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The living room in the guest suite in Stark Tower is chilly, like someone has set the air-conditioning to maximum. Two walls are lined with floor to ceiling windows. A couch faces the windows, and on the couch is a man. Silhouetted against the sky, his features are just a flat dark shadow to Darcy's eyes.

She blinks, and the shadow turns. As Darcy's eyes adjust, she sees skin the same color as the clear blue sky beyond the window, with two raised streaks below the eyes, and three raised lines above his eyes like a crown. And those eyes...they are red-orange like the most perfect setting sun. She'd been prepared to say something funny and cheerful. Something like, "Hi! I'm Darcy, your new minion!" But instead she just gasps.

"Not what you expected," Loki says, his voice smooth, British, familiar...and not. It's not like the voice she'd heard in the footage taken during the first Chitauri invasion. It's calmer. There is no maniacal edge to it.

"No," says Darcy. Thor had told her to be prepared for a monster.

"Without my magic, I revert to my true form," says Loki, and now she hears the familiar bite of bitterness in his words. A cruel smirk twists across his face, and that is familiar, too, even if the robin's egg blue of his skin is not. Black hair, loose, and shorter than she's used to curls around his ears. Below the neck he is decked out in armor, but the helmet with the crazy, deranged rabbit ear horns are thankfully nowhere to be seen.

Taking a step forward Darcy says, "You're lovely." She puts her hands behind her back because she's afraid she might reach out and touch him.

The smirk vanishes. They stare at each other for a few moments, and then Darcy coughs. "Can I get you anything? Are you comfortable?"

Loki blinks those orange-red eyes. "What I suffer most from is boredom. I doubt you can help with that."

Darcy's heard that unlike Thor, Loki's technology savvy. If he's not surfing the internet or watching DVDs, it's because he isn't interested. "No, probably not," Darcy agrees, biting her lower lip and rolling on her feet.

He tilts his head and that lovely raven black hair falls down like a curtain. His brows draw together, not like he's angry; more like he's confused. But when he finally speaks, all he says is, "You can go now."

Darcy leaves.

x x x x

The next day Darcy goes to visit Loki and she's better prepared - with things to keep Loki occupied and something to keep her occupied when he invariably dismisses her.

Loki's sitting in the middle of the couch in lotus position staring at the sky beyond the window. Today he is wearing clothing that looks like it's on loan from a Shakespearean acting troupe - a loose green shirt that hangs like linen and well-worn dark gray pants that might be leather.

It's another clear, beautiful day. The city is peaceful. There is no sound of weapon fire, and no smoke. It's hard to believe that somewhere out there the Avengers, the mutants known as the X-men, and armed forces from the U.S. and at least a dozen other nations are on a mission to clean up the remnants of the second Chitauri invasion. Pockets of Chitauri mercenaries are scattered across the globe. But if it hadn't been for Loki's intervention, things would be much worse.

After Loki's bid for world domination and the failure of the first Chitauri invasion, the dark prince of Asgard had been returned to Asgard for punishment. Under mysterious circumstances he escaped, and vanished for three years. And then the Chitauri had returned, this time on their own.

For reasons known only to himself, Loki had aided in Earth's defense. He'd given humans access to Chitauri technology, shown them the weaknesses in the Chitauri weaponry, and then fought beside them on the ground until a Chitauri weapon drained him of his powers. Now he is a "guest" of SHIELD. Several governments would like Loki in their custody, but Thor won't stand for it, and Thor is too powerful of an ally - and too dangerous a potential foe to ignore.

"I brought you books," says Darcy to Loki. She drops the books down heavily on the coffee table and lays them out. She slips her own book beneath her arm. "I thought you might find these interesting," she says. The books on the table are rare things on physics and astronomy that she's borrowed or nicked from Bruce and Jane. Thor has said magic and science are one and the same - she thinks Loki might find them of interest.

Loki looks at them for a moment and then says, "I've already read all of these."

"Oh," says Darcy. The disappointment in her voice is heavy and embarrassing.

"Why did they give you this job?" Loki says.

Darcy looks up at him. He sits so perfect and poised on the couch. His skin that lovely shade of blue. They say all his magic is drained from him, but Darcy thinks the way he looks is magic enough. Unlike Thor he looks alien, but unlike the Chitauri he is beautiful, like a being that might show up in Star Trek as the love interest. She doesn't sigh.

Bobbing her head, she sucks in on her lips and then says, "I'm expendable."

Loki blinks at her.

She shrugs. "I'm not a genius scientist, so I can't help find Chitauris. I'm not a trained assassin and don't have super powers so I can't kill Chitauris. I already know about Thor and you so I'm not a security risk so..." Her voice tapers off. And Thor has said Loki won't hurt her when his powers come back because it would be beneath him to attack one so weak. She gives a tight smile and pretends that being expendable and being weak don't hurt.

He stares at her like she's an incredibly odd specimen of insect, but Darcy gets that a lot so it doesn't unnerve her. Very much. And then inclining his head to the book under her arm, he says, "What's that?"

Blinking, Darcy pulls it out. "It's The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Kind of a classic."

Loki holds out a hand. It takes Darcy a moment to realize he's asking for her book for the afternoon. She places it in his hand and he pulls it to his chest. Bowing his head, he begins silently to read. Darcy just sits there. After about half a dozen pages he says, "What sort of science is this?"

Darcy blinks. "Pop sociology maybe?"

He looks up at her and those orange-red eyes may not be magical but they do make her go warm. Licking her lips she clarifies. "Popular sociology."

"It's entertaining," he says looking down at the book.

"I think so, too," says Darcy.

"You can go now," he says and she and wonders what she is going to do for the rest of her day now that he's stolen her book.

x x x x

"These noodles are soggy," Loki says, pushing the box of Chinese take-out across the coffee table. He's in the Shakespearean get-up again.

"It's take-out. If you want fresh noodles and you don't like the noodles I make, which we both know you don't, we have to go out. Stark's chef is on vacation." Darcy pushes the noodles back across the table. Darcy is one of the few people Loki will tolerate for any length of time - Darcy figures it's because she's non-threatening. She's under orders to try and get him to eat. Loki has only been a "guest" in the suite a few weeks and he's noticeably lost weight. He declines assistance from the SHIELD medstaff. Fury is concerned. Loki may be magic-less, but apparently his brain is worth keeping alive.

"You know going out is impossible!" he snaps.

"I don't know that!" says Darcy. "You don't look so different from Mystique and Nightcrawler. Since the invasion, blue people are getting a lot more respect!" He is so obviously caught up in the being blue thing. She kind of gets it. Thor stopped by one time when she was here. He could hardly look Loki in the eye, and then of course there was the way Thor described Loki's new appearance as monstrous. She also kind of doesn't get it. Loki's so obviously beautiful. Even when he's glaring at her. Like now.

He looks like he's about to say she can go so she quickly pulls two books out of her bag: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, and its rebuttal, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

He takes both but tosses the first back. "I read this when it was first published," he says. Darcy peeks in the dust jacket. It was first published in 1841.

"But this is new," he says. He flips it over in his hands and starts to read the back.

She expects to be told she can leave at any moment, but instead he says, "You never ask me why I helped your people."

"You'd laugh in my face, if I did," Darcy says. He laughed at Tony Stark and Nick Fury for the same reason. Considering her considerably lower place on the totem pole...

He snorts. "That's true."

Pushing up her glasses, she grins. "I suppose you maybe did it because you figured if you couldn't rule the Earth, no one else could."

He scowls for a moment and then smiles a wide toothy smile. "Maybe," he says. His teeth are white and flat. Thor said they would be sharp and pointed; Darcy's not sure why.

"Oh, speaking of world affairs..." she pulls the most recent issue of The Economist from her bag and hands it to him. It's slightly worn - she read it as soon as it arrived. The cover features Kim Jung-un, North Korea's most recent baddie.

"I would have taken care of this situation," he says, looking down at the cover. "24 million people constantly under the threat of starvation, death, torture and persecution and humans do nothing."

"Nothing isn't true," she says. "There are aid organizations there, and we have talks -"

"Talks, talks, talks," he says in a sing-song voice. He raises his eyes to her; his lip is quirked up.

She huffs. "Yeah, it is a situation where a benevolent world dictatorship would be nice-"

Loki blinks.

"But would it be worth the cost?" she says.

Loki's smile returns. "That is the question, isn't it?"

Darcy pushes some fried rice towards him. "You should try this; it's good."

His smile fades. "It is disgusting. You can go now."

x x x x

A few days later Darcy shows up at the door to Loki's suite at the usual time and he doesn't buzz her in. She tries the handle of the door, and it is unlocked, so she enters.

"Loki," she says quietly.

He doesn't respond. She really should pull out her cell and call security, medical, Fury or all three. But she doesn't. Instead she walks into the quiet suite towards the living room. Her eyes go wide. Loki is in his armor, spilled out on his back on the floor, blue skin and black hair a shadow on the beige carpet.

Darcy gasps and falls to her knees. "Loki!" she says, pulling out her cell. A blue hand shoots forward and grabs her wrist before she's even hit the speed dial for Fury. The phone falls from her hand and Loki hisses. "Don't."

She stares at him, mouth open. "Are you alright?"

He scowls. "Of course I'm alright." The hand on her wrist shakes ever so slightly and he takes a deep breath.

Darcy blinks. "No, you're not. I'm calling medical."

"No!" says Loki, his torso raising off the floor, and then sagging back down again. He closes his eyes. "I am not alright, but I will be."

Squinting, Darcy says, "Are you sure?"

Rolling his eyes, Loki says. "Of course I'm sure."

He meets her gaze. She must not look convinced because he says, "After my first misadventure with the Chitauris, they managed to find me...they hit me with the same weapon. This time the damage is more extensive; I will recover, but it will take longer and I'd rather not share the scope of my injuries with the world."

Her eyes widen. "When you disappeared! You'd lost your powers..."

He rolls his eyes again. "Yes." He puts a hand on his face. "Well, not as badly. I was able to maintain my true...my Asgardian form...most of the time."

The self loathing is so palpable. Darcy stares at his long elegant blue fingers covering his eyes. It's also silly.

"Do you want to stay on the floor?" she asks. Really, he's so prickly, she's not sure he'll appreciate her help.

His fingers flutter on his face for a moment, and he seems to consider the question.

"No," he says at long last. But it sounds half hearted.

Darcy holds out her hand. He takes it. His hand is cooler than hers, but isn't cold. Thor told her frost giants could freeze you with just a touch, but apparently that is a magical ability. She stares for a moment at the contrast of their skin tones and then looks up. Loki is looking down at their hands, his mouth slightly open. He swallows.

Whatever inner hurt he's experiencing, Darcy wants it to go away. "Okay," she says, standing up and wrapping her other hand around his wrist. "On the count of three, I pull you up..."

The walk to the couch is awkward. Loki hangs an arm over her shoulders and uses Darcy like a third leg. Hominids aren't meant to walk on three legs. Also, he's really heavy.

"So," Darcy says, as they hobble over to the seat. "You're not usually on the floor when I come in..."

Breathing deeply as though he's expending a great deal of energy, Loki says. "I had a meeting with Fury and Mr. Stark downstairs this morning. I overexerted myself."

"At a meeting?" says Darcy.

Loki stops for a moment a few feet from the couch and takes a deep breath. "It was a long way to walk, and I had to sit up for a long time."

And he was wearing his armor which Darcy is beginning to suspect weighs at least a ton.

They hobble a few more steps and Loki falls onto the couch. Laying his head back Loki takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He's all long lines of silver, green, black and blue. Even in less than tip top shape he makes Darcy's mouth water.

Darcy sits down on the coffee table. "And all this time I thought you just never stood up because you wanted to be intimidating."

Shrugging, Loki says, "Well, there was also that."

He smirks, a sexy, insufferable blue smirk, and Darcy is pissed that it makes her lick her lips.

x x x x

"You must have better things to do with your time," Loki says. He's walking arm and arm with Darcy in his suite.

They have an agreement; he'll let Darcy help him get better if she keeps her mouth shut about just how weak he is. Helping Loki get better at this moment means helping him get some exercise. They're doing laps in the loop that runs from the living room to the kitchen to the dining room and back again.

"No, not really," says Darcy. "Really, my life is a mess right now - except for you. I totally don't belong here at SHIELD, I feel like an idiot and an incompetent half the time. Before you came along they tried to make me an administrative assistant, but my attention has the propensity to wander away and not come back. Since you've come along I've gotten paid to read Freakanomics, Foreign Affairs Magazine, the Economist and study Norse Mythology. It's awesome."

Loki squeezes her arm. "I meant this. Leading around a monst-"

Darcy glares at him.

Looking away he says, "-an invalid."

He says it like walking around in circles with a hot blue alien guy is really terrible Darcy purses her lips. "Nah, I don't mind."

"I mind," says Loki. "I'm bored."

A bored Loki is a grumpy Loki, so Darcy tries to distract him. "I read a really cool story about you called Thor Meets Captain America last night!" says Darcy brightly.

"How can it be about me if I'm not even in the title?"

"You are Captain America in the story," says Darcy.

"How flattering," says Loki dryly.

"No, it was. All the other gods were working for the Nazis and you helped the rest of humanity get rid of them."

Loki is silent for a few more steps, and then he says, "That's a bit of a stretch from the old myths, isn't it."

Darcy tilts her head. "Not really, well, not when I reread the stories. You're kind of the folk hero in a lot of the myths."

"Folk hero?" says Loki sounding vaguely amused.

"Yes, you know, you were always giving the gods their comeuppance. Laying out their hypocrisy at that feast you went to -"

"To be fair," Loki says, "I was extremely drunk that night."

"Giving them a taste of mortality when you stole Idunn's apples," says Darcy.

Snickering a little, Loki says, "Did you know Thor develops male pattern baldness?"

"And..." Frowning, Darcy hesitates.

"And?" says Loki.

"Well, you are the destroyer of the gods in the stories, aren't you?" says Darcy quietly.

Loki stops walking.

Licking her lips, Darcy looks up and meets his orange-red gaze. It still makes her a little weak kneed. She knows Thor has said the destruction of Asgard was something Loki never wanted. "Not that I'd necessarily want to see the gods destroyed, I mean, not if they are the way Thor describes them, but as they are described in the myths I don't know that I'd want them as my gods, if you know what I mean."

Loki's lips quirk up - they're so close and so kissable. "I do know what you mean," he says, mercifully turning his head and starting to walk again. They're moving at a snail's pace but Darcy's heart's beating like she's been running laps.

"Of course," says Loki, his voice playful, "Your myths also say I killed Baldur, the one perfect god. And no, he won't be coming back after Raganok; there's no Hel ruled by my daughter where he waits until the end of time..." He takes a breath at that and turns his head away.

Thor says that the whole Loki killing Baldur thing is a myth, that some human named Hothur did it over a "faithless" woman. Thor also says Baldur was perfect and wise and wonderful and brave - which kind of makes Darcy wonder why anyone would would want to kill him, much less how a human could accomplish it.

"Yeah, well, I guess if you believe in perfection, that's a bummer," says Darcy.

Loki looks at her sharply.

She shrugs. "I'm a post-modern girl."

That elicits an eyebrow raise.

"Nothing is perfect," says Darcy. "It's all about what imperfections you want to deal with." She snorts. "And what made anyone think Baldur was so perfect? He never did anything."

Loki laughs. "What indeed?"

They're quiet for a few more paces and then Darcy says, "So you have a daughter?"

It was the wrong thing to ask; she can feel his arm tense. Darcy should have known better. They never talk about personal things.

"No," says Loki after a long while as they step into the living room. "Take me to the couch."

"We did three more laps than yesterday," says Darcy, trying to sound chirpy.

Loki doesn't even grunt in response.

"Are you coming to the pre-launch party for Prometheus? Thor won't be there but..." She shrugs.

She's trying to get him to come out of his funk and out of his lair. Thor not being there is actually part of the bait. Thor loves Loki more than anyone - and he's also the most visibly uncomfortable with Loki's blue form. But no one at the small private party tonight will bat an eye at Loki for being the would-be-ruler of the world, and more importantly from Loki's perspective, for being blue.

The other part of the bait is Prometheus itself. Prometheus is a new deep space probe built by Stark Industries. Jane and Tony have figured out that a big problem in creating Einstein-Rosen bridges is the pull of Earth's gravity. To avoid gravity they're opening the bridge in outer space and sending Prometheus through. They're not sending it to any of the nine realms, just to the Eridani system 10.5 light years away. It will shoot some pictures and come back. It's new, and techie, and Loki does like techie stuff when it's genuinely new and not just repackaged Asgardian tech. Since she's pretty sure Asgard doesn't have space ships, she's pretty hopeful.

Loki sits down on the couch. He doesn't answer her question. Staring out the window he says, "Darcy, in those myths of yours, the god who kills me, do you remember who he is and what he does?"

Darcy's brow furrows. "Yeah...Heimdall. He's the gatekeeper." And in the story Loki kills Heimdall, too.

Loki's orange-red eyes meet hers. "He's also the creator of classes among men." Looking back out the window he says, "What good is a gatekeeper if there's no fence?"

"That's a no then?" says Darcy.

Loki frowns. "The party's a bit premature."