to your new place, huh?"

"Very well."

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki was pleased with the apartment Pepper had chosen. It was in a nice building and his view looked out over Central Park. It was bright and light and made him feel free at last. The carpet was thick and soft, and the furniture was very comfortable. Stark assured him of that very fact after bouncing on both the sofa and love seat, and finally the bed. The bed was very impressive, Loki noted absently. He couldn't wait to show this place to Darcy.

Pepper was extremely proud of the bathroom, although she did blush a little when she showed it to him. Loki was intrigued.

"Is this a Jacuzzi?"

"It is. I thought since you seemed to be enjoying your bubble bath the other day…" Pepper blushed even more.

How ironic that it appeared he would be doing a lot of bathing in the future. "Thank you, Pepper. I will enjoy it." It had a separate shower stall. Loki had never used a shower, but since Darcy had helped to exorcise his bathing demons, he thought that he might want to give the shower a try.

"We'll have a proper housewarming party later," Pepper told him. Loki wasn't sure he wanted to know what a 'housewarming' party was. The apartment was warm enough already. She looped her arm through Stark's. "Are you okay for us to go?"

Loki nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, thank you."

"We'll talk to you later," Pepper told him. She walked with Stark to the door, and they both waved as they left.

Loki turned in a circle, taking it all in. This was his place. It was a strange feeling. In Asgard, he had never felt like he had a place of his own. He had his own quarters, yes, but those quarters were steps away from his brother's quarters or his parents. This was…different.

He flopped down on the sofa, kicking his feet up, and settled in for some serious lounging. He deserved the downtime, and knowing that it was in a place of his own only added to the relaxation.

Later, he would call Thor and then Darcy. But not right now.

Chapter Text

Wow….picked up a few reviewers with the last chapter. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I had a blast with it. For those of you who have recently discovered Vodka: welcome to the madness!

Enjoy this one. The beginning is very, very naughty, so consider yourself warned. It wasn't really what I intended when I started this chapter, but again, it went its own way and I just went with it.

Darcy frowned at the unfamiliar number calling her, but decided to answer it. She'd had a crappy day at work and needed a distraction.

"Hello?"

"Darcy."

Even through a cell phone, his voice gave her shivers. "Loki! You calling from your cell?"

"I am."

"Sweet! I'll store the number. I'll make your bubble bath picture come up when you call. That'll put a smile on my face every time." She grinned just thinking about it. "So what are you up to? Mischief?"

"Strangely enough, not right now. I did create a minor disruption at Avengers Headquarters earlier, and that was very fun."

"Poor Nick. He lives for your visits."

"He seemed less than excited to see me. I wanted to let you know that I now have an apartment, thanks to Tony and Pepper."

Whoa. "An apartment? Cool. So you have a place that you go home to now? That's freaking awesome!" She laughed, and had a truly stupendous thought. "So what are you wearing?"

"Wearing?" She could hear his confusion.

"Yes Loki. What are you wearing? Describe it."

"Jeans," he said finally. "And a tee shirt. I opted for casual this evening."

"Mmmm….are they tight?"

"They are formfitting. I do not understand your questions."

Darcy curled up on her sofa. "I'm wearing green silk panties. That's it."

She heard his indrawn breath over the phone and smiled in triumph. "Do you often lounge in only your panties?" His voice had deepened a little.

"A lot, yeah. Actually, my skin is a little dry, so right now, I'm rubbing lotion on myself. Gotta keep the girls moisturized, right?"

She smirked at the somewhat strangled noise he made. "I see. You are wearing only panties, and rubbing lotion into your skin?"

"Yep! It kinda gets me all atingle and worked up. Guess what I'm eating right now? A banana split!"

The clatter on the other end could only be the cell phone dropping to the floor, and Darcy did a fist pump. "Loki? Did you just drop the phone?"

"Yes," he admitted in a strained voice. "I have a request for you."

"What is it?" she asked in a very naughty voice.

"I find myself feeling sorry for Steve Rogers. The poor man needs some help getting some boy/girl action to get over his lamentable shyness about sex. Do you know of any young ladies that could help him with this?"

Darcy huffed in frustration. "Really, Loki? I'm trying to have phone sex with you, and you want to talk about hooking the captain up? Or out in this case."

"Phone sex?" he still sounded very confused.

"Yes. That's where two people talk naughty to each other on the phone. Usually, there's self touching involved. I'm touching myself right now. Want to know where?"

The phone clattered to the floor again. When he picked it up, she could hear ragged breathing. "You okay Loki? Starting the party before me?"

"Party?"

"Are you touching yourself?" she asked.

"No."

"Unbutton your jeans."

"What?"

Wow. It was like his first time all over again. This could be fun. "Unbutton and unzipper your jeans, Loki."

There was a long, long pause, but Darcy could hear the hiss he made, and the sound of a zipper being undone. It was probably a relief for him, judging from the hiss he'd made. Loki was just a little excited, albeit confused about what was going on. Too cool.

"Done?"

"Yes. I have unbuttoned and unzippered." His voice was faint.

"Good. Now reach under your shirt and pinch your man-nipples."

"What?"

"Reach under your tee shirt, and pinch your nipples. This is gonna take forever if I have to repeat everything, Loki. Obey without question. Besides, I'm pinching mine."

And there went the phone again. He was going to break it if he kept dropping it. She could hear a bit of fumbling, and then his harsh breathing. "Are you pinching your nipples?

"Wait." She heard it when he did it, the indrawn hiss followed by a shaky breath.

"Oh yeah. Those man-nipples are a little sensitive right now, aren't they?"

"Yes." His voice was very strained, barely audible, and Darcy just reveled in her power.

"Mine too. They're all perky and begging for more right now."

She loved the sounds he made. "Now slide your hand down your stomach to your jeans. Touch yourself. You're a little excited right now, so it won't take much."

He didn't say a word, but obeyed without question. She could hear it in the labored breathing. She wondered if he had ever done anything like this before, but seriously doubted it.

He was close, so she provided some stimulus. "Mmm…guess where I just put my fingers?" She stuck her forefinger into her mouth and then pulled it free with a loud, wet pop.

She heard the phone fall as he lost control. Yeah, she had the power. She liked keeping him off balance. That way he wouldn't get bored and look for another woman. She didn't want that, and years of being a second, third, or last choice had her believing that she was not worthy. That was a difficult feeling to overcome.

While she waited for him to recover (and pick up the phone), Darcy finished her dinner. Not the banana split she had indicated, but takeout she had picked up on the way home. She had been too tired to think of cooking anything. Loki's call had completely perked her up, and she was grateful for the distraction.

She wanted to see his apartment. With Pepper and Tony in the mix, it had to be far better than hers, and knowing where his place was…well it would make things seem more real to her. Because sometimes, this all seemed like a dream, especially the Loki part of it, and she wanted to keep it as real as possible.

She laughed to herself when she heard Loki cursing softly, and then he finally picked up the phone. "You okay, Loki?" she asked, wishing he could see her little smirk.

He said a few more choice words, and then exhaled forcefully. "No, I am not okay. I am completely at your mercy and you continue to take shameless advantage of that fact!"

He sounded more amused than angry. "Hey, I gotta level the playing field somehow, you know? You're a god. If you really wanted to, you could magic me into perpetual need of you, and I'd turn into a drooling sex slave."

"I could do that," he mused. Oops. "I have never had a drooling sex slave. It might be fair trade for the way you completely rule me."

"I rule you?" Darcy asked in a small voice. It was the nicest thing any guy had ever said to her.

"Completely," he confirmed. "I cannot believe you just…you had me…what did I just do?"

Darcy laughed softly. "Stress relief on your own. That's what you do when you're not getting any action."

"Did you do that during your 'dry spell'?" Oh the mischief in his voice!

"A lot," she admitted honestly. "Especially because Jane was getting hammered by Thor once the Bifrost was rebuilt. She was walking around all time with this silly grin. It made me crazy." She remembered his request. "Now what about Rogers? You want me to pimp him out?"

"Pimp him out? I do not know what that means. I want you to find a nice girl who will be gentle with him, and ease him in to sex. The poor man needs stress relief. I can sympathize, because I was in that situation not too long ago."

Darcy smiled. "Yeah, and you totally suggested drunk buddy sex. Which worked out very well." She thought about it. "Natasha would eat him alive, so that's out of the question. But there's a girl I work with who's kinda shy. Sorta like I was. And I think she totally has a crush on Cap, so that would be perfect!"

"Yes. I believe she would have to charm him a little. He still pines for the woman he knew before."

"I'll have to think about this for a little. When can I see your apartment? If Pepper and Tony were involved, it must be nice."

"It is very nice. It has a Jacuzzi."

"Oh wow. I will be your drooling sex slave as long as I get to use the Jacuzzi."

"We will negotiate its use. I do not believe, not for one minute, that you will be my slave. You are far too wicked." Loki uttered a low laugh that sent tingles up her spine. "Pepper has told me that she will be arranging a warming party, so you may see the apartment soon. I see no need for it, as the apartment is warm enough already, but it seems to be a custom."

Darcy stifled her laugh. "Ah. I'll ring Pepper then, see what she has in mind to warm things up."

"It is truly not necessary. The current temperature is quite comfortable, and I am of frost giant blood, after all. The cold does not bother me."

He was so awesome and cute and adorable, Darcy just about melted. "It's customary when someone moves into a new place."

"Whatever is customary, then."

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Pepper arranged parties fast. Darcy was impressed. She had called Tony's woman after hanging up with Loki, and had been stunned to learn that the housewarming party was on for the next day. Pepper was in the middle of sending out notifications to those who would attend. All of the Avengers, basically, and Jane, Pepper, and herself.

Since the housewarming party would be a great place to introduce Cap to the woman she had picked for him, she had almost no time to make plans. Darcy went into work the next day and found the girl, whose name was Sheila. She was quiet, and pretty in that quiet way. Not someone who would immediately catch the eye. And she was super shy around men, like Darcy herself had been.

Darcy thought she remembered hearing stories about a somewhat abusive ex-boyfriend. That was gonna be her hook, to snare the Cap. He was still stuck in the old days, where women were fragile creatures to be protected. An abusive ex would totally bring out the protector side of him, and then Sheila could work her 21st century woman magic to snare him.

But first, she had to talk to the girl. Who blushed madly when Darcy asked her bluntly if she liked the Cap. And finally, finally, stammered out that she did like him, but could never, ever talk to him. Because he was just too perfect and awesome.

Darcy was blunt. "I'm gonna set you up, but it has to look accidental. I need your ex-boyfriend's number."

The girl just kinda gaped at her. "Why?"

"Cuz I'm gonna pay him to harass you, which gives me a good excuse to bring you to a friend's housewarming party, where I can loudly mention why I brought you. Then, I'm gonna have the ex harass you when you leave. But Cap will be leaving with you, so he can protect you. As a side benefit, your ex may get his ass handed to him."

That perked her right up. "But why would the captain want to protect me?"

Darcy smirked. "Because he's totally old school, and thinks that women can't take care of themselves. It's his duty to protect you. He won't be able to resist when he hears how you're being harassed."

"My ex probably won't go along with it."

Darcy snorted. "Sweetie, I'm friends with Tony freaking Stark. I can buy your ex's cooperation, trust me."

The ex was very cooperative, when Darcy named a figure for his help. Her story to him was that she wanted to harass this girl at work who'd pissed her off. The ex was happy to oblige, and agreed to show up where the girl was having lunch (which Darcy would send her to) and harass her there, and then be waiting for her outside Loki's building.

It was a tangled web, but Darcy thought that it would work out well. Rogers wouldn't be able to resist a woman in distress, and with a little nudging, Sheila could totally seduce him. Stark was totally into it, when she texted him about her evil little plan, and happily supplied the cash for the bribe to the ex.

The harassment at lunch went well. Sheila returned looking distressed, and Darcy had a loud discussion with her about the stalker ex. (Just in case anyone questioned the way things went down, of course).

She met with the ex, who was a real asshole, and paid him a small sum, with the promise of the balance after the housewarming stalking incident. She didn't warn him that she was sending an artificially enhanced super soldier to escort his ex-girlfriend home. He deserved a good beating for being that much of an asshole. It was a good thing Loki wasn't around, because the guy was practically drooling over her chest, thinking he could talk her into bed after this was all done. He probably wouldn't enjoy being turned inside out and squeezed, so she wouldn't tell Loki about it.

She had no idea what to get Loki for a housewarming gift, so went with what she knew would work – a bottle of cherry vodka. She swung by Sheila's apartment to help the girl dress in the most innocent, yet enticing, ensemble that the girl had. The overall effect was of someone who was vulnerable. She would totally appeal to Rogers' protective side. Then they were off to the party.

The ex was a little enthusiastic, and popped up in front of Loki's building to harass them going in. Darcy threatened him with her taser and he backed off. She totally couldn't wait for after the party, so Cap could kick his ass.

Darcy wasn't sure if she should be more impressed by Loki's apartment, which was comparable to the hotel room he'd had the other day, or by Pepper's party arranging skills. The woman had hired a caterer! There was awesome food all over the place. It smelled freaking delicious when the door opened at her knock.

Poor Sheila wasn't expecting to be attending a housewarming party for the God of Mischief. She almost bolted when Loki opened the door and invited them in. He still had quite a reputation among S.H.I.E.L.D employees, and apparently, Sheila had somehow missed the fact that Darcy and Loki were an item. Her mouth dropped open when Loki pulled Darcy forward and planted a kiss on her, and then turned to look at Sheila with a raised eyebrow.

"Loki, this is my friend Sheila from work." Darcy saw Rogers, close enough to overhear, and she raised her volume a little. "I brought Sheila with me cuz her stupid ex-boyfriend is totally stalking her. I hope you don't mind."

"Of course not. Welcome. There is plenty of delicious food and beverages, thanks to Pepper. I have not noticed an increase in temperature yet though."

Too cute. "Patience Loki." Out of the corner of her eye, Darcy noticed Rogers staring at Sheila. Wow. Protector mode engaged already?

Loki totally got her plan. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Sheila. I hope that your ex-boyfriend has not overly distressed you."

"He's a complete jerk!" Darcy said loudly. "He tracked her down when she went to lunch, and then he followed her here. I had to threaten him with my taser!"

Oh yeah, that did it. She saw Rogers frown, and a fist clench. Ah, victory.

Loki leaned over to whisper in her ear. "What mischief is this?"

"Darcy flavored mischief," she whispered back. "You asked me to do this, remember?"

"Hmm….Ah yes. After you bewitched me, you did agree to do this."

Darcy beamed up at him. "I bewitched you?"

His expression was rueful. "Constantly."

She bit her lip. "Cool. I'm gonna introduce Sheila to everyone else."

She introduced the poor girl to everyone else at the party. Rogers was very nice to her, and calmly told Darcy that he needed to speak to her then. So after she was finished with introductions, she left Sheila with Jane and Pepper, after shooing Tony and Thor away so the poor girl didn't feel too overwhelmed.

She found Rogers pacing back and forth in agitation. "Hey Cap, you wanted to talk to me? What's shaking, bacon?"

"Hi Darcy. I'm a little concerned about your friend. Her old beau is…stalking her?"

"Yeah….he's a total jerk. He walked away pretty quick when I pulled out the taser though."

"You're strong, plus you have Loki to help protect you. Does this girl have someone to look out for her?"

"No. She doesn't have a brother, and her father doesn't live close by. I'm a little worried about her."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Let me know when she is planning on leaving. Maybe I'll tag along to make sure she gets home safely."

"Awe Steve, that's so sweet of you."

He ducked his head. "It's just the right thing to do."

Plan set into motion, Darcy went looking for Loki. He was talking quietly with Thor and Tony. "It's on," she told him as she joined them.

Loki smirked, turning his head to look at the captain, who was hovering close to Sheila and trying not to look obvious about it. "Well done, Darcy."

Thor looked back and forth between the two of them. "I am officially scared. What are you up to, Darcy?"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Nothing sinister, Thor. Just helping the good captain out."

Thor looked at Rogers, who was standing almost at attention a few steps away from Sheila. "I think that I do not want to know."

"Probably not," Darcy told him.

Sheila apparently decided that she didn't want to stay long, so she came to say goodnight. "I'm gonna go, Darcy. Thanks for bringing me out for a little. It was good to get my mind off things."

She was moving toward the door when Rogers stopped her and spoke softly to her. Then he waved at everyone, and followed Sheila out the door.

"That was masterful," Loki complimented. "And you had so little time to plan."

"I was inspired," Darcy admitted. "Your phone call helped."

"So, when will we know if the plan was a success?" Stark asked.

"You'll be able to see it on his face," Darcy told him. "Steve's not very good at hiding his emotions."

Thor was gonna get whiplash, as fast as he kept looking between them. "You are planning to…oh you are wicked, Darcy." He threw his head back and laughed. "Oh Loki, I think that I truly feel a little sorry for you."

Darcy patted him on the arm. "You shouldn't. It's healthy for him, to always be off balance." She couldn't help it, and she would probably pay for it later, but… "I completely rule him, you know."

She saw Loki's lips twitch as he tried to suppress a smile. His eyes promised mayhem later.

She didn't think the party would break up too early, not with Tony Stark there. But Thor and Jane left fairly early, and Banner not long after that. The poor scientist couldn't even toss back a drink without risking losing control and getting his freak on. Clint and Natasha hung out for a bit, but then decided to go, leaving just Darcy, Tony and Pepper.

Darcy was appreciative. "Pepper – you totally rule with quick party plans. This was awesome."

Loki was still stuck on the warming thing. "It does not appear that the temperature ever increased Pepper. Has something failed?"

Stark slapped his forehead, while Pepper was startled into a laugh. "It's more of an idea of a temperature increase, Loki," she explained. "Your new place has been warmed by the presence of your friends and family."

He looked like a light bulb went off in his head. "Ah." Then he turned to Darcy. "You could have explained that to me."

She laughed softly. "It was so much more fun to watch you checking the thermostat. Don't think I didn't see you doing that."

He curled his lip. "I will have to punish you for that."

Stark jumped as if prodded. "Wow! Pepper, I think that's our cue to leave. You kids have fun."

Darcy had to laugh at the expression on Loki's face. "Might I remind you, minion, that I am centuries old? I am not a 'kid'."

Stark was ushering Pepper toward the door. "In some ways...you still are. And Nicky is totally dead on when he said you're like a horny teenager. I don't want to see it. I still throw up in my throat every time I think about the banana split."

"What about that?" Pepper asked curiously. "What's so wrong with a banana split? I like banana splits."

Darcy had to turn away to try to contain her giggles.

"Really?" Stark sounded intrigued. "Maybe I shouldn't explain it to you then."

"Explain what? Tony?"

Darcy turned around again as the door opened. "Bye guys."

As the door closed behind them, she could hear Pepper. "What about a banana split, Tony?"

She turned to face Loki, and gulped. He was radiating mischief. Plus, he looked really super hot in jeans and a tee shirt. Which reminded her…

"I hope you washed your jeans."

His eyes narrowed. "I warned you that there were consequences to teasing and tempting me, girl." He stalked toward her, while Darcy backed away hastily. Coincidentally toward the bedroom.

"You just wanna break in the new place," she accused, carefully maneuvering through the bedroom door.

"Another custom?" he growled, advancing on her.

Darcy came to a stop as she bumped into the bed. "It is, yeah."

"Whatever is customary, then."

He pinned her down seconds later. "And I did launder my jeans, hellcat."

Chapter Text

Loki watched his hellcat settle into the cab and flash him a saucy wink. "Don't forget, last night doesn't count as our second date," she reminded.

He rolled his eyes. "As if I could forget. You have reminded me several times. Thor and I will be visiting Asgard tomorrow. But the day after is reserved completely for you and I, barring any emergencies."

"Know what we're doing yet?"

"It is a surprise."

He sent her on her way with a pat to the top of the cab, and returned to his apartment. She was such a little vixen. He was very proud of the scenario she'd arranged between her friend and Steve Rogers. It had been perfect. It had worked perfectly. It had required creativity and careful planning, but Darcy had pulled it off without a hitch. Thor had been right. She was a perfect match.

He was a little worried about the second date, though. She'd kept him so off balance, and so much had happened this week, that he'd actually had little time to plan. He couldn't keep relying on Tony Stark to help him with these things. He needed to be able to deal with an Earth-style life on his own. He had today to plan things out, and he was still a little fuzzy about details. Well…to be honest…he had no clue.

He settled in at one of his windows, and went inside himself to think about what Darcy would appreciate. Their first date had been on the elegant side, which wasn't something Darcy was used to. She'd enjoyed it, definitely, but he wanted the second date to be something she was a little more comfortable with. Something he could also tolerate. He didn't think that 'clubbing' in New York City would work for him.

Then he had a flash of memory from a conversation with Darcy when she'd first approached him.

***********************************************************************************************************************************

It had been merely a week after his takeover attempt. He was still under close watch by the Avengers, under Thor's protest, and was a 'guest' at their headquarters. He had agreed to it, seeing it as the only solution to prevent a showdown between Thor and his teammates.

A young mortal woman had been there to drop off papers for Fury from the nearby S.H.I.E.L.D office where she worked. Loki was sitting in a corner, trying to figure out what was going to happen with his life next. He was so adrift, with no one to talk to but Thor, since the others did not trust him yet, and Thor was out on a mission with Iron Man and Captain America. He was being guarded by the Black Widow, Hawkeye and the scientist that turned into the Hulk. Such pretentious names. Fury was taking no chances.

The young woman had been told that Fury would see her shortly, but that he was in a meeting that could not be disturbed. She wandered over his way, saying a distracted hello to the three Avengers on guard duty, and sat down near him. Loki ignored her at first, but her stare finally disturbed him enough that he looked up at her. She was studying him with curiosity, but not the expected fear.

"You're Thor's brother, right?"

A week prior, he would have answered that he was not Thor's brother, and then he would have hurt her for the insult. But Thor had broken through the darkness and the madness to pull him back. Regardless of blood, they were brothers.

"I am," he answered simply.

"You don't look anything like him," she noted.

"Adopted brother," he amended shortly. It was still a very touchy subject. She really hadn't heard this story?

"Oh. Didn't know that, sorry. So, you changed your mind about world domination?"

He noted the agitated looks on the faces of the three Avengers seated casually across the room. They were still trying to maintain the illusion of not being his jailors, so it would be out of character to come closer, but they didn't like the idea of this girl talking to him.

She had guts, to talk to him like this. He shrugged. "Too much bother. Or maybe too much brother. Thor talked me out of it."

"Surprising," was her honest reply. "He's not very eloquent most of the time." She leaned forward to stare at him hard. "So what do you do in your spare time now?"

"Very little," he admitted, a little disgruntled over that fact. "I am encouraged to keep a 'low profile' at this time."

She glanced over at the three lounging Avengers. "Encouraged with help, I see. That sucks. I'm Darcy, a friend of Jane's. I work for S.H.I.E.L.D." She stuck her hand out expectantly.

Loki noted the twitch from the Black Widow as she half rose from her chair. She was about to put an end to the conversation, so he did what they probably least expected. He reached out and shook the girl's, Darcy's, hand.

"Loki, God of Mischief and Lies. Ex-ruler of Asgard and recovering sociopath, or so I have been told several times in the past seven days." He smiled coldly, but was very surprised when Darcy laughed at him.

"That'll look sweet on a resume!" She released his hand and sat back.

She was different from the other mortals that he had met. She didn't appear to be afraid of him, which was very unusual. Loki found himself starved for conversation, and she seemed to be a logical conclusion.

"So, Darcy, what do you do in your spare time?" It had been a long time, but he still remembered how to make polite conversation.

She snorted, which made him blink. He didn't know any women that snorted. Not even Sif snorted.

"Not as much as I'd like to," she told him. "I get out with Jane occasionally, when I can pry her away from Thor. We mostly go drinking and dancing, or just drinking. I used to do paintball war games when we were in New Mexico, cuz it's fun to gun people down without killing them." Her eyes widened. "I'm sorry! Should I be talking about gunning people down around you?"

He laughed out loud, startling the hell out of the three Avengers, who all shot cautiously to their feet. "I do not use a gun. Feel free to continue. I do not believe that I will lose control of myself and try to kill anyone today."

She grinned at him. "But tomorrow is a possibility?"

Loki was more serious. "Tomorrow is always a possibility."

"That's true. We don't know what could happen tomorrow. I could lose my mind and start blowing shit up."

"Shit?" he asked curiously. "Why would you want to blow up shit? It would make a terrible mess and the smell…"

She stared at him with her mouth open for a moment, then laughed so hard her entire body shook. "Oh wow, Loki! I didn't mean shit literally. Just stuff, you know. Shit… stuff."

He titled his head in curiosity. "Then why not say 'stuff'?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Cuz 'shit' is fun to say?"

A female agent poked her head out of Fury's office. "Director Fury can see you now, Miss Lewis."

She jumped up. "It was cool chatting with you Loki. Maybe I'll see ya around."

"A pleasure, Darcy."

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Paintball war games? Loki had never asked her what that was. It sounded…strange. Well, so much for not relying on Stark. He took his cell phone out of his pocket, blushing a little as he remembered the naughtiness Darcy had unleashed on him with the talk device.

Stark's voice was muffled when he answered. "Kinda in the middle of something right now, Loki. Is it important?"

"Are you in the suit?" he asked in fascination.

"I am. I'm chasing down a lunatic who has flamethrowers strapped to his arms. He thought it was a good idea to toast Wall Street. They frown upon that around here."

"Do you require assistance?"

"Nah. I got this. What's up?"

"What is paintball war games?"

"Ooo…paintball war games! Fun times. Basically, you dress up like you're in the military, and carry a gun that shoots paintballs instead of bullets. You usually go with a group, and then you split off into smaller groups to fight against each other in a pre-set environment. SHIT! Hold on a minute!"

Loki could hear Stark muttering curses, and something about his ass being toasted because he had to babysit damn needy displaced gods. He had to hold the cell phone away from his ear as a triumphant whoop came through it. It seemed that Stark had caught his man.

"Damn villain wannabee," Stark said. "No style, no class. Anyhow…why the fascination with paintball war games?"

"Darcy used to do that in New Mexico. I was thinking it would be a nice surprise for our second date. Is there a place locally that does it?"

"Sure. You probably want a group, though, so you don't have to pair up with strangers." He heard Stark's grin. "I'm totally in. We can probably talk the rest of the gang into it, except maybe for Banner. We'll go in, play for awhile, and then leave the two of you alone to do…whatever. Did you break the apartment in last night?"

Loki rolled his eyes. "That is none of your business, minion. Will you ask the others? Well, except for Thor. I will ask him. It will be for the day after tomorrow."

"Yeah, I'll ask the team. Call Thor right away, cuz I'm heading back now."

"Thank you, Stark."

Thor was agreeable. They had played war games in their childhood, so it was not an unfamiliar concept. He would also ask Jane, who might be interested. Loki doubted that. Jane did not seem the type to play war games.

Stark called him back later, apparently in the middle of a debriefing. Loki could hear Fury shouting in the background for him to "get off the damned phone and pay attention!"

"Bruce declined, but everyone else is in. It will be fun, and we don't get that too often. Hold on a minute, Nick! I had Pepper make us a reservation at the paintball field. I gotta go, Loki. Nicky's being a whiny little bitch right now."

Loki hid his grin as the phone disconnected. He would hear from Fury the next time he saw him, but it was worth it. He hoped Darcy would enjoy the outing.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

Thor could barely contain his smile when Loki joined him in a more remote region of Central Park the next morning. "You look nervous, Loki."

"Perhaps a bit," he admitted. "I am still somewhat unwelcome in Asgard by most."

Thor's smile did not waver. "Do you truly care what those 'most' think about you?"

It was a revelation, and not one he would have ever expected from his brother. "No," he answered in wonder. "No I do not." He smiled at Thor. "Shall we go?"

Mjolnir brought them swiftly to New Mexico and the Bifrost site. Before they stepped into the circle, Thor raised one eyebrow. "You are going in your natural form, yes?"

Loki stared hard at him. "I did not think you were serious about that."

"Of course I was. I want the rest of Asgard to see that I accept you as you are. They need to learn to be more flexible, or they will start leaving babies to die if the baby does not match the normal."

Loki couldn't even describe the swell of emotion that moved through him. He did know that his eyes blurred, and he found it incredibly difficult to swallow past the huge lump in his throat.

"Thank you, my brother," he murmured faintly. It wouldn't do to start blubbering like an idiot, so he took a few very deep, stabilizing breaths, and then allowed his natural form to surface. It still felt wrong, even after the two weeks in Jotunheim. He'd worn the form of an Asgardian for centuries, and that felt natural and normal to him.

Thor was staring at him with a strange fascination. He'd only seen Loki's Jotun form once previously, and it had been in the middle of a furious battle. Now he took a step closer, staring at the blue skin, the red eyes, and the raised ridges on his skin. It was making Loki very uncomfortable, and when Thor reached out, he flinched unconsciously. But instead of a beating, which was what he was used to in this form, Thor only ruffled his hair.

"You will look funny as a blue cow."

Loki's laugh was a little hysterical. He had to remember to thank their father. Banishing Thor to Earth was the best thing Odin could have done for his brother. His time as a mortal, and now, as part of a team, had changed something deep inside Thor, something that Loki had always disliked. It had made Thor a better person.

"I like to think of myself as a trendsetter," he said. He took a deep breath, and stepped into the Bifrost circle. Thor stepped in right behind him and titled his head to the sky.

"Heimdall! Open the Bifrost, my friend."

Loki steeled himself as the clouds began to swirl. Despite Thor's words of encouragement, it would be challenging to visit Asgard in his Jotun form. Still, it was something that he needed to do. He needed to acknowledge his heritage, and he wanted the rest of Asgard to see that his family accepted that heritage. Strangely enough, it seemed that Thor was more open to acceptance than he himself was at this point.

Heimdall was not pleased to see him again, particularly not while in his Jotun form. He withdrew his great sword, shutting down the Bifrost, and held it warily at his side, not quite pointing it at Loki.

"So," he said grimly, "The Deceiver returns wearing his true form. This is unlike you, Loki. What agenda do you hide by uncovering yourself?"

Loki found himself with no answer, but Thor was not so burdened. He placed a hand on Loki's shoulder, and visibly donned his Prince of Asgard role, straightening to his full height, and allowing a little arrogance to flood his face. "There is no hidden agenda, Heimdall. I have asked my brother to wear his true form, so that this realm may see that I accept him as he is. I will not tolerate untrue accusations against him."

Heimdall did not blink. "I have found that most accusations against Loki are true."

"In the past, perhaps," Thor replied. "The present is different. All men deserve the chance to start anew. Were my actions so very different from my brother's?"

The gatekeeper opened his mouth, and then shut it without saying anything. He tipped his head down in acknowledgement. "Welcome back to Asgard."

Loki was rather accustomed to passing unnoticed when in the company of his brother, but now all eyes were upon him as they made the journey to the great hall. There were many Asgardians who were ready to run or fight when first seeing him, but when they saw Thor striding beside him, they only stared in puzzlement.

Loki was off balance with the changes in his brother. Normally, Thor had always placed himself ahead of Loki as they walked, and Loki had never challenged that supremacy. But now, Thor walked by his side. Even when Loki altered the speed of his strides, Thor unconsciously altered to match him. Loki wasn't sure what to think.

More blows to his equilibrium came as they finally presented themselves to their father, sinking to one knee. Thor was still by his side, presenting himself as an equal to his brother. The hall was alive with startled murmurs and hissed accusations, but their mother wore a wide smile as she looked down on her sons. Odin, uncharacteristically, had a small, almost imperceptible, smile on his face.

He stood slowly, and rapped Gungnir loudly upon the floor. Reluctant silence fell in the great hall, as all looked to the All-Father and waited for his words.

"Today is a day for celebration," the All-Father stated. "For today, the sons of Asgard, my sons, have returned. Together." His smile, a rare occasion, lit his face and lifted years from it. "All shall feast and celebrate this day. My family and I will retire to our private chambers."

The hall practically erupted as Odin gestured to his sons. They grinned at each other, and followed their parents away from the ensuing chaos.

Once safe from prying eyes in their private quarters, Odin turned to face both of them. For a moment, they all stared at each other in silence, and then Odin reached out to embrace both of them at the same time.

"It is very good to see my sons here, together," he murmured in a thick voice. "You have been at odds for the longest time…"

Loki felt oddly at peace when his mother also slid her arms around them. He didn't think their little family had ever been this close, except maybe when he and Thor had been children. The four-way embrace brought peace and serenity, and a sense of completion that had been missing for a long time. He closed his eyes, and let those feelings seep into his very soul.

After a long time, they drew apart. Frigga was beaming, so very happy to have her sons back. Odin was smiling, hands still resting on his sons' shoulders. "Both of you have grown so much in the past year. I am proud of you both." He stepped back, hands dropping to his sides, and raised an eyebrow at Loki. "No war-declaring mortal girl with you on this visit?"

Loki felt his lips twitch. "No. I do not believe that Asgard was ready for a second visit quite yet."

Frigga uttered a quiet laugh. "She seemed to feel quite strongly about you."

"Perhaps." He was reluctant to speculate about Darcy's feelings.

Thor clapped him on the back. "She is a perfect match to him! So deceptively quiet, yet we have discovered a deep streak of mischief within her. Loki has to use all of his wits to keep pace with her"

Frigga clapped her hands together in delight. "Well finally! I had despaired of you ever finding a woman that interested you, Loki." She looked back and forth between both sons. "How strange that you both found matches among mortal women. What is so special about them?"

"Their ability to accept and even embrace difference," Loki answered immediately. He raised his blue arms to illustrate his point. "Even when I am not blue, I was never accepted here. I always felt outside of everything. The mortals are far more accepting of differences." He dropped his arms and looked at his parents.

Thor was quiet for a moment, obviously giving very serious thought to their mother's question. "I am a normal man, in Jane's eyes. She does not see a prince or future king. That completely changes the way she responds to me. With Asgard women, I am always aware that they know I am prince and heir to the throne. It…taints our interaction." He reached out to squeeze Loki's shoulder. "Asgard has become, or maybe always was, very inflexible. After spending time with the mortals, I have found that it feels somewhat restrictive here."

Loki was not expecting the thoughtful expression that crossed Odin's face. Anger – yes. Possibly even betrayal. But not Odin giving deep contemplation to their reasoning as to why mortal women were more attractive.

"Change does take place here, reluctantly," the All-Father said finally. "We are an old race, long lived, and this makes anything new, different, hard to accept." He bowed his head. "Yet change is sweeping down upon us. All of Asgard cannot help but notice its princes' fascination with Midgard. There is great unrest from the 'invasion' of two mortals, and the discovery of Loki's true heritage." A short, hard smile crossed his face. "My judgment has been called into question. After all, I adopted a frost giant 'monster' and raised the baby as a prince of Asgard without ever revealing his true heritage. This allowed the sacrilege of a frost giant briefly sitting on the throne of Asgard. Many are still traumatized."

Loki could hear the underlying sarcasm in his father's voice, and it went a long way toward healing the terrible emotional wounds inside. "And I did not even unleash any frost giant evilness upon Asgard, only Jotunheim and Midgard."

"True," Odin agreed. "Yet you were the cause of the mortal invasion. Again my judgment is called into question, that I did not smite down the impertinent mortal girl who dared to declare war on Asgard, and insult my person." He shook his head. "As if this is such an important thing."

"A year ago," Thor broke in softly, "I would have felt the same way. The insult to Asgard, to yourself, would have been too much to bear. The mortals would have to pay for what they had done." He shook his head. "We have become too impressed with ourselves, too arrogant."

"It has been that way for a very long time," Loki mused softly. He bore the emotional and mental scars to prove it.

His mother looped her arms around him. Before, he would have only tolerated such contact, holding himself stiffly until she released him. Now he leaned into her embrace, and felt a fuzzy warmth in the pit of his stomach from that very contact. Frigga's unconditional love, even after all he'd done, was a comfort, a balm to the soul. He almost felt like a child again, like the world and his life were not so terribly complicated. It felt good.

They dined in the privacy of the royal quarters. Odin talked quietly of the unrest in Asgard, in all its aspects. The revelation of Loki's true heritage felt like a betrayal to many people. They were not sure if they could trust their king right now.

The solution to that was obvious to Loki. "You could have denied your knowledge of my true heritage," he told his father. "You could have claimed that I was a frost giant spy that had snatched your true son away from you."

Odin shook his head. "No Loki. A king does not practice such deceit after being discovered. I was wrong to hide your heritage all those years. It caused you terrible pain when you found out. To deny you yet again…I could not do that."

Loki had trouble swallowing his food. "I was not here, father. And I had already shared my intentions of making Midgard my home. What would it have mattered?"

"I lost you once, due to my own maneuverings. For centuries, I was a king before being a father. When you fell into the abyss after I rejected you…I had failed you on so many levels. That you willingly gave up your life because of that…it nearly destroyed me."

Loki had heard the same from Thor many times, but had not believed it. He had been numb on so many levels from the betrayal of finding out he was frost giant, and suddenly understanding why Thor had always been favored for the throne. The realization that he had been a pawn in Odin's dealings with Laufey had made him sick. Physically ill. He had not been able to believe Thor's statements, once they had reunited, that Odin had been so emotional over Loki's supposed demise. Odin cared nothing for him!

Yet another hurt he had strangely clung to. He would never be a whole person if he could not let those hurts go. Forget? Never. But he had to learn to forgive, as others forgave him.

He stared hard at his father, as another revelation hit him. "You knew that I would return to Asgard in my natural form, when Darcy and Tony rescued me from Jotunheim."

"I did."

"You could have unblocked my magic the instant I returned. No one would have ever known."

"It was time for the deception to end. It was important that I accept you in your true form. You would never be whole until I did. "

"Never doubt that we love you, Loki," Frigga interjected softly.

"Even though sometimes, you make us mad enough to run at a wall with our heads down," Thor added, grinning.

"Likewise, my brother," Loki returned sharply. "Or, rather, you make me want to hatch some nefarious plot." He grinned wickedly at his brother, then turned back to his father.

"I think we have made a lot of progress today in repairing our relationship."

Odin nodded wisely. "We have. Now eat. Your food is cooling."

Thor, who had practically inhaled his food, regaled them with stories of his adventures with the Avengers, and talked much of Jane. When Loki could not be coaxed into sharing any stories, Thor told one of two stories of Darcy, and how she had completely bewitched him. Odin and Frigga smiled, and Frigga mused, in a very transparent attempt to be casual, how the girl really did seem a fine match to him.

It was growing late in the day by Earth time reckoning. Asgard's time moved at a slightly different pace. Thor had excused himself to spend some time with Sif and the Warriors Three. Loki and his parents had remained in their quarters, still working on repairing the damage to their relationships. Frigga was making a quiet suggestion about his dealings with Darcy when Loki lunged to his feet. Every magic ward he had placed on Darcy's well being began sounding an alarm, reverberating through the nerves of his body. She was in danger. At the same time, he could hear her voice in his head, calling his name in a desperate wish for help. He moved toward the door, but stopped at his mother's frightened cry.

"I must go!" he snapped. "Darcy is in danger." He transported himself to an abandoned chamber, deep within Asgard. It was home to the secret pathway to Earth, in the form of an innocuous archway that could be activated into a portal that opened up in ancient ruins on Earth. Transporting between the realms on his own required too much energy. For inter-realm travel, he used either the Bifrost, or the pathways he'd discovered centuries ago. And right now, he needed speed.

The transport to Earth was rough, a tumultuous whirlwind that spun and buffeted him. It left him gasping as he popped back into the corporeal world in the remote ruins on Earth. The magic wards were nearly shattering his sanity. He'd designed them with different levels of intensity, from a warning pulse up to a hammering punch. He felt like he was the clapper of a cosmic bell. Darcy was in mortal danger. He could hear her voice in his head, repeating his name over and over in a hitching breath that was completely terrified. Panic sucker punched him in the stomach, and he 'blinked' to her location without pausing for a breath.

He took in the scene with red frost giant eyes. Darcy was pinned against the side of a building by a big, bulky mortal. Tears were streaming from her eyes, and blood trickled from the corner of her mouth. The side of her face was red, swelling with the promise of bruising. She had her head turned to one side, and there was a knife pressed into the delicate skin of her neck.

Her bag, with the taser weapon she so favored, was crumpled on the ground several feet away.

Loki felt ice and anger flowing through his veins. They wouldn't be able to identify the pieces of this mortal when he was done with him.

Somehow she knew he was there. Darcy's eyes opened, and then widened when she saw him in his blue menace. "Loki no! Don't kill!" she shouted. "He's not worth it!"

He paused, magic fire twining around his fingers, ready to spear out and roast the mortal scum. But Darcy's expression was strangely intense, worried that he would kill. There would be consequences, serious consequences, to such an action. So, as the mortal man whipped around to face him, he did the only thing he could think of that would satisfy his need for retribution. He sent her bag flying into her hands even as the knife against her neck disintegrated into powder.

The man's scream was high and thin when she tasered him. He fell, twitching, and Darcy would have collapsed, but Loki was right there, catching her in his arms. She was panting like she'd just run a marathon, breath whistling in and out in a high pitch that told him her throat had almost closed up.

He held her tightly, one hand stroking her hair, murmuring softly to try to calm her. "It is all right, Darcy. I am here. I will not let him hurt you."

For several minutes, she shook violently against him, but it finally subsided a little. "You heard me," she said in a small voice. "I called for you, and you heard me."

He pulled back a little so he could look down into her tearstained face. It felt like someone punched him in the stomach to see that fear in her eyes. "Of course I heard you. As soon as we returned from Asgard, I placed magic wards on you so that if you were in danger, I would know."

She took a few deep, gulping breaths. "It's that jerk ex-boyfriend of Sheila's," she said shakily. "He was really pissed about getting roughed up by Steve last night. That and he wanted to…" She couldn't finish, biting her lip.

Loki growled. "Are you sure I cannot kill him? He deserves a thousand deaths for hurting you, and another woman."

"No." She shook her head, then winced, grabbing for the side of her face. "Asshole punched me. Twice. That really hurt, Loki. I've never been punched by a guy before."

He was almost shaking in rage. The hand he raised toward her face was shaking. "I would take that hurt away, if I could." He stroked the back of his hand down her face, feather light. Darcy shuddered, and pressed herself back into him.

"I know," she said softly, voice muffled from where it pressed into his shirt. Her shudders slowly ebbed, and he feels her body relax a little. She drew back this time, and took a deep breath. "I need to call 911, so they can put this ass away."

Loki wasn't sure what 911 was, but he trusted her to know what was best. She fumbled in her bag, and finally pulled out her cell phone to make a call. She gave some basic information , and then clicked the phone shut.

The boom of thunder warned them, as Thor dropped out of the night sky. "Darcy! Where are you?" A rush of air and an almost jet like sound barely preceded Stark's arrival, all suited up. He was yelling too. "Darcy! Where the hell are you?"

He watched her smile tremulously as she realized that her friends were coming to her rescue. His aborted magic strike had blown out nearby lights, and Stark and Thor could not see them, so he reassembled the lights with a wave of his hand.

Stark and Thor both jumped a little as the area was flooded with light, and then they both ran across the pavement as Loki and Darcy were illuminated.

"Are you all right?" Stark asked, retracting his face armor. There was concern and fear etched on his face.

"I'm fine," Darcy told him. "Loki saved me."

Thor looked at the mortal body on the ground, and then back to his brother. "Is the mortal attacker dead?" He couldn't see the taser probes, since the guy had fallen on his face, and it was a natural assumption since said guy had been hurting Loki's woman.

"He's not," Darcy assured. "I tased him. Asshole. It's Sheila's ex-boyfriend. I called 911, so they're on their way."

Thor nodded, and slung Mjolnir into his belt. He placed a comforting hand on Loki's shoulder. "Mother and Father came for me immediately, telling me you had left in a panic because Darcy was in danger. I came back to Earth, and contacted Stark while on my way from the Bifrost site."

Loki did the time calculations in his head, and was very impressed. "You are pushing Mjolnir to new limits, brother. Thank you."

"Uh Loki?" Stark interjected hesitantly. "I can hear sirens coming. You're blue right now. Maybe you should go for a more casual look?"

Darcy giggled at the chagrined expression on Loki's face. He had completely forgotten that he was in his natural form. He adopted a more subtle appearance, along with suitable attire, then looked down at the girl in his arms. She had not flinched, nor cringed, nor treated him any differently when he was blue. This was why he had easily abandoned the chilly, disapproving Asgard women for Midgard's mad mortals. Acceptance.

"How'd you find us so quickly?" Darcy wanted to know, as two police cars pulled up.

"Jarvis located your cell phone," Stark supplied.

He had been introduced as the boyfriend. Loki grew very impatient very quickly at the long wait as the police officers asked their questions and took the foolish mortal man into custody. Darcy didn't want him to kill, but that didn't stop him from reaching out with a bit of magic and giving the man a nasty, maddening rash. It would develop within the hour, and last for three days. The mortal would scratch himself raw. It was one of Loki's very earliest spells, and had been one of his favorites as a young teenager.

Thankfully, the police officers on scene were quick and efficient, and were soon taking the man into custody. They offered medical attention which Darcy declined, and seemed very impressed that two Avengers had come to her aid.

"She's a good friend," Stark explained. That seemed to satisfy the officers, and they finally departed, taking the soon to be itching man away.

Stark reached out to tilt Darcy's head into the light. "Shit. He knocked you good, Darcy. Hurt?"

"No, it tickles," she snapped. "Of course it hurts. That's okay. Loki is gonna take me home and make me feel better."

He certainly was, and he smiled widely at her assumption. "I will treat her hurts as best as I am able. Thank you both for coming."

Darcy peeled herself away from Loki, leaving coldness in her spot, and hugged both Thor and Stark in thanks. Then she came back to Loki, and burrowed against him. He nodded at the other two, and slid a firm arm around her. They blinked back to his apartment.

After a steamy Jacuzzi bath, where Loki gently cleaned the blood from her face, and Darcy cried a little, they settled onto the sofa. Darcy was sprawled against Loki's chest, with an ice pack pressed against the side of her face. She was going to have a black eye, and her lip had split.

"I guess mischief can come back to haunt you," she mused. "I created that whole mess."

"It can," he confirmed. "But you did not cause this, Darcy. This man acted on his own twisted instincts."

She had taken some painkillers, and they were making her very drowsy. "It doesn't matter."

He looked down at her as she rested the non-abused side of her face against his shoulder. "Why not?"

"Because I have a magic wielding, god-boyfriend who will keep me safe." He had to strain to hear her, since she was dropping rapidly toward sleep. "Can I say you're my boyfriend? That would be really neat."

The somewhat vulnerable side of her now being displayed was very endearing. Loki reached up to brush a wayward lock of hair away from her face. "Of course you may," he whispered, feeling a swelling emotion inside that brought that damnable lump back to his throat.

She shifted a little, getting more comfortable, eyes never opening. "That's really cool." She trailed off, and he thought she was asleep, but a little indrawn breath told him that she wasn't. "Thank you for saving me, again."

"My pleasure."

Chapter Text

Darcy woke slowly. She was sprawled on top of Loki, and while normally that would bring a smile to her face, the whole side of her face hurt too badly to attempt it. So she didn't move, other than an aborted little twitch. A gentle sigh told her that Loki was waking. She felt fingers on her jaw line, and then blessed numbness spread through her face.

"Oh thank you," she breathed. "That was really hurting."

"It looks terrible," he told her. Darcy tilted her head up so she could look at him. He always looked so adorable in the mornings – mussed and a little more open than he normally was. Today even more so, she noted.

"Have a good visit with the parents?" she asked curiously. "How's the rat-bastard ruler of Asgard?"

Loki laughed in genuine delight, and she just melted some more. Wow. That must have been one hell of a visit. He looked so…relaxed.

"The visit was…illuminating, and went a long way toward healing some old wounds. But I simply cannot leave you alone, can I?" He kept lightly stroking her jaw.

"What do you mean?" she asked artfully, trying to look innocent. Leaning into his touch maybe just a little.

"I leave you alone for two weeks, and you storm Asgard and declare war on my father. I leave you alone for one day, one day Darcy, and you attract an unsavory mortal." He ran a finger across her lips, brow creasing. "What am I to do?"

She propped herself up on one elbow and smiled, albeit lopsidedly due to her half-numb face. "Don't leave me alone anymore, then."

His lips twisted into a wry smile. "That would be the logical solution." He sighed. "I had wonderful plans for today, for our second date."

"I'm looking forward to them," she said, knowing he didn't believe she would still want to do anything.

Both eyebrows rose sharply. "My plans were a little on the physical and public side."

"Kinky!" she gushed, waiting for the telltale blush. Ah…there it was. Then another grin.

"You are teasing." Loki shook his head. "Are you sure you want to continue with our date?"

"Can you keep the pain away?"

"For brief periods, yes."

"Then I'm totally not cutting out. No mere mortal man is going to postpone my second date with a god."

He tilted his head in question. "What do all these other times that we have spent together count as, if not dates?"

Darcy frowned, thinking about it. "Foreplay? Wait, that doesn't work. We kinda jumped right in. Um…Pre-date workouts?"

"Hmm…"

"Ya know, this is the first time we've had clothes on while in bed together!"

She loved the adorable little blush that colored his cheeks. "Clothing did not seem appropriate on the other occasions." He sat up, carefully easing her into a sitting position as well. "Are you sure, Darcy? Maybe you should look in a mirror first?"

Hmm…that was probably a good idea. Darcy allowed Loki to pull her out of bed and escort her to the bathroom. He seemed to need to touch her right now, and act like a protector. She wasn't going to protest.

The face that stared back at her from the mirror was not hers. Darcy had to blink at herself, and see the battered woman in the mirror blink back at her, before she could reconcile the image with herself. The side of her face was swollen and bruised. She had one hell of a shiner around the eye on that side, and her lip was split and bruised.

"Damn," she murmured. "What an asshole! Did I say you couldn't kill him?"

Loki sounded amused when he answered. "You did."

"Shit. Maybe you could find him and do something really nasty to him?" She couldn't tear her eyes away from the mirror.

"Already done. He will wish he had died, in the next few days."

Darcy grinned. "Thank you. I still want to do whatever you have planned." She reached up and touched her reflection. "Maybe I should bruise up my knuckles a little, so I look like I was in a fight. Then I can tell everyone that they should see the other guy."

Loki touched a finger to her hand, and terrible bruises spread across her knuckles. Darcy grinned, and looked up in time to see her face resuming its normal appearance.

"Too cool Loki," she praised. "Will it stay that way?"

He shrugged. "Not indefinitely, no."

Darcy swiveled to face him. "You're awesome. You know, just in case your rat-bastard father didn't tell you that lately."

He smiled. "Shall we get ready then? Our day begins in two hours, and I need to let others know that we will be there." He ducked his head, looking shamefaced. "Can you show me how to 'text?'"

Darcy laughed. "We are so corrupting you. I love it."

She laughed even more when she had to follow him to the kitchen, where he opened a drawer and pulled out his cell phone. "What is it doing in there?"

"I was not going to need it while in Asgard," he explained.

Darcy thought about it, and then shrugged. "Probably no service in Asgard anyhow. If there was, it would probably be one hell of a roaming charge."

"I do not understand anything you just said," he admitted with a blank look.

Darcy patted his arm. "Eventually you will." She gave him a quick tutorial on how to text. Loki was a quick study, and soon nodded his understanding. He withdrew to the bathroom to complete his secretive texting, leaving Darcy wondering exactly what they were doing today. She was sure it would be good. He had a flair that other men couldn't duplicate. She was forever ruined for normal men.

When he emerged, smiling smugly, she shook her head. "This oughta be good." She raised her arms and turned in a circle. "Do you need to magic me into something different?"

"You are fine as is," he assured. "There is a lovely café nearby that serves a hearty breakfast. We should take advantage of that."

Darcy was a little nervous when Loki asked her to wear a blindfold. "It is a surprise, after all," he told her as they exited the café where they'd had breakfast. "You do trust me, yes?"

"Unconditionally," she answered. It never failed to amaze her that the simplest thing could undo him. Her one word stripped his masks and filters away, leaving the vulnerable child who only wanted to be loved and accepted. She smiled warmly at his open, almost awed expression, and bound the blindfold around her eyes.

It was a little scary, not being able to see, but hearing the usual hubbub of NYC all around. Darcy wasn't moving, but she felt unsteady, like she might fall over. A hand on her elbow made her draw in a surprised breath, and warm lips on hers caused her heart to flutter. He was kissing her on a sidewalk, in front of so many people, and that was really freaking awesome.

She fumbled a hand out to his chest, and slid it upward until it could slide around his neck. "You completely rock," she whispered against his lips.

She felt him smile. "And we have not even started yet."

He guided her a few fumbling steps to somewhere out of sight, or so she assumed, and then put his arms around her. "Hold on."

They blinked. She could tell by the sudden change in sounds. They were now someplace more rural. She could hear birds, and wind, and people shouting? Gunshots? What the hell?

"Loki?"

"It is all right, Darcy. Trust me."

The anticipation was killing her. Gunshots? Really? It sounded like a small war was being fought nearby. What the hell were they doing? That involved gunshots and people shouting?

She could feel a change in the sounds around her that told her that other people were surrounding her. It was super creepy because they weren't saying anything. She was surrounded by silent people she couldn't see, with gunshots and shouting in the distance. She turned her head from side to side, trying to get a handle on what was going on, but couldn't guess what was going down. Damn, Loki was good. She hoped the actual date lived up to this mysterious beginning. But it was Loki. Of course it would live up to the beginning.

A nearby titter sounded almost suspiciously familiar. Like it belonged to a pain in the ass, playboy billionaire. What the hell was Stark doing on their date? Oh wow. Darcy's evil mind seized the bit in its mental teeth and just took off. Oh god! The images her twisted mind was conjuring! No. Pepper wouldn't be into 'loaning' out Stark, and Loki wouldn't share. Would he?

Then she caught a whiff of Barton's cologne. It was a subtle, earthy scent, but it was all Barton. So sue her, she liked the way guys smelled, and it didn't mean she wanted to jump on them, or anything. Why were both Barton and Stark there? The images in her mind were getting worse (or freaking fantastic) by the second. She knew, KNEW, that Loki wouldn't share her. It wasn't in his nature. But her evil mind kept supplying very naughty images.

When she smelled Jane's perfume, Darcy nearly lost her mind. "Loki! What the hell is going on?"

"So impatient," he teased, laughter in his tone. "We're almost ready to begin."

"Does it involve taking my clothes off?" she had to ask, sniffing madly to try and identify other scents.

"I suppose if you really want to, you may," he replied after a pause. "Though Nicholas might get angry with you if you get arrested for exposing yourself."

She heard footsteps approaching, walking over…gravel? "Ah finally," Loki said. He touched her shoulder, and Darcy yelped as she felt her clothing altering.

"That felt weird, Loki! Weird."

He laughed softly. "Brace yourself. I am removing your blindfold."

Darcy blinked against the sudden light as her blindfold was removed. The first thing she saw was Loki…dressed in camouflage? Wow. He looked hot. Like really 'man in a uniform' hot. Why was he in camo?

Then she saw the others. Thor and Jane, Stark, Rogers, Barton, and Natasha. All dressed in camo. So was she. Thor was hefting the biggest paintball gun she had ever seen with a smile that was bordering on manic. Wait. Paintball gun?

Darcy took a quick look around. Yep. They were in the parking lot of a paintball field that she had checked out when first moving to New York. There were other people running around, similarly attired, heading for the 'war' zone. She felt a rush of giddiness.

"Paintball?" Her voice rose into nearly a squeal.

Loki looked hesitant. "You are not pleased?"

"Oh my god!" Darcy threw her arms around him and squeezed the hell out of him. She hadn't played since New Mexico. How had he known? She thought maybe she had mentioned it once, before they had started 'dating', but he couldn't have remembered that, right?

"You are awesome," she told him. "The best god-boyfriend ever."

"Skip the gooshy stuff," Barton suggested. He hefted his own huge paintball gun. "Let's play."

"Two teams of four," Stark called. "No using anything but the paintball gun and your own reactions." He grinned. "I'm assuming you two and you two don't want to be split up, right?" He indicated Thor and Jane, and Loki and Darcy with a jerk of his head.

"You are correct, my friend," Thor told him. With the camo and the big freaking paintball gun, he looked like some kind of mad mercenary. "To be fair, my brother and I should not be on the same team." He was watching Loki with a wicked, sly look.

Darcy bit her lip at the matching wicked expression that slid onto Loki's face. "I agree. We must be fair. Darcy is with me, and my minion, of course. Who will be our fourth?"

Stark was staring at Loki, probably trying to figure out how he'd lost control of the situation. "Uh…sure. Who's fourth?"

Natasha volunteered. "Not that I wouldn't enjoy the chance to shoot you, Stark. But I really want to shoot those guys." She pointed to Barton and Rogers and offered them a tight smile. "Plus, who can turn down a chance to shoot the God of Thunder?"

Thor snorted at her. "Good luck with that."

Darcy was psyched. "Let's go!" She bit her lip and looked around with wide eyes. "Where's my gun?"

Stark led her over to a nondescript black SUV – S.H.I.E.L.D issued, no doubt. Stark opened the cargo door, and she practically squealed in delight. Paintball guns littered the back of the SUV – all shapes and sizes. Since she didn't have size issues, she looked the guns over carefully, and went for speed of fire.

Natasha and Loki fell in beside her. "Do we go for the BFGs, like Thor and Barton?" the Widow asked.

Darcy lowered her voice. "No. Both of those models are prone to jamming. They may look impressive, but they're not very reliable. Besides, we don't need to compensate for anything."

Natasha bit back a startled laugh, and glanced sideways at Loki. "None of us?"

Darcy smirked. "I can't speak for Tony, but Loki doesn't have a need to compensate. Not at all. Poor Jane."

"Behave," Loki chided softly.

"Not likely." Darcy pointed out a gun to him. "Take that one. It's a quick shooter and doesn't jam often."

He scooped it up and slung it over his shoulder. He looked so insanely hot in camouflage! She had to remember to have him wear it later. So she could take it off. Or maybe have him stalk her while wearing camo. She shivered just thinking about it. He raised an eyebrow when he saw her shiver, and Darcy licked her lips, giving him a saucy wink.

"Save it for later, you two," Stark advised. He hefted his own gun choice. Tony Stark in camouflage was…disturbing. It didn't work. Darcy just couldn't imagine the billionaire playing paintball war games.

Natasha looked totally kick-ass though. She had pulled her hair back into a ponytail, and was completely believable as a soldier. Darcy would not mess with her, even if she hadn't known her. Natasha looked like she could eat someone's spleen, and then pick her teeth with their bones. At the same time, she was killer hot.

"You suck," she told the older woman. "How is it that you look so dangerous, and so hot?"

Natasha grinned. "Practice. You, on the other hand, are completely deceptive. You don't look like the type to storm another realm and declare war on your boyfriend's godly father." Then she frowned. "Stark told me about what happened last night. It's not acceptable. You're a S.H.I.E.L.D employee, but you haven't been given the standard self defense training. I'll be taking care of that."

Darcy gulped. "Really?"

"Really. You could be valuable at any time, since you have knowledge of classified data. Besides, I wouldn't want to be the one to tell Loki that we'd allowed you to get killed."

"Let's go!" Stark yelled impatiently.

The four of them joined the other four as they walked across the parking lot toward the check in, where they would get a supply of paintballs, and safety gear.

Steve Rogers fell in beside Darcy. He looked baffled, and guilty at the same time. He also looked completely normal in camouflage. Not as comfortable as Barton, but close. He wanted to say something, that was obvious, so Darcy waited patiently. She wondered if Sheila had worked her magic on the good captain. He was harder to read than she had thought he would be. Then again, as she noticed the small blush on his cheeks, she thought maybe Sheila had been successful.

"What's up, Cap?" she asked, aware of Loki not-quite watching from the corner of his eyes. Was he jealous?

"I heard about what happened last night. With Sheila's ex-boyfriend. I'm sorry. I guess I didn't do a good enough job persuading him to be nice to women."

"Don't you worry about it, Steve. It's not your fault that he's a little crazy. So he did come after Sheila when you two left Loki's the other night?"

"He did. I tried to encourage him to be nicer and less creepy."

"Did you hit him?" She had to know.

"A couple of times, yeah. I wasn't convinced that he was done being a jerk though, so I stuck around Sheila all day yesterday. I...I didn't realize he would go after someone else."

"Like I said, Cap, don't worry about it. How's Sheila holding up?"

Bingo! The small blush spread rapidly. "She's doing well," Rogers stammered. "I…I have to thank you for bringing her to Loki's. She really needs someone to look after her."

"And you're happy to do that?" she asked craftily.

Wow. The roots of his hair were probably blushing at this point. Darcy stopped walking so she could turn to look at him, and Rogers reluctantly stopped as well. He was looking anywhere but at her.

"Cap…you're blushing."

He stared at his feet. "I do that a lot. It's my coloring."

"Do you like my friend?"

"She is pretty neat."

Darcy stared at him hard. "That's not really a reason to blush, Cap. What did you do with Sheila that's making you blush?"

Everyone else had stopped too, and they were staring at Rogers. He had what was probably a full body blush going, and couldn't meet anyone's eyes.

It was Loki who came to his rescue. "If there is anything the good captain wishes to share with us, he will do so. It is not a requirement. He has proven himself a gentleman as well as a hero, and should be accorded the respect that goes with both." As Stark was opening his mouth, Loki shot him a daggered look. "I know you are capable of it, minion." When no one else said anything, he nodded. "I believe we were about to begin a game, yes?" He walked away without a second glance.

Rogers looked so grateful, and offered an apologetic shrug to Darcy before trailing after Loki.

*******************************************************************************************************************************

They got through check in and the hike to their first location with no incidents. Darcy almost had to laugh at the godly brothers, who were itching to go toe to toe with each other. They kept sniping back and forth, bragging about their own prowess in battle.

Their first location was on a hill, with bush piles dotting the hillside. There was a fort at the top and the bottom of the hill. After some squabbling over who would get the high ground, Barton tossed a coin into the air, and Jane called heads. The coin landed tails up, so Loki's team got to choose. After a brief, whispered consultation, they chose the high ground.

"I'll guard the flag," Natasha volunteered. "I can pick them off as they come up the hill." Her grin was wicked.

Loki nodded. "Stark and I shall be knights, charging down the hill, drawing their fire."

"And I go for the flag." Darcy nodded. She pulled her goggles down into place, and flicked the safety off her paintball gun.

They took positions at the edge of their fort, and waited for the whistle that signified the beginning of play.

When the whistle sounded, they began their descent. The other team had had the same idea, Darcy noted through quick glances around and over bushes. Thor and Rogers were leading the charge up the hill. Barton was probably being the defender, and Jane was nowhere to be seen. Ha!

"Sharpshooter in the fort," Darcy called to her knights.

"Got it," Stark affirmed. He was crouched behind a bush pile downhill from her location. Loki was off to her left. "Cover me so I can advance!"

Loki popped up and fired down the hill. Thor and Rogers dove behind bushes, and Stark jumped up over his pile, and ran downhill to the next pile. Then he fired blindly while Loki and Darcy advanced. Having the high ground definitely gave them the advantage, and Darcy could hear Thor's frustrated bellow as he was pinned down.

"Hold your position!" Barton barked from the bottom of the hill.

Thor only managed to stay still for another minute before losing his patience. He jumped up, opening fire up the hill as he charged.

"For Asgard! For glory!"

Loki popped to his feet and fired one shot. "For Darcy!" he yelled. Paint blossomed on Thor's chest, and the big guy came to a stop, looking down in disgust. Distance weapons were not something he was comfortable with, or used to fighting against.

Darcy was just all a tingle. Loki fought for her. Sigh. That was just so…wow. She blew him a kiss as he dropped back under cover, and he smirked.

Thor walked off the field, muttering to himself. He had paint splatters in his golden hair, Darcy saw when he reached the all-clear zone. She had to laugh. The God of Thunder, with pink streaked hair.

"Advancing," Stark hissed to them. Loki and Darcy popped up to cover him, and he ran down to the next pile of bushes. Darcy saw the danger, but too late to warn him. Stark ducked down behind the bushes, and yelped in surprise as paint blossomed on his arm. A grinning Jane, who had been on the other side of the bushes, popped her head up to give him a quick smile. She had used Thor's charge to advance unseen. Clever girl. But Darcy had her position now.

Rogers was going to try the same thing as Thor. He opened fire up the hill, and started a charge. Darcy ignored him, trusting Loki to take him out, and kept her eyes glued to Jane's position. A brief shake of the bushes was her only warning, as Jane wiggled around the far side, belly to the ground. She was counting on Rogers being enough of a distraction to advance again, but Darcy had her, and squeezed off a stream of paintballs. One of them took Jane in the goggles.

"Got ya Foster!" she called.

Jane glared at her, but jumped to her feet and took herself off the field to join Thor. Darcy heard Loki's triumphant shout and moments later, Rogers was walking off the field as well. It was down to Barton, but they still had to get past him to get the flag. The marksman.

Loki shared a speculative look with her. He had worked with the Avengers often enough to know how good Barton was, and she could see him thinking it through, trying to figure out a scenario where they both didn't get picked off.

Natasha figured it out for them. The Black Widow came racing down the hill, paintball gun blazing, in the most acrobatic charge Darcy had ever seen. She bounced from one spot to another, twisting and jumping like some kind of mad warrior goddess bent on revenge. It was going to be very hard, even for the marksman, to hit her.

"Go!" Loki called, jumping to his feet to follow their teammate. Darcy was right behind him. They opened up with a hail of paintballs, to keep Barton under cover, hopefully, but he was very good. He kept popping up and firing in different places, and one lucky shot took Loki in the leg. Darcy kept going, trying to emulate Natasha's strange all-over-the-place charge.

Clint was yelling as he fired at them, but he had to fire almost blindly, and kept missing them. Darcy and Natasha both made it to the fort, and began climbing the ladder. When Barton realized what they were doing, he held his paintball gun over the side and fired, taking Natasha out. He peeked over the side to see if he'd gotten them both, and froze when he looked right into the barrel of Darcy's paintball gun.

"Awe crap," he swore, right before she pulled the trigger. His face and safety goggles were covered in pink paint moments later.

Darcy's team erupted into cheers as she finished her climb and claimed the flag, waving it triumphantly.

They played in four more fields during the day. Darcy's favorite was the one with the trenches surrounding the forts. She and Loki got a little distracted on that one, and found themselves covered in pink paint when Thor caught them making out in the trenches instead of defending the fort. Stark and Natasha went down not long after, and yelled at them all the way to the next field.

Natasha took her frustrations out on Barton and Rogers at the next field, with a little side of Thor as well. She shimmied up a tree near the fort, and waited for their team members to start arriving. She emptied her gun on Clint when she saw him, totally covering him in paint, even after the whistle that he was down. Rogers got almost the same treatment, and Thor…well, it was just so much fun to watch the God of Thunder grousing about not winning a paintball competition, while covered in pink paint.

The brother versus brother fight was awesome to watch when it happened. Thor had crafted a shield out of discarded sheet metal he'd found in one of the forts. After a brief consultation, the field judges had allowed it, and agreed that any paintballs that hit the shield would not count as a hit. This gave Thor an advantage, and he was the only one of his team left after a fierce clash. Loki was also the last man standing on Team Darcy, so the two of them went at it. They walked toward each other, firing away. Thor kept blocking paintballs with his shield, while Loki dodged. It looked to be evenly matched, until Thor's huge gun jammed. He had the time for one chagrined look at Loki before he was covered in pink paint.

It was late afternoon when they wrapped up. Darcy was tired, and sore, and covered in pink paint and bruises. But it had been so much fun. Loki kept setting the bar higher and higher for each date. She didn't know how he could possibly pull off a better date than this one. She was ready to call it a day though. Her face was hurting, and she just wanted to crash for awhile.

Loki seemed to sense that. After they waved good bye to the others (who had to drive like normal mortals!) he pulled her closer and they blinked back to his place.

"Was it too much?" he asked softly, seeing her wilt, just a little.

"Nope, it was perfect. I'm just really tired, and a little sore. That Jacuzzi is calling my name."

He titled his head. "I do not hear anything." Then he grinned to let her know he was joking. "By all means – soak in the Jacuzzi."

"Will you be joining me?" she asked. "I don't know if I'm up for anything else, but you're kinda like my big rubber ducky, and I don't want to Jacuzzi without you."

"I think I should be offended to be compared to a rubber ducky," he told her. "But since you are tired, and in pain, and covered in pink paint, I shall forgive you. And Jacuzzi with you."

Darcy grinned tiredly. "Cool. I'll get it started."

Chapter Text

Darcy was grumpy when she rolled into her office on Monday morning. Her face still hurt, which was one reason to be grumpy. Another reason? Having to separate herself from Loki and be a normal person for the week. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to do so. He made her feel like more than she thought she was. He perpetuated the crazy life she had fallen into. Best of all, he looked at her (when he thought she didn't notice) like she was a reason to wake up in the morning.

The idea that a college intern from Nowhere, New Mexico could cause a being who was centuries old to feel that way…nah. It just didn't make sense. But she'd pinched herself multiple times, and it hurt, so she wasn't dreaming. He was real.

The paintball date had been…wow. So amazingly cool it went beyond words. But after had been maybe even better? They had ordered take out food after pulling themselves out of the Jacuzzi. After eating, they had watched television for awhile, sprawled together on the sofa. Darcy was very tired. At the time, she had felt guilty, because she didn't feel energetic enough to wrestle around in bed with him (and her face just ached). But she felt guilty about it. He had done such a damn good job finding something to do that she loved. He should be rewarded for that. Being tired sounded like an excuse.

When she had reluctantly expressed that she should go home, since her eyes kept drooping shut, Loki had looked at her quite comically and asked why. With her face flaming, Darcy had managed to stutter out that she only felt up to sleeping. Loki's blank expression had indicated his complete lack of understanding and he had asked, once again, why that meant she had to go home.

She had stumbled and faltered while trying to explain it to him, and finally, it came out bluntly. He had been so fantastic to her with saving her and then the paintball date, and she felt guilty for continuing to hang out without putting out (as one of her attempted high school romances had worded it when he told her to hit the road).

His expression had been truly priceless as he finally figured out what she was trying to say. Then he had looked offended.

"You do not have to 'buy' time with me with sex, Darcy. If I did not want to share your company, I would not. While I certainly enjoy the sex (his shiver-inducing grin!), it is not the only reason I want to spend time with you. Are men of this realm so…crass?"

She had practically melted on the spot, and because she was so tired, her defenses were down, so the tears had started. Loki had been so confused, and then concerned that he had hurt her feelings by telling her he didn't like her just for sex. He had stared at her helplessly, looking a little twitchy as if he wanted to bolt to safety, somewhere away from the weepy woman on his sofa.

Darcy had finally been able to tell him that he was the most wonderful person ever (he had looked like he wanted to disagree, but wisely kept his mouth shut), and had squeezed him tight. At some point, she had fallen asleep (clinging to him possessively), and he had apparently carried her to his bed, because that's where she had woken up this morning. Still clinging. Because she didn't want to let go.

Loki had been a little nervous that she might burst into tears again, but Darcy had assured him that she was fine, and he was awesome. But it was almost sheer torture to tear herself away. So she was grumpy.

That did not dissipate when she walked into the building, surrounded by normality and banality. It was just so surreal to be a 9 to 5-er when she was dating a god. Well, okay, she actually worked 8:00-4:30, but still…she wasn't sure which was real anymore. The boring office worker (even though it was a secret government agency's office, it was still an office job), or the girl who hung out with superheroes. Her closest friends? A billionaire ex-playboy child (he really had devoted himself to Pepper), the Norse God of Thunder, a guy who'd been frozen in ice for 70 years (and also happened to be a war hero from way back when), a lethal Russian beauty who could kill or incapacitate in a second, a mild-mannered scientist who turned into a green monster when he got a little excited, and the world's greatest marksman. Not to mention the normals of her group: a brilliant astrophysicist and the CEO of Stark Industries.

Who was Darcy Lewis?

Before she even got to her cubicle, someone tapped on her shoulder and Darcy turned. Sheila was behind her, looking quietly radiant, and as soon as Darcy was facing her, the other woman hugged her.

"I can't ever thank you enough," she said, drawing back, eyes shining. "Steve is a wonderful guy." She blushed. "He holds door open for me, and calls me a lady, and treats me like I'm special!"

"Um…you're welcome," Darcy stuttered. She couldn't stop the sly grin that slid across her face. "Do you do things nice things for him?"

Her friend's face went beet red. "Maybe, but I'm not going to discuss that with anyone."

"Shame." Darcy started toward her cubicle again, motioning for Sheila to join her. "Steve needs a good woman. He's a super nice guy."

She stopped abruptly when she reached her cubicle. All of her stuff was packed into boxes, and the computer had been dismantled. What the hell?

"Do you know what's going on here?" she asked in a tight voice.

Sheila grinned. "You've been reassigned. I think you're supposed to see Coulson."

Reassigned? Reassigned? No way. Darcy was picturing some remote outpost, because where she went, Loki was likely to follow, and Fury would probably sleep easier if Loki were chilling in Alaska or something.

All the craziness of the past month seemed to bubble up inside of her, and grumpiness turned to fury. "Talk to you later, Sheila." Darcy stalked away, lips pressed together and eyes flashing fire. Anyone who saw her coming scattered out of her way, and greetings died on the lips of those who were going to give them.

She stomped into Coulson's office without even knocking. "What. The. Hell?"

Coulson looked up from his computer. There was no expression on his face, of course. The man always looked strangely serene, even when he was threatening people. Standing over him was Fury, who raised an eyebrow in question. Darcy didn't care. Her face hurt, her life was a whirlwind, and this wasn't the way she wanted to start her Monday.

"Reassigned?" she hissed. "Seriously? What the hell?"

"Miss Lewis."

She pointed an angry finger at Coulson. "No. I don't want to hear some stupid justification. You forced me into this job because I'm a security liability. You made me move to this big ass, loud, smelly city. You forced me to be around super agent and superhero beefcake all the time, which really gives a girl a complex, let me tell you. You're not going to stick me in some shithole in the middle of nowhere!"

She kicked Coulson's desk, ignoring the pain that shot up her leg. "I think I've been good about all of this, really. Hanging out with superheroes and their girlfriends, ducking stray supervillain fire, working for a secret government agency…it's all a little crazy part of my life now. I'm still spinning from it, but I've gotten used to it, and now you want to reassign me?"

Both Coulson and Fury were not even looking slightly worried, as if the thought that Darcy Lewis might go postal either never occurred to them, or wasn't important enough to worry about. After all, all the super agents and superheroes in the building could easily bring her under control.

"I'm not gonna be your shithole pencil pusher!"

She had to pause to breathe, and that gave Fury the chance to talk. The director folder his arms across his chest and stared at her with his one eye. "You're being reassigned to the Avengers."

Darcy stopped in mid breath. After a moment, she realized breathing was important, so she resumed. "What?"

"You're being reassigned to the Avengers," Fury repeated slowly. He was watching her carefully, like he expected her to freak. Again.

Darcy wanted to freak, more than she just had, but her brain felt like it was encased in molasses. Thoughts were not coming to her. "I don't understand."

Coulson rose to his feet. "You've been around the team for awhile, right?"

"Yeah?"

"How often have you seen them doing team building exercises?"

Darcy had to think about it carefully. She'd seen them sniping at each other, maybe grudgingly working out together, but team building exercises? Their fighting style reflected their individuality and they all tended to go into a battle doing their own thing.

"Um…never?"

"Exactly. So what were they doing yesterday?"

Yesterday? Was Coulson on crack? "Are you on crack?" she had to ask, ignoring his calm. "They played paintball yesterday!"

"In teams. Working toward a common goal."

Oh. Darcy stared up at both men in sudden understanding. "Okay. I totally see that. But what does that have to do with me getting transferred to the Avengers?"

Fury frowned down at her. "You, or you and Loki, seemed to have inspired them to work together as a team. I'm not taking any chances. I'm going to exploit any possible advantage if it makes the team better. Agent Coulson will go over your primary responsibilities." He grinned suddenly. "You have self defense training with Agent Romanoff at 3:00."

Darcy gulped. Oh shit. "I don't have anything to wear for self defense training."

Coulson's creepy little smile gave her chills. "Agent Romanoff will be dropping off appropriate clothing for you this morning."

Oh shit. "She's gonna kill me, isn't she? All this reassigning bullshit is to throw me off the real plan – assassination."

Fury tilted his head, with the strangest look on his face. "Why the hell would I order you killed? Loki would tear this agency apart if that happened, and I'd be number one on his hit list. Do you think I want to die?"

Wow. That was so true. "I guess that would be really stupid, huh? Okay, so you ordered Natasha to teach me self defense?"

Fury seemed very confused or frustrated. He looked at Coulson, then back at Darcy. "Ordered her? No, she informed me that she would be training you. I value my manhood, so I didn't argue with her."

Darcy choked on air, and then started laughing. There was a slightly hysterical feel to it, after the events of the last few days (month). She clapped a hand to her mouth, staring up at Nick while still giggling. Damn. That made her face hurt. The look on Fury's face kept her giggling, while Coulson's creepy calm really made her want to bust a gut.

After a few seconds she managed to get it under control. "Sorry. It's been a busy and weird time in my life. I really needed to laugh. Sorry I yelled. A little on edge."

Sympathy, no matter how slight, looked very odd on Nick Fury's face. "That happens a lot around here." He stared at the bruised side of her face. "It will help when you're able to defend yourself. You'll feel more in control." He nodded shortly at both her and Coulson, and then walked toward the door. He paused right beside Darcy, and looked down at her.

"I know you never asked for this, so we're trying to make things as easy for you as we can. It isn't always an option, and for that I am sorry." He nodded, and left the office.

Darcy turned a questioning look on Coulson. "So…where am I going? What am I doing?"

Fury's minion stepped out from behind his desk and motioned for her to follow him.

***********************************************************************************************************************************

It had been a whirlwind of a day so far, and 3:00 came too fast. Darcy jumped a little when a knock sounded on her desk. It was strange, because when she'd heard she'd been reassigned to the Avengers, she hadn't been picturing working at a desk. But then again, it wasn't like she was suiting up in spandex to go fight the good fight. She looked up to see Natasha standing there in workout clothes, hair tied back.

Darcy blinked, and then checked the time. It was 2:55. Crap. "Give me five to get changed."

The older woman nodded. "Meet me in the gym."

"Yeah." Darcy jumped out of her chair and scooped up the workout clothes Natasha had delivered earlier. There was a nearby locker room for women only, and she made her way there to get changed and pull her hair back into a pony tail. She was hellishly nervous. Natasha was very serious when it came to kicking ass, and Darcy wasn't really a contact violence girl. She preferred distance violence, like tasers. But her bruised face was a testament to the disadvantage of using something other than herself for her own defense. Without the taser, she'd had nothing. She didn't want Loki to have any excuse to go evil again, so learning to defend herself was a good idea.

Natasha had even thoughtfully included a sports bra in Darcy's size. That was a good thing because the girls would probably knock her out if she tried to do any of the jumping that Natasha seemed to incorporate into her fighting. Darcy couldn't even imagine trying to explain that situation to, well, anyone. Of course, she immediately began to imagine Stark's reaction, or Coulson's…stop!

A welcome sight greeted her in the gym. "Jane!" she cried in relief. Jane was standing next to Natasha, also dressed for action with her hair pulled back. Both women turned at her arrival.

Natasha's smile was considerably softer than Darcy was used to seeing. "Since Jane also needs to learn self defense, I thought it would be easier for both of you to train at the same time." She bit her lip. "I've been told that I can be intimidating."

Darcy's bark of laughter was louder than she thought. "Uh, yeah? I totally watch the footage from the public fights, you know. I saw you take out six guys in a matter of seconds. Yes, you are intimidating." She saw the redhead wilt a little, and decided to try to cheer her up. "Thanks for the clothes, by the way. It would have been tough to get physical in office clothes. Oh yeah, and thanks for the sports bra. Ohmigod! The girls would have totally knocked me out if I tried to jump or anything with a regular bra."

She dimly registered Jane's resigned sigh, but apparently could not stop her mouth today. "It's thoughtful little things like that that make you a good person. Plus, teaching me and Jane self defense. Why is Jane here? Jane, why are you here?"

From the look on Natasha's face, the Darcy ramble disturbed her for some reason. The redhead opened her mouth to say something, but Darcy's mouth wasn't done yet.

"Not that I mind that Jane's here, because it's nice to have the company, and it sets my mind at ease that Natasha isn't going to kill me. That's what I thought when they first told me about being reassigned, and then self defense training, and I just figured that Fury was eliminating civilians so his operation would be more secure. Uh-oh. Jane, I think that means that you're on the hitlist too. Wow. Thor will be pissed. So I guess that we're really are here for self defense, because Fury doesn't want to die or lose his manhood, so killing us would be a bad idea."

Jane was laughing, a girlish little twitter that always slightly annoyed Darcy. "You get used to it," the scientist told Natasha. "It happens when she's stressed."

Darcy found herself on the receiving end of a very speculative look from the redhead, and then Natasha broke out into hearty laughter. "What?" Darcy didn't like when she wasn't in on the joke.

The Black Widow looked down at her, eyes crinkling in mirth. "I'm trying to picture Loki's reaction to that."

Jane clapped a hand over her mouth. "Poor Loki. I don't think he'd handle that well."

"He didn't run!" Darcy told them proudly. "He looked at me a little funny, but he didn't run or anything." She managed to shut her mouth and took several deep, cleansing breaths, trying to get herself back into a Zen place where her mouth was not disconnected from her motor controls. She breathed for a minute, and finally exhaled explosively.

"Mouth now under control. Let's do this."

She was completely confused when they spent over 30 minutes stretching and warming up. It was a little embarrassing to realize she was in such poor shape, because her body just didn't stretch in some of the ways that Natasha wanted her to. Jane had no problems, and seemed to be double jointed, but Darcy really struggled. She didn't see the point to all the stretching, and finally had to ask.

"What's with all the stretching?"

Natasha raised an eyebrow at her. "What happens if you're attacked by more than one person, and you put the first one down but pull or tear muscles in the process because you've let them tighten and atrophy, and then you can't defend yourself against the others?"

Good point. "Stretching is good," Darcy agreed. "And I think I really need it."

She watched Natasha bite her lip again, and gave the woman points for not agreeing with her statement.

When the Widow was satisfied that they had done enough stretching, they finally moved into very basic self defense moves: what to do if someone grabbed your shoulder from the front or back, or if someone grabbed your arm, or gave you a sinister bear hug. Darcy really liked that one. She easily escaped Natasha's hold several times, and varied between running or taking the attacker out.

A small sound at the gym's entrance caught their attention, and Darcy looked up to see Stark watching them in appreciation, while at the same time typing on his phone.

"Ladies," he greeted with a big shit-eating grin.

Natasha's sigh was loud. "Tony, this is not an exhibition training session."

"It's about to be," he quipped, pocketing his phone.

Loki was the first to arrive, popping out of nowhere to stand beside Stark. He wore that smug little not-smile that drove Darcy nuts, and folded his arms across his chest, while watching the three women. Barton was the next to arrive, followed closely by Thor. Banner and Cap were a little slower, but soon they were all clustered around the gym entrance.

Darcy felt extremely self-conscious, and was considering asking Natasha to stop. Jane's wide and twitchy eyes said she felt the same way. But when Darcy saw the twinkle in Natasha's eyes, she knew things were about to get interesting.

"Gentlemen, I can't have you disturbing my students, so you just volunteered to be attackers. Get in here."

Somehow, Darcy didn't think that was a good idea. But when she watched Tasha slam Barton into the floor hard enough that everyone felt it, she revised her opinion. It might be fun to beat up on the guys a little.

Poor Bruce didn't move, earning him a wicked look from the Widow. "Bruce, I meant all of you."

The scientist spread his hands in an apologetic gesture. "Natasha I can't. If someone throws me on the floor…well…you know."

Darcy kept looking back and forth between the two of them, waiting. Bruce had a valid point. He wouldn't lie on the floor, trying to catch his breath like Barton. He'd swell up and go green.

"No throwing," Natasha promised. "Disarming practice, and general hold escape. Think you can handle that? You'll be my partner."

Darcy thought that Bruce was being very brave when he swallowed hard and nodded. Then he looked to his male teammates. "If…if it happens, make sure I don't hurt anyone, okay?"

Thor was boisterously excited. "Do not worry, my friend. I have fought off your dark side before." He was grinning, eyes almost flashing in his excitement. Darcy rolled her own eyes. Show the man a little action, and he turns into a puppy. How Jane possibly found that attractive…

Loki surprised everyone. "Do not fear, Dr. Banner. If you 'get your freak on', I can contain you." He tactfully did not point out that he'd done exactly that when he'd made his bid for world domination.

Bruce was delighted. "You can! I remember that." He heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank you Loki. That makes me feel a lot better."

Barton finally picked himself up off the floor. "Shit. Then you're officially on call for Hulk-subduing duties, Loki. He broke one of my ribs the last time. A little explosion in the lab, and all of a sudden, everything needs remodeling." He grinned to soften his words. "At least it's never boring around here. Why didn't you volunteer before this?"

Darcy's man had the strangest look on his face. "Would you have trusted me with that duty prior to now, Clint Barton?"

The archer stared at him thoughtfully. "Probably not. I'm not as forgiving as Stark, and I never really trusted your so-called reform. But you've saved our necks a couple of times, and I honestly can't believe that Darcy is that poor of a character judge, so I guess I'm okay with you."

Natasha used Barton as her toss toy, and Banner for the less active moves. Jane and Darcy got to practice with Stark, Rogers, and Barton mostly. The Widow seemed a little hesitant to use the Asgardian duo. Thor was so big, and Loki was a reformed super villain.

Loki was the first to notice that he was not being used. "Agent Romanoff. When are you planning to use me as an attacker?"

"I…" It was the first time Darcy had ever seen Tasha at a loss for words. "I wasn't sure if you would tolerate being used in such a manner."

Loki smirked at her. "You think I prefer watching other men put their hands on my woman? Or wrap their arms around her?"

Rogers, who currently had his arms wrapped around Darcy's torso, pinning her arms to her sides, released her and stepped back quickly. "No funny business intended, Loki."

Darcy laughed as Loki slid into place behind her, sliding his arms around her. "You did that on purpose," she accused in a whisper.

He bent his head to whisper back. "Of course."

Stark groaned. "Seriously you two? You make out during paintball, and now you're getting all touchy feely during self defense training?"

Darcy raised her chin. "Deal with it, Stark."

He shrugged. "I'm just waiting for you to try to toss Loki." He rubbed his hands together. "This should be way more entertaining than trying to toss Bruce. You don't toss gods casually, you know."

Loki apparently didn't believe he could get tossed. Darcy caught a glimpse of his face as he tumbled over her shoulder, and it was priceless. Wide eyes, open mouth and total shock. He uttered an inelegant bleat of surprise, and then blinked out of the air before he hit the floor to stand behind Darcy again.

"That is so unfair," Barton groused, picking himself up off the floor from where Natasha had thrown him.

Darcy turned slowly, afraid to see Loki's expression. He was…laughing? Really? "You're not mad?"

He slid his arms around her from the front this time. "Of course not. I knew what the move entailed. I just did not believe you would be able to do it."

"I want to try," Thor announced, with a huge grin. "I find it unlikely that a woman other than Sif could toss me to the floor."

Natasha's grin was feral, and Darcy had to press her face into Loki's chest to hide her grin. Apparently, the floor underneath the gym mat was not rated for Asgardians, because she heard a loud crack following the deafening thud of the God of Thunder hitting it. Loki was laughing with her.

"Oh Thor. Your face!"

Darcy lifted her head, and tried not to laugh at this sight of Thor, sitting in the middle of a depression, shaking his head. Jane was not so restrained, and she did laugh at her man's misfortune.

Thor jumped to his feet, and bowed to Natasha. "I stand corrected. You are a formidable opponent, Natasha. I had avoided sparring with you because you are female, mortal, and delicate. I must apologize for underestimating your skill at combat."

Natasha didn't even look flustered. "Jane. Darcy. Even the biggest man, god, or supervillain can be taken down if they underestimate you. It's a powerful weapon for a woman." Then she turned her blistering gaze on Loki. "You are not permitted to teleport, or whatever it is that you do, during this training. Actually, you could probably use some hand to hand training as well."

"I prefer to work from afar, as Agent Barton does," Loki replied loftily. "I have magic and blades, and I am skilled with both."

"What happens when you're drained, and out of knives?" the Widow asked sweetly. "Barton has extensive hand to hand training. He might prefer the ranged weapon, but he can take people apart with his hands when he needs to. Can you say the same?"

Darcy saw by the expression on his face that Loki could not. He had suffered grievous wounds in the battle with the green skinned aliens, while trying to rescue Stark from their midst.

Thor had folded his arms over his massive chest, and was giving Loki a goading look. Darcy got the feeling that the blond god had tried to make the same point to his brother countless times before. She watched Loki's shoulders slump in defeat.

"You are correct. Although I believe that my minion requires the same training. He relies on his suit of armor too much."

Stark squawked a protest that Natasha smoothly overrode. "I agree, Loki," she purred, looking at Stark like he was a bowl of cream, and she was a very naughty cat. "Tony definitely needs hand to hand training."

Loki slapped an arm around Stark's shoulders as the billionaire tried to escape. "I am very relieved that you will be sharing training, minion." He winked at Darcy. "I will not be the only male to be abused by our relentless teacher."

Stark tried, for several minutes, to wiggle out of Loki's reach, but Darcy's man had a firm hold on him. The billionaire finally gave up, shoulder's slumping.

"This sucks, you know," he told them all. "Bruce…help a friend out?"

Banner only shook his head. "You're on your own for this one, Stark."

The Iron Man gave in to defeat. "Fine. But if you hurt me, you have to deal with Pepper."

Natasha winked. "Pepper likes me. I'm sure it won't be a problem."

The jibes, threats, and joking continued through the end of the training session, and then everyone scattered with light hearts.

Chapter Text

Loki was no stranger to combat. He'd initially been offended at the Black Widow's suggestion that he needed to brush up on his skills, but after careful consideration, he'd realized she was correct. It had been a very long time since he'd practiced contact fighting. He was woefully out of practice. Darcy should not have been able to toss him. So he agreed to allow Natasha to hone his combat skills, albeit reluctantly. Pressing Stark into those same lessons was a small bonus.

He had to come to Darcy's rescue the first two mornings after her lessons began. He'd awoken to a pitiful cell phone call on the first morning.

"Loki – I can't move. Everything hurts. I can't get out of bed."

Her voice was so pathetic that he felt immediate sympathy. "It will pass in a few days, once your body adapts," he assured. "I will be there in five minutes."

He paused to commit the sight to memory when he arrived in her apartment. Darcy was stuck on her back in the middle of her bed, arms and legs flailing weakly like an upside down turtle. When he moved into her field of view, she pouted at him, full lips jutting out for sympathy. She was adorable.

He sat down on the edge of the bed and bent over to press a kiss to those pouty lips. "Did you not stretch your muscles?"

"Yes. For like 30 minutes. But Natasha worked us hard!"

Loki slid his arms underneath her, and bit back a smirk when she tried to raise her arms. A whimper escaped her throat, and she resigned herself to letting the arms dangle.

"I'm gonna die," she whispered in agony, as he slowly levered her into a sitting position. "Seriously."

"You're not," he corrected with amusement. "But I know what will make you feel better."

He didn't even ask her, just jumped them to his apartment, right into the Jacuzzi which was already on and steaming.

Darcy let out a moan that was almost pornographic as she was submerged in hot, jetting water. She slumped back against Loki's chest and let out a shaky sigh. "That feels so good. Thank you, Loki." She wrinkled her nose, and laughed. "We're still wearing our clothes. In the Jacuzzi. That's comparable to a mortal sin."

He laughed softly in her ear, teeth tugging softly on her earlobe. "I will correct that grave sin in a minute. But I quite enjoy the way the water has molded the clothes to your skin."

"Perv," she accused lightly. "It makes the girls jump out and call attention to themselves."

"They do that anyhow," he quipped, raising one hand to lightly her cup her. Darcy sighed again, and titled her head back so she could nibble on the skin where his neck and shoulder met. As the hot water did its work, she managed to wiggle around to face him. He smiled down at her. Even with her hair drooping limply in the steam, she was lovely. And full of mischief, he could see.

"Let me use your cell phone," she commanded. "I need to call and let them know I'll be late for work."

Loki couldn't stop the small laugh that escaped his mouth. "And what reason will you give?"

"The truth!" she told him saucily. "I have to soak my sore muscles until I can move."

The second day had not been quite as bad, but she still couldn't get out of bed on her own. Since she was in Loki's bed, it wasn't really an issue, as he simply repeated his therapy of the day before.

After that, the mornings were easier as Darcy's body adapted. Loki was quite enjoying the training sessions, as it gave him a sense of belonging that he had never really felt on Asgard. Plus he got to admire Darcy in action. She was a feisty little thing, and very enthusiastic.

A week into the training, the girls were practicing escaping a hold from behind, with Loki and Stark acting as attackers. Stark rather sadistically enjoyed being an attacker as well as getting tossed or punched, kicked, etc. He had just surprised Jane from behind, even as Loki did the same to Darcy, when a brief electronic beep caught everyone's attention. Before the girls could react, music began to play from somewhere near Tony Stark's stomach.

I've got the brains, you've got the looks
Let's make lots of money
You've got the brawn, I've got the brains
Let's make lots of money

Natasha frowned. "Dammit Stark. I told you to leave the phone in the locker room."

Stark grinned rakishly and gave her the 'peace-out' sign. "Sorry sweetheart. My other job has need of my awesome talents." He caught the towel Bruce threw at him, dried his face, and pulled the phone from the pocket of his hoodie. "Stark."

"Seriously?" Barton shook his head, watching the billionaire with an amused smile. "That's the ring tone for your company?"

Loki narrowly avoided Darcy's elbow as it jerked toward his stomach. The little hellcat had taken advantage of his distraction with Stark. "Tsk tsk," he reprimanded, swatting her on the backside, ignoring her offended yell. "That was dirty."

"But effective," Natasha called. "Her objective is to put an attacker down so she can run."

From the corner of his eye, Loki noticed Stark's body go rigid. He started to turn toward the Iron Man, and froze at Stark's hiss.

"What?"

Everyone turned to look. Tony's eyes were wide and color had drained from his face. He was holding the phone so tightly his knuckles had turned white, and sucking air in through his mouth. It whistled when it hissed back out.

"Stark?" Loki took a step toward him, but Tony threw up a furious negating hand, so he froze.

The gym was now eerily silent as everyone watched Stark. He ended the call and stood shock still for a moment, then hurled his phone against the nearest wall with violent force. The team scattered with surprised yelps as Tony left the gym at a dead run. Loki had never seen so much negative emotion from his minion and he knew that whatever had happened was very bad.

Steve Rogers blinked, looked around at the others, and then led the sprint out of the gym, after Stark.

They found him suited up and heading for the roof access. Somehow, even the Iron Man suit looked a little wild eyed. Rogers stepped in front of him with the air of a man expecting a fight.

"Tony, we need to know what's going on. An assemble hasn't been called, so you're doing this on your own, and you know how Fury hates that."

"Get out of my way." The voice didn't really belong to Tony Stark. It was strained and short. When the captain didn't move, Tony roughly shoved him to one side, tumbling him end over end before he bounced to his feet. Thor had already taken his place, barring the Iron Man's advance.

"We can assist, Stark. Tell us what has happened."

Stark growled, an animalistic sound of rage, and activated his jets. He crashed into the God of Thunder and Thor was propelled down the hallway in front of his teammate, bellowing in anger. Loki knew his brother would be fine, and he spun away, covering Darcy with his body while everyone else ducked for cover. The back blast from the Iron Man suit jets staggered them all.

Loki straightened and turned. He could hear Thor's bellows receding, and then a resounding thud told him that Stark had ditched his Asgardian roadblock. The dull, concussive force of the hand repulsors shook them a moment later, and building alarms went off as the roof access hatch was blasted.

As he stared down the hallway, the growl behind him didn't register at first, but the green hands that grabbed his arms got his attention. Too much excitement for Banner to deal with.

Darcy shrieked as Loki was shaken and then tossed against the wall, hard. He slid down to the floor, head spinning, but couldn't get his mind clear enough to subdue the Hulk before he was picked up again. It felt like Banner's freak-out personality was winding up for one hell of a fastball, but a sizzling noise distracted him.

The Hulk turned slowly, Loki dangling from his crushing grip. He snarled at the taser probes sticking out of his upper arm, and then focused on the girl who had shot him.

"Oh shit," Darcy breathed, eyes so wide the whites were showing all the way around. She backed as far away as she could without dropping the taser. "Um…sorry? Bruce?"

"Hulk smash," the brute promised, raising Loki to use as a weapon.

"Bruce stop!" Natasha's voice echoed in the hallway. She was using what Rogers had dubbed as her 'drill sergeant voice, and the Hulk paused, Loki dangling near his head. Some part of the green monster recognized the teacher voice, and was puzzling over whether he should obey or not.

The God of Mischief's brain finally unscrambled enough for him to realize he was about to be used to pound Darcy, and it wouldn't be the type of pounding that either of them enjoyed. He reached out to tap Hulk on the nose, and the Banner-less eyes focused on him.

"Nap time."

He sent a pulse of magic into the Hulk's head. It was like tasing the brain directly, and Hulk was not immune. He collapsed to the floor with a soft groan, eyes rolling up to show the whites. Loki pulled free as the big green fingers relaxed, and straightened his clothes absently as he stood. The expression he turned on Darcy made her wince.

"What?" She ducked her head, biting on her bottom lip and scuffing her foot on the floor like a child.

Loki took the two steps necessary to bring him to her. "That was not the best idea you've had." He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then drew back to look down at her. "I can take care of myself."

She frowned. "I thought it would put him down. But it only tickled him."

"What the hell happened here?"

Nick Fury was practically spitting anger as he came pounding around a corner in the hallway, guns in both hands, coat flapping. There was a contingent of heavily armed S.H.I.E.L.D agents behind him, led by Coulson. The director skidded to a halt, and surveyed the scene, one eye studying and calculating.

"Why did Bruce Hulk?" He spun on his heel, looking all around the area. "Where are Thor and Stark?"

Coulson stepped forward, eyes on the groaning, shrinking form of Banner on the floor, assessing the situation calmly. "Sitwell, Graham – see to Bruce. He's de-Hulking." Two agents slung their guns and peeled out of formation to deal with Banner. Coulson gave a short nod, and then focused his attention on the two Avengers who had been S.H.I.E.L.D agents. "Barton, Romanoff - talk to me. What happened?"

Natasha spread her hands. "Tony apparently got some very upsetting news from Stark Industries. He jumped in a suit and blasted his way out the roof access hatch. Steve and Thor tried to stop him." She shrugged. Steve managed to look apologetic when Coulson and Fury both glanced at him briefly.

Coulson's eyes came back to Natasha and Clint. "Where is Thor?"

"Probably near the roof access hatch," Loki reasoned. He swiveled Darcy around to his side and took her hand before moving down the hallway. "I think he broke the floor again," he called over his shoulder to the S.H.I.E.L.D agents. A pang of worry hit him. If Stark had been there and himself, he would have made some kind of crack about Thor's super powerful ass, as he had after the gym floor had been abused.

Thor was just pushing the roof access hatch off of his legs as everyone turned a corner and nearly ran him down. He was sitting in another depression, probably where Stark had tossed him. His expression was pure disgust when Loki reached down to help him stand.

"I fear our comrade in arms has gone berserk," the God of Thunder announced sadly. "He was not able to form an intelligible word." He accepted Loki's helping hand and popped back to his feet, dusting himself off.

Fury turned to his minion. "Where is he?"

Coulson was on the phone, talking in great animation. "I don't care how you do it. Just do it!" He snapped the phone shut. "He's jamming us, sir. We can't track him or talk to him."

Nick Fury scowled. "We need information. We can't have an Avenger going rogue."

"Where is your humanity, Nicholas?" Loki chided. He folded his arms across his chest. "You have known Stark longer than I. When has he ever surrendered to rage like this? Something truly terrible must have happened. Your thoughts and concerns should be focused on Stark's well being."

For one second, he saw the humanity behind Nick Fury's mask. The slightest twist of his expression and a widening of his eye told Loki that the man did have a heart, and he was very worried about Tony Stark. But the mask fell quickly back into place.

"I don't have that luxury, Loki. Can you find him?" Fury holstered his guns and wiggled his fingers. "With your magic?"

Loki frowned. "Not while he is in the suit, no. He took great pains to protect his armor against me, and it has been effective."

Coulson's expression never altered. "We'll have to locate him the old fashioned way then." He turned and began barking orders at S.H.I.E.L.D agents.

Thor looked quizzically at his brother. "You truly cannot locate him?" He smiled down at Jane, who was worrying over him and brushing dust from his backside.

Loki frowned. "I cannot. It seems he took offense to a pink suit of armor and developed some type of technology to prevent my tampering." The feeling of impotence that welled up inside surprised him. "I have never seen Tony like that."

"Not even when he was being poisoned by the reactor," Natasha confirmed softly. "Is there anything we can do?" She glanced at Loki. "He got a call from Stark Industries. Can you pop in there?"

"I would prefer not to squander my magics until we know what is happening with Tony. It is possible that I will need all of my energy." Loki laced his arms behind his back, and began to pace helplessly. Seeing Stark reduced to an animalistic reaction was troubling.

The others took their cue from him and milled around uneasily. The need for action was almost overwhelming, but there was no focus. They were itching to do something, but no one knew what to do. Coulson refused any offers of help, preferring to leave it to the people who were trained for it. "I'll come for you when action is needed," he told them, and then stalked away. Fury regarded them for one moment longer, then titled his head up to look at the empty space in the ceiling where the hatch had been. He sighed, squared his shoulders, and walked after Coulson.

Darcy looked so worried that Loki ceased his pacing to stand beside her. He placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I am worried too, Darcy," he assured.

She leaned into his side but didn't look up at him, staring blankly down the hallway. "Tony's always the composed one, you know? He doesn't let things get to him. Seeing him like that…"

"It's painful," Natasha called. She was leaning against the wall beside Barton. "He's an ass. He's almost intolerably fond of himself. But he's strangely lovable at the same time. His devotion to Pepper…Pepper!" She kicked away from the wall. "We can call Pepper!" She withdrew a phone from her pants pocket and held it to her ear after dialing. She waited what seemed to be a very long time, and then wilted, flipping the phone shut. "Voice mail."

Barton, still leaning against the wall, looked past everyone and dipped his head. "Banner. How you doing?"

Bruce Banner was just rounding the corner of the hallway, with agents Sitwell and Graham holding onto his arms to steady him. He was clutching the torn remnants of his clothes. S.H.I.E.L.D had yet to find clothing that could survive the Hulk transformation. He visibly flinched as everyone turned to look at him.

"I am sorry, Bruce," Loki apologized, as the scientist joined them. It couldn't have felt good to have the brain fried. Even if he had been the Hulk at the time.

Banner shook his head, wincing with the lingering pain. "No Loki, I'm sorry. I…almost hurt you and Darcy." He nodded his okay to Sitwell and Graham, and the two agents released him, melting away to find Coulson.

Darcy reached out to pat Banner on the arm. "No harm done, Bruce. I'm lucky, because I have a god boyfriend who can come to my rescue. Even though I was trying to rescue him. Which didn't turn out too well. Don't worry about it."

Banner's whole demeanor seemed beaten. "What if Loki hadn't been able to stop me, Darcy? What would have happened?"

"Tranquilizer gun," Barton answered shortly. He patted the small gun strapped to his thigh. Everyone else stared at him in disbelief.

Natasha shook her head. "You're serious about that, aren't you? It's the only gun you carry, and it's a trank gun for Hulk moments?"

Barton shrugged. "You know my weapon of choice. It seemed silly to carry a different weapon. I can always take a gun from someone else, if I really need one." He grinned. "I'd rather have the trank gun for the green rampages. I don't like broken ribs." He offered a cocky grin to Banner. "It's cool, Bruce. We've adapted to your rage personality being a frequent visitor. It keeps things interesting."

Bruce didn't seem convinced. "I need to get new clothes," he said softly, turning to depart.

It worked as a signal to everyone else. They quietly followed Banner through the halls. While he continued on to the locker room (which contained multiple sets of clothes for his after-Hulk moments), the others milled around the conference room, waiting for news on Tony. Banner rejoined them shortly, clothed, with his arms full of bottled water. He dumped them on the table and shrugged apologetically when quizzical eyes turned his way.

"We should stay hydrated for…well, for whatever."

It was almost an unconscious reflex that everyone grabbed a water bottle. At least it gave them something to hold on to while they waited. Loki took comfort from Darcy's presence at his side. It was maddening, this worry over a mortal's safety and sanity. Asgardians were hardy enough that there wasn't frequent worry over the safety of another in times of peace, and it was rare for insanity to rear its troubled head. But mortals were so fragile…

He glanced down at the girl by his side. She was so young, a mayfly compared to his lifespan and just as fragile. Even Tony Stark was fragile when not in his iron suit. He didn't enjoy the tight feeling in his stomach and chest caused by his concerns over their safety. Like his brother, his time on Earth had helped him to be a better person by creating those concerns for others.

It was maybe only 30 minutes later that Fury and Coulson came to find them.

"Iron Man is tearing apart Stark Industries," Coulson informed them grimly as he strode through the conference room doorway. "Assemble. Your job is to restrain him and take him into custody."

No one moved. Wide eyed looks passed between all remaining Avengers, but nobody moved a step. Coulson surveyed them with his usual lack of expression, and then his shoulders slumped. It was the closest thing to emotion Loki had ever seen from Fury's minion, and it was troubling.

"I don't like it either, people. But we can't help him until we know what's wrong. He's apparently lost his mind. We need to make sure he doesn't hurt himself or anyone else."

Why the hell were they all looking at him? Every eye had turned toward Loki, even Thor's. It was a responsibility he did not want. He wilted. "You must do as Agent Coulson says. Tony will not forgive himself later, if he hurts someone who does not deserve it." And they would not forgive themselves if they had to hurt Tony. What hell was this?

Their footsteps, though hurried, were heavy as the Avengers headed toward the Quinjet, Fury walking with them. Loki shared a long look with Coulson and Fury, and then bent to place a kiss on Darcy's head.

"I must go," he whispered. "I will do everything in my power to prevent a fight between them, and I will try to bring Stark back to his sanity."

Darcy nodded, eyes shimmering. "It must be something terrible, Loki. He'll need all the support he can get. Bring him back."

"I will." Loki dropped a cautious nod to Coulson, and blinked out of Avengers Headquarters, heading for a confrontation with a mortal man he'd come to consider a friend.

Chapter Text

Loki arrived in front of Stark Industries, blinking against the bright sun. Employees were running from the building. They didn't seem as panicked as Loki remembered them being when he had thrown Stark from the window and then attacked Thor, Captain America and Iron Man in the street outside. He hoped that was a good sign.

He seized the arm of a man who looked a little wild eyed and had just exited the building. The mortal took one look at him in his battle armor, and uttered a high pitched scream. Loki winced. It seemed the news of his rehabilitation was not commonly known. "What is going on inside?" he asked harshly.

The man did not answer. His eyes were impossibly wide, and he was making small chuffing noises, standing as far away as Loki's grip on his arm would allow. The God of Mischief frowned.

"I am no longer the person who attacked this place months ago," he assured. "I am here to help Tony Stark. The Avengers will be here shortly to subdue him, and I wish to prevent that from coming to pass. It will not go well for him or them."

The man could not speak, so Loki released him, annoyed. He was hesitant to blink into the building, not knowing what he would be blinking into, and he was running out of time. Ignoring the frightened mortals, he boldly strode to the building's entrance.

"Hey don't go in there!"

Loki turned. A mortal police officer had just arrived on the scene, and was rising from his vehicle, one foot still inside.

"I must go inside. Keep others from entering. The Avengers will be here shortly, and there will be a fight. I have the chance to prevent that from happening."

He faced the building entrance once more, and swept inside. A few stragglers were still fleeing the building, and they gave him wide berth, frightened cries echoing in the empty building.

He could not use magic to locate Stark, but he could use it to locate destruction (anything that was destroyed gave off energy that begged for it to be reconstructed, calling to his own magic). He sent tendrils of sensing out through the building, and shuddered seconds later. There was massive destruction high in the building, in Pepper's office. It was still taking place as more and more things cried out to be reassembled.

Loki shut down that portion of his senses, and sent himself to the office door. He barely had time to dodge a desk that came hurtling at him, ducking behind the door jamb and throwing up a hand to ward off a hail of debris. The brief glimpse he'd had into the office made his stomach drop. He'd hoped that Stark was fighting a villain. But the room was empty except for the raging Iron Man. He was fighting only himself.

"Tony - you must stop," he called.

His only answer was that animalistic cry, and a desk chair flung at his face. Loki jerked his head back behind the wall, feeling it shudder as the chair crashed against it. Stark was gone, it seemed. This couldn't end well.

"Tony please," he tried again, back pressed to the wall. He couldn't even use magic to subdue the man. The disruptor field around the suit prevented it. They were probably evenly matched at this point. At least Stark hadn't used the hand repulsors yet, or any of his other weapons. Loki wasn't sure if the repulsors had the same disruptive field, and he didn't want to test it. A blast wouldn't kill him, but it wouldn't feel good either. And a bullet would pierce his skin if it had any bit of the disruptive field to it. He knew that Stark would feel guilty if Loki was wounded somehow. It was best to stay out of the line of fire.

Loki was frustrated with himself. His mind seemed to have slowed, not able to think of a solution. That was so unlike his previous self that he didn't know what to think. Of course, his solutions many times had included collateral damage, and in his time on Earth he'd come to realize that accomplishing something no matter what the cost usually wasn't worth it.

Stark had to be running out of things to break. He peeked around the door frame and had to pull back as something…was that a loveseat?...came flying at his head.

"That was not nice, minion," he chided, heart beating a little faster. "Tell me what is wrong."

Something else hit the door frame, tearing the wood frame off, and lodging in the doorway. Loki glanced down. Another piece of furniture. Why did Pepper have so much furniture in her office? Why wasn't she yelling at her berserk billionaire boyfriend? Tony would never hurt her. Loki had faith in that fact, just as he would not harm Darcy. Where was Pepper Potts? He combed through his recent memories, trying to find some type of reference to the missing CEO. Was she off on some type of business trip?

"Has something happened to Pepper?" he called.

Another mindless scream and more furniture came his way. Loki suspected this was the cause of Stark's distress. Something had happened to Pepper, and Tony was out of his mind with anger and grief.

"Talk to me, Stark," he urged, still taking cover outside the office. "The Avengers have been assembled to subdue and restrain you. They will be here soon. I know that, no matter what has happened, you do not want to hurt innocent bystanders. If there is a fight between the Avengers, people will get hurt. Let me help you."

He did not want to fight Tony Stark, but time was against him. Loki pulled his horned helmet out of the air and settled it on his head grimly. He suspected there were only minutes remaining before the Avengers arrived, and he had to prevent that fight. Remembering what it was like to be a prince of Asgard, no matter how despised, he stepped into the doorway.

A glass topped coffee table almost took him by surprise. Loki threw up a quick magical shield and flinched as glass and debris shot past him. Another piece of furniture quickly followed, and he batted that aside. An inhumanly quick scan of the office told him that Stark was almost out of things to break/throw.

"Tony, you must allow me to help you. Please."

In quick succession, he dodged several paintings and pieces of pottery. Before the remaining chairs could be thrown at his head, Loki sent them away. He stood warily near the door, ready to move if needed. Stark was standing near the windows, staring at him. It was a little disturbing. Loki couldn't tell what was going to happen next. The face plate, with its expressionless features, gave away nothing.

"Tony – take the suit off. You do not want to fight me or your teammates."

A low growling noise came from the suit. It reverberated through Loki's entire body and settled with icy dread in his spine. It was the same noise Banner made when he lost control and Hulked. It was the sound of madness, the sound of someone falling into the abyss, the death of reason.

The hand repulsors began to glow, but Stark's arms were still at his sides and they did not move. It was the first sign of hope Loki had seen. Had Stark been entirely gone, he would have already fired.

"You have forgiven me for the terrible things I did in my insanity and rage. You are stronger than the darkness that wants to rule you." Loki reached up and removed his helmet. "I want to help in any way that I can, Tony. Please take the suit off." He bent and placed the helmet on the floor. Iron Man's head tracked its progress, and stared at the helmet long after Loki had straightened. Finally the iron head rose to look at him again.

They heard it at the same time – the shriek of the Quinjet's engines. Loki's jaw clenched even as Stark's stance altered slightly. It almost looked like he was ready to attack. Loki spared a brief moment to magically seal the building. It wouldn't stop the Avengers for long, but it might be all he needed.

"They cannot enter the building for now," he told the tense figure in front of him. "It will not delay them for long. Thor can use Mjolnir to shatter the barrier. Please Tony. Let me help you as you have helped me."

Something seemed to drain out of Stark then. Loki watched the iron suit slump, and then drop to its knees beside the one item in the room that had not been thrown or destroyed. It was boxlike in shape, unadorned white in color, and seemed to be made of that cushiony substance of air filled beads smashed together. He had seen the same substance used before in labs and in restaurants as a take home container.

Dread filled him, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. It was such a harmless looking thing, a chest, he noticed on closer inspection. There was a thin white lid of that same material fitted on top of the chest, hiding its contents. Why did such a plain looking item evoke such soul deep dread? A shiver passed through him, and he now understood what Steve meant when the good captain said something gave him the heebie-jeebies.

It was just a white chest. Why did it make a Jotun-born, Asgardian-raised sorcerer want to scream like the women in horror movies, and cower in the corner of a room to await his fate?

It had not been touched. Every other item in the room had been thrown or destroyed in some fashion during Tony Stark's rampage, but this simple white chest had escaped unscathed. There was a debris free zone all around it. Its wholeness, surrounded by destruction, made it brighter. Whiteness seemed to stream outward from the chest, blurring into the air, creating a subtle menace in its innocence.

It was just a white chest.

But what was inside of it had brought Iron Man to his knees. Even now, Stark was touching it lightly, metal fingers trembling. The very knowledge of what it contained had stolen his reason and his sanity and made him a target of the very people he fought beside.

Bile rose in Loki's throat so strongly that he expected to retch, but it just burned in the back of his throat. He seemed to be frozen, unable to take a step forward. Cowardice was unacceptable, but he really did not want to know or see what was in the chest. It would change everything. It would ruin more lives. He could not move closer.

But his heart, that annoying organ that had recently begun to expand and open to possibilities, moved his legs forward without his consent. Loki wanted to run. The impulse was so strong that his muscles were twitching in flight mode but that other part of him would not let him flee.

The part of him that wanted to flee heard the boom of thunder and felt the collapse of his barrier, but the other part of him was stronger. It continued to move him forward, step by step, until he stood at Stark's side. How could a metal suit look wilted? Misery was streaming from the slumped shoulders and bowed head.

It was just a chest. Loki couldn't bring himself to look at it now that he was practically standing on top of it. If he saw anything that gave him an idea of the content…

"What is in the chest, Tony?" he asked in a whisper, dropping to one knee beside the man who had become his friend.

The iron face rose to look at him. Finally (finally!), the face plate flipped up. Tony was ashen. There was very little sanity in his eyes, and Loki was shocked to see tear tracks down the man's face. He looked years older in that moment, and couldn't seem to speak.

A soft whisper of sound told Loki that the lid of the chest had been removed. He did not want to look, but Tony's eyes were begging for help, and he couldn't help without knowing what the problem was. When had he become such a coward? Swallowing heavily, Loki looked down.

It was a head.

A severed head.

With strawberry blond hair that thankfully covered the face he didn't want to see.

A low moan came from beside him, and Stark hit the floor with a crash, curling up in a fetal position. Loki wanted to do the same, but one of them had to stay sane. At another time, he might have found the idea of him being the sane one amusing, but right now, nothing was amusing. This was not war, where death was expected. This was a brutal execution of a non-warrior.

Footsteps heralded the arrival of the Avengers. Loki was frozen in position on one knee, staring down at the grisly sight in the white chest. It would be better to not look, so he closed his eyes. It felt like he'd been hit in the stomach/chest with Mjolnir.

He could hear the moment when the band of heroes saw and understood the contents of the chest. Natasha's anguished cry was nearly drowned out by Steve's loud denial. Banner's own denial started in the normal range, but spiraled down into the Hulk's enraged bellow. A loud, resounding metallic thunk must have been Mjolnir sliding from Thor's hand, followed by the lighter clatter of a bow. He knew how they felt. He felt the same way.

"Who…" Thor choked, voice thick. "Who has done this?"

The only one who could answer that question was Stark, and he was out of the game.

The no-nonsense staccato footfalls could only be Coulson or Fury. Loki heard the lid being settled back down over the chest's grim contents. He pried his eyes open and looked up at Nick Fury. The director was furious. It showed in the flaring nostrils and the pressed lips. He spared a sympathetic glance at the curled form of Tony Stark, looked around at his devastated team, and then his eyes focused on Loki once again.

"Someone needs to die for this," he said grimly. "I need to know who."

Coulson swept into the office, noting the destruction and the inactivity of the team. He saw the chest, Loki on one knee and Iron Man curled up on the floor, and walked over to them.

Loki averted his eyes as Coulson lifted the lid of the chest.

"Ah…Dammit," Fury's minion swore. He secured the lid, and looked around at the others, assessing the level of damage this had done to the team. Natasha was likeliest to lose control. She was standing shock still, hands fisted, with cords standing out in her neck. Tears were dripping from her eyes. She would not be merciful to the person responsible.

Even the Hulk was still in shock. It looked like the green rage monster was about to turn into a different rage monster. Every muscle was drawn tight and he was breathing like he'd been fighting for hours. There was nothing left to destroy, and the Hulk had no outlet for his rage.

Loki rose to his feet numbly. He would feel anger at some point, but right now, it would not be beneficial. Right now, someone needed to die for the horrendous crime that had been committed. He knew what Fury was asking. Fury wanted him to use his magic to find out who had killed Pepper, so they had a target. Stark would need that, if he was ever to function as Iron Man again.

He took a few steps, and dropped to one knew beside the prone form of his friend. "I will find out who did this, Tony," he assured, placing a comforting hand on the metal shoulder. "I will give you a name, and we will invent new ways to inflict pain. We will not allow the person with that name to die for a very long time, because we want that person to feel our pain."

Thor and Barton both growled out affirmatives to that statement. Rogers seemed incapable of speech, staring at the white chest with wide eyes.

"Give me a name and I'll make sure that happens," Fury affirmed.

"I'll help," Coulson stated grimly. He raised an eyebrow to Loki. "Can you give us a name?"

Loki nodded. "One moment." He steeled himself, and then reached out to the grisly chest. Magic could pull out the last minutes of life, showing him a face. If known to Pepper, that face would come with a name. If not, he could seek out others who knew that face, and they would be able to provide a name.

But his magic curled restlessly, finding no purchase within the chest. Loki frowned. That was impossible, unless someone had magically 'scrubbed' any memories. But there still should be some residual instinctual memories that could be accessed, and he was not able to touch anything.

"Loki?" Thor asked.

"One moment," he repeated with a snap. He would not fail in this. Tony deserved to have the chance to hurt the person who'd taken Pepper away. He tried to delve deeper, to catch some kind of sense of anything, but there was nothing there. Not even the need for reassembly. That was impossible.

A terrible suspicion began to creep into Loki's head. "Turn away," he snapped at everyone. They all obeyed as he dropped to his knees and yanked the lid off the chest. He stared down at the strawberry blond hair, and then pushed it aside. It was Pepper's face underneath. But not a face that had even been alive. He touched the face, and it was cold and fake. In the midst of grief, no one would notice that because it did look exactly like Pepper. A very skilled artisan had created it. He didn't like to be tricked. He really didn't like it that someone was trying to emotionally manipulate his friend. So he twisted what his magic was seeking. He wanted a creator.

Loki threw his head back and roared, startling everyone else.

"Who?" Fury asked grimly.

Loki took a moment to look at all of them. Grief would turn to anger in seconds, but right now, they were almost incapable of functioning.

"It is fake," he growled. "This is not Pepper's head, nor her hair, though it looks like both."

Surprise, shock and then anger. A swelling murmur of angry voices was loud in his ears, but Loki was only focusing on one person. Tony Stark was sitting up. His expression was full of deadly intent. It seemed he had come back.

"Fake?" he snarled. "It's not Pepper?"

"It is not," Loki confirmed. "The man who did this is called Justin Hammer. Do you know him?"

Tony shot to his feet, or tried to. The hands of his teammates restrained him from jetting right out the windows.

"Justin Hammer is in prison!"

"No longer, it seems," Loki argued. "My guess is that he has taken Pepper."

"Can you find her?" Stark asked, rising slowly to his feet with the help of his teammates.

Loki's smile was frighteningly reminiscent of his dark days. "I can."

"Good. Because if he had actually killed her, the head would have been real. She's alive. Pepper is alive!"

"And we owe Justin Hammer a world of hurt for this," Natasha said in a deadly voice. "Loki?"

He nodded, and cast out, seeking Pepper Potts. He found her sooner than he expected. She was still in New York. Loki's smile turned into a feral grin. Approximately ten minutes from their present location. Hammer assumed that would be enough time for the cameras he'd installed to warn him that the jig was up. He was wrong.

It would be a strain to transport this many, but he could do it. "Gather round and join hands," he instructed. "Hammer knows we know the truth. He will try to flee."

The Avengers clustered around him, joining hands. Fury and Coulson stepped into place beside Loki and completed the circle. Loki reached deep, and transported them all.

Chapter Text

It was not possible that Justin Hammer had masterminded this elaborate plot. The man screamed like a girl and ran for his life when the Avengers popped into existence in his secret staging warehouse.

Loki staggered to a wall and slid down it while the Avengers sprang into action. He was becoming entirely too familiar with feeling drained. Jumping eight people, well, Hulk counted as at least two, so nine people plus himself had effectively taken him out of the fight.

Thor spared a brief glance his way, but Loki waved him off. "I am fine. Help them."

He watched the supposed mastermind run toward an exit at the opposite end of the warehouse, screaming the whole way. Apparently it hadn't occurred to the man that Tony Stark had friends. Loki reached out with his remaining strength to magically seal the doors. Justin Hammer would answer for what he had done.

"HAMMER!" Stark bellowed. He took to the air, staggering his teammates back a step.

Justin Hammer looked over his shoulder, bleated in terror, and tried to run faster.

Loki smirked, waiting for the moment when the weasel-like man realized he was trapped. He watched Hammer plow into the door, expecting it to open, and smash his face against the surface when the door did not open. Blood blossomed on the light color of the door, and Hammer fell backward with a howl, nose gushing.

Stark's roar of triumph was very loud. He swooped down out of the air and picked Hammer up with one hand, bunching the man's shirt in his iron fist.

"How did you get out of prison, you little weasel? Where's Pepper? Did you really think I wouldn't find you and tear you apart?"

Hammer's associates were giving a token fight to the other Avengers, but they were clearly unnerved by Hulk. They weren't trying very hard. Stark was shaking their boss and yelling insults at him.

Loki prided himself on his alertness on a battlefield. So the fact that Pepper Potts managed to casually stroll to his side without him noticing was quite embarrassing. One moment he was watching Tony Stark, faceplate now up, smacking a screaming Justin Hammer lightly, insultingly, while his teammates looked on. Grinning with sheer malicious enjoyment. The next moment, Pepper leaned over into his field of view.

It was so sudden and unexpected that Loki tried to scramble to his feet while jumping to one side. The end result was that his feet scooted out from under him and he landed on his rear with a resounding thump. The God of Mischief snuck several shamed glances at the Avengers, to make sure they hadn't just seen that remarkable display of grace, and then looked up at Pepper.

"Pepper! You are not hurt?"

She looked like she was trying to hold in a laugh at the normally graceful God of Mischief, one hand held to her mouth, and eyes crinkled in mirth. To allow him some measure of dignity, she faked a polite cough, and then lowered her hand. "I'm dirty and I just want to get a shower, fresh clothes, and get to the office to see what's gone wrong so far today." She heaved a huge sigh, and looked toward the far end of the warehouse. "Is Tony going to be bitch-slapping Hammer for much longer?"

Loki choked in surprise. Pepper was usually so contained. It was quite amusing to hear her cut loose a little. "I believe he will eventually move on to stripping the man naked and flying him through the city." He chuckled. "Well, that is what I would do. Tony has shown remarkable restraint so far. I initially thought that he would tear Hammer apart." He pushed himself up off the floor, grateful when he didn't sway.

Pepper scowled, still staring at the humiliation taking place at the other end of the warehouse. "I would not object to a little tearing. I'm dirty. My shoes are scuffed. They cost more than I want to think about, and now they're scuffed!" Her tone was scandalized. "Should I call a halt to this?"

"I would not recommend it," Loki cautioned. "Tony needs to release some of his feelings in a non-homicidal way. Be gentle with him, please."

The unshakable Miss Potts gaped at him, her mouth open in an O of astonishment. "Be gentle with Tony? He's Iron Man inside too, you know."

"When he thought you were dead…it destroyed him. He hides his feelings well, but they run deep. Please be gentle with him."

Pepper softened. "He does care."

"Of course he does. He is not the best at showing his feelings, but you are the center of his world."

She smiled softly, eyes straying back to the end of the warehouse. Hammer's minions had given up easily, as soon as their boss was off his feet. They were watching with some amusement as Tony Stark continued to administer the bitch slapping.

"That's nice to know. Hammer didn't mastermind this. He was supposed to deliver me to someone else." Pepper's tone became very strained. "Whoever he was working for was going to use me as bait for Tony. I don't think…my head would have been real, then."

Loki strongly suspected she was right. Justin Hammer was merely an ineffectual tool. Was it possible that this was a trap?

When he voiced that thought to Pepper, she disagreed. "I don't think so. Hammer wasn't supposed to stick around after he had me. But he couldn't help himself. He wanted to see Tony in pain, so he waited. So he could watch."

"So who is the real enemy?"

"We'll find out eventually," Pepper mused. Then her eyes widened. "Oh my. I think he's about to…" she trailed off and turned red, averting her eyes.

Loki looked. And then wished he hadn't. Justin Hammer's Joe Boxer-clad ass was not something he wanted to see. The man was still screaming like a woman, face cheeks red from the bitch slapping, and now almost naked, stripped down to his briefs and socks.

"I'll be back!" Stark called jovially, and blasted the warehouse door open with one of his repulsors. Hmm…good to know. The magic seal had still been on the door, so the anti-Loki shield Stark had built into his suit worked with the repulsor blasts too. Good thing Loki hadn't allowed himself to get shot in the showdown in Pepper's office.

Pepper hid her face in her hands as Iron Man flew out of the warehouse, almost-naked Justin Hammer dangling from his hands. "Oh my. That's going to make headlines."

Fury wasn't exactly happy that Stark had stripped Hammer down to his briefs before taking him to the police, but he seemed to understand the need. He tersely instructed Hammer's minions to sit on the floor of the warehouse, and Coulson walked around collecting weapons and securing their wrists with plastic ties while the other Avengers stood around looking like they really wanted someone to misbehave. At some point, Natasha holstered her gun and glanced toward the other end of the warehouse.

"Pepper!" she cried, which brought everyone else's attention.

Pepper moved toward them, and Loki walked with her, trying to pull himself up and walk like a prince, but lacking the energy. He was slouching and dragging his feet, looking more like a conquered and whipped villain.

As the other Avengers crowded around Pepper, Thor came to Loki. "Perhaps you should sit and rest," he suggested tactfully.

Loki could not stop the ironic laugh that came bubbling up out of him. "Looking particularly ragged right now, am I?"

Thor cracked a grin. "I have seen you look worse, brother. But you do appear as if you need to rest."

"I will. But I wish to see Tony's reunion with Pepper first. I do no believe that he saw her before he took off with Hammer."

Thor's smile was huge. "What you did, going to Stark first and calming him prior to our arrival, was very noble."

Loki hung his head. "Yes, well, I did not want to experience the fallout that would come from an Avengers vs Iron Man battle."

"If it makes you feel better to believe that was your reason…" Thor trailed off, but he was smirking.

Loki growled. "Really, brother? Trying to be cute?"

"I do not have to try, Loki."

They bantered back and forth easily while Pepper talked quietly to the others. Coulson was on the phone, most likely with authorities, and Fury was crouched down beside the detainees, interrogating them.

They were all waiting, rather impatiently, for Stark to return.

Finally, they heard the sound of Iron Man approaching, and then landing, outside. Loki wasn't sure about the others, but he felt a wicked sense of anticipation. Tony Stark had been so broken when he thought that Pepper was dead. He was trying to picture what Stark's reaction would be when he saw the center of his world – alive and well.

Faceplate up, Stark marched into the warehouse with an almost jovial strut. "Hammer was officially humiliated and flown almost naked through the city. It's a good day. Did anyone find…" He trailed off when he saw Pepper standing beside Natasha. His smile was a little hesitant and tremulous. "Pepper? You all right?"

Pepper moved toward him briskly. "I am, Tony. Thank you for coming after me so quickly."

Stark's expression was a little like a deer caught in headlights. "Of course. You…you're my control, my directional. Without you, I would just bounce around without focus."

Pepper stopped right in front of him. "Thank you Tony."

Tony leaned forward to press his forehead against hers. "I would have killed him very painfully, if he'd hurt you. Instead I just humiliated him a little."

"That's fine," Pepper answered him softly, leaning into his lean. "He didn't hurt me. But I am dirty, I just want to get a shower, fresh clothes, and get to the office to see what's gone wrong so far today."

There was no mistaking the sheer panic as Stark's eyes widened. He drew back. "I thought you'd been decapitated, you know."

"Yes, Hammer kept gloating about it." Pepper managed a small smile. "It was very cruel of him to do that."

Tony dragged a hand through his hair. "I didn't know that it wasn't really your head. I was a little upset."

Pepper seemed to recognize that tone. "Tony what did you do?"

"You wanted to re-decorate, right? I heard you mention it a couple of times. You wanted to expel my ego-boosting décor."

"Tony what did you do?"

"I was upset," he explained in a rush. "And I was alone in your office with a fake head that I thought was yours and I…I was really upset."

Pepper's eyes were impossibly wide. "What did you do to my office, Tony?"

"You'll have to redecorate now. Spend whatever you want, of course."

Pepper's expression, as she turned to look at the other Avengers, had everyone ducking their heads in guilt. "What did he do to my office?"

"It's completely destroyed," Loki told her, as gently as he could.

"Look at the bright side," Stark offered with forced brevity. "You get to redecorate!" He winced. "You may have to hire some new help too. I think I scared some people."

Pepper blinked. "You destroyed my office?"

"Completely," Bruce confirmed softly. "I Hulked and didn't have anything to break."

"Chairs!" Stark blurted, turning to Loki. "You saved some chairs! You sent them away."

Loki grimaced. "They will not be coming back from where I sent them. I am sorry, Pepper. But I was tired of having furniture thrown at me."

For a moment, everyone held their breath, waiting for Pepper's freak out to begin. She was certainly due for a freak out after being kidnapped. A whole gamut of emotions seemed to pass through the woman as she stared at her billionaire boyfriend, and then she finally wilted a little.

"Take me home, Tony. I want to shower and get fresh clothes. I'm taking the rest of the day off."

Only Pepper Potts could follow up a traumatic experience by merely taking the day off work.

Tony snapped his faceplate down and scooped her up, ignoring Pepper's startled squawk. "Hold tight, sweetheart," he told her.

Pepper laced her arms around his neck. "Thank you all," she called before Iron Man blasted off.

As sirens were heard outside, Fury popped to his feet, looking both extremely satisfied, and worried. "You did a good job today team," he praised. "Go ahead and get out of here. Go celebrate."

The others looked expectantly at Loki, and he only laughed. "There is no way I can jump all of you again. We will need to walk back to the Quinjet."

Barton stuck his head out the warehouse door. "Headquarters is closer. We can send a lackey for the Quinjet." He grinned.

They didn't make it to Headquarters right away as Thor insisted on a brief celebration. The occupants of the local bar they invaded were a little stunned at first, but quickly adapted and bought them all drinks. The highlight of their celebration was the very off-key duet between Thor and Barton singing an Asgardian drinking song that Thor had taught all of them.

Loki thought it would be days before his ears recovered.

Chapter Text

The news had been devastating.

Darcy felt numb now and cried out. She had flicked on the television to see if there were any news reports on what was going on at Stark Industries. Sure enough, a white faced employee was being interviewed.

"It was horrible. We accepted a delivery – a white Styrofoam chest. We weren't expecting anything like that so we took some precautions before we opened it. It seemed clear of anything dangerous, so we opened it." The camera didn't miss the guy's horrified expression. "It was Miss Potts."

The reporter faltered. "Pepper Potts was in the chest?"

"Just her head."

Darcy was grateful for the nearness of a trashcan, because she promptly puked into it. In between her wrenching heaves, she listened to the SI employee describe how he had immediately notified Tony Stark, and then how Iron Man arrived and began destroying everything after taking the head for safekeeping.

Poor, poor Tony. Darcy could barely breathe between puking and sobbing. Her throat burned, her eyes burned…she wanted to scream, but she didn't have the breath to do it. That was how Jane found her, and when Darcy managed to gasp out what had happened, Jane broke down with her.

It seemed that the Avengers would need to live up to their name. Darcy couldn't imagine that Stark would ever recover from this. Pepper was his other half. She completed him. Tony couldn't function without Pepper. Pepper, who had become one of Loki's biggest supporters after he saved Tony's life.

The Avengers would wreak complete and utter devastation on the person that had done this, but…

Darcy cried and heaved until she physically could do neither any more. Her head ached and felt like it was six times its size. Her abdomen hurt from the constant heaving. Her throat burned. She wanted to find a hole to crawl into.

"Jane?" she asked, voice rough and scratchy.

Jane hadn't stopped crying yet. For such a skinny thing, she had a lot of moisture in her. She was crying silently, shoulders shaking only a little.

Darcy blew her nose, and handed the tissue over to Jane. Gradually, her friend's tears dried up, and Jane just sat there, cross legged on the floor, staring at the floor. She finally looked up to meet Darcy's eyes.

"You look awful when you cry, Foster," Darcy noted dully.

"Likewise," Jane returned. "How could this happen? Who…who would do something like this?"

It was hard to swallow past the massive lump in her throat, but Darcy managed. "I don't know, Jane. But I know that the Avengers will find out. They'll make whoever did this pay."

Jane was trembling. "Tony…Tony won't be able to deal with this."

"No, he won't." Darcy wished she could still cry. "But we'll do what we can to help him through this."

The real question was would he be able to get through it? Would they?

Waiting and not knowing was horrible. Darcy hated this part. She didn't worry about Loki too much, he could take care of himself. But Tony was extremely vulnerable right now, and he might lash out against his friends. He might force a confrontation until they had to take him down.

The news didn't help. There was one brief shot of Loki going into the building, and another of the Quinjet arriving. There were also shots of windows exploding, and the speculation of a fight. Then nothing…

Darcy felt almost sick. Her mind was producing the most awful ideas and images of what could be happening.

"I want to puke," Jane said dully.

"Go ahead," Darcy told her. "You'll probably feel a little better. I did." She passed the trash can over to Jane, and averted her head as her friend puked several times.

"It didn't help," Jane informed her, after she had rinsed her mouth with water and spit.

"Sorry."

They both sat in numb silence, watching the breaking news report speculate on what was happening. One employee identified Loki as the guy that had attacked the city months before and they wondered if he had something to do with it. That made Darcy feel bad as she realized that the world in general still probably thought that Loki was a super villain. The Avengers had never really said anything on the subject, other than that Loki was in their custody.

The wild speculations made Darcy angry. Anger felt better than sick anguish, so she went with it. When this was over, when the hurt was not as bad, something needed to be done about Loki's reputation. She would address it with Coulson or Fury. It wasn't fair to Loki that the world still thought of him as a villain.

Maybe…maybe she would talk to Tony about it. It might give him something to focus on, other than his own pain.

She wished that someone would make a call, update them with what was happening. Tell them that Tony was safe in their custody. But there was no communication. The phones stayed silent. It seemed to last forever, but in reality, minutes were eternity.

Darcy finally pushed up off the floor, and stretched a hand out to Jane. "C'mon Foster. We need to re-hydrate."

Jane allowed Darcy to pull her to her feet. They walked like old women, hearts heavy, back to the conference room where Bruce had dumped quite a few bottled waters. Darcy downed two, blew her nose a few more times, and felt almost human again. Except for the suppressed emotions. Those would come out again, probably when she saw Tony.

She wanted to curl up in a bed for awhile, and there were at least a dozen private rooms on some of the upper levels. "C'mon Jane," she suggested softly. "Let's go hit the private rooms and hide."

The scientist nodded and rose shakily to her feet. Darcy slipped an arm around her thin shoulders, and they headed for the upper rooms.

Rounding a corner, Darcy froze. Iron Man had returned. He was standing with his back to her and Jane, head bowed, gently cradling the body in his arms. She wanted to run to him, and hug him, and tell him it would be all right again some day. But she was frozen in place.

Jane lightly tapped her arm and Darcy turned to her. Jane's eyes were wide and…was that confusion? Why was Jane confused? Jane pointed to her head, and then made hacking charade motions at her neck, tongue sticking out. Darcy still didn't get it, but she turned to look when Jane pointed to Tony. Then she saw it.

Pepper's body still had its head. How was that possible? She'd been decapitated, right?

"Tony?" Darcy whispered.

Iron Man's head turned to look. So did the supposedly dead body's head. And it smiled.

Darcy shrieked and backed away hastily, hands up to protect her from…whatever. Jane wasn't following her, she noticed after about two steps. Jane was staring, analyzing. Darcy stopped moving.

"What the hell, Tony? What's going on? We heard on the news…"

Stark popped his faceplate up. He was grinning. "You believe everything you hear on the news?"

"I'm fine," Pepper assured. She smiled up at Stark. "You can put be down now, Tony."

He frowned. "I don't know that I'm ready to let you go yet. After all, you were dead for a couple of hours."

Darcy took a few more steps back. "What? What did you do, Tony?" There was a picture in her head of zombie Pepper, still looking completely normal, coming after her when the need for brains was overwhelming. Had Tony made some kind of unholy deal?

Peppers laugh was music to her ears. "I wasn't really dead, Darcy. Everyone thought I was because my head was delivered to Stark Industries."

"That's not at all reassuring, Pepper. People usually can't live without their heads."

"It was a fake," Stark assured. "A former competitor of mine thought it would be a great way to destroy me. And it nearly did."

"Nobody checked to make sure it was real?" Jane finally spoke. She looked skeptical.

Stark glared at her. "If someone handed you a Styrofoam chest, and you saw Thor's head when you opened it, would you stop to make sure it was real before you freaked out? Wait…actually, you probably would. But most normal people wouldn't do that, Jane. So when the employees saw it, they called me. When I saw it, I destroyed Pepper's office. Hell – even Loki and the other Avengers thought it was real!"

Darcy blinked. Loki had been fooled? That wasn't like her man. He was so damn smart that she just couldn't picture him being fooled by a fake.

"How did you figure out it was fake?" Jane wanted to know. Darcy glanced at her sharply. Jane looked morbidly curious, and Darcy got the funny feeling that her friend would slow down to analyze bodies from a car wreck, too. Ugh.

Stark grinned. "Everyone was out for blood, even Fury and Coulson. Fury asked Loki to find out who had done it, using his magic. I'm a little hazy on how the details to that work."

Darcy nodded. "He told me a story one time of how the body retains the memories of its last moments, and he can access those memories. But if it was a fake, he wouldn't have been able to get anything."

"Exactly. So he got pissed. I was kinda not really there at that point, but I heard him get angry. It's been awhile, and we're friends now, but angry Loki gets my attention every time. And I was close to windows so I really started paying attention."

Pepper barked out a very unladylike laugh, and then covered her face in embarrassment. Stark paused to look down at her fondly, and Darcy almost melted. Yeah, the guy was a train wreck most of the time, but there was no doubting the love he held for the woman in his arms.

"So Loki figures out it's a fake, and he finds out who did it. He makes this grand announcement, and I'm alive again." Tony tore his eyes from Pepper's, and met Darcy's gaze. "That's what it felt like, anyhow. Loki was beyond pissed, and he jumped all of us to the warehouse where Pepper was being held. I caught the guy responsible, and administered a little disciplinary action."

Pepper crowed in delight. "You should have seen it, Darcy. He bitch slapped Justin Hammer until the man was begging for mercy, and then flew him to the nearest police station after stripping him down to his socks and briefs."

"Joe Boxer smiley face yellow briefs," Stark confided. "Hammer hates to be humiliated more than anything else. It was too good to pass up."

Darcy finally relaxed enough to walk forward and hesitantly reach out to touch Pepper's hand. It was warm.

Pepper watched her, eyes crinkled in mirth. "Still alive? Still human?"

"I guess for now, yeah." Darcy grinned, and stretched up on her toes to awkwardly hug the woman. "Please don't do that to us again, okay? I puked like four times, thinking you were dead."

The older woman smiled in delight. "You puked for me? I'm honored."

Stark looked disgusted. "Pepper, that's revolting. Gross." He stuck his tongue out and made an ick face.

Apparently being "dead" had made Pepper a little more alive and a lot more feisty. She smirked up at Stark, and looped her arms around his neck. "Would you just shut up and take me to bed?"

It was absolutely priceless to watch the blush that colored his cheeks, and the somewhat wide-eyed expression on his face. "Um…okay."

"And Tony…take the suit off."

Darcy just couldn't help herself. "We won't wait up." She turned and ushered Jane back the way they had come, trying to stifle her laughter. Tony's face…priceless!

Three hours later…Darcy was slightly pissed. Okay…slightly more than slightly pissed. The others had still not returned. Local news had identified the heroes at a local bar, drinking to drown their sorrows? Reporters indicated that Iron Man was not with them, and the heroes seemed to be celebrating. When asked for an official comment on Pepper Potts' death, Captain America told reporters to "wait for the press conference."

If Darcy and Jane hadn't bumped into Tony and Pepper, they wouldn't know that Pepper was alive. Darcy was incensed that no one had used a phone yet to update them. What the hell? Shit, if they hadn't seen the news reports, they wouldn't even know that Pepper had supposedly been killed. Somebody was gonna catch hell when they drug their sorry asses in from the bar. Several somebodies, actually.

Jane was also promising mayhem, stalking back and forth and muttering to herself. Several times Darcy overheard the phrase "arrogant, thoughtless, Asgardian lunkhead" come from her friend's mouth, and that surprised her as much as Pepper talking dirty to Tony. Well…as much as Pepper ever talked dirty. Thor could do no wrong in Jane's eyes, but this had made Jane angry.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

Darcy heard them before she saw them. She winced. Drunk Thor was LOUD, and he was singing. Offkey. In a 'I'm so happy I don't care' slurring voice. There was a slightly softer even more offkey voice…was that Bruce? Darcy shared a wide eyed look with Jane. The group was approaching, although it sounded like they were staggering through the hallways. And maybe bumping off the walls.

Rogers voice was embarrassed. "C'mon guys. Only a little further. Loki – a little help here?"

Darcy's eyes popped open wide when her man answered, because he was very obviously intoxicated. "I am helping, Captain Rogers. It is not my fault. The floor keeps moving."

"I told you to go easy on the vodka," Rogers chided, voice echoing down the hallway.

"I did!" Loki's voice was proud. "I respected the vodka, and I did not once belittle it."

Jane tittered, and then pressed a hand to her mouth. Darcy just shook her head. Well…drunk or not, she was giving them a piece of her mind.

Thor was leading the way, and he made a valiant attempt to get through the conference room doorway. But he missed. By several feet. After thumping against the wall and the door frame several times, he reached up to scrub at his face. He blinked his eyes a few times, lurched three steps to the left, and finally made it through the door.

Darcy stifled a laugh. Barton was draped over one of Thor's shoulder, completely out.

Bruce staggered through next, leaning heavily against Natasha, who was leaning just as heavily into his lean. They both looked cheerfully unfocused and very tired.

Steve looked embarrassed when he appeared in the doorway, supporting Loki. Darcy had to laugh. Loki looked…smashed was the best description. And boneless. It looked like there was very little supporting his body in an upright position, other than Rogers' arm. He was so adorable. But Darcy was still angry with him. With all of them.

"I am very angry with all of you," she stated calmly, as they found chairs. The moment was slightly spoiled by Thor laying Barton out on the conference room table.

Jane was right there with her though. "I am also very angry with all of you. But especially you!" She jabbed a finger at Thor. He blinked. "You…you go off to subdue Iron Man after he goes ballistic and nobody calls to update us! We heard on the news that Pepper was decapitated!"

Rogers, who couldn't get drunk, looked guilty. "I'm sorry ladies, I-"

"Talking here," Darcy interrupted. "So, we bawl and we puke and we bawl some more. And we wait for some kind of update. Any update."

"Are we getting yelled at?" Loki asked, blinking a little fuzzily.

Thor clapped him on the back. "We are. We have upset our ladies."

"Thor." Jane's voice was steely.

"Yes my love?"

She frowned. "Quiet." She turned to Loki. "You too."

Darcy fought laughter when her man pressed his lips together. He was so adorable. And completely unable to focus his eyes. But that didn't mean she wasn't still angry.

"We're still trying to think of how we can piece poor Tony back together, because Pepper is his everything. And maybe we bawl and puke a little more." She glared at the intoxicated heroes. "And then, we happen to bump into Tony. Guess who he's carrying?"

"Pepper?" Thor asked. He looked very pleased with himself when Darcy nodded.

"So Tony and Pepper tell us what happened. If we hadn't bumped into them, we still wouldn't know that Pepper hadn't been decapitated." Darcy glared, and felt slightly vindicated when Bruce and Natasha managed to look guilty.

Jane was working herself into a righteous fury. "It's a terrible thing to think that a friend had her head cut off." She pointed at Thor. "Did you even think of calling me? Even once?"

He shook his head miserably, now with a sad, puppy face that was enough to melt even the coldest heart. But Jane wasn't budging. "It's not easy having to wait around when you go out on missions, because anything could happen. It makes me sick to my stomach every time. And this…this thoughtless behavior only makes it worse!" She glared, hands on hips, eyes flashing.

Before anyone could say anything, Barton sat straight up on the conference room table. He looked green, like he was going to Hulk. But instead, he leaned over one side of the table and puked on the floor beside Steve's chair. Then he wiped his mouth, and crashed back down onto the table. And started to snore.

Darcy blinked. "Classy, Barton." She wrinkled her nose as the smell of vomit hit her. "Ugh. You guys are cleaning that up. And don't ever, EVER, not notify us of something major like that again."

She noticed Loki leaning to one side dangerously. His eyes were almost closed. "How much did he drink?" she demanded of Rogers.

Steve shrugged. "Not really all that much. But apparently, on top of being magically drained, again, it affected him more than usual."

She felt herself begin to thaw a little. "Damn. Will you help me get him to a bed?"

Rogers nodded. "Bruce, Natasha, you okay to get yourselves home?" At their nod, he stood. "Thor, you're on your own. Jane can yell at you in private some more."

"What about Barton?" Darcy asked.

Rogers shrugged. "He can sleep it out on the table." He neatly avoided the puke on the floor and caught Loki before the God of Mischief fell off the chair. "Is Tony okay?"

"He is," Darcy affirmed quietly. A smile quirked her mouth. "This whole thing seems to have brought out Pepper's feistiness though. She had him a bit off balance."

Steve smiled. "You women are good at that. And at being tricky. Like setting up one friend with another."

Darcy tried to look innocent, but thought she was probably failing miserably. "Don't know what you mean."

Rogers shook his head. "Sure you don't. The whole situation was a little too…neat. I didn't expect you to be so sneaky. But at the same time, it was for a good cause. I really like her."

She smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "Good. Let's get the usual mischief maker to a bed." She followed Steve as he half dragged Loki from the conference room. Everyone needed some sleep. Tomorrow was another day.

Behind them, she heard Jane issuing orders to Thor to clean up the puke. Darcy smiled. Thor would have to do some serious groveling to make up to Jane. For that matter, Loki would need to do the same to her. Once he was sober.

She made sure that Loki was tucked in safely in one of the private rooms, and then headed home. It had been a long, long day.

Chapter Text

Nick Fury's face was a study in hilarity, although he probably wouldn't appreciate laughter at this point. The news that Tony Stark had spontaneously wed Pepper Potts and then flown them off in his private jet for a honeymoon to parts unknown had not brought a smile to the S.H.I.E.L.D director's face. Apparently, he had been left out of the loop and it had made him cranky. The twitching of his mouth was slightly less disturbing than the wide, angry eye, but it was the overall impression of righteous fury that made him look funny.

Part of Darcy's responsibilities now included sitting in on any Avengers meetings and later typing up a meeting summary. Typically, they involved Tony Stark being…Tony Stark, and Coulson and Fury using various threats to keep him in line while the other Avengers either chimed in or rolled their eyes. Not that there weren't serious issues discussed, but if Stark kept his mouth shut, the meetings would be much shorter and productive.

Or so Darcy had thought.

The opening twenty minutes of their first Stark-less meeting consisted of Nick Fury venting. The director was very eloquent as he described his towering irritation with the completely irresponsible Tony Stark. The billionaire ex-playboy had responsibilities that he couldn't just walk away from. He was letting them all down. Nick personally, his teammates, but especially the helpless people that depended on heroes to protect them.

Darcy was keeping score on her tablet. Fury had used the word 'irresponsible' ten times in 20 minutes. 'Disappointed' ranked a close second at nine uses, and the phrase 'not a team player' third with six uses. She was honestly surprised that Fury wasn't literally frothing at the mouth, or spontaneously combusting.

For the first time ever, she observed Agent Coulson in disagreement with his boss. The disturbingly serene agent looked…well…'anxious' was the only way she could think to describe it. His lips were pressed together, but his eyes were staring at the conference room table. Since he always stared straight on at anyone he was listening to, Darcy had to assume he didn't like what Fury was saying.

Neither did the other Avengers. The way Fury was carrying on, it was like he expected the heroes to never have any personal time, and be on call always. There were frowns all around the conference room table, and rebellious pouts. Even Steve Rogers had folded his arms across his chest in a slightly defiant pose.

Darcy could totally understand Fury's point of view. He had a huge responsibility on his shoulders, and one of his star players taking time off without prior notice would create difficulties, but honestly? What did he expect? Tony Stark had been wound way too tight since the fake head incident. It had been two weeks of reckless behavior and obsessive monitoring of Pepper's whereabouts. He had driven everyone crazy, especially Pepper, and after several threats from the woman he loved, had come up with the perfect solution. Thus the surprise wedding.

Did Fury actually believe that Tony Stark could just keep going as usual? None of the Avengers were robots. They needed time away, just like any normal job. Tony had reached his limit, and while he could have returned to duty immediately following the wedding, he recognized that he was not at his best.

Stark was her friend. Darcy didn't like repeatedly hearing the nasty things Fury was currently saying about him. She looked around the conference room, and didn't look like anyone else was going to speak up. Fury was going to kill her.

"Sir?" she interjected quietly, and flinched when the angry one eye focused on her.

"Yes Miss Lewis?" Fury had that oh so deceptively calm tone to his voice that told her the shit was about to explode all over her.

"It's not fair to expect them to never need time away from this," she offered in a small voice. "Tony was really stressed out after the fake head fiasco. He needed time away."

She wanted to hide. The blazing one eye was practically peeling back the layers of her skin.

"I agree with Miss Lewis."

Every eye in the conference room widened in astonishment and fixed on Agent Coulson. He sat up a little and straightened his suit, meeting Fury's eye.

"You agree? Do you think I'm being irrational right now?"

Darcy recognized the warning in Fury's tone, but she didn't know how to defuse it. Coulson had just turned the director's wrath upon himself, but he didn't seem afraid.

"With all due respect sir, Mr. Stark suffered through a very traumatic couple of hours when he thought Miss Potts…er…Mrs. Stark…had been beheaded. He was on edge, more than usual, in the time following that incident. I believe that he will return from this time rejuvenated, refreshed, and a little more stable, now that he has a wife. I have no doubts that Miss…Mrs. Stark…will keep him in line."

Only Coulson could have pulled off such an earnest, yet accurate, description of the situation, remaining completely calm. Anyone else would have been highly emotive. Darcy would have been pounding on the table for emphasis. She had to admire the slightly creepy agent. He knew how to handle his boss, and he did it with finesse.

Fury stared hard at his minion. Lesser men would have crumbled under that stare, but Coulson didn't blink and didn't flinch. He stared back calmly. Darcy had seen that same look at the post-Asgard debriefing, when Coulson threatened to staple Stark's mouth shut. The man was a rock. The only time he had ever displayed emotion, according to Loki, was during the fake head incident.

The slow exhale from the director echoed loudly in the room. Fury blinked, sat back in his chair, and blinked again.

"That is a fair assumption of Stark's competence when he returns. However, that leaves us a member short. I don't like being a member short. That's when bad times happen."

With a soft pop, Loki appeared on top of the conference room table. In retrospect, probably not the smartest thing to do with trained warriors on the team. Natasha and Clint had weapons drawn and aimed at his head within a second, with Rogers only a second behind them. Thor had Mjolnir in hand and his arm swung up into the air. Banner was almost hyperventilating, anxiously checking the heart rate monitor on his wrist.

He was clad in his battle armor, sans the helmet, and looked around with an amused twist to his lips at the chaos his arrival had caused. Darcy had to hide her smile behind her hands. He was so damned smug and cocky.

"Good morning," he greeted. He hopped off the table and settled into the empty chair that Stark usually sat in. With a wink at Darcy, he tilted the chair back on its back legs and propped his feet up on the table.

Fury looked pointedly at those feet. "What exactly are you doing?"

Loki made an attempt to look innocent, but only managed devilish. "Why Nicholas, I realized that in the absence of my minion, your team might require assistance." He spread his arms modestly. "So here I am."

In a voice dripping with irony, Fury drawled, "Lucky us." He considered it for a moment, sharing several looks with Coulson. "I suppose that your assistance will be…useful."

"Indeed. Our standard rate of compensation for my assistance will be acceptable."

The team relaxed. Guns were holstered, Mjolnir was tucked away, and Banner's heart monitor slowed. Everyone took their seats again, some with irritated glances at Loki.

"You really shouldn't just pop in here," Barton told him. "If we were a little more jumpy, you'd be ventilated."

Darcy shook her head. "He lives for keeping people on their toes. Haven't you figured that out yet?" She sent a look of exasperation toward her man.

Loki merely crossed his arms and smiled.

"If we are quite finished, Loki does not need to be the center of attention any more," Fury stated.

Thor's booming laugh startled them all. The big guy looked sheepish when all eyes turned on him, and shrugged.

"I could not help it, my friends. My brother lives to be the center of attention. It is one of the reasons that he and Stark get along so well."

Innocence, Darcy decided, was an expression that Loki could not pull off. He just ended up looking like he was up to something. Like now. He had opened his eyes very wide, and was trying for maybe an inquisitive look? Brows raised and mouth slightly open in an O. But his eyes were twinkling madly.

Thor was watching him carefully, not really paying attention when Fury resumed talking about a potential problem that had been identified. The God of Thunder had perhaps spent too much time with his mortal comrades, as he pointed his index and middle finger at his own eyes, and then at Loki. 'I'm watching you.' Both Stark and Barton used it frequently. Thor was amused though, grin tugging at the corners of his mouth as he watched his mischievous brother.

Darcy saw Loki try for wounded innocence. It didn't work any better than regular innocence. He placed a hand over his heart in mock hurt, eyes laughing at his brother. He even threw in a pouting lip, but still managed to look like he was up to something.

Beside her, Rogers folded his arms across his chest, staring at the brothers and their byplay, clearly not approving. It was distracting. Dimly, Darcy heard Fury addressing Banner – "Bruce, heads up."

Then, with a roaring thump, the director brought both fists down on the conference room table hard. Everyone jumped, except maybe Banner, and guilty eyes turned toward the head of the table.

"If you can't stop being disruptive, Loki, I'll have you duct taped."

Loki's smile had teeth in it. "You could try, Nicholas. I guarantee you would not succeed. What is the problem? You were clearly missing my minion's presence. I am behaving exactly as he would, so you will not miss him as much."

"That's very generous of you, Loki. I can do without Stark's presence though." Fury's eye was twitching a little. Darcy almost felt sorry for him. Almost. But not really.

The director leaned forward. "Is it possible that the Princes of Asgard can act like princes during this meeting? Instead of acting like teenagers?" He spared a glance at Darcy. "Although…it is refreshing that you're all not acting like a bunch of horny teenagers. That's usually what happens when Loki is here."

Loki folded his hands behind his head. "I titillate and rejuvenate, all at the same time. You may thank me later."

Nick Fury sighed loudly. "Whatever. Let's continue, if that's all right with you, Stark Jr?"

Loki smirked. "By all means, Nicholas. Carry on."

Darcy swallowed her laughter. He really enjoyed driving Nick Fury insane. Poor Loki probably had terrible urges to do the same thing to his father, because Odin was so dour or grim. It was a wonder that he had never indulged those urges. Although she got the impression that Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three had been Loki's usual targets.

Thor was enjoying it, there was no question. Maybe because some part of the big guy still remembered when his brother had loathed him and then gone mad and tried to destroy everything. Darcy knew that Thor still felt bad about how he had treated Loki in the past and they were still working at putting those hurts completely behind them. In the present, Thor enjoyed seeing Loki…well, being Loki. Instead of the mad, rage creature he had become for some time.

A rubber band snapped against her upper arm, startling her. Darcy jumped a little, and froze when she saw Coulson and Fury staring hard. Oops. She was supposed to be taking notes. Instead of oogling her man.

"Back with us here at the meeting?" Fury asked, voice dripping with sarcasm. He did sarcasm well.

Darcy nodded. "Yes sir. Sorry."

She ignored the chuckles around the table, and focused on her tablet, typing notes in a shorthand that was uniquely hers.

After a few minutes, she was a little scared. No wonder Fury had been, well…furious, that Stark had chosen right now to take off and get married. S.H.I.E.L.D reports hinted at the existence of another secret facility where a crazy, technologically savvy, militant group was trying to build another portal to bring through their chosen gods – green reptilian like aliens with energy weapons. The same beings that had almost killed Stark the last time.

Darcy sat up and gave Fury her full attention. From the corner of her eye, she saw Loki do the same, and the slightly mocking little grin faded from his face, replaced with a grim scowl. He sat forward, chair titling down until it was on all four legs again. He had been badly drained and hurt during that campaign while trying to save Stark.

"We're not gonna make the same mistake this time," Fury told them. "When we move against them, it will be the Avengers, and a whole lot of S.H.I.E.L.D agents with you. We're going for max firepower against these things, but we're hoping to blow the portal to hell before they can finish it. Only problem is, we don't know where they are, yet." He turned his one eye on Loki. "Can you find them?"

Loki laced his fingers together on the table in front of him. "Unlikely, but I will try. They have knowledge of the arcane. Magic was woven into the construction of the last portal, and was helping to shield their camp."

Fury nodded. "That will be your job for now. Since Jarvis is linked into the Iron Man suit, all of the data and readings that were taken at the last altercation were safely transferred into Stark's database before the suit was shredded. Stark Industries used that data to develop some experimental weapons to go up against these things, if necessary." He swung to look at Barton. "You're gonna think Christmas came early, Hawkeye."

Barton grinned. "Custom made arrows? Ah…Stark loves me best."

Snorts of derision made their way around the table. Barton was an absolute genius when it came to developing new ideas to use a bow and arrow for. Darcy would never have thought that a bow and arrow would be effective against some of the things the Avengers went up against, but it had been one of Hawkeye's exploding arrowheads that had literally blown Loki off his feet, and allowed Thor to get close enough to him to reach out and pull him back from madness. Loki had been taunting him moments before that, and now showed a high level of respect for Barton and his craft.

There were tolerant smiles all around as Fury shared what new type of custom arrows had been developed. Barton was rubbing his hands together like a kid in a candy store, eyes alight. He was sitting literally on the edge of his seat.

Stark Industries had been busy, apparently, because S.H.I.E.L.D agents would receive specially manufactured guns, specifically designed for the alien invaders. Tony must have been all over his company to get things designed and manufactured this quickly. Then again, he had almost died because of these aliens. He would have died if not for Loki's intervention.

Then Fury's discussion turned toward the unknown mastermind of the severed head plot. He was still very angry about it. They had all been fooled, and Tony had almost gone over the edge. Tony had assembled a list of those most likely to want to hurt him, and the investigation continued.

"We've ruled out von Doom. And I don't need to tell you that I'm relieved that he's out of the running. But right now...we don't really have any clues. That's almost worse."

There were nods of agreement. Darcy knew that Loki wanted a shot at Justin Hammer. He might be able to pull the information from Hammer's mind on who had masterminded the nefarious plot.

"Just let me have five minutes with Justin Hammer," her man suggested. "I will wring everything the wretched weasel knows from his weak mind."

Fury nodded thoughtfully. "It may come to that. Right now, he's locked down tight. Something to do with how he escaped the first time." He nodded at Coulson.

The creepy agent stood. "Of a more immediate concern…something is going on in New Mexico. It began yesterday. The agents there reported some strange readings, and then nothing. All follow up contact has been met with an 'all clear false alarm'."

"So what's the problem?" Natasha asked.

"It feels forced. I sent Sitwell to check it out, and now I get the same response from him. No explanation, just the 'all clear, false alarm'. I don't like it."

Coulson had excellent instincts, so they took it seriously. "We can fly out, check it out," Rogers offered.

"Actually, Sitwell is on his way back. He's felt the need to update me every hour of his location, which leads me to believe that something or someone is with him."

Everyone tensed. Sitwell was a good agent. If he had been compromised…

"ETA?" Barton asked grimly.

"Approximately 15 minutes."

"Thanks for the warning," Rogers said sardonically. He pushed back his chair and rose. That seemed to be a signal to action for everyone. Darcy rose along with the rest of them, drawing a sharp look from Loki. He shook his head at her, but Darcy was having none of that. She stood beside Natasha a little defiantly.

Fury noticed. Of course he did. He looked between Darcy and Loki and seemed to be weighing alternatives. Then he shrugged. "Stay close to Agent Romanoff."

Darcy almost winced at the look Loki sent toward Fury. The director would suffer grief for this decision, she had no doubt. But she didn't need to be coddled. And she'd rather be on the scene of action than left to wonder and wait, like last time. She still hadn't forgiven Loki for that. That awful hour or so where she'd thought that Pepper had been decapitated. Loki had been contrite about it, afterward, but she could still feel the gut wrenching puking she had done in that time. So…she was still a little angry, and to hell with this protective shit!

"Can I have a gun?" she whispered to Natasha.

"No," the redhead replied. "You'd be more of a danger that way. Do you have your taser?"

Darcy patted the bag slung over her shoulder. Multipurpose. It stored her tablet, her taser, and anything else she chose to keep in it.

Natasha nodded. "If something gets close enough that you can use it, you should be running."

Well that was a sobering thought. Considering that the possible something would have to go through all of the Avengers and Loki to get that close to her. Darcy shivered a little, and Natasha nodded in approval.

"That's better. You were looking a little reckless there for a minute."

Darcy exhaled softly, and chanced a look at Loki. He was glowering at her, clearly not pleased about the situation. But she wasn't backing down.

Coulson led the way toward the roof, and Loki fell in beside Darcy. His lips were thin lines of disapproval, fists clenched tightly at his sides.

"This is unwise," he told her.

"We all make poor decisions at times," she reminded.

"Are you going to hold that against me forever?" he asked, a little plaintively.

"Until I'm sure you won't do something like that again."

Someone snickered. Darcy wasn't sure who it was, but she strongly suspected Barton. The archer was enjoying Loki's immersion in dating life. With all the pitfalls that come with it.

The God of Mischief was uncomfortable, worried, and angry all at the same time. "I am…new…to this."

"I know. That's why I didn't stop talking to you."

They walked in silence for several minutes. There a palpable tension in the air, running rampant through the group. The unknown was looming before them. Maybe the others were used to it, but it was new to Darcy. She shivered a little.

"I won't let anything hurt you," Loki promised fiercely.

"I know."

His hand reached out and took hers, fingers twining through her own. Darcy wanted to melt because really? She was holding hands with her god boyfriend, who was wonderful and amazing. And he didn't give a shit that he was doing it in front of all the Avengers, especially his brother. It made her want to crow a little, and eat liver because what other girl could say that she had a god boyfriend who wasn't afraid to hold her hand in public? Well, Jane maybe. But Darcy was sure she got the better brother.

When they reached the roof, the feeling of tension mounted. Coulson was facing west expectantly, sunglasses shading his eyes from the late afternoon sun. There were S.H.I.E.L.D agents hidden everywhere, and some standing in plain sight. Barton had melted away, no doubt finding a hiding spot where he could fire off shots. Banner was standing slightly apart from everyone else, ready to Hulk if necessary.

Darcy shivered again, and felt a hand on her chin, tilting her face up. Loki looked worried. "If anything bad happens – run," he instructed. Then he leaned down to press his lips to hers tenderly. Darcy wanted it to last forever, but it was only moments before Loki pulled back and whirled away, striding across the roof to join his brother. He pulled his horned helmet out of the air and settled it on his head, while a blue gem tipped staff appeared in his hand.

Natasha took Darcy's arm and pulled her behind the roof access hatch opening. Close enough to get into the building if there was trouble. Darcy was a little stunned to feel her throat closing up, heart thumping madly in her chest. This was…how did they deal with this on a regular basis? She felt like her skin had taken on a life of its own and wanted to slink off and find a safe hiding spot.

"I think I might puke," she said in a small voice to Natasha.

"Wait until something actually happens and it's over to do that," the female agent advised. "Right now, it would just distract everyone."

True. Darcy saw Thor and Loki tense slightly, and in the distance, she made out the Quinjet. Huh. Coulson had apparently been very worried about the Bifrost base site, if he had sent Sitwell out with the Quinjet. The thought that it might possibly be under hostile control was…unsettling.

Darcy didn't like scary movies for a reason. She couldn't stand the feeling of pending doom, knowing that something bad was gonna happen, but not knowing when. It made her muscles tense, ready for flight. It made her stomach want to empty its contents.

The closer the Quinjet got, the more alert and tense everyone became. Anyone with a weapon was holding it pointed loosely toward the ground, but ready. Darcy pulled her taser out, just in case she needed to use it. But she really, really hoped she didn't.

The landing of the Quinjet was slightly anticlimactic. Darcy had half expected the craft to fire on them as it approached, but it did not. It simply landed on the roof and began powering down.

Agent Sitwell emerged, looking a little wild eyed. He seemed to relax visibly when he saw all the manpower on hand.

"Sit rep, agent?" Coulson's voice was remarkable free of stress. Darcy didn't know how he did it. Something had ruffled Sitwell's feathers.

The other agent gulped audibly, and blinked several times. "New Mexico is secured, sir. But there were interesting developments there that could not be discussed over a phone."

Coulson's gun was not raised, but he could have it up in an instant, Darcy knew. "And have those developments traveled with you?"

Sitwell nodded shakily. "Yes sir. It made for a very nervous trip back, sir. I wasn't quite prepared for what I found. I'm glad that you figured out that my texts were out of the ordinary, because I felt a little exposed and vulnerable the whole way back." He looked around. "It seems the area is secured."

"Of course it is," Fury replied. "Well…we'd like to see whatever you've brought back with you."

"You may change your minds," the S.H.I.E.L.D agent warned. He took a few steps back, and rapped on the hull of the Quinjet. "It's all clear! You're safe to come out now."

Darcy stood on her tiptoes, squinting into the sun. There was a small flurry of movement behind the open hatch, and then figures were emerging. Darcy's mouth dropped open as soon as she recognized the four people filing out of the Quinjet.

Across the roof, Thor and Loki hissed in disbelief, and one word escaped them both.

"Mother?"

Chapter Text

Nothing could have surprised Loki more than the sight of his mother emerging from the Quinjet, flanked by Sif and the Warriors Three. Except maybe if his father had been there as well. Apparently, Thor was just as surprised, because his startled "Mother?" matched Loki's own.

Frigga graced them with a warm, regal smile, eyes sweeping the rooftop, noting all the personnel with approval. When her eyes lit on Darcy, standing next to Natasha, her smile grew wider.

Loki swept across the rooftop to his mother's side, Thor matching his hurried steps. Although her demeanor did not indicate trouble, Loki could not imagine what could possibly have drawn their mother out of Asgard to Earth. His mind was supplying terrible scenarios: an attack from Jotunheim, his father's unexpected death …

Frigga reached out to both of them, arms curling around their shoulders to pull them close. "Hello my sons."

Thor was wide-eyed and tentative. "Mother? What has happened? Why have you come to Earth?"

Loki absently noted Fandral's smirk. The blond warrior was highly amused by something, so whatever had drawn Frigga from Asgard could not be bad. Right?

"You have only yourselves to blame for my presence here," Frigga chided, squeezing their shoulders. "When last I saw you both, you swiftly departed for Midgard because Loki's young woman was in danger."

Loki almost withered under the stern look his mother turned upon him. It hadn't entered his mind to send word to Asgard that Darcy was fine. Heimdall would see and report.

Frigga's hands squeezed a little harder. "It truly is lamentable that neither of my sons chose to update me on the status of the young woman."

Loki heard a titter behind him that could only be Darcy, and sighed. Oh she would enjoy never letting him forget about this.

Frigga was withering both sons with her mother stare. "Our good gatekeeper has since reported that this lack of communication extends to your beloveds as well."

The bark of laughter, quickly cut off, came from Volstagg. The well-fed and bearded warrior appeared vastly amused. He dropped a wink at Loki, and offered a thumb's up.

Seeking help, Loki glanced around. The poleaxed expression on Fury's face almost made him want to flee. The director of S.H.I.E.L.D took a few steps forward, but halted when the attention, and not-so-subtly the weapons, of Sif and the Warriors Three came to point at him.

"Welcome to Earth. Please tell me that the wife of the reigning sovereign of Asgard really didn't journey here just to bitchslap her sons."

Frigga's lips twitched as if she wanted to smile, but she maintained a regal expression. Her eyes did crinkle a little. "It is a mother's duty to remind her sons of proper behavior. Since it became apparent that both of my sons were given to thoughtlessness, it became a necessity that I seek them out to reprimand them." The hand on Loki's shoulder squeezed hard, and Frigga's expression softened. "I also wished to come to know the women who have stolen my sons from me." She leaned forward confidentially, head between Loki and Thor's. "There are other reasons for my visit, man of fury. But these cannot be discussed out here." Her voice was low, and Loki felt some trepidation.

"I'd feel much better if we got everyone safely back into the building." Coulson sounded twitchy. Loki could understand his concern. If something were to happen to Frigga during her visit, his father would likely declare war. Agent Sitwell should have called for backup before traveling back across the country, but Loki suspected that his mother had insisted on traveling to them.

Frigga released her sons, and Thor turned to greet Sif and the Warriors Three, while Loki offered his arm to his mother. She slid her arm through his, and allowed him to escort her across the roof. They were surrounded every step of the way by S.H.I.E.L.D agents, who possibly looked as nervous as Coulson felt. Even though his face showed no expression.

"You should have sent word," Loki murmured softly.

"What would have drawn more attention? An agent returning from checking into a security risk, or your team journeying to meet us?"

Loki had to give her credit. The team mobilizing would have drawn a lot more attention than Sitwell returning. "Clever," he praised.

His mother winked. "Where do you think you learned it from?"

It was such a light moment, as they had not had in so very long, that Loki could not stop the mischievous smirk that slid across his face. "I thought perhaps that I learned it from Father."

His mother reached out to tap him on the nose. "My son…have you not yet learned that behind every great man there is a woman who guides his steps?"

Loki's laughter rang across the rooftop, drawing offended looks from the S.H.I.E.L.D agents. "And have you ever told Father this great truth?"

Frigga winked. "Why burden your father with unnecessary concerns?"

"He surprises occasionally. He might appreciate your insight." Loki titled his head to one side, challenging his mother.

"In the interest of maintaining a harmonious relationship, I think it best to keep this insight to myself." Frigga ducked her head. "He did not wish for me to come here. He preferred that the journey only be made by Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. But I felt that we have made enough mistakes with our sons. So much so that both have abandoned us."

That cut Loki deeply. His mother had suffered the most from the terrible events that had been building for decades, centuries. She loved her husband and her sons, and for them all to be at odds with each other had been a terrible burden on her.

"I am sorry, Mother." Loki hung his head. "We made things terribly difficult for you."

"You did," she agreed softly. "But I love you all, and I am grateful, and perplexed, that Midgard gave our sons back to us by taking them away. You were both lost for a period of time."

Loki shuddered, remembering the all consuming need to destroy, so that every realm would feel his pain. He had dwelled in shadow until Thor had saved him.

He escorted Frigga to the conference room, trailed by everyone else. He hoped someone had the presence of mind to go fetch Jane Foster, because Frigga was very eager to meet the women who ruled her sons. Loki rolled his eyes just thinking about it. His mother would appreciate the qualities of both women: Jane's somewhat restrained demeanor, and Darcy's freewheeling spirit. As Odin's wife, Frigga personified restraint and dignity. But she had a deep appreciation of humor and lightness, which was possibly why Loki was always much closer to her than his father.

Darcy, it seemed, was made a little nervous by Loki's mother. She trailed behind Loki, tugging at her clothes, and patting at her hair. It was adorable. Loki wanted to reassure her that Frigga was already halfway to loving her, simply because of Darcy's willingness to stand up to Odin on Loki's behalf. He would reassure her, when they could grab some alone time together. Frigga had always been bothered by Loki's shunning in Asgard. It must have been a complete relief to her when Darcy arrived in Asgard looking for trouble.

When they reached the conference room, Coulson began barking orders to his agents to get refreshments. Poor Sitwell was probably in for hours of debriefing, and a scolding. He stood as far away from the visitors as he could while the Asgardians were settled, and looked grateful when Coulson shooed him out. It had to have been very stressful for the agent traveling cross country with such a high level guest.

Loki marveled at his mother, who managed to look both regal and playful while sitting in a Midgardian chair, surrounded by the mundane. She always had a bit of mischief in her expression, which was probably where Loki had learned it from. Frigga never took life as relentlessly serious as Odin did, which had always made her the easier parent to deal with.

He sat down next to her, armor going away with barely a blink of his eye. He opted to stay in Asgardian casual clothing, because he wasn't sure what Frigga's reaction to his normal Midgardian wear would be. Then again, if she saw Thor in his smiley face boxers (which his brother had demanded that Jane purchase for him after he'd seen Justin Hammer wear them), it might be worth the beating that Thor would surely try to give him. Loki couldn't stop the evil grin that spread across his face as he watched Thor talking, in great animation, to his friends. He was picturing the moment.

Someone flicked the back of his head, drawing his attention from Thor. "Whatever you're thinking of doing – don't." Darcy gave him a daggered look as she pulled up another chair and sat down. Loki could see and sense Darcy's extreme nervousness, but she wasn't going to shy away. She would meet the challenge of meeting Loki's mother head on.

"So…Jane has been paged, and is on her way."

"Very good." Loki reached out to take Darcy's hand again. "I know that your time in Asgard was very limited, Darcy. And that you were busy insulting my father and declaring war, so I doubt that you had the pleasure of meeting my mother."

Darcy squeezed his hand. Hard. "I did not. I saw her, but we didn't get to chat."

Frigga leaned forward. "It is a pleasure to meet you, my dear. I cannot thank you enough for the support you've shown to Loki." She smiled even wider, with a fond look at Loki. "Honestly, I feared that he would forever be alone. Loki is slow to trust anyone."

"It's just because I'm like the most non-threatening person ever, and easily readable," Darcy explained blithely. "Loki knew I had no hidden agendas."

"You are not capable of having hidden agendas," he corrected. "Everything shows on your face."

Frigga bit her lip. "What drew you to Loki?"

Darcy turned to face Loki with a beaming smile. "He was so sad and so alone when I first met him. I thought there was so much more to him than the crazy supervillain, so I started talking to him." Her lips curved into a naughty smile. "We started spending more time together, and things kind of grew from there." She dropped a slow wink at Loki.

What a naughty hellcat. Loki tried to stop the blush that heated his cheeks, but he could not. He was blushing like a schoolboy because his girl was making sly innuendos in front of his mother! Frigga couldn't hide her own smile.

"I see that my first impression of you was accurate, my dear. You are a fitting match for my son. I do not think anyone else has ever made him blush."

Darcy tilted her head to one side, and smiled innocently. "I have talents. Plus, Loki has a real weakness for banana splits, and I make the best."

Loki was sure that his flaming face gave away the fact that Darcy wasn't talking about food. To his mother!

The arrival of Jane Foster thankfully interrupted the moment. Thor swept the thin scientist into his arms, and turned to deposit her in front of Frigga. "Mother, this is my Jane."

Loki gratefully withdrew a little, both to allow himself time to recover, and to give his mother time to get to know Jane. Darcy made to withdraw as well, but Frigga gestured for her to stay.

Thor looked almost as nervous as Loki felt as both brothers fell a few steps back into the company of Sif and the Warriors Three. Sif was glaring daggers at Loki, but Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg had confused looks upon their faces.

Fandral edged closer to Loki. "I do not remember you having a sweet tooth, Loki. Your time on Earth has corrupted you."

Thor's loud laughter drew a frown from Fury, who was pacing at the head of the conference table, staring at the Asgardians. Loki winced, hoping that his brother wouldn't elaborate for the blond warrior, but Thor merely dropped a wink toward him, and Loki couldn't resist some mischief.

He leaned toward Fandral confidentially. "Darcy is a master at making banana splits. They are irresistible."

It was probably a good thing that Tony Stark was not present, since the billionaire would not have been able to resist commenting.

Clint Barton leaned around Thor's side. "But Darcy doesn't share," he pouted. "Loki is the only one who gets to sample her dessert skills."

Fandral turned his gaze back toward the women, eyes targeting in on Darcy's assets. "I am certain we can persuade the Lady Darcy to share. She appears to be a woman with a generous…heart."

Thor clapped a hand on Fandral's shoulder. "My friend. There is no quicker route to mayhem than to express an appreciation for the Lady Darcy's…talents. My brother is quite possessive." He then turned very slowly to face Clint Barton, who had the biggest 'hell if I care' smirk. Thor seemed to consider his next action very carefully, and then finally reached out to smack the archer in the back of the head. "My teammate…do you truly wish to have your clothing altered? Or your gender? Loki can do both, and you are trying to instigate trouble."

Barton shrugged, still smirking. "Stark's not here. Someone has to do it."

Loki was very grateful for Thor's support, since his reaction would not have been verbal, and he really needed to avoid trouble during his mother's visit. "If you truly wish to court 'mayhem,' as my brother calls it, Clint Barton, then by all means – continue." His smile had teeth. "I do not share."

"Barton, Thor." Surprisingly it came from Rogers and not Fury. The poor captain was frowning at them, while blushing. It seemed that Darcy's friend Sheila had not yet completely corrupted him. He gestured to Thor, and Loki's brother moved to his side. Rogers whispered fiercely for a moment, and then leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. Thor managed to look guilty, and moved off with the Warriors Three, skillfully placing himself between the women and Fandral's hot eyes.

A soft inhale to Loki's side drew his glance. Sif was staring intently at Steve Rogers. The captain had removed his cowl, exposing his golden hair and apple pie face (or so Darcy had described it). The woman warrior was mesmerized, unabashedly staring at Rogers, lips slightly parted.

Loki's eyebrows rose nearly to his hairline. Sif was not the type to swoon over men; however, she appeared to be doing just that. Of course, Rogers had the preferred Asgardian coloring and build, but he was only a mortal. Typical Asgardians had too many prejudices against mortals to find them attractive, but Sif's appreciation was unmistakable.

Rogers was oblivious to the attention, eyes jumping from one Avenger to another, trying to keep them out of trouble. He had very strong ideas of how the team should present itself to outsiders, and being troublesome was not it.

Loki wondered if Rogers would be embarrassed or flattered by Sif's fascination. The man was so self-effacing and uncomfortable (still) with female attention. He seemed slightly more at ease with Sheila, but also nervous with her, as if afraid of hurting her. It seemed he was still not comfortable in his enhanced body.

Loki watched Rogers put on his Captain face, and very firmly direct Barton away. He followed the archer, just to be sure that Barton didn't open his mouth again.

"Tell me of him," a soft voice requested. He turned his head. Sif was staring after Steve Rogers. Her eyes roved freely up and down the captain's back, mapping his contours. A small half smile was etched onto her face.

"He is mortal," Loki pointed out.

"I dislike you, Trickster. I have for a long time. Do not try my patience. Tell me of this blond mortal warrior." Sif's eyes finally turned to meet his. "Tell me, or I will break you."

Loki smirked. "You could try. You would not succeed." He raised an eyebrow. "Why not ask Thor?"

Sif scowled at him. "Thor is incapable of discretion. You, on the other hand, fully understand the benefit of keeping one's mouth shut in certain situations."

From Sif, that was almost a compliment. "His name is Steve Rogers. He protects the world under the name of Captain America. He is a man of honor. Currently, he is courting a woman."

Sif's expression did not change. "A mortal woman. Weak, helpless?"

"She requires protection and would not be able to defend herself in a fight," Loki admitted. In truth, while Sheila was a very nice woman, she was of the helpless variety. Darcy had tried to turn her on to tasers, but Sheila was not interested.

"I would have an introduction to this man." Sif's eyes went back to following Rogers as he quietly berated Barton in the corner of the conference room.

Loki sighed. He would have no peace until he complied. "Very well. I will introduce you, but not right now."

"My time here is limited, Loki." Sif turned to face him, challenge written in every line of her face.

He nodded, and sent a tendril of compulsion magic across the room, encouraging the captain to check with him and make sure Barton's antics hadn't caused more of a problem.

Rogers said a few last words to the archer, and then strode across the room. "Loki?"

"All is well, Captain," the God of Mischief assured. "This is the Lady Sif – a warrior in my father's court."

Rogers inclined his head. "Thor has spoken of you often and fondly, my lady. He tells tales that you are a fierce opponent in sparring matches. I understand that it isn't usual for a woman to become a warrior in Asgard?"

Sif's eyes were sparkling as she leaned forward confidentially. Loki nodded to both and excused himself.

The Warriors Three were standing in a loose circle around Thor. Loki joined them after casting a wary look at the women sitting on the other side of the room. His mother could appear open and benevolent, but right now she was on the edge of her chair, interrogating both Darcy and Jane to make sure they were worthy.

"Nervous business, meeting the mother," Volstagg offered. "Your lady seems to be holding up well."

"She is strong," Loki praised. "As is Jane."

Thor nodded absently, watching the women. "But they are speaking to our mother."

Some time passed while Frigga continued speaking to Darcy and Jane. Loki kept tabs on them, and watched Sif as she completely monopolized Steve Rogers. The good captain was speaking to her with quite a bit of animation, having no idea of the woman's interest. He was treating her as a fellow warrior. Loki knew that Sif quite frequently received that type of regard from fellow Asgardians, who did not view her as a woman. In her own way, Sif suffered from a type of shunning. It had never created a bond between them, as some might have thought, but Loki could appreciate her troubles.

Darcy and Jane were finally able to tear themselves away from the mother, and rejoin their men. Loki glanced down at Darcy in trepidation. His hellcat was smirking up at him, eyes dancing and promising that she had dirt on him. He would get it out of her later, but for right now, he simply slid an arm around her back.

Tension doubled as Frigga stood, commanding everyone's attention with sheer force of presence. Odin's ability to do so was far more intimidating, but Frigga's own ability ensured that her counsel was never ignored. Sif and the Warriors Three moved to her side, lending weight to what would follow.

"My visit to your realm is not entirely centered on the poor personal skills of my sons," she informed, with a slight smile toward Thor and Loki. "Our gatekeeper can view many realms. He has seen an army of creatures amassing in Muspelheim. These creatures are a corrupted and manipulated version of a much older race known as the Maklu."

Loki shared a look with Thor. They had encountered the Maklu in their younger years. The giant reptilians were noble, wise, and peaceful, nothing like the hostile and much smaller creatures the Avengers had faced previously. It was believed that a visit from the Maklu to Earth, many centuries ago, had created the myth of the dragon.

"Something has foully tainted and changed these beings," Frigga continued. "They have been created for one purpose – subjugation."

"They have been here once before," Thor advised. "Heimdall has seen that they will target Earth once again?"

"It seems to be their goal," Frigga confirmed. "Their creator, who has very cleverly remained unseen, has a very clear goal – to rule this realm."

Loki snorted in derision. "This realm does not want to be ruled. Believe me, I tried. The creator of these creatures is in for a rude awakening."

A few nervous and slightly shocked titters ran through the conference room. Loki did not often remind others of his world takeover attempt, but it was relevant to this situation. He allowed a slow, lazy grin to stretch across his face. It was good for them to remember that he was not entirely 'tame'. Darcy flicked the back of his head, narrowed eyes swinging up to make a face at him.

Fury gestured for silence. "What is the size of this army?" The director's lips were compressed, and there was a muscle tic jumping in his temple.

Frigga turned to face the director. "Large enough that if they make it through a portal to this realm, you will be ruled."

Darcy's hand squeezed Loki's arm tight. It was one thing to hear or read about the battles being fought by the Avengers. But to hear that the Earth could be subjugated by an alien race was putting her new life into perspective. Loki slid a hand over hers. He would do his best to soften the blow. She was no longer part of the uninformed, blissfully ignorant masses.

Steve Rogers asked the question that Nick Fury wanted to know that answer to. "Will Asgard stand with Earth?" His eyes may have flicked to Sif when he asked it, but they scooted away so quickly Loki couldn't be sure. Interesting.

Loki already knew the answer to that question before his mother spoke. She looked regretful.

"Asgard is not in a stable enough situation that we can ally ourselves with Midgard in this." She offered a slight smile. "We are offering the consulting services of several of our finest warriors." She nodded toward Sif and the Warriors Three. "They will be happy to assist in your planning and execution of Midgard's defense."

Apparently, the four warriors hadn't known their services would be offered, judging by their expressions. Loki's eyes narrowed at Sif's eagerness. She looked triumphant and …hungry, eyes glued on Steve Rogers.

Fury was calculating the worth of the gift Frigga had just bestowed. His eye flitted rapidly from one Asgardian to the next. It was not an inconsequential gift, but it was far less than he had hoped for. Still, their help would be very valuable in preventing the opening of any portals, or turning back the aliens as they were coming through the portal.

"Our thanks to Asgard," the director said. He bowed his head in Frigga's direction.

"Their primary function will be to protect the princes of Asgard," Frigga warned. "However you choose to utilize them will be secondary."

Thor's frown matched Loki's own. They did not require 'protection'. Loki could see his father's handiwork in this move, and appreciate it. If anything of a permanent nature happened to the princes of Asgard during their extended (permanent) stay on Earth, the possibility of war between the two realms was quite real. With this one gesture, Odin ensured the protection of his sons, and won himself brownie points from the nations of Earth.

Fury understood it immediately, and sent a calculating look toward Thor and Loki. His mouth curled into a wry smile of appreciation. "Asgard makes well thought out gestures."

Frigga's own smile was slightly naughty.

Chapter Text

"What? I'm just saying that you have such amazing flair, it's a wonder you're heterosexual."

Darcy saw the evil twinkle in his eyes right before Loki suddenly scooped her up and threw her over his shoulder. Her shriek brought all action to a halt, and every eye focused upon them.

Loki inclined his head. "My apologies. Darcy has challenged my manhood, so I need to do something about that." He turned away from everyone to exit the room.

"What are you gonna do?" Barton asked curiously.

Loki turned back. "I believe I will make her scream until she loses her voice and forgets her own name."

"Loki!" Frigga protested.

He paused in the act of turning back toward the door. "Yes Mother?"

"This is hardly the behavior of a prince," she scolded.

Loki drew himself up. "It is exactly the behavior of a prince. A prince takes what he wants." He inclined his head and swept out of the room.

Darcy winced. Well, what did he expect? He had used a considerable bit of magic to redo the rooms in Avengers Tower that his mother would stay in while a guest of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Loki had a surprising flair for decoration, and an extraordinary sense of style, and she couldn't help but to pick on him a little. Apparently, that was all the excuse he needed to behave like a barbarian.

She watched the rooms recede behind them, with Frigga's beaming smile the last thing to disappear from sight. Then, Loki blinked back to his apartment and dumped her unceremoniously on his bed.

Darcy sprawled in the middle quite comfortably, smirking up at her man. He had a smoldering look on his face that sent licks of heat curling through her. It was the first time he had really been aggressive in front of the others, and the fact that he had done it in front of his mother….

"Something on your mind, Loki?" she asked, stroking casually along the line of her collarbone. His eyes fixated on the lazy slide of her fingers, and his mouth parted slightly.

"You are an enchantress," he accused. "You have beguiled and bewitched me, and caused me to come undone in front of my mother!"

Darcy very slowly and deliberately licked her lips, and had to laugh softly at the corresponding twitch from Loki's pants. "Your godly parts are waking up," she teased.

He growled down at her and pulled his shirt off hastily. "Take off you clothes," he ordered.

Darcy bit her lip. This was the Asgardian prince she was dealing with, and he hadn't been in the bedroom with them yet. "It's customary to ask nicely," she reminded.

Loki paused, hands at his waist. His stare was making Darcy a little nervous, and a lot excited. He looked like he was seconds away from tearing her clothes off, and that possibility made her press her legs together to ease a sudden ache. Loki's eyes tracked the movement of her legs, and he growled again, thinking she was going to deny him.

With a puff of air, her clothes were gone, along with his pants. Darcy barely managed a wordless protest over the loss of one of her favorite shirts before Loki was pinning her down, mouth catching her breathless cries.

"Open your legs," he demanded against her mouth.

Darcy couldn't help herself as she opened her legs for him. She tore her mouth from his, panting, and then leaned up to nip at his neck. "Whatever the prince desires," she breathed.

He made another growling sound deep in his throat and muttered something that was probably unflattering, but Darcy couldn't hear it over the pounding in her ears. This possessive and commanding Loki had wound her up so fast her head was spinning.

He completely dominated her in a way he hadn't before, punishing her with little nips and pinches, but the tiny pains only aroused her more. Darcy was helpless, holding on tightly as he drove her completely nuts. She could barely keep up with him, as there seemed to be a sense of urgency in his domination.

He was jealous, she realized finally, in between panting breaths. He was jealous of the hot eyes that Fandral had turned on her, and the sly insinuations that Barton had made. With the sudden arrival of his mother and four other Asgardians, Loki was suddenly reminded of all those centuries in his home, where he was always in Thor's shadow. He was jealous and feeling insecure.

She did what she could to reassure him, wrapping legs around his waist and arms around his torso and just holding on so tightly that her muscles began to ache. She was completely helpless under his plundering kisses, and just allowed him to dominate. They could talk about it later.

Much later.

In the aftermath of a wildly energetic tussle, Darcy held him. The prince aura had faded when he gave over to a shuddering release, shouting out his pleasure. He had collapsed on her, and Darcy just held him, reassuring him with soft touches and murmured reassurances. She had enjoyed the prince, but the second son persona was going to bring her to tears.

"You're ten times better than Thor," she told him softly, stroking a hand up and down his back. His face was buried in her neck, and he seemed lost in despair.

"How would you know?" he asked, voice muffled against her neck.

"Jane and I swap naughty stories," Darcy replied blithely. That had his head snapping up so fast it must have been painful. He looked surprised. She stretched up to press a kiss to his chin. "Your brother?….completely boring in bed from what I hear."

A grin appeared, but then faded. "No one believes that. No one believes that I could be better at something than Thor."

Darcy pinched his ass, hard, garnering a yelp of protest. "Everyone knows there are things that you do better. And Loki? You just threw me over your shoulder and carried me off, like a freaking caveman. You don't think that all the guys aren't seriously impressed by that?"

He lowered his head to rest his forehead on her shoulder. "I feel…exposed."

Darcy swatted him on the ass. "Loki babe, you are exposed. There's no sheet covering you right now."

He chuckled helplessly, not raising his head. "That is not what I meant," he chided.

"I know what you meant. Stop it. You're not in Thor's shadow anymore." Darcy was quiet for a little bit, but then had to ask. "Do you want to go home?"

Loki's head shot up again. "What? No! My home is here now."

"Then why is this bothering you so much?"

"Roles that are centuries old are hard to escape," he admitted with a frown.

"I like the prince," Darcy told him, biting her lip. She reached up to smooth the lines on his forehead. "The prince is a bit of a turn on. Ordering me around, taking what he wants…"

She delighted in the flush that colored his cheeks. "I…that was wrong of me."

Darcy brushed hair back from his face. "Why? I wasn't complaining. Like I said, the prince turned me on."

He sighed heavily. "The prince led to the psychopath. I am certain that is a path that no one wants me to revisit."

Darcy rolled her eyes. "You have all these people around you that will jump on you at the first sign of the psychopath. Especially me. Feel free to be a little princely in the bedroom any time, because it really got me all worked up."

"Those noises you made," he laughed. "I guess you were having a good time."

Darcy slapped a hand down on his back. "You stop that. C'mon. Let's get a shower and get back to being social, so that everyone can be in awe of your manly prowess."

Loki snorted and drew back, rising from the bed like a prince. Darcy took a moment to oogle his godly parts, and laughed in delight when he twitched. Loki just sighed and offered a hand. She took it and allowed him to pull her to her feet.

She didn't say anything to him, but the prince had left her feeling a little sore. It was hot. She felt completely used and dominated, and it wasn't something she had anticipated that she would enjoy, but oh wow. She would definitely need to coax the prince out of hiding in the future.

The shower took longer than it should have, due to all the touching and soapy foreplay, but they finally emerged and dressed. Loki blinked them back to Avengers headquarters, into the middle of sheer chaos.

"I'm just saying, he was like a total momma's boy, and those are always the ones who go psycho first. Did you breastfeed him? Do Asgardians breastfeed? The momma's boys are usually breastfed. Did you dress him up in girl's clothes when he was little? He's pretty enough to be a girl."

Loki's quiet "oh shit" was only heard by Darcy. She was too busy staring at the scene in front of them to look at her man. Tony Stark had returned from his honeymoon a week early, it seemed. And if the looks on the faces of the Asgardians were any clue, Pepper was about to become a widow. Frigga was trying desperately to retain a queenly demeanor, but she looked very close to laughing out loud at the obnoxious mortal in front of her. Sif and the Warriors Three did not look amused at all.

"Tony, shut up!" Pepper hissed. She was glancing warily at the four Asgardian warriors.

"I want to know. I mean, he was the best man at our wedding, and there's so many things we don't know about him. He doesn't talk about Asgard much. A lot of bad memories, I think. I just want to know that it's not gonna happen again. Him going all psycho. Cuz I like Loki, you know. I don't wanna have to try to kill him again." Tony Stark peered up at Frigga with a winning smile. "C'mon Mom. I can call you Mom, right? I mean, since Loki was my best man, it sort of makes us related, right? And the friends always get to call the friends' moms 'Mom'" He smiled again.

Pepper looked immensely relieved when the duct tape sealed Tony's mouth shut. He tried to remove it, but Loki ensured that it wasn't going anywhere.

"Hello Tony. You have returned early, I see. Pepper – you could not keep him away?"

The new Mrs. Stark appeared frazzled. "Someone thought it was a good idea to text Tony about what was going on. He had to be here, so here we are."

Loki nodded thoughtfully. "Stand down, please," he told Sif and the Warriors Three. "His mouth is the most dangerous thing about him."

Assorted chuckles ran through the small crowd that had gathered. Nick Fury looked like he wanted to pull out his hair, but he didn't have any. He nodded thankfully at Loki, glad that Stark's mouth had been magically sealed shut.

Of course, Tony Stark being Tony Stark, it didn't stop him for long. He was playing madly on his phone type thing, and soon his voice was echoing in the air.

"That was mean, Loki. Probably necessary, because my mouth gets way ahead of my brain sometimes, but mean. I bet you're wondering how I'm still talking? Jarvis is using a voice modulator program. He 'speaks' what I type. You didn't think I'd let a little thing like magic duct tape stop me, did you?"

Stark looked up and winked at Loki. "So, I heard you went totally Neanderthal on Darcy and carried her off to ravage her." He swung to look at Darcy. "Hey kiddo. You look like you had a good time. Not feeling intimidated by the mom, are you? I like her. I can see where Loki got his chutzpah from. I think the asshole portion of his character came from Odin, you know. Cuz he seemed like a total ass when we visited."

Pepper snatched the phone from his hands, and batted him away when Stark tried to snatch it back. "No Tony. Just stop before you get yourself killed. You could single-handedly cause a war between Earth and Asgard. Just shut up."

Stark ducked his head. Darcy relaxed with a sigh. How Pepper put up with him, she couldn't understand.

Loki nodded his thanks at Pepper and then turned to his mother with an apologetic shrug. "He grows on you, Mother. Like fungus."

Frigga laughed. "He is entertaining, to be sure. Is it true that you served as his best man?"

Loki nodded. "I did, yes. It was an honor."

Frigga then turned her very amused gaze to Darcy. "Did you deliberately taunt my son into ravishing you?"

Darcy bit her lip. "No, that was a pleasant side effect. If I had known that's how he'd react, I would have teased him about his fashion sense a long time ago."

Stark offered thumbs up to her, since that's all he was capable of at the moment.

Steve Rogers hung his head. "Now I know exactly how you feel, Director. It's like running a daycare."

There were loud protests from Thor, Barton, Loki and Stark. Banner nodded in agreement with the captain, and Natasha…looked like she usually did. Fury's mouth twitched slightly, as if to smile, but he did not.

After allowing Stark to wander around and simply absorb what was going on for another hour, Loki cautiously removed the duct tape gag with a wave of his hand. Tony smiled a rakish thanks, but he seemed to have passed the manic portion of the night. Of course, Pepper was glued to his side watching for any inappropriate behavior.

Fandral, it seemed, wanted to court death. He approached Darcy as Loki was across the room speaking quietly to his mother, trying to repair the damage to his reputation. The blond warrior obviously fancied himself a ladies man, and his eyes were glued to Darcy's chest.

"Lady Darcy," he greeted. "You look well since last we met."

Darcy cocked her head to one side. "Considering that the last time we met, Loki was having the Destroyer tear up the town I was in to get to Thor, I am much better than that time. Or were you referring to when I invaded Asgard and declared war?"

Fandral's eyes were having a very tough time moving elsewhere. "I am honestly surprised that you are with Loki. You do not seem his type."

Darcy bit back the first five things she wanted to say. Loki hadn't had a type, ever. "Oh? Why not?"

Finally Fandral looked at her, with what he probably considered to be a dashing smile. "You seem very vibrant and full of life. Loki is far more reserved."

She couldn't help but to have some fun with the creep, and glanced up at him, lip caught between her teeth. "Maybe that's why he likes me. I bring out animal side of him. With me, he can let loose all of his princely restraint and scream like a girl when I do things to him that polite society doesn't talk about."

Fandral drew back as if slapped, and turned his head to look at Loki, and then back at her. His gaze was speculative, as if trying to picture what Darcy had just described.

"You can't see it, can you?" she asked naughtily. "You can't even picture Loki losing control like that. Gasping and shaking when he comes undone, and the only name he can remember is mine." She smirked. "I'm not Loki's type? I'm exactly the type Loki has always needed and never had." Noting that his eyes had dropped, again, she snapped her fingers up near her face, and Fandral's eyes shot up to meet hers. "Don't talk to or stare at my boobs, buddy. You don't have a shot in hell. Once a girl goes Loki, she never goes back."

Fandral was opening his mouth, no doubt to say something he considered witty and flirtatious, when Hogun, who never seemed to speak, appeared out of nowhere. The silent warrior grabbed Fandral by ear and steered him away from Darcy with a quiet nod. Darcy bit back her laughter and hoped that Loki hadn't seen it. He would not be kind to Fandral.

"Does it not bother you?" a voice said at her side. Darcy glanced up at Sif. The warrior woman had slid into place beside her and was alternating stares between Loki and Steve Rogers.

"What?"

"You know what he has done. Yet you willingly go to his bed."

"Yep," Darcy agreed. This was getting old fast. At least Frigga had been unconditionally supportive. "He's redeemed himself." She shrugged. "Even if he hadn't, I wouldn't have done anything differently. You don't like it? Fine. I don't give a shit. My concerns are with myself, and Loki." Then she allowed a little bit of cattiness to surface. "At least I'm not trying to steal him from someone else."

Sif looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?"

Darcy snorted. "I've seen how you look at Steve. He has a girl."

Sif blinked lazily. "Not my concern. Or yours."

Darcy smiled tightly. "Fine. Then make Loki and I not your concern either."

Sif looked thoughtful, and finally nodded. "Very well."

She moved off and Darcy looked around for Loki, who was still talking to his mother. Thor was standing with them, smirking, and Loki looked annoyed as he tried to defend his actions. It must be driving him nuts. He was used to being the quiet one, the one who faded behind Thor's radiance. To be in the light, to be exposed, was surely grating on his nerves.

She felt the displacement of air that told her someone else was now standing beside her. Who was it this time? She was running out of Asgardians to annoy her. But when she looked up, it wasn't an Asgardian standing at her side.

"Hey Tony. Did you seriously cut your honeymoon short to come back here?"

Stark shrugged. "Oh you know. Why stay on a honeymoon when the Earth is about to be invaded? We can honeymoon after the crisis passes."

"How does Pepper put up with you?"

"She's an amazingly talented and patient woman." Tony grinned a little crazily. "She's my wife now, you know."

Darcy tried not to laugh. "I know Tony. I was there for the wedding, remember?"

He piffed. "Of course I remember. I'm still processing the fact. So, Loki's mom is cool, right?"

"Totally. Just don't talk to her about breastfeeding again, okay?"

"A bit out of line?" Stark asked, scratching his head.

"A bit."

"Do you think she'll let me call her Mom?"

For a second, speech left her. He sounded almost plaintive, and Darcy remembered that his parents had been dead for a long time. Maybe even Tony Stark needed a mother figure. Other than Pepper. Who couldn't be his mother figure anymore, since she was now his wife.

"I don't know, Tony. She is like a queen, you know."

The corner of his mouth quirked into a grin. "She's awesome. Totally kick ass the way she handles both of her sons. She could adopt me, and then I'd be bros with Loki and Thor."

Darcy nodded. "We'll see, Tony. Save the world first, remember?"

"Yeah yeah, all that stuff." He waved dismissively. "So I saw Robin Hood and Xena talking to you, getting on your nerves. How does it feel to be a gossip topic in another realm?"

"It's slightly disturbing," Darcy answered honestly. "I've never really been a topic of gossip before."

Tony cocked his head at her. "You mean before you started banging the God of Mischief?"

Darcy laughed. "Yeah, before then. I feel for you, Tony. It's not cool when everyone else is in your business."

He sighed. "It does suck sometimes. But you're strong."

After speaking with her sons again, Frigga evidently decided that the day had been long enough, and that the mission to save the Earth could be resumed in the morning. She politely but firmly shooed everyone out. Fury took the opportunity to issue some quiet orders about reconvening in the morning, and everyone scattered. There were ten S.H.I.E.L.D agents on guard duty outside the rooms now designated for Frigga and her protectors.

Loki looped an arm around Darcy's shoulder as they departed Frigga's rooms for the second time. "It has been a very long day," he admitted.

Darcy slid a hand up his back, underneath his shirt, fingers tapping against his skin. "Tired?"

He blinked down at her. "Actually, I am exhausted. My mother arrived unexpectedly with news of an impending attack, Tony Stark returned and almost caused an inter-realm incident, and I was bewitched."

Darcy smirked a little. "What a pity. I thought maybe we could Jacuzzi for a little and then go to bed. But if you're too tired…."

He frowned. "Do not even think of suggesting that I – "

"Jacuzzi?" Darcy interrupted, just beaming up at him.

Loki sighed. "Jacuzzi."

As he pulled her closer in preparation to travel to his apartment, Darcy laughed a little. "Oh…and Tony wants your mom to adopt him."

His startled look was priceless.

Chapter Text

Loki folded his arms across his chest. "No."

Darcy frowned. He didn't seem to be budging on this, and that was unlike Loki. He was normally so protective. "Please Loki? Please?" She bit her lip and glanced up at him from under her eyelashes, trying her hardest to look adorable. Someone snickered in the background, but Darcy's attention was solely on Loki.

"No Darcy."

Hmmm…he was being tough. Darcy stared up at him, even as Loki stared down at her. The entire room seemed to be holding their breath.

"Hundred bucks on Darcy winning," she heard Stark whisper. Awe…he had faith!

"Of course she will," Thor agreed in what he thought was a whisper. Loud enough to echo in the conference room.

Loki's head whipped around with an annoyed and betrayed expression. "Really Thor? You have no faith in my resolve?"

Thor's too-innocent expression almost made Darcy laugh. "You are incapable of resisting Darcy. You have said so yourself many times. You will grumble, you will complain, but in the end, you will fall."

"Ha!" Darcy lifted her arms in triumph. "I rule, Loki."

"We know you rule Loki, Darcy," Pepper pointed out. "It's really not polite to point that out when he's right here, though."

Darcy lowered her arms and snorted. "I spent years envying other women because of the men that were wrapped around their fingers. It's a new experience for me, and I'm enjoying it."

Bruce took his glasses off and polished them. "I'm not sure why you won't do it, Loki. It seems right up your alley."

Steve frowned at his teammate. "I think it's very noble of Loki to resist. It's really not a nice idea."

Darcy leaned to one side, so she could stare at the captain around Loki's angry stance. "It's not intended to be a nice idea, Steve. I am more than a walking, talking set of breasts, but some people can't seem to remember that. I just want that person to have a reminder of how they're acting, because words and slaps haven't made an impression."

Loki leaned down into her line of sight, lips compressed angrily. His green eyes were practically blazing. "There have been slaps? I have not seen this."

Darcy straightened and gulped. "Um…I might have forgotten to mention it to you."

His expression darkened as he too straightened. "If I have not seen the slaps, it means there has been inappropriate behavior while I was not present."

"Do it, Loki!" Tony encouraged with a manic grin. "You have to protect Darcy's honor! Plus, the facial hair really disturbs me."

Pepper smacked him in the arm, and then turned her doe eyes on Loki. "Loki, this has gotten out of hand. I think a reminder of just who you are and what you can do is in order. After all, you don't want Darcy being accosted at all times of the day, do you?"

Darcy tried hard not to smirk. Loki really had no chance now. He was almost growling in agitation.

"Brother, you must. Fandral is one of my dearest friends, but his behavior toward Darcy has been unacceptable. He thinks you tamed and neutered, a 'kept' man, so he has no problems believing he can take her from you." Thor winced when Loki turned to glare at him.

"A 'kept' man? He has told you this?"

Thor looked off to one side guiltily. "He has. He…he suggested that Darcy has attached a leash to…" The God of Thunder trailed off, and looked down pointedly.

Darcy tried not to laugh as Loki gaped down at his groin, and then snapped his eyes up to focus on her. She tried really hard, but the tiniest chuff of amusement escaped her tightly clamped lips. Loki's eyes narrowed, and then a truly evil smile lit his face.

"This cannot be tolerated. Both the constant leering at Darcy, and the vile insinuations against myself are completely unacceptable." He drew himself up to his full height. "I completely resent the implication that I am a cock-led 'kept' man."

Stark howled in laughter. "Loki said 'cock'!" he crowed. "Oh that was perfect! Do something else! Say 'penis'." He stared with wide eyes, waiting anxiously for Loki to speak. Pepper smacked him on the arm again, but he didn't even blink at her.

Darcy rolled her eyes, while Loki turned to glare at Tony. "Minion – remind me why I keep you around?"

"I'm fun at parties and you have a burning need to be constantly challenged."

"He's not wrong about that," Bruce pointed out. The scientist cracked a smile. "But it was really funny hearing you say 'cock'."

"Say it," Barton encouraged. "Say 'penis'." He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

Loki glared at the archer too. "Now I am a party trick?"

Tony howled again. "We could totally take you on Letterman for a new segment! Uptight God Tricks! Darcy would be your handler!"

"With a leash!" Thor roared, nearly shaking the walls. "Oh Loki – your expression is priceless!" The God of Thunder laughed, and turned away from his brother's offended glare.

Darcy bit her lip again at the expression from her man. He was itching to make a move against Fandral. It might have been a mistake to not tell him about the unwanted advances whenever the blond warrior caught her alone.

Nick Fury entered the room just as Stark was having Jarvis dial Letterman's people. The S.H.I.E.L.D Director took one look at the mass chaos in the conference room, and heaved a huge sigh. Then he jumped up on the conference room table.

"I need you all to SHUT UP right now!" he roared.

Blinking in surprise, the room's occupants stopped talking and looked up.

"Hey Nicky," Stark greeted. "We're trying to get Loki on Letterman for a new segment called Uptight God Tricks." He waggled his phone at the director.

Fury's one eye widened only slightly. "Mrs. Stark, please?"

Pepper sighed. "You're no fun, Nick. Jarvis – do not call Letterman's people, no matter how much Tony begs."

"Of course, Mrs. Stark. Will there be anything else?"

Pepper shot a wink at Darcy. "Make sure to adjust the water temperature in Fandral's bathroom to all cold, please."

"Yes Mrs. Stark."

The AI fell silent, and all eyes turned to Pepper. She blushed and ducked her head.

Fury was not pleased. "We don't need an incident with the Asgardian party, Mrs. Stark. Call off your AI."

Pepper shook her head fiercely. "No way. That's only the beginning. Fandral doesn't seem to understand the concept of 'not interested' when it comes to Darcy. There have been…incidents. Darcy has been very tolerant, but she's had enough."

Fury looked warily at Loki and Thor. "You two are okay with this idea?"

Thor nodded enthusiastically. "My brother must protect the honor of his woman. And his own honor, of course. Fandral has stepped beyond the boundary of polite behavior."

"Loki has been unleashed," Banner explained with a grin. He seemed a little too excited about the idea of someone cutting loose a little, and Darcy raised an eyebrow at him. He just smiled in return. He was definitely beginning to loosen up around his teammates.

Fury was rubbing his hands together in thought. He cast a somewhat guilty look at Darcy. "Mustache is still getting in your space?"

Darcy snorted. "That's one way to put it, Nick. He just doesn't get the concept that my panties are not dripping for him." She thought the choked cough came from Steve, but she couldn't be concerned about the captain's delicate sensibilities right now. Fandral was out of control. He just wouldn't quit oogling her breasts and trying to hit on her. If she'd known that allowing the man to kiss her hand, when they'd originally come to Earth to rescue Thor, would have made such an impression, she never would have allowed it. But after seeing Thor be so gentlemanly to Jane, Darcy had wanted someone to woo her too. It had been a little heady to have the tall, blond warrior be dashing to her in the few seconds before they had departed via the Bifrost, and Darcy had entertained fanciful notions of him returning for her, like Thor had promised Jane.

It hadn't worked out quite the way she'd pictured, and now she had an alien stalker. Fandral seemed to think it was his right to continue to pursue her, even though Darcy had made it very clear she had no interest. Not even the slaps had deterred him. And since Natasha's training, Darcy knew her slaps packed a wallop, but to an Asgardian, it probably seemed like foreplay. She probably hadn't helped the situation with her naughty comments, but it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

Loki was stewing, she could see, practically boiling in his skin. There were streaks of blue traveling over his skin, and that was a little scary to witness how close he was to losing control. Loki wasn't tame, as he constantly reminded everyone, and since he usually kept his Jotun form hidden, it was a testament to how upset he was that the blue was breaking through.

Darcy went to him, and put a hand on his arm. "Loki…it's okay. Just do what we discussed, and maybe he'll get the point." She couldn't help but to smile evilly,

She felt the flex of muscle in his arm that suggested he wanted to rip something apart. "I should not have to, Darcy. Fandral would never have dared to do something like this before. I do not like that change."

Thor clapped Loki on the shoulder. "Then remind him why he should not tempt your wrath," the God of Thunder offered.

"Do it, Loki," Pepper urged.

Rogers was still trying to be the voice of reason. "Maybe, instead of going vigilante, an appeal should be made to the Lady Frigga," he suggested.

If he was looking for the best push to rouse Loki to action, he found it. Darcy twitched when her man drew himself up, donning his princely mantle. It was in his expression. "I will not run to my mother like a child for help in dealing with something that a prince should deal with," he said coldly. "I am perfectly capable, and within my authority as a prince, of settling this matter."

Now her panties really were sopping. The prince turned her into a slobbering sex addict. It was insane. Darcy swayed a step toward him involuntarily.

Loki turned on his heel, Asgardian clothing replacing his casual Earth clothes, and strode from the conference room. Darcy watched him go, loving the purposeful stride.

*********************************************************************************************************************************

Loki rejoined them sometime later. Every fiber of his being screamed mischief, and his eyes were laughing.

"I put my own spin on things," he advised. "It will happen when most appropriate."

Fury heaved a sigh. "And most likely to cause the worst reaction possible?"

"No Nicholas. Designed to teach a sorely needed lesson." Loki folded his arms across his chest. "That Loki Odinson will not permit the continuing harassment of his woman, or himself. Our focus right now should be the prevention of invasion, but we are being distracted from that by the uncouth actions of Fandral. He will learn to act in a more civil fashion." The wicked smile that made Darcy's knees weak (and her panties wet) surfaced suddenly. "I absolutely guarantee that this will be an important life lesson."

He dispersed everyone by advising that they should just 'go about their business.' Loki himself came to Darcy and slid his arms around her.

"Why did you not tell me that he has continued to harass you so persistently?" He stared down at her with concerned green eyes, lips pressed together in irritation.

Darcy shrugged, loving the protective nature that this had brought out in him, but still unwilling to be the helpless female. "I can take care of myself. It's not like he's dangerous. He's just very, very persistent." She allowed her head to drop forward, forehead pressed to Loki's chest. She breathed in his scent for a few seconds, because it was completely soothing. "Besides," she confessed, "I think it's partially my fault."

"How so?"

"I flirted with him when they first came here to rescue Thor," she admitted. "I made eyes at him, and maybe shook my 'assets' at him. I got his attention." She pulled back and looked up at him a little cautiously, but Loki was smiling.

"Sadly for Fandral, he could not keep your attention. Even more sadly for him is the fact that he thinks he has a right to try to take you away."

"It's an Asgardian failing," Darcy told him. "I don't mean to lump you all together, but there's a certain arrogance that every Asgardian that I've met has. Look at Sif, thinking she has the right to Steve, even though he is involved. Fandral has that same mentality. Is that normal in Asgard?"

Loki's brow wrinkled as he frowned thoughtfully. "No it is not. But we of Asgard have always considered ourselves better than mortals, so there would be no hesitation in taking a mortal away from another mortal." Anger made him flush. "Or in taking a mortal from a Jotunn."

Darcy squeezed him tightly. "Never gonna happen. Besides, that's why the prince came out of hiding again, to assert himself." She stood up on her tiptoes to place her mouth next to his ear. "I did tell you that the prince turns me on, right?"

She felt more than heard his laugh. "You keep telling me. Believe me, I have not forgotten."

Darcy smiled against his neck, and took a little nip, just because she could. "So…did you talk to your mom yet about adopting Tony?" She settled back on her heels and smirked at Loki's expression.

He finally shook his head. "I was not sure if you were serious. But you are."

"He's been without parents for a long time, and he totally adores your mom. You guys have totally bonded….it would be cool." Darcy turned her 'I want' expression on him, and Loki sighed deeply.

He reached out to cup her face. "That look is completely unfair."

Darcy swayed closer, so she could pull his head down. "You should try it some time. It would be so unexpected that you could probably get anything you wanted." She kissed him fiercely. "C'mon, prince. Let's go create some mischief."

"Gladly," he answered.

*******************************************************************************************************************************

When it happened, it was unexpected. One moment, Darcy was frowning as Fandral leaned into her personal space, eyes fixed on her chest. The next moment, the blond warrior was crying out and stumbling away from her, dropping to his knees. His hands were clasped to his chest.

Volstagg and Hogun came immediately to his side, hands on their weapons. Darcy could only watch with wide eyes. This wasn't what she'd had in mind, but Loki had said he'd put his own spin on it. She didn't want to cause Fandral pain though, and looked around for her god boyfriend. He was leaning against a wall, watching with a smirk. The Avengers were converging with concerned expressions. Evidently, they felt the same way as Darcy did.

Fandrals' cries tapered off, and Darcy waited for his reaction. His head was bowed, and she couldn't see past the bulk of Volstagg. But Volstagg and Hogun took sudden steps back, and Darcy swore she could hear a chuckle from the larger man.

Fandral struggled to his feet. "Loki!" he howled. "What have you done?"

Volstagg and Hogun stepped to the side, and Darcy could suddenly see what Loki had done. Fandral was now the proud owner of a very impressive pair of breasts.

Laughter burst out of her mouth, loud and obnoxious, but Darcy couldn't stop it. She clapped her hands over her mouth to try to soften it, but Fandral's dark expression told her that she wasn't doing a very good job.

Loki, every inch the God of Mischief at that moment, strolled across the room to Fandral's side. "My gift to you," he said quietly. "You have expressed your appreciation and desire for Darcy's chest quite openly. Since she is not free for the taking, I thought you might enjoy having your own to enjoy." His expression hardened, becoming the prince. "Should you continue to ignore the boundaries of polite behavior, I shall complete what I have begun. You will become a woman." He cast a dismissive look down at Fandral's new chest. "Darcy is spoken for. She is mine and I am hers. Things will not turn out well for you if you continue to try and take her from me."

He turned sharply on his heel and walked away. Darcy spun to follow, but had to turn back for one moment.

"No means no, Fandral. And trying to take something away from the God of Mischief - worst idea ever. I hope you enjoy your new set. Keep your eyes off of mine." She turned away and went after her man, who had already exited the room.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

Loki had asked her to go with him when his mother demanded his presence. He didn't say too much, but the impression Darcy got was that the shit had hit the fan. Loki kinda looked like a kicked puppy. Which was a strange look on the God of Mischief.

Frigga was frowning when they arrived in her rooms. She was…she was looking at a tablet? Fingers dancing across it as if she regularly used such devices? Darcy knew her mouth had dropped open, but Loki's open mouthed look of astonishment was even better.

"Mother?"

Frigga looked up. "Ah, Loki, thank you for arriving so quickly. You did not have to bring your young woman for protection though. I am not going to flog you."

Beside her, Loki relaxed. A little.

Frigga did not seem to notice. She held up the tablet. "You so rarely ask me, or anyone, for favors, my son. Still, when speaking with the one known as 'Pepper', she advised me that I should know more about the man Stark before a decision was made. She gave me this electronic book, and showed me how to Google. An admittedly strange thing, this Google, yet very informative."

Darcy's brain went away at that point. Loki's mother knew how to Google? And she was Googling Tony? Why? Oh wait? Loki had asked for a favor…

Frigga finally looked up at them again, setting the tablet down on her lap. "Are you sure, my son? The man has so many bad qualities."

Loki managed to pull himself together. "I am sure, Mother. He is a comrade in arms, he helped to save Darcy's life, twice, and he has made my transition to living on Midgard much smoother. His good qualities far outweigh the bad."

Frigga pursed her lips. "I have no objection then. Understand that this is a very informal thing. It gives him no right to the throne, nor to live in Asgard. He is free to call me 'Mother' if he wishes when I visit Midgard. Trips to Asgard will be very limited, and he must not address me as 'Mother' there. Nor is he to address your father as anything other than your father's normal titles."

Darcy's brain was still on vacation.

Loki nodded. "Thank you, Mother. I…I did not expect your decision so quickly. I thought that you had called me here for another reason."

The elegant laugh that erupted from Frigga was just not fair, Darcy decided. She was every inch a proper woman and it just wasn't fair that her laugh was the same.

"I have seen Fandral's breasts, my son. I have no objection to them, either. The man was being an absolute rake. It is good that he will have a reminder to behave properly. Will they go away on their own?"

"Yes. They have a time limit, and when they have expired, everything will shrink back to its proper proportions."

"Well done, Loki. That will be all for now. Although, if you wish, you may send Stark to me so that we may discuss things."

Loki took her hand and bowed over it, and then beat a hasty retreat, hauling Darcy with him. Her brain finally started working again when they were alone.

"You asked your Mom to adopt Tony?"

Loki shrugged. "Something to that effect, yes. She was more agreeable than I thought."

Darcy just shook her head. Whenever she thought her life could not get any stranger, it proved her wrong.

"What about the whole 'saving the world' thing? I mean, your mom has been here for a few days, and there's been no action yet."

Loki frowned. "We have yet to locate the base of operations with the portal. All of S.H.I.E.L.D is currently focused on it, but all of their leads have proven false. As of yet, there have been no magical traces to follow. Mother has asked Heimdall for help, but it seems there is magical cloaking taking place."

"Can't you trace that?"

"I am trying!" he snarled in frustration. "But it is time consuming and difficult, and I have had little luck." He visibly calmed himself. "I shall continue to try. Our best course of action will be to stop the invasion before it even happens."

Darcy hoped they could, because a pitched battle against green reptilian aliens did not sound like a good time. She looped her arm through Loki's and leaned into his side as they walked through the building. It would all work out for the best. It had to.

Chapter Text

Pepper's reaction wasn't what Loki or Tony had expected. She was skeptical, slightly sarcastic, and disagreeable. In short, she was being Tony.

"What am I supposed to say to her, Tony? 'Gee, I'm glad you became Tony's sort of adopted mother. Too bad you missed the wedding?' Really?" Pepper folded her arms across her chest and not-quite glared at Tony.

Stark was clearly taken aback, and looked to Loki for help. Why did everyone always look to him to have the answers? It was frustrating. Loki frowned at the Starks, both of them.

"I think that would be a lovely thing to say, Pepper," he soothed. "Although I am certain my mother would have enjoyed the wedding, had she met you and Tony before you were married. It is a pity that she has missed out on so many moments in Tony's life."

Pepper still wasn't really bending. "So now she just flits in and volunteers to be his part time mother? What? Is it a way to keep an eye on you, since you and Tony are friends?"

Loki's mouth dropped open in surprise. "No Pepper. My mother honored a request from me, nothing more. Unlike my father, Mother is not nearly so…intrusive in my life."

Tony frowned. "C'mon Pepper. For me?" He tried to look adorable, and Pepper just melted.

"Fine," she huffed.

Loki smiled as the couple entered Frigga's suite of rooms. He did not follow. Googling Tony Stark gave a long laundry list of the man's many character defects, and did not really reflect the amazing qualities that made him a good man. He could only hope that his mother would have the opportunity to learn of those qualities, and to do that required interaction time. Pepper would come to accept it, he knew. She did not know the pain of being orphaned. Regardless of age, a person still looked to their parents to provide guidance, unconditional love, and a safe haven. Loki had known the pain of having no parents, if only briefly. He hoped this would help soothe the emptiness within Tony Stark's soul.

He turned away, somewhat reluctantly because he wished to see the expression on his mother's face when Stark called her 'Mom', as he knew the billionaire would. But there were other matters that were far more pressing. The need to find the portal that would bring the army of creatures through to Earth was weighing heavily on his mind.

He had been working with Barton and Romanoff. The archer and assassin had narrowed down search areas for him, based on the size of the last portal. The crazed fanatics needed a certain amount of space to build their portal, so cities could be ruled out. They also needed cover to hide what they were doing from satellites. Still, the sheer amount of area to be searched was daunting.

Loki had reasoned that magical cloaking might prevent him from finding the portal, but it was unlikely that the entire compound would be cloaked. When an area was identified as a possibility, Loki was given satellite feed pictures so that he could jump to that location. When there, he would sweep for magical signatures and stray thoughts that might betray that this was the group they searched for.

It was exhausting.

As he understood it, all of S.H.I.E.L.D's resources had been diverted to finding the base of these fanatics, which had also caused some contention in the organization. The shadowy 'council' that Fury had spoken about once or twice did not want to let go of their many projects. Apparently, Fury had wrested direction of S.H.I.E.L.D away from the council during Loki's attack on Earth, since the council had had a quite different solution that probably would have caused war with Asgard. Their extremity of action had allowed Fury to swoop in and assume full command. He allowed them to continue, as they were somewhat useful, but now they were causing trouble because their own plans had been thwarted.

The Black Widow had rather ominously mused that the council might need to be 'silenced' if they didn't stop causing trouble. Loki knew that Fury preferred to avoid that solution, but he would do it if necessary. The Avengers, with the exception of Bruce and Tony, would not be surprised at that action, but Banner and Stark had never been soldiers, and had never been in the position to be evil to destroy evil. If it came to that, neither man would be please.

Nor would the women.

Darcy knew that she worked for a government agency that could do unpleasant things. She had told him of her first meeting with Coulson, when S.H.I.E.L.D had confiscated all of Jane's equipment when Thor was banished. So Darcy knew that S.H.I.E.L.D could and would be heavy handed in pursuit of their goals. But that had been equipment. What would she do if S.H.I.E.L.D began tormenting, torturing, or killing people?

Loki didn't think she realized that the world could be an ugly, ugly place. He loved her for that. It made him very sad to think that she might have to learn a hard lesson in this.

******************************************************************************************************************************

Frigga stayed for a fortnight. After a round of goodbyes, Loki jumped his mother to the Bifrost site. Coulson had protested at first, but both Frigga and Thor assured him that she was safer with Loki then with the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Loki tried to duck away from his mother's too-seeing eyes, but he had no chance. "You are pushing yourself too hard," she warned, nodding at the dark circles under his eyes. "You must rest."

Loki shrugged. "I will rest when the threat has passed. Much like Thor, I have placed Midgard under my protection. I will do everything I can to prevent these creatures from breaking through. But I must find the portal in order to do that."

Frigga smiled softly. "It is very good to see how you have grown, Loki. You would not have cared, before."

He nodded shortly. "I did not know what would be lost, before. I saw the mortals as little more than cattle to be herded to my whim." His mouth quirked up at the corner. "Then I was forced to spend time in their company. Their worth is incalculable."

She nodded. "Then keep them, and yourself, safe."

He hugged her fiercely tight, then stepped back as the Bifrost activated, swirling down to claim her. Loki watched until the sky cleared, and then jumped back to Avengers Headquarters.

Barton and Romanoff were waiting for him.

Neither one of them showed much emotion when they had their game faces on, but there was a level of excitement about them that Loki could sense from yards away. He straightened unconsciously, adopting his prince persona.

"You have something?"

Barton nodded. "We think so. It's a prime location, and the satellite feed seems to have blank spots. We could use visual confirmation."

Loki nodded. He was already weary, but with every new location, he had the hope that they had found what they were looking for. So he followed the two S.H.I.E.L.D agent Avengers to look over the satellite feed. As Barton had said, the location was prime, and there were spots that were just fuzzy dark grey, with no hint of what lay underneath them. It was the most promising lead they had had to date.

He called his armor, but elected to leave the helmet behind. It did not hurt to be prepared. "This looks very promising," he agreed. He pointed to a spot on the feed that was surrounded by trees, but was open. "I will go here and scout the area."

It was funny how they had discovered that his magic and Earth's technology could work together. While on Asgard, Loki could not jump to a location he had not visited, unless someone who he was very familiar with was already there. But when he had first partnered with Barton and Romanoff to try to find the portal location, the S.H.I.E.L.D agents had no idea how his magic worked, and had been quite impatient with his limitations. Romanoff in particular had tapped her heel impatiently and instructed him to 'just go there!". She had held out a printed satellite feed. Loki insisted on seeing the live feed instead, and made the jump attempt. To his surprise, it worked. Barton and Romanoff had been insanely excited, and Loki knew that they were both calculating how this could give the team a tactical advantage.

He took a deep breath. "I shall return shortly." Then he jumped.

**********************************************************************************************************************

Self awareness took a long time. First there was an awakening, a return to consciousness. Then there was pain. Pain that skittered through every nerve ending. There was a sharp, throbbing ache in one spot. After some time, that spot was identified as a head. The back of the head to be specific. Why did his head hurt?

His head. He was a he. A male person. That was something more than he'd had a moment before. Pain was unusual. He knew that too. This level of pain was almost unheard of. What type of creature was he, that pain was so rare a visitor? He was a creature? Why did that thought spring into his head? His pounding head.

There were thoughts, just out of his reach. Things that he should remember. Something. There was something that he had been doing. It was important, he remembered. Important to a lot of people. People that were important to him. Why did that feel so foreign? That other people were important to him. Why couldn't he remember?

Bodily control was also lacking. He tried to open his eyes, but it wasn't happening. There wasn't even a twitch in his eyelids. Nor would the fingers or toes move. Some things still worked. He was breathing. Occasionally he swallowed as too much saliva built in his mouth. But nothing else seemed to be functioning.

Outside stimulus was missing as well. There were no sounds, no smells, nothing to stimulate his awareness. The lack of anything else felt familiar. He had experienced something similar before. A black emptiness that ate at the soul and swallowed sanity. Oblivion had been expected. Survival was unwelcome. Awareness even more so. He deserved to die. He remembered that much. There had been a terrible betrayal. But he couldn't remember if it had been from him, or from those he loved.

As time passed, he grew to believe that he had done something terrible. This was his punishment. He could not remember the details of his life – his name, what he looked like, the names of the people closest to him, their faces. Was that because he had done something terrible to them, and now he was denying his own self? That sentiment felt right. This was not survival. This was Hel. A place of eternal punishment for the wicked. But that did not seem right either. The wicked did not dwell in Hel. The wicked dwelt in Hell. What was the difference between the two? Did it matter? He clearly was a wicked soul.

He longed for oblivion, but perhaps that was too much to hope for. Wicked souls should not escape easily into oblivion. They should serve a penance for the terrible deeds they had done. He had escaped his penance previously. He had tried to convince himself that his wicked soul had been redeemed. He had convinced others of that same thing. But like a cancer, his wickedness had festered unseen while he waited.

He cursed his limited awareness. Memory was there, just beyond his grasp. Maybe if he tried harder to reach it… But would he want to have those memories? Would he want to remember the terrible things he had done?

How much time was passing? It could not be calculated or tracked. The pain in his head and skittering along his nerve endings was still there. Did that mean that hardly any time had passed? Or that whatever was causing the pain was not really related to his body? He healed quickly. He remembered that much. So the pain was not from wounds. From something else then? From some higher being that was exacting punishment for his wicked actions? Would this be the remainder of his existence? This identity-less limbo?

************************************************************************************************************************

Dealing with a bored billionaire was exasperating. Darcy thought she should get hazard pay for this. Or at least a get-out-of-jail-free card for when she tased him.

Apparently, Mr. Stark had been severely irritating Mrs. Stark while she was trying to prepare for a big board meeting. Therefore, Mrs. Stark had kicked Mr. Stark out of her presence and told him to go bother the Avengers. Since everyone else was scattered around, doing what they did, Tony had focused in on her.

Darcy brandished her stapler, taking a cue from Coulson's book of threats. "I swear I'll do it, Tony. You're being five times more irritating than normal! Why don't you go invent something?"

He was jittery. "To invent something, you have to be inspired. Right now, I'm not inspired. Nothing is jumping out and saying 'create me'." He flashed a grin and made a grab for the stapler. "You wouldn't dare. You like me too much."

Darcy huffed. "Why, I'll never know. Stop pestering me, Tony. Unlike you, I do have work I need to do."

He sighed. "I'm bored. I need someone to entertain me."

Darcy waved her hand in a dismissive fashion. "Go find Bruce. Poke him with something sharp. Then you won't be bored anymore."

"Ha!" the billionaire snorted. "Bruce kicked me out of his lab before I went to bother Pepper." He sat on her desk and grabbed a pen, twirling it absently between his fingers.

"So why are you now bothering me, Tony?"

He grinned. "Cuz you're fun to bother. Thor's busy with his Shakespeare-in-the-park boy band, and Loki is playing satellite Where's Waldo with the Psycho Twins. If I try to bug Coulson or Nicky, they'll do me bodily harm. Steve…well…Steve just looks at me with this disappointed expression most of the time. You're the safest option."

Darcy sighed. "Oh lucky me. Missing your new mom already?"

She was surprised when Tony ducked his head. "Well, yeah. She's pretty cool, right? She could have totally told Loki that she would never, ever pseudo-adopt a mortal, right? But she didn't. And she took the time to get to know me a little better. Without killing me, which is something."

"Good for you, Tony. Why don't you make her something, to thank her?"

He tapped his chin thoughtfully, and Darcy could practically see the wheels spinning. "That's…that's not a bad idea, Darcy. But what should I build?"

She blew a raspberry at him. "You're the genius."

Darcy almost had to laugh. It was like redirecting a child's energy. She had watched Pepper do it often enough to know how to harness Tony's energy. Allowing his brain to remain free and unfettered was a sure recipe for disaster, so Pepper always had something she could get him to think about. It was sheer genius.

His brain was already racing, she could see, and Darcy heaved a sigh of relief. The bored Tony crisis was over.

It was over in a big way as the assemble alarm went off. Tony grinned with glee at the idea of getting some action, and waved a jaunty farewell to Darcy as he quick walked toward his designated suit room.

Darcy quickly stood and walked toward Sitwell's desk. He usually briefed her so she had an idea what was going on. It made the after briefing easier.

Sitwell took one look at her as she approached, and fled. He ran away. What the hell? "What the hell, Sitwell?" she called after him. Then she laughed at herself, because she made a rhyme.

When Natasha and Barton came striding around the corner with their game faces on, Darcy looked for Loki. And didn't see him. Rogers and Banner were behind the assassins, and they both looked very serious. Something was very wrong. Where was Loki? He usually jumped in on missions when he was around.

Tony appeared moments later, suited up and ready to go. "Where we going? What's going on?"

"We don't exactly know where we're going," Barton explained, with a glance at Darcy.

Tony flipped his faceplate up. "How do we not know where we're going? Where are the princes? They don't get to sit this one out."

Heavy pounding footsteps heralded the arrival of Thor, with Sif and the Warriors Three. "Where is my brother?" Thor boomed. "What evil do we face today?"

Now Rogers and Banner were looking at each other, then at Darcy, and then at Thor. And she knew. She knew.

"Where's Loki?" she asked in a voice that broke suddenly. "He was with you two." She pointed a finger at Natasha and Barton accusingly. "Where is he?"

Natasha hung her head for a moment and then straightened. "Like Clint said, we don't exactly know. Loki was jumping to a very promising location. There were blank spots on the satellite feed. Someone was trying to hide something. So he jumped, and then we lost the satellite feed. Something happened. It wiped our data of the exact coordinates. And Loki hasn't returned."

"How long" Thor asked grimly.

"Two hours," Barton answered, just as grimly. "Loki thought it was funny, us making him have a time limit, because what could hurt him? Apparently, something could at least put him out of commission and prevent him from returning."

Dimly, Darcy pitied whoever had been unwise enough to try to restrain Loki. The Asgardians had this look of unholy joy at the thought of unleashing a little kickass. She'd like to do this same, but first she thought she might puke and then cry.

Tony moved to catch her as she swayed, and he simply lifted her from her feet and carried her to a chair. "Easy kiddo. My adopted brother is tough. Once he gets free or wakes up or whatever, he's gonna kick major ass." He bent down to stare hard at her.

"What if he's dead?" she asked dully. "He's the reason the last attempt failed. Whoever's behind this may have taken that personally."

"Loki is too stubborn and disagreeable to die," Thor argued. Then his battle face softened. "And I believe he would move mountains to return to you."

Sif stretched up to whisper in his ear, and the God of Thunder nodded. Looking a little sheepish, he pulled out a cell phone and spent painfully long moments typing out a text.

Everyone was watching, and then Tony straightened and smacked himself in the head. "Jarvis! Can you locate Loki's cell phone?"

"I already took the liberty of doing so, sir. Loki's cell phone is still within the building."

"Dammit," Stark swore softly. He turned to Thor who had finally finished his text. "What about your 'eyes in the sky', Goldilocks? Heineken? Can he see Loki?"

Thor nodded thoughtfully. "That is a good thought, Tony Stark. Good enough that I will not dent your iron suit for calling me by that silly name. I will return!" He whirled and thundered back down the hall, nearly bowling over his companions.

Darcy was glad they could function. She knew that all of them had it within themselves to shut out everything else and focus only on the mission. Thor had to be worried, and Tony as well, but they were focused and functioning. She wished that she could do the same, but all she could think of was that something had overcome Loki. It wasn't an easy thought. Her man was a badass, and once free of that 'hiding in Thor's shadow' persona, many of the limits on his power disappeared.

One of the benefits of having a god boyfriend was that she didn't have to worry about him as much as a regular guy. Darcy was suddenly returned to those terrible two weeks when Loki had been banished to Jotunheim with no access to his magic. He was vulnerable. He could be hurt.

A comforting presence was suddenly at her side, and Darcy looked up into Jane's concerned eyes. Ah. That's who Thor had been texting. She owed Sif one for suggesting it. Darcy could really use the support. Jane might have thin, bony arms, but there was a lot of strength within those arms. She relaxed marginally.

"We'll find him," Jane assured. "And heads will roll."

Darcy swallowed hard. "I hope so."

Thor returned some time later. His expression told the tale – Heimdall was unable to locate Loki. His vision was being clouded.

"It is magic," Thor confirmed. "And it makes me very nervous that Loki was overcome."

"Well it kinda confirms we have the right location though," Barton offered. He grimaced. "If we can narrow the exact coordinates down a little."

Tony had ditched the suit when it became clear they didn't have a location yet. He was bent over a computer with Banner and Jane, working on ideas for tracking. Darcy was numb by this point. The part of her that wanted to freak out was locked away, along with most of her emotions.

She knew the Avengers would not rest until they found him. They were awesome like that. Even S.H.I.E.L.D…Coulson had not hesitated to pull all resources into finding the location Loki had jumped to. She understood that it wasn't entirely about Loki, but more that there was a serious threat strong enough to put Loki out of commission, and S.H.I.E.L.D had to be all over that.

Surprisingly, it was the least talkative of all those present who came to offer her reassurances. Darcy looked up at Hogun's approach. He never said much, but when he did, everyone listened. Loki valued his counsel, she knew, and that made her want to trust him. He didn't look at her, but stared thoughtfully at a spot just over her shoulder.

"Loki is very tough," he said finally. "He will endure, much as he did when banished to Jotunheim."

"Doesn't mean I can't, won't, worry," Darcy retorted softly.

"Of course not," the quiet warrior agreed.

They didn't expect it to take three days.

***********************************************************************************************************************

Impotent rage. Black despair. Awareness without being aware. It was a punishment. Self imposed, or not? He could not remember. Had he chosen this? He wanted to feel again. To unmake and remake. Destroy and create. If only he could break free of this terrible nothingness.

Chapter Text

The waiting was horrible.

For a change, Jane was the one bullying Darcy to eat. So she ate. But everything tasted like ash and sat like a leaden lump in her stomach. Some of the food that Jane forced on her found its way into her mouth, just to keep Jane quiet. Most of it secretly passed to one of the guys who was always hungry: Steve or Thor. Both golden boys kept her secret because hey, they were always hungry.

Hours stretched into days, while S.H.I.E.L.D worked non-stop to narrow down Loki's last jump location. Re-piecing the data that had been wiped was difficult at best, but everyone just kept plowing ahead. Coulson strode among them tirelessly, juggling a shifting field of agents. As one flagged, Coulson would send that one for a mandatory seven hour rest, and a fresh agent would come in to take that one's place. He was less polite with the Avengers, sending them for enforced periods of rest that Darcy knew they mostly didn't take. She did see Tony disappear for about five hours, when not even the coffee was keeping him awake anymore. Rogers took about three hours, and Natasha and Barton grabbed a few hours a night. Banner was not much use in narrowing down the location, so he made sure he was well rested when the time to move came. It wouldn't help Loki to have the Hulk passing out because of no sleep.

Thor stood in a tight lipped vigil, arms crossed over his chest. He did not leave to sleep not even once that Darcy saw. Jane brought him food and fussed over him, but the God of Thunder was worried for his brother.

Darcy herself took naps here and there, but never felt like she rested. Her dreams were disturbed – terrifyingly vague images of what her subconscious was imagining happening to Loki. She wanted to scream at them that it was taking too long, but with Heimdall's vision being blocked, they really had no other way to find the God of Mischief.

Finally the waiting was over. S.H.I.E.L.D pinpointed Loki's last known location, and the Avengers were ready to move.

"Australia?" Stark asked in dismay.

Coulson nodded. The slightly creepy agent was gearing up in a way that Darcy had never seen before. He had two huge guns slung over his shoulder, and a bag of extra clips or a power source on the other shoulder. She appreciated that he was channeling Rambo for Loki's sake.

Thor frowned when Barton gave an estimated travel time. "My brother needs help now," he growled.

Barton shrugged. "We can't all teleport from one place to another, Thor."

Darcy saw Thor's eyes narrow. The big guy was an easy read. That must have driven Loki mad, because Loki's intentions were always veiled. Still, anyone who knew Thor at all could see what he intended. Rogers saw it and opened his mouth. But Thor looked hastily at the gathered warriors and made his choice. He bounded across the room, seized Bruce Banner in one arm, and rocketed into the sky with Mjolnir leading the way.

"Thor! Dammit!" Rogers cursed. "Let's scramble now!"

Jane made a valiant effort to hold Darcy back. She had no place in the upcoming fight, and it would put her in danger that she was not prepared for. But there was no hesitation on Darcy's part. She pulled free of Jane and slipped into the belly of the Quinjet just as the ramp was closing.

For several seconds, the remaining Avengers stared at her, and Darcy felt her eminent ejection. But then Steve Rogers scowled furiously, and turned away from her. "All clear! Let's go!"

He pulled her by the arm to a bench lining the wall of the craft. "I am not happy about this. I understand why you feel the need to be here, but it doesn't make me happy that you chose to do it."

Darcy felt small and a little afraid. She'd rarely had to deal with Captain America. Usually she talked to Steve Rogers, and he was much more relaxed and less intense. This man was a leader, and it would be on his shoulders that the hard decisions would fall. He didn't have time for someone to be careless on his watch.

"I can't not be here," Darcy said in a small voice. "I'll stay in the Quinjet, or wherever you want me to stay, but I have to be here."

Rogers' expression softened a little. "I know. Don't make me regret letting you come with us."

She shook her head. "I won't."

Even with the Quinjet's amazing capabilities, it was a three hour trip. It was practically an eternity to Darcy, especially after they lost both Thor and Banner on the comms. Thor had been supplying them with a stream of updates, with occasional input from Banner. They lost Banner when he Hulked in response to a threat, and the last thing they heard from Thor was chilling:

"Loki? No, Loki! No!" And then his comm went dead.

Tony tried to reassure her, even though he was very worried himself. "Oh you know. Thor was just concerned that Loki was in chains, or something. Nothing to worry about."

Darcy thought about the anguish and…was it fear that she'd heard in Thor's voice? She met Tony's eyes bravely. "We both know that's not true, but thank you for trying."

She knew what they weren't saying. Thor had sounded like that once before. When Loki, newly emerged from whatever dark hell he had fallen into, decided to take over the world in a mad scheme to fill the emptiness of his soul. But it had to be something else. Like Tony said. Someone was trying to restrain Loki, and Thor had probably fried his comm when he called lightning down. Or something like that.

Her fingernails and fingertips were chewed ragged by the time they arrived on sight. It was easy to figure out they were in the right place, since someone fired on the Quinjets as soon as they came into sight of the complex. Warning that they were in for a bumpy ride, their pilot did his best to evade, throwing everyone around mercilessly.

After hitting the wall for the fourth time, Tony Stark swore under his breath, flipped his face plate down, and jammed his iron fist on the button that opened the hatch. Rogers stood as if to yell at him, changed his mind, and caught hold of one of Iron Man's arms as he rocketed out into airspace.

Darcy was clinging to the nylon netting behind the bench for all she was worth, wind buffeting the inside of the Quinjet. She didn't hear the order that Natasha barked at their pilot, but the Quinjet plunged into a steep dive and pulled up abruptly to come to a hover. Natasha and Barton went bounding out the hatch, and it closed behind them, even as the Quinjet lifted off again.

"Girl! Get up here!" the S.H.I.E.L.D agent pilot barked.

With a hand over hand action on the nylon netting, Darcy made her toward the pilot cockpit. The sudden swoops, banks and rolls the jet was making made her arms and shoulders feel like they were going to dislocate at any moment, but she kept going.

"Strap in!" the pilot barked, sparing a quick finger point to the co-pilot chair, which was empty.

Darcy hauled herself to the empty chair and gratefully buckled in. It was a four point harness, so it would keep her relatively stable.

"Thanks," she breathed, trying to shake feeling back into her hands and arms. She was able to look through the cockpit windows and flinched at the battle scene below them. There were tons of S.H.I.E.L.D agents, plus the four Avengers. And wait – she saw the Hulk! The big green guy looked a little worse for wear. Though she hadn't thought it possible, he looked scuffed up. Where was Thor?

"I need you to man the guns!" the pilot barked.

Darcy turned an incredulous look on the agent, realizing for the first time that it was a woman, not a man, who piloted the Quinjet. "Are you out of your mind?" she snapped.

"You chose to come along," the woman snapped. "Now you're going to earn your place. Get your hands on that stick! The gun controls are there."

Ignoring the tiny, rational, corner of her mind that was screaming in protest, Darcy wrapped her fingers around the joystick like control in front of her. There were buttons on it, but she didn't know what to press.

"Hold on. We're going after their heavy artillery. I don't like being shot at!"

Darcy could second that. The wicked roller coaster feel of their flight was going to leave her bruised and sore for days, she was sure. "Darcy Lewis!" she introduced with a shout.

"Yeah, Loki's girlfriend. That's why you're here. Maria Hill!"

They had to bank savagely to avoid a rocket strike, and Darcy hummed in pain as she pressed painfully into the seat restraints. "They're pissing me off!" she cried. "What do I do?"

"When I tell you, hit the red button at the top, on the left side of the stick!" Hill instructed. "See them on the hill?"

Darcy peered out and could see a group of people on a hill overlooking the complex. They were the ones firing on the Quinjets. "I see them," she answered grimly.

"Then hold on and don't think about what we're about to do!"

With a somewhat maniacal laugh, the S.H.I.E.L.D agent took them directly toward the group on the hill. Darcy could barely hold onto the stick with all the evading Hill was doing. It seemed the group on the hill didn't like someone flying toward them. And maybe they had an idea of what Hill was up to, because almost all of them turned their weapons to focus on Darcy's current ride.

"Oh shit," she breathed. "Cap is gonna kill you or me."

Hill barked a short laugh. "He can only kill us if we're still alive!"

That was a good, if slightly scary, point.

"Get ready!" Hill warned.

Darcy could barely see at this point. They were moving too erratically for her to focus on anything. "I can't see anything!" she protested.

"Just press the damn button when I tell you too!"

The Quinjet shuddered as they didn't evade quite fast enough, and Darcy heard metal groaning in protest. Her eyes were streaming tears and she thought she just might puke all over the place.

"Now!" Hill cried.

Darcy jammed her thumb on the button so hard it felt like it shattered. She heard Hill's whoop of triumph, and saw the fiery blossom of destruction below and in front of them. Instantly, their flight stabilized.

"Got em," Hill crowed in triumph. "Good shooting, Lewis."

Darcy thought she mumbled an affirmative, but she wasn't sure. Her stomach and lungs were both still trying to catch up to the rest of her, and she was terribly afraid that when they did, she was going to puke everywhere.

"I feel sick," she finally muttered. "Human bodies were not meant to go through that."

"That's what it feels like to be alive, Lewis," Hill corrected. "Now that we took out those bastards, let's see about giving our ground crew a hand."

As they banked back toward the complex, Darcy caught a glint of something bright from within a thick snarl of trees on the edge of the compound. It was big, whatever was hidden in those trees.

"Hill, can we clear those trees below?"

"Where? There's a lot of below beneath us."

"Uh," Darcy wracked her brain, then remembered a brief lesson from Natasha during one of their training sessions. "Four o'clock," she clarified. "There's something in the trees."

Hill banked again and lined up the nose of the jet with the spread of trees in question. "Switch to guns. First button on the bottom right side of the stick. Start taking them down."

Feeling empowered, Darcy pressed her finger to the button in question, and watched trees virtually explode with the hail of bullets she unleashed. Cool. It was like a live action version of a video game. She could totally understand how people got off on this type of thing.

As the trees began to fall, the curving metal beams of the portal were revealed. Loki had shown her an image of the last one, so she knew exactly what it looked like, and these clever fiends had been building it under heavy cover, so the satellite could not see.

"Holy shit Hill, it's almost complete. We need to take that thing out."

She heard Hill on her comms, letting everyone know that they'd found the portal, and would now attempt to destroy it. Darcy had to grin at the loud yelling she could hear coming through Hill's earpiece. The good captain, it seemed, was not overly fond of her actions.

"All right Lewis, get ready. Press the other button when I tell you too."

Darcy's thumb hovered over the red button as she stared out the cockpit window, watching as the portal grew bigger and bigger. The damn thing was huge. How many aliens would it be able to bring through? That just was not a cool idea.

"Now Lewis!"

She viciously stabbed the button with her thumb and waited for destruction, but it did not come. She could see the missile just stop in midair, and go inert, falling to the ground as no more than metal junk.

"Dammit," Hill hissed. "It's protected with…something."

Squawking came through the earpiece that sounded like Tony Stark being annoyed. Darcy caught a glimpse of red and yellow shooting through the air off to one side, and figured it was Stark on the comms. Apparently, he'd had the same idea, to destroy the portal, and he'd just seen that it was protected also.

"We need to find Loki and Thor," Darcy said. "They could destroy it."

"No one has seen either one yet. And obviously, Banner can't tell us if he knows."

Darcy wasn't so sure about that. She thought sometimes that they underestimated the Hulk. "Has anyone tried asking him? Tony maybe?" Hulk liked Tony for some reason.

Hill gaped at her for a moment, and then relayed the request on the comms. Darcy could hear Tony's laughter, but Iron Man zoomed away, headed for the Hulk shaped disturbance on the ground.

Her stomach was clenching painfully, and it had nothing to do with the wild flying. They should have spotted Thor at least. Where was he? Where was Loki? Why were her eyes watering and her throat closing up?

Hill tilted her head as her comm crackled back to life. "Hulk says puny evil god smashed thunder god."

Darcy went cold, and nearly puked on the spot. 'Puny evil god' was how Hulk had referred to Loki for quite some time. So, Loki had smashed Thor. That actually wasn't too worrisome, since the brothers quite frequently did things to each other that could be construed by an outsider as violent. But the fact that Hulk had used the 'puny evil god' phrase at all told her Loki wasn't…well.

"Where?" she asked urgently.

Hill was already banking the Quinjet, following Iron Man as he shot away from Hulk. She couldn't hear what Tony was saying, but there was a steady stream of what sounded like angry chatter coming from the comm.

They were streaking toward a large building on the far side of the site. Hill was firing questions over the comm, trying to determine if anyone had spotted Thor or Loki yet.

A sharp cry from Hill's earpiece was the only warning they had. A bright explosion of green light hit them. Darcy cried out as all the consoles in the cockpit sparked and then died. The Quinjet shuddered violently, and rolled on its side, diving toward the ground. Hill groaned quietly, and slumped forward against her restraints, blood trickling from a nasty head wound.

Darcy snatched the agent's earpiece and stuffed into her own ear. "Help!" she cried.

"Hold on, Darcy." Tony's voice was strained, and it sounded like he was hurt. He had been leading the way, and must have taken the brunt of the attack. How was he still in the air?

The Quinjet shuddered again, and the nose began to rise. Darcy twitched in surprise, and then realized why Tony sounded strained. He was flying under the jet, trying to right it.

"Darcy, listen very carefully." Natasha's voice was even and emotionless, as always. "You need to do exactly what I say in order to help Stark as much as you can."

Natasha ran her through a quick check of systems – they had nothing. Everything was fried. That wasn't what the assassin wanted to hear, but she just moved on. "There's an ejection option for both seats. Is Hill still alive?"

"Yes. Probably concussed – she has one hellish head wound."

"Then use the ejection option for both of you. You don't have much time left. Even with Stark's help, the Quinjet is still losing altitude."

Darcy followed her instructions and vowed silently to not think about what she was going to do. Then, with a silent whisper of a prayer to whatever higher power or deity that might be listening, Darcy kicked the dual ejection lever.

Her shriek as the cockpit blew and the seats shot into the sky was sucked away by the rush of air. Darcy squeezed her eyes shut and tried hard to believe she was on some kind of wicked roller coaster. They shot straight up, and her stomach was left behind. Then, at the apex of their ejection, the locked seats tilted over and slowly began tumbling toward the earth.

Darcy could hear Natasha in her ear, telling her she had to deploy the chute, and that it was a lever on the side of the joined seats, but she couldn't tell up from down, and her hands were locked over the harness holding her in. Her stomach was alternating between being in her mouth, or her feet, and her blood flow was only a step behind, leaving her feeling either thickheaded, or lightheaded and woozy.

A small corner of her mind marveled at the increasingly shrill tone of Natasha's voice in her ear, and Darcy felt bad. Bad that she had come along and put others in danger because of her, and bad because she knew everyone would feel bad when they scraped her off the ground. And it wasn't their fault. She chose to do this. (Why had she chosen to do this? The rush of air that had stolen her breath had taken her thoughts with it)

"Stay with us, kid!"

It took Darcy a second to recognize Tony's voice, and that it wasn't coming from her earpiece. He was streaking down in pursuit of them, and was finally close enough to…punch the side of her seat? The whole thing shuddered, there was a loud snap, like a wet towel, a painful jerk, and then their fall slowed as the chute deployed.

Breath returned to Darcy in a rush, and she realized how close to death she had come when she saw the ground only a couple of hundred feet below.

The landing was rough. Darcy felt it in every bone, and bit her tongue as her jaw snapped together. There were S.H.I.E.L.D agents waiting for them, and they released Hill and then Darcy.

Nick Fury was standing in front of her suddenly. He looked pissed. "I have no idea how you tagged along on this mission, but it wasn't a good idea!"

Darcy's brain chose that moment to rejoin her body. She gasped and shuddered, tears springing to her eyes. "It was Loki," she realized. "Yell at me later. He attacked us."

Fury nodded slowly. "So it seems. I'll deal with you later. Stark – your suits are Loki proof, right?"

Darcy had an aha moment. Tony's suit had been adjusted to be immune to Loki's magic. That had probably saved his life.

Iron Man landed in front of the S.H.I.E.L.D director, and Tony's faceplate flipped up. "So far, yeah. I honestly don't know if he can overwhelm the anti-Loki field on the suit or not, if he throws all he has at it."

Fury titled his head to one side. "Let's hope not. You're on, then. Try to get to him. Pull him out of whatever funk he's in. Or at least haul Thor's ass back to us."

Stark nodded and the faceplate flipped back down. Darcy wanted to say something profound, but all she could manage was a pitiful – "Please don't hurt him."

Iron Man's face swiveled to look at her. "I'll do my best, Darcy."

She watched him shoot into the air for a confrontation that no one wanted.

Fury turned to look at her. He looked angrier than he had when she had snuck off to Asgard, if that was even possible. "You…I don't think I even want to look at you right now. That was a stupid ass stunt you and Hill pulled, taking out the artillery on the hill. It was even stupider to go try to find the 'puny evil god' without any backup other than Stark. And I can't even express my feelings on you being here in the first place." He took a deep breath. "Go."

Natasha materialized out of the smoke and mayhem, blood spattered liberally over her face, but thankfully it didn't seem to be hers. She gestured to Darcy, and nodded curtly to Fury.

Darcy joined her, head still spinning, and stomach still clenching on the verge of puking. The assassin only shook her head in mild exasperation.

"Stay close," she instructed. "You did not even bring your taser, did you?"

Darcy uttered a nervous laugh. "I was kinda in a hurry, and Jane was all grabby hands trying to keep me there, so I lost my bag."

Natasha's sigh spoke volumes. "You have been very lucky so far. You will not be so lucky when Loki comes back to himself and realizes what you did. He will not be happy."

Darcy had to blink rapidly. "I don't care if he yells at me, Natasha. At least that will mean he's back to being himself."

A tremendous explosion shook the ground and brought both of their heads whipping around to face the building where they suspected Loki was located. Something was shooting through the air in an arc, and coming down toward the ground near them.

Darcy frowned, blinking smoke and tears out of her eyes. "Is that…?"

Iron Man crashed to the ground a few feet away, and skidded several yards on his back. The front of the suit was scored a little, but intact. The audible groan let them know he was alive.

"Tony?" Darcy called. She took a few tentative steps toward him.

"Ah shit that hurt." He sat up, faceplate flipping up. "Loki's lost his mind. He looks and acts just like he did when we first met. Except that he isn't really capable of speech right now. Just a demented howling. So we haven't really had a nice chat yet. He hit me with a explosive tree. On the bright side, I saw Thor. He seems to be in enchanted chains that keep him bound, but he's very awake, very okay, and very angry." He clambered to his feet awkwardly. "I'm going back to break him out. If the chains are enchanted by Loki, that is. If not, you'll probably see me again really soon."

He shot into the sky again, keeping lower to the ground with the goal of breaking Thor out. Darcy watched until smoke obscured him, and waited anxiously. A few more explosions from that area shook the ground, and then the sky clouded over and lightning struck down.

Natasha nodded in satisfaction. "Thor is free. This is good. We need to regroup and come up with a plan of attack to subdue Loki and destroy that portal."

Darcy nodded absently, and gave a silent cheer when she saw two forms streaking through the air toward them. Thor and Iron Man landed in their midst, even as the other three Avengers arrived. Hulk looked tired, and Darcy wondered how much more they could get out of him before he powered down to Banner.

Thor was not tired. Thor was angry, scowling furiously and tapping Mjolnir into his palm. Little bursts of lightning shot out with every strike. "It was a low down and dirty trick he played on me. Very devious. There is nothing wrong with his ability to think, but something has taken over him. He seems to remember nothing of the time he has spent with us. It is as if he just emerged from the void."

Tony looked a little tired. "Yeah, he's not playing with a full deck right now. I mean, I can totally understand, because I went there when I thought Pepper was dead, but not quite to that extreme. He's a howling psychopath at the moment. So how do we take him down without hurting him?"

Darcy didn't listen as they began to plan. She didn't want to hear it. All she wanted was for this to be over, and for Loki to be back to his normal self. He was going to be pissed when that happened, and that meant that the bad guys were gonna get their asses kicked.

Soon. It needed to be soon, because she really couldn't handle much more of this.

Chapter Text

The Avengers were mobilizing for their 'subdue Loki' plan. It was painful to hear them talk about it. Darcy knew it was painful for them too, but they weren't dating him. Although Thor was his brother and Tony was his adopted brother. But still, she was dating the God of Mischief, and didn't want to hear a bunch of super powered or scarily talented individuals talking about how to bring him down.

So she moved several steps away and studied the chaos around them. S.H.I.E.L.D was kicking some major ass, but there were a lot of crazy fanatics in the compound. And at least one out-of-his-mind Asgardian-raised sorcerer god who was lashing out at anyone who got near him, crazy fanatics included. That had caused a few strained chuckles when a handful of said fanatics had been tossed through the air by a shrieking Loki.

Tony had been right. Loki seemed to have lost the ability to speak and everyone was his enemy.

Coulson joined her, looking impossibly clean and unruffled. Darcy glanced at him, did a double-take at his appearance, and then raised an eyebrow when she saw a spot of blood on the sleeve of his suit.

Coulson followed her gaze and sighed, shaking his head. "Careless. It was very careless of me. Normally I'm more precise."

Darcy said the only thing that came to her mind. "You're scary."

Coulson thought about it and then nodded. "I have been told that before. We should be wrapping this up shortly though. Not bad for a day's work."

Her mouth dropped open. "So, the insane god and the magically protected portal aren't going to give us any trouble?"

The agent shook his head. "Minimal. This operation is in the bag."

Darcy wondered if he existed in the same plane of reality as everyone else. "Oh…kay."

She watched the heroes break formation and scatter, heading toward the large building where Loki was throwing one very impressive fit. She had heard part of the plan, and it involved distractions from the heavy hitters: Iron Man, Thor and Hulk, secondary distractions from Captain America and Black Widow, and the real strike would come from Hawkeye. He had a paralyzing dart arrowhead that had been successfully tested on the Asgardians. While the other Avengers would distract Loki, Hawkeye would find a hidden spot and take him down.

******************************************************************************************************************************************************************

It wasn't going well. Darcy could have predicted as much, but no one had asked her. Loki, regardless of his rather tenuous grip on sanity at the moment, was the master of trickery, deceit, and misdirection. Hawkeye had been flushed from cover almost immediately, and went down not long after with a concussion after being hit by an uprooted tree. The other five couldn't get near enough to Loki to subdue him.

Thor had tried. But Loki unleashed was more than a match for his brother. The God of Mischief contemptuously swatted aside all strikes from Mjolnir and sent several sizzling attacks back toward his brother. Thor was beginning to tire.

Tony had to be exhausted with all the evading he had done, but he was still trying. He wouldn't give up, because Loki hadn't given up on him, even after having an entire office full of furniture and decorations thrown at him.

Darcy couldn't see the Hulk, but could hear his roars. Even the big guy sounded tired.

Natasha was nowhere to be seen. She had pulled Barton out of the fight zone around Loki, and that was the last Darcy had seen of her.

Another blistering magic strike lit the sky. Darcy squinted, and saw Thor being tossed through the air. Loki didn't seem to be tiring at all, but then again, he was being driven by something, so would probably keep going until he collapsed.

She watched the Hulk make one of his prodigious leaps into the air. It took a moment to realize that the big guy was jumping away from the battle. Which didn't make any sense at all, since the Hulk would never really back down.

It seemed like everyone else realized it before she did. Fury's eye widened, and he started making hurried gestures. "Everyone move!"

Coulson realized Darcy was oblivious, and tried to reach her, but it was too late. Hulk landed with an earthshaking thud right in front of her. Darcy gasped, eyes wide. The big green guy looked exhausted, and calculating? It was almost as if some of Banner's mind was coming through. This was only the second time Darcy had been so close to Hulk, and after seeing what he had done so far, she was a little frightened.

The green guy took a lumbering step forward. "Fix evil god," he told her. Then, before any of the S.H.I.E.L.D agents that were slowly approaching could reach then, he reached out and snatched Darcy around the waist. She shrieked at the top of her lungs at the sudden jerk of motion, and found herself clutched to Hulk's chest. The big guy growled at the approaching agents, and leaped into the air, back toward the battle.

Darcy missed her stomach. It was still on the ground somewhere as they shot into the air. Before this was all over, she was going to have a nice, long puke. She had earned it today.

Hulk landed in the middle of a scorched sphere of ground, in between Loki and the other Avengers. It took Darcy's eyes a second to stop tearing up, and then she was able to see. Once she could, she wished that she hadn't.

Loki's armor was torn, twisted in places, and in a general state of disrepair. Loki himself was blank. There was nothing there other than blind hatred and rage. As Tony had said – Loki was a howling psychopath. His eyes held no recognition of anything around him. She wanted to cry.

Hulk held her up so that Loki could see her. He lifted his free arm and made a fist, pulling it up over Darcy's head. There was no doubting the big guy's intentions. He intended to smash her. Darcy whimpered, and found the Hulk's face inches from her own. He growled and shook her, and then, very quietly for him, repeated his earlier statement. "Fix evil god."

For a second, Darcy was full of wonder. Then the Hulk's face bunched up and he roared, spittle flying, and reared back, fist reaching its apex over his head. Darcy screamed and closed her eyes.

There was a sound like a bug zapper, and a blast of air and heat. Darcy felt Hulk stagger back a step, but he wasn't done threatening her. He shook her like a rag doll again and roared. Darcy could feel the looming shadow of his other fist, ready to smite her.

A solid thunk she felt down to her bones (again!) shook the Hulk, and Darcy felt his hand open as she started to fall. She managed to get her eyes open just as she landed in someone's arms. She looked up to thank whoever had caught her and froze. She wasn't sure if she had just exited the frying pan and fallen into the fire, or salvation.

Loki up close did not look (or smell) well. His hair was in greasy, tangled snarls, there was dark, bruised-looking skin around his eyes, and his eyes themselves seemed to be windows into hell. It made Darcy's heart clench, seeing him like that. It also made her a tiny bit fearful, because she wasn't sure what would happen now. It seemed unlikely that he had saved her from the Hulk only to kill her.

"Hey handsome," she greeted softly. "You having a bad day?"

He stared down at her with those chilling, tortured eyes. Was there a flicker of recognition in them? There had to be something, because he'd saved her from Hulk for some reason.

It was making the Avengers very nervous, Darcy could tell. Natasha had materialized out of wherever she had been sneaking, and was standing closest, cautiously ready to react. Steve's shield was held loosely in a one handed grip on the edge, ready to be thrown. Thor had this wounded expression on his face, and Darcy felt bad. The God of Thunder probably wished that he had been able to garner some sort of reaction from his brother. But he shouldn't be too surprised. There were deep, emotional wounds between the brothers, and although they were making huge steps toward easing those wounds, it would be a work in progress for some time yet.

Tony was back on the ground, and had flipped his faceplate up. He also looked cautious, but hopeful as well. And Hulk? The big green guy stood some distance away, bark and leaves still on his side from where Loki had hit him with a tree. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he actually looked smug. That was interesting.

Someone moved a step closer, and Loki's eyes narrowed, head whipping up to focus on the Avengers. Darcy felt him loosen a hand, and also felt a growing heat at her back. Taking a chance, she reached up to lay a hand on his cheek, and turn his gaze back down toward her.

"No," she said firmly. "They are your friends, and they're very worried about you."

He frowned, brow wrinkling as he stared down at her. He was trying to remember, to fight past whatever fog was in his head, keeping him from himself. His head titled lightly, leaning further into her touch.

"Do you remember me?" she asked, voice breaking a little.

He titled his head away from her hand, still eerily silent but focused on her. Remembering her wasn't the problem, Darcy knew suddenly. She captured his face between both hands and stared hard at him. "Do you remember you?"

Loki's entire body shuddered, which answered her question. Darcy nodded. "You're locked away from yourself, and everything seems strange to you."

In the midst of the ongoing battle with the crazy fanatics, surrounded by leery Avengers and being held in the arms of a possibly crazy god, Darcy just talked to him. She started at the beginning, telling him of how she had first heard of him, then how they had met. She talked until her mouth was beyond dry, trying to bring him back to himself.

Loki was fighting hard against something in his head. His eyes had long since squeezed shut, and the shudders in his body were becoming more pronounced. Darcy was barely aware of everyone but Natasha breaking away to clean up the fanatics. The Black Widow stayed, watching thoughtfully, but no longer with the caution she had before.

"You gave Fandral a set of boobs for me," she reminded in a bone-dry voice. "And you threatened him several times, warning him away from me. That gave me warm fuzzies, you know. No one has ever done that kind of thing for me. No one ever felt strongly enough to care. Please come back, Loki."

He dropped to his knees, face contorting in a pained grimace as he continued to fight. Darcy was alarmed, really alarmed, to see blood dripping from his nose. Actually, she was downright scared. The thought that someone had been strong enough to blockade Loki's mind wasn't a pleasant one. Odin blocking his magic was one thing. Odin had raised him, and was Loki's father figure. The fact that someone who was most likely a stranger was able to block off portions of Loki's memory...it gave her chills.

A strange reverberation moved through the air, humming under Darcy's skin. All the hairs on her body stood up and bumps broke out on her skin. "Loki please, we need you. I think they just activated the portal!"

He snarled, releasing his hold on her to clasp his head in both hands. Darcy tumbled a few inches to the ground and sprang to her feet. "C'mon! Thor would have beaten this by now!" she cried in desperation, knowing how much he hated being second best.

His angered shout rang through the air, and Loki dropped to the ground, shaking. Little convulsive movements along his entire body must have been painful, but he did not utter a sound, arms clutched around his knees. He was rocking slightly in his fetal position, and slowly, oh so slowly, the muscle tremors ceased.

Darcy took one step forward, to go to him, but froze as he slowly uncurled and propped himself up with his hands.

"That was low," he told her in a cracking voice. "And mean."

The relief she felt was so intense that Darcy was in actual pain. She fell to her knees beside him. "It worked though, didn't it?" She reached out and touched his face hesitantly as he looked up at her. He looked…young, weak, and uncertain in that moment, but like Loki once again instead of the mindless creature he'd been.

"It did work. Did I hear you right? The portal has been activated?"

"I think so."

"Help me stand."

Natasha was there suddenly, lending a hand up as well. With their help, Loki pulled himself rather painfully to his feet. "There is something terribly important I have forgotten," he warned in a raspy voice. "Something I must remember."

Darcy felt energy crackling along her shoulders that wasn't coming from him. "Okay. But first, the portal?"

He nodded, walking unsteadily between them with an arm slung over both of their shoulders. Crazy mindless Loki had took its toll on his body, it seemed. But his spirit was intact, judging from the warm smile he sent her way.

The portal was huge. She hadn't gotten a good look at it before, not really, when in the Quinjet. It stood several stories high, and looked like nothing more than a giant mixer. There was the base, with stabilizing beams extending out on the ground. The primary column ran up and then curled out into an extending arm. A giant circle of metal, secured at the top on the tip of the arm and at the bottom on one of the supporting beams, was spinning rapidly, creating the optical illusion of a sphere, crackling with arcane power.

Darcy could see Thor near the portal, which was beginning to glow with a haze of red energy surrounding it, tossing Mjolnir against the magical barrier in vain. The God of Thunder was clearly frustrated, and shouting until spittle flew from his mouth.

They drew to a halt near the portal, watching as Thor once again hurled Mjolnir with no effect. Loki drew himself up painfully. "How many times must I tell you, Thor, that there are some things which brute force will not conquer?"

Thor snarled. "I have no time for your silver tongue, brother."

"Uh, Thor," Tony tried to interject, but the big guy plowed on.

"When this portal becomes completely active, the aliens will come through. Instead of being cute, Loki, why not help me?"

"Um…Thor?" Tony tried again.

Loki smirked tiredly. "That is what I am here for, Thor."

The God of Thunder seemed to finally realize that his brother was no longer the howling maniac he'd been. His head whipped around to stare at Loki, and a smile broke out on his face. "It is good to have you back, brother. I see that Darcy was able to talk you back to yourself." A slight shadow crossed his face, but then he forced the smile wider. "Darcy is quite the talker, I suppose."

Wow. It seemed that Loki wasn't the only one who sought approval from his brother. For a second, Darcy felt bad, and she could see Loki's eyebrows go up. "Actually Thor, what brought him back was when I told him that you would have overcome the control already." Darcy smiled at Thor's open mouthed expression. "It seems nothing inspires him more than a little friendly brotherly competition."

Fandral, who had joined the Avengers at the portal along with the other three Asgardian protectors, laughed heartily. "Nothing drives Loki more," he confirmed. "That was a masterful idea, Lady Darcy. Truly, you are well suited as the God of Mischief's chosen one." The blond peered up at the portal. "My prince, can you tear down the magical barrier guarding this device?"

Loki inclined his head. "It would be my pleasure." He looked to either side. "Ladies. It would be prudent for you to step away at this point."

Darcy and Natasha took a step back. Loki's hands began glowing green, and that green shot out toward the portal. It clashed with a barrier of red tint. Loki wasn't out for an all-out battle against the barrier, though. His magic twined itself into a tiny bore and delved inward, creating one weak spot.

There was a muted cheer when those gathered saw the green pierce the barrier. Loki's answering grin was grimly triumphant, and he flexed his hands. The green bore expanded itself, pushing the hole in the barrier wider and wider. It was not without effort, as sweat broke out on Loki's pale face. He was swaying where he stood, but shook his head when Darcy took a step forward.

"Thor, Tony, Steve – strike at the portal now," he commanded, teeth clenched in concentration.

There was a brief discussion between the three Avengers, and then Mjolnir, Captain America's shield, and an Iron Man missile streaked through the hole in the barrier to strike the portal near the tip of the extending arm. The thing rang like a giant bell. Nearly everyone present clapped their hands over their ears, and some fell to the ground as the sound rang in their bones.

The spinning metal circle began to wobble, off center. Loki's eyes snapped wide open. "We are too close!" he cried. "Back! Everyone back!"

Everyone scattered. Thor, taking in his brother's swaying form, scooped him up in his arms, much to Loki's disgust, and then turned and ran. Darcy ran with them, beside Natasha, as they sought to get out of harm's way.

They made it safely out of the danger zone, and watched as the huge metal circle fell to the ground, breaking into several pieces as it did so and sending up a billowing cloud of dust. The ground trembled and heaved for a few seconds, and everyone gathered was blind for a few moments until the dust settled.

"You certainly know how to make a comeback," Tony congratulated Loki as he landed on the ground. Running in the Iron Man suit was out of the question, and unnecessary. He looked a bit smug at not being out of breath like others.

Darcy's man sniffed in mock disdain. "Of course. Thor put me down. I am not a child to be toted around." Then, taking in the somewhat tremulous smile on his brother's face, Loki sighed deeply. "I have not thanked you for coming after me ahead of the others, abandoning your teammates. Or for carrying me to safety. Thank you."

Thor set him gently on the ground. "I will always come for you, my brother." Then he frowned. "However, if you once again turn such a dirty trick against me, I will pound you."

Loki grinned tiredly, swaying. "But Thor, it is so easy to fool you." He was at his mischievous best, trying to look too cute so that no one would believe any ill of him.

Darcy watched the God of Thunder shift awkwardly on his feet. "I know that I am not nearly as smart as you, Loki. It would be nice not to be reminded of that all the time." Thor actually looked pathetic, and Loki blinked thoughtfully at him.

"You are right, of course. You have made the effort to stop reminding me that I am not as fierce a warrior as most. I shall do the same."

Stark grinned. "Awe. Feel the love flowing between my brothers. Seriously though, where is the puppet master? Someone had to shield that portal magically. Who was it?"

Darcy moved to Loki's side as he swayed yet again. "Let's just get out of here," she suggested, slipping an arm around him.

Loki shook his head. "No Darcy. Tony is right. Someone was able to overpower me and bind me from myself." He growled. "There is something terribly important that I must remember!" He leaned heavily against Darcy, eyes turned inward as he tried to remember what was so important.

"Oh no," Tony warned. "The last time he looked like that, he was 'turned inward' for hours. Let's go! He can keep thinking on the flight home."

Everyone felt the same way, judging by all the faces surrounding them, so Darcy nodded her agreement. S.H.I.E.L.D left a contingent of agents to wrap things up, and everyone else headed for the Quinjets. They were short one, due to Darcy and Hill's hijinks, but still had plenty of room because of the agents being left behind.

Darcy had never seen Loki turned inward like this. He reacted to outside stimuli as though he were catatonic, obeying commands, or allowing himself to be moved, but unresponsive to any questions or comments directed his way. Tony and Thor seemed to taking it in stride, but she didn't like it.

"Does he do this often?" she asked Thor.

The God of Thunder shook his head. "Not often, but when he needs to think intensely on something. Our mother took him to the healers the first time it happened. He can be brought out of it, if necessary, but it is best to allow him to finish in his own time." Thor offered a weary smile. "It may help him calm himself."

That was a good point. Darcy had expected more anger from him, but then again, he was most likely exhausted. When he regained some energy…she wouldn't want to be the puppet master. Loki didn't like being used. Well, no one did, really, but when the one being used is a sorcerer god, things could get interesting.

The flight back to New York was quiet. Everyone was tired from the battle. Darcy was both worried, and increasingly in pain from her Quinjet adventure. She sat next to Loki, half lidded eyes fixed on him. Thor sat on the other side of his brother, head titled back and eyes closed. He was very tired, a condition Darcy did not see him in too often. The Avengers were all tired and in various states of sleep or unconsciousness (Banner and Barton). Darcy seemed to be the only one awake, other than their pilot.

She was worried about Loki. So much so that at first, she did not see the intruder. Gradually, something different intruded on her intense Loki concentration, and Darcy blinked, shook her head, and looked away. An eep of fright escaped her mouth, and brought an instant reaction from everyone else. They all woke, and there was suddenly a flurry of activity as they all noticed the intruder on board.

Natasha was angry. The assassin came awake immediately, saw the intruder, and rolled to her feet, guns drawn, cursing in Russian. Gone was the usual emotionless mask. Anger, and perhaps a little fear, marred her features. She had allowed a stranger to get too close while she slept!

"You are seconds from death," she snarled. "Who are you? How did you get here?"

The man tilted his head to one side inquisitively. He was Asian, with long flowing hair and mustache. He wore robes and armor that looked somewhat like Asgardian clothing, and he was studying them carefully.

"I find myself less than impressed," he finally replied, in an accented voice. "I had expected more from the famous Avengers."

"You're about to have more," Natasha snarled, fingers tightening on the guns' triggers.

Beside Darcy, Loki surged back to consciousness, staring up at the intruder. "You!" he shouted.

The intruder smiled benignly. "Yes. Me. Do you feel humbled yet, adopted son of Asgard?"

Thor surged to his feet, Mjolnir clenched in a white knuckled hand. "You dare mock a Prince of Asgard, stranger?"

The intruder's hands rose toward him, and Thor was flattened against the wall of the Quinjet moments later, held there immobile by an invisible force. It shocked everyone, that the God of Thunder had been so easily overcome by a mortal. Weapons came to the ready, and everyone focused on the intruder. Barton was woozily notching an arrow, and even Banner was beginning to stir. Darcy tried to make herself as small as possible beside Loki. She was at a distinct disadvantage in a fight, if one broke out. She just hoped that the intruder gave Bruce no reason to Hulk while in the Quinjet. She was pretty sure she had used up any 'surviving weird secret government agency jet incidents' luck already today.

"Who are you?" Rogers barked.

"Your future ruler. You may bow or kneel."

Loki was trying to stand. "I told you that I have prior claim. I believe I also told you that this world does not wish to be ruled."

The man inclined his head. "You also told me, adopted son of Asgard, that you would stop me. I think not."

Iron Man's faceplate popped up, and Stark stared hard at the intruder. "I know you," he said suddenly. "Didn't I break up your hokey little criminal ring a few years back? The hair and the mustache weren't as long, and it looks like you got some new threads since then, but yeah. You're still a crazy psychopath."

The head inclined yet again. "Indeed, Mr. Stark. My recruited minion proved that he was unable to match you in wits or power, so it was necessary that I become involved. You owe me a rather large debt."

Darcy didn't know what he meant, but Tony evidently did. "Jarvis – lock down the Tower right now. If Pepper isn't in it, get her into high powered protection immediately!"

The intruder offered a small little smile. "Do you truly think that I can be stopped if I do not want to be?"

"Well, it seemed to work pretty well on your neat little dimensional portal toy, didn't it? Oops, too bad. No mutated Maklu warriors coming to help you take over." Stark jerked a thumb toward Loki. "You should have taken a lesson from his defeat. We don't like alien invaders here on Earth. What did you call yourself when I took you down? The Mandarin, right? How do you expect to impress when the first thing us Americans think of is 'Oh gee, he's an orange'. That won't get you anywhere."

The intruder, the Mandarin, sneered. "Impressing Americans is far from my agenda. One need not impress to rule."

Stark waved his hand. "Blah blah. Did you miss the part where we destroyed your little toy? You don't honestly think you can take over the planet without your scaly green friends, do you? Loki must have been having an off day when he bumped into you, cuz otherwise, he'd wipe the floor with you."

"I have no concerns with the adopted son of Asgard. He will always fall before me. And who said that my scaly green friends are unable to visit? Think on that, Iron Man."

With a pop, he disappeared, even as Loki lunged for him. Darcy bit her lip when her man merely tumbled across the interior of the jet, and rolled to his feet on the other side. When he looked up at everyone, his entire expression was rage.

Before he could say a word, Thor fell off the wall onto the floor with a dull thud that shook the entire jet.

"I want to eat his spleen for breakfast!" the God of Thunder shouted, a phrase he had picked up from Barton. Loki nodded in agreement, and accepted a hand up from Thor, who was already on his feet. Both brothers looked ready to eat spleen.

"I think we all do, at this point," Tony noted. "Jarvis? Pepper?"

"Mrs. Stark is secured within the Tower, sir. She is currently with Ms. Foster. They are in the panic room."

Tony nodded in relief. "Good."

"What did he mean?" Darcy asked suddenly, flinching a little when everyone looked at her. "The Mandarin. He seemed to act like the destruction of the portal was no big thing, and that his warriors could still be used."

"Bluffing," Stark suggested. "I do it all the time. He wants us stressed out."

All eyes turned to Loki as he staggered a few steps and dropped to his knees, head in his hands. Darcy was by his side in a flash. It looked really impressive, but she actually just tripped over her own feet trying to get up too fast, and skidded across the floor on her knees. But she wasn't telling anyone that it hadn't been intentional.

She placed a hand on Loki's arm. "Loki? What is it?"

He looked up at her, appearing tortured once more, face creased in some terrible emotion. Was that a shimmer of tears in his eyes? Her gaze followed another drop of blood as it fell from his nose. "It was a decoy," he announced in a rough voice. "The portal we destroyed was a decoy. That's why he locked me away from myself. So that I couldn't warn everyone."

Darcy's stomach plummeted through the floor and headed for the ground, thousands of miles below. She swallowed back the bile rising in her throat, and reached out with the sleeve of her shirt to blot the blood from his face.

"Where is it?" Rogers asked, looking like he might puke. "Where is the other portal?"

The feeling of dread was an unwelcome visitor in the jet's interior as everyone waited on Loki's response. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and then opened his eyes once more.

"It's in New York."

Chapter Text

Loki was seething, angry enough to eat spleen (as Thor had said).

The last block in his mind had burst with a painful pop, flooding his brain with the oh-so important knowledge that had been blocked away. The real portal was in New York. The beleaguered city, always a focal point for supervillain and alien attacks, was the perfect location to begin a world invasion (or takeover). The portal in New York hadn't quite been finished. The Mandarin had set a careful trap to lure in the Avengers' resident expert on magic to prevent the New York portal from being uncovered too soon, and Loki had fallen right into it.

Now, three days later, he was almost completely exhausted, magically and physically, as were the rest of the Avengers (from fighting him). They could never hope to repel an alien invasion in their condition.

Coulson came to the same conclusion immediately following The Mandarin's departure. He was instantly on the phone, calling in what sounded like a huge amount of favors, and warning others. What good would it do?

When he expressed that thought, all eyes turned to stare at him and Loki winced. "You have seen the Maklu. I admire mortal perseverance as much as anyone, but that will not stop an invading army."

Coulson was his usual, unflappable, self. "I've alerted and/or called in every known superhero and superhero group in the area. Does that ease your concern somewhat, Loki?"

Hmm…not a bad idea. New York was a hub for super powered individuals (and groups). And they all had experience fighting off aliens. That was a better idea than a handful of exhausted Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D agents attempting to save the world on their own.

Coulson allowed a tight smile to cross his face when he saw approval on Loki's. "Exactly. They're, pardon the pun, assembling now." His gaze turned piercing. "Where is the New York portal?"

Tony Stark suddenly swore loudly and punched Thor in the arm. "Right under our damn noses!" he spit, as Thor rubbed the spot he'd punched. "Remember when I bitched about the artistic eyesore being constructed in front of Stark Industries?"

Loki did remember, and had to give The Mandarin credit for being fiendishly clever. Disguising the portal as a piece of abstract art being built in the city, right in front of Tony Stark's business headquarters? Fiendishly clever and what was that word Darcy used? Ballsey.

"If it opens, can the portal be shut down without magic?" Darcy asked.

All eyes turned to her, and then to Loki. He shrugged. "It is unlikely." He turned to Coulson. "Are there any magic wielders of those assembling?"

Coulson imitated his shrug. "Unknown at this time."

Loki did not say anything, nor did anyone else in the Quinjet. He was exhausted. It was unlikely that he would be able to close the portal, if it was opened. And everyone in the Quinjet was aware of his current deficiency, because no one asked him to jump them to New York. He would be practically worthless in a battle right now.

They were about an hour out of New York, and it was a very tense hour. Thor was still fuming, looking to obliterate The Mandarin for so quickly and effectively immobilizing him. Loki could sympathize with his brother's anger. It was humiliating to be so thoroughly bested by a mortal.

Tony was pacing, full of nervous energy, and itching to have his own shot at The Mandarin, in payback for the fake beheaded Pepper scheme. "It's not right," the billionaire complained. "I mean, he showed minor magical abilities when I took him down a few years ago. But nothing on the order of being able to restrain two gods and build a portal to another realm or whatever. Jarvis – what happened to him after he was put in prison? Speaker, please."

There was a slight pause, and then the soothing British tones of Stark's AI filled the interior of the Quinjet. "It appears as if The Mandarin was only in prison for six months, sir. He disappeared from prison with no trace. Based on the information from when you captured him, he aged approximately 15 years while away, during a three year period."

Loki nodded. "However he managed to escape means little at this point. Wherever he escaped to, most likely another realm, time runs differently. He learned deep, dark arts in that time. Until such a time that I can test him further, we shall have to assume that his abilities equal mine."

The slumping shoulders around him might have brought Loki a measure of pride at a different time, but not right now.

Tony sidled up to him as everyone else turned inward, preparing for another battle and lost in their own thoughts. The billionaire looked worried. "If you were at full strength, could you take him in a fight?"

That was the real question, wasn't it? Loki shrugged. "Honestly Tony, I do not know. He was able to manipulate me; lock me away from myself so that I lashed out at everyone who came close to me because I did not know who to trust. That worries me." He sighed deeply, closing his eyes. "It is a moot question. I am not at full strength. At my current level, he will easily best me."

Darcy squeezed his arm, while Tony Stark stared at him hard. It was making Loki uncomfortable. "What?" he finally snapped.

Stark grinned. "Just appreciating your growth as a person. Admitting weakness in front of everyone here?"

Sometimes, Loki really wanted to punch him, but he was right. In his long life, admitting to weakness while living in Asgard was an invitation to disaster. But mortals were far different. Besides, he would not be helping anyone if he pretended to be at full strength, and failed them in the middle of a battle.

Thor clapped them both on the shoulder. "It was a necessary growth for both Loki and myself. In the past, foolish arrogance prevented us from being honest about our abilities, and this led to others getting hurt."

"Sir?"

Everyone stilled as Jarvis interrupted. "Go ahead Jarvis," Tony instructed.

"Sir…the portal device has been activated. It has not yet formed a portal."

They were still at least 30 minutes out. "Is anyone on site?" Tony asked, looking ready to pummel something.

"It appears that all New York based S.H.I.E.L.D agents that had not accompanied you are minutes away, in addition to a variety of others who are already on site. "

"The Mandarin?"

"He is standing in front of the portal device, sir. He appears to be yelling at it in an alien tongue."

Loki frowned. "The sphere has not yet formed?"

"It has not. The device appears to be defective. The metal circle is unable to make a full rotation. The supporting base strut is too high to allow the circle to rotate."

Loki felt his lips twitch, even as Tony began laughing incredulously. "Loki, could he fix it with magic?"

Loki frowned in thought. "Possibly, but the energy needed to do so would likely exhaust him, and he would not then be able to activate the device."

Tony's laugh turned hard. "I like this. Jarvis, is the device protected like the decoy was?"

"Yes sir. The Mandarin is currently within the magical shield."

Coulson's grin was as hard as Loki had ever seen. The S.H.I.E.L.D agent rubbed his hands together. "He can stay inside that shield as long as he wants as long as that portal doesn't work."

Thor's expression was that of child who had just been given a pile of presents – gleeful. He tapped Mjolnir into his palm. "It is my hope that he stays there. I have things I wish to discuss with him."

Loki clapped his brother on the shoulder in sudden good spirits. "Together, Thor? I too wish to have a long conversation with him." Perhaps the mortal realm would not be overrun today.

Natasha snorted and rolled her eyes. "The two of you are such children. Say what you intend. You don't wish to talk to him. You want to turn him into a smear on the nearest sidewalk."

Steve Rogers nodded. "I can agree with that sentiment, Agent Romanoff. I'm in the mood for eminent smearage."

They were close enough to see the city when a pulse of magic lit the sky. Loki felt it reverberate through him and he knew The Mandarin was acting out of desperation.

"Was that…?" Rogers asked.

Loki nodded. "He is trying to repair the portal so that it may be activated. I do not know where he is pulling power from to be able to do this. We should hurry."

"We're at the limits of this craft," Barton supplied, still a little woozy from the tree clubbing he'd received as he pushed up off the bench. Loki felt terribly guilty as he viewed the bruising knot on the archer's head. "If we push any faster, we risk her coming apart around us."

"ETA ten minutes!" their pilot called.

Loki stood decisively. "That will not be fast enough. I will go now."

Darcy seized his arm in an iron grip, and he looked down into her furious countenance. "What do you plan to use against him? Harsh language?"

Loki trailed a finger down her cheek, following the track of angry and frightened tears. "I will use whatever I have against him."

She clutched at his arms. "No. As drained as you are, that's suicide."

Thor nodded. "She is right, Loki. You are in no condition to battle. Banner?"

Bruce Banner levered himself off the bench. The scientist looked weary, but resolute. "Give me a lift?"

Thor smiled. "Banner and I will go ahead, with Tony. We will try to persuade The Mandarin not to open the portal, if he is able to repair it."

Loki blinked. "Tony – your suit. Is it invulnerable to all magic?"

Stark shrugged. "Don't know. I haven't had the chance to test it against anyone but you."

Loki turned back to his brother. "Going now means little, unless you are able to penetrate the shield around the device."

Thor raised an eyebrow. "Can you?"

Loki tried to give an honest assessment to his energy level. "Unlikely."

Darcy thumped him on the chest. "Use me," she said urgently.

Stark snorted, and even Loki was a little amused. "This is hardly the time for that."

"Are you shitting me?" she yelled. "Do you really think I want you to have sex with me when the world is about to end?"

"Is there another meaning to the phrase 'use me' that I am not aware of?"

She pulled the pendant from under her shirt. It gave Loki a few chills when he looked at it, reminding him of how he had almost killed her. She always wore it, but usually kept it tucked under her shirt so that he didn't see it. Why would she bring it out now? They didn't have time to reminisce.

He met her eyes, and when he saw her resolution, he thought he understood. "No Darcy," he said softly.

She squeezed his arm with her free hand, the other clenching the pendant. "Yes Loki. You can use me to recharge. To break the shield and destroy the portal."

He shook his head again, remembering the pain he had felt when he had almost killed her before. "No. There will be another way." He tried to back away from her, but Darcy would not let go of him.

She reached up to lay a hand on his cheek. "I'm full of energy. Take it. You know how much you can take before it's too much."

"No."

Her expression tightened. "I can't fight The Mandarin, Loki, or the Maklu, but I can do this. This is my world, my home. Let me do what I can to help protect it."

The desperation welling up from the very core of his being left Loki with a lump in his throat, and fear in his heart. No. He would not do this. He would not risk it.

"Sir. It appears as if The Mandarin is using magic to shave metal off the oversized strut. If he is able to continue at this pace, I estimate that he will have the portal functional in minutes."

Something inside of Loki clenched tight in fear and denial, and he tried to avoid Darcy's eyes. They were telling him that he was being ridiculous, and that she was right and he needed to get over it.

Coulson approached. "We will take care of her, until you have the energy to give some back," he advised. "Like last time. I'm sorry, Loki. But I don't think we have any other alternatives."

"No!" he snarled. He seized Darcy's arms and shook her. "You almost died, the last time. Why would you want to go through that again?"

Her expression did not alter. "I don't. But I also don't want to live with the knowledge that I could have helped, but didn't. Don't you dare put me in that position."

"What if I can't stop in time?" he snarled. "What if I drain you dry and there's nothing left?"

She cupped his cheek. "You won't. I have faith in you and I trust you. I always have."

Loki bit back a curse, and blinked moisture from his eyes. He took a quick look around the interior of the Quinjet, and found that no one was on his side. The others were nodding, and staring at Darcy with new respect. They didn't understand the danger.

"Thor go!" he snarled. "I will join you shortly."

It was Rogers who slapped a hand on the hatch control. Thor, Banner, and Stark departed from the opened hatch, and Rogers closed it, looking expectantly at Loki. He glared, and then looked down at Darcy. The wind from the opened hatch had ripped her hair into a disheveled mess, and dried the tear tracks on her cheeks. She was frightened, but her grip on his arms told him that she had also made up her mind. And damn her, she was right, but it didn't mean he had to like it.

"I do not like this," he told her.

"Noted," she returned. "Now hurry up and do it before I stop to think about it."

The quaver in her voice was almost his undoing. Loki took a deep breath, and directed her to lie down on the bench. He was shaking like a frightened child when he knelt down beside her and took her hands into his.

"You are by far the best thing in this realm," he told her. "You were the last thing I was expecting, and the thing I needed the most. I love you."

Her face flushed red, and she sat up to throw her arms around him, pulling him tight to her. "You tell me this now? You have rotten timing." She kissed him fiercely, stealing his breath with the strength of her emotions. Then she pulled back and glared at him. "We're going to have a long talk when this is all over! You don't get to say 'I love you' first! I love you! Now do it!"

He pressed his lips to her forehead and used what was left of his magic to gently tug at the strings of his previous spell, the one protected her from him. It came undone easily, and Loki gasped at the inrush of energy. It filled him, like a sponge soaking up water, even as Darcy slumped in his grasp. For a second, the filling magic left him unable to function, but then Loki pushed back and watched Darcy carefully. She was drooping. He could literally see the energy leaving her as her body could no longer support itself, and her face muscles went slack. When her eyes rolled back into her head, and he felt like he could fly, Loki lowered her to the bench and backed away hastily. It twisted like a knot in his stomach to see her there, so still and pale.

Coulson checked her vitals and nodded. "She's stable. Go now!"

With a choking cry, Loki teleported.

*******************************************************************************************************************************

The Iron Man suit was not impervious to The Mandarin's magic. Loki arrived on scene just in time to prevent Tony from blasting backwards through his own building. He barely had time to process the hurtling red and gold form before it was right on him. He spun to one side and seized Tony by the leg.

Stark cursed as he fell to the ground, leg still in Loki's grasp. "Dammit, that hurt. Nice to see you back in the game, bro."

Loki ignored the slang to assess the situation. Thor was using Mjolnir to pound on the magical shield. Really, he just didn't learn. It hadn't worked with the fake portal, so why did he think it would work with this one?

Tony accepted a hand up. "Hmm…older brother Thor is…tenacious," he noted, staring at the scene.

Loki frowned. "Thor is a blockhead sometimes." He strode forward, nodding at Banner who had not yet Hulked, and came to a stop at his brother's elbow.

"Do stop wasting your time, Thor."

The God of Thunder glared at him. "Standing around waiting for you is not the way I wish to pass this time. Would you care to break into the shield?"

Loki's grin was hard. "I would be delighted."

He used the same tactic he had used on the fake portal shield, and it was just as effective. He forced a small hole open, and Thor and Iron Man struck at the top of the portal device.

The Mandarin shrieked in rage and blocked the attack. The villain was outlined in a glowing black aura, which told Loki that he'd made some type of unholy alliance with … something. That was where the power was coming from. And it was enough that the God of Mischief was a little scared and very angry. There was no way he could overcome The Mandarin at this rate.

Stark was dealing with the other super powered individuals gathered, trying to find a magic wielder from the sounds of it. But it appeared that luck had run its course, because Tony rejoined them in defeat.

"They've tried to get through the shield. They've attempted coordinated attacks, and no one can penetrate that shield. There doesn't seem to be a magic user in attendance. And with the way Orange Man is now glowing black, I'm thinking that's a really bad thing."

Loki nodded grimly. "He has made some type of alliance with a force that will claim his soul when it has finished with him. The alliance has empowered him. He is far stronger than I currently."

Tony's face plate flipped up, and his grin was positively evil. "We can't get past him, right?"

Loki snarled. "It appears that we cannot."

"Then let's pull the ground out from underneath him and topple his little art project. Hey Bruce!"

Banner raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"You up for smashing?"

The scientist's half smile was reassuring. "Always." He looked down at the street under the portal. "It's right on top of a subway line, isn't it?"

Stark grinned. "It is. How mad do you think Fury will be after we've caused some major property damage?"

"He'll live," Bruce assured, already swelling into the Hulk.

Loki tuned them out as Thor, Stark and Hulk began tearing up the street. The Mandarin's frantic movements were increasing, and metal splinters were flying everywhere. At this rate…Loki didn't want to do the math, because it came out with The Mandarin on the plus side. The deranged sorcerer was infused with power he couldn't possibly control and probably would not survive, but it would be enough to completely level New York City. Quickly.

He sent a pulse through the hole he'd torn in the magic shield, but the insane villain brushed it aside, and metal splinters flew with renewed vigor.

Several other costumed super heroes joined him, sending varying attacks through the shield rip. Nothing affected The Mandarin and he was very close to shaving the strut down to a level that would allow rotation of the metal circle.

Behind Loki, with a dusty explosion, the street collapsed. He didn't spare a look, but focused on the insane villain within the magical shield. He was out of ideas, and could only hope that Stark's plan worked.

With the shriek of scraping metal, the portal device began to spin again. Loki cursed, and threw an attack at the top of the device, but The Mandarin blocked it. The deranged sorcerer was everywhere at once, cackling like a madman with black lit power streaming from his mouth and eyes. Something was using him to pull itself through the realms, and Loki suddenly wasn't quite as worried about the army of mutated Maklu.

"Stark, Thor, Hulk! You must hurry!" he commanded.

One of the other heroes yelled something at him, pointing to the rotating circle. It was picking up speed despite everything they were sending through the shield. The Mandarin's outline was losing cohesiveness as the villain used more and more energy, and whatever foul being he'd dealt with came further and further into him.

Conventional weaponry flew past him, and was blocked as well. Loki knew that the S.H.I.E.L.D agents would keep trying, and that would be nothing more than a waste of weaponry.

"Hold your fire!" he commanded, drawing himself up and giving them every inch of the Asgard prince. "Your weapons are useless against him. Save them for the army he will bring through that portal, if he succeeds."

With a groaning rumble, the street beneath the portal device collapsed. For one glorious second, Loki felt the triumph of victory, but then frowned as the device did nothing more than wobble. It was now sustained on a band of pure power, and the circle had almost reached optimal speed.

A triple strike came up from beneath the street in the form of Iron Man's repulsors, Mjolnir, and Hulk. The green rage monster jumped straight toward the device, but was deflected by The Mandarin's magic and hurled like a missile into the air and away. Iron Man's repulsor blast was blocked, and the dull clang of Mjolnir dropping to the ground without effect was a small sound in the chaos of battle, but huge for Loki. What was left? They couldn't possibly take out the villain, and he was keeping the portal upright.

With a bone deep groan of straining metal, the spinning ring reached critical speed, and the portal itself formed – a sphere of glowing green light. Loki felt his resolve crumbling with it, and anger that Darcy had risked herself for nothing. He was no match for The Mandarin.

Thor and Iron Man resurfaced from the hole they had made in the street, dusty and angry. Thor took one look at his brother, and clapped him on the shoulder, leaning in to talk quietly to him.

"We need your cleverness, brother. Out of anyone here, you can fix this."

Loki turned to glare at him. "I do not have power to match him, Thor. What would you have me do?"

The God of Thunder squeezed his shoulder, eyes strangely intent. "As you always remind me, Loki, brute force and greater power will not always prevail. You are clever. I know you will think of something." He grinned. "You always do. Were it not for you, most of my campaigns would have been unsuccessful."

Then he was pulling Loki back away from the portal shield, even as the green scaled Maklu warriors began appearing within the sphere.

The remaining Avengers were there suddenly, and a ground shaking thump told Loki that Hulk had returned. Rogers was directing the others, working seamlessly (for now) with the other super powered individuals who had arrived to stand in Earth's defense. Coulson and Fury were barking orders at the S.H.I.E.L.D agents, and strange weapons were being passed among the agents. Loki tuned it all out.

Thor's trust, Thor's faith in his ability to find a solution to this was weighing on his soul. What Thor said wasn't wrong. Greater power was not always the answer, and a clever plan could triumph. But what could be done? Everything they threw at the madman was deflected or shrugged aside.

Dimly, Loki could hear others calling to him, but his mind was racing, considering and discarding plans of action. There was sheer chaos around him as the defenders of New York clashed with the ever increasing army of Maklu warriors, but Loki trusted Thor to keep him safe.

It was hard to think. The portal radiated a magical noise that was loud in his head, and The Mandarin himself was an alarm klaxon in the stillness of his mind. The sounds of battle should probably be deafening, but all Loki could hear was the noise in his mind. How could an apparently limitless sorcerer be overcome?

By not fighting.

Loki's mind stretched out, reaching and sliding through the tear in the shield. He smoothly copied The Mandarin's power signature, layering it over his own power signature. The madman did not notice, or was more concerned with the other defenders to pay attention. It allowed Loki enough time to leisurely study the magic powering the portal. It was powerful, but primitive, and should un-knit as easily as the spell protecting Darcy had.

He pulled back to himself and blinked. The Maklu were coming through the portal faster than he anticipated. There was a sea of scaly green in the near vicinity, the chaos of a pitched battle, and Thor was practically glued to his side, protecting him. Mjolnir hummed and sang with the heat of the battle, causing devastation to any Maklu too slow to dodge.

"We need a concentrated attack," Loki shouted at Rogers, who was also nearby. "Conventional and other, all at once. Focus on The Mandarin! A coordinated attack will overcome his defenses. He cannot defend against all of us at once."

Actually, he could and would, but Loki was only looking for a distraction.

As intended, the deranged sorcerer heard his instructions and howled insults at them. "You will all bow before me! None can overcome me. All cannot overcome me."

While Rogers barked quick instructions, Loki created an illusion and left it over his self. This would require all of his concentration. When Rogers looked to him for a signal to begin, he nodded, and with a wave of Captain America's arm, the assault began.

Loki's illusion joined in on the attack, but while he directed the illusion and held the shield rip open, his essence slipped inside the shield, wrapped inside The Mandarin's power signature. The insane sorcerer, form losing cohesion every second, was moving faster than humanly possibly, blocking the multiple attacks. He again overlooked Loki's intrusion in his space. He did not even seem to realize that there was a breach in the shield, because he had made no attempt to seal it.

Loki was grateful that his essence was incorporeal, because a corporeal form would never have survived the assault by New York's defenders. Even at his strongest, bolstered by his father's staff Gungnir, Loki would not have been able to deflect the entire array of attacks launched against The Mandarin. But the sorcerer merely cackled a high pitched, sanity-shredding laugh, and continued to do the impossible.

Loki slid his mental 'hands' into the spell powering the portal. Here it was easy to see that The Mandarin was only mortal. The spell lacked complexity and it was not protected. The madman was too concerned with protecting himself and protecting the device to even think about protecting the spell. Fifteen years of other realm education in the magical arts could not match centuries of practice. Loki might not have the raw power The Mandarin currently possessed, but his knowledge of magic and how it worked far outstripped the mortal madman.

With a few quick tugs, he undid the spell and altered it slightly, reweaving it into the shape he wanted, and layering protections on top of it. The portal, a magical doorway to another realm, abruptly swung the other way, forcibly drawing everything that had just come through it back to its origin point.

Loki was almost caught in its vortex. The reversed portal was sucking in everything close to it, including his essence. He strained against the pull, grateful again that his body was not within the confines of the shield. Even so, his mental 'feet' were slipping. The pull of the portal was enormous. He had underestimated the strength of the spell.

In desperation, he reached for an essence so familiar to his own, and a tendril of his self caught hold of Thor. The God of Thunder went to his knees with a shout of pain, hands flying to his head, but the magic within him, granted by Mjolnir, allowed him to anchor and pull Loki's essence. He wouldn't understand what was happening, but Loki didn't need him to understand. He just needed Thor's magic to react to his own.

Loki popped free with a bone jarring snap that sent both him and Thor tumbling to the ground. Thor did not rise, still gripping his head. Loki struggled to his feet, even though he felt like he was wading through cold molasses. The portal was still tugging at him, but he had to prevent it from pulling other things through it. When a Maklu flew past him with a high, chittering cry, he blinked away the strain of magic overuse and squinted at the portal.

While the Maklu had passed through the shield from the inside, they could not pass through from the outside. The only access to the portal was through the small rip in the shield. A whole Maklu could not pass through the rip, so the creatures were being torn into pieces as they were sucked through the rip. It was an unexpected carnage that Loki had not intended, and it made him slightly ill to watch.

The Mandarin shrieked denial as his body was pulled toward the now black lit sphere of power, and he realized that the situation had changed. Pieces of Maklu were flying past him, pelting his disintegrating body with gore and green blood. He struggled to pull free, but he was practically right on top of the portal and it had him in its grip. His body was literally being pulled free of the creature that had sought to inhabit him, but both entities were going to lose the battle.

"Shit," Loki swore. As the last Maklu was pulled through the rip and streamed in pieces back through the portal, he realized the danger. Objects began moving toward the portal, which was now seeking to pull anything through it.

He pulled back, allowing the rip to close, and layered his own shield over top of the Mandarin's. "Anyone who can project a containment of any sort, do so now!" he roared. "We have to hold it until the device folds in on itself."

Layer upon layer of containment blanketed the shield. Loki couldn't spare a glance to see who was aiding him. His mind was racing against impending doom, trying to track down everything that could go wrong. The portal collapsing into the hole beneath it was now his biggest concern. The only thing holding it level was the disintegrating being that had created it.

He thought he shouted for someone to fix that problem, but he wasn't sure. The portal did not topple into the street, but continued to pull madly. With a flare of blackest power, The Mandarin's form slid free of its invading conqueror and was swallowed by the portal. The entity that was left behind, a cancerous, demonic thing, gave a valiant effort to pull free of the black sphere, but was too close, and also succumbed. With the loss of its creator, the portal device folded in on itself and imploded.

For one second, the portal drew on everything around it as if it were a black hole. Then it could no longer sustain itself and shrank to a pinpoint, pulling all matter within the containment shield with it. The end was anti-climactic as it winked out of existence with a small pop that had the defenders shaking their heads.

Loki held the containment a moment longer, and then gave the order to cease. He felt the blanket of extra containment lift, and was finally able to allow his own shield to dissolve. Blackness threatening, he did a quick scan to ensure that all was well before dropping to the ground in a dead faint.

Around him, in slow motion, the defenders of New York blinked and breathed, slowly relaxing.

Chapter Text

Waking up was like running a marathon in 100 degree weather. It was exhausting, draining, and Darcy didn't want to do it. But eventually, it happened despite her every effort to stay asleep.

She was awake, but nothing sounded familiar. She couldn't place where she was, what day it was, or why she had been sleeping. Prying her eyes open was another thing that was not high on her list, but needed to be done. The lids were caked, like she'd been asleep forever. Still, Darcy was determined. She'd woken up against her will, but the opening of the eyes was something that she wanted.

The eyes finally cooperated, lids separating with a scratchy, abraded feel to them. She wanted to reach up and rub at her eyes, but found that her arms wouldn't currently move. What the hell? Everything was blurry. Oh, glasses!

She blinked several times, trying to moisturize her eyes, and then frowned. The blurry surroundings were not familiar. She was not in her apartment, or Loki's. Her mouth was dry. What was going on?

"Darcy? You're awake!"

Darcy blinked and wobbled her head around to look for the source of the voice. She was pretty sure it was Jane, but it didn't hurt to be cautious. Suddenly, glasses were dropping over her eyes, and the world came into sharp focus.

"Jane?" she asked, voice rusty. "I feel like I've done this before. What the hell happened?"

Her friend finally came into view, scooting forward on a chair. A hospital room! Now that Darcy could make out details, she was in a hospital room. Why was she in a hospital room?

Jane reached out and took her hand with one hand, and handed over a glass of water with the other. "How do you feel?"

Darcy exhaled loudly. "Kinda like what I imagine doing a triathlon with no training would feel like. I'm drained, I hurt everywhere, and I just wanna sleep for a year." She gratefully sucked water through the straw, allowing it to moisten her mouth before swallowing.

Jane had a cautious expression on her face, and maybe a little anger too. "What's the last thing you remember?"

Hmm…brain was still fuzzy. Darcy frowned, and talked through what she remembered. "Loki was working with Clint and Natasha to find the portal site. He found a very likely site, the day his mother returned to Asgard. He went there to check it out…" She trailed off, more memories bubbling up. "He didn't come back! And it took days to find the site. And then the Avengers went to rescue him."

She flinched away from Jane's scowl. "And you stowed away! That was so dangerous, Darcy. You could have been killed! You almost died several times."

It came back in flashes. Playing co-pilot to crazy Agent Hill. Blowing up a small hillside. Going after Loki. Being shot down by Loki. The battle to save Loki. Snatched up and threatened by Hulk in an attempt to jump start Loki's brain. The destruction of the portal. The trip home.

Darcy's eyes flew open. "Ohmigod Jane! What happened? I gave Loki my energy so he could kick The Mandarin's skinny ass. What happened?"

Jane smiled tiredly. "He kicked The Mandarin's skinny ass, back to whatever realm or dimension the Maklu were coming through from. The Maklu went back in pieces." She held up a tablet. "Some fool reporters actually filmed it."

Darcy watched the fight, filmed with a shaky handheld camera. Thor and Banner plunged from the sky, and Thor attacked the shield uselessly. Loki appeared and tried to take out the portal. He just stood there and stared. The portal formed and the Maklu were coming through. Thor pulled Loki back and defended him, while Loki just stood there. Then he came to life and shouted at Rogers, who turned and was barking orders at the others. Then, everyone on the scene attacked through a tear in the shield, but The Mandarin was all glowing black and crazy and blocking everything. Then the portal flashed, changed from green to black, and began pulling things back through it.

"Oh yuck." Darcy grimaced when the Maklu were sucked through the small tear in the shield in pieces. It was like a scene from a science fiction movie, but it was really happening. Then she watched The Mandarin slide off of the glowing black thing inside him, and his parts streamed into the portal. The yucky looking glowing black thing soon followed, the portal device collapsed on itself, and the portal winked out of existence. Loki dropped to the ground and Darcy muffled her automatic cry of alarm. The tablet went dark, and she looked quickly up at Jane.

"What happened? Where's Loki? Is he okay?"

Jane held up placating hands. "He's fine. He was a bit wore out, and he can't come near you until he's fully rested."

Darcy frowned, but then it clicked. "He took the spell off. He'll drain me if he needs energy."

Jane nodded. "He hasn't been very happy about it, trust me. I think he's possibly the worst possible patient. Well…no, Tony is probably the worst possible. But here!" She tapped the tablet again, which apparently had some cool Stark tech in it, because Darcy was suddenly looking at Loki, and he smiled when he saw her.

"You are awake."

He was paler than normal, with dark circles under his eyes, and he looked weary beyond belief. Darcy thought she had never seen anything better. "Hey handsome. Jane showed me the footage. You were the hero."

He shrugged uncomfortably. "I had a lot of help. Without everyone else, it would not have been possible. Without you, it would not have been possible."

Darcy managed to raise one arm in a fist pump. "Thus confirming that I am made of awesome. I directly helped saved the world. How cool is that?"

She heard Jane chuckling by her side, but she only had eyes for Loki's tired smile. "You are amazing. I cannot come to see you yet, but when I can, I will put the spell back into place. I intend on spending a good deal of time in your company, and I do not wish for you to be unconscious."

She laughed softly. "I'll second that."

She saw Thor appear over Loki's shoulder. The God of Thunder looked weary. "Darcy. It is good to see you awake once more. Loki might be more agreeable now."

Loki snorted. "You are a whiny child, Thor. Just because I gave you a slight headache…"

"Slight? I could not even see straight! My head felt like it was going to explode!"

"It was necessary. If I had not used you as an anchor, I would have been pulled into the portal."

Darcy stifled a laugh as Thor harrumphed. "Yes, so you have claimed. I believe it was just payback for all of those years that I beat up on you."

Loki's smirk was priceless as he turned his attention back to Darcy. "You see what I have to endure while regaining my strength?"

She bobbed her head. "Yeah, it's tough, huh? So, any estimate on when you'll be back to full strength?"

He sighed. "Not for at least a week. I drained myself completely. We can talk like this, but I cannot be near you."

Darcy was grumpy about that. Things had been so intense, and she had lost him, rescued him, and then he had to save the world. She just wanted to spend some quality time with her god boyfriend. Who loved her!

"I didn't forget about you saying you loved me, you know," she told him. "It's totally not fair that you said it first."

She watched Loki's lips twitch in a small grin. "My apologies. My tutor in mortal relationships did not share this information with me."

Thor grumbled in the background. "You are on your own in this, Loki."

Darcy heaved a sigh. "It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been Tony giving you advice."

"Someone taking my name in vain?" Tony's face appeared next to Loki's, and he winked. "Just ask Mrs. Stark – I'm awesome at relationships."

Darcy rolled her eyes. "Yeah, okay." She was fading fast, very tired suddenly. "Loki? I'm really tired, so I'm gonna crash out now. I'm glad you're okay and that you saved the world. See you soon." His face, lit with a gentle smile, was the last thing she saw as sleep claimed her again.

************************************************************************************************************************************

It took ten days after Darcy first woke up until Loki felt comfortable being in her presence. She was very impatient, especially because she still had very little energy. She had been unconscious for three days before first awakening, and the ten days since had mostly been spent sleeping, or video chatting with Loki, in between visits from her friends.

She had one burning question for him, after watching the news feed of the battle again. "Why did you feel the need to send them back in pieces?"

Loki made a face on his end of the video chat. "It was not intentional. I had not realized the portal would pull the Maklu back to it strongly enough to pull them through the rip. I didn't have the energy to stop it from happening."

Darcy shuddered. It had been graphic, and the public had latched onto it with a fervor, wondering why the invading aliens had been treated so brutally. As of yet, there hadn't been an official announcement. Darcy soon forgot about it, with her steady stream of visitors.

She had done what needed to be done, to save the world. She had been afraid, but that wasn't going to keep her from helping. Everyone seemed to think that what she had done had been a big deal, but it really wasn't. It made her a little uncomfortable.

Being indirectly involved in saving the world was sort of heady, but Darcy wouldn't want to do it all the time. That was a lot of responsibility on one's shoulders, and she didn't want that. Not yet. But she would gratefully support those that did.

She was dozing on and off while playing video games on her iPod when a sound at her doorway made her look up. Her heart jumped.

"I am so glad to see you," she whispered, eyes just devouring Loki. He was leaning casually against the door frame, arms folded across his chest, slight smirk on his face. He looked really good after ten days of staring at him on a flat screen.

"And I, you," he returned, unfolding his arms and pushing away from the door frame. He sat down beside her on the bed and took her hand in his. "One moment."

Darcy felt the tingle of his magic infusing her, along with much needed energy. She took a deep breath of relief as Loki dropped her hand. He just stared at her for a minute, until Darcy sat up and threw her arms around him, holding tight to his strength. "I really missed touching you," she whispered.

Loki twitched and groaned when her hands wandered south. "Do you truly intend to continue this in your hospital bed?" he asked.

Darcy grinned, nipping at the skin of his neck. "Yep. I didn't get to have 'oh my god we're gonna die' sex, or 'hey we just saved the world' sex, so now I'm gonna aim for 'I just recovered in a hospital bed' sex."

Loki's laugh was low and playful. "Well then…" He pulled back the sheets that were loosely drawn up over Darcy's legs, and swung his own legs up on the bed. Then he sniffed disdainfully. "This is hardly comfortable."

Darcy tugged him down to stretch out beside her. "Neither is the back of a car, but it's like a rite of passage. We need to broaden your horizons a little more."

Loki raised an eyebrow, even as one hand slid up under her shirt. "Oh?"

Darcy shivered and drew in a sharp breath. "Oh yeah. We kinda got distracted by the alien invasion thing, but now we need to get back on track." She shivered again. "Loki? Can you shut the door?"

The door slammed shut and she could hear it lock itself. Yeah, it was really cool having a sorcerer god boyfriend.

*********************************************************************************************************************************

Tony Stark looked offended when they finally emerged from her room, hours later. "You went in there to put the spell back on and give her some energy, right?"

Loki smirked, arm wrapped around Darcy's waist. They were both delightfully disheveled. "I did."

Tony checked his watch. "And that took four hours?"

Darcy wilted. "No wonder I'm tired! Four hours, Loki?"

He shrugged. "You started it. No Tony. It only took about five minutes to put the spell back on and to give Darcy some much needed energy. The rest of the time, we were otherwise occupied."

Stark shook his head. "That's just…wrong." He stalked away, muttering to himself, and Darcy figured that was the closest they were going to get to him saying he was glad they were both feeling better. After awhile, she had gotten used to his ways.

"What's first?" she asked Loki. "I mean, obviously, I'll have to go back to work, but what about you?"

He shrugged. "S.H.I.E.L.D has requested that I attempt to locate and train individuals who are able to wield magic." A rare, completely unfettered smile lit his face. "It is a very welcome feeling to be encouraged in my set of skills, rather than demeaned. S.H.I.E.L.D will even be supplying me with a steady income."

Darcy squeezed him. "Wow. That's…that's really awesome. I'm very happy for you." She felt a prick of apprehension. He would no longer be adrift here. That might mean that he wouldn't need her anymore.

He angled his eyes down to her, seeming to sense her insecurity. "I was thinking that it is rather silly to keep dwelling in separate apartments. It just makes me lonely when you are not with me."

Darcy's mouth dropped. "What is with you lately? You jump feet first into the 'I love you' and now you want to cohabitate?" Not the best response she could have made to him, but she was just stunned. After so much time of keeping him off balance, suddenly Loki had turned the tables on her. Every time she turned around, he was doing something new. And okay, the whole cohabitate thing? It had her so excited she wasn't sure if she wanted to scream, cry, giggle, puke, or pass out.

Loki seemed to sense that conflict within her. He leaned over to press his mouth to her temple. "Losing myself and then having you pull me back gave me a fresh perspective on my life. Which is not something that easily happens to someone of my age and upbringing. Do you not want to live with me? Is there some dating custom I am missing? Because I have been taking advice from Thor and Tony, so it is entirely possible that I have been misdirected."

Darcy laughed helplessly. "Oh, it's not that, Loki. It just…it's a little overwhelming all of a sudden. Of course I want to live with you. I mean, we've spent so much time together anyhow. It's just…I can't even really describe it. I was still adapting to the idea that there was someone out there who picked me instead of someone else, and then you just keep adding things to that idea, and it's…a lot to think about. In a good, if slightly overwhelming, way."

He laughed easily. "Well then, as long as it is not some terrible mistake I have made." He titled his head to the side. "Shall we live in my apartment, or yours?"

Darcy stared at him. "Does my apartment have a Jacuzzi?"

He snorted laughter. "No. My apartment then. Or would you feel more comfortable in a completely different place?"

She shook her head, realizing that it didn't matter. They could go live in her crappy apartment, or in the streets, as long as they were together. "I love your apartment, Loki. It's fine."

He nodded, then bit his lip in the first show of insecurity she had seen in some time. "Should we…should we get married?"

Darcy stopped walking and abruptly sat down as her brain exploded. He was completely killing her. When she looked up at him, he looked nervous, twisting his hands together, eyes darting from side to side.

"I would guess that is a 'no' to getting married," he ventured finally. "I am a little out of my element at this point, Darcy. Please tell me what you are thinking."

She swallowed past the lump in her throat. "I'm thinking that you need to chill. Pun intended. We don't need to get married, there is no problem with not getting married at this point, and I'm not even able to think about the idea of marriage right now. Why is this an idea in your head?"

He shrugged sheepishly. "Tony and Pepper got married."

Darcy swatted his leg. "Tony and Pepper have been together for years, Loki. It was time for them to do something. We've just started. Look at Jane and Thor. They're not married. There's no need to jump to the middle of the story."

He flashed a grin that was so happy it warmed her right down to her toes. "Implying that we have a long story ahead of us?"

"I hope so," Darcy answered honestly, accepting a hand up. "I love you, too, you know. I have almost since I first met you. And I don't want to let you go. I want to hold on for all those years."

Loki's hand tightened around hers. "I can relate to that."

Darcy leaned against him. Her knees still felt a little weak from the shock of his casual 'should we get married?' question. "Now, is there anything else you want to hit me with?"

Oh. Judging by the completely evil expression he turned on her, that was not the thing to ask the God of Mischief. "Well, there was one other thing I thought we could talk about." He glanced down. "When someday we get married, maybe we will want to expand."

Darcy raised an eyebrow. "Expand what? Our horizons? I already have plans for yours, remember? You, me and the back seat of one of Tony's cars."

Loki twitched a little at that, but shook his head. "No Darcy. Maybe we will want to expand into a family later." He looked completely sincere as he reached out to pat her abdomen, and his eyes made tracks from her abdomen up to her chest, and then finally to her face.

Darcy swayed and would have fallen to the floor if Loki hadn't seized her by the elbows. "I think you just broke my brain. What are you trying to do to me?" Her voice was shaky.

When he threw his head back and laughed, she realized that he'd been having a 'bit of fun' as he liked to call it, and she socked him in the arm. "Not funny, Loki. Not funny at all!"

He glanced down at her, eyes still crinkled in mirth. "You made it too easy, love. Relax Darcy. We will take each day as it comes. But I still want you with me."

"And I still want your Jacuzzi."

He clapped a hand to his heart. "You wound me, darling."

He hadn't been kidding about having a new perspective on life, apparently. He was so playful now, and the endearments had been dropping from his mouth since she'd first woken up ten days ago. It was…really nice.

******************************************************************************************************************************************

Thor and Jane seemed unsurprised when informed that Darcy was moving in with Loki. Jane had her own surprise for them: Thor was accompanying Sif and the Warriors Three back to Asgard, and he wanted to take her to meet his father.

"What's he like?" the astrophysicist asked, pulling Darcy aside while the brothers discussed the upcoming trip. "Odin, I mean. Thor has told me stories, but I keep going back to him banishing Loki to Jotunheim."

Darcy didn't quite growl. She had very strong feelings about Odin and his parental skills, despite the fact that Loki had reconciled with him. She just really wanted to take some time and talk to the All-Father. With a big stick.

"I'm not the best person to ask that," she warned Jane. "I think Odin is a rat bastard. He'll probably think you're charming, though. Give him hell for me, Foster."

She promised to see them off, because she would actually miss Volstagg. Hogun was okay, but he hardly ever spoke. Sif and Fandral could stay in Asgard for all she cared.

Tony caught wind of it, and decided that he also needed to see them off, so they found themselves bundled into a Stark jet. Loki had decided there was no reason to frivolously expend his magic transporting them to the Bifrost site and continued to look quite smug about it as they boarded the jet.

Sif was out of sorts, and snapped at everyone who attempted to talk to her. She had apparently decided to ignore the fact that Cap was in a relationship, and had pulled him aside before they left to point out to him that she found him quite appealing. Steve had looked astonished, as if he hadn't realized it, which he probably hadn't, and then politely told her that he was involved. For a moment, it looked as if Sif would explode, but then she just smiled a hard little smile, and advised him that she could wait. And really, she could, since she was immortal, and no one really knew how long Steve could live, because of the super soldier serum. Sif knew that his mortal lover would eventually grow old and die (assuming they stayed together).

It was a long flight from New York to New Mexico, and Darcy decided to pay Loki back for the way he had broke her brain several days prior. It was time to start expanding his horizons.

She stood up and surveyed the interior of the jet, which looked more like a club than a traditional jet. Tony, lounging nearby with a drink in hand, looked up at her curiously.

"Where's the bathroom, Tony?" she asked.

He pointed with his glass, and Darcy peered in that direction, finally spotting the small curtain that led to the attendants' gallery. "Through there," the billionaire replied.

"Thanks! C'mon Loki, I'll need your help," she warned.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Tony's eyes widen, and Jane clap a hand to her mouth. The Asgardians were clueless. Loki was no exception as he stood hesitantly, taking her outstretched hand. The upward twist to his expression was a question that she wasn't going to answer yet.

"I was not aware that these 'jet' contraptions required you to obtain help for using the bathroom," he said softly, as she led him past his brother and the blushing Jane.

Darcy looked back at him, adoring the confusion. "Oh yes. They require quite a bit of help. And there's a bit of custom involved."

"Ah." Loki nodded, confusion melting away. He was so easy. Darcy could still pass almost anything off as 'custom' and he would go with it. Well, this was going to be a new custom. Today, Loki was joining the Mile High Club.

"Be sure to wash your hands when you're done!" Stark called, smirk in his voice. "And anything else that might come into contact with your skin!"

It took everything she had to hold back peals of laughter at the expression on Loki's face.

Even though they were on a Stark jet, the bathroom was still relatively small. Big enough for Darcy's purposes though. She pulled Loki through the door, and pushed it shut behind them, locking it. Then, with a twinkle in her eyes, she slid her arms around her man, and pinched his ass solidly, while grinding into him.

Loki's eyes widened. "What are you doing?" he asked as her hands trailed around his waist and headed for his zipper. "I do not need to relieve myself at the moment."

Darcy let out a throaty chuckle as she undid the jeans. "Oh Loki, you will before too long."

He glanced from side to side a little nervously. "Darcy, this is a very strange custom."

She slid her hands inside his jeans, chuckling again when he tensed. "It's a rite of passage, Loki. It's known as 'joining the Mile High Club'."

"I see." His voice was a little strained now as her fingers grew very friendly. "I understand that Thor, in his wilder youth, used to take many maidens for 'sky rides', as he called them. I merely thought he was showing off the capabilities of Mjolnir."

The laughter bubbled out of her then, and Darcy pressed her forehead to his chest while she giggled. "Oh Loki. We still have a long way to go to complete your education." She pulled her head back so she could look up at him, fingers still being very friendly, and winked. "Tell your brother to take Jane for a sky ride. It will totally rock her world, and Jane needs that."

Loki swallowed hard as she started inching his jeans down over his butt. "I will be sure to mention it." Then an evil little smile spread across his face. "I know of a magic spell that can briefly emulate Mjolnir's powers."

Darcy's knees were suddenly very weak as she tried to imagine it. "Oh my God of Mischief," she breathed. "We are going to be very creative together."

As he backed her into the door, Loki smirked. "Did you ever doubt that?"

No, she really didn't. Maybe they would get married someday. Maybe they would have a child (or children). It didn't really matter as long as they were together, because Darcy was pretty sure she would never, ever, be bored with Loki. It would probably take all of her…Darcyness…to make sure he didn't become bored with her, but she knew she could do it.

As her pants took it upon themselves to drop to the floor in invitation, she smiled up at her mischievous lover. And to think, it all started with two bottles of vodka.